Monday, 31 January 2011

Movie Review: Sudden Impact (1983)


After a seven year hiatus, Inspector Harry Callahan returns, his .44 Magnum handgun blazing, bodies piling up all around him, and an assortment of bad guys realizing that he may be getting older, but he certainly isn't getting any cuddlier.

Icy cool blond Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke), a respected painter, is on a killing spree. She and her sister were gang raped 10 years prior; her sister was left in a vegetative state. Now Spencer is back to destroy the white trash group that committed the rape, including their unhinged leader Ray Parkins (Audrie J. Neenan) and the group of scum men who hang around her. Spencer's blunt signature in committing her revenge is shooting the rapists once in the groin, and once in the head. Spencer kills her first victim in his car on the beach in San Francisco, before relocating to the nearby town of San Paulo, where the rapists reside.  

Meanwhile, Inspector Harry Callahan is having a busy few days. First he disrupts a restaurant robbery by killing all but one of the heavily armed robbers. Then when another group of gangsters tries to kill him in a drive-by bombing, he lobs back their own Molotov Cocktail and dispatches them into the bay. Finally, Callahan deludes an aging crime boss into having a heart attack, which results in another bunch of goons coming after Callahan with machine guns; he kills them all. To end the mayhem, Callahan is sent by his superiors to San Paulo, presumably to follow-up on the leads of Spencer's first victim, but really to stop the carnage in San Francisco.

What is meant to be quiet time for Harry in San Paulo quickly turns into a serial killer investigation, as Spencer ups the pace and successively eliminates her victims. Callahan is soon on her trail, but he also encounters Parkins and her troop of ugly thugs; worse still, there are connections between Parkins and San Paulo chief of police, so Callahan gets precious little support in stopping the bloodshed. Dirty Harry is finally faced with his greatest dilemma: deciding what exactly is justice, and when are revenge killings justified, if ever.

Sudden Impact matches, and in some ways improves upon, the original Dirty Harry (1971). Joseph Stinson's script introduces a range of villains and foes worthy of Callahan's attention, and in Jennifer Spencer, the series gets its most intriguing killer. Both a victim and an assailant, and with Locke perfect in the role, Spencer has the deepest back story of any criminal faced by Harry, and presents him with his most twisted moral quandary. What Spencer is doing is self-defense, but 10 years after the fact. Her victims deserve their fate, but she is delivering frontier justice. Does she deserve Callahan's sympathy or his rage?

Sudden Impact bravely takes Callahan out of San Francisco for the second half of the film, the only time in the series that he leaves his home town.  The risk works, and in San Paulo Harry is a big and prominent fish in a small but infected pond, and he perfectly attracts the attention of all criminal classes.

Stinson also peppers the script with memorable one-liners and dialogue exchanges, including the "Go ahead, make my day" tag line and the brilliant "dogshit" tirade in the courthouse elevator. Meanwhile, Eastwood directs with a panache not seen in any of the other series entries, and his back-lit entry into the climactic scene at the San Paulo boardwalk is an absolute gem.

Sudden Impact marks the welcome return of an old friend: he is back to prove that although the battlefields are new, the old methods still work just fine.


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Sunday, 30 January 2011

Movie Review: The Fighter (2010)


Based on the true story of unlikely boxing champion Micky Ward, The Fighter is an enjoyable celebration of family ties and irrepressible spirits.

Brothers Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) are both boxers from the working-class Massachusetts town of Lowell. Older brother Dicky is long past his prime, but remains a local legend for having once fought and knocked-down Sugar Ray Leonard, although it was more of a Leonard stumble. Dicky now pretends to train Micky for upcoming bouts arranged by their overbearing manager mother Alice (Melissa Leo), but Dicky is really just an addict, spending most of his time at the local crackhouse while Micky's career stalls.

After Micky is pummeled in a mis-match that he is pushed into by Dicky and Alice, he questions the ability of his family to properly guide his career. He develops a romantic relationship with local bartender Charlene (Amy Adams), and she encourages him to distance himself from his brother, mother and his numerous ugly sisters. Dicky lands in jail after a run-in with the police, but uses the opportunity to break his addiction. With Charlene's support and new management, Micky's career takes a turn for the better, winning several bouts as he starts getting closer to a shot at a world title. Dicky, now clean, is released from prison and has to find a way to reconnect with his brother without jeopardizing his one chance at career success.

While Mark Wahlberg is relatively subdued as Micky Ward, playing the family meal ticket and black sheep not quite fitting in with his brash surroundings, Christian Bale delivers a remarkable performance as Dicky Eklund. Bale's shifty, restless, yet charming portrayal as the drug-addicted Dicky, living in the past and building his entire life's legend on a single moment that he barely contributed to, is mesmerizing. Dicky discovering his true calling and contributing to his brother's success is the heart of the movie, and director David O. Russell lands an emotionally devastating knock-out punch when the brothers enter the hostile arena for the climatic bout, Dicky leading Micky in softly signing, only to themselves,Whitesnake's Here I Go Again. It's a moment of quiet movie magic.

Amy Adams as the trigger for Micky leaving the nest and Melissa Leo as the domineering matriarch of the family both give memorable performances, filled with passion, pride, and mastery of every button that women push when struggling to gain or maintain control.

The Fighter does not flinch from portraying life in the lower classes of depressed industrial towns, and the societal bleakness is an obvious reason for the lure of boxing as an escape to a better paycheque. Russell's cameras find excellent drama both on the streets and in the boxing ring, and The Fighter scores a victory in both arenas.






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Movie Review: Cairo Time (2009)


Cairo Time is a tender, old-fashioned romance, presented at a leisurely pace and finding the right balance between two journeys of exploration, one emotional and the other cultural.

American magazine editor Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) flies into Cairo for the first time to meet her husband Mark (Tom McCamus), a United Nations worker, for a brief vacation. But Mark is held up helping to resolve a conflict in Gaza. He calls upon Tareq (Alexander Siddig), an Egyptian coffee shop owner and an old UN colleague, to meet Juliette at the airport and see her safely to her hotel. Mark's delay is extended. Knowing no one in Cairo and quickly encountering culture shock, Juliette turns to Tareq to help her tour the City. He shows her the local souks, they take a  trip on the Nile, and they travel to Alexandria to visit Yasmeen (Amina Annabi), who is Tareq's old flame, and whose daughter is getting married. Slowly Juliette and Tareq warm up to each other, despite the enormous cultural gulf between them.

Juliette and Mark had promised that they would only visit the pyramids together; but with the simmering attraction between Juliette and Tareq threatening to erupt into a full romance, Tareq escorts Juliette to the pyramids at sunrise, in what seems like a prelude to consummating their romance.

Cairo is the catalyst for the tale of unexpectedly emerging attachment, Juliette gradually falling in love with the City just as gently as she finds sparks building in her relationship with Tareq. Patricia Clarkson is steady at the core of the film, but almost too cold. Director Ruba Nadda's script rarely requires Juliette to do much more than nervously smile as she awkwardly navigates the next cultural hurdle. Alexander Siddiq is a more magnetic screen presence, and has a more interesting role as the host who needs to maintain the politeness of a generous tour guide, introducing Juliette to a foreign but welcoming culture while confronting the undeniable attraction growing between them.

Cairo Time has vague echoes of Romeo and Juliet, with its two unlikely lovers from different tribes battling against cultural barriers. The film also works as an interesting metaphor for political relationships between East and West: the unexpectedly deep involvement of the West in the affairs of the Middle East typically ending with aching hearts. When Juliette, based on the most meager of information and with little knowledge of their history, encourages Tareq to pursue a new relationship with Yasmeen, who is of a different ethnicity, it is difficult not to notice the parallels with the often ill-fated US meddling in the region, undermined by limited comprehension of local customs and intricacies.

Overtones aside, Cairo Time is a welcome throwback to old-school film-making, where characters and locations are the main focus, and romance is given the necessary time to blossom in the most unlikely places.





All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Saturday, 29 January 2011

CD Review: Signals, by Rush (1982)


Rush continue sauntering down the broad middle of the road, aiming for the centre of the music market with smooth synthesizers, harmless mid-tempo tunes, and the complete eradication of anything resembling menace or power.

Signals is devoid of energy to the point of collapsing onto itself, the eight tracks leaning so heavily on fat, wholesome synthesizer chords that Jean Michel Jarre can only stand up and applaud. The bass is missing in action, Alex Lifeson's guitars struggle for air, and Neil Peart pounds away on the drums with a lot of good intentions but little impact.

Both Subdivisions and New World Man have "radio hit" stamped on their forehead but at least they both find some ambition and a reason to live. The other six tracks generally wallow in the agony of pompous progressiveness, reaching new lows with The Weapon going on for six and a half minutes of what sounds like a computer humming and beeping away in an air-conditioned room, and Losing It sounding like absolute nothingness set to music.

Signals has all the energy of the static fire hydrant, and almost none of the peppiness of the Dalmation.


Band:

Geddy Lee - Bass, Vocals, Synthesizers
Alex Lifeson - Guitars
Neil Peart - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Subdivisions - 8
2. The Analog Kid - 6
3. Chemistry - 6
4. Digital Man - 6
5. The Weapon - 5
6. New World Man - 8
7. Losing It - 5
8. Countdown - 7

Average: 6.38

Produced by Rush and Terry Brown.
Engineered by Paul Northfield. Mastered by Bob Ludwig.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.


CD Review: Moving Pictures, by Rush (1981)


With all the danger of a cuddly pet desperately seeking to please, Rush aim for the big, broad, radio-friendly market, and on Moving Pictures they ensure that any hint of an edge is sanded off to produce a polished, pillowy surface. The result is the tamest possible progressive metal, enjoyable to the extent that self-important poetry set to safe music can ever be.

Geddy Lee pays a lot more attention to his synthesizer toys than his bass guitar: the album is super-sweetened with layer upon thick layer of grand synthesizer chords in which all other instruments are dropped to suffocate slowly. Alex Lifeson pops by with the occasional guitar solo in isolation of any meaningful melody or supporting structure. Neil Peart tries hard and works up a sweat on the drums, but the songs are much more appropriate as background music in a smoky lounge than a rock arena.

Opener Tom Sawyer was a big hit for the band, defanged metal with just a bit of a pulse. It's always worrisome when the best track on an album is an instrumental, and sure enough YYZ (the code for Toronto Airport) is by far the most energetic tune, adequately conveying the bustle of a busy airport. The other five songs meld into one another under a steady and smothering stream of mid-tempo blandness on happy pills, Lee's high-squeak vocals growing ever more tedious.

It's good that at least the pictures are moving, because the music is otherwise just firmly stalled.


Band:

Geddy Lee - Bass, Synthesizers
Alex Lifeson - Guitars
Neil Peart - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Tom Sawyer - 8
2. Red Barchetta - 6
3. YYZ - 9
4. Limelight - 7
5. The Camera Eye - 7
6. Witch Hunt - 6
7. Vital Signs - 6

Average: 7.00

Produced by Rush and Terry Brown.
Engineered by Paul Northfield.  Mastered by Bob Ludwig.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

All Judas Priest CD Reviews














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Sad Wings Of Destiny (1976): 8.13*
Sin After Sin (1977): 8.25*
Stained Class (1978): 8.33*
Hell Bent For Leather (1978): 7.64
British Steel (1980): 7.22
Point Of Entry (1981): 6.60
Screaming For Vengeance (1982): 7.33
Painkiller (1990): 8.89*
Jugulator (1997): 8.20*

Average (all reviewed Judas Priest CDs): 7.84
*Average (best five reviewed Judas Priest CDs): 8.36

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All Scorpions CD Reviews







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Taken By Force (1977): 8.13
Lovedrive (1979): 8.25
Animal Magnetism (1980): 7.56
Blackout (1982): 8.00
Love At First Sting (1984): 8.56

Average (all reviewed Scorpions CDs): 8.10

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All Motorhead CD Reviews








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

Bomber (1979): 8.50*
Ace Of Spades (1980): 8.23*
Orgasmatron (1986): 7.44*
Rock 'N' Roll (1987): 7.67*
Overnight Sensation (1996): 7.36*
Snake Bite Love (1998): 7.36

Average (all reviewed Motorhead CDs): 7.76
*Average (best 5 reviewed Motorhead CDs): 7.84

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In Rock (1970): 7.86*
Fireball (1971): 7.43
Machinehead (1972): 9.00*
Who Do We Think We Are (1973): 7.57
Burn (1974): 8.13*
Perfect Strangers (1984): 8.33*
Perfect Strangers (1987): 7.80*
The Battle Rages On (1993): 7.70
Bananas (2003): 7.55

Average (all reviewed Deep Purple CDs): 7.93
*Average (best 5 reviewed Deep Purple CDs): 8.22

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Snake Bite Love, by Motorhead (1998)


A similar effort to Overnight Sensation from two years earlier, Snake Bite Love offers another eleven tracks, and again that's at least three too many.  Motorhead still sparkle in brief patches, but are all too ready to package and release a lot of numbingly routine material devoid of any originality.

When they are willing to take risks and step outside their zone of comfort, Motohead can be sublime. Dead And Gone, placed as a centerpiece in middle of the album, is a magnificent track, building from an eerie slow intro into an explosive chorus, Lemmy pulling off vocals that sound as if they are indeed coming from the grave. Also notable on Snake Bite Love is opener Love For Sale, a jaunty salute to working girls that benefits from a sustained rock 'n roll ethic and energetic Mikkey Dee drumming.

Towards the back of the album is Don't Lie To Me, another rock 'n' roll track that proudly rides its honest simplicity, while Joy Of Labour reaches for and touches a dark industrial machinery sound, with Lemmy delivering terrific vocals and a story of doom. Closer Better Off Dead lives and dies by a wondrous fast riff, since the track built around it can't keep up.

A lot of the rest of Snake Bite Love is Motorhead on auto-pilot, churning out music with eyes closed and inspiration sadly missing.


Band:

Lemmy Kilmister - Bass, Vocals
Phil Campbell - Guitars
Mikkey Dee - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Love For Sale - 9
2. Dogs Of War - 6
3. Snake Bite Love - 7
4. Assassin - 6
5. Take The Blame - 6
6. Dead And Gone - 10
7. Night Side - 6
8. Don't Lie To Me - 8
9. Joy Of Labour - 8
10. Desperate For You - 7
11. Better Off Dead - 8

Average: 7.36

Produced by Howard Benson. Recorded and Mixed by Mark Dearnley.
Mastered by Kris Solem.

All Ace Black Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.


CD Review: Overnight Sensation, by Motorhead (1996)


Motorhead's 13th studio release is a maddeningly inconsistent effort, the line-up of Lemmy Kilmister, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee mixing some of the band's most sophisticated career tracks with a few pure throw-away cuts. A song list trimmed down to the eight selections would have had a much more powerful impact; as it stands, Eat The Gun, Love Can't Buy You Money and Them Not Me are minor league fillers that unfortunately trip up the album's quality.

The three stand-out songs on Overnight Sensation are crammed into the front end. Civil War is powered by Lemmy's roaring bass and Mikkey Dee's artillery drums, the song matching the sounds of a chaotic conflict. I Don't Believe A Word is a stunning demonstration of how far Motorhead have evolved: a slow, cultivated and steady pace providing a strong foundation for one of Lemmy's most mature and controlled vocals. The title track Overnight Sensation is in the same class, increasing the tempo and turning up the power dial but emphasizing authority over Motorhead's typical chaos.

The back end of the album is more mundane, but closer Listen To Your Heart picks up the quality again and has echoes of the Overnight Sensation riff. On both tracks, Lemmy picks up the rhythm guitar and injects a new, almost cheerful sound that would have been trampled under the greasy boots of Motorhead 15 years prior.

Overnight Sensation is a deep dark mine. There are veins of useful metal, but plenty of worthless chunks of grey stone to trip over.


Band:

Lemmy Kilmister - Vocals, Bass Guitar
Phil Campbell - Guitars
Mikkey Dee - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Civil War - 9
2. Crazy Like A Fox - 7
3. I Don't Believe A Word - 9
4. Eat The Gun - 5
5. Overnight Sensation - 9
6. Love Can't Buy You Money - 6
7. Broken - 8
8. Them Not Me - 6
9. Murder Show - 7
10. Shake The World - 7
11. Listen To Your Heart - 8

Average: 7.36

Produced by Howard Benson and Duane Barron.
Mixed by Ryan Dorn and Duane Barron.  Mastered by Dan Hersch.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Movie Review: The Enforcer (1976)


Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is back for the third of his initial three adventures, and now he faces a triple threat: a band of anarchists intent on blowing up San Francisco; smarmy politicians; and creeping gender equity policies that translate into an inexperienced female officer being assigned as his partner.

The Enforcer is polished and satisfying, but it is also the most straightforward of the initial Dirty Harry movies, the series settling into a mostly predictable routine. Harry's criminal adversaries in this episode are the least developed and most forgettable: a mishmash of generally faceless youth who get their hands on sophisticated explosives and weaponry and hold the City to ransom. Their leader, an unhinged Vietnam War vet, is hardly given any back-story, and is almost relegated to another generic bad guy who needs to be dispatched. The entire main plot appears contrived to end with a climax, filmed at Alcatraz, that allows Harry to fire an anti-tank LAW rocket, his Magnum handgun no longer considered a sufficiently large gun.

Callahan's continuous friction with his superiors is also a regurgitation of the first two movies. The Enforcer adds a minor twist by dropping the Mayor personally into the danger zone, forcing Harry to save a politician that he despises.

The introduction of Tyne Daly as Inspector Kate Moore, a smart but green officer foisted upon Callahan, could have been handled with more subtlety, but director James Fargo jackhammers in all the stereotypes, with Moore the subject of utter and open disrespect until she proves herself. Regardless of her abilities, The Enforcer does increase the already remarkably high mortality rate of Callahan's partners: he loses two in this film alone.

The film suffers from a lackluster supporting cast, Daly joined by cop movie stalwarts Harry Guardino and Bradford Dillman as they stand anonymously in Eastwood's long shadow.

The struggle to keep the character fresh is evidenced by four screenwriters wrestling with a script that rarely rises above the adequate. Dirty Harry was never going to settle for average, and he wisely took a long break after this outing.






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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

All Led Zeppelin CD Reviews










All Ace Black Blog Reviews of Led Zeppelin CDs are linked below:

Led Zeppelin (1969): 8.00*
Led Zeppelin II (1969): 8.44*
Led Zeppelin III (1970): 7.30
Led Zeppelin IV (1971): 8.38*
Houses Of The Holy (1973): 8.50*
Physical Graffiti (1975): 7.86*

Average (all reviewed Led Zeppelin CDs): 8.08
*Average (best 5 reviewed Led Zeppelin CDs): 8.24

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Magnum Force (1973)


Harry Callahan's second outing is the most ambitious of the original trilogy. Two years after Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood reprises the role of the grizzled San Francisco Inspector, and in Magnum Force he comes face to face with a more extreme version of himself: a police death squad cleaning up the streets when the justice system fails.

When a mob boss is acquitted on a technicality, a motorcycle cop catches up with the mobster's limousine and kills him and his entire entourage. Callahan wants to investigate the case but is soon butting heads with his superior, Lieutenant Briggs (Hal Holbrook), who is proud never to have used his gun, and who thinks that Harry is a relic.

The extra-judicial killings continue: another mobster and all his outdoor pool guests are wiped out by a machine-gun wielding cop; a vicious pimp is pulled over by an officer and gunned down; and another crime boss is eliminated in his penthouse suite. With Briggs and his men floundering, Callahan and his partner (Felton Perry) begin to suspect a tight-knit group of new young police rookies, including Officers Davis (David Soul), Sweet (Tim Matheson), and Grimes (Robert Urich), of running a death squad. Ballistic tests confirm his suspicions, and soon Callahan is faced with the choice of joining the killers or standing in their way -- and becoming one of their victims.

Magnum Force combines prolonged scenes of intense action with welcome interludes to humanize Harry. We see him having dinner with the estranged wife of a fellow officer; and he enjoys a tryst with a neighbour from his apartment building. As Harry is portrayed in a more sympathetic light, the film poses the tricky question: is the death squad not an extension of Harry's own preferred methods? Magnum Force tries to make a distinction between Callahan pushing the limits from within the system as being better than the rogue cops operating completely outside the system, but screenwriters John Milius and Michael Cimino do not seem too convinced by their own arguments.

Ted Post directs with confident panache, frequently filling the screen with an assortment of roaring oversized American cars that were enjoying their peak in 1973. Eastwood is supported by a worthwhile cast: Holbrook bring some weight to Lieutenant Briggs, while the young cops David Soul (Starsky and Hutch), Robert Urich (Vegas), and Tim Matheson (Animal House) all went on have reasonably prominent careers.

The second outing was never going to retain the freshness of the original, so Magnum Force did the next best thing: it added depth to the character, and presented him with a suitable moral dilemma to grapple with and lots of bad guys to blow away with that cannon of a handgun.






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Monday, 24 January 2011

All Black Sabbath CD Reviews












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Average (all reviewed Black Sabbath CDs): 7.92
*Average (best 5 reviewed Black Sabbath CDs):  8.54

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Black Swan (2010)


A study of a character in pure turmoil, Black Swan invites us to watch as the pressure of being perfect causes a crack in the normally straightforward ability to distinguish what is real from what is imagined. And in the case of Nina, her imagination is soaked with increasing amounts of blood, lust and the ability to cause damage to herself and others.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a technically proficient ballerina, but lacking in passion. The ballet company's artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) nevertheless selects her to play both the White Swan and the Black Swan in the upcoming production of Swan Lake. Nina has no trouble with the White Swan role; but Thomas needs her to dramatically improve her interpretation of the passionate, seductive Black Swan.

Nina soon finds herself struggling to manage a host of problems: Thomas seems to be making unwanted advances. Lily (Mila Kunis), a new dancer with the company, appears to deliver passion effortlessly and is eager to step into Nina's role should she falter. Beth (Winona Ryder), the aging, retiring star of the company, believes that Nina plotted to dethrone her. And Nina's mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) is supportive to the point of suffocation, eager to ensure that the daughter achieves the fame that eluded the mother.

As Nina struggles to step into the role of the Black Swan, reality and fantasy meld together, and a series of harrowing - and sometimes exhilarating - events, some real and some in her mind, hurtle her towards opening night.

Director Darren Aronofsky follows up The Wrestler with another bleak look into a profession that requires the abuse of the human body to achieve success, but whereas in The Wrestler he was satisfied portraying the physical cost of success, Aronofsky has no hesitation in Black Swan to push deep into the mental damage caused by intense, cut-throat competition.

Black Swan sets out to be thought provoking and to a certain extent traumatizing. Into the normally staid world of ballet the movie throws a lot of blood, mutilation, brazen jealousy, and insanity. Taken literally, Black Swan is a journey into the mind of a perfectionist cracking under the enormous pressure of expectation. Nina is losing her mind trying to meet the expectations of Thomas, trying to make amends for the interrupted career of her mother Erica, trying to avoid the cattiness of the other dancers, and trying to satisfy her own desire for perfection while struggling to learn that dancing can be as much about passion as about technique.

But more interesting are two more metaphorical interpretations: Black Swan is a representation of the harrowing changes needed to push to the limit and break through psychological barriers to attain previously impossible objectives. To achieve her goal Nina has to abandon her old self and re-invent a new, more powerful Nina that she herself can believe in, and this process requires lot of pain and the breaking of old, entrenched habits. The more paranormal events that she encounters are symbolic of this transformation, and include physical changes, new sexual awakenings, and breaking free of her mother's dominance. She can only achieve a triumph as the Black Swan by bidding an agonizing farewell to the constraints of her old life.

Also thought-provoking are the greater metaphorical questions that Black Swan asks: are the sacrifices that ballerinas are expected to make to reach the pinnacle of their art rational? The film is clearly saying no: although many want to reach the peak, the price involves no small amount of madness. The same can be said of many athletic professions that involve inhumane extremes of physical exertion.

Wading through the increasingly shocking psychological trauma, Natalie Portman delivers a wonderful performance, conveying with her eyes the tremendous building levels of anguish beneath Nina's facade of ballerina grace. The supporting cast is fairly one-dimensional, but livened up by the welcome appearance of Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder. While Vincent Cassel never breaks out of the stereotypical manipulative company director role, Mila Kunis brings a passionate vibrancy to Lily that bodes well for more starring future roles. Both Portman and Kunis underwent extensive ballet training in preparation for their roles, and they are generally convincing.

In an era of mostly sugar-coated movies desperately chasing tidy resolutions and happy endings, Black Swan is challenging, disturbing and most memorable.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Sunday, 23 January 2011

Movie Review: Patriot Games (1992)


A thriller that easily abandons any sense of gritty realism and rolls over to die on the meek hill of Hollywood excess.

Harrison Ford brings Tom Clancy's hero Jack Ryan back to the screen, and he is surrounded by no shortage of talent including Anne Archer, James Earl Jones, Samuel L. Jackson and Richard Harris.  But Patriot Games is too eager to pile on the fake threat by villains in the shape of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) splinter group. The bad guys combine the worst excess of incredible, inexplicable resources attached to stunning incompetence and lack of discipline when it matters most.

Retired CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Ford) is in London to give a speech when he foils an attempted assassination of a member of the Royal Family by Irish terrorists. The terrorist hit-squad includes brothers Patrick and Sean Miller; Ryan kills Patrick, and Sean Miller (Sean Bean) is captured but traumatized by his young brother's death and vows revenge.

The terrorist group is led by Kevin O'Donnell (Patrick Bergin) whose methods are too extreme even for the IRA. O'Donnell and his men violently free Miller during his transfer to prison, and are soon distracted from their homeland mission: they head to the US to take pot-shots at Ryan, his wife Cathy (Anne Archer) and young daughter Sally. With his family threatened, Ryan rejoins the CIA to help bring down the terrorists, who take refuge at a training camp in the North African desert -- but only temporarily. O'Donnell, Miller and their crew are soon back on US soil, mounting a most ridiculous full frontal commando assault on Ryan's home.

Patriot Games collapses early and often by abandoning all links to reality in a film that demands some semblance of authenticity. The ease with which the terrorists criss-cross the Atlantic is laughable. The abandonment of their struggle to pursue a distraction in eliminating Ryan is ridiculous. The spectacular resources they bring to the battle to free Sean Miller en-route to prison are impressive but absurd. The British security arrangements and responses to terrorism are breathtaking in their ineptitude.

Worse of all, the sudden incompetence of the terrorists at critical moments, in being unable to complete the opening assassination or achieve any of their targets at Ryan's house, just amplifies the farcical nature of the script. In both instances director Phillip Noyce effectively freezes time to allow Ryan's heroic intervention.

Along with Harrison Ford and Anne Archer, a strong supporting cast barely saves Patriot Games from fully-baked turkey status. James Earl Jones is head of the CIA; Samuel L. Jackson a military training officer; Richard Harris an IRA fundraiser in the US; all are nearly wasted as Patriot Games lurches from one ludicrous moment to the next. Rarely have so many stars been so badly let-down by so much nonsense.






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CD Review: Rock 'N' Roll, by Motorhead (1987)


Phil Taylor makes his return behind the drum set and Motorhead release Rock 'N' Roll, their eighth studio album. Compared to the previous year's Orgasmatron, Rock 'N' Roll contains a more purposeful set of songs, demonstrating increased respect for cohesive song structures without losing the band's signature wild abandon.

Rock 'N' Roll is both stripped-down and muscular, Motorhead sending a message that they will continue to find new ways to construct simple but sturdy metal structures without compromising their principles or the essence of what makes the greasy Motorhead run.

The album is built around three stand-out cuts: title track and CD opener Rock 'N' Roll is exactly what it says on the metal box, straightforward rock 'n' roll pumped full of liquid steel and quick to showcase Taylor's drums and confident guitar solo work. Blackheart stays with the rock 'n' roll theme but emphasizes the groove, Motorhead seeking a straight highway and flooring the pedal. And leaving the best until last, Bogeyman is nothing but blistering hyper-tempo boogie woogie encased in shiny metal, Motorhead finding the perfect manic structure for their uncontrollable energy, and just barely keeping all the music channeled in the same direction.

A couple of the supporting tracks are almost equally strong. Traitor is built on a strong staccato riff that still rises from a foundation of rock 'n' roll, while All For You is the most soulful track on the album, Motorhead finding surprising comfort in a just slightly more mellow melody.

Rock 'N' Roll is an old dog deciding not to learn new tricks, but proving that the old tricks still have a lot of life in them.


Band:

Lemmy Kilmister - Bass, Vocals
Phil (Philthy Animal) Taylor - Drums
Wurzel - Guitars
Philip Campbell - Guitars


Songlist (Ratings out of 10):

1. Rock 'N' Roll - 9
2. Eat The Rich - 7
3. Blackheart - 9
4. Stone Deaf In The USA - 6
5. (Untitled )  - n/a (short fake prayer)
6. The Wolf - 6
7. Traitor - 8
8. Dogs - 6
9. All For You - 8
10. Boogeyman - 10

Average: 7.67

Produced by Motorhead and Guy Bidmead.
Engineered by Guy Bidmead.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Book Review: How To Stage A Military Coup, by David Hebditch and Ken Connor (2005)


A mishmash of half-baked ideas, How To Stage A Military Coup is an incompetently written, ploddingly constructed book that promises little and achieves less.

Authors David Hebditch and Ken Connor had four incomplete concepts between them: a history of coup d'etats; a fictional story about a preposterous military takeover of England; random stories from Britain's Special Air Service (SAS); and an examination of why and how military coups are planned and executed.  Obviously incapable of developing any of these ideas into a meaningful book, they are mashed together into a frightful jumble.

So the fictional military coup in England occupies the first few pages of every chapter and then just...ends with no apparent resolution. The hows and whens of planning and staging a coup are described sometimes with attempted humour, and other times with apparent seriousness, to the level of referring to actual websites for various resources. None of it holds together as a cohesive narrative, and some of the ideas, such as leaders needing to stay at home at all times to avoid being overthrown, are both inane and repeated about every 10 pages.

The tidbits from SAS training exercises are sprinkled throughout the book with no rhyme or reason, without any relevant context to the rest of the book, and without purpose.

The histories of various coups are somewhat readable, with the discussion of the UK / US - backed Iran coup of 1953 and the US - supported Chile coup in 1973 providing some points of interest.  But then countries like Fiji and Equatorial Guinea take over large chunks of the book, with Hebditch and Connor displaying an unhealthy and detailed obsession with the endless coups, counter-coups, and attempted coups plotted by thick-necked strong men and ill-prepared mercenaries in largely irrelevant countries.

How To Stage a Military Coup tries to do too many things at once, and fails fairly miserably at all of them.

Subtitled "From Planning To Execution".
197 pages, plus Appendices, Notes and Index.
Published in softcover by Frontline Books.






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Saturday, 22 January 2011

CD Review: Orgasmatron, by Motorhead (1986)


The seventh studio album finds Motorhead producing three solid tracks and surrounding them with six other songs that, while not exactly filler, contribute little. Now a foursome with two guitarists in Phil Campbell and Wurzel, Motorhead on Orgasmatron still sound exactly like Motorhead on most other albums: short compositions hurtling down the rails at extremely high speeds with certified faulty brakes.

The exception on this album is the title track, Orgasmatron closing the record with a thoughtful and surprisingly authoritative mid-tempo groove that stays in control, Lemmy sounding very unlike Lemmy with a raspy, menacing tone. Orgasmatron is nothing if not monotonous, but it's powerful enough to maintain interest.

The other two worthwhile tracks are undeniably brilliant. Opener Deaf Forever is a nuclear detonation of metal, Pete Gill's insane drums atomizing a large radius and creating the space for terrific guitar solo work. Built For Speed is as dazzling but more of a team effort, the band again finding the necessary controlled melody to govern their power, and building to some cut-loose infectious rhythm guitar work.

The other six tracks on the album fill out the shortish 36 minute running length, with a blend of the competent and the average. Orgasmatron enjoys some good climaxes, but is generally a vaguely unsatisfying quickie.


Band:

Lemmy Kilmister - Vocals, Bass
Phil Campbell - Guitar
Wurzel - Guitar
Pete Gill - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Deaf Forever - 10
2. Nothing Up My Sleeve - 6
3. Ain't My Crime - 7
4. Claw - 7
5. Mean Machine - 6
6. Built For Speed - 10
7. Ridin' With The Driver - 7
8. Doctor Rock - 6
9. Orgasmatron - 8

Average: 7.44

Produced by Bill Laswell.

All Ace Black Blog Heave Metal CD Reviews are here.


Friday, 21 January 2011

CD Review: Love At First Sting, by Scorpions (1984)


Scorpions reach the peak of their career and creative output with a selection of tracks that is little short of spectacular. Love At First Sting contains five heavy metal classics, capturing the band's full range from unstoppable anthemic rockers to emotion-packed power ballads, with a couple of tracks managing to combine both.

Klaus Meine never sounded better on vocals from hushed tones to high-pitched show-stoppers, and he is perfectly complemented by the guitar duo of Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs, leading a sonic assault that in turn thrills and enthralls. Herman Rarebell's drums are thunderous, and he comes to the fore on the astoundingly simple Crossfire, the highlight of his Scorpions career.

The only two blemishes on the album are the flat The Same Thrill and As Soon As The Good Times Roll, while I'm Leaving You is just modest in its ambition.

The other six tracks are all instantly recognizable and celebrated in all corners of the world where metal is played. Bad Boys Running Wild kicks-off the album with a taste of what is to come, the band sounding tight, motivated and energetic. The sting really kicks in with Rock You Like A Hurricane, an anthem with a signature opening riff, booming drums, and a chorus that demands to played at sports arenas world-wide. Coming Home melds a slow, yearning intro into a galloping, muscular melody driven by Rarebell's unstoppable drums and terrific guitar work. Big City Nights is another anthem, perfectly evoking a neon-drenched car trip into parts unknown. The aforementioned Crossfire became an international banner anti-war song, Rarebell's military drums passing into legend as Meine conveys the agony of war victims.

And finally Still Loving You closes Love At First Sting with a devastating power ballad, maximizing both the power and the ballad, in an almost unfairly perfect example of controlled metal songwriting. Still Loving You is a song that instantly grabs hold of the soul and sets a captivating mood, mixing love, desperation and resolve as it builds to a devastating climax with Meine's vocals and Schenker's guitar trading in magical torment. It's a fitting climax to an album that offers love at first sting, and still provides love long after the novelty is gone.


Band:

Klaus Meine - Vocals
Rudolf Schenker - Guitars
Matthias Jabs - Guitars
Francis Buchholz - Bass
Herman Rarebell - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Bad Boys Running Wild - 8
2. Rock You Like A Hurricane - 10
3. I'm Leaving You - 7
4. Coming Home - 10
5. The Same Thrill - 6
6. Big City Nights - 10
7. As Soon As The Good Times Roll - 6
8. Crossfire - 10
9. Still Loving You - 10 *see below*

Average: 8.56

Produced by Dieter Dierks. Engineered by Gerd Rautenbach.
Mastered by Bob Ludwig.  Arranged and Mixed by Dieter Dierks and Scorpions.

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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Movie Review: The King's Speech (2010)


A period drama that peels one layer of mystique away from the British Royal Family, The King's Speech is a captivating, multi-dimensional period piece, and easily among the best films of 2010.

It's 1925, and Albert, the Duke of York (Colin Firth), is second in line to the British throne. But Albert suffers from a terrible stammer, and embarrasses himself and the nation with every attempted speech. With no traditional doctors able to help, Albert's wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks the help of speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). An Australian with unconventional methods, Logue agrees to treat Albert, but Albert has deep reservations and insists that the treatment focus only on speech mechanics, and not the causes of the stammer.

Albert's father King George V eventually passes away; Albert's brother Edward (Guy Pearce) assumes the throne, but is embroiled in a scandal with divorcee Wallis Simpson. With Albert suddenly much more likely to become King, he needs Lionel's help more than ever, and the two start to delve into the psychological reasons for Albert's stammer.  But they have a serious falling-out when Lionel appears to push Albert to prematurely think of himself as a King, colliding with Albert's feelings of loyalty to his brother.

Edward does abdicate; and Albert is indeed King. He again turns to Lionel for help, and this time the speeches that Albert needs to deliver are not meaningless royal engagements but the words of the leader of the world's greatest Empire. As war flares across Europe and the menace of Nazi Germany needs to be confronted, Lionel guides Albert, now King George VI, as he delivers his first speech of the war, preparing his people and his Empire for the long struggle that lays ahead.

The King's Speech gently but deeply probes several intricate themes. A loveless childhood, stern paternal expectations, and a domineering older brother are not unexpectedly revealed to be the cause of Albert's impediment. The Royal Family only amplified what was the expected method of treating British children in the early 20th century, and the movie asks at what price was the legendary British stiff upper lip earned.

The non-existent opportunities for the Royals to interact with their subjects is another thread running through the movie. How can the Royals be the symbols for people they never talk to?

Most interesting is the role of Albert's wife Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). She is portrayed as both strong-willed yet kind; determined yet respectful; patient yet persistent; supportive of her husband as he is, yet willing to help him in any way possible; majestically royal yet able to communicate with commoners.  Helena Bonham Carter is superb in portraying the emergence of the modern woman, and The King's Speech wholeheartedly agrees that behind every great man is a much greater woman.

Both Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush deliver memorable performances. Firth as the stammering Albert, Duke of York and later King George VI is magnificent, carrying in his face the shame of the stammer, the pride of the Royals, the agony of a miserable childhood, and at the end the expectations of a nation at war. Rush has a relatively simpler, steadier and sometimes comic role: the Australian speech therapist with unconventional treatments and unshakable belief in his approach, even in the face of royal, religious, and academic scrutiny and doubt. In their scenes together, Firth and Rush capture the stages of a slowly emerging friendship that bridges an enormous gulf in status and wealth, and grows to be strong enough to survive serious mis-steps and doubts.

Director Tom Hooper follows up the excellent The Damned United (2009) by recreating an even earlier era: the Britain of the 1920s and 1930s comes to life in The King's Speech, Hooper surrounding his actors with plenty of fog, early 20th century streetscapes, and royal lavishness.  The film looks as good as the performances deserve.

The King's Speech is ultimately a tribute to the power of good intentions to overcome the significant damage caused by past failures, and the message of optimism that lies within hard-earned friendship is refreshingly daring.







All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Wednesday, 19 January 2011

CD Review: Bananas, by Deep Purple (2003)


An incredible 35 years after their first release, Deep Purple return with Bananas, their 17th studio album.  Like a seaside rock exposed to the continuous waves, Deep Purple do not pretend to have an edge anymore; but they are well-rounded, smooth, and they do occasionally glisten in the sunlight.

Ian Gillan's vocals are now all about control and maturity, while Steve Morse on guitar and Don Airey on keyboards are functional but stay well clear of trying to emulate the wizardry of Blackmore and Lord.  The pace is generally relaxed and befitting the band's senior status. But some of the songwriting remains strong, and four tracks on Bananas prove that talent can survive the test of time.

House Of Pain opens the CD with a cow bell just to make the point the Purple are still young at heart, and proceeds to celebrate returning to what hurts, a sure metaphor for staring down the risks of releasing yet another album. Razzle Dazzle is proof, if any was needed, that Deep Purple can still have fun. They now likely need Viagra, but that does not prevent them from producing high energy dance-metal, banging the drum looking for the fine line between an orgy of destruction and a wonderful time. Walk On is drenched in the sorrow of a doomed relationship, a most effective and emotion-filled "it's time to move on" telegram. Doing It Tonight introduces a simple but infectiously bouncy groove perfectly suited to the lyrics, instantly creating a dark calypso club vibe where all revelers have one thing - and the same thing - on their mind.

These four tracks may not stand shoulder to shoulder with Purple's best ever work, but they do hold their own as enjoyable, well-structured and thoughtful music.

The remaining tracks on Bananas are less interesting and generally fade into the background, but credit to the band for maintaining a steady level of quality: there are no fillers or throwaway tracks.

It's a minor irritant, but an irritant all the same: the track listing on the CD cover bears no relationship to the track sequence on the CD itself, a sign of either needless last minute panic or a lack of quality control.

Some bands burn-out, while others fade away.  Bananas captures Deep Purple fading away, but with dignity intact.


Band:

Steve Morse - Guitars
Ian Gillan - Vocals
Roger Glover - Bass
Don Airey - Keyboards
Ian Paice - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. House Of Pain - 8
2. Sun Goes Down - 7
3. Haunted - 7
4. Razzle Dazzle - 8
5. Silver Tongue - 7
6. Walk On - 9
7. Picture Of Innocence - 7
8. I Got Your Number - 7
9. Never A Word - 7
10. Bananas - 7
11. Doing It Tonight - 9
12. Contact Lost - n/a (short instrumental)

Average: 7.55

Produced and Engineered by Michael Bradford.
Mastered by Andy Vandette.

All Ace Black Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Movie Review: Barney's Version (2010)


Is there a reason to care about tragedy in the life of a man who does everything possible to undermine all his opportunities for happiness?

Paul Giamatti works hard to create a flawed character worthy of sympathy. Giamatti's performance is flawless, but ultimately, Barney is such a brilliant architect of his own failure that his misery is not sad; it's expected.

Barney (Giamatti) is a chain smoker, a heavy drinker, and a hopeless womanizer. As a young man in Italy, he marries a woman after taking her word that she's carrying his child. It turns out that he's not the father of the still-born baby; he immediately abandons his wife and she kills herself. Moving to Montreal, he inherits a career as a producer of cheap television series and finds his second wife (Minnie Driver), who is attractive, rich and well-educated. And on that wedding day Barney starts uncontrollably lusting after another woman, Miriam (Rosamund Pike). While wallowing in the misery of being married to one woman while chasing another, he carelessly handles a gun while drunk, unintentionally causes the demise of his best friend. He celebrates his second wife's infidelity since he can now more easily dump her.

Although otherwise an intelligent career woman, Miriam eventually and inexplicably falls for Barney's obsessive courtship, and becomes his third wife. She really has no right to be surprised when he eventually starts spending his evenings fueling up on beer and watching hockey games down at the bar instead of paying any attention to her. After having spent half a lifetime pursuing Miriam, Barney takes the first opportunity to cheat on her. Of course Miriam leaves him and he ends up lonely, miserable, and fighting a losing battle against dementia. Perhaps all that alcohol killed a few too many brain cells.

Dustin Hoffman makes a welcome appearance as Barney's father Izzy, a retired cop. There are hints that Barney is only accentuating the self-defeating habits inherited from Izzy, but director Richard Lewis, adapting Mordecai Richler's book, does not explore these themes in too much depth. Bruce Greewood as Blair, the man who eventually provides stability for Miriam, is by far the most normal man in the movie. He is portrayed as steady to the point of boredom, opposite Barney's self-absorbed but colourful life.

Rosamund Pike is luminous as Miriam, and her performance may allow her to achieve a rare feat: a former Bond girl (from Die Another Day) who transitions into a respectable career.

People who help themselves are worth pulling for; instead, Barney is a man who has a special talent for repeatedly pushing the self-destruct button.  We watch more with bemusement than any genuine caring.






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Saturday, 15 January 2011

Movie Review: Dirty Harry (1971)


You've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya punk?

Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) does not much care for due process or legal niceties; he generally just wants to blow the bad guys away with his .44 Magnum gun.  He asks questions only if they survive the shootout and are lying in a puddle of blood. Dirty Harry keeps the Man With No Name in the wild west, in this case San Francisco, but fast forwards to the modern era. Cars replace horses, highrises replace saloons, but the general rules remain generally the same: the difference between the bad guys and the good guys is a matter of perception.

The main bad guy here is an unhinged murderer calling himself Scorpio (Andy Robinson), killing innocent victims with a sniper rifle and taunting the Mayor of San Francisco (John Vernon) that the killing will continue unless a ransom is paid. Callahan is assigned to the case, but the politicians and his police superiors do not approve of his straightforward methods, and Callahan grows increasingly frustrated by what he perceived to be the weak-kneed reaction of the Mayor. When Scorpio is finally apprehended, he is let loose because Callahan failed to secure a search warrant. The killings therefore resume, and a disgusted Callahan has to disobey orders to bring the matter to an end.

In bringing Eastwood's western movie persona to an urban setting, Dirty Harry re-wrote the rules for police action films. The anti-establishment, unconventional loner cop, frustrated by rules and process and prone to extreme violence, became the new standard for movie cops. Director Don Siegel and Eastwood provide Harry with an overwhelming cool factor. Standing straight and without cover as he trades blasts of gunfire with the bad guys, Harry needs to look down at his leg to realize that he has been hit by a shotgun. His walk, his talk, his hair and his cheap shades create an instant movie hero.

Robinson is a genuinely disturbing Scorpio. Although the movie may have benefited from providing a more in-depth back-story for the villain, when Scorpio starts to abuse school kids on the hijacked bus while demanding with increasing agitation that they sing "ROW ROW ROW YOUR BOAT!", he enters the annals of great screen bad-guys.

Dirty Harry spawned four direct sequels and countless imitators.  Its achievements also include creating in Harry Callahan one of the movies' most memorable screen characters; igniting Clint Eastwood's career as a Hollywood superstar; and giving the film world a most memorable line of dialogue, delivered through gritted teeth.





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Movie Review: The Bourne Identity (2002)


Robert Ludlum's abandoned hero Jason Bourne comes to life in The Bourne Identity, a rousing action film that starts a franchise, with Matt Damon stepping effortlessly into the role and confronting a mess of a broken life with danger around every corner.

Jason Bourne is floating in the Mediterranean Sea, unconscious and with two bullets in his back. Picked up by a fishing trawler, he is helped back to health by the fishing crew, but is suffering total amnesia. The only clue to his identity is embedded in his skin: a tiny laser projector with a Swiss bank account number.

Making his way to Zurich, Bourne finds his safety deposit box: it's filled with a large amount of money in different currencies, multiple fake passports, and a gun. His address appears to be in Paris, but before he can travel, he finds himself being pursued and targeted. Despite remembering nothing, Bourne discovers that he has exceptional combat, surveillance and survival abilities.

He doesn't know it yet, but Bourne is a CIA-trained assassin who has botched a hit against a deposed African dictator. His CIA black-ops unit, headed by Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper), wants Bourne dead to clean up the mess, and soon a succession of CIA hit-men as well as police authorities from Zurich to Paris are after him. The only help Bourne gets is from Marie (Franka Potente), an unsuspecting US visa applicant who runs into Bourne at the consulate and agrees to drive him across Europe in exchange for $20,000. As his travel companion, Marie soon finds herself as wanted as Bourne, and she has to decide how much to stick around as Bourne tries to find a way to survive, stop the carnage, and confront his former controllers.

Director Doug Liman briskly shepherd the action around Europe and finds the required delicate balance between humanizing Bourne and delivering highly kinetic action, including a terrific Parisian car chase. The film is sharply edited to capture the energy while keeping the action comprehensible, a skill lost in many subsequent action movies.

Damon makes the role of Bourne his own, and although he does not need to stretch, he mixes to great effect the icy coolness of an assassin with the confused anguish of a man who does not know his own name. Germany's Franka Potente holds her own against him, playing the weary Marie, quickly finding out exactly how much trouble is attached to the $20,000 that Bourne gives her. The rest of the cast is somewhat lightweight, but enlivened with relatively small roles for Clive Owen and Julia Stiles.

The Bourne Identity is an enjoyable, intelligent action film, with a compelling central character buffeted by a neverending series of absorbing, if slightly over-the-top, calamities.






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CD Review: The Battle Rages On, by Deep Purple (1993)


Now with all of them on the far side of age 45, Deep Purple's Mark II re-unite for one final record, a full 23 years after their first album In Rock (1970). The Battle Rages On has a sprinkling of excellent songs and as a whole is a worthwhile listen, but it this is a band deep into the back-end of a stellar career.

Still, the old magic sometimes shines through. Ian Paice's drum kit immediately sounds like it received an upgrade, with the drum sound finally thundering loud. Ian Gillan meanwhile emphasizes his tone rather than range, a logical transition into middle-age. Blackmore and Lord continue to carry the melodic load at the front, and on The Battle Rages On their emphasis is more on depth than speed.

The title tracks opens the CD with a lot of muscle and intent, Deep Purple determined to prove that they are still capable of writing dominant songs. The Battle Rages On is worthy of the name, the song a suitable soundtrack for endless war and a bloody battlefield. Anya is the centrepiece of the album, a true bolt of inspiration, Purple harnessing their creativity for one more masterpiece, an irresistibly sinewy combination of emotive vocals by Gillan and rocking delivery by the band behind him, marshaled by Lord's keyboards.

Ramshackle Man is a throw-back to old-school rock 'n' roll amped into danceable country metal, about as much energetic fun as a band can have in a middle-of-nowhere cowboy bar. And Solitaire is an excellent farewell, Purple playing almost against type with a subdued Gillan almost channeling more-modern Lemmy Kilmister while Lord and Blackmore lay down an epic downbeat melody that wouldn't recognize happiness if it tripped over it.

The Battle Rages On has its share of lackluster tracks, but it contains enough good material to remind us that as a band, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Ian Paice and Jon Lord were among the giants of metal.


Band:



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


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. The Battle Rages On - 10
2. Lick It Up - 6
3. Anya - 10
4. Talk About Love - 7
5. Time To Kill - 6
6. Ramshackle Man - 8
7. A Twist In The Tale - 7
8. Nasty Piece Of Work - 7
9. Solitaire - 10
10. One Man's Meat - 6

Average: 7.70


Produced by Thom Panunzlo and Roger Glover.
Engineered by Bill Kennedy, Hans Gemperle, John Corsaro.  Mixed by Pat Regan.
Mastered by George Marino.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Perfect Strangers, by Deep Purple (1984)


Eleven years after the flat Who Do We Think We Are (1973), Deep Purple's Mark II reunites, and immediately finds a spark. Perfect Strangers is among Deep Purple's best albums, and proof that this line up was in possession of a unique creative magic.

There is an overwhelming sense of mature song writing and confident delivery on Perfect Strangers. The compositions vary from the slow and powerful Wasted Sunsets to the perky Hungry Daze, and a rich layer of gleaming polish enhances the experience. The solos from Blackmore and Lord now exist to augment the songs rather than the songs serving the solos, and Ian Gillan's voice takes on a deeper, more controlled tone without losing the remarkable range.

Opener Knocking At Your Back Door, despite the dodgy subject matter, sets the tone, from the memorable opening notes to an infectious mid-tempo melody showcasing all five band members. The next three tracks are solid but relatively passive, a prelude to the real heart of the album: Perfect Strangers, A Gypsy's Kiss, Wasted Sunsets, and Hungry Daze are a spectacular foursome, and it is doubtful if the band has ever put together a better purple streak.

Title song Perfect Strangers is likely one of Deep Purple's most complete songs, a hypnotic, eastern-tinged lament, certainly echoing Led Zeppelin's Kashmir but without the overblown elements. A Gypsy's Kiss shakes off the sadness and replaces it with an up-tempo beat underpinned by Lord's keyboards at their grandest, with Blackmore taking over at the moment of his choosing with a breathtaking solo, and proceeding to duel Lord to a friendly draw.

Wasted Sunsets comes back to the theme of sorrow in the form of an unashamed ballad designed to cause severe depression, with Blackmore at his most lyrical after tuning the guitar to "sad". But all is not lost, as Hungry Daze storms to the rescue with stories of outright and silly fun on the road, driven by the peppiest of riffs that has no objective except to burrow into the brain forever, and succeeds in doing so, as Gillan delivers his strongest vocals on the album.

Perfect Strangers is like getting together with old friends, and discovering that the tales of yore just get better with the passing of time.


Band:

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


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Knocking At Your Back Door - 10
2. Under The Gun - 7
3. Nobody's Home - 7
4. Mean Streak - 7
5. Perfect Strangers - 10 *see below*
6. A Gypsy's Kiss - 9
7. Wasted Sunsets - 9
8. Hungry Daze - 10
9. Not Responsible - 6

Average: 8.33

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

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.



Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Movie Review: Conan The Barbarian (1982)


How does an Austrian bodybuilding champion with limited command of English embark on the path of movie superstardom? A movie that requires him to (a) say very little; (b) appear mostly shirtless; and (c) demonstrate strength by chopping people's head off, should do the trick.

And so Arnold Schwarzenegger takes the first few steps of a journey that would lead him to the absolute peak of the screen action hero mountain. In Conan The Barbarian he says perhaps ten words over the course of two hours. The medieval setting gives him the excuse to wear wild-man clothes, and to lose his shirt frequently. A couple of  enthusiastic sex scenes even allow him to go pantless as well. And the generally barbaric behaviour of everyone involved in the mythical story gives him license to slaughter with a sword en-mass, proving that when it comes to brute strength, Schwarzenegger has no competitors.

Conan The Barbarian is a simple story of revenge.  A peaceful village is sacked by a horse-riding, snake-worshiping tribe, under the leadership of Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). A young boy witnesses both his parents killed, but survives the massacre. He is taken into slavery, gains enormous strength and swordsman skills, is given his freedom, becomes Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and sets off to avenge his parents. He teams up with Valeria (Sandahl Bergman), also a skilled warrior, and they run across King Osric (Max Von Sydow). His daughter has been abducted by Thulsa Doom, now a leader of a large cult. Conan, Valeria and a couple of friends invade Doom's compound, free the King's daughter, and have a final confrontation to the death with the snake-charming Doom and his guards.

Conan The Barbarian aims for a grand, mythical, mystical, fog-shrouded mood. It achieves it in patches, and when it strikes the target, the film is engrossing. But just as often the film comes across as barely a notch above unintentional parody.

Schwarzenegger establishes unmistakable presence and commands the screen to the point that his lack of lines almost goes unnoticed.  James Earl Jones and the brief appearance of Max Von Sydow add weight to the film, making up for the largely inexperienced and unknown other cast members.

Director John Milius does well to surround his star with carnage.  The continuous gory blood-letting, body-part hacking, head-lopping and skull-crushing action works to immediately elevate Schwarzenegger into a larger than life character. He is one of the very few star-destined actors who could have possibly benefited from his kind of screen introduction, and he made the most of it.

Produced by the master of opportunity Dino De Laurentiis, Conan The Barbarian features a rich orchestral music score by Basil Poledouris. With the limited dialogue throughout the film, the soundtrack plays a prominent role in augmenting the on-screen action. Similar to the movie itself, the music walks a fine-line between serious grandness and self-bloated cheese. In this case, an appropriate description for the star, as well.






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