Sunday, December 23, 2012

Music Review: LIFE OF PI (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

The soundtrack of the film Life of Pi will invoke images of the beloved film, but is alas, only a movie soundtrack, wherein dramatic surges in the score only serve as plot advancements in the film, thereby leaving the isolated music naked without closure. It is a design of images, not composition.

In a new-age, meditation sort of way, Mychael Danna's score is a lovely piece of music, combining traditional Indian culture - as is the ethnicity of the film - with thunder-rousing movie music, complete with full angelic vocal choir. A simple minor piano chord serves as the theme obliging the oceanic orchestra and Indian indigenous instruments (mandolin, sitar, and a host of other Indian percussion instruments).

While there are vocal arrangements throughout, the first track, "Pi's Lullaby", is the only piece with lyrics (and is sung by classical vocalist Bombay Jayashree). Its soft melody and lingering refrain - very much a lullaby - will kindle fond memories of the film. "Are you a flower or the nectar? Are you the fruit or the sweetness?" the song asks as if to a sleepy child. It serves well as a singular song in a "world music" vein, with its European accordion accompanying the languid sound like a drift down The Riviera in a gondola.

Too often the musical passages are simply too short to serve as separate entities. Surging violins will lead the orchestra for all of 34 seconds before one track ends and the next piece begins. It makes for difficult, stop-and-go listening that only serve as bold reminders of the movie.

The music breathes in the longer tracks. "Back to the World" explores the music's theme with slowly vibrating strings ushering in the soft vocal choir and tinkling keyboard invoking the twinkling of the starry night sky. It sounds very much like an exhaustive journey's end. "Tiger Vision" sounds remarkably like a tiger's soft paws stalking through a night jungle, with its quiet, cautious percussive sounds, and mysterious conch shell woodwinds creating a jungle exotica aura.

The album is full of sounds and passages that are both peaceful and disarming, as is the nature of the film. As a single piece of music, it is a bit abrupt. For serious students of music who love the film, it is likely essential listening.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Movie Review: Hitchcock

While Hitchcock, the new biographical film directed by Sacha Gervasi, gives us little insight into the mind of the "master of suspense", Alfred Hitchcock, it does provide an inside view of the making of his most celebrated film, Psycho. The creation of this classic horror film, depicted unsuccessfully here in a film-within-a-film concept, offers glitzy glamour, name-dropping pizazz, and the fascinating business and techniques of movie making. The creation, however negotiable, of Psycho's classic "shower scene", a movie scene that will be studied by film enthusiasts as long as there are movies to watch, makes the film an enjoyable if trivial entertainment.

The film goes to great lengths to define the relationship of "Hitch" (a rotund and seriously pouted Anthony Hopkins) and his wife/collaborator/editor, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren looking at least a decade younger than her 67 years), but fails to reveal them as anything but an aging and dear old couple, harboring the slightest suggestion of psychological abuse inflicted by Hitchcock regarding flirtations with his leading ladies. The relationship is coy and ill-defined. Separate single beds and late night chats in the bedroom do little to clarify it.

The movie fares better as a roving Hollywood eye detailing the business and trauma of the creation of Psycho. The movie-making backdrop scenes are the engine that keeps the film from being swallowed whole as a tepid Hollywood biopic. Excursions into character development lead down stray paths as movie moguls pressure Hitchcock to produce a money-making blockbuster, and the great director becomes increasingly obsessed with the real-life inspiration of Psycho, murderer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott). Here, as Hitchcock imagines consultation with the deceased Gein regarding the direction of the film, the movie loses momentum and only flirts with the motivation of Hitchcock's mind.

However, Hitchcock retains an entertaining value for the Hollywood, if not Hitchcock, subject matter alone. Scarlett Johansson is a pleasure to watch as Janet Leigh, playing the tragic anti-heroine of Psycho, Marion Crane. Johansson nails the look and manner of the sexy Leigh, and she does a dead-on impersonation of Leigh in the Psycho scene where Marion's stream-of-conscious thoughts are heard aloud, as she drives off to a date with death at Bate's Motel.

While Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are merely pacified caricatures of The Hitchcocks, their performances are splendid to watch. Hopkins boasts a solemn and thoughtless physical stance with searching, even greedy eyes, that capture Hitchcock's hunger for perfection. Mirren reveals a strong and secretive woman whose adoration and commitment to her husband is evident in longing and sad gestures. Jessica Biel as real life actress Vera Miles, and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins, the original Norman Bates of Psycho, add to the fun of celebrity portrayals with perfected mannerisms.

While a genuine impression of Alfred Hitchcock may lean more towards a Hollywood Babylon expose than this celebrity biography, Hitchcock is still an enjoyable romp through Hollywood lore.

this review was first published at: