Put on Netflix Instant, ’cause it’s time to rock! Here are a few cinematic ditties that will really show off your sound system (and test your neighbors’ patience).
One of Kristen Stewart‘s more successful attempts to prove that she’s not just “the girl from Twilight,” The Runaways is a surprisingly subversive and graphic portrait of the rise of the all-girl rock n’ roll band, concentrating on the complicated relationship between Joan Jett (Stewart), who was oh so born to be a rock star, and Cherrie Currie (Dakota Fanning), the blonde front girl who drove the boys (and girls) crazy. Stewart is, admittedly, quite excellent, getting Jett perfectly from her rough singing voice to her slouchy posture, though Michael Shannon steals the show and never looks back as weirdo record producer Kim Fowley. Cherry Bomb!
La Bamba is an affectionate and thoroughly entertaining look at the brief life and even briefer stardom of Ritchie Valens, featuring Lou Diamond Phillips in a career-best performance. Ritchie has a cool mom, a sweet girlfriend, a jealous and trouble-prone half-brother (Esai Morales, also excellent) and two Billboard hits: “Donna” (named after his lady) and, of course, “La Bamba.” Ritchie would enjoy success as a musician for about ten minutes before he died in a plane crash, an accident that also took the lives of Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. A sentimental fairy tale about a kid who never really got to shine.
Christopher Guest would later pick up the mocumentary mantle with such scathing romps as Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, but his works never quite go up to 11 the way this rock n’ roll creation does, following the misadventures of a heavy metal band that just isn’t very good. Unlike Guest’s later more self-conscious works, Spinal Tap never once winks to the audience to remind everyone that it’s all a put-on — funny and insightful in equal measures, this is a model of its kind and, like any good rock star, has actually gotten even better with age. Spinal Tap’s drummers may die (a lot), but the band itself never will!
Director Jim McBride’s spotty, sketchy biopic gets a huge dose of adrenaline from Dennis Quaid‘s rollicking performance as Jerry Lee Lewis, the flamboyant musician/showman whose marriage (his third) to his 13-year-old cousin (her, uh, first) almost ended up destroying his career. It’s Quaid’s show all the way, and he keeps things lively and interesting even when the film itself doesn’t seem to have any idea of where it’s going (or what it’s really trying to say about Lewis, his life and his work) — indeed, it sometimes feels like Quaid is having the time of his life while everyone else is a bit unsure of what’s going on. Winona Ryder manages to be cute as Myra Gale despite her inherently creepy role in all of this, and Alec Baldwin has a few scene-stealing moments as Lewis’ evangelist cousin, Jimmy Swaggart.
This rock musical based on the novel by Colin MacInnes chronicles the love affair between a young photographer (Eddie O’Connell) and a fashion designer (Patsy Kensit) against the backdrop of the 1958 London racial riots. A critical and commercial failure upon its release in 1986, Absolute Beginners has since earned something of a cult status — perhaps a bit too stylized for its own good (you never quite understand why director Julien Temple wanted so many aesthetic anachronisms), it’s nonetheless giddy and fun, genuinely excited by its own existence. It’s reminiscent somewhat of Walter Hill’s “rock n’ roll fable,” Streets of Fire (1984), another fantasy set in a stylized parallel universe (with a great soundtrack). David Bowie and Ray Davies contribute musical performances.