Friday, May 14, 2010

How the Irish Saved Civilization, Cherry Bomb and Birdemic

I recently caught two films at the Roxie.

The Secret of Kells; animated; (2009) - Official Website
The Runaways starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart; (2010) - Official Website


I didn't enjoy The Secret of Kells. One of the main reasons I wanted to see it was that it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. I found the story confusing. I often think that animated films focus too much on fantastical animation at the expense of the plot or character development. In this case, the story focused on Brandon, an Irish boy whose uncle is the Abbot of Kells, the village where they live. Set in the 9th century, the Abbot's sole purpose seems to be constructing a wall to keep Viking marauders. A monk from the island of Iona arrives in Kells with his cat and the Book of Kells. What is the Book of Kells? It's never made clear in the film but it is a Latin version (with illustrations) of the Four Gospels of the Bible.

Brandom becomes captivated by Brother Aidan and his book. He ventures into the forest (where his uncle has forbade him to go) in search of berries to create green ink to continue the illustrations. He meets a wolf who turns into a girl and there is some dragon whose eye is the lens to understanding the Book of Kells. To be honest I lost interest after a few minutes in the forest full of kaleidoscopic images. Eventually the Vikings come and sack the village. Aidan, Brandon and the book escape.

What does a lupine shape shifter have to do with Viking raids on Ireland or Irish monks transcribing books in the Middle Ages? Nothing as far as I can see. I thought the film would have been infinitely better without the fantasy elements.


The Runaways is a biopic of the pioneering all girl rock & roll band of the same name. The film focuses on Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). Rather than a fully formed story, the film amalgamates various scenes to create a superficial but enjoyable analysis of the rise and the fall of The Runaways.

Jett is the driving force behind the band although what drives her "Love of Rock 'n Roll" is never explained. Curie is chosen by Jett and band manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) based on her appearance. Curie, the daughter of an alcoholic father and selfish mother, is transformed as the film progresses. Naive and largely chaste when the film begins, she is a drug addict and bi-sexual by the time she breaks off from The Runaways. As for Fowley, who is referred to as a scumbag and Svengali, I'm not sure what the problem is. He has sex but not with the underage band members. He teaches them to project their sexuality into their performances which Curie quickly masters. He abdicates much of his managerial responsibilities to Jett who seems only too willing to accept that role. When he does exert his authority, it's to bully Curie into performing at the record stuiod which seems appropriate since the other band members and audience can't understand (or sympathize) why she can no longer perform.

The film features a great 1970's era soundtrack and Stewart is dead on as Joan Jett. The film depicts a lesbian relationship between Jett & Curie which given Curie's pre-Runaway, wide-eyed, barely menstruating depiction may explain a lot about her subsequent drug use and the demise of The Runaways.

A few of my favorite scenes.

Before forming The Runaways, Jett takes some guitar lessons. She is expecting electric guitar lessons. The teacher is an aging but sexist looking Beatnik who thinks its not appropriate for women to play electric guitar. Instead, he tries to teach her "On Top of Old Smoky."

At the end of the film, promoting her debut album with the Blackhearts, Jett is dressed in jacket/T-shirt combo that looks like something Ellen Degeneres would wear on her talkshow.


A couple weekends ago, the Roxie screened Birdemic at 11 PM on Friday & Saturday nights. It was in the middle of the San Francisco International Film Festival so I missed it. I guess it must have been a hit because they are scheduling encore screenings on May 28 and 29. The film is touring extensively around the country over the next two months.

What is Birdemic all about? According to the official website, aplatoon of eagles & vultures attack the residents of a small town. Many people died. It's not known what caused the flying menace to attack. Two people managed to fight back, but will they survive Birdemic?

Is Birdemic any good? According to Wikipedia, Birdemic has been noted for its vastly poor quality, with reviewers calling out its wooden acting, bad dialogue, nonsensical plot and, in particular, its special effects, consisting entirely of poorly rendered CGI eagles and vultures that, in addition to performing physically awkward aerial maneuvers (non-animated bird sprites in the background will simply rotate 360° in mid-air), spit acid and explode upon impact with the ground.

Am I going to attend Birdemic? I don't know. It sounds like a midnight movie classic-in-the-making but I find I don't like films that are too cheesey.

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