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