Today, John Milius is probably most famous for being the inspiration for John Goodman’s character Walter Sobchak in the Coen Brothers’ 1998 cult classic “The Big Lebowski.” But Milius was arguably the first of the so-called “Hollywood Brats” of the 1970s to score big in Hollywood. Milius went to USC film school at the same time George Lucas (“Star Wars”) and Randall Kleiser (“Grease”) did and became one of the most in-demand screenwriters during the 1970s. His larger-than-life, gun-toting, right-leaning persona startled, but also fascinated many aspiring talents of the period, including Steven Spielberg, Paul Schrader, and Martin Scorsese. Milius has been credited for creating the “Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?” line from “Dirty Harry.” But he’s probably most famous for penning the script for Francis Ford Coppla’s legendary 1979 Vietnam epic “Apocalypse Now.”
Milius also became famous for directing the cult surfing film “Big Wednesday” as well as the box-office hits “Conan the Barbarian” and “Red Dawn.” However, despite the box-office success of “Red Dawn,” the film arguably also led to a reversal of fortune in Hollywood due to “Dawn’s” right-wing political leanings (the film’s political stigma alienated many in Hollywood). Coupled with an accountant friend who looted Milius’s vast earnings, Milius was eventually reduced to asking for a staff writing position on the HBO show “Deadwood” in order to pay for his son’s law school. “Deadwood” producer David Milch gave Milius the money and was shocked when Milius paid the entire amount back. Milius had a comeback of sorts creating the HBO series “Rome,” but then had another setback in 2010 when he suffered a stroke. Milius has fought valiantly back and was able to regain his mind and his writing abilities which he hopes to realize with his long-gestating “Genghis Khan” project.
Regardless of where you stand politically, “Milius” is one hell of a documentary about a true Hollywood character and survivor. The fact that so many famous people agreed to be interviewed for this documentary (including Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola, Schrader, Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, George Hamilton, and many others) only demonstrates how much love and respect he has generated over the years. The one common denominator everyone praises is Milius’s gift for storytelling, which apparently hasn’t been destroyed by his stroke. Directors Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson do a splendid job of telling one of the most fascinating true Hollywood stories you’ll ever see. It’s now available for viewing on Amazon Prime.
You can also hear an interview with Figueroa on the excellent “Projection Booth” podcast:
I can’t think of a better performer to cover Dead or Alive’s trashy Hi-NRG disco classic from the mid-1980s than Mr. Manson. I realize some people think this cover may be sacrilege, but Manson is really just Pete Burns with some added 1990s nihilism thrown into the mix. Yes, this was recorded in 2009 when such throwback nihilism was considered to be as corny as parachute pants. But I’m a huge fan of that trend.
One of the greatest fight scenes in recent film history from Jody Hill’s terminally sick and brilliant comedy “Observe and Report.” Seth Rogen’s mentally ill mall cop does battle with real cop Ray Liotta and several of Ray Liotta’s fellow cops in a fight to the finish … with Queen’s incredibly cool hard rock anthem “The Hero” from the 1980 cheese film classic “Flash Gordon” playing full blast behind the mayhem.
“Confrontation” is the one musical track NOT composed by Tangerine Dream for Michael Mann’s classic 1981 crime film “Thief.” Yet, it’s one of the most pivotal tracks as it is the theme for the final and extremely bloody gunfight at the end of the film. Composer Craig Safan (who is probably most famous for composing the theme to the TV show “Cheers”) was undoubtedly listening to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” a LOT when composing this music. In any case, it’s a great piece of film music and was one of the earliest and best uses of rock music and film up to that time … a time when it was unusual to have rock music score a scene of this type. I have included the scene below to see how the music plays in the scene. Due to some graphic violence, not safe for work or little ones.
From Ben Stiller’s flawed, but occasionally brilliant 2013 remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” this is a compilation of scenes set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” a song which plays a pivotal role in the film. I felt “Mitty” was severely underrated. The understated way that director Stiller shows the developing relationship between his character and Kristen Wiig’s is wonderful and one of the best and most natural portrayals of “a friendship growing into something more” ever put on film.
Hard to believe this one is almost 25 years old. I was a huge fan of Sinead O’Connor’s first album “The Lion and the Cobra” from 1987 and when I heard this track in the early months of 1990, I was completely knocked out and knew it was an instant classic. Despite what I felt at the time, the surrounding album “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” was not as good as “Lion and the Cobra,” but it still was quite good. Prince originally wrote this song for a band called The Family, whose version I have not been able to track down. The video is also a classic.
Here is one of the more memorable scenes from director David Lynch’s early masterpiece “Eraserhead” … the “lady in the radiator” song “In Heaven, Everything is Fine.” The song was composed by Peter Ivers and David Lynch and sung by Ivers. The song was later covered by Devo and Frank Black of the Pixies. Ivers recorded some eccentric, but occasionally brilliant albums in the 1970s before becoming the host of “New Wave Theater,” one of the best shows from the early days of cable TV. Lynch … well … I wonder whatever happened to him …
An awesome knuckle-dragging anthem, this time courtesy of the Count Five, circa 1966. I could pontificate about the greatness of this rude anthem, but I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves:
“I was born way down in the deep deep south
I met a pretty pretty woman with a real big mouth
I gonna make that big mouth woman my wife
I gonna love that woman for the rest of my life
I’ll marry her and I’ll feel fine
I’ll feel fine when I make her mine
I took a trip up north and one back west
I went to the east to find the best
But I ended up to the deep deep south
Making love to the woman with a big big mouth.”
By the time Black Sabbath recorded their fourth album in 1972 (the ingeniously titled “Black Sabbath Vol. 4″), it seems like they were taking some cues from another famous 4th album of the time (“Led Zeppelin 4″) and expanding their musical palette beyond the goth doom and gloom heavy crunchers that made up their first three albums. In any case, the album had these two stellar ballads. The first is a painful breakup anthem (“Changes”) … the other is a lovely, acoustic instrumental number (“Laguna Sunrise”). Despite the fact that this is a heavy band playing mellowing out, these efforts are not forced or cheesy. They are truly splendid songs and makes one wish Sabbath had done more in this vein. To this day, they are still a supremely underrated band.
Another case of “It’s the singer, not the song.” Exhibit 5,654 is Warren Zevon’s cover of Steve Winwood’s “Back in the High Life.” Very soulful and heartfelt and much better than the original.