Tag Archives: Soundtrack

Rocks In The Attic #825: Harry Manfredini – ‘Friday The 13th Part III’ (1982)

RITA#825Jason’s back for another round of killing. We’re well into the series now; it’s the third installment and the second with Voorhees Jr. as the man with the machete. After the first two parts, it’s a step-down in terms of quality – the acting is terrible, and the sets look very cheap. It’s worth a watch though, if only to see the few new things added to the mix that would become iconic to the franchise.

First, we open on another recap: “Previously, on Friday The 13th” it might say, if it was a TV show made in the early 2000s. Do we need another recap? Well, yes and no. In the age of home video and streaming, it’d be easy to do without this, but back in 1982 and before any such luxury was commonplace, it was probably the only thing to serve as a reminder of what’s happened so far. Plus, it helps to make sense of the Lady In The Lake dream sequence at the end of the film.

RITA#825aAt the end of the recap, we see a top-down view of the aftermath inside Jason’s makeshift cabin from the end of Friday The 13th Part II. We see Jason crawl away, ready to kill again – something that would often be repeated at the start of each film going forward. Then we get some eye-popping credits.

WOAH! The titles are flying out into my eyeballs. We’re in 3-D! And there’s some crazily funky disco music playing over the credits. It’s exciting! It seems to do for Jason what Marvin Hamlisch’s Bond ’77 failed to do for James Bond five years earlier in The Spy Who Loved Me. Hamlisch’s efforts to be hip and trendy are eye-roll-inducing; Manfredini’s funky little jam, on the other hand, sounds great. The rest of the score is textbook Friday The 13th, and this reissue of Waxwork Records’ 2016 pressing with a 3-D effect lenticular cover, artwork by Ghoulish Gary Pullin and pressed on ‘3-D Glasses’ red with blue splatter double vinyl is absolutely gorgeous.

RITA#825bWe open in the aftermath of Part II – giving the franchise an opportunity to catch-up somewhat to that crazy ‘5 years later’ timeline blunder that the earlier film makes. In the first scene, we see one of a multitude of camera ticks employed throughout the film to make full use of the 3-D. A mis-cast 20-something/going-on-50 housewife badgers her long-suffering husband for knocking over the washing-line prop. POINT IT AT THE FUCKING CAMERA! It isn’t long until these shots start to feel gimmicky. More than anything, the scene serves as an opportunity for Jason to change out of his Part II dungarees, and into the more generic everyman worker clothes he dons for the rest of the series.

The film blunders on. It isn’t well-made in any respect. As well as the sub-standard acting, we also glimpse the reflection of the camera-crew in the window of the VW Beetle. It’s also the first of the Friday The 13thfilms where the audience can really start rooting for Jason, as the Final Girl Chris is just so annoying.

We see Jason stumbling around in Chris’ painful-to-endure flashback moments, with his bald head completely rewriting the scraggly long hair we see him with in the final shots of Part II. Discounting that scene as a dream-sequence makes some sense; seeing Jason in Chris’ flashbacks, dressed in the clothes we see him start to wear in Part III, makes no sense. There should be a caption at the foot of the screen, reading ‘DON’T THINK TOO HARD ABOUT THE FINER DETAILS!’.

RITA#825c
It’s good to see Crazy Ralph replaced by a similar Greek chorus doomsayer, and we even get to see one of the characters read an issue of Fangoria magazine – surely a great meta moment, featuring a magazine that the film would ultimately appear in once released. The most notable thing about the film though is the introduction of the hockey mask.

The mask would become the icon of not only the character of Jason, but of the Friday The 13th series in general. It’s probably one of the most iconic movie-props in the history of cinema. It’s almost magical when he takes it from practical joker Shelly, and we see him use it for the first time to murder Vera.

Mask, clothes, machete. Jason’s ready.

Hit: Theme From Friday The 13th Part 3

Hidden Gem: Part 2 Flashback

Body Count: 12

RITA#825d

Rocks In The Attic #817: Matt Morton – ‘Apollo 11 (O.S.T.)’ (2019)

RITA#817On the last day of the year, I thought I’d post about my favourite release of 2019. I don’t tend to buy much in the way of new music – I’m so out of touch, the list of food-trucks at Auckland’s Laneways festival always catches me out as they could be band names for all I know – but I do buy lots of soundtracks, for films both old and new.

For me, 2019 was a year punctuated by two huge let-downs. First we had Ari Aster’s follow-up to his wonderful 2018 debut Hereditary (or should that be Her-head-hit-a-tree?). Midsommar should have been a sure-fire hit. Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor and Will Poulter star as a group of American college students who take a trip to the northern Swedish countryside with their Scandinavian college friend. Aster then follows the script of The Wicker Man with unapologetic audacity, closely following the major plot-points in everything but location.

RITA#817aIt looked great, and sounded even greater with a wonderful score by Bobby Krlic, but the film’s unoriginality is just unforgivable. I guess it must be okay to steal so shamelessly from a 46-year old film as most of your target millennial audience won’t have seen it, and any older viewers might not remember it?

The other let-down was Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Tarantino’s ninth and his weakest offering since Death Proof. I’ve already written about that disappointment, and I’m sorry to say that a second viewing made me dislike it even more.

Instead, I found greater enjoyment in two documentaries: Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 and Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona. Both films offer a fresh, new perspective on their subjects and both demand repeat viewings. I’m hoping Antônio Pinto’s score to the Maradona film will eventually see the light of day on vinyl, it’s a genuinely beautiful accompaniment that works as a piece on its own (I’ve been thrashing it on Spotify ever since I saw the film). The strength of the film can be demonstrated by the fact that it almost made me feel sorry for Maradona. Almost.

RITA#817b

The score to Apollo 11 is similarly fantastic. Miller’s film eschews the standard talking head interviews that slow down most documentaries, and ditches the concept of a narration track of any kind. Aside from Matt Morton’s score, all sound contained within the picture is real-life diegetic sound. All that is left is just chatter on the mission’s microphones, and background sound.

About 30 seconds into the film, I had to check on IMDb what we were watching. Was this a documentary with computer-generated effects shots to bolster the launch and space sequences? No, but it looked like it. The images were just too good. The opening shots of the film, showing the rocket on the launch-pad at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral look uncannily like CGI but they’re not. It’s in fact footage shot by NASA on huge 70mm film-stock (essentially the size format IMAX screens were built for), and mostly unreleased by the space administration until now.

RITA#817c
My only regret is not seeing it on an IMAX screen as that would have been superb. I’m hoping it will continue to play on an occasional basis, given the film’s timelessness.

As iconic as the events of the film are – spoiler alert: they land on the moon, Michael Collins goes for a ride around the moon, picks up Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and they fly safely back home – the film’s real power for me is in its soundtrack. Composer Matt Morton went to great lengths to only use period-era analogue synthesisers (the liner notes state: ‘All instruments and effects existed at the time of the Apollo 11 mission’), and so the music sounds just as ‘1969’ as the action on screen. It’s a wonderful score, building and building in tension as the three-man crew pass each milestone in their journey.

2019 was a tough year for me in both health and work, and also for our country with two international-scale tragedies and a shocking murder-trial. And so it isn’t hard to understand why I’ve taken so much joy from two films focusing on former glories. Here’s to a better 2020, hopefully without that idiot in the White House.

Hit: The Burdens And The Hopes

Hidden Gem: Liftoff And Staging

RITA#817d

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.

RITA#812b
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.

RITA#812c
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

RITA#812d

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.

RITA#810b
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

RITA#810e

Rocks In The Attic #807: Michael Hoenig – ‘The Blob (O.S.T.)’ (1988)

RITA#807I’m not usually a fan of remakes. They’re either a cynical attempt to recreate the magic of the original (see 2003’s The Italian Job, 2006’s The Wicker Man, 2016’s Ghostbusters) or a remake of a foreign-language film to placate lazy American audiences who don’t like to read subtitles (see 2006’s The Departed, 2011’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, 2013’s Oldboy). Sometimes, remakes are just offensive. I remember seeing Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, and people were laughing out loud in the cinema. It wasn’t intended to be one of the year’s best comedies.

There are exceptions, of course. Batman Begins (2005) and Casino Royale (2006) proved that reboots could provide a new perspective on a tired franchise, and some remakes – Philip Kaufman’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) – offer enough innovation to justify the new version.

I’m not sure we needed two different versions of the Spider-Man origin story (2002, 2012) only ten years apart though. I’m just glad Andrew ‘mouth-breather’ Garfield isn’t the webbed-wonder anymore.

RITA#807aGiven the three good examples, it seems that 50s sci-fi films generally offer rich material to base a remake on. This could be due to the 30-year gap between original and remake, but we’re seeing remakes of ‘80s and ‘90s films nowadays, and the hit-rate isn’t good. It’s more likely that the advent of new technology enhanced the films and their special effects. I suspect the evolution of film in that specific 30-year period – from B-movies in the ‘50s, to New Hollywood at the end of the ‘60s, and the film-school generation of the ‘70s – is the main culprit.

And so we arrive at Chuck Russell’s The Blob, another ‘50s sci-fi b-movie remake. The original film was directed by Irvin Yeaworth and starred Steve McQueen in his leading-man debut. The remake’s co-writer Frank Darabont is the biggest clue of what lies ahead, as the film has a small-town setting and small-town mentality as his later works (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Majestic, The Mist).

First, we’re treated to the classic Tri-Star studio ident, an evergreen favourite. A white stallion runs in slow-motion toward the screen. It sprouts wings and flies above the Tri-Star logo. Everything is going to be alright! Until Michael Hoenig’s ominous synth score over the opening credits tells us otherwise.

RITA#807c
The Blob
was an early favourite when my family first got Sky Movies, and for some reason I’ve been placing Matt Dillon in this film for the last thirty years. It’s actually older brother Kevin Dillon who plays the lead role of Brian – Brian! – but the two look so similar it’s not hard to mix them up. Looking back, it now looks more like Ethan Hawke playing the part of Matt Dillon, with the worst wig ever, in a biopic of his young life as a greaser.

RITA#807bThe Blob itself looks like the genesis for the slime in the following year’s Ghostbusters II. It looks lovely. Nice and pink, but not that threatening when you think about it. And if you thought the Blob was slow, you should have seen Slugs, another slow-moving horror which crawled into cinemas six months before The Blob. It was so non-threatening, I watched it with my Mum!

And yet, despite its beauty and slow pace, the Blob is threatening as a malevolent force. At least in the first half of the picture, before it becomes too big for the screen and the filmmakers resort to rear-screen projection to show its scale. The special effects by Tony Gardner are awesome: wonderful practical effects, akin to the groundbreaking effects by Rob Bottin in John Carpenter’s The Thing; all the more terrifying because they look and feel real.

My favourite effects shot is in the hospital when the Blob takes its second victim, the football-player Paul. His date Meg hears his scream from another room, and races in to find him screaming from within the Blob, as he tries to escape its clutches. That one shot is genuinely terrifying. Another fantastic sequence takes place in the diner, when the short-order cook is sucked head-first through a plughole. Mamma mia!

RITA#807d
I always chuckle at the finale in which the townsfolk figure out that the Blob’s weakness is cold temperatures. Brian’s solution is to go and steal the town’s snow-maker truck, and use its tanks of liquid nitrogen to freeze it to death. Now, you may ask yourself why a small town has a snow-making truck. It’s not like they explicitly state that the town is a ski-resort. As a plot-point, this is problematic.

The performances are mostly great and the script isn’t too bad. At least it doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. In fact, the film’s major weakness is Michael Hoenig’s score. I usually love synth soundtracks, but not this one. I’d expect better from a member of Tangerine Dream. Apart from the main title theme and a couple of other cues, it mostly sounds tacky and melodramatic; like the High School AV club got use of the school’s cheap Casio keyboard.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Into The Sewer

RITA#807e

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hit: Hang Me, Oh Hang Me – Oscar Isaac

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

RITA#806c

Rocks In The Attic #801: Stevie Wonder – ‘The Woman In Red (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#801Crikey, I’m not sure this film would get made these days. It wouldn’t fare well in the #metoo era.

A remake of the French film, Pardon Mon Affaire Gene Wilder writes and directs himself in a male super-fantasy where he attempts to start an extra-marital affair with a model at the advertising agency he works at. It’s a super-fantasy because he’s Gene Wilder and she’s Kelly LeBrock. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but it just comes off tasting bad.

Gene Wilder is one of my favourite comedic actors. He’s easily the best thing about Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, fantastic in the early Mel Brooks films, and his partnership with Richard Pryor is wonderful from Silver Streak (featuring a pre-The Spy Who Loved Me Richard Kiel playing a besuited henchman with steel teeth) to Stir Crazy (“I can’t feel my legs!”) and See No Evil Hear No Evil (“Fuzzy Wuzzy was a woman?”). This film feels like a bit of a mis-step though. I’m sure it was very amusing back in 1984, and I certainly enjoyed it in my youth when I didn’t know any better, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

It has its moments – mainly from the supporting cast of Gilda Radner and Charles Grodin – but the whole thing just feels awful. Somehow, I always remember that collection of inner-city vignettes (including a man copping a feel of a woman whose shoe gets stuck in a grate) to be from the opening section of this film, but that’s from Stir Crazy. I must mix up Gene Wilder films in my mind.

RITA#801aThe music is brilliant though; the film’s saving grace. Essentially a Stevie Wonder album (it comes four years after the brilliant Hotter Than July), all but one song was written by him. He shares vocal duties with Dionne Warwick on two songs, and Warwick sings lead on one track. Officially, I’m not sure if it would be credited to ‘Various Artists’, or to Stevie Wonder & Dionne Warwick, but I like to see it as a Stevie Wonder album, with a guest singer.

Like Hotter Than July, the album has its moments of pure synth gold – from the funky title song, to Love Light In Flight to Don’t Drive Drunk. The last song ended up being used in an educational video for the Department of Transportation’s drunk-driving prevention PSA. I’m not sure if Stevie Wonder is the kind of person to take driving advice from, but I appreciate any promotion for such a great cause.

But like Hotter Than July, The Woman In Red also has its one startling moment of pure cheese. Mega-hit I Just Called To Say I Love You echoes the horrible feel of the previous album’s Happy Birthday, not to mention 1982’s clanger with Paul McCartney, Ebony And Ivory. These songs feel like the technology starting to detract from the songwriting, and the trouble is that the synths Stevie was using in the early ‘80s were starting to become widely available. As a result, these songs sound like everything bad about ‘80s music that followed after.

Hit: I Just Called To Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder

Hidden Gem: The Woman In Red – Stevie Wonder

RITA#801b