Archive for the Music Category

Get on Up

Posted in Biography, Drama, Music with tags on August 5, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Get on Up photo starrating-3stars.jpg1988 – A man in a green tracksuit arrives at a strip mall that he owns. He realizes someone has been using the bathroom without his permission. With shotgun in hand he enters a room and points it at the small gathering of people demanding to know the guilty culprit. He accidentally fires a shot in the ceiling amidst shrieks of the people now cowering on the floor, frightened out of their minds.  Police sirens are heard approaching in the distance. James Brown, The Godfather of Soul, is that man.

The practice of digitally encoding music and reusing it as part of another song is common practice today. They claim that James Brown is the most sampled artist of all time. In that vein, director Tate Taylor (The Help) gives us haphazard excerpts of a life. These vignettes are selected from different years at various intervals as if chosen from a buffet of life experiences. A detailed handling of the life of James Brown would be a formidable enterprise no doubt given the amount of material the man’s life would entail. Perhaps the filmmakers realized the task of accurately recounting the biography of a man with a long and complicated life would be too daunting. Nevertheless the disregard for chronology is odd. Get On Up is a biographical drama about the life of James Brown, where telling a traditional chronological tale is rejected in favor of emotional touchstones grouped by feeling.

As a result, the saga never has a chance to build momentum. We start near the end where James Brown is already a legend in his own lifetime. People are chanting his name as he walks down a concert hall. As he reflects upon his life, we get the aforementioned run-in with the law. We see a sketch during the 60s where he’s nearly shot down, right before he’s entertaining the troops in Vietnam. 1939 – He’s a little boy running in the woods of South Carolina with his mother, Then he’s performing at a gig in 1964 with his singing group The Famous Flames preceding The Rolling Stones. Jill Scott plays Dee-Dee Jenkins, James Brown’s second wife. One minute they’re handing out gifts as Santa and Mrs. Claus. The next he’s beating her within an inch of her life. Before we can process what‘s happening, the narrative has moved on to another year. Flashback and flash forward. Back and forth, all over the place.

The technique becomes particularly frustrating on the occasion where James is celebrating in his dressing room at the Apollo theater after a show. His mother, whom he hasn’t seen in years, walks in smiling. The power of that scene dissipates as it abruptly ends right there and we skim a myriad of other time periods instead, detailing different relationships with assorted women. All the while an alert viewer is wondering what exactly was the outcome of that fateful reunion of James Brown and his mother. We finally get the answer but it’s over 30 minutes later. In the interim, we come to realize how James Brown could be an effective mediator. A concert at The Boston Garden following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. is nearly cancelled for fear of riots. In an effort to diffuse a situation that has an excitable police presence on edge, he appeals to the crowd for order. James calms an excitable crowd whose dancing members keep getting up on stage. It’s a powerful moment.

One thing is for sure. Get on Up is highlighted by some great acting. Let’s start with the supporting parts. Dan Aykroyd as his manager, Viola Davis as his mother, and Octavia Spencer as the Aunt who raised him – they’re all memorable. But none more so than actor Nelsan Ellis (TV’s True Blood) who matches Chadwick Boseman’s work for unadulterated emotional heft. While in prison, James Brown met the man that would change his life, Bobby Byrd. Wives and band members would come and go but his long suffering sidekick stood by his side through the best and worst times of his life. As one of the most moving relationships in James Brown career, it’s a poignant performance that lingers after the music has faded.

Chadwick Boseman is impressive as James Brown. He fully embodies the man in vocal inflections, attitude and behavior. Boseman gets James’ signature raspy voice spot on, extending beyond mere mimicry. And when James sings! The musical performances are the best part. All of his hits are here including “Get Up Offa That Thing”, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, Pt. 1″, and “I Got You (I Feel Good)”. The presentation relies on lip synching to actual James Brown tracks and personally I’m glad that decision was made. The singer’s idiosyncratic musical style would have been extremely difficult to duplicate. Chadwick Boseman gets the electricity of James’ delivery down pat, complete with the dancing, the splits and the sheer athleticism. People in my theater actually got up and danced. I’ve never seen that happen. Get on Up isn’t a deep film. It samples from the highlights of a very intricate life with a slapdash approach. I suppose the disjointed sampling is appropriate in an ironic way. It’s how his music is often manipulated today. However, it doesn’t lend itself to a dramatically affecting story arc, just a well acted one.  Chadwick Boseman is indeed an actor to watch.

08-03-14

A Hard Day’s Night

Posted in Comedy, Music, Musical with tags on July 25, 2014 by Mark Hobin

A Hard Day's Night photo starrating-4stars.jpgIt was fifty years ago today…well August 11, 1964 to be exact….that the picture A Hard Day’s Night was unleashed onto the American public. The soundtrack was The Beatles’ third studio album. Beatlemania was already in full swing and the teen public’s hunger for anything having to do with the British phenomenon was insatiable.

After signing them to a 3 picture deal, United Artists could have put anything out with John, Paul, George and Ringo in it and it would’ve been a success.  The surprise was that A Hard Day’s Night was actually quite good on its own merits. The production was helmed by an American movie director based in Britain named Richard Lester. He had created a short called The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film starting Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. The Beatles loved it and selected him from handful of choices to direct their first feature.

The plot for this mock-documentary is simple. It’s a day in the life. The Beatles, playing themselves, are on their way to perform on a London TV show. The ongoing constant is that the Fab Four are eternally having to duck hordes of screaming fans at every stop. They board a train, get settled at their hotel, rehearse at the studio. Then Ringo gets separated from the group. Along the way on their various lightweight adventures, the Beatles display a charisma that is irresistible. The script is filled with little exchanges like the following.

Reporter: Are you a mod or a rocker?
Ringo: Um, no. I’m a mocker.

A Hard Day’s Night is not particularly deep but it is fun – displaying an irreverent charm that is joyous. The Beatles come across as likable and witty. It simplifies their personalities and then amplifies them in short easy to digest sound bites. Yes, they are caricatures of their personas but these are appealing distortions of themselves. The production is highlighted by a manic energy. There are a lot of funny bits contained within. My favorite: Ringo puts his coat down for a girl so that she can walk across a muddy puddle several times before she ultimately falls down a deep hole. Oh and let’s not forget the music! As far as this Beatles fan is concerned, every song is gold, but highlights include: “If I Fell”, “And I Love Her”, “She Loves You” and the title hit of course. Incidentally “I’ll Cry Instead” was excised from the sketch where the Beatles flee their hotel room via the fire escape. It can still be found on the soundtrack. However the more upbeat “Can’t Buy Me Love” was used in its place because Richard Lester felt the tune suited the scene better.

The cultural impact of the film cannot be underestimated. Its importance was immediately understood even garnering two Academy Award nominations at the time (Best Original Screenplay and Best Score). Although uncomplicated and seemingly insignificant, the narrative had an impact on spy thrillers like Dr. No, inspired 60s TV sitcom The Monkees and influenced later day pop music videos. It additionally makes a strong case as to why the Beatles became a worldwide sensation.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of A Hard Day’s Night, a spectacular new restoration was released to theaters on July 4th by Janus Films. If you can’t make it to the cinema, Criterion Collection has assembled a special new edition on DVD and Blu-ray. You’ll marvel at the stunning black-and-white cinematography. Please re-discover this classic.

Begin Again

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Music with tags on July 6, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Begin Again photo starrating-4stars.jpgBegin Again is a horrible name for a film. It’s generic and bland and forgettable. Everything that the actual drama is not. Let me be clear. I loved the film. Hated the title. Apparently test audiences didn’t agree. Back in the Fall of last year the picture was called Can a Song Save Your Life? Oh how much better and more interesting that quirky caption would’ve been had it stayed. This is a pure, effervescent slice of happiness that celebrates the beauty of music. The current moniker doesn’t do this inspired tale justice. For the life of me, I always struggle to remember what it’s called.

Begin Again is a distinctly New York saga. Keira Knightley is Greta, a young songstress still stinging from the breakup of the relationship with her “no-good ex-boyfriend” Dave Kohl, played by Adam Levine. Mark Ruffalo is Dan a once prosperous A&R executive whose career has hit the skids. Now disillusioned, he hasn’t had a success in years. Then one day their paths cross on open-mike night in some nondescript East Village club. Could the promising folk singer and the struggling A&R rep have the right chemistry to make it big? If this slice of life sounds thematically similar to the musical drama Once, that’s because Director John Carney was also responsible for that surprise indie hit in 2007. It’s been about that long since we’ve had such a sweet ode to musicians who write, compose and perform their own material. Most people will remember Once for the ballad “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. The singing-songwriting stars won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year. Begin Again is highlighted by a delightful soundtrack as well.

The story works because of the authenticity of the performances. But this is a film that relies just as heavily on its soundtrack. Gregg Alexander, best known as the frontman of the New Radicals, co-wrote the music with Nick Lashley, Danielle Brisebois, and Nick Southwood. If there’s anything here that might break out, it would be the quietly soaring “Lost Stars”. Director John Carney does the impossible. He deftly extracts the talent to sing from Keira Knightley with the ability to act from Adam Levine. He minimizes their limitations and highlights their strengths. Knightly isn’t the greatest singer in the world but Carney wisely doesn’t have her push her voice beyond a pleasant lilt. She comes across like someone who idolizes Sara Bareilles. The script namechecks Nora Jones. Adam Levine plays a hungry singer who has recently been signed to a major record label – a moment he once occupied in real life before he achieved mega superstardom. He gets to sing several songs here stripped of the traditionally slick production of a Maroon 5 single. Marc Ruffalo’s appearance as Dan borders on crazy homeless guy. It’s supposed to highlight his downward spiral from success but he’s sheepishly charming by nature so Carney simply allows his personality to assert itself.

Begin Again is a beautifully realized valentine to the visionary forces that create music. Director John Carney fashions a collection of snapshots that wonderfully detail the inspiration in producing an album. Dan and Greta first meet in a joyful scene. Dan watches Greta sing “A Step You can’t Take Back” accompanied by nothing more than her strumming guitar. But he imagines the little ditty with a full accompaniment behind her. Each instrument sonically realized before our very eyes as they start playing by themselves in the background one by one: strings, a piano, the drums behind her. Each addition technically only existing in his mind, but we the audience experience what he hears and the results are a window into how an A & R executive might envision the work of an artist.

Begin Again is filled will little vignettes that feel like authentic depictions of the music business. It’s a romantic comedy in which you’re never quite sure if the sparks you see happening between Greta and Dan will ever actually erupt in romance. That little guessing game makes the script a bit unconventional. It’s reminiscent of director John Carney’s previous showbiz drama Once. I loved that film so I’m happy to revisit its style. Along the way we’re treated to some beautiful musical numbers as Greta and Dan record an album at various locations throughout New York City. Now excuse me while I go buy the soundtrack.

07-02-14

20 Feet From Stardom

Posted in Documentary, History, Music with tags on July 24, 2013 by Mark Hobin

20 Feet from Stardom photo starrating-4stars.jpgEver want to know more about the people who sing backup vocals on your favorite hit songs? No? Well to be quite honest, neither did I. Or so I thought.  That’s the beauty of this documentary. 20 Feet From Stardom takes a subject of vague interest and makes it captivating. On display are the contributors that rarely get mentioned, save for the microscopic print of the liner notes on an album. It’s a fascinating watch. 20 Feet From Stardom doesn’t purport to tell the story of all supplementary vocalists. What it does do is delve into a sampling of the prolific talent that has been harmonizing on songs you’ve loved for years but never knew who sang those secondary parts.

I suppose in some way this presentation speaks for all backup singers as it tells these stories, but it specifically recounts the detailed histories of Darlene Love, Claudia Lennear, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, and Táta Vega. Every tale is unique with a distinct take and their own remarkable window into the world of popular music. The rationale for why these performers never became household names are multilayered and vary. For some perhaps racism and/or sexism. In others maybe just dumb luck. A simple lack of a desire to seize the spotlight is even suggested. In the case of Darlene Love, there was the megalomaniacal (albeit gifted) Phil Spector to contend with. Only one ego in the room please. Her drama is especially heartbreaking in the sense she sang on some of the most beloved songs without nary a credit. She along with Fanita James and Jean King, were founding members of The Blossoms. The trio sang backup on Sinatra’s “That’s Life”, Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash”, the holiday classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and countless others. They notably recorded the #1 hit song “He’s a Rebel” but Spector released that single under The Crystals, a completely different group, so Love and her fellow Blossoms never got the recognition or the stardom they deserved. Yet Love’s story inspires happiness nonetheless. They became first call, A-list session singers, highly in demand. Their voices are still infectious today. They are permitted to sing here and their talent speaks volumes that words cannot.

I always instinctively assume that the background vocals belong to the group/entourage associated with the artist on the single. But in many instances they are hired guns that come in, lay down their vocal tracks and then move on to the next gig. Director Morgan Neville’s document gently suggests various reasons for their lack of fame but allows the viewer to arrive at their own conclusions. In the meantime we’re treated to some of the best music of the 20th century. These vocalists have worked with the likes of Ray Charles, The Rolling Stones, Luther Vandross, Sting, Ike and Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, and Bette Midler. Many of these legends appear singing the praises of these unheralded talents. By and large, the chronicle is an uplifting tribute. There’s something exhilarating in seeing these artists get their due. It’s amazing how pervasive their contributions are to pop culture. For example the Waters Family were featured on “Thriller”, “The Circle of Life” and even recorded dino-bird sounds for Avatar.  There are at least half a dozen sagas here that command your attention. Each performer could highlight their own movie. Perhaps none more so than that of Darlene Love. Her story is one of frustration, perseverance and ultimately joy. That’s the ultimate message of this wonderful film.

Not Fade Away

Posted in Drama, Music with tags on January 8, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Not Fade AwayPhotobucket1960s coming of age memoir concerns three best friends from New Jersey who decide to form a rock band. Television writer-director David Chase is best known for creating the influential and critically acclaimed HBO drama The Sopranos. Here he makes his feature film début after having worked in television for 30 years.

Not Fade Away is somewhat hampered by a collection of characters that are hard to like. Our script focuses on an Italian-American adolescent named Doug growing up beginning in the year 1964. It affirms the evolutions in music that began with the British invasion of groups like the Beatles and more importantly in this story, the Rolling Stones. That musical onslaught also heralded a transformation in fashion and hairstyles which our young star adopts as he becomes the lead singer of a teenage rock and roll band called the “The Twylight Zones”. He is a good singer, but he is an uninteresting shell of a protagonist. He constantly mopes in a sullen disposition. I don’t recall him ever having smiled once in the entire film. He’s bland too. Ditto his inexplicably too-pretty-for him girlfriend played by Bella Heathcote. The Twiggy-eyed Australian is an unearthly beauty at least, but she was more appealing in Dark Shadows.

Douglas lives with his insufferable parents – a father with the standard-issue intolerance for social change and a perpetually distraught mother who overreacts to everything: ‘Why me, God?’ Douglas’ initial desire to join the army diminishes as he gets caught up in the artistic movement. Needless to say his dream to start a band doesn’t sit too well with his father who constantly challenges his son’s choices in life. Challenges is too nice a word – bullies is better – he’s really overbearing. Douglas fights with his parents, he fights with his band mates, he fights with his girlfriend. For a movie supposedly portraying the unbridled abandon of rock and roll, this is kind of depressing.

Not Fade Away is a trip through the 60s of various clichés. The rock and roll tale is highlighted by some rousing musical numbers and nice period detail. Unfortunately the chronicle isn’t particular innovative. It’s liberally sprinkles in 60s buzzwords like JFK, the Summer of Love, sexual revolution, civil rights, Vietnam, and Martin Luther King with the depth of someone who skimmed a Wikipedia article on the subject. You’ve seen this before. It’s trivial observations on the life of a teen interested in starting a band is rather generic right down to the disapproval of his reactionary parents. The memoir is unfulfilling. It has its moments, but the narrative kind of meanders with little regard toward the attributes of a plot. Events just occur lacking a traditional story that should rise to a climax and then fall to a satisfying dénouement. That’s the only thing about this hackneyed drama that didn’t follow the rules.

Pitch Perfect

Posted in Comedy, Music, Musical with tags on October 9, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketTake Glee, Bring it On and Bridesmaids, mix together, sprinkle liberally with cheese, and serve up to a receptive audience. Pitch Perfect is a recipe for fun. The story concerns the competitive world of collegiate a cappella groups. Pretty young Beca is a guarded cynic who would rather produce a tune than sing one. Having just entered college, she is newly recruited by an all girl a cappella group desperate for new members who can harmonize.

Pitch Perfect is greatly assisted by a talented cast. A few are worth a special mention. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are two ESPN style announcers that give play by play announcements interspersed throughout the a cappella singing competitions. Their witticisms from the broadcasting booth are side splittingly hilarious. In many cases, some of the biggest laughs. The only person who surpasses them is comedian Rebel Wilson, a zaftig Aussie who actually refers to herself as Fat Amy. As one of the girl vocalists she has an off kilter personality that makes her kind of a uniquely unexpected individual.

Of course the bread and butter of this diversion are the bright song selections that are enthusiastically arranged and passionately sung. The best performance is a “riff-off” between the boys and the girls, a rumble in the streets that uses superior vocals to beat down their opponents instead of guns and knives. It has a spontaneity that the official competitions lack. Unfortunately it only goes back and forth a couple times and then it’s over. What a shame that the segment is so short because it’s easily the most exhilarating sequence in the script. The drama hints at a plucky repartee that could have been sustained for the entire film.

Pitch Perfect is a crowd pleaser in the best sense of the word. Even if you have only a slight interest in hearing a cappella singing, this should make you very happy.  Anyone on the edge of their seat wondering how this is all going to play out would have to be under the age of 10. The storyline is pretty basic. Yet it’s helped immeasurably by an attractive cast with likable personas. Sure there’s the standard archetypes: the bitchy blonde, the slutty brunette, the sensitive heartthrob, etc. But they’re undeniably appealing. These characters have just enough modification to make them interesting. On the whole, the production is a spirited joy.

Searching for Sugar Man

Posted in Biography, Documentary, Music with tags on August 26, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Note: Because I don’t want to lessen this documentary’s impact, this is spoiler free. As a result, my analysis isn’t as specific as I would like it to be. However what my review lacks in detail you will gain in enjoyment when you watch the film. And I beseech you, please watch this film. It should be noted these surprises can easily be discovered by casual research regarding the subject. Therefore avoid all articles (except this one of course).

PhotobucketTwo aficionados endeavor to discover what became of their favorite recording artist. Rodriguez was an American singer-songwriter from Detroit who released two albums: “Cold Fact” in 1970 and “Coming from Reality” in 1971. Both flopped in the U.S. Maybe it was the songs’ highly politicized message, the pervasive drug references, a failure of marketing or perhaps something else altogether. Why Rodriguez never connected with the American public is a question one may ask any entertainer of undeniable ability. His fate is not unlike the thousands of other talents who never make it. Except this tale is notably different. “Cold Fact” found its way into Cape Town, South Africa where it was warmly accepted by progressive Afrikaners rebelling against the government. Bootleg copies were made and spread rapidly amongst white South Africans who embraced his music as a soundtrack for the anti-apartheid movement. Yet these fans knew little about their idol’s life. One rumor claimed that he’d ended it by committing suicide on stage by setting himself ablaze.

The film’s narrative focuses more on the quest of two South African fans to make sense of what happened to this musical icon rather than in shedding light on the man himself. The search was spearheaded by an indie record store owner named Stephen Segerman and an investigative journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom back in the late 90s. Along the way we‘re treated to a generous helping of Rodriguez’ work. It becomes a saga of how a performer’s legacy can touch the lives of their listeners in ways they may never know. Rodriguez’ blend of folk and funk with a side of country seemed to fit perfectly within the psychedelic landscape of the early 70s. Bob Dylan is an obvious influence. If you enjoy his style of music, this soundtrack is a must.

Searching for Sugar Man presents an inspiring tale of one Sixto Diaz Rodriguez. He remains an enigmatic mystery even by the end of the feature. His face constantly shrouded by large sunglasses and a mane of black hair. It spoils nothing to say the two fans featured do ultimately uncover the truth. As promised, the unexpected developments will not be revealed here. The documentary can be seen as a meditation on the unpredictable tastes of the masses. Why musicians can sell millions of records in one country and be virtually ignored in another. Rodriguez story is a fascinating one. This is a movie for anyone who has ever toiled in obscurity doing something they loved without recognition or success. An uplifting docudrama that celebrates the joy of a human life.

Chico & Rita

Posted in Animation, Drama, Music, Romance with tags on February 5, 2012 by Mark Hobin

From their humble beginnings in Cuba to the big time in New York City, the rise of Latin jazz is documented through the love affair of Chico and Rita. The narrative is a bit conventional. It’s your standard rags to riches story and it hits all of the soap opera stereotypes you’ve seen a million times. If this was a live action drama there might not be enough here to engage our attention. However the chronicle never loses sight of our two protagonists as the focus. I found this to be a beautiful expression of jazz and Latin music during the 1940s and ‘50s in Havana and New York.

Chico & Rita is a rather unconventional animation. Every frame is drawn in a technique that qualifies as more than a mere cartoon, it’s art. The drawings employ a very clean graphic style, bold and bright with thick lines. The look and the mood of the era are exquisitely captured. The atmosphere, street scenes, and fashions are quite evocative. The uncharacteristic approach in which the drama takes its time is lovely. The production unfolds at a leisurely pace to tell its tale. Characters move at the deliberate pace of natural people. Their expressions aren’t nearly as detailed as the elaborate backgrounds, but they suggest much more than they show. Nuance and silence aren’t attributes usually associated with a cartoon, but they occur here. Even the sound effects get things just right, from the way the piano tones echo through a room or an idling car engine to footsteps across the floor and the sounds of traffic outside a window, everything has the feel of real life.

The film highlights Latin jazz and the compositions are sumptuous. Anyone with an appreciation for jazz will find much to enjoy here. The moviemakers clearly have a genuine affection for the genre. Spanish director Fernando Trueba who won the Academy Award in 1994 for Belle Époque joins Spanish artist Javier Mariscal and Mariscal’s younger brother Tono Errando, in directing Chico & Rita. Although this is a fictionalized account, artists Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker all make appearances here. These people give the fable a historical truth. Chano Pozo, a conga player in Gillespie’s band, is in a cameo here as well. His untimely death becomes a minor plot point. Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés, wrote the score and plays on the soundtrack as Chico. The movie which contains parts of his own life is dedicated to him. Idania Valdés (no relation) provides Rita’s singing voice. Her performance of “Bésame Mucho” is one of many standouts. Rita is positively seductive. Not since Jessica Rabbit has an animated creation been so sexually suggestive. In case you misunderstand, Chico & Rita is definitely NOT for kids.

The story arc may have the clichéd trajectory of a Behind the Music TV episode, but that’s because so many showbiz careers really have followed that career path. The main characters aren’t particularly likeable but they’re very authentic. They behave like human beings driven by lust and greed. These individuals curse, smoke, do drugs and have sex. They’re not sensitive or cloying.  What they are is a convincing depiction of real people and attitudes of a certain time period. That uniqueness is kind of refreshing. But most of all, this is a love letter to a bygone era made by aficionados who truly appreciate Latin jazz, which was essentially a mixture of bebop and Cuban folk. It’s a visually lush and beguiling re-creation that earned this a surprise Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. The picture draws attention to this beautiful music and I can think of worse things than reveling in these poetic rhythms for 94 minutes.

Shine

Posted in Biography, Drama, Music with tags on February 26, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Bittersweet biography dealing with Australian concert pianist David Helfgott who suffered from mental illness.  Most of the film concerns his formative years as a musical prodigy.  He escapes the tyrannical rule of his father who disowns him after he departs for London upon being offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music.  Armin Mueller-Stahl makes an indelible impression as his domineering father in a truly unsympathetic portrayal.  Helfgott’s ongoing obsession with executing Rachmaninoff’s technically demanding Piano Concerto No. 3 ultimately reaches an exhilarating manic apex.  The narrative is a bit murky when it comes to Helfgott’s subsequent psychological breakdown. Are his  problems caused by the virtually unplayable composition or the result of physical and mental abuse by his father?  It’s never quite clear, but regardless, the scene that highlights the performance of this piece is a beautifully edited sequence of talent and dementia.  Geoffrey Rush won the Best Actor Oscar for his work in the role of the virtuoso as an adult, but Noah Taylor actually registers much more screen time with his sensitive depiction as the adolescent David.

The Runaways

Posted in Drama, Music with tags on March 19, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketSolid biography of the seminal LA girl band the Runaways which launched the career of singer Joan Jett.  Never a major force on the charts or even with critics, the rock quintet seems an unlikely candidate for a biopic.  Based on lead vocalist Cherie Currie’s memoir Neon Angel, this well-acted story  follows the somewhat clichéd dramatic arc of your above-average Behind the Music episode.  The talented cast is what sets the film apart, particularly Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie and Riley Keough as her sister Marie.  Their scenes together have a genuine bond of sisterhood that is engaging.  Actor Michael Shannon is also memorable as rock promoter Kim Fanley.  It’s surprising a man in his 30s would be allowed such unsupervised control over a group of girls barely in their teens.  That’s the sort of fascinating detail that makes this biopic a notable addition to the growing list of  films about “sex, drugs and rock & roll”.

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