Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Apocalypse Now

Tornadoes! Earthquakes! Hurricanes! The weather on the east coast this summer reads like a disaster movie, and the confluence of extreme phenomena has some people spooked. The twisters that tore a swath through western Massachusetts were odd enough, but when a rare quake shook the coast mere days before a hurricane struck, even my most level headed friends were publicly wondering what it all meant. Could it be a sign… of the end of the world?
This odd turn of events comes just months after the famously mocked “Judgement Day” came and went on May 21, without any sort of judgement. Harold Camping and other fringe elements had predicted a global earthquake and the Biblical Rapture would happen that day, but it passed uneventfully. People laughed it off, and it was soon nothing but a memory. So why are so many now contemplating end time scenarios?
The time is ripe for such a line of thinking. The economy is still miserable. The world remains in turmoil, with an ongoing war in Afghanistan and anxiety provoking activity in Iran. Nuclear weapons, once the fodder of so many doomsday scenarios, remain a very real threat. Changing societal mores—the ongoing rise of gay marriage being one prominent example—have provoked a backlash from religious conservatives who warn we’re on a path to damnation. We’re also highly aware of global warming, but an effective and concerted response has yet to emerge. In short, people are stressed out and depressed, and world destroying forces seem more tangible than ever. No wonder we’re imagining an apocalypse.
Pop culture doomsday's have been in vogue for a while now. A rush of zombie films starting in the early 2000s imagined the world falling to hordes of the undead. (“Not a zombie” zombie movies such as 28 Days Later feature ever-more-plausible results of biological warfare or experimentation gone awry.) Roland Emmerich, who made his name with the oddly prescient Independence Day (substitute terrorists for the aliens and you’ve pretty much got 9/11), has continued his streak with the global warming themed The Day After Tomorrow and the mythology exploiting 2012. (The approach of that date has spawned plenty of end times thinking all on its own.) Genre television from The Event to Fringe has imagined a world rocked by bizarre and supernatural events. On this fall’s Terra Nova, Earth grows so unstable that a group of colonists head back in time and attempt to rebuild society in the prehistoric era.
The idea of our world ending has always been dramatically compelling, but the recent turn of events has put me on a Judgement Day movie streak. On the eve of Hurricane Irene, I revisited the hokey but effective Day After Tomorrow, which seemed like a ridiculous distortion of global warming at the time. Watching it now, I found it both fun and deeply unsettling. After all, tornadoes didn’t hit LA, but they did make an unexpected appearance in my hometown of Springfield, MA this summer. And while no tidal wave swept through the streets of Manhattan last weekend, there was flooding in the lower part of the city, much of which was evacuated. On a lighter note, I followed with Mars Attacks!, a knowingly ridiculous homage to space invader films of the 50s. In its kooky, ultra-stylized way, the movie still dramatizes many of our worst fears, notably that our enemies are as intelligent and powerful as they are hateful and mindlessly destructive, and that our leaders are woefully inept. Jack Nicholson’s President Dale seems smarter than, say, George W. Bush, but he still refuses to see the writing on the wall until it’s far too late, giving the Martians second and third chances to attack and kill the American people.
Why am I and others so fixated on the end of the world right now? The superstitious answer is that we all sense the end is truly near. More realistically—and history bears this out—we are merely in the latest cycle of global anxiety and collective fears manifesting themselves as the worst possible scenarios. The world can be a scary and dangerous place—but let’s not get carried away. Rather than wallowing in morbid panic, we’d do well to follow the unflappable example of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who saved the world more than once on her long-running television series. Refusing to give up her social plans, she once quipped, “If the apocalypse comes—beep me.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It's Fright Night again

Seemingly every notable horror title of the past two decades is being remade right now, but Fright Night is particularly well suited for a revamp (if you’ll pardon the pun). The original 80s classic was focused more on the humor of the situation, with a pleasingly hokey tone, some high camp performances, and memorable special effects. Director Craig Gillespie and writer Marti Noxon have the opportunity to make the story far scarier this time around, and they take it. The movie’s no ground breaker, but it succeeds as a suspenseful and entertaining thriller.
This Fright Night seems as much a response to the homogenized Twilight breed of vampires as it is a retake on Tom Holland’s original film. The movie’s bloodsuckers, led by Colin Farrell’s intimidating Jerry, are vicious and visibly monstrous killers. The gore is plentiful and the movie doesn’t shy away from depicting the terror and agony of Jerry’s victims.
The basic set-up is the same: Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin), a typical American teenager with a comely girlfriend (Imogen Poots’ Amy) discovers that his next door neighbor is a vampire. This time it’s Charlie’s friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who brings the situation to his attention, and their tortured history—once the best of friends before Charlie decided to ditch his dorky pals and past—is one of the movie’s more compelling subplots. After Ed and a female neighbor fall prey to Jerry, Charlie becomes determined to take him down and enlists the help of Peter Vincent (a scene-stealing David Tennant), a Las Vegas magician in this retelling but every bit the coward Roddy McDowall’s character initially was.
Noxon’s script is a good one: brisk, clever (there’s a choice nod to her past work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and engagingly humanistic. There’s real pathos to some of the story lines, notably Ed’s lonely arc. As Jerry, Farrell brings a true sense of menace and danger; an early scene at Charlie’s doorway is dripping with tension. This, combined with a strong grasp of suspense, make Fright Night more frightening than the average horror flick.
The adorable Yelchin leads a cast of characters we can care about, an all too neglected element of horror films. A vintage classic has been remade as something stylish, creepy, and enjoyable.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Don't Fuck With the Original"

With great anticipation, I went this weekend to see Scream 4, the latest installment in the post-modern slasher series that revitalized the horror genre in the late 90s. At one point a character tells Courtney Cox's Gale Weathers "You were my 90s!" and the same was true for me and series creator Kevin Williamson, the openly gay man who also brought us Dawson's Creek. I avidly followed the original Scream trilogy, as well as Williamson's various films and series, I wrote two plays heavily influenced by his hyper verbal dialogue, and my closet door was even decorated in tribute to his oeuvre. Scream 4 arrives a decade after 3 (which was noticeably *not* written by Williamson), long enough that what's old is new again-- or at the very least an exploitable brand. While Scream 4 isn't particularly scary (no Scream sequel has been as frightening as the ferocious original), it's great fun, and it does a nice job of encapsulating, in the tried and true wink-wink Scream way, everything that's happened to the horror genre over the last ten years. In the amusingly constructed opener, for instance, we get nods to torture porn, Japanese horror, and the self referential conceit itself, as well as acknowledgements of Facebook and Twitter. (The horror!) As the film progresses, there emerges a running discussion of remakes and "reboots," the dominant trend in horror since roughly 2003, and the obligatory "rules" conversation. This last bit proves sketchy at best: for instance, when was it established that gay characters are immune in horror films? (Clearly Williamson and co. missed the gay pal who got creamed by a bus in Bride of Chucky.) Still, Scream 4 has fun updating its style for a new generation, with a marked increase in gore as well as the brutal physicality of the killings. Towards the end, the killer, wanting to appear the "sole surviving" victim, gives themself nasty wounds and even falls back through a glass coffee table, a gleefully insane bit that recalls the deranged energy of the first film's culprits. While the new teens are nicely developed and appealing, it's in the handling of the returning characters that 4 falters at times. Gale's quip that "I've still got it" seems like an attempt to convince the audience (she lacks that oomph the character had in the original movies), and Dewey is given very little to do besides react to his wife's initiative in the murder investigation and fend off the advances of a smitten deputy. (Dewey is the sheriff now, but he's still seemingly as inept and slow on the uptake as ever.) Neve Campbell, who looks stunning, comes off the best, with a typically strong role in the film and a number of strong dramatic scenes-- plus plenty of butt kicking. (The heroine once praised for "having a Linda Hamilton thing going on" decidedly *does* still got it.) The shortcomings are ultimately balanced out by the satisfyingly twisty plot, and the climax proves that the Scream franchise, after all these years, still has something to add to the cultural conversation. The killer's motivation turns out to be a direct product of our exhibitionist, famous-for-being-famous society, making Scream 4 as damning to the 21st century's spawn as part 1 was to the "desensitized little shits" of 1996.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More old nightmares: The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror!

At a time when too few television shows seem to bother with Halloween episodes anymore, The Simpsons long-running "Treehouse of Horror" anthologies are like a jack-'o-lantern beacon to all us Halloween nerds. While recent years' entries haven't been as strong (much like the show itself), I love revisiting the old classics. Some of my favorite segments...
"Lisa's Nightmare"/"Bart's Nightmare"(1991)--The second Halloween episode is centered around candy-induced nightmares had by all three family members (in Homer's, Mr. Burns harvests his brain for a worker robot who, natch, is extremely lazy); the first two are the best, with Lisa's involving a fabled monkey's paw: "I must warn you it carries a terrible curse; I myself was once president of Algeria" the middle-eastern shopkeeper warns, to which Homer replies, "I don't wanna hear your life story-- PAW ME!" The family's wishes lead to riches, world peace, and, inevitably, ruin, as Treehouse stalwarts Kang and Kodos arrive from outer space to enslave the newly docile planet. (The comic ET's have had at least a cameo in every Halloween special since the beginning.) Bart imagines himself into a pitch perfect parody of "The Twilight Zone" classic "It's a Good Life," in which little Bill Mummy had an entire town under his psychic thrall. Here, Bart uses his powers to turn Homer into a jack-in-the-box (a direct lift from the original), but also to play pranks like having Moe tell his bar "I'm a big stupid guy with a big butt, and my butt smells, and sometimes I like to kiss my own BUTT! Hey, wait a minute..."
"The Devil and Homer Simpson"/"Terror at 5&1/2 Feet"/"Bart Simpson's Dracula"(1993)--The first is a brilliant vignette in which Homer sells his soul to the Devil, who turns out to be none other than-- hi diddly ho!--Ned Flanders. Like the best "Simpsons," this is filled with tiny details and moments that are utterly hilarious... like Blackbeard the Pirate objecting to the high chair Marge gives him when he serves on Homer's "Jury of the Damned": "Aye! This chair be high, says I!" Meanwhile, "Terror" spoofs another classic "Twilight Zone" ep, with Bart subbing for William Shatner as the passenger (on a schoolbus, natch) who sees a gremlin no one else does. In "Dracula," the crew takes on Francis Ford Coppola's stylized adaptation in typically irreverent fashion (Homer to Bart: "His hairdo looks so queer"). It all ends with a musical homage to-- apropos of nothing-- "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
"The Shinning"/"Time and Punishment"/"Nightmare Cafeteria"(1994)--This entire episode is brilliant, from the pitch perfect "Shining" spoof to Homer's misbegotten romp through time (which keeps changing the future) and the grisly "Cafeteria," in which the staff of Springfield Elementary casually embrace cannibalism. Though funny, the second two segments contain some of the most disturbing material I've ever seen on network television, including lobotomies, the bloodthirsty teachers, and a sick finale in which the whole family's skin turns inside out... and they break into song.
"The Thing and I"/"Citizen Kang"(1996)--In an inventively disturbing segment, Bart and Lisa discover they have another sibling... Bart's "evil" former siamese twin, Hugo, who's been living in the attic and subsisting on a diet of fish heads. The bizarre tale is highlighted by a slew of priceless one-liners, like "A routine soul smear confirmed the presence of pure evil." "Kang" gives starring roles to the aliens, who take on the identities of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole before the '96 election. It's a testament to the show's brilliance that this political lark feels fresh and funny rather than dated.
"It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse" (2008)--While later Treehouse of Horror entries have been a letdown, I have to mention this inspired send-up of the ultimate Halloween special, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Everything about "Peanuts," from the dancing to the nonsense talking grownups, is spoofed, while in this version, of course, the "Grand Pumpkin" actually shows up... and he's pissed!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Old Nightmares

So when was my last post, 1982? Well, this being October, I am getting into the Halloween spirit and thought it'd be fun to do a rundown of some of my favorite seasonal movies, TV, etc. I'll start with Wes Craven's New Nightmare, the end credits of which are unspooling as I type this. It's not a Halloween movie per se, but I'll always associate it with the holiday because a.) it was released in October and b.) I bought the *novelization* at Spag's, the awesomely kitschy Worcester department store, on one of my family's annual "fall rides." See every year we'd take a daytrip to see the fall foliage (my dad goes nuts for that, as well he should) and wind up at the Halloween Outlet, an amazing store packed to the gills with costumes, props, and just about anything else a horror-obsessed kid like me could want. (They used to display those giant animatronic props, like the crazy electric chair that would go off every ten minutes or so, stopping everyone in dead silence while the dummy writhed in mock agony and smoke plumed outward. Rock on.) On one of these rides, circa 1994, we stopped by Spag's and I picked up the New Nightmare paperback. I was psyched about the movie, though we ironically didn't get around to it until the video release. (Lest you think my parents wouldn't let me see an R-rated horror flick in theaters, I was corrupted at a pretty young age by my dad, who showed me the likes of "Halloween" and "Evil Dead 2" when I was, I dunno, 9? "New Nightmare" is something we totally would've seen at an after school matinee. Why we didn't is a mystery.) It was a typical novelization, I guess, but I liked the meta movie-within-a-movie storyline and the cheesy interludes supposedly detailing the author's own close encounters with Freddy. Plus there were 8 pages of rad black and white photos. So before long I'd read and re-read it umpteen times and was running around pretending I was Heather Langenkamp, wearing her hot skirt and blazer combo and making important Hollywood phone calls on my remote control, er, cell phone. (And yet my parents *never suspected* I was gay? Talk about mysteries.) So when I finally saw the sucker, I already knew everything that was going to happen but loved it anyway. There's so much cheese in New Nightmare-- Langenkamp's melodramatic performance, the stereotypical villainous doctor out to prove that horror movies ruin young minds, dialogue like "Everything is NOT FINE!" to name a few. There are numerous gaps in logic, like the relentlessly unprofessional staff at the hospital (prone to stage whispering and grimly pantomiming about a patient whose mother is IN THE ROOM). But damnit if it doesn't work like gangbusters. The premise was so different at the time-- sort of "The Player" meets "Nightmare on Elm Street," with Freddy spilling out into the lives of the movies' cast and crew (Wes Craven even plays himself near the end)-- and there was some awesomely over-the-top imagery, starting with a cooly redesigned Krueger. For the first time in a "Nightmare" movie, an actual kid was a central character (Heather's on-screen son Dylan, played by Miko Hughes of "Pet Sematary" fame), which allowed for all sorts of connections with Grimm's Fairy Tales and parental fears of death and screwing up your kid. It's just a fun, fast-paced, visually striking movie (the freeway sequence is a stunner), and I still watch it about once a year. "Nightmare 1" is the original, and "Dream Warriors" is probably the best (major soft spot for that one, too), but "New Nightmare" will always be my sentimental favorite.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Every Dark Cloud...

I often find that even the worst movies have some redeeming factor. Sometimes, it’s the thing we cling to so we don’t feel quite so bad about wasting two hours of our life watching a turkey; other times, these saving graces are so fantastic that watching said turkey is actually kinda worth it. Perhaps inspired by the new film Valentine’s Day—which has a funny Taylor Swift, copious hunks, and little else to recommend it—and definitely inspired by re-reading The Book of Lists: Horror, I hereby present…
10 Great Things in Otherwise Terrible Movies
1. Uma Thurman in Batman & Robin (1997)—Joel Schumacher’s fourth Caped Crusader was so dumb, loud, and grating that it all but buried the franchise until 2005’s Batman Begins arrived nearly ten years later. The sole bright spot was Thurman’s hilarious and inspired turn as villainess Poison Ivy, who truly stole the show with her transformation from amusingly dorky botanist Pamela Isley to the green cat-suited temptress.
2. Jamie Lee Curtis’s death scene in Halloween: Resurrection (2002)—1998’s Halloween: H20 was a surprisingly heartfelt and clever sequel, but the next entry was just as awful (if not more so) than the rest. Added to a beyond contrived “explanation” for Michael Myers’ non-death were annoying teens, Tyra Banks, and a Kung Fu-fighting Busta Rhymes (?!). Curtis was contractually obligated to appear, and it’s her opening scene alone that makes this worth watching. Michael finally kills his beleaguered sister, but not before she plants a kiss on his lips and intones “I’ll see you in Hell!” It’s a great last line, and proved that Laurie had the smarts to exit with grace, unlike the rest of this crappy movie.
3. Every song in Xanadu (1980)—Why did one of Hollywood’s most notorious bombs still manage to gain a cult following? Apart from its oodles of kitsch, Xanadu had one great strength: its music. The fantastic songs by Electric Orchestra, Olivia Newton John, et al are what make the interminably bad writing and wooden acting worth suffering through. Thank Zeus someone had the presence of mind to graft these stellar songs onto a cheeky and clever Broadway script, giving this career-killing oddity a new lease on life.
4. Ryan Reynolds’ body in Van Wilder (2002)—Sometimes it’s a profound performance or artful sequence that makes a bad movie less awful. Other times it’s something less sublime. Ryan Reynolds’s hot, impossibly chiseled physique is the only reason anyone ever wasted their time on this dreadful college “comedy.” Lucky for us its star was as talented and charming as his bod was smokin’.
5. The musical sequence in Not Another Teen Movie (2001)—Brainless teen flicks were ripe for the plucking in 2001, but this spoof was every bit as uninspired as the easy targets it was mocking. All except for one bravura scene in which every character sings their heart out in advance of the prom. It’s clever, hilarious, and creative—everything the rest of the movie wasn’t.
6. The decapitation scene in Midnight Meat Train (2008)—This Bradley Cooper horror flick (adapted from Clive Barker’s story) was barely released to theaters, and it isn’t hard to see why. Slick, slow moving, and repulsive, it was unlikely to find a large audience beyond hardcore gore hounds or perhaps those curious about the state of Brooke Shields’ “career.” One moment is pure brilliance, though: the titular fiend lops off a woman’s head, and the camera acts as her POV—as she flies through the air and sees her own dismembered body. It was the only rewind-worthy bit in an otherwise forgettable flick.
7. The closing credits in The X Files: I Want to Believe (2008)—Faithful fans of Chris Carter’s groundbreaking genre series waited five years for this wholly unremarkable, borderline offensive piece of drivel that was worse than the lamest TV episodes. Ironically, only those who sat through the credits saw anything remotely enjoyable: our heroes, Mulder and Scully, waving goodbye from a paradise-bound sailboat to the cool strains of UNKLE’s “Broken.” Unfortunately, this coda all but defined “too little, too late” for frustrated X-Philes.
8. The costumes in Psycho (1998)—There was no good reason to remake Hitchcock’s classic thriller shot for shot—and plenty of reasons not to. (I’d put Anne Heche’s desecration of Janet Leigh’s character near the top of that list.) At least we were treated to costumes more startlingly original than almost anything else onscreen at the time. From Norman’s vibrant print shirts to Marion’s shower curtain patterned buttons, it was a feast of funky, fabulous frocks. Too bad the “Emperor” in this case wasn’t really wearing clothes at all.
9. Lindsay Lohan’s stripping scene in I Know Who Killed Me (2007)—This ridiculous Lohan “thriller” acted as the red-haired starlet’s Xanadu, effectively killing a once-promising career (along with endless tabloid stories and drink-and-drug fueled antics). The loony tale of “stigmatic twins” entangled with a serial killer is so ineptly made it crosses the line from awful to so-bad-it’s-good. But one sequence is so artful it feels like it came from another director and movie entirely: Lohan’s highly sensual, meticulously lit and photographed strip tease, set to Out Hud’s groovy “How Long.” Maybe if the film had spent more time on the strip club and less on rotting fingers (!) it would’ve turned a profit—and kept L.Lo from fading into gossip column oblivion.
10. Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey in Superman Returns (2006)—For a movie with so much promise, Bryan Singer’s reboot of the Man of Steel was dishearteningly lousy. The half-baked storyline (some nonsense involving a Kryptonite-made rock planet overtaking Earth and Supes’ potential love child) and terrible leads (pretty but bland Brandon Routh and pretty but bland Kate Bosworth, whose groaner “I forgot how warm you are” belongs in the Bad Movie Line Hall of Fame) sank this polished looking but feeble attempt to relaunch its eponymous hero. Relief from this self-important hooey arrives in the form of Spacey as Lex Luthor and Parker Posey as his fag hag—er, “girlfriend” Kitty Kowalski. Posey, who performed similar scene stealing in the lackluster Scream 3, is hysterical in every scene she’s in, while Spacey hits just the right balance of wit and menace. It’s casting so good, it makes you long for a movie that deserves it.
Well, those are mine: how about you guys? Remember anything awesome from movies that otherwise sucked?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Soundtrack Available

I'm obsessed with soundtracks. By my estimate I have between 1 and 200, encompassing everything from Mean Girls to The Devil's Rejects. (I'm nothing if not eclectic.) I love movies and pop culture, and for me soundtracks are a natural extension of that love-- the songs help me remember great movies, or in some cases far surpass them. (Van Wilder: terrible movie. Pretty awesome soundtrack.) They've also introduced me, over the years, to some fantastic new artists, including numerous rock classics. (Thank you, Running With Scissors, for "Year of the Cat" by Al Stewart. I truly needed that song in my life.) What follows is my personal picks for my ten favorite soundtracks, in no particular order. I don't know that they're the best ever, but they're the tops in my collection. For the purposes of this list, I excluded scores and musicals (perhaps I'll get to those in another post.) Alright, here goes...
Dick (1999)/Running With Scissors (2006): I've always had a soft spot for '70s music, and these two albums represent a wide variety of its best and brightest tunes. Dick is pure pop fun from start to finish, with hits by the likes of Elton John, the Jackson 5 and Labelle. (Sixpence None the Richer-- remember them?-- also contribute a cute cover of "Dancing Queen.") It's just as enjoyable as the movie itself. The moodier side of the '70s emerges in the soundtrack to "Running With Scissors," based on Augusten Burroughs' twisted memoir. Director Ryan Murphy imagined the book as a day-glo fantasia, loaded with kitsch and-- as one critic put it-- "the best '70s pop money can buy." There's Elton John again, along with Phoebe Snow (the sublime "Poetry Man"), Manfred Mann's Earth Band ("Blinded By the Light"), and Crosby, Stills & Nash ("Teach Your Children"). The eclectic selection reflects the movie's dark sense of humor, and also includes such oddities as Vince Guaraldi's "O Tannenbaum" (from "A Charlie Brown Christmas") and Nat King Cole. As for the one contemporary song, Catherine Feeney's "Mr. Blue"? Utterly heartbreaking.
Philadelphia (1993): Jonathan Demme's seminal AIDS drama spawned a great soundtrack, which boasted not one but two Oscar nominated songs: Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia" and Neil Young's "Philadelphia." The Boss took the prize-- "Streets" rates among his greatest-- but Young's mournful ballad is equally affecting. Peter Gabriel also scored a memorable entry with the darkly romantic "Love Town."
I Am Sam (2001): The producers of the Sean Penn tear jerker-- centered on a mentally challenged man obsessed with the Beatles-- avoided astronomical royalties by recruiting a who's who of talent to re-record Beatles hits. The album features a few covers not included in the film; among the best are Ben Harper's "Strawberry Fields Forever," Rufus Wainwright's "Across the Universe," and Nick Cave's wonderfully moving "Let It Be." This ultimate tribute album transcended the movie and became a phenomenon unto itself.
Cruel Intentions (1999): The late '90s resulted in a slew of alt rock grab bags tied in with teen-centric movies; I have quite a few myself, including the "Scream"s, "Jawbreaker," "I Know What You Did Last Summer," and "Go." But this album, from the guilty pleasure starring Ryan Phillipe, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and a young Reese Witherspoon, was the best one of all. There's not a weak link in the mix: from Placebo's sneering "Every You Every Me" to Aimee Mann's "You Could Make a Killing" to Counting Crows' lovely "Colorblind," it's an amazing assortment of alternative music.
Magnolia (1999)/House of 1000 Corpses (2003): Two very different movies that had one thing in common: both had soundtracks provided almost entirely by one artist. Magnolia was actually built around Aimee Mann's songs: director P.T. Anderson was so inspired by her that he decided to write a movie inspired by her music. The sublime collection includes the Oscar and Grammy nominated "Save Me" as well as "Wise Up" (memorably sung onscreen by all of the principle characters) and a world-weary cover of Three Dog Night's "One." My favorite non-Mann song on the CD is Gabrielle's "Dreams," a thoroughly enjoyable pop tune. Meanwhile, Rob Zombie contributed six songs to his directorial debut, the in-your-face horror odyssey House of 1000 Corpses. The title track and "Pussy Liquor" are both outstanding, but the undisputed highlight is Zombie's driving cover of "Brick House" featuring Lionel Ritchie and Trina. I must've rocked out to that one about 1000 times during my sophomore year of college. There's also a Ramone's jam and a cute Buck Owens song called "Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass?" After this film Zombie stopped using his own music onscreen and turned instead to compiling quirky mixes leaning heavily on 1970s fare. I debate whether to include this album or his memorable soundtracks for The Devil's Rejects (House's sequel) or Halloween (2007). Ultimately though, his hellbilly rock collection won out.
Death Proof (2007): Another auteur known for his distinctive musical choices, Quentin Tarantino was true to form with his soundtrack for Death Proof, his half of the underrated B-movie homage Grindhouse. What makes this CD so fun is that it mixes little known rock songs (most of which are played on a jukebox onscreen) with action and suspense score pieces by the likes of Pino Donnagio and Ennio Morrocone. (In true Tarantino fashion, the entire score was made up of bits from earlier movies.) Some of QT's better finds include the wonderfully weird story song "Staggolee" by Pacific Gas & Electric and "Hold Tight" by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (the latter track featuring prominently in a gory set piece). The piece de resistance is April March's kitschy "Chick Habit," which ties in perfectly with the girls kick ass message of the movie-- and of much of Tarantino's ouvre.
Brokeback Mountain (2005): The soundtrack to Ang Lee's acclaimed gay love story is the most beautiful album on this list. Gustavo Santaolalla's Oscar winning score anchors the collection; it's utterly gorgeous. The movie's middle American milieu is reflected in many of the artists involved: Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and lesser-known chanteuse Mary McBride all contribute tracks. There are also haunting selections by Rufus Wainwright and the under-appreciated Teddy Thompson.
Cloverfield (2008): This is one of the more unique soundtracks on here for a number of reasons. For one, the movie itself is largely without music, save for the opening party scene that precipitates a giant monster's attack on New York. Secondly, it was released as a "mixtape" on iTunes. But what a mixtape. Cloverfield's music supervisors put together a vast array of some of the best up and coming artists in the indie music scene; for instance Kings of Leon, who perform "Taper Jean Girl" and "Pistol of Fire," exploded shortly after the film's release. I enjoyed the whole compilation-- save for Parliament's "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker," which I honestly could've lived without-- but my faves included Coconut Records' pretty "West Coast," Spoon's "The Underdog," and Moby's pulse-pounding "Disco Lies." Cloverfield's one score selection has also emerged on iTunes: "Roar! (Cloverfield Overture)," by Michael Giacchino.