Thursday, 24 July 2014

Movie Review: The Back-Up Plan (2010)

An average romantic comedy, The Back-Up Plan is lifted by an interesting enough premise and a committed Jennifer Lopez performance.

Zoe (Lopez) is a former corporate ladder climber who now owns a pet store in New York City. Single and giving up hope that she will ever find the perfect Mr. Right, Zoe decides to try and have a baby through artificial insemination. On her way out of the clinic she bumps into the dreamy Stan (Alex O'Loughlin), when they both try to hail the same cab. Stan is a goat farmer who sells cheese at a farmer's market, and is attending night school to try and secure an economics degree.

They start a relationship, only for Zoe to find out soon afterwards that the insemination worked: she is pregnant. Zoe joins a support group for single mothers, headed by Carol (Melissa McCarthy), but with the romance growing serious and Stan proving to be very much the man of her dreams, Zoe has to decide if and how to break the pregnancy news to him. Stan is still getting used to the idea of having a serious girlfriend, and the possibility of immediately becoming a father could understandably compromise his commitment.

The Back-Up Plan adheres to the standard rules of the rom-com genre, but finds a new twist in the form of a successful and unrelated pregnancy arriving ahead of the romance. It’s an intriguing complication to throw into a new relationship, and Zoe, who finds the man she’s looking for as soon as she stops looking, has the challenge of too many things going right at the same time. The second half of the film thrusts the fledgling couple into pregnancy mode, in a significant test of responsibility for both.

Directed by Alan Poul, The Back-Up Plan finds the right mix of love, humour, some drama and attractive New York locations. The film invests in Zoe’s character, creating a well-rounded and self-confident woman who is nevertheless struggling against trust issues. Zoe also has a circle of friends, a pregnancy support group, co-workers, and family to provide the requisite barbs and support. She also enjoys the company of a cute dog with mobility challenges. Lopez delivers a bright and cheerful performance, never threatening to surpass the material but certainly adequate enough for the purpose.

The character of Stan does unintentionally dull the film’s edge, in that he is almost too perfect. Sensitive, funny, caring, operating an eco-friendly business and striving for self-improvement, it’s a small miracle that he is single and available to fall into Zoe’s cab.

Entertaining and innocuous, The Back-Up Plan carries modest aspirations and delivers accordingly.

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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Movie Review: The Lake House (2006)

A romantic time-shifting fantasy, The Lake House finds a magical dose of whimsy in the story of lonely lovers communicating across a two year gap in time.

Early in 2006, Dr. Kate Foster (Sandra Bullock) moves out of a beautiful rural lake house and into a new apartment complex closer to her job in Chicago. She leaves a note in the lake house mailbox for the next tenant to forward her mail. On Valentine's Day of 2006, Kate witnesses a car crash outside the hospital where she works, and a pedestrian victim of the accident dies in her arms. Meanwhile her mailbox note is picked up by home builder Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves), who is just moving into the lake house in 2004, before Kate ever moved in. Kate (living in 2006) and Alex (living in 2004) soon realize that the mailbox is a time portal, and they start to communicate with each other through a series of notes and letters. Despite being separated by two years they gradually fall in love.

The lovers try to arrange points in time and place to meet, and on a couple of occasions Alex catches up with Kate's 2004 life, but only he knows of their relationship, and he gets to meet Kate's fiancé of the time Morgan Price (Dylan Walsh). When they arrange to meet for dinner in Kate's timeline, Alex does not show up. Meanwhile, Alex is having a difficult time communicating with his aloof father, famous architect Simon J. Wyler (Christopher Plummer), the designer of the lake house. With Kate growing despondent about the likelihood that she will ever get to meet Alex, it becomes apparent that an extraordinary intervention will be required for their fates to align.

Directed by Alejandro Agresti as an adaptation of the South Korean film Il Mare (2000), The Lake House is a brain-bending exercise in surrendering to the sweet imagination of the incredible. Once past the fantastic premise, this is an honest love story where the obstacle to happiness is misaligned time, and the David Auburn screenplay playfully enjoys the teasing game where Kate and Alex can communicate but not be together.

The time gap raises as many paradoxes as possibilities between Kate and Alex, but the film just accepts it for what it is: a challenge to be overcome by true love. And just as the lovers need to patiently figure out what is going on and how to deal with it, The Lake House is a patient film, unfolding at a mature pace, allowing Agresti to build complex characters worth knowing and caring about. Alex is the family black sheep, just now re-entering the life of his father and brother, and trying to carve out his career away from the shadow of a domineering and egocentric dad. Kate is starting to establish her career, moving to a big city hospital and fighting the loneliness that comes with big city blues.

Large portions of the film unfold in the form of Kate and Alex reading out their written words to each other, allowing Bullock and Reeves to do some fine voice acting, their conversations bringing them close to each other even if their bodies are separated by a gulf in time. Bullock and Reeves, reunited 12 years after their success in Speed, share a quiet melancholia, their characters outwardly successful but still struggling to find their exact place in life. Chicago's architecturally commanding scenery, and a beautiful soundtrack highlighted by Paul McCartney's This Never Happened Before, perfectly enhance the mood.

The mailbox, the lake house itself and the dog Jack (who befriends both Kate and Alex) are symbols of time, space and unity, hinting that the impossible is possible as long as new dimensions are embraced. The Lake House majestically stands on the water, suggesting by its mere presence that all sorts of other miracles can follow.

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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Movie Review: Never Been Kissed (1999)

A back-to-high-school comedy of sorts, Never Been Kissed is a tedious non-event, attempting to sail on the charms of star Drew Barrymore but crashing on the shores of an infantile script.

Straitlaced and single, 25-year-old Josie Geller (Barrymore) is a copy editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, with ambitions to be a journalist. Her boss Gus (John C. Reilly) does not think she has what it takes, but the newspaper's eccentric editor-in-chief Rigfort (Garry Marshall) anyway assigns her to go back to her high school as a fake student and prepare an exposé about modern teenagers.

Josie returns to South Glen High School and is soon reliving the nightmare she experienced in her real life senior year, when she was a gawky unpopular girl. Just as awkward and clumsy this time round, Josie is shunned by the cool clique of girls consisting of Gibby (Jordan Ladd), Kirsten (Jessica Alba), and Kristen (Marley Shelton) but befriended by the nerds, including Aldys (Leelee Sobieski). When her naturally cool brother Rob (David Arquette) also re-enlists at the high school, he helps Josie turn the corner and become popular. As the prom approaches, the pressure increases on Josie to file her story, and she finds herself attracting the attention of handsome student Guy (Jeremy Jordan) and dishy English teacher Sam (Michael Vartan).

Never Been Kissed was the first feature film co-produced by Barrymore's Flower Films, an inauspicious if commercially successful start. It's difficult to understand what the film is trying to achieve. It does not work as a look back at a different era, since Josie is not so far out of high school for much to have changed. It does not work as a romance, with the relationship between Josie and Sam remaining tepid at best, and the film unwilling to delve into the complex waters of lust between teacher and student.

It does not work as a comedy or a parody. Scenes of Josie tripping over herself and spilling milk on her dress are painfully contrived rather than funny. And it certainly does not work as any form of exposé of high school life, the film losing all credibility by stretching it's already thin premise to have Josie's brother Rob also re-enlists in the same high school with the no one the wiser, the equivalent of doubling down on a clearly losing hand.

And finally the "be yourself and be happy" message, delivered without irony, falls flat within the pervasive confirmation that the traditional high school ecosystem, consisting of cool kids, nerds, jocks and in-betweens, is what it has always been, and is unlikely to change.

Director Raja Gosnell is left with the charisma of his star to trade on, and Barrymore gives it all she has, which is not nearly enough to save the movie. Barrymore does not convince neither as a stiff copy editor nor as a clumsy teenager, and is worse still in the over-the-top flashbacks to Josie's real high school senior year, where she portrays a ridiculous walking disaster built on out-of-date fashion and immature behaviour. John C. Reilly over-acts to distraction, while James Franco and Jessica Alba appear in fairly minor early career roles.

Stuck in the neutral gear of irrelevance, Never Been Kissed simply never gets going.

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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 René, 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 fiancé 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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