Talking with Jeff Cardoni about Heels

I recently had the opportunity to speak with composer Jeff Cardoni about his work on the first season of Heels. Cardoni’s previous work includes (but is not limited to): CSI: Miami, Silicon Valley (TV series), The Defenders, The League, and Wilfred.

Please note this interview took place before Heels was officially renewed for a second season. I hope you enjoy our discussion about the show!

How did you get started as a composer in general?

Basically, same as everyone else. My parents forced me to play piano at a very young age. I didn’t know that I wanted to do it at that point. I played piano from six till I think 14. And then I switched instruments. But that’s how it all started.

So with Heels, how did you get connected to that show? And what did you think of its premise being about wrestling?

I heard from a mutual acquaintance and they said, “Are you trying to do Heels? Are you in the mix on that?” I’ve been saying forever that I wanted to do a sports drama. That’s my dream. That’s a project I’ve been looking for forever. So we had a mutual friend, the music supervisor. I texted the music supervisor and asked them about it, which got me a script and a chance to do a demo for it. So I indirectly searched it out.

So they liked the demo?

Yeah, I got lucky. I just read the script and wrote a piece of what I thought it would sound like in my head without seeing any video. But the piece I wrote got me the gig. And then it’s in the show. It’s the end of the last episode. So it made it through the whole process, which never ever happens. It’s never happened to me.

Did you know anything about professional wrestling before working on Heels?

Not enough to be an expert on it. You know, I knew a little bit. My brother used to be really into it when I was a kid and you know, with WrestleMania and all that stuff, but I didn’t watch it all the time or anything. No. So I kind of learned a lot in doing [the show].

For the show. Were you given any directions for how the show would sound? Did they have a specific sound in mind for Heels?

No, zero, it was the exact opposite. I wrote the demo, which ironically was called “Crystal Belongs in the Ring”, and I didn’t know that Crystal actually gets in the ring at the end of the last episode. So it turned out to be very fitting. That’s kind of what I in my head thought drama about wrestling would sound like because it’s in the south. And I just felt like guitar and piano and acoustic sounds are kind of Americana and, you know, relatable to everyone. So I thought it should be pretty grounded. I also did a solo album that came out right around this time. That was string quintet and electric guitar. I just wrote stuff that I wanted to do. It turns out that kind of became the sound of the show, guitar strings, piano, nothing, nothing very synthetic or electronic. I just thought it should be kind of, you know, as divided as the world is now with political things. And I think that sports is one of the things that can unite people, no matter what they believe. So I thought that this sound should be kind of relatable to everyone.

It definitely took me by surprise. Knowing it was about wrestling. I was I always think of more hard rock sounds for wrestling. So I heard this and I was like, oh, and then I click through a few more tracks. I’m like, Oh, this is different. And why also keep forgetting this is about a smaller promotion. And not necessarily the big, glitzy glammy the ones you see on TV

Right. I always felt like the music would be more about the family drama. That’s kind of what the score plays with. Moreover, we don’t really score any the wrestling until I think the fifth episode. I always felt that all the hard rock and all that big stuff will be covered in a song anyway, so I didn’t think the score needed to [do that]. And plus, I feel like it would just make it very one dimensional because, some people think of wrestling and you think of aggression, and I just felt like that’s already there. You don’t need to do that with music. So it’s trying to add another sound with a little more depth to it.

I’ll admit, that didn’t occur to me until partway through listening. I thought, “Oh, I’m thinking of the wrestling not the music in the wrestling show.”

Right. And there are some episodes we didn’t even see the ring. That’s what honestly was attractive to me more than the wrestling itself. It didn’t really matter what the sport was, you know, it could have been about hockey, it could have been about football. It doesn’t matter if you like football because you care about the characters. And I felt like that’s what this show had. A lot of really good characters.

And that’s what I mean, I guess that would be an easy trap to fall into is if you made it too much about the wrestling.

Right? I mean, honestly, I just got lucky because we had time. And I just kind of wrote what I thought in my head, watching the show about wrestling, and it just happened to work out. I mean, it could have gone horribly wrong. They could have gone the other way. And it could have been all about the aggression, in which case, I’d be looking for a job. But no, it worked. It felt very organic. It felt like a lot of times when you come on a project, late, there’s already this preconceived idea of what they want. They’ve been temping the music and trying things. So we had the benefit on this where I got to just write things. To my surprise, when I finally started seeing cuts to the picture, my music was in it and it was working. So that was just lucky. It’s one of those happy occurrences that doesn’t happen all the time.

So you were mentioning about “Crystal Belongs in the Ring.” I was reading in the the email they sent me for this interview, they said that that became like the base of the score itself.

Yeah, there’s just a couple of little motifs in that piece that pretty much became almost the whole score of the whole show. And every time there’d be some scenes with Crystal, I would just take the little piano theme and use that as kind of her theme. It really just set up this big match at the end, where she has to jump in the ring and actually wrestle. And it was just a really happy coincidence. You know, even when I named the cue “Crystal Belongs in the Ring.” I just based that from reading the first script when she had nothing to do with it. She was just a valet, and I didn’t know her arc was going to be so big and, and nobody told me that Crystal’s going in there. You know, it just kind of happened.

So just a really good happy accident.

Absolutely. You got it, you got to enjoy them when they happen.

Besides Crystal, are there any other character or idea-specific themes in the soundtrack that focus on specific people?

Yeah, I mean, there’s, there’s a theme for the family that’s in a lot of the cues. There’s not one specifically for Ace or Jack because they also have their own theme for the wrestling as well. So I kind of just tried to play a lot of the family drama with a more generic kind of theme for the family itself. Then there was a little tune for when they’re talking about their dad. A couple of those moments were for Ace, he saw his dad pass away in front of his eyes. So it’s haunted him for life.

Yeah. Um, I have an idea of what the answer will be but I need to ask anyway, did any music from real life professional wrestling companies influenced the sound at all?

No, not on my end.

I was just curious because I know that wrestlers have many themes and I didn’t know if they influenced that at all.

Well, I did not write the themes for when they walked in the ring. I know Ace’s song was written by the show-runner Michael Malleus. And I think Jack’s song was co written by the Director Pete Siegel’s son, Sean Siegel. So they probably emulated something or they’re influenced by something, but I’m sure the hard rock songs informed what they did there.

Okay. For some reason I thought all that would have been done by you too.

It depends. Sometimes the songs don’t fall on my plate. I did the theme song for the main title, but there were also a lot of musicians in the production. There were a lot of opportunities where they got to showcase some of their stuff. And Alexander came out with a new album as well. So I think he had some music in there, too. And then I did, I did do a lot of Stacie songs. A lot of the acoustic guitar songs that are on the soundtrack, I produced them for her.

About how long did it take to score each episode? Like how long was that process?

Well, this was all just long, not because it took long, but because the production got shut down, because Stephen [Amell] got injured. Last Christmas, I think they shut down for a month, he hurt his back because they were doing all the stunts for real. Between that and COVID, I think I started working on it in September, and I don’t think I got the first show until January or right before Christmas. So we had the luxury of time. It wasn’t a normal TV show where you look at the episode and you have a week and then you have to turn it around. It was more organic, which was nice. It’s kind of nice to have some time to really think about stuff. So as far as how long it took, I mean, it took an abnormally long amount of time, but not because w were holding it up just because that’s how it played out.

Since you had the time was it like was it scored all at once? Or was it still episode by episode?

It was episode by episode, but they were never finished at once. So I’d send some music for one, and then I started working on two. But really none of them were finished until the very end. By then it felt like we were making an eight hour movie. And something that I did in a later episode might have made it into an earlier episode, or we just had the time to experiment, and to try things. I dealt with the editors, and we’d be talking about episode and they’d say, we got a scene, we’re doing this, let me send you that. And I would do something and sometimes it will work. Sometimes it wouldn’t.

But we had a chance to try a lot of things before the show-runners and director and everyone got their hands on it. I can’t remember a show with fewer notes or changes than this. I mean, there were episodes, we’d get like one or two notes, and they were little small things. But there were very few “that’s not working for me. Let’s try something else there.” And I think that’s only because of having the time to do things, because I think when you have the time, then I’m looking at this scene and I’m trying to do something that that goes along with this scene, very little of the music had anything to do with picture cuts or anything like that or on on screen action. It was mostly more about what they’re feeling inside that time.

It sounds like it was like a relatively easy process because I’ve talked to several composers without having a ton of notes or otherwise constraints. And I haven’t heard of a show like this before where there wasn’t really any expectation laid down.

It was a dream, honestly. I mean, it really takes filmmakers that want you to bring something to the table. They’re not so precious, they’re open to being surprised, they’re open to see what you bring. Because there’s nothing worse than if you’re a composer for a show or a movie, and it’s got a bunch of other great scores temped in there and they say, “This is what we like”, then you’re already boxed in, you can’t really do anything. So I much prefer the other way where you can do anything. And sometimes you get it right. Sometimes you don’t. But at least when you finally get it, you got there from taking the journey together with the people, from being creative together instead of trying to do your version of what they liked before.

Do you have a favorite part of the soundtrack that you liked the best.

I have a good one. There is a cue at the end of the third episode, it was called “Buckle In”, I think, and it’s just this long montage. It’s three and a half minutes long. It’s just a single guitar piece, but it really worked. Because they put it at the right spot. And it just felt like it kind of helped the emotion without being boring. I’m so sensitive, especially with music that’s emotional to not be too melodramatic. It’s definitely playing to the emotions, but I never felt like it was sappy or over the top or cheesy. So I felt like that was a pretty good indication of simplicity works the best. There’s mistakes all over the place. But I think the mistakes kind of added to the charm of it. And so that was a happy accident. And then the theme song just meant a lot to me, because that was a really fun adventure, because it wasn’t supposed to be us in the beginning. I wasn’t supposed to do it. And it’s cool how it came around.

So how did it happen that you did end up doing it?

Well, I think as they were getting into the show, the network wanted to have a big artist do the theme song, like a known song or something. So they were having a lot of artists submit things for it. But as it was going on, every time I see a cut, there would just be a big black thing. That’s a theme to come in the mixer. So I was like, “damn, I want it, I think it should be part of the score, because I think it would really help tie the show together.” So I wrote something, and I just started putting it in there. And they kept getting it back with my thing in there. And eventually, I don’t think they were necessarily finding what they wanted from a song. So then eventually, someone said, “What’s this that’s in there?” And it was mine. But they wanted a singer. They wanted vocals on it. So then music supervisor John Leahy reached out and he said, “Would you consider collaborating?” Absolutely. I was like, “Hell yeah, Sign me up.”

And so he hooked me up with Ben, and we kind of did it in a few days. Yeah, I mean, when I first heard his final vocal, I was just like, goosebumps everywhere, because he brought something I wasn’t expecting. And he was awesome. You know, he just really went deep and brought his own personality to it. That’s the great thing about collaborating is when you you think you know what it should be until someone else brings their point of view and just takes it somewhere way better. That’s why you have to keep an open mind and not be closed off from those accidents, and Ben surprised the hell out of me. Not, that it wasn’t gonna be great, but he just took like, the verse, what I thought was the verse turned out to be the chorus and the bridge, and he just, it was just awesome.

One last question. Were there any moments that were harder to score than others?

Man, I hate to say this, but no. Honestly, I can’t think of any. I mean, there were a couple scenes where I’m not a singer, but I put my vocals on some of the cues. There’s a cue called “Fireflies” where there’s vocals on it. And I was just doing that when I was messing around when I was doing my original batch of music for the picture and even that made it in the show and I was like, I can’t believe they’re gonna put my voice out there. You know, there’s tons of effects and it’s pretty ethereal. So even that work, you feel like, “let’s get a better singer” but it kind of it just felt like that. I brought me to the table on this, you know if you might hate it, but I felt like it was the best. The best version of what I would do naturally to anything I’ve gotten to work on. Yeah, you know, so for that it feels super. I’m super proud of it. And it feels pure. You know, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it, but it wasn’t me trying to be someone else.

It really does sound like the perfect storm of stuff that came together.

Yeah, it really was. And I didn’t meet these people in person. You know, it was all zooms until the very end until the premiere. I hadn’t met Michael Waldron. We talked on the phone and stuff, but I never met him in person. So this is surreal.

Is the show coming back for season two?

We don’t know yet. But it doesn’t get Netflix level viewers, you know, and this show, honestly, this show got the best Rotten Tomatoes of anything I’ve ever worked on. It’s like 99%. And I feel like if somehow you can get it in front of a bigger audience, it’s going to blow up. So I hope it gets a chance to do another season. But I don’t know. They haven’t canceled it. But I don’t know.

I mean, I mean, I can only assume if it does come back. I mean, I assume you’ll be back for anything that comes up with it.

If it’s up to me, absolutely. I hope so as well. I just hope we find out you know, because it’s like, I feel like we did it, we put it we left it all in the ring, you know, and everyone did like this didn’t feel like another show. This felt like an art project that everyone was doing. It just loved it so much, you know, and we had the time and it just felt like everything was a creative everything you could you can hope for. And I feel like it’d be a real shame if it didn’t get exposed to more people and get another shot. So I mean, I know there’s economics involved. And that’s, that’s above my paygrade. But we’ll see what happens.

Thank you so much to Jeff Cardoni for taking the time to speak with me about Heels. Have a great day everyone!

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Soundtrack News: ‘The Lost City’ Original Soundtrack is Available Now

La-La Land Records and Paramount Music proudly are releasing Pinar Toprak’s original motion picture score to the Paramount Pictures action adventure comedy The Lost City, starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Danielle Radcliffe, and Brad Pitt. The score soundtrack will be available digitally from Paramount Music starting March 25, 2022, and on Limited Edition CD from www.lalalandrecords.com starting March 29, 2002.

Pinar Toprak has composed for major superhero sagas like Marvel Studios’ Captain MarvelDC’s Stargirl on The CW, and SY-FY’s Superman prequel series Krypton. She also scored HBO’s six-part docuseries McMillions, which earned her a 2020 Primetime Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (Original Dramatic Score).” In addition, she has written music for Epic Game’s massively popular online video game, Fortnite

“Writing this score brought me back to why I fell in love with film scores in the first place,” says renowned composer Pinar Toprak, “The adventure, the romance, and most importantly the FUN. It’s been a pure joy paying homage to those classic adventure films I loved growing up while giving it my own contemporary signature. It’s my sincerest hope that this score, like the ones that inspired me as a child, will withstand the test of time as well.”

In The Lost City, brilliant, but reclusive author Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) has spent her career writing about exotic places in her popular romance-adventure novels featuring handsome cover model Alan (Channing Tatum), who has dedicated his life to embodying the hero character, “Dash.” While on tour promoting her new book with Alan, Loretta is kidnapped by an eccentric billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe) who hopes that she can lead him to the ancient lost city’s treasure from her latest story. Wanting to prove that he can be a hero in real life and not just on the pages of her books, Alan sets off to rescue her. Thrust into an epic jungle adventure, the unlikely pair will need to work together to survive the elements and find the ancient treasure before it’s lost forever.

TRACK LIST

1 – The Lost City of D
2 – Pinot Grigio on Ice
3 – Book Tour
4 – The Only Clue
5 – You’re Safe Now
6 – The Island
7 – Ruins Revealed
8 – People Eat Cake
9 – Gotta Go Up
10 – Highly Trained & Very Dangerous
11 – Contoured Scenery
12 – Hands out, Butt to Butt
13 – Alan Gets a Moped 
14 – Hammock Extraction
15 – Set Your World on Fire
16 – It’s Not a Metaphor
17 – Watch Your Step
18 – The Tomb
19 – Fairfax Escapes
20 – Dulcius Ex Asperis
21 – Got Your Back
22 – A New Adventure Beginning
23 – The Final Countdown
24 – Danza De Dos
25 – Bolerito De La Isla
26 – Lagrimas Sin Fin (feat. Cecilia Noel)
27 – Stage Mishap (Bonus Track)
28 – Book Trailer (Bonus Track)

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My Thoughts on: Uncharted (2022)

*note: This review was originally published on Patreon in February

Against my better judgement, I went to see Uncharted, the long-gestating movie adaptation based on the video game series of the same name. Tom Holland plays treasure hunter Nathan Drake while Mark Wahlberg is his partner in crime Victor “Sully” Sullivan. The film follows the duo (and others) as they hunt down a missing fortune in gold worth billions.

Based on the mixed reviews I’d heard so far about this film, I was very worried about whether this film would be any good. However, my curiosity won out and I decided it was worth the risk to go. After all, the movie is just under 2 hours, so I figured it couldn’t be THAT bad.

Well, after sitting through the movie, I can officially report that Uncharted is nowhere near as bad as I feared it might be. While heavily flawed (I’ll get to those in a moment), the film does have some decently choreographed action moments and more than a few callbacks to the video games that I could appreciate (I haven’t played too far into the Uncharted games but I recognized a few easter eggs). The scenes where Nate and his cohorts are actively pursuing the treasure are by far the best moments in the film.

I’m also pleased to say that the film’s score is pretty decent. I also really appreciated that Nolan North (voice actor for Nathan Drake in the video games) made a cameo appearance in the movie (I won’t say where, but it’s pretty obvious when the moment comes).

Unfortunately, the good parts of the film are almost completely overshadowed by an almost criminal case of miscasting. My initial fears about this film when I saw the first trailer were unfortunately confirmed: Mark Wahlberg and Tom Holland are completely miscast as Sully and Nathan Drake. Holland is clearly putting his heart and soul into the performance, I’ll give him that, but I never could quite suspend my disbelief that this young man was Nathan Drake. And Wahlberg…..ugh. I don’t know, there was something about his performance that rubbed me slightly wrong throughout. Maybe it was the constant wisecracks, or just the way the character was written for the film, but I found myself definitely not liking him for most of the story (though he did kind of grow on me by the end).

It also mortifies me to say that Antonio Banderas was criminally misused in this film, to the point where I would almost accuse the film of a bait and switch. I was so excited to see Banderas play the villain in this movie….yea that’s not quite what happened.

I wasn’t really surprised to see a sequel hook at the end of the film and as much as the flaws bothered me, I was slightly surprised to realize I wouldn’t mind seeing another Uncharted movie. After all, a second film might give the filmmakers a chance to correct the flaws of the first one.

My final thoughts on the Uncharted movie are this: I’ve seen better movies than this, but I’ve also seen much worse. If you have two hours to kill, this isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon or evening. 

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

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Soundtrack News: Milan Records Releases ‘Ranking of Kings’ Original Anime Soundtrack

Milan Records has released RANKING OF KINGS (ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK) by composer MAYUKO (Cells at Work).  Available everywhere now, the album features score music written by MAYUKO for the hugely-popular original anime series nominated for Best Animation at the 2022 Crunchyroll Awards. From Wit Studio and Aniplex, the first 21 episodes of Ranking of Kings are available to stream on Crunchyroll and Funimation now.

Of the soundtrack, composer MAYUKO had the following to say:

“I encountered a wonderful work of art called Ranking of Kings and thought ‘I can make the music for this piece!’ I composed this piece with the feeling that it was the culmination of my life as a musician. Crying to sad songs, dancing to happy songs – a total of 91 tracks created with the characters’ feelings in mind. Along with Bojji’s great adventure, it has been my great adventure. We hope you enjoy every bit of it!”

The people of the kingdom look down on the young Prince Bojji, who can neither hear nor speak. They call him “The Useless Prince” while jeering at his supposed foolishness. How prosperous your nation is, how many powerful warriors it boasts, and how heroic and strong its king is. These are the criteria that factor into the system known as the Ranking of Kings. The main character, Bojji, was born the first prince of the kingdom ruled by King Bossu, who is ranked number seven in the Ranking of Kings. But Bojji was born unable to hear and is so powerless that he can’t even swing a sword. In consequence, not only his own retainers, but also the public, look down upon him as completely unfit to be king. It is then that Bojji finds his first friend, Kage. His fateful encounter with Kage ignites a tiny spark of courage, and Bojji’s life takes a dramatic turn…

RANKING OF KINGS (ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK)

TRACKLISTING – 

DISC 1
1. Ranking of Kings -Main Theme-
2. Ranking of Kings -Yuuki-
3. Bojji no Asa
4. Theme of Bojji
5. Chiisana Keikaishin
6. Hajimete no Kaiwa
7. Theme of Kage
8. Kyuuchi ni Tatasareru
9. Kyojinzoku
10. Idai na King Bosse
11. Teawase
12. Mamono Syugeki
13. Kage no Kanashii Kako
14. Hiyaase
15. Haha no Orgel
16. Onore no Sentaku
17. …Yabai!
18. Saiki Funou
19. Bojji to Kage no Yujyo
20. Ou no Shi
21. Ouhi no Ketsudan
22. Nigasanai
23. Tomadoi
24. Hiling no Doryoku
25. Oikakekko
26. Oniicyan ni Narunoyo
27. Bojji Daiboken
28. Wakai no Dance
29. Daida no Jyuatsu
30. Satsuriku Keikaku
31. Onaji Kanashimi wo Motsu Mono
32. Uragiri

DISC 2
33. Magic Mirror
34. Miranjo no Yuwaku
35. Hiyaku no Kansei
36. Kishi toshiteno Kejime
37. Tsuyosa no Syomei
38. Bojji Sentoutaisei
39. Kanashimi no Nakade
40. Fushigi na Basyo
41. Daiji na Mono ha Yuki
42. Despa saan!!
43. Trauma
44. Shikeishikko
45. King Daida..?
46. Yuki wo Mune ni Maee
47. Akasareru Shinjitsu
48. Watashi ha Anata wo Mamoremasu
49. Ketsui no Concerto
50. Meifu no Jyokamachi
51. Hitobito no cyosyo
52. Ranking of Kings -Ani to Otouto-
53. Oji no Syakaikengaku
54. Zaininsyu
55. Meifu no Kenou
56. Fujimi
57. Senjyo de Nagareru Chi
58. Warera Shitennou
59. Chiyu no Mahou
60. Kishi no Tatakai
61. Kore ga Sensou da
62. Kurikaesareru Higeki
63. Anoko ha Daijyobu
64. Ranking of Kings -Chiisana Ousama-

DISC 3

  1. Ranking of Kings -Eiyu no Shikaku-
  2. Ouken no Kunou
  3. Senritsu
  4. Sanzu no Kawa
  5. Konoyo no Miren
  6. Hito no Shiawase no Ue ni
  7. Uragiri to Fushin no Kuni
  8. Haha no Gisei Ai
  9. Dakishimetekureru Sonzai
  10. Torimodoshitakatta Egao
  11. Machigai no Hajimari
  12. Kyodai na Chiyu no Maho
  13. Bojji VS Bosse
  14. Ou no Ken
  15. Mamoritai Inochi
  16. Majin tono Keiyaku
  17. Zange
  18. Jibun sae Yokereba
  19. Majin
  20. Ore no Tsuma ni Nattekure
  21. Oinaru Ai
  22. Ranking of Kings -Kokuo Tanjyo-
  23. Kitto Dareka no Yaku ni Tateru
  24. Kieta Tomodachi
  25. Naitara Dame da
  26. Zutto Soba ni Iruyo
  27. Saikai no Yorokobi

Will you be checking out the soundtrack for Ranking of Kings?

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My Thoughts on: Moonfall (2022)

*note: this review was originally published on Patreon for my subscribers

In a nutshell: Moonfall is 100% pure dumb fun, but in a really good way.

I knew going in that the plot was going to be batsh*t crazy. I mean, it wasn’t enough to have the moon crashing into the Earth, it’s ALSO secretly an alien spaceship? I just had to see how all of this could possibly fit into a single film and, if you ignore basic physics, it actually tells a pretty decent story. The way I see it, Emmerich came up with the core premise first (the Moon is secretly an alien spaceship) and then spent the rest of his time devising a plot that led up to this reveal because he was so determined to put the idea on the screen. 

This movie managed to stuff every disaster movie cliche into it. And the cheesy dialogue, oh my goodness…the cheesiness is almost unbearable at times, but God help me I loved it. With the world continuing to be a messed up place, sometimes you need a cheesy disaster movie with relatively good special effects to take you out of your head for a little while. And in that regard, Moonfall absolutely succeeds. Yes, the dialogue is pretty spotty, and as I said before, I’m almost certain they ignored the basic principles of physics throughout the film, but it is still enjoyable, despite all that.

One of my favorite parts was the completely unexpected chemistry between Patrick Wilson and John Bradley. There’s almost an “Odd Couple” level of chemistry between them that, once it gets established, works really well.for the remainder of the film. I didn’t expect it at all, but I totally loved it.

The disaster scenes play out pretty much like you’d expect them to, though there actually wasn’t as much as I thought there’d be given that the entire planet is being damaged. The space scenes were pretty well done, though there’s one scene late in the movie that gave me flashbacks to Mission to Mars (2000), and in fact it wouldn’t surprise me to find out this scene was in fact an homage to that film.

All of this is to say that if you want to spend a little time with a dumb fun popcorn movie, go see Moonfall. It’s far from the greatest movie ever made, but I enjoyed it, and really in the end isn’t that all that matters? Beneath all the cliches and cheesiness is a decent story that surprisingly leaves a small door open for a sequel. And you know what? I almost wouldn’t mind seeing a followup to this movie, if only to see what they do next.

Those are my thoughts on Moonfall, let me know if you enjoyed watching the movie or if you watch it at all.

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My Thoughts on: Death on the Nile (2022)

*note: this review was originally published on Patreon last month

After several years of delays (this movie was originally scheduled for 2019), I’ve finally gotten to see Death on the Nile, the second movie featuring detective Hercule Poirot from director and star Kenneth Branagh. As with the first film, Murder on the Orient Express, this film features an all star cast set, as the title implies, in Egypt. In fact most of the action takes place along the Nile River, and what a story it is!

Let me start off by saying that Death on the Nile was absolutely worth the wait. As with Murder on the Orient Express, I was almost immediately pulled in by the gorgeous cinematography that permeates Death on the Nile. I don’t know if this is part of Branagh’s style or something that’s just unique to the two Poirot films he’s made, but there’s an almost unique look and feel to these two films that I’ve seen nowhere else and it completely mesmerizes me. 

You really do feel like you’ve been plopped down into Egypt circa 1937 (a much different place than the Egypt of today) and I can’t overstate how much I love this film’s attention to the little details. You can feel all the textures of the fabric, you can almost smell the food, and the colors just pop out everywhere. 

And what’s even better is that the story is completely deserving of this rich and colorful backdrop. If you enjoy a good mystery, then Death on the Nile will keep you guessing for most of the film. There is one sub-plot that feels slightly shoehorned in (and I subsequently learned it’s original and not part of Agatha Christie’s novel, so that might explain that), but it’s not bad by any means. I have no complaints with the main plot. The solution to the mystery (if you haven’t read the source novel) might seem like a complete surprise, but the way the story is put together, it all seems super obvious in hindsight. I like how little clues are seeded throughout the story, little things that seem meaningless until Poirot calls attention to them. I feel like that will give a lot of rewatch appeal to the movie, because you’ll want to watch it over and over to see if you can see what Poirot does.

On top of all of this, Patrick Doyle puts in a magnificent score that perfectly suits the film’s Egyptian setting. At some point I hope to do a proper score review on my blog, but for now suffice to say the music of Death on the Nile alone is worth checking out. I love how the blues was integrated into the film’s score. I haven’t heard this much diegetic music in a film in a long time and I lord every bit of it!

Ok, now to address the elephant in the room: I know a lot of people are probably going to avoid this film because of everything that happened with Armie Hammer. I get that, I do, but if you ignore this film because of one part of the performance then you are seriously missing out. This film is so good, don’t let one bad apple (so to speak) keep you away from what is otherwise a great film.

I’ll say it again, do not sleep on Death on the Nile, it’s really good.

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

See also:

My Thoughts on: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Film Reviews

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My Thoughts on: Belle (2021)

*note: this review was originally published on Patreon in January

*warning: Minor spoilers about Belle will be discussed below. If you don’t want to know, I highly suggest watching the movie first.

In January I went to see Belle in theaters. This is a movie I’ve wanted to see since last year. In fact, Belle is the reason why I applied to cover the New York Film Festival (though sadly I didn’t get accepted that time).

First, some basic details about the movie before I get into why I absolutely loved it. Belle premiered on July 15, 2021 at the Cannes Film Festival. The film was directed by Mamoru Hosoda whose past films include (but are not limited to): Mirai, Wolf Children, and Summer Wars. The film is loosely based on the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale and, I would somewhat argue, also takes inspiration from Disney’s 1991 adaptation of the fairy tale also.

I’ve rarely found an anime film I didn’t like, but I didn’t expect Belle to completely sweep me off my feet like it did. The animation throughout the film is beautiful, but everything set inside the digital world “U” is drop-dead gorgeous and stunning. I swear the colors pop much more vibrantly during these portions of the story, so much so that when you return to “reality” it feels almost drab in comparison.

And then there’s the story of Belle, my god this story….if I could give all of you one word of warning, do NOT let the fact that this film is loosely (I emphasize LOOSELY) based on Beauty and the Beast temper your expectations about what this film is going to be like. The Beauty and the Beast parallels are only one portion of the overall story, which goes far deeper than I ever dreamed it would. I can’t discuss it in any more detail than that because I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say some serious issues are brought up. You should definitely be prepared to cry before the film is over.

Even more than the animation, I think the music of Belle might be the best thing about it. Now, I should note that my first watch through of Belle was with the English dub, so I haven’t heard the original Japanese yet, but the English dub songs are heartbreakingly beautiful. I wasn’t sure how I would react to this film essentially being a musical (Belle the character has several musical numbers throughout the film) but each song is so beautiful I had no trouble getting lost in the music. The songs are just so beautiful, I’ll have to do a soundtrack review for my blog at some point.

One last thought before my conclusions: I am convinced there are parallels between this film and the 1991 Beauty and the Beast film. Look at the interior of the Castle and the dancing sequence and try to tell me the animators did not take inspiration from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. And I don’t mean that in a bad way either, Disney’s adaptation is iconic, it’s flattering that Belle would include an homage or two to that film.

In conclusion, Belle is a masterpiece of animation and could easily be the best film I see this year. I know we’re only just over two weeks into 2022 but I stand by this statement: the bar has been set so high for best film of the year, it’s going to take a while for anything to surpass Belle in my mind.

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

See also:

Animated Film Reviews

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‘Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons’ Original Soundtrack Available Now

The original soundtrack for Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons is now available on all major streaming platforms. Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons is the third expansion for the award-winning and critically acclaimed MMORPG Guild Wars 2 and is the culmination of the Elder Dragon Saga. The music for this expansion was composed by Maclaine Diemer, Michael Choi, Sojin Ryu, Andi Roselund, Bryan Atkinson, and Lena Raine, with an additional track from Joyce Kwon.

The soundtrack includes 58 tracks, which perfectly captures the mood of the thrilling battles, intrigue, and exploration throughout the mysterious continent of Cantha.

“For Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons, we wanted the music to sound like nothing players have heard in the game so far,” stated Diemer. “There is the familiar grand and beautiful orchestra, some otherworldly acoustic and synthetic textures, and at the heart of it all is a strong influence from traditional Korean music. It’s been a profound journey for me to open myself to this beautiful music and culture, and I am ecstatic to share that joy with the world.”

The soundtrack for Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons can be accessed on any major streaming platform now.

See also:

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

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Soundtrack News: ‘The Righteous Gemstones’ Season 2 Soundtrack is Available Now

Milan Records has released the Original Series Soundtrack to Season 2 of HBO®’s THE RIGHTEOUS GEMSTONES by multi-instrumentalist, composer and songwriter JOSEPH STEPHENS

Joseph Stephens is a contemporary composer and songwriter for television and film. At an early age he began experimenting and creating music with 4 track tape machines, delay pedals, guitars, radios, and anything else he could get his hands on. Writing music and playing in bands throughout college, Joseph established lasting relationships with frequent collaborators Danny McBride, David Gordon Green, and Jody Hill. His current work includes The Righteous Gemstones, Amazon series Upload from Greg Daniels, Netflix’s Never Have I Ever from Mindy Kaling, and the feature film, Family Squares, directed by Stephanie Laing.

Available everywhere now, the album features both instrumental score music and original vocal songs written by Stephens for the second season of the comedy series about a world-famous televangelist family. Returning to the series after scoring the first season, Stephens has created what he calls a “massive soundscape with a wide palette of sonic vibrations and textures.” The resulting 50-track collection reflects this expansiveness, ranging from synth-heavy instrumentals punctuated by operatic choral voices, distant whispers and manipulated tape machines to original worship songs and Christian Rock parodies.

The original vocal songs featured on the album were written primarily by Stephens and performed throughout the new season by the series cast, with contributions from Joe Jonas (as himself), Jennifer Nettles (as Aimee-Leigh Gemstone), Edi Patterson (as Judy Gemstone), Danny McBride (as Jesse Gemstone), Adam DeVine (as Kelvin Gemstone), Walton Goggins (as Baby Billy Freeman) and more. Following Season 1’s viral hit “Misbehavin’,” Stephens once again collaborates with Jennifer Nettles for “Sassy on Sunday,” the duo co-writing the track together and Nettles performing the song as her character Aimee-Leigh Gemstone. Stephens also collaborated with Edi Patterson to co-write “Butterflies” (performed by Patterson’s character Judy Gemstone) and “Rock My Boy’s Body.” Elsewhere, the two tracks by the fictional Tears of David church house band and album opener “Hallelujah By and By” were written by Mike Mitschele and Rick Randall, and “Howdy Neighbor” was written and performed by the Dynamite Brothers.

Of his original vocal tracks, composer JOSEPH STEPHENS had the following to say:

“At their core, the Gemstone family is a musical one. We wanted to surround them with songs that reflect their origins. Following in the footsteps of ‘Misbehavin’’ from Season 1, ‘Sassy on Sunday,’ co-written with Jennifer Nettles, finds Aimee-Leigh Gemstone embracing her evolution into the ‘80s Christian country/pop genre. ‘Home at Christmastime’ serves as a holiday family singalong. ‘Some Broken Hearts Will Never Mend’ takes the family sing-along concept to new levels. Much attention to detail has been paid to these various decade-spanning compositions, including instrumentation, recording techniques, and lyrical content. We want these songs to be believable. Some songs are performed ‘live’ on camera while others are recordings within the show’s narrative. We’ve also chosen to release all of these songs to the public under the characters’ names, in an effort to further enrich the world of The Righteous Gemstones. While ‘Rock My Boy’s Body’ is not performed by a Gemstone character, its place in the Gemstone family universe has yet to be fully revealed.”

THE RIGHTEOUS GEMSTONES: SEASON 2 (ORIGINAL HBO SERIES SOUNDTRACK)

TRACKLISTING –

1.       Hallelujah By and By – Judy Gemstone

2.       G.O.D.D. Love – Tears of David

3.       God Blessed Texas – Joe Jonas

4.       Howdy Neighbor – Dynamite Brothers & The Lissons Children’s Choir

5.       Bright New Day – Tears of David

6.       There is a Fountain – Baby Billy Freeman

7.       Butterflies – Judy Gemstone

8.       Rock My Boy’s Body  – Joseph Stephens

9.       Home at Christmastime – Aimee-Leigh & Baby Billy

10.    Sassy on Sunday – Aimee-Leigh Gemstone

11.    Sassy on Sunday – Judy Gemstone

12.    Let’s Go to Zion – The Holy Zion Steel Drum Band

13.    Some Broken Hearts Never Mend – Jesse, Judy & Kelvin Gemstone

14.    Broken Thumbs 

15.    I’m Gonna Kill Myself

16.    Junior Returns 

17.    The Maniac Kid 

18.    Thaniel 

19.    Here to See Dr. Gemstone

20.    Pradera de Dios 

21.    Save Our Family 

22.    Breaking and Entering

23.    This Stays With Us 

24.    Junior at the Gate 

25.    All His Faculties 

26.    Text Chain 

27.    Manscaping 

28.    Respect My Authority

29.    Sugarcups 

30.    Glendon Theme 

31.    Be Not Deceived 

32.    Life Is But a Dream

33.    Cycle Ninjas 

34.    I Challenge You 

35.    Keefe’s Challenge 

36.    Clean Slate 

37.    Son of Eli 

38.    Person’s Business 

39.    Hospital Attack 

40.    Motorcycle Chase 

41.    The Ghost of Aimee-Leigh

42.    A Closed Fist 

43.    Memphis Confrontation

44.    No Honor Among Thieves

45.    Burn It Down 

46.    You’re a Great Son 

47.    I Can Explain 

48.    A Mouthful of Sand 

49.    Walk Into the Ocean

50.    Eaten By Wolves

See also:

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Soundtrack News: ‘Horizon Forbidden West’ Original Soundtrack Vol. 1 Available Now

Sony Music Masterworks has released the first volume of music from Horizon Forbidden West, the recently released PlayStation® game and highly-anticipated sequel to 2017’s PS4™ release Horizon Zero Dawn. Available everywhere now, the album includes music by a team of composers consisting of JORIS DE MANTHE FLIGHTOLEKSA LOZOWCHUK and NIELS VAN DER LEEST. The first of an eventual three-part album release with more than 5 hours of music from the game, today’s release reunites the original team of composers and musicians from Horizon Zero Dawn who developed the tribal soundscape of the game’s post-apocalyptic setting. 

Today’s album is the first of new music from the game and will be followed by two additional album releases next month. The second album in the three-part collection, Horizon Forbidden West (Original Soundtrack – Volume 1 & 2), will be released in full Friday, March 11. The third and final soundtrack, Horizon Forbidden West (Original Soundtrack – Complete Collection) arrives Friday, March 25 and will include over 5 hours of music from the game.

ABOUT HORIZON FORBIDDEN WEST

The land is dying. Vicious storms and an unstoppable blight ravage the scattered remnants of humanity, while fearsome new machines prowl their borders. Life on Earth is hurtling towards another extinction, and no one knows why. It’s up to Aloy to uncover the secrets behind these threats and restore order and balance to the world. Along the way, she must reunite with old friends, forge alliances with warring new factions and unravel the legacy of the ancient past – all the while trying to stay one step ahead of a seemingly undefeatable new enemy. Explore distant lands, fight bigger and more awe-inspiring machines, and encounter astonishing new tribes as you return to the far-future, post-apocalyptic world of Horizon.

HORIZON FORBIDDEN WEST (ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK – VOLUME 1)

TRACKLISTING –

  1. Whatever Comes (feat. Julie Elven and Melissa R. Kaplan)   
  2. Aloy’s Theme – Forbidden West (feat. Julie Elven)
  3. In the Flood (feat. Ariana Gillis)
  4. The World on Her Shoulders (feat. Julie Elven)
  5. Echo of You (feat. Melissa R. Kaplan)
  6. Unity
  7. Mother of All (feat. Julie Elven)
  8. Shelter from the Storm
  9. Built to Kill
  10. Rusted Sands
  11. Guardian of the Deep (feat. Julie Elven)
  12. No Footfalls to Follow
  13. Look Deeper (feat. Julie Elven and Melissa R. Kaplan)
  14. Trinity (feat. Julie Elven and Melissa R. Kaplan)
  15. As Certain as Stone (feat. Julie Elven and Melissa R. Kaplan)
  16. These Stones Unturned
  17. The Wings of the Ten (feat. Julie Elven)
  18. Second Chance
  19. This Place, This Moment (feat. Julie Elven)
  20. Resilience to Rise (feat. Julie Elven and Melissa R. Kaplan)
  21. In the Flood (Lovisa’s Version)
  22. A Promise to Uphold (feat. Julie Elven)
  23. Restless as the Weald
  24. The Trail We Leave Behind
  25. Edge of the Sundom
  26. A Steady Breath (feat. Julie Elven)
  27. Adrift
  28. Off the Trail
  29. Restricted Access
  30. Wither and Ache
  31. The Chorus
  32. Solace Beneath the Stars
  33. A Scattered Reflection
  34. Machine Made
  35. Figments of Time
  36. Riddles in Ruins
  37. Steel Bones
  38. Marvels Below
  39. By Choice, by Fate (feat. Julie Elven)

See also:

Soundtrack Review: Horizon Forbidden West- The Isle of Spires EP (2021)

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