Movie Review: The Runaways (2010)

July 3, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

The Runaways is the best movie starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning since Twilight: New Moon!

I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of The Runaways, the revolutionary all-girl rock group from the 70s.  Nevertheless, this was a much anticipated screening for me because it featured Kristen Stewart NOT as Bella Swan, plus her Twilight co-star Dakota Fanning in her first “adult” role.

The Runaways tells the story of the two key members of the band, Joan Jett (Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Fanning), and how they were “discovered” by rock impresario Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon from Revolutionary Road).  Together with three other girls, The Runaways became an international sensation.  For those who don’t know what happened to them, good for you.  It’s always better to watch a “based on a true story” movie without knowing how it ends.

I really wanted to like this film directed by Floria Sigsimondi, who also adapted the screenplay from Cherie Currie’s book “Neon Angel”.  However, it didn’t quite get there for me.  The Runaways is essentially a coming of age story about how a bunch of young girls fell into outrageous success, how fame seduced them, and how it eventually consumed their lives.  It’s a familiar rise-and-fall story that we’ve seen far too often, even if it is based on true events.  Accordingly, there was a predictable trajectory to the film that took some of the freshness out of it.

I was never bored during the 106-minute running time, but it did feel like a rather long movie where the pace sagged towards the back end of the film.

However, my two main problems with the film are more subjective than objective.

First, the hard rock music wasn’t my thing.  Those who enjoy this type of music will really get off on it, but it was just too loud for me!

Second, it was the kind of film that makes you feel like you need a shower after watching it.  It was just…loud, dirty and messy — which was most likely intentional and served a purpose, but it was uncomfortable to watch.  The main reason for this is probably Dakota Fanning, who gives an absolutely stunning performance as 15-year-old Cherie Currie.  But the problem is, even though I know she is growing up very quickly, she still looks like a 6-year-old to me.  And watching a little girl dress and dance so provocatively and do all sorts of nasty stuff just felt so wrong!

Kristen Stewart does a decent job as Joan Jett, who takes a bit more of a back seat to Currie despite having almost equal screen time.  However, it wasn’t a performance that showed much range beyond Bella Swan — it was still all angst and insecurity — the exact same thing she does in every other film I’ve seen her in thus far.

Ultimately, The Runaways is what I would describe as an “either way” movie.  I don’t regret watching it, but if I missed out on it it wouldn’t bother me either.  At least I can say I got to see Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning make out.  Having said all that, it’s still the best movie starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning since Twilight: New Moon (ie better than Eclipse…but just!).

3 out of 5 stars!

“The Runaways” commences in Australia on 15 July 2010

Indian Journey Part IX: Tempting Death

July 3, 2010 in India, Travel by pacejmiller

I risked death several times during my stay in India.  And no, it’s not the spicy food.  It’s the crazy traffic that I mentioned in any earlier post.

Which auto rickshaw should I choose?

On our second day in Hyderabad, we decided to go grab a late night snack at the luxurious Marriott Hotel at around 10pm.  After finding out that a booked taxi would cost us 700 rupees to get there compared to a 50 rupee auto rickshaw ride, we opted for the latter in order to save a bit of cash.  After all, the Marriott was only 4km away.  How bad could it be?

Anyway, we got the hotel to arrange two autos for the four people (two in each) and they negotiated a 50 rupee fare for each one.  The ride there took about 15 minutes, but it was a heart-stopping ride as the auto zig-zagged through speeding traffic and we were jolted out of our seats every time the little three-wheeled vehicle hit a bump or pot hole (and there were plenty of them).  It was pretty scary, and we decided after arriving at the Marriott that 700 rupees on the way back would probably be worth it.

Riding inside an auto

However, when we were ready to leave, we asked the hotel reception, who said that it would cost us 1300 rupees to get a taxi back to the Taj Tristar (where we stayed).  1300 rupees!  We weighed that up against the cost of an auto ride and thought, what the heck, we’ll risk our lives again.

The hotel basically told us to go out of the gates and find our own autos, which we did, thinking that it wouldn’t be all that hard.  After all, my marrying mate had told us that the city of Hyderabad “comes alive” after 11pm each night.  I think he got “comes alive” and “drops dead” mixed up, because when we exited onto the street it was eerily quiet, not an auto to be seen anywhere.

We waited and walked around, and finally a lone auto headed our way.  Realising that this was our only chance to get back to the hotel, my colleague was happy to pay double (ie 100 rupees) for the ride.  The auto’s driver for some reason had a companion with him in the front seat, so the four of us all squeezed into the back seat.  We were basically sitting on each other’s laps.  I thought this was uncomfortable until I saw that it was nothing because locals often packed six or seven people into the same space!  Once we even saw 10 people on a single auto!

If we thought the ride to the Marriott was rough, the ride back was ten times worse.  For starters, the streets were almost completely empty, with only the occasional sedan driving in the opposite direction, usually coming right at us because this auto had no lights.  “Come alive” my arse.

The auto traversed various back alleys and rough roads, and we had absolutely no idea where it was going.  For all we knew they could have been driving us somewhere to rob us.  Did I mention that the driver didn’t exactly know where our hotel was?  We showed him the hotel’s business card, but he didn’t look confident at all (no head wobble).

At last we arrived at a giant intersection, and the driver turned around and asked, “Left or right?”  Taking a wild stab in the dark, we pointed left.  Fortunately, the 50% gamble paid off and it was the right direction.  Shortly after we could see the hotel.  Imagine if we got it wrong?!

Unbelievably, the day the wedding concluded, we went back to the Marriott for dinner.  I don’t know what went through our minds, but we ended up catching autos to and back, after vowing never to risk our lives in one of those things ever again!  I guess being cheapskates outweighed safety.

Let me go first

Indian Journey Part VIII: Culture Shock – Food

July 3, 2010 in Food, India, Travel by pacejmiller

I usually don’t mind a bit of Indian food every now and then when I’m in Australia.  I like naan and I like the flavoursome curries.  I do enjoy it, but because the real good stuff is so heavy, I usually don’t feel like it again for a couple of months after a hearty Indian meal.

In Hyderabad and especially at the wedding, however, eating became a bit of a challenge for several reasons.

First of all, my buddy’s family is all vegetarian, so naturally the catered food at the wedding venue is all vegetarian.  I have nothing against vegetables, but I’m not a big fan of some of stuff like lentils and peas, of which they had plenty of.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Southern Indian food is lighter and more watery than what I am used to, so it wasn’t like the strong flavours would cover my dislike of the texture of the food.

Secondly, I like to sample food I haven’t tried before, but usually only on my own terms.  If I don’t like the look of it, I won’t try it.  But when you are at a foreign wedding and everyone is telling you to eat, and get seriously offended looks if you decline, you don’t have much of a choice.  That sort of mentality can have a negative impact when you actually taste the food, regardless of how good it may be.

At lunch on the first day, we were ushered up to the food hall, where several waiters greeted us with traditional head wobbles.  There were long rows of tables, and in front of each seat was a giant banana leaf.  After we sat down, the waiters began piling different types of traditional Indian food on the leaf — rice, papadums, curries and strange condiments, most of which I didn’t recognise.  Then all the waiters stood there (and the other diners in the hall turned to us), staring at us, waiting for us to dig in.  That’s the third factor why eating was a challenge.  It was brutal.

The fourth and fifth factors are related.  As foreigners, we were each given a spoon, but everyone around us ate with their hands.  Of course, we all knew this was the Indian tradition, but what I forgot was that because they mixed all the stuff on the leaf with their hands, the food could not be hot.  Personally, I like my food hot, not cold or lukewarm.  And I don’t want to offend here because it’s strictly a cultural difference, but watching others massage the rice and curries and condiments with their hands (unwashed) did not exactly whet my appetite.  As a result, even though some of the stuff was actually pretty decent, I just couldn’t bring myself to finish everything on the leaf.  That said, I think I did the best amongst the four foreigners in attendance.

The biggest killer was on the second night at the Sangreet/Mehendi.  My goodness.  My marrying buddy (who once ordered a McDonald’s cheeseburger without meat) must have been trying to get back at me for all the years of trying to convince him to eat meat (he once asked me: “if everyone in the world ate shit, would you eat it?”  I have to admit it was a good argument).

Anyway, out on the balcony of the wedding venue there were a few waiters serving drinks and this Indian “delicacy”.  My buddy told me it was “sensational,” and called it an “explosion of flavours.”  I’m wary of most explosions, but it wasn’t like I had much of a choice.

The waiter started with an innocent-looking, hollow pastry ball with the top missing.  Okay, so far so good.  Next, he dipped his bare hands into this silver tub and took out a blob of greenish paste and stuffed it into the pastry ball with his fingers.  Not so good.  Then, he cupped his hand and scooped up a handful of black liquid and poured it onto the ball.  And finally to top it off, he took the entire ball in his hand and dunked it into a bucket of murky grey water.  I’m not making any of this up.

I can only imagine the horror on my face when the finished product was placed on a little silver foil dish for my tasting.  I held the ball by my fingertips, the lukewarm liquid mixture dripping down the side of my hands.  At this point, my fellow foreigner colleague walked up and was offered another one of these little “explosions”.  Not having seen the making of the product, he promptly popped it into his mouth and I saw him gag for a moment before he forced it down his throat.  But now that he’s done it, there’s no way I can refuse, not while the thing is still in my hand.

Luckily, as I moved the thing closer to my lips, half of the pastry ball broke off, along with much of the paste and murky mixture.  It was then I gathered the courage to stuff the thing into my mouth and swallow it whole.  To be honest it could have tasted fantastic, but my mind was made up long before I ate it.  I can’t even tell you what it tasted like.

My colleague did however tell me that he also had an “explosion” in his stomach that night.

It did get better though.  Lunch on the last day after the ceremony was a buffet, so we could choose what appealed to us.  It was still lukewarm but at least we knew what we were having.

And when we were in Delhi, we had a couple of very very nice Indian meals at the restaurants in hotels.  I’ll have to leave this for another post!