Old Testament Tales That Fit Today's Musicians

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

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

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?

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

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

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

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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Last Week's TLC Movie Is Already a Damn Classic

[In his new column, Houston's award-winning goofball Shea Serrano writes about his life and times. Better put on your shoes, because your socks are about to be blown off -- ed.]

TLC/Courtesy of VH1
Last Monday night I watched the movie about TLC, the most important all-girl rap group of all time. It came on VH1. I was excited.

TLC was all over radios when I was growing up. They helped, in part, to shape my existence. Surely the most player thing I ever did was sing "Red Light Special" to a girl while sitting at my family's kitchen table on the house phone hoping no one else in the family would hear me. That's a little thing called being in love.

Three things about that:

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Metallica's James Hetfield: "Plenty of Places to Die On That Stage"

James Hetfield shreds in Metallica: Through the Never
After selling more than 100 million records and decimating virtually every arena, stadium and amphitheater on the planet, there's little doubt at this point that Metallica is the biggest heavy-metal band in history. More than three decades into a career that has seen both unprecedented triumph and intense tragedy, the band is still managing to find new and unexpected worlds to thrash into submission.

A little more than two years after the release of the frankly bizarre Lulu, Metallica's ill-advised album collaboration with Lou Reed, the band is back with Through the Never, a big-budget 3D IMAX spectacular that weaves a violent, hallucinogenic narrative into the most laser-studded, animatronic Metallica concert ever staged. With the film, the group is stepping into a 3D universe more typically populated by the likes of Katy Perry and Justin Bieber, albeit armed with a great deal more double-bass licks.

How did Metallica find themselves in such a place in 2013, working with Hollywood directors and attending IMAX film premieres? To find out, we spoke with James Hetfield, the band's voice and driving creative force, about how Metallica: Through the Never came to be.

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Forget the Acting, Songs Tell CBGB's Cinematic Story

CBGB, the movie about the iconic club, opens in theaters in a week; but, in an exclusive arrangement with DirecTV Cinema, it's been playing on demand for the last month. So, I rented the movie because it's cheaper to pay 11 bucks and drink PBR at home than take the family to the theater and pay 11 bucks for a tub of popcorn.

How punk rock of me.

Anyway, someone who is qualified to critique the movie on its cinematic merits may come along and do just that in weeks to come, so I won't delve deep into whose performance is award-winning (none) or if the screenplay is especially good (not really). Instead, I'll just say if you love music, especially the kind that came from this hallowed establishment, you should at least rent CBGB on video.

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