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Category — Western

Superb Western Remake – TRUE GRIT

TRUE GRIT is a stylistic romp through the wild, wild west – and the western genre itself.

Forget all the hype that’s filling our theaters now – IMAX this and 3D that – and feast your eyes on a good ol’ fashioned yarn, courtesy of the brothers Coen. Ethan and Joel’s 2010 retelling of Henry Hathaway’s 1969 film returns to the source material – the novel by Charles Portis – to achieve what is essentially an upgrade in all facets of production and storytelling over the old John Wayne flick. The tale of a precocious 14 year old (played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) who hires a drunken, dirty, over-the-hill marshal named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to avenge the murder of her father is an oftentimes funny, always fun exercise in storytelling, full of enthralling detail and the brilliant dialogues you come to expect from the Coens. Matt Damon is perfectly cast as a Texas ranger who gets under Rooster’s skin, and the rest of the cast – including Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper – are incredible as well. The Coens paint vivid archetypes, each a fleshed out portrait of the characters we expect to find in the genre – except crazier, dirtier, and meaner than ever, and the narrative’s random bursts of violence and overall sense of dread is perfect build up towards the exciting action climax. On the Coen spectrum the movie falls somewhere between Miller’s Crossing and O Brother Where Art Thou?,  tarnished only slightly by their recently-adopted penchant for “down” endings, a staple of every film since No Country for Old Men. While it sometimes works, here the final narrative bridge – which I won’t spoil for you except to say it is aggressively unsentimental – seems forced, existing simply to burst the bubble they’ve spent hours crafting. However, given its placement at the tail end of such a fantastic film, I’m willing to give the brothers the benefit of the doubt – and say it is there to “make us think.” Regardless, True Grit is an instant classic, and you should run out this very instant and see it in theaters – in glorious 2D!

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January 13, 2011   No Comments

SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 3 (of 15)

130.) I Want to Live! (1958) – Johnny Mandel

Johnny Mandel’s soundtrack to the great Robert Wise’s film about a wayward woman whose life spirals out of control is jazzy with a Latin tinge, full of bongos and flutes and sudden changes in tempo and tone, meant to represent the protagonist’s low-class lifestyle, which back then meant jazz. Here’s track 4, “Henry Leaves”:

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129.) Coffy (1973) – Roy Ayers

Jack Hill, one of the greatest b-movie filmmakers of all time, gave Pam Grier her first leading role as Coffy, a nurse who’s kid sister is hospitalized after shooting some contaminated heroin, and who hits the streets in search of revenge. This contribution to the world of Blaxploitation soundtracks comes courtesy of jazz-turned-R&B vibraphonist Roy Ayers, and is an altogether funky affair. Here’s track 4, “Aragon”:

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128.) Elephant Man (1980) – John Morris

David Lynch’s first feature film after Eraserhead was produced by Mel Brooks, starred Brooks’ wife Anne Bancroft, and was composed by Brooks’ frequent collaborator John Morris, who had scored Brooks’ parodies and comedies – not the composer you’d pick for a dramatic art film about a disfigured side-show freak in Victorian England. But the soundtrack is magnificent, with dark segments played against lighter, carnivalesque ones, lending the soundtrack as creepy a feeling as anything Angelo Badalamenti would compose for Lynch’s later films (in fact it sounds like Badalamenti lifted entire segments for Jeunet and Caro’s City of Lost Children). Here’s the title theme:

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127.) Mickey One (1965) – Stan Getz & Eddie Sauter

Like many of the directors of the American New Wave, Arthur Penn was influenced by the French Nouvelle Vague, who themselves were inspired by American film noir. So it figures that when Penn made Mickey One, a crime film about a comedian (Warren Beatty) on the run from the mob, that he’d dive deep into the New Wave handbook and emerge with a movie full of jarring cuts, inventive camera angles, atmospheric lighting, and moody JAZZ! It’s a fantastic soundtrack, melodic at times and challenging at others, marked by Stan Getz’s West-Coast-Cool tenor stylings. Here’s track 5, “The Succuba”:

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126.) Daimajin (1966) – Akira Ifukube

Akira Ifukube composed the soundtracks to many of Ishirō Honda‘s most memorable movies – including Gojira (aka Godzilla) – but his score for Kimiyoshi Yasuda’s haunting film about giant stone God-statue rising to protect a nearby village from an evil warlord is his best, filled with rumbling bass clarinets hitting unbelievably low notes, traditional Japanese drumming, and an orchestra of strings, which fuse to create the perfect ominous, otherworldly atmosphere you want out from your kaiju eiga. Here’s the main title theme:

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125.) ¡Mátalo! (1970) – Mario Migliardi

Cesare Canevari’s western, also known as Kill Him! is reportedly one of the trippiest of the genre, a psychedelic mood-piece filled with wild camera angles, heavy use of slow motion, and a climax which features boomerangs – all which place it firmly on my list of “must-watch Westerns.” And if it’s anything like the soundtrack, which is filled with acid-tinged fuzz guitar and weird discordant sounds, then I’m sure it will not disappoint. Here’s the theme song:

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and here’s track 6, “Old Town”:

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124.) Beat Girl (1959) – John Barry

Edmond T. Gréville’s beat-era film about strippers, divorces, and rock and roll is nothing to write home about, but the soundtrack, by Mr. James Bond himself, John Barry, is instantly recognizable, a guitar riff that immediately transports you to the era. Here’s the main title:

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123.) Z (1969) – Mikis Theodrakis

Costa-Gavras’s political thriller is the true story of a Greek cover up, and Mikis Theodrakis’ soundtrack mixes folk music heavy on the Bouzoukis with passages of tension-filled atmosphere, a smattering of jazz, and even caps it off with a couple of traditional songs. It’s a fantastic soundtrack. Here’s track 2, “To Yelasto Pedi”:

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and track 7, “Batucada”:

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122.) Donne-moi la Main [Give Me Your Hand] (2008) – Tarwater

I’ve read mainly negative reviews of Pascal-Alex Vincent’s movie, which I have not seen, but the soundtrack is amazing, composed by Tarwater, the German post-rock/electronic band comprised of Bernd Jestram and Ronald Lippok. Here’s track 3, “The Blacktop”:

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and track 9, “Wednesday’s Child”:

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121.) The Belly of an Architect (1987) – Wim Mertens & Glenn Branca

I’ve never really been a fan of Peter Greenaway’s films, with their cold theatricality and inflated self-importance, but of all of them, Belly of an Architect is by far the one I can almost say I like. Perhaps it’s because of Brian Dennehy, an actor who brings some passion and conviction to the otherwise pretentious affair. Or maybe it’s the soundtrack, which features compositions by minimalist composers Glenn Branca and Wim Mertens, and is chock full of swelling, twirling piano motifs, driving flutes, and even the occasional oboe. Here’s track 7, “Time Passing”:

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30 down, 120 to go!

Click to see part 1 (OST’s #141-150) , part 2 (131-140),  part 3 (121-130), part 4 (111-120), part 5 (101-110), part 6 (91-100), part 7 (81-90), part 8 (71-80), part 9 (61-70), part 10 (51-60), part 11 (41-50), part 12 (31-40), part 13 (21-30), part 14 (11-20) and part 15 (1-10).

Check back in the coming weeks to see the rest of the countdown.

And be sure to leave feedback!

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September 6, 2010   No Comments

SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 2 (of 15)

OST = Original Soundtrack.

We continue our countdown with numbers 131-140…

For the first installment, including my self-imposed guidelines, check part 1.

140.) Omega Man (1971) - Ron Grainer

Boris Sagal’s take on Richard Matheson’s classic I am Legend stars Moses himself – Charlton Heston – and reeks of 70’s sensibilities. The soundtrack is a fun affair, alternating between Ron Grainer’s quirky atmospheric score and jazz-tinged muzak, reminding us that an unpopulated Earth is much like an empty department store. Here’s track 2, “The Omega Man”:

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139.) Yol (1982) - Sebastian Argol

Directors Serif Gören & Yilmaz Güney wrote and directed this award-winning Turkish film about prisoners on furlough which starred James Bond himself – Sean Connery – in a movie I’ve often confused for the sword and sorcery epic Yor, The Hunter From The Future, released a year later, and the old Atari 2600 title Yars’ Revenge, released a year earlier. Regardless, it’s a powerful soundtrack for a movie I’ve never seen, combining middle eastern elements with ambient electronics. Here’s track 6, “Horsemen in the Wind”:

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138.) Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010) – Eric Serra

Since 1983’s Le Dernier Combat Luc Besson has been employing Eric Serra as his composer of choice, and this soundtrack, their most recent collaboration, is their best – with a kooky, kitchen-sink approach that features cacophonous car horns, discordant electronics, a dramatic chanteuse and sweeping themes that capture the spirit of high adventure. Check out this target=”_blank”>trailer and tell me you don’t want to see the movie. You liar. Here’s track 2, “Hiéroglyphes”:

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137.) Naked Angels (1969) – Jeff Simmons

Don’t know much about this Bruce D. Clark biker flick, except that that cover is absolutely sick and the composer, Jeff Simmons, would later become a Frank Zappa collaborator. And that the music is rocking, with fuzz guitars and a steady rock beat.

Here’s track 1, “Naked Angels Theme”:

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and track 5, “Cop Out”:

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136.) Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) (1958) – Miles Davis

Louis Malle’s suspense noir might be a tad dated, but this Miles Davis soundtrack sure isn’t – it’s his best score for a film, though Kind of Blue is still the greatest soundtrack he ever wrote to a movie never made. Here’s track 5, “Florence sur les Champs-Elysées”:

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135.) High Noon (1952) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Fred Zinnemann’s classic western gets a fantastic old-era-Hollywood score courtesy of Tiomkin, who also scored The Alamo, Guns of Navarone, Giant and countless other classics, and who later wrote the TV theme song for Rawhide. Here’s track 1, the main title, sung by Tex Ritter (John Ritter’s dad), which won the 1953 Academy Award for best song:

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134.) Avalon (2001) - Kenji Kawai

Anime director (Ghost in the Shell) Mamoru Oshii directed this live action sci-fi movie about a destitute future where virtual gaming determines financial reward-or death by catatonia. The film’s unique flavor stems from its Japanese-Polish production, heavy referencing of Arthurian mythology, and muted sepia-tone cinematography, and is carried over into the soundtrack, where Kawai’s haunting score features Polish language chanting and tons of murky futuristic melancholy. Here’s track 2, “Log Off”:

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133.) Heathers (1989) – David Newman

Michael Lehmann defined a generation with his smart, satirical high school revenge flick, which took John Hughes’ high school comedies and ramped ‘em up to high black-comedy heaven. The cold, electronic soundtrack enhances the feeling of detachment which Winona Ryder and Christian Slater feel in their popularity-obsessed high school. Composition runs in the family – Newman is the cousin of Randy, the brother of Thomas and the son of Alfred. Are any other Newmans gonna make this list? Are all of them? Do me a favor – Wait and find out. That way I can stop asking rhetorical questions. Here’s track 3, “JD Blows Up”:

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132.) Institute Benjamenta (1995) – Lech Jankowski

The Brothers Quay deliver a vivid black and white dream of a movie, based on Kafka-predecessor Robert Walser’s Jakob von Gunten, a surrealistic 1909 novel about a mysterious institute where men learn to become servants. Lech’s sparse, haunting soundtrack, complete with strained strings, lonely trumpets, rumbling bass, haunting voices and intermittent silences makes it a perfect accompaniment, which also stands on its own as an eerie listening experience for fans of challenging music.

Here’s track 6, “Introdukja Liliowa”:

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and track 8, “Kolysanka wg Erika S”:

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131.) Didn’t You Hear? (1970) – Mort Garson

Not many people have seen Skip Sherwood’s college film about a daydreaming teen, which not only features a young Gary Busey, but also a score by the legendary Mort Garson. Here is a review of the movie. A friend once bequeathed unto me an entire DVD full of Garson’s albums, including this one, and I’ve been a fan ever since (both of Garson and my friend).

Here’s track 5, “Kevin’s Theme”:

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and track 9, “Walk to Grange Hall”:

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20 OST’s down, 130 to go! What’s your favorite soundtrack? Will it make the cut? Check back next week, and be sure to leave feedback… it’ll make us stronger here at the isle!

Click to see part 1 (OST’s #141-150) , part 2 (131-140),  part 3 (121-130), part 4 (111-120), part 5 (101-110), part 6 (91-100), part 7 (81-90), part 8 (71-80), part 9 (61-70), part 10 (51-60), part 11 (41-50), part 12 (31-40), part 13 (21-30), part 14 (11-20) and part 15 (1-10).

September 2, 2010   No Comments

Lyrical Aussie Western – THE PROPOSITION

THE PROPOSITION is a grimy look at the Outback, courtesy of Nick Cave and friends.

Just when you thought Clint Eastwood’s The Unforgiven would be the Western’s final ride into the sunset, a pair of Aussies refuse to let the genre go down quietly; director John Hillcoat and musician-turned-screenwriter Nick Cave, who’ve conspired to deliver the next great Western revival, 2005’s The Proposition. Harsh in tone yet poetically delivered, this film shows us a side of the Outback seldom seen. The yarn goes as follows: After being captured by the law, Charlie Burns, played by Guy Pearce, is asked to bring his ruthless older brother Arthur to justice. If he fails to do so within a few weeks his younger brother, also captured by the authorities, will be killed. Charlie agrees, and rides off into the wild frontier to hunt his brother down. The Outback itself is a central character in the film – it feels like a constant 100 degrees with no shade in sight, a wasteland without remorse, whose dirt, grime, and quite often insect life assaults the actors incessantly. Nobody looks happy in this movie, and all save the locals are in way out of their depths against the cruelty of the landscape. It’s no surprise that Hillcoat also directed 2009’s The Road – landscapes consumed by pain seem to be his bag. Nick Cave’s first solo attempt at a screenplay (he co-wrote 1988’s Ghosts… of the Civil Dead) proves to be an altogether worthy affair, his poetry on full display throughout. Another notable standout is veteran actor John Hurt, who plays a brilliant bounty hunter out to capture Arthur – who embodies the pain of the countryside and the way it destroys a man. Fans of the Western have cause to rejoice, and for those of you with an aversion toward Westerns, I assure you this The Proposition is one journey worth taking by all lovers of good cinema.

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July 26, 2010   2 Comments

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