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: Reality Bites (1994)

Release Date: January, 1994 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: Helen Childress
Music by: Karl Wallinger
Cast: Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Swoosie Kurtz, Joe Don Baker, John Mahoney, Renee Zellweger, Andy Dick, Keith David, David Spade (uncredited), Anthony Robbins (uncredited), Jeanne Tripplehorn (uncredited)

Jersey Films, Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t navigate me. I may do mean things, and I may hurt you, and I may run away without your permission, and you may hate me forever, and I know that scares the living shit outta you ’cause you know I’m the only real thing you got.” – Troy Dyer

This was a coming of age movie that I loved when it came out back in 1994. Watching it nearly a quarter of a century later, I hate most of these characters and just see them as the typical “I’m such a cool counterculture ’90s slacker” type. But the reality is, I watched this film about struggling twentysomethings before I was even twenty. Now, being in my thirties and having survived my twenties, it has a very different effect on me now.

All the philosophical rantings are just nonsense. However, what I may have thought were good points when I was an angsty teenager (but I laugh at now) can’t simply be dismissed as shitty dialogue. If anything, this film is a product of ’90s Generation X culture. It certainly isn’t an inaccurate portrayal of it. These ideas, these philosophies and the living hypocrisy of those who espoused it was real. It’s what a big portion of that generation felt and how they saw the world, as they entered it as adults with a very different point-of-view than their Baby Boomer parents.

If anything, this film serves as a real time capsule to the ’90s. And really, are these young people different than those of other generations?

Everything I’m saying isn’t really criticism, it’s just my understanding of these things now. Sure, every young person thought Ethan Hawke was cool in this movie and Winona Ryder was sort of this elven looking ’90s girl next door that everyone was crushing on hard. However, seen outside of twentysomething eyes, they’re not likable characters. They’re selfish, narcissistic, egotistical and complete hypocrites. I couldn’t find myself cheering for them to make it as a couple. In my thirties, I found that I was more interested in Janeane Garofalo and Steve Zahn’s characters, as they actually had more interesting stories, seemed more grounded and were infinitely more likable. I knew that they would turn out okay.

Going back and seeing the things I wrote or put on social media when I was in my twenties is always a cringe worthy experience. So I can’t imagine what these characters would think now, looking back at the documentary Ryder’s Lelaina was creating out of their lives. I hope they all evolved well beyond where they were at this point in their lives.

Primarily, the point of this film is to show what it is like for Gen Xers to be leaving college and trying to make it in the real world. Yeah, it’s tough out there, we all get that if we’ve lived through it without uber rich parents. But that is where I can relate to the film. And also because these were people that weren’t too dissimilar from my friends at the same age. Those who I am still friends with evolved and grew into better people. Those I am no longer friends with stayed the same and still rant on about the same crap that neither makes them cool anymore and just makes them come off as poorly aged turds.

But I still like this movie. I like it because it actually is accurate… scarily accurate. Ben Stiller did a good job behind the camera, especially since he had to split his time with acting duties in this as well. But it is kind of sad to relive life through the experiences of these fictitious characters, now realizing that we were all full of shit.

We had high hopes, all this optimism, we thought we’d change the world and fix the wrongs of our parents generation. However, our parents thought the same thing and so did their parents. “Down with consumerism!” “Hey, let’s order Domino’s!” “Don’t be a fucking sellout, man!” “Hey, some major network wants to buy my show!” And in the end, the world is the same. Maybe a bit worse, actually.

This is definitely more of an analysis of this film’s philosophies and characters and less of an actual review but whatever. I can write what I want because I’m not selling my soul to some corporate sponsored publisher that murders whales and dumps crude oil on the heads of Third World infants, maaan!

Someone pointed out to me that the script was written by a 19 year-old girl. Of course it was. Granted, props to her 19 year-old self (who would be in her forties now) for accomplishing such a feat. Seriously. It’s a film that felt truly authentic. It sadly just shows you that young people mostly suck because life hasn’t made them better yet.

I kind of think Troy just stayed a total starving artist douchebag though. And despite the “happy” ending, he probably still sneaked out the next morning.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: SinglesSubUrbiaEmpire RecordsS.F.W. and Clerks.

Film Review: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)

Also known as: The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Release Date:
 October 7th, 1994 (limited)
Directed by: Kim Henkel
Written by: Kim Henkel
Music by: Wayne Bell, Robert Jacks
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey

Genre Pictures, Return Productions, Ultra Muchos Productions, Columbia Pictures, Cinépix Film Properties, 94 Minutes (original cut), 87 Minutes (re-release)

texas_chainsaw_massacre_next_generationReview:

This is the fourth and worst installment in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. The reboot after this was a big step-up.

I rewatched this and the third film Leatherface for the first time in over a decade. Leatherface was really bad, this is worse. To be honest, it isn’t as bad as I remembered it but that is only because it has a few positives that none of the other films have. The main thing is Matthew McConaughey.

You can never accuse McConaughey of not giving 100 percent to a role. He played his part here, at about 150 percent. He was turned up past maximum volume and it was extraordinary. Sure, his material, his dialogue and his character were a ridiculous mash-up of awful but he shined with absolute insanity. I love McConaughey in this role and he owned it like no other previous psycho in this franchise.

Well, there actually isn’t another positive. McConaughey was just so good it is the equivalent to three positives.

So what’s bad? Quick answer: everything else. Long answer: initiate rant paragraph. Go!

The film starts with an animated logo that is pixelated and a credits sequence that has unintentional optical glitches. The dialogue was some of the worst I have ever heard and I watch a ton of Mystery Science Theater 3000 reruns. Some of the scenes made absolutely no sense… actually, all of the scenes. No, really… all of them. The acting, apart from McConaughey, was so bad that “atrocious” can’t quite define it. Renée Zellweger is the star of this but she just couldn’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit, especially with McConaughey’s mojo cruising through outer space. The conspiracy theory plot twist was one of the dumbest things I have ever seen play out on film. Leatherface was just a cross-dressing, wailing banshee that didn’t do a damn thing except scream the entire picture. The two other psychos were so uninteresting and unintelligible that they are only memorable because I just watched this. But the worst thing was Matthew McConaughey’s robot leg and how Renée Zellweger immobilized him with a television remote… a television remote! And then he is murdered by a low flying secret society airplane propeller that chops through his head. Then you find out that all along, all this Texas Chainsaw Massacre stuff was some sinister government plot to scare people so much that they had a “spiritual experience” before dying. None of it makes any fucking sense. None. And this was written and directed by one half of the creative team behind the original movie! So it is canon, right? Right?!

Rant paragraph over.

This film is so bad that even McConaughey’s complete awesomeness still puts this behind Leatherface. If you get this far into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre film series, you must be a glutton for punishment like I am. Or you were the kid who burnt their hand on the stove even though your mother told you it was hot. Or maybe you are just curious and want to see the greatest Oscar caliber performance in one of the worst motion pictures of all-time.

I don’t think words can really illustrate the experience that is Texas Chainsaw Masscare: The Next Generation. But words can’t really illustrate the feeling of being shot, you kind of just have to jump in front of the bullet.