(Photo by Summit Entertainment)
Before she became ambassador for vegetarian vampire-and-werewolf relations in the late 2000s, Kristen Stewart had already built a steady career transitioning from child actor roles and into young adulthood. First, she starred in David Fincher’s efficient potboiler Panic Room, then went into space with with Jumanji cinematic universe-adjacent Zathura (directed by pre-Iron Man Jon Faverau), and helped guide a wayward traveler in Into the Wild.
Of course, that all seems like pre-history in the wake of Twilight, the romantic fantasy phenomenon that would make unlikely tabloid stars out of Stewart and Robert Pattinson for years to come. Five Twilight movies released annually for a half-decade, and whatever the benefits of becoming household names through them, there was also the very real threat of a post-career forever in the shadow of the vampire.
Stewart responded, much like Pattinson, by going indie, as she racked up impressive performances in the likes of Still Alice, Personal Shopper, Clouds of Sils Maria, and Certain Women, working with big arthouse names like Olivier Assayas and Kelly Reichardt. She also completed her unofficial “Co-Starring Jesse Eisenberg” trilogy that started with Adventureland, following through with American Ultra and Cafe Society.
Even Stewart’s approach towards mainstream filmmaking come packaged with feminist or revisionist touches, like Charlie’s Angels or Snow White and the Huntsman. She took a dive in Underwater, and ended 2020 on a Happiest Season. And now we’re ranking all her movies by Tomatometer!
With this weekend’s Midnight Special, Michael Shannon and writer-director Jeff Nichols reunite for their fourth feature — and if early reviews are any indication, it’ll join its predecessors in earning Certified Fresh status. In anticipation of Special’s arrival, we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s feature to a look at some of the many highlights from Shannon’s still-growing filmography — a group that includes collaborations with Nichols as well as an array of other fortunate filmmakers. It’s time for Total Recall!
Shannon started his series of critically acclaimed collaborations with writer-director Jeff Nichols with 2007’s Shotgun Stories, which traces the fault lines in a pair of families who are left behind to sift through the emotional wreckage after the death of the father who abandoned one home to start another. Laced with the violence and unforgiving anger reflected by its title, Shotgun uses an awful situation to explore a series of uncomfortable truths about family dynamics and the human condition; as Roger Ebert observed, “Few films are so observant about how we relate with one another. Few are as sympathetic.”
Shannon earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work as an allegedly crazy neighbor in Revolutionary Road, a 2008 period drama about the unraveling of a middle-class marriage between two suburbanites in 1950s America. Directed by Sam Mendes, Road didn’t win any points for cheeriness — in fact, a good number of critics were turned off by the grueling series of disappointments faced by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in the central roles — but on the whole, Justin Haythe’s screenplay, Mendes’ direction, and the performances of a talented cast helped make the medicine go down. Calling it “bitter, nerve-wracking, ugly and relentless,” Detroit News critic Tom Long wrote, “Revolutionary Road is Big Drama done right, a mesmerizing look at desperate lives, wrong moves and spoiled dreams that hits hard right from the beginning and never lets up.”
Shannon hasn’t done a lot of television, but he knows a solid small-screen opportunity when he sees one, as evidenced by the 35 episodes he filmed for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Part of the cable network’s award-winning slate of 21st century original programming, the Prohibition-set period drama starred Steve Buscemi as “Nucky” Thompson, a corrupt Atlantic City treasurer whose position puts him in contact with some of the era’s most notorious gangsters — and makes him susceptible to large-scale corruption. As Nelson van Alden, a former Prohibition officer leading a double life as a bootlegger, Shannon shared screen time with a talented ensemble that also included Michael Pitt and Kelly Macdonald, and enjoyed his share of five seasons’ worth of critical acclaim.
Before they were solo stars, Joan Jett and Lita Ford were members of the all-female rock group the Runaways — and their fascinating, turbulent, and often rather lurid story can’t be told without making room for their larger-than-life manager, Kim Fowley. While Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning received the lion’s share of The Runaways’ pre-release attention after they were cast as Jett and Runaways vocalist Cherie Currie, many critics felt Shannon stole the film with his performance as Fowley, which captured his provocative essence without delving into the dark side that later came to define his public persona. As Ann Hornaday argued for the Washington Post, “While Jett and Currie emerge as blurry, half-formed characters, Shannon’s Fowley brings the contradictions the Runaways embodied into sharp, biting focus.”
A number of films have given viewers a look at the difficulties of readjusting to civilian life for combat veterans, but they mostly focus on male veterans. A notable exception is writer-director Liza Johnson’s Return, starring Linda Cardellini as a reservist who comes home after a tour of duty in the Middle East only to discover that things have changed — she struggles to cope with the boredom of her job and the demands of her children, all while coming to terms with the growing distance between herself and her husband (Shannon). Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times was one of my critics singling out Shannon’s performance for praise, writing, “Michael Shannon steals the film — when does he not? — as the loving, frustrated husband whose fuse is burning short.”
The world wasn’t exactly crying out for a new bike-messenger drama after Kevin Bacon’s Quicksilver went skidding into the box office guardrails in 1986, but with 2012’s Premium Rush, director/co-writer David Koepp proved the subgenre still had stories left to tell. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a law school grad who dodges the bar with his low-responsibility, high-risk gig as a bike messenger, Rush adds an extra jolt of adrenaline courtesy of a subplot involving a particularly valuable package being chased by a corrupt cop (Shannon) who’ll retrieve it at any cost. Praising the end result as “stuffed with zingers and zippy stunts,” the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis wrote, “It comes with pretty young things of all hues and hair types – few prettier than its lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt – and start-to-finish clever special effects, none more clever or special than Michael Shannon.”
A year after reuniting with Shotgun Stories director Jeff Nichols for Take Shelter, Shannon joined Nichols for their third collaboration, taking a supporting role in 2013’s critically acclaimed Mud. Here, Shannon plays Galen, uncle to one of the boys who stumble upon the title character (played by Matthew McConaughey) after discovering the home he’s made for himself in a boat that was stranded in a tree by a flood. Arriving during a particularly busy time in Shannon’s career — it made its festival debut the same year he released Premium Rush and The Iceman — it doesn’t offer as much screen time as other films he’s made with Nichols, but his presence is part of the rich, Twain-inspired canvas that helped make it one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the year. As Joe Morgenstern argued for the Wall Street Journal, “It’s a movie that holds out hope for the movies’ future.”
Shannon’s intense screen presence makes him an ideal pick for a movie about an infamous hitman, and The Iceman — inspired by the real-life story of prodigiously homicidal killer Richard Kuklinski — would definitely seem to fit the bill. Unfortunately, a good many critics agreed that director/co-writer Ariel Vromen’s take on the Kuklinski story didn’t really live up to its potential, sacrificing some of its stranger-than-fiction energy for the sake of delivering yet another largely generic picture about the evil that men do. The Iceman’s saving grace, unsurprisingly, was Shannon’s performance, which vested the character with suitably chilling life even when the film didn’t seem to know what to do with him. As Dana Stevens wrote for Slate, “Shannon inhabits this character so completely that by the end of this hard-to-watch, hard-to-look-away-from movie you feel you can, if not understand Richie, at least wish he had found some redemption in life.”
The messy bursting of the housing bubble in 2008 serves as the backdrop for this harrowing drama from writer-director Ramin Bahrani, which uses the eviction of struggling single father Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) to set up a knotty conflict that doubles as a troubling microcosm for modern American economics. After being displaced from his home by real estate broker Rick Carver (Shannon), Nash is given the chance to get back on his feet — and regain possession of his home — by working on Carver’s crew, which sets in motion a chain of events that improves his family’s financial health while threatening to upend Nash’s moral compass. “Bahrani shows what happens when it becomes more profitable to yoink away the American Dream than it is to encourage people to buy into it,” wrote Alan Scherstuhl for the Village Voice. “Shannon shows us the toll that that yoinking etches in the face, the mind, the soul.”
Michael Shannon has made an impressive mark on Hollywood over the past several years. The noted character actor picked up a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his small-but-crucial role in Revolutionary Road. A bigger showcase for Shannon’s talents is Werner Herzog’s My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, (out this week on DVD) an unconventional police procedural that examines the mind of a man who slowly goes mad. As Brad in My Son, My Son, Shannon convincingly embodies a deeply disturbed man whose life was changed during a rafting trip in Peru. Upon his return to the States, he becomes consumed by religious fervor and his role in a community theater adaptation of Elektra— and the result isn’t pretty. (Shannon also has a key role in the Martin Scorsese-exec-produced HBO series Boardwalk Empire, which premieres late this month.)
In an interview with RT, Shannon shared his favorite movies and discussed what it’s like to work with Werner Herzog, what he does to get into character, and why he tends to play obsessive, disturbed types.
I like The King of Comedy by Scorsese. I like that one. It makes me laugh a lot. I think it’s very funny. I mean, I like the combination, the trio of Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis and Sandra Bernhard; that’s just one of my favorite trios in a movie. The three of them had a pretty amazing chemistry, I thought. I’ve heard that Scorsese was reluctant to make it, that it was on the shelf for a while; I guess that makes me appreciate it even more.
And you’re working with him pretty soon, too — or you have.
I worked with him on the pilot for Boardwalk Empire; that was last summer. September 19 that’s premiering. It’s very lavish and lush and beautiful to look at: the costumes, the cars, the sets, the props; a remarkable ornate universe. It’s a really exciting cast, I think. Everyone in it was someone I was excited to work with
Well I guess this is cheating because it’s 10 movies, but I like [Krzysztof Kieślowski’s] Decalogue a lot. That’s one director I was sad when he passed away, because I would have loved to have worked with him — although he never really worked with American actors. I love all of his films but Decalogue is very satisfying. When I watched it for the first time I saw them all in two days, as this little cinema in London. I watched five the first day and the second five the next day.
It’s a documentary, but I remember liking Crumb a whole lot. When Crumb came out I would go and see it like three times a week; I would be bringing different people to see it. I’d seen a couple of documentaries before, from Errol Morris or whatever, but that, I mean that one took it to a whole other level as far as I was concerned. I just thought it was the most interesting family I’d ever seen in a movie, really.
Next: Michael Shannon discusses working with Werner Herzog on My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, and talks about getting into character on The Runaways.
RT: This is the most clichéd question but I have to ask it, because this is the kind of director who, when making a police procedural, will go to Peru and/or the Xinjiang province in China for a shot or two, so — what’s it like working with Werner Herzog?
Michael Shannon: I think you kinda summed it up. He’s very determined to do what he wants to do, no matter how outlandish or maybe, you know, unnecessary it may seem to some people. I think he shot the film because he’s been making a lot of documentaries recently, and also Rescue Dawn, which is a much more straightforward picture. I feel like With Bad Lieutenant and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done he was really exercising his imagination and doing things that he really wanted. He was talking about some shots in My Son, My Son that he’s been wanting to do for years, like things he’s been dreaming about or thinking about for years. So I think he put a lot of that energy and creativity in, particularly into My Son, My Son. But I also thought in Bad Lieutenant it was on display as well.
One of the interesting things about your character is that the movie is not a Whodunit, because you know who did it. It’s just the simple fact that his world makes sense to him — there isn’t a sort of an, “Oh I know what made him snap!” moment.
Yeah. I really appreciated that aspect, I think. I think it’s pretty foolish to assume that a movie, in the course of an hour and a half, can explain why somebody would drive a sword through their mother’s torso. And I like that instead of trying to explain it in a logical way, to make sense out of it, it just tries to create the point of view and the feeling of it. I’ve seen it a couple of times and every time I see it I notice different things or different themes that jump out, but I don’t think it’s a film to be necessarily understood.
Is the message, like a lot of Werner Herzog movies, “Don’t go to South America because you might go nuts?”
[laughs] Well I do think to a certain degree that part of it was this whole idea of losing all of his buddies on the trip. Werner always said that, for him, that’s what he wanted to be the genesis of the insanity. That was always interesting to me because I don’t think that’s something that actually happened to Mark, the character that Brad is based on, but a lot of times Werner didn’t seem as interested in telling Mark’s story as he was telling Brad’s story. I guess if he was interesting in telling Mark’s story my character would have been named Mark. The screenwriter, Herbert Golder, he researched Mark thoroughly, and there is a lot in the movie that is based on things that happened to Mark or things that he did. Herb actually met Mark and talked to him. But it was also combined with other things that were in Werner’s mind.
You played Kim Fowley [in The Runaways], who you met with briefly. When you’re playing someone like this guy, how much are you trying to capture the person’s nuance? How much are you playing a real guy?
Well there is this real difference to me between playing Kim and playing Brad in My Son. For example, in The Runaways I’m playing Kim Fowley, the character’s name is Kim Fowley and it’s a biopic. In that instance I was very aware of an obligation to be as much like Kim Fowley as possible, and I studied him and watched a lot of footage of him. There was one interview with him that I just watched over and over and over again. And I guess pretty much anybody can kinda do that. I mean I obviously physically bear a bit if a resemblance to him, so that helped as well. But it’s a matter of sitting and watching a tape and trying to absorb somebody’s manners and gestures and things. With My Son, it was totally different. Werner discouraged it. He didn’t want me to act like Mark; he didn’t want me to think about Mark at all, really. I guess for him the research had been done in the screenplay and the writing of it, and I didn’t watch any footage of Mark or do any of that kind of stuff.
Are you inherently drawn to unhinged characters, or is this what people tend to cast you in — these types of extreme personality roles?
It’s probably a combination of things. When people are casting things, movies and what not, they go on impressions they have of people, you know. The impressions they have of you are based on what they’ve seen you in. But I also think I find a lot of differences in the characters I’ve played, regardless of whether they may be violent or angry or act out or, you know, have lapses of control. I still find them all pretty interesting in their own regard, and not incredibly similar. I think if you took scenes from each of the films and put them on a loop, or played them back to back, you would maybe see more of the subtle differences between them. I think part of the reason I got into this was because I’m generally in touch with the uneasy side of myself and things in general, probably. I think the world’s an uneasy place, filled with anxiety and problems, so maybe the voices of the characters I play are representative of that.
Are you still doing live theater, in Chicago and such?
Yeah I did a play in Chicago last fall that I’m actually hoping to move to New York this fall. I live in New York and I go back to Chicago occasionally, but I’m still a member of a theater company there in Chicago. I like to do as much theater as possible but it’s getting increasingly difficult to make time for it. But no matter what I think I will continue to do it.
Did you ever encounter any “Brad” types in your various theater experiences?
Oh. [laughs] Yeah, that’s interesting, you know. I guess, particularly when you’re younger, there’s a little bit of that — people get upset with their parts and what not, and there’s this whole notion of creating a separate reality or everything needs to be realistic or lifelike: “I have to become this person in order to do my job.” I think that it’s something you find a lot with younger actors. I was probably guilty of it in my day. When you get older, at least for me, the transformation has become less about, “I have to become someone else” than, “I have to tell a story”. It’s more about being a participant in the act of telling a story; being more focused on the story as a whole and less on myself, you know. I think that happens to a lot of people as they get older. You become a little less self-centered and more cognizant of the world around you.
This week on home video, there were a lot of straight-to-DVD releases. So many, in fact, that you’d have to wade through a sea of them to find anything really notable to mention here. As such, we’re limiting our choices to the newest releases that also saw theater time, as well as two brand new Criterion editions from a legendary filmmaking duo (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger). Strap yourselves in for this short ride and see if there’s anything this week that might make it into your library.
As much a triumph of marketing as a notch in the headstone of Glam Rock, The Runaways were a girlband of indecent and hardcore proportions. Shepherded by Kim Fowley, a manager people love to call “svengali-like,” they rocked this “jailbait” aesthetic for all it was worth, and transformed the idea of girl-power into a marketable, sexable, underaged product. For that reason, among others, the story hadn’t received screen treatment sooner. Debut director Floria Sigismondi takes this subject personally and brings the stories of Cherie Currie (lead singer and writer of the biography upon which the film is based), Joan Jett, and manager Fowley into a uniquely nostalgic tale. Stars Dakota Fanning (as Currie) and Kristen Stewart (as Jett) supply as much good-girl-gone-wrong as possible and the impossibly talented Michael Shannon (Shotgun Stories, Revolutionary Road brings the skank. DVD extras include a commentary track with Joan Jett (the real one!), and stars Fanning and Stewart.
Near the beginning of this summer, audiences were treated to a loud, explosive action movie about a band of rogue Special Forces soldiers who were forsaken by the government and whose mission it became to track down and confront the villain who set them up. Wait, hold on… It appears that there were actually TWO movies out this summer with this plot, so let’s clarify a bit here: we’re talking about The Losers, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), Zoe Saldana (Star Trek, Avatar), Chris Evans (The Fantastic Four), and Idris Elba (RocknRolla) — not exactly star-studded, but not a terrible cast, either. The film was helmed by Sylvain White, who’s only other directorial credits have been I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer and Stomp the Yard, so obviously something like The Losers was right up his alley… In all seriousness, though, critics didn’t think the film was all bad, citing its humor and strong performances as key strengths, even despite its unrelenting violence and over-the-top action clichés. It’s not going to win any Oscars, but if you’re looking for a popcorn-popping romp, this’ll probably liven up your evening.
Kevin Smith burst upon the indie movie scene in 1994 with the cult hit Clerks and followed up the next year with the similarly themed Mallrats. Folks began to take notice, and Smith treated them to the likes of 1997’s Chasing Amy and 1999’s Dogma, exploring heady issues like friendship, loyalty, sexuality, and religion (with a poop monster thrown in for good measure, of course). So it makes a lot of sense that this indie darling, known for his knack for witty banter and complex rant-filled dialogue, would hit the big screen hard with… a super silly buddy cop comedy starring Bruce “Yippie-Ki-Yay-Motherf***er” Willis and Tracy “Somebody-Gon-Get-Pregnant” Morgan. Smith has had bombs (Jersey Girl, anyone?) before, to be sure, but Cop Out is his worst-rated effort by far, and it may be the most convincing argument against him taking on a project somewhat outside his wheelhouse, so to speak. Despite its experienced cast, which includes Seann William Scott, Adam Brody, Rashida Jones, and regular Smith collaborator Jason Lee, the film never manages to excel beyond its action-comedy clichés and dismal pacing, which earned it no higher than a 19% on the Tomatometer. If watching John McClane get kicked in the nethers by a child is your kind of fun, though, pick this one up and have yourself a ball.
Bong-Joon Ho made his name in the States with The Host, a comical family melodrama about a people-stealing monster and the family that it (literally) eats alive. Bong’s horror was plenty pointed but always skated towards the absurd-which made for as many belly laughs as shocked screams-and played easily to an international audience. Mother is sly and just as scary as The Host but with in-jokes and inversions that set you (and keep you) on edge. Did I mention it’s funny? There’s a part when the son (played by Korean action star Bin Won) tries to kick the side view mirror off a car and falls down. It’s hilarious…if you know he’s an action star; most Americans don’t. Mother‘s protagonist, Hye-Ja Kim (who has no name other than “Mother” in the film) made her acting career playing idealized mothers on Korean TV. Here, she’s an overbearing worrywart who’s certain she’s responsible for her son’s “slowness” and, when he’s accused of murdering a local girl, stops at nothing to prove his innocence — or makes him innocent by eliminating evidence. The film does an incredible job managing the comic and the monstrous, and what’s family if not a stage for horror that could kill you (if you don’t laugh at it)? The DVD includes multiple interview featurettes with actors and crew, including the star, the cinematographer, the composer and the DP, along with a 90 minute making-of.
Cinephiles are in for a double bill from movie heaven this week, as Criterion unveils its brand new DVD and Blu-ray editions of two Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger classics that capture the filmmaking team at the peak of their Technicolor form. Adapted from Rumer Godden’s novel, 1947’s Black Narcissus tells the story of a group of Anglican nuns — led by Deborah Kerr’s Sister Clodagh — who establish a convent in the remote Himalayas to set up a school. Forbidden desires are conjured, however, with the arrival of the swarthy British liaison Mr. Dean (David Farrar), leading to much repressed swooning and one epic nun flight atop a precarious mountain. Fans of old-school filmmaking technique will relish Powell and Pressburger’s use of matte paintings and miniatures — the Himalayan ranges were in fact exquisitely constructed models — that give the movie a look unlike anything you’d see today (and which CGI could never quite replicate). The hyper-real backdrops and Technicolor saturation help heighten the story’s melodrama, while Kerr gives a superb performance as Sister Superior. “Powell’s equally extravagant visual style transforms it into a landscape of the mind,” noted the Chicago Reader’s Dave Kehr, “grand and terrible in its thorough abstraction.” The restored Criterion edition has an audio commentary and three documentaries, plus extensive liner notes.
When Martin Scorsese labels a film one of his all-time favorites, it’s time to sit up and take notice. The director was personally involved in overseeing the restoration of Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes for its 2009 showing at Cannes, and the love that has gone into the retouching of the film is palpable. Arguably Powell and Pressburger’s — if not post-war cinema’s — high water mark, The Red Shoes is loosely adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen story, which serves as the basis for the ballet being performed in the film. Fledgling dancer Vicki (Moira Shearer) is taken under the wing of arch choreographer Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook, magnificently camp), but she must choose between her destiny to dance the ballet or fall in love — the latter scorned by Lermontov, to whom the dance is everything. Put simply, The Red Shoes is a masterpiece: it’s both dramatic and whimsical, moving and completely surreal. The film’s centerpiece, a 20-odd-minute ballet turned dreamscape, is something to behold; in its movement you can see half a century of cinematic inspiration. As the Independent’s Anthony Quinn put it: “It has a quicksilver grace and variation of mood unlike anything else you’ve seen.” This edition, featuring the restored print, is introduced by Scorsese and features a gallery of his collection from the film, plus audio commentary, documentaries and liner notes.
Written by Luke Goodsell, Sara Vizcarrondo, and Ryan Fujitani
Floria Sigismondi may not be a familiar name to movie audiences, but there’s a good chance you’ve encountered her work. Over a 20-odd-year career, the Italian-born photographer turned director has made music clips for artists including David Bowie, The Cure, Bjork and The White Stripes, priming her for her debut feature this year, The Runaways. Written and directed by Sigismondi, the film charts the combustible short life of influential ’70s all-girl band The Runaways, with Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning rocking out of character in the lead roles of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. We spoke with the director recently and asked her to name her all-time five favorite films.
Short-lived LA band The Runaways were in many ways ahead of their time: predating punk and the riot-grrrl movement that would later claim them as their own, the all-girl quintet, led by guitarist Joan Jett and singer Cherie Currie, dared to play their own instruments and cover sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll from a female perspective in a world dominated by stadium rock machismo. That they were seen by some critics as a manufactured jailbait stunt — the band members were all underage — seems almost beside the point in retrospect. This year’s film The Runaways, written and directed by Floria Sigismondi from Currie’s memoir Neon Angel and Jett’s recollections, explores the band’s 1975 creation and turbulent not-quite-rise and fall at the hands of svengali producer Kim Fowley, while vividly capturing the bond between Currie (Dakota Fanning) and Jett (Kristen Stewart), two “dead end kids” clinging to each other in the media storm. With the movie opening in Australia this week, we spoke to Sigismondi about the film and just whose version of the controversial events it depicts.
RT: A film can sometimes live or die on its opening shot, and yours — Cherie’s first menstrual blood hitting the pavement — is a killer. What inspired that?
FS: Well, one of the things I was drawn to about making this film was that it was about young girls coming of age, and I thought, ‘How can I make a statement in the beginning of the film that personifies that time when a young girl is turning into a woman?’ — and there was that very physical body change that leads to other kinds of body changes. [laughs] The film is about girls, and that seemed to me to kind of jump out as an interesting way of starting the film, to tell people where they’re at and what kind of film they’re gonna see — about these girls who are young and their bodies are changing. It also gave me the chance to set the tone and the exterior of the Valley at the same time.
You also got to set the musical tone of the time with that great track, “Roxy Roller.”
Yeah, that totally brought me back to when I was a kid. It was one of those tracks they played on the radio all the time.
It’s such a cool song. Was that the first time that you heard The Runaways, when you were a kid?
I actually heard them a bit later. I’d moved to Toronto as an arts student and I heard them at the clubs. I was working at a club and they played them all the time. So I heard them then, a little bit later — I only would’ve been, I think, 10 [at the time], so it wouldn’t have been on my radar.
What was it that appealed to you about the band?
I mean, I loved the rawness but I loved that the girls played their instruments; they were super cool and they wrote their own songs. So there was a lot of appeal, you know. I guess I became a fan straight away.
At what point did the idea of turning Cherie’s book [Neon Angel] into a movie come about?
I was approached by Brian Young, who manages me now, and he took me to see [producers] the Linsons, and John and Art had bought the rights to the book. I read the book and I came back in. The film isn’t strictly, or solely, based on her book. It’s based on the book for Cherie’s side and then it’s based on a bunch of interviews that I had with Joan and Kim and other people. Then there was also all of my research that I had. Luckily for me there was a big sort of media explosion, here in the US and in Japan, so there were a lot of interviews that were really great to read because they were in the girls’ voices, in the first person, so I was really able to get a sense of how they spoke and all that stuff. That was really fun, to research all that stuff; and especially Kim’s interviews, if you could imagine.
Did you get a lot of feedback from Joan and Cherie during the process?
I got a little bit of feedback once they’d read the script, and it was mostly in details, you know — “I drank this” or “I did that kind of drug,” [laughs], you know what I mean, details of certain things. But I had taken license into dramatising certain things. When you have peoples’ lives but you have an hour and a half to tell them, you’ve got some constraints to deal with. So for me it was like, how do I, after meeting these people and reading about them, how do I personify the characteristics in a scene? So a lot of the times I was using scenes to do that — they weren’t necessarily scenes that they could comment on, but I did use them, especially for Cherie and her relationship with her sister, and that was quite important, but also in their relationship to Kim. I mean, I had this challenge of Kim being this character that helps them but in Cherie’s eye is quite intimidating, and in Joan’s eye he’s like funny and a friend and a partner in crime; so his character has to weave that delicate line between those two, because they both had extremely different views on him, and still do.
Between that and seeing [former bassist] Vicki Tischler-Blue’s documentary Edgeplay, there seem to be very different views as to just how creepy or manipulative Kim Fowley was. What’s your take — did you get speak to him directly?
Yeah I did. I had a couple of interviews with him and they lasted a long time. I think the first one I had was five hours. What I gathered from him, and how he also explained it to me, was that he was a different person to different people. If he walked in to a record company he’d be that guy, and if he walked in to meet some of the girls’ parents, he was another guy; and then when he was alone with them and he was the club guy, he was very different. I think he was a little bit of a chameleon, and I wish I had time to have more of that scene where he comes to meet the mum, the “I want to take her on tour” thing. It would have been fun to watch him do that. So I gathered that in life he was different kind of people. I think for Cherie she looked to him as possibly a father figure, because her father was not around; and I think he could not be that figure, although I’m sure he was very persuasive to the mum, in having her leave home and go on tour. And Joan just thought he was hysterical. [laughs]
Kristen and Dakota give really fantastic performances — particularly Dakota. What drew you to those two actresses?
Dakota wasn’t on our radar right away because she was too young when I was writing; she was probably 13. Then she kind of grew up. When I found out she was interested I really was excited because she’s a great actress and I feel like she’s quite mature for her age, so I felt confident that I was able to talk to her about some subjects and stuff that maybe you wouldn’t necessarily, you know- you’d have to talk about differently, if she hadn’t had all this experience. I mean, she had done, I think, 40 films before she’d done my film; so she’s incredibly experienced. But there’s something so fresh about her, in her eyes; I thought that what was so great is that she’d be good at both the more innocent Cherie and then the fallen Cherie. Her arc was tremendous so I was grateful to have her. Kristen Stewart I’d seen in Into the Wild, and the Twilight movies hadn’t come out, and there was something quite captivating about her. Although she was in that film for such a short period, there was something captivating when she came on the screen, and strong. She really emotes a lot with her eyes; both actresses do, and I think that was important because there was a lot of stuff said in looks in my film and I knew that I needed that. She also has this sort of toughness that Joan has.
They seemed to really get along so well, too.
They really did, they really bonded on the film which was great because in real life they are like that, you know. The two women, when we did our recording sessions for the music: Cherie came in and did backup vocals and it was like no time had passed once they got into a room together; it was like the good old days.
So Cherie sang backing vocals on the movie tracks?
Yes. And then Joan came in with her band and put all the musical tracks down.
Another great scene in the film is Dakota, as Cherie, performing David Bowie’s “Lady Grinning Soul.” You’ve actually directed clips for David — have you shown him that piece?
Yeah, you know I emailed him telling him that the main character in this film has been incredibly influenced by David Bowie, just to let him know that musicians are still being affected by his music and how great it is. He was just amazing to work with. I’ve not spoken to him about that scene but we were arranging a screening for him. I really don’t know if he went to see it or not. It would be interesting to see what he thought. Cherie was really taken by him and if you look at her whole image it’s sort of like, where he kind of went more feminine, she gets more masculine and it’s the whole idea of this androgynous kind of character.
Did you see any films from the era that influenced the way you put The Runaways together? I’m thinking of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, or films of that calibre.
Yeah I saw The Fabulous Stains; I don’t know how much that film influenced me — and that’s a cool film — but I was more influenced by Christiane F., the German film about a junkie, although it was darker. I loved the way it was shot and I thought the young girl [Natja Brunckhorst] was really great. And Sid and Nancy, you know. I always went back to those two films. There was something about those two films that really grabbed me.
And Christiane had the obsession with Bowie, too.
Yes, I know! There were certain similarities there.
Do you think it’s difficult for an “all girl film,” as it were, to make it in the movie world, just as the band found it difficult to make it as an all-girl band in the male-dominated rock industry at the time?
I don’t know, you know. I think girls wanna go watch films about girls, so I don’t know that it’s that. It might be the distribution, just being a limited distribution. Being on limited distribution, you really have a limited amount of people that can see it. I really wouldn’t have thought that would be a hinderance. Also, it’s about young girls and being rated R makes it more difficult for the young girls to go see it.
Would you say it’s an appealing film for adolescent audiences?
I think it would be appealing. I don’t know if they could get out to see it because it’s restricted, so you’d have to have someone 17 or older, or a parent, to go see it. I don’t think a 15-year-old kid could just go and see it. The kids that I spoke to that had seen it were really kind of excited by it. You don’t see a lot of films — not that we’re promoting it — of young people being a bit raw, so I would think that that would be appealing.
There should be more of them.
[laughs] Yeah, I just make ’em.
You’re corrupting the youth one film at a time, Floria.
Oh dear, don’t give me that! [laughs] I think that because it’s restricted you kind of have to educate your kids going in; not everyone who sees those images is gonna go do stuff, you know. But I am telling the true lives of these people, and that’s what happened to them — you’ve gotta be true to that.
This week at the movies, we’ve got a scheming tween (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, starring Zachary Gordon and Steve Zahn); squabbling exes (The Bounty Hunter, starring Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler); and hazardous healthcare (Repo Men, starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker). What do the critics have to say?
It’s a (debatable) maxim that the book is always better than the movie. That certainly seems to be the case with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which critics say contains moments of insight and humor but never fleshes out its middle school characters with the same empathy as Jeff Kinney’s books. The movie stars Zachary Gordon as a kid who can’t catch a break with the popular crowd, so he tries out various activities in order to climb the social ladder — all the while chronicling his life in a journal. The pundits say Wimpy Kid accurately captures the uncertainties of the junior high years, but also features abrupt tonal shifts and a story that apes others of its ilk.
Given the right material, Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler are charming folks. Unfortunately, critics say The Bounty Hunter is decidedly the wrong material — clichéd, shrill, and lacking an ounce of chemistry between its usually winning leads. Butler plays a former cop who’s now a bounty hunter, and his latest assignment is bringing in his bail-jumping ex-wife. Will these crazy kids bicker? Will they relight the spark that brought them together in the first place? Can we expect a little of both, perhaps? Yes, say pundits, along with a shortage of laughs and smarts. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Aniston’s best-reviewed films.)
Alex Cox’s Repo Man is one of the 1980s’ wildest cult classics, mixing punk rock, aliens, and… Wait, wrong movie. Repo Men, critics say, is a satirical misfire that mixes slasher and sci-fi tropes but never makes the most of its unhinged premise. The plot: a corporation called the Union manufactures perfect artificial organs, but if transplant recipients get behind on their payments, “repo men” reclaim the organs by force. One such repo man is Jude Law, is Jude Law, who has trouble making his payments when he gets his own artificial heart… and… you can see where this is going. The pundits say Repo Men shows flashes of perverse wit, but ultimately squanders its cast on generic chase sequences and oodles of gore.
Also opening this week in limited release: