Empire Records [retro review]

rempire“What’s with today today?”

The Scoop: 1995 PG-13, directed by Allan Moyle and starring Anthony LaPaglia, Renée Zellweger and Ethan Embry

Tagline: Open ’til Midnight.

Summary Capsule: A group of record store employees fight to save their store and social lives.

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Justin’s Rating: Makes the time that I shaved my eyebrows seem like small potatoes, now doesn’t it?

Justin’s Review: I’ve got a really soft spot in my cold, black Italian heart for movies about crazy and fun work places. Maybe it’s envy, wishing that my coworkers would burst out into spontaneous musical numbers and run a war of practical jokes. Of course, that would essentially sum up my last youth worker position. But I think there’s something liberating about living vicariously through the lives of disenchanted clerks and downtrodden computer geeks that makes us all sit up and shout, “YEAH!”, and then fall back on the couch to eat Dorito chips and see how many we can get stuck to the ceiling with nacho sauce.

Empire Records is one of those movies that if you like it, you like it a lot; and if you like it a lot, you will be quoting this little monster for the rest of your natural life. I can’t tell you how many times that I can throw in the phrase “I don’t feel I have to explain my art to you, Warren” into conversation, to say nothing of “Maybe I wanna be sterile” and “What’s with today today?” And never, ever forget the enigmatic Lucas quote: “Always play with their minds.”

It’s Rex Manning Day at Empire Records, a strange record shop in New Jersey. Rex who, you ask? Just Rex Manning, the fictitious epitome of smarmy egotistical pop stars everywhere, who is coming to sign autographs. And on this unusual day, we are plunged into the atypical life of Empire Records and its many in-need-of-therapy staff members. There’s Joe (Anthony LaPaglia), the manager who has no control over his social life, his employees, or the future of the store. There’s A.J. (Johnny Whitworth), the artsy-fartsy everyman who has declared he will announce his love to Corey by 1:37 pm exactly. Corey (Liv Tyler) herself is a bratty little speed freak on the verge of self-implosion. There’s Lucas (Rory Cochrane), a dark little soul who gambled away the store’s profits the night before, and is destined to be grounded to sitting on the couch for most of the film. There’s Gina (Renée Zellweger), a sex-starved kitten who lives to shriek and bop her head. There’s Debra (Robin Tunney), a newly bald antago-chick who has recently attempted suicide with a Lady Bic razor. There’s the majorly deranged Mark (Ethan Embry), who doesn’t seem to be operating in our universe. And then, of course, there’s Warren Beatty (Brendan Sexton III), a punk little shoplifter who stirs things up around the store. Not to mention Berko, Eddie, and the many other mutations of nature that make this place their second home.

Empire Records can be a film that you might easily dismiss on a first viewing, but there’s a treasure trove of humor to be found. All of the characters have their own little plot lines — and are always on the verge of strongly venting their emotions — and you just know that most of them will by solved by the day’s end. Half the fun of Empire is noticing all the allusions to events that happened before the movie began, giving it a feeling of the latest episode in an ongoing series (notice their little traditions and all of the break room decorations). But ultimately, the message of the film is never to sell out, always pursue your dreams, don’t eat “sugar”-laced brownies or GWAR might eat you, fake funerals can be fun, you don’t have to substitute sex for respect, where there’s a will there’s a way, true love overcomes all obstacles, and EVERYONE gets one veto on the store stereo per day.

This film was tailor-made for the cult community. While many have dismissed it as an excuse to feature and sell the soundtrack, Empire Records is absolutely jam-packed with characters, storylines, jokes, in-jokes, out-jokes, and such manic energy that it makes for a great pick-me-up anytime you’re feeling a bit blue and need a virtual hug from a movie. I absolutely love how I can keep picking up new details with each viewing, piecing together everyone’s stories, such as trying to figure out what happened between Debra and Berko, or what’s the real deal with Joe and Lucas’ relationship. Like the store, there seems to be no rules for the film: characters break the fourth wall repeatedly, there’s quite a bit of surreal happenings, and the music comes and goes as it pleases.

Plus, and maybe this is an awkward confession, but I think girls with shaved heads are pretty darn cute. Of course, considering that I’ve got this film, Alien³ and Star Trek: The Motion Picture to fuel any daydreams in that department, it’s slim pickins.

It’s a simple life, and it’s a job we all wouldn’t mind having. So damn the man, save the Empire, and find someone named Rex so that you can sing them this song: “Oh Rexy, you’re so sexy…”

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Andie’s Rating: Sugar High

Andie’s Rating: For years, my friend Alyssa has been bugging me to watch this movie, but I never did because it looked stupid. But a few weeks ago my roommate put it in our VCR and for lack of anything better to do, I sat down to watch it. Since then, I’ve watched it 7 or 8 times. It is fantastic! Sometimes just to get myself pumped up, I’ll watch the end of the movie where Gina sings Sugar High. I like to sing along and dance around my dorm room like a spaz. My roommate probably thinks I’m on crack. Anyway…..

The storyline is basically a day in the lives of employees of a music store, Empire Records. That’s it, that’s the whole movie. However, the interesting characters, biting dialogue, and great music make it a movie that can be watched over and over again. My favorite characters are Warren, a shoplifter, and Lucas, a sarcastic smart-ass who gets confined to the couch for the entire day. Also, if any of you have read my bio and want a more specific picture of “Andie,” just think Gina from Empire Records. That’s pretty much me.

Another reason why I like this movie so much is that when I was an employee at Blockbuster, some days were exactly like this movie. SO this comes highly recommended for everybody, but particularly people who like their jobs and work with fun and interesting people.

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Lissa’s Rating: It’s got a beat and you can dance to it.

Lissa’s Review: Have you ever had one of those movies that you could concede on an intellectual level was probably good, but so many people kept preaching it at you that you just lost all desire to see it? Not because it sounded bad, but because you were just SO sick of hearing about it that not watching it was your form of rebellion? Yeah, that was Empire Records for me.

It was my youth group kids that made me feel this way. They all quote it incessantly, and have been shocked I’ve never seen it. Kind of drives me nuts. They also made me feel old, when one said “Oh yeah, I watched Empire last night” and I said “Oh, Empire Strikes Back? Best one of the trilogy” and she said, “No, why would I want to watch that? I meant Empire Records.” Making me feel old does not get you points — let that be a lesson to you all.

Anyway, Empire Records is in our collection (although not because I put it there), and finally, I agreed to watch it the other night. And I’m glad I did. And no, not just because it was really amusing to watch Duckie pretend he wasn’t drooling over a young Renee Zellweger in an apron and black panties, although that was pretty funny. But it was a pretty decent flick.

You know what Empire Records is? It’s The Breakfast Club, set in a music store, with a far more sympathetic adult figure. (Joe is the anti-Vernon.) A bunch of kids with their own problems, none of whom are in the same social strata, all cooped up in a single location and figuring out their lives in a day, and all set to a great soundtrack. (Because yes, they are two of the best soundtracks to teen movies ever.) It’s got good, quotable dialogue, and characters that fit into neat little boxes on the surface, but don’t in reality. And since I like The Breakfast Club, yeah. This is good stuff.

While the kids are interesting, Empire Records does have something you rarely see in a teen-oriented movie: a genuinely sympathetic adult. That’s rather rare. Joe, the boss we actually see, isn’t made out to be this uncaring adult who doesn’t remember how tough being a teenager is (and I’m not being sarcastic — you couldn’t PAY me to be a teenager again. Twenties, yes; teen, no.), but at the same time he’s not made out to be a sap. Instead, Joe actually listens to his employees, helps them through the tough times, and isn’t afraid to tell them when they’ve really screwed up. But the moviemakers got the dynamic right, and the relationship isn’t totally reciprocal. The kids like Joe, and show some interest in his life, but they act like teens. Regardless, I really liked that aspect of it, that the moviemakers didn’t go with the cliché and make Joe utterly laughable.

Empire Records won’t change the world or be one of those thought-provoking movies that makes people reconsider their beliefs, but it is a nice, fun, pick-me-up movie that has one of the best soundtracks ever. The end.

"LOUD NOISES!"

"LOUD NOISES!"

Intermission!

  • Brendon Sexton III, who plays Warren the shoplifter, had a similar role as a thief in the film Pecker
  • Maxwell Caulfield, who plays Rex Manning, was the hunky star of the sequel to Grease, surprisingly titled Grease 2, along side a young Michelle Pfeiffer.
  • Robin Tunney’s character has a horizontal suicide-attempt scar on her wrist. In The Craft her character has a vertical suicide-attempt scar.
  • A sign by the register that says “Have a nice daze” shows the logo for Dazed and Confused. Rory Cochrane, who plays Lucas, played Slater in Dazed and Confused.
  • The ballet dancer (Melissa Caufield) that Mark tries to kiss is really hot… and she’s also the step-daughter of Maxwell Caufield, who plays Rex Manning
  • Liv Tyler’s character dates a character called AJ. In Armageddon, Liv Tyler’s character also dates a character called AJ.
  • In the scene where Deb and AJ are dancing to Rex Manning’s song and Deb takes AJ’s shirt off then about 2 seconds later he is wearing it again and then in the next shot he isn’t.
  • After the end credits is a short scene where Eddie and Mark discuss heavy metal (with a car crash in the distance)
  • The movie was originally filmed as taking place over two days but was cut and fit to one.
  • Reportedly, there was another major character in the film who was edited out after a large portion of the movie was made. Diana Miranda was the actress who played Lily. Rumor has it that she was supposed to play Warren’s sister, but she got sick before the end of the filming and had to be hospitalized so they were forced to cut her out of the movie. Lily can be spotted in the scene where Corey is calling to A.J. Lilly can be seen dancing to Corey’s right (she has brown hair and just before the camera goes back to A.J. Lilly turns her face toward the camara.)
  • Tobey Maguire had a role, but left the set due to medical problems.

Groovy Quotes

Lucas: Damn the man!

Gina: Well, “Sinead O’Rebellion!” Shock me, shock me, shock me, with that deviant behavior.
Debra: God, that is so clever. I swear you get smarter the shorter your skirt gets.

Gina: Oh now, Debra don’t be bitter. Surely with your ever-growing collection of flesh mutilating silver appendages and your brand new neo-nazi bootcamp makeover the boys’ll come a-runnin’!

[answering the phone]
Mark: Empire Records, open ’til midnight, this is Mark. [pause] Midnight!

[about Harvard]
Eddie: It’s like an alternate universe man, completely unlike the one we know, filled with big blonde guys who eat ivy and row boats.

Debra: Hey Lucas, is it true you committed the perfect crime?
Lucas: Not. . . entirely perfect.

Gina: Attention Rex Manning fans! To your left you will notice a shoplifter being chased by night manager Lucas, this young man will be caught, deep fried in hot oil and served to our first hundred customers. Just another tasty treat from the gang at Empire Records!

Debra: [reading the rules for Music Town employees] No visible tatoos.
Gina: No revealing clothing.
Debra: We’re both screwed. At least you’re used to it.

A.J.: Mark, listening to this crap is guaranteed to make you sterile.
Mark [under his breath]: Maybe I want to be sterile.

Warren: Who glued these quarters down?
A.J.: I did.
Warren: What the hell for, man?
A.J.: I don’t feel that I need to explain my art to you, Warren.

Mark: Hey, Lucas. I’ve decided I’m going to start a band.
Lucas: The first thing you need is a name. Then you’ll know what kind of band you’ve got.
Mark: Right, right. I was thinking about, um, Marc. How does that sound?
Lucas: Is that with a C or with a K?
Mark: Well my name is with a K, so I was thinking my band’s name could be with a C. That way it’s kind of that psychedelic, you know, trip thing.
Lucas: Always play with their minds.

Debra: I tried to kill myself with a Lady Bic. A pink plastic razor with daisies on it and a moisturizing strip.

AJ: You did have hair when you went in there, right?
Debra: Yeah. It’s still in the sink, if you want to glue it.

Corey: I don’t have to go bang every guy I see.
Gina: Oh, like me, the turbo slut.

Warren: Why don’t you take these CD’s and shove them up your ass?
Lucas: Becasue it would hurt a lot, Warren.

Mitch: Why do I get the feeling that I’m being totally screwed?
Joe: Because you are, Mitch.

[Lucas has just gambled away all Joe’s money.]
Lucas: I wonder if I’ll be held responsible.

Joe: What makes you think that?
Lucas: Who knows where thoughts come from, they just appear!

A.J.: What’s with you? Yesterday you were normal and today you’re like the Chinese guy from The Karate Kid. What’s with you today?
Lucas: What’s with today today?

Joe: Where’s the money Lucas?
Lucas: Joe, the money is gone.
Joe: I know it’s GONE, where’s it gone to?
Lucas: Atlantic City.
Joe: Atlantic City?
Lucas: Yeah.
Joe: What’s it DOING in Atlantic City?
Lucas: Recirculating!

Lucas: You know, someone like you needs to diminish their criminal impulses, not magnify them. Maybe some jazz or some classical.
Warren: Maybe you bite me.

Lucas: Jane, did you compare the percentage of teenage male Rex Manning fans to the incidence of homosexuality amongst teenage males?

Lucas: The fat man walks alone.

Gina: Isn’t it customary to leave the seen after commiting the crime?
Deb: Definatly an amateur.

Eddie [holding up bra]: Hey you forgot your thingy!

A.J.: [practicing his speech] Okay Corey here it goes, ya know that feeling you get when you just stepped out of a warm bath? All warm and refreshed and…. You make me feel like a bath!?

Joe: You want advice from me about love; my wife left me for another woman and my girlfriend forced me to leave at gunpoint… Does that qualify me?

Lucas: Joe, I can categorically say that you are not a bigger banana head.

Mark: No we mustn’t dwell… no not today… we can’t… not on Rex Manning day!

Lucas: And I was lying about your hair. It looks stupid.

Gina: Welcome to Music Town, may I service you?

Joe: Let me explain it to you. Mitchell’s the man. I’m the idiot. You’re the screw-up. And we’re all losers. Welcome to music town.

Debra: I went to rock and roll heaven, and I wasn’t on the guest list.

Eddie: Hey Lucas man, I hear you went to Vegas and you married a mobster’s wife and now you’ve got a hit on you and stuff. Is that true?
Lucas: Not entirely true.
Eddie: Well outlaw man, we salute you.
Lucas: Thank you Eddie.

Warren: Why don’t you take these CD’s and shove them up your ass?
Lucas: Because it would hurt a lot, Warren.

Lucas: In the immortal words of The Doors, ‘The time to hesitate is through.’

Joe: [to Warren] How old are you?
Warren: Old enough to kick your butt through your skull and splatter your brains on the wall!
Joe: [to the cops] He’s a juvenile.

Lucas: I do not regret the things I have done, but those I did not do.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Pump Up The Volume
  • Dazed and Confused
  • Clerks
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16 Comments

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  15. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I was really disappointed however, when I bought the DVD and realized that some of the lines were changed. I was used to the VHS copy that I played over and over again. Oh well. Still amazing and timeless

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