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by Bill Gibron

22 Mar 2009


One of the most valuable aspects of foreign film is getting to see the world - and the motion picture equivalent of same - through a vastly different set of cinematic lenses. From cultural disparities to sentiments of sovereignty, the international director draws from numerous sources to make his celluloid statement, and unlike his Hollywood compatriots, there’s usually not a predetermined demographic directly responsible for the narrative’s nuances. That’s why, when filmmakers from outside the US start mimicking the movie provenance that helped create and cement the artform, the translation is usually fairly evocative. And in the case of Zift, it’s made more interesting by the nation of origin. While not known for its endemic art, Bulgaria provides the stunning back drop for this neo-noir experiment.

After spending several decades in prison for a murder he did not commit, “the Moth” is finally being released. While behind bars, he’s embraced the Communist coup that’s overtaken his country, even going to far as to organize the inmates. When he gets out, he’s picked up by a stern looking military attaché who takes him directly to a public bath. There, he meets up with an old nemesis, former street hood turned important Party Member Slug. The vile villain wants to know where Moth hid a valuable diamond. All our hero wants is to break free and be with his ex-girlfriend (and mother of his now dead son) Ada. As he searches for his former lover all over the city, Slug still wants his information. Before he knows it, Moth’s desires and those of the man making his life miserable intersect - and as usual, there’s a woman involved…Moth’s woman.

If it didn’t have such an evocative monochrome set-up, if it failed to fully realize the various cinematic references and homage it houses, Zift would be a dull, derivative mess. It would resemble a hundred other cramped crime stories where atmosphere and mood are supposed to substitute for characterization and causality. We’d find ourselves lost in a country wholly unfamiliar to ours, while wondering why certain military and authoritarian subtexts are being inserted into the film. But thanks to the visual flair of director Javor Gardev, and the undeniable invention he brings to this tale, what could have been a tired, typical thriller becomes a remarkable bit of engaging eye candy. The story may be simple, and the resolution revealed early and often, but we really don’t mind the plot imperfections. It’s the journey here that’s worth the effort.

Gardev works us through many of the more ambiguous elements. The Moth is viewed as a capable local hood, but yet spends most of his time in prison befriending an one-eyed thief. There are clear signs of our hero’s Communist leanings (he gets out early because of his initiatives in jail), yet that facet flies out the window the minute the torture begins. Our main scoundrel - the corporeal criminal Slug - is not so much a threat as an unwelcome obstacle our hero must overcome. There’s also an inference that everything Moth does is designed to feed his ultimate goal - to get out of Bulgaria and set up a sweet life in the Tropics somewhere. Indeed, you could almost argue that Moth’s entire raison d’etra is centered around getting out of prison, finding his former gal pal, making up with her, and then hopping a train out of town.

Naturally, things get in the way, and part of Zift‘s pleasure is watching these unusual obstructions come and go. Gardev spends inordinately large amounts of time on people’s faces, watching them as they tell their tall tales about septic tank revenge, or mangled marital fidelity. These pieces of significant suplot folklore, meant to mirror the action onscreen with their surreal sense of moral right and wrong, are part of this picture’s many pleasures. Just hearing the actors spin the yarns creates a kind of climate where the insane visual histrionics play perfectly. This is one director who has clearly absorbed all the iconic influences around him. From Hong Kong action to American criminal mythos, Zift seems to have it all.

And then there are the native nuances, the foreign touches that stay with us long after the film has ended. One is the title treat itself, a black strap gum that Moth loves to chew. The word can also mean the mortar used to hold bricks and stone together (as in the newly fashioned public square in the middle of the empiric capital city), or slang for shit. In this case, both Gardev and his characters, taken from Vladislav Todorov’s novel, represent them all. In the best noir tradition, no one is pure here. Everyone has motives that keep them mired in misery and filth. Even Ada, now working as a singer in an upscale nightclub, allows herself to be kept by important Communist officials. In addition, the bond between Moth, his gal, and the slimy Slug is unquestionable. Once their petty theft went from a heist to a homicide, all three share a cement-like status.

What we wind up with is a whodunit and why that’s as joyful in the discovery as it is borderline bumbling in its conclusion. Gardev has to be careful in his reveals, the D.O.A. dynamic at play (Moth was poisoned before going on his search) threatening to take our attention away from the clues. Thanks to some ingenuous flashbacks, a telling look or two, and a last moment disclosure that clarifies the motives of everyone involved, Zift moves beyond the basics to work its way toward the classic. That it doesn’t quite get there is not the fault of anyone involved. From cast to crew, there is too much talent in this movie to marginalize its effectiveness. No, what takes Zift down a peg or two is its obviously newfound familiarity. For those outside the source, this will all seem very novel. For those on the inside, it’s imaginative imitation - which we all know is the sincerest, and in this case, most meaningful form of flattery. 

by Bill Gibron

21 Mar 2009


The disconnect between two people from similar cultural backgrounds. The pain of relationships breaking up and/or never happening. The wonders of a city lost in a strident class crisis. A single day of sex, drugs, soul searching, and music. This is the universe of Micah, the “second best” aquarium technician in all of San Francisco. A one night stand at a party has turned him from a fiery community activist and racial advocate to a combination hopeless romantic and unbearable cynic. The object of his (dis)affections is Joanne, the enigmatic gal pal of a white museum curator who appears privileged and acts passé. Together, they spend an eye-opening Sunday trying to piece together each other’s past while avoiding any chance at a future togetherness. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and definitely not the Medicine for Melancholy each person appears to need.

As plotlines go, this intriguing title really has little to offer. Micah and Joanne wake from a posh party, intersect throughout the next 36 hours, and then resolve their issues as only two still-strangers can. Somewhere near the back end of the last act, writer/director Barry Jenkins tosses in a random rally of local residents, their call to arms over Bay area rent controls and property price hikes adding fuel to the fires our leads have already lit. There’s also a sequence near the finale where Micah melts down the indie scene into a series of stereotypical human and sonic maxims. But for the rest of the time, Medicine for Melancholy is a tempting tone poem that never really breaks out into the kind of compelling free verse that would indicate something definitive or dramatic. Instead, it takes its cues from its characters and meanders around a little before slowly fading away.

By using San Francisco as a vital aspect to the story, Jenkins injects a great deal of local color into his mostly monochrome visuals. In fact, he purposely desaturates the print so that the clear contrasts between our two wannabe lovers remain ambiguous and blurred. We visit the Museum of African Diaspora, as well as a gorgeous urban art project consisting of manmade waterfalls and politicized slogans. Jenkins doesn’t do a lot outside of this, painting his pliable travelogues and letting the camera get in too close once Micah and Jo start interacting. One has to credit the filmmaker for avoiding certain formulaic pitfalls. He doesn’t mandate that his temporary paramours quip precociously, or take their emotions to some syrupy level of RomCom ridiculousness. Instead, this is a slice of life carved as carefully and considerately as the delicate balance demonstrated between the couple.

But there are troubles here, problems that pop up like unwanted extras in a crowd scene and keep us from caring too much for anything Micah or Jo have to offer. When dissecting the concept of “interracial” romance, our hero fails to recognize his own obvious attraction to women of light skin tone (in an aside, we see a MySpace post featuring a clearly Caucasian ex). Jo is the perfect antithesis of what he rants about - porcelain features hinting at a mixed lineage that goes totally unmentioned. In fact, the whole “black is black” element doesn’t get a lot of explanation. Instead, Jenkins plays it like a fact when all it really stands as is an assertion. Before long, the debate starts to turn circular and then careless. Because they’re so closed mouthed, Medicine for Melancholy‘s leads create just as much confusion as the man putting the half-completed thoughts in their mouths.

And then there’s the issue of chemistry. Actors Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins are model agency apropos for their parts, each one exuding the kind of iconoclastic radiance the simply story requires. But there’s no sizzle between them, no inherent need for them to be together. Indeed, much of the time, Jo seems to simply be playing Micah for a weekend reprieve from her stuffy, sterile life - and that would be fine, as long as we find the pair perfectly matched. But beyond the exterior, our couple trades in cross-purposes. He’s earthy without being totally bohemian. She’s cultivated without becoming a sculpture. Still, we keep waiting for the moment when their combination brings on the heat. Sadly, it never comes.

Indeed, many in the mainstream audience will look at this obviously independent effort and wonder why the She’s Gotta Have It era Spike Lee doesn’t sue. Others will find it almost impossible to overcome the obstacles of limited plotline, unclear characterization, and dramatic pauses large enough to drive a few dozen cable cars through. San Francisco obviously has many, many problems regarding the gentrification of neighborhoods, and ill-prepared viewers would be carping like crazy had Medicine for Melancholy turned into some preachy social statement. But there’s such a thing as being too inconspicuous. Jenkins needed to turn down the ambience and amplify the action, if only a little. And no, montages of his cast dancing to various underground poptones doesn’t count.

It’s been said that the title is taken from a 1959 Ray Bradbury anthology. That would make sense, considering the science fiction author once said that, in order to create a literary fiction, all you had to do was “find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her around all day long.” That describes Medicine for Melancholy perfectly. Jenkins obviously believes that he’s fostered personalities so complex and personable that we’ll gladly track them as they explore the outer reaches of Northern California and the inner areas of their own identities. Sometimes, he’s absolutely right. At other instances, we stand around like strangers at friend’s function and pray for our chance to exit. This is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. But there’s really not enough here to remain memorable.

by Bill Gibron

20 Mar 2009


Imagine Manhattan with the post-modern existential quips removed and fart jokes added. Visualize an ‘80s or ‘90s sweet as sugar RomCom with all the subtlety sliced out and lots of references to vaginas and penises ‘inserted’. The current state of the big screen guy/gal laugh-a-thon is an unusual amalgamation of gross out scatology and deep seeded emotional connections. Characters in these films - especially those made and influenced by the Apatow-cracy - balance their etiquette between mannered and mean, their dialogue just dripping with things that wouldn’t have been said in proper society several years ago, let alone thought about in those situations. Still, Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Role Models made lots of money for clued in studios. This doesn’t make the latest installment in the silly subgenre (the just released I Love You, Man) a classic - just conventional.

After an eight month romance, struggling real estate agent Peter Klavin is ready to marry the girl of his dreams, boutique owner Zooey. The only problem is, our hero doesn’t have any real guy friends. He’s so sensitive and giving that he seems to generate more gal pals than anything else. Hoping to find a potential best man, Pete seeks advice from his family, especially his gay brother Robbie. It doesn’t work out. Then, one day, Peter runs into an “investment consultant” named Sydney Fife. After a couple of man-dates, they hit it off. Soon, the two are inseparable, sharing their love of rock and roll and all things Rush. At first, Zooey appreciates Peter’s new companion. But as the wedding grows closer, the couple starts to experience some doubts - fears fostered in no small part by Sydney’s arrested slacker adolescent influence on Pete. 

If I Love You, Man didn’t have it’s “in your face” sense of humor, if it didn’t star the rising duo of Paul Rudd and Jason Segal, if it didn’t draw directly on the proto-Fight Club concerns of rudderless American males undermined by catty, controlling women, it would simply be a collection of sloppy sex jokes. There’d be the occasional nod to dog excrement, a fascinating turn by a self-deprecating Lou Ferrigno, and enough Geddy Lee love to make even today’s Tom Sawyer get really, really high. Yet what’s clear about John Hamburg’s trend following entertainment is that it feels forced together, as if a smart, sunny couples comedy was injected with a copy of Jokes from the John. It works - there are some big bellylaughs here - and the emotions are always in the right place. But unlike previous amalgamations of the crass and the clever, this all feels a tad recycled.

Maybe it’s the strict adherence to type. Rudd is once again reduced to scrotum-less man-girl, his inner Robert Bly baffled by a lifetime as a weak-willed wuss. When he meets the testosterone fueled Segal, sloppy to the point of implied stink and fully free spirited, we get the Odd Couple combination immediately. Soon, it’s a series of sack cracks, curse words, and instances of projectile vomiting. It has to be said that Rudd and Segal are so good here that they could nap during several scenes and we’d snicker to ourselves. They are matched well by Rashida Jones as Zooey and Jamie Presley as her best pal, Denise. What doesn’t work are calculated characters like Jon Favreau’s dense dickhead Barry, and Sarah Burns overly desperate Hailey. They seem lifted from a Farrelly Brothers screenplay that never got off the Apple Powerbook page.

Hamburg is also no help, reducing his movie to a series of sequences that fail to fully add up to some manner of dramatic or comic drive. Individual moments zip by wonderfully, as when Segal stands up for Rudd to none other than the TV Hulk himself, and it’s nice to see Andy Samberg as the straightest gay man in the history of cinema. But I Love You, Man can’t leave well enough alone. It wants to be both conventional and eccentric at the same time. Samberg’s alternative lifestyle may never wind up the butt of many jokes, but that doesn’t mean that former State member Thomas Lennon doesn’t milk his mincing suitor for all its worth. Indeed, for every outside the box conceit, Hamburg runs right back to Apatow-logy 101. It gets so bad that you keep waiting for Jonah Hill, Martin Starr, or Jay Baruchel to show up and start riffing.

Yet because of the chemistry between the leads, the genuine sense of companionship and caring they feel for each other, we ignore most of the mediocrity and savor the scenes that soar. Rudd is rapidly become the best thing about these films, a never fail fulcrum of funny business and farce. While he’s not as good as he was in Role Models, he’s very redeemable. Segel also continues to surprise, going more for the John Candy sympathy vote than your usual immature manchild in a torn sweatshirt and stained cargo shorts strategy. His hurt puppy face and off center lips betray a vulnerability that Sydney rarely shows to the outside world. It’s just too bad the rest of I Love You, Man wasn’t so dimensional. For every telling exchange between Peter and Zooey or our two terrific leads, there’s a pointless argument between Favreau and Presley that culminates in, as one character puts it, “sloppy make-up sex.” Ew.

Indeed, if I Love You, Man demonstrates anything, it’s that the entire bro-mance comedy category is already starting to show its age. After a four year run (beginning with The 40 Year Old Virgin), we’re starting to see the cracks in the vaunted veneer. One assumes that the man who started it all still has some juice left in his conceptual caboose, and with Rudd, Segel et.al. still doing outstanding work, they can definitely carry a future project or two. But I Love You, Man makes it very clear that you just can’t cram two divergent ideas together and make them succeed. Instead, you have to get the balance exactly right. In this case, thanks to the actors involved, the scales are out of whack, but we can still appreciate the disparity. 

by Bill Gibron

19 Mar 2009


The life and uneasy times of Dalton Trumbo - scribe, novelist, screenwriter, director, and notoriously unrepentant member of the Hollywood blacklist of the ‘40s and ‘50s - are so fascinating, so full of the American Dream and its rancid, reciprocal nightmares, that it’s almost impossible to judge his art without them. For many Trumbo is the ultimate rebel, a man who stood up to McCarthy and his witch hunt heathens and suffered mightily for his art. For others, he was the unfortunate victim of a sanctimonious Senator with a mandate from an equally reactionary public. It cost Trumbo 11 months in prison (for contempt of Congress) and two Academy Awards (for Roman Holiday, and The Brave One).

Even his most important effort, 1971’s Johnny Got His Gun, was undermined by the still brewing gap between Vietnam-era patriotism and counterculture protest. By the time of his death in 1976, his work was actually being mocked and marginalized. Michael and Harry Medved even nominated Donald Sutherland’s work as Jesus Christ for one of their ultimate dishonors in the infamous Golden Turkey Awards book. But thanks to Metallica, who raised awareness of the big screen adaptation of Trumbo’s own National Book Award winner with their video “One”, a new generation of fans have grown curious about the maverick’s only stint behind the lens. Thanks to Shout! Factory and their new, near definitive DVD version of Johnny Got His Gun, a veiled motion picture mystery is finally revealed for all the world to see - and it’s a glorious sight to behold.

by Bill Gibron

18 Mar 2009


As we’ve stated before (yes, we know you’re sick of it by now) action and horror get a bum rap, mostly for some very wrong, very narrow-minded reasons. Like a gut-busting comedy, critics like to believe that both are dead easy. They also believe they have been rendered unexceptional, by filmmakers who don’t really give a damn, or actually don’t know how to. They point to the endless string of shoddy productions, mangy motion pictures that put the last two words in that phrase up for debate and make their asinine assertion. The truth is, terror and thrills are perhaps the most difficult cinematic responses to come by, and that’s because, like humor what scares someone or pushes them right to the edge of their seat is a completely personal and subjective ideal. What horrifies one might make another laugh, and visa versa. Still, the studios keep trying, and by doing so, fulfill the pundit’s prophecy in ways only a cash hungry conglomerate can achieve. Desperate to keep their moneymaker in the public eye, they will literally do anything to drum up publicity.

Perhaps this explains the exploding editorial mailbox recently. As these films come and go from the Cineplex at an alarming speedy pace, SE&L and Surround Sound have been inundated with soundtracks - lots and lots of soundtracks. In the last few weeks alone we’ve received over 20, and many of them have been for efforts that were marginal media sensations at best. One has to wonder what studios see in releasing the scores for such sonic non-issues as The Unborn, The Uninvited, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (not once, but in two DIFFERENT versions). Sure, last installment’s Watchmen double hit made sense since Warners clearly thought it had a mega-hit on its hands. Now, with the Zack Synder triumph underperforming, it’s clear that contractual obligations, not a realistic view on a soundtrack’s substantive qualities, dictate the pressing of a promotional disc. And such legalese is clearly the case here. There is no other reason these marginal musical offerings should see the CD light of day, beginning with: 

The Unborn - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 4]

Some ideas seem stupid from the get go. Others take their time in revealing their ridiculousness. For writer/director David S. Goyer, there seems to be a clear distinction between the merely banal and completely braindead. As a scribe, he’s lucked into some decent affairs (Dark City, Batman Begins, Blade II). As a director, he’s helmed some of the worst hackneyed garbage this side of a Charles Band production (oddly enough, Goyer worked for the schlockmeister during the ‘80s). Zigzag was tired, Blade III literally killed off the franchise, and The Invisible was like Ferris Bueller’s Unfunny Undead Day Off. Still, trailers for the recent The Unborn seemed to indicate a change in Goyer’s filmmaking fortunes. Part Jacob’s Ladder, part demon child spine tingler, it took the promise of a tired premise (the evil unborn twin) and tweaked it for a CG-13 demo. Sadly, the results only reaffirmed the man’s well-meaning mediocrity. Even with a star studded cast, Goyer just couldn’t get his gruesome groove on. The score for The Unborn indicates the hopeless hit or miss reasons why.

It all begins with a very X-Files-like title track, a bunch of odd electronic beats providing the backdrop to a combination of synthesizer squawks and symphonic cues. As the tune moves along on a set of staccato melody mounds, we’re not sure if we’re in for a fright flick, or a potboiling political thriller. Luckily, the next three tracks - “The Glove, “Jumby Wants to Be Born Now”, and “Twins” take us where we need to go. Composer Ramin Djawadi’s modus operandi seems to be a combination of the lax and the overly loud. Tracks like “Possessed” will start out with slow, subtle signatures only to explode near the end with abrasive, abrupt orchestrations. There’s lots of nods to the composer’s broadcast past (Djawadi is responsible for scoring the entire run of FOX’s Prison Break), and you can even hear a bit of Batman Begins and Pirates of the Caribbean in the mix (the man was responsible for additional music for both films, among others). By “Bug” we anticipate the tracks overwhelming cacophony of atonal terrors. But then The Unborn slips back into sinister lullaby mode, mixing small note piano lines with eerie sonic washes. Still, “Sefer Ha-Morot” is wild enough to wake-up even the drowsiest dread denizen - and not necessarily in a good way.


The Uninvited - Original Motion Picture Score [rating: 5]

Critics love to complain that horror films are formulaic and derivative. If you’ve seen one, you’ve basically seen them all. That makes a fright flick remake doubly desperate. Not only is it representative of an already stereotyped genre, but it’s repeating an idea already done - and typically, a lot better. Still, when it was announced that American fans would finally see a Western take on the unfathomably popular Korean chiller A Tale of Two Sister (good, but not as great as some have indicated) there was reason to be both wildly excited and wary - especially with the Guard Brothers behind the lens. Sadly, the movie didn’t make much of an impression on reviewers or the audience. While it had the standard strong opening weekend, it soon faded off the cultural landscape to make way for more terror tales like remakes of Friday the 13th and The Last House on the Left. For composer Christopher Young, the lack of success is not that unusual. As the musician responsible for the sonic backdrop to solid shivers like Hellraiser, Species, and The Grudge, he can only be responsible for the aural aspects of fear. Unfortunately, he’s hooked up with some really subpar cinematics - especially this time around.

From the very beginning, Young seems lost in a homage-heavy backdrop. There are hints at his previous stints with the Cenobites, references to Stanley Kubrick and his ethereal 2001 score, as well as the typical electronic throb one associates with John Carpenter. Soon, the entire soundtrack has a thematic clarity that clashes with these recognizable references. Young is obviously going for the small and simple juxtaposed against the symphonic in scope. The title track is all low whispers and single key strokes. By the time we get to “Christmas Corpse”, the obvious elements are in place - banshee like female trills, single instrument droning, the regular chug of a sparse orchestra. In between, “Twice Told Tales” has a nice piano clarity, and “Terror on the Water” is big and brash with lots of ambience. Still, if there is one thing you can count in with a horror film, it’s derivativeness, and Young’s work here definitely fits that pattern. The Uninvited may have been a cinematic disappointment for the scary movie maven. The score does little to bring anything new or novel to the mix.



Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 3]

Of all the videogame titles sitting out there waiting for a big screen adaptation, bringing back a beloved golden oldie from the early ‘90s seems foolhardy, especially when the mortal combat console effort was already the subject of one shoddy film. Yet the producers of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li must have felt strongly enough about the material to give the failed franchise a second chance. Without Jean-Claude Van Damme and the late Raul Julia around to mess things up, director Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die, Doom) had a chance to make his own mark on the material. Sadly, the film underperformed so badly that many in the demo didn’t even know that there was a new Street Fighter movie in theaters (it’s still playing in some markets, believe it or not). Of course, once you hear the tired soundtrack submitted by Stephen Endelman, all questions about this offering’s inefficiency are easily answered. If the film is anything like the strangled, stunted score, a series of skyscraper like banners couldn’t earn the fanbase’s attention - or appreciation.

Endelman, who actually received a Grammy nomination for his work on 2004’s De-Lovely, is what you would call a film industry fringe dweller. He’s been involved in numerous projects, both noted (Flirting with Disaster) and nominal (Phat Girlz), but nothing that would distinguish him from a dozen similar soundtrack composers. His work on Street Fighter feels like a marginal movie fan’s idea of what a Hong Kong martial arts epic would sound like. There’s lots of rhythmic drumbeats and random bell noises. The orchestra wanders around the tribal tones, offering recognizable riffs before switching over into boring, bombastic mode. We are supposed to see our heroes in flashy fisticuffs while “Chun-Li vs. Bison” and “Bathroom Fight” careen out of control. But Endelman also wants to go for the emotional, with tracks like “The Montage” and “Reunited with Father” failing to provide much of said sentiment. With the howling hip-hop happenstance of “Arriving in Bangkok” (the city should sue), and slinky salsa like stumbles of “Following Balrog”, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is all over the map. The only locale it doesn’t locate is somewhere memorable.


Underworld: Rise of the Lycans - Original Score [rating: 5]

Here’s an interesting question - how does a composer compete with a studio set on making their latest movie a backdrop for a bunch of unsigned indie idols? Put another way, does someone like Paul Haslinger, a musician responsible for b-movie bedlam in such titles as Death Race, Crank, and the stellar Shoot ‘Em Up (he was also a member of seminal synth act Tangerine Dream from 1986 to 1990) really mind that his score comes second to a bunch of nu-metal nonsense. A few weeks back, Surround Sound took on the pop hit oriented version of the Underworld 3 marketing machine, and were not too impressed. The remix heavy hackwork, replete with bands whose names read like discontinued titles in the Anton LeVay Self-Help Collection, was definitely not worth remembering. It would be nice to say that Mr. Haslinger redeems the project by bringing his classically trained musicianship to what is basically a horror film with outsized action epic pretensions. Unfortunately, except for a track here and there, this score is as silly and near irredeemable as the movie it is meant to supplement.

Granted, there are times when Haslinger gets its right. “The Most Precious Thing to My Heart” has a wonderfully evocative ambient quality, and “Court Battle Suite” is as sonically silly and over the top as it sounds. It’s also a gratuitous guilty listening pleasure. But for the most part, Rise of the Lycans believes in that “blast, and then boredom” ideal that is supposed to invoke movement and power and yet ends up sounding like someone fell asleep on the ‘volume’ switch. Tracks like “The Arrow Attack”, “The Wolves Den”, and “Storming the Castle” all huff and puff like a formerly retired stuntman, while others meander around in a haze of half-realized electronic drones. Haslinger does indeed evoke emotion and mood with his work. We can sense the menace throughout. But there is so little actual melody here, no matter if it’s buried in “Lucian and Sonja’s Love Theme” or “Sonja’s Trial and Execution” (talk about spoilers!) that it’s hard to appreciate the effort. Only the last piece, a remix of the title track, does anything truly interesting or involving with the material. Oddly enough, it accomplishes this by taking Haslinger’s bravado down several sizable notches.

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