Saturday, 19 July 2014

CD Review: Born Again, by Black Sabbath (1983)

Black Sabbath self-administer a lobotomy, and the outcome is a shockingly bad album called Born Again.

After the departure of Ronnie James Dio, former Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan joins Sabbath, and it's an uncomfortable fit. Gillan's brand of blues inspired wailing has no place in Sabbath's doom-laden sound. But on Born Again, the material is so awful that no combination of musicians could possibly have saved it. The band is creatively bankrupt in a sad and spectacular fashion.

The album consists of seven meaningful tracks, of which only one, opener Trashed, is anywhere near to being worthy of a second listen, and then only because it rips off the Paranoid riff. The other six songs range from rubbish (Digital Bitch) to annoying nonsense (Hot Line, Zero The Hero, Disturbing The Priest) to the tolerably average (Born Again, Keep It Warm). Most of the tracks smell of quickie writing jobs to rush out a product, and the album's production values are amateurish, even for the early 1980s era.

Gillan squeals, screams, screeches and laughs hysterically, all to no avail. No amount of vocal pyrotechnics can hide the horrid content. Born Again dies a quick, miserable, and well-deserved death.


Tony Iommi - Guitars
Ian Gillan - Vocals
Geezer Butler - Bass
Bill Ward - Drums

Keyboards - Geoff Nicholls

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Trashed - 8
2. Stonehenge - n/a (short instrumental)
3. Disturbing The Priest - 6
4. The Dark - n/a (short sound effects)
5. Zero The Hero - 6
6. Digital Bitch - 5
7. Born Again - 7
8. Hot Line - 6
9. Keep It Warm - 7

Average: 6.43

Produced by Robin Black and Black Sabbath.
Engineered by Robin Black.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Chaos A.D., by Sepultura (1993)

A monotonal misfire, Chaos A.D. finds Brazil's Sepultura banging away with plenty of power, but it's all heading in the same bland direction, devoid of flair or variety.

Only two tracks rise above the tedium. The energetic opener Refuse / Resist points the direction to Roots Bloody Roots from the next album, and injects plenty of jungle fever. The Hunt presents an intriguing New Model Army cover, and coming late in the album provides a sudden reminder how sadly the rest of the album is lacking in songwriting sophistication.

Elsewhere interchangeable angry metal is interminably bashed out on track after track. Biotech Is Godzilla reaches a mercifully short low point of pointless shoutiness, and Manifest is a meandering mess.

The band's commitment to the cause is never in doubt, but the absence of inspiration is mind numbing.


Max Cavalera - Vocals, Guitar
Andreas Kisser - Guitar
Paulo Jr. - Bass
Igor Cavalera - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Refuse / Resist - 8
2. Territory - 7
3. Slave New World - 7
4. Amen - 7
5. Kaiowas - 7 (instrumental)
6. Propaganda - 7
7. Biotech Is Godzilla - 5
8. Nomad - 7
9. We Who Are Not As Others - 7
10. Manifest - 6
11. The Hunt - 8
12. Clenched Fist - 7

Average: 6.92

Produced, Mixed, and Recorded by Andy Wallace.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Existence Is Futile, by Revocation (2009)

The second studio album from Boston's Revocation, Existence Is Futile is a mixed bag, the quality featuring as much variety as the broad stylistic range the band is known for.

Pushing deep into a mix of technical melodic death metal infused with plenty of jazz and thrash influences, Existence Is Futile is nevertheless often repetitive and underwhelming. On some tracks there is so much wizardry going on that the whole is much less than the sum of the parts, like a circus show with a juggler, clown or elephant in every corner but no one holding down the middle. Title track Existence Is Futile and The Brain Scramblers suffer the most from the loss of focus.

When Revocation do galvanize and deliver, it is often David Davidson's guitar work that leads from the front with melody-rich themes. The best selections are the two instrumental tracks, opener Enter The Hall an epic 2:27 intro full of muscular promise and stunning if straightforward guitar sweeps from Davidson. The back half of the track breaks into a galloping rhythm, crashing into the hall on the wings of thrash strumming at illegal speeds.

Across Forests And Fjords is longer and more expansive, breathing deeply from terrain that sustains metal, Davidson playing the role of point man and chief scout, his guitar work darting all over the landscape. The soaring solo break at the three minute mark salutes the best of Arch Enemy.

Anthem Of The Betrayed is the best track with vocals, the chugging strumming coming back to anchor one of the longer and more complex compositions on the album.

Existence Is Futile contains tasteful hints of what the band is capable of, but also plenty of examples of good talent squandered in over-ambitious directions.


David Davidson - Guitar, Vocals
Phil Dubois-Coyne - Drums
Anthony Buda - Bass, Vocals

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Enter The Hall - 10 (instrumental)
2. Pestilence Reigns - 7
3. Deathonomics - 7
4. Existence Is Futile - 6
5. The Brain Scramblers - 6
6. Across Forests And Fjords - 8 (instrumental)
7. Re-Animaniac - 7
8. Dismantle The Dictator - 7
9. Anthem Of The Betrayed - 8
10. Leviathan Awaits - 7
11. The Tragedy Of Modern Ages - 7

Average: 7.27

Produced by Pete Rutcho and Revocation.
Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by Pete Rutcho.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Movie Review: Courage Under Fire (1996)

An intense, character-driven war drama, Courage Under Fire examines the damage that war inflicts on soldiers, and the rush to proclaim heroes as an easier alternative to confronting the fallibility of those who fight.

During a chaotic nighttime battle in the 1990/91 Gulf War, tank battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) mistakenly opens fire on one of his own tanks, killing his friend Captain Boylar. After the war the error is hushed up by the army, but Serling is traumatized by the incident, growing detached from his family and turning to drink. As an easy and apparently straightforward assignment to help his recovery, Serling is appointed to investigate the potential posthumous award of a Medal of Honor to medical helicopter pilot Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan). She saved the crew of a downed chopper by destroying an enemy tank, but her own helicopter then crashed. Walden and her crew held out against enemy fire overnight, but she eventually died, seemingly heroically, before a rescue could be completed.

Serling sets out to find and talk to Walden's surviving crew members, including the injured Warrant Officer Rady (Tim Guinee), the withdrawn medical Specialist Ilario (Matt Damon), the macho Staff Sergeant Monfriez (Lou Diamond Phillips), and the very sick crew chief Sergeant Altameyer (Seth Gilliam). Their stories differ in small but key details, forcing Serling to delve deeper into what happened when Walden and her crew were pinned down overnight by enemy fire. With pressure mounting on Serling to finish his report and the nightmares from the friendly fire incident growing more intense, Serling finds that once again, the truth may be more difficult to handle than anyone cares to admit.

Courage Under Fire presents an intriguing battlefield mystery, with a tortured hero as the investigator trying to piece together the fragments of a disjointed story. Director Edward Zwick intertwines two key threads, as Serling pushes against his demons while tracking down each of Walden’s crew members to secure their version of a hellish night stranded in the Iraqi desert.

Every version is recreated on-screen, Zwick turning up the volume on an admittedly gripping drama of explosions, gunfire, and soldiers under extreme stress outnumbered and surrounded by the enemy. The variations in the story initially appear small and irrelevant, but some of the jigsaw pieces simply don't fit to Serling’s satisfaction, and he doggedly pursues a more complete picture of Karen Walden’s actions on that fateful night. When the truth finally emerges, it is both a victory and a defeat for the army, and a much messier and more complex narrative than the simple premise of a heroic pilot saving lives.

For all the noisy scenes of warfare, Courage Under Fire works because it’s the story of two compelling people. Serling exists in the present and is haunted by the past, Walden exists in the past and is being investigated in the present. The interaction between two perceived heroes who never met but are yet dropped into the same cauldron of convenient lies and easy labels forms the throbbing heart of the film.

The ending is less effective. Zwick and screenwriter Patrick Sheane Duncan opt for a crescendo of unrestrained positive emotion wrapped in the flag, the equivalent of an unnecessary sugar overdose.

Denzel Washington is magnetic as the army man tormented by the mistruths that the army is happily peddling on his behalf. Washington maintains a deliberate, controlled stance as Serling, never resorting to dramatics and remaining true to a good commanding officer’s convictions.  Ryan’s performance is predominantly limited to the one showcase scene repeated several times from different perspectives. Limited as it is, Karen Walden is a refreshing change from Ryan’s typical lightweight romance roles. Matt Damon, in one of his early noticeable screen appearances, is frighteningly emaciated as Specialist Ilario, a man wasting away from the stress of hiding more than his soul can bear. Scott Glenn has a small role as a nosy journalist.

Courage Under Fire packs plenty of impressive firepower, both on the battlefield and in the battle’s echo.

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Movie Review: Prelude To A Kiss (1992)

A romantic drama with fantastical elements, Prelude To A Kiss cleverly delves into intriguing topics, but ultimately falls short of its mystical targets.

In Chicago, Peter Hoskins (Alec Baldwin), a manager at a publishing house, meets and falls in love with Rita Boyle, a free-spirited bartender. Peter experienced a rough childhood but maintains a positive outlook on life. By contrast Rita had a loving upbringing but is an abject pessimist despite a bubbly personality. Although she finds happiness with Peter, Rita never wants to have children because the world is an ugly place. Peter meets Rita's parents Dr. and Mrs. Boyle (Ned Beatty and Patty Duke), and soon thereafter Peter and Rita get married.

At the wedding ceremony, an uninvited old man called Julius (Sydney Walker) asks Rita for a kiss. She obliges, and he kisses her deeply. As the newlyweds start their honeymoon in Jamaica, Peter notices that his bride is suddenly behaving very strangely. Indeed, she appears to be a completely different person than the woman he fell in love with. Upon returning to Chicago, the marriage is already in trouble, and Peter connects with Julius, to try and understand what has happened to his Rita.

Craig Lucas adapted his own play to the screen, and the film version succeeds in liberating the story out of stage confines. Directed by Norman RenĂ©, Prelude To A Kiss is a refreshingly different romance, introducing two likeable leads and using their genuine love to ask some big questions. Peter is challenged to face up to what it means to be in a devoted lifelong marriage, and his commitment to the vows stated so easily during the ceremony is tested early.  The bond between physical presence and the essence of the human soul becomes a central question for Peter to grapple with and resolve.

These are not easy themes to delve into, and Prelude To A Kiss inevitably gets in too deep, despite the best of intentions. The film surrenders to the fantasy elements that are an essential if metaphorical gateway to the ideas at the core of the story, and in doing so detaches itself too far from reality to achieve any emotional resonance. The film becomes an interesting vehicle to spark conversation, but without itself leaving any form of a lasting impression.

The performances from Baldwin and Ryan are appealing, and they generate an amiable chemistry. Baldwin is sincere and manages to hold the centre of the film together as realism takes a back seat to an alternative and supernatural world. Ryan is her typical slightly over-bubbly self, the dream girlfriend with a potentially tiresome habit of over emoting. Despite her excessive bright-eyed expressions, the film does suffer when Ryan is absent for a prolonged segment in the second half.

Stage actor Sydney Walker delivers a moving performance as the old man seeking an unconventional new lease on life, and his scenes with Baldwin critically find the right tone, preventing the film from descending into tripe. Stanley Tucci and Kathy Bates appear in smallish roles.

Prelude To A Kiss thoughtfully explores the magic of romance, without necessarily creating magically romantic moments.

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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Movie Review: This Property Is Condemned (1966)

A tale of southern desperation inspired by a Tennessee Williams one-act play, This Property Is Condemned simmers on steady heat but never quite sizzles.

The story unfolds as one long flashback from the perspective of a young woman called Willie (Mary Badham). It's the middle of the Great Depression in the small fictional town of Dodson, Mississippi, where the railroad provides the only employment. The mysterious, quiet and extremely handsome Owen Legate (Robert Redford) arrives in town and meets Willie, her older sister Alva (Natalie Wood), and their mother Hazel (Kate Reid), who operates a boarding house. Hazel has been abandoned by her husband, and tough railway man J.J. Nichols (Charles Bronson) pretends to be interested in filling the void while barely concealing his lust for Alva, the town's sex pot. Meanwhile, Hazel exploits Alva's sexuality to snare potential meal tickets, the latest being Mr. Johnson (John Harding).

Alva is attracted to Owen the moment she sees him, but he is initially not impressed with her fanciful imagination and the way she toys with men at the behest of her mother. But gradually their relationship develops into a romance, which gets complicated when Owen's motive for coming to Dodson is revealed. With Hazel growing increasingly desperate for Alva to show some love for Johnson, J.J. willing to risk everything for a chance to be with Alva, and Owen quickly becoming the most hated man in town, emotions reach a boiling point.

The second movie directed by Sydney Pollack, This Property Is Condemned is a talkative piece of Americana, steeped in the south at a time when desperation was every adult's middle name. There are no sympathetic characters in Dodson, and this both elevates and hampers the film. The men and women of the derelict railway town outdo each other in meanness and narcissism as they trample over each other to try and escape the economic quagmire, oblivious that their collective stampede is only succeeding in digging a deeper hole of desolation.

Hazel, J.J., Alva and Mr. Johnson really do deserve each other, and certainly don't deserve any better. It is questionable whether outsider Owen is an improvement over the townsfolk, and certainly his chosen profession denotes a cold heart, a comfort with others' agony and an inability to settle down. The cocktail of insensitive characters makes for trainwreck style entertainment, ironic in the context of a railway town, and it's clear early on that most of the residents of Dodson are unlikely to be clever enough to stumble onto happy endings.

The lack of any displayed empathy also means that This Property Is Condemned remains a relatively detached exercise. It is difficult to care about Alva despite her miserable dilemmas: she is simply too self-obsessed and too far gone into her fantastical stories and flirtatious games to generate genuine warmth. And it's equally difficult to invest in the unlikely relationship between her and Owen, who equally never moves beyond the observant interloper. Hazel and J.J. are there to wallow in an ugly existence of their own making, their levels of desperation having long since pushed them to the darkest corners of selfishness.

A vivacious Natalie Wood brings Alva to full life as a woman who knows that she is too beautiful for her surroundings, and who is as trapped by her irresistible looks as she is by her depressed town. Mary Badham, of To Kill A Mockingbird fame, is excellent as the counterpoint younger sister, and the only character in the film young enough to not quite yet be consumed by the rampant despondency. Charles Bronson, Robert Redford and Kate Reid are good, but stick to variations on a single note. Robert Blake and Dabney Coleman have small roles.

The screenplay (co-written by Francis Ford Coppola) does pick up steam in the final third as the characters talk less and hurtle purposefully towards their fate, with Pollack making excellent use of a very wet New Orleans as the action moves to the big city. In the opening scene Hazel's boarding house is presented as abandoned, the building condemned. The movie works its way to an outcome of compounded misery, the result of an economic disaster and egotistical floundering.

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Saturday, 12 July 2014

Movie Review: The Searchers (1956)

A visually spectacular and contextually challenging western, The Searchers is a grim saga of a years-long search for a white girl abducted by Indians. It is also a journey through the lost soul of the man obsessed with finding her for all the wrong reasons.

Three years after the end of the Civil War, confederate soldier Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) unexpectedly returns to the secluded Texas home of his brother Aaron (Walter Coy) and his family: wife Martha (Dorothy Jordan), daughters Debbie and Lucy, and son Ben. But soon after arriving, Ethan leaves again to join a posse organized by the Reverend Captain Samuel Johnson Clayton (Ward Bond) to chase after Indian cattle rustlers. It’s a ruse. With the posse away, the Indians attack the household, killing Aaron, Martha and Ben, and abducting daughters Debbie and Lucy.

Ethan commits to finding the girls. He is joined by Lucy’s fiancĂ© Brad Jorgensen (Harry Carey, Jr.) and Debbie’s adopted brother Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter). Lucy is soon found dead, and Brad is blinded by rage and dies in a suicidal one-man assault against the Indians. With Debbie still missing, the trail runs cold. Ethan and Martin will be searching for years, putting a strain on Martin’s relationship with sweetheart Laurie (Vera Miles), while Debbie (Natalie Wood) grows up as part of the Comanche tribe of a Chief known as Scar (Henry Brandon).

One of the most commanding collaborations between director John Ford and star John Wayne, The Searchers is an inflection point in the history of the genre. The film introduces a central character of dubious moral standing and compromised ethics, the type of man much more likely to have tamed the west compared to the scrubbed white hat of the genre's mythology. Ethan Edwards is an unsavoury hero with a murky and less than stellar past. He drifts in and out of the lives of his family members with nary a thought for their feelings, and is either hostile or condescending to friend and foe alike.

Prone to extreme violence, and harbouring deep-seated racist attitudes towards Indians, his quest is not so much a rescue mission as an opportunity for revenge, and Ethan does not hide his motives. Most relaxed when he is inflicting maximum damage on the Indians, he kills their buffalo out of spite, continues to shoot at a group of Indians when they are in full retreat, and desecrates a dead Indian's corpse just to torture his soul.

The Searchers finally finds the darkest corner of Ethan's psyche when it becomes clear that he actually may just rather destroy Debbie, his search over many years twisted in his mind into a mercy killing mission. To him, she has become one of them, and "living with the Comanche ain't living." Blinded by his racism, Ethan may believe that the best way to rescue Debbie is to violently release her from the only adult world that she has known.

Ethan's heroic attributes are his courage, doggedness and willingness to act; his attitudes, methods and chosen causes are a lot less heroic. Wayne plays Ethan with an honesty towards the material. This is not a film where the hero will see the light and change his ways, and Wayne's performance remains consistent in playing a man tolerated for his toughness but little else. In creating a most dubious protagonist, Ford and Wayne prepare the template that Leone and Eastwood will exploit in the coming decade.

And to add to the shifting psychological sands and further set the stage for the anti-hero out for personal gain, Ethan's self-assigned mission may be a lot more personal than at first appears. There is an undercurrent of eerily silent tension between Ethan, Aaron and Martha, and the soft gestures and unspoken words between Ethan and Martha suggest intriguing possibilities about who exactly is Debbie's father.

Ford filmed The Searchers in Monument Valley, and the VistaVision colour cinematography by Winton C. Hoch is wondrous, with almost every frame a landscape masterpiece. With the rock formations and wide open vistas serving as a backdrop, Ford plays with silhouettes, framing and juxtaposes the small human scale with the magnificence of imposing terrain.

Stunning in its style, depth, and audacious willingness to seek new territory, The Searchers is one of the all-time great westerns.

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Friday, 11 July 2014

Movie Review: Giant (1956)

A sprawling Texas family epic set in the first half of the 20th Century, Giant tackles a myriad of social issues but suffers from a meandering second half.

Jordan “Bick” Benedict Jr. (Rock Hudson) is a wealthy Texas cattle rancher, and an owner of an enormous acreage. He travels to Maryland to buy War Winds, an expensive horse belonging to the Lynnton family. Bick not only buys War Winds, but he also falls in love and marries the Lynntons’ daughter Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor).

Upon returning to Texas, Leslie immediately clashes with Bick’s unmarried sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge), who runs the Benedict household and is threatened by Leslie’s presence.  Luz dies after being thrown by War Winds. In her inheritance she leaves a small parcel of land to Jett Rink (James Dean), a loner ranch hand who maintains a tense relationship with Bick. Jett develops a crush on Leslie, and refuses to sell his newly inherited property despite a seemingly generous offer from Bick.

Leslie proves herself to be tough, independent, and outspoken, and forces Bick to confront sexism and racism issues in his social circle. Leslie shows unusual compassion to Mexican peasants living in a nearby village, and displays disgust when Bick attempts to exclude her from business conversations. Meanwhile, Jett strikes oil on his land, and starts to build enormous wealth. Despite some tough times, the marriage between Bick and Leslie endures; they raise three children, and have to deal with the trials of parenting and unmet expectations as the oil boom brings unimagined riches and World War Two erupts.

Based on the Edna Ferber book, the first half of Giant is a compelling story of the sophisticated but headstrong Leslie carving out space for herself in the new and strange world of rural Texas. The narrative generates a steady current of topical issues, including attitudinal differences towards the hired help, racial sensitivities, and the status of women. Hudson, Taylor, McCambridge and Dean sparkle as they challenge the prevailing limits, Taylor reveling in the role of Leslie as a change catalyst, upsetting a status quo that already featured simmering and unresolved issues swirling around Jett’s mysterious charisma.

Director George Stevens explores these themes against a backdrop of the wide-open plains of Texas. This is country where the personalities have to be big to match the endless terrain. The film is filled with impressive and sometimes breathtaking widescreen shots that convey the scale of both the expansive outdoors and the lavish indoors, and Stevens then adds the vertical element as an army of oil derricks sprouts out of the earth and reaches for the sky, pumping black gold.

There is enough drama for a complete film in the story of Bick and Leslie meeting and establishing their life together. But Giant is an ambitious, 201 minute effort, and the second half inevitably starts to drag. Bick and Leslie's kids grow up and introduce a new dynamic, and the film starts to stutter from one bland familial conflict to another, rehashing themes already chewed on in the first 100 minutes. Jett Rink evolves into a surly oil tycoon, providing James Dean, in his final film role, with the opportunity to indulge in the worst excesses of method mumbling.

Giant also suffers from some simply awful makeup effects, when it comes to the aging of Bick, Leslie, and Jett.  Hudson, Taylor, and Dean are provided with ridiculous mops of silver blue hair to denote middle age, but otherwise appear to suffer no wrinkles, weight gain or change in posture. The effect is amateurish in the extreme, and becomes an unfortunate distraction in the film’s latter stages.

The large cast helps to maintain interest. Carroll Baker does her best to enliven the second generation as Luz Benedict II, the daughter of Bick and Leslie. Jett’s unsavoury pursuit of the younger Luz is the most interesting sub-plot in the latter stages, as he tries to fill the void of the friendship he had with the older Luz and his unrequited love for her mother Leslie. Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo and Rod Taylor also contribute small supporting roles.

Giant boasts a mammoth scale, and although the achievement does not fully match the intent, the result is impressively grand in scope and ambition.

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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Movie Review: Hitch (2005)

A romantic comedy designed to broaden the appeal of star Will Smith, Hitch offers the typical genre ingredients on its way to the genre-mandated conclusion, but benefits from a reasonably original premise and a strong secondary story.

In New York City, Alex "Hitch" Hitchens (Smith) is a relationship consultant, helping hapless guys sharpen their act to stand a better chance of romantically wooing the ladies. His latest client is accident-prone accountant Albert Brennaman (Kevin James), who is desperate to try and gain the attention of wealthy society girl Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta).

With Hitch's guidance, Albert makes surprising progress with Allegra. Meantime, Hitch meets Sara Melas (Eva Mendes), a newspaper gossip columnist who writes about people like Allegra for a living. Hitch begins to fall for Sara, and tries to keep his profession a secret. But when his name is wrongly associated with a relationship-gone-wrong involving Sara's friend Casey (Julie Ann Emery), the very public fallout threatens not only Sara's romance with Hitch but also Allegra's blossoming relationship with Albert.

Hitch mixes some juvenile antics (Hitch suffers a puffed-up face as a result of a bout of food poisoning) with more adult situations, and generally ambles along at a reasonably cheerful pace. Director Andy Tennant captures a sanitized New York at its best, and delivers a competent version of boys-meet-girls, boys-like-girls, boys-lose-girls, and boys-scramble-to-win-the-girls back.

Hitch does not try to escape the genre's hardwired predictability and relies on star charisma to provide the fresh spin. Smith does not disappoint as he rounds out his urban edge, his suave, confident and yet tender portrayal of Hitch infusing the film with a likeable core. While the central multi-racial relationship gives the film a cosmopolitan gloss, its the parallel story of Albert and Allegra that provides Hitch with some welcome depth. Kevin James and Amber Valletta play a strong and funny second fiddle to Will Smith and Eva Mendes.

James deploys his brand of doofus humour to good effect, and his dance moves, as demonstrated to an incredulous Hitch, are the film's highlight. The clumsy and overweight Albert and the rich and sophisticated Allegra make for an odd couple, and credit goes to the Kevin Bisch screenplay for making their relationship almost believable.

Pleasant without ever threatening to be stellar, Hitch is harmlessly genial entertainment.

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Monday, 7 July 2014

Movie Review: The Fly (1986)

A gory science-gone-wrong horror film, The Fly is a dark and playful shocker from director David Cronenberg, with a small cast, a simple premise, and thoroughly disgusting special effects.

Science journalist Veronica "Ronnie" Quaife (Geena Davis) meets nerdy inventor Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), and he insists on showing her his latest contraption at his warehouse home: two large connected teleportation pods controlled by a computer terminal. An object placed in one pod can be disintegrated and molecularly recreated in the second pod. Initially Seth's device works only on inanimate objects, and an attempt to teleport a baboon fails miserably. But after Ronnie and Seth start an intense physical relationship, Seth improves the software and the pods become capable of transporting living organisms.

When Seth suspects Ronnie of rekindling a relationship with her boss and former boyfriend Stathis (John Getz), he sinks into a depression and launches the ultimate experiment: teleporting himself. The process seems to work, but unbeknown to Seth, a fly was in the pod with him during the teleportation. Soon, Seth starts to experience weird physical and emotional transformations.

A loose remake of the 1958 film based on a George Langelaan short story, The Fly is horror at the personal level. The controlled cast, consisting of just the three main characters, allows The Fly to quickly zoom into an intimate, throbbing scale. Ronnie and Seth are quickly swept into a sex-drenched romance, and the intensity of the experience unleashes Seth's creativity to the breakthrough that allows him to program the genetic recreation of flesh and life. The triangle of sex, science, and dangerous limits is central to many of Cronenberg's early works, and here he perfects it.

Once on the other side of his personal teleportation, Seth is initially an enhanced version of himself, his cells rejuvenated, his libido out of control, perhaps influenced by an insect's short life and need to procreate rapidly. But then the catastrophic consequences of a small fly in the pod (literally a bug in his system) become apparent, and Seth's transformational journey continues towards a hideous conclusion. He hangs on to a semblance of humanity for a long time, but in a desperate attempt to reverse his deterioration, he also grows ever more selfish, willing to sacrifice anyone to try and save himself.

By maintaining Seth's humanity while trapping him in a decaying body, Cronenberg both amplifies the horror and cleverly adds humour while exploring the pure lust for life. When Seth becomes self-aware of his predicament, he finds opportunities for glib comments while simultaneously wallowing in the loathsome habits of a large arthropod and trying to compute a way back to normalcy.

The makeup effects are a work of art, and were rewarded with the Academy Award. As Seth gradually suffers through his backwards evolution in the second half of the film, the pre-digital effects are slimy, gooey and flamboyantly repugnant. Away from the gore Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis make an attractive (at least in the first part of the film) couple as they translate their off-screen relationship into on-screen sizzle. Goldblum is dorky athleticism, Davis is curious journalism, and together they create a convincing passion that has to sustain them through the horror that befalls Seth.

Intense and morbid, The Fly buzzes into brilliancy.

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