Film Review: Empire Records (1995)

Also known as: Rock & Fun, Empire (working titles)
Release Date: September 22nd, 1995 (limited)
Directed by: Allan Moyle
Written by: Carol Heikkinen
Music by: various artists
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Maxwell Caulfield, Debi Mazar, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth, Robin Tunney, Renée Zellweger, Liv Tyler, Ethan Embry, Coyote Shivers, James ‘Kimo’ Willis, Brendan Sexton III, Ben Bode

Regency Enterprises, Warner Bros., 90 Minutes, 107 Minutes (Special Extended Edition)

Review:

“We mustn’t dwell… no, not today. We can’t. Not on Rex Manning Day.” – Mark

Empire Records was not a hit when it came out in theaters but it had a pretty limited release and when it did expand into more theaters, it still didn’t get into a lot of them. In fact, I never even heard of the movie until it came out on VHS in 1996 while I was working at a video store. I checked it out and liked it but I never imagined that it was something that many people would see or that would gain a pretty good cult following.

I think that it resonated with me because I was the same age as the characters, I worked in a video store and a music store and it felt a bit more like an ’80s teen comedy, which were movies I grew up on and had an impact on me as a kid.

Sure, the film is pretty hokey and very goofy but with that it has a lot of charm and an innocence about it, even if it delves into some more serious subject matter. At it’s core, it just follows a day in the life of an indie record store but it is a well crafted coming of age movie.

It is almost fantasy in how it is presented and in that way, it kind of reminds me of Clerks. They’re not even close from a tonal sense but both movies cram a bunch of crazy stuff into a single work day in a way that isn’t realistic but works for these type of films because all of these things could actually happen, just not on a single day.

The acting isn’t great but this does feature some people that would go on to have pretty good careers. It also stars Anthony LaPaglia as the only real adult in the film and the glue that keeps things together and a bit more grounded than the film would be without him.

I can’t say that this has aged well and maybe I still like it because of the power of nostalgia but it’s just a great film to throw on, once in awhile, when you need to be taken back to a simpler time and a simpler life before being buried in adult problems and worries.

I also love how musical it is and how fun it is. You actually do care about these characters and you want a happy ending for all of them. Because they’re all just kids and most of us have been where they are.

Plus, without this film, we never would’ve had Rex Manning Day.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other teen comedies of the ’90s.

Film Review: Disturbing Behavior (1998)

Release Date: July 24th, 1998
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: Scott Rosenberg
Music by: Mark Snow
Cast: James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, William Sadler, Bruce Greenwood, Steve Railsback, Katharine Isabelle, Ethan Embry

Village Roadshow Pictures, Beacon Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Meet the musical little creatures that hide among the flowers.” – Betty Caldicott

My, god, man… look at that poster. It’s such a ’90s cliche. But then so is this entire movie.

I saw this in the theater way back in 1998 on a date. She picked the movie but I agreed, even though I thought this looked like teeny bopper pop horror bullshit. Luckily, horror hadn’t completely turned to shit by 1998 but I also had no idea that it would get so bad. But this film, in retrospect, showed me that the writing was on the wall for the sterilization of the horror genre. I probably saw the trends then but also didn’t think it could get much worse. A few years later, everything went PG-13 and theaters were full of middle schoolers screaming over half assed jump scares and CGI ghost arms.

This film’s plot is incredibly derivative. It borrows ideas from The Stepford WivesVillage of the DamnedChildren of the Corn and a bunch of other similar pictures. Basically, what you have is a town full of teens being brainwashed out of being angsty, rebellious youth. Okay, maybe it’s like Footloose where religion is replaced by science and dancing is replaced by sex and drugs. It’s also hard to ignore the narrative similarities to the much more recent and super successful Get Out. But that’s obviously not this film’s fault, as it predates Get Out by 19 years.

Anyway, a lot of horror is derivative. There isn’t a whole lot of innovation in the genre but that’s fine. Those of us who love horror don’t care so much about ideas being recycled, as long as it gives us something with a new twist or a new perspective. This film doesn’t really do that though.

I still find it enjoyable to watch however, in that sort of late night, nothing to do, mindless fun as I puff on a joint and drink painkillers (the cocktail not the pills from my Uncle Terry’s medicine cabinet).

This follows that mid-to-late ’90s trend where instead of populating a horror film with mostly unknowns, we get a studio trying to wedge in as many hot, trendy, TV teen actors as possible. This one unites Katie Holmes of Dawson’s Creek, James Marsden from the short lived Second Noah and Nick Stahl, who wasn’t a TV darling but was a young, hot commodity at the time. You also get Ethan Embry and Katharine Isabelle, both of whom had blossoming careers at the time. But you have to have a good veteran to kind of steer the ship in these sort of movies and that man was the always enjoyable William Sadler. Sadler was the best part about this picture.

One thing I like about the film is the tone. It had a ’90s grunge/industrial look, which was popular in the music videos of that decade. But also like ’90s music videos, it used overzealous editing techniques that made the movie a bit of a headache to watch for 83 minutes.

Speaking of which, 83 minutes?! Really? This film was so short and really, it could have been fleshed out a bit more. Would it have hurt to develop these characters more and enhance the story for an extra ten to fifteen minutes? This thing goes by like a flash and you don’t really feel connected to any of it.

Also, what’s the deal with that “shocking” ending? It makes no sense and I’m not sure what it was supposed to convey. Okay, one of the brainwashed kids survived and he’s a substitute teacher in a rough school. So does he have the ability to brainwash these kids? I mean, the evil doctor died. Did he program his minions with the knowledge of his work? It was a cheap attempt at trying to be surprising and clever and it was neither of those things. Maybe it was there to setup a pointless sequel with terrible writing that wouldn’t have been able to explain the asinine twist.

Disturbing Behavior definitely isn’t a bad time but it isn’t a great time either. It’s watchable, it’s enjoyable, it’s barely fun though. But I almost forgot how cute Katie Holmes was back in the day before Tom Cruise hid her away in a cave somewhere for like a decade.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: The FacultyTeaching Mrs. TingleUrban LegendIdle Hands and other late ’90s teen horror.