March Soundtrack Picks

Soundtrack Picks: ‘STOKER‘ IS THE TOP PICK FOR MARCH 2013


To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover



Price: $29.98

What is it?: Brian De Palma was lucky enough to get the real Herrmann deal to participate in his cinematically brilliant games of Hitchcock fetishism for “Sisters” and “Obsession.” And just as James Stewart mooned over Kim Novak’s doppelganger, De Palma has since spent a good part of his thriller-centric career getting just about every composer since Bernard’s passing to dress up in his musical clothing, which has provided a pretty good fit for such men as Pino Donaggio (“Dressed To Kill”) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (“Femme Fatale”). But perhaps that dramatically macabre sound has never been tailored better than to John Williams, an artist who knew Herrmann, and provided the “Family Plot” swan song for Hitch himself. Given that pedigree, it’s almost as Herrmann himself had still been alive to score 1978s “The Fury” as intended, his trademarked style given the equally distinctive, and melodically lush quality of the guy who did “Star Wars” in 1977. Before the next decade in which he’d make the hysperspace jump into sci-fi and fantasy spectacles, Williams got to show his more horrific teeth with two “Jaws” pictures and “Dracula,” but perhaps never more explosively than in helping take De Palma’s love for telekinetic destruction to the next level.

Why you should buy it?:
While Donaggio had done a remarkable job in conveying a girl’s broken heart along with her mental rage in his breakthrough U.S. score for De Palma’s “Carrie,” it’s understandable that the filmmaker would turn to the epic abilities of Williams for this budgetary leap in the wake of that film’s success. Even with “Carrie’s” bucket of pig’s blood, “The Fury” was a far more gory and nihilistic film, taking equal inspiration from the era’s pessimistic government conspiracy thrillers, as well as the possibility of makeup and special effects to make revenge-minded teenagers all the more formidable. Williams fills that canvas with the brooding, booming sound of Herrmann, not only capturing the over-the-top dark orchestral romance of the composer’s classic work, but also employing the giddily goofy electronic sound that possessed his latter exploitation years. “The Fury” is also an exemplar of Williams’ near-supernatural thematic ability, from the central, vengeance-filled melody to his breathlessly suspenseful builds. Indeed, “Gillian’s Escape” still remains one of Williams’ best compositions as it matches De Palma’s brilliant editing and slow motion, turning the exhilarating joy of its TK teen’s flight into horrifying tragedy. It’s a sadness that makes “The Fury” food for thought by using emotion as its central, suspenseful force- though the out-of-control calliope of “Death on the Carousel” and the shrieking, Cassavettes-splattering electronic shrieks of “Gillian’s Power” show that Williams had a hilariously sadistic sense of humor to match De Palma’s.

Extra Special: Coinciding with Twlight Time’s blu-ray release of “The Fury” (available HERE, La La Land Records has taken advantage of the collector label’s practice of using music-only audio tracks as a way to put out this definitive “Fury,” edition, which had last been on a long out-of-print Varese Sarabande Club release. It’s hard to imagine anyone bettering this two-CD album, which offers beautifully remastered versions of Williams’ original tracks, as well as the re-performed and re-sequenced. album that was presented at the time of the film’s release. Add some fun pop-jazz-disco pieces that Williams wrote for secret agent Kirk Douglas gallivanting around Chicago’s E-train, and you’ve got a “Fury” that’s all the rage for a genre that Williams essentially left behind, as well as a wonderful valentine to pure Herrmann-Hitchcockian pastiche that puts Williams in very good company with the master of suspense’s ultimate love slave.


Price: $9.99

What is it?:
Make no mistake that composer-editor John Ottman can adventurously lighten up when in the sole musical seat to provide dynamically fun work on “Astro Boy” and two “Fantastic Four” flicks. Yet when he teams up with director Bryan Singer, the results usually skew towards the dark side, from the outrightly oppressive “Valkyrie” and “Apt Pupil” to the brooding super-heroics of “X-Men United” and “Superman Returns.” So it’s a pleasant surprise that the duo have chosen an entertainingly inconsequential project like “Jack the Giant Slayer” to finally sit back and have some fluffy, creative popcorn with. Yet ironically, “Jack” impressively proves itself as one of Ottman’s weightiest-lightweight scores, his gargantuan music conveying all the fury of a towering creature racing behind you with cannibalistic intentions. But then, what great fairy tale score would be complete without more than a bit of fright, especially when it comes to one involving ugly bone-gnashing behemoths?

Why should you buy it?:
“Jack” is huge in every sense of the musical word, as a spectacularly recorded orchestra plays one danger-filled crescendo after another. Nerve-grinding percussion bangs out enough primal power for a horde of troglodyte warriors, while glorious choral hosannahs make the cosmic sacrifice that Ottman provided for the Phoenix in “X2” seem like a spark. But while it possesses enough sound and fury to crush the wee ones into their chairs, what the gloriously uninhibited music of “Jack and the Giant Slayer” has going for it above all is a terrific, overpowering sense of melody that never loses its human footing on its way up the beanstalk. Given a great theme that ranges from the sweeping heights of heroism to sweet romantic vulnerability, Ottman always keeps emotional sight of the plucky lad, even as he’s visually dwarfed by the fantastical surroundings. It’s been a while since a fantasy score had this kind of orchestral bravado, a rampage of blasting melody that gives the image of Ottman breaking his chains and rushing forward to provide havoc with an equally powerful melodic heart.

Extra Special:
“Jack the Giant Slayer” has allowed Ottman’s musical abilities to rise to new epic heights while remaining no slouch in the cutting chair. And there’s even a fun little bit of “Fe Fi Fo Fum” to boot as a giant sings of his desire for a Jack snack, a minor variation on the carnivorously dark sense of humor that Ottman’s score revels in.


Price: $19.99

What is it?: Long before fairy tale movies were in vogue, Danny Elfman was applying equal parts enchantment and foreboding to such fractured Tim Burton fantasies as “Edward Scissorhands,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Big Fish.” So it’s no surprise that a filmmaker prone to dark, deceptively kid-friendly adventures would start the recent trend off with “Alice In Wonderland,” even if it was a film that pretty much went down the rabbit hole. However, Elfman’s strikingly themed score stayed above the helter-skelter effects fray with its clever plays on English propriety. Now, Elfman’s music truly gets to fly in the genre for Sam Raimi’s prequel voyage to “Oz,” one that thankful reunites the composer and his “Spider-Man” director. It’s a tall tale that pays off far better on the filmmaking count, while inspiring Elfman to reach further heights of rambunctious storybook enchantment that proves his music was never in Kansas to begin with.

Why you should buy it?:
While not quite as sing-song memorable as “Alice’s” theme, Elfman has got another winning melody in the purposefully blustering motif for a con-man “wizard” who ultimately finds the magic within himself. There’s even more than a bit of original “Oz” composer Herbert Stothart’s wonder as Elfman transitions from music box bells to romping circus music for organ and chorus before the glorious orchestral statement of his “Oz” theme emerges in the “Main Titles.” It’s wondrous stuff that sets very high expectations of the trip to Emerald City to come, a journey that Elfman makes very enjoyable indeed with all the fantasy score pre-requisites of siren-voices, rapturous strings and villainous percussion. But this is a composer who’s gotten his name by rarely playing it straight. And while there are moments of beautiful calmness that sink in the “Avatar”-worthy painted environment, from waltzes to a heartbreakingly touching bell theme for a China Doll, “Oz” more often than not has an antic, exciting energy that’s more like a kid ripping through the pages of a storybook than pleasantly thumbing at it. There’s fun pomp and circumstance for the con man anti-hero, even as Elfman steadily humanizes the vulnerability within him. He also uses a violin to bring out the pathos of a witch who wasn’t so wicked once upon a time, even as her music shrieks with some of the most fiendish delight that Elfman’s had since “Darkman” and “The Frighteners.”

Extra Special:
Disney’s made it a point to not go anywhere near the starstuff of the one and only “Oz,” so don’t expect any attempts at another “Over the Rainbow,” let alone Elfman bringing a Boingo style rock beat to “We’re Off To See the Wizard.” But given Raimi’s screwball humor, the one tune offered is a joke to what we won’t get in “The Munchkin Welcome Song.” A way-too jolly marching band introduces its goofily catchy verses (done a couple of octaves lower than Elfman’s one-man Munchkin band for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) before the amiable little people are cut-off at “Yo Ho,” perhaps the most thankfully stopped ballad since a prince tried to warble a ballad in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”


Price: $13.99

What is it? With his creepily rhythmic fusion of orchestra, rock and electronics, Clint Mansell had been a go-to guy when it comes to capturing a building sense of psychosis, whether it’s cutting-edge synth mad science in “Pi” and “Moon,” Middle Eastern music possessing a serial killer artist in “Suspect Zero,” or the cool strings for the teen thrill killers in “Murder By Numbers.” But it was Mansell’s ever-more insane twisting of Tchaikovsky for a “Black Swan” ballerina that really made him a go-to guy for women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. For “Stoker,” Mansell applies a slightly more groovy classical sensibility for another hopelessly repressed heroine for even more diabolical enjoyment

Why should you buy it?:
With “Oldboy” director Chan-wook Park constructing “Stoker” for the height of archly antiseptic stylism, Mansell’s score has a foreboding, fairy tale sound to it. Ghostly girl voices, creeped-out strings, and enough tubular bells to suit another “Exorcist” weave a neo-Gothic spell about “Stoker,” music that’s at once sympathetic with the anti-social problems of its ersatz Wednesday Addams, but also full of maliciously subtle black humor. And while Mansell plays about with stormy horror score stuff, it’s all part of a knowingly cruel joke that drives its heroine mad. Few composers can play rhythmic alt. escalation like Mansell, and possessed with a memorable theme, the composer engages in any number of rocking builds that will be manna from heaven for anyone who enjoyed “Requiem for A Dream” or “The Fountain.” But if there’s a standout instrument in “Stoker,” then it’s a virtuoso piano, its tunes authored by minimalist master Philip Glass for “Stoker’s” memorable cues “Duet” that’s more like a duel as India is joined at the keyboards by her uncle, two themes seamlessly interplaying with their own shades of cool psychosis.

Extra Special:
“Stoker’s” song selections also brim with clever irony, among them Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s western jazz swing for “Summer Wine” and Viorica Cortez’s aria from Verdi’s “Il Trovatore,” as something bad always happens in mansion-filled movies of this sort when opera is playing. But “Stoker’s” determinedly modern tune is Emily Wells dreamy trip-hop beat as she gives voice to India’s inner thoughts for “Becomes the Color,” the song’s beat collapsing on itself with a bunch of weirdo effects.


Price: $12.98

What Is It?: Credit longtime Elmer Bernstein fan (and family friend) John Landis as the guy who thought the composer’s important orchestral style could be applied to hilarious ends by being played straight in “Animal House.” It was a film that made Bernstein an inadvertent king of comedy by unwinkingly using his old-school sound for the likes of “Airplane!” “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters.” So it was natural that Landis would call on Bernstein to inadvertently spoof the Oscar-nominated western sound of “True Grit” and “The Magnificent Seven” for three not-so magnificent silent movie stars fooled into becoming real heroes in 1986’s “Three Amigos!”

Why You Should Buy It?:
Bernstein’s Latin-accented guitar and swooning romantic string rhythms are the perfect music-only accompaniment for Tom Mix riding the Mexican Mariachi range. Except in this talkie, it does its best to make the haplessly swaggering team of Lucky Day, Dusty Bottoms and Ned Nederlander seem remotely capable of taking on the villainous El Guapo. Brazenly thematic in a way that almost seems ancient now, it’s no laughing matter that Bernstein’s rousingly heroic score stands not only as one of his best western works, but a soundtrack that won over a whole new generation of fans with this, eminently watchable, and quotable movie. Going from scenic canter to furious percussive gallop to rally against south-of-the-Hollywood border villainy, “Three Amigos!” also manages to capture the sweet, ultimately noble heart of these bumbling actors that’s no small measure to this film’s cult appeal. As a simultaneous spoof and valentine to westerns’ golden era, “Three Amigos!” was smart to incorporate numerous song salutes to the genre of “singing cowboys,” created by none other than Randy Newman. While that legendary songwriter might be hilariously garbled as the singing bush, stars Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short acquit themselves more than honorably with the ballads “My Little Buttercup” and the truly beautiful guitar serenade of “Blue Shadows On the Trail,” even when accompanied by a “bum-bum-bum-bum” horse chorus.

Extra Special:
“Three Amigos!” stands as just about a perfectly sequenced album between songs, score and choice dialogue cuts when it first came out on Warner Bros. LP. But it’s never sounded better than on Perseverance’s remastered CD that gives these buddies even more salutary oomph.



Those expecting this prequel score to repeat the 60s pop Latin swing of Burt Bacharach will be in for a delightfully rude Irish awakening when listening to this iconoclastic gem of 70s western scoring, courtesy of the unsung Patrick Willliams, whom Kritzerland last paid tribute to with heir release of “Cuba.” Not only does “Butch” impress with its pennywhistle, harmonica and spoon percussion, but even more so by using a forlorn tuba, chirpy flutes and a harpsichord to give “Cassidy” more the feel of a comedy about mismatched band mates in Victorian England as opposed to an Old West buddy desperado film. Yet that kind of absurdist tone is right on target with director Richard Lester’s approach in showing two legends’ somewhat bumbling beginnings. But Williams is also able to get serious with rousing Big Country orchestral swells, ornery brass and feverish strings. Satire and straight musical shooting rousingly team up for a “The Really Big Tran Robbery,” a heist where Butch and Sundance show their outlaw star quality with locomotive-like rhythms, sweeping Irish charm and cartoon pratfalls, all making for a dazzlingly fun showpiece of musical ingenuity. One of the truly fun and surprising retro releases of the year so far, Kritzerland’s “Early Days” also offers even more Gaelic flavor with slapping spoon and mouth harp as it complements the original score with the movie’s “original” score, creating an album full of charmed Irish raindrops falling on one’s ears.


Jerry Goldsmith was arguably the greatest composer to hit Hollywood. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t capable of producing delightful cheese as much as he was a true masterworks. Case in point is his score for 1992’s “Gladiator,” an inner city boxing melodrama long forgotten in the wake of the Russell Crowe picture whose stakes were life and death. In this case, it was a TKO for Goldsmith when “Roadhouse” director Rowdy Herrington kicked his score to the curb in favor of Brad Fiedel, a composer whose electronic abilities were likely more “with it” than the veteran musical fighter. Yet Goldsmith’s now-dated synths remain far more fun to listen to than much of the state-of-the-art electronic percussion we hear today, especially thanks to their spacey washes of melody, as evidenced in his used score to “Criminal Law,” and similarly kiboshed work on “Alien Nation.” Perhaps it’s no surprise that the piano-based theme of “Nation’s” score also shows up here before finally finding a jazzier home in “Russia House.” But while there are more than enough disco-ish pleasures to be found in “Gladiator,” what truly elevates this score into the “Why dump it?” zone is just how dynamically the orchestra is incorporated into the score, with strings and brass jumping into the ring with punch-happy pleasure. Goldsmith had a brassy, ballsy way with heroically bouncing sports melodies a la “Hoosiers.” And it’s hard not to envision Rambo breakdancing with a bazooka in hand when listening to the propulsive enthusiasm that Goldsmith gives to the material. “Gladiator” also legitimately stands out for its use of inner city, ethnic rhythms, gorgeously melancholy string melody and hep crime funk-jazz flavors, let alone the kind of sports movie nobility that filled the far more celebrated likes of “Rudy.” While “Gladiator” might not have the fighting weight of Intrada’s release of Goldsmith’s unheard, unused masterwork for “Two Days in the Valley,” “Gladiator” is an infectiously fun bottle cap that’s worth getting for anyone in Goldsmith’s corner.


Though he’s relatively young, it seems that composer Jeff Beal has been at TV series like “Family Law,” “Rome,” “Ugly Betty” and “Monk” with the entrenched dependability of a continuously elected senator. If that’s an apt metaphor, then it’s no wonder that “House of Cards” just might end up being Beal’s biggest hit in the medium- even if the “network” it’s on happens to be Netflix. You might also find it hard to believe that the English came up with the idea first for such a distinctly American show about a devious politician out to step up the broken ladder to presidential power by hook and crook. Just like a bribe or favor one can’t refuse, Beal’s thoroughly entrancing scoring is about smooth, slick backroom manipulation. Far more a devilish TV noir whisper than in-your-face than musical strong-arming, Beal uses beautifully melodic, yet subtle string movements, piano, dulcimer and jazz beats in his smartly chosen ensemble, along with more hallucinatory and propulsive samples to capture its antihero’s seductive, snake-like charms on his rise to the top. But in the end, the emotions to be gleaned are the sadness of how screwed our system is. Most people have watched “House of Cards” in filibuster marathons, so listening to Varese Sarabande’s two-CD collection will prove to be a positive breeze as it shows just how thematically integral each cue is to Beal’s haunting trip through the corrupt corridors of power.


The swinging funk sound of “Superbad” proved to be the hat trick that’s propelled Lyle Workman into the self-styled comedy score Vegas populated by such other hot acts as Christophe Beck, Christopher Lennertz and Theodore Shapiro. All share a talent for combining today’s retro-pop grooves with the kind of orchestral magic appreciated by the David Copperfield generation. Like the best shows, Workman energetically swings from one style to the next with a constant sense of musical surprise. Brazen Latin rhythms do a reveal to Swingles Singers kitsch, while the screaming rock guitar of a mind rape street musician does battle with the oh-so rousing strings of our pompous magician. Workman also shows his ability to replicate the goofball new age music that fill so many Sin City spectacles, complete with babbling ethnic vocalese, heavenly choruses and out-of-control rock stupendousness. But if there’s a reason that “Burt Wonderstone” is incredible, then it’s for the movie’s astute mix of lewd-crude comedy with heartfelt emotion and the joy of magic, a thematic earnestness that Workman nails with romantically upbeat orchestral-guitar melodies, sad sack harmonicas and gentle strings. Surprisingly cohesive and always enjoyable by the end of its entertaining soundtrack, Lyle Workman shows he’s more than got the stuff to remain a new top act in comedy scoring Caesar’s Palace with “Burt Wonderstone.”

. NAPOLEON AND EUROPE (500 edition)

Just before he’d briefly invade Hollywood with his spectacularly ominous score for 1992’s “Dracula,” esteemed Polish composer Wojciech Kilar would wave the colors for France’s self-appointed Emperor for this Gallic television series. Those American fans used to the elegant, brooding quality of Kilar’s work on “Death and the Maiden” and “We Own the Night” might be pleasantly surprised by the sometimes joyful quality of his main theme as it revels in triumphant orchestral splendor, sprightly marches and even a bit of Baroque harpsichord comedy, all setting the stage for a little man’s sense of greatness, and the world-conquering coronation that thankfully never arrived. Few musicians have blurred the line between serious-minded classical composition and film soundtracks like Kilar, and those impossibly rich harmonic trademarks are also well on hand here, especially in a delicate, romantic theme that would soon develop into the attraction between Mina Harker and the Prince of Darkness. Both uplifting and elegiac as the drum rolls of defeat become apparent, “Napoleon and Europe” is a minor masterwork in Kilar’s cannon. However, it’s hard to believe any score was arrived at upon reading the liner notes by director Pierre Lary, who describes a botched meeting at Kilar’s industrial war zone residence in Poland as even more terrifying than a carriage ride to Castle Dracula.

. RIDDLE (1,000 edition)

Having gone from the anime world of “Robotech” to consistently produce impressive orchestral scores for such smaller genre films as “Hack!,” The Gene Generation” and “Lo,” Scott Glasgow goes down a Herrmann-esque road to solve the “Riddle” of a Pennsylvania town, wherein a woman’s search for her missing brother will of course unlock dark secrets that once A-list actors would rather stay buried. But if it’s a job for any indie-centric composer to make their projects seem bigger, Glasgow again shows that he’s capable of taking on far bigger thrillers with his talent for intriguing melody. With the Bratislava players giving an impressive Hollywood polish to their exceptionally well-performed string sound, Glasgow captures a brooding, hypnotic tension for his sleek suspenseful work. Impressively sinister themes gradually unwrap the darker forces at play, with child-like bells and achingly beautiful solos for the violin and piano doing much to convey a feminine sense of jeopardy. “Riddle” also benefits from its always-eerie build for alternately soft and rhythmic strings, keeping the melodic shivers on high until all hell must of course break loose for the payoff. In the end, there’s no mystery as to why Varese Sarabande has given “Riddle” entry into its limited edition hall of fame as a worthy spotlight for Glasgow’s menacing talents.


When many busy, burly action stars are content to make the same mediocre film over and over again, props should go to The Rock for doing something different with his action vehicles, interesting choices that have resulted in such atypical genre scores with a range that’s gone from Harry Gregson-Williams’ wacky Rain Forest score for “The Rundown” to Clint Mansell’s angered rock in “Faster.” But what makes “Snitch’s” score so interesting is that it doesn’t feel like an “action” score at all, but rather an anguished drama, with an electric violin becoming a tortuously drawn lament. That’s particularly appropriate for one of Johnson’s best-performed characters, that of an absentee truck-driving dad who risks life and limb setting up for the narco trade to help his imprisoned son. Composer Antonio Pinto certainly knows something about the wages of the drug war. Having received Hollywood’s notice with the score to “City of God,” Pinto gives a true soulfulness to “Snitch’s” suspense, helping the pained emotions with poetic strings, and the dangerous momentum with bubbling percussion, dark rock chords and eerie Latin-inflected samples. All make “Snitch” play like a modern noir western that packs an entrancing sense of doom. But just when you might think that “Snitch” might be all foreboding build-up, Pinto unleashes a “Truck Fight” that’s all about grindingly metallic strings, reversed samples, a shamanic voice and screeching hits. It’s one of the most unusual action cues to be heard in a pump-shotgun film, but then “Snitch” is all about the more interesting, mostly subtle musical roads usually not taken, especially with what The Rock is now cooking up.


Once the composer of full-blooded orchestral epics like “Red Dawn,” “Starship Troopers” and “Lonesome Dove,” Basil Poledouris would be among a number of similarly talented, and unabashedly melodic orchestra-heavy composers whose careers went south for no other good reason other than the vagaries of Hollywood demand. It took a Chinese co-production to give Poledouris his last major work with this Michelle Yeoh martial arts adventure. But with this 20 million dollar, 2002 movie still unreleased on video in the United States (at least until the advent of YouTube), and its score album only available on a hard-to-find and exorbitantly priced import CD, “The Touch” has seemed to be the stuff of legend. Thankfully just about ten years later, Buysoundtrax does justice to Poledouris’ always powerful “Touch” this terrific release on our shores. After his studio career began with “Big Wednesday,” Poledouris would go on to not only master the sound of a robust Western symphony, but also combine it with a world of ethnic rhythms and instruments on such scores as “Conan the Barbarian,” “The Jungle Book” and “Farewell To the King.” While that Kipling-esque WW2 adventure took place in Borneo, “The Touch” centered around Yeoh’s acrobatic female treasure hunter, a roguish accomplish and a brother-sister team of circus performers, all after an ancient Buddhist prize. As foretold by its title, “The Touch” wasn’t about Poledouris accompanying manly heroes wielding stockpiles of violent firepower, but of playing action in a graceful Asian key. There’s no musical chopsocky here, but luxuriously melodic strings, woodblock percussion, the poetic voice of the Erhu and a chorus among its wonders, all working together in a harmony that nonetheless doesn’t lack for Poledouris’ tell-tale muscular brass and electronic percussion. One majestic swell after the other gives the feeling of a composer pouring his soul out for appreciative filmmakers who knew what they were getting (in fact for China’s first English-language movie), with the bonus of a lovely title song (of course in Chinese) by Kelly Chen. For Poledouris admirers, hearing “The Touch’s” music given the power of the China Philharmonic Orchestra is nothing less than nirvana, especially with comprehensive liner notes by Randall D. Larson that reveal all about this curious soundtrack saga before Poledouris poignantly headed into the rising sun.

CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes, Perseverance, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande

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