Review: Krush Groove

Krush Groove (1985)
Blair Underwood, Sheila E, Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, the Beastie Boys, Kurtis Blow, New Edition, LL Cool J, Rick Rubin.

Krush Groove is a fictionized telling of the early days of Def Jam Records, surrounded by a fictional story of real-life people. Blair Underwood plays Russell Walker, the film’s version of Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, but Joseph “Run” Simmons plays the fictional version of himself, Run Walker. It’s a little weird, but don’t overthink it because this is a film that doesn’t want to be overthought.

What it does want, at least when viewed thirty-two years after its release by a forty-eight-year-old music lover is to elicit nostalgia for a time when the slate was still kind of blank, to inspire sadness at the losses of Jam Master Jay and the Human Beat Box and Adam Yauch, to be compared favorably to the other hip-hop films of the mid-Eighties, and to make me appreciate the music a bit more than I might have at sixteen

Krush Groove Records can’t keep up with demand for its hip hop records, so Russell borrows money from a big-time hustler. When the stars of his label jump ship to a big-time label, Russell finds himself in big trouble, unable to pay back the hustler. Run, who’s competing with his brother for the affections of Sheila E, is unsympathetic but of course they make up, thanks to intervention by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels. It’s not that good a story, but the movie is in the spaces between.

One of my complaints about Beat Street was that the music all sounded canned, completely out of reality in what were supposed to be live performances. I don’t know if they recorded the live tracks live in this film, but it sounds like it most of the time. The Run-DMC tracks sound harder than the versions in my iTunes. They sound live, too, when they’re performing on stage. This is a huge improvement, and it improves performances of the Fat Boys, the Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J. The treatment isn’t given to New Edition or Sheila E, which is a disappointment because I love the way Sheila E sounds live, and the lip-syncing scenes are low points.

I never cared much for early LL Cool J or any Fat Boys, but I really dug them in this movie, so I’m going to check them out soon with new ears. The film does a nice job of making almost everyone sound better than I remember them. A fun, entertaining trip back.


Review: Full Frontal

Full Frontal (2001)
Julia Roberts, David Duchovny, Catherine Keener, Mary McCormack, David Hyde Pierce, Blair Underwood, Jeff Garlin, Brad Pitt. Written by Coleman Hough. Directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Well here’s something you don’t see every day. A 101-minute film by an Oscar-winning director, shot on the prosumer-level Canon XL-1s and edited in Final Cut Pro. It’s Sundance in its tech but Hollywood in its pedigree, something noticeable to any audience within the first minute of the film, giving it a total indie look and feel.

I’m not sure at all what the film really is. The strructure is a movie-within-a-movie, the details of which might spoil the movie, so I won’t elaborate. But there are extra layers leading one to believe it may be either two separate movies within a movie, or a movie within a movie within a movie, and there’s a scene at the very end that makes one think there may be yet another movie. Or else it’s kind of like that Escher painting with the steps that only go down and down and down even as they circle around on themselves again.

I don’t always mind being baffled by a movie, if there’s enough there to let me try to figure things out as they go along. That’s not my problem with Full Frontal. My problem is that despite its excellent and interesting cast, the film is mostly horribly boring. Which it shouldn’t be, because it has some interesting story elements.

  • Catherine Keener is leaving her husband, David Hyde Pierce. Pierce works at a magazine where he inappropriately asks his coworkers questions about pornography.
  • Keener’s sister Mary McCormack is a masseusse looking forward to a trip to Tuscon, where she is planning to meet someone she met online. She seems to have had some bad luck in relationships, which Keener never lets her forget.
  • One of the characters, maybe Pierce’s, is producing a play about Hitler.
  • Julia Roberts is a writer, interviewing Blair Underwood for some Hollywood publication.
  • Blair Underwood is in a movie where he plays Brad Pitt’s sidekick, but he wants to break out of this second banana stuff and produce his own movie.
  • Jeff Garlin is an executive named Harvey at Miramax, obviously (or merely probably) Harvey Weinstein (he mentions his “brother Bob”). He’s the funniest person in the movie.
  • Almost all of them are planning to attend a birthday party for a film executive named Gus, played by David Duchovny.

Yet most of the film is kind of a drag. According to Wikipedia, Richard Roeper wrote that it was “like the Special Features disc of the DVD without the original movie.” That’s a pretty good description! I can’t decide if I dislike this movie while admitting it’s probably great, or kind of like it while acknowledging that it’s terrible. Seriously, there is somehow a fine line between those, and I’m right on it.

Jeff Garlin’s tiny part is the highlight, but I also kind of like Catherine Keener and Mary McCormack, whom I suspect may be the main characters, the real people this movie is about.