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Japanese Goodness – BATTLE ROYALE

BATTLE ROYALE is Kinji Fukusaku’s final film, and a testament to his stature as one of the greatest directors of all time.

Fukasaku‘s diverse career saw him directing some amazing gangster movies (The Yakuza Papers pentalogy, Graveyard of Honor, Street Mobster) campy sci-fi MST3K fodder (The Green Slime, Message from Space), artsy dramas (Under the Flag of the Rising Sun, Black Rose Mansion) and stylish 1980’s Sword and Sorcery flicks (Samurai Reincarnation, Legend of the Eight Samurai), but this Lord of the Flies-like masterpiece might be the best of the bunch. Based on the novel by Koshun Takami, it’s the tale of a class of Japanese high-schoolers randomly selected to participate in a kill-or-be-killed, state sanctioned reality show, in which they’re dumped on an island with 3 days to kill each other using randomly distributed weapons. And though the film satisfies the visceral promise which comes with such a premise, it is also a lyrical movie about hopes, dreams, fears, and identity – with the looming violence serving to punctuate the goings-on. Every character – from the geeky math nerd muttering about getting into college while holding a crossbow on his classmates to the athletic runner who uses the game to avenge sexual innuendo to the sadistic students who have actually chosen to participate – is three dimensional and compelling, and you find yourself rooting for even the least-likable kids. Each student overflows with the promise of youth, a promise we know will be squashed, if not by the insane game they’ve found themselves playing then by the one they hope to return to – normal Japanese society. Beautifully shot, with superb acting (Takeshi Kitano especially), it’s one of those larger than life man-versus-society films, like One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Taxi Driver, Clockwork Orange and Cool Hand Luke – in other words, it’s a freakin’ classic, and the fact it was never released in North America is nothing less than a travesty.

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December 14, 2010   No Comments

SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 4 (of 15)

120.) King Kong (1933) - Max Steiner

Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s King Kong was revolutionary in many ways, not the least of them its use of music. Rather than “underscore” the action, the filmmakers used it to add tension and atmosphere. To do this they enlisted Max Steiner, who would go on to compose the scores for Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, and The Searchers, among others. Along with Erich Von Korngold and a handful of others, Steiner would emerge as one of the most important figures of film composition from the Golden-era of Hollywood. For more on the subject, look Here. Here’s track 5, “Entrance of Kong”:

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119.) The Collector (1965) - Maurice Jarre

Based on a novel by author John Fowler and directed by William Wyler, The Collector stars Terence Stamp as an introverted butterfly collector who begins to collect human specimens, namely beautiful young women. This is my favorite score by Maurice Jarre, who won Oscars for Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, and also scored the fantastic The Professionals.

Here’s track 3, “Trapped”:

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118.) Die Faust in der Tasche [Fist in the Pocket] (1978) - Satin Whale

Never seen it this German take on the “Angry Young Man” films of the 70’s, directed by Max Willutzki, but the soundtrack is awesome, composed by a Krautrock band. Check out their first album, 1974’s Desert Places, as well. Here’s track 4, the flute-rock classic “Archie’s Flucht”:

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and track 6, “Blutspende”:

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and track 10, “Kampf in der Lackiererei”:

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117.) Memories of Murder [Salinui Chueok] (2003) - Taro Iwashiro

Director Joon-ho Bong is a master of dark comedy, and while I’ve seen The Host (which has a great score as well) and Barking Dogs Never Bite, I missed this film based on a notorious real-life unsolved murder. The score is full of Didgeridoos, ambient electronics, sweeping violins, and altogether haunting melodies. Iwashiro also scored the videogame soundtracks to Onimusha 2.

Here’s track 3, “Face”:

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and track 16, “On The Other Side Of The Hill”:

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and track 22, “White Face”:

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116.) Enter the Dragon (1973) - Lalo Schifrin

The ever-swanky Lalo Schifrin brings us the soundtrack to the great Bruce Lee movie directed by Robert Clouse, full of battle cries, driving bass-lines, and funky wah-wah pedals. Schifrin also scored Cool Hand Luke, The President’s Analyst, Dirty Harry, and Jackie Chan’s first attempt at crossing-over to American audiences, Battle Creek Brawl – as well as his later Rush Hour series.

Here’s the main title:

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And here’s an Asian influenced track called “The Banquet”:

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115.) Kûki Ningyô [Air Doll] (2009) - World’s End Girlfriend

Here’s a Japanese movie about a blow-up doll that comes to life, directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. The soundtrack is beautiful, played fairly straight by the fantastic electronica/post-rock/freak-folk band, World’s End Girlfriend, whose 2007 album, target=”_blank”>Hurtbreak Wonderland, is another must-own. Here’s track 7, which has a definite Erik Satie feel to it:

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114.) In the Heat of the Night (1967) – Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones is responsible for many excellent film & TV soundtracks, including a theme for target=”_blank”>Ironside recycled by not only the Shaw Bros. in 1972’s target=”_blank”>Five Fingers of Death but also re-recycled by Quentin Tarantino in target=”_blank”>Kill Bill. Though it’s hard to pick between The Pawnbroker, In Cold Blood, The Italian Job and Dollar$, this Norman Jewison classic starring Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, and Warren Oates gets the nod – in large part thanks to noted musicians Glen Campbell on banjo, Billy Preston on organ, Ray Brown on bass, and the great Rahsaan Roland Kirk on flute. Here’s the title song featuring Ray Charles:

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and track 2, “Peep-Freak Patrol Car” featuring Rahsaan Roland Kirk:

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113.) Samurai Fiction (1998) – Tomoyasu Hotei

Like Hiroyuki Nakano’s film, which re-envisions feudal Japan according to current sensibilities, the soundtrack also takes the ancient and the new to create an enchanting fusion. Japanese Guitar God Tomoyasu Hotei not only composed the soundtrack but also starred as Rannosuke Kazamatsuri. Here’s track 1, “Transnational Spirit”:

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and the main theme, where you might learn something about Budo and Ronin:

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and an accordion-driven theme:

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112.) Caramel (2007) – Khaled Mouzanar

Director Nadine Labaki also stars in this ensemble love story about six women seeking love & marriage in a Beirut hair-salon. The soundtrack features fantastic work by Khaled Mouzanar. Here’s track 10, “Zaghloul El Hamam”:

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111.) Histoire d’O [The Story of O] (1975) – Pierre Bachelet

Another in a long line of sleazy movies with amazing soundtracks, as director Just Jaeckin’s adaptation of Pauline Réage’s novel stars knockout Corrine Clery as a photographer whose boyfriend (the creepy Udo Kier) dishes out physical and sexual abuse in a storyline which transports De Sade to the world of soft porn (the two always manage to go hand in hand). Bachelet also scored another notorious Just Jaeckin (seriously? that’s a name?) soft core film, 1984’s Gwendoline.

Here’s track 1, “Histoire d’O”:

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and track 2, “O’ Et La Rencontre”:

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40 down, 110 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!

September 13, 2010   1 Comment

Raanan vs the CLASSICS (pt. 5 of 6) – THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is #2 among popular movies with positive messages that my irascible cousin can’t stand.

Boy oh boy do people love this 1994 prison melodrama, painted in wide, broad strokes for the thinking impaired. “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.” What a tagline! But they left out the rest… “Being free can lead to happiness. Happiness will make you vulnerable. Vulnerability will make you frightened. Fear then will hold you prisoner again. So you can do more coke. So you can work harder.” And who could criticize that iconic image, of Sir Tim Robbins (is he a sir yet?) opening himself up to a torrential downpour, embracing life for all its – wetness? Raanan can. He’s really gonna get it this time – he’s tussling with hope.

“Overrated Movie #2- THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

The Shawshank Redemption fits firmly into that tradition of movies that use a corrupt institution as the setting for an overt Christian allegory; others include Cool Hand Luke, One Flew Over A Cuckoo’s Nest, and whatever movie’s playing over and over in Mel Gibson’s head about his life in Hollywood. One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest is the best of the bunch, mainly because director Milos Forman wisely evades the heavy-handedness of Ken Kesey‘s novel and focuses instead on amping up the fun and mischief. McMurphy might die a carpenter’s death, but it’s for Earthly pleasures; the liberation of the libido from religious and societal guilt. Frank Darabont‘s Shawshank Redemption, on the other hand, is about as self-important and austere as the original story in the Bible. This is not to say Darabont is a Christian writer, just that he sticks so close to the ascetic tone of the New Testament that it makes you wonder why he’s even updating it in the first place. Where McMurphy slowly grew into the Savior’s shoes, Tim Robbin’s Andy Dufresne walks into Shawshank a saint from the word go. He’s a symbol and nothing else, so how are we expected to identify with him? And the narrative, based on Stephen King short story, isn’t exactly subtle either – for instance, to safeguard against the possibility of the film’s message slipping past the audience, Darabont makes sure to have the word “Hope” repeated around five hundred billion times. And if people are still confused as to what Darabont is trying to say, near the end he has Andy write in a letter to Red, “Remember…hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.” And if, at this point, people are still having difficulty wrapping their heads around the movie’s intricate theme, the very last lines are: “I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams…I hope.” But the reason people love Shawshank is not due to its radical new philosophy about always looking on the bright side of life (Andy might as well have preached the vital necessity of breathing, since hope comes just as naturally to people). The reason people are so quick to get behind Shawshank is because it has the easiest-to-love of all premises: the wrongly accused man. It’s a comforting fantasy, allowing us to forget that so many hardships in life are actually brought on by our own personal shortcomings. It’s nice to see a movie about an innocent man- it helps us confirm our own convenient illusion that the problems in our lives are not the result of our character flaws, but the Universe being out to get us. Shawshank goes down easy because there is no moral shading; Andy is a Saint personified, and Morgan Freeman‘s Red is right up there with him (the eternity he’s spent in prison has scrubbed away any trace of the murderous kid he once was). If the challenge of movies is to empathize with deeply flawed people, then this movie is the bumper-bowling of art- it’s no challenge being moved at the end, because it’s all been carefully designed to do just that.

And for the most overrated movie of all time…”

You’ll have to wait ’til tomorrow to find out! Any guesses? I bet it’s something heartwarming! And by the way – did anyone else notice Carter Burwell’s Miller’s Crossing theme appropriated by The Shawshank Redemption trailer? Isn’t that ironic? One of the most morally complicated movies of all time, ripped off by one of the least! And speaking of movie scores – be looking out for our upcoming 15 part analysis of THE 150 GREATEST ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKS OF ALL TIME!!! whoops – my caps lock got stuck again.

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August 18, 2010   No Comments

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