Soundtrack September Selection #5: POPEYE (1980)

This Soundtrack September selection comes from a movie that many would like to forget – even (or especially) Robin Williams for who this was his film debut:

POPEYE (1980)

In the planning stages a conventional (and more importantly commercial) comic book movie was envisioned but a few factors rendered far different results. The first was the signing of maverick Robert Altman to direct, then there’s that cantankerous cartoonist (and screenwriter of such incompatible works as LITTLE MURDERS and CARNAL KNOWLEDGE) Jules Feiffer was commissioned to write the screenplay, but the adding to the mix of Harry Nilsson to write the soundtrack has to be the oddest choice of them all.

Hardly an obvious choice to write songs for a live action family comedy, Nilsson nevertheless handed in a collection of demos that, while weird, fit Altman’s re-imagining of E.C. Segar’s salty sailor seaworld. From the opening song sung by all the townsfolk: “Sweethaven” to the character defining “I Yam What I Yam” straight through to the gruff “Kids” spoke-sung by Ray Walston (a notable non-singer in a cast of non-singers), Nilsson matches Altman’s overlapping dialogue and scewed sense of narrative with a just as scewed and overlapping soundtrack.

In 2002 one of the songs was granted new life: “He Needs Me” sung by Olive Oil (Shelly Duvall) appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. As it stands it’s the only song from the POPEYE soundtrack that is currently available on CD.

Though long out of print, the original 1980 soundtrack can be found online as can Nilsson’s deliciously demented demos. They are definitely worth hunting for, if only to hear one of the oddest collection of songs composed for a feature intended for kids.

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Soundtrack September: Scoring Paul Thomas Anderson

Fellow film blogger Scott Nye (The Rail of Tomorrow) wrote a wonderful piece for Soundtrack September entitled: “Music Is Cinema: Scoring Paul Thomas Anderson“. Here’s an excerpt:

“At first glance, music and film seem so terribly disconnected, joined together more by the convenience of having to keep an audience entertained on multiple levels than by the feeling that music and images simply belonged together (and just to get our terminology correct, a “soundtrack” for a film is ALL the sound going on in a motion picture, not just the music). Now, of course, the idea of music existing totally separate from a moving image is archaic – any major musical creation requires an accompanying video. Similarly, it’s rare to the point of nonexistent for a major motion picture to exist without music. In our modern conscience, the two are of a piece, though rarely regarded as such.

When Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood came out, a surprisingly large number of critics found fault in the overwhelming nature of Johnny Greenwood’s score. I found that it enhanced the picture tremendously, leaving us teetering on the edge of, ideally, our very sanity, certainly our hold on reality, a struggle familiar to Daniel Plainview. Its dissonance reflected and created the uncertainty and fear Anderson laid the groundwork for. More pointedly, it represented a continuing development in Anderson’s work that is often discussed film-by-film in a sort of throwaway sense (“oh, and the music’s great”), but, to my knowledge, never considered as essential to his oeuvre from Boogie Nights onward – for Anderson, music isn’t there to simply enhance or underline something created separately in the film; music is as essential to the image in the creation of cinema itself.”

Read the complete piece here at The Rail of Tomorrow.

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The Film Babble Blog Top 10 Movies Of 2007

I’ve hesitated making a list of the best of what has been an exceptionally good year because there are still many potential candidates that I haven’t seen yet – THE SAVAGES, GONE BABY GONE, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES…, PERSOPOLIS, and THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY among them. I should be able to see those all fairly soon but then, come on, there will always be 2007 films that I haven’t seen out there. So here’s my Top Ten:

1. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)

The Coen Brothers frighteningly faithful adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel is undoubtedly an immediate classic. I’ll refrain from Oscar predictions but there’s no way this goes home with nothing from the pathetic press conference that the Academy Awards ceremony is threatening to be. With incredible cinematography by Roger Deakins and great performances by Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and especially as evil incarnate – Javier Bardem. Read my original review here.

2. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

An uncharacteristic film for PTA and another based on a literary work (Upton Sinclair’s “Oil”) this is a mesmerizing masterpiece with a showstopping performance by Daniel Day Lewis as an evil Oil baron. That this and the Coen Bros. are meeting in the same desert area where both films were shot (the West Texas town of Marfa) for a Best Picture Oscar showdown makes it sadder that for this competition there may be no show. My original review here.

3. I’M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes)

It was wonderful that Cate Blanchett won a Golden Globe and got a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as Jude Quinn – one of 6 personifications of Bob Dylan (the others being Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, and Marcus Carl Franklin), because she was the one that really nailed it. Roger Ebert wrote that Julie Taymor’s Beatles musical ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was “possibly the year’s most divisive film” but I think this divided movie goers to a greater extreme. I heard some of the most angered comments I’ve ever heard about a movie in my theater’s lobby and there were many screenings that had multiple walk-outs. To me though these folk were crazy with the same moronic heckling mentality of those who booed when Bob went electric back in ’65-’66. This is a movie as far ahead of its time as its subject: the Fellini, Godard, Altman, Pekinpah, and Pennebaker visual riffing throughout will take decades to fully absorb as well the context of the classic music presented – cue “Positively 4th Street”. Read more in my original review here.

4. ZODIAC (Dir. David Fincher)

An unjustly overlooked new-fangled stylized, though with old-school ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN tactics, serial killer period piece procedural – which I know makes it sound either too scary or too boring (or both), but damnit this is a knock-out of a movie. Fincher utilizes every bit of info available about the original late 60’s to 70’s case about the Zodiac killer through his baffling coded killings to the sporadic nature of his possible identity, through the incompetent technology of the time and the mislaid evidence because of separate investigations. So fascinating, it will take a few more viewings to fully appreciate how fascinating it is – and I haven’t even seen the Director’s Cut! With passionate performances by Jake Gyllenhall, Robert Downey Jr., Chloë Sevigny and Mark Ruffalo. Read my original review here.

5. 3:10 TO YUMA (Dir. James Mangold)

In this remake of the 1957 film based on the Elmore Leonard short story set in the 1880’s, Christian Bale is a down on his luck handicapped farmer who takes on the job of transporting evil yet poetic outlaw Russell Crowe across dangerous terrain to the scheduled train of the title. An amazing sense of pacing plus the ace performances of the principals help this transcend the “revitalizing the Western” brand it’s been stupidly stamped with. A stately yet grandly entertaining movie with an extremely satisfying ending. Read my original review here.

6. AWAY FROM HER (Dir. Sarah Polly)

Julie Christie is going to be hard to beat for Best Actress this year because her portrayal of a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s is as heartbreaking as it gets. Gordon Pinsent is understated and affecting as her estranged husband – lost to her mentally and helpless as she is institutionalized. He’s sadly confined to the sidelines as she falls in love with a fellow patient played by Michael Murphy. My review (based on the DVD) is here.

7. RATATOUILLE (Dir. Brad Byrd)

Flawless animation enhanced by an ace script with embellishment by star Patton Oswalt (he voices the rat) makes this story about a Parisian rodent that happens to be a master chef as tasty a dish as one could salivate for in the proud Pixar present. My original review – of course it’s right here.


Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are brothers who plot to rob the jewelry store owned by their parents. Tragedy ensues – some hilarity too but it’s of the cringe-variety. Read my review here.

9. THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (Dir. David Silverman)

Some may think that it’s funny that in this year of worthy candidates that my choice of this big screen version of one of the 20 year old TV cartoon family’s adventures, but as Homer says “I’ll teach you to laugh at something that’s funny!” This is definitely here because of personal bias but isn’t that what these lists are all about? Original review – here.

10. MICHAEL CLAYTON (Dir. Tony Gilroy)

A surprisingly non glossy legal thriller with a downbeat but nuanced George Clooney. Didn’t really pack ’em in but got respectable business and critical notices. Despite enjoying and obviously thinking it’s one of the year’s best, I was surprised it got a Best Picture Nomination – I really thought INTO THE WILD would get it. Since this is the superior picture I’m happy to be wrong. Also nice to see Tom Wilkinson getting a nomination for his intense turn as Clooney’s deranged but righteous key witness. My review? Oh yeah, it’s here.


The ones that didn’t quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks – click on the title (except for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE which links to its IMDb entry) for my original review.

NO END IN SIGHT (Dir. Charles Ferguson)
(Dir. Edgar Wright)
(Dir. Joe Wright)
(Dir. Billy Ray)
(Dir. Julie Taymor)
(Dir. Michael Moore)
(Dir. Lasse Hallström)
(Dir. Julie Delphy)
(Dir. Ridley Scott)
(Dir. Greg Mattola)

So that’s it for now – I may revise this at some point but I’m thinking it would be better to let it stand.
This post is dedicated to Heath Ledger (April 4th, 1979 – January 22nd, 2008). He, of course, was one of the Bobs (pictured above) in my #3 Film of the year and I enjoyed his performances in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, THE BROTHERS GRIMM, and MONSTER’S BALL (those are the only ones of his I’ve seen so far). As I write this many pundits on cable are pontificating on the cause of his death exaggerating every tiny detail of what should be his private life. I prefer to just look at the work he left behind. His role as the Joker in the upcoming Batman sequel THE DARK KNIGHT is surely going to be the most anticipated role of 2008.


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There Better Be Blood!

Been waiting for this one for what feels like forever! I’m a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan – I loved HARD EIGHT(which he would prefer to be called SYDNEY), BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE and consider them masterpieces, ignoring that most critics add the word “flawed” to that accolade. The press has been tremendous (it seems to have opened everywhere but here in the last few months) but I’ve worked hard to ignore the banter and bickering from the film world blogosphere about THERE WILL BE BLOOD by not reading reviews, interviews, or articles about said film until I could see it for myself. I succeeded and feel better for it – so here’s my review:

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

The very definition of an Epic with a capital E, Paul Thomas Anderson’s long awaited loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!” is yet another 2007 release that lives up to its hype and redefines the current cinematic landscape. And when it comes to landscapes, the vistas that fill the frames of THERE WILL BE BLOOD engulf from the first shot – a Texas valley in 1898 aided by a jarring wall of cacophonous strings (courtesy of Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead) to the last shot of…oh wait no Spoliers! As oil magnate Daniel Plainview, Daniel Day Lewis owns the film – he’s in nearly every scene and though he seems to be doing an imitation of John Huston, has a sculpted manner that, as just about every critic is exclaiming, has Oscar written all over it. Plainview’s methods in the art of wheeling and dealing are mesmerizing as is his way with words (on acquisition of oil obviously) – “If you have a milkshake and I have a milkshake and I have a straw and my straw reaches across the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!”

“Greed versus religion” is what I gather was the driving issue behind Sinclair’s book (which I really should read) and it comes alive in the person of Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a young preacher whose family’s land becomes entangled in Plainview’s conquest of the “ocean of oil” that he declares is his and more importantly – nobody else’s. Dano practices a form of fire and brimstone evangelizing that Plainview, when first attending his church calls “one Goddamn Hell of a show.” Dano plays twins – which can be confusing because it is the little-seen Paul who first appears and sells out the location of oil to Plainview. Plainview has a child (Dillon Freasier) who he more or less inherited as a son from a man who died in his employment. The boy, who Plainview names H.W., loses his hearing in yet another accident and Plainview admonishes Sunday for being unable to heal him. The clashing confrontations that mount as time moves on form the final acts; I must admit that in the 3rd act I felt that Anderson loses his way a bit but regains for a severely strong finish.

The film is dedicated to Robert Altman but it seems to my eyes to be heavily Kubrick-influenced. The opening sequence, a nearly 20 minute dialogue-free long-form montage in which we see Plainview starting from scratch, digging in fresh earth and slowly building his operation, has the operatic feel and flow from 2001 while the extended real-time pacing and gorgeous studied long shots throughout remind me of the fine tempered fabric of BARRY LYNDON. But Kubrick is only one of the masters in Anderson’s mosaic; I’ve seen comparisons to the grandeur of greed in CITIZEN KANE, the location (the West Texas town of Marfa) is the same as in the classic George Stevens/James Dean classic GIANT (also NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was filmed mostly there too), and the essence of THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE* is largely felt. THERE WILL BE BLOOD, even with all those obvious inherited influences (or because of them) stands as an amazing achievement for a premiere American film maker and a film to cherish forever. This Epic-scale period movie on a less-than-Epic budget will bubble like the oil in the well before it bursts through Plainview’s derrick in cineaste’s psyches for a long time – regardless of whether or not it takes home the gold come Oscar night. One Goddamn Hell of a show indeed.

* Reportedly while making TWBB Anderson put on his copy of THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE every night as he was going to sleep. I wonder what wife Maya Rudolph (SNL) thought about that!

More later…

10 Annoying Anachronisms In Modern Movies

One of the few flaws in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN * (which if it’s not the best film of the year – it’ll do ’til the best film of the year gets here) set in 1980, is that a Carl’s Jr. restaurant with a current day sign complete with cartoon smiley face star logo can be seen in the background. Also a modern Domino’s Pizza typeface on a storefront is clearly visible even in a night scene shoot-out. These don’t truly distract from the action but they did take me out of the movie somewhat.

* Reviewed on film babble blog 11/21/07

A lot of anachronisms in the movies are pretty forgivable – a car model not in line with the period portrayed can be overlooked, much use of music is more an artistic choice than a mistake per say (except when it blares from a radio like the 1971 song “American Pie” in a scene set in 1969 in BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY), and a lot of clothing and slang can be dismissed. However there are those moments where a blatant disregard for correctness and consistency can really mar a movie. So let’s take a look at:

10 Annoying Anachronisms In Modern Movies

1. A Ms. PacMan Machine in MAN ON THE MOON (Dir. Milos Foreman, 1999) The IMDb says of this Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman misfire – “numerous anachronisms can be chalked up to artistic decisions; the film intentionally plays fast and loose with the timeline.” Well that’s fine and all but seeing a 1982 Ms. PacMan video game machine in a scene set in 1977 really took me out of the movie. I can accept the narrative decision to have the famous Carnegie Hall “milk and cookies” concert (pictured on the left) occur after Kaufman was diagnosed with cancer and presented as his big farewell but when an early 70’s scene references “President Jimmy Carter” – odd jarring misplacements like that do this formulaic biopic no favors.

2. The Lake Wissota reference in TITANIC (Dir. James Cameron, 1997) Self proclaimed “king of the world” Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) tells Rose (Kate Winslet) at their first meeting this little revealing tidbit – “once when I was a kid me and my father were ice-fishing out on Lake Wissota…” As five million websites will tell you, Lake Wissota is a man-made reservoir which wasn’t created until five years after the Titanic sank. James Cameron apparently acknowledged this goof at one point but then proclaimed himself “KING OF THE WORLD!!!” Sorry, couldn’t resist that.

3. The 70’s Hippies in 50’s Vegas in THE GODFATHER (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) Very briefly and through a window behind Michael (Al Pacino) when he and his party get out of their car at the entrance to Fredo’s (John Casale) hotel you can see a couple of young men with long hair and 70’s attire. Coppola on the DVD commentary chimes in: “this was one of those really cheap second unit shots we did…I was very embarrassed by this because of in the background you see there’s like hippie-looking guys that are not correct for period.” Well played, Coppola. You win this round.

4. Post-it notes in ALMOST FAMOUS (Dir. Cameron Crowe, 2000) Actually there is a plethora of anachronisms in this movie that takes place in the early 70’s – Chem-Lite glow sticks at concerts, albums that weren’t released yet (like the Stones’ “Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out” and Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”) given prominent screen-time in a scene set in 1969 (pictured above), and 90’s Pepsi cans abound but damnit the post-it note deal just irks me. They weren’t around until the 80’s and it just seemed too cute to have teenage Rolling Stone journalist William (Patrick Fuggit) surrounded by them in a hotel bathroom. Seems like this is pretty indicative of the liberties with his own life Crowe was talking in this semi-autobiography.

5. ANOTHER 48 HOURS Billboard in THE DOORS (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991) Since most of Stone’s movies are set in the 60’s and the 70’s I could do a whole post about the inaccurate elements and out of place objects but I’ll spare you that (for now). I’ll just say that for all the work that went into the mood and tone of the era in this bombastic biopic of rock star/poet wannabe Jim Morrison (played by Val Kilmer) the visibility of a billboard for a 1990 movie is just plain stupid. Actually truth be told most of what’s in THE DOORS, accurate or not, is just plain stupid.

6. 1965 Canadian Flag Maple Leaf Logo in the 1930’s in THE UNTOUCHABLES (Dir. Brian DePalma, 1987) As the site Whoops! Movie Goofs & Mistakes reports “The Canadians probably laughed their asses off when Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) made his first unsuccessful bust: The movie takes place in the 1930s and you can see boxes decorated with maple leaf logos. That logo was first seen 1965 when Canada introduced its flag.” Yeah, well considering the reaction to DePalma’s REDACTED these days, this 20 year old blunder should be the least of his worries.

7. A Jet Crosses The Background of CLEOPATRA (Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963) This I’ve never seen – it’s listed as a “goof” on IMDb’s entry for the film. Likewise in their entry for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS they state: “Anachronism – Moses on top of the large rock with a watch on.” Without a recent viewings of these films I can only say that these seem like an urban myths. No other source online collaborates either – in fact most sites only list that a crowd member in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS appears to be wearing a watch but this is disputed as well. I guess, in a BIG FISH kind of way, I’m siding with the myth on this one because I don’t see either making my Netflix queue anytime soon.

8. 80’s Geography imposed on 1936 Maps In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (Dir. Steven Speilberg, 1981) In a nice almost comic book touch we are shown Indiana Jones’s (Harrison Ford) plane routes with lines imposed on a screen filling map. Unfortunately it imposes the geography of the early 80’s into a 30’s world. Thailand, which was called Siam at the time, is seen as is Jordan which was known as Transjordan until 1949. There is also a globe in Indy’s classroom that depicts various countries of Africa that didn’t exist in 1936. Ah-ha! This undisputed action movie classic isn’t historically accurate! Like anyone will care though – I mean even I admit this is nit-picking. Oh yeah, according to the IMDb “in 1936, no aircraft were able to travel such distances with having to stop for refueling.” How about that nit I just picked?

9. A Rent-A-Center In BOOGIE NIGHTS (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997) Late in the film a “Rent-A-Center” is clearly visible in the background. Actually that’s a pretty minor one – the film has lots of other anachronisms that are pretty forgivable and not really annoying but I wanted a excuse to bring up the brilliant BOOGIE NIGHTS and say I’m really looking forward to nit-picking Anderson’s upcoming THERE WILL BE BLOOD for period piece mistakes so stay tuned.

10. Registered Paedophiles Weren’t Required To Notify Neighbors In 1991 in THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Dir. Joel Coen, 1997) This one kind of hurts – the law wasn’t implemented in California until 1996 so for one of the most memorable bit part roles in a Coen Bros. movie, John Turturro as Jesus Quintana was going through inaccurate actions when he went door to door informing his neighbors. I guess I can let it slide – it is one of the all time great movies. No amount of incorrect for the period cars or bowling balls can change that.

Whew! Well that’s enough nit picking for now. I know there’s a lot of annoying anachronisms I missed so you know where you can put them! In the comments below, of course.

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