A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 342 – Drumline

Drumline – February 5th, 2011

This is one of the movies I added to our collection. Or rather, Andy added it on my request. Because, you see, he bought the vast majority of our movies, so the collection is weighted heavily in his favor in terms of both genres and things seen. While we do have very similar tastes in many ways, there are a lot of things he bought that I probably would have skipped or rented instead, but he bought them and watched them and well, that struck me as a little unfair. So I asked him to grab a few specific titles. And this was one of them. And then he bought it twice, because he accidentally got the pan and scan version. And, well, we just can’t have that, and I’ll get into why later. The thing is, this is a movie I could watch a billion times and he’d never seen it until tonight. And now he has, so he can finally get the stick dropping joke from that one episode of Robot Chicken.

I believe I first saw this on television while Andy was still working late night shifts. There were some long nights there where I’d stop on just about anything even remotely interesting and I’m certain that I passed by this during one of the big drumline showdowns. And I do love drums, so I stuck around. And then the next time it was on I saw a different part of it. This is one of those movies that got played in heavy rotation for a period of time, so I always seemed to stumble past it in a new part until that new part was the beginning and I got to see it all. And lo and behold, I enjoyed it all, even if the actual plot is formulaic and most of the characters barely exist and it’s all just there as a framework on which to hang the marching band scenes. But really, is that a problem? Hell no.

The basic plot follows freshman drummer Devon as he arrives at Atlanta A&T, a big university that has recruited him for their marching band. He’s got amazing skills, but he lied on his application, claiming he could read music when he can’t and relies on memorization. He’s got a huge ego and clashes with the leader of the percussion section, Sean, who calls him out for his music reading issues and gets him benched from the band. He gets the band into fights, shows up his bandmates (mostly Sean) and generally has a bad attitude and seems to have something to prove. Why yes, we’ve seen this character type before. And as always, once he finds his team spirit, things go better. There’s also a romantic plot where he flirts embarrassingly badly with an upperclasswoman named Leila (played by the always awesome Zoe Saldana – probably one reason I stayed on the movie originally) and somehow manages to actually convince her to go on a date with him. Though I will say that while Leila does eventually go out with him, she starts out being mostly amused by his attempts to woo her, questioning if girls really respond well to the lines he’s using. I like that the relationship seems to start when she decides, not just because he pesters her into it.

Anyhow, Devon is all cocky and gets in trouble but eventually, after getting kicked off the band, he and Sean have a one on one confrontation that ends in them respecting each other and Sean offering to help Devon out. And then Devon somehow ends up what, a teaching aide for the band? Eh, whatever. It makes about as much sense as Leila’s parents considering dance a frivolous major but apparently accepting philosophy as totally useful for future career opportunities. These things are not the point of the movie. Devon and Leila’s relationship isn’t the point of the movie. The personal rivalry between A&T’s band director and the director of a nearby university’s band isn’t even the point. The point is the bands themselves and the music scenes.

There’s a lot in this movie that’s only vaguely touched on. The whole first half hour or so of the movie is the initial training camp for the new band members. It’s like a musical boot camp, and it’s where we meet people like Deirdre (kickass female drummer who I wish got more screen time), Ernest (who just wants to be in the band), Charles (on tuba) and Jason (bass drummer who gets a bit more time than anyone else by dint of needing more help). And they’re fun characters. I like them. There are a few scenes where it’s clear they like Devon and like having him in the band. But they’re not really given much time. Jason gets a few more minutes than the rest because he gets challenged by another drummer who takes his spot and Devon helps him practice to get it back. But otherwise what do we know? We know that Charles has parties in his room. We know Deirdre and Ernest start out taunting each other and end up dating and we know Ernest joins the honorary band fraternity. And all of this figures in whenever we see them, but it’s fleeting. Just little odds and ends that lead nowhere. Oh well. And we know that Dr. Lee, the A&T band director, has some issues with his rival, Mr. Wade, but it’s never elaborated on. Leila’s parents don’t approve of dance as a major, but we only hear that once and then later she’s gone ahead and changed to dance from philosophy. Oh, and there’s Devon’s father, who seems to have abandoned the family but was a musician and sends him tapes, but that’s all inferred? It’s all just dressing.

And really, I don’t watch the movie for the dressing. Sure, it’s fun to see the group bond and work together. I like Sean’s character arc, and as I said, I like the freshmen characters and their friendships. But I watch this movie for the band scenes. There are a few, from rehearsals to smaller shows like Homecoming, where we get plenty of music and drumming in particular. I’ll tell you this, if Rock Band is any indication, I’m a crap drummer myself, but I do like a movie with a good beat to the music, so I’m more than happy with this movie. The band scenes are fantastic, with catchy music performed well. The build-up to the BET Classic at the end, with the rival bands facing off in a huge stadium full of roaring crowds and television announcers and judges and the possibility of big prizes, yeah, it’s good. There are little shows, small scuffles, drum cadences shown in bits and pieces. Every time you see the band it’s build-up to the end. And there are some great songs on the soundtrack, foreshadowing the A&T performance piece for the Classic. And of course there’s going to be the epic battle of the drumlines! That right there is the point. They say they’ll be doing two cadences, but they go back and forth three times and I’m not arguing. I can’t. It’s too much fun to watch. Sure, the real deal may be even better, but in movie form, with the cameras right there in the middle of it all, it’s fantastic to watch.

I wouldn’t ever try to claim that this movie is perfect. I gave it plenty of criticism up above and I wouldn’t take any of it back. But the thing is, all that criticism doesn’t make me dislike this movie. It is utterly outside of my own personal experience (I went to a small, women’s liberal arts college in the northeast – marching bands and packed stadiums are not the norm there) and it’s got bits so thin you can see through them and it doesn’t matter to me. It’s fun. It totally grabbed me right from the start, with Zoe Saldana and the music and the enthusiasm and the portrayal of a group of marching band musicians not as band geeks, but as heroes. Loving music is celebrated throughout the movie. When I watch this again I will forget the holes and the dressing and focus on that.


February 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment


February 5, 2011


Would you believe I bought this movie twice before I even saw it? Amanda wanted me to add this to our collection with several other movies intended to even out the distribution of our movies – which rather heavily favor the action and sci-fi genres. So I ordered it from Amazon, but when it arrived I was horrified to discover that I had inadvertently purchased the “fullscreen” version. Which naturally meant that I had to go and buy it again. Because I’ll be damned if I sully any movie by watching the bastardised version if I have any possible option. I’m glad that I did too, because this is a fun, well put together movie, and it would be a crime to mess with its composition.

At its heart this is a sports movie. It’s the story of an unbelievably talented individual who is a little too full of himself and needs to learn to care about his team before he can truly achieve victory. We’ve seen it before, most recently when we reviewed Stick It. It’s full of familiar archetypes like the wise and draconian seeming coach who puts the well being of his team ahead of the outcome of the competition. The domineering team owner who will make sacrifices for a win. The smarmy rival coach who cares more about winning than anything else. The stern older team mate who acts as a reluctant mentor and eventually overcomes a clash of wills with our hero so that they become fast friends. It feels like a blend of Bull Durham, The Natural, Stick It, Major League and a hundred other sports movies besides. As such it was familiar and comforting to watch. It doesn’t hold any big surprises but it’s fun to see the plot unfold and there really is a lot of great precision marching band footage to watch as well.

Nick Cannon stars as our hero Devon Miles. Miles is the most talented snare drum player in the history of time itself (it would seem) with the power to enliven a high-school band performance with just a little flare from his sticks. He’s got a full scholarship to go to college and join in the extremely competitive world of scholastic marching bands. At college he quickly proves that he is suave and smooth with the ladies, a master of the drums and able to memorise any cadence demonstrated for him in an instant, and so completely full of himself that he is destined for trouble. The band leader is Dr. Lee, a man who cares deeply about the music and is dismayed that modern razzmatazz has taken the place of precision and well played tunes. He’d rather his band were playing Earth Wind and Fire or Flight of the Bumblebee than Snoop Dog. As such he’s getting a reputation for being out of touch and unable to reach the youth of today – and he’s under extraordinary pressure from the school dean to restore the band to its former glory and win the upcoming marching band championships.

The motto of the band is “One band – one sound” which doesn’t work too well with Miles’ rebellious attitude. Naturally he buts heads with Sean Taylor, the head of the drums corps. Sean thinks that Devon is a bad influence, even if he IS talented. So will Devon learn to work with the team instead of grandstanding? Will Dr. Lee find a way to reach the kids of today with his classic music tastes? Will Devon win the affection of the cute cheerleader? Will their team be triumphant in the end? Of course!

Two things make this film a success in my mind. One is the great cast they brought together here. Nick Cannon as Devon is all charm, even when he’s at his most egotistical. He has an irascible grin that bodes all kinds of mischief, and a chip on his shoulder the size of all of Texas. As Dr. Lee Orlando Jones is the soul (and funk) of the movie. He does a great job showing us how much his character cares about the music and about these kids, and how desperate he is to reach them. Sean Taylor is portrayed by Leonard Roberts, who does a great job being both antagonist and protagonist as he tries first to break Devon down so that he can build him back up stronger than before. Rounding out the cast is the ever classy Zoe Saldana as Lalia – the cheerleader love interest. Her side plot is probably the least suspenseful part of the movie since Devon seems to charm her from their very first meeting, so you never get a sense that she’s some kind of out-of-his-league and unattainable ideal who eventually falls for him (which is more what I would expect to see.) The two of them have great chemistry though, and it’s fun to see Devon so effortlessly sweeping her off her feet in a sort of fantasy wish fulfilment way. Who wouldn’t want to have such a natural facility with intimidatingly attractive people?

The other highlight of this movie is the actual performances. I’m not an aficionado of marching band, but the way that director Charles Stone III films them makes them exciting, intense and fun to watch. He also doesn’t rely on the same techniques I’ve seen in such recent sports movies as Stick It and Bring It On where the routines are compressed into quick montages – the marching band routines in this film may be short, but they all feel like complete songs. It’s thrilling music with fancy footwork and complex choreography. There are quite a number of performances throughout the film, and they never get tired or old – which makes this movie just a lot of fun to watch.

Indeed even after watching the movie I wasn’t tired of marching bands. I had to look around Youtube and see what’s available to watch. It should be no surprise to anybody that my favorite of the ones I watched is video game related. Tonight for MST3K I will have to watch the short about Mr. B Natural – who wants to recruit people into high school band because he/she is a shill for Conn Ltd. (a manufacturer of band instruments apparently.)

February 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 1 Comment