Soundtrack Picks: ‘DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES‘ is one of the top soundtracks to own for August, 2014
Also worth picking up THE BOOGEY MAN, COLD IN JULY, THE GIVER, HER ALIBI, THE LION KING: THE LEGACY EDITION, LUCY, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY, WICKED BLOOD, X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) THE BOOGEY MAN / COLD IN JULY
Price: $17.95 / $15.40
What Is It?: Amidst the music that’s continually re-defined horror scoring across the decades, from grand guignol orchestras to slithering, solo violins and crashing cacophonies of percussion, perhaps no style remains as affective for members of a certain “Halloween”-raised generation that the repetitive chords, ambient atmosphere and rock rhythms that defined serial killer-cum supernatural minimalism. Now a seemingly lost prime cut from back in the day returns to life, while another modern day score hits the eerie vibe so perfectly for its human monsters that you’d swear its soundtrack was written back in 1980.
Why You Should Buy It?: The rise of that slasher decade comes alive as horror-centric label Howlin’ Wolf digs particularly deep to unearth “The Boogey Man.” Exploitation-friendly German director Ulli Lommel (“Bloodsuckers”) creatively jumped onto the “Halloween” bandwagon with his first supernatural picture from 1980, which took a more spectral, silvered angle in its ghostly child molester, who avenges his murder at two kids’ hands by seeking haunted mirror payback on them decades later. Still notorious today for its pitchfork impalement and glowing shard in the eye, “The Boogey Man” (and its 1983) sequel marked the only two scores to be composed by the ominously named progressive rocker Tim Krog (along with Ed Christiano and Jan Bartlet at Synthe-Sound-Trax). It’s simultaneously chilling and cheesy – namely everything that’s great about synth slasher scores of yore. None of these soundtracks were worth their bloody salt without a memorable theme, and Krog certainly had one with a growling, bell-like melody that’s more in the haunted spirit of Goblin than John Carpenter. With a lullaby nature to convey two cursed kids. Krog’s melody never gets tired through numerous variations, especially when it’s possessed with the kind of progressive rock attitude that shows the whole synth style of these works as one blade removed from the likes of Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. These horror scores were simplicity at its finest, and at its best, Krog’s work is the equivalent of a fiendish music box, enticing its victims with effects that conjure evil, watery glass (compete with flying blunt instrument whooshes). Fans of the synth genre will dig “The Boogey Man’s transfer from collector’s vinyl to digital. Better yet, the album climaxes with Fernando Pereyra using retro state-of-the-art synths to impressively recreate Krog’s choice cuts, including a truly enjoyable track that should have been titled “Disco Dance Theme from The Boogey Man.”
Extra Special: Jeff Grace has done exceptional work in a new wave of indie horror scores, where movies like “The Last Winter,” “The House of the Devil” and “The Innkeepers” go for slow-burn scares where art is dolloped out far more than gore. “Cold in July” represents a bold film noir departure for Grace and director Jim Mickle, whose provided Grace with his most stylistically fertile grounds for the rustic, blood-drenched “Stake Land” and the family cannibals of “We Are What We Are.” Here the appalling acts come courtesy of the video nasties section, with a revenge-minded Sam Sheppard turned into a bad ass that would give Michael Meyers pause (let alone a non-psychotic Michael C. Hall). It’s likely Sheppard’s boogey man presence that’s inspired Grace to go into Carpenter synth mode here with a particularly unrelenting theme, twinkling, percussive suspense and simmering, rhythmic concern to spare. It’s a pretty audacious move on Mickle and Grace’s part, given that this is a thriller set in the heart of 1989 Texas. But it’s exactly this stripped down, almost surreal, electrified musical quality that adds to “July’s” effectiveness as it shows just how low heroes can go in their shoot-first righteousness – people driven to their basic, machine-like instincts when it comes to all-consuming payback. Without this movie’s stars and directing gloss, you might imagine picking it up off the VHS shelf right next to a copy of “Rolling Thunder.” It’s a time-specific tone that Grace nails with a spare, beating serial killer pulse that makes “Cold in July” a brutal throwback in all the right ways, yet with a sense of vulnerability that doesn’t let the listener, or viewer, off the troubling hook – here generated by hard-ass killer synths and piano at their simple best.
2) CALVARY / WICKED BLOOD (1,000 edition)
Price: $16.77 / $17.98
What Is It?: Varese has lately been turning its attention to becoming a boutique composer label as well as releasing major soundtracks like a newly upgraded “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” prestige that’s now shining the spotlight to such worthy scores as Nuno Malo’s “No God, No Master,” Reinhold Heil’s “Haunt” and Luis Bacalov’s “Hidden Moon.” But when it comes to music that deals with moral transgression, two especially impactful Varese soundtracks are Patrick Cassidy’s “Calvary” and Elia Cmiral’s “Wicked Blood.”
Why You Should Buy It?: The wages of sin that an Irish priest himself had little to do with play heavily in “Calvary,” as a confessor promises to take his pound of flesh in a week’s time for pedophilia visited upon him in the past. Though writer-director John Michael McDonagh (“The Guardian”) finds black humor as this man of the cloth is pushed to the mostly silent limit by the seemingly cheery small town that in reality hates his guts, Patrick Cassidy solemnly plays it straight to impressively moving effect. One of the foremost composers in his native Ireland with concert works to that country’s great famine, Cassidy certainly knows how to capture overpowering tragedy, yet with a sense that faith will conquer all. These are two major emotions that drive “Calvary’s” priest in the score’s alternately hopeful and elegiac themes, penance conveyed with somber, psalm like melody. This religious tone that capture a man asking forgiveness for his church’s transgressions, while in its more bucolic moments feeling as positively, peacefully green as the landscape. For while “Calvary” beautifully captures an overwhelming sense of sadness, as well as a slowly moving, and foreboding sense of a ticking clock that will run for seven days, the biggest, most satisfying feeling that Cassidy’s lovely score ultimately conveys is one of acceptance, and transcendence in its chorus, lush strings and solemn piano. And with his Latin songs appearing in such soundtracks as “Veronica Guerin” and “Kingdom of Heaven” Cassidy certainly knows how to write a powerful end benediction. Yet for a movie about seemingly immovable fate, the elegiac triumph of Cassidy’s beautifully melodic work is about how a truly pious, earthly priest moves towards inner, poetic peace, with music as devastating in its sense of fate as it is spiritual in acceptance, the final, soaring combination of both emotions likely to move the hardest-hearted of listeners.
Extra Special: As “Sons of Anarchy” has more than convinced us on TV (not to mention any legion of AIP Hell’s Angels pictures way before then), it’s not wise to mess with biker gangs and drugs, especially when your uncles are dealing in the family business. Such are the wages of rural sin in Czech composer Elia Cmiral’s powerfully authentic southern-fried crime score. Having done many effective, experimental horror works like “Splinter” and “The Deaths of Ian Stone” of late, “Wicked Blood” takes Cmiral in a roundabout way back to the hillbilly flesh-eating land of “Wrong Turn,” as crossed with the beautiful, melodic poignancy he gave to the underseen drama “Journey to the End of the Night.” Using a wounded guitar, dulcimer, piano and violin-topped strings with sweltering, soulful, atmosphere, Cmiral powerfully conveys two sisters seeking a way out of the meth trade. It’s the sound of innocence going down a troubling path that gradually escalates the stakes with menacing percussion and rock guitar rev ups. But while Cmiral definitely gets in his suspenseful, percussive licks in a way that does Ry Cooder proud, “Wicked Blood’s” score is mostly centered on thematic emotion, its rural, female-centric sound amidst the tough biker guy chords giving Cmiral’s work the impact of melodic vulnerability clawing its way out by any bad means necessary.
3) DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
What is it?: There’s nothing better than letting a composer out of his cage to run amuck with material he so obviously has a love for. And ever since a one-time Disney publicist named Michael Giacchino got a shot to apply his own savage tune for a videogame spin on “Jurassic Park,” this musician has been bounding through numerous, often fantastical genres to Oscar winning effect, giving his energetically melodic all through both hits (“Up”) and cult misses (“John Carter”). Perhaps no movies seem to ignite Giacchino’s big orchestral guns than when he’s taking on classic franchises, whether it be his energetically heroic music for “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” or spinning the Enterprise on two blazingly thematic explorations for J.J Abrams’ rebooted “Star Trek’s.” Now Giacchino gets a shot at an equally daring re-envisioning of another classic warhorse, and does The Lawgiver proud with an alternately understated, and gun-blasting “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” his first entry for the second in a terrifically re-imagined series that likely won’t be the composer’s last trip to this madhouse.
Why should you buy it?: Unlike the original series that ended in “Battle’s” silliness, or the dreadfully campy Tim Burton reboot, the charm for anyone entering a “Planet of the Apes” movie is to take the material as seriously (though with a touch of irony) as the very first 1968 outing, which pondered the human condition through a world turned upside down. If it can be said that “Rise” redid “Conquest,” then “Dawn” is this series’ “Battle,” as done far more realistically, and with infinitely better special effects. Giacchino’s time portal in is through his relationship with director Matt Reeves, from whom he did an awesome Akira Ifukube-style “Godzilla” end title tribute for the otherwise music-free “Cloverfield,” before writing a slow-burn horror score for Reeves’ unfortunately pulse-less redo of “Let the Right One In” (Americanized as “Let Me In”). Thankfully, Reeves rises to a whole new level of excellence with “Dawn,” especially with Giacchino in tow for this dazzlingly ambitious sequel. Always a composer to pay professional fanboy tribute to the great maestros of yore, from John Barry in “The Incredibles” to Alexander Courage in “Star Trek” and Lalo Schifrin in “Mission,” Giacchino gives proper due here to the percussive, primal sound that was truly revolutionary when Jerry Goldsmith used it for the first, classic “Apes” score. It’s a pounding, African sound that’s lost none of its effectiveness decades later, as given fresh purpose by Giacchino. Yet, he doesn’t leap into the fray off the bat, ingeniously using a lullaby piano and chorus to track the simian flu that wipes most Homo sapiens off the globe. Giacchino paints and eerie, empathetic portrait of what’s left, conveying the outward menace of its ever-evolving apes through guttural drumming. But once you get to know them, the composer uses warm, sweepingly thematic orchestral colors and noble horns. It’s regal music fit for a king, presaging the Christ-figure that Caesar will ultimately become, while his home life is conveyed through tender strings and piano. It’s a majestic, romantic feeling that isn’t too far from Barry’s “Out of Africa” when you think about it, an emotional approach that links the desire of the more virtuous humans to live in peace with the planet’s new rulers. But of course things are not destined to end well, and Giacchino jumps into the rampage with the zest of a gorilla given a big-ass gun – or several dozen of them. There are enough throttling ethnic rhythms enough to fill up several of Goldsmith’s “Hunts.” With Giacchino’s training in the “Medal of Honor” videogame series also paying off nicely with its terrific, banging battle music, complete with giant chorus. If the “Star Trek” movies get to take on the entire Klingon Empire, “Dawn” provides a hell of a warm up. But in the end, it’s the stirring emotion of “Dawn,” and the music for a flawed messiah that really elevate this score (and film) right up the evolutionary ladder of this series, music that not only impresses us with Giacchino’s passion for the subject, but also his devotion to Caesar himself. It’s the feeling that we’re followers, bowing down as a legend lopes by.
Extra Special: Perhaps it’s because he deliberately doesn’t have any Cheetah-worthy jokes to play on the score that Giacchino’s monkey business comes out on the album’s cute cue titles, whose highlights include “Past Their Primates,” “Monkey See, Monkey Coup” and “Aped Crusaders” – with apes even making an appearance in the control booth photos that line the CD booklet. Give this guy a banana, and pass him the next franchise that needs musical rebooting while you’re at it.
What Is It?: One of the most continually interesting outside-the-box director-composer collaborations belongs to Luc Besson and Eric Serra – a filmmaker whose often lunatic stylism has given particular zest to such done-to-death American standards as sci-fi and action, his gonzo sensibilities aided by a musician steeped in progressive Euro-pop. It’s a partnership that’s had a stunning range from the flowing “Big Blue” to the religious power of “The Messenger” and the cute fairy tale stylings of “Arthur and the Invisibles.” But for American fans, there’s nothing quite like Besson and Serra when they’re blasting away with big guns, or venturing to otherworldly outer limits, two activities that “Lucy” offers in psychedelically energetic abundance with this summer’s most enjoyably unique studio picture, and score at that.
Why Should You Buy It?: While they first paired on “Le Grand Dernier,” it was “La Femme Nikita” that rocketed Besson and Serra into the stratosphere as the director’s assassin fatale was accompanied by surreal military percussion, dark ambiance and sultry pop-accented synth romance – a tune that grew with Serra’s percussive and orchestral abilities for “Leon,” then took on delightfully weird grooves with “The Fifth Element,” a triptych that “Lucy” goes a long, happy way to reminding us of as a beautiful, very reluctant drug mule goes beyond brain-awakened delusions of goddess-hood. Besson divides his movie between dark, fascistic menace, exhilarating chases and cosmic wonder in a way that never allows you to peg where “Lucy” will go next. And Serra gives terrific chase as he channels “Nikita’s” unnerving tones, then starts hallucinating big time with acid jazz, weird didgeridoos that sparkle with electric fireworks and whirling symphonic grandeur. Like its heroine, Besson blasts through bubbling sensory perception as he opens one new musical level after the next. It’s a great, eccentric balancing act that dances with the beat rhythms of a tripped-out action score and music that goes for something symphonically headier, a soundtrack at once groovily into the gun-blasting, car-chasing fray and intellectually above it. Yet there’s also a nice, somewhat solemn depth of feeling to “Lucy” in its heroine’s sense of inevitability and loss of humanity, an determined poignancy for strings, voice and solo piano rushing to accomplish its mission on Earth, with her ultimate destination yielding especially dynamic orchestral results from Serra. With “Lucy,” he impressively returns with Besson to the eccentric star stuff that made the international film community take notice, a talent that’s really gotten its nutty groove back.
Extra Special: “Lucy’s” eclectic enjoyment is greatly enhanced by The Crystal Method’s “Single Barrel,” Damon Albarn’s weirdly waltzing song “Sister Rust” and a five-minute excerpt from Mozart’s “Requiem,” because nothing conveys an intellectual giant speeding towards cosmic finality like that composer’s rapturous, posthumous piece.
5) THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE
What Is it?: Mark Snow was already five seasons into scoring Fox’s hit sci-fi show, a way more frightening spin on “Project UFO,” which here had two FBI Special Agents not only investigating potential alien invasions, but all manner of killer earthbound mutants, ghouls and ghosts – neither denying, or confirming their veracity to maddening, cult-viewing effect. Seeing so many acolytes wanting to discover the truth, Fox put a major movie out there in 1998, along with its key on-camera and behind the scenes personnel, one of whose foremost players was Snow. It was an opportunity the composer ran with to give his relatively (and purposefully) lo-fi sound for the show a major orchestral upgrade – not to mention getting a solid big screen credit after logging over a hundred hours of TV scoring on every show from “Falcon Crest” to “T.J. Hooker.”
Why Should You Buy It?: You knew you were in a far bigger arena when Snow’s even-then iconic “whistle” theme was played by an 80-piece symphonic compliment for the first time, the show’s “black oil” conspiracy now broadened to truly epic dimensions with pounding percussion, and an emotional, “human” quality considerably amped up with a wealth of strings, brass and chorus. While the show’s scores were effective, but never all that melodic (which was another of Snow’s deliberately effective choices), the theme-filled “Fight the Future” turns into a full-on rebellion against that sort of TV minimalism, especially in Snow’s robust approach that mixed harmonic grandeur with terrifying dissonance – a powerful hybrid of the organic, and sampled, much like the Cigarette Smoking Man’s hidden creatures. It’s an all-enveloping, musical sense of unease that makes us identify all the more strongly with true believer Mulder and no-longer Doubting Thomas Scully as they get submerged in a labyrinth of killer E.T. goo. Sweeping, majestic crescendos also abounded as the show’s mythology finally began to give up the secrets its fans had been clamoring for, its revelations daring to sing with a sense of wondrous release. Overall, Snow’s work here is of an entirely different and dare I say far more impressively “conventional” thematic nature, a score that truly filled the big screen to entire those non “X”-acolytes (consider me one) who were just out to see an interesting sci-fi thriller without any idea of the episodes before it.
Extra Special: Having released nearly all of Snow’s work for the show on several impressive volumes, La La Land runs with this impressively cinematic opening up of the “X-Files” mythology, expanding on the original Elektra album to come in at an exciting 76 minute presentation, complete with a nicely designed booklet featuring new liner notes by Julie Kirgo, and Randall D. Larson’s updated interview with Snow on one of his most impressive achievements. He’d have the theatrical “X” chance again a decade later with the far less successful movie “The X-Files: I Want To Believe,” whose music was the strongest thing about an otherwise muddled head-swapping movie whose story would have been wiser to continue the black oil flow. Here’s hoping that La La Land can get around to a similarly inclusive release to truly make themselves the label that is all things “X-Files As is, “Fight the Future” remains the movie where Snow turned a creepy playground into scoring worthy of the big studio deal, opportunities he should have far more of, whether or not Mulder and Scully continue on the case.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. ALL GOOD THINGS
While Rob Simonsen is now riding high with his inventive, alt. scores for the teen tsuris of “The Way Way Back” and “The Spectacular Now,” this former assistant to Mychael Danna on such scores as “Breach” and “Moneyball” showed his far more sinister orchestral talents early on with the 2010 true-life thriller “All Good Things.” Ryan Gosling brought his suave, creepy charm to a murderous rich kid who ends up showing his true colors to his impossible loving wife Katie (Kirsten Dunst). Simonsen’s work on the Danna brothers-scored Gosling courtroom thriller “Fracture” certainly paid off here as lush, Hermann-esque seduction pulls Katie into a spider’s web of the twisted Manhattan rich, gossamer chords capturing both the elegance of their lifestyle, as well as the victim-to-be’s growing sense of anguish and betrayal. It’s gorgeously melodic, spellbinding stuff that soon takes on a harsher, classical edge with militaristic percussion, sinister plotting that’s captured in an elegant, piano-driven melody and slashing violins as the music gets across a well-bred murderer cunningly covering all of his bases for a perfect crime. Simonsen’s “Good Things” are gripping from soft start to its intellectually nasty finish for this auspicious feature score, one that makes the anticipation to hear what Simonsen will cook up for his upcoming killer millionaire score to the already-acclaimed “Foxcatcher.” Caldera Records has brought forth Simonsen’s first score in the genre with another impressive release for the label, with Gergely Hubai’s liner notes, and an audio recording of Simonsen himself revealing the facts behind the musical crime scene, even as the actual “Katie”’s sad whereabouts remain unknown.
. DEEP IN THE DARKNESS
Subtlety isn’t something to fear with Matthew Llewellyn’s score for this Chiller Network movie. But then I suspect, having hushed music isn’t that big of a deal for the horror channel itself. However, if you’re a fan of big, old-school horror scores that proudly wear their swirling scares on their mutant hide, then you’ll be right at home with this thoroughly entertaining, rampaging score that would fit right in with the black and white Universal creature features of yore. Here the beasties are called “Isolates,” who make sure that a Manhattan doctor will find little quiet in the seemingly quaint town of Ashborough. Given this kind of a burning eyeballs-in-the-dark set up, Llewellyn (a frequent collaborator with Brian Tyler, and composer of such other DV craziness as “Alien Opponent,” “Good Satan” and “Dead Souls”) shows himself as a particular admirer of Jerry Goldsmith. The nice result is that this score’s biggest, and most welcome monster is melody, with shivering, bump in the night build ups, bat-like violins and moaning horns that lead up to crashing symphonic exclamation points of the Isolates arrival. It’s deliriously romantic horror scoring that’s perfect for a bunch of subterranean ghoulies as its is the crypt opening for a Saturday night creature feature host – scoring with a great sense of humor about the throat its going for, yet committed to its goose bumps at the same time. Indeed, Dracula would be proud to pounce with the rapturously performed strains of the Slovakia National Symphony Orchestra playing behind him.
. THE GIVER
Between such scores as “Snowpiercer,” “Knowing” and “Warm Bodies,”
Marco Beltrami has probably had more musical experience ending the world than there are actual YA (i.e. “Young Adult”) post-holocaust dystopia films. So it’s only natural that he’d finally be given a shot at one with “The Giver.” But as opposed to insuring conformity with hunger games or divergent sets of social classes, the black and white hook here is that all emotion has been numbed, with oldsters and the unclassifiable sent into the cornfield as it were. Of course, one kid finds out the full color glory of emotion, which sends him running into the great, cloud-covered unknown. With this cross between “1984” and “Logan’s Run,” “The Giver” is a far more cerebral, and emotive picture than the rest of the multiplex pack, which is likely why the best movie of the lot is the most underachieving at the box office. Yet that doesn’t discount how much soulful imagination “The Giver” has inspired from all concerned – particularly when it comes to Beltrami’s excellent contribution. In fact if you discount the very few action cues for the drone and super-bike chases that it seems the filmmakers had to throw in, “The Giver’s” score is positively un-Beltrami. It’s as if the frequently nightmarish composer has been infused with the soulful spirit of Cat Stevens in just how peacefully flowing its vast, intoxicatingly thematic melodies are for orchestra, samples and chorus, getting across the sense of beauty that can be found in a drug-induced sameness. It’s some of the most graceful writing for a sterile, high-tech world since John Williams’ “A.I.,” reflecting a sense of discovery in a character who sees his ultra-clean life for the nightmare it is. Beltrami gradually lets in the rapture of true humanity. With a repeating, hypnotic style that’s just as reminiscent of John Adams as it is of Williams, Beltrami lets us feel this heavenly flood of new sensation, while also keeping the rhythmic suspense going of how long it will be before our hero is found out. “The Giver” raises the bar yet again for the composer in putting soulfulness into oft-done genre material, creating a real journey of musical discovery that touches all the emotional senses.
. HER ALIBI
In the 1980s, Frenchman Georges Deluerue’s ultra-melodic talents had him well ensconced in Hollywood as a composer who could play tragic, heavy drama like no American’s business with the likes of “Platoon,” “Silkwood” and “Agnes of God.” But no genre at the time particularly suited the composer’s true joie de vivre like such studio comedies as “Twins,” “Maxie” and “Biloxi Blues.” Amid the frothy list, one of the most delightful Delerue soufflés has now finally risen to release with the Hitchcockian rom-com of 1989s “Her Alibi.” Director Bruce Beresford, who’d worked with Delerue on the less flighty scores to “Crimes of the Heart,” “Rich in Love” and “Black Robe” showed an unexpectedly sweet touch with the lethal near-misses that a mediocre mystery writer has when he takes a potential murderess under his wing, only to begin thinking that he has similarly bad taste in writing as he does women. Delerue delights in bringing out the suspects for romantic concern, contrasting lush, swooning orchestrations with the speedy, plots-afoot rhythm of finding out the truth of a potentially lethal amour, whose Romanian origin gives Delerue the chance to engage in Klezmer music and chilly cimbalom intrigue that at times makes “Alibi” play like a less threatening version of “The Third Man.” Deleue also has much fun twisting about his tuneful cheer into the sound of lethally ironic domestic bliss, while also getting to play the attraction between femme fatale and potential victim with touching heartstrings. “Her Alibi” is also nothing if not eclectic, with diversions into gossamer, classical music a la “A Little Romance,” galloping western rhythms and a whole album’s worth of circus-calliope music for the revelation of the mystery woman’s knife-throwing skills. Adding up to a generous 79 minutes that plays as well for merry go rounds as it does tender thrills, “Her Alibi’s” is a real joy for Delerue amours, a none-too threatening, richly tuneful score where at least the musical innocence of true love is never in doubt.
. THE IN-LAWS (1,500 edition)
Next to any classic Mel Brooks comedies made during the 70s, Arthur Hiller’s singularly hilarious pre-nuptial teaming of a mild-mannered (and soon outraged) New Jersey dentist (Alan Arkin) with a wily, self-professed CIA spook (Peter Falk) stands as one of that decade’s most beloved screwball pictures. Playing their chase that leads from the big city to banana republic was no less than Brooks’ muse John Morris, whose oft-repeated, bouncily cartoonish theme that melds Bondian-spy music with wedding bells and a soft-shoe shuffle is the next best thing to laughter-filled instant recall. Oddly enough between satirizing Frankenstein, Rudolph Valentino and Beau Geste for Brooks and his compatriots, “The In-Laws” was the only “straight,” present-day movie that Morris scored during those ten years next to Brooks’ Hitchcock spoof “High Anxiety.” But while there might be a “North By Northwest” quality to its chase, Morris’ approach is way more Carl Stalling than Bernard Herrmann. Charge-ahead brass, chopsticks percussion wacky synths, slurred trumpets, orchestra and cliffhanging runs of the piano hilariously convey the clash between a freaking-out Arkin and sweetly in-control Falk in a silent movie manner that feels like the Marx Brothers chasing after Bugs Bunny. And once the plot lands us with Richard Libertini’s dictator and his Senor Wences-esque smooching hand friend, Morris brings in another hilarious layer of Latin shenanigans. But while the music is never less than jokey, or outrightly absurd, there’s a wonderful sense of melodic control to it all, a lush nostalgia that distinguishes such other Morris comedy classics as “The World’s Greatest Lover,” “Clue” and even his very serious efforts like “The Elephant Man.” The slapstick score obsessed La La Land does a fine job at showing “The In-Laws” is just as vibrantly hilarious as ever, with Randall D. Larson’s liner notes doing a great job of breaking down a score that still has us breaking up.
Scottish composer Paul Leonard-Morgan has made an electronica-heavy impression in Hollywood with his cool, beat-driven scores for “Limitless” “Dredd” and “The Numbers Station.” But recently he’s been able show his exciting, primal effectiveness with an orchestra for the feature version of “Walking With Dinosaurs,” a rocking sense of excitement and humor that started off with the prehistoric critter that’s bugging a Chinese village in “Legendary” (i.e. “Tomb of the Dragon”). While there might not be a big Asian element at play here in the big, percussive action cues, “Legendary” offers a lot of fun, unexpected musical diversions in its race between “Expendable 2” stars Scott Adkins’ let-it-live zoologist and Dolph Lundgren’s blast-it big game hunter, among them pokey spy heist music, a ripping rock guitar, sentimental sweetness, cliffhanging thrills and downright goofy comedy. “Legendary” is certainly one of the most eclectic and eccentric scores to grace a Dolph Lundgren movie. Better yet, its rhythmic, and melodic determination to have a ton of “dragon”-chasing fun makes this a very listenable, and well-performed score given the obvious CGI beast restraints at hand. “Pleasantly Dynamic” could be the better title here, musically at least, in showing as composer who’s just as adept at good-natured popcorn excitement for the younger set as he is at electrified adrenalin for far more violent adult action.
. THE LION KING: THE LEGACY EDITION
Few movies, or soundtracks better represent Disney’s feature cartoon renaissance than 1994’s mostly traditionally animated re-telling of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” and “Macbeth,” a tale of royal backstabbing, revenge and assuming adult responsibility – as turned into talking animals on the Serengeti. It was kid’s stuff with an appealing, all-age bite, graced with an Oscar-winning Elton John and Tim Rice song “Circle of Life,” and a rousing African-styled styled score by Hans Zimmer. It was certainly a long way from “Rocket Man” for the pinball wizard, and a big step up pride rock for the German composer who’d begun his Academy ascent with a 1989 nomination for the funky, tribal beat score of “Rain Man.” For a studio with enough re-issues of movies and albums to fill the big box store veldt, Disney takes its fourth shot at holding up “The Lion King” album with its best presentation yet, its glossy, lyric-and-art filled booklet leading to two CDs that not only contain all of the songs and score, but demos and alternates as well. Listening to the Broadway-made likes of “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” along with Zimmer’s thunderous score, it’s easy to know why some properties have no end of re-issuing, though this “King” album will be hard to top. But the real treat is hearing Zimmer’s work in all of its complexity and splendor. Having re-visited Africa in musical terms many times since “Rain Man” with “The Power of One,” “Millennium” and “Green Card,” Zimmer was making a move out of his distinctive synth-orchestral combos into a far bigger symphonic realm, a transition that gives even more regal power to his dance between ethnic rhythms, the trumpeting voice of Lebo M., humorous toon music and the religious power of a giant father in the sky. “The Lion King” stands as one of the rare animated scores to have a sense of fun (if not jazzy craziness at times) and utter, chorally important seriousness that would befit a Wagner opera, scoring that gave “The Lion King” the roar of animated myth, not to mention fully making “world music” the soundtrack rage. Heard in this kind of splendor, “The Lion King” continues to hold his baby as a timeless accomplishment in the annals of animated scoring, as many times as it might come out.
. MOOD INDIGO
Filmmaker Michel Gondry is full of flowery, poetic whimsy when it comes to his dream-like taste in visuals in music, an at-times wonderful madness that the French seem to possess in particular. Having previously employed Jon Brion and Jean Michel-Bernard for his more personal surreal affairs like “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and “Be Kind Rewind” (I think we can count the otherwise fun James Newton Howard-scored “Green Hornet” out of this list), as well alternately nostalgic and hip artists like Beck, Billy Preston and Fats Waller, Bernard’s newest, and perhaps most exuberant exercise in love it or leave it surrealism serves up another wonderful bouquet of arch musical delight. Jazz appreciation is again another Gallic predilection that’s led off with Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train” (and continues with the artist’s “The Mood to be Loved” and “Sophisticated Lady”) as a bachelor-inventor falls in love with “Amelie’s” Audrey Tautou. Her very presence dictates an equally charming and magical underscore approach, provided very ably by Etienne Charry. With his other feature score being for a movie called “Robert Mitchum is Dead,” you know this is one musician who isn’t going to be playing with a conventionally full deck. “Mood Indigo” certainly shows him as a composer after Gondry’s own crazily romantic heart, conjuring wondrous, dream-like passages for shimmering percussion, retro 60s romance for organ, humming and guitar and breathless, humming bird-like passages of the orchestra that’s all hearts aflutter – yet with a sense of darkness that creates the dread of crashing to earth. At its instrumental best, Charry’s “Indigo’s” weird bouncy, longing, bell filled passages and cute, unearthly percussion is like hellzapoppin collision of Nino Rota and Danny Elfman at their most bizarrely romantic. And when it comes to songs, Charry’s tune “The Rest of My Life” is certainly the off-kilter rival for a Lennon-esque Jon Brion tune. From winking nostalgia to nicely wacky underscore, “Mood Indigo” colorfully shows that Michel Gondry’s musical taste remains as wonderfully French as ever.
Though David Shire is better known for playing groovy subway-robbing action (“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”), government conspiracies (“All the President’s Men”), conveying the majesty of a doomed dirigible (“The Hindenburg”) and the nobility of the common working woman (“Norma Rae”), the composer is far less recognized for his gentle touch with romantic comedy, especially when it comes to America’s leading macho man of the 70s and early 80s. Thankfully, Kritzerland is here to show off a very pleasant slice of Shire sweetness with this soundtrack to a 1981 Burt Reynolds movie, where a very eligible bachelor seeks a woman to bear his child (of course, no vials full of the white stuff will be involved in this hunky transaction). Coming at a time when Shire’s melodic touch was in full, gentle bloom with such scores as “The Promise,” “Old Boyfriends” and “Only When I Laugh,” the delightful “Paternity” is an absolute charmer. While its opening synths might temporarily fool you into thinking you’ve just joined an episode of “Three’s Company” (helped by the fact that Mr. Roper is in this) “Paternity” is more often old-fangled in Shire’s use of Stephen Grappelli-like violin swing, as few instruments better gets across a wry, sophisticated sense of humor. It’s this jazzy orchestral heart that also gets across the film’s NYC magic, especially with swelling strings to tell us conception with Burt will be a success that goes beyond the contractual act. But what really drives “Paternity” to 80s rom-com home is Shire’s zippy, effervescent themes, one for bouncy motivation and the other for tenderness – and absolute adorability when a child and adult alternately sing it’s “Baby Talk” lyrics for the main title. Kritzerland can claim proud ownership of the delightful “Paternity,” including several bonus tracks that show off Shire’s talent for arranging jazz standards like “Stella By Starlight” and making his theme feel like it’s playing from a 30s-era Paris nightclub – or from the Christmas school pageant as the theme is heard only with kid’s chorus. It’s a score that’s as impossible to refuse as Burt.
. PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE
While he started out his action career with the jovial action adrenalin likes of “Bad Boys” and “Money Train,” Mark Mancina’s need for speed has found a more kid-friendly home, especially at the Mouse House with the likes of “Brother Bear,“ “Tarzan” and most recently “Planes.” But that doesn’t mean that scoring a G-rating has meant any loss in energy, especially when those adorable, big-eyed flying vehicles take on Mother Nature’s fury in this even more action-oriented sequel to “Cars” kissing cousin. In fact, Mancina’s thematic engines and orchestral thrust are anything stronger than ever as he out-flies “Planes,” as soaring, patriotic music gives metal heroic flesh and blood in a way that will certainly please fans of Mancina’s Americana storm chasing in “Twister,” complete with a poundingly percussive sense of danger that’s just light enough for the little ones. But while Mancina certainly pay off the tyke audience by differentiating the characters from military pomp to pokey jazz, “Fire and Recue” truly captures the magical thrill of swooping about the sky, given his distinctively melodic brand of blazing, thematic patriotism that’s just as ready made for Jerry Bruckheimer as it is Mickey Mouse. Whether it’s chorus, country rock guitar or a majestic orchestra blasting this exceptionally performed score, this new “Planes” is a top flight score that continues to show Mancina as having the right, soaring stuff that’s lost none of its daredevil impact.
. RED SKY
A long time orchestrator for Tyler Bates on such energetically rocking scores as “Doomsday,” “Super” and “300” (not to mention “Guardians of the Galaxy”), Timothy Williams has increasingly been making inroads as a solo composer on such dramatically versatile scores as the WW2 resistance of “Walking With the Enemy” and a fateful relationship under “The Mulberry Tree.” But if you’re looking to hear what Williams is capable of in all of his rock ‘em, sock ‘em glory, then “Red Sky” delivers on the action thunder as an unjustly demoted Top Gun pilot jets after redemption by blowing up a WMD plot. Lots of lethal espionage, explosions and smoking hot babes ensue, all under cover of William’s terrific theme that’s all about bravery and solemn nobility, all given exceptional symphonic production value. And with the usual Islamist and Russian suspects, Williams also shows off a flair for scheming, ethnic villainy, which of course will go down under the tomahawk missile flair of rapid-fire percussion and blazing rock guitar, which kicks into a female “Red Sky Anthem” in the album’s coolest bit. Maverick and The Goose would definitely dig how Timothy Williams has enthusiastically continued to fly with their musical spirit, especially in how his music spruces up a DV plane with feature film polish.
. SOUNDER / DECISION FOR CHEMISTRY
Among the classic scores that Intrada has put out by the maestros whose innovations led film scoring into a brave new world, perhaps none embodies that go-to spirit with as much periodic table spunk as Alex North’s “Decision for Chemistry,” an otherwise obscure 1953 industrial short that the composer scored as he was ascending up Hollywood’s ladder through such revolutionary scores as “Viva Zapata!” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.” While this look at Zinc Oxide and You might have burned with the scintillating presences of Marlon Brando or Anthony Quinn, North’s rousing work does its darndest to wow audiences over with the increasing wonders of modern science with a score that’s every bit as futuristic as his modernist writing. Energetically bringing home the enthusiastic message that the film’s pre-seed sponsor Monsanto wanted to wow audiences with (especially given a subject that otherwise would’ve put people to sleep), North’s music if full of brash, brassy dynamism. It’s the sound of exuberant energy in motion, as well as the mysterious Pandora’s box being opened by these brave scientists. I’d dare any other composer of the day to make a cue called “Phosphorous Plants” as piano-banging, jazz-swinging exciting as a city on the march. “The Silkworm” spins like a dynamo of modern classicism, while a “Spin Dope” is a run of whacked-out, neo-Oriental percussion. Even “The Soil Demonstration” has a yearning feel of Americana in a score that’s the embodiment of can-do innovation for our corporate masters, given all the enthusiasm of a composer on the vanguard of a film scoring revolution. Intrada pairs “Chemistry” with another North score debut for 1973s Best Picture nominee “Sounder.” Martin Ritt’s poignant film told of a black sharecropping family (and their titularly named hound) desperately trying to stay together after their patriarch’s arrest for stealing food. North’s orchestral score is full of tenderness, but in a way that never overpowers this intimate story. But beyond its nicely muted drama, what’s surprising about “Sounder” is the gentle humor that North brings to the tale. While a guitar and harmonica atmospherically play the south, “Sounder’s” also full of upbeat, 1930s style jazz. For a composer who got across the music’s improvisational energy within film score restrictions with his groundbreaking score for “Streetcar,” North’s rural swing here feels authentic, from a lonesome, humorous horn and piano to a big band ensemble, all of which capture the spirit of a black musical art form that had its beginnings in this kind of grinding, rural poverty – which North’s music poignantly tells us won’t keep this family down despite the adversity they face. Where North unaccountably had his score replaced by “Sounder” actor (and not to mention musician Taj Mahal), this album at last lets us hear a North masterwork, with “Chemistry” given still-vital audio quality as well. Nicely nostalgic graphic layout by Joe Sikoryak and justifiably reverential liner notes by John Takis shine for a musician who often embodied a heroic, American spirit, from the halls of the industrial complex to family nobility.
. THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY
Any sap meeting a new “best friend” in international waters should know to stay away, especially if they’re at all familiar with Patricia Highsmith, the “Ripley” authoress on whose tale this movie about a scenic, seemingly friendly relationship gone wrong is based. Stylishly adapted by “Drive” scripter Hossein Amini in his directorial debut, “January’s” intrigue is exceptionally served by composer Alberto Iglesias. He’s a Spaniard who knows his way around Oscar-nominated international intrigue with the English moles of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and the corporate havoc wreaked on Africa in “The Constant Gardener.” Told on a more intimate scale that takes us from Greece to Turkey, Iglesias creates a mesmerizing, suspenseful feel of exoticism with ethnic instruments that distinguish both locales while also tying them together as a con man, his unhappy wife (here’s looking at you again Kirsten Dunst) and an out-of-sorts tour guide flee a murder rap. Set in the 50s, this is the kind of good-looking film where everyone’s in the height of American expatriate fashion. You can feel the sultry, heat-soaked mood where characters are either getting seduced by sex or money in Iglesias’s brooding, Herrmann-esque string melodies, haunting flutes, or more outré repeating violin rhythms, indigenous percussion always letting us know that the police are on this trio’s tail if they don’t expose each other first, with all Kasbah roads leading to a dynamically indigenous foot chase. Like his Spanish composing compatriots, Iglesias has a subtly unabashed feel for soothing, fateful melody, which becomes the height of deception in “January,” which stands as yet another impressive, and subtly intelligent entry into Iglesias’ exotically suspenseful repertoire.
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