Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Sundance Buzz

I'm not at Sundance. I'd like to be, believe me. Sundance, along with a Doctor Who convention and San Diego Comic Con, is actually an ideal vacation for me. Sigh. Maybe someday, when I sell something valuable. You can live without a spleen, right?

Anyway, there's two films kicking up a lot of buzz right now. The first one is The Runaways, the biopic about awesome and groundbreaking girl band The Runaways, which launched the careers of such rock icons as Cherie Currie, Joan Jett and Lita Ford. It got a lot of attention when it was revealed that star Kirsten Stewart (playing Jett) had cut her "Bella" hair. Dakota Fanning plays Currie, and its been revealed that her and Stewart share....gasp........a kiss. What will Edward think?

all of this, we had yet to hear if the film is any good. Fanning, even as a child, was a stunningly good actress, so as a teen she should be even more proficient. Stewart has never impressed me, seeming to be stuck in a sullen, slightly stunned, occasionally intriguing mode. Well, it appears as if the reviews are mixed, with some praising the film to the rafters, and others saying it's merely serviceable. That's disappointing for a film with such intriguing subject matter to work with. Great poster, though, I love the record imprint. I'm old enough to remember that.

The other big news maker from the fest is Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Jim Thompson's classic noir novel The Killer Inside Me. Thompson's novel (one of my faves) is a brutal and brilliant journey into the mind of a homespun sociopathic deputy sheriff in a small southern town as he slowly unravels and gives in to his misogynistic homicidal urges and his efforts to lie and smile his way out his crimes.

a screening last weekend, quite the hullabaloo was raised, when several scenes of extremely violent beatings caused more than a few walkouts and a intense Q&A for Winterbottom following the film. In the first scene in question, star Casey Affleck severely beats a prostitute played by Jessica Alba, the act going on for at least three minutes and shown in very graphic detail. Not only did some audience members walk out during this, but Alba herself left the screening at this point. Another scene featured Affleck beating Kate Hudson's character, almost as severely.

the film, during the Q&A, some audience members chastised both the director and the festival for exhibiting the film at all, while others questioned why only women were shown to be on the receiving end of such violent depictions of brutality and cruelty. Winterbottom was clearly shocked at the vehemence of the reaction, and he stumbled around some explanations.

someone who has read the novel, I can say that that level of brutality is definitely evident, and as you're reading a novel about a sadistic misogynist, it kind of is justified. Now, I haven't seen the film, so I can't say whether or not the violence is excessive or not, but I will say that this reaction brings up and old argument about violence in film. Namely, is it better to show violence as ugly, brutal and upsetting as it is in real life? Or is the sanitized violence that we usually see, namely violence we're supposed to be thrilled and titillated by, okay?

think it depends on the audience the film is aiming for. With a film like The Killer Inside Me, the aim is obviously at adults, and adults can make up their own minds about what is to their taste or not. If you don't like violence, a movie about delving into the mind of a killer probably isn't for you, and you've got no one to blame but yourself, in my opinion.

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