Monday, June 27, 2016

Sing Street (2016)

I liked Sing Street so much, after liking Once so much nearly 10 years ago, that I'm actually sitting here kicking myself for missing writer and director John Carney's picture from 2013, Begin Again (disinclined to believe lightning could strike twice, though honestly I think I didn't notice it going through). So, right, Netflix queue ho! Like Once, Sing Street is set in an Ireland everybody wants to get away from, and, also like Once, the means of escape is music. Carney creates an old-fashioned kind of musical, where the songs draw from and propel the events and characters. They live their lives and transmute the experience into music before our very eyes. As with all musicals, Sing Street flirts dangerously with hokum. And it is not without its awkward and/or dead patches (and never mind the narrative holes, that's privilege of musicals). Here the time frame is the mid-'80s, and the key touchstones are Duran Duran and an older brother who is passionate about music and the authentic creative life (being himself a bit of a loser since graduating high school). The family finances, well into the Margaret Thatcher economic depression, are constricting. Connor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), the younger brother, must transfer to a rougher, harder Catholic school. Unfair oppression begins immediately—bullies, and a sadistic authoritarian principal priest who enforces senseless rules. Of course there's a beautiful girl involved too—Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who exudes a glamourous '80s beauty. To impress her, Connor starts a band, so he can invite her to be a model on video shoots. By way of fast cuts and movie magic, a band is formed and songwriting begins. And here we arrive at the wonderful part of the movie, which happily makes up most of it—writing songs. A comparable movie is Grace of My Heart, a period piece with new songs in period style. We see Connor strike on a germ of a lyrical idea, usually with an obvious influence. Besides the aforementioned Duran Duran, there are also key songs by the Cure, Hall & Oates, Joe Jackson, the Jam, Wham!, and other stone pure winners. Connor sits down with his songwriting partner, an introverted musical savant, and then eventually the whole band, as the fragments fall into place and they turn out to be some pretty good songs. "Drive It Like You Stole It" is the marquee play, an absolute delight, credited to Carney with Gary Clark. Other Sing Street songs—that's the name of the band, after the school they attend, Synge Street—are not credited, but are various degrees of high moments, perhaps suggested by their titles (do yourself a favor, and see for yourself): "The Riddle of the Model," "Up," "Girls," and the revenge song "Brown Shoes." There's a lot of talk in this movie, usually from that older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor), about finding yourself and finding out what's real. That's what happens here. At the very least, Sing Street is another nearly perfect musical from Carney.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

"All the Way in Flagstaff, Arizona" (1983)

Story by Richard Bausch not available online.

By legend, Richard Bausch's remarkable story of alcoholism and the dissolution of a marriage is the result of hacking down an 800-page novel. It is built within the frame of its main character, Walter, a middle-aged man, sitting in the back pew of a church by himself in Flagstaff, Arizona, remembering the incidents of a picnic with his family two years earlier, on Long Island. That's the day "when Irene came out on the porch and told him she couldn't make it be enough anymore." The story really is not dreary, even though it is about problem drinking and the end of a marriage. It's especially sharp on family dynamics, especially with the kids. There are five of them and two are quite distinct: William, the oldest at 14, has recently decided he wants to become a priest and is annoying everyone by loudly and piously praying for them, most often for Walter, whose point of view largely informs the story. It's actually his story in the end, a bottoming-out tale. Susan, the next oldest, copes by mocking and belittling William's sanctimony, taunting him with her ambition to become the first married woman priest to become pope. The most sharply observed passages are the family squabbles which continually erupt at the picnic. These encounters are fresh like wounds yet pass with an easy familiarity. All families have these fits of pain, though perhaps not to all these extremes. The former long novel is suggested by the dense compression between the day of the picnic and the day in the church in Flagstaff. A lot of that information is necessary to close the primary narrative arc, which is about the drinking. The day in Flagstaff is the day he stops, which is an important day for every alcoholic. Still, I think the best part of this story is what actually occupies most of it: the lacerating day of the picnic, and the personalities and interactions of Walter and his family, especially the kids. This is a pretty good one.

The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, ed. Tobias Wolff

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Girl Can't Help It (1956)

USA, 99 minutes
Director: Frank Tashlin
Writers: Frank Tashlin, Herbert Baker, Garson Kanin
Photography: Leon Shamroy
Music: Little Richard, Julie London, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, Platters, Treniers, Ray Anthony, Abbey Lincoln
Editor: James B. Clark
Cast: Jayne Mansfield, Tom Ewell, Edmond O'Brien, Henry Jones, John Emery, Barry Gordon

The Girl Can't Help It looks like it might have started as an attempt to repeat the success of Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch from just the year before. Tom Ewell reprises his role as a mild-mannered (not to say dweebish) comfortable husband type, and Jayne Mansfield gets the sexpot honors that Marilyn Monroe had in the first picture. And the story goes similar places. But there are a couple of key ingredients The Girl Can't Help It has that The Seven Year Itch does not. The first is director and cowriter Frank Tashlin, whose style and instincts were honed as a key figure at the Warner Brothers animation factory in the '30s. After this movie he would go on to work with Jerry Lewis. The second is rock 'n' roll—real rock 'n' roll, from 1956.

In fact, the whole thing is so packed with music there's room for names you're sure to recognize—Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, and the Platters—as well as some that maybe you won't: Ray Anthony, the Chuckles, Eddie Fontaine, the Treniers. And there are even a few names, such as Abbey Lincoln and Julie London, that make you wonder how they happened to wander into this at all. My guess—again, because this is still so relatively early, in 1956—is they just cast the net wide: if it was a hit because of jukeboxes (and/or radio), it was a candidate for inclusion. And it's that sense of all-embracing inclusion as much as anything that makes this movie such a great big kick.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Love & Friendship (2016)

A costume period piece based on an obscure Jane Austen literary property was not what I expected from Whit Stillman for his third movie in 20 years, but why not? His last, Damsels in Distress, is five years old now, and the one before that, The Last Days of Disco, came out in 1997. Both have outsize preoccupations with international dance crazes. Spoiler alert: There is no international dance craze in Love & Friendship. But Stillman remains, however, engaged in pitched battle with his New York Upper East Side betters—in fact, it may be more ferocious than ever, as he enters a time machine and travels back to sneer at their putative heirs, the foolish aristocracy of the early 19th century, when the French and American revolutions were even then casting creeping deep long shadows. Every review I've seen of Love & Friendship touts Kate Beckinsale's performance as Lady Susan Vernon, and she's good, but it was Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin who broke me down and closed the sale. His boyish good looks and stammering good-hearted dim bulb dignity are priceless. It's the same kind of stupidity we saw in Damsels in Distress with Thor, the fraternity brother whose shame is that he never learned the names of the colors. Here Sir James, similarly, is amazed at dinner by what is evidently the first encounter in his life with peas. I don't know Jane Austen's source piece, which is actually the unfinished novel Lady Susan, and not the very early novella Love and Freindship [sic]. It's hard to say how true the events of this movie are to her original story. It more often feels like pure Whit Stillman and not at all like Austen. But she contributes the general setting, language, and preoccupations of society and it also has the tang of one of her complicated narratives playing through, as the eligibles with their various virtues and motivations get busy sorting themselves out. That's where Lady Susan particularly comes in, as linchpin to the story, and that's where the accolades for Beckinsale naturally start. To be clear, this movie has an occasional tendency to steer into genteel BBC stand-there-and-drop-the-dialogue territory. There are dead patches. I happened to have someone sketchy sitting too close to me—he was drinking a beer at my usual Tuesday morning matinee, and he smelled a little. I noticed the dead patches in the movie because I became more aware of him then. But even as I verified my exit points visually the movie would pull me back into it. Lady Susan is a classic model of manipulating society villainess. She is brazen and comically powerful, able to get away with anything. Beckinsale is obviously having a ball but she's restrained. Stillman is having a ball too, but he's less restrained, and it ends up becoming infectious. It's on the level of 12-year-olds sitting in church helplessly laughing about the preacher's use of the word "duty / doody." For example, the endless standing portraits of the upperclassmen families. Or the way fancy font subtitles are used to poke fun at epistolary devices. And, of course, all the wheezing plot contrivances that propel it, the chance meetings and such. I can't wait to see it again under better circumstances, but I have a feeling it's going to be in and out of here pretty fast. Catch it when you can.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture (2010)

Alice Echols's history of disco is a useful academic assessment of the state of disco and the many conventional wisdoms, often contradictory, that have clung to it since the '70s. She charts the basic rise and fall through the nightclubs, and the embrace of disco by marginalized American social groups such as African-Americans, women, and gays, finally arriving at the commercial debacles that followed the grimly persistent "Disco Sucks" campaigns of the late '70s and then the usual arguments that disco never went away, which I happen to subscribe to also. Echols is well suited to the task, as an academic with interests in American studies and history, and also as a long-time DJ in and around Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan. She devotes chapters to each of the social groups, with two for gays and another one on the movie Saturday Night Fever, which in many ways represents the watershed commercial milestone moment for the music—or, really, for the word "disco." The general shape of this history was well known to me, but there were many interesting revelations along the way. I hadn't known, for example, how much Chic looked to Roxy Music for a kind of formal inspiration. In many ways disco is a prototypical story of American social norming, with underclass groups providing cultural vitality as a means to mainstream acceptance. One refraction is that disco did not succeed until John Travolta made it safe for straight white men. Another is that these same straight white men simply could not handle such intimate acquaintance with dangerous subversive minorities, rising up to reject it with uncontrolled, unconscious violence. Hmm, something about this feels so familiar. Echols has no particular axe to grind. She just likes the music and here tries to solve the mystery of how it could rise so high, yet fall so low, enduring a cultural exile that still seems remarkable, not least for the way the music itself simply continued on, under new names: dance music, DOR, techno, electronica, etc., etc. Chockful of notes, sources, and recommended songs (some new to me and nice finds), it's a terrific summary of one key strand of pop music that continues to play on and affect everything.

In case it's not at the library.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Lost in the Dream (2014)

Recorded in nine studios (counting Adam Granduciel's home) over a period of two years, and  with some two dozen contributors, including a core five-piece band, this album still comes down to one person, Granduciel, late of Kurt Vile. Granduciel has said about this and the previous two albums by the War on Drugs that they are not "band" records, but solo. Before I looked more closely into it, after only listening to it, I already thought of it as an album by a single brooding person alone in the studio, overdubbing (like maybe Magnetic Fields, Sparklehorse, or the Mountain Goats). That turns out to be more figuratively true than literal, as Granduciel, who wrote all this material (except one of the 10 tracks, for which Michael Johnson gets a co-writing credit with him), churned through collaborators and versions to get things the way he more or less wants here. The title is descriptive rather than romantic, as this frequently sounds like the pensive carrying-on of a genuinely lost soul. It is often sweet, but it always aches. The comparisons are to such as Bruce Springsteen and the Waterboys, whose influence (especially Springsteen's) is apparent in many of the riffs and hooks and grooves—their slower, more contemplative sides to be sure, with the general miasma of mood. But in terms of ambition, it reminds me of the conceits of the early Michael Stipe, the singer who felt constrained by the precisions of language when what he wanted to express was so much more imprecise. So he mumbled. Musically, the music of the War on Drugs is a mumbling affair. It knows the consonants and vowels of its musical syntax and pronunciation but is more often bedeviled with an age-old question of youth, Why bother? Though it is filled with melodies and memorable structures, it's pop music only by gesture. It's more often content to sail off and sink into deep lagoons of feeling, vibrating with its own incoherent sense of what it wants to say, even as it goes under the water, or the things it would want to say if it could be bothered even to care that much. Among other things it inevitably means there's a lot of self-pity to be found here among the beautiful, searing moods. The formal distancing of the stance can start to feel pretentious. And I'm not sure at all what it will sound like in five or 10 years, or if it will even be remembered as all. Yet so far it has remained a nice place to go for shelter on a regular basis—a lovely set.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Nice Guys (2016)

The main calling card of The Nice Guys is probably director and cowriter Shane Black's resume as co-mastermind with Richard Donner for the Lethal Weapon franchise, which I mostly don't know, but not far behind that is some surprising natural chemistry between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. As a thriller it's adequately thrilling and as a comedy it's often very funny, even as Crowe and Gosling work variations on the screen styles of John Goodman and Nicolas Cage, respectively. I liked it, didn't love it, which might be the usual vexing problem of paying too much attention to the hype ahead of time. For a movie that relies on bumbling ultraviolence for much of its effect it's pretty good, put it that way. Gosling plays Holland March, a private detective who's a bit of a con man. Crowe is Jackson Healy, a private detective who's more like a freelance kneecap artist. March also has a daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), a Nancy Drew wild card element, who follows her dad practically everywhere he goes, even into insanely dangerous situations. She might be the best part of the whole thing. It's set in Los Angeles in 1977 so there's lots of disco on the soundtrack, and while you're at it say hello to the pornography industry too. This isn't nearly as much like Boogie Nights as it might sound, but it's certainly not unaware of Boogie Nights. Mainly it's a three-man show, with Crowe, Gosling, and Rice taking their turns in the limelight. Gosling tends toward amping up the frenzy, which is where the resemblance to Cage comes in. But Crowe, playing it slovenly, overweight, and gravel-voiced, is there to rein in that kind of thing. It's a comedy in the buddy style—I've seen comparisons to Abbott and Costello and to Martin and Lewis. I'm sure it's too early to talk about any kind of long-term partnership here, but they are funny together. For her part, Rice is fresh-faced, plucky, and the only one with a true moral compass. You have to wonder if she isn't here for the duration too—again, she might be the best part of the whole thing, and it has a few good parts. If nothing else, it ratchets the tension whenever she is in danger, which is often. The case itself is busy but mostly irrelevant, serving only as the pretext for the various sites and attractions of '70s Los Angeles. Like disco parties, with disco playing. Hey, man. If you think about it too much you start to realize that The Nice Guys might be just another absurdist black comedy riffing smugly on the foolishness of Americans then and now. But you don't have to think about it too much because the jokes, including some very nice physical comedy set pieces, are funny and they keep coming. You'll have to decide for yourself about the ultraviolence.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

"Madame de Mauves" (1874)

This long story by Henry James finds key beginnings of many of James's most familiar themes, starting with relations between New World and Old. Madame de Mauves is an American woman of wealth who has married a dissolute, fortune-hunting Frenchman. She has been married to him awhile when Longmore enters her life. Longmore, by the way, is easily found in the dictionary of painfully obvious names. He is also an American, soon falls in love with the madame, and spends the rest of the story longing more for her than her husband or anyone else. The Americans are all Calvinists hemmed in by moral imperatives, so a simple affair is not the answer, even though Mme. de Mauves's French husband has indulged a series of them over the course of their marriage. She is trapped in an impossible situation, arguably over her own moral making. Longmore loves her, and though less troubled by the morals of Madame, understands and respects her right to the decision. This felt to me like an early dry-run version of The Portrait of  a Lady. It's not the same story—the marriage is already an accomplished fact here, and fully half of the novel—but the pieces are similar: the corrupt and knowing European husband, the principled and unhappy American wife, and the dithering American fifth wheel. By this point in his career James was in his early 40s and the grooves of his writing are established. "Interlocutor" is now in the house, signaling that the maddening aspects of his writing are there too, such as pronoun imprecision and the convenient slippery ability of the omniscient third-person narrator to dart in and around the points of view of different characters at will. But I also enjoyed reading it a lot too. There's enough lucidity, and James is often plainly engaged by these characters and their worlds, which is infectious. As always (in fact, I seem to be noticing it more and more), his plots are built around coincidences and unbelievable chance encounters. That's a little annoying, but you just roll your eyes and keep reading for the sake of getting on with it. If people happen to keep bumping into one another in places like the metropolis of Paris, well, there's not much I can do about it. With the marriage issues already settled, all the focus is on the interior lives and motivations of these characters. It's what James can be very good at, so I have no problem—even if ultimately the resolutions are preposterous. Fixing that is something he gets to later in his career.

"interlocutor" count = 1 / 40 pages

In case it's not at the library. (Library of America)

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Leopard (1963)

Il gattopardo, Italy / France, 185 minutes
Director: Luchino Visconti
Writers: Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Enrico Medioli, Massimo Franciosa, Luchino Visconti
Photography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Music: Nino Rota
Editor: Mario Serandrei
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Paolo Stoppa, Serge Reggiani, Leslie French, Terence Hill, Lucilla Morlacchi

Whole warehouses of imposing magnificence are packed into director and cowriter Luchino Visconti's treatment of fictional 19th-century Sicilian aristocrat Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Burt Lancaster), based on the highly regarded novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (which I don't know). It's the historical eve of the Italian aristocracy's demise, in 1860, and the prince is coming to terms with the coming of modern ways, "after 25 centuries," as he puts it. Civil war rages outside his very doors—the corpse of a royalist soldier is found in his garden in the first scene—and he really has no other choice but to let go of the past. The magnificence comes by the bale: The Leopard boasts one of Nino Rota's best scores, its production design and costuming vibrate with sumptuous wealth, and its original running time pushed closer to four hours than three. In the movies, long running times have stood in for self-evident seriousness since at least Gone With the Wind, if not Intolerance.

In fact, The Leopard is another one of those highly acclaimed movies found on the big list at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? that comes with its own tortured version history, joining The Magnificent Ambersons, Metropolis, The Rules of the Game, and too many others to exist now in compromised twilight versions, living in the shadow of variously unknowable originals. The Leopard started at 205 minutes but after it got a lot of bad reviews the American distributor took out 40 minutes or so. Later it all evened out with a 185-minute Italian-language version, found in the Criterion package, based on Visconti's preferred cut (there was also a 195-minute version that played at Cannes). Just for kicks, or for those in a hurry, the Criterion edition also includes the 161-minute American cut. Both Lancaster and the magnificent Claudia Cardinale are dubbed in the Italian version, but Lancaster's voice can be heard in the short version.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Madame Bovary (1856)

You have to give credit to Madame Bovary first for being so meticulously done. I can't think of any other novel so thoroughly turned out, down to the paragraphs and sentences, short of The Great Gatsby. And this is in translation even (in my case, by Alan Russell, circa 1950). I have an idea about writing generally that too many revisions at some point begins to deaden the language, and that's how I took Madame Bovary my first time through about 10 years ago. This time I just gave into that ahead of time and planned to read it slowly and patiently, and yes, there were many rewards. The character of Emma Bovary has some analog in the portrait of Mona Lisa—forever mysterious, receding from understanding. She's more often compared with Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, but I see something much more desperate and raw in Mme. Bovary. At the same time, it's all about the petty bourgeoisie, for whom author Gustave Flaubert evidently had little more than contempt. Well, who can blame him? Thus, part of the implicit tension is Flaubert's detachment from his subject, his dispassion. The novel is now considered a milestone in the development of the realist novel, which inevitably leads back to the petty bourgeoisie. Subtitled A Story of Provincial Life (compare Middlemarch, 15 years later: A Study of Provincial Life), Madame Bovary details in episodic fashion the marriage of our hero and her subsequent affairs. As much as anything it is about boredom, and so leaning already toward the modern. Her husband is a fool, her first lover is a cad, her second merely another lover. As much as sex this story is about foolishly going into debt to support a style of living you can't afford. No one is very likable here but some are more culpable than others for all the trouble. The most important feature of this novel for me, for good or ill, remains the language and its poetic clarity. It advances methodically from one still place to the next, lingering and observing small details closely, even as a runaway train of personal disaster unfolds. According to Francine Prose, the Geoffrey Wall translation is the one to read—I will have to look for that next time. For now, the Russell version in the Penguin paperback with the Monet portrait of his wife on the cover was a pleasure to read too. Though things go hard on Emma Bovary, others are guilty too and get away scot-free. It's not a scolding book at all, in spite of Flaubert's avowed feelings, nor misogynist either I think. But the people it focuses on, small-time merchants in a small town, can be reckless or cruel or both in ways we know too well.

In case it's not at the library (as if).

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Psychedelic Pill (2012)

For as shaggy, loose, and extemporaneous as this album often sounds, it appears Neil Young had some definite ideas about what he wanted. The music runs 87 minutes across two CDs (the first about 51 minutes, the second close to 36) and nine tracks. There are eight songs, with the title song repeated. It's about three minutes in both cases, though not first and last in sequence order, as Young has done it previously. One song, "Driftin' Back," is over 27 minutes, and two others are over 16 each. Psychedelic Pill was his first album with Crazy Horse in a decade, so in a way it's not surprising to find long songs. These guys obviously like playing with one another and they have an instinct for how to go places. It's these longs songs that are the highlights here, though it's possible they and this album are only for true believers at this late date. To be clear, I think I'm too fickle to be considered a true fan of anything—I've spent years at different points losing track of Neil Young. On the other hand, I might just be kidding myself with that. I love the rumbling, purring attack of Young with his favorite house band—it's a sound that ratchets up easily to the highest decibels. But it works at quiet levels too, and that's what they seem to be aiming for here. The longest song, "Driftin' Back," is also the first, more evidence of some kind of statement. Its rambling structure is reminiscent of Sonic Youth's "The Diamond Sea," from 1995, reduceable to three-minute verse-chorus-verse popsmithery. "I'm driftin' back," goes the chorus. "I'm driftin' back." These shards of musicality are set adrift, as theme, in a churning stream of brooding Crazy Horse jam, marked by Young's characteristic electric guitar voice, and the furry thudding sensitive accompaniments of guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro and bassist Billy Talbot. Drummer Ralph Molina keeps understated splashy time. After awhile another verse comes floating through, and the chorus, and it's a song again: "I used to dig Picasso / I used to dig Picasso / Hey now now, hey now now." It might be easier to get your arms around this one in digital, because I find myself favoring one disc over the other in the playing—the first, because it's longer and has more of the long songs. I'm not sure I have a good sense of its shape yet. It's altogether an unwieldy size, but I know I'm after those long songs. They feel exhausted and rejuvenated at once, working grossly familiar Neil Young strains yet somehow making them work fresh again. It's quieter than usual. It feels more like they are sitting on couches in a living room, with the amps turned down low, than standing on stage with fans blowing on them heroically. But there's always something heroic about Young, even when he's in a tired mood. Perhaps, giving some thought to the title, this is meant to accompany hallucinogens. I can see it working that way. But it also works fine with marijuana, or cheap wine, or probably even just good company. I play it a lot.

Friday, June 03, 2016

This Boy's Life (1993)

USA, 115 minutes
Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Writers: Tobias Wolff, Robert Getchell
Photography: David Watkin
Music: Carter Burwell
Editor: Jim Clark
Cast: Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Blechman, Eliza Dushku, Chris Cooper, Carla Gugino, Zachary Ansley, Tobey Maguire

This Boy's Life is something less than the sum of its many promising parts. Set in Concrete, Washington, in the late '50s and early '60s, and based on Tobias Wolff's excellent memoir of the same name, it also assembles an impressive cast in Ellen Barkin, Robert De Niro, and the young and skinny Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio was not yet 20 when this was made, though it was already his third feature film after establishing himself in TV. (When the time comes to vote for postage stamp images of DiCaprio, I'm pretty sure I will choose young-and-skinny, unlike my preference for the Elvis Presley.) The problem may be in director Michael Caton-Jones or screenwriter Robert Getchell or both. They were relatively untried then (and have not done much I know since), and both came with apparent debts to Martin Scorsese.

Certainly the opening here is reminiscent of Goodfellas, from only a few years earlier, with its voiceover narrative approach and even more in its attempt to pump up an instant big soundtrack moment with a '50s oldies, a strategy that recurs often here. The many songs that populate the soundtrack remain basically wonderful—that's Frank Sinatra's "Let's Get Away From It All" in the open, and others here, among a couple of dozen, include Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," Nat King Cole's "Smile," and the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love." But the magic with the narrative or the images somehow rarely ever happens, though it's nice to hear the songs. At the same time, the dynamic between Tobias Wolff (DiCaprio), or "Jack" as he wants to be called for most of this movie (after Jack London, a nice point), and his mother Caroline (Barkin) is straight out of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore—which, it turns out, Getchell wrote, along with many episodes of the follow-on TV series. You get the feeling of déjà vu a lot when you're looking at This Boy's Life.