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.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Trevor Rabin (Review)

Trevor Rabin’s scores are unmistakable and are incredibly fun. With The Sorcerer’s Apprentice I honestly believe Rabin has delivered his best score in quite some time. With Jerry Bruckheimer producing and John Turteltaub directing I’m sure he felt right at home.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice lets Rabin flex his action muscles like we haven’t heard in a while. He is able to balance some light fun cues with some incredibly grand and intense ones. The album opens with an appropriate homage to the Dukas piece from Fantasia and then a pretty big homage to Hans Zimmer. I don’t know exactly why Jack Sparrow’s theme is blatantly in the first track, but it is and I loved it. Rabin’s familiar arrangements flourish with stunning thematic material and get backed with a chorus on occasion. The main theme echoes in almost every cue giving this score its identity. Percussion, riffing guitars and pulsing strings keep the adrenaline level high. Yes, there were moments in this score that got the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end, which I didn’t expect. “The Urn” and “Car Chase” are two standout cues that bleed Trevor Rabin and are incredible.

Think what you want about the movie and all, but the score itself is a true delight and will please Rabin fans immensely. Toss this one up with Armageddon as one of his most memorable action scores. Like Armageddon it is heavy on the action cues with an epic quality, but has a fair amount of emotion laced into it. I think you’ll be surprised as to how invested you will become with this score as you listen through it.

One thing that I notice about the film composers I love is how they strive in simplicity, and Trevor Rabin is no exception. The melodies and tunes are simple and if that composer is talented then those simple tunes will have an enormous emotional effect. The score will also take the film it’s accompanying and make it soar.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The 62nd Annual Emmy Nominations: Score Categories (Plus Commentary)

Outstanding Music Composition For A Series (Original Dramatic Score)

Batman: The Brave And The Bold • Mayhem Of The Music Meister • Cartoon Network • Warner Bros. Animation

Music By: Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis & Kristopher Carter; Lyrics By: Michael Jelenic & James Tucker

FlashForward • No More Good Days • ABC • ABC Studios

Music By: Ramin Djawadi

Lost • The End • ABC • Grass Skirts Productions, LLC in association with ABC Network and Studios

Music By: Michael Giacchino

Psych • Mr. Yin Presents • USA • Universal Cable Productions in association with Tagline Pictures

Music By: Adam Cohen & John Robert Wood

24 • 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM • FOX • Imagine Television and 20th Century Fox TV in association w/Teakwood Lane Productions

Music By: Sean P. Callery

Outstanding Music Composition For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special (Original Dramatic Score)

Blessed Is The Match • PBS • Katahdin Productions and Balcony Releasing Presents

Music By: Todd Boekelheide

Georgia O'Keeffe • Lifetime • Sony Pictures Television for Lifetime Television

Music By: Jeff Beal

The Pacific • Part Ten • HBO • Playtone and Dreamworks in association with HBO Miniseries

Music By: Blake Neely, Geoff Zanelli & Hans Zimmer

Temple Grandin • HBO • A Ruby Films, Gerson Saines Production in association with HBO Films

Music By: Alex Wurman

When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story (Hallmark Hall Of Fame Presentation) • CBS • Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions, Inc. in association with E1 Entertainment

Music By: Lawrence Shragge

You Don't Know Jack • HBO • Bee Holder, Cine Mosaic and Levinson/Fontana Productions in association with HBO Films

Music By: Marcelo Zarvos

I'm really happy to see the terrific trio nominated for the excellent score to The Pacific as well as Giacchino's brilliant finale to Lost. Those are my two picks to win in the music categories. I'm also extremely happy to see Ramin Djawadi and Marcelo Zarvos getting some recognition for their excellent work. Two favorites of mine.

Other highlights in the nominations list? Lost is back, baby and is nominated for Best Drama. Matthew Fox, Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson all got nominated in the acting categories as well, which is amazing. Family Guy was nominated for best song with "That Down Syndrome Girl", which to me is hilarious. However, it didn't get nominated in anything else which was dissapointing because this season it has some of the series' best highlights. South Park garnered its 10th nomination for best Animated Series. That's 10/14 seasons being nominated. Not bad. The best surprise to me though is The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien was nominated in the Best Variety Show category. If I were Conan I'd have a smile from ear to ear right now as the Iron Giant continues to steamroll forward and is just showing the world what a bunch of brainless douches run NBC. In fact, this is even a bigger blow to NBC and Leno since this is not Conan giving the middle finger, it's the entire television Academy. What's even better? NBC is broadcasting the Emmy's, which means if he wins and takes the stage it may go down as one of the best moments in TV history.

Looking forward to this telecast immensely. Best and most competitive nominations I've seen in a while.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema by Alan Lazar (Review)

Jerusalema (or the Americanized title Gangster’s Paradise) is a very familiar story about youth growing up in the slums and finding a life of crime as a way to rise to the top. It’s Goodfellas mixed with City Of God. The score was done by South African native Alan Lazar whose score is a simple tapestry of cultural flavors that pulse life into the story.

Percussion makes up the majority of the score and its structure. Almost all the cues are percussion based. Usually percussion is associated with aggression and action based cues, but here it’s not the case. Lazar successfully creates arrangements that cover a wide array of emotions beyond typical rhythmic thumping.

There is some beauty that emerges from this score and emotion flows from the solo instruments and vocals used, however most of the immediate impact is lost due to the incredibly short cue times. Most of the tracks fall between the 1 and 2 minute range so the score never has a chance to fully take off. The score is worth a venture and is a small undiscovered treat. It lacks thematic structure and any lasting impact, but makes up for it with the overall character and identity of the score.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

100 Greatest Film Themes: Take 2 (Review)

Silva Screen is set to release their second installment in their 100 Greatest Film Themes series. The release includes 6 discs of some of the best film themes out there. The discs are organized in chronological order by year of release of the themes.

Now, when it comes to these compilation sets I’m not a fan honestly. To me these sets are for the casual film fans or the extremely casual score fans. The way I look at these kinds of sets is pretty much the same as if they released a DVD of the best action scenes, or romantic scenes, etc. Taking a theme out of context of its score just doesn’t appeal to me, but then again some people love to have them all in one place. If you’re one of those people then this set is a great place to start. You’d be better off listening to these respective scores in their entirety, but I can’t deny that it’s a great compilation.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

L'immortel by Klaus Badelt (Review)

I finally was able to import a copy of Klaus Badelt’s score to L’immortel. L’immortel is a French film starring Jean Reno as a mobster who exacts his revenge on his former friend who shot him and left him for dead. The American title of the film is the less glamorous 22 Bullets.

Badelt handles the material expertly by creating great atmospheric underscore and using electronic percussion to create tension. He uses a solo piano to great emotional effect and once the score gets rolling it becomes a darker and more intense journey. The pulsing strings give a sense of urgency and keeps the adrenaline high without the score ever becoming a “loud” action score. What I love about the score is that it can be minimal like in the track “Birthday Killing” or action propelled like in “Motorcycle Chase” and still grasp you just the same within the context of the story.

The style is akin to Badelt’s previous work like The Recruit and Equilibrium. So if you enjoyed his work there I highly reccomend L’immortel. Another great part about the album is the way it was arranged with lots of classical opera pieces by Puccini. So the first chunk of the album has a couple of extracts from works like Tosca and La Bohème, which really are an integral part of the listening experience.

L’immortel is a fantastic score by Klaus Badelt that bleeds with his style and takes us on an intense and dark journey. The score is able to resonate a visceral intensity without bashing you over the head. As of this writing the score has not been released in the United States in any format, but I urge anyone willing to spend the extra money on shipping to import it from Amazon France. It’s a simple approach at scoring a familiar genre that leads to a surprisingly effective execution.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Crying WIth Laughter by Lorne Balfe (Review)

Lorne Balfe’s minimal and poignant score to the Scottish film Crying With Laughter finally sees the light of day. The film revolves around a stand-up comedian who embarks on a dark journey of facing his past.

The score is minimalistic in nature but is so brilliant in that approach. It manages to have a full sound to it rather than just a barebones piano as Balfe uses some electronic drones to fill out the negative space. “Serenity” is just a beautiful piece and then the last track reprises that main motif from the beginning that somehow manages to stir you and you can’t figure out why.

The score is very short and is only available at at the time of writing this as a digital download. It’s highly recommended and I think you’ll be surprised as to how it will emotionally affect you with such a simple approach. Just to give you a frame of reference it reminded me very slightly of Zimmer’s score to Frost/Nixon in terms of its execution.

I’m extremely excited to finally have this one after having to listen to scattered tracks on YouTube now and then. A great solo effort from Balfe.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Star Trek: The Deluxe Edition by Michael Giacchino (Review)

Michael Giacchino’s score to Star Trek was something rather exceptional then again whatever Giacchino does is exceptional but Star Trek was pretty great. When the score was initially released it left so much to be desired (the release that is). It was an extremely short album and the selections didn’t really represent the true flow of the score in the film. So Varese Sarabande quickly fixed their mistake by re-releasing Giacchino’s Star Trek in a beufiful Deluxe Edition limited release.

So let’s get one thing straight. The Varese Sarabande CD Club label is usually reserved for classic scores that are either have since been out of print or have never been released. So it was a bit of a surprise that a movie that is only 1 year old got a release. Not that I’m complaining!

This 2-disc set is simply great. The score is in film order and fully represented here on this release. It’s packaged in a fantastic Digipak booklet with color photographs as well as the note from J.J. Abrams that was included with the initial release.

As for the score I’ll briefly go over what I said a year ago. Giacchino’s Star Trek theme is bold and daring and will get those hairs standing on end every time it makes an appearance amidst the pulsing trumpets and oscillating strings. His music is so amazing that there is always points that J.J. Abrams just lets the diagetic sound drown completely out and the score takes center stage in an emotionally breathtaking fashion such as in “Labor Of Love”. Fans of LOST know what I’m talking about here. The way only Giacchino can do it. If there is one thing to complain about it would be that Giacchino maybe used his Star Trek theme too much in the score so by the end it almost has lost its edge on the viewer/listener. He does finish his score with Alexander Courage's original TV Series theme though, which is perfect.

This is a limited release of only 5000 copies so get your copy before it’s gone. It’s a worthy purchase for a great score from one of the best composers around.

The Last Airbender by James Newton Howard (Review)

In the world of Director/Composer collaborations the Shyamalan/Howard connection is a huge one. James Newton Howard has had the privalage of scoring every single one of M. Night Shyamalan’s feature films. With The Last Airbender Shyamalan finally breaks from his comfort zone and goes for the lavish Hollywood blockbuster. James Newton Howard is no stranger to the genre so what was the end result?

The Last Airbender is a very good score. It’s such a string heavy score so the sweeping orchestrations truly wash over you and carry you on a mystical journey. It carries a heroic presence yet manages to stay away from a “superhero” formula. The score also flows very nicely. It evokes the imagery it sets out to accompany and in the end makes us feel like we did in fact complete a heroic journey. "The Blue Spirit" is a fantastic track that propels action and is percussion heavy. It really adds a rhythm to the score and is a great standout track.

The score does have an identity and there is no doubt about it. I was able to identify a couple of reoccurring motifs that for me adequately pulled everything together. There is a theme and it echoes James Newton Howard, but it doesn’t stand out. Whether that’s a good or bad thing I think is entirely up to individual opinion. Personally I don’t need a big boisterous theme leading the way if the score is still able to have an identity with identifiable motifs. James Newton Howard is a master of his craft and while it’s been a while since we’ve heard a score from him this is a grand welcoming back into action.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


My review coming soon! For now here's the official press release.


Composer James Newton Howard Teams With M. Night Shyamalan For Their 7th Film

(June 2, 2010- Los Angeles, CA) – Lakeshore Records will release The Last Airbender -- Original Soundtrack, available on June 29, 2010. James Newton Howard (The Dark Knight, The Sixth Sense), who has written the music for all of M. Night Shyamalan’s films since 1999’s The Sixth Sense, composed the original score.

James Newton Howard is one of the most versatile and respected composers currently working in films. To date, Howard has received eight Oscar® nominations, including six for Best Original Score for his work on Defiance, Michael Clayton, The Village, The Fugitive, The Prince of Tides, and My Best Friend’s Wedding. He was also nominated for Best Original Song for the films Junior and One Fine Day.

Howard’s success reflects the experiences of a rich musical past. Inspired by his grandmother, a classical violinist who played in the Pittsburgh Symphony in the ’30s and ’40s, he began his studies on the piano at age four. After studying at the Music Academy of the West, in Santa Barbara, and at the USC Thornton School of Music, as a piano major, he completed his formal education with orchestration study under legendary arranger Marty Paich.

Though his training was classical, he maintained an interest in rock and pop music, and it was his early work in the pop arena that allowed him to hone his talents as a musician, arranger, songwriter and producer. He racked up a string of collaborations in the studio with some of pop’s biggest names, including Barbra Streisand; Earth, Wind & Fire; Bob Seger; Rod Stewart; Toto; Glenn Frey; Diana Ross; Carly Simon; Olivia Newton-John; Randy Newman; Rickie Lee Jones; Cher; and Chaka Khan. In 1975, he joined pop superstar Elton John’s band on the road and in the studio.

When he was offered his first film in 1985, he never looked back.

Howard, who has been honored with ASCAP’s prestigious Henry Mancini Award for Lifetime Achievement, now has more than 100 films to his credit. Among them are all of M. Night Shyamalan’s films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening), five films for director Lawrence Kasdan (Grand Canyon, Wyatt Earp, French Kiss, Mumford and Dreamcatcher), four Julia Roberts comedies (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, My Best Friend’s Wedding and America’s Sweethearts) and three animated films for Walt Disney Studios (Dinosaur, Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire).

Air, Water, Earth, Fire. Four nations tied by destiny when the Fire Nation launches a brutal war against the others. A century has passed with no hope in sight to change the path of this destruction. Caught between combat and courage, Aang (Noah Ringer) discovers he is the lone Avatar with the power to manipulate all four elements. Aang teams with Katara (Nicola Peltz) a Waterbender, and her brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), to restore balance to their war-torn world.

Based on the hugely successful Nickelodeon animated TV series, the live-action feature film The Last Airbender is the opening chapter in Aang’s struggle to survive.

Paramount Pictures presents an M. Night Shyamalan film, The Last Airbender, in theaters on July 2, 2010. The Last Airbender Original Soundtrack on Lakeshore Records will be released in stores and digitally on June 29, 2010.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 by Lorne Balfe [Original Themes by Hans Zimmer] (Review)

Well here it is folks. Almost 7 months after the release of the game we have the official Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 score release. For the past 7 months I’ve been searching through the nearly 7 hour complete score looking for the themes and pieces I love, but alas you can move that game rip aside because here we have a complete rounded listening experience.

I reviewed this score back in December based off playing the game and listening to the massive 7 hour complete game rip that made it onto the internet (don’t worry, I redeemed myself by purchasing this album). With around 52-minutes on this release we get a real mixed album with full tracks and the experience is much better.

I’ll recap what I said last time. Hans Zimmer started the “modern warfare” sound in 2001 with his genre defining score to Black Hawk Down. Since then many composers even along the lines of Thomas Newman (Jarhead) and Danny Elfman (The Kingdom) have tried to mimic this style. The hard electronics, electric guitar and ethnic percussions have become staple to modern warfare films. Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the previous installment in this branching game series. That score was composed by Stephen Barton with heavy influence and thematic work by Harry Gregson-Williams. It’s the same case here where Lorne Balfe composed this score with heavy influence and thematic work from Hans Zimmer. A few of Zimmer’s collaborators also helped tackle the massive project.

So is this score Black Hawk Down 2? Not at all. In fact it’s different than what Stephen Barton and Harry Gregson-Williams did last time. I think the best way to describe this score is that it’s the “modern warfare” sound infused with the style of Zimmer’s 90’s action scores. Some of the themes and structures call back to Crimson Tide and The Rock while a few tracks here will remind you of recent work like The Dark Knight. The experience overall is a bit overwhelming but incredibly satisfying. Just think about? In the 7 months since the game has come out the music has become an iconic staple. In fact you could say that Zimmer did a better job than Harry Gregson-Williams of creating more identifiable themes to create a sonic identity for the game. Every time I start a multiplayer match and a little snippet of score plays as the clock starts its countdown to start I do smile. Lorne Balfe does deserve the credit for pulling everything together though. With such a massive scope and so many people working on a project I’m sure it’s easy to lose sight of things, but Balfe managed to pull everything together nicely.

So, while the whole experience can be a bit jumbled it’s an incredibly effective score that has a visceral intensity to match the game and raise it to a memorable level. It’s very nice to have this album with all the themes nicely arranged.

Red Dead Redemption by Bill Elm & Woody Jackson (Review)

Bill Elm & Woody Jackson’s score to Red Dead Redemption can be labeled as if Ennio Morricone’s music had a baby with Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ music and it was raised by Quentin Tarantino. It’s terrific even if a bit repetitive. I think a lot of Red Dead fans were wondering initially how the score would be handled.

The two musicians were picked by Rockstar mainly due to their style. They were part of a band called Friends Of Dean Martinez, which was a group that was essentially a Southwestern alternative rock band. They played instrumental pieces that pretty much all sounded like Morricone homages. Red Dead Revolver for the PS2 was source tracked by tons of classic western scores from Ennio Morricone, Luis Bacalov, Bruno Nicolai, Gianfranco Reverberi and many more. It all became an iconic interweaving that formed a unified sonic identity to the spaghetti western game. In short it made the game damn amazing. However, I can't imagine it was cheap using all that music.

So, when Rockstar took the game into their “free roam” style and went with an original score I think I was not alone in being curious as to what it would be. The good news is that the score is a full fledged Morricone mock-up. The use of trumpets and synths give it a fresh edge, but it’s such a befitting score. The only quarrel I have with it is that it’s very repetitive. The main theme is great and a few of the action cues are amazing, but overall what we have here can be labeled as non structured loops. Something that you can’t really blame on the composers considering this is a “free roam” game and the cutscenes are incredibly short when they do happen. “(Theme From) Red Dead Redemption” is quite fantastic and there are a few other stand out tracks.

The important part is that amongst all the Morricone homages the score still has its own identity. You could hear a snippet of this music and immediately think “Red Dead Redemption”, and that’s thanks to the impressive use of brass instruments.

Part of the game takes place in Mexico and the music picks up a Mexican feel to it when you head south of the border. Unfortunately that’s not really represented on this release.

Am I happy with this score for this amazing game? Absolutely. It’s a terrific accompaniment, but it could have used a little more muscle and could have been less repetitive. Just look at how bold Morricone was with his scores.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time by Harry Gregson-Williams (Review)

Harry Gregson-Williams doing the score for this movie was the only glimmer of light it ever had. From the looks of it it’s also a safe bet to say that it’s the film’s only saving grace, and indeed it is. Harry Gregson-Williams delivers a lush sweeping adventure score filled to the brim with ethnic flavors and romanticism.

On its surface this is a summer blockbuster adventure score. So we get a nice big adventurous theme to start us off. While it may sound very familiar to Alan Silvestri’s The Mummy Returns theme it definitely holds its own weight. Then we have a second romantic theme, which is I believe the only uncharacteristic part of this score. By that I mean it’s the one thing that doesn’t sound like Harry. It has a Zimmer quality to it and reminds me of Pirates Of The Caribbean. With Jerry Bruckhiemer producing I wouldn’t be surprised if Pirates was used as a temp track at all. Is that theme great? Absolutely! I love it.

The rest of the score is lots of fun and a great ride. I didn’t expect Harry to toss in his signature electronics into the mix, but it works so well. It’s almost as if his score to Kingdom Of Heaven got combined with one of his Tony Scott scores. I’m pretty sure I heard that fantastic Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare menu music percussion in there. There’s also his signature motif. I guess I’ll call it his “Middle Eastern Motif” since he uses it in any score that deals somewhat with a Middle Eastern setting or character. I remember it in Domino most notably and a few others.

In the end this was a fantastic score. It brings us these lush themes and places us right in the atmosphere and setting of the story. His electronic percussion and pulsing strings give it a shot of adrenaline and keeps the energy level high. It’s what summer blockbuster scores are all about. Great fun done in such an amazing and memorable way that can still give you an emotional ride in full Gregson-Williams style.

Shrek Forever After by Harry Gregson-Williams (Review)

Nine years ago the first Shrek was released making it almost a decade of Shrek for us viewers, but for Harry Gregson-Williams the journey has been even longer. The first Shrek score was a collaborative effort between Harry and John Powell, and the result was a magical and fantastic score. John departed from the series and Harry took full control for the second, third and now fourth and final film in the franchise.

The second score was great in my opinion, but the third outing was a disjointed and overall flat experience. I can’t really blame him because they turned Shrek into a lunchbox icon and the entire film was plastered with songs leaving little room for Harry to work a score around. The fourth score I am glad to say is terrific. It holds everything we’ve come to know from Shrek the past decade and sums it up in a tidy fashion while still giving us a great standalone journey.

We have familiar themes and some new melodies (most notably Rumplestilskin’s theme), but Harry creates a comprehensive layering which makes the journey for us a seamless experience. He treats the music seriously so we don’t get a goofy animated score. It’s a great final bow to the series and wraps up a significant chunk of Harry’s career. I think we all can hum the sweet lullaby-esque main theme that opens every Shrek film, and Dreakworks Animation even made it their logo’s fanfare. So, thank you Harry Gregson-Williams for giving us some lovely and breathtaking music for these films over the years. It’s safe to say that the films started to wear thin after Andrew Adamson left the series, but Harry always gave it his A game.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mid-Year Check In: Best Of The Year . . . So Far

Best Movie Of The Year . . . So Far-

How To Train Your Dragon:

Dreamworks struck gold with what is without a doubt the best animated film they’ve put out to date. The characters, the story and the movie overall is fantastic. The production values are also amazing. From the design of the dragons to the lighting and CGI. Roger Deakins was a visual consultant much like he was on WALL-E so the animated cinematography is fantastic. It’s without a doubt the most well rounded experience I’ve had at the movies so far in 2010.

Best Score Of The Year . . . So Far-

How To Train Your Dragon:

John Powell’s score to the film is about 51% of what makes the experience so great. Not only is it his best work to date, but it’s such an emotional experience that you will cherish it forever. The themes and variations create an awe inspiring and inspirational tale of friendship and rising above yourself when everything else in your world weighs you down. It’s beautiful.

Worst Movie Of The Year . . . So Far-


Paul Bettany’s rogue angel movie is one of the biggest pieces of trash I’ve ever seen. It’s “Ultraviolet” bad. It all takes place in one location (truck stop in the middle of the desert?), has static one dimensional characters, and the climax is something to laugh at because in the end nothing really happens. It’s terrible.

Worst Score Of The Year . . . So Far-


I hate to match my score picks with my film picks, but it’s true. John Frizzel’s score to Legion is terrible. It’s a mash-up of terrible arrangements, headache inducing vocals and no real thematic variation.

Biggest Surprise Of The Year . . . So Far-


Matthew Vaugn’s superhero flick at first looked like a comedy or a parody in a way. The trailers did a terrible job marketing it, but it looked interesting enough to check out. It’s not a parody and while it has its comedic touches it ended up being a very intense emotional experience at the end. The characters are great, the story is too. It has a high contrast look and feel to the whole film. It’s also one of the best things Nicolas Cage has done recently.

Biggest Surprise Score Of The Year . . . So Far-

Robin Hood:

Everyone was waiting to see what Marc Streitenfeld would do with something like this. He’s only ever composed for Ridley Scott, but Scott’s last period epic was Kingdom Of Heaven and that was done by Harry Gregson-Williams. After a series of smaller dramas it was time for Streitenfeld’s first true test, and he passed with flying colors.

Biggest Disappointment Of The Year . . . So Far-

Alice In Wonderland:

Tim Burton has lost his touch. What once made him a unique talent in the film industry has now almost become a joke. While I did enjoy Sweeney Todd I did feel that Charlie & The Chocolate Factory was awful. Alice In Wonderland is along those lines. It’s short, uninspiring and overall quite boring. I felt nothing for any of the characters and Helena Bonham Carter just became annoying by the end of it all. Then when Johnny Depp does that ridiculous dance at the end it makes you plant your face in your palm. Mostly because of the dance beat music that comes out of nowhere. Bring me back to the days of Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands please.

Biggest Disappointment Score Of The Year . . . So Far-

Iron Man 2:

It was expected that Ramin Djawadi would get dumped off the project even though he said he would love to continue. Favreau’s regular John Debney stepped in, and guess what? He did the exact same thing Djawadi did except he dropped any sort of thematic identification for the character. So, no theme, no amazing action cues, no nothing. It’s a plain and boring score that made Iron Man 2 the lackluster experience it was.

Killers by Rolfe Kent (Review)

A few years ago a movie called Mr. & Mrs. Smith came out. It was about two spies that were married to each other, but neither of them new their significant other was also a spy. From that movie a few others in the same veign spewed out. This summer we’re being hit by two of them; Killers and Knight & Day.

The Killers soundtrack features some songs that I could care less about, so let’s move to the second half of the album which is the score by Rolfe Kent. Now, I love Rolfe Kent. So it pains me to say that this score is bad. Then again what were you expecting from an Ashton Kutcher vehicle? The score is a mix-mash of tangos and “romcom” genre toppers. For some reason ever since Mr. & Mrs. Smith hit it seems like every composer just followed in John Powell’s footsteps. Powell scored Mr. & Mrs. Smith with a “tangoesque” espionage filled score that was fresh, fun and hit you in all the right places. It was perfect for the film. Now when you look at movies like this or Duplicity you can see the Powell trend still being followed. It almost makes me curious what Powell will do for Knight & Day.

Anyway, I love Rolfe Kent. I thought his work on Up In The Air was tremendous. He also did additional music on one of my favorite childhood films growing up and that was Tremors. So, yes I do love his music. However, one should stay away from stuff like this.

Don McKay by Steve Bramson (Review)

So, Don McKay is probably a movie you never heard of. It’s dark comedy/thriller that stars Thomas Haden Church as a janitor who flees his hometown after a terrible tragedy. When he returns more than two decades later he tries to rekindle an old romance as the town’s dark nature pulls him in.

The film was only shown in a handful of theaters so naturally not many of heard of it. The film features a score by Steve Bramson, which I must say is excellent. He’s probably most well known for his work on J.A.G, but he’s been composing television since the early 90’s. Don McKay is a score that works in its subtlety. It’s focuses on using solo instruments such as a piano, violin and some electronic drones to create atmosphere. In a way you could say it sounds somewhat like a Thomas Newman score.

What I love is that it’s so simple. I love simple tunes and melodies. They echo much further than the complex over the top stuff most composers do. The score speaks a sense of loneliness and intrigue. It can be vague as it sparks your interest but it’s never boring. Many “small” scores tend to be boring, but I was never bored with this one. It reminded me in ways of Hans Zimmer & Klaus Badelt’s score to The Pledge with a Thomas Newman vibe. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this score. It’s a great experience that’s worth a look.

La Mission by Mark Kilian (Review)

La Mission is a redemption story about a man who is trying to move on from his past, but is tempted by his surroundings. Living in the “barrio” has given him more than enough problems trying to get by, but when he finds out his son is gay he is now tested more than ever in his path to redemption.

The score is by Mark Kilian who has a few notable films under his belt such as the Oscar winning Tsotsi, Rendition and Traitor. For La Mission we get a more ambient experience that is filled with Hispanic and Indian styles. The score is pretty much solo guitar based and that gives beauty in its simplicity. He utilizes vocals in certain tracks to great emotional effect.

The score is quite good. Better than what I was expecting. The only place where it suffers is as a cohesive whole. The tracks don’t really tell a story and they are more or less “atmospheric moments” if that makes any sense. They don’t necessarily progress your feelings or forward any kind of narrative, but they are moments of emotions and in a way they do indeed come together in the end. It’s just not in a way where it will leave a lasting impact. Overall, it’s simple and that’s where it strives. It’s worth taking a look.

The Essential Mike Post Collection by Mike Post (Review)

Mike Post is a household composer name when it comes to classic TV themes. With The Essential Mike Post Collection we get a decent selection of some of his work. While I can’t really comment on this album as a score that tells a narrative it is indeed a great compilation album for nostalgia’s sake.

The man has composed some of TV’s most recognizable opening themes including Law & Order, The A-Team, Hill Street Blues, The Rockford Files and many more.

So, I can’t ever imagine anyone ever riding in the car and putting this album on, but if you’re looking for some of TV’s classic opening themes all in one place then this is a great place to look.