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: The Craft (1996)

Release Date: April 26th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Andrew Fleming
Written by: Andrew Fleming, Peter Filardi
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, Cliff DeYoung, Christine Taylor, Breckin Meyer

Columbia Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Girls watch out for the weirdos.” – Driver, “We are the weirdos, mister.” – Nancy

Man, I hadn’t seen this in a long time but I used to take a copy home to watch a lot when I worked at a video store in the ’90s. I’ve also seen it on television a bunch of times. But I came across it on my Starz app and thought, “Hmm… I haven’t seen that in ages.” So I decided to fire it up.

The Craft is about four teenage girls that dabble in witchcraft, which was pretty normal for some high school girls when this came out. I went to a few schools and there was always some sort of neo-pagan clique hanging about. I don’t know if that’s still the case because if I hung out around high schools now, I’d get arrested.

These girls take their dabbling to all new levels and their magic starts to work pretty effectively. The jerk guy at school obsesses over one girl, the racist mean girl starts losing her hair, the burnt girl gets healed and becomes a slut, the psycho girl just starts magic murdering people and ocean life. It all culminates in the psycho girl embracing her psycho tendencies and getting into a magic cat fight with the only rational character in the entire group.

The movie is cheesy but it’s the right kind of cheese and now it’s well aged and has a thick layer of nostalgia around the edges. Point being, this was still enjoyable and I was pretty tuned in from start to finish.

The four main actresses all did a good job and Fairuza Balk owned her character’s insanity and gave one of the most memorable performances of her career. In fact, she still kind of frightens me because of this movie.

I thought Robin Tunney also gave one of her best performances, as she was the one beacon of light in the evil witchcraft storm. She had a good presence and was still able to offset some of Balk’s over the top antics and keep things mostly grounded.

The Craft has its hardcore fans. Or, at least, it used to. I don’t hear people talking about it much these days. I was never a hardcore fan but I always thought it was a solid way to spend 101 minutes of my time.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Other ’90s teen horror movies: Idle HandsScream and The Faculty.

Film Review: Hollywoodland (2006)

Release Date: August 31st, 2006 (Venice International Film Festival)
Directed by: Allen Coulter
Written by: Paul Bernbaum
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Kathleen Robertson, Lois Smith, Molly Parker, Jeffrey DeMunn, Brad William Henke

Focus Features, Miramax Films, Back Lot Pictures, Universal Studios, Buena Vista International, 127 Minutes

Review:

“[about the bullet holes in George Reeves’ floor] Since when do suicides miss twice and start over?” – Louis Simo

This film really grabbed me immediately with the opening theme, which set the tone perfectly for this film-noir styled biopic about the death of George Reeves, the actor who was most famous for playing television’s Superman in the 1950s.

Ben Affleck plays the legendary George Reeves but he is not the main character. Adrien Brody gets the big spotlight in this one, as he plays a private investigator hired to uncover the truth surrounding George Reeves apparent suicide.

This is a very layered film, in the same vein as a classic film-noir, and it features a large cast of characters.

Brody commands your attention as Louis Simo. He exudes charisma and weaves his way through this tapestry with ease and a real air of confidence missing by most actors these days. Brody, as well as Affleck, almost feel overpowered though by the performance of veteran Bob Hoskins, who enters each scene with an aura of intimidation like a massive storm cloud ready to strike out with booming thunder.

Diane Lane puts in a solid performance as well, as do most of the ladies here. It was cool seeing Molly Parker banter with Brody. Robin Tunney and Kathleen Robertson both brought their A-game performances, as well. I wish we got to see more of Robertson, as she’s never quite broken out as a leading lady. Here, she shows that she has got more to offer than just being one of Ian Ziering’s girlfriends from the original Beverly Hills, 90210.

While this wasn’t an exceptional film, it did paint an intimate portrait and it handled the George Reeves situation with care and grace. There were a lot of shady things that happened in his life but the film felt honest and respected the man, even while displaying those flaws. Superman isn’t real and the man was just as human as all of us.

The film feels like it is missing something though. Maybe it’s the fact that it built up towards a resolution but we never really got there. Not in a proper narrative sense, anyway. By the time the credits roll, you’ve been taken on a ride but it just feels like a collection of scenes that don’t reach a solid conclusion.

I like Hollywoodland despite its flaws, in the same way I appreciate George Reeves despite his. It doesn’t fully hit the mark but it does connect with you emotionally and then lingers long after the final scene. In that sense, it is an effective movie.

Rating: 7/10