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About Film Music Central

I'm a 30 year old musicologist and blogger and I've had a lifelong obsession with film music, cartoon music, just about any kind of music!

Soundtrack News: Shaman King Original Soundtrack Vol. 1 Available Now

Milan Records has released the “SHAMAN KING” ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK VOL. 1 by composer and arranger YUKI HAYASHI (My Hero Academia: Heroes RisingPretty CureStrawberry Night).  Available everywhere now, the album features music written by Hayashi for the recent reboot of the fan-favorite anime series, which will make its US debut on Netflix. 

Yuki Hayashi was born in Kyoto in 1980.  Being an active member in a men’s rhythmic gymnastics team in his early years spawned his interest in BGM while selecting songs to complement performances.  This led him to begin teaching himself music composition while at university, despite not having a background in music itself. After graduating, Yuki acquired the basics of track making under house techno DJ and sound-maker Hideo Kobayashi and started producing his first range of music accompaniments for dance sports.  His experience as a rhythmic gymnast has enabled Yuki to intuitively incorporate an eclectic range of music and produce a unique sound, empowering scenes from TV drama, animation and film.

Those called “Shamans” can interact with gods and spirits compete for the position of “Shaman King” once every 500 years in the “Shaman Fight.”  One of those shamans, Yoh Asakura, is fighting to be the “Shaman King” in this completely new TV animation. 

“SHAMAN KING” ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK VOL. 1

TRACKLISTING – 

  1. Exalted Spiritual Fortitude
  2. SHAMAN KING
  3. SHAMAN KING (Instrumental Version)
  4. OVER SOUL
  5. Yoh’s Spirit
  6. Empathic Heart
  7. Avalanche
  8. Avalanche (Instrumental Version)

You can check out Vol. 1 of the Shaman King soundtrack from Milan Records now!

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Into the World of Video Game Music: Talking with Composer Gareth Coker about Immortals: Fenyx Rising, ARK: Survival Evolved, Ori and more!

Just last week I had the pleasure of speaking with composer Gareth Coker about his work on a number of video games, including Immortals: Fenyx Rising, ARK: Survival Evolved, and the two Ori games: Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Gareth Coker is a British composer and producer working out of Los Angeles. He is known for his melodically driven scores, unique soundscapes, and attention to detail and execution in the application of how music emotionally relates to the gamer as they are playing. His scores have garnered numerous awards, including the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Award for Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition, two SXSW Awards for Excellence in Musical Score, multiple Game Audio Network Guild awards. 

I had a lot of fun speaking with Gareth Coker about his work on these video games and I hope you enjoy our conversation about them 🙂

How did you get started as a composer for video games?

My first game projects, they all kind of started when I was a student at the University of Southern California. They have a film scoring and game scoring program that is quite extensive. And they do a really good job of hooking you up with a lot of students, you score a lot of short films, and you end up doing student game projects as well. And that gave me a small experience into what goes into producing a video game.

My first commercially released project was a game that didn’t do very well. And that I did for free called inMomentum, which is this hardcore virtual reality racing game. Even though the game didn’t do very well, it did give me an idea of exactly what was involved in producing and shipping a game soundtrack. My big break came from doing a lot of these student game projects. Eventually, the director of the Ori games found me on a website which I was using, and he listened to one of my tracks and thought it might work for the game. And we ended up connecting. And obviously, here we are two or three games later, and several other things later. But at the beginning, I did a lot of small projects and got as much experience as possible.

In general, what’s your process for scoring a video game? I’m sure it varies from one title to the next, but in general what does the process look like?

Generally speaking, and I’m different from other composers, I like to play the game as much as possible while I’m working on it. I think that’s no different conceptually to a film composer watching the film in an early edit with late writers and how things change, games are built in a similar way. The reason I do that, I need to know exactly what the player is going to be experiencing in terms of the moment to moment gameplay. How can I possibly do my best work if I don’t know exactly what the player is experiencing at that moment, especially if the game is trying to tell a story.

You think about a film. You know how the film is going to play out every single time you watch. But you could play the same game three or four times and it might play out slightly differently. So what I’m looking for, it’s the equivalent of spotting in films. Where does the music start? Where’s the music moment? Games have that too. But the difference with games is that music might not change in exactly the same place each time. So what I’m looking for are the best possible points to change the music in a way that isn’t distracting to the player. Because to me, that would break the immersion of the story. But I can only do that if I’m playing the game and understanding exactly what the the player is going through. And it’s from there that pretty much all of my decisions are made.

There are three aspects to the music production process. For me, playing the game allows me to get a feel for the tempo and rhythm of the game. I believe that every single game has a basic tempo and rhythm. If we compare two shooter games, there’s HALO, one that I’ve worked on, and it’s pretty well-known, and compare it with Doom, which I didn’t work on, but it is also a shooter. However [Doom] has a completely different tempo and speed to [HALO]. If you compare the two games and put them side-by-side, you’d recognize that these are the same genre of game but the tempo and rhythm is completely different. If you listen to the music [for each game], the tempo and rhythm and purpose of the music is also very different. So that’s one of the first things, that’s what playing the game gives me, an idea of the flow, and the rhythm and tempo of the music.

The next part, and this usually happens later on in development, but visuals become more established for me to help define instrumentation, and the palette, what instruments we’re going to use, what’s the orchestration going to be? Do I want to use anything a bit more esoteric or want to use any world instruments. All of that, for me is informed by the visuals.

And then of course, the last part is character themes, or story themes and melodic themes. And ideally, you’ve established these fairly early on, so you have your character themes, the instrumentation, and then the tempo, and combining those three pillars, then you can hopefully produce an effective score.

So you would be scoring to gameplay footage as much as possible, then?

Yes. So my process is that I will play the most recent version of the game that I can get hold of that is stable and record myself playing it. I then import that into my music software and I write to that, and I simply keep going until I feel like I have something that works well for me. I also make sure that I have the sound effects and no music, obviously. But I have the sound effects so I can get an idea of how busy the sound effects might be, so I I’m not competing in certain areas of frequency ranges. If we take Ori as an example, there are several different environments in the game. In the first game [The Blind Forest], there’s the volcano environment, it’s obviously going to sound completely different to the frozen environment. They’ve got different sound effects, ambiences and different monsters, etc. But for each one, I just bring them into my music software, and I write to it, and I just keep going until I feel the music works for me. And then we put it into the game almost immediately, and I can get instant feedback from the team to see how well it’s working with gameplay.

At what point in the game’s development are you usually brought in to create the score?

It depends on the developer. I think the game’s composer needs to be brought on earlier, especially if you’re telling a story. In a game, the gameplay mechanics and the rooms are generally built alongside the story because the story needs to work with gameplay. And so that means the story can be rewritten very, very late [in development]. In the case of the second game, we made some story changes four months before the game released, not huge changes, but still a change which had some impact on on the narrative. And I’m very glad we made the changes. But that means you need to have a little bit of flexibility. The reason why I like being involved early is because sometimes decisions that I make with the music can actually impact the story in small ways, because it affects the storytelling. For example we might do a cutscene really early, and they might like the music for the cutscene.

Or we could use that again, somewhere else in a different emotional scene or something like that. It’s much more freeform than film or television or any any linear format, there’s a lot of back and forth, which can be quite difficult to manage, because things are constantly changing. But the earlier you’re bought on, it means that when you get to the end of a project, you basically know the entire game inside out. When you consider how long games are these days, even a short, triple A game is 10 to 12 hours. Sometimes they last much, much, much longer, like 40-60 hours.

So I think that when it comes time to push the accelerate button at the end, in your last year of development when you just need to write a lot of music, if you know the game inside out, you’ve kind of made all of those decisions in the two or three years prior. In the case of both Ori games, I was working on them for four years each, I wouldn’t say I was working on them full time because they’re broken up to give me the space to come in and out of the project as it was being made. I stayed familiar with it. But then as I needed to accelerate, I knew the game really well by the end, so I could just crank out the keys.

For Immortals Fenyx Rising, excluding the DLC, what was your approach for scoring the world of that game? Was any of it based on what real music from ancient Greece sounded like or were you going for a fantasy version of ancient Greek music?

It’s definitely a fantasy version of that world. When you look at [Immortals: Fenyx Rising], it’s so colorful, it’s very exaggerated, going all-out authentic would not work. It would just be too serious for the game. And if you’ve seen any footage of the game and seeing how the characters interact with each other, it’s not taking itself very seriously. It’s meant to be fun. So that gives me room to have fun with the music. That said, I wanted to make sure there was some aspect of ancient Greece in it.

To that end I had several lyres commissioned and built from scratch for me. I also bought another ancient instrument, an aulos. And that sound [of an aulos], it’s one of the most horrendous sounding instruments I’ve ever heard. It’s a really ugly sound. But it was perfect for this section of the game set in the Underworld. So I wanted to make the aulos work in a setting that sounds like the perfect mystery instrument, but I can’t have it sound like it would be played in ancient Greece. So my philosophy with the aulos was, let’s take these sounds, produce them in a modern way to kind of take the edge off and make them a bit more accessible to an audience that is probably going to be playing this game.

But then the other aspect of Immortals is that this is a fantastical game about gods doing very, very epic stuff. And it’s not taking itself seriously. We’ve got the orchestra element and the style I would say is as if we were doing Greek mythology crossed with Fantasia and maybe a bit of DreamWorks.

For the Myths of the Eastern Realm DLC, what is the big difference between using Qin dynasty instruments as opposed to Tang dynasty instruments for the music, as I see the difference is noted.

I mean, first of all, the two dynasties themselves are completely different time periods. I think there’s about 800 to 900 years between them. The Qin Dynasty was from 221 to 206 B.C.E and the Tang Dynasty was from 618 to 907 CE. So many of those instruments [from the Tang Dynasty] didn’t exist in the Qin Dynasty.

So the most ubiquitous instrument that is heard, in literally every Hollywood Chinese themed soundtrack ever is the Chinese violin, the erhu. It’s completely saying, hey, we’re in China, let’s play the erhu. Though you can’t actually use that because it wasn’t around [in the Qin Dynasty]. So I thought this was great because this means I have to do a bit of research. But honestly, they did the research for me, they gave me this amazing list of instruments to use. This is an instrument that is used commonly in modern media but it didn’t exist in the Qin Dynasty. And this is an instrument that is less common, this instrument is never used in modern media. And this is an instrument that didn’t exist during this time period. So the studio was immensely helpful with doing music research, but honestly, it was a learning experience for me, because I thought, wow, there are actually so many different kinds of Chinese music and traditional Chinese music within. One of the things that Hollywood often does is they really like to pare it down to the bare essentials.

For example, how many times have you seen a movie where we get a panning shot of Paris, and then an accordion plays. I understand why they do that, because of the stereotypes and tropes, it’s a thing. But, it’s kind of what I was talking about, we’re going to make it authentic. Let’s at least get the right instruments, let’s get the authenticity and we can still produce it in a modern way. So it was nice, just going that little bit of an extra mile. And not having the erhu makes it sound like its own thing rather than just every other Chinese soundtrack. And funnily enough, if you compare it to my Minecraft Chinese mythology soundtrack, which is set during the Tang Dynasty, you can literally hear the difference. It’s night and day between the two.

Given the role dinosaurs play in ARK: Survival Evolved, I’m surprised more of the music doesn’t appear to focus on the dinosaurs. Was any of it written specifically with the dinosaurs or other prehistoric beasts specifically in mind?

For the original ARK game, the soundtrack came out in 2017, and most of that is combat music for when you’re facing other humans in your territory. The dinosaurs are a feature of ARK, but you can contain them and make them part of your army. So, [with the game and music] it’s less about discovery and more like you can build your own dinosaur army. It’s less Jurassic Park and more “Oh wow, I can ride my own dinosaur.” That’s the difference.

And you have to remember this is an unscripted multiplayer game, which means any footage you’ve seen is unscripted, which means it can result in some truly wild things happening. There’s no limit to the game, but the music is really designed to not convey the wonder of dinosaurs, but actually the awesomeness of controlling a dinosaur army.

Generally speaking, the music that was done for the early part of the game was really just geared towards combat. Now moving forward, that’s going to change particularly with the animated series (author’s note: ARK: The Animated Series is scheduled to premiere in 2022). And so now it’s like, oh, my goodness, I get to write all of the music that I wanted to write for the base game. Because the game doesn’t need that. Because you start the game and you could literally run into a dinosaur within 20 seconds and be wiped out. So the early focus was on combat and survival.

With the TV show, we’ll definitely be exploring some of the other aspects of dinosaur music and the sense of wonder that one would have when encountering them for the first time. And yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing people’s reactions to the TV show, because it has an unbelievable story, which a lot of people don’t fully uncover, because it’s quite a grind to experience the full story in the game. I think my hope is that the animated series kind of condenses the story into into a format that people can digest that would be a really good companion for the game. But also, I think it will stand alone, because the story is so unique. It’s also a new format for me, because I’ve never done a TV series before. And it’s also one of the rare occasions where the game composer actually gets to do the TV show [adaptation].

I know you can’t discuss anything overly specific but, I do have a general question about ARK II, which I understand you’re working on now. In general, what’s it been like returning to the world of ARK? Will the new game’s score be based on the first game or do you start from scratch?

That’s a really good question. So we’ve already shown one trailer of [ARK II]. And if you watch the trailer, it’s an incredibly primitive setting. And there’s ARK Genesis 2 also, which is the final expansion for the first game. If you compare the two settings, ARK Genesis 2, which is the expansion that came out three weeks ago, it’s very futuristic, very sci-fi, for reasons that the game story will reveal. And then ARK II is completely primitive. So going back to the music, we were building on the ARK world and the ARK universe, but you can take just from the visuals, that it will probably be a very primitive sounding score. And a lot more violent. Whereas ARK I is about, “Where are we, it’s a sense of adventure. Oh, I contain dinosaurs,” ARK II is more, “Oh my goodness, this world is harsh.” And everything is very primitive. So it’s more taking what we have and expanding on it. And also trying to give it a different feel where ARK Genesis 2 gave the ARK world a sci-fi feel, ARK II is going to dive into some very, very primitive sounds. I’m doing research on the oldest sounding instruments that I can possibly find.

So unlike Immortals Fenyx Rising and ARK: Survival Evolved, the Ori games are platformer games. Does that format change how you score the game at all, compared to other open-world games you’ve worked on?

It’s funny because Ori is a platformer, but it is also quite open, you can explore quite extensively. The difference is you’re on a 2D plane as opposed to 3D. So you’re always limited to what you can see on screen. And that actually makes it a bit easier. Remember what I was talking about earlier, I play the game to see how the game flows and where music can change. It’s actually easier because there’s less going on, on the screen. So I can be much more granular and specific about what’s going to happen where, but fundamentally the approach is still the same. I play the game, I figure out the tempo, I figure out the rhythms, then the artwork comes in and I choose all the different instruments. And you have a set of themes, Shriek the villain has a theme, all the peripheral characters have themes, and it still gets put together in the same way. It’s all about just finding what clicks with the game in terms of the music, and the only way I know is just to play the games. But I think Ori was the first game where I figured out that was the approach that worked best to me.

What was the inspiration behind the overall sound of the Ori games? It’s a very different sound from the Immortals game and ARK: Survival Evolved and I was curious how you came up with it.

The game has an incredibly unique art style, it’s hand-painted. There’s also the general tone of the game. Other than the truly epic moments, of which there are a handful in each game, it’s generally quite a soft game in comparison to Immortals and Ark, which are, as you know, blood and thunder all the way. And, one thing I found with the Ori games, is that music gives you a little bit of space. It’s difficult to describe, but there’s got to be space in the music to invite you into the world, there’s always going to be something that keeps you hooked in. So most of the Ori music that you hear when you’re exploring the environment, it’s these soft, beautiful, ethereal beds of sound. There are two constants in the exploration music. One is like a gentle motor or rhythm constantly in the exploration music. The reason for that is it’s a platform, and you’re always constantly moving, those little footsteps are constantly pitter pattering away. And the music is designed to push the player forward, because in a platform game, you really always should be moving, you’re generally not standing still in a platform figuring out where to go next.

Now the other thing that you hear on top of that, there’ll always be some kind of melodic element in the exploration music. But the melodic element comes in and out in an exploration track there. And that kind of draws the ear in. If it’s there for too long, then the ear gets tired of it and it starts to distract from the overall gameplay experience because we’re throwing so much at the audience, it’s sensory overload. With new visuals, you pick up a new ability, and you want to try that out. Or now you’ve got to fight a monster. And I don’t want to be throwing too many things where the melody comes in just often enough to keep the music interesting to listen to, and then it goes away. And then you hear a new texture or a new instrument.

A related question, and similar to the one I asked about ARK II, is the music for Will of the Wisps directly connected to the music you created for The Blind Forest or is this wholly new?

So the main connection was with the main theme. I mean, we learned pretty quickly that the main theme is key. I don’t want to compare myself to the great man [John Williams] but if I didn’t use the main themes of the first game it would be like Star Wars not using the main theme for the title role. You like that the main theme was so popular from the first game, so when you started the second game, it’s a new arrangement of the main theme, but it’s still very definitively the main theme from the first game. But other than that, it still feels like Ori but what the comparison I like to make is in the first game, he’s naive, he’s just being born, he’s discovering this world and everything is brand new to him. So it’s kind of a naive, much more gentle sounding score, and it’s got a unique charm, whereas in the second game, Ori’s grown up, and he’s discovering his true purpose in the world.

And what I like to say about the second game is it’s not just Ori that’s grown up, Moon Studios, the developer has grown up into a more mature studio, the themes of the game are more mature. And honestly, myself, I would say I grew up as a composer too. If you compare the two soundtracks, it’s very clear that one is more mature than the other. That doesn’t mean to say that the first soundtrack is not as good, it’s just very different. And it’s funny because I probably wouldn’t write Ori and the Blind Forest the same way, in 2021 that I did in 2014. I’m a different person now. We’re always developing. I think that was it, because that was my big break. And it was the studio’s big break. And we were just kind of figuring it all out as we went along, much like Ori is in the game. So I think there’s that unique synergy and that same unique synergy happened on the second game, because we knew what we were doing. And that led us to be able to better tell the more mature themes in the game, because we were more confident in our storytelling.

I had a great time during the sequel, because it did allow me to explore some of the things that I’d established in the first game as well, and add a little bit more to them. And also developing the main Ori theme just a couple more times, especially in the final scene. The final key scene of the game is really a recap of all the core themes in the game in the space of about three and a half minutes. It actually kind of wrote itself, because I thought, well, everything’s here, I just need to put it in the right order. So it matches and the end of the game was quite fun. Literally, the last vocal notes are pretty much the exact same ones as “Ori Lost in the Storm” from the very first game.

I had an amazing time speaking with Gareth Coker about his work on these amazing video games and I hope you enjoyed reading this interview. I want to say thank you to Gareth Coker for taking the time to speak with me and I hope everyone has a great day!

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Composer Interviews

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Soundtrack News: Star Wars: The Bad Batch Volume 1 (Episodes 1-8) Available Now

Star Wars: The Bad Batch, Volume 1 (Episodes 1-8) is now available from Walt Disney Records. Star Wars: The Bad Batch debuted on May 4, with new episodes releasing each Friday, streaming exclusively on Disney+. Award-winning composer Kevin Kiner composed and produced all 37 tracks on Volume 1Star Wars: The Bad Batch, Volume 2 (Episodes 9-16) is set for release on August 20.

Honored with multiple Emmy and Annie nominations, as well as 12 BMI awards, Kevin Kiner is one of the most versatile and sought-after composers in Hollywood. In creating intimate soloistic guitar music over the grim realities of the Juarez Cartel, to grand orchestral music for a galaxy far, far away, Kevin’s wide musical range has allowed him to take on such diverse projects as Netflix’s hit series “Narcos: Mexico,” “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” Showtime’s “City on a Hill,” AMC’s “Hell on Wheels,” CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” CBS’s “CSI: Miami,” and Netflix’s “Making a Murderer.”

Kiner said of The Bad Batch:

I hope you enjoy our latest installment of Bad Batch cues from season one. Bad Batch continues to add to some of my favorite themes I’ve written for the Star Wars universe, most likely because many of these are co-written with my sons Sean and Dean (Omega’s Theme especially)! Some fun stealth music is in here with a bit of an homage to ‘The Dirty Dozen,’ or ‘The Guns of Navarone.’ I played the solo guitar viol instrument on ‘Zygerrian Camp.’ Also, check out Cad Bane is back!!!  May the Force be with you.

The series follows the elite and experimental troopers of Clone Force 99 (first introduced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars) as they find their way in a rapidly changing galaxy in the immediate aftermath of the Clone War. Members of Bad Batch, as they prefer to be called — a unique squad of clones who vary genetically from their brothers in the Clone Army — each possess a singular exceptional skill, which makes them extraordinarily effective soldiers and a formidable crew. 

Track List

1. Logo (Star Wars: The Bad Batch) (0:19)
2. Omega’s Theme (2:58)
3. Civil War About to Begin (3:21)
4. Onderon (3:06)
5. Battle Simulation (4:46)
6. Experimental Tactics (2:34)
7. Omega Warns Hunter (2:34)
8. Caleb at the Cliff (3:01)
9. End of the War (3:17)
10. Tension with Crosshair (3:54)
11. Disobeying Orders (4:52)
12. First Time in Space (2:07)
13. Nexu Attack (1:57)
14. Raising Kids (3:31)
15. Smuggled Themselves (4:47)
16. Ordo Moon Dragon (4:24)
17. First Elite Squad (3:56)
18. Financial Incentives (3:23)
19. Danger at the Market (3:13)
20. Pantora Chase (3:13)
21. Fennec Shand (2:40)
22. Zygerrian Camp (3:22)
23. Muchi Unchained (2:58)
24. Monster Challenge (2:26)
25. Decommissioned Factory (4:25)
26. Police Droids (3:36)
27. A Diversion (3:31)
28. Stranger at the Bar (1:27)
29. To Bracca (2:32)
30. Stay Above the Water Line (3:02)
31. Chip Disorders (3:34)
32. Bomb Disposal Training (2:46)
33. Incoming Vessels (2:26)
34. Fight in the Artillery Room (2:44)
35. Breakaway Plan (3:50)
36. The Bounty Hunter Is Back (2:29)
37. Cid’s Jukebox Mix Vol. 1 (4:48)

You can check out the first installment of the Star Wars: The Bad Batch soundtrack now!

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My Thoughts on: F9 (2021)

After being delayed for about a year, I finally got to go and watch F9 in theaters. This is the first mainline installment of the Fast & Furious series that I’ve seen in theaters since Fast Five in 2011 (Hobbs & Shaw is a spin-off and therefore doesn’t count). After the epic display that was Fate of the Furious, I was very excited to see F9, especially as it revealed two earth-shattering bombshells. One: Dom has had a younger brother this entire time and we’re only just now meeting him and two: Han is still alive! With these two twists alone I was more than eager to see how the film would go about explaining them.

Well….I have good news and bad news. The good news is, the film DOES do a pretty adequate job of explaining how Dom has had a younger brother this entire time AND how Han didn’t die like we thought he did. The bad news is how the film goes about it. A decent chunk of this 2 1/2 hour film is devoted to lengthy flashbacks explaining both of these stories. It’s not that the flashbacks aren’t well done, they’re actually quite good. The thing is, if a film has to jump through this many hoops to explain its current plot…then something has gone sideways somewhere along the way. Perhaps I can explain the issue best if I say that F9 has to try way too hard to explain the existence of Jakob Toretto and Han’s not-being-dead. It doesn’t help that we’re meant to believe that John Cena is Vin Diesel’s younger brother. I tried to believe it, I really did, but it doesn’t quite work, though I will give everyone involved credit for trying.

That’s not the film’s only issue either. After five straight installments of upping the action to another level, F9 finally went too far by going to space. The entire submarine sequence in Fate of the Furious was more believable than this. There is now literally no way for the tenth and eleventh installments (more on those later) to raise the action to another level now without looking absolutely ridiculous. I mean how can you possibly top going to space?? You can’t and that’s going to be a problem down the line.

Also, there’s something about how the whole story is put together that bothered me. And after thinking about it for a while, I think I know what it is. See, at this point I’m used to the Fast & Furious movies jumping around to exotic locales, which F9 does plenty of. But there’s so much jumping around that it dawned on me that the film overall feels very disjointed. So even if most of the individual sections are good (or at least okay), taken together as a whole, it’s rather uneven in many places. I will say I loved the scene with Helen Mirren and Vin Diesel, it was delightful from beginning to end.

One more thing that bothered me: your experience of this film will most definitely suffer if you haven’t seen the early installments of this series. In particular, if you (like me) have yet to see The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, then one whole section of this film is going to make little to no sense to you. I get that they wanted to do a callback, but this one goes so far back it might go over a lot of people’s heads.

Now, with all that being said, I still can’t say the film was terrible because I did enjoy quite a few moments in it. Cipher (Charlize Theron) in particular was a delight to watch, though I do wish her character had gotten more screen time given her current importance to the story. There’s a lot of really good funny spots scattered throughout and the car chases, as always, were the best part of the movie (that stuff with magnets that gets teased in the trailers is just as good as it looks, trust me). This definitely isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen, though it probably is the weakest entry in the Fast & Furious franchise to date (yes, even weaker than Hobbs & Shaw).

The thing that really gets me is, I don’t see how they can keep the story going for another two entries, I really don’t. This film had the perfect opportunity to kill Cipher off once and for all, wrap everything up in a neat little bow and give our heroes their happily ever after. And I don’t know how it will be in other theaters, but when it was revealed that, spoiler alert, Cipher wasn’t dead, I swear I heard a soft groan in the theater as we all realized the same thing: the ultimate villain lives, this story will continue. Of course I want to see Cipher get what’s coming to her after everything she’s done, but really what more can they do?? As much as I love the Fast & Furious films, they’re getting dangerously close to wearing out their welcome by dragging the story on for too long. No franchise, however good, can last forever, and F9 is proof that you can drag a story too far and make it not as good as it might have been.

Again, I can’t say I hated F9, but it was not as good as I thought it might be. John Cena is an adequate addition to the story, but he’s not the Rock and I hate that he and Vin Diesel had a falling out because Hobbs’ presence was sorely missed in this story, at least by me. If you’ve stuck it out this far with this franchise, then you’ll likely find stuff to enjoy in F9, just don’t raise your expectations too high.

Let me know what you think about F9 in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Fast Five (2011)

My Thoughts on: Furious 7 (2015)

My Thoughts on: The Fate of the Furious (2017)

My Thoughts on: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

Film Reviews

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My Thoughts on: Who Are You, Charlie Brown? (2021)

I was delighted to receive the opportunity to screen Who Are You, Charlie Brown? ahead of its June 25th release on Apple TV+. This is a documentary that takes a fresh look at the life and legacy of Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts and everyone’s favorite lovable loser, Charlie Brown.

One detail that really drew me into Who Are You, Charlie Brown? is that this isn’t a straight up documentary. While we spend plenty of time listening to well-known figures recounting their love and recollections of iconic Peanuts moments and characters, as well as numerous archival clips of Schulz recounting his own experiences, the entire thing is woven around a newly made Peanuts cartoon, where Charlie Brown has to deal with the seemingly monumental task of writing a 500 word essay about who he is. As the documentary takes us through Peanuts history, Charlie Brown revisits some of the most iconic characters and locations seen throughout the history of the comic strip: the baseball field, Lucy’s psychiatric help desk, Schroeder and his piano, Linus standing by the brick wall, Snoopy and his fight with the Red Baron, and so on. As Charlie Brown comes to understand who he is, we also come to a better understanding of who Charles Schulz was, and gain a greater appreciation for Peanuts at the same time.

As a lifelong fan of Peanuts, I already knew a lot of the information presented in this documentary, but I didn’t know a lot about the cartoonist’s early years, and this period was covered in touching detail. With added input from the artist’s widow, you really get a feel for how Charles Schulz grew into the man who gave us some of the most iconic cartoon characters to ever exist. We actually get to hear quite a lot from the man himself from clips taken from over the years of his life. It was quite touching to see so much of Schulz, given that he’s been gone for 21 years (a day I’ll always remember because that was the day the last Peanuts strip was published).

On top of all this, what really brings this documentary together for me is the great music from Jeff Morrow. It to be extremely difficult to write music for a series that features some iconic pieces from Vince Guaraldi, but Morrow really pulls it off. The music throughout sounds like it came straight out of the world of Peanuts and he makes sure to cite some of Guaraldi’s greatest hits along the way.

While not nearly as long, Who Are You, Charlie Brown? reminded me in all the best ways of the 2018 Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? because it gives insight into a beloved creator (in this case Charles Schulz) and we get to hear from a number of people who talk about Schulz and his work on Peanuts.

Who Are You, Charlie Brown? is available exclusively on Apple TV+ as of June 25, 2021 and I highly recommend checking it out, it was a lot of fun to watch.

Let me know what you think about Who Are You, Charlie Brown? in the comments below and have a great day!

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Film Reviews

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Soundtrack News: Milan Records to Release Original Motion Picture Soundtrack for ‘I Carry You With Me’ on June 25

Milan Records is excited to announce the June 25 release of the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from the Sony Picture Classics and Stage 6 Films’ drama I Carry You With Me composed by Jay Wadley (I’m Thinking of Ending ThingsDriveways). The soundtrack is composed of 19 lush tracks, which Entertainment Weekly calls, “a wrenching score that swells and fades to the rhythms of these men’s lives.” Making their debut today exclusively via Vehlinggo ahead of Friday’s wide release are two tracks from the soundtrack – listen to “One Year” and “Ivan’s Chance” HERE. Coinciding with the film’s theatrical debut, the soundtrack will release on June 25, 2021.

A two-time winner of the Charles Ives Award from the American Academy of Arts and letters and featured in IndieWire’s 2020 and 2016’s 10 Best Scores of the Year, Jay Wadley is a NY-based composer and music producer. He recently scored Charlie Kaufman’s phycological drama/thriller I’m Thinking of Ending Things, featuring an original ballet. Other recent projects include Heidi Ewing’s I Carry You With Me, Emma Tammi’s Blood Moon (from Hulu/Blumhouse’s Into The Dark Horror Anthology Series), and Season 2 of Amazon’s Emmy®-nominated series Modern Love

“In the score for ‘I Carry You With Me,’ I aimed to create a vibrant sense of nostalgia and longing using a combination of textural electronics and piano, string orchestra and some familiar sourced sounds from the streets of Mexico,” says composer Jay Wadley.  “[Director] Heidi [Ewing] sent me a collection of sounds she recorded in the streets to inspire the sound world and make unique connections to the specific sense of time and place. One of the most prominent sounds you can hear woven into the score is the sound of the Camotero whistle from the food trucks in Mexico. I tuned and stretched out the whistle to use as a musical punctuation and thematic device to help call back to Ivan’s childhood memories working the streets with his father.”

Premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and based on true love, I Carry You With Me is a decades spanning romance that begins in Mexico between an aspiring chef (Armando Espitia) and a teacher (Christian Vázquez). Their lives restart in incredible ways as societal pressure propels them to embark on a treacherous journey to NYC with dreams, hopes, and memories in tow.

I CARRY YOU WITH ME (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK)TRACKLISTING – 

  1. I Carry You With Me
  2. Bar Franco
  3. Chiles En Nogada
  4. Sandra
  5. Complicated Boyfriend
  6. Gerardo’s Flashback
  7. You Can’t Take Him From Me
  8. Take That Off
  9. One Year
  10. We Are Not Going To Die
  11. The Letter / New York
  12. I’m Proud of You
  13. He Should Come Back
  14. Reunited
  15. Ivan’s Chance
  16. You Came To Me
  17. I Just Can’t See It
  18. Dad’s In the Hospital
  19. There’s No Path

The soundtrack album for I Carry You With Me will be released on June 25, 2021.

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Soundtrack News: ‘Wish Dragon’ Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is Available Now

Earlier this month Milan Records released Sony Picture Animations Wish Dragon Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Philip Klein. The 25 tracks feature a number of traditional Chinese instruments – the Pipa, the Sheng, Ruan – but run through synthesizers and given a modern touch.

Speaking about working on the score, Philip Klein said, “The journey of scoring Wish Dragon began with hours of creative discussions, a fair amount of geeking out and the trial and error of musical experiments with director Chris Appelhans.”

He went on to explain, “Our mutual love of exploring lesser known music and sound guided us through generations of Chinese folk songs, instruments, artists and expression. What we ended up with over a year later was a deeply layered, thematic score; richly colored by beautiful traditional instruments, wistful textures and the might of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Chris’ deep love and respect for this story and all of the brilliant filmmakers and artists behind it made my job seem like I was the one being granted a wish.”

Following an inspiring trip to China in 2006, director Chris Appelhans returned fascinated by the country’s vibrant culture and overnight modernization. He realized it was the perfect setting for a story about wishes; in a world changing so fast, the big questions about life and values were impossible to ignore. Compelled to share this unique yet universal story with audiences around the world, he knew animation was the best way to express the story’s authenticity, humor and heart. He even learned Mandarin.

Chris Appelhans had this to say about the score, “[Philip Klein] has created the kind of score that not only elevates the film, but stands on its own — iconic melodies, true soul and a timeless mix of modern and traditional elements. Every time I listen, I’m moved — and to me that’s the highest praise any music can earn.”

Track List

1. Endless Sky – Kenton Chen, Katherine Ho & Weilim Lin
2. Free Smiles – Tia Ray
3. Prologue – Philip Klein
4. Li Na Says Goodbye – Philip Klein
5. I Gotta Go – Philip Klein
6. The Goons – Philip Klein
7. All Dressed Up – Philip Klein
8. The Tea Is Ready – Philip Klein
9. Finders Keepers – Philip Klein
10. City Walk – Philip Klein
11. Aerial Acrobatics – Philip Klein
12. Din and Li Na – Philip Klein
13. Long Admits – Philip Klein
14. Din and Mom Argue – Philip Klein
15. Shanghai Showdown – Philip Klein
16. That Same Old Shikumen – Philip Klein
17. Certain Expectations – Philip Klein
18. The Wish Dragon – Philip Klein
19. Teapot Battle – Philip Klein
20. True Sacrifice – Philip Klein
21. My Last Wish – Philip Klein
22. Everything That Matters / The End – Philip Klein
23. A Tale As Old As Time (Suite I) – Philip Klein
24. A Tale as Old as Time (Suite II) – Philip Klein
25. Din’s Piano – Philip Klein

See also:

My Thoughts on: Wish Dragon (2021)

Music, Magic, and Dragons: Talking With Composer Philip Klein About Wish Dragon (2021)

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Soundtrack News: ‘The Reason I Jump’ hybrid OST Is Out Now!

Mercury KX has released the OST of the Sundance 2020 winning feature film The Reason I Jump composed by award-winning composer Nainita Desai.
This is a soundtrack that has already been nominated for both a BIFA and Cinema Eye Honors Award for Best Music Score.

Based on the best-selling book by Naoki Higashida, The Reason I Jump is an immersive cinematic exploration of neurodiversity through the experiences of non-speaking autistic people from around the world, directed by Jerry Rothwell. The film blends Higashida’s revelatory insights into autism written when he was just 13, with intimate portraits of five remarkable young people. It opens a window for audiences into an intense and overwhelming, but often joyful, sensory universe.

Like the book upon which the film is based, Desai’s score opens a door to a constellation of divergent ways of experiencing reality. The aim was to evoke the intense sensory worlds described in the book with a Dolby Atmos 360 soundtrack. Distinctions were made between the musical worlds of the different characters in the soundtrack, using different instrumentation. True to the film’s themes, Nainita sought authenticity towards Autism and Neurodiversity, Elisabeth Wiklander, cellist with the LPO is autistic and a cultural ambassador for the National Autistic Society and her contribution brought great sensitivity and perception.

“This piece is my most personal musical reflection from the film and interpretation of the characters’ experience of neurodiversity. The lyrics are inspired by text from the original book where I gave a voice to the non-verbal characters, breaking their ‘silence’. I wanted the lyricism of the strings, the delicate piano and purity of the voice to shed a gentle light on all the facets of autism explored in the film, tying Naoki’s final words together with understanding and empathy”, says Nainita Desai about the focus track ‘The Reason I Jump’

The Reason I Jump is Desai’s 7th soundtrack release but also her most personal; a hybrid OST and personal album ‘the album embodies my roots in sound design, the human voice, electronic and sonic exploration of acoustic instruments that hint at the journey I am embarking on my own with my own personal music’.

Track List

  1. Time Has No Boundaries (2:23)
  2. Beauty Is In The Detail (2:40)
  3. I, Too, Exist (3:51)
  4. Floating Into Focus (3:01)
  5. Shaking The Ropes Loose (1:24)
  6. Memories And Images (1:27)
  7. Outside The Flow Of Time (2:27)
  8. Drowning In A Sea Of Words (3:04)
  9. The Reason I Jump (3:32)
  10. Green Boxes (1:44)
  11. The Prettiness Of A Dandelion (2:08)
  12. Imaginings (1:48)
  13. Forever Swaying (3:06)
  14. Permission To Be Alive (1:42)
  15. Faulty Robot (1:34)
  16. The Sensory World (3:54)

See also:

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Remembering the Human Element in an Alien Invasion: Talking with Composer Frederik Wiedmann About ‘Occupation Rainfall’ (2021)

I recently had the chance to speak with composer Frederik Wiedmann about his work on the film Occupation Rainfall. Wiedmann has been inspired by film composition since he first heard John Barry’s score to Dances With Wolves at the age of 12. Wiedmann is the composer behind the hit Disney Junior show Miles from Tomorrowland, as well as the critically acclaimed Netflix animated fantasy series The Dragon Prince, which is from the writers of the popular series: Avatar: The Last Airbender. In 2016, he won a Daytime Emmy Award in the category of “Outstanding Original Song” alongside lyricist Mitch Watson, for the song “True Bromance” from Dreamworks Animation’s Madagascar spinoff All Hail King Julien

Recently, Wiedmann composed music for the thriller Hangman (directed by Johnny Martin, starring Al Pacino, Karl Urban, Brittany Snow), and two projects for Millennium Films, Acts of Vengeance (featuring Antonio Banderas, Paz Vega and Karl Urban), and Day of the Dead: Bloodline (starring Sophie Skelton and Jonahon Schaech). His credits also include Universal’s “Doom – Annihilation” as well as the epic civil war drama Field of Lost Shoes (directed by Sean McNamara), Paul Schrader’s feature Dying of the Light, The Damned, and Intruders

In Occupation Rainfall:

 This film takes place two years into an intergalactic invasion of earth. Survivors in Sydney, Australia, fight back in a desperate ground war. As casualties mount by the day, the resistance and their unexpected allies, uncover a plot that could see the war come to a decisive end. With the Alien invaders hell-bent on making earth their new home, the race is on to save mankind.

I hope you enjoy my conversation with Frederik Wiedmann about Operation Rainfall!

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me! My first question is, how did you get started as a composer?
Ever since I heard John Barry’s score for “Dances with Wolves” in 1990, I couldn’t stop fantasizing about becoming a composer myself. This slowly transformed into reality when my studies in Jazz helped me to become a proper composer. And once I completed my BA in FIlm scoring at Berklee College of Music  in 2004, I was ready to go to Hollywood and dive into the industry. After having worked for a handful of busy and established composers in LA, I started my own journey as a film composer, and have since been writing cues every single day. My first film was the Warner Brothers direct to video horror  film “Return to House on Haunted Hill”, which opened the doors to several more feature films of the same genre, as well as many other fantastic projects. 

How did you get involved with Occupation Rainfall?

This happened through a rather unusual way for me. Generally I get work from either my agents, or previous collaborators, or by recommendation. In this case, I got an email through my website from the director Luke Sparke himself, inquiring about my availability. He said he’s heard a lot of my DC scores and has been appreciating them for a while now. So we started talking and he showed me some of the film’s incredible footage.  I signed on to this amazing and hugely ambitious project almost immediately and we were off to the races. I think in my excitement i scored all of reel 1 in just a matter of days, and the rest is history. 

I read that you and the director spotted about 117 minutes of music for this film, which is almost wall-to-wall music. How did you and the director decide on having a score that long, because that is a lot of music to write for one movie.
We both are a big fan of huge, adventurous blockbusters, and some movies we discussed as a musical concept were “Transformers”, “Independence Day”, and even older films like “The Rock” and even “Star Wars”. We both agreed that music can  become a driving force in this film, and almost another character, an element to guide us through this rather intense, and emotional story. It is a lot of music to write, no doubt, and I am sure this amount of music can be intimating for composers. But to be honest, it seems that I generally attracted music-heavy movies with a lot of score, and after having scored so many of these type of films, it sort of becomes second nature and simply a fun and exciting process for me. There are some moments of course where we decided to pull music out., but not that many. 

Was there a lot of collaboration on this score between you and the director on this
score?
Absolutely. Luke is incredibly knowledgeable in film music. He knows a lot about it and therefore could tell me exactly what he envisioned for his film. It almost felt like I’d known him for many years, since we had really great synergy and our ideas complemented each other really well. It is every composer’s dream to work for filmmakers that not only appreciate what you bring to the table, and give you the necessary creative  freedom to “do your thing”, but also know how to guide you and “direct” you in a way that is nothing but inspiring. 


What sets the music for Occupation Rainfall apart from earlier alien invasion films like Independence Day or Skyline to name a few examples?

Good question. I’ve seen all of them, and I am total sucker for this genre (anything with Aliens, sign me up!). What I liked in particular about Occupation: Rainfall was the human component in the story. The script had such wonderfully nuanced characters, that are constantly conflicted with their beliefs and values, and have to decide more than on one occasion how far they will go for the greater good. And this very human and personal dilemma plays a roll not only for our heroes, but also villains (the human ones). I think this is a very interesting topic to focus on in an alien invasion film, something that goes far beyond the Sci-fi and Action/Adventure element. So in terms of the music, I think this becomes very apparent, as there are lots of very emotional pieces, and even our “hero theme” is more about “human sacrifice” than an actual  “superhero”. 

How did working on Occupation Rainfall compare to working on earlier projects like The Dragon Prince, Doom: Annihilation, and the DC animated films, just to name a few examples?
Like I mentioned above, the amount of music was very similar (given the projects mentioned here are a lot shorter generally), all of them have a lot of complex orchestral music. The big difference from let’s say “The Dragon Prince”, which is a mostly “in the box’ score with the exceptions of soloists,  to “Occupation” was that we planned on recording a rather large live orchestra, and during the peak of a pandemic no less (Summer 2020). So besides writing a lot of music and getting it approved in time, I had to account for a lot of time for recordings in London and Macedonia, and for orchestration (done by my partner in crime Hyesu Wiedmann). So suddenly you have 3-4 weeks less for writing since you need a lot of time to get 2 hours + orchestrated and prepared for the individual players, and at least 1 week of recording, and mixing. So that changes things a little in the process, but if you know what you are going to do in advance, and you have people behind you that full support you, it becomes an easy process. 

How much time did you have to score this film?
I had close to 3 months from start to finish, which felt very comfortable. 

Did you create specific musical themes for different characters or ideas?
Yes. One of the first cues I wrote for this film was the hero theme I mentioned above. A theme mostly used for our protagonist heroes, that selflessly try to save humanity, while sacrificing quite a bit themselves. The female lead, Amelia, had a theme which introduces her screen presence, the aliens had a dark and ominous, almost leaning into horror, type theme, and we had a theme for “humanity”, which is also not quite uplifting so to speak, but a nice mix of darkness and optimism that gives the situation humankind finds itself in a nice and authentic color. 

Is there any musical detail that you hope stands out to viewers who watch this film?

I hope the audience will appreciate the thematic treatment throughout, the absolutely fantastic performances of my London Orchestra record at the famous AIR studios, the gorgeous string melodies performed by my orchestra in Macedonia, and the more unique instruments I layered in throughout, like the haunting Armenian Duduk, Japanese Shakuhachi, several layers of solo violins and cellos and dark female vocals, representing the rather scary alien queen.

I want to give a big thank you to Frederik Wiedmann for taking the time to talk with me about Occupation Rainfall and I hope you enjoyed the discussion!

See also:

Composer Interviews

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My Thoughts on: The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021)

I knew going in that there was a decent chance I wouldn’t like The Hitman’ Wife’s Bodyguard. For one, I hadn’t seen the first film, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and going to see the sequel without seeing the first film can be quite problematic depending on the film. However, despite going in completely blind I was willing to give the film a chance, the previews had certainly looked funny enough.

I should’ve known better.

Rule #1 of being a movie blogger: NEVER trust the previews.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard picks up, ostensibly, where the first film leaves off, with Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) attempting to pick up the pieces of his life. Of course, Sonia (Salma Hayek) drags him back into the fray and he’s soon on the run with Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) whether he likes it or not. It sounds coherent enough, and there’s actually a decent premise buried deep down with a pretty good villain, but it’s executed so badly that no inducement on Earth could get me to watch this mess again.

I was about halfway through the film when it dawned on me that I was watching a terrible movie. Make no mistake about it, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination. If I had to sum up the film’s biggest problem, it’s that I feel like the writers flung three different film plots together, connected them with the three main characters, and prayed that it would make a roughly coherent story. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for the fractured story that comprises so many different moods and plot elements that it quickly loses any semblance to a rational story (though it’s entirely possible that that’s the point).

The one bright spot in this film is the spine-chilling performance turned in by Antonio Banderas as the film’s villain. I wish we could’ve gotten more of him in this film, because every time he was on the screen I visibly brightened up.

I also can’t get over how jarring the mood of this film was. The story flips from a weird humor to deadly serious and back at the drop of a hat and it was hard to get into the story and stay invested (about 3/4 of the way through I just gave up). Many of the emotional story twists felt completely unnecessary. There’s an entire story arc with Bryce’s dad that amused me, confused me, and finally infuriated me with how it was executed.

There’s only so many ways to put this so I’ll say it one last time: The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is not a good movie, I’m honestly surprised I made it all the way through without leaving. The minor bright spots aren’t enough weren’t enough to save it, and it’s 90+ minutes of my life I can never get back (yes, it was that bad).

Whether you agree or disagree, let me know what you think of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard in the comments below and have a good day!

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