I shine a light on two ends of the artistic spectrum on DVD and Blu-ray in spotlight pieces on my blog this week—the cinematic glories of Powell and Pressberger’s The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus and the exploitation creativity of the Roger Corman-produced drive-in knock-offs Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World. Here’s what else has been released.
The Runaways (Sony) – The Runaways may have been more phenomenon than phenomenal but the hard-rocking quintet of teenage girls made their mark on the music world with a blast of grrrl power and teen rebellion. They were tossed into the culture in 1976 as a gimmick—the original all-girl rock band (and I do mean “girl” – they were all under eighteen when they released their first single)—and they delivered a mix of punk attitude and sexual tease. More importantly, they were inspiration to aspiring female rockers all over. The promotion was largely exploitation but the music—their music—was their voice of frustration and empowerment in a male-dominated world.
Their story is quite a tale and this film, while slipping into familiar rock movie rise-and-fall conventions, does a pretty job of getting to the heart of the matter. Kristen Stewart (confident, driven and a far cry from her Twilight persona) stars as aspiring rocker Joan Jett, Dakota Fanning (confused, defiant and vulnerable as an angry young woman) is Cherie Currie, the band’s singer and jailbait sex symbol, and Michael Shannon is the sleazy impresario Kim Fowley, who manages the novelty of the group to sudden fame and sends them touring without supervision, where they are completely unprepared for the exploitation and mania and slide into drugs and sex (they’ve already got the rock and roll). Based on the memoir by Cherie Currie and co-produced by Joan Jett, it’s pretty much the story of their experience and relationship, which leaves the rest of the band (including future metal queen Lita Ford) as supporting characters to their story at best and almost invisible at worst. But their story is fascinating, a study in contrasts (the punk-influenced Joan and the glam-obsessed Cherie, more concerned with image than music) who become friends (and more) on the rollercoaster of fame. The film is admirably matter-of-fact about the intimacy of their relationship, neither exploiting nor hiding the sexual dimensions of it. And how can you not give in to a film about adolescent girl rebellion that opens with a drop of menstrual blood?
Joan Jett was an executive producer and adviser on the film and she joins actresses Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning on the commentary track. They begin awkward and inarticulate, but as the characters find their voices so does this trio, with Jett supportive of the two actresses and slowly opening up with her own stories while Stewart and Fanning discuss their experiences creating the characters (and the images they constructed through make-up and fashion) and performing on stage. And they go oddly quiet and uncomfortable in the intimate scenes between Joan and Cherie, with Jett simple repeating: “I’ve got nothing to say here.” Jett is absent, however, from the 15-minute “Plugged In: Making the Film,” a conventional featurette with Cherie Curie, the stars and writer/director Floria Sigismondi that is content to remain on the surface of the film. For more on the real story, check out the documentary “Edgeplay” directed by former Runaways bass player Victory Tischler-Blue (aka Vicky Blue).
The world of stop-motion animation is full of creative humor but I’ve never seen anything as whimsically absurd and hilariously ridiculous as A Town Called Panic (Zeitgeist), an animated toybox comedy from Belgium, based on a TV series and released by Aardman Studios (with which it shares a comic sensibility). It practically defies description but I’ll give a shot: wacky plastic toy buddies Cowboy, Indian and Horse chase aquatic house thieves through the center of the Earth to the North Pole, the bottom of the ocean (where they buy a pearl fountain and dress up as Santa Claus) and back home again. Though entirely in French with English subtitles (no English dub track), it’s perfectly fine for kids and adults alike (if you don’t mind the occasional “Bastard!” across the subtitle track). Features the 52-minute documentary “Le Fabrique di Panique” and five minutes of interview clips with directors Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier (also in French with English subtitles), plus deleted scenes (brief but fully animated) and test shots.
Jean Paul Belmondo is super-spy Joss Beaumont in the 1981 French espionage thriller The Professional (Lionsgate), a beaten, weathered victim of realpolitik maneuvering who takes the rap for a failed assassination in an unnamed African country in the opening scenes: not merely abandoned by his own government, but served up as a sacrificial lamb. His new mission is pure revenge. Belmondo plays Joss as a burned out idealist broken by the cynicism and hypocrisy around him. He’s a bit old to really pull off the wounded political naif but he’s perfect as the charming, vengeance driven bastard who emerges from his ashes. First he stakes out his wife for the brutal interrogations of his former coworkers, then heads for the arms of his young mistress, all the while plotting to complete the assassination of a despot his superiors have made peace with. Humiliating the agency that left him hanging is merely icing on the cake. It’s hardly an espionage classic—the plotting isn’t as clever as it thinks and the grim doom of Beaumont’s “I’ll show you” mission is rather arbitrary, a dramatic fabrication with a tough-guy romanticism—but Belmondo is a magnetic rebel and the film’s distrust of government situational ethics and political compromise will never go out of style. Georges Lautner directs, Jean Desailly, Robert Hossein, and Cyrielle Claire co-star, and Ennio Morricone composes the score. Previously available from Image (long out of print).
You can also find reviews for The Losers (Warner) and The Bong Joon-Ho Collection (Magnolia), featuring the DVD debuts of both The Mother and his feature debut Barking Dogs Never Bite (both also available separately), on MSN.
Also new this week: Cop Out (Warner) with Bruce Willis and Tracey Morgan, the documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (First Run) and Entre Nos (E1).