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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #58
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.  

Blade II (Marco Beltrami, 2002) *** Composer Marco Beltrami conjures some unique puns for the track titles in Blade II. Among my favourites are “House of Paincakes” and “Charge of the Light Grenade.” You see, it’s not just a specialty of Michael Giacchino. Meanwhile, “Nomack the Knife” favours doomy percussion and brass. This shares some of the same tortured sentiments as those adopted by contemporary Elliot Goldenthal. It’s purely tactile and made to feel… irksome. Theme remains secondary with the main focus given to atmosphere. While Beltrami tip-toes around menacing ideas, the “Main Titles” felt disjointed, even hollow. More successful, “Suckheads Infiltrate” could stand as a surrogate theme. It synchronizes spectacle with the lightness of immediacy. Elsewhere, “Nyssa Sucks” plays upon the ancient breath very well, nurturing a sacred and lyrical form befitting a wise vampire. As for “House of Paincakes,” the music hovers and growls before igniting waves of high dissonance and incoming dread. This proves effective at escalating the drama. Recently, I saw Guillermo Del Toro’s film a third time, and Beltrami’s score made little to no impression. Free from the distraction of dialogue and sound effects, the music was pretty good. While it might lack the craftsmanship of Mimic, the overall effect was respectable indeed.

Cold Mountain (Gabriel Yared, 2003) **** A quilt of sadness, baked in leaves with ominous strings tallying near romantic engagements. Gabriel Yared’s Cold Mountain swiftly and casually derives sweetness from the bitter grain. Separation in empty fields make a symphony wrought by lakes, wheat, flying doves and tumbling into danger. Charcoal figures against the mist –- loping, coping and hoping. Tucked in between the bands of chance a yearning for closeness, unity and pleasure. “Someplace, Someone” melted fires whose cough gave wanton breath to the aching multitudes. I charge a still life for every stave, the essence of folks making merry on long held cries.

King of Kings (Miklos Rozsa, 1961) **** One of his most enjoyable scores, Miklos Rozsa’s King of Kings seamlessly combines emotion and spectacle. This music clearly had an impact on composer Basil Poledouris. Check out the orchestral style in the latter’s Conan the Barbarian. Another disciple would have to be Alan Silvestri’s The Mummy Returns, which emulates Rozsa’s epic. A hard won peace and savage waltzes catalyze each emotional concept. As a foundation, Rozsa tracks such musical storytelling with heavy boots. However, one drawback to archival releases can be the abundance of repetition, especially major themes. This was true of Star Trek: The Original Series and Mission: Impossible – The Television Scores. Hearing a key musical idea twenty times might reduce the impact, so it pays to be more selective.

Sleeping with the Enemy (Jerry Goldsmith, 1991) *** Ever wonder how romantic Jerry Goldsmith could be? Check out “Morning on the Beach” from Sleeping with the Enemy. A beautiful theme enhanced by strings, electronics and flutes allows us to identify with Laura Burney (Julia Roberts). Her situation borders on the hopeless due to physical abuse from husband Martin (Patrick Bergin). A ginormous hit for 20th Century Fox, critics were indifferent to Sleeping with the Enemy. Yet I remember the hard hitting nature of the film quite vividly. Frankly, Goldsmith’s sensitivity here was preferable to the no-holds-barred quality behind his Basic Instinct score. He doesn’t oversell the dramatics. As such, the music taps lighter and darker shades via subtle turns in Ronald Bass’ screenplay. For the most part, synthesizers are mixed intelligently despite some cheesy hammering in “Thanks Mom” and “Don’t Worry/Wrong Man/School’s Out.” By keeping the premise earthbound and capturing emotion relative to pain or relief, Goldsmith serves up a refreshing musical landscape. Indeed, “The Ring” felt cooler and more exciting than all of the action tipped mayhem in Total Recall.

Three into Two Won’t Go (Francis Lai, 1969) *** Probably just a whim, but I enjoyed the theme for Three into Two Won’t Go a lot more than I should. It’s a simple figure which repeats. Quite catchy and innocent. Actually, you could sit back in a lounge and let the music tinkle away in the background. It’s very relaxing. Such an easy recommendation can be made as composer Francis Lai kept the tone consistent. Although this can induce a sleepy effect, a little pacification now and then seems welcome. Yes, the score lacks drama and contrast. Yet those are peripheral to the winding staircase of immersion which awaits listeners.

The Horde (Alexei Aigui, 2012) *** My first impressions of this score read as follows:

 Eternity claims the unrighteous, and that’s how I feel about Alexei Aigui’s music for The Horde. A more profoundly bizarre or disconnected soundtrack I have seldom heard. It’s like time traveling through a psychedelic nightmare, while a local gypsy band colours the proceedings. Incomprehensible vocals -- “Taidula’s Power” was laughable -- shallow atmospheres and missed opportunities for development round up the excuses to frown. Distributing a sparse, clenched up oppression, “Healing” achieves the opposite result. Befuddled I certainly was.

Sensing there was more to this soundtrack, I listened again. The early resistance evaporated. Although The Horde comes across as imperfect, grains of ethnic inspiration carry through. Where my opinion on the singing was initially hostile, I could appreciate the pure and spontaneous feelings. Glad I gave The Horde a second chance.

 A poetic expansion:

Something about The Horde

Hit me like a sword.

Those strange and haunting sounds

Chasing prey like hungry hounds.

 

To treat this with a fleering air

Does injustice to the pair:

The first matter is function

A most critical junction.

 

Thoughts behind the notes

How a choir denotes.

 

The Honey Pot (John Addison, 1967) *** A poem:

If your tummy’s in a knot,

Listen to The Honey Pot.

All worries simply dissolve

As crisp melodies evolve.

 

Both short and sprightly

It shone most brightly.

Carefree yet full of spice

Awakening thoughts so nice.

 

Although it was fleeting

This one bears repeating.

The Honey Pot suitable for all

Time to have a ball.

Pirates (Philippe Sarde, 1986) *** Make your next stop at the Philippe Sarde dimension. Flush with sophisticated themes and intricate melodic clues -- Roman Polanski’s Pirates may have been scuttled by critics and weak box office numbers, yet Sarde’s music stands proud. There’s a wink of mischief behind “Two Hungry Pirates, Adrift” like sneaking off to play truant at school. Rhythm determines the value of action. As such, Sarde’s precise timings guarantee smooth sailing.

A poem:

What a joy!

Engineering lush phrases, ahoy!

Trumpets signal a daring raid

I guess the bad guys got made.

 

One final thought

On innovations wrought:

Such musical figures disguise

Daggers and muskets, what a surprise!

Wait Until Dark (Henry Mancini, 1967) Alas, Henry Mancini’s score for Wait Until Dark occupies a mellow darkness. As alienating as Lalo Schifrin’s The Hellstrom Chronicle, this doesn’t inspire much confidence. If you’re seeking the lilt and quilt behind Mancini’s work for another Audrey Hepburn film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, that’s absent here. Conditions for even moderate escapism depend upon a state of catatonic indifference. The main musical identity, personified by “Bulbus Terror” and too many others comes across as a dirge. I didn’t fall for it, technically or emotionally. For a composer who has caught the flame of enlightenment on numerous occasions, Mancini couldn’t avoid disappointment on this one.

Time to rhyme:

Was it simply a recession

Which caused such depression?

Wait Until Dark

Felt cold and stark.

 

Perhaps the day was off

Or the assignment too tough.

Confidence leaked away

As a beast, forgotten and astray.

 

All I know:

Chances for a replay seem low.

Wait Until Dark

Could not strike the intended mark.

 

SCORE OF THE MOMENT

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Erich Wolfgang Korngold, 1939) ***** The soundtracks of Erich Wolfgang Korngold chart fundamental human concerns: warfare, falling in love, outlaw duty and liberation. For The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, he reveals how desire and fate are inevitable outcomes of ambition, disloyalty and selfishness. Thematic development remains key. As such, the orchestra follows the story as a second shadow. They bring depth, clarity, tone and a little light where necessary. Contrasting moods distinguish important plot motivations, so it’s easy to detect where tragedy or triumph might arise. If a composer does the job well, the melodies transcend the screen and fall into our hearts. In other words, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex brandishes the gold standard.

A poem to close:

What more could you want:

Film music in a bolder font?

Sumptuous as a golden flock

This one shall remain out of stock.

 

What was broken

Remains unspoken.

Thus, the human spirit defies

Shackles and the worst allies.

 

Causing a major shift

When matters turn adrift

The melodies unbreakable

The theme alert, hardly shakeable.

 

How the roses in green gardens glow

Every shade of love they show.

A joyous day most true

The chance to wish upon dreams anew.

*****


                                                                                                                                                                               
 
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