Tag Archives: Soundtrack

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 #602: Richard Einhorn – ‘Shock Waves (O.S.T.)’ (1977)

tp0004c_Double_Gate_Cover_onlyI don’t often buy soundtracks for films I’ve never seen – actually, that’s a lie, I do it all the time – but what I don’t seem to do is buy soundtracks for films I’ve never heard of. I saw this LP listed on Waxworks Records’ website when I was purchasing the newly re-released Evil Dead 2 soundtrack and was just blown away by the cover. It’s such a great image – I love it.

I tracked down the film and watched the film on Friday night. It manages to be both the best film I’ve ever seen about underwater Nazi zombies, and also one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.

We open on a spot of narration over a sepia shot of SS Officers:

“Shortly before the start of World War II, the German High Command began the secret investigation into the powers of the supernatural.

Ancient legend told of a race of warriors who used neither weapons nor shields and whose superhuman power came from within the earth itself.

As Germany prepared for war, the SS secretly enlisted a group of scientists to create an invincible soldier.

It is known that the bodies of soldiers killed in battle were returned to a secret laboratory near Koblenz where they were used in a variety of scientific experiments.

It was rumoured that toward the end of the war, Allied forces met German squads that fought without weapons, killing only with their bare hands.

No-one knows who they were or what became of them, but one thing is certain: of all the SS units, there was only one that the Allies never captured a single member of.”

(Of course, Nigel Tufnel’s stage-introduction to Stonehenge almost ruins that last sentence – “No-one knows who they were… or…what they were doing…”).

After some brief opening credits, introducing Richard Einhorn’s ominous synth score, we then open on a fisherman and his young son bringing in their nets. The son spots a small rowboat drifting on the horizon. They motor over to it and find a young woman, visibly distressed and cowering under the seat (shades of another future film here, of a similar scene in Jaws 2).

Her story is then told in flashback. A group of tourists have charted a boat around the Bahamas. The boat and its crew are not entirely in the best condition. A strange astrological phenomenon occurs – the sun turns everything a peculiar shade of orange – but is never explained; the first hint at a truly terrible screenplay.

Both the crew and the tourists are concerned at this occurrence and the strange noises they keep hearing. At night, one of the crew members piloting the boat crashes alongside a huge ship he claims appeared out of nowhere and without any lights. They send up a flare, and see an old shipwreck in the distance.

RITA#602a.jpgWaking the next morning to realise that the boat is taking on water, the group decamp to a nearby island. They find a deserted hotel, and meet the island’s only inhabitant – Peter Cushing.

Cushing appears alarmed at the news of the shipwreck and runs out to see for himself. After spying the approaching zombies for himself, he returns to the group to give them the exposition we’ve all been waiting for.

Towards the end of the war, Cushing, an SS Commander in charge of the death squad prefaced in the film’s opening, escaped Europe by sea, eventually ending up in the Carribean. He sank the ship, with the zombie soldiers still aboard, and took up residence on the island. The boat hitting the wreck has woken up the soldiers, who are now emerging from the water and making their way to the island.

It’s great to see a ­New Hope­-era Peter Cushing in a small, but pivotal role.  He looks so wiry and inhuman that he makes the Rogue One CGI version of himself look positively believable; I couldn’t get over the ‘uncanny valley’-ness of that in the cinema.

Terrible dialogue and acting aside, the one aspect where the film really works is in the shots of the zombies rising up from the sea. These sections look fantastic, and the rest of the film is hung around these moments like cheap wrapping paper around an expensive gift.

Characters are killed off one by one, and those who remain seem strangely unaffected by the deaths. In one scene, one of the tourists discovers the dead body of her husband, and doesn’t seem to be too upset. Yeah, don’t bother with naturalistic dialogue, just stick another scene of a Nazi emerging from the sea in his jackboots.

As with all horror films, the cast is whittled down to the Final Girl, who escapes the island in the rowboat in which we find her at the start of the film. Strangely the zombies are not defeated and are left roaming the island, awaiting the next 18 to 30 cruise liner to get beached there.

In the final shocking twist, we find the girl sitting up in a hospital bed writing up her account of the film’s events. Again foreshadowing a future film – Kubrick’s The Shining – we hear that she is repeating the same sentence over and over, and as the camera pans around we see that she isn’t writing at all, just scribbling indeterminately. SHE HAS LOST HER FREAKING MIND!

The film’s score is easily the best thing about the whole affair. I’m a sucker for a good synth score – and it’s great to see the soundtrack to Stranger Things welcoming this back into the zeitgeist – so I could have easily appreciated it without ever seeing the film. Give me that music, and Marc Schoenbach’s truly awesome artwork on the front cover, and I’m a very happy man.

Hit: Shock Waves (Opening Titles)

Hidden Gem: Zombie Chase

Rocks In The Attic #597: Bill Conti – ‘For Your Eyes Only (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#597My childhood hero, the great Roger Moore died recently. My favourite Bond (it doesn’t matter who you think is the best, it’s the one you grew up with that counts) and one of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever encountered. A true gentleman, Sir Roger devoted his retirement years as a UNICEF ambassador, and really deserved his Knighthood for his tireless work for the charity.

I was overjoyed to see a double-bill of The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only at my local cinema last week, shown as a tribute to Moore’s passing. It was a worldwide re-release, as far as I can tell, although I’m not entirely sure why those films were chosen. Spy, I understand, but I would have thought other Roger Moore films would have been a better draw-card than For Your Eyes Only. I can only presume that those two films are the ones Moore was personally most proud of?

(There’s a nice bit of serendipity in that at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, the credits promised that ‘James Bond Will Return In For Your Eyes Only’. However, due to the success of Star Wars, it was decided to make Moonraker next, in 1979, before they got around to filming For Your Eyes Only in 1981. I’d like to think that this is just a coincidence, and that the two films were chosen for other, better reasons than a nice bit of circumstance.)

Watching Spy and Eyes on the big screen was a real treat as I’d seen neither at the cinema before – my Bond viewing started with two films, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again, in 1983 when I was five years old. I’ve seen a few of the earlier films on re-releases – Dr. No, Goldfinger and a scratchy print of Thunderball – so it was good to add a couple more Moores to the list.

For Your Eyes Only used to bore me as a kid. It had its moments, but it was such a step down from Moonraker in terms of the things that are important to a five-year old. Of course, I now love it for its bravery in trying to pull the character back closer to Ian Fleming’s template, and away from the more embarrassing moments of Moonraker.

One thing that really struck a chord with me when I saw it at the cinema was how European it feels. The locations are all on continental Europe, aside from some underwater filming in the Bahamas, doubling for Greece. It makes a nice change to the globe-trotting Moore’s Bond does in each of the four previous films.

The other thing I hadn’t noticed before was its structure. Watched back to back with The Spy Who Loved Me, it’s clear to see that in many ways it’s a remake of that earlier film, in that it tries to duplicate some of the elements which made Spy so successful. Both films start with Navy ships succumbing to peril, both have a strong female lead, and both feature England and Russia racing towards the same goal.

It was also quite eye-opening to see how much mansplaining Bond does to Carole Bouquet’s Melina. Even though she and her family are experts in underwater exploration, Bond feels the need to mansplain the technical risks of what they’re about to do. Given the term’s entry into the English language over the last five years or so, I might have to rewatch all of the Bond films to see how much mansplaining goes on (and I’m guessing it’s not a small amount).

In terms of music, For Your Eyes Only is another non-John Barry affair, who would return to score Moore’s two remaining Bond films after this one. I’ve already written about how terrible a non-Barry soundtrack can be, but I much prefer Bill Conti’s Eyes soundtrack to Hamlisch’s efforts on Spy.

If you ignore the fact that a lot of the score sounds like something you might hear on Conti’s soundtrack contributions to the Rocky films, it isn’t too bad. Those pumping horns definitely don’t sound like the kind of brass lines that John Barry would write. I’ve also written about how poorly I rate the film’s title theme, but at least it’s not Madonna.

The soundtrack also features one of those rare things – another proper song that isn’t the main title theme. These pop up from time to time on Bond soundtracks, and they’re always quite interesting. This time it’s Make It Last All Night, by Rage, which is used to soundtrack the pool party at the start of the film. It’s a nice bit of sleazy pop (and secretly, I prefer it to Sheena Easton’s bland title song).

I was lucky enough to meet Roger in 2008 at a book signing in Auckland, where he signed my copy of his autobiography. They say you should never meet your heroes, but I have no regrets. Thankfully, my wife was quick enough to film me shaking his hand on the way out. I try not to watch this video too often as it always puts such a huge smile on my face (and I don’t want to dilute that).

Hit: For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton

Hidden Gem: A Drive In The Country

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Rocks In The Attic #593: Jimmy Page – ‘Death Wish II’ (1982)

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Meet Paul Kersey. He’s a New York City architect with very bad luck. One day his wife and daughter are followed home from the grocery store by Jeff Goldblum and his pals. Perhaps frustrated by the continual struggles of being a jobbing actor, Goldblum’s goons beat up Kersey’s wife and have a bit of a grope with his daughter before they’re scared off.

Kersey arrives at the hospital to find his wife has died in surgery, and his daughter in a catatonic state. He buries himself in his work and takes a business trip to Arizona, where a colleague gives him a gift to take home in RITA#593chis luggage. On his return, Kersey opens the gift box to discover a revolver. Instead of filing a lawsuit against the airline for negligent baggage checks, he takes to the streets as a vigilante.

By cover of darkness, and soundtracked by some funky Herbie Hancock beats, Kersey traps would-be muggers into making a move on him before he guns them down. After he kills RITA#593aaa number of hoodlums, patrolman Nigel Tufnel covers up his arrest and Kersey is exiled to Chicago where he immediately identifies his next victims by pretending to shoot them in front of his new supplier. What a moron!

Death Wish II finds Kersey now living in Los Angeles with his daughter. This time around, it’s Lawrence Fishburne who numbers among those who gang-rape Kersey’s maid and kidnap his daughter. After she is raped, Kersey’s RITA#593ddaughters attempts to escape by jumping through a glass window where she falls onto a steel railing and dies.

Kersey doesn’t take the news so well. Instead, he takes to the streets again, this time soundtracked by a fresh-out-of-Zeppelin Jimmy Page, where he hunts down his daughter’s killers one by one. At the end of the film, Kersey’s girlfriend leaves him when she discovers he’s a vigilante. Women!

RITA#593eThe first victims of Death Wish 3 are the roman numerals of the title, as we open back in New York City where Kersey is visiting his old Army buddy. As Kersey takes a taxi from the train station to his friend’s apartment, a gang of thugs including Alex Winter (Bill from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) murder his friend.

Kersey becomes the local Neighbourhood Watch, soundtracked by rehashed Jimmy Page music from Death Wish II, and starts picking off gang members. The most ludicrous point of the whole film series comes when an attractive Public Defender, Kathryn Davis, asks him out for dinner. I’m not sure what sold her on Kersey – the fact that he’s thirty two years older than her, or the fact that he’s living illegally in the middle of a slum apartment block, with no visible signs of income – but he takes her up on the offer.

The romance doesn’t last long before old Paul ‘Unlucky In Love’ Kersey watches her perish in a fiery car accident. I expect that the upcoming Death Wish remake starring Bruce Willis will be a grim romantic comedy set in the world of Tinder, where women who swipe-right for Brucie accidentally die on their first date.

The end of the film features a long, boring gun battle between Kersey’s elderly clique and the criminals who are terrorising their neighbourhood. Ever the master of subtlety, Kersey uses an elephant gun, a machine gun, and ultimately blows the last remaining gang member through a window with a rocket launcher.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is the first film in the series not to be directed by Michael Winner, who left the franchise to spend his retirement eating Steak Tartare. This time around, Kersey is back in Los Angeles living with a fashion designer and her teenage daughter. Uh-oh. A blind man could see it coming…

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When Kersey’s surrogate daughter dies from a drug overdose, he goes after the L.A. drug dealers who supplied her.  This time Danny Trejo is a member of the organisation responsible, until Kersey kills him with an exploding wine bottle. Yes, you read that correctly, an exploding wine bottle. In a bold move that can be praised for its ingenuity as well as its ridiculousness, Kersey pretends to be a wine salesman, giving his sales pitch to the bartender before offering a free bottle to his targets. In one of cinema’s greatest moments of special effects work, a dummy (seemingly constructed by an autistic child to look like Danny Trejo) is then shown exploding. Ka-boom!

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There’s another great moment in the film when Kersey is pulled over on a city street by a police car. As Kersey’s car slows to a halt, the residents of the first floor apartment block in the background walk up to the window to have a good look outside at the great Charles Bronson filming in their neighbourhood. I mean, who wouldn’t?

In 1988, John McTiernan’s Die Hard gave us the unforgettable image of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber falling to his death from high up in Nakatomi Tower. After Rickman’s close-up, the long-shot was filmed by a stunt man, who falls backwards, cycling his arms and legs as he plummets to the street below. It’s reassuring to know that a year earlier, the makers of Death Wish 4 did the same stunt the old-fashioned way by throwing a mannequin out of a tower-block window.

With some more great dummy work – when you pause the DVD, you can even see the wire taking the charge up to the explosive – Kersey dispatches the villain of the film this time with a grenade launcher. At this rate, he’ll be using nuclear weapons by the time Death Wish 10 rolls around.

The final film in the series, Death Wish V: The Return Of The Roman Numerals, returns the action to a fabricated New York, filmed on location in Toronto. Unfortunately there’s no before-they-were-famous Hollywood actor doing the antagonising at the start of the film, unless you count the recently departed Michael Parks – Tarantino’s favourite character actor – who plays the film’s lead villain.

The setting for this one is the shady world of the fashion industry, but who cares anymore. It could be set in Antartica and Kersey would still be blowing Eskimos away for looking the wrong way at his girlfriend. This time his fiancé is facially disfigured by a criminal, and later gunned down, so Kersey dusts off his gun collection and goes on the warpath.

Progressing from the explosive wine bottle, the most bizarre death this time around occurs when Kersey uses a remote control football – no, really – to deliver an explosive charge to one of his targets. Again, there’s some shockingly-bad-it’s-almost-good dummy work if you pause the action just after the victim picks up the football.

Death Wish V’s main villain dies by falling into an acid bath, and Kersey walks away, never to be seen again. Well, unless you count the Simpsons:
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Jay Sherman: I’m your host, Jay Sherman, thank you. Tonight we review an aging Charles Bronson in Death Wish 9

Bronson: Ugh, I wish I was dead.

Hit: Who’s To Blame

Hidden Gem: Jam Sandwich

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Rocks In The Attic #592: George Gershwin – ‘Manhattan (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

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I recently got to see Woody Allen’s Manhattan on the big screen – re-released and screened as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival’s Autumn Classics programme.

Of the two most famous films of his ‘70s output – 1977’s Annie Hall and 1979’s Manhattan (the Rubber Soul / Revolver of Allen’s filmography) – I’ve always preferred Manhattan. While Annie Hall is undoubtedly a fantastic film, overshadowing Star Wars at the 1978 Academy Awards by winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (Allen & Marshall Brickman) and Best Actress (Diane Keaton), it’s accolades also bring a lot of weight with it.

Manhattan, on the other hand, didn’t win a sausage at the 1980 Academy Awards – despite nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Mariel Hemingway) and Best Original Screenplay (Allen & Brickman again). Where Annie Hall is the quintessential Woody Allen film, and the progenitor of the modern romantic-comedy, it also suffers from being the most obvious, the one chosen as a life template by dilettante faux-bohemian women due to the kooky allure of Diane Keaton’s character.

Manhattan is the Woody Allen fan’s Woody Allen film. It’s shot in 2.35:1 widescreen black-and-white, which avoids the risk of any low-brow audience seeing it, and it’s also a much more low-key affair. The nature of the relationship between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s characters might be the narrative focus of Annie Hall, but in Manhattan this is merely a peripheral matter. Instead, the later film deals more with the threat of being alone in a city full of people. As a result, while the one-liners in Annie Hall may be funnier, the jokes in Manhattan have more weight.

While Annie Hall may serve as the template formula for the rom-coms of today’s cinema, it’s the overbearing melancholia of Manhattan that inspired perhaps the greatest film in the modern-day genre, Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally (1989).

Hit: Rhapsody In Blue

Hidden Gem: Mine

Rocks In The Attic #589: Nino Rota – ‘The Godfather (O.S.T.)’ (1972)

RITA#589.jpgAll hail the greatest cinema in Auckland – the Event cinema on Broadway in Newmarket. Not only was this the location where I met both Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle, but last Friday night they played The Godfather.

For a long time, The Godfather has been among my favourite films. I first saw it around the age of 17 or 18, and was immediately obsessed with it. It was probably the first film I was obsessed with as an adult. Prior obsessions as a teenager included the likes of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens, so The Godfather was definitely a step-up, being such a decorated film and a more serious one at that.

I don’t know why the film struck such a chord with me, but it’s something I’ve never become tired with. I have a number of books on the film – Peter Cowie’s The Godfather Book and Mario Puzo’s original novel being early targets, and Harlan Lebo’s The Godfather Legacy being a happy find in more recent year. The soundtrack of Nino Rota’s score sits on my record shelves – a strange Australian pressing with a murky green cover – and of course, I have the Coppola Restoration of the trilogy on blu-ray. At University, I remember walking through a field to the supermarket with my housemates, feeling like Michael walking through Sicily accompanied by his bodyguards.

Seeing a film on the big screen is always a different prospect than watching at home though. You notice things that you would never have noticed in hundreds of home viewings – a character’s glance, a line of dialogue, the way the light falls on an object outside of the immediate foreground of a shot. It’s also nice to see it in a room full of people. The screening I saw was almost sold out, and full of much younger people than I was expecting.

As a film, it shouldn’t be so good. It goes against so many cinematic rules. The lead protagonist is clearly Michael, yet we don’t see him until a good five or ten minutes into the film, and even then he is introduced as a supporting character. Vito is initially offered as the film’s hero – or anti-hero – but his gunning down towards the end of the first act provides the film’s first challenge, a shake-up to decide not only who is going to become the patriarch of the Corleone family, but also the film’s lead protagonist.

By the end of the film, Michael’s actions have transferred him from protagonist to antagonist, and the stone-cold denoument where Michael’s study door is slowly closed on Kay, is matched only by the ending of The Godfather Part II where he sits alone to contemplate the terrible things he has done to his family.

Speaking of which, I’ll be seeing a screening of The Godfather Part II this Friday night. Same cinema, same seat probably. Leave the gun; take the cannoli.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: The Pickup

Rocks In The Attic #576: Howard Shore – ‘The Fly (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#576I’ve got to admit, I love a good soundtrack, and I love a good coloured vinyl release. So when I saw that Howard Shore’s score to David Cronenberg’s 1986 reimagining of The Fly was being released, I jumped at the chance.

These boutique vinyl releases seem to be getting more and more popular, and it’s with soundtracks that labels tend to be focusing on. That’s good news for me, but very bad news for my bank balance.

This particular release has a less than impressive 3D lenticular cover, but the best thing is that the vinyl itself is a lovely green / black “haze”. They really could have done something a little better with the lenticular cover. The eventual vinyl release of the White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan for 2015’s Record Store Day showed how well a lenticular cover can work. Here, the artwork flips between a smoky shot of the infamous teleporter, and a similarly smoky shot of the same teleporter with a human arm and a giant fly’s leg reaching out. The two images are not different enough – or clear enough – to give a sense of a moving image.

Still, it’s a lovely package and the record looks and sounds awesome – Brundlefly would approve!

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Plasma Pool
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