Not-So-Quick Movie Review: 54 (1998)

54 movie poster They say that pop culture has a tendency to roll back over on itself every 20 years or so. What’s old becomes new again not only because the people who were kids 20 years prior have now grown up, earned money and got nostalgic, but also because those same people have worked their way into the various creative worlds. It’s the reason why I’m seeing so many shows with references to movies I loved as a kid as well as reboots of the same, but also the reason we saw such a big uptick in 70s-based projects in the late 90s, specifically ones centered on disco and the world that grew up and died around it.

I would have been 15 when 54 came out, so I don’t have any personal connection to the heyday of disco in the late 70s. Hell, it was dead and buried by the time I was born in 1983. And yet, I have a strange second hand nostalgia for that era because of the disco era’s resurrection and examination in the late 90s. I became a huge fan of That 70s Show, which is one of the all-time best coming of age sitcoms around in my book. But there were also films like 54, The Last Days Of Disco and even The Summer of Sam that all came out around 1998 and 1999. At that same time there were a ton of TV specials about what really went on behind the velvet ropes of Studio 54, a legendary nightclub in Manhattan run by a guy named Steve Rubell who was an incredibly shrewd club owner, but not very good at hiding his less-than-honest business practices. Studio 54 was the place to do just about anything and everything, assuming you could get in.

That’s the backdrop for the 1998 film by Mark Christopher that focuses on young Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe), a Jersey kid who pines to be in the big city where he just knows he’ll become rich and famous like his hero Julie Black (Neve Campbell), a fellow New Jersian who stars on a soap opera. Eventually he makes his way to Studio 54 where he literally has to leave his old life behind (they don’t let his friends in) and winds up getting a job. From there he makes a whole new group of friends including coat check girl/wannabe singer Anita (Salma Hayek) and her busboy husband Greg (Breckin Meyer) and does his best to enjoy his new social status when it doesn’t go against a moral code with roots back to his home life in Jersey.

At the end of the day, 54’s story isn’t all that mind-blowing. It’s your basic “lower-middle class kid gets a look at the world of the rich and famous and discovers its not as genuine as he though” story. But, the gilding of the time period is very engrossing if that’s something you’re interested in. All the actors really dove into the characters and seemed to dig deep into some emotional places that all get left on the screen like so many empty bottles after a big party. I wasn’t overly familiar with Phillippe outside of his standard horror appearances in the 90s, but I thought he did a quality job of actually going through the emotions instead of just the motions.I especially enjoyed his various interactions with Ellen Albertini Dow’s Disco Dottie. And, man, Mike Meyers did a killer job of bringing the off-kilter Rubell to life on the big screen.

I read that Chistopher’s intended cut of the film had about 30-40 extra minutes and a variety of extra subplots that were completely cut by Miramax, something that wasn’t uncommon back then. He got his hands on the extra footage and put together a longer version that I would like to see some day, if possible.

Casting Internets

You might have noticed a lack of Casting Internets posts lately. That’s less because I kept forgetting to do them and more because I haven’t been going through my Pocket app for ,well, most of this year. Anyway, here’s a bunch of stories from the past few months that tickled my fancy. manziel browns draft

I’m pretty excited about Johnny Manziel heading to the Browns. They’re not my main team, but I have a special place in my heart for them because my mom’s from there and my grandma was a fan her whole life. (via ESPN)

Rivers Cuomo called Rolling Stone to talk about his love of Nirvana and how the band changed his brain. Fun read for Weezer fans, especially the ones who’ve been hearing for years that he converted Kurt Cobain’s songs into an equation and then wrote his own songs with that formula.

I’m not much of a Buzz Feed fan, but I really dug Kate Aurthur’s interview with Real World San Francisco‘s Rachel about her time on the show.

08-MosEisley

I don’t know if I’ll ever have time to go through this entire post of on StarWars.com about Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars art, but maybe you will!schleprock america's dirty little secret

My buddy Jesse sent me this link to Jason Heller’s AV Club piece on punk in the 90s because he talks about that band Schleprock I reviewed a while back. Even without that, it’s a really solid read on a subgenera of music I still love.

Esquire‘s Jennifer M. Wood talked to director Walter Hill about his classic The Warriors. As you might expect, this is a thing I love.

I’m a big fan of Michael Ruhlman and Anthony Bourdain, so when the former interviewed the latter about modern chefs on his blog, I was interested. Personally, I like how conflicted Bourdain is about things like authenticity. It points to the fact that these issues are trickier than some might otherwise present.

Jimmy Page told Rolling Stone that he’s going to start working on his second-ever solo album. Also, I fully support the idea of a Jimmy Page/Jeff Beck tour. Yardbirds Revisited?

80s Odyssey: Beach Balls (1988)

beach balls 1988

As anyone who reads the blog on a regular basis will know, I’m a big fan of 80s teen and college movies. If it’s goofy, wrought with sexual tension, set on a beach or during spring break, I’m probably on board. That’s basically everything I’ve watched and posted under the 80s Odyssey category and here’s another one.

Netflix is finally starting to understand what kind of movies I like to watch and immediately notified me of Beach Balls‘ presence on the streaming service. I didn’t even notice that it’s a Roger Corman-produced film until after the fact.  Frankly, I was on board when I read that, in addition to this being a movie about a kid pining over a girl, he also wanted to be in a band. That’s a subgenre of 80s teen comedies I didn’t even know I wanted, but I’m in!

The plot follows Charlie (Philip Paley), a beach kid who’s in love with Wendy (Heidi Helmer), but she only digs guys in bands. As it happens, Charlie is a solid musician, he’s just not in a band. At the same time, he’s also dealing with some legal problems after getting drunk one time and borrowing a car from some local toughs who stole the car and think Charlie turned on them when he got arrested. Because of this he’s got to deal with a recovering alcoholic parole officer, his already crazy, super religious mom and Young Republican sister who think he’s a much worse kid than he is. So, can Charlie throw a huge party, get the girl, get the band in front of a record producer and finally get in his own band? Watch the movie to find out.

 

A lot of this movie is pretty by the numbers, but there were some pretty interesting storytelling approaches I wanted to point out. For one thing, all of the car stuff happened before the movie starts, so we find out about it as it becomes relevant and not in one huge info dump. This actually surprised me considering these kinds of films tend to dispense with exposition in the most obvious way possible. I was also impressed by the ultimate reveal that Wendy doesn’t just date band dudes, which was Charlie’s assumption from the beginning. Those are the kinds of assumptions at the heart of plenty of movies like this, so to see it turned on its head in a realistic matter was fun. Plus, guys, I love movies about kids who want to be in bands, house party movies and bits where ultra religious weirdos get shown the error of their ways. So thumbs up all around.

The cast and crew did a solid job to the best of their relative abilities across the board. Cheapo 80s comedies like this tend to be 50/50 when it comes to seeing all kinds of recognizable faces, but this falls on the “not so much side.” There are a few interesting names on board. Director Joe Ritter was one of five writers on the original Toxic Avenger which had a far greater affect on me than I’d like to admit. Also, star Philip Paley apparently starred as Cha-Ka on Land Of The Lost as a kid. Oh and Steven Tash, who plays Charlie’s best friend Scully, was the kid in the beginning of Ghostbusters during the ESP test. I also thought it was interesting that screenwriter David Rocklin never worked on anything before or after this project.

Also, real quick, how weird is this poster/box art? If you look at it real quick, it looks like the woman is pregnant, right? Obviously, I get what they were going for, but I would have gone for a second draft on this one.

Anyway, if you’re like me and have a strange affinity for movies like Spring Break, Hunk or One Crazy Summer, then give Beach Balls a look.

Book Review: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2006)

nick and norah's infinite playlist

I’ve been pretty scattershot with my book reading choices these days. I’ve given up on the pre-planned Ambitious Reading Lists this year and have just been grabbing things willy nilly from the ol’ to-read pile and my growing collection of Kindle ebooks. In the case of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which I’ve had in a bin for three or four years, it jumped to the front of the pack for one simple reason: it’s short.

Back in 2009, my wife and I checked out the film based on this book co-written by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. I dug it and when I saw a copy of the novel on sale for a few bucks, snatched it up. But, I knew nothing about it going in, so the fact that the book is actually split between two POVs was a surprise. Basically, Nick gets a chapter, then Norah gets one written by Levithan then Cohn respectively.

The story itself finds Nick, a bass player in a band playing in New York City, asking a stranger to be his pretend girlfriend for five minutes so his ex won’t think he’s a lonely loser. As it happens, the girl is none other than Norah, a young woman who’s also recently broken up and trying to figure her life out. The two weave in and out of each others’ lives for the rest of a long NYC night filled with bands, secondary characters, exes, cab rides, burlesque nuns, Yugos and failed sexual advances as told by the two primary members of this burgeoning couple.

I really enjoyed the back and forth nature of this book and how it relates to relationships. From a writing perspective, it was nice to see each writer give the character such a unique and personal-feeling voice even if Norah gets a little Juno-y at times. But the approach also works well from a storytelling perspective. Obviously, in the real world, you only have your own experiences to go on, so it’s fun in fiction to explore this kind of story where you’re living the same events through two different, very articulate brains. While the movie got more into the adventure of the night by way of finding their favorite band Where’s Fluffy? and a few other devices, this one just gets into their heads and rides out the evening.

Aside from the dual narration and dual authorship, I was surprised by how graphic the book is. I wouldn’t say it’s lude or anything like that, but it’s filled with F bombs and a wide spectrum of sex talk. I wasn’t offended by any of this, mind you, it just wasn’t what I was expecting from a young adult book. Then again, I’ve had very little experience in that realm since I stopped reading Christopher Pike books.

I was also surprised with how the movie informed my reading of this book and at times worked against me. The filmmakers nailed it when they hired Kat Dennings. My mental concept of the actress perfectly reflected this character in my mind. In fact, her 2 Broke Girls character seems even more in line with Norah than my memory of the film. But, Michael Cera as Nick just wasn’t working for my brain. He’s described as tall, dark haired, disheveled and kind of muscular. It wasn’t until I finished the book that an actor really came into play in my head to fill the Nick role: a young, lean Jason Segel with the intensity he brought to the role of Nick on Freaks and GeeksOddly, when Norah’s ex Taj came into the picture, I was kept thinking of Superbad-era Martin Starr because I thought he played the part in the film, but it was really Jay Baruchel.  

Anyway, I not only enjoyed the tale told within the pages of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, but also appreciate the reading momentum it gave me. It seems like I start and lose interest in books pretty quickly, even if it’s something I really want to read by a favorite author, but finishing a book always makes me want to read another. I’m hoping I can ride this wave back into Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys and finish that sometime this month. We’ll see though, I’m always getting distracted by something whether it be a trade or Candy Crush.

The Music Box: Lotusflow3r & Tambourine

prince-lotusflower3-mplsound-elixer1 Prince is an artist I’ve never been overly interested in. I missed out on the Purple Rain-era (I knew the Milhouse line “So this is what it’s like when doves cry,” long before I knew the song) and by the time I was paying attention to pop music, he was in the middle of changing his name to a symbol and other silly activities I didn’t care about. A few years back, I found Purple Rain for a few bucks at a mall record store and decided to give it a shot. It’s been a while, but I wasn’t impressed. My memory is that the singles were as solid as they’ve always been, but the other tracks were pretty unimpressive.

So, when my pal Jesse sent me 2009’s three disc set of Lotusflow3r, MPLSound and Bria Valente Elixr for my birthday I wasn’t sure what to think. Then, I hit a point last week where I wasn’t feeling podcasts and figured I’d give it a shot, especially after seeing the artist’s recent appearance on New Girl. Holy crap, these are great records!

My problem with Purple Rain — again, if memory serves, which it only does about half the time — was that the non-hit songs felt stale, antiseptic and maybe too produced or electronic. I’ll give it another listen and see if those thoughts still hold up, but that’s what I went into these two records thinking. Instead, I was treated to an awesomely funky, guitar-filled pair of discs packed with songs I can see myself listening to over and over again. From the opening guitar calisthenics of the first track “From The Lotus” to the killer “Crimson & Clover” cover and beyond, I was sold right away and kept getting surprised by how much I loved these two records.

Originally, I skipped over Elixer, but after listening to these albums for a second time and writing most of this post, I figured I should give the third part of this trilogy a listen. Bria Valente has one of those classic female R&B voices that those of us who came up in the late 80s and early 90s remember as being super prominent. Those records weren’t my thing back then, but I found myself enjoying these tracks for their mix of quality vocals and diverse backing tracks that go from slow jams to funkadelic and back again. As far as I’m concerned, the funkier this record goes the better everyone sounds. I’m not sure how often I’ll be jonesing for this kind of listening experience, but I like keeping it around just in case.

tift merritt tamourine After intentionally listening to the Prince discs, I figured it would be a good time to reach into The Music Box and go the random route again. This time I pulled out Tift Merritt’s 2004 album Tambourine. As with many of the Music Box discs, I knew nothing about this going in, popped it on and gave it a listen.

Merritt’s sound reminded me a lot of Sheryl Crow. I’m not sure if that’s altogether fair but they’re both women singing country-tinged songs about their life experiences, so that’s where my head was at. With that comparison in mind — and the fact that they do sound sonically similar at times — I had trouble really getting into these songs. I think the person-playing-guitar-and-singing-quietly thing just isn’t all that interesting to me in the first place. I love that people do it, but it’s not always something I want to listen to unless the songs are super original, hit me in a truly emotional place or do something really interesting with the backing tracks.

When Merritt and company pick things up on tracks like “Wait It Out” and the title track, I’m in, but those wound up being a bit too far and few between for me to keep this one in the collection. Hopefully someone at the library will find it and dig the heck out of it though!

Casting Internets

My Pocket is overflowing with stories I want to read, so I figured I’d spend New Year’s Eve cleaning things out and creating one last Casting Internets post for the year. inspector-gadget-2

One of my all-time favorite toys, Inspector Gadget for the spotlight on Fwoosh. I had two different versions of this toy, but both broke. Wah wah.

In 1963 a kid sent a bunch of authors a questionnaire about symbolism. Most of them said it just kind of happens, which I’ve always suspected. Thanks to my wife for sending me the link and Mental Floss for posting about it.

Back in October, Clive Barker wrote a piece for THR about the time he gave up on watching horror movies because the experience was just too intense.

This one’s also from October, but I loved reading Fred Armisen talk to Esquire about filming the above video with the Clash.

I heard about all the craziness that went down with the Kim’s Video VHS and DVD collection after the store closed on an episode of Killer POV, but reading the actual Village Voice story from 2012 is long yet fascinating.

Joe Dante’s using FundAnything to help make his next movie Burying The Ex starring Anton Yelchin and Ashley Greene. I don’t have any extra money, but I hope this one gets made. (via Deadline)third man paramount set vol 1

Jack White’s The Rise And Fall Of Paramount Records Volume 1 vinyl set is insane. Just look at it and if you have an extra $400 buy it from Third Man Records.

Esquire celebrated Nirvana Week back in October by talking to Rob Sheffield about the band’s lasting legacy. The Kurt Cobain/Taylor Swift comparison therein is pretty right-on.

According to Rolling Stone, there’s a never released Johnny Cash record from 1980 coming out called Out Among The Stars coming out on March 25. This seems like pretty good news to me.

Here’s something I never thought I’d write, but this Joe Jonas piece on Vulture is pretty intriguing.

And finally, enjoy 9 minutes of rad action movie lines. (via The Mary Sue)

My Favorite New Records Of 2013

Well, this list turned out to be easier than I expected. The way I compile these things every year is I go into my iTunes and organize the tracks by release year and then narrow down which albums deserve a spot on the list. 2013 was an interesting year because I not only cut back on my album purchases — almost all of which are done via Amazon’s MP3 site these days — but also apparently didn’t go for much in the way of new music because I only bought two records that came out in the 2013 calendar year! And, as it happens, I like them both very much. So, without further ado, here are both of my favorite records from 2013.

Volume 3 by She & Him (2013)

I feel like something of a broken record, but I’ve been a fan of Zooey Deschanel since I first saw her in Elf. Several years later she and M. Ward started a group called She & Him. I was sold already because a major reason I like Elf so much is because of her singing voice. Since then they’ve release two more regular records and a Christmas album, which is one of a dozen such records I praised last year. In fact, She & Him Volume 2 made my list of favorite new records of 2010-, so it’s not much of a surprise that their next effort not only made its way into my collection but onto my list.

I didn’t go back and listen to the other records, but after giving this one a more recent listen, I want to say 3 might be my favorite She & Him offering. Deschanel doesn’t seem to be singing as many songs that don’t do her voice any favors and M. Ward is in there creating tracks that feel like what they are: updated girl group numbers. I especially like when he gets kind of twangy and noodley on tracks like “I Could Have Been Your Girl.”

These are just fun, nice, breezy pop songs about all the best pop song subjects: love, unrequited love and lost love. If you’re looking for a mellow record to relax with, I think She & Him Volume 3 is a pretty great option. But, it’s not like this record is all fluff. I actually really got into the heart of “Together” and a few other tracks that have themes I can easily tap into.

This album does something I kind of love, it reminds me of a party. You know how parties kick off loud and great with everyone having fun, hit a crescendo at some point and then end with a few tired/drunk people sitting around talking quietly? I like when albums share that similar progression. You’ve got a lot of the peppier pop songs in the beginning and then end with slower, even more mellow tracks like “Shadow Of Love” that I can easily imagine playing in the background of a clean-up scene at the end of a party movie.

Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy (2013)

My other favorite record of 2013 is another one that’s not much of a surprise. I’ve expressed my love of Fall Out Boy’s rock sensibilities before, so I was all over the idea of a new record from them after their hiatus (no one really believed they broke up, right?). Save Rock And Roll might have a pretty brazen title, but there is a bit of truth to it. I don’t want to be that guy, but as a very casual observer of pop music, I’m not seeing a lot of bands actually getting their music out between all the pop and hip hop tracks. And yet you’ve got FOB whose “The Phoenix” is already an instant sports stadium and commercial hit. How can you not get pumped up to this song? Between that and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” they’ve got two of the most prevalent guitar-based tracks I can remember in a while which is fantastic because I also happen to dig them both.

Also, I’m a huge sucker for songs about staying young and awesome like “Alone Together,” which clearly means there’s still a pretty large portion of my psyche that’s stuck in my more carefree days. But, hey, why not? Those days were a lot of fun and I like songs that remind me of them. I could easily go through track by track and talk about how I couldn’t stop stomping my foot while listening or how I love dancing around with the kiddo to this record, but I won’t (anymore than I already have, I guess).

Unlike the other records, this one actually features a number of guest appearances from Foxes, Big Sean, Courtney Love and Elton John. I don’t really know Foxes or Big Sean, but I thought they both worked well into “Just One Yesterday” and “The Mighty Fall” respectively. And, guys, Elton John and Fall Out Boy! It sounds crazy on paper but makes a lot of sense resulting in a pretty great title track.

My biggest problem with the record is that I really hate Courtney Love. I was far from excited when I heard she was on the record and while she’s as awful as always, she doesn’t really have much to do in “Rat A Tat” aside from some strange newscaster-esque rants and one bit towards the end that try to ruin the song, but don’t. I can’t tell you how glad I am that she’s not in the mix when it comes to that awesome chorus.

After a four year hiatus, I think FOB came out swinging with a collection of songs that stand up there with a lot of my favorites. Keep it up fellas! Aging dudes like myself still need music to rock out to and I hear the kids dig you too, so that’s good. While writing about Save, I was reading the Wiki page and realized I hadn’t picked up the short EP they did with Ryan Adams called PAX AM Days. I had some extra iTunes gift card scratch and picked it up, but haven’t actually listened to it yet, so maybe it’ll make next  year’s list!