The long awaited LE MANS 66 or FORD VS FERRAI as it is known in the United States hit the screens this week and by the look of it the critics and the audiences love it, there is certainly a chemistry between Matt Damon and Christian Bale on and off screen as we can witness in the movie and also in the numerous interviews that they have be doing on TV etc in recent days. It’s a story of the underdog, which of course everyone loves and shouts for, I know I do. The film is powerful, exciting and also funny and keeps one fixated throughout. The direction is polished and flawless and also the supporting cast are as excellent as the main players. I know a lot of people will remember the movie LE MANS which starred Steve McQueen which was in cinemas back in the 1970.s. This too was a brilliant movie and is now considered a classic, the musical score for this was written by French Maestro Michel Legrand, and although probably not as memorable as some of his other film scores, still on listening today stands the test of time and remains fresh and vibrantly melodic with ample amounts of dramatic writing as well. For the new movie LE MANS 66, the music has been penned by Hollywood Composers Marco Beltrami and Buck Saunders. This is initially musically very removed from Legrand’s approach to the subject, but as they say its horses for courses and in this case I must say I do prefer the less melodic and syrupy approach of Beltrami and Saunders, this is a score that will tantalise and excite, it is at times just relentless and contains some inventive writing for the more animated scenes within the movie, but saying this there are also some nice interludes which are pretty groovy and retro as in the short lived HENRY FORD THE SECOND and also the jazz orientated FERRARI FACTORY which is a laid back piece for piano, bass and drums which are at ties brushed and almost sleazy. The jazz vibe is carried on throughout the score with the cue PHOTOS TO FIAT sounding like something out of a John Barry score, but for me it is the up beat fast paced cues that attract the attention more, not simply because they are overflowing with a rapid and driving persona but also because of the composer’s inventiveness creating themes that shine through all of the high octane effects, Track 14 for example CHASING BANDINI, is not symphonic or lush in any way, but there is still a theme emerging throughout as the composer’s utilise percussion and guitar to great effect which they underline with even more driving elements to fashion an exhilarating and absorbing composition.
Then in a quieter moment MILES DID IT(track 16) we are treated to a semi lilting theme for guitar which has to it a melancholy and subtle mood. Within the score there is some interesting instrumentation, including organ, that at times I thought evoked the easy listening sound achieved by composers such as Morricone, Nicolai, Piccioni or Umiliani back in the 1960,s, in fact there is a sound within the score that is very Italian retro at times which I found appealing and entertaining. TEAM PLAYER for example could easily be a theme for either a western or Giallo movie. There is just something within the score and its overall sound and style that for me anyway is alluring and interesting. The closing track is probably one of the most infectious and foot taping pieces I have heard for a while, bluesy. Hill billy sound with rock and roll thrown in, LE MANS 59 takes the score out on a high. In my opinion this is a score that you will either love or hate, but in my case, it is the former, worth checking out and adding to your collection as soon as you can.
SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, what a superbly unsettling title, it leaves little to the imagination realy one just knows these are going to be deliciously jumpy and filled with fearsome and unnerving elements. But like all horror movies, TV series etc, the role of the composer and his score is so important. This movie has been well hyped and much anticipated and when it was announced that composer Marco Beltrami was on board things got even more interesting.
Beltrami we all know started to get noticed via his operatic and dramatic sounding soundtracks for The SCREAM franchise, and also for wonderfully powerful scores for fairly low budget affairs such as THE FACULTY and THE MINUS MAN, the composer has graduated to being an A list Maestro and has worked on a number of highly successful motion pictures such as HELLBOY,TERMINATOR 3,UNDERWORLD EVOLUTION and the re-boot of THE OMEN. But he is more than a composer of music for horror films as his glowing CV displays, working on over a hundred assignments all varying genres. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is a collaboration between Beltrami and another gifted but not that well known composer Anna Drubich who has worked on over 40 assignments including TV series and motion pictures.
Born in Moscow where she began to play piano aged eight, She, has scored movies such as ANNA KARENINA (2009), BOLSHOY (2017) and ODESSA (2019). With two such talented composers working on SCARY STORIES the music cannot fail to be appealing and commanding, it is an interesting score as in although it is atonal in many areas it also holds within it an attraction and an alluring thematic musical identity. All the horror trademarks are present, crashing and tumbling effects that are supported by strings and growling brass, eerie sounding half heard sounds that entice and then jump out on you as if from nowhere, and there is an underlying dark and shadowy presence that is even lurking within the more lilting and relaxed cues, it is if it is trying to tell the audience and the listener that all is not as relaxed as it looks on screen or sounds on the films soundtrack. The score makes effective use of racing and urgent sounding percussive elements that themselves are pushed and driven along via strange and unusual orchestrations and instrumentation, which to be honest makes this even more interesting and compelling. There is another sound or style present that seems to run under the main score, it is a virulent and fearsome component but works well as a kind of sub theme or a variant of the score, fusing and at times sounding as if it is fighting with the main themes to create an atmosphere that is filled with dread and also one that seeps through and unleashes a chaotic but deadly slice of foreboding which spreads and eventually overflows.
The use of female voice within the score is highly effective, it conjures up an otherworldly mood which is beautiful and effecting and contains an emotive quality, but at times becomes somewhat harrowing and creates a nervous or unsettling atmosphere. I found the entire work entertaining and brimming with a vibrant and brooding musical persona that we so readily associate with horror scores and with the music of Beltrami when scoring movies within the horror genre. Check it out, but not alone or in the dark.
LONG SHOT is a romantic comedy that was released recently (2019). Directed by Johnathan Levine, the film stars Seth Rogan who is a journalist that reunites with his former baby-sitter Charlize Theron who just happens to be the U.S. Secretary of State, the musical score is the work of two composers, Marco Beltrami who for this project teams up with Miles Hankins, who is a composer that maybe we are not too familiar, but it is true to say that Hankins has worked on numerous movie scores in Hollywood, but has not received a major credit on screen as he has provided either additional music or worked in some way on the scores other than main composer. His credits include A QUIET PLACE, Marvel’s FANTASTIC FOUR and received a nomination for a sports Emmy for his work on the documentary BEING SERENA. The score for LONG SHOT is unlike many of Beltrami’s other film scores, but I suppose I am categorizing the composer unfairly because I know that many when hearing Beltrami’s name think of horror films such as SCREAM, THE FACULTY and HELLBOY to mention just a few. LONG SHOT is a great soundtrack, it has to it a varied and wonderfully diverse collection of themes that range from action fuelled to light and even romantically laced. There to is a wonderful comedic aura to the score, but what I impressed by was the sheer diversity of the music, one minute we are listening to a luxurious sounding track filled with plush strings as in BUENOS AIRES which reminded me somewhat of the style of Alfred Newman’s love theme from AIRPORT. Then we are treated to the simple but effective FRED’S THEME which is introduced to us in a short but very sweet cue on the album via piano. Guitar and strings. Then we have, track number 4, HOSTAGE SAVED THE MOTHER-FXXXXXX, which is a stirring and highly patriotic sounding piece filled with bravado and a rich abundance of fanfares etc. The majority of the work is somewhat low key, but nevertheless works well within the movie and is an entertaining listen away from the images it was intended to support. Sensitively scored by both Beltrami and Hankins LONG SHOT I have to say was a pleasant surprise for me and is a soundtrack I have re-visited a few times now since my initial listen. Check this one out I am sure you will be pressing the play button again and again.
Marco Beltrami has always been a composer that I have admired and have in 99 percent of cases loved his work for film. First memories of Beltrami’s music was like so many other people the SCREAM series, I thought he did a great job in the series and managed to get the right balance between horror and comedy, because after all in my humble opinion the SCREAM movies were kind of a send up at times of other slasher movies as they were called. Beltrami’s scores for the series were an important and integral part of the movies, at times his scores reaching an almost operatic level, with the use of sombre strings rasping brass’s and female vocal. One of the latest releases from the ever industrious Movie Score Media label is MATHILDE, this is a Russian movie that was released last year(2017), so it is probably a film that not a great deal of people will have seen or indeed have heard of, but once again thanks to Mikael at MSM, we have a chance to savour a great score that is literally dripping in romanticism and filled with epic sounding themes. The storyline relates to the watching audience the supposed relationship between the then heir to the Russian throne Nicholas Romanov and the Ballerina, Matilda Kshesinskaya, the film opens in 1890, when we see the couple meet for the first time. It follows the somewhat uneasy and tormented relationship between the pair up until Nicholas and his wife Aleksandra become Tsar and Tsarina six years later.
Apparently, Beltrami was drawn to the project because of the period and the history and the lavish sets and costumes that were part of the production. Beltrami fuses both synthetic and symphonic colours and textures to create a robust and theme laden work, that is haunting as well as entertaining, the underlying tone is romantic, but this is tinged and at times itself underlined by a sound and style that is dark and threatening. Although the composer utilises electronics within the score these do not in any way sound out of place or uncomfortable given the period in which the movies story is set. The composer effectively combining traditional musical sounds as in conventional instrumentation with contemporary synthetics to fashion a score that is filled with drama, romance, fragility and a fair amount of apprehension and darkness. At times I was reminded of the style of Jerry Goldsmith, with bold brass flourishes and fearsome sounding percussion, but there are many sides to this work, and I hope there is something for everyone. The central theme in-particular which is for Mathilde is strikingly beautiful, the composer presenting it throughout in various arrangements and guises. Strings and piano being utilised in most cases and at times with lilting woods and delicately performed harpsichord also entering the musical equation. It has to it an imposing but at the same time melodic persona, like many of the composers earlier works, as in THE FACULTY and the already mentioned SCREAM movies, at times the music attaining a level and richness that one associates with opera or classical composers. One for the collection, yes most certainly.
In cinema history there have been many what people call re-makes of classic movies, one of the latest stories to get a make over is BEN HUR, now the 1959 version of the movie with CHARLTON HESTON,(did you hear the fanfare, and see the cast of thousands, when I said his name, in that booming trailer voice over style) was and still is a remarkable movie, it is a great film, and in fact every thing about it is epic and iconic. Its ironic however that the new version which seems to be annoying cinema goers or watchers of the film rather than entertain them is being compared with the 1959 version, which when you think about it was itself a re-make of the silent version of the story. But, Hey come on guys everything should be given a chance ,right? Hello that’s right isn’t it people? Anybody there? Seriously I don’t expect this new version of BEN HUR to be anything like the 1959 take on the story, it cant be can it? But I was in fact not that interested in the film but was intrigued by the film score by Marco Beltrami, when I saw it announced that he would score the film I was interested to see or hear what he would do with it musically. Beltrami in my opinion is a very talented composer, I have followed his career right from the early days and it was evident right from the off that he was a composer of note that could easily adapt his musical style to any genre of film. He is not as many thought merely a slasher/horror film music smith but can also turn his hand to create rousing themes for westerns, adventure movies and also tender romantic scenarios and when you think about it his scores for the horror genre are pretty operatic and imposing. So BEN HUR, would this be a chariot race to many, well I am pleased to say he has risen to the challenge and created a score that is stirring and filled with strong and melodic thematic material. Ok its not Miklos Rozsa but was he trying to be I doubt it very much, anyone who aspires to outshine Rozsa,s inspirational, gorgeously rich and momentous soundtrack is surely going to be thrown to the lions in the arena. Or given a bad review… Released by Sony Classical BEN HUR (2016) contains a soundtrack that although is suitably periodic in its sound and style evoking images of the pomp and ceremony and brutality of ancient Rome also has to it a somewhat contemporary feel and atmosphere. I am not sure but I think I do detect the use of synthetic strings in certain parts which for me did spoil the effect and the ambience a little, but I suppose in these days of restricted budgets things have to be adapted and also approaches and working practices alter.
The opening track THE BEN HUR THEME is a lilting and highly emotional piece, with layered strings acting as a background to a poignant violin solo, which introduces a pleasant and effecting soprano solo, this in turn acts as an introduction to a more pronounced version of the central theme performed by strings woodwind and brass with choir giving its support. The theme reaches its crescendo and then the track melts away with woodwind taking the cue to its end. Track number two BEN AND ESTHER is a short lived but haunting piece again the composer bringing into play the BEN HUR THEME, performed on woods with subtle support from the string section. Track number three is where for me it all goes a little out of kilter with the subject matter, JERUSALEM 33 AD is dramatic yes, but it is for me too contemporary sounding and it’s a theme that would not be out of place in any one of the thousands of Marvel comic book superhero movies that are doing the rounds at the moment. So moving on we go to track number four, CARRYING JUDAH, the composer re-introduces briefly female solo voice, but this is just a fleeting performance, the cue then transforming into a more down tempo dramatic piece for strings and percussive elements. I once spoke to Gabriel Yared about his score for TROY he said the reason he was given for its rejection was that it was too modern sounding, well I think I have the same problem here with Beltrami,s BEN HUR, its true to say that there are numerous references that can be deemed as being suitable for a story set in this period in history, but for me there are just to many modern sounding nuances and quirks of orchestration. This is a good soundtrack, as in there are many themes and beautiful melodies listen to the cue MESSALA AND TIRZAH and you will hear evidence of the romanticism and delicate colours that the composer employs , but is it suitable for a story set in the times of Ancient Rome? I will leave that up to you to decide, take a listen.