Category Archives: Various Artists

Rocks In The Attic #821: Various Artists – ‘Lost In Translation (O.S.T.)’ (2003)

RITA#821I recently watched Sofia Coppola’s fourth feature Somewhere, from 2010. The film stars Stephen Dorff as a movie star bumming around the Chateau Marmont, where he lives between acting roles and promotional responsibilities.

It’s a film that’s as aimless as its central character, and as aimless as Coppola’s career so far. She was thrust into the limelight, unfairly, as the ill-fated daughter of Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III, after Winona Ryder dropped out of the film. Nepotism is one thing but for her father, Francis Ford Coppolam to give her such a pivotal role was setting her up to fail.

She reinvented herself as an indie director, with the slow-burning The Virgin Suicides in 1999. It showed promise but I haven’t liked anything she’s done since. If she came from nowhere, I might not be so disappointed in her career, but her father’s status as the Oscar-winning director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now seems to have opened many, many doors to her. Even with this opportunity, her output can be best described with the shrug-emoji. I haven’t seen her recent remake of Don Siegel’s The Beguiled yet, but I’m not expecting to be blown away. Frankly, she lost me with Lost In Translation.

RITA#821aThere were a couple of films in the 2000s which served as lazy armchair tourism for uncultured Americans. First we had Coppola’s Lost In Translation (subtext: aren’t Japanese people funny?), followed by Wes Anderson four years later with The Darjeeling Limited (subtext: aren’t Indian people funny?). These films feel shallow and exploitative, with too much importance given to location and foreignness of the culture, rather than character. Danny Boyle’s Best Picture-winning Slumdog Millionaire from 2008 is a superb example of a film that does the opposite – it celebrates the Indian culture from within, not from the perspective of a patronising outsider.

Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird from 2017 is the kind of character-piece that Coppola could be making. While Gerwig may have been heavily influenced by her partner, the director Noah Baumbach, Lady Bird still feels fresh, unique and personal. I haven’t seen Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women yet, but I’m looking forward to it after such an impressive debut.

But no matter what my reservations about Lost In Translation are as a film, I’ll always love the soundtrack. It feels like a perfectly put-together mood piece by Coppola and music-supervisor Brian Reitzell, and was accurately described by Consequence Of Sound as the third star of the picture.

Unfortunately, this vinyl edition of the soundtrack, finally released for last year’s Record Store Day, excludes Bill Murray’s karaoke version of Roxy Music’s More Than This. The rear cover of the record lists the credits for the song though, which feels like a disappointing oversight when they brought over the artwork from prior versions of the soundtrack, where it exists as a hidden track.

Hit: City Girl – Kevin Shields

Hidden Gem: Alone In Kyoto – Air

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Rocks In The Attic #815: Various Artists – ‘Christmas In England’ (1957)

RITA#815Christmas in New Zealand is definitely a different prospect than Christmas in England, and after twelve years I’m only just getting used to it.

I have my own kids now, so it’s a busy, busy day. After opening a few presents, we visit my father-in-law and his family for a pancake breakfast. This usually involves pigging out on a mountain of pancakes, complimented by a batch of bacon cooked on the barbeque.

Then we rush back home, collecting my mother-in-law on the way, for Christmas dinner back at ours. The sun’s usually out all day, so it adds an unreal element to the proceedings, compared to the cold and snow I grew up with. It’s not the peak of summer yet, which is fortunate as the stress of Christmas Day cooking would be so much worse with the humidity of a hot day.

RITA#815aWhile the temperature might not be too high, it’s just past the mid-point of our seasonal year. The longest day of the year – June 21st in the Northern Hemisphere – falls on December 22nd here, and so Christmas Day feels a lot longer than it does in the UK. There are no woolly hats or big coats; Christmas dress is a pair of shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt. And a Santa hat, of course.

One of the oddest things about a New Zealand Christmas is that, just like the UK, we get the Queen’s Speech at 3pm on Christmas Day, which means we see it approximately 12 hours before it goes out on the BBC. This has never felt right, and I don’t think people would be too bothered if it was held back to Boxing Day.

RITA#815bChristmas TV is the same. We get the Doctor Who Christmas Special, and the usual festive programmes. But by this time, I’m in a food coma and have consumed a flagon or two of cider. The only thing I’ll have room for – and this is when that second stomach reserved exclusively for dessert comes into its own – is for a door-stop sized portion of pavlova and cream.

This record, featuring choral arrangements of all the Christmas classics, is a great help in setting the mood. These songs really send me back to the UK, before the dark times, before Wham.

Hit: Ding Dong Merrily On High – King’s College Chapel Choir Of Cambridge

Hidden Gem: The Very First Christmas Of All – Ruby Murray With Ray Martin’s Orchestra

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Rocks In The Attic #810: Various Artists – ‘Quadrophenia (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#810New Zealand is a long way to go for anybody. It’s at the arse-end of nowhere. This is fine when our small island wants to stay out international affairs, or keep nuclear ships out of our waters, but it also puts off celebrities and artists from making the trip. Who wants to spend longer than a couple of hours on an airplane?

This year we’ve had tour cancellations from Ozzy Osbourne (due to a genuine injury), and Kiss (due to some half-hearted bullshit, conveniently allowing them to make more money playing Australia and Japan). Two big-name cancellations might not sound like a lot, but when you consider that we might only get half a dozen similarly sized acts per year, it can be a big blow to music fans.

RITA#810aSo you have to make the most of what you can get. Occasionally, very occasionally, we might get a big-name actor, writer or director coming over on a promotional jaunt. I’ve been lucky in the past meeting Roger Moore, Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle. That’s three of my heroes right there, and I feel incredibly lucky to have met them. But that’s the sum total of my being in the country for twelve years. Living in LA, New York or London, one might be able to meet three big names in the course of twelve weeks.

And so when my wife told me that one of Britain’s greatest character actors, Timothy Spall, would be coming not only to New Zealand, but to the local art-house cinema in my small village outside of Auckland, I was immediately suspicious. I’ll believe it when I see it, I said. The announcement was just a few days before the event, and why the hell would Tim Spall want to come to New Zealand anyway?

Yet, the doubting Thomas in me was silenced.

On Friday night, I had the pleasure of watching his latest film, a bleak biopic of the North West’s greatest painter L.S. Lowry, before a Q&A with Spall himself. Mrs. Lowry & Son, directed by Adrian Noble, is far from the best film Spall’s been in. The sometimes-hammy script, limited narrative, even more limited filming locations and a greater focus on Lowry’s mother, instead of Lowry himself, makes it a seriously flawed film. Of course Spall’s subtle performance is the highlight of the film, as is Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of the painter’s overbearing matriarch, but both actors deserve much better material.

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After a bleak 90-minutes, the film ended on a bright note with the expected intertitles explaining Lowry’s subsequent achievements – that his unsupportive mother died before his first major exhibition, his paintings now sell for millions, and his work is displayed inside the purpose-built Lowry art gallery in Salford. The credits rolled, and into the cinema walked the man himself, resplendent in a blue suit and waistcoat.

Unfortunately, the limitations of the venue – Howick’s beautiful Monterey Cinema – meant that things didn’t go smoothly. This is a cinema that regularly forgets to the turn the lights down and shut the door to the theatre when a film starts. Another time, during a 3-D screening of Alfonso Cuarón’s

Gravity, my 3-D glasses just stopped working mid-film. I rushed out to the lobby, and was told that the 3-D headsets were battery-operated (!) and they handed me another pair, with no apology. It’s a nice little cinema, but the incompetence of its staff lets it down.

So, after the applause died down, Timothy Spall walked to the front of the screen and started talking. The morons had forgotten to charge the wireless microphone. The cinema that advertised a ‘once in a lifetime event’ had failed to prepare the one thing that they needed for said event. It beggars belief.

Thankfully, Spall took the issue with good grace, forced into a corner of the room with the microphone wired into the power supply. His anecdotes and stories were as good as I had hoped. He covered his battle with leukaemia, explaining that when the rest of the cast of Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies travelled to Cannes with the film, he went into hospital for chemotherapy instead. The silver lining, aside from beating the disease of course, was that when he left hospital he was inundated with film offers because Secrets & Lies had done so well.

RITA#810cIn another great story, he mentioned that after his preparation and research for playing the other famous British painter JMW Turner, in 2014’s Mr. Turner, he became a painter himself and his work is now displayed in The Lowry, alongside Lowry’s work. Art imitating life becoming art itself.

I asked a question too:

Me: Hi Tim, I’m a big fan. And I’m a big fan of Rafe too.

Tim: I’m a big fan of Rafe’s too! [laughs] He’s talking about my son, ladies and gentlemen.

Me: We’ve just seen Rafe in BBC’s War Of The Worlds, which he was fantastic in. I wanted to ask whether there’s a bit of rivalry in the family now that you’re both such big-name actors?

Tim: Oh no [laughs], not at all. I’m a big fan of Rafe’s. In fact, I’m his biggest fan! No, I’m immensely proud of him, and he’s a great son. And he’s a great Dad himself, too.

RITA#810dAfter the Q&A, I rushed out to the lobby to ask him for a photo and for an autograph on my Quadrophenia soundtrack LP. His first film appearance, some forty years ago, Spall has a small role as the awkward projectionist at the advertising agency where Phil Daniel’s Jimmy works (when Jimmy bothers to turn up). I showed him the LP. ‘What’s that?” he peered. ‘Oh, Quadrophenia! Ha! Wow, is that the album?’

Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to asking Tim my other question. I had recently seen a clip of Rafe Spall mentioning that he had narrowly missed out on the role of Dr. Who. When the BBC producers told him not to tell anybody he was going through the audition process, he instead told everybody. Word got back to them, and he was dropped. I wanted to ask a hypothetical question: if Rafe got the part of another British screen hero, James Bond, would Tim be keen on playing M?

I’ll ask him next time.

Hit: Louie Louie – The Kingsmen

Hidden Gem: Zoot Suit – The High Numbers

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Rocks In The Attic #806: Various Artists – ‘Inside Llewyn Davis (O.S.T.)’ (2013)

RITA#806“What does the ‘N’ stand for?”

Inside Llewyn Davis is another latter day gem from the Coen brothers. Coming straight off the success of 2010 western remake True Grit, this film finds them exploring the pre-folk explosion music scene in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s.

Oscar Isaac plays the titular character, a down-on-his-luck folk singer earning just enough to keep him going from couch to couch, while he chases a lucky break. The Coens paint a painfully bleak picture of New York heading into winter, as life and responsibility begin to take their toll on Llewyn.

RITA#806aThe soundtrack, produced by the Coens with T. Bone Burnett, is, as usual, superb. The starting point for the character of Llewyn Davis is Dave Van Ronk, a contemporary of Bob Dylan, and so the soundtrack features several songs associated with Van Ronk, many of which are performed by Isaac. The cover of Davis’ poorly selling solo album, the Inside Llewyn Davis from the title, is a direct replica of Van Ronk’s album Inside Dave Van Ronk, minus the peeking cat, and the film strikes just the right balance of Davis just missing out on stardom as Van Ronk did. Right place, wrong time.

It has been reported that the Coens view the music of Inside Llewyn Davis as a direct descendant of the music in O Brother, Where Art Thou? It’s not hard to hear this connection: there’s definitely a country folk / travelling tale ethos in the songwriting; pure folk from the well, before folk-rock muddied the water. The music is so beautiful, and well performed, that it’s almost heartbreaking to see a despondent Davis catch a glimpse of Dylan in the film’s closing scene. The folk music world is about to turn on its axis, and Llewyn Davis, like Dave Van Ronk, is not going to be at the forefront of the charge.

I’m a huge fan of True Grit and The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, but Inside Llewyn Davis is definitely my favourite of the Coens’ output from this decade. Hail, Caesar! didn’t do anything for me, and we’re unlikely to see another film from them until their adaption of Macbeth, starring Denzel Washington and Coen-alumn / spouse Frances McDormand, which is only in pre-production at the time of writing.

RITA#806bIt is the bleak and gloomy atmosphere of Inside Llewyn Davis that resonates with me the most. This onslaught of misery only lets up for a brief couple of minutes when Davis is contracted to play and sing on a studio session – the side-splitting novelty song Please Mr. Kennedy – alongside Justin Timberlake’s effervescent Jim Berkey and Adam Driver’s no-nonsense Al Cody. It’s the film’s rare moment of illumination, and potentially a lucky break for our protagonist, but his circumstances dictate that he takes a one-off payment for the work, thereby writing off any chances of receiving any of the song’s eventual royalties.

Like a lot of the Coens’ work, the film has a weird streak running through it: the elusive ginger cat echoes the peeling wallpaper of Barton Fink or the pencil-strewn anxiety of Jerry Lundegaard’s falsified loan form in Fargo; a small obsession that ultimately means nothing. And perhaps most interesting of all, the Coens’ mastery of character and narrative expertly maneuvers an unseen character in the film: the cruel hand of fate that leads Llewyn Davis in one direction and opens the door to somebody else.

Hit: Hang Me, Oh Hang Me – Oscar Isaac

Hidden Gem: Please Mr. Kennedy – Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac & Adam Driver

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Rocks In The Attic #799: Various Artists – ‘Go (O.S.T.)’ (1999)

RITA#799Following hot on the heels of his breakthrough hit Swingers, Doug Liman’s Go is a quirky little film dealing with youth culture at the end of the 1990s. It borrows liberally from Quentin Tarantino, in particular the time-switching of Pulp Fiction, as it intertwines three stories set in one day in Southern California and Las Vegas.

In the first story, a group of supermarket workers head to a weekend rave and get caught up in a drug deal that goes bad, in the second story one of their co-workers heads off to Las Vegas with another bunch of friends, and the final story covers the tale of a pair of TV actors forced to take part in an undercover drug sting.

As much as I admire 1996’s Swingers, the film that made a star out of Vince Vaughan and boosted the profiles of Jon Favreau (also its writer), Heather Graham and Ron Livingston, I’ve always found it quite bleak. For a Vegas (and Reno!) film dealing with the seedier side of the city, away from the neon glamour of the tourist traps, I much prefer Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight, released in the same year.

RITA#799aI found 1999’s Go to be much more of a fun ride than Swingers, although admittedly not as groundbreaking. It has an ensemble cast, featuring both Timothy Olyphant and Katie Holmes in early roles, and I’ve always wondered whether this was the film that Tom Cruise saw before he set his sights on Holmes. Or maybe he was just a Dawson’s Creek fan.

Sadly, Swingers and Go were the last small-budget indie films that Doug Liman directed. His talents were obvious and his subsequent filmography shows how much he impressed Hollywood with these two films. His next project after Go was 2002’s The Bourne Identity, and he followed this with similarly-sized blockbusters as 2005’s Mr. And Mrs Smith, 2008’s Jumper, 2014’s Edge Of Tomorrow and 2017’s American Made. He’s currently in post-production on a sequel to Edge Of Tomorrow, taking its name from the alternate title of the 2014 film: Live, Die, Repeat And Repeat.

The soundtrack to Go is very much of its time – all big beats and samples, typified by the inclusion of Fatboy Slim’s Gangster Trippin’. When I first heard the soundtrack was getting a vinyl reissue, I thought that it was another example of record companies scraping the barrel, and so I sat on it until I was able to pick it up in a sale. I’m so glad I did, as it’s chock-full of gems. No Doubt’s New and Len’s Steal My Sunshine get top-billing alongside the Fatboy Slim track, but it’s the lesser-known tracks that I’m here for.

Jimmy Luxury’s Cha Cha Cha, featuring a sample of the Tommy Rowe Orchestra, is a funky little gem, Air’s Talisman is one of the many highlights of Moon Safari, and Lionrock’s Fire Up The Shoesaw is just fabulous, not only for its stuttering sample of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, but more for it’s delicious sample of Fight At Kobe Dock from John Barry’s score to You Only Live Twice (the title song of which, of course, was sung by Nancy Sinatra).

Hit: Steal My Sunshine – Len

Hidden Gem: Fire Up The Shoesaw – Lionrock

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Rocks In The Attic #781: Various Artists – ‘Easy Rider (O.S.T.)’ (1969)

RITA#781Peter Fonda died on the weekend. The original Captain America from 1969’s New Hollywood hit Easy Rider, he co-wrote the film alongside Terry Southern and director and co-star Dennis Hopper. It almost seems like fate that Fonda would pass away on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival. You’d be far pushed to find a more appropriate icon of that period in American counterculture.

All weekend I listened to WXPN’s live stream of the ’69 Woodstock festival, aired as close to ‘real time’ as possible, including all of the stage announcements and weather delays. It seemed to be streaming about 24 hours ahead of time, as they were streaming it by date rather than sticking to the Friday to Monday morning timeframe. Still, it was great to tune in to listen to most of the sets.

RITA#781aNot only were there quite a lot of forgettable acts early on in the festival, it also sounded very chaotic with the stage announcements offering a glimpse at the bedlam going on between sets. Lost thyroid pills and lost people, broken limbs, bad brown acid to avoid, and hitchhikers hoping to get back into the car they arrived in to get their ‘medication’. The coming of the huge storm minutes after Joe Cocker’s set sounded like the end of times.

Of the dozens of bands who missed out or turned down playing the festival, the funniest story is surely that of Iron Butterfly. Stuck at an airport, they sent a telegram to the festival: ‘We will arrive at LaGuardia / You will have helicopters pick us up / We will fly straight to the show / We will perform immediately / And then we will be flown out.’ Production co-ordinator John Morris sent a telegram back in reply: ‘For reasons I can’t go into / Until you are here / Clarifying your situation / Knowing you are having problems / You will have to find / Other transportation / Unless you plan not to come.’ The first letter of each line of his acrostic reply spelled out his true feelings.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Easy Rider. It’s one of those films that obviously needed to happen, as an important stepping stone in wrestling power away from the studios and into the hands of writers and directors, but as a piece of art I don’t think it’s dated terribly well. In fact, after the opening thrill of Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild, the rest of the picture is a bit of a slog. It probably works better when you’re high?

But if this film opened the door and led to Coppola making The Godfather, or Friedkin making The Exorcist, and ultimately to Spielberg’s Jaws and Lucas’ Star Wars, then it’s more than alright by me.

Hit: Born To Be Wild – Steppenwolf

Hidden Gem: The Pusher – Steppenwolf

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Rocks In The Attic #779: Various Artists – ‘FM (O.S.T.)’ (1978)

RITA#779Is there a worse film with such a great jukebox soundtrack? I don’t know what went on with the production of this film, but they managed to amass a who’s who of AOR tracks – courtesy of many different record labels – on the soundtrack.

It’s amazing to see the ident of the film studio, and the opening credits roll over a Steely Dan track. Their title track is one of the band’s only tracks not to appear on any of their studio albums, and serves as a great reason to own this soundtrack. Within the bands discography, it falls between the recording of 1977’s Aja and 1980’s Gaucho. The instrumental reprise of the title track, unavailable anywhere else, makes it essential for any diehard Steely Dan fan.

The plot of the film – a hit radio station staffed by a plucky bunch of rebels, faced with interference from their corporate owners – is about as interesting as the trade dispute storyline from The Phantom Menace.

The cast – of mostly unknowns – aren’t particularly bad, or unlikable, it’s just that the story is so damn uninteresting. It plays more like a soap opera than a feature film, and the claustrophobia of the radio station offices is really only punctured by two concert performances, by Jimmy ‘Great Spread’ Buffett and Linda Ronstadt.

RITA#779aWhat a corker of a soundtrack though. Alongside the Dan’s FM, we also get their groovy Do It Again, the Eagles’ Life In The Fast Lane, Foreigner’s Cold As Ice, the Doobie’s It Keeps You Runnin’, the Steve Miller Band’s Fly Like An Eagle, Tom Petty & The Heartbreaker’s Breakdown, Queen’s We Will Rock You and the full 8-minute cut of Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good To Me. It really is the American Graffiti of late ‘70s rock music. My only criticism is that it’s comprised entirely by white singers and bands, and I can’t imagine any radio station in the late 1970s being so blind to African-American artists.

In fact, the hits come so thick and fast, the film feels more like a 2-hour trailer for a much better film, given how used we are to hearing big songs flip between one to another so rapidly. It’s just a shame the film doesn’t live up to the quality of the music.

No static at all, but a whole load of white noise.

Hit: More Than A Feeling – Boston

Hidden Gem: FM Reprise – Steely Dan