Empire Records (1995) Review

empire-records-posterScreen Shot 2014-08-11 at 3.00.19 PMLucas: The wannabe philosopher who steals $9,000 from his boss and then loses it in Atlantic City while attempting to save the store. A.J.: The artist who’s struggling with his feelings for Corey. Corey: The straight A student who plans to lose her virginity to the visiting super star Rex Manning. Gina: Corey’s more bold and sarcastic best friend. Debra: The punk rocker with a bandage on her arm and a new haircut. Mark: The weird one. Eddie: The pizza guy. Berko: The guitarist. Joe: The boss. This cast of misfits make up the employees of Empire Records, a small vinyl shop that is in danger of being bought out by The Man. Empire Records tells the story of one day in these characters’ lives; one day filled with laughs, drama, and some kick ass music.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 3.09.46 PMThe first two thirds of Empire Records is akin to Clerks, in that it is an aimless character study and string of fairly unrelated events. It bounces from character to character, dealing with their subplots, occasionally intertwining them or addressing the main plot of the failing store. The characters are all fairly diverse and unique, represented by not only the sharp-witted and snappy writing, but also the soundtrack choices. The scenes of drama are frequently interrupted by various musical inserts since, obviously, this is a record store. The soundtrack really is fantastic, even to a musical neophyte such as myself, playing everything from AC/DC to a score of indy bands I’ve never heard of.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 2.58.25 PMWhile the characters aren’t nearly as cliche as the cast of, say, a sitcom or a slasher film, they do fit into certain stereotypes. However, this leaning on cliche doesn’t feel like laziness, which it usually is, but rather a legitimate use of the tropes in order to diversify its rather large cast. Despite its diversity, the large cast can still be a touch distracting –especially in the first half when characters are almost piled on in their introductions– and the movie can feel a little crowded at times. It is a fun crowd to spend time with, though: the cast being nicely split between likeable and loveably hateable.

Unfortunately the third act is where Empire Records starts to fall apart, as the various plot threads meet a cliche ending and the film starts to take on a cheesier feel-good vibe. However, I would make the case that the cheese adds to the the film’s attitude of “Fuck it, we’re young and we’re gonna have fun!”

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 2.22.40 PMEmpire Records was panned on release for being cliche and predictable, rightfully so, but looking at it in a modern context it seems remarkably more unique. I’ve seen very few films like it, and I’d wager the rest of my generation hasn’t either. In fact there is a surprising lack of teen dramedies out there for millennials, or at least good ones. Thanks to the rise of PG-13, most films that are aimed at us are also aimed at everybody, so we don’t get many films that are truly made for and about teenagers and college kids. Sure, there’s a raunchy comedy here or a spoof film there, but nothing quite like the teen films that came before in both quantity and quality. The 80s were like a golden age in retrospect, with the entire Rat Pack canon of films. The 90s had less, but still its fair share between Empire Records, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, etc… The only popular teen comedy that actually touched on the issues our generation faces/faced was The Perks of Being a Wallflower. So, while Empire Records may have been cliche at the time, I think there’s an audience out there nowadays that could enjoy it, since it’s still a well done film that tackles the universal issues of coming to age.

What are your thoughts on Empire Records and the state of teen films? Sound off in the comments below! Be sure to visit the Geek Juice Media, Buck on Stuff, and Hidden Horrors for more great reviews!

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The Host (2013) Review

The Host is the 2013 teenage sci-fi drama based on the book from the brilliant mind of none other then the one and only Stephanie Meyer. While I’m sure no one expected The Host to be a good movie, since the book apparently is an improvement over Twilight it seems the same could be expected from the film adaptations. Shockingly enough I find myself far more willing to make cracks at the laughably bad Twilight then rage over the boring and story-handicapped The Host.

The Host is the tale of a neutered post-Body Snatchers world where an alien race has taken over most of the human populace creating what could be interpreted as utopia. Enter Melanie the rebel human who gets captured by the nameless aliens and has her body taken over by one such alien named The Wanderer. However instead of going quietly into the night, Melanie decides to serve as a screaming whining Jimminy Cricket for The Wanderer. With the use of horny memories Melanie essentially seduces the wanderer into sympathizing with her and thus they return to the human colony, with the Seekers (Alien Police) following behind. Enter mistrust between The Wanderer (dubbed Wanda) and the humans, a love triangle/square, and some feel-good peace bullshit that’s ultimately anti-climatic.

The characters of The Host are not neatly fit into cliche categories, but they are simplistic at best. This unfortunately also applies to our lead characters: Melanie and Wanda. In fact I found them not only incredibly bland like Bella, but also generally unlikeable for the majority of the movie. Melanie especially was quite the bitch, but Wanda had her fair share of dumbass moments as well. The side characters are there… that’s all. Actually no there’s more. Every character in the movie that has more then 5 lines is extremely inconsistent in their behaviour. Everyone changes their attitudes with very little to no motivation and what could be considered character arcs for the leads are patchy and confusing. Towards the end of the movie especially, I practically got whiplash from the various turnarounds the characters had.

The actual acting ranges from mediocre to wooden, with some of the side characters being more intriguing to watch then the leads. Particularly Uncle Whatshisface played by William Hurt who’s probably the most likeable character, since he’s not a raging asshole. The actual actress (Saoirse Ronan) who plays Melanie/Wanda is pretty wooden and doesn’t have enough screen presence to pull off the dual-narration as I call it. This idea of the dual-narration worked fine in the book I’m sure, but like with a lot of internal dialogue/monologue heavy writing it doesn’t translate to screen, because it’s just not visually interesting. An actress like Bullock or even Kidman could pull it off, but she just can’t and I don’t really blame her. I blame the director Andrew Niccol who hasn’t directed anything I’ve particularly liked so far, and while he made a very technically sound film here (excluding the blue/orange colour scheme) he can’t seem to get his actors to emote properly, especially inexperienced ones.

The story of The Host is… fairly aimless I guess is the best way to put it. There’s no ultimate ending goal or big bad to beat per say. Well there is a big bad in the head Scanner, but the film dedicates far too little time for me to say that fighting her was the climax of the film. It just has the melodramatic plot/subplots of what to do about Melanie and what to do about the love triangle. Oh and the whole taking aliens out of humans thing that was introduced in the last 45 minutes of the 2 hour 20 minute movie. Did I mention that this movie was overly long? It’s slow pacing and lack of anything going on really drags that 2 hours out where another movie like The Hobbit can make that breeze by. Sitting through all that is really quite wasted when you realize that the movie’s climax is… practically non-existent. Yes you can probably place it, but it’s in as low-key of a scene as one in the middle of the second act. Then of course there’s the ending about which I had this to say when I first started typing:

OF ALL THE STUPID FUCKING PLOT CONTRIVED MELODRAMATIC STUPID FUCKING ENDINGS!!!!!! GOD DAMN IT! LIKE THE REST OF THE FUCKING MOVIE WASN’T A SLOW-AS-MOLASSES MELODRAMATIC WASTE OF FUCKING TIME AND OFFENCE TO EYES, EARS, AND BRAIN THAT GOD DAMN ENDING IS LIKE ONE FINAL FUCK YOU AND A KICK TO THE FUCKING NUTS. MONTHS LATER MY GODDAMN ASS.

The plot wraps up in an extremely convenient way, utilizing the plot conveniences and holes that have plagued the movie more then your average action film. Then to top it all off, the film flashes forward to “Months Later” where our two couples are driving for no reason in the city and they’re pulled over (of fucking course), but just as you think it’s sequel bait, it’s revealed that the scanners are also a rebel group with their own mix of aliens and humans. What a fucking coincidence. Ignoring the 7000 plot holes I can come up with, this ending is entirely unnecessary and sums up essentially what this movie is. An intriguing concept destroyed by a series of plot contrivances and conveniences all for the sake of a stupid love and peace message.

The themes of The Host have been done before and in better movies but they would have been interesting to explore in this context. Especially the idea of a host fighting it’s parasite and the moral quandary of what to do with that parasite if it has loved ones too and no convenient body to jump into. If you liked the sci-fi side of the alien invasion check out either the 1950s or 70s incarnation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If you liked the arc of the head Scanner check out Pleasantville as there are some striking similarities in a few scenes. And if you liked Wanda trying to live Melanie’s life then check out the show Quantum Leap. But whatever you do stay away from this piece of shit. I’m not commenting on the book, just the movie and it’s an utter waste of time and filmmaking that is just a cash-in on Twilight with little else behind it. While it does have it’s laughably bad moments like Twilight, for the most part it will just infuriate and bore you. And boredom, as any moviegoer knows, is the ultimate sin of the cinema.
The Host is available places, but I’ll be damned if I help you find it.

The Faculty (1998) Review

The supernatural teen drama can come in many forms, such as the cheesy super hero styled Smallville, the melodramatic shit-fest Twilight or the slow-ass “thriller” Disturbing Behavior. The supernatural teen “insert genre here” really started to take off in the late 80s-early 90s. The Faculty is yet another one of these and I swear I didn’t plan these two to be together, but it seems to be a much better version of Disturbing Behavior. It’s by no means perfect, but there is an endearing charm to it that I can’t help but feel attracted to.

The Faculty is the story of a high school whose teachers begin to act strangely and soon Elijah Wood and his friends discover that this is due to an alien invasion. So the chase is on to somehow stop the invasion, but that’s pretty tricky when all your classmates, teachers and parents are against you. Oh and there’s some teenage drama character stuff but nobody gives a shit about that.

The story of The Faculty is definitely the product of its time, relying heavily on tropes and themes we’ve seen before. It even throws in some meta-sci-fi referencing cause, you know, Scream was a thing. The story requires some intense suspension of disbelief and even then there are still plenty of plot-holes and stupid decisions that will have you groaning. Nonetheless there are still a few genuinely good moments of suspense, but I think we can mainly attribute that to director Robert Rodriguez. The plot does seem to be weirdly paced, picking up a lot at the beginning and then slowing down a lot after that. However, unlike Disturbing Behavior, the story does keep moving forward during these parts. The flashforward at the end is probably the most objectionable part of the story (and that’s saying a lot) with characters ending up in downright impossible situations. Speaking of which…

The characters are all stereotypes… to an extent. Like in a Hughes project, the characters all start out as their respective clichés, but then as we get to know them, we find they aren’t that cut and dry and we inevitably find ourselves actually slightly invested in them. They certainly aren’t memorable, but for the duration of the movie you won’t hate them (which is a plus compared to the horror/thriller movies of today). The acting ranges from good to bad, with mediocrity being the standard. The adults mostly ham it up, and the kids either do a good job or overact. Elijah wood and Josh Hartnett and Jon Stewart (fucking what!) are highlights in my opinion.

The technicals are all pretty solid. The actually directing/lighting/sound/etc… are all fine. It’s the effects that are going to bother people. Now there is a mix of CGI and practicals, which is nice, but the CGI looks really dated. In my opinion, practicals couldn’t have done much better, so either way you’re stuck with a distraction. This is a nitpick, but the introduction of the characters have each of them with their names on screen. This is stupid since their names are said quite quickly after or repeated a lot over the course of the movie.

The Faculty is, above all else, fun. Its mediocrity is evident, but it nonetheless manages to partially captivate and completely entertain. If you’re a fan of Buffy, Smallville, or Roswell then this will be familiar and comfortable territory for you. It’s sure as shit superior to Disturbing Behavior on every level, but then again that’s not saying much. The Faculty is available from Amazon, iTunes and Netflix instant for your popcorn munching pleasure.