Perhaps the most notable thing about 'Not Fade Away,' director David Chase's feature film debut, is that it is sort of a mini-reunion for 'Sopranos' alum Chase, James Gandolfini, and Steven Van Zandt (who serves as both the film's executive producer as well as its musical supervisor). The movie is definitely autobiographical in nature for Chase, but not in the sense that one might think. Instead of telling the story of his childhood, Chase instead tells a story of what his childhood might have been like had he continued to pursue his rock n' roll dreams. As Chase aptly states in the bonus materials on this disc, "I was part of a garage band that never made it out of the garage." The band in 'Not Fade Away' makes it a little further than that for plot purposes, but this is still very much a personal story from Mr. Chase.
'Not Fade Away' opens with a short pre-credit sequence in black and white that re-imagines the famous train meeting between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards that proved to be the genesis of The Rolling Stones. We're then introduced to Douglas (John Magaro) and his family on the Thanksgiving shortly after the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Douglas is portrayed as a typical kid of his era…kind of introverted, with an eye on a girl in school that doesn't seem to know he exists, and – of course – with parents that don't seem to understand him. A few months later, in 1964, The Beatles mark their historic "British Invasion" of America, and everything changes for Douglas.
Inspired by the new sound, Douglas and a few of his friends decide to put together a band. Originally, Douglas is to only be the drummer, but when he has to take over lead vocals at a party one night, everyone in the band (except for the missing lead vocalist, of course) realizes that Douglas has a much better voice. The movie follows the band as they struggle to make it, as well as struggle dealing with each other in the process. In the meantime, Douglas is trying to come to terms with his father, who is not happy with Douglas' new lifestyle or the way he chooses to dress.
James Gandolfini plays Douglas' father, Pat, in another strong performance that nevertheless will once again remind viewers of his role as Tony Soprano, particularly the way Tony used to argue with his son A.J. on that show. Every scene with Gandolfini in it is strong, and you almost wish that David Chase had focused more on the father/son relationship than the coming-of-age aspect of Douglas' life.
'Not Fade Away' is a very well-made movie, but it also suffers from being so similar to other movies we have seen like it – all of them better than this one. I was immediately struck by the similarities to titles like 'Almost Famous' and 'That Thing You Do!'. Granted, both those movies were about bands that actually "made it," but in many ways 'Not Fade Away' feels like a warmed-over version of both those titles.While the film definitely proves that Chase can apply his success at storytelling to the big screen, let's hope that his next cinematic effort feels a little more fresh and innovative rather than the warmed-over, rehashed feeling that 'Not Fade Away' provides.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Not Fade Away' comes housed in one of those eco-friendly Blu-ray cases, and includes an insert with a code for both a UltraViolet and digital copy of the movie. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for 'World War Z,' 'Jack Reacher,' and 'Flight'. The menu is simply a still of the band members with selections along the bottom of the screen.
One of the real treats of this Blu-ray release is how great the movie looks and sounds. The movie is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and details are wonderfully clear, with nicely rendered skin tones, strong blacks, and sharp detail throughout. The colors here are just slightly on the warm/oversaturated side, which gives the movie an overall feel of a period piece.
There is no evidence of excessive DNR, edge enhancement, or other glitches that sometimes plague Blu-ray transfers. Overall, this is a great looking transfer from Paramount with no noticeable flaws or defects.
Given the amount of music in 'Not Fade Away,' it would have been a real disappointment if the audio track wasn't able to live up to the movie. Fortunately, the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track here is a real gem, bursting to life whenever music is part of the movie. Dialogue is equally clear, and directionality overall is good, although aside from the musical tracks and a few background sounds here and there, there isn't much else to showcase the rear speakers in this dialogue-heavy movie. Still, the audio proves to be the big highlight of this release, and it does the film justice.
In addition to the DTS-HD 5.1 track, the Blu-ray also contains both French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby tracks, an English audio description track, as well as subtitles in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish.
All of the bonus materials on this release are exclusive to the Blu-ray version, and have been detailed in the "HD Bonus Content" section that follows.
'Not Fade Away' is a well-made film, but it's also nothing we haven't seen done before, and in better movies. While Magaro is probably close to what David Chase was like as a youngster (both physically and personality-wise), his leading man appeal is questionable, and the film suffers a bit because of that. While Gandolfini turns in a strong performance, he's not a big enough presence in the movie to make it worth adding to one's collection, even if you are a huge fan of 60s music. Rent it.