Posts Tagged ‘Movie’

(Photo by Rob DeMartin)

Last night, at our favorite area theater, we took in Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars movie, in which he, a band and 30-piece orchestra perform his Western Stars album from start to finish before an audience of invited guests in the loft of his century-old Colt’s Neck, N.J., barn. (“It’s a place filled with the best kind of ghosts and spirits,” he explains.) What lifts the film from a mere replication of an intimate concert experience are the interstitial segments, which feature Bruce – now 70 years old – roaming the California desert while musing about the album’s songs, his life, and life in general. “Everybody’s broken in some way,” he says. “We’re always trying to find somebody whose broken pieces fit with our broken pieces, and something whole emerges.”

In a way, the movie is a cinematic extension of Springsteen on Broadway, in which crafted monologues introduced (and added depth to) a set of his classic songs. Yet, it’s more than that. It’s a collection of hard truths gleaned from a lifetime of personal failures and shared successes, of going it alone and going it together.

In short, Western Stars is a must-see film for Bruce fans past and present.

At one point, he talks about the fear of time passing him by – something many grapple with once they hit a certain age, when the rush of life often becomes a crush of unrecognizable realities. It’s an odd thing to consider, that a mega-star capable of selling out stadiums has the same fear we mere mortals do, but it’s true: Change discombobulates everyone.

So much has changed in the music industry since he released his first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., in 1973. Back then, “playlists” were curated by deejays – aka music fans – and they actually spurred listeners to buy singles and albums. Legendary Philly deejay Ed Sciaky, for example, helped shepherd Springsteen, Billy Joel and Yes, among others, to local success long before they broke out nationally. (To quote Bruce, “His support for my work brought me to an audience in Philadelphia that has remained one of my strongest to this day.”) That won’t and can’t happen, anymore.

Here’s “Sundown” from the film:

(The soundtrack is slated to be released this coming Friday.)

I am not a film critic, nor do I play one on TV. In fact, these days, I rarely go to the multiplex – the last film I saw in a theater was Jason Bourne (my choice) and before that Love & Friendship (Diane’s choice), and before that Indignation (mine), Spotlight (ours), and whatever the final Harry Potter film (Diane’s) was called. And, at home, despite having an array of options thanks to cable, Netflix and Amazon Prime, I rarely click play on a movie. I don’t care about animation, live-action comic books, or crass comedies, which are pretty much all that the Hollywood studios crank out these days.

In fact, before Here I Am, the last “new” movie I watched was Lady Bird on Amazon Prime, which Diane wanted to see. I found it insightful, poignant and funny, and enjoyed its nuanced, slice-of-life story. 

Written and directed by Cynthia Mort, Here I Am is also a slice-of-life tale, though it’s a music-based drama that includes a layer of metaphysical musings. The plot is straightforward: Successful singer Tommy Gold (Shelby Lynne), who’s been rocked by guilt and self-doubt since a tragic death, deals with the pressures of life while recording a new album and preparing for a tour. In some respects, the film has a cinéma-vérité feel – we’re plopped into the middle of an ongoing story, and it’s left to us to sort certain things out.

As Tommy, Shelby Lynne radiates pain – but also the magnetism that’s made Tommy a star. You believe her in the role. The supporting cast is also strong: Ally Walker plays Walker, who’s either Tommy’s manager or former manager-turned-record company executive, as well as a former lover – aside from Tommy’s internal demons, she’s the main antagonist. Elisabeth Röhm costars as Tommy’s agent, Gail, who defends and explains her boss to those who only see her as a product. Hugo Armstrong plays Colton, a sympathetic record-company man. 

I found it an insightful look at this thing called human existence, and recommend it to anyone interested in adult stories. (And by “adult” I mean “grown-up.”) Don’t get me wrong: Shot on a barebones budget over 15 days, it’s not a perfect film. But the story and performances are compelling enough that you’ll overlook the flaws.

You can buy it and the soundtrack via Shelby Lynne’s web store.

The soundtrack, I should mention, features songs written by Shelby Lynne as well as Shelby and Cynthia Mort. My only criticism: At present, it’s only available on vinyl from Shelby’s store, which means I can only listen when I’m here, at home, and not on the road. Here’s one of the songs, which I’m leaving unlisted on YouTube, as performed at the Ardmore Music Hall a few weeks back:

A few days after the show, Shelby told me via a tweet that the title is “Looking at the Moon/Revolving Broken Heart,” but that doesn’t match any of the songs listed at the end of the DVD or on the film’s website…and our LP, which we picked up along with the Here I Am DVD at the show, doesn’t list titles on the jacket or label. Late tonight (8/12), she said it’s “My Mind’s Riot.” Whatever it’s called, it’s a stirring ode to the downside of love – losing it, or the fear of losing it. It’s the kind of song that lingers in the mind long after the album is over.

And the rest of the soundtrack is as good. Here’s another track, “Off My Mind,” which was released as a single earlier this year.

(To learn more about Here I Am, visit Shelby Lynne’s website.)

incrowdYesterday morning, the MGM channel aired – and I DVRed – a true lost treasure, which we watched last night: The In Crowd (1988).

Set in 1965, the movie tells the story of a (fictional) fast-talking Philadelphia disc jockey named Perry Parker (Joe Pantoliano), whose daily TV dance show is on its last legs due to the changing times, and two of his star dancers: suburban boy Del (Donovan Leitch) and city girl Vicky (Jennifer Runyon). At the start, Del is dancing alone in his living room, not on TV; he dreams of not just dancing with Vicky on the show, but wooing her away from her hunky beau and dance partner Dugan (Scott Plank). Del’s also well-educated and, if his neighbor Gail (Wendy Gazelle) has her way, destined to attend medical school. Vicky, meanwhile, doesn’t know the difference between fiction and friction.

Here’s the (slightly dark and blurry) trailer:

The film’s director, Philly native Mark Rosenthal, described it as “a tale of two cities, the affluent suburbs and the hard-edged inner city,” to the Allentown Morning Call just prior to the film’s release in February 1988. (Rosenthal also co-wrote the screenplay with Lawrence Konner, with whom he’s co-written a ton of stuff.)

It’s that, true, but it’s also a love letter to a specific time and place. Del hails from Cheltenham, which is literally just across the street from North Philadelphia; Vicky lives in a Philly row home and hangs out at the Germantown train station with her friends; and the TV studio where the dance show is shot is the Tower Theater in Upper Darby. Other welcome local touches: Perry, Del and Vicky make a publicity appearance in Wildwood, N.J. (a popular beach town for those not from the region); Vicky’s dad, a cop, drives a red police car (a staple of Philadelphia at the time); and Del’s initial, un-chaperoned backstage tour of the TV studio takes him past Sally Starr and Uncle Pete, two local kiddie-show hosts. (Starr appears as herself while Uncle Pete, though only on-screen for a few moments, is played by his real-life son, Peter Boyle.)

And when he volunteers to dance with his dream girl after Dugan’s been banned from the show? Sparks fly.

It’s not a perfect film (far from it), but it’s eminently watchable – it touches the heart each time out. Leitch, the son of singer-songwriter Donovan, turns in a terrific performance as the suburban kid – at once arrogant, naive and kind; and Runyon perfectly captures the sweet innocence and ignorance of Vicky, who knows that she’s nowhere near as smart as Del or Gail.

Joey Pants is also terrific as Perry Parker, who was modeled after Jerry Blavat, Hy Lit and other legendary Philadelphia radio-TV personalities. In this scene, he’s just learned that his show has been cancelled, with a live feed of the San Francisco-based “Psychedelic Shack” destined to take over his time slot.

The In Crowd bombed at the box office, unfortunately. Far worse films have done well, so I doubt the fault lies with it but, instead, Orion Pictures, which failed to properly support it, or its mid-February release date. It would have done very well in early or late summer, I think. Its post-theatrical life has been likewise awful; it was released on VHS in 1990, but – likely due to music-licensing issues – never on DVD or blu-ray. It also rarely pops up on free or premium TV. In fact, we had it saved on our old DVR, so we could (and did) watch it at will every few months until our 2014 move, which necessitated trading in our old cable box for a new one. Six months back, during one of my routine searches for it, I discovered that It is available to rent via Comcast OnDemand, so we did that – the only time we’ve rented a film that way. Then, last week, I found it was scheduled for the MGM channel…  (Someone – Shout Factory, perhaps – really needs to rescue this treasure.)

Anyway, if you see it: DVR it. Watch it. And watch it again!