Saturday 31 May 2008

Gotta rocket in my pocket!

The Rocketeer, released in 1991, by Walt Disney Pictures, was Joe Johnston's herioc adaptation of Dave Stevens' graphic novel of the same name. Chock full of cool iconic imagery, The Rocketeer followed the exploits of stunt pilot Cliff Secord, who discovers a stolen experimental rocket pack, and in the guise of The Rocketeer foils a dastardly Nazi plan led by a swashbuckling movie star.

The Rocketeer, like Indiana Jones recalled the Saturday morning serials of way back when. It starred Bill Campbell as square jawed Cliff Secord / the rocket man; Jennifer Connelly as girlfriend Jenny; Alan Arkin as "Peevy" Peabody, Cliff's mechanic cum compadre, and Timothy Dalton acting up a storm as Neville Sinclair, the Errol Flynn like movie star with Nazi sympathies. There is also some great support from Paul Sorvino playing a mob boss - after this movie, The Firm and Goodfellas, can anyone imagine Paul Sorvino playing anything BUT a mobster?

The mega talented director Joe Johnston, who designed The Iron Giant, doesn't miss a trick on the look and feel of the Rocketeer. The attention to detail is meticulous from the Amos 'n' Andy radio broadcast to the convincing Nazi propaganda cartoon of a rocket-powered invasion force. As mentioned previously, the movie contains some wonderful iconic images. Apart from Cliff's art deco helmet, there is the GeeBee Racer, the Zeppelin, the Autogyro and the Griffith Observatory. Not to mention Howard Hughes and the 'Spruce Goose', and Lothar, the seven foot terminator who bears more than a passing resemblance to B-movie bad guy Rondo Hatton.

Before becoming forever associated with the weep-fest that was Titanic, James Horner was considered the 'poor man's John Williams'. That didn't stop him from creating a stirring and exciting score for the Rocketeer. The Rocketeer theme is particularly memorable as is the four note leit motif for the Nazis. The official soundtrack also contains some well executed covers of Begin The Beguine and When your Lover Has Gone, performed by Melora Hardin.

I personally love the movie but, sad to say The Rocketeer was not deemed a success in terms of box office returns. It only just recouped its estimated $40 million budget and as a result hopes for a sequel never materialised. It is hardly surprising The Rocketeer did not perform especially well. Apart from a rather muddled marketing campaign and the Disney tag, The Rocketeer had some stiff competition that year: Terminator 2 - Judgement Day, Point Break, Reservoir Dogs, Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Last Boy Scout and er...Rambo III being several notable competitors vying for cinema-goers' hard earned cash.

But that was then and this is now, so don't let historical opinion cloud your judgement and prevent you from enjoying this delightful movie and its equally entertaining soundtrack.

Monday 26 May 2008

Barry Gray - 21st Century Boy

There are few people who can think of those classic Gerry Anderson puppet series like Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Stingray without subconciously humming the theme tunes. The man behind those stirring and emotive pieces of music was Barry Gray who was, without doubt, an essential ingredient in the success of Gerry Anderson's telefantasy productions in the 1960's and 70's.

Born in 1925 in Lancashire, Barry Gray was an established arranger, composer and conductor on radio and recording studio boss when in 1956 he became musical director for a small film production company run by Arthur Provis and Gerry Anderson (AP Films), which later became Century 21 Productions. Over the next 18 years Anderson and Gray formed a creative partnership that produced such classics as Four Feather Falls Supercar and Fireball XL5. When Anderson moved into colour productions, Barry Gray upped his game producing outstanding scores for Stingray, Joe 90, Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons and the world famous Thunderbirds.

Gray continued to work with Anderson when Century 21 Productions moved into live action with Space 1999, UFO and Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun (AKA Doppleganger). In 1970 Barry Gray retired to Guernsey occasionally composing and conducting, until his passing in 1984.

Although, some great musicians have come and gone since the days of Barry Gray, few have made such an impact on so many people and summed up an entire era as this gentle man with a massive musical talent.

The Phantom - Purple Reign

With a certain intrepid adventurer, whose origins are in the comics and serials of the 1930's, currently packing out cineplexes, it is worth remembering another 1930's hero, The Phantom, who burst forth on our screens in 1996. Under the direction of Simon Wincer, The Phantom starred Billy Zane as the masked man in the Purple jumpsuit -The Ghost Who Walks, aka The Phantom.

Presumably Paramount wanted some Indy style 30's action when the highly lucrative Raiders franchise had, seemingly, closed down. Rather than invent a new character like Rick O'Connell in The Mummy, the studio went back to Indy's origins and plucked out Lee Falk's immensely popular comic strip, The Phantom.

The legend of the Phantom began 400 years ago when a small boy named Kit Walker witnessed the murder of his father at the hands of a gang of pirates known as the Sengh brotherhood. Marooned on an island Kit swore an oath of vengeance that he and his descendents (all called Kit) will forever fight pirates and evil.

The movie adaptation has a rather familiar plot written by Jeffrey Boam, (which is not surprising really considering he wrote the screenplay for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), about mysterious skulls being sought which together give the owner "ultimate power" ya-da-ya-da-ya-da. Simon Wincer's direction whilst not showy, frames the action admirably. The stunts are suitably thrilling and the period detail is fun without being over the top. Alas the film falls apart in the last act with a rather disappointing confrontation with the Sengh brotherhood, that predates Pirates of the Caribbean but the film ultimately delivers - it won't change your life but it still leaves you with a good feeling at the end.

The charismatic Billy Zane fills out the purple jumpsuit with great aplomb and enthusiasm. He is ably supported by Patrick McGoohan as Kit's ghostly father; Kirsty Swanson plays Diana Palmer, Kit/The Phantom's feisty squeeze. Catherine Zeta Jones, in what must have been an early US movie role plays the naughty but nice Sala, with a bit of a 'Welcome in the Hillsides' accent. The real villainy is provided by Treat Williams, looking like Howard Hughes, as the debonair, charming but ruthless Xander Drax. Scenery chewer, James Remar plays Quill, whose costume looks remarkably like Indy's ..but let's not go there.

David Newman's orchestral soundtrack accompanies the action on screen efficiently, though it is not the normally reliable Newman's best. Unlike the Indy theme or the Mummy themes, The Phantom lacks a memorable tune, despite the use of tribal voices and percussion to inject some excitement. He also overuses a rather abrasive "circular saw" sound in many of the cues. Despite my criticisms it's a solid score that faily gallops along and is actually worth a listen. And if I didn't mention it enough before...the film's a lot of fun too!

Sunday 25 May 2008

Lost Eden..when Dinosaurs ruled your PC

One of the more cinematic PC games of the mid-90's was Cryo Interactive's epic Lost Eden adventure game. Set in a world where humans and dinosaurs coexist, Lost Eden was probably one of the few computer games during that time which truly engaged me.

You play Prince Adam, the heir to a dynasty of human kings. Your great-grandfather was a great builder and peacemaker, but your grandfather was an evil butcher, and your father is a weakling. You are sent from the safety of your father's citadel into the dangerous world to help the humans and dinosaurs deal with a deadly common enemy of super intelligent T-Rexes, the Tyrans.

Apart from the (then) stunning graphics and intriguing story, it was the outstanding background music created by Stephane Picq that drew me in to Lost Eden's bizarre and beautiful world. For those of you who never experienced the game, the soundtrack will probably sound like 'lift muzak', but for some of us it was a world away from those horrible tinny MIDI tunes gamers had tolerated for years. Check the music out retro gamers!

Goonies Never Say Die

In 1985, Richard Donner released, The Goonies - an old fashioned rollicking kids' adventure film, that over the years has built up a loyal fan base within each generation who has seen it. The film follows a band of kids know as The Goonies from the "Goon Docks" in Astoria, Oregon who go in search of buried pirate treasure in order to save their homes from demolition.

Chris Columbus who later went on to direct the first Harry Potter movie, wrote the screenplay from a story by Steven Spielberg. Whilst Goonies is generally speaking more enjoyable for children and teens than adults, it's still a lot of fun..if a bit shouty. Still, it grossed over US$61 million, placing it among the US' top ten highest grossing movies of 1985.

The movie also gave a few young actors their initial leg up in the movie business. Future Hobbit Sean Astin starred as Michael "Mikey" Walsh, the lead Goonie; Corey Feldman, (excellent in Stand By Me), played Clark "Mouth" Devereaux, the loud mouthed Goonie; Ke Huy Quan, (Short Round in the second Indy movie), played Richard "Data" Wang, the Gadget Goonie; Jeff Cohen played Lawrence "Chunk" Cohen, the food-loving Goonie who makes friends with the scary but gentle Sloth; Martha Plimpton played Stephanie "Stef" Steinbrenner the smart-mouthed, skeptical Goonie.

Dave Grusin's soundtrack for The Goonies has become one of those Holy Grail of movie scores, and although a rather lacklustre album of songs vaguely heard in the movie and one solitary track from Grusin's score was issued, nothing else has appeared. A widely available bootleg score has been circulating for many years which some greedy dealers have been charging a premium for.

WARNING: This is not the score heard in the movie but is in fact a rather clumsy cut up of an 18 minute suite from an album released in 1994 called Best Of Adventure on Cinerama/Edel CIN 2216-2 with Grusin's compositions performed by The City Of Prague Philharmonic and The Budapest Studio Orchestra, conducted by William Motzing. The track titles have been assigned somewhat randomly and the Cyndi Lauper track Good Enough added to give the release some sort of legitimacy/credibility.

It's posted HERE so you can save your money, that is until the official one comes out. Rumour has it that Varese Sarabande has shown an interest in releasing it but need some encouragement. If you want to sign a petition to show your support for releasing the official soundtrack click HERE for the link.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Cat People: An Erotic Fantasy About The Animal In Us All.

Paul Schrader's 1982 erotic remake of the Jacques Tourneur classic from 1942, starred Natassia Kinski as Irena a young woman whose sexual awakening causes her to transform into a monstrous black leopard. Along with her brother Paul played by Malcolm McDowall, Irena is descended from a line of 'cat people,' - people who turn into panthers after mating and who must then kill in order to take human form again.

Whilst the subtle menace of the Tourneur original is jettisoned in favour of some pretty gratuitous sex and gory violence, Cat People still entertains in a glossy 1980's kind of way. The movie is helped in no small way by the mesmerising Natassia Kinski who exudes an exotic feline grace throughout the proceedings and scrubs up pretty well too.

Electro-disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder, composed a multi-layered synthesiser based soundtrack for Cat People which works well and has not dated too badly considering its age. Standout tracks include Irena's Theme, The Myth, Leopard Tree Dream, Paul's theme and of course the title track Cat People (Putting out Fire), which features David Bowie's vocal and lyrical talents. Released in an edited form as a single Cat People, made a minor dent in the charts in 1982. Bowie was presumably so enamoured with the track that he re-recorded Cat People in a dramatically re-arranged form for his Let's Dance album and played it live throughout his 1983 Serious Moonlight tour. The original is still the best however and for those that really like the track, the Australian 12 inch mix is an essential listen clocking in at 9.20 even though the label lists it as 6.41!

Monday 19 May 2008

Ghost World opening video

I'll be doing some stuff about Terry Zwigoff's off beat feature from 2001, "Ghost World" in the very near future.

In the meantime, I just had to share with you, the original "twistastic" Jaan Pehechaan Ho by Mohammed Rafi from the 1965 Bollywood thriller Gumnaam which is featured in the opening sequence of Ghost World. No one shakes her head like the luscious Laxmi Chhaya, the girl in the gold dress, and there's a definite Kill Bill look about the proceedings, especially the guys in the masks.

Saturday 17 May 2008

The Iron Man Who Fell To Earth

Inspired by Ted Hughes' 1968 novel The Iron Man, Brad Bird's 1999 science fiction animation, The Iron Giant is set in 1957 during the height of the Cold War. It tells the story of an amnesiac 50 foot robot who falls from space and is befriended by Hogarth, a lonely 9 year old boy raised by his single mother. Hogarth teams up with a beatnik named Dean to stop a paranoid government agent from finding and destroying the Giant.

Despite inexplicably failing at the box-office on its original release, The Iron Giant still looks great with its vivid and colourful blend of traditional and computer-generated animation. The film's director Brad Bird, was of course the mastermind behind Pixar's The Incredibles and his wit and meticulous attention to detail is in evidence thoughout the 83 minutes of the Iron Giant - from Hogarth's Schwinn bike to the Super Sabre jets who attack the robot. There are also numerous pop culture references to science fiction films and comic books of the era.

The Iron Giant himself is a classic 1950's mechanical 'bot, with some pretty awesome hidden hardware. His character is an amalgam of James Whales' Frankenstein monster from Bride.., King Kong and E.T. and immediately engages the audience's sympathy and affection.

The voice artists are inspired with Vin Diesel voicing the Iron Giant - I swear when he says "Superman" during the final act of the movie, you will be in floods of tears! The big metal guy is ably supported by Jennifer Aniston voicing Hogarth's mother and Harry Connick Junior lending his vocal cords to Dean the Beatnik.

Michael Kamen's moving symphonic score provides a perfect accompaniment to the lush animation and balances out the feast of fifties pop, rock 'n' roll and jazz that is liberally littered round the movie. Top tracks include, the Tyrones' rocking opener Blast Off and Mel Torme's cool Comin' Home Baby.

If you haven't seen it before, take time to watch the Iron Giant, but be sure to have a hankie handy for the lump in throat ending.

Hidalgo - The middle-eastern western

Director Joe Johnston's charming 2004 adventure Hidalgo, proves that they do still make 'em like they used to. That is, a good old-fashioned family movie. Viggo Mortensen plays Frank T. Hopkins, a down at heel long-distance horse racer who along with his trusty mustang, Hidalgo, agrees to compete in "The Ocean of Fire," a treacherous 3,000-mile horse race across the Arabian desert.

Breathtakingly photographed, by Shelly Johnson and lovingly directed by Joe Johnston, Hidalgo harks back to the epic westerns of yore. Viggo Mortensen's plays Hopkins like Gary Cooper. Omar Sharif provides the nobility and Louise Lombard provides the dastardly eye candy. Hidalgo the mustang of course steals every scene!

James Newton Howard, who for many years was unfairly considered a poor man's James Horner, provides a classic Americana Western score with deft middle eastern flourishes. It's a stirring and charming score that recalls the joys of Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Elmer Bernstein and a smigeon of Aaron Copland.

If you love an old-fashioned movie that you can watch with your Gran (and shed a surrepticious tear at the end) and you have a hankering for a great understated movie score then look no further than Hidalgo.