Sunday, 30 March 2014

Grand Piano Score Review

Grand Piano
Check it out... if sublime piano-based movements interest you in the slightest, or you like film music in general!

Skip it... if a 27 minute movement is much too long for your taste to stomach.

I've always been troubled by the notion that piano-based scores are going out of fashion and popularity, because they're often full of such blissful, brilliant music, and commonly find their way into my best of lists at the end of the year. Just last year, Austin Wintory's Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine, another piano-based score, obliterated the competition in the Best Video Game category, with all but one instrument. I honestly never thought that a score like Monaco (piano-based) would come into contact with my ears so quickly afterwards, but Grand Piano has arrived, and I'm confident it's going to sweep the awards towards the end of the year.

Victor Reyes' Grand Piano is riddled with various classical composers standards, and flies them high, along with his Reyes' own technical mastery. This score has already won a great deal of awards in the soundtrack industry, and for good damn reason. From beginning to end, there is no end to the awe-inspiring, near magical music, that has you on cloud 9 the entire run through. For someone like myself whom has an incredibly short attention span, an 11 minute long piece is a challenging and daunting prospect to face, but I'll gladly accept it multiple times, as Reyes consistently proves it to be a worthwhile effort. It's some of the most satisfying music I've had the joy of listening to. Every set, every riff, every note is mind dazzling and somewhat confusing; as to how an individual can play what Reyes has constructed is beyond a simple listener like myself! It's listening experiences like this that take me back to my first introduction to the world of orchestral film music; the first time I heard The Dark Knight, by Hans Zimmer, I simply couldn't keep my mouth closed. I'd only recently began learning the flute, as is my school's custom when you're welcomed in as a year 7 student, and I had come to know the difficulty with learning and performing with any individual instrument. I was utterly confused as to how music could be manipulated and delivered in the forms that it was being delivered in throughout The Dark Knight, and I'm suddenly getting the same feeling here, for the first time in a whole 2 years. The final piece on the card La Cinquette was a masterclass in classical piano, and showed me what you can really do with one instrument. If I thought Monaco was an inspiring showcase for the piano, than this score goes above and beyond.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

300: Rise of an Empire (2014) Film Review

300: Rise of an Empire Poster
Title: 300: Rise of an Empire
Director: Noam Murro
Screenwriter/s: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad
Length: 102 minutes
Year of Release: 2014

300: Rise of an Empire a film directed by Noam Murro, and stars Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green and Lena Headey. It is a sequel to one of the more quotable war films of the past decade, 300, and takes place before, during and after the events that took place in 300. Sullivan Stapleton's character, Themistocles, leads his fellow Athenian men into a war with the Persian leader Xerxes, and his right hand woman, Artemsia.

300 is one of the most badass films you should ever have the pleasure of watching. It's was Zack Snyder's attempt at defining a genre, and he did that pretty damn well convincingly. This sequel is undoubtedly questionable, and at first seems unnecessary, after the success of the previous film; on the Rotten Tomatoes consensus, 300 just made it in with a positive rating (60%), and will forever be remembered as one of the best action films from the 2000's, not necessarily because it's smart and intriguing, like, say, The Dark Knight, but because of it's quotability and near perfect action. The use of slow motion hadn't been utilized in every Roman Empire styled action film prior to 2006 and 300's release, so at that point in time, you felt like it was a stylistic statement made by Snyder, instead of an overused feature. 300 helped this genre in film along by miles, and now films like 300 are popping up all over the place; just this year, we had a 300 wannabe in The Legend of Hercules, one of the worst films I've ever seen. It's use of slow motion during the action scenes was clumsy and poorly done, to say the least, and the CGI was all atrocious. Almost in answer, Snyder and Kurt Johnstad responded with 300: Rise of an Empire, a film that chronicles before, during and after the events of the previous film. We have a new director this time around in Noam Murro, a man whom I've never heard of before, unfortunately. Well, here's the introduction I was requiring! I can almost picture Snyder inviting Renny Harlin, director of The Legend of Hercules, to a private screening, just to show him how it's done, how to make a film like this work. Because despite 300: Rise of an Empire's faults, it's a damn awesome film! 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Noah Score Review

Title: Noah
Composer/s: Clint Mansell
Length: 1 hour, 14 minutes
Track Count: 22 tracks
Year of Release: 2014

The onslaught of biblical-based entertainment, both released this year and last, has been a difficult time for myself. Not only do I disagree with these film and television show's source material and it's validity, but I also despise the vast majority of these films and television shows as entertainment! Last year's The Bible was dull and never really held my attention. The score for the show, by Hans Zimmer, is equally as dull. I generally hold Zimmer in high esteem, but I'm being generous when I say that the score was decent. Son of God was a cut down version of The Bible, except made for film this time, and the score was pretty much a remix of the original. Uninspired and unoriginal, it was yet more disappointing than it's predecessor! Now we have Noah, a film directed by the great Darren Aronofsky, a favourite director of mine, who has headed great films such as The Wrestler, Black Swan and Requiem For A Dream. The score is composed by Clint Mansell, a man whom I've never heard of before, who composes most of Aronofsky's work. I'd say it would be a great time to get acquainted with this Aronofsky collaborator with Noah! Let's dive in!

Noah is an orchestral score, which relies on an elaborate and brilliant string ensemble in Kronos Quartet for the vast majority of the score, and for this it deserves high acclaim. It's been a long time since I've had the pleasure of listening to a score with such an emphasis on strings. Austin Wintory's The Banner Saga had a lot of string action, yet it wasn't ever a major focal point for the entire score, despite it's importance. Here, though, Mansell lets the strings lead for the vast majority of the running time, and this leads to both good and bad moments. The string ensemble should maintain a melody or theme when utilized best, in my opinion, and Mansell does use strings for that reason often. It's when he takes the strings, and puts them alongside the brass ensemble, and let's them carry on the background riffs, that this score struggles. Those strings are really the centre piece for this score, and when they're heading the background, we have a problem! Fortunately, though, not all is bad when the strings take a step back, as Mansell utilizes all the orchestra in as many ways as possible, from subtle acoustic and electric guitars, to beautiful vocals, and some irresistible percussion work, which is highlighted best with the timpani work. For any aspiring composers, this is a score which I would suggest; whilst not everything fits in place perfectly, the written material is near perfection. Mansell creates some awe-inspiring pieces that have music that is technically stunning, without being too inflated or complex. The sound production, inclusion of foreign and somewhat unknown instruments that all add to the atmosphere that Mansell has attempted to create, and hum-worthy thematic material, all makes for something that can be considered brilliantly composed music, which never tries anything too spectacular. Keeping it simple and to the point!

Despite Noah's relative spectacle and brilliance, there are actually few standout pieces in the 22 that are included on the card. The best piece on the card, undoubtedly, is track 8, Every Creeping Thing That Creeps, which is a 5 minute suite on what biblical music should sound like. Take note Hans; if you ever get called back for another of these projects, keep it simple, and lose the edge that the violin had all throughout the piece Faith! You don't need anything that ear-piercingly horrendous! You can still represent the time that the film takes place in without losing the vast majority of your orchestra, and leaving the score on the incapable shoulders of the string ensemble, solely, and your synth board! Yes, Mansell takes advantage of synthesizers every now and again, but they only push the score along, or serve as short bursts of filler. They don't take up entire pieces! Mansell never forgets the time period he's composing for, yet he still makes aesthetically pleasing music, incorporating instruments and parts of the orchestra which I mentioned earlier that seem to be outside the norm for this genre of music. For his intentional abandoning of tradition where biblical films are concerned alone, he deserves a pat on the back from myself! It's pieces like Every Creeping Thing That Creeps that highlight the compositional skill of Mansell, as well as the straying from everything we seem to expect from the genre.

You can certainly identify it's biblical routes, yet Noah encompasses variety and thematic material which surpasses your average biblical sourced film or television score. It doesn't have as many highlights as it should, that is for sure, yet still, this is a truly fantastic score, that despite it's shortcomings, has been very well received by myself.

5. The Fallen Ones
8. Every Creeping Thing That Creeps*
9. I Will Destroy Them
13. Your Eyes Shall Be Opened, And Ye Shall Be As Gods
14. The Flood Waters Were Upon The World
16. The Judgement Of Man
17. The Spirit Of The Creator Moved Upon The Face Of The Waters
19. What Is This That Thou Hast Done?*
22. Day And Night Shall Not Cease*

Junkie Score: 90.00
Buy or Stream? Buy

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Friday, 21 March 2014

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Score Review

Title: Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Composer/s: Howard Shore
Length: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Track Count: 18 tracks
Year of Release: 2001

With the final installment in Middle-Earth hitting us at the end of this year, I thought it quite necessary to delve into all the individual scores within the Peter Jackson Middle-Earth franchise that I haven't reviewed yet; that's right, from Fellowship to An Unexpected Journey! I'll be revisiting each chapter in the franchise every so often, leading up to the release of the final Howard Shore Middle-Earth score. It's quite sad, to think of it like that. But without further ado, let's explore the first piece in the puzzle, Fellowship of the Ring!

Peter Jackson's first exploration into the realm of epic fantasy turned out to be the least satisfying of films for myself. Fellowship as a film feels oddly paced, and feels disconnected with itself; the first act and second acts of the film don't slot together well to create a single, coherent film that follows a single direction the entire running period. Despite this fault, Fellowship is still filled to the brim with amazing action sequences, an incredibly versatile range of locations, and top-notch performances. Apart from pacing, there really is nothing to fault within Fellowship of the Ring; high esteem, for a very good film. Even Tolkien purists, for the most part, could rest easy. The vast majority of the film was well transferred from the book, as was Jackson's intention. Unlike so many directors and screenwriters nowadays who butcher the source material they are trying to adapt, Jackson set to bringing the world that Tolkien had created to life, whilst staying as faithful to the source material through the entire duration of the production. 

Leading up to the release of the films and their subsequent scores, fans of film music stipulated on the composer who would be undertaking the juggernaut that is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Many mistakenly expected that veteran composer James Horner would helm the music, thanks to his knowledge in the fantasy realm. These rumors would be proven false when Howard Shore was announced as the official composer for the trilogy of films. The scoring world held a collective gasp at the announcement; Howard Shore was certainly not someone who was experienced in the way of fantasy. His scores for Silence of the Lambs and The Fly had him typecast as a dark, horror composer, who impressed more with subtlety than grandeur, the kind of music that would be required for the films. Yet, despite the outrage from listeners everywhere, Shore set to work to compose, orchestrate and produce 12 hours of music within 4 years; a mammoth operation that very few composers can boast of. Whilst James Horner may have more naturally fit into the role of composer for the 3 films, a range of factors allowed Shore to comfortably attain the nod of approval from Jackson and his producers; his skill with an incredibly large number of instruments, his intricate, detailed writing ability, and his careful boldness. Whilst Horner is undoubtedly a brilliant composer, Shore is simply more suited to applying a rich number of versatile, ranging themes for all aspects of the huge world of Middle-Earth. Providing those versatile themes is exactly what Shore did; he provided an incredibly large number of themes, all for different aspects of Middle-Earth, including themes for near all our main characters, races that exist within the fantastical world, as well as locations. All this he does without necessarily reusing any material and themes he had already established and elaborated upon; Shore would take the basis from something that had been introduced formerly, and expand upon it, to explore more layers of the world. 12 hours of music was composed, and never did any of it feel rehashed. It's a marvel in composition skill.

Without a doubt, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is one of the best scores ever composed. There is so much rich variety in everything that is indulged in within the score, that you simply are never less than fully engrossed and entertained by what Shore has provided. The main theme, for example, one of the most recognizable and brilliant themes in film scoring history, is a thematically perfect set, which recognizes the vast size and beauty of all of Middle-Earth, and respects that within the music. It's a theme that sets the stage for the entire score, and the tone that will be undertaken; bold adventure! Whilst a lot of fantasy scores are driven by the action pieces, or those most subtle, slight moments, Shore consistently stays true to what the source material and film aspire towards, that being the tone for adventure. Shore looks towards expressing the unknown within the music; from the beginning of the film and score, our hero Frodo is simply accustomed to the way of his small community, The Shire. From there, Frodo and his companions must venture into unknown territory, and Shore represents that aspect of the film perfectly. You explore material throughout the score that sounds like nothing heard previously, all darker than the former. You can almost picture the story in your head, thanks to the effect the music has. You understand in musical form what is happening; the hero is venturing into the dark abyss. Shore represents that dark abyss with material that is thematically accomplished, and beautiful.

Shore takes measures to make sure you understand that all factions, races and individuals within the story are interconnected. The balance of the world has all of the different races depending on each other for survival, and this is respected and realised within the music. Small similarities and bridges between themes allow you to understand this, all woven together seamlessly, despite the fact that all themes and motifs are individual and relative to their own respective properties and lands. It's masterfully done, seeing as all the themes for the individuals and races are so diverse. It's as if Shore set himself challenges along the road to completion, seeking out the most obviously painstaking approaches, which would have the best effect in both the film's context, and album's context. This is an incredibly well thought out score, that brings together not only the best in Howard Shore, but the best in orchestral music in general. I've always thought classical music to be the most charismatic and well composed orchestral brand out there, and paired with the intoxicating atmosphere of the Lord of the Rings realm, we have a match made in heaven. Shore's most unparalleled approach for such a mammoth task is something that deserves incredible acclaim, as despite the fact that there are 12 hours of music Shore needed to develop, all original and involving, Shore has created something that is composed with classical grandeur wholeheartedly, and with the majestic, epic grace of James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams combined. All brilliant composers, no doubting that, yet Howard combines the adventure and ambitiousness that often accompanies Horner's scores, Goldsmith's inventiveness and willingness to look outside the box for uncommon sounds that add to the individual persona of the score, and William's skill in constructing elaborate, fleshed out themes and character driven music. All together, combined, and it makes for some insanely beautiful, heart wrenching and captivating orchestral music. 

On the original score release, consisting of 18 tracks, every piece is a highlight, with a few pieces standing out with individual moments and riffs which truly take you aback. The most commonly acclaimed piece in the entire score, by my account, is the piece The Bridge of Khazad Dum, which initally elaborates on the theme for the trilogy, followed by harrowing, exciting, brass-based melodies, which all comes to a sudden conclusion, before reigniting with one of the most devastatingly emotional sets in scoring history. The priceless (more likely not!) use of the vocals turns Khazad Dum into something of it's own, and nothing else on the entire score can simply match the emotional gravity and complexity that is instilled within the piece. The instantly recognizable Hobbit theme makes it's first appearance in Concerning Hobbits, again, one of the stand out pieces on the card, that has me dancing and hopping more often than not! It's such a blissful theme, comprised of a faultless tin whistle solo, followed by a sharp and appropriate melody delivered by a fiddle. It's a parting from the rest of the tone that the score takes, which is something that I welcome happily. Parting from the original release, the Complete Recordings, released in 2005, includes 3 hours of insanely well cultivated music, that despite the enormous length that often wards off less enthusiastic listeners, consistently provides reinvigorating, fresh music which never seem to tire. If you feel up to the challenge, listening to the 3 hour recordings will be bliss for your mind. If you're like me, your attention span simply won't hold out that long, no matter how concentrated and determined you are! No matter; taking the recordings in short bursts seems to prove worthwhile and fruitful. It is outstanding and utterly unbelievable to behold, despite the fact that I've listened to the recordings quite a few times, that Shore could've put so much time and effort towards a single film. Never ending praise flutters from my lips and fingertips, every single time the music begins. It's not hard to believe that Shore won an Oscar from his work on Fellowship; it's just too damn inventive and engrossing to discard as a nominee, and anything less than an award-worthy score. 

When people ask me of my favourite score, I tell them Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. It is not because my love for the films are unparalleled, and I feel an obligation to reward it highest marks. It is because Shore's timeless dedication and skill is unprecedented in not only the fantasy-epic genre, but in general. This trilogy of work is unmatched, and Fellowship is the opening and greatest chapter to that trilogy, and for that, it earns nothing but praise.

Junkie Score: 100
Buy or Stream? Buy (Duh!)

I will be listing highlights during the next installment of this set of reviews. I just saw it as unnecessary, seeing that I state how every piece is a highlight!

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Monday, 17 March 2014

Knights of Badassdom (2014) Film Review

Knights of Badassdom Poster
Title: Knights of Badassdom
Director: Joe Lynch
Screenwriter/s: Kevin Dreyfuss, Matt Wall 
Length: 86 minutes
Year of Release: 2014 (US Release)

Knights of Badassdom is a film directed by Joe Lynch, and stars Ryan Kwanten, Steve Zahn, Summer Glau and the brilliant Peter Dinklage, and is a film about a group of LARPers (Live Action Role Players) who accidentally conjure up a demon from hell during a weekend of LARPing. 

For someone who has no interest in LARPing, I was surprised to see that I was excited for this film. It wasn't just the inclusion of Peter Dinklage that had me on for the ride; it was tone that the trailers set that really hooked me. Remember the tone for the film Kickass? That's what I was expecting from this film; gory, fast paced, loud, physical comedy. And was Knights of Badassdom everything that I expected... not really! The last two points I was correct in assigning; this film had a lot of loud, physical comedy, which for the most part I enjoyed. But fast paced comedy? Certainly not. When I think of fast paced comedy, my mind runs back to Shane Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a pretty damn good film. The film has constant back and forth, with jokes flying left, right and centre. This film has comedy and laughs which simply take too long to take effect, and a lot of the jokes wear out quickly. Peter Dinklage and Steve Zahn do have some really brilliant physical moments, but apart from them, the rest of the cast couldn't nail the comedy side to the film, which really disappointed me. 

The screenplay and plot are mediocre to say the least, yet I feel like this was the intention of the director and screenwriters. Right from the beginning, you can see that this film never takes itself seriously, and that's one of the charms that I appreciated. Despite this, we do need to address the mediocre elements of the screenplay and plot that I simply can't dismiss completely. The plot is much too predictable, and the characters are just too cliched to care for. Ryan Kwanten's character, Joe, is the main protagonist, and he's everything you expect him to be. He's a reluctant-at-first hero, who eventually finds his inner strength and helps to save the day. Nothing new and original here, and Kwanten's performance doesn't at all help the character. The rest of the characters are again, everything you expect; Summer Glau is the heroic and strong female, Dinklage is the unlikely badass and Steve Zahn is the fool. Only Dinklage and Zahn really add anything important to their characters, as expected. The rest of the ensemble is sub-par at best. In terms of the plot, it's not original in the slightest, apart from the fact that few feature length films are centred around LARPing. The film begins with our main character being dumped by his girlfriend (never seen that before!), and then being taken to a LARPing session; a good enough environment and premise for a film. When a demon is summoned to the realm, thanks to some magic performed by Zahn, we have a common slasher film, starring our demon! There are maybe 3 scenes dedicated solely to the deaths of characters whom we know nothing about, and don't care for, thanks to the demon monster. These scenes serve no purpose whatsoever, and don't add anything to the film as a whole. They're simply gory, boring scenes, which have characters losing limbs, or their hearts (literally). Despite the rare twist that I honestly didn't see coming around halfway through the film, this is an incredibly generic film, plain and simple. 

Despite the pitfalls of the plot, characters and the screenplay as a whole, I did laugh quite a few times. Yes, the jokes I did laugh at were stupid and idiotic, yet I can't deny I found them quite funny. Most of the jokes that I laughed at were delivered by Dinklage, who fit the role he was given perfectly! He embraced the generic character and turned it into something hilarious; he deserves only props for his effort. Zahn also delivered some stupid, yet strangely funny humor which I did laugh at. It was his over the top attitude that made his character enjoyable. Steve Zahn commonly embraces physical comedy, and this performance of his is no different. Dinklage and Zahn, for me, saved this film as a whole. Despite the rest of the ensemble giving lackluster performances, these two men made the viewing experience somewhat enjoyable. 

  Knights of Badassdom is a generic film to say the least; when it comes down to the screenplay, direction and character building, you've seen it before, and undoubtedly done better. Yet, it has some kind of charm that I can't really explain. It never takes itself too seriously, which is something I enjoy seeing in a comedy, and some of the humor is quite hilarious. So despite the many pitfalls, Knights of Badassdom is a decent enough film experience.

Junkie Score: 6.0
Worth Admission Price? No

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Saturday, 15 March 2014

300: Rise of an Empire Score Review

Title: 300: Rise of an Empire
Composer/s: Junkie XL
Length: 1 hour, 8 minutes
Track Count: 16 tracks
Year of Release: 2014

The first really major sequel of the year, to my knowledge, is the sequel to Zack Snyder's somewhat masterpiece 300, a film which I thoroughly enjoy, despite my rating of 6.3. It's pretty much the damned definition of a popcorn flick; minimal plot, decent enough performances, amazing, stylistic, brilliant action! The sequel, this time directed by Noam Murro, takes place before, during and after the events of the previous film, and introduces us to a new main character in Themistocles, played by Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton. Whilst the critical response to the sequel isn't as good as the previous film in the franchise, this film is certainly to be, again, a decent popcorn flick. The score is composed by Junkie XL, the man behind last year's Paranoia, one of the best scores of the year, and is one that boasted a lot of anticipation by myself. Lets see how he fared!

This score is utterly brilliant. Sure, it has a few down points, where the pace and excitement is abolished, but for the vast majority of the play time, 300: Rise of an Empire is a brilliant ride. It's filled to the brim with some fantastic action riffs, and the theme is one of absolute bliss. Junkie XL has employed one of the best percussion ensembles I've seen in recent years. Even Hans Zimmer's Man of Steel from last year has a hard time keeping up with this score in excitement and energy! I can certainly see this getting a nomination and even a win for Best Action Score by the time the end of the year rolls around, as this has everything that a pure, brilliant action score requires. Fast, exciting tempo, amazing and heavy percussion, and a really enthusiastic air to it all. Even the electronic riffs and melodies are all outstanding. Junkie XL has proved himself to be a master in the way of synth, and this score only further that belief of mine. He's one of the best in the business at evoking emotion from artificial sounds; certainly not an easy task. Even the low points of the score are interesting and enjoyable. Despite the fact that there are a lot of pieces which didn't find their way onto the highlights list, don't mistake them all for being bad. Sure, there are certainly a few which are quite unremarkable. Yet still, the vast majority of the pieces on the card, highlighted or not, are all quite close to perfection. Its been a long time since I've found an action score with such near flawlessness, but apparently, I have! Pompeii was fantastic, but that was more disaster film than full on, testosterone filled action film like 300: Rise of an Empire is.

This is, like I mentioned, a testosterone filled score. Junkie XL is unrelenting in this furious, devastating score, which constantly hammers you with simplistic, loud riffs which are simply irresistible. You're going to be humming some of these melodies very soon into the future, I can guarantee you that! There are two sides to what Junkie has constructed; the synth-fest, and the percussion, action themes. Some listeners will enjoy one aspect and loath another, hate both, or appreciate both sides of the equation. Zimmer haters should back away from this score, because it has a lot of traits of the big man; a lot of repetition, some heavy use of synth, and a heap of percussion! If you enjoy Zimmer's style, though, you should quite enjoy this score. Being that I'm a huge Zimmer fan, for the most part, this sits perfectly on my shelf. Every big action riff is beautiful, as I see it. Near nothing came off as try hard, as many an action score can come off as to the listener's impression. This is a straight up, kick ass score.

There are some really subtle, saddening moments within the score, nearly all of which are on my highlights. History of the Greeks is a clear stand out; it's brilliantly composed, and actually quite emotional. Who would've thought something in an action film like this could come down to being emotional?! It's the slow rise to climax that made History of the Greeks so powerful, which is such a huge contrast to the blazing fury that Junkie infused into the rest of the score. Queen Gorgo's self titled piece is also an incredibly well composed and powerful piece that I thoroughly enjoyed. For the most part, the slower, emotional pieces that lie towards the end of the score are all brilliant stuff, to add to the size and power of the first brutal half an hour of this score.

For me, it all comes down to the first piece, History of Artemisia. This is, at this point in time, the best piece of 2014 so far. By the gods this is good stuff. It's crazy, furious, brilliant hammering music that lasts a good 9 and a half minutes. It's 9 and a half minutes of some of the best music you'll hear all year. You can expect a nomination for this score as a whole by the end of the year, but you can expect a win from this piece for best individual piece of the year. This is outstanding, high octane action music, with an abundance of brass, percussion and beautiful synth, that never slows down. I say that in a positive tone, as that is one of the joys. Never does that 9 and a half minutes feel like a struggle; that is no mean feat.  

Like Man of Steel, I feel like I'm in the minority on this one. I love this score, from beginning to end. There are points which did irritate me, certainly, yet these are undermined by the quality action pieces and grandeur that this score provides. This is going to earn some nominations from me, come end of year.

1. History of Artemisia*
2. Marathon
3. From Man to God King
4. Sparta
5. Artemisia's Childhood*
8. Fog Battle
10. Fire Battle*
11. Xerxes' Thoughts
12. Queen Gorgo*
13. Greeks on Attack
14. History of the Greeks*
15. Greeks are Winning*

Junkie Score: 95
Buy or Stream? Buy

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The Lego Movie Score Review

Title: The Lego Movie
Composer/s: Mark Mothersbaugh
Length: 58 minutes
Track Count: 28 tracks
Year of Release: 2014

*Short Review*

2014 has already been flooded with an abundance of really great scores; Tarzan, Pompeii, 300: Rise of an Empire; I'll review that some time into the near future, you needn't fear! Another score to add to that list of scores is certainly The Lego Movie. The film is already one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed films of 2014; it boasts an impressive 96% approval rate on Rotten Tomatoes, and already found it's way onto the IMDb Top 250 Films of All Time! The score is composed by relatively unknown composer Mark Mothersbaugh, a man who has been in the business of scoring for quite a number of years. He's worked on television scores for the most part, so this is surely quite a big project for the man. Lets hope he can pull it off! 

This score is both really fun, and really dramatic, and it nails both sides of the equation perfectly. There's a lot of really fun, quick, exciting pieces which have you smiling the entire way. The energetic and skillful use of electronic music contributes to the fun nature of the score. On the other side of the spectrum, Mothersbaugh adds a lot of vocal-based, slow moving drama to the score that is very well received by myself. Wyldstyle Explains, the 7th piece on the card, is really the introduction to the dramatic element of this score, and it couldn't have been done any better. There's a lot of peril that the rest of the score seems to lack quite a bit within these seemingly out of place pieces, and I appreciate it. 

Mothersbaugh does go a little overboard on the electrical element, every now and again. Some times, he simply blasts high toned electronic music, and it's not at all pleasant to the ears. It's a little reminiscent of Jukka Rintamaki and Johann Skugge's Battlefield 3 score, which constantly enlisted the help of irritating, badly produced synth, which contributed only pain and misery for the listener. I still regret listening to that abomination. Fortunately, Mothersbaugh declines are at odds with the ascents in composition skill and enticing energy. In all honesty, you're not going to remember the lows within this score; only the really awesome high points, of which there are many.

Mark Mothersbaugh's score for the film The Lego Movie is an engrossing, fun, nostalgic piece of work that begs for repeat listens. This is such an easy listen; you simply have to take a look into this one! Nearly everything on this score is awesome (bad pun)!

2. Prologue
6. Into The West
7. Wyldstyle Explains*
8. Emmet's Mind 
9. The Transformation
10. Saloons and Wagons
13. Cloud Cuckooland and Ben the Spaceman
14. Emmet's Speech
15. Submarines and Metal Beard
17. Reaching The Kragle
19. The Truth
20. Wyldstyle Leads*
22. I Am A Master Builder
23. My Secret Weapon*
24. We Did It!

Junkie Score: 89.76
Buy or Stream? Buy

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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Dark Knight Trilogy Score Review


I've been preparing this for a while; I wanted to deliver reviews to all three separately, but I saw this as an opportunity to review them as a compilation instead. Whilst the reviews aren't as fleshed out as they are usually, I believe they are adequate in portraying my thoughts on the scores. Enjoy!

Christopher Nolan's first piece in the puzzle for rejuvenating audience's attention towards the caped crusader, Batman, came as a startling surprise for everyone during 2005. After the hero fell so far from grace in 1997, with the atrocity Batman and Robin, audience's expected nothing more than a Batman film which looked towards Tim Burton's Batman for inspiration. But audiences were caught off guard by a smart, inventive, realistic portrayal of the superhero, and so Batman Begins quickly become a huge hit, for not only Christopher Nolan, but Warner Brother, and more importantly, DC Comics, whom had some tough years before the smash hit was released to audiences. DC had partnered with Warner Brothers in 2004 to release the universally hated Catwoman, starring Halle Berry, and needed to create something a little more realistic and relatable. Batman Begins was just that and quite a bit more, and so paved the way for the next branch of superhero films.

For the scoring side of things, Christopher Nolan set out to recruit Hans Zimmer. Zimmer then requested that Nolan take on James Newton Howard, a man of whom Zimmer had always wished he could collaborate with. And henceforth we have two very talented composers collaborating together on one of the biggest projects of 2005; revitalizing one of the biggest superheros in comic book history in the scoring sense. Their execution is both good and bad, but leaning more on the good side of things. Unlike the scores I'm to talk about after this, Batman Begins is filled with much less memorable music. The most outstanding piece in the entire effort is certainly Molossus, the main action piece in the score. It's a brilliant blend of Zimmer's expertise in electronic music, and Howard's orchestral grace, and never seems to stop from the second it starts. The rest of the score is quite, dare I say it, boring! Whilst beautifully composed, Zimmer and Howard really don't create anything that stands too far out from the bunch, apart from the already mentioned Molossus. It's not standard Zimmer or Howard, yet it doesn't really move along with enough speed or excitement. So much of this score is emotional backdrop to the film that really doesn't stick with you. Despite the relative complexity of these emotional, dark riffs and melodies, they really don't have all too much appeal. The final piece on the card, Lasiurus, simply lasts much too long for what it was going for. Almost 7 and a half minutes of beautiful music, yet a little too uneventful for my taste. This is a Batman score, for crying out loud! I expect a lot of really good action pieces, which I never seem to receive! Even when I do, it's in moderation, as Zimmer and Howard never really seem to let the music just explode and go to greater heights. It can be quite infuriating! 

The theme is a slow buildup, that ostinatos to a climax which is incredibly satisfying, consisting of a lot of synth, brass, strings and Zimmer's favourite; percussion! You can see both Howard and Zimmer's touch on the theme; the sound production, with various flapping noises, and other bat-like sounds all belong to Zimmer, as well as the outstanding percussion. Zimmer has had a way with percussion for as long as his career has spanned. Howard's part in the theme, orchestrating and composing the main, 90 piece orchestra, is sublime, and deserves only acclaim. Both have their way with the theme and find common ground, which means only good things. The piece Barbastella also introduces us to Bruce's theme; it's much more solemn than Batman's, and is fleshed out by a fantastic choir of vocalists, who do a wonderful job at making us feel empathy for the character of Bruce Wayne. Yet despite these wonderful, individual themes, Batman Begins still seems to lack a large number of discernible themes, all different from each other, something that neither The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises failed at doing. I see no theme for the Scarecrow here, one of the main villains in the film. If there does happen to be one, I can't seem to find it, as it's lost in the cluster of smaller, insignificant themes that Zimmer and Howard have dropped all throughout the score. Zimmer and Howard have managed to infuse the score with themes for emotions and ideals though; not necessarily physical things within the film, but still important characters in their own right. Fear is a common theme that Christopher Nolan tries to represent in Batman Begins and the rest of The Dark Knight trilogy, and Zimmer and Howard do manage to emulate moments of the emotion. The piece Artibeus is flooded with sharp strings which are certainly heart pumping as they leap out of nowhere. Maybe this is what Zimmer and Howard had set aside as a theme for Scarecrow? I can't say for sure. Nonetheless, the lack of themes for key heroes and villains shows in this less than memorable score.

Batman Begins is a decent starter for a brilliant trilogy in film music history. It is masterfully composed, with enough action to just satisfy; yet still, it seems there could've been so much more that both Zimmer and Howard could've done to really made this something of it's own. The lack of critical themes and overload of seemingly emotional, character driven music is too much for my ears. Batman Begins is a sure disappointment; yet still, it's the only score in Nolan's Batman trilogy that I can listen to as an uninterrupted suite, and that has to count for something! 

Junkie Score: 71.21

The second piece in Christopher Nolan's trilogy is for some the best film of them all; to that I agree. The Dark Knight is a complex thriller, that surpasses all it's genre expectations. Many would say that The Dark Knight is the one film that revolutionized what directors and writers could do with superheroes. It pushed audience's, and for once, didn't go for the nostalgic effect, nor the colourful, comic book like tone that we'd become accustomed to for these types of films. Sure, Batman Begins was a fantastic opener, but ultimately, this is the main event. The second part in a trilogy is certainly the hardest to perfect, yet Nolan managed to pull it off, in a seemingly perfectly packaged bundle. We got one of the most brilliantly executed villains in film history in The Joker, a top-notch performance from Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two Face, the big shot lawyer who goes from Gotham's hero to it's own worst enemy, and a story which seems to only improve over Nolan's last outing with Batman. It's one of the most mesmerizing, quality films of the past decade, and deserves it's place on the Top 250 Films of all Time, by IMDb. 

When it came to scoring the film, Nolan again recruited the brilliant men Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, both of whom were not at all reluctant to return to the sequel. This time, though, the score seems to be fleshed out more, and each individual piece is worthy of note; it's not so much a suite, like Batman Begins was. Instead, every minute of music is it's own thing. Zimmer and Howard never seem to be repeating ideas here; they consistently create ever changing and evolving music, which means that the listening experience is ever varied. The quality of orchestral and electronic music here is as good as it was in Batman Begins, excluding one piece that I will make mention of quickly. The first piece on the card, Why So Serious, is set as the theme for The Joker, and includes some 9 minutes of ear piercing, synthesized crap! It's not only repetitive; it's plain irritating. It certainly doesn't show of the ingenuity of the two men composing and orchestrating. In concept, Zimmer intended to create something that was meant to evoke an irritating reaction from the audience; he wanted The Joker's theme to be something that had audiences angry. To do so, Zimmer used razors upon various stringed instruments, most notably Zimmer's favourite, the cello. Whilst Zimmer did create the desired effect, I would've certainly preferred this piece off the album completely, with fragments inserted into other pieces. I'm sorry, but 9 minutes of this music is criminal! To inflict this upon any listener is just not ethically or morally right! Fortunately, straight after this terror of a piece, we are delivered my favourite track on the card, I'm Not A Hero. It's filled to the brim with what I was expecting off of Batman Begins, that being action! Here, Zimmer and Howard finally allow us to sit back in our seat and enjoy some fast paced, varying music. It also reintroduces us to the theme for Batman, which is further explored in this score. Whilst it's heroic nature is somewhat reminiscent of previous Batman scores, Zimmer and Howard make sure that the dark undertone is still present, which is good to see. That's what makes The Dark Knight trilogy so individual; the fact that the dark undertone is left within the vast majority of tracks on the score card. Most composers who have the pleasure of writing a score for a superhero film don't generally go the dark, harsh route. The final cue on the card, the self-titled The Dark Knight, a 16 minute suite of Batman material, is also another showcase of what Howard and Zimmer have been able to do to expand upon the character of Batman. The piece indulges in music that represents both physical and moral peril on Batman's side, and it's interesting to listen to and absorb. He's no longer the completely incorruptible legend that he was in Batman Begins. He's now at risk of becoming the villain, and that has consequences upon the character. Zimmer and Howard recreate the turmoil with a more solemn, sadder tone than Batman Begins sought to, with some more beautiful vocals and a lot of great music from the cellos. It all fits together beautifully to allow for some of the best 16 minutes of music you'll ever hear.   

The theme for Harvey Dent, explored in the piece Harvey Two-Face is a Howard standalone, which is perfectly composed. 6 minutes of exquisite music; there's no other way to describe it. The piece contains both of Harvey's personas that are introduced to us within the film, both good and evil. Whilst the score is climbing to an almost heroic climax, you still hear that flip side to the savior of Gotham, the dark tone of Two-Face. It's such a brilliant combination of personalities and theme! The rest of the score is a constant battle with heroism and villainy it seems; themes play out, and it seems as if both sides of the scale are battling against each other, trying to wage dominance. Batman Begins had a heroic tone to the score as a whole, as even when the score reached darker periods, an uplifting beat or melody would swoop in and save the day. The Dark Knight is completely different. Like the film, heroism is tested, as is bravery and incorruptibility, yet it seems to be defeated by the dark undertones and the evil personality of The Joker. The Joker also brings something to the table that we didn't see in Batman Begins; unpredictability. Batman Begins was quite predictable, whilst here, The Joker turns the tide. Not every piece moves coherently in a single direction. Various tracks spasm off into unknown territory that Zimmer and Howard never dared to explore within Batman Begins, but challenge you to listen to here. It seems to make no sense, until it comes to it's final resting place, towards the end of the piece. Howard and Zimmer challenge every predictable, common-place aspect in Batman Begins here; where as Batman Begins had a slow, 2 minute ostinato up to a climatic theme, The Dark Knight builds to a high climax quick, before slowing down and beginning another ascent. A piece could repeat this effort multiple times, with small variations, before finally delivering what you expected to begin with; a loud, brilliant theme. It's these touches that really change up the game and have you reevaluating what you expected from the sequel to a common place, mostly orchestral score. 

The Dark Knight is a brilliant score; not perfect, but brilliant nonetheless. This is one of the scores that sticks in your head for days on end. It demands your full attention, and is one of the most fleshed out, harrowing and bold scoring attempts from both Zimmer and Howard; it deserves lavish praise. 

Junkie Score: 94.32   

Capping off one of the biggest blockbusters trilogies in all of cinematic history, The Dark Knight Rises was and is Christopher Nolan's most ambitious project. The Joker now seemingly defeated, Batman must emerge from the ashes and defeat the mercenary Bane, played by Tom Hardy; a ruthless badass, who has no concern for human life it seems. With the final piece in the trilogy, comes a final score from Hans Zimmer. James Newton Howard has left the project, and now we are left with a composer whom I've both acclaimed and ridiculed. I believed that it was Newton Howard's direction that led Zimmer and Howard to such great heights for the first two scores. Whilst Zimmer delivered the punches, Howard led the scores in a coherent direction, one which made sense to the audience, and was all around well paced, something that Zimmer has had problems with all throughout his scoring days. Finally, with Newton Howard leaving the project, Zimmer can have all the fun he wants with Batman. Does he cap off the trilogy in spectacular fashion, or is the trilogy ruined thanks to Howard's departure? Let's find out.

The Dark Knight Rises was and is one of my favourite scores from the beginning; I loved it the first time I heard it, and I only grow more fond of it every time I hear it. It's good in different ways to The Dark Knight and Batman Begins. Batman Begins was quite the delicate score, whilst The Dark Knight was carefully planned, and expanded upon the original. The Dark Knight Rises isn't about each individual piece as The Dark Knight was. Here, like Batman Begins, you could almost listen to the score as a suite and accept it as that. The Dark Knight Rises is about summing up the previous two scores, and delivering us small else, excluding themes for the villains. If you accept the score for what it's trying to do, you'll love it, as I do. Zimmer has gathered the best parts of the previous scores, and has combined them all to create a booming, simplistic score. It's not full of complicated phrases and motifs, certainly not; instead, it is one of Zimmer's most straightforward scores. He focuses on the theme of Batman, and explores the inner dilemmas the character is facing after the harsh result of the previous film. He doesn't look towards creating too many new themes, except for Bane and Catwoman. Catwoman's theme is a delicate, intricate piano showcase, which is sublime. It's a distinct parting from the norm that this score sets; heavy, electric-based music. Bane's theme is the most primitive and aggressive theme to show up in the trilogy, and for what Zimmer has attempted to do with him, he has succeeded masterfully. Unlike The Joker, who was a beacon of anarchy and chaos, Bane is a controlled, unflinching force to be reckoned with. He is unlike anything Batman has ever faced, being an enemy with physical capabilities greater than Batman's own. Zimmer needed to represent that in the music, with a harsh, battering theme for the mercenary, and so the composer did just that. He created an electric-based effort, complimented by primitive, powerful percussion, brass, bass and cello. It's very similar to Batman's own theme, which I feel was done on purpose. These two men, Batman and Bane are both so much like each other that it seems so fitting that they both have similar themes. The theme for Bane is highlighted most in Imagine The Fire, one of my favourite pieces from the entire trilogy. It's a grueling effort, that is perfectly reminiscent of Bane.

Unlikely as it seems, The Dark Knight Rises is my favourite score from the trilogy. If you scroll down, you'll find that I award this score a perfect 100. This is one of the most uncertain 100's that I've ever given a score. The Dark Knight Rises is certainly not perfect on a compositive level, nor in intricacy and variety, yet it's something else that truly makes it a 100 kind of score for myself. It's everything I want Batman to be; powerful, explosive and unrelenting. Most surprisingly of all, I find this score even, dare I say it, fun?! From beginning to end, I was fully engrossed in this score, a score that had Zimmer holding nothing back. He dropped the boring crap that we had in Batman Begins, and sought to relent the edgy, irritating pieces that hurt my ears in The Dark Knight. He took everything that I wanted, and injected something like musical steroids into it all, and I love it! This is not a perfect score; yet still, I can't deny it a 100. Zimmer provided an emotional, hammering, primitive, powerful score that I adore. Call me a fool, or what you wish, yet still, The Dark Knight Rises will remain my favourite score of them all, and one of my favourite of all time, at this point. 

Junkie Score: 100

I know, it was really messy, but what did you think of the compilation scheme? I'd like to hear your thoughts!

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