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by Bill Gibron

15 Sep 2009

As film fans, we expect certain things - even from our cinematic scores. Horror films are going to feature musical backdrops that give away the upcoming scares while supporting a sense of fear and fright. Action films will be packed with perfunctory hard rock and lots of orchestral overkill. Comedies will cobble together a collection of predetermined pop hits accented with some standard sonic “wackiness” while dramas will be dour in their heavy handed musical manipulation. So when convention is thwarted and invention is applied, we tend to sit up and take notice. As a matter of fact, a new or novel approach to the stereotypical soundtrack can really perk up our motion picture pleasure centers. Not every eccentric or oddball attempt works, but when it does, the end results are more than delightful. They literally redefine the aural aspects of film.

In this edition of Surround Sound, we look at three new scores that all add something distinctive and extraordinary to the overall movie music paradigm. Sure, a title like Drag Me to Hell may suggest a certain orchestral type, but the work here is so marvelous in its macabre complements that we don’t really mind the standard sonic operating procedure. The real weirdness, however, comes from old stalwart Marvin “What I Did for Love” Hamlisch and the able ambience of the Robert Williamson/Geoff Zanelli partnership. In tandem with the terrific terror tenants of Christopher Young’s always excellent efforts, we have a trio of titles that suggest one style of soundtrack designing, but that then turn around and deliver a wholly unique aural experience, beginning with:

Gamer: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 8]

When they first came onto the scene, few knew what to make of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. They refused to play by the standard cinematic rules, instead using a single Cher-like nomenclature (Neveldine/Taylor) to label their partnership. Two sensational Crank films and a less than scary fright flick (Pathology) later and the duo are diving into the big time with their sped up, suped up science fiction actioner Gamer. Utilizing the buff bravado of 300 star Gerard Butler and a virtual reality video game premise, the pair hope to give audiences a unique vision of the shape of things to come ala Rollerball and/or The Running Man. Whether they succeeded or not is a question best left to film critics. To their creative credit, they avoid a great many of the standard Hollywood histrionics in bringing their vision to life. Take the score for this hyperactive stunt spectacle. Instead of going with something that accents and amplifies the machismo, the duo ask that their backdrop add depth and design to their often muddle message - and what they get works brilliantly.

After you get past the bookend Billboard mandates of heavy metal (Marilyn Manson’s take on the Eurhythmics “Sweet Dreams (are Made of This)”), white boy hip hop (Bloodhound Gang’s “Bad Touch”) and Rat Pat peculiarity (a Sammy Davis Jr. medley???), the score for Gamer finally settles in, and it’s a stunner. To call what composers Robert Williamson and Geoff Zanelli offer here “music” really pushes the boundaries of said definition. Instead, the pair provides what would better be called “rhythmic atmoshperics” - snatches of Brian Eno on steroids sound that both enhance and amplify the future shock fun Neveldine/Taylor are having. Tracks like “Deathwatch”, “Society”, and “Slayers” set up the storyline expertly, while middle movements such as “Simon’s House”, “Turn Me Loose”, and “Dress Up Doll” illustrate the pair’s preference to avoid the obvious and, instead, design an aural experience that really gets under your skin. By the time we get to “Kable vs. Castle”, we are convinced that Gamer the movie could never live up to Gamer the film score. This may just be the post-post modern trend for film soundtracks, and if it is, it’s fantastic.


The Informant!: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 8]

What happened to Marvin Hamlisch? He was everywhere in the ‘70s, scoring comedies for Woody Allen (Take the Money and Run, Bananas) and Academy Award winners (Save the Tiger, The Sting, The Way We Were). He helped create one of the longest running shows in the history of Broadway (A Chorus Line) and is one of only two people ever to win a Tony, an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Pulitzer Prize (Richard Rodgers is the other). From 1968 and The Swimmer to 1996 and The Mirror Has Two Faces, he was a constant presence in film scoring, taking time out to continue his work for the Great White Way. And then - nothing. No major movie work. A couple of less than successful stage productions. So it’s sort of shocking to see his name on the new Steven Soderbergh comedy, The Informant! The reasoning behind his return would probably be as entertaining, and as captivating, as this unusual bit of retro-motion picture backing. While we may never know about his time in entertainment exile, his work here speaks for itself.

Everything about Hamlisch’s music here is reminiscent of another time and place, plundering the past for what sounds like the equivalent of a lax longue lizard’s sonic resume. Peppered with kazoo and other quirky touches, we are transported to the world of the Midwest circa the early 1990s, a time as lost and ugly as the 1970s, except without Watergate and the leisure suits. Hamlisch instills his sunny magic on such introductory tracks as “Meet Mark:, “The Raid” and “Polygraph”. It’s all upbeat hipster hilarity. Similarly, sections like “Boxes”, “Sellout” and “Golf” frame Soderbergh’s deadpan droll style perfectly. The soundtrack also features two version of the track “Trust Me” - one a smarmy instrumental, the other a bubbly vocal featuring singer Steve Tyrell. Along with a nice little solo piano bookend of the title track, Hamlisch proves that he never really went away. Like the films he used to supplement, he just needed the right project to propel his muse - and The Informant! is clearly it.

Drag Me to Hell: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 9]

Christopher Young and Sam Raimi have a lot in common. While both have gone on to greater commercial success as part of mainstream moviemaking (even working together on the Spider-man films), both have a history in horror that is hard (if not impossible) to live down. For the composer, his haunted high profile began with Clive Barker’s directorial debut Hellraiser, a mind-bending take on adultery that, to this day, is often cited for its novel narrative, disgusting gore, inventive monsters…and its scintillating, symphonic score. In fact, you can’t think of the Cenobites and not be reminded of Young’s terrifying take on the genre. While his current resume readily moves from the macabre (The Grudge) to the maniacal (Disney’s The Country Bears???), the end results are usually powerful and perfectly suited for the project at hand. So when Mr. Evil Dead asked him to join up for his own return to terror, Young happily played co-conspirator. The results are the brilliant, bravado soundtrack for Raimi’s ridiculously fun Drag Me to Hell. Combining the best of old fashioned fear with softer, more subtle bits, this is one of 2009’s best musical backdrops.

There is a main theme running through the pieces, a lovely bit of Gothic gloom that’s heard in the title track, as well as in “Auto-Da-Fe” and “Concerto to Hell”. It’s like having a Hammer film battle old school Hollywood schmaltz in your head for sonic superiority. Elsewhere, sections like “Ode to Ganush”, “Black Rainbows”, and “Ordeal by Corpse” keep the tension taut and the evil electric. Indeed, Young rarely missteps here, filling every available piece with palpable dread. Even moments like “Lamia” and “Bealing Bells with Trumpet” sell the sense of terror unleashed and the notions of demons around every corner. It proves unequivocally that some composers cotton to certain styles more readily than others. Earlier this year, Young was responsible for the compelling if ultimately underwhelming work on the Bret Ellis Easton adaptation The Informers. Here, collaborating with the man who made Deadites a household world, he’s back to his old smart shock theatrics, and the results are memorable indeed.


by Bill Gibron

19 Aug 2009

Good science fiction is hard to come by. For every District 9 there’s a Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. For every 2001: A Space Odyssey there’s a 2010: The Year We Make Contact. It’s hard to balance the needs of the devoted and demanding fanbase with the desires of the commercial demographic. As a result, most examples of cinematic speculation are ferocious shoot ‘em ups, lasers and starships taking the place of pistols and horses (or in more modern modes, handguns and SUVs). Instead of ideas, eye candy is regularly tossed around, F/X replacing characterization and narrative ingenuity. Still, if there is one consistent within the genre, it’s the music. Thanks to George Lucas and John Williams, every example of interstellar overdrive must have a soundtrack that resembles a lost work by the Martian Mozart. With rare exceptions - Danny Boyle’s brilliant Sunshine - it’s all space pomp and interplanetary circumstance.

This time around we have three rather indicative examples of such broad, brooding orchestrations. Luckily, Surround Sound has been given some of the better attempts at such scope. As he has done throughout most of the series, Bear McCreary delivers a significant sonic signature to one of TV’s best, while the British take on extraterrestrial gets an equally excellent overview by Ben Foster. Last but not least, Star Trek‘s entire legacy - cinematic and broadcast - is put under the sonic microscope as one of Europe’s premiere ensembles offers up their interpretations of its motion picture and small screen majesty. In each case, ambition supersedes stereotypes, our composer’s moving beyond the basics of the category to delve into areas both exceptional - and expected - within each of their assigned tasks. Let’s begin with one of the best:

by Bill Gibron

12 Aug 2009

The current slump in RomCom success shouldn’t be a surprise. Hollywood, hopeless for what to do with their latest up and coming starlets, seems sold on the notion of putting each and every one into as feeble a fake wish fulfillment fantasy as possible. It used to be, Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts got all the feel good guy/gal scripts. Now, Tinseltown churns them out with unconscionable regularity. In fact, the only thing that differentiates the multiple takes on this material is the artistic approach applied. Sometimes, the standard is used. In other instances, attempted invention leads to lameness. Look at the three soundtracks being discussed today as part of Short Ends and Leader‘s standard Surround Sound update. Each one proposes to be a witty, warm look at the neverending battle between the sexes. Instead, one is dull, another dumb, with only the third doing something both unique and novel.

It’s a difference that’s actually reflected in the musical accompaniments to each effort. When it comes to Mychael Danna’s backdrop for the big screen adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s celebrated sci-fi weeper, it’s all clichés and sonic commonality. On the other hand, Aaron Zigman’s work on the Gerard Butler/Katherine Heigl stereotype-a-thon reeks of the kind of onscreen schizophrenia the movie - and its mannered characters - seem to suffer from. Only the brilliant Marc Webb deconstruction of the entire genre gets it right. By relying on moan and groan gods like Morrissey and Regina Spektor to make its point, the sonic setting perfectly reflects the differing dynamics between each one of these 500 days - give or take a few. 

Of course, it’s all a matter of taste. Some may actually enjoy Danna’s drippy, droning accompaniment, while there will surely be listeners who ingest one sample of Summer‘s syrupy alterna-pop and want to strangle the songwriters. Music is a difficult discussion point, since it’s so personal to each individual. Still, when graded on a scale as to how successful it is as part of an overall motion picture package, the judgment becomes a little easier. What’s clear is that, in the world of man/woman destiny, slow and stead is really just tedious and mindless, while up tempo and inventive translates into a far more intriguing aural experience. Of course, there is always one confusing case among the easily identified. In this situation, the “ugly” truth title may be more than applicable.

The Time Traveler’s Wife: Music from the Motion Picture [rating: 3]

The notion of being “unstuck” in time, Billy Pilgrim in your personal, physical, and emotional well-being, may seem like an odd idea for a romance, but apparently, Audrey Niffenegger nailed it when she created her bestselling story of Henry and Claire. He’s the man who can’t stay settled in one era for very long. She’s the young woman who has loved him ever since she was a child. Together, they learn that such a speculative fiction foundation can only lead to heartbreak, tragedy, and the soul-searching passion that comes with both. So now it’s up to composer Mychael Danna to capture that ethereal element in his score for the film. Sadly, what he turns in is so rote and routine that it could be the backdrop for any motion picture experience, not just one dealing with mostly magical elements.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front - Broken Social Scene should be embarrassed for their appalling cover of the Ian Curtis/Joy Division classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Rendered dirge-like by the multi-member collection, it’s literally unrecognizable, only the identifiable lyrics in the chorus giving away the origins. By the way, it does nothing for the scene between actors Eric Bana and Rachael McAdams. Why director Robert Schwentke decided to include it is baffling. As for the rest of the soundtrack, it’s equally weak. Danna delivers a lightweight set of cues, each one using the typical orchestral facet of symphonic seriousness to what is often confusing and quite boring as depicted. Tracks like “In the Meadow”, “Do You Know When”, and “How Does it Feel” are featureless, while additional moments like “Five Years”, “Who Would Want That”, and “I’m You Henry” lack legitimate spark. Indeed, the whole score feels limp and lifeless, adding nothing to the work it supposedly projects.

The Ugly Truth: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 5]

What do you do when you’re an uptight TV producer who can’t get laid? Why, you turn over your labored love life to a Neanderthal talk show host who believes keeping women barefoot and pregnant is actually way too good for the gender, that’s what. Indeed, the entire set up of this underwhelming Katherine Heigl starring vehicle does a disservice to all women everywhere while championing the kind of crude, rude comedy that Judd Apatow and the gang have made profitable over the last few film seasons. That it was conceived by a group of gals is unconscionable - kind of like Arthur Zigman’s way too zany sonic complements. This is a musician who has taken the notion of variety being the spice of life to unheard of, heartburn-inducing extremes. One moment, the soundscape feels like a frothy feel good romp. The next, it is diving into tunesmith territory better reserved for oddball BBC programming.

Like a series of bad speed dates, the score for The Ugly Truth indeed runs the gamut from space age bachelor padding to intentional sonic quirk - and then back again, just in case you didn’t get the point the first few track times around. For Zigman, who has crafted the backdrop for films like The Notebook, Bridge to Terabithia, and the last four Tyler Perry films, really does throw everything he’s got at the mixing board. There are moments of sly Euro-whodunit drowsiness (“Abby and Mike Rant”), unintentional indie navelgazing (“Who Would I Love”), pseudo sexual swagger (“Get the Stain Out”) and a strange Footloose meet foot race accent (“Frowny McFlaccid”). Along the way, Motown gets referenced (“Right this Way”), we are treated to more introverted introspection (“Goodnight Then”) and there are moments when the music is barely audible (“The Ugly Truth”). Such a scattered approach may seem sensible, considering how all over the map the movie is, but as a showcase for Zigman’s skills, the results here are equally unnerving.

(500) Days of Summer: Music from the Motion Picture [rating: 8]

Some might call it a reinvention. Others will honor it with the tag “deconstruction”. However you view it, commercial creator/music video man turned feature film director Marc Webb has taken an interesting script from Pink Panther 2 scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and turned it into the first RomCom to speak directly to the Twitter generation. Dealing with a failed architect who now writes greeting cards and the saucy secretary who has just moved to LA from Michigan, Webb works in short, sensational bursts, taking the title of the film literally. We spend individual moments with our wannabe lovers, seeing how passion grows, philosophies conflict, and when fate no longer fuels the flame. It’s a realistic if highly stylized look at relationships, and it’s all couched in a backdrop brimming with indie-rock resplendence.

This is indeed a definitive love/loss mixtape, from the sonic sensation of The Smiths (“There is a Light That Never Goes Out”, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”) to amazing tracks from Regina Spektor (“Us”, “Hero”), the Doves (“There Goes the Fear”) and Mumm-ra (“She’s Got You High”). Granted, Meaghan Smith’s take on the Pixies playful “Here Comes Your Man” is rather dreary, though her performance definitely tries to elevate its effectiveness, and the inclusion of Simon and Garfunkel (“Bookends”) argues against the collective’s anti-folk sensibilities. Still, “Bad Kids” by the Black Lips and “Sweet Disposition” by the Temper Trap work well, and old school hits like “You Make My Dreams” by Hall and Oates match effortlessly with contemporary kitsch from France’s First Lady, Carla Bruni (“Quelqu’un M’a Dit”). Sure, there are perhaps better songs to select, especially given the material’s sense of individualized eccentricity. But like the movie it mimics, the (500) Days of Summer soundtrack proves that all Moon/June/Spoon romances don’t have to be the same.

by Bill Gibron

14 Jul 2009

Certain subjects lend themselves to specific sonic approaches. It’s part of the cinematic standard. When you hear that a movie is going to cover the formative years of a boy wizard, follow a group of novices into a dangerous wilderness situation, or deal with a daring aerial rescue of a group of hostages, clichéd aural answers start playing out inside your own personal product jukebox. You instantly imagine what the fantasy will sound like, suggest the sounds of a jungle primeval or a stunt-laced bit of derring-do. Of course, part of the magic inherent in motion pictures is the way said conventions are embraced, thwarted, or dismissed completely. There are occasions however when the unusual or downright odd tactic taken by a composer completely loses the meaning of the movie it is supporting. When that happens, the aforementioned magic turns middling, and then mediocre.

Luckily, that doesn’t happen within any of the three scores we are covering in this issue of Surround Sound. In fact, aside from a lackluster entry in a long running series, we have a couple of real compositional curiosities. Indeed, it always seems that the independent or outsider artists working in film today (or as part of the fraternity of the past) come up with a far more intriguing sonic display than someone hemmed in by the needs of a multi-entry big screen blockbuster franchise. Perhaps that’s why The Interior and Sky Riders feel so satisfying and why a certain Harry Potter has a hard time leaving an indelible aural mark. In any case, we can easily see where a certain sixth entry fails to fulfill its promise and how a couple of unknown quantities step up and deliver something unusual and quite memorable. Let’s begin with the most well known entry this time around:

by Bill Gibron

17 Jun 2009

For many, music is about memory. It’s about connecting a specific sound, or a score, to the situations you treasure (or that torment you) most. But there is more to it than that. Melody and its many components create links, undeniable anchors to elements about our life that seem significant and yet could be as mundane as some vague time or place. This is one of the reasons a carefully considered soundtrack is so important for a film. Randomly toss in the greatest hits of an era and you wind up with something dated and derivative. But move beyond the Billboard notion of atmosphere and things get a pick trickier. A composer is commanded to draw out as much mood and ambience as they can from their film work, yet at the same time, they can often undo the narrative or completely change the intent or tone. The careful evocation of location and logistics is a rare skill amongst cinematic tunesmiths, one few can claim as their own.

For this edition of Surround Sound, SE&L will look at five recently released film scores, each one set up to support a specific pragmatic paradigm. One is a prequel to a famous sci-fi series, the standard future shock mixed with a frightening sense of foreboding. Another goes way back in the past - almost prehistoric - before completely forgetting its purpose and turning all Madagascar II on us. From an attempt to recreate the ‘80s without actually dipping into the abundant Time/Life hit tracks of the time to illustrating the journey of one Latin American family to the potential freedoms of America, the music here reminds us that not everything about a circumstance is successfully put across by visuals, dialogue, or directorial flair. Sometimes, the right aural cues can make all the difference, as we will discover with the recently released soundtrack for the Battlestar Galactica set-up:

Caprica: Original Soundtrack from the Sci Fi Channel Television Pilot Episode [rating: 9]

Bear McCreary is slowly becoming the Michael Kamen of giant genre efforts. As the late great composer did for such cinematic luminaries as Terry Gilliam (Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) and David Cronenberg (The Dead Zone), the man behind some of TV’s greatest speculative fiction understands how to make the epic understated - and understood. Perhaps a better way of putting it is that McCreary can create the broadest of sonic scopes with the smallest of auditory signatures. For this backstory on how the Cylons were created and the civil unrest on the title planet where it all happened, the man responsible for several stunning soundtracks outdoes himself here.  As a result, Capirca is as much a work of visual invention as it is a stunning ethereal experience.

Like the pilot film itself, McCreary’s score builds. It adds layers and textures, moving from the basics (“The Graystone Family”) to bombast (“Terrorism on the Lev”) with grace and style. Understanding that any good score is built on themes, he uses main characters (“Zoe’s Avatar”) and certain relationships (“Joseph and Daniel”) to set up unseen conflicts and concerns. For those who have had the pleasure of watching the sensational opening salvo in what will surely be another stellar Sci-Fi Channel series, there is a lot of exposition in Caprica, the necessary filler for what can eventually be an ongoing narrative arc. But thanks to McCreary’s routinely excellent work, we can easily ‘bear’ both the action (“Daniel Captures the Code”) and the philosophical underpinnings (“Monotheism at the Athena Academy”) involved.

Year One: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 4]

Someone needs to get Theodore Shapiro a map…and fast. From all sounds and sonic cues, he is dead convinced that almost all the action in this Harold Ramis comedy takes place in Morocco, or Lebanon, or some other part of the clichéd Middle East. Famed for his work in satires such as Tropic Thunder, Old School, and the recent I Love You, Man, the 38 year old composer is content to convince us of the logistical lunacy of his aural choices. Granted, this is supposedly a “Biblical” comedy, but that doesn’t mean that ever note has to resonate with Arab awkwardness. All throughout the rather derivative and dull soundtrack for the Jack Black/Michael Cera vehicle, Eastern rhythms make a sloppy and often unnecessary intrusion. Sure, the names of the individual tracks (“Meet the Hebrews”, “Welcome to Sodom”) suggest such an Old World way with the backdrop, but there is a big difference between Cecile B. DeMille and aural dullness.

Still, there is some fun to be found here. “The Jackal Dance” makes for a keen bit of mind’s eye merriment (this review is occurring before the film’s official opening), as does “Virgin Sacrifice” and “The Royal Orgy”. And because this is comedy, we can expect the occasional lapses into funny business formula (“Yak Attack”, “Sargon Attacks”). But the biggest problem here is the almost constant repetition of sounds, signatures, and symbolism. It’s almost as if director Ramis instructed Shapiro to watch his film and add aural rim shots to everything he is doing. Comedy scores frequently force the humor, hoping to make you giggle by giving away the jokes within the arrangement. Shapiro is not quite so obvious, but there is a blatant burlesque to his approach. We can easily visualize the half-baked History of the World Part I aspects of the movie from the music presented.

The Informers: Original Motion Picture Score [rating: 7]

Christopher Young is one clever composer. Whether its genre junk (The Grudge, The Uninvited), stellar spook shows (Hellraiser, Drag Me to Hell), or middling mainstream fare (The Country Bears, Swordfish, Beauty Shop), he always seems to find the appropriate dramatics to underscore his cinematic themes. Instead of going for the easy approach, he cleverly compensates for an idea’s inherent flaws by locating the areas where he can provide support and sonically shores up the situation. This is clearly the case in Gregor Jordan’s mishmash mauling of Bret Easton Ellis’ popular novel. The film itself is a dull, loping drive through a Greed decade dimension bereft of anything remotely challenging or cheerful. To his credit, Young avoids all the synth beat silliness of the era and, instead, interjects electronics into his subtle yet stunning score.

From the fascinating title track to amazing moments like “No Wicked Way” and “A Rose is All Things Beautiful”, Young weaves an engaging and elegant aural tapestry. He dots his designs with little nods to the New Wave wonders of the ‘80s, but also recognizes that the film is not built on nostalgia. Indeed, like a sloppier Short Cuts, Gregor is attempting to mix several divergent yet slightly interconnected storylines together. It’s Young’s job to keep the tone in check, to recall the Reagan years without channeling Starship or The Human League. In fact, his score is perhaps the best and most consistent element of the entire motion picture experience, tracks like “Is She Really?” and “Dysfunctional Everything” displaying a convincing complexity the movie itself lacks. While The Informers itself as an exercise in unfulfilled possibilities, Christopher Young’s work in support definitely stands out.

While She Was Out: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 6]

Flying under the radar when it hit theaters a few months back, this curious crime thriller starring none other than Oscar winning actress Kim Basinger has one of those hoary old exploitation premises (abused woman is confronted and chased into the woods by a gang of gratuitous criminals - on Christmas Eve, no less. She seeks revenge.) and this gives Paul Haslinger some significant compositional fits. Peppering the soundtrack with creepy versions of holiday standards (“First Day of Christmas”, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”) as well as a few choice poptones (Joy Division’s “Day of the Lords”, “In Every Dream a Heartache” by Roxy Music), the motive here is menace. Like any good ‘woman in danger’ title, the former Tangerine Dream member (from ‘86 to ‘90) takes the concept and attempts to bring his own sense of the sinister to the mix - and for the most part, he succeeds. While perhaps not as potent as his work for Turistas or Vacancy, Haslinger can deliver good shivers.

Much of the material here consists of slowburn suspense, mood music in advance of mayhem. This is especially true of the ominous “Main Titles” and the equally effective “Car Chase”. Later on, Haslinger plays with the parameters of such a story set-up by giving us plotpoints (“Looking for Pictures”, “Thomas is Gone”) painted in odd orchestral strokes. As with most of the music made by his former band, the sounds here are spacey and quite otherworldly. Haslinger is going for an undercurrent of evil, not some outright illustration of terror. This is especially true of Basinger’s take on the old holiday chestnut. Given the narrative situation, there is something quite haunting about having a victim (and eventual perpetrator) of violent crime intone such sentiments. As he has shown time and time again, Haslinger is quite capable of creating music that is both meaningful and menacing. That is especially true with While She Was Out.

Sin Nombre: Original Motion Picture Score [rating: 6]

Looks, and listening, can be deceiving when it comes to Marcelo Zarvos backing for this unique immigrant tale. A relative newcomer to the composer game (his first score came for A Soccer Story back in 1999), his choices are usually quirky (Strangers with Candy, You Kill Me) or solidly centered just outside the Hollywood mainstream (The Good Shepherd, What Just Happened). With Cary Fukunaga’s critically acclaimed thriller, however, expectations can be the listeners undoing. When we hear the set-up in the storyline as well as the Latino location where most of the action will occur, we expect a score with lots of Hispanic flavor. Oddly enough, however, Zarvos undermines those stayed stereotypes by delivering a backdrop that’s part local color, party heavenly helpings of Hitckcock.

Indeed, the late great Master of Suspense gets a far number of sonic shout outs all through Sin Nombre‘s crucial musical cues. Zarvos channels such past luminaries as Bernard Herrmann and Franz Waxman with his efforts here, enlivening basic backings like “Ride into the Storm” and “The Attack” with a solid sense of the cinematically sinister. Equally adept at bringing some native flair to the mix, tracks like “The Journey” give us the rhythmic routines such a South of the Border scenario typically provides. But Zarvos never overplays his hand, relying instead on true compositional clarity to make his many points. As we move through “Sayra”, “Guatemala Crossing” and “She Is Gone”, we hear a craftsman completely in tune with his subject’s strengths (and potential weaknesses). Though it grows a bit derivative toward the end, the score for Sin Nombre is solid.

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