Sound check: Five movies that keep the music alive

  • Ethan Embry, left, Steve Zahn, Johnathon Schaech and Tom Everett Scott struggle with fame in the music-based comedy "That Thing You Do."

    Ethan Embry, left, Steve Zahn, Johnathon Schaech and Tom Everett Scott struggle with fame in the music-based comedy "That Thing You Do." Twentieth Century Fox

  • John Belushi, left, and Dan Aykroyd are on a mission from God in the 1980 musical comedy "The Blues Brothers."

    John Belushi, left, and Dan Aykroyd are on a mission from God in the 1980 musical comedy "The Blues Brothers." Universal Studios

 
 
Updated 3/26/2020 11:34 AM

I like movies a lot. And obviously I like music. But since we can't really go see either in theaters or clubs right now, it's a perfect time to curl up on the couch with some movies about music.

Tomes have been written about "Rocketman," "Bohemian Rhapsody" and the recent incarnation of "A Star Is Born," but I wanted to look back a little further to some movies about movie/music blends you may have forgotten about.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

We've gathered quite a list we'll be exploring in the coming weeks, but first off, here are a few of my favorites you might want to revisit (or see for the first time):

'Almost Famous'

A grizzled, old journalist goes on tour with ... oh wait, that's my dream. A young, precocious writer heads out on tour with a rock band in the early 1970s to catch his first big break -- a story in Rolling Stone. It's sweet in all the right places, and a little raunchy where it needs to be. And with Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand as the steering forces for a young Patrick Fugit, the coming-of-age drama is just right. You'll never feel the same about Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" again.

Available for purchase and rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu and Google Play.

'The Blues Brothers'

Wheaton native John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd have graced the screen in many projects, but no roles will ever surpass those of Jake and Elwood Blues. Determined to make enough money to save the nuns and the orphanage where they were raised -- it's a mission from God, after all -- the two get the band back together, all while keeping ahead of the cops, Nazis ("I hate Illinois Nazis!"), a country-and-western band (both kinds!) and a jilted and crazed ex (played by Carrie Fisher). Every scene is packed with star power, and fun performances from James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway and the Blues Brothers Band itself make this a film every Chicagoan should see at least once. Hit it!

Streaming with subscriptions on Hulu, Starz and Sling TV; for rent at iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube and Vudu.

'That Thing You Do'

A fledgling rock band struggles with the adrenaline rush of stardom, internal conflict and a slightly smarmy Tom Hanks (in what is also his directorial debut!) when it gets a song played on the radio in 1964 Pennsylvania. The music throughout is a delightful mix of Beatles-esque pop and Motown-era grooves, and I guarantee the title track won't leave your head for days. (And it's so fun and catchy, you won't even care.) The comedy can practically be credited with unleashing Tom Everett Scott, Charlize Theron and Steve Zahn on the world, so there's that, too.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Streaming on Hulu with a subscription; available for rent on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu and Google Play.

'Empire Records'

It's Rex Manning Day! Released during the era when grunge was the fashion du jour and alternative rock was king (although GWAR does make a twistedly memorable appearance), this movie made me want to work at a record store and be a misunderstood artist after college. ("I don't feel the need to explain my art to you, Warren!") While the through-line is one day in the life of employees of Empire Records, the film is more a drawn-together collection of moments and vignettes that sometimes felt disjointed. But with a lovable band of misfits including Anthony LaPaglia, Liv Tyler and Ethan Embry (both also in "That Thing You Do"), Debi Mazar, Maxwell Caulfield, Rory Cochrane and Renée Zellweger -- and the battle cry of "Damn the man! Save the Empire!" -- it was forgivable.

Available for rent from Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube and Vudu.

'School of Rock'

Jack Black is hit-or-miss with me; he's either roll-on-the-floor hilarious or he's as grating as an untuned piano. "School of Rock" is definitely the former. When a desperate Black lies his way into a substitute teacher position at a private elementary school, he ends up teaching his young, uptight charges the finer points of rocking out, melting faces and looking good doing it. Toss Joan Cusack into the mix as his would-be foil, and hilarity ensues.

Streaming with subscriptions to Hulu, Showtime and Sling TV; for rent from iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube and Vudu.

• Brian Shamie is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor and local music junkie. Email him at bshamie@dailyherald.com, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter (@thatshamieguy) or Instagram (@chicagosoundcheck). Brian also keeps tabs on the Chicago-area music scene at chicagosoundcheck.com.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.