Latest reviews of new albums:
Ennio Morricone: Piano Music
  • Composed by Ennio Morricone

The acclaimed pianist Roberto Prosseda became one of numerous artists to record tributes to the great Ennio Morricone following his death in 2020. This solo piano album presents some of the composer’s “absolute music” (as he always called it) alongside piano transcriptions of various film themes. While it is not the first album to do that mix, I believe it may well be the first to do so in quite this way, with the various classical works alternating with the film themes in an attempt to present a kind of unified musical voice of the composer. In truth much of his concert music was not at all like his film music – he got to give us all those great melodies in the latter and saw the former as a far more serious pursuit, with much of it not being for the faint-hearted. However, the selections chosen by Prosseda are cleverly interlinked with the more familiar film themes and produce a quite delightful album.

Il Volo Sings Morricone
  • Composed by Ennio Morricone

There have been various vocal compilations of Ennio Morricone songs over the years from a vast range of vocalists; the pick of them, inevitably, is when the Maestro himself was involved and my favourite of all was Focus, a collection sung by the great Portuguese singer Dulce Pontes. In tribute to the late genius is this collection from the trio of Italian tenors known as Il Volo, featuring involvement from the composer’s son Andrea. Eleven of the fourteen songs are based on film themes, mostly with lyrics added after the fact; many of these have been released in different form previously, often with the involvement of Ennio, though a couple are new. You know the type of sound here: the “crossover” classical variety (if you close your eyes while listening you will see Simon Cowell’s face imprinted inside your eyelids) and you get big, big arrangements featuring the trio’s huge voices on top of a gigantic-sounding orchestra. It all begins with “The Ecstasy of Gold”, featuring lyrics by Andrea – and any scepticism about the album is likely to be exacerbated as soon as you hear it. Andrea Morricone is a wonderful composer but it would seem that writing lyrics is not his strong suit (the opening couplet of “I will love you / From now until the end of time” does not inspire confidence that we are about to experience much poetic depth). While there is unlikely to ever come a time when I don’t enjoy listening to any version of one of cinema’s most extraordinary melodies, for a while as I was planning writing these words I couldn’t help but think there was something slightly vulgar about this one.

Encanto
  • Score by Germaine Franco
  • Songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda

An extremely colourful and beautifully-designed film, Encanto is an interesting contrast to the usual Disney formula. The “hero” is not a princess, doesn’t have magical powers – indeed, nicely, she is the only member of her family who doesn’t – there isn’t really a “villain” at all – instead, the film’s point is that family is what’s important, not magic. I can report that the member of my household who falls into the film’s target demographic thinks it is completely wonderful and is very happy to spend time in its company via the magic of streaming – perhaps magic does have a place after all.

The Wheel of Time
  • Composed by Lorne Balfe

Based on Robert Jordan’s series of fantasy novels, The Wheel of Time is Amazon’s high-profile grab at a Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings-sized audience. The familiar tropes are there – a group of ordinary people plucked from their lives to fulfil an epic quest, assisted by magic and mystery along the way, coming upon all sorts of creatures determined to make them stop. With no fewer than fourteen books in the main series (plus offshoots) there should be no shortage of material to keep it going for many years should it prove successful. (I have to say – I’ve watched it and haven’t really got a clue what’s going on – which is a fairly standard state for me to be in these days.)

The Power of the Dog
  • Composed by Jonny Greenwood

We have seen it before, of course – the two asteroid movies, Deep Impact and Armageddon; the two anthropomorphic small insect movies, A Bug’s Life and Antz – and now 2021 sees two movies about canine hijinks released shortly after one another, with The Power of the Dog following a few days after Clifford the Big Red Dog. Whether it was really a coincidence or not I suppose we will never know, but while it may have been slightly beaten in terms of release date, it is Jane Campion’s film that looks set to dominate when it comes to awards season. Her first full-length film in twelve years, it’s a searing drama about masculinity, beautifully acted by Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee whose star-making turn as a young man in 1920s Montana and his complex relationship with his mother’s brother-in-law is a real highlight.

Eternals

Composed by Ramin Djawadi 2021’s third Marvel movie, Eternals introduces a whole host of new characters to take part in the endless fight between good and evil. They’ve evidently been biding their time up until now. Interestingly, all three of these movies have been met with somewhat lukewarm receptions – not just from critics (it […]

The Tamarind Seed

Composed by John Barry A romantic spy adventure, The Tamarind Seed stars Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif as lovers on opposite sides of the Cold War. Director Blake Edwards was famous of course for his collaborations with the great Henry Mancini, but he did deviate on occasion – and for a spy adventure in the […]

The French Dispatch

Composed by Alexandre Desplat The latest from the brilliant Wes Anderson, The French Dispatch is set in the French office of the Liberty-Kansas Evening Sun, soon to close following the death of its editor. All the usual suspects are there, including Anderson’s regular composer Alexandre Desplat, who finds a way in these films to bring […]

Red Notice

Composed by Steve Jablonsky A Netflix action comedy, Red Notice very boldly makes no attempt to hide its inspirations from Indiana Jones to True Lies (amongst many others) – bold, because if that’s what you’re going to force yourself to be compared with, you’d better be good. It isn’t very good, wasting the charisma of […]

Army of Thieves

Composed by Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro Telling the backstory of the safecracker character from Army of the Dead (which was only released a few months ago itself), Army of Thieves is a reasonably enjoyable action comedy directed by its star Matthias Schweighöfer. His character joins a team looking to break into the four “Wagner […]

The Curse of Turandot

Composed by Simon Franglen Adapted from Puccini’s opera, The Curse of Turandot is a Chinese romantic fantasy about a cursed princess and the prince who tries to lift that curse. Directed by Xiaolong Zheng and starring Xiaotong Guan and Dylan Sprause, the film didn’t get particularly good reviews when it was released in China a […]

The Last Duel

Composed by Harry Gregson-Williams Ridley Scott’s best-reviewed film in quite a while, The Last Duel nevertheless struggled to find much of an audience at cinemas. Ostensibly an historical drama, the film is quite clearly a commentary on the struggles that women continue to face when the victim of sexual violence; Matt Damon and Adam Driver […]

Cliffs of Freedom

Composed by George Kallis An historical romantic epic resetting the Romeo and Juliet story in the 19th century Greek war of independence against the Ottomans, Cliffs of Freedom stars Tania Raymonde and Jan Uddin as the lovers cast apart on opposite sides of the conflict. It was directed by Van Ling, better-known as a visual […]

The Starling

Composed by Benjamin Wallfisch I haven’t seen The Starling – I had intended to, but the reviews put me off – it’s usually referred to as a “comedy drama” and its plot surrounds a couple who lose their tiny baby to SIDS and then see their mental health collapse. It’s hard to see the comedy […]

Free Guy

Composed by Christophe Beck Shawn Levy’s Free Guy is mostly set within a video game, in which a non-playable character, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), gradually comes to realise what he is and gains sentience; back in the real world, there’s a bit of a kerfuffle about who owns the code. It seems to have been a […]