Tag Archives: Quentin Tarantino

Rocks In The Attic #653: Various Artists – ‘Trainspotting (O.S.T.)’ (1996)

RITA#653V/O:      Choose life. Choose scoring tickets to the New Zealand premiere of T2: TRAINSPOTTING, with Danny Boyle in attendance. Choose taking along your Trainspotting soundtrack in the hope that you *just might* get it signed. Choose being in the right fucking place at the right fucking time. Choose having a chat with Danny and telling him you’re so glad he didn’t film the second Trainspotting novel (‘Porno’). Choose Danny replying “Yeah, it’s not one of his best novels at the end of the day”. Choose mentioning that Hollywood has done that story since anyway. Choose him catching your drift and saying “Yeah, you’re right, a couple of years ago there was a glut of films with a similar premise, like ‘We Made A Porno'”. Choose a firm handshake. Choose walking away a very happy man. Choose it all!

My favourite moment of 2017 was meeting director Danny Boyle at the New Zealand premiere of T2: Trainspotting. I’ve come a long way in twenty or so years of record collecting, from having nothing autographed aside from a Clint Boon LP, to having a couple of early ZZ Top records fully signed by the band, the soundtrack to The Hateful Eight signed by Quentin Tarantino and Zoe Bell, the soundtrack to Death Proof also signed by Zoe Bell, and now this – the soundtrack to Boyle’s 1996 breakthrough, Trainspotting.

I’m not 100% sure how Newmarket’s Broadway cinema manages to attract these big-name Hollywood directors – it was the same venue at which I met Tarantino a year earlier – but I hope they continue the trend.

The Tarantino event was advertised as a meet and greet, so getting something signed was almost guaranteed, but the T2: Trainspotting event was only supposed to be a showing of the film introduced by Boyle. I took my copy of the soundtrack along, just in case.

When we arrived at the cinema, Boyle was being interviewed by the local TV station at the entrance to the foyer. The place was packed, with people making good use of the free drinks and food that were being offered by hospitality staff. Our small group – myself, my wife, my brother and a friend from work – found a spot among the crowd.

I glanced over at Boyle – now being interviewed by a different TV station – and thought that the chance of getting an autograph was slim. But then I saw him autographing something for somebody, and I took my chance.

I approached with my soundtrack and Sharpie in hand, expecting to be shooed away. A member of his team turned to greet me.

“Hi there, would you like Danny to sign that for you?”

This was going to be easier than expected.

“Yes, please!”

She tapped him on the shoulder just as he was wrapping up an interview with Kate Rodger, the TV3 film critic who pronounces Gal Godot as ‘Gal Gad-eau’ as though she’s French (Rodger is seemingly incapable of doing any basic research, let alone use the fucking internet).

RITA#653bDanny turns around.

“Hi there,” he says in his soft northern drawl.

We have our quick chat and he signs my record. The best thing about being with friends is that they all got their phones out and so I have a good photographic document of the moment.

Of course, in my nervousness, I forgot to tell Danny I was from Oldham, just a dozen miles away from his native Radciffe. I also forgot to tell him how much I appreciated him for reinventing the zombie genre with 28 Days Later, or how if you watch 127 Hours in reverse it turns into a lovely film about an amputee who finds his missing arm in the desert.

Most importantly, I didn’t tell him that his opening ceremony to the 2012 London Olympics was one of the few things that has made my heart truly ache with homesickness.

Hit: Lust For Life – Iggy Pop

Hidden Gem: Deep Blue Day – Brian Eno

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Rocks In The Attic #646: John Williams – ‘Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom’ (1984)

RITA#646The other night, after a hard week at work, I sat down to watch Kingsman: The Golden Circle with my wife. I wasn’t expecting much – I hadn’t heard good things – but I wasn’t prepared for how stunningly average it was. Would I say it is a bad film? No, not really. It was technically well made, by a more than competent director (Matthew Vaughn), but it was instantly forgettable.

When I grew up through the 1980s, there seemed to be fantastic genre films coming out all the time, dotted with the occasional howler (Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, Jaws IV: The Revenge – possibly anything with “IV” in the title, although Rocky IV was a banger). These days, the howlers are relatively easy to avoid. Production of big marquee films tends to be spread across multiple studios sharing the risk of a multi-million dollar budget, and as a result they don’t seem to let a franchise die at the hands of a bad script or a deluded director.

Hollywood’s destructive habit in the last decade is movie-making by numbers; a manifesto of mediocrity. The sheer amount of unremarkable genre films it has produced is testament to the absence of risk that directors and producers are willing to take in order to make something that stands out.

I remember reading an interview with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige back in 2009, where he outlined his plans for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). His strategy of an overloaded release schedule – 4 or 5 films a year – seemed too good to be true. That’ll never happen, I thought. But it now feels like there’s a new Marvel film out every other month.

The other unbelievable aspect of his strategy was talk of bringing Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk together for an Avengers movie. That will definitely never happen, I thought. The Hulk and Iron Man had been revitalised in film by Marvel already, and I just couldn’t see Robert Downey Jr. and Ed Norton sharing a film together with whatever big names they had lined up to play Captain America and Thor. In a way I was right, as they eventually replaced Norton with a different (cheaper?) actor in Mark Ruffalo, but Feige’s vision ultimately proved true. Ensemble genre films are a dime a dozen these days, and it’s rare for a superhero film to be limited to only one or two key roles. This week saw the release of the trailer for the third (?) Avengers film, introducing the Guardians Of The Galaxy into the earth-bound world of the Avengers. Around and around it goes. Pop will eat itself.

But when Feige sits down in his old age – in his superhero-sized mansion – and tells his privileged grandchildren about his life’s work, how will he feel? For the – by my count – seventeen (!) MCU films that have seen the light of day since 2008, I can really only put my finger on one or two that I would hold up as being great films. Iron Man (2008) and The Avengers (2012) stand head and shoulders above the rest, and while there have been great moments among the others, in general they’re all junk; popcorn escapism for the masses.

The rot set in early on, with 2010’s Iron Man 2. How could they get the sequel so wrong, when they got the first Iron Man so right? I spoke to a fan of the series upon its release, and he couldn’t see any difference between the two. That’s the problem with casual film viewers. They just want what they expect, and they’ll happily visit the cinema every time for that hit of familiarity – Coca-cola in their veins, popcorn in their arteries, and the anticipation of safe storytelling that’s not going to push any boundaries and make them feel uncomfortable. Narrative left-turns in cinema these days are met with whispered conversations in the dark as couples explain to each other what is happening on screen.

Marvel’s now-misguided strategy to steady the ship was to deliver a third iteration in the Iron Man series (2013) which was so incredibly poor, that they should have developed a new category at the Academy Awards to recognise it. ‘And the ‘Best Mediocre Picture’ Oscar goes to…’

If Marvel’s attempts at serious filmmaking are to be laughed at, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to think of their rivals’ efforts at DC. Christopher Nolan reinvigorated the modern superhero film with Batman Begins in 2005, and so you’d think his successors might have learnt a thing or two from him. But as soon as he stepped away from the director’s chair, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) kicked off with one of the dullest superhero films ever committed to celluloid (Man Of Steel, 2013).

Where Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978) was a glorious piece of wondrous entertainment, setting a high bar that wasn’t really challenged until Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel is a turgid mess. I seem to remember a fight sequence at the end that lasted around three hours. I didn’t care about any of the characters, and I secretly hoped that mankind would have been wiped off the screen just so that it would have put me out of my misery.

I might have watched Donner’s Superman and Richard Lester’s Superman II close to a hundred times each. I wouldn’t watch Man Of Steel again if my life depended on it.

Which brings me to Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. Now, Steven Spielberg knew how to make a good genre film back in the ‘80s. Easily the weakest of the original trilogy – although not according to my old buddy Quentin Tarantino, who sees it as the strongest of the three – it’s still an infinitely more enjoyable film than the unremarkable dross dealt out to us by Hollywood in the twenty-first century.

Hit: Anything Goes

Hidden Gem: Finale And End Credits

Rocks In The Attic #642: Nirvana – ‘In Utero’ (1993)

RITA#642Last weekend I found a pair of perfectly good speakers on the side of the road. A handwritten sign – ‘FREE’ – was standing next to them. I did a quick u-turn and threw them in my car. New Zealand’s attitude to freecycling occasionally delivers gems like this. You could probably drive around all weekend and furnish your entire house with kerbside treasures that people are throwing away. The speakers are a lovely pair of Technics, standing 18” tall and my vinyl-collecting friend at work, who’s far more knowledgeable about hi-fi equipment, assures me they’re a very, very good find.

That’s if they still work, of course, because who in their right minds would throw away a perfectly good set of speakers? A quick trip to the local electronics store to get some speaker cable, and I can rest assured that not only do they work perfectly, but they also sound fucking awesome. It makes a world of difference to the set of (perfectly good for purpose) surround speakers I was running my turntable through previously.

Whenever I’m testing a new set-up – be it a new turntable, or a new amp, or a new set of speakers – the album I always turn to is Nirvana’s In Utero. My clear favourite of their three studio albums, it towers over their unripe debut, and their too-slick crossover follow-up. Steve Albini’s production sounds more like what I imagine the band’s natural sound to be, and it was the record I turned to when Kurt died as it was their final studio album.

The reason it’s so good to test hi-fi equipment is that it’s so dynamic, and so well recorded that it doesn’t sound like the product of pro-tools. After Albini’s initial production (foreshadowed by a great letter to the band), Geffen Records attempted to fix what they saw as an uncommercial record by employing Robert Ludwig to master it. Still unhappy, the master tapes were then given to REM producer Scott Litt, who remixed the singles alongside Andy Wallace (who had mixed Nevermind). With so many cooks in the kitchen, the album should sound conflicted, but to my ears it sounds perfect.

RITA#642aThe hi-fi recommendations in the inside cover of the CD booklet, something that you just don’t usually see in liner notes, have always made me chuckle. I suspect that rather than being a genuine instruction to listeners (unlikely), it’s an irreverent poke at the casual music fans the band were attracting (a more obscure jab than the lyrics to In Bloom).

RITA#642dAlthough I own a late ‘90s reissue of In Utero, I jumped at the chance to get the Steve Albini mix of the record, released to mark the album’s 20th anniversary. Running at 45rpm, and split across two discs, it’s a wonderful package. But while it’s very interesting to hear, I think I’ll always prefer the original version. Albini’s mix of the singles sound so much more in line with the rest of the album, and if anything the contrast shows how much the Scott Litt mix of those songs sounds like the range of dynamics you would hear on an REM single.

One thing I really liked around the 20th anniversary re-release was a memo that did the rounds on the internet, mocked up to look like a letter to record store owners, pleading with them to get behind the album’s reissue. I seem to remember some discussion at the time around whether it was genuine or not, but it’s clearly a joke – it’s dripping in cynicism, and reads like something that Kurt Cobain might have composed from beyond the grave.

I don’t usually pay much attention to the ‘thank you’ lists in liner notes, but there is one particular name on the In Utero sleeve that is deserving of a mention. The band listed Quentin Tarantino in this section – in 1993 a relatively cult director with only one film, Reservoir Dogs, to his name (and Pulp Fiction yet to be released). When the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction eventually saw the light of day in September 1994, Quentin repaid the favour and thanked the now-departed Cobain.

Hit: Heart Shaped Box

Hidden Gem: Radio Friendly Unit Shifter

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Rocks In The Attic #636: Michael Jackson – ‘Thriller’ (1982)

RITA#636Happy Halloween!

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted local Kiwi soap actor turned Hollywood bit-player Karl Urban in an Auckland shopping mall. After taking a surreptitious photo of him on my phone to send to my jealous wife (a big fan), I retreated with my kids up the escalators to the next level. Halfway up, I turned around to look back, and Urban was following us, a half dozen steps behind. We locked eyes, and I immediately saw the look of dread (dredd?) in his eyes. ‘Oh no…’ I imagined him thinking, ‘…another middle-aged Star Trek fan to make my life a misery. I just wanted to buy some underpants.’

I left him to his shopping (although I believe he was actually going to the cinema, probably the new Queen Latifah film† ), and went off with the kids. If I was any more of a fan, I might have approached him for a selfie, but I’d met him before – my friend asked for his autograph at the same event where I met Quentin Tarantino – and I didn’t get a good vide from him then.

A few minutes later, still buoyed from seeing a Hollywood actor in such a normal place, we stepped inside a shop. Michael Jackson’s Thriller started playing on the shop’s music system just as we walked in. It was the first time in a long time I had heard the song, and definitely the first time in a very long time I had heard it played at a decent volume. Man, what a song. I stayed in there for six minutes, holding my crotch with one hand, the back of my head with the other, and bending my knee in time to the beat, just so I could hear the end of the song. Unfortunately, I’m now banned from all branches of Bendon lingerie.

Often labelled as the best-selling album of all time – and rightly so, despite some strange reporting of sales numbers ranging between 66 million to 120 million – Michael Jackson’s Thriller is a beast of a record. His sixth solo studio record, it is the second album released on the Epic label following 1979’s Off The Wall, traditionally seen as the true starting point of his adult career.

Like Off The Wall, it is produced by Quincy Jones and where the earlier album was a marked departure from Jackson’s recording history with Motown, Thriller went a thousand steps further and turned him into a pop music phenomenon.

Prior to MTV landing in the UK – and light years before such things were readily available on the internet – my Dad would always try and seek out John Landis’ longform music video to Thriller, wherever he could. Every year, there was an American TV show, counting down the top 100 music videos, presented by Casey Kasem, and broadcast in the middle of the night on ITV. I recall my Dad waking me up in the middle of the night on more than one occasion just so we could go and watch the Thriller video in all its gory glory.

That 13-minute video is probably the reason I turned into such a big horror fan in my early teens, and is why I now spend so much time and effort on the internet pre-ordering horror soundtracks from Waxwork Records.

Thriller, the song, is worth the price of admission alone. But it isn’t even the biggest, most enduring hit on there. In fact, it was way down the list, the seventh and final single to be taken from the record.

Side two, song two, kicks off with perhaps one of the greatest locked–in grooves throughout all of pop, soul or funk. It’s such a groove, almost mathematical in its execution, that you can actually see it visually on the surface of the record, almost like a spiral that repeats on every rotation. The song, Billie Jean, is timeless, despite a music video that is – in contrast to the one for Thriller – heavily dated, with graphics and editing techniques showing the early days of MTV on its pastel-pink shirt sleeve.

Beat It, the other US#1 on the record (alongside Billie Jean), is another great song. Proving that Jackson can do hard rock just as well as he can do pop, the song’s centrepiece is a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen – the hottest guitar player at the time. Upon hearing of Jackson’s request to appear on the song, Van Halen initially thought he was being pranked – especially when Jackson phoned and told him, in his high-pitched voice, that “I really like that high, fast stuff you do.” He later recorded his solo in a separate studio to a tape of the backing track, for no charge.

Beat It is clearly the heaviest song on the record, forewarned by a series of ominous synthesiser gongs on the intro (lifted note for note from a demo recording of the Synclavier II synthesiser). The lyrics re-imagine Jackson as a street punk – an idea he would revisit on the title track of his next album, Bad. However, where Beat It genuinely sounds tough, Bad sounds like a pastiche of street violence – with the opening lyric “Your butt is mine” showing how far out of touch Jackson had become since 1987.

The other singles on ThrillerThe Girl Is Mine, Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Human Nature and P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) – are all very strong and individually could be the centrepiece of a lesser album. Personally I could do without the opening single, The Girl Is Mine, a duet with Paul McCartney. It isn’t a terrible song, but it’s easily the weakest of the seven singles, and pales in comparison to their other duet, Say Say Say, from McCartney’s Pipes Of Peace album. Released as a single during Jackson’s two-year promotion of the Thriller album, Say Say Say hit US#1; The Girl Is Mine had stalled at US#2.

I have such happy memories of the Thriller record. In terms of albums, I’d definitely choose it as one of my desert island discs. It has everything – songwriting, production and performance; a truly magical record.

Hit: Billie Jean

Hidden Gem: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’

†  Queen Latifah gag, copyright Seema Lal 2017

Rocks In The Attic #618: Hans Zimmer – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#618.jpgYou wait twenty-five years for a True Romance soundtrack to be released on vinyl, and then two turn up at once. Already this year, we’ve had the long-awaited pop soundtrack for the film seeing its debut on wax; now we have a release dedicated solely to Hans Zimmer’s score. Being a fan of all things Tarantino, I had to get this to complete my collection. I mean, the guy’s practically my best friend!

Do I need this score though? No, definitely not. The pop soundtrack captures a couple of tracks from Zimmer’s score and these serve as a pretty good representation. The full score actually gets a little tedious towards the end; the innocence of the main melody turns into something a little more serious. Out go the lovely xylophones and marimbas, and in come some really dated synth cues that feel a little out of place for what is an otherwise very cool film.

RITA#618aI’m starting to come around to Hans Zimmer. I’d previously written him off as a workaday composer, but I’m starting to appreciate the occasional hidden gem amongst his many scores (137 and counting). His soundtracks for Christopher Nolan (particularly Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) have been my favourite action scores this side of the turn of the century – perfectly blending digital sounds within a traditional orchestral score.

Hit: You’re So Cool (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Not My Clothes

 

Rocks In The Attic #608: Various Artists – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#608.jpgIn the early 1990s, director Tony Scott was handed a piece of gold dust. Quentin Tarantino, a cocky, young up-start had been circling Hollywood for a few years trying to develop his first script, True Romance. Tarantino decided to sell the script, and Warner Brothers snapped it up greedily. In hindsight it would have been too large a project for a first-time director anyway.

Instead Tarantino turned his attention to his next script, a simpler heist story called Reservoir Dogs. This would have been an easier film to pitch with him as director – the heist is never seen, only referred to, and much of the film takes place in one location.

By the time he was handed Tarantino’s script, Tony Scott was already a blockbuster director, arguably more commercially successful than his older brother Ridley. While Ridley had scored critical successes with Alien and Blade Runner, Scott had directed Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days Of Thunder. His collaborations with super-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer say more about his directing style than anything else.

True Romance then, becomes the lost Tarantino picture. His trademark dialogue is evident throughout the film – all pop-culture references and cooler than cool soundbites – but Scott’s input muddies the water somewhat. The cinematographers that Scott worked with throughout his ‘80s and ‘90s films had a very peculiar style. Lots of obtrusive close-ups, too many filtered interiors, and a very synthetic, staged camera set-up. By the time you get to something like 1996’s The Fan, the cinematography is so overbearing that the film is practically unwatchable.

Looking back, True Romance has one of the greatest ensemble casts of all time, featuring several actors who would go onto bigger things. Joining leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette were Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Samuel L. Jackson and a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini.

RITA#608aThe soundtrack also differs from most Tarantino films in that it has both a pop soundtrack and an original score, by Hans Zimmer (the only soundtrack of Tarantino’s to mix pop songs with an original score is The Hateful Eight). Zimmer’s score is delightful – practically a proto-Thomas Newman score before he rewrote the rulebook on esoteric, oddball soundtracks with 1996’s American Beauty.

Some of the pop songs wouldn’t be out of place on a Tarantino soundtrack. Charlie Sexton’s Graceland, Robert Palmer’s (Love Is) The Tender Trap and Chris Isaak’s Two Hearts feel like they belong in QT’s record collection, but mediocre tracks like Charles & Eddie’s Wounded Bird and John Waite’s In Dreams reminds you that this really is just a typical run of the mill blockbuster soundtrack, and wasn’t curated in any way by Tarantino. Even Soundgarden’s Outshined sounds a little too obvious. The absence of Aerosmith’s The Other Side – presumably due to rights reasons – is personally disappointing, but it would have just dated the soundtrack even more.

Hit: Outshined – Soundgarden

Hidden Gem: Graceland – Charlie Sexton

Rocks In The Attic #607: The George Baker Selection – ‘Love In The World’ (1971)

RITA#607K-BILLY’s “super sounds of the seventies” weekend just keeps on coming with this little ditty. They reached up to twenty one in May of 1970. The George Baker Selection: Little Green Bag.

How Quentin Tarantino found this song and picked it out of obscurity to be one of the coolest, era-defining songs of the 1990s is beyond me. Listening to the rest of this record – the second release by the George Baker Selection – there isn’t a great deal else to point to such a gem of a song.

If anything, the Dutch band seems to be a curiosity, lost between decades and difficult to classify. They’re half-late’60s pop rock (late-era Byrds, late-‘60s Kinks) and half-early ‘70s singer-songwriter rock, all jumbled up with a touch of pysch and a sprinkling of jazz. They make for an interesting listen, that’s for sure.

Little Green Bag was the first track of their 1970 debut (also titled Little Green Bag), and given that Wikipedia doesn’t even have pages for their albums beyond this, it looks like they peaked commercially right at the start of their career.

Even Little Green Bag is difficult to classify. After an extremely cool intro, the song devolves into a crooning cabaret song. The change in tone is startling – like a smoking Miles Davis groove taken over by a bravado Tom Jones vocal.

Hit: Little Green Bag

Hidden Gem: Suicide Daisy