Category Archives: Vinyl Records

Rocks In The Attic #812: Various Artists – ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (O.S.T.)’ (2019)

WARNING! SPOILERS!

RITA#812Half-way through Quentin Tarantino’s ninth picture, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Brad Pitt’s character, stuntman Cliff Booth, visits Spahn Ranch. Reminiscent of the ‘glass of milk’ scene in Inglourious Basterds, or that same film’s later bar scene, it’s a deliciously tense moment in an otherwise bloated film. Booth suspects that there’s something amiss about the group of hippies living at the ranch owned by his former colleague. Unlike the audience, he doesn’t have hindsight of the Manson family, but still feels that something isn’t quite right.

He insists of seeing his former colleague, George Spahn, to ensure he’s not being taken advantage of, or worse. After much obstruction by the Mansons, Booth finally speaks to a grouchy Spahn who insists that everything is okay. He might be being taken advantage of, but seems relatively content about it.

And so, a wonderfully tense fifteen-minute scene ends in an anti-climax; a metaphor for the film itself.

RITA#812aOnce Upon A Time In Hollywood isn’t a bad film, but it’s a huge disappointment. It’s up there with Ari Aster’s unapologetic ­Wicker Man­ rip-off, Midsommar, as the biggest let-down of 2019. To say that four years ago, I met Tarantino and practically begged him not to retire after his tenth film, I should have spent that precious time asking him to be more careful with #9 and #10.

People tend to forget that what originally made Tarantino’s films so interesting is that they normalised dialogue between henchman, bad guys and crooks. They did horrible things but they still had small, human problems. Thirty years after the 1-2-3 success of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown and we’re faced with a picture that, despite its depiction of infamous events, is just dull. That throwaway book-reading scene between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and his 12-year old co-star is painfully dull.

In fact, the whole DiCaprio storyline is boring. Death Proof levels of boring.

My main issue with the film though, is its skirting with reality and its subsequent failure to end with the Sharon Tate murders. Tarantino has played with revisionist history before: a Jew murdering Hitler and other high-ranking Nazis in Basterds, and Jamie Foxx’s slave rising up to avenge his former slave-owners in Django Unchained. Here though, he kind of gets away with it because, as the film’s title suggest, it’s a fairytale. A happy ending. An allegory for Hollywood itself.

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My preferred ending to the picture would have kept the meeting of Dalton, Sebring and Tate on the driveway, but the crane shot would have swept back to the open gate to reveal another car full of Manson children, implying that fate cannot be stopped.

I’m probably more disappointed about what the film could have been rather than how it turned out. Tarantino directing a period film in 1960s Los Angeles sounds unbeatable. First, we get that classic period-era Columbia Pictures studio ident at the top of the film, to set the scene. Then things start to break down.

Five minutes in, we get a blast of narration from Kurt Russell’s Randy Miller: ‘That’s a fucking lie!’ Do we get any more? Yes, but much, much later in the film (following Dalton and Booth’s return from Italy). Cliff Booth has a clunky flashback as he fixes the aerial on Dalton’s roof. Do we get any more flashbacks? Nope. And those crazy cuts – hat on, hat off – in the first scene between Dalton and Timothy Olyphant’s James Stacy? What the hell is going on with these half-hearted narrative devices?

The script across the film’s opening scenes – Booth explaining in the car who he is to Dalton, and Dalton explaining who Roman Polanski is – feels very clunky, like a first draft even. I did chuckle at the random line of dialogue: ‘Don’t cry in front of Mexicans’, which sounds like the oddest piece of racist advice from Brad Pitt’s character.

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And to expand on the issues with Pitt’s Cliff Booth, where do I start? The implication that he killed his wife, and the insinuation that she deserved it for being a nag, is just awful. As is the portrayal of Bruce Lee in the next scene. After two viewings, I still can’t understand why Bruce Lee is a character in this film. Is Tarantino making an example of him because he’s a mainstream kung-fu star, and Tarantino prefers more obscure films from that genre? What else could it be? I don’t think it’s particularly racist, but it’s definitely disrespectful, and more importantly, downright lazy.

I do love the soundtrack though, with the radio station framing – Boss Radio featuring Humble Harve and the Real Don Steele – harking back to Steve Wright’s radio announcements on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack. It’s odd that the vinyl version of the soundtrack retains that compressed radio sound for the songs introduced by the Boss radio DJs, but the digital version I’ve heard on Spotify abandons this and plays the standard versions.

My only gripe with the soundtrack is the inclusion of Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson, a song that just feels too popular, too obvious, to be in a Tarantino picture. I did hear Tarantino explain in an interview with Edith Bowman, for her excellent Soundtracking podcast, that in fact the song choices were made for him. Looking for archival recordings of radio stations from the time, they found that somebody had recorded audio from Boss Radio in 1969 and he used this as the basis for sides A and C of the eventual soundtrack release. If songs weren’t played during this found recording, he didn’t put them on the soundtrack.

Overall, I expect better from Tarantino because he’s shown how strong a filmmaker he is. Man, I hope film number ten is a vast improvement on this let-down.

Hit: Mrs. Robinson – Simon & Garfunkel

Hidden Gem: You Keep Me Hangin’ On (Quentin Tarantino Edit) – Vanilla Fudge

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Rocks In The Attic #811: Pearl Jam – ‘MTV Unplugged (1992)

19075921591_JK001_PS_01_01_01.inddAnother year, another Record Store Day: Black Friday event. These have always been hit or miss for me in the past. Most years I’ve stumbled into my local stores on the weekend following the Friday and picked up one or two things, and some years I’ve disregarded it completely. Back in 2012, I walked into Real Groovy on the Sunday following Black Friday and picked up their only copy of the super-limited 10” pressing of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, now highly sought-after but evidently not by Auckland folk at the time. Last year, I think my only purchase was a rainbow-coloured vinyl pressing of the B-52s’ Cosmic Thing.

The continued rise of soundtracks has meant that the last couple of RSD events have seen some interesting releases. Earlier in the year, at the main April event, I picked up soundtracks to the Knight Rider TV series, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Lost In Translation and Howard Stern’s Private Parts: The Album. This Black Friday, I was lucky enough to pick up soundtracks to Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado and Bill Conti’s score for 1987’s woeful Masters Of The Universe.

One of my non-soundtrack purchases from this year’s Black Friday event is this 1992 classic: Pearl Jam’s entry to the MTV Unplugged series. Strangely, considering the band’s stature during the grunge years of the early ‘90s, this marks the first time that the performance has been officially released on vinyl (several bootleg releases have made it to market in 2016 and 2017, but this one’s the real deal). R.E.M., Nirvana and Alice In Chain’s respective entries into the Unplugged cannon have slowly crept into each band’s back catalogue as essential releases, and so it seems like this will do the same for Pearl Jam. Now, if only they would release Stone Temple Pilot’s performance officially, so I can retire my bootleg copy.

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Comprised of six songs from their debut album Ten, plus one of their contributions to the Singles soundtrack (State Of Love And Trust), Pearl Jam’s set starts off slowly with the slow-burning Oceans. ‘A little love-song I wrote about my surfboard,’ Eddie Vedder tells the audience, as the applause dies down. There isn’t a great deal of communication with the audience, and very little of the surprisingly amusing banter you can hear on Nirvana’s Unplugged performance (‘What are you tuning? A harp?’). It’s this earnestness which turned me off Pearl Jam from the start, and which I’ve only been able to look beyond over the last decade or so.

All the big hits from the band’s debut are covered – Alive, Jeremy, Evenflow – but if anything it feels a bit too short. The seven songs featured are the same as those which were broadcast in the original 60-minute (including commercials) TV special. Their cover of Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World is omitted, plus any rehearsal and off-screen performances.  I have a bootleg of the full Aerosmith unplugged performance from 1989 which is almost twice the length of the version that was broadcast. I wonder if the same can be said of Pearl Jam, particularly when we’ve just recently seen a reissue of Nirvana’s unplugged set containing previously unreleased rehearsal takes.

The one thing I can’t stand about these early ‘90s unplugged releases is the amount of whooping and hollering from the audience. I can appreciate the applause when a song ends, but the ‘realisation’ sounds of approval from the crowd, one or two bars into each song really irks me. It reminds me of ITV’s Stars In Your Eyes when the studio audience would give a complimentary round of applause one line into the first verse of Rocketman when they suddenly realise that yes, that tubby little IT consultant from Walthamstow really does sound like Elton John.

Hit: Jeremy

Hidden Gem: State Of Love And Trust

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Rocks In The Attic’s Buyer’s Guide to….Jimi Hendrix

  – 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

The summer of 1966 was a great one in London. England won the World Cup in Wembley Stadium, the Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon hit the top of the charts, the American Billie Jean King won the first of her six Wimbledon titles and the Beatles delivered Revolver. In September, a pop culture atomic bomb was dropped on the city when an unknown blues guitarist was flown in by Animals bass-player Chas Chandler.

Hendrix-1In the short time between being thrust into the spotlight of swinging sixties London to his abrupt death just four years later, Jimi Hendrix redefined what was possible on the electric guitar. He personifies rock guitar and serves as the perfect mix of blues, pop, soul, R&B and psychedelia. While he only released three studio albums during his life, a wealth of live albums, compilations and posthumous studio albums have been released with varying degrees of success. This buyer’s guide aims to stick a finger to the man and raise a peace sign to all the foxy ladies.

Start off with: Are You Experienced (1967, Track Records)

Hendrix-2With only three proper studio albums available, it makes sense that these are all essential listening. It’s also good to tackle them in order, to see how Hendrix and his power-trio developed over time. The first of two albums in 1967, Are You Experienced shows us a bright new artist almost fully formed. Following on from the standard set by singles Hey Joe, Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary (all three of which were left off the UK release), the debut album also gives us Foxy Lady, Manic Depression and Fire to add to Hendrix’s bulging set list. In Red House, he creates a blues standard for guitarists everywhere, and delivers two psychedelic highlights in Third Stone From The Sun and the title track. The US version of the album arrived three months later and substitutes some of the album tracks for the previously mentioned singles, but it’s the UK version of the album that should be seen as the real deal.

Follow that with: Axis: Bold As Love (1967, Track Records)

Hendrix-3Already bored with the theatre and histrionics of his stage show, Hendrix put the fuzz pedals to one side for his second studio album of 1967. A subtler, nuanced album from a singer-songwriter perspective, the material shows an artist maturing in both song composition and lyrical content. The barnstorming Spanish Castle Magic and Bold As Love remain as the only songs that might fit on their noisier debut. Everything else feels much more relaxed. Little Wing is a delicate blues ballad featuring superb use of the glockenspiel, Wait Until Tomorrow tells the story of two star-crossed lovers who were never meant to be, and Castles Made Of Sand shows a contemplative Hendrix addressing the issue of mortality and time slipping away. Recorded just 13 months after he landed in London, the album is an incredible achievement in both songwriting and performance. Given how swiftly he could write and record material, one wonders how many Hendrix albums there could have been had tragedy not taken him so soon.

Then get: Electric Ladyland (1968, Reprise Records)

Hendrix-4For the Experience’s third studio LP, Hendrix recorded a double-album’s worth of material at several studios in London and New York. Where the first two records had been strictly a band affair, Electric Ladyland includes many guest appearances from assorted hangers-on and musicians. Traffic’s Dave Mason and Steve Winwood, the Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady, the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones and Bob Dylan-sideman Al Kooper all pop up across the album’s sixteen tracks. Again, the record gives us a high hit-rate of Hendrix classics – Crosstown Traffic, Long Hot Summer Night, early-era single Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, and his reworking of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower. But it’s the last song of the album that remains as Hendrix’s magnum opus. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) begins with an ominous, faded-in wah-wah-pedal before all hell breaks loose in a psychedelic reimagining of electric blues. It’s an everlasting testament to the musical genius of Hendrix, and you couldn’t find a more fitting song to be the last track on his final studio album.

Criminally overlooked: Stone Free (1980, Polydor Records)

Hendrix-5Of course, where there’s money to be made you can always count on record companies sniffing around. Hendrix has released more albums from the grave than he did when he was alive; a raft of uneven posthumous studio records (thirteen at the last count) and dozens of compilations of varying quality. One particular favourite of mine is this 1980 offering from Polydor Records. It might suffer from the cover proclaiming it to be part of the ‘Special Price Series’, but the tracklist is killer. The usual offenders are here – Crosstown Traffic, All Along The Watchtower, Castles Made Of Sand and Little Wing – but it’s the inclusion of the non-studio album material that’s more interesting. Alongside a nice energetic version of the evergreen Johnny B. Goode, the highlight is Ezy Rider, taken from 1971’s The Cry Of Love. It’s the perfect, practically unknown Hendrix song, equal to anything released when he was alive.

The long-shot: Live At Woodstock (1969, Music On Vinyl)

Hendrix-6This one doesn’t get a great deal of love, and it’s not hard to see why. Held over to ensure he was the final act to play the festival at the behest of his manager, rather than taking the headline slot on the Sunday night, it was 9am on Monday by the time Hendrix walked onto the stage with his much larger (than usual) band. Most of the 400,000 crowd had left, the 30,000 remaining had the hangover of all hangovers, and Hendrix himself could barely hide his disappointment. In the stark morning light, Hendrix and band deliver a set consisting of early classics, later masterpieces and lots and LOTS of jamming. It’s crazy how much improvisational material is played given the stature of the event. The highlight of the performance might be when Hendrix flashes the peace sign as he launches into his reworking of The Star Spangled Banner, but my favourite moment is his blistering version of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return). Amazing!

Avoid like the plague: Band Of Gypsys (1969, Polydor Records)

Hendrix-7Coming just four months after the Woodstock performance, Band Of Gypsys finds Hendrix once again playing live as a power-trio.  Captured at New York City’s Filmore East on New Year’s Day 1970, I’ve never really appreciated the heavier sound that bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles bring to the equation. The newer material is dirge-like and it just sounds like a bad trip. The sixties are officially over, they’re selling Beatles wigs in Woolworth’s, and this record shows it.

Best compilation: The Ultimate Experience (1992, Polydor Records)

Hendrix-81997’s Experience Hendrix: The Best Of Jimi Hendrix may have overtaken it as the readily available compilation, but my favourite will always be this similar 1992 release. There’s just something about the sequencing of a compilation of an artist you’re discovering that becomes way more important than it has any right to be. All Along The Watchtower followed by Purple Haze followed by Hey Joe followed by The Wind Cries Mary. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! I could do without the next song, Angel, and would swap it for the bizarrely overlooked Spanish Castle Magic, but that’s really my only criticism. Even the gold artwork on this release is so tied to the treasures within!

Best live album: Live At Monterey (1967, Legacy Records)

Hendrix-9There’s a wealth of live Hendrix material, almost as many albums as the numerous compilations available, so it’s hard to nail these just to one essential release. If pushed, I’d go for this, his breakthrough appearance in America. Introduced by the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, Hendrix opens the show with an incendiary version of Howling Wolf’s Killing Floor. The set showcases early singles Hey Joe, Purple Haze and Foxy Lady, as well as covers of Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone and the Troggs’ Wild Thing. He closes by setting his Fender Stratocaster on fire, and rock music would never be the same again.

Considering that Jimi Hendrix died almost fifty years ago, there’s still a huge amount of material I haven’t yet heard. And it’s still coming out! 2018’s Both Sides Of The Sky completes a trilogy of albums intended as a follow-up to Electric Ladyland. It’s unlikely that anything will overshadow those three original studio albums by the Experience, but I’m sure there’s still the odd gem to be found.

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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 #809: Eric Clapton – ‘August’ (1986)

RITA#809After a lacklustre start to the decade, Eric Clapton really picked up the pace on this and its follow-up, Journeyman. Both covers feature photography by the recently departed Terry O’Neill, depicting a stylish, more mature Clapton. This maturity can also be heard in the songwriting, which finds a plaintive Clapton in a new spot, looking back at his life. The instrumentation is also similar across the two records, utilising the same band of Michael Jackson sideman Greg Phillinganes on keyboards, Nathan East on bass and Phil Collins on drums.

The album kicks off with It’s In The Way That You Use It, featured in The Color Of Money, the 1986 sequel to The Hustler, starring Tom Cruise and Paul Newman. But as commercial as that song is, there’s far stronger material to be found throughout the album.

RITA#809aTearing Us Apart features a vocal duet with Tina Turner, who returns to provide backing vocals on Hold On. The real highpoint though is Behind The Mask, the album’s closer and its only Top 20 single. Starting life as a song by Yellow Magic Orchestra, Quincy Jones heard the song and had Michael Jackson write new lyrics for it, eventually recording it during the Thriller sessions. Unreleased on the eventual album, Greg Phillinganes then recorded a version of it for his 1984 solo album, Pulse, before Clapton covered it on August.

My favourite track though is Miss You – a slow burning electric blues, with a soaring lead guitar from Clapton. It’s a fantastic taster of the kind of material and production that makes Journeyman such a joy to listen to. August is a great start, but Journeyman is clearly the better album.

Hit: Behind The Mask

Hidden Gem: Miss You

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Above Us Only Sky Movies

AUOSM-01Sky TV began broadcasting in the UK in February 1989. My parents signed up to it almost straight away, which I’ve always considered to be strange. They’re by no means what I’d call early-adopters, but for some reason they were at the front of queue on this occasion. We had a big overseas trip to the USA in 1988, and then we were the first household we knew to get Sky, so maybe things were just really good financially around then.

As well as watching The Simpsons from the very first week it aired, Sky also introduced me to WWF when it broadcast Wrestlemania VI in April 1990. But the biggest effect Sky had on me was through its movie channels.

Prior to Sky there was only the four terrestrial TV channels and the local video shop (the most magical of which was Azad Video at the bottom end of Yorkshire Street in Oldham). Nothing else. No internet, no streaming services, just a barren wasteland of entertainment. If you missed a film on TV, or couldn’t find it in the video shop, you just didn’t see it. Full stop. VHS cassettes seemed to be this mystical thing that somehow brought the magic of Hollywood into your living room. I can’t even remember people owning films on VHS. We had a couple – The Sands Of Iwo-Jima and It’s A Wonderful Life – but these didn’t interest me at the time.

AUOSM-02Enter Sky Movies. First included for free as part of the initial subscription, the channel then became encrypted in February 1990. From memory, I seem to remember us getting the decoder before we paid for Sky Movies, and so there was a period of time when I would land on the channel and just hear the audio with no image. The magic was there, but it was behind a curtain, just out of reach. The scrambled image was a strange, new version of white noise, unlike anything you could normally see through the TV aerial if you landed on any channels other than 1, 2, 3 or 4.

When we finally got the smart card, which decrypted the channel, it was like the floodgates opening. I watched films all the time. And when I wasn’t watching them, I’d tape them to watch later. Blank VHS cassettes quickly became an expensive commodity; gold-dust when you had to decide between which film to keep and which to tape over: Sophie’s Choice or Rambo III. My parents even bought some of those tacky cassette covers that made them look like hardback novels on your bookshelf. Hmm, is that a first edition of Nicholas Nickleby? Oh, no it’s Three Amigos followed by Spies Like Us.

I’d get home from school, and watch films I’d taped over the weekend. I have a strong memory of sitting at my parents’ awful wagon-wheel coffee table, watching Lethal Weapon while I dunked McVitie’s digestives into a massive mug of coffee. That’s the thing you really need when you’re 11 or 12 years old: caffeine and the best of the current action movie genre. Who needs sleep?

AUOSM-03Another time, I remember getting up early one morning to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando. My older brother had watched it the prior night, but way past my bedtime. But it was taped for some reason, so I simply woke up at 7am on Saturday morning and watched it. My Mum walked in during the family-friendly scenes when Schwarzenegger is eating peanut-butter sandwiches with his daughter, and so she didn’t seem to care that I was watching a film well above my age. Thankfully she missed the opening credits when the bad guys, posing as garbage men, assassinate one of Schwarzenegger’s old army buddies with Uzis.

Not every film I saw in those days was a winner. There were plenty of turkeys, and the number of films they showed at any one time was pretty limited. So films would be premiered and then repeated often. But what a problem to have: your own private video shop. Happy days!

The films weren’t all blockbusters, and some of my favourites were the smaller productions that Sky had obviously picked up on the cheap: yes you can have *Batteries Not Included and Innerspace, but you have to take The Manhattan Project, Supergirl and Howard The Duck. I’m just annoyed I somehow missed 1989 duffer Collision Course, starring Jay Leno and The Karate Kid’s Pat Morita, until I caught it recently with a big smile on my face.

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Of course, I watched all the Schwarzeneggers and the Stallones, but I also watched the lesser-known Chuck Norris and Rutger Hauers. In no particular order, here are ten early Sky favourites that resonated with an 11-year old finally able to feed his addiction to film:

AUOSM-051. Three Men And A Baby (Leonard Nimoy, 1987)

It’s probably the biggest hit on this list, and not particularly a favourite, but it’s one of my earliest Sky memories where I can recall hearing the audio over the encrypted white noise picture. How cruel, being able to hear Steve Guttenberg, Ted Danson and Tom Selleck trade wisecracks, but not being able to see the horrific pastel colour-scheme of their apartment. It’s a nice little film, and the irony of the film being directed by Mr. Spock, on the subject of babies – usually the field of Dr. Spock – is not lost on me.

AUOSM-062. Feds (Daniel Goldberg, 1988)

Former U.S. Marine Rebecca De Mornay turns up to FBI training academy to find her roommate is the bookish wimp Mary Gross. The pair help each other out in their attempt to become FBI agents, until they eventually outwit the privileged male chauvinists in their class. I recently showed this film to my wife, and she really enjoyed it. It’s aged quite well, genuinely funny and doesn’t feel steeped in the 1980s too much.

AUOSM-073. License To Drive (Greg Beeman, 1988)

In the greatest film starring both Corey Haim and Corey Feldman (yes, I’m looking at you, The Lost Boys), Corey Haim fails to get his driving licence, which he was counting on to impress a girl at school. He decides to take her out for a date anyway, in his Granfather’s classic car, and hilarity ensues. It’s not the greatest film in the world, but the two Coreys have such a chemistry, it’s hard not to like them. Craving mashed potatoes while pregnant, and driving to the hospital in reverse gear are both deserving of a mention.

AUOSM-084. Men At Work (1990, Emilio Estevez)

Another one that got a recent re-watch, to an enthusiastic reception from the wife, who had been oblivious to its charms. Emilio Estevez writes and directs himself and brother Charlie Sheen in a dark comedy about two Californian garbage men who get into trouble with a local gangster. Excellent performances all round, not only from the two leads, but from Keith David in a role that is tailor-made for his angry, anti-establishment attitude. This, for me, has the same hit-rate of one-liners as classic comedies like Some Like It Hot and This Is Spinal Tap, and the small-town plotting provides an enjoyable rollercoaster ride with a similar feel to Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery.

AUOSM-095. Invasion USA (1985, Joseph Zito)

After the Missing In Action films, Chuck Norris seemed to carve out a niche for himself in the 1980’s action hero market. Unlike Stallone and Schwarzenegger, he’s not a massive bodybuilder, instead possessing the kind of body you might expect to see on a friend of your Dad’s. In Invasion USA he, you guessed it, single-handedly prevents an invasion of the USA from Communist Latin-American guerrillas. This, to me, is the archetypal Chuck Norris film, leading to bigger productions like The Delta Force, Braddock: Missing In Action 3 and Delta Force 2: The Columbian Connection. And given the state of the world these days, and the ongoing threat of terrorism, it’s a wonder that this film hasn’t been remade in the post-9/11 world.

AUOSM-106. Runaway (1984, Michael Chrichton)

Tom Selleck’s the good guy, Gene Simmons from Kiss is the bad guy. There’s loads of scary robot spiders, and bullets that can now follow you around corners. Ropey sci-fi films were ten a penny throughout the 1980s, but this one always seemed to have a bit more charm than others. Set in a near future where cops track down runaway robots (sound familiar?), Tom Selleck and his moustache must battle their fear of heights in a finale that takes place on a skyscraper construction site!

AUOSM-117. Stakeout (1987, John Badham)

Quite a few of the films we watched in the early days of Sky were chosen by my Dad. And he seemed to enjoy this action comedy, where two cops (Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez) stakeout a pretty girl’s apartment, a bit too much. There are plenty of hi-jinks between the pair, and with their police colleagues, and the threat of ex-con Aidan Quinn to Madeleine Stowe provides the dangerous element of the film. The concept of pairing a mature star with a younger actor was very popular around this time (The Colour Of Money, 48 Hours, Lethal Weapon), and the success of the film led to a less-celebrated sequel in 1993.

AUOSM-128. F/X2: The Deadly Art Of Illusion (1991, Richard Franklin)

Another wildcard action hero in the ‘80s was likable Aussie Bryan Brown. Finding worldwide fame in 1986 as Tom Cruise’s mentor in Cocktail, followed by another key supporting role in Gorillas In The Mist led to Orion Pictures investing in a sequel to 1986’s slow-burner F/X. Brown plays Rollie Tyler, a special-effects artist, who uses his creations to outwit bad guys with his cop buddy Brian Dennehy. It’s the perfect action film fodder for an 11-year old. Special effects in films at that time were heralded as an art-form in themselves, and the concept of including these effects as weapons in an action film seemed very clever at the time.

AUOSM-139. Deadly Pursuit (1988, Roger Spottiswoode)

Known in North America as Shoot To Kill, this is a film we first rented on video and then watched many times when we got Sky. Tom Berenger, riding high from his cold-blooded turn in Platoon, partners with Sidney Poitier’s FBI agent to track a killer hiding amongst a group of fishermen in the forests of Washington state. The film currently has a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (from 14 reviews) and is deserving of a rewatch. I remember showing this to the wife about ten years ago and it didn’t land with any weight, but I’ll give it another go.

AUOSM-1410. Adventures In Babysitting (1988, Chris Columbus)

Another film with an alternate title (A Night On The Town), this might have been the film I watched the most on Sky Movies. It seemed to be playing around the clock and so its combination of hi-jinks and mild peril made for an accessible film for young and old. In Chris Columbus’ directorial debut, Elisabeth Shue plays the titular babysitter, trying to keep everything together as she takes her adolescent charges into downtown Chicago to pick up her best friend. There are a few parallels between this film and Columbus’ eventual masterpiece, Home Alone – both films have a similar tone with children operating in an adult world, and both feature those children foiling bumbling criminals. Home Alone is easily the superior film but this one’s worth checking out.

Rocks In The Attic #808: The Cure – ‘Pornography’ (1982)

RITA#808I’m usually a big fan of pornography, but not this time. Being fairly allergic to all things goth, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from my first Cure purchase. But at only $13NZD ($8USD / £6GBP) for a shiny, new 2016 reissue from our country’s biggest general merchandiser, I couldn’t say no.

The first line of album opener One Hundred Years – ‘It doesn’t matter if we all die’ – sets the tone of what’s to follow. Sixth-form poetry set to doomy, repetitive dirges. Robert Smith’s unique voice and clear enunciation is clearly the highlight of the band.

It’s not for me, but I admit it’s sounding much better on its second listen. I’ll keep it in case we ever adopt a goth.

Hit: The Hanging Garden

Hidden Gem: A Short Term Effect

RITA#808a