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Soundtrack review: Abe & Phil’s last poker game (Steven Argila – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Abe & Phil’s last poker game (Steven Argila – 2018)

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When Dr. Abe Mandelbaum (Martin Landau) moves into the nursing home, Cliffside Manor, with his deteriorating wife Molly, he forms an improbable relationship with gambler and womanizer, Phil Nicoletti (Paul Sorvino). Even though at first Abe feels that moving into the home is the end of the road, he soon realizes that his life is finding a whole new beginning. Abe and Phil’s friendship is challenged when a mysterious nurse claims that her biological father resides in the home. Without children of their own, both Abe and Phil jump at the chance to convince Angela, and themselves, that they are her father. The music was written by Steven Argila and I am surprised that it’s the first time I hear about him since he has quite an extensive body of work.

The score opens with the “Main title” which is an almost mournful solo piano piece that could also work as the closing credits track for a drama. Once the piano ushers me into the score the strings join in to light up the tone a bit without straying away from the elegant, almost period like sound of the cue. It’s clear right from the start that the composer has a classical training and loves classical music. This love of classical music breathes through the entire score and makes it a delight to listen to; the cues are short as the entire album is made of short melodic moments. The comedic elements in the story are described with quirky and fun motifs, the kind you would expect to hear in either a comedy or an animation score. A cue like “I hate old people” makes me think of the light Thomas Newman sound and that’s always nice to hear.

There have been enough times when I had difficulties connecting with or enjoying a score with comedic elements but the way Steve Argila introduces every now and then a beautiful orchestral motif, be it piano or strings, ads to the comedy the dimension I need to be able to enjoy the music. “Abe and Molly in bed” is the perfect example of a cue that is enriched and make more beautiful by the tender orchestral sound.

The more I listen to this score the more it reminds of the way Thomas Newman writes. And just like a light Thomas Newman score I like the general feeling of peace and sun the music gives me; “Abe & Phil’s last poker game” is not the kind of score that riles me up or gives me big dramatic moments. It creates a warm and mostly relaxing texture where the occasional emotional twists work like a charm without adding extra weight to the music. I also found nice surprises like the string explosion of “Fur coat is gone” or the emotional depth in “Abe tells Angela about Patricia”.

Steven Argila writes exactly the type of score that works both for a movie like this and as a relaxing standalone listening experience. I found myself smiling quite often and hearing it was as enjoyable as a Sunday afternoon in a park and once it was over I was left in a very pleasant mood.

Cue rating: 86 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 20 / 49

Album excellence: 41%

Highlights:
3. First Meal Distress
7. Abe and Molly in Bed
14. Wanna See My Photographs PART 2
18. Lovemaking Part 2
19. Escort Visits Phil
20. Fur Coat Is Gone
21. From Across the Room
23. Abe Tells Angela About Patricia
26. Abe and Phil Talk About Angela
28. You Thought You Were Helping
29. Fuck em All (Phil Dies)
32. Abe Dies Part 1

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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