Thursday, February 18, 2016

Warped VINYL

The two-hour premier of HBO’s new mini-series VINYL played like a K-TEL version of Martin Scorsese’s Greatest Hits. You had the New York “I’m walkin’ heah” street gunsels, you had cocaine, you had the ‘70s, a dead body in a trunk, period dress, sleazy Times Square marquees, rich decadent assholes, private jets, champagne, busted knees, and a rock n’ roll soundtrack any lounge lizard with a Plato’s Retreat membership card would be proud to play for a whore he picked up thinking she was a farm girl from Ohio.

The production values were excellent (duh!). All that was missing was Superfly hats, goldfish in platform shoe heels, disco balls, and pet rocks.

If you like the hits of the ‘70s, then this show is for you. Listen to the ‘70s channel on Sirius/XM. What a great time for music. You’ll hear a Led Zeppelin record going into “Sweet and Innocent” by Donny Osmond, followed by “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter then “You’re Having My Baby” by Paul Anka, topped off with “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” and “Aqualung.” 

My problem was there was nothing in the two hours that was new. And hadn’t been done better elsewhere (in many cases by Scorsese himself). There are a lot of drugs in the music industry. Record companies rip off artists. There are wild parties. Rock stars are divas. There’s an ugly side to the record industry. Oh… sorry… SPOILER ALERT.

Somehow BOOGIE NIGHTS managed to give everyone the same leather jackets and sideburns, the same cocaine and exploitation of talent but still turn out a film that was loaded with original characters, fresh ideas, and startling revelations. VINYL was all the scenes they cut from GOODFELLAS, MEAN STREETS, and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.  And there's one entire sequence they practically lifted from BOOGIE NIGHTS (and Alfred Molina did it better). 

I’m assuming there was a lot of authenticity. Mick Jagger is one of the executive producers (which probably means he went to two meetings, read an outline, and collected a fortune).   But the entire pilot plot hinges on a complete absurdity.  Andrew Dice Clay is supposed to be an owner of a major chain of radio stations and is banning Bobby Cannavale's record label over some slight.  A) No station would ban an entire record label.  Radio was highly competitive then and a station would be shooting itself in the foot if it didn't play hits, even if they came from the Hitler label.   And B), by 1973 all the top rock stations in the country were owned by large corporations.  The three biggies in LA: KHJ (RKO General), KMET (Metromedia), and KLOS (ABC).   In NY: WABC (ABC), WNEW-FM (Metromedia), WPLJ (ABC). 

I was very excited to see this show. But it’s like a friend telling you there is this amazing steak restaurant, and you can’t wait to go there, and then find out it’s the Sizzler.

On the plus side, Bobby Cannavale is terrific. Andrew Dice Clay is surprisingly convincing as an obnoxious New York asshole, and Ray Romano has turned into a real actor. Not a lot of great women’s parts so far. Olivia Wilde as the wet blanket wife, and Juno Temple as the drug dealing topless sandwich girl.

To be fair, this was only the debut. Maybe future episodes will get better. Maybe they’ll expose a side of the industry I haven’t seen as recently as last week on EMPIRE. Or maybe by week seven we’ll just see a mash-up of the lost scenes from HUGO, THE AVIATOR, and THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.

Still, I’m going to hang in there for now (out of respect for Martin Scorsese, Bobby Cannavale, and the decade that brought us string art). But there better be some hits in the next couple of new releases.

23 comments:

Jon88 said...

Linguistic trivia: When Hammett called Joel Cairo a "gunsel," he didn't mean "gunman." That meaning accrued from a universal misunderstanding of the actual meaning, which is basically "homosexual."

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Agreed. It was an enjoyable two hour pilot, but definitely unoriginal and derivative. Great soundtrack nonetheless. Good comparison to Boogie Nights. It definitely shows you can create something new and original out of well trodden ground.

Hollywoodaholic said...

I admit to being mainstream, but when I think of music in 1973, I'm thinking Elton John, Wings, Cat Stevens, REO Speedwagon, etc. - music I actually HEARD on the radio. Artists that actually SOLD lots of vinyl. I get that this show is proposing New York was way ahead of the game in embracing punk music, but is that anything to brag about or build a show about? And with Bobby Cannavale constantly staring in dumbstruck awe? Yeah, this one left me feeling nothing.

Stan said...

Might have to watch just for the fantastic Cannivale and for Romano. Have to agree with you about Ray Romano, he always seemed the best actor of the stand-ups who got a series, and then I was really impressed with his dramatic acting on the under-rated "Men of A Certain Age" series he helped create.

Stephen Marks said...

"Hitler label", LOL, Mein Sharona. Nice piece of writing Ken, it really is.

DwWashburn said...

We watched it for about twenty minutes. We thought that if you made a drinking game where you took a slug every time the F word was used, you'd have alcohol poisoning in ten minutes. But this is premium cable. Formula -- weak script plus foul language, gore, and / or nudity and you have a show everyone talks about. Sorry but those elements don't shock me, they bore me.

cd1515 said...

now THAT'S an opening paragraph!
well done Ken.

blinky said...

Where was Bobby DeNiro? Where was Leo? They have to be in every movie he makes right?
Marty needs an editor. An editor he will listen to.
His style is a caricature of itself.

B.A. said...

I don't have HBO but I'm always glad to see that neglected decade portrayed (Contrast CNN's "The 80s: the Decade That Made Us" with their "The 70s: Cult Murders and Dead Junkies"). I have a feeling HBO isn't going to preserve the womens' ironed straight hair I remember or the mens' combovers.

Matt B. said...

Vinyl is like a Sizzler; you go there expecting a certain level of dead-cow, a rice medley, an overpriced Coke and indigestion. If you waltz into a Sizzler expecting lobster, poached with snap peas, morsels and sweetbreads followed with crème brulee, then I’d say you had unrealistic expectations.

That I am aware of, no one said that Vinyl was supposed to be anything other than entertainment. Which it seems, checked that box. So what if master Martin was part of the creative team. So was Mick Jagger - clearly known for his movie consulting prowess. And let’s not forget Oscar winner, and big movie star “The Diceman” as a supporting role. Expectations.

My prospects for Vinyl were more than met. Music, some would be gangster action, some “artsy” cinematic portrayals, boobs and somewhat of a plot that made me want to watch more.

Here’s what I found funny; as we watched this, my wife turns to me and asks: “is this based off of a true story?” to which I pondered, and thought – yea, probably like Titanic was based off of a true story, but I doubt the reality was this romanticized. Nevertheless, it was still worth killing 2 hours of time for.

Unknown said...

Can't wait for the sequel, 8-Track

Tendlar said...

Yeah, why can't premium cable make an authentic movie about the music scene in the '70s where nobody uses bad words, where drugs don't exist, and where everybody keeps their clothes on because they've all chosen to wait until after marriage to be sexually active.

Ken Levine said...

No, I think the question is: why make it at all?

Tendlar said...

Well, I was just joking. Don't know about anyone else.

Mark Fearing said...

Agreed. I felt like it did need something unique. Great looking and acted, but lacking.

Igor said...

Ken, no disrespect (ever), and I've not seen the show, but some of your review comes across as a lawyer reviewing a pilot of a law procedural. Or a doctor, etc.

OTOH, you are a pro in all this, and so maybe you can put aside your strong POV of/feelings for radio in that era, and so maybe your review is really just on the show, and only lesser as to whether they got reality wrong.

Victor Velasco said...

I'll stick with it too. However, unlike "Mad Men" for example, I have a problem with the way the lineage is presented. With advertising, a geek like me can give someone a rough chronological order to various trends, campaigns, attitude changes, sociological, bla bla ad naseum; that's cause I just watched a lot of TV; don't have a degree in advertising or work experience.

With the record business- taking into account my age, around 60 - being a musician for more than 50 years, working in the record biz from 79-89, I have a hard time suspending the disbelief when Led Zeppelin and the Good Rats are mentioned with equal importance or when the whitebread dickhead needed weed for a "marathon England Dan and John Ford Coley recording session." I do understand symbolism and fully realize that a period piece does not have to be absolutely accurate but, sheesh!

I do hope that one of the R&B ghosts that haunts the office turns out to be Ike Turner, looking' to get paid or mess someone up!

SharoneRosen said...

Thank you for so beautifully articulating my sense of "eh?" after seeing the pilot.

I shall also hang in there and hope for improvement (and something new!)in following episodes.

Chester said...

Love Bobby Cannivale in everything I've seen him in, but I agree with @blinky. Scorsese has been making the Goodfellas over and over again under different titles since Goodfellas.
I agree with Stan-- Ray Romano seems to have found his stride. Loved "Men of a Certain Age" and was disappointed that the storyline wasn't continued. Nice series.
Will check out Vinyl, but not expecting much.

Don K. said...

Jagger actually did more than attend a couple of meetings. He has given numerous interviews where he says he sold Scorsese on the idea for this series 20 years ago and it finally came to fruition as Vinyl. Here's but one link, a Billboard article.

http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/magazine-feature/6835999/mick-jagger-on-hbo-vinyl-series

Anonymous said...

Talk about overload. Every department, way too much. Some good punk in the begging tho, but bailed after the first hour. Badly edited.

Mike said...

Slade in Flame (1975).
"BBC film critic Mark Kermode called it the "Citizen Kane of rock musicals"".
Struggling to think of British TV programmes about the music industry, like Rock Follies (1976-77) which I never saw, I remembered this. Conceived as a film vehicle for the glam rock group Slade, this avoids the attendant horrors of such vehicles and is surprisingly good as both a strong film and an accurate portrayal.

D. McEwan said...

Andrew Dice Clay is in it? Thanks for the warning. Now I'll definitely skip it.