Author Archives: mrjohnnyandrews

Rocks In The Attic #673: The Beach Boys – ‘Holland’ (1973)

RITA#673If there was ever a band that was stuck in time, like an insect trapped in the sap of a tree, it’s the Beach Boys. They were the hippest American band between 1962’s Surfin’ Safari and 1966’s Pet Sounds – or more specifically between 1962’s Surfin’ Safari single and 1966’s Good Vibrations. Then Brian stepped back and things changed.

Don’t get me wrong, I love records like Surf’s Up and this, their 1973 album, Holland – but it’s not California Girls, is it? Without Brian Wilson’s input on this record – aside from a couple of token writing credits including a 7” fairytale EP in the vein of Nilsson’s The Point! (although nowhere near as charming) – the Beach Boys seem lost at sea. If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine them being a band on their own merits, without the genius of Brian, but then you hear those harmonies and you’re instantly reminded of Help Me Rhonda or I Get Around.

The band even looks out of place when you see them in colour around this period – on stage in multi-coloured satin shirts or in white suits. They seem forever to be locked into the antiseptic cleanliness of mid-‘60s teen television, grooving against white infinity screens alongside bikini-clad dancing girls.

Hit: Sail On, Sailor

Hidden Gem: The Trader


Rocks In The Attic #672: Various Artists – ‘More Pennies From Heaven (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#672.jpgI think I might be reincarnated from some 1930’s Big Band musician or something; this kind of music really resonates with me for some reason. I always get the same feeling of intense familiarity when I hear Hang Out The Stars In Indiana from the Withnail & I soundtrack.

Either that, or I was asleep in my cot while my Mum & Dad watched this show after I was born in 1978. That sounds more believable I guess, with the old-timey music seeping into my DNA as they watched Bob Hoskins on the telly.

Hit: Cheek To Cheek – Lew Stone & His Band

Hidden Gem: Down Sunnyside Lane – Jack Payne & His BBC Dance Orchestra

Rocks In The Attic #671: Aimee Mann & Jon Brion – ‘Magnolia (O.S.T.)’ (1999)

150678 - SMALLER SPINECould Magnolia be the best film of the 1990s?

Rolling Stone rank it at a lowly #26, twelve places behind director Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous film, the arguably more accessible Boogie Nights. The magazine voted Scorsese’s Goodfellas at #1 (followed by a more esoteric run-down than you would expect from Rolling Stone: #5 – Pulp Fiction, #4 – The Silence Of The Lambs, #3 – Safe, #2 – Hoop Dreams).

A reader’s poll in Rolling Stone, ranking the twenty-five best movies of the decade, doesn’t even mention Magnolia, again with PTA’s Boogie Nights making the cut (faring a little better at #19). Not surprisingly, the poll’s top five are populist choices – #5 – Fight Club, #4 – The Shawshank Redemption, #3 – Goodfellas, #2 – The Big Lebowski, and #1 – Pulp Fiction.

RITA#671cBut who cares about polls and lists? They’re usually only there to provoke discussion – and quite why Rolling Stone could vote a three-hour documentary about basketball hopefuls from the inner-city slums as the second-best film of the year is anybody’s guess. I loved Hoop Dreams, but is it better than anything from Tarantino, the Andersons (Wes and Paul Thomas) or Fincher?

Even Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film – the casino-centric Hard Eight (1996), starring Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson, deserves a look-in. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to inhabit a casino, let alone visit one.

A textbook first film, you can see a lot of the visual flourishes that are the hallmark of films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia before he started to move away to more static filmmaking. The easiest of his trademarks to spot is the fast dolly-in, usually as a character enters a scene or an object becomes the focus of the narrative. These shots define PTA as much as the inserts and birds-eye views of Wes Anderson’s films, or the tracking shots of Scorsese.

The number eight resonates strongly with Paul Thomas Anderson and Magnolia. He debuted with Hard Eight – the number on the dice needed by the craps-playing Philip Seymour Hoffman; he’s just released his eighth feature, Phantom Thread; and the number eight is a symbolic fingerprint of Magnolia – the film culminating with the threat of Exodus 8:2: ‘If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country.’

RITA#671aSo Anderson spends the three hours of Magnolia interpreting Christianity and emerges with a delicious pun, insinuating that the biblical plague of raining frogs was caused by the producers of the quiz show who wouldn’t let Stanley visit the toilet. He would revisit the themes of religion more seriously later in his career, but this is where he put his toe in the holy water.

It could be claimed that nothing happens in Magnolia, that it’s boring and uneventful. And while it possibly does try to do too much, with too many characters – even Anderson himself has suggested that it’s overlong – its real strength comes from its pacing. I don’t think another film exists as dedicated to building tension as Magnolia. From its opening scene, until the aftermath of the frog-raining finale, the tension builds and builds, until the clouds break and we get a well-deserved resolution across each of the story arcs.

One important aspect, of course, is the music. The soundtrack is comprised of three key elements – pop songs from Supertramp and Gabrielle, together with snippets of the opera Carmen and Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, a suite of original songs from Aimee Mann, and a lush original score by Jon Brion.

This new release from Mondo Records represents the first time that the soundtrack has been released on vinyl. Split across three discs, the first discs offers the Aimee Mann songs, while the remaining two discs offer the Jon Brion score.

The beautiful packaging also follows the themes of the film, with new artwork by Joao Ruas and the three discs coloured in (1) Sky Blue, (2) Cloudy Blue, and (3) Translucent Gold – in other words, clear sky, cloudy sky, and frog!

Hit: One – Aimee Mann

Hidden Gem: Stanley / Frank / Linda’s Breakdown – Jon Brion


Rocks In The Attic #670: Alan Moorhouse – ‘Beatles, Bach, Bacharach Go Bossa’ (1971)

RITA#670This is a lovely little slice of lounge music, not a million miles away from the camp shtick you might find on the first Austin Powers soundtrack. My wife finds records like these in the charity shop, and 9 times out of 10 they’re always worth a listen to.

The liner notes for this MFP release, by Bill Wellings, promise that ‘The four Beatles numbers (including George Harrison’s Something) are already well known to you, but they sound really fresh and inviting in their smart new Brazilian style.’ I guess you know you’ve made it when your songs are reworked into a musical style from another continent.

‘So, if your party ever looks like sagging in the middle, switch on to the Beatles, Bach & Bacharach in Bossa Beat – and give the party a swingin’ new lease of life!’

Hit: Yesterday

Hidden Gem: Air On A G String


2018 Best Picture Nominees – Ranked From Worst To Best

Oscars Academy Awards
This time last year, I wrote about the nine Best Picture nominees.  With just 48 hours to spare, I’ve managed to watch all nine nominees in this years’ Academy Awards. Here’s my ranking, in ascending order:

Get Out9. Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)

Get Out was an enjoyable and innovative genre film. Nothing more, nothing less. As such, it doesn’t deserve to be in this list, especially when better films didn’t make the cut for a Best Picture nomination. The film’s first two acts were an intriguing study into racism in the 21st century, but it loses points with a messy, typically Hollywood final act.

It really makes me wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.  It’s an incredible achievement for Jordan Peele, but one has to wonder if he’s being nominated here out of merit, or just to tick a box?

The Shape of Water.jpg8. The Shape Of Water (Guillermo del Toro, 2017)

Yes, I know it’s the most nominated film this year, and as a result it looks likely to be the big winner on Sunday night, but del Toro should be ashamed for stealing so much from Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

A green colour palette, a quiet elfin brunette, a friendship with an old hermit neighbour who watches an old black and white television set, an unusual love story. I know they say that nothing under the sun is original, but did del Toro even think about what he was doing here?

In Consequence Of Sound’s picks for the Oscars, their writer Blake Goble wrote that Blade Runner 2049 is not deserving of the Best Production Design award as it’s ‘a work of homage – to other artists like Tarkovsky and Ridley Scott. Done bigger and louder.’ In contrast, he claims that ‘The Shape Of Water is actual creation.’

So says another American who hasn’t seen Delicatessen or Amelie.

The Post.jpg7. The Post (Steven Spielberg, 2017)

A nice film, especially in the way that its final scene segues nicely  into Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men – itself a Best Picture nominee in 1977; great – but not career-best – performances by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep (together with a great ensemble supporting cast), but…that’s…about…it. A 2-hour film featuring little other than people talking to each other in offices – no matter how riveting – does not a Best Picture make.

Call Me By Your Name6. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)

This year’s picture postcard to heartbreak – following last year’s Manchester By The Sea – the cinematography and exuberant piano score in Call Me By Your Name is more than worth the price of admission.

Phantom Thread5. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)

Paul Thomas Anderson films used to be a tray of donuts; now they’re a cake stand at high-tea. Phantom Thread finds the director disappearing down the hole he started drilling in There Will Be Blood and The Master, but it’s nothing compared to the sleeze of Boogie Nights and the tension of Magnolia.

Once again, Daniel Day Lewis gives us a masterclass in how to portray petulance on screen (with some delicious put-downs), in what is touted to be his final film role. Here he seems to flesh out the male subject of Charlie Kauffman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa, particularly in his intolerance of people eating loudly.

Still, the film does contain perhaps the greatest breakfast order ever seen on film:

Alma: Good morning.

Reynolds: Morning.

Alma: What would you like to order?

Reynolds: A welsh rarebit….With a poached egg on top, please…Not too runny…And bacon…Scones…Butter, cream, jam…Not strawberry.

Alma: No. Raspberry?

Reynolds: What else?

Alma: Coffee or tea?

Reynolds: Do you have lapsang?

Alma nods.

Reynolds: I’ll have a pot of lapsang please.

Alma: Good choice.

Reynolds: And some sausages.

Alma: …And some sausages.

Darkest Hour4. Darkest Hour (Joe Wright, 2017)

In a lovely bit of serendipity, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour could play in a double-bill with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. They could probably be intercut, as Wright’s film opens with the bureaucracy behind the  Dunkirk problem that is the sole focus of Nolan’s film.

Both films are outstanding – Darkest Hour from a performance viewpoint (Gary Oldman playing an – erm – old man, in a career-best performance), and Dunkirk from a technical viewpoint. However, the weakness of each film is the strength of the other, and vice versa.

Dunkirk3. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017)

Nolan’s tenth feature-length picture is a beautiful – yet tense – retelling of the Dunkirk evacuation. It would probably top this list if there was a bit more humanity in the film, but Nolan instead focuses on the technical aspects of filmmaking rather than characterisation or dialogue. Filmed almost as a silent picture, it’s Nolan’s most distant work yet – perhaps to symbolise the distance of the stranded forces, so near yet so far away.

Nolan’s films are always outstanding, particularly in the way he utilizes IMAX camera technology. Filmed entirely in huge 65mm stock (75% of it using IMAX cameras), Dunkirk looks stunning and was a treat to see (and hear!) in an IMAX cinema. Quite how they filmed the spitfire cockpit sequences with huge IMAX cameras will eat at my brain forever, but I’d rather not know, I’d rather not peek behind the curtain.

This year’s Best Picture nominees feature a wealth of fantastic musical scores, but Hans Zimmer’s work on Dunkirk is well deserving of the Best Original Score award.

Lady Bird2. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017)

Greta Gerwig has been a star on the rise for the past decade, and here she offers her directorial debut. She’s also up for the Best Director award – only the fifth time in history a female has been nominated (with only one going on to win the accolade – Katherine Bigelow for The Hurt Locker).

The always watchable Saoirse Ronan stars as the titular character in a coming-of-age dramedy, with an impressive supporting cast featuring Laurie Metcalf (‘Jackie’ from Roseanne), Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges (also appearing in Three Billboards) and Timothée Chalamet (nominated for Best Actor as Elio in Call Me By Your Name).

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, 2017)

None of the nine nominees this year have really struck a chord with me, like my top three of Lion, La La Land and Manchester By The Sea from last year’s line-up. Three Billboards is therefore the best of a just very good bunch.

Frances McDormand is great – but has been better before (it’s Margot Robbie who deserves the Best Actress award), McDonagh’s script walks a tight balance between tragedy and comedy, and Sam Rockwell easily earns his Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Honourable Mentions
Here are my other favourite (eligible) films from the year (in alphabetical order):

A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017) – a love story that transcends time, dimensions and bedsheets.

Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017) – a stellar pop soundtrack and quite possibly the last time we will ever see the once fantastic, now disgraced, Kevin Spacey on the silver screen.

Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017) – a wonderfully respectful sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 original, with director Denis Villeneuve still going from strength to strength.

Brigsby Bear (Dave McCary, 2017) – a nice slice of feel-good fish-out-of-water comedy from three former Saturday Night Live cast members.

It (Andy Muschietti, 2017) – could anybody make Pennywise the clown creepier than Tim Curry’s portrayal in the 1990 TV mini-series? The answer – in the form of Bill Skarsgård – is a big fat yes. One of the most innovative horrors I’ve seen in years. Look out for rising star Sophia Lillis.

I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie, 2017) – “…and the award for ‘Best Sporting Moment Set To The Music Of ZZ Top’ goes to…”. An early career peak by Margot Robbie in a more worthy contender than Get Out for Best Picture.

Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer, 2017) – Aubrey Plaza plays to type as a creepy stalker to Elizabeth Olsen’s perfect It girl. Unnerving, like Scorsese’s Taxi Driver with smart-phones instead of guns.

Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017) – Hollywood can still knock out a decent B-movie if it puts its mind to it.

Logan (James Mangold, 2017) – after the endless junk of Marvel and DC films over the last decade, at last something a bit different from the usual template.

Split (M. Night Shyamalan, 2016) – I’ve never really understood the appeal of James McAvoy until now. A great twist too, as Shyamalan returns to his trademark curtain reveal.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017) – thankfully the most anticipated film of 2017 wasn’t a let-down, even if Rian Johnson did sweep the table of most of the questions posed by J.J. Abrams’ Episode VII.

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter, 2017) – finally, a rom-com that breaks the mould. Contains a great 9/11 joke. Too soon?

The Disaster Artist (James Franco, 2017) – overachiever James Franco directs and stars in a passion project about the making of 2003’s The Room, one of the best worst films ever made. Very funny, particularly for those not already in on the joke.

The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017) – Best Supporting Actor nominee Willem Dafoe is dependable as the manager of a motel near Disneyworld (the film is named after the construction name for the theme park). Almost a companion piece to Andrea Arnold’s American Honey (2016), the film deals with the trials and tribulations of those stuck in temporary accommodation on the outskirts of Orlando.

T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 2017) – the other mega-respectful sequel of 2017, Danny Boyle’s film spliced joyous nostalgia with a stinging sense of regret. Also, I was lucky to get to meet him when he was in New Zealand promoting the film.

Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi, 2017) – from one of the greatest trailers ever put together, came a film that followed through on its promise of a fun, fun ride. I’m not sure how it will be viewed in the future – particularly next to the other films in the series – but it sure beats all the po-faced posturing by Captain America and the rest of the Avengers.

Voyeur (Myles Kane, Josh Koury, 2017) – documentaries these days are so well produced and directed, they really entertain and envelop you in a narrative that wouldn’t be possible with the restrictive talking head format of yesteryear. This film follows celebrated New York journalist Gay Talese as he tackles the story of a Colorado motel owner who claimed to have been spying, unimpeded, on his guests for decades.

Wind River (Taylor Sheridan, 2017) – Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell Or High Water) can pen a decent story, usually concerning law enforcement fighting a losing battle, and Wind River is no different. Elizabeth Olsen plays an FBI agent sent to Wyoming to investigate a murder on an Indian Reservation.

Rocks In The Attic #669: Various Artists – ‘Stand By Me (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#669There were a number of films released through the 1980s which went some way in redefining the seminal singles of the 1950s and 1960s. Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill kicked off the nostalgia in 1983, before Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me and Oliver Stone’s Platoon landed in 1986. By the time of 1988’s Good Morning Vietnam, it was almost commonplace for a Hollywood film to feature a ‘golden oldies’ soundtrack.

Along the more obvious hits on this soundtrack – Buddy Holly’s Everyday, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls Of Fire, and of course, Ben E. King’s Stand By Me – there’s one very interesting addition. The Del-Viking’s Come Go With Me might sound like any other late-‘50s R&B, but it was actually the song that a teenage Paul McCartney first saw (a teenage) John Lennon playing with the Quarrymen on the fateful day that they met (July 6th 1957) in Liverpool.

RITA#669aIt’s hard not to like Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me. Adapted from a Stephen King short-story, it has an impressive young cast (Wil Wheaton, River Pheonix, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland) and a lovely, wry narration by Richard Dreyfuss. Reiner’s film almost perfectly balances nostalgia with the thrill of youth. The script’s perspective might be of an older man looking backwards, but instead the film is driven by the optimism of the young leads looking forward to the future.

Hit: Stand By Me – Ben E. King

Hidden Gem: Come Go With Me – The Del-Vikings

Rocks In The Attic #668: Weezer – ‘Pacific Daydream’ (2017)

RITA#668What the fuck happened to Weezer? I stopped buying their records a long time ago – back when the weirdness of Pinkerton was just so disappointing in comparison to their classic 1994 debut – but I don’t recognise the band coming out of my speakers anymore.

They almost reeled me back in with 2001’s Hash Pipe – a single I might easily have responded with an ‘Ooooff’ when I first heard it – but the other big single from the Green album, Island In The Sun, showed that they were more at home writing pop songs. 2005’s Beverly Hills single sealed this, and now remains the song they’re most well-known for – the Buddy Holly of the 2000s.

By the time we get to 2017’s Pacific Daydream – a horrible title matched only the sheer awfulness of the cover image – it’s clear that Rivers Cuomo is more at home writing melodic pop songs than rocking out. If it came to light that he was behind a dozen Katy Perry and Taylor Swift songs, nobody would bat an eyelid.

The strange thing is that this doesn’t even sound like Weezer anymore – with the album’s production suffering from the same generic fingerprint of every nameless Top 20 pop-rock band of the last decade.

The only reason this bland excuse for a Weezer record sits on my shelves is that I saw it listed on Amoeba Record’s online store, fully autographed by the band (presumably after an in-store signing) and in a lovely red and black splatter vinyl, for a lower price than my local record store. Well, at least it makes for an attractive Frisbee.

Hit: Feels Like Summer

Hidden Gem: Mexican Fender