Score Reviews

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Dunkirk by Hans Zimmer (Review)

posted by Kaya Savas

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s film that tells the story of the 400,000 British and allied soldiers stranded and cornered in northern France as the German forces closed in from land, sea and air to finish them off. In one of the most inspirational and miraculous stories from WW2; a 3-day halt order from the German forces was put into place which allowed for over 330,000 allied soldiers to be rescued. Many of which were rescued by civilian boats that sailed the 26 miles to the shores of Dunkirk to load allied soldiers.

Nolan’s goal for this film was not to tell stories of heroism and have a main protagonist that we follow through the events, but rather to show the visceral intensity of survival against all odds as well as the amazing triumph of human goodness to show how much the value of life drove everyday civilians to help take part in one of the biggest rescue missions in military history. Through the use of editing, cinematography, sound design and score Nolan was able to create a cinematic experience that shook you to the core and yet was still able to find enough humanity despite the lack of character development to make us care and make us feel. Hans Zimmer’s score was one of the most important parts of the film, literally being present in every second of screen time. The score is a fine-tuned machine meant to penetrate our inner psyche and replicate the dread, terror and chaos that the soldiers are experiencing on screen.

So before we dive into the music much further, it’s important to note that the soundtrack album is not the best representation of how the score functions within the film. If you are solely going off the album then you need to listen to the score in context of the film. The way the score was built was as 1 single cue. The score never stops and is the backbone supporting the picture from the first to the last frame. The CD album has separate tracks for the sake of presentation, but you are missing nearly 50min of score and nearly 50min of intricate structure.

The score is an absolute exercise in precision and structure, and its end result is so harrowingly effective. This score may seem simple since it’s built off of loops and rhythms, but the way it had to work with the editing is incredibly complex. You won’t find any big themes or melodies in this score; in fact it was the goal in order to make the score comment solely on the action with fear of death being the only emotion the music was trying to evoke. The only melodic material in the score comes from a rearrangement of a famous classical piece from Sir Edward Elgar titled "Nimrod". "Nimrod" in fact is movement 9 out of 14 movements that are part of the orchestral work known as Enigma Variation. Each movement is a variation on an original theme. "Nimrod" is an incredibly popular piece used at British funerals and memorial services. The title “Nimrod” refers to an Old Testament patriarch known as a mighty hunter before the lord. So in that sense, it has become a piece tied to death and war. This arrangement, done by the fantastic Benjamin Wallfisch provides the emotional payoff we get at the end of the film when help and safety finally arrive.

The most impressive thing about the score is how it works with the editing and sound design, it’s in this relationship where music and sound are able to effectively keep our hearts beating fast and our bodies tensed up. The music almost acts like the very waves that are rolling onto the beach of Dunkirk; it starts small and builds into these giant swells that finally crash and then pull back. There are certain things about the score that call back to how Hans approached this sense of chaos and dread in Black Hawk Down. In a sense this score took a certain aspect of that DNA and amplified it. Certain scenes are downright intense, one in particular that’s not on the OST is when a torpedo hits a ship and it begins to sink. The music in that scene makes it one of the most memorable in the entire film. And basically the score continues to provide this sense of dread and fight for survival for nearly the duration of the score. Some of the notes sound like a warning siren going off, constantly making you feel like danger is near. If there is a weakness to the score, and in turn to the film’s narrative, is that we really could have used a more central emotional arc that started as a seed and grew into the climax. I get it that Nolan wanted to keep it purely a visceral experience about survival and surviving long enough to be rescued, but there are moments of character seeping through, mainly from Kenneth Branagh’s character and we as an audience latch onto it like a castaway finding a tiny pool of drinkable water.

In the end of it all this is such an impressive execution of scoring precision that was meant to work not only with the edit but with the sound design. It’s a soul-shaking and stressful experience from start to finish and sets out to do what the film wanted to do. The score is filled with amazing approaches like the ticking clock motif that Hans has perfected over the course of a few scores like Interstellar and Sherlock Holmes, this time sampled from Nolan’s own pocket watch. It's understandable that the only emotional beauty comes from variation on the Elgar theme, it’s so the score wouldn't ever feel like it was being heroic or in a sense “Hollywood”. There’s a powerful line near the end of the film when some of the surviving soldiers finally get a blanket and the person handing them out is congratulating them and telling them “good work, boys. Well done”. One soldier responds, “All we did was survive.” And the man responds, “that’s enough.” That was the goal of the film and the score as well, just survive. Could it have used a little character development for us as an audience to latch onto? Sure. But talk to Nolan about that, not Hans. In terms of an exercise to use filmmaking to put the audience in the midst of an incredible survival story and rescue mission, the film and score succeed brilliantly. This score was a hard one for Hans and his team to crack, but they did it. They cracked it. It was a valiant team effort including contributions by Lorne Balfe, Benjamin Wallfisch, Satnam Singh Ramgotra, Andy Page and Andrew Kawczynski who all worked tirelessly to keep this behemoth of a score afloat as the edit changed and therefore would create ripples of issues to the structure. And when you see the entirety of it onscreen as it's meant to be experienced you'll see why. This 1hr 47min single cue of a score is a tremendous experience, see the film, and only then can you analyze the album presentation.

Wind River by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (Review)

posted Jul 21, 2017, 12:44 PM by Kaya Savas

Taylor Sheridan has had a varied career as an actor, writer and a director. Sheridan floored everyone with his first feature script to the brooding thriller Sicario, which was immediately followed by Hell Or High Water. Now Sheridan returns to the directing chair for only the second time his second with Wind River. His only other directing job was for a horror film in 2011 called Vile, which he didn’t write. So with Sicario, Hell Or High Water and now Wind River we can get a truer sense of Sheridan’s style for brilliant character building and scripts that lend themselves to vivid visuals and sparse dialogue. Sheridan brings Nick Cave and Warren Ellis onboard for Wind River after working with them on Hell Or High Water, and what a perfect fit they are here. After reviewing War Machine I noted that Cave and Ellis are brilliant storytellers if the story fits their distinct style, which War Machine did not. Wind River is proof of how perfect their music can be for a film if the story and execution are a good fit for them.

In a score that touches back to the way they approached The Proposition, we get a deeply moving and emotionally heavy score filled with pain and beauty. The story of an FBI agent teaming with a local game hunter to investigate the murder of a local girl on a remote Native American Reservation establishes a canvas for a story that leads down a deep and dark hole. The music does a masterful job of painting the melancholic backdrop of the wintery and desolate Wyoming setting. The film, like Sheridan’s scripts for Sicario and Hell Or High Water, places characters within a stark and isolated setting where we seem disconnected from the real world. And like Sicario and Hell Or High Water, Wind River has a heavy amount of western genre overtones.

The music itself feels ancient, it feels tired, it feels old. We feel the weight of lifetimes coming through each note. Cave’s scratchy voice will sometimes peek through, whispering a ballad that sends chills down your spine, in a very similar approach to the score for The Proposition. As we venture deeper and deeper into the darkness there seemingly is more and more humanity injected into the score. It make everything feel so tactile and tangible and in turn emotionally riveting. The wailing voice motif that appears here and there carries us across the stark soundscape of the entire score almost acting like a checkpoint that we are getting closer to some kind of monster. Tragic beauty finds ways to peek through the simple draws across the fiddle which Cave and Ellis are known for. When we build to our big climax the score doesn't hold back, darkness and dread spill through. But we come out the other side bathed in light.

Wind River is brilliant storytelling by two masters of their craft. Cave and Ellis are absolutely perfect companions to Sheridan’s writing and directing. The composers are at home here with this dark crime mystery with a heaping amount of character study baked in. The score is rich with emotion, and it washes over like a chilling fog hugging you. Sometimes the chills you get are from the melancholic beauty of it all, sometimes the chills are from the pure darkness trying to pull you under. From moments of internal reflection to moments where it feels like score is crying from a deep emotional pain, Wind River is perfection from Cave and Ellis that show exactly how music should work with image.

A Ghost Story by Daniel Hart (Review)

posted Jul 21, 2017, 12:44 PM by Kaya Savas

When director David Lowery and composer Daniel Hart burst onto the scene with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, we immediately saw two auteur storytellers working in harmony to create absolutely emotionally stirring narratives that pulled us in as an audience. After Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Lowery went on to direct Disney’s live-action retelling of Pete’s Dragon which was also beautifully scored by Daniel Hart. With A Ghost Story we see Hart’s ability as a storyteller grow even more, and through this score he was able to find the absolute emotional core of this arresting experience. This music born from this film resonates deep within the audience and echoes the powerfully poetic narrative in the best way possible.

A Ghost Story is beautiful, it’s painful, it’s devastating and it’s uplifting. Daniel Hart found such a perfect tone and approach for the score that it’s able to resonate on a deeply emotional level without doing too much work. The music is never overbearing or manipulative, but each note feels like it’s being pulled out of a living soul. The music instantly feels personal, it instantly feels like it's commenting on your state of mind. The whole score feels like a ballad meant to accompany you into the afterlife, it carries your love and loss along with every beautiful moment you experienced in your lifetime along with every painful one. This sense of loss is carried through the score, but everything about the score feels like internal reflection which is why it resonates on a deep emotional level. The score itself is not too long and only does enough without overstaying its welcome. Daniel’s band Dark Rooms also contributes to the soundscape of the film, and everything works so well a whole. By the time we come to the end of the story we feel like we reflected on our entire life up to this point.

A Ghost Story is a score about life and everything that comes with it. It's a very broad description, but it’s the only way to describe how such a poignant and subtle score was able to capture every moment of happiness and heartache of life in one narrative experience. The score is a beautiful ballad about love and loss, and the music has this powerful quality that makes it feel like it’s bleeding out of your soul. Everything here is just such a beautiful and perfect match to David Lowery’s vision that you can’t help but be pulled in by the music. A Ghost Story is an exemplary example of Daniel Hart’s talents as a storyteller, as well as how well he works with director David Lowery. This score is a fascinating and deeply resonating examination of the human condition and shouldn’t be missed.

Oats Studios: Volume 1 by Lorne Balfe (Review)

posted Jul 21, 2017, 12:43 PM by Kaya Savas

(Unofficial Cover Created by Film.Music.Media for reviewing purposes)

Neill Blomkamp has secured a pretty dedicated fanbase as a director due to his distinctive and unique visual style. District 9 was a surprise hit, but was followed by lesser acclaimed films like Elysium and Chappie. There was a time when Blomkamp was being considered to take on the next Alien film, but after Ridley Scott took the reigns back Niell was left with an open creative slate. Oats Studios then seemingly popped out of nowhere.

Oats Studios calls itself an experimental filmmaking lab. An independent place for filmmakers to incubate ideas and have them born into pretty much anything. Right now, the idea is to start with short films and eventually work up to full-scale feature films. All of this seems to be born possibly out of frustration with the current Hollywood studio system? Who knows. But what we do have is definitely a collection of some weird, creepy and dark sci-fi projects that all have the pleasure of being scored by the fantastic Lorne Balfe. And the best part is you can watch everything on YouTube on the official Oats Studios channel.

The soundtrack, which sadly is only available on STEAM, is made up of all the Volume 1 shorts. Volume 1 is made up of 3 longer short films titled Firebase, Rakka and Zygote with a few shorter pieces peppered in. The cool thing here is to see Lorne work across all of them. It means we get to hear Lorne’s unique voice as a composer across different stories amongst this collection. Also, it’s pretty unique to see an accomplished composer who scores films like Terminator: Genisys and 13 Hours back in the short film world. It’s great though, because it shows that short films shouldn't be considered lesser than feature films. Just because the running time is less, doesn't mean it’s a “lesser” film. It sort of breaks down the notion that short films are a starting ground for novices and students.

Anyway, the scores themselves here are a real treat. We get some pretty cool textures and lots of tension building. Firebase is definitely the more action-orientated score with some big melodic swells that spill into propulsive action. God is a quirky short with a comically dark turn at the end, but the etherial chorus that Lorne composed is a perfect compliment. Rakka has a lot of electronic tension building, but the textures give a very tangible feel to the whole thing. Zygote amps up terror and tension and just lays it on nice and thick. Overall the album presents a nice stroll through the soundscapes of Volume 1.

Volume 1 from Oats Studios has given us a couple of shorts that are just pure stylish entertainment. The idea of a “filmmaking lab” is a cool one, and it’ll be interesting to see how Oats Studios will grow from here. Lorne Balfe has given us some pretty entertaining scores here for the selection of shorts in Volume 1, and it was lots of fun getting to hear him play around in different arenas with cool textures and builds. There’s not much in terms of deep and emotional storytelling going on here, but that’s not what these shorts were about. These shorts were about kickstarting a new studio and getting their feet wet with some cool stylistic ideas. Lorne got to cook up some fun stuff with Neill Blomkamp and the rest of the Oats Studios team and it’s definitely worth a look.

Castlevania by Trevor Morris (Review)

posted Jul 21, 2017, 12:43 PM by Kaya Savas

The one cool thing about Netflix is the variety of their “Netflix Originals”. Instead of creating a specific brand like the network channels do with certain types of shows, Netflix seems to be interested in everything no matter the tone, genre or style. Castlevania is an animated series based on the hit game series, but specifically Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. With an art style inspired by Japanese anime, the show enters a gothic world of vampires and witchcraft. A demon hunter faces against Dracula and his forces to try and stop Dracula from declaring war on the people of Wallachia. The score comes to use from the awesome Trevor Morris who is definitely familiar with the world of vampires having scored the short-lived NBC series titled Dracula. Here we get to see a cool side of Trevor with a lot of retro synths, awesome gothic textures and even some exciting action.

Castlevania's pulpy retro style immediately pulls you in. The theatrical main title opens things with a bang, but the majority of the score bubbles under the surface in a soundscape that feels like a melting pot of Blade Runner and Metal Gear Solid. The gothic synth sound through Trevor’s unique voice as a composer gives the show the perfect tone and pacing. The great part of the entire experience is how subtle everything is. The main title is very theatrical, but the rest of the score is quite reserved in its approach. This allows Trevor to be super stylish without it feeling like it’s going overboard. The second half the album sort of opens up from the synth textures into some more theatrical gothic action/horror, but it never goes overboard. Ghostly chorus mixed with high-pitched strings add intensity when needed and compliment the bubbling electronic pulsing like a charm. The whole album is a great presentation of what you'll find in Season 1 on Netflix.

The whole score is a wonderfully stylish ride. The use of a synth-based soundscape twisted into a more gothic horror styling works like a charm. The score feels just the right amount of retro without going full Stranger Things on you. And Trevor’s light-handed approach makes sure the music is working under the surface while only saving the more theatrical pieces for big action. Trevor Morris is able to give Castlevania a wonderful and entertaining pulpy style that is a joy to get wrapped up in.

City Of Ghosts by Jackson Greenberg & H. Scott Salinas (Review)

posted Jul 21, 2017, 12:42 PM by Kaya Savas

City Of Ghosts is documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s follow to his powerful film, Cartel Land. Cartel Land took us right in the middle of the ongoing drug trade between the US and Mexican border. City Of Ghosts takes us alongside a group of anonymous activists who banded together after their homes were taken over by ISIS. Both Cartel Land and City Of Ghosts were composed by Jackson Greenberg & H. Scott Salinas. The only difference is that Cartel Land had H. Scott Salinas credited first, while City Of Ghosts gives first billing to Jackson Greenberg. So it’s safe to assume that Jackson may have taken more of a lead or composed more for City Of Ghosts. Either way you look at it, the score is another deeply emotional and expertly crafted documentary score that thrusts the listener into a world of stakes and danger.

The one thing that truly separates both this score and the one for Cartel Land, was that Greenberg and Salinas were not afraid of being subjective with the score. Most documentary scores try to be as objective as possible, only scoring enough to create a desired tone. But Greenberg and Salinas make sure the music is not only fleshing out the story, but providing an emotional insight into the people at the center of the documentary. The music is not afraid of making us feel, it’s not afraid of guiding our emotions. And because of that, we are really invested into the story at the heart of the documentary. However, City Of Ghosts overall is perhaps not as strong Cartel Land was, but the score still takes us where we need to go as an audience. If there is a drawback is that the style and sound of this score are a bit generic overall. It just feels too much like a documentary score and it takes a while before we start feeling those acoustic textures that add a bit of humanity into the drama. The sort of electronic chimes and piano pings that make up most of the score feel a bit too standard, and we don’t get the stakes and urgency that made Cartel Land so brilliant. That isn't to say this is a weak score, far from that. City Of Ghosts remains a top-level effort in documentary scoring that does way more than most doc scores do. The whole experience is extremely engaging and does a wonderful job of establishing the right tone throughout.

City Of Ghosts is another excellent score from Jackson Greenberg and H. Scott Salinas. The music draws us into another fascinating real-world story brought to us by Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman. While Cartel Land is a much stronger and more emotionally riveting experience, City Of Ghosts still is able to reach a certain level of doc scoring that makes it shine above the rest. The soundscape and style plays it a bit too safe and reserved in certain areas, but we get a good amount of that organic humanity in the second half that reels us in deeper.

Transformers: The Last Knight by Steve Jablonsky (Review)

posted Jul 21, 2017, 12:42 PM by Kaya Savas

I can very vividly remember when the first Transformers film came out 10 years ago. I found it to be supremely entertaining, and as a fan of Michael Bay I thought it was pure overindulging fun. Steve Jablonsky’s score was a perfect fit for the over the top but expertly executed action. The Autotbots got a big heroic theme and the Decepticons got a chilling chanting chorus. Everything came to a clashing spectacular climax that was action filmmaking fueled by score. Since then we’ve gotten 4 more Transformers films that seem to get more watered down as we move away from that seemingly perfectly balanced 1st film. With no general arc to the Transformers universe it seems Michael Bay is just cranking out whatever the next "cool" idea might be, and in turn we’ve lost all narrative structure and action momentum that made the first an enjoyable action romp.

Over the next 4 scores Steve Jablonsky has been able to hold things together relatively well considering we’ve heard him have to stick close to temp tracks, plots that have no structure, being forced to work with bands like Imagine Dragons and Linkin Park, and that second film which was made during the writer’s strike. After the series did a soft reboot with the 4th film, there seemed to be some structure returning back to the series. With The Last Knight that went all out the window, and the film is a complete and utter structural disaster. Steve had the almost impossible task of making this behemoth ILM demo reel feel somewhat like a story, and he somehow managed to succeed. That is until his score got chopped to pieces as the film got trimmed and re-shaped in post production. Thankfully we have this 2-disc soundtrack from La La Land records to experience Transformers: The Last Knight as Steve intended it.

The Last Knight somehow has the Transformers tied to King Arthur and the knights of the roundtable. There was a cool story about a little orphan girl that started the movie, but all that was abandoned to show Optimus Prime going to kill his creator, who was just some CGI Transformer entity? Anyway the creator touches Optimus Prime on the face and now he’s bad, but don’t worry Hiccup uses his voice to help Toothless realize he’s a good dragon and not bad. Wait, wrong film. Well, the orphan girl comes back at the end for no reason, Mark Wahlberg says stuff and has a sexy love interest who is a descendent of the knights I think. And Anthony Hopkins spews out exposition and then is ridiculously killed by a Transformer. Then they run in slow motion as things blow up and the bad guys die and it ends and oh wait there was a cliffhanger for the next one. Sigh. Okay Steve, score it!

Steve Jablonsky does his absolute best to keep this things afloat, and he somehow succeeded. Yes, even after all the music edits the score still manages to make this film watchable. I mean, that's pretty impressive. But listening to the 2-disc album vs the score in the film is night and day. Or should I say “knight” and day (ba dum dum tshhh)? Anyway, the score has some cool elements. We get this kind of ancient theme for the knights of the round table and that becomes the central motif that is carried through the main narrative. The music manages to find some cool places to create some of those traditional action builds that Steve could probably score in his sleep by now. And surprisingly the score doesn’t feel tired or beaten in this 5th installment, you can still feel this heroic rise in the music. And that's a testament to Steve Jablonsky’s talents to infuse energy into the music. The final act of the film is not only the film's strongest moments but also the score. We feel some sense of what made the original movie so enjoyable return to the screen, and the music lifts it up successfully.

As the movie went through post production, the film went through editorial changes as most movies do. But on a Michael Bay film, he literally edits till the last second. So it almost became an impossible game for Steve and his music team to keep up with the ever-changing edit of the film. As the film got trimmed in length, the score started getting chopped up and sort of lost in the mix. You can clearly tell that too by watching the film. You probably wont even be aware of the score till the final act, and that’s pretty crazy for a Michael Bay film. The soundtrack album helps rectify this by giving us the score in a Jablonsky approved presentation.

At the end of all things, the score somehow still manages to be the shining beacon of light in this messy messy movie. Even after getting somewhat butchered and lost in the sound mix, Jablonsky's thematic structure kept things glued together. And we only get a better more cohesive presentation of everything in this fantastic 2-disc set from La La Land Records. Transformers: The Last Knight is nowhere near the fantastic structure of the first film, but it's also nowhere near the mess that was the second film. The music manages to find a basic narrative thread that gets to shine through in cool ways in the final act despite the film tripping over itself every step of the way.

The Mummy by Brian Tyler (Review)

posted Jul 21, 2017, 11:59 AM by Kaya Savas

In a world of reboots, reshoes, resandals, and reslippers we are immersed in a movie landscape that sees different takes on older properties. Some work and some don’t, it’s just the nature of the game. There is a deep love for Universal’s classic movie monster catalogue of films, so you can’t blame them for trying to revamp them for a modern audience. Unfortunately, the first film in the so-called "Dark Universe" stumbles on the storytelling front. But it did give composer Brian Tyler a pretty great canvas to deliver a gothic action-adventure score that keeps this very thinly-plotted film afloat just long enough to stay alive.

The issues with The Mummy as a film is that everything about it we've seen done before dozens of times with way more inspiration and way more fun. It’s a clear case of too many cooks in the kitchen, and perhaps not knowing what kind of film it wanted to be. The one consistent part of the film was Brian Tyler’s valiant effort with the score. The Mummy marks possibly the longest time Brian has worked on a project in his career, he was working on it way before Tom Cruise was even cast. The movie and even the score went through changes in production, but the final musical result is a solid orchestral adventure score with gothic horror undertones.

The music for this incarnation of The Mummy carries a lot of Brian Tyler’s trademark stylings including a robust central theme and energetic action writing while still creating a sense of mystery and grandeur. There are some similarities in approach to how Jerry Goldsmith and Alan Silvestri approached the Stephen Sommers Mummy films, but the whole “Egyptian” thing is toned back immensely since this one takes place for the majority in modern day London. Also the score itself isn’t re-inventing the wheel when it comes to structure, so all the expected pieces are there. We have a protagonist in Tom Cruise’s character, we have an evil entity with the Mummy, and a series of action set pieces that lead us to the climax and resolution. The score makes an attempt for us to relate to our antagonist a bit, but the film never does a good job of making the audience care. So in the end this comes more across as a touch of romanticism injected into the tone of the score, and it totally works. The score does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of keeping the narrative moving and keeping us somewhat engaged, which is probably the highlight of the whole experience.

The Mummy got some bad press, but it’s not a trash movie. It’s just very standard and doesn't do enough to stand out in a sea of studio blockbusters. Brian Tyler’s score is probably the one thing keeping the whole experience afloat, and it does a great job of delivering an action-adventure score with some gothic horror undertones. The music is supremely engaging and does a wonderful job of establishing character themes and tone. We go through the expected motions and there are no surprises, so in the end the score is limited by the film’s “by the books” approach. Don’t expect any wow factor storytelling from The Mummy, but it is a solidly executed experience by Brian Tyler. And be sure to check out the 2+ hour digital version of the score which gives you the best experience of the score's structure.

War Machine by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (Review)

posted Jul 21, 2017, 11:58 AM by Kaya Savas

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis are two of the most unique and talented musicians not just in songwriting but in film scoring. The duo’s scoring career has given us absolute masterpieces such as The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, The Proposition, Hell Or High Water and The Road. Nick and Warren definitely have a certain sound, and it’s fair to say that their versatility when it comes to scoring is limited. You won’t see these guys scoring a blockbuster anytime soon. Up to this point they have scored movies of a certain tone and pace. War Machine was an interesting film to see them attached to, and it was their first film with director David Michôd. In the end the film, while an interesting one, fails to find its tone. Part drama and part awkward satire, the story and characters never seem to mesh and that includes Cave and Ellis’ misappropriated score.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis would have probably been a better fit for David Michôd’s last film, The Rover. Here, the duo attempt to create counter tone to what we are seeing onscreen. The larger than life character of Brad Pitt’s General McMahon is the scene stealer, and it really is his story. The film itself is nothing like the trailer or posters that you see, which is why it’s essential to really watch the movie and see everything working in context. The score out of context paints the typical bleak and dissonant soundscape with a heavy dose of moral reflection, which you’d expect from a Cave and Ellis score. However, even in the score we bounce around when it comes to tone and an emotional current. We never find balance, and the whole experience seems disjointed. I wouldn't be surprised if the music wasn't written to picture, because nothing really fits when you look at it as a whole. I think the general idea was to indeed create a score that counter's the tone of the film, by sort of giving us a deeper and serious feel in the music to juxtapose the satirical approach of the acting and story. The score almost functions as these pods of internal reflections for our protagonist, but they never do enough to make us connect as an audience. The lack of thematic structure or really any melodic structure also doesn't help the score’s goals of bringing us into the internal struggles of our main character. We get a nice bookend closure to the whole narrative, but it's the points between the start and finish that really don’t flow together well enough to grasp the audience.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis seem to have been just the wrong choice for this movie. Like actors, composers can be miscast as well. They are absolutely brilliant composers and storytellers, and all their previous scores are proof of that. I feel like David Michôd was probably listening to Hell Or High Water or something and thought, oh yeah, get those guys. The score’s attempt to counter the tone of the characters and story onscreen only works slightly, but never to the full effect of what David Michôd probably had in mind. The film is more of a character study than anything else, and it's very different than what the marketing of the movie suggests. It’s definitely worth a watch, and the score worth a listen because in the end it seems like it was a great idea on paper that somehow misfired during the execution of it. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis still remain some of the most brilliant storytellers working today, and David Michôd is a fantastic director. But War Machine will remain as this strange and somewhat interesting misfire in both film and score that is definitely engaging to a point, but never enough to make it memorable or lasting.

Smurfs: The Lost Village by Christopher Lennertz (Review)

posted Jul 21, 2017, 11:58 AM by Kaya Savas

Sony’s revival of Smurfs for modern audiences has steadily been going on and is now in its third installment. While the Smurfs movies haven’t reached any heightened level of great emotional storytelling in animation, they’ve been great distractions for parents to take their kids to. The first two Smurfs were composed by Heitor Pereira who has proved to be the king of quirky animation with the Despicable Me franchise. For the Smurfs: The Lost Village, the wonderful Christopher Lennertz dives in to add his charm and storytelling talents that aims for a little more heart this time around.

Smurfs: The Lost Village gives audiences a better story to handle here, and in turn the score feels like it has more narrative structure to cling to. It’s refreshing to hear Christopher Lennertz in this space after a couple R-rated action-comedies. With Smurfs: The Lost Village we’re reminded of Lennertz’s wonderful thematic and orchestral sounds while still adding some character with acoustics and fun textures. Lennertz has fun with the chorus here, using it not just for dramatic scope, but in a track like “Meet The Smurfs" we get a lot of heart and character in there. The score does a decent job of making the Smurfs feel more human rather than just fun and quirky. The adventure cues in the score have a great energy and scope to them without ever becoming too heavy, there’s even a swashbuckling feel to the whole thing that keeps things really engaging. The heartfelt moments can come on a bit too sweet here and there, but it’s a film aimed for the younger crowd and it works in that sense. The whole journey is a fun adventure with heart and Lennertz is still able to find ways to inject some beautiful tear-inducing emotional swells in a film you wouldn't expect to have them.

Lennertz gets to write some fantastic themes and melodies, and puts them to good use throughout this engaging and fun adventure. While Heitor’s scores had more quirk and bounce to them, Chris’ succeeds more on the emotional side of things. Christopher Lennertz applies his style and sound here to give the adventure a little swashbuckle and the emotion a little tenderness without going overboard. He even gets to rework that classic Smurfs theme subtly into the mix.

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