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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #51
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

Black Gold (James Horner, 2011) * A strange one, James Horner’s Black Gold lacks definition. I was unsure what to feel. Little of the ethnic instrumentation or vocals made an impression. Above all, the score felt quarantined and safe, content to be mere background filler. The opening of “One Brother Lives, One Brother Dies” copies “Betrayal and Desolation” from Horner’s Braveheart. While the latter resonated deeply, the former seemed hollow and inopportune. The more it blundered on, the less I cared.

The Boys from Brazil (Jerry Goldsmith, 1978) **** A waltz? That’s probably the last thing I’d associate musically with Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck), the SS officer who committed atrocities at Auschwitz. Full disclosure: I don’t seek out movies inspired by the Holocaust. I read so much about the subject in history classes that it pains me deeply. Even my teacher lent me a copy of Schindler’s List. Anyway, composer Jerry Goldsmith establishes a sinister tone during “The Killers Arrive.” The opening brass reminded me of his helicopter music in Capricorn One. Frankly, this composition feels more in keeping with the real-life narrative. Meanwhile, the triumph expressed by the “Main Title” felt oddly self-serving. Whether the content will dissuade listeners from seeking out The Boys from Brazil (something which I experienced), there’s artistry and excitement wrought by the great composer. Elsewhere, a brief Mexican flavour can be heard in “What Does He Want.” As a side note, the idea featured at 01:59 might well have served as temp music for “Escape from Rura Penthe" in Cliff Eidelman’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. After all, Goldsmith’s influence has been profound. Overall, The Boys from Brazil tracks an exciting line, occasionally idiosyncratic and emboldened by substance. Recommended without reservation.

The Fourth Protocol (Lalo Schifrin, 1987) **** At his best, composer Lalo Schifrin could establish a mood, convey suspense and consistently ground his music in human considerations. His ability to ratchet up the fear and anxiety quotients holds few worthy challengers. For the Frederick Forsyth thriller The Fourth Protocol, he boldly tracks a plot to upset the power balance between Moscow and America. Made at a time when such tensions in the world were palpable gives this score a relevance and resonance beyond the passive imitation. It’s an intense ride, carrying variations in the woodwinds, strings and brass. Consider the hypnotic and thrilling “Detonator.” Prickly and airtight, this suffocating ambience amplifies the narrative spin. Unnerving to say the least. Alongside Geoffrey Burgon’s The Dogs of War, The Fourth Protocol represents the finest music for a Forsyth adaptation. Highly recommended.

Gracie (Mark Isham, 2007) * Mark Isham can be guilty of not making his point concisely. Sometimes he’s afraid to take that first step lest the illusion of his imagined journey or experience be tempered by the hard rain of reality. For the “women are allowed to play soccer” scenario entitled Gracie, some hazy sentimentality smothers the proceedings. I would feel engaged if it wasn’t so slight. The opening cues “Free Kick,” “Johnny” and “Gracie’s Revelation” come across as echoes of a forgotten song. I am all for pointillist markers, suggesting someone’s destiny in the making but it’s a tired trope. Matters don’t improve with “I Am Tough Enough” or “Third Cut.” By then, I’d fallen asleep anyway.

House of Cards (Francis Lai, 1968) *** Following a repetitive theme in “Main Title (Emblem and Prologue),” a wispy and carefree tone was established. Things turn dramatic during “Scene in the Seine/Danger and Death.” Evidently, composer Francis Lai understands the importance in contrasting moods. Therefore, his compositions seem straightforward in the delivery of ideas. Much later, any seeds of doubt evaporate as he punctuates the drama through a seamless collage of romantic stopovers and jazzy vignettes. I rarely experienced a dull moment. As such, this music relies on subtle pleasures. The instrumentation and singing allows us to gauge the proximity of life turning events on a dime. A surprisingly effective score.

The Jack in the Box (Christoph Allerstorfer, 2019) *** There are things which go bump in the night, and composers can orchestrate a riot too. It’s a slippery entanglement whereby spooks and chills are amply conveyed, yet listeners might be deterred. Reading contemporary soundtrack reviews, I am often fascinated by descriptions of horror music. The one word which keeps coming up must be “unlistenable.” Then of course, I hear the music and wonder what all the fuss was about. Consider Benjamin Wallfisch’s IT, a score I appreciated as much for its tender humanity as the dissonant passages. On a similar path, we have The Jack in the Box by Christoph Allerstorfer. While it’s only his second scoring credit according to the Internet Movie Database, he’s clearly done his homework. There’s style enhanced by mood and content. I was immediately struck by how enigmatic it felt… like an abandoned haunted fair. Now that Allerstorfer has appeared on my radar, I eagerly await any future assignments with his byline as a composer. The man has talents. Only time and opportunity will tell if such potential can be nurtured or exploited.

The Misfits (Alex North, 1961) **** Sound the revolt. Emboldened by jazz, composers such as John Williams, Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin and Alex North cast a spell over audiences. I’ve always believed you don’t have to love jazz, simply surrender to its infinite freedoms. For The Misfits, North ditches any formal mannerisms common to contemporaries of that time. His use of speed and counterpoint enriches the experience tenfold. For example, “Love’s Reverie” proved beautifully seamless.

The Taking of Pelham 123 (Harry Gregson-Williams, 2009) Oddly, for a score which lasts 45 minutes, The Taking of Pelham 123 felt like it took five minutes to engineer. I guess randomization has become the norm, melody replaced by ambient rock. Quite what composer Harry Gregson-Williams got out of this assignment or what he wished to impart emotionally remains unknown. Did I feel captivated or engaged? No. Was I ever bored or annoyed? Totally.

A poem:

Hearing The Taking of Pelham 123

why is it always me?

Although “Rigged Contracts” gave melodic hint

listeners were left skint.


It was run of the mill.

Feeling depressed? Here’s a pill.

Rock rhythms out of joint.

What was the point?


I can only imagine the cursing

when customers realize it was all advertising.

A matter for some debate or plan,

only time may lift the ban.


Mothra (Yuji Koseki, 1961) ***

 Time to rhyme:

 Monster movie muse demands majesty

lest it incur a travesty.

Mothra felt regal

in a society barren and illegal.


Some of it a little worn

the melody buried and torn.

“The Mysterious Little Beauties” was hip

despite taking a dip.


Anticipation sure to mount

in a fairly good account.

Was my spirit elevated

Or expectations sated?


Good is the word

The first successful flight of a bird.

Mothra I would hear again,

a beast among men.



 Our Mother’s House (Georges Delerue, 1967) ***** I love Our Mother’s House. It’s the Georges Delerue score I have been waiting for... a genuine, deeply felt experience made in the heart. Let the mystery and love sit with you.

A poem for this discovery:

A moment isolated in the space of memories

Bigger than anything temporary.

The way eyes meet in promise, this reminder

of something warm, soothing and kinder.


Dreaming of places lost

I remember these the most.

Sun dancing in blonde hair

A message apt and fair.


Golden bloom shaded by a green forest

Nature and one at their purest.

Fountain found far in time

A notion fixed in rhyme.


Honorary Score:

Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (John Williams, 1999) *****

For my full review, click the link below: 

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