Liv Tyler, Anthony LaPaglia, Robin Tunney, Renee Zellweger
They're selling music but not selling out.
The director of Pump Up The Volume cranks it up another notch with this comedy about an eventful day in the lives of the young slackers, doers and dreamers who work at the bustling store called Empire Records.
"This music is the glue of the world," one of Empire's clerks says. "It holds it all together." Gin Blossoms, The Cranberries, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Cracker, Evan Dando, Better Than Ezra and more hot alternative rock underscores virtually every scene.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 107 min.
Release Date: 6/3/2003
• Special “Remix” Version of the Film with 16 Minutes of Additional Footage
• Deleted Scenes
• Music Videos
• Cast and Crew
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Empire Records: Remix (1995)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July
As a theatrical release, I have virtually no recollection of Empire Records. Apparently it hit screens in 1995, but it slipped under my radar screen. I guess I had a lot of company; according to IMDB, the movie only grossed $300,000. Man, I didn’t even know it was still possible for a film to make that little money these days!
Despite its insanely poor theatrical showing, Empire Records developed a minor following, and I can definitely recall seeing its then-hot soundtrack featured prominently at many record stores. Why do I still remember the sight of a CD for an obscure flick? Three words: Liv Tyler’s sweater.
I’m not sure I even knew who Tyler was in 1995, though I may have heard of her due to her famous father. Nonetheless, if I wasn’t aware of her existence, the poster art for Empire announced her in a big way. As you can see at the top of this page, Tyler sports a sexy blue cut-off sweater, and she wears it well. Nuts to the rest of the cast - that sweater should have gotten top billing!
Since Empire takes place in a record store, I didn’t expect much additional heat from Tyler during the movie. However, I was radically off base in that assumption. Tyler’s character Corey plans to lose her virginity with Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield), a faded pop star set to sign autographs at Empire. As she psychs herself up to seduce him, Tyler manifests some extremely hot - though not pornographic - self-touching, and when she gets alone with Manning, she provides additional suggestive movements and eventually strips down to her underwear.
Mama, who needs Viagra when I’ve got Liv in all her sultry glory? The rest of Empire Records could have featured cows munching on grass - I’d still support the film due to these amazing scenes. Actual nude sex scenes would have trouble matching the heat found in Liv’s gyrations; that sweater makes a better partner than any guy ever could be.
Since I don’t want the Movie Guide to be mistaken for a porno site, I’ll move on now, at least in prose; my thoughts remain on Liv and The Sweater. Empire Records offers a light “day in the life” comedy in the briefly lived “slacker” vein. This follows the short string of early and mid-Nineties flicks that featured grunge-rock loving teens. Although I wasn’t in my teens at the time, I still loved the grunge movement; it was the first - and last - time in quite some years that the music charts were dominated by some solid guitar rock. As I peruse the current listings, the predominance of bubblegum pop and repetitive rap makes me even more nostalgic for those flannel-oriented days.
Empire Records takes place mainly during a one-day period at the eponymous store. During the prior night, smart-alecky employee Lucas (Rory Cochrane) abuses the trust given to him by manager Joe (Anthony LaPaglia). When Lucas discovers that ER is to be sold to a mega-chain of stores, he takes the day’s $9000 earnings and cruises to Atlantic City. Unsurprisingly, he loses the wad of cash in a casino and thus starts the following day with a problem.
Actually, pretty much everybody in Empire Records has a problem. Lucas is a crook whose mother abandoned him. Joe lies to the owner to hide Lucas’ theft. Corey wants to bang a washed-up pop star. Rex is a washed-up pop star forced to sign autographs to facilitate a comeback. Jane (Debi Mazar) is even lower on the food chain: she’s the assistant to the washed-up pop star. Flirty Gina (Renee Zellweger) is a slut, and riot grrl Debra (Robin Tunney) wants to kill herself. A.J. (Johnny Whitworth) loves Corey, and he’s given himself until 1:37 PM to tell her this. Warren (Brendan Sexton III) is a shoplifter who returns to haunt the ER crew.
Only Mark (Ethan Embry) fails to manifest a concern; his biggest worry is what to name the band he wants to start. Otherwise, the store is just a roiling hotbed of problems that grow to consume all of our characters.
It’s all too much for the flimsy film to take. As such, although the movie starts well and offers some frisky fun for a while - the opening scenes that focus on Lucas are especially brisk and entertaining - midway through the flick it makes an abrupt turn from slacker comedy to dull soap opera. All of the problems that had lurked in the background are suddenly thrust to the forefront, and the movie slams to a halt as we have to slowly work through all of the different concerns.
Not only does this aspect of the film make it less than fun to watch for the last third or so, but it also means that Empire loses any sense of realism. Granted, I’m not sure how true-to-life the piece was ever meant to be. Empire works with a weird variety of stylistic choices. During Lucas’ trip to Atlantic City, the movie offers a fantasy tone that makes him out to be magically lucky - until he loses his final bet, of course. At times, characters also break the “fourth wall” to speak directly to the camera. This occurs for little apparent reason other than to be different; unfortunately, it just makes the movie confusing.
Probably the most notable aspect of Empire stems from the later prominence achieved by some of its actors. In 1995, the closest thing to “names” it offered were LaPaglia and Mazar, and they weren’t exactly household words. Caulfield was - and is - best known for his role in the 1982 debacle that was Grease 2. The others were virtual unknowns at the time.
Actually, most of them still are, but Tyler and Zellweger have been quite successful, and Tunney has cropped up in some moderately-prominent projects like Supernova, The Craft, and End of Days. Empire’s most upsetting scene: when the sexy Tunney shaves her head early in the film. Debra wasn’t the only one feeling suicidal at that time!
Happily, Tyler and her sweater made me want to live. As a whole, Empire Records was a moderately entertaining film at best. It’s inconsistently paced and could be somewhat amateurish at times. Still, it’s fun to see some actors in their early work, and the overall project is compelling enough to merit a look.
Future star footnote: the credits list Tobey Maguire as Andre. I guess this was a “blink and you’ll miss him” deal, for I have no recollection of an “Andre” or anyone who looked like Maguire.
The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus C
Empire Records appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture presented here seemed virtually identical to the one seen on the original DVD.
Sharpness usually appeared nicely crisp and detailed. On a few occasions, some mild softness interfered, but these instances were rare. For the most part, the picture came across as well defined and distinct. Moiré effects cropped up at times due to usual suspects such as blinds, but I detected no signs of jagged edges. Some light edge enhancement cropped up on a few occasions. Print flaws were surprisingly heavy for such a recent film, mainly in the form of white speckles. Those tiny spots popped up throughout the movie, and while they weren’t a massive concern, they definitely became a distraction. Otherwise, I noted some modest grain at times, but the rest of the film seemed free from defects.
Colors were terrific for the most part. The record store setting offered a nice variety of hues, and these tones came across with fine clarity and brilliance. All throughout the movie I saw wonderfully bright and vivid colors, as the DVD reproduced the hues accurately. Black levels seemed deep and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. The preponderance of print flaws dragged my picture grade down to a “B”, but I still found the image of Empire Records to provide a satisfying experience.
Also solid - in a modest way - was the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Not surprisingly, the emphasis was on music, and the soundfield strongly concentrated on the movie’s variety of then-contemporary rock tunes. These displayed fine stereo imaging in the front speakers, with good use of all through forward channels. Music also showed reinforcement in the rears that buoyed them to a nice degree but didn’t become tremendously involving. Otherwise, the soundfield provided modest breadth to effects, but I didn’t hear anything special. Some minor panning occurred, and when the store’s employees spoke on the shop’s loudspeaker system, the audio took over the spectrum well, but this wasn’t an effects-happy flick. As such, the music-oriented soundfield seemed satisfying.
Audio quality appeared fine. Dialogue was natural and distinct, with no edginess or problems related to intelligibility. The few effects I heard seemed clear and realistic, and they showed no signs of distortion. Most importantly, the music was crisp and bright, and the songs displayed pretty solid dynamic range. Highs were clean, and bass seemed reasonably deep, though I felt the low end could have been a little stronger. Nonetheless, the soundtrack for Empire Records more than adequately suited the material.
Entitled “Remix! Special Fan Edition”, this new DVD of Empire Records adds a few extras not found on the original DVD. For one, it includes an extended cut of the movie. This includes 16 minutes of footage that didn’t make the original version. Since I only saw the movie once prior to this “Remix” DVD, I couldn’t easily recognize the new material, but it appeared that the extra shots mostly fleshed out characters and melodramatic elements. Since the movie already tossed in a lot of those moments, I didn’t see anything in the “Remix” that I thought helped the movie. I’m sure fans will be happy to watch the new footage, but I preferred the original.
We also find four deleted scenes that didn’t get reintegrated into the movie. Each of these runs between 48 seconds and three minutes, three seconds for a total of seven minutes, 24 seconds of footage. Two show more shenanigans from Lucas, while the others redeem Rex. The latter would have changed the complexion of the film, as they make him a more sympathetic character.
Next we get three music videos. We can watch the “Rex Manning” “Say No More” video in its full glory; we see much of it in the movie, but it’s still cool to check it out without interruption. In addition, two clips from GWAR appear: “Saddam a Go-Go” and a live version of “Vlad the Impaler”. The latter shows the unedited snippet from Mark’s stoner dream in the movie. Man, do GWAR suck!
The DVD ends with the film’s theatrical trailer and some decent filmographies that appear within the “Cast and Crew” area. Minor listings for director Allan Moyle and actors Anthony LaPaglia, Debi Mazar, Liv Tyler, Maxwell Caulfield, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth and Renee Zellweger show up here.
At times, Empire Records demonstrates a nicely loose and lively spirit. However, the movie’s soap opera elements drag it down during its final act, and this makes the film only fitfully entertaining. The DVD offers pretty solid picture and sound plus a small roster of extras highlighted by some unused sequences. Big fans of Empire Records will want to get this “Remix” edition, and it seems like the better of the two DVD releases, though I prefer the theatrical cut of the film to this one’s longer version.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3076 Stars|| Number of Votes: 26|