Tag Archives: Netflix

Soundtrack Review: Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)

Milan Records today releases GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK) by composer Frank Ilfman (Big Bad WolvesThe OperativeRory’s Way ). Available everywhere now, the album features music written by Ilfman for Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake. The film is a female-driven, high-concept thriller with a rich mythology and multi-generational narrative that give it a fresh, 21st century perspective on the traditional assassin film. Directed and co-written by Navot Papushado (Big Bad Wolves), Gunpowder Milkshake debuts on Netflix in the US, Canada and Nordics today, with theatrical releases rolling out everywhere else worldwide from July 15.

In Gunpowder Milkshake, Sam (Karen Gillan) was only 12 years old when her mother Scarlet (Lena Headey), an elite assassin, was forced to abandon her. Sam was raised by The Firm, the ruthless crime syndicate her mother worked for. Now, 15 years later, Sam has followed in her mother’s footsteps and grown into a fierce hit-woman. She uses her “talents” to clean up The Firm’s most dangerous messes. She’s as efficient as she is loyal. But when a high-risk job goes wrong, Sam must choose between serving The Firm and protecting the life of an innocent 8-year-old girl – Emily (Chloe Coleman). With a target on her back, Sam has only one chance to survive: Reunite with her mother and her lethal associates, The Librarians (Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett and Carla Gugino). These three generations of women must now learn to trust each other, stand up to The Firm and their army of henchmen, and raise hell against those who could take everything from them. 

Of the soundtrack, Gunpowder Milkshake director Navot Papushado says:

“Because this movie mixes so many different genres and so many ideas, the music was always going to be the glue. When I started talking to composer Frankie (Haim Frank Ilfman), I said I had the Western vibe of Ennio Morricone, the Italian chic of Stelvio Cipriani, and the violent suspense of Bernard Herrmann in mind. The end result is Western mixed with Italian retro chic and the suspense of Bernard Hermann with an electronic vibe that came from Frankie. The soundtrack is retro but modern, it could be played on vinyl or Spotify.”

Due to a busy schedule, I’ve not yet had the chance to watch Gunpowder Milkshake on Netflix (though I plan on fixing that in the next few days) but when I saw the soundtrack had arrived in my inbox, I couldn’t wait to check it out and get a hint of what I was in for.

Oh my goodness this music is so good!

The director really does sum it up perfectly by describing this music as Western mixed with Italian retro chic with the suspense of Bernard Hermann thrown in for good measure. The music for Gunpowder Milkshake is a delightful mish-mash of all of those things and more, it’s the kind of soundtrack you can sink your teeth into and find something different every time. In fact, I would go so far as to call this a “neo-classical” film score, in that it appears to be a modern take on a classical film score. Or, put another way, imagine if someone took a classic film score from the 1930s or 40s and redid it for the modern era, that’s what this music reminds me of.

This may be one of the best movie soundtracks I’ve heard in 2021, as I can hear influences all over the place. Even without the director mentioning it, I can hear the influence of Ennio Morricone the most, especially in “Goonfight at Gutterball Corral.” There’s also, as I said before, definitely a decent sampling of Bernard Hermann in this score too. But there’s also a lot in this music, and it may be coincidental, that reminds me of Daniel Pemberton’s score for The Man From UNCLE. I can’t put my finger on a specific cue, but more than once I found myself thinking of that film while listening to this soundtrack. That’s not a bad thing by the way, Pemberton’s scores are among my favorite, and if Frank Ilfman’s score for Gunpowder Milkshake reminds me of that style of film music, so much the better.

I can also say that the soundtrack for Gunpowder Milkshake is very easy to listen to, as many of the tracks are relatively short and therefore you can go through them at a relatively quick pace. I like how “bite-sized” some of these themes are. You get a feel for the music rather quickly and it didn’t take me a lot of time to take the measure of this film’s score.

Listening to the music for Gunpowder Milkshake has me more eager than ever to watch the movie itself, and I can only hope that the film is just as good as the music that was written for it.

GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK)
TRACKLISTING –

  1. Opening Titles
  2. Home Sweet Home?
  3. Scarlet’s Theme
  4. Gunpowder Milkshake
  5. Big Bad Mommy
  6. New Books and Clean Guns
  7. Dressed To Kill
  8. Le Bonbon
  9. A Careless Whisper
  10. The Firm
  11. The Rollin Roars
  12. Goonfight at Gutterball Corral
  13. The Monsters
  14. Rock Monster
  15. Yankee and the Goons
  16. Redemption Is For The Careless
  17. 13:8 In 60 Seconds
  18. La Balada de los Charros
  19. Are You a Serial Killer?
  20. 944 Bullets
  21. The Sam and Emily Story
  22. Escape Route
  23. Fudge you!
  24. Bare Knuckles and Gold Bars
  25. The Library Fight
  26. The Big Gundown
  27. To The Death
  28. Madeleine’s Adagio
  29. McAlester’s Theme
  30. The Standoff
  31. Red Dot Marks The Spot
  32. Sam’s Theme
  33. Ensemble pour toujours

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

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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: Quinceañero Original Motion Short Film Soundtrack Out Now

PHX Music has digitally released the Original Motion Short Film Soundtrack to Justin Floyd’s vision come to life, in the musical Quinceañero. The music is composed by Max Aruj and Steffen Thum, with lyrics by Antonio Sol, and songs performed by cast of the film. The album comprised of eight richly melodic Latin songs, including the film’s focus track “Ve El Momento” (“See the Moment”). The film recently premiered at Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF), as part of its Latinx Inclusion Series, in partnership with Netflix.

Max Aruj is a composer born and raised in Los Angeles. His latest feature release is Crawl, produced by Sam Raimi, and directed by Alexandre Aja. Aruj joined the Assassin’s Creed universe for the recently released Wrath of the Druids. Other upcoming releases this year include Eytan Rockaway’s Lansky, starring Harvey Keitel, and Jonathan Hensleigh’s The Ice Road, starring Liam Neeson. Aruj co-produced Gryffin’s Deluxe orchestral album (2020). He composed additional music on Mission: Impossible – Fallout for Lorne Balfe, and on The Crown, for Hans Zimmer and Rupert Gregson-Williams. This past year he wrote additional music on HBO’s His Dark Materials.

Steffen Thum is a composer for film, TV, games, commercials and mixed media, based in Berlin. He wrote the scores for feature films Crawl (Paramount) and iBoy (Netflix), as well as TV series This Is Football (Amazon) and Story of God (National Geographic), among others. Steffen’s music can be heard in over 60 international productions, including Mission Impossible: Fallout, Bad Boys for Life, Ad Astra, The Lego Batman Movie, The Crown, and His Dark Materials.

In the 20-minute whimsical musical, Gabriel is on the verge of his 15th birthday and dreams of having his own quinceañera, a tradition reserved for girls. When his father – steeped in tradition – sets himself against the quinceañero, the timid boy will have to rally his family to make his dream come true.

Composer Max Aruj had the following to say:

“Having director Justin Floyd entrust us to bring his vision to life in a new style was both exciting and horrifying. But having an amazing team in Steffen and Antonio, made the process a blast. Additionally, writing a song like ‘Ve El Momento’ was a first – I never thought I’d get to do that, but here we are!”

Steffen Thum added:

“Writing a musical is a particular kind of challenge, going beyond just scoring to picture, as we’ve done before, so it was a bit of a daunting task. It was Justin’s vision and strong ambition that pulled us in, while Antonio’s expertise was crucial in getting the lyrics right. It all grew from there, and our actors and dancers brought the songs to life beautifully.”

Track List: 

  1. Ve El Momento
  2. The Magic of Youth
  3. La Quinceañera
  4. Can I Be
  5. Brother My Brother
  6. Symphony in Q
  7. I’m Proud of You
  8. El Quinceañero

You can find the soundtrack album for Quinceañero on iTunes here.

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

See also:

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My Thoughts on: Wish Dragon (2021)

After finally sitting down and watching Wish Dragon on Netflix, I have to confess I have (once again) learned a powerful lesson: one should never judge a movie by its first 20 minutes alone. Because while Wish Dragon does get off to a rather slow start, it does eventually come into its own with a beautiful story to tell.

The story of Wish Dragon is set in modern Shanghai and follows a capable (but poor) young man named Din, who unexpectedly finds himself in possession of a magic teapot containing a “wish dragon” named Long who can grant him three wishes. If that sounds suspiciously familiar to the plot of Aladdin, well, it is, and on that basis alone I almost gave up on the film because, let’s be honest, Disney did that story years ago and did it very well.

But there’s a key difference between these two films and that is the titular wish dragon Long. This pink dragon is no Genie, and the film is well-written to make sure we don’t think of him that way. Long is an unexpectedly complex character; he started off irritating but slowly grew to become one of my favorite characters in the film. Long isn’t just a magical dragon, he has his own motivations that color the story and that creates a completely different relationship between Din and Long than what exists between Aladdin and the Genie. It’s a brilliant twist on this kind of story actually, and I’m glad I stuck with the film to see how this story arc played out.

Another thing I love about Wish Dragon is how this story puts a platonic twist on the “boy wants girl” story trope. When I first heard of this film and realized there was a young man and young woman involved, I rolled my eyes and thought “here we go, another YA animated romance film. Next!” And then I saw the part in the trailer where Din admits that he does NOT want Lina to fall in love with him, he just wants her back as his best friend. And that made my jaw DROP. That….you don’t see that in stories, or at least you didn’t until now. It was so refreshing to see a story where romance is NOT the ultimate goal of these magic wishes (another key difference from Aladdin).

And then there’s the film’s themes about telling the truth and friendship. Of course the most important theme in this film is friendship and how it is one of the most important things you can have, even more than money or fame. But…at the same time there’s an almost equal emphasis on telling the truth, be it about what you really want in life or being honest about who you really are. You need to be honest with yourself and the world about what you really want, at least that’s what I gathered after watching this film.

As a quick side note, I might also say that Wish Dragon also has a smaller lesson embedded in it, that being “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” It’s a lesson you don’t see implemented consistently with magical wish-granting stories, but Wish Dragon does make good use of it in this film, and Long even snarks about how one should “be careful what you DON’T wish for” in reference to this idea.

Now, as much as I ended up loving Wish Dragon, it does take a little while to get going. I beg you to be patient with the film’s first act because once things are properly set into motion, the story is a lot of fun. Other than that, I have no real complaints about this film. The animation is smartly done and the music, as I learned from talking to the film’s composer, is indeed a perfect blending of East and West.

Despite some minor flaws and a slow start, Wish Dragon proved itself to be everything I was promised and more. It proves a story like this doesn’t need romance to work and it also rams the lesson home that money is NOT everything nor is being rich everything it’s cracked up to be. As the credits rolled, I found myself more than happy with what I’d seen and I happily recommend checking this film out on Netflix.

Let me know what you think of Wish Dragon on Netflix in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

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

Animated Film Reviews

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Music to Describe Fear and Music for Superheroes: Talking with Composer Jeremy Turner about ‘Immigration Nation’ and ‘Marvel’s 616’

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to speak with composer Jeremy Turner about his work on the Netflix series Immigration Nation and his work on the main theme for Marvel’s 616 on Disney+. For both of these scores, Turner is in contention for an Emmy, one for Documentary Score and one for Main Title Theme.

The docuseries Immigration Nation follows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers on raids, at detention centers, and attempting to integrate with local law enforcement. The cruelty viewers see firsthand is gut-wrenching and the score depicts the tension and fear seen on screen. Turner scored the project almost like a horror film to match the devastating and unfortunate reality that many have been oblivious to. The revelations in the doc are uncomfortable and the audience feels the heaviness of the high stakes circumstances so many in this country have been subjected to.

Marvel’s 616, in complete contrast, is an anthology documentary television series that illustrates different pockets of the Marvel Universe. Some episodes revolve around Marvel cosplay, Marvel action figures, and even a Marvel Comics-themed musical.

Jeremy Turner began his musical studies on the piano at the age of 5 and started playing the cello when he was 8 years old. After growing up in Michigan, he attended The Juilliard School as a pupil of Harvey Shapiro and studied chamber music with Felix Galimir. As a composer, his music has been heard around the world, from Carnegie Hall to the Sydney Opera House. Noted works include The Inland Seas, composed for violinist James Ehnes and mandolinist Chris Thile and commissioned by the Seattle Chamber Music Society; Suite of Unreason, a commission from the Music Academy of the West for their 70th Anniversary season; and a choral work for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Wave Hill in New York.

Please enjoy my conversation with Jeremy Turner about his work on Immigration Nation and Marvel’s 616.

How did you get started as a composer?

I started writing music when I was a toddler, making up songs on an old upright piano in the basement of our family home. But then got sidetracked for about 20+ years, as I became a cellist in an orchestra in New York and had a performance career that kept my calendar pretty full. Eventually, I got back to doing what I was probably meant to do in the first place, and I’ve been composing ever since.

How did you get involved with Immigration Nation?

Through Shaul Schwarz, who directed the first film I ever scored—Narco Cultura back in 2013.

Given how important the story being told in this docuseries is, how did you decide where to start in putting the music together?

I knew it was going to be a fairly daunting task and would have a lot of emotional ups and downs. So, I just started at the beginning by writing a couple of sketches for the main titles, and that led to some established themes from which we could work with.

I find it very interesting that you chose to score the series similar to a horror film, was that your concept for the musical style for Immigration Nation from the beginning or did you come to that conclusion after trying several different styles?

It’s not all horror of course, but we discussed early in the process what fear might sound like. And much as I tried to leave the cello behind (since it is the instrument that I’m most comfortable with), directors Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau really wanted the full range of what the cello could bring. At its best it can be heart wrenching, melancholy, and probably is the closest musical instrument to the human voice. But when you start pushing beyond the limits of conventional approaches and experiment with extended techniques, you can draw out some incredibly unsettling tones.

How much time did you have to score Immigration Nation?

I’d say about 3-4 months. It was during the early days of the pandemic, so there were a lot of adjustments made on the fly, in terms of how we would work together and how we would finish.

Are there any musical moments in Immigration Nation that you hope viewers notice?

It’s a strange project to have any sense of pride about because it’s all so real and all so tragic. Honestly, I just hope people muster up the courage to watch it because I think it is something every American needs to see, regardless of what one thinks they might already know.

 Was there any part of Immigration Nation that you had difficulty scoring? Or any part where you decided music just wouldn’t work?

To be truthful, I had difficulty scoring the entire series. Not technically, but just emotionally. The final minutes of episode 5, I don’t think I’ve ever made it through without shedding a tear. But yes, there was a delicate balance to not score a scene that didn’t need to be scored. There is a lot of raw emotion on screen, so we made a conscious effort to not have the music force anything that wasn’t already clearly being felt.

On a different note, how did you go about scoring the title music for Marvel’s 616?

Marvel? Big heroic theme? Less than a minute of music? This is a dream scenario for any composer! 


Were you inspired at all by the Avenger’s theme that recurs throughout the MCU? I may be wrong but I swear I hear a musical resemblance between the two.

I flipped through some Marvel music from scores past to see where I’d be coming from for sure. Always helpful when taking over a shift in the kitchen to know what the previous menu was. But no, the themes aren’t related other than the fact that they are played by a big orchestra.

How much time did it take to compose the title music for Marvel’s 616?

Not terribly long, only in that the actual titles hadn’t been created yet. So, I just wrote a single sketch based on our initial conversations and that ended up being the final music. Yes, I realize that will probably never happen again! 

I want to say thank you to Jeremy Turner for taking the time to speak with me about his work on Immigration Nation and Marvel’s 616.

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview and have a great day!

See also:

Composer Interviews

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Going ‘On My Way’: A Brief Talk with Alex Lahey About ‘On My Way’ and The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021)

To my surprise and delight, I was given the opportunity to speak with Alex Lahey about their work on the song ‘On My Way’ and its inclusion in the hit Netflix movie The Mitchells vs The Machines.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Alex started playing both guitar and saxophone when she was 13 years old, and studied art and jazz when she first enrolled in university. She broke through in 2016 with her song “You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me”, with her first full-length album ‘I Love You Like a Brother’ following in 2017.

How did you get started as a musician?

I’ve been playing music my whole life, but I really got serious about it when I was in high school and fell in love with playing the saxophone in the school big band. As I was getting into learning the sax, I was teaching myself guitar on the side just as a way to play the punk, rock and pop music I was actually listening to in my spare time. After leaving school and playing in a few bands with mates, I came to realise that I’m a better songwriter than saxophone player and I’ve never looked back.

How did you get connected with The Mitchells vs The Machines?

I was really lucky that my song ‘Every Day’s The Weekend’ got included in The Mitchells quite early on in the production process. So early on that they didn’t have a song for the end credits of the movie! So I got sent a brief of what the director and music supervisor were looking to fill that space with and that’s how ‘On My Way’ came to be.

What did you think of the film’s story?

I loved the story of the film and especially loved the character of Katie. Growing up as a queer kid, it would’ve meant the world to me to have seen a character like Katie on screen and I’m so glad she exists now for all the young people who need someone like her. The themes of family, growing up and being yourself that are so central to the story really resonate with me too.

Tell me about how ‘On My Way’ was developed for the film, what was the process for that song coming together?

As I mentioned before, the song was prompted by a brief the creative team provided me with. Between lockdowns in Melbourne, I took the brief to two artists I’m very close with, Gab Strum (Japanese Wallpaper) and Sophie Payten (Gordi), just as something to do while hanging out for the first time in ages and ‘On My Way’ was born. I guess we had a lot of good creative vibes waiting to be unleashed after so much time without face to face collaboration. Gab and I ended up finishing the recording virtually as Melbourne went back into lockdown. A big shout out must go out to Scott Horscroft who tracked all the drums and mixed the tune for us at The Grove while we were beamed in via Zoom during Stage 4 lockdown!

Aside from ‘On My Way’ were you involved in any other aspects of the music for The Mitchells vs The Machines?

To have both ‘On My Way’ and ‘Every Day’s The Weekend’ included in the film was really awesome. It was so great to be a part of this project in a really meaningful way. I’d never written a song intentionally for screen before and it was so wonderful to be part of the process of bringing this film together, even just in a small way. I hope it’s not the last time I get to be involved in a project like this. 

I want to give a big thank you to Alex Lahey for taking the time to talk with me!

See also:

Soundtrack Review: The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021)

Composer Interviews

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

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

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

I was recently blessed with the opportunity to speak with composer Philip Klein about his work on the upcoming Netflix film Wish Dragon (which comes out on June 11th). Klein’s music has been heard in film and television projects for Sony, Disney, Pixar, Lionsgate, ABC and CBS. As a writer, Philip has collaborated with some of the finest composers working in film and TV, including Harry Gregson-Williams, Carter Burwell, Alex Heffes and Fil Eisler. He’s has had the honor of orchestrating for James Newton Howard, Alexandre Desplat, Ludwig Göransson, Richard Harvey, Steve Jablonsky, David Buckley, Stewart Copeland, Peter Golub, John Frizzell and several other amazing artists.

After a steady diet of drum corps and classical music throughout his childhood, Philip’s formal music education took him to Chicago where he studied trumpet and composition at Northwestern University. This classical foundation combined with a deep understanding of modern scoring techniques allow him to seamlessly compliment every project he works on. Selected as one of six fellows for the 2011 Sundance Institute’s Film Composing Lab in Utah, Philip has always had a deep love for the interaction of music and film. He owes much of his success to his mentors in Hollywood, Harry Gregson-Williams, Alan Silvestri, Penka Kouneva and Peter Golub. 

“Wish Dragon” is the story of Din, a 19-yr old college student living in a working-class neighborhood of modern-day Shanghai, who has big dreams but small means. Din’s life changes overnight when he finds an old teapot containing a Wish Dragon named Long – a magical dragon able to grant wishes – and he is given the chance to reconnect with his childhood best friend, Li-Na.

Please enjoy my conversation with Philip Klein about Wish Dragon!

How Did You Get Started as a Composer?

I was a trumpet player for most of my young musical life but I eventually found myself being drawn more to orchestration and composition.  I had a soft spot for film scores at a very young age and would spend hours picking out notes to my favorite themes, so it felt natural to fall into that world when I went to college and beyond.  Once I had scored a few student films I was hooked and moving to Los Angeles was the logical next step.  I’ve had the great fortune of working with some of the most skilled artists in film and music.

How did You Get Involved with Wish Dragon? Was there anything in particular that drew you to the story?

Producer Aron Warner is a dear friend and we’ve both always wanted to work on a project together. One of Aron’s superpowers is curating a team of creatives that all compliment each other.  He felt that director Chris Appelhans and I would mesh well so he reached out and I saw a very early cut of mostly stick figure drawing and early animatics.  Even in its most basic form the story was beautifully conceived and it was clear from conversations with Chris and Aron that the film was going to be special. I did all that I could to convince them that I was the right composer for the film and luckily they agreed.  Chris’ passion for storytelling, the characters and the culture is what drew me in early on; it wasn’t long before I was happily escaping into this world on a daily basis.  

I saw that you also worked on Raya and the Last Dragon as an orchestrator. Given that both of these films are about dragons, would you say there are musical similarities between the two or did you go out of your way to avoid any overt musical comparisons to Raya?

James Newton Howard wrote a beautiful score for Raya. I lucked out a bit in that I actually finished recording the score for Wish Dragon several months before we began orchestration work on Raya, so my window for being influenced (and intimidated) by James’ writing had passed. James’ score took advantage of musical colors from different areas of Mongolia and Southeast Asia, whereas Chris and I wanted to stick very close to Chinese culture for the color of the score.  Raya has a bit more fantasy whereas Wish Dragon is a bit more comedic. So in that sense, the scores were always going to sound different.

What was your starting point in putting the music for Wish Dragon together? Was there a lot of collaboration with the director during this process?

I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a project where the director was as much a collaborator as Chris was on this film.  The first 3-4 months of the process was just sharing music, videos and thoughts back and forth.  We sent each other any kind of Chinese instrument, folk song, vocal, opera percussion; basically any sound we could find.  Eventually, we started to hone in on the overall palette and approach we thought may work and then I started to experiment with those boundaries in place.  Chris was intimately involved with the music from conception through recording and mixing.  Chris had such a strong vision of what he wanted and needed out of the score, I loved every minute of working through this film with him. 

Were you inspired by any earlier films when putting the music together since this is a reworking of the “genie in a bottle” type of story? Or did you try to put an original twist on it as far as the music went?

While on its surface this film may seem like a “genie in the bottle” kind of story, the film is much more about friendship and redemption than anything.  The spectacle and theatricality of Long’s character sits somewhat behind the genuine connections we follow throughout the film.  While it is important to give a voice to Long’s over-the-top character, we never went too far in making him seem like more of a being than he is.  I think previous iterations of that kind of story maybe put more emphasis on the genie type character and their performance.  So musically, you have to match that kind of energy.  In Wish Dragon, we always wanted more weight to go towards the relationships and arcs of the characters so it naturally kept me away from drawing too much inspiration on other films or scores.  I’ll always be proud of how Chris and I blended these beautiful instruments of Chinese culture with a more Western orchestral palette.  We didn’t want either to ever overshadow the other.

Did you assign themes to the major characters? Or if not all of the characters, did you give a musical theme to Long the dragon?

I’m a huge believer that thematic writing is one of the most effective ways to create memorable emotional moments in a film.  Long has a theme we hear in the first cue of the film.  It’s broad and sweeping, almost always played with the orchestra to give his character scale and drama.  Din’s theme probably recurs most often but is played much more simply and with less fanfare than Long’s.  Much of Din’s scenes take full advantage of the energy from the Chinese instruments we used.  For most of the film Din is full of optimism so his theme is orchestrated with lovely and light, plucked textures.  There are two secondary themes; the first for our baddies and the other for Din and Li Na’s relationship.  For the goons in the film, I used a lot of darker bowed sounds from the Chinese instruments and mixed them into more modern, synth heavy orchestration.  For Din and Li Na, it’s a very simple fluttering synth with a three note motive that echoes their “day by day” mantra.

How did you decide on which traditional Chinese instruments to include in the score? And was it hard blending those instruments with a traditional Western orchestra?

It can be overwhelming at the start of a score like this because my brain and ears want to explore every new color out there.  Unfortunately, I’d still be working on the score today if I didn’t put a bit of a cap on what instruments we should focus on.  Honestly, we spent months early on just listening and me having video calls with players all over the world.  I’d ask them to show me the basics of their instruments, what it can do, and what it shouldn’t do.  Eventually I boiled down my core palette to around 8-10 Chinese instruments that would represent that side of the score.  The orchestra was always in place as it’s difficult to replace the sheer power of that vehicle, but the Chinese instruments became our color and our energy throughout the film.  We never wanted the score to sound like an orchestra blasting away with some Chinese soloists playing on top of them.  Rather, we wanted the two to become more homogenized so that the Chinese world melted into the orchestral.  Blending them together was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had because it opened my ears to brand new textures and colors.  It allowed me to explore a new musical world I had never heard before.  That’s always the most exciting part of working on a film. 

How much time did you have to score Wish Dragon?

I had the great fortune of working on this score for nearly a year.  This gave us plenty of time to truly flesh out all of our wildest ideas, themes and orchestrations.

Do you have a favorite track or moment in the score?

I will always love the scene and cue titled “Everything That Matters.”  It’s such a beautiful, honest moment between Din and his mother and their relationship’s arc in the film.  It was also one of those moments where Din’s theme just seemed to line up perfectly without me having to do much.  That doesn’t always happen, but it’s a pleasant surprise when the notes just seem to fit the film without much ado.  

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Philip Klein about his work on Wish Dragon. You’ll be able to check out the film when it releases on Netflix on June 11th, 2021.

Have a great day!

See also:

Composer Interviews

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Soundtrack Review: Eden (2021)

Milan Records has released EDEN (Music From the Netflix Original Anime Series) by composer Kevin Penkin (Tower of GodMade in AbyssFlorence). Available for preorder now, the album features music written by Penkin for Netflix’s latest original anime series, which follows the last remaining human girl as she navigates an unfamiliar robot-inhabited world. Created by Justin Leach (Ghost in the Shell 2) and directed by legendary Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood director Yasuhiro Irie, Eden debuted on Netflix on Thursday, May 27.

Kevin Penkin, based in Melbourne, is a BAFTA-nominated composer for Japanese animation and video games. He is best known for composing the award-winning score to Made in Abyss, and the music to the BAFTA award-winning game Florence. Kevin moved to London in 2013 to complete a Masters degree in Composition for Screen at the Royal College of Music. During this time, Kevin collaborated with legendary video game composer Nobuo Uematsu on a number of Japanese video game titles, which eventually led him to break into the Anime industry. After releasing his breakthrough score for Made in Abyss, Penkin continued to compose music for Japanese animation, with scores for both The Rising of the Shield Hero and Tower of God.

Thousands of years in the future, a city known as “Eden 3” is inhabited solely by robots whose former masters vanished a long time ago. On a routine assignment, two farming robots accidentally awaken a human baby girl from stasis questioning all they were taught to believe — that humans were nothing more than a forbidden ancient myth. Together, the two robots secretly raise the child in a safe haven outside Eden.

Of the soundtrack for EDEN, composer Kevin Penkin had the following to say:

“Eden is one of those projects that I will cherish forever. The love put into this project not only from the team, but also the musicians, is humbling. Being able to work with people who gave so much trust in the direction of the music is something I will forever cherish. Please enjoy the unique world of Eden, as we combine the unique worlds of a 3D-printed 6-string violin, female voices and electro-acoustic sound-sources. We have tried to put our best foot forward to honor the amazing work of this team.”

The music for Eden is intensely beautiful and not at all what I imagined it would sound like. Though that may be my fault as I saw the story’s premise of two robots caring for a human child and immediately imagined that the music would focus on all of the robots and be more mechanical in nature. However, judging by what I’ve heard, Kevin Penkin went in the opposite direction entirely. The music for Eden is highly reminiscent of the countryside and nature, which makes sense since a) the name of the series references the Garden of Eden and b) the robots in question are programmed to do farm work so they would be out among nature anyway.

Another detail I noticed, and I really need to start asking composers about this is, a lot of these tracks are really short, like 30-45 seconds. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a track that is less than a minute long doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to get into it. By the time the music really gets going…it’s over. I really need to start asking why some tracks are so short, as these can contain some of my favorite musical ideas, but they stop short when it feels like they could go on much longer.

I also love how the strings come together in this soundtrack. The strings I’m hearing sound so beautiful and unique, this has to be the 3-D printed six-string violin that the composer references. The music this instrument creates is unbelievable: it sounds like a perfect fusion of East and West in that the strings sound like a traditional Western instrument but the music itself is in an Eastern mode. The blending of musical styles creates such a treat for the ears that I literally can’t stop listening to this music.

I highly recommend checking out the music for Eden and I hope you enjoy it.

EDEN (MUSIC FROM THE NETFLIX ORIGINAL ANIME SERIES)

TRACKLISTING –

  1. The Garden of EDEN
  2. Genesis
  3. The Capsule Under the Tree
  4. Recharge
  5. Ocean Way
  6. Reprogram
  7. Sunrise Over the Cube
  8. Uncle John
  9. Sara
  10. VR
  11. Valhalla
  12. EDEN 3
  13. Dreams
  14. Chasey
  15. Return to Base
  16. EDEN.Waltz
  17. Sunset
  18. Liz Projections
  19. ZERO
  20. Appledrop
  21. Penrose Steps, A.I. Bloom
  22. Password:
  23. Truth Is
  24. EDEN ZERO
  25. Archive
  26. Mama & Papa
  27. Detonation
  28. Removal
  29. 4
  30. Dr. Fields
  31. Memory Fields
  32. The Place Where Everyone Laughs
  33. SARA GRACE
  34. Rain
  35. Demolition
  36. Red vs Blue
  37. Strawberry Blonde
  38. The Girl in the Field
  39. The Robotic Code of Ethics

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

See also:

TV Soundtracks

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

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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Soundtrack Review: Army of the Dead (2021)

Milan Records has released Army of the Dead (Music From the Netflix Film) by multi-platinum producer, musician, composer and educator Tom Holkenborg aka JUNKIE XL.  

Available everywhere now, the album features music written by Holkenborg for director Zack Snyder’s zombie heist film.  The project is the latest in a longstanding creative partnership between Snyder and Holkenborg, who most recently collaborated on Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but started their relationship in 2014 with the Snyder-written and produced 300: Rise Of An Empire. The duo have also worked together on Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  2021 has already been a major year for Holkenborg, whose epic score for Zack Snyder’s Justice League was one of the longest ever recorded, and was swiftly followed by him scoring the record-breaking Godzilla vs Kong blockbuster.  Army of the Dead is now available to watch in select theaters and to stream on Netflix. 

Of the soundtrack, composer Tom Holkenborg says:

“A zombie heist movie in Vegas with Zack and Netflix, how could I say no? Army of the Dead was a chance to start something very new and fresh, which is certainly ironic for a movie about the undead! It was such a fun project as we got to rip up the rule book, and really re-examine what a zombie movie could sound like. It’s a LOT of fun!”

From filmmaker Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s Justice League), Army of the Dead takes place following a zombie outbreak that has left Las Vegas in ruins and walled off from the rest of the world. When Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a former zombie war hero who’s now flipping burgers on the outskirts of the town he now calls home, is approached by casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), it’s with the ultimate proposition: break into the zombie-infested quarantine zone to retrieve $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip before the city is nuked by the government in 32 hours. With little left to lose, Ward takes on the challenge, assembling a ragtag team of experts for the heist. With a ticking clock, a notoriously impenetrable vault, and a smarter, faster horde of Alpha zombies closing in, only one thing’s for certain in the greatest heist ever attempted: survivors take all.

Now while I found the film itself to be quite underwhelming, I was still willing to give the soundtrack on its own a chance. However I really should have known better because the soundtrack for Army of the Dead did absolutely nothing for me. Except for one moment in ‘Not Here’ where I like how the music comes together, the soundtrack for Army of the Dead is dull, dead, downright boring, and so on. The biggest crime of them all is how boring most of this music is. I’ve said many times that it’s hard to screw film music up, and in a zombie heist film, the process should be fairly simple: all you need is an action-y score to back up what’s happening on the screen.

Um, clearly someone missed that idea because most of this soundtrack does the complete opposite. Most of this music is ploddingly slow and thoughtful which is not what you need for a zombie heist film. I get that Holkenborg wanted to re-examine what a zombie movie sounds like but….they’re really not supposed to sound like this. Put more simply: if the music in a film soundtrack bores me, then something has gone terribly wrong.

I can now definitely chalk up Army of the Dead as one of my biggest disappointments of the year, because not only was the film bad, but the soundtrack is equally as bad. Though, as I mentioned before, there is the one bright spot of ‘Not Here.’ In THAT track at least, I like how the music crashes together in a rising crescendo that, if it takes place in the moment I think it does, is the one moment in the film where music and picture work together perfectly.

In good conscience, I can’t recommend the Army of the Dead soundtrack, but if you check it out and happen to like it, then I am happy for you. For me personally, it doesn’t work and is one of the worst soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time.

ARMY OF THE DEAD (MUSIC FROM THE NETFLIX FILM)

TRACKLISTING –

  1. Viva Las Vegas
  2. Scott and Kate Part 1
  3. Scott and Kate Part 2
  4. Scott and Kate Part 3
  5. Toten Hosen
  6. Swimming Pool
  7. Not Here
  8. 3 Flares
  9. Battle Hallway Part 1
  10. Battle Hallway Part 2
  11. Zeus and Athena Part 1
  12. Zeus and Athena Part 2

Let me know what you think about Army of the Dead and its soundtrack in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Army of the Dead (2021)

Film Soundtracks A-W

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

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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Music from the Netflix Original Anime Series ‘EDEN’ Out Today!

Milan Records today released the EDEN (Music From the Netflix Original Anime Series) by composer Kevn Penkin (Tower of God, Made in Abyss, Florence). Available for preorder now, the album features music written by Penkin for Netflix’s latest original anime series, which follows the last remaining human girl as she navigates an unfamiliar robot-inhabited world. Created by Justin Leach (Ghost in the Shell 2) and directed by legendary Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood director Yasuhiro Irie, Eden debuted on Netflix on Thursday, May 27.

Kevin Penkin, based in Melbourne, is a BAFTA-nominated composer for Japanese animation and video games. He is best known for composing the award-winning score to Made in Abyss, and the music to the BAFTA award-winning game Florence. Kevin moved to London in 2013 to complete a Masters degree in Composition for Screen at the Royal College of Music. During this time, Kevin collaborated with legendary video game composer Nobuo Uematsu on a number of Japanese video game titles, which eventually led him to break into the Anime industry. After releasing his breakthrough score for Made in Abyss, Penkin continued to compose music for Japanese animation, with scores for both The Rising of the Shield Hero and Tower of God.

Thousands of years in the future, a city known as “Eden 3” is inhabited solely by robots whose former masters vanished a long time ago. On a routine assignment, two farming robots accidentally awaken a human baby girl from stasis questioning all they were taught to believe — that humans were nothing more than a forbidden ancient myth. Together, the two robots secretly raise the child in a safe haven outside Eden.

Of the soundtrack for EDEN, composer Kevin Penkin had the following to say:

“Eden is one of those projects that I will cherish forever. The love put into this project not only from the team, but also the musicians, is humbling. Being able to work with people who gave so much trust in the direction of the music is something I will forever cherish. Please enjoy the unique world of Eden, as we combine the unique worlds of a 3D-printed 6-string violin, female voices and electro-acoustic sound-sources. We have tried to put our best foot forward to honor the amazing work of this team.”

EDEN (MUSIC FROM THE NETFLIX ORIGINAL ANIME SERIES)

TRACKLISTING –

  1. The Garden of EDEN
  2. Genesis
  3. The Capsule Under the Tree
  4. Recharge
  5. Ocean Way
  6. Reprogram
  7. Sunrise Over the Cube
  8. Uncle John
  9. Sara
  10. VR
  11. Valhalla
  12. EDEN 3
  13. Dreams
  14. Chasey
  15. Return to Base
  16. EDEN.Waltz
  17. Sunset
  18. Liz Projections
  19. ZERO
  20. Appledrop
  21. Penrose Steps, A.I. Bloom
  22. Password:
  23. Truth Is
  24. EDEN ZERO
  25. Archive
  26. Mama & Papa
  27. Detonation
  28. Removal
  29. 4
  30. Dr. Fields
  31. Memory Fields
  32. The Place Where Everyone Laughs
  33. SARA GRACE
  34. Rain
  35. Demolition
  36. Red vs Blue
  37. Strawberry Blonde
  38. The Girl in the Field
  39. The Robotic Code of Ethics

Enjoy the music of EDEN, which is available now.

See also:

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

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook