October Soundtrack Picks: ‘FRANK‘ and ‘RUDDERLESS’ are two of the top soundtracks to own for October, 2014
Also worth picking up BAD MILO, THE BOXTROLLS, IN LIKE FLINT, JOHN WICK, MARY POPPINS, MR. MOSES, OUIJA and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD
THE TOP PICKS
1) THE BOXTROLLS
What Is It?: With his impressively elegant use of a full, assured orchestra, the Italian-born, English-based composer Dario Marianelli hasn’t had to scavenge for major assignments, as such epically romantic historical scores like “Atonement,” “Agora” and “Anna Karenina” have proven, along with the mythic genre scores for “The Brothers Grimm” and “V for Vendetta” have shown. But even that latter film’s shadowy, dystopian-busting superhero doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of a morally bankrupt (and cheese-obsessed to boot) town like “The Boxtrolls,” its delightful score marking Marianelli’s first venture into perhaps not-so tyke friendly territory.
Why Should You Buy It?: Laika, the producer-animators of “Boxtrolls” have always had a weird taste when it came to scoring their off-kilter stop-motion subjects, whether it be Bruno Coulais’ surreal fantasy approach to “Coraline” or Jon Brion’s eccentric send up of 50s horror music in “Paranorman.” Marianelli’s approach to “Boxtrolls” effortlessly veers between wackadoo music, eccentric creeping about and truly fearsome symphonic menace. Marianelli conveys the titular creatures for the sweet scavengers they are with loads of chiming percussion, his spooky-ooky tunes getting across their gibberish bark that’s far worse than its bite. But best of all, “Boxtrolls” offers a bounty of themes that seamlessly tie together its grab bag of styles, whether it be rampaging suspense, clanging, cliffhanging peril cheesefest accordions or a brassy Viennese waltz. Yet there’s an undeniable, heartbreaking quality to Marianelli’s main theme as it personalizes a little boy lost to the far crueler human world above. It’s a nice, emotional potency that gives “The Boxtrolls” a mature power, no matter the nuttiness at stop-motion hand. But more often than not, “Boxtrolls” is about Marianelli unleashing his Halloween-loving child at heart, the sense of fun that knows the monsters under the bed offer nothing but love in spite of the real adult darkness about them.
Extra Special: “Boxtrolls” offers wistful, Devotchka-esque tunes by Loch Lomond that serve as catchy pleas for creature tolerance, a theme that extends to a charming spin on the kindergarten standard “Whole World.” Far more deliciously evil in a nursery rhyme vein is “The Boxtrolls Song,” with Sean Patrick Doyle doing his cross-dressing, Kurt Weil best in appealing for ogre annihilation, a song at once hilarious for its “Three Penny Opera” affectations as it is truly terrifying in recalling a Germanic-toned appeal for annihilating the seemingly ugly “other – an idea that proves “Boxtrolls” as anything but kid’s stuff when it comes right down to the inside of it.
2) FRANK and RUDDERLESS
Prices: $16.98 / $15.99
What Is it?: For all of the rock stadium popularity that a studio polished song soundtrack might have, it’s often the raw tunes of a decidedly unsigned, outsider band that reaches into the heart, or madness-addled brain in a way no Grammy-friendly album can. At their best, these little tune-filled albums can even find appeal with score fans who normally regard songs CDs as heresy, an open-minded listen especially deserving from them for a big-headed bizarro and a garage band finding the power of healing in unthinkably written songs.
Why Should You Buy It?: “Frank” is very loosely based on the strange career of England’s Frank Sidebottom, who had way more success than the band of misfit alt. rockers shown in this delightful, odd-head movie featuring a mostly masked Michael Fassbender. If “Frank” has a theme amidst the clanging, squealing and buzzing a band quite naturally named the Soronprfbs, then it’s of mediocrity versus truly insane brilliance, a musical idea that’s very smartly conceived by Stephen Rennicks (“What Richard Did”) with an outsider groove so dead on that you think he was likely a roadie for the equally insane Daniel Johnston. But yet this borderline 80s underground-meets-Devo mish-mash of synths, wacky samples, guitars and some truly beautiful piano melodies (with of course a Theremin thrown in for extra quirk) make sense, and are even catchy in their poetic psycho-babble as Frank’s unexpected brilliance is humorously contrasted with his acolyte’s non-talent. “Frank” truly rocks during its longer songs like “Secure the Galactic Perimeter,” or when the sound of a “Creaky Door” becomes an ever-amping shaman-like song. It’s Frank by way of Jim Morrison, which is part of the album’s charm of watching an outsider savant reveal that he’s as crazy as a fox, even while refusing to take his cartoon head off. Despite such hilarious, babbling breakdowns as “Frank’s Most Likeable Song…Ever” or Three Stooges samples filling “Frank’s Cacophony,” most of “Frank’s” tunes are surprisingly rockable, with Rennick’s snatches of underscore conveying a folksy, blissed-out vibe of the misfit Soronprfbs’ cult-like adherence to their masked leader. But it’s in the concluding song “I Love You All” where “Frank” reaches true, moving poetry. It’s an incredibly catchy song that’s a beautiful plea for acceptance, first performed for its raw, unhinged worth, and then played over the end credits with far more musical finesse. It’s one of the best, and most emotionally clever movie songs this year, though I suspect “Frank” is way to wonderfully weird to be on the Academy’s radar.
Extra Special: A far more serious kind of insanity fills the songs of “Rudderless,” though one might not hear it in the affecting lyrics and performance by stars Billy Cudrup, Anton Yelchin, Selena Gomez and ex Radish member-turned actor Ben Kweller. But that’s exactly the point in these poignant tunes that reveal a wounded soul desperately seeking an emotional connection through his songs – his tragic legacy forming the movie band of actor William H. Macy’s impressive directorial debut. You’d have to think back to “Once” to find such a memorably spiritual collection of acoustically driven tunes that also capture the energy, and enthusiasm of performers beginning to make it big in a small way. “Rudderless’” tunes range from the toe-tapping, grungy top 40 energy of “Beautiful Mess” to gentle hope for “Home,” a feeling of asking for forgiveness that also provides for the movie’s powerful message. But there’s also humor here in the bouncy groove of “Real Friends,” a real school rock version of “Wheels on the Bus” and a relationship laid unplugged raw in “Asshole,” a dead-on song that manages to make even that word sound pretty. Alt. rocker Eef Barzelay, who provided the inventively rhythmic score for the wonderful “Rocket Science” does similarly clever, if more haunted underscoring here, mixing folksy grooves and gentle vocalese that gets across the haunted journey of a father reluctantly turned into a not so over the hill coffee house rocker. So good are Rudderless’ sets that one could easily imagine the band becoming the real deal, especially lead singer Cudrup, whose delivery of the emotionally climactic “Sing Along” makes one feel the ghost of John Lennon as much as it does his character’s son. Not since Prince’s end set of “Purple Rain” has a movie singer ripped his guts out to such powerful effect, if done here to understandably more lyrically strumming resonance for one of this year’s most powerfully moving film scenes.
3) MARY POPPINS / SLEEPING BEAUTY – THE LEGACY COLLECTIONS
Prices: $21.88 / $13.88
What Is It?: For a company that’s re-released their soundtracks as many times as there have been DVD editions of “The Evil Dead,” Disney might have finally reached the alpha and omega of truly special special editions with their new spectacularly presented Legacy Collections. Begun with Hans Zimmer’s Oscar-winning “Lion King,” these gatefold CDs have used beautiful original art, copious liner notes and a kitchen sink of complete scores and outtakes to chronicle the creation of Disney music that remains undying for good reason – a heritage that now wonderfully continues with series producer Randy Thornton’s impossibly ambitious release of “Mary Poppins” and a stay awake edition of “Sleeping Beauty,” improving on the sound of a score that stands as the first stereophonic soundtrack release ever back in the day.
Why You Should Buy It?: “Mary Poppins” flew away with five Oscars in 1965, among them statuettes for Original Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”) and its “substantially” Original Score, all channeling the wondrous energy of what’s arguably the most eternal tune-filled soundtrack created by The Sherman Brothers. Sure Richard M. and Robert B. had done some memorable Disney work before on the likes of “The Parent Trap” and “The Sword and the Stone,” but their alternately jolly and melancholy numbers like “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Feed the Birds” and “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” captured a real emotional resonance that went way beyond just having incredibly catchy hooks. It was music that heard beyond the dancing chimney sweeps and penguin waiters the subtly capture the emptiness of money-obsessed Edwardian England, and the desperate need of a family to make their father love them – all of course fixed in the end by the world’s best nanny. The first CD of the set offers the entire soundtrack as heard in the movie in a presentation that offers easily the best sonics that “Poppins” has ever rung across the rooftops with. But the true treat of this collection lies on CD two, which reveals a cornucopia of unused material. With nearly every song (heard and unheard in the film) given a jaunty piano demo by the brothers, the perhaps they should have used ‘em highlights include the unpacking cheer of the “Mary Poppins Melody,” the Gilbert and Sullivan-esque militaristic pomposity of “Admiral Boom,” the cheerful wake-up of “The Right Side” (a song that could just as well be the template of every heroine song introduction for Disney hereafter), and the deliriously rhyming kazoo melody of “The Chimpanzoo” – though one might understand how the walrus-voiced “North Pole Polka” might not have been prime material. But the far more grown-up stand out is “The Eyes of Love,” a song that likely made Mary a bit too womanly for Walt’s tastes. The Shermans are at their most enchantingly trippy when venturing to “The Land of Sand,” whose exotic, dream-like melody and haunting, sphinx-like chorus make for a striking precursor to the outright native songs the duo would write for “The Jungle Book.” Beyond its original interview with the cast and look back with the Shermans on the creation of “Mary Poppins,” the third CD is mostly comprised of the speaking sessions between the brothers and Australian author P.L. Travers. While their collaboration was depicted as combative in the wonderful making-of “Mary” movie “Saving Mr. Banks,” what’s heard here between the English-accented old woman and the peppy Shermans comes across as being an way-more pleasant experience for all concerned, not to mention an interesting peek into the real creative process that made “Mary” so cheerfully indelible for generations to come, fans who will delight in her new CD triple-play.
Extra Special: Many spoonfuls of Tchaikovsky sugar grace 1959s “Sleeping Beauty,” which uses that Russian composer’s “Sleeping Beauty Waltz” to base its music on. There’s a thoroughly pleasant grace and beauty to George Bruns’ Oscar-nominated “adaptation” of the piece, as well as thoroughly original, and exciting prince-to-the-rescue music that makes for the climactic battle between the now-misunderstood Maleficent. But for the most part, “Sleeping Beauty” is bird-chirping, sashaying strings that embody the Disney Princess at her most iconically pure-hearted, making for the most ingenious use of classical music the studio employed next to “Fantasia.” The lyrics by Tom Adair, Sammy Fain and Jack Lawrence are the definition of now un-p.c. desire for a woman to find her place in the arms (and singing duet) of a prince wit the lilting “I Wonder,” while the thematic tune “Once Upon A Dream” is likely the most gorgeous example of lyrics being put to any famed concert hall piece, with a waltzing enchantment that likely would have made Tchaikovsky smile. Though “Sleeping Beauty” offered far more score than songs, the second CD gives us the chance to hear the likely sillier musical that could have been, from the dueling kingly dads kvelling out their kids accomplishments in “It Happens I Have A Picture” and the pre-Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious wordplay of the fairy godmothers in “Riddle, Diddle, One, Two, Three.” And if the devilishly delightful numbers in “A Nightmare Before Christmas” could be traced back in spirit, then they’d find a hilarious Halloween town in “Evil – Evil,” a spell-reciting duet between a goofily-voiced demons as they relish the chance to make the world a miserable place, complete to the accompaniment of nursery bells. It’s a song so wonderfully outside of “Sleeping Beauty’s” orbit that one can only imagine its fiendishly delightful spirit somehow entered Danny Elfman’s consciousness – and a reason for those who might be put off by “Snow White’s” overwhelming niceness to grab this album.
4) HOWARD SHORE COLLECTOR’S EDITIONS
What is it?: Howard Shore made his musical bones on the body horror of director David Cronenberg, a match particularly made in visceral-intellectual heaven with “Dead Ringers,” “Naked Lunch” and “Crash,” three scores that show the chilling diversity in what’s arguably the most rewardingly unhinged (and ongoing) collaboration between two creepily-minded auteurs of this dark side of Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock. Now Shore gives this twisted trio a collector’s edition re-mastering, made complete with additional music that truly brings out his music’s mesmerizing power.
Why should you buy it?: 1988s “Dead Ringers” marked Shore’s fourth collaboration with Cronenberg for the most realistically disturbing movie the director had made so far, especially as it was based on the true, awful fates of twin gynecologists. But beyond its instruments for operating on mutant women, what made “Dead Ringers” emotionally unnerving was the soft, poignant sadness that Shore gave to its score. Gifted with what’s still the most deceptively beautiful theme he’s written for Cronenberg, “Dead Ringers’” theme plays like a waltz for two men inextricably bonded together. Shore’s silken strings and flute lead his thoroughly accessible, and tenderly melodic approach – at least for a short while before Shore contrasts one brother’s luxurious calm with the other’s drug-addled unraveling. A sinuously lush orchestra leads into piercing strings, the score’s delicate themes gradually unraveling with its feeling of inescapable, almost soaring tragedy that makes for one of Shore’s more Herrmann-esque scores. It’s a power that comes from his deft psychological probing as opposed to shock effects, creating “horror” scoring at its most silken in its mix of pathos and ghastliness. 1991s “Naked Lunch” threw reality out in the wastebasket of Interzone, the alternate drug reality inhabited by junkie novelist William Burroughs’ barely disguised stand-in of “Bill Lee.” Taking an equal seat to dine on this drug-addled score is jazz legend Ornette Coleman, a beat-jazz musician who truly could understand the 50s dope friend groove. His wild, untamed sax playing over Shore’s brooding score captures that elusive sound of “pure” jazz. The score reaches its terrifying apex with a pistol-shooting game of “Robin Hood” gone wrong, capturing the kind of life-changing agony that usually gets turned into a novel if the offender is literary-minded.
Extra Special: Shore had started out for Cronenberg with the eerie synth-filled scores to “Scanners” and “Videodrome,” an approach he’d mutate into the hypnotic, electric rock groove of 1996s “Crash” (and continue on with for “Cosmopolis” and their most recent effort “Map to the Stars”). Here, the sound of guitar-shredding metal is brilliantly appropriate for characters that can only get off in the aftermath of automobile wrecks. Shore twists about the music with their enthused, unholy fetishism, scraping, banging and clawing at all manner of iron and piano gut detritus to create a true “metal” score, but done in a completely unique way that’s anything but longhaired rock and roll. As topped with flutes, “Crash” has an Oriental Zen quality to it as well that makes the score even more hypnotically unsettling, going for voice-like tonal clusters that recall the pioneering moog work of Walter Carlos. The orchestra also plays its part here a la “Naked Lunch” in capturing increasingly shivering realization of just how bizarre this behavior is, giving “Crash” the impression of a modernistic tone poem as Shore gets into these characters’ metal-embedded skins to unsettling, and often beautiful effect. It’s one factor that makes the re-polished “Dead Ringers,” “Naked Lunch” and “Crash” stand out more than ever as disturbed evolutions into the outer realms of movie scoring, as practiced with surgical, intellectual precision by two men who really know who to mess up human beings.
What Is it?: After doing numerous re-performances of John Barry’s work through the years with “Lion in the Winter,” “Robin and Marian” and an especially spectacular resurrection from the deep of “Raise the Titanic,” the team of producer James Fitzpatrick, conductor Nic Raine and the now-stellar performers of The City of Prague Philharmonic take another trek with the composer’s sprit into what’s arguably his most successful continent. But where the themes for his furious jungle drumming, sweeping romance and brassy adventure of “Zulu” and his Oscar-winning scores to “Born Free” and “Out of Africa” can be recalled by audiences the world over, 1965s “Mister Moses” is a score that’s essentially been in the dark continent of soundtrack obscurity, which makes their new Barry safari all the more thrilling.
Why Should You Buy It?: Directed by “The Poseidon Adventure’s” Ronald Neame, “Mister Moses” starred Robert Mitchum as a n’er do well diamond smuggler who’s very reluctantly pressed into service as a would-be savior for an African tribe to relocate them from their homeland, which is about to be flooded for a dam – their journey led by an elephant named Emily and (of course) a beautiful missionary’s daughter. Despite their challenge, “Mister Moses” is a markedly more fun for Barry in its approach than the life-or-death challenge or raising an orphan lion club or guiding lovestruck Europeans to kill them. Led by the kind of rousingly repeated theme that the composer could write like no one else, Barry’s use of trumpeting brass is particularly appropriate for embodying the real, long-nosed star of the film, its pace led by native drum percussion. If anything, Barry’s rhythmic exotica even more authentic than “Born Free” and “Out of Africa” with its focus on a tribe, which Barry thankfully gets to play with more orchestral nobility than the thundering music for the “savages” in “Zulu.” Written the same year as “Thunderball,” “Mister Moses” is given passages of string suspense and dynamic bursts of brass that fans of Barry’s James Bond classics will appreciate, while the younger set of the time no doubt delighted to the monkey shines of Barry’s more outrightly playful moments, especially in the higher, tree-climbing register of its wind instruments. But while the western-style orchestra is rousingly present in “Mister Moses” as Barry notes the highlights of the journey like the Tarzan movie he never got to score, what particularly impresses is just how native the composer went to mostly convey darkest Africa at its brightest.
Extra Special: The microphone placement and mixing of Fitzpatrick’s projects have gotten so good at this point that it would likely be impossible to tell the difference between “Mister Moses’” original (and lost) tracks the mixing of the orchestra keep Barry’s sound energetically fresh while sounding as nostalgic as a 1965 LP, as played through a particularly good hi-fi system would. Frank K. DeWald’s knowledgeable liner notes shed light on the movie that still hasn’t reached the DVD promised land, while the attractive, animal-filled graphic layout can be complemented for evoking the movie’s iconography without having any original key art available – a pitfall that many albums of this sort usually are unable to cross successfully.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. BAD MILO
Ted Masur is an ass clown in the truest sense of the world with a memorable physical soundtrack debut that poops out his delightfully twisted score about a monster that emerges from a nebbish’s butt to unleash hell on his master’s tormentors. Packed with devilish fury and eccentricity to spare, Masur’s music is a clever delight as it not only goes rampaging about in Elfman-esque fashion, but channels horror-indie energy into a uniquely comic sound that would be perfect for some Mike Judge movie down the line. There’s lunacy to spare in the off-kilter clocks of a “Firing Montage” to hilariously embodying the awful straining that produces “Meet Milo. And when it comes to the year’s best cue ever with “Myth of the Anus,” Masur uses with a cimbalom-like effect that might make you think you’re hearing the score to an absurdist werewolf movie, a diagnosis that that eerie violin of “Doctor’s Orders” only confirms. It’s all part of an amazingly successfully tightrope act as Masur walks the very, very fine line between cartoonish comedy and serious menace, often at the same time. It’s an attitude that also makes the movie’s one-joke, Troma-ready premise wildly better than any viewer or listener could possibly expect. Masur uses his limited musical means especially well with a wistfully poignant sense of child-like melody, a clanking xylophone and forlorn whistling giving us real sympathy for the little butt-devil, who nonetheless relishes in grand strains of swirling, nicely thematic horror action that ballsily goes for broke with raging chorus at its movement’s climax. At the least, “Bad Milo” has the best music ever written for a bloodthirsty hemorrhoid in the history of cinema. And what composer can make that claim?
. LA BUCA
Fans of Pino Donaggio can only visualize Brian De Palma’s frequent suspense music consigliore holding up a butcher knife composed of lush orchestrations for such scores as “Carrie,” “Blow Out” and “Body Double” given his work that hits stateside. Undoubtedly, they’ll get a big musical shock if they hear how he’s equally adept at handling the styles of George Gershwin and Stephan Grappelli with the finesse he usually gives to Bernard Herrmann. The latter two are the jazzy partners in musical crime for this Italian comedy that finds a shady lawyer using hook and crook to reverse the record of a just-released, decades-long prison inmate. But the real revelation of “La Buca” is just how equally beautiful Donaggio can be given a far lighter tone. While his telltale, romantically heavy use of strings definitely tips us off to the composer’s far more dangerous identity, he’s effortlessly able to switch to a rhapsody in blue, tango’ing about with a strumming Gypsy guitar. You’d swear this was the score for a wildly romantic adventure in 40s-era Havana by way of black and white Manhattan if you didn’t know better, but it’s just part of this wonderful score’s diversions that Donaggio can so beautifully evoke jazz vastness and intimate pathos in this odd couple’s not-so legal travails. Especially impressive here is Donaggio’s use of piano and brass melodies, turning his obvious love of Gershwin and that sparkling era to his own voice. Working as both modern, sophisticated comedy scoring and a gorgeously nostalgic album, “La Buca” is an homage so good that you might not even care if Donaggio ever picked up a knife or power drill again.
Between the sword and sorcery that helps seat the “Game of Thrones” to the tongue-sucking plague brought on by “The Strain,” Ramin Djawadi has been having a hell of a time giving eerily adventurous production value to genre TV. Now with “Dracula Untold,” Djawadi gets to unleash a truly epic supernatural score that bat wings its way to the top of his work. Vlad the Impaler gets his most emotionally vulnerable treatment a la that other not-so villainous revisionist movie “Maleficent,” the horror springing from the character’s humanity. Djawadi powerfully responds by giving Dracula a memorably bold, darkly heroic theme that becomes damn near operatic as he luxuriates in his satanic superpowers while trying to be on the side of the angels. Where Djawadi’s music is mostly restrained (though the shackles are definitely coming off) on “Game of Thrones,” “Dracula Untold” gives the composer the chance to really go for the period sweep with this neck-kissing cousin to that HBO hit, evoking a real-world Dark Age atmosphere for royalty-ruled Transylvania by using such Eastern European exotica as cimbaloms, yet sure to make the sound contemporary with the kind of propulsive, rock rhythms that are staked into today’s action scores. Especially effective is Djawadi’s tragic, music for Dracula’s immorata, a lush, pained feeling that mightily abets the character’s tragic nature, and righteously twisted vengeance. Where Dracula always talks about his nobility, this is pretty much the first score to actually play that blood-splattered lineage for all of its valorous, sword-swinging worth. When he truly assumes his mantle as the Prince of Darkness, Djawadi’s terrifically exciting use of a percussive, full-blast symphony shows off an orchestral power that’s rare for any “horror” score these days. It gives “Dracula Untold” a pretty great musical shove off for what Universal hopes will be the launch of an action-oriented monster line. This thrilling score gives us high hopes for that said franchise will be calling on the children of the old-school orchestral night for its supernaturally thematic panache.
Varese Sarabande continues to diversify to different audiences, in these two cases musically appealing to the younger set. The wee ones, particularly children with a thing for crayons, should enjoy repeated listening to “The Hero of Color City.” There’s a sweet, gentle enjoyment they’ll find in the songs and score by ex Ziggy Marley drummer Angel Roché Jr and Zoë Poledouris-Roché, who helped her dad Basil cook up an especially important theme for the way-more adult “Conan the Barbarian” back in her younger days. Tunes like “Color the World” and “Heave Ho” have cleverly rhyming lyrics and catchy melodies perfect for bedtime playing. As led by a catchy, hand-clapping theme, “Color City’s” instrumentals capture a similar charm, with lullaby-ready bells, energetic lite rock percussion and a fun Reggae rhythm, creating the kind of tinkertoy band tunes budding composers might be playing in their heads as they let their imaginations put crayon to blank musical paper. The tone of “Ninjago” has a decidedly more adult feel as Jay Vincent and Michael Kramer give an epic, Oriental sweep of the Lego knee to the “Masters of Spinjitzu.” Collecting music from the hit Cartoon Network series into an impactful hour of the score’s biggest hits, “Ninjago” impresses with its determination to reach the musical power of “Kung Fu Panda.” If anything, Vincent and Kramer are determined to be really serious (though no less fun) in melding a western approach with Oriental block fists of fury. Strong orchestral samples work quite well in tandem with Asian percussion, metal guitar, and a Chi-channeling chorus, creating a sense of dramatic excitement, and even danger that belie the playfully animated concept. It’s an admirable determination to really play in a big martial arts music sandbox that gives “Ninjago” an appeal of truly strong themes that chopsocky score aficionados will be pleased by, even as the score’s dynamic range begs out for a true symphonic army that could befit the excitement that the composers get a black belt for in conjuring.
. OUR MAN FLINT / IN LIKE FLINT
In the ying-yang universe of deserved film score karma, Jerry Goldsmith might have ended up with flying with “Supergirl” instead of “Superman,” or battling a “Swarm” of killer bees as opposed to climbing “The Towering Inferno.” But that never meant that Goldsmith didn’t give his musical all to some truly wacky wannabes, especially when it came to putting on a lady killing outfit for America’s Z.O.W.I.E. agent Derek Flint (as opposed to musically tailoring that certain other British spy). But as 60s-jazz as John Barry might have gotten with Her Majesty’s Secret Service, one couldn’t imagine that composer scaling the shagadelic heights like Goldsmith did with aplomb for 1966s “Our Man Flint” and its subsequent sequel “In Like Flint.” Where James Bond inspired all manner of spin-offs for the small and big screens during the 60s spy craze, the Flint films got the biggest studio sanction of all from 20th Century Fox. Given a mood and look just slightly less campy than “Austin Powers” would spoof, Goldsmith broke out his Nehru smoking jacket, along with the fuzz guitars, groovy electronic Solovox organ, and swooning saxes and trombones that typified a stylishly ridiculous era, given an extra puff of way-out electronics for the mad weather-controlling scientists of GALAXY in “Our Man Flint.” But given Goldsmith, “Flint’s” appeal goes way beyond its kitsch grooviness, as the composer thematically pulls it all together with a dynamically lush orchestra to give the score a relative saneness beyond the Watusi’ing action, his bongo-drumming spy action skills already honed on TV’s “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Yet the catchy score for “Our Man Flint” seems positively square when compared to “In Like Flint” as Goldsmith teams up his old Flint melody with an even better score-song riff in “Your Zowie Face.” Here Goldsmith helps Derek take on a legion of femme fatales trying to brainwash the world in beauty salons. There’s hep, insane energy to spare in Goldsmith’s delightful grooves, ostinato excitement and confident strings, especially when he roughhouses “Swan Lake”-style with bongo prancing, horn-slurring Russian dance moves. And even given the score’s way-lighter tone, there are also some dynamite two-fisted brass moves that Bond would envy. The effect is like crashing in on Dean Martin’s bachelor pad if Dino was in a particularly hep mood (though Goldsmith might be happy he never got assigned a “Matt Helm” movie). Intrada’s twin re-issue of the “Flint” LP scores sounds great, featuring Jeff Bond’s martini dry liner notes and delightfully mod packaging by Joe Sikoryak.
. JOHN WICK
Any Russian mobster who watched “The Matrix” would know better than to mess with Keanu Reeves. Fortunately as “The Equalizer” reboot recently proved, these enduring villains du jour don’t seem to watch a whole bunch of familiar former hit-man movies. And their latest f-up of killing a bad ass’ puppy gives “Devils Rejects’” Tyler Bates, “Beyond the Mat’s” Joel J. Richard and an assist by Dyland Eiland (i.e. the DJ known as Castle Vania) carte blanche to get some rocking payback. Starting off with some slow-burn ambience to get across “John Wicks” retired killer street cred, Bates, Richard and Eiland gleefully unleash electro-punishment upon the post-Commie malefactors. Reeves is an actor who brings particular grace to his annihilation, and the composers skillfully get that rhythm down with sleekly menacing strings, trip-hop beats, retro synths and grinding guitar, even allowing a cool theme to be derived amidst the mayhem. Better yet, there’s a mean, cimbalom-esque ethnicity to the score that gets across the bad guys as it repeatedly gets shocked, shot and stabbed by “John Wick’s” rave-ready dance moves. With neon propulsive songs by Ciscandra Nostaghia, M86 & Susie Q and even a jazzy “Evil Man Blues” number performed by The Candy Shop, this is one of those soundtracks that could just as easily be spun in a club as a movie soundtrack, which is right in hyper-beat step for style-conscious killer who moves with cool, yet enraged rhythmic elegance as he takes out the trash – given extra magnetism by musicians who definitely know their way around a dance floor where pulse (and the upcoming lack of many humans’) is the thing. In any case, “John Wick” is most definitely not for the mild score of heart, which for a glowstick-holding music fan is a cool thing indeed here.
OUIJA / JESSABELLE
Anton Sanko has certainly come a long way in scoring horror films since the days of “Strangeland,” employing the off-kilter vibe of such dramatic indie scores as “Scotland Pa.,” “Life in Flight” and “Rabbit Hole” to the far weirder likes of “Last Winter” and an episode a piece for “Fear Itself” and “Masters of Horror.” In the process, Sanko has impressed by evolving from cool, sampled quirk to fully commanding darkly emotional orchestral forces for “The Possession” and “The Devil’s Hand,” a talent that only becomes more uncannily formidable with the ghostly assaults of “Ouija” and “Jessabelle.” While the first spirit-talking board might now be property of Parker Brothers, Sanko uses its letters to channel the very accomodating ghost of Jerry Goldsmith with cunningly sinister string and piano-driven themes that could easily belong to the lethal seductress of “Basic Instinct” as opposed to an undead bad seed. While the requisite crash-bang fake-out shocks are present by horror score requiremet, Sanko mostly goes for a mood of mesmerizing restraint that helps give “Ouija” a maturity and intelligence uncommon for most good-looking teen multiplex fright flicks, using bubbling synths, clawing, metallic samples and eerie voices under an otherwise sleek and intimate orchestra to convey something very bad trying to rip its way out from the other side. It’s music that’s actually scary in its melodic deliberateness, the score’s intensity building nicely to the point where Sanko can let loose with throbbing percussion and a full, darkly angelic chorus for the movie’s decent pay-off, music that truly earns “Ouija’s” climactic, toy store available possesion its stripes.
No less melodically chilling, but far more terrifyingly in one’s face is the spiritual assault that befalls “Jessabelle” (available November 4th on La La Land Records), wherein a woman recovers from a disabling crash to find something far worse lying in wait for her visions in the bayou. Here it’s the hungry demon of “The Gift’s” Christopher Young that Sanko summons to stalks about a southern voodoo setting, as conveyed through through achingly drawn fiddle, strumming dulcimer percussion, bells and an ominously forelorn theme, with weirdly echoing atmospheres and reversed sound design creating a supernatural acid trip. As “Jessabelle’s” heroine literally goes off the deep end, Sanko only increases the black magic hysteria with sing-song voices that soon melt into tribal drumming, pulsating electroncs and shamanistic screaming of Sussan Deyhim, a vocalist who gives Diamanda Galas a run for gutteral insanity. It’s an inventive, paranoia-inducing assault on the senses that makes Rosemary Woodhouse’s devilish musical pregnancy a cake walk with when compared to the child-bereft “Jessabelle’s” submersion into black musical magic. It’s just a measure of how powerfully Sanko can convey the supernatural with elegance, or cruelty as he continues to weave some of the genre’s most creepily effective work from music that began in the underground.
In a particularly striking case of turning fate’s rotten apples into ironic oranges, quadriplegic actor Christopher Reeve went with his immobilizing accident to gain the opportunity of bring true realism to the part of the paralyzed, voyeuristic hero – whom unlike the broken-legged James Stewart of the Hitchcock original – isn’t going to be getting out of his wheelchairl. Beyond Reeve get an Emmy nomination for his performance here, the TV remake’s second Emmy recognition would deservedly go to composer David Shire. With such memorably tense scores to his credit as “The Conversation” and “All the President’s Men,” Shire approached this new, especially creepy view from this 1998 “Window” in a far more musically active manner than Franz Waxman applied to the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock original. In fact, if any of the master of suspense’s composers haunt this technology-filled apartment, then that spirit belongs to Bernard Herrmann, as Shire uses a cinematically lush orchestral sound to play a gripping cat-and-mouse game with the wife killer across the street – a villain captured with jarringly percussive hits right at the start to signal this take on “Rear Window” will be far more frightening. Setting up a warmly empathetic theme for Reeve’s immobilized architect, Shire’s twisting,hair-raising themes vary with the rhythms of snooping about, an interplay of traditional piano, string and brass menace crossed with sometimes funky, electronic rhythm and a subtle electric guitar for the high-tech equipment that fills this living space. Shire gives the score a gripping feeling of melodic tension, with every cue neatly designed to build to the ultimate moment when the murderer will show up in person. Movie Score Media can be thanked for peering into Shire’s formidable repertoire to bring this impressive score to light again in the symphonically sumptuous album that shows just how grippingly good a musical remake can be.
. SEE NO EVIL
Where Henry Mancini got to play blind woman’s bluff with Audrey Hepburn in “Wait Until Dark” with creeping restraint, composer Elmer Bernstein got to scare the already-gone sight out of Mia Farrow with way more symphonic lavishness in this 1971 thriller from “Boston Strangler” director Richard Fleischer, who opened up the basic girl-in-peril idea from a Manhattan apartment to an English home and its surrounding countryside – where nearly all of the occupants have gone lights out thanks to a cowboy-boot wearing killer. Where Bernstein was best known for intimate Hollywood dramas or period epics, the composer was equally adept at the horror genre when give the rare chance. While he kicks up the groovy jams for “See’s” source cues and gives sweeping string melody to its heroine, no more swaggeringly than during cues like “Home Ground” and “Idyll” that could have easily accompanied a horse galloping montage in “True Grit” (but somehow appropriate for a horse-riding heroine). “See No Evil” is equally notable for its eerie, yet emotional intimacy, sparkling pianos, tender bells and vulnerable strings playing as if the score for “To Kill A Mockingbird” was suddenly thrust into a psychopath’s company. Bernstein springs brass shock effects on its terrified heroine with the best of them. The score’s retro appeal is abetted with fuzz guitar suspense and racing bongos the terror truly reaching frenzied proportions in cues like “Discovery” where staccato piano runs grow with rampaging brass adrenalin, or in an swirling “Escape” that would work just as well for a flight from a German prison camp. Sure Mancini may have been skulking about the dark, but it’s the sheer, alarmed craziness of Bernstein’s approach in between its tip-toe’ing that makes “See No Evil” so much boisterous fun. Once can only imagine how Bernstein might have scored a “Friday the 13th” movie had he be given the chance.
. ST. VINCENT
“Marley and Me” composer Theodore Shapiro has always had a thing for the comedic underdog in such scores as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “One Chance,” all while creating clearly distinct musical characters for these seeming losers, whether it be wacky percussion, dream-like melody or operatic triumph. But he’s likely never gotten a true, cantankerous schlub like Bill Murray’s boozing Vietnam vet who seems to be anything but “St. Vincent.” Yet like all of his previous life-losers, Shapiro finds a heart of gold underneath them with his catchy, rhythmic approach. The trick here is grabbing onto the music that Murray’s curmudgeon likely listened to during his glory days, then crossing it with whatever tune might have been playing in the bar he frequents. The result is a boozy, bluesy score that stays after last call on its way to a “Bad Santa”-esque redemption that only a nice latchkey kid can provide. Coming up with easygoing melodies that play off Murray’s undeniable charm, Shapiro gradually opens the score’s emotion up from a crabapple player piano, not-so-cool Hammond organ and alternately shuffling and stumbling percussion. He takes the score through its emotional beats in a way that’s nicely subtle instead of forced, from sweet hand-clap montage music to the eerie synths of more dramatic moments, with a poignant violin and tender guitar that enters the scene to signal some sort of bonding breakthrough. Eschewing the “cool” factor of other retro rock scores, Shapiro can be blessed for a funny and personable rough-around-the-edges score that plays up a ratty neighborhood and the fact that the guy next door isn’t such an a-hole after all. Like this thoroughly satisfying movie, that’s graced with Murray’s best work yet, Shapiro’s “St. Vincent” has an emotionally winning attitude with a capital A.
. 22 & 21 JUMP STREET
Far from signaling film scoring Devo-lution, ex-cult rocker Mark Mothersbaugh has consistently proven himself as one of Hollywood’s most wackily animated composers, loading his work with hip retro samples, wacky rhythms and knowingly bombastic strings. It’s a child-like glee that’s often having fun with his assignments while satirizing them at the same time, an ironic, adrenalin sense of fun that most recently hit it awesomely big for filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller with “The Lego Movie,” a road of unabashed energy that began in “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs.” But Mothersbaugh’s most hilariously satiric work for the duo is definitely their two shots at “21 Jump Street” and its delightfully unnecessary sequel “22 Jump Street,” both of which have been collected by La La Land Records. If a common musical (not to mention cinematic) problem with all of these TV-to-movie reboots is having older composers trying to show how “with it” they are for audiences who weren’t even embryos when these shows were on, then Mothersbaugh nails the hopelessly goofy quality of their scores at trying to be hip-hop modern. Wacky, out-of-shape synths, way-too manic electric guitars and thunderous strings rock out like an over the hill band. But that’s exactly the joke of these movies. You can feel the sweat flying off Mothersbaugh’s keyboards as he rags on every Bruckheimer-blockbuster score before him, yet with simultaneous affection that offers surprisingly good themes for action and romance amidst the patriotically trumpeting hijinks. His absurdist sound reaches even bigger heights of cop score portentousness in the even better sequel score for “22.” Sure he might be playing a golf cart chase. But the charm in these “Jump Street” scores is that he might as well be thrashing on top of an army tank as it’s racing to save the world. It’s a musical joke that pays off with an energetically wacky wink where every cop score cliché he indulges in is awesome.
. WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD
From “The Doom Generation” to “Splendor” and “Kaboom!” Greg Araki’s films are Technicolor, sexed-up acid trips, full of bad behavior that can range from the hilarious to the disturbing – but never without empathy for his misfit characters. Two composers to particularly to get that vibe are Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd, who first teamed to give a beautiful, translucent synth-rock vibe to the surreal UFO imagery that hid two young men’s awful truth behind Araki’s “Mysterious Skin.” Now the filmmaker sends another teen on a hallucinatory vision question to find the “White Bird In A Blizzard,” a caged bird that happens to be a daughter’s dissatisfied, and now disappeared suburban mother. Where Guthrie and Budd nailed a kind of retro sci-fi purple haze for “Mysterious Skin,” “White Bird’s” setting of the 80s allows them to spiritually get the guitar-synth doom groove of the decade, a proto-Goth music period that Cocteau Twins’ former guitarist Guthrie likely knows well. The result is long puffs of haunted, hallucinatory melodies that are things of ethereal beauty. As opposed to a more overtly traditional approach any other filmmaker or composer might have taken, Araki and his musicians play a smooth dream world of teen angst, with guitar-topped melodies capturing a feminine yearning that captures the weird transition between girl and woman, while a tender piano helps give lost humanity to an otherwise unsympathetic foreign hausfrau trapped in a suburb she never made. “White Bird in a Blizzard” is alt. rock scoring at its most dreamily transcendent, a finally uplifting tone poem for coming of age that abets this film’s unique, unquantifiable vibe in a way that’s more like fantasy silk than pelting snow.
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