Latest reviews of new albums:
Max and Me
  • Composed by Mark McKenzie
  • Sony Classical / 57m

An as-yet unreleased animation which frames a contemporary story of an old man helping a young rebel navigate his way through life against the inspirational story of Father Maximillian Kolbe, the Polish priest whose story of inspiration and bravery while imprisoned at Auschwitz led to him later becoming canonised as a saint.  It is from the same studio which previously made The Greatest Miracle, and like that film it proudly puts its Christian message front and centre.

You may not have seen The Greatest Miracle but if you’ve been visiting this website long enough then you should certainly have heard its score by Mark McKenzie.  Back in 2011 when I reviewed it I didn’t hold back in my praise and it remained easily my favourite film score of that year.  Well, with Max and Me I can safely say that McKenzie has done it again.  Let’s get straight to the point: this is outrageously beautiful, uplifting, inspiring music dripping with passion and emotion which will almost certainly end up being my favourite new film music of 2018.

Mark McKenzie

The album begins with “I Am”, notable as being the first of three cues featuring virtuoso violin performances by Joshua Bell.  The sumptuous melody is reverential, moving – it’s a brief cue but a very auspicious start to proceedings.  Then in “Two Crowns Vision”, the score’s rapturous main theme simply soars away, the orchestra joined by a wordless, heavenly choir.  The composer gets much mileage from this theme and it never outstays its welcome.

In “Head in the Clouds Over You”, a similar theme opens the cue but there is a touch of something different from a lilting guitar solo which accompanies the strings.  A solo choirboy adds another different colour in “You Could Be Anything”.  (I won’t bother saying it’s gorgeously beautiful – take that as a given unless stated otherwise.)  Some darkness follows in “In the Trenches” – ominous low strings and percussion – and McKenzie plays it off against a melody which is full of tragedy, leading to a brief passage of strained vocals by the talented Clara Sanabras.

The voice (perhaps Sanabras again) in “If You Are So Intelligent, Why Don’t You Believe?” is used by McKenzie in much the way Ennio Morricone used Edda dell’Orso in all those classic scores.  The piece is based once again on the main theme but the composer presents it in a different guise this time – gentler, a little more restrained, but ultimately no less emotional.  I love its solo piano arrangement.  The solo voice from early in that cue is repeated in the deeply spiritual “Ask and it will be Given to You”.

There’s a change of pace in the playful “When I’m Saying You I Mean Me”, a delightful little scherzo.  Then comes “Dare to Dream Bigger”, a piece as inspirational as you might imagine.  “A Mother’s Prayer” is a real highlight: Bell returns as the violin and piano both feature prominently.  It reminds me very much of Georges Delerue at his most spiritual, just stunning music.  A secondary theme is introduced in the track, which is a bit of a carry-over from The Greatest Miracle (deliberately so I’m sure – I’m sure there’s a significance to that decision which will be revealed when the film is released).  “Dapper Duds” is another more lighthearted piece – while much of the score is written in the same style, it’s nice that the composer found a handful of opportunities to bring something lighter and break it up a little.

“Sunset Hug” offers some fresh melodic material, ravishing once again, then “I’m Sorry” is a little more earnest.  As you might imagine, there are some very dark moments in “Nazi Brutality”, but even this builds up to a rapturous, reverential finale reprising the theme from “A Mother’s Prayer”.  Then in “Prayer for Peace” McKenzie ventures for the first time into directly liturgical territory – a beautiful piece of choral and orchestral majesty, it reminds me of Ennio Morricone’s music for various Catholic-themed films he has scored over the years.  Then in “Auschwitz Cries”, the orchestra swells and swells with tragedy and unrestrained beauty.  “Only Love Is Creative” has a slightly desperate sound to begin with but soon develops into something more familiar for the score; then in “I Love You” Bell’s violin returns and this is the closest the score comes to something like Schindler’s List, with a certain starkness pervading the beauty.

In the final four cues, McKenzie pulls out all the stops and the majesty hits new heights.  “Triumph Over Fear” might just push you over the edge if you’re a certain way inclined.  The outstanding theme seems to get even richer and more moving than before – it’s a piece which could come from a biblical epic half a century ago.  There’s a more reflective feel at the start of “He was Always with Me” but this too soon explodes in rapturous splendour.  There’s a homely piano solo which opens “I Believe In You”, touching and heartwarming – and you know what happens as the piece develops.  Finally, when you think the highest pinnacle has surely been reached, you find out you’re wrong and up comes “Heaven’s Welcome” which is a triumphant, completely boundless expression of joy.

I’m not particularly religious and I guess that some others may be put off by the film’s overtly religious messages but it really doesn’t matter – nobody could deny that religion has inspired an awful lot of astonishing works of art over the centuries, including music.  Only occasionally does Max and Me‘s music become particularly specifically liturgical – it is an inspirational, spectacularly moving work written very much from the heart and it’s hard to see anyone with much of a heart failing to fall in love with it.  Mark McKenzie seems to have chosen to work on only certain types of film which means we don’t hear nearly as much from him as many of us may want to – which makes scores like this all the more special.  I guess some people might find the whole thing just overwhelming – younger listeners in particular will possibly be shocked at hearing a score so full of such outward expressions of emotion – but regardless, I say don’t walk, run to get this outstanding album. It’s not yet the end of March but I say with total confidence that this is my favourite film score of 2018.

Rating: *****

See also:
The Greatest Miracle Mark McKenzie

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  1. Jules (Reply) on Wednesday 28 March, 2018 at 22:38

    Never heard of McKenzie, but Ill be checking his other scores out because this album is great. It’s the same sort of style as a lot of generic and boring film music, but a step above. And I can see why you like it so much James, because it does remind me of Horner. Beautiful stuff.

  2. dominique (Reply) on Thursday 29 March, 2018 at 19:17

    great review of this outstanding, beautiful score!
    thank you, james!

  3. Markus (Reply) on Thursday 29 March, 2018 at 20:48

    Absolut gorgeous score – and as always a wonderful review!!

  4. Rory (Reply) on Saturday 31 March, 2018 at 08:13

    It’s always inspiring to know Mr. Mancina isn’t put off creatively by even a disastrous E.T. knockoff such as this…

    …Wait. Wait.

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  6. , Andre>>Cape Town (Reply) on Sunday 15 April, 2018 at 01:35

    I have two lack-lustre scores by McKENZIE [Dragonheart-A New Beginning & Warlock:The Armageddon) and have avoided his CDs. Maybe religious topics are his metier–as they were for MIKLOS ROZSA and ALFRED NEWMAN–so I’ll order Max & Me, especially as comparisons are made with DELERUE and MORRICONE. Another of your recommendations, James, Ready Player One, also appeals. I’m ordering fewer and fewer scores because there`s so little I want to listen to repeatedly….and those that I’ve recently received are expanded/remastered scores of versions that I already possess such as NINO ROTA’S La Dolce Vita. The new 2xCDs release is just brilliant with dozens of extras. Rota`s music for Fellini`s vision of Rome in the 1960’s includes covers of popular music of that era, magically arranged and orchestrated by the Maestro. And,naturally, there`s themes for Rome–absolutely surreal, as is ROTA’s Amacord, also 2xCDs.

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