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Great Scenes – THE MASTER

Today we’re featuring the movie everyone’s talking about – The Master. Personally I don’t know why Paul Thomas Anderson would ever remake this 1980 Shaw Bros classic directed by Chin-Ku Lu, starring Chen Kuan Tai, and introducing Yuen Tak in his first starring role (he would go on to become one of Hong Kong’s top action choreographers). And watching the upcoming target=”_blank”>trailer, PT Anderson’s The Master seems a bit light on the kung-fu razzmatazz – guess he’s taking it in a different direction. Oh well – guess we’ll just have to wait and see when it comes out. Anyway, today’s great scene features Chen Kuai Tai as the Master, fighting off his nemeses (plural), the 3 Evil Masters (which is what the film is Also-Known-As), which of course prompts the student to avenge him. And though Joaquin Phoenix will no doubt prove himself a better actor than Mr. Tak, I gotta come out and say it – Philip Seymour Hoffman is no Wang Lung Wei.

In all seriousness, we are extremely stoked to see the other The Master as well! Hope it also has a groin-splitting scene in it!

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September 11, 2012   No Comments

Instant Classics: Criterion on Netflix #51-75

Round 3 of Instant Classics is here! This project is indeed quite an undertaking. After last week’s monster load of films, I’m curious, albeit a little fearful, of what Netflix has in store for me this time. Well, no time like the present I suppose…

-51. Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985) [Unavailable]

Damnation! The exclusion of Gilliam’s masterpiece from Instant Watch bodes rather ill for this week’s roundup.

-52. Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961)

When a classic film goes on to directly influence another classic film, does that make it doubly classic? Whether it does or not, this is one of those movies that only comes along once every 25 years or so. When traveling Ronin Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) wanders into a village split between two warring gangs, he realizes that he can turn a profit by playing both sides against the middle. Soon the money is rolling in and the streets are running with blood, but the chaos he has stirred up threatens to sweep away not just the gangs, but Sanjuro along with them.

In addition to the usually impeccable acting and directing, Yojimbo’s soundtrack is especially awesome. It’s a strange mix of Eastern and Western themes complete with pattering drums, soaring brass and thundering piano that presages the work of the masterful Ennio Morricone. Watching this film is like watching two thoroughbred race horses tying the Kentucky Derby. Both Kurosawa and Mifune are at the peak of their careers as well as their artistic capabilities. Sure they would go on to turn in fantastic pieces of work, both with and without each other’s company, but this film, to me at least, stands as one of the most blindingly bright points in two unparalleled careers.

-53. Sanjuro (Akira Kurosawa, 1962)

Following the success of Yojimbo, Kurosawa turned right around and released this film the following year with Toshiro Mifune reprising his role as the titular Sanjuro, the opportunistic, hard-drinking ronin with a heart of gold. The movie opens with Sanjuro overhearing a group of well meaning but wet-behind-the-ears samurai plotting to weed out the corruption that is crippling their prefecture. Sanjuro informs them that their plan, while noble, is playing right into the hands of the corrupt Prefecture Superintendent. He offers them his help for the right price and, of course, all the sake he can get his hands on.

While often overshadowed by it’s predecessor, this film is no less worthy than any other Kurosawa/Mifune collaboration. Mifune’s acting is still top notch, Kurosawa’s camerawork is still inventive and intriguing, and the story is still compelling swords and Samurai fare, peppered with Mifune’s wry witticisms. The only fault I can find with the film is that it doesn’t really break any new ground from Kurosawa’s last entry; hardly a hanging offense. Be sure to stick through to the end for the notorious “blood explosion” (!) scene.

-54. For All Mankind (Al Reinart, 1980) [Unavailable]

A documentary on the men behind the Apollo moon missions. Never seen it.

-55. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Philip Kaufman, 1988)

This is one of those rare occurrences when an “unfilmable” book meets the perfect director and the result is a true work of art. Set in the Prague Spring and the years that followed it, the film follows a womanizing young surgeon named Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis), his constant lover Sabina (Lena Olin), and his wide-eyed innocent wife, Tereza (Juliet Binoche). Just as Tomas’ constant philandering threatens to wreck his marriage, Soviet Russia stages a brutal crackdown on the recently liberalized Czechoslovakia, forcing the trio to escape to Switzerland.

It’s nearly impossible to write a coherent synopsis of this film as it faithfully follows Milan Kundera’s sprawling novel that touches on nearly everything about human life. What do I mean by everything? Sex, marriage, love, fear, strength, weakness, joy, sorrow, friendship, betrayal, freedom, oppression, and inevitably, death are all woven into a beautiful tapestry of bitter-sweetness that is sentimental without being sappy. Kaufman frequently shoots his actors through semi-translucent glass and fabrics and through reflections that are symbolic of how opaque we can be to our own selves while being transparent to those that are closest to us. One of the few romances I’ve come across that examines human bonds at their roots as well as their surfaces, which is even more odd when you consider that Kaufman is best known for writing Raiders of the Lost Ark.

-56. The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock, 1935)

First off, there are at least four film versions of John Buchan’s novel and please believe me, this is the only one worth watching. Yes, the remakes all have their merits (well, the 2008 BBC TV version, not so much) but this film is vintage Alfred Hitchcock all the way to the bank. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is vacationing in England when he finds himself violently thrust into the middle of an international conspiracy revolving around something called “The 39 Steps”. On the run for a murder he didn’t commit, he is eventually arrested by agents of the conspiracy who are posing as policemen and finds himself handcuffed to the beautiful but obstinate Pamela (Madeleine Carroll). Still chained together, the two make their escape, but the enemy has friends everywhere, time is running short and it seems not a single person in the whole UK knows what the hell “The 39 Steps” are.

Probably the best film from his British period of filmmaking, The 39 Steps experienced wide international success that greatly helped the director’s jump into the Hollywood movie industry. Not his best films by any means, it is still plenty watchable, with an ending that you are highly unlikely to guess at before it is revealed. Also has the dubious honor of being one of the very first film to utilize the “Macguffin” plot device, which would go on to form the major plot element of every half-assed spy novel and movie that has been made since.

-57 Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963) [Unavailable]

Have not seen this film but considering it stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, and was filmed in Paris in the mid-sixties by the director of Singing in the Rain, I’m gonna guess it’s pretty damn charming.

-58. Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)

A delightfully nasty piece of work that serves not only as a Freudian psychological thriller, but as a strange kind of commentary on film directing as well. Mark (Carl Boehm) is aspiring filmmaker who has a nasty habit of killing people on camera. His traumatized childhood has left him with an unhealthy fixation on the nature of fear, which he is compelled to document as he murders young women. His project is nearing completion when he is befriended by his downstairs neighbor, Helen (Anna Massey), whose unconditional kindness towards him throws doubt on his life’s work and his ability not to include her in it. The film’s self-obsessed fixation on cameras and the people that work them inspired Martin Scorsese to say that this, in addition to Fellini’s 8 1/2, contained everything that can be said about directing.

While Boehm effectively gives Peter Lorre a run for his money in the role of a twitchy, perverted killer, it’s Maxine Audley who steals the show as Helen’s blind, Johnnie Walker-swilling mother. Her character instinctively knows something is dangerously amiss with Mark and at one point she gets to deliver a truly dynamic monologue to him on the power of that instinct. While it was reviled upon release, it rapidly gained cult status and has now been widely considered a classic, but not before heavily damaging director Michael Powell’s career. Ironically enough, Alfred Hitchcock’s infamous Psycho would be released a mere three months later and go on to change the way people thought about horror movies forever.

-59. The Night Porter (Liliana Cavani, 1973) [Unavailable]

Of all the films in this roundup that I’ve never seen, this is probably the least excusable. I’ll have to remedy that sometime in the near future.

-60. Autumn Sonata (Ingmar Bergman, 1978) [Unavailable]

Too bad. This beautiful late-career film had twice the Bergman power, with Ingrid Bergman’s only collaboration with the director with whom she shared a surname.

-61. Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979) [Unavailable]

Hands down the best thing to ever come out of the Monty Python troupe. Damn, how many more of these films in a row are going to be unavailable?

-62. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Th. Dryer, 1928) [Unavailable]

At least one more it seems. Starting to see a pattern here. The only movies that aren’t streaming are either films that I really, really love and films that I’ve never seen but have been meaning to. Thanks, Netflix!

-63. Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

Herk Harvey and his uncomfortable sounding first name directs this exploration of that age old topic: is the gateway to hell really in Utah? Mary (Candace Hillgoss) narrowly survives a deadly car accident and, in a fit of what can only be described as PTSD, subsequently accepts a job as a church organist in Salt Lake City. As she drives there, she becomes strangely captivated by the baroque silhouette of an abandoned carnival pavilion she sees off in the distance. While she peers at it the ghoulish face of a man (Mr. Herk himself)  appears where her reflection should be in car’s darkened window. The face and the pavilion continue to haunt dreams and eventually start to bleed into her waking life as she struggles to understand what is happening to her.

A delightful black and white 60’s horror with much the same tone and production value as Night of the Living Dead, Carnival has gone on to achieve legendary cult film status. I love how old school directors could wring such a decent amount of horror out of some weird-looking dude in white greasepaint and raccoon eyes while filming in broad daylight. While the film piles the symbolism on just a little thick, the hauntingly disjointed organ-driven soundtrack and trippy visuals keep it from ever really becoming the finger-wagging cautionary tale that it feels like it was intended to be.

-64. The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)

This classic noir film penned by the legendary novelist, Graham Greene, opens in a postwar Vienna, where newly arrived American pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) is trying to connect with his old friend Harry Lime. Upon reaching his house, his informed by the building’s porter that Harry had been hit and killed by a car the day earlier. Devastated by the loss of his friend, Holly attends Harry’s funeral, where he meets the British military police Maj. Calloway (Trevor Howard), who informs him that his friend Harry was deeply involved in the dangerous Viennese black market. Holly, is disbelieving at first and vows to launch his own investigation into the death of his friend. Along the way he encounters a whole rogues gallery of shifty racketeers, Harry’s alluring former girlfriend, and a sneaking suspicion that nothing and no one are what they seem.

True to form, Greene’s script is absolutely chock full of witty barbs and a distinct aversion to Yanks who meddle in foreign (particularly European) affairs to which they are utterly unfamiliar. Vienna is shot in beautiful film noir fashion, with shadowy alleys and doorways that harbor watchful eyes sharing screen time with bombed out buildings and strangely untouched cathedrals that stand silent testimony to the wave of violence that had so recently washed over the city. There is also an astounding amount of quality work put in by extras culled from the local populace, whose faces are etched with the unmistakable sorrow of a recently conquered people but also shot through with veins of impotent rage at the multitude of outsiders who have carved up their country (and more importantly, their city) amongst themselves. I can’t really delve any deeper into the plot without spilling some major spoilers, but I will say that the target=”_blank”>great Orson Welles makes an appearance, and delivers the best monologues about cookoo clocks in all of film history.

-65. Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998) [Unavailable]

Pardon me while I take a moment to break something down for the Netflix executives who are no doubt following this column with a near-religious fervor: It’s a safe assumption that Instant Watch is used primarily by people who are more internet savvy than tech savvy, who in turn are more likely to buy Mac products, who in turn are more likely to be hipsters, who in turn almost universally love Wes Anderson. Just sayin’.

-66-69. The Orphic Trilogy: The Blood of a Poet (1930), Orpheus (1949), Testament of Orpheus (1959, all by Jean Cocteau) [All Unavailable]

The collected and singly available titles of Cocteau’s experimental trilogy. I’ve only ever seen Orpheus, which was yet another visually arresting display of filmmaking from a director who specialized in pushing the limits of cinematography.

-70. The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)

No matter how much of a mixed bag his last couple of films may have been, Martin Scorsese will always be one of my favorite directors simply for being the genius behind this film. Easily one of the most controversial films ever made, The Last Temptation of Christ is adapted from Nikos Kazantzakis’ equally-divisive novel about the final days of Jesus Christ. The basic story is the one everyone in the Western world is familiar with: Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, eats the last supper, is betrayed by Judas and ends up on the business end of a whole lot of sharp objects. The twist here is instead of just dying, Jesus sees a vision of an angel telling him that his work is done, he is not really the son of god and he can come down off the cross and spend the rest of his life making babies with Mary Magdalene. Jesus gives some serious thought to the matter, but all may not be as it seems.

As someone who grew up in a repressive religious background, this movie had a profound impact on not only on my taste is cinema, but on my entire worldview as well. Willem Dafoe’s Jesus is the most conflicted – the most human – depiction of Jesus to ever grace the screen. Up till that point in time, Jesus had been depicted as beatific cypher with a bovine-like range of facial expressions, who was more of a watercolored religious icon than a flesh and blood savior. Here, Scorsese shows a Jesus who wrestles with both everyday struggles and extraordinarily trying circumstances with all the troubled emotions you would expect from a man, yet manages to rise above them with the strength and will of a god. Harvey Keitel also brings a level of pathos and conflict of purpose to Judas Iscariot that heretofore had been distinctly absent.

Naturally, upon release, the film was subjected to a massive wave of outrage and protest from Christians around the world. At one point, a French movie theater that was screening the film fell victim to a molotov cocktail attack from a fundamentalist group. It was banned in multiple countries and remains so to this day in the Philippines and Singapore.The gist of people’s anger stemmed from (SPOILER ALERT! Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, SKIP TO THE NEXT REVIEW or go watch it right now and come back.) the fact that during his final temptation, he goes off and marries Mary Magdalene and has kids and leads a normal life. While this is indeed totally outside the realm of biblical canon, the fact remains that a) he was hallucinating that entire scene because that was the point of a temptation: to make him not want to be nailed to a cross and save humanity; and b) no matter how soul-wrenching the choices were for him, at the end of the day, he still made all the right decisions. The point wasn’t to be sacrilegious, but rather to illuminate the duality that would be inherent in someone who is both God and man. Regardless of what personal beliefs you may hold, this is utterly powerful, thought provoking cinema at it’s absolute finest and as such has a permanent place on my top 10 list.

-71. The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975) [Unavailable]

Curious Netflix User: “Hey, um, so I took this film appreciation class once and the instructor repeatedly cited Ingmar Bergman as one of the finest, most influential filmmakers to ever sit in a directors chair. Thing of it is, I’m easily distracted and would really like to be able to have instant access to his works so I can watch them when I’m in the mood for deep, brooding dramas instead of getting it on DVD, having it linger around the house for a couple weeks, and sending it back unwatched because the eighteenth HD Special Edition of Avatar is next up in my queue. Is that possible?”

Netflix: “…Now available on Netflix Instant Watch; The Spy Next Door! Starring Jackie Chan!!!”

-72. Le Million (Rene Clair, 1931) [Unavailable]

Unfamiliar with this film, which is apparently an early musical, so I will probably continue on being unfamiliar with it.

-73. Cleo From 5 to 7 (Agnes Varda, 1962)

A fantastic example of French New Wave Cinema from it’s highly regarded Rive Gauche contingent. Cleo (Corrine Marchand) is a beautiful young singer who is awaiting the results of a cancer biopsy. As the title indicates, the story follows her from the hours of 5pm to 7pm beginning with a less than encouraging tarot card reading which pulls double duty as the opening credits. Distraught, she seeks solace in her friends and loved ones, only to find that it is an absolute stranger who may be able to bring her the most comfort of all.

Shot on the streets of Paris, this film is awash in all the romantic notions that The City of Lights embodied at that time. Sidewalk cafes and crooning music emanating from radios and quiet parks and bustling street life all meld together to create an idyllic backdrop against which the characters quietly muse about friendship, despair and a variety of existential quandaries.

(Side Note: While this film is currently available on Netflix Instant, it is also available to stream at Criterion.com for $5.00, along with many other films, which will then be credited towards your purchase of any available DVD or Blu-ray edition of that film. I’d also be willing to bet that the picture quality from Criterion’s own website is a better than Netflix’s by a country mile.

-74. Vagabond (Agnes Varda, 1985) [Unavailable]

More from Agnes Varda, continuing here theme of women with existential crises wandering around France

-75 Chasing Amy (Kevin Smith, 1997) [Unavailable]

Due to the lack of any means of coherently translating the sound of a big, wet fart into words, I will only say that a fan of Kevin Smith I am not.

Well that was an easy week! The Orphic Trilogy’s exclusion really took a load off my viewing schedule. Hell, for the first time in weeks, I even got to watch a movie that isn’t on the Criterion Collection! Downside: that movie was Ong Bak 3. Oh well. They can’t all be gems, I suppose.

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March 21, 2011   No Comments

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

Here it is! Finally, we have arrived at the top ten – and nothing will ever be the same again. Namely I will never take on a mega-post which takes months to complete. I mean, what was I thinking? 150 greatest soundtracks!? Wouldn’t 50 have been enough? Sheesh. Anyway, enjoy the creme de la creme- and drop me a line telling me what you would have changed!

10.) The Nuclear Observatory of Mr. Nanof (1985) – Piero Milesi

This rarely seen film directed by Paolo Rosa doesn’t even have an IMDB page, but the subject matter seems timely in lieu of the Oscar buzz around Bansky’s magnificent documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Rosa’s film documents an enormous piece of graffiti outside a mental hospital, engraved by mental patient Oreste Fernando Nannetti, who refers to himself as NANOF11, an “Astronautic Mineral Engineer of the Mental System.” Piero Milesi’s music is minimalistic, with lush electronic sounds repeating themselves in an almost fugue-like manner. But rather than becoming monotonous, the end result is melodic, meditative and beautiful, with synthesized themes unfurling in sublime variations on a theme. Released on the legendary Cuneiform label in 1992, this is a highly recommended score for fans of Philip Glass and Brian Eno. Check out track 2, “Tom Thumb”:

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and track 4, “Scene of the Madmen”:

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and track 7, “Graffiti”:

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09.) The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – David Shire

Joseph Sargent directs the original starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, not to be confused with the 2009 remake starring John Travolta and Denzel Washington. The story of a hijacked subway train is a classic of gritty 70’s cinema, aided by an incredible soundtrack which fuses crazy percussion, lush bass, and a full brass orchestra complete with blaring tubas to create a suspenseful backdrop. Shire also scored The Conversation, Return to Oz, and Short Circuit. Check out the awesome main title:

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and track 4, “Blue and Green Talk”:

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and track 10, “Mini-Manhunt”:

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08.) The Assassination of Jesse James (2007) – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

Andrew Dominik directs from his own adaptation of Ron Hansen’s novel in a movie which stars Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck and Sam Shepard. It’s the tale of Robert Ford, a 19 yr. old who’s idolized Jesse James since childhood, but who upon meeting him and joining his gang grows resentful of the man, ultimately betraying him for fame and fortune. Warren Ellis of the instrumental post-rock band Dirty Three and Nick Cave of the Bad Seeds and The Birthday Party had collaborated on the fine soundtrack for The Proposition in 2005 and went on to score The Road in 2009 but this moody score with its rumbling piano, chiming bells and sad violins is the best of the bunch. Check out track 1, “Rather Lovely Thing”:

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and track 2, “Moving On”:

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and track 3, “Song For Jesse”:

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07.) Kafka (1991) – Cliff Martinez

Steven Soderbergh‘s underrated quasi-biopic stars Jeremy Irons, Theresa Russell, Ian Holm, Sir Alec Guinness and Joel Grey, and borrows heavily from The Castle and The Trial to tell the story of Kafka, a lowly insurance worker who finds himself entering into an underworld of conspiracies and terrorism when a co-worker is murdered, which ultimately brings him face to face with a shadowy organization that controls society. It’s a very enjoyable film along the lines of John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Lars Von Trier’s Zentropa and David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, but with a style and feel all it’s own, thanks in large part to Cliff Martinez’s use of the Cimbalom, a Hungarian zither-like instrument which evokes a unique, dreamlike atmosphere. Martinez has worked on several of Soderbergh’s films (Sex, Lies, and Videotape, King of the Hill, The Underneath, Traffic, Solaris), but this soundtrack is his best. Check out track 1, “Eddie’s Dead / Main Title”:

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and track 6, “Goodnight Mr. Bizzlebek”:

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and track 15, “Son Of Balloon”:

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06.) Amelie (2001) – Yann Tiersen

Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s crowd pleasing love story for the ADD generation stars Audrey Tautou as the titular character, a wide eyed girl who lives in a fantasy world ruled by love, and La Haine director Mathieu Kassovitz as the clumsy good-natured boy she ultimately falls for – after first dedicating herself to bringing the love of others to fruition. She’s basically an elf from the Brother Grimm’s The Elves and the Cobbler, only instead of shoes she delivers fulfillment to those lucky enough to know her. It’s beautifully shot, chock-full of colorful ideas, and populated by fantastic actors with memorable faces, but it’s also overly dependent on narration, hindered by flimsy characterization, and so sweet it’s downright cloying. Whatever your take on the movie, one thing’s for sure – it’s got a magnificent soundtrack, full of swelling accordions and harpsichords and punctuated by toy pianos, all courtesy of Yann Tiersen, who also gave us the superb soundtrack to Good Bye Lenin! Here’s track 4, “Comptine Dun Autre Ete La”:

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and track 5, “La Noyee”:

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and track 16, “La Redecouverte”:

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05.) Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Carter Burwell

Joel & Ethan Coen’s masterpiece stars Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Jon Polito and John Turturro and perfectly captures the essence of pre-WWII gangster movies while building on the inherent themes of morality and loyalty and ratcheting the entire genre up a couple of notches. Byrne’s Tom Regan is the anti-hero to end all anti-heroes, who plays two rival gangs against one another and drives the twists (or dames) as crazy as he does the gangland bosses. The central question – whether or not he has a heart – is in the mind of every character he encounters, who all want something from him and will stop at nothing to get it. The characters are multidimensional, the humor jet-black, and the moments of violence are shocking, erupting out of human frailty, anger, jealousy and betrayal. It all adds up to an “intimate” epic, heightened by the soundtrack, which features a lilting, almost fragile clarinet swept along by strings like a hat carried on the wind – which is one of the central images, as memorable as any single image in any movie. Burwell also scored Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, Gods and Monsters, Being John Malkovich, and recently Where the Wild Things Are, A Serious Man, and the as-of-yet unreleased No Country for Old Men. Here is the opening track:

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and track 3, “A Man and His Hat”:

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and track 11, “Nightmare In The Trophy Room”:

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04.) Mental Cruelty [Seelische Grausamkeit] (1961) – George Gruntz

Hannes Schmidhauser directs this movie which I have not seen, but which I have listened to repeatedly since acquiring the CD. Led by Swiss pianist George Gruntz, it features Kenny “Clook” Clarke’s incredible drumming and Barney Wilen’s cool tenor saxophone. Sometimes pensive, sometimes light and breezy, it’s full of tangos, waltzes, and rock n’ roll, all held together by a melodic motif woven into each short track (only 4 of the 18 tracks are over 3 minutes long). It’s an amazing jazz score that ranks alongside the works of Mingus, Davis, Coltrane and Ellington- which is saying something. Amazingly, only 100 LPs were printed at the time of its initial release (which fetched upwards of $1000 on ebay), but thanks to Atavistic’s Unheard Music Series it was reissued in 2003, giving Gruntz – who also composed the unreleased soundtrack to the film Steppenwolf – some long overdue exposure. Check out the main theme:

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and track 10, “Romance II”:

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and track 13, “Latin Stroll On Theme”:

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and track 15, “Spanish Castles”:

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03.) Invitation to a Suicide (2004) – John Zorn

Written & Directed by Loren Marsh, this dark comedy tells the tale of a young man living in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint (also known as Little Poland) who gets in trouble with the mob and is given a day to raise $10,000 or have his father killed, who in a fit of ingenuity decides to sell tickets to his own suicide to save his father’s life. The incredibly talented Zorn is one of the leading figures in modern jazz, emerging out of the 1980’s downtown scene which fused punk to free-jazz, and he’s always been heavily influenced by film – just check out 1986’s The Big Gundown, which re-imagines Ennio Morricone in an aggressive, up-tempo style complete with trademark freakout alto saxophone. Since 1990 Zorn’s been releasing soundtracks composed for indie and underground movies on Tzadik, his own private label, making him one of the most prolific composers in film. This score is one of his finest, full of bass harmonicas, dueling accordions, classical guitars, cellos, vibraphones and the occasional moog. Other soundtracks of note in his Filmworks series are volume XIV: Hiding and Seeking, Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse and Filmworks X: In the Mirror of Maya Deren. Here’s track 1, “Invitation to a Suicide”:

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and track 4, “East Greenpoint Rundown”:

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and track 16, “Final Retribution”:

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and track 17, “Aftermath”:

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02.) Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) – Bob Dylan

Sam Peckinpah directs from Rudy Wurlitzer’s script (don’t forget to read Quake!), in a film starring James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson that tells of the the death of the Old West and the emergence of the New West, one ruled by cattle ranchers and businessmen. It’s the story of Pat Garrett, an ex-outlaw who has become sheriff and is charged with assembling a posse to kill his old friend Billy the Kid, public enemy number one where the authorities are concerned. Firmly couched in the gray area between law and outlaw, morality and criminality, loyalty and betrayal, freedom and death, it’s a showcase for the talents of Bob Dylan (both off-screen and on). His magnificent soundtrack lends the proceedings a palpable sense of profound abandonment, as if the world were moving on and burying poor Billy in the past he helped make legendary. Full of guitar, wordless choruses that “ooh” and “aah,” and some fantastic original songs with goose-bump inducing lyrics: “There’s guns across the river ’bout to pound you / There’s a lawman on your trail like to surround you / Bounty hunters are dancing all around you / Billy they don’t like you to be so free.” That’s target=”_blank”>Pancho and Lefty quality imagery! All in all it’s a masterpiece of mood, highlighted by Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, a song which despite having been covered by everyone from Eric Clapton (decent) to Guns N’ Roses (meh) to Babyface (huh?) to Avril Lavigne (ugh) still retains it’s ability to mesmerize, and an album that proves Dylan’s storytelling genius extended far beyond pop music, and could turn a minor film in Peckinpah’s oeuvre into a must-see. Here’s track 5, “River Theme”:

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and track 7, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”:

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and track 9, “Billy 4″:

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and – drumroll please – the number one soundtrack of all time is:

01.) La Planete Sauvage [Fantastic Planet] (1973) – Alain Gorageur

René Laloux‘s animated classic won the special jury prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and was distributed in the U.S. by legendary producer Roger Corman. It’s the tale of the Draags, giant blue aliens who view their tiny, human Oms as slave-like pets. When a domesticated Om escapes with the tools to educate the wild forest-dwelling Oms, war and revolution threaten to destroy Draag society. Populated with bizarre mating rituals, alien plant life and strange psychedelic landscapes, watching The Fantastic Planet is a consciousness-expanding experience, not unlike the one you get listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz. Essentially a morality tale of our Human inclination to view the “other” as inferior and threatening, it’s required viewing for people interested in out-there cinema, intelligent science fiction, or hallucinogenics in general. Composer Alain Goraguer was a jazz musician who arranged and produced for Serge Gainsbourg and France Gall before turning to film (The Dead Times, The Snails, Paris Secret), but none of his other works presage this eerie, one-of-a-kind album. With Fanstastic Planet he fuses bass-heavy blaxploitation-worthy beats with a prog-rock array of mellotrons, synthesizers, clavinets and wah-wah pedals to create something too funky to be Avant-Garde yet too complex and oftentimes cacophonous to be anything else. It’s an aural masterpiece which can still be felt in the work of bands like Portishead and Air and hip-hop visionaries J Dilla, MF Doom and Madlib. It’s hypnotic, psychedelic, electronic, angelic, and it’s number one on my list – so that’s saying something too I guess. I hope you enjoy it – here’s track 2, “Deshominisation I”:

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and track 4, “Le Bracelet”:

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and track 12, “Conseil Des Draags”:

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and track 15, “Mira Et Ten”:

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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).

And don’t forget to comment! I want to hear about soundtracks I may have missed, and get your thoughts on the ones I got wrong! And don’t forget to tune in for the honorable mentions – scores which just barely missed the mark.

November 30, 2010   4 Comments

SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 14 (of 15)

Almost done! We’re into classic territory now, as we head towards the top 20 soundtracks of all time. Enjoy – and don’t forget to comment!

20.) Paris, Texas (1984) – Ry Cooder

Wim Wenders directs the classic existential love story, starring Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski and Dean Stockwell and adapted by L.M. Kit Carson from Sam Shepard’s play. The story of a man who wanders out of the desert with no recollection of who he is is a meditation on how our lives affect the lives of others – especially our loved ones. The soundtrack is awesome, by prolific guitarist and producer Ry Cooder, who has played with everyone from Captain Beefheart to Taj Mahal and who not long ago introduced the world to the Buena Vista Social Club. His soundtracks include The Long Riders, Johnny Handsome and even Trespass. This time out he uses some incredibly poignant slide guitar to create a Brian Eno-like soundscape. Here’s track 1, “Paris Texas”:

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and track 2, “Brothers”:

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and track 4, “Cancion Mixteca”:

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19.) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) – Joe Hisaishi

Master storyteller Hayao Miyazaki has taken us to some amazing worlds over the years, none more magnificent than this future where man’s destructive nature has fundamentally altered the Earth, creating forests whose toxic spores and giant insects have forced mankind into hiding. But in the Valley of Wind there lives a princess named Nausicaä who’s empathy for all living things might be our only salvation – if she can survive the wars of man which threaten her kingdom. One of the spiritual heirs to Avatar (along with Miyazaki’s later Princess Mononoke), this is a wonderfully hypnotic visual feast of a film, aided largely by Hisaishi’s score, filled with eerie electronics and sweeping romanticism. Beside creating most of the Ghibli scores, including My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, Hisaishi has also scored several “Beat” Takeshi Kitano films (Kikujiro, Brother, Fireworks) – now that’s what you call a diverse body of work.

Here’s an excerpt from track 1:

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and track 2:

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and track 5, “Kushana No Shinryaku”:

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18.) Punch-Drunk Love (2002) – Jon Brion

Paul Thomas Anderson directs this romantic comedy about awkwardness starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman, wherein a down on his luck small-business owner gets a harmonium and embarks on a romantic journey with a mysterious woman. Brion also did Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Magnolia, and I ♥ Huckabees. This soundtrack, thanks to quirky compositions and glitchy electronics, outclasses the others and makes the cut. Here’s track 2, “Tabla”:

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and track 3, “Punch Drunk Melody”:

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and track 7, “Punchy Tack Piano”:

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and track 8, “He Needs Me,” a song featuring the vocals of actress Shelley Duvall, ported over from Harry Nilsson’s Popeye and given new life:

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17.) Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) – Krzysztof Komeda

Roman Polanski‘s vampire comedy hearkens back to a simpler time, when vampire movies were few and far between, and a good deal of them were actually watchable. Starring Polanski, Jack MacGowran, Alfie Bass and Polanski’s future wife (and future Manson victim) Sharon Tate, it’s the story of a zany professor searching a remote Transylvanian village for vampires. Komeda, an iconic figure in Polish Jazz, has composed works ranging from Classical to the Avant Garde, and his soundtracks for Polanski’s Cul de Sac and Rosemary’s Baby are also noteworthy, though this is the score that features his most impressive work. Check out the main title:

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and track 2, “Sarah In Bath”:

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and track 10, “To The Cellar”:

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and track 11, “Skiing”:

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16.) Walker (1987) – Joe Strummer

One of the truly sad stories in cinema is the blacklisting of gifted director Alex Cox by Hollywood. The man’s a genius – Repo Man, Sid & Nancy and Highway Patrolman alone corroborate this. And this film, about rogue general William Walker and his mercenary coup d’etat in Nicaragua in the middle of the 19th century is way ahead of its time, thanks to a great script by Rudy Wurlitzer (go read his novel, Quake) and Cox’s directorial vision. Starring Ed Harris, Richard Masur, Peter Boyle, and Marlee Matlin, it’s an aggressively subversive film, littered with anachronisms (modern cars, helicopters, magazines and coca cola bottles) which takes on capitalism with a spirit of Punk anarchism that’s fun to watch. It’s no wonder Joe Strummer, front man of The Clash, was enlisted to compose the score (he also appears as Faucet, and starred in Cox’s Straight to Hell). This soundtrack rocks, and for more on Strummer (who died in 2002) watch the documentary The Future Is Unwritten. Here’s track 1, “Filibustero”:

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and track 8, “The Unknown Immortal”:

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and track 10 – my favorite – “The Brooding Side of Madness”:

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and track 12, “Smash Everything”:

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15.) Kamikaze 1989 (1982) – Edgar Froese

Wolf Gremm directs German New Wave auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder in this surreal sci-fi film which exists somewhere between Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim and Jared Drake’s recent Visioneers, which tells the tale of a futuristic “Combine” which controls TV and News outlets in the near future. When a bomb threat is made on the Combine, it’s up to super-cop Jansen (Fassbinder) – an overweight, out of shape, wretched excuse for a super-cop – to investigate. With four days to solve the mystery, Jansen looks to the combine’s enemy, Krysmopompas, and becomes embroiled in an absurd mystery that revolves around the Combine’s mysterious 31st floor – hidden somewhere within their Tower’s 30 floors. Froese was a member of electronica trailblazers Tangerine Dream, who made fine soundtracks to Firestarter, Thief, Near Dark and Miracle Mile – but this solo effort is unquestionably superior – so don’t bother questioning it, just seek out the hard to find soundtrack and listen repeatedly. Here’s track 1, “Videophonic”:

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and track 7, the awesome “Blue Panther”:

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and track 11, “Tower Block”:

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14.) Taxi Driver (1976) – Bernard Herrmann

Martin Scorsese directs Paul Schrader‘s classic character study of Travis Bickle, an unhinged insomniac cab driver who calls himself “God’s lonely man” and obsesses over innocence and sin. It features bold direction by a young Scorsese, one of the screen’s finest performances by Robert De Niro and fine acting by all assembled: Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle (again) and Albert Brooks. It also features an incredible score by Bernard Herrmann, who’s given us some of the most memorable film music of all time: Citizen Kane, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Vertigo, Psycho, Fahrenheit 451 and Sisters, to name but a few. If there were a Mount Rushmore of film composers he’d be up there – and here he’s given us one of his finest works, combining the feel of late night jazz with neurotic military vamps to create a portrait of unpredictable schizophrenia. Case in point, track 1, the main title”

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and track 15, “I Work the Whole City”:

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and track 16, “Betsy in a White Dress”:

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13.) Superfly (1972) – Curtis Mayfield

Gordon Parks Jr., son of Shaft director Gordon Parks, gives us the other seminal blaxploitation film, starring Ron O’Neal, Carl Lee and Sheila Frazier. This time out our protagonist is a big pimpin’ cocaine dealer who has a change of heart and decides to make one last score before running off to start a new life – but of course the Mob has other plans for him. Funk and Soul legend Curtis Mayfield began his career as a member of The Impressions before branching out in the 1970’s with hit after hit and classic album after classic album. This album belongs in every audiophile and cinephile’s collection. In fact it’s nearly perfect – my only complaint is the line, “the oppressed seem to have suffered the most in every continent, coast to coast” at the beginning of No Thing On Me (Cocaine Song). I always cringe at the logic expressed in that line – of course the oppressed suffer – it’s what makes them oppressed. That’s like saying “the malnourished have always been the least well fed, throughout history.” Aside from that, this is a flawless outing. Here’s track 2, “Pusherman”:

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and track 6, “Eddie You Should Know Better”:

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and track 9, “Superfly”:

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12.) The Great Silence [Il Grande Silenzio] (1968) – Ennio Morricone

Admit it. You were wondering when I’d get to Morricone. Well, here he is – providing the score to Sergio Corbucci‘s unique Western, set in the snow and starring Jean-Louis Trintignant as a mute gunslinger named Silence who’s hired to exact revenge on a cruel villain named Loco, played by the one and only Klaus Kinski. Hyper-stylistic, filled with flashbacks, violence, and a bleak ending, it’s a memorable film – and a memorable soundtrack. One of the other faces on that aforementioned Mount Rushmore, Morricone’s body of work is vast, consistently outstanding, and daunting to sift through, with highlights being Navajo Joe, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, The Big Gundown, The Battle of Algiers, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Peur sur la ville [Fear Over the City], Autostop Rosso Sangue [Hitch Hike], The Mission, The Untouchables and Cinema Paradiso. You can really take your pick and find a winner. I did, and it’s The Great Silence. Here’s track 1, “Il Grande Silenzio Restless”:

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and track 2, “Passaggi Nel Tempo”:

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and track 4, “Barbara E Tagliente”:

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11.) La Ragazza Fuori Strada [Cross Country Girl] (1973) – Piero Umiliani

Luigi Scattini directs this Italian melodrama about an Italian journalist who falls in love with a beautiful black girl, and brings her home to his provincial hometown where she faces racism, hypocrisy, derision and cruelty by his family and friends. The soundtrack by Piero Umiliani is definitely the highlight – Umiliani was a jazz musician who played with Gato Barbieri for a time and also gave us the wonderful soundtracks for Il Corpo and Svezia, Inferno e Paradiso [Sweden, Heaven and Hell] – for which he created the famous Mah nà, mah nà song – seen here on target=”_blank”>The Muppet Show. Here’s the opening track, “Volto Di Donna”:

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and track 3, the beautiful “Nostalgia”:

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and track 10, “Cantata Per Maryam”:

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and track 13, “La Prima Uscita”:

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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).

And tune in next week, as we bring you the finale – the créme de la créme, the thrilling, fantastic, glorious conclusion of our countdown!

November 22, 2010   4 Comments

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