Dec 27, 2009

FACTOTUM music composed by Kristin Asbjørnsen

"If you're going to try, go all the way", quoting late American author, Charles Bukowski's own words from his 1975 novel, Factotum. Some wise words from, what Time Magazine called a "laureate of American lowlife." Strangely enough, written on Bukowski's tombstone are the words: "Don't Try".
Flash forward thirty years and Bukowski's semi-autobiographical novel is transformed into a film. Facotum was directed and co-scripted by Norweigan film-maker, Bent Hamer, known for his quirky, feel-good comedy, Kitchen Stories. Crash's Matt Dillon portrays the novel's anti-hero, Henry Chinaski, who appears in many of Bukowski's other literary works. While Six Feet Under's Lili Taylor and My Cousin Vinny's Marisa Tomei show up as the women who invade Chinaski's upside down and alcoholic world.
Hamer brought in Norwegian singer/composer, Kristin Asbjørnsen as the film's primary composer. Known mostly for her solowork and double-timing duties with two other music projects, Dadafon and Krøyt, Factotum would be Asbjørnsen's first venture into the film music world.
It seems Asbjørnsen approached the music as if she were writing for the novel and not the film, as the novel takes place in the 1940's and the movie is set in the present day. This choice doesn't really affect the narrative though, as her jazz-infused waltz's sit perfectly with the story and the pictures onscreen.
Opening the album is the imagery induced, moody jazz number, "On The Bus". With it's dream-like vibraphones taking center stage, the reverberating brass section and the sleepy bass lines, you might almost feel as if you're drinking alone in a dark, smokey Los Angeles bar during the Golden Age of Cinema. It's short but it's the perfect way to open this somber little album.
"Reunion" establishes the main recurring theme throughout the score. A plucky piano leads into a drunken waltz like rythym, complimented with a lead jazz piano hopping around in the foreground and Asbjørnsen's own wordless vocals mixed into the background.
"I Wish To Weep" continues the drunken waltz theme, only now Asbjørnsen's using her lead band, Dadofan, to play and she's added in lyrics, cleverly lifted from Bukowski's own poems, as she will continue to do so with the rest of the film's original songs. It's almost as if Tom Waits crooked style has leaked into this song with startling elegance.
"Farewell" & " Slow Day" both introduce a new theme of depression and loneliness into the sound of the score. For "Slow Day", Asbjørnsen once again calls upon Dadofan's help to create what appears to be the album and film's centerpiece. Here, Asbjørnsen's vocals are so damned sultry and gravelly, it makes me wish that she'd get picked to perform a James Bond song or any song that drips with that sexy espionage sound. The girl's got the right voice for it.
Strutting in like the coolest cat in the bar, "Pickles" picks the mood up a bit. An electric guitar, which appears to be recorded directly from the amp increases the old fashioned 'cool' sound like nobody's business. A welcome little ditty indeed.
Things get a little weird, in a psychedelic style, with "Still Awake". Haunting your ears with multiple vocal tracks layered upon eachother and a spacey slide guitar, this track might take the casual listener a little off guard....but if you're listening to a soundtrack album from a Norweigan produced film based off a Charles Bukowski novel, you're probably not the "casual listener".
"Dreamland II" is an avant-garde song performed by Asbjørnsen's other music act, Krøyt. With more of an electronic tone, rather than the organic feel the album's portrayed so far, I find "Dreamland" is somewhat out of place. I like the song, I just don't feel it really belongs here.
Using the "Farewell/Slow Day" theme, "Beside You" reworks a very interesting ambience into the track that makes me wish Asbjørnsen could have explored this version of the theme for a little more than the minus two minutes we get here.
"Drunk Driving" uses the "Farewell" theme again, only this time it transforms it into a bluesy number. What starts out as a great track, "Drunk Driving" it unfortunally loses it's way by throwing some quirkiness into the mix, which usually I'm all for, but it would have been nice to hear a straight up blues cue.
Making it almost a trilogy, Asbjørnsen once again makes use of the "Farewell" theme one after another. This time she speeds up the tempo of the "Farewell" and adds in somewhat of a Latin flavor to the sound. In writing, it sounds like a bad idea and might stick out like a sore thumb, but it's quite the opposite, as it's refreshing and a bit of a wake me up, when the album, just over thirty minutes in, was in danger of becoming too repetitive.
Some overlapped acapella vocals lead us into "If You're Going To Try". It's a great little track using Asbjørnsen's voicework very nicely over a simple guitar and bass line with some drunken drum playing to boot.
Closing the album is Dadafon reprising the simply titled "Slow Day II". It begins with a spacey introduction, almost channeling early Pink Floyd and eventually leads into an exact replica of the first "Slow Day" performance. I don't mind reprise songs repeating the original, but I believe if they had trimmed off about a minute and a half of the song, it would have been a perfect way to end the album. Sadly in this case it just starts to drag and can't wait to end.
In the end, Kristin Asbjørnsen's first step into the film score business proves to be quite a pleasant listen. However I do feel the album presentation could have been a little shorter by about ten minutes or so. The themes begin to repeat themselves a little too much at times without changing the tempo or style and it begins to really slow down the pace of the album. No big deal though, as it's easily fixed with an iPod or a simple tracks edit on CD-R.
I hope we hear more of Kristin Asbjørnsen's work on film, as she seems to have quite a talent for subtlety and at the same time, paints some very clear imagery with her music. This album will without a doubt receive several more plays on my disc player.

* * * out of 5

Dec 23, 2009

FACTOTUM (Dir. Bent Hamer. 2005.)

Factotum tells the fictional story of Hank Chinaski, the alter-ego of the American author Charles Bukowski, who sadly passed away from leukaemia in 1994. Hank Chinaski is wonderfully portrayed by the very talented Matt Dillon. Dillon is a great character actor, and it’s a shame we don’t see more of him in this kind of role. His performance in Drugstore Cowboy is perhaps his finest, but this is as close as he has come to that high point in a great many years. Yes, he was in There’s something about Mary, but this is where he seems more at home.

Hank is the classic film drifter, but rather than drifting from town to town he drifts through his own life at a less than leisurely pace, unwilling to commit to anything lest it interfere with his primary goal of becoming an established writer. He tells people he is a writer, thinking it gives him some kind of prestige but he’s unable to back up his claims with anything substantial. He lacks all the social graces one associates with an educated wordsmith; in fact he’s a prime douche from head to toe. He’s an everyman, with an inability to keep even the most rudimentary menial dead-end job because deep down he doesn’t want to. He’s routinely fired, or walks out, and even disqualified before he even gets the job.

If he was your friend, you’d be ashamed of him. If you’re not his friend you’d cross the street to avoid him. We all know a Hank Chinaski, some of us may even be Hank Chinaski.

Hank finds temporary solace from his failures with an emotionally unstable and permanently broke alcoholic woman called Jan, played by Lili Taylor. Their relationship is dysfunctional at best, based on mutual selfishness. “I bought her a drink and she gave me her phone number. Three days later I moved into her apartment.” It’s not deep, nor meaningful, but they are a perfect couple despite their differences. As it develops it gets more complicated and forces Hank to make a decision, a thing he rarely does.

He also manages to befriend Laura, the always attractive Marisa Tomei, in a pre-Wrestler role. Laura takes him in hand and leads him willingly down new avenues of previously unexplored uselessness. I got the impression Hank was searching for a muse, but was looking in all the wrong places in case he accidently found one, and couldn’t live up to the expectations such a relationship would put on him. If he wasn’t such a douche I’d have thought: Poor Hank.

Dillion also narrates from time to time, giving us an insight into the mind of a dreamer, and it’s at these moments that I realized the man does indeed possess some wisdom that is worth sharing with the world at large. The narration succeeded in making him a little more endearing than he was initially. This is where the film’s strengths lie, and is the reason it’s successful. If it was simply a sketch show of a dead beat clown that we are not laughing with, but at, then it would fail to hold the attention for very long. The narration raises it above its flaws; at times it is profoundly moving, optimistic and pessimistic all at once. I’m guessing these are words lifted directly from the writings of Charles Bukowski, whom Time magazine dubbed the poet “laureate of American lowlife”, but I can’t be sure. What I am sure of is that these moments of pathos come from the heart, and consequently tell us more about Hank than anything he says or does in the film.

The film has occasional moments of real comedy. At one stage, although never feeling compelled to fully empathise with Hank the loser, I did give the guy my sympathies. It is probably the film’s most outright comedy moment, and involves an irritated Hank getting attended to by his woman after he realizes he has got some new and unwelcome friends in his pants. Not a pleasant image, I know, but there’s nothing like seeing someone else’s misfortune to warm the heart. Dillon somehow manages to play it straight, despite being the butt of the joke.

Elsewhere, the film plods along at the same pace as Hank, never reaching great heights but it did consistently entertain me, even making my own life seem majestic and desirable by comparison.

If you want to know if there is a happy ending, or even if Hank deserves one, then you’ll have to watch it.

Click on the link below to watch the trailer on YouTube, but bear in mind it’s been edited for an American audience and so makes it appear a lot more gag-filled than it really is.

I liked it enough to buy it, and look forward to another viewing.
My two and a half stars rating may seem like a low mark, but bear in mind that’s 50 out 100, or 1 out of 2. Not too shabby.

** ½ out of 5

Dec 19, 2009

BRICK (Written & Dir. Rian Johnson. 2005)

Every so often I’m going to do a write up on a movie you may have missed upon initial release. It’ll be the kind of movies that didn’t get 10 million to blow on advertising; in fact they didn’t get 10 million in total. Yes, we’re talking about the indie movie. Or anything else that appeals to me. But rest assured they won’t be new releases. Everything here you will be able to find on DVD, probably in the local bargain bin for less than the price of a bottle of the cheapest nastiest Scotch.
I guess there is something to thank Michael Bay for after all, while his “summer block buster” crap eats up shop shelf space, the good stuff gets moved to the bargain bin.

If you disagree with me, tell me why.

So first up, is this:

People of a certain age (i.e. me, who said duffer?) tend to stay away from “teen movies”, and for good reason, they are usually shallow sex fests catering to people too afraid or too short to reach to the top shelf of their local newsagent. I’m tall, I can reach easily. So it was with some trepidation that I viewed Brick (2005, Written & Dir. Rian Johnson) described by IMDB as: “A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.” Not exactly Citizen Kane, and stinks of “teen-movie”.
Furthermore, when the writer’s previous efforts include penning “Evil Demon Golf ball from Hell!” things don’t look good.

However, this may well be the most interesting debut feature since Richard Kelly gave us the much imitated Donnie Darko (and if you haven’t watched Darko yet then stop reading this and go watch it NOW!) or Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs; though it has very little in common with either of those movies. Delve a little further into the piece and we find a canny eye for a shot, and some great scripting.

Brick is a mostly successful amalgamation of the teen drama and the Film Noir, so much so that the language of Noir not only permeates the film’s narrative but its visual aspect too, for those that care to look. In particular, the open spaces and chosen settings reminded me of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. Once we accept the unusual setting as commonplace however, the film begins to shine.

I’m limited in what I can say because I don’t want to include spoilers for those that haven’t seen it yet. There is a death, an investigation, a bad guy, a henchman, another death, a tragic blonde, and a lot of heavy exposition at times.

The dark oppressive streets of Bogart’s era have been replaced with a faceless concrete school, which seems to be under a perpetual cloudy sky. It’s as if the blue is trying to break through but lacks the courage of conviction. There are blues skies later on, but they seem to begin at the very boundaries of the town limits. Colour is used sparingly.

Brick opens with shot of the main protagonist’s shoes, a recurring motif that gives an insight into the wearer’s persona, and social status. We are at the mouth of a storm drain, and just in front lies the body of a girl, with a thick blue bracelet. An intriguing opening scene, for sure. I won’t give away any twists, so don’t worry, this is in the first 3 minutes. The girl is the tragic Laura Palmer type. She is aware of her own impending downfall but is powerless, or perhaps unwilling, to prevent it.

Then it cuts, and we’re told it’s now 2 days earlier. Again we see the girl’s bracelet as she places a note in a locker, followed by the shoes, the same shoes we saw before, as the wearer enters the frame and opens the locker. The scene is set for what follows. Two days pass in twenty minutes, and we’re back at the storm drain. Then it begins to get really good. How? You’ll have to watch it.

The mostly young cast consists of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brendan Frye), you’ll remember him as the kid from Third Rock from The Sun but don’t let that put you off, he does a fine job as the hard-boiled seeker on the fringes of something sinister, and prepared to give it his all to get the answers he seeks.

Along the way he interacts with different social classes and cliques but always remains intrinsically on the fringes of them all. Bogart would be proud, (and probably give him a slap for being so concerned about the woman).

Lukas Haas, who I’d last saw as Ritchie in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, plays a central role, which is all I can really say about that to avoid spoilers. But he does it well; he’s a geek, but he’s a geek that commands respect; the most dangerous kind.

Nora Zehetner plays the big-eyed dangerous beauty. She’s pretty, and handles her lines well. We first she her dressed in red, which is a sign of danger for Brendan; it’s an overused method in cinema but here kept thankfully to a minimum.

The language is initially ostracizing, filled with dozens of buzzwords that I didn’t understand, and as a result I empathised with the main protagonist, Brendan, himself not totally clued in. My DVD was the single disc version and had no subtitles so I was forced to rewind on a few occasions to catch what was said before I could begin to decode it.

Brendan makes occasional trips to “Brain”, the school smart-guy. Brain acts as a go-between; he’s a guide to the language of the underworld for both Brendan and the viewer, and is inconspicuous enough to be able to keep an eye on people without drawing attention to himself. In truth, Brain is nothing more than a convenient plot device, but not so obvious that he’s rendered two dimensionally. He has his part to play and like the rest of the cast he does it very well. At one point he offers the advice: “Forget it, now. Go home. Sleep.” A sentiment that is echoed back at him later. Also, if you need a Rubik’s Cube solved in record time, he’s your man.

Once we’ve settled into the peculiar wording, the dialogue seems sharp and punchy like all the best Noirs. For example, Brendan says to the femme fatale: “If you were behind me I’d have to tie one eye up watching your hands. I can’t spare it.” And later someone (can’t say who) says: “You’re going to make me curious being so curious.” I could imagine that being said in a Bogey film easily. It reads a little forced, but when it’s spoken it’s effective.

The plot progression is well paced; as the story unfolds so too does our understanding of the nuances of the language, and of the characters. As Brendan delves further into the blossoming crime ring, trying to make his way to the “Pin” (Kingpin), the danger level is amped up for him, and consequently for those around him. He takes a few beatings along the way, but there is little room for unnecessary emotions and even less room for unwelcome ones. His goal is paramount.

Eventually the “Brick” of the title is explained, and while initially I saw it as being a McGuffin, it actually proves to be the catalyst for the spiralling downward fall that engulfs certain characters, and is instrumental in the ending. And a great ending it was too. Some shock revelations are played out, and things don’t turn out like I had imagined at all.

Special mention needs to be made of one of the few scenes to involve an adult. Brendan is summoned to the office of the “Vee-Pee” (Vice Principal) and the scene plays out like a Dirty Harry moment, with the adult representing the Chief of police and Brendan the renegade cop with an agenda that says to hell with your rules. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the Noir feel but is great fun regardless. A poster on the Vice’s wall states “Every expert was once a beginner,” which is an odd addition, I tried to tie it into the narrative but as the back-story of each character is relatively unexplored I was unable to.

Brick currently sits at the 489th spot of Empire magazine's list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. Not bad for an elegant little indie that slipped under almost everyone’s radar upon release.

The film was awarded the “Special Jury Prize: Dramatic, for Originality of Vision”, at Sundance. It also picked up the “Citizen Kane Award for Best Directorial Revelation” and the “John Cassavetes Award for best film production with a budget under $500,000” from a few other places. And if you don’t know who John Cassavetes is then shame on you, go here for an education:

To his credit, after repeated studio refusal, The Director, Rian Johnson, obtained funding from friends and family and after successfully collecting together around $475,000 he made his movie, his way. The film was shot in his home town in a mere 20 days. He even employed his cousin, Nathan Johnson, to score the movie.

The music is well integrated, never coming across as obtrusive or unwarranted. A number of bizarre instruments seem to have been used, I heard sheet metal being scraped, and at one point I’m sure someone was playing a tune by running their finger along the rim of a glass of water. Elsewhere, it evokes a smoky bar room atmosphere, or a prohibition era Jazz club. It would be an interesting listen outside of the visuals, but with a film like this the chances of finding the soundtrack are virtually zero, if there even was one officially released.

It remains to be seen whether the Director will continue to merge genres as successfully in the future, or whether he will be consumed and spat out by the Hollywood system that initially refused him, and then embraced him once he proved himself.

If you like your movies without 30 foot robots and with a clever script then Brick is highly recommended.

**** out of 5.

May 19, 2009


"Deep Inside The Cuckoo Clock" is going through some reformatting for the better.
I'm proud to introduce Doctor Faustus as a new addition to the 'cuckoo clock'. While I, cuckoo, will be sticking to writing Film Score reviews, the good doctor will be exploring his favorite (or least favorite) films.

May 17, 2009

ANGELS & DEMONS music composed by Hans Zimmer

The Catholic Church should really learn to keep their mouths shut when it comes to something they disapprove of. By protesting a work of art or whatever you might call Dan Brown's Robert Langdon novels, they only made the general public more curious about the novels and it's in inevitable blockbuster film adaptations. The Catholic Church helped turn The Da Vinci Code, what should have only been a grocery store novel, into a worldwide best seller, with Harry Potter being the only book to outsell it in 2004. As of 2006, 60.5 million books were in print at a time and was rated 4 on the 101 Best Books Ever Written Blame the Catholics and the people who were curious what all the fuss was about. If that weren't enough, Ron Howard took it upon himself to direct Tom Hanks in a huge movie adaptation which only added fuel to fire for the Roman Catholic Church. By then you would have thought the Catholics would learn to shy away from any sort of protest of the film. They didn't and in doing so Howard's The Da Vinci Code film's opening weekend earned $77 Million worldwide, making it the seventh biggest movie opening in history to that date. By the end of year, after opening in May, The Da Vinci Code earned itself a staggering $758,239,851 worldwide. Inevitably, being Ron Howard's and Tom Hanks' most successful film at that time, a sequel was in the works. With no sequel actually written by Dan Brown, Columbia Pictures decided to work with Brown's previous novel, Angels & Demons which it's events occured before The Da Vinci Code, but they scratched that idea and in the film adaptation this story would come after.
Very much like the first film, Angels & Demons was attacked by the Catholic Church once again. This time around, I don't even think they reviewed the subject matter of the story, as Hanks' Langdon character aids the Catholic Church from attacks. I'm sure, Columbia pictures really didn't mind the controversy at all this time, as Angels & Demons has earned $152 million worldwide on it's opening weekend.
With Ron Howard and Tom Hanks having both returned for the film's sequel, it would only seem suiting to bring in The Da Vinci Code composer, Hans Zimmer, who received a Golden Globe nomination in 2007 for his original score. Zimmer is no stranger to the summer blockbuster score, with The Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy, The Rock, Gladiator and Batman Begins & The Dark Knight (with James Newton Howard) under his belt.
The Da Vinci Code was a powerful and extremely effective score that is probably one of Zimmer's better works from the past ten years. The original score's shining star was "Chevaliers de Sangreal", a beautifully textured string composition that told a story of wonder and discovery through the music only. With this being the most popular cue on the album, Zimmer decided to continue with that theme when it came time to score Angels & Demons. He decided to try things a little different this time around and enlisted the help of violinist Joshua Bell, who had just played for Zimmer's pal James Newton Howard on Defiance in 2008. Things were looking good for Zimmer's new project.
"160 BPM" opens the album with a bang. A synthetic rhythm quietly builds up, like something from Zimmer's own Batman scores, then things get intense in a apocolyptic way, with an interesting layering of intimidating choirs chanting back and forth against eachother like they're channeling Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. With the electric bass, the drum pad rushing past you and a frantic string section frantically trying to keep up, "160 BPM" is brand new to the Robert Langdon world, just not ours. As interesting as the choral work is, the cue offers nothing new to the score world and kind of wanders around aimlessly after the three minute mark. The dedicated score collector will recognize "160 BPM" as nothing more than an updated reworking of Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" (which was used as the theme for The Exorcist) or Goblin's theme for the 1977 horror cult-classic Suspiria.
The existing Robert Langdon theme is reintroduced briefly at the beginning of "God Particle" with Joshua Bell's hynotizing violin playing. This theme is all to brief, as Zimmer predictably dives into electronic ambience that can heard in almost all his scores from the past 10 years. Thankfully we are treated to a haunting solo piano at the tail of the five minute cue, which sounds almost as if it could have crawled right out of Zimmer's The Ring scores.
"Air" quickly establishes itself as one of the album highlights. Bell's violin plays in the cue, with a rich sound of loneliness and despair. A chilling chant slowly reverberates itself into the mix for a few moments and is suddenly cut-off by some of Zimmer's finest work to date for it's subtlety. It doesn't last for too long, as the choir and pounding percussion come in like they're ready to take on the gods...or God. The string work here is top-notch, displaying both sadness and intensity to perfection. Once again Zimmer finishes the cue off with a beautiful piano rendition of the main theme, played over some soft strings.
Nothing new is really introduced in "Fire". Infact it's a cue that shouldn't be a problem skipping. It's a simple, messy reworking of "160 BPM" only this time it's riddled with galloping drum pads, ridiculous electronics and church bells ringing to produce a more bombastic sound, which I guess will please any Zimmer fanboy prancing around in his mother's basement.
"Black Smoke" sneaks in almost unnoticed and I could only wish it had stayed that way, with it's electronic natterings that wouldn't be out of place in a Wesley Snipes film. Although there is some interesting drum and percussion work it's all too brief to really enjoy, especially over all the electric fluttering sounds.
After two incredibly lacking tracks, clocking in at about thirteen minutes combined, the album's biggest highlight is more than welcome, "Science & Religion". Zimmer once again playing it subtle, suceeds with a wonderul introduction from Bell's violin played over a sorrowful droning of synthetic woodwinds. The cue begins to build upon itself with a glimmer of hope and wonder, with Bell's playing still in the spotlight and a string section and synthetic angelic choir used to perfection. Around the eight and a half minute mark, Zimmer decides to revisit and rework the peaceful subtheme he uses at the ending of The Thin Red Line's Journey To The Line cue. As it introduced the cue, Bell's violins plays it out as well with a tenderness that begs the listener to actually think and not just listen.
"Immolation" is the biggest insult to the listener, especially coming after "Science & Religion". It's nothing but 3 and a half minutes of low bass drones rocking back and forth, which ultimately builds up to an angelic choir at the end, but still has nothing to really give the listener to think or care about.
"Election By Adoration" takes us back to a slower rendition of the "Chevaliers de Sangreal" theme, played like a violinist's requiem. Zimmer could have easily bowed out gracefully with this track....but, unfortunally he doesn't.
Along comes "503", which I suspect should have been the highlight of the score, but if comes off as forced and awkward. It's basically the original "Chevaliers de Sangreal" theme played weakly and watered down, with Joshua Bell's violin playing over top of it and I mean that when I say that. On paper it must have sounded like a great idea...the end product is not.
For the die-hard Zimmer/Angels & Demons fan, a bonus cue titled "H20" is available free of cost for downloading on the official Angels & Demons soundtrack website. For the casual fan, it's not worth the simple trouble and offers nothing new to the album.
In the end, Zimmer has written some wonderful cues for Angels & Demons and he has written some stark, electronic excuses for score music as well. For the more classical score collector, Angels & Demons will be a so-so album, with maybe 2 or 3 cues worth multiple listens. To the Zimmer fanboy or girl, I'm sure this album will be the talk of town for it's bombastic movie trailer like music and simply just the name Hans Zimmer (who's fans seem to pratically worship as a god). Although Angels & Demons is a continuation of The Da Vinci Code, Zimmer doesn't quite live up to the original's beauty and richness (with the exception of "Air" and Science & Religion"). Instead he goes for the safer, easier route of composing for the same people that believe The Dark Knight score is the new bible.
Up next for Zimmer, is Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, hopefully it will be more like the almost perfect Frost/Nixon (which his fans never seem to mention) and less like his countless list of bombastic action scores. With Frost/Nixon and a few moments on Angels & Demons, Mister Zimmer has proven that he can write quietly with grace...he just doesn't seem to want to do it.

* * * out of 5

May 4, 2009

LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS music composed by Debbie Wiseman

Lesbian Vampire Killers...Lesbians...Vampires...Killers...Lesbian Vampire Killers. Wow. Where to even start? The title alone can send this into so many different directions. When one starts out to write reviews for film scores, one never imagines Lesbian Vampire Killers sitting on his desk in a shiney jewel case, screaming to be placed in one's disc player, picked apart and ultimately written about in great detail. One never imagines this score to be really, really, really good either.
Lesbian Vampire Killers was written around the title itself. Stewart Williams and Paul Hupfield (Brit TV's Balls Of Steel...remember that show with the mock interview with Tom Cruise where he unexpectedly got squirted in the face) came up with a ridiculous title and wrote the script after that. The idea of that writing tactic drove the stake (ha-ha!) into the ground right there. Casting James Corden and Matthew Horne (from BBC's Gaving & Stacy) in the lead roles lifted the stake out of the ground a little...unfortunally not enough to make the film any good. What was supposed to be Britain's answer to Shaun Of The Dead for 2009 turned out to be more along the lines of 1999's horror-comedy (?) Idle Hands with one unbearablably dumb joke after another.
Hiring Debbie Wiseman to score this shitfest was a shock to most film score collectors and fans familiar with her name. Wiseman was most well known for her work on the film based on James Herbert's ghost story Haunted, France's comic-book blockbuster Arsene Lupin, and TV's critically acclaimed Flood and Jekyll. Wiseman joins the ranks of many composers who score bad horror films using everything they've got with the results of an impressive end product. Brian Tyler, Marco Beltrami, Graeme Revell and the late Jerry Goldsmith are names often attached to similiar projects...and now Debbie Wiseman is too. While the film is complete trash, the score often shines and is quite better than the material it has to work with.
"Centuries Ago" begins the whole ride with a simple chime and chilling solo vocal provided by New Zealand's own Hayley Westenra (another name surprisingly attached to this film). The vocal seduces you with a four note motif and builds into an enchanting gothic orchestrated beauty that leaves the listener in pure awe with it's power. The cue makes no attempts to mask what the primary influence was...Elfman's Sleepy Hollow.
"ADV_NTURE" starts out like it's going to lead you into sort of epic adventure both magical and exciting with it's soaring horn section, but it quickly diminishes that notion that with a clumsy saunter led by a woodwind section and a plucky piano playing off eachother, while the strings come in and add a slight chill down the spine every now and then. It's silly but it's fun, like old Elfman or perhaps even closer to Prokofiev's Peter & The Wolf.
The action music begins to peer around the corner very quietly with "Have You Been Hanging Out With Vicars?" It introduces itself with quick choral jabs that seem to be channeling the same sort of gothic drama that Wojciech Kilar's score for Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula did.
Perhaps, Wiseman was trying to set the record for world's longest score track name with "I Know Something Really Wrong Is Happening Here, But Is There Any Chance We Can Just Ignore It?"...who knows? This track is a jumble of different themes, but I love it for that. It begins with what seems to be a slight tip of the hat to Nino Rita, with it's slight waltz motif, but it quickly gets creepy with a low omnious quiver from the string section, with some standard playing and what appears to be a number of bows being dragged along some strings very slowly. Whatever it is, it's very effective. Building itself into the main theme first heard in "Centuries Ago", were are lead into some rousing action music that plays for so short a time, you can't possibly stop thirst for more.
'Vampires? Lesbian Vampires!" is exactly what the doctor ordered after the previous track. It begins with a masculine string and horn section (which no Zimmer fan is a stranger to), but it quickly drops off into the main theme and develops quite beautifully, with it's wonderful string section dancing around you like it's taunting you with lesbian biting death. Then Wiseman, proves to the listener that she's not just ripping off other composers, she adds something fresh to the mix and the orchestrations, in the last few seconds of the cue...a wonderful piano piece which is more than welcome to any horror theme.
"Give Me One Last Kiss" & "My Axe-Girlfriend" are entertaining as it they are surprising to hear. They might actually be a little out of place in the middle of all these straight-faced horror cues. Especially the latter cue, as it quotes from Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. Fortunally these two tracks are played back to back, so once they are done, our moods are gently slipped back into the broody blood sucking lesbian state of mind.
Wiseman is at her best with "The Dawn Of The Red Moon". It is pure classic horror scoring which is so rare these days in the synthesized soundscape slashing and creaking noise that has become all too common. It fits in nicely with Elfman's Sleepy Hollow and Beltrami's Dracula 2000, as choral gothic beauty perfected. It haunts you with Westenra's voice, a rumbling church organ, the dramatic string and horn sections and a piercing choral chant that melds so perfectly together I often repeat it after a listen.
"Jimmy, I Love You" develops the love theme, which was first introduced in "You're A Virgin?" It wouldn't be out of place in a Jane Austen adapted film (although not out of place here either), with it's lush strings and simple beauty.
"The Crypt Of Carmilla" takes us back to the masculine sounding Zimmer-string and horn section, but it quickly melds into an almost over-the-top variation of the main vocal theme only this time it's the full orchestra gracing us with it's power. As short as the cue is, it's a definite album highlight. Marching into the rousing "Carmilla The Vampire Queen", it comes out swinging and punching, like it's competing with Alexander Courage's cue from the original Star Trek classic episode, Amok Time...but only for a moment. It teases us with that short action motif, but slows down and builds the tension with a ascending string section.
"Whores of Fucking Hades, Prepare for Fucking Death!" is quite possibly the best title name for any film score ever...and I'm fucking serious about that, you Lezbo Vamp fans. It builds up to the climax and is basically an entertaining action cue that couldn't be any better...plain and simple, end of story.
Wiseman saves using the title of the film until the final climax cue, "Lesbian Vampire Killers", it's dark, gothic, powerful and action packed. It almost echoes that of Elfman's climax cue "High Steel" from Darkman with it's melodrama and all or nothing orchestration. It comes at you from all sides, leaving no rock unturned. What is perhaps the best variation of the main vocal theme appears in this cue with all it's glory, magic and power. The score finishes off quite nicely with "Lesbian Vampire Killers It Is... Let's Ride!": a the boys get the girls and ride off into the moonlight cue. So sweet.
Leading us out, is Showaddywaddy's cover of the Curtis Lee classic "Under The Moon Of Love". This is perhaps one of my favorite songs at the moment, just for it's pure cheesy fun. Classic 50's rock...I love it. I can only imagine it being performed by some vampire bats and spiders on The Muppet's that fun.
Although many tracks make it no secret that they are based off the temp tracks, (Sleepy Hollow and Dracula), Wiseman's Lesbian Vampire Killers is not just some cheap knock-off. It's a brilliant horror-comedy score, which Wiseman keeps fresh with some interesting and unique orchestrations and wonderul choir work. Wiseman played it smart and composed a mostly straight-faced horror score for an extremely silly movie, something Elmer Bernstein did in his day and it worked well for him. Like Theodore Shapiro's Tropic Thunder and Christopher Lennertz's Meet The Spartans, Wiseman scored an astonishly wonderful straight score for a goofy premise of a movie with astonishing results that deserves more recognition than it will probably get at the end of the year.
In the end, I can't recommend this score enough to any score collector. A definite must have in your collection. A well-rounded album presentationa with a classic horror socre which is all too absent in films these days of synthesized soundscapes. It's perhaps my favorite score so far for 2009....and that's going up against some heavy hitters in my book.
Yeah...that's right...Lesbian Vampire Killers.

* * * * 1/2 out of 5

Apr 25, 2009

CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE music composed by Mike Patton

Mike Patton. Ha-ha....where to start? I could go on forever about this guy, but I'll just keep it simple and say Angel Dust and Disco Volante.
Patton is no stranger to the film industry as of lately, having contributed a song "Bird's Eye" with System Of A Down singer Serj Tankian, composed by Mark Streitenfeld for the Ridley Scott film Body Of Lies, lent his voice talents to the Will Smith film I Am Legend and Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen and sucessfully "scored" a short film called A Perfect Place. Hell, he even replaced Dennis Hopper for a role in the low budget carnival film, Firecracker....stick to your day job, Mike.
So what to do next?
Score a film starring the always entertaining Jason Statham.
I don't care what people say, Statham is a wonderful addition to the entertainment world, with his work on The Transporter series, War, Snatch and The Italian Job (who doesn't want to see Statham work side by side with Seth Green and Mos Def to defeat Edward Norton?). So along comes Crank, a gritty over the top action film co-starring Amy Smart and Dwight Yoakam.
Crank is a movie that really has a simple premise, something like Speed, Statham's character Chev is injected with a poison that forces him to keep his heart rate up or else he dies. Stupid, huh? Well...yes. But it's just so damn fun, you should just sit back forget all your worries for an hour and a half. Now along comes the sequel Crank: High Voltage, (SPOILER ALERT!!!! Chev technically would've died at the end of the first one, but we'll let that slide and enjoy another helping of intense, at times hilarious, testosteroney fun) this time his heart is replaced with a mechanical one that needs to keep getting charged up to keep working or else he dies. Stupider, huh? Well...yes, but adding to Amy Smart and Dwight Yoakam as the cast, Statham brings along Corey Haim, Geri "Ginger Spice" Halliwell, David Carradine, TOOL's Maynard James Keenan and Linkin Park's Chester Bennington along for the ride....what do you expect? Good Old Ridiculous Fun. That's what.
Now the original film was scored by Underworld composer Paul Haslinger, but ended up being mostly littered with hard rock and punk bands' songs as the background music. The original score did the trick for the first film (only 13 minutes of music was written for the film!), but was a little too serious for the sequel (which by no means could be taken seriously, I mean c'mon! Chev whistles along with the score!) Haslinger was dropped and in walks Mike Patton.
With Patton's score to A Perfect Place he obviously lifted from the noirish works of Bernard Herrmann and Henry Mancini, so one would be curious to see what he would do with an action film. It's pretty much a given, Patton would not be using the traditional orchestra for his score, but rather the standard rock band instruments, some electronics and an army of obscure world instruments, used untraditionally.
Kicking off this weird, wild mind-boggling intense trip is "Kickin'" a track that is one of two tracks on the album, that closely resemble a song (Sweet Creem [Redux] being the second). "Kickin'" starts off like a sped up western in space, then in just a few seconds, kicks into a punked up little ditty...something I can only describe as Ministry covering The Pixies' "Nimrod's Son".
"Chelios" sputters along at first sounding like a drunken Secret Chiefs 3 trying to play Morricone, but it quickly gets heavy, now sounding like The Melvins hitting the sauce and trying to play Morricone, it then teeters back and forth between soft and heavy.
"Organ Donor" rolls in rather nicely right at can almost picture the tumbleweeds passing by with it's bad to the bone attitude.
If things weren't all ready weird enough, along comes "Chickenscratch". It bubbles, it titters, it wobbles, it makes french fries and three get the idea.
"Doc Miles" is a welcome little ditty, which echoes something Henry Mancini or Nelson Riddle would write in a true espionage funky fashion. This track is officially now my theme for walking down the street. "Here comes Doc Miles, ladies, watch out....he's really weird".
"El Huron" manages to confuse and delight all one moment it broods and lingers, with it's synthesized woodwinds, but from out of nowhere, a Danny Elfman like Eastern European carnival ride passes by laughing and mocking you, only to fall over in cymbal crashes and broken strings.
"Tourette's Breakdance" blips and bleeps around, like Daft Punk with bad gas, but it doesn't really do much, other than irritate...this is Patton, so it's to be expected.
Rhythmic breaths introduce the Korn-flavored "The Hammer Drops". A track that might actually be a welcome addition to the album for the average score listener, as opposed to the rest of the chaotic, yet structured, noise that populates the larger portion of the album.
"Triad Limo" sticks out as a highlight track for me. With it's stereo-typed Chinese flavoring, posing as the theme for the villians of the film, "Limo" is an interesting listen that it's almost euphoric to my ears.
"Shock & Shootout" is a violent guitar driven piece that would make Slayer proud. It's hard sludgy thrash metal at it's grisliest.
"Pixelvision"...what am I supposed to say about the wonders of a mouth harp? The mouth harp bounces around, as a synthesizer plucks away in the background like a sneaky cat, followed by what sounds like an 80's video game....I love it!
Sounding like it just jumped out of Ocean's Eleven, "Spring Loaded" saunters in, but is suddenly stopped by an ominous gong and heavy percussion, only to be dismissed by this cool cat...he stops for nothing.
"Supercharged" spits and growls like your usual thrash metal, but it can't be taken all that seriously, due to some humourous "Woo-Hoo"s thrown in, which is all too Homer Simpson-ish. It's strange but it works.
Coming off as the longest track on the album at 4:15, "Epilogue/In My Dreams" is a definite album highlight. It teeters back and forth between slow thrash metal and sludgy electronica and ending with noises that will make your cat or dog pack up and leave home.
"Friction" and "Epiphany" finish off the album, played back to back. With "Friction" sounding like the tolling of the Death Bells and finishing off in Texas Chainsaw Massacre ambience, it almost immedietely melds into the sad(?) "Epiphany", which blends a reverberated church organ and awkward vocalizations to perfection.
Patton's Crank: High Voltage will without a doubt anger most film score listeners and rock fans as well, but it will without a doubt find a cosy little home with his rabid fanbase. Whether fans of the Crank films, will hate it, ignore or even notice it, has yet to be seen. Many artsy fans of Patton (and there's alot of them), will probably sneer at the fact that he's scored a Jason Statham film and not something a little more serious or weirder...but they can go to hell with that stick up remaining up their ass. It's a fun score to a fun film. The score album does run at 55 minutes and personally I would have shaved 10 of those minutes off, to make it a little more enjoyable in one sitting...instead, I'll probably find myself skipping a track here and a track there and therefore it gets half a star knicked off it's rating. While as an album, it doesn't live up to most of Patton's other works, it does impress as an addition to his budding film score career...guess we'll have to wait and see what he does with next year's Pinion.

*** 1/2 out of 5

Feb 22, 2009

DEFIANCE music composed by James Newton Howard

In the same tradition of his previous films, Glory, The Last Samurai & Blood Diamond, Edward Zwick tells the story of another violent time in history, this time during World War II in Defiance. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell are cast as three brothers who escape the invasion of Poland by the Germans and hide deep in an Eastern European forest. There they begin building makeshift homes in the cold, uninhabitable forest, only to attract other Polish Jews on the run who want to hide in their "community". This not only puts a strain on the brother's relationships, but also the secrecy of their new "homes".
Zwick knows how to pick the composer for the film he is making, as all his film's scores are well received by the critic and the fans alike. There was James Horner's beautiful scores to Glory and Legends Of The Fall and Hans Zimmer's mysterious and haunting The Last Samurai. Before Defiance, Zwick teamed up with Zimmer's pal/composer James Newton Howard for Blood Diamond, a score which I can not say enough good things about...I absolutely loved Howard's work on that film....loved it.
James Newton Howard, ofcourse, is mostly famous for his 8 Acamdemy Award nominated scores, most notably the hauntingly wonderful The Village and now Defiance and was also the co-composer of the Christopher Nolan Batman films, with Hans Zimmer.
For Defiance, Howard and Zwick originally wanted a less obvious sound for the Jewish culture of that time in history (meaning the Itzhak Perlman violin solos of John Williams' classic Schindler's List and other films depicting such atrocities of the Holocaust), however after they went through a long list of instruments to represent the sound, they finally gave in to the beauty of the violin. Howard was no stranger to using the violin as a solo instrument in his scores, having used it to perfection in The Village, with violinist Hilary Hahn. This time around, Howard would call upon another young violinist, Joshua Bell, who shined quite brightly on John Corigliano's score to The Red Violin, to play as a soloist for Defiance.
Unlike William's fully orchestrated Schindler's List, Defiance plays much more subtly, almost to the point of minimalism in some spots. The instruments weave in and out of each others spotlight, rather than play together to reach an emotional climax of Hollywood grandeur, like some WWII Holocaust films before it would do.
From the first track we know immedietely this is not the album to put on while doing housework or going for a brisk walk. This album requires you to sit down and absorb the pain and emotion that is bled into each note.
"Main Titles" starts out with a low ominous growl with the brass section rumbling away, only to be broken by a lone stark violin angrily played by Joshua Bell, followed by the string section becoming more and more anxious or urgent. It's the perfect way to let you know the next 45 minutes of listening is going to be a dark one and will sour your good mood.
So be warned.
"Survivors" manages to break one's heart with Bell's violin playing at the outset, followed by Howard's recognizable string composition of string over string over string, which wouldn't sound out of place in The Village. "Make Them Count" continues with the dissonant ambience we briefly heard in "Main Titles". This ambience suffocates you and puts you into a place most would rather not visit, but we are given a breath of air with the strings filling in the end only to well up the tears.
"Your Wife" allows Bell's violin to play over a brand new string section theme. This theme is perhaps the most heartbreaking beautiful score cue to come across the screen in 2008...and that's just the music without the amazing scene it's played over...absolutely unforgettable. Howard and Bell are at their best during this cue.
"The Bielski Otriad" threatens to completely smother you with that brooding ambience again, even more so than previously, however this time around it plays like a desperate crescendo. The strings elegantly rush past you with anger and despair alike, played with perfection and a sense of urgency that gets your heart racing and just when you think your going to have a heart attack, the brass and percussion jump in and make sure you have that heart attack.
"Camp Montage" almost echoes Michael Kamen's Band Of Brothers or Williams' Saving Private Ryan, with the lone horn section introducing the cue and developing into a sad string heavy cue, that begs you to stare off into the grey sky off the shore of a lonely beach.
"Police Station" acts as if it's watching you from a distance and creeps in closer and closer...if the dreading dissonant tracks before didn't do the trick, this one will. It's ripped right out of the pages of a Hans Zimmer war score...the low synths sounds, the long brass tones and the high-note string section that almost pierce the ears.
"Tuvia Kisses Lilka", "Nothing Is Impossible" & "The Bielski Brothers/ Ikh Bin A Mame" end the album and prove to be 13 and a 1/2 minutes of solid music...not a second to be wasted. These three tracks pretty much round up all the themes and motifs heard throughout the rest of the score and play them to absolute perfection. Joshua Bell's playing on "Nothing Is Impossible" is something most players probably dream of being able to perform. Never have I heard such beauty and emotion put into one track before. I can't even do it justice, I believe it is that good. "The Bielski Brothers/ Ikh Bin A Mame" finishes off everything with a glimmer of hope and sadness rolled into one.
While the album does end on somewhat of a hopeful note, the last few notes played on the violin somehow doesn't let you forget the tragedy you've just experienced as well. The emotions linger for awhile and most often I find myself sitting in silence for a sometime, after finishing off the album, deep in thought and heart.
I've picked James Newton Howard's Defiance as my pick for the the Oscar Winner this year, for it's stark beauty, sadness and astonishing solo work by violinist Joshua Bell, all done with subtly and perfection you hardly notice how much it is affecting you until your far into the score all ready. In the end, whether Howard wins the award or not, it still proves he is one of the best film composers today and so far he has only gotten better and better. Hopefully he keeps going that way, which I'm sure he will for the years to come.


Feb 21, 2009


With the 81st Annual Academy Awards rearing it's golden little head around the corner, I thought I'd take the time out to run through the five nominees in the "Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score" category.

First off, we have Alexandre Desplat's


I have a strange feeling this will be the one to take home the award.
Alexandre Desplat is probably most well known for his previous Oscar Nod for The Queen in 2006 and his impressive scoring job in 2007's The Golden Compass.
Benjamin Button is a rather slow moving, subtle score, like the David Fincher directed movie itself, that really begs for the listeners to sit down and enjoy the score with no distractions whatsoever. Desplat displays some interesting techniques with this score, particularly the theme which he very subtly reverses in play during the duration of the film. He also never really makes use of any fully orchestrated melodramatic cues and instead opts for a series of intimate instrumental solos played over a slight rhthymic waltz timing that quietly weaves it way through the score. While, I find the score to be a pleasant listen, the disc probably won't leave it's case that much in the near future. Even thouhg it is a 2-disc set, one disc featuring the score the other featuring most of the source material from the film's various eras. I won't listen to either of them that much, because the score disc is just too slow and quiet for me and the soundtrack disc, while I do like the songs, unfortunally contains dialogue clips which I really find irratating.

* * * out of 5

next up Danny Elfman's


Elfman's fourth collaboration with director Gus Van Sant, is generally a success, probably more so than the earlier Van Sant/Elfman Oscar nominated team-up Good Will Hunting. The Milk score, like Benjamin Button's, is quiet and subtle...well, mostly. It doesn't really have any recurring themes at the forefront, but Elfman does manage to sneak in some which the ear won't pick up at first and that's just fine. Unlike most of the composer's other scores, Milk proves to be very warm and optimistic. A piano and saxophone are Elfman's choice solo instruments this time around, which fit in the mood of the movie like a glove. While the score consists of mostly heart-warming cues, Elfman does throw in a few short "dittys" that sound like they just jumped out of the goofier moments of Edward Scissorhands. If you're looking for something like a Tim Burton/Elfman score, then this isn't for leans more towards the tone similiar to some of Elfman's work he did in the early 2000's. Ofcourse, I do enjoy this score, but don't think it deserves the Oscar, mostly because the Academy ignore some of Elfman's better work this year such as Standard Opertating Procedure and Wanted and I hope Elfman wins an Oscar for something that people will remember for years to come, rather than a subtle drama score, which most likely quickly be forgotten.

* * * out of 5

Now let's take a look at A.R. Rahman's


Let me start off by saying, when I started reviewing these scores I quickly went through all five of them again, skipping quite a few tracks on each disc, but with this score, I found myself listening to it from start to finish.
Allah Rakha Rahman (aka A.R. Rahman) really deserved this Oscar nod, with it's fresh blend of Bollywood textures and Electronica/Hip-Hop. Danny Boyle's Slumgdog and everybody involved in the film, are quite obviously the Oscars and critic's darlings this year.
The soundtrack album is 51 minutes of loud, fast-paced bliss, which kind of outcast itself from the majority of score listeners out there. Most fanboy score fanatics would prefer to leap around their mother's basement, in their Spider-Man underoos with a plastic lightsaber, to some bombastic Hans Zimmer & Friends' score (because it's so 'epic'), while the snooty score collector detested the idea of a hip-hop fusion score.
Rahman's score, to my ears, is absolutely wonderful and a very welcome addition to my collection. He cleverly fuses traditional Indian instruments with hip hop beats, electric guitars, sound manipulations, and even a muted choir at one point.
"O...Saya" opens the album (and the film) with a bang, with it's frantic drumming in the foreground and a brief vocalization from British hip-hop artist M.I.A. "Mausum & Escape" is my personal favorite at the moment, as it bounces solos back and forth with a guitar and sitar at first, but quickly develops orchestrally and electronically, with a wall of sound that practically smothers you. We are then treated to M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes", with it's gun shots, The Clash-samples and all, from her Kala album. It's then followed by a remix of the same song, which is pretty good, but I wouldn't have put them back to back. "Latika's Theme" is one of two moments on the album where we are allowed a momentary breather. It's a beautiful piece with vocalizations provided by Bollywood singer Suzanne D'Mello. The album finishes off with "Jai Ho", an excellent, excellent, excellent uplifting song, that dares you not to feel good when listening to it. Both "O...Saya" and "Jai Ho" were nominated for best songs of the year, for this year's Oscar, alongside Peter Gabriel's "Down To Earth" from Wall-E . I'm sorry, but as much as I like Peter Gabriel, "Jai Ho" has easily taken the award.

* * * 1/2 out of 5

Let's move on to Thomas Newman's

Newman's second dive into the Pixar world, (Finding Nemo being the first) is a sucessful one in mood and tone for the film, but I really just couldn't get into it as a score album. I love Newman's work, especially on American Beauty, The Green Mile and Lemony Snicket's , but this album presentation just felt really off to me. I think I blame this on the length of most of the tracks on the album. 12 out of the 38 tracks are under one minute, the shortest being 15 seconds, while most other tracks barely make it to the 2 minute mark. As a listening experience, it just doesn't work for me. It barely gives the listener enough time to really get a feel for the track before it moves onto the next one. Newman could have mixed some tracks together to create some mini-suites, but instead opted for this poor presentation. Don't get me wrong, I actually do like what I hear, particularly the superb crystal-clear recording job, but it's over before I even knew what it was. I enjoy the genre-jumping throughout the score and the way Newman incorporated the feel of robot movements in his music. He sucessfully entered into the Sci-Fi score world for the first time in his career, which especially shows on the opening score track, "2815 A.D.". The album is a fun listen, but also very irritating as well. I'm sorry, but the short tracks were something I just couldn't get past and I do realize it's not Newman's fault, it's the director/producer's want in the film. It reminded me of the way Clint Mansell presented his Requiem For A Dream score, great music but too many 20 second cues. All in all, the score is fun, not award worthy though and the album presentation is a major drawback. I do look forward to Newman getting into some more sci-fi scores in the future if what he did here is any indication of what he can do.

* 1/2 for album
* * * as in context of the film

...i'm going to save the final score, which I think should take home the award, for a review by itself....

Feb 7, 2009

DOGMA music composed by Howard Shore

It's a world where Alanis Morissette is God, a descendant of Jesus works in an abortion clinic, Chris Rock is the forgotten 13th Apostle and stoner-characters Jay & Silent Bob are's the world of Clerks & Chasing Amy writer/director Kevin Smith.
Released in 1999, Dogma, without a doubt would have controversy ready to run it down with an army of tanks going 200 miles a hour. It's satirical look into the Catholic Church and it's beliefs, were enough to cause protests all over the world (Kevin Smith even joined one himself under a pseudo-name) and an astonishing number of death threats aimed at Smith and the then film company behind Dogma, Disney. Death threats from practicing Catholics....Death Threats From The Children Of God Towards Disney?!?! That's like Mister Rogers tossing puppies and kittens out into traffic...something so very wrong.
The film itself was pro-God and pro-religious, but that was overlooked by many, as some people were so quick to label it blasphemous before they even saw the film and forgot how to look at their own views from a different angle or perhaps they just had a crucifex lodged up their ass. I still think it would have helped, if Smith included a homosexual character on the good side, to really stir the all ready overflowing pot (or maybe just a platypus...if you know what I mean Dogma-fans).
In a strange twist of events (for Smith), instead of littering the film's background music with rock songs, he opted for a more traditional style by using original orchestrated music. Enter Canadian composer Howard Shore, famous for his Oscar Award-winning Lord Of The Rings' masterpieces, The Departed, Se7en, The Silence of The Lambs and pretty much every single David Cronenberg film there is, as well as the original Saturday Night Live musical director and one of the brains behind The Blues Brothers.
While, Shore up to that point had become known for his generally dark, brooding scores, (with the exception of Tim Burton's Ed Wood), Dogma was sort of a change for him. And I mean you to take "sort of" very lightly, in a good way ofcourse.
What could of been a silly comedic score, which I loathe, Shore took a different approach and createad a melodramatic, almost epic sound for the film. It suited what would end up on screen, as Smith decided to shoot with more of a theatrical visual style for once.
The score portion of the Dogma album begins with the title track, "Dogma", a delightful little track, which slowly eases you into the mood of the album. It's almost scary horror sound sneaks up on you with with it's church bells and tense brass section and shades itself with a Bernard Herrmann Psycho-esque string section.
We are then treated to "Behold The Metatron", starting with a gothic choir, provided by the always wonderful Metro Voices, then devoloping with a church organ and a string section that drives at you as if Beetlejuice (or in this film's case, The Voice Of God) was about to appear in your bedroom.
"Mooby The Golden Calf" is an album highlight, as it was played during the scene that fallen angels, Loki and Bartleby, violently punish a room full of office executives for worshipping a false idol. With it's childish vocals, that mirror that of "It's A Small World" only not as annoying, "Mooby" is a strange creature, indeed. Fortunally the lyrics are included in the liner notes as the words are difficult to decipher from just listening to it.
"The Golgothan" creates a steady sense of dread and fear of The Shit Monster. The gothic organ is a major part on this particular track, but remains very well mixed in with the rest of the players, so you aren't immedietely drawn to it.
An ascending brass section introduces "The Last Scion", which serves as the Bethany character's theme. Although it begins with a sense of fear, "Scion" quickly evolves into a rather peaceful and mystical mood, which sounds as if Shore is toying with the Elven theme from the future "Lord Of The Rings" compositions.
"Stygian Triplets" twists back and forth with a psychotic orchestrated charge, that could please the ears of The Cryptkeeper. A fun little sweeping piece that reminds me of the first scene with The Wicked Witch in the tornado from The Wizard Of Oz for some strange reason.
The gothic organ and orchestra is really turned up for the "Bartleby and Loki" track. The pure melodrama of this piece is like heaven to my ears, it pretty much makes me want to stand on top of rocky mountain during a violent thunder storm and cackle loudly up to the sky.
"John Doe Jersey" eases in very gracefully after the previous track, as the climax approaches, the action motifs ride through better than most "serious" action movie music would. The religious tones of each theme throughout the entire score, clash back and forth, only to have some superbly composed choral work climb into the mix and completes this piece.
Finishing off the album is "A Very Relieved Deity", which continues with the heavenly chorus and orchestrations. Playing as a variation on Bethany's theme and introducing a new theme, which would serve as God's motif, this track would definately not be out of place on "The Lord Of The Rings".
While the album plays a mere 41 minutes, 35 minutes of that is given to Howard Shore's wonderful score and the other six is saved for Alanis Morissette and her original song, "Still".
This sole "rock" song opens the album and is suprisingly suiting to both the film and the soundtrack album. With it's world music sound texture and it's religiously controversial lyrics, I think Morissette holds up pretty well, like she did with "Uninvited" on the City Of Angels soundtrack. Other than those two songs, I'm not much of fan of her work.
I could of done with a longer playing time for the album, but am not sure how much music Shore actually wrote for the film, so this might be a pretty accurate presentation of the whole score.
All in all, I think that any Howard Shore fan will be fairly pleased with this early score, as would most film score collectors. So if your looking for a fun, dramatic, but not too serious, almost epic score then this Dogma's for you........unless your the President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (that's right, Little Willy Donohue, you ass, here's looking at you).


Jan 31, 2009

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: THE SCORE music composed by Christophe Beck

Based upon the 1992 box office bomb, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, was a television series that would grow into a pop culture phenonmenon during it's seven year run, beginning in 1997. Oscar-nominated Buffy creator, Joss Whedon, all ready had quite the resume under his belt, as a co-writer on Toy Story & Titan A.E. (with Tim Burton regular, John August & Firefly/Angel scribe Ben Edlund), the unfortunate writer on Alien Resurrection, script-doctor on Speed, Twister & Waterworld and writer on the TV sitcom Roseanne. Unhappy with the way his scripts turned out on film, due to the directors, Whedon decided to turn to television. From there he resurrected the idea of a highschool girl turned superhero and developed it into a critically acclaimed televsion series.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer mixed horror, humour and human drama into it's stories unusually well. It's characters were given the gift of witty dialogue and even greater character arcs. However it was the music that brought a cinematic feel to the series, when it went into it's second season.
In the first season, Walter Murphy scored the show, with mixed results. His music felt overly synthesized and low budget, which really stood out (and not in a good way). Murphy left the show and went on to score Family Guy, which better suited him. In stepped Canadian composer, Christophe Beck, who really hadn't done much, other than collaborated with then unknown composer Marco Beltrami on the forgotten series, Land's End.
Christophe Beck, brought the cinematic feeling to Buffy, that it needed and it almost immedietely took the series to a brand new height.
Beck, used a mixture of synthesizers and real instruments to create a sound that could very well belong in a feature film. Pouring everything in the mixture that he could, Beck's music was at times touching, horrific, exciting and humorous.
He ended up scoring 58 episodes in total, during the years of 1997 and 2001 and picked up an Emmy Award for his work on the season two episode, Becoming Part 1. During that time, his music was rarely ever released on album, besides a single track on the first official soundtrack album and one on the 2nd UK edition soundtrack. Followed by that, a few suites were released on the Buffy musical episode soundtrack album. Fans didn't think that was enough and wanted a whole score album. It wasn't until 2008 (five years after the show went off the air), that an official score album was released to the rabid fans of the show.
Clocking in at nearly sixty minutes worth of music, the album is what anybody who was a fan of show's score would want. It's score follows through with cues starting from the pivotal season two episode, Innocence, all the way to season five finale, The Gift, which was Beck's run through the series, if you don't count the single musical season six episode, Once More With Feeling.
The album begins with a bang, with "Massacre" from the season 2 episode, Becoming Part 1. An exciting cue, with it's sweeping strings and violent brass section that match Beltrami's horror cues from his Scream scores. It slows down at the end to interpolate with the Buffy/Angel love theme, that fans will immedietely recognize and cherish. Coincidentally, Beck would reuse the action theme from this cue, in Becoming Part 2 and the season one Angel episodes, I Will Remember You & War Zone. Followed by "Angel Waits" from the Season two's Passion. Quite possibly my favorite episode from the entire series and the music has alot to do with it. "Angel Waits" is a stalking soundscape, which creaks back and forth with pure evil. "Remembering Jenny" is another track from Passion, which is the Giles/Jenny Calender love theme. A theme I could listen to forever and wish so badly there were more variations on the theme itself. With it's deeply moving piano and Anthony (Giles) Head's vocals, it puts a lump in my throat just thinking about it. Followed by "Twice The Fool" from the season two Xander-centric episode, Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered. A playful little ditty, with strings that could quite possibly pop out of Elfman's Beetlejuice score.
"Kralik's House", from the season three episode, Helpless is an uber-creepy track that layers synthesized strings and an ominous droning sound, that sends chills up and down the spine, then suddenly jumps out at you, just like the Kralik character relished in doing so much. Things get emotional with "Magic Snow Music" from the season three Christmas episode, Amends. You get the feeling, Whedon wanted something straight out of Edward Scissorhands and Beck delivers. A funny little tidbit on this track, if you put the cd in your computer, it reads as "Magic Snow Missile", possibly thrown in there by some D & D fan.
"Slayer's Elegy" from the Season 3 episode The Wish, is a beautiful gloomy track that focuses mainly on a female soloist vocal performance, which mirrors Beltrami's Scream cue, "Sidney's Lament".
The action really picks up again, with "Faith's End" from the season three episode, Graduation Day Pt. 1. This cue is like the bigger, meaner brother to the "Massacre" track. It makes you want to jump up and kick some could almost imagine the internet child star "Star Wars Nerd" filming himself again, only this time he's a vampire slayer just gets weird.
"From The Grave" from Season Four's This Year's Girl, is a somber cue, which plays along with Faith's dream/nightmare before she wakes from her coma.
We are then treated to several unreleased cues from the Season Four episodes, the Emmy-nominated Hush & Restless. Even though the Once More With Feeling soundtrack included some extended suites from these episodes, it is nice to hear even more score from Beck's masterpieces. I'm particulary fond of the cues from Hush, as it is probably my second favorite episode. The Gentlemen's theme is just so damned creepy, it's like something out of a classic horror movie from the Golden Age. Restless being my third favorite episode, musically, was a real treat. I loved the vocals that were used in this, they remind me of the Hans Zimmer/Lisa Gerrard score for Gladiator.
The album ends with a handful of tracks from Season Five, which I find somewhat forgettable, other than the final track "The Gift", from the season finale of the same name. This track is labelled as an alternate version, from the version that was heard on the OMWF soundtrack. Personally, the original version stands up better, than this alternate version, as it ends more dramatically.
In the end, "Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Score" is a pretty decent stand alone album compiling some of the best cues spanning over Christophe Beck's work on the series. However several of the tracks are edited down from the season two and three era, which really makes me wonder why, as they could still easily fit on the album in their complete running time. Personally, I don't mind too much, as all these tracks can be found on the Season Two & Three score promotional albums in their entirety. Unfortunally the promo albums were never released to the public, so the only way to get them is to hunt them down online and get the MP3's. Another annoyance is the way the album was released. By purchasing the album online, you would recieve several bonus tracks, all of them differing depending on where you bought them from, whether it was iTunes, Amazon or Rhapsody.
I highly recommend this album and the two promo discs (if you can find them), whether your a fan of the series or just a score collector, it stands on it's own feet either way. So here's hoping a volume two is on it's way, right?