Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Movie Review: Footloose (1984)

A musical comedy-drama celebrating the healing powers of music and dance, Footloose bounces on its own giddy energy, propelled by a joyous soundtrack and a cast of talented young actors. Directer Herbert Ross assembles the film with one eye on maximizing the fun quotient and the other on maintaining the colourful characters at the centre of the drama.

Teenager Ren (Kevin Bacon) relocates from Chicago to the small rural town of Bomont. Ren is an athletic dancer with a positive outlook on life, but he finds Bomont seething under the domineering influence of Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow), who delivers fire and brimstone sermons banning dancing and popular music throughout the town. The Reverend has taken it upon himself to save the soul of Bomont, after a car crash killed a group of partying teenagers, including his son.

Neither Moore's wife Vi (Dianne Wiest) nor his teenage daughter Ariel (Lori Singer) are keeping up with him. Vi is concerned that the town is taking his message to extremes, and indeed there are rumblings of impending book burnings. Ariel is in full fledged teenage rebellion mode, running wild with her group of friends, including the fun-loving Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker), and sleeping around behind her father's back with the local no-good redneck.

Ren makes a few good friends, notably the slow but well-meaning Willard (Christopher Penn), and attracts the attention of Ariel, but otherwise finds himself a misfit in the crusty community. He decides to shake things up by organizing a school dance in defiance of the Reverend and all the town elders.

Written by Dean Pitchford, Footloose never attempts to take its superficial context too seriously. But the film does connect interesting dots on the perils of extremism, and Ren gets to use Biblical passages that support dancing to argue against the zealots running the town.

Footloose does have a few weaknesses, notably a couple of ugly fights that appear utterly contrived. Arial comes out of one brawl pretty badly bruised and battered, but her previously ultra-concerned dad does not seem to notice. However, the weak moments do not take away from an overall mood of infectious exuberance.

Ross inspires his cast to deliver terrific performances. Kevin Bacon, in one of his most memorable roles, shines as Ren, a cool cat of a character, full of optimism and bright ideas, and a refreshing, positive personality. Lori Singer smoulders as Arial, compensating with a brooding sexuality what she lacks in talent. Christopher Penn gets the most memorable supporting role as the dorky but game Willard, and the montage of Ren teaching Willard how to dance to the tune of Let's Hear It For The Boy became a much imitated classic.

The adults add substantial weight to the talent on display: both John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest bring a serious tone to their roles. As Reverend Moore, Lithgow rumbles through Footloose imposing his own version of the commandments, but gradually comes to realize that he is simultaneously losing his daughter and unintentionally driving the community to the dark alley of self-defined intolerance.

The soundtrack of Footloose displaced Michael Jackson's Thriller from the top of the charts and stayed there for 10 weeks. The title track Footloose, Let's Hear It For The Boy, Almost Paradise, and Holding Out For a Hero, among others, embedded themselves in the soundtrack of the 1980s. The music, much like the movie itself, left a lasting and upbeat impression on the cultural landscape.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

CD Review: Heartwork, by Carcass (1993)

A transitional album that laid some of the foundation stones for melodic death meal, Heartwork was the last Carcass record to feature Michael Amott on guitar. The album is filled with the nucleus of ideas that would grow up into better songs within the Arch Enemy context; Heartwork itself is caught between two worlds, melodic shadings sprouting from a wall of dissonant grindcore sound, and the end result is interesting mostly as an archaeological dig.

Almost every track on Heartwork has a few moments of classical-inspired harmonies that Amott would later develop with Arch Enemy. The opening minute of Buried Dreams; the closing minute of No Love Lost; the main theme of Death Certificate. But on Heartwork the overall sound remains that of a band more interested in brutality than artistry, and the more creative moments are rarely cultivated to their potential.

Two selections bring the album closest to where melodic death metal would flourish in a few years time: the title track Heartwork is a true discovery of a sub-genre, combining the energy of Carcass with a strong melodic structure that, although limited in ambition, is actually sustained. This Mortal Coil is more monotonous, but also enjoyable for its commitment to both the past and the future: there are undoubted shading of Maidenesque galloping guitars in the main riff, happily wearing a newly pressed death metal jacket.

But elsewhere, tracks such as Carnal Forge and Arbeit Macht Fleisch default back to grinding away at a stone that will yield nothing, Carcass holding on, in patches at least, to their grindcore origins of underground metal that snubs anything other than dedication. Heartwork is more interesting for the path it pointed to, better exploited by others, than for the intersection of styles that the album itself occupied.


Bill Steer - Guitar
Ken Owen - Drums
Jeff Walker - Bass and Vocals
Michael Amott - Guitar

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Buried Dreams - 7
2. Carnal Forge - 6
3. No Love Lost - 7
4. Heartwork - 8
5. Embodiment - 7
6. This Mortal Coil - 8
7. Arbeit Macht Fleisch - 6
8. Blind Bleeding The Blind - 7
9. Doctrinal Expletives - 7
10. Death Certificate - 7

Average: 7.00

Produced by Colin Richardson. Engineered by Keith Andrews.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Movie Review: An Officer And A Gentleman (1982)

A grand romance emerging from the hardship of military training and equally testing blue collar surroundings, An Officer And A Gentleman confirmed Richard Gere as a sensational heartthrob, and catapulted Debra Winger to stardom. Taylor Hackford directs a romantic drama rich with sub-texts related to personal ambition, military discipline, and the convolutions of relationships.

Zack Mayo (Gere), long neglected by his father (Robert Loggia), enlists in the Navy's Aviator Officer School in the Pugent Sound area of Washington State. The other candidates include Sid Worley (David Keith), Casey Seeger (Lisa Eilbacher) and Emiliano Della Serra (Tony Plana), and they are all soon battling through the hardship of the 13 week training program, guided by fierce drill sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.).

Mayo and Worley are class leaders and become friends. They meet two local girls who work at a nearby paper factory: Paula (Debra Winger) starts a friendship with Mayo that slowly but surely deepens into a relationship. Worley and Lynette (Lisa Blount) start with the sex and then explore the benefits of a friendship.

As the training progresses, Foley has to knock the traces of self-centred arrogance out of Mayo to turn him into an effective leader; Paula starts to wonder if she has invested too much into a man who will likely never see her again once he graduates; and Lynette ponders a plan to make sure that Worley does not leave her. Mayo uncovers some shaky foundations to Worley's determination to succeed, and these character flaws threaten the graduation prospects of both men. With the training coming to an end, Mayo, Worley, Paula and Lynette have to make the difficult choices that will determine their destinies.

It is rare for a romance to appeal equally to both sexes, but An Officer And A Gentleman successfully pushes all the right buttons for men and women. The glamour of overcoming the rigorous training regime and becoming a navy aviator resonates strongly with the male psyche. The local girl falling in love and being swept off her feet - literally, in this case - by the handsome prince (or officer in uniform, as the case may be) underpins every girl's childhood fantasy.

The script by Douglas Day Stewart weaves a simple modern day tale around the quest for man to become a warrior, and the quest for woman to secure a warrior for herself, and adds in a clever layer of demonstrated failure: anything that can go wrong does go wrong, and suddenly, in the relationship between Worley and Lynette. Not all men will become leaders, and not all women will succeed in finding a knight in shining armour.

Director Taylor Hackford, entering a peak personal era of delivering complex romances that would include Against All Odds, White Nights, and Everybody's All American, teases out five excellent performances out of his cast. Gere's Mayo displays a surprisingly respectful steely resolve to succeed, pushing aside his more rebellious nature to obey, for the most part, the punishing instructions of Foley. Winger plays the deceptively doe-eyed Paula with a tender spunkiness, her glamour downgraded to suit the local poor girl from a blue-collar family. Gere and Winger immediately find sizzling chemistry, culminating in a sex scene that has retained its crackling heat over the decades.

In support, Louis Gossett, Jr. won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his Gunnery Sergeant Foley, a role that would become indelibly associated with the actor. Mercilessly spitting nails and an endless stream of insults and profanities, Gossett brings a disciplined but manic intensity to the role of transforming wannabe fighter pilots into navy officers.

David Keith and Lisa Blount play a substantial role in the success of An Officer And A Gentleman, in secondary roles that refreshingly undergo their own compelling transformations. Keith's Worley is much less certain than Mayo about why he wants to be an officer, but it takes him a tragically long time to realize this. When he finally comes to terms with his life's decisions, he is in the clutches of unforeseen trouble. Blount, in the best role of her career, is haunting as she gradually reveals Lynette as the most dangerous obstacle facing the trainees: beneath the fun and frolicking, Lynette has a deadly serious and selfish objective.

With Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes belting out the spine-tingling Up Where We Belong as the romance between Mayo and Paula climaxes unforgettably on the factory floor in the final scene, An Officer And A Gentleman secures its place among Hollywood's greatest love stories.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

A remake of a sequel always runs the risk of being a dodgy proposition, but the 2004 version of Dawn Of The Dead just goes flat-out for fun. It's a supercharged zombie-killing fest, offering not much beyond the most rudimentary plot, but fuelled by endless hordes of the undead hunting for fresh flesh and getting re-killed for their troubles.

Ana (Sarah Polley), a nurse in Milwaukee, ends a long shift at the hospital, goes back home to her husband Luis, and wakes up when a neighbourhood child busts into their bedroom, attacks Luis, and kills him by tearing a strip off his neck. But Luis soon wakes up as a member of the growing undead army and attacks Ana, desperately trying to get his meal of fresh blood. She escapes, speeding away in her car and witnessing outright carnage throughout the city as the zombies run riot.

Ana eventually teams up with a small group of survivors: a police officer, a man with his pregnant wife, and a few stragglers. They take refuge in a shopping centre, and join forces with the mall security guards who have barricaded themselves. A long siege follows, interrupted by in-fighting and occasional skirmishes with intruding zombies. The survivors finally devise a plan to reinforce two mall shuttle buses and make a run for the harbour, where they can commandeer a yacht and sail to the presumed safety of an island.

Compared to George A. Romero's original sequel from 1978, the zombies of 2004's Dawn Of The Dead are fast, ugly, and mostly visible in quick cuts and micro-edits. Director Zack Snyder, a veteran of television commercials, draws energy from the briefest of split seconds, with zombies filling the screen only long enough to register as a mortal danger. It's a style of enhancing horror by providing just glimpses of abomination, and it works.

Snyder does not spare the blood and gore, with bodies hacked, blood sucked, victims bulldozed, zombies chain-sawed and the undead shot through the head with wild abandon. The excessive violence does eventually immunize against its own impact, and late in the movie some of the zombie killing does dangerously approach unintended comedy territory.

Elsewhere, Canadian Sarah Polley adds an unexpected dose of talent to the cast of survivors and victims, although after a bright start she melds into the group and gets relatively little to do. The Canadian connection continues with most of the filming taken place at an abandoned mall in suburban Toronto. And for zombie affectionados, there are many locational and character in-jokes referencing the 1978 version.

Dawn Of The Dead does not win any prizes for originality, but delivers the expected carnage with a bloody flourish.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Gloria (1980)

A character study chase movie, Gloria showcases Gena Rowlands in an Academy Award nominated performance. An unlikely story is secondary to an intriguing character forced relatively late in life to be the difference for someone who needs her.

In a grimy Bronx neighbourhood, a low-life Puerto Rican accountant for the mob is targeted for elimination: he has been skimming off the top and singing to the Feds. A group of Mafia henchmen invade his apartment building and kill him and all his family, except for six-year-old Phil (John Adames), who is stashed along with the tell-all accounting book in the next-door apartment of Gloria (Rowlands).

Gloria is late-fortysomething, single, hates kids, but is tough as nails and has ties to the Mafia: she used to be the mistress of local mob boss Tony Tanzini. Now Tanzini wants the accounting book, and he doesn't care if both Gloria and Phil need to be killed as a consequence. Through a long series of chases and dangerous hide-and-seek episodes with a chasing pack of goons, Gloria would like nothing more than to just look after herself and leave her old life behind, but finds herself compelled to protect the orphaned Phil, who is irritating, vulnerable and hopelessly endearing.

A study of a complex woman told though what is effectively one long pursuit movie, John Cassavetes directs his wife Gena Rowlands to her most memorable screen performance as Gloria, a one-time gangster moll with her best days very much behind her. Forced to confront perhaps her only mission in life, Gloria slowly and reluctantly rises to the challenge, but she herself is never sure if she is helping Phil or just getting back at the men who used her and dumped her. Rowlands dominates the screen, staring down thugs, firing guns down the street, confronting her sordid past life, exuding exaggerated bravado to conceal her fears, all while trying to lead Phil to safety.

The relationship between Gloria and Phil is the other anchor in the movie, and it's a collision between two stubborn lost souls. Gloria was never cut out to be a mother and wastes no time proving it, while Phil, despite his tender age, embodies a lot of the of clueless machismo that Gloria has had to suffer through all her life. Cassavetes, who also wrote the script, makes sure to prolong the question of whether Gloria and Phil will ever warm up to each other.

Cassavetes makes excellent use of New York's more sordid corners, easy to find as the depressing seventies came to a tired end and the new decade was slow to unveil its greedy lustre. But beyond the central character, the film struggles to find a purpose once the premise is set, and it defaults to a mechanical series of interchangeable encounters, with Gloria and Phil on the run and fending off an endless series of incompetent attacks by thick-necked assassins.

Gloria may not be the most memorable of mob movies, but it does feature a most distinguished central performance.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here

Movie Review: Dead Man Walking (1995)

A death penalty drama, Dead Man Walking is a powerful examination of the rights and wrongs of penalizing killers by killing them. Written and directed by Tim Robbins and based on a true story, the film strives for clear-sighted balance, and Robbins draws an Academy Award-winning performances from his partner Susan Sarandon.

In Louisiana, social worker Sister Helen Prejean (Sarandon) receives a letter from convicted rapist and murderer Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), requesting her help. Found guilty in the rape and murder of two teens, he is about to be executed, and would like her to lead efforts to secure a pardon.

Helen has never assisted a death row convict before, and starts a series of meetings with Matthew at the State Penitentiary. Matthew is both physically imposing and emotionally dominating; Helen quickly finds herself believing his claims of innocence. The community turns against her, outraged that she is helping a brutal convict and ignoring the victims' families. Helen resets, establishes contact with the parents of the dead teens, gains a more balanced perspective, and starts to help Matthew spiritually come to terms with his life and actions as his legal appeals are exhausted and he heads for a final date with death by legal injection.

An intense study of two characters, Sarandon and Penn carry the film and soar with it. Much of Dead Man Walking consists of compelling one-on-one dialogue scenes, Sarandon and Penn portraying characters from different worlds sitting inches apart separated only by thick glass. The arc starts with Helen tentative but eager to help, making every possible mistake as she falls under Matthew's spell and forgets about the victims. Gradually she regains her composure, and recognizes her mission: saving Matthew from himself, since no one else will do it. In a race against time, Sarandon's triumph is to keep Helen tentative, vulnerable, and unsure as she finally guides Matthew to a confrontation with who he is.

In an Academy Award nominated performance, Sean Penn is just as intriguing. His Matthew Poncelet is arrogantly in denial, fully aware that his poverty and upbringing placed him at a huge societal disadvantage, and willing to embrace the fringes of behaviours and attitudes to compensate.

Robbins does not shy away from both sides of the death penalty argument. The brutality of Matthew's crime is slowly revealed throughout the film: the more Matthew is humanized through his encounters with Helen, the more his vicious past is brought into focus. And once Helen turns her attention to the parents of the slain victims, she finds their pain raw and their lust for justice unwavering.

Dead Man Walking proudly occupies the grey zone, where most of life takes places and there are no easy answers: just people who are the product of their circumstances dealing with the consequences of their actions.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

CD Review: Deflorate, by The Black Dahlia Murder (2009)

The Black Dahlia Murder are the equivalent of an adult entering a kids' bouncy castle: there is a lot going on, some of it looks like fun, there are colours everywhere, a lot of energy is released, but maybe not much of the experience is memorable enough. A jump is a jump, after all.

The Michigan band's fourth album, Deflorate, offers ten tracks, and nine of them clock in at under four minutes. The Black Dahlia Murder pack all their melodic punk death metal ideas into compact packages: elaborate structures and gradual thematic evolutions need not apply.

With such limited attention spans, the band has a brief opportunity to make a good impression on each track, and to their credit, most of the material holds together reasonably well. The band's enthusiasm is infectious, Trevor Strnad's vocals alternating rapidly between the squeal of a squirrel being squished under the tires of an 18 wheeler and the growl of a wannabe bogeyman. Meanwhile the guitars of Brian Eschbach and Ryan Knight are perpetually on fast-forward with the occasional manic solo, while Shannon Lucas pounds the drums with a merciless barrage of blast beats.

As often happens with bands fixated on speed, Deflorate sounds best when the brakes are ever so briefly deployed, and the melodies are given an opportunity to breathe. Necropolis benefits from a more thoughtful and weighty foundational riff, although Lucas does his best to make up for the more deliberate guitars with even faster drums. That Which Erodes The Most Tender Of Things has a title almost longer than its length, since its gone in 3 minutes flat, but manages in those 180 seconds to develop a sharply cute staccato melody that stands out from the crowd.

Elsewhere, opener Black Valor and closer I Will Return, the latter carrying a mammoth length of more than 5 minutes, provide enough definition to overcome the otherwise incessant cacophony. The Black Dahlia Murder undeniably have a lot of fun, and make a lot of noise, in creating their brand of concentration-challenged metal.


Brian Eschbach - Guitars
Ryan "Bart" Williams - Bass
Trevor Strnad - Vocals
Shannon Lucas - Drums
Ryan Knight - Guitars

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Black Valor - 8
2. Necropolis - 9
3. A Selection Unnatural - 6
4. Denounced, Disgraced - 7
5. Christ Deformed - 7
6. Death Panorama - 7
7. Throne Of Lunacy - 7
8. Eyes of Thousand - 7
9. That Which Erodes The Most Tender Of Things - 9
10. I Will Return - 8

Average: 7.50

Produced by The Black Dhalia Murder, Jason Suecof and Mark Lewis.
Mixed by Jason Suecof. Engineered by Mark Lewis. Mastered by Alan Douches.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Movies of Kevin Costner

All movies starring Kevin Costner and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

Silverado (1985)

The Untouchables (1987)

Bull Durham (1988)

Field Of Dreams (1989)

Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991)

JFK (1991)

A Perfect World (1993)

Wyatt Earp (1994)

3000 Miles To Graceland (2001)

Mr. Brooks (2007)

Swing Vote (2008)

The Company Men (2010)

McFarland (2015)

Hidden Figures (2016)

Molly's Game (2017)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

The Movies of George Clooney

All movies starring George Clooney and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

One Fine Day (1996)

Out Of Sight (1998)

The Thin Red Line (1998)

Three Kings (1999)

The Perfect Storm (2000)

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Ocean's Eleven (2001)

Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

Good Night, And Good Luck (2005, also Director)

Syriana (2005)

Michael Clayton (2007)

Burn After Reading (2008)

Up In The Air (2009)

The American (2010)

The Ides Of March (2011, also Director)

The Descendants (2011)

Gravity (2013)

The Monuments Men (2014, also Director)

Money Monster (2016)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

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