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my favorite music movies.

March 21, 2014

No, I am not writing about musicals. I am NOT fond of musicals. The movies I am presenting in this post are films which are about, or at least partially about,  fictional bands.

“The Commitments.”

I’ll start with one of my favorite movies of all time, “The Commitments.” (1991, rated R for language, sexual content)

This movie is set in Dublin, but it is not the picturesque Dublin you see in travel films. No, this is poor, working class, gritty Dublin.

The film starts off with Jimmy Rabbitte, an enterprising young guy who wants to manage a band, trying to get a group together. He teams up with two musician friends of his, a bass player and a guitarist. Then, he auditions many many musicians before putting together a band.

Mr. Rabbitte chooses a rather unlikely genre of music for his band: soul. Jimmy, and his new friend, Joey the trumpet player (an aging veteran of the ’60’s music scene) dub the newly formed group, “The Commitments.” The sax player, when told he and the rest will be playing soul, looks quite perplexed and says, “Well, uh, aren’t we a little.. white?”

All 9 members of the band are white. Jimmy says that doesn’t matter. He says the Irish are the blacks of Europe, and the people in the neighborhoods he and the members of the band are from are the blacks of Dublin.

Jimmy idolizes and greatly identifies with black American soul musicians of the ’60’s, who lived in rough neighborhoods and had economic troubles. He finds soul music, especially ’60’s soul, to be the most honest music.. music he can relate to. He calls the music The Commitments will be performing “Dublin Soul.”

The band covers songs by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and many others

The movie is wonderful. Sure, lots of curse words, but these sound funny, because they are all delivered in a thick Dublin accent. Some sexuality, but no graphic nudity. A bit of violence, but nothing serious. Lots of arguing and infighting, of course.

And, of course.. some GREAT music. The soundtrack was performed by the musicians who starred in the film. The album went on to be hugely popular, even though almost all the people in the movie had never been in any films at all before. Sadly, none of them went on to have great film careers, but several people who were in the movie went on to tour and did fairly well.

Yes, it’s an awesome movie.

There’s a chance the youtube links will go to a scam site called linkbucks. I’ve been having that problem here and there. If you end up on that site, don’t download anything! If the first youtube link takes you to a linkbucks page instead of youtube, it is likely the other links will too. If that happens, just head open up another tab in your browser, and head on over to youtube to watch the trailers.

“This is Spinal Tap.”

(1984, rated R for language, sexual content.)

One of the funniest movies I have ever seen!!!!!

This movie is a mockumentary, a parody of a rockumentary, which is a documentary about a band.

Three crazy American actors/musicians, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer, play the main members of a fictional, aging, and ridiculously silly hair metal band called Spinal Tap. The film is about the travels and travails of their pretty much hopeless comeback tour in America.

Although so much of the movie is quite outlandish, I’ve heard many real rock stars say that most things that happen in this film actually happen to rock stars in real life.

This film is a CLASSIC !!

“Rock Star.”

(2001, rated R for language, graphic nudity, sexual content)

Although not nearly as funny as “Spinal Tap,” (nor was it meant to be, I think), “Rock Star” is a really enjoyable film. Mostly. I could have done without the dance club and aftermath of an orgy scenes. But, I must admit, these scenes are appropriate for the film.

The story is set during the ’80’s hair metal days, and is about an obsessive nutcase who sings in a tribute band. The band he and his friends imitate is a fictional group called Steel Dragon. The tribute band singer, played by Mark Wahlberg, has an awesome voice, and tries very very hard to look like the real Steel Dragon singer. After the Steel Dragon singer is kicked out, the rest of the bandmates hire Wahlberg’s character to be the new Steel Dragon singer.

Some of the guys in Steel Dragon are real musicians from the hair metal days. Zakk Wylde, who joined Ozzy Osbourne’s band in 1997, and stayed with Ozzy for many many years, is one of the members. The band also features Jeff Pilson (from Dokken) on bass, and Jason Bonham (son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham) on drums. Jason Bonham had a small hit back in the ’80’s, called “Wait For You.” Not surprisingly, that sounded very much like music by Led Zeppelin.

The other cast members are Jennifer Aniston (who is actually not bad in this movie), Timothy Olyphant, (who was in many movies before starring in very violent TV shows”Deadwood” and “Justified,”) Dominic West (British, but who did an incredible job of playing an American detective in “The Wire,” one of the best TV series of all time..yes that show was violent, but not gratuitously so), and Timothy Spall, (also British. Spall had a minor role in the Harry Potter films, and has been in tons of other movies and TV shows).

I liked Spall’s performance quite a bit. Olyphant and West were great as well. Ironically, I thought West was an American actor, doing an intentionally bad English accent, like the guys in Spinal Tap were doing. But, West turned out to be a British actor, who exaggerated his accent just enough to sound pompous and silly.

Before the movie was made, the musicians (Wylde and company) got together with some other folks to write and record original songs that Steel Dragon would perform in the film. Wahlberg did not record most of the vocals. Miljenko Maijevic (from the real hair metal band Steelheart), a singer with an astonishing vocal range, did some of the vocal recordings. He sang the best tune of the film, called “We All Die Young,” which is a beautiful, heavy, and bittersweet power ballad.

The movie also features songs by such bands as Def Leppard, AC/DC, Ted Nugent, and Kiss.

The film has some funny moments. At times it is quite serious. And, it is worth watching, especially if you can remember the hair metal years.

“Almost Famous.”

(2000, rated R for language, sexual content, nudity)

This movie is a semi-autobiographical story based on screenwriter and director Cameron Crowe’s experiences as a teen journalist. Crowe actually went on tour with a band when he was young, and wrote an article for Rolling Stone Magazine. This movie is a somewhat fictionalized account of Crowe’s adventures during the 1970’s.

The band in the story is a fictional group called Stillwater. The group is a basic, blue collar classic rock and roll band. Think of Bruce Springsteen’s look. No flash or ’70’s style makeup like Kiss and Alice Cooper.. nope.. just guys wearing their usual clothes, jumping out on stage, and playing some heavy tunes.

The original music for this film is not good, but don’t let that stop you. We don’t hear much of the music that was written for Stillwater to play.  Overall, this is a great film.

Actress Kate Hudson steels the show as Penny Lane, the leader of a group of women who refuse to call themselves “groupies.” In fact, these ladies hate that term. They call themselves “band-aids” instead.

Things get started when shy, rather awkward teen William Miller (the character based on Crowe, and played by Patrick Fugit) meets band-aid in charge Penny Lane (yes, named after the Beatles tune) at a backstage door at a concert. Penny gets William backstage, where he has a chance to meet and interview the members of Stillwater. The guys in the band invite William on tour, partially because Penny Lane adopts him as a little brother.

Lots of adventures, broken hearts, crazy behavior and etc. ensue.

One of the best parts of the film is the performance by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who portrays real rock journalist and critic, Lester Bangs. Hoffman is, of course, great.

Frances McDormand, Jason Lee, Zooey Deschanel, Fairuza Balk, and Anna Paquin also star. Jimmy Fallon has a small role.. you might be able to spot him.


(1992. rated PG-13 for language and sexual content).

This film is not so much about music and bands as the other movies on my list, but I am including it anyway. Like “Almost Famous,” this movie was made by Cameron Crowe.

Crowe was hanging out in Seattle in.. 1989, I’m guessing, and was around to witness the birth of the grunge music scene that took over rock and roll in the ’90’s.

The movie is primarily a romantic comedy set in Seattle, with the music scene as a backdrop. Not the best romantic comedy, but for music fans, it is great.

Pearl Jam had just been formed at the time this film was made. The group might not have even chosen the name “Pearl Jam” when the film was made. The guys in that band might still have been calling themselves “Mookie Blaylock.” Blaylock was their favorite basketball player. If you want to see an excellent documentary on Pearl Jam, watch “PJ20.”

Three of the guys in Pearl Jam have cameo roles. They play members of fictional band Citizen Dick, which is fronted by a narcissist grunge rocker named Cliff (played by Matt Dillon). Dillon is a jerk in this film, but I think this is one of his better roles.

There are short clips in the film of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains performing, and Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell is an extra. Cornell is still one of my all-time favorite singers. He has recorded solo music, (you can hear one of his solo tunes in the film),  sang in the band Audioslave (which was an amazing group), and is back with Soundgarden these days. See if you can spot him in the film.

The story revolves around two couples, and several people who are trying to find dates. The movie stars Kyra Sedgwick, Campbell Scott, Jim True (later known as Jim True-Frost, after he got married. Like Dominc West, True-Frost played a main character in “The Wire.”), and Bridget Fonda (who is incredibly cute and endearing in this film. Besides the music and scenes of the city, Fonda’s character is the best part).

The music in this film is INCREDIBLE!! The soundtrack album sold about a zillion copies, even though only a fraction of the awesome songs in the film are on the soundtrack. Here’s a list of songs in the movie:

Here are the songs that made it on the soundtrack:

If you like (or at least don’t mind) fairly decent romantic comedies, and also like, or are curious about the Seattle music scene of the early ’90’s, you’ll want to watch this film (and buy the soundtrack).


(2009, rated PG for a bit of language, I guess).

This is a film the whole family can watch. It is quite clean, and also, very good.

The main character is a dorky high school kid named Will Burton (Gaellan Connell.. no, I’ve never heard of him either, but he’s great in this film).  Will does not play any instruments, but even so, he is a musical genius. He knows practically everything about every band that has made it big since the 1960’s.

Will moves with his mother (played by Lisa Kudrow, from the TV show “Friends”), to New Jersey, where Burton starts at a new school. At the high school where Burton attends, football is not the main focus, music is. Each year, high schools from the area send bands to a huge concert and competition called Bandslam.

Burton makes friends with fellow oddball Sa5m (yes, the “5” is there on purpose. That is how Sam spells her name), a very attractive but socially challenged girl played by Vanessa Hudgens (who made some films for the Disney channel). Will also makes friends with another incredibly attractive girl, Charlotte, played by Aly Michalka (why this young woman is not hugely famous, I don’t know. I’ve only seen her in one other film, in a small supporting role, and that film wasn’t worth watching). As Charlotte, Aly is stunning. (And no, I’m not a perv, both Aly and Vanessa were likely at least 20 years old when they made this film).

Charlotte has recently left the school’s most popular band, and formed a new band with two silly misfit guys. One of the guys is Asian, and insists on constantly speaking with a bad British accent. He cracks me up. The band is terrible, and Charlotte knows this. She drafts Will to make the band a LOT better, and manage it. Will recruits more odd high school kids to join the band, and calls the group “I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On” (I like that name). The fully-formed group turns out to be rather good.

The high school these kids attend sends two bands to Bandslam, Will and Charlotte’s group, and another. The other band is the one Charlotte had left. That band is fronted by Charlotte’s ex-boyfriend, a jock named Ben.

Mostly the film is very witty, cute and fun, but has some rather serious, even depressing moments too.

The music is amazing. Songs from lots of bands from various decades and genres.

I really love this movie.. great music, lots of humor, a talented cast.. it really really works. And the ending is just beautiful.

You gotta see it!!

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