Film

Lady Bird

“Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” -Joan Didion, Lady Bird

On Monday I had the pleasure of seeing a film that’s been generating a ton of hype, Greta Gerwig’s coming of age film, Lady Bird. Just the other day it broke the record for positive reviews with 100% positive on movie review website, Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also been receiving some Oscar buzz since award season predictions have begun.

The comedy-drama film is set in Sacramento, California in the early 00’s and explores the relationship between a mother (Laurie Metcalf) and her teenage daughter (Saoirse Ronan) who renames herself, Lady Bird. The movie spans a year through the ups and downs of Lady Bird’s senior year of high school at a Catholic high school into the beginning of her freshman year of college. It was both written and directed by Gerwig. Lady Bird also stars Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s father Larry McPherson, Beanie Feldstein as Lady Bird’s best friend Julianne “Julie” Steffans, Lucas Hedges as one of Lady Bird’s love interests/friends Danny O’Neill, Timothée Chalamet as another one of Lady Bird’s love interests Kyle Scheible, and Lois Smith as Lady Bird’s teacher/principal Sister Sarah Joan.

After seeing the film on Monday, I thought it was such a great depiction of the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, Marion. Both characters are so much alike that they constantly butt heads despite caring for each other tremendously. I also thought the movie was a great ode to the city of Sacramento. The city holds a special place in my hearty because I spent 6 days there for work this past June and they were some of my favorite of the year. So seeing this movie about 6 months later filled my heart with joy. I also thought it was cool to see the capital of California get some recognition in the entertainment industry because usually if a California city is the setting for a television show or a movie, it’s Los Angeles or San Francisco. The movie was also filmed on location in Sacramento which made for accurate visuals of the city.

I’m definitely a huge fan of coming of age films and this one was no different. The story was so raw and real as well which allows viewers to have a special connection with it. As award season approaches, there will be many films being talk about and many you’ll want to see. I feel like Lady Bird is one that can resonate with almost anyone though, making it a must-see this year. The acting and cinematography are just as brilliant as the story too. I’m not saying this movie will be the best picture of 2017 but it will definitely be high on the list.

 

 

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The Film Playlist: We Are Your Friends

While at my cousin’s house over the weekend, we watched another movie that easily makes The Film Playlist. It’s been a while since I wrote about a movie for this series so let me explain. The Film Playlist is a blog series I started about movies that are about music. It’s been about a year since I added anything to it, but as soon as we started watching We Are Your Friends this past weekend, I knew I had to write about it this week.

The 2015 drama stars Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, and Jonny Weston. It was written by Max Joseph and Meaghan Oppenheimer based off a story by Richard Silverman. Joseph also directed the film which marked his directorial debut. The movie is about an electronic music DJ named Cole Carter (Efron) who is trying to work his way up in the music industry. It’s also partly a coming of age story because Cole and his friends are young adults trying to figure out their lives in the midst of partying at night clubs, selling drugs, and being part of the electronic music scene. While booked to play a gig at a club one night, Cole meets the headliner, who was once a hot commodity in the electronic music world, James Reed (Bentley). Reed in a way becomes a mentor for Cole once he realizes his talent and helps Cole to understand how to create music that doesn’t sound like every other electronic song.

As soon as we started watching this film Friday night, I knew I would love it. The plot is average though. It’s nothing out of the ordinary or exceptional. I strictly loved it for the fact that it was about music and electronic music in particular. I’ve never seen another film that surrounds the electronic music scene. It was cool to see scenes about creating electronic music and also scenes featuring EDC Vegas, which is an electronic music festival done by one of the leading electronic festival promoters Insomniac Events. The soundtrack for the film was excellent. Its feature track “We Are Your Friends” by Justice featuring Simian is where the film got its title from. It also features songs by Years and Years with Gryffin, AlunaGeorge with Tchami, Seinabo Sey with Kygo and Deorro ft. Erin McCarley.

If you’re expecting an award winning film, that’s not what We Are Your Friends is. It’s really just a fictional coming of age film that surrounds the electronic music industry. If you’re at all into electronic music, I suggest you check it out. It’s a film you don’t have to think much about and can purely enjoy, especially if you have a love for music, especially electronic music.

It’s Morphin’ Time

If you saw my tweets recently, you could’ve made a good guess that this blog post was coming. Yesterday I saw the much anticipated Power Rangers movie. If you grew up in the 90’s like I did, you probably watched or at least knew about the Power Rangers. They were all the rage back then.

Power Rangers (TV) was a TV series created by Haim Saban about teenage superheros that defended Earth against monsters and creatures who tried to threaten their town and their planet. The rangers were recruited by the leader Zordon. Becoming a ranger gave each teen special powers that allowed them to fight those that threatened Earth. Sometimes that wasn’t even enough to defeat the beasts. When that happened, the rangers utilized vehicles called Zords that were based off of prehistoric animals to help them win battles. The Zords could also come together to create a giant Megazord when necessary. The original TV series used battle footage from a similar Japanese TV series called Super Sentai. The only difference was that the American series used American actors for parts of the show when the Rangers weren’t in battle and voiced over the other parts in English using the American actors.

The movie which was released last weekend was based off the original TV series but set in modern time. It was written by John Gatins and directed by Dean Israelite. It stars relative newcomers Dacre Montgomery as Jason (Red Ranger), Naomi Scott as Kimberly (Pink Ranger), RJ Cyler as Billy (Blue Ranger), Becky G as Trini (Yellow Ranger), and Ludi Lin as Zack (Black Ranger).

Power Rangers (Film) tells the story of the formation of the rangers and ends in one giant battle with villain and former ranger Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) and her minion Goldar. Rita, who was banished to the bottom of the sea from a meteor strike ordered by Zordon (Bryan Cranston), a former Red Ranger, comes back to life when her body is discovered while simultaneously the group of teenagers discover the power coins (the Rangers’ power source) in the mountains of their hometown Angel Grove. Zordon of course returns as well once the Rangers discover his underground spaceship/base. He is still the commander/go-to guy of the Power Rangers. (Fun Fact: Bryan Cranston, who plays Zordon, actually did voice overs for the original series and the Blue Ranger, Billy Cranston, was named for him.) Zordon’s assistant, the robot Alpha-5 (Bill Hader), returns as well.

The movie does something the TV show failed to do though. It goes deeper. The film really explores the rangers on an individual level. Each teenager has depth and a story to contribute to the overall concept of the film which is the whole Power Rangers/teenage superhero thing. That’s why I consider this new film to be based off the old series and not a remake of it. The Power Rangers concept in total is re-imagined in this new film.

I saw the Power Rangers preview trailer a few months ago without knowledge of the film at all. I never thought I’d be interested in seeing the Power Rangers again, but the trailer made the film look so good that I couldn’t help but want to see it, especially as a former fan. Luckily I didn’t have to wait that long. I was anticipating the release for the last month or so though.

(WARNING: Some spoilers in here.) My first impression of the film gave it this sort of Breakfast Club vibe with a few of the kids meeting/recognizing each other in Saturday detention that they all received for different reasons contributing to each characters’ story lines. As the film went on though, it lost that feeling and created this new age Power Rangers that was better than the original. It was as if the story of the Power Rangers grew up while at the same time so did its fans. I thought this new movie represented exactly where the Power Rangers needed to be in this day and age from the setting, to the characters, and to the characters’ stories, which provided brief moments relevant for those on the autism spectrum as well as for members of the LGBT community that didn’t overshadow the main story. It also provided just the right amount of nostalgia for fans of the original series with the brief incorporation of the Power Rangers theme song and the cameo appearance by Amy Jo Johnson (the former Pink Ranger/Kimberly) and Jason David Frank (the former Green Ranger/Tommy). It’s a movie that people of my generation who were fans can bring their kids to see and both can share in this new yet old experience together.

According to what I’ve read, there’s supposed to be 6 Power Ranger films so the story and story lines will obviously develop much further if the first movie is any indication. The end of Power Rangers also teases the next film in such a way that fills fans with anticipation. I know I’m already ready for the second installment in this new series. I might just have to satisfy my Power Rangers craving by seeing this movie again. It was that good and even better than I expected! If you were a Power Rangers fan and you haven’t seen this movie yet, go see it! I promise you’ll love it.

The Soft Glow of Electric Sex Gleaming in the Window

Christmas is deeply rooted in tradition. From the tree, to Santa, to gift exchanges, each holiday tradition spans years and cultures. Year after year families engage in the same practices surrounding the holiday and holiday season. They might eat certain foods or partake in certain activities. One of those activities might be a tradition that started in 1997 thanks to the Turner Broadcasting Company. Every year since 1997 at least one of the company’s television networks have aired A Christmas Story for 24 hours straight, starting on Christmas Eve and ending on Christmas Day.

The film, which was released in 1983, has become a Christmas classic and a favorite among many. It was based on Jean Shepherd’s book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and written by Shepherd along with director Bob Clark and Leigh Brown (Jean Shepherd is also the movie’s narrator). It stars a young Peter Billingsley as Ralphie Parker, a nine year old boy who dreams of getting a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. The story takes the audience through the Christmas season with Ralphie’s family and friends set in 1940’s Indiana and focuses on Ralphie’s quest for the greatest Christmas present ever despite warning from multiple sources that he’ll undoubtedly “shoot his eye out”.

The movie is family fun comedy all the way. I’m sure if you ask fans of the film, everyone will respond with a different answer for what their favorite part is because there are so many great scenes to choose from. Mine involves the infamous Leg Lamp, the “Major Award” that Ralphie’s father receives for winning a contest (the title of this post is a phrase from the film used to described the lamp). In the scene where it is speculated that Ralphie’s mom breaks the lamp out of her displeasure for it, the father and mother have a an argument that ends with Ralphie’s father deciding to glue it back together. On his way out the door to get glue he yells the phrase, “Not a finger!” and I laugh every single time. It’s the way actor Darren McGavin (Ralphie’s father) delivers the line that gets me, but it’s also because the statement seems indirect and unfinished. He clearly means not to touch the lamp, but instead of saying “Don’t lay a finger on it!”, he says the phrase “Not a finger!”. I love it.

When the film was released a week before Thanksgiving in 1983, it didn’t receive much success. Its popularity grew through television specials and home video release. The success of the film even allowed for a museum to be created in its honor. The house where the exterior scenes were shot for the film was purchased by an entrepreneur/fan of the film and converted into a museum comprised of re-created sets and props from the movie. It’s located in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, the city where portions of the movie were filmed. It opened in 2006. Also, as of 2012, A Christmas Story is a part of the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, which preserves U.S. film heritage making its classic status pretty legit.

If you’ve never seen A Christmas Story, it’s about time you do. It airs for 24 hours beginning on Christmas Eve and ending on Christmas day. The start of the marathon begins at 8:00 p.m. ET on TBS. If it’s part of your Christmas traditions, then I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. If it’s not feel free to add it in there along with baking Christmas cookies and decorating your tree. Or don’t make it a tradition at all and just watch it once or watch it randomly next June (To be honest, I’m sick of traditions and created a tradition where I try to do something new each Christmas). It’s funny and enjoyable regardless of its classic appeal so go check it out. I triple dog dare you.

 

The Film Playlist: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Sorry for the delay in blog posting. I don’t think I have avid readers so this is probably just an apology to myself. I had this post planned for the last week but I had trouble finding time to get it done. It required a little more effort than usual. I had to re-watch a film I haven’t seen in a while so I could properly add another film to The Film Playlist. It’s called Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Sounds like a solid fit for The Film Playlist right? Well I should warn you that looks can be deceiving if you weren’t already aware.

The 2008 film stars Michael Cera as Nick and Kat Dennings as Norah. The film was based on the novel of the same name by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. The adapted screenplay was written by Lorene Scafaria and directed by Peter Sollett.

The movie is less about music than its title indicates. Of course that’s not really a criteria for The Film Playlist, but in this case, a greater music focus might have saved the film. In the movie, Nick, a high school senior, was recently dumped by his girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena), a girl who he continually makes mix tapes for regardless of their standing. Norah, another senior who goes to school with Tris and whose father owns a prominent recording studio in New York, has a similar love for music like Nick. When Tris discards Nick’s failed mix tape attempts, Norah takes the tapes for herself because she claims Nick makes the best mix tapes. Norah has never met Nick though.

When word gets out that the elusive indie band Where’s Fluffy? will be playing a secret show in the city after hours that night, individually Nick, Norah, Tris, and their crews decide they need to find it and attend the show. Nick and his band The Jerk-Offs (an all gay band aside from Nick) have a gig to play in the city too, which initially Nick plans on skipping to revel in his own single life misery. The Where’s Fluffy? announcement changes his mind though.

At the show Nick sees Tris in the crowd with another guy, Gary, and is even more shaken up over his ex. Norah also attends with her best friend Caroline. After Caroline bails on Norah to try to pick up guys, Tris confronts Norah about her loner status. Norah fires back by telling her that she came with her boyfriend. She then pretends Nick is her boyfriend after finding him cute while he performed without knowing Nick is Tris’s ex Nick and kisses him in front of Tris igniting the first flame between Nick and herself. From there, the night turns into an epic adventure throughout New York City in a quest to find the Where’s Fluffy? show and locate a drunken Caroline while going through the ups and downs of teenage romance.

The film is more of a teen flick than any other film on the playlist so far. Bandslam could be considered the same but has a much deeper story than this movie and much more notable music. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist has high school appeal and creates a dream reality for any indie/alternative music crazed teenager.

The music in the film is purely indie. Some of the featured indie bands are somewhat obscure too. I’ve heard of a handful of the bands, but many haven’t reached the top of the indie scene. Some more notable ones are Modest Mouse, Vampire Weekend, Band of Horses, The National, The Submarines, and Rogue Wave. The film references The Cure but none of their music is featured.

I saw this film in theaters when it was first released. I liked it at the time, but still expected it to be better than it was. After watching it again, I feel the same way even though the music in the film is what I’m into. The characters don’t have depth. It’s funny at times, but has nothing that separates it from true comedy films. The plot is creative yet unoriginal. I feel like it has more to offer musically and theatrically.

Despite my critiques, this film is on the playlist. It’s kind of like that bubble song that you’ll put on your mix if it fits the time limit, but you wouldn’t be sad if it had to be cut. It also might be one that you’d skip from time to time, unless you’re really into indie teen love stories. So see this movie if you’re into that kind of thing, if the summary interested you, or if you solely want to indulge in all films involving music, otherwise you’re not missing much.

We are infinite.

A few days ago the trailer for Disney’s 2017 live-action film, Beauty and the Beast premiered. The new film will star Emma Watson as Belle. Her brief appearance in the trailer made me yearn to watch an Emma Watson movie. Of course, I could have easily picked any of the eight Harry Potter films, but I was particularly in the mood for the movie adapted from my favorite book of all time, The Perks of Being A Wallflower. I first read the book as a high school junior. It was my favorite book before I even finished it. To this day, it is the only book to ever make me both laugh and cry. I related to it. I quoted it. I talked about it and I loved it.

While I was in college, it was announced that the book would be made into a movie. Despite the standard book to movie criticism, I was amped. I would check for updates on the film from time to time. I remember being intrigued when I found out Emma Watson was cast as Sam. Until that point, I only knew her as Hermione Granger. I found out when it would be filmed and that it was going to be filmed in Pittsburgh, the location where the story takes place. I even went to some filming locations in Pittsburgh while visiting to attend a hockey game about a year before the film was released (Doing this lead to the discovery of my favorite breakfast place in the Burgh. They make the best pancakes ever!).

The release was another thing. I’ve never been more excited for a movie release in my life and the release date happened to get pushed back. It was supposed to come out in the Spring of 2012 but was pushed to the fall of that year. In the time period between when it was filmed and when it was released, I would look up pre-screenings of the movie just to see if I would be able to attend (I didn’t though). When the movie came out in September 2012, it was limited. I wasn’t sure when it would be in theaters near me so I ended up driving to King of Prussia one Sunday to see it. I remember shaking with anticipation as the title sequence started. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the greatness of the book, but it did. It really did. Then I saw it three more times when it came into theaters close by.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky. Chbosky is also the author of the book. Having the book’s author as the writer of the adapted screenplay and director of the film was key in having it live up to expectations. The film stars Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Nina Dobrev (Candace, Charlie’s sister), Johnny Simmons, Paul Rudd, Kate Walsh (Charlie’s Mom), and Dylan McDermott (Charlie’s Dad). Joan Cusack (Dr. Burton) even has a minor role in the film. Perks was also a box office success, more than doubling it’s budget.

As the film begins, Charlie (Lerman), a teenage boy, is seen typing a letter to an anonymous friend about starting high school the following day, something he is not anticipating. As a shy, quiet kid, he finds it difficult to fit in and make friends. He ends up connecting with his English teacher (Rudd) on the first day of school instead.

It isn’t until a school football game when he is invited to sit with a senior in his woodshop class named Patrick (Miller) and Patrick’s stepsister, Sam (Watson), that any spark of friendship begins. Upon meeting Sam at the game, Charlie finds her to be very attractive despite the fact that she is older and is starting to see someone. This also sets the tone for Charlie’s love interest throughout the movie. After homecoming, Charlie’s new friends bring him to one of their parties where he meets the rest of their crew, Mary Elizabeth (Whitman), Alice, and Bob, engages in drug related activity for the first time by eating a pot brownie, tells Sam about his best friend’s suicide the previous year, and catches Patrick hooking up with the football team’s star quarterback, Brad (Simmons), which he is asked to keep quiet about by Patrick so that Brad’s father wouldn’t find out. By the end of the party, the entire group accepts him as a wallflower and their newest friend. The rest of the film continues to take the audience through Charlie’s first year of high school and through his experiences of life, love, friendship, and growing up.

My description of the film makes it sound basic and simple, but it’s not. The film touches on so many relevant teen issues and also issues related to life in general such as drugs and alcohol, sex, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, mental illness, and suicide. There’s first loves, kisses and relationships, fights, lessons in friendship, music, and of course the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s in every way a coming of age drama/comedy.

Despite the fact that The Perks of Being A Wallflower is indeed my favorite book ever (I’ve actually kept my copy beside my bed ever since I read it back in 2005), the movie isn’t my favorite movie of all time. It represents the book in the best way, but as any book to movie adaptation goes, it’s not exactly the same. The book has more detail and more back story (as most books often do). I also feel like the book version is more adult than the film version even though the story is about high school kids (let’s face it though, high school isn’t the media’s definition of teen). Perks was never a “teen” book so to speak. It was always found in the adult fiction section of every book store. However, a lot of teenagers were the ones reading the book. When making the film, Chbosky knew his audience would be teenagers so he made the film more teen friendly and view-able, opting for a PG-13 rating, rather than an R rated version (which would’ve been a better representation of the book I think). As a PG-13 movie lacking a large chunk of story detail, it is still the best book adaption I’ve ever seen.

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I recommend that you see it some time in your life, but I also recommend that you read the book first. Sure it’s not necessary, but it gives you a greater understanding of the film. Honestly, I could go on about this story. There’s so much I want to say like the fact that driving through the Fort Pitt Tunnel at night and coming out to witness the grandeur of Pittsburgh is everything the story makes it out to be or that even though this film/story doesn’t surround music, it features some of the best music and mix tape references (“Asleep” by The Smiths, “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac (in the book only), or “Heroes” by David Bowie anyone?) or that I still relate quotes from the story to my life on a monthly basis. The truth is that it holds a special place in my heart and it’s relevant beyond my teenage years. It provides a message of hope and positivity even with referencing some dark topics. As an adult, I’ve known people who have accepted the love they thought they deserved because they each dated someone who wasn’t good enough for them. I’ve had enough experiences to know that things change, friends leave, and life doesn’t stop for anybody. As I chase my dreams, I try to remember that even if I don’t have the power to choose where I come from, I can still choose where I go from there. And of course, even as an adult, there are still times that in certain moments, I feel infinite.

 

 

The Film Playlist: Sing Street

Last week was the first time in a few months that I added a new film to The Film Playlist. Last week was also the first time in a while that I looked at what movies were playing in theaters. There were no films out that interested me for months. With the start of the summer season approaching though, I figured plenty of new films will be out in theaters so I checked to see if anything new and interesting was out yet. What caught my eye was the film Sing Street. I saw the trailer for it as a preview at some point in the fall or winter and I totally forgot about it. I also knew it would make a perfect addition to The Film Playlist. I saw it Tuesday. It was excellent. Much better than Begin Again. Why is the film I wrote about last week even relevant? Let me explain.

Sing Street is the creation of writer and director John Carney. Yes, the same John Carney who also wrote and directed Begin Again. His film Once is another of his claims to fame. All three films involve music. If each film on the playlist was like a song and like a song had an artist who performed it or in this case produced/wrote/directed it, John Carney would be the artist listed for two films on the list so far. I haven’t seen Once, but I probably should. Then John Carney would be on the playlist three times.

Sing Street is the latest of John Carney’s music films. It premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and was released in theaters in the U.S. on April 15th. It stars newcomers, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Ben Carolan, and Mark McKenna, fresh faces, Jack Reynor and Lucy Boynton, and TV vets, Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy. This film is partially based on Carney’s life as a student at Synge Street, a Christian Brothers school, in Dublin, Ireland. The film is set during the 80’s and has plenty of references to 80’s rock bands such as Duran Duran, The Cure, Genesis, Hall & Oates, and more. It’s a coming of age film that tells the story of Conor “Cosmo” Lalor (Walsh-Peelo), a teenage boy who gets transferred to the Synge Street School after his family (Gillen as his Dad and Doyle Kennedy as his Mom) can no longer afford to send him to private school. The atmosphere at Conor’s new school is much more rough than normal between his classmates, school bullies, and the head Brother of the school. He befriends a boy named Darren (Carolan) who helps to show him the ropes. Shortly after this occurs, Conor decides to start a band that makes music videos to impress a girl named Raphina (Boynton) who lives near the school and watches the boys as they travel to class each day. Conor and Darren recruit a few of their other classmates to join the band in which Conor is the lead singer and Darren is the band manager. With the guidance of Conor’s older brother, Brendan (Reynor), Conor and his bandmate, Eamon (McKenna), write a song impressive enough to garner the attention of Raphina who agrees to star in a music video for the song. From then on, their band, Sing Street (a pun off of Synge Street), and Conor’s interest in music takes off. The band becomes more than just a way to win a girl. It becomes a way out of Ireland and in the midst of it all, Conor experiences more personal growth than he could have ever imagined.

The music in the film is 80’s pop rock style. The original songs in the movie take inspiration from songs by the 80’s bands featured in the film. The songs in the film were actually written and composed by Carney and Gary Clark. After hearing the first few original songs in the film, I could tell they sounded a lot like Carney’s style. He also wrote and composed songs for Begin Again. Although the music genres in each film are different, the style in Sing Street is very Carney-esque and has a slightly similar sound to the songs in Begin Again. It’s almost like a band coming out with another album. The songs are different and stylistically, a band may progress, but it still has their signature sound.

I really liked this movie. I liked the story (maybe because I’m a bit biased towards a good coming of age tale). I liked that many actors in this movie aren’t well known and that the movie was a first for a large portion of the cast. I liked the original music. In fact, I really liked/like the song “Drive It Like You Stole It”. I liked so much about this film. I liked it much more than Begin Again and I liked it overall. Since it was released back in April (probably only limited release then), I’m sure it won’t be in theaters much longer. Luckily I checked the movie showings and times last week and was able to catch it while it was still in theaters near me. I recommend it to any music fan, but especially if you were a child of the 80’s and loved 80’s rock or even if you still love 80’s rock. It’s a great throwback music film, but also a great music film in general.

Here are some of my favorite original songs from the movie:

  1. Drive It Like You Stole It
  2. The Riddle of the Model
  3. Brown Shoes
  4. A Beautiful Sea
  5. Girls

The Film Playlist: Begin Again

Around the time that I decided to start “The Film Playlist” blog series, I just returned from a last minute trip to my cousin’s house in Maryland. While on the trip, we decided to watch a movie on demand one night. The movie we selected was a decent film that had a plot surrounding music and the music industry. The week after I returned I decided to begin this blog series after seeing Kate Hudson on a talk show and being reminded of her greatest role ever in Almost Famous. This movie also played a role in the decision to start the series too since I had seen it so recently when recalling a number of movies about music. The film was called Begin Again.

Begin Again premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival before being released in theaters in the summer of 2014. The film stars Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, James Corden, and Hailee Steinfeld and was written and directed by John Carney. It tells the story of singer/songwriter, Gretta James (Knightley), who recently broke up with her rising-star boyfriend Dave Kohl (Levine), and struggling A&R rep/producer/record label executive, Dan Mulligan (Ruffalo) when they decide to record and produce an album together on the streets of New York. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for the song “Lost Stars”.

The film begins in the middle of the story when Dan hears Gretta performing at a club one night. Then the movie alternates between showing the back stories of each character and present day at the club. The audience learns about Dan’s industry life, ex-wife and daughter Violet (Steinfeld), and his struggles to not find new talent in years. You also find out about Gretta’s romance with Dave and how that comes tumbling down as Dave makes his way on the path to stardom. I’ll admit I was getting frustrated at one point during the first half of the movie wondering if they’d ever make it out of that club performance scene. Finally the story moves along though. Once Gretta agrees to make an album with Dan, the magic happens. At first they decide to try to produce the album with Dan’s former record label, but they get turned away. As a result, Gretta agrees to self-produce and record the album with Dan in one of the coolest ways. Along with the help of Gretta’s friend Steve (Corden) and the band they recruit, they record the album in various locations throughout New York City using the atmosphere and city sounds as parts of the recordings. During one of the recording scenes, they even get a group of city kids to sing on the track they’re making. The recording scenes are worth all the frustration relating to never making it out of the club in the beginning of the movie for sure.

As is true with most, if not all films, the story lines for the main characters, Gretta and Dan, as well as the overall album recording story line get resolved by the end of the film. However, I feel like each resolution isn’t super predictable. They’re not twisted or stretched by any means, but they’re also not as cliche as you would expect making what I believe to be a more realistic ending.

As far as music goes in the film, the entire soundtrack is original. The songs are very much a soft type of pop/rock. The styles remind me of Ingrid Michaelson’s music and many of Dave’s songs, of course, remind me of Maroon 5. The entirely original soundtrack is impressive though and made the list of several music charts throughout the world including peaks at the number 1 spot on Billboard’s U.S. Top Soundtracks and the Korean International Albums chart.

If this blog series were an actual playlist, I would probably place this movie somewhere in the middle. It’s not that heart pounding, upbeat first song(s) (films) that really gets you into the playlist, nor is it that last song that takes you out on a strong note making you realize what a great mix of songs (films) you just listened to. It fits in the middle. It’s not a terrible film by any means, but I don’t rank it along with the likes of Almost Famous. Like I said, it’s worth it to see all the recording scenes throughout the streets and rooftops of New York City.

Here’s a few songs from the movie that I recommend you listen to first though:

  1. Lost Stars (the Keira Knightley version)
  2. Like A Fool
  3. Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home (Rooftop Mix)

 

The Film Playlist: Bandslam

So far, every movie that has been a part of The Film Playlist has been an adult movie. By adult movie, I mean a movie that has a PG-13 or an R rating. The latest addition to the playlist is a drug, sex, curse word free coming of age film though. It’s rated PG. The first time I saw this movie was in the summer of 2010. I think I rented it from Blockbuster before all the Blockbusters closed. I decided on the flick because I occasionally enjoy the simple family style movie and this one looked pretty cool. It did have to do with music after all. To my surprise, after seeing it, I can say it’s the most underrated movie I’ve seen in the past 10 years. So if there are any surprises on the playlist, it’s this one, Bandslam.

Bandslam was released in 2009 and stars Aly Michalka, Gaelan Connell, Vanessa Hudgens, and Lisa Kudrow. It was written by Josh A. Cagan and Todd Graff and directed by Todd Graff. The movie also contains one of the final film appearances by the late great David Bowie. Yes, if you read my blog about David Bowie a few weeks ago, this is the film I was talking about. Bowie has a cameo appearance but plays a small role in the story line since the main character frequently writes e-mails to the legendary music artist and claims himself to be Bowie’s biggest fan. The first line of the film is actually “Dear David Bowie,” and then proceeds with a reading of one of the main character’s e-mails with “Rebel, Rebel” playing in the background.

In the film, the main character, Will Burton (Connell) is a new student at his high school after he and his mother (Kudrow) move because of his mother’s new job. Will welcomes the fresh start since he was teased and bullied at his old school. On his first day, he meets a girl named, Sa5m (the 5 is silent) (Hudgens) and discovers the importance of a local Battle of the Bands competition called Bandslam. He also meets a senior named Charlotte (Michalka) who takes him under her wing once she find out about Will’s love and knowledge of music. As a former member of the most popular band at school and Bandslam competitor, Ben Wheatley and the Glory Dogs, Charlotte convinces Will to be the manager of her new band. Charlotte plans on competing with her new band against Ben Wheatley and the Glory Dogs at Bandslam, since she wants to stick it to her ex-boyfriend and Glory Dog’s frontman, Ben Wheatley.

Despite the simple plot line, both Will and Charlotte have more history and depth to them than you initially realize. When I first saw the film, I was impressed at the turns the story takes throughout the film. It goes even deeper than School of Rock‘s plot, which is similar in the fact that it also involves a Battle of the Bands competition. To be honest, I feel like Bandslam is sex, drugs, and language short of what could be a PG-13 film. The movie even received positive critical reception, despite under-performing at the box office. Supposedly, Summit Entertainment, the production company who released the film was criticized for the poor marketing efforts compared to that of the Twilight Saga, which was also released by Summit around the same time as Bandslam.

The music selection featured in the film is also impressive. After I saw the movie, I looked up songs from it and downloaded several of them. The soundtrack/movie features David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Nick Drake, Wilco, Peter, Bjorn, & John, and several other great indie bands, along with covers of “I Want You To Want Me” and “Everything I Own” by Aly Michalka and Vanessa Hudgens that were featured in the film, respectively.

Much like a hidden gem of a song you find in the middle of a playlist, mixtape, or an album, Bandslam is the hidden gem of The Film Playlist. It’s that movie you may not have heard of but is so essential for any music fan to see. I mean, there’s even a scene where Will and Sa5m visit the closed down version of CBGB’s before the legendary punk rock music club was transformed to a clothing store. Bandslam is more than meets the eye whether you’re looking for a good movie to check out or underrated music movie masterpiece. I would recommend it to huge music fans and casual music listeners alike.

 

An Ode to Bowie

This morning when I woke up and checked Twitter I saw that legendary rock music icon, David Bowie, passed away at the age of 69 after an 18 month battle with cancer. I typically wouldn’t make a blog post about someone dying unless it was someone who I really loved or admired or who affected my life in such a significant way, but then something happened. The way I found out solved a 15 year mystery for me and it got me thinking. David Bowie has kind of been a subliminal figure in my life for a while, but especially the last several years. I would never label myself a David Bowie fan so to speak. I never listened to his music frequently, saw him as a personal cultural icon, or followed his life and career, but somehow David Bowie managed to silently sneak into my life at various times. So I figured, I would do a small ode to Bowie blog post as reminder of his subtle influence in my life.

David Robert Jones (Bowie) was born and raised in South London. He took the name Bowie during the start of his career so he wouldn’t be confused with the Monkees’ Davy Jones. He broke into the charts of the music world with Space Oddity in 1969 and released many more albums in the years following to much success. He even released a final album, Blackstar, as a parting gift to the world this past Friday. Bowie was known for his progressive, innovative, unique, and gender-bending persona. He was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Throughout his life he was involved with many aspects of music, but also acted in several films. He truly was an entertainment superstar.

As a music fan, I know and have heard David Bowie’s music before. I’ve heard “Rebel, Rebel” more times than I can count.  I, of course, know the song “Under Pressure”, which he recorded with Queen in 1981. I’m pretty sure most people in general know the song, can hum the baseline, and also confuse it with Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”, which caused some legal controversy in the early 90’s. “Heroes”, however, is my most favorite Bowie song of recent years, solely for the fact that it was featured on the soundtrack of a movie based off of my favorite book of all-time, which counts for one subtle Bowie appearance in my life.

Two more of those times involves two music themed movies. One of those movies has already been featured on The Film Playlist series (The Runaways). The other will be featured in the near future I’m sure. Both films have references to Bowie. Thus, two subtle David Bowie life appearances. Besides casually seeing David Bowie t-shirts, hearing celebrity references, and occasionally hearing his music throughout my life (more subtle appearances than I can count), Bowie’s limited acting career includes a few life appearances. One of his acting roles was in the movie Zoolander, a favorite movie of mine in middle school. He played himself and was the judge in the famed walk-off  challenge scene between Derek Zoolander and Hansel. Another movie he starred in back in the 80’s was Labyrinth, a movie I’ve never seen before.

You’re probably wondering how this movie and David Bowie fit in with my life then, right? Well in middle school a girl in my class used to randomly sing this song “Dance Magic Dance” , which at the time I thought she made up because it was so ridiculous. For those of you who have seen Labryrinth, you now understand the Ah-ha moment. For those who haven’t, let me explain. David Bowie played the role of Jareth the Goblin King and sings this song in the film. It wasn’t until the very moment that I found out about David Bowie’s death that I connected the dots on that song. I read a tweet by a celebrity I follow on Twitter that referenced Bowie’s death, the “Dance Magic Dance” song, and Labyrinth. Finally, I made the full connection. Right before I wrote this, I watched a clip of the song in the movie on Youtube. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and shook my head for the entirety of the clip. It was the first time I’d ever heard the real version of the song this girl used to sing in middle school, which was more than 15 years ago. Crazy. Subtle Bowie. So Subtle.

Lastly, I had a Halloween party a few years ago where one of my friends came dressed as David Bowie with the classic Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt painted across his face. Both him and another one of my friends had an appreciation for Bowie and his uniqueness that translated into him being Bowie for the party.

I’m sure there have been other times Bowie appeared in the background somewhere in my life. It’s like he’s photobombed all these life scenes for me. He may very well continue to do that even if he’s no longer with us. So thanks David Bowie. Thanks for being involved in cool things and random things, music things and movie things. Thanks for influencing so many in a variety of ways. And thanks for being subtle yet not-so subtle at the same time. *insert pic of Bowie creeping in the background*