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CD Reviews: Raging Bull and Kung Fu Hustle

Raging Bull (1980/2005) ***



37 tracks - 2:05:06

MGM released a deluxe DVD edition of Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull late in 2004 to mark the famous boxing picture's 25th anniversary. And now, in the middle of 2005, Capitol/EMI has made the film's soundtrack available for the first time. Compiled by the director and Robbie Robertson, formerly of The Band (the subject of Scorsese's 1978 concert-documentary The Last Waltz), the album features 33 previously recorded tracks, three original compositions by Robertson, and a memorable version of "That's Entertainment" performed by the film's start Robert DeNiro.

Forgotten songs by forgotten pop acts like Ted Weems, The Hearts and The Nat Shillkret Orchestra make up the bulk of the collection. But well-known performers show up in the mix, as well, including Marilyn Monroe, Perry Como and the always graceful Tony Bennett, who delivers a wonderfully low-key version of "Blue Velvet." Some  familiar pieces also surface -- like Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa," Louie Prima's "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" and Frank Sinatra's "Come Fly with Me -- as well as some clunkers. Take Ella Fitzgerald's "Stone Cold Dead in the Market." A latin swing number about a fed up wife killing her husband, the song features a great, rumbling orchestra in the background. But the singer carries on like she's in some schlock operetta, delivering the lyrics with that same phony pep that spoiled almost everything Louis Armstrong ever sang.

Several tracks recorded in Europe show up, too, and they tend to complement as much as they contrast their American counterparts. The two recordings from the tenor Carlo Buti, for instance, are beautiful and simple, especially "Stornelli Florentini." As is Orazio Strano's "Turi Giulliano," a ballad set to a guitar. The symphonic pieces performed by Orchestra of Bologna Municorp are also superior. On a composition like "Cavalleria Rusticana: Intermezzo," the strings sound sweet and tense at the same time, like something Rota might have written for Fellini. And "Silvano: Barcarolle," a much quieter composition, moves like water on glass. 

Packaged with liner notes by Scorsese and Robertson, it seems certain that this re-mastered collection of kitsch and classical music will find an enthusiastic audience. But a cheap thrill it isn't. The asking price for this double-disc set, that is, is just about 30 bucks.     -- Stephen B. Armstrong


Kung Fu Hustle ***


Varèse Sarabande 302 066 645 2

19 tracks - 37:46

If the high-mindedness and artistry of such recent martial arts movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The House of Flying Daggers are making you nostalgic for the chop-socky silliness of yesteryear, the oeuvre of director/actor Stephen Chow may be just what you need. Much beloved in Hong Kong as a comedic action star for movies with such titles as Justice My Foot and Look Out Officer, he has become almost synonymous with his brand of nonsense comedic style. It was inevitable that he would branch out into directing. His breakout in the U.S. came last year with Shaolin Soccer, and this year it was the highly publicized Kung Fu Hustle with fight choreography by Matrix veteran Yuen Wo Ping.

Hong Kong composer Raymond Wong handles scoring duties, but Chow, like directors Tarantino and Scorsese, utilizes existing music and songs for a lot of his set pieces, leaving Wong with the task of connecting all the pieces together. Wong's contributions (roughly 15 minutes on CD) are more contemporary in nature, compared to the more existing classical pieces (both Chinese and European). Think Don Davis' Matrix score, add a bit of bossa nova, a Chinese guqina and Blue Man Group percussion, and you get a hint as the eclectic nature of the material. I especially like traditional action cue, "Buddhist Palm," as well as the Asian minimalist cue "Midnight Assassin." "Casino Fight" updates the Tan Dun sound into a nice amalgam of the Asian and Western styles.

The rest of the CD is given over to the source cues, which runs the gamut from the popular violin section Pablo de Sarasate's from Zigeunerweise and the always slapstick-inspired Sabre Dance by Aram Khachaturian, to more traditional Chinese pieces (like "Decree of the Sichuan General" and "Fisherman's Song of the East China Sea") which may not be readily available on CD in the U.S. There's even a cue written by the director himself. None rely too heavily on the stereotypical chop-socky scores of the '70s, although there are sly references now and then.

The CD is a bit of a hodgepodge by design, but any U.S. release of a score by Raymond Wong should be applauded.     -- Cary Wong

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