Soundtrack Picks: ‘CHARADE‘ IS ONE OF THE TOP SOUNDTRACKS TO OWN FOR JUNE 2012
Also worth picking up: BEREAVEMENT, BERNIE, COSMOPOLIS, GAME OF THRONES: SEASON 2, LE JUGE, MEN IN BLACK 3, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, WARNING SHOT and THE WICKER TREE
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN / ARSENIC AND OLD LACE
What is it?: Tribute Film Classics has done an admirable job of putting new luster into the golden age of Hollywood film scores, a truly lost time when epically brazen, note-filled music gloriously had no shame in highlighting every emotion, and action you were seeing on the screen in big, orchestrally lavish colors. These were love letters to the pure romance of the studio system, a wonderfully overblown style particularly practiced by such giants as Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner. They don’t make overpowering soundtracks like these anymore (sometimes to the movies’ detriment), which hasn’t stopped Tribute from sumptuously restoring, and re-performing such Korngold and Steiner gems as “The Prince and the Pauper” and “She.” But if there’s one score they’ve done that stands as the label’s ultimate crush object, then it’s their new release of Max Steiner’s “Adventures of Don Juan,” whose blazing performance by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra gives thrilling musical Viagra to Errol Flynn’s famed Latin lover.
Why you should buy it?: Steiner did his best to keep Flynn an ageless object of matinee desire through their 17 movies together, especially in such manly period pictures as “They Died With their Boots On” and “Charge of the Light Brigade” (also on Tribute). Sure Korngold got nearly all of the Aussie’s swashbucklers like “The Sea Hawk” and “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (and was supposed to do this one until Errol’s binges helped delay production), but damned if Steiner wasn’t going to try to out-duel his fellow Eastern European scoring rival at his own cliffhanging game. Even amidst Steiner’s own romantic pantheon of “Gone with the Wind” and “Casablanca,” “Don Juan” arguably stands as the composer’s most purely enjoyable work, especially given the gusto that Tribute’s put into his orchestral sword, and bedwork. Driven by an instantly memorable theme that’s attached at the heroic hip to the Don, Steiner unleashes a dazzling array of symphonic spills and thrills, breathless melodic energy that’s matched by a brass-winking sense of self-aware humor. But beyond its lilting violin seduction and rousing peril that’s resplendent of royal Spain, what truly sets these “Adventures” apart is how Steiner stages a good deal of the score like a dance, acrobatics and court intrigue played to the string and percussion rhythms of boleros and habaneras. One can see how the score worked so brilliantly when tailor-fitted years later to suit all of “Zorro The Gay Blade” and the climax of “The Goonies.” Now given his whole, unfettered work, “The Adventures of Don Juan bounds with a sense of daredevil joy, as always in Tribute’s case thanks to conductor William Stromberg, his Moscow symphony and producers Anna Bonn and John Morgan.
Extra Special: With “Don Juan” leaving space for another Steiner, Tribute’s chosen to further show the composer’s range by including his delightful black comedy score to 1944’s “Arsenic and Old Lace.” The song “Here Comes the Bride” (or Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” as it’s more properly called) certainly gets a workout as Cary Grant has a killer wedding day on Halloween night, courtesy of two murderously crazed aunts who are determined to make a man’s happiest day anything but. Far more screwball than the composer’s more romantic work for Grant’s “Bringing Up Baby,” Steiner uses deliberately saccharine bells and gossamer orchestrations as a way to unleash his orchestra’s poison pills, lurching brass and alarmed strings that further slam in the hellzapoppin,’ though not-so-menacing jolts with quotations from “There’s No Place Like Home,” Chopin’s Funeral March, and even “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” It’s like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, as scored for a comedy of terrors. Tribute tops one of their best releases with trailer music from both films, with even Steiner’s coming attraction music for “House of Wax” to boot (a movie he teased without ending up scoring). While both CD’s could have been put into a smaller jewel case, Tribute makes their’s bigger to include a wonderfully designed mini-booklet, chock full of enough production stills and Hollywood tidbits to delight fans of the days when movies were movies, and scores weren’t afraid to treat them as such.
What is it?: Having assembled such varied soundtrack compilations as “Dazed and Confused” and “Before Sunrise,” Richard Linklater slices another winning piece of musical eccentricity. In “Bernie”’s true-crime case, it’s from the big plate of his Texan soil, carving out a slice of home-fried country as opposed to the city “Slacker” indie rock section.
Why you should buy it?: Jack Black has a new Tenacious D. album out. And if his diehard fans enjoy the singer’s hell-blazing approach to the ways of metal, they might even be more intrigued with Black’s subversively holy stylings as an effete funeral home manager with both a heart, and throat of gold. Indeed, his renditions of “Love Lifted Me” and “He Touched Me” are lovely enough to cause a conversion, while subtly getting across the personal, quavering quality of a man trying to do the Christian thing out of an ungodly act. Black’s range further impresses with a heartfelt “Beautiful Dreamer,” and the jolly gusto of “Seventy-Six Trombones.” While not a Jack Black album per say, “Bernie” makes a convincing case that he could continue his singing vocation in a church choir, or on the Broadway musical stage, should he hang up his Tenacious rock guitar.
Extra special: After creating the truly bizarre sci-fi electronics for Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly,” Austin composer Graham Reynolds gets to play far funnier stuff here, from rampaging over-the-top murder music to Bernie’s regretful fiddle and violin, along with an ironically whimsical take on “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Reynolds creates an arch, but regretful character for Bernie beyond his jovial front. Further Texan atmosphere is added by the C&W stylings of Dale Watson’s “Whatever Happened To Sam” and Miss Leslie’s “I Can Get Over You,” with James Baker’s “Bernie What Have You Done” turning the true-life crime tale into an exasperated guitar country blues ballad, one that nicely sums up the catchily subversive twang of “Bernie.”
What is it?: When ferreting out the track record of a composer as prolific as Henry Mancini, a bigger mystery than solving the identity of Carson Dyle would be figuring out just why so many of Mancini’s most popular “soundtracks” were cocktail hour-friendly collections of songs and jaunty instrumentals- not that there was anything wrong with that when it came to a composer so innately tuned to pop tastes. But Mancini’s talents were also so much more, especially when it came to his equally romantic sounds for suspense and drama. And though that’s increasingly being rectified with full releases of “Mommie Dearest,” “Wait Until Dark” and “The Molly Maguires,” there are still many Mancini’s begging for proper underscore releases, among them “The Great Race,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Two for the Road.” But my personal Mancini grail has got to be “Charade.” Stanley Donen’s deliriously fun1963 spy caper had it all when it came to giving Mancini a chance to strut his range, be it party-ready pop, brooding espionage and tender romance as Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant try to discover her ne’er do dead husband’s true colors. Now Dyle, and the real “Charade” are at last ready to step out into the spotlight as Intrada partners with Universal, expanding what was barely 30 pop-filled minutes into a thrilling (and still tune-heavy) 77 minute release of pure Mancini magic.
Why you should buy it?: Like the Grant’s “North by Northwest,” “Charade”’s clock and dagger shenanigans are driven by razor-sharp dialogue and star chemistry, a Hitchcockian sense of witty interplay that seems long-lost now (don’t even mention that Jonathan Demme remake). It’s this sly style that also fills Mancini’s approach for a score that’s as suspenseful as it is light on its feet, his always-smooth, brassy chops playing deceit and murder as a sometimes brooding, often syncopated, and always lush club gig in the key of controlled movie jazz. As dangerous as the trembling strings might get for Audrey, the key word is here is fun, with swooning horns, sardonic villainy, pokey flute snooping and beautifully fragile pianos never letting the listener forget the movie’s escapist intentions to thrill and romance. A master of instantly catchy title tunes, Mancini’s “Charade” melody is one for the spy-swing ages, topped with a fuzz guitar that often makes its motif playing like the Bond theme he never got to write (if Bond’s theme could also be so effortlessly transformed into a carousel’s calliope music). Exoticism is also a heavy flavor in “Charade,” with the composer not only hitting the Parisian setting with an accordion, but also expanding his swank world music with dulcimers that recall the espionage zither of “The Third Man,” along with a finger-snapping Latin beat that makes this score a slightly more relaxed cousin to Mancini’s “Touch of Evil.” Make no mistake that the usual easy Mancini listening suspects are very much front and center here too in swooning Samba rhythms, Calypso grooves and swinging Bistro source. But the difference is finally hearing the top-40 ready instrumentals (and always-gorgeous title song) in wonderful context with the more dangerous underscore, making the songs true partners in overall listening crime, as opposed to being the bad guys for fans desperate to hear the composer’s real score.
Extra Special: “Charade” trips the Parisian night fantastic with Intrada’s excellent sound, catchy retro packaging and entertainingly informative liner notes by Jeff Bond (who last did “Dearest”’s). Better yet, “Charade” hits from Intrada with “Hatari,” a Mancini CD that offers far more than just an elephant walk. They’re two titles that help announce a whole new golden age of the complete Mancini releases we’ve always longed for.
What Is It?: With nearly every David Cronenberg collaboration, Howard Shore stretches his imagination into unexpected dimensions of inner madness, from the cathode ray synth sadism of “Videodrome” to “Crash”’s grinding metal and the slow-boil orchestral murder that accompanied “A History of Violence.” In the process, Shore’s found some truly interesting collaborators, particularly as he induced Ornette Coleman’s jazz madness in “Naked Lunch.” But for all of the bizarrely visceral qualities that Shore’s Cronenberg scores have exhibited, they’ve also shown surprising beauty, most recently with the Wagnerian analysis of “Dangerous Method.” Now on their fourteenth ride together, Shore’s hypnotic strangeness finds perhaps his most striking bedfellows for the Canuck madman, as the composer joins the Canadian band Metric in the backseat of “Cosmopolis”’ stretch limo, all finding ample room to accompany a financial whiz kid’s ride to existential Manhattan hell.
Why You Should Buy It?: Most of Cronenberg’s films take place in some strange, surreal world that might somehow be our own if not for a couple of quirks. In “Cosmopolis”’ case, it’s envisioning a car ride to the barbershop as a dialogue-driven twilight zone for prostate exams, sex and shoot-outs. But it might as well be a neon-lit trance club for the electric groove that Shore and Metric give the bad trip. Having previously worked with the alt. band on songs for the far more normal vampiric affair of the “Twilight” entry “Eclipse,” the collaborators find equally sanguine trance rhythms for star Robert Pattison here, voices, electric guitars, moody beats and liquid melodies creating an environment of hallucinatory beauty. There’s a real intelligence to the rock-alt. material here that goes beyond many indie star-composer collaborations. And though Shore’s often a composer of heavy-duty orchestral material, what impresses about “Cosmopolis” is how ethereal Shore’s work is, poetically waving its fingers through the fog of the character’s mind-blown ennui without solidly settling on anything you could discern as a traditional theme. As such, “Cosmopolis”’ analog rhythms easily rank as Shore’s most accessible experimental score for Cronenberg, as well as his own boundary-stretching musical career. Consider this the far more pleasant version of “Crash”’s backseat rumble if you will.
Extra Special: Beyond hearing how well Metric’s sound can factor into a movie score, the band’s fans will certainly dig hearing their song “Long To Live” (joined by K’naan’s “Mecca”) on the “Cosmopolis soundtrack – with their perceptions of Metric’s abilities doubtlessly in an altered state by ride’s end.
5) THE WICKER TREE
What is it?: Nearly 40 years ago, composer Paul Giovanni and his folk group Magnet lured a rigidly Catholic cop to Summerisle, reaching into England’s Celtic-Druid past for fertility rites, bawdy rutting ballads and ancient instruments, all combining for a siren song that’s still the creepiest folk score in film history. Now, original “Wicker Man” writer-turned-director Robin Hardy finds two new lambs for the pagan slaughter in “The Wicker Tree,” sending his self-righteous Christians to the convert the old god worshipping villagers of a Scottish country town. Composer John Scott is there to great the visitors for this entertaining, sort-of-sequel, accompanied on a second disc by twisted tunesmith Keith Easdale. But as opposed to “The Wicker Man”’s more stripped-down musical style, Scott and Easdale ignite this gnarled wood in far more robust, toe-tapping fashion.
Why you should buy it?: Like original “Wicker” star Christopher Lee (who cameos here) John Scott has lost none of his snap in his winter solstice, proving himself better than ever at conjuring sweeping ghastliness. With a decades-long career that’s encompassed “A Study In Terror,” “Inseminoid,” “Doomwatch” and “Witchcraft,” Scott gets to practice his symphonic rites with terrific, youthful flair. But perhaps even more than his horror scores, “The Wicker Tree” owes its chilling power to Scott’s far more dramatically elegant countryside scores like “The Shooting Party” and “Greystoke.” Having fashioned his style after such bucolic English legends as Sir William Walton and Benjamin Britten, Scott’s rapturous celebration of strings and horns serve as the perfect, lush talismans to entice its true believers to the rolling, green charms of the countryside (with even country guitar thrown in for the American hicks). But the music grows ever-darker as the villagers’ true colors are revealed, violins and woodwinds doffing their pleasantries to give way to roaringly evil orchestra and a pounding, percussive dance, all trumpeting with a “Die Irae”’s-like power that’s a musical sucker punch. Yet Scott isn’t a completely heartless bastard as darkness triumphs, conveying both the anguish of the victims’ betrayal, and some small sliver of trembling hope at escape. When so many horror scores avoid bold themes like the plague, one of “The Wicker Tree”’s biggest pleasures is how Scott completely revels in immediately distinctive melodies and motifs, all entangled into the ironic musical roots that run through the “Tree”’s sonic earth, thirsting for the pulsing, musical blood of a devil’s dance to bring about the next harvest.
Extra Special: Songs play as integral a role to the “Tree” as the “Man,” and Keith Easdale’s numbers are arguably even more deceptively pleasing to the ear. Serving as a sort of pagan Greek chorus, these songs judiciously employ flute, fiddle, organ and guitar for maximum folksy effectiveness, ranging from spiritual hymns to lyrical folk songs, as well as more-than-suggestive lyrics for love in the orchard, or a trailer trash country park. It’s a combination of the pious and the profane that are often quite moving, especially as graced by the angelic voice of lead actress Brittania Nicol. Easdale’s tunes are no more powerful than when they’re the pied piper voices for the beliefs of both virgin and victimizer, leading them with absolute, spellbinding faith in what the other would label as sacrilege.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
After his bone-chilling score to “Malevolence,” triple-threat Steve Mena once again writes, directs and composes to even more disturbing effect for the prequel “Bereavement.” While his dark stylings are definitely not in the easy listening category, what separates this from the usual crash-bang sample stylings of the torture horror category is Mena’s unavoidable craft. Sure there are the expected jolts and rumbles that fill this killer’s abandoned meat packing plant, ready to hoist up a woman at a second’s notice. But it’s well-paced, truly nightmarish stuff, even if you’re desperately trying to find a way out after 76 angst-ridden minutes. Like auteurs that know how to balance relentlessness and relief, Mena often goes from pitch-blackness to moments of real lyricism, seeing the guitar and piano beauty in the film’s American heartland imagery. “Bereavement” also benefits from being especially well produced, its tense impact often playing like an endless “bug hunt” from “Aliens,” except in this case star Michael Biehn is on a human’s psycho’s trailer. The definition to a score you play with the lights up, “Bereavement” is impressive in its sheer relentlessness that still manages to let shafts of sunlight in.
. CHINA MOON (1,000 edition)
English composer George Fenton took his first shot at American style film noir with this 1994 thriller, which finds Ed Harris’ lovestruck flatfoot taking the heat for his femme fatale squeeze after she shoots her nasty husband dead. Of course the ensuing investigation is going to involve the usual suspects of the sultry sax and ominous strings, both of which Fenton gets across like an old pro at this sort of stuff. But what makes “China Moon” particularly interesting is Fenton’s subtle use of synth-pop wah-wah percussion to make the vibe then-contemporary, while employing haunting electric keyboards and string suspense that make this a cool relative to such Pino Donaggio scores as “Dressed To Kill” and “Blow Out.” There’s a heavy sense of intoxication floating about Fenton’s “Moon,” a cool mixture of the sensual pull that some poor sap has towards the black-haired vixen (played by “Revenge”’s Madeline Stowe no less) and the turbulent, gripping music that tells him he’s doing a very stupid thing. Fenton would next give his criminal sound a New Orleans tang for the hugely underrated “Heaven’s Prisoners,” whose soundtrack thankfully came out at the time of that picture’s release. But there’s nothing like the first taste of “Moon”’s poisoned honey, which makes Quartet’s release of Fenton’s gripping score a welcome release for a genre he’ll hopefully revisit after this notable, hard-broiled one-two punch.
. GAME OF THRONES: SEASON TWO
Probably the darkest, and grittiest sword and sort-of-sorcery tale to reach mass popularity, “Game of Thrones” goes beyond “Lord of the Rings” in appealing to those who prefer more mature bloody meat (and pounds of naked flesh) in their fantasy diets. While he’s been along for “Throne”’s seemingly never-ending quest for power since its first HBO season, Ramin Djawadi has really grown into the show’s grime and bad behavior with the adaptation of the second book, going for a far more “realistic” (as it were) take on the genre than the lighter tone he’d given to the “Clash of the Titans” redo. Essentially taking a world music approach as he quests across the show’s various kingdoms, Djawadi seamlessly unites the disparate lands and stories, chiefly abetted by a miasma of age-old instruments. His music hangs about forebodingly, creating a world where not much good will come to anyone for all of their dreams of glory. Though percussion rises for occasional bursts of battle music within, “Games” preference remains a little less action and a lot more talk. But it’s exactly this intelligently Machiavellian approach that makes the show spellbinding on all counts, with Djawadi’s work the equivalent of the sorrowful, poetic fog that simmers before the lethal betrayal that’s sure to come. It’s palpably haunting music that will surely continue to coalesce well for the composer, his despairing shades of grey doubtlessly becoming even more interesting in the characters’ relentless treks to sit on the iron throne.
. HEMINGWAY & GELHORN
Much of filmmaker Philip Kaufman’s best work has been in the historical arena with “The Right Stuff,” “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “Henry & June” and “Quills.” Nearly all have taken a heady, esoteric approach to their maverick protagonists, let alone in their eccentric musical choices for them. However, not since Bill Conti’s noble space march for “Stuff” have Kaufman’s true-life characters received this kind of straightforward, melodic passion like the tempestuous lovers of “Hemingway & Gelhorn.” But then, it’s doubtful Papa Doc would except anything less than Javier Navarette’s stirring, deeply romantic score that traces the raging bull author and his equally snappy journalist amour from the Spanish Civil War to World War II, with the main battleground being their relationship. At first recreating the anti-fascist songs and toreador-ing brass bands of pre-Franco Spain, Navarette’s guitar and string-driven music also captures the bold adrenalin of these action junkies as they gallop to observe conflict. The tender ecstasy of their debris-filled bedroom is captured with violin and guitar, with Latin flavors continuing on with them to Cuba with the Batista-ruled island’s jazzy, tropic numbers. But despite the hard partying, Navarrete’s “Hemingway” is at its most affecting while finding love theme intimacy for piano and orchestra, as well as the jolting brass and howling outrage in the true horrors of war. His “Hemingway and Gelhorn” not only gives a sense of time passing, but also a poignant, wind-swept sense of the years’ loss that cuts straight to the writers’ hearts.
. LE JUGE / LE TRANSFUGE (500 edition)
In dozens of scores, Luis Bacalov has hit every genre from sexploitation to romantic dramas and spaghetti westerns (so let’s just see if Quentin Tarantino will quote from his score to “Django”). With shades of Jerry Goldsmith’s gentleman rivalry with John Williams, Bacalov’s career has also been overshadowed in mass popularity by that of his friend Ennio Morricone- though unlike that maestro, Bacalov actually managed to take home an Oscar (even if it was for “Il Postino”). While there’s no denying that both composers often had overlapping styles, one could say there’s something a bit more conventionally peppy, and pop-ier about this Argentinian’s exceptional work, two fine French soundtrack examples of which are provided in Music Box’s combo release of “Le Juge” and “Le Transfuge.” First off is Bacalov’s crime-suspense score about a drug-busting magistrate, which comes across as droll spin on “The Untouchables” (if done three years before it). Player pianos hit atop a rhythmic orchestra, it’s slightly off-kilter attitude getting across the sly cat-and-mouse pursuit between judge and criminal. We also get a pleasant Samba song and sultry jazz numbers amidst the breathless sound of law suspense. But even with its jazzy beat, “Le Juge” also can’t help but have an out-of-time vibe with its use of the flute and harpsichord. That feeling is positively Baroque for the Cold War spy games of “Le Transfuge,” a properly sharp and icy sound for a French industrialist going behind the Berlin Wall. Yet the pace, and energy are anything but glacial for Bacalov’s equally witty and suspenseful score. He does a lot of pizzicato poking about, the music sometimes ticking like a time bomb with alarmed brass and furtive strings to hammer in a sense of danger. Like Morricone’s similar ventures into neo-classical territory, Bacalov knows how to ferret out a memorable theme and run with it to elegant, and somber effect, especially when a piano is playing it in the key of Bach. A winner on both counts, “Le Juge” and “Le Transfuge” supports Bacalov’s talents at crime and suspense.
. LILIES OF THE FIELD
In the early 1960’s, a new, notable kid on the feature-scoring block named Jerry Goldsmith was pioneering the sounds that would distinguish his career, among them Baroque terror (“Freud”), instrumental exotica (The Spiral Road”) and stirring militarism (“Seven Days in May”). But if you’re looking for the harmonica, banjo, fiddle and horn that became the stuff for “Patch of Blue” and “The Waltons,” let alone a whole bunch of westerns and the dark blowing of a psycho ventriloquist’s dummy, then look no further than the heart warming music for Sidney Potier and a bunch of nuns in 1963’s “Lilies of the Field.” One of the first hit Hollywood pictures to show we could all just get along, “Lilies” is full of richly rustic orchestral emotion and humor as Potier’s exasperated handyman finds himself buildings a church in the middle of the desert. It’s an affectingly thematic, homespun goodness that takes hoedown form as Potier (in the vocal form of Jester Hairston) belts out the rousing negro spiritual “Amen,” a life-of-Christ song so catchy that Goldsmith adapted it into the score’s thematic gospel. Sweet without being sentimental, Goldsmith hears the word of God, let alone de facto racial understanding in this lyrically beautiful, yet not overstated score. Perseverance takes this soulful, early classic to the mountain with much better sound than the previous Pendulum CD release, with the composer’s acolyte Jeff Bond once again singing Goldsmith’s praises in the liner notes.
. MEN IN BLACK 3
Who ya gonna call when it’s time to bust some illegal aliens? The answer of course for team Tommy and Will is Danny Elfman, who dons his dark sunglasses and suit to hit the trail with the Men in Black. That proves to be a real charm the third time out for this time-travelling entry that gives a huge, rejuvenating boost to the franchise after an unholy second film (not that Elfman’s music has ever been worse for the wear). Time travel’s the McGuffin that brings Agent J and K back to the 60’s to stop another alien plot to blast the Earth, a period that Elfman acknowledges with an acid rock electric guitar, while saluting the 1950’s retro bug-eyed monster premise with humorous use of the ooo-wee-ooo Theremin. But mostly, this score doesn’t fix what was never broken, relying once again on a great main theme to power through its frenetic action, along with the bongos of Will Smith’s unaging urban hipness. Elfman is at his best when handling satirical genre pics like this, “Hellboy 2” and “Dark Shadows,” bringing on the glee of a kid playing cowboy in a room full on creature suits, an energy which reaches new, delirious heights here while never letting us forget the planet’s in truly dramatic peril. At once bewaring its alien rogues gallery while luxuriating in the choral magic of the nicer E.T.’s, Elfman also manages some truly touching flute and guitar emotion in the ties that bind J and K through the decades, a nice shot of character feeling that makes “MIB3” human after all.
. PEOPLE LIKE US
After giving hope to Indian slum kids and a hiker wedged in a California canyon, A.R. Rahman ventures to new emotional territory to take on frayed family ties for “People Like Us.” Given the best film that Cameron Crowe didn’t make, Rahman handles writer-director Alex Kurtzman’s autobiographical tale of a brother trying to re-connect with his long-lost sister with real soulfulness. There’s a gentle quirkiness that often distinguishes these kinds of new age-y character dramas, particularly one that satirizes its life lessons with an audio self-help guide. With a meditative musical voice that accomplishes “People”s tearful goals without ever feeling forced, Rahman brings out a clan’s reconciliation through the whimsy of a harmonica, touching guitars and such unexpected instruments as rubbed glass, all while a piano and an angelic female voice help build towards a deeply felt epiphany. It’s a melodic mood as dream-like as it is tender, one that’s impressively up with “People” before ending on the high, soulful note of the Liz Phair song “Dotted Line.”
. THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE
James M. Cain’s 1934 tale of lust and murder is one of the classic noir stories, not to mention a cause celebre of then-explicit (if mostly fully clothed) movie sex when the Nicholson-Lang remake hit the kitchen table in 1981. But given the chance to go through the illicit bump and grind of sweltering saxes and jazzy orchestrations, the brilliant scoring iconoclast Michael Small took a lush, symphonically turbulent approach that one might have heard back when the first Turner-Garfield adaptation hit in 1946. There’s seething post-modern melodrama this “Postman” score that plays like classic Hollywood scoring as updated to iconoclastic sensibilities of the composer who gave us the impressionistic likes of “Marathon Man” and “The Driver.” Small’s music rarely offered the obvious, and here he plays the couple more like tragic lovers than cold-blooded husband killers, a sympathetically dark approach that sets this “Postman” up as a unique, and tremendously powerful noir score upon Intrada’s premiere release 31 years after the fact. Yet “Postman”‘s inherent, screwed-up romance also allows it to be more thematic than many of Small’s works in the thriller genre he excelled at, even if you sometimes have to dig through the waitress uniform for it. You’ll also find a subtle sense of Americana to represent the kind of Depression-era pit stop of the crime scene. Intrada’s terrific-sounding release also includes numerous alternates from the album that never happened (along with a bit of ironic opera), all adding to the riveting impact of this Small masterwork that fans will want to dive into.
. SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
James Newton Howard’s began his grrrl power trip this year with “The Hunger Games,” where he plied a rustic approach to what could have been a gigantic orchestral sci-fi action score, a la the composer’s “Waterworld.” Now given fairy tale fantasy for this dark updating of “Snow White,” Howard takes another enchanted forest road less travelled. But in place of country stylings, Howard uses an unstrung violin and creeping string gestures to suggest both the man-wounded psyche that makes for the mother of all Evil Queens, while hearing the instrument’s quivering soul to capture an uncertain princess taking true stock of herself as spectral enchantment flits about her. That she rides out armored on a horse to Howard’s full-gallop percussion and nobly rousing orchestra (complete with choral hosannahs) is a certainly a given. But while the music might have gradually transformed her into Snow Knight, it’s Howard who’s certainly Sir Galahad when it comes to the forefront of the thematic charge for film scoring blood and thunder. And “Huntsman” is right there with the best of his rousingly heroic, and emotionally moving genre works like “Lady in the Water” and “The Last Airbender,” right down to its stirring coronation, the jewel in this soundtrack’s crown the thrummingly good song “Breath of Life” by Florence- The Machine.
. THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER
Of the five zillion movies that Albert Pyun directed, his first time out of the gate thirty years ago with “The Sword and the Sorcerer” remains the “best” in every respect, as it was the only one to have had something resembling a proper budget- especially when it came to paying for a fully orchestral score. Running with the opportunity to give its hero Talon’s triple-blades their full, jet-spring power was Englishman David Whitaker. As the composer behind two of Hammer’s best movies (and scores) with “Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde” and “Vampire Circus,” Whitaker was well suited to give the visceral “Sword” a palpably horrific atmosphere, as mixed into a cauldron with dark military marches and cliffhanging adventure. “Sorcerer” slowly bubbles along until its muscular, Medieval-style music swings in with Korngoldian relish. While it might lose in a death match to the likes of “Conan,” Whitaker’s well-constructed music captures the kind of innocence that made orchestral 80’s scores of this type so charming, even if The Graunke Symphony Orchestra barely seems to be able to play it at times. Thankfully, Whitaker’s deserving work has been cleaned up for the score’s anniversary release on Buysoundtrax, with Randall Larson’s liner notes paying proper reverence, complete with quotes from Whitaker himself. Even though the composer sadly passed away earlier this year, his energetic talent will live on through “Sword”’s musical cult fandom.
. WARNING SHOT
Before Jerry Goldsmith prowled the crime-ridden streets of 1937 “Chinatown” and 1950’s “L.A. Confidential” with far more romantic noir intent, he got in his “Warning Shot” at the LA detective genre with a hep flavor- circa 1967. But while it might be David Janssen doing the shooting, the man most Goldsmith fans will realize as being behind the trigger is Derek Flint. For that Bond-styled agent’s Shagadellic, ladykilling attitude which Goldsmith unleashed for “Our Man Flint” and “In Like Flint” is what most entertainingly informs “Warning Shot”’s score, a dangerous lounge vibe of electric organ, fuzz guitar, swaggering strings and crime jazz brass that makes this such an intoxicating Goldsmith cocktail. Yet “Shot” is far from the range of the “Flint” flicks’ absurdity, as the desperation of a cop to clear his name infuses the music with suspensefully potent drama as well. But you wouldn’t have known the power of “Shot”’s actual score until this month, as its only release beforehand was the swinging (and mouthful title) of its compilation album called “Svi Zentner Plays Music from the Original Motion Picture Score of “Warning Shot” And Other Themes Composed by Jerry Goldsmith.” While it was a natural for the big band leader to transform some “Shot” numbers into ultra 60’s swing, having Vegas-ready takes on such unlikely Goldsmith motifs from “Von Ryan’s Express,” “The Prize” and “A Patch of Blue” gives a fun look at what used to stand for many soundtrack releases back in the Mad Men day. Thankfully, La La Land offers up both the original “Warning” score and Zentner’s fun concept album for maximum wet bar effectiveness to put the cuffs on kittens with claws.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these .com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes, Moviemusic, Moveiscoremedia, Perseverance, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande