Soundtrack Picks: STRANGELY IN LOVE is the top soundtrack to own for February, 2016
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) THE BOY / THE FOREST
Price: $18.47 / $9.49
What is it?: As one of the reigning kings of episodic scoring that seems to be crafting music for just about every show on television, Bear McCreary has shown an astonishing range from the Wild Wild West of Renaissance Italy (“Da Vinci’s Demons”) to authentic pirate music (“Black Sails”) time-lost Scottish romance (“Outlander”) and swaggering Marvel spy action (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”). All have shown a feature-worthy sense of creativity, a big screen world that McCreary should be doing more work in, even if his soundtracks there have essentially remained in small genre films like the white trash cannibals of “Wrong Turn 2” and the role playing fantasy metalheads the comprised the “Knights of Badassdom.” Now the man who’s also behind the increasingly present music of “The Walking Dead” shows he can just as effectively play psychological cinematic terror for Japan’s notorious suicide “Forest” and a toy “Boy” with flesh and blood desires.
Why should you buy it?: The idea of an American having to play by the ghostly rules of Japanese culture was intriguingly captured by Christopher Young for the Hollywood adaptation of the “Grudge” series. The lush, melodic feeling of that classic horror composer’s work happily haunts McCreary’s own journey into “The Forest.” Not that this musician hasn’t taken that kind of culture trip, as heard in his rhythmic forays with Asian stylings that filled the revamped “Battlestar Galactica’s” to alt. space opera approach. Here, a fellow Gaiijin is plagued by frightful visions while seeking out her twin sister in the very real Aokigahara Forest that’s proven a horrifically ideal destination for the despairing to end their lives in. McCreary eerily fills his vision of this “sea of trees” with the subtle use of such Japanese winds and percussion instruments as the shakuhachi, bansuri, daiko, with appropriately organic bamboo sticks and log drums for the setting. They’re entwined with ghostly female voices that are singing, when not whispering eerie little nothings into the seriously misguided heroine’s ear. But above all, “The Forest” is chillingly fertile with rich, thematic melody that plays a walk through this land of the dead with more of the poignant lyricism of a sister’s loss than outright scares, the emotional journey getting progressively more menacing with bone-ratcheting percussion and echoing bells. The foolhardiness of an ill-advised trip into Japan’s nether-region fully reveals itself, with a ghostly chorus hot on its heroine’s trail, ending in a particularly neat, rocking version of McCreary’s “Forest” theme for metal guitar and a Japanese children’s chorus – because, as “The Grudge” told us, nothing is creepier than a Japanese ghost child.
Extra Special: Melodic richness hangs in the air of the estate that houses “The Boy,” a dead child’s likeness that might be for more animated than “he” seems. More than aptly, the apparently immobile youngster is called Brahms to boot, giving McCreary the opportunity to write a quite gorgeous, classically rich score, full of lavish strings and anguished violin that stands for the namesake maestro, complete with a theme that cleverly spins itself from Brahms’ lullaby for all of its evil child worth. Perhaps the most straight-laced feature score that McCreary has written, “The Boy” hearkens back to Young’s antecedent Jerry Goldmsith in its strong thematic architecture to conjure a killer dummy as it were, even if Brahms might not be quite so jolly in its evil as Fats was for Goldsmith’s “Magic.” Musically told very much in the old-school haunted house score tradition, “The Boy” creates a musical mansion full of aristocratic decay that proves the rich and their playthings are strange indeed, McCreary weaves a tantalizing, often beautiful thematic spell, all the better to lure another unlucky lady (played by “The Walking Dead’s” Lauren Cohan no less) to break some rules she was very much warned about out when it comes to paying respects to the dead. Though lurching scares might abound, it’s McCreary’s classical string writing that’s the star of this score, creating the kind of chills that creep up on the listener, ultimately paying off with terrifically fevered horror action writing. As with “The Forest,” “The Boy’s” end pays off is a deliciously, twisted rock song, here called “In My Dreams” that once again twists Brahms’ lullaby, now in the shape of a techno-Goth alarm clock.
2) DEVIL’S KNOT / REMEMBER
Price: $15.98 / $14.99
What is it?: One of the most artistically rewarding, and cinematically esoteric composer-director collaborations has been between fellow Canucks Mychael Danna and Atom Egoyan, a partnership distinguished by artistry that has continued to push the limits of indie film scoring, especially when it comes to realizing an innovative, often neo-classical approach over the course of 14 films. Both Danna and Egoyan essentially debuted together with 1987’s “Family Viewing,” a film that pioneered Danna’s fusion of ethnically hip rhythms and string-heavy orchestrations as much as it did Egoyan’s fascination with voyeurism. Danna’s work for the filmmaker has since varied from the club beats of “Exotica,” the psychedelia of “Where the Truth Lies,” the murderously unhinged percussion of “Felicia’s Journey” and “Chloe’s” lush, mysterious sensuality. Now Varese Sarabande, a label that’s’ gone way back with Danna and Egoyan, release two more scores in their provocative oeuvre with “Devil’s Knot” and “Remember.”
Why should you buy it?: The case of The West Memphis Three became a cause celebre with a number of documentaries about the outcast teens, at first sentenced to death in the horrific murder of three young boys, with the proof being their “satanic” Goth leanings that immediately made them killers to a backwards, bible-thumping town. Having dealt with a rural area dealt with the unimaginable tragedy in “The Sweet Hereafter,” one could see what drew Egoyan to adapt this notorious travesty of justice into a film. But if Danna took a Celtic-inspired approach to “Hereafter,” “Devil’s Knot” brought out far less heavenly inspiration. Given the branding of metal music as the work of Satan in vilifying a new set of victims, his “Knot” is horrifically tied with seethingly dark guitar chords, slowly scratching like black-painted fingernails on a sonic chalkboard. It’s the sound of agony, conveying both the shock and frustration of the slain children’s parents, unholy music that makes us believe that child-slaughtering death rock cultists are lurking about every shadow of the woods. Strings, fiddle and guitar are also employed to powerful, rustic effect in portraying the kind of achingly poor and ignorant backwoods community that gives rise to a modern witch hunt. But given that “Devil’s Knot” is one of Danna’s most chilling works next to the snuff voyeurs of “8MM,” there’s also a profound measure of humanity and tenderness to this work in its poignant, piano and flute-topped melody, reflecting the determination of teen’s true believer’s to free them, as well as giving some small, poignant measure of acceptance to the grief-stricken. Yet in the end, it’s an melodically unsettled quality that stands for a justice system nearly committing murder itself that makes “Devil’s Knot” a powerfully unsettling score for Danna.
Extra Special: As an Armenian, Egoyan has dealt with his own people’s Holocaust in 2002’s “Ararat,” for which Danna combined the signature Middle Eastern sound of the Duduk with one of his most epic orchestral scores. “Remember” finds “Ararat” co-star Christopher Plummer being sent on a mission of just vengeance to hunt still-surviving Nazis who thought they escaped with his family’s, and people’s murder. But in the same emotional manner that John Williams took for the assassination squad of “Munich,” Danna’s score for Plummer’s elderly avenger takes little pleasure in dispensing his final solution. Instead, “Remember” is a score as spare as “Ararat” was grand in coming to terms with the past. Stripped down to a chamber orchestra in the fashion of his score for Egoyan’s memory play “Adoration,” Danna’s sharp string percussion and winds paint a musical picture of barely suppressed grief, as well as the suspense of a man nearing the end of his years being put into the kind of vigilante mission best served by Charles Bronson. Even the most pleasant melodies for string and piano inevitably go sideways with the anguish that beautifully suffuses “Remember,” weirdly sampled electronics becoming slipping thoughts, expressionistic strings and slow, determined percussion standing for Plummer’s lonely, stalking figure, while vaguely ethnic strings scream out for the memory of the six million that drives him to finish of the few Nazi that are left. But even with its themes detached from the purpose of this musical mission, “Remember” stands quite well as a modern classical performance piece, with just enough melody to make the score’s more impressionist movements of interest. If there’s an unintentional purpose that’s accomplished in expanding the tonal horizons of his work with Egoyan, then it’s in creating a gripping, impressionistic soundtrack that just as fit for the concert stage as it is a movie screen.
3) THE FINEST HOURS / HAIL CAESAR!
Price: $10.49 / $12.99
What is it?: Since his film scoring debut with 1984’s “Blood Simple,” Carter Burwell has proven to be one of Hollywood’s most stylistically diverse composers – a musician with an NYC indie-art sensibility who’s equally capable of delivering multiplex thrills. It’s an output that was on ample display last year with the classical deduction of “Mr. Holmes,” “Legend’s” rock and roll villainy, “Anomalisa’s” surreal mind games and the darkly romantic, Oscar-nominated “Carol.” Now Burwell is out of the gate this year with two exceptionally powerful scores set around the same early 50’s time period, one that wears its valor on its sleeve, and the other a delightfully nostalgic salute to the Hollywood of yore, replete with the Coen-esque irony that started it all.
Why should you buy it?: An amazing act of heroism doesn’t come with any more apple pie humbleness than “The Finest Hours,” which depicts a gee-shucks Coast Guardsman leading a seemingly suicidal mission to rescue the occupants of a split in-two tanker, steadily going down in the worst nor’easter sea storm then in memory. Disney has firmly constructed an old-fashioned adventure picture here, one whose virtue is taking its time getting to know its characters before throwing them into a real-life disaster film. Burwell’s score settles in comfortably with a gorgeous, lyrical theme that speaks for small, coastal town America. It’s the kind of sweet, yearning string and harp gentleness that makes you instantly fall in love with the characters, with brass that’s an anchor of thematic nobility, let alone a motif that can drive his score through the raging seas that give Burwell a showcase for some of his most propulsive action writing. With percussion and bells a blazing, Burwell garners the force to cut through enough monster waves to fill a few “Perfect Storms,” though certainly with happier results here. Burwell also does a yeoman job of musically balancing the worrying back on land with dirge-like doom of women fearing the inevitable, But it’s a never-say-die attitude as well, with military percussion baling and steering like hell, giving a sea shanty-esque flair as dire, pounding suspense brings out a vital sense of jeopardy. Phil Klein, who wrote a lion’s share of the sea rescue music that’s heard in the film itself, gets his more contemporary rhythmic approach highlighted in the “Rescue,” where the album itself spotlights Burwell’s own voice during these exciting sequences. Some of his best emotional writing is also on deck for the bravura, ten minute trip to “Safe Harbor,” as Burwell’s poetic melody reflects the sacrifice, and gratitude of the rescued to finally reach dry land, a moving testament to a disaster’s miraculous aftermath in a powerhouse score that’s very fine indeed, concluded with Koladine’s memorable, Coldplay-esque update on the classic hymn “Haul Away Joe.”
Extra Special: When the Coen Brothers are at their fiendish, black-humored best in such films as “Fargo,” “Burn After Reading” and “Intolerable Cruelty,” Carter Burwell has a delightful, over-the-top sound that’s as much in on the joke, as if his portentous music was a screaming police officer tell us to move along, knowing full well his listeners will stop to watch the gleeful bad behavior. However, the Coens have been known to play it nice every now and then, as could be heard with the woefully underrated 1940’s screwball comedy salute “The Hudsucker Proxy,” in which Burwell evoked dizzying, monolithic workplace rhythms for a high rise of hula hoop avarice. While it’s likely that the Coen’s nearly as wonderful salute to studio era Hollywood with “Hail Caesar!” will hit the same level of cult fame, their pastiche of pabulum-calming entertainment gives Burwell an even greater playing field to work his delightfully arch homage humor on, beginning with the Latin choruses and stirring, religious strains of Alfred Newman for such Nazarene epics as “The Robe.” Its Middle Eastern-style, trumpeting Roman theme cleverly works just as well for the melody of a hero who’s one part studio chief and the other a star-slapping gumshoe. Other movie score valentines abound for Burwell, from the smashingly heroic western gallop of an unassuming cowboy star to choral riffs on Tchaikovsky for an Esther Williams-esque water ballet that goes hilariously south. Doom-laden strings and sinister voices play the evil Commie menace infiltrating Hollywood, given the height of Stalin-worshipping heroism. Of equal delight is Channing Tatum not only hoofing an “On the Town” dancer number, but respectably singing “No Dames” as well. Lush big band performances of the “Glory of Love” and “Song of India” add to this affectionate cavalcade of tinsel town in all of its Technicolor glory, whose masters of the golden age scoring art come across affectionately clear in Burwell’s own, deliciously brazen orchestral voice. No matter if the Coens are playing any given era for pure viciousness of something unexpectedly sweeter in “Hail Caesar!” you can usually count on them to let Burwell have his way with unabashed, old school symphonic melody, a knowingly bombastic style that’s particularly delightful in this gentle send up of the back lot dream factory.
4) NICK OF TIME (1,500 edition)
What is it?: Time will prove that the vastly underrated Arthur B. Rubinstein stands as one of the cinema’s most distinctively offbeat composers, one who was especially intriguing in the 80s and 90’s when in the company of director John Badham. Beginning their big screen partnership with the stirringly dramatic right-to-die score of 1981’s “Whose Life Is It Anyway,” their multi-picture collaboration has ranged from the comedy suspense of two “Stakeout” pictures to the movie cop satire “The Hard Way.” Rubinstein’s bold, rhythmic approach was particularly well suited to Badham when the director had the military-industrial complex go wrong, from embodying the playfully sinister electronic rhythms of a computer’s near nuclear annihilation in “War Games” to the high-tech synth rotors of “Blue Thunder’s” super helicopter. But perhaps Rubinstein’s partnership with Badham was never more ingenious then when playing the real-time clock strokes of a ticking, 90-minute assassination deadline for 1995’s “Nick of Time,” the full, suspenseful span of which can finally be heard in this riveting expanded edition from La La Land Records.
Why should you buy it?: Given its unique “real time” structure, “Nick” found Johnny Depp in one of his very few average Joe roles, here as a businessman who’s very reluctantly recruited by Christopher Walken’s assassin enabler. Rubinstein’s percolating score is the not-so silent partner as he counts down the suspense in an especially sinister way, beginning with taunting voices and deceptively sweet choo-choo flutes that bring daddy and daughter to LA. But once she’s child-napped, Rubinstein pours in a veritable watch-repair shop of percussion into the score to draw the tick-tock noose tighter around its hero. Gongs, gears, a panting chorus and keyboard rhythm create a tremendous sense of drive. In lesser musical (and directing hands), this likely would have been a gimmick. But given Rubinstein’s talent in creating numerous, strong themes, “Nick of Time” relentlessly moves forward with a striking sense of melody, hitting all the character’s shades of anguish and panic. There’s no noodling about this suspense as the stakes get raised with the military timpani of a political killing that’s been planned to the second. “Nick of Time” is also tremendously fun in capturing a 70’s conspiracy groove in line with such other jazz-action classics as David Shire’s “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” its energy roaring from its brass section, bongos and keyboards as all clock hands lead to the will-he-shoot or won’t-he moment where you can positively feel the trumpet players blowing their lungs out. The trigger pull has never been more exciting than in Rubinstein’s breathless gunning for the evil powers that be in a score whose constant inventiveness certainly won’t have you looking down at your watch.
Extra Special: La La Land’s album greatly expands on the original CD release to reveal new layers of intensity to Rubinstein’s score, with Jeff Bond’s perceptive liner notes and a new Rubinstein interview bringing welcome attention back to the composer’s most joyfully intense work, with a particularly cute bonus track featuring Mike Lang tickling the cocktail lounge ivories at the Bonaventure hotel.
5) STRANGELY IN LOVE
What Is it?: A director who certainly appreciates soaring melody to approximate the human spirit, Amin Matalqa gave ample opportunity to Austin Wintory to write a gorgeously dramatic score for the Jordan-set “Captain Abu Raed,” a bittersweet story about a pilot brought down to earth by his uplifting sense of self-sacrifice. Now Matalqa and Wintory re-team in their hometown of Los Angeles for the beguilingly eccentric “Strangely in Love,” a sweet, certainly non-depressing spin on Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “White Nights” and “The Idiot,” the latter envisioned as a haplessly optimistic Charlie Chaplin-esque character in pursuit of a beautifully loony woman who can’t get over her way more macho ex.
Why Should You Buy It?: Given one of the more oddball surreal romances to emerge since “Punch-Drunk Love,” Wintory gives “Strangely In Love” an eccentric, yet emotional tone that compares favorably to that Jon Brion score, if with a more whimsical, ethnically-inspired touch here. Grammy-nominated for his mystically exotic score to the game-changing “Journey,” Wintory evokes a charming ambience straight out of some time-lost early 60’s French comedy, replete with harmonica, Spanish guitar, accordion, his themes alternately tangoing and waltzing with Stephan Grappelli-esque jazz-stylings, with detours into African territory for a knuckleheaded rival suitor who just happens to have been kidnapped from his mission work by rebels. It’s just those kind of crazy musical curveballs that Wintory keeps catching with a constant sense of deliriously sweet invention. But perhaps what’s most beguiling, especially given this indie’s very small size is Wintory’s use of a full, lush orchestra to give “Love’s” off-center couple a big feeling of real heart that melodically hits every emotional beat without being cartoony about it, He’s as capable of playing the joke of an Ennio Morricone showdown between suitors as it is the heartbreak of seemingly losing that one outsider made for you complete, an approach that helps emotionally ground Matalqa’s film without losing a bit of its whimsy.
Extra Special: There’s much to swoon about with “Strangely in Love” (watchable HERE https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/strangely-in-love/id1073527805 ), whose 60-plus minutes of score are a terrific bargain for its quality, especially given The Controversy’s memorably waltzing song “Simple Love,” its basically elegant melody giving Wintory’s score much thematic inspiration to blaze an idiosyncratic, emotional path on.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. AWAKEN (300 edition)
It’s a VOD rumble in the island jungle as a bunch of human hunters once again make the big mistake of having a most dangerous game, here with the statuesque Kiev-born starlet Natalie Burn (“The Expendables III,” “Criminal”), who also produced, wrote and nicely sings “Awaken’s” rocking end credit song to boot). Before then, it’s a ferocious, primally percussive body count as booby-trapped with a wealth of ethnic energy by composers Brian Ralston and Kays Al-Atrakchi. Having previously shown an affinity for bringing Native American instruments to lacrosse with Perseverance’s release of “Crooked Arrows,” Ralston is all over the globe when bringing in an array of lethal percussion to serve as blunt instruments for one chauvinist pig after the other get impaled with in their increasingly dwindling pursuit. But rather than just banging away on drums, blowing on flutes, or strumming on a guitar to get across the Mexico peninsula setting, Ralston and Al-Atrakchi (“Extreme Force”) give “Awaken” a mean, melodic, sample-driven structure that nicely recalls the synth, and often pan flute topped-sound of “Awaken’s” 80’s indie revenge antecedents like “Deadly Prey,” a spirit that’s since been carried on with liberated fury by “Relentless Justice” and “Camino.” Female hell certainly gets served with exotic spice with “Awaken’s” intriguingly suspenseful and highly rhythmic listen as its beats a powerful path in Burn’s quest for action heroine stardom.
. BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING
Otto Preminger’s 1965 film was a mystery that Mulder and Scully certainly would have appreciated as a mother enlists the aid of the perplexed English police to search for an abducted little girl that for all intents and purposes seems to only exit in her warped mind, a miasma of increasing desperation and sinister childhood regression that sent composer Paul Glass through his own rabbit hole of musical impressionism for one of the era’s more strikingly weird scores. Though at the same, bizarre level of such Oscar heralded, psychologically complex composers as Alex North (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf”) and Leonard Rosenman (“Rebel Without A Cause”) who often used only as much melody as necessary while bringing 20th century Avant garde concert hall writing to the big screen, Glass has had more of an unheralded career, even with such credits as his nerve-rattling “Lady in a Cage” and his achingly poetic score for the doomed, Normandy-bound soldier of “Overlord.” With ”Bunny’s” twin pedigrees of Preminger and star Laurence Olivier as an intrigued detective, “Bunny Lake is Missing” was the most prestigious film that Glass accompanied, though its vinyl soundtrack was best known for its three songs by the English pop group The Zombies, which continues to groove with Intrada’s impactful CD issue to coincide with the film’s blu ray debut on Twilight Time. But for those score fans with a taste for fevered rhythms that showed composers reaching for their own version of Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring,” “Bunny Lake” will prove a jarringly impressive listen in Glass’ evocation of both the madness of a mother whom no one will believe, as well as a villain with a Hayes Code-breaking sexual fixation on family bonds. Glass uses a strong, deceptively soothing theme that conjures innocence itself with child-like flutes and a whistle, his music increasingly becoming more rhythmically warped. A baroque harpsichord, bursts of a jazzy saxophone and an overall modern classical arch finally busts into outright madness. Though there are more deceptively pleasant moments like a thematic waltz, “Bunny Lake’s” musically intellectual approach never fails to find challenging, unnerving and ever-twisting rhythms to evoke its characters’ fevered minds, making it one of the era’s most challenging, and rewarding scores for those happy to jump into its nightmarish, twelve-tone, child-hiding burrow with America’s Glass, while also given three groovy detours into a staging ground of mod-rock’s British invasion.
Eating at a truly excellent fine dining restaurant is just as good, if not better, than sex. But how to transmit those taste buds and the hip, swank olfactory experience of chic eating to the ears? Rob Simonsen, one of the rising chefs of the alt. scoring scene with the likes of “The Spectacular Now” and “The Way Way Back,” has all the right sonic ingredients in his tantalizing, and greatly satisfying score for “Burnt.” Bradley Cooper’s bad boy cook drama might have been unjustly shown the box office dishwasher last year, but Lakeshore’s score album shows “Burnt” off as tasteful music eats Given the kind of brilliant a-hole we know will find redemption by desert, Simonsen starts his service with a rocking attitude, gradually filling in more elegantly melodic courses that sprinkle lush orchestral melody with sampled percussion and hip rhythms, giving us the mesmerizing feeling of a chef getting submerged in the zone of inventing cutting-edge food. Pizzicato percussion, celebratory orchestral rhythm and classically minded strings give the sense of daredevil playfulness in the midst of swank surroundings. Not only does “Burnt” create the tantalizing suspense of waiting for the kitchen crew to gel and the restaurant critic to show up, but it’s also quite ethereal and sensual at its best in making food musically concrete, going for smart flavors that are both fun and soothing, convey the creative heat of cooking at a Michelin star level, all the while letting us hear a composer with something intoxicatingly bold to offer with any number of stylistic flavors, all combining for a smooth finish that’s anything but charred in the process.
. Espion, lève-toi
The best Morricone score to dealing with murderous skullduggery that’s out now comes from 1982’s “Espion, lève-toi,” wherein a seemingly normal French businessmen gets pulled back into his far more lethal, and now not-so hidden job as a spy. But the most important mission here when it comes to Morricone’s always-reliable trigger finger is setting up this wily score as a precursor to his Oscar-nominated work for 1987s “The Untouchables.” Right from its instantly striking march-theme, electric percussion, snarling brass and a player piano, American listeners will likely hear The Chicago Way as opposed to international grumpy old spy intrigue. Aside from John Barry, few composers had the talent for brilliantly constructing an entire score out of just a few melodies Here Morricone makes three themes continually interesting through endless, clever variation, all keeping up a suspenseful, driving pace, Morricone engages in his trademarked way of making his music simultaneously melodic and dissonant, a way of creating the kind of tension where everyone is suspect to the aged anti-hero, who’s bloody history is given a boozy, brass voice. While “Espion” might have a sense of resignation, its soundtrack’s somehow simultaneously relaxed and driving pace the stuff that The Maestro’s crime thrillers are made of. France’s Music Box Records follows up their releases of Morricone’s “Le Professional” and “Le Marginal” with perhaps their most impressive blast from the composer’s past, given exception new polishing by album producers Claudio Fuiano and Daniel Winkler, who’ve remastered this very much vibrant score to include three unreleased tracks and a disco song. More playfully sinister than dark and hateful, “Espion, lève-toi” is a jazzy blast from Morricone’s past that fans will want to re-discover.
. THE HALLOW
Killer vegetation hasn’t exactly been the stuff of great horror films that is until “The Hallow’s” botanist makes the decidedly bad decision to move with his family to a cursed Irish wilderness. There’s certainly no better composer to put an eerie spell on insidiously intelligent, transformative fungi than James Gosling, who’d previously worked his dark magic on the TV series “Merlin.” Movie Score Media follows up the compilation of those wizarding scores for this effectively melodic demonstration in creeping terror. Given a subtle, ethnic approach to the Gaelic grove, Gosling’s brings out doom-ridden strings that gradually work their way around our heroes’ country cottage, a singsong child’s voice hinting at the cursed mistress of the moss. Given an impressive, orchestrally slithering force, “The Hallow” finally has pounding, percussive hell break out, unearthly sampled effects and twisting brass crafting the howls of mother nature run amuck, balancing dissonance with strong, eerily melodic writing that gets across the choral idea of mutant, man-shaped plant evolution becoming the stuff of ancient folk legend. “The Hallow” is all about unnatural atmosphere, balancing the primal emotional force of parents trying to rescue their child with a malevolent, seemingly magical woods determined to make them part of the countryside. Certainly the most effective woods-born terror soundtrack since a bunch of evil dead-possessed trees attacked a cabin, Gosling’s “Hallow” powerfully works in a way that scares as well as enchants, topped off with Sea Read’s humorously ironic tune “The Woods,” with the lyrics “The woods, the woods they’re barking at my heels, I don’t wanna die” carrying a humorous punch, as well as an eco-warning.
. KUNG FU PANDA 3
If you might not expect that an overweight Panda could take to kung fu like water, it’s certainly more believable that an energetic German composer could become Hollywood’s foremost voices when playing outsiders thrust into Asian situations requiring some small amount of action dexterity. Hans Zimmer certainly accomplished that to adult effect with the Japanese rhythms of Michael Douglas battling the Yakuza to groovy synth effect in “Black Rain” or Tom Cruise fighting with orchestral honor opposite “The Last Samurai.” Kid friendly, kung-fu China is just as much home to Zimmer’s percussively ethnic talents over the course of Dreamworks’ best animated franchise, scoring the first two “Panda” pictures alongside John Powell. Now with its third, fun entry, Zimmer goes it solo for score producer Lorne Balfe (“Home”), though thankfully with the tender piano aid of star Chinese player Lang Lang. Sweet emotion rules the moves here, with the accent being placed on Po getting reunited with his long-lost father and extended panda family, leading to more of a feeling of cuteness than the do-or-die stakes of the previous entries. Armed with all of the previous “Kung Fu Panda” themes, Zimmer’s score is a flowing combination of orchestral west and ethnic east, any number of ancient Chinese instruments like the Guzheng and and Pipa mixing it up with a drum-blasting, lush orchestra and voices that sing with the kind of thematically heroic joy that has its small audience doing kung fu moves in the multiplex lobby. “Panda 3” constantly moves with this sense of fun and adventure while giving nice downtime for drama and sparkling mysticism. Zimmer wisely plays its non-lethal action stakes as real as possible, a synergy of rhythm and visual choreography that’s made this series equally appealing to adults weaned on Shaw Brothers pictures. Once again, Zimmer brings honor to rhythmically evoking Asia, no more so than when in animal guise. And what would any album of this type do without a version of “Kung Fu Fighting,” in this case two of them?
. PREPAREZ VOS MOUCHOIRS (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs)
With his rapturous gift for melodic melancholy, Georges Delerue more often than not provided the perfect soundtrack for depressive romantics – which was exactly the lightly humorous joke for 1979’s Best Foreign Film winner “Get Out Your Handkerchiefs.” Director Bertrand Blier brought his “Going Places” duo of Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere back together under far less rakish circumstances as a distraught husband who enlists a lover to bring a smile, let alone happiness to his sullen wife (Carole Laure). Given that both men’s passion for Mozart is only second to their efforts in this ménage a trois, Delerue responds with a gorgeous score that approximates the greatest composer of all, using poignant strings and piano to play off of the sullen, unlaughing woman, music that serves as a counterpoint when she gets cheered up by an unexpected bundle of joy. Just about the only sense of pure fun comes from the galloping, Baroque energy of the cue “La poursuite,” which provides a glimpse of how Delerue would energetically interpret Vivaldi to the tune of his first Oscar win for 1980’s “A Little Romance.” Casting an aching, lovesick spell that Mozart himself might have written in a fit of pique, “Handkerchiefs” remains a Delerue masterwork, with Music Box going back to the original session tapes for poignantly swooning results. Even better is hearing Mozart himself with a seven-minute performance of Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K.467, a tune that most American listeners will recognize as the favorite piece of Carl Stromberg as his underwater fortress rose at the beginning of “The Spy Who Loved Me,” its lyrical theme no doubt making a generation of movie fans (especially myself) fall in love with Mozart and classical music in general.
. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES
“Pride” might have not lived up to its zany potential by focusing more on the “Prejudice” part than the “Zombie” gimmick. But the humor of playing it straight with a big wink to literary snobs certainly wasn’t lost on composer Fernando Velazquez. Having scored horror as no laughing matter in such melodically rich supernatural works as “The Orphanage,” “Mama,” “Devil” and “Crimson Peak,” Velazquez certainly knows how to dress scary music in thematically swooning orchestral clothing, all the better here to be belles to the 1800’s-era undead ball. Sure enough, you might think you’re in the manor of Mr. Darcy when you here period-specific dances, horse-galloping suspense and sumptuous orchestral colors that could easily befit a follow-up to Patrick Doyle’s “Cinderella” (it’s almost no wonder that its star Lilly James is in attendance here). But for all of the flowery, waltzing strains of English society at its finest, you know this ain’t your momma’s Jane Austen when the Spanish composer breaks out the Oriental rhythms for the Chinese-trained Bennet sisters to strut their zombie-killing stuff. It’s a score that gleefully veers between rampaging horror percussion (though not too dark), ironically portentous brass doom and the howls of the not-so buried, At its best capturing the satirical zip of Danny Elfman’s macabre music for Tim Burton (especially when riffing on “Dies Irae”), Velazquez pulls of a score that manages to capture the ache of chic lit heartstrings with the today’s rampaging joy of using a sword to chop of various zombie appendages, harpsichord meeting a rampaging brass section and some rippingly good action in a particularly clever dance that once again confirms the musician as one of the best practitioners of horror scoring as its own brand of symphonic romance.
. THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER (Expanded)
From the mid-80s to the early 90s, Bruce Broughton had an especially great run of writing wonderfully melodic symphonic scores for any number of kid-friendly films, no doubt enchanting a few million young viewers to the wonders of orchestral music in such efforts as “Harry and the Hendersons,” “Young Sherlock Holmes” and “Miracle on 34th Street.” One studio in particular that was especially well-suited for Broughton’s warm, adventurous approach was Disney for such pictures as “The Rescue” and “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid,” with a particular highlight of the composer’s beyond-lush approach being 1990s “The Rescuers Down Under.” This marked Disney first animated sequel in continuing the 1977 mission of The Rescue Aid Society’s intrepid mice Bernard and the continental Miss Bianca (once again voiced by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor). This time coming to the aid of a young boy trying to save an eagle from George C. Scott’s grizzled poacher, the plight of a noble bird gave Broughton the prime opportunity to create his most beautifully soaring theme outside of “The Boy Who Could Fly.” Like his spirit animal John Williams, Broughton’s knack for remarkable, and distinctive melodies ties together this altogether charming and wondrous score, The “Rescuers” are given their Aussie street cred with the use of ethnic rhythms and the indigenous Didgeridoo, while the distinctly American surf guitar gives a clever hipness to the score at choice moments. Bringing real adventurous stakes to the talking animals in a slightly lighter way than the western escapades of “Silverado” that brought him to “Down Under’s” notice, Broughton also engages in just a fun bit of cartoonish Mickey-Mouse’ing, while giving the villain a lurching motif, with Raymond Scott-like “powerhouse” action setting up the kind of raucous playfulness the composer would bring to the live-action antics of “Baby’s Day Out” and “Honey I Blew Up the Kid.” “The Rescuers Down Under” has remained a much-beloved film and score which is doubled for this terrific Intrada re-issue that expands the long-out-of-print Disney CD by 30 minutes, plus 10 minutes of alternate takes from the score’s first “pre-record” session. Tim Grieving’s terrific liner notes not only seeks out new thoughts from the co-directors, but also offers an interview where Broughton not-so surprisingly reveals him as an animator at heart.
. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (Original Motion Picture Score)
Given that the audiences is checking out a film, and soundtrack specifically because they’re filled with classic, ground-breaking rap and hip-hop songs, composer Joseph Trapanese had the extra challenge of making his score cut through “Straight Outta Compton.” A musician behind the def techno jams of such sci-fi specific scores as “Tron: Evolutions” “Oblivion” and “Insurgent,” Trapanese surprises by not remotely going for a beat-heavy sound that would play in tandem with the riffs of NWA. Instead, he creates his most powerfully downbeat score yet, playing the tragedy and wasted lives of a ghetto terrorized by both gangs and cops. Mesmerizing, metallic rhythms cast a sense of doom in the tradition of such other inner city suspense scores as “Training Day” and “End of Watch.” Percussion and raw electric guitars angrily hammer away like police batons, rhythmic madness hitting with the adrenalin of fleeing from cops in riot gear – rhythm heavy sections that reminded you that this is indeed the guy who co-scored two “Raid” movies. But amidst the throbbing, hypnotic gloom of Trapanese’s thoughtful and haunting work that’s about the dark side of both neighborhood blight and celebrity excess, there’s a sense of determination to rise above lives that aren’t supposed to be worth a damn, the melodic self-empowerment of piano and strings gradually coming into strong thematic play, ending with a sense of emotional epiphany. It’s a powerful, triumphant moment for the kind of underdog scoring that can be found in a safer Hollywood-ized rags-to-riches story. Yet it’s the music’s defiance, and sense of darkness that packs an uncommonly raw punch Trapanese is the counterpoint that powerfully functions as “Compton’s” moral consciousness, especially in its concluding elegy for Eazy E, given a memorable, blues-tinged performance, of course by piano virtuoso Mike Lang.
. TAKE A HARD RIDE (2,000 edition)
Among the many genre notches on his gun belt, Jerry Goldsmith can count the western as one of his most prolific, following the classic model of good white versus black hats from such films as “Stagecoach” and “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” to the form’s introduction of black power when Jim Brown handled “100 Rifles” along with Raquel Welch. The western’s major studio, pre-“Django Returns” Blaxploitation apex would come with 1975’s “Take A Hard Ride,” featuring a triple-threat of Brown, Fred Williamson and a kick-ass Jim Kelley taking it to the old academy white guys like Dana Andrews and Barry Sullivan, along with the reliably squint-eyed Lee Van Cleef and “Wild Wild Planet” director Antonio Margheriti (going under the usual pseudonym of Anthony M. Dawson) bringing in a serving of Spaghetti for good measure. While the film may have featured a diverse combo of elements, it was up to Jerry Goldsmith’s score to unite this multi-character chase for $86,000 into a cohesive musical score, something the composer did with the ease of Cleef squinting an eye. Better yet, it’s hard to think of another western score where Goldsmith seemed to have a much quirky fun, let alone the wink of an eye to the culturally inclusive craziness of this enterprise. With a sunbaked synth effect repping a villainously cool 70’s vibe, Goldsmith brings in such 60’s Morricone-esque elements as a lethally blowing solo harmonica and strumming guitar. But it’s pretty much the John Wayne era of yore that gets the biggest workout here, balancing a more rustic theme with rousing, “Big Country”-esque orchestral action in the hoedown Aaron Copeland style. Given that this is Goldsmith, “Take A Hard Ride” also blazes with the composer’s trademarked, staccato excitement, militaristic percussion that could just as easily befit “Patton” as it does desperados. Exceptionally balancing this excitement with more emotional moments that sing with the lonesome regret of hell-bent for leather bravado, “Ride” just might be the maestro’s most entertaining oater, re-issued with dynamite audio quality by La La Land Records, and graced with a coolly photogenic CD booklet featuring enthusiastic liner notes by Julie Kirgo that totally get the score’s tongue in cheek charm.
. TALE OF A LAKE
If animals come across as humans to us in nature documentaries, then it’s likely a good part of our trans-species identification and empathy comes from their music that gives all of God’s creatures’ affectionate feeling, as well as savagery. When it comes to this overview of Finland’s bodies of water, native composer Panu Aaltio gives their feathered, flippered and clawed inhabitants am overaching gentleness and poetry that brings to mind the kind of natural rhythms and melodies that inflected the romantic music of Frenchman Claude Debussy’s “La Mer.” Using that melodically romantic for a far colder land, Aaltio’s follow up to “Tale of a Forest” (also on Movie Score Media) with another gorgeous score, the composer brings a sense of classically attuned, symphonic lyricism to his often playful explorations. A “bug ballet” sounds like it might be taking place under a circus big top, while Asian percussion turns frog wrestling into a contest between two Sumos. Where Oriental pride fills guardian crabs, lulling Irish rhythms stand for gulls and eagles to reflect the cross-cultural blend of migration. Johanna Kurkela becomes the lovely, cooing voice Ahitar the Water Spirit, mystically guiding us through her creations to finally peer at an endangered seal pup with doe-eyed innocence. Virtuoso piano and violin performances also achieve an uncommon musical beauty that makes this “Lake” shine amidst of veritable animal planet of documentary scores, Aaltio’s feeling for pure, gossamer melody thankfully avoiding cuteness for all of its sparkling harps, instead opening ears with child-like wonder to the nature around us, as musically embodied by the wonders of Finland.
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