“Wheels” is a Perfect Blend: A Movie Review by Lance Reynolds
I had the distinct pleasure of viewing a new film by writer/director Paul Starkman, entitled “Wheels” which is now available in numerous places in the online movie streaming spectrum.
Upon the movie’s beginning, the sepia tinted look captivated my attention instantly. The movie reeled me into that special NYC cinematic space that somehow takes a place so vast and narrows the view to a block, a neighborhood, a family, an apartment. The direction, look, and cinematography of this film put one in that special space. This film puts one in the mind of some of NYC’s best music related movies, such as “Saturday Night Fever” and “Beat Street”, capturing a sweetness, innocence, and even naivete’ that always seems to catch the viewer off guard. This main character, “Max” (played artfully by Sean C. Kirkland AKA Arnstar) reminds me of the single minded and almost virginal passion of classic city roles like Tony Manero, Ramo and Kenny Kirkland.
This Mecca of Hip-Hop DJs offers us this story of a DJ’s creation through the life of a young brother barely out of high school, that has the dream of becoming one of the best. Max’s life is colored by missing parents and an sickly Grandmother, a brother who takes a faster approach to solving life’s challenges, a boss that stands at the door of his block, a potential new love, and this driving passion to be a real DJ. If only he had Technics 1200 MKII turntables, aka “Wheels of Steel” bka “Wheels” in his life. “Wheels” would make everything right in his world.
This film was particularly captivating on a personal level, as it mirrors my life in ways that I did not expect. I am a lifelong DJ. I lived in a home with my Mother and aging Grandmother. Becoming a DJ was a way for me to pay the bills in a home with no income. My journey also included a long elusive quest for “real” turntables. I found myself playing parties with mismatched turntables. For the knowledgeable, I had one Technics SL D-2 straight arm, and one of those record players (I won’t call it a turntable) that had a button that slid the needle over to the record and another button to drop the needle. One pitch control. God bless Radio Shack and their line mixers. Needless to say, I can truly relate to brother Max and his situation. I lived it.
This film is highly enjoyable due to its many layers and underlying character stories. Just enough time is spent exploring each character to give us enough to firmly plant them in Max’s cipher. I sensed a bit of a quixotic nature in Max, as his idealism drives him to speak in an “idealistic blunt” manner. It is this approach that both opens and closes doors in his life. The classic phrase “tilting at windmills” as used to describe Don Quixote could certainly be stated as “tilting at turntables” apply to the focus one has to put into becoming a DJ. This journey is both dramatic and rich in life lessons.
The primary characters in this film have serious choices to make with ingenious talents that they have been given. Presented as the questions that life seems to pose, they include: Should I be practicing my craft? How should I use my craft? Should I continue to do what I know, or should I apply my talents in another way? Should I get a “real job” and put my dreams aside? All real questions that we all face daily. Most of us are trying to do what is best while making ourselves happy. This is the challenge. Will Max do what it takes to get the wheels? Will he be able to take care of his Grandmother?
The performances in the film were textured and compelling from start to finish. Arnstar embodied “Max” with the passion that I am sure it took to get him in this role. He controls the letterbox with veteran gravitas and nuance. Joshua Boone’s turn as Terry was fantastic, as all of “Terry’s” wants, needs, and perceived limitations were wrought on his face throughout the film. I really enjoyed Kareem Savinon’s portrayal of the most complex character in the film, “Oscar” the King of the Block. I found myself wondering if his character is as bad as he seemed to be, when fully considering the environment.
Another highlight of this movie is the relationship between Max and his DJ mentor DJ Monte. Most all DJs have someone that they learned under, and 100% of DJs have picked up parts of the game from other people. Their relationship effectively illustrates the love, work and commitment that it takes to be great at anything, and that it is always important to take on the challenge of a mentee. DJs learn while we teach. We grow when we share with one another.
Check “Wheels” for a great musical and dramatic trip that somehow puts you in multiple eras of the NYC hip hop experience at once. You get the feel of the early days combined with urgency of now. This is given a serious helping hand by the score, which features music from the classic label Fever Records alongside new sounds from today. For the producers of the film- release a soundtrack!
For DJs, this is a must watch, and if they release it in any physical form, a must buy. There has been no other film in recent memory that has captured the true essence of what it really takes to be a DJ. I will be watching this for many years to come.
Check out the official trailer for “Wheels”
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DJ Lance Reynolds has been spinning for audiences since 1982, at the age of 12. He has played for audiences all over the U.S. He is also a media and marketing consultant, specializing in entertainment. He is based in the DC area and currently co-hosts “House of Soul” on WPFW 89.3FM (Pacifica Radio).