Friday, June 18, 2010

Day Three - "I can't come to the phone right now because I'm out clearing the streets of bureaucratic vermin".

Featured review of the day: The People vs George Lucas

The Runaways

Rock biopic of The Runaways, based on the book by Cherie Currie, starring Dakota Fanning as Cherie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett.

Full text of ViewEdinburgh review (different version to follow): Directed by photographer Floria Sigismondi and adapted from the book by Cherie Currie, The Runaways opens in 1975 when Bowie-obsessed 15 year-old Cherie (Dakota Fanning) is introduced to guitarist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) by impresario Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). Despite feeling guilty about leaving her older sister Marie (Riley Keough – Elvis's grand-daughter) to look after their alcoholic father (Brett Cullen), Cherie eagerly joins the band and is soon embarking on a gruelling schedule of tours and indulging in the usual sex, drugs and rock'n'roll shenanigans with a little experimental lesbianism thrown in. Dakota Fanning is terrific as Cherie Currie – this is essentially her movie and she delivers an emotionally engaging performance that captures both the aggressive rock chick image and the grown-up-too-soon teenager inside. Her scenes with Keough are particularly good; their relationship is as central to the film as Cherie's relationship with Joan. Stewart is equally good, capturing Jett's look, spirit and attitude, even if the character is frustratingly under-explored by the script. There's also strong support from Keough and Stella Maeve (as drummer and band co-founder Sandy West) but the film is neatly stolen by the always-excellent Michael Shannon, who gets all the best lines and several amusingly off-the-wall moments, such as having a business phonecall with Joan while having sex. Sigismondi has the expected photographer's eye for an arresting image (such as Joan mentally composing songs in a milky-white bath) and her direction is suitably stylish throughout. Similarly, the film ticks all the expected biopic boxes (drugs, arguments, breakdowns, lesbianism) and the concert scenes are well handled, particularly an early heckler-heavy gig and the central set-piece performance of Cherry Bomb. The main problem is that this is essentially The Runaways: The Cherie Currie Story, meaning that the rest of the band are frustratingly side-lined (poor Alia Shawkat gets just one line, off-camera) and the film ends when Cherie leaves the band, when Jett's story is just as interesting. Despite a few wobbles, this is a stylish and enjoyable rock biopic with terrific performances from Fanning, Stewart and Shannon. Recommended. Enjoyable, stylishly directed rock biopic with terrific performances from Fanning, Stewart and Shannon, though the fact that it's adapted from Currie's book means that only Cherie's story is explored in any depth. Four stars.

Superhero Me

British documentary in which film-maker Steve Sale attempts to transform himself into a superhero.

Directed by Steve Sale, Superhero Me is a micro-budget British documentary that opens with various comic fans and comic shop owners discussing what it takes to become a superhero. Narrowing the basics down to “Look good in spandex, learn self-defence, get a costume, a lair, some gadgets and a vehicle”, film-maker Steve Sale sets out to become a superhero with the help of his extremely supportive girlfriend (and later wife), Charlotte. With various friends operating the camera, the film follows Steve as he gets fit (cue amusing training montage), learns self-defence, flies to Naples to meet real-life superhero Entomo: The Insect Man, acquires a costume, names himself SOS, gets a theme song, tests his sonic weapons (i.e. personal alarms) on his dogs, postpones his honeymoon to fly to Florida and hang out with real-life superhero Master Legend and finally graduates to fighting crime as SOS on the mean streets of Sutton and Epsom. Along the way he discovers, amongst other things that velcro is incompatible with ninja-style stealth and that flying isn't quite as easy as it looks. As indicated by its title, Superhero Me is heavily influenced by Morgan Spurlock's Supersize Me, but it's also extremely similar to last year's A Complete History of My Sexual Failures. What all three films have in common is an extremely likeable director-slash-protagonist who's willing to throw themselves whole-heartedly into the project, even at considerable personal risk. For the most part, Sale keeps things moving at a decent pace (arguably, the film spends a little too long with Master Legend in Orlando), ensuring that there's a decent laugh every few minutes. Highlights include: Steve solving the problem of how to go to the toilet and eagerly demonstrating the suit's easy-access panel (“I won't get him out now though – don't want to make this an 18”), Steve discussing his crime-fighting adventures on the phone to his mum and an amusing cut to Steve beating up some thugs, quickly followed by the caption “This didn't really happen”. The only real problem with the film is that it leaves the community of real-life superheroes frustratingly under-explored - you sense there's a whole film waiting to be made there. Similarly, there's a slightly uncomfortable moment where Steve attempts to use his powers to, er, evict some squatters. You'd never catch Batman doing that. This is an entertaining, frequently funny documentary that plays like a real-life Kick-Ass and marks Steve Sale out as a talent to watch. Three stars.


British comedy directed by Ben Miller, starring Noel Clarke and Johnny Harris as a pair of would-be comedians trying to make it big.

Full disclosure: I saw this back in September as part of a Twitter-organised test screening. I'd hoped there had been significant changes since then, but sadly, I also suspected that there was very little chance of saving it without total reshoots. Much of the following review is more or less what I wrote on the test forms at the time. Co-written and directed by Ben Miller, Huge is based on a play by Jez Butterworth and stars Johnny Harris (best known as the psycho pimp from London to Brighton) and Noel Clarke (in a curly wig and glasses that make him look exactly like Moss from The IT Crowd) as Warren and Clark, two Morcombe & Wise-obsessed would-be comedians who decide to form a comedy double-act after Clark drunkenly heckles Warren at a disastrous gig. That's pretty much it, plot-wise - they get several rejections, crash a comedy awards after-party (cue a slew of cameos from Ben's famous comedian friends, though I didn't spot Alexander Armstrong) and fall out over something or other. Unfortunately, the film has so many problems that it's hard to know where to start. Firstly, for a film about comedians it's horrifically unfunny - Clark's heckle to Warren for example is "Tell us a joke" and then a knock-knock joke ("Warren who?" / "Exactly") when invited up on stage. Secondly, the film doesn't seem to know whether Warren and Clark are actually meant to be any good - Harris insisted at the Q&A that he wasn't, but the film's coda suggests otherwise. Thirdly, both Warren and Clark appear to be a little bit...special (Warren has a personality disorder at the very least, Clark dresses like he's on day release) but the film never addresses this in any way. Fourthly, the script has some severe problems - for example, at the beginning of the film Clark is working as a waiter in a Greek restaurant and has a nice moment of chemistry with Michelle Ryan (aka Zoe Slater from EastEnders and did I mention I met her at the after-party?) as pretty co-worker Cindy. It's then revealed that Cindy is going out with the manager of the restaurant (Russell Tovey), who is, of course, an utter bastard of the first order. At this point you think "Oh good, he's eventually going to win her away from the bastard Tovey", but no - instead the characters disappear completely and are never seen again, which is a shame, because Ryan is easily the best thing in the film. Another massive problem occurs later on when the story picks up several months later (after the argument) and Clark supposedly has a big TV job where he's being pampered by everyone around him and is dating a make-up girl (Tamsin Egerton) and having producers fawn over him...and then it turns out he's just a man in a chicken suit doing an advert. Finally, as much as I love Johnny Harris as an actor, he's badly miscast here, because it's impossible to like Warren. A friend of mine pointed out that it might have worked better if Harris and Russell Tovey had swapped roles and I'm inclined to agree. Sadly, this is pretty much unwatchable as it just doesn't work on any conceivable level. One star. Such a shame, too, because I love Miller's comedy work elsewhere. Sorry, Ben.

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