Soundtrack Picks: “WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES” is the top soundtrack to own for July, 2017
Also worth picking up: THE CAINE MUTINY, FRAGIL EQUILIBRIO, ODE TO BILLY JOE, THE PROMISE, PUPPET ON A CHAIN, THE YAKUZA and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) A ESMORGA / FRAGIL EQUILIBRIO
What is it?: Spain has increasingly yielded any number of composers using interesting combinations of sound to evoke the human condition. Zeltia Montes is one especially unique composer as she shows a strongly stylistic ability to play the downbeat worlds of men, and humans behaving badly, beginning with three Galacians raising hell in Franco-era Spain for “A Esmorga.”
Why should you buy it?: Having composed a spiritually rustic score for director Ignacio Vilar’s 60’s set “Lovetown” (available on Quartet Records), Montes now journeys to the 1950s with the filmmaker, paring down her instrumentation to a single piano in the process. Joining the unplugged, white and black-keyboard ranks of Brian Easdale’s “Peeping Tom,” Michael Kamen’s “The Winter Guest” and David Grusin’s “The Firm” in conveying the lonely piano’s ability to evoke large emotion, Montes follows three men over the course of a doomed 24-hour bender, barely raising the volume above a lovely, tender pace. However, “Esmorga’s” poignant sound is deceptive when it comes to depicting debauchery awash in sex and violence, making the score an effective, thematic counterpoint that speaks volumes for these ne’er do wells. It’s a yearning score that’s about unspoken bromance, and the ultimately tragic lengths it goes to, all while bringing out a uniquely feminine side to these alpha males. Montes return to her classic pianist roots here for an approach that’s simplicity at its finest, with Caldera’s engaging CD also containing a lengthy interview where Montes reveals her own lifelong musical drive and the reason for her unusual approach to “Esmorga,”
Extra Special: With “Fragil Equilibrio” (“Delicate Balance”), it’s using a wall of inventive sound to the send earth to hell in an industrial-ravaged handbasket, courtesy of a doom-laden documentary awash in mass isolation. Led with a haunted, wailing vocalese, Montes’ mix of world and alt. music is hypnotic in its dire warning. Guitars and flutes convey the Latin rhythm of Montes’ native Madrid, the Shakuhachi flute a Tokyo awash in materialism and ethnic percussion the poverty-stricken Sahara. Equally as interesting in painting a globally interlinked portrait of disconnection as Guastavo Santaolalla’s fictional “Babel,” Montes’ use of metallic sampling and organic instruments get across the film’s message about the evils of industrialization, while making striking use of metallic sample in its score. But whether it’s employing piano solitude or the warped musical high-tech, Montes’ “Esmorga” and “Equilibrio” mutually speak with the inventiveness of a brave new voice on the international scoring scene.
2) THE BOOK OF HENRY / SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING / WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
Price: $8.99 / $11.78
What is it?: Whether he’s on board The U.S.S. Enterprise, stealing the Death Star plans or partying in the Himalayas with The Sorcerer Supreme, a big key to Michael Giacchino’s becoming the reboot franchise king of so many Gen-X favorites is because he’s a kid at musical heart with the talent to match his obvious enthusiasm, especially when it comes to two of the best recent franchise reboots– beginning with the climactic “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Having taken over the series’ from Patrick Doyle after his striking work on “Dawn,” Giacchino brought a sense of dark majesty to king Caesar for a “Rise” that saw him anointed as the leader of his tribe to face off against the rapidly dwindling humans. With “War,” Giacchino turns the first talking Simian into Moses, for all of the righteous fury and reverence that accompanies a warrior prophet. But as dark as this “Apes” film and score gets, particularly in the opening that sets Caesar off on the path to vengeance, it’s the tender humanity that’s just as impactful as the Goldsmith-ian battery of primal percussion. Any number of memorable themes that drive the score, the first powerfully rising with a sense of biblical purpose. Even more striking is the pure innocence of little Nova’s melody for piano and strings, music that impactfully speaks for the impossibly cute mute girl, especially when Giacchino brings in symphonic and choral depth for a slave water-giving sequence that would bring tears to Ben-Hur’s face. Caesar also serves to inspire Giachinno with images of Kirk Douglas and Steve McQueen, from orchestrally crucified defiance to using playful percussion for a great escape. Questing, John Barry-esque rhythm and even a bit of spaghetti-western’isms adds humor to a grimness that threatens at points to verge into ape torture porn. But it’s part of the film’s pleasant surprise that musical good and evil gets shadings here in the long, consistently enthralling cues that make up Giacchino’s thrillingly emotional work. It’s a war tribute to “Apes” scores past and present, while blazing its own, excellent path where ethnic percussion ultimately gives way to a fiercely moving orchestral sound – a sense of melody triumphing over the savagely percussive animal instincts of monkeys who end up becoming musically more human than human
Why should you buy it?: Giacchino’s fanboy sense buzzes perhaps most strongly in the gee-whiz nature of Peter Parker, a kid who finds that being a superhero is pure joy as opposed to suiting up for depressing psychology examinations like many other costumed adults in town. “Homecoming” is just about as lightweight as a spider’s web, and just as strong at sticking with the pure fun. It’s a score that will have any Spidey fan of a certain generation in the palm of the composer’s hand blasts off the Marvel logo with a rousing take on the 60’s TV cartoon theme. As opposed to trying to be alt. rock hip for the first Spider-Man movie to take place in a multi-racial teen world, Giachinno’s vibe for organ, bongo beat and guitar is a cool retro shagadelic update. But that doesn’t mean his strongly orchestral spider sense isn’t buzzing any less as it draws from the rhythmically trumpeting, heroic wellspring that composer Danny Elfman used for Spidey’s first swing out for Sony. This score dances about with a giddy feeling of Stark suit discovery before upping the emotional ante, yet not in a way involving an uncle or girlfriend’s death to the musical equation. Here dark menace is relegated to a brassy, neo-Wagnerian theme for The Vulture, music that villainously plays evil pouncing from the sky. Giacchino effectively sets up their themes’ conflict between hero and villain, creating a terrific motivic momentum between a guiless kid out to nab a mature bad guy, not quite realizing the civilian stakes at play until the somewhat darker music of Iron Man zooms in to percussively save Parker’s skin, and lay his emotional vulnerability low. But make no mistake that Giacchino’s “Homecoming” is pure comic book stuff, a welcome musical return to the days before the genre becomes a cloud of dark, depressing strum und drunk. Here the emphasis is on bright, exclamatory orchestral colors and brass-pounding excitement that the orchestra never fails to plunge, soar or use a web shooter with while saving the day. “Homecoming” sings with delightful innocence about just how cool it is to be a superhero saving the girl or duking it out with the bad guy. Even better, its music is as much about how neat it is to be a composer knowing that with great power comes a responsibility not to take it so darn seriously.
Extra Special: For all of the epic sweep of Spidey and the Apes, “The Book of Henry” also stands tall as Giacchino’s little score that could. Working again with Colin Trevanow for a passion project after “Jurassic World” (and no doubt anticipating a return to dinosaur funland with him), Giacchino writes an impactfully small-scale score for a mother following her son’s instructions on how to take out the child molester next door. While not exactly the most savory subject to work with, Giacchino certainly knows something about kids in jeopardy, whether by a deceptively pubescent vampire in “Let Me In” or a pissed off alien for “Super 8.” Taking a classically-themed approach by centering on the instantly emotional instruments of piano and violin, then adding unusual percussion like the Indonesian gamelan to the mix, Giacchino conveys both bereavement and hope, as read by an oddball kid who only wants to help in a decidedly dangerous and adult way. At first sunnily capturing the magic of small town USA with a quirky, very subtle militaristic rhythm, Giacchino soon gets to the “Story’s” darkness with suspenseful percussion and foreboding strings. It’s out of the 70’s conspiratorial playbook of such classic scores as “All the President’s Men” and “The Parallax View,” as used here to put a boogeyman into a gun’s crosshairs, While this isn’t exactly kid’s stuff, there’s a heartbreaking gentleness to “Henry” that ends on a note of gentle hope that homespun normalcy will return. Though it’s might be the least seen, and heard movie on Giacchino’s deck, “The Book of Henry” is perhaps no better tale at showing off how prolific composers keep things fresh by opening the smaller volumes.
3) THE CAINE MUTINY / DUEL IN THE SUN
Price: $21.99 / $27.99
What Is it: There’s an inimitable passion to the golden age of scoring, a time when opera-trained, Eastern European expatriates could be boundlessly expressive as they captured a far-less repressed American society and its Hollywood dream machine. Hailing from Vienna and Russia, Max Steiner and Dmitri Tiomkin stand as exceptionally romantic and musically boisterous composers, their all-hands on deck way of expressing emotion on particularly glorious display via the mentally disturbed high seas of “The Caine Mutiny” and the torrid “lust in the dust” of “Duel in the Sun.”
Why Should You Buy It?: There were few composers better at playing American gusto than Max Steiner. As the guy who essentially invented film scoring with 1933’s “King Kong,” Steiner made unquestioning orchestral valor in the military’s service the marching orders of any number of soundtracks – a manly patriotic sound that filled such scores as “They Died With their Boots On,” “Fighter Squadron” and “Operation Pacific.” Yet it was in that theater of combat that Steiner also showed the valor in disagreeing with orders with 1954’s “The Caine Mutiny,” as his Oscar-nominated score seized a battleship’s command from Humphrey Bogart’s Commander Queeg. Yet you’d think it was all normal anchors away, anthemic stuff given “Caine’s” symphonic approach, which begins romantically by using the jazz song “I Can’t Believe You’re in Love With Me” for its hero’s courting of a nightclub singer. GIven the comedic bassoon, high-hat hijinks the join with soaring, proud music and such navy standards as “Colombia, Gem of the Ocean,” and you might think that Steiner was captaining Popeye aboard McHale’s Navy. But soon his powerhouse way of combining original score with recognizable navy tunes, call-to deck bos’n whistles and bugle revelry starts twisting into something darker, along with an increasingly unstable Queeg. Leave it to Steiner to turn The Marine’s Hymn into the raging equivalent of escaping from a giant gorilla or fleeing charging Indians as Steiner plunges down the mentally unstable rabbit hole with crazed energy and ominously descending music, twisting the score’s smiling patriotism that came before it. Yet there’s a sadness to his approach that remains sympathetic to Queeg, playing both the steadfastness of his troubled officers and the outrage of their de-throned captain – leaving the mutiny trial itself essentially unscored. Steiner’s work couldn’t have finally found a better home than at Intrada, a label that’s giving new sonic life to such classics as “On the Waterfront” and “The Ten Commandments.” “The Caine Mutiny’s” original, dialogue filled release stood as one of the most highly prized LP collectables, sans benefit of the actual stand-alone score on the album. Intrada rectifies that here while destroying “Caine’s” Ebay value by finally putting out the album that Steiner’s classic should have been all along, with terrific sound as clear as a call to revelry in front of a captain going to musical pieces.
Extra Special: The financial disaster that resulted from the out of control artistry of 1980’s mega-western “Heaven’s Gate” pales before the better financial, if no less crazed filmmaking glare of 1946’s “Duel in the Sun,” where “Gone With the Wind” producer David O. Selznick cast his wife Jennifer Jones as a half-breed Indian who brings disastrous results to the good and bad brothers torn between her. It also created a raging battle between Selznick and composer Dmitri Tiomkin, a composer with no small amount of hubris – but with the goods to back it up. Given a motherland of Cossacks rampaging across the plains, Tiomkin took like a fish to water with the Hollywood western and its cowboy / outlaw mystique, composing epic scores for the likes of “The Westerner,” “Red River,” “Last Train from Gun Hill” and “Giant.” “Duel” is his epic summation of the genre. Given especially sweeping themes for impossible romance and sweeping rancher pride, Tiomkin lets loose with every gorgeous musical trope you could hope for – among them furious tribal dancing, the thundering heroism of a cavalry riding to the rescue, Mexican folk music, snarling brass villainy, a fateful chorus and orchestral tragedy – along with the best use of Stephen Foster’s song “Beautiful Dreamer” this side of “Mighty Joe Young.” It’s western scoring as pure opera, mostly as melodically bombastic as all get-out, and all the more glorious for it. There’s too much to hold for just one CD, and the winning music re-performance team of producer James Fitzpatrick, conductor Nic Raine and The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus bring on the galloping, Wagner-by-way of Texas thunder that they renewed for such other Tiomkin classics as “The Alamo” and the similarly fiery “Fall of the Roman Empire.” Frank K. De Wald, who chronicles the facts behind “The Caine Mutiny,” details “Duel’s” history while deconstructing its lavish cues in his superb liner notes for a movie where it’s a miracle that Tiomkin himself didn’t get into a gunfight with Selznick at defending his mighty score’s honor.
4) LA CONQUETE / COMME UN CHEF (300 edition)
What is it?: Best known in the America for his richly dramatic scores for such fellow Italian masters as The Taviani Brothers with “Night of the Shooting Stars,” and “Good Morning Babylon” along with his heartfelt, Oscar winning score for “Life is Beautiful,” the prolific composer Nicola Piovani isn’t as well traveled here for his zany comedic abilities. But thanks to France’s Music Box label, Piovani’s deft, clever handling of humor is on glorious display for this CD double feature.
Why should you buy it: For the first soundtrack, Piovani puts on Nino Rota’s circus clown shoes for France’s political ringmaster with 2011’s “La Conquete” (“The Conquest”), a satirical look at the rise of Nicolas Sarkozy to the ranks of president. Having taking over composing reigns from Nino Rota after his passing for Frederico Fellini’s last three films, among them the nostalgically swooning “Ginger and Fred,” Piovani was no stranger to the circus-like whimsy. Here it’s a big top given a jazzily romping theme with Sarkozy as leading the amusement park charge. It’s a delightful, deceptively frothy approach given the stakes at play for France. But Piovani has his eye on more than a carnival ride of a political Macbeth and his lady, using portentous strings and a devilish to get across a real-life man of ambition who’s in danger of selling his soul, and losing his exasperated wife. Twisted music box bells and tick-tock percussion also get across a political snake pit of cutthroats, while wistful, and sometimes brooding strings become Sarkovsky’s strained marriage – all giving melodic depth to “The Conquest’s” loopy humor.
Extra Special: Piovani serves a similarly delightful Rota-esque course for “Comme un Chef” (“The Chef”), a tasty piece of froth that had international tough guy Jean Reno as a gourmet losing his touch, only to have his creativity, and ire boil over when teamed with an upstart kitchen whiz. Piovani gives this buddy chef comedy a wistful, sad-sack jazz approach that is more about slow-burn exasperation that racing for head of state, with a fuzz guitar only adding to Reno’s exasperation at the new kid of the butcher block. Elmer Bernstein’s sardonic approach for scores like “The Grifters” also come to mind in Piovani’s clip-clop rhythms, whose French taste comes across with the ingredient of an accordion, with even pseudo-Spaghetti banjo strumming applied to escargot. Where Piovani’s clever stew also includes Flamenco and a a zippy show jingle, what shines through “The Chef” are its lovely, bouncy melodies that finally bond its adversaries over the sheer joy of food – a la such French cuisine porn scores a la Alexandre Desplat’s “Julia and Julia.” For a composer often given to weightier entrees, this is a soundtrack pairing that’s as effervescent as champagne popped in a musical clown car rounding politicians and gourmets alike.
5) THE PROMISE
What is it?: Throughout his career, Lebanese-French composer Gabriel Yared has shown a deep, lyrical empathy for the horrors of war and ethnic cleansing. Hearing both the epic sorrow of the masses alongside the intimacy of two lovers, Yared’s talent for tragedy has included America’s Civil War in “Cold Mountain,” a boy transformed into a human dog by The Holocaust for “Adam Resurrected” and soul mates turned into mortal enemies by the Serbian war “In the Land of Blood and Honey.” But where these subjects have often gotten play in the cinema, The Armenian Genocide has gone curiously unrecognized in any major multiplex way until “The Promise.” Realized by director Terry George, who impact dealt with the tribal massacre happening outside of the “Hotel Rwanda,” “The Promise” deals with Turkey’s still (and always) unrecognized genocide of the Catholics within its county, an act whose seeming acceptability among the world powers gave Hitler the idea he could also get away with it when it came to the Jews. But as opposed to making some treatise, George’s treatment is as resolutely old schooled and passionate as a movie you might have seen (sans its more horrific violence) during Hollywood’s golden age, if the studios had the balls to make a picture about the Armenian Genocide back in the day.
Why should you buy it?: While Yared is more than capable of similarly rising his orchestra to understandably thunderous outrage a la Steiner or Tiomkin, this soft-spoken composer is more effective with sad, floating melody – though stormy, symphonic percussion is certainly on hand for the Turkish army’s march of annihilation. Centering his score around a love theme that encapsulates both couple and their ethnic birth rite, Yared creates a sense of poignant, shivering foreboding, if not the inevitable – music that’s full of shame at seeing a country, and civilized behavior going to unstoppable pieces. It’s a style that’s nearly universal to any movie about a Holocaust, but Yared’s intelligent, almost soothing approach is never mawkish in getting across desperate sorrow. There’s also a sense of unbeatable hope alongside dire brass, urgent rhythm and chorus that has the survivors determined to make a last stand. Where the west has the violin to conjure haunting sadness, an instrument that Yared uses effectively here, there’s no more effective, ancient wind instrument in “The Promise” than The Duduk to convey desolation. “The Promise” hauntingly resonates with its sound of humanity and love put to the ultimate test, delivering on both the film’s epic sweep and emotional intimacy that makes an event unknown to most, either through ignorance or outright denial, come alive with musically devastating and touching results as only Yared’s distinctively elegiac voice can deliver it.
Extra Special: “The Promise’s” album showcases Armenian music, from the festive fiddling of “Lach Nazar’s Dance” to the gorgeous hymn “Gohanamk.” It’s a spirituality that’s also beautifully conveyed through Veronika Stadler’s haunting voice, and lyrics as part of Serj Tankian’s Duduk-topped Authentic Light Orchestra with “Sari Siroun Yar,” Unintended sadness comes from listening to Chris Cornell’s “The Promise,” his distinctive, and now sadly silenced voice adapting Yared’s theme into a orchestra-backed title song, its rising melody recalling Cornell’s far more rocking title track “You Know My Name” from “Casino Royale” in a more mellow, if no less passionate way.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. THE BIG SICK
Michael Andrews has been a particularly busy composer on the funny-crass comedy scene, applying his alt. rock grooves to the Judd Apatow-approved likes of “Funny People,” “Bridesmaids” and “The Five-Year Engagement” among the even filthier likes of “Bad Teacher,” “The Heat” and “Dirty Grandpa.” While the Apatow-produced “The Big Sick” might not lack for F-bombs and one cute bodily function joke, it’s a far more gentle, and way better affair than anything bearing the Apatow brand before it – making for one of the year’s best, and most emotionally affecting films given Andrews’ intimately groovy score. “The Big Sick” resonates with the power of real life, as it’s taken from Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s culturally rocky relationship with a WASP that gets even more difficult when she falls into a coma following their break-up. He starts with a pleasant theme that gets across a tentative, sweet bond based on mutual joking, a guitar groove sending the irresistible pair down the happy lane of growing attraction. Where this kind of engagingly mushy stuff used to be expressed with lush, swooning orchestras, Andrews’ intimate use of piano, guitar and retro-synthy samples is the perfect exemplar of a new, hip generation of young lovers, with all of their charm intact through Andrews’ unplugged approach. But soon, the score gets more confused and nightmarish as unexpected life-or-death stakes strike, reflecting a guy who’s pretty much glided though life and meaningless hook-ups having his world blown up. As he can’t help stick by the hospitable bed, and deal with his ex’s none-too pleased parents, Andrews’ score grows even more lyrically moving in its mainly acoustical approach that ranges from melancholy to hope with each new medical development. Given a more affecting stage than before with the kind of hip characters that have comprised so much of his cool repertoire, Andrews’ often beautifully unplugged, theme-based scoring hears the comedy called life in all of its poignancy and warmth, making “The Big Sick” pack quite a moving wallop from the softest of musical touches, especially as graced with the catchily uplifting, hand-clapping rhythm of The Bird and the Bee’s end song “My Life.”
. CARS 3
Randy Newman has been there from Pixar’s starting line, with checkered flags waved for all three “Toy Story” movies, two “Monsters Inc.’s” and one “Bug’s Life.” Where he began the “Cars” saga, Newman was subbed by Michael Giacchino for the international spy action of the second-run “Cars 2.” But there’s no keeping an oldster from getting back on track, as Newman’s victorious return for the way better-reviewed “Cars 3” proves in reliably energetic style. Where the “Cars” movies have been Pixar’s youngest-skewing pictures with their bright, big-eyed vehicles, the new model gains a bit more maturity as Lightning McQueen faces the potential end of his racing career through a devastating accident. Leave it to Newman to go full, old-school orchestral speed with McQueen’s chance at redemption, bringing on the classic, Americana orchestral sound that’s defined his scoring career with the likes of “The Natural,” “Pleasantville” and even “Cold Turkey.” But if this new “Cars” is just a bit more serious, there’s gentle humor and rambunctiousness to spare in Newman’s approach. It’s all very much an enjoyable piece in his Pixar sound that hits every humorous bit and heartfelt emotion in a way that’s constantly shifting gears, but avoiding the Mickey Mouse’ing that’s a speed trap in toon scoring for any composer. A lush, sunny homespun quality powers “Cars 3,” with yokel guitar music drawing the once-hotshot McQueen back to his first consciousness-raising stop at Radiator Springs. Newman also has fun with Hawaiian fuzz guitar and sad-sack brass amidst the rousing, get-back-on-track momentum. For a composer who’s accompanied baseball players and horses through many laps of defeat and victory, “Cars” most effectively taps into the universal appear of sports-movie scoring, live action or not, slowing down here and there for Newman’s trademarked poignancy before trumpeting rhythm speeds McQueen out of the pit stop. As his hero spends “Cars 3” getting back into pole position, Newman’s lushly reliable gift for conveying the thrill of the race in an nostalgically understandable way for both the youngest, and oldest viewers is more energized than ever for his very welcome return to put the “Cars” saga back on track.
. GOOD MORNING VIETNAM / OPERATION DUMBO DROP
The Vietnam War and Disney live action might have seemed like very strange bedfellows, unless of course comedy and wild animals were involved. Such is the curious, and entertaining pairing of Alex North and David Newman on Intrada’s album of 1987’s “Good Morning Vietnam” and 1995’s “Operation Dumbo Drop.” Produced by the company’s Touchstone Division, which could give berth to star Robin Williams’ R-rated stream of consciousness as real-life DJ Adrian Cronauer, “Vietnam” is most famous for interspersing era-classic pop / R & b hits by The Beach Boys, James Brown and Them with Williams’ zingers. Yet there’s a score in here as well, by the rarely comedic Alex North, a master of soundtrack-changing expressionism with the likes of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Dragonslayer.” But that balance between fairly serious scoring and Williams’ song-filled mania is likely what director Barry Levinson was looking for. Scantly, but impactfully used at around 17 minutes of airtime, North’s score doesn’t sell out, but is certainly a bit less rhythmically experimental than usual. Beginning with a boogie-woogie, many of North’s brief cues carry a subtle Asian flavor and an overall brightness to them, capturing a somewhat heroic funnyman becoming intoxicated by an exotic land during his downtime, with a dawning realization during the film’s second half that not everything if fun and radio games in some of the score’s more expressionistic detours. It’s a bit like briefly switching from “I Heard it through the Grapevine” to the classical station, creating an unusual contrast that makes these interesting segues as welcome tune-in for North completists. Making far more of an orchestral statement is Newman’s “Dumbo,” a play on another famed Disney character, here turned into a real-life “flying” elephant with no end of bodily function jokes for the GI’s trying to save it from the Cong. Newman had long been excelling with rambunctiously melodic kid-friendly scores like” “The Mighty Ducks,” “The Sandlot” and “The Flintstones” by the time this unique animal movie came his way. In a sort of dry run for the African-set adventure of “The Phantom,” Newman combines Asian winds and percussion with his wonderfully antic orchestrations, which blend with electronics for an alternately thrilling and meditative sound. Where there’s heartwarming emotion and dynamic action to spare, Newman’s score is most affecting as it majestically conveys the bond between Vietnamese culture with a very human animal, one that goes back to time immemorial. It’s a spiritual understanding that drives the score, and finally gets into the GI’s heads beyond their grousing – even if the often funny animals is in the score’s jungle surrounding bely a situation that’s anything but cute.
. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE
Given the grippingly dark, lethally hushed quality of bros Brooke and Will Blair’s approaches for director Jeremy Saulnier’s “Blue Ruin” and “Green Room,” one might not expect much humor to seep through their music for another blood-drenched parable about the limits of vengeance. The no-relation Macon Blair (so great as a hapless vigilante schlub and a hapless skinhead schlub in those movies) is now the writer and director behind two losers out for payback against computer stealing psycho douches, and the world in general. Given an unbalanced homebody and a pumped-up dweeb with delusions of Bruce Lee nunchuck grandeur haplessly trying to take out the Manson Family-esque trash in their Silverlake hood, the Blairs get to have a bit more eccentric fun here without selling out their effective brand of simmering alt. doom. Taking on a twangy country music affectation, the Blairs use a weirdo Theremin-like sound to capture just how out of their league its heroes are, while haplessly bringing on payback with finger-snapping percussion, shouting voices and a 70’s-era funk-guitar sax action vibe. Having last played for Nazi punks, the Blairs are definitely on home turf with slow-burn chords and tribal percussion for “Home’s” druggie scum. As with their past scores, guitar is the attitude here, but it’s unleashed with righteous payback that ranges from thrash to the meditative, building to the film’s climax with evil metal-rock hits, their twisted music escalating with a sense of panic of two people who’ve gotten themselves into a whole lot more corpse-filled trouble than they reckoned. Taking their bad-ass energy up a notch, the Blairs continue to provide menace like few alt. composers out there, putting their metal groove into unlikely hands while revealing a surprising sense of very dark, if sympathetic humor in the process with a score you can imagine taking place in a Twilight Zone biker bar. Adding to “World’s” eccentric shitkicker feeling are any number of oddball, ironic song choices, from Jason Newman’s Tiki Lounge vibe of “Go Away (To Paradise),” the country balladeering of Texas Shapphire’s beatific “Bring Out the Bible (We Ain’t Got a Prayer”) and Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Bring on the Dancing Horses” for good retro measure – all adding to a humorously unnerving experience that continues the Blair Brothers simmering theme that revenge is best left to the professionals.
. LADY JANE (1,000 edition)
Where many costume dramas are inapproachably adult, and stuffily regal when it comes to attracting a youthful audience, 1986’s unsung “Lady Jane” was a welcome, romantic difference in the true story of young royals thrust onto the throne during an insurrection against Queen Mary, only to fatally prove themselves anything but their elders’ puppets. It’s a likewise tragedy that this marvelously romantic score would be the only theatrical offering from Stephen Oliver, a composer well-versed in such Shakespearean TV adaptations as “The Winter’s Tale,” “Antony & Cleopatra” and “Othello” (among numerous operas) before his untimely passing at the age of 42. If there’s a Bard antecedent to “Lady Jane’s” star-crossed young lovers (played by Helena Bonham-Carter and Cary Elwes at the beginning of their oft-costumed careers), then it would be “Romeo and Juliet,” particularly in its swooningly romantic, Renaissance-era period score by Nino Rota. Sure the usual stalwarts of the off-with-their-heads genre were musically on hand here, with enough heraldic trumpets, regal Latin choruses and aristocratic drumming to fill any number of coronations. But where “Lady Jane” reigns supreme in its genre is in how Oliver bends the music of stuffed-shirt royalty into the growing love between two teenagers who are placed into a world beyond their imagination. Given a gorgeous theme that serves for orchestrally robust pomp and circumstance as well as budding romance, Oliver’s score seamlessly flows between the symphonic responsibility of the throne with the far more intimate guitar, flute and strings of a couple’s indifference growing into a bond they’d die for. There’s terrifically exciting suspense and alarm as well as the adult’s plans collapse in the face of the True Queen, a blending of the Baroque classical and contemporary that makes Oliver’s score especially vibrant, and even sadder when you hear the sound of what could have been. But at least this gorgeously majestic, and heartbreaking score, exceptionally well-performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, remains a hidden gem no more thanks to Quartet’s lavish two-CD release, seen under the auspices of Tadlow producer James Fitzpatrick and Film Score Monthly’s Lukas Kendall. With the first album devoted to the complete score, and the second a representation of the release that should have come out at the time had the movie not be ignonimously dispatched, “Lady Jane” finally assumes its rightful seat as one of the great scores about royalty that this distinctly English genre has ever produced, one all the more distinct for its youthful appeal for both a king, queen and composer who could have achieved greatness, but leave behind an impressive memory of their brief reigns.
. ODE TO BILLY JOE
Among movies based on country-fied hit songs like “The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia” and “Take This Job and Shove It,” one of the most unexpected cinematic treatments given to a Red State ballad came from 1976’s “Ode To Billy Joe.” With it’s folksy guitar and plunging string line, Bobbie Gentry spun the story in 1967 of how Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and how the narrator’s family tries to make sense of his suicide. It was fairly daring in the way that “Beverly Hillbillies” star-turned-director Max Baer Jr. revealed the reason as gay panic, putting a tragic spin onto the re-teaming of attractive young stars Robby Benson and Glynnis O’Connor from the previous big city bonding for “Jeremy.” With their love now significantly more tormented in “Ode’s” unaccepting, period setting of 1950’s Mississippi, there was no better composer to call in than Frenchman Michel Legrand. In a film scoring culture used to lushly playing tragedy, Legrand had a remarkably thematic talent for tearing romance asunder in such as scores as “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “The Happy Ending,” “Wuthering Heights” and his Oscar-winning “Summer of ’42.” As with many of his memorable orchestral works, Legrand’s “Ode” is mainly comprised of a melody equally capable of swooning affection and heart-rending doom, his string-laden emotions spinning from delicate strokes of the piano into a full orchestra. For even if the finally manic Billy Joe thinks that no one can understand the unspeakable urges his girlfriend can’t comprehend, leave it to Legrand to fully express them. It’s the kind of sweepingly tempestuous, symphonic music for young lovers that instantly grabs the heart, keyboard, flute, harp and strings aflutter with all of the unbridled emotion that comes from raging hormones that don’t go the way its doomed hero desperately hopes for. Gentry’s vibe becomes the stuff of Shakespearean lyricism in Legrand’s passionately melodic hands with a score that stands tall with his best dramatic work, which remains just as vibrant four decades later with Kritzerland’s sumptuous premiere CD release of the original LP, whose first side as such contains the Gentry classic and Legrand’s score, with the remaining soundtrack given over to the far more indigenous country pickin’, fiddlin’ and harmonica blowin’ source music that’s a contrasting hoedown to a kid born in the wrong place, and wrong time, even if that song never hinted at first to the reason for his jump into lush, symphonic and oh-so French waters of the Tallahatchie.
. PARIS CAN WAIT
Jet-setting Diane Lane drives about the French countryside with the business partner of her flighty husband Alec Baldwin (but when hasn’t he played one?) on this travelogue of food and wine where, thanks to the magic of the movies, no gains a pound. But as sheerly caloric musical fun goes, Laura Karpman’s score for Eleanor Coppola’s froth for the older set is an experience of imbibing in pure, hip delight. What’s better is that opposed to going for a dry, mature vintage of humor, Karpman knows how to soup this stuff up, while still incorporating everything we know and love about bubbly, French-accented scoring. Using a alternative beat to launch the gourmand road trip, Karpman brings on various courses of piano that play delicate romance and cafe jazz, while scratch-sampling such standards as “Je Te Veux,” “Que reste – il de nom amours” into musical molecular gastronomy. Fingersnaps, flute and strings unfold a picnic, while escargot is seasoned with reverbed female voices and a “Groovy Bistro” pops with accordion. While not taking a retro Michel Legrand approach as such, there’s a real freshness that recalls how dynamic those great, jazzily progressive French composers were at taking the classic sound of amour into a new groovy pop era, all without betraying their country’s swooningly affectionate tongue. As she accompanies a fellow American while absorbing all the pleasures of white privilege senses, Karpman provides an enchanting alt. road trip, at once lyrical and vibrant as her soundtrack flows with the rejuvenating effects of rhythm without losing sight, or hearing of what makes France so delightful, perhaps more than ever given her energetic sampling that puts a new spring in its heroine’s gentle step.
. PUPPET ON A CHAIN
One of Italy’s great practitioners of film scoring shagadelia with the likes of “The 10th Victim,” Piero Piccioni could bring a unhinged sense of abandon to his work when not doing more orchestrally serious scores. Perhaps its one reason that his songs have continued to be groovily heard in such Hollywood soundtracks as “The Big Lebowski,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.” If there’s a highlight of sexual psychedelia in Piccioni’s prolific repertoire, then it would arguably go to the sensually liberated fuzz guitar and organ orgies of “Camille 2000.” So give Piccioni an Alistair MacLean drug thriller set in Amsterdam with 1971’s “Puppet On A Chain,” and the gloriously lurid result is like sending the “Camille” groove straight to the S & M room of hellfire club to be ravaged by brass-knuckle horns. “Puppet” is a grungily groovy score very much in line with the new, hep cop thriller music that was hitting at the time, most iconically overseas that year with Lalo Schifrin’s “Dirty Harry.” But if that Argentinian composer brought a female vocal fuzz guitar elegance to even the likes of the Scorpio killer, Piccioni’s treatment of smack-dealing Amsterdam sleaze merchants and a ruthless assassin is the psychedelic equivalent of slap in the face, as delivered via rocky rhythms in tandem with an delirious orchestra (performed by the London Sinfonia no less) and pseudo-007 horns. You’d better believe these cue titles mean it – from an “LSD Party” with bongo Indian rhythms to a weirdly distorted “Drug Hypnosis” the gnarled strings of “Fear” and the monstrous lurching of “Obsession,” “Puppet’ is engineered for maximum acid-action brute force – as dancing with filthy horns, electric organs and fuzz guitars at their sleaziest. “Puppet” is Piccioni gone gloriously grindhouse in a way that will delight his fans’ baser instincts, along with admirers of groovy treats like “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” and “Barbarella.” Here, Piccioni’s sex kitten sound is a raging tiger, which is back on CD (and of course vinyl) thanks to this unexpected release from Silva Screen Records, awesomely straying a bit from the BBC respectability we’ve grown accustomed to. Let’s hope there’s more thrilling shagadelia to come from the label, especially when it comes to Piccioni.
. SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE / BAYWATCH (3,000 edition)
It seemed that animal-friendly, hip kids’ friendly composer Christopher Lennertz (“Hop,” “Cats and Dogs 2,” “Marmaduke”) was truly beyond redemption after using Disney-ready music to have an R-rated orchestral orgy in the animated supermarket food aisle of “Sausage Party,” But there’s hope yet that Lennertz can re-enter PG-rated grace as he helps those little blue devils find their kin with “Smurfs: The Lost Village.” Sure, seditious humor is now an ingrained part of even the most gentle children’s movie, which doesn’t mean that Lennertz takes his music any less seriously, or ambitiously for these Belgian-born icons in the first Sony movie completely set in a CG cartoon world. Lennertz paints such a symphonically wondrous blue color that you might think you’re listening to tale of “Avatar’s” planet of Pandora, especially given his use of tropical percussion and winds. He soaringly captures the spirit of great kid’s adventure-fantasy scores, if most definitely in funny terms, especially when using a sinister cimbalom to play the frustrated Smurf-obsessed wizard Gargamel and his exasperated cat. There’s a delightful rambunctiousness as the characters set off in pursuit of a great, neighboring mystery, given Lennertz’s terrific writing for any number of thrilling, comic chases that are as orchestrally lush, and pleasant to run through as the movie’s fantasy jungle. Where Lennertz has fun evoking superhero music as much as he does a Simpsons attitude via the Smurfs, what stands tall in his epic score for small people-things is just how nicely emotional it gets in pointing out Smurfette’s hope that she isn’t the last woman in town, in quite lovely fashion for Lennertz and Shaley Scott’s song “You Will Always Find Me in Your Heart.” There’s a real, exciting musical dimension a grown up score fan would never expect from a “Smurfs” movie, a fun sense of magic and wonder that Lennertz brings to his enchantingly shaded music.
Way more muscle-headed adult, and about as subtle as sunburn is Lennertz’s action spoof ‘roid rage score for “Baywatch.” Having accompanied director Seth Gordon for the raw jazz assault against “Horrible Bosses” and the Tex-Mex cons of “Identity Thief,” the duo now update the winkingly innocent David Hasselhoff show to hard-on R-rated raunch. Just as Elmer Bernstein took a straight-laced, symphonic approach to the disaster clichés of “Airplane,” Lennertz hits up “Baywatch” as if he was scoring a completely straight-laced Rock picture. Hence this is likely the most insanely serious score that never graced a Jerry Bruckheimer film. Hyper-electronic sampling that sounds like an od’ing rave concert mixes it up with brawny symphonic action, and very sad piano music for a hero’s tortured past. It’s everything old school score fans want off their lawn, but then that’s exactly the very humorous, sweaty point of just how well Lennertz thunderously apes multiplex action music. Way more suited to a “Fast and the Furious” score than jiggling babes, “Baywatch” is seditious, testosterone fun, exactly the kind of bombastic fireball music the Rock is usually running away from in slow motion – though it happens to be on a beach amidst exploding speedboats and a femme fatale going to hilarious firework pieces. But then given Lennertz’s own history with spoof scores like “Soul Plane,” “Meet the Spartans” and “Disaster Movie,” taking off the excess of todays’ action scoring with barely a smile is “Baywatch’s” most hilariously seditious act of all.
. THE YAKUZA (1,500 edition)
The beginning of a beautiful musical friendship was drenched with intoxicating fatalism, as director Sidney Pollack and composer David Grusin had the eerie stillness of east meet film noir west for 1974’s “The Yakuza.” Way more in the spirit of Sam Fuller’s “The Crimson Kimono” than Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon,” “The Yakuza” finds Robert Mitchum, the icon of still-life coolness, as a private dick back in Japan to rescue his war buddy’s kidnapped daughter from the country’s ancient, tatoo’d version of The Mob. As scripted by “Taxi Driver’s” Paul Schrader at the height of his nihilistic powers (along with his brother Leonard, then revised by “Chinatown’s” Robert Towne), “The Yakuza” was filled with lyrical sadness for all of its bloody samurai swordplay and Yank gun shooting – a stillness hauntingly met by Gaijin Grusin. But then, the musician had often distinguished himself as both a master of cool jazz and as a composer who’d grown from fun, swinging work on “Gidget,” “The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.” and “Divorce American Style” to far more somber, and dramatically complex work with “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” and “Adam at Six A.M.” He’d then show his adeptness with the criminally-themed “The Midnight Man” and the Mitchum-starring “Friends of Eddie Coyle.” But with “The Yakuza,” Grusin ventured into a whole new underworld. Where many composers couldn’t help by westernize scores set in foreign lands, Grusin reached an uncommon level of ethnic truth in his scoring, matching a level of instrumental authenticity that could easily have him mistaken for Toru Takemitsu (“Rising Sun”). Using the indigenous winds, chimes and percussion, much of “The Yakuza” is impressionistic, if not outright experimental. It’s haunted, shivering and conflicted tone, twisted brush strokes for the most part instead of an outright musical attack in keeping with the formal, poetic restraint of Schrader and Pollack’s approach before all bloody hell breaks loose, along with honorably severed fingers. Where Grusin captures the disorienting experience of a gumshoe lost in a culture’s most violent recesses, “The Yakuza” is still very much a traditional noir score, from its gorgeously drunken sax and a symphonically lush love theme to ominous, threatening strings of thugs in the shadows. But it’s Japan that’s ultimately in charge of this strikingly distinctive and somber work, whose tonal ideas Grusin and Pollack would return to America in jazzier form for the conspiratorial “Three Days of the Condor” and “The Firm” (along with far more upbeat soundtrack pairings like “Tootsie” and “The Electric Horseman”). Previously released on an out of print Film Score Monthly edition, “The Yakuza” returns to CD as part of Varese Sarabande’s We Hear You Series, featuring Grusin’s signature piano and sax touch, Japanese action star Ken Takakura singing a Japanese version of the title theme “Only the Wind,” as well as the addition of score piano demos. Jon Burlingame’s perceptive liner notes make this intoxicatingly dark trip to Japan worth taking again for one of Hollywood’s most uniquely made, and scored take downs of a foreign crime syndicate.
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