Screen Junkies » singles Movie Reviews & TV Show Reviews Wed, 12 Nov 2014 21:14:40 +0000 en hourly 1 Soundtrack Studies: ‘Singles’ Tue, 25 Feb 2014 18:00:23 +0000 Penn Collins The fastest way to legitimize a genre of music? Have Cameron Crowe make a movie about it.

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Welcome to a new weekly feature from Screen Junkies. As the name “Soundtrack Studies” suggests, we’ll be examining the intersection of music and film in the most conventional manner possible: the soundtrack. This week, we’re taking a look at one of the most seminal soundtracks of the 1990′s for Cameron Crowe‘s ensemble Seattle dramedy, Singles.

While we can’t embed the film in the piece, we have created an embedded Spotify playlist below that will give you access to all or most of the songs that we’re discussing here. Ahhh, the Internet. Let’s get going.

In response to the excesses of the 80′s, both in the world of rock music and, to a far lesser extent, the country in general, an austerity was adopted that seemed to involve countless self-serious affectations like angry spoken-word  poetry, a whitewashing of overt sexuality, and lots and lots of flannel. In short, people thought that being serious meant you could never appear to have any fun.

And this was the interesting dichotomy that Cameron Crowe took down with Singles, a remarkably tongue-in-cheek film that everyone in 1992 was too self-involved to view as an indictment. The fact that the film had insulated itself from criticism with arguably the most culturally significant soundtrack up that point didn’t help people sniff out its true character, either.

And the raison d’etre of Seattle in 1992 was the music, which Cameron Crowe puts front and center in this film. Over twenty years later, it’s fair to say that far more people endeared themselves to the soundtrack than they did the actual film. That’s not to say that the film failed at its goal – it didn’t. It’s a fairly masterful encapsulation of the contrived angst of the era, yet still manages to glorify it. Which is to say, it’s grunge.

To say the usual suspects are represented on the soundtrack would be an understatement. Crowe’s musical prowess is exhibited to varying degrees in his other films, but no film takes such a current inventory of the zeitgeist than Singles. While Crowe tends to look backwards with many of his films, harkening back to his Rolling Stone days in Almost Famous, and making spectacle out of southern rockers My Morning Jacket in Elizabethtown, Singles captured the moment as it was happening, and managed to turn a few late adopters onto the scene, man.

Anyway, back to the bands. Here we are:

(We’re not sure if YouTube is the right way to go here, but it offered far more tracks than any of the streaming services, so, while it may not be the most seamless experience, it gets the job done for this piece.)

The film’s soundtrack is all grunge (except for the charming Westerberg songs), and it provides an interesting foil for the clueless, self-involved characters in the film. It’s melodramatic score to a bunch of characters we can’t possibly take seriously. Of course, I only know that because have the luxury of context and hindsight, but it’s pretty clear that Crowe knew at the time what he was doing. That’s why he directs films, and I write about them twenty years later.

The soundtrack came out three months before the film, which was a brilliant bit of marketing that was seen frequently in the soundtrack-heavy 90′s. Everyone who had their finger on the pulse of grunge knew they had to see Singles because the soundtrack forced people to talk about it. And the while the soundtrack opens with the dark bass of Alice in Chain’s “Would?”, the film itself opens with a credit sequence that features a very upbeat Paul Westerberg (of The Replacements) song, serving as a jarring (albeit temporary) bait-and-switch.

The guy in the back right was shortly after, arrested and executed for having short hair in 1991.

Again, with the luxury of hindsight, you can see that this is an immediate indication of Crowe’s bait-and-switch. Crowe’s work isn’t particularly bleak (except for maybe Vanilla Sky), and that philosophy doesn’t mesh well with the dark days of grunge.

What Crowe does is tell a fairly normal story (with Portlandia-style barbs at the silly culture of the time) with a reference to music in general. Considering this is Seattle in the 90′s, that reverence is pointed with laser-focus at grunge. To his credit (and I suppose the credit of the seemingly-serious bands), he even gets the bands at the time to play in on the joke.

You want cluelessness amid the Seattle cult of personality? Here it is courtesy of Crowe, Pearl Jam, and Matt Dillon, with the members of Pearl Jam showing up as fictional band Citizen Dick who, sadly and remarkably, didn’t make an appearance on the soundtrack with their big-in-Belgium hit, “Touch Me, I’m Dick.”

This film’s self-awareness prevents it from wandering too far down the path of righteousness, and the same can be said about the soundtrack. For every three grunge anthems, there’s a Paul Westerberg song about a girl with a crazy name.

However, none of this could be intuited three months before from the soundtrack, which didn’t contain a trace of irony or winking. The Singles soundtrack remains THE quintessential time capsule of grunge. But the movie itself just takes a look at the scene, says, “Ohhhhh-kay,” and proceeds to dice up the stupidity and melodrama of young people in a way that that is both knowing, and sort of sweet.

And a steadfast soundtrack that alternates between the diagetic and non-diagetic masterfully leveraged every track to balance the self-seriousness of the time against the stupidity of it all.


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]]> 0 singlesshot The guy in the back right was shortly after, arrested and executed for having short hair in 1991.
Wyld Stallyns Rule: 8 TV and Movie Bands We Would Actually Listen To Wed, 07 Sep 2011 19:19:58 +0000 Penn Collins Because "edgy and original" is often horribly overrated.

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With the state of music being what it is today (I have no idea what that statement means, other than some people probably love today’s music and some hate it), it’s hard not to wonder why musicians, good and bad, can’t get their house in order and simply be more like those great fellas we see in the pictures.

I would give forty-two Black Eyed Peas for one Wyld Stallyns. And unless I’m off-base, I think many Screen Junkies readers would, too. Sure, some of these bands are pretty ridiculous, but look me in the eye and tell me they’re not all sixty-two times better and more interesting than Mumford and Sons.

God, I hate Mumford and Sons.

8. Dr. Funke’s 100 Percent Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution – Arrested Development

Sure, they’re misguided corporate whores, but who wouldn’t pay $20 bucks to go see these guys live and witness the train wreck that is Tobias Funke’s onstage banter. I mean, Amy Poehler is a huge fan, and who doesn’t love Amy Poehler?

7. Hey That’s My Bike – Reality Bites

This Ethan Hawke-fronted band certainly has the most indie cred of any band on this list. He did the whole brooding joyless musician thing before even Cobain did it, and I could totally see a generation of Williamsburg hipster fans, even today, calling themselves “Hey That’s My Bike-ers.”

Or Hawke’s Troy Dyer could just be a slightly earlier incarnation of that asshat Jared Leto. Whatevs.

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How To Make A Film That Withstands the Test of Time Wed, 07 Sep 2011 15:17:48 +0000 Penn Collins What do Wes Anderson films have in common with 'Clueless'? You can watch them a decade later without wanting to gouge your eyes out.

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As the type of person who regularly finds himself being spoon-fed cable movies as a result of a remarkably sedentary lifestyle, I’m frequently revisiting beloved movies of my youth with curiously mixed results. If one was to take a sampling of the movies I enjoyed from my childhood and teenage years, only a fraction hold my interest today. Of course, many of the rejects can be attributed to the fact that my tastes in films have changed. This is an easy, answer. Too easy, in fact.

It’s dismissive to assume that a film that fails to hold up after twenty or ten or two years is the result of a change in the viewer. Many of these films were not designed to hold up. Sprinkled with popular references, dated soundtracks, and borderline-retarded notions of what the future had in store for us, some films have a cultural shelf life that’s about as long as an episode of Access Hollywood.

The durability of films from this era is a curious phenomenon. One movie that completely exists in its time, like Clueless, holds up extremely well, having made the transition from “topical” to “charming,” while a movie like Wayne’s World captures a similar point in time and a similar niche, also developing its own weird vocabulary for its characters. I use these two examples because a) they act as an example and a cautionary tale, respectively, and b) both of these films were extremely well-received and regarded as “important” in their day.

So how does Clueless stay with us after these years, while Wayne’s World shakes out as borderline unwatchable? (Wayne’s World 2 even more so, but mostly because it’s just a terrible film)

These are just two examples of films that either fight or give in to the ravages of time. Comedies seem especially prone, as does any film that tries to tell us what the future will be like. The recipe to make a film popular at the time of its release is by no means the same one used to insure it’s popularity a decade, or even a few years later.

The touch-points required to last aren’t exactly rocket science, but striking the balance between contemporary relevance and durability is bit trickier. In order to ensure that I can sit around like a beached whale on Sundays while enjoying the highest caliber of entertainment from the past 20 years, I’ve compiled a definitive guide of how things should be done so that I may enjoy your film in 2017 as much as I enjoyed it in 2011.

You’re welcome in advance, Hollywood.

Stay Away From Technology You Don’t Understand. Seriously. Stay Away From It. You Never Will Never Get It Right And You Will Look Ridiculous.

Before I go any further with the categories and examples, it warrants mentioning that a bad movie, no matter how much it sticks to these magnificent guidelines I’m  laying out, won’t stand the test of time. It won’t be popular or “good” when it’s at its most relevant, so don’t expect it to age from vinegar to wine as time marches on. Bad movies will always be bad, whereas good movies can remain as such, or lose their luster over time.

Bad Examples: Disclosure, The Lawnmower Man, The Net, Hackers, Jurassic Park

Good Examples: You’ve Got Mail, Sneakers, Enemy of the State, Back to the Future 2, Jurassic Park

Make reasonable assumptions about the future of technology. When you make huge leaps forward, at least do them with enough creativity that they seem like an inspired inclusion (powerlaces, hoverboards, dinosaur cloning) rather than some half-assed stab at what the future might bring (any scene from 1991-1997 that involved virtual reality, hackers with nose rings).

If your cool characters are “techies,” make them cool people that happen to be techies, like in Sneakers, rather than people who are cool because they’re techies, like in Hackers or that obnoxious little girl Lex from Jurassic Park.

Move forward simply and no one will get hurt. You’ve Got Mail, while not a personal favorite, added simple logical elements (email, internet dating) to staid concepts (pen pals, blind dating). While AOL might as well be making buggy whips these days, the genetics of the concept nonetheless read as quaint, rather than ephemeral.

If you’re going to dabble in technology, think long and hard about how this will look in one short decade if you’re wrong. Don’t worry about what happens if you’re right. It happens so rarely, it’s not really worth considering.

Celebrity Cameos: Bob Barker, But Not Jerry Springer

Bad Examples: Austin Powers 2, Dodgeball, Friends with Benefits

Good Examples: Singles, Wayne’s World, Zoolander, Happy Gilmore, Jerry Maguire

If you want to allow your viewers to watch the film without being ripped out of its universe, don’t toss in some flavor-of-the-month that people will have to rack their brain to understand the significance of years after it occurs. Having your characters resolve their problems on The Jerry Springer Show wasn’t particularly inspired when Austin Powers 2 did it in 1999. It seems downright lazy and unfunny now, just like the Springer show itself. Same with Shaun White in Friends with Benefits, Ryan Seacrest in Knocked Up, and Tabitha Soren (or anyone from MTV) in Black Sheep’s painfully dated “Rock the Vote” scene. (Shame on you, Mudhoney. Shame on your eyes.)

Topical cameos can be funny, so long as they’re absurd or relevant enough to hold up. I wouldn’t want to live in a world where Billy Zane didn’t pop up in Zoolander, nor Pearl Jam in Singles. The fact remains that, in these universes, Zane was supposed to be at that fashion show and walk-off, and Pearl Jam were supposed to be dicking around at a coffee shop in Seattle in 1992. Dr. Evil and Scotty weren’t supposed to be on Springer, but they were there nonetheless. And it doesn’t feel right.

Bob Barker wasn’t supposed to be beating the living hell out of Happy Gilmore, but the absurdity of it sells it, because Bob Barker is so not supposed to be in the film, let alone punching Happy. That it’s ridiculous enough to swing back around to durable.

Further: No reality television star references or appearances. Ever.  No one in 2025 will be happy that Omarosa or Evan Marriott appeared in an Adam Sandler film. You probably don’t even know who those people are, which solidifies my point.

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]]> 0 tumblr_ljasfokDGN1qbbjyco1_500 Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 4.16.00 PM