Some of the best and most entertaining rock bands of all time come from pop culture; in particular there’s the rock bands of the movies, all of whom have some shocking contributions to make to actual music. Case in point: The Rutles, The Blues Brothers, and Spinal Tap. And there are… others that I had fun remembering like The Archies and the Oneders. These are five of some of my favorite movie rock bands of all time. I excluded some at risk of being repetitive, but these are five that stood out for me and still stick with me.
Director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis have a fascinating premise for “Yesterday,” and when all is said and done, after two hours, they—have a fascinating premise. They don’t actually do much with it, in all honesty. They take what could have been a unique and bizarre tale about an iconic band completely inexplicably being erased from all of culture around the world and turn it in to a conventional tale of rags to riches. I mean the script does nothing with the idea of the Beatles not existing. What would happen to all the singers, performers, bands, and artists they inspired? Would they cease to exist as a whole? “Yesterday” barely scratches the surface at two hours.
The thing about cinema is that it’s an often very literal art form that takes what is often very metaphorical or performance art about stage productions and has a hard time supplanting it for the audience. For “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” it’s a very good cult rock film that often feels like it has to be seen on stage in order to soak in the true experience. I’m not trying to take away what a cult classic John Cameron Mitchell’s musical drama is, but I couldn’t quite help but feel that “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” could have been much more appreciated as a live show.
Another year, another mediocre big budget biopic, filled with Oscar aspirations, about a musical genius. I’m a huge fan of Elton John, and have been for years, but he deserves so much more than what is mainly just a serviceable musical drama about his life. While it gets credit for consciously dodging biopic tropes (and seems to also be a retort to “Bohemian Rhapsody” which openly shied away from Freddie Mercury’s sexuality), “Rocketman” only inspired me to re-visit his classic music.
In a way “Jailhouse Rock” also works as something of a pseudo-biography that would prophesize a lot of Presley’s endeavors. Whether or not intentional, “Jailhouse Rock” serves as a fascinating and often entertaining peek in to what the man would become, except with some slightly sweeter end results. Richard Thorpe’s “Jailhouse Rock” is a solid Elvis Presley vehicle that presents the definitive Presley on film. If you’ve never seen a single Elvis film, this is the great place to begin tracking his film career.
In a year where the inferior “Bohemian Rhapsody” promises to storm awards shows in 2019, “Heavy Trip” is a movie that’s far more deserving of audience attention. Like most of the best music oriented drama comedies, it’s an engaging, and very funny tale of a band with grand aspirations and have to literally fight to break out of their small home town in hopes of making it in the larger world they want to be a part of. “Heavy Trip” is centered on a group of aspiring death metal musicians from Finland, and you’d think a movie with a focus on that music genre would be more niche than anything, but Jukka Vidgren, and Juuso Laatio’s drama comedy is basically for everyone and anyone who has had a dream at one time or another.
Even for a nineties kid like me, I can fully acknowledge that “Empire Records” is a clumsy, tonally uneven, and terrible coming of age dramedy. It works hard to be as relevant and generation defining as “Dazed and Confused” or “Clerks,” but it comes up short as artificial and hollow, despite its great soundtrack. “Empire Records” even for 1995 is a pretty insufferable film that never quite finds humanity in its archetypes and cast of nineties youngsters. It’s hard to enjoy a film that features a fun sing along to AC/DC one moment, and a tear soaked nervous breakdown by one of the characters who pops pills forty five minutes later.
You can almost look at “Hearts Beat Loud” as something of an urban “Once,” in where music is something of the soul behind a very human story of two lost individuals in a somewhat turbulent world. This time around we meet father and daughter Sam and Frank, both of whom never really healed from a horrendous loss that they experienced many years before the narrative starts. In one instance, Frank literally sits at the scene of his wife’s death, which is still a memorial standing in the middle of a busy street, and tries to figure out where to go next.