Del and Mladen review ‘Wham!’

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“Wham!” Starring Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael. Directed by Chris Smith. 1 hour, 32 minutes. Rated TV-14. Netflix.

Del’s take

“Wham!” the eponymous documentary about the British pop duo who were part of the Second British Invasion, raises as many questions about their 1986 breakup as it answers. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more fascinating glimpse into the ascendency of a pop music phenomenon, the music industry itself, and the uniquely strange pop scene of the 1980s.

What’s known is that Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael met as adolescents who shared a love of music. As they aged into teenagers, the two joined at least one band, a short-lived ska effort called The Executive. When that failed they created Wham! and Ridgeley began courting the record industry for a contract. He eventually landed a deal with Mark Dean of Innervision records.

They released a pair of songs – “Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do)!” and “Club Tropicana” (which required, ahem, a fact-finding trip to the Pikes in Ibeza). Those efforts generated only lukewarm interest, but a fortuitous appearance on the BBC program “Top of the Pops,” where they performed their song “Young Guns (Go for It),” propelled the duo to greater success, and their debut album, “Fantastic,” soared to No. 1 on the UK charts.

A switch to Epic/Columbia was followed by global fame. The singles everybody knows – “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and “Careless Whispers” – sent their sophomore album, “Make It Big,” to No. 1 in the United States and established Wham! as an equal to bands like Culture Club and Duran Duran, two other New Wave powerhouses.

But all was not well within Wham! Depending on whom you ask, either Michael was under self-imposed pressure to succeed due to a diminished sense of worth because of his homosexuality, or he was unhappy with the pop music role assigned to Wham! by record company executives who wanted the band to keep churning out danceable earworms. Either way, Michael wanted to pursue a solo career and Ridgeley agreed to the dismantling of Wham!, which took place in 1986 after a final single and a sold-out concert at London’s Wembley Stadium.

(The documentary does not address Michael’s solo career and his death in 2016, or Ridgeley’s descent into obscurity.)

Obviously for people who came of age in the ’80s, “Wham!” the documentary will evoke nostalgic memories of those happy songs. But there’s a note of melancholy that can’t be ignored, and it mostly focuses on Ridgeley.

While you can sympathize with Michael, a gay man imprisoned in his closet by fame, your heart goes out to Ridgeley, who, according to the film, voluntarily stepped back and allowed Michael to seize the spotlight for himself. This saintly altruism strikes me as iffy, but the documentary pitches it as an act of love and sacrifice, by a friend, for a friend. Other sources point out Michael was critical of Wham! and didn’t like the shallowness of their songs. Either way, what matters is Ridgeley and Michael remained friends under circumstances that would have brought others to blows. My impression, again based on the documentary, is that Ridgeley was the prime motivator in that respect.

What’s undeniable is that “Wham!” shows what it takes to succeed in any endeavor – talent, of course, but also perseverance, hard work, and a little bit of luck. It does this through archived footage, family scrapbook clippings, vintage interviews, and entertainment news reports from that time. You’ll come away with a better understanding of Ridgeley and Michael as human beings, their obvious affection for one another, and how they grappled with their personal demons.

“Wham!” the documentary is streaming on Netflix.

I grade it an A-.

Mladen’s take

The all-consuming disinterest. I can’t overcome the indifference, Del. I grew up listening to ’80s music. Pretty much loved it all but all I needed to know then, and all I need to know now, is that A) Deborah Harry was hot and B) her untamed, naturally imperfect, and perfectly charismatic voice was exactly what Blondie needed. I don’t care about the lives of the band members who moved me in stereo or shocked me like a monkey or let me know that video killed the radio star or woke me up before they go-go-ed. All I care about is the lyrics and the music they created. You forcing me to watch “Wham!,” the biopic about Wham!, drives my distaste for biopics deeper than the Mariana Trench.

Let me be clear. If you have a favorite musician, author, actor, athlete, or some other kind of paparazzi bait, never, ever through infinity should you try to learn anything about them. Why? Because they’ll turn out to be human and humans are always disappointing. The less you know about your favorite singers, the more you’ll enjoy their music. To know anything significant about the creator of something wonderful risks ruining that something wonderful because its source, inevitably, will not be. Listen to the songs. That’s all. Why listen to me? Because I’m Your Man.

I don’t care about Andrew selflessly letting George go solo. I don’t care about George’s angst about being gay. What I care about is the ideas folks with unique talents or good fortune offer to me. Wham! offered very little to me compared to U2 in their early years or the great and mighty The Clash, who were taking shots at cruel Thatcher and her besotted Tories about the same time Wham! was wiggling their butts in short shorts at teenaged girls. But, I acknowledge that Wham! was an international phenom.

If you like Frank Sinatra, learn nothing about him. If you like the Sex Pistols, learning nothing about Sid Vicious. What should you do? Listen to the Pistols cover of Sinatra’s “My Way.” The band took “My Way,” a song dripping with brazen conceit and sung so mopey-like by Sinatra that you’re unable to recognize its arrogance, and turned into a tour de force. “My Way” by the Pistols is kinetic, brash, and undisguised. Sid and his boys tell you to fuck off because they’re better than you in every way possible. Love it because that’s the story “My Way” is supposed to tell. Learn anything about Sid and you may vomit, which may lead you to never listen to the punkers again, though, as a band, they did some crazy and provocative shit.

If you like Wham!’s trite but lyrical lyrics – all their popular songs were about personal relationships – and jaunty disco-ish melodies, do not watch “Wham!.” You’ll be disappointed. It’ll take just one scene to make you second-guess your attraction to the band and its music. Pay attention to George’s reaction when one of Wham!’s most popular songs gets stuck at No. 2 on the pop charts because another spurring famine relief in Ethiopia hits No. 1.

Yeah, just listen to the music on your Walkman because video does kill the radio stars. 

Mladen Rudman is a former technical writer and newspaper reporter. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Focus Features and Universal Pictures.

“Asteroid City” Starring Jason Schwartzman as Augie Steenbeck, Scarlett Johansson as Midge Campbell, Jake Ryan as Woodrow, Grace Edwards as Dinah, Tom Hanks as Stanley Zak, Edward Norton as Conrad Earp, Bryan Cranston as Host, and others. Directed by Wes Anderson. PG-13. 1 hour, 45 minutes. Amazon Prime.

Plot summary: What is this movie about? Beats me. There’s a bunch of mini-stories unfolding. A teenage crush. Tension between a father-in-law and his dead daughter’s husband. Loss of a loved one. An actress trapped in a malaise. What does the alien want? A weird financing scheme for desert land that you can’t own even if you buy it.

Are there spoilers in this review: Yes.

Mladen’s grade: B-

Del’s grade: B

Mladen’s take



Both huh’s capture my inexplicable attraction to this artsy, cartoonish, mostly rambling, well‑acted film with one helluva ditty about two-thirds of the way through. I enjoyed the movie for some reason but I’m not sure y’all will, so the grade above.

“Asteroid City” has been classified as sci-fi but I ain’t so sure it belongs squarely in that genre. Yes, there’s an alien visitation and then a second one to return what was taken by the cautious and alert biped from outer space during the first layover.

Yes, there’s talk about the planet Neptune and the solar system in general.

There’s a bit of stargazing and the geek children in the movie are all brainiacs but, really, “Asteroid City” tackles human relationships, government transparency, and the commercialization of an amazing phenomenon in quirky fashion.

In this film, people are real, as are some of the sets, but there’s also a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” or “Space Jam” vibe. The score is good. Pay attention to the dancing roadrunner as the credits roll.

Look, I’m sure the movie has a principal message or messages. Del the analyzer will find it or them. “Asteroid City” must have a purpose or purposes. Del the detective will find it or them. What I did get from the movie is the sense that the actors – adult and child alike – seemed to enjoy working with each other.

The film’s aesthetic also worked. Though cartoonish, “Asteroid City” is not childish. Though flowing from one act to the next often led to introduction of new storylines or characters, the movie isn’t disjointed.

If anything, this movie speaks to the sole merit of big bucks streamers such as Amazon Prime taking control of movie production. The decentralized system – Hollywood ain’t in control no more – of filmmaking allows experimentation. “Asteroid City,” to me, seems to be an experiment. Note, however, that the streaming services of the world are, overall, a threat to genuine filmmaking as their AIs take control of everything.

Why watch “Asteroid City”? It has something for everyone. A look at family dynamics. A look at different kinds of people interacting with each other. The control large governments, even those framed by a constitution that protects the rights of individuals, have over our individual lives. Also highlighted is that even aliens capable of interstellar travel might be motivated by the banal and bureaucratic when they visit Earth.

Del’s take

“Asteroid City” possesses charms I recognize but don’t appreciate. Therefore, writing this review will be hard. I recognize the virtues of “Asteroid City” but I don’t like “Asteroid City.” I’ve never been a Wes Anderson fan. “Rushmore” was mildly amusing, but let’s face it: I’m either way too literal or just stupid. “The Way Way Back” is more my speed.

“Asteroid City” is put together the way Christopher Nolan assembles a movie – by the most complicated route imaginable. “Asteroid City” is a frame within a frame within a frame, a play set to film, with Bryan Cranston as The Host in a modern day iteration of the ancient Greek theatrical style, and other members of the movie’s ample star-studded cast – Ed Norton and Adrien Brody – functioning as architects of the play. The story itself is a dramatic rendering of the play, and the actors are meta-aware of their roles, though never confident they’re “doing it right.”

I suppose one could say the story is about war photographer Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) taking his son and three daughters to a kind of Space Camp-style celebration at the site of a meteorite impact where the son, Woodrow (Jake Ryan), is to receive an award and a scholarship. Once, there strange events take place, and even stranger interactions with other award-winners and their families educate all present about the nature of life and their roles in the world.

I think Mladen overestimates my powers of observation. Yes, I think there’s a coming-of-age component to the subtext, and yes, I think the story makes observations about the meaning of life and questions our beliefs about What Really Matters. But mostly what I see are wry jabs at, for instance, the military industrial complex, or the emphasis given to tech in our culture, or the almost religious and transcendent hope that somebody is out there, maybe somebody who is smarter than we and can straighten us out as a people – in other words, a Mom and Dad for the human race.

What I don’t like about “Asteroid City” is the artifice, and yes, I know, that’s a Wes Anderson trademark. But in “Asteroid City” the artifice seemed, well, artificial, as if Anderson was trying too hard, Everything about the movie was contrived, from the multiple framing devices used to tell the story to the weird, de-saturated pastel color palette and animated backgrounds; the bizarre score (composed of old Western-themed songs by Tennessee Ernie Ford and others); the strange, flat-affect delivery of dialogue; and the overall kookiness of the cast. It was too many hammers beating out of rhythm, and for me, the result was a chaotic syncopation of sight, sound and theme.

But I recognize my viewpoint is in the minority and that a great deal of skill went into the creation of “Asteroid City,” which is much loved by people who aren’t bothered by its loony artifice. I’m prepared to concede that maybe I just didn’t get it.

For that I’ll give it a grade of B. But still, for my purposes, I think “The Way Way Back” told a similar story and did it better.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.