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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #56
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

Bugsy (Ennio Morricone, 1991) *** Notably, Ennio Morricone’s Bugsy holds firm on the line between arrogant and clever. A master of mood, he gets carried away when gilding the narrative in darkest amber. Frankly, the timing must be right when confronted by long, agonizing melodies. The risk can involve drowning emotional accessibility for the sake of an agenda. As such, “For Her, For Him” offers a concentrated dose. Elsewhere, “Bugsy’s Arrest” presents a controlled frenzy, at once frightful and curious. Ultimately, I felt that Bugsy was competent, even ambitious though far from being a cast iron favourite.

The Informer (Max Steiner, 1935) *** Hardy like a sneak thief, Max Steiner's The Informer offers intrigue against a backdrop of betrayal and remorse. These are the core emotions, shining Shakespearean potential upon a bland premise. Among the collaborations between director John Ford and actor Victor McLaglen, this qualifies as my least favourite. Also, I gave scant praise to the music in context. No matter as Steiner makes dramatically appropriate statements, while pathos and whimsy colour the sky. Sadly, it ends too abruptly. 

Kill or Be Killed (Carlo Rustichelli, 1966) **** In many ways, composer Carlo Rustichelli has equaled the radiance of Ennio Morricone. The former develops themes to their fullest potential, he specializes in romantic gestures, and there’s a dizzying pace which emphasizes the importance of atmosphere. His music for Kill or Be Killed could be considered painterly with the appropriate degrees of contrast. I love the about face which took place during the opening bars of the first track… a sinister mood segues into a lighthearted feeling. In specific places, the trumpet becomes an invaluable asset too. Meanwhile, every moment carries the intention forward, stirring emotions such as pride, fear, anger and hope. Finally, the presentation comes across as dignified and gentle, a winning combination to bewitch the spirit.

The Lion In Winter (John Barry, 1968) ** Verily, the "Main Title" for The Lion in Winter felt as cold as its subject; too depressing to recall. Even with a chorus, I was distanced from the narrative like a blind beggar in search of fruit. Realizing the cult following and Oscar success of this album, expectations were rather high. As such, austerity prevails in a score lacking hope or basic warmth. For example, "The Herb Garden" dulls the senses interminably. Ditto the before and after melodies. Overall, The Lion in Winter doesn't register as an experience I would care to repeat. 

The Searchers (Max Steiner, 1956) **** Max Steiner dove into unsettled hearts, his orchestra rusted by long travel and a heavy start. Baked brooding basin where arrows and rifles detest a finer prejudice. Ethan went looking for his kin, hating the Comanches his only sin. What was his grape? Only the thought of imminent rape. A tough western powder keg, The Searchers dallies with melody blunted by dissonance. Confronting demons smarts the course of morality. Notes despair the borders between feud and the lost neighbour. Complexities simply wrought develop at the minor level. Meanwhile, blisters bleed into costumed clusters, a counterpoint on land versus ownership, tradition versus sacrifice and spirituality versus commercialism. Thus, Steiner stuck to his Gatling guns, the brave and isolated fortitude frozen in thought yet alive when salted and stirred. On a picturesque stave, tobacco smoke shivers near the creek... the song rather hopeful. Ultimately, the mathematics of emotion are geared towards the language in reflections.

Wild Wild West (Elmer Bernstein, 1999) **** Young at heart, Elmer Bernstein governed the Western fanfare. His legendary opener for The Magnificent Seven inspired generations of imitators and soundalikes. For the botched steampunk/comedy Wild Wild West, he engineered a broad exchange between exuberant, large scale compositions and quirky charm. Because the film failed to be funny, this left room for Bernstein to absorb the spotlight. He does so brilliantly.

X-Men: The Last Stand (John Powell, 2006) **** Destiny dissolves into a fresh enigma: why it took so long for the music of X-Men to find a way into my heart. I ignored the soundtrack of X-Men: The Last Stand for more than a decade. Well, more fool me as this proves worthy of a standing ovation. Looking back, composer Ron Wasserman carved a certifiable identity for X-Men: The Animated Series. While Michael Kamen and John Ottman borrowed heavily for their assignments, John Powell understood the concept. Admiring a soundtrack can be easy or difficult depending on the composer’s commitment. Because he invested a large emotional sum, X-Men: The Last Stand comes across as moving and significant: a starry achievement by day or night. Indeed, “The Funeral” flows from the same romantic waters that inspired John Barry. Regarding action, it’s a tour de force fulfilling the promise of legends.

International Velvet (Francis Lai, 1978) *** Time to rhyme:

In the world there’s hope

Good cause to elope.

International Velvet was a sign

That things dire could be fine.


Feel the momentum build

As “Escapade” dug and chilled.

Such a romantic wisp

Deep as honey crisp.


“Velvet’s Theme” lit up the sky

Such a parting never goodbye.

I hear glasses clink

The electronics always in sync.

Starship Troopers (Basil Poledouris, 1997) *** A poem:

Those bugs and bloopers

In a film called Starship Troopers.

Deluxe Edition worth a spin.

“Tango Urilla” for the win.


Put something in the clause

About ripping off Star Wars.

For “Carmen’s Shuttle Ride,”

I cannot abide.


Broken off at the hinges.

No goosebumps, only cringes.

Should have bought a Sherman

If you want to sound like Bernard Herrmann.


When bugs hit the fence,

He keeps it thematically dense.

Mounting feelings of tension

Almost like waiting for your pension.


“Teamwork” was like the news,

Distracting from the filler cues.

This one cannot match Flesh + Blood,

Despite push-ups in the mud.


Music on the bombastic scale

Simply jump or bail.

Departing from the cattle,

There’s dissonance in unused “Klendathu Battle.”


In “Call to War/Bad News from Home,”

Electronics are allowed to roam.

Struggling to find the impulse?

“Rasczak’s Roughnecks” does well by the pulse.



The Stolen Princess (Dario Vero, 2018) ***** A score brilliant in construction and flawlessly executed, Dario Vero's The Stolen Princess moves with distinction. I was inspired by the romance, the mystery and groovy hipness behind Vero's techniques. Whether thematic or incidental, he offers immersive world building. With highlights from top to bottom, the action music felt fresh and the main musical architecture captures the purity in a smile. 

Please check out my original video review of Dario Vero's The Stolen Princess

Also, The Stolen Princess was chosen by yours truly as the Best Film Score of the Decade:

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