Monday, March 29, 2010

She'll fulfill your dreams ... for a price

Although nothing new is featured in “Chloe,” the latest entry in the sexual thriller genre, it is stylish, fascinating and shocking.
Amanda Seyfried stars as the titular character, a prostitute who is hired by a woman named Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) who suspects her husband of cheating.
Chloe is instructed to tempt the woman’s husband, played by Liam Neeson and then report to the wife about their activities together. At first it is unclear whether Stewart’s intention is to discover whether Neeson will respond to Chloe’s affections or if she wants to hear the specifics of the sexual encounter for another reason, but her decision to hire Chloe sends a major jolt through their marriage.
The two female leads are puzzling and interesting characters. Moore is a woman who is in a dry period both romantically and sexually. She’s a gynecologist who when describing to one of her patients what an orgasm is, says it’s just a series of muscle contractions and is nothing magical. She isn’t sure how she got to this passionless place or how to get out. She is certain she wants to rediscover her passion and Chloe helps awaken this realization and expedite the process.
The actresses are both excellent in their roles and well cast. Moore is sultry as a woman experiencing a midlife crisis brought on by her suspicions of infidelity. Her feelings of inadequacy are perhaps unfounded, since Moore, at 49, is an impressively alluring woman. At times the movie is not so much an exploration of marital dissatisfaction as a celebration of the feminine mystique.
In keeping with this theme, details of feminine appeal are emphasized throughout the film. Moore applies lipstick as the camera focuses on her parted lips. During one encounter with Chloe, she pauses after getting a waft of the scent of her perfume. She asks Chloe what it is and she then rubs some on her hand. Scenes of Moore running across the street wearing high-heeled shoes provides a view of her shapely calves, giving a subtle hint of sex in an everyday situation.
Chloe wears clothing with an accent on the material and how it feels. Her outfits are often of fur or of a lightweight fabric which flows breezily against her skin. In the bedroom scenes Chloe is shown in a tasteful fashion and images of her body are revealed in brief glances, the way a partner might undress herself in a tender moment.
“Chloe” is a fascinating exploration of the pleasures and pratfalls of human sexuality and is satisfying in every way.

Skeletons in the closet and a ghost as a writer

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently sat before a committee defending his decision to involve British troops in the U.S.-led Iraq war.
At times during the questioning people became noticeably upset and voices were raised.
The new political thriller "The Ghost Writer" puts the fictional former British Prime Minister Adam Lang, played by Pierce Brosnan, in the position of being the target of an investigation into allegations of war crimes stemming from his involvement in the rendition and torture of suspected terrorists.
One of the many praises earned by director Roman Polanski, who adapted his novel into the screenplay, with Polanski, is the tapestry woven by a thriller with threads of recent world events and an artful handling of the genre.
As Polanski skillfully succeeded in movies like "Frantic," he creates a world in which it's not only unwise to trust most people, but potentially lethal. This is evidenced in the opening sequence which shows an empty vehicle on a ferry after the other cars are unloaded. The man who drove the car onto the ferry is next shown washed up on the beach. A writer reluctantly takes a meeting with a publishing company which is looking to replace the man who was working on Lange's memoirs. Ewan McGregor plays the writer with an almost sneering detachment from politics. He soon travels to Lang's waterfront property in the states and is given a copy of the manuscript containing the story of the Prime Minister's life, which is kept in a securely locked drawer.
As he arrives, the story of Lang's possible involvement escalates and the uncertainty regarding the extent of Lang's involvement in illegal activity provides much of the film's narrative enjoyment. Like any political figure of significance, Lang is a friend and hero to some and a vile, war-mongering murderer to others. Protesters who want him convicted rally outside the gates of his property and one even sets up camp outside similar to the protester Cindy Sheehan, who camped outside President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. This is one of several specific references to the Iraq war. The U.S. president in the film is not mentioned by name, but one character asks why the prime minister went and got himself mixed up with that fool in the White House.
To go into the specifics of the plot would be cheating the audience out of a great experience. Beyond providing an engrossing political mystery, “The Ghost Writer” immerses the audience in the world of a power figure whose decisions cost lives. It is an intelligent look at not only the toll it takes on the people of his country, but also his wife, who stands by him, but doesn’t always like the consequences of the life of a politician’s wife.
The public may never know the motivations of their politicians or the effect of their involvement in shadowy activities, and after watching “The Ghost Writer” viewers are uncertain of Lang’s motivations. This uncertainty does nothing to diminish the satisfying experience of the Prime Minister’s story.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Rocking hard and falling harder

Watching The Runaways is likely to make anyone born after the 1970s rock era wish they could hop in a time machine and experience some of it firsthand.
That the music, including infectious song "Cherry Bomb" is only part of the appeal, speaks volumes about the film. If the skillful concert-sequence direction by Floria Sigismondi and the raucous onstage performances by Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie are half as exciting as actually being there then it's a mystery why the band wasn't bigger success, although a standard rock and roll descent into drugs contributed to the group's unraveling.
From the beginning it's obvious the band is headed for such trouble, since Jett is seen huffing something out of a bag while sitting on the pavement at night and the girls drink liquor from a squirt gun. High School Musical this is not.
While much of the publicity leading up to the film's release focused on Stewart who is the film's biggest star thanks to her role as Bella Swan in the Twilight series, the movie belongs to Fanning, who plays the band member whose memoir Neon Angel is the source material for the screenplay. Neither the director nor Fanning, or even the costume designer pull any punches and Currie is portrayed as a girl who is growing up too fast, but still has reservations about her budding sexuality. That is until an aggressive music producer named Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) spots her in a club one night while looking for a sexed up front-runner for the group.
Once offered a position in the band, Currie auditions and Fowley asks her to sing a lyric from her signature song Cherry Bomb, which, not being old enough to drive, she finds too sexually charged. He threatens to send her away, but Jett coaxes her into it and she is soon belting out the song with the confidence and enthusiasm of a veteran temptress. This is the catalyst of the self-destruction which as true for many starts, almost ends her young existence. The requisite sex and drugs receive slightly too much attention to the point of redundancy, but it's the rock and roll which is the film's backbone and fuels it throughout. Inhabiting the lives of the hard-partying, hard-rocking young stars gives Fanning and Stewart an opportunity to abandon their familiar images and they don't squander the opportunity. Stewart has the narrower of the two gaps to bridge, since she already plays guitar, smokes cigarettes and was captured by paparazzi taking a drag of what appeared to be marijuana. There is none of Stewart's coyness from her Twilight performances in The Runaways and she is entirely convincing as she shreds on her guitar, sometimes so deep in the performance she hunches over the instrument with a facial expression and stance which seem to indicate she is ready to pounce on the crowd. While Fanning had a small role as an evil vampire in New Moon she is best known for her younger roles as cute and squeaky clean girls in films including Uptown Girls. Here she takes her childhood image, shatters it like a vase and steps on the pieces. Fanning is surprisingly sexual in the film and the fact she's only 16 (albeit the approximate age of Currie at the time the story is set) makes for some discomfort as she poses in her underwear for a magazine shoot and later cavorts in a bustier with thigh-high leggings, but perhaps this is the intention.
The Runaways does not break new ground in the biopic genre, but it succeeds at telling a classic story of rise, fall and redemption amidst a thrilling atmosphere of high-energy lifestyle and thrashing music.

The Runaways is rated R for strong language, sexual situations, drug use and debauchery.