Monday, March 29, 2010

THE RUNAWAYS (2010)

Written & Directed by Floria Sigismondi


Where & When: Los Feliz 3, Los Angeles, CA. March 29, 2010 7:00 PM



The Runaways were the first, all female, rock and roll band who enjoyed a brief run of moderate success in the 1970's before the band imploded by all of the same things that destroyed plenty of all male rock bands: fame, money, egos and drugs.

The band consisted of Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and lead singer, Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). Jackie Fox, the band's bassist was not included in the film for legal reasons and a fictional character called "Robin" (Alia Shawkat) was created to fill out the band and doesn't utter a single word. The funniest part was when "Robin" is asked a question and the band's producer answers for her.

A teenage Joan idolized Suzi Quatro, a rare, female rocker and wants to start an all girl band. One night, she sees Kim Fowley, (Michael Shannon) a record producer at a club. She gets the nerve to approach him with her idea. He's intrigued and introduces her to drummer, Sandy West. He tells them to call him when they are ready to do something.

The girls add Lita and "Robin" and they contact Mr. Fowley. He's still interested but he feels they need a sexy lead singer. While searching in a club, he finds Cherie Currie (her real name). Cherie is from a broken home and is more interested in a way of escaping her life than singing in a band. He makes her an offer and tells her to prepare a song for an audition.

Cherie arrives and is ready to perform "Fever" by Peggy Lee. That is rejected so Kim and Joan come up with an appropriate rock song that Cherie could do. They create the band's signature song, "Cherry Bomb".

Mr. Fowley tries to prepare them for what to expect when they go out on tour but he sent out teenage girls without any parental supervision except for a couple of horny roadies so of course, they are in way over their heads.

They are not taken seriously, they have to handle hostile, sexist male bands, they are sexually exploited by everyone (most especially by their manager) and they overindulged in sex and drugs but despite all of this, together these girls rocked.

Cherie crumbled under the pressure and soon realized she had to escape in order to survive which soon marked the end of the band.

The problem with "The Runaways" is that there is not one single moment in this film that has not been done or seen before and has been done better in many other bio-pic feature films. Ms. Sigismondi, who made her mark as a music video director, falls into the conventional, cliched traps in trying to tell this true life story and offers no fresh ideas nor any compelling reason to see this film beyond hearing and seeing what an all female band would be like. I'm sure it should be more interesting than what we have here.

The film actually feels like a long music video where everything looks great and they have down perfectly all of the fashion of the time but there is no real emotional connection to any of the characters.

Ms Stewart is spot on in her portrayal of Joan Jett, all the way down to the way she held her guitar. This part is more of a better fit for her than Bella in the "Twilight" films. Ms Fanning, who is now in that awkward stage of her career where she is no longer a child but certainly not yet a woman, does a credible job as Cherie Currie. I just felt she was trying a little too hard to convince the world that she is not a little girl anymore but Dakota, don't worry. I really think you will comfortably follow in the footsteps of another child actress who went on to have a brilliant career as an adult. Although she did struggle a bit as a teen but Jodie Foster did okay for herself.

I think Mr. Shannon was completely miscast in the part of the band's producer and went too far over the top. I have no idea what the real Kim Fowley was like and this could be exactly how he was but it just seemed like Mr. Shannon was performing and not ever a real person.

I can't make any comments on the rest of the band because they are barely present although we see them around Jett and Currie. Their purpose in this film seemed more as background filler instead of what I'm sure was a more integral part of creating the band. You can't call this the story of the Runaways when you only focus on two of the members. They don't even mention what became of them at the end of the film.

The Runaways do deserve to have their amazing story told but unfortunately this film does not do their story any justice.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

"AT THE MOVIES": R. I. P.

It is a very sad day and the end of an era.

It was announced yesterday, that the long running movie review program, "At The Movies" was cancelled and is going to end production in August.

The show's recent hosts, A.O. Scott of the New York Times and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune will be missed and I realize that we still will be able to read their reviews in their respective newspapers (for the time being anyway, if the papers don't vanish as well) but what I'm going to really miss is their enlightening discussions on why they liked or disliked a particular movie. I have gone to see a few movies that I had no interest in seeing based on their recommendations (and was very happy I didn't miss the film) as well have avoided a few that I might have wasted my money on.

The program began in 1986 with original hosts, the late Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert who helped bring to the world the terms, "Thumbs up" and "Thumbs down" to describe whether a film was worth seeing or not. They brought film criticism to the masses and helped make people think twice before they went to their local cineplex and selected which movie to go and see.

I had watched the show regularly but I have to admit I had stopped watching it around the time I had moved to Los Angeles which was in 1989. I recently rediscovered the show when Mr. Scott and Mr. Phillips were announced as the new hosts and I was curious what they would bring to this show. Like Mr. Siskel and Mr. Ebert, they wanted to have an honest and intellectual discussion about film. They brought their love of film and wanted to share their favorites, announce new discoveries and tell you which movies you might want to avoid.


I hope the show can find life in a new format somewhere because it really would be a shame if this type of program disappears.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

MOTHER (2010)

Written by Park Eun-Kyo & Bong Joon-Ho


Directed by Bong Joon-Ho



Where & When: Laemmle's Sunset 5 West Hollywood, CA. March 16, 2010,4:00PM



We first see Hye-ja, the title character played by Kim Hye-ja walking through a field when she suddenly stops and proceeds to slowly start dancing. Bong Joon-Ho's latest film, "Mother" shows us all the disturbing events that led up to this opening scene but it still doesn't help explain what it is supposed to mean but perhaps that is another part of this strange and fascinating mystery.

Hye-ja is a vendor and an unlicensed acupuncturist who cares for her mentally challenged son, Do-joon (Won Bin). Hye-ja's world revolves around her son but their relationship is probably a little too close for their own good.

One evening, Do-joon goes out to meet his only friend, Jin-tae (Jin Goo) who Hye-ja doesn't particularly care for, out for a night of drinking and skirt chasing. Jin-tae doesn't show up and Do-joon gets really drunk. While stumbling home, Do-joon sees a school girl walking ahead of him. Since he is drunk and horny, he calls out to her. She gets nervous and runs into an abandoned building. While standing outside of the building, a large rock comes flying out and nearly hits Do-joon. It appears that he just walks away afterwards from the building.

The next day, the school girl is found murdered. Her body is hanging over the balcony on top of the building and her head had been bludgeoned. Do-joon is brought in for questioning since he was the last one seen with the victim. He doesn't remember much from that evening since he was intoxicated. Since he had no lawyer or his mother there to help him, he is coerced in to signing a confession to the murder. He is sent to prison without a trial.

Hye-ja knows her son couldn't possibly be involved in this murder but the case is closed as far as the police is concerned. She realizes that it will be up to her to solve this crime and find the real killer. She will do whatever it takes to protect and save her child.

She first suspects Jin-tae as the possible murderer and she goes to some extreme lengths to find some evidence. After what she finds in his home turns out to be nothing, she continues on searching for clues. While visiting Do-joon in prison, Hye-ja is informed that he remembers something but it turns out to be a horrible, dark secret from his childhood that horrifies her and she can't believe that he can recall it.

Hye-ja continues on with her investigation until she finally finds some answers but in a clever but unnerving twist, things are not at all what they appear to be. Despite these new revelations, Hye-ja does what she feels is the best action to clear her son from a life behind bars although it makes one wonder whether her actions are simply a mother's love or should we question her state of mental stability?

"Mother" is dark, creepy, shrewd and mildly comical. Mr. Joon-Ho uses a slapstick style of humor at the beginning, perhaps to offset the disturbing themes throughout the rest of the film but I don't know how effective it is. I found it distracting and it is out of place for the type of film this is. This story is just simply too morose and the comedy felt awkward and forced.

Ms Kim gives a dazzling and intense performance as she digs deep inside of this fragile woman who is determined and willing to do anything to save her only child. This is one "Mother" you don't ever want to mess with.

"Mother" has been called a Hitchcock type of film and while this is supposed to be a high compliment and there are certainly elements in this, this film goes places that Mr. Hitchcock would never dream of going. Mr. Joon-Ho has a style that is uniquely his own and he takes this seemingly routine story and pushes it into directions that are shocking and unexpected. Don't let the subtitles scare you off from seeing this film. You will not see a film that is even close to as provocative or thrilling as "Mother".

Saturday, March 13, 2010

BROOKLYN'S FINEST (2010)

Written by Michael C. Martin


Directed by Antoine Fuqua



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. March 9, 2010 4:30PM



"Training Day" (2001) was one of Antoine Fuqua's biggest successes and he now returns to the dark world of ambiguous cops and the gritty streets they work on. This time, instead of sunny Los Angeles, we are now in the borough of Brooklyn. We follow the lives of three police officers as they are struggle to handle the pressures of their jobs and try to stay on the right side of the law.

Detective Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke) has a large family and his wife (Lili Taylor) is expecting twins. They are barely getting by and now there are going to be more mouths to feed. His wife is also having complications with her asthma because of mold in their home and he has to come up with the money to put a down payment on a new, larger house. Desperate for a solution, Sal decides to kill and rob drug dealers for the cash but he is a God-fearing man, so he is conflicted.

Richard Gere plays Officer Eddie Dugan who is about to retire in a week after over twenty years on the job. Depressed, burnt out and not well respected by his fellow officers, Eddie needs to have a shot of whiskey first thing in the morning just to get going. He is assigned to training rookie officers for his last week on the job. He advises them not to get involved and to do so only if they have to. This doesn't leave much of an impression with the rookies. Eddie's way to relieve stress is to visit his local hooker (Shannon Kane) who appears to be the closest thing he has to a stable relationship.

Detective Clarence "Tango" Butler (Don Cheadle) has been undercover for years, involved in the drug trade. This assignment has cost him his marriage, blurred his loyalties and now he wants out. He has been promised a promotion and a desk job for awhile but he is still waiting. He is finally offered the promotion but he will have to set up a drug deal that involves Caz, (Wesley Snipes) a criminal who has recently been released from federal prison. The problem is that Caz had saved Tango's life while he was undercover in prison and he feels he owes him. Tango is torn between helping himself or helping someone, despite his criminal past, who has been a good friend to him.

These three characters pass each other briefly throughout the film and then they come together indirectly in the bloody and deadly conclusion. Since this is a cops and robbers story, it should be no surprise that there are guns and violence but be warned that this film is intense and ultra-violent.

This is a great cast and it is good to see the return of Mr. Snipes in a major motion picture. Mr. Fuqua manages to get some solid performances from all of them and we are treated to nice cameo appearances from Vincent D'Onofrio, Will Patton, Lela Rochon (the director's wife), and a very welcome return to the screen from Ellen Barkin as a ball-busting Federal agent. The script from Mr. Martin has some smart and clever dialogue in between the basic cop drama story.

"Brooklyn's Finest" is well made and entertaining but one thing it is not is fresh. You have seen these characters and situations way too many times in film and television which makes it difficult to watch this and not feel a sense of familiarity and predictability. Despite this, if you like police dramas, this film is slightly above average and worth seeing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

THE 82ND ACADEMY AWARDS


All of the little gold men have been given out so sadly, that means the end of another Oscar telecast. I enjoyed the show as always but of course, I have a few comments and gripes. My biggest complaint is that the producers of this year's show had been boasting that this was going to be the year that the show would come in on time and that would be accomplished by cutting away some of the fat. Some of the so called "fat" was moving all the honorary Oscars to a separate ceremony and eliminating the Best Song nominees from being performed on the show. These are two things that actually makes the show special but guess what?

The show ran over anyway. Why can't the producers of this show stop fighting this and just accept this fact: The show is a live telecast. This means that things are going to happen that you can't predict and it also means that it may cause the show to run over three hours. Let's just deal with this fact and move on.

The show started off wasting time by having all of the Best Actor and Actress nominees just standing there on stage and calling off their names, then proceeded to have Neil Patrick Harris (WTF?) come out and repeat his song and dance number that he did, but much better, on last year's Emmy awards. Then, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin came out to do an opening monologue. This was fine and some of it was actually funny but it went on way too long. Then awards were handed out, which is what the show is all about.

Another issue I had was that the non-celebrity winners were unfairly cut off after 45 seconds but the movie stars were allowed to babble on for as long as they wanted. Everybody is a winner here so let's play fair. The "In Memoriam" segment felt rushed and left off a lot of important people (Farrah. Bea.) who had passed away last year. James Taylor singing live during this. . . WTF for? I thought the John Hughes segment was very nice, although Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson haven't aged well. Finally, why were people bothered with Tom Hanks just opening the envelope and announcing the Best Picture winner? They had been announcing the nominees all night, so why waste more time going over them again?

As far as my predictions, I did all right but I am very glad I was wrong about the Best Picture winner. People came to their senses and selected a film that they won't be embarrassed they voted for in twenty years. This show will be best remembered for honoring the first female Best Director, the first African-American Best Screenplay winner and "White Lady Kanye". Well, until next year.



Here is the complete list of winners at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards:

Best Picture: "The Hurt Locker"
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Geoffrey Fletcher, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Best Original Screenplay: Mark Boal, "The Hurt Locker"
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"
Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Best Cinematography: "Avatar"
Best Film Editing: "The Hurt Locker"
Best Foreign Language Film: "El Secreto de Sus Ojos," (Argentina)
Best Animated Feature Film: "Up"
Best Animated Short Film: "Logorama"
Best Live Action Short Film: "The New Tenants"
Best Documentary Feature: "The Cove."
Best Documentary Short Subject: "Music by Prudence."
Best Original Score: Michael Giacchino, "Up"
Best Original Song: Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett, "The Weary Kind (Theme From Crazy Heart)" from "Crazy Heart"
Best Art Direction: "Avatar"
Best Costume Design: "The Young Victoria"
Best Makeup: "Star Trek"
Best Sound Mixing: "The Hurt Locker"
Best Sound Editing: "The Hurt Locker"
Best Visual Effects: "Avatar"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

MY OSCAR PREDICTIONS


Traffic is snarled near Hollywood Blvd, so that could only means one thing (Humour me here). . . The big show is just a few days away. . . The champagne is chillin' and I can't wait!

I have listed this year's nominees in the major categories and have highlighted my prediction for the winner of each one. Now, some of these would not necessarily be my choice if I was able to vote but I'm just selecting which one will likely win.
Okay, here we go:

Actress in a supporting role:

Mo'Nique in Precious
Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
Penélope Cruz in Nine
Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart

This is the only category where the winner is not going to be much of a surprise. Mo'Nique has won every major prize for her role in "Precious" and I know she will not be going home empty handed this Sunday. To be honest, none of the other performers in this category had a serious chance of winning against the big and showy performance of Mo'Nique although I really admired the quiet and powerful acting of Ms Gyllenhaal, who would be my runner up. I'm sure she will definitely have another opportunity to win this prize.
Actor in a supporting role:

Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds
Christopher Plummer in The Last Station
Matt Damon in Invictus
Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones
Woody Harrelson in The Messenger

Oops. I forgot. This is the other category where we will know the winner before the envelope is opened. This is the one where I would be happy if any of these actors won the award. Every performance was wonderful and it's hard to select only one but Mr. Waltz's is the man that stands out. I think he will win and I would have selected him as well.
Actress in a leading role:

Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia
Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side
Helen Mirren in The Last Station
Gabourey Sidibe in Precious
Carey Mulligan in An Education

This is really only a two woman race. Ms Sidibe and Ms Mulligan were both impressive in their first major film roles but the nomination is the reward. Although she gives another brilliant performance, Ms Mirren just won this award a few years ago.

That leaves Ms Bullock, who gave a surprisingly, touching and funny turn in the well loved "The Blind Side" and Ms Streep, who gave a reliably warm and funny performance as Julia Child. I would vote for Ms Streep despite her being the most nominated actor ever and already having not one but two Oscars at home but I think Ms. Bullock will win. I think partially because she astonished us with a performance that most people didn't think she had in her(myself included) but also because, like Jeff Bridges, she is well liked.

Actor in a leading role:

Morgan Freeman in Invictus
Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
George Clooney in Up in the Air
Colin Firth in A Single Man
Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

My favorite in this category is Mr. Firth's wonderful turn in the shamefully, under-nominated film, "A Single Man" but this will be the year for Mr. Bridges. On the surface, it may appear that he may be getting the award more for his large body of excellent work but actually he gives another amazing performance and he truly deserves it simply for this role.



Crazy Heart Trailer
Uploaded by wallyz75. - Full seasons and entire episodes online.

Animated feature film:

Up (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson)
The Princess and the Frog (Ron Clements and John Musker)
Coraline (Henry Selick)
Fantastic Mr Fox (Wes Anderson)
The Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore)

I only have seen "Up" and "Coraline" to date but I think it is a safe bet to predict that "Up" will receive the award. It is also a nominee for the Best Picture of 2009 but this is the category where it will win. I am very interested in seeing "The Secret of Kells", which will be released in Los Angeles around St. Patrick's day, a small Irish film that managed to get the surprise nomination.
Foreign language film:

Ajami (Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, Israel)
A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, France)
The Secret of Her Eyes (Juan Jose Campanella, Argentina)
The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, Germany)The Milk of Sorrow (Claudia Llosa, Peru)

I have only seen one film in this category to date, which is "The White Ribbon" but I'm going out on a limb and predict that it will win. My reason is because it has won several awards already and it is a very good film. "Ajami" and "A Prophet" were just released in Los Angeles and I hope to see at least one of them before Sunday.
Directing:

Avatar (James Cameron)
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)
Precious (Lee Daniels)

There is a possibility that Mr. Cameron will get this award if there is an "Avatar" sweep but I predict Ms Bigelow will win this regardless. There has only been four women nominated in this category in the last eighty two Oscar ceremonies and none have ever one, so I think this will be the time to right that wrong. I do think it is the wrong reason to give someone an Oscar but in this case, she actually deserves it.
Writing (adapted screenplay):

District 9 (Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell)
An Education (Nick Hornby)
Precious (Geoffrey Fletcher)
Up in the Air (Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner)In the Loop (Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche)

It was great that "District 9" and most especially, "In The Loop" (rent this film as soon as it's available!) were honored with nominations here but "Up in the Air" will be the victor here and I think this will be the film's only award.

Writing (original screenplay):

The Hurt Locker (Mark Boal)Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Up (Pete Docter and Bob Petersen)
The Messenger (Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman)

This is a very strong group of original screenplays and this is another one where I would be glad if any of them won. I was leaning towards Mr. Tarantino taking home the gold but I think "The Hurt Locker" will be the most likely winner. "Avatar" is strangely missing from this list. . . how interesting. . .

Best picture:

Avatar (James Cameron and Jon Landau, producers)District 9 (Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, producers)
An Education (Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, producers)
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier and Greg Shapiro, producers)
Inglourious Basterds (Lawrence Bender, producer)
Precious (Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, producers)
A Serious Man (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, producers)
Up in the Air (Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, producers)
The Blind Side (Gil Netter, Andrew A Kosove and Broderick Johnson, producers)
Up (Jonas Rivera, producer)

Now to be perfectly honest, if I was voting, "Avatar" would be my seventh selection out of these nominees. My choice would be either "Up in the Air" or "The Hurt Locker". However, I'm going to predict that "Avatar" will collect most of the Oscars it is nominated for, including the award for Best Picture. In the past, I would have said a film like "Avatar" wouldn't stand a serious chance of winning this award but I do remember the show in 2001 and you had to pick my jaw up off of the ground when it was announced that "Gladiator" beat both "Traffic" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". I still to this day can't believe it received the nomination, let alone actually winning the award. "Gladiator" is just a glossy and very well-made but average film and will not stand up to the test of time which I think is the exact same problem with "Avatar", if it wins.

I know "Avatar" has made some crazy cash and I guess I have different standards in regards to what make a picture "the best" . . . but c'mon! Let's keep it real!

Anyway, time will tell and no matter what the outcome. . . I will still enjoy the show.