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Movie review: 'Not Fade Away'

Posted 8:20pm on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013

R (pervasive strong language, drug use, sexual content); 112 min.

As a drummer in a forgotten New Jersey band in the 1960s, David Chase never got close to making it in music. Yet from a sound check of his rock-infused HBO series The Sopranos, it's clear the music never faded away.

So what better way for the TV revolutionary to make his film directing debut than with a story that's all about the music? Chase's Not Fade Away -- a somewhat autobiographical drama about a Jersey boy playing drums in a '60s band and dreaming of stardom -- would be called a promising first feature from some unknown filmmaker doing the rounds at Sundance. Coming from a Hollywood heavyweight who has spent decades in the TV trenches, it's a hopeful sign, or maybe just wishful thinking, that more of the quality that has fled film for television might somehow be channeled back to the big screen.

Not Fade Away is a sweet, sad, smart and satisfying piece of nostalgia. Like The Sopranos, much of the drama arises out of generational conflict, in this case between rebellious son Douglas (John Magaro) and his pragmatic, my-way-or-the-highway dad (James Gandolfini). Like countless teens before and since, Douglas is infected by music -- chiefly, the bluesy, rootsy rock of the early Rolling Stones -- and joins a band with some pals who are similarly caught up in the British invasion of the early and mid-'60s.

From there we get not the overdone tale of a group that's on the rise and struggling with the pitfalls of fame and success. Instead, we get the genuine and more illuminating story of all those losers who didn't make it. Who maybe didn't put in the time, maybe didn't have the talent, maybe didn't pursue the dream with the single-minded fanaticism that it usually takes to rise to the top, or even to climb the first couple of rungs.

It's no surprise, considering the union of music and drama on The Sopranos, that Chase assembles a killer soundtrack featuring the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks, Bo Diddley, Robert Johnson, Lead Belly, Elmore James and many others. He's aided by fellow Jersey guy and Sopranos co-star Steven Van Zandt, a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, who does double duty as both music supervisor and an executive producer on the film.

-- David Germain, The Associated Press

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