At The Movies

La Mission
Written & Directed by Peter Bratt
Review by Tony Sheppard

Che Rivera (Benjamin Bratt) is a hard working ex-con who drives a bus for a living and makes and drives lowriders for fun. He’s a big man in the neighborhood where he grew up, and kind underneath his macho exterior. His closeted son Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez) is drawn more to the Castro than the Mission, and has to make multiple excuses to spend time with his boyfriend.  When Che discovers the secret he quickly resorts to the violence that has long been a part of his street life.

There’s a lot of love in “La Mission,” but much of it is the deep-seated male love that is so often expressed poorly or not at all. The general conversation between the Che and his friends is easy-going and natural, albeit a little clueless on women and sexual politics. Peter Bratt proves he has a good ear for a variety of dialog, from longtime buddies, to tentative romantic interests, to the verbal posturing between rivals and estranged family members.  

It’s a film that’s marked by powerful, emotionally charged performances. Sadly, the underlying story of intolerance within families remains all too familiar to anybody with gay friends. “La Mission” is a strong film that joins others (e.g. “Billy Elliot,” “Whale Rider”) in which children are sometimes pitted against parental figures who are at once a detriment to their short term success or happiness yet also the cause of their long term strength and balance—children who have been raised so well that they can withstand the grave mistakes of their own mentors long enough to teach them something in return.  

Le Couperet (The Ax)
Directed by Costa-Gavras
Review by Malcolm Maclachlan

When Americans rail against “European-style socialism,” one of the first countries that comes up is almost always France. So it might surprise people that more French films these days are dealing with more typically American concerns like layoffs, crooked executives getting huge payouts and fears about downward mobility.

Take the 2005 French box office hit “Le Couperet” (“The Ax”), which starts out with the promising premise of French fears of becoming more like us. It stars Jose Garcia as a corporate chemist who can’t find a new job two years after being laid off from a well-paid position during a corporate restructuring. Hoping to make sure the next appropriate job in the field is his, he sets out an a murder spree to take out the small number of candidates who have a better resume than he does.

I loved director Costa-Gavras 1969 Oscar winning thriller, “Z,” which fictionalized a real political assassination in Greece. “Le Couperet” shares that same detached style, but this time it doesn’t work as well. “Z” had a huge cast and dealt with a methodical murder investigation.

“Le Couperet” is a more personal story—or should have been. The problem I had with this otherwise-competent film was that I felt no connection with the main character. Without this, the delicate combination of comedy and violence didn’t work. I realize there is an absurdist, existential theme that runs though some French films, which I often like.  Often this works—see 1992’s “Man Bites Dog”—but in this case, I mainly thought the main character should have been nicer during his job interviews.

“Le Couperet” is showing at the Crest tonight, April 29, as a fundraiser for the Sacramento French Film Festival.

The Runaways
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Review by Joy McCrea and Teri Weesner

If you are looking for ‘70s West Coast punk eye candy, this movie and a bag of popcorn will get you there. Dakota Fanning (Cherie) delivers a disturbingly good performance as she metamorphoses into a drug addicted sex object. There were lots of pretty colors everywhere. Hair, makeup, costumes – it was all fun to see, a bit surprising for such a depressing story.

But for a film about women’s coming of age and so-called female empowerment, the process didn’t seem very empowering. Granted, as mothers of girls, we may have a skewed perspective. And we suppose that with a story about teenage girl rock stars in the drugged out ‘70s with a conscienceless male band manager, what did we expect?

The band’s producer, Kim, the one main male character, plays a central role, as he shapes these young women into a “success.” He declares near the beginning of the film, “We need an iconic sex symbol.” Then he goes out and creates one out of a 15 year old. He molds Cherie’s persona, and then sets out to destroy her as a person. He gloats on his success during one sequence where he is interviewed hanging in a cage-like chair.

Excessive partying also seemed to be a main focus of this film, glorifying the whole “sex, drugs and rock and roll” lifestyle. The masturbation scene dropped in out of nowhere seemed somewhat gratuitous. Not that we have anything against masturbation scenes. We liked the ones in “Slums of Beverly Hills” and “Pleasantville.” Just not sure this one moved the story.

As a film, it was OK. We liked the ending, which got back to the theme of female empowerment. Cherie does ultimately get what she wants, as does Joan Jett. For a pretty harsh coming of age story, it was so-so. What was missing was heart. It was a little disassociated, like watching a car wreck. But in the end it was good to see Cherie and Joan walk away from the wreckage.

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