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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #70
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

An American Haunting (Caine Davidson, 2005) ** A stock horror soundtrack by Caine Davidson -- actually a pseudonym for Justin Caine Burnett -- An American Haunting felt predictable and hackneyed. There's some borrowed dissonance from Elliot Goldenthal with vague whispers of Marco Beltrami's Mimic. Not terribly impressive or prototypical. Annoyingly, "Carriage Attack" contains the three note motif specific to James Newton Howard's Signs. I'm all for respecting your peers but come on.

Demolition Man (Elliot Goldenthal, 1993) *** The score for Demolition Man could be classified as insane. It's certainly unhinged. Composer Elliot Goldenthal appears to be gearing up for Interview with the Vampire. Such dark, hellish timbres justify the bond between electronics and the orchestra. They overlap seamlessly. Goldenthal's trademark brass manipulations remain spot on. For the title sequence, he reigns in the mayhem and crafts a light, compelling adagio. It's eerie and dreamlike, very much a standalone composition. At the very beginning, he adapts the famous Gregorian chant Dies Irae (pronounced diaz ear-ray). This comes across as unrecognizable. The slower pace and embellished counterpoint make it seem new again. Meanwhile, he plays liberally with military style marches, a rap/hip hop groove, splashes of horror dissonance, ethereal tranquility and standard genre road mapping. For the latter, he gave us "Silver Screen Kiss," a lovely cue which highlights Sandra Bullock's romantic sidekick Huxley. Overall, this gritty album felt liberated from the mainstream. It clearly signposts Goldenthal's imaginative work in the future. Above all, Demolition Man compiles several of his most compelling ideas to date.

Kagemusha/Shadow Warrior (Shinichiro Ikebe, 1980) *** Between the sparse Japanese figures, brooding bittersweet romanticism -- how those violins echo deeply -- and certain Western importations, Kagemusha comes across as a dutiful, openhearted and diverse experience. Composer Shinichiro Ikebe capitalizes on specific gestures designed to evoke a way of life. The story deals with a petty thief and his resemblance to a deceased Samurai warlord. As such, the music required some metamorphosis. Indeed, transitions feel pretty seamless. Isolated movements vary from sweeping ideas to highly disciplined measures. However, I believe Ikebe could have amplified certain moments to achieve greater resonance. 

Marnie (Bernard Herrmann, 1964) **** Cue the psychedelic review. Elixir discord romances the sublime and irresistible. Offset by sobering woodwind remorse, the drift booms and floors. Testimony of circle seven in hell's staircase. Blanket discomfort in mellow seduction. A wink of warming harmony washed over by longing depth. Promises and desires make for luscious turbulence. Wan clipped textures unmade. Practising pauses passably. A note beyond the wistful. Those feathered barrels which flower as suddenly as nightly change. The stave melded grace, immediacy and judgement. A passionate bar. Ergo, the sublime.

Pan (John Powell, 2015) ** For the record, I don't hate John Powell. He's a decent composer with an extremely dedicated fan base. God forbid anyone voice an opinion contrary to what the fans believe. I was told off for disregarding How to Train Your Dragon 2. The latter was an aggressively mediocre effort with generic themes, distracting choirs and it didn't move me. Cue the Internet trolls. Yet it remains difficult for me to associate quality with the content of Powell's albums. Happily, I enjoyed X-Men: The Last Stand. He should do more like that. Ultimately, he's a soundalike. While it's not awful to be inspired by the greats, he's a long way from being the next John Williams. With Pan, we hear a workmanlike effort with plenty of swashbuckling verve. However, it smacks of the familiar. In "Mine Escape," there are echoes of Harry Gregson-Williams' Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. Ditto John Debney's Cutthroat Island. Thematically, Powell can definitely do better. 

Damon and Pythias (Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, 1962) **** An enclosed rhyme:

In a world of gifts and mines

The woodwinds delve into the human condition

Offering a bittersweet rendition

With pure and sinister lines.


Why leaders overcome or deflect

Such ever present hopes and worries

As battle determines glories

Matters of the heart reflect.


Even the most refined soul

Indulges the whim and sentiment

Highlighting moods light, even inclement

While themes play a role.


Damon and Pythias made a case most apt

Revealing the woe in a soldier

Who must carry a heavy boulder

All focus remains apt.


Death on the Nile (Nino Rota, 1978) **** Time to rhyme:

Framing a great plateau of feeling

In the same breath as character and narrative

Lies a firm moral imperative

Death on the Nile borrows without stealing.


We might anticipate the goods

Nature's calling pure and true

Adding depth, richness and hue

Going above and beyond in service to the woods.


The main theme took me by surprise

Pitched at the height of performance

Always instilling charm and romance

New colours during a sunrise.


A good score which never got its due

From any organization, old or new.

Just goes to show that in the end

Lacking a prize need not offend.


Stirred by every note

The warmth of a fresh coat.

For every sign and purpose

Much transpires under the surface.


Running on spectacular steam

Such thoughts and feelings in a dream.

Perish the thought that times are blue

Embrace the wonder in sentiment anew.

Hearth Fires/Les feux de la chandeleur (Michel Legrand, 1972) *** Another enclosed rhyme:

For a calm and brief lull

With romance at the very top

Energy aspiring to rabbit hop

Select this glass half full.


This musical personality came across as vain

A cool and hyperactive tone

No sign of ever being done

Trembling with the strain.


It works in fits and starts

Voices conveying emotion

Every riff and flow in rotation

Landing more than a few darts.

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (Leigh Harline, 1962) **** Although composer Dario Marianelli did well on The Brothers Grimm, rewind the clock and you'll discover that Disney maestro Leigh Harline had the definitive take. The latter's vibrant score for The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm paints a vivid acoustical backdrop. Some striking contrasts, good songs, enlightened themes and good pacing make the experience a joy. There's an orchestral swing with the instruments making sweet notes through a modicum of gestures.

A poem:

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm

Varied ideas in seamless tarry

Hesitation simply does not parry

Evoking magic as a holy hymn.


Leigh Harline understood the emotional cost

Every group paying the most.

A dialogue in symphony and flight

Cures even the toughest blight.



The Wicker Man (Angelo Badalamenti, 2006) ***** With prototypical and aleatoric alarm, composer Angelo Badalamenti tells the musical story of The Wicker Man beautifully. Flowing melodic graces prove heart-stoppingly gorgeous. Like Jan A.P. Kaczmarek's Lost Souls and Elia Cmiral's StigmataThe Wicker Man rewards curiosity. This felt like a score made with heart and craft. He aces instrumental depth by allowing each player to support the whole. Thematically, there's extraordinary soulfulness, while the madness in specific passages mirrors a thoughtful aspect. Highlights are numerous from the stepwise brass during "Trapped in Water" to many fine woodwind interpretations. While the film boasts a dubious reputation, Badalamenti's music outgrows it... becoming a classical/avant garde testament to original sentiment.


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