Soundtrack Picks: ‘CINDERELLA‘ is the top soundtrack to own for March, 2015
Also worth picking up AT MIDDLETON, BHOPAL: A PRAYER FOR RAIN, THE CAR, CHAPPIE, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, IT FOLLOWS, LADYHAWKE, MAP TO THE STARS and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD
THE TOP PICKS
What is it?: In their 25-year and counting career that’s seen Patrick Doyle score (and occasionally act in) every Kenneth Branagh film from the time of 1989’s Oscar-nominated “Henry V” both men have shown a chameleon-ability to re-invent themselves for an ever younger-skewing Hollywood, no more so than Doyle as he segued from an incredibly lush and thematic style of orchestral scoring to taking on the muscular, pop-influenced electronic rhythms of multiplex action for Branagh’s “Thor” and “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” But thankfully, that didn’t mean that the filmmaker and his favorite muse couldn’t go back home again to the kind of lavish productions that first brought them acclaim, while attracting a new young audience to boot.
Why should you buy it?: “Cinderella” might just being the most enchanted jewel in Branagh and Doyle’s old-school crown, or more likely glass slipper as the composer brings out his sumptuous symphonic talent in all of its glory to sum up the magic of Disney fairy tale enchantment as the studio puts flesh and blood on their their classically animated princess-to-be. Given a way less rough-and-tumble heroine to score for the studio after “Brave’s” Merida, Doyle befits Cinderella in the most gossamer of thematic finery, all gorgeous strings, sparkling bells and gently dancing rhythms that tap into the wish fulfillment of going from virtuous rags to sumptuous riches. Tenderly expressing the evil sister exasperation of Cinderella, Doyle pays off her fairy godmother assist with glorious waves of symphonic magic, desperately racing with ticking-bell clock excitement before her carriage’s transformation. The prince arrives with dashing nobility to sweep the music off of its dancing feet with any number of elegant waltzes (and even a Polka) that would do the European masters proud. Just about everything here is perfect in Doyle’s pull-out-the-melodic stops representation of wish fulfillment, as well as a young woman’s plucky spirit, his music having more melodic stardust than Tinkerbell herself.
Extra Special: “Cinderella” stands tall as a romantic testament to the of the unabashedly luxurious scoring that gave Doyle his start, with sparkling panache that will very likely make her a strong candidate for being the belle of the Oscar ball. Starlet Lily James certainly proves she’s got a pleasant singing voice to match with her waltzing performance of the classic tune “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes,” while Helena Bonham Carter has a ball getting her tongue around that other “Cinderella” standard “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo.”
2) CHAPPIE / JUPITER ASCENDING
What Is It?: From military robots with heart to ruthless intergalactic multinationals, Varese Sarabande offers two big ticket sci-fi scores for March. While blisteringly bad reviews (one undeserved and other most deserved) unite both of them despite their disparate subjects, the one thing that “Chappie” and “Jupiter Ascending” can proudly play are two composers at the enthusiastic height of their craft as they soulfully explore the fantastical.
Why Should You Buy It?: Filmmaker Neil Blomkamp knows how to dirty up high-tech with the slum-set environs of “District 9” and “Elysium,” junkyard society that impactfully serves to re-educate a former police robot that gets drop-kicked into a limited battery life of crime. Given this way more visceral, and emotionally affecting take on “Short Circuit,” Hans Zimmer makes Number 5 come alive with an ingenious, synth-powered score that plays the growing evolvement of a cybernetic babe in the dark woods who only wants to be loved. With co-composers Steve Mazzaro and Andrew Kawczynski forming “The Chappie Elektrik Synthponia,” Zimmer goes right back into the high energy, transistorized guts that made him a 90s action stalwart with the likes of “Drop Zone” and “Broken Arrow” – wiping out any musically organic component in the process. The result is pure, powerful circuitry as scoring, its 8-bit sound ferociously souped-up for near future Johannesburg. Pulsating rhythms might get “Chappie” off to a crime-busting bang, but it’s almost a fake-out for a more restrained, and loveable, Pinocchio-esque tone the music will take to capture a fairy tale-like quality in its memorable theme, one that even whistles to capture the innocent, tender soul within the machine. Combined with Sharito Copley’s astonishing performance, “Chappie’s” score creates one of the cinema’s most emotively human robots, making the punishment that’s meted out against it almost unbearable. But this is a Neil Blomkamp movie after all, meaning that the big guns are going to get their play. And Zimmer delivers the action with thrilling ferociousness, his theme jamming with unhinged delight as vocals sing the praises of an ersatz ED-209 coming to call. It’s an powerhouse extension of the unjustly-maligned style that made Zimmer’s rockingly percussive, electro-charged score to “Spider-Man 2” the most fun thing about that film, here taken to even more buzzing, clanking and eardrum-bursting dimensions. In a new retro-synth meets techno-industrial era that’s given us the throwback likes of Daft Punk’s “Tron: Legacy,” “The Social Network” and “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World,” Zimmer’s “Chappie” is perhaps the purest of these thrilling throwbacks to the whole Tangerine Dream / Giorgio Morodor / Kraftwerk wave that Zimmer tamed into his own soundtrack-changing robot music beast. That tradition proudly continues with “Chappie’s” a terrifically energized and creative score that’s way more than the parts of the mind-boggling gear that it took to put it together. For Zimmer and team know that the most important part is heart.
Extra Special: As a fellow Oscar-winning composer who can always escape the few bombs thrown his way, and come out convincing listeners they’ve been listening to the score for an entirely different, and way better film, Michael Giacchino has made “Land of the Lost” into “Jurassic Park” and “Speed Racer” into “Grand Prix.” But he’s pulled off what must be his greatest hat trick for the latter filmmakers by making the Wachowski’s hilariously lamentable “Jupiter Ascending” rise to the heights of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” (or at the very least “Star Wars”) by bringing out a truly cosmic score of imperious majesty, cliffhanging heroism and the human vulnerability of a young woman swept up into an intergalactic conspiracy, or at the very least one heck of a house of style. Giacchino is playing at the top of his thematic game here, especially with his use of chorus, ominously moaning for the villains, given a plaintive solo voice for an unbecoming empress and roaring full charge into a space minefield. It’s a terrifically pulse-pounding, and deliriously over-the-top in the way that only a very talented sci-fi loving kid can be when given an orchestra of what sounds like hundreds at his disposal. The result is a two-CD work of singularly exhilarating space opera bombast as it paints in epic, ear-popping colors to convey a universe in the balance, while at once lushly rejoicing in the alien-ethnic spectacle of it all, all without forgetting the more intimate moments when a bit of romance can poke through. As such, you could say that the magnificent “Jupiter Ascending” comes across as the sequel music that the actually quite good, Giacchino-scored “John Carter” will never get after its undeserved drubbing. At the least, this a heck of a warm up to what Giacchino will ultimately get to do when he’d deservedly handed the keys to the kingdom for George Lucas’ far-away galaxy (the playfully swooping, drum-pounding, Hoth-worthy “Flying Dinosaur Fight” at the end is more then enough to convince of Giacchino’s Williams street cred) “Jupiter Ascending’s” score is made all the more astonishing by the fact that Giacchino wrote it before the film was shot. Once again, it’s a demonstration in just how well he can play music from an alternate cinematic universe, let alone bestow distinctively separate, musical identities to the genre spectacles that understandably fly his way.
3) DUEL / THE CAR
What is it?: Intrada hits the evil road running with two classics of the killer vehicle genre, driven by truck and auto with Billy Goldenberg and Leonard Rosenman behind the wheels of “Duel” and “The Car.”
Why should you buy it?: If you talk to a certain generation, the most scarring horror experiences weren’t to be had in the cinema, but on network television, whose series and TV movies of the week were prolific in their suggested ghastliness. One of their most notable musical practitioners was Billy Goldenberg, who provided the chilling soundtracks for “Circle of Fear,” “Smile Jenny, You’re Dead” and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (as well as episodes of “Night Gallery” and “Colombo” for director Steven Spielberg). But perhaps his most important work would be providing the memorably impressionistic score for a “Duel” between motorist Dennis Hopper and an unseen big rig driver for this 1971 ABC Friday the 13th telefilm that showed its 25 year-old director had the right stuff for the big screen. The key to Goldenberg’s approach was in conveying the pitiless, desert byways that serve for a thoroughly unequal mouse-and-cat chase. Dissonant, churning strings eerily beat down with the heat of the sun, a hallucinatory waterphone creates weird bird-like cries circling overhead as if they were vultures, while dirty chords take on the stench-spewing weight of a truck from hell. Very few scores for film, or television were quite as mercilessly experimental in embodying rubber-tired death metal and a complete, terrified sense of exasperation like “Duel.” While organ passages are the more traditional horror scoring instrument in view as Hopper tries to figure out the maniac driver inside a diner, what makes the score all the more crazed is when it launches into stabbing tributes to the shower scene in “Psycho,” as if the 1955 Peterbilt truck was the malignant personification of Norman Bates as a “multi-ton knife” (but then again, Universal was also the producer here). With precious little melody to purposefully get mileage from, “Duel” is one relentless, truly scary listen, with the only respite given by some country-western instrumentals in the extras section. Indeed, “Jaws” seems like a piker when compared to just how musically ferocious “Duel” is.
Extra Special: With all respect to “Duel’s” accomplishment, I should look out of my rear view mirror for angry trucks when saying that my far preferred film and score is 1977’s “The Car,” which runs on the shrilly enjoyable satanic music of Leonard Rosenman. Plainly put through Universal’s assembly line with the goal of being “’Jaws’ on wheels,” “The Car” came out way better than the sum of its similarly “Duel”-influenced parts thanks to its astonishing stunt work, and even more importantly the direction of Elliot Silverstein, a filmmaker far better known for his eccentric character comedies like “Cat Ballou” and “Support Your Local Sheriff.” While that quirky sensibility inflects what’s on screen, “The Car” is given a head-on sense of evil by Rosenman’s pounding, “Dies Irae”-themed score. Rosenman was one of the main composers who truly brought a sense of concert hall modernism to Hollywood with an aleatoric style that was particularly impactful in service of sci-fi with the likes of “Fantastic Voyage” and “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” and was all the more terrifying when in tri-tone service of the supernatural for “Race with the Devil,” a cultist versus RV road chase that put him in particularly good stead for “The Car.” With its pounding momentum and brassy feeling of doom, this score is pure, undistilled Rosenman. Way more impressionistic than going for more melodically accessible “devil” music a la Jerry Goldsmith’s “The Omen,” Rosenman went for something sneakier as he crosses sinisterly identifiable Latin melody with the sounds of a possessed souped-up Lincoln Continental Mark III, powered by metallic hits, furious rhythms and horn-like blasts of brass. But then, it’s exactly the right approach for a movie that never specifically says that Satan is behind the wheel (even if the original script did). Where “Duel” went for the head-on insanity of facing off against evil, “The Car” is more melodically accessible for a movie with a similar desert setting. It’s also perversely fun in the way that it cleverly personifies ultimate darkness on four wheels, fueled on impressionistic music that’s pure, unhinged tone pyramid Rosenman. The climactic chase’s interplay between surging, relentless brass, and piano as they try to run down the militaristic heroism for James Brolin’s good guy sheriff is a highlight of the score, so breathless that it makes one wonder how any musician could have survived playing it without a heart attack. Put together, “Duel” and “The Car” are intensely scary, beautiful-sounding listens that mark the films as genre classics of their kind, with Jeff Bond’s humorously incisive liner notes and Joe Sikoryak’s exceptionally well-designed road map booklets true appreciations of the sinister driving skills of these composers. For horror fans, one couldn’t imagine more perfect music to blast through the car radio, though one can only hope their eyes don’t sinisterly drift to pedestrians and other smaller vehicles while doing so.
4) FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (Original Score and Soundtrack)
Price: $12.99 / $13.98
What Is it?: The approach to musical movie sex has been pretty much played out between the usual (though always effective) suspects of a smoldering jazz saxophone, cooing female voices and erotically lush strings – even as the notion of a mainstream, major studio sex film has barely been played since the 70s. On those notes, “Fifty Shades of Grey” has arrived with unexpectedly stylish vibes on both counts, from its smartly heated score by Danny Elfman to a truly seductive song album that helps to accomplish the film’s seemingly impossible goal of making S&M enticing.
Why Should You Buy It?: Danny Elfman has scored dozens of films, yet practically none of them have overtly centered on sex (the media-hungry vixen of “To Die For” just might be the closest in his soundtrack sack). That alone makes “Fifty Shades” one of the most interesting projects to come this versatile composer’s way in a while, especially given how Elfman’s often-eccentric approach just might hear subject matter that’s been in the domain of Skinimax for the last few decades. The enticing result is a score that plays character psychology far more than it does sex, especially in how his music helps transform the tender, virginal vulnerability of young woman into lust for a whole new carnal world, even if what she really wants is a feeling relationship to go along with her ice cube / whip-stroking orgasms. Driven by an especially strong theme, Elfman uses a sound caught somewhere between alt. rock and a somber, subtle orchestral score. It’s an excitement that’s always tempered with yearning, the soulful, feminine guitar and strings hypnotically bound by rhythmic, bell-topped melody and strong electric chords. Caught between beautifully languid passages and percussive desire, Elfman conveys the urge to run to the forbidden red room, while also poignantly getting across how the ties that bind can only be physical at the end. Given how borderline goofy a movie stemming from Twilight fan fiction is, Elfman also gives a bouncy, subversive comic wink to the material. But overall, his approach is as gorgeous, and artsy as Sam Taylor-Johnson’s direction, determined to create something artful from unintentional camp. That his music helps “Fifty Shades” succeed by placing itself firmly in the big head, as opposed to what’s below it, shows just how hauntingly he’s achieved that goal.
Extra Special: When it comes to representing “Fifty Shades’” sweaty bump and grind (or more specifically stroking and spanking), then the soundtrack leaves the real sex to its songs, which have had just as much thought put into their selection as Elfman did in composing his score. That’s a rarity in many big-ticket movies that have one unmemorable pop tune after the next. But when picked with the actual desire to reflect the story, they can actually he inspired. “Shades” music supervisor Dana Sano has done this exceptionally well with both an ear to what’s hot and smart, getting the idea of mistress-master right across at the start with Annie Lennox’s hungry performance of “I Put A Spell On You.” But the big ticket here is Beyonce, who certainly doesn’t need Kanye’s help to impress us with her sultry pipes, which gets across the idea of an impossibly glamorous, and completely F’d up suitor’s pull with “Haunted,” the club beats of Michael Diamond’s remix capturing the film’s neo-futuristic glamour – a stylish sheen given a slow, pumping burn in “Crazy in Love.” But then, “Fifty Shades” is way more about foreplay, a slow dance to the red room expressed though Jessie Ware’s “Meet Me in the Middle” and the funky groove of The Weekend’s “Where You Belong.” Sia’s “Salted Wound” is full of painful yearning, while Skylar Grey’s “I Know You” has a gorgeous, pleading rhythm that sinks in the obvious as to how this is no love affair. Yet put together, Danny Elfman and the “Fifty Shades” elegant tunes are exceptional musical bedmates, all pleasure and no pain.
5) LADYHAWKE: LIMITED EDITION (3,000 edition)
What Is it?: When it comes to the oh-so-80s soundtracks, none more notoriously crossed rocking big-haired prog-rock with old-school orchestral scoring like 1985s “Ladyhawke,” a choice made all the more crazily anachronistic given that this was otherwise traditionally told sword and sorcery, whose spin was that a dastardly man of the cloth had jealously cursed a knightly hero and his fetching maiden to be separated by beastly conflict time schedules. Yet as opposed to using one his past composers like John Williams (“Superman”) or Jerry Goldsmith (“The Omen”), both of whom were unavailable, director Richard Donner drew on the music he’d been playing throughout pre-production scouting in Italy, and employed the titular musician behind The Alan Parsons Project to produce a score composed by his bandmate Andrew Powell. The result was a majestically zany soundtrack that would suddenly segue from strains that Miklos Rozsa could appreciate into disco rhythms where one would half expect Donna Summers to start singing. Given numerous soundtrack issues over the years that confirmed “Ladyhawke’s” enduring rep as a cult classic, Powell and Parsons WTF work has always remained a hate it or love it proposition (I’ve always been in the latter camp). But now given a gloriously complete (and then some) two-CD release by La Land Land Records, it’s likely that this sweeping score will be winning a few new acolytes who can truly appreciate how the duo hopped to hip up fantasy scoring in familiar orchestral armor.
Why Should You Buy It?: Even if one might break a smile at the bouncy, lighted floor sounds of the electro disco beat that takes one straight to the 70s and 80s as opposed to some vague medieval setting, there’s a reason that style of music reigned supreme for a good decade, which is its use of memorable thematic riffs. But whatever musical era they’re employing, Powell and Parsons have got a collection of terrific melodies in “Ladyhawke,” from the main, swaggering theme, one that serves as both a sun-blazing announcement of Rutger Hauer’s dashing Navarre whenever he’s battling church goons or riding across scenic Italian landscapes in the mousy company of Matthew Broderick. A more expected orchestral approach with the addition of magical electronic percussion and guitar create a truly lovely damsel to die for in Isabeau’s Michelle Pfeiffer, while dark, often dissonant percussion stands in for the animalistic savagery of the hordes after this romantically enchanted duo. Some of the Powell and Parson’s most effective music revolves around the anguish of them being separated in feather and fang by day and night, with ethereal, synths, poignant violin, eerie voices and heartfelt strings helping to make them one of the truly memorable duos of 80s genre cinema. And just as they transform, Powell and Parsons shape-shift their rock-pop rhythms into stunningly lush orchestral melody, then blend both approaches together with panache more reminiscent of their Parson Project albums than a typical fantasy score, the epic scope of which can really be appreciated for the first time in over 90 minutes of score. Another musical character that comes to the fore is John Wood’s twisted Bishop, who’s given Latin chanting and sinister male chorus, with voice-like samples memorably added to clanging percussion for the final slo-mo sword battle, the lover’s reunion in the flesh afterwards played for all of its gloriously soaring symphonic worth – all before of course going back to its horse-dance-gallop groove.
Extra Special: “Ladyhawke” has never sounded this good as it truly steps up to the mantle as a classic fantasy score. As with the case of many soundtracks that tried to meld popular music with an orchestral approach, it’s the glorious string sound that comes out as being the eternal of the two. Yet it’s also the audaciously dated beat of the Alan Parsons Project that really ensures “Ladyhawke’s” position as a cult classic, making the two stylistic approaches as inseparable as night and day. La La Land’s two-cd release further compliments Powell and Parson’s work with numerous alternates and extended underscoring for the fillm’s radio spots, as well as the fully prog-rock rhythm of the album’s single that will truly separate “Ladyhawke’s” score fans from the unbelievers. Tim Grieving provides thoroughly entertaining and honest liner notes that features fresh quotes the composers along with Rutger Hauer and producer Lauren-Shuler Donner, complete with her husband defending his bold composer choice against the haters. My feeling is that there will certainly be less of them after hearing this groovy, magical album that throws Erich Wolfgang Korngold and his compatriots on the rocking disco floor.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. 1001 NIGHTS (500 edition)
Gabriel Yard has taken many romantic flights of fantasy from “Map of the Human Heart” to “The English Patient,” but few have the exotic eccentricity of his magic carpet ride for “1001 Nuits,” Philippe de Broca’s absurdist 1990 spin on the famous tales conjured by the alluring Scheherazade (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in her film debut), wherein a very French genie jumps from a 20th century television set in London to create hijinks in ancient Arabia. A composer of French-Lebanese descent, Yared’s ethnic quality has often shown though with his exotic combinations of Middle Eastern instruments and lush orchestras. But “1001 Nights” just might be the most sensuously beautiful mélange of these two musical cultures, as a beguilingly romantic theme that’s the stuff of handsome, turbaned adventures and sultry women of mystery enters as Kasbah of wind instruments and percussion that’s as well suited to Valentino’s Sheik as it might be Aladdin. In addition to the seductive, melodic quality, Yared has just as much fun with playfully sweeping adventure, the kind of knowingly perilous fantasy escapades he hasn’t got to play much in a mostly dramatic career, while also relishing in the absurdity of synth circus music and a pipe organ. Catherine Zeta Jones’ pipes also impress with English-language song “Scheherazade.” As such,“1001 Nights” casts a truly enchanted melodic spell for fans of both Yared and a particularly enticing storyteller with a gloriously thematic score that isn’t so much scoring an absurdist time-traveling comedy as it is the purely cinematic language of Arabian love and adventure that helped give birth to the cinema’s thousands of stories.
. AT MIDDLETON
An emotionally congested heart doctor and a vivacious furniture saleswoman have a brief encounter during the day they take their unappreciative kids for a college tour. But when you listen to Arturo Sandoval’s beguilingly beautiful little score, you might think these two adults were gamboling about a small, seaside Italian village for a soundtrack that’s the height of retro romance. Indeed, Luis Bacalov’s Oscar-winning “Il Postino” score comes to mind, as opposed to anything Latin jazz when listening to the sweet, incredibly thematic melodies for accordion, strings and piano from Cuban jazz great Arturo Sandoval. Astonishingly representing his first feature score after his trumpet playing was featured in such pictures as “The Mambo Kings” and “Rango,” Sandoval is in pleasantly ironic position of composing for Cuban co-star Andy Garcia, who played the musician himself in an HBO movie. It’s a task that Sandoval handles with both poignant romance and sly wit. Using an ersatz Copland-esque fanfare, witty pomp and circumstance, and jazzy rhythms of a collegiate environment to serve as a playground for two adults getting back in touch with their inner youths, Sandoval develops their developing attraction with incredibly affecting tenderness and heartbreak, music at once drawn in for a climactic kiss with all the melancholy of the knowledge that this will be a life-changing brief encounter. Sure there might not be a particular reason for Sandoval to take such a Mediterranean-specific approach for a bucolic Middle American campus, but perhaps nothing can better sum up this character’s who are unable to change their fate. The effect is a score of lovely, bittersweet power, capturing the kind of unabashedly, intimate melodic poetry that’s a rarity in way bigger Hollywood rom-com’s, but can be found in abundance at this campus. While Andy Garcia performs his own lyrics for the thematically-based “There Was A Day,” with Dan Higgins’ emotive sax playing getting solely featured on an instrumental track of the tune. Randall D. Larson’s equally pleasant liner notes elaborate on this affecting musical tour with new interviews with Garcia and Sandoval, talking about a rewarding creative relationship that’s unusually personal.
. BHOPAL: A PRAYER FOR RAIN
British compose Benjamin Wallfisch has excelled at both ethnically-themed music (“Conquest 1453,” “Desert Dancer”) and scores about unassuming people being put to ultimate tests of their humanity (“The Escapist,” “Hours”). Now he’s able to tragically employ the best of both musical world for “Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain,” which uses a multi-character set-up that Irwin Allen would appreciate to unleash a real life disaster so horrifying that it would doubtlessly render that master of catastrophe silent in shock. Here, it’s left for Wallfisch to eloquently express the build-up to when Union Carbide’s pesticide factory will unleash cyanide hell upon the populace of a jam-packed Indian city. Yet it’s not as if those desperate to work in the shoddy factory think of it as anything but a blessing, as Wallfisch’s score conveys an innocent, blissful beauty through his deft combination of Indian instruments and a western strings, piano and electronics, as well as creating his own, breathless vocal-drum rhythm for a city-on-the-go with voices and native percussion. The composer would certainly fit right in at home if asked to score “Slumdog Millionaire 2” given his adeptness at reflecting both an ancient culture hoping to doing anything to entice a multinational that cares little for them. But there’s trouble in corporate paradise as Wallfisch gradually brings in a more concerned orchestral tone, his electronics now not quite so ethereal, almost simmering with ghostly voice-like effects. When disaster finally strikes, its with lushly melodic, ever-building symphonic anguish and ever-popular sonic booms. What follows is an especially eerie musical personification of cyanide fog catastrophe, made all the more effective with how Wallfisch mostly underplays the events with pulsating heartbeats and mesmerizing solemnity, done with the hindsight of history as opposed to hearing the kind of action-panic that might offer any hope of escape for these thousands of victims. But then, one might say it’s an approach befitting a country whose faith views death as part of a cycle of rebirths, or more likely is accepting of the lingering corporate horrors that befall them to keep jobs going – as the almost wistful guitar epilogue music innocently fast forwards to the present. It’s just part of the thoughtfulness that makes Wallfisch’s score so powerful, and delicately tragic, a tenderness that also fills Mary Lea’s end song. Sting and Anoushka Shanker’s end title “Sea Dreamer,” as heard in this exceptional Netflix instant watchable film, can be gotten via iTunes.
. ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN
Since musically partnering with The Mouse House, Intrada has released any number of worthwhile scores from the studio’s underappreciated period of live action filmmaking during the 1970s, among them Maurice Jarre’s “The Last Flight of Noah’s Ark” and Jerry Goldsmith’s “One Lucky Indian.” But if there’s one movie that’s stood the test of time (and a Rock reboot as well), then it’s 1975’s pre-teen sci-fi chase picture “Escape To Witch Mountain.” Introducing the telekinetic alien brother-sister team that would be the G-rated audience’s answer to “Carrie,” “Witch Mountain” would sort of go for a more adult treatment of suspense by hiring John Hough, who’d last scared the dickens out of any child unlucky enough to catch “The Legend of Hell House.” Along for the RV ride was composer Johnny Mandel, doing his first outright genre score after specialize in adult romance, comedy and crime with the likes of “The Americanization of Emily,” “MASH” and “Point Blank.” The result was a thrilling, if not-too dangerous score that ingeniously gave a folksy spin to alien powers, impressively combining weird, ultra-70s synths with a southern-style, ESP-enabling harmonica, two unlikely partners that somehow meshed quite well with the energy of an orchestra. Having created one of the most-played themes known to Hollywood with “The Sandpiper,” Mandell drives to “Witch Mountain” with a dynamic melody that pits two kids against adult menace, while gently capturing the innocent nature of these blonde-haired protagonists, playing their impossible tricks with a mixture of magic and electronic spaciness whose sound will be a particular rush to fans of Columbia’s old-school studio logo. The score’s down-home, rustic nature is particularly sweet, and still likely the closest that music befitting Mayberry RFD has gotten close to a sci-fi score. Yet Mandell’s understandably lighter way of treating the material only adds to the score’s charm, especially with his flute and brass flying camper music that’s pure, perky Disney lightness. As a film, and score that still bewitches a generation who fell in love with a pre-Housewives of Beverly Hills Kim Richards, “Escape to Witch Mountain” has gotten the wonderful presentation this blast from the matinee past deserves, with extras that spotlight its orchestral cues sans harmonica, and a last track that shows one of the more impressive virtuoso performances the instrument has gotten from “Cool Hand Luke’s” mouth-playing ace Tommy Morgan.
. IT FOLLOWS
Just as so many sci-fi scores like “Chappie” are taking their hip retro cues from the 70s and 80s, this electronic era is also proving a boon to such impressive horror homage soundtracks as “Starry Eyes,” “Cold in July” and “The Guest.” Heck, even John Carpenter is even back on the act he truly started with “Halloween” with a collection of imagined “Lost Themes.” Now Disasterpeace chimes in for “It Follows,” a score, and film that lives up to its title in more ways than one as a seemingly unstoppable supernatural entity chases a reluctantly horny teen through a suburbia The Shape would most definitely feel at home in. But where Carpenter’s game-changing score was essentially synth simplicity itself with its staccato theme and low, minimal atmospheres, the artist known as Disasterpiece (whose resume includes indie game scores for “Apoc Wars” and “Cannon Brawl”) is cleverly after a score that seeks more electronic meat to chew than just lovingly riffing on period slasher soundtracks. Sure you’ve got banging, ever-encroaching percussion a la “The Fog” for the incredible relentless of the whatever-it-is, introspective melody for a girl trying to spot a boogie thing out from the corner of her eye, and a suspiciously calm rhythms as we drive among rows of cookie-cutter, tree-lined houses. But Disasterpeace goes a few homages better with sound morasses that would fit nicely into Gil Melle’s seminal “Andromeda Strain” score, or paying tribute to Jerry Goldsmith’s eerie, electronic gestures in “Alien.” The score expounds on these originals, sometimes with just the slightest bit of subtlety, or gigantically in the case of shrieking sound morasses. But like the power of these synth scores that have stuck with generations thoroughly creeped out by such other landmarks works as Charles Bernstein’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Entity” (scenes from which “It Follows” is sure to reference in its seeming lo-fi way), the overall effect that Disasterpieace inspires is one of surreal dread, the sound of reality being turned upside down into a buzzing realm of insanity, luring its victim with hypnotic motifs before pouncing on them with blasting dissonance. It’s a pull that really helps the awkward pacing of this uneven, but overall impactful little horror movie that perhaps could have used more of Disasterpeace to keep its energy up. But as a listen, “It Follow” pulls off the trick of turning homage into something neat, original and most importantly of all, upsetting. Even Michael Meyers would be freaked out by how his synth strains have been so surreally, and brilliantly messed about with in anything but a electro-killer copycat way.
. JUSTICE LEAGUE: THRONE OF ATLANTIS
Where DC’s live action films have mainly inhabited a darkly pretentious realm of missed promise, the comics’ animated division has been delivering far more entertaining, and involving movies that truly deserve to be given big screen flesh and blood, especially when it comes to the talented composers who’ve given equally impressive musical muscle to their costumed heroes. Certainly deserving his place in a cinematic Hall of Justice is Frederik Wiedmann, whose cosmically thrilling time spent with the Green Lantern’s animated series led to the terrific Justice League ‘toon “The Flashpoint Paradox” before continuing on with impressive DC universe entries for “JLA Adventures,” “Beware the Batman,” “Son of Batman” and now “Justice League: Throne of Atlantis.” One particular reason that Wiedmann’s music is so thrilling is that he knows how to play these characters with all of the noble seriousness they deserve, but without crossing over into moroseness. Given the introduction of Aquaman here, the composer strongly paints the gold and green king of Atlantis with a proud, majestic strains and a Middle Eastern diduk, not only giving his newfound home a mythological sense of place born from ancient gods, but more importantly personifying a half-bred character caught between his father’s land and mother’s undersea domain. It’s his musical personage that leads the JLA, whose blend of alien, human, technological and magical members is kept hip with a combination of electronics and strings. While he might not have the resources of the London Philharmonic here, Wiedmann’s exception combination of a small orchestra and out-of-the box string emulation has the punch of a 100 pieces, especially considering how all-out epic “Atlantis” frequently is. Capturing a character who’s conflicted about being to the Atlantean manor born, Wiedmann gives his score a true sense of destiny and power, two big reasons that he’s also the subject of an unusually exhaustive composer featurette on the film’s blu ray itself.
. KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON
Varese Sarabande follows up the angry jazz energy of “Whiplash” with this far more positive vibes of Clark Terry, a recently passed jazz trumpeter and flugelhorn player who stands as a true legend of this distinctly American musical art form, having played over 70 years with the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington, given the Tonight Show band its swing, and lent soulful inspiration to such students as Quincy Jones and Miles Davis. The soundtrack, and documentary “Keep On Keepin’ On” not only let us hear a similarly profound connection through a blind piano protégé Justin Kauflin, but also highlight Terry’s astounding career as one of the most recorded jazzmen in history. It’s not an easy task to fit hundreds of hours onto one 70-minute long CD, let alone Terry’s touching words of finding one’s groove, but this bravura collection produced by director Alan Hicks and Quincy Jones (both former students of Terry’s) succeeds as a lesson in how to put together storytelling in both tunes and words. Given course with dialogue excerpts from Terry and the many artists who’ve been touched by his gift, “Keep On Keepin’ On” serves as a tour down memory lane of jazz itself. We get the Dixieland swing of The Oscar Peterson Trio’s “Brotherhood of Man,” vintage tracks from his “Harlem Air Shaft” with The Duke, and the raucously strutting swing of the “Blee Bop Blues” for Count Basie. “Michelle” is softly played jazz at its most romantic The standards also get their spotlight with the lush big band melody of Terry’s teaming with lush orchestral strains for “Candy,” “Girl Talk” and the swooning “Misty,” as well as the more intimate live performances of “I Had You” and his virtuoso solo horn giving magic to “Stardust.” Clark’s pupil also shines with his nimble keyboards on “Dreams Change,” the beautifully somber Darkest Hour” and the album’s end track “For Clark.” It’s a marvelous CD that’s a lesson in itself to jazz history, especially with how a horn can sum up the sadness and joy that gave the form birth, as played by a man who was jazz itself.
. MAP TO THE STARS
Even when not outrightly dealing with material steeped in horror or science fiction, the collaboration between director David Cronenberg and composer Howard Shore has often resulted in hard-edged music, from the viscerally brass knives to the gut of “Eastern Promises” and “A History of Violence” to the guitar electro shock of “Crash” and the psychologically howling strings of “A Dangerous Method.” It makes Shore’s more ethereal approaches to the director’s somewhat regular world tales of “Cosmopolis” (co-scored by the industrial band Metric) and now “Map to the Stars” all the more interesting and experimental in a collaboration that keeps stretching its already insane boundaries. With this poison pill travelogue of Oedipal Hollywood at its most quietly insane, both composer and director weave one of their best love-it-or-hate-it works. For a score that unites a bunch of unbalanced actors and their enablers, all on the verge of a truly intense nervous breakdown, Shore sets the thematic tone with ethereal synths and a Middle Eastern tabla, hinting of the promised exotic land of dreams. What he gives us is a hypnotic nightmare of rock-synth atmospheres, drifting over its universe of beyond-spoiled characters like pulsating clouds or brimming with electric guitar madness. “Map to the Stars” grows ever more disturbing and hypnotic in Shore’s judicious balance of ethereal atmospheres and more palpably organic music, as mixed with hip club beats for the viper dens of young stars on the make, pleading violins finally taking tragic center stage. For a composer who’s often taken daring chances of musical transgression in abetting Cronenberg’s decades-long career of provocation, the surprise of their latest affront is just how accessible this limo ride to LA hell is, which is perhaps the biggest comment they can make on how mesmerizing Hollywood’s psychoses are in the first place.
Albert Pyun was stylistically grinding out “Terminator” clones in the early 90s, following up the muscle from Brussels in “Cyborg” with Parisian kickboxing action-hunk Olivier Gruner as a trench coated LA cop man-machine on the trail of his ex-partner, with all roads leading to blowing up even more of a decimated factory location familiar to fans of this kind of low budget mayhem – let alone Pyun’s beyond-prolific output. Matching the director’s telltale color saturation was a stylishly atmospheric score by Michel Rubini. One of the most underrated practitioners of the era’s sleek, synth sound, Rubini’s noir-ish credits had included “The Hunger” (co-composed with Danny Jaeger), “Band of the Hand” and “Manhunter.” “Nemesis” would provide him with a half-electronic, half-orchestral fusion that particularly suited its high-kicking, gun-blasting future cop. And while Rubini would deliver on the percussive thunder here to match the relentless fireballs and bullets, what truly distinguishes “Nemesis” is its sunglass-cool mood. Given a reflective dick-on-the-beat theme perfect for a fog-drenched street, Rubini’s distinctive, effective melody gets haunting mileage from the City of Angels to desert and jungle, his score given further texture with voices, guitar and shakuhachi, an neo-Oriental vibe that’s well-suited to Pyun’s Woo-esque ambitions. A rock guitar groove also befits these swaggering gunslingers, while metallic hits give a Fiedel-esque presence to the evil robot overlords in human skin. Sure “Nemesis” might be familiar, but it’s a measure of Rubini’s energy as to how much swaggering, percussively pummeling fun this score is for the ambitious, low budget genre. Perserverance’s engineer Chas Ferry has done much to clean the dust off of this old cyborg’s bones for the first time in 23 years, giving Rubini’s work an impressive new spark that will impress fans of cult-video action flicks who want to get the Gruner groove on again. Rubini \ entertainingly elaborates on the scoring process in his liner notes – with perhaps the most interesting fact being that the composer was being trained by Gruner before he’d been approached to score the film. One can judge who emerged the master here.
. THE NUMBERS STATION
John Cusack and Nicolas Cage have long been in a race to see who can make the most direct-to-iTunes movies. But as Cage more than ever seems intent to be racking up some truly craptacular pictures to pay the bills, I’ve got to hand the title in terms of quality to Cusack’s way more interesting and polished choices, one in particular being “The Numbers Station.” Cusack’s once again playing a burned-out enforcement figure, this time a black ops assassin locked into a spy fortress with Malin Akerman’s attractive code breaker, both of whom are forced to fend off waves of assassins after intercepting a particularly dangerous secret message. Keeping these locked-in protagonists company in this effective, spare thriller is a cool, captivatingly pulsing score by Paul Leonard-Morgan. With the Scottish composer getting a particular lift from scoring the English spook series “MI-5,” Morgan has since impressed in Hollywood with the techno acid rush of “Limitless’” drug-crazed braniac, and the steely, hard-ass electronic rhythms of “Dredd’s” merciless future judge. “The Numbers Station” keeps that synth-rock / trance club groove effectively going in the movie’s lonely spy base, with the added benefit of strings to give the score real scope. Yet as opposed to a composer who’d be content to let the beat machine run amuck on top of a bunch of human players, what raises “The Numbers Station” above similar scores of this VOD type is its got a solid thematic foundation. Melody is the real key here to decoding this “Station’s” surprises, giving it a cool hip groove that brings to mind Harry Gregson-Williams’ “Spy Game” score. Leonard-Morgan nicely balances the more dance track-ish numbers with enticing suspense rhythms that bringing out the mystery behind the constantly voiced call signs, while also capturing the rapid, chattering and catchy beat of computer information flashing before the analyst’s eyes, the mechanical nature of her job abetted by scraping, chattering gestures. It’s a cool, rhythmically atmospheric score that’s especially well modulated between more oppressive tones and conveying the far bigger, and deadlier world of espionage outside of this forgotten English base. Amid so many scores playing the numbers game in taking a similar approach, its says something that this “Station” stands out in the spy score pack, especially given a composer who knows his way around fast-paced beats and more cerebral head games.
. PINOCCHIO: THE LEGACY COLLECTION
In the decades since 1937’s “Sleeping Beauty,” no animation-specialty studio has provided such iconic songs or scores as Walt Disney. But after numerous appearances out of, and back into their movie and music vaults, no ever-more-special CD release has done justice to their aural work like the studio’s Legacy collection, among whose multiple-disc releases are the likes of “Fantasia,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Little Mermaid” and “The Lion King.” But if there’s one classic movie that’s truly eternal in capturing the enchanted optimism that stands for the studio’s appeal to the youth in all of us, then it’s the glistening, magical music of 1940s “Pinocchio,” which is now fully given musical life to reveal itself even more of an instrumentally animated work than thought. Seeking to recapture the sweet fairy tale enchantment of his score to “Snow White,” Disney brought back the team of Leigh Harline and Paul J. Smith for “Pinocchio.” Together with Ned Washington they’d win the Best Score Oscar for this delightful work that’s the embodiment of a puppet who wants to be a real boy, a spirit that’s at once magical and mischievous. Given thematic life Washington’s classic Oscar-winning song “When You Wish Upon A Star” (which Steven Spielberg had John Williams’ use so brilliantly for the end credits of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), Harline and Smith’s work is full of bright, eager melodies built around its other memorable tunes, begun by the sprightly “Give A Little Whistle.” Sparkling bells, the spectrally enchanted music of The Blue Fairy, the Germanic accordions of the movie’s “Old World’ Eastern European setting and the tinkertoy sounds of Gepetto’s workshop make this one of the first scores to truly become a character in such an inventively playful and unabashedly emotional way, especially as the puppet’s misbehavior puts him in melodically woeful and dangerous jeopardy. A particular delight is hearing some decidedly bad-boy stripper jazz-meets-circus calliope music as Pinocchio falls in with the wrong kid crowd at Pleasure Island. And when it comes to subversion, “Hi Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor’s Life For Me)” stands as a sarcastic ode to the next-oldest profession that’s more hilarious than ever. Those who’ve watched the “Avengers: Age of Ultron” trailer numerous times will also get to hear the original, far more innocent version of “I’ve Got No Strings.” Such is the power of “Pinocchio” in our collective memory that’s made this arguably the greatest of the golden age Disney song-score. With “Pinocchio’s” soundtrack fitting into one CD, the second disc is first given over to perky re-performances of its lost songs. But the B-side truly belongs to the three-octave voice of Jiminy Cricket (aka the folksy Cliff Edwards) and his insanely cute morality lesson songs. Hearing this collection of oh-so chirpy, and undeniably clever mental hygiene tunes as “Safety First” and “I’m No Fool” on “The Mickey Mouse Club” as he sung to TV-addicted kids about the dire consequences of what would happen to those who didn’t brush their teeth, properly ride their bike or jump in a pool right after eating is enough to make you want to stomp on that darned insect – which is exactly what Pinocchio did in Carlo Collodi’s original story.
. REACH ME
In nearly two decades of scoring, Tree Adams has mainly worked on television with such popular shows as “Perception,” “Californication” and “Franklin & Bash,” where he’s often impressed with quirky, groove-based music. That put him in good, eccentric stead for this off-kilter character cavalcade for director John Herzfeld, who returned to LA after the star-filled “Two Days in the Valley” with this even more out-there movie about fate-linked Angelinos, who are brought together by the words of a reclusive self-help author. While there’s no way for Adams to thematically play every member of the cast, the composer smartly settles on a vibe that combines rhythm and blues with nice Hammond organ bits, perky comedy-orchestral percussion with a spacey, meditative music for strings, synths and piano. It’s a fun, energetic approach that does much to smooth over some of the film’s wilder eccentricities, while offering melodic self-enablement for a cinematic approach that’s out to find some measure of truth in its emblematic author, who’s given a sad-sack jazz-brass approach, the horns going off-kilter when confronted with his fear of the people who desperately seek truth-telling from him. Another musical personage to stand out is a cop who can’t help killing ever perp he encounters, his quick-on-the-draw charisma cleverly given a spaghetti country-western energy. Keenly balancing comedy and drama, Tree Adams’ funkily appealing score is about LA as a state of eccentric mind, as mapped out with melodically energetic, and tenderly thoughtful geography
. RED ARMY
Christophe Beck is a composer with ever-growing action muscle with the likes of “Edge of Tomorrow,” Terminator Genisys” and “Ant Man.” But it’s his few forays into documentary scoring where he really gets to stretch his biceps, first taking on a broken educational system with “Waiting for Superman” and now showing the shattering, if emotionally empty power of Russia’s hockey-powered “Red Army.” Teaming with his longtime scoring coordinator and additional composer Leo Birenberg, Beck enjoyably partakes of all things Soviet for a score so nationalistic that it puts “Dr. Zhivago” to shame. Dancing Balalaika, violins and pomp-filled strings create an invincible army of warriors on ice that would take a big Cold War fall at the sticks of the U.S. at the 1980 Winter Olympics. But beyond going for the obvious employment of all things musically Russian, the true strength of Beck and Birenberg’s work is in getting across the soul-draining punishment of having no life beyond sports in service to The Motherland. A plucky main theme maneuvers to rhythmic builds, blasting rock guitars, virtuoso violin solos and chorus. It’s an approach that’s all about aggression and drive, while the wreck of the lives barely off the rink are conveyed through agonized strings and a mournful men’s chorus. You could almost say there’s a satiric quality to it all as these famed Russians truly face the not-so invincible music, with quirky instrumentations further melting the stone-faced ice. But then, if Russia has built its now capitalist revolution on sacrifice, “Red Army” is best at powerfully getting across the sad human toll in reaching shattered perfection, its especially empathetic string, flute and synth-sample melodies almost pleading for a shot of vodka as the rhythmically militaristic hockey machine breaks down. It’s in the strength of how thematically well Beck and Birenberg’s score is constructed that we get a moving sense of vulnerability in the enemy on ice, and no small amount of stalwart Russian pride as the score climactically rocks out with chorus and sonic booms in the best action hero fashion.
One might expect a Hollywood score for a tale of an angelic, flying infant to be full of sugary, bouncing baby comedy, Thankfully, that’s not the way they score angelic tykes in France, especially when in the caring hands of Philippe Rombi. An exceptionally melodic composer who could be the next Alexandre Desplat on these shores if given the chance, Rombi has had his share of childhood enchantment with “War of the Buttons,” as well as mystery for director Francois Ozon with “The Swimming Pool.” In 2009’s “Ricky,” Rombi was able to combine both approaches, beginning with a tender, piano-waltz theme that is the definition of vulnerable, sweetly sympathetic innocence for a woman awaiting her bundle of joy. Yet a good portion of the ensuing score is far more anguished than fairy tale in nature as Rombi concentrates on playing the aghast parents’ reaction as they notice strange bruises on their baby’s back. The sparkling bell percussion of Rombi’s theme joins with sorrowful violins and creeping strings suggesting an M. Night Shamalayan score in the making, while also getting across the child abusing implications of these unexplained marks. But once “Ricki’s” abilities are revealed, just a little tiny bit of the darkness leaves the score as Rombi conjures the “flying” rhythms of the infant, if in a more down to earth way than the swoopingly symphonic likes of “The Boy Who Could Fly” and “Superman.” There’s something to be said of the emotional gravity that Rombi makes his memorably thematic, poignant score that’s only as fantastical as it needs to be. You never knew flying baby music could be this smart with only the gentlest, melancholy flutter of its wings.
. THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
Being second best doesn’t mean playing second fiddle to his first “Exotic Marigold” score when it comes to Thomas Newman’s return trip to this not-so geriatric Indian hotel for English expats. In this more-than-respectable sequel, Newman reprises his melodically cross-cultural masala of subcontinental rhythms and pattering voices with lush strings for a score that’s as colorful, and vibrant as the hustle and bustle of the city. If anything, Newman’s new check-in has even more of that fast-paced energy. For a composer who impressed out of the gate with the magically percussive comedy quirk of “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “The Man With One Red Shoe,” this “Second” time around gives him the welcome opportunity to return to a genre he doesn’t get to visit that often outside of his Disney scores for “Saving Mr. Banks” and “Finding Nemo.” Though the golden girl likes of Maggie Smith and Judi Dench might same ageless, what gives this “Marigold” entry more of a dramatic edge is the realization that the cast won’t be doing these sequels forever, even with the relatively younger Yank-blooded like of Richard Gere on hand. Subsequently, the poignant melodies that Newman gave to the likes of “Little Children” and “Revolutionary Road” are also on hand to give this score an especially moving, though unforced resonance, especially in its movingly quiet send-off before returning once again to its eccentric, rhythmic enchantment. But no matter what continent its playing, Newman’s music has always said it’s hip to be a square, no more so than with a soundtrack that communicates the love for these Brit fogies with a vibrancy that’s positively dancing to an ethereal, enchanted raga beat – along with the addition of catchily upbeat and modernly rhythmic Indian pop songs.
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