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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #63
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

Big Bad Mama II (Chuck Cirino, 1987) *** One cannot deny there's character behind Chuck Cirino's theme for Big Bad Mama II. Whether you find it obnoxious or charming depends upon taste. The synthesizer plays a key role. Meanwhile, creativity slides, tickles, overlaps, hops, fidgets, jogs and nudges into folksy spheres of originality. The premise glows via innate enthusiasm, confidence and brio. It's glitter guns and marshmallow drops, a habit of making merry without permission. Where a sign indicates boozy counter, there's a cabaret at six, automated piano on commission as frenzied feet wiggle their platonic song. Near the end, the quality dips drastically. Previously cute expressions come across as shallow and glib.

The Cassandra Crossing (Jerry Goldsmith, 1976) ** Heralded as a courageous undertaking by Jerry Goldsmith, The Cassandra Crossing left me divided on its merits as a runaway train experience. Abrasive and over the top, the action music drowns and pounds. It's the same feeling I get from "The Desert" in Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton's Lethal Weapon or "Truckzilla" from Marco Beltrami's A Good Day to Die Hard. Such music eradicates any enjoyment and leaves lingering shades of misery and oppression. Part of my brain wants to enjoy the experience, yet it's impossible to shake these feelings of discontent. By experimenting with rhythmic, aleatoric and atmospheric ideas, Goldsmith expands his musical vocabulary but at what cost? There's scant entertainment value in such rattling, noisy and depressing gestures. Some would argue that's the point. After all, the film concerns a deadly virus, so easy going themes of grandeur or levity might undercut the suspense. Consider "Helicopter Rescue" and "The Climber" which provide searing, acidic clusters more conducive to a stomach disorder. While The Cassandra Crossing does boast romantic themes, they are heavily weighed down by melancholy. This represents a common affliction as Bruce Broughton's Narrow Margin and Robert O. Ragland's Q: The Winged Serpent appear equally well stocked and misguided. The cost in promoting such darkness can mean losing the listener prior to the opening whistle.

The Flight of the Phoenix (Frank DeVol, 1965) **** It's easy to take Frank DeVol's The Flight of the Phoenix for granted. Many of the effects can seem sparse or quaint to modern ears. Then again, there's a quiet power behind this soundtrack which denotes efficiency, good taste and craftsmanship. It slips on and off the radar due to minimal bombastic exclamation points. Critically, DeVol doesn't obscure the lines between mood and character, so the drama ends up reinforced by feelings which play like personal remembrances. A very effective score indeed.

Kindergarten Cop (Randy Edelman, 1990) *** As a boy, I saw Kindergarten Cop probably four hundred times. Suffice to say, Randy Edelman's soundtrack brings back memories. When the class are practicing a fire drill, there's a lovely emotion and rhythm. This made me feel like I was back in school again. As a sentimental enterprise, Edelman's score works very well, and it holds up in terms of his career progression. While the "Love Theme (Joyce)" might not give John Williams or John Barry any reason to worry, its self-sufficient. Meanwhile, "Stalking Crisp" foreshadows the suspenseful Anaconda where Edelman would develop similar melodies and counterpoint. Will I return to Kindergarten Cop? It's possible, but for now I'll settle for his zany and wildly inventive score for The Mask

Land of the Pharaohs (Dimitri Tiomkin, 1955) **** If the idealized musical landscape involves capturing a peaceful unbroken lake, then composer Dimitri Tiomkin subverted this trend. Thus, waves of orchestral power thrash against the rocks. Further in, monsoon season erupts as bold trumpet lines announce the offensive. There's nowhere for the listener to hide or draw breath. Occasionally, the choirs hammer the point a little too firmly. It can be deafening. Any desire to feel warmth or comfort means extracting energy from a point of inspiration. Therefore, Tiomkin was among the most creative composers because he could paint with music.

Thor: The Dark World (Brian Tyler, 2013) ** At least twenty minutes too long, Brian Tyler's Thor: The Dark World has big ideas, yet it seems unable to maintain interest for the duration. By the time "Journey to Asgard" booms through the speakers, I was ready to check out. Like Eagle Eye and Children of DuneThor: The Dark World has limited ambitions, despite the ever present orchestra and choirs. It has a numbing effect as the endless battle cues try the patience. By contrast, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would manifest greater sensitivity and spectacle only a year later. There's no denying the effort put forth by Tyler. In sum, this qualifies as a shallow treatment marked by the storm which passes then reforms. This happens at least twelve times. One might regard it as inspirational. I call it bad weather.

Van Helsing (Alan Silvestri, 2004) ** One asset working in the corner of Van Helsing would be brevity. At 42 minutes, it's a fast journey. If the "Deluxe Edition" bootleg turns out to be prophetic, there are 60 more minutes of Alan Silvestri's music to absorb. Yet we shouldn't mourn such a loss as it currently stands. Why? Because Van Helsing comes across as hyperactive, middling Silvestri. Although choirs, brass and strings felt customarily gargantuan, here's the rub: the music rarely approaches the nuance or power of the composer's best work. There's very little dramatic interplay between the thematic and aleatoric as heard in his Predator scores. On the matter of testosterone, Van Helsing proves less invigorating than Judge Dredd or Blown Away. Rather than evoke feelings such as fear, excitement, disillusion and hope, the music seems to pretend. This was most apparent during the various cliffhangers. Regrettably, his habit of elevating the drama was severely hampered.

The Devil's Brigade (Alex North, 1968) ** Time to rhyme:

With manners destroyed

And a prowling creature from the void,

Such music simply falls

While the novelty appals.


Themes of compromised liver

Confined to a forgotten river.

Earning a low ranking belt

Emotions better left unfelt.

X-Men (Michael Kamen, 2000) *** A poem:

For a tone poem darkly

Kamen served his tonic sparkly.

Need further incentive?

Hear an artist at his most inventive.


Such openhearted flow

Kept the tantrum low.

"School Montage" felt pretty buoyant

Good pace for maximum enjoyment.


"Ambush" contains explosive fury

This might divide a jury.

Where once a dragon slept

This felt like a promise kept.



Genghis Khan (Dusan Radic, 1965) ***** Like previous Scores of the Moment Hercules and Hannibal, passion mingles with destiny for Genghis Khan. New territories end up conquered like the great battles overseen by this original warrior.

A poem to close:

A film boasting considerable length

Requires music of strength.

All romantic flutes dance

As Dusan took a chance.


No stranger to swords and whips

His previous film was The Long Ships.

Genghis Khan dominates thought and sinew

His purpose to renew.


A commanding march

Prior to invasive starch.

Such music for serpents and the claw

A symphonic battle like no one ever saw. 

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