Monday, 31 October 2011

CD Review: Long Live Rock 'N' Roll, by Rainbow (1978)

Rainbow's third studio album, and last with Ronnie James Dio on vocals, adds three classic tracks to the band's repertoire. Unfortunately, the other five selections on Long Live Rock 'N' Roll are just barely above throwaway level.

Yes, title track and album opener Long Live Rock 'N' Roll is as anthemic as metal gets, but if anthems need to exist, they may as well be this good. Ritchie Blackmore and Dio quickly get down to business, Blackmore busy with a riff invented for fist-pumping that breaks into a trademark solo, Dio leading the masses with the necessary vigour.

Gates Of Babylon is a journey to the east, a rich source of inspiration for both Blackmore and Dio. Rainbow take us to the narrow and convoluted souks with black market traders behind every rickety stall, Blackmore's guitar penetrating the thick smoke with plenty of understated soul. Kill The King is both faster and more traditional power metal, Cozy Powell getting a turn to share some prominence before Blackmore lets loose with the most energetic solo on the album, a manic fingers-are-a-blur effort that finally gives way to David Stone's keyboards.

Of the other five tracks, the romantic Rainbow Eyes may win the award for the slowest track ever included on a metal album, Dio's hushed delivery almost succeeding in making time move backwards.

With Blackmore continuing to chop and change the line up, this was Stone's only recording with Rainbow, replacing the fired Tony Carey. Blackmore also fired bassist Jimmy Bain, but had a more difficult time replacing him, ultimately playing bass himself on most of the album prior to Bob Daisley coming on-board.

Dio would leave after Long Live Rock 'N' Roll as Blackmore decided to pursue a more commercial direction, ending the band's most metallic years. The Blackmore / Dio partnership may have never reached the end of the Rainbow, but they created some terrific music along the way.


Ritchie Blackmore - Guitar, Bass
Ronnie James Dio - Vocals
Cozy Powell - Drums
Bob Daisley - Bass
David Stone - Keyboards

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Long Live Rock 'N' Roll - 9
2. Lady Of The Lake - 7
3. L.A. Connection - 6
4. Gates Of Babylon - 9
5. Kill The King - 9
6. The Shed (Subtle) - 7
7. Sensitive To Light - 6
8. Rainbow Eyes - 7

Average: 7.50

Produced by Martin Birch.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Movie Review: Ghost Ship (2002)

A horror movie that mixes gore with suspense, Ghost Ship cannot fully overcome an identity crisis. There is reasonable talent in the cast and kernels of intriguing ideas in the script, but too much time is wasted decapitating bodies and skulking around dark corners rather than exploring the ghost themes and developing the creepy psychological elements.

In 1962, passengers enjoying lavish entertainment on board the Italian luxury liner Antonia Graza suffer a horrible fate: a taut thin wire chord is unleashed like a blade, slicing through bodies and heads, causing mass death by dismemberment. Katie (Emily Browning), a young girl travelling alone, survives the carnage.

Forty years pass. Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) is the captain of the Anchorage-based salvage tugboat Arctic Warrior and her scrappy crew, including Epps (Julianna Margulies) and Greer (Isaiah Washington). They are approached by Jack (Desmond Harrington), a small plane pilot who has spotted a large vessel floating aimlessly in the Bering Sea. Jack joins the Arctic Warrior crew and they soon intercept the mystery ship, which turns out to be the Antonia Graza. When the salvagers board the abandoned ship, it does not take long for eerie things to start happening. 

With Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver among the co-producers, Ghost Ship had some Hollywood heavyweights behind it. But the push towards greater commercial potential appears to have also resulted in a significant shift away from the more subtle psychological suspense journey initially planned and towards a more shocks-and-blood narrative, with the final product falling into the cracks between two sub-genres.

The better moments are undoubtedly the calm but chilling encounters between the salvage team members and the on-board ghosts. The scenes between Epps and Katie; Murphy and the Italian captain; and Greer and the sultry lounge singer are gratifying ghost encounters tapping into fragile human psychology. Epps has no family of her own and Katie is a metaphorical daughter. Murphy's career is stalled at the tugboat level, with alcohol issues a likely cause; he gets to share a drink with the captain of a bygone era's grand luxury liner. And Greer is about to get married: the passion he feels for the seductive singer is the farewell to his old life.

Despite some good visual moments delivered by director Steve Beck and the best effort of Margulies and Byrne, Ghost Ship is hampered by significant levels of triteness. There are gruesome deaths aplenty, grotesquely deformed bodies hidden behind closed doors, and endless stock scenes of search lights peering into dark shadows within the bowels of the massive ship.

Ghost Ship eventually sails away quietly, leaving faint memories of what could have been a good movie.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

CD Review: Roots, by Sepultura (1996)

Sepultura embark on an ambitious journey to mix metal with tribal sounds, and the idea proves to be much more interesting than the execution. Roots enjoys a couple of good moments, but is otherwise a self-indulgent effort, with the music lost in an impenetrable and overgrown morass.

Album opener Roots Bloody Roots holds so much promise. A hard driving, overpowered four-wheel drive smashing through tiny trails, Roots Bloody Roots does fulfil the promise of metal going tribal, with an enormous visceral punch. It's only downside is the shortish length, the track checking out after just 3:30.

Had Sepultura been able to build the album along the same lines of Roots Bloody Roots, a spectacular classic could have emerged. Unfortunately, only a couple of other tracks come even close. Ratamahatta bolts together energetic jungle drums with a dangerous Andreas Kisser riff, Igor Cavalera building a monstrous beat around the enormous fire. And Endangered Species takes an elemental structure and puts enough metal around it to create a shine.

Max Cavalera's vocals are filled with large doses of hate and anger, and the down-tuned guitars are suitably primitive. But Roots too often defaults to the uninspired repetition of simplistic chords and beats, emanating from the unexplored darkness and staying there. There are many interesting sounds for an Amazonian documentary soundtrack, but as metal music, the album fails to generate enthusiasm.

Roots ends with an untitled 16th track, more than 13 minutes of directionless percussion from deep in the wilderness. Sepultura take metal into the jungle, but forget to come back out.


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

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Roots Bloody Roots - 10
2. Attitude - 7
3. Cut-Throat - 7
4. Ratamahatta - 9
5. Breed Apart - 7
6. Straighthate - 7
7. Spit - 7
8. Lookaway - 6
9. Dusted - 6
10. Born Stubborn - 7
11. Jasco - n/a (short instrumental)
12. Itsari - 7
13. Ambush - 7
14. Endangered Species - 8
15. Dictatorshit - 6
16. (untitled) - 6

Average: 7.13

Produced by Ross Robinson. Mixed by Andy Wallace. Engineered by Chuck Johnson.
Mastered by George Marino.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

CD Review: Dead Heart In A Dead World, by Nevermore (2000)

The fourth studio album in the career of Seattle's Nevermore is a heavy duty selection of battle hardened progressive power metal. While Dead Heart In A Dead World does not attempt epic tracks, it also avoids bloat and vagaries, and instead achieves an admirably uniform high quality.

The band has rarely sounded better. Jeff Loomis puts his guitar at the service of the music, still unleashing the solos but in a more complementary rather than dominating spirit. And Dead Heart In A Dead World likely features Warrel Dane's most interesting vocals on a Nevermore album, mixing up his tone, strength, and register to maintain a strong level of engagement.

Nacrosynthesis opens the album with Van Williams and Loomis combining to create an incessant and frenzied heavy machine gun assault, Dane demonstrating a welcome versatility in vocal delivery. There are no better tracks on the CD, but The Heart Collector also shines: a much slower pace allows Loomis to stretch with more soul, and Dane to pack the sad lyrics with defiant emotion.

The strength of Dead Heart In A Dead World is the album's consistency. On tracks like We Disintegrate and Inside Four Walls Nevermore maintain a sharp focus, the melodies crisply defined, the energy level high and the delivery sharp. The more thoughtful selections including Evolution 169 and Believe In Nothing trade speed for power that remains concentrated in the service of metal. And the gutsy decision to cover Simon and Garfunkel's The Sound Of Silence pays off with a metallic salute to a classic folk song.

Nevermore clearly forgot to take their happy pills when they found the title to Dead Heart In A Dead World, but although the lyrics may be depressed, the musical product is excellent.


Van Williams - Drums
Jim Sheppard - Bass
Warrel Dane - Vocals
Jeff Loomis - Guitars

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Narcosynthesis - 10
2. We Disintegrate - 8
3. Inside Four Walls - 8
4. Evolution 169 - 8
5. The River Dragon Has Come - 7
6. The Heart Collector - 9
7. Engines Of Hate - 7
8. The Sound Of Silence - 8
9. Insignificant - 7
10. Believe In Nothing - 8
11. Dead Heart In A Dead World - 7

Average: 7.91

Produced, Engineered, Mixed, and Mastered by Andy Sneap.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Movie Review: The Last Days Of Disco (1998)

A confused look back at the New York club scene in the dying days of disco music, The Last Days Of Disco is an attempt at glossy art that is patchy at best, inhabited by self-indulgent characters keen to demonstrate a faux intellectualism while partying and snorting themselves to waste.

The thin story line centres around Alice (Chloe Sevigny) and Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale), two lowly book readers trying to get a promotion to Associate Editors at a New York publishing house. Alice and Charlotte are not exactly friends, and in fact Charlotte dominates an asymmetrical relationship, but they move into an apartment together. They have fun by regularly going to a disco and hanging out with colleagues and friends from college days.

The men in the movie are plenty, and with quantity comprehensively trumping quality they are utterly lacking in presence and charisma. Des is a womanizer with a healthy drug habit who pretends to be gay when he wants to dump girlfriends. Jimmy is in marketing and is not welcome at the club but always anyway finds a way to gain entry. Tom is a lawyer who has a one night stand with Alice and infects her with sexually transmitted diseases (plural). Josh is with the District Attorney's office, a manic depressive on assignment with a unit investigating tax evasion at the club. Dan is a co-worker with Alice and Charlotte, critical of their lifestyle but nevertheless spending an unhealthy amount of time with them. Bernie is the uncompromising owner of the club. Van works at the club mostly doing Bernie's dirty work. None of them establish any momentum as characters that we could care less about.

Writer and director Whit Stillman is celebrated in some circles, but the The Last Days Of Disco is as interesting as watching a disco ball. Captivating for a few minutes, the experience quickly becomes repetitive, rotational and yes, childish. All that needs to be said about the film's attempt at appearing cerebral is that one of the main conversations centres around the motivations of the characters in Disney's Lady And The Tramp. The Last Days Of Disco is the worst kind of vapid: boredom that is not self-aware.

The film is full of supposedly educated male characters obsessed with entering the right clubs, engaging in tax evasion, snorting coke and passing on sexually transmitted diseases. Yes, the disco era may have been all about that for those sucked into the lifestyle, but The Last Days Of Disco's attempt to cloak the culture with wordy discourse is either failed irony or just a plain fail. It's better, if more painful, to face the facts that chasing the good times on the disco floor on a nightly basis and snorting white powder were somewhat incompatible with the basic intelligence required to achieve success.

Despite the poor material, the two female leads shine, and along with the soundtrack of non-stop disco standards almost succeed in making the movie watchable. Chloe Sevigny acts with head tilts, eye angles and a sceptical mouth; her Alice is unconventionally attractive as an insecure wannabe book editor, easily influenced by her friends. Kate Beckinsale as Charlotte is more familiar and more bewitching as a self-confident, overbearing source of unsolicited advice delivered with utter coquettishness, quick to victimize Alice with a pile of amateur psychoanalysis designed to trample Alice's self-esteem and inflate Charlotte's insatiable ego. The relationship between Alice and Charlotte never seems real, but is nevertheless fascinating to watch as pure theatre.

The clothes, haircuts and volume of noise in the The Last Days Of Disco all seem suspiciously understated. The characters' appearances seem ironically stuck in the corporate world of the late 1990s, when the film was made, rather than the very early 1980s club scene. The conversations in the clubs take place in relaxed tones: in reality, no club worth the name played music at any volume except deafening, requiring conversations to be either shouted at close range or otherwise abandoned out of sheer exasperation.

The Last Days Of Disco ultimately achieves it's objective, although unintentionally: it is as lost as the culture it depicts.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: When Harry Met Sally...(1989)

A delightful romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally... established the new standard for the genre. Warm-hearted, funny and quirky, the film's two main star-crossed protagonists grow ever more likeable as they tentatively take their multi-year journey towards a cupid-defined destiny.

It's 1977. New graduates Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) share an 18 hour drive from the University of Chicago to New York, where they are both starting their careers, Harry as a lawyer and Sally in journalism. Prior to the drive they don't know each other, but during the journey they become sure that they don't like each other: Harry is an arrogant, fast-talking pessimist who is sure that he has the world already figured out. Sally is detail-oriented and a bit uppity. They argue about everything, including whether a man and woman can be just friends. Harry does not believe it to be possible: the sex part always gets in the way. Sally convinces herself that Harry is a creep because he seems to be coming onto her despite already having a girlfriend. They arrive in New York and coldly part ways.

Five years later, they accidentally meet again during a flight. Harry is mellowing a bit, now engaged to Helen, but still a motor-mouth with all the answers. Sally is in the throes of a deepening relationship with Joe, and optimistically love-struck. Although more civilized, they again part ways as soon as the flight lands.

Five years further on, they meet again at a New York bookstore. Both relationships have ruptured badly. Harry is heartbroken by the breakup of his marriage to Helen, while Sally is trying to hold herself together despite Joe leaving her because he did not want to start a family and she did. Gradually, Harry and Sally become best friends, sharing all the details, joys, and sorrows of their lives, supporting each other and developing a deep bond of dependence and affection while continuing to date other people. Sally's best friend Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Harry's best friend Jess (Bruno Kirby) also end up in a relationship together.

Sally is devastated when she hears that Joe is getting married and starting a family with a younger woman. When Harry comes to her apartment to comfort her, they end up making love, shattering the basis of their friendship. Harry and Sally have to decide whether or not to pick up the pieces and turn the wreckage of a friendship into the green roots of a romance.

The success of When Harry Met Sally... is based on a Nora Ephron script that works diligently to create two fully-rounded characters. The mannerisms, reactions, and emotions of Harry and Sally are established early on when they are brash graduates, and gradually evolve, soften and mature as life gently but surely scrubs away the edges. Director Rob Reiner guides the romance with a gentle hand, delicately adding New York City garnishings to create a perfect but understated feast.

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan were both catapulted into deserved stardom for their performances. Crystal had earlier made an impression in The Princess Bride and Throw Momma From The Train (both also directed by Reiner), but his performance as Harry elevated him into a leading star as a sensitive comic talent. Harry's journey is the more pronounced, including a detour into a long friendship that threatens to disprove his theory about friendships between men and women, but he then has to endure a lot of pain and no pleasure when the inevitable intervention of "the sex part" indeed proves his initial belief to be true.

Meg Ryan was designated as America's sweetheart and leading romantic lady after her performance as Sally. Defiant yet vulnerable, argumentative yet appealing, and attractive yet down to earth, Sally is most memorable for being so real: she captures, with just a dash of comic exaggeration, deeply human traits found in most women. And her impressive fake public orgasm in a New York deli immediately entered the hall of fame of classic movie scenes.

The central theme of the film is the nature of friendship between men and women, and the movie's warmest moments portray Harry and Sally as friends. There is a magical emotional depth to the scenes portraying the couple becoming platonic soul mates, and the film provides a complex answer to its core conundrum: yes, a strong bond of friendship may be formed between a man and a woman, but perhaps such a deep connection is really a pilot light for a flame waiting to be lit.

It takes them a long time, but not only do Harry and Sally finally realize that they are meant for each other, they also join the distinguished ranks of most memorable movie characters.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Movie Review: Heartbreak Ridge (1986)

A character study movie requires a multi-faceted personality with subtleties of behaviour and perhaps some hidden secrets that can be probed for a couple of hours. Heartbreak Ridge focuses on Thomas Highway, an old-school Gunnery Sergeant with the Marine Corps who is as old fashioned and utterly predictable as they come. Highway would be the secondary role in most other war movies; building a story entirely around him is the equivalent of eating the icing in the absence of a cake.

Although he is an entertaining character, everything we need to know about Highway (Clint Eastwood, who also directs) we find out in the first 10 minutes. Battle hardened, frequently drunk, divorced, believes in the traditional military values, does not suffer fools, an expert in hand-to-hand combat, and quick with the one-liners, mostly to do with the hurt that he will lay on the next person to sneer in his face.

The problem is that the film has another two hours to kill, and spends the time entrenched in cliché land as Highway trains a group of misfits in a recon unit, with scenes alternating between poorly conceived comedy, macho fist fights to excite the young adolescents, and utter disrespect for the military. By the time the film completes it's depiction of the 1983 United States invasion of the tiny island of Grenada (population: 100,000), a war as unnecessary as this movie, the snarly line of dialogue about "ripping your head off and crapping down the hole" in all its variants has been repeated about a dozen times. Or so it feels.

Despite the character offering nothing new, Clint Eastwood is the only thing worth watching in Heartbreak Ridge, and he makes a valiant attempt to save the movie, his "Gunny" Highway hard as nails, spitting bullets, and unleashing equal torrents of hatred at his untested superiors and his slacker subordinates. There are a few clever moments, such as Highway's obsession with reading women's magazines to improve his soft side, and the film gains a few points for recreating the true story of American soldiers pinned by enemy fire during the Grenada invasion using a credit card to call collect for fire support.

Unfortunately the supporting roles are poorly developed, Marsha Mason suffering the most as Highway's ex-wife, with the script never bothering to reveal what she ever saw in the man nor shedding any light as to why she would ever consider going back to him. Mario Van Peebles is a laughably unreal wannabe guitar rock star Marine, and Everett McGill as Highway's commanding officer and chief nemesis is as stiff as a target board at the far end of the firing range.

In Clint Eastwood's stellar career as both actor and director, Heartbreak Ridge is a boorish misfire.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Movie Review: Cold Mountain (2003)

A sprawling epic of the Civil War, Cold Mountain is an old-fashioned grand romance set against the backdrop of a brutal war, with classic themes of hope, survival, and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit against barbarous adversity.

Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland) and his daughter Ada (Nicole Kidman) relocate from the deep South to the small town of Cold Mountain, North Carolina, where the crisp air is healthier for the Reverend's ailing health. Ada is immediately attracted to the quiet and awkward but resourceful outdoorsman W.P. Inman (Jude Law), and although few words pass between them, there is an undeniably mutual attraction. The Civil War breaks out; Inman joins the Confederate Army, along with most of Cold Mountain's men. For the next several years, Ada's life becomes one long patient wait for Inman to come back to her. She writes a stream of  letters, hears little in return, and lives on nothing but hope and the memory fragments from the few moments they shared prior to the war.

Inman's journey home rivals the Odyssey. He is blown up by Union troops outside Petersburg before surviving a meat grinder of a close-quarters battle, only to be shot in the neck in a subsequent skirmish. Nursed back to health, he defects the Confederate Army before encountering the lascivious Reverend Veasey (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Inman is eventually captured as a defector, but another skirmish with Union soldiers leaves him wounded, abandoned and chained to a gang of dead men. He is rescued again and healed by a recluse living deep in the woods. Inman next encounters the young widow Sara (Natalie Portman) and her young infant, and helps her to fend off marauding and starving Union troops before continuing his long walk home.

Meanwhile, Ada is holding on to the forlorn hope that Inman will one day return to her, and struggling to survive on her own after her father dies. Knowing nothing about running a farm, least of all how to stay alive in the harsh Cold Mountain winters, Ada is near starvation when the spirited and resourceful Ruby (Rene Zellweger) arrives at her doorstep, and the two gradually become a formidable team, surviving and thriving against the elements. The biggest threat to their well-being emerges in the form of the self-appointed Confederate home guard, under the leadership of the power-drunk Teague (Ray Winstone), who sees the Civil War as his opportunity to reclaim his family's long-lost land holdings in Cold Mountain.

Nicole Kidman manages to glow like a Hollywood star even when close to starvation, her performance adequate without being memorable. Kidman is more comfortable in the scenes when she is taking charge or falling in love, and a lot less believable as a struggling woman depending on the charity of others to survive. Jude Law, having just survived another blood-flows-in-the-streets battle in Enemy At The Gates finds himself back up to his knees in gore, and his performance is all about the determination to survive in the name of love, fending off the grim reamer countless times in his quest to fulfil his destiny with Ada.

More interesting than the two leads are two supporting actresses. Renee Zellweger won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her feisty Ruby, a bundle of positive energy that still makes plenty of room for seething anger at her father's neglect. Even more engaging is Natalie Portman, her brief 15 minutes on the screen as Sara leaving a lasting impression. Her pleading with Inman for platonic comfort in her bed is the most searing metaphorical scream of horror that the movie offers against the devastation caused by war.

The supporting cast is deep in talent, and in addition to the sage Donald Sutherland and lustful Philip Seymour Hoffman, the likes of Kathy Baker and Giovanni Ribisi provide continued texture.

Director Anthony Minghella and cinematographer John Seale mix lavish shots of surreal natural beauty in all seasons with horrific scenes of war, and Minghella keeps the drama surprisingly nimble despite the complete lack of any humour or relief from the overwhelming sense of doom surrounding both Ada and Inman.

Cold Mountain never shies away from portraying the harsh natural and man-made challenges that stand in the way of happiness, but it also never veers from the journey to ultimately find the warmth that emanates from the well-meaning human spirit.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

All Insomnium CD Reviews

All Ace Black Blog Reviews of Insomnium CDs are linked below:

In The Halls Of Awaiting (2002): 7.90
Since The Day It All Came Down (2004): 7.64
Above The Weeping World (2006): 8.11
Across The Dark (2009): 7.75

Average (all reviewed Insomnium CDs): 7.85

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

All Helloween CD Reviews

All Ace Black Blog Reviews of Helloween CDs are linked below:

Walls Of Jericho (1985): 8.00
Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I (1987): 7.67
The Time Of The Oath (1996): 7.92

Average (all reviewed Helloween CDs): 7.86

All Ace Black Blog Reviews of Heavy Metal CDs are here.

All Guns N' Roses CD Reviews

All Ace Black Blog Reviews of Guns N' Roses CDs are linked below:

Appetite For Destruction (1987): 8.50
G N' R Lies (1988): 6.38
Use Your Illusion I (1991): 7.31
Use Your Illusion II (1991): 7.85
"The Spaghetti Incident?" (1993): 7.67

Average (all reviewed Guns N' Roses CDs): 7.54

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

CD Review: The Final Frontier, by Iron Maiden (2010)

Iron Maiden spin out and land on a planet all of their own, The Final Frontier being a strange far away world where eight minute song lengths are the norm, and tall tales are told with metronomic frequency.

Unfortunately, The Final Frontier is also reminiscent of the old Uncle who likes to detain family members in the corner of the room, insisting on loudly recounting, yet again, long-winded stories through yellowing teeth and slightly suspect breath.

At ten tracks and close to 75 minutes of music, Maiden are all out progressive, and definitely not looking for brevity, short-cuts or a snappy sound. Most tracks start with glacier-paced intros that last for several minutes before picking up a bit of speed and settling into a mid-paced amalgamation of fragments mostly imported from earlier Maiden albums.  

The opener Satellite 15...The Final Frontier blasts off with drums that are straight from the jungle and onto the spaceship, while the title-tracked second half of the song stands out with more verve than almost anything else on the CD. El Dorado is a tale of greed told with a reasonably interesting structure held together with a menacing guitar hook. And at the end of the album When The Wild Wind Blows stretches its legs to more than 11 minutes to tell a sad end-of-the-world melodrama. Given the length, it's the most confident sounding track on The Final Frontier, and at its heart enjoys some stellar moments built on folk metal riffs.

The Final Frontier is Maiden's 15th studio album, a recording career now spanning an astounding 30 years. The band deserve praise for remaining productive and passionate, and for maturing their sound in directions that match the declining energy levels of men solidly in their fifties. Whether the music remains relevant in the evolution of metal is another debate entirely.


Bruce Dickinson - Vocals
Dave Murray - Guitars
Adrian Smith - Guitars
Janick Gers - Guitars
Steve Harris - Bass and Keyboards
Nicko McBrain - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Satellite 15...The Final Frontier - 8
2. El Dorado - 8
3. Mother Of Mercy - 7
4. Coming Home - 7
5. The Alchemist - 7
6. Isle Of Avalon - 6
7. Starblind - 7
8. The Talisman - 7
9. The Man Who Would Be King - 7
10. When The Wild Wind Blows - 9

Average: 7.30

Produced and Mixed by Kevin Shirley.
Engineered by Jared Kvitka. Mastered by Bob Ludwig.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Movie Review: American Wedding (2003)

Too much Stifler. Not nearly enough sizzler. American Wedding, the second sequel to American Pie, attempts a withdrawal from the account of bankrupt ideas, and emerges with a stained handful of excrement.

Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are planning to get married. Before he gets to the big day, Jim has to overcome two main hurdles: impress Michelle's parents (Fred Willard and Deborah Rush), and keep his vulgar friend Stifler (Seann William Scott) as far away from the wedding as possible. Nothing goes according to plan, with Jim embarrassing himself in front of his future in-laws at every opportunity, and Stifler forcing himself into the wedding planning arrangements and proceeding to instigate or fall victim to one disaster after another.

In the meantime, Michelle's game sister Cadence (January Jones) attracts the attention of both the boorish Stifler and the relatively more suave Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), while Jim's hapless dad (Eugene Levy) doles out his dorky advice when it's least needed.

American Wedding huffs, puffs, and works up a smelly sweat to create a series of set-piece comedy tableaux, to place either Jim or Stifler in the most contrived and awkward situations possible. So Jim is contorted to appear as though he is shagging a dog when he first meets Michelle's parents, and Stifler has to endure both eating dog poo and having intercourse with a hideous grandmother in the dark. The comedy stubbornly stays at this sewage-dwelling level throughout, and it's clear that writer Adam Herz ran out of  clever ideas a couple of scripts back. And if director Jesse Dylan inherited any creative genes from his father Bob, he certainly did not display them here.

American Wedding aims for the lowest common denominator and still manages to under-deliver.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Easy A (2010)

A high school comedy that cleverly tones down the raunchiness in favour of wit, Easy A has a lot going for it: a bright premise, a likable Emma Stone, an astute commentary on promiscuity, and lots of laughs.

Olive Penderghast  (Stone) is a generally anonymous high school student. Trying to impress her flashier friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka), Olive lies and pretends that she has slept with a college student. Immediately the news spreads throughout the school and she gains an unwanted reputation as a tramp. Among the horrified classmates is Marianne (Amanda Bynes), the leader of a small group of strictly religious students. Marianne condemns Olive's behaviour but takes on the mission of leading her back to the right path.

Instead of listening to anything that Marianne has to say, Olive decides to put her fake reputation to good use: at a house party she pretends to have energetic sex with the gay Brandon (Dan Byrd), to put a stop to the bullying directed his way. Her notoriety as a slut enhanced, Olive finds herself branded as an adulteress, and finds her life mimicking the classic novel The Scarlett Letter, that she happens to be studying in the English class of Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church). Olive starts to dress the part, and to cash in: loser boys start paying her to spread rumours that she slept with them, to help overcome their geeky images.

Despite not actually having had sex with anyone, Olive's high school life spirals totally out of control, and she finds herself embroiled in a marital sex scandal between Mr. Griffith and his wife (Lisa Kudrow). She needs to find a way to put a stop to all the rumours and regain some normalcy.

Easy A has fun asking all sorts of questions: what's the difference between reputation and reality? Is a promiscuous reputation worth maintaining? How long can a chain of lies hold together, and what happens when one lie too many overwhelms the entire structure?

Director Will Gluck brings the script by Bert V. Royal to life with a light touch and an emphasis on humour rather than the more common over-the-top bawdiness that has come to define the genre. Easy A avoids the cliches and tones down the jokes about body fluids, and instead achieves an irreverent, self-dismissive and breezy vibe perfectly suited to the emotional chaos that often accompanies the high school experience. At times, the film tilts into choreographed operetta territory, with repeated shots of exaggerated emotions sweeping through the school and all the students stopping to stare at Olive. It's flashy technique, but not always necessary.

Emma Stone emerges from the turmoil of high school travails with a burgeoning reputation as an emerging star with a deft comic touch, capable of carrying a film through a winning combination of natural appeal and self-depreciation. With the secondary cast filled out by the likes of Malcolm McDowell as the school principal, Stanley Tucci as Olive's dad and Patricia Clarkson as her mom, Easy A has quirky performances hiding behind every corner.

By delivering a fresh and engaging course on navigating the sexual waters of high school life, Easy A is a solid B+.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Movie Review: Easy Rider (1969)

And this is how the 1960s ended.

Easy Rider summarizes a decade's worth of checking out. Living the life of freedom translates to riding the open highway on mammoth motorcycles, smoking weed, dealing drugs, smoking weeds, visiting communes, smoking weed, landing in jail, smoking weed, being met with suspicion by every establishment man, smoking weed, exploring a whorehouse, smoking weed, and attracting lustful women by the mere fact of existing.

Dennis Hopper directed, Peter Fonda produced, and together with Terry Southern, they co-wrote the Easy Rider script. And as the laid back Captain America (Fonda) and the more highly strung Billy (Hopper), they gave life to two iconic characters that have become part of Hollywood folklore, despite Fonda and Hopper being genuinely stoned for pretty much the duration of filming. Their most memorable travelling companion is George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), a hard-drinking, philosophical son of influential parents, quick to abandon his life and join a trek to New Orleans.

Easy Rider is a buddy road movie, exploring the alternative life of freedom and specifically the end-result of all the rule-breaking of the 1960s. The very thin thread of plot has Captain America and Bill making their way to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, stopping at various off-the-beaten-track locations and picking up an assortment of characters along the way. But the film is really about physically and emotionally breaking away from society's norms, with no shortage of open-highway, landscape-rolling-by shots, interrupted by discussions about what it means to be free, and the consequences of the life chosen by those who have decided to spin away from the traditional world and create their own orbit.

Nicholson had been making movies since 1958, but in his first star-making role he brings a just slightly unhinged intensity to the quest for freedom, viewing life through the thick lens at the bottom of the bottle and quickly cutting through all the nonsense. Fonda and Hopper allow Nicholson to deliver the core line of dialogue in Easy Rider, drawing the distinction between real and imagined freedom:

Hanson: Oh, yeah, that's right. That's what's it's all about, all right. But talkin' about it and bein' it, that's two different things. I mean, it's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. Of course, don't ever tell anybody that they're not free, 'cause then they're gonna get real busy killin' and maimin' to prove to you that they are. Oh, yeah, they're gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em.

The other two stand-out stars of the film are the two monstrous motorcycles, custom-built for the movie and either destroyed or stolen during filming.

Hopper and Fonda pessimistically present the quest for freedom as enjoying its moments but doomed to tragic failure, society's traditions too entrenched to allow penetration by the spirit of the freedom seekers. Easy Rider may be the most nontraditional of movies, but it does directly explain why most of the anti-establishment crowd of the 1960s sold out and were running the establishment by the time the1980s rolled around. The alternative outcome presented by Fonda and Hopper was certainly a lot less appealing.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

CD Review: Rising, by Rainbow (1976)

After the somewhat underwhelming debut to his post Deep Purple career, Ritchie Blackmore reconfigures his new band Rainbow, keeping vocalist Ronnie James Dio but replacing everyone else. In come Jimmy Bain on bass, Tony Carey on keyboards and Cozy Powell on drums, and the results are instantaneous. Rising is one of traditional power metal's all-time classic albums.

At just 34 minutes and containing only six tracks, Rising is quality ahead of quantity: three of the tracks are brilliant. Tarot Woman starts with a long intro courtesy of Carey's sophisticated keyboards, before Powell lays the foundation for Dio's latest mystical, magical lyrics. Blackmore finally makes his mark a good three and half minutes into the track, and immediately owns it with a solo full of bliss. Stargazer is eight majestic minutes built on a persistent driving riff, a slower pace building enormous power and culminating in a terrific melding of Dio's vocals and Blackmore's guitar.

But if there is a first among equals, it is album closer Light In The Black, another eight minutes of supreme metal, this time at a faster pace and with Blackmore at the forefront from the get go, his interplay with Carey's keyboards nothing short of enchanting, and his solo work starting at the four minute mark setting a standard of metal magnificence that still captivates.

Starstruck is the best of the other three tracks, a lighthearted, nimble and more traditional melody underpinning Dio's vocal strength.

Rising packs a powerful punch, that fist on the album cover art filled with unstoppable intent, fury, and most of all, talent.


Ritchie Blackmore - Guitars
Ronnie James Dio - Vocals
Jimmy Bain - Bass
Tony Carey - Keyboards
Cozy Powell - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Tarot Woman - 10
2. Run With The Wolf - 7
3. Starstruck - 8
4. Do You Close Your Eyes - 6
5. Stargazer - 10
6. Light In The Black - 10

Average: 8.50

Produced by Martin Birch.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: In Utero, by Nirvana (1993)

An album from the tortured mind of a man filled with self-hate, his brains fried on drugs, desperate to kill himself. Kurt Cobain wanted to call this album I Hate Myself And I Want To Die, both of which were very true. In Utero was released in September 1993, and Cobain killed himself with a gunshot bullet to the head in April 1994.

The much anticipated follow-up to Nevermind was a troubled production, Cobain not able to handle his global status as a generational icon, the Geffen label eager to cash-in on the success of the most influential band in the world, and producer Steve Albini caught somewhere between a band keen to produce non-commercial music and the world's breathless anticipation. The result is a disgusted cry for help, not necessarily popular music, but embraced nonetheless by the pop scene of the day precisely because self-hate was in vogue.

Teenage angst has paid off well / Now I'm old and bored, Cobain sings on Serve The Servants. On Milk It he is more blunt: Look on the bright side is suicide. And on All Apologies, the closing track: Everything is my fault / I'll take all the blame. A troubled life was coming to an end with plenty of announcements, emphasized by Cobain's erratic behaviour and exuberant drug use.

As for the music, In Utero is a generally weary exercise in a single tone, the less experimental tracks settling for a soporific pace, the band adding little to Cobain's lyrics. Rape Me stands out for finding the most sensitive emotional core, while Tourette's is a reminder that this is a band that could redefine going nuts with metal, while allowing Dave Grohl to have some of his finest moments as a drummer.

On the other end of the scale tracks like Scentless Apprentice and Milk It seem to specifically be assembled as anti-music, Cobain challenging his fans to love him despite his almost intentional contempt. Milk It could have been produced by a group of tentative amateurs jamming together for the first time.

In Utero is ultimately and more than anything a deeply sad experience, Cobain's invitation to the world to attend his own impending funeral.


Kurt Cobain - Guitar, Vocals
Krist Novoselic - Bass
Dave Grohl - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Serve The Servants - 8
2. Scentless Apprentice - 6
3. Heart-Shaped Box - 8
4. Rape Me - 9
5. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle - 7
6. Dumb - 8
7. Very Ape - 8
8. Milk It - 5
9. Pennyroyal Tea - 7
10. Radio Friendly Unit Shifter - 7
11. Tourette's  - 9
12. All Apologies - 7

Average: 7.42

Recorded by Steve Albini.
Mastered by Bob Ludwig.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Wearing A Martyr's Crown, by Nightrage (2009)

The fourth studio album from Nightrage motors away monotonously on a set of melodic death tracks, never misfiring but rarely finding the sweet spot where power and inspiration meet. Wearing A Martyr's Crown can be appreciated for its consistency but it is also unfortunately easily forgettable.

Opener Shed The Blood kicks-off the album with an impressive bang and a lot of promise, Antony Hamalainen's vocals aggressively complementing the guitars of Marios Iliopoulos and Olof Morck, as they release an eloquent melody at break neck speed.  Lamentably, nothing else on the album sounds as good, and the next four tracks come and go with predictable structures and barely distinguishable elements. None are poor; yet none carry a badge of distinction. Abandon finally manages to break the dreariness thanks to more deliberate pacing and sharper edges built around an attractive theme.

In relative terms the album finishes with some marginally more interesting selections. Mocking Modesty, Failure Of All Human Emotions, and Sting Of Remorse serve as reminders that Nightrage can call upon a slightly more elevated spirit to stir the soul. Mocking Modesty makes good use of a calculated path leading to a modest castle on top of a small hill. Failure Of All Human Emotions races ahead on power juice, Jo Nunez pounding his drums into the turf and challenging his band mates to keep up, which they do. Instrumental Sting Of Remorse ends proceedings with welcome if self-indulgent contemplation.

Wearing A Martyr's Crown carries a whiff of potential, but on this evidence Nightrage do not earn the right to wear any crown.


Jo Nunez - Drums
Olof Morck - Guitars
Antony Hamalainen - Vocals
Anders Hammer - Bass
Marios Iliopoulos - Guitars

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Shed The Blood - 9
2. Collision Of Fate - 7
3. A Grim Struggle - 7
4. Wearing A Martyr's Crown - 7
5. Among Wolves - 7
6. Abandon - 8
7. Futile Tears - 7
8. Wounded Angels - 7
9. Mocking Modesty - 8
10. Failure Of All Human Emotions - 8
11. Sting Of Remorse - 8

Average: 7.55

Produced by Fredrik Nordstrom.
Engineered and Mixed by Fredrik Nordstrom and Henrik Udd.
Mastered by Peter In De Betou.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Movie Review: Hollywoodland (2006)

A muddled attempt to create a story where there may be none, Hollywoodland stumbles around looking for a cool gumshoe vibe but emerges with a dull mess.

The real death of actor George Reeves at age 45 in 1959 of a gunshot wound to the head was ruled a suicide, but suspicions remain that maybe he was killed. Reeves was television's Superman, but at the time of his death was comprehensively underemployed and likely depressed. It is understandable that Superman committing suicide is a hard story to swallow, but Hollywoodland does the conspiracy theories no favours.

The film centres around low-level private detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), desperate for any client, pursuing the rumour that there was more to the death of Reeves (Ben Affleck) than the official story. Simo's ineffective bumbling around the events of Reeves' death are mixed with flashbacks of the actor's career.

The script by Paul Bernbaum works hard to create a villain out of MGM executive Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), whose wife Toni (Diane Lane) carried on an open affair with Reeves for many years. Rumours and legends have long swirled around Mannix, for his alleged gangland connections and unofficial role as one of MGM's "fixers", arranging cover-up stories for the studio stars when their behaviour landed them in more trouble than was helpful for their careers. Hollywoodland labours to float theories that either Mannix or his wife may have purposefully or accidentally caused Reeves death. But director Allen Coulter back pedals meekly, conjecturing a full circle and tepidly parking the film where it started.

Affleck surprisingly emerges as the best thing in the movie, thanks to his human portrayal of Reeves as a gentleman, a modest acting talent seeking a better opportunity in the glamorous movie business, but pigeonholed as a kids' superhero on a cheesy TV show. The lovingly recreated scenes of Reeves portraying Superman and his interaction with the young fans of the show suggest that there was an intention of a whole other type of movie somewhere along the line: the detective Simo angle emits the foul odour of a hastily slapped together narrative to convert a lightweight homage into a failed mystery.

There are plenty of sordid tales to tell from the history of Hollywood. Hollywoodland targets the wrong legend and fumbles it.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: American Pie (1999)

A teen sex comedy that not as much pushes the envelope as shoves it through the shredder, American Pie is a wild and raunchy film that reset the standard for a questionable sub-genre, and it is also much better than it has any right to be.

Four horny high school friends are about to graduate, and they are all still virgins. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Chris Klein), Jim (Jason Biggs) and Paul (Eddie Kaye Thomas) make a pact that by the end of prom night, they would each have had their first sexual encounter.

Kevin and Vicky (Tara Reid) are a steady couple: she wants to hear from him that he loves her before they sleep together; Kevin is not so sure that he can utter these words. Oz is a jock on the school lacrosse team; he decides to recast himself as a sensitive choir singer to improve his chances with girls. Sure enough Oz meets Heather (Mena Suvari), and she has to decide whether a reinvented Oz can be trusted.

Jim is hopelessly awkward around girls, and has to deal with a terribly gawky if well-meaning dad (Eugene Levy). After a massively failed attempt to have sex with hot foreign student Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) is broadcast throughout the school intranet, Jim has to settle with taking blabbermouth Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) to the prom, and she can't stop yacking about band camp. Despite his best efforts to create a fake cool persona, Paul has no prospects when prom night starts; but he unexpectedly meets a cougar in the basement.

Earlier generations had Animal House (1978) and Porky's (1982) as defining films in the never-ending young male's quest to discover the joys of mating. In the very late 1990s, American Pie created it's own mini earthquake of a cultural impact. Sexy pies, MILFs, horny teens watching scrambled cable porn, early internet sex broadcasts, and fun with laxatives: the script by Adam Herz captured and then extrapolated what it meant to be a sex-obsessed teenager at the turn of the millennium, and made no apologies for being all about wanting to get laid.

The young cast of unknowns help make the film relevant to its intended audience, the only surprise being that none of them broke through to a significant career beyond the obvious sequels. The guys mostly disappeared into grade C productions, and the girls generally descended into Maxim photoshoots and faux celebrity status.

Accepted for what it is, American Pie is consistently funny, and wins high marks for boldness and originality. And for a generation of boys who grew up with the film, freshly baked pies would never look the same.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Movie Review: Year Of The Dragon (1985)

Michael Cimono's once-promising career was destroyed by the Heaven's Gate fiasco; that he was allowed to direct any more movies is in itself a surprise. Certainly Year Of The Dragon, Cimono's first movie after Heaven's Gate sank a studio and ended the era of wonderkid directors, does nothing to resuscitate his reputation.

Producer Dino De Laurentiis was always the risk taker, and he put his faith in Cimono to bring to the screen the story of hard-boiled idealistic cop Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) sticking his nose into a New York Chinatown gang conflict. White is of Polish origin and a Vietnam War veteran, and although he doesn't know it, he is still fighting that war. Sticking him into the middle of a brutal battle between rival Chinese warlords was never going to end well, and sure enough, the body count meter kicks into overdrive when White starts to poke around the affairs of the triads.

Joey Tai (John Lone) instigates most of the bloodshed as a young and aggressive gang leader, eager to push the old guard out of the way and expand the business into large-scale drug import and distribution. White, who trusts no one within the police ranks, teams up with reporter Tracy Tzu (Ariane) to expose Joey's corruption and violent methods. Not unexpectedly, both White and Tzu become attractive targets for Joey to dispose of.

Year Of The Dragon is unnecessarily long, flabby, and lacking in any genuine emotion. The characters are strictly linear and utterly predictable. Cimono does capture some chaotically gritty Chinatown locations, and a few of the set-pieces, notably a Chinese restaurant bullet fest, are well-executed. The film also benefits from an adequate Mickey Rourke performance, still a relative up-and-comer and not yet the parody of himself that he would morph into within a couple of years. But even Rourke struggles with the wooden script, co-written by Oliver Stone and Cimono, and filled with atrocious dialogue that would only sound real to a 12 year old boy discovering that initial jolt of testosterone.

Ariane is both a victim of the movie and a significant contributor to its failure. A questionable acting talent to begin with, she is saddled with an unrealistic character and atrocious lines that she reads into the camera with all the confidence and conviction of a fashion model suddenly asked to open her mouth. Year Of The Dragon was Ariane's first, and mercifully last, foray into the movies.

But Cimono would carry on for three more films, each faring worse than its predecessor in terms of box office performance, until his last directing effort, The Sunchasers (1996), was ignominiously released straight to video. Whether he was a talent lost to megalomania or whether there was ever any talent is a debate typically driven by individual opinions about his much-celebrated The Deer Hunter (1978). Either way, Year Of The Dragon is a perfunctory effort at best.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Movie Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

A romantic comedy that resembles a Where's Waldo? puzzle: a large crowd of interesting characters, something quirky happening in every corner, and a fairly delightful aha! moment. Crazy, Stupid, Love is all about love, cheerfully crazy, quite silly but not all that stupid.

Carl (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) Weaver have been married for a long time, and the relationship spark has long been extinguished. Driving back from another listless dinner, Emily breaks the news that she has slept with a co-worker, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). Carl throws himself out of the car. The Weavers have a 13 year old son Robbie, who is madly in love with his 17 year old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). Jessica, in turn, has a mad crush on Carl.

Despondent after the break-up of his marriage, Carl starts to spend long hours at the local singles bar where he is hapless at impressing women, but where he does meet Jacob (Ryan Gosling), the smoothest of operators. Jacob can seduce any woman within minutes, and leaves the bar with a different conquest every night, although he does unexpectedly strike out with attractive law student Hannah (Emma Stone). Jacob takes Carl under his wing, polishing up his skills and image to the point where Carl becomes quite the ladies man. With his new found confidence, Carl talks the high-strung and somewhat desperate Kate (Marisa Tomei) into spending the night with him, not knowing that Kate is one of Robbie's teachers.

Carl misses Emily, Robbie pines for Jessica, Jessica starts sexting Carl, David woos Emily, Kate is disgusted that Carl and Emily still seem to care for each other, and Hannah is ignored by a dishy lawyer and throws herself at Jacob. Then things start to get really crazy.

It is all hyper-kinetic light-hearted fun, the laughs are steady and mostly on the mark, and there is enough intelligent comedy to make up for the occasional dips into outright raunchiness. Crazy, Stupid, Love is perhaps over-reliant on the singles bar set, where the whole neighbourhood seems to frequently congregate, but the Dan Fogelman script is otherwise sharp and sprightly.

Co-directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra are able to wrestle the various convoluted and hormone-drenched  narratives into pretty decent shape, allowing each of the sub-stories enough time to develop and mature. And despite the love and lust overflowing from all the pores of the movie, the most interesting dynamic proves to be the eventually mutual mentorship between Carl and Jacob, a relationship that goes through surprising evolutions not usually associated with romantic comedies. Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling inject just enough genuine emotion into their roles to humanize the two men, and they carry the thread of sanity that streaks through the otherwise insane proceedings all around them.

Compared to many romantic comedies, Crazy, Stupid, Love is catchy, lucid, and a notch above.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Movie Review: Contagion (2011)

A matter-of-fact medical thriller that enhances its impact by avoiding melodramatics, Contagion is an only slight extrapolation of the recent real-world threats caused by the SARS and H1N1 viruses.

Married businesswoman Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow), on a trip to Hong Kong and Macao, contracts an unknown virus. She infects an illicit lover while on a stopover in Chicago before flying home to Minneapolis. Beth dies after suffering violent seizures, as does her young son. Beth's husband Mitch (Matt Damon) is quarantined but proves to be immune to the virus, soon named MEV-1. The virus spreads rapidly throughout Minneapolis, Chicago, and China, and is soon a global threat.

At the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta, Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and his team try to identify the virus, the first step towards developing a vaccine. Cheever sends Dr. Mears (Kate Winslett) to Minneapolis to track back the source and warn those who have come in contact with Beth; but Dr. Mears soon succumbs and joins the rapidly lengthening list of victims. Dr. Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) of the CDC gets help from Professor Sussman (Elliott Gould) in San Francisco and finally isolates the virus, triggering the frantic rush to develop and test a vaccine.

At the World Health Organization, Dr. Orantes (Marion Cotillard) traces the origins of the outbreak and travels to China. As she gets close to identifying the source, local authorities hold her hostage to ensure that their worst-affected villages receive the vaccine quickly once it is developed. In the meantime, borderline crackpot and pandemic blogger Alan (Jude Law) spreads misinformation and fans the flames of a conspiracy and government cover-up that exist only in his head, confusing the public and adding to the stress of the scientists trying to counter the threat of the lethal super bug. It is finally Dr. Hextall who has to take a calculated risk, if humanity is going to have a chance to turn the tide of annihilation .

Director Steven Soderbergh approaches the Scott Z. Burns script with the precision of a skilled laboratory technician handling toxic material: Contagion's structure most closely resembles a serious documentary, with the filmmakers fortunate enough to have cameras at strategic hot spots as the virus spreads. There are no car chases, evil conspirators, explosions or theatrical deaths: just scientists frantically trying to understand and then control a brutal microscopic foe, and humanity at large struggling to cope.

The ensemble cast performs with uncontaminated competency, Laurence Fishburne coming closest to having a leading role as the fatherly Dr. Cheever, trying to care for his employees while leading the efforts to get ahead of the virus-caused carnage. Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Elliott Gould and Jude Law are all appropriately serious, angry or both as the disease ravages their lives, while Gwyneth Paltrow gets the only carefree role, as Beth is blissfully oblivious to her role in triggering a global nightmare.

In aiming for a sombre chronicling of a mammoth tragedy, Contagion sacrifices any individual emotional or theatrical high points. While this is a mostly welcome departure from the typical Hollywood approach, the film does frequently resemble an elongated nightly newscast, and Contagion becomes an extension of the reality that movies are expected to distract from. The bugs may be deadly, but they would be more memorable if their fictional battle with the humans was as entertaining as it was dangerous.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Movie Review: The Kids Are All Right (2010)

A family drama with an intriguing premise, The Kids Are All Right has a high freshness quotient and strong acting talent to overcome a few vapid moments of self-absorption.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a middle-aged gay couple in a long-term relationship, raising two teenagers conceived with the help of the same anonymous sperm donor. The more assertive Nic is a doctor, while the more mild-mannered Jules is still looking for herself and dabbling in a landscaping business. Their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has just turned 18, allowing her to seek information about her dad. Prodded on by younger half-brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson), the two kids track down Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who donated the sperm for both of them back in his younger, wilder years.

Except that Paul is still somewhat wild and young at heart. A free-spirited and unattached restaurateur, Paul quickly establishes a warm connection with Joni and Laser, hires the eager Jules to landscape his backyard, and Jules soon progresses to taking care of Paul's more intimate bedroom needs. Nic is the only member of the family not taken by Paul's charms: she has to deal with her kids falling under the influence of a man she never cared to know, and her partner having an affair.

Director Lisa Cholodenko, who co-wrote the script, maintains interest by creating an appealing love triangle and then allowing her three characters to tug at the corners. Cholodenko sneaks into the bedroom of Nic and Jules to capture the pillow talk that betrays the irritants inherent in all long-term relationships. Unknowingly, Paul charges into a family ripe for a crisis and tips the balance into bedlam, delicious to watch but painful to navigate.

The dialogue sometimes dips into oily "but what about my feelings" self-help territory, but the performances by Bening and Moore manoeuvre expertly around the icky spots. Bening carries in her eyes the tension of an overworked doctor supporting a less-than-focused partner, with more than a hint of a growing dependency on alcohol to dull the imbalance in the relationship. Moore is more vulnerable as Jules, an adult still uncomfortable with all the responsibilities that come with the title, more used to being taken care of than taking care of her life, and susceptible to Paul's easy-going attention.

Ruffalo breezes through the movie with the ease of a man gaining familial affections without earning them, while Wasikowska and Hutcherson both display the uncanny teenage ability to sort through messy situations more easily than the flustered adults.

The Kids Are All Right succeeds in portraying a gay relationship as subject to the same risks of turbulence as a committed heterosexual union, but ultimately the film's success resides in rising above the obvious message and delivering a compelling character-centred drama that adopts the gay relationship in stride and builds an enjoyable and cleverly modern story around it.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Football: All-Time World Cup Top Scorers

The all-time top scoring players in the history of the FIFA World Cup are presented below. The results include all World Cup Final tournaments from 1930 to 2014. Scoring at the World Cup is one of the ultimate ambitions for any football player; scoring multiple goals elevates players to the status of eternal national heroes. These are the goalscoring legends who delivered for their country when it mattered most. Underlined years denote that the player won the World Cup. Underlined goals denote that the player finished top-scorer or joint top-scorer.

7 Goals
Careca (Brazil)
5 goals in 1986 (Mexico). 2 goals in 1990 (Italy).

7 Goals
Oldrich Nejedly (Czechoslovakia)
5 goals in 1934 (Italy). 2 goals in 1938 (France).

7 Goals
Hans Schafer (Germany)
4 goals in 1954 (Switzerland). 3 goals in 1958 (Sweden).

7 Goals
Lajos Tichy (Hungary)
4 goals in 1958 (Sweden). 3 goals in 1962 (Chile).

7 Goals
Johnny Rep (Holland)
4 goals in 1974 (West Germany). 3 goals in 1978 (Argentina).

7 Goals
Andrzej Szarmach (Poland)
5 goals in 1974 (West Germany). 1 goal in 1978 (Argentina). 1 goal in 1982 (Spain).

8 Goals
Diego Maradona (Argentina)
2 goals in 1982 (Spain). 5 goals in 1986 (Mexico). 1 goal in 1994 (USA).

8 Goals
Guillermo Stabile (Argentina)
8 goals in 1930 (Uruguay).

8 Goals
Leonidas (Brazil)
1 goal in 1934 (Italy). 7 goals in 1938 (France).

8 Goals
Rivaldo (Brazil)
3 goals in 1998 (France). 5 goals in 2002 (South Korea / Japan).

8 Goals
Rudi Voller (Germany)
3 goals in 1986 (Mexico). 3 goals in 1990 (Italy). 2 goals in 1994 (USA).

8 Goals
Oscar Miguez (Uruguay)
5 goals in 1950 (Brazil). 3 goals in 1954 (Switzerland).

8 Goals
Ademir (Brazil)
8 goals in 1950.

9 Goals
David Villa (Spain)
3 goals in 2006 (Germany). 5 goals in 2010 (South Africa), 1 goal in 2014 (Brazil)

9 Goals
Jairzinho (Brazil)
7 goals in 1970 (Mexico). 2 goals in 1974 (West Germany).

9 Goals
Vava (Brazil)
5 goals in 1958 (Sweden). 4 goals in 1962 (Chile).

9 Goals
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (Germany)
3 goals in 1978 (Argentina). 5 goals in 1982 (Spain). 1 goal in 1986 (Mexico).

9 Goals
Uwe Seeler (Germany)
2 goals in 1958 (Sweden). 2 goals in 1962 (Chile). 2 goals in 1966 (England). 3 goals in 1970 (Mexico).

9 Goals
Roberto Baggio (Italy)
2 goals in 1990 (Italy). 5 goals in 1994 (USA). 2 goals in 1998 (France).

9 Goals
Paolo Rossi (Italy)
3 goals in 1978 (Argentina). 6 goals in 1982 (Spain).

9 Goals
Christian Vieri (Italy)
5 goals in 1998 (France). 4 goals in 2002 (South Korea / Japan).

9 Goals
Eusebio (Portugal)
9 goals in 1966 (England).

10 Goals
Gabriel Batistuta (Argentina)
4 goals in 1994 (USA). 5 goals in 1998 (France). 1 goal in 2002 (South Korea / Japan).

10 Goals
Gary Lineker (England)
6 goals in 1986 (Mexico). 4 goals in 1990 (Italy).

10 Goals
Helmut Rahn (Germany)
4 goals in 1954 (Switzerland). 6 goals in 1958 (Sweden).

10 Goals
Teofilo Cubillas (Peru)
5 goals in 1970 (Mexico). 5 goals in 1978 (Argentina).

10 Goals
Grzegorz Lato (Poland)
7 goals in 1974 (West Germany). 2 goals in 1978 (Argentina). 1 goal in 1982 (Spain).

10 Goals
Thomas Müller (Germany)
5 goals in 2010 (South Africa). 5 goals in 2014 (Brazil). 

11 Goals
Jurgen Klinsmann (Germany)
3 goals in 1990 (Italy). 5 goals in 1994 (USA). 3 goals in 1998 (France).

11 Goals
Sandor Kocsis (Hungary)
11 goals in 1954 (Switzerland).

12 Goals
Pele (Brazil)
6 goals in 1958 (Sweden). 1 goal in 1962 (Chile). 1 goal in 1966 (England). 4 goals in 1970 (Mexico).

13 Goals
Just Fontaine (France)
13 goals in 1958 (Sweden).

14 Goals
Gerd Muller (Germany)
10 goals in 1970 (Mexico). 4 goals in 1974 (West Germany).

15 Goals
Ronaldo (Brazil)
4 goal in 1998 (France). 8 goals in 2002 (South Korea / Japan). 3 goals in 2006 (Germany).

16 Goals
Miroslav Klose (Germany)
5 goals in 2002 (South Korea / Japan). 5 goals in 2006 (Germany). 4 goals in 2010 (South Africa). 2 goals in 2014 (Brazil).

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