Saturday, 28 January 2012

Movie Review: Random Hearts (1999)


A tiresome love story set in the shadow of infidelity, Random Hearts is an instantly forgettable mess of a film. Lacking the fundamental elements required to create and maintain interest, the movie stumbles in the darkness created when the thinnest of ideas is starved of thoughtful development.

A deadly plane crash in Florida reveals an affair between the wife of Washington DC internal affairs Sergeant Dutch Van Den Broeck (Harrison Ford) and the husband of New Hampshire Congresswoman Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas). Dutch tracks down Kate, but although she is not interested in his obsession to find out more about the affair between their deceased spouses, she follows him around anyway. Eventually they fall in love, as Kate struggles to get re-elected and Dutch's job performance becomes more erratic and violent.

Random Hearts delivers a nine word concept - betrayed spouses of dead cheating couple fall in love - and then drags its dead weight around trying in vain to find a reason to exist. Director Sydney Pollack, in one his worst outings, somehow prolongs the agony of nothing happening to more than two hours, and the best anyone can come up with is Dutch muttering a few times about needing to know what the plans of the cheating couple may have been.

Random Hearts fails at the basics. The illicit lovers are barely introduced before being killed; the reasons behind the affair are never revealed; nor are the betrayed marriages depicted beyond a single scene. In short, all the important drama-generating details of the central extramarital affair are omitted, leaving a void in the middle of Random Hearts as Dutch chases and unsurprisingly fails to find undefined shadows.

The drama plumbs the depth of intellectual and emotional bankruptcy when the search for the empty apartment where the cheating took place becomes the main quest in the film. This dumbfounding non-event is saddled with ridiculous importance, and when Dutch and Kay finally find the place, they incomprehensibly emotionally aggravate each other in a moment of amateurish disconnect between screenwriters and audience.

A side-story involving Dutch trying to nail corrupt cops goes nowhere and comes across as pure padding, while Kate is unbelievably portrayed as a most unconvincingly insecure politician. Random Hearts suffers further with Harrison Ford delivering what must be his grumpiest and most humourless performance, charisma parked at the studio gate and replaced by pure grouch. Kristin Scott Thomas as Kate takes little initiative and spends the movie reacting to the instructions of others, unable to ignite neither chemistry nor passion.

Random Hearts has no story to tell, and takes an enormously long time manoeuvring in a dead-end.






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Movie Review: The Family Man (2000)


A modern Christmas fairytale, The Family Man is a fable about what matters in life. Presenting a stark contrast between material wealth and a loving family, there is no doubting where the film's heart resides, but two excellent central performances and a sharp script collaborate to elevate the simple story into a charming experience.

In a prologue set at the airport, Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) and Kate Reynolds (Tea Leoni) are young and very much in love. He is about to board a plane to London for a one year apprenticeship to start his corporate life. Worried that he will never come back to her, she wants him to stay so that they can proceed to start their life together. He boards the plane, and their relationship ends.

Thirteen years later, Campbell is an extremely wealthy New York mergers and acquisitions executive, living the dream bachelor life in a sleek apartment. Campbell believes he has everything he needs in life, including a Ferrari and gorgeous bed partners, but otherwise his life is his work: he forces his team to work on Christmas Eve and calls a meeting on Christmas Day. An unexpected phone message from Kate and a surreal encounter with a burglar (Don Cheadle) trigger a timeshift in Jack's life: he is transported to a messy New Jersey home, and gets to experience the alternate destiny that he abandoned at the airport: married to Kate, he works as a tire salesman and they have two kids and a big dog, living the prototypical suburban life with a mortgage and a minivan. Jack needs to learn to survive in his new surroundings while recalibrating the value of his life's decisions.

Tea Leoni is the figurative heart of the film, and delivers one of her strongest screen performances. Just by being herself, Kate needs to unwittingly convince Jack that his life of New York riches amounts to little. Leoni nails the natural endeavour of the resourceful wife and mother, unaware of how attractive she is, sacrificing a career for her family and able to flood her environment with genuine affection. Jack Campbell is the model Nicolas Cage role, a man struggling with destiny's quirkiness and gradually realizing that he is a lot less in control than he ever anticipated.

Director Brett Ratner sprinkles just a bit of fairy dust on The Family Man, enough to provide the occasional reminder that Christmas is the time for life's magical contemplations. A bicycle's jingly bell, snow flakes at key moments, and serendipitous encounters flutter in and out of Jack's life as he gradually learns that his wealthy corporate life is, in fact, desolate. Ratner delivers a stunning punctuation mark when Jack returns to his apartment after living the lovingly cluttered New Jersey life: the same condominium that was stylish and expensive now just looks bleak and bare.

The Family Man mixes a warm heart with gentle humour. It may be a tad predictable, but it carries a lovingly tinged message worth reliving.






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CD Review: Operation: Mindcrime, by Queensryche (1988)


Heavy metal's most famous concept album is also one of the genre's all-time best. With an attitude of controlled aggression, Queensryche deliver in Operation: Mindcrime a record of outstanding quality wrapped around a movie-like story.

The Operation: Mindcrime narrative offers a lot more plot than many films, and although the momentum muddles towards the end, Queensryche shepherd the drama through to its conclusion. The story centers on the drug-addicted narrator Nikki being recruited by the power-hungry Dr. X to commit political and religious assassinations. Whore-turned-nun Sister Mary and the corrupt Father William are also caught in Dr. X's web. Nikki embarks on a killing spree and starts to fall in love with Mary; Dr. X orders Nikki to kill both Mary and Father William. Nikki kills the priest; Mary kills herself; Nikki tries to get out of his role as an assassin; fails; is arrested; and Dr. X disappears.

Despite the strength of the concept, the music stands on its own, particularly in the first two thirds of the CD. Revolution Calling, Operation: Mindcrime and Spreading The Disease highlight the band's unique style of progressive power metal, complex structures allowing vocalist Geoff Tate and guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton to shine as they bring the story to life. The music is full of sharply directed energy, innovative pace changes and the occasional solo flourish. Most of all, the music is acutely memorable, Queensryche stylistically embedding the lyrics into perfectly molded and long-lasting vessels.

Producer Peter Collins deserves credit for helping the band link the tracks with just the right amount of instrumental and spoken bridges, and no more. The result is an album that still emphasizes the music above all, while presenting a well-constructed and engrossing narrative.

Operation: Mindcrime is one of metal's milestones, an intelligent and musically dazzling achievement.


Band:

Geoff Tate - Vocals
Chris DeGarmo - Guitars
Michael Wilton - Guitars
Eddie Jackson - Bass
Scott Rockenfield - Drums


Songlist:

1. I Remember Now - n/a (spoken)
2. Anarchy - X - n/a (short instrumental)
3. Revolution Calling - 10
4. Operation: Mindcrime - 10 *see below*
5. Speak - 8
6. Spreading The Disease - 10
7. The Mission - 9
8. Suite Sister Mary - 9
9. The Needle Lies - 9
10. Electric Requiem - n/a (short instrumental)
11. Breaking The Silence - 7
12. I Don't Believe In Love - 7
13. Waiting For 22 - n/a (short instrumental)
14. My Empty Room - n/a (short instrumental)
15. Eyes Of A Stranger - 8

Average: 8.70

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Produced by Peter Collins.
Engineered by James Barton and Paul Northfield.
Mixed by James Barton. Mastered by Bob Ludwig.





Book Review: Persuasion, by Arlene Dickinson (2011)


Marketing guru and easily-agitated panelist on CBC's Dragons' Den, Arlene Dickinson doles out business advice in her book Persuasion. This is not a seriously researched or fact-based treatise; Dickinson does not bother with notes, references, suggested further reading, or even an index. Instead, she recounts her life story and packages the lessons that she has learned in achieving business success.

Persuasion is written in a conversational style, and could have used a much sharper edit. Dickinson frequently interrupts her own line of thought, throws in anecdotes that may work in a verbal exchange but are weak in writing, and introduces or dismisses concepts with no substantiation. Her examples are drawn purely from her personal experience, her business life as a marketing executive at Venture Communications, and her appearances on Dragons' Den. While often entertaining, Persuasion frequently stumbles as it attempts to stretch from an autobiography to a serious business advice book. There simply is little here from outside Dickinson's own world, and while many executives like to imagine that their individual experience provides adequate wisdom to fill a book and share with a wide audience, they are all generally mistaken.

There are a few nuggets in Persuasion that would have made for a decent lecture. Dickinson's focus is on ethical persuasion as a pathway to success, and emphasizes the old marketing standbys of authenticity, honesty and reciprocity, the need for good research, hard work, teamwork, listening, and delivering on promises. While not much of what she says is new, her personal story of overcoming a lack of education, poverty, and a bitter divorce to emerge as one of Canada's leading marketing executives adds a genuine warmth to her advice.

Beyond presenting what Dickinson believes in, Persuasion contains little in the way of transformational advice for the business novice to proceed and make the changes necessary to succeed. Dickinson knows what worked for her, but as is often the case, that isn't enough to make for a high-value read.

Subtitled: A New Approach To Changing Minds.
Published in hardcover by Collins.
268 pages.





All Ace Black Blog Book Reviews are here.


Movie Review: Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close (2011)


A child's journey to discover the meaning of life and death in the wake of a devastating tragedy, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close gently tugs on all the right strings. It may be at times too laden with obvious symbolism, but the film has its heart in the right place and steers a course to an ending that is more wisely enlightened than simplistically happy.

Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is a young boy living in New York City with his parents Thomas (Tom Hanks) and Linda (Sandra Bullock). Extremely smart but with some symptoms of Asperger syndrome, Oskar enjoys an especially close relationship with his Dad, who keeps him engaged in science and motivated to explore his surrounding world with a series of quests.

It's a devastating loss for Oskar when Thomas dies at the World Trade Center in the attacks of September 11, 2001. One year later he finds a key among Thomas' belongings in an envelope labelled "Black", and as a way to keep the memory of his Dad alive, Oskar creates a quest for himself to find the correct New York family with the surname Black to uncover the key's purpose. Along the way Oskar is joined on his adventure by a mute old man (Max von Sydow) who eventually reveals himself to be Thomas' estranged Dad. Oskar and his grandfather form a strained bond, as the mystery of the key moves towards resolution and Linda proves to be more resourceful than Oskar could have imagined.

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close does not economize on the heavy-handed symbolism. The search for the key to life begins with a physical key, and the coincidence of Oskar finding the right Black family is loaded with the impossible. The key does prove to be a blatant enabler of understanding between father and son, although not in the way that Oskar had hoped. And in a final serving of dense syrup, writer Eric Roth cannot resist a physical message passing from Thomas to Oskar. Thomas does not return from the dead to personally interact with his son, but Oskar gets to experience the next best thing via a Central Park denouement.

Despite the lack of subtlety, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close finds a winning combination of innocence and pathos. Oskar's quest to extend the extraordinary bond with his father starts with a wistful tone and can only head in the direction of a victory for the soul disguised as a worldly defeat. Director Stephen Daldry keeps a firm grip on what matters: Oskar will not find the answers that he is seeking, but he will learn that some questions have no obvious explanation, and that adults deal with grief, loss, and love in much the same way that he does.

Thomas Horn mixes precociousness with anxiety to create a memorable Oskar. Horn celebrates Oskar's quirkiness and fears as much as his intelligence and strength to create a believably well-rounded child character. Max von Sydow is haunting and funny as the mute grandpa, filling a hole in Oskar's life and serving up a lesson that other cities, like Dresden, have also suffered through extremely loud traumas. The wounds last a lifetime.

Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock have relatively small and one-dimensional roles, Hanks as the perpetually optimistic Thomas and Bullock as the devastated Linda unable to replace the void in Oskar's life caused by Thomas' death. They are both competent without stretching.

By distilling the tragedy of September 11 down to the agony of a single child, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close succeeds in personalizing a mammoth act of destruction. Of course the narrative works its way to the road to recovery, but it does so without taking short-cuts. Oskar, Linda, and the rest of New York City will learn to manage the searing pain due to the losses of that day, but the scars are never going away.






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Thursday, 26 January 2012

Movie Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)


The latest adaptation of John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an immersive film: rather than just recounting a spy story, it creates a spy experience, the tale of George Smiley's pursuit of traitors unfolding through a thick and entrancing fog of war.

It's 1973, and Control (John Hurt), the head of Britain's secret intelligence services, suspects that the Russians have planted a mole near the top of England's spy hierarchy. He sends agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Budapest to try and uncover information that would reveal the identity of the traitor. The mission ends disastrously with Prideaux shot and captured by the Russians; Control is forced to resign and dies soon afterwards. Percy Alleline takes over as Control, surrounded by the ambitious trio of Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). One of these four is the mole.

The Civil Service calls in retired veteran spy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) to delve into the shroud of secrecy and try to unmask the double agent. He becomes aware of a Russian spy codenamed Witchcraft, cultivated by Alleline and his friends to impress the Americans. Except that instead of feeding Witchcraft intelligence scrubbed of value, one of the British agents is happily selling top secrets. Smiley has to lay a careful trap to catch the traitor in the act.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is constructed like a thousand piece puzzle, with only a few pieces visible at any one time, and the relationships between the revealed fragments always a mystery to be understood several scenes later. Director Tomas Alfredson demands patience, concentration and trust: although at times the plot is dangerously close to incoherent, Alfredson almost always manages to pull together a more understandable picture and uncover convoluted links when needed. But he does so only at the measured pace that real-world spies have to negotiate, rather than the artificially compressed time most movies default to.

Stylistically, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is all grim greys, dark browns, reflected light, and depressing interiors. Spies are uneasy under the bright lights, and Dutch cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema allows his cameras to delve into the heaviness of deadly uncertainty that exists in the corners of the intelligence world. There is nothing in the film's visual style that can be misconstrued as cheerful.

The performances are uniformly perfect, avoiding the flashiness that would stand out like a death wish in the spy world, and focusing instead on the "suspect everyone" ethic required for survival. The British agents need to guard against each other more than they need to worry about foreign threats, in a case of the unknown unknowns being far more dangerous than the known unknowns. Gary Oldman shines as the understated master spy George Smiley, navigating the maze of internal intrigue with the smoothness of a man who helped to build the maze. Oldman's screen presence finally grows up in this role, letting go the final vestiges of his odd young man persona and fully embodying a wily veteran who has seen too much of the ugly side of silent wars.

John Hurt portrays Control as a deeply weathered man resigned to falling victim to the multitude of knives about to be plunged into his back courtesy of his own team, his only regret not uncovering one final traitor before the end of his career. Colin Firth makes an interesting choice to slip into a supportive role following The King's Speech. Along with Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik and Toby Jones, they embody all that is dangerous about ambition in the spy game: too confident in their own career ladder climbing abilities to compensate for potentially fatal blindspots.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is intellectually challenging and visually engrossing: grown men playing deadly games in the shadows of war, clamouring after personal glory under the pretext of serving the best interests of their country.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Monday, 23 January 2012

Movie Review: I Am Number Four (2011)


A lightweight action movie, I Am Number Four has only the most rudimentary plot elements and satisfies itself with a succession of chaotic fight scenes as a few aliens wage noisy battles in suburbia.

Taking refuge on Earth, John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is Number Four, one of nine teens with special combat powers rescued from planet Lorien when it was sacked by the invading evil Mogadorians. Smith is protected by his guardian and mentor Henri (Timothy Olyphant), who keeps the two of them on the move to avoid the Mogadorian death squads that have already disposed of Numbers One, Two, and Three.

John and Henri arrive in the town of Paradise, Ohio, where John tries to blend in at the local high school. He befriends the local nerd Sam (Callan McAuliffe), and is immediately attracted to Sarah (Dianna Agron), an amateur photographer. John also has the usual unpleasant encounters with Sarah's former boyfriend Mark (Jake Abel) and his jock friends. It isn't long before the Mogadorians track down John and Henri, resulting in a fight to the death in which some unexpected allies, including Number Six (Teresa Palmer), join forces with John.

Based on the teen-oriented novel of the same name, I Am Number Four tries to reach for a broader audience, but the source material is severely limited. Director D. J. Caruso (Eagle Eye) can do little with humourless characters and a backstory sketched with the thickest of markers. The Mogadorians are pure comic-book level evil designed to intimidate the easily impressed, and the actors all appear out of their depth on the big screen.

The action scenes are a jumble of light, whirling bodies, glowing ancient knives and massive guns that achieve disproportionately minimal damage. The outcome of I Am Number Four is never in doubt, and the only question is how much of Paradise will be lost to wanton destruction before the credits roll.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Sunday, 22 January 2012

All Nevermore CD Reviews









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

The Politics Of Ecstasy (1996): 7.89
Dreaming Neon Black (1999): 7.00
Dead Heart In A Dead World (2000): 7.91
This Godless Endeavor (2005): 7.80
The Obsidian Conspiracy (2010): 7.36

Average (all reviewed Nevermore CDs): 7.59

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.



CD Review: Dreaming Neon Black, by Nevermore (1999)


Nevermore's third album is pessimistic, drawn-out and downbeat. Dreaming Neon Black is something of a concept album inspired by vocalist Warrel Dane losing his girlfriend under difficult circumstances. He drags the band and the music through a melancholy emotional journey that bogs down in the sands of sorrow.

Only a couple of the selections deserve a mention. Beyond Within at least flexes some muscles with a heavyweight intro riff that lifts the spirits before the rest of tracks settles for undelivered promise. Title track Dreaming Neon Black is by far the best thing on the CD, exquisitely alternating soft and sad acoustic ballad elements with trudging, massive metal machinery.

The rest of the album desperately seeks inspiration but draws short, Nevermore frantically reassembling all their familiar notes into darker and gloomier structures to no avail. Tracks like The Death Of Passion, Poison Godmachine and All Play Dead shuffle ahead half-heartedly in a dreary monotone that stuffs any positive energy into a black box of despair.

In reaffirming the concept of misery loving company, Dreaming Neon Black may resonate immediately after an agonizing relationship breakup, but otherwise, it's just depressingly devoid of spirit.


Band:

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


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Ophidian - n/a (short instrumental)
2. Beyond Within - 8
3. The Death Of Passion - 6
4. I Am The Dog - 7
5. Dreaming Neon Black - 9
6. Deconstruction - 7
7. The Fault Of The Flesh - 7
8. The Lotus Eaters - 7
9. Poison Godmachine - 6
10. All Play Dead - 6
11. Cenotaph - 7
12. No More Will - 7
13. Forever - 7

Average: 7.00

Produced, Recorded and Mixed by Neil Kernon.
Mastered by Raymon Breton and Neil Kernon.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.


Saturday, 21 January 2012

Movie Review: The Godfather Part III (1990)


Michael Corleone's journey reaches its conclusion as he strikes a deal with the Vatican and finds out that grappling with the ruthless forces behind the power of the church is not much different than sleeping with the devil. The Godfather Part III may lack the mysticism of the first two chapters, but it still delivers compelling human drama punctuated by episodes of extreme violence.

It's 1979, and Michael (Al Pacino) has worked hard to legitimize the family's business. Through charitable foundations run by his daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola), Michael doles out money in high circles to gain ever more power and influence.  His sister Connie (Talia Shire) remains loyally by his side, and Michael even tries to create a civilized relationship with his ex-wife Kay (Diane Keaton). Michael is disappointed when his son Anthony (Franc D'Ambrosio) chooses life as an opera singer instead of pursuing law school, but in a sign of the evolving times, Michael does not stand in Anthony's way.

Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) is the bastard son of Michael's deceased brother Sonny, and with Anthony not interested in the family business, Michael gives Vincent a chance to rejoin the family and prove his abilities. Despite being cousins, Vincent and Mary begin a relationship as Vincent starts to gain influence. Meanwhile, Michael designs a high-stakes deal with the Vatican: in return for saving the bankrupt papal bank, Michael will be given control of the church's mammoth real estate company, effectively making him the world's most powerful landlord.

Michael's growing legitimate wealth and influence breed resentment among his old allies in the Mafia world, but more sinister are the mysteriously powerful forces that suddenly begin to target the Corleones. With Michael's dream of global legitimacy almost within his grasp, he and Vincent must sort out friend from foe and protect the family from new and brutal enemies.

It is easy to imagine that The Godfather Part III would have been much better with Robert Duvall and Winona Ryder. Duvall refused to reprise the role of Tom Hagen, claiming that he was offered too little money. Instead, George Hamilton does a pale imitation of the new Corleone family lawyer, and the film loses one its centres of gravity.

Worse still is the loss of Ryder, who dropped out of the role of Mary just prior to the start of filming. Sofia Coppola creates a black hole every time she opens her mouth, a performance that is wooden in the worst deer-in-the-headlights kind of way. She reads her lines with the monotonous conviction usually reserved for grade school plays, and in their shared scenes, the likes of Pacino and Garcia are almost visibly aghast by her obvious lack of talent.

Other than Garcia, who lives up to the burden and legacy, The Godfather Part III is left with a noticeably weak supporting cast to surround Pacino. Diane Keaton and Talia Shire return but they contribute little weight. Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, Raf Vallone and John Savage populate the middle to low reaches of the cast list in generally nondescript roles, and the absence of the likes of Brando, De Niro, Caan, and Cazale is pronounced and painful.

Despite the thin layer of available on-screen talent, Francis Ford Coppola still manages to construct a fairly engrossing conclusion to the bloody saga of the Corleone family. The forces lined up against Michael are more powerful and determined than any previously encountered by the family, Michael learning that in legitimate circles, the same ruthless laws of the jungle apply, except they are hidden behind a dangerous veneer of institutional legitimacy. By weaving the real-world death of Pope John Paul I and the events of the Banco Ambosiano scandal into the Corleone story, Coppola draws the labyrinthian lines that connect yesterday's criminals to today's centres of financial power, and infuses The Godfather Part III with additional relevance.

The focus on the next generation also refreshes the premise. Although Michael's story finds its denouement in The Godfather Part III, Coppola oversees the handing over of at least some of the reins to the likes of Vincent, who doubtless will one day make his own dark offers.

The Gordon Willis cinematography is artistic without being showy, and the famous Nino Rota theme music is used sparingly to maximize its impact.

The Godfather Part III oozes enough grandeur to overcome its faults, and is a worthy third and final chapter in the epic and bloody history of the Corleone family.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Movie Review: The River Wild (1994)


A rapid run through the churning waters of a stressed family confronting evil, The River Wild is a rewarding adventure, made memorable by two impressive performances from Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon.

Gail (Streep) her husband Tom (David Strathairn) and their son Roarke (Joseph Mazzello) embark on a river rafting trip near the Canadian border. The relationship between Gail and Tom is strained almost to the breaking point thanks to his obsession with work and neglect of the family. Gail used to be a river guide and is an experienced river rafter, a fact that intrigues the apparently likable Wade (Bacon), also heading out onto the river with his buddy Terry (John C. Reilly) in another raft.

With Roarke angry at his dad, Wade fills the vacuum and quickly befriends the boy. But as the two rafts make their way downriver, Wade and Terry start to spend too much time with Gail's family at every stop, and both Gail and Tom sense that something is wrong. Sure enough, Wade and Terry are revealed to be criminals on the run, having committed a botched robbery that included the killing of a security guard. Using the threat of a loaded gun, Wade holds the family hostage and demands that Gail navigate them down river, through a highly treacherous section of white water called The Gauntlet.

Wade is one of Kevin Bacon's finest roles. The outward charm hiding heartless cruelty allows Bacon to play to his strengths. Roarke's immediate attraction and subsequent hero worship of Wade, as compared to his stodgy Dad, is compellingly delivered, and adds yet another life lesson to the already rich classroom that the river provides. And when Wade finally removes his nice-guy mask and reveals his true colours, Bacon switches from dangerously friendly to chillingly evil without losing his engaging personality, which makes Wade all the more depraved.

Meryl Streep did most of her own stunts in one her most physically demanding roles. But Gail's arduous journey cannot hide another terrific acting performance from Streep as Gail fights an unfair battle on four fronts: a marital battle with a husband who has checked out; a battle against falling for the charms of Wade, who initially seems to represent all that Tom does not; a battle to save her family from the raging river; and finally a battle against pure criminal evil. When she finally grasps what she is up against, Streep brings out of Gail the steely determination of a woman under mortal threat, doing what is necessary to survive.

David Strathairn as Tom suffers in comparison, primarily because his character's development is the least convincing. From a disconnected husband, uncaring father and boring office worker to a heroic outdoorsman with incredible agility and stamina, Tom's journey does not ring true, despite Strathairn's best efforts. Providing better support is John C. Reilly as Terry, Wade's sidekick and relatively dim servile follower.

Director Curtis Hanson puts the breathtaking scenery to excellent use, and combines the talent of his cast with nature's stunning beauty and power to great effect. Filmed on the Kootenai and Flathead Rivers in Montana and the Rogue River in Oregon, The River Wild may be Hollywood's ultimate salute to rafting, the water growing ever more turbulent as the dangers increase around Gail. But navigating the river is also her strength and advantage over Wade, and as the water gets more ferocious, Gail is riding into her element. The river may be wild, but for Gail the greater challenge is to try and overcome a ruthless criminal and save her family.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.



Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Movie Review: The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)


A love story comfortably embedded in the high-glitz world of precious art, The Thomas Crown Affair targets a mature audience with a smooth vibe, eloquent character development, and only enough action to spice the story, rather than dominate it.

New York mergers and acquisitions tycoon Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) owns everything that life has to offer, but still enjoys stealing the occasional piece of art. His psychiatrist (Faye Dunaway) is quick to pin-point the lonely hole in his heart as the one thing that he cannot satisfy with his riches. After Crown masterminds a daring theft and elegantly walks off with a precious Monet painting, insurance investigator Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) is called in to recover the painting. Banning quickly suspects Crown, but he is too clever to allow her to find the necessary proof that he committed the theft. Also trying to crack the case is police detective Michael McCann (Denis Leary), who finds himself competing with Banning in attempts to corner Crown.

Banning cozies up to Crown to try and uncover his secrets, but a strong mutual attraction gradually develops between the two. Banning is caught between her job and her heart, Crown is caught between his crime and his love, and McCann would just rather be focusing on catching real criminals rather than rich men stealing over-priced art from pretentious museums.

A remake of a classic 1968 movie starring Steve McQueen and Dunaway, The Thomas Crown Affair achieves absorbing depth through patience. The Thomas Crown character is gradually revealed to be an extraordinarily rich executive, a thief, a competitive sportsman, and a fearless risk-taker. When he finally lets his guard down and succumbs to romance with the one person able to match him, the evolution rings true as the next logical step to complete his life. Outside of James Bond, Thomas Crown may be the perfect Pierce Brosnan persona, the suave playboy with everything, but always on the lookout for the next thing.

Rene Russo as Catherine Banning almost keeps up with Brosnan. Banning is a daring jet-setter, fiercely determined to do her job and cash in the commission millions. When Banning finally understands what she up against with Crown, she unleashes her sexuality on him on the dance floor in a memorably stunning see-through dress. By pushing both of them over a forbidden threshold, Banning changes their fates and sets in motion events that neither of them control - not a situation that either Crown or Banning is comfortable with. This genuine emotional uncertainty in both main characters, triggered by unexpected passion sets The Thomas Crown Affair apart and keeps director John McTiernan firmly in charge as the only person guiding the outcome.


The central relationship is a perfectly constructed conundrum, Crown realizing that Banning is the woman who can fill the gap in his life that drives him to crime, but also the woman who can destroy his life by uncovering his criminal activity. He has to find a way to establish trust and create the space for love with the one person who can either save him emotionally or dismantle his empire.

Two prolonged and well-executed art theft scenes at the lush and busy museum bookend the movie, the climax particularly dazzling as Crown cleverly outsmarts all security measures with the simplest of tools. The Thomas Crown Affair maintains its measured approach to the end, and builds its drama on welcome intellect and a credible, complex romance.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Movie Review: The Italian Job (2003)


A revenge heist movie, The Italian Job tries hard but cannot elevate itself from the realm of the average. The best and most original scenes feature Mini Coopers racing around demonstrating their agility, and the solid cast maintains interest, but otherwise the movie feels like a second visit to well-worn tourist traps.

Master thief Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) and his mentor John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), an expert safe cracker, lead a gang that includes Steve (Edward Norton) and Rob (Jason Statham) in the daring capture of a safe full of gold in Venice. But just when they think that they are set for life, Steve betrays the rest of the gang, killing John and leaving the others for a dead. But they survive and recruit John's daughter Stella (Charlize Theron), a professional safe security expert, for a revenge mission: to steal the gold back from Steve's mansion in Los Angeles. By creating traffic jams and using nimble Mini Coopers to navigate around the gridlocked city, Charlie and his buddies hope to recover the gold, avenge John's death, and escape to a better life.

Only vaguely inspired by the 1969 Michael Caine film, the 2003 version of The Italian Job can be sarcastically labelled a two-hour commercial for the Mini Cooper, and the little car does offer the best entertainment on show, zipping through traffic, diving into impossibly tight parking spots, climbing and descending stairs, and racing through sewers and pipes. To the benefit of the movie, director F. Gary Gray mercifully minimizes computer-generated gimmickry, allowing the stunts to be contained within the bounds of realism.

As for the humans, Donald Sutherland is as usual the most watchable member of the cast, but delivers his increasingly customary sage-man-killed-early routine that has become something of a trademark late in his career. Mark Wahlberg appears too likable and smart to be involved in a life of crime, while Charlize Theron fights the good fight but fails to convince that a professional security expert can suddenly join a criminal gang in a dangerous mission to avenge a father who generally neglected her.

It is left to Edward Norton as the double-crossing Steve and Jason Statham as ace driver Handsome Rob to add some much needed menace to the otherwise too-cheerful band of robbers, Norton memorable as a greedy but insecure villain, while Statham can actually be imagined as a ruthless thief in real life.

Despite some interesting locations and dynamic cinematography, The Italian Job is mostly pleasant, a curious criticism, but the lack of any kind of an edge or genuine tension simply defangs the movie, much like automatic transmission sucks the life out of a Mini Cooper.






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Monday, 16 January 2012

Movie Review: Bad Boys II (2003)


Applying the principle of go big or go home, director Michael Bay goes huge. Transforming a buddy cop movie into an outright spectacle almost 150 minutes in length, Bad Boys II is somewhat enjoyable for its sheer bravado, and outdoes the original in glitz, glamour, and extreme violence.

Large shipments of Ecstasy are being shipped into Miami. Narcotics detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) are assigned to find the importer and stop the flow of drugs. After tangling with the Ku Klux Klan, the trail leads to Cuban gangster Johnny Tapia (Jordi Molla), who is establishing himself as the lord of the underworld and brutally eliminating competing criminals. Complicating matters is Sydney Burnett (Gabrielle Union), Marcus' sister and DEA agent, herself part of a separate team trying to take down Tapia.

After numerous chases and gun battles, Burnett and Lowrey achieve a breakthrough when they uncover Tapia's favoured method for transporting drugs, involving dead bodies and caskets. But Tapia won't give up his empire quietly, and he grabs a hostage and heads for the refuge of his home country, triggering a climactic mercenary raid resembling more of a military operation than police work.

Bad Boys II soars during several exhilarating, prolonged action sequences. An ultra violent car chase that starts on the street system before migrating to the freeway has bad guys commandeering a car transporter truck and using vehicles as projectiles while Burnett and Lowrey give chase in a Ferrari. Bay elevates carnage to art, and sets a new standard for adrenaline-powered wanton vehicular destruction.

A bloody shootout in the hideout of a Haitian gang achieves similar brilliance. Bay's cameras seamlessly rotate around walls, squeeze through holes in the concrete, and zoom to where the bullets are heading in a highly kinetic visual ballet of impending death, as a steady stream of banter between Burnett and Lowrey adds humorous icing to the gritty scene.

And just to add an exclamation point, the plot contrives to have a Hummer plough through an entire hillside shanty town at breakneck speed, causing all sorts of hidden drug labs to explode in the process.

As can be expected in a knowingly overblown extravaganza, many other sequences in Bad Boys II don't work nearly as well. When Burnett and Lowrey verbally abuse a teenager who arrives on Burnett's doorstep to date his daughter, the exchange quickly degenerates from comic to hurtfully cruel. Burnett suffering the consequences of inadvertently swallowing two Ecstasy pills veers into cheap slapstick.

With the tornado of non-stop action, it is a surprise that the characters are not totally short-changed. There are enough dialogue exchanges to generate some clumsy humour and awkward humanity. Will Smith hits his stride quickly as the smooth Mike Lowrey, leaving the agitation to Martin Lawrence as Marcus Burnett suffers through a full-blown crisis of purpose caused by the high likelihood that wherever Lowrey happens to be, dead bodies are sure to follow. Jordi Molla is given plenty of time to develop Johnny Tapia into an entertaining, over-the-top drug ganglord. Gabrielle Union as Burnett's sister and DEA agent Sydney places herself in the middle of the buddy relationship by romancing Lowrey and going undercover as a money launderer providing services to Tapia.

Bad Boys II is about large explosions, vivid colours, wild shoot-outs, insane stunts, high speed chases, unconstrained energy, almost gruesome violence, incessant foul language and a dash of humour. With everything louder than everything else, it delivers artistically brawny sensory overload.





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Saturday, 14 January 2012

Movie Review: S.W.A.T. (2003)


All bullets and few brains, S.W.A.T. drips with machismo but forgets to add soul. The result is a lot of hardware struggling with a marked absence of software.

Officers Jim Street (Colin Farrell) and his partner Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner) of the Los Angeles Police Department Special Weapons And Tactics team help to subdue heavily armed robbers shooting up a neighbourhood in a botched bank hit. Gamble disobeys orders but successfully helps to end the ordeal by audaciously shooting one of the bad guys through the shoulder of a hostage. He quits the force while Street is reassigned to humiliating duties.

Six months later, with the LAPD suffering a reputational crisis, veteran Sergeant Hondo Henderson (Samuel L. Jackson) is brought back to assemble a new SWAT unit. He gives Street another chance, and recruits other misfits including Christina Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez) and TJ McCay (Josh Charles). By the time they successfully complete their training, Hondo's unit is called into action to escort dangerous and vastly wealthy international criminal Alexander Montel (Olivier Martinez) to a federal prison. Montel offers $100 Million to anyone who can help him escape, which means that the SWAT team will face a gauntlet consisting of every gang with ambitions to cash in, as well as the threat of traitors from within.

A big screen celebration of the 1970's television show with the famous theme song, S.W.A.T. struggles to establish a reason to exist other than juvenile nostalgia. Beyond the firing and dodging of bullets, none of the characters are provided with even the most rudimentary back story. There is a brief scene of Street's girlfriend (Ashley Scott) leaving him, but otherwise director Clark Johnson is busy with the chases, fights, explosions, stock evil bad guys, and testosterone-fuelled posturing behind face shields and Kevlar vests. The action scenes are functional, but with Johnson's television background clearly exposed, S.W.A.T. even lacks the big screen glitz that would have helped make the incessant spraying of bullets more satisfying.

Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell are mostly grim and stone faced, playing warriors for justice from another era, adequately floating through the movie but failing to find any buddy chemistry. Both Jackson's formidable charisma and Farrell's boyish charm fall foul of the mundane script.

So the end credits roll with the theme song Samuel Jackson (SWAT) by the alt rock group Hot Action Cop, a terrific modernization of the original television series theme song. Looks like it's hot action / jammin' with Sammy L. Jackson indeed; pity that much like the TV series, the theme song is the best thing about the S.W.A.T. film adaptation.






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Friday, 13 January 2012

CD Review: Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd, by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1973)


Formed under a different name back in 1964, it took Lynyrd Skynyrd nine long years to record their first studio album, and in many ways the wait was worth it. Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd is a cultured album, representing a band seasoned by endless touring and already close to their peak

The mix of southern rock with strong shadings of metal is potent. Free Bird is a remarkable track, an eternal classic and one of the earliest examples of what a metallic heaven might sound like. The instrumental back-end of the song, more than five minutes of shredding metal magic, is a cornerstone of the genre, unleashing the power of what can be created when rock drops its structures and crosses into metal's gloriously darker terrain.

There is strong support on the album in the form of the dynamic opener I Ain't The One, the soulful Tuesday's Gone, and Poison Whiskey, which exudes animated danger festering at rock's far reaches. All three are solid examples of the best elements of southern rock reaching for the solidity of metal, the vocals of Ronnie Van Zant perfectly suitable for stretching into metal, and the guitars of Gary Rossington and Allen Collins more than willing to follow.

Unfortunately, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd does sag in the middle, the four central tracks meandering between average and annoying, Mississippi Kid finally venturing out into the black bayous and disappearing into the land of the toothless.

But the good material succeeds in outweighing the bad, and the greatness on the album is pronounced Free-Bird.


Band:

Ronnie Van Zant - Vocals
Gary Rossington - Guitars
Allen Collins - Guitars
Ed King - Bass
Billy Powell - Keyboards
Robert Burns - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. I Ain't The One - 8
2. Tuesday's Gone - 8
3. Gimme Three Steps - 7
4. Simple Man - 7
5. Things Goin' On - 6
6. Mississippi Kid - 5
7. Poison Whiskey - 9
8. Free Bird - 10

Average: 7.50

Produced by Al Kooper.
Engineered by Bob Langford, Rodney Mills, Danny Turbeville and Al Kooper.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.


Thursday, 12 January 2012

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)


A though-provoking science fiction drama examining the themes of destiny and free will, The Adjustment Bureau is smart, intriguing and visually attractive.

Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) loses a race for a New York Senate seat when an old embarrassing photo comes back to haunt his campaign. About to concede, he accidentally meets Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), and she inspires him to deliver a quirky concession speech that revitalises his career and sets him up for a future strong run at the Senate.

The agents of the Adjustment Bureau, including Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) and Richardson (John Slattery), are responsible to make sure that pre-determined destinies are fulfilled. But when Mitchell falls asleep on the job, David and Elise have another chance encounter on a bus, and their mutual attraction grows. Worse still, David stumbles onto members of the Bureau at work, exposing their existence. For reasons that David only gradually begins to understand, the Bureau needs to prevent the inadvertent romance from blossoming, and eventually the heartless agent Thompson (Terence Stamp) is summoned to help split the couple up.

Unfortunately, The Adjustment Bureau ends with a perfunctory foot race, Damon and Blunt holding hands and running as they chart a terrain-altering course through secret doors embedded in New York City. It's a contrived action-oriented ending to an otherwise clever film that manages to avoid most of the tiresome conventional elements of the routine thriller.

Prior to that ending, writer and first-time director George Nolfi, working from a Phillip K. Dick short story, constructs an elaborate debate about destiny and free will, David Norris a victim of a destiny that excludes falling in love with Elise, no matter how hard he tries to pursue her. The distinctively dressed agents employed by the Adjustment Bureau, with their particularly fetching hats, are an astute representation of the forces of destiny conspiring to manage events according to a pre-determined but poorly understood plan, while the passion waiting to take hold between David and Elise provides a worthy test of life's predetermined paths.

As the would-be lovers testing the bounds of free will, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt develop an immediate chemistry, his Congressman and her dancer a study in two different people immediate recognizing that they were meant for each other. Their scenes together leave no doubt that their souls are intertwining in joint readiness for a life-altering battle against the forces of normalcy.

Not unexpectedly, Nolfi ultimately manages to have it both ways by demonstrating both the strength of the pre-paved road and the courage of conviction needed to carve a new one.  The Adjustment Bureau is a challenge to deal with, but then so is life.






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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Movie Review: Ocean's Eleven (2001)


A slick heist movie, Ocean's Eleven makes good use of a high-wattage cast and an energetic tempo to deliver a stylish romp through Vegas.

Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is released from prison on probation, and immediately sets about planning a mega-heist. His plan is to break into the safe at the Bellagio hotel in Vegas, which conveniently also holds the cash for the Grand and the Mirage, and take off with $100 million. The three hotels are owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) who has claimed Danny's ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts) as his own. Danny is more interested in recapturing Tess' heart, but will also take the money just to spite Benedict.

Ocean and his main buddy Rusty (Brad Pitt) set about assembling a crew of eleven men to plan and pull off the theft. The team includes pickpocket expert Linus (Matt Damon), inside man Frank (Bernie Mac), explosives expert Basher (Don Cheadle), and the Malloy brothers (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan), greasy jack-of-all-trade types. They are funded by money man Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), Benedict's rival in the Vegas hotel ownership business. On the night of a world championship boxing fight, the gang hit the Bellagio while Ocean attempts one last time to win Tess back.

Compared to the limp 1960 original, the 2001 version of Ocean's Eleven positively sizzles. Director Steven Soderbergh briskly handles the team-assembly bits and promptly places the emphasis on planning the theft. Enough clever innovation, unpredictable creativity, and shiny technological touches are embedded into the plan to make it reasonably feasible by the standards of high-budget movie fiction. The final hour is given over to the heist and its aftermath, Ocean and the gang coolly navigating the labyrinth of the Bellagio's hidden chambers to break into the best protected vault in the world, accompanied by the velvety smooth David Holmes music score.

The all-star cast play it surprisingly straight, with Clooney, Pitt and Damon graciously allowing the lesser lights plenty of screen time. Roberts has the least to do but still sparkles in her few scenes, while Garcia's beady eyes and tight jaw mercilessly capture then devour enemies.

Ocean's Eleven is star-studded, entertaining, and quick-paced, and attacks the house odds with gusto.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.



Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Book Review: The Essential Engineer, by Henry Petroski (2010)


What is the difference between the scientist and the engineer, and why does the media always laud "scientific achievement" when success is achieved, while reporting on "engineering failure" when objectives are not met?

Henry Petroski, Professor of Civil Engineering at Duke University, tackles these and related issues from the engineering perspective in The Essential Engineer, making the case that engineers often do not receive due credit, and that success usually requires that the scientist and the engineer work together.

Many pages in The Essential Engineer are dedicated to try and define where science ends and engineering begins, and to argue about the relative importance of each throughout the history of progress. Petroski rejects the notion that science has to uncover natural principles before engineers can be put them to use, pointing to several examples where engineering success was achieved (for example, flying) before the science was fully understood.

In several chapters, Petroski ties himself up in arcane knots that require an engineer with a blowtorch to undo. The chapter titled Research and Development is followed by the chapter titled Development and Research, as Petroski self-dissolves into an ever tightening spiral trying to dissect the difference between the two, finally sinking without a trace in a soup of R's, D's and ampersands as he tries to make the case that maybe "Research and Development" would be better called "Research and Development and Research".

The book is much better in the chapters that focus tightly on the real threats and risks facing the planet, from earthquakes to asteroid strikes, and the past and present efforts of engineers and scientists to predict and prevent catastrophe. There are other good discussions on alternative fuels, with an excellent presentation of the unintended consequences of a host of once promising technologies. Climate Change receives intermittent attention, Petroski not delving deep into the topic but predictably calling for collaboration between scientists and engineers to manage the outcomes.

Even when he occasionally runs into the swamps of geekland, Petroski's writing remains agile, his prose accessible and stylish enough to maintain capable immersion.

Much like the profession it celebrates, The Essential Engineer is elegantly functional, sometimes drab but never unnecessarily conspicuous.

Subtitled Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems.
230 pages plus Notes and Index.
Published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf.



All Ace Black Blog Book Reviews are here.

Monday, 9 January 2012

CD Review: Destroyer, by Kiss (1976)


A live band looking for album anthems that can translate to stage success, Destroyer is an unfortunate milepost on metal's road, Kiss pointing the way towards asinine hair metal with limited control over instruments, doltish lyrics that would make a seven year old proud, and impoverished vocal talent.

And with producer Bob Ezrin dumping all sorts of irrelevant sound effects throughout the album, the whole exercise becomes so much more tiresome.

The one memorable track from Destroyer is opener Detroit Rock City, although 90 seconds of arduous babble precedes the serious music. Once it gets going, Detroit Rock City carries the promise of a band that can get down and rock out with some dangerous guitar riffs, a soul satisfying solo, confident Paul Stanley vocals, and energetic drums. This turns out to be the end of the memorable music on the album, as the rest of the material is trampled in a mud field of mediocrity.

God Of Thunder finds one tune to play with and muffs it, the Gene Simmons vocals awful beyond words. Simmons also knocks Great Expectations off-key in a performance that sounds almost intentionally incompetent.

Elsewhere, things are at best routine. However, the reputation of the 1970s was not helped when primarily filler ballad Beth, with Peter Criss on vocals, became an unexpected hit.

Destroyer demonstrates how thin the crust of metal talent was in 1976, and how the detour into the dead end of image-only glam started with a band that rocked on stage with enough pyrotechnics to hide an alarming lack of talent.


Band:

Paul Stanley - Guitar, Vocals
Peter Criss - Drums, Vocals
Ace Frehley - Guitar, Vocals
Gene Simmons - Bass, Vocals


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Detroit Rock City - 9
2. King Of The Night Time World - 7
3. God Of Thunder - 5
4. Great Expectations - 5
5. Flaming Youth - 6
6. Sweet Pain - 6
7. Shout It Out Loud - 7
8. Beth - 7
9. Do You Love Me? - 7

Average: 6.56

Produced by Bob Ezrin.
Engineered by Jay Messina and Corky Stasiak.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.



Sunday, 8 January 2012

Movie Review: Rabbit Hole (2010)


The struggle to deal with the death of a child must be the most cruel challenge that parents can face. Rabbit Hole examines the life of an anguished couple at the crossroads, months after the trauma of losing their son. It's a heartfelt, well-acted and human-scaled movie, looking for the faintest sign of light within abject darkness.

Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are barely hanging on to their marriage. It's been eight months since six-year-old Danny was struck and killed by a car as he chased after the family dog. Becca is keeping her emotions mostly to herself, and is unable to respond to Howie's romantic advances. Becca is also not interested in joining a support group, so Howie goes alone, and starts spending time with Gabby (Sandra Oh), who lost a child many years ago.

Becca's mental state is not helped by her mother Nat (Dianne Wiest) continuously bringing up her own lost child, while Becca's irresponsible sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) adds to the tension by getting herself pregnant. Without quite knowing why, Becca finds herself initiating contact with Jason (Miles Teller), the teenager driving the car that killed Danny. Depending on the very few critical decisions that they will get to make, the relationship between Becca and Howie will be either destroyed or placed on the slow road to recovery.

Adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own play, and easily liberated from the confines of the stage, Rabbit Hole is an authentic essay on altered emotions post-tragedy. The outbursts are mercifully rare, while director John Cameron Mitchell lingers on the discomfort, silence and disrupted communications dominating day-to-day life as Becca and Howie struggle to cope. Guilt, blame, despair, resignation, and a soul-shaking sorrow smother the marriage, and for the couple to reconnect will require patience and a pro-active willingness to overcome instinctive reactions.

As an understated drama, Rabbit Hole demands stellar acting and the cast obliges. Nicole Kidman delivers a tender performance, a mother struggling between the natural tendency to turn inwards and the missteps that seem to accompany her every action whenever she tries to reach out. Aaron Eckhart's Howie is more stoic but equally conflicted, wanting to hold on to fragments of his son's life while wondering why his wife is not moving on as quickly as he is. Dianne Wiest as Nat is surprisingly influential in her daughters' lives, and the sometimes stormy but mostly loving relationship between Becca and Nat rings true.

Rabbit Hole seeks the seeds of new beginnings in the embers of tragedy. They are always there; it's just a matter of deciding to look, or not.






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