MMM: Mansell’s Moon, Avatar Piano, Morricone’s Harmonica

James here with Movie Music Monday!

Our customary three today lean on the meditative side.

Clint Mansell’s score for ‘Moon’ is suitably futuristic, haunting, and introspective.  A great companion to a story about lunar monasticism.

Among the many disappointments I experienced with James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ was James Horner’s score.  Now, the man can write music, there’s no doubt of that.  The problem is that musically as well as narratively, ‘Avatar’ is mostly unoriginal and unsatisfying.  However, the main theme is actually pretty good… in instrumental. On piano, the melody doesn’t get lost as easily as it does in the film’s actual score.

Ennio Morricone is a titan among giants, and his music for Sergio Leone’s underrated ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ stands out with the best of his work.  This string of three pieces, from the film’s sublime climax, is equal parts meditative, mournful, and terrifying.

MMM: The Hand of Fate, Blade Runner, The Trio

James here with Movie Music Mondays.

A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.”

Stanley Kubrick

So say we all.

James Newton Howard’s collaborations with M. Night Shyamalan yielded some of my favorite film music, not the least of which being the theme from ‘Signs’, best exemplified in ‘The Hand of Fate, Part 2’, a piece better heard than described.

Vangelis’ score for the cult classic ‘Blade Runner’ is one of the most sought-after soundtracks among sci-fi enthusiasts. ‘Blade Runner Blues’ is a great, meditative piece that, in my mind, would communicate Philip K. Dick’s vision even without the music’s symbiotic relationship to this great film.

Ennio Morricone was a prolific film composer, and that’s a bit of an understatement. His best score, by most accounts, is ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’, and my favorite track from it is ‘The Trio’.

Let The Right One In

Stars: ★★★★

Summary:  A true masterpiece of postmodern horror, with heartrending emotional realism.

Review:  No matter who you are, when you’re a kid, bullying always seems to find you.  For some of us, it’s the moment when we realize that the world isn’t a friendly place.  Many are deeply scarred by their experiences and they may become dysfunctional.  Others adapt.   ‘Let The Right One In’ explores the most tragic response to childhood bullying; turning into a bully yourself.  The boy at the story’s heart sees it as the only way out.  Then the little girl shows up.  She’s not like any kid that Oskar has ever known.  She tells him his instincts are correct.  With Oskar right on the cusp of puberty, the mysterious Eli is magnetic, and in due time he gets close enough to discover the terrible truth: She’s a vampire.

This is a meditation on all aspects of abuse, which is what makes ‘Let The Right One In’ a prime example of the horror genre.  There’s nothing scarier than the bitter truth.  The title comes from a rule, mentioned occasionally in vampire legends, that prevents a vampire from entering a place uninvited.  As Oskar discovers, casual evil is indiscriminate, but the most insidious things ask for permission.  As we know, bullying doesn’t disappear when we grow up; it just becomes more devious.  An abuser needs victims for their sense of self to survive.  There’s an obvious parallel with vampirism.

Eli is a vampire’s victim, and tragically, she can only survive by embracing this new identity and the habitual murder that comes with it.  The character isn’t a villain or an object of horror.  She’s a believable, sympathetic person.  Oskar, for his part, just wants his anger to mean something.  Eli catches him early on stabbing a tree and practicing taunts.  When I was young and angry, sometimes my parents told me to go punch a pillow; but it didn’t matter, really, whether I punched a pillow or a brick wall.  We all want our fantasies to manifest.  Some of us have wise guardians who prevent us from taking vengeance and destroying ourselves.  Oskar isn’t so lucky.  Eli becomes his protector, but she’s also the ultimate bully.  Her feelings for Oskar are genuine, but she’s also the worst thing for him.

The film is technically well executed.  There’s no shaky handheld camera, jump cuts, or cheap scares.  The pristine wintry scenery is breathtaking and deceptively serene.  Johan Söderqvist’s score is incredibly beautiful, and if you need proof, just take a listen here.  The standout scene of the entire film is, fittingly, the ending.  I’ll probably never look at a swimming pool the same way again.

‘Let The Right One In’ will be considered among the 21st Century’s first masterpieces, even if it is under-appreciated by the public.  It’s a cinematic opus, a story that director Tomas Alfredson and writer John Ajvide Lindqvist should be terribly proud of.

Classic Review: For A Few Dollars More

By contributor Patrick Zabriskie

Stars:  ★★★★

Summary:  Just look at the title—it’s more of what you want from your spaghetti westerns.

Nobody makes posters quite this awesome anymore.

Nobody makes posters quite this awesome anymore.

Review:  He’s back—the Man with no Name.  So are the sun-drenched Spanish deserts, trigger-happy gunslingers, close-ups, showdowns, and over-the-top Morricone music.  In short, everything that’s great about this little subset of the Western genre is here in fine form and is, in fact, better than in ‘A Fistful of Dollars’.

The Man with No Name, again magnificently played by Clint Eastwood, has turned bounty hunter and now wanders the west, collecting buck for his bang on the various outlaws of the frontier.  When the opportunity to collect a fortune on the recently escaped, and certainly psychotic, bandit el Indio (Johnny Wels) arises, he sets out after him.

So has the Man in the Black, however.  A rogue colonel turned bounty killer, the Man in Black (known in the film as Colonel Mortimer and played by Lee Van Cleef), carries with him an arsenal of fire arms and is as deadly with any one of them as The Man with No Name.  He’s after Indio for his own reasons.  Inevitably, the two rivals meet up and are forced to work in an uneasy truce together to catch Indio and his gang.

I have to say that l found this film to possess a much stronger story than in the first movie.  Van Cleef and Eastwood have great chemistry together as competing gunslingers.  Even as they work together, they try their best to one-up each other while doing it.  The result is some very entertaining and amusing moments.  The filmmakers also went out of their way to cast the villain, el Indio, in a more sympathetic light.  A series of flashbacks and a key twist at the end make him more tragic rather than purely evil.  It adds a whole new layer to the Leone west, and it is a welcome addition.  Fans of ‘Fistful’ may notice that the Indio is played by the same actor who portrayed the ruthless Ramon from the first movie.  Although this is a bit confusing to people who are new to these films, these are, in fact, two different characters and should not be confused.

Ennio Morricone returns to score, delivering equally impressive yet also much livelier music this time around.  All the staples from the first film (the guitars, whistling, chanting, trumpets, etc.) are here, but he now introduces some new “twangy” instruments and increases the tempo for a more energetic affair.  To coincide with the deeper and more emotionally involving story, he also wrote very atmospheric and touching pieces which, when played during key scenes, really add to your concern for the story and investment in the characters.  One particular “chime” theme is quite moving.

Lastly, the famous cinematography is back.  The close-ups and the panoramas of desert wasteland are here, and they work as well as ever.  All of the ‘Dollars’ films were very impressively shot and, again, it really adds something special and unique to these movies.

‘For a Few Dollars More’ expounds and improves upon the template set by ‘A Fistful of Dollars’. Attacking on two fronts, it finds itself even more violent and yet also much more involving and moving than the first film.  Refining and bettering what made the first film so great, it is, quite simply, what a sequel ought to be.  In my opinion, it truly surpasses the original.

So it seems that we have a new winner for Best Spaghetti Western.  After all, this film pushed aside the legendary ‘Fistful’ to become the archetypical and bar-setting representative of its genre.  Right?  Wrong.  Just you wait…