Screen Junkies » Movie Lists Movie Reviews & TV Show Reviews Wed, 26 Nov 2014 19:27:26 +0000 en hourly 1 The 10 Best Holiday Movies of All Time Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:00:49 +0000 bgoldstein Ten holiday movies that will put even the scroogiest of grinches in the holiday spirit.

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By Mike Sheppard

Ahhhh, the holidays. Well, they’re not here yet, but they sure are creeping up on us. And what do we all associate the holidays with? Well, besides scrambling to buy the most unique gifts for everyone you love (no pressure). That’s right…movies! Of course, family and friends are pretty good, too, but I’m pretty sure we need to make sure you have your viewing schedule lined up for all those free hours in between meals.

Over the years, there have been many films that have tried to capture the spirit of the holidays. Some of those have been hits and some of them have been misses. Huge misses. Then there are those films that don’t really revolve around the holidays, but take place during that time and, as such, have become synonymous with the season. Between these two types of categories, there is a solid selection of flicks for you to have prepped for your approaching free time.

I’ve crafted the perfect list here to bring you all the basics; your Christmas movies, your Thanksgiving movies and your awesome movies that happen to take place during the festive season. Follow this list and you’ll never groan about the holidays again

10. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

This seems like a great place to get started. I know that this is not up there with the first in the series, or even the European Vacation sequel, but this still hits some hilarious notes. From Randy Quaid‘s fake turtleneck, to Julia-Louis Dreyfuss’ yuppie neighbour schtick, we get a solid does of classic 80′s-90′s humour. But we also get those warm holiday moments where it all comes together to make us believe in the spirit of Christmas…even if it required some hostage taking.

9. Home Alone

Talk about an instant classic. When this film came out in 1990, it was a box office sensation. Never mind the fact that the great John Hughes wrote it, it launched the biggest child star career since Richie Rich graced the comics. For a little tyke, Culkin has amazing comedic timing and expressions that will generally make you laugh out loud as he single handedly annihilates two criminals trying to infiltrate his home (played with great over-the-top zeal by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern). And if that doesn’t sell you, well good luck not choking up when little Kevin finally sees his mom at the end.

8. A Christmas Story

This is easily the ultimate Christmas classic for any child of the 80′s. Even if you missed that time period, there have been numerous re-releases because this film is an undisputed classic for the ages. One child’s obession with getting his one dream gift, the Red Ryder B.B. gun, string the whole mess together, but along the way we are all reminded of just how everything about our families can become polarized during the holiday season. If Ralphie’s plight does not resonate with you then you either skip Christmas or you don’t have a heart. Either way, this is required viewing you cold hearted jerk.

7. Bad Santa

Probably one of the most offensive holiday films ever made, Bad Santa still manages to make you get that ol’ magic feeling by the end. It may be tough to watch Billy Bon Thornton as the scoundrel Willy, a man who poses as Santa to rob shopping malls in the after hours, but it is even tougher to keep a straight face. Add a sexy appearance by Lauren Graham, the funniest kid you’ve ever seen, and the angriest dwarf you’ve ver encountered and you have the makings of comedy gold. There are many raunchy moments here, but the film’s central arc is Willy’s relationship with this sad, lonely kid that keeps the film from spiralling into pure debauchery.

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Ilya Naishuller’s ‘Hardcore’ and Five Examples of POV Filmmaking Done Right Tue, 04 Nov 2014 23:12:20 +0000 Jared Jones Voyeurism at its finest, ladies and gentlemen.

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By Jared Jones

The line between video games and movies continues to blur in Hardcore, an upcoming film from Russian director Ilya Naishuller that claims to be the “first POV action film ever made.” Starring Sharlto Copley and Haley Bennet, Hardcore combines a relatively familiar story (“A newly resurrected cyborg who must save his wife/creator from the clutches of a psychotic tyrant with telekinetic powers and his army of mercenaries”) with a filmmaking style that has yet to truly be attempted in a full-length feature film: The subjective (or POV) shot.

It’s a bold idea for a film, I’ll give it that much, and a gimmick that Hardcore will surely live or die by – that is, should it obtain the funding it is currently seeking to complete the film (CGI, sound, color correction) on IndieGoGo. While most of us would grimace at the idea of essentially watching someone else play a video game for 90 minutes, there are actually several instances of POV filmmaking that demonstrate how effective it can be when done right.

At its best, the POV shot can be used as a means of shattering the veneer that typically exists between the audience and a film. By literally dropping us inside the mind of a character, we become an active participant in the experience rather than a simple observer. We are no longer a step ahead of the action taking place; we are simply reacting to it as it plays out. The POV shot can be downright chilling when used properly, and here are six films that did just that.

“A Ride in the Park” — V/H/S 2

While you can practically trace the entire “found footage” subgenre back to the POV-style narrative made infamous in The Blair Witch Project, the horror anthology series V/H/S has been able to improve and expand upon this concept better than most in recent years. Over the course of two films (and an upcoming sequel), V/H/S has utilized the subjective camera across a wide variety of mediums to tell its stories, which range from a man with a haunted ocular implant to an alien abduction from the perspective of the family dog.

Arguably the most successful entry in the V/H/S series is a segment from the second installment, “A Ride in the Park.” The brilliance of the story not only lies in the simplicity of the plot (“mountain biker stumbles upon zombie apocalypse), but the method in which it is told. Save a few handheld camera shots in the segment’s climax, the entirety of “A Ride in the Park” is told through a GoPro camera the protagonist has mounted to his helmet. To say anymore would spoil the fun of watching a man transform into a zombie before attacking a child’s birthday party-DAMMIT!

Evil Dead

Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead has been long-considered a masterpiece of low-budget filmmaking (among other things), and it’s largely due to Raimi’s inventiveness behind the camera. Take for example, the nerve-racking sense of pace he was able to create in scenes like the one above using just a camera bolted to a 2×4, an 18 fps film rate, and a couple quick-footed cameramen. The shaky cam has been done to death by modern directors (looking at you, Bourne series), sure, but Raimi practically invented the effect for Evil Dead back in 1981.

Metamorphosis: Immersive Kafka 

Say what you want about how entertaining or successful this 2010 take on Franz Kafka’s famous novella, there’s no denying that Sándor Kardos is owed a tip of the cap for having the guts to direct such an ambitious effort. From the film’s IMDB page:

The film tells the entire story using a subjective camera, experiencing what happens from Gregor’s perspective, as Kafka himself wanted it to be according to his own diary. It was shot with a 360 degree spherical remote controlled robotic camera that was directed and programmed to interact with the actors and to create an extremely low- angle view of the set as envisioned from the insect’s 1st person perspective.

While I’ll admit that Kardos’ adaptation seems to be more focused on gimmick than anything else, it’s hard not to be unnerved by the constant sense of claustrophobia and disorientation as achieved by the POV style.


If you’ve ever caught one of the Syfy channel’s original movies, chances are you’ve seen at least one moment that owes its existence to Jaws. I’m referring, of course, to the “monstervision” shot. Like Sam Raimi’s shaky cam, there was actually a time when placing the audience in the mind of a sasquatch, giant spider, or mutated Paul Bunyan was not only considered an original idea, but a horrifying one to boot, and no film utilized this technique to greater effect than Jaws. Because what’s scarier than the prospect of being eaten by a shark? Oh, I dunno, maybe BEING FORCED TO LOOK THROUGH THAT SHARK’S EYES AS IT PREPARES TO EAT A CHILD.

The Terminator 

It’s a real shame that James Cameron spent $6.4 million back in 1984 (or roughly $3.4 billion today) in order to place the audience inside Ahhnold’s head when he could’ve just hired Will Sasso to do it for free.

Any movies you think we missed? Give us a shout in the comments section. 

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Ranking the Many, Many Deaths of Michael Myers By Improbability Fri, 31 Oct 2014 16:57:50 +0000 Jared Jones It's as if the screenwriters of these movies didn't even take the time to do the proper research before putting pen to paper.

The post Ranking the Many, Many Deaths of Michael Myers By Improbability appeared first on Screen Junkies.

By Jared Jones

You know, while getting blackout drunk on Evan Williams Apple Orchard Liquor and watching Halloween 4 last night, I noticed something: That Michael Myers feller is hard ta kill! Whether he was being shot, stabbed, run over, shot, stabbed, or shot, Myers never stayed down for long, and boy oh boy was he mad when he got to waking up, I tell you what!

But it was shortly after Halloween 4 ended and Halloween 5 began that the true revelation came: All of the Halloween moves — from the 1978 classic to that one with Busta Rhymes — are riddled with inaccuracies. Contradictions. Plot holes you could drag a corpse through. Whether the creators of franchise are or simply ignorant I do not know, but I do know that the films consistently take absolutely insane liberties when it comes to things like anatomy, Newton’s laws of motion, and the physical limitations of the human body.

How any film franchise as successful as Halloween could be rooted in fraudulent science simply boggles the mind, as does the fact that the film’s rather frequent missteps in logic have gone completely unnoticed by both moviegoing audiences and the so-called “critics” whose job it is to pick movies apart to the most minor detail. But more often than not, the factual inaccuracies of the Halloween series can be traced back to one man: Michael Myers.

Over the course of some seven movies*, Myers meets his maker no less than a couple dozen times, only to inexplicably rise again and seek the blood of some dumb skank who just tripped over a pinecone. It’s utterly confounding, and for the good of horror filmmakers everywhere, nay, humanity, join us as we give the many deaths of Michael Myers the logic beatdown they deserve.

*Remember, neither of Rob Zombie‘s Halloween incarnations ever actually happened and therefore cannot be included.

#10: Multiple Tranq Darts and 2×4 Bludgeoning — Halloween 5

If the independent research I’ve conducted on stray cats and dogs around my neighborhood is anything to go off, a lethal dosage of Telazol (the chemical compound found in most tranquilizer darts) is around 14 mg/kg. While the average human’s tolerance is somewhat higher than that, any animal being that is worth one’s salt can survive up to twice the safe dosage found in the average dart. The Halloween 5 filmmakers obviously researched this as much as I did, and were correct in their belief that having Loomis double-down on his darts would not in fact kill Michael Myers. The same can be said for the bludgeoning that followed, because let’s be honest, Loomis definitely seemed to be holding back on those 2×4 swings.

#9: Injected With Green Goo, Bludgeoned With a Pipe — Halloween 6

I may not know much about chemical compounds (other than those found in tranq darts), but I do know that if it’s a green liquid and it was found in a laboratory, it can probably kill you. The same goes for being repeatedly smashed in the face with a pipe. But not knowing the exact specifications of what green goo was injected into Myers, I can not in good conscience condemn Halloween 6 for failing to abide by good science.

Bonus points go to Rudd’s little angry drop of the pipe at the end there. That some good actorin’.

#8: Wire Hanger in the Eye, Knife in the Chest — Halloween

The average dum-dum’s reaction to this scene is probably something like, “Oh, that’s not so bad I guess. Plenty of people have been stabbed and lived before HURRR DURRR.” And dum-dum is right, people *have* lived through stabbings before. But I can guarantee you that in 99.9% of those cases, the stabbed person did not lie down, take a power nap, and then continue attacking the person who stabbed them. Myers not only loses an eye in this closet confrontation but takes a kitchen knife right in the sternum, and anyone who’s ever played racquetball before knows that breathing, let alone movement of any kind, is nearly impossible after taking a shot to the sternum.

Basically, if the science of this scene was represented by a woman’s photo on Instagram, I would declare it “Pointy elbows 2/10 WOULD NOT BANG.”

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‘I Saw the Devil’ and Four Other Korean Movies That Hollywood Should Stay Away From Tue, 16 Sep 2014 19:26:06 +0000 Jared Jones You're doomed for the start with these endeavors, Hollywood, but if you are so insistent on Americanizing some of the near-perfect efforts that Korean cinema has to offer, just make sure you keep your filthy paws off these classics.

The post ‘I Saw the Devil’ and Four Other Korean Movies That Hollywood Should Stay Away From appeared first on Screen Junkies.

By Jared Jones

Spike Lee’s spectacularly misguided remake of the South Korean revenge classic Oldboy was a disaster in every sense of the term — the film earned back just $4 million of its $35 million budget, was rightfully lambasted by critics as being “disappointingly safe and shallow,” and even found itself dead center in the middle of a poster plagiarism scandal. As Sweet Dick Willie might say, Lee’s Oldboy was “thirty cents away from having a quarter.”

And the truth is, anyone with even the most cursory understanding of Oldboy could probably figure that it wouldn’t translate well with American moviegoing audiences. We may put on our rubber underwear and try to make it through a Saw movie without vomiting into our popcorn every Halloween, sure, but for whatever reason, the morbid sense of humor and absolute lack of boundaries that Korean thrillers have become infamous for don’t seem to sit well with us here in the US of A. And that’s fine, because in the case of absolute masterpieces like Oldboy, there’s really no need to remake them at all.

So with all that information in mind, you’d think it would be a while before Hollywood opted to put their spin on a highly-touted, incredibly-disturbing Korean flick, right?

HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING, SCREENJUNKARDS. Just weeks after Oldboy bombed, it was announced that stateside audiences would be receiving a completely unnecessary remake of Kim Jee-woon’s 2011 thriller, I Saw the Devil. The reason why? Well, allow producer Adi Shankar to explain:

Kim Jee Woon’s I Saw The Devil is perfect in so many ways. The intention is not to remake the film per se but rather to ‘port’ it console-style for international audiences.

You simply have to love a statement about a proposed remake that begins by admitting that the film being remade should not be remade. And as far as Shakar’s “port” comment goes, I can only counter by stating that I Saw the Devil has been readily available on Netflix since it was released and is therefore already “port”-able. Unless by “port,” Shakar means “translated into English,” because the need to remake foreign films that came out less than five years ago is forever justified by our cultural inability to handle subtitles. U-S-A! U-S-A!!

There I go, sounding all pessimistic again. To be fair, it appears that Hollywood has actually locked down a directing/writing duo that *could* do IStD justice — Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (You’re Next, The Guest) — so maybe the remake won’t be a complete pile of excrement. But boy oh boy does it have some big shoes to fill.

At the end of the day, that’s really the trouble when it comes to remaking a film on the level of Oldboy or, to a lesser degree, I Saw the Devil — the original product sets the bar so high that not even James Cameron could rescue it. You’re doomed for the start with these endeavors, Hollywood, but if you are so insistent on Americanizing some of the near-perfect efforts that Korean cinema has to offer, just make sure you keep your filthy paws off these classics.

The Good, The Bad, and The Weird 

Given the film’s obvious nods to the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the Indiana Jones series, it would be hard to picture a remake of Kim Jee-woon’s The Good, The Bad, and The Weird coming off as anything but an inflated Clint Eastwood flick here in America. Still, if Woon’s I Saw the Devil turns out to be successful, it’s only a matter of time before his other efforts are at least considered for the same treatment. Everything about The Good, The Bad, and The Weird screams “summer blockbuster,” but it is the film’s inherent silliness that American directors would have the hardest time capturing, if you ask us.

The Host

Currently the second-highest grossing film in South Korean history, Bong Joon-ho’s The Host is prime for an American remake. A satirical send-up of B-level monster movies that is as brilliantly directed as it is acted, The Host combines the sardonic wit of Jaws with the eco-friendly message of Godzilla while paying tribute to everything in between. It’s the kind of popcorn flick that manages to be equally entertaining and thought-provoking, which is saying a lot about a movie centered around a “retard frog squirrel” as Herbert Garrison might put it.

But still, just watch how the scene above wherein said retard frog squirrel is revealed and ask yourself which American director could so brilliantly, effortlessly walk the line between slapstick silliness and sheer terror. That tracking shot alone is reason enough not to remake this movie.


Speaking of Bong Joon-ho, his 2009 follow-up to The Host is just as likely to receive the Americanized treatment as anything he’s ever done. Telling the story of an unnamed widow (Kim Hye-ja) who embarks on a quest to prove the innocence of her mentally undeveloped son after he is convicted of murder, Mother contains the kind of heartbreaking narrative that could easily make it an Oscar-contender here in the States. Much like Oldboy, Mother plays with the idea that knowledge can actually be the cause behind one’s suffering in their tireless pursuit of it, and is anchored by an incredible performance from Hye-ja. In fact, the film’s concluding moments are very much inspired by that of Oldboy, even if Joon-ho opts for what is pretty much the complete opposite resolution.

The Chaser 

One of the greatest cat-and-mouse thrillers ever made, The Chaser was released in 2008 to almost unanimous acclaim from critics and has already been green-lit for a remake. Warner Bros. purchased the remake rights to The Chaser for $1 million just months after the film hit theaters in South Korea, and everyone from Leonardo Dicaprio to screenwriter William Monahan (both of whom worked on The Departed, which was itself a remake of the Hong Kong gang thriller Infernal Affairs) have been briefly attached to the project. Thankfully, though, the remake seems to have hit a snag in development somewhere along the line.

While the prospect of seeing Leonardo Dicaprio star in something as truly violent and depraved as The Chaser is undoubtedly awesome, you’d be hard pressed to find a reason why this film should be remade. That its setting (the streets of Seoul) and restrained, realistic chase/fight scenes play an intricate part in the plot would render a remake all the more pointless for a moviegoing audience that repeatedly shells out their own money for a 150-minute Michael Bay ‘splosionfest. What? YOU DUG YOUR OWN GRAVES WITH THIS ONE, AMERICA.

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How Does ‘The Identical’ Compare to Other Poorly Reviewed Double Identity Movies? Mon, 08 Sep 2014 21:39:01 +0000 Jared Jones For whatever reason, film critics really, really hate double identity movies.

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By Jared Jones

One wouldn’t think there would be many ways to turn a Christian-themed dual identity musical starring an Elvis impersonator and Ray Liotta into some kind of sham, but wouldn’t you know it, Hollywood found a way.

Oh, have you not heard about The Identical, the Christian-themed dual identity musical starring an Elvis impersonator (*the* Elvis impersonator, I’m told) and Ray Liotta that opened in 2,000 theaters over the weekend? Or are you just covering your ears and trying to pretend like it never happened? Well, it did, and the story of The Identical goes a little something like this (from the film’s official site):

The Identical is a redemptive movie about a young man, the son of a preacher, who rejects his father’s desire for him to join the ministry and instead embarks on a career as a rock singer. As he struggles to pursue his dream and rise to stardom, he finds love, pain, success and failure, and ultimately uncovers a hidden family secret that reveals who he really is. It’s a captivating story about a family restored, and a life discovered.

Not that it really matters — because this year’s other Christian-themed offerings, God’s Not Dead and Heaven is for Real have collectively grossed over 150 million dollars despite holding a combined 63% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — but The Identical has been nothing short of crucified by critics thus far (jokes, I got ‘em). It’s currently tracking at 4% on RT, and the reviews for the film have been almost as surreal as the idea behind the film itself.

With The Identical, it appears that we may have another so-bad-its-good classic on our hands, so let’s take a look at a few of the most glowing reviews, shall we?

Matt Prigge, Metro: “It’s not ‘The Room,’ but it might be something stranger: a film that knows what it’s doing, but which thing is completely nuts.”

Sheila O’Malley, “All we have in ‘The Identical’ are songs that make you feel like you’ve stepped into a community theatre production of ‘Footloose‘ mixed with ‘Les Miserables.’”

Dustin Rowles, Pajiba: “The only thing preventing this film from being the worst movie of 2014 is the fact that no one will remember it a week from now. No one will see it. People who accidentally stumble into it while looking for the bathroom will blackout from boredom and leave urine puddles in screenings across the country. People will remember the urine stains. No one will remember The Identical.”

Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader: “[The Identical] feels like one of the biopic parodies from Mr. Show played completely straight.”

Vince Mancini, FilmDrunk: “Imagine if Tommy Wiseau from the The Room was an evangelical Christian Elvis impersonator who made a royalty-free biopic starring himself as twins. Hell yes you should see this, probably twice.”

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “‘The Identical’ is the most woozily misguided flop to grace the screen since the ‘Oogieloves’ movie.”

Yowza. A critical and box office failure The Identical may be, but the truth is, it never stood a chance. Critics have long shared their collective, unjust hatred of dual identity movies, and if you don’t believe me, just check out how poorly these classic double identity movies were reviewed.

Double Impact

Tomatometer Rating: 14%

Choice Pull Quote: “Bonecrushingly stupid — but one of Van Damme’s better efforts.”

In the early-to-mid 90′s, moviegoing audiences literally could not get enough of Jean-Claude Van Damme. The kicks, the splits, the *spot on* American accent; it was gold, Jerry, GOLD!! With filmmakers running out of plausible options to cash in on our JCVD obsession, it was only a matter of time before a dual identity film was discussed. Hence, 1991′s Double Impact, a movie which applied a boy band philosophy to its dual Van Dammes by making the “good” character (Chad) wear polo shirts and the “bad” one (Alex) slick his hair back.

You would think that doubling down on a nearly incomprehensible protagonist would be detrimental to a film’s success, but you just aren’t getting how obsessed we were with JCVD in the early 90′s, are you? Despite bombing with critics, Double Impact doubled it’s 15 million dollar budget with a 35 million dollar take and even reached No.2. at the US box office. Double Impact even released an official soundtrack, which I can guarantee you I will be ordering as soon as I’m finished with this sentence.

Fun fact: Double Impact was the first of *four* dual identity movies to star Jean-Claude Van Damme, the other two being 1996′s Maximum Risk and 2001′s Replicant and The Order. 

The Man in the Iron Mask

Tomatometer Rating: 33%

Choice Pull Quote: “This version of The Man in the Iron Mask owes more to Star Wars than Star Wars owes to Dumas.”

While 2014 Leonardo DiCaprio can pretty much pull off any role, character, or accent imaginable with spot-on accuracy, 1998 Leonardo DiCaprio was somewhat less convincing. Sure, he was coming off his breakout role in Titanic just one year earlier, but asking babyfaced Jack to convincingly portray both a ruthless, tyrannical king and his compassionate outcast twin was a leap too far for The Man in the Iron Mask to accomplish.

Although The Man in the Iron Mask was financially successful thanks to the insane popularity boost that Titanic had provided DiCaprio, it was skewered by critics, even earning DiCaprio a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Screen Couple. His career never recovered.

I Know Who Killed Me

(Funny how the juxtaposition of these two images could serve as a dead-on metaphor for Lohan’s career, no?)

Tomatometer Rating: 7%.

Choice Pull Quote: ”Horror/thriller/pile of excrement.”

In 1998, Lindsay Lohan was a promising 12-year-old actress capable of playing not one, but two parts in a rom-com starring Dennis Quaid. Less than a decade later, she was phleming her way through a movie about a down-on-her-luck stripper and her stigmatic twin being tortured by a serial killer. It’s one of the only times that “a rom-com starring Dennis Quaid” could be considered the high point of anyone’s career, but such is LiLo.


Tomatometer Rating: 44%

Choice Pull Quote: “Try not to double or triple-up laughing.”

In 1996, moviegoing audiences literally could not get enough of Michael Keaton. Hence, Multiplicity, a movie that attempted to answer “Just how much of The Keat is too much?” The answer: Four Keatons.

Jack and Jill

Tomatometer Ranking: 3%

Choice Pull Quote: “The apocalypse starts here.”

Well, here it is. The nadir of not only filmmaking, but perhaps American culture as we know it. And as I predicted, Adam Sandler is involved.

I can only say one thing about Jack and Jill that hasn’t been said by thousands of enraged movie critics or the record number of Razzie nominations/wins it received: This movie grossed 150 million dollars. 150. Million.

When humanity reaches its final 90 minutes, I’d like to think that this movie will be projected on every television, computer, and movie screen across the country, as a reminder that we are solely responsible for our own demise. And in it’s closing credits, God himself will open the sky and bellow, “You not only allowed this cinematic abortion to happen, but paid to witness it. And for doing so, you will now pay the highest price of all: Your souls.” Flames will follow, tearing across nations far and wide with the power of a thousand suns, toppling buildings, destroying families, and cleansing the world of any traces that we were ever here. But on the bright side, the all-consuming fire will also cleanse the world of Jack and Jill, which is honestly a fairer trade-off than we deserve.

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The Screen Junkies Top Six: Creepiest Found Footage Movies Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:53:01 +0000 Jared Jones As poorly acted, edited, and directed as these Blair Witch copycats often are, found footage horror is uncommonly effective at scaring the hell out of us.

The post The Screen Junkies Top Six: Creepiest Found Footage Movies appeared first on Screen Junkies.


By Jared Jones

Can I share a secret with you guys real quick? I love found footage movies. As poorly acted, edited, and directed (if you can call it that) as these dime-a-dozen, Blair Witch copycats often are, found footage-style horror is uncommonly effective at making me — a big, strong tough guy who ain’t afraid of nuttin’ — leave the room mid-scene to answer an imaginary phone call, and I respect them for it. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that found footage movies are just about the creepiest movies out there, pound-for-pound (exception: anything from Japan).

Hollyweird (nailed it) apparently shares this sentiment, as found footage movies are quickly usurping zombie movies as the most played out form of horror film in today’s moviegoing market. This weekend, As Above/So Below will attempt to cash in on the trend by asking, “But what if we set the story in the catacombs below Paris?”, and just a few days ago, a trailer was released for The Pyramid, an upcoming found footage flick that is already being heralded as “As Above/So Below meets Indiana Jones meets your family vacation to Wekiwa Springs in ’89.”

The found footage trend is going nowhere, so while we’re here, we might as well pay tribute to the finest offerings to come out of the genre. But being that you’ve all either heard of or seen the Blair Witch Projects and Paranormal Activitys by now, we’re going to focus on the lesser-known creepfests for this week’s Screen Junkies Top Six. Let’s get started.

The Tunnel 

(Yup, the full movie is available on Youtube, and we’re including it in this article. Deal. With. It.)

Essentially the As Above/So Below before As Above/So Below, this 2011 Australian horror flick swaps the catacombs of Paris for the train tunnels of Sydney and sees cute-as-a-button journalist Natasha (Bel Deliá) and her crew attempt to expose a government cover-up involving missing homeless people and underground, humanoid things. Featuring more night vision than the Paris Hilton sextape (ah thank you), The Tunnel is as terrifying as it is morbidly arousing. So right in my wheelhouse, basically.

Home Movie 

Adrian Pasdar and Cady McClain star as David and Claire Poe, a priest and a psychologist stuck raising two kids literally sent from Hell. If there was ever a concept that screamed “make me into a sitcom or maybe a horror movie but definitely a sitcom,” it was this one.

As luck would have it, however, Home Movie is actually a pretty well-crafted entry into the found footage genre that just narrowly avoids most of its pratfalls. The setup is simple: Two whitebread parents who have a compulsive need to film every basic interaction with their shithead children slowly start to realize that their children are shitheads. Brooding, sociopathic shitheads. Dead pets start popping up around the house, other people’s kids get bitten, and before you know it, little Jack and Emily Poe are secretly plotting to take out their folks so they can continue their lives of cannibalism and probably incest. This is why normal families don’t film any of their interactions and generally avoid eye contact for most of their lives.

I don’t mean to be dramatic, but Home Movie is basically the culmination of every nightmare I’ve ever had, and the main reason I opted to get a vasectomy on my 18th birthday. I…I had a messed up childhood, you guys.

Cannibal Holocaust 

I know I said I wouldn’t dip into the well-worn classics of the genre, but for me to lead a discussion about found footage filmmaking that doesn’t at least mention Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 exploitation flick would be like talking about my most cherished sexual experiences without mentioning my friend Kyle’s mom. And quite frankly, that’s not a discussion I’m about to have.

Not unlike sex with my friend Kyle’s mom, watching Cannibal Holocaust is a gritty, dirty experience that usually begins under sketchy circumstances and ends in genital mutilation. (There I go, discussing my childhood again.) If you can credit the movie with one thing, however, it’s commitment (from the film’s Wiki):

Deodato had all the actors sign contracts ensuring that “they would not appear in any type of media, motion pictures, or commercials for one year after the film’s release” in order to promote the idea that the film was truly the recovered footage of missing documentarians.

It’s a pretty great idea from a marketing standpoint, and one that only backfired when Deodato was arrested and charged with everything from obscenity to murder following the film’s premiere in Milan.

You see, the special effects in Cannibal Holocaust were so realistic that people actually began to believe the actors had been killed while filming it. While that would have undoubtedly proven this film’s commitment to the premise I was talking about earlier, it turned out not to be the case. Deodato brought his crew out of hiding and the charges were eventually dropped, although several countries (including Italy and Australia) went and slapped the ban hammer on the film anyway for its all too real depiction of violence toward animals, among other things.

But all the controversy aside, is Cannibal Holocaust any good? Nah, not really.


Easily the most well-received movie on the list, the 2007 Spanish thriller [Rec] was such an effective exercise in handheld terror that Hollywood felt the need to remake the movie the following year under the title Quarantine. Because even in a movie where 90% of the dialogue is screams of terror, subtitlz r 2 hard for ow powah wittle eyes. Way to go, America.


It’s not often that the strength of a found footage movie is it’s worldbuilding, but in this regard, Norwegian dark comedy/horror Trollhunter stands above them all. (Troll puns, I got ‘em all day.) It’s a movie that takes an inherently dopey premise and wins you over simply by, again, committing to the material 110%. When Trollhunter is not beating you over the head with a barrage of information (all delivered in Otto Jespersen’s silky baritone), its placing you face to face with each different species of troll, all of whom are rendered in pretty damn impressive CGI.

How the ending of this movie hasn’t been turned into a ride remains one of the greatest tragedies in human history.

(Not Creepy But You Should See It Anyway): Lunopolis 

Any overlooked or underrated found footage films you feel deserve a mention? Give us a shout on twitter @screenjunkies

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17 of the Funniest Deaths From the Final Destination Series, In Gifs Thu, 28 Aug 2014 18:33:55 +0000 Jared Jones The appeal of the Final Destination films cannot be found in their carbon-copied plots, nor can it be found in their brunette, Gap-Fall-collection protagonists. It's all about the kills.

The post 17 of the Funniest Deaths From the Final Destination Series, In Gifs appeared first on Screen Junkies.

By Jared Jones

According to, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures are tentatively planning to move ahead with another chapter in the indestructible Final Destination series. Hooray for all you Rube Goldberg porn aficionados!

Sources close to BD have stated that a story “needs to be nailed down” before Final Destination 6 moves forward with production, which is hilarious, because it acts as if the five previous installments of the franchise told more of a “story” than the screenplay equivalent of  horror movie Mad Libs (Wendy tries to save _____ but he is ____ by a ____!). Still, when you’re averaging over a $100 million return per film, who can blame you for mindlessly crapping out a new one every few years? Not since the Pet Rock has so little creative effort yielded such lucrative results!

But the appeal of the Final Destination films cannot be found in their carbon-copied plots, nor can it be found in their brunette, Gap-Fall-collection protagonists. Simply put, it’s all about the kills. It’s simple: Gather a bunch of unlikeable teens together in your typical serial killer plot, switch out the serial killer for Death itself, and see how many intricate ways you can kill off said unlikeable teens. While the franchise’s understanding of things like physics and human anatomy are shaky at best the victims bodies are often treated like boneless sacks of blood and meat, basically — the results so far have been nothing short of hilarious, so join us as we look back at some of the series’ finest moments.

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The Screen Junkies Top Six: Most Essential “Sin City” Movies Thu, 21 Aug 2014 22:32:06 +0000 Jared Jones A Dame to Kill For can deliver all the gratuitous T n' A and over-the-top violence it wants, but unless it relocates itself to the land of slot machines and cocaine, it will surely fail to live up to the true "Sin City" classics.

The post The Screen Junkies Top Six: Most Essential “Sin City” Movies appeared first on Screen Junkies.


By Jared Jones

This weekend, Eva Green’s awesome boobs march their way into theaters to star in Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For, which let me tell you right now, is most certainly *not* a blatant cashgrab by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez based on the success of their 2005 original. So just throw that notion right. out.

Based on my extensive research, I have discovered that neither of the Sin City movies actually take place in Las Vegas, which feels like kind of a cop out to me. Placing any movie in the real “Sin City” automatically boosts its IMDB rating by 2.4 stars. Everyone knows this. A Dame to Kill For can deliver all the gratuitous T n’ A and over-the-top violence it wants, but unless it relocates itself to the land of slot machines and cocaine, it will surely fail to live up to the true “Sin City” classics. Classic like…

Leprechaun 3

Let’s start off with an obvious one. Leprechaun 3 is to Friday the 13th Part 4 what Halloween H20 is to A Nightmare on Elm Street 6, which is to say that it is a remarkable film in almost every regard. Whether it was Warwick Davis‘ reprisal of the role he was quite literally born to play or that truly masterful scene in which a woman has her tits and lips inflated until she explodes that truly put this movie over the top is debatable, but at the end of the day, Leprechaun 3 undeniably owes a debt of gratitude to Las Vegas for making the film the outright success it remains today.

I mean, come on! That “losing streak” pun alone was worth the trip! Not only that, but other Vegas-based puns that could be found on Leprechaun 3 movie posters included:

-”Welcome to Vegas…the odds are you won’t leave alive!”

-”This time, luck has nothing to do with it.”

-”To get out of Vegas alive…you’ll have to stay away from his pot of gold.”

-”The luck of the Irish…you’re dead!”

That one seemed kind of lazy, if you ask me.

Think Like a Man Too

Full confession: I have not seen this movie, but I refuse to believe that a sequel to a movie based off a book by Steve Harvey starring Turtle from Entourage, Kevin Hart (whose screamy,yelly thing never gets old), *and* the music of Mary J. Blige can be anything less than a fun-filled extravaganza. I would like to know, however, just what in the hell is going on in this poster. It is without a doubt one of the worst photoshop disasters I have ever witnessed.

Why is Turtle’s head so big, and why is his expression so calm? He’s pinning a tiny-headed (by comparison), clearly terrified friend down to the table, yet he has the dead-eyed demeanor of a serial rapist. Likewise, why are Kevin Hart’s friends laughing at his apparent misfortunes? Why does anyone laugh at Kevin Hart at all, for that matter?

Is that white guy in the background Lance Armstrong? Is Lance Armstrong in this picture? Do you guys ever have trouble watching that Lance Armstrong scene in Dodgeball, knowing what we all know now? Should they digitally replace Lance Armstrong in that scene in Dodgeball, and with who? So many questions.

Mars Attacks!

Confession #2: This movie was going to wind up on this list whether it was actually set in Nevada or not.

Last Vegas 

Aiming to finally close the debate on whether or not jokes about old guys popping Viagra ever cease to be funny (Spoiler alert: They don’t, ya boner!), Last Vegas saw Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline turn in diverse, career-defining roles as, get this, old guys in Vegas! I know, right! I guess it’s just a bonus that Turtle from Entourage is *also* in this movie!!!

“The light at the end of the tunnel has never been brighter…or funnier!” raved Phil Satchelknob of the LA Times when reviewing Last Vegas, “Douglas brings newfound life into his role, literally!”

I tried to describe this movie to my roommate the other day. I said it was basically Space Cowboys meets The Hangover, but set against the neon luminescence of the Sunset Strip. He called me an idiot and spit in my face. We haven’t spoken since.

What Happens in Vegas

Cameron vs. Ashton: The cinematic showdown have been asking for ever since Stallone vs. Lithgow.


Judging by the methods used to market A Dame to Kill For (see: Green’s boobs, Eva), I’m guessing they’ll be handing out lotion and Kleenex along with the 3D glasses at theaters nationwide tomorrow. Holes will be cut out of popcorn buckets. Our understanding of sticky theater floors, redefined. All this, so the story of Marv, Snuffy, Al, Leo, and Little Moe with the gimpy leg can continue on.

If the people behind A Dame to Kill For were smart, however, they would have set the movie in the Las Vegas, added in a show tune element, and slapped an NC-17 rating on it to really give the film the oversexualized punch it needs. Because let’s be honest, Sin City 2 appears to be selling itself as softcore action porn, basically, albeit with ridiculous production values and an A-list cast. But like most Hollywood fare, it lacks the balls to fully commit to the risque image it’s trying to pass off. This is a movie all but daring its audience *not* to jerk off during it, yet it can’t bring an “Elizabeth Hurley getting flogged in a pool while seizuring like a fish out of water” element to the table? Please…

I’m not just praising Showgirls because I learned all of my moves of seduction from it (the fish out of water is still my go-to). I’m simply saying that without that extra, Saved-By-the-Bell -star-getting-f*cking-like-an-electrocuted-corpse boost, A Dame to Kill For is all but destined to wind up a critical and financial failure. Showgirls, on the other hand, grossed over $500 million domestic and is 1 of only 5 films to hold a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes *and* a 10/10 on IMDB. The proof is in the pudding, folks. And no, I don’t mean that as some kind of sex thing, you damn perverts.

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]]> 0 SIN CITY 2 Banner Leprechaun_3b think-like-a-man-too us-posters-mars-attacks-advance-1sh-96-directed-by-tim-burton-great-image-of-many-alien-brains what_happens_in_vegas_ver2 Showgirls
Throwback Thursday: 9 of the Most Scathing Siskel & Ebert Reviews From the ’90s Thu, 14 Aug 2014 20:23:20 +0000 Jared Jones Back before movie reviews could be summed up in 13 characters or less, there were two gentleman who stood atop the peak of film criticism. Simply put, *no one* could rip a movie a new a-hole like Siskel and Ebert.

The post Throwback Thursday: 9 of the Most Scathing Siskel & Ebert Reviews From the ’90s appeared first on Screen Junkies.


(Four thumbs up still doesn’t even begin to describe the greatness of Suburban Commando.)

By Jared Jones

Back before movie reviews could be summed up in 13 characters or less, there were two gentleman who stood atop the peak of film criticism. Their names were Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, and from 1986 to 1999, they hosted Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, a highly popular movie review show wherein the two would debate the week’s best and worst offerings from Hollywood. It was basically Statler and Waldorf with two slightly less cantankerous hosts.

Arguably the most entertaining episodes of Siskel & Ebert came at year’s end, when they would name their best and worst films of the year. While their breakdowns of the best were witty and insightful in their own right, it was their cathartic lampooning of the worst that are remembered to this day. Simply put, no one could rip a movie a new a-hole like Siskel and Ebert.

Unfortunately, both legendary critics have since passed away, Siskel due to complications from a surgery and Ebert from thyroid cancer. But rather than continue to wallow in the absolutely wretched week of news this has been, we shall instead celebrate Siskel and Ebert by taking a look back at some of their most vicious takedowns from the ’90s. Enjoy.

The Guardian (1990)

(Scroll to the 16:56 mark)

Choice Quote: “You know you have a special job when your little children ask you, ‘What did you do today, Daddy?’ and you tell them, ‘Oh, honey, I saw a movie about a killer tree.’”

Drop Dead Fred (1991)

Choice Quote: “98 minutes stolen from my life.”

Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)

Choice Quote: “If this script had been submitted to the half-hour show, The Golden Girls, they would have rejected it for not being substantial enough for a 22 or 24-minute TV show.”

The Beverly Hillbillies (1993)

Choice Quote: (From Ebert’s review) “Here is a film with all of the wit of the road kill that supplies not one but two of the lesser jokes.”

North (1994)

Choice Quote: “I hated this movie as much as any movie we’ve ever reviewed in the 19 years we’ve been doing this show.”

Judge Dredd (1995)

Choice Quote: “I know, Stallone, you probably hate my guts, you think I hate you. I don’t hate you. I like your talent. I want you to use it. This isn’t what you were put on Earth for. You can do this in your sleep, and sometimes, it looks like that’s exactly what you’re doing.”

Little Indian, Big City (1996)

Choice Quote: “If the French laughed at this, it makes me understand why they think Jerry Lewis is the funniest man on Earth.”

Year of the Horse (1997)

Choice Quote: “The documentary segments have all the depth of some kid interviewing his family members in the basement with a home video camera. And as for the musical segments, they remind me of nothing more than a group of shaggy mountain men hunkering in a circle and doing imitations of autistic lumberjacks.”

Spice World (1998)

Choice Quote: “When the movie was over, I still didn’t know the Spice Girls by name, which is OK because I don’t know the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by name either. So I thought, maybe there could be a movie where the Spice Girls and the Ninja Turtles fall in love, run off together, and never come back.”

For more ’90s nostalgia, enter the Throw Break Thursday sweepstakes for a chance to win a retro arcade tower, a classic gaming console & games, or a vintage comic book pack. It ends Friday, so hurry!

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Soundtrack Studies: ‘Fight Club’ Tue, 12 Aug 2014 16:11:24 +0000 Penn Collins I want you to listen as hard as you can.

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Last week I spoke of my two reservations in choosing soundtracks for Soundtrack Studies: I didn’t want to do instrumentals (because they’re just harder to write about and far better experienced than read) and I didn’t want to pick soundtracks that were done by just one artist, because the curation of different artists is one of the most compelling aspects of soundtracks.

Nonetheless, I tossed those criteria out the window and did ‘The Social Network, which featured no words, and was done entirely by the team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Oh well.

I also wrote about how Trent Reznor and David Fincher seemed to be a natural fit for each other, which is presumably why Fincher had recruited Reznor to write his now defunct Fight Club musical. But before there were musicals, spinoffs, or variety hours, there was Fight Club the film which had its own soundtrack, which sounded a LOT like Trent Reznor, even though it was done in its entirety by the the Dust Brothers. And it’s all instrumental as well, save for the last scene, which I will talk about later and is why I’m writing about this soundtrack in the first place.

For those unfamiliar, Fight Club, more than it is about fighting, is about the insidiousness of white male rage. The protagonist (an unnamed narrator played by Edward Norton), gets convinced by a mischievous stranger to thwart the conventions he’s mired himself in, and live life on a more savage, animalistic level. As the film progresses, we see Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden evolve from “charming imp” to “nihilistic criminal,” which is likely the character’s M.O. all along.

And as we’re faced with and rejecting the Narrator’s very existence, we’re given a droning score that serves as a heart monitor for Edward Norton’s character. For the entire film, the score intentionally avoids crescendo, climax, or excitement, instead serving to ratchet up the tension of a man hitting rock bottom of his own free will (but not really of his own free will.) The exception to this being the opening credits, which, in hindsight, teaches you the only exciting thing in the Narrator’s life is how messed-up his mind is.

Through that lens, the Dust Brothers were a very inspired choice. But they were also a very subversive one. Having been auteurs of beat-driven music fro over ten years at that point, they had largely cut their teeth as producers prior to the film, having overseen the excellent Beck album Odelay, the Korn (naturally) song “Kick the P.A.” and Hanson’s “MMMBop.”

Yes. The Dust Brothers did Hanson’s “MMMBop.” They’re nothing if not diverse.

Unfortunately, the soundtrack listings on Spotify seem to be more what people THINK should have been on the Fight Club soundtrack more than what’s actually on the Fight Club soundtrack. What people think should be on it is fascinating, but not really germane to this discussion. However, if you’d like to get a glimpse of someone making their own, you can see it here. If you want the actual soundtrack, made by the people we’re talking about here, it’s in this lengthy, lengthy YouTube video:

It really does sound a lot (alotalotalot) like The Social Network soundtrack. So much so that many Internet denizens refer to Nine Inch Nails as the composer. Close, but wrong.

The score, like that of The Social Network, sets an eerily ambient tone that pairs as well with senseless vandalism and savagery as it does with a dinner party or filling out a spreadsheet. Instrumental music often affords itself that versatility in a manner that singers can’t. And the film sticks to that formula right until the very end, when the Narrator puts a bullet through his head, demonstrating his free will apart from Tyler Durden, killing him, then watching the world burn and getting the girl.

It’s a lot to take in on a narrative level, but the use of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” serves as one of the more iconic songs in film, serving as both heavy-handed wordplay (where IS Edward Norton’s mind), but mostly just cutting through the tension carried in the film with  a cathartic release. You know. Like a bullet to the head.

It’s what the film’s soundtrack is most known for, and it rewards the viewer for two hours and fifteen minutes of watching this man trudge through life, then take misguided pains to make it a little more interesting. There’s probably a moral there, but David Fincher’s not the type of person to tell you what it is.


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Soundtrack Studies: ‘The Social Network’ Tue, 05 Aug 2014 17:43:00 +0000 Penn Collins If Trent Reznor and David Fincher couldn't make Facebook cool, then it was probably beyond hope.

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In an effort to keep this column as pop-culturally relevant (more for my sake than the sake of my readers), Soundtrack Studies was created with the intent to avoid “scores” and focus on “soundtracks.” I did this under the somewhat misguided understanding that a score was essentially composed instrumental music for a film, and soundtracks consisted of non-instrumental, sometimes non-original, music for a film.

This delineation works for the purposes of casual discussion, which is basically what I intend this feature to be, but for the sake of at least acknowledging the technical aspects of a soundtrack (or a score), I’d like to clear things up. For instance, all the pop songs for Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 were written FOR the film, so they’re part of the score. And the soundtrack. The soundtrack is ALL MUSIC in the film, and the score is ALL ORIGINAL MUSIC in the film. Semantic, but I figured after like a dozen or so of these installments, I could actually get around to defining what I’m writing about.

So what I really wanted to avoid were orchestral or instrumental soundtracks, original or not. I also wanted to avoid, at least initially, soundtracks (or scores or whatever) composed by just one artist. Like Badly Drawn Boy’s excellent soundtrack for About a Boy. I don’t really take issue with either approach, but the former is just a little obscure and hard to put in a relevant cultural context, and the latter ignores the curative aspects of soundtrack compilation that I find to be most interesting aspect of them.

The Social Network’s soundtrack AND score, composed by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and his collaborator Atticus Ross (a composer and producer in his own right), is entirely instrumental, and features no other composers or artists (save for a sample or two). But I felt it was too important and good to ignore based on a arbitrary premise that I set for myself for no particular reason.

It accompanied a film featuring a dream team of creativity; a film based on a successful book written by Ben Mezrich, adapted for the screen by Aaron Sorkin, and directed by David Fincher.

Academy Award-winning composer Trent Reznor

It was the film about how Facebook was started, which was so culturally relevant that even fans of the auteurs thought was an extremely ephemeral subject matter, no matter how profound its reach at the time of its release.

With a subject as mass-marketed, ubiquitous, and accessible as Facebook, the creative powers worked very hard to ensure that the film maintained a grit that wouldn’t reduce the film to the cinematic equivalent of kitten pictures and “Which How I Met Your Mother Character are YOU?” quizzes. It succeeded to the surprise of even Reznor himself.

To that end, the enlistment of David Fincher went a long way. And while Reznor and Ross didn’t have breadth of creative control that the director had, their involvement didn’t just result in a soundtrack that pleasantly defied expectation to the end of winning an Academy Award for their work, but also just gave the entire effort some credibility.

Here’s the soundtrack for the film:

The titles will likely mean nothing, as this is original, instrumental music, so judgment here lies even more so than usual in the content of the music itself.

While you’re listening to the soundtrack, let’s discuss a bit the relationship, real and conceptual, between David Fincher and Trent Reznor. They seem to share a creative DNA, operating in the realm of the mass markets, but with a subversive darkness that doesn’t seem to alienate, but rather endear. Sure, they’re not Mumford & Sons (thank God) or Steven Spielberg, but they’re both considered artists and craftsmen as much as they are a musician and a director.

Trent Reznor contributed to and took a supervisory role on the soundtrack to Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, which seemed to parallel the themes of the later Fight Club by Fincher. (In fact, there was a time when the director had been lobbying for Reznor to do a musical of Fight Club. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.) Fincher had also used a remix of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” in Se7en, a film that, in its entirety felt like a film based on a Nine Inch Nails song and resembled what we knew to be Nine Inch Nails music videos.

The two had a working relationship and friendship before Fincher approached Reznor to produce the soundtrack. Reznor declined, then accepted, as these stories so often go. The end of opening scene, which contains the ominous first track “Hand Covers Bruise,” was originally presented for working purposes with credits and an upbeat rock song.

Trent Reznor spoke with Fincher about dialing down the merriment, through a couple songs in from his instrumental album Ghosts, and the tone was set. With those marching orders, Trent and Atticus put together the rest of the album with a new confidence, and proceeded without much interruption or interference from anyone.

I don’t have much to say on the soundtrack songs itself, because, as was my initial concern, I feel that composed instrumental work is far better felt than discussed, at least in this medium. So here are a few clips that convey the feeling.

And then there’s the regatta scene, which plays closer to an action scene or music video (a hallmark of Fincher, even in his films) than any other part of the film.

From these, hopefully my sense that this soundtrack demonstrates a side of Trent Reznor apart from Nine Inch Nails which is not softer, but perhaps more insidious. Regardless of whether that’s actually true, it’s hard to argue in the wake of the acclaim for the film and its soundtrack that it wasn’t a success. And Fincher’s use of Reznor’s skills in the subsequent Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and upcoming Gone Girl further that assertion.

See ya next week, when we’ll get back to some soundtracks with words and songs and stuff.

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Soundtrack Studies: ‘Swingers’ Tue, 29 Jul 2014 16:43:40 +0000 Penn Collins Wherein one of the most interesting films of the decade spawns some of the least interesting trends.

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It’s hard for time to be on the side of Swingers. The film was forward looking in its portrayals of swing dancing, bro and hookup culture, and Vegas, baby, but all those things are pretty terrible, and were popularized by the film.

So do we hold Doug Liman and Jon Favreau responsible for these things? I mean, it’s not their fault if these things seemed like a good idea in 1996. Is it?

Ehhh. Maybe. I’d rather not assign blame or even discuss those cultural blips from 20 years, because we’re all pretty happy that they’re gone, but to the producers’ credit, they did create a version of Los Angeles that was both satirical and realistic, although L.A. can do a pretty good job of that on its own.

Swingers follows the lives of several underachieving males as they dick around, but not in the way characters like Jay and Silent Bob do. Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Frank Whaley, and Ron Livingston are dicking around in very ambitious fashion, trying to find the best parties, passively trying to be better actors and writers, and trying to bed the best women. Because the sun rises and sets on “cool” for these guys, even though they’re not particularly cool. They seem like relatively nice guys, except for Vince Vaughn’s Trent, who is a jerk.

In hindsight, being cool in 1996 wasn’t really an enduring cool. It was frosted tips, bowling shirts, tinted sunglasses, and goatees. Basically, it was looking like either a greaser or the guy from Smashmouth. So it wasn’t bad that these L.A. transients were not cool. The problem was they were buying into a shitty version of cool where you drive around all night looking for a party that either doesn’t exist or won’t let you in.

To match the ethos, there’s the aesthetic. The look adopted by the film’s characters largely harkens back to the rat pack. For those old enough, imagine a pre-fedora, pre-speakeasy culture in which everyone was drinking martinis and smoking cigars. That wasn’t QUITE the norm in some circles, but it very much was after Swingers popularized it.

With this look came a sound. A sound that could have, before this film and trend, been called “timeless.” It turns out all you need to do to have something stop being timeless is to have everyone do it incessantly, and look dumb while they do it. For that reason, swing music has proved to be as timeless as the Macarena.

Even the name Swingers nods back to a certain era when everyone was cool and smooth and everything that these guys weren’t. But every era, disco, the 80′s, prohibition…had smooth sights and sounds that, in the right hands could convey cool. That doesn’t mean they exist for everyone.

Here’s a a rough sampling of the Swingers soundtrack:

A big caveat here is that this Spotify playlist doesn’t include two Big Bad Voodoo Daddy songs that serve as the lynchpin of the soundtrack, by best demonstrating the mood of the soundtrack, but also playing in two of the more memorable scenes.

Here are the songs via YouTube:

I could spend all day speaking ill of the “swing” movement and its ridiculous suits, but, taking that off the table, the soundtrack does a pretty great job of punctuating just how in-the-moment these characters are. They operate with a narcism that could never allow them to gain any perspective on themselves, let alone the ridiculousness of their contexts. And to that end, the film serves as a great tale about Los Angeles. These characters, just like many of the other transplants in this city, must, to some degree, remain oblivious to the absurdity of it all, because if you don’t believe in it, you can’t play the game.

And these guys are never not playing games. They’re playing games when they gamble their money away in five minutes. They’re playing games when they leave countless messages for a love interest. They play games when they roll, all in separate cars, to an unnamed bar in an alley. They have to believe in this stuff, or they wouldn’t be doing it.

Similarly, they have to believe that they are as cool as Frank Sinatra when they step into a bar, even if, in reality, they’re only as cool as Jon Favreau.

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I’m Your Huckleberry: Five of the Greatest Movie Faceoffs of All Time Tue, 22 Jul 2014 21:47:39 +0000 Jared Jones The faceoff sets the tone for the violence that is about to occur. It builds tension, anticipation, and whips our unquenchable bloodlust into a frenzy. Here are five great ones.

The post I’m Your Huckleberry: Five of the Greatest Movie Faceoffs of All Time appeared first on Screen Junkies.


By Jared Jones

Over at CagePotato, I write about all things mixed martial arts (MMA)-related — fight bookings, event recaps, and the occasional head-to-head fighter breakdown — all while making sure to include as many fart jokes as possible. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned that MMA fans love in my time at CP, it’s a good old fashioned faceoff, a staredown, or whichever term you prefer.

For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, maybe step outside every once in a while, but also know that a faceoff is what you get when you place when two opposing forces in each others comfort zones while expecting them to remain completely civil, usually in the interest of selling more pay-per-views. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it does not. This is the best staredown of all time. This is the worst one.

The faceoff is one of the more cinematic elements to be adopted by mixed martial arts, boxing, etc. It sets the tone for the violence that is about to occur. It builds tension, anticipation, and whips our unquenchable bloodlust into a frenzy. Faceoffs are truly the calm before the storm, whether in movies or martial arts, and it is with that notion that we look back at some of the greatest faceoffs in film history, ranked in no particular order.

Jules vs. “Pumpkin”/”Ringo” — Pulp Fiction

If you thought I would make it more than two entries into this list without mentioning Samuel L. Jackson, you are one dead wrong motherf*cker, motherf*cker.

You see, even when I attempt to evoke the intimidating presence of sir Jackson’s voice in writing, it still comes out sounding like it’s being spoken by the scrawny-legged, pimple-popping dweeb that I was from ages 9-13 and also 13-present. That’s just the kind of gravitas Jackson speaks with, and it was his closing monologue as contract killer Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction that really boosted Jackson’s bad motherf*cker cred to a level unattainable by most mortals. Even now, when he’s dressing like an old, female librarian in those Capital One commercials, I still have no doubts that Samuel L. could find out what’s in my wallet through sheer force in under 30 seconds flat.

Quoting Ezekiel 25:17, Jules manages to pull off the rare feat of comparing oneself to God and sounding 100% believable in this scene. And like a true badass, he doesn’t even need to fire a shot to get his point across. For although Jules may be brandishing 9 mm, it is his word bullets that do all the damage here.

I apologize for all that confusing writer-speak I used just then, but let’s move on.

Rocky vs. Thunderlips — Rocky 3

Speaking of the Bible, Rocky Balboa vs. Thunderlips: The Ultimate Male is about as accurate a David vs. Goliath story as we will ever see out of Hollywood. Standing at approximately 4’3″, Balboa literally did not possess the physical mass to register as a blip on Thunderlips’ radar. That he had been beaten into a state of semi-retardation by the third Rocky film did not aid him in his fight with Thunderlips, as you can tell by their derp-filled pre-fight faceoff.

Of course, cooler (softer?) heads once again prevail in the Rocky franchise, as Balboa manages to take down his massive opponent using nothing more than his fists, a chair, and the help of a dozen or so security guards. Just like his Dad raised him.

Batman vs. The Joker — The Dark Knight

CALM DOWN NERDS. I’m only including this so I don’t have to deal with all the “But what about my pwecious Dawk Knoight?” comments that would follow its omission.

In the second chapter of a dark, gritty story about a man who wears a cape with the honest-to-God intention of scaring people, Batman faces off against his greatest rival ever: a man in clown makeup dressed like a rejected gang member from The Warriors. Super-serious stuff that we should take super-seriously follows, including this scene where Christian Bale needs a lozenge and mercilessly beats Heath Ledger for not giving him one.

Honestly, I can’t look at or listen to Bale’s Batman anymore after seeing Pete Holmes do it way better.

Doc Holliday vs. Johnny Ringo — Tombstone

The art of the staredown was practically, if not literally invented by the Western. There are over 3,000 staredowns to choose from between the films of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood alone, but for me, it always comes back to the OK Corral. While the 1957 original starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster is undoubtedly a classic, my favorite faceoff comes in 1993′s Tombstone, and more specifically, the “I’m your Huckleberry” scene pitting Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday against Michael Bein’s Johnny Ringo.

To say that Val Kilmer absolutely slays it in this movie would do his performance no justice. Thankfully, Holliday hands out enough justice in Tombstone for the both of us, and usually in the form of a bullet between the eyes before a breakfast consisting of whiskey and a good blood cough.

Two films later, Kilmer would don Batman’s cape in 1995′s Batman Forever. His career would never recover. I’m just saying, Duster > Cape.

Lt. Vincent Hanna vs. Neil McCauley — Heat

While not a “faceoff” in the traditional sense, the diner scene between Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) in Michael Mann‘s Heat is one of those “defining moments of cinema” that you always hear critics talking about while sniffing their own farts. It’s a meeting of two powerhouse actors at the peak of their relevance. It’s one of the greatest movies of its decade. It’s Godfather vs. Godfather for Christ’s sake!

There are so many quotable lines from this exchange, but my personal favorite has to be:

Hanna: “So you never wanted a regular-type life, eh?”

McCauley: “What the fuck is that, barbeques and ball games?”

Hanna: “Yeah.”

That is some Samuel Beckett-level existentialism right there, and one of the many reasons why we will forever be in debt to Heat for bringing together two acting greats for one memorable faceoff.

You can list your personal favorite faceoffs in the comments section if you’d like. I will consider considering them. 

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Soundtrack Studies: ‘Trainspotting’ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:06:57 +0000 Penn Collins It's a workplace dramedy, and the workplace is "heroin addiction."

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Movies about heroin, unlike movies about other drugs, generally aren’t very fun. While filmmakers have the ability to glamorize other drugs, or at least downgrade them to “mischievous” or “sleazy,” there’s something sad about heroin films. The act of sticking a needle in your arm, the ceremony, the privacy required is a very sad, lonely state of affairs.

But thanks to the magic of Irvine Welsh and Danny Boyle, Trainspotting manages to turn heroin addiction into something of a chore rather than an addiction. The characters are humanized to an extent that addiction becomes this thing they have to live with, sometimes humorously, like the characters in Office Space have to live with their jobs and bosses.

When Trainspotting isn’t mundane, it runs towards the whimsical and absurd. Babies crawl on ceilings and guys swim through toilets to get suppositories. A dead baby on a ceiling isn’t as sad as a dead baby in a crib (which the film also gives us). I don’t know why that is, but probably because a dead baby on a ceiling makes you think, whereas a dead baby in a crib just makes you feel. The ceiling baby is not sad, but morbid and certainly bleak.

The film’s bleakness, which is probably the prevailing “tone” of the film, is largely a result of two things: the film being set in Scotland and the film featuring a pitch-perfect soundtrack that offers a halo of cool to the film. The soundtrack, populated by many New Wave, post punk, and Brit-pop artists. In fact, the soundtrack is entirely British save for the inclusion of a couple Lou Reed songs. Brit-pop was always cool, but had a hard time becoming popular Stateside. Possibly we are Americans, and we like our pop hermetically sealed in a safe environment.

As such, some of that lack of traction can be attributed to Trainspotting. I don’t think that one album is capable of stopping a movement, but the film manages to be funny, cool, and extremely dangerous, and that danger may have proved to be a turnoff for many people. The words “funny,” “cool,” and “dangerous” also describe another film that came out a year before: Pulp Fiction. Similarly, the Pulp Fiction soundtrack was something people wanted to be around, but not get too intimate with.

Trainspotting had more starpower going for it with cuts by the aforementioned Lou Reed, Pulp, and Blur, in addition to New Order, Elastica, Underworld, Primal Scream, and Brian Eno. People generally don’t go out of their way to listen to Brian Eno, and he’s generally someone that people don’t feel compelled to get to know better.

Not unlike the characters of Trainspotting. Sure, it’s fun to watch Renton attempt to straighten up and fly right, it’s fun to watch Sick Boy hustle, and it’s fun to watch Begbie fight, but by humanizing the addicts and making them far more complex, the film’s effects are more insidious than those of a Requiem for a Dream. We would watch these guys without the heroin, but from the outset of the film, we have to make peace with the fact that will never happen.

The film masterfully weaves between the normal lives of these characters and their crippling addiction, and the soundtrack goes a long way towards that end. There are a number of uses of songs here that resonate profoundly with the viewer, and the one most frequently cited is “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed, which plays while we witness the protagonists shoot heroin and bliss out.

I can say with some certainty that this song got more mileage out of its inclusion on the soundtrack than any other, newer work. It doesn’t hurt that it was the most familiar song to Americans on the soundtrack (being the only song by American on the soundtrack), but also it’s because the song is perfect.

There are lot of songs that bring to the film a more palpable sense of fun and hope, but those are by newer artists and confuse the message that DRUGS ARE BAD. It’s a little ridiculous to say that some rock songs didn’t get more traction because they glamorize drug use, but when delivered in the package of Trainspotting, lots of emotional dynamics serve as stumbling blocks on the path leading from the film to a good time.

But the film ends with hope and a perverse sense of justice set to Underworld’s “Born Slippy” (which unfortunately, exists on that playlist only as a replica of the original). Renton, once again resolute in his desire to quit straighten up and fly right, steals a sum of ill-gotten cash from his friends, gives leaves some for the only guy who deserves it, then leaves.

The song gives an extremely faint sense of hope, and that’s just enough for the film to make the leap from being a great film about drugs to just a great film.

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10 Iconic Movie Lines, If They Were Written Today Fri, 11 Jul 2014 12:50:31 +0000 Jared Jones We live in an era of rapidly deteriorating linguistic abilities (translation: words b hard), where the appreciation for an eloquently-delivered turn of phrase is at an all time low.

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By Jared Jones

We live in an era of rapidly deteriorating linguistic abilities (translation: words b hard), where the appreciation for an eloquently-delivered turn of phrase is at an all time low. For every hour that The Learning Channel is allowed to continuing airing reality shows about polygamist midgets suffering from bipolar schizophrenia, or delusional, cupcake-baking Long Island housewives who communicate with ghosts, the IQ of the average earthling drops 10 points, thrusting our collective vocabulary ever closer to the monosyllabic, hybrid hillbilly and valley girl grunts uttered by the mouth-breathing troglodytes depicted in Idiocracy (*accepts award for greatest sentence ever written*).

The movie world has not been spared in this eradication of intellect, and could honestly be considered one of its greatest forerunners. Even the whimsical insults of eras past have been all but forgotten in favor of the base-level “sick burns” churned up by today’s creatively-bankrupt minds.

“His mother should have thrown him out and kept the stork.” — Mae West, 1934

“It tastes like fuckin’ dick infused with balls.” — Adam Sandler, 2013

To loosely quote Not Sure, there was a time long ago when screenplays were penned with the writer’s blood, sweat, and tears, not hastily scribbled onto a cocktail napkin amidst a three-day coke binge with Michael Bay. But times have changed. Can you imagine how some of the most iconic lines in film history would sound if they were written today? Gee, I wonder…

10 — “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” 

Modern equivalent: “I got 99 problems but this bitch ain’t one.”

9 — “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Modern equivalent: “Life’s like a bowl of ‘sketti and butter, so go tell Sugar Bear it’s done.” (*farts*)

8 — “A boy’s best friend is his mother.

Modern Equivalent: “A boy’s best friend is *your* mother, who I totally put a dent in last night.”

7 — “They’re here.”

Modern Equivalent: “Oh sh*t there’s some ghost-lookin’ muthaf*ckas in the TV screen!”

6 — “Yo, Adrian!”

Modern Equivalent: “Yo, Adrian!” Truly a man ahead of his time, that Stallone.

5 — “If you build it, he will come.”

Modern equivalent: “If you f*ck it, fame will come.”

4 — “A martini. Shaken, not stirred.”

Modern Equivalent: “Gin and juice. Beeeitch.”

3 — “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Modern Equivalent: “I’ve a serious man-crush on you, Lou. No homo.”

2 — “I’m the King of the World!”

Modern Equivalent: “Suck my d*ck, Planet Earth!”

1 — “Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”

Modern Equivalent: “If anyone else wanna kill some aliens, let me hear you say yeah!”

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Soundtrack Studies: ‘The O.C.’ (,Bitch) Tue, 01 Jul 2014 16:42:15 +0000 Penn Collins The most conservative backdrop for a TV show gets some indie rock.

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Historically, cinema was the medium that was meant to endure the march of time, whereas serial television had existed to capture the moment, chew it up, spit it out, and move on. And while HBO, and a dozen or so cable shows have shifted that paradigm, it still remains largely true.

More specifically in the realm of music, licensing current hits or even up-and-coming artists for inclusion in the first-run episodes is expensive. Doing so in reruns and for DVD sales has proven prohibitive time and time again for shows like MTV’s The State and The Wonder Years, to which the music was integral.

As TV became more endearing with shows like The Wire, Sex and the City, The Sopranos and a few other HBO offerings, the networks were slow to catch on. For every Lost, there were seven bad Lost rip-offs. And while ABC, NBC, and CBS generally stuck to their core demos of children, families, and the immeasurably old, Fox went after teens and the slightly more offbeat demo.

The O.C. was an offering that first came into the public consciousness during the famed 2004 MLB playoffs that had everyone watching as the Red Sox stole the pennant from the Yankees. The show looked pretty ridiculous, so in that regard, the previews and ads were an accurate representation of what we were in for.

While the efforts the producers made towards including and featuring music in the show were borderline herculean, the show itself wasn’t anything terribly special. It was a teen soap opera the likes of which we’d seen many times before, and haven’t seen so much of since (except maybe on MTV, where music has become incidental, ironically). A guy moves to Orange County. There are a lot of storylines. Everyone’s good-looking. The end.

I don’t want to sound dismissive, but if you want to read more about the plot of the The O.C., click here. Better yet, click here and do something better with your time. But we should talk about the music.

The O.C. creator and showrunner Josh Schwartz isn’t a stupid guy and was certainly aware that he wasn’t treading new ground with this show. So in an effort to have a hook, he claims he “always intended that music be a character on the show.”

That’s just about the most description you can give, but it’s also fairly true. The attention that the music commanded on the show far exceeded that which any character warranted. The demographic was suggestible (I mean, they were watching The O.C. after all), and the introduction and presentation of countless acts and artists, both live and non-diegetic, gave the show something to hang its hat on then and now.

The focus of the show was indie rock. And while it would be fun and dismissive to say that the show’s take on indie rock was the dull, focus-group tested type of music that you would expect a committee to approve, the truth is that it was an impressive undertaking from a mainstream show. To give an idea of the depth and breadth of the show, check out the exhaustive inventory here. That’s no small effort.

It’s easy to take a list this large and mold it to your own thoughts or expectations, but the truth is that this demonstrates that the show was very dedicated to giving new artists (and old ones) a platform, and to expand the tastes of primtetime teenagers. Pretty noble goals. And if it served as a point of distinction among the muddled teen-friendly TV landscape, all the better.

Here’s a very large, very helpful playlist that shows the scope of the curation:

Sure, there’s stuff to ridicule there, but that’s the cost of doing this type of business. You want to put nine Guster songs on your show? Fine. Whatever. Go for it. But they also put in MULTIPLE songs by lthe likes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Eagles of Death Metal, Royskopp, and The Walkmen. There’s lots of good music here. There’s lots of bad music here. There’s lots of MUSIC here. And that’s pretty virtuous in and of itself.

The issue I take isn’t with the music being good or bad. Catering to a primetime audience over several seasons, you’ll have to cast a wide net in that regard. The problem I have is that the characters in this show would never listen to this type of music. I bitched about a lack of authenticity torpedoing a previous film and soundtrack in Juno, and it happens again here. These people would not listen to this music. They don’t go to clubs to see up-and-coming indie acts. That’s not what people in Orange County do. That’s usually not what teenagers ANYWHERE do. They listen to obnoxious hip-hop and sappy songs that lends themselves to blowjobs in cars.

Which makes sense. Because hip-hop and sexual half-measures are things that teenagers like. Even the rich white ones in this show. So overlaying very progressive indie rock (at least by mainstream standards) against such a trite context doesn’t do the show, or ultimately the soundtrack, any favors. Though it doesn’t nullify the effort. I mean, could you imagine how bad the show would have been if it had been about music-savvy, painfully hip teenagers? It would have been like a hipster Dawson’s Creek. My eyes are bleeding just thinking about that.

So we’re all grateful that the producers and creators practiced some restraint there. I suppose we should just be happy that the powers that be gave us a familiar drama with good/great/lots of music rather than a familiar drama with nothing interesting of note. But it’s also not unreasonable to have wanted to more to elevate our enjoyment of both.

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Soundtrack Studies: ‘Above The Rim’ Tue, 01 Jul 2014 15:35:34 +0000 Penn Collins MOUNT UP!

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Finally, we get to a rap soundtrack. On my initial list of three or four soundtracks, I hadn’t included one. Following those, my need and desire to became more pressing, but as the pressure mounted, so did my indecision as to which one to include. Many of my favorite picks from the golden era of rap soundtracks (at least in terms of proliferation) were from just God-awful films like Mo’ Money and Boomerang. I didn’t want to talk about those films, nor did I want people knowing that I liked any aspect of them. Oh well. I think I found one for this effort that seems to endure as a film and an album: Above the Rim

I was torn between Above the Rim and Juice, both because they had phenomenal soundtracks, well-told stories, and killer performances by Tupac Shakur. To say he was a better actor than a rapper is a bit far-fetched, but based on those two films, along with him being the only decent thing about Gridlock’d, it’s not ridiculous to say he was trending towards greatness as an actor.

And Tupac surrounded himself with other good actors. Leon, who played a washed-up ball player-turned-security guard in Above the Rim carried more with his expressions than he did with his words. And Marlon Wayans was a little more erratic, but we would eventually see that there was a mastery and talent underlying that in films like Requiem for a Dream, but probably not in films like Little Man.

For those too young to have seen it or too old to remember, Above the Rim follows a high school hoops phenom hoping to get a full ride to Georgetown who is faced with a tough decision about whose team to play for in a streetball tournament. His coach, or successful local thug Birdie, who’s played by Tupac.

That premise is so simple it’s endearing, like one of those episodes from a 1950’s TV show in which a character agonizes who they’re taking to the sockhop for 24 minutes. But to everyone’s credit, and the character developments, the stakes feel pretty damn high. And the stakes would have remained high if the producers had cobbled together a terrible, thoughtless soundtrack like so many films did in the 1990’s.

But they didn’t. They put together a terrific soundtrack that featured, Tupac, Nate Dogg and Warren G’s “Regulate” (read that last one again), Tha Dogg Pound, Lady of Rage, Snoop Dogg and SWV. While none of those entries but Snoop Dogg remain standing 20 years later, these were good artists and good songs.

Here’s the rundown:

While soundtracks are rarely structured in the vein of studio albums, this one features one conceit of a successful album: a strong opening track with SWV’s “Anything.” Seriously. Listen to it. It’s about as strong a product of early 90’s R&B(ish) as you will find. Marry the sensibility of En Vogue with the attitude of a earlier-era Salt-n-Pepa and you’ll be at SWV.

On a standalone note: Oddly enough, a song on the soundtrack called “Doggie Style” is performed by D. J. Rogers by himself and doesn’t feature Snoop Doggie Dogg, Nate Dogg, or Tha Dogg Pound. In 2014, you would be drug out in the street and shot if you had a song called “Doggie Style” and didn’t have Snoop Dogg on it. No trial. No jail. Just shot.

I don’t know what to say about “Regulate”s inclusion on the album. It’s important. I’m certain (but offer no evidence or substantiation) that it did more to market the film (using clips in its music video) than the movie did to market the song. I still have a vivid image of a basketball player in the film swatting a shot against the backboard in the music video. I also remember Nate Dogg being smooth as hell singing his hook. “Regulate” is one of the better pop songs ever written, and that’s all I’m really going to say about that.

This album, somewhat sadly, served as the death rattle of the union, or even tolerance between east and west coast rap studios. The soundtrack was largely collaborative between Def Jam (east coast from Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin, and Lyor Cohen) and Death Row (west coast from Suge Knight). Wikipedia is claiming that Nate Dogg didn’t appear in the video because the two labels had begun feuding between completion of the song and the video, but I know he was because where else would I have ever seen Nate Dogg? It’s not like he had a parade of hits after this one. Wikipedia is wrong. Or I am. One of us is DEFINITELY wrong.

So, that’s Above the Rim. The film stands on its own not as a great work, but either as a low-stakes drama, or a high-stakes basketball film, and it’s probably better to view it through the lens of the latter, as it’s always nice when a film can exceed expectations, even if that doesn’t make it any better.

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Soundtrack Studies: ‘Juno’ Tue, 17 Jun 2014 16:50:50 +0000 Penn Collins This film may have served as quirk's (temporary) death rattle.

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Restraint is a concept that Diablo Cody has yet to master. She may practice it these days, but she certainly hasn’t mastered it in Juno follow-ups Jennifer’s Body, Young Adult, and Paradise. And not practicing restraint isn’t necessarily some death sentence or fatal flaw. Oliver Stone doesn’t practice restraint. Quentin Tarantino probably doesn’t. But the reason those guys can get away with it while Diablo Cody catches heat is that they have much more to say in their films than Diablo Cody.

Stone often exercises a painfully political agenda. Tarantino creates a world and an engaging story within it. And Cody talks about a girl in Juno. And there’s nothing wrong about making the story of a girl the alpha and omega of your film.

But when that girl is one of the most annoying and unrealistic characters put on film, it’s a problem. And fortunately for this recurring piece, much of her flaws and shortcomings are closely tied to the soundtrack of the film.

Before going down this path, I would like to briefly address the things I like about the film. I like the songs on the soundtrack. I think it’s very ambitious to introduce an audience to Mott the Hoople or even Sonic Youth. Cody does it in a very heavy-handed fashion, which I will discuss. But the effort is admirable, if misguided.

The story succeeds where the writing lacks. It’s not easy to make teen pregnancy a breezy, charming issue, and again, Cody comes up a little short, but it’s easy to see why people saw promise in her after this film premiered. Much in the same way that people saw promise in Kevin Smith after Clerks.

The performances are pretty great. From Ellen Page, from Michael Cera, from Allison Janney, from J.K Simmons. These were performances that more than forgave the sins of the screenwriter, especially in the case of Page.

So with those four or five backhanded compliments, let’s get to really talking about Juno and its soundtrack.

My major issue with Juno, as it was with Dawson’s Creek, is that it paints its child characters as adorable little adults, except when its convenient to revert them back to children for the purpose of conveying a point or manufacturing sentiment. It’s unfortunate because people don’t really go back and forth like that in reality, and also, children who act like adults are the worst type of people in the world.

This all come to a head when Juno posts up with Jason Bateman, the future adoptive father, to talk about music. This is something very relatable and a completely practical manner in which to bridge the glaring generation gap between the two. Bateman, in an effort to connect with Juno, sees that music resonates with her, then pounces on that topic to endear himself to her. Much like if you see a kid playing a video game, you talk to that kid about video games as best you can.

Here’s how it starts:

In this scene, it’s clear that Jason Bateman knows his shit when it comes to music, because he’s an aging hipster who is realizing he’s waving goodbye to his old life with the birth of his new baby. That half of the conversation works. He talks wistfully about old bands no one has ever heard of, and tries to get someone else to like them. It’s very true to the archetype that he represents.

But the other half – the Juno half, falls woefully short on several fronts. She’s shown as a firebrand, so it’s fine that she gives as good as she gets in the “You don’t know good music, I know good music” convo. Unfortunately, no clips are available of this scene, but it serves as the most obvious demonstration that Juno is a manifestation of an adult’s notion of “cool,” which sells the character woefully short.

Perhaps it can be chalked up to Diablo Cody’s inexperience as a screenwriter at this point (but given her subsequent outings, probably not), but much as a Police Academy movie serves as a collection of scenes that can be played in any order without really affecting the outcome, the scenes with Juno don’t seem to build on each other to get us very familiar with her character.

In the above scene, she sees Jason Bateman’s guitar and suddenly she’s an expert on guitars. When she speaks of music and film, she’s an expert on things that only a 45 year-old at a comic book store would a) know and b) discuss. They could have spent 12 minutes of screen time just listing songs from the Guided by Voices catalog, and it would have been a lateral move.

She speaks knowingly of Dario Argento, Velvet Underground, Moldy Peaches, and Mott the Hoople. She’s 15 years old.

What’s interesting here is that the tastes of Juno’s character, and ultimately the soundtrack were suggested by Ellen Page after director Jason Reitman asked her what he thinks Juno would listen to. Reitman had originally thought she would be a fan of glam rock. While that choice is a terrible one as well, the fault of the writers and soundtrack consultancy here isn’t that they asked the kid what the character would listen to, but that they accepted it.

It’s makes Juno a archetype of cool to uncool audiences, miring her in hamburger phones, dated TV references, and bands people listen to, but really don’t like. The result is an effect that makes the character seem mildly disconnected from the world and into a world of hers. Another, more incidental result is, conveyed contempt from the filmmaker to the audience via affectations that they expect viewers to blindly accept and nod, all slack-jawed. Which is actually a perfectly apt scenario for a teenager. However, the world she withdraws into is one that was formed by a creative committee that apparently had just seen the film Garden State before making these decisions.

As I mentioned, the soundtrack is inspired, catchy, and certainly an education for many people who won’t know these bands or songs. But the line is crossed when these esoteric songs and artists become diegetic and aspects of the Juno’s world. They become as trivial and contrived as that fucking hamburger phone she talks on, which ends up selling everything a little short and serves as a non-major flaw that compromises the rest of the film.

But listen to the soundtrack. It’s not bad, and that recurring song through the film, “All I Want Is You,” WILL get stuck in your head.

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Soundtrack Studies: ‘Clueless’ Tue, 03 Jun 2014 19:31:56 +0000 Penn Collins This film has an appearance by an ageless Paul Rudd and a soundtrack with Radiohead. It's very blessed.

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Amy Heckerling demonstrated in her direction of Fast Times at RidgemontHigh (a film that, bafflingly, isn’t known at all for its soundtrack) that she is able to take a snapshot of youth at a very specific time period, and nail the intricacies of that moment in time, all while conveying a story that endures far beyond the plaid skirts, tight jeans, malls, and Jeeps.

Revisiting the Clueless soundtrack, which was a favorite of mine at the time of its release, which coincided with my foray into high school, I remembered why I liked it almost instantly. Despite being somewhat “edgy,” it never strays from its pleasantness. The same can be said for the film, but not so much for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which dives into darker subject matter.

So when we accompany Alicia Silverstone, Breckin Meyer, Brittany Murphy, Jeremy Sisto, and Paul Rudd (PAUL RUDD!) on this ambling little tale, we’re bombarded with cuteness that helps sell the humor, rather than undermine it. For instance, Cher’s “date” with her gay classmate could have been painful, but instead of focusing on the issue at hand, we’re myopically focused on Cher trying to overachieve on her date, failing every step of the way, then walking away from it baffled.

The cuteness (Cher’s over-the-top effort) combined with the mild, mild edge (a gay teenager in 1995) lifts Clueless into a relatable teenage experience, but much more fun. And in Beverly Hills.

So what we get to accompany that logline musically is a soundtrack that contains at least one song to satisfy everyone at the party. However, as I mentioned in the Judgment Night write-up, trying to make everyone happy with one album is normally a great way to piss everyone off. However, just as with the film, the edge is sanded down so that the shape remains the same, just with no sharp corners.

Here’s the track listing for this cuddly little soundtrack:

The whole thing really makes you want to dance. Even the acoustic version of Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead. Though that makes me dance because I’m elated by the fact that Radiohead was once a band trying to make it, and appearing on soundtracks to Alicia Silverstone movies. But mostly, the bubble gumminess of it all is the charm. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are playing a warehouse party in the film with the imminently sing-along-able “Where Did You Go?” The Muffs take on the breezy “Kids in America.” The Counting Crows doing whatever the hell it was that they did in the 90’s. Supergrass continuing to confuse me with a band name too similar to Superdrag. Etc.

And a Coolio song as a minor plot point in the film. Even bands that don’t make an appearance on the OST manage to make an appearance, as with Elton’s adorably dated “I left my Cranberries CD in the quad.”

Whatever, Elton. GOD!

"Rollin' with the homies"

There isn’t some grand thesis underlying this soundtrack. I remember it fondly and wanted to revisit it. So I did, and was relieved to find it still held up as well as I hoped it would.

Even though Radiohead was still a hungry band at this point, before they started giving away their albums for “whatever people felt like paying,” they had still demonstrated taste and talent with Pablo Honey and The Bends. So unless you think you’re better than fuckin’ Radiohead, you should give the Clueless soundtrack a re-listen.

If you’re still considering whether or not you’re better than Radiohead, let me accelerate the process. You’re not. You’re far, far worse than Radiohead, and you always will be.

Thanks for your time.

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]]> 0 2012-04-28 10.54.55 am "Rollin' with the homies"
Soundtrack Studies – Wes Anderson Tue, 20 May 2014 16:49:44 +0000 Penn Collins Music is Anderson's second-biggest calling card. Next to his unabashed love of the Futura font.

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While every Soundtrack Studies to date has focused on a specific album, it seems that focus is somewhat wasted on the works of Wes Anderson. While the true nature of variance among Anderson’s films could be debated (and surely is), it would be difficult to contend that Anderson’s style isn’t homogeneous.

Though I realize just by saying that, I’ve just readied a legion of Anderson fans for rebuttals. Oh well, they’re all probably wispy and weak.

Wes Anderson’s pursuit of a timeless (but certainly not placeless) quality to his films has gone from a quirk early in his career to a his calling card, to perhaps a crutch worth of mockery, as SNL’s The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders so artfully indulged in.

In his avoidance of contemporary technology in his films, he also brings an aesthetic to the costuming that doesn’t belong to any era, but rather seems to belong to Anderson himself. And the same is true for the music in his films.

Curiously, the music in his films is far from anonymous. While a car in a Wes Anderson film is essentially an unbranded, shapeless placeholder for a car, the music belongs to famous artists. The Kinks, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones.

These are among the most famous artists in popular music, albeit from an era that seems to vaguely jive with the costuming, technology, and production design. So why use the Stones when you could pick some unknown French chanteuse to sing them in her native language? It ups the quirk by a degree or two, and certainly would help keep the budget down by avoiding licensing the expensive originals.

It merits noting that Wes Anderson isn’t the sole gatekeeper of his soundtracks. I mean, he’s the director, and the de facto brand, so he certainly could exercise veto power, but he works hand-in-hand with Randall Poster, a music aficionado who, through his passion for music and film, landed a career soundtracking films. He’s worked with Anderson since Bottle Rocket, so if you’re looking for another reason for the alarming consistency, that’s one right there.

Another such indicator is that Anderson and Poster have what Anderson describes as the “vault,” which is a list of songs they have pre-selected with no particular movie or scene in mind. So, to that end, it appears that reason the duo picks some songs is simply because they like the song, and not because a particular scene is begging for its inclusion. To say that a song is “shoehorned” in would (probably) be dismissive, if only because the design DNA of the films and the muted emotion are so prevalent that the taste in music runs along the same lines, so perhaps there are handful of songs in the vault that are good contenders for a scene.

Or, what I believe more likely to be true, is that while audiences and critics may mock Wes Anderson, and the choice of music for his films, that doesn’t mean they don’t like it. They’re essentially pointing out a consistency, which is an odd thing to be critical of, in and of itself. The type of people who like, or even watch Wes Anderson films aren’t the type of people who object to a deep cut by The Kinks. So while these people may object to Anderson & Co. returning to the same well over and over, it appears that they say that despite really enjoying the water from that well.

Of the artists to enjoy several track listings in a Wes Anderson film, virtually none are American or English speakers. That shuts the naysayers up pretty quickly; criticize my heavy use of this artist and you’re a xenophobe. The most glaring and recognizable example of this would be the Seu Jorge tracks on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. They’re all David Bowie covers sung in Portuguese, which is so damn Wes Anderson-y it makes me want to run out into the streets and cast Bill Murray in something.

For all of his fans, and the acclaim his films get, Wes Anderson’s soundtracking with Randall Poster is rarely described as masterful, despite being so heavily stylized and recognizable. The people that like these films understand that they’re buying into the Wes Anderson brand, and that brand is rife with things like Portuguese covers of David Bowie songs, “Hey Jude” played by the Mutato Muzika Orchestra, or just some obscure Rolling Stones song while the characters are running down the street with suitcases.

Few directors have made as powerful and distinct a brand out of their style, and while Wes Anderson’s style has many facets, it’s hard to say that his choice in music doesn’t set the tone more than any other aspect of the film. It’s good-natured, not of this era, slightly odd, but very comfortable. And to that end, he chooses music that perfectly fits the tone of his films.

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Soundtrack Studies: ‘Boogie Nights’ Tue, 13 May 2014 18:10:38 +0000 Penn Collins If it wasn't for the music, this would be a far more disturbing film.

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The Boogie Nights pitch is: A 1970’s ensemble epic about the porn industry, and it will star Mark Wahlberg as a guy named Dirk Diggler. So it’s pretty clear, even though this was a Paul Thomas Anderson (who was just making a name for himself) that this movie was going to have a sense of humor about itself.

Which is a good thing, because if you take away the ridiculousness of the film, you’re left with a lot of heavy stuff. Suicide, infidelity, drug addiction, hate crimes, rape, armed robbery, armed robbery again, and of course, lots of sex.

Looking at Anderson’s work both before and after Boogie Nights (before consisting of Hard Eight, and after consisting of Punch Drunk Love, The Master, There Will Be Blood, and Magnolia), there isn’t a lot of humor. Or smiling. Or anything that puts a fun time between you and the art. The gift of hindsight affords us that perspective. But a nascent Anderson in 1998 came with no expectations.

And he gave us Boogie Nights, a movie that’s equal parts sprawling, moving, disturbing, funny, and sad.

While most of Anderson’s works, all enduring, exhibit all those qualities save for “funny,” it would be dismissive to say that there’s an aspect of Boogie Nights that made the film funny. Like it was an accident.

Anderson set out to make a ridiculous film about a guy named Dirk Diggler, who fucks for a living, but also wants to be in a rock band with Chest Rockwell, and who works for Burt Reynolds and a pedophile called The Colonel. There are also roller skates and an Asian houseboy with fireworks named Cosmo.

It’s about this time we should talk about the soundtrack in this context. The film takes place in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the music is firmly planted in that era as well.

This is very arguably the most fun soundtrack ever assembled, and helps shift the film from being P.T. Anderson good to very re-watchable and fun. Here, the music scores a bunch of big dumb idiots stumbling and stealing their way through life, and allows us to enjoy it in a way that Daniel Day-Lewis and Jonny Greenwood could never let us in There Will Be Blood.

The film is so packed with music that it was released on two discs, one in October of 1997, and one in January of 1998. In them is included almost all the music featured in the film, save for the regrettable exclusion of Nena’s “99 Luftballoons.”

In this dark world, we’re constantly assaulted with happy music that could serve as a failed juxtaposition, but, because Paul Thomas Anderson is who he is, K.C. and the Sunshine Band and Rick Springfield do nothing to diminish the onscreen drama, but make it not only more bearable, but enjoyable.

I could harp on this a little more, like someone trying to describe how good a donut is, but the easier thing to do would be to just give you the damn donut and let you figure out how good it is.

Here’s the donut:

And that’s pretty much that. With a knowing sense of humor in the writing and certainly acting, this soundtrack helped turn Boogie Nights into the P.T. Anderson that entered the cultural consciousness. Which, in case you underestimate the profundity of that act – that’s something even Adam Sandler couldn’t do.

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Soundtrack Studies: ‘Pulp Fiction’ Tue, 06 May 2014 15:29:59 +0000 Penn Collins Maybe this movie was so good it could have made any collection of songs popular.

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If there was ever any doubt that a popular film can carry a wildly esoteric and diverse soundtrack on its shoulders to the masses, look no further than the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore effort, Pulp Fiction.

The film, despite its non-linear narrative and and a bend so heavy towards timelessness that it would make Wes Anderson blush became the critical and cultural darling of not only 1994, but the entire decade. Perhaps even more impressively, the film manages to remain in the Venn Diagram overlap between “classic films,” and “films people actually want to watch,” which is pretty rare air, especially in the past 20 years.

Soooo, Pulp Fiction was a great, popular film that captivated everyone at the time and continues to do so. And it’s easy to see why.

The soundtrack is so timelessly curated so specifically to the film’s tone, pace, and “feel,” that while it feels completely natural during the 100-minute journey onscreen, it reads as an odd mess when viewed alone.

The prevailing theme throughout the soundtrack seems to be “old stuff fans of contemporary independent cinema won’t recognize or appreciate.” And even if that analysis is correct, it doesn’t really matter. Tarantino remains so myopically focused on his filmmaking, that its almost absurd to think he’d sacrifice the film for something as crass as soundtrack album sales.

The only thing that makes this a cohesive work is the fact that it says PULP FICTION on the front of the CD case, with a smoking hot picture of Uma Thurman under it. Other than that, it’s more or less a completely arbitrary collection of songs, the quality of which can be debated, but largely varies from “pretty good” to “good,” with one song registering at “Off the Chart Fucking Excellent.” That songs is Dusty Springfield’s version of “Son of a Preacher Man.”

Besides that gem, you’ve got Dick Dale doing Miserlou, you’ve got that Chuck Berry song, you’ve got a Neil Diamond cover song, you’ve got Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” and you’ve got “Jungle Boogie.” Good songs, but, as I mentioned in last week’s Judgment Night piece, diversity in music generally tends to alienate more of an audience than it does attract one.

However, these strange, imperfect pieces fit so well in the scenes Pulp Fiction that together, the fact that they’re so evocative of dancing at Jackrabbit Slims, the opening credits, Mia Wallace playing Urge Overkill on a giant reel-to-reel, that this ostensibly serves as a $15 souvenir of the film.

So when we look at this album, and if you indulge me enough to concede that, while these songs are pretty good, there was no market for them until Quentin Tarantino made them a part of something bigger. It’s not a hard line of logic to buy into, especially considering the exact same thing could have been said about John Travolta and his career at the time.

Quentin Tarantino’s movie was so good that it made things special just by being around them.

And I believe that’s why this soundtrack performed as well as it has. The soundtrack as an album is not that special. It’s a quirky and old, but not in a nostalgic fashion. In a weird QT brand of cool. And that’s among the most marketable brands of cool in the world. Sprinkle in some of those painful little dialogue snippets throughout the soundtrack, and all of a sudden Pulp Fiction wasn’t just on your TV at home. It was in your car, too.

If you are to believe that the Pulp Fiction “brand” was so powerful it could have made any collection of songs a hit album that went double platinum, then you must ask, “Is the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction largely incidental?”

No, not really. Those songs worked perfectly in the film, and without such a great soundtrack, the film wouldn’t have been as good. So in that sense, the soundtrack was a success. Which would ostensibly be the only sense that matters in the world of film. Soundtracks exist to support films. Otherwise, they’re just compilations, anthologies, or albums.

But when the context of the film is gone, does a soundtrack have an obligation to the purchaser to succeed on its own?

Without answering that thorny question, I would say that the Pulp Fiction soundtrack succeeds on its own just by virtue of being the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Which is a convenient little crutch, but also a nice perk of being the soundtrack to what’s (very) arguably the greatest film in a generation.



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Soundtrack Studies: ‘Judgment Night’ Tue, 29 Apr 2014 21:33:18 +0000 Penn Collins What probably stemmed from a focus group of teenage boys turned into a pretty strong anthology.

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If you’ve spent the past 15 or so years looking for someone to blame for the rap-metal proliferation of the late 90’s, you can find pretty good whipping boys in those behind the Judgment Night soundtrack. In the middle of the Great Grunge Movement of 1993, Judgment Night matched some of the best hip-hop and rock bands of the time with…some that weren’t.

But before we go down that rabbit hole, let’s get the nuts and bolts of the film out of the way. This shouldn’t take long. Judgment Night takes good guys Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Jeremy Piven, and pits them against Denis Leary and the guy from House of Pain. The former group, while in an illicitly borrowed RV, runs afoul of the latter group on the wrong side of the tracks.

Bad stuff happens, and the whole thing is a pretty weak film.

There. That was easy.

Intentionally in keeping with the “worlds colliding” motif that is pretty much all the film stands on, the soundtrack serves as a high concept anthology of hip-hop and rock collaborations. It succeeded on many levels when it was released, and it still, somewhat remarkably, succeeds on most of them 21 years later, when the face of hip-hop and rock are really, really, really different.

Here’s the soundtrack:

I would think that most things that came across as ambitious and inspired 21 years ago (as this soundtrack did) would come across as pretty fucking stupid viewed through today’s lens. Let the fashions of 1993 serve as a case study. Remarkably, this album stands pretty strong. Most of the bands (both rap and rock) are pretty esteemed, and some (lookin’ at you, Boo-Yah Tribe) are piss-poor.

However, much as you can blame whoever crafted this soundtrack (Amanda Scheer-Demme, by the way, nightlife impresario and wife of director Ted Demme) for the onslaught of blindly-raging rap-metal years later, you can also credit her for curating some strong collaborations. None are transcendent, but almost all range from pretty good to very good.

So even though you haven’t heard from Helmet or House of Pain in a while, and you might not even like their music, give the first track a listen. It’s surprisingly tolerable. And anyone who can make bands tolerable to the masses is pretty much a magician. Both bands are talented and had their devotees, but their collaboration serves as a converse to the adage, “People in the middle of the road get hit by traffic going both ways.”

It serves to support, “Soundtracks that take elements of very distinct genres not only don’t alienate fans, but become greater than the sum of their parts. “

I don’t think that adage is in danger of becoming commonly used, but there you go.

Of course, if you really want to buy into this, I strongly suggest you don’t listen to the Ice-T/Slayer track. That not only unravels my argument here, but most of man’s accomplishment for the past couple millennia. Really terrible.

And as long as we’re disclosing things, I don’t think it’s actually fair to blame Amanda Scheer-Demme for rap-metal. It would have happened with or without her, so let’s continue to just blame Woodstock ’99, Carson Daly, Fred Durst, and Florida.

There isn’t much more to say about the soundtrack without forcibly sitting the reader down to listen to it, then conducting a conversation about what they heard. A slightly surprising number of bands here are still relevant, but none as big as they were when this album came out. It didn’t really change anything in soundtracks, or in music. It simply serves as an example of what happens when more than a cursory nod is given to such a high-concept undertaking.

The artists and soundtrack producers clearly worked to make this work, and considering how unlikely that was to happen, probably deserve a small parade.

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Soundtrack Studies: ‘The Crow’ Tue, 22 Apr 2014 15:51:05 +0000 Penn Collins "Ca-CAW! CA-CAWWW!"

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Whereas the Singles soundtrack, while countercultural at the time, would go on to serve as a seminal album to those who grew up to graduate to become upstanding adults, The Crow soundtrack served as a rallying point for those kids who felt it would be their mission in life to blow up Starbucks and get their lips pierced.

Of course, none of that really happened, and everyone from all walks of life would wind up enjoying Starbucks following its proliferation, but it does speak to The Crow’s place in recent history. Whereas grunge had gone from becoming a subculture to THE culture, The Crow’s soundtrack matched it’s dark subject matter with more overtly gothic bands that could have been confused for grunge, but weren’t exactly.

Being two paragraphs in to any discussion of film, I feel bound by pop-culture law to disclose that during the shooting of this film, the film’s star, Brandon Lee, was killed during an oversight with one of the prop weapons that essentially resulted in him being shot and killed with a real bullet.

This is important not only because a man died in a seemingly safe line of work, which is tragic, but also because the film revels in concepts of death, gloom, dark angels, and the like. And the dynamic between the two seems to inflate the importance of both aspects. The death of the film’s young star seems to legitimize the themes of the movie (at least in the perverse minds of the films teenage audience at the time) and the themes of the film make it seem Brandon’s death was preordained, that he was fulfilling this silly role by dying himself. Again, a wrong and stupid analysis, but its veracity in the simple, faux-alienated minds of teenagers shouldn’t be dismissed when discussing the legacy of the film and its soundtrack.

The Crow burning image.

"Oh! I see! It's a crow!"

A few words about the film before we get on to the music:

The Crow takes place in dystopian Detroit, or as we like to call it these days, “Detroit.” It follows a guitarist who comes home to find his fiancée being raped and murdered, and then is murdered himself. He comes back to life after a crow taps his headstone, and sets out on avenging his death by killing the criminals that led to his.

The film takes place almost exclusively at night, and often in the rain, in a style that seems to go beyond noir and is reminiscent of Blade Runner. Needless to say, any impressionable youth that felt the least bit of alienation from the world felt this to be a very important film. The film received good critical marks, and was buoyed by a soundtrack that buoyed the film’s relevance even further.

Here you’ve got everything from the spot-on (Nine Inch Nails doing a cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” and a track by The Cure) to the creative (Violent Femmes) to the de rigueur soundtrack inclusions that seems as though it was done as a favor to the bands’ managers (Machines of Love and Grace, For Love Not Lisa).

Despite Nine Inch Nails rising to the occasion by taking a goth-y classic and giving it a goth-y update, the big star of the soundtrack was Stone Temple Pilots “Big Empty.” It wasn’t the best song on the soundtrack, but it was a good song by what was by far the most popular band on the soundtrack. It was also by far the most accessible, which probably stems from the fact that it comes from the least “dark” band on album.

It’s often (read: almost always) difficult to take this overt taste in darkness seriously, especially in The Crow‘s case where the film is marketed to American youth during a time in which pain, self-hatred, and stupid existential dabblings were fashionable. And while the soundtrack matches very well a bleak film and tainted production, outside of that context the soundtrack gave fans of STP and the like an excuse to veer off course from their tastes and try something new. Not unlike the way No Country for Old Men’s soundtrack did for bluegrass/Americana music and yuppies.

And so The Crow soundtrack provided, outside the film, a vehicle for rebellion from grunge, which at this point in 1994 had become the purview of Calvin Klein and NBC jokes. However, at the end of the day, all most of the audience really wanted to do was kick back and listen to a catchy Stone Temple Pilots song.

At the end of the day, I think that’s all any of us really wanted to do in 1994. We probably just didn’t realize it at the time.

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Soundtrack Studies: ‘The Big Chill’ Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:01:08 +0000 Penn Collins This soundtrack is the musical equivalent of wrapping a chenille blanket around someone, handing them some tea, and repeating softly, "We're all in this together, and you're doing great."

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Two weeks ago, when I was discussing the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack, I mentioned that nostalgia is “a big card to play.” It’s a very evocative technique that, for a film or music, takes the viewer/listener back to another time, ushering them through their own lives, rather than taking them on a journey in a vacuum through the story.

In both Grosse Pointe Blank and The Big Chill, the nostalgic music was largely diegetic, meaning the characters in the films can hear it. In the case of Grosse Pointe Blank, the nostalgic efforts aren’t directly pandering to the audience. Martin Blank can hear the music of his high school years, at his high school reunion, and it forces him to acknowledge and study the normal life he eschewed. Not groundbreaking stuff, buy it made for a pretty fun film and terrific soundtrack.


The Big Chill is one of those films about “growing up.” Which is fine, growing up is a big part of life. Without growing up, we all would still be babies, and how would we eat at new restaurants?

The Big Chill examines a group of a half-dozen friends who attended college together in the late 60′s who are brought back together in 1983 or so after their friend commits suicide. The cast remains fairly iconic to this day with Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum, Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, Meg Tilly, and William Hurt. They stay the weekend together to find that they’re all suffering from pretty unremarkable adult problems – they’re broke, being cheated on, cheating, baby-crazy, etc.

So, these adults have all these adult problems. But unlike the age today where you can’t swing a dead cat without running into a Buzzfeed list of “25 Worst Things About Growing Up,” or reading an article about how 30 year-olds can’t find jobs and live at home, no one was really bitching about growing up THAT much in 1983. If they were, it wasn’t on a platform as large as a movie screen. So, that nostalgia that we’re sick of and the problems that young-ish adults face aren’t exactly a revelation. But what we see throughout this entire film, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, are these miserable-ish people all trying to go home again. And that’s sad in the context of the movie, then it becomes sad in a different way when Baby Boomers make this film and its soundtrack anthemic to their generation.

And there’s no more effective, or heavy-handed way to drive that point across by playing songs from the characters’ halcyon days, where everything was great, and kids were being kids. Through the lens of 30 years of hindsight, the premise reads as quaint and the soundtrack to support is so on-the-nose that it seems to have been curated through a survey by the U.S. Department of Innocuous Nostalgia.

Now granted, I can’t say I’m of the generation that found kicking back with a doobie and listening to Three Dog Night and The Temptations to be a “good time,” but that’s ok. I understand it. I don’t actually, but for the sake of diplomacy and to appear magnanimous, I’ll say I do.

Another interesting aspect here is the time passed between the present for the characters and the era they look back to. It’s not that far back. Can you be nostalgic 15 years back? You can if you’re a fashion designer or remaking a crappy movie, but it’s hard to take any pop culture from 15 years ago that seriously. Here’s a list of the Top 100 songs of 1999. Take one of them seriously. I dare you.

The good news with so much of this soundtrack being diegetic is that the director, Lawrence Kasdan, doesn’t seem to be breaking the fourth wall, tapping you on the shoulder, then whispering, “Remember this song?” to lure you in. Thank God for small miracles there.

The bad news is that seeing the characters run for refuge in the music of their youth isn’t as heartening as one would hope. For instance, after a particularly traumatic dinner, the “gang” dusts themselves off and does the dishes.

If I didn’t recognize Glenn Close, I would have sworn this was an early-80′s commercial for Tupperware. It seems that trite.

However, the skepticism surrounding any overture to our youth as a marketing ploy probably didn’t exist back then, and so people listening to a bunch of catchy pop 15 years after its prime for no particular reason seems like a crass exercise, but it’s not like people aren’t doing that right now. I wish I could say that I was listening to Ricky Martin or Crazy Town as I was writing this, but I’m not. I’m listening to my air conditioner and a few birds. Which no one would care about because it doesn’t harken back to simpler times.

But it’s pretty nice, even if it wouldn’t make for a great film. But if I was listening to a song right now, it would probably be this:

Warning: It won’t make doing the dishes any better, nor will it bring your dead friends back. You’re going to need Three Dog Night for that.

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‘Bon Appétit’ Made An Inventory Of All The Food Chunk Eats Or Talks About In ‘The Goonies’ Mon, 14 Apr 2014 15:49:55 +0000 Penn Collins He's still not as bad as a self-described "foodie." Ugh.

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Bon Appétit, in their fervent pursuit of food and truths about food, assigned a writer to discuss everything that the portly character Chunk ate or spoke of eating in his time onscreen during The Goonies.

Why? I don’t know. Bon Appetit probably has an office full of food journalists, and sitting around waiting for food to make headlines could be pretty frustrating, so maybe they have to put together their own stories. The story can be found right here, and below I’ve listed a few interesting aspects about the piece/premise of the article:

  • The writer had never seen The Goonies before this assignment, which is surprising, until you see that her name is Rochelle, at which time you come to the realization that you don’t expect people named Rochelle to have the same life experiences us regular folk have.
  • The piece contains prose like this in discussing the Truffle Shuffle: “There are neither ganache-covered chocolates nor foraged fungi; the only shuffling is of Chunk’s ample belly.” The only shuffling is of Chunk’s ample belly. And that thought is preceded by a semicolon. This writer clearly doesn’t want to be a web writer for much longer. I bet Rochelle does her first drafts with ink and quill.
  • I don’t know what I was expecting, but after clicking the tag “truffle shuffle,” I was a little disappointed that there weren’t any other Bon Appetit articles with that tag. I would have been happy with just some Truffle Shuffle steak fries or Truffle Shuffle vinaigrette.
  • If these quotes and my memory are to be trusted, Chunk, in his ramblings about ice cream, brings up grape. Grape ice cream. And then apple. Where the hell is this kid getting cravings for grape and apple ice cream?
  • Chunk’s mom greets him after his rescue with Domino’s pizza, “his favorite.” Even if they managed to go on a pirate adventure and singlehandedly save the community from Troy’s dipshit dad, they’re still kids. And kids don’t know the first thing about good food.
  • The writer, the lovely Rochelle, ate during her screening of the film: “Two glasses of rosé, half a kabocha squash, an entire head of kale (I am not ashamed), and a handful of pecans.” First of all, this means that not only could Rochelle and I never get married, but probably never even be friends. Not because of her taste in food (which seems like the diet of a wealthy rabbit), but because she’s the type of person that makes eating a head of kale seem like a transgression that requires explaining. “Ugh. I had two rice cakes today. I’m such a cow.” I bet in job interviews, she lists her biggest weakness as being a “bit of a perfectionist.” Also, if you’re conveying what you’ve eaten today, and you list a “handful” of anything, I won’t like you ever again.

This list does beg the question of how you you follow up such a great character with his (supposed) re-appearance in a (supposed) sequel. The real Chunk is skinny these days (see?) So maybe they have to give him some other fun indulgence, like sex addiction, bulimia, or cutting.

I think America, in an effort to shed its reputation for unbridled decadence, would clamor to see a former child actor cut himself onscreen just so he can feel like he’s in control of SOMETHING.

Nah. Give him a big blueberry milkshake to spill on his skinny little head. You’re out of blueberry ice cream? Ok. Just give him some grape.



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Soundtrack Studies: ‘Garden State’ Tue, 08 Apr 2014 16:00:58 +0000 Penn Collins In which Zach Braff uses indie rock in an attempt to make morose whining cool.

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Through the lens of hindsight, time, cynicism, and a general aversion to Zach Braff, Garden State seems to have lost much of the luster that made it a critical darling in 2004. With a budget of a paltry $2.5 million, it found its way to Sundance and garnered over $35 million at the box office. It’s also not a huge leap to say that it ushered in an era of indie rock to the types of people who rely on independent films to usher in new genres of music.

The only film that may have forcefully pushed its soundtrack on to the masses in recent years is High Fidelity, but that film had the convenient excuse of being a film about snobby, narcissistic record store employees, so failing to have them shove music down your throat would have been remiss on the part of its director, Stephen Frears.

Garden State takes a decidedly different tact with its music, still shoving it down our throats, but often in a less diegetic form (“The Shins will change your life” scene being the exception. But we’ll talk about that later, even though I want to start yelling about it right now.)

Only ten years after the fact, Garden State feels as though it could be a parody film along the lines of Epic Movie, Date Movie, or one of those other terrible send-ups. A collection of scenes that can be played in any order and not really affect the outcome of the film. Sort of like Police Academy for whiners. Sure, it’s got more gravitas and more to say, but the film is so rife with tropes and quirk that it’s hard to get past having wallowed through the ennui of millennial along with hipster culture, and the archetypal characters that were actually largely established after the release of this film. But before we get much further, let’s acknowledge the plot of this film.

Zach Braff’s character, whose name is really not important, leaves his trite existence as an LA actor/waiter to return to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral, which he feels somewhat responsible for. Braff is a muted human with what seems to be myriad personal issues ranging from the psychological, to the social, to his relationship with his cold father.

Upon returning home, he meets a carefree sprite in the form of Natalie Portman. Portman’s character in this film has been repeatedly discussed as the template for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. In short, the MPDG is a younger, carefree spirit who accompanies the protagonist on a journey of self-discovery to shed cynicism and just generally enjoy life by playing in the rain and other similar activities.

And that’s pretty much it for the plot. Braff meets some interesting people, but that’s it. It’s not really a romance, but more of a personal journey, and there’s not much resolution. So, to make up for something less than a complete story arc, Braff loads the film with stylization that often creeps into affectation. Some examples:

• Braff dusts off a motorcycle with a sidecar to tool around town
• His friend is a pot smoking grave digger
• Method Man plays an enlightening bellman named Diego
• He does ecstasy in a time-lapse montage sequence
• An adopted African sibling seemingly coming from nowhere
• He yells in the rain
• He is told by Natalie Portman that The Shins “will change his life”

And so forth. Along with these many, many shiny surfaces applied to a morose story is a soundtrack that is crammed to the forefront to such an extent that the appearance of every song feels more like a music video than it does a scene in a movie. Early on in the film, you get the feeling that Zach Braff really loves these artists and songs to the point that he struggles to maintain objectivity as he puts the his own film on hold for longer than he should to spotlight the songs.

This treatment makes a little more sense when it comes to light that the film is semi-autobiographical, and by Braff’s own admission was a somewhat cathartic exercise to work out his problems, similar to the problems of the character he plays. If you’re going to tell a somewhat aimless story about yourself, you might as well pepper it with colorful characters and some good music, no?


So the soundtrack:

Many of these bands were new to the world around this time, so the Garden State soundtrack was absorbed by the Starbucks set and younger as a pleasant, rainy day offering. And to Braff’s credit, most of the music on the soundtrack had the virtue of being both new and enjoyable when the film came out. What diminished the effort was the way in which he presented it. As a person who loves music, I understand the compulsive need to share my musical taste and discoveries with any person that crosses my path. However, I like to think that quality would also make me a subpar filmmaker. That and the fact that I don’t own a camera.

You can like the film, like (love) the soundtrack, and still not enjoy the way in which the music is presented in the film. I’ve harped on this a few times now, so let’s address some examples.

Good music, and, in a vacuum, a bold presentation. However, sprinkle in a couple more of these efforts, liberally baste in oversized headphones, sidecars, and images like this:

His shirt matches the wallpaper.

And you get a film that, perhaps largely through its success, laid the groundwork for tropes and conventions against which it would be measured against itself to some degree. It’s weird, but it might also end up being more interesting than the film.

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Report: Stephen Colbert Is The Top Choice To Replace Letterman Sat, 05 Apr 2014 04:25:33 +0000 Penn Collins May he'll play some cowardly liberal this time around.

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Not even 24 hours after news of David Letterman’s retirement plans from The Late Show hit social media, then the airwaves, we’ve already got rumblings on who is favored to get the job. And it’s none other than Stephen Colbert, currently on a tear on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report.

The rumors started from Nikki Finke, who is, by all accounts, a pretty lousy person, but pretty good at breaking stories. She first posted this Tweet:


The landscape of white, male heirs is pretty limited, with Neil Patrick Harris‘ name bandied about. But current Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson has said he doesn’t want it in the past, and doesn’t appear to be much of a consideration.

So, the word on the street is that Colbert’s contract is up in about a year. Letterman is retiring in about a year. The consensus is also that Colbert would drop the neo-conservative schtick and just act like a regular human being, something he hasn’t really done on camera in ages.

So assuming there’s plenty of money to go around, which I’m sure there is, two big questions stem from this news:

1) Colbert has demonstrated on the show that he does a show that engages him and his devoted fans. He’s never done much to expand his audience. He gets unknown (albeit interesting and fun) intellectuals, academics, and pundits to appear on his show, he would rather have LCD Soundsystem (R.I.P.) or Andrew Bird (hopefully R.I.P.’ing soon) on his show than Katy Perry or Drake. Which begs the question:


2) Colbert is a smart guy with a nerdy streak. He’s essentially made his career by mocking politics in general and conservatism more specifically, and for obvious reasons, would have to play more politically agnostic to a broader audience.

In what may shed some light on these two issues is a new Mashable story, which is quoting unnamed sources that say not only is Colbert the “front and center” candidate (not that I’ve ever heard that idiom used to describe someone favored for something, but I think I get the spirit of the comment), but Colbert is apparently excited to take it. 

Of course, this all could just be the work of a web outlet, recklessly citing mailroom banter to manufacture a story and drive page views. However, the fact that all the outlets have are credible, and that they seemed to come to this conclusion independent of one another suggests that they’re could be some truth here.

Should we give this news more than 24 hours to marinate before predicting a turn of events that could be 12 months out?

F*ck no. This is the Internet, not…not…not…PRINT JOURNALISM.


More on this story as we get some confirmation that these other guys are tracking in the right direction. Meanwhile, enjoy the Colbert Report. If this is to be believed, it might not be long for this world.


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Soundtrack Studies: ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ Tue, 01 Apr 2014 15:23:01 +0000 Penn Collins The movie and soundtrack have something to offer, provided you can get past the painful triple-pun title.

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Nostalgia is a big card to play in storytelling. To harken back to an earlier time in a character’s (and often the audience’s) life CAN be an efficient, powerful way of developing a character or set of circumstances in a film. However, it’s just as likely to evoke for the sake of evoking, as though the producers of a film are walking by with a silver platter, asking “Remember this? How about this? This sure was neat, wasn’t it?”

As the pace consumption of pop culture continues to accelerate, it’s pretty easy to take the lens of nostalgia back not 30 years, but 5 or 10. Grosse Pointe Blank, an odd dark comedy starring John Cusack and Dan Aykroyd(!) as rival hitmen, takes this approach, looking back to protagonist Martin Blank’s somewhat recent awkward high school years, and the soundtrack that accompanied them.

Rather than using a high school reunion as an excuse to bring back the hits (which Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion managed to do shamelessly and skillfully), Grosse Pointe Blank finds the soundtrack for an outsider, peppering the film not with Bon Jovi or even the Beastie Boys, but with an array of next wave ska, post punk, and Pete Townshend – a mix odd enough that when “99 Luftaballoons” (the German version, of course) inevitably does pop up, it feels organic, as though it was the next song in a very diverse playlist, rather than the aforementioned nostalgia play.

While pains are taken in the film and soundtrack to show Martin Blank as an outsider, the soundtrack also serves to solidify his relationship with Debi Newberry, the “cool girl” from high school, who, 10 years later, is working a tiny radio show in a tiny town, still playing The Specials and the English Beat.

The younger you are, the longer time can seem, so when this film came out almost 20 years ago (1997), a generation of people saw this as a genuinely backwards-looking film, especially those too young to have experienced the 1980’s high school experience. I include myself in that group, relegated to drawing from John Hughes films and…John Hughes films to piece together that experience. However, the film takes place at a 10-year high school reunion, which now seems like the bat of an eye. To give some frame of reference of how recent that actually is, The Strokes’ debut Is This It? came out 13 years ago in 2001. So the film wasn’t actually looking THAT far back.

But it looked back 10 years to a corner of pop culture that existed between the cracks of hair metal, pop and grunge. And the film’s soundtrack does a good job of reflecting the poor fit of the character in a high school context.

In this film, Nena and a-ha don’t exist as cornerstones of Time-Life Remember the 80’s collection, but just as other new wave songs that happened to be a little more popular than the early output from The Pixies and Faith No More.

In the film, as we follow Martin Blank on assignment, in his affluent suburb, we stop over at his high school reunion. And, as with all high school reunion tropes, we see Blank take inventory of his life. But Blank is such a stranger to not only his classmates in the film, but the audience as well, that we can only speculate what’s going through his mind in this scene:

But we know it’s deep, because David Bowie is walking us through the moment.

Outside the context of the film, the collection works in part not because it’s accessible, but because it traffics in “cool.” Not everyone likes The Clash, but the bet this soundtrack makes is that no one would ever say they don’t like The Clash. Because that would be like not liking Prince, and not liking Prince would be completely ridiculous.

So the film loads up on music from the fringe of a generation of audience that would have sooner bought the soundtrack than admit that they didn’t get it. The fact that the soundtrack is eminently listenable even to those unfamiliar means that it doesn’t just recruit listeners, but keep them as well. At my high school, this soundtrack had a fair number of uppity girls conducting sing-alongs to “Rudie Can’t Fail” at keg parties, and if that’s not a hallmark of success, then I just don’t know what success is.




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Soundtrack Studies: ‘Drive’ Tue, 25 Mar 2014 16:12:39 +0000 Penn Collins It's the satin jacket of soundtracks.

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On paper, Drive sounds like a pretty conventional film. It’s got a big name star (Ryan Gosling), surrounded by other big name stars (Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan and Christina Hendricks) in a fairly conventional-sounding plot (L.A. driver falls in love with woman, takes on a dangerous assignment for her, things become unglued, etc). That’s Drive on paper.

In practice, it’s something else entirely. In keeping with director Nicholas Winding Refn’s other work, the film is largely silent, and when it’s not silent, it’s quiet. The Los Angeles that Drive shows isn’t glamorous, it isn’t gritty, it’s a depiction audiences haven’t seen before, though the film Heat comes kind of close.

And this divergence between paper and practice leads the Drive soundtrack off into fairly uncharted territory. The music isn’t quite ambient, as it very much occupies the forefront of the film, but it’s calm, in bombastic fashion. The soundtrack’s DNA lies very much in breath-y 80’s pop, for no discernible reason. It’s the type of music you would expect to start playing when Ryan Gosling, the actor, enters a room. It’s feminine, soft, and powerful, just like Gosling.

Let’s stop talking about Gosling now. I don’t like where this is going.

Refn, who was, by all accounts the arbiter of the soundtrack and the film in general, looked to Johnny Jewel, a mixer and musician in groups such as Desire, Chromatics, and Glass Candy. However, the studio insisted upon composer Cliff Martinez, who would imitate Jewel’s style, and include his work, with their logic being they wanted someone who had done a soundtrack before to manage the soundtrack. Seems logical.

This arrangement ultimately satisfied all parties, and the Drive soundtrack, consisting of original compositions from Martinez, as well as work from other artists such as Chromatics, College, and Desire. By all most critical accounts, this ethereal, dreamy soundtrack was a heavy hand that the film needed to make a statement that lacked in its characters and glacial pacing.

To that end, Drive is a film that doesn’t beg repeat viewings, save for an appreciation of the stylistic surfaces. And the soundtrack certainly doesn’t have much in the way of a pop sensibility, but was received as an ambient curation that would look damn good in Whole Foods checkout line, so it found its way up to #4 on the iTunes charts.

The film seemed generally well-liked, but not loved, as did the soundtrack. Both phenomena aren’t very hard to explain. Refn brings to us a movie that is interesting and captivating, but ultimately (and intentionally) unsatisfying. It’s the type of movie you’d recommend to a friend, then do a quick inventory on the person to ensure you made the right decision.

The soundtrack/score is a great collection, but one that, both inside (see below) and outside the movie, doesn’t settle into a proper home. Like so many soundtracks, it’s difficult to recreate the success (or failure) of it outside the context of the film.

However, the soundtrack is difficult to assess in the context of the film as well, which is unfortunate, because that’s precisely what this column is supposed to do. If anything, it adds to the quiet serenity of Gosling’s Driver, and allows for the destruction of this serenity with the film’s many violent scenes. Of course, this is all coming from a writer who realized, about thirty minutes into listening to the soundtrack, that a YouTube playlist of the soundtrack had been playing at the same time, but different songs. There wasn’t a huge difference to be honest.

Like the film, the Drive soundtrack didn’t really blaze a trail for the artists that participated. Most people still don’t know who Chromatics are (though they would probably like them if they liked the Drive soundtrack). It did immensely benefit M83, whose single, “Midnight City” is often and incorrectly attributed to the film’s soundtrack.

The artist that gained the most from the soundtrack wasn’t even on it. He just seemed like he should be. And that says more about the soundtrack than even the songs on it might.







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