Sunday, November 11, 2018

Movies that Rock

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema featured a look at movies that rock. Here is a recap of the films discussed on the show.

Jailhouse Rock (1957)
Elvis Presley’s third feature for MGM was one of his biggest box office hits. The movie was considered scandalous in its day, as Presley’s character was a murderer recently released from prison. At the time of its release, Jailhouse Rock got mixed reviews but the sequence of Presley performing the title song is now regarded as on the most important musical moments in Hollywood history and Jailhouse Rock has been added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
The Rocky Horror Picture show began as a stage show that was adapted into a feature film. At the time of its release in 1975 the movie was a financial failure but it became one of the essential cult titles. The Rocky Horror Picture still plays at late night showings where the audience speaks back and interacts with the film and live performers sometimes act out in front of the screen. 

The Blues Brothers (1980)
The Blues Brothers was the first feature film to be spun off of a Saturday Night Live skit. The titular characters were played by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd and the movie featured cameos by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Cab Calloway among others. According to a retrospective in Vanity Fair, the owner of Mann Theaters (one of the biggest chains in the nation at that time) refused to book The Blues Brothers in suburban show houses because he insisted that white audiences would not want to see a movie with black musicians. The Blues Brothers played in about 600 theaters, about half the size of a typical wide release. Despite the hiccups, The Blues Brothers was a hit and became one of the most popular movie musicals.

Sid & Nancy (1986)
Sid & Nancy featured Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious, the former bassist of The Sex Pistols, and focused on his relationship with Nancy Spungen, played by Chloe Webb. The movie captured the chaos and ugliness of the punk rock scene of the 1970s and provided an unsparing depiction of drug abuse.

Wayne’s World (1992)
The song “Bohemian Rhapsody” was one of Queen’s biggest hits but its popularity was given a boost in the 1990s with its appearance in Wayne’s World. That movie was the most successful adaptation of a Saturday Night Live skit and Wayne’s World included cameos by Meatloaf and Alice Cooper. As part of the promotion for Wayne’s World, the music video for “Bohemian Rhapsody” was recut to include scenes from the film. Not incidentally, Mike Myers has a cameo in the film Bohemian Rhapsody as an EMI record executive.

Across the Universe (2007)
Across the Universe was a musical that used the songs of the Beatles to tell its story of youth working their way through the social upheaval of the late 1960s. The story is a bit generic ’60s but the musical numbers were interesting and director Julie Taymor brought her characteristic visual flair to the project.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)
Scott Pilgrim vs the World was directed by Edgar Wright and, along from Baby Driver, this is the best example of Wright’s use of music. The film interweaves the songs into the action, sometimes underscoring the drama and at other times glibly poking fun at the characters.

The Runaways (2010)
The Runaways was a biographical film about the band of the same name. Kristin Stewart was cast as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning played Cherie Currie with Michael Shannon as band manager Kim Fowley. The movie had terrific energy and authentic period detail.

Rock of Ages (2012)
Based on the stage show, an Oklahoma girl arrives in Hollywood looking to break into the entertainment industry. Rock of Ages isn’t a great film. It suffers from a pair of uninteresting leads played by Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta but those who love 1980s hair metal ought to enjoy it. The film has a great supporting performance by Tom Cruise as rock star Stacee Jaxx.

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Named after their signature song, Bohemian Rhapsody is a biographical feature film about the rock band Queen. The movie largely succeeds because of its cast. Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury and he captures Mercury’s charisma and stage presence. But just as impressive as the bravado are the ways Malek brings humanity and some complexity to a larger-than-life rock and roll icon. This film also has some exceptional musical performances, namely a recreation of the band’s performance at the 1985 Live Aid benefit concert. It is a breathtakingly shot, acted, and edited musical sequence that is a fitting tribute to Mercury and to Queen. 

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
Mamma Mia! is a jukebox musical. Driven by the disco music of Abba, this story was always intended to be a lighthearted, feel good show. The sequel continues that quality and it delivers more of what audiences enjoyed in the stage musical and its 2008 feature film adaptation. The story is thin. Here We Go Again is mostly an excuse to string together a series of musical numbers and the movie does that well but the Mamma Mia! sequel has no drama and virtually no stakes. But it does deliver lighthearted musical fun that fans of the original picture should enjoy.

A Star is Born (2018)
2018’s A Star is Born is the fifth iteration of this story following George Cukor’s 1932 picture What Price Hollywood? and subsequent feature film remakes in 1937, 1954, and 1976. The 2018 version stars Bradley Cooper (who also directs) as a rock and roller fueled by booze and drugs and Lady Gaga as a waitress who becomes a pop music sensation. 2018’s A Star is Born is arguably the best version of this story. It may not reinvent the show business narrative but it retells this story with intelligence and depth as well as an impressive visual style. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are terrific and Cooper makes this one of the most impressive directorial debuts in recent memory.

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