Wednesday, July 21, 2010

F.M.M Has Gone To A Better Place . . . . .

Yes, that’s right! Film, Music & Media at BlogSpot is dead. Don’t worry though because F.M.M is doing just fine now with its own domain! So please make a note of this.

New reviews/articles/interviews will no longer be posted here!!!

Please bookmark!!! will continue to run and act as an archive for all the current reviews here. It just seems pointless to re-enter them into the new site.

So again, thank you to everyone and hopefully you’ll all follow the new F.M.M at!

This will be the last post on the BlogSpot site.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Alan Wake by Petri Alanko (Review)

Alan Wake is a complex score to approach. When it first starts off it stays pretty low profile. While I was listening I actually started to get aggravated at the fact that all I was hearing was dark ominous tones with no structure. However, patience pays off as this is a very slow developing score. Once it does fully develop and take off this score becomes an amazing noir filled dreary weaving of motifs that transports your mind into a cloud of mystery.

While strings and piano make up most of the score Alanko does add some percussion into the mix to give it the action side. Electronics are utilized to great rhythmic effect. The strings in the score are quite breathtaking at times. There is true heartache felt within the score and that can easily turn into adrenaline pumping action, which can easily turn into intriguing mystery. So, this score does have many faces indeed.

The album itself is packed to the brim with a 75 minute running time, which can lead to some “track fatigue”. Since the score has a very distinct style and slow played out melodies it can feel like it drags a bit. It’s very hard to pick tracks apart from the pack based off sound, but one has to remember this is a video game score. No matter how close the line between film scoring and game scoring is becoming one can’t forget how different of an approach game scoring is.

You will get the occasional long drawn out tracks, but the album itself does a nice job of giving the listener some sort of progression. I’ve heard game score releases that were just loops and loops, which thankfully this is not. Alan Wake is a very cinematic game so the score itself does become a journey in itself. I recommend the score. It’s definitely above what most video games scores are. Towards the end the score transcends into beauty with lush orchestrations. Is this score worth it? Absolutely. It’s a very unique experience that will take a little patience, but in the end the journey is a rewarding one.

Dinner For Schmucks by Theodore Shapiro (Review)

Comedy scoring. It’s something that can make me smile or cringe. It’s such a hard thing to achieve, but luckily Theodore Shapiro does it superbly. Dinner For Schmucks is a rare heartfelt comedic score with a soul and it truly will captivate you. Since Shapiro is from Washington, DC I feel like he’s my local composer. I too am from the DC area so in a way I feel like I’m seeing my home team play when he’s up to score.

It’s not fair to call Shapiro a comedy composer, but that’s where his specialty lies. If you’ve heard his score to Tropic Thunder then you’re aware of his awesome Hans Zimmer impersonation and how capable he is of action scoring (even though it was done for comedic effect). If you’ve seen Marley & Me you know he’s capable of making you cry as well.

What’s different about Shapiro? Well, this score embodies what makes him stand out. This score is so uniquely heartfelt and emotional yet still manages to be a comedy score. Imagine taking all the best quirky elements of John Powell’s score to Rat Race, making the offbeat element a little less aggressive and then adding a huge “human” element to it. Don’t get me wrong, there is a good deal of “quirk” to this score yet it’s never over the top, and it’s done with such class that it never feels beneath you.

The thing is that good comedy comes from the script. If the the script is well written and the actors successfully execute the script with their timing then comedy is already born. Now, a composer’s job differs a bit pending whether or not the film is satire, character based or slapstick. Yes, you can have a combination of all three of those, but Dinner For Schmucks is definitely a character based comedy.

So what this score effectively does is bring the characters to life. The score doesn’t try to be funny. The score doesn’t have any punchlines. You won’t laugh at this score. The score has a “waltzy” structure to it and you feel the characters within it. “Mouse World” is a fantastic track utilizing some vocals. Tracks like “Barry’s Photos” and “Don’t Stop Asking” contain that central motif and the true heart of the score. When the score gets goofy it does get goofy. I felt a little bit of “pretending to be a spy” element. “Brain Control” has a bit of a Morricone western vibe to it. However, to me the essence of the score is to project a misunderstood loneliness in the Barry character. I feel like”Mouse World” is the track that sealed the deal for me. It allows us into Barry’s misunderstood world.

Shapiro has done something special here. At least for me. It was a score I could truly feel, and in the end those are the ones you remember. Something that can project your emotions and bring them out. The most notable thing for me was that I felt the characters within the score, and that’s pretty amazing. I really urge you to give it a listen, and I hope Shapiro does more work like this in the future.

Countdown To Zero by Peter Golub (Review)

Peter Golub is a composer whose made a name for himself by doing lower profile films. He’s not exactly a household name, but he’s been composing films since the late 90’s. Highlights include The Laramie Project, American Gun, Frozen River and probably the more known The Great Debaters directed by Denzel Washington. For that score he co-composed with the great James Newton Howard.

Countdown To Zero is a documentary about the nuclear arms race and pretty much looking at how at any moment our entire existence could be ended by the amount of nuclear weapons currently existing in the world. Looking at that subject from a storytelling aspect I can only imagine how difficult it could be to score something like this. I’ve talked briefly with another composer about composing documentaries and he pretty much told me he approached it just like it was a fictional film. He had main characters with goals and he treated it as such. However I feel a documentary of this kind of subject isn’t really aimed at telling a story, but more or less shining a light on information.

So, I guess with that in mind the score for Countdown To Zero is as expected. The melodies are subtle and they carry the tone of the film effectively. They don’t overpower and they don’t stand out for a good reason. Documentary scoring isn’t really a place for a composer to go nuts with lush and grand orchestrations. The score is an electronic based weaving of simple melodies that function as underscore. With that being said there isn’t that much emotion that is evoked from this score, and I truly believe the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to it. While it’s obvious Golub is scoring information and not emotion I do kind of wish the tracks had some emotional structure to them.

Through the listening experience you feel a bit distanced from the score. I think the most emotion gets evoked through the last 2 tracks. So, in the end the experience for me doesn’t truly make me feel like I experienced anything at all. The last track is definitely the highlight because I actually felt something while listening to it. I just feel the entire score overall is more informational than emotional and in the end that just doesn’t resonate with me as an audience. It never tells you how to feel, but I just don’t think it has its feet placed firmly enough on the ground.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Inception by Hans Zimmer (Review)

As I opened my CD and popped it into my Mac I was completely unaware as to what to expect from Inception. I naturally look forward to every Zimmer score since it’s his music that I grew up on and it’s his music that made me want to be a filmmaker. So, I hit play on iTunes, took a deep breath and closed my eyes.

I really don’t know how to describe what I experienced in those next 50 minutes, but I can say that it left such an emotional impact on me that I was still shaking after it finished. The score swells and boils and builds to an eruption that washes over you like a wave. The wave then pulls back and then washes over you again and again. The score feels uniquely personal especially by being able to isolate and pick out the solo instrumentation. While this is a very electronic heavy score it never feels synthetic and is organic in every sense of the word.

Emotionally it can be aggressive and at times extremely harsh, but it has a gentle side of incredible beauty. What Zimmer does best is that every cue builds like a separate story on its own. Almost like a writer writing a screenplay. You could easily apply the three-act story structure to every cue in this score. The cues each have an introduction, building, climax and then resolution. It’s something I’ve always admired about his score writing and here with Inception it’s extremely evident.

Most of the score stays extremely melodic. Exceptions would be tracks like “Old Souls” and “Waiting For A Train”, which still have identifiable melodies but act more like dreamlike transition periods. “Mombasa” is an intense assault on the senses that will get your heart racing and probably leave you gasping for air. The track actually reminded me of “Fire” from Angels & Demons.

The album finishes with “Time”, which is such an extraordinarily beautiful track that reintroduces the central theme we heard in the first track. If I had to pick one track that defined this score and its composer it would probably be “Time”. This is Zimmer stripped down to the bone. It builds for 3.5 minutes then comes to its climax. It then dies down to strings and piano. Soon the strings disappear and we are left with a piano that plays the extremely simple theme. A haunting echo of what we just experienced. The feeling you have when it’s all over is comparable to waking up in a cold sweat after an incredibly intense and vivid dream you just had.

I can’t say yet if this is the best thing Hans Zimmer has done, but it very well may be. I’ve always maintained that The Thin Red Line was his masterpiece, but after experiencing Inception and the rush of emotions I felt with it I can honestly say this may be my new #1 in the book of Zimmer. As Christopher Nolan said in the liner notes of the CD “That’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.”

Knight And Day by John Powell (Review)

John Powell’s style is unmistakable. When I heard he signed on for Knight And Day I immediately got excited. It’s a genre that he’s accustomed to. If you recall Mr. & Mrs. Smith you’ll remember the tango infused score he did for that film.

With Knight And Day he approaches it with mix of French and hispanic influences. It has a “cool” element to it and it’s definitely enhanced by electronics. The score in the film was unfortunately mixed incredibly low in my opinion. Here on CD though the score truly shines.

The most interesting part is the incorporation of Mexican guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela. Easily the most talented guitarists working today. Now, when I say this I am being completely honest. When I got their debut album 4 years ago the first thing I said was “Man, I wish I could introduce these two to John Powell”. Their styles were extremely similar, and lo and behold. John Powell having them as featured performers on his score.

The music is pretty standard when you look at it as a John Powell score. This is probably a score he could compose in his sleep, and I say that in the most flattering way possible. Percussive action scores are Powell’s speciality and this is a truly fun percussive action score. The standout track here is definitely “Bull Run” which has Powell written all over it.

Knight And Day is a pretty standard movie with nothing that makes it stand out except for Powell’s score. While John Powell doesn’t really give us anything new here he does give us an extremely entertaining summer action score in the best way he can. The incorporation of Rodrigo y Gabriela only adds to the greatness.

Prince Of Persia: The Forgotten Sands by Steve Jablonsky & Penka Kouneva (Review)

Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time opened earlier this summer and featured an immensly entertaining score from Harry Gregson-Williams. I was surprised to find out that Steve Jablonsky would be doing the next installment in the video game series titled Prince Of Persia: The Forgotten Sands.

Now, Steve Jablonsky’s style is widely known and his video game work is as well. With Prince Of Persia Jablonsky gives us a fantastic epic score. Don’t expect anything similar to what Harry did with the film. While both scores have cultural influences this score definitely sounds like Jablonsky. It’s really interesting to listen to them one after the other because you get to experience two different takes on similar source material.

Jablonsky shared scoring duties with Penka Kouneva who has been Jablonsky’s orchestrator for quite some time. In fact she’s quite a well known orchestrator working on films like Transformers, Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End, and Angels & Demons.

The score is lush and thematic and brings a grand feel to the game. While it can get one dimensional at times it still manages to maintain your interest in the story and within the music.