Soundtrack Picks: “THE ROCKETEER” is the top soundtrack to own for July, 2016
Also worth picking up CAFÉ SOCIETY, THE INFILTRATOR, JESSICA JONES, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, MADE IN FRANCE, NIGHTHAWKS, SENSORIA, VICTOR YOUNG AT PARAMOUNT and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) THE CONJURING 2 / LIGHTS OUT / SENSORIA
Price: $11.99 / / $9.49
What is it?: Ghost scores are back with a vengeance, a slew of hauntings given new inspiration by the Blumhouse formula – a mainly home-bound brand given sinister new life that’s counted Joseph Bishara as the main lease holder. A composer-cum-creature actor, Bishara has essentially become horror soundtracks’ answer to such modern classicists as Bela Bartok and Krzysztof Penderecki – musicians renowned for favoring stabbing dissonance in favor of any melodic escape to grasp onto. Perhaps that’s why Bishara’s work is so effective in alternately pouncing and shrieking its way through any number of Blumhouse movies and their ersatz spawn, scoring determined to get under the listener’s skin while throwing pleasantry into The Pit. Certainly Warner Brother’s “Conjuring” is the most effective devotee of what Blumhouse hell-spawned, especially with Bishara on board, With “The Conjuring 2,” Bishara is back to his old nerve-stabbing tricks, but expanding his shocks into more humane territory. Given the further, heavily fictionalized adventures of real-life ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren, Bishara not only delivers the expect movie theater-chair jumping flourishes, but hears a surprising amount of emotion as well. A weird, religious feeling hangs over the score for its unreservedly Christ-believing couple, choral masses that at once reflect their faith, while also moaning with the ungodly forces determined to test it. Effective melancholy also hangs over the unfortunate, working-class English family tormented by something way more than a pesky poltergeist, showing off a haunting as an intrusion upon family togetherness as well. It’s the loneliness of having no home to go that’s as awful as being trapped in the blackness of The Further, a phantom zone that Bishara materialized with his “Insidious” scores. That dread musical place is all over “The Conjuring 2” as well with chilling moans and purposefully out-of-tune brass masses. But in turn there’s also far more of an epic sense of symphonic heroism as the Warren’s souls go head-to-head with the movie’s soon-to-be-serialized evil “nun.” In the meantime, “The Conjuring 2” is a sequel score that really expands on Bishara’s repertoire, one that not only continues to get under our skin, but actually touches the character’s hearts as well
Why should you buy it?: Perhaps not so ironically, “Lights Out” composer Benjamin Wallfisch served as the composer for English television’s far more “factual” take on The Enfield Haunting that “The Conjuring 2” spun in a far more demonic direction. It’s poltergeist hunting that puts Wallfisch in very good stead to tackle the purely imagined she-specter that appears when it’s “Lights Out” in the Blumhouse. Once again dealing with children facing an angry entity that would like the young ones to be part of their house forever, Wallfisch’s approach is just a tad more conventional, which works quite well for a bad seed turned into a malicious adult ghoul. Given more of a melody-based background that’s done suspensefully well in such scores as “Hours” and the ghostly “Thirteenth Tale,” Wallfisch starts out of the gate with a strongly orchestral, child-like theme that carries a feeling of tenderness, all the better to get ripped asunder by nerve-shredding samples that evoke the dread of utter darkness in which evil dwells, and snatches her victims into. “Lights Out” does an effective to-and-fro between tunefulness and truly scary sample bits, poignant pianos and haunted choruses suddenly lurching into sinister, all-enveloping atmospheres designed with maximum impact for jump-shocks, yet wrapped into an uneasy thematic bow that’s about how family bonds can conquer all – at least until the inevitable sequel, with his ending rhythmic take on the main theme makes us quite musically eager for.
Extra Special: The Blumhouse effect has certainly rippled through world spook cinema, as can be seen and heard in Swedish with “Sensoria.” Israeli composer Frank Ilfman nicely captures the creepy musical spirit of Poland’s Krysztof Komeda as a lonely woman goes down the Polanski “Repulsion” rabbit hole, driven nuts by the barely-glimpsed ghost that’s her apartment’s other tenant. Very much “Rosemary’s Baby” in creepily melodic spirit, Ilfman treats this ghost with a witch’s brew of female-voiced lullabies and soft wailing, where a memorable music box theme adds to a poetic atmosphere of unholiness. There’s a twisted, child-like quality to “Sensoria,” a darky gentle spin on the tone that Ilfman gave to the far nicer meeting between a kid and a hulking, if friendly creature in his potent score to “Abulele.” And if Ilfman brought on the Herrmann-esque thunder in his last psychological horror score for “Big Bad Wolves,” the more restrained, eerily gossamer tone of “Sensoria” is truly fairy tale in tone, with delicate strings, tender piano, bell percussion and pulsing electronics weaving an empathetic spell around its heroine, much like a crone laying candied, thematic treats for an innocent to follow to a bad end. It’s a delicate, deceptive gentleness that shows how horror scoring can be just as effective with a sweetly evil, old school hush as it is conjuring shocks with blunt force when it comes to three memorable scores definitely not to be listened to with the lights off.
2) JESSICA JONES
What is it?: For the most part, movie superhero scoring is understandably of the muscular, macho symphonic variety, even if Wonder Woman might get a badass cello theme. Far more down to earth is the Netflix edition of the Marvel Universe, whose avengers prowl the mean streets of Hell’s Kitchen, and occasionally better NYC neighborhoods in “Jessica Jones.” Where John Paesano’s approach for “Daredevil” might be a sonar sense of dark rhythms, his soon-to-be fellow Defender gets a more welcoming emo-noir treatment by composer Sean Callery. It’s scoring that’s all about smoky, sensual vibes as opposed to menace – even if her main purple foe is arguably more horrifying than Matt Murdock’s girthy one.
Why should you buy it?: A longtime television-centric composer whose grrll power shows have included “La Femme Nikita,” “Sheena” and “Medium” (with an inordinate time spent saving the world with Jack Bauer as well), Sean Callery now gets the chance to hit the unrestrained world of subscription television, where Marvel has been pushing a far more serious R-rated edge long before “Deadpool.” Where “Jessica Jones” might be a hipper, more melodically pleasing listen than “Daredevil,” its investigator heroine is driven by the far darker subject of rape – as done to her head by the mind and body enslaving words of the psychotic Killgrave. Callery communicates what it’s like to be under that spell with melodically intoxicating mélanges of jazz, vocals, rock guitar and sometimes terrifying rhythmic samples – one part sultry private dick music, and the other the sound of being trapped in a mental spider’s web, helpless as the purple man approaches, yet lulled into not wanting to break free. It’s a hauntingly unique approach that really digs inside of Jessica’s wounded psyche, conveying a screwed up woman who’s now way worse for the wear. Yet sensuality, and the need for sex remain part of this exceptionally well developed character who’d rather just not speak at all, leaving Callery’s inventive approach to bring out the emotion amidst the gloom.
Extra Special: With its numerous tracks very well culled from 13 binge-addictive episodes, “Jessica Jones” is as far away from manly, Marvel fisticuffs as the Earth is from Pluto, even when it comes to her fights with the Killgrave-possessed Luke Cage. While we might have heard the kind of powerful, growling percussion that accompanies the very reluctant heroine trying to get through his unbreakable hide, “Jessica Jones” really hits something new when these fisticuffs become free form jazz. It’s like Miles Davis scoring a superhero battle, which is just one of the many innovative touches that Callery brings to a soundtrack that hypnotizes the listener in all the right ways.
What is it?: Though their LP to CD series sadly won’t be continuing, Varese Sarabande Records is still in the business of digitizing vinyl soundtrack gems from studio labels during the late 70s and early 80s. Where their lyrical likes of Charles Fox’s “One on One” and Dave Grusin’s “The Champ” might have had the occasionally groovy track, few scores from the period rock as hard as their ironically welcome release of Keith Emerson’s “Nighthawks.” Given Rutger Hauer’s ladykilling terrorist who enjoys discos in between blowing up English department stores and taking hostages on the Roosevelt Island tram, Keith Emerson create an action club beat that sounds with twisted, rocking confidence.
Why should you buy it?: As the keyboardist for Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Emerson’s virtuoso piano playing helped establish the groove of progressive rock, a sound at once rooted in classical orchestrations and electric guitar energy. With his distinctive flair infusing the Gothic horror of Dario Argento’s “Inferno,” Emerson was next given the shot at a studio film for Universal’s Sylvester Stallone vehicle. And while “Nighthawks” inexplicably remained his only studio picture, the suspenseful energy he gave to this stylish, gritty chase between he-man cross-dressing cop and vainglorious handsome evildoer has made “Nighthwawks” memorably stand as one of the 80’s most distinctively stylish action films. Yet the swaggering, jazz-brass quality of Emerson’s score as is also firmly rooted in such rhythmic urban crime scores as “Dirty Harry” and “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.” It’s brassy propulsion that teams with Emerson’s cutting edge synth work, taking on the propulsion of helicopter blades, where muddily distorted synths and electric organ play the all the crafty horror of the stalking Wulfgar. It’s the musical language of cop thrillers as put through the heated, melodic sensibility of a rock god in a final song solo, yet one cannily aware of the genre he’s playing in.
Extra Special: Where Emerson’s club songs were woefully changed on DVD due to the song rights that afflict so many MCA movie releases from the era, the “Nighthawks” album offers the full, film-heard versions of “Nighthawking” and “I’m A Man,” the first with Emerson turning his terrific theme into truly cool disco, and the second his vocal, electric-guitar riff on the classic Steve Winwood tune via his pro-rock guitar, organ and Studio 54-ish beat. Now with the score flying solo apart from the Emerson CD compilation it was once part of, “Nighthawks” impresses more than ever with its dazzling, energetic freshness, making Emerson’s recent loss all the sadder, yet more alive with suspensefully groovy energy than ever.
4) THE ROCKETEER
What Is it?: Of all of the gloriously unsung retro superhero films in the 90’s that took audiences back to the thrilling 30’s and 40’s days of yesteryear like “The Phantom” and “The Shadow,” “The Rocketeer” holds a special place for capturing a singular, soaring feeling of uncomplicated innocence. Here was an apple plié, gold-helmeted protagonist unburdened with psychological tsuris in a clear-cut fight against good and evil, all to save pal, country and a winsomely eye-popping heroine. And no composer embodied that kind of airborne derring do like James Horner, a musician whose own, ultimately tragic affinity for the sky poured forth in one of his most gloriously buoyant and thematic scores, bursting with all the red, white and blue of a Captain America comic book. Now on its 25th anniversary, Horner’s vibrantly enduring score flies like never before via Intrada’s sonically spy-smashing release.
Why Should You Buy It?: Created by comic book nostalgia fan Dave Stevens as a saucy salute to the Commander Cody serials of yore, “The Rocketeer” was Disney-fied for its terrific screen adaptation. But if Stevens’ fans didn’t get an homage to sometimes S & M pinup Bettie Page in the translation, “The Rocketeer’s” wholesomeness was a wonderfully fitting for the material, giving Horner’s work all the more affectionate. Having reached the heights of orchestrally swashbuckling, and wondrous fantasy and sci-fi scores like “Krull,” “Willow” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn,” “The Rocketeer” served as a sum total of the composer’s lushly symphonic bells and whistles for the genre – a pre-flight, ultra-thematic checklist that included a strongly heroic melody, yearning romantic music, villainously fascistic brass, lightning-fast, trumpeting crescendos, desperately suspenseful percussion and energetic derring-do. There’s no doubting for a musical second whom the good guys and bad guys are here, as well as when Horner is taking flight with a sense of elation in his gossamer strings and heavenly harps. If “The Rocketeer” has remained aloft as a beloved cult film, it’s in no small part because of the gee-whiz love that has infused every aspect of “The Rocketeer” from its performances and production. It’s a personable, often humorous approach that sings through the score in the obvious passion that Horner shares with the innocent romance and cliffhanging, comic book thrills that allow Horner to blazing play every aerial maneuver and two-fisted punch, making “The Rocketeer” the definition of clear-cut, flag-waving superhero scoring for the dearly missed simpler times of Saturday matinee superhero serials and those pictures that earnestly strove to recreate their magic.
Extra Special: “The Rocketeer” received an ample release back in the day that showed off Horner’s talent at writing extensive passages well above the seven-minute mark, as well as the big band swoon of former “Fridays” player Melora Hardin. Intrada’s dazzling two-CD set offers both the original release, and the complete score, both terrifically re-mastered from the original tapes in one of the label’s most-anticipated titles from their soundtrack partnership with Disney. Much of the extra 21 minutes involves the set-up of Howard Hughes’ stolen rocket pack as Horner captures the interplay between Bill Campbell’s barnstorming Cliff Secord and his wary mechanic Peevy (the always wonderfully nervous Alan Arkin), music that captures a yearning sense of a financially busted flyboy hoping for something better, and finding it with a dangerously shrill “gizmo.” The nefarious, coldly motivic brass of the traitorous, ersatz Errol Flynn star Neville Sinclair are get more of an ominous workout. But perhaps the most thrilling “new” music on hand is “The Laughing Bandit,” Horner’s tribute to Erich Wolfgang Korngold that plays as Sinclair engages in Robin Hood theatrics on the soundstage. While Horner took a fresh, retro approach to “The Rocketeer” in tone as opposed to outrightly trying to sound like a score from the 40’s, his brief, swashbuckling salute to the music of Hollywood’s golden age shows just how wonderfully Horner followed in that symphonically exuberant tradition. Tim Grieving’s enthusiastic liner notes and Joe Sikoryak’s colorfully designed booklet perfectly complement this red and gold valentine to when superheroes stood for goodness in all of its youthful, patriotic splendor.
5) VICTOR YOUNG AT PARAMOUNT VOL. 2
What Is it?: A soundtrack label that continues to dig into the best, if not terrifically well known work from the orchestrally glittering golden age of film music, Kritzerland gives another wonderful salute to a fairly unheralded composer with their second volume of Victor Young’s work at Paramount. With over two hundred scores to his credit (pretty prolific in a period where so many composers worked non-stop providing wall-to-wall music), Young is best known for the romance of “Three Coins in a Fountain” and such sturdy westerns as “Johnny Guitar” and “Shane,” along with his rollicking Oscar winner “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Young had a particular talent for jazzy, star-crossed attraction and dramatic patriotism, as spotlighted on this endearing volume
Why Should You Buy It?: Kritzerland’s second Young volume begins with 1956’s memorably titled “The Proud and the Profane,” a wartime romance where a widowed Red Cross nurse finds a new match in a hard-bitten colonel who knew of her husband’s death. While there’s some military marching about and noble strains of duty and sacrifice, “Proud” stands out for its WW2 jukebox jazz music, a swinging sound that Young takes to full, bluely rhapsodic Gershwin heights for the “All About Eve”-ish backstage backstabbing of 1953’s “Forever Female.” Going from waltz-time to a swooning, gorgeous orchestra that sings of NYC’s jet-setting showbiz nightlife. It’s wonderful froth, complete with a trip to Sardi’s Conga room. Far more dramatic is 1953’s “Little Boy Lost,” wherein a war correspondent returns to post WW2 France to reconnect with the son he lost contact with during the war. Young truly pulls at the heartstrings, no more so than with his aching use of violins that plead for the tear ducts, nicely showing off the kind of unbridled melodic emotion that composers were allowed to indulge in back in the day. The soundtrack quartet ends with the cartoonish delight of the 1952 Bob Hope comedy “My Favorite Spy,” where the affably bungling road icon is thrown into Tangiers-set intrigue. With just of bit of Middle Eastern rhythmic exotics, Young shows off his Carl Stalling side at making cartoonish hay with popular tunes, especially with his romping, circus-like take on “Farmer in the Dell” for a camel act, while the military drama gets put through its slapstick paces.
Extra Special: Whether serious or fun, what connects all of Young’s work for these relatively obscure films is a rousing sense of richly thematic, orchestral melody, the top notch work of its Hollywood players sounding particularly robust on this collection some fifty years later, now given their first-time release. It’s a delightful listen that puts a relatively unsung composer in a sparkling spotlight.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. CAFÉ SOCIETY
Jazz and Woody Allen have long gone together like bagels and lox. Whether New Orleans’ Dixieland swing, Josephine Baker crooning, George Gershwin rhapsodizing and Glenn Miller swinging with his big band (with the tune brakes pretty much stopping around 1950). America’s unique musical art form has served as the energetic, rhythmic voice of a director who could just as well have ended up running a vintage used record store if the film thing hadn’t worked out for him. If there’s one era that Allen has shown continual affection for, it’s the champagne-effervescent sound of the 30’s and 40’s, as can be heard in such films as “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Bullets Over Broadway” and “Radio Days.” Now “Café Society” joins that vibrantly antique nightclub / jukebox pantheon as yet another nebbishy Allen stand-in is shown the high life of Hollywood and Manhattan, with all of its assorted gorgeous dames, mob flunkies and hilariously hollow studio types. But if anything, listening to this wonderful assemblage of 30’s hits is like being given a front table seat at a nightclub where all of the swing legends and chanteuses hang out, to the point where you can hear the noisy laughter and clanking cocktail glasses in the smoke-filled background. Give new life to such iconic standards is Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks, who bring piano bounce and a Stefan Grappelli-esque guitar to such tunes as “The Lady is A Tramp,” “Jeepers Creepers” and “My Romance.” Kat Edmonson joins in with sultry tempo for “Mountain Greenery,” while Conal Fowkes tickles the ivories in style with “Out of Nowhere” and “This Can’t Be Love,” doing time with the Tango beat of YeraSon’s “The Peanut Vendor.” And of course, no Allen soundtrack would be complete without classic recordings, given here to the nostalgic big band of Benny Goodman’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” to Count Bassie’s “Taxi War Dance.” A greatly enjoyable album that sounds off with tuxedo’d class, “Café Society” continues to show that Woody Allen knows how to pick the jazz standards like no one else.
. A CONSPIRACY OF FAITH: THE DEPARTMENT Q TRILOGY
It’s glum enough being a procedural cop in America as one dives into the morass of human depravity. It’s a whole other level of soul crushing psychology when you’re doing the beat in Denmark as part of the “Nordic Noir” genre, whose most popular transplant to English language screens is “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy. Now three new movies from the land of frost and criminal cruelty lands with the “Department Q” series, adapting Jussi Adler-Olsen’s books about two cops digging into sinister past crimes, ones which turn out to be very much alive in the present. Uniting a female politician’s seeming suicide, a double murder perpetrated by the sinister elite look at people as big game, and a message in a bottle from a long-dead child that might save two others, is a riveting sound that effectively combines a melancholy orchestra with suspensefully sampled rhythms. Movie Score Media releases three CD’s that round up these coldly gripping “Department Q” scores, beginning with “The Keeper of Lost Causes” and “The Absent One” representing the seamless work of Johan Soderqvist, Patrik Andren and Uno Helmersson – a team that certainly knows where the bodies are buried given their collaboration on the Danish version of “The Bridge” (a series transplanted to the Mexican border for its American adaptation). It’s a pulsing, grim approach that’s definitely familiar to any viewer on these shores who’ve watched cops drive themselves nuts while exposing a bigger, conspiratorial picture. But what helps musically distinguish the “Keeper” and “Absent” is a melodic sense of humanity that keeps its heroes going, often-fragile piano and strings accompanying harsh, metallic evocations of evil. Yet there’s a sliver of hope amidst the scores’ morally anguished, poetically tragic tone that relentlessly push its clues together into a whole, twisted picture as they link the cases’ equally menacing past and present. But the most riveting “Q” soundtrack singularly belongs to Nicklas Schmidt (“Ronal the Barbarian”) with the concluding cinematic chapter “A Conspiracy of Faith.” As the cops ferret out a religious community’s distinctly unholy secret behind a grisly child napping, Schmidt brings a powerful drive to “Faith’s” distinctive fusion of electronics and orchestra, keeping tension and emotion alive as the officials pray to reach the innocent in time. Ranging from an intimate, classically-styled piano theme to fragile bells and the hollow, gnarled presence of its villain, Schmidt keeps a suspenseful chase between innocence, pure evil and world-weariness alive, especially in a bravura ten-minute set piece set aboard a train. Rays of sunshine might not exactly pop out of these three intriguing “hybrid” soundtracks even as its cases are put to relatively happy rest. But as an example of the international language of crime scoring, the “Department Q” musical trilogy is nothing less than riveting.
. FINDING DORY
If Randy Newman established Pixar with a relatively normal, and wonderfully robust symphonic sound for 1995’s “Toy Story,” it was his younger cousin Tom that really brought the studio’s tone into a new, rocking, alternative world for his big splash on 2003’s “Finding Nemo.” A master of conjuring lush oceans of orchestral melody with rhythmically offbeat sampling and oddball instrumentations that distinguished his youth comedy start in Hollywood, Newman represented the future of animated scoring, as he proved by giving soul to Pixar’s little robot that could with 2008’s “Wall-E.” If anything, little water has passed under the bridge when it comes to the freshness of Newman’s music to mark his return to the deep blue CGI Sea of “Finding Dory” – even if this cute sequel is just a bit familiar around the gills. Though its fish might be forgetful, this “Nemo” reprise does at least musically benefit from switching its viewpoint to a far goofier fish, allowing Newman to go for a more frantic and funnier score while also reprising many of “Nemo’s” instantly memorable themes (especially the wah-wah guitar of its surfer dude turtle). Basically a race through a Sea World-esque land of torment, and back out again, Newman often pumps his playful rhythms faster than a nuclear-powered aquarium pump. It’s breathlessly exciting while not Mickey Mouse’ing the CGI toon action as the score veers from Copeland-esque orchestrations to bell-ringing percussive fun, then darting into outré experimentation before resting with meditative strings and a sympathetic piano. And given the near-exhausting level of “Dory’s” excitement, it’s easy to imagine some of the more antic scoring fitting into the drolly comic approach that Newman’s often taken with his 007 scores for “Skyfall” and “Spectre,” especially when given a melody of a flute flitting about at top speed with a wah-wah guitar. If music could be magical water, then Newman’s score for “Finding Dory” is teaming with life, creating a truly enchanted kingdom beneath its sea of rhythm and emotion.
. INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
Now given a mothership that covers half the planet, Roland Emmerich’s follow-up to “ID4” somehow doesn’t have the dramatic mass of its predecessor, which doesn’t make this lightweight sequel and its score any less fun for not being as filling. The big elephant in the epic room of course is if the filmmaker’s disaster co-scoring confidants Thomas Wander and Harald Kloser (“2012,” “White House Down”) can match the original, mighty score by Emmerich’s first musical bro David Arnold. The answer is no, which doesn’t mean their entertainingly listenable work doesn’t ultimately succeed to some small size, given an impossible-to-fill, planet-devouring shadow to walk in. Where Arnold’s massive themes set up an ominous tone that spelled out a suspenseful end of the world, Wander and Kloser are dealing with a brighter future attack, especially given heroes who are a bit overconfident having manned up with alien technology. There are no themes as such to grab you in their approach, which has a heroism that captures an 80’s-era sense of fantasy fun. “Resurgence” at first does the job capably enough, if not exactly memorably. But just as one might expect musical froth all the way through, Wander and Kloser gradually make “ID2” more interesting, even taking some unusually powerful emotional directions when action might seem to be the way to go, no more so than when the good guys are ambushed inside the mothership to end all motherships. Spacey electronics also make a distinctive appearance with an of-course talking alien orb that proves to be an ally. By the time the film’s Godzilla-size queen does it’s best to wipe away memories of Emmerich’s giant turkey of that name, Wander and Kloser definitely have their save-the-world groove going on with equal parts patriotism and excitement as they recall the first film’s inimitable tone with this enjoyable, gung-ho effort. Yet perhaps it would’ve been better to craft their own distinctive melodies than bring back Arnold’s music at all, scoring that crushes all in its path, no matter how fun these new composers’ enthusiasm might be.
. THE INFILTRATOR
The cocaine glitz o 80’s “Miami Vice” meets the 70’s undercover cop grit of :”Serpico” in this intense, fact-based drama that finds Bryan Cranston on the right side of the war on drugs, courtesy of “Lincoln Lawyer” director Brad Furman. In a similar, pulsating drive that he’d employed Cliff Martinez to route his other effective crime noir thriller “Lincoln Lawyer,” Furman brings along composer Chris Hajian for the grippingly rhythmic ride to the dark side. With a comedy-filled resume that includes “Upright Citizens Brigade,” “Beverly Hills Chihuaha 2” and “Beethoven’s Treasure Tail,” you might not know if Hajian would be the most appropriate guy to navigate an Fed’s dangerous money laundering trail through Pablo Escobar’s empire, The surprise is grippingly on us in this mesmerizing, melancholy score. While not necessarily retro as such, Haijian’s sleek synths call to mind Jan Hammer’s work for the exploits of Crockett and Tubbs in building a world where pastel-colored style masks murderous depravity. But if Hammer’s trend-setting electronics had an in-your-face enjoyment in living the high, barely legal life, Haijain’s “Infiltrator” is done in a far lower, key. Sure Cranston’s cop might do international jet setting here as he pieces together the audio tapes to bring Escobar down. But it’s not “fun” stuff as such, as Haijan’s subtle, nicely thematic score conveys the constant sense of both a terrible fate that’s possible at any second, as well as the emotional sense of betrayal that comes from invariably thinking of foe as friend. Hajian gets too close by adding strings on top of his synths, bringing sad, soul-searching impact to the soundtrack as the noose gets both tighter around compromised heroes and multi-dimensional villains. It’s a smart, powerful approach that distinguishes “The Inflitrator,,” making it musically more real, and suspenseful in the bargain as it builds to the Big Sting. It’s a sneaky, high-tension score that marks Haijan as a composer one wouldn’t expect, much in the same way as Cranston’s narc.
. THE LEGEND OF TARZAN
Given a character once raised in a pulp jungle that rejoiced in wanton animal butchery and native racism, the key to making this umpteenth version of this English Earl the best Tarzan outside of the excellently literate “Greystoke” is tossing that noxious birthright to make him far more of a likeable human than savage ape man. That’s the key as well to Rupert Gregson-Williams’ wonderfully empathetic score – one that also doesn’t skimp on the thunder-drumming excitement of a brawny guy swinging about the jungle. A composer whose brought colorful life to any number of kid-friendly films from “Thunderpants” to “Over the Hedge,” while also showing his way around darkest Africa with “Hotel Rwanda,” “The Legend of Tarzan” marks a true, bravura entry into the summer vine-pole genre with all of the massive orchestral resources that comes with it. Taking a percussive page from the Hans Zimmer wilds where he rose up from, Williams creates a lush palette of strings, furious drumming worthy of Simba and a gorgeous female voice that could be paying testament to the greatness of The Gladiator. Williams makes this thrumming action sound very much his own in the Congo, which is more often than not an enchanted, ethereal place with mesmerizing electronics, foreboding ethnic winds and exotic rhythms, its accent on derring-do fun and tenderness. It’s the first score in the series to really communicate the mystical love that draws Jane to this jungle creature, creating a melodic bond that makes you believe he’d run hell-bent with the full percussion section to save her. There’s a truly epic orchestral sweep to the propulsive excitement that shows a composer determined to live up to the “Legend’ in this film’s title, while rebooting Tarzan with a contemporary action sound that’s its own animal. As a score that’s fully aware of the mantle of its icon, Greystoke’s lord emerges as an exceptionally, emotionally well-rounded, and percussively muscled musical character.
. MADE IN FRANCE
One of the reigning masters of 80’s-style retro synths, Robin Coudert (aka ROB) is best given to scoring such movies as “Maniac” and “Horns,” where his slasher-ready electronics can kill with abandon. It’s also a sadly inspired approach when it comes to playing homegrown Jihadists for a movie bloodily ripped from real life in his sinisterly energetic score for “Made in France.” Oft delayed on its turf given the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, this tale of a crusading journalist going undercover with a youthful cell of Islamists finally got released in both French theaters and via the county’s soundtrack label Music Box Records. Coming across like an icy computer rhythm mating between John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream and Vangelis to boot, the pulsating rhythms of “Made in France” have a fierce, relentless energy that sucks the listener into a grooving spider’s web of religious insanity, with Rob giving a particularly gnarled, industrial rock edge to his vibrant, throwback approach. Though he doesn’t go for a Middle Eastern tone as such, there’s a creepy, tribal beat to the score suggesting Arabic percussion. It’s a rhythmically buzzing hornet’s nest that an unfortunate reporter steps into, yet Rob can be just as quietly, and tragically creepy here as he is at engaging in crazed house beats, with flute, choral and organ emulation getting across an unstoppable sense of piano-topped tragedy that’s going to keep going on even if this film’s bombing plot is somehow foiled. Intensely unsettling and horror glowstick-waving cool at the same time, “Made in France” is throwback terror in a way that’s far more musically unsettling than if Rob composed his gripping score for a retro maniac holding a old butcher-knife.
. THE MONKEY KING 2
Where Hollywood might not be giving Christopher Young the major magical movies he certainly deserves (I’m looking at you Stephen Strange), the even bigger world of Hong Kong cinema is to be congratulated for allowing this seasoned practitioner of epic scoring to unleashed his mystical arts to even more amazing effect in his bigger, even better follow-up to “The Monkey King.” It’s an inspired choice to give the composer who’s often unleashed hell on earth, or outrightly tried to end the planet, with the task of putting karmic justice to rights in one of the many, if not more lavish, cinematic adaptations of the centuries-old adventure tale “Journey to the West.” Here a monk keeps getting his path to enlightenment royally screwed up by a monkey demigod with a penchant for rascally behavior and wantonly killing civilians. Just when you thought that Young couldn’t make the pillars of Buddhist heaven shake any louder, the composer pushes the volume to 11 with the same sly impertinence as this man-ape, laying down an epically melodic take on east meeting west as ancient Chinese instruments combine with assured symphonic thunder, eerie religious chanting and awe-inspiring vocalese to convey a mythically convey Asian fantasy with a holy attitude. A composer who gives particular attention to reworking his scores into album suites, Young’s extended tracks impress with their own thematic characters that shows off the beguiling richness of his score. A basilisk demon attacks with the full-blown ferocity of any of Young’s horror scores, where a prancing pig demon roots about with sprightly rhythm and flute. A giant lady skeleton beast has somewhat of a melancholy human heart given an evocative Erhu solo, where The Goddess of Mercy evokes gentle, flowing transcendence. A white dragon has a big outdoors brass swagger that’s positively John Wayne-esque, where a Bat Demon is given the gnarliest rock guitar this side of Young’s metalhead score to “Ghost Rider.” The Monkey King himself prances about with rhythm and swooning, choral heroism that says there might be hope yet to make a caring human out of him. It’s a sequel score that’s right at the top of Young’s always-impressive work, showing off new musical horizons that truly appreciate his god-like command of vast, magical melodies. That he’s the actual guy doing the Buddhist chanting to unleash his epic powers should come as no surprise.
. L’OUTSIDER (TEAM SPIRIT)
A financial whiz kid’s rise to the top of a financial institution he’ll take tumbling down is the real-life subject of this French take on “Wall Street.”
It’s an international language when it comes telling the fast-paced lesson of high living and moral consequences of the ill-gotten high life. It’s also terrific musical territory for Philippe Rombi to go rogue trading in when back in the company of director Christophe Barratler after his delicately beautiful score for “War of the Buttons.” Offering a memorable, determined theme as the stock and trade of “Team Spirit’s” emotionally rhythmic score, Rombi’s lush strings drive home a pulsating sense of flawed accomplishment, combining orchestra and pulsing electronics in a manner that will be familiarly energetic to American listeners of such up-to-the-minute decision making scores as “Frost / Nixon” and “Draft Day.” With billions of dollars on the computer stock line, Rombi’s effective use of time-ticking percussion and deceptively fun propulsion is the stuff that nail-biting financial montages are melodically made of. But there’s a price to be paid in the somber, reflective emotion in the score, a “Who am I?” feeling captured in lonely, self-reflecting piano and soulful violin that will ultimately slam the jail doors shut on our antihero. It’s another powerful score that’s a sum gain for this talented composer who proves himself worthier than ever of being a valuable French import to Hollywood.
. THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA
A jazz artist whose work as a film composer could range from such lushly swooning scores like “The Americanization of Emily” and “The Sandpiper” to such strikingly experimental work as “Point Blank” and the sensual teen psychosis of “Pretty Poison” (not to mention a screwball golf game in “Caddyshack”), Johnny Mandel likely received his most deceptively disturbing assignment for the 1976 Kris Kristoferson-Sarah Miles romance “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea,” However, it’s a film far more akin to “Lord of the Flies” as a widow’s son with sadistic delusions of grandeur ends up plotting to eviscerate the new man in his mother’s life – egged on by what he’s witnessing in their bedroom via a keyhole. Mandel had certainly dealt with disturbed kids in “Pretty Poison” and “The Sandiper,” but not to the creepy, cat dissection-to-start lengths of “Sailor’s” spawn. It’s a deliberate journey from love to madness given “Great Santini” director Lewis John Carlino’s delicate approach to the material, a halting, measured pace that Mandel creates with a stripped-down electric keyboard approach, next bringing in a trumpet that could either stand for the sea, or cruel film noir fate, with twisted, lullaby bells getting inside of the dark soul of a boy who isn’t going to be won over. As the English widow’s life opens to the sexual, and emotional promise of her new American beau, Mandel uses the subtle magic of harp and piano. Yet even when strings thematically come into the score, it’s done with a deliberate subtleness that’s most definitely not “The Shadow of Your Smile.” For the vastness of the ocean nearby, Mandel keeps the tone somewhat lonely for all of the promise his music gives to its widow. Because soon enough, the music is impressionistically twisting about again with harpsichord and dark rhythms that bring to mind Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the rural, equally perverted young sadists-in-training of “The Other.” That the most sinister music in the score accompanies his cue “Wedding Preparations” tells you that no nuptials will be had, with the borderline dissonant “End Titles” giving us anything but closure for one of the most horrifying (if thankfully unseen) endings in a romance. It’s a striking, yet delicately poetic work that stands as one of Mandel’s most unsung soundtracks. Previously only available on an vinyl from Japan (where the tale was adapted from its suicidal author Yukio MIshima), Kritzerland’s premiere release of “Sailor’s” short, but greatly effective LP program is reason to celebrate this unnervingly beautiful work that showed just how far Mandel could push his romantic touch, with its heart still temporarily intact.
. THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS
A French jack of all musical trades, Alexandre Desplat has certainly scored a multiplex animation film before, though done with a relatively straight-laced action-adventure approach for the superb, and sadly unheralded fairy tale superheroes of “Rise of the Guardians.” However Desplat’s second effort for this type of CGI toon is a funny animal score of a whole different 3-D color, a wonderfully rollicking soundtrack that jams with unleashed energy, yet with an elegant sense of melodic control that defines the composer’s prolific work. Given a menagerie of NYC-based pampered pets, as well as cast-offs with an attitude, Desplat goes for an overall jazz vibe that evokes every practitioner of Big Apple brass bounce from George Gershwin to Leonard Bernstein and the unrelated Elmer Bernstein at that, wrapping the antics from the city streets to the Brooklyn Bridge in a vibrantly thematic bow. Given that “Pets” arrives with the pedigree of the “Minions” team, there’s antic energy that comes with the territory, and Desplat marks it with a wonderful cartoonishness that is smart as opposed to busy, bringing in all sorts of delightful multi-cultural critter styles. Telenova music thematically turns Zorro-esque for a pampered pooch with a karate bite, Native American pow-wow drums, deliberately retro 50’s cha-cha’s, 60’s crime fighting swing and even a bit of modern day techno-scratch abound. Desplat also has fun with stalwart cartoon music, manufacturing a theme for spooky, skulking melody, while also engaging in the kind of comic book action that distinguished “Guardians.” Thankfully, a lot more people have seen and heard “Pets,” which is anything but a secret in showing the dexterity and sheer enjoyment that Desplat has in keeping up with keen refinement to whatever animated antics can be thrown at him for this utterly delight score.
. SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ
From “A River Runs Through It” to “The Majestic,” Mark Isham is a composer who knows how to play the heartstrings with devastating emotional impact, especially when dealing with the fact-based tragedy of “Bobby” and “The Conspirator.” With “Septembers of Shiraz,” Isham turns to the Iranian revolution, which delivers the Trials of Job upon a Jewish family who were comfortably numb to a country’s suffering under The Shah, whose Islamic population now out for biblical payback. It’s the world-shattering experience of having one’s dignity and flesh rent asunder that sorrowfully infuses Isham’s wrenchingly beautiful score. As shown in such scores as “Schindler’s List” and “Defiance,” there’s no instrument like the violin to evoke Jewish identity, and tragedy. Even when subject to the worst of the revolution, Isham keeps a balanced, even ethereal tone to the drama, never hammering in the characters’ loss. But if “Shiraz” is full of regret, the score is far from a downer, keeping a small semblance of hope alive in its gripping melancholy. Isham also has a keen sense of the Middle Eastern setting in his use of percussion, call to prayer and a cimbalom. As a composer who can also let head-banging action percussion rip in such scores as “Time Cop” and “The Mechanic,” Isham keys his score on the seemingly impossible hope of getting out of Iran as “Shiraz” builds to its great escape, combining sweat-dripping suspense and desperate, hamming rhythm. That the orchestra finally breaks into a semblance of sunshine at the end of “Septembers” puts a moving release on one of Isham’s most grippingly poetic scores.
. STARSHIP TROOPERS (3,000 edition)
The composer-director relationship of Basil Poledouris and Paul Verhoeven relished in symphonically swaggering macho thunder, a delight in violent attitude that rang through the medieval pillaging of “Flesh + Blood” and “Robocop’s” extreme law enforcement. But no score, or film better defined their mastery of militaristic bombast like 1997’s “Starship Troopers,” a movie both satirical in its gung-ho, kill ‘em all attitude against giant interplanetary bugs. Certainly one of the biggest budget cult movies of all time, Poledouris’ masterwork finally arrives in its full, propagandistic glory via Varese Sarabande’s terrific-sounding deluxe edition. Where past releases of “Troopers” score have concentrated on its dazzling action, there’s just a little more tender breathing room on this double-cd album that gets across more of an “All Quiet on the Western Front” vibe amidst its Leni Riefenstahll call for fascist God and country as Poledouris charts the indoctrination of a bunch of high school kids into battle-hardened warriors. Crafting terrifically memorable themes with no shortage of drum-rolling timpani or Teutonic brass war cries, this “Starship” savors the ramp into all-out action, With the troopers facing one overwhelming bug assault after the next, Poledouris’ rhythmic approach explodes with breathless excitement, smashing exhilaration and fear together in a score whose lifeblood is all about the stuff of great war scores, crafting its orchestral sound with just a bit of electronic sci-fi elements to place it in a future where nothing seems to have changed in terms of indoctrination.. There’s a true, epically melodic majesty to this pounding, relentless stuff, the fantastic sound of this new edition really getting across the kids-playing-war fun that Poledouris and Verhoeven had with this delightfully berserk, and satirically sincere movie. It’s an attitude that bursts with macho, melodic exuberance. “Starship Troopers” proudly stands as the alpha and omega when it came to Poledouris’ talent for these kinds of brass-fueled scores that could revel in their themes, from the majestically rising appearance of a brain bug to its relentlessly motivic creature attacks. That Poledouris knows he’s selling a big lie is very much part of “Starship Troopers” gonzo, flag-waving charm.
Ramin Djawdi has practiced a distinctive brand of musical sword and sorcery for HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” a show that’s allowed him to progress from low key Machiavellian scheming to the epic strains of battling bastards and avenging dragons. That alone is more than enough fantasy street cred to net Djawadi the RPG-to-live action adaptation of “Warcraft,” a saga with just as much history behind it as the iron throne. But given all of the music he’s provided for numerous seasons of “Games,” what can be possibly be new in the composer’s instrumental arsenal? Plenty, as it turns out in this powerhouse score that attacks its iconic creatures in a slightly lighter, if no less important way. Djawadi’s swashbuckling touch is also a good thing when it comes to a movie that should have been way more fun. “Warcraft’s” score does quite a bit of musical world building, with an emphasis on weighty brass, exotic winds and guttural voices to create towering, menacing Orcs as they invade an otherwise happy human realm. Driven to destruction by a memorable theme that rarely stops giving, Djawadi also gives a measure of nobility to the big brutes, let alone to the various human mages and knights tasked with defending the realm. There’s a neat sense of enchantment, as well as emotion that does much in the never easy task of giving videogame movies musical flesh and blood, an epic quest that Djawadi accomplishes with an sense of melodic majesty and cliffhanging excitement that nicely hammers away through the expanse of “Warcraft” while making it a distinctively strong scoring realm of its own.
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