For his personal inspiration, Judge Bill Gibron relies on the Clash's "Clampdown."
How rock n roll can tear apart, and mend, relationships.
For Ethan Brand (Alessandro Nivola, Face/Off) and his brave band of musical misfits-David (Joel Moore, Bones), Chuck (Frank Whaley, The Doors), Billy (Rodney Eastman, I Spit on Your Grave), and Iris (Brittany Snow, Hairspray)-things are pretty bad. Forced to play nasty nightclubs and dive bars, their manager (Peter Stormare, Constantine) has hope for a return to prominence, but the commercial tide appears to be turning against them. Then our frequently unlikeable lead has a biological bomb dropped on his head. One night, a meth addicted groupie named Mary Ann Jones (Elizabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas) shows up and introduces Ethan to his 13-year-old daughter Janie (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine). He argues paternity but she's off to rehab and needs someone to babysit the lonely wannabe singer. So Ethan reluctantly agrees, taking Janie on the road with him. Thus begins a whirlwind cycle of disappointment and bonding as our angry anti-hero and his sullen child learn more about each other…and life.
If it weren't for the creative characterization present, if we didn't find ourselves caring about this frail, vulnerable teen and her depressed deadbeat dad, Janie Jones would be nothing new. To be honest, even with the excellent performances and spiffy script, it's still your standard dad and daughter discover each other effort. Writer/director David M. Rosenthal claims this is based on a true story (His own? Someone else's?), so apparently art and life do often imitate each other since we have been down this bad parent path a dozen times before. Yes, Brand becomes a drunken pariah, driving the rest of the band away. Yes, he believes he is the heart and soul of his sound, and goes on a solo tour (with Janie in tow) to prove it. Yes, our little heroine breaks out her own muse and shows up Daddy on occasion. And absolutely, we will watch as they tear each other up before coming to the realization that they really do need-and love-each other. Oh, and there's a sunny set-piece involving Janie's need to bail out her pops that should make underage drivers everywhere giddy.
Because the story mines nothing new, because it offers no real novelty of perspective or point, Janie Jones must rely on its actors to succeed…and it does. Both Nivola and Breslin handle their own musical moments (with songs written by Eef Barzelay and Gemma Hayes, respectively) and they are very convincing. But once they leave the stage, the performances gain even more power. Breslin gives the kind of break-out turn that guarantees a move from her former child star days to adult attention and Nivola argues for the promise he's shown throughout his eccentric, roller coaster career. Together they form a closely knit focal point around which all other elements, ancillary and otherwise, revolve. This means that good work from Stormare, Whaley, and Shue does not go unrewarded. Instead, Janie Jones lives because of the cast. Without the fine efforts of these actors, this would be a mediocre movie at best. With them, something special springs to life.
As for the DVD presentation, New Video delivers the goods. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image is excellent, conveying a nice level of detail and excellent colors. There is very little grain and the overall image is sharp and polished. In terms of the sonic situation, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is nice, if not truly noteworthy. The music comes across in multichannel fullness. The rest of the audio elements seem restricted to the very front with little directional or spatial reward. Finally, as added content, we are treated to a terrific commentary track (with Rosenthal and his producers) as well as about five minutes of cast Q&A from the premiere. All in all, the bonus features do a fine job of supplementing this fascinating film.
Though it mines material done dozens of times before—and sometimes better—Janie Jones is still worth a look. Thanks to its actors and their performances, what should have been nothing but cliche becomes an intriguing character study.
Not Guilty; not great, but still very good.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
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