Film Review: House Party (1990)

Release Date: March 9th, 1990
Directed by: Reginald Hudlin
Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Music by: Lenny White, Marcus Miller
Cast: Kid ‘n Play (Christopher “Kid” Reid, Christopher “Play” Martin), Full Force (“Paul Anthony” George, Lucien “Bowlegged Lou” George Jr., Brian “B-Fine” George), Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, Groove B. Chill (Gene “Groove” Allen, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell), Kelly Jo Minter, John Witherspoon, Clifton Powell, George Clinton

New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes


I loved this film the moment I saw it for the first time when it debuted on premium cable, a year after it hit theaters. I had already been a Kid ‘n Play fan at that point but this immortalized them as cool, as far as I was concerned at twelve years-old.

House Party benefits from having an all-star cast before these actors were really all-star players.

Robin Harris is probably the biggest name and he was well-known for his stand-up comedy but he really had some great moments in this that brought him to a higher level. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after this film came out and didn’t get to reap whatever benefits would have came from the success this film had.

House Party also features Martin Lawrence, just on the cusp of his superstardom, as well as John Witherspoon, Tisha Campbell, Clifton Powell, Kelly Jo Minter and musicians George Clinton, Full Force and Groove B. Chill.

The picture was originally intended to be a vehicle for DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (Jeff Townes and Will Smith) but Kid ‘n Play got the project. This could have been due to Smith’s big sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air creating a conflict.

With high school teen sex comedies being all the rage in the 1980s, House Party follows suit but gives us a film from the African-American perspective. Ultimately, there isn’t much of a difference other than the added hip-hop flair, which by 1990 was a welcome change following a decade of high school comedies scored to new wave pop music.

The film was critically acclaimed. Roger Ebert loved the film stating, “House Party is a light, entertaining teen comedy with an infectious energy.”

House Party is a great movie for its type. It gives something fresh to its genre and helped pave the way for a lot of up and coming talent. Additionally, it opened doors for black filmmakers, who would really make an impact on cinema throughout the 1990s. House Party was an African-American comedy that really went mainstream and helped in creating a shift in American entertainment, at the time.

Film Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

Release Date: August 24th, 1979
Directed by: Allan Arkush
Written by: Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch, Joseph McBride, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante
Music by: The Ramones
Cast: P.J. Soles, Dey Young, Vince Van Patten, Clint Howard, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Don Steele, The Ramones

New World Pictures, 93 Minutes


Roger Corman always liked to capitalize on whatever pop culture trends came along. Initially, he wanted to make a film called Disco High School. However, with the end of the film being capped off by the high school exploding behind dancing students, one of his collaborators said that the ending would fit much better with rock and roll. Corman agreed and after being pointed in the direction of punk rock legends The Ramones by Paul Bartel, a regular Corman collaborator, the rest is history.

Rock & Roll High School isn’t a good film but it is a ridiculous and fun motion picture that features the great tunes of The Ramones and the insane and infectious enthusiasm of its star, P.J. Soles.

The film also stars the always great Mary Woronov as the villainous principal and Paul Bartel as a music teacher that converts to a fan of The Ramones after getting doped up at a concert. We also get a good cameo by Dick Miller and get to enjoy a few scenes with the enigmatic and entertaining Don Steele. A young Clint Howard is also in this.

This movie is mostly a high school teen sex comedy with a heavy emphasis on The Ramones music. It isn’t quite a musical but it plays like one at times. The Ramones have a lengthy concert segment within the film but outside of that, we see P.J. Soles lead a group of girls singing in gym class, as well as the big finale which sees the students and The Ramones march through the school halls as they trash the place to the horror of the administration, their parents and the police outside.

Rock & Roll High School is highly entertaining but probably only for those who love the actors involved or who have a love for The Ramones. I’m not sure how it would resonate for others. It’s definitely a movie that is still well regarded by many because of its ties to punk music, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, P.J. Soles and because it has a massive nostalgia factor.

Film Review: Cool as Ice (1991)

Release Date: October 18th, 1991
Directed by: David Kellogg
Written by: David Stenn
Music by: Stanley Clarke
Cast: Vanilla Ice, Kristin Minter, Michael Gross, Deezer D, Naomi Campbell

Universal Pictures, 91 Minutes


I remember seeing the trailer for this thing when I was a middle school aged kid sitting in a theater waiting for something better to start. Granted, I don’t remember what that film was but it certainly wasn’t Cool as Ice.

I remember people telling me how shitty this film was. I never had the urge to see it and I was never a fan of Vanilla Ice. I was listening to N.W.A., Ice Cube, Public Enemy and a lot of thrash metal at the time.

Because of my influences, I thought Vanilla Ice was just some cream puff wannabe. Besides, how could he possibly top his performance of “Go, Ninja! Go, Ninja! Go!” in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.

Then I noticed that there was a RiffTrax version of the movie streaming for free for Amazon Prime members. I thought, “What the hell, why not? It’s only an hour and a half and I can listen to those guys riff anything.”

I’m glad that I watched the movie. Is it bad? Oh, yes. It is straight 90s cheese of the worst kind and looking at this thing in 2017 re-familiarizes me with the worst things pop culture had to offer at the time. I’m not knocking Vanilla Ice per se, I am knocking the film in its style, its tone, its dialogue, its acting and its plot.

The story sees a wannabe bad ass with a heart of shit roll into a small town with his homies on their obnoxiously 90s motorcycles. One of the bikes breaks down and Vanilla Ice is stuck in Boringsville, U.S.A. He falls for some preppy brainy white chick and steals her personal notebook because he’s obviously a creep. However, it turns the girl on but not as much as Ice forcing her to dance and then pressing her to the floor as he gyrates on top of her in front of the whole town. Her boyfriend gets angry. Ice and the boyfriend have some fight and creeper Vanilla breaks the guys nose but he’s a douche too so my only concern is that the girl has really shitty taste in fellas. Michael Gross from Family Ties plays the girl’s dad and he’s not a super bad ass like he is in Tremors. In the end, I guess Vanilla Ice is okay though, as he saves the girl’s weirdo little brother from the crooked cops that kidnapped him.

The majority of the film is just there to show how cool Vanilla Ice is. His coolness is quite dated however and one has to question, how was he cool in the first place? I guess by the time that this film came out, it was already too late for Ice, as it was a financial and critical failure. It didn’t even cover a quarter of its small budget during its theatrical run. The director has also since disowned the movie.

Some good came out if it however, as the director of photography Janusz Kamiński would go on to be the cinematographer on Schindler’s ListSaving Private Ryan and Minority Report. And honestly, Cool as Ice had some good visual elements.

Unfortunately, a big bulk of the film was made up of pointless musical montages of Ice riding his motorcycle through the desert or posing like a lazy model on a couch that looked like it was stolen from the Max on Saved by the Bell.

Cool as Ice, however, is strangely entertaining. Obviously not in the way that was intended but there is a quaint cuteness to it. For a film deeply submerged in its own flaws, somehow a bit of heart does come through. Just a bit, though.

Also, the music isn’t horrible. Ice’s songs aren’t very good but the rest of the soundtrack is made up of new jack swing tunes that fit the movie’s era. I’ve always liked new jack swing, so I was cool with the overall use of music in the picture.

I don’t hate Cool as Ice, as many before me do. It’s a bad and strange film but it is a great time capsule for an era that I’m glad to see is several decades behind us now. Not that today’s pop culture is any better, though. Eh… maybe Vanilla Ice wasn’t so bad.

Documentary Review: House of the Rising Punk (1998)

Release Date: November 11th, 2008
Directed by: Christoph Dreher
Music by: various artists featured in the film

CLA, 60 Minutes


House of the Rising Punk is a German documentary about punk music, primarily in America but they do cover Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols, albeit from an American point-of-view. And even though it is German, the documentary is completely in English with a few German subtitles here and there. It is also available for free on Amazon Video if you have a Prime account.

For a one hour film, it covers a lot. It interviews several of the musicians and other people involved in and around the scene.

The film examines Richard Hell and his bands Television and the Voidoids, as well as the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, Alan Vega and Martin’s Rev’s Suicide and others.

It is pretty comprehensive for its running time. Sure, a lot is left out and the story is so broad it couldn’t even be covered in a one hour documentary but this is still a highly informative and compelling watch.

The highlight of the whole thing for me was hearing Dee Dee Ramone talk about the history of punk from his personal experience. It was also cool to see Richard Hell telling his story and Jim Jarmusch adding in his two cents. It also explained how Patti Smith’s unique style came to be.

House of the Rising Punk is a quick but meaty look into American punk and how it shaped pop culture.

Documentary Review: Vinylmania – When Life Runs at 33 Revolutions per Minute (2012)

Release Date: May 7th, 2012 (Finland)
Directed by: Jason Blackmore

Django Productions, Stefilm International, 75 Minutes


Being a vinyl collector myself, I figured that I would check out Vinylmania – When Life Runs at 33 Revolutions per Minute – especially since it was streaming for free with my Amazon Prime account.

The film was well put together and well edited. It expresses the filmmaker’s love of vinyl records and it paints a very romantic picture of these old school music discs.

Vinylmania tells the history of vinyl throughout the ages and how it has stood the test of time, even though CDs came along and inspired people to update their collections and dispose of their old records. Of course, it shows how things have come full circle and how many regret tossing out their old albums, as vinyl’s popularity is growing once again.

The documentary interviews a lot of collectors, musicians and just general vinyl record aficionados. It is an intimate picture and even if vinyl records aren’t your thing, although I have no idea why they wouldn’t be, the film at least makes you appreciate them.

Overall, its a decent, quick documentary and it was fun listening to other people’s love of the no longer dead format.

Documentary Review: Mayor of the Sunset Strip (2003)

Release Date: June 17th, 2003 (Los Angeles Film Festival)
Directed by: George Hickenlooper
Music by: Anthony Marinelli, various artists featured in the film

Lakeshore Entertainment, First Look Studios, 94 Minutes


Rodney Bingenheimer should be a rock god. No, he isn’t a musician, at least not in the sense that he is known for picking up an instrument or singing to crowds of thousands, but he is a legendary DJ and instrumental in discovering a multitude of rock legends.

Bingenheimer isn’t a rock god, however. He is beloved by many icons in the music industry and is a friend to nearly everyone but mainstream knowledge of him isn’t as widespread as one would think, considering his contributions to pop culture.

Mayor of the Sunset Strip examines this and it also examines the personal life of Bingenheimer.

The film interviews several of the legends and friends who have all reached success because of Bingenheimer’s ear for great music. Bingenheimer, in many cases, was the first DJ to give radio play to so many of these great bands. He also had serious charisma and a great personality, which helped him evolve from a groupie to a man that shaped the future of rock and roll.

It is hard to believe that he isn’t a household name outside of L.A. or to hardcore rock aficionados. Maybe it is because he is a small, sweet man and off the air is very reserved and shy. The film does paint a picture of a man who is soft and kind but maybe that is its agenda. He seemed uncomfortable around the cameras documenting his life and not too keen on revealing too much about his childhood and personal relationships. One gets the feeling that there is a lot of pain there.

Mayor of the Sunset Strip is thoroughly enjoyable but it does leave you feeling sorry for Bingenheimer in regards to his lack of fame and his seemingly nonexistent love life. It leaves you thinking that he is a man that hides behind his own legend and maybe he just isn’t comfortable with the spotlight so he never just grabbed it.

Rodney Bingenheimer loves music. He was able to turn that love into something monolithic.

In the end, he should be looked at on the same level as Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Paul McCartney but from what I can tell, he probably really doesn’t want to be.

If you love rock and roll and especially music history, Mayor of the Sunset Strip should be required viewing. I knew of Bingenheimer before the film but it made me really appreciate his contributions to music even more.

Documentary Review: Salad Days – 1980-1990: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC (2014)

Release Date: December 19th, 2014
Directed by: Scott Crawford
Music by: Michael Hampton, various artists featured in the film

MVD Entertainment Group, 103 Minutes


Salad Days is a documentary I found on Amazon Video. If you’re a fan of the DC hardcore punk scene from the early 80s, you should find this pretty interesting.

The film interviews countless people who were either in the scene or who were effected by it in one way or another. You hear from Henry Rollins of Black Flag, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Nirvana and even some commentary from Fred Armisen. There are actually so many people involved in this picture, it is hard to recollect them all.

Lots of bands and artists talk about the scene and the culture born from the scene. The documentary also covers what it was like for the DC punk kids who frequented the Georgetown area of town and what hardships they faced from those who hated them.

Salad Days features a ton of music and shows some of the most memorable performances of the day. You get an intimate looks at Bad Brains, Black Flag and so many others. You also get to see how the genre evolved as new bands came in to shake things up throughout the 80s.

One cool thing about the film is that it allows for contradictory points-of-view and doesn’t try to push forth its own predetermined agenda. This is most apparent when they get to talking about the history of the scene as well as the birth of straight edge and emo.

There are a lot of rock documentaries out there but from a quality and storytelling standpoint, this is one of the best in recent years.