13 results
    • Queens of noise

      Kristen Stewart's Joan Jett is one of many killer riffs that makes The Runaways
        The movie even opens with singer Cheri Currie getting her first period, the menstrual blood running down her leg (lots of bodily fluids in this movie, by the way, which may or may not be “symbolic” and a “metaphor” for something). For many tastes, Fanning’s been too precocious as a child star. But while she’s somewhat softer and perhaps cuter than the real Currie was, Fanning is also real good here, making an audience actually care about parts of a story that originated in Neon Angel, Currie’s 1989 autobiography. The Runaways were also the first to come on as tough, oversexed vixens — albeit oversexed vixens who could actually play — much of that image the brainchild of concept Svengali Kim Fowley (portrayed by the scenery-chewing Michael Shannon). But from the Go-Go’s, the Bangles, the Pandoras and the Teenage Love Dolls straight through the whole riot grrl thing and right up to the Donnas and beyond, the Runaways will always be right near the top of the list of influences for all those bands, even if the group wasn’t really all that fantastic from a purely musical standpoint. Still, even as a pure teen flick in pop cultural terms, this certainly works better than something like the dreadful film version of Grease did. And as rock history, there’s actually a lot Sigismondi gets right (or at least better than many such films do), which we appreciate — even if it’s something as simple as getting the RCA logo correct on the David Bowie album when Currie lip-synchs to her favorite rock star’s “Lady Grinning Soul” at a school talent show. The scenes at Rodney’s English Disco are pretty spot-on as well (even if things have been condensed for convenience), right down to the two perfect portrayals of Rodney Bingenheimer by Keir O’Donnell, first as the decadent teen club’s proprietor and then later as an older DJ interviewing the now world-famous Jett on his KROQ radio show. The movie begins to lose steam after the girls hit Japan — where they’re treated like the Beatles — and things start to fall apart. It’s ironic that when Sigismondi’s screenplay finally has a chance to really explore the inner lives and personal turmoil of her two main characters, the film becomes somewhat tedious, although it picks up at the end once Jett has become a rock superstar, ultimately fulfilling the band’s promise and proving they were more than just sex tarts. It could’ve been worse, especially with Carrot Top in the role! Make no mistake about it, though — Stewart and Fanning are the runaway stars here.
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    • Trunk Show

      Old Neil Young still cranks ’em out live. But how much is enough?
        Trunk Show is another Neil Young live performance filmed by Jonathan Demme, (who also shot 2006’s Nashville-based Heart of Gold); this one's taken from the Chrome Dreams II tour’s stop at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, Pa. How one reacts to it will be based entirely on how one reacts to this particular musical facet of Young’s oeuvre. Basically, with the exception of a few rather narcissistic backstage moments (Young getting his finger mended by a physician, for instance), this is a film of Neil on acoustic guitar, on piano, on banjo, or rockin’ out with his band. The cinematography is fine — but the songs are mostly long, although “No Hidden Path,” featuring a long extended jam, and Young at his Phenobarbital-meets-pyrotechnics riffing best is pretty damn terrific. In some ways, Trunk Show almost seems pointless. Neil fanatics may consider it Grade-A. But for the rest of us, it’s, at best, a DVD rental.
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    • Skin trade

      Porn star Tera Patrick is full of herself — and not much else
    • Art brutes

      New doc traces rock 'n' roll poster history
        This documentary on the history of rock posters focuses on the renegade artists, many of whom have succeeded without the financial help of big corporations. Detroit looms large in this picture, thanks especially to the presence of Mark Arminski, Detroit’s most recent poster art king, and the great Grande Ballroom rock-art pioneer, Gary Grimshaw, both of whom are interviewed extensively. The latter even offers a mantra that should resonate loudly during this city’s time of economic crisis: “What people don’t understand is that the automobile industry didn’t make Detroit. Detroit made the automobile industry,” he says, discussing the city’s art history and aesthetic. “Most importantly, it was the skilled labor and the long history of craftsmanship that was in Detroit.” Arminski, for his part, says that although he has since discovered that he and revered ’80s icon Frank Kozik began around the same time, Arminski “knew nothing but what was going on in Detroit.” A major revelation, though, is to discover that rock poster grandfather Stanley Mouse was born and raised in Detroit, where his early art was inspired by “car culture” before heading to psychedelic San Francisco and Haight-Ashbury hippiedom. If the film has a slight flaw, though, it’s that Becker’s sense of rock history may occasionally strike more astute scholars as a bit skewed. But these are minor quibbles about a film that mostly informs and entertains.
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    • Thug life

      Despite some excellent acting and drama, Notorious biopic whitewashes Biggie Small’s gangsta life and death
        One of the film’s producers is Notorious B.I.G.'s mother, Voletta Wallace (played by the always excellent Angela Bassett); another is his manager. Sean “Puffy” Combs (played by Derek Luke) is its executive producer. So Notorious certainly has its, um, point of view (even if one of the funniest lines is when Voletta asks her son, “What kind of grown-ass man calls himself ‘Puffy’?”). Wallace is portrayed as lovable, almost a victim of circumstance — even when he’s selling crack to a pregnant addict. We don’t, for instance, see his much-reported alleged violent turn against autograph-seeking fans toward the end of his life. The Combs character, meanwhile, displays none of the arrogance or narcissism of which we all know he’s capable. In fact, he’s portrayed here as a totally stand-up guy. Hell, Biggie’s own son, 12-year-old Christopher (“CJ”) Wallace Jr., plays the dad he didn’t actually know in real life, for god’s sakes (and, in a slightly more ghoulish mode, raps with his father on the soundtrack album — shades of Hank Williams Jr.). Sean Ringgold portrays Suge Knight as a shadowy figure; he’s seen as evil, as well he probably should be, but both he and Shakur are pretty one-dimensional in that evil. And because no one has been charged, let alone convicted, in the murders of Wallace and Shakur, it’s hard to know who to believe. A filmmaker could make a long movie about the various conspiracies surrounding those deaths alone, a la Oliver Stone’s JFK.
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    • Hoochie Coochie Men

      Hollywood's version of the Chess Records story combines the best and worst of the classic rock 'n' roll biopic
        Based on the story of Chicago’s legendary Chess Records label, which gave rise to such monumental musical figures as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry and Etta James, and, despite a host of errors that will irritate the rock and blues historian, it still manages to capture the essence of the story it’s trying to tell. Adrien Brody portrays Leonard Chess, a Polish immigrant junkyard owner who opens Chi-town’s Macomba Lounge in 1949 and begins presenting local blues artists (although, historically speaking, the club was originally a jazz hang; both Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington played its stage early on). At the same time, Muddy Waters (played by a terrific Jeffrey Wright), after being recorded by folk music archivist Alan Lomax (Tony Bentley), leaves his sharecropping life in Mississippi to seek something better in the Windy City. The movie — as narrated by Cedric the Entertainer playing Chess songwriter, bassist and producer Willie Dixon — then tries to tell the entire Chess story in the remaining 90 minutes, which, among other things, probably explains the absence of such pivotal Chess figures as Bo Diddley if not the dramatic license it often takes with facts. But Wright definitely gets Waters, reflecting the man’s nobility and quiet dignity, despite his character flaws, throughout the film. Brody, meanwhile, is merely serviceable as Leonard Chess, although he looks absolutely nothing like the real man.
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    • The boy looked at Patti

      New film documents a rock 'n' roll matriarch, from her home in Detroit and beyond
        Fashion photographer Steven Sebring met Smith 11 years ago, during a photo session, and approached her with the idea of a personal documentary. Smith agreed, and the documentarian was given extraordinary access to his subject for more than a decade. Smith narrates the film herself — both in verse and plain speaking — and her biggest fans will find much here to love. Early in the film, we’re treated to footage of her old home in Grosse Pointe, as well as a visit to late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith’s grave. The Smith’s children — Jackson and Jesse — figure predominantly throughout the film, both as young children and young adults. There’s also moving footage of Smith with her seldom-seen, now-deceased parents at their family home in New Jersey. And there are images, as well as footage, of Smith with iconic friends, from the great (Dylan, Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Phillip Glass) to the questionable (Ralph Nader, Red Hot Chili Pepper asshole Flea). And remembrances of Burroughs at the Chelsea Hotel are hilarious. But one wishes that Sebring had concentrated more on Smith’s humorous and humanistic side, like those mentioned above, and less on the pretentiousness. Another major complaint is that while trying to show that Smith is more than a rock star, the director (and perhaps Smith herself) short changes the importance of Patti the rock ’n’ roll star. Smith is one of the greatest rock performers this reviewer ever saw during her mid-’70s heyday. While there’s no footage of her as the young performing wildcat, there are scenes (perhaps not enough, though) of some more recent and overwhelming performances in various parts of the world.
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    • Eminem grows up

      Detroit’s biggest and most maligned star export comes clean, sort of
    • The right profile

      Punk rock doc chronicler Julien Temple tackles the Joe Strummer experience
        Julien Temple’s long-awaited doc on the life of one of punk rock’s greatest icons is often a contradictory, convoluted mess. Not one talking head here is identified by name or significance. Best — and what especially makes Temple’s film more than a throwaway — is the vintage musical footage. While Clash fans will find Temple’s film essential (if not disappointing), Clash newcomers will be lost, unable to fully understand why Strummer’s death at such a relatively young age was a rock ’n’ roll tragedy.
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