Thursday, 30 October 2014

Movie Review: The Judge (2014)


A coming home father - son character drama, The Judge achieves impressive heights of emotion and boasts two excellent central performances from Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr.. The story ultimately packs itself into too neat a package, but is never less than mesmeric.

When his mother dies, celebrated Chicago defence lawyer Hank Palmer (Downey Jr.) travels home to the small town of Carlinville, Indiana to attend the funeral. Hank has a deeply strained relationship with his father Joseph (Duvall), the long-serving and well respected judge in the community. Joseph is getting on in years and Hank notices that his father is struggling to recall names and events. The evening of the funeral, Joseph's car hits and kills a local ex-convict, and he is arrested for the hit and run murder.

Despite the rift between them, Hank insists on defending his father, and gets reaquainted with his brothers Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong). Glen had a promising baseball career truncated by a car crash, while Dale is functional but has a mental impairment. Hank also reconnects with old flame Samantha (Vera Farmiga), who now owns the local restaurant and has a fiery daughter (Leighton Meester). With the prosecution team of Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) uncovering evidence that appears to prove the judge's intent to kill, Hank has to delve into his painful personal history to try and rescue his father's reputation.

Directed by David Dobkin, The Judge is forceful drama about the present pausing to address unresolved issues from the past. With rich characters, strong emotions and the bubbling stream of family history unexpectedly converging into the headlines of today, the film is an intriguing examination of two men forced to re-examine their relationship. The film creates variety by alternating between the court case and Hank's re-engagement with family, Samantha and his past foibles, providing two narrative streams that nourish each other.

Despite the prevailing tension both in the personal dynamics and the court proceedings, the script by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque is also peppered by well placed doses of humour. The strategically deployed light touch flows naturally from Hank's big city life clashing with small town sensibilities, and the merging of the past and present sparking whimsy as well as strain.

The two Roberts deliver dedicated performances. Duvall captures the judge as a rightfully proud man not yet ready to accept the creeping damage of failing health. It's an intense, tightly coiled performance, and Duvall demands full attention whenever he is on the screen. Downey keeps up, conveying the bittersweetness of a big city success story confronting the many ghosts of his small town past.

The Judge does wrap up all its story elements into too neat a package. By the time the court case reaches its climax, the reasons for Hank's estrangement from his father have been anchored into every character and event in their common history, in a case where everything is explained, printed on glossy paper, bound in a shiny cover and tidily placed on the coffee table. It's all just a bit too satisfying and detached from the unresolved loose ends commonly cluttering real life. But despite the impeccably precise resolution, The Judge delivers a fulfilling verdict.





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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

CD Review: Fighting, by Thin Lizzy (1975)


The album best known as the album before 1976's Jailbreak, Fighting finds Irish rockers Thin Lizzy finally beginning to settle into an identity.

With guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson latching on to the sharp possibilities that exist in trading riffs, the album has a distinctive bluesy rock sound with funk variations and occasional sojourns into the nascent metal world. The music is overall tuneful, non-threatening and accessible, while carrying just that bit of an edge.

Phil Lynott's distinctively clear vocals are as always front and centre as the most prominent element, but the band are at their most metallic when Gorham and Robertson step up with no fear. Suicide closes with more than two minutes of instrumental alloy heaven, Thin Lizzy drawing the rough template for the epic guitar harmonies and duels that Iron Maiden would grab onto and run with about five years later. Album closer Ballad Of A Hard Man also features a bluesy metal heart consisting of two throbbing guitars, although the track is rather truncated in length

Fighting My Way Back is the best of the rest, featuring a wah-wah embellished intro that gives way to a muscular melody. The other tracks are a mix of soft rock and radio friendly fare, distant cousins to the metal spirit growling within the band, waiting to break out of jail.


Band:

Brian Downey - Drums
Scott Gorham - Guitar
Philip Lynott - Vocals, Bass
Brian Robertson - Guitar


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Rosalie - 7
2. For Those Who Love To Live - 7
3. Suicide - 10
4. Wild One - 7
5. Fighting My Way Back - 8
6. King's Revenge - 7
7. Spirit Slips Away - 7
8. Silver Dollar - 6
9. Freedom Song - 7
10. Ballad Of A Hard Man - 9

Average: 7.50

Produced by Phil Lynott.
Recorded and Mixed by Keith Harwood.

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Sunday, 26 October 2014

CD Review: The House Of Blue Light, by Deep Purple (1987)


The second comeback album from Deep Purple's classic Mk II line-up, The House Of Blue Light proved to be the final recording from Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord and Paice. It's a better than average effort, nowhere near the band's best but not devoid of some excellent moments.

After setting a high standard with 1984's Perfect Strangers, the band was once again beset by internal rivalries and divisions, resulting is a drawn-out recording process. The end product is an uneven collection. At its best, The House Of Blue Light offers plenty of mid-tempo hard rock leaning towards carefully constructed metal, with eastern influences expertly woven into the guitar and keyboard work. There are many shortish instrumental interludes allowing Blackmore and Lord to somewhat stretch, although the band admitted that a regrettable and ill-advised push towards a more commercial sound stalked the album.

The best track does come early, Bad Attitude kicking off the album with a cathedralic burst from Lord's keyboards before Paice lays down a sturdy foundation for Gillan and Blackmore to compete over. The guitar wins that battle with an elegant solo, Blackmore announcing an intention to have fun on this outing.

Otherwise, the back end of the album is much the stronger. Tracks like The Spanish Archer, Strangeways and Dead Or Alive have an old-fashioned let-it-all-hang-out feel, the band rocking out and allowing plenty of time for the still potent interplay between Lord and Blackmore to flourish.

Much less impressive is the miserable Call Of The Wild, one of the weakest efforts penned and recorded by this line-up, a banal piece of nonsense that should have never been associated with the Deep Purple name.

After first coming together in 1969, the tumultuous Mark II lineup officially disintegrated for the second and final time in 1987, having recorded six distinguished metal albums and left behind a lasting musical legacy. The door opens, the band exits into the blue light, and an era ends for good.


Band:

Ritchie Blackmore - Guitar
Ian Gillan - Vocals
Roger Glover - Bass
Jon Lord - Keyboards
Ian Paice - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Bad Attitude - 10
2. The Unwritten Law - 7
3. Call Of The Wild - 5
4. Mad Dog - 7
5. Black and White - 7
6. Hard Lovin' Woman - 8
7. The Spanish Archer - 9
8. Strangeways - 9
9. Mitzie Dupree - 7
10. Dead Or Alive - 9

Average: 7.80

Produced by Roger Glover and Deep Purple.
Engineered by Nick Blagona. Mastered by Greg Calbi.

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Saturday, 25 October 2014

CD Review: Houses Of The Holy, by Led Zeppelin (1973)


Led Zeppelin's fifth album in five years, Houses Of The Holy finds the world's biggest and most famous band cruising at a rarefied altitude of unusually high quality. This is a record of remarkable consistency, every track an exquisitely constructed marvel of sophisticated music.

The sound is orchestral, dreamy and rich. With shadings of funk, jazz and rock, as usual the album is undefinable as a genre and unmistakable as Zeppelin. There is an occasional burst of pure metal, and the band generally settles down to the comfort of mid-tempo instrumental segments punctuated by Robert Plant's searing vocals.

The highlights are many. Dancing Days unleashes an infectious riff and majestic guitar work from Jimmy Page. No Quarter is a 7 minute journey to whole other solar system, Plant's anguished, hushed vocals playing with a haunting melody and thumping drumming from John Bonham, with Page contributing a buzzy hook for the ages. And The Ocean is the crown jewel of the album, Bonham putting on a drumming clinic while Page lets loose yet another timeless riff with a diamond edge. The band even find the time to sprinkle clever humour onto the album, The Crunge still looking for that confounded bridge on a song that has none.

Every other track on the album earns its place and leaves its mark. Almost effortlessly, Houses Of The Holy is another confirmation of the band's genius and one the best albums of the seventies.


Band:

Jimmy Page - Guitar
Robert Plant - Vocals
John Bonham - Drums
John Paul Jones - Bass


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. The Song Remains The Same - 8
2. The Rain Song - 8
3. Over The Hills And Far Away - 8
4. The Crunge - 8
5. Dancing Days - 9
6. D'yer Mak'er - 8
7. No Quarter - 9
8. The Ocean - 10

Average: 8.50

Produced by Jimmy Page.

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CD Review: No Prayer For The Dying, by Iron Maiden (1990)


One decade into their career, Iron Maiden release No Prayer For The Dying as their eighth studio album, and it's a poor effort. The dawn of the 1990s breaks with the band firmly stuck in the early eighties, lacking in any new cutting edge, their sound now a mish-mash of recycled elements from days gone by.

Guitarist Janick Gers joins the band to replace the departed Adrian Smith, and first two tracks demonstrate plenty of renewed vigour. Tail Gunner and Holy Smoke are both traditional high-tempo Maiden cuts, delivered with energy full of promise.

The rest of the album singularly fails to deliver. The other eight tracks are high on repetition, low on innovation, and mostly just go through the motions with a notable absence of spirit. Hooks In You is the worst of the bunch, while Bring Your Daughter...To The Slaughter somehow earned the distinction of being Maiden's first (and so far only) number one single on the UK charts, a boost of encouragement that the band did not need. Written by Bruce Dickinson as a solo effort for A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child horror film, the band adopted Bring Your Daughter... as a Maiden song. Commercially brilliant, artistically suspect.

The album ends with Mother Russia, a plodding retread of cobbled together old glories that would have sounded fresh seven years prior. No Prayer For The Dying is a creative dead zone that no amount of praying can help.


Band:

Janick Gers - Guitar
Nicko McBrain - Drums
Bruce Dickinson - Vocals
Dave Murray - Guitar
Steve Harris - Bass


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Tail Gunner - 9
2. Holy Smoke - 10
3. No Prayer For The Dying - 7
4. Public Enema Number One - 7
5. Fates Warning - 7
6. The Assassin - 7
7. Run Silent Run Deep - 7
8. Hooks In You - 6
9. Bring Your Daughter...To The Slaughter - 7
10. Mother Russia - 7

Average: 7.40

Produced, Engineered and Mixed by Martin Birch.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Training Day (2001)


A pounding police thriller, Training Day dives into the dark cesspool where criminals and detectives all begin to look alike. The film is a polished, high energy character study, with an enthralling central performance by Denzel Washington.

Los Angeles police officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is taking the initial steps towards becoming a detective on the anti-narcotics squad. Paired with veteran detective Alonzo Harris (Washington), Jake embarks on his first day of training as a passenger in Alonzo's car, cruising the streets of LA on the lookout for criminal activity. Alonzo knows his way around the streets and gives Jake a constant stream of advice about survival skills and what a real life of fighting crime is all about. But Jake quickly learns that Alonzo operates way outside normal procedures. Before the morning is out, Alonzo forces Jake to smoke drugs, and after Jake intervenes to disrupt a street rape, he allows the potential rapists to walk away.

Alonzo also has a personal agenda for the day. He has upset some Russian mobsters and needs to raise a million dollars by midnight to avoid their wrath. Alonzo steals cash from a drug dealer named Sandman, and uses the money to pay off his police superiors (known as the Three Wise Men) in exchange for receiving the go-ahead to raid and shake-down master criminal Roger (Scott Glenn). That operation goes badly in many different ways, creating a huge rift between Jake and Alonzo. Before the end of the day Jake will need to learn quickly in order to stay alive and decide on what kind of future he wants.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by David Ayer, Training Day walks along the blurred line between right and wrong and finds plenty of dead bodies. Alonzo inhabits a ruthless world of powerful dealers and brutal gangsters, and has long since decided that no amount of proper policing will make an iota of difference. So he has adopted more effective and less traditional methods, stretching the definition of his badge to act as judge, jury and executioner in addition to law officer. The results justify the means in his mind, and no one really seems to care, because all others on the side of the law are at least as corrupt.

Until Jake comes along. With an outsider's view Jake is horrified by Alonzo's methods, but initially accepting that maybe this is what it takes to fight drugs on the front lines. But Jake has caught Alonzo on a really challenging day, and Alonzo has plans to use the naive Jake in his elaborate scheme to extricates himself from the target hairs of the Russian mob. Jake's education will proceed at fast-forward, his training day packed with a lifetime's worth of incidents. He will need to learn quickly or die trying.

Filmed on location is some of the worst neighbourhoods in Los Angeles, Training Day has the surreal look of a decaying social landscape. Fuqua and cinematographer Mauro Fiore recall the downtrodden feel of 1970s crime movies, with Alonzo cruising through gritty neighbourhoods dominated by desperation, unemployment and gang members. It does not need to be said: the idea that justice will ever penetrate into this world is visually incongruous.

Denzel Washington became the second black man (after Sidney Poitier) to win the Best Actor Academy Award. Washington creates in Alonzo Harris a smooth talking and supremely confident puppet master, convinced that he can talk his way into any situation and talk his way out of any problem. And when the time for talking is done, he does not hesitate to whip out the guns to emphasize his demands. Washington is appropriately larger than life, effortless and exhausting, a police officer so far past the line that he forgot the line even exists.

Ethan Hawke provides the perfect foil as Jake Hoyt, an unspoiled idealist exposed head-on to Alonzo's crazy world. The supporting cast also includes Tom Berenger in one scene as a member of the Three Wise Men, and Eva Mendes as Alonzo's mistress.

Packed with the power, fury and conviction of two men committed to their conflicting beliefs, Training Day is one intense inauguration.





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Thursday, 23 October 2014

Movie Review: The Quick And The Dead (1995)


A western with all the style and none of the substance, The Quick And The Dead is filled with clever artistic touches but is also well short when it comes to essential elements like rounded characters and plot depth.

In the small town of Redemption, former outlaw John Herod (Gene Hackman) rules over the population with an iron fist as a self-appointed sheriff, judge and executioner. The Lady (Sharon Stone) rides into town seeking revenge against Herod for an ancient wrong, and registers to participate in an annual quick draw gunfight elimination contest, hoping to give Herod his due. The other entrants include gunslinger Ace Hanlon (Lance Henriksen), bounty hunter Clay Cantrell (Keith David), and The Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio), who claims to be Herod's son. Herod also forces his former partner in crime Cort (Russell Crowe) to join the contest.

Cort has renounced violence and become a priest, but Herod is having none of it, holding Cort in shackles and forcing him to participate in the gunfight series or die. As the contestants are thinned out through successive and increasingly deadly duels, The Kid, The Lady and Cort emerge as the main challengers looking knock Herod off his perch. But beating the old man at his own brutal game will not be easy.

Directed by Sam Raimi and co-produced by Stone, the film is notable for featuring significant pre-stardom roles for DiCaprio and Crowe, both promoted and supported by Stone. In a case of too many ideas all poorly developed, the film tries, with limited success, to be an amalgamation of relevant classic western themes, including revenge, corruption, betrayal, profiteering, redemption and the struggle between religion and the gun.

But Raimi does deliver on all the required aesthetics. The Quick And The Dead looks gorgeous, from Stone's layered clothes to the town's simple layout. The camera angles are often brilliant, the gunfights are filmed with plenty of panache, and the town's clock tower stands witness to all manner of courage and death on the dusty main street. There are plenty of Leonesque touches, from tight close-ups of the eyes to the long dusters used by Herod's men, plus a few special Raimiesque flourishes when it comes to portraying bullet damage.

But The Quick And The Dead is missing almost everything else. The characters are presented in broad brush format, the backstories are rudimentary, the dialogue is a barrage of recycles clichés, and The Lady's revenge motive is borrowed wholesale from Once Upon A Time In The West.

The plot is reduced to a series of successive gunfights, the film falling into the trap of too many punchlines and not enough set-up. Any showdown moment loses its impact when repeated endlessly, and The Quick And The Dead has too many moments when one gunfighter is quick, and the other dead.





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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Movie Review: Coma (1978)


A medical conspiracy thriller about mysteriously botched surgeries, Coma enjoys some effective evil-lurks-here moments but provides limited character development and pushes its action elements to some creaky extremes.

At Boston Memorial Hospital, Dr. Susan Wheeler (Geneviève Bujold) is young, bright, talented and fighting against still-pervasive sexism. Her relationship with Dr. Mark Bellows (Michael Douglas) is wobbling, but Susan's world is really rocked when her good friend Nancy Greenly (Lois Chiles) undergoes a routine medical procedure, and slips into a permanent coma. Susan tries to investigate the cause, and finds a troubling pattern of similar cases: a high number of otherwise healthy patients are not waking up from simple surgeries at Boston Memorial.

Chief of Anaesthesiology Dr. George (Rip Torn) and Chief of Surgery Dr. Harris (Richard Widmark) both want Susan to stop poking her nose in the hospital's business, as does Mark.  But yet another coma case involving the rugged Sean Murphy (Tom Selleck) convinces Susan that something is very wrong. She learns that all the coma patients are transferred to an intimidating out-of-town medical centre called The Jefferson Institute, where nurse Emerson (Elizabeth Ashley) holds court. Susan pushes ahead with her detective work, and soon finds her own life in real danger.

An adaptation of Robin Cook's bestseller with a script by director Michael Crichton, Coma tries hard but can't fully shake the shackles of a simple premise that takes forever to develop, hindered by what looks like a suspiciously low budget and stilted secondary characters.

As the film rather clumsily winds its way to the painfully obvious illegal organ trade big reveal, it offers a few good elements. Bujold is an enthusiastic contributor, diving into the role of Susan Wheeler with conviction and giving the film's strong feminist stance plenty of steel. Wheeler is battling a male dominated world as much as a sinister conspiracy, and in many ways the condescending treatment she receives from most of the men in her life is as shocking as the coma plot. Bujold turns Wheeler into a pocket of serious energy that will not be silenced, creating a plucky heroine to cheer for.

Also worth watching is the Jefferson Institute, a building so sinister that just the exterior is enough to convince that nothing good can be happening inside. With excellent contributions from cinematographer Victor J. Kemper and the music of Jerry Goldsmith, Crichton lovingly lingers on the soulless concrete facade, and then reveals the inside to be no less hostile. Nurse Emerson, in day-to-day charge of the facility, may as well have a heart of stone and steel, for all the humanity that she displays. It's a relatively small role for Elizabeth Ashley, but a most memorable one.

Otherwise, the film spends too much time with Susan sleuthing through labs to uncover clues, then running down abandoned hallways to escape a faceless killer, in a classic example of doctor-overnight-turns-into-action-woman. She then ups her game and further detaches the film from reality by crawling through remarkably clean and well-lit utility shafts. It's all good non-intellectual fun, Coma's intriguing dose of science ultimately succumbing to traditional action movie chestnuts.





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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Movie Review: Good Will Hunting (1997)


A drama about the value of intellect as a natural gift, Good Will Hunting is a dazzling achievement. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck announce their proper arrival into the movie industry with a witty script about a young man withholding his own potential behind a wall of acrid charisma.

In Boston, Will Hunting (Damon) lives on the wrong side of town, and is working as a janitor sweeping the floor at MIT. Will is an orphan and had a rough childhood, but he is also a cocky genius, supremely confident and a voracious reader, with a particular aptitude for solving complex math problems. To avoid any risk of disappointment, Will emotionally pushes everyone away and shuns any opportunity to improve his lot in life. He prefers instead to pick fights with hoodlums and hang out with his blue collar friends, particularly best buddy Chuckie (Affleck). Will's advanced mathematical skills come to the attention of renowned MIT Professor Gerry Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård), just as Will lands in legal trouble for striking a police officer during a meaningless street brawl.

As a condition of avoiding serving time, Gerry agrees to take Will under his wing and make sure that he sees a therapist. Will and Lambeau work well together tackling math problems, but finding a therapist who can penetrate Will's hard exterior proves difficult. Eventually Gerry reaches out to his former college classmate Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), a psychology professor himself struggling with the death of his wife. Will starts dating Harvard student Skylar (Minnie Driver), but opening up to her will prove to be as difficult as having meaningful conversations with Sean.

Co-written by Affleck and Damon and directed by Gus Van Sant, Good Will Hunting is an intellectual Cinderfella drama. While not exactly rags to riches, Will's journey is from the streets of South Boston to the hallowed halls of MIT, and more importantly, his awakening to the power of vulnerability and the potential for a better life. With a smart script and a spellbinding diamond-in-the-rough central character, the film captivates as it delves into the psyche and spirit of a charismatic genius looking for a cause.

Gerry and Sean represent two distinct father figures and two separate paths available to Will, should he choose to break out of his thick crust of mistrust. Gerry tries to appeal to Will's intellect and charts a course towards potential business success. At great personal cost, Sean batters away at Will's armour, trying to unleash a spirit with unlimited all-round potential. It's a fascinating two-pronged probe on a young man smarter than both his mentors. With Skylar presenting a tantalizing look at what is possible, deep down Will Hunting realizes that to make good, something has to change, and Sean may be his last chance to find out what an alternative future may look like.

The therapy sessions between doctor and unwilling patient held in Sean's cluttered office are at the heart of the film. Sean's own open wound due to his wife's death gives the film a third dimension, and Will an initial target to bore in on as he attempts to destroy Sean as quickly as all the other shrinks. But Sean recovers, regroups and patiently invests the time it takes to reach into the heart of a man who has decided that he never wants to be reached again. The climax of these sessions may be a bit more cinematic than convincing, but the process is a captivating study in progressive cerebral interaction between two determined men, and remarkably excellent filmmaking.

With an unforgettable performance, Matt Damon establishes his screen persona as a smart man with boyish looks and a wickedly playful streak. Robin Williams won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his role as Sean, giving the doctor plenty of complex humanity and a steely resolve to not give up on Will when it would have been easy to do so. The complex relationship between Sean and Gerry also helps to provide depth, Stellan Skarsgård doing his bit to create an appropriately arrogant but still genial celebrity professor.

While making good use of the attractive Boston locations, Van Sant keeps the mood buoyant, mixing drama with touches of humour and sprinklings of friendship and romance. Good Will Hunting is a most rewarding expedition.





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Monday, 20 October 2014

Movie Review: The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)


An uproarious sex comedy, The 40 Year-Old Virgin hits all its targets by mixing wild humour with the gentle awkwardness of a man struggling to make the jump into full adulthood.

Andy (Steve Carell) is a lonely 40 year old, living on his own and working in the stockroom of a technology superstore. Andy is into comic books and toy collectibles, and has no social life to speak of. His work colleagues include David (Paul Rudd), still not over a failed relationship, Jay (Romany Malco), a loud and fast-talking ladies man, and Cal (Seth Rogen) who is smarter than he looks and in search of kinkier experiences. When Andy's co-workers find out that he is still a virgin and has almost given up looking for a meaningful relationship, they set about trying to help him.

Andy is hesitant but starts to take the advice of his new friends. Predictably, most of the experiences end in disaster. However, he does slowly gain some confidence to interact with women, and local business owner Trish (Catherine Keener) catches his eye. Bookstore clerk Beth (Elizabeth Banks) is also a potential partner, while Andy's boss and store manager Paula (Jane Lynch) graciously offers her services to help him with his predicament. But Andy gathers up his courage and embarks on a relationship with Trish without revealing to her that he is a virgin, and also gets to know her teenaged daughter Marla (Kat Dennings), herself grappling with upcoming initial sexual experience issues.

Directed by Judd Apatow, who co-wrote with Carell, The 40-Year Old Virgin is a laugh-fest driven both by characters and situations. Andy and his friends are just on the right side of believable as underachieving men searching for new ways to remain irresponsible, keeping the film away from farce. The comic set-pieces also maintain a toehold in the realm of the possible, from Andy receiving a chest waxing to joining Marla at a pregnancy prevention clinic.

The wilder moments are more hit and miss. A highlight is Andy, whose driving skills are limited to a bicycle, getting trapped into a car ride from hell with a very drunk driver in the form of club girl Nicky (Leslie Mann, Mrs. Apatow in a memorable and nonchalantly oblivious turn). Not as funny is a truncated and unnecessary encounter with a transvestite prostitute.

Amidst the mayhem, the film manages to explore the role of sex in a relationship from the male perspective. An annoying hindrance, an absolute necessity, a dangerous distraction, and the ultimate expression of commitment, sex proves to be important in all the ways that Andy feared and craved. Meanwhile, David, Jay and Cal also get their own dose of sexual education, and not in any way that they expected.

Steve Carell is crucial to the film's success, and his performance as Andy nails the essentially likable man drifting into a life of loneliness due more to inertia than any actual hang-up. Catherine Keener emerges as the perfect counterpart, a woman who has had perhaps too much life happen to her too soon, and is happy to go slow with a man who clearly needs to.

The supporting cast is rich in comic talent, with Apatow frequently deploying them in an undercurrent of dangerous mischievousness rather than brazen madcappery.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin is prodded out of his comfort zone and onto the path of responsibility in an adult world. And it's a laugh-out-loud transition, worth the years of waiting in unintended abstinence.





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