Xyrallea Productions // 1989 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // September 1st, 2013
"This is our street. This is where we want to be."
Jack wants his combo to play the big New York jazz clubs. The fact that they haven't played any in a year together is just a small hitch. At least he says so. His dream gets American Blue Note off to a good start.
Ralph Toporoff punctuates his scenes of the musical life in 1961 with droll humor. Note the lack of interest in a roadhouse crowd or the way no one questions it when the band members all order "the usual" at a diner, despite the fact that neither the customers nor the waitress know what "the usual" is. One of the funniest bits finds Jack drafting a service station attendant who's never played to fill in, going through the motions and attitudes, when one of the guys is nowhere to be found.
If you ever thought of jazz musicians as cool, Peter MacNicol (Ally McBeal) as Jack will likely change all that for good. His lack of presence as he banters between numbers is palpable. He doesn't get jokes that a potential client makes during an audition. He klutzily juggles sheet music as he tries to open the stuck door on his beat-up car. Jack's awkwardness is most present, though, as he begins a relationship with dance teacher Benita (Charlotte d'Amboise, Frances Ha). Even though they clearly like each other, they don't have a real normal conversation in the entire movie.
The 1961 milieu is set up mainly with a few jokes; one of the band members names his dog Nikita, and it's after that Khrushchev fellow, not Luc Besson's heroine. The locations are generally older places mostly, although a couple of service stations are refurbished for the movie, down to the authentic 1961 gas prices. The old cars tend to get parked in rather timeless fields a lot.
The music's good; it's clear that Jack's band can really play, even if they turn out to be misfits. The picture quality is also sound. There are no extras.
The characters are all likable -- the band does an impromptu encore when they find the newlyweds stuck along the road -- and so is American Blue Note. Still, it just sort of peters out, with little hope for the band's career but some hope for Jack and Bonita. If you like the 1960s and jazz, and have had a few awkward moments, you might just crack a smile. It's an on-demand release, but it's available for an Amazon rental.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Xyrallea Productions
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13