Tag Archives: soundtrack

Soundtrack Review: Molly’s Game (2017)

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Molly’s Game is a 2017 American crime drama film based on the memoir Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by Molly Bloom. The movie stars Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera and Brian D’Arcy, among others. The film follows Bloom as she comes under investigation from the FBI for running underground poker games for Hollywood celebrities, athletes, wealthy businessmen…and the Russian mob. The film was initially screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8th, 2017 and was released to theaters on December 25th, 2017.

The score for Molly’s Game was written by English composer Daniel Pemberton. Pemberton is an Ivor Novello-winning and multiple Golden Globe and BAFTA Award-nominated composer who has been regularly cited as one of the most exciting and original new voices working in modern film scoring today. His bold writing and unusual and innovative arrangements on scores for movies have seen the soundtracks constantly singled out for critical acclaim. Pemberton’s mix of opera and electronics for Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs (starring Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet) not only garnered him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score but so impressed writer Aaron Sorkin that Pemberton was invited to score his much anticipated directorial debut, the recently completed Molly’s Game. Pemberton’s recent scores also include: The Man From UNCLE (2015); King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) and All the Money in the World (2017).


From the moment I started listening to the score for Molly’s Game, it instantly sounded familiar to me, though it took some digging before I could pin down the reason why. As soon as I looked up Pemberton’s filmography my eyes jumped to The Man From UNCLE (a film I like every much) which I’d thought of repeatedly while listening to the score for Molly’s Game. It’s very obvious to my ears that these two scores come from the same composer, they have the same…frenetic (for lack of a better word) style with a modern feeling “edge” to the music.

Honestly I still have a hard time describing Daniel Pemberton’s film scores and that’s because they sound so different from what I normally listen to. I think it would be fair to say I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to film music; I like full-bodied symphonic scores a la John Williams, Miklos Rozsa and especially Erich Wolfgang Korngold. And Pemberton’s music, so far as I can tell, is very non-traditional, non-symphonic and just…different. But that’s not a bad thing, not at all! Even though I have a hard time describing this new, modernist style that Pemberton is pushing, I can say for certain that I love what I’m hearing.


Most of the tracks in this score have a similar sound to what I heard in The Man From UNCLE, which is that fast-paced style that ranges between extremely light synthetic rock and electronic dancing music. Some of my favorite tracks in this style included “House of Cards,” “The Russians,” and “Red & Black.” However some, like “Molly’s Dream” and “Scars” are slower, more melodic. I like “Molly’s Dream” in particular because it explicitly features the piano, a marked contrast from the bulk of the score.

If you’ve enjoyed Pemberton’s work up to this point, then his score for Molly’s Game will please you immensely. If you’re unfamiliar with Pemberton’s work, I still think you’ll enjoy it. It’s refreshing to listen to film scores that aren’t loaded to the gills with symphonic instruments and pounding drums. I can’t wait to see what Pemberton brings to the field in the future (his next project is listed as Ocean’s 8, the all-female remake of Ocean’s 11). I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on the score for Molly’s Game. If you’d like to discuss it further, let me know in the comments below 🙂


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This review was actually posted a day in advance on the blog’s Patreon page. From here on out, patrons of the blog will have early access to my newest film and soundtrack reviews. The first tier for becoming a patron is $2/month which grants early access. The second tier is $5/month and gives you the right to commission one film or soundtrack review from me per month (provided it’s one I haven’t reviewed already) as well as early access. More rewards will come in the future!

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See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

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Soundtrack Review: Winchester (2018)

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Winchester is a 2018 American supernatural horror film directed by Michael and Peter Spierig. It follows the widowed Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) as she seeks to help what she believes are spirits killed by Winchester rifles by continually expanding the mansion she lives in (what is now known as the Winchester Mystery House). Due to Sarah’s obsession with spirits, a doctor named Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is summoned to the mansion to determine whether Sarah is mentally capable of running the Winchester Company. The doctor, who does not initially believe in ghosts, soon finds that there are indeed spirits residing in the Winchester mansion. Winchester was released to theaters on February 2nd, 2018.

The score for Winchester was composed by co-director Peter Spierig in his second outing as a film composer. Peter collaborates with his twin brother Michael and collectively they work as The Spierig Brothers. Their critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller Predestination, based on Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies”, was nominated for nine Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score for Peter. The film also won four AACTA Awards including Best Actress for Sarah Snook, who stars in Winchester. The Spierig Brothers won the Toronto After Dark Film Festival Special Award for Best Sci-Fi Film and Best Screenplay for Predestination, which also took a second place Audience Award for Best Feature Film.


Listening to the soundtrack, some moments definitely stood out to me, but overall one thing became pointedly clear: the Winchester score succumbs to the age-old trope of using shock chords in a horror film. It’s a practice that dates back many decades and in my opinion it’s completely over done. It’s true that horror films should have that “scare factor” to them, especially in the music whenever possible, but there’s more than one way to elicit scares through the music.

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However as I said there were a few moments that stood out to me in a good way. One of these was “Marion,” referring to a relative of Sarah’s that also lives in the mansion with her son Henry. In contrast to the “Winchester House” track which is fairly typical horror movie score fare (loaded with shock chords, grinding metal sounds and various eerie noises), “Marion” is a relatively calm piano track that possibly signifies how “normal” the character is compared to Sarah Winchester with her belief in spirits and the paranormal. “Employment” also ran along similar veins to this piece.


“Poisoned Mind” was another track filled with shock chords, far too much for my liking to be honest, as was “You’re A Fraud.”

In brief, Winchester doesn’t have the worst soundtrack in the world (for those curious, Van Helsing (2004) still holds that dubious distinction for me), but it is not one of my favorites.

Did you watch Winchester? If you did, what did you think of the film and the soundtrack? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Have a good day!

See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

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Soundtrack Review: Maze Runner-The Death Cure (2018)

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Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a 2018 American dystopian science fiction film based on the third novel in the Maze Runner trilogy written by James Dashner. It was originally meant to be released in 2017 but had to be delayed when series star Dylan O’Brien suffered injuries while filming and required extensive time to recover. In The Death Cure, the surviving “Gladers” must infiltrate WCKD headquarters in order to rescue their friend Minho who is being tortured by WCKD in hopes of developing a cure for the Flare virus that has turned most of the population into “Cranks” (zombie-like beings that have an overwhelming urge to kill anyone who isn’t a Crank). The film and soundtrack released on January 26th, 2018.

The score for The Death Cure was composed by John Paesano, a composer with a lengthy list of film credits to his name. Paesano received an Annie Award for Best Music for his work on DreamWorks’ animated series Dragons: Riders of Berk, which is based on the Academy Award® winning film How To Train Your Dragon. He won a World Soundtrack Award for his score to the hugely successful young adult adaptation, The Maze Runner.

He has now completed the trilogy, which includes The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure. His other credits include Universal Picture’s Almost Christmas and Sony Animation’s The Star. He’s currently scoring both Marvel’s hit series Daredevil and Defenders. Forthcoming in 2018 is Spider-Man PS4, which will be released featuring John’s huge orchestral score.


Listening to Maze Runner: The Death Cure was a refreshing change of pace compared to the other science fiction works I’ve been listening to as of late (i.e. Annihilation and Altered Carbon). Unlike those works, The Death Cure’s score uses a more traditional orchestra, mostly strings, though there is a healthy dose of synthesizer used as well (in the 21st century, it’s next-to-impossible to find a film score that doesn’t use synthesized music at some point).

Two tracks that stood out to me were “The Virus” and “The Last City.” With “The Virus,” it was very interesting, given the track’s title, how it actually sounded. I was expecting to hear something sinister and dark, but it actually sounded very pleasant. With layered orchestral chords and synthetic drones, the music is actually rather serene at times, which makes me wonder what part of the film this music is attached to with a title like “The Virus.” I really do enjoy listening to this track, it’s simple and direct and hopefully gets its point across in the film.


“The Last City” can only be referring to the city that holds WCKD headquarters (and is presumed to be the last functioning city of its kind on Earth). Appropriately enough, given the post-apocalyptic setting, the music for this track is sad, with a mournful horn melody accompanied by strings. I have to imagine that even for those living inside the city things must seem completely hopeless, given how close humanity is to extinction, no wonder the music is so sad. I like how Paesano has written this piece, especially how the strings swell up with a theme of their own and weave in and out with the horn. Like “The Virus,” this track is relatively simple but effective.

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And those are my thoughts on the soundtrack of Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Reviews of the film have been mixed, but I think Paesano’s soundtrack is good, and I hope you enjoy listening to it. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available for review. The soundtrack is available via Sony Classical.

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See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

Soundtrack Review: Annihilation (2018)

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Annihilation is a science fiction horror film written and directed by Alex Garland in his second outing as a film director. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer and follows a group of military scientists who enter “the Shimmer,” a mysterious quarantined zone that is full of mutating landscapes and creatures. Annihilation stars Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, , Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny and was released on February 23rd, 2018.

The soundtrack of Annihilation was scored by composing duo Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, who previously worked with Alex Garland on the Academy Award winning film Ex Machina (2015). Ben Salisbury is an Emmy-nominated composer with over 100 film and television composing credits to his name, including Beyonce Knowles’ self-directed documentary feature Beyonce: Life Is But A Dream and the last 3 series of David Attenborough’s acclaimed Life Of… strand for the BBC. Geoff Barrow, known for his extensive body of work as a music producer and founding member of the band Portishead, first began his film music career as the music supervisor and original score writer for graffiti artist Banksy’s Oscar-nominated documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop. He recently worked on the band Arcade Fire’s latest album Everything Now in addition to producing a cover of ABBA’s “SOS” with Portishead for Ben Wheatley’s film adaption of High-Rise.

The first thing I noticed about this soundtrack is that it is clearly related to the music of Ex Machina. It is not identical, per se, but it clearly comes from the same tonal family as the previous film. I don’t say this as a bad thing, in fact, it’s not uncommon for multiple soundtracks from the same composer (or group of composers) to retain similarities across each film. I also think the resemblance has something to do with Annihilation being considered the “spiritual” successor to Ex Machina.


That being said, if you liked Ex Machina and its soundtrack, then you will love the soundtrack for Annihilation. Like the soundtrack for Altered Carbon, most of the tracks contain the same elements: long synthesized tones, metallic wind chimes, and vocal tones. Despite the similarities, some of the tracks did stand out to me.

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“Shimmer Reveal” is only 38 seconds long but it catches the ear because it starts very soft and steadily grows in volume. As the volume increases, the melody “thickens” with a deeper synthesized tone. It feels like we start looking at a small picture which quickly expands into a panoramic landscape (in fact this is probably when we get our first in-depth look at the “shimmer” which can only be that mysterious thing that Natalie Portman’s character is seen walking into in the previews).


“Abandoned Army Base” is half-mystical and half-sinister in the way it combines a synthesized drone with “creaking” metallic tones that sound like metal being ripped apart and metallic chimes that put me in mind of a monastery. Given that this is a science fiction horror film, I can only presume the sinister component I hear is due to someone or something hiding at this abandoned base, just waiting to snatch an unsuspecting victim (of course I could be wrong, but that’s what it sounds like). And going back to Ex Machina, this track in particular reminds me of Ava’s theme.

I have to bring attention to “In All of Us” simply because this track breaks the overall pattern and includes a melody from a guitar, which is so unexpected that it jars the ear when it arrives. “We Are Headed That Way” which follows that track, is interesting to me because of its title. Given the trailer’s hints that “the Shimmer” is causing a mutation of some kind, I wonder if this title refers to the idea that everything on Earth will eventually be affected by this mutation. Truthfully I can’t wait to find out what “the Shimmer” is actually doing, the visuals in the previews looked amazing.


And those are my thoughts on the soundtrack for Annihilation. The soundtrack is currently available via Lakeshore Records and I hope you enjoy listening to it. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available for review.

If you’ve seen Annihilation, what did you think of the film and its soundtrack? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, but please no spoilers, I’m seeing the film on Wednesday night 🙂

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See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

Soundtrack Review: Altered Carbon (2018)

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Based on the classic cyberpunk noir novel by Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon is an intriguing story of murder, love, sex, and betrayal, set more than 300 years in the future. In Netflix’s Altered Carbon, Society has been transformed by new technology: consciousness can be digitized; human bodies are interchangeable; death is no longer permanent.

Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) is the lone surviving soldier in a group of elite interstellar warriors who were defeated in an uprising against the new world order. His mind was imprisoned – on ice – for centuries until Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), an impossibly wealthy, long-lived man, offers Kovacs the chance to live again. In exchange, Kovacs has to solve a murder … that of Bancroft himself.


The soundtrack is composed by Jeff Russo, who has also composed music for Star Trek: Discovery and Fargo. For the latter, Russo earned a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special in 2017. Russo began his music career in 1990, after founding his rock band TONIC. The group quickly achieved great success and in 2003, received two Grammy nominations, one for “Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal” for “Take Me As I Am,” and one for “Best Rock Album.” The band was a great showcase for Russo’s guitar work and songwriting that allowed him to branch out and begin his solo career in producing and composing.


I’d heard that the soundtrack for Altered Carbon was unusual for a story in the cyberpunk genre, and now that I’ve listened to the soundtrack album I can definitely attest that this is true. As a general rule, the music in any show or film set in the future (and particularly in a cyberpunk future like Altered Carbon) has an “edgy futuristic” feel to it. Notable examples of this practice include: Blade Runner and its sequel; Automata; The Machine and Forbidden Planet. These films have soundtracks with weird electronic noises, guitar riffs and descents into heavy rock beats during action sequences.


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But the soundtrack for Altered Carbon doesn’t do this. Instead, the music, beginning with the “Main Title” has a mysterious quality to it. There are long, held-out string drones that combine with soft vocals (that are half muttering, half singing) and a cello solo. The opening title has the slightest touch of a drum beat, but it only lasts for a short time and doesn’t dominate the track.


Most of the album: “Consciousness,” “Bancroft Shows Kovacs,” “Her Daughter,” and “Attacked by Troopers” are all variations on the same musical arrangement: strings with a prominent solo cello, combined with female vocalizations and an on-again/off-again background of electronic music. This is not a bad thing: In fact it shows that the world of Altered Carbon has a consistent musical background (and consistency is never a bad thing in film and television music). It’s actually refreshing to listen to a science fiction soundtrack that doesn’t include heavy rock music. Jeff Russo has composed a beautiful soundtrack for an amazing show. If you haven’t watched it yet, the first season is currently available on Netflix. The soundtrack became digitally available from Lakeshore Records as of February 9th, 2018.

Let me know your thoughts on Altered Carbon and its soundtrack in the comments below! My thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available for review.

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Soundtrack Review: The Walking Dead (2010-present)

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Unbelievably, in over seven years, there has never been a soundtrack release from The Walking Dead…until now. Composer Bear McCreary chose his personal favorites from the innumerable themes he has written for the series, along with tracks the fans begged to have included. Selections from the soundtrack include:

  • The Walking Dead “Main Theme”
  • “Sophia”
  • “Carl”
  • “Farm Invasion”
  • “Welcome to the Tombs”
  • “Negan”

This is just a sampling of what’s available, as there are 23 tracks in total. The “Main Theme” is probably one of the most iconic pieces from the series. The quickly moving strings that turn dark as the credits show how civilization has completely broken down (time winding to a stop, buildings decomposing, etc.), it just sucks you in to this (thankfully) fictional world where the dead walk and life as we know it will never be “normal” again (I haven’t watched in years but I AM curious as to what the endgame of this series will be, because nothing lasts forever).

And then there’s “Sophia.” Oh Sophia Sophia…the fate of that little girl came in one of the last episodes I remember watching and this theme fits her so perfectly. This young girl who had to live through the worst kind of apocalypse and (spoiler alert) ultimately didn’t make it deserves a theme that highlights her nature and this theme delivers. It is unexpectedly rich, warm at times, but there is always a hint of sadness, almost like McCreary was foreshadowing her fate (and he likely was). The detail I like the best is, in the middle of the theme, there is a hint of what sounds like a music box, something that is often associated with young girls. I liked that little touch to “Sophia.”


“Carl” is very different from some of the others because, until the last 30 seconds, it is entirely piano. It reminds me very much of this scene where Carl “rescues” a can of chocolate pudding from a ruined house and eats it while sitting on the roof contemplating his surroundings. Now in the last 30 seconds some relatively ominous strings come in, but the piano simply repeats its theme. It’s simple, but beautiful in its simplicity.

“Farm Invasion” actually reminded me very strongly of his theme for Constantine (the short-lived TV show) and that’s because it’s a perfect blend of classical and rock elements. There are strings, yes, but there is also drums, modern percussion, I do believe there is an electric guitar mixed in as well. The snapped strings (a technique where you hold up the violin/viola/cello/bass string and let it snap back against the fingerboard) create the effect of gunshots and given the title of the theme, that seems very appropriate.


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You can almost follow the action that this scene accompanied: any time the group directly confronts walkers, the music is in your face, up-tempo, heavy string snaps. When they’re running or there’s some emotional drama, it pulls back a bit (but not by much). There’s an awesome guitar moment around 4:28 as well. What makes McCreary’s music so good is that it pulls you in by constantly keeping the pace moving, there’s no way to lose interest. I also hear fragments of the main theme mixed in, or at least something reminiscent of it. But when I say fragments I mean that literally; it sounds “broken”, like he took the theme and smashed it apart. This is a much longer track (almost 9 full minutes) but it is definitely worth listening to.


The last track I will highlight is “Negan” and boy oh boy, based on everything I’ve heard, this theme describes him perfectly. The opening note is this long synthetic “whine” that immediately puts you on edge. And what’s interesting is, you’re not confronted with the “idea” of Negan right away in the music. It’s not until the electric guitar comes in that you realize HERE is the essence of Negan, and it’s nothing good. It’s dark, ominous and I’m kind of glad I left the series before he was introduced because some of the things he’s done would’ve completely broken me.

And that’s my look into the soundtrack of The Walking Dead. I highly recommend this soundtrack, not just for fans of the show, but also if you’re a fan of really good television music. Bear McCreary is one of the best in the business and it definitely shows here. Enjoy!

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Soundtrack Review: Stranger Things 2

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First off, I have a shocking confession to make. I have not seen a single episode of Stranger Things. It’s not that I don’t WANT to, but when it came down to subscribing to Netflix or Hulu…Hulu won. But I’ve heard amazing things about it (most of my friends are in love with the series) especially that the music soundtrack is very good. So when the opportunity came to review the soundtrack for the second season of Stranger Things, naturally I leaped at the opportunity.


The album became available for digital download on October 20th, and a physical CD release will be coming later (along with an LP version). The music was composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. The pair won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music for their work on the first season of Stranger Things (2016). Their first season soundtrack was also nominated for a Grammy Award.

The first thing I have to say about this soundtrack…it is huge! There are 34 track listings which is a lot of music to find in a soundtrack. The average soundtrack album has around 12-14 tracks (more if it’s a “deluxe edition” or something of that ilk).


The second thing I noticed straight away: none of the tracks are particularly long. I don’t mean this in a negative way, it’s actually refreshing to have a list of tracks that aren’t all ten minutes or more in length. Most of the tracks are between two and three minutes in length, which is more than enough time to get a feel for the music. And speaking of the music…

The music for the second season of Stranger Things sounds amazing! Since the series is set in the 1980s, the music has a distinct 80s sound, which means a lot of synthesizers in the mix. Particular favorites I’d like to highlight include: “Home”, “She wants me to find her”, “The First Lie” and “Connect the Dots.” This last one is particularly interesting to me because the title refers to “dots” and the music itself is full of “dots”, that is to say, there are many plunking sounds that create an aural image of dots in the imagination.


I do have one small criticism of the overall soundtrack. Because so many of the tracks use synthesizers, some of the tracks have the tendency to sound very similar to one another.

Bottom line: if you love Stranger Things, you will definitely love this soundtrack. And if you’re like me and you haven’t seen Stranger Things yet, then this soundtrack will make you want to go see it as soon as possible.

The digital album of Strangers Things 2 is available now, keep an eye out for the physical CD release in the near future. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making the soundtrack available for review.

See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

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