Saturday, 31 July 2010

Movie Review: Transporter 3 (2008)

There is something to be said for delivering exactly what is expected. The Transporter series is all about breathless none-too-serious action sequences, and Transporter 3 delivers.

There is no shortage of one-on-many martial-arts-infused and exquisitely choreographed fights, and several car chases that start by straining the limits of physics and then veer in the direction labelled "wild".

At the middle of it all is Jason Statham as Frank Martin, the professional Transporter, this time in charge of delivering a package consisting of Valentina (Natalya Rudakova, interpreting the role as a grown-up Lolita). She is the daughter of Leonid Vasilev, an Eastern European government minister being threatened by an evil consortium intent on dumping environmentally toxic waste in his country.

Martin and Valentina must race across Europe under the threat of being blown to small pieces by wrist-mounted bombs if they stray too far from Martin's Audi, the car being easily the second most important cast member after Statham himself.

Luc Besson's script has enough of a plot to almost justify all the mayhem, and director Olivier Megaton not only has the coolest name of any action-movie director, but also directs with enough pizazz to blur out the large gaps in logic.

For example, ask not why the men hired by Vasilev to rescue his daughter instigate a murderous high-speed car chase during which they machine-gun the car she's in. The chase is too much fun to make sense, and ultimately, a large dose of enjoyable nonsense fun is what Transporter 3 delivers, wrapped in a hyper-polished package.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

F1: The World Champions

Updated October 2017.

The all-time winners of the F1 World Champion title, 1950 - 2016.

7 World Championships
Michael Schumacher (Germany)
1994 (Benetton), 1995 (Benetton), 2000 (Ferrari), 2001 (Ferrari), 2002 (Ferrari), 2003 (Ferrari), 2004 (Ferrari)

5 World Championships
Juan Manuel Fangio (Argentina)
1951 (Alfa Romeo), 1954 (Maserati / Mercedes), 1955 (Mercedes), 1956 (Ferrari), 1957 (Maserati)

4 World Championships
Alain Prost (France)
1985 (McLaren), 1986 (McLaren), 1989 (McLaren), 1993 (Williams)

4 World Championships
Sebastian Vettel (Germany)
2010 (Red Bull), 2011 (Red Bull), 2012 (Red Bull), 2013 (Red Bull)

4 World Championships
Lewis Hamilton (England)
2008 (McLaren), 2014 (Mercedes), 2015 (Mercedes), 2017 (Mercedes)

3 World Championships
Jack Brabham (Australia)
1959 (Cooper), 1960 (Cooper), 1966 (Brabham)

3 World Championships
Jackie Stewart (Scotland)
1969 (Matra), 1971 (Tyrrell), 1973 (Tyrrell)

3 World Championships
Niki Lauda (Austria)
1975 (Ferrari), 1977 (Ferrari), 1984 (McLaren)

3 World Championships
Nelson Piquet (Brazil)
1981 (Brabham), 1983 (Brabham), 1987 (Williams)

3 World Championships
Ayrton Senna (Brazil)
1988 (McLaren), 1990 (McLaren), 1991 (McLaren)

2 World Championships
Alberto Ascari (Italy)
1952 (Ferrari), 1953 (Ferrari)

2 World Championships
Jim Clark (Scotland)
1963 (Lotus), 1965 (Lotus)

2 World Championships
Graham Hill (England)
1962 (BRM), 1968 (Lotus)

2 World Championships
Emerson Fittipaldi (Brazil)
1972 (Lotus), 1974 (McLaren)

2 World Championships
Mika Hakkinen (Finland)
1998 (McLaren), 1999 (McLaren)

2 World Championships
Fernando Alonso (Spain)
2005 (Renault), 2006 (Renault)

1 World Championship
Nino Farina (Italy)
1950 (Alfa Romeo)

1 World Championship
Mike Hawthorne (England)
1958 (Ferrari)

1 World Championship
Phil Hill (USA)
1961 (Ferrari)

1 World Championship
John Surtees (England)
1964 (Ferrari)

1 World Championship
Denny Hulme (New Zealand)
1967 (Brabham)

1 World Championship
Jochen Rindt (Austria)
1970 (Lotus)

1 World Championship
James Hunt (England)
1976 (McLaren)

1 World Championship
Mario Andretti (USA)
1978 (Lotus)

1 World Championship
Jody Scheckter (South Africa) 1979 (Ferrari)

1 World Championship
Alan Jones (Australia)
1980 (Williams)

1 World Championship
Keke Rosberg (Finland) 1982 (Williams)

1 World Championship
Nigel Mansell (England)
1992 (Williams)

1 World Championship
Damon Hill (England) 1996 (Williams)

1 World Championship
Jacques Villeneuve (Canada)
1997 (Williams)

1 World Championship
Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)
2007 (Ferrari)

1 World Championship
Jenson Button (England) 2009 (Brawn)

1 World Championship
Nico Rosberg (Germany)
2016 (Mercedes)

Movie Review: Fanboys (2009)

In 1998, a group of friends from Ohio decide to travel across the country to California, to infiltrate Skywalker Ranch and steal an advance copy of Star Wars - Episode I, The Phantom Menace.

An interesting enough premise with a few good moments is only half-heartedly developed. Several ideas are seemingly haphazardly floated and left hanging: there are unexplained fractured friendship side-stories; a terminal sickness that gets really slipshod treatment; and a stunted-growth-of-Star-Wars-fans theme that never goes anywhere.

Instead Fanboys presents unnecessarily elongated Star Wars versus Star Trek juvenile antics, a police car chase scene and a rough-biker bar scene that both seem to be included out of someone's idea of necessity; and a break-and-enter at Skywalker Ranch that can never find the proper balance between action and laughs, although the recreation of the garbage compactor scene from Episode IV is the best moment in the film. In general, most of the jokes and attempts at humour in Fanboys are rudimentary at best.

Director Kyle Newman offers little flair to the proceedings. The Grade B- cast struggle against the limp material generally to no avail. Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler and Jay Baruchel will hope that Fanboys does not represent any sort of career highlight. Kristen Bell is sadly underused and deserves better future opportunities. There are dozens of cameos by actors with connections to the Star Wars universe, doubtless to keep fans of the franchise occupied as the general tedium unfolds.

Fanboys has good intentions; unfortunately, the Force was not strong with this one.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Anamorph (2007)

Semi-retired detective Stan Aubray (Willem Dafoe) is pushed back into service to solve a series of gruesome murders. The killings resemble the handiwork of a previous murderer that Aubray tracked and eliminated five years previously. Is it a case of copycat killings, or was the first case never properly solved?

A dense, dark and grim independent movie, Anamorph is interesting in patches but never too successful. The movie trumpets its set-piece murder-as-art scenes too loudly, and in-between, the attempts to get into the head of detective Aubray lead nowhere. We are left with slow and ponderous stretches that link one macabre display of body parts to another.

It should be an elemental rule of good mystery film-making that at some reasonable point, the person behind the killings should be introduced to the audience to create a character worth loathing or understanding. Anamorph skips this part, and we are left with a mostly faceless murderer with a bizarre but unexplained penchant for the artistic display of recently chopped up body parts.

Director Henry S. Miller goes for a bleak and foreboding mood and mostly achieves it. He is helped by Defoe, who does convince us that he is psychologically tortured. Both are let down by a script (Miller working with Tom Phelan) that stalls and offers little in the way of innovation beyond the creative display of murder victims.

It's one thing to entertain audiences with a busy canvass of murder; it would have been much more interesting for Anamorph to also delve into the psyche of the artist creating the mayhem.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Movie Review: Death Wish V: The Face Of Death (1994)

If he had a wish other than a death wish, Charles Bronson probably wished that, at 73 years old, he wouldn't be reprising the role of urban vigilante Paul Kersey for the fifth time. Twenty years after first creating the role in 1974, Bronson, in his final screen role, is back to clean up New York one last time.

This time Kersey take on an old-fashioned gang of Irish goons involved in money laundering and protection rackets. The gang leader Tommy O'Shea (Michael Parks, acting as though he's not sure how seriously to take this role) is the ex-husband of Kersey's new love interest, fashion designer Olivia Regent (Lesley-Anne Downe, finally finding the bottom of her career trajectory).

The fashion design angle is what was likely considered an innovative excuse to show Grade C models in various stage of backstage undress. Other than a high body count, the latter Death Wish movies also needed a high nipple count as essential plot elements. There is also a clothing factory where all sorts of dangerous machinery is left running and unattended in the middle of the night: bad business practice, but good to facilitate random torture scenes and innovative methods of murder.

Olivia Regent has clearly never watched any of the other four Death Wish movies, otherwise she would know that anyone getting close to Kersey ends up first mutilated and then very dead. Once that particular necessary piece of business is taken care of by O'Shea's gang, Kersey's latest killing spree is triggered, and he single-handedly eliminates, cleans-up, and mops after the bad guys. It's not clear what is more uncomfortable: watching a 73 year old Bronson trying his hand at romance; or the 73 year old Bronson initiating and enjoying a gory bloodfest.

All actors who ended up in this movie probably realized with certainty that they had a promising career very much behind them. Say hello to Robert Joy (Atlantic City and Ragtime) and Saul Rubinek (Wall Street and Unforgiven).

The film is produced by one of the kings of bad 1980's movies, Menahem Golan, and directed by Allan A. Goldstein, who is faithful to the lack of any talent that preceded him in the series. Death Wish V seems curiously stuck in a couple of wrong decades at once. The film desperately tries to recreate the New York of the 1970's; while the fashion and hairstyles seem to be left-overs from the 1980's. This all serves to emphasize what a pathetic effort this is, and what a dismal ending to Bronson's career.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Book Review: Against All Enemies, by Richard A. Clarke (2004)

For 10 years, Richard Clarke was the main counter-terrorism expert and Presidential adviser at the White House. Serving both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Clarke was the among the first to spot and identify the rising terrorist threat from fundamentalist Islam. He pushed counter-terrorism towards the top of Bill Clinton's agenda, but could get no traction with the new Bush administration. Although under his watch the US did achieve a few counter-terrorism successes, despite his best efforts Clarke could not convince Clinton to deliver the required critical pre-emptive strike against Al-Qaeda, and Clarke did not even come close to getting Bush's attention on the whole issue of terrorism.

It is therefore sad and ironic that Clarke found himself at the White House on the morning of September 11, 2001, vainly trying to coordinate the national response to the unfolding Al-Qaeda attacks, while fully expecting the next airplane to strike the White House itself. The opening chapter of the book, which replays that fateful day from inside the White House, is nothing short of gripping.

Clarke then watched with a combination of disgust and horror as the Bush team quickly turned its attention to an ideologically-driven invasion of Iraq, which played right into the hands of the extremists.

Against All Enemies is not without its faults. Clarke does tend to emphasize the strategic blunders of others while portraying himself as almost faultless. The book also provides a relatively limited examination of the origins of Islamic fundamentalism, making it appear as though the movement started in the Reagan era, and ignoring the much deeper origins from earlier in the 20th Century.

Setting those quibbles aside, Against All Enemies is an eye-opening account of how the White House dealt with terrorism for more than a decade. Clarke does an excellent job of revealing the continuous tension, conflict and turf wars between the White House, the FBI, the CIA and the Pentagon as the threat from Islamic extremists against the US took shape. He also takes aim at the career-first mentality that hindered decisive action; and does not shy from describing how the personal failures of the Presidents impaired their ability to act.

Clinton getting embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal was certainly an unwelcome distraction. Bush's limited understanding of the world ill-equipped him to counter the wild-eyed conservative agenda pushed by his Vice President and closest advisers. But Clarke leaves no doubt that for all his faults, Clinton was by far the more impressive President, demonstrating a quick grasp of the issues and a nimble, endlessly curious mind.

In the latter part of the book, Clarke unleashes a devastatingly bare-knuckled assault on Bush's decision to invade Iraq. History has so far proven Clarke's assessment to be accurate, and Against All Enemies provides a succinct summary of why by invading Iraq, Bush may have led America into one of its most counterproductive military misadventures in its history.

Clarke's writing is blunt, entertaining and sometimes quite humorous, making Against All Enemies both a unique peek into the White House and an enjoyable read.

Subtitled "Inside America's War On Terror".
Published in hardcover by Free Press.
291 pages plus Index.

The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

Movie Review: The Uninvited (2009)

In a genre that rarely offers anything new, this adaptation of a South Korean film is refreshing. The Uninvited is successful at blending an attractive mix of psychological-driven suspense with some sprinklings of horror

Anna (Emily Browning), a young teenager, leaves the psyche ward and returns home 10 months after suffering a trauma due to a fire that killed her sick mother. She finds her Dad in a relationship with her dead mom's nurse Rachel (Elizabeth Banks). Anna and her older sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) soon start to suspect that Rachel is a lot more sinister than she seems.

The Uninvited is helped by eminently watchable performances from Browning, Kebbel and Banks. All three are successful at portraying multi-dimensional women who are hiding something just slightly evil, either intentionally or not. Browning as the young teen struggling with her return home has the toughest assignment, and pulls it off. Particularly successful are scenes where her Anna comes face to face with pure evil: Anna demonstrates a combination of terror and courage that triumphantly avoids most cliches of the genre.

The Guard Brothers direct with an energetic sense of rhythm, keeping the tension steady while alternating between scenes of all-out horror and scenes of psychological suspense. And for the most part they keep the plot twists properly concealed.

In the mostly recycled world of horror movies, The Uninvited proves to be a most welcome guest.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Movie Review: The Strangers (2008)

For a horror movie to work, adhering to certain principles can be helpful. The murder and mayhem can be quick and sudden, to create the "who, when and where next" slasher-type tension; or it can be excruciatingly drawn out, in which case the audience expects some delving into the reasons why the killers are taking their sweet time to get the job done.

Halfway through The Strangers, it becomes apparent that the movie is trying to get away with extending the prelude to murder for the entire length of the movie, with no intellectual pay-off. The three masked killers remain faceless, voiceless, and lacking in motive, in which case the only reason to prolong the killing is to toy with the moviegoers.

The film is simply not good enough for that. Essentially a series of cliched "what's that sound in this spooky isolated house" scenes, The Strangers bumps along offering very little that is new, as Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman attempt to fend off three masked intruders who seem capable of finishing their murderous handiwork at any instant, but are waiting for about 90 minutes to pass so that the union guys can get paid.

Liv Tyler goes through the movie wondering if she really gave up a modeling career for nonsense like this. Scott Speedman appears to be wondering when he can cash his cheque and move on to the next movie in his non-career. Bryan Bertino, directing from his script, first connects the dense dots and then paints by numbers to ensure that no old idea is left unrecycled.

The final proof of innovative bankruptcy arrives with yet another horror movie dead body coming suddenly and inexplicably alive in the last scene before fade-out. Guys, this was old in the 1980's.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Book Review: Drinking The Sea At Gaza, by Amira Hass (1996)

Israeli journalist Amira Hass lived openly within the Palestinian community in Israeli-occupied Gaza in the early to mid 1990's. This was the post-Palestinian Intifada period, and also the period when the Oslo Accord was signed and a form of Palestinian autonomy was introduced in Gaza and the West Bank.

Drinking The Sea At Gaza is both unflinching and eye-opening. Hass presents a unique look at a society of more than a million people under siege. While accomplishing that most rare of achievements in humanizing the people of Gaza, she systemically explores, and in great depth, issues related to the day-to-day functioning of their society. She investigates the chasm between Gaza's original residents and the refugees, and delves into Gaza's economy, health care, education and politics.

Backed by extensive research and a large amount of socio-economic data measured by international organizations, Hass describes the living conditions created by Israel in Gaza as less than humane.

She is scathing in her criticism of Israel's policies, particularly the restrictions on movement through ever more frequent and longer closures of Gaza. Hass draws a straight line between Israel's treatment of Gaza's citizens and their ever increasing extremism.

She is equally blunt in her criticism of the Palestinian Authority, which took administrative control of Gaza after the Oslo Accord. The PA, under Yasser Arafat's incompetent leadership, succeeded in immediately squandering years of goodwill through corruption, mismanagement, and cronyism. The citizens of Gaza found themselves having to deal with a corrupt PA whose strings were still pulled by Israel. It's no wonder the Oslo Accord was effectively stillborn.

While Drinking The Sea At Gaza is a haunting book, it does have its share of faults. The early chapter dealing with the political origins of the Intifada is mind-numbing and ultimately aimless. And in particular, Hass is never satisfied with two examples when twenty would do. She continues to press home her points long after they are well made, to the detriment of readability and flow.

But this remains a book of remarkable importance and perception. Years after the book's publication, the level of frustration among Gaza's citizens with both Israel's brutality and the Palestinian Authority's incompetence and corruption resulted in the election of the extremist Hamas Party into power. This predictably prompted Israel's full economic choking of Gaza, compounding the misery of Gaza's residents.

Drinking The Sea At Gaza is to be commended for both presenting in human terms the facts as they were at the time of writing, and starkly explaining the painful reasons for worse events that were yet to unfold.

Subtitled "Days And Nights In a Land Under Siege".
Translated by Elana Wesley and Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta.
English version published in 1999.
Published in hardcover (1999) by Metropolitan Books.
352 pages plus Notes and Index.

The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is

Movie Review: Dial M For Murder (1954)

In London, a husband (Ray Milland) plots the perfect murder to get rid of his rich but cheating wife (Grace Kelly). But while the plan seemed perfect, in practice the plot unravels with unintended consequences. A police investigator and the woman's lover are soon trying to untangle a mess of a plot gone wrong.

Alfred Hitchcock's film adaptation of Frederick Knott's stage play is both sure-footed and clever. Hitchcock does not try to spin the plot too far away from its stage roots. He allows the strength of the story, the sharp dialogue and his confident cast to deliver a simple yet gripping film.

Ray Milland as the has-been tennis star husband is effectively slimy and sinister as he conjures up two plots against his wife: the first plot he planned for years; the second he has to develop in minutes as all his initial plans go astray. Grace Kelly does well as the seemingly innocent wife-with-a-lover who is suddenly confronted with death twice over. And John Williams is most watchable as Chief Inspector Hubbard, who uses his wits and old-fashioned detective work to piece together a plot involving a planned murder, an unintended victim, apparent blackmail, and infidelity.

Hitchcock does not waste a minute of screen time on any scenes unnecessary to move the plot forward, and adds to the suspense with ever-interesting camera angles that ratchet up the tension without ever getting obtrusive.

Dial M For Murder proves that with the right talent on both sides of the camera, great movies can be delivered in surprisingly compact packages.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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