Category Archives: REVIEWS IN BRIEF.

RACHEL PORTMAN.

The music of British composer Rachel Portman has for many years now been a mainstay of cinema both British and American. Portman began her career as a composer by scoring mainly TV projects and soon progressed to writing music for the silver screen. Her style or sound is quite unique as it remains over ally and quintessentially English, but also has to it a underlying sound that can be likened to maybe the Hollywood style as in richly thematic and romantic. 

She has over the years produced so many gorgeously enriching and hauntingly beautiful works, as in The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, and more recently Godmothered for Disney. Portman was born in Haslemere in the county of Surrey, England. She was educated at Charterhouse and became interested in music from an early age, with her first attempts at composition being undertaken in her early teens. After she completed her days at school Portman went onto study music at Worcester College in Oxford. It was whilst studying here that she first became interested in writing music for films and started to experiment by scoring student movies and writing music for various theatre productions. Her career commenced with the writing of incidental music for mainly BBC drama productions, and she also scored a handful of films for Channel four in the UK, which included Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, as well as Mike Leighs Four Days in July and the acclaimed Oranges are not the only Fruit. She has also worked on an opera The Little Prince, which was later adapted and made into a musical. Her success as a composer is due to her obvious gift for melody and her ability to adapt to any genre of film and create thematic but supportive music for any scenario. It is difficult not to be enchanted and engulfed by the composers wonderfully lilting and affecting music, she adds tender musical undercurrents to any production and enhances and laces each project with a fragile and delicate musical air, that is not just film music but is music that is integral and important to any storyline.

One of her better-known scores is for The Cider House Rules (1999), which is beyond beguiling and above enchanting, the central melody straight away captures the audiences ear and also sets the scene beautifully for the movies storyline, becoming central and so supportive of the main characters, relaying a fragility, vulnerability, and also a romantic atmosphere, that once heard is never easily forgotten. The theme which is a simple one binds the score and the movies story together adding poignancy, emotion, and drama to the proceedings. The affecting central theme is stunningly expressive, and the composer utilizes it and variations of it throughout, to elevate, underline and totally support.

The movie was directed by Lasse Hamilton, and starred Michael Caine, Toby Maguire, Charlize Theron, Paul Rudd, and Kieran Culkin. The story was written by John Irvin and is a touching drama set in an orphanage in Maine, where a doctor (Caine) trains and mentors Homer Wells (Maguire) and follows him after he leaves the orphanage. Portman’s score graces and ingratiates the films storyline as it develops adding much to the proceedings.  

 

The same can be said for her emotive music for the movie Never Let Me Go (2010), which again is highly effective both within the movie and away from it when one listens to the score as just music. Portman conveys a mood of melancholy via solo cello performances, woodwind, and solo piano performances which are underlined and punctuated by the string section.  The film was directed by Mark Romanek from a screenplay by Alex Garland. Never Let Me Go is set in an alternative history and focuses upon three characters, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy portrayed by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield, respectively, and how they become entangled in a love triangle.

Portman’s score is again essential to the film’s storyline, creating subtle and alluring moods and creating romantic, sad, and dramatically tense atmospheres. Godmothered is a more recent score from the composer.  The film, which is a Disney production, has had mixed reactions from critics but as far as I can see the cinema going public love it, and that is all that matters isn’t it? It’s a movie that has a feel good and warm persona, and don’t we need something these days that makes us smile?  Yes, we do. The score is filled with quirky and comedic passages that are all held together by oodles of sentimental melancholy.

A young and unskilled fairy godmother ventures out on her own to prove her worth by tracking down a young girl whose request for help was ignored. The score is a delight, and we hear Portman at her melodic best here. The work skips literally from one delicious piece to another, the composer creating a veritable landslide of joyous and affecting themes. It is also fully symphonic, which straight away grabs one’s attention, there is a fragility about Portman’s soundtrack that not only attracts and hypnotises but succeeds in enhancing the events on screen. Even with its reference to The Sound of Music within one of its tracks, both the film and its score complement each other as they are both enchanting and romantic, quirky, and entertaining. The story will transport us away from the here and now for nearly two hours, which again I am sure will be welcomed by many and the soundtrack is a sublime listening experience within the movie and away from it.

Private Peaceful, is a 2012 film that is said to be based partly on fact and taken from the story or novel by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo. The plot focuses upon two brothers that have both fallen in love with the same girl. But the story is far more involved than this. It explores the story and life of a young British man Thomas Peaceful, or “Tommo” as seen by him and as related by him in an account where he recalls his experiences and certain events in his life.

The early section of the story relates to his life as a boy and takes place before the outbreak of WW l, it tells the story of his obsessive love for Molly a beautiful young girl who he met on his first day at school. It also focuses upon his eldest sibling Big Joe who is brain damaged due to complications at birth and of his other Brother Charlie who is older than Thomas but younger than Joe. Thomas has for several years kept a dark and terrible secret, when he was younger, he went wood cutting with his Father, but a tree nearly falls on Thomas, his Father saves him, but his act of selflessness costs him his own life as he is crushed by the tree. Thomas has kept this too himself all these years, as he feels he is the reason that his Father died and is eaten up with grief and guilt. The three Brothers grow up together with the two younger members of the trio Charlie and Tommo protecting Big Joe at all costs. Their childhood is a happy one spent playing in the fields and having so many adventures together. One of their favourite pastimes being to annoy their Great Aunt who they nick name Grandma Wolf or The Wolfwoman.

They also cause the Colonel a lot of headaches and one day see an airplane fly over being the first in their village to do so. As they grow Charlie, Tommo and Molly all find employment either at the estate or in the village. As Charlie and Molly become closer, Tommo begins to feel increasingly left out, and soon discovers that Charlie and Molly have been seeing each other and Molly becomes pregnant. She then moves in with the Peaceful family after her own family refuse to have any more to do with her.  As the outbreak of the great war becomes more obvious Charlie and Molly are married and soon after both Charlie and Thomas are sent to the battlefields of Flanders, where although they have had their differences, Charlie is still highly protective of his younger Brother. During an assault on German lines Tommo is wounded and despite being told to leave him in no mans land Charlie stays with his sibling once again protecting him at all costs. After which Charlie is accused of being a coward by his sergeant, charges are brought, and he is court martialed and executed. The story ends with Tommo waiting to go into action at the battle of the Somme. Directed by Pat O Connor, the movie starred Jack O Connell as Charlie Peaceful and featured a strong cast of familiar British actors that included, George MacKay as Tommo, Alexandra Roach as Molly, Richard Griffiths as the Colonel, Frances de la Tour as Grandma Wolf and Maxine Peak as Hazel Peaceful. Rachel Portman provided the movie with a sensitive and pastoral sounding score which is also a lilting and subtle one.

The composer adding moving and soft nuances throughout to underline the ever developing and highly personal storyline. Portman also provides a darker more ominous style of music, for the more dramatically laced parts of the story with its subdued but at the same time effective presence. A symphonic work, the main parts of the score being performed by the string section, giving it a rustic but idyllic sound, which is enhanced further and sustained by a small brass ensemble with percussion and woods adding underlying support. Other movies that the composer has scored include Chocolat, The Duchess, Harts War, Emma, Despite the Falling Snow, Benny and Joon, Race and so many more.

HONEYDEW, and TRIGGERPOINT SOUNDTRACKS.

Two more interesting and innovative scores from Movie Score Media, which is nothing new from this pioneering and ever industrious soundtrack specialist. The first is from the movie Honeydew which has a score by composer John Mehrmann. This is a score that is a fusion of music, musical sounds and voices that are all used in a highly original way. The composer serves up an inventive and thought-provoking work as in one finds yourself listening more intently to the cues, simply to decipher how he achieved the sound. This is a concoction of half heard vocal phrases, and short stabs of sounds, which combined with anything thematic conveys to its listener a mood that is unnerving, unsettling and at times down-right scary. It is a rather intense listening experience, a sinister and a surprising work, with the composer employing sounds rather than music to create moods and atmospheres, I won’t say it is an easy listen because it is not, modern, slightly unbalanced and maybe bordering on the Avant Garde, but easy no. Check it out, available soon on digital platform.

As will be the latest score from Andrew Lockington and Michael White, Trigger Point, which is also released by Movie Score Media is a score not filled with grand and rich themes but is one that has to it a brooding and drone like aura. Yes, there are fragments of thematic material within it, but these rarely develop, but this does not however mean that it is a score that I do not like, because the way in which it is constructed is like Honeydew interesting, it has to it a tense and alluring persona, and it is I think the fleeting hints of melody that make it so, because they are given no room to develop and are overwhelmed by the dark and ominous synthetics.  Not a symphonic work at all, but realized by electronic elements and soundscape as opposed to soundtrack, but still certainly worth a listen.

 

 

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN.

A movie that was nominated last weekend at the BAFTA awards and won in certain categories is Promising Young Woman, the score by Anthony Willis is a delight, and was quite rightly nominated for best original score sadly losing out to Soul. Right from the opening cue entitled Hymn for Nina, one just knows that this is going to be a score that is special. The composer has fashioned a soundtrack that is varied in its musical make up and one that is wonderfully thematic and hauntingly beautiful. The score is also superbly edgy and has to it an apprehensive undertone, which is dark but at the same time remains melodic. At certain point’s the music evoked for me personally an atmosphere of the vintage film noir movies, the composers use of strings being inventive and striking. At times the performances from the string section being sinewy and alluring. With solo violin or cello being utilized over the top of the apprehensive background, the solo performance being tender and filled with emotion whilst the underlying strings remain darker and more ominous sounding.

The composer also employs solo piano to great effect and again combines this with solo cello convey an atmosphere that is filled with a romantic but slightly bitter-sweet sound. The movie, which is helmed by Killing Eve director Emerald Fennel, is a tantalizing and interesting motion picture which focuses upon revenge and is a story that is not only entertaining but exciting. The score compliments, supports and elevates the films storyline and enhances the actions on screen. It is subtle, but also affecting, seamlessly moving from romantic sounding cues, to easy listening pieces and then into shadowy and sinister sounding passages. At certain points within the score I was reminded of the romantic and melodic music of Ennio Morricone, which I first noticed in the opening cue with the composer utilising Female wordless voice, and then again with the sound achieved in the track Cassie, but this is make no mistake an original work, and also an attractive and affecting one. The more atonal cues are thematic and entertaining, with the composer relaying at times a Herrman-esque musical persona. The soundtrack release includes a Thriller Suite which has a running time of just over eight minutes, and a Romance Suite which is shorter at around three minutes or so , I urge you to check this out, you will be richer for hearing it. Recommended.

THEM and THE UNHOLY.

To say that composer Mark Korven is inventive, innovative, and pioneering is such an understatement. I loved his score for VVitch and am in awe of his work for the latest Amazon original TV series Them.  One can never say that this composer writes themes so that fans or collectors can listen to them away from the project that they are composed for, he writes to serve the picture solely and foremost, and his work within the horror genre is outstanding and highly original.

Mark Korven.

Them contains a score that in one word is Harrowing, the composer making brilliant use of voices, to further unbalance the watching audiences and punctuate, enhance, and support the visuals. His use of percussive elements too is striking and imaginative. This tense and unsettling soundtrack is a treat for true horror fans as they will understand fully that the composer is creating an even greater atmosphere for an already unnerving series. This is a truly remarkable work, modern sounding, at times guttural and for most of the time dark to the point of engulfing any listener. The orchestrations and performances are wonderfully shadowy and resoundingly affecting. It is a driving work at times, vibrant and electrifying as in it never holds back and always delivers that unexpecting twist and shock. A great score, worth a listen, but not alone.

Another score that must be heard is The Unholy by Joseph Bishara, this unbelievably talented actor, filmmaker and composer once again creates a score that sends a succession of shudders through one’s body, this is a tour de force of the scary and frightening. The music never relenting in its job to underline what is occurring on screen and at the same time sending panic and distress to the audience before anything has happened, Bishara is a master at creating music and sounds that are like a pre-cursor to the horror or the violence, As any film music fan that decides to listen away from the movie will tell you. Like his scores for movies such as The Conjuring and Insidious it never allows the audience any respite, and at times Bishara’s music and soundscapes are in fact more terrifying than what is happening in the story on screen.

Joseph Bishara.

The Unholy however does have a kind of celestial sounding side to it, with the composer employing voices to great effect, which do create a false sense of security for any audience or listener, but this is good, as he is doing his job and fashioning a score that not only supports but becomes a part of the story. If you are a connoisseur of horror score’s then this and Mark Korven’s Them is right up your dark, foggy, sinister alley. May I recommend that you listen to Them, then The Reckoning by Christopher Drake followed by The Unholy, a great trio of music from modern day horrors and its nowhere near Halloween yet. .

Three new releases from movie score media.

Three new releases from the ever-industrious Movie Score Media, and all are interesting as well as being entertaining and innovative. The first is from a drama come comedy about the Irish mob, entitled Be Good or be Gone. The score which is a mix of both comedic interludes and highly emotional passages, is the work of Joseph Conlan, the sound that he has achieved for this soundtrack is a fusion of the quirky and the romantic and dramatic. I have to say I like the way in which the composer utilizes the piano and the way in which he manages to purvey a delicate yet at the same time powerful musical atmosphere. The music manages to weave its way throughout the storyline adding depth and conjuring up dark and light moods with its textural shading, and colorful ambience. The movie is billed as a dramedy, which of course is a combination of both shadowy and lighter elements. The music conveys these varying atmospheres perfectly and although is not a large scale or indeed grandiose work, is still an immensely enjoyable one. The composer makes imaginative use of percussion throughout, but I thought was more prominent in the cues entitled Mr. Darius and the Histrionics, and Robbery Gone Wrong.  The composer fashions a rather subtle and low-key score to be fair, and at times I was reminded of the subdued and sparse sound that is sometimes employed by the likes of Thomas Newman, with hints of themes and a gentle but affecting musical persona being developed as the score itself grows and progresses. The movie which is directed by Cathal Nally focuses upon two petty thieves who are also cousin’s Ste and Weed, who receive a temporary release from prison. The story unfolds over a four-day period, where we witness just what kind of misfortunes befall them both. This is certainly worth checking out and will be available on April 9th.

The next release from MSM, is the score for the drama The Lawyer, music courtesy of Lithuanian composer Ieva Marija Baranauskaite. The soundtrack is a mainly a jazz orientated work, but has to it a rather downbeat sound, this however does not spoil in any way the impact and the excellence of the work. The movie which focuses upon a gay corporate lawyer who after the death of his long absent Father finds unexpected love with Ali a Syrian refugee who is stranded in Belgrade. The score smolders and becomes sensual and pleasingly melodic as one gets further into it. The composer utilizing piano, sax, and brushed percussion to create an easy going but at the same time rather sad sounding work.  It’s a score that one can easily leave in the player to repeat over and over, and never tire of it. Worth a listen and again available on April 9th.  

The third release on the Movie Score Media label which will also be released on the 9th of April is the music from the Lockdown horror movie, Held, music by Richard Breakspear. Which is totally the opposite in sound, style and direction to the two previous releases. The atmospheric and at times chaotic and harrowing movie tells the story of a couple whose marriage is beginning to fall apart, and their relationship is put further to the test when they are held hostage in an out of the way holiday home. Their captor is an unseen voice who gives them instructions and runs their lives. Directed by Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff, the musical score is in no way a melodic one, the composer opting to score the film in a more atonal fashion, creating harrowing sonic sounds and edgy backgrounds, making it sharp and claustrophobic in its overall sound, this is not a work for the feint hearted, the music is tense, dramatic, and intense. Recommended for the jumpy and apprehensive components within.