Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Movie Review: Fun With Dick And Jane (1977)

A comedy about economic hardship prompting a benign crime spree, Fun With Dick And Jane is a commentary about the middle class obsession with keeping up appearances and materialism. It hits a few high notes, but generally ambles along, relying on star charisma to make up for a limited premise.

Aeronautical engineer Dick Harper (Georg Segal) is a victim of downsizing. His boss Charlie (Ed McMahon) fires him, blaming the recession and poor company performance due to the shrinking space exploration program. Dick and his stay-at-home wife Jane (Jane Fonda) have a large suburban home, a mountain of debt and no assets. Dick is unable to find work, so Jane takes on a variety of humiliating jobs to make ends meet. After trying to get by on unemployment insurance and food stamps, Dick and Jane grow desperate and start a crime spree, robbing everything from corner stores to church donations. For their final heist, Dick and Jane decide to break into Charlie's safe, where he keeps a large amount of cash as an illegal slush fund to grease business deals.

George Segal was the Dick Van Dyke of his era, never convincing as an actor but always watchable as a comedian looking for the next messy situation to get embroiled in. The Fun With Dick And Jane script (co-written by Mordecai Richler) lacks a cutting edge, leaving Segal to stroll through the film with minimal impact. He does get one good scene to spread his comic wings, attempting his first robbery at a pharmacy but getting his gun stuck in his pants.

Jane Fonda does better, adding effortless glamour and attractive bemusement to the role of the well-taken-care-of wife who now needs to take more control of her life and her man.

Director Ted Kotcheff finds few opportunities to add any flair to the proceedings, and settles for just following his two stars around.

Fun With Dick And Jane achieves what it sets out to do, but it does set the bar low before clearing it.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Movie Review: Wyatt Earp (1994)

Wyatt Earp is epic in length and scope, but it never stirs the soul. The detailed story of the legendary lawman is told in a mammoth 3 hours and 10 minutes, and by the end it certainly feels like every significant event in Earp's life has been chronicled, at least according to Hollywood's best imitation of life. But this is a humourless, almost robotic rendition, tipping into territory where the significance of the man appears to be insufficient to justify the attempted grandiose treatment.

Wyatt Earp (Kevin Costner) and his many brothers are raised in Missouri by a restless father (Gene Hackman), who is always looking for the next move and eternally stressing the importance of family and the law. The young Wyatt works as a wagon driver and fight referee, before courting and marrying Urilla (Annabeth Gish) and appearing to settle down. When the pregnant Urilla contracts typhoid and dies, Wyatt is devastated and he turns to drinking and crime. Bailed out of jail by his father, Wyatt cleans up and works as a buffalo hunter and eventually becomes deputy marshal in Wichita. His good reputation lands him a similar position in the wilder outpost of Dodge City, where he grows in power and wealth and is uncompromising in imposing law and order.

Replaced for being too tough, Wyatt travels to Fort Griffin, Texas, where he meets and befriends Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid), a former dentist, frequent gambler, occasional outlaw, and suffering from severe tuberculosis. Two women also enter Wyatt's life, prostitute Mattie (Mare Winningham) and stage performer Josie (Joanna Going).

Another stint in Dodge City follows before the Earps relocate to Tombstone, Arizona. Wyatt and his brothers Virgil and Morgan antagonize the local cattle rustlers known as The Cowboys, including members of the Clanton, Claiborne, and McLaury clans. The escalating tension climaxes with the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, in which the Earp brothers helped by Holliday face off against the Cowboys. The Earps are subsequently targeted with retribution attacks, enraging Wyatt into a violent rampage against all remaining Cowboys.

While the relatively much lighter Gunfight At The OK Corral (1957) took great liberties with the legend of the man, Wyatt Earp conveys both the thoroughness and the dryness of reading an encyclopedia, with all the implied pleasures and frustrations. The performances are earnest, the episodes are recounted with respect, the emotions are packaged, the drama is predictable. Director Lawrence Kasdan plays along, with a serious orchestral score too eager to repeatedly flourish, and lush grand vista scenery. Its a film that never lets its hair down, evoking a history teacher who respects his subject too much to animate it.

Wyatt Earp is competent and reasonably engaging. But the attempt to faithfully capture the man unfortunately also manages to lose his spirit.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Heavy Metal CD Review Index by Year

Last Updated December 7 2014: added Cowboys From Hell, by Pantera (1990).

All heavy metal CDs reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are indexed below, listed by year of release. Another index organized by overall rating is here. And another index by band is here.

1967 (1 review)
Are You Experienced? by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967): 7.47

1969 (2 reviews)
Led Zeppelin II, by Led Zeppelin (1969): 8.44
Led Zeppelin, by Led Zeppelin (1969): 8.00

1970 (4 reviews)
Black Sabbath, by Black Sabbath (1970): 8.83
In Rock, by Deep Purple (1970): 7.86
Paranoid, by Black Sabbath (1970): 7.75
Led Zeppelin III, by Led Zeppelin (1970): 7.30

1971 (3 reviews)
Master Of Reality, by Black Sabbath (1971): 9.33
Led Zeppelin IV, by Led Zeppelin (1971): 8.38
Fireball, by Deep Purple (1971): 7.43

1972 (2 reviews)
Machine Head, by Deep Purple (1972): 9.00
Black Sabbath Vol. 4, by Black Sabbath (1972): 7.44

1973 (6 reviews)
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, by Black Sabbath (1973): 8.50
Houses Of The Holy, by Led Zeppelin (1973): 8.50
Montrose, by Montrose (1973): 7.75
Who Do We Think We Are, by Deep Purple (1973): 7.57
Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd, by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1973): 7.50
Billion Dollar Babies, by Alice Cooper (1973): 7.40

1974 (2 reviews)
Burn, by Deep Purple (1974): 8.13
Secret Treaties, by Blue Öyster Cult (1974): 7.63

1976 (9 reviews)
Rising, by Rainbow (1976): 8.50
Sad Wings Of Destiny, by Judas Priest (1976): 8.13
Boston, by Boston (1976): 8.00
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, by AC/DC (1976): 7.89
Jailbreak, by Thin Lizzy (1976): 7.78
2112, by Rush (1976): 7.50
Technical Ecstasy, by Black Sabbath (1976): 7.13
Rocks, by Aerosmith (1976): 7.00
Destroyer, by Kiss (1976): 6.56

1977 (6 reviews)
Sin After Sin by Judas Priest (1977): 8.25
Never Mind The Bollock's Here's The Sex Pistols (1977): 8.17
Taken By Force, by Scorpions (1977): 8.13
Let There Be Rock, by AC/DC (1977): 8.00
White Snake / Northwinds, by David Coverdale (1977/1978): 7.23
Lights Out, by UFO (1977): 6.75

1978 (6 reviews)
Van Halen, by Van Halen (1978): 8.73
Stained Class, by Judas Priest (1978): 8.33
Powerage, by AC/DC (1978): 8.22
Never Say Die!, by Black Sabbath (1978): 7.89
Hell Bent For Leather, by Judas Priest (1978): 7.68
Long Live Rock 'N' Roll, by Rainbow (1978): 7.50

1979 (6 reviews)
Bomber, by Motorhead (1979): 8.50
Lovedrive, by Scorpions (1979): 8.25
Van Halen II, by Van Halen (1979): 8.20
Highway to Hell, by AC/DC (1979): 7.90
Saxon, by Saxon (1979): 7.38
Down To Earth, by Rainbow (1979): 7.00

1980 (13 reviews)

1981 (12 reviews)

1982 (10 reviews)

1983 (10 reviews)
1984 (12 reviews)

1985 (8 reviews)

1986 (9 reviews)

1987 (11 reviews)

1988 (12 reviews)

1989 (7 reviews)

1990 (11 reviews)

1991 (12 reviews)

1992 (11 reviews)

1993 (12 reviews)

1994 (14 reviews)

1995 (10 reviews)
1996 (10 reviews)

1997 (5 reviews)

1998 (6 reviews)

1999 (6 reviews)

2000 (9 reviews)

2001 (8 reviews)

2002 (9 reviews)

2003 (14 reviews)

2004 (11 reviews)

2005 (17 reviews)

2006 (13 reviews)

2007 (13 reviews)

2008 (15 reviews)

Friday, 27 May 2011

Movie Review: Bridesmaids (2011)

A clever chick flick that borrows heavily from raunchy bromedies then dramatically outdoes them, Bridesmaids is a most enjoyable comedy, unique for investing in character development without losing comic momentum. Kristen Wiig of Saturday Night Live co-wrote and stars, and in the process establishes herself as a potential superstar movie comedienne.

Thirty-something Annie (Wiig) lives in Milwaukee, and is finding out what life at rock bottom looks like. Her small bakery business went bankrupt; she is stuck in a dead-end sales job; her room-mates are insufferable; her car is falling apart; and the one man who pays any attention to her uses her purely for sex. Lilian (Maya Rudolph), Annie's best friend since childhood and now working in Chicago, announces that she is getting married, and of course wants Annie to be the Maid of Honour.

Annie gets to know the other bridesmaids, and quickly finds out that Chicago socialite and control-freak Helen (Rose Byrne) also considers herself Lilian's best friend. Helen's life is as perfect as Annie's is shambolic, and the two are immediate frenemies.

Also among the bridesmaids are the stocky and aggressive Megan (Melissa McCarthy), who will become Lilian's sister-in-law; the blonde Rita (Wendy McLendon-Covey), who is stuck in an unhappy marriage, and the naive Becca (Ellie Kemper).

In preparing for the wedding Annie tries to be a good Maid of Honour, but everything she touches turns into an unmitigated disaster, from gown fittings (diarrhea) to the bachelorette trip to Vegas (kicked off the plane), to the shower (destroyed). Annie also manages to sabotage a frail relationship that was developing with police officer Nathan (Chris O'Dowd), who genuinely cares about her.

With the catastrophes mounting and the wedding looming, the friendship between Lilian and Annie is ruptured, and Helen is installed as the new Maid of Honour. Annie needs to find the incentive to pick up the pieces and reassemble her life.

At just over two hours, Bridesmaids is long for a comedy, but director Paul Feig (a veteran of TV sitcoms) uses the time wisely to nourish the characters and the narrative, and the film takes advantage of the available elbow room to work on a variety of levels. Most importantly, it is extremely funny, with some laughs, such as the sequence in the bridal shop, of the side-splitting, rib-cracking variety. Yes the humour is sometimes (or almost always) vulgar and related to body parts and fluids, and the vulgarity works brilliantly.

But the film is successful because it ventures beyond the laughs to create a triangle of stressed friendship between Annie, Lilian and Helen, and the script by Wiig and Annie Mumolo takes the time to probe how people, and therefore what they value in a friend, change over time. And finally Bridesmaids finds a heart by colouring in a lot of distress in the life of Annie, and becoming a rare example of a comedy that provides eloquent context for hilariously anguished behaviour.

A thoughtfully unapologetic romp, Bridesmaids leaves a trail of delectable destruction in its wake.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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