Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Music month: 10 MORE favourite movie songs

Orbital: "Halcyon and On" from Mortal Kombat (1995)
Well done Lui Kang, you've defeat the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung and released countless trapped souls including your deceased brother's. Here's your reward - a kick ass chill out tune. Also features in the movie Hackers.

Red 7: "Heartbeat" from Manhunter (1986)
Michael Mann always walked a fine line between cheesy and awesome in the 80s and this tune definitely walked that line. Face it, it would never have featured in any of the other Lecter movies.

Aiden: "Cry Little Sister" from Lost Boys: The Tribe (2008)
I know I'm gonna get s**t for not putting the original version by Gerard McGann but honestly I felt these guys took it and made it even better. They made it a little rockier, a little more edgy and honestly it's probably the only good thing to come from the sequel.

Loreena McKennitt: "Bonny Portmore" from Highlander 3: The Sorcerer (1994)
Again, another case of rubbish-y movie, great song. Okay, it's little bit Enya-esque in places but at least it's a proper Scottish song. So good they used it at the end Highlander: Endgame as well.

Dan Hartman: "Fletch, Get Out of Town" from Fletch (1985)
Exuberant little song. Love how in the 80s you got more obscure bands on famous movie soundtracks. Nowadays it's all got to be full of bands like Muse and their songs don't even connect to the film they're featured in. This does. It's about Fletch... getting out of town.

The Flowerpot Men: "Beat City" from Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Took me sooo long to track this song down (in the early internet days) but it was worth the time. Great little catchy tune. Put it on in your car and take the day off (rope in your girlfriend and best friend too). You all deserve it!

Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx: "Nightcall" from Drive (2011)
Love the pounding bass line in this. Such a great fit with Refn's retro-styled movie. Alternating between upbeat and downbeat keys. One question though, what the hell is that wolf call at the start? Seriously?

Paul Engemann: "Push it to the Limit" from Scarface (1983)
Ultimate montage song. When I first saw Scarface I was kind of taken aback when this tune kicks in. "Really, you're going to have a cheesy montage in an otherwise sobering look at capitalist greed and 80s drug culture?"

Ty Stone: "Line of Blood" from The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day (2008)
Let's face it The Boondock Saints movies are about a lot of macho posturing. "D**k swinging" I believe is the term. This song perfectly captured the tone of both films. A lot of angry lyrics and a helluva lot of f-bombs.

David Knopfler: "Mercenary Man" from Laser Mission (1990)
"He's a Mercenary Man! Mercenary Man. Mercenary Man. Mercenary Man." Bless you David Knopfler (brother of Dire Straits lead singer Mark) did you forget to write a proper chorus? Never mind, this 80s power ballad still kicks all kinds of ass.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Music Month review: Rock 'N' Roll High School (1979)

I gotta say I usually hate musicals. Film characters breaking into song is one of my all-time turn offs. There are a couple of notable exceptions I’ll make to the rule though. David Bowie gets a pass for breaking into song in Labyrinth because… well… he’s David Bowie. But that's pretty much it. I bought Rock N Roll High School less because it was a musical and more because it’s one of the few 80s high school movies I haven’t seen (already pedants, it’s 1979 so it’s not technically 80s). I’m a huge fan of high school movies, particularly John Hughes ones so I thought this was worth a look.

The film sees PJ Soles play Riff Randell, a delinquent high schooler who is an obsessive Ramones fan. When she hears that they will be playing a concert nearby she decides to take several days off school queuing for tickets. However, this doesn’t go unnoticed by the new strict principal – Miss Togar – who makes it her mission to stop Randell from getting to the concert. Meanwhile, there’s a love triangle going on. High school jock Tom (Vincent Van Patten) is in love with Randell but she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings. And to make matters worse Randell’s best friend Kate (Dey Young) is actually in love with Tom. Will Randell get to the concert? Will Kate and Tom fall in love?

I had a few reservations before watching this. Firstly, the screenshots look pretty kitsch and I thought this might be quite dull and slow given its low budget (it's a Roger Corman production) but it was anything but. There’s a really crazy atmosphere to the whole film and though it’s got very, very little plot it’s got bags of energy and funny sequences. A lot of the surreal sequences seem highly influential on TV shows that came later like Parker Lewis Can't Lose. One of the best characters has to be Clint Howard, who plays Eaglebauer, a stranger ‘Godfather’-esque student who provides favours for other pupils from his office – located in a toilet stall! The part where he tries to teach Kate and Tom the basics of what to do at ‘make-out creek’ is superb.

I know the word madcap gets thrown around a lot but in this case, there isn’t a better word for the film. It’s a surreal, anarchical film and I guess that’s unsurprising once you take a close look at the people behind the scenes. Firstly, the film was co-written by Joe Dante and the Zucker brothers directed the key 'paper plane' sequence. That’s not to disparage the main credited director Alan Arkush (who also gets a co-writing credit), he does a great job. He keeps the film rolling at a wicked pace and though it’s not a non-stop laugh riot it’s consistently both surprising and amusing. Don’t hold the fact that he also directed Caddyshack II put you off watching this.

The cast all give good performances. PJ Soles and Dey Young particularly make a great double act. I thought it was quite a forward thinking for this type of film to have two female protagonists. You’d think a film about delinquent punk music fans would have two teenage boys in the lead – kudos to the makers for bucking the trend. One of the best actors in the film is Paul Bartel who plays the music teacher Mr McGree, I liked how easily he got made into a fan of the Ramones. Interestingly, he was also the director of Death Race 2000 and in fact, this film also stars another alumni of that film, Don Steele plays DJ Screamin' Steve Stevens.

The Ramones also obviously have an extended acting role in the film but thankfully they aren’t given much more than a handful of lines because none of them can really act. It's quite painful watching them try to speak their lines but thankfully they excel at the live songs.Okay, it's pretty clear the Ramones aren't singing or playing live but the amount of songs they squeeze into the film is great. I've never really been into them as a band but this film gave me a strong interest in seeking them out. There's some nice ways that they fit the songs in. For instance, at one point Randell sits in her bedroom and listens to the band on her headphones and suddenly the band appear in her room singing right at her.

All in all Rock N Roll High School was pleasant surprise. It's a really great little film and the perfect vehicle for The Ramones music. Interestingly, the film was originally planned as Disco High and they tried to sign up several other bands before settling on The Ramones! Anyway, if you haven't seen it, definitely check it out. This is one musical that doesn't suck!


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Music Month: 10 favourite movie songs

Wang Chung: "Wait" from To Live and Die in LA (1985)
Can't think of another 80s movie that ended on such a note perfect song. Perfect for driving down roads late at night (pretending to be on the run from angry money counterfeiters).

Public Image Limited: "Order of Death" from Hardware (1990)
Bleak, sober song but unbelievably catchy.  John Lydon's repetitive lyrics get stuck in your head a long time after the song has finished.

Michael McDonald: "Sweet Freedom" from Running Scared (1986)
A yacht rock classic! The Disease Control Centre should get on this song immediately, it's goddamn infectious! Warning: May bring up mental images of Billy Crystal in rollerskates.

Cake: "I Will Survive" from Survival Style 5+ (2004)
Great little weird Japanese film. Quite taken aback to see the director dug out this 90s track by indie rockers Cake to close out the film.

John Parr: "St Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" from St Elmo's Fire (1985)
True story: Parr originally wrote the song for wheelchair athlete and activist Rick Hansen but it ended up in this famous brat pack movie instead.

Geto Boys: "Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangsta" from Office Space (1999)
Office Space is a movie I always stick on after I've had a crappy day at work. The next day I go into work listening to this song and try to emulate Ron Livingston.

Peggy Abernathy: "Back to the Shadows" from Pray for Death (1985)
Great Sho Kosugi ninja flick. A little mean-spirited in places (particularly the uncut version) but this great power ballad softens some of its harsh edges.

Quarterflash: "Night Shift" from Night Shift (1982)
Michael Keaton's big screen debut. This movie should be more famous, it's a great little movie about morgue attendants running a brothel and this title track is the icing on the cake.

Jason Segal: "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets (2011)
Ah, man I still haven't gotten around to watching this movie but I f**king love this song. Bret McKenzie really captured that 70s Elton John sound.

Mogwai: "Auto Rock" from Miami Vice (2006)
Love how Michael Mann takes full songs and then edits his movies to them. The ending to Miami Vice was perfect (until that nu-metal version of "In the Air Tonight" kicks in, spoiling it somewhat).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Music Month: 10 fictional musicians in movies

Wyld Stallyns in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure / Bogus Journey (1988/1991)

Band members: Bill S Preston, Theodore Logan, Elizabeth, Joanna, Death
Why they're awesome: The saved the entire world. You don't get much bigger than that. The fact that they solved air pollution with air guitar should also be highly commended.
Most famous song: “God Gave Rock 'n' Roll to You II” - actually written by KISS

Dewey Cox in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
Band members: Dewey Cox, Sam McPherson, Theo, Dave
Why they're awesome: These guys spanned so many genres of music over the years. Even the Beatles were huge fans of Cox (*hahaha*).
Most famous song: “Walk Hard” - actually written by Marshall Crenshaw, John C. Reilly, Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan

Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers in Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)
Band members: Buckaroo Banzai, Rawhide, Reno, Perfect Tommy, Pecos, Billy Travers, Big Norse, Pinky Carruthers and Sidney Zweibel aka New Jersey(debatable as to whether he's an actual band member as we never see him play).
Why they're awesome: Much like Wyld Stallyns these guys saved the world and still managed time to crank out awesome hits and play small intimate venues.
Most famous song: “Rocket 88” - actually written by Ike Turner

The Wonders/Oneders in That Thing You Do! (1996)
Band members: Guy Patterson, James Mattingly, Leonard Haise, T. B. Player
Why they're awesome: Sure, they only had one hit but what a hit it was. Seriously, I bought the cassette single when the movie came out and wore it out by playing it so much.
Most famous song: “That Thing You Do” - actually written by Adam Schlesinger, the bassist of Fountains of Wayne.

Stillwater in Almost Famous (2000)
Band members: Russell Hammond, Jeff Bebe, Dick Roswell, Ed Vallencourt, Larry Fellows 
Why they're awesome: Sure they never made it big but it's not about how famous you get it's about the journey, man.
Most famous song: “Fever Dog” - actually written by Nancy Wilson

Spinal Tap in This is Spinal Tap (1982)
Band members: David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, Derek Smalls
Why they're awesome: Nothing phases these guys – embarrassing Japanese tours, miniscule Stonehenge models, the deaths of several drummers...
Most famous song (okay, it's my favourite anyway): “Sex Farm” - actually written by Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer

Blues Brothers in The Blues Brothers (1980)
Band members: Jake Blues, Elwood Blues, Tom "Bones" Malone, Willie "Too Big" Hall, Steve "The Colonel" Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn, and Murphy "Murph" Dunne and "Mr. Fabulous"
Why they're awesome: These guys saved an entire orphanage. Okay, not the entire world but still they should be commended.
Most famous song: “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” - actually written by Bert Berns, Solomon Burke and Jerry Wexler

Crucial Taunt in Wayne's World and Wayne's World 2 (1992/1993)
Band members: Cassandra Wong and other guys
Why they're awesome: While I can't say I love them, if someone as cool as Wayne Campbell likes them that's good enough for me.
Most famous song: “Ballroom Blitz” - actually written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman for 70s rockers Sweet

Sex Bob-Omb in Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)
Band members: Scott Pilgrim, Stephen Stills, Kim Pine, Young Neil
Why they're awesome: Rough around the edges they may be but this scrappy garage band deserved to win the battle of the bands instead of Crash and the Boys
Most famous song: “Threshold” - actually written by Beck

Johnny Van Owen and his band in Cool As Ice (1991)
Band members: Johnny Van Owen, Jazz, Sir D
Why they're awesome: Umm... well... you see it's difficult to... let's just say “Yo drop that zero and get with the hero!”
Most famous song: “The People's Choice” - actually written by Vanilla Ice and others who would like to remain nameless

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Music Month: 10 favourite movie scores

As a bit of break from reviewing movies I thought I'd lay down some of my favourite movie scores. I'm a complete sucker for buying the soundtracks to movies I've just watched. It kind of prolongs my enjoyment of the film. I can put it the score on in the background while I work and (assuming it's a great score) it instantly takes me back to those feelings I had when I first watched the film.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) - Jerry Goldsmith
I know Jerry Goldsmith has done a ton of stuff that is way more famous than this but I absolutely love this score. It's so rich and sweeping. The definition of a bombastic score. Okay, it owes a bit of debt to Maurice Jarre's Lawrence of Arabia but it's just so damn catchy. I think I've probably only seen the film once but I must have listened to this collection of tunes hundreds of times.

Tron Legacy (2010) - Daft Punk
I think everyone can agree that Daft Punk were an obvious choice for the Tron sequel. Their back catalogue of electronic dance tunes made them seem perfectly suited but I certainly didn't expect them to mix it with a proper orchestral score. There's a definite 50/50 split in terms of the tracks but them meld so well. No disrespect to Wendy Carlos but I far prefer this to her abstract, experimental score for the original.

Dune (1984) - Toto
I love how in the 1980s a lot of filmmakers experimented with using bands rather than composers. Toto seem a odd choice for a sci-fi epic given that their most famous hit was the cheesy yacht rock hit 'Africa' but they really pulled it out the bag with this one. Though the actual film may have a lot of structural problems the laid back, progressive, synth-heavy score really pulls it together as a whole.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) - John Carpenter
I couldn't go without including one score my favourite director/composer. I'd love to put his whole back catalogue on this list but if I had to pick one this is my favourite. Sure there's a lot of repetition - a lot of ambient effects - but I love the little hooks he comes up with. They're so simple but so effective, capturing the horror and suspense of the film. Also, he's the only people on this list who can't read music! (Hats off).

Conan the Barbarian (1982) - Basil Poledouris
Much like the title character Poledouris' score pounds you over the head repeatedly (but in a good way). I love this score for the same reasons as Goldsmith's Wind and the Lion. It's so damn epic and evocative. I've read a few of Robert E Howard's short stories since buying this and I can't help but have this music running in the background while I read. It so perfectly fits alongside his words.

Legend (1985) - Tangerine Dream
I know a lot of people complain that this score ruins Ridley Scott's otherwise timeless film but for me it gives it an otherworldly feel. Famously, Jerry Goldsmith wrote a full orchestral score but Scott had it chucked out because he felt it needed something more commercial. I feel bad for Goldsmith but this is a better score and I love the two accompanying songs by Brian Ferry and Jon Anderson.

Trancers (1985) - Mark Ryder and Phil Davies
As I've said many times I absolutely love this silly little b-movie from Charles Band. Tim Thomerson's performance is half of what makes it so good and the score is the other half. Like Carpenter's work, it's all synth-based, full of simple hooks and utterly 80s sounding but, hey, there's nothing wrong with that! It's never been officially released so here's a link. You're welcome.

Blade Runner (1982) - Vangelis
Such a wonderful score. I've now played it so many times I need to take long breaks in between listens in order for it to retain its power. I love how the score fits the complex world Scott created. The electronic background hum, for instance, becomes the opening of the track 'Blade Runner Blues'. If you can, skip buying the official version and try and track down the more complete Esper Edition bootleg.

Judge Dredd (1995) - Alan Silvestri
Always feel its a shame Silvestri never got a full score album and had to share the soundtrack with some forgettable rock songs. Still, those seven released tracks are awesome. Again, another heavy bombastic score, this time with a recurring military marching motif. If you're a fans of Silvestri's Predator score will most likely also enjoy this as well.

Princess Mononoke (1997) - Joe Hisaishi
I wanted to pick at least one Studio Ghibli score for this list and this one is probably my favourite. Joe Hisaishi's somber and moving compositions perfectly compliment the ethereal tone of the film. Heavy on the violins and other stringed instruments. There's also a definite mix of western and eastern influences. I'm no classical music buff or anything but there's some definite hints of Debussy and Chopin.