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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #69
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

Batman Returns (Danny Elfman, 1992) ** I understand what composer Danny Elfman was going for, yet his aleatoric expressions stumble badly in Batman Returns. For example, "Kitty Party/Selina Transforms" threatens to derail the whole show through a series of meandering sour notes. Between bats, cats and penguins, he has his hands full here. Some low-key suspense, operatic gestures and carnivalesque allusions divide the composer's intentions unevenly. It's a mishmash in terms of personality. Although I give Elfman mad kudos for effort, his rhythms lack discipline. The constant tonal shifts make this a schizophrenic experience in the long run. When such creative freedom goes unchecked, the results can be obnoxious, delirious and want of feeling. Overall, Batman Returns should serve as a cautionary tale. Although the first go around felt impressive, returns diminish drastically.

Black Patch (Jerry Goldsmith, 1957) *** For Jerry Goldsmith completionists, Black Patch feels like a prayer answered. This was the composer's first film score. Mostly, it doesn't resemble the style Goldsmith would become known for. It's easy to get Black Patch mixed up with similar scores by Bernard Herrmann and Dimitri Tiomkin. The creepy suspense could belong in any Alfred Hitchcock thriller, while the more grandiose gestures signify Tiomkin at his rip roaring best. Also, "The Duel" opens directly with a Godzilla homage. It's brief yet fun. Akira Ifukube would smile. Overall, Black Patch comes across as sweet, a little green but always well composed. In fact, the fan base for Goldsmith seems unparalleled. While this score can feel like a minor curiosity, we have the fans to thank for the crowdfunding which made this re-recording possible. As such, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg make this otherwise forgotten endeavour seem fresh once more.

Coriolanus (Ilan Eshkeri, 2011) *** Cue the psychedelic review. Ire pinned to a weave, locked in the harsh corridors embodied by fasting silhouettes. The beat -- brimstone and blizzard -- once so vulnerable now wrought upon the northerly gale. A stillborn marathon marshals mottled diamond, the sphere inwardly reflects recent revival. My blue jay's industrial fire song coveted reckless time. Determination in withdrawal. Silent discourse pains the hunter as the trembling moon made music from the depths. All despair a fun loving schism. Lastly, tempest doldrums signify the impending state. Those literal melodies uphold martial criminality.

Corleone (Ennio Morricone, 1978) **** Within Ennio Morricone's discography, there are hidden gems to be mined. Alongside Nostromo and Rampage, we have Corleone. This score emits fierce passion in the tradition of classic orchestral works. The effect proves immediate and gripping. For example, "Addio a Palermo" acts as a thunderbolt of pure lightning. The theme aches and wanders, dancing with the spirit of adventure in every step. In "Cospirazione," tragic lines make for a whirlwind odyssey. Interestingly, the title suggests a correlation with Mario Puzo's The Godfather. However, it's a name coincidence only.

The Incredibles (Michael Giacchino, 2004) ** Bombast without involvement. Hot air without the balloon. James Bond cliches are rife throughout The Incredibles. The theme's not too bad if your expectations remain low. As five note identities go, it's decent. The low-key material sings better than its fortissimo cousins. By contrast, "Road Trip" produces a bouncy charm. The many aspirations of Michael Giacchino, a composer who shifted from video games to movies with panache. For the former, he gave us The Lost World and Medal of Honor among others. These distinctive underscores could belong in a cinematic landscape. Then along came The Incredibles, a hyperactive venture helmed by Brad Bird. While the theme comes across as attention grabbing, it's nowhere close to the sneaky machismo of 007. It's cool and fast paced, yet depth proves fleeting. Alas, what was missing from the score was John Barry's edginess and romantic cool.

Memento (David Julyan, 2000) **** I was deeply affected by David Julyan's Memento. The first time I experienced both film and score was during my teenage years. Emotions were heightened due to numerous factors. According to James Mottram's book The Making of Memento, Julyan used the Ensoniq, an analog keyboard for the film's haunting score. Feelings of deja vu, isolation and emptiness are prevalent. Simply unforgettable. This seems even more relevant because no other Christopher Nolan movie has made such a musical impression on me. Normally, drones are a big no no. It's the poor man composer's strategy to shirk duties in favour of speed, sloth and ease. Yet there are those such as Vangelis who have made art out of such long lasting, intangible, electronic shifts. Ditto David Julyan. His Memento came from another place. There are psychic levels of empathy here. Consider "Motel Room/Arriving at the Derelict" as a heart of mysterious purpose. By contrast, the effect seems slightly hampered by more generic pulses and rhythms. These can be heard as Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) makes tattoos in his room and the memorable first encounter with Dodd (Callum Keith Rennie).

The Monster Squad (Bruce Broughton, 1987) **** Perhaps the biggest surprise in The Monster Squad arises through grand gothic gumption. Composer Bruce Broughton braves the fire, casting a four note spell to enrapture giants and men alike. He's ultra creative, balancing tones both nefarious and hopeful. His dexterity via strings, woodwinds and brass carries over from his excellent work on Young Sherlock Holmes. Highlights include: "Main Title; The Van Helsing Prologue," "Class Reunion" and "Phoebe and the Count; The Final Vortex & Finale." I immediately wanted to hear this soundtrack again.

Quo Vadis (Miklos Rozsa, 1951) **** Miklos Rozsa was the real deal, an original film composer who prided himself on stirring the passions within a story as adeptly as any fine Shakespearean play. Thus, emotions don't hide in Quo Vadis. They burst from the walls, recolouring greed, supremacy, temptation, romance, madness, heroism, war and family as a glistening thunderstorm. Gorgeous themes, intriguing secondary motifs, musical development which seems alien to most modern practitioners, and inspired woodwinds generate mountains of interest. Ascend and be happy.

Saint Joan (Mischa Spoliansky, 1957) **** Some scores transport you to that space beyond prose. It's like a time machine where the sounds of long ago resonate in the present. There's no better escapism. As such, Saint Joan by Mischa Spoliansky reflects a spontaneous and immediate grasp of the intangible. In other words, these emotions are devised as a dance of the soul. Beauty has a new champion. However, "Toccatina" seems alien to the cause. The organ reduces the pacing to a snail on sabbatical.


Nicholas and Alexandra (Richard Rodney Bennett, 1971) ***** For the epic Nicholas and Alexandra, composer Richard Rodney Bennett addresses fundamental human concerns such as love, disillusion and the abuse of power. Carefully crafted to take advantage of everything the Philharmonic Orchestra of London has to offer, the result comes across as deep and peerless. Mega kudos for the theme which warms as honey comb and stirs like a country's national anthem. This felt like a biblical epic while sidestepping the customary excesses. With Herculean assertiveness, Bennett leaves space for rural sensitivity. Woodwinds combine with strings to heart melting sweetness! The brass dazzles with equal wit restoring pageantry to its royal foundations.

(Photo: Sir Richard Rodney Bennett)

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