Whip It & Adventureland (Friday Night Film Club #3)

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Whip It (2009) Director: Drew Barrymore

The directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, Whip It spans a number of genres: comedy, coming of age and sports drama.

I’m not generally a fan of againt the odds sports dramas with their accompanying clichés – the team of losers miraculously galvanised, the star player with a problem and the seemingly unbeatable (and highly arrogant) opponents. Not forgetting the last gasp incredible win. Or crushing defeat with lessons learned.

Whip It does incorporate some of the above but quickly proves infectious anyway. Small town Texan gal Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is highly likeable and who wouldn’t identify with a teenage girl choosing roller derby over taking part in grotesque beauty pageants?

Nobody worth bothering about anyway.

The Hurl Scouts, the team she gravitates towards, are a likeable bunch too, fond of banter, bevvy and brawling on the roller derby track and they have some terrifically badass nicknames like Eva Destruction, Smashley Simpson, Bloody Holly and in the case of Bliss, Babe Ruthless. And, believe me, she really is Ruthless and fearless and whips it real good on the track.

Whip It - Find Your Tribe

A little research incidentally informs me that Glasgow has a number of roller derby teams including the Irn Bruisers (a clever play on the name of Scotland’s other national drink), Tyrannosaurus Wrecks and the Glasgow Dangers – okay I made that last one up – with skaters known by monikers like Hadrians Brawl and Spin Diesel which at least sound more a lot more fun to watch than Scott Brown and Kenny Miller.

Whip It also has a very decent soundtrack that includes The Ramones, The Raveonettes and Radiohead. Curiously, like Boogie Nights, the movie takes its name from a song that is not part of the film’s soundtrack which is a pity but instead of Whip It by Devo, here’s a track that does feature, a 1990s indie classic by The Breeders:

 
There’s a number of subplots here too, notably Bliss’s relationship with her controlling, pageant obsessed mother and her romance with indie singer/guitarist Oliver but they’re never as fresh as the moments on the roller derby track.

So, does the long losing streak of the Hurl Scouts end? Does our star player sort out her problems? And how will the climatic league championship game go?

You’ll have to watch and see.

For more on Roller Derby in Glasgow – & mon’ the T. Wrecks by the way! – click here.

Adventureland

Adventureland (2009) Director: Greg Mottola

Okay, it’s the suburbs of Pittsburgh in 1987.

Jesse Eisenberg plays James Brennan, a young man with two immediate ambitions: to tour Europe with his pals during the summer then move to New York where he’s been accepted to study journalism by Columbia Uni.

Neither of these plans work out, though, due to his family’s sudden economic downturn.

Instead of smoking joints in Amsterdam and elsewhere, he’s forced to take on a summer job at the local amusement park Adventureland, where the games are rigged and the prizes tatty – an oversize felt banana with cartoon eyes glued on, anyone?

But he does get to smoke a bit of weed there.

And he gets to smoke that weed with new pal Joel (Martin Starr), a pessmistic intellectual with a wry sense of humour; Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), a gum chewing Madonna wannabe who the theme park males routinely lust over and Em (Kristen Stewart), a sometimes sullen girl who wears a Lou Reed Transformer T-shirt and whose bedroom is decorated with Buzzcocks and Bowie posters.

At one point James compiles Em a mixtape, describing the tracks as ‘truly miserable, pit of despair type songs. I think you’ll love it.’

Presumably many of these tracks are the songs featured on the film’s soundtrack and if that’s the case then she should absolutely adore the tape.

Before Adentureland‘s opening credits have rolled we’ve already heard The Replacements and Bastards of Young and before too long we’re treated to The Velvet Underground and Here She Comes Now.

There’s also Bowie, solo Lou Reed, The New York Dolls, Big Star, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Nick Lowe, Husker Du and a standout original score provided by Yo La Tengo.

Woah.

Occasionally the music is a little on the nose for my liking – when Pale Blue Eyes plays in the car, James lingers on Em’s pale blue (or maybe they’re actually green) eyes, while when he seems to begin to fall in love with her we hear I’m in Love With a Girl.

Saying that those are two of the most beautiful songs ever recorded so maybe I’m being a little mean here complaining about their use.

And here’s a warning: while Adventureland utilises some stunningly good music, the song you hear most during the film is that annoying Rock Me Amadeus track by Falco which is okay as it’s used is a joke, a pretty good joke actually although maybe not quite as amusing as when the characters in Late Night Shopping had to drive in a car where the radio was jammed on a AOR station.

Adventureland still

Adventureland is a consistently funny film although never quite belly laugh funny. Well, apart from the boner in the pool joke.

The characters are all beautifully drawn and Eisenberg and Stewart are perfectly cast. As is Martin Starr, who when told by potential flame Sue O’Malley that she can’t go out with him because he’s Jewish and her parents are strict Catholics, protests: ‘But I’m an aetheist. I mean more of a pragmatic nihilist, I guess, or an existential pagan, if you will.’

I doubt they were ever going to make it long-term as a couple anyway.

Kristen Wiig appears here in a small role and, like her turn as Maggie Mayhem in Whip It, she’s excellent and Ryan Reynolds also excels as Connell, the park’s repair guy. He’s married, manipulative and might just have jammed with Lou Reed once upon a time, providing guitar on a bunch of Lou classics like Shine a Light on Love.

A few moments didn’t strike me as entirely convincing including Connell’s song title faux pas and while I don’t want to give away the ending completely, I’ll just say that sometimes the climax shouldn’t be what the audience wants, sometimes it should be the ending that they really don’t want.

But I did enjoy the first ninety or so minutes so much that I still reckon Adventureland is right up there with the very best films about the trials and tribulations of first love made so far this century.

Utilised in a great scene with dodgem cars, here’s the song that helped break The Cure big in America. This is Just Like Heaven:

 
For more on the films, here are the trailers for Whip It and Adventureland.

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Supersonic & Wonderwall (Friday Night Film Club #2)

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Oasis: Supersonic (2016) Director: Mat Whitecross
Wonderwall (1968) Director: Joe Massot 

Supersonic Wonderwall

Over the past coupla weeks I’ve watched two documentaries about filmmaking.

One, Hitchcock/Truffaut, examined the French auteur’s book on the master of suspense with Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Wes Anderson and others analysing Hitchcock’s techniques and legacy.

The other documentary was Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, which traced the careers of the men behind the company that specialised in bandwagon jumping movies about ninjas, break dancers and ludicrous all action affairs that usually starred Chuck Norris getting busy with a bazooka. Talking heads here included Bo Derek and Molly Ringwald.

I’m a big fan of Hitchcock and own many of his films on DVD. I also have a number of Trauffaut’s films in my collection and a quad poster for Jules at Jim hangs on my living room wall. I own nothing from the Cannon, em, canon. Albeit I confess I have enjoyed some of their output, the Ninja Trilogy and Runaway Train springing to mind.

You’ve likely guessed that I actually preferred Electric Boogaloo, although I would recommend you to see both.

I mention this to explain that while I’m not a fan, I thought I’d take a chance on Oasis: Supersonic when I came across it in a local charity shop earlier this week.


Supersonic traces the career of Oasis from the childhood of the Gallagher’s through to the Knebworth enormo-shows in the summer of 1996, thus avoiding the far from engrossing years following the fiasco of Be Here Now.

In many ways the most interesting aspect of the film is seeing the pre-fame days of Noel and Liam growing up in Burnage, a world of guitars and Greggs, marijuana and Man City.

‘We’re just lads from a council estate,’ Noel explains. ‘Two brothers. Headcases.’

Luckily the two headcases possessed a pair of traits that helped make them stand out: real self-belief and gargantuan ambition. And Noel was blessed with the capacity to come up with songs that were equal parts pop anthem and terrace chant.

‘I want the severed head of Phil Collins in my fridge by the end of the decade,’ a young Noel declares. ‘And if I haven’t, I’ll be a failure.’

To cut a potentially long review short, I found Supersonic only moderately engaging but the older Gallagher brother does repeatedly demonstrate his ability to conjure up a memorable quote.

A meat and two veg documentary on a meat and two veg band.

Wonderwall Tea Break title card

And now for the film that gave Oasis the title for their 1995 single Wonderwall.

Can you imagine the reaction of the team behind the film when they discovered that one of Britain’s biggest ever bands had decided to name their new single – certain to sell shedloads of copies – after their long neglected film?

I’m guessing some fist pumps and a very loud ‘Oh yeeeeesssssssss’.

Featuring a score supplied by George Harrison (and some friends) and made at a point when relations within The Beatles were more frosty than fab, Wonderwall tells the story of Oscar Collins (Jack MacGowran), a middle-aged scientist who is about to get a glimpse into the world of the beautiful people.

The professor lives in a cramped flat in West London. He looks perpetually puzzled by the world and is single, socially inept and staggeringly absent-minded – when he attempts to steep his feet in a bucket of warm water he forgets to take off his socks.

While analysing some scientific data he’s disturbed by some very loud Indian style Raga music. Through a peephole in a huge Pre-Raphaelite inspired canvas in his living room he sneaks a glance into the room next door and sees for the first time his new neighbour, a young woman clad in the latest Carnaby Street fashions who looks like the epitome of the Swinging London chick. This is Penny Lane (oh dear!) played by Jane Birkin.

This proves to be the start of an obsession for Oscar.

Soon he’s tearing out the painting, easing out bricks and drilling holes to get a better gander – and don’t ask why she doesn’t seem to notice any of this.

Next door is a different, very exotic world. Hip, happening and very definitely Hippy with a capital H, Penny’s pad is a vibrant pop art palace decorated in hand painted psychedelic art drenched in acidic primary colours.

Here Penny, a model, takes part in photoshoots and holds far out parties with her pals in some groovy fashions, some of the men’s outfits resembling the kind of kit favoured by Austin Powers.

Wonderwall, Jane Birkin

Oscar begins imagining some elaborate fantasies involving Penny. He stops going into work and rips his phone off the hook. When a work colleague visits to see if he’s okay, Oscar chides his behaviour as ‘Very strange indeed’. Which could act as a shorthand description of Wonderwall although another line of dialogue, when Penny’s boyfriend discusses his relationship and claims ‘It’s a drag,’ could again serve as an equally succinct way to sum up the film.

This is a pity as there was a lot of talent involved in its making. Apart from Harrison, there’s Jane Birkin who soon teamed up with Serge Gainsbourg; Jack MacGowran, a legend of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre who was later cast in The Exorcist; while the writers both had great pedigrees (Gérard Brach who devised the story often collaborated with Roman Polanski and penned the screenplay for The Name of the Rose while the screenwriter Guillermo Cabrera Infante co-wrote the script for 1971’s Vanishing Point under the pseudonym Guillermo Caín).

Then there’s The Fool, the design collective that forged a close working connection with The Beatles, most famously creating the three-story mural painted on the façade of the Beatles’ Apple Boutique on the corner of Baker Street. I was very impressed by their set designs, costumes and title cards which are easily the best thing about Wonderwall.

The film seems to have been put together with a hippy dippy, go with the flow attitude.

Structure and character arcs? Those are for straights, man!

The comedy also generally backfires and the music only intermittently excels. Oh and if you want to see this purely on account of Anita Pallenberg, then don’t bother, you might blink at the wrong time and miss her.

The main problem, though, is the fact that while seemingly innocent and definitely eccentric, it’s impossible for audiences to ignore the professor’s voyeurism – which at no time does he even question, let alone feel any guilt over.

Equal parts psychedelia, surrealism and Goonish absurdism, Wonderwall might be classified as a cult film but it’s nowhere near a cult classic.

Although Liam Gallagher might disagree.

It’s maybe worth a watch as a curiosity, a glimpse of the country in the immediate wake of the Summer of Love but I wouldn’t recommend anybody seek it out unless they are big George Harrison fans.

For a better film about Peeping Toms try, well, Peeping Tom, while for a better Swinging London film try Blow Up (which Birkin also appeared in).

If I haven’t completely put you off, here’s the trailer:


The accompanying soundtrack album, Wonderwall Music, became the first solo album by a Beatle and also the first release on Apple Records.

And here’s a little taster from it:

Friday Night Film Club #1 – CBGB & Summer of Sam

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cbgb-summer-of-sam

CBGB (2013)
Director: Randall Miller
Cast: Alan Rickman, Malin Åkerman, Johnny Galecki

CBGB, the last I heard, was somehow being transported to New Jersey where it is to be relaunched as a restaurant in Newark Airport, which is kind of like re-opening the Glasgow Apollo as a hairdressing salon in Airdrie. Well that idea isn’t that much dafter surely?

I did promise to review CBGB back in 2013 but after watching the film I found it difficult to muster up the necessary enthusiasm.

Alarm bells had began to ring when I caught Malin Åkerman promoting the movie on Craig Ferguson’s chat show where she told Craig that she was playing Blondie. Not Debbie Harry but Blondie.

Unfortunately at times CBGB resembles that show where Matthew Kennedy brought on members of the public to imitate their singing heroes. Tonight Matthew, I’m Going to be Iggy Pop/Cheetah Chrome/David Byrne etc etc. Except at least on Stars in Their Eyes the contestants did actually sing rather than lip-sync their impersonations.

Promoted with the tagline ‘50,000 Bands and One Disgusting Bathroom’, CBGB promised to be the American 24 Hour Party People but was just too mainstream and predictable – the exact opposite of acts like Television, The Ramones and Patti Smith that became synonymous with the venue.

CBGB bombed at the box office with a total U.S. theatrical gross of only $40,400 and critics were largely dismissive, Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times for example branding it ‘merely a mess of caricatures.’

If you haven’t seen the film, it might be an idea to just watch the trailer which contains the only line that I laughed at (regarding Ramones’ song titles). Or, even better, watch any of the many documentaries that examine the club and its influence.


Summer of Sam (1999)
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino

CBGB was also featured as a location in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam and it would have to be said that painstakingly detailed research into his subject matter do not feature as one of Lee’s qualities as a filmmaker. Seeing SOS gives the impression that for him punk was something that only really happened in London where Sid Vicious sang with that band The Sex Pistols.

Now I can’t claim to have been a CBGB regular in 1977 (or at any other time) but I have watched a fair amount of footage from the venue and the crowds really bore no similarity to what Lee presents here with his motley crew of extras who all look like those awful so called punks that hung around the King’s Road in the early ’80s, hoping that a tourist would slip them 50 pence so they could be photographed with them. And no Spike, you wouldn’t have seen tongue rings and septum piercings in the summer of 1977 either.

Despite the anachronisms, SOS is not the total flop that CBGB is. Lee was a breath of fresh air in the American independent cinema scene of the 1980s and since his early days he’s always been able to construct a memorable set piece scene.

SOS also tackles some explosive subject matter – a real life serial killer whose murders raise tensions across the city, including an Italian-American neighbourhood in the Bronx. All to the backdrop of the disco phenomenon and emergence of punk.

The cast is very good here too, especially John Leguizamo (Carlito’s Way & Kick-Ass 2) who plays Vinny, a disco dancing hairdresser who classes women into two categories, Madonna or Whore – his wife Dionna (Mira Sorvino) being the former while her pal Ruby (Jennifer Esposito) is the latter.

summer-of-sam-still

There’s also some great music, The Who’s Baba O’Riley, Chic’s Everybody Dance and Got to Give It Up by Marvin Gaye being just three examples, but Lee never combines these tracks with his imagery with the same imagination as, say, Lee’s bete noire Quentin Tarantino, which is no crime but I do have a slight problem with some of the songs being so nail on the head obvious, like when Dionna is packing her bags and walking out on Vinny, Lee feels the need to spell things out with Thelma Houston’s version of Don’t Leave Me This Way.

And of course, he couldn’t resist including Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer either, which is heard in a cafe in the background on the radio, the DJ obviously having been given an advance copy to play as the scene is set in the middle of summer and the track wasn’t released till the middle of September on the album 77, while as a single it wasn’t released in the States till December.

Okay, I’m being a little pedantic.

More worrying is the fact that while Spike Lee has always been quick to condemn any stereotyping of black characters in cinema, not for the first time he could be accused of racism himself for his portrayal of a New York Italian community. In SOS, if your surname ends with a vowel then in probability you’ll be a special kind of stupid, the guys usually women hating bullies with a side helping of homophobia and distrust of anyone different – because he’s a punk rock freak, some of these idiots somehow get it into their heads that Ritchie (Adrien Brody) might just be the Son of Sam.

SOS is a long film and just not compelling enough to justify its length of 142 minutes. Unlike American Hustle, where David O. Russell arguably out Scorsesed Martin Scorsese, Lee’s move into similar territory only makes you wonder what the great man would have conjured up utilising the same subject matter.

If you want a better serial killer film try Zodiac and if you want a better disco movie Saturday Night Fever is for you.


Trivia: John Turturro (The Big Lebowski and Do the Right Thing) supplies the voice of Harvey, the black dog who order Sam to kill.