‘Splice‘ one of the top soundtracks to own for June, 2010
Also worth picking up: The Alamo, Black Death, Cloak And Dagger, Jerusalema, Killers, Shiver, Speed 2, Tootsie, Toy Story 3, Transylvania Twist And Theater Of Blood
To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
1) THE ALAMO
What is it?: After their stupendous re-performances for Tadlow’s EXODUS and EL CID, Prometheus now takes up the big guns of The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, who blast the complete Dimitri Tiomkin ALAMO score with all the patriotic gusto of America’s most famous fortified martyrs.
Why should you buy it?: Tiomkin may have been born in Russia, but few composers played the Lone Star state more proudly than between this 1960 epic and GIANT. It was undoubtedly that oil opera that made John Wayne hire the composer for his own go-for-broke directorial debut. And Tiomkin certainly did the Duke proud by delivered the stirring goods, combining the galloping rhythms of a western score with the military suspense of a war picture, along with festive American and Mexican folk music. Each melodic style would make up the historical mortar, blood and thunder that stood for The Alamo’s meaning in American history. And those pioneers who defended it to the last man are canonized with the swelling power of a thundering religious service, right down to inspirational bells and a rendition of “The Eyes of Texas.” But whether they’re performing Tiomkin’s score for a singular guitar, trumpet, or up against a wall of energetic strings, Conductor Nic Raine and the Prague players knock this classic score out of the park. And given how this obviously meaningful reproduction has been miked to sound like it was recorded in 1960, this new ALAMO sounds like you’re really listening to the film’s long-lost tapes.
Extra Special: Every ALAMO note, and then some, get their due over the course of nearly three hours for this exceptional three-CD package, produced by EL CID and EXODUS’ James Fitzpatrick with the same film aficionado passion. Of special interest to those longtime fans is the ALAMO’s third disc, which contains numerous variations of such hit songs from the picture as “The Ballad of the Alamo” and “The Green Leaves of Summer.” While you might not be getting John Wayne speechifying as David Crockett for this particular album, fans of The Duke and Dimitri aren’t likely to mind given the staggering amount of myth-making underscore that’s finally on hand. About the only thing ALAMO admirers could ask for now is to see the complete cut of Wayne’s valentine to American valor put out on DVD.
2) CLOAK AND DAGGER
What is it?: Brian May was one of Australia’s most prolific composers with the likes of RETURN TO EDEN and THE RACE FOR THE YANKEE ZEPHYR, not to mention his many full-blooded exercises in musical suspense like MAD MAX, ESCAPE 2000 and PATRICK. But it was scoring a terrific REAR WINDOW-on-wheels movie called ROAD GAMES that would get him his Hollywood shot, as its writer-director Richard Franklin would soon bring May over from down under to score the espionage-filled hijinks of CLOAK & DAGGER.
Why should you buy it?: While all of his genre scores had been full of decidedly adult danger, May’s challenge for CLOAK was to fulfill Franklin’s goal of making a Hitchcock film for pre-teens, complete with a body count. May succeeded brilliantly here for this unsung 1984 thriller, which saw E.T.’s Henry Thomas on the run from killer spies, abetted by Dabney Coleman’s imaginary hero Jack Flack. May’s key to playing this subtly twisted film was to make his suspenseful melodies go down with a spoonful of sugar, brightening its orchestrations with a sound that was all about mid-80’s summer studio goodness. His CLOAK is equal parts tender emotional writing, secret agent heroism and driving excitement, literally ticking down like a time bomb for its gripping climax. May’s wonderfully thematic work succeeds in spades at crossing a juvenile’s emotions with the more nerve-fraught ones that Jimmy Stewart experienced when he was on the run for The Master of Suspense.
Extra Special: May’s lush suspense plays like it was recorded yesterday, thanks to the spectacular sound of this Intrada limited edition, which also feature Jeff Bond’s insightful notes on this 80’s sleeper in the videogame suspense genre- one that deserves a reboot from its cartridge origins.
3) GANSTER’S PARADISE: JERUSALEMA
What is it?: South Africa has become a particularly menacing musical place after Clinton Shorter’s mix of ethnic percussion and orchestral action for the alien ghetto of DISTRICT 9. Now composer Alan Ari Lazar scores a more realistic taste of indigenous suspense for this terrific rise-and-fall crime opera, which sees a native making a bloody grab for a piece of Johannesburg’s real estate pie.
Why should you buy it?: Cross SCARFACE with CITY OF GOD by way of Joburg, and you’ll get an idea of the dangerous musical impact that Lazar, and this terrific film are after. Hailing from that embattled city himself, Lazar draws on a wealth of tribal beats, voices and songs to create a true sense of the seething, impoverished African anger that drives JERUSALEMA’s anti-hero. As the musical tension mounts, Lazar brings in orchestral strings and electronic rhythms to place its black rage into an urban jungle. Rarely have crime lords in any country carried such an imposing, percussive cloak as the one that JERUSALEMA wears in its seamless, seething mix of musical cultures.
Extra Special: Owing an equal debt to such classic Warner Brothers gangster flicks as LITTLE CAESAR, Lazar also gets across a sense of those films’ righteous regret in JERUSALEMA’s equally affecting moments of tenderness and soul-searching, as channeled through its plaintive songs. But make no mistake. THE LION KING this soundtrack ain’t.
What is it?: First Howard Shore used a bizarrely melodic combination of orchestra and electronics to play David Cronenberg’s transmutations of the flesh in THE BROOD and THE FLY. SPLICE just might be the most notable example since then of a Canadian genre-maker getting such unhinged music, courtesy of Cryrille Aufort’s weirdly sensual music for Vincenzo Natali’s weird science.
Why should you buy it?: Like the queasy maestros before them, Aufort and Natali push the boundaries of an ersatz monster movie into a very smart realm, while still paying due to the shrieks that fans expect. And SPLICE’s genetically engineered Dren is created out of a deceptively beautiful theme, which weaves erotically about the score’s de rigueur shock effects, enticing its researches into violent and lustful madness. But beyond reflecting a wolf in were-human clothing, Aufort’s lush, impressive work also does much to make Dren into a sympathetic girl-woman, one whom we melodically side with even as screwed-up nature makes her follow its course into full-blown horror music. Where so many scores of this type go for the throat, Aufort’s SPLICE is notably interested in the heart as well, and not just the blood-pumping one. It’s an approach that helps yield one of the most impressive genre scores, and films, in years. And judging from the critically acclaimed results of this experiment, I can only hope that Aufort and Natali make more beautifully demented music together.
Extra Special: For a film that knowingly pushes the comic boundaries of oh-no-they-didn’t sci-fi taste, the capper on the album is Richard Pell’s Glenn Miller-style swing music of “Night and Dren” where the “lady” in question is taught to dance before her coming out party. But then, nobody puts Dren in a corner, especially when big band music is in the barn.
5) TOY STORY 3
What is it?: Woody and Buzz certainly have a friend in Randy Newman. And while his scores beyond Disney’s playpen are all too infrequent now, at least the composer can always be counted on to return for the world’s most popular misfit toys.
Why should you buy it?: The TOY STORY films have allowed Newman to play rambunctious (and Oscar-nominated) toon music in the key of Carl Stalling. And here the results are even more stylistically frantic, changing from heart-warming emotion to slapstick jokes and danger at the drop of a baton’s dime. In fact, this STORY’s instances of suspenseful peril are effectively straightforward to the point of true peril. But what really separates this musical STORY from its previous entries is Newman’s delightful use of the Flamenco guitar and rousing, western melodies right out of a ZORRO flick, scoring that turns Buzz Lightyear into the ultimate romantic Bandito.
Extra Special: STORY’s fiesta feel gets nicely complemented by the Gipsy King’s throaty Spanish take on “You’ve Got A Friend In Me (Para Buzz Espanol),” while Newman contributes a new, nicely rollicking song for plastic bonding called “We Belong Together.” About the only bummer here is that this STORY’s soundtrack will only exist in the electronic ether, once again showing how CD’s have been put out to pasture along with Andy’s toys- sans the happy ending of them always coming back home.
Also for Your Consideration
After his contemporarily effective horror scores for director Christopher Smith’s SEVERANCE and THE TRIANGLE (not to mention PANDEMIC on his own), composer Christian Henson ventures to that filmmaker’s Dark Ages for another grippingly effective exercise in unnerving listeners. Keeping the fear of bubonic plague mostly to a whisper instead of a scream, Henson cleverly uses voices as percussion, his score’s Benedictine-like intonations propelling a knight and monk to a village where salvation might lie. Henson the most spine-tingling string effects since Hans Zimmer got in The Joker’s face for THE DARK KNIGHT, but as nerve-rippingly tuned for the period here. Bleak melodies also convey the era’s enormous tragedy, but with a religioso sense of acceptance also giving a feeling of deliverance to these grimly mesmerizing musical proceedings.
Rolfe Kent is number one with a bullet when it comes to blasting away his comedy targets with stylistic insanity. And after the likes of THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS and THE MATADOR, Kent’s aim has never been steadier, or more fun as his trademarked mix of ethnic instrumentations and crazed rhythms hit their best mark yet for KILLERS’ couple on the run. Using their exotic first meeting as ammo to key his score off of, Kent gets delirious energy from a soundtrack that’s equal parts ska, Mexican mariachi, accordion grooves, rock guitar energy and whimsical melodies, all of which mightily complement a tone that’s supposed to tell you this rom-com take on GROSSE POINTE BLANK isn’t exactly a matter of life and death. And while you could terminate most songs on an album like this with extreme prejudice, KILLERS’ tunes have a like-minded retro bounciness, especially the 50’s swing of Nikki & Rich’s “Cat and Mouse,” with Bitter Sweet and Vanessa Contenay-Quinones sharing a fun French strut with their cuts “A Moment” and “Bon Bon Bon.”
Just because it’s a score for a direct-to-DVD girl / horsie sequel doesn’t mean that FLICKA 2 is an also-ran, especially when it comes to Mark Thomas’ exhilarating score. A British composer best known for the werewolf terror of DOG SOLDIERS, and his surprisingly clever spy music for AGENT CODY BANKS 2, Thomas once again finds gold in a follow-up as he takes the musical reigns where Alfred Newman and Aaron Zigman had previously trod. Thomas most definitely makes FLICKA his own animal with some of the more gorgeous Americana an Englishman has composed, complete with all of the sweeping melodies, strumming guitars and tender emotions you’d expect for the great outdoors. It’s a score that nicely too big for its small screen britches.
MR. ATLAS (1,000 edition)
Every once in a while you hear a score from a composer you’re unfamiliar with (let alone for a movie you’ve never heard of) that completely knocks your socks off. This month’s award (if not the year’s) for said soundtrack goes to Terry Plumeri’s MR. ATLAS. For this family film in which a young boy discovers the Greek god in a Utah cave of all places, Plumeri pours on a colossus of majestic, good-hearted themes that truly soar from Brigham Young county to the halls of Mount Olympus. Getting a truly muscular sound from the towering orchestral forces of The Moscow Philharmonic, Plumeri’s spectacular combination of rural folk stylings and adventurous pomp proudly displays the fantastically lush sensibility of any number of better-known scores by the likes of Bruce Broughton and James Horner. Sandals and harmonicas off to Intrada Records for bringing this buried score to life, along with Plumeri’s equally impressive darkness for SCARECROWS. For in an ever-crowed soundtrack market where fans are constantly demanding the big titles, it’s more than a risk to shine a light on a worthy composer. And MR. ATLAS is a virtual “Shazam!” to Plumeri’s talent.
SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL (3,000 edition)
When it came to action scoring, few composers revolutionized the need for speed like Mark Mancina, whose background with groups like Yes allowed him to adapt their rocking sound into the adrenalin junkie grooves of such 90’s action score exemplars as BAD BOYS, ASSASSINS and MONEY TRAIN. But when you’ve set the standard with the LA highways of SPEED, where do you go? For Mancina, it was re-invigorated his classic score’s sound on the tropical high seas of CRUISE CONTROL. While a luxury liner’s momentum was no substitute for a bus,’ Mancina’s score for the sequel is arguably a better one than SPEED, as can be evidenced by the numerous requests for this long-awaited album. Coming up with even more bombastically thrilling themes, Mancina’s adrenalin blend of rhythm, epic orchestrations and Jamaican-style grooves keep CRUISE CONTROL going and going and going, the music’s excitement never letting up through its extended action builds. And at over 70 minutes, CRUISE CONTROL offers Mancina’s original pass of the score without the rough picture editing waters it once encountered, something that’s sure to thrill fans of one of the best rhythmic action composers to sit in the popcorn driver’s seat.
THEATER OF BLOOD (1,200 edition)
Jigsaw certainly had nothing on Vincent Price when it came to dealing ingenious deaths to those who crossed his insane characters. And few were as musically out there in terms of revenge like THEATER’s murderous Shakespearean ham Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart. His Bard-inspired critic killings were turned into marvelous comedy-horror soliloquies by composer Michael J. Lewis for this ghastly 1973 classic. There’s a lush, romantic pomp to the score to accompany Lionheart’s speeches before the slayings, its melodies soaring to vainglorious, heights with tambourines, guitars, horns and glistening percussion, all of which play like a some devilish Elizabethan pit band. And when it comes to the insane actor’s moment of glory, Lewis brings on the fully orchestral swashbuckling thrills to accompany Price’s villainous camp. Only available before as a hard-to-find promotional album, La La Land has markedly beefed up THEATER’s sound, with numerous sonnets of appreciative description by horror music authority Randall Larson. For if the play’s the thing, then this newly shined THEATER OF BLOOD truly pays notice to Lewis’ unsung melodic flair with this and the likes of SPHINX, THE LEGACY and THE MEDUSA TOUCH. Thankfully, he’s a composer content to impress that fact upon us with a listen instead of seeking meatier payback.
TOOTSIE (3,000 edition)
When it came to the bubbly sophistication of jazz comedy, few composers have worn the sound better than David Grusin in such soundtracks as HEAVEN CAN WAIT, THE GOODBYE GIRL and THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS. But easily the most popular of this sophisticated bunch was Grusin’s farcical cross-dressing for his favorite director Sidney Pollack on TOOTSIE. Instead of playing the absurdity of Dustin Hoffman in drag, Grusin instead provides a funk-blues strut for Dorothy Michaels, music which wears his / her southern sass proudly. And if TOOTSIE still remains one of the best comedies ever made, it’s exactly because of Grusin and Pollack’s desire to energetically play the shtick straight. Now after the drag of TOOTSIE’s CD soundtrack only being available as a Japanese import, Film Score Monthly has done a terrific job of re-issuing this bouncy album, which remains full of great jazz-blues vamps for electric piano, sax and funk guitar, not to mention more traditional examples of Grusin’s nightclub chops. Better yet, this wonderfully re-fitted TOOTSIE has over half an hour of additional cues, many of which revolve around the Oscar-nominated song “It Might Be You,” as sung by Stephen Bishop, and written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman at the top of their game. However, the highlight of the new material has got to be Grusin’s” soap opera stylings for “Southwest General,” hilarious maudlin music that made for one nutty hospital.
TRANSYLVANIA TWIST / NOT OF THIS EARTH
With probably a just a few less exploitation flicks under his belt than Roger Corman, composer Chuck Cirino still stands as one of the most infectious practitioners of knowing musical cheese, along with his frequent filmmaking compatriot Jim Wynorski. Now some of their most enjoyable entries for the king of low budget maestros gets the soundtrack two-fer with TRANSYLVANIA TWIST and NOT OF THIS EARTH. The first stands as what might be the best of the late-80’s wave of NAKED GUN inspired horror spoofs. And Cirino runs with the constant in-jokes, with a wacky synth organ and harpsichord sound that’s right out of Chiller Theater. Beyond having joyous thematic fun with every Baroque horror cliché in the book, Cirino also has a blast ripping on the themes from FRIDAY THE 13th and PHANTASM, the latter of which crosses the silver sphere’s music with “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” in the flick’s most inspired bit involving Tall Man Angus Scrimm. And Cirino’s song “Think of the Royalties” has just as much satirical bite as anything from SOUTH PARK. Just a bit more straight-laced is Cirino’s score for NOT OF THIS EARTH, a Corman remake which throws post-porn Traci Lords in the place of Beverly Garland. Cirino is in 50’s monster music heaven here while using the awesome synth sounds of 80’s, throwing everything at its alien from a mock Theremin to a danceable danger theme. Toss in an extra suite for Wynorski’s CHOPPING MALL, and you’ve got a thoroughly enjoyable album that shows a musician who couldn’t be more at home extolling the melodic joys of exploitation cinema.
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