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One More and We Take it Back: Massive Attack’s “Angel” in The Watchmen Trailer

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 1, 2009

Over a decade later, and there is probably still yet to be an album made cooler than Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. It had the bad fortune to be released a full seven years after everyone assumed that Massive Attack had already peaked in relevance with the still fairly fantastic but significantly more dated Blue Lines, but those of us introduced to the group through their third album have no problem recognizing it as the badass fucking masterpiece that it was. An album full of shivering, creeping, thundering blackout jams (Pitchfork writer Brent DiCrescenzo appropriately described it as “light-absorbing”), Mezzanine even makes going to the post office a pulsating, terrifying, and oddly sensuous experience. And “Angel,” its leadoff track, establishes it all pretty well off the bat–a not-so-vaguely threatening love song with a cavernous, nearly apocalyptic beat (like a malevolent Funkadelic), the song was absolutely destined to be played in the background while people did hard drugs, had mind-melting sex, endured psychotic episodes and casually walked away while things exploded in the background. In slow motion.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, we here at Intensities in Ten Suburbs are far from the only ones to have reached this conclusion. Darren Aronofsky was first, tabbing the song for use in his paranoid-banger-heavy debut flick Pi. The song quickly caught on as the nocturnal film soundtrack of choice, being used in Go, Stay, the Flight of the Phoenix remake, and perhaps most famously, the scene in Snatch where gypsy Brad Pitt watches his mother’s trailer go up in flames with her still inside. The song was apparently even used in a nightclub drug scene during an episode of The West Wing (starring Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men fame!)–I guess Aaron Sorkin would know. Its hard to begrudge the song’s use in any of these situations–they all end up working fairly brilliantly, as it’s far easier for the use of “Angel” to elevate a movie scene than for the scene to drag the song down, anyway. But it’s hard not to feel that the excess of examples of the song being called on to work its magic in otherwise potentially drab montages has started to cheapen it a bit, to get it to the point where it’s almost impossible to use it without it now without feeling like some sort of self-parody or pastiche.

Enter The Watchmen. Recent spots for the movie–or TV Spot #6, as I’m specifically told on the YouTube page–have called on the Massive Attack anthem to augment their dialogue-less montages of Shit Going Down. While I don’t know yet if the song will actually be in the movie, from what I know of the graphic novel (having read it for the first time about a month ago—and people accuse me of being untimely), at least three of the previous Stock “Angel” Scenes (mind-melting sex, psychotic breakdwons, casual walks from flames) will likely be included, and possibly a fourth if they make The Comedian a smack addict or something, allowing for more than a fair share of opportunities for the song to find a place in the movie proper. I couldn’t help roll my eyes a little when I first heard it booming in the background of the TV spot–eleven years since Max first poked his own brain in Pi, and still no songs cinematic enough to supplant “Angel” as the action/drug/sex/psychosis-movie goto. Sad.

Still, I feel like I can allow The Watchmen one final dip into the Massive Attack pool before I get too dogmatic about anything. After all, this isn’t just some Paul Walker movie about yacht thieves or whatever–this is the goddamn Watchmen movie. It’s has been in the pipeline for so long, has been so anticipated in that time, and demands so much of an impression with its scope and largesse, that it’s possible that just about any other song wouldn’t have felt up to the task. I almost picture director Zack Snyder and the big wigs at 20th century FOX having a war-room discussion about it like the ones they had in 80s action movies where the powers that be ultimately decide that they need to call on Arnold Schwarzeneggar or Sylvester Stallone or whoever to bail them out of their current political crisis. “What about Teddybears’ “Cobrastyle”? Young Jeezy’s “Put On”? Kevin Rudolff’s “Let it Rock”?” “No, for this assignment, we need someone who we know without a doubt can get the job done. GET ME MASSIVE ATTACK!!

So I’ll let it go, just this one more time. If they use it for Iron Man 2, or Fantastic 4 3, then it’s officially time to close the books. (Or at least move on to “Risingson,” which is a better song anyway).

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One More and We Take it Back: Kevin Spacey

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 16, 2008

“When did you become so…joyless?”

I’ve seen a fair number of ads for this new movie 21, and I gotta say, it looks ridiculous. I mean, I guess nerds don’t get too many thrillers made about ’em these days, so one made about MIT students is probably something I should be semi-grateful for. But, even aside from the fact this it’s an almost all-white cast in a movie based on a story about Asian college students, and that two of those white people are ultimate “how did they become famous, exactly?”star-fakers, it just seems like a lot of nonsense. Overdramatic, sensationalized hogwash about a story that probably won’t even end interestingly–always the problem of having a movie based on a true story.

Unsurprisingly, this movie also stars Kevin Spacey. Now, there was a time when that casting choice would make almost every movie a must-see–namely, the turn of the millenium, a time when Spacey was virtually untouchabel. He had key roles in four of my then-favorite movies of the 90s (Se7en, The Usual Suspects, L.A. Confidential and American Beauty), a couple of deserved cult favorites (Glengarry Glen Ross, Swimming With Sharks), a couple of above average blockbusters (A Time to Kill, The Negotiator) and even a Christmas perrenial (The Ref). For almost a whole decade, the man could do no wrong, and he even had a couple of Oscars to show for it. He looked well on his way to being one of the premier actors of his generation–a stunning mix of Jack Lemmon, Tom Hanks and Robert Mitchum.

And then he stopped making good movies.  It would have been unthinkable after he took home Academy Award #2 for American Beauty that not only would the man go nine years without another Oscar nomination, he wouldn’t even appear in a single particularly critically acclaimed or commercially successful movie. His 21st century role choices were a combination of crass paycheck decisions (K-Pax, Fred Claus), portentious, overcooked dramas (The Life of David Gale, The United States of Leland), bizarre personal projects (Beyond the Sea, The Big Kahuna) and movies you’ve never heard of (Ordinary Decent Criminal, Edison Force). The one thing that they all have in common is that no one seemed to like them very much.

So what happened? Well, a post-Oscar slump isn’t all that irregular an occurence–actors get confused, afraid of not living up to expectaitons, afraid of being typecast, and afraid of being pigeonholed, leading to them often selecting particularly improbable or ill-advised rules to avoid confirming these fears by confounding nearl everyone. But also, it didn’t Kevin Spacey had difficulty establishing a sort of acting niche for himself–he was too powerful a presence (and after American Beauty, too famous an actor) to be relegated to supporting roles, but he didn’t have that classic leading man feel either. For a while, it was tough to see where he would fit into an average film project.

The one semi-bright spot on this heavily blemished recent resume, though? His appearance in Superman Returns. Not a particularly great movie, not a particulary great role, not even a particularly great performance, but since it’s become obvious that he doesn’t have that sort of marquee name potential he was seemingly trying to establish at first, he should be looking to take more supporting roles like this as the antagonist in a high-profile blockbuster. They keep his name and face visible enough for people not to forget who he is, while simultaneously adding much-needed cred and class to a super-commercial product and buying him time before he can pull of a legitimate comeback. Didn’t hurt that Lex Luthor was a plum role and that Spacey worked with Bryan Singer on The Usual Suspects, both’s breakout effort. Once again, not a particularly noteworthy turn, but one that was enough to remind you of how much you’ve missed Spacey this last decade, and one that made you wonder why more decent big movies aren’t giving him a call.

Does Quentin Tarantino have a part for Spacey in his upcoming erotic drama? Hey, he was in Henry & June a while back, he’s probably got the experience. Anything that doesn’t involve him playing a teacher, professor or educator of any type, please.

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