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Review from a long time CBGB employee
Brendan36 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The following review focuses on the portrayal of Hilly Kristal and CBGB. I will leave criticism of the aesthetics of the film and the film makers' skills to others with a less personal connection to the material.

I knew they were going to get things wrong and I also knew they were going to have to change and compress some things in order to tell a coherent story in under two hours.

There's a lot they got right and a lot they got wrong and there's a lot of good and bad in this movie.

One thing I have mixed feelings about was the decision for artistic sake to use a lot of actual pieces of the original club as props. Since this movie is set in the early to mid-1970's, highlighting the beginning of CBGB and its early notoriety, many people who know anything about underground music will find a number of things out of place. For example, it's cool that they used the actual phone booth from the club as a prop in the film, but when Alan Rickman as Hilly in 1974 is seen standing next to it with a visible 1993 CBGB twentieth anniversary poster on the side, it can be distracting. There are tons of stickers and flyers for bands from later years visible throughout the movie and if you know your music, it can be a little distracting.

It was also evident that someone involved in the set design of this film was a big fan of late 80's straight-edge as there are a disproportionate number of Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits stickers all over the interior.

Most of the big name bands of the 70's CBGB scene are represented here. Some notable bands missing, but this is a movie and we can't expect them to fit everyone. If you blink, you'll miss the two seconds an actress playing Annie Golden of The Shirts is on screen. The music is all lip synced studio recordings of the original artists… which is good because who wants to hear the actors doing covers?… and bad because every live performance sounds too perfect. Most bands are given very little screen time as it is obvious the film makers are trying very hard to fit as many in as possible, but each one is well represented and there are little true to life touches, such as Johnny Ramone's temper and Patti Smith's eccentricities, that are actually pretty humorous.

Good… The Dead Boys are featured heavily in this film (more than any other band) and a lot of people who never heard of them before seeing this film are going to be turned on to them. Rupert Grint actually does a great job as Cheetah Chrome. The closest thing to a plot this film has, aside from Hilly opening the club, is Hilly's decision to manage the Dead Boys and get a record out. The film loosely follows this effort right up to the stabbing of Johnny Blitz.

Bad… (SPOILER!!) After the stabbing of Johnny Blitz, the film ends quickly after Lisa and Merv come up with some money for Hilly. This is completely anticlimactic and unnecessary. Since the film chose to close shortly after the stabbing, they missed the opportunity to end the film big, with the infamous Johnny Blitz benefits at CBGB.

Good… Not only is John Holmstrom's story told here in the origin of Punk magazine, but his actual art is used throughout the film in various scene changes. Holmstrom is a good guy and deserves to have his story told and I'm glad his art is getting exposure in this film.

Bad… Savannah Georgia does not look like NYC. Okay, that's just a quibble. I know it's a movie, but I just had to throw that in.

Good… A few people I don't like were left out of this story and they're probably very upset.

Bad… Unfortunately, because of the legal dispute over Hilly's estate, his ex-wife Karen and his son Dana, both of whom were there at the very beginning of CBGB are left out of this story. Hilly's daughter Lisa is the only family member shown working at the club with him.

Good… Hilly's chili, dog waste everywhere, carnality on stage, Hilly leaving money in his freezer, and countless other little details that brought memories flooding back.

Bad… not bad for the movie, but the scene where Hilly is chided for forgetting to pay the rent will, unfortunately, only reinforce the incorrect assumption that many still have to this day that CBGB closed because of unpaid rent. Allow me to step away from my review for a moment. For the record, that is not why we closed. Though the landlord did improperly sue us over unpaid rent, it was just a dirty tactic to get us out. The rent was always paid. The judge not only threw the lawsuit out, but reprimanded the landlord for being so underhanded. Our lease expired and the landlord did not renew.

Back to the movie… The best thing about this movie and what made me actually really like it was the way Hilly was portrayed. Not only did Alan Rickman do a great job of capturing Hilly's mannerism and personality... for all the faults those of us who nitpick will find in this film, at its heart it is a sweet tribute to a great man. Hilly could be difficult to understand (figuratively and literally) and could have completely irrational emotional responses to some things for no reason and no response to things that warranted reaction, but his heart was always in the right place and he made CBGB a home for so many of us and his employees were often an extension of his family. For everything this film got right and everything this film got wrong, this was the most important thing and they got it perfectly right.
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Actually quite good, but depends what you're after.
Fenris Fil1 March 2014
Okay first of all if your a big fan of one particular artist or more in the story and are expecting their role (or even their personality) to be fleshed out, chances are you will be disappointed. They are all (aside from the Dead Boys) limited to cameos and as such some people find they are a little generic. I'm not sure how much depth people expect in what often amounts to less than a minutes screen time, but there you go. It is not a long movie and it would have been impossible to do justice to everyone involved in that music scene in such a short time. In the restraints they had, I believe they did well enough.

Secondly there are some liberties taken with the actual music. It didn't matter to me as it was all great music, but if your picky on such things that may irritate you. An example of this is that the Ramones don't actually play any Ramones tracks, instead they player a Joey Ramone solo track that was released later. I don't really understand why they made those choices, but that is the way it is. Some people may feel the "live" sound isn't gritty enough. Again, I had no problem here, I wanted to hear good music and I did.

Perhaps those that get the most out of this films are those that like the music but aren't huge fans of anyone in specific. This is where I fell and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I laughed and I cried and when it finished I was happy. Alan Rickman is the centrepiece of this film and that I think will make this enjoyable to the majority of viewers (as the IMDb average suggests) as he is as solid as ever. The rest of the cast is reasonable but no one stands out. The sets look very accurate (from what I can tell at least) and the whole thing is quite believable.

Taken out of the historical context this is basically a light hearted comedy about a growing music scene and a guy with passion, kindness and absolutely no business acumen. It feels like a "British Comedy" which for many will be fine, but given the topic is a New York club some may feel it inappropriate. If you read this review and still want to see the film then you will no doubt enjoy it as much as I have (or more).
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A hilarious time capsule
HotToastyRag14 June 2019
From the director of Bottle Shock comes another love letter to the 1970s: CBGB. If you have no idea what that means, or if you know what it means but don't know what the letters stand for, you'll be very entertained by this movie. Full of literally dozens of songs from 1970s rock and grunge bands, it's a must-see for classic rock lovers. As you listen to Television, Blondie, The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, The Stooges, The Ramones, The Police, and countless others, you'll get to see modern actors dressed up and lip-synching to their songs!

CBGB is a New York nightclub started by Hilly Kristal, played by a hilarious wigged-out Alan Rickman. His dive bar isn't paying his bills, so he transforms it into a nightclub where people can chill out and listen to "Country, Blue Grass, and Blues" bands. It gets turned into a hot spot where undiscovered punk bands play before they become famous. The beautiful Malin Akerman plays Debbie Harry, Taylor Hawkins plays Iggy Pop, Joel David Moore plays Joey Ramone, and countless others perform in a sort of "candid camera" that shows behind-the-scenes fun as well as performances from "way back when". This film completely captures the 1970s music scene, and the colors, lighting, incredibly grungy interior design, costumes, and wigs make it feel like a time capsule. If you know your bands, you'll get even more out of the humor, and if you don't, you'll just get a kick out of Alan Rickman's hilarious scenes with his mother, Estelle Harris, and his scenes with a grown up Rupert Grint. There's a lot to love about this tribute to the 1970s, but if you don't like that decade, don't even think about renting it.
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A review by a CBGB Band Person and Indie Filmmaker!
FantasyCreatureFilmsLLC3 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I'm a female guitarist, bassist and songwriter who immersed myself in CBGBs and the original New York punk scene, who played at the club from the end of the 70s until months before its closing. I'm also a narrative filmmaker and believe I can fairly and objectively state the skinny here, and am copying over an edited, revised review from my website to fit in this rectangle:

Many of the musicians and club-goers who survived the New York punk era are a bit resentful they weren't included in the making of CBGB, a film about the quintessential punk club CBGB Omfug, but 50,000 bands (I quote this number from the film) passed through its portals since its founder, Hilly Kristal, opened its doors on Manhattan's flophouse-flavored Bowery. And, though the CBGB movie is flawed, it is still a lovely tribute to Hilly.

The brilliant actor Alan Rickman uncannily captures aspects of Hilly's personality and his dedication to all who passed through his "school of rock." This performance couldn't have been better. Director Randall Miller and Jody Savin have written a quirky script with heart, which includes some clever one-liners, and director Miller's work shines in scenes between Hilly and his co-workers. The sound mix––music often has dialogue interspersed––is excellent.

What you won't get in this film is the essence of punk attitude. Rather, the film documents the struggles Hilly Kristal went through to provide a platform for new music. And in that context, this film succeeds.

It is, however, frustrating that there is a huge miss in the portrayal of the punk scene without its high decibel deadpan, often self-deprecating humor that underlies its aesthetic. For example, though they achieve one such moment with Hilly's mother and Joey Ramone discussing a bowl of chili, elsewhere the script ignores the Ramones were inherently funny dudes from Queens, though the actors achieve a verisimilitude in appearance. (They do peg Johnny Ramone's tendency to tantrum.) Ergo, there is a lack of credibility in the portrayal of Debbie Harry of Blondie without her teasing tongue-in-cheek attitude; and in the portrayal of Stiv Bators, lead singer of the Dead Boys. Rupert Grint succeeds in affecting a stoner rock and roller in his role (a fun change for his fans from his goody-goody Ron Weasley days), but is not coming across with the love-of-the-instrument joy of the young, Dead Boys' guitarist Cheetah Chrome, though they do share the red hair. Kyle Gallner as Lou Reed is not in the ballpark at all. Ashley Greene, playing Hilly's daughter, Lisa, comes nowhere close to the stoic teenager who worked for her father and later attended law school (Hilly's CBGBs co-owner ex-wife and son are not portrayed in the film). It seems more care could have been taken with adhering to truth with these talented young actors who otherwise turn in acceptable acting performances.

As well, the ekphrasic device of movie turned into comic book, special effects popping in and out, while a clever nod to Punk Magazine, becomes distracting. It would likely have worked with a more restrained editing hand.

On the other hand, Mickey Sumner, Sting's real-life, extraordinarily talented actress daughter, sublimely metamorphoses into Patti Smith. In a brief, heart pounding stage performance, she exudes the true essence of punk; this offers a glimpse, alas, of the promise of what this film's portrayal of the punk scene could have been. A standout is Taylor Hawkins as Iggy Pop. And Freddy Rodriguez nearly steals the film with his riveting performance as the drug addict, Idaho.

I adore they include the story of a biker gang leader famously agreeing to keep his group out of the club: This alludes to a real event that happened with the Hell's Angels. They were often protective of neighborhood denizens despite their tendency to start a ruckus or frighten patrons of CBGBs with their presence. As well, the story of Hilly's early life is worked into the story in a charming way.

When Genya Ravan, one of the first women of rock, berates the Dead Boys about the swastika stickers on their instrument cases as their manager, Hilly, is Jewish, it isn't mentioned that Genya herself was a survivor of the Holocaust. Cowed, the Dead Boys remove them. However, while this scene awkwardly makes the point that punks were not Nazis, creepy symbols were brandished as part of the punk aesthetic. Anything that would annoy was the point, and this extended to personal adornment, attitude, song lyrics, music, all a backlash to the wholesome Brady Bunch, height-of-disco world most of the punks came from and that still existed everywhere but in the the thimbleful of punk clubs, its daytime hub around St. Mark's Place in the East Village; in its beginnings, punk was a small, insular world.

It is a disappointment that certain seminal punk bands are not mentioned, like the New York Dolls or the Stilettos. To know what these bands were really like one will still have to go to Youtube, or look at films made during the punk era like Blank Generation, which stars Richard Hell who played with the Heartbreakers and his own band, the Voidoids.

Beyond using the history of punk rock emerging as the backdrop of the film, it really is not a film about punk rock. Ultimately, CBGB is a character study of the unassuming Hilly Kristal who gave us a stage to work our songs. He gave advice. He gave encouragement. He made sure we got our splits at the door. He made us feel CBGBs was our home, that we were a familial extension of his own family.

So do go see this film for Alan Rickman's performance. Do go see this film about an unassuming man whose efforts gave a platform to fresh new voices when no one else was doing so. Do go see this film about a quiet man who brought loud music to the world.
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Great film about an important moment in music history
natrc20033 October 2013
As someone who was "there" but as an outsider (14-year-old kid from NJ who idolized Punk magazine and especially the Ramones), I loved this film. Yes, I recognize a number of liberties were taken with the truth, but this film allowed me to relive the thrill I used to experience going to CBGB's (as we called it) back in the day (I started going around 1976 or so). Even more than that, it's great to get a glimpse of how CBGB's came to be.

More than that, the film works great as a film in and of itself -- the directing, pacing, acting and cinematography are all first rate, with nary a dull or dead spot throughout (until the end, but I'll get to that). I'm not generally one for tricks like the use of Holmstrom's art to frame the story, but since it's Punk magazine we're talking about, it makes perfect sense for this film.

The film just sails along -- I suppose partly because it's so much fun to see the various bands, and how much fun the actors had portraying the band members' quirks (the Joey Ramone character is spot on... ). In fact, I would have liked it if the film had been extended to include more of the early groups (they left out Suicide, who were everywhere back then) and more of the live performances. I'm a little torn by the decision to have them lip sync to album material -- on the one hand, it's the music we remember, on the other hand, most of the bands have live material available, even recorded at CBGB's, why not use some of that?

However, by the end... the film runs out of steam a bit. I think that comes partly from the decision to focus a bit too much on the Dead Boys storyline, knowing how doomed that band was, and how entirely outclassed they were by most of the other bands featured (Television, Talking Heads, Ramones, Blondie). Fortunately, the film only sags in the last 15 minutes or so, and it's still not enough to spoil a fine film dealing with a very important part of American -- and world -- music history.

For me, personally, this period shaped my entire life, certainly from an aesthetic point of view.

And great news! There's now a Best of Punk Magazine book available! (I still have my original copies around somewhere, but I can't wait to show this book to my kids!)
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Enjoyed it a lot
ktyson94263 November 2013
Apparently, I'm practically the only reviewer that wasn't there or personally knew Hilly himself. I grew up in a smaller-ish mid-western town and was introduced to punk by a girl from high school in the late 70's, and became aware of CBGB in the mid 80's. CBGB was always a mecca I wanted to visit but never got the chance to, so I leaped at watching this movie.

First off... It' important to remember this is the fictionalize account of the legendary New York city punk club CBGB and Hilly Kristal, and not a documentary. I went into watching this with the expectations there would be many factual errors. I noticed some items like band stickers on the walls from the wrong decade, but it's a Hollywood movie... not a documentary. I think the end credits says it best where it says "And we know that Iggy Pop never played at CBGB... Just deal with it.".

This location was so instrumental to music that I doubt a 3 hour movie could have done it justice. They had to pack a lot of story into a short amount of time so no one watching this movie should do so expecting a historically accurate movie. I enjoyed how they interweaved Punk magazine into the story. I felt it helped keep an upbeat, lighthearted message about Hilly and CGBG and kept the plot moving.

Now it's a double edged sword here with my criticism. The plot got pretty thin in the middle of the movie as the director tried to give the viewer a idea of the energy that was going on with the bands playing there, and some of the insanity I'm sure went on there on a regular basis. While the plot got non-existence, it was still enjoyable to imagine being there and seeing bands like the Ramones, Blonde, Patti Smithe playing.

Even though I thought there were points where the plot got lost, and the acting was somewhat awkward and forced at points, I still thought it was well done. My one big complaint is the ending was sort of sudden and anticlimactic.

Overall I really enjoyed the movie personally... but I didn't have high expectations on what it was going to be either. I guess if you're a punk purist or were actually there, then someone might be disappointed in the movie.
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Music and a story
cekadah26 April 2014
When I finished this movie my first reaction was - WoW - what an experience CBGB would have been. Of course I realize the movie is not a historical chronicle of life and time of Hilly and his CBGB. The movies first intent is to entertain the viewer - and it does entertain very well.

I think the director and writers wanted to show the beginnings of the Punk Rock phenomenon paralleled by the beginnings of CBGB which would grow in fame just as the punk movement grew internationally. So the focus of this film is the beginning of three things - CBGB, punk rockers, and Hilly's personal beginning finding his way through his vision.

Alan Rickman gives a top notch performance as Hilly and the supporting cast do just as well, which makes this a diamond of a movie. The music may be too 'studio perfect' but how many people that will see this movie actually heard these bands live in their early days. Most all of us know these bands by their records.

Give this a look - it's quite a story with a really lovable dog too!!
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Sure, the accents are terrible and it's very glossy for a film about punk but it's so much fun.
Sergeant_Tibbs16 October 2013
I was a fan of CBGB music before I even knew what it was. I remember going to a second hand record store and asking them if they had any John Cale records. They said, yes, in the CBGB pile. The what? CBGB. Seeby-Jeeby..? And then they pointed at the section and there was a bunch of punk/new wave that I love. Heaven? Yes. Randall Miller seems to have a big passion for this music of the 70s and 80s too. I'm way more interested in the other upcoming project he had in mind called The Drummer, which was to star Vera Farmiga as Christine McVie and Aaron Eckhart as Dennis Wilson, but that film seems to not be happening anytime soon. Instead, I'm happy to check out CBGB to at least learn more about the place than 'it was a club.' The film prominently features musicians such as Television, The Dead Boys, Talking Heads, Blondie and Iggy Pop, but this story is about Hilly Kristal, the founder of the club, played by Alan Rickman. Although the film appears to glide through the narrative without much of a sense of jeopardy or pressure, it's very entertaining and colourful, designed in a magazine style with split screens and annotations every now and then. Even though that caricature tone does not match the gritty punk attitude of its topics, it's an accessible and simplified version that's great fun to watch, even if most of the accents are terrible.

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HEY - I liked It
PartialMovieViewer4 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
SO...I am sure there were mistakes made and liberties taken. Before I begin, please remember this is a non-fiction account of an important time in music. 'CBGB', is generated out of Holly-weird, you know - that place where facts occasionally get in the way of telling a good story. I got that, and understand a twisted truth often reflects ideologies ingrained in the minds of many movie producers, directors or writers. In this case, I doubt any bad intentions were meant, I think their goal was solely creating good entertainment. For me - they did a spectacular job. Thank you cast and crew good job.

I do understand that this movie is not for everyone. I am old enough to have hitched my musical wagon to the music of the '60s and '70s. So I would be extra critical of anything pumped out attempting to explain, 'Woodstock', or, 'The Monterrey Pop Festival.' Again, I appreciate those critical of this movie.

For me, this movie ginned something up inside of me personally. I am now very interested in researching this important bit of history. I vaguely remember this era, although this time-frame was a bit after my 'generation.' I hate to admit it, I had very little interest in the entire genre (of course I owned albums by Lou Reed, Blondie, Patti Smith, and The Ramones – but never really cared to digest any meaning behind the 'Punk?' movement.) Well now I do. For those of us hidden in the shadows (or me - I am Punk-ignorant) – this was a super summary of the time.

Again, thanks cast and crew– excellent job.
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I really ended up liking this much more then I thought I would. This isn't a good movie about music, this is a good movie period.
cosmo_tiger25 November 2013
"There's something there, there's definitely something there." After two failed attempts at running a bar and on the verge of bankruptcy Hilly Kristal (Rickman) throws everything he has into a bar where he wants to feature local country, bluegrass or blues bands. What it turns out to be is the launching pad for an entirely new sound for a new generation. As the legend goes punk wasn't born here but after bands such as Blondie, The Ramones, The Police and Iggy Pop punk was discovered here. I have to admit I am not a fan of punk music. I did like the Police and some songs by the bigger named artists but overall it's not one of my favorite genres. I wasn't really sure what to expect from this going in but I really ended up liking it. Alan Rickman is great in this (as always) and the story moved fast enough that there really wasn't a boring part in this at all. The actors they picked to play the bands were spot on, Malin Akerman, Rupert Grint and Kyle Gallner are all interesting choices. I really ended up liking this much more then I thought I would. Overall, this is not just a good movie about music, this is a good movie period. I give it a B+.
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It could've been good... But it decided to be awful
GarrisonLXVI7 December 2019
Rickman rules. Because he's Alan Rickman. Other than to watch a great actor work his craft there's nothing worth seeing here. Low energy, unexciting and a poorly written work. Everything that punk isn't.

Special shout out to the scriptwriters - do you know how many kids in the early 70s used the words "dude" and "newbie"? Hint- none.
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Wouldn't A Documentary Be Better?
mowasteph30 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
First off, I love Alan Rickman so it pains me to say this - why was he cast in this role? He sleepwalks through the whole thing. And I was told he was supposed to be all New York-y. He's about as New York-y as the Queen. A jew-fro, 20 extra pounds and a wardrobe of overalls does NOT make a character.

Now on to the real problem: who wrote this thing? Did YOU get any sense of the importance or significance of CBGB watching this dumb movie? Because I didn't. Mostly it seemed to be a movie about a guy who steadfastly refused to pay his rent for no particular reason whatsoever. If the real Hilly was this much of a moronic aye-hole nobody would have had anything to do with him and history would not have been made.

Now onto the "famous acts." These characters were paraded on in a ridiculous fashion. Oooo, there's Blondie. Oooo, there's Taylor Hawkins being Iggy. Oooo, there's the Ramones and the Talking Heads and a glimpse of Annie Golden and Harry Potter's friend in the Dead Boys. And why were those polished studio recordings used every time someone "played"? Where was the rawness? There was no sense of the growth of these bands or the growth of the club and there was no sense of what Hilly really meant to anyone. Remember in the final credits and they show Tina Weymouth at the RnR Hall of Fame bringing Hilly on stage with them and she talks about how Hilly FED them, and NURTURED them and blah blah blah. Did you see ANY of that in this movie? No.

Finally...what was up with that comic book style? What in the world has this got to do with comic books?
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Good film even better soundtrack!
muamba_eats_toast16 August 2020
The film was already good and a lot of fun but the soundtrack really makes it great music and a film about a great man who made it all possible for a lot of people. While it wasn't perfect if you're even a slight fan of the punk movement you should love this.
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Will go down in film history as a cult classic among film and music fans!
Hellmant14 December 2013
'CBGB': Four Stars (Out of Five)

A biographical comedy film about the New York club CBGB and it's founder Hilly Kristal. It was directed by Randall Miller and written by Miller and Jody Savin (who worked on multiple screenplays with Miller). The film stars Alan Rickman as Hilly Kristal and co-stars the likes of Ashley Greene (of 'TWILIGHT' fame), Donal Logue, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Zuckerman, Ahna O'Reilly and Richard de Klerk. It also features a number of other actors as famous rock stars; like Malin Akerman as Debbie Harry, Joel David Moore as Joey Ramone, Taylor Hawkins as Iggy Pop, Mickey Sumner as Patti Smith, Kyle Gallner as Lou Reed, Justin Bartha as Stiv Bators and Rupert Grint (of 'HARRY POTTER' fame) as Cheetah Chrome. I found the movie to be highly entertaining and informative.

Rickman plays New York club owner Hilly Kristal, who opened CBGB in Manhattan in 1973. He originally planned to have country, bluesgrass and blues bands play there (which is what the name stands for) but instead turned it into an underground Rock 'n' Roll venue. It played only new and original music, from mostly punk and New Wave bands (like the Ramones, Misfits, The Dead Boys, Blondie, Talking Heads, Patti Smith Group, The Police and Joan Jett & The Bleackhearts to name a few). It's largely seen as the birthplace of American punk rock music. The film focuses on Kristal's struggles to keep the club open as he deals with many financial issues. He later became known as the 'godfather of punk'.

The first genre of music I really got into (as a young adult) was punk and alternative music (mostly pop punk and ska punk bands at first but later more traditional punk rock music as well). One of my all-time favorite bands is the Ramones and I've always been fascinated by CBGB and the early 70s punk rock scene; so this movie was really interesting to me (I also found it to be highly entertaining). I was expecting a more serious biography film and was quite surprised to see a cartoonish style comedy flick (that takes a lot of creative liberties). Some punk rock fans might be upset by this but I liked it. I thought Rickman was great and Bartha, Grint and Moore are all scene-stealers as well (all of the performances are good in fact). I think it will go down in film history as a cult classic among film and music fans! If you're into the same style of music you're almost sure to be entertained.

Watch our movie review show 'MOVIE TALK' at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJalgBjCCrg
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A Worthwhile Docudrama
TheAll-SeeingI6 September 2019
As a music film, "CBGB" does soften the visceral feel of the underbelly that its namesake club once nurtured. Yet remnants of that era - visual and tonal - are still attentively projected throughout this ultimately successful docudrama.

Alan Rickman could play a house cat or fire hydrant with equal aplomb; he was a wise choice as Hilly Kristal, a forward-thinker who provided CBGB as a nest for fledgling rock 'n' roll birds. Throughout, Hilly puts passion and inclination above metrics and flow charts in lending watershed bands a deserving spotlight.

Critics famously panned this film. But perhaps anything other than a documentary would have been doomed to derision. "CBGB" takes a story that's all-too-holy to some, and acquits itself as a docudrama worthy of its times. - (Was this review of use to you? If so, let me know by clicking "Helpful." Cheers!) - WATCHED IT? THEN WATCHLIST: "The Boat That Rocked (2009)," "Stadium Anthems (2018)," "24 Hour Party People (2002)"
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It was good!
jimmi-598-81315923 October 2013
I saw it on the big screen, and it was good! The film comes with a great soundtrack and lots of laughs too. The theater audience around me seemed to be enjoying the film. I was there at CBGB during this time period, and my band The Laughing Dogs played there. One of our songs is in the soundtrack. I am glad that this movie was made and I appreciate that the movie preserves the history of the place and of Hilly Kristal. Hilly provided opportunities to a lot of bands and a place for bands to play their original music. Many bands got signed with record labels after performing at CBGB. I found the sets and characters looked like the real thing, as if I was back there. I have written a more thorough review on my website.
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Below average at best.
torrascotia28 January 2022
I am always keen to watch a good movie that covers an important part of musical history and does so in an informative and entertaining way. Does this movie fit the bill? I would argue that it doesn't.

This is supposed to be a history of the famous CBGBs music bar which was the launch pad for a few famous punk and post punk bands as well as a stopping off point for thousands of bands that didn't make it.

Seeing that Alan Rickman was attached as well as a few TV famous faces as well as being a free watch on Amazon Prime this was a no brainer.

Where this falls short is the live music scene which there are a few. Instead of having the actors recreate a young fresh and raw band playing their famous songs, we instead get actors miming badly to studio produced tracks of the real bands. It simply takes away from the live music scenes and makes them look artificial.

Another problem is the bar and the actors themselves, they look too clean or rather fake dirty. It doesn't look like a dive bar and even the homeless don't look homeless.

With literally thousands of bands playing this venue there should have been better stories covered, regardless of whether the bands made it. Instead it focuses on a few bigger named bands who unfortunately have boring stories, the most exciting to happen to one is someone falls off a chair. Not very rock n roll.

This is really a homage to Hilly Kristal (who I thought was being called Billy Krystal - probably too much loud music), instead of the bar itself. After 90 mins however you still know very little about him or even care as he is played so deadpan without no insight given into his mindset.

The only people I see giving this high ratings are people doing so based on nostalgia, which isn't a bad thing, it just means if you don't have that to fall back on this will likely be quite boring. It is likely to drop in ratings for these people on repeated viewings also.

If you want to see how a music movie/doc should be made look no further than 24 Hour Party People. A movie that was not only informative but bent the truth in the right way to make it more interesting and entertaining.

There is an entertaining movie about CBGBs but its yet to be made. There is simply too much wrong in terms of focus, production, plot and music for this to be rated as highly as it currently is.

There are much better punk docs out there...
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A Little Club That Could.. at least for a little while!
marklamendola24 October 2013
Saw the CBGB Movie last night... Great job! no car crashes.. just Hilly's truck, no alien invasion, no love story unless you count the part with.. Well, I wont mention any names.. Just a story about a little club that could.. at least for a little while. Alan Rickman did capture the essence of Mr. K.. this is not a documentary so I did not mind the time line of certain things not being accurate, it was entertaining and if you were not fortunate enough to have been there back in the day you can still learn a thing or two about the beginnings of Punk Rock. Yes there were many bands that played that stage and some are upset for not being included.. perhaps writing scathing reviews.. I was happy to be there "cant all be rock stars" Great tribute to Hilly at the end when Talking Heads were added to R&R Hall of Fame. I loved it and do want to see it again!
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How Punk Rock was given a big boost in Manhattan.
TxMike14 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I came across this movie on Netflix streaming. I am a Rickman fan so watched it because of him. The subject turns out to be Punk Rock, a music genre that I truly hate, but the story of how all this came about is very interesting.

Alan Rickman is New Jersey native Hilly Kristal who in 1973, after at least a couple of failed businesses leading to bankruptcy, decided to start yet another new business. He was certain that country music would be the next big thing so he called his place 'CBGB' which stood for 'Country, Blue Grass, and Blues.'

As it turned out those musical forms never took off in his place, they took off in Nashville. But the CBGB became a magnet for alternative forms of music, like Punk Rock. Like The Ramones, or Debbie Harry, or The Dead Boys. Even The Police featuring Sting.

Hilly was never much of a businessman. His place was crude and pest- infested, and he probably had the dirtiest toilets in Manhattan. He never bargained contracts for supplies and was paying too much, cutting into profits, which ended up in cash in his freezer.

His daughter is played by Ashley Greene as Lisa Kristal, she recognizes his lack of business skills and sets out to make things right but Hilly was not very cooperative.

All in all a pretty fascinating story, if it had been written as fiction we would have a hard time believing many of the things that are portrayed here.
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Missed opportunity but at least the music is good
SnoopyStyle24 August 2014
Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman) starts the legendary NYC club CBGB as a place for Country, BlueGrass and Blues. He's divorced with two kids and with two bankruptcies under his belt. The place is a hole and the neighborhood is a dump. The manager of Television Terry Ork (Johnny Galecki) approach him to play on their stage. Hilly's only demand is that they play original music. He doesn't like the music but there is something there. He only has his friend Merv Ferguson (Donal Logue) and junkie Idaho (Freddy Rodríguez) who Hilly is trying to help. His daughter Lisa (Ashley Greene) quits school, and hates his latest endeavor. When Television gets a writeup, she comes back to help him.

This is a mess of a style. There is the insistence of the comic strip visuals which only serves to distract. There isn't much of a story. Maybe that's why this movie needs the distraction. It's mainly a series of famous names. There is a side story of a bunch of kids starting a magazine. Again this is just another distraction that contributes nothing to the narrative. At least, this has some good music. Other than that, there is a story later in the movie as Hilly tries to manage a punk band The Dead Boys. By then, it's a little too little and too late. Also by concentrating on them, the movie loses its ace card, the great music. There is an obvious 'It's a Wonderful Life' story here. Instead Hilly Kristal is portrayed as a disinterested slob. The praise from The Talking Heads at the end of the movie is so much more compelling. That Hilly Kristal sounds like somebody that this movie should be about.
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Great music history
hognls-579543 March 2019
The historical story line line is very entertaining and interesting. Rickman does a good job as Hilly whom I never heard of before this movie. What a character. The talent that went thru his joint was amazing. A true pioneer ( maybe by accident) of cutting edge rock. You won't be sorry you watched it. Great sound track.
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Go see this movie!
gesher-800-2130824 September 2013
Look, full disclosure: I didn't have any of the baggage of ever hearing of or being at CBGB. I lied to get into the preview: (I'm sixty one and the cutoff was 60). I didn't fancy myself a fan of punk. Didn't really even know what it was. I LOVED this movie start to finish. The story, the texture, the music all lifted me into a different world. The cuts between this punk magazine and this story amazed me as they worked. The music is a dream collection and the quirky story of the accidental birth of this genre of music made me smile end to end. That there is a Jewish back story to punk music, the Godfather of punk, the lunacy of swastika sporting musicians given their chance in life by a Yid, just made it the sweeter. If this movie makes it to your area ever (which it probably won't in Portland, Oregon), race to it and enjoy!
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A Historic Account of One Man's Dream That Helped Change The World & Told With A Comedic Edge
BobS-812 October 2013
It is difficult to find a good comedy these days but CBGB is the exception. There are lots of laughs from start to finish but what makes it even more enjoyable is that it is based on true life experiences. It tells the story of Hilly Kristal, an already two time failed night club owner who still wanted to fulfill his dreams. He found a run down bar on the Bowery in NYC which at that time was filled with drunks sleeping on the street and heavy heroin trafficking. He thought he would open a Country Blues Bar which makes the story that much funnier in this part of town. Eventually bands, who had no where else to go, came to him to fulfill their own fantasies of playing original music to a live crowd. In those days, only copy bands could find places to perform live. The movie depicts the early days which broke ground for the new pioneers of Rock & Roll like the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith and Talking Heads.

The movie concentrates on each and every mishap and obstacle that Hilly had to confront to live his dream. It also tells an additional story about an extremely talented band, the Dead Boys, which became the second obsession of Hilly Kristal as he thought they could become the next Rolling Stones! He hired record producer Genya Ravan to produce them and spent what little money he had to make that dream happen also. Now many decades later, one of the most talented bands to have ever played CBGBs finally gets their just due deserves because this movie exposes them to the masses whereas legal and personal disputes kept their records out of the stores for years.

CBGB is one laugh after another that everyone can relate to because we all have some crazy dream at one time or another and few rarely actually try to fulfill them, and even more so, ever do with any degree of success. There is a little Hilly Kristal in all of us. In many ways, Hilly Kristal did succeed because he helped change the world. He helped change a stale and boring corporate controlled music industry and it has never been the same since. You do not need to be a fan of punk rock or any music genre to enjoy this movie. It is fun for people from all walks of life and you will want to watch it over and over again for years to come.

The only criticism I would have to this movie, for music lovers, is that the Ramones were not completely depicted accurately and I am told because Johnny Ramone's widow would not sign off on their material since she did not agree to the casting of her late husband. I can not confirm this, but if it is true, I would think she had every right to decide how her husband, a legend of Rock & Roll, is depicted in a movie. That being said, I do not think his casting was terrible and their presence in the movie made the point intended to be made. On the brighter side for music lovers, we get a peek into the mind of young John Holmstrom in the movie and his view of kids turning "punk" in those early days. John Holmstrom was the founding editor of "Punk Magazine" and illustrator to much of the infamous comic book style artwork of the Ramones . His role to the origin's of the NYC punk scene is duly noted in the movie along with his perspectives at the time. It is a theme which the movie is based around and ties it all together to make it work just perfectly and to give it that comedic edge. Right from the early days, punk rock had a comic book mindset attached to it and this can be attributed to John's work as founding editor of Punk magazine and later with the Ramones.

While not all the castings are perfect, Alan Rickman, who portrays Hilly Kristal, is spot on in his performance. He is much deserving of a nomination for his role. Go see CBGB and then go see it again and do not believe any baloney the critics or disgruntled musicians may say.
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They get it all wrong
stirthesauce3 April 2021
Warning: Spoilers
Patrice Smith sings Because the Night which was written for her after she was already famous l. Talking Heads perform Psycho Killer which was a later hit. Talk about pastiche. This movie is aggravating.
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so lovely
AnusPresley5 August 2021
Not a documentary, a love letter. CBGB changed our world. Alan Rickman is perfect. The Ramones - wet your pants hysterical. This is pure beauty.
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