Score Reviews

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Power Rangers by Brian Tyler (Review)

posted Mar 13, 2017, 7:19 PM by Kaya Savas

The history of Saban’s Power Rangers franchise is a long one. It became one of the most popular children’s live-action series and spawned tons of spin-off series and even movies throughout the 90’s. Disney snatched up the rights to Power Rangers and after 7 years of holding onto it finally let it go back to Saban. Saban now is trying to reboot the Power Rangers for a modern audience. In the age of ensemble heroes dominating the box office, Saban hired ensemble action composer extraordinaire Brian Tyler for the job. Brian has a successful track record of composing action films with ensemble casts such as The Fast & The Furious Franchise and Avengers: Age Of Ultron. And as cheesy as the original series and movies were, this Power Rangers is surprisingly a great all-around action score if you can ignore the temp track hangover that clearly lingers throughout.

Ok, listen up. Power Rangers is not the next cinematic masterpiece, I mean have you seen any of the original series or movies? It’s also not breaking new ground, it’s simply content in becoming part of the ensemble action mold. This is your typical origin story of a group of high schoolers who find themselves infused with powers that unite them to become a force to stop an evil sorceress hellbent on finding a crystal to become all powerful and whatnot. So the approach was simply to look at a PG-13 action-packed franchise that has big mechanical battles and earned billions in the box office and pretty much do that. That franchise was Transformers.

Brian’s score is all sorts of fun, with a great theme that is undoubtedly a Brian Tyler theme. The body of the score is made up of a lot of synth and is more so accented by the orchestra versus something like Iron Man 3 which was very orchestral. And while the core thematics of the score are pure Tyler, the overall architecture does feel familiar. You’ll notice the music borrowing elements heavily from scores like Transformers and TRON: Legacy. Without a doubt, with Saban entering the big-budget epic movie space for the first time you can bet they wanted to play it safe. I’m sure Brian Tyler had a hell of a time navigating a heavily temped movie that was built off of Steve Jablonsky and Daft Punk. But here’s the deal, the score totally works and is actually very entertaining even if it's not wholly unique. The pulsing percussions and strings with that broad heroic build laid over it is something that made the track “Arrival To Earth” from the first Transformers feel so epic. That technique is used here to create a sense of awe and emotional gravitas. Once the action gets a bit more kinetic, that’s when the score’s true identity shines and you can feel something unique to Power Rangers emerge. And as for the iconic “Go Go Power Rangers!”? Brian saves it for a climactic moment right before battle in track 14, “Let’s Ride”. It’s then saved for the very end during the credits. If you’re looking for a modern action score that has a theme, melodic structures and rhythm then Power Rangers should delight as long as you don’t expect it to reinvent the wheel.

Power Rangers is a solid action experience. Brian Tyler gives the iconic heroes a modern feel that brings energy, force, gravitas and heroism. While there is clearly some heavy use of temp music that Brian had to follow, he still manages to let his theme come alive as he would in his own style. The score has lots of Brian Tyler moments for sure as well as Transformers and TRON: Legacy moments, but it all works. There are truly some cool ways that the music utilizes some of those retro synth loops. And the slow build moments of heroism work just as well as the kinetic action scenes where Brian’s true style shines. This is a score (and movie) that is trying very hard to be relevant among a crowded slate of action ensemble franchises. In fact, this whole experience feels a lot more inspired than the last Transformers score. And while it doesn't reinvent the wheel by any means, it’s still quite a fun and cool score that I can see some young tween getting hooked on after seeing the movie.

Kong: Skull Island by Henry Jackman (Review)

posted Feb 28, 2017, 6:58 PM by Kaya Savas

Kong: Skull Island is the latest attempt at reviving the classic ape into cinemas, this time as part of Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse. Kong: Skull Island is completely unrelated to Peter Jackson’s mammoth remake, and instead serves as an entry meant to follow 2014’s Godzilla. Yes, a Godzilla vs. King Kong is coming, so hold on to your hats. For this incarnation of Kong, the story follows a secret organization called Monarch that hires a group to lead an expedition to an uncharted island in hopes of uncovering a new species. The movie takes place towards the end of the Vietnam War. Henry Jackman was brought on and was simply a perfect fit here for the score. His love for both traditional and non-traditional elements let him have lots of fun with this one. The score is a fun-filled adventure score with lots of scope, gravitas, and momentum along with a psychedelic 70’s vibe.

Henry Jackman does quite an admirable job at building scope and gravitas while still giving this score a sense of adventure and excitement. Henry’s theme for Kong is right in line with the way Max Steiner approached the character. A big lumbering descending motif signals strength and doom. And while there is plenty of peril and destruction in this film, the score fleshes out the island as well as the other not so friendly creatures on it. We get a sense of mystery and intrigue that reminded me of Jerry Goldsmith’s Congo that is then infused with the testosterone that Alan Silvestri brought to Predator. But the way Henry approaches it is very much his own, the score has a heartbeat behind it. We get traditional orchestral flourishes for big action with rich electronic textures to create suspense for the quieter scenes. The score is not meant as a character study, but surprisingly there’s an emotional current that carries you through the narrative. Kong and the human characters are detailed enough through the music to add an emotional grab, but it’s really the atmosphere and tone of the score that grabs you more and doesn't let go. The action set pieces are also expertly constructed, with the music doing some heavy lifting. While the inclusion of some easily placed “Braaaammmmsss” might overshadow some of the more interesting textures of this score, everything shines as a whole.

Henry Jackman’s Kong: Skull Island is full of energy and life, and does a fantastic job of crafting a wild ride filled with personality. The score packs a lot including rich orchestral flourishes, pulsing action strings, primitive percussion, grandiose chorus, 70’s rock guitars, electronic suspense textures and an emotional pull to make you invested in the journey. The score calls back to all the best qualities of action/adventure scores like Congo and Predator while doing it in Henry’s unique voice as a composer. And while it might sound like the score has a lot going on, it all works and it’s a fine-tuned machine that rarely stumbles.

Logan by Marco Beltrami (Review)

posted Feb 28, 2017, 6:58 PM by Kaya Savas

As we conclude Wolverine’s story arc in Logan, James Mangold re-teams with composer Marco Beltrami to give Logan the closure the character deserves. The entire film set out to defy genre and studio tentpole expectations, including the early hiring of composer Cliff Martinez. Mangold, in his effort to try something new thought an electronic composer like Cliff would break the mold only to figure out that he wanted to backtrack on that decision and go back to his regular collaborator, Marco. Marco jumped on the project and was given direction to stay away from big orchestra, big melodies and anything conventional. The finished product is a subtle and intimate score that keeps its modern feel by embracing a rough and gritty approach while still embracing a western feel and emotional undercurrent.

The score in itself is a testament of Marco to work with very strict direction and how he and Buck Sanders can manipulate sounds to craft a unique soundscape. And while the film and score succeed as a whole, there are moments that probably could have used some of that conventional stuff that James Mangold was so hellbent on not having. The sparse and melancholic tone of the score is perfect for Logan’s character and the build to the climax, but what was lost in the film and the score itself was the bond between Logan and Laura we were supposed to be witnessing. By keeping everything about the score low-key, the score misses opportunities to really push the emotional connection between the characters. Which is a shame, because Mangold and Beltrami embraced melodic arcs in the fantastic score to 3:10 To Yuma, which has a climax that really gave you goosebumps. Here, almost all the work is left to the actors, and thank goodness the acting in the film is top-notch because they rarely get help from the score and editing to make those emotional beats hit. So in the end, the score here fulfills its duty to give Logan some sort of sonic landscape, but if the goal of it was to find more subtle emotions then it falls a tad short.

Directors don’t need to be afraid of melody. It’s possible to create sparse, intimate and gritty music that can defy genre expectations yet still be melodic and thematic. Look at anything that Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have composed. Logan’s score is an overall success, but not without feeling a little barebones when it comes to character development and an emotional payoff. The film’s strengths are in the acting and the writing, but in an effort to be “unconventional” Mangold directed Beltrami to avoid melody and orchestra. The result is a unique score that blends modern harshness with western flavors to paint an old and tired character about to finish his journey. The style works incredibly well for the action scenes without a doubt. The action felt very visceral and intimate without ever needing to be grandiose. It’s just in the character and emotional arc department that could have used a little more melody and personality. Overall Logan as a film and a score is a great closing chapter to Wolverine’s story that dared to do something different for the sake of story over spectacle.

Get Out by Michael Abels (Review)

posted Feb 28, 2017, 6:58 PM by Kaya Savas

It seems counterintuitive at first, but the more you think about it the more it makes sense that a comedy writer would fit in well with the horror genre. Both comedy and horror are about focusing on extremes and the contrasting small details that lead up to those extremes. Setting up the punchline to a joke or a physical gag is not too different than building suspense to a jump scare or a shocking moment. For Get Out not only does Jordan Peele make his debut as a director, but accomplished composer Michael Abels makes his debut as a film composer. The score for Get Out does so much by staying incredibly simple. The resulting effect is a horror score that manages to tell a story just as well as it builds suspense and terror.

Usually any great horror movie has a deep mystery behind it that is slowly revealed as the main character goes through his or her journey. Here we follow Chris, who meets his girlfriend’s family for the first time at their estate. The film explores different aspects of genres as it blends horror scares with comedic tension relief moments intertwined with a social commentary. Abels gives the music a very organic and human feel by utilizing mainly acoustic instruments. The score really only features a string orchestra, harp and tuned metal percussion. There are some electronic textures but they are really used sparingly. The use of the African vocals (spoken in Swahili) were meant to comment on the plot but ended up giving the score a spooky human touch. All in all, the score never resorts to cliched horror tropes to startle or create uneasiness. It really is Abel’s talents as a musician and composer that allowed the score to be a core element of the storytelling process. The score on its own is made up of some decent length tracks, but also some short ones. Never at all does the score feel choppy or intrusive, instead it only is used when the scene needs it. If only a 40-second cue is needed to highlight a moment, that’s all that’s used. If there’s a 3-minute scene that needs score all the way through to build tension, that’s what’s used. In the end, the score’s meticulous attention to detail and craft are so impressive that it’s hard to believe that Michael Abels has never scored a film before.

There’s so much to enjoy in Michael Abels’ Get Out. The score in itself is a near perfect horror/thriller score that ignores all the cliches and tropes of the genre while still being extremely effective. With Peele as a first time director and Abels as a first time film composer, the two managed to take so much experience from their other projects and apply it on this canvas for a truly fresh perspective. The score for Get Out feels like you are slowly peeling an onion only to uncover raw meat in the center. The score is an expertly crafted horror score that keeps you hooked and surprised because it never does what you expect it to. There’s no gimmicks or tricks here, just well-executed storytelling from start to finish that embraces the genre.

Legion by Jeff Russo (Review)

posted Feb 28, 2017, 6:57 PM by Kaya Savas

Legion is adapted from the Marvel comic of the same name, and comes to us from Noah Hawley who also brought us Fargo the series. Legion is a spin-off of the X-Men Franchise, but doesn't tie-in to any of the films or storylines you’re familiar with. It follows David Haller who was diagnosed as a schizophrenic from a very young age, but in fact his powers might make him one of the most powerful mutants there is. Hawley continues his collaboration with Jeff Russo by bringing him onto Legion, and as expected Russo delivers the goods for a score that excels in many areas.

The best part about Jeff Russo is his ability to merge style and substance to together so we get something that sounds unique enough that you feel like you could hold it in your hands, but is also so rich with character and story. Legion explores different styles such as bold melodies as well as synthetic textures that take us inside the mind of our main character. The music has a wonderful orchestral aesthetic that makes it feel big and alive, but underneath it all we really get to explore the psychosis of David Haller as a character. Ticks, blurbs, scratches and pulses all meant to replicate neurons firing in your brain are used to really take us into the head of the character. Then we hear these textures layered more with the traditional themes that Jeff has built for the series for an overall soundscape that is both retro and modern. Every now and then things don't mesh, but it hardly detracts from the overall effectiveness of the music.

Legion is a robust score that fleshes out the character David Haller incredibly well. We have the strong thematic material that Jeff Russo is known for and he blends electronics into the orchestral fabric of the score to take us into the mind of David. Synth sounds and textures replicate neurons firing and help us as an audience explore the mind and emotions of the main character all through the music. From big thematic moments to smaller intimate character nuances, Legion’s narrative benefits from everything that Jeff Russo brings to the table.

The Founder by Carter Burwell (Review)

posted Feb 28, 2017, 6:57 PM by Kaya Savas

The Founder sees Carter Burwell re-teaming with director John Lee Hancock for this story about Ray Kroc, the salesman who turned the McDonalds brothers burger eatery into one of the most world-renowned brands of fast food restaurants. John Lee Hancock has stuck with Burwell since The Rookie and only departed to work with Thomas Newman for Saving Mr. Banks. But you could probably bet good money that was a Disney decision and not Hancock’s. For The Founder, Carter Burwell finds himself in his comfort zone by exploring characters' state of minds through his signature sounds.

The Founder is a drama that rides on the strengths of its acting and writing, but Burwell’s score is the perfect storytelling accompaniment to help the audience access the characters and tone of the film. By developing the fabric that connects the characters in the story, we see the music creating the ups and downs of the journeys the characters are on. Moments of aspiration, success and happiness flow towards doubt and uncertainty. When the stakes are high and greed is introduced, we feel the score take a tonal shift that digs deeper into the state of minds of the characters. The tone of the music keeps everything in-line so we as an audience are engaged and pulled in. The original score shares space with some period songs that help take us to the time period and setting, and Burwell weaves his score into the fabric of the film with ease.

The Founder is just solid film scoring from Carter Burwell, and it shows him excelling at what he does best. He is a master of tone and character. While The Founder doesn't wow or do anything new that we haven’t heard before, it does its job in its own special way for this particular story. Burwell’s scores always do a great job of setting the stage and guiding us through the narrative, helping us understand character motivations and their emotions behind their thoughts. The Founder is Burwell providing another solid entry to his filmography that doesn't need flair to impress.

Rings by Matthew Margeson (Review)

posted Feb 28, 2017, 6:57 PM by Kaya Savas

The Ring franchise started with a bang, except it seems like the gun was pointed the wrong way because the second and now third entries in this franchise are just cinematic embarrassments of studios trying to milk every last penny from a good idea. The reason why Paranormal Activity and Saw were able to sustain rather longer than necessary franchises were that their horror movies were based on a gimmick. One was told via security cam footage, the other put the characters through endless rounds of the worst party games ever. The first movie, The Ring though was an extremely well made film from Gore Verbinski who adapted it from the original Japanese film Ringu. No gimmicks. The story was great, it was full of atmosphere and tension, it was a deep dark mystery slowly being revealed, and it had a brilliant score from Hans Zimmer. 

Then it seems like everyone forgot about the story, only remembered the “You’ll die in 7 days” part, and went to town ruining a good thing. Hans departed the series along with Gore, and poor unfortunate souls Henning Lohner and Martin Tillman adapted Hans’ score for The Ring Two. Benjamin Wallfisch was scheduled to take over for Rings, but due to some scheduling conflicts and the fact that this film was delayed over and over again, the responsibility fell on Matthew Margeson to continue the Rings legacy.

The good thing about Matt Margetson’s Rings is that this actually feels like an evolution from Hans Zimmer’s score. The Ring Two was more or less an adaptation that left everything feeling out of place or just watered down. Margeson does his absolute best to keep this train from derailing at every moment, but a composer can only do so much. Instead of relying heavily on Hans’ thematic materials he expands the score into a darker more modern version that embraces that the days of VHS tapes are gone. The score loses the deep foreboding nature of Hans’ score and opts for an approach that makes the music feel a bit more nimble. Margeson puts his string section and cellos to work throughout the score to get some chilling sounds, but unfortunately it’s never enough to save this movie from crashing and burning. The score just walks you through the plot without any of the emotion or tragic undertones that the first film was able to evoke. As good as Matthew Margeson is as a composer, it's hard to craft a musical narrative when the picture narrative is as weak as this film is.

Rings is only worth experiencing for Matthew Margeson’s rather decent attempt at making this mess of a film work. The score is an admirable attempt at branching into different areas with Hans’ themes from the first film versus the The Ring Two which felt more of an adaptation score. No matter how you look at it, this is a score to a terrible movie. But the finished product shows that Matthew Margeson made the best of his opportunity to try and do something different with the music. The score is worth exploring for sure, just skip the flick.

From Dusk Till Dawn: Season 3 by Carl Thiel (Review)

posted Feb 17, 2017, 2:35 PM by Kaya Savas

Robert Rodriguez’s television reimagining of his popular film From Dusk Till Dawn continues into its third season with Carl Thiel at the helm of the score. Carl’s close bond with Robert has made him such an integral part of the show’s sound even though Robert Rodriguez himself has his own musical aesthetic. While I love Robert Rodriguez as a musician and a composer on all his classic films, it was great that he put his trust in Carl here to give From Dusk Till Dawn its own unique sound. Don’t worry, Robert Rodriguez still contributes a few pieces here and there like the awesome track “Santanico’s Fight Club”, but the heart of the characters, genre homages and intricate storytelling talents lie in Carl’s strong third season score.

The approach for the series definitely embraces its horror roots but still gives it this western edge like the movie did. In its third season we see lots of strong moments that are created using rhythmic builds and cool textures. And before you go “Oh, so just atmospheric builds?”, the score packs a wallop on you with something like “Olmeca”. Certain tracks go really big, get the choir in there and really make you feel like you’re absorbed in the vampire world. It’s a gothic horror score that will entertain from start to finish, nothing is terribly scary per se but it can get chilling here and there. And that’s fine, because From Dusk Till Dawn isn't setting out to startle and jump scare you. This is pure pulp entertainment designed to absorb and entertain.

Carl Thiel has given From Dusk Till Dawn a fantastic new identity in the three seasons the show has been on the air. While the future of the series is still uncertain, at least we have some supremely entertaining gothic horror scoring with a western twist that will live on. Robert Rodriguez entrusted the series sound with Carl, and he was able to give From Dusk Till Dawn a fresh sound that felt of the genre but also made it feel unique to the world of the story. Season 3 has some really fun big moments, but also shows off those wonderful textural builds that Carl Thiel does so well. Plus a few Robert Rodriguez tracks for good measure make for a fun time.

The Teller And The Truth by Carl Thiel (Review)

posted Feb 17, 2017, 2:30 PM by Kaya Savas

The Teller And The Truth is a small indie film that is a fictional story “based on true stories”, presented in the style of a documentary. It’s a complicated narrative structure that benefits largely from Carl Thiel’s beautiful and haunting score.

The plot revolves around a missing woman, whose car was found submerged and it focuses on the effect of the disappearance on the townspeople. We learn more and more about the character as told in flashback reenactments as well as the modern day interviews. Carl Thiel’s score doesn't take a documentary approach, and in fact infused a lush and hauntingly beautiful overtone to the whole story. The music has a sense of romanticism but is also intriguing in the mystery it paints. There are some great moments of tension and suspense that almost makes it feel like modern noir. The score builds to some incredibly big moments that truly wash over you and leave a lasting impact. If there is a drawback it’s that the score is way more thought out than the picture is. So in the context of the film, the music can seem extremely big for this indie film’s aspirations. What keeps it all together is the great structure and approach of taking the audience on a journey.

There Teller And The Truth is such a strong effort from Carl Thiel that it’s worth experiencing in all its glory. The score is so well executed and grabs you for the entirety of the story as it tries desperately to give structure to the choppy narrative of this faux documentary. There are some surprisingly grandiose moments and emotions here, and the closing song is a wonderful cap to this seductive and haunting story. While Carl is mostly known for his work with Robert Rodriguez, this shows his talents on a different spectrum of utilizing lush orchestral textures to tell a story worth listening to.

Moonlight by Nicholas Britell (Review)

posted Feb 8, 2017, 3:24 PM by Michael Hollands

The Academy Awards are around the corner and the film Moonlight appears to be one of the top contenders with a total of eight nominations including one in the Best Picture category. Judging from what I have heard so far, this film seems to be one of the very best of 2016 and it already won the Golden Globe for Best Picture. In addition to the nominations in the categories such as Best Picture and Best Director, composer Nicholas Britell has also been added to the list of nominees. As I mentioned a short while ago, awards are by no means indicative of quality and there is simply no accounting for taste. Over the years, the Best Score category has seen many surprises. Many people have debated over and over again whether certain scores actually deserved a nomination or not. In my humble opinion, many scores in this very category were not Academy Award material and several decisions that have been made were questionable at best.

Moonlight  might just be one of those scores that have been nominated since the film itself has received high praise and to be absolutely honest, I simply don't believe this is one of the best scores of the year. There have been simply too many other worthy contenders that were completely ignored. Brilliant scores written for films which did not receive mainly positive reactions by critics. Moonlight is by no means a bad score. There is some potential for sure. Yet, the music simply feels "incoherent" and "undeveloped". The album presentation as a whole is underwhelming. In total there are twenty-one tracks on this release. Seventeen pieces written by Mr. Britell and three songs plus one classical piece of music which was conducted by Britell for this picture. The score starts off with “Little's Theme” and it is basically one of the central themes written for piano and the violin. It is a very brief cue and as a matter of fact, most cues on the album are rather short. The only "big" piece is the “End Credits Suite” which reprises the principal themes.

The mood of the entire score is pretty dark and sad, with the occasional "experimental" musical approach. Like I said before, this is not a bad score. It simply feels too short. There is clearly something missing. Bottom line: the score feels rather uninteresting. Since I have not seen the film yet, I cannot judge the score's impact when it is put up against the picture. Furthermore, I cannot determine yet whether this film might have required a different musical approach. At the moment, I am simply reviewing the album.

“The Middle Of The World” is one of those cues that are very good and impactful. The violin playing is gorgeous and the motif is one of the album's very best. If only there were more pieces of this kind. This is a very effective piece of music. Some cues rely more on moody underscoring than on melody. There must of course be a reason for this approach and I am sure Mr. Britell simply did what he was asked to do and what he thought was right for the picture. Yet, when you have to review an album and the listening experience as a whole, you get to see a very different side of a score. This might be the right approach for the film and it might support the images. However, as an album I find it rather lackluster.

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