Film

Part Four: December 2009

At last, dessert, with just a few more entrees tossed in to satisfy those coming late to the table. The big guns -- James Cameron, Clint Eastwood, Peter Jackson, Terrence Malik -- are still putting the finishing touches on their over the top treats, hoping that viewers will appreciate the care and craftsmanship that went into each one. As usual, it looks like the Hollywood heavyweights are once again saving some of the best for last.

Films That Should Satisfy
Director: Jason Reitman

Film: Up in the Air

Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman

MPAA rating: PG-13

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4 December
Up in the Air

It must have been hard for Jason Reitman to follow-up Juno. After all, picking the right project after such a heralded sophomore effort (especially one with all the accompanying awards season acclaim) offers a keen insight into where a director thinks his career is headed. As for Paramount, they are apparently very pleased indeed. In fact, many are citing the recent move of Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island from this past October to March of 2010 as a way of giving this George Clooney comedy more Oscar play. Granted, the premise doesn't sound that promising - our celebrated superstar is a corporate headhunter desperate to earn 10 million frequent flyer miles before he loses his job. His constant travel has left him lonely and disconnected. According to Reitman, the results are deeply personal and only marginally based on the Walter Kim novel from 2001. Interesting.

Up in the Air

 
Director: Nimród Antal

Film: Armored

Cast: Columbus Short, Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, Jean Reno, Skeet Ulrich, Fred Ward, Milo Ventimiglia

MPAA rating: PG-13

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4 December
Armored

Nimród Antal is relatively new to the motion picture game, but the American-born, Hungarian-trained filmmaker has already made a major impact with efforts like Kontroll and 2007's Vacancy. Now he's been pegged by producer Robert Rodriguez to handle his update of the famed Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi action epic Predator. In the meantime, December audiences have his heist flick, Armored, to consider. The cast is top notch -- everyone from Laurence Fishburne, Jean Reno, and Fred Ward to Matt Dillon and Columbus Short is involved -- and the story centers on an armored vehicle inside job gone sour. With his flair for suspense and his ability to navigate complicated plotlines, this could be a decent mainstream entertainment in a month of more "meaningful" movies. It could also be an attempted misdirection, a chance to grab some of those holiday season dollars that aren't automatically going to potential Oscar fodder.

Armored

 
Films That May Leave Your Starving
Director: Jim Sheridan

Film: Brothers

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shepard, Clifton Collins, Jr., Mare Winningham

MPAA rating: PG-13

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4 December
Brothers

In the '90s, Ireland's Jim Sheridan reigned supreme. His films, including My Left Foot, The Field, In the Name of the Father, and The Boxer, gave international audiences a look at the 'troubled' country he grew up in. A move to the US inspired his last great effort, 2003's In America, while 2005 saw him jump on the pop culture bandwagon to helm the less than successful 50 Cent biopic, Get Rich or Die Tryin'. Now he's taking on the Danish film Brødre with a remake featuring Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Tobey Maguire. The storyline centers on a Marine who goes missing while on yet another tour of duty in the Middle East. This devastates his wife and younger brother, leading to events that will shake up the entire familial structure. Sounds very intense and dramatic, and if anyone can handle such heartbreaking material, it's the man who made Daniel Day-Lewis a household name.

Brothers

 
Director: Kirk Jones

Film: Everybody's Fine

Cast: Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Katherine Moennig

MPAA rating: PG-13

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4 December
Everybody's Fine

After the astounding success of his nostalgic love letter to movies, Cinema Paradiso, then 33-year-old filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore was looking for a worthy follow-up. After all, it's tough to compete with a title that won a Special Jury Prize at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Still, Stanno tutti bene (translation: Everybody's Fine) was warmly received, and is now being remade with Robert DeNiro stepping in for the opera loving civil servant character played originally by Marcello Mastroianni. British filmmaker Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine, Nanny McPhee) is behind the update, and it looks like he's changed the storyline ever so slightly. Indeed, preview write-ups talk about DeNiro's deceased wife, when Tornatore's film used said status as a "twist" at the end (turns out Mastroianni isn't reporting back to his spouse, but her grave). One fears this has been too "Westernized" to compete with the original.

Everybody's Fine






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In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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