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The Runaways: The Original All-Girl Punk Band
As with all rock & roll bio pics, music fans are the ones that will derive the most out of The Runaways, the story of the first all-girl rock sensation by the same name. Set during the late seventies when the punk rock movement was being led by bands like the Sex Pistols, the Runaways were another by-product of precise calculation designed to appeal to the female-hungry masses. Despite their sexually luring façade, the band became a symbol of female empowerment and provided the blueprint for raw female bands everywhere.
Taking a break from their epic Twilight roles, Fanning and Stewart play Cherie Currie and Joan Jett respectively. Both Currie and Jett were the band’s founding members; Currie led The Runaways with her angry voice and sex kitten image, while Jett was the first guitar goddess to break into the male-dominated punk rock scene.
Underage drinking, exploring sexuality and life on the road become the girls' rite of passage to womanhood. The Runaways takes a close look at the relationship between the two girls, who were very young when the band broke onto the music scene. Since most of the band’s members came from broken families, they formed a bond right away.
The Runaways takes the usual trajectory of the biopic, showing the origins of the members and behind-the-scenes drama with lush and beautiful photography courtesy of Floria Sigismondi. In her first feature, music video director Sigismondi uses her trademark jittery camerawork and hazy imagery to create scenes of immense beauty; while simultaneously capturing the innocence of the young women coming into their own amid the sinister environment of rock & roll.
The film features brave performances by both Fanning and Stewart. Fifteen-year-old Fanning literally puts herself out there, both emotionally and physically. For her, this marks a graceful transition from a child star to an adult actor.
Much like the band that inspired the film, The Runaways sticks to a dispensable formula that makes it easy to digest. A little rough on the surface but with a mellow emotional centre; this film has a very urgent and enjoyable quality that makes it easy to get behind.
She wakes up from her coma to a husband who she doesn’t remember and parents who are overjoyed that she’s forgotten about their dispute. While Paige’s parents try to bring her back to the way of life that she’d rebelled against, Leo tries to help her remember why she’d left all that behind in the first place. Fighting for a wife who doesn’t remember him and is a completely different person than the one he knew, Leo tries to get her to fall in love with him again.
The film rarely gets unbearably cheesy, setting it apart from your run of the mill Sparks adaptation. It gets mushy, emotional and sappy, but it’s more likely to make you smile than roll your eyes. Leo’s pain and heartbreak combined with Paige’s family’s delight at having their daughter back, gives the film a level of grit that keeps it from becoming overly cloying. However, the secret of the film’s success is the leads, who have great chemistry and manage to pass off some of the cheesiness as bearable.
Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from.
Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O’Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he’s transferred into an adult reformatory.
Immediately marked as a “single cell, high risk” type detainee, it doesn’t take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.
After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate.
Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric’s problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison.
Contributing to the movie’s relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O’Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie’s war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.
Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and moved.