LORDS OF CHAOS tells the true story of Norwegian black metal band Mayhem and the tragic consequences of their dangerous art
Season 1, Episode 10: “Alibi”
Directed by Allen Coulter
Written by Terence Winter
* For a review of the penultimate Season 1 episode, “Rock & Roll Queen” – click here
This episode begins with Richie (Bobby Cannavale) making a deal with two feds. He’s now to be an informant against Corrado Galasso (Armen Garo). Is life going to get any easier now? Highly doubt that.
Meanwhile, Clark (Jack Quaid) is in the clubs getting Indigo out to the nighttime crowds. Things are definitely going better, people are jamming to the record and disco seems to be taking hold quite well already. Love this opening sequence, as we see a guy like Clark coming up while someone like Richie is on his way down. Definitely speaks to a shift from rock n’ roll in the ’60s to the different forms of music that birthed in the ’70s.
At the same time, Kip (James Jagger), Alex (Val Emmich) and The Nasty Bits aren’t exactly doing the greatest. Seems perhaps the situation between Alex, Kip and Jamie (Juno Temple) has been making things into a mess. Like we didn’t see that coming. Poor Jamie, she’s really trying to make an honest go at being a manager or an agent, anything, yet the power of love, the attraction of power itself all makes things more difficult.
Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano) is uptown meeting with Corrado. They talk like buddies, then Zak moves into business. He wants to chat about Richie. Uh oh. This is starting to get dangerous. Zak and Richie’s personal troubles come out, now clear to Galasso. There may be some fallout from this conversation.
Over at American Century Records, Skip (J.C. MacKenzie) lets the gang know Indigo, somehow, is playing well. Julie (Max Casella) and the others are surprised. They’ve got no idea about what’s been happening. Also, Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor) brings up a problem with The Nasty Bits’ song “Woman Like You” – Lester (Ato Essandoh) wrote it while under contract with Maury, so they need permission from him as an artist to use it. Only Maury suggests to send “a few of Corrado‘s boys“, which is something Richie wants no part of. Especially now that he’s a federal informant.
All the while, Zak is planning on ousting Richie from ACR, he and Scott (P.J. Byrne) have already got things in motion, now with Galasso knowing their situation things are moving. Zak’s still trying to get the career of Gary a.k.a Xavier (Douglas Smith) going, the kid even has a ton of ideas for some space opera-style costumes and stage designs, so on. They’re juggling a lot, these two. Something about Scott is uneasy, though.
The Nasty Bits are being pumped up by Andrea (Annie Parisse) and Richie as the next big thing. Joe Corso (Bo Dietl) tries to put his two cents in. Then Galasso turns up, saying he has “bad news” for Mr. Finestra. This all leads to something Zak had never expected. Now it’s all out in the open. Corrado doesn’t like him being “rat fuckin‘ shit bag” against his friend and colleague Richie. Zak didn’t follow the old mob rules, which turns his latest plans on their head. “I don‘t give a fuck what your problems are,” Galasso makes clear before leaving. But the furthest divide is between Richie and Zak – the former admits everything’s his fault, though, he does at least have ideas about how to get through it all. Add to that the cops still have a bug in ACR, the local ones, and they’re trying their best to keep an eye on things, even if the feds are now playing their own games.
Kip and Jamie continue falling apart. She’s fallen for both him and Alex, too. This prompts Kip into quitting the Nasty Bits, throwing Jamie out, and likely he’ll be falling head first into some heroin soon enough. Can’t mean anything good for the label. At least Indigo is “charting“, again to the surprise of Skip, Scott, and Julie. Clark did a good thing by not sending out a later, he and Jorge (Christian Navarro) decided to pimp the record out to the clubs and have found an “untapped market” for this dance music.
Cut to Lester and Richie. The permission for the song is not coming easy, but Richie’s also not aware of Kip quitting. Not sure how that’ll play into things going forward. Either way, Richie tries his best to persuade Lester, even cutting a cheque, too. Their bridges keep mending then burning and falling to bits all over again.
Problems are happening for Zak, as well. He’s collected by a man belonged to Galasso – so fast his shoe is let in the middle of the street. So Richie gets a call, and down he goes to a meeting with Galasso and his men. A raid came down because of what was on that wire tap. It looks like Zak’s fault. No good, for anybody. They gun down Corso, all to make a point. “Now go make some fuckin‘ money,” orders Corrado. For now, the ACR boys make it out alive.
And sadly, Kip has done what we could’ve all predicted – Lester and Jamie find him, overdosing on heroin, and try their best to help out. Ah, the life of a rockstar in the 1970s. Glamorous.
Love the scene where Queen is playing and they’re amazed by his voice, as well as that his real name could be Freddie Mercury. Then there’s Zak, hiding in his office, drinking booze, taking pills. Like anyone would after witnessing a man get a bullet to the head. He takes out a nice pair of shoes, he looks sullen, remembering better times. Is he planning something regrettable?
Down at the venue, Richie and the gang try to revive Kip for his gig. They’re going to bang a bit of coke up his veins to get him going again. Rock n’ fucking roll. Nothing can sway him, though, even after coming back from the dead. Lots of their personal bullshit comes out in front of Richie and Lester. This gets Jamie fired, and Richie commands them: “Do your fucking job.” Plus he makes clear there will be tons of women. Turns out Jamie isn’t fired from the company, only “from them“, so she still gets to stay, just has to stay away from the Bits.
Out on the stage, above it hangs a disco ball. Almost as if threatening to drop on all the rock, to obliterate it, and pave the way for something else. But when The Nasty Bits come out, as the crowd boos and wants The New York Dolls, something in the air changes when Kip starts to rock out. As the music hits people, even with The Ramones in attendance, people start to enjoy the edge, the attitude, the bluesy punk. Everybody begins to get it, and maybe The Nasty Bits will make it after all, despite the odds, the girl troubles, the heroin, the jealousy. Richie adds a nice flair to things by calling the cops and having them rush the stage. Publicity is flowing already, journalists scribbling everywhere, people chanting for the band.
The reach and power of the music business is evident so hilariously when the feds talk with Richie, so interested in groupies, the nightlife of rockstars. Great writing by Terence Winter. For the time being, Richie’s giving up little bits of information to his handlers, though, nothing that meaty so far. He’s almost playing both sides of the coin, both gangsters and the cops.
But most interesting is the bar where Richie meets his fed. He ends up chatting with the owner, who tells him of his plans to have bluegrass, country, blues, all kinds of music at his new place after it revamps: CBGB, he has written on a pad of paper, trying to figure out a name for the place when it starts out. Love this little inclusion, and hopefully it means good things for Richie somewhere down the line.
At the ACR office, a party is raging a little while after The Nasty Bits blew everyone away at the Dolls’ show – now, the launch of Alibi Records. A speech by Richie leads into the explanation of choosing Alibi or the name of the new sub-label, as well as an impassioned statement about music, youth, and the future of rock n’ roll. They break out some spray paint then to get the spirit of punk flowing through their veins. The entire office gets chaotic in the most enjoyable way. Across the room, Richie catches Zak’s eye, and something is still not quite right, nor will it ever be, I can’t imagine.
Love this season.
Sadly, HBO has recently decided they won’t continue with their renewal. They’ve gone ahead and reneged on that renewal and cancelled the show. Too bad. Some others didn’t dig it. I thought there was lots of good things happening. Oh well, thems the breaks!
Season 1, Episode 9: “Rock and Roll Queen”
Directed by Carl Franklin
Written by Debora Cahn
* For a review of the previous episode, “E.A.B” – click here
* For a review of the Season 1 finale, “Alibi” – click here
Richie (Bobby Cannavale) is trying to get himself out of jail, drug sweats and all. He and his lawyer are in an interrogation room trying to work things out. But things are looking rough for Mr. Finestra. There’s a deal being worked out. If Richie will help the feds bring down Corrado Galasso (Armen Garo), then he’ll be all right. Otherwise it’s manslaughter, as well as a possibly tough god damn time in jail.
Over at American Century Records, Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor) is making things complicated for everyone. Zak (Ray Romano) is not too happy, but does what’s needed to get by. Maury’s an old school-type, also one who’s connected tightly to the mob. This is a messy situation for Richie.
In a room with her new photographer friend Billy (Richard Short), Devon (Olivia Wilde) is embracing the photographer in herself once more. Also, they’re pretty much falling love. Or for the time being it’s a sexual release for her. Either way, she is free of Richie. For how long who knows.
Boardroom time. ACR is trying to get moving again, to start signing a few new acts and so on. In the mix, again, is Maury, which sort of makes everybody nervous. Julie (Max Casella), Skip (J.C. MacKenzie) and the rest are discussing business; The Nasty Bits, even the prospect of Hannibal coming back to the label, et cetera. Not everything is hunky dory, though. A bit of interjection from Maury causes a dull uproar over the direction of the label, the sub-label. All of it. And when things get too much for Richie, he goes to do some cocaine. Instead, he opts to toss it. Is this a new side to him? He needs his wit to deal with the cops. Better off without the coke.
Everyone’s in a bit of a hard spot. Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) is kicked out on the streets, though, she does have Kip (James Jagger) to take her in, to comfort her. Meanwhile, Clark (Jack Quaid) is attempting to get along with his new colleagues, doing a decent job so far; I feel there’s more to his story that’s coming, I hope so anyways.
Trying to kick the habit, Richie has to watch everyone around him snort to their heart’s content. Joe Corso (Bo Dietl) is around, too. Being an idiot. Is it realistic to believe Richie will be able to get himself clean?
At a photo shoot for The Nasty Bits, manager Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh), Andrea Zito (Annie Parisse) and Jamie try to corral the band. When Kip gets a bit pissy, Danny (Rodrigo Lopresti) offers to chop off his long locks to make things balanced. Looks like there may be a future for this little punk outfit after all.
Julie goes to Richie, about some acts, all that stuff. Well, he ends up talking about Devon, seeing her at the bar during the last episode. The two men bond over broken marriages. But Julie has a few choice words for his boss and friend over all the things happening, personal life and business wise, every last bit of it. Nothing is sunny at ACR. No one is happy, especially not the guys who’ve been there longest like Julie, Zak, the others. Even Cece (Susan Heyward) – she’s got issues with Hannibal returning.
Richie: “Screamin‘ your heart out into a mic, it ain‘t cheap anymore. And if you don‘t have $800,00 in the bank – truth and sound, it ain‘t available.”
There’s a lot of things happening at the office. Andrea’s not pleased with the “stupid fucking twats” around banging the acts, from Cece – now pregnant – to Jamie, whose semi-management of The Nasty Bits is slightly jaded for the fact she’s sleeping with Kip.
At the same time, Lester is very unhappy. The sight of Gold in their boardroom absolutely crushes him. He is not impressed with Richie and his involvement with Maury/Galasso. So many things are basically crumbling around Finestra, from the actual label itself to the employee-employer relationships to, obviously, his shattered marriage. Speaking of which, Devon is supposedly living her “divorce fantasy“, but it’s anything other than that to her. “I don‘t know what I‘m doing,” she tells her friend desperately.
So Richie goes searching for her. He ends up at the apartment where Devon stays with Billy, just as the latter is trying to kill a bat flying around. This is a hilarious situation, after Richie whacks Billy in the face accidentally with a tennis racket, trying to help. Then, he realizes who the guy is, and they slowly shuffle away from each other. When Devon shows up, naturally, they argue. She makes clear the rift between them is not closing, not anytime soon, anyways. He loves her, but like everything else in his life there’s always this necessity to do the easy thing, not the right thing. Which only ends up making his life that much harder. At least he gets to see his kids for a bit.
Devon: “You stood in front of me coked out of your mind and told me you spent the week with a dead man.”
Richie: “Yeah, and you fucked a live one.”
At Kip’s place, he and Danny and Jamie rock out together. Is this a burgeoning threesome situation? Could mean for some nasty band relationships. Right now, it’s as if Kip doesn’t mind a whole bunch. The three of them are enjoying themselves. Let’s see how long the Golden Age of their good times lasts.
Zak and Richie have a bit more personal time together. The former does his best to ensure Richie his marriage will get better. A good drunk, a nice fuck, all is forgiven. Then there’s Clark, who heads out for another night in the clubs with that good music spinning on the tables. He’s busy trying to get Indigo’s new album out for some play. Except it clears the dance floor after the DJ puts it on for people to hear. Not a hit. At least not immediately. A minute or two pass by and then people start grooving, dance circles form, and the music gets people to move.
On the phone, Zak gets a call from Vegas to fly him out, free of charge. Because of his “patronage“, what he says was only $800 at the table. He and Skip talk, but it’s not immediately evident to Zak what’s happened. Although, the seed is planted in his mind. It grows, quickly. The concept of Richie’s betrayal dawns on him. What an awful feeling and a terrible turn of events, particularly for Richie who has enough trouble already.
So Zak gives Richie a few whacks in the elevator. He takes out his rage, best he can. This is a true fracture, a possibly unfixable one in their relationship.
After his beating, Richie goes to the Chealsea Hotel. He sees Devon, admitting that he killed Buck Rogers, in self-defense, but also that he tried covering it up. This is what made him fall off the wagon. He comes clean to her about every last detail. Clearly shocks her to the core. Why wouldn’t it?
But where does this go from here? Will Devon somehow understand the plight of her husband? Will she help him? Or is Richie about to fade away into the muck and mire of addiction? Hard to tell. I’d like to think he’s going to face things head on. There’s no guarantee either way. One thing’s for sure: Richie has the spirit of rock n’ roll flowing through his veins, it’s only a matter of whether he can keep himself from going off the deep end. If so, American Century Records could turn things around.
Richie may not live to see that day. In the end, he decides to take the deal and help the cops take down Galasso. Uh oh.
Stay tuned for the Season 1 finale “Alibi”, which airs next week. Loving this series. Excited to see where the finale takes us and where Season 2 will begin from afterwards.
Season 1, Episode 8: “E.A.B.”
Directed by Jon S. Baird
Written by Michael Mitnick
* For a review of the previous episode, “The King and I” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Rock & Roll Queen” – click here
Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), his boys Zak (Ray Romano) and Skip (J.C. MacKenzie) are out talking with a loan officer named Allen Charnitski (Michael Kostroff). Trying their best to woo him, which starts with Skip hugging the man as they come in the bank, to awkward reception especially from Richie. But life goes on. They do the best they can. Although, their best may not be enough.
Meanwhile, Richie needs some cocaine. He needs to get things done and that requires the boost he knows will work.
Richie: “And besides, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, Sherlock Holmes – they all thrived used cocaine.”
Zak: “Sherlock Holmes; not a real person.”
Richie: “Give me the fucking coke!”
In other news, Andrea Zito (Annie Parisse) is trying to turn the company image around. She’s left dealing with Hal Underwood (Jay Klaitz), whom she eventually fires because he’s outdated like a dinosaur in a cheap shirt. Plus, this shows us how big her balls are, and that she can get shit done.
Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) is still going hard at managing The Nasty Bits. Kip Stevens (James Jagger) has all but completely lost his edge, as the band is now some sort of watered down bit of Brit Pop. Doesn’t seem like Richie’s too impressed anymore – they’re opening up for the New York Dolls soon. He tries to light a fire under the Bits. Jamie (Juno Temple) and Julie (Max Casella) watch on, as Richie talks about how their demo was the “soundtrack” for “all the madness of this city” and that they need to recapture that essence. “I don‘t need a hit, guys,” Richie explains: “I need a Nasty Bits song.”
Zak and Scott (P.J. Byrne) attempt to sign the singer from the Bat Mitzvah – Gary (Douglas Smith) – whose voice they hope to exploit, in order to get American Century Records back on track proper. And his voice is incredible, for sure.
At the office, Richie finds Joe Corso (Bo Dietl) waiting. He’s worried about the cops poking around concerning Buck Rogers. They know about the three of them together that night. There’s all sorts of animosity between the two of them. Corso all but threatens to out Richie to the police if he’s caught himself. Yikes. That situation might degrade faster than expected.
In studio, Lester decides a lesson in “foundation” is necessary for the Bits when they’re tapped out. He drops a bit of rhythm on them all, even singing slightly to a riff. Nothing like the blues to get things hoppin’. “Dirty it up,” Lester even suggests. This starts to get the blood flowing.
Richie deals with a bit of Skip’s mutinous feelings. He knows that Skip is likely doing the skimming that’s alluded to on his part. But in bust the other two yokels, flying high about signing the kid from the Bat Mitzvah. Zak is willing to put a lot on the line to get the guy signed, even putting his personal finance on the line – all because he still thinks he’s the one who lost all that money in Vegas, unknowing that Richie was the one who did them in. Afterwards, up turns Hal who is a Satanist of some sort, and lays a hex or something on everybody in the office. A hilarious and also kind of sad moment.
Up on the rooftop for a smoke, Lester bonds a little with Kip. Until Kip tries to get Lester to teach them his song, so they can turn it into a Nasty Bits tune. No response from the manager. For now.
At the same time, Clark (Jack Quaid) is making better friends at his new position in the mail room. He and one of the other guys bond also, only over a bit of cocaine. They bump a little then get to talking. Then to dancing.
Across town at the Chelsea Hotel, Devon (Olivia Wilde) has troubles with some of the neighbours. Not the place for children, that’s for certain. To stay she needs to produce more work, as they cater to artists. Those dreams of hers don’t come easy.
Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor) receives Richie at his office. The younger of the two is admitting to trouble with ACR. He starts leaning towards going to the mob, but Maury knows the price of those decisions. Richie doesn’t want to see his friends, particularly Zak, go in over their head. “Have you ever seen somebody choked to death?” asks Maury, as a preamble into his advice about going to the mob for loans.
At a club, Devon goes with friends to see Bob Marley (Leslie Kujo), Pete Tosh (Aku Orraca-Tetteh) and the gang onstage. Beautiful reggae music flows over the crowd, as everybody jams to the gorgeous rhythm. She sees John Lennon at a booth, but across the place Julie spies her. Interesting. Even more so because she ends up getting Lennon’s picture, as well as finding herself getting close to another man.
Richie and Zak head to see Corrado Galass0 (Armen Garo), whose disposition is scary to say the least. They manage to get a cash guarantee. Then there’s also a request to share office space. Naturally, the boys don’t push their luck and accept readily. Without admitting to any guilt, Richie tries assuring Zak things will be fine, and that he takes responsibility for the mess they’re in currently. Not long after Richie’s picked up by the police.
The cops try grilling Richie, but he’s a fairly cool cucumber under pressure. They’re very convinced of his guilt. Yet he manages to keep them off his back, for the moment. Then they bring up Corso’s name. They throw suspicion, doubt onto the fire. A tape is played for Richie. No surprise – they’ve bugged his office.
And so the plot thickens.
We end on the finale of this episode with The Nasty Bits playing a new tune. Their manager has come through big time. Zak and Scott each fantastize about the potential of Gary’s career. A nice little montage culminates with Richie in his jail cell, and a cut to Clark joining his new buddy on an excursion to a club somewhere in a big building, people dancing everywhere. Amazing. Like Clark stepped into a brand new world.
Excited for the penultimate episode of this season. A great show. Not my favourite episode, but a good one. Stay tuned with me for “Rock & Roll Queen” next Sunday!
Season 1, Episode 7: “The King and I”
Directed by Allen Coulter
Written by David Matthews
* For a review of the previous episode, “Cyclone” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “E.A.B” – click here
After the literal and titular “Cyclone” of last episode, Richie Finestra (Bobby Canavale) is back!
This episode begins as Richie reads The Farther Reaches of Human Nature by A.H. Maslow. He’s having Cece (Susan Heyward) cart out all the alcohol. He’s “on the wagon” apparently, so everyone else is excited to get the runoff. In the American Century Records boardroom, Zak (Ray Romano), Scott (P.J. Byrne) and Skip (J.C. MacKenzie) are trying to help Richie get things running “lean“, which includes cutting up the company cards and such. They discuss how to trim all the fat, including getting rid of their plane, et cetera. Then up turns Andrea Zito (Annie Parisse). She’s doing her best to keep her end of the ship above water. Nevertheless, Richie’s still having trouble keeping it together. Being sober and dealing with everyday problems, plus ACR’s bullshit, can’t be easy.
On their plane, while they’ve still got it, Richie talks to Zak about Devon (Olivia Wilde). Although, it’s pretty clear that Zak has problems with him. He doesn’t have much sympathy for Richie and his broken marriage. Still pissed about his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and Richie showing up stoned, very, very late, and so on. Their issues all come out over the ride. It’s obvious Zak is more than offended, he is genuinely hurt by someone whom he thought was a close, dear friend. A slight discussion about Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor) and Corrado Galasso (Armen Garo) comes up. Yet Richie does his best song and dance to let this slide by without much talk. And his addiction, the want for booze, for anything, is certainly clear.
Zak: “Because you‘re an infant, Richie. I trust my wife, naked, in bed with Burt Reynolds before I trust you with a hundred grand in cash.”
Richie: “I partly see your point”
In the life of Jamie Vine (Juno Temple), her mother is trying to control her life. But Jamie’s one strong lady, and she’ll do whatever it takes. Meanwhile, Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) is busy out doing his new duties, getting dogged by a bunch of black employees, which is damn hilarious. He’s trying, anyways. There’ll definitely be more to come out of his little situation.
Zak and Richie get their plane off-loaded, with Lou Meshejian (John Ventimiglia), who’s very happy to have it, lots of plans. But the boys from ACR aren’t feeling so hot, as they’re looking like the ones on the block who can’t get things done right.
At a big lavish party, Richie decides he’s going to try and lift some clients for Lou’s sassy behaviour. He passes by a few people, such as Mama Cass, then Zak introduces him to Gram Parsons (Wesley Tunison), and then there’s Stephen Stills (Brett Schneider) whom Richie already knows. “Pheasant just lands on your shotgun, doesn‘t it?” Zak quips when a woman feeds Richie pineapple out of nowhere. A little later, we see Crosby, Stills, and Young in the same spot. Awesome little drop in the bucket of the massive universe within Vinyl.
Above all else, Richie realizes the word on ACR is out in the air and he has to do something to change that soon. At the party there’s a bit of talk Zak hears, which prompts him to suggest to Richie they ought to try signing Elvis Presley, whose unhappiness at his label is a hot topic in the rumour mill.
Jamie and Clark bond a little. Turns out, Clark had her job several years ago, now he’s back down in the trenches. “Hustle and moxie,” Jamie suggests as what the ACR heads want in their people. There’s simply something missing in Clark. He fits in, slightly, but he doesn’t push, he doesn’t go for broke on the right things, and above all else he is fairly spineless. Especially after breaking down crying in front of Julie (Max Casella) a couple episodes ago. Still, though, Jamie tries to help him keep his spirits up because she is a good soul. Bringing a bit of marijuana to work might help Clark bond with his new co-workers in receiving.
At a hotel, Zak and Richie meet with legendary Colonel Tom Parker (Gene Jones) – manager of the famed Elvis. The whole thing is like a clandestine meeting, off the books, but it’s whatever it needs to be. They’ll do anything necessary.
In other news, Joe Corso (Bo Dietl) is out doing his thing, throwing money and orders around. “Stop bein‘ a cock,” he tells one radio man before shelling out even more money. Even further, Corrado and Maury arrive. Nothing looks too friendly, particularly when it concerns Corrado’s name getting tossed around willy nilly. “Think before you talk,” Maury advises Joe. And just around the corner sits one of the police investigating Rogers’ murder. Hmm.
Waiting around to their deals, Zak and Richie strike up conversation and drinks with a couple pretty ladies. Only problem? The cocaine comes out. Instead of doing it, he skips a bump, tosses one of the women in the pool then jumps in himself. Smart move, Rich. Can he last? Can he turn away from the lure? Only time will tell.
A little bit of Elvis (Shawn Wayne Klush), too. He rocks onstage, as Zak, Richie, the women, and a huge crowd watch on. Zak isn’t impressed for his part, not with the new Elvis Presley. “This isn‘t Elvis,” shouts a drunk Zak.
Zak (watching Elvis): “This is a tragedy. Fuck JFK, MLK, Vietnam – this, this… I can‘t. Rock n‘ roll‘s died tonight.”
In the hotel room, Richie leaves Zak to the two women.
He goes to meet Elvis instead. They have a down to earth chat. Seems they’ve both been reading the same material, re: Maslow. Then Richie gets to talking him up, though, not a hard sell. He merely gives Elvis compliments, genuine ones, and plays on the King’s love of the form of rock n’ roll. It’s a great scene, the whole thing is intense, weird, and well-written. These appearances of people playing music gods since the first episode have been interesting. They don’t come off at all as gimmicks or inorganic. Dig every last one of them. Perhaps Elvis is my favourite thus far. Furthermore, we see the grip the Colonel seemed to have had on Presley, acting almost like an abusive master than a manager.
Elvis: “I want them to feel the music, y‘know, I want them to live in the music. That‘s where I live; in the music, man.”
Back at the room, the girls cleaned Richie and Zak out. Big time. Including their safe, the cash inside. Looks like Zak fucked them even worse than anything he perceived Richie’s done. Well, at least it’s on par. For all his faults, Richie mostly drained their wallets with his coke habit, which is no more. Now it’s Zak making things into a mess: “I wanna die,” he weeps to Richie. “Everyone fucks up, okay?” he reassures in reply. Through thick and thin, these guys.
Or is that the case? We skip back a little. All the number 18 moments hit Richie. So he went to the room as Zak got his three-way on, and he took the money downstairs: all on 18 at the craps table, over and over, loss after loss. So on the plane home, he naturally has a drink. So much for being off the wagon. Then, the symbol of the two travel bottles of vodka leave stains on his book from earlier, as if the inescapable nature of his addiction leaves an imprint on every little aspect of his life; that’s his human nature.
Excited for the next episode. This has been an amazing season, better and better as time wears on. Next up is “E.A.B”, so stay tuned with me!
Season 1, Episode 5: “He in Racist Fire”
Directed by Peter Sollett
Written by Adam Rapp
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Racket” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Cyclone” – click here
Moving further through 1973, we’re back with Richie Finestra (Bobby Canavale), as he tries to juggle professional life, his family life with Devon (Olivia Wilde), and at the same time does his best to keep his involvement in the murder of Buck Rogers under wraps. Seems tough, right? Well, a little zip of cocaine and Richie can face the insurmountable odds no problem. Or can he?
This episode begins with a part Led Zeppelin-part Jethro Tull knock-off, wearing costumes and all – Wizard Fist. What a name. They perform at Renaissance fairs and such. Brutal. A bunch of other bands go on and on, as Richie listens, alongside an unimpressed Julie (Max Casella), and the ringleader of this apparent night out, Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid).
Heading off, Richie gets a call from his father Vince (David Proval). He chews his son out a bit over the alibi Richie requested. “Fuckin‘ big shot,” Vince eggs him on.
Richie: “There‘s more than one way to be dead, pop.”
Julie calls Clark in for a talk. There are firings going around, and Clark starts to suspect he’s gone; he’s right. “You‘re fired, kid,” Julie tells him. The show the night before was certainly that one last nail in his coffin. But poor Clark’s left in tears, begging for his job. Instead he ends up with a pay cut – taking the job of Jamie Vine (Juno Temple). Because nowadays Jamie has other things to do. Meanwhile, Cece (Susan Heyward) appears to have a whole other thing going on, showing up “in a limo” in the morning, as well as other things. Damn, girl.
In the board room, Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) and his new client Kip Stevens (James Jagger) about promotional label “bullshit” for radio stations around the country. Kip wants Jamie in there with them and tells the whole room: “I‘m Kip Stevens, fuck your mom; there‘s my bio.” Richie and the label are doing label-type things, attempting to break apart The Nasty Bits. Almost the way Jim Morrison, and other lead singers, found themselves attacked by label dudes who “groom” talent and try to take the supposed star onward, upward, away from their bands.
One thing I’m starting to love about Vinyl is how Jamie has really, despite all odds, carved a niche out for herself, amongst all the sexism and the nonsense around her. Temple is a solid actor anyways. Here, she gets to show lots of that.
Cece lets Richie know about Hannibal (Daniel J. Watts) possibly being lured to another label, by the greasy Jackie Jarvis (Ken Marino). This clearly worries Richie, and shakes him up. Just as he seemed to be doing all right. He calls Devon and cons her into a date, which is actually him trying to “impress” a client.
Richie: “You up for some fondue? If not we can fondon‘t. Go somewhere else.”
Jamie’s worried about her job, as Clark is in her position now. No promotion for her, though. I suppose at least she’s still got a job while others are being sacked. Still, raw deal for bringing in a new act.
Out on a photo shoot, Richie goes to see Andrea Zito (Annie Parisse). They’ve got a complicated past. It’s clear Richie abused their relationship in some ways, giving too little while taking too much. He wants her to help the label, but she gives him options on how to bring her into the fold. Richie tries to sell her hard: “You‘ll have a voice, okay. I‘m different, Andy.”
At a high class restaurant, Jamie meets with a woman, obviously her mother, who she lies to about a promotion with American Century Records. But she gets the reply: “You‘re an embarrassment.”
In the office, Richie finds his father laughing and drinking with employees. Vince calls himself “just an old horn player“, yet it is extremely clear that Richie cares about his opinion. And things go on devolving until they’re basically at each others throat. But Vince is at odds even more now with his son needing that alibi. After discovering the nefarious shit Richie’s involved with, Vince is feeling worse.
A brief Little Richard (CJ Lacey) interlude, as he woos and wails his way away. Beauty.
In the studio, Jamie listens to The Nasty Bits rock hard. It is super raw and sounds a bit brutal. Eventually, Kip gets into an argument with his guitar player, calling him “lazy“; Jamie’s rubbing off on him. Yet after the session when Lester arrives, there’s trouble – he fires the guitarist, tough and to the point.
Out at dinner, Richie’s entertaining Hannibal best he can. Lots of fun, some laughs. The title of the episode comes from an anagram of Richie Finestra out of Hannibal, displaying a talent for coming up with them.
There’s still the problem of Kip and his heroin. He has the addiction and he’s afraid nobody is around to “take the knocks” with him. In comes Jamie, promising just that.
While Devon and Hannibal dance, Richie snorts some coke in the bathroom. He joins everybody and they’re all having fun. Just like normal people. Things get a little too sexual, as Hannibal and Devon dance with lust. Richie hauls Cece into his lap forcibly, which she doesn’t appreciate much. Soon enough, you can see the look in Richie’s eyes go dark while Devon enjoys Hannibal, quite a bit. The night ends abruptly. But Richie brought her there to impress, for the purpose of business, and he got upset when things went south. I don’t blame her. I blame him. Maybe Hannibal a bit, as well. Either way things get hot and heavy in the elevator before getting complicated. She knows she was “bait” and then reveals there was no plan to bang Hannibal, just a blow in the bathroom for Richie from a faithful wife. He goes way too far before getting smacked.
Richie: “Want a bump?”
Hannibal: “I don‘t need a bump. I got a bump.”
Devon: “Why yes you do, sir.”
The cops have got Richie’s place bugged. They heard the conversation between Papa Finestra and his son. With further and further evidence, how long does Richie have before cuffs click on those wrists?
Richie gets a call later from Jarvis, who’s just signed Hannibal. Wow. Just, wow. Not particularly impressed with Hannibal at this point, either.
We get a great Lou Reed (Connor Hanwick) scene, “White Light, White Heat” rocking over the crowd. At the same time, Devon heads into the Hotel Chelsea, while Richie’s at the club with Lou onstage and talking to Andrea. Their history becomes clearer with each conversation. He has really insulted two important women in his life in this episode, though, Andrea gets a slight satisfaction out of Richie’s revelations. Regardless, she gets in on the label. Another extra dimension to Richie and his life filling up with madness. Lots of things are adding up. Will he go too far, again, and cheat on Devon?
This was an intense episode. Can’t wait to see “Cyclone” next! Stay tuned with me, fellow fans.
Season 1, Episode 3: “Whispered Secrets”
Directed by Mark Romanek
Written by Debora Cahn/Adam Rapp/Jonathan Tropper
* For a review of the previous episode, “Yesterday Once More” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Racket” – click here
Rollin’ like a stone, Vinyl just keeps on coming!
This episode starts off on a record label banquet. Jackie Jarvis (Ken Marino) is up giving a speech for a Lifetime Achievement to Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor). Jarvis takes a shot at a few people, under the guise of comedy, even Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) who feels slighted. Richie’s also busy staring at the card on a table reserving Rogers’ seat; in between flashes of beating Rogers to death.
But after a sniff of cocaine, Richie’s feeling fine. His wife, Devon (Olivia Wilde), is not happy about hearing of her husband’s record label sale being called off from Jarvis. So Richie confronts Jarvis then goes to speak with Maury. Because Richie has things to ask Maury, about the mob connections to Corrado Galasso (Armen Garo). Except Maury has nothing but venom for his old protege.
Cut back to the end of last episode. Richie sits with Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh), trying to act like old pals. It’s clear Lester is only worried about keeping himself “grounded” whereas Richie sits across from him, blowing his nose into a handkerchief and seeing blood. You can hear a low, raspy quality to Lester’s voice, obviously from the injury he suffered at the hands of Galasso and his men years ago. Rich has the old tapes from their sessions, he wants to give Lester a chance after all these years. Only Lester lost his voice. He tosses Richie out, threatening him to never comeback.
Then, coming back to ’73, we get the visual metaphor of water swirling down a drain. Just like Richie’s life.
At the American Century Records office, Richie gets a note from Joe Corso (Bo Dietl) – a matter of “mutual interest” requires their attention. More coke, more flashbacks to Buck dying, then Richie is off.
Julie Silver (Max Casella) runs a bunch of names past Richie – from Terry Jacks, Dr. Hook, to Status Quo and Grand Funk Railroad, and so on – along with Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano). Some acts get cut. Others are obvious keepers, some possible moneymakers later on. Everybody’s stressed about money. Richie only wants to save money, so they can keep running.
Zak: “While you‘re at it see if you can say a fuckin‘ prayer for this company”
In Lester’s building we see an early D.J. fading songs in and out of one another. Watching on, Lester sees two old men start to boogie who rag on the young man for not letting songs play all the way through. But Lester encourages him to keep on working at it. Dig this scene. Perhaps a new way for Lester to make it in music – hip hop? Can’t wait for more of his story.
Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) meets Alice Cooper (Dustin Ingram) in the recording studio. He knows of Richie and the label. Morelle tries to influence Alice into going solo because the band is just a band behind him, and “You‘re Alice.”
Then there’s Julie, along with Jamie Vine (Juno Temple), trying to get The Nasty Bits into shape playing some Knicks. Jamie isn’t happy about the band sounding unlike themselves. Out of nowhere, the band and the others are surprised by the owners of the building. Apparently. Everyone packs and up and leaves quick, as the owners start calling the police. Is this some backstory of Jamie’s, or what? Or is she just a sly dog?
Jump back in time, as Devon stares at an obvious Andy Warhol painting. She and Richie are in bed together, the latter with a period-appropriate grease-stache. A happier time in their lives, juxtaposed with the chaos of their present days. What’s clear is that Devon, somewhere along the line, stifled her creativity to allow Richie everything he wanted. So now she’s seemingly forever under his thumb.
Over at ACR, Richie’s banging cocaine up his nose while talking to an employee. He’s trying to get ahead of Jackie Jarvis and his big mouth. They need to make the label look better. After his first meeting, up shows Corso, who needs to talk. Turns out he has a possible act for Richie to sign. Maybe.
Back with Morelle, he’s still chatting to Alice Cooper, and also trying to get a random woman’s hand off his dick. He’s continually trying to make sure Alice will seek out ACR, promising a few little things here and there. Johnny Thunders (Jonny D’Ambrosio) arrives to talk a bit of shit. In the background, a nice painting is defiled with shaving cream. Rock n’ roll.
Devon needs a bit more cash for an event. Instead of being understanding at all, Richie denies her. But his wife is not pleased with what he’s “thrown” her, which all but confirms her giving up dreams for him.
On the golf course in the early morning, Morelle watches Alice drive some golf balls. Clark’s also got a bit of leftover eye shadow on, plus a big snake wrapping around his neck. These pieces with Alice are incredible. Gives us such an insight into how Cooper really acted behind the scenes. Seems like a fun dude.
At his apartment, Lester listens to the old sessions, picking up his guitar. He sits and plays it a little. He sings, too. Although his voice is rusty, a bit harsh, you can hear the soul in him come out. This turns into a vision of him singing beautifully again, sat under the blue stage lights, almost like being back in the day once more; the sound of a band behind him, his old voice in his throat. He envisions a life with a family, gold records on the wall and a beautiful house surrounding him. Only the tragic cut edits us right back into ’73, with Lester croaking out the blues.
Meanwhile, Devon isn’t fairing too well either. She is out to see Andy Warhol (John Cameron Mitchell). He immediately puts her on the camera, his new skinnier one: “Everything‘s skinnier now,” Andy remarks. She has the picture from her wall, the one she stared at earlier. She wants Andy to sign it – but only so she’ll be able to sell it, which Andy knows is the case. Devon tries to sell her own idea of the ballet company, eventually crying a little. Her old friend understands the need to sell the picture, and agrees to sign it.
Hoping to create another sub-label to ACR, Richie brainstorms while listening to Howlin’ Wolf – who actually shows up in one of the brief segues we’ve come to expect from Vinyl. From the blue, Maury and Galasso arrive for a chat. Galasso wants to know about the cop who came to see Richie concerning the murder they’re tangled up with; little do they know of Finestra’s trouble. Things go smooth for the time being.
Right afterwards, we find police and the coroner discovering a body: that of Buck Rogers, head bashed into strawberry jam.
While Alice jams with his band, Clark shows up. They’re in the midst of testing a guillotine prop. Then Alice turns on Morelle, alerting the band of what he’s up to. Well a story comes out about Richie Finestra and how he fucked Alice/the band over. This whole thing has been a tease. They frighten the hell out of Clark and send him packing back to ACR.
At least Devon’s having a better time. Now with a Warhol in-tow, making the ballet company leaders quite happy. Sadly, though, they want another ten thousand dollars out of her, which really puts a damper on things.
Onstage are The Nasty Bits for a showcase in front of Richie. He’s not impressed: “They‘re oatmeal.” He liked their “raw, alive” demo. The stuff he wanted was the wild, crazy sound their demo had. His disgust shows, even to Kip Stevens (James Jagger). But Jamie rushes the stage and tells him to play their actual stuff. She tosses a beer bottle to convince Kip, gladly accepting the chance. Rather than leave, Richie heads back to the stage so he can hear. He digs. “What the fuck just happened?” asks Julie, bewildered.
At home relaxing, Richie puts the tape Whispered Secrets into his player; the one Corso gave him. Then, as if the stars align, Corso calls to tell Richie about the body being found by some “kids playin‘ in a lot” – it obviously rocks him. So he plays the tape, starting with “Danny’s Song” in a nice folky sound. The song is like a bittersweet moment, as the beautiful voice pours from the speakers and Richie can only sit silently, unable to concentrate on the music, the Warhol missing from the wall. Nothing is in its right place.
Next episode, “The Racket”, ought to be interesting. Love the progression of the plot and the characters. This series is really picking up. Stay tuned with me, fellow fans.
Season 1, Episode 2: “Yesterday Once More”
Directed by Allen Coulter
Written by Terence Winter
* For a review of the pilot – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Whispered Secrets” – click here
Open on Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) watching a martial arts flick with Bruce Lee on the big screen, attempting the moves himself, all the while snorting coke. Problem is he’s not alone and “disturbing the other patrons” causing troubles.
Cut to Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano), Skip Fontaine (J.C. MacKenzie) and Scott Levitt (P.J. Byrne) trying to stall the Germans, as Richie is quite late. Zak reels off a story, everyone laughing and trying to play things up.
At the Finestra house, the television is left smashed with the Bo Diddley guitar still in it. Devon (Olivia Wilde) gets a call from Zak, letting him know about the Richie bender. She’s absolutely not impressed with her husband, though, she puts on a good face for the children. At the office, Zak slips some pills in order to cope with the stress; he does not look happy, either. And finally, up shows Richie looking like death walking – he’s still bleeding, covered in dust from the collapse at the New York Dolls show. Seems like Richie has a God complex now, or something similar. He feels almost invincible, between the cocaine and surviving the building falling down on top of him. He says they aren’t selling the company, then a wild scene breaks out as the boys try to calm their friend down. My favourite bit so far? The cuts to Jerry Lee Lewis (Lance Lapinsky) playing “Breathless” in a silhouetted, smokey frame.
Bottom line – Richie’s renewed his love of rock n’ roll. Then he pulls out some Bruce Lee shit on his buddies, except for Skip who dives over the couch to avoid an ass-kicking. “Is this how you do business in America?” asks one of the Germans. “Take a hike you Nazi prick,” Richie replies. Stumbling away with Zak and Scott bleeding, Skip tells them: “It‘s like the lottery in fuckin‘ reverse.” Over in his own office, Richie talks with Julie Silver (Max Casella), who wants to know what’s happening. Everyone seems to know what sort of guy Richie is, obviously he’s had problems in the past of which everybody at the office is aware. But Julie’s got no problem doing a bit of coke with the boss.
Now we switch over to Devon, who daydreams of a time before. Lou Reed (Connor Hanwick) plays with The Velvet Underground, as Andy Warhol (John Cameron Mitchell) and others sit around watching them. Richie is there looking quite different, as is Devon; before they were together. Devon takes pictures and Richie casually asks about her a little, they lock eyes and a connection is clearly imminent. In a bathroom, they meet and form an instant, steamy bond. Outside, Lou and the band rock on to “Run, Run, Run”. Coming back to reality, Devon drives on listening to a song on the radio, seeing Karen Carpenter in the car next to her – until she realizes her children aren’t in the car with them. She forgot the kids, but turns back quickly.
Meanwhile, Richie is busy shaping his staff up for the new regime. “Take that fuckin‘ Jefferson Airplane poster with you,” he screams at an employee, firing him and tossing his ass out the door. Richie wants kick ass, balls to the wall music, he wants everybody to start looking for the best stuff with the right kick. A hilarious scene, though, sort of disturbing because we know Richie’s off the wagon hardcore. Afterwards, Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) heads in to talk with her boss. She wants to know if he thought The Nasty Bits were any good, which he says they were, but they need an “MC5” sort of thing to give them better edge. Richie gives Jamie a chance to show what she’s worth by setting up a showcase for the band, plus she also hauls some coke out of her bra just as he asks for another vial; the look on his eyes spell THANK YOU. “If you ever rat me out again to Richie, I‘ll kick you in the fucking cunt,” Jamie quietly tells the receptionist on her way out.
Devon is reliving part of her old life, too. She takes pictures of the television with the Bo Diddley axe in it, artistically framed and such. Then receives a call from the police informing her of Richie’s car being near the building collapse, which obviously worries her as she hasn’t seen her husband yet. Even though he’s just at the office, coked up.
Zak is getting his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah ready. Only now the money is racking up and the deal isn’t going through. On top of all that, his nose is smashed to bits. Things are getting heavy for Zak now, but he takes it half decently. For now.
Another scene cut in here of a musician playing – this time, Bobby Bland (Jo’ell Jackson) sings “I’ll Take Care of You”, crooning away. Cut to Devon finding Bobby in the shower, upset at him yet glad he’s alive. For his part, he loves her. Maybe he’s fucked up, he definitely is. But he loves her, and she loves him, too. Only he can’t let her know what the real pressure happening is about; he claims it’s work, his birthday. It’s the murder, though. Clearly.
And right after they start to talk, a detective shows up: homicide division. It isn’t about Buck. It’s about Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor), his association with the mob, and a recent murder tying them all together. One the cop leaves, Richie breaks down: “I‘m a bad person,” he cries to his wife, weeping in her lap.
Flashback to hanging with Andy and all those folk. Richie has a slightly different look, now he and Devon are together. They’re all taking drugs, relaxing at what is likely The Factory. Andy’s a little jealous of Richie, being Devon’s boyfriend and all. When Andy comes over he is coy, faux-friendly, but somehow slightly sweet. Richie talks Devon into going on camera for Andy, which only requires her to sit there and look nice. The whole time she and Richie look at one another across the room.
Julie’s busy with Jamie, listening to The Nasty Bits. He is not impressed; not with the singer Kip (James Jagger) or his voice, not with the music, none of it. Julie does his best to explain how they can “suck less” and lays out the way they’ll impress Richie, as well as possibly get signed. This includes learning a Kinks tune to play for the boss, to which The Nasty Bits agree after a bit of whinging.
Having a worse is Zak, whose life becomes more and more a pain with each minute. His money problems are spiraling now that their huge deal for the label isn’t going through. I can feel something building, but what? Where will Zak turn? His wife certainly isn’t making it any better, having become accustomed to their obviously fairly lavish lifestyle. He gets out of bed and heads to the garage. In his car, he seems to contemplate taking a handful of pills then decides against it. Instead, he beats the hell out of the back-end with a wrench.
Flashback to the old days of Richie and Devon, as their present isn’t so wonderful. They’re hanging with The Factory crowd a little more, everyone drinking, making out, so on. Things were once incredible.
Back to ’73, as Devon wakes up to find Richie gone, their bed empty. Out on the street, Richie looks all business. He’s in the black neighbourhood where we saw him get a gun pulled on him during the pilot, where we saw his brief reunion with Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh). Richie carries a huge envelope inside, right to the door of Lester who reluctantly lets his old friend inside: “We gotta talk,” says Richie.
This was an excellent follow-up to the first two-hour extravaganza from Martin Scorsese. Looking forward to the next episode, “Whispered Secrets” – stay tuned with me!
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by George Mastras
* For a review of the next episode, “Yesterday Once More” – click here
This Martin Scorsese-Mick Jagger produced HBO show starts out with a pilot directed by Scorsese himself. Everyone’s been anticipating this slice of nostalgia, along with all the grim, grit, the glitz and the glam side by side.
Vinyl begins in New York City, 1973. Richie Finestra (Bobby Canavale) sits in his car, drinking from a bottle not far from a few homeless, some prostitutes, and other such people littering an alleyway. A man from the corner asks what Richie wants, to which he replies a “quarter“; of coke, that is. Turns out Richie doesn’t have a job anymore, so it appears. He wipes a bit of coke across his teeth, seemingly calming himself. He can’t find anything to do a line off, so he tears off his rear-view mirror, lines one off – a big one – and uses a cop’s business card to straighten it up, then snorts it quick. Afterwards, he even calls the cop from Homicide Division, but a bunch of young people running to a club disrupt him, even hurtling over the top of his car. He puts the phone’s receiver down to go check out where all the kids are rushing. Instead of standing in line, Richie barges through, but not before a bouncer who knows him says: “Clean your nose.”
Inside, overdose cases are carried away, blowjobs going down in the hall and even a big fat guy in underwear stands by the side. Further in Richie finds the music rocking, people of all kinds jamming to the music. Front and center is a band wailing hard – The New York Dolls playing “Personality Crisis” – the androgynous lead singer with lipstick belting out lyrics, a long-haired guitar player chopping riffs, all the while people jump and pulse to the songs. It’s as if Richie is hearing something else others aren’t, as if he can see something happening in front of his eyes; he spaces out, staring into the band and blown away. Meanwhile, the place is so loud and boisterous the lights above the stage are bouncing, everything is chaotic, and Bobby finds himself literally at the middle; a metaphor for being in the very middle of the scene.
Skip to Richie in a nice white-grey suit at the head of a table, gold lighter in hand. His narration tells us: “I earned the right to be hated.” They’re in Germany, earlier in 1973. It’s clear to us now Richie has a bit of an ego at this point. Plus, his raging drug problem, as evidenced from the start, is obviously a sticking point.
Now we’re introduced to the others. First, Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano) who heads around with cash and cocaine to a radio station; he and the DJ take a rip off a spinning record, doing business. Second, there’s Skip Fontaine (J.C. MacKenzie) who helps Richie offload records that don’t sell and get sent back. Usually those end up in the river, or somewhere else unlikely, which translates into profit for the label, American Century Records. At this point, though, their label is in lots of trouble. Time to cut and run.
The trio heads off after talking with the Germans looking to buy the label. We’re slowly leaning into the decadence of the 1970’s rock n’ roll music scene, as Richie and his crew board their own private jet, drinking, girls in tow. At this point in time they’re trying to sign Led Zeppelin to their label. And while Richie recognizes they’re in this whole mess because of the jet, the expenses, all that, Skip follows this with: “Let‘s do some coke.”
Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) wanders off a subway train. She sits at a bench, and next to her a shady guy lays down his bag; she does the same, taking his with her as she goes. Up to a beautiful, luxurious building goes Jamie with a cardboard tray full of fast-food and soda – this is American Century Records. The receptionist at the front desk deals with a guy from a band named Kip Stevens (James Jagger) – then Jamie takes over, as she apparently works in A&R.
In her desk drawer, Jamie piles a ton of drugs from uppers, downers, coke to marijuana, pre-rolled joints and all sorts of things. Then she listens to a tape from Kip, but Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) shows up for an ounce of weed. Amazing office to imagine, and I’m sure there were these situations in the 1970’s throughout many different label offices. Further than that we’re entrenched in the record business here, as Jamie and Clark discuss what happens if the shop gets sold off and try to figure out how they’re going to stay afloat. Zeppelin’s signed to the label, though, as Clark says: “Richie signed them.”
Another character is brought in now, Julie Silver (Max Casella). We witness him have a terrible phone call before tossing things around his office, tearing up his desk, all in front of the rest of the staff. Seems he’s feeling the hot water start to boil like everyone else.
Down at a club on 33rd and 7th, Richie has to deal with a bit of nastiness. Apparently there are bad things happening at the venue where Led Zeppelin is playing. Richie finds Robert Plant (Zebedee Row) and they discuss what the problem is, and it’s money, money, money. Although, Richie tries his best to cool things off. Then he finds out things are worse than ever, as Zeppelin clearly ain’t happy with ACR. Loving the inclusion of some famous names. I dig Row’s portrayal of Plant, even if it’s only a brief couple moments. Short yet awesome scene watching Zeppelin from Richie’s perspective, as Plant dances around the stage and wails his beautiful voice, Jimmy Page (Harrison Cofer) rips the guitar. Still, Richie almost cries knowing the band is lost to them pretty much.
Headed to Greenwich Village, a driver takes Richie past a black neighbourhood. There he sees people dancing in the streets, music playing. He wants to know what the music is, who’s in charge. A gun gets pointed in his face and a man looks as if he appears to know Richie. But off goes the car and Richie’s left wide-eyed. He heads home and listens to a recording session, as he kicks back. He’s listening to Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) – we flash to where Richie is working at a bar, as Lester plays the guitar to pieces, singing onstage with a tight blues band jamming out a great tune. The history between these two is laid out, so that after a little while we can understand why Lester wasn’t too eager to have Richie stop off at the club where he and his people were enjoying themselves. Obviously Richie screwed him over. We’ll figure out more as the episodes run on.
The cocaine, the extravagant living, the staying out all night – it takes a toll. Richie gets a call from his wife at home, Devon Finestra (Olivia Wilde). He says when the deal finally goes through their relationship will get better, he’ll be home more and so on.
But right now he has more pressing issues at hand. Peter Grant (Ian Hart), of Led Zeppelin management, is flipping his lid at the ACR office. He isn’t happy about the Germand buying ACR, calling them “Nazi bastards” over and over. Naturally, we’re barely 40 years on from the Second World War in ’73, so some people, certainly the British, had issues with Germans even then. And Riche is pretty pissed, too. His team isn’t all pulling their weight, such as Scott Levitt (P.J. Byrne) who nearly faces the full wrath of Richie. But it all comes out ACR was leverage for a better deal.
Into the pictures comes Frank ‘Buck’ Rogers (Andrew Dice Clay), a radio station owner. A situation with Donny “fucking” Osmond pops up, which ends as Frank threatening to boycott the ACR label entirely; zero play on any of their albums. So Richie decides he’s got to take the reins, setting shifty deeds and above board promotions into motion. Zak, Scott and Skip are left holding all the shit. Mostly.
No good news from the boardroom either. Clark, Julie and the rest are pounded into the dirt by Richie, who isn’t happy with their performance. Sadly, Richie is not a great dude. He is very flawed, and seems to take his issues out on others. While cooking the books he comes down on his employees who are trying their hardest. Then Jamie seizes her moment saying she has a band she’ll be checking out, lying that she “saw the singer on the subway and liked his look“; we know where she found them, though. Richie doesn’t give her much credit all the same, calling her a “sandwich girl” when the actual title she holds is Assistant in A&R. Oh, the times!
Lester Grimes is going through the motions in a flashback to earlier times. Nobody wants blues, apparently. Richie and his boss Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor) suggest he record under another name – “Little” Jimmy Little – doing something other than blues. Later, he’ll be allowed to do the blues once those albums sell. What we’re seeing here is a more innocent, untouched Richie, whose time in the business has obviously altered who he is fundamentally. Also, it is the beginning of the end of the relationship between Lester.
Back to ’73. Jamie is down at a club listening to Kip and his band. They’re bombing, mostly due to people heckling, throwing bottles. Until Kip starts a fight and jumps into the crowd, throwing headbutts and punches galore. A riot nearly breaks out, as Kip and his guitar player crack unruly fans in the face with instruments. Later, Jamie beds Kip and tells him he needs to cultivate a “persona“, something akin to Iggy Pop or someone similar. Being hated by a crowd? Not the worst thing in the world. A visceral reaction is good in the rock world. Except Kip also has a heroin issue, so that might be the beginning of his end right there, too.
At a wild sex club of some sort, Richie meets with Buck who is a true piece of shit. The conversation is mostly Rogers talking and talking, yelling, cursing. I’ve got to say, Andrew Dice Clay does a solid job with the character; I didn’t know he had it in him. He does more than bring out the terrible side of Rogers, he actually makes a solid character out of it all. I never thought there’d be subtlety coming from Clay, yet there it is with him being both out of control and also contained at various times.
Flashback to the recording studio where Richie has Lester in the booth performing as “Little” Jimmy Little, doing a bunch of fluffy tunes that are clearly not his style. They’re using him to do a bunch of doo-wop sounding songs. Tragic to see an obviously talented man having to resort to doing what he doesn’t want to do. Not to mention there’ll be a fallout somewhere along the line between Lester and Richie. Seeing Richie paralleled from ’73 to his recent past is amazing, as we can tell he’s fallen a long way off. Also, maybe he’s getting what he deserves in the future. Karma is a real bitch.
In ’73, Richie’s being thrown a birthday party. He isn’t too keen on it, but he’s there for now. We do get a sense from Devon she was once a party girl, knowing Andy Warhol and that whole entourage. But she tells a friend: “My heart is full.” Riche also gets an amazing present from his friends – a guitar once owned by “The Originator himself“, a.k.a Bo Diddley (Kareem Bunton), who we see in a great sort of psychedelic scene playing away. Love the way this whole pilot episode is shot. It has typical Scorsese aspects, then a whole lot of throwback style filmmaking overall.
From his party, Richie is contacted by Joe Corso (Bo Dietl). He and Rogers are still up, two days straight, coked to the gills. Apparently Richie has to go and take care of things, right in the middle of a celebration.
Cut quick back to Lester – he is not happy getting no pay, as the records aren’t selling. Richie has a load of excuses, while Lester “just wants to sing” and he isn’t getting the deal they made “four years ago“. We hear talk of Richie starting his own label, taking Lester along for the ride. Is that what breaks them? Perhaps Lester never ever was taken with ACR. Seems very likely.
In ’73 again, Richie heads to Rogers’ place on Long Island. Buck is busy playing drums along with Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” on the stereo. The scene there is fairly hostile, as Buck is lit up high on cocaine, insulting Richie almost right off the bat. After a few minutes, out comes a gun, but Corso talks Buck down; seems he was just fooling around. But one thing leads to another and soon enough Buck lays a kiss on Richie, prompting a good punch. A fight breaks out and then Corso ends up cracking Buck over the head a couple times with a small award statue. Rogers bleeds out on the floor, his head split open. And now a terrifying situation takes hold of the two left behind. Buck ain’t dead yet, though. It takes another bit of beating until the job is finished completely; an impressive level of violence and a graphic couple head shots later.
After the body is dumped and rid of, Richie is back at the ACR office. He can’t particularly focus, as Jamie talks of Kip and his band, then his colleagues reveal the news of the Germans buying their label. But he says he doesn’t “feel so good“. Probably because he’s now a murderer, or at the very least a brutal accomplice to murder.
We cut to the past once more. Gold has money problems, which obviously affects Richie, Lester, and anyone else connected to the label for which they work. They’re in league with mobster Corrado Galasso (Armen Garo), who only wants the money he’s owed. Then Richie pipes up hoping to sell his shares of the label, which are worth more than he’ll sell for, and this interests Galasso. Richie further tries to get Lester out, but Galasso claims “he stays“. The money takes Richie away and clearly this is where he and Lester come apart at the seams. What ends up happening is that Lester gets roughed up hard by the mob after refusing to record shitty popular music, beaten with bats and kicked in the balls. Followed by his throat getting damaged horribly; likely a broken windpipe. It’s a devastating scene to watch.
Switch to Richie’s present time. He hears a story on the news about a body found with “blunt trauma to the head” and this sends shivers up his spine. Seeing his past intertwined with the present is a sad thing. Nearing the end of the episode, Richie has a confrontation with Devon, after his son sees him rocking around the room, obviously drunk, high, out of control, and playing the Bo Diddley guitar. She is unimpressed, as you can imagine: “Our life isn‘t enough for you,” Devon tells him in quiet anger. Before leaving she spits a mouthful of liquor in his face, and then he proceeds to smash the television with his new instrument.
The finale of the pilot brings us back to where the episode began, with Bobby high on coke and watching The New York Dolls. The show is so loud and wild that the ceiling is starting to crumble, the lights about to fall, yet Bobby continues rocking out hard alongside everyone else. Everything eventually collapses to the ground, as people flee; all a true story, slightly changed, but certainly it happened at The Mercer Arts Center in 1973. What a way to finish an episode, and the first at that.
We close on the demolished club, lights still flickering here and there. Amongst the rubble is Richie, covered in dust and debris, wood, everything. He emerges from the rocks and the ash, almost like he’s a phoenix rising out of the flames. He’s alive, he isn’t really injured. Could this event become a catalyst for a better Richie? Probably not, but I’m sure this is going to provide a great jumping off point.
Next episode is titled “Yesterday Once More” and after this premiere we go back to regular 50-55 minute episodes. At the same time, I loved this double length pilot. Excited for more wild 1970’s debauchery and rock n’ roll.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston. 2005. Directed & Written by Jeff Feuerzeig.
Starring Daniel Johnston, Laurie Allen, Brian Beattie, Louis Black, David Fair, Jad Fair, Don Goede, Matt Groening, Gibby Haynes, Sally Johnston Reid, Bill Johnston, Dick Johnston, Mabel Johnston, Margie Johnston, and Ken Lieck. Complex Corporation/This Is That Productions.
Rated PG-13. 110 minutes.
Documentaries are everywhere, on every sort of subject. Anything in the world you can think of, there’s probably a documentary on the subject. Certain documentary films interest me because of how I connect with them personally, others are just intriguing and interesting topics that will draw me in.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston is one of the former types. I’d never actually heard of Daniel Johnston before this movie. Other people I know had heard of him, but not me. Either way, I dove into this documentary because I knew that Johnston suffered from mental illness; that’s the single thing I knew of him. Identifying with him, as both a hopeful artist and a man trying to negotiate life with a severe form of depression, this film spoke to me. While I’m not a fan of all his songs, there are pieces of music here and there which really reach out to me. More than that, to see Johnston struggle through being an artist, growing up, living life, all the while battling manic depression desperately. There are moments you might find yourself grinding your teeth sitting there almost feeling the pain. Certain scenes are funny, lighthearted. A huge mixed bag here that collides into making one of the most personal, wrenching, devastatingly awesome documentaries about a musician you’re likely to ever see.
The most fascinating part about Daniel Johnston is the fact of his own rawness, his real and unabashed open qualities concerning his personality. At one point, on MTV no less during 1985, he tells the camera: “This is my album Hi, How Are You? and I was having a nervous breakdown when I recorded it.” He says it in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s hard not admire, or laugh, or smile. In just about every last scene where he’s talking, you find him divulging the most personal, inner secrets about the darkest corner of his life. And coupled with that, the way Daniel performs is different than anyone else I’ve ever seen. You can witness both the intensity of his musical ability, as well as his wildly nervous personality. He is visibly nervous each time a performance comes up, from his younger days to his later shows. Always there’s this fear inside him, which is actually endearing a lot of the time.
So it’s no surprise when, later, Daniel ends up having an actual serious breakdown. He becomes violent and crazy after experimenting with acid/LSD, which first began at a Butthole Surfers show. Slowly things deteriorate, as Daniel starts to get arrested, the police have altercations with him, he even causes disturbances in his family. Then there are various struggles. There were people who worked for him/with him, re: his career, who all tried their best to help him, whether that was committing him to a mental institution or getting him shows to play or whatever else could’ve been done. All the while throughout the history of Johnston, we’re seeing edits of him talking in various recordings (from dubbed tapes he did himself to video shot of him by others). It’s a strange conglomeration of things coming together to present his life to us. Best of all, even in the most intense, scariest moments of discussing Daniel and his condition, director Jeff Feuerzeig preserves a sense of respect and delicacy that shelters us from looking at Johnston like a freak. He isn’t, especially considering how mental illness is becoming less and less stigmatized today; this is a raw and honest look at someone’s struggle. But again, it doesn’t come off as “Look at how fucked up Daniel is“. There is a tenderness about the way Feuerzeig offers up glimpses of Daniel and his difficult life.
You’ll find it hard to deny the power of this documentary. No matter if you hate Johnston’s music, or if you think he’s a genius (I don’t think; I do find him an incredibly unique talent), if you have a heart beating in your chest and a soul deep down inside, this film will absolutely shake you. In the last 45 minutes or so, the devastating details come out. Such as the time Daniel thought he actually was Casper the Friendly Ghost, took the keys out of his father’s small plane in which they flying and tossed them out into the air, prompting his dad to make a crash landing. Luckily, they made it out of the situation with only minor injuries, but to think of what could’ve happened. It is a really frightening thought. That’s one of the turning points in the documentary, as not only do we realize the extent and depth of his illness, we also see a slight change in Daniel. Shortly afterwards, he starts to come down out of his religious fervor, his hallucinations and other similar delusions. He probably didn’t lose his faith. He just understood the gravity of his own condition. Today, he still struggles with issues of manic depression, but I feel after some of the more insane moments in his journey, there’s a part of him which accepts all of the ups and downs, in one big package. We go along that journey. Maybe in the end, the documentary’s biggest aspiration is to show people the mania inside music. Often people want the crazy, unstable musicians out there doing their thing and entertaining, but forget the human people inside these celebrities, inside the fame, deep down at the core. The humanity can’t ever be forgotten; this, if anything, is what Daniel Johnston and the film of his life has to teach.
This is a 5 star, flawless documentary. One of my favourites ever made. Because despite what you may feel concerning Daniel Johnston’s music, you cannot watch this without feeling something. To understand the mania and depression of others it’s necessary for people to be open, honest, willing to expose themselves to the world. It just so happens Johnston is one of the people willing to open himself up, like a living cadaver, and through this film he allows us a window into the damaged soul inside him. There are so many depressed and mentally ill people who could benefit from people coming out, talking of their own illnesses, their own struggles. We see so much of the devastation of unchecked mental illness in The Devil and Daniel Johnston, but in a roundabout way Daniel lets us understand how severe depression (or other similar mental afflictions) can be conquered: through love, honesty, openness, understanding, and yes, a dose of medication. There’s nothing ever glorious about this documentary, perhaps something which sets it apart from a lot of other biographical movies about musicians. Just remember – it isn’t all about the music, it is about the man. That is a point this film makes, over and over again. You may want all the madness that goes into the music, but don’t forget the men and women behind the music, their lives, what brings them to their talent and what gives us the unforgettable songs they’ve made.
Straight Outta Compton. 2015. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Screenplay by Andrea Berloff & Jonathan Herman; story by Andrew Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, & Alan Wenkus.
Starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Marlon Yates Jr., R. Marcos Taylor, Carra Patterson, Alexandrea Shipp, Paul Giamatti, Elena Goode, Keith Powers, Sheldon A. Smith, and Keith Stanfield. New Line Cinema.
Rated 18A. 147 minutes.
To start, I have to tell people – this is a long one. More than normal. That’s because I credit N.W.A – the most infamous rap group of all time, Niggaz Wit Attitudes – with having enough power, despite their own personal flaws, to open a white boy from Newfoundland, Canada’s eyes to the black experience of young men and women in inner city neighbourhoods, such as the titular Compton. So just stick with me: this review is a beast, but I have things to say, that need to be said concerning Straight Outta Compton.
There’s something truly unique about N.W.A and all the social aspects which surrounded the group’s beginnings, fame, and downfall. Now, while I don’t particularly condone everything these guys did – particularly I’m reminded of the all too absent Dee Barnes assault and other Dre assaults on women from the film – I do recognize how important this one group was in terms of rap and hip hop, as well as where the whole game ended up going after their arrival.
It’s funny how these guys from Compton, so immersed in the black experience, can speak to people of all colours, ages, creeds. Their revolution was one which spoke to many, but certainly most to the young black youth of America. Even white kids like me who grew up in the 1990s were interested in what these guys were doing. It’s because N.W.A, for all their faults, stood against the establishment, they were in the thick of the gang wars in Los Angeles, raging through Compton just about every day, and they spoke to their audience through anger, unrest, and they didn’t take any mess. They took plenty of constructive criticism, even more hatred and spewing of vitriol from people who saw them as a plague in music and society. For all the trashing, there were plenty of people in the streets and the audiences behind N.W.A and all for which they stood.
While I have plenty of love for the musical talents of N.W.A, I don’t necessarily feel like everything they were about made it onto the screen. I do admire a bit of F. Gary Gray’s work as a director, however, I don’t think this is one of the best in the end. Sure, it’s a decent combover on the history of N.W.A, as well as its individual members, but ultimately I don’t see enough of their rawness and the reality of all their faults AND successes in this story that’s being told. I do like Straight Outta Compton, but I can’t say it’s an incredible biopic. The actors do a FABULOUS job with their performances, both physically embodying their real life characters and even the voices, it’s simply not enough to carry this into the realm of a classic biopic. The work was put in, the movie looks good, sounds good, feels good, but the truth was left out at many important intervals in this story and that cannot let Straight Outta Compton stand completely upright on its own.
Beginning in 1987, Straight Outta Compton attempts to tell the tale of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Mc Ren, and DJ Yella (Arabian Prince seems to be left out completely unless I missed something) on their road towards becoming N.W.A – Niggaz Wit Attitudes – one of the biggest powerhouses in 20th century music, and one of the reasons rap/hip hop ended up becoming such a mainstay in society.
With their meagre beginnings, Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) is talked into investing some of his drug money into music by his DJ friend Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and aspiring rapper Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). From there, things take off: first Eazy gets on the mic and then the magic starts happening.
Once Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) becomes a part of the mix, the tensions rise, as he sets Eazy aside from the others slightly. As Dre and Eazy seem to be fine with most everything (MC Ren and Yella aren’t discussed too much in detail really), Ice Cube has problems with the way his finances are being treated, seeing as how he wrote many of the big hits for N.W.A starting out.
Straight Outta Compton documents the quick rise and the equally as quick fall from grace of N.W.A and the lives of each of its members.
An amazing scene comes around 40 minutes in, when N.W.A performs their first big show with producer Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) in attendance. He brings in a guy from a label who offers the guys a contract with them. The funniest of this is when they ask who he has on the label, to which he replies “The California Raisins“. There’s something so ironic and strange about this moment that I can’t help mention it. I think it goes to speak to how N.W.A was being sought after to be the next big thing; this label, only dealing with the Raisins so far, chomps at the bit to get them signed. I’m not sure if it was meant this way, however, I definitely feel like this was included for a reason. Maybe it’s the actual conversation, who knows, but I feel it speaks to part of the commercial craving a lot of producers were feeling as soon as they saw N.W.A, and similar groups/acts/et cetera. That’s an aspect to the story we can never forget – much as these were talented men trying hard to do their thing, they were also young and dumb and very naive, and part of that led to their exploitation on certain levels. To my mind, this California Raisins scene is part of that in a subtle sense.
Inarguably, a significant portion of Straight Outta Compton has to do with the police treatment of young black men in and around neighbourhoods like Compton. After Jerry Heller takes on N.W.A as a group and they’re recording, a scene comes which shows how prejudiced the Los Angeles police were especially in the late ’80s and early ’90s towards black people. As the group hangs outside the recording studio eating burgers and drinking their sodas, two cop cars pull up and start to harass them all. Even a black police officer is the first out, yet still they’re there to sweat these guys; a very telling moment.
What I find best about this scene is how Heller witnesses everything going down. He storms out and reprimands the officers, stating that they can’t simply harass people because they’re black. While we know this goes on, I think having Heller so worked up about the treatment N.W.A receives at the curb while merely standing around innocently and eating lunch speaks VOLUMES. He’s probably discovering, for the first time, this type of situation happens and the police – who are meant to protect and serve – are some of the most racist, prejudiced people on the streets. There are plenty of scenes in the film about this prejudice, I found this one to be one of the most important, as we see the white guy realize how devastating the lives of black people can be when confronted with these young black men being treated like garbage.
Later, we’re treated to a scene where N.W.A, along with Heller, watch a news report on the police brutality Rodney King suffered in 1991. This is an important moment because we can see how emotionally affected each member is, while the only white guy present, Heller, simply thinks they need to keep working; it’s not that he’s rude about it, he simply does not understand or feel the news in the same way as the group.
Even though I don’t feel as if the full truth about N.W.A comes out in Straight Outta Compton, there are absolutely a few scenes where we get a broader view of these guys than simply “Oh they’re revolutionary black musicians”. They certainly were, but they were and are still people; these are human beings.
One in particular I found brutally honest was in the hotel, as Dre opens his room’s door to a man looking for his girlfriend; a woman who is clearly in the room. From a door out of the room a little ways down, Eazy and the boys come out holding guns, chasing the guys off. So a lot of people might watch this and immaturely think “Those guys are badass”, this is not something cool. At all. I mean, sure that girl was cheating on her man, but then Dre and Eazy act like it’s stupid that this guy might come and threaten them? C’mon. This just goes to show how rough and hypocritical these guys could be at any given time. While they often fought the good fight, there were plenty of times they did some nasty downright horrible shit, whether together or individually. This hotel scene is one such instance.
There’s also part of me believes, were Eazy-E still alive, this would’ve been a completely different film. First of all, we’re not given as much of Eazy as you might believe while watching. Even with the opening sequence centred around Eric “Eazy-E” Wright in his element, dealing drugs and surviving on the streets, there’s surprisingly little in regards to the actual character, the real life person he was and became. There’s such a glossed over history of N.W.A in Straight Outta Compton that it doesn’t really surprise me Gray’s film ignores largely much of Eazy and his own personal history.
It’s not only Eazy. Seems to me the script Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman came up with wanted to focus on the ideas producers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre felt the spotlight should be on. I get it – Dre and Cube both don’t want their misogyny on the big screen. So first off, there’s the fact they’ve omitted Dee Barnes (and others) significantly. Instead, we get the idea Dre has always only ever been a respectful man towards women – concerned with caring for his family and helping his mother. Maybe that’s partly true, but doesn’t change the fact he’s had a history of violence towards women.
On the other hand, we get little bits of Cube being violent to quell any worries there might be a bias. So we watch him smash up an office building when he’s not getting the money he is owed – y’know, instead of legal recourse. This doesn’t do anything but discredit Cube and the methods these guys used in order to solve their problems. I get it, I know a lot of guys like them who grew up rough and had trouble with the police sometimes for NO reason. That doesn’t change the fact some of the things Cube and the rest of N.W.A do are downright immature, childish, and violent. Still, while we get these little scenes there’s a lot we’re not shown, and for good reason.
People can come to terms with a bit of violent nature when it comes to Cube getting what he’s owed, they’d probably be WAY LESS willing to put aside Dre and his disrespect for women – certainly more so now than back in the ’80s or ’90s, post-Chris Brown and an overall societal awakening to the rampant abuse women face.
We get good looks at Suge Knight, but again, he’s another character who we don’t get to see the full truth about. Yes, there’s plenty of evidence here suggesting Knight’s rough, more violent approach to business with Death Row Records. What we don’t get is a broad spectrum to show how dangerous the man is, merely there are typical scenes we’d expect – there’s no range in Suge, at all. Not saying he’s a complicated man; here, though, he is downright one-dimensional. He’s like the big villain, the bad guy. And he is villainous in real life. To me, the problem is this feels like the CliffNotes version of the Suge Knight subplot in the overall greater story of N.W.A. There’s no real introduction to Suge as much as the other major players in the story; he simply shows up in the life of Dre and becomes a presence.
Meanwhile, the other big baddie is Jerry Heller. He gets more play and we see more about him as a person, as a character, instead of merely being a negative entity in the world of N.W.A in the sense Suge is displayed. He’s not particularly likeable all the time, though, he’s afforded more characterization as that villainous entity than Suge Knight, which I think is unfair; Suge doesn’t deserve much, however, they might as well give him more time seeing as how he played such a destructive force in Dre’s career and the final dismantling of N.W.A.
Above all, the film opts to go more for all the interpersonal drama between Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, as well as Eazy-E and the others, instead of taking more time to focus on the individual lives of each member. We get small slivers, it seems like most of that is relegated to the respective N.W.A members with their wives – we don’t ever see much of the stepping out, the cheating, we don’t watch Eazy-E do much sleeping around (other than one brief reference as he tells Jerry he’s about to go have a bunch of sex).
So while there are great moments in this script – think the whole angle of including the Watts Riots after Rodney King’s assaulters, the police, were not indicted for their crimes – I can’t say that Straight Outta Compton is solid. Not in any way. There’s never enough focus on the right aspects, there isn’t enough of the REALNESS, the RAW GRITTY story behind N.W.A.
Instead we’re treated to a bunch of half-assed looks at some of the people surrounding Dre, Cube, and the rest. For instance, Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) shows up in a couple scenes; mostly it’s an excuse to have someone imitate Snoop, well enough, but there’s nothing interesting here except hearing them come up “Gin and Juice”. Then Marcc Rose shows up playing Tupac Shakur, if only for a scene; plus they’ve got someone else voicing him. I mean, why even bother? It serves no purpose in the end here to include Snoop and Tupac, or anyone else, that’s not an integral part to the story. They’re simply little add-ons not given enough time to do anything but show up. I thought this was beyond lazy.
One thing I did not like is how the director felt the need to spoon feed us with the names of each character. Do you really think N.W.A fans can’t figure out which one is Eazy, Ren, Dre, Cube, Yella? I mean, sure, it gives the film a little style having their names pop up next to them, but to me it’s annoying. F. Gary Gray, did you have to put Dre’s name up while we’re watching him with the headphones on, listening to a beautiful song, almost conducting with his fingers as he listens? You think we couldn’t have figured that out on our own? Not to mention the fact each of the N.W.A cast members looks like who they’re playing. There’s no need at all to tell us “THIS IS DRE THIS IS EAZY” and so on. Overkill in my mind. Too heavy handed a technique for me, especially in a biopic; dumb move. It’s fine to put the dates up, things like that, I just can’t see any reason to label each character when it’s SO CLEAR who they are at all times.
In the end, I can only give this movie a 2.5 star rating. There’s no way I can go higher. Simply put, the fact Ice Cube and Dr. Dre produced this film, and from what I gather worked on it closely from many angles, really damaged the end product. Part of that ended up in a lot of things being omitted: no mention of Dee Barnes or Dre’s other violent encounters with women, Eazy-E’s battle with AIDS is reduced to an endnote in the final 20 minutes (most of which is precipitated by lots of coughing instead of a real focus on how promiscuous Wright was through his career), Suge Knight is a one-dimensional villain, and overall none of the individual stories surrounding N.W.A are treated with care or shown in great detail.
While I love N.W.A, their music and parts of their legacy, I feel they’re most definitely a conflicted group in terms of how fans and others look at them. F. Gary Gray had an unreal opportunity with Straight Outta Compton, but it’s mostly all squandered in lieu of trying to draw out the emotions of fans by focusing on the drama of the beef between Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and so on. Even further, MC Ren and DJ Yella (as well as Arabian Prince who was a part of the group for a short time) are almost non-existent, other than a few choice scenes where they’re heard speaking. So it’s a shame all around. There’s not enough to justify this as some great biopic.
In reality, Straight Outta Compton does not live up to the hype, in any way, shape, or form. I’d go so far as to say I’ll probably never watch this again. Not worth the price of admission whatsoever, certainly not for a true fan. I’m actually sad and letdown by this film’s failure to live up to what I’d expected. Silly me, though. As soon as I learned Dre and Cube produced this, I knew there would be trouble. When the story is told by those who lived it, especially if there are tough and at times disturbing nuances, we’re not always granted the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Ever watch a documentary that pissed you off? Well, here's another one.