Soundtrack Picks: ‘CAT’S EYE‘ is the top soundtrack to own for August, 2015
Also worth picking up BACKLIGHT, THE FANTASTIC FOUR, HELIX, JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL, LUV, SHAUN THE SHEEP, SPY and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD
THE TOP PICKS
1) BACKLIGHT (500 edition) / LUV
Price: $19.95 / $18.99
What Is It?: Portuguese composer Nuno Malo has displayed a powerful, and distinctive dramatic voice in a number of English-language films, from the new-age enabling orchestra of “The Celestine Prophecy” to the “Godfather”-esque sweep of American anarchists in “No God, No Master.” Now the release of two older, and vastly powerful Malo titles show his talent at pulling characters toward their inexorable destinies.
Why Should You Buy It?: As with “The Celestine Prophecy,” spirituality and the draw of destiny infuse Malo’s beautiful mesh of symphonic and synth atmospheres for “Backlight,” Fernando Fragata’s 2010 American-shot, Portuguese production mystically shows how seven characters are drawn to a desert lake, their interconnected stories dovetailing a la “Crash.” There’s a real, melodic flow that mystically joins these spiritual crises in Malo’s consistently melodic, and oft times soaring work. His emotions wear themselves on their sleeves with rich melodies, yet remain uncondescending in being uncompromising about it. With his thematic threads coming together much like a vision quest, Malo brings his shamanistic quality with his women’s voices, transfixing rhythm, the use of such neo-religious ethnic elements as the Diduk and strumming guitar work that recalls Gustavo Santaolalla’s interconnect scoring for “Babel,” Tapping into a symphonically pastoral spirit that nicely brings to mind Thomas Newman, Malo indeed sees the “Backlight” from on high with a universal, affecting sense of cosmic consciousness, as heard on a GPS directional device.
Extra Special: Far more down to earth, but no less enervating for it, “LUV” shows that Malo has just as much of an impressive, neo-alternative range. Made in 2012, this African-American drama finds Common’s ex-prisoner uncle showing his sister’s son the quite perilous Baltimore street life during the course of an eventful day, with family bonds emotionally, and violently tested. Malo goes for long, ethereal passages, whose sparkling grace and religioso voices create a sense of haunted redemption, with guitar feedback the inner anguish of a boy on a very trying ride-along. It’s a way of using synths and samples to create a sound that’s far more otherworldly than urban, amounting to a poignant, almost eerie vibe of a kid seeing his very flawed uncle-idol through an increasingly fraying magical haze. When it comes time to go for big emotion, Malo brings in his string ensemble to shattering, soulful effect, along with an acoustical grittiness that resonates with the characters’ hard lives. Like much of Malo’s work, “LUV” is an affecting discovery that deserves to be seen, and heard.
2) CAT’S EYE
What is it?: When it came to electronic beats that marked early 80’s soundtracks, one of the main synth movers and shakers was a bright young composer named Alan Silvestri who truly rocked the Yamaha and Synclavier sound with the disco-ready rhythms and exotic atmospheres of such crime-fighting TV shows as “CHiPS,” and “Manimal.” Silvestri’s groovy talent would send him onto much larger symphonic things on the big screen, but for fans of the musician’s innovative all-synth scores from back in the day like “Clan of the Cave Bear,” Flight of the Navigator,” “Delta Force” and “No Mercy,” one especially eerie and frenetically propulsive score was for 1985’s “Cat’s Eye.” Coming off of his ripping adaptation of Stephen King’s “Cujo,” director Lewis Teague’s thoroughly fun King anthology followed up the success of “Creepshow,” with the big difference being using original, short story-based segments as opposed to E.C. comics for source material. Where John Harrison did an overtly ghoulish score for that movie’s crypt keeper, Silvestri would combine atmospherically ethereal horror music with a truly catchy beat as its titular kitty raced between segments, from a smoker given a lethal urge to quit to a cheater desperately making his way around a building ledge, finally landing in the bedroom of an adorable girl plagued with troll-induced sleep apnea.
Why should you buy it?: The trick of anthology scoring for any true musician worth this thematic salt is to give each cinematic short story a distinctive identity, while wrapping up the entire film in a motivic bow. Silvestri starts off “Cat’s Eye” with a fun, scampering rhythm as crafty as a feline, with an overall feeling of black humor that fits like an ironic glove over a film that’s going for fun thrills as opposed to outright terror. As he’d soon show on “The Abyss,” Silvestri could conjure long, entrancing passages from undulating electronic effects, which cast an exceptionally creepy, heartbeat-spell pulse in “Quitter’s Inc.,” making an already fidgety James Woods totally freak over a conspiratorial self-help agency, organ-like sounds and voice-like samples complementing its bewitching sense of grand guignol should he slip with a cigarette. The suspense is even more sinisterly gripping in “The Ledge,” as Robert Hayes crawls about the outside of a building to satisfy a homicidally-crazed husband whom he’s screwed about on. Silvestri’s chiming, hesitant percussion gets across every grueling step and near-catastrophic stumble of the gripping journey, giving especially dire menace to a pecking pigeon before the villains’ hyperbeat comeuppance. But the most distinctive musical personage belongs the lurching, lurking motif of the jester-outfitted, troll that inhabits the wall of sweet Drew Barrymore’s bedroom, the synths all the more guttural for this percussively sneaky beast, as Silvestri’s theme angelically becomes the sleeping, then suffocating little girl. Where this kind of dread would surely be atonally played if there was a God-forbid remake, the real charm of Silvestri’s work through all of the segments is how melodic it is, capturing the ethos of such fellow, humorously sinister horror scores of the era as Brad Fiedel’s “Fright Night.”
Extra Special: “Cat’s Eye” had only been issued once on vinyl – perfect when you need something to dispatch a troll on at 78 RMP, but not so ideal when said LP has been hard to get, (even in this new Mondo age of vinyl soundtrack resurrection). Thankfully, Intrada has brought back “Cat’s Eye” in complete form with exceptionally improved sound, and enjoyable liner notes by John Takis. Hearing the pulsing, creeping frequencies of “Cat’s Eye” shows just how much of a creepy storyteller a composer can be who’s the general of his technical, and melodic craft, all with just a wink for the disco grooves that got him into the big time.
3) GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (3,000 Deluxe Edition) / THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS
What is it?: The late, great Jerry Goldsmith was a master of nearly every musical genre, from the intimate drama of “A Patch of Blue” to the soaring historical adventure of “The Wind and the Lion” and the sci-fi spectacular of “Star Trek – The Motion Picture.” But amidst wars, romances, cosmic battles and satanic suspense, perhaps the one type of movie where he might not have been Mozart was comedy. Not that he had the chance to do a lot of them, even if his scores for “The Flim-Flam Man” and “The Lonely Guy” were fun enough, while the less said about “Fierce Creatures” and “Mr. Baseball” the better. However, the expanded re-releases of his frequently cartoonish scores for and “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” and “The Trouble With Angels” definitely give new reason to re-appraise Jerry Goldsmith as a master of combining pleasant, thematic melody with musically animated jokes worthy of Carl Stalling.
Why should you buy it?: Catholic high school girls were in “Trouble With Angels” for this 1966 comedy, which teamed Goldsmith with the positively progressive director Ida Lupino, a star who also had a prolific and unsung filmmaking career. Yet it certainly wasn’t the first time Goldsmith had done time with the Sisters, as 1964’s “Lilies of the Field” had him building a chapel with Sidney Potier. Except here the tone is far less rustic, and way funnier at fitting in with a bunch of nuns, using a novel combination of Rosiland Russell’s ever-patient faith with the wacky teen hijinks of Haley Mils. Church-like bells and a lush, sweet theme are the clothing of Goldsmith’s habit, as stretched to the fun breaking point with a circus-like pipe organ and sneaky pizzicato brass trying to give the penguins’ ever-watchful military marches the slip. Even given this cleverly thematic tug-and-pull between comedy and sentimentality, “Angels’ is full of unexpected, energetic delights right from Goldsmith’s cartoon music for the animated opening, whose following score has soft-shoe shuffle to horse racing trumpets and pop rhythms, all very much in a 60s pop (and even Cha Cha) vein as Goldsmith embodies young ladies who’d much rather be anywhere else. But for all of its franticness that might offend the Catholic Legion of Decency (especially when the theme is played by the most deliberately awful band of all time), there are truly lovely passages to be had for piano and lush, finally soaring strings, suggesting a higher calling for at least one of the characters beyond the present need to grab a smoke. While few might say that Catholic school was fun, Goldsmith’s take on the experience is an absolute delight, especially with a heavenly sonic upgrade from the devilishly bad Mainstream recording that longtime fans of this score have been used to, with Goldsmith’s complete score on hand along with “Angels’” album presentation, now fully revealed to show Goldsmith’s wickedly fun sense of humor.
Extra Special: Ironically for a career filled with so much memorable musical drama. Jerry Goldsmith would say, “That’s all Folks” with his score for 2003’s “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” a wacky mix-up between WB cartoon characters and live action actors made by frequent filmmaking collaborator Joe Dante. He can be credited with allowing Goldsmith to find renewed popularity at mixing horror and humor with 1984’s “Gremlins,” which gave the composer one of his most iconic, and crazed themes with its fiendishly teasing “rag.” Goldsmith brought back that picture’s alternately goofy, and menacing themes, along with the adorable sweetness of Gizmo for Dante’s thoroughly cartoonish 1990 sequel “The New Batch.” Not only would Goldsmith get his second “Gremlins” onscreen cameo (segueing from The Time Machine to an frozen yoghurt stand). Goldsmith was very much in on Dante’s movie geek tip of the hats here, from using a Phantom-esque organ to riffing on the mean Asian percussion of his Rambo scores when Gizmo goes rogue. The goofy gang is all here for Varese’s terrific new edition, starting off with frequent Goldsmith orchestrator (and “Star Trek” composer) Fred Steiner’s Carl Stalling-esque music for “The New Batch’s” cartoon opening, with Goldsmith’s soon swinging in to show off perhaps more stylistic diversity than he’d ever had in one score, mixing up his knowingly perilous orchestral sound with synth-pop percussion. Among the many dotty highlights of “Gremlins 2” with a particular highlight being a rousing, Jewish-dance Broadway preamble to “New York New York.” “The New Batch,” which sounds terrific given Varese Sarabande’s expansion to over 70 minutes by producer Robert Townson, who provides the very appreciative liner notes, showing why it is indeed a good idea to feed a Goldmsith-obsessed record label after midnight.
4) THE FANTASTIC FOUR / JUSTICE LEAGUE: GODS AND MONSTERS
Price: $10.79 / $19.99
What Is it?: Whether you’re rooting for team Marvel or DC, comic book movie assemblages tend to pack more bang for the buck from composers tasked with assembling earth’s mightiest heroes, whether it comes from a one musicians’ singular sense of creativity, or putting together composing talents at the top of their respective musical fields.
Why Should You Buy It?: There was no hiding the secret identities of Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman when it came to their fans playing “spot the style” on the seemingly unlikely duo’s wholly entertaining work for this summer’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” While the teaming of Marco Beltrami and Philip Glass on “The Fantastic Four” seems a bit of a head-scratcher, the very few cues where you can hear Glass’ minimally hypnotic touch indeed mesh nicely with Beltrami’s way more multiplex-friendly film detours into the repetitive Avant garde, particularly when dealing with the sci-fi genre in “Knowing,” “I, Robot” and “Snowpiercer.” Given that it’s unlikely Marvel would go for a full-on Glass approach (at least until the “Dr. Strange” movie comes along), it’s seemingly mostly Beltrami’s touch that powers the studio’s lackluster, down-aging revisionism of the FF. Give the glum proceedings, Beltrami’s score can’t really have the overt comic book “fun” of Christophe Beck’s retro “Ant-Man” or the no-holds-barred action of “Ultron.” Yet Beltrami is still one of the best things going in the movie (so good in fact that you can only imagine it playing over a way better take on the FF), capturing a wondrous sense of optimism as four scientifically-minded, barely above drinking age dimensional explorers, come back in mutated form. There’s a nice sense of going boldly to Beltrami’s work, with the otherworldly nature of their abilities given an effectively played for fright as much as empowerment. Also helping with the score’s sense of humanity is its overall melodic and bright orchestral sound, especially in thematic use of noble brass. But when their co-voyager Doctor Doom finally gets worked up to make the picture significantly more interesting, Beltrami announces it’s clobberin’ time as be brings on his howling, clanging brass, rampaging percussion and growling electronics to enervating, apocalyptic effect, all while letting his heroic themes really have their day As a pure listen, “The Fantastic Four” is an immensely likeable, highly listenable score stands as this summer’s underdog superhero soundtrack, making one look forward to the next Beltrami / Glass teaming where these respective titans could truly fuse their talent to uniquely memorable effect on a worthier picture.
Extra Special: With such colorfully costumed toon adventures as the Green Lantern series, “Son of Batman” and “Batman Vs. Robin,” Frederik Wiedmann has become the scoring Superman of the DC animated Universe – a realm that’s proven to be way more spectacular and involving than its Darkseid-ruled live action counterpart. However, it’s not as if these feature toons aren’t afraid to go on disturbing, if not surprisingly violent tangents themselves, especially when Wiedmann has accompanied the Justice League with “The Flashpoint Paradox” and “Throne of Atlantis,” for which he unified the various characters into a muscular, mean-ass superhero sound. Indeed, there’s nothing like a twisted take on the JLA to bring out Wiedmann’s energetic, take-no-prisoners attitude, as they do in director Bruce Timm’s alternate universe spin that posits Superman as a true illegal immigrant, Batman as a bloodsucker and Wonder Woman as an intergalactic Amazonian. It’s this icon of female masculinity that gets the most distinctive treatment here with an exotic Diduk and sweeping emotion that opens up her literal shield a bit. But for the most part, Wiedmann unifies this violent JLA with a rock and roll defiance. It’s a more contemporary, rhythmic sound that goes from throttling electric guitar to mythic chorus and a dynamic orchestral performance that gives the relatively limited players the power of a far greater symphonic force. But while the music is certainly dark as the JLA fights a government who’d like nothing better to destroy them, Wiedmann conveys the characters’ tragic pasts with more of an emphasis on screwed-up nobility than outright, morose tragedy. It’s an approach that brings the true, valorous nature of these iconic characters to the fore especially when the world needs rescuing. Wiedmann delivers electrifying derring-do, no matter if the characters might have changed for the less-than-likeable on the outside. As always, Wiedmann’s suspensefully exciting punches get delivered with no small amount of melodic propulsion as the composer once again proves himself worthy of graduating into DC’s flesh and blood world.
What is it?: James Horner’s unexpected death was a true body blow for the legion of fans who’d been drawn to his work, perhaps mainly for the Oscar winning composer’s symphonic talents for romantic epics (“Titanic”), swashbuckling fantasy (“Krull”) and heroic historical drama (“Braveheart”). They might be hoping for uplift in one of Horner’s last film scores, but what they’ll get is a gut punch from “Southpaw,” a mainly electronic score as muscularly bare-boned as Jake Gyllenhaal’s wrecking ball boxer.
Why should you buy it?: Horner’s music seethes with a barely controlled, tragic anger that not only brings out his dark side in spades, but also his talent for tender, thematic melody as a father desperately trying to get his daughter’s respect back. It’s a yin / yang of innocent beauty and a punch-drunk beast that evidently attracted Horner to do the score for “free” as it were. Like the hero who gets luxury ripped away, this budgetary body blow has robbed Horner of an orchestra that might have made this score more easily accessible to his usual string-loving audience. Yet it’s not as if Horner hasn’t been down the path of economically portraying emotion in such synth-heavy works as “The House of Sand and Fog,” “The Boy with the Striped Pajamas” and “The Life Before Her Eyes,” not to mention his continued ability to get off the ropes when so many of his 1980’s- scoring compatriots have been TKO’d by a rock-pop Hollywood. Horner showed he could stay in the ring with those beat-loving young Turks, staying fresh with the mega-budget likes of “The Amazing Spider-Man” (while still providing the accustomed symphonic goods with the forthcoming “Wolf Totem”). With the gnarly rock guitars and samples that power “Southpaw,” Horner dances in the industrial ring a la Trent Reznor, creating a miasma of steam-hissing hurt. Yet the composer’s trademarks are there, from his elongated cues to clicking percussion and a simple, devastatingly effective theme that gives “Southpaw” its soul.
Extra Special: While it might not satisfy in an “easy” conventional way, “Southpaw” is a somewhat demanding, deeply psychological portrait of a palooka’s rise, fall and rise again, lightening up just a little by the time if gets to the big fight, which delivers on the heroism and percussive beats downs. The fact that Horner didn’t go down the Bill Conti route says much to the integrity of his uncompromising approach to “Southpaw,” as well as his fan’s potential to appreciate this downbeat work.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. THE AFTERMATH
What if Bernard Herrmann scored a deliciously cheesy, ultra-violent post-apocalyptic movie with an orchestra seemingly even smaller than had been afforded to him on “It’s Alive,” all whilst hell-bent on delivering a soundtrack on the order of “Jason and the Argonauts?” Well, that answer is here in John Morgan’s emphatically fannish score for 1980’s “The Aftermath,” the latest release to proclaim Dragon Domain Record’s desire to leave no cult obscurity unturned. But there is very much reason to do a radiation-baked archeological dig on John Morgan’s first score, as he’d later wade through the exploitation likes of “Deadly Dancer and “Killing Streets” to turn into a composer of far more original talent with such scores as “Nukes in Space” and “Starship Troopers 2.” Just as importantly, he’d exceptionally reconstruct Herrmann’s actual music for such excellent new performances of “Fahrenheit 451” and “Battle of Neretva” and as heard on the late, lamented Tribute Film Classics label. But those days were far ahead in the future when “The Aftermath” hit, as Morgan does his darndest to pay near-psychotic homage to his favorite composer. Trilling flutes, noble horns, rampaging percussion, stroked harps and the attempted lush strings of any baker’s dozen Bernard scores try to conjure a far more melodically expansive wasteland that what director/ leading man Steve Barkett could conjure as he brawnily battled Sid Haig and his band of cannibal ravagers. It’s a score that’s at once inept and completely loveable, with allusions to greatness that Ed Wood’s music department would marvel at. But given that Morgan didn’t exactly have the Fox orchestra to work with, he had “The Aftermath” performed by USC student musicians. They may have been not-ready-for-prime time players, yet the result was quite listenable in complementing Morgan’s ambitions. At times, “The Aftermath’s” allusions of grandeur make it sound like the perfect, over-emphatic soundtrack to fill a triple drive-in double bill of “Panic in the Year Zero” and “Teenage Cavemen” (or at least a cockamamie episode of “Lost in Space”), all while doing its musical darndest to prod a Cyclops out of its cave. The fact that at the least Morgan is trying so hard at re-animating Herrmann’s bones at least gives the soundtrack to “The Aftermath” real charm, especially when you’ve got genre liner note specialist Randall Larson treating the endeavor with all the passion of the real deal – even if what he’s talking about is the swedded version of Herrmann, if you will.
The disease-killing doctors are in for this creepy SyFy Channel series from “Battlestar Galactica” rebooter Ron Moore, who made his already dark sensibilities as black as alien oil in bestowing lethal immortality and island cult frenzy during the show’s first two seasons, whose Reinhold Heil cues have been collected for examination on La La Land’s double CD. But then, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that this subject matter isn’t going to ooze happiness in Heil’s hands, it’s a mix of melody and musical anti-matter that slimes the listener to continuously interesting effect as the scores spreads from a slow, hallucinatory crawl to berserk, race-against-time rhythm. Having gotten the electro-pulse style of scoring off to speed along with Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer on the seminal “Run Lola Run” before making a suspensefully pulsing duo with Klimek on “One Hour Photo,” “Land of the Dead” and “I, Frankenstein,” “Helix” represents Heil’s first big solo stint. While hearkening back to his past, collaborative style, “Helix” is very much its own virus in its ominous, coalescing menace, whether it’s reflecting the coldness of the Arctic or an isolated spot of land. “Helix” is a bravura showcase in the outer reaches of synth sampling, with weird, spine-tingling vibrations coming together with always-interesting momentum. While often in the twilight zone between music and sound effects, “Helix” is so listenable by avoiding the morass of dissonance a less capable, or experimental composer might have taken this into, mixing up the pulsations with aching violin, heavy metal guitar and piano, with ethereal atmospheres that enticingly conjure heaven in the midst of bio-warfare hell. While not quite as crazy as Brian Reitzell’s work on “Hannibal,” “Helix” definitely pushes the often-ambient realm of television’s more daringly bleak shows in a way that makes one want to get infected by Heil’s new, unfolding voice as a composer. Besides, when’s the last time you’ve heard Bossa Nova or Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” so brilliantly twisted about for the vector apocalypse?
. INDIAN SUMMERS
While hip takes on India’s ancient rhythms can be left to Thomas Newman when checking into the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, or A.R. Rahman’s accompaniment of a Slumdog Millionaire, it’s composer Stephen Warbeck who takes a more traditional approach for the decline of the good old English-ruled days (at least for the Brits) in a proper, but no less intoxicating manner for the British television series “Indian Summers.” Here it’s recalling the summer of 1932 (as well as such past BBC miniseries as “The Jewel in the Crown”), as the entitled colonists romantically, and politically mix it up with their quite dissatisfied subjects. A composer who’s exceptionally gifted when playing the romantic weight of history with the likes of “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” and his Oscar-winning soundtrack to “Shakespeare in Love,” Warbeck is an exceptional fit for this material. He loosens stiff-suited Anglo characters in the tropical heat, pianos capturing simmering attraction, elegance and snooty classicism. The score’s strong orchestral quality further accents western music on foreign grounds it thinks it can control, with strings that are especially rapturous in building forbidden attraction and the inevitable anguish that will come with it, subtle electronics further enhancing a sense of mystery. Warbeck is equally adept at using the Indian culture’s beautiful wind instruments and tabla percussion, at times rhythmically going into subtle ragas, or building with oppressed anger to play two musical cultures entwined with each other, though set to break apart. It’s a coolly dramatic, intoxicating season in this enrapturing album that shows just how well two musical cultures can co-exist in harmony, certainly when it comes to proper, costume drama “Indian” soundtracks such as this fateful “Summer.”
. JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL
Described as the adult answer to Harry Potter, BBC’s adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s books finds England, circa the Napoleonic War era, abounding with magic and its practitioners – among them these two titular sorcerer supremes. Casting their musical spell over the series are “The Triplets of Belleville’s” Benoit Charest and Benoit Groulx (“The Carbon Rush”), who experienced the fantastical as an orchestrator on “A Sound of Thunder” and “An American Haunting,” as well as serving said task for Charest. Put these Canadian mages together, and you’ve got a truly clever, period-centric spin on an eldritch England. Taking a mischievously eerie tone akin to Danny Elfman, Charest and Groulx use Old Scratch fiddles, equally devilish waltzes, eerily dancing strings and militaristic-minded percussion to convey a country already on the edge with the possibility of real-world destruction when not dealing with sinister spells and conjured creatures. The delightful effect is akin to exploring some haunted manor, the musical explorations yielding urgently dire, classically haunted music, complete with organ and ghostly female voices emanating from the darkness. It’s a tone that’s wonderfully spot-on as it wafts between dramatic urgency (and even tragedy) and spooky-ooky humor, but without tipping into the other. But perhaps the best spell in “Jonathan Strange” is the sweepingly melodic orchestral sound that Charest and Groulx cast, conveying a world of enchantment that takes material fit for a costume drama into a whole other, malefically fun dimension for some of the cleverest, and classiest scoring heard on genre TV now – of course next another doctor-driven BBC show that’s a bit more sci-fi than supernatural.
. MR. HOLMES
Carter Burwell is once back on the composing case for filmmaker Bill Condon for what’s easily the best evidence of their collaboration’s achingly beautiful power since 1998’s “Gods and Monsters.” Ian McKellan once again essays a brilliant, iconic figure battling the haze of memory, going from the tormented “Frankenstein” director to playing a “real” version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s far more publically accepted detective. Yet there’s a thematic line of poignant, melodic regret running through both British characters, as given a bit more of a Victorian-era tone in Burwell’s violin-heavy score here. As Holmes tries to essay his final case that was gravely embellished by the good doctor Watson, Burwell’s somber, yet interested melody for Holmes delicately peels back the years, and pulls the listener along into the fog of a 93 year-old’s memory. A composer who’s excelled in arty, often surreal scores like “Being John Malkovich” and “Fur,” Burwell brings in such interesting sounds as a glass Armonica, while Japanese radiation-driven winds give the score a tantalizing, exotic nature. As the game becomes increasingly afoot, Burwell’s very gentle rhythmic approach gets across the thrill of the hunt for clues, but not at a pace that would send Sherlock spilling, yet another clever way the score distinguishes a character who “really” existed with a superhumanly clue-solving figure of literary myth. As “Mr. Holmes’” comes to terms with his fate, Burwell invests some of the most gently moving emotion that the character has arguably gotten in all of his musical adventures for the big screen, of which this beguiling movie and score can indeed rank itself high.
Critics went after Adam Sandler with more of a vengeance than Donkey Kong’s mad-on for Luigi, and really with way more fury than this decently enough entertaining movie deserved. Composer Henry Jackman had been already been down this road for the way more critically admired, Oscar-nominated “Wreck-It Ralph.” But as opposed to going for a score once again full of 8-bit electronic effects, he’s pretty much hammered that approach in favor of an energized orchestral sound for “Pixels.” If there’s an antecedent for a film, and score backed by geek street cred, than one might check out David Newman’s “Galaxy Quest” to hear how big, melodic strings, heavenly voices and an overall tone of action and wide-eyed wonderment can turn zeros into heroes. But instead of over-the-hill actors modeled on a has-been “Star Trek”-ish show, “Pixels” posits expert, adolescent arcade players turned into adult sad sacks. Jackman’s sense of fun pumps the characters up with militaristic, patriotic as they face the sci-fi menace of space invaders and dig-dugs. The results is a flurry of marches, tingling anticipation and rollicking action that’s pretty much as different from “Ralph’s” gargantuan videogame building smasher as can be – the score’s spirit most definitely in the John Williams vein as opposed to having a grandly kitschy time with Casio keyboards. From suspensefully following the patterns of Centipede to the daredevil car dodging of Pac Man and the chest-thumping, barrel-dodging peril of the climactic Donkey Kong match, “Pixels” is thoroughly good fun that affirms Jackman’s place as a composer who knows how to capture the affectionate energy of every retro genre from spy thrillers (“Kingsman”) to superhero beat-ups (“Kick-Ass”) that come his way, his finger going rapid-fire on the multiplex pleasure machine with the fun of a guy who obviously loves playing the high-concept entertainment scoring game.
. SHAUN THE SHEEP: THE MOVIE
From Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell’s kazoo-blowing “Chicken Run” to Julian Nott’s fiendish “Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” Aardman Animation’s cute, animal-centric stop motion creatures have inspired no end of antic musical movement from the composer lucky enough to lay hand on these pictures. Now it’s Ilan Eshkeri’s turn to go to take on Aardman’s farm-friendly critters with “Shaun the Sheep.” A composer mainly tasked with serious subject matter like “Still Alice” and “Black Sea” (though given a chance to classically romp with “Austenland”), Eshkeri hits the wackily rural rhythms like a duck to water, with banjos, fiddle, whistling and a happy chorus creating an alternately whimsical, and rollicking hoedown of a score (with even a Baa Baa A capella chorus adding to the sly humor). When Shaun the Sheep’s Day Off creates no end of problems for his clueless farmer, Eshkeri gets to take his barnyard to the big city, bringing in such distinctly non-rural styles as villainous heavy metal and silent movie piano chases, yet with a consistent dose of sentimentality and lullaby bells (a sleepy, sheep-counting given), all given the kind of Williams / Powell rhythmic energy that definitely hips this kind of scoring up – though thankfully not too crazily. “Sean” is a bouncy, pleasant soundtrack whose sentimental, symphonic message is there’s no place like being home on the farm, its album abetted by its delightful songs (co-written by Eshkeri), from Tim Wheeler’s Beach Boys-esque song “Feels Like Summer” to Vic Reeves’ rocking calypso sheep rap.
. THE SEARCHERS
When it comes to Max Steiner archivists, venturing into the Brigham Young University must resemble something just slightly more compact than the ending of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” a treasure trove filled with much of the over 240 scores that the Austrian expatriate composed during a career that not only won Oscars for the likes of “Dark Victory,” but established the very technique of film scoring itself with “King Kong.” But while such classics as “Gone with the Wind’ and “Casablanca” have seen multiple releases and re-performances, the original tracks for Steiner’s seminal 1956 western score for “The Searchers” has never quite gotten its respect until now, a slight very much rectified by BYU’s latest Film Music Archive Production release. While this recording is definitely archival, the stirring resonance of Steiner’s work has never been more powerful. The composer certainly had his experience on westerns right from his first major score for 1930’s “Cimarron,” going on to compose such now (thankfully) politically incorrect bad injun movies while accompanying Custer’s last stand in “They Died With Their Boots On,” gunning with “The Oklahoma Kid” and taking “The Sante Fe Trail.” But there was never quite an acting match for the musician’s take on Hollywood’s old west like The Duke, who relished the emotionally fraught manliness in his Civil War vet’s search of Natalie Wood’s Indian-napped daughter. It’s an overwhelming sense of perilous drama that fuels “The Searchers’” famed quest. Sure, those up for the classic movie music tropes of Big Evil Chief war drums, sagebrush guitar strumming and rousing cavalry charges will get their energetic thrill here. But it’s the uncommon rage that fills “The Searchers” that really makes Steiner’s throttling work transcend its musical genre – of which this score was certainly a trendsetter. In fact, “The Searchers” itself was BYU’s first CD release via their exclusive distributors Screen Archives Entertainment back in 1996. Now its sonic spurs have been polished like never before, and its booklet and notes re-configured to be all the more lavish with new photos and excellent writing by James V. D’Arc and Ray Faiola. The icing on the cake is Stan Jones’ rustically heroic title song “The Searchers” by The Sons of the Pioneers, a tip to John Wayne’s cowboy hat if there ever was one while Steiner’s impactfully vengeful music pays off his righteous, injun’ killing rage.
In a year awash with such great retro spy scores as “Kingsman,” Rogue Nation,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and even “Ant-Man,” composer Theodore Shapiro has perhaps the most impossible mission of all in trying to convince listeners that the not-obviously athletic Melissa McCarthy has the right Bondian stuff. But it’s a credit to how well he crosses old-school 007 grooves with today’s need for propulsive action speed that his “Spy” soundtrack bestows her with a license to kill, and then some. Having had fun playing satirical sports and ‘Nam music in “Blades of Glory” and “Tropic Thunder,” Shapiro knows how to nimbly walk a tightrope between playing seemingly inept characters’ adventures, as heard for real in their own heads, while letting audiences mostly laugh with them instead of at them. For “Spy’s” CIA analyst who finds herself out of the office and in hot international waters, Shapiro creates truly dynamic action set pieces, gripping suspense and even unexpectedly dramatic emotion as it shows a self-effacing woman getting her super-agent mojo on, jetting from Italian to Eastern European ethnic rhythms as deep brass, ominous strings and high-tech percussion rippingly accompany her with the feeling of the world at stake. With just a wee nudge to the slightly less bright side in his complex orchestrations, you could imagine “Spy’s” fun score easily accompanying a pre-depressingly dark Bond film, which shows just how spot-on this unexpectedly lavish, and lush espionage score is, right down to Ivy’s Levan’s throaty performance of the Barry-Black worthy title song “Who Can You Trust.” In fact, just stop the guessing game for which “Spectre’s” main theme artist will be and put this onto the opening credits. No one would guess that it’s McCarthy wearing the ersatz tuxedo, in the dynamite “Spy” score.
. WE ARE STILL HERE
Polish composer Wojciech Golczewski has been steadily making an indie horror impression in such films as “Dark Souls,” “Munger Road” and the grizzled vet-versus-werewolf movie “Last Phases.” Where the genre’s more intimate composers either find their specialties in either creeped-out melody or flesh-stabbing dissonance, Golczewski’s striking unique vibe has been discovering some eldritch middle haunting ground, no more impressively than in a possessed New England abode of the excellent ghost thriller “We Are Still Here.” Fans of such recent retro-scare scores as “It Follows” and “The Guest” will feel through their bones the pulsating, near-unholy experimentations that Golczewski achieves from his electronically created score, hiding in the basement furnace with simple piano chord themes, buzzing resonances and a miasma of razor-sharp effects. It’s experimentation as mixed with striking motifs, taking the classic John Carpenter approach of “The Fog” (of which both film and score are worthy successors) into modern day musical experimentation as well as an Avant-garde Bartokian realm. It’s hollow, echoing sound lurks in the shadows, until finally rearing its fiery, percussive head to claim percussive vengeance for terrible deeds done centuries ago. “We Are Still Here” manages something almost miraculous as both a film and score – it’s legitimately scary, entrancing stuff, its soundtrack both capable of shrieking, incinerating violence as it is hypnotically, slimily percolating to surround the listener with a feeling of eldritch, Lovecraftian evil. With “We are Still Here,” Golczewski has arrived to bring a new musical fear factor to the genre with one of its best pictures in many a moon.
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