Dragon Hunter Runaways (Weekly Links)

Fanning/Stewart/Runaways

Reviews I wrote for the Herald this week:

The Bounty Hunter. “Who is that edgy PG-13-bordering-on-R movie for?”

The Runaways.

by Robert Horton

As an all-female, pre-punk rock band in the 1970s, The Runaways present a particularly colorful opportunity for a filmmaker. Surely this story can become a cool movie.

Maybe it can, but not in “The Runaways,” a clumsy excuse for a biopic. Too bad, too, because it wastes the apt casting of two of Hollywood’s most interesting young actresses.

Those actresses are Kristen Stewart, who plays future solo sensation Joan Jett, and Dakota Fanning, as Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie. Jett and Currie were brought together as teenagers by the bizarre rock impresario/producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), who was looking for a female band he could exploit.

The best scene in the picture is a staple of the music movie: The band (and Fowley) cooped up in a small room — actually it’s a trailer — discovering their unique sound by process of trial-and-error. Fowley leaps around the small room, spitting out the lyrics to what will become a signature Runaways tune, “Cherry Bomb,” an exhilarating song that defined the snarling image of these teenagers: rock stars as brats.

Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road”) brings his looming, Frankenstein-monster presence to Fowley and makes a meal of the role. His gusto is so arresting you find yourself wondering what Fowley is up to when we’re concentrating on the story of Jett and Currie. And those two are what the movie’s all about: The other band members barely register, even though one of them became ’80s power-singer Lita Ford. The script is based on Currie’s memoir of the late ’70s and the band’s brief notoriety, which explains the focus but can’t excuse the vagueness of the story line.

“The Runaways” grazes from one incident to the next, never quite deciding to commit itself. Sexuality, for instance: We see Joan Jett bestowing a tentative kiss on a girlfriend, and Jett and Currie indulging in some sort of closeness, but the movie tiptoes away from letting us know exactly what’s going on.

The customary ups and downs and flame-outs occur, seemingly without setup or explanation. Maybe director Floria Sigismondi assumes we’ve seen this kind of movie so many times we can fill in the blanks ourselves. Sigismondi, an artist and music-video director, doesn’t exhibit much feel for the long-form rhythms of a feature film. She can’t even get the film in gear as a showcase for Stewart and Fanning.

Stewart’s ride on the “Twilight” franchise has obscured how good this actress really is, and although she mimics Joan Jett and bears a strong resemblance to her, there isn’t much room for character development.

Now that Fanning is no longer a child actress but an in-betweener, she can’t depend on the novelty of being so astonishing for her age. She gets Currie’s dazed quality just right, but a better role will give a more accurate measurement of her talent as a grown-up.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

The whodunit mechanism of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is so sure-fire, it can survive a brutal movie version and still work. And this particular movie version (there may be more coming) is brutal.

An adaptation of the first installment in the late novelist Stieg Larsson’s wildly successful “Millennium” trilogy, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a Swedish-language production, as befits the nationality of the author. But be assured that plans are afoot for a Hollywood re-do.

Larsson’s novel was originally released in Europe as “Men Who Hate Women,” which is a much more apt and intriguing title for a story that involves various levels and generations of misogynistic violence.

The hook is this: a super-wealthy industrialist hires a disgraced journalist named Mikael Blomqvist (played by Michael Nyqvist) to look into an unsolved disappearance that happened 40 years earlier. The man’s niece vanished and is presumed dead, but no proof or motive has ever been found. Blomqvist takes the job, which quickly brings him to the attention of a punky, androgynous computer hacker, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace). Her own experiences of abuse at the hands of powerful men contribute to her ferocity in looking for the lost girl.

The plot relies on some pretty hokey mystery clichés—there are even enigmatic biblical verses that must be deciphered, a staple of serial-killer tales. But let’s give the movie a pass on that; after all, the pleasure of reading or watching mysteries has a lot to do with those kinds of conventions.

What makes the movie tough to watch is director Niels Arden Oplev’s blunt approach to everything, whether it’s the scattering of clues to the protracted scenes of sexual violence. Granted, there is some payback in store for the perpetrators of said violence, but I wonder if that justifies the extended attention given to scenes of rape and murder. Other than to create sensation, that is. Which “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” certainly does—effectively enough that it became the biggest-grossing film in Europe last year.

Along with its bruising momentum, it boasts two striking actors in the lead roles: Nyqvist has the weary manner and beat-up face of a Scandinavian Tommy Lee Jones, and Rapace is an intense, unusual presence. You can already imagine the Hollywood remake: Russell Crowe and Keira Knightley? We’ll find out soon.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid. “A tragically erroneous idea of where he fits in the pecking order.”

And I talk about booze and movies on KUOW’s “Weekday” with Steve Scher, here. The drinking bit comes in at 16:00 in.

Movie Diary 3/15/2010

Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937). A great film on a rare subject, and a splendid choice for the Criterion Collection to turn their attention to. Among other things, a demonstration of how conversation can be a revealingly cinematic spectacle.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Thor Freudenthal, 2010). Based on a web comic. Greasy kid stuff. One wants to root for a director with that name. (full review 3/19)

Antonio Gaudi (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1984). The director of Woman in the Dunes glides his camera around Barcelona, taking in the Gaudi landmarks and bathing it all in music by Toru Takemitsu. It’s almost exactly what it should be, even if those buildings threaten to get over-exposed in movies.