Sunday, 25 April 2010

Movie Review: The Wrestler (2008)


Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was a champion professional wrestler in the 1980's. 20 years later, he is living in a trailer park and still dragging his aging and broken body to school gyms and community centres in suburban New Jersey to participate in pathetic weekend wrestling matches in front of small audiences.

Randy's only "friend" is Pam (Marisa Tomei), a local stripper who goes by the professional name Cassidy, although she may only care about him enough to keep him as a paying customer. After a heart-attack, Robinson tries to quit wrestling for good; re-establish a relationship with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood); and elevate his friendship with Pam to something more serious. But the wrestling ring is the only place where he can even remotely imagine himself succeeding.

The Wrestler is a character study centering on past glories and vacant futures. Mickey Rourke delivers one of the performances of his career as a broken man quickly realizing that he has very little, and that what he does have he is losing. Rourke brings The Ram to life with an appropriately over-the-top physical look of a beefed up but aching body and artificially blonde long hair. None of it can mask the imminent disintegration of both his physical prowess and his soul, and his desperation to make late amends as the only life he knows draws to a sudden end.

In a strong supporting role Tomei as Pam is a stripper past her prime looking to move on from selling her body for a living, much like the wrestler but perhaps with a better likelihood of success. Her dilemma between developing feelings for The Ram and maintaining the distance needed to keep him as a client crystallizes the choice she faces to leave the relative comfort of her easy but time-limited fantasy life and take on the real world before it's too late.

Director Aronofsky creates an appropriately depressed suburban environment where livings are scratched out and there are no mis-leading signs of anything ever changing for the better.

The Wrestler is unrelenting in its portrayal of hopelessness among the depressed, and a most memorable movie because of it.







All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Saturday, 24 April 2010

CD Review: Audioslave, by Audioslave (2002)


The album Audioslave is proof we can have too much of a good thing.

At 14 full-length tracks and more than 65 minutes of music, the CD is somewhat exhausting and a lot to consume in one spin. Given the quantity and length, it is remarkable that there are no weak tracks to be found; but trimming a few of the more average tracks would have resulted in a stronger package.

The collaboration between Chris Cornell, the former frontman of Soundgarden, and the three non-vocalist members of Rage Against the Machine, results in a somewhat unlikely supergroup. Rage Against the Machine's nu-metal sound was always about anger and confrontation, while Soundgarden where on the slightly heavier side of grunge, not too far removed from depressed introspection.

Under the sharp supervision of producer Rick Rubin, Audioslave the band emerges as a true hybrid, with Cornell's voice to the fore, Tom Morello's innovative guitar prominently delivering mostly controlled riffs and the occasional pyro-show, and the rest of the band in the background. The album is distinctive for delivering emotion: it turns out that Cornell's voice and Morello's guitar were made for each other, and Rubin makes sure that most songs sound simply real.

Audioslave is anchored by the magnificent opener Conchise, a metal assault that would typically only be expected from a veteran band, and Like A Stone, a soaring, emotional, goose-bump generating semi-ballad allowing Cornell, Morello and drummer Brad Wilk to absolutely sparkle. The many other strong tracks include the ballistic Set It Off and the grandly loud Light My Way.

The haunting melody of the Last Remaining Light closes out the long journey of this CD with an appropriately calm, deep breath.

Band:

Chris Cornell - Vocals
Tim Commerford - Bass
Brad Wilk -Drums
Tom Morello - Guitars


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Conchise - 10
2. Show Me How To Live - 8
3. Gasoline - 7
4. What You Are - 7
5. Like A Stone - 10
6. Set It Off - 9
7. Shadow On The Sun - 7
8. I Am The Highway - 7
9. Exploder - 7
10. Hypnotize - 8
11. Bring Em Back Alive - 7
12. Light My Way - 8
13. Getaway Car - 7
14. The Last Remaining Light - 8

Average: 7.86

Produced by Rick Rubin. Mixed by Rich Costey.
Recorded by David Schiffman, Andrew Scheps.
Mastered by Vlado Meller.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Slippery When Wet, by Bon Jovi (1986)


The scruffy band from New Jersey hit the bulls-eye combination of accessible, radio-friendly pop rock, with enough power and guitar emphasis to qualify as light metal. The result is a hugely popular album that helped define the sound of the mid-1980's, and allowed this type of metal alloy to sit proudly at the centre of the music universe. Bon Jovi's massive global success from Nowheresville USA became an inspiration for aspiring rockers everywhere.

While it's popular to dismiss Bon Jovi for their relatively simplistic lyrics and overall fist-pumping ethic, Slippery When Wet undoubtedly proves that Bon Jovi could write catchy tunes that entertain without ever pretending to demand effort.

The album opener Let It Rock is a thunderous and surprisingly controlled call to action, while You Give Love A Bad Name and Livin' On A Prayer became generational anthems. Today these songs are instant time-warps to their era

I'd Die For You rounded out the band's appeal with a more than useful ballad, bringing in both genders into Bon Jovi's audience. Wanted Dead Or Alive is also effective and begins the band's journey towards country-music land, terrain that Jon Bon Jovi would explore much more fully later in his career.

The triple threat of Jon Bon Jovi's appealing, slightly country-tinged vocals, Richie Sambora's honest guitar and Dave Bryan's complementary keyboards delivered the songs with enthusiasm and no small element of fun.

There are a few duds on the album, most notably Without You which drops from annoying to aggravating in a hurry.

Slippery When Wet is lusciously produced, with the dream team combination of Bruce Fairbairn and Bob Rock producing a wide-open, clear sound that allowed all the band members to individually shine, and the album's sound to withstand the test of time.

Band:

Dave Bryan - Keyboards
Richie Sambora - Guitars
Alec John Such - Bass
Tico Torres - Drums
Jon Bon Jovi - Vocals

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Let It Rock - 9
2. You Give Love A Bad Name - 10
3. Livin' On A Prayer - 10
4. Social Disease - 6
5. Wanted Dead Or Alive - 8
6. Raise Your Hands - 7
7. Without Love - 5
8. I'd Die For You - 9
9. Never Say Goodbye - 7
10. Wild In The Streets - 7

Average: 7.80

Produced by Bruce Fairbairn.
Engineered and Mixed by Bob Rock.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Book Review: The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch (2008)


Randy Pausch was a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University when he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. His "last lecture", on which he summarized his values and outlook on life, became an Internet sensation.

The book expands on the contents of the lecture and admirably captures the essence of Pausch as a fun-loving, intelligent, hard-working professor, and a dedicated husband and loving father, making arrangements for his family's life to continue and his young children to remember him after his death.

The Last Lecture is effectively an autobiography written as a series of entertaining short stories, ranging from Pausch as a child through to his education and into adulthood, marriage, parenting, and a career as a professor. The key people in his life, including his parents, football coach, mentor, and wife, get special and genuinely warm treatment.

The stories are garnished with humour and a positive, upbeat spirit. And as an overarching theme, Pausch stresses the importance of having dreams and chasing after them.

Pausch has a deep appreciation for head-fakes as an educational tool: the sports move where the player's head moves in one direction but the body heads in another is a useful metaphor for progressive teaching, whereby students think they are engaged on one activity (say a technical project) while the real skill being taught is hidden (teamwork).

In the last few pages, Pausch describes a couple of head-fakes that his book delivers, but either ironically or intentionally, he omits the best head-fake of all: The Last Lecture, as a bonus, is the rarest of treasures: a book about leadership that does not pretend to be about leadership.

The life lessons described by Pausch contain valuable professional leadership nuggets. These include his attitude to obstacles (or "brick walls" as he calls them), his differentiation between symptoms and disease, the need for self-awareness, and dealing with elephants in the room, among others.

Yes, there is a bit of an obsession with Disney in Pausch's life, and an apparent total lack of interest in drawing examples and experiences from the greater international world outside his immediate circle of work and family. But as a summary of a life well-lived, The Last Lecture achieves the difficult task of keeping alive the joyful spirit of a positive man.

Co-Written with Jeffrey Zaslow. Hardcover published by Hyperion. 206 pages.





The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

CD Review: Boston, by Boston (1976)


Out of Boston literally, but out of nowhere figuratively, came a new band and a great sounding album combining sharp vocals, confident guitar, and rocking keyboards. Boston exploded onto the music scene, reached legendary status within months, and a generation later remains a classic.

Today it would not count as heavy metal, but back in 1976, Boston the band were certainly heavy and suddenly ready to conquer the world.

Boston has sold 17 million copies in the United States, and is the second best selling debut album of all-time, behind only Appetite For Destruction by Guns N' Roses.

Band leader Tom Scholz used his skills as a mechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create, in his basement studio, a meticulously produced records that still sounds amazing.

Boston also managed to place six great songs on a debut album featuring a total of eight tracks. More Than A Feeling is a classic hard rock track that sounds as vital and fresh today as it did in 1976. The other five tracks at the front end of Boston, Peace Of Mind, Foreplay / Long Time, Rock & Roll Band, Smokin' and Hitch a Ride are equally hypnotic in the interplay between layered vocals, smooth harmonies, impossibly catchy melodies and fearless guitar and keyboard instrumental sections.

Boston the band and Boston the record opened the door for a new era of hard rock, and defined new avenues for heavy music to explore: away from the blues of Deep Purple; away from the doom of Black Sabbath; away from the simple-mindedness of Aerosmith; away from the explicit sleaze of Led Zeppelin; and towards a big, open, carefully produced, powerful but non-threatening sound that would appeal to mass mixed-gender audiences for decades to come. Journey, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, and Kansas, among many others, would help to define this new road.

As for the album Boston, it remains an outstanding, high quality achievement and a milestone in hard rock / heavy metal music history.

Band:

Barry Goudreau - Guitars, Keyboards
Tom Scholz - Guitars
Sib Hashian - Drums
Bradley Delp - Vocals
Fran Sheehan - Bass


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. More Than A Feeling - 10 *See Video Below*
2. Peace Of Mind - 9
3. Foreplay / Long Time - 8
4. Rock & Roll Band - 8
5. Smokin' - 8
6. Hitch A Ride - 8
7. Something About You - 7
8. Let Me Take You Home Tonight - 6

Average: 8.00

Produced by John Boylan and Tom Scholz.
Engineered by Tom Scholz and Warren Dewey.
Mastered by Wally Traugott.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.



Movie Review: Encounter With Danger (2009)


A made-for-TV movie that creaks and groans under the weight of underwhelmed expectations.

Our leading lady is Lori (Shannon Doherty) who is apparently a tenured university professor. It says a lot about this film that the script never bothers to inform us professor in what, and which university. Never mind any information that may actually, say, round-out the one and only main character.

Lori is engaged to Jack (Mark Humphrey), an accounting consultant. Lori tags along with Jack as he goes to a client meeting with a software giant in a Washington State resort community (filming was actually across the border in Maple Ridge and Langley, British Columbia).

Jack promptly disappears without a trace. Most of the rest of the movie revolves around Lori trying to find her missing fiancee, and getting little support from the suddenly creepy locals. She also soon finds herself being followed by men-in-black types.

80 minutes of tedium follow, featuring lots of shots of cars traveling on winding rural roads and a few more scenes at a single location in a town screaming to be labeled "quaint". Lori then cracks the mystery of an Enron-type fudged accounting scandal with a couple of key strokes after she amateurishly breaks into the headquarters of apparently one of the most important software companies in the world. "This doesn't look right", she mumbles, one second after clicking on "annual report".

The movie ends with the police and the FBI emerging out of nowhere on an undefined section of highway to nab the bad guys after a random sprint in the forest. Lori and Jack live happily ever after.

The film is directed by Neill Fearnley from a script by Peter Sullivan -- both are veterans of the made-for-TV world, and on Encounter With Danger both could have been replaced with robots, without any noticeable loss in production quality. Actually, a computer-generated script may have been less unintentionally funny.

As for the acting talent, Shannon Doherty puts in by far the best performance among the cast of deserved unknowns. Take that as a warning.

Encounter With Danger is true to its name: an encounter with dangerously poor film-making, and it's appeal is that it always threatens to become bad enough to be almost funny.







All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.



CD Review: Black Sabbath Vol. 4., by Black Sabbath (1972)


It's the fourth album from the founders of heavy metal, and already there are signs of drift, complacency, and negative chemical influences.

"We wish to thank the great COKE-Cola Company of Los Angeles", the band writes in the album sleeve, but this was probably mis-placed gratitude. With an obvious abundance of drugs, the music drifts into dreamy territory, the edge and the danger are lost, and the power and anger that defined and helped create the Black Sabbath sound are pushed to the background.

On Black Sabbath Vol. 4, only Supernaut captures the spirit and energy that is the foundation of the Sabbath sound. Supernaut provides a terrific Iommi riff combined with high energy drums and an engaged vocal performance from Osbourne, and it stands proudly with the best Sabbath tracks from their other records.

The album opener and closer, Wheels of Confusion / The Straightener and Under The Sun / Everyday Comes And Goes (both hybrid 2-in-1 songs), are solid enough and offer well-constructed melodies, but with some meandering away from the core.

Otherwise, F/X is a collection of weird sounds; Changes is tedious and ultra-slow; Laguna Sunrise is a nice-enough instrumental but has nothing to do with the rest of the Sabbath catalogue. The other tracks are either average or just bland.

In the early seventies, bands that achieved commercial success were under pressure from their labels to produce one studio album a year. Vol. 4 (released in September 1972) was actually the fourth album that Sabbath released in 31 months, dating back to their ground-breaking debut Black Sabbath (February 1970). The pressure to hurriedly push product out the door is certainly reflected in the relatively lame content.

Band:

Tony Iommi - Guitars
Ozzy Osbourne - Vocals
Geezer Butler - Bass
Bill Ward - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Wheels Of Confusion / The Straightener - 8
2. Tomorrow's Dream - 7
3. Changes - 7
4. FX - n/a (short instrumental)
5. Supernaut - 10
6. Snowblind - 7
7. Cornucopia - 7
8. Laguna Sunrise - 7
9. St. Vitus' Dance - 6
10. Under The Sun / Every Day Comes And Goes - 8

Average: 7.44

Produced by Black Sabbath and Patrick Meehan.
Engineered by Colin Caldwell and Vic Smith.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Movie Review: The Warriors (1979)


One of the best films ever made is a low-budget comic-style romp with a no-name cast about a gang on the run during one long New York night.

"Can you count suckers? I say the future is ours, if you can count!" --
Cyrus to the 900 assembled gang members.

Director Walter Hill achieves something remarkable in The Warriors. It is one of those rare films where the story, directing, performances, cinematography, lighting and music come together to create a timeless classic. The Warriors is as enjoyable and current today as it was back in 1979. It's not that the film has aged well -- it simply does not age.

"We've been unable to see the truth, because we've been fighting for ten square feet of ground - our turf, our little piece of turf." -- Cyrus again, working the crowd.

In an undefined but not too distant future, 900 members of New York's various gangs gather at night in a Bronx park, including nine members of the Warriors from Coney Island. The meeting is called by the Gramercy Riffs, New York's largest gang, and their leader Cyrus (a masterful Roger Hill) delivers a rousing speech outlining how by maintaining a truce and uniting, the gangs can rule the City.

"Can you dig it? Caaan you dig it? Caaan yoouuuuu diiiigg ittt?" -- Cyrus driving the crowd to a frenzy, just before getting shot.

Luther (David Patrick Kelly), the unhinged leader of the Rogues, shoots Cyrus dead, and loudly blames the killing on the Warriors. The police suddenly descend on the meeting, and in the ensuing chaos of 900 gang members fleeing the scene, the Warriors make their immediate escape, but not before their leader is killed.

The surviving eight Warriors, now led by Swan (Michael Beck) have to make the long journey back to Coney Island, while pursued by the police, the Riffs seeking vengeance and every gang member in New York.

From this simple premise inspired by Greek mythology, Hill weaves a series of unforgettable scenes: Cyrus' speech; the Warriors escaping from the Turnbull AC's bus; the confrontation with the pathetic Orphans; the baseball bat battle in the park with the brilliantly attired Furies; the bruising battle with the roller-skaters in the men's bathroom; the short but stunning across-the-aisle encounter with the grad partiers on the train; Luther taunting the Warriors with the beer bottles; and the final confrontation on the beach. And let's not forget the Riffs' radio announcer who keeps track of the action as it unfolds -- only her lips are ever seen.

"I'll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle." -- Ajax to the Furies before they rumble.

The Warriors contains an almost unfair number of classic moments, all occurring as a natural part of the narrative rather than as pre-announced set-pieces.

The amount of running and non-stop action gives the movie a kinetic energy of its own: The Warriors feels like a power source.

At the same time, Hill manages to inject a lot of humanity into the movie and brings to life several characters, in a film which could have easily been excused for foregoing any individuality. Each member of the Warriors has a persona, including the cool leader Swan; the impulsive Ajax (James Remar); the stalwart Cochise (David Harris); and the young Rembrandt (Marcelino Sanchez). And in a relatively few scenes, David Patrick Kelly creates in Luther a highly-strung, barely-holding-it-together and unforgettable villain.

Into this male dominated world Hill also introduces Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) as the woman from the very wrong side of the tracks who ironically sees the Warriors, for all their trouble, as a means to move up in the world.

"You're just a part of everything that's happened tonight...and it's all bad." -- Swan to Mercy, just after she kisses him.

Barry De Vorzon created a synthesizer-driven music score that adds to the timeless feel of the movie, while Andrew Laszlo's cinematography bring out the best of a subway-focused New York on a rainy summer night. The vivid and sharp colours and lighting of The Warriors, despite the darkness of the night, emphasizes the movie's comics sensibilities.

"Warriors, come out to plaayeeaay!" -- Luther repeatedly taunting the Warriors while methodically clicking three bottles inserted into his fingers.

Controversial upon its theatrical release for causing riots in some theatres as some real gang members got over-excited, The Warriors is an absolute gem of a movie and proof that excellence sometimes emerges from the most unlikely of packages.








All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Friday, 16 April 2010

CD Review: Sixteen Stone, by Bush (1994)


The year 1994 probably marked heavy metal's lowest point. It was halfway between grunge placing a bullet in the forehead of metal and the re-birth of the genre as a viable music form with metalcore and melodic death metal starting in the late 1990's.

It was an era when one-word song titles were meant to be profound and distortion masked ineptness.

Wandering in this wilderness were bands like the London-based British quartet Bush, who by virtue of being on the slightly heavier side of alt-whatever, were labeled by some as metal of sorts.

Unfortunately finding success that was fortunately short-lived, Sixteen Stone was Bush's debut and big seller, and it's a good indicator of how bereft of ideas the mid-1990's were.

Bush try hard to sound like they have something relevant to add to Nirvana's angst, but they don't. The more notable tracks like Everything Zen, Little Things and Machinehead offer inoffensive mildly catchy tunes with moderate energy and some crunchy guitar work. The rest of the tracks meld into a background of self-absorbed droning a notch or two, if that, above sad elevator music.

Following the unexpected success of Sixteen Stone, Bush rattled around until the early 2000's, never matching the success of the debut and thankfully without much prominence in metal circles.

Band:

Gavin Rossdale - Guitars and Vocals
Dave Parsons - Bass
Nigel Pulsford - Guitar
Robin Goodridge - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Everything Zen - 8
2. Swim - 6
3. Bomb - 6
4. Little Things - 8
5. Comedown - 7
6. Body - 7
7. Machinehead - 8
8. Testosterone - 7
9. Monkey - 6
10. Glycerine - 7
11. Alien - 6
12. X-Girlfriend - N/A (short track)

Average: 6.91

Produced and Mixed by Clive Langer, Alan Winstanley, and Bush.
Mastered by Robert Vosgien.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Metal Heart, by Accept (1985)


It's a touch harsh, but "three great tracks and a bunch of forgettable songs" is a fairly good summary of Accept's Metal Heart.

There is no question that the title track Metal Heart, Wrong Is Right and Bound To Fail are a brilliant trio, and reason enough for this CD to exist. All three demonstrate straight-ahead teutonic metal at its best, with strong classical shadings augmenting insane and irresistibly catchy energy.

Metal Heart features some of the best classical-inspired guitar soloing in the history of heavy metal. Wrong Is Right is pure energy and tightly-controlled speed, while Bound To Fail creates metal with enough unstoppable chugging force to cancel the concept of an immovable wall, and adds lyrical guitar flair just for fun.

Udo Dirkshneider's distinctive shriek and the guitar duo of Hoffman and Fischer never sounded better than on these three tracks, and they are ably backed by the prominent but not showy drums of Stefan Kaufman.

Unfortunately, the rest of the CD is either Filler or Filler Plus, none worse that the horrible Screaming For A Love Bite, which stinks so bad it must have been written in a public toilet. Teach Us To Survive is another throw-away, while five other tracks are unobtrusive but largely forgettable.

Metal Heart captures the reasons why Accept was a band that just glanced off the bulls-eye of big success: magnificent in spurts, but otherwise painfully average.

Band:

Udo Dirkschneider - Vocals
Wolf Hoffman - Guitar
Jorg Fischer - Guitar
Peter Baltes - Bass
Stefan Kaufman - Drums


Songlist (rating out of 10):

1. Metal Heart - 10
2. Midnight Mover - 7
3. Up To The Limit - 7
4. Wrong Is Right - 9
5. Screaming For A Love-Bite - 4
6. Too High To Get It Right - 7
7. Dogs On Leads - 7
8. Teach Us To Survive - 6
9. Living For Tonite - 7
10. Bound To Fail - 10

Average: 7.40

Produced by Dieter Dierks. Engineered by Gerd Rautenbach.
Mastered by Bob Ludwig.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Overcome, by All That Remains (2008)


Rather than choosing between the pitbull sound of metalcore or the poodle sound of sappy pop rock, All That Remains try to invent their own genre of sappycore on Overcome.

It's interesting, but it doesn't work very well.

After the reasonable opening duo of Before The Damned and Two Weeks, both sounding dangerously promising, the album gets lost in an undefined landscape where crunchy riffs are mixed with lovey-dovey clean vocals, boring solos and poppy tunes.

It's not awful; it's just not very good, and the songs emerge with a distinct lack of personality. The worst examples, like Forever In Your Hands, Do Not Obey, and title track Overcome have vaguely nauseating choruses.

While there are a few interesting melodies and undoubted energy, none of it is sustained and most of it is torpedoed by attempting to appeal to too many audiences within each song. The end result is most unsatisfying.

It's a pity, because on both Before The Damned and Chiron, All That Remains provide glimpses that they can move into Unearth territory with some honest and melody-infused metal. And when they squarely target a soulful metal ballad such as Believe In Nothing, the results are good. Phil Labonte's growl is solid and the guitar work of Oli Herbert and Mike Martin holds promise.

All That Remains just need to dump the flimsy cheap plastic parts that they too often mix with the genuine metal.

Band:

Philip Labonte - Vocals
Oli Herbert - Guitar
Mike Martin - Guitar
Jeanne Sagan - Bass
Jason Costa - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Before The Damned - 9
2. Two Weeks - 8
3. Undone - 7
4. Forever In Your Hands - 6
5. Chiron - 8
6. Days Without - 7
7. A Song For The Hopeless - 7
8. Do Not Obey - 6
9. Relinquish - 6
10. Overcome - 6
11. Believe In Nothing - 8

Average: 7.09

Produced and Engineered by Jason Suecof.
Mixed by Mark Lewis.
Mastered by Ryan Smith.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Monday, 12 April 2010

CD Review: Get A Grip, by Aerosmith (1993)


Any band still producing good and relevant music 20 years into their career deserves high praise. Get A Grip is Aerosmith's eleventh studio album, and has enough fresh material on it to put to shame most bands half their age. The album is also wonderfully produced, with a wide-open crystal clear sound that allows each of Aerosmith's members to shine with an orchestral sweep.

Get A Grip crams lot of goodness in the early going. Eat The Rich, Get A Grip, Fever and Flesh are all good up-tempo examples of the wide-audience-friendly hard-rock genre that Aerosmith made their own. The four songs straddle the always interesting intersection where high-energy dance meets edgy rock. It's difficult not to groove to the strong beats of Joey Kramer's drums, supporting Joe Perry's crunchy guitar riffs with Steve Tyler wailing away on vocals.

There are two other great tracks that make an appearance later in the album, following the same formula: the hypnotic Shut Up And Dance, and the irresistibly fun Line Up, co-written with Lenny Kravitz.

Not unexpectedly but unfortunately all the same, Aerosmith insist on providing a total of 14 tracks on Get A Grip, and the remaining tracks are patchy at best. Three radio-friendly ballads, Cryin', Crazy, and Amazing, are at least two too many. Walk On Down is pure filler and Gotta Love It isn't much better, just much longer.

An album length limited to the best eight tracks could have been a hard rock classic; as it is Get A Grip throws everything at the wall, and some of it leaves a slimy trail behind.

Band:

Steven Tyler: Vocals
Joe Perry: Guitar
Brad Whitford: Guitar
Tom Hamilton: Bass
Joey Kramer: Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Intro - n/a (short)
2. Eat The Rich - 9
3. Get A Grip - 8
4. Fever - 8
5. Livin' On The Edge - 7
6. Flesh - 8
7. Walk On Down - 6
8. Shut Up And Dance - 9
9. Cryin' - 7
10. Gotta Love It - 6
11. Crazy - 6
12. Line Up - 9
13. Amazing - 7
14. Boogie Man - 7

Average: 7.46

Produced by Bruce Fairbairn. Mixed by Brendan O'Brien.
Engineered by David Thoener and Ken Lomas. Mastered by Greg Fulginiti.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (1845)


If revenge is a dish best served cold, then Edmond Dantes is the master chef of frozen meals.

It's France 1815, and all is going well for the young, likable Dantes. He is deeply admired by his employer, the wealthy merchant Morrel. Dantes is on the verge of being appointed Captain of his own ship. He's also about to marry Mercedes, the love of his life.

But evil lurks everywhere, and Dantes is betrayed by three men. Danglars wants Dantes out of the way so that he can become Captain. Fernand wants Dantes out of the way because he's lusting after Mercedes. And de Villefort wants Dantes out of the way to protect his political career. Despite Morrel's best efforts, the three men conspire to throw Dantes into the merciless dungeon prison of Chateau D'If.

Close to despair and wishing for death, Dantes meets and befriends a fellow prisoner, the elderly Abbe Faria. Faria not only completes Dantes' education, he reveals to him the secret of an immense ancient treasure buried on the secluded island of Monte Cristo.

After fourteen years in the dungeon, Dantes seizes the opportunity of Faria's death to engineer his escape. He retrieves the treasure and uses his new found wealth to re-invent himself as the Count of Monte Cristo. He then gets down to the business of plotting his revenge on the three men who conspired against him.

The above summary covers the first 150 pages or so of a 600-page story -- and the 600 pages represent an abridgement of Alexandre Dumas' original serialization. To call The Count of Monte Cristo an epic would be an insult to the length of this saga. But the freewheeling, rip-roaring action rarely slows down, and it is impossible to resist the urge of knowing what the suave Count will do next in his irresistible quest for revenge.

The post-prison bulk of the book comes alive with the introduction of a wide range of colourful characters: Danglars, Fernand and de Villefort have all accumulated wealth, titles, spouses, children, estates, servants, power, friends, and businesses. Into their Parisian world of ill-earned nobility enters the mysterious Count, weaving elaborate traps that will inevitably result in the delicious downfall of the three men and all they pretend to love.

How much of Dantes' soul will also be destroyed as he destroys his enemies, and sometimes unintended victims, is part of the emotional impact of the book.

The Count of Monte Cristo, particularly in translation, is no literary classic. The language is simple, straightforward, and carries the sole intent of delivering the action.

The power of the book is derived from the undisguised quest for revenge, and the fantasy of unexpected immense wealth creating the opportunity to right all of life's wrongs.

With his combination of intellect, wealth, sophistication, and sense of justice, the Count of Monte Cristo is a most entertaining and welcome dinner guest.

Published by Barnes & Noble Classics.
Translated and abridged.
Introduction and Notes by Luc Sante.
618 pages, plus Notes.







The Ace Black Blog Book Review No. 38.
The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

Friday, 9 April 2010

CD Review: Spreading The Disease, by Anthrax (1985)


Spreading The Disease puts on display the maniacal high speed thrash and pure fun that is unique to Anthrax. And when it works, it's a joy.

Highlights are CD opener A.I.R. and stand-out track Armed and Dangerous: both combine powerful melodies with an accelerator-is-stuck mentality to great effect. Some thunderous drums from Charles Benante provide the continuous backdrop to The Enemy. Aftershock is pure speed mixed with ridiculous control; while album closer Gung-Ho sums up all that is Anthrax: the chaotic, prolonged ending to the track adds pure madness into a blender of power and humour for an unmistakable signature.

As with most Anthrax albums, there is the usual not insubstantial number of useless tracks. Medusa is particularly irritating; Lone Justice, Madhouse and S.S.C. / Stand of Fall are better, but not by much.

The twin guitar attack of Dan Spitz and Scott Ian combines irresistible speed and power with surprisingly effective restraint. Joe Belladonna's upper pitch vocals are terrific, and Frank Bello's bass combines with Benante's drums to offer solid and prominent support.

Anthrax were never as good as the more illustrious thrash metal bands of the mid-eighties, but they certainly had their moments.

Band:

Joe Belladonna - Vocals
Dan Spitz - Guitar
Scott Ian - Guitar
Frank Bello - Bass
Charles Benante - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. A.I.R. - 9
2. Lone Justice - 7
3. Madhouse - 7
4. S.S.C / Stand or Fall - 7
5. The Enemy - 8
6. Aftershock - 8
7. Armed and Dangerous - 10
8. Medusa - 6
9. Gung-Ho - 8

Average: 7.78

Produced by Carl Canedy and Anthrax.
Executive Producer: Jon Zazula.
Engineered by Alex Perialas.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Angel Witch, by Angel Witch (1980)


A strange mix of the naive and the innovative, Angel Witch's self-titled debut album is at least somewhat interesting.

Angel Witch are considered one of the bands that got away, since they never translated their influential membership in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal into significant success.

Angel Witch were among the earlier bands to write and sing almost obsessively about the devil and related themes back when these topics were still considered dangerous. This may have contributed to their lack of success, and consequent cult status.

The band's quick fragmentation and disappearance after this album was released eventually elevated their reputation to somewhat legendary status, much in the same way that the departed are always fondly remembered. And there are enough good moments on this CD to suggest that Angel Witch had some talent and innovation, and at least in patches, could match many of their peers. Opener and title song Angel Witch hauntingly and effectively sticks in the memory. Sorcerers ends with a brilliant instrumental section that demonstrates the power of the guitar / keyboard combination, and evokes Deep Purple's best keyboard-inspired passages. (The earlier part of Sorcerers sound very similar to Iron Maiden's Remember Tomorrow -- the two bands used to play shows together around London). CD closer Devil's Tower is an instrumental that quickly creates and sustains a smooth and evil mood.

But there are at least equally as many other moments that suggest a shallow pool of ideas and a skill level not far above garage band status. Confused is so bad that it would damage the reputation of a high school band. White Witch and Gorgon are both simplistic and bland, and several other tracks are generally forgettable and never kick out of second gear. A lot of the material on Angel Witch suffers when compared to what bands like Iron Maiden, Saxon, Motorhead and Judas Priest were recording around 1980.

Kevin Heybourne displays good guitar skills, but his vocals are uniformly strained. The album was produced on next-to-no budget, and it sounds like it.

Had they held together, Angel Witch perhaps would have evolved, improved, and found more success. But based on the evidence from this CD, it's not like the world was deprived of the second coming of Black Sabbath.

Band:

Kevin Heybourne - Guitar, Vocals
Kevin (Skids) Riddle - Bass, Keyboards
Dave Hogg (Day Vog) - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Angel Witch - 8
2. Atlantis - 7
3. White Witch - 6
4. Confused - 4
5. Sorcerers - 8
6. Gorgon - 6
7. Sweet Danger - 7
8. Free Man - 7
9. Angel of Death - 7
10. Devil's Tower - 8

Average: 6.80

Produced by Martin Smith.
Engineered by Mark Deanley, Ashley Howe, and John Gallen.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Movie Review: Wild Cherry (2009)


If there are any original ideas that can still be squeezed out of the high school sex comedy genre, they are likely to be found by independent films or not at all.

Wild Cherry, an independent coming-of-age production filmed, of all places, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, certainly has a go. Director Dana Lustig, working from a script by Chris Charney, pushes boundaries and finds scenes and lines of dialogue that register well on the originality scale.

In the final year of high school, the football team players use their legendary "Bang Book" to record sexual conquests, and assign themselves campus virgins to have sex with before the season is over. Helen (Tania Raymonde) is a virgin but serious about the team's kicker Stanford (Ryan Merriman). Helen's friends Chase (Rumer Willis) and Trish (Kristin Cavallari) are also virgins, and soon find themselves inexplicably courted by football players before they discover the secret of the Bang Book.

Taking a leaf from the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata, Helen, Chase and Trish decide to withhold sexual favours until after the football season is over, to teach the boys a lesson.

In framing the sexual mis-adventures within a context that allows for an examination of what sex among teenagers is about, Wild Cherry is already a few yards ahead of the typical fare. And if you want to look for it, the film also allows a discussion about the differences between boys and girls when it comes to early frolicking.

But Wild Cherry does not shy away from the raunchiness and humour, and manages to deliver some gems. In one sequence, Helen goes on a serious search for her first self-administered orgasm, using whatever she can find around the house. This is followed by no small amount of panic involving a salad that her Dad (Rob Schneider) is preparing.

Other good moments involve an over-use of erection pills; and football players trapped naked and blindfolded at the school swimming pool, then confronted by their coach outraged about them playing "hide the pickle". And Wild Cherry certainly pushes all boundaries related to new, widespread, and never-naturally-intended uses of semen.

Wild Cherry is helped along by engaging performances. The leading actresses do well, with Raymonde (from TV's Lost) and Willis (the daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis) demonstrating enough talent to move forward from this genre onto more serious roles. Heading in the other career direction, Tia Carrere has a small but memorable role, introducing the girls to a new form of "power".

It's no classic, but within the limitations of the genre, Wild Cherry is a good pick.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Sunday, 4 April 2010

Movie Review: The Godfather (1972)


The epic tale of a Mafia family in New York, spanning ten years from 1945 to 1955. The business is crime, the price of failure is death, and the violence is brutal and never far from the surface. This adaptation of Mario Puzo's book is at once haunting, beautiful, and unforgettable.

Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) is The Godfather, the New York-based head of one of five dominant Mafia families. He controls an empire with interests and influence in everything from gambling and prostitution to politicians and judges, as well as a sprawling family including sons Santino (James Caan), Michael (Al Pacino), and Fredo (John Cazale).

When they refuse to provide protection to the burgeoning narcotics business, the Corleone's are embroiled in a bloody tit-for-tat gangland war. The Don barely survives an assassination attempt, his hot-headed son Santino is spectacularly gunned-down, and the previously disengaged Michael dives headlong into the violent world of his family, personally gunning down a corrupt police chief and a rival criminal boss before fleeing to Sicily. When an uneasy peace is declared, Michael returns to New York, seeking both ultimate control and cold-blooded vengeance. Michael's rise to power from a disinterested and side-lined observer to the nexus of power is the key story arch.

As one of the greatest movies ever made, and at almost 3 hours in length, it is difficult to believe that The Godfather was the first major movie for both Francis Ford Coppolla and Al Pacino. Coppolla directs in a tableau style that turns almost every scene into a masterpiece of framing, texture and artistry, with the camera placement and movement just as interesting as the on-screen content. Every scene is given time to expand, evolve and add depth and complexion to events and characters.

One of the best cast of actors ever assembled delivers iconic performances. Pacino and Brando have the most interesting material to work with, with Brando as Don Corleone transitioning from a dominant all-powerful figure to a doddering grandfather, while Pacino is riveting as Michael is gradually transformed into a ruthless and power hungry mob leader. James Caan gets the showy role as Santino "Sonny" Corleone, excited by violence and quick to resort to it. Robert Duvall as the family's lawyer, Tom Hagen, embodies the overlap of business veneer and outright crime that defines everyday life for the Corleones.

The movie plays out against the classic music score of Nino Rota. The main theme is one of the all-time most recognized movie tunes, and by itself is capable of evoking the grandness of the Corleone's story.

The Godfather's contribution to both the history of movie-making and mainstream culture is hard to overestimate. The classic line "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse"; the inter-cutting of the church baptism scene with the violent assassinations ordered by Michael; the sympathetic portrayal of mobsters; Brando's menacing performance as Don Corleone; and the operatic assassination of Sonny have all had remarkable and long-lasting influence.

Deservedly considered an all-time classic, The Godfather is a stellar example of what the art of film can achieve when a great story meets inspired movie-making talent.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


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