Category Archives: Various Artists

Rocks In The Attic #867: Various Artists – ‘Action Jackson (O.S.T.)’ (1988)

RITA#867Action Jackson: the 1988 film that reunites Dillon, Mac and Billy from Predator. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s a veritable who’s who of character actors from the Joel Silver stable. From Die Hard, released 5 months later, we have the TV presenter (also the psychologist from Lethal Weapon), Agent Johnson, Argyle the limo-driver, Karl the terrorist, the faux-lobby guard and the candy-bar hungry Chinese terrorist. And of course the Michael Kamen score, ignoring Herbie Hancock’s contributions, puts us firmly in mind of both Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. Joel Silver’s casting director likes to keep it close, but with all this talent, Action Jackson is still a steaming pile of turkey shit.

RITA#867aThe tone of the film is the worst thing about it. It’s an action-comedy with too much comedy, and not the good kind. I guess Comedy Jackson didn’t sound as good as a title. The script is terrible too. It wants to be a dark, edgy, dangerous like Joel Silver’s recent successes, but it just limps along, going from very light to a shade of dark it never earns.

The Herbie Hancock half of the score could be great, but there isn’t enough of it. The gentler Kamen stuff – bluesy sax and haunting orchestral stabs – is great, but we’ve heard it all before. The soundtrack album itself, comprised of black artists to appeal to a black audience, isn’t bad though. It’s the usual fluffy ‘80s pop soundtrack, with a fair bit of filler and a couple of gems. He Turned Me Out, by the Pointer Sisters, is an absolutely boss tune and easily the best song on the album. More than anything, it’s a blessing the film came out in 1988 and avoided the short-lived New Jack Swing phenomenon that cursed the Ghostbusters II soundtrack a year later.

Hit: He Turned Me Out – The Pointer Sisters

Hidden Gem: Building Up ‘Action Jackson’ – Herbie Hancock

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Rocks In The Attic #860: Various Artists – ‘Kill Bill Vol. 2 (O.S.T.)’ (2004)

RITA#860I think the reason I’ve not gone back to this film as much as the first one is that as a pair they’re so uneven. The first film is front-loaded with all the action, and then all the exposition and character development ends up crammed into the second film. It makes for a strange double-feature.

We catch up with Uma Thurman’s Bride as she’s driving down a desert road. She delivers a monologue straight to camera:

Looked dead, didn’t I? Well, I wasn’t. But it wasn’t from lack of trying, I can tell you that. Actually, Bill’s last bullet put me in a coma – a coma I was to lie in for four years. When I woke up, I went on what the movie advertisements refer to as “a roaring rampage of revenge.” I roared, and I rampaged, and I got bloody satisfaction. I’ve killed a hell of a lot of people to get to this point, but I’ve only one more. The last one. The one I’m driving to right now. The only one left. And when I arrive at my destination, I am gonna kill Bill.

We open in the Two Pines wedding chapel. We’ve seen this location before, in the black and white flashback sequences of Vol. 1, but here we get to see the whole thing play out. There’s a wonderful Orson Welles-worthy crane shot towards the end of sequence, where the camera drifts back through the aisle, out of the doors as we see Bill’s assassins walk into the chapel, ending with an aerial shot as the gunfire starts. It’s probably my favourite shot of the film; stellar filmmaking.

RITA#860aThe intertextuality and references to Tarantino’s earlier works keep on coming, with a short but memorable cameo by Tarantino-regular Samuel L. Jackson. Moments later, we’re introduced to David Carradine’s Bill, the Caine of Kung Fu that Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction aspired to be at the close of that film.

A few scenes later, at the trailer of Michael Madsen’s Budd – which pre-dates Brad Pitt’s set-up in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – Budd captures the Bride, who has been waiting to kill him. Budd calls Darryl Hannah’s Elle Driver and says “I just caught me the cowgirl”. The line immediately echoes a similar scene in Pulp Fiction, where the pawn-shop owner Maynard captures a bloodied Butch and Marsellus (Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames): “Zed? It’s Maynard. The spider just caught a coupl’a flies.” RZA’s underscoring with the melody line from Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) over this scene is very nice, and probably his finest moment in terms of original composition. Much later, at the close of the film, Bill describes the Bride as a ‘natural born killer’, and if that isn’t a reference to an earlier Tarantino script, then I don’t know what is.

It’s not all great though. Michael Madsen’s conversation with his strip-club owner boss is the very definition of filler. It doesn’t go anywhere, and his subsequent character development belies the fact that he probably wouldn’t put up with somebody so annoying and unthreatening.

My other major gripe is the use of Malcolm McLaren’s About Her – a rewrite of the Zombies’ She’s Not There. It’s a nice track from McLaren’s 2005 album Tranquilize, and uses a Bessie Smith sample (‘My man’s got a heart like a rock cast in the sea’) similar to how Moby deployed old-timey samples on 1999’s Play, but the prominence of those lyrics – ‘Well nobody told me about her’ – to soundtrack the moment the Bride is reunited with her daughter is just awful. Shoehorning the lyrics of a pop song to lazily describe the events in a film is something a hack director would do. Who’s responsible for this choice of song? Tarantino or RZA? The rest of the soundtrack is amazing, and what you’d expect from a Tarantino film, but this one song is definitely its weakest point.

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The buried alive / grave sequence is absolutely horrible, particularly so if you don’t like enclosed spaces. It gets me in the same way as a similar scene in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. The shot of the Bride walking across the road into the diner is a nice little capper. A lesser director would have played the shot more for laughs – particularly as she’s walking out of a cemetery looking like that – but Tarantino gives us just the right amount of levity, without breaking the sombre tone of the film.

The standout scene of the film though is the trailer fight between the Bride and Elle Driver. I can’t believe I’ve forgotten about this. It’s the best close-quarters fight this side of a Bond film (see From Russia With Love, Diamonds Are Forever, SPECTRE), and manages to tread the line between serious and hilarious, influencing a similar scene in Christopher McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher.

Hit: Goodnight Moon – Shivaree

Hidden Gem: Summertime Killer – Luis Bacalov

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Rocks In The Attic #858: Various Artists – ‘Kill Bill Vol. 1 (O.S.T.)’ (2003)

RITA#858The 4th film from Quentin Tarantino, the opening credits tell us, with balls the size of watermelons. It’s here that Tarantino starts to recognise his own legacy. Not only is he numbering his films – surely the first sign of his subsequent plan of only directing ten films – but it’s with Kill Bill that he starts to litter the Tarantino-verse with references to his earlier works.

In the film’s first post-credits scene, Uma Thurman’s character (‘The Bride’ AKA Beatrix Kiddo) arrives at Vernita Green’s house, her first target for revenge. With their knife-fight interrupted by Green’s daughter returning from school, the two call a temporary truce and head to the kitchen for coffee. There, the Bride explains how she’ll first kill Green, then her daughter and then her husband. “That’ll be even Vernita…that’ll be about square.” As she says that last word, she traces the outline of a square in the air with her right hand. The gesture is surely a reference to Thurman’s earlier character in the Tarantinoverse, Mia Wallace from 1994’s Pulp Fiction. In that film, on her night out with John Travolta’s Vincent Vega, she tells him not to be a square, again tracing the outline of a square – which Tarantino sneakily overlays with a rectangle in post-production.

Even Thurman’s character in Kill Bill is described in dialogue by Pulp Fiction’s Mia Wallace nine years earlier. She explains to Vega how she once appeared in a failed TV pilot, whose characters almost perfectly describe the Bride and her former team of assassins:

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RITA#858aMIA: It was a show about a team of secret agents called Fox Force Five.

VINCENT: What?

MIA: Fox Force Five. Fox, as in we’re a bunch of foxy chicks. Force, as in we’re a force to be reckoned with. Five, as in there’s one…two…three…four…five of us. There was a blonde on, Sommerset O’Neal, from that show Baton Rouge, she was the leader. A Japanese one, a black one, a French one, and a brunette one, me. We all had special skills. Sommerset had a photographic memory, the Japanese fox was a kung-fu master, the black girl was a demolition expert, the French fox’s specialty was sex…

VINCENT: What was your specialty?

MIA: Knives. The character I played, Raven McCoy, her background was she was raised by circus performers. So she grew up doing a knife act. According to the show, she was the deadliest woman in the world with a knife. But because she grew up in a circus, she was also something of an acrobat. She could do illusions, she was a trapeze artist – when you’re keeping the world safe from evil, you never know when being a trapeze artist’s gonna come in handy.

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And the references to the Tarantinoverse don’t end there. Michael Parks’ world-weary sheriff is surely the same character he played in 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn, we glimpse Michael Madsen in a black suit a la 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, and the boardroom rant by Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii echoes Pulp Fiction’s opening rant by Amanda Plummer’s Honey Bunny (“Any of you fucking pricks move and I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of you!”).

But the casting of Sonny Chiba as master swordsmith Hattori Hanzō is perhaps Tarantino’s greatest coup. In what must have been a dream come true for the director, the casting of Chiba refers back to one of Tarantino’s earliest scripts. In 1993’s True Romance, written by Tarantino but directed by Tony Scott, Christian Slater’s Clarence meets Patricia Arquette’s Alabama at an all-night theatre, watching a Sonny Chiba triple-feature (“The Streetfighter, Return Of The Streetfighter, and Sister Streetfighter”).

I remember seeing Kill Bill Vol.1 at the cinema and being blown away. But each time I’ve seen it since, I’ve always felt it to be a little bloated, not as much as it’s Vol. 2 companion piece, but there’s definitely some breathing space put into each scene.

That first segment with Vernita Green, post fight, is perhaps the slowest scene in the entire film. We’re finding out a little bit about what has happened to bring the Bride here, but it’s the one time I wish Tarantino had followed a linear storyline by putting the hospital scenes first. Strangely, the Vernita scene and the hospital scene played out of order is essentially the only non-linear aspect of the narrative, excluding the flashbacks to the wedding.

The split-screen over Bernard Herrmann’s Twisted Nerve as Darryl Hannah’s Elle Driver changes into her nurse’s uniform is fantastic, and goes hand in hand as the most cinematic moment of the film with the later scene scored with Tomoyasu Hotei’s Battle Without Honor Or Humanity as the Bride speeds off on her bike and O-Ren Ishii walks into the House Of Blue Leaves.

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One break-out star of Kill Bill is somebody who goes largely unnoticed in the film, but whose contributions are priceless: Kiwi stuntwoman Zoë Bell. The nature of the fight choreography by Yuen Woo-Ping led Tarantino and his Western crew into a different way of working. Schedules were abandoned and sequences were added or deleted to better suit the narrative.  The change in mindset led to another important decision: the promotion of Bell from a low-tier ‘crash and smash’ stuntwoman to a full-on stunt double for Thurman. The shoot thrust her into the (face-covered) limelight, but left her with broken ribs and a dislocated wrist.

Tarantino stuck with her and she subsequently appeared as either an actress or stuntwoman in all of his subsequent films. I met her at the New Zealand premiere of The Hateful Eight in January 2016 where she was kind enough to sign my copies of Death Proof and The Hateful Eight. In hindsight, I should have asked her to autograph everything from Kill Bill onwards, given her impact on the Tarantinoverse.

The Kill Bill films mark Tarantino’s first musical collaboration with another artist, RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, who contributed score elements and also acted as co-producer of the soundtrack alongside Tarantino and Lawrence Bender. About a dozen or so tracks were left off the accompanying soundtrack, either used in the film or in its promotional material and so an expanded soundtrack one day is a definite possibility. My only gripe is that so much is left of the resulting soundtrack to fit in all ten and a half minutes of Santa Esmeralda’s nauseatingly camp cover of the Animals’ arrangement of Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (it’s the Animals version of the song, rather than the Nina Simone original, as the European disco group also recorded a version of House Of The Rising Sun).

Hit: Twisted Nerve – Bernard Herrmann

Hidden Gem: Run Fay Run – Isaac Hayes

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Rocks In The Attic #851: Various Artists – ‘Pineapple Express (O.S.T.)’ (2008)

Okay, quiz time. Thinking about films that have emerged from the Judd Apatow camp, have a guess at the number of years that separate Knocked Up and Superbad? The first being Seth Rogen’s breakthrough as a credible leading man in Hollywood, and the second his breakthrough as a comedic writer alongside screenwriting partner Evan Goldberg.

The answer? Just eleven weeks. In the UK, where I saw both at the cinema, the distance was even shorter – just three weeks.

It feels incredible that two such strong comedies were released within earshot of each other. In my memory they’re separated by a couple of years, time enough to first accept Rogen as a force in Hollywood comedy before welcoming a film written by him.

It’s not hard to see Judd Apatow as this generation’s James L. Brooks. Both are comedy writer/director/producers, starting their career in television and ending up in film. Both have strong comic chops, with their heartwarming brand of comedy treading a fine line between laughs and tears. And both have fostered young and upcoming talent within their ranks.

RITA#851bIf anybody has emerged as the shining beacon of light from Team Apatow, it’s the writing partnership of Rogen and Goldberg. Childhood friends in Vancouver, Canada, they co-wrote an early draft of Superbad at the age of 13, before Rogen’s acting career took off as part of the ensemble cast in Apatow’s Freaks & Geeks.

Rogen appeared in a couple of early Apatow film –  Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy and The 40-Year-Old Virgin – before he was cast as the lead opposite Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up. Shortly thereafter, the Apatow-produced Superbad cemented Rogen’s position as a major comedy player in Hollywood.

And so we arrive at Pineapple Express. Not a perfect film, by any measure, but still a breath of fresh air after the tentpole comedies that preceded it in the summer of 2008: Adam Sandler in You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, Mike Myers in The Love Guru and Eddie Murphy in Meet Dave.

RITA#851aRogen and Goldberg’s second writing collaboration finds Rogen acting alongside his Freaks & Geeks cast-mate Dave Franco. Rogen plays to what was swiftly becoming his type: a schlubby loser in a dead-end job with no prospects. He plays a legal process server (“You’ve been served”) who witnesses a murder and enlists the help of his drug dealer (Franco, also playing to type) and another drug contact (Danny McBride), to evade the Mr. Big (Gary Cole) who’s behind it all.

It’s a nice little film, as long as you don’t think too much about it. The supporting cast is great, particularly those who by now were becoming Apatow regulars: Craig Robinson, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Kevin Corrigan and Justin Long. The remarkable thing about the film though is the quality of the cinematography. The film stock has the same graininess as Superbad, making it look like it belongs in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. This hasn’t been lost on Rogen, who said ‘even people who hate the movie admit that it’s shot well.’

I can’t remember why I bought the soundtrack, released on green grass marble double vinyl for 2017’s Record Store Day, but I’m glad I did. Not only does it include stone-cold bangers like Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue (‘BOY!’), Robert Palmer’s Woke Up Laughing, and Bird’s Lament by Moondog & The London Saxophonic, but it also includes a classic-in-the-making theme song by Huey Lewis & The News. The only thing missing is Paper Planes by M.I.A., a highlight of the film trailer, but which didn’t end up in the resulting film.

Hit: Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant

Hidden Gem: Pineapple Express – Huey Lewis & The News

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Rocks In The Attic #848: Various Artists – ‘T2 Trainspotting (O.S.T.)’ (2017)

RITA#848Filming a sequel to one of the greatest films of the 1990s sounds like a bad idea, even when the same director and writing team are involved. Imagine if Quentin Tarantino decided to film a sequel to Pulp Fiction, or David Fincher made Fight Club 2. Sometimes the brilliance of a film relies on the characters existing within the confines of said film, and the film itself existing in the time it was released. To go back and revisit feels like a fool’s errand.

The idea for a sequel to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting started with Irvine Welsh’s follow-up to his original 1993 novel. Released in 2003, Porno revisits the characters from the first book, and describes the gang’s attempts to break into the world of pornography. While a direct follow-up to the novel of Trainspotting, it also takes ideas from the film adaptation and exists as a sequel to both.

To pull the original team and cast together for the film sequel is a remarkable achievement in itself. Joining director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge are all the principle cast members from the 1996 film: Ewen McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and Ewen Bremner. In the intervening years McGregor had become a Jedi, Miller had married Angelina Jolie, Carlyle had become a Bond villain and Bremner had become a character actor for hire in Hollywood.

When I met Danny Boyle at the New Zealand premiere of T2 Trainspotting, I told him I was glad he hadn’t taken Welsh’s Porno as the basis for the script. ‘Yeah, it’s not one of his best novels at the end of the day,’ he replied. Hollywood has already done that sort of thing anyway, I added. “Yeah, you’re right” he said, catching my drift. “A couple of years ago there was a glut of films with a similar premise, like We Made A Porno [Zack And Miri Make A Porno].”

Instead, Hodge’s script begins with Mark Renton’s nostalgic trip back to Edinburgh from Amsterdam, where he’s been living for the last twenty years. Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson is a scam-artist, working alongside his Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika. Francis Begbie is serving a lengthy prison sentence, and Daniel ‘Spud’ Murphy is still addicted to heroin and suicidal following the separation from his wife and teenage son.

The film does play with our nostalgia for the first film, but it never fees mawkish. The lead characters have all grown up, but the situation they find themselves in feels relevant. Sick-Boy’s scam – filming businessmen in hotels with Veronika and subsequently blackmailing them with the footage – isn’t glamorised, and starts to fail just as Renton returns. Spud is at his lowest ebb, with his suicide letter to Gail providing the heartbeat of the film and kick-starting a raft of reminiscences of years gone by. Begbie, unsurprisingly locked up at her majesty’s pleasure, organises an injury from a fellow inmate so he can then escape from the hospital. There’s no real reason for his escape, and on the outside he reverts back to his old ways, bringing his unenthusiastic son to burgle houses in the dead of night.

RITA#848aTo compliment Spud’s nostalgic writings, footage from the first film is also used sparingly. Spud leaves a boxing gym, and finds himself on the same street he ran down with Renton, running from security guards from where they’ve just shoplifted. In another moment, Sick-Boy reminds Renton of Tommy, the friend he introduced to heroin, ultimately killing him. Renton returns the guilt-trip, reminding Sick-Boy of the infant he left to die in their squalid flat.

Interspersed in the film are some brilliant shots of younger versions of the main characters, which begins with the opening credits portraying the main characters as schoolchildren. In a later memory, we see Renton and Sick-Boy scoring their first hit, and a memorial trip to the countryside to honour Tommy reflects an earlier trip with Tommy in tow.

There are also plenty of subtle references to the first film. When Renton enters a nightclub toilet and sees the disgusting state of the toilets, it echoes the moment in the first film where he visits a horrific pub toilet to empty his bowels (and unintentionally lose his suppositories). During the final confrontation with Begbie, Renton crawls out of a hole onto the roof of Sick-Boy’s pub in exactly the same way he emerged from that original Brian Eno-soundtracked toilet-dive. Upon his return to his childhood bedroom, he flicks through the LPs on the floor and drops the needle on Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life before abandoning it on the first drumbeat.

Film sequels shouldn’t be this good. It’s a massive credit to Danny Boyle that not only could he bring everybody back to Edinburgh, but that he could helm a film that’s so reverent to its past and so fresh and innovative at the same time.

The soundtrack manages to do the same, with nostalgia (Queen’s Radio Ga Ga, Blondie’s Dreaming and Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax) sitting firmly alongside newer songs (Young Father’s Get Up, Fat White Family’s Whitest Boy On The Beach and High Contrast’s Shotgun Mouthwash). Most impressive is the soundtrack’s bookended homages to the breakout songs from the first film’s soundtrack: the Prodigy’s remix of Lust For Life, and Underworld’s chopped and screwed remix of their Born Slippy classic, Slow Slippy.

Hit: Radio Gaga – Queen

Hidden Gem: Silk – Wolf Alice

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Rocks In The Attic #843: Various Artists – ‘Night Of The Living Dead (O.S.T.)’ (1968)

RITA#843New Zealand officially entered its COVID-19 lockdown last Wednesday. Four weeks of home isolation and things are already starting to get weird. Everybody seems to be behaving themselves, aside from the occasional morons you see on the news getting told off by the Police.

It’s not difficult to ponder what might happen next. We haven’t seen any looting yet, and that’s usually the first sign of society starting to break down: ‘I really need this food to survive the lockdown…and this 60” plasma flat-screen.’

What if the lockdown doesn’t work, or the virus mutates and civilisation starts to ground to a halt. What do we do then?

RITA#843aWhat better source of inspiration that George A. Romero’s Dead films?

First of all, who’s likely to be armed for the occasion? Despite not being a typically gun-friendly nation, New Zealand’s gun stores had a run just before the lockdown, but it seems people were mostly buying air-rifles (pigeon-stew anybody?). That means that aside from the odd weekend hunter, most city folk will be unarmed.

You’d probably have to go into the countryside to find some real firepower. I’d expect most of, if not all, of our country’s farmers to own shotguns and rifles, and so a farmhouse – like the location in Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead – might be the safest place in the country. Plenty of milk to drink too.

As I don’t personally know any famers, approaching a farmhouse would be potentially more dangerous than the zombie hordes I’m trying to escape. I do live near a shopping mall though, which brings us to Romero’s 1978 sequel Dawn Of The Dead.

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Presuming that petrol has dried out by this point, I have two options within walking distance: Meadowlands, a glorified strip-mall that has nothing of interest other than a supermarket (unless you think the contents of an Asian $2 shop might be useful in a zombie outbreak), and Botany, a picturesque outdoor shopping mall a little further afield.

Of the two, there’s a greater range of stores in Botany, but the outdoor nature of the complex, rather than a standalone mall structure, would make it practically impossible to defend. The best course of action would be to head to Sylvia Park, twelve kilometres away.

The route to Sylvia Park also requires the crossing of one of two bridges. That would make for a good scene in a zombie film, I’m sure. Cars piled up, buses hanging over the edges of the barriers on either side of the bridge. Perfect opportunity to get picked off by a sniper though; I must be careful!

It’ll all be worth it; Sylvia Park has got it all. There’s even an entire section devoted to outdoorsy camping shops. I should be good to hole up there in a deluxe, 7-man camping tent.

And in terms of following the plot of 1985’s Day OF The Dead, I’m not sure. The New Zealand army is so small, I’m not sure they even have any overground bunkers, let alone any underground ones.

Hit: Opening Drive

Hidden Gem: Ghouls Approach The House

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Rocks In The Attic #842: Various Artists – ‘The King Of Comedy (O.S.T.)’ (1982)

RITA#842There’s an area of the internet that believes that Martin Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy is somehow a better film than Todd Phillips’ Joker. While it’s clear that without Scorsese’s film, Phillips’ film wouldn’t exit – it’s a key influence on Joker alongside Scorsese’s earlier classic, Taxi Driver – it’s also clear that Joker managed to take those key elements of The King Of Comedy and do something far more interesting with them. How much of this existed while Scorsese was initially attached to Joker as producer, before departing to announce that comic book films were the equivalent of theme park rides, is unclear, but one has to wonder if he was simply uncomfortable with referencing his own work so blatantly.

RITA#842aYou have to wonder what the point of The King Of Comedy is; what Scorsese is trying to achieve. After the success of Taxi Driver for Columbia Pictures in 1976, the director made a couple of lukewarm films for United Artists: New York, New York in 1977 and Raging Bull in 1980. While the latter has proven to be one of his strongest films, it wasn’t initially received as such, and only took $23 million against an $18 million budget.

Switching to 20th Century Fox for The King Of Comedy, it almost seems that Scorsese is trying to not only derail his own career but destroy his reputation with each of the major film studios. His cocaine addiction probably deserves some of the blame here. It wouldn’t be his first strange choice for a project, and it wouldn’t be his last.

Where De Niro’s character in Taxi Driver was to some extent an anti-hero, his Rupert Pupkin in The King Of Comedy is even more unlikable than Raging Bull’s Jake La Motta. He’s a wannabe stand-up comedian; more infatuated with the glare of the TV cameras than the audience he’s entertaining. It’s not widespread success he’s chasing, it’s merely the acceptance of Rita (Diahnne Abbott).

That was the one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb when I saw Joker in the cinema; that they had cast a black actress (Zazie Beetz) as Sophie, Arthur Fleck’s (Joaquin Phoenix) love-interest. It seemed a little too on the nose, a blatant casting choice (the fact that Beetz looks so similar to Abbott doesn’t help matters). But to his credit, Todd Phillips does something far more interesting with the nature of his film’s central relationship.

Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker’s camera-flash free-frame used for the opening credits (and over a great Ray Charles song) is particularly well done. The other great shot is the image of Jerry Lewis’ Jerry Langford catching Pupkin’s hijacked monologue on a bank of TV’s in a store window after he escapes from Sandra Bernhard’s obsessed stalker Masha. Cinematic gold.

Times Square looks wonderful, and it’s nice to spot Blade Runner up on the marquee of one of the movie theatres. It’s also great to spot three quarters of the Clash – Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon – alongside Don Letts and their sometime manager Kosmo Vinyl, as extras in the scene where Masha confronts Pupkin. Topper Headon must have been busy.

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Not only did the film heavily influence Joker, but the scenes of Pupkin rehearsing / fantasising in his bedroom and hollering at his constantly interrupting mother (played by Scorsese’s mother Catherine) clearly influenced a similar trope in TV’s The Big Bang Theory.

I don’t think the needle-drops work spectacularly well in the film, but the soundtrack on its own is fantastic. Scorsese’s first collaboration with the Band’s Robbie Robertson as a de facto music supervisor sets the tone of most of the director’s soundtracks for the next three decades (right up to last year’s The Irishman): lots of blues based ‘60s and ‘70s rock interspersed with the occasional pop song.

Robertson’s own Between Trains exists as his first original song since leaving the Band, and the soundtrack also includes the only appearance of David Sanborn’s The Finer Things. Alongside Scorsese soundtrack regulars Van Morisson, B.B. King and Ray Charles, the soundtrack also features younger artists like the Cars’ Ric Ocasek, Talking Heads and the Pretenders. It’s the Pretenders’ song, Back On The Chain Gang, that feels so out of place, being such an evergreen radio hit.

Hit: Back On The Chain Gang – The Pretenders

Hidden Gem: Between Trains – Robbie Robertson

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Rocks In The Attic #840: Various Artists – ‘James Brown’s Funky People’ (1986)

RITA#840You wait twenty years for a reissue of this album (and its funky Part 2 follow-up) to come along, and all the funk-heads in Auckland race to the record store.

Last Friday, I received Southbound Record’s weekly email around 11am, and dashed out as soon as I could. I ended up snagging their last copy of this first volume, but somebody had beat me to the store’s only copy of Part 2. The helpful guy on the counter said that they hadn’t ordered as many copies of Part 2, thinking that it wouldn’t have been very popular, but in the end everybody that came in for Part 1 also asked for Part 2.

Such is the power of this collection: 46 minutes of unbelievable funk, split over a DJ-friendly four sides. Originally released in 1986, to capitalise on James’ newfound status as the hardest working sample in hip-hop, the compilation gathers together the best singles from his People record label. All but one song is recorded by the J.B.’s, James’ backing band led by funky trombonist Fred Wesley (the exception is Lyn Collins’ Rock Me Again & Again & Again & Again & Again & Again, which for some reason features Collin’s vocal against a backing track of unknown studio musicians).

As a result, the album is unbelievably cohesive for what is essentially a compilation of ‘various artists’. For the most part, it represents the J.B.’s greatest hits, and is easily the greatest achievement of a backing band this side of Booker T. & The M.G.’s. Pure desert island disc stuff.

It’s just the tonic for what’s happening in the world right now with the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). Today, New Zealand closed its borders to non-New Zealanders, and so the only thing to do is sit it out. Looks like my record player is going to get a workout…

Hit: Pass The Peas – The J.B.’s

Hidden Gem: Hot Pants Road – The J.B.’s

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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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