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Rock biopic The Runaways exceeds expectations

Previews

Opening this weekend at the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Fortuna and the Minor: A Nightmare on Elm Street, a remake bringing back prototypical slasher villain Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) to menace the dreams of frightened teens. Director Samuel Bayer has a long history in rock vids -- from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" -- so expect some very kinetic dreamscapes. Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language. At the Broadway, Fortuna, Mill Creek and the Minor.

The perpetually goofy Brendan Fraser stars in Furry Vengeance, a comedy about a real estate developer who meets resistance from an army of angry forest creatures when he starts building a "green" subdivision in an Oregon nature preserve. Brooke Shields shows up as the developer's wife. Opens Friday at Mill Creek and the Broadway. Rated PG for some rude humor, mild language and brief smoking. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

The Minor finally gets Greenberg, the Ben Stiller comedy written and directed by Noah Baumbach, who also did the dysfunctional family tales The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding. Stiller is Roger Greenberg, a neurotic, self-pitying unemployed 40-something carpenter housesitting at the Beverley Hills home of his successful brother, where he's looked after by a 20-something Girl Friday (Greta Gerwig). Rated R for some strong sexuality, drug use and language. At the Minor.

Opening Friday at the Fortuna Theater: Phish 3D, a concert film shot over Halloween weekend last year at Festival 8 in Indio, where the band from Vermont played eight sets, including an acoustic set and a costumed Halloween night set where they covered The Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street. The crew also shot Phish backstage and in rehearsal, all in eye-popping 3D. Fair warning to Phish-heads -- this is a limited run, one week only. (Not rated.) Or if country's more your thing, catch its major star in Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3D, playing Thursday and Sunday at the Fortuna.

Saturday afternoon, May 1, at the Fortuna, it's The Young Media Makers Big Screen Showcase with digital video productions by local youth between the ages of 8 and 22. Two screenings only at noon and 2:30, doors open 11:30 for pre-show reel.

The Humboldt County Dept. of Health and Human Services presents a free screening of The Soloist at noon Saturday, May 1, at the Arkley Center. Based on a book by Steve Lopez, the film tells the true story of Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a talented, but schizophrenic cellist discovered living on the street by a sympathetic Los Angeles Times columnist (Robert Downey Jr.). A panel discussion follows the film. (Rated PG-13.)

When the Talking Heads took their brilliant album Speaking in Tongues on the road and played Hollywood's Pantages Theater in 1983, they brought in director Jonathan Demme to create a concert film. The result was Stop Making Sense, hailed by critic Leonard Maltin as "one of the greatest rock movies ever made." With hits like "Psycho Killer," " Life During Wartime," " Once in a Lifetime" and "Take Me to the River," guest funksters from Parliament-Funkadelic, and David Byrne in his famous big suit, who's to argue? See it at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at the Arcata Theatre Lounge.

May is "Older Americans Month," and to celebrate, Area 1 Agency on Aging is presenting a free film series Tuesdays at the Humboldt County Library -- all movies with a focus on seniors. First up, May 4, is the Academy Award-winning Pixar animated feature Up, about a 78-year-old widower (voiced by Ed Asner) who sets off on an adventure with an 8-year-old stowaway in a house lifted aloft by hundreds of balloons. Coming up in the series: David Lynch's The Straight Story (May 11), the musical documentary Young@Heart (May 18) and the British film Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (May 25).

Reviews

THE RUNAWAYS. I don't remember The Runaways from the mid-’70s, although I am familiar with some of the groups they opened for, such as The Ramones and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. After seeing the film about the all-girl group, I have convinced myself I remember "I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb," but it's probably a delusion or fantasy.

The film itself is a fictional version of the group, and from reading about the actual Runaways it certainly takes liberties with some of its depictions. Nonetheless, much of the film comes across as though it could be a documentary, and even though I was buried behind the Redwood Curtain busily trying to get tenure at HSU at the time, the film convinced me that it is an accurate depiction of the mid-’70s rock scene in Southern California.

The Runaways were formed in 1975 and broke up in 1979. The film depicts events from that period of time. Much of its effectiveness is due to the committed performances by Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, the band's guitarist and lead singer respectively. Indeed, the biopic is centered on these two characters, which is not surprising since Jett is one of the film's executive producers and the screenplay (by director Floris Sigismondi) is based on Currie's memoir Neon Angel: The Cherie Curry Story.

While the rest of the band and their controlling producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road) are not ignored, it is the relationship between Joan and Cherie that animates the film. Joan is already somewhat established as a guitarist when she is introduced to Cherie by Fowley, who thinks the group needs a showy lead singer. As prodded and molded by Fowley, Cherie becomes a sort of sex kitten, wearing sexy provocative outfits on stage. She also becomes the member of the group most noticed by the press, a fact that eventually causes resentment in the rest of the band.

In many ways, the story of The Runaways is a typical rock biopic. The band struggles early on to gain recognition, a goal made even harder here because of the rock world's bias against female rockers. Even Joan's guitar teacher tells her that "girls can't play electric guitars" while trying to make her play some bland song. They are heavily manipulated by Fowley, who tells the group at one point: "This is not about women's lib. It's about women's libido." To be fair, though, he does teach the group that they have to compete in a really tough, competitive business.

The fact that they are all under 18 doesn't make their rise go more smoothly, either. As with virtually every other rock group depicted in film (and perhaps real life), the members of the group become drug and alcohol addicted. But Sigismondi, in her first feature film (she's a music video director), seems less interested in the external pressures faced by The Runaways than in their internal dynamics.

In many ways, this is a story that might represent any number of artistic groups, such as the Group Theatre back in the 1930s, which begin with ideals based on rebellion against the status quo and then gradually become disillusioned -- with each other and with their individual lives. It is this focus, along with the excellent performances by Stewart and Fanning, that raises this film above most examples of the biopic genre.

I'm very happy to see Stewart in a role more interesting than Bella Swan. I knew she could act. Rated R for language, drug use and sexual content, all involving teens. 106m. At the Broadway.

Continuing

ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's very public love affair takes a journey down the rabbit hole. Rated PG. 101m. At the Broadway.

THE BACK-UP PLAN. Jennifer Lopez decides that waiting for Mr. Right is taking too long and gets artificially inseminated. Rated PG-13. 104m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

BOUNTY HUNTER. A professional bounty hunter gets his dream assignment when he is called on to track down his bail-jumping ex-wife. Rated 111m. At the Broadway.

CLASH OF THE TITANS. Release the Kraken! Rated PG-13. 118m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

DATE NIGHT. Married couple portrayed by Steve Carrell and Tina Fey are reminded why they live in the suburbs. Rated PG-13. 88m. At Broadway and Mill Creek.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. A young boy in middle school deals with the horrors of adolescence. Based on the best-selling illustrated novel by Jeff Kinney. Rated PG. 101m. At Garberville.

DEATH AT A FUNERAL. Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence mourn their father's death as wackiness ensues. Rated R. 91m. At the Broadway.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. A Viking teenager has trouble fitting in with his tribe until he gets a dragon. Rated PG. 98m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and the Minor.

KICK-ASS. A teenaged comic book fanboy aspires to be a superhero. One problem: no superpowers. At the Broadway, Fortuna, the Minor and Mill Creek.

THE LAST SONG. Miley Cyrus stars in the Miley Cyrus movie that comes before the Miley Cyrus movie about Orick. Rated PG. 107m. At Mill Creek.

THE LOSERS. Members of an elite U.S. Special Forces team are sent into the Bolivian jungle to find a really bad dude who wants to incite global war. Rated PG-13. 98m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

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