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Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/31/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/16/2013
I don't like to repeat myself, but this review is going to bring up some issues which we've discussed in the past. CBGB is a docudrama which examines a singularly unique story in the history of American music, but as a movie, it contains some themes and issues which we've run into in the past.
As CBGB opens, Hillel "Hilly" Kristal (Alan Rickman) is going through his second bankruptcy which was the result of a failed nightclub. On the way home from his hearing, he stops at a bar in the Bowery of New York City and decides to buy it. With the help of his friend, Merv (Donal Logue), Hilly opens the bar, which he hopes will be a forum for country music. Hence, he names the establishments CBGB - Country, Bluegrass, & Blues. However, the first band which wants to play in the bar is Television, managed by Terry Ork (Johnny Galecki), who play new wave rock. Following this, CBGB begins to attract other new rock and punk acts, such as Blondie and Talking Heads. Despite the fact that the bar is typically packed, Hilly has no skills as a businessman, so his daughter, Lisa (Ashley Greene), takes over the books. Meanwhile, Hilly decides that he wants to manage a band of lunatics called The Dead Boys. Given Hilly's lack of focus, will CBGB be able to stay open?
OK, let's trot out some of those aforementioned familiar topics. When it comes to docudramas or biopics, I'm a bit of a tough customer. Those which offer topics of which I'm truly interested are few and far between, so the movie had better be well-made and engaging. But, I was very interested in the story of CBGB. I'm a long-time fan of alternative rock, but I'm not as versed in punk and 70's alt-rock history as I would like to be. I'd heard of most of the acts featured in CBGB, but I didn't know much about how they got started. In addition, I'd never gotten around to learning what "CBGB", and it's subheading "OMFUG" meant, so that part of the film was interesting.
The other topic revived by CBGB is my belief that all docu-dramas and biopics must have either "Pop-up Video" factoids or an extra feature which further explores the topic. Why? Because there's nothing worse than watching a movie which is a dramatization of a real-life event and wondering if a certain scene was actually true or something which was created or embellished for the film. CBGB definitely falls into this category. The film informs us at the outset that it's "mostly true", so we are left to wonder just how faithful some of the more outrageous moments are...and there are a lot of outrageous moments here. The film loses credibility when Iggy Pop (Taylor Hawkins) appears in the film and an end credit informs us "...we know that Iggy Pop never played at CBGB... Just deal with it." This seems like an odd move.
And that sentiment describes most of CBGB. Co-writer/Director Randall Miller and Jody Savin, who have made an odd assortment of films in the past, have taken a scattershot approach to the material here. In reality, the story of Hilly Krystal is a fascinating one, as he basically backed into creating of the most famous rock venues in the world. The tale would have worked on its own even with a minimalist approach. But, Miller has decided to bookend many scenes with comic-book panels. Why? How is this story remotely related to comic books. Next, they have attempted to include as many peripheral famous characters as possible, even when it stymies the story. Every time the story of Hilly and the club begins to pick up steam, the movie then insists on focusing on the denizens of the bars who would go on to do other things, such as director Mary Harron (Ahna O'Reilly) or Punk magazine creator John Holmstrom (Josh Zuckerman). It is interesting that a diverse group frequented the club? Sure, but the movie could have brought this in without diverting from the central tale.
That issue aside, CBGB does manage to get Hilly's story across. Most of this comes from Rickman's masterful performance. Sporting what looks like Danny McBride's hair and delivering lines with an odd accent, Rickman earns his top billing, as he's in nearly every scene of the film. He gives that sort of disconnected performance that only he can, and he does a great job of demonstrating how Hilly wasn't impressed by or scared of the odd characters who came into the club. It's also fun to spot the familiar actors who are portraying famous (or infamous) musicians. (Although, I gotta' tell ya', Rupert "Ron Weasley" Grint was freaking me out as a member of The Dead Boys.) Did a learn a nice assortment of things from CBGB? Yes, but I still feel that a different approach to the story could have made this film as essential as its namesake.
CBGB appeared to be a very unsanitary place on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of XLRator Media. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 23 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing little grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or light. The level of detail is good, as we can see textures on objects, while the depth is adequate. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. (Although, the bitrate jumps around a lot and is never consistent.) The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As one wuold hope, the music (which appears to be the original recordings), sounds very good and fills the speakers. The stereo effects are good, and we get some nicely detailed surround effects when the club is full.
The CBGB Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director/Producer Randall Miller, Writer/Producer Jody Savin, and Producer Brad Rosenberger. The Disc contains two DELETED SCENES which run about 3 minutes. Both deal with The Dead Boys' bad behavior. The final extra is a 3-minute reel of OUTTAKES, some of which are bloopers and some of which show on-set issues and effects.
Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long