A Smattering Of New Blu Ray & DVD Reviews

THE RUNAWAYS (Dir. Floria Sigismondi, 2010)

“Jail-fuckin’-bait! Jack-fuckin’-pot!!” – Kim Fowley as played by Michael Shannon.

Not exactly. When this film came out last spring it cherry bombed at the box office.

This absolutely by-the-numbers music biopic only comes alive when Michael Shannon is onscreen. As infamous record producer Kim Fowley, Shannon steals the film away from Kristen Stewart who does a convincing Joan Jett and an all angsty Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie. Despite the title Stewart and Fanning are the only members of the legendary ’70s all girl punk band that the film chooses to focus on – you can count the lines Scout Taylor-Compton as Lita Ford has on one hand and Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) as Robin the bassist barely registers. Ditto Stella Maeve as drummer Sandy West. West died in 2006, but you wouldn’t know that from the film’s ending wrap up of only Jett, Currie, and Fowley’s fates.

Still it’s fast paced and filled with a lot of great music. In the mix of the Runaways greatest hits you get David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Sex Pistols, and weirdly Don McLean blaring throughout the movie. It will most likely be remembered for being the movie that Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning made out in, but if that’s what your looking for, those scenes are blurry in a manner mistaken for artsy, and there’s little emotional conviction to make anyone care. Overall THE RUNAWAYS resembles the VH1 produced rock biopics that dramatized Behind The Music episodes and rerun constantly on VH1 Classic. That undoubtedly will be where this ends up.

ENTRE NOS (Dirs. Gloria La Morte & Paola Mendoza, 2009) This Spanish drama, produced and distributed by IndiePix Films, was one that didn’t visit Triangle area theaters, but is now out on DVD and available for streaming on Netflix Instant. Paola Mendoza plays a Colombian immigrant who in the opening scenes is left by her husband (Andres Munar) to fend for herself and her 2 children in New York City.

All she seems to have going for her is that she can make great empanadas, but she can’t seem to sell those on the street corners so she takes up aluminum can recycling. It’s a tale of struggle and hardhip loosely based on a true story that has several incredibly moving scenes. The strength of Mendoza’s performance creates much empathy for the severe situations she faces. Sebastian Villada Lopez and Laura Montana Cortez as Mendoza’s children also register highly. Though some of the suffering may discomfort some folks, this is definitely worth a rental.

MOTHER (Dir. Bong Joon-ho, 2009) This gritty yet crisp looking thriller from South Korean writer/director Joon-ho only came as close as Cary to the Galaxy theater last spring. When she believes that her slow daft son (Won Bin) is innocent of a murder he’s accused of, Kim Hye-ja investigates the crime on her own.

The murder is of a school girl (Moon Hee-ra) who as the rumors say was very promiscuous and has a cell phone full of pictures of possible suspects. Hye-ja fiercely fights through the elements and, of course, gets more trouble than she bargained for. “Mother” is immensely entertaining with true feeling for its characters, particularly the admirable lead. It also looks beautiful on Blu ray.

PRODIGAL SONS (Dir. Kimberly Reed, 2010) Another film that didn’t play in the Triangle – a documentary about and by transsexual film maker Kimberly Reed (formerly Paul Reed) who returns home to Montana to face family and friends. Adopted brother Marc, who has brain damage from a car accident, is a big obstacle as he’s never accepted his sibling’s sex change.

“I just wanted us to be able to move on, but before I knew it, we ended up exactly like we used to be.” Reed says on her more than abundant narration. For the first 20 minutes or so it feels like a typical fish out of water/culture clash but when Marc finds out that his grand parents are none other than Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth things get considerably more interesting.

The take away amounts to more than that as we see Kimberly deal head on with his/her past rerunning old football footage and facing old photographs. Marc meanwhile has some scary outbursts which results in jail time. Film of Welles, mostly from his last film F FOR FAKE decorates the second half of the film in morbid tribute. A worthwhile yet disconcerting doc – PRODIGAL SONS is available on DVD and streaming from Netflix Instant.

A TOWN CALLED PANIC (Dirs. Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar) This French stop motion animation movie only played for a week at the Colony Theater in North Raleigh last spring which is a shame because it’s a fun absurd romp that deserves bigger audiences. Little plastic figurines, simply named for what they are – “Cowboy”, “Indian”, and “Horse” are the protagonists of this beyond silly plot involving 50 million bricks, thieving blue pointy headed fish folks, and a gigantic penguin robot.

As ridiculous animated features go it’s way better than DESPICABLE ME.

PANIC has more than enough laughs and ideas in it to be worth and hour and 15 minutes of your time so see what too many people missed last spring theatrically as its now on DVD and also available streaming on Netflix Instant.

More later…

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD: The Film Babble Blog Review

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (Dir. Sam Mendes, 2008)

The set-up is surefire and swift – boy (Leoanardo DiCaprio) meets girl (Kate Winslet) at an hip apartment party in the late 40’s with the backdrop of bright lights, big city. Before you know it they are married and living in Connecticut with 2 kids and the cookie cutter conformity of the mid ‘50’s is in full bloom. Winslet as April Wheeler, dreams of being an actress but after a particularly bad off-off-off-Broadway performance her husband Frank has discouraging words. “I guess it wasnt exactly a triumph or anything, was it?” he says in a severely misguided attempt to comfort her. A vicious verbal fight results on the way home, one of many that make up this film, with raging resentments busting out into the cold open air.

DiCaprio as a bored cog working the same job (salesman at a computer company) his father did for life draining decades longs for much more as well, and a afternoon quickie with a young secretary (Zoe Kazan) does little to remedy his situation. Winslet upon his return home that guilty day, though is seemingly rejuvenated. She has come to what she sees as a revelation – they should pack up and move to Paris, while they’re still young, and that will surely rekindle the fading spark in their relationship.

At first, DiCaprio is skeptical but he slowly takes to the idea. His co-workers (including Dylan Baker and Max Casella) and their close friend neighbors (David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn) think the idea is immature but our determined protagonists stick to their guns, that is, until a possible job advancement and an unplanned pregnancy come knockin’.

Though it’s exquisitely made and acted, REVOULTIONARY ROAD suffers from being well trodden ground. Many times before have we seen a “little boy lost in a big man’s shirt” (as Elvis Costello would say) having to blend in with the other suits and ties on a train platform on their way to work in the city.

The oppressive endless clusters of cubicles surrounding DiCaprio in his workplace contrasted with the lined up trash cans in the bland ‘burbs that are crushing Winslet’s spirit unfortunately come off as overdone clichés. The same thematic elements are handled infinitely better on any given episode of Mad Men – the AMC produced show about advertising executives in the early 60’s that IMHO is one of the best shows of the last decade. Surprisingly Creator Matthew Wiener revealed to an interviewer that he hadn’t read the 1961 Richard Yates book “Revolutionary Road” the movie was obviously based on before embarking on Mad Men but tellingly he stated: “If I had read this book before I wrote the show, I never would have written the show.”

Despite the undeniable chemistry between DiCaprio and Winslet, the scenes that really ignite the screen involve Michael Shannon as the son of real estate agent (an uncharacteristically subdued Kathy Bates who was also in TITANIC with Dicaprio and Winslet, by the way). Bates wants her son to meet the young seemingly stable couple as means to inspire him when he’s on a pass from mental institution. He sums them up immediately: “You want to play house, you got to have a job. You want to play very nice house, very sweet house, then you got to have a job you don’t like. Anyone comes along and asks “Whaddya do it for?’ he’s probably on a four-hour pass from the State funny farm.”

Shannon, though bereft of charm and equipped with an exceedingly sharp creepy edge, is the character who is the most free and the most bluntly honest – therefore a solid spot of comic relief. He has no need for politeness or disposable small talk, so when DiCaprio speaks of running away from the “hopeless emptiness” of their life there, Shannon is the only one who understands and even encourages them. Sadly, too much of the films pace plods and the energy of Shannon’s scenes is swamped aside by too many painful argument set pieces. Wasn’t exactly a triumph, indeed.

More later…