Friday, January 24, 2014

CBGB Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Scott Meyers
CBGB looks at New York’s dynamic punk rock scene through the lens of the ground-breaking Lower East Side club started by eccentric Hilly Kristal in 1973 originally as a home for “country, bluegrass and blues” (thus the club’s name) and which showcased cutting-edge bands through its closing in 2006. The Talking Heads, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Blondie, The Dead Boys, Bad Brains, Green Day, Soul Asylum, The Police, Bruce Springsteen, Everclear, George Thorogood, The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, The Black Crowes, The Flaming Lips, The Goo Goo Dolls, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The B-52s, The Runaways, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Tool and The Wallflowers are just some of the thousands of bands that played the club over the years.
Film (3 out of 5 stars)

CBGB looks at the historical club that so many bands got their start in, from The Ramones and Blondie to The Goo Goo Dolls and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The whole movie is centered around the owner of the club, Hilly Kristal (played by Alan Rickman), and his struggles with wanting to create a place that was for "country, bluegrass, and blue" which is where the clubs name came from but found that in that part of New York underground punk music was what was growing in popularity. The movie covers a large part of Hilly's life with the start of the film beginning when he is a toddler who likes to sneak out of his crib and then skips forward to him going bankrupt (for the second time).  It's at that point that he discovers a bar while wandering the streets of New York that captures his interest.

Once he opens the bar, he decides to highlight the local musicians. It quickly becomes apparent that his financial skills are very lacking and that he cannot turn anyone away, even if they don't have money for cover charge or to pay their tab. To make matters worse, Hilly decides to manage one of the groups that plays his club, The Dead Boys, and ends up spending all his money, which he keeps in his freezer, to try and make them a success only to basically fails in the end. The band only lasted a few years yet Hilly never gave up on them.  Hilly did whatever he could for those bands, from paying for everything to try and give them their big break to giving them his delivery truck for the groups to take it on tour, because he truly believed in them. 

While watching the movie, the thought that kept coming back into my head was 'it would have been exciting to be in a place like the CBGB during it's prime and there probably will never be a place like it ever again'. Some parts of the movie did not seem to add to the story, but instead it seemed like they were added for no apparent reason. Another aspect of the movie that was offsetting was the transitions between scenes as they had a cartoonish feel to them that did not seem to belong in this movie.  Not knowing much about the history of the club I found the movie very interesting and enjoyable to watch and it reminded me of all the stories of the struggling rock groups and that they would do anything to get their big break. 
Video (3 out of 5 stars)

Presented in 1080p with aspect ratio of 2.39:1, this presentation looks decent but the overall look of the film could have been better.  While the atmosphere looks and feels like it was right out of the 70's, the image shouldn't look like it.  I am sure that the production did that on purpose for aesthetic reasons, but to me if you are going to watch something on Blu-ray then it should look like a high quality film, and this was not quite there for me.  Despite the film's grainy appearance, the image itself looks clean and offers a decent amount of detail.  Colors are varied and distinct and the black levels are mostly solid but not as inky as they could have been.  Flesh tones look natural and appealing throughout the movie.
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)

CBGB's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is excellent and it does a great job of delivering the music that the bands played in a way that it made me feel like I was right there in the club watching it live. The effects that were added were very minimal in that the only added effects were the music and performances by the bands. The blend of the dialogue to the music was very clean; it never seemed like the music overpowered the dialogue or that the dialogue was too loud to mix with the music.
Extras (2 out of 5 stars)

I was really hoping for more extras than this and what has been included on this release is very brief.
  • Commentary - This audio commentary is delivered by Randall Miller, Jody Savin, and Brad Rosenberger who talk about the making of the film and what lengths they went to to make their replica of CBGB look authentic.  They let us know some of the little things that you might have missed watching the film the first time.
  • Outtakes - Over 2 minutes of outtakes of some of the cast repeating some of the same lines over and over.
  • Deleted Scenes - "Hilly Is Pissed at Dead Boys," "Has It Out with Merv," and "Cheetah Flips the Bird!" 
Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

CBGB offers a good historical look at one of music's famous beginnings. While the acting in the movie is not the strongest, the film does a good job portraying that period of musical history and bringing it to life in authentic way.  Seeing what Hilly was able to do it is a shame that he is no longer with us and that CBGB itself has closed as well. If you are into music this movie is worth watching and if you are not really into music this movie will definitely spark some interest in music and make you want to find out more. I would have like to see more of the bands that came through the club, the movie seemed to start out that way and then took a turn to Hilly working with The Dead Boys; this was an iconic club and time for music and the movie seemed to skim the surface of this. The Blu-ray offers some decent video and audio quality but the extras are lacking.  Overall, CBGB was an enjoyable movie and worth watching.

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