Discover A Hard Day's Night All Over Again

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Photos courtesy of Janus Films/Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Note: this article was written by VMG film critic Stephanie Zacharek.

Let's get the obvious over with: The early days of the Beatles, as reflected in Richard Lester's ebullient shout of freedom A Hard Day's Night, were all about the optimism of the early 1960s, a thrilling and energizing time when young people, and even some older ones, truly believed that the future held great promise.

There. Now let's talk about joy, and about wistfulness, because one so often trails the other, and both are woven into the DNA of A Hard Day's Night. To read it as a movie that the future proved wrong -- a movie that's somehow "about" our collective, historic innocence, a set of hopes that were dashed by Vietnam or by Nixon's betrayal or by anything -- is to miss the glorious reality that A Hard Day's Night lives so fully in its particular present.


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The 8 Best Soundtrack-Exclusive Tracks

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Photo by Marco Torres
R. Kelly, whose biggest hit originally appeared on the Space Jam soundtrack.
Soundtracks were a huge deal in the '90s. It was a chance for us to get all our favorite bands together in one place, like a high class, far more expensive mixtape. They were such an affair that bands would release their best songs and greatest hits on these records, oftentimes sending a soundtrack soaring up the charts far past any one musician's own album.

For that reason, it's hard to look back at them as the cheap marketing ploys that they could be. When real musicians applied themselves to soundtrack appearances, and Hollywood execs allowed them free reign over the product, it often became a must own, even if the movie sucked.

Here are some of those songs which you could only get on a soundtrack that you just had to buy back then.

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A Fond Look Back at 1998's Godzilla: The Album

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The latest installment in the long-running Godzilla series, and the second American-produced version of the monster movie, comes out on Friday. Though I personally don't trust this one to go any better than the one in 1998 went, and the Japanese fanbase is already making fun of our "fat, American" Godzilla, it's shaping up to be the first blockbuster of the summer season, depending on your opinion of Spider-Man.

So it's as good a time as any to look backwards, particularly at the 1998 Godzilla film starring Matthew Broderick. It was a horrible movie, but it did have one thing going for it: an awesome soundtrack. Let's reflect on that a bit, shall we?


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Old Testament Tales That Fit Today's Musicians

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In April 2014, one of the hottest figures in Hollywood is an old-timer called God. He's the subject of Noah and God's Not Dead, two films that have somewhat surprisingly charted multimillion-dollar grosses this Easter season.

Whether the actors and producers are true believers isn't the point. Their personal salvation might not be assured, but it seems their bottom lines have been saved by bringing The Big Guy to the big screen. But in secular music entertainment, God's archrival gets all the run.

Whether the Stones are sympathizing with him or Jay-Z is illuminating on him, Satan rules, and folks like Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne have ridden Old Scratch's coattails all the way to the bank. The only time music artists ever mention God is when they're receiving a trophy at some awards show, right before they head off to a drug-laden orgy.


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A Few Other Recent Oscar-Worthy Music Films

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Eat it, Putin.
On film's biggest night this past Sunday, music nudged onto Oscar's center stage and stole the show. Jared Leto's incredibly moving Best Supporting Actor acceptance speech was a beautiful way to start the night. Music-video directing legend Spike Jonze won the Best Original Screenplay award. Karen O and Ezra Koenig sounded fantastic and looked like the cover of a White Stripes album while singing their nominated duet from Her. Pharrell wore his hat. Bono was Bono.

John Travolta professed his love for musicals, then butchered the name of one of Broadway's biggest stars. Bette Midler's voice turned back time to remind us why we loved "Wind Beneath My Wings" before it became a maudlin funeral dirge.

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life, won for Best Documentary Short. Moments later, the very deserving 20 Feet From Stardom took home the Best Documentary Feature.


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The Reality Bites Soundtrack at 20: The Good, the Bad and the Totally '90s

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This week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Reality Bites, Houston's cinematic "'90s moment" starring Ethan Hawke's grunge locks and Winona Ryder's doily dress. It's a flawed film, and rather unsatisfying at times, but it's hardly without its charms -- quite like Houston itself, one might say.

Today, it's remembered fondly by many not so much as a classic love story or intimate portrait of life in our city, but as a perfect, time-capsule snapshot of our mass-culture conceptions of success, love and self-expression in the early '90s, before the whole decade lost its damn mind towards the end there.

But hey, we here at Rocks Off ain't film critics. What about the tunes?


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Mexican Music Is Violent. So What?

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Courtesy of Houston Cinema Arts Festival
An image from the new film Narco Cultura, now playing in Houston
America's liberal class and MSMers are abuzz right now over Narco Cultura, a documentary about Mexico's horrific drug war and the musical movement that has risen around it. These libs (and more than a few conservatives) are telling each other and the two Mexicans they know about how Mexican music nowadays glorifies the drug trade, how artists will write songs for narcos on commission, how musicians go on stage with AK-47s, bulletproof vests and bazookas, how those songs revel in being as gory as possible -- and how terrible all of this is.

Never mind that the music groups highlighted really hit their height in Mexican culture in 2010. Never mind that almost no media outlet had reported on this new wave of narcocorridos -- alternately called el movimento alterado ("the altered movement"; "altered" as in "high as shit") or corridos enfermos ("sick corridos") until now, and now everyone is tripping over themselves to report this "new" news.

NPR and The New York Times did stories on Narco Cultura recently, so it's now news! And you know something is the liberal flavor of the month when they're going to Ry Cooder -- the only person progressive gabachos trust for their ethnic music -- so he can cluck about the sadness of it all.

SNORE. Yes, America: Mexican music is violent. Get over it.


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King Kong Song: 10 Songs for the Giant Ape's 80th Anniversary

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One of the big hits at this summer's box office was Pacific Rim, a movie about giant mechs fighting giant monsters. It owes a lot to Japanese cinema, of course, but it wouldn't exist at all without the influence of one classic American film: 1933's King Kong.

Hard to believe, but it's been 80 years since people flocked to theaters and first had their minds blown by what were, at the time, some of the most fantastic sights that had ever been captured on film. I mean, it's easy to forget what with King Kong himself and all, but this was also a movie featuring dinosaurs, a giant vulture and a deleted scene featuring a giant spider. It was a technological marvel in its day.

It has also left an indelible mark on pop culture that has permeated even music in a big way. In honor of the film's 80th anniversary, I decided to showcase ten songs that wouldn't exist without the King.


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Music Films Come to Life at Houston Cinema Arts Festival

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All images courtesy of Houston Cinema Arts Festival
A still from the documentary Narco Cultura
It's not by design, but the fifth installment of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival is so packed with music-oriented films, both narrative and documentary, that it makes a pretty damn good music festival all by itself -- complete with several live performances.

Pairing music with films has always been an essential element of HCAF, which officially runs Wednesday night through Sunday at ten different venues across town, from the Aurora Picture Show and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to the Asia Society Texas Center and Project Row Houses' Eldorado Ballroom. (Many screenings take place at Sundance Cinemas downtown, however.) At the first HCAF in 2008, San Francisco indie-rock band Dengue Fever set a precedent by providing a live score to the 1925 film The Lost World.

"To tell you the truth, I'm not trying to make the festival primarily a music festival," says the festival's artistic director, Richard Herskowitz. "The main thing is to celebrate all the arts, and so I'm kind of happy that this year has that kind of emphasis.

"I would say music is always going to be one of the most important art forms in the festival," he adds. "Because for one thing, we love to do live performance with film."


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Six Horror-Movie Soundtrack Essentials

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Friends, the greatest time of year is upon us once again. It's getting a little bit chilly outside (for Texas), the nights are getting just a little bit spookier, and the magic of Halloween is in the air! I don't know about you, but I get excited for it every year. One of my favorite parts of all the Halloween fun is having horror-movie marathons, like the one running on AMC right now, and, of course, the accompanying music.

Halloween music normally gets sort of a bad rap. Your first thoughts are probably novelty recordings like "Monster Mash," which probably holds a special place in a lot of our hearts but are pretty childish. But not all Halloween music is just a novelty. Some of it is awesome, and horror movies have thankfully inspired the creation of much of it.

Step with me back in time as we look throughout the years at the great horror movie soundtracks that have come Halloweens before.


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