movies about music

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.

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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.

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.

 

The Film Playlist: The Runaways

I’m sure most of you know who Joan Jett is. Even if you don’t, I’m sure you’ve heard the song “I Love Rock & Roll”. What you may or may not know is that “I Love Rock & Roll” is actually a cover song. The song is originally by the British rock band, The Arrows. What you also may or may not know is that before Joan Jett started Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (the band famous for the song “I Love Rock & Roll”), she was the rhythm guitarist in an all-girl rock band called The Runaways, and in 2010, a drama film about the band was released.

The Runaways stars Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as lead singer, Cherie Currie. It was written and directed by Floria Sigismondi and based off a book by Currie, herself. In the film, Joan Jett, a rebellious teenager, wants to become a rock star. Fortunately, one night at a local club she meets record producer, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), and mentions forming an all-girl rock band. Fowley has an interest in the project and introduces Joan to drummer, Sandy West. The meeting ignites the formation of The Runaways. They find Cherie Currie in a club one night while on a search for hot blondes to be a part of the group and invite her to tryout. Like Joan, the movie introduces Cherie as a teenager who also dreams of rock stardom, having lip synced a performance to David Bowie’s “Lady Grinning Soul” in a high school talent show. At the tryout, when the band criticizes Cherie’s audition song choice, Fowley and Joan write a spur of the moment song for Cherie to sing, “Cherry Bomb”. It solidify’s her spot in the band, and leads to a future filled with touring, parties, drugs, alcohol and rock & roll.

Since the movie is based off of Currie’s memoir, it focuses primarily on Currie’s story as part of The Runaways from 1975-1977 (the band was active from 1975-1979), her problem with drugs, and relationship with Joan. The movie also features the band’s most famous songs, “Cherry Bomb”, “Hollywood”, “Queens of Noise”, “California Paradise”, and “You Drive Me Wild”. The film received positive feedback from critics and fans but still under performed at the box office, only grossing around 4.7 million dollars.

When I heard about The Runaways, it was during the same era of the Twilight series phenomenon. Of course, Kristen Stewart was pretty big on the Hollywood scene at the time because of her lead role of Bella Swan in Twilight series. Dakota Fanning also starred in most of the films as Jane, a member of the most powerful vampire coven, the Volutri, so knowing both of the two actresses well hyped me up for The Runaways. When I finally saw the film, I loved it. I loved hearing the story behind the band and watching a film that showed the 70’s rock & roll scene. It was also pretty bad ass to see a group of girls performing like they did. Seeing the movie lead me to an interest in The Runaways. I downloaded their music and frequently sang “Cherry Bomb” with my friends when we hung out. It was such a hard, edgy song that most times we’d scream the words “cherry bomb” during the chorus.

The Runaways were typically a hard rock, punk rock, heavy metal style band. They released three studio albums under Mercury Records and one with Cherry Red Records. They went through several lineups during their short existence, but Joan and Cherie, along with Lita Ford and Sandy West were mainstays. Cherie left the band in 1977 after a blow up with Ford (Joan took over lead vocals), while the others were with the group until the band split in 1979 after some disagreements over music style. The movie depicts the blow-up between Cherie and Lita near the conclusion of the film.

The Runaways fits The Film Playlist well. It’s a great music film and like all the films on the playlist, is a must-see for any music fan. It’s an edgy drama that shows the story of this historic rock group. Since it does feature a real-life band, I figured a few song recommendations by The Runaways were in order too.

  1. Cherry Bomb
  2. You Drive Me Wild
  3. Rock & Roll
  4. Thunder
  5. California Paradise
  6. I Love Playin’ With Fire
  7. Queens of Noise
  8. I Wanna Be Where The Boys Are
  9. Hollywood
  10. School Days