ENTER THE VOID Now Streaming On Netflix Instant

Now available on Blu ray, DVD, and Netflix Instant:

ENTER THE VOID (Dir. Gaspar Noé, 2009)

After beautifully bombastic credits, which Quentin Tarantino called “Maybe best credit scene of the decade…one of the greatest in cinema history”, we see Toyko through the eyes of Nathaniel Brown, a young American drug dealer.

The camera acts as his vision, we only see Brown’s face when he looks in the mirror.

Brown smokes a few hits of dimethyltryptamine, aka DMT, and his mind goes on a surreal CGI journey resembling the “Beyond the Infinite” climax of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or the wormhole from STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE.

A friend (Cyril Roy) comes by Brown’s apartment and accompanies him through the neon drenched streets to a club called “The Void” in order to do a drug deal.

Roy speaks of “The Tibetan Book Of The Dead”, a book he lent to Brown, explaining how one’s spirit sticks around for a while after death before it is re-incarnated.

When the drug deal at the club goes horribly wrong, Brown is shot by police in the restroom and his spirit does just that – it hovers above watching the people he knew and flashes back to the major events of his life.

He watches his erotic dancer sister (Paz de la Huerta) as she reacts to news of her brother, and we learn of their shared childhood past – most traumatically the violent automobile death of their parents they witnessed from the back seat of the car.

We follow Brown, point of view-wise, through these tangents over and over and it’s an engrossing yet at times highly disturbing experience.

It can be frustrating too – I loved it at first, feeling like I was inside something instead of just the normal sensation of watching a movie, then I hated it for a bit wishing Brown’s spirit didn’t linger so long when watching his sister have sex with her seedy nightclub owner boss (Masato Tanno).

But, hey, in the afterlife what else are you going to do?

I ended up loving it again as it wound its strands into a jarring conclusion.

There’s a WAKING LIFE-like philosophical nature to its flow of imagery, and a raw energy to the aftermath our decased protagonist watches that took me in and, well, kind of freaked me out.

With it’s 2 hour and 23 minute running time, ENTER THE VOID is too long (there’s an extended “Director’s Cut” on Blu ray and DVD if one doesn’t agree with that), but it’s a vivid, overwhelming, and incredibly crafted work.

Director Noé, whose stunning yet also disturbing IRREVERSIBLE blindsided critics back in 2002, is developing a visionary style that can take film goers on an unforgettable ride – though one that may test their patience.

Curious movie lovers looking to venture away from the mainstream into uncertain waters should take him up on this particular challenge.

More later…

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Blu Ray Review: MYSTERY TRAIN (1989)

MYSTERY TRAIN (Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 1989)

There are several notable elements that Quentin Tarantino took to the bank a few years later heavily on display in Jim Jarmusch’s 3rd feature film “Mystery Train” – now out on a special edition DVD / Blu ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

First off there’s the non linear storyline that gives us three different scenarios that happen at the same time from different perspectives.

Second there’s the hipster soundtrack that posits Elvis Presley (of course, it being a Memphis movie), Otis Redding, and the Bar-Kays to decorate the film’s scrappy edges.

Third, there’s an ultra hip disc jockey who is heard throughout the movie (think: Steven Wright in “Reservoir Dogs”) spinning that cool soundtrack – Jarmusch regular Tom Waits does the duty here.

Fourth, there’s Steve Buscemi.

“Mystery Train” is an independent gem that was for a long time endangered to be a forgotten film. This spiffy new Criterion Collection edition not only saves it from that fate; it presents it as the classic that anybody who saw it in the last 20 years knew it was all along.


It’s a movie in which the locale is as much a character as any of its cast. Memphis comes off as a ghost town with dilapidated buildings, dive bars, and a very decrepit hotel – the Arcade Hotel which was raized the year after the film finished shooting.

All 3 separate storylines, the names of which are “Far From Yokohama”, “A Ghost”, and “Lost In Space”, take place on the same hot night in Memphis, Tennessee.

In the first story, Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase play a young couple on somewhat of a religious pilgrimage – they want to visit the old stomping grounds of the King of Rock and Roll and his minions. Their tour of Sun studios tasks them and they constantly bicker about who’s better: Carl Perkins or Elvis Presley.

The next narrative involves Nicoletta Brasch as a recent widow stranded in Memphis while escorting her husband’s coffin back to Italy. At a diner she listens to a creepy Tom Noonan telling a story about the ghost of Elvis and later with Elizabeth Bracco as a woman fleeing an abusive ex she re-tells the story.

Bracco reacts harshly: “Is this the one where the guy has to go to Graceland and it turns out to be Elvis? I think I’ve heard this a hundred times. I think almost everybody in Memphis has picked up Elvis’s ghost hitchhiking.”


In the third storyline, Steve Buscemi, Joe Strummer (of the Clash), and Rick Aviles navigate through a drunken criminal night ending up at the same hotel as the previous protagonists. The ghost of Elvis lingers as Strummer is referred to as “Elvis” much to his chagrin: “Don’t call me Elvis! If you can’t use my proper name, why don’t you try ‘Carl Perkins, Jr.’ or something?”

The details concerning a gunshot that is heard in the preceding stories are made clear in the final story and with it the arc is complete. As the night clerk and bellboy of the Arcade Hotel, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Cinqué Lee are the most consistent characters in the movie – they encounter all the movie’s players in all 3 scenarios and handle them with memorable flair.

“Mystery Train” concerns the intertwining stories of foreigners in a quintessential American city. Like in many of his other films Jarmusch comes off like an American film maker who makes foreign films about America. In my humble opinion this is his best.

Bonus features or as Criterion calls them – Supplements: A rambling but highly amusing Q & A with Jarmusch in lieu of a commentary (his words there not mine) and a couple of cool featurettes including a documentary on the film’s locations and Memphis’s musical history and on-set photos by Masayoshi Sukita.

There’s also an excerpt (19 min.) of a 2001 documentary on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins entitled “I Put a Spell on Me”. All excellent extras on an essential indie could be classic.

More later…

Hey Kids – Funtime Oscar Picks 2010!

This is an incredibly obvious statement, but when it comes to Oscar predictions there are 2 paths to take – what one thinks will win and what one wants to win. Sometimes a gut feeling is difficult to differentiate from a personal preference so on a few I’ve decided to denote the ones I’m the most up in the air about (no BEST PICTURE pun there – really).

1. BEST PICTURE:

THE HURT LOCKER

My gut has been sayng, no, shouting AVATAR, but I just have to go with my personal preference *. Many critics have been saying that it’s a coin toss between the 2, while others say that the vote will be split and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS will pull a SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and shock everybody with its dark horse win. Despite recent controversy, I intensely hope the modestly budgeted, little seen THE HURT LOCKER gets the gold Sunday night.

* Of those 2 front contenders that is – my favorite film of the year – A SERIOUS MAN – was nominated, but in this particular race it’s by far a long shot.

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow – Roger Ebert said of Bigelow on Oprah Tuesday: “If you vote against her , you’ll be going against years of precedent that say the winner of the Director’s Guild Award will win the Oscar.” So there’s that, but since even her ex-husband James Cameron thinks she should win she really is a shoo-in.

3. BEST ACTOR: Jeff Bridges

Everybody I see online seem to be calling it for Bridges – consider me among them. It would be so nice for the 5 time nominee to abide this time.

4. BEST ACTRESS: Sandra BullockTHE BLIND SIDE was the only one of the 10 BEST PICTURE nominees that I didn’t see so I admit I’m jumping on the bandwagon here of all the folks who say its Bullock’s year. It does really feel like she’s got the momentum and support so like Bridges it’ll really be surprising if she doesn’t get it.

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz

A personal preference AND a gut feeling. Although he had relatively little screen time, Waltz’s cold blooded yet sophisticated Nazi was as cutting and memorable as a supporting part can possibly be.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Mo’Nique – Walking out of PRECIOUS last year, my first thought was that Mo’Nique was definitely going to get an Oscar. That thought has never waivered.

And the rest:


7. ART DIRECTION: SHERLOCK HOLMES
8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: AVATAR
9. COSTUME DESIGN: COCO BEFORE CHANEL

10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: THE COVE

11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT: CHINA’S UNNATURAL DISASTER: THE TEARS OF SICHUAN PROVINCE

12. FILM EDITING: THE HURT LOCKER
13. MAKEUP: THE YOUNG VICTORIA
14. VISUAL EFFECTS:
AVATAR

15. ORIGINAL SCORE: UP

16. ORIGINAL SONG: “The Weary Kind” from CRAZY HEART

17. ANIMATED SHORT: WALLACE AND GROMIT INA MATTER OF LOAF AND DEATH’


It would be easy to just go with Wallace and Gromit sight unseen, but after viewing all the animated shorts last night at the Carolina Theater in Durham it’s impossible to deny that it’s infinitely the most superior offering. LOGORAMA is kinda cool too though.


18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: THE NEW TENANTSMy gut feeling is the Cheronobyl tragedy THE DOOR, but I’m pulling for the dark comic THE NEW TENANTS. It has a great absurd edge to it and great turns by its spare cast including David Rakoff, Jamie Harrold, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Kevin Corrigan.


19. SOUND EDITING: STAR TREK

20. SOUND MIXING: AVATAR

21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS by Quentin Tarantino

22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: UP IN THE AIR by Jason Reitman

23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: UP

24. BEST FOREIGN FILM: THE WHITE RIBBON


By the way, I don’t consider myself any kind of expert – I’m just a guy who loves movies and loves to write about them. My biggest prediction this year is that I’m going to get more wrong than usual. Tune in Monday to find out how many.

More later…

SHUTTER ISLAND: The Film Babble Blog Review

SHUTTER ISLAND
(Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2010)

“You act like insanity is catching”, federal Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) quips to the Deputy Warden (John Carroll Lynch) while being shown the grounds of Shutter Island, the contained electronically secure mental hospital for the criminally insane. It’s a welcome one-liner as the introductory build-up to DiCaprio and his new partner Mark Ruffalo’s entry is one of the most overwrought openers in Martin Scorsese’s career. The score pounds in an over the top progression of fearful crescendos as the men enter the complex.

Once the uber-melodramatic music eases off we are led inside to meet and greet Dr. Cawley (the always ominous Ben Kingsley) and the premise: a female patient has gone missing and the facility is on lock-down. Kingsley cryptically explains: “We don’t know how she got out of her room. It’s as if she evaporated, straight through the walls.”


With a stern look that keeps his worry brow constantly a-worryin’, DiCaprio, still using his Boston accent from THE DEPARTED, has another agenda. 2 years ago his wife (Michelle Williams) died in a house fire and he believes the pyro-culprit is a patient hidden somewhere at the hospital. A World War II vet (the year is 1954), DiCaprio is also full of conspiracy theories about secret experiments and mind torture going down at the hospital – the presence of a German doctor played by Max von Sydow particularly sets him off – as hallucinatory visions of his wife and the horrors he experienced at war haunt him around the clock.

Based on Dennis Lahane’s bestselling 2003 novel, SHUTTER ISLAND has a supremely effective first half. The second half falters because I believe many folks will see the end coming from miles away – I actually had an inkling of the conclusion when seeing the trailer months ago. The reveal is wrapped in exposition and once DiCaprio and the audience figures it all out, the film lingers too long.

However this doesn’t completely ruin the movie. The dream/flashback/whatever sequences are beautifully shot recalling David Lynch’s surreal palette. DiCaprio’s visions always have something falling and floating in the air around him. File papers, snow, and ashes fill the screen along with DiCaprio’s angst.

It’s not the best film that DiCaprio and Scorsese have made together in their decade long collaboration (that would be THE DEPARTED), but it has a lot of strong searing imagery going for it, even if the narrative isn’t as layered as it would like to be.

Acting-wise, it’s Leo’s show. Despite the solid supporting cast (including Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Hayley, and Ted Levine), Dicaprio carries the movie spending considerable chunks of the film alone with his demons. By this point, his 4th film under Scorsese’s direction, he’s not just an actor going through the motions; he’s an embedded yet impassioned piece of the scenery. By comparison Ruffalo comes off like he’s playing a gumshoe in a Saturday Night Live sketch.

So it’s half a great movie – half is an absorbingly creepy character study, half a formula thriller frightening close to well trodden M. Night Shyamalan territory. But half a great Scorsese movie is still a vital movie-going experience, you understand?

When speaking of Scorsese in an interview a few years ago, Quentin Tarantino said: “I’m in my church, praying to my god and he’s in his church, praying to his. There was a time when we were in the same church – I miss that. I don’t want to do that church.” In one of SHUTTER ISLAND‘s most powerful shots, Scorsese mounts a DiCaprio Dachau death camp recollection that blows everything in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS away. Sorry Quentin, but Marty’s is the church I want to attend.

More later…

The Film Babble Blog Top Ten Movies Of 2009

All this last month readers have been asking me for my top 10 movies of 2009. I’ve mentioned before that some major prestige films don’t get to my area until late January or early February or later, and that’s not considering many Foreign films that aren’t released in these parts until months after the Oscars so it’s usually a month or so into the year before I post my picks. So since there’s no way I’m going to catch up anytime soon and because tomorrow the Academy Award nominations are going to be announced, now is as good a time as any for my list for what I think was a great and diverse year for film:

1. A SERIOUS MAN (Dirs. Joen & Ethan Coen)

“The greatest films are the ones that leave you not able to explain, but you know that you have experienced something special. I’ve always had this feeling that the perfect response to a film or a piece of work of mine would be if someone got up and said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but it’s right.’ That’s the feeling you want – ‘That’s right’ – and it comes from four or five layers down, it comes from the inside rather than from the outside.”
– Robert Altman

I’ve been plowing through the new book: “Robert Altman: The Oral Biography” since I got it for Christmas and I was struck by the quote above. It made me think of A SERIOUS MAN, though the latest Coen Brothers cinematic conundrum is anything but Altman-esque. With Michael Stuhlburg leading an equally unknown cast into the academic abyss of late 60’s suburban Minneapolis, it’s the Brothers’ most personal work to date. Whether it’s a post modern riff on the story of Job or a series of nonsensical jabs at everybody’s existential expense, it’s a perplexingly pleasing parable. Read my original review here.

2. UP (Dir. Pete Docter)

Last year the same #2 position on this list was held by a Pixar film (WALL-E) so I was tempted to go in another direction here. But, that would’ve been wrong because UP honestly deserves this space. The first 10 minutes alone deserve this space. This wonderful tale of Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) – a crotchety old widower who attaches thousands of balloons to his house in order to fly it to Paradise Falls in South Africa is a rambunctiously inventive and funny flight. And if you don’t cry at that sweeping opening montage, either you have a heart of stone or you’re Armond White. Read my original review here.

3. THE HURT LOCKER (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

Every explosion has an emotional impact in this gripping war drama featuring Jeremy Renner as a bomb defusing expert who’d rather risk his life in Iraq than be home with his wife. Read my original review here.

4. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

This indulgent alternate history World War II film is possibly over-stuffed with story strands but as I said in my original review: “the pulse and tone of Tarantino’s best work is intact.” Read the rest of that review here.

5. BLACK DYNAMITE (Dir. Scott Sanders)

Though it was little seen, this is hands down the funniest film of 2009. Forget THE HANGOVER, this blaxploitation homage/satire/greatest hits has more laughs per minute and is sure to be one Helluva a future cult classic. Read more here.


6.
THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Dir. Wes Anderson)



Wes Anderson’s stylistic whimsy works wonders in this friendly, fuzzy, and ferociously witty film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book. So does George Clooney’s charm which I enjoyed more here than in a certain air-born live action film that is sure to get more acclaim awards wise. Read my original review of THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX.

7. BRIGHT STAR (Dir. Jane Campion) An unfortunately overlooked period piece centering on poet John Keats’ (Ben Whishaw) doomed courtship of Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). A beautifully moving work with first rate performances including a scene stealing Paul Schneider as Keats’ writing partner Charles Armitage Brown. With hope the Academy will take notice. Read my original review here.

8. DISTRICT 9 (Dir. Neill Blomkamp) Without a doubt the most frighteningly original (and strikingly satirical) work of science fiction of the year. A misadventure in alien apartheid leaves a wet behind the ears field operative (Sharlto Copley) with his arm mutated to that of a “prawn” and he…oh, just go watch it. Read my original ravings here.

9. ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL! (Dir. Sacha Gervasi)

This documentary about a Spinal Tap-ish band of aging Canadian heavy metal rockers may have you snickering at first but before you know it they win your heart over with their “never say die” determination. As I said in my original review: “Metal heads and casual movie-goers alike (which means just about everybody) ought to dig it.”

10. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS (Dir. Werner Herzog) Speaking of “never say die”, Nicholas Cage re-ignites the crazy edge of his persona in this twisted and surrealistic corrupt cop crime caper while he re-ignites his “lucky crack pipe” yelling “I’ll kill all of you…to the break of dawn! To the break of dawn baby!” Read about more craziness and how this does and doesn’t relate to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 BAD LIEUTENANT here.

Spillover:


The ones that didn’t quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks – click on the title for my original review.

STAR TREK (Dir. J.J. Abrams)

THE INFORMANT! (Dir. Steven Soderbergh)


ZOMBIELAND (Dir. Ruben Fleisher)


THE ROAD (Dir. John Hillcoat)

IN THE LOOP (Dir. Armando Iannucci)


A SINGLE MAN (Dir. Tom Ford)


WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Dir. Spike Jonze)


AN EDUCATION (Dir. Lone Scherfig)

AWAY WE GO (Dir. Sam Mendes)

OBSERVE AND REPORT (Dir. Jody Hill)


BIG FAN (Dir. Robert Siegel)

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER (Dir. Marc Webb)

MOON (Dir. Duncan Jones)


ABEL RAISES CAIN (Dirs. Jenny Abel & Jeff Hocket)


TWO LOVERS (Dir. James Gray)

I didn’t write reviews of these but they are also strongly recommended:


SUMMER HOURS (Dir. Olivier Assayas)


GOODBYE SOLO (Dir. Ramin Bahrani)

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (Dir. Bobcat Goldthwait) Yep, that’s right.


More later…

Soundtrack September: Heavenly Movie Soundtracks & More

We’re coming to the home stretch of Soundtrack September but don’t worry there’s still plenty left!


The Reverend Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade, contributed a wonderful piece entitled “Heavenly Movie Soundtracks”. Here’s an excerpt with a link to the full article:

While the first soundtrack recording I recall buying was the inescapable STAR WARS by modern movie music maestro John Williams, it was Williams’ follow-up score for SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE that really struck a chord (no pun intended) with me. I will never forget the dramatic impact Superman’s main title march had on me, accompanied as it was by the film’s literally soaring opening credits. Williams brilliantly utilized a variety of styles to underscore the superhero’s story, from his origin on the doomed planet Krypton to his climactic showdown with arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. The score also includes the song “Can You Read My Mind?”, although it is performed in the film by Margot Kidder as more of a spoken word recitation, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.

The SUPERMAN score was nominated for a 1978 Academy Award but lost to Giorgio Moroder’s innovative electronic score for MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. Moroder would go on to score a number of successful 80’s movies, including FLASHDANCE. In my opinion, however, Moroder’s best work is his alternately lyrical, intense and sexy score for the 1982 remake of the horror classic CAT PEOPLE. David Bowie co-wrote and performed the film’s title song, which was recently resurrected to awesome effect in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.”

Read the rest of Reverend’s Reviews: Heavenly Movie Soundtracks at Movie Dearest.

Next up, Fletch from the brilliant Blog Cabins, billed as: “Movie reviews and commentary made fun”, pointed out a piece he wrote last year about his 5 favorite soundtracks and here are a few of his choices and a link to the rest:

PULP FICTION (1994) People give a ton of credit to Quentin Tarantino for kick-starting or re-starting careers, but they’re usually talking about actors. However, the man has probably been a bigger force (dollar-wise) when it comes to rejuvenating the careers of soul, R & B, pop and surf musicians from the 60s and 70s. His breakout film featured songs from artists as diverse as Dick Dale, Al Green and Urge Overkill, no doubt selling millions of albums for them in addition to the sales of this film’s soundtrack.

Favorite Track: “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” by Urge Overkill.

RUSHMORE (1998) If any director has rivaled Tarantino in terms of quality and diverseness when it comes to his films’ soundtracks, it’s Wes Anderson. This one is all over the place, with great tracks from classic rock starts like John Lennon and The Who to folk star Cat Stevens to jazz to Mark Mothersbaugh’s brilliant scored tracks. Brilliant all around.

Favorite Track: “A Quick One While He’s Away” by The Who.

Read the rest of Fletch’s Favored Five: Movies Worth Listening To at Blog Cabins.

More later

10 Movie Soundtracks That Think Outside Of The Box Office

Welcome to Soundtrack September! All month long, with the help of some special guest bloggers and readers, I’m going to be celebrating the world of original motion picture soundtrack recordings. There will still be the usual array of reviews of current movies and other whatnot but they will be surrounded by soundtrack centered posts.


I’m kicking off Soundtrack September with this list of soundtracks that weren’t content to just be simple collections of score selections or pop song tracks. They featured dialogue excerpts as tracks – sometimes full chucks of audio from the composite track of the film instead of the standard isolated music track. Often these albums contain material that’s not in the movie they represent – different versions of songs, cut lines from post production, and new voice-overs. In their reshaping of the movie material they became works of art in their own right. Here are my 10 favorites from the many soundtracks out there that think outside the box office:


1. THE MONKEES: HEAD (Colgems Records 1968/Rhino 1994) The Monkees only theatrical release was a critical and commercial flop on original release but it’s picked up a well deserved cult following over the years in no small thanks to its psychedelic soundtrack. It’s a merry mishmash in which 7 songs (including “The Porpoise Song”, “As We Go Along”, and “Can You Dig It”) emerge out of the chaos of sound effects, repeated out-of-context lines (as if there’s a context in the film) and assorted trippy effects reportedly under the influence of Frank Zappa (who has a cameo in the movie and the album). The original album did not feature Mike Nesmith’s “Circle Sky” performed live in the film – it substituted an inferior studio take of the song. Happily, a 90’s Rhino re-release restored the ferocious live version as well as a nice handful of bonus tracks (including a cool radio spot).


The icing on the cake? The Original Album Coordinator who did the bulk of the vigorous editing on this project: Jack Nicholson (co-screenwriter and producer of HEAD seen above with the Monkees).



2. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE MOVIE ON RECORD (Columbia Records, 1981)


In the late ’70s and early ’80s a lot of “story of” albums were produced of the STAR WARS films, Disney features, Muppet movies, etc. that feature audio excerpts with a ’40s style narrator guiding listeners through. For the first Indiana Jones adventure a soundtrack was released separate from the one of the score by composer John Williams. Billed “The Movie On Record”, it was an album of “Actual Dialogue, Music, and Sound Effects” but most importantly – no narration. 4 time Academy Award winner Sound Designer Ben Burtt (creator of the voice of WALL-E among other iconic work) admitted in an interview that much of this album was made from little of the original soundtrack; he recorded new effects and recreated the dialogue with the film’s cast as voice actors much like old radio shows. The album won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word LP in 1982.


3. THE ALBUM OF THE SOUNDTRACK OF THE TRAILER OF THE FILM OF MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Arista, 1975) This is only a soundtrack in the loosest sense – approximately 40% of it is movie material; the other 60% has the Pythons bogusly broadcasting from a fictional theater (The Classic Silbury Hill) for the “premiere” of the film. John Cleese plays a reporter who talks over the opening scene with patrons telling him to shut up, the production is halted while the projectionist fights a grizzly bear for the next reel, an announcer (Graham Chapman) repeatedly tells us that this is the “Executive Version” of the record, and so on. The records of the Monty Python films that followedLIFE OF BRIAN and THE MEANING OF LIFE had a bit of this embellishing but not with the whole team and to the extreme of this supremely silly yet essential soundtrack.


4. APOCALYPSE NOW (Warner Brothers, 1979) This soundtrack is pretty much the full composite track of the motion picture spread over 2 records. It’s a trippy absorbing listen that’s worth seeking out. The soundtrack for the REDUX version (2001) removes the dialogue bits and presents composer Carmine Coppola’s score, along with The Doors “The End” and Flash Cadillac’s “Suzy Q”, but I prefer the original recording. It reminds me of the days before home video when a soundtrack was all one had to invoke the mood of one’s favorite movie. Removed from the imagery, Martin Sheen’s voice over narration works just as well on record as it does in the film, the jungle sounds surround the listener, and Marlon Brando’s haunting “the horror…the horror” evocation echo in the psyche. Or maybe that’s the Thai sticks talking…


5. NATURAL BORN KILLERS: A SOUNDTRACK FOR AN OLIVER STONE FILM (Interscope Records 1994)


“I suggested to Oliver (Stone) to try to turn the soundtrack into a collage-of-sound, kind of the way the movie used music: make edits, add dialogue, and make it something interesting, rather than a bunch of previously released music.”

– Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor in an interview with MTV.


As producer/compiler Reznor provides another absorbing listen and one that introduced many to Leonard Cohen via 2 stellar songs off of his 1992 album “The Future”. My only complaint is Reznor mixing a bit of Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis dialogue on top of Bob Dylan’s cover of the ’50s standard “You Belong To Me”. Such a thing just should not be done.

6. THE ADVENTURES OF BOB & DOUG McKENZIE IN STRANGE BREW (Polygram Records, 1983) The album cover denotes “Excerpts From The Original Sountrack” so much like the MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL album this functions as a comedy record in its own right. The success of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’s “Great White North” record paved the way for the SCTV characters of Canadian descent to enter the world of movies, so it’s kind of funny to have Moranis stress more than once that this that this is not their second album – it’s the soundtrack album. Funny because they never made another album and with all the additional material here they might as well consider it their second album. As a comedy record it’s a good one – some bits from the movie work better disembodied from the visuals and the track “Shakespeare Horked Our Script” amusingly calls attention to the fact they stole the basic narrative from “Hamlet”. It’s never been released officially on CD but like much on this list it can be found on the internets.

7. PULP FICTION (MCA Records, 1994)


From RESERVOIR DOGS to DEATH PROOF, Tarantino’s soundtracks have featured dialogue tracks (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is the first that doesn’t) but PULP FICTION is by far the most popular – it seems everyone I knew had this in their CD collection in the ’90s. It’s a hip movie mix; tracks by Urge Overkill, Dusty Springfield, and Kool & The Gang rub shoulders with John Travolta’s “Royale with cheese” bit, Bruce Willis’s immortal “Zed’s dead, baby”, and Samuel L. Jackson’s “Ezekiel 25:17”. 15 years after the movie, these tracks are still effective – program them into an iPod shuffle and see for yourself.


8. GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (A & M Records, 1988) Sure, the comedy of Robin Williams is far from hip these days but back in the day (the late ’80s) his routines were quoted ad nauseum. The rapid fire lines from his starring turn in Barry Levinson’s Vietnam-set dramedy were no exception. The dominance of James Brown’s “I Feel Good (I Got You)” in family feel-good comedies (or at least their trailers) can be traced to this film but don’t hold that against it. Era songs by Louis Armstrong, The Marvelettes, and the Beach Boys make up the playlist of Williams as Armed Forces Radio Services DJ Adrian Cronauer. Incidentally the weekly NPR program “Sound Opinions” uses the sound bite of Williams’ “This is not a test, this is rock ‘n roll!” in their opening to this day.

9. UHF: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK AND OTHER STUFF (Warner Brothers, 1989) Nobody would expect a soundtrack from a Weird Al Yankovic movie (his only movie) to play by soundtrack rules and this hodgepodge sure doesn’t. It makes this list because of tracks directly from the film like the commercial parody “Spatula City” and the phony trailer for “Gandhi II” which make great compilation fillers or fodder for college DJs. However the non movie related tracks like a spoof of R.E.M.’s “Stand” called “Spam” and “Generic Blues” are just throw-away Weird Al but they still don’t disqualify it.

10. BONNIE AND CLYDE (Collector’s Choice, 2009) Though it’s not the first soundtrack album to feature dialogue – that would be THE GREAT ESCAPEBONNIE AND CLYDE provides the template for the composite movie mix that Reznor and Tarantino would run with. The dialogue tracks offer cushioning and punctuation for the musical score – as spare as they are. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s exchanges are enhanced by the then very innovative presentation on vinyl. It’s a hard to come by record nowadays but again, one worth seeking out.

Okay! There are many more soundtracks that feature dialogue in an inventive mix (PATTON, ANIMAL HOUSE, BLADE RUNNER, etc.) so if you have a favorite – please send it on. Also if you have soundtrack favorites of any kind (classical scores, pop songs, musicals, etc.) please email me (filmbabbleblog@gmail.com) your favorites (instead of leaving them as comments on this post please) and I may include them this month during Soundtrack September! Hope to hear from you.

More later…

Quentin Tarantino’s World War II: Electric Boogaloo

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

Warning: This review is riddled with Spoilers!

“Once upon a time…in Nazi occupied France”. So begins Quentin Tarantino’s long awaited mock epic war movie in which slaughter and blood are upstaged by talky tension. This is expertly displayed in the first scene (or chapter as the title card calls it). An SS Colonel (Christoph Waltz) proud of his nickname “the Jew Hunter”, questions a French farmer (Denis Menochet) who is suspected of hiding a missing Jewish family. The scene takes its time with their back and forth before the camera pans down to show us that the farmer is indeed harboring the family beneath his floor boards. The set up and powerful payoff of this chilling opening confirm that the pulse and tone of Tarantino’s best work is intact and while subtlety was never a strength of his, he is learning to exercise some patience and restraint. However, patience and restraint both stand down for most of the rest of the film.

In the second “chapter” we meet Brad Pitt and his crew of “Basterds” – a team of Jewish American soldiers intent on killing as many Nazis as possible. As Pitt puts it in his unconvincing yet still appropriately comedic Southern accent: “We’re not in the taking prisoners business, we’re in the killing Nazi killing business, and business is boomin’!” Along the way a few big 3-D style block letter intros to characters like Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) thrown in (with Samuel L. Jackson narration no less) prove that you can’t completely take the 70’s comic book cinema leanings out of Mr. Too Cool For Film School. The Basterd crew also includes Eli Roth, B.J. Novak, and Sam Levine (Freaks And Geeks) Once we fully get that our heroes are way into collecting scalps and branding Swastika’s into survivor’s heads it’s on to the next chapter.

The only hiding member of the first scene to escape, Mélanie Laurent ends up owning a Paris theater under a different identity. To her dismay when changing the marquee she catches the eye of a soldier (Daniel Brühl) who played himself in a film made by Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth). Despite voicing her disinterest, Brühl proceeds with his plan to premiere his film at her cinema with an Nazi audience topped off by Goebels and other German bigwigs like Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann, and the Furher himself, Adolf Hitler (a blustery red faced Martin Wuttke). Laurent with her projectionist boyfriend (Jacky Ido) plots to burn the theater down with all the Nazi’s locked inside. Meanwhile the Basterds have a plan of their own for the same event.

Even with his preposterous accent, Pitt’s performance is one of his finest. So much better as a Basterd than he was as Benjamin Button, mainly because here he actually has a character to play. His salt of the earth manner peppered with no holds barred brutality is a joy to behold. As the slick but slimy opportunist Colonel, Christoph Waltz has the most dialogue and he makes the most of every word of it, he’s definitely worthy of a nomination. The action primarily revolves around these 2 men with Laurent’s well timed turn rounding it out. There are few lulls as the story strands come together and the pace pleasingly pulsates quickly towards the end where an intensely satisfying conclusion (which I won’t spoil) awaits.

It’s too early to tell where INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS falls in Tarantino’s canon but it’s sturdier and significantly more solid than his last few films (the KILL BILL flicks and DEATH PROOF). If you go looking for historical accuracy or anything resembling reality you’ll definitely come up short, but if you go expecting Tarantino’s patented brand of film geek gusto infusing an alternate history graphic novel of a movie, you should do just fine.

More later…

Chatting With The Creators Of Cinema Overdrive Part 1 of 4

Next week a new series starts at the Colony Theater in North Raleigh, NC (Yes, this is another local-centric post) entitled “Cinema Overdrive”. As readers should well know, I’ve been a huge fan of the theater’s ongoing series “Cool Classics @ The Colony” which has long provided area movie goers with special showings of 35 Millimeter prints of long loved cult movies like ERASERHEAD, LABYRINTH, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, and PURPLE RAIN. “Cinema Overdrive” however, goes much further. As the description on their website says they present “the best in high-octane cult/horror/exploitation/drive-in and forgotten films that are waiting to find an audience.”

The series kicks off next Wednesday (August 12th at 8:00 PM) with DEATH RACE 2000. Future showings will be of SHOGUN ASSASSIN, VICE SQUAD, PIECES, and LADY TERMINATOR (see the picture montage above). I had a cool chat with a couple of the creators (the other being Adam Hulin who I hope to talk to soon) of this exciting new series: Denver Hill and Matt Pennachi. Both are 35 MM film collectors and fellow film fanatics so it was an engrossing conversation I’m anxious to share. In this first part we discuss just what “Cinema Overdrive” is about, what was wrong with the movie GRINDHOUSE, and why everybody should make it out to SHOGUN ASSASSIN in September.

Dan: How did “Cinema Overdrive” come together? What was the impetus for it?


Denver: Well, Matt and I have been friends for a couple of years. We both collect 35 millimeter, and I’ve always been a fan of “Retrofantasma” (Pennachi’s former series at the Carolina Theater in Durham, NC). That actually inspired the “Cool Classics” and we had the opportunity, I just said “hey, do you want to try this in Raleigh?”


Matt: Yeah, well one thing I’ll say about “Cinema Overdrive”, there’s other repertory series in the area including “Cool Classics”, but with ours we’re bringing a little danger back to movie going. All the others are kind of safe, this one – the faint of heart may not necessarily need to apply. If you have even the worry that it may not be politically correct enough for you, you shouldn’t buy a ticket. The 70’s weren’t very politically correct.


Denver: But that’s what we want though – we want to challenge. Like with “Cool Classics” it’s like maybe one of your favorite movies but you never saw it in the theater, but with “Cinema Overdrive” it’s probably a movie you’ve never seen before. It maybe offend or shock or just make you go “Oh my God!” you know, but we just want to bring the excitement back.


Matt: I think we have the opportunity because I have enough respect and faith in film fans in the Triangle – I think there’s a lot of really savvy film people in this area.


Dan: Oh yeah, absolutely.


Matt: I mean if your idea of being a real film nerd is having an in depth conversation about Tim Burton, we’re probably not for you. But I mean if you really love…you know, we’re everything that Quentin Tarantino’s GRINDHOUSE was supposed to be.


Dan: What did you think of that film? That’s a movie that comes up when I think of the idea behind “Cinema Overdrive”. Was it too much that it was fake “Grindhouse”? I had a friend who said that “if only Tarantino and Rodriquez worked with real Grindhouse budgets”, you know?


Matt: I feel the same way. My major problem was when I first saw it I was like well, it’s relatively entertaining…but my main problem is when I heard it was that it was a 72 million dollar film I was like wouldn’t it have been more interesting if they said we’re going to try to recreate 1974 and put it on a inflation adjusted dollar and that means, okay Jack Hill would’ve made that for $800,000 – inflation adjusted that’s 3.4 million so meaning if we can’t get Kurt Russell and have to make the movie with Ken Wahl from Wiseguy, somebody call up and find Ken Wahl. That would’ve been a more interesting experiment to me. And the thing is, I think particularly with Rodriquez’s segment, he brought the poster to life more than the actual film. There were no “Grindhouse” movies that had people jumping on motorcycles with monstrous town-size explosions – they never could afford it.


Denver: Well, I didn’t like all the fake scratches and fake splices.


Dan: The “missing reels”?


Matt: First of all, the “missing reel” thing is something that never ever existed in a “Grindhouse” cinema. You know why? Because if you were in a shit-hole cinema and there was a reel missing there’s no way on earth they were going to let you know. Never.


Denver: You know, the Triangle is one of the top 5 growing areas in the country. We have people from all of the country moving here so there’s definitely a demand for all these types of movies that we’re showing.


Matt: Even though I don’t make it out because I have kids basically and my wife works in the evening, I love the concept of “Cool Classics”. It’s a lot of movies you know but it’s not fixated to one genre. There might be something mega-famous and safe like LABYRINTH and then there also might be something that’s famous in the sense that a lot of people know what ERASERHEAD is but haven’t necessarily seen it. (To Denver) Oh, Phil Blankenship, I told him about your PURPLE RAIN show, and he said PURPLE RAIN is just a home run ball – we did it out here in LA and it was the same thing. Patton Oswalt came! It’s like I said, ‘I wouldn’t have guessed it’, he was like “I wouldn’t have either but PURPLE RAIN is still huge!


Denver: Yeah, we need to show that one again.


Matt: I’ll be honest I’ve never that movie. I’ve always meant to.


Dan: Last summer was the first time I’d seen it all the way through.


Matt: Did you like it?


Dan: Oh, I liked it a lot. There’s a huge cheese factor to it, but that’s what makes it great. The live sequences at 1st Avenue and the Morris Day whatnot, all of that is crowd pleasing stuff. In fact, not long ago on “Sound Opinions”, you know that show? NPR?


Matt: That’s a great show!


Dan: Yeah, they were doing one of their “album dissections” on “Purple Rain”, because it’s the 25th anniversary. One of them, Jim I think, was saying “You see it once and you don’t ever have to see ‘Purple Rain’ again”, and I was like ‘are you crazy? There’s a high re-watchability factor!


Matt: Maybe they haven’t watched it enough to know that.


Dan: Yeah, that’s the thing I was wondering, have they really re-watched it lately?


Matt: It’s like there’s millions of people that went out and saw KILL BILL: VOL. 2, right? Well at the end there’s that touching scene where the Bride and her daughter watch SHOGUN ASSASSIN. Well, how many people have seen SHOGUN ASSASSIN? If they come here in September we’ll show them SHOGUN ASSASSIN.


Dan: I’ve never seen it. There are so many films, that as a “film guy” I am ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen.


Matt: Oh my God! That movie is amazing theatrically. It’s just jaw dropping. I feel so ebullient when I run the print. I love this movie.


Denver: We joked about it at first but I think we really are trying to educate people about film.


Matt: It’s not like “Mystery Science 3000”, it’s like going to church. You go to have a social experience but you also go to learn about something that you have great faith in!


Next week: Part 2 of my chat with Denver and Matt. We’ll discuss their premiere showing of DEATH RACE 2000 and go off on more crazy tangents surrounding “Cinema Overdrive” and other obsessive film fodder. Please stay tuned.


More later…

Revisiting RESERVOIR DOGS On The Big Screen – Thanks Again Cool Classics @ The Colony!

As a film geek/blogger it’s probably not surprising that one of my favorite pastimes is to see old movies, whether for the first time or hundredth, on the big screen. A 35 MM print, new or old, of a particular cult or could be cult movie really is most certainly my cup of tea. As I’ve blogged before, The Colony Theater in North Raleigh has been showing a regular round of what they call “Cool Classics”. Last Saturday night was right for a midnight show of arguably Quentin Tarantino’s best flick. Since my girlfriend and I have attended such previous pop culture staples as ERASERHEAD, PURPLE RAIN and most recently enjoyed re-seeing CITY OF LOST CHILDREN we were game to revisit:


RESERVOIR DOGS (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 1992)


It was hugely fitting that the night before this late show, The Museum Of Art in Raleigh screened THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE. Why you ask? Because Mr. Too Cool For Film School Tarantino lovingly lifted the use of colors as code names from that classic 70’s heist film – i.e. Mr. Blond, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue etc. Of course he snarkily threw in Mr. Pink just so Steve Buscemi could have something to hilariously complain about: “Yeah, Mr. Pink sounds like Mr. Pussy. Tell you what, let me be Mr. Purple.” He lifted lots more from other films here too but whether you consider it a rip-off or a homage, RESERVOIR DOGS, 17 years later, is still colossal cinema and one of the most daring breakthrough debuts of a director ever.


This was before independent films were the rage and award nominee regulars. Many notable auteurs had offered up dark crafty fare before but while filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderbergh made cool indie films, Tarantino made indie films ultra cool. With RESERVOIR DOGS and its overwhelmingly influential follow-up PULP FICTION, the former video store clerk created a world of wise guys in suits with thin black ties, vintage cars with blood splashed interiors, 50’s styled diners, f-bombs and n-words dropped in nearly every line, endless pop culture reference riffing, and soundtracks full of 70’s funk/pop deep cuts. The opening credits slow motion shuffle to George Bakers Little Green bag alone defines Tarantinos savvy assured style.


Most of the action in RESERVOIR DOGS (nobody really knows what the title means – Tarantino himself wont say) deals with a never seen heist gone wrong and takes place in a mostly empty warehouse. It has been said that for budgetary reasons most directors first films are essentially ‘filmed plays’. That said, seeing this film on the big screen for the first time enhanced the spare staging scenarios for me to an edgier level than I expected. The iconic shot, used on many posters and the go-to promotional picture, of Harvey Keitel with gun pointed at an on the floor Steve Buscemi is 10 times more effective here than on any TV viewing when it pulls back to reveal Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) coolly watching them in an over the shoulder viewpoint. Likewise the shot from the P.O.V. of the cop (Kirk Baltz) tied up in Mr. Blonde’s car trunk – I mean it’s obvious to say but it’s so nice to see this film like this how it was truly meant to be seen.


One flaw of many film folks’ first films is that the actors all talk like the writer/director (see Richard Linklater’s SLACKER). This is actually something that works well in Tarantino’s favor here despite all odds. I can practically hear Tarantino coaching Buscemi, Keitel, producer turned actor Lawrence Tierney,Tim Roth et al. through all of their lines but somehow that’s actually a plus in these punchy proceedings. Tarantino wisely kills off his own character (Mr. Brown) after his opening Like A Virgin breakdown speech presumably because he was aware his acting wasnt up to the caliber of his co-stars – too bad he didnt make the same decision in future films (especially PULP FICTION and DEATH PROOF).


In the low budget framing but the high formula re-thinking that defines Tarantino’s cut and paste career, RESERVOIR DOGS deserves future wave after wave of big screen audiences. Even if you own a special edition DVD or Blu-ray, consider seeing it on the big screen if a print comes to your area. Every detail from Steven Wright’s voice-over on the radio (“K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies” to be exact) to the sadly late Chris Penn’s scene steals as Nice Guy Eddie just screams for larger projection. One great moment – in a pivotal scene, Madsen spoke just as somebody in the audience made a distracting noise by dropping their drink. Keitel responded “excuse me?” as if he didn’t hear because of the offending interruption. Madsen had to repeat himself louder. Many at the Colony theater late show laughed – a communal sensation that can’t be recreated at home. Maybe that’s a disclaimer that should be on this film as well, especially the brutal cop’s ear slicing sequence: “These are trained professionals – don’t try this at home.”


Post note: I realize after re-reading this that I was addressing folks who’ve already seen this movie. If you haven’t seen it – by all means, screw waiting for a big screen opportunity, just rent the damn thing and complete the indie initiation of your film education – why doncha?


More later…