ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. by James Newton Howard

Composer James Newton Howard has had a very busy time recently. He has not only written music but he has also prepared his first ever European tour covering 15 cities. Preparing such a big tour is a huge undertaking and needless to say it must have been quite an effort to not only finish his scoring assignments in time but to also pick and arrange the pieces for his concerts. Since James Newton Howard is no stranger to tight schedules, everything seems to have turned out fine.   

The tour is in full swing and I have been lucky enough to experience James Newton Howard live and I must say that his concert was absolutely phenomenal and at times even mind-blowing. One of the projects James had finished recently was the legal drama Roman J. Israel, Esq. The film stars Denzel Washington and was directed by Dan Gilroy who James had already worked with on Nightcrawler a few years ago.

Legal dramas and or thrillers can be a difficult affair when it comes to scoring them. Quite a few of those have very little score or the score they do have feels somewhat uninteresting. This of course varies from project to project and there are movies in this genre that have a gripping score.

For Roman J. Israel, Esq. the director picked one of the most brilliant film composers of all time – James Newton Howard – a composer who has the ability to adept to any kind of genre. His range is enormous and he can certainly tackle everything. The score James wrote for this particular film feels very solid. It is not particularly spectacular or memorable. However, it does have that special James Newton Howard magic in places.

In “Supreme Court of Absolute Universal Law”, James introduces one of the principal themes which was wonderfully arranged for choir. He has written for choir on many occasions and this piece showcases his ability to use voices to create the right atmosphere.

James is not only a master of huge and complex orchestral writing, but he also understands how to incorporate electronics into his compositions. “Just Continuances” is a good example of just that. He mixed organic instruments with nice synth sounds.

By and large, the music feels subtle. It is never intrusive or feels out of place. The score also features some nice brass and string work. However, I felt that his choral writing stood out the most. James also throws is some acoustic guitar. By doing so, he manages to create a very pleasant listening experience which is further intensified with his elegant string writing.

This album certainly isn’t the best one of the year. Neither is it one of James’ best scores. However, this 40 minute album presentation does offer some very fine moments. There is choral beauty, some of James’ trademark string work and elegance. James also nicely varies the instruments. To me the piece “Maple Glazed Donut” stands as one of the true album highlights. This playful, entertaining and simply gorgeous piece of music is a true treasure. The piano playing is spot on and you just have to love the “lounge feeling” it provides.

Besides the subtle and beautiful moments, James also throws in some more intense compositions – “Guard! Guard!” Yet, the music does not become intrusive and I never really felt uncomfortable. It is a decent score, which probably won’t top the list of the best scores of the year or James’ career, but in the end I felt that most fans of the brilliant composer will probably conclude that there is some fine music on this album. “Filing The Briefis a nice suite which reprises the principal themes. It is the second best piece on the album. The choir shines brighter, the orchestration is bigger and all in all, it is a very effective piece of music. For some listeners it may be a “filler album”, but to me it is further proof of the composer’s ability to come up with music for any kind of genre. James Newton Howard has many scores left in him and one can only hope that he will continue to enrich this business with his musical brilliance for a very long time.

Stephen King’s IT by Benjamin Wallfisch

When people talk about Stephen King, they usually associate his name with horror novels. Yet, this brilliant writer has published quite a few novels that deal with other subjects. Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are prominent examples. All of those films are featured on my list of the best motion pictures of all timeHowever, when it comes to the horror genre, this man has written some of the best novels you will ever read. His range is enormous. Of all the books he has written so far, IT certainly stands as one of his most popular and best ones to date. It is a masterpiece on every level and rightfully considered a classic.

In 1990, IT was released on television with a running time of three hours. Many people felt that the film was way too short and that it was not close enough to the book. As a matter of fact, people regularly voice this complaint when it comes to a book-to-film adaptation. You simply cannot take a 1500 page book and turn it into a three hour movie and cover every aspect. It is simply impossible. In my book, IT is one of the very best horror movies ever shot. When I watched the film for the first time, it scared the bejesus out of me and to this day, the film is still incredibly effective and fascinating.

I simply loved how director Tommy Lee Wallace approached the book. He didn’t shoot a graphic movie, filled with gore effects. He decided to shoot a film which is simply unbelievably suspenseful and absolutely frightening. To me there is no art in shooting a film that focuses on splatter effects. It is much more difficult to build tension to captivate the audience. Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise was fantastic and all actors basically did a very good job. Back then, Richard Bellis wrote the original score and his effort contributed largely to the dense atmosphere of the film.

27 years later, the remake hit the theaters. Remakes are generally a double-edged sword and as far as I am concerned, most of them are unnecessary. However, ever since it had been announced that IT was about to be given a new version, I was immediately curious. The film was split again in two parts. The first one called The Losers’ Club, which focuses heavily on the young kids, was released a couple of weeks ago and in 2019 part two is expected to arrive at the box office.

Very recently, I wrote a review on Benjamin Wallfisch’s score Annabelle and I praised the composer’s musical ability. In terms of IT, Wallfisch certainly delivered a big effort. We are talking about an album with 90 minutes of music. In the past, Benjamin Wallfisch had already proven that he is not only able to write beautiful melodies, but he can also deliver dense soundscapes that send a shiver down your spine – IT certainly gave him the opportunity to do both.

The album starts with one of the very best cues of the entire score. “Every 27 Years” introduces a very effective choir part, followed by a beautiful piano theme which was  also wonderfully arranged for strings. The theme has a sensitive, yet powerful and expressive touch. In “Paper Boat”, Wallfisch introduces another delicate piano theme. The relationship between the kids was primarily scored with piano and strings. “Georgie Meet Pennywise” is one of the most interesting and frightening cues of the score. The tension builds nicely. The cue becomes more mysterious and intense. When Pennywise strikes and Georgie is murdered the cue reaches a big climax. The soft choir turns into a massive musical outburst. This moment stands as one of the most effective ones of the entire score – it is incredibly powerful. “Derry” is the next cue on the album and now the listener is given some time to breathe and “relax” after some very intense minutes. The creepy choir returns in the cue “Egg Boy”. Wallfisch really used the voices very skilfully.

There are also some lovely moments on the album. The theme Benjamin Wallfisch wrote for the young Beverly is absolutely gorgeous and simply a beauty. However, things also get really heavy. “Come Join The Clown, Eds” contains some very harsh synth effects and a pulsating rhythm. Those moments are nothing for the faint-hearted and the music can become very demanding. The composer clearly knows how to create tension and he is certainly able to use the orchestra, choir and the electronics in a very appealing way. Fans of horror scores will certainly get their money’s worth here. Due to the nature of the subject, some cues are “unenjoyable”. As you know, an album speaks a different language than the score inside the film. I am also pretty sure that fans of non-horror scores will find many cues which they can enjoy. Tracks like “Blood Oath”, “Kiss” and “Every 27 Years reprise” clearly show the potential of the album. Those are beautiful musical moments that go straight to the heart. Benjamin Wallfisch has done a sublime job and I am very much looking forward to his next albums. He seems to be on his way to become a major player in the film music world.