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by Bill Gibron

19 Jan 2009


When the Academy Award nominations are announced this upcoming Thursday, 22 January, there is a distinct possibility that the five available Best Director slots will be taken up by filmmakers who have never been nominated before - or at the very least, have limited Academy cache. Unless someone like Ron Howard sweeps in and secures a slot for his over-praised (and under-regarded) Frost/Nixon, we could be looking at a list including Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and Gus Van Sant (Milk). Now, technically the last name on this list got a previous nod for the Matt Damon/Ben Affleck vehicle Good Will Hunting, but 2008 may just go down as one of the strongest years for directors ever. Outside the normal Academy-possible names, there are dozens of efforts deserving of praise.

What about Jon Favreau’s work on Iron Man? Who would have thought that such a second tier comic book character would warrant such stellar first class treatment? Or how about Matt Reeves’ reinvention of the first person POV horror film with Cloverfield? The annihilation of New York by an alien monster never appeared more potent, or potentially terrifying, than it did in this early 2008 release. There was David Gordon Green’s delirious take on the stoner comedy, Pineapple Express, which followed another one of his fine small town Gothics, Snow Angels and Ben Stiller finally delivered on over a decade of promise with his stellar insider satire, Tropic Thunder. Between the work of newcomers like Andrew Stanton (WALL-E) and Courtney Hunt (Frozen River) and the returns to form for recognized winners (Jonathan Demme - Rachel Getting Married and Oliver Stone - W. ), it was a wonderful 12 months for the individual behind the lens.

Yet how cool is it that Fincher, Aranofsky, Nolan, or Boyce could walk away with a little gold statue? All have done amazing work, and have carved out a niche among film geeks and lovers of fine film. So what if each has had less than successful runs at the mainstream (only Nolan holds two certified hits - both of them Batman revamps). A critic would gladly take any effort by the mind responsible for Fight Club or Sunshine over a weak willed effort by some otherwise solid studio journeymen. While a dark horse could still stand out and claim one of these uncelebrated savant’s limelight, it’s clear that 2009 was the moment when the fringe finally found some industry acceptance. Heck, Benjamin Button is about to break the $100 million mark. That’s better than Fincher’s last three films combined.

So what makes this time different? Why are five filmmakers usually left for artsy fartsy plaudits (and little else) finally putting notches in their business model headboard? For Boyle, the answer was simple - think outside the UK box. While many of his movies were set outside the country, there’s been a distinct English flavor to memorable masterworks like 28 Days Later or Trainspotting. But with Slumdog Millionaire, the British maverick decided to concentrate on India as an actual character itself. That’s why Mumbai swings and swells with a kind of baffling Bollywood magic. Or what about Nolan? He’d been down the masked avenger avenue before. How could he possibly improve on his fan-favored ‘beginning’ for the man-bat. The answer, oddly enough, was seriousness. He took the often campy comic book material and made it into The Godfather for the graphic novel set.

For Aranofsky, it was a stylistic stripping down. The Wrestler often feels like a documentary discovered by a neophyte nostalgic for a bit of ‘80s sports showmanship. There’s none of The Fountain‘s fascinating flourishes, or Requiem for a Dream‘s big screen idiosyncrasies. Instead, it’s just performance capture, clear and simple. The same can’t be said for Fincher, however. Everything he’s learned about art design, costuming, detail, place, mood, tone, narrative, characterization, special effects, editing, scoring, pace, and inherent emotion has been whittled down and rendered resplendently with his indirect take on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story. While he’s always been a meticulous filmmaker, Benjamin Button is like cracking open a time capsule loaded with eye-popping ideas and awe-inspiring images.

That just leaves Van Sant, and it seems unfair to minimize his efforts this time around. Milk was a major achievement, a biopic that dealt more with what a famous man stood for than what he did behind the scenes. By focusing on the political end of Harvey Milk’s life, and using his personal problems and predicaments as kind of a grateful Greek chorus, we came to understand the passions that drove him, and the positions which ended his far too short time on this planet. Allowing all of his actors the room to explore and extrapolate - especially the mesmerizing work of lead Sean Penn - the director once condemned for creating a shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal Psycho is now again poised to perhaps pick up his first real slice of cinematic recognition.

Naturally, there are foul winds blowing for this potential nerd nomi-nation. Ron Howard already has one of these glorified career cappers, and there’s enough of a generational gap implied to ignore the historical retrofitting of his take on the infamous ‘70s interview. Besides, when potential results indicator the Director’s Guild of America announced their group of five back on 8 January, Aranofsky was out and Opie was in - and the Oscars rarely waver from such peer mounted recognition. Still, there’s a chance at bucking the trend, something that surely allows The Reader‘s Stephen Daldry or Gran Torino/Changeling‘s Clint Eastwood to sleep at night. Even with Howard in, however, the trending tends to put Boyle as the man to beat. He already has a Golden Globe to shore up his chances.

Last year, Best Director honors were shared by Joel and Ethan Coen, yet there’s was also the first acknowledgement of the turn towards the outside - they themselves beat four first timers including geek god Paul Thomas Anderson, Tony Gilroy, Jason Reitman, and artist turned filmmaker Julian Schnabel. Oddly enough, DGA nom Sean Penn - Into the Wild - didn’t make the final Academy five. So there’s still hope that one of the familiar faces clogging up the film biz machine will be missing come 22 February. Until then, it’s fun to reflect on a year which saw so many wonderful films, and so many amazing directors finally making their mark. Let’s hope it continues throughout 2009. The artform clearly needs it. 

by Bill Gibron

18 Jan 2009


It’s all the nudists’ fault. When sun worshipers challenged the illegality of baring it all back in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s, the resulting court decisions gave exploitation purveyors, and smut peddlers in general, an opportunity to use (and in some cases, abuse) the naked female form. You see, those in love with nature argued that the medical benefits and curative properties of nudism blunted any consideration of carnal knowledge. As a result, considering it illegal was actually denying practitioners their individual right to health. The family-oriented elements within the lifestyle proved successful within the Puritan US legal system. Still, it took entrepreneurs like Kroger Babb and David F. Friedman to hold down the prosecutorial fort, while businessmen like Harry Novak and Bob Cresse tried to keep the motion picture pulchritude flowing.

And helping them was genre maverick R. L. “Lee” Frost. Born in Arizona and raised in both California and Hawaii, the future exploitation expert got his start in television. After a string of successful commercials, he went on to make the nudie spoofs Surftide 77 and the infamous House on Bare Mountain. It was during the later where he first worked with a man who would change his career forever. Bob Cresse was an equally energetic idealist, bouncing around within the medium to make as much money - and monkey business - as possible. Together, the duo would create sleazoid classics such as Hollywood’s World of Flesh, Hot Spur, and the notorious Love Camp 7. One of their earliest collaborations was Love is a Four Letter Word. Retitled The Love Girls during its roadshow run, it stands as an excellent illustration of how the men perfectly complemented each other.

The basic premise of the film focuses on the then novel fetish of voyeurism. It was standard operating procedure for producers to review medical publications, scouring the burgeoning science of psychology to come up with unusual twists on the old naked lady routine. Sun worshipping and nudism had provided an ample commercial proving ground, while the Mondo movies of Europe would soon take over the framework. In the meantime, Cresse and Frost concocted a live action men’s magazine out of the story of Jerry, his lady love Shelia, his uncontrollable urges, and the various women more than happy to indulge his desire to peep.

Over the course of 61 meandering minutes, our hero spends inordinately large quantities of time giving gals the big eye. He sits back and studies their bra wearing routines, their daily showers, their after school frolicking, and the general desire to be nubile, nude, and natural. Without much of a narrative to hang onto, we watch as Jerry tries to conquer his abnormal cravings. All throughout the film, we follow the character through a series of psychological lectures and doctor visits, each one cementing his status as a first rate perv. It’s only at the end, when Jerry discovers his icy gal pal’s secret, do things go from nutty to numbing. With suicide implied and a weird last minute suggestion of redemption, the Love Girls loses little of its decades old potency.

Unlike your standard grindhouse chauvinist, Jerry is constantly chastised for his urges. It’s this seedy subtext which accents The Love Girls’ taboo busting conceits. This is a film that proposes to show us what goes on behind the walls of your typical college town, and what we see initially seems innocent enough - gals undressing, babes taking bare-ass excursions from one room to another. Frost’s camerawork is excellent, amplifying the surveillance-like sliminess of Jerry’s actions. One memorable sequence in particular has our hopped up hero hanging out during a sorority ritual. While the ladies look a little too old for rush week, their lewd lingerie party is worth the price of admission alone.

And it’s important to remember why these movies were made in the first place. Cresse and Frost knew that the burgeoning sexual revolution was peaking the interest of suppressed males everywhere. They also recognized the undeniable dollar value in such forbidden pleasures. So in order to satisfy both concepts, while hoping to keep the censors at bay, they introduced a small amount of ethics into their narratives.

Of course, Cresse had to satisfy his own fetishes a bit. He was notorious for putting his own peculiar passions up on the screen for everyone to see. During the opening credits (imaginatively scrawled across some vertical blinds) we get basic bondage action. On a trip down to Tijuana, Jerry and his pals experience a lewd lesbian floorshow. During the aforementioned all girl initiation, there is spanking and some implied torture. But it’s not just the honeys that experience humiliation. Jerry is always the laughing stock of someone in roundabout knowledge of his needs. He’s never celebrated for being a voyeur. Instead, the story moralizes his quirk into something akin to criminality. Obviously, Cresse and Frost were hoping such a message would mean less time spent defending their film in court.

In retrospect, one of the most memorable things about The Love Girls is how it demonizes men for their uncontrollable, crotch-driven lusts. Most exploitation is unapologetic in how degrading and piglike its leads can be. Women are seen as body-pleasing properties traded like salacious stock on a sin-strew exchange. But in the case of Jerry, we have someone so strung out on femininity and his raging need to peep that he can barely exist. While the audience gets the vicarious thrill of witnessing his “torment”, the character is all but doomed.

It’s an interesting angle in a film that follows many of the genre’s more recognizable attributes. Sure, the voice over opening narration sounds like a poet gone potty, and the ending makes little or no sense, but thanks to the provocative input of Bob Cresse and Lee Frost, what could have been your standard issue softcore becomes something distinctly disturbed and consistently crude. Under either name, The Love Girls/Love is a Four Letter Word succeeds in showing why R. L. Lee Frost remains one of the genre’s giants.

by Bill Gibron

18 Jan 2009


2008 was an interesting year for fans of the comedy classic Mystery Science Theater 3000. Not only did Mike Nelson and his creative collective - Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett - keep their take on the type - Rifftrax - alive and thriving, but original series creator Joel Hodgson jumped back into the in-theater commentary biz with his latest enterprise, Cinematic Titanic. Bringing along former cast mates Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein, he set up a vague, very familiar premise utilizing silhouetted figures making fun of really bad films. Unlike his previous cable TV hit, there were no robots or outer space set-ups to be found.

Over the last 12 months, this new enterprise has self-released five hilarious installments - The Oozing Skull, The Doomsday Machine, The Wasp Woman, Legacy of Blood, and a revamp of the MST masterwork Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. They’ve also toured around the country offering a “live” version of their experiments. Now 2009 starts off right where the group began. Its latest offering, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, is yet another rotten attempt at entertainment exposed and upended by our loveable band of comics. The narrative centers around the current Count Frankenstein (a thoroughly embarrassed Rossano Brazzi), his staff of bumbling bit players (including Wild Wild West‘s Michael Dunn as the requisite dwarf) and a countryside inhabited by not one, but two ancient cavemen (Loren Ewing, and the oddly named “Boris Lugosi”). 

When the Count’s fetching daughter Maria and her best buddy Valda show up at the castle, they are just in time to indulge in the madman’s latest act of playing God. When the villagers discovered the primitive people, they did what every rational backwater burg would do - they bludgeoned one of them to death with a rock. Using his lightning collection device, the Count has transplanted a girl’s brain into his ‘Goliath’s’ head, and has brought ‘it’ back to life. When Valda learns of the evil experiments she immediately throws herself at the aging scientist. In the meantime, the servants play hide the superstition behind each others back, our little person is banished to a nearby cave, and remaining Neanderthal Ook gets his revenge on all who sought to make his species extinct.

As an example of mid ‘70s ersatz exploitation, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks is rather anemic. While there is some minor nudity (Maria and Valda swim topless in one scene) and a tiny bit of grue thanks to implied brain surgery, this is clearly a last gasp attempt at getting wayward teens to take a trip to the local drive-in. The sensationalized title, along with the promise of something even more promiscuous (the trailer apparently emphasized the bare bodkins on display) must have been pretty potent back in the day. Even with its lackluster thrills and total lack of chills, there are still those who think kindly on this poorly dubbed import from Italy. The presence of Dick Randall (Pieces) behind the scenes as producer and director probably helps.

Yet this is clearly a hunk of hackneyed horse apple, a laborious attempt at creating macabre out of a moldy, middling molehill. Period authenticity goes immediately out the window when the villagers are shown. Some are dressed like extras from any number of Hammer horror efforts. Others apparently walked onset in jeans and t-shirts. There are lapses in logic, incomplete subplots, a total lack of suspense, and a weird sort of halting homoeroticism between Dunn’s dwarf and Lugosi’s incomprehensible Ook - which means, of course, it’s the perfect fodder for Hodgson and his co-workers in wit. Like the best episodes of MST (and now CT), we are treated to laugh out loud moments of sublime cinematic slamming.

Before things get going, we are warned about a new piece of technology about to be employed. Alternatively known as the “Boob” or “Breast Blimp”, this zeppelin shaped shadow is used whenever our lead actresses decide to get randy and drop blou. Immediately upon being utilized, several male members of the cast dismiss its necessity outright. While it only appears twice, it is a refreshing and funny device. Elsewhere, the by now familiar ‘frame stop’ skit sequence is attempted, this time giving Trace an opportunity to complain about the treatment of the Frankenstein name in the film. Unfortunately, everyone else seems to think he’s picking on Frank Conniff, and a big misunderstanding begins.

All throughout the running time of this spastic spooky vision, the collective tears into the film, finding fault with just about everything. They especially hate the rather short loin clothes worn by Ook, the completely ineffectual work of the village police, the very creepy May/December dalliance between the Count and Valda, and anything to do with Dunn, Lugosi, and Ewing’s Goliath. Oddly enough, a couple of four letter words litter some of the later comments. While nothing as pronounced as the F-bomb, it’s unusual for a self-marketed series to censor one type of material - female nudity - and yet allow the cast to use a more blue style of satire. As with many installments in the Cinematic Titanic series, there is definitely a more adult tone toward the funny business. But apparently, the mammary is verboten.

Still, as a starter for the year to come, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks proves that 2008 was no fluke. As Nelson, Murphy and Corbett continue to make fun of every current blockbuster that hits the Cineplex (Rifftrax are audio only, remember), Hodgson and the rest of the ex-Mystery Science staff keep plugging away at a true performance paradigm. Sure, both efforts are exceptional, providing the kind of well-placed ridicule that gives film purists palpitations. But even the most die hard lover of cinema can’t truly defend this erratic Euro-trash. Pondering, plodding, and preposterous, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks is truly terrible. But when placed in the talented hands of the geniuses at Cinematic Titanic, it turns into a cracking comedy gem.

by Bill Gibron

15 Jan 2009


Sports films can no longer function as mere history or information. Thanks to the mandates of the genre, physicality must match ideology like poorly drafted teammates to a star. If it works - and it rarely does - the stereotypical set up reveal layers of dimension and universal depth. If it merely motors along on talent and persuasion, like the new film about Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis The Express, the journey is enjoyable if slightly stilted. Within this formulaic film, new to DVD from Universal, is an interesting tale about one man, his dream of mimicking his idol, the abject racism of the day and how talent and tenacity managed to trump such intolerance…sometimes. Unlike the theatrical experience, however, the disc here fills in many of the gaps the effort failed to address when it was released back in October. It still doesn’t make the experience any more invigorating, however.

When he was young, Ernie Davis learned to run. It was a necessary survival skill in a small town where segregation and racial hatred ruled. Later, as he grew, Davis learned to use said talent to become an All American athlete. When colleges came calling, he had two choices - the University of Football, otherwise known as Notre Dame, or upstate New York school Syracuse. With an undeniable legacy left behind by a graduating Jim Brown, Davis soon found himself under the tutelage of no nonsense coach Ben Schwartzwalder. After an uneventful Freshman year, the newest Orangeman soon becomes a national name, leading his team to a National Championship and the first ever Heisman Trophy for a black player. Success in the NFL seemed certain - that is, until something unexpected came along to shatter his dreams.

The Express in nothing more than a less successful Brian’s Song set in the days of Jim Crow and unconscionable white supremacy. With trailers that give away one major reveal, and a narrative which foreshadows the final plot twist, this is an amiable if predicable portrait. Directed by Gary Fleder (Thing to Do in Denver When You’re Dead) with all the faked flash of a Tony Scott knock-off, we understand almost immediately where this story of struggle is going. Davis is introduced as a decent little kid picked on horrifically by a band of bullheaded boy bigots. Within seconds, his fleet footed abilities are revealed, and soon the shift is away from prejudice and onto pre-college success. When Dennis Quaid enters the picture as Ben Schwartzwalder, the equally pigheaded coach from Syracuse, we sense a confrontation ahead.

But in one of the few surprises in this otherwise routine biopic, our fabled football sage isn’t a raging extremist - unless you’re talking about football. Then, Schwartzwalder is as old school as George Halas and Vince Lombardi. His is a hard work and waste nothing ethic, the kind of aggressive approach that made Jim Brown into a legendary figure in the NFL. We see the fabled running back as he readies to play with the Cleveland Browns, and his active recruitment of Davis is one of the film’s few sparkling sequences. Otherwise, Brown is held up as a kind of compare and contrast with his protégé. Big Jim gets the concept of social isolation and fights to rise above it. Ernie is as sincere as his name suggests, shocked when faced with separate drinking fountains and restricted hotels.

Part of the pleasure within The Express is watching Schwartzwalder and the team respond to the growing controversy caused by their newest recruit. At first, there is lots of contention and chest puffing. One player in particular makes it his personal cause to give Davis nothing but ethnic oriented grief. But as he starts shining, and by example bringing the team into the national limelight, the differences cool. Soon we see a united front against the ridiculous laws and ways of a pre-Civil Rights South. A trip to Texas for the National Championship game is especially illuminating, since almost everything that happens both before, during, and after the contest speaks volumes for the misguided way of America circa the ‘50s. Had there been more of this material, The Express would play like a leatherheaded Malcolm X. And the DVD offers up deleted scenes, historical information, and a commentary that explains why some of the facts were “altered” to conform to commercial filmmaking.

Indeed, Fleder seems to think that audiences won’t indulge in a film that spends most of its time in controversy and anger. So The Express offers up some moments of minor romance, and the typical non-erotic comedic male bonding that sports tend to mandate. In the lead, Rob Brown makes a convincing Davis. Not required to do more than play proficiently and look iconic, the Finding Forrester co-star fits the bill. Much better is Omar Benson Miller as the larger than life lineman Jack Buckley. Like an overprotective father to Davis’ ill-prepared novice, he’s a gentle joking giant and jester. Some ancillary support comes from Charles S. Dutton (as Davis’ ‘blink and you’ll miss him’ Grandpa) and Soul Food‘s Darrin Dewitt Henson as Brown.

As for Quaid, he’s the film’s toughest fit. While Schwartzwalder was in his late ‘40s when Davis first stepped onto the Syracuse campus, his big screen reflection feels too young for the part. Quaid can give convincing curmudgeon, but his boyish good looks keep getting in the way. Even when Fleder gets in close to accentuate the star’s crow’s feet, the 54 year old’s sunny disposition belies his (and the character’s) age. Besides, we expect more sour mash sass from a man who took a small university and built it into a strong athletic contender. Quaid tries to gruff up his gumption, but it never comes across as organic. And in a film which needs that strong outer source, Schwartzwalder is an incomplete core.

With an ending that attempts to balance triumph with tragedy and a feeling of incompleteness overall, The Express ends up being more and less of the same simultaneously. Anyone with even a minor degree in narrative predictability can see where all the nose bleeds and blurred vision is going, and the link to the classic 1971 weeper is undeniable. Besides, if we didn’t already understand Davis’ place in sports history, his lack of professional stature still wouldn’t be so surprising. When it sticks to the issue of race and how the Syracuse players responded to same, the movie makes us think. The rest of the time, however, The Express suffers from the same creative cruise control that has long since sunk the spotty sports genre.

by Bill Gibron

14 Jan 2009


For some reason, the thriller/action/adventure genre just doesn’t get the same respect as the dour drama or the high minded epic. It seems like, the minute you introduce violence and mayhem into the mix, people assume that everything involved has been reduced down to the lowest of all the common denominators. In some cases, that’s more than true. Not a single installment of the Saw franchise can pass by a Cineplex without accenting its atrocities with endless reams of routines slash and burn nu-metal. Similarly, anything featuring cops, criminals, bullets, and the slo-mo battle between all three has to rely on faux electronica to amplify the already cheap and clichéd thrills. Perhaps that’s why the entire entertainment category gets a bad rap - not only do the storylines follow a set stack of studio-stated strategies, but the backdrop has to be equally derivative as well. 

In this installment of Surround Sound, SE&L will look at three new soundtracks, each one hoping to break out of the sonic stereotyping inherent in their creation. Luckily, all but one actually makes it out alive. The take on James Cameron’s Terminator series might seem like insignificant, small screen stuff, but Bear McCreary really delivers on the sci-fi thriller dynamics. Sadly, the approach taken by Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, is a lot like how the filmmakers addressed the lack of leading lady Kate Beckinsdale in this second sequel. They just substituted in something - or in this case, someone - else. Finally, an oldie but a goodie arrives in the form of The Dead Pool, the soundtrack to Clint Eastwood’s last appearance as “Dirty” Harry Callahan (that is, if you don’t count Gran Torino). Like any product of its time, it evokes the best and worst of the era it was created in.

In each case, we aren’t looking at something sonically significant or aurally outstanding. Instead, each score settles in with the rest of its connected entertainment’s low rent sentiments and adds what it can, beginning with:

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Original Television Soundtrack [rating: 8]

With a name like Bear McCreary, you’re destined for a lot of things: professional wrestler; bounty hunter; TV adventure host, cutting room floor character from John Carpenter’s The Thing. Scoring hour long network series wouldn’t necessarily be high on the list. Yet the man with a bruin for a moniker has been setting sci-fi TV straight since he took the reigns of Battlestar Galactica back in 2006. As a result, the in-demand composer has handled other speculative series like Eureka! and genre efforts like Rest Stop and Wrong Turn 2. With such a resume, it’s no surprise then that he currently helms the backdrop for Fox’s Terminator take, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Unlike most big to small screen translations, critics have been fairly impressed with the way in which the weekly serial handles the well known Cameron classic - and some of that praise has been passed on to McCreary. One listen to the soundtrack CD confirms his abilities.

Things start out rockin’ - literally - as Garbage’s Shirley Manson shows up to belt out the slow burn stomp “Sampson and Delilah”. While not written by McCreary, his arrangement fits the show’s sentiments perfectly. We also get a track from BrEadan’s Band called “Ain’t We Famous”. It too is a lot of fun. From there on, it’s all Bear, and it’s all wildly entertaining and evocative. “Sarah Connor’s Theme” does a nice job of complementing the character, while “The Hand of God”, “Atomic Al’s Merry Melody”, and “There’s a Storm Coming” are all standout tracks. Sure, there are times when Brad Fiedel’s original melodies for The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day make an appearance, and entries like “Highway Battle”, “Central America” and “Motorcycle Robot Chase” all have the standard banal style suggested by their title. But as an example of large scope sound on a small scale budget, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is very good indeed.

The Dead Pool - The Original Score [rating: 6]

In 1988, Clint Eastwood was only 58. Still, many had written him off as a one note aging action hero whose better days lay a big steamy plate of spaghetti westerns away from his ‘current’ craggy persona. Now, 20 years after the fact, he’s one of our most respected actors and filmmakers. Funny what a series of stellar directorial jobs will do, along with a few supplementary Oscars. Still, The Dead Pool was viewed as a kind of career swan song, the end to Eastwood’s iconic Dirty Harry character and a franchise that hadn’t been viable since Sudden Impact, five years earlier. Yet the story of a secret list of celebrity targets, and the killer trying to complete the catalog, served Eastwood and his persona well. It was a nominal hit, and reminded Hollywood that older men could indeed carry off thrillers just as capably as younger ones. It’s a lesson Tinsel Town has taken to heart as of late, right Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis?

As a score, Lalo Schifrin’s work on The Dead Pool is highly reminiscent of the mid to late ‘80s. There’s faux “Axel F” (“Main Title”), a jazzy synth look at the city by the Bay (“San Francisco Night”), and lots of divergent, sonic cues. Both “The Rules and “The Car” offer up standard crime drama dynamics, while “The Last Autograph” is like a symphonic hodgepodge of conflicting cinematic emotions. Knowing Eastwood’s penchant for the original American artform, there are a couple of nifty combo workouts (“Something in Return”, “The Pool”) and there’s a haunting reprise of “Night” at the end (“The Pier, The Bridge, and the Bay”). All throughout, Schifrin keeps things tense and arcane, mixing melody lines with atonal intervals and occasional twists to keep the listener - and one presumes, the viewer of the film - off kilter and alert. While it won’t match some of Eastwood’s earlier or later works, at least the score for The Dead Pool was a winner.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 4]

That’s right - Kate Beckinsdale is out. It may look like her in the trailers and coming soon materials for this tepid terror action film, but that’s remarkable lookalike (and DOOMSDAY lead) Rhona Mitra taking over for the absent Selene. Sure, our new heroine is actually returning in the role of Sonja, but it’s obvious she’s acting like a comely Kate substitute. As a matter of fact, much of this unnecessary sequel seems unoriginal and redundant. We get more of the standard story about vampires vs. werewolves, lots of hyper stylized violence, and a couple of English actors who should know better - Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy - cashing outrageously large paychecks. It would be nice to say that the soundtrack to this Gothic goof was filled with the kind of compositional cheese that lifts everything up a few kitschy camp notches. Instead, producers have gone the nauseating NIN route, recycling Reznor-esque material from 15 years ago and considering it original movie macabre fodder.

Almost everything here is a remix (and a ‘Renholder’ remix at that). With band names like Puscifer, Alkaline Trio, Genghis Tron, and Combichrist, you get an instant idea of the kind of sonic situation you’re dealing with. All the material here meshes metal with electronica, attempting to make the call and response chaos sound melodic and meaningful. Instead, it plays like Gary Numan having a conniption fit. Not everything here is awful - “Hole in the Earth” by the Deftones has some power, and “Tick Tick Tomorrow” by From First to Last offers up a wonderfully weird experience. But material like “Broken Lungs” by Thrice and “Miss Murder” by AFI is imitative, noisy, and unsettling. Maybe this is good for a film where monsters battle each other in overly choreographed examples of CGI carnage, but only 14 year olds with open iPod space need apply. Rock has sure come a long way from Zeppelin, Maiden, Crue, Priest, and GnR. While this bleak Bauhaus bombast may be someone’s sonic cup of tea, it doesn’t make for a meaningful film score.

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