Posts Tagged ‘musician’

Review: “That Thing You Do! ”

April 19, 2010

So, I know I haven’t been focusing in solely on music lately, but hopefully you can recognize the musical value of some of the items I’ve been writing about, in particular my movie reviews, all of which feature music as a central theme.  With that said…

Released in 1996 and set during the 1960s, “That Thing You Do!  “   is Tom Hanks’ directorial debut, and a fine debut at that.  The story of a garage rock band who rises to stardom on the success of their one big hit song, “That Thing You Do!  “   this movie hits all the right notes, so to speak, and seamlessly pulls off a fun, playful atmosphere that echoes the carefree days of a bygone era.  After losing their drummer to a broken arm, a local Erie, Pennsylvania band suddenly finds themselves in need of a replacement, quickly turning to beatnik jazz drummer Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) to fill in for a gig at a college talent show.  However, after Guy speeds up the tempo of the eponymous song, turning this slow ballad into an upbeat rocker, the group is soon presented with an unexpected wealth of fame, especially after being signed to Playtone Records by a suave A&R representative named Mr.  White (Tom Hanks) and settling on band name The Wonders.  Despite the usual lousy shows and technical on-stage problems any band goes through, they’re eventually added to a nationwide Playtone artist tour that takes them to a variety of state fairs, all the while enjoying the continued rise of, “That Thing You Do!  “   up the charts and the benefits this entails, such as appearances on TV and in a major motion picture.

As is the case with any film, this one features a fair amount of drama and relationship issues, including those between lead singer/guitarist Jimmy Mattingly (Johnathon Schaech) and his girlfriend Faye (Liv Tyler), for whom drummer Guy secretly longs.  We also see as Jimmy becomes consumed with his own visions for the band, and his desire to take the band in that direction, even if that means less a focus on performing live and a greater emphasis on recording.  Guitarist/vocalist Lenny Haise is portrayed as a silly, skirt-chasing buffoon, a role which Steve Zahn performs admirably.  And it’s great to see Guy’s starry-eyed reactions to all the amazing things that happen to him and the band, all the while harboring his continued love for jazz and, especially, the music of his favorite jazz musician Del Paxton, a love that pays off in a big way for Guy as the film nears its conclusion.

Any film that turns its focus towards music, bands, or anything along those lines is already a winner in my book, and this one is a perfect example of all those things.  As mentioned, Hanks does a wonderful job of bringing the audience into the halcyon days of the 60s, when Beatlemania was at its peak and a band not unlike the Fab Four attempted to make a name for themselves.  Comparisons to The Beatles can be found everywhere, from the uptempo snappiness (to quote Mr.  White) of the band’s music, to their nicknames eventually assigned to the band members, all the way down to the drummer swap, which recalls the substitution of original Beatles drummer Pete Best with Ringo Starr.  The cast does an excellent job, rounding out their roles to a, “T, “ and making us believe they’re an actual band (in reality, external musicians including Fountains Of Wayne’s Adam Schlesigner composed much of the movie’s music).

I tip my hat to, “That Thing You Do!  “  for again giving those musicians who’ve cut their teeth in bands at one point or another something to watch with fondness, and making us believe that, maybe, being a one-hit wonder is all you really need.

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This Is Spinal Tap, finally

April 17, 2010

Not long after awakening the other day, I stood in the shower, musing on what I should blog about next, and This Is Spinal Tap seemed like a logical, obvious choice.  My favorite music-related movie AND my favorite comedy?  Honestly, how could I go wrong?

However, I soon came to realize that, much like the subjects of many of my previous blog posts, any attempts to personally review it would be detrimental to future viewers of this fine piece of cinema-I truly feel hesitant shedding light on any number of the hilarious moments that occur, and would rather let those who haven’t seen the film yet check it out with a clean slate.  Plus, I’ve already touched on some of those moments in my review of Anvil! The Story of Anvil.

What I WILL say is that Michael Mckean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest play their roles as, respectively, David St. Hubbins, Derek Smalls and Nigel Tufnel (the members of Spinal Tap) quite beautifully, under the direction of Rob Reiner, who himself co-stars as Marty DiBergi, a long-time fan of, “Tap, ” who’s self-enlisted to document the band as they hit to road in support of their new album Smell the Glove.  From there, the band runs into problems too numerous to mention, all the while discussing their past accomplishments (and failures), all with humorous, sarcastic wit.  Various elements like their flat-out unusual drummer situation and the entrance of St. Hubbins’ controlling, manipulative girlfriend help drive the, “plot, ” if there even is one.  And there’s no denying that the ending is just plain awesome, one that’s been referenced frequently since then in forms of media like Weezer’s music video for, “Perfect Situation.  ”

The music itself also helps to carry the film, and it’s EXTREMELY refreshing to see a movie about musicians in which the actors actually play their own instruments, and play them well.  The scenes of the band rocking out live in concert are convincingly shot, and while still ripe with hilarity, are mostly hard to distinguish from many, “actual, ” concerts I’ve seen.  Milwaukee residents should take note of their performance at Shank Hall, which is clearly NOT the real Shank Hall-the one we’re all familiar with opened in the years following the movie’s release.

This is where I shall stop-I don’t want to get too much further into some elaborate plot description and end up giving away too many of the jokes.  If you haven’t already seen This Is Spinal Tap, do check it out, especially if you’re a musician.  Chances are you’ll love it, as I do.

Review: “Once”

April 16, 2010

Shot on a shoestring budget and starring two people who had barely acted before in their lives, 2007’s Once has gone on to develop an immense following thanks to its cinéma vérité style, honest storytelling and captivating soundtrack.  A simple story of an Irish street musician (Glen Hansard) who develops a musical relationship with a Czech flower seller (Markéta Irglová), the film is, without a doubt, one of the most honest films about the world of musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing.

Much like a standard musicial, the film allows the songs to further the story, delving into topics like break-ups (“Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy, ” and, “Lies”), a technique which not only showcases each song’s excellence in its entirety, but also provides great framework for show-stoppers like the Oscar-winning, “Falling Slowly, ” an emotional tune that truly gets me every time I hear it.  Even more skillful songwriting makes an appearance during a scene in a recording studio, where the two lay down several songs with the help of a backing band-it is here that we’re fortunate to witness the recording of, “When Your Mind’s Made Up, ” an unbelievable song in 6/8 that gives the soundtrack an additional boost.

As I obviously treasure these songs a great deal, I will not be posting links to videos or mp3s of any of the aforementioned tunes, instead recommending that anyone who reads this blog post take a few hours to watch Once.  I will, however, direct those same readers to the video below, in which Hansard does easily the most incredible cover of Van Morrison’s, “Astral Weeks, ” I’ve ever seen/heard.  Thanks to Tony Memmel for pointing this out!  🙂

At the risk of sounding like the host of Reading Rainbow, if you’re interested in more music from the talented duo that star in Once, do check out The Swell Season, who have released three LPs to date including last year’s Strict Joy.  Hansard has also enjoyed a successful career in his own right, as a member of Irish rock group The Frames and the mastermind behind a wealth of solo recordings.