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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #71
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

The Curse of La Llorona (Joseph Bishara, 2019) **** The Curse of La Llorona was the first time Joseph Bishara's music stood out to me. Even The Conjuring was not in the same league. Why? The latter felt like sound design. It wasn't musical. Yet Michael Chaves' film revealed far greater dynamic range from the composer. It was still spooky and mysterious, yet lighter moments made the heavy stuff more vibrant. In general, horror and thriller scores can be a tough breed. That's why I have issues with Jerry Goldsmith's Basic Instinct. There's a good theme but the rest ends up undone by the lack of contrast. It's so dark there's no space to breath. Meanwhile, Bishara creates a tantalizing mix through soft and baroque measures. I enjoyed the film, and Bishara's soundtrack had a lot to do with that.

Divorce, Italian Style (Carlo Rustichelli, 1961) **** The combination of talent, inspiration, experience and spontaneity makes Divorce, Italian Style an essential purchase. This is love personally felt. Therefore, Carlo Rustichelli's expertise at harnessing the melody for maximum effectiveness remains faultless. He could express the sweet, the bittersweet and the effervescent via purity and craftsmanship. As a result, our souls dance to the tune of a beautiful waltz. Encore.

Ghost Story (Philippe Sarde, 1981) **** A dynamic score which stands toe to toe with the gothic heights of Danny Elfman, Philippe Sarde's Ghost Story announces its campaign boldly. Boasting powerful brass, contrabassoon, xylophone and strings among many others, we get to hear the music closer to what Sarde intended. Because the film underwent numerous editorial changes, Sarde's music was not experienced in the best light. Then again, his symphony demands to be heard in isolation. There are many moods and techniques on display. Grand, eerie and fascinating, Ghost Story offers romance, mystery, horror and the bitter strains of revenge. 

The Great Gatsby (Nelson Riddle, 1974) **** Composer Nelson Riddle brews a smart cocktail of muted trumpets, violins, tubas, piano and cornet solos. His goal? To evoke the spirit of the 1920s. Thus, we have a time capsule writ orchestral. Verily, The Great Gatsby enlightens by reflecting a time in which jazz and the American spirit were fused as one. Layered with subtlety and poised to make a firm impression, Riddle allows the antiquated to feel whole again. It's the best form of nostalgia. 

Il sesso del diavolo/Sex of the Devil (Stelvio Cipriani, 1971) ** Now and then, a track will come along which causes me to replay it a few times before continuing with the rest of the album. This phenomenon also occurred with "Reaction to Sound" from Chris Egan's Fireheart. Anyway, Il sesso del diavolo touches upon several distinctive styles before introducing those enticing and hypnotic flutes in the seventh track. Up to then, the combination of lounge music, suspense and quasi romantic tones didn't connect with me. Does it improve? There's some nice emotional piano in track sixteen. Sadly, the rest comes across as winding notes with no road to put them on.

Lord Jim (Bronislau Kaper, 1965) ** By all accounts, Lord Jim should have been another triumph for composer Bronislau Kaper. I was blown away by his 1955 effort The Glass Slipper, a fantastic collection of themes. While Lord Jim seems lovely in places, it lacks a solid architectural spine. Some of it lands and the rest falls flat. The score felt melodramatic but in the worst way possible. Only muddy contrast and haziness remains. Besides, John Barry's Dances with Wolves explored sweeping panoramas to more lasting effect. 

Malcolm X (Terence Blanchard, 1992) ** Terence Blanchard's music for civil rights activist Malcolm X begins as a very grave affair. Yet it's bolstered by the refreshing "Cops and Robbers." Although very brief, this plays in contrast to the overwhelming solemnity. Mostly, Blanchard seems to obsess over the twin responsibilities of patriotism and mortality. Ergo, this serves to cancel any light or breath. Although Malcolm X's life ended tragically, the score adheres to melancholy right out of the gate. It's beyond depressing. Then again, pieces such as "Back to Boston" offer lightweight ballroom jazz. A pleasant enough break. Meanwhile, "Malcolm Meets Baines" comes across as one of the more persuasive cues. The woodwinds and strings gather expectation in light of bigger concerns. However, Blanchard stumbles during a couple of loud, instrumental spikes designed to SNAP our attention into line. Yet this proves obnoxious and perfunctory. Moving into the second half, it's either the ballroom or the doldrums. Only "First Minister" stood out as a poignant expression of the tender human soul.

Star Kid (Nicholas Pike, 1997) **** Original, inventive and cool, Star Kid conveys the mystery and magic of the unknown. With a youthful exuberance, the soundtrack has the tingle of a feel good enterprise, yet there's added depth as well as complexity. Through rhythm, variety and tone, composer Nicholas Pike engineers a classic orchestral atmosphere. Crucially, "Home Improvement" and "Battle on Trelkas" are wonderful additions in the growing inventory of action packed symphonies. Adding to which, he did very good work on The Shining television mini series starring Rebecca De Mornay. 

Universal Soldier (Christopher Franke, 1992) *** Despite heavy dissonance spliced into electronic features, Christopher Franke's Universal Soldier remains an infinitely enjoyable soundtrack. The heavy metal riff for Sgt. Andrew Scott (played by the incomparable Dolph Lundgren) works very well. Meanwhile, "Hoover Dam Takeover" still gets my pulse racing. The section at 3:14 pushes the party to the next level. Wonderful peaks and valleys complement the action. Also, there are some noteworthy sentimental ideas. Consider "McGregor" and "I'm Already Dead." Very much a score of its time, Universal Soldier distinguishes itself through several unique characteristics. Actually, it boasts more depth and mischief than the average modern score. Thus, limitations in technology become strengths in microcosm.


The Bride of Frankenstein (Franz Waxman, 1935) ***** Cue the psychedelic review. A cloud of charcoal spiked by the lightning wind. Vibrant spinning flux. The anticipated birth. A shadow on wan lips. Electrified curls from a brass and woodwind song. The molten heart made pulsating music. Requiem for a new engine. Bolts beaten breathlessly as drums entice the novice spirit. The bark from a tall giant echoes the wispy, fluttering tones of a clarinet critique. Such contrasting sources defy separation, thus the complex grape gains greater pitch.

Dedicated to Raymond Barry Smith (1942-2022). My father, my hero.

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