Thursday, 30 May 2013

CD Review: Adrenalize, by Def Leppard (1992)

Released four and half years after the stunning commercial success of Hysteria, Adrenalize is helplessly stuck in the wrong decade.

Between 1987 and 1992, heavy metal's commercial appeal peaked with Metallica's black album, and a certain band called Nirvana released Nevermind. The music terrain shifted noticeably away from pop rock and metal lite, but not that Def Leppard would have noticed. Occupied with the alcoholic disintegration and death of guitarist Steve Clark, when the band finally recorded and released Adrenalize, it sounded like warmed over slop from another era.

It's not that Def Leppard are doing anything differently than what brought them success on Hysteria and before it Pyromania, but that is precisely the problem. Adrenalize offers nothing that is remotely new, just rehashing of the same melodies, harmonies and lavishly layered production values. It's the exact same puzzle pieces reassembled into a profoundly more mundane picture. Perhaps suffering more than expected without the guiding hand of producer John "Mutt" Lange, here it all sounds forced, manufactured, cold and lacking in integrity, an almost perfect example of going through the motions, one more time, in the wrong year.

Lyrically the entire content is occupied by limp love, juvenile lust and misguided cockiness. Coming from a mature superstar band five albums into the catalogue, it's all quite embarrassing. Filled with boring ballads, and worse, boring rockers, Adrenalize sadly just atrophies.


Joe Elliott - Vocals
Phil Collen - Guitars
Rick Savage - Guitars
Rick Allen - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Let's Get Rocked  - 8
2. Heaven Is - 7
3. Make Love Like A Man - 6
4. Tonight - 7
5. White Lightning - 7
6. Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion) - 6
7. Personal Property - 7
8. Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad - 7
9. I Wanna Touch U - 7
10. Tear It Down - 7

Average: 6.90

Produced by Mike Shipley and Def Leppard.
Engineered and Mixed by Mike Shipley.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Book Review: Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg (2013)

Easy to read, filled with personal stories, stacked with key scientific survey results, and laced with sometimes biting and often self-depreciating humour, Lean In is useful if rather shallow. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's Chief Operating Officer and formerly with Google, McKinsey and the US Treasury Department, advises women to take more responsibility for their careers, to be bolder in stepping forward, and not allow internal insecurities about future parental roles hold them back. She also encourages men to take a larger role in managing the household, and demands that both men and women in positions of influence extend a helping hand to support and mentor women starting out in the work force.

Plenty of Sandberg's advice is adequate, and she goes out of her way to value all women, including those who choose to manage their households and forgo careers. But most of the book represents behavioural and personality tweaks, rather than essential change. A woman may lean in and take her place at the table; if she then does not have the skills to meaningfully contribute to the conversation, then it's a wasted seat (and the same would go for a man at the same table). Similarly, a woman can be encouraged to raise her hand and speak up; but it's more important that she has something important to say when called upon to speak.

Fundamentally, people who believe that they have a contribution to make are more likely to make it. Building that genuine belief on sound foundations is required for true leadership; the rest is behavioural, superficial and aesthetics. For women and men, the will to lead is only successful if it follows the indispensable ability to lead effectively, and this requires internal mental and emotional habits that do not come easily for most people (men and women). As is common with highly intelligent achievers possessing innate leadership skills, Sandberg's biggest blindspot lies in assuming that leadership skills are a foregone conclusion, and she is disappointingly silent on the inside-out imperative for personal growth.

Sandberg acknowledges early in the book that men and women are predisposed to behave differently, but most of her text then ignores these differences in the rush to demand equality in all things - at work and in the home, aiming for the ideal of half of all leaders being women. The divide between men and women possessing different skill sets, and the expectation that society should land at a neatly equal distribution of responsibility, is never bridged.

The label of feminism is waved around freely throughout Lean In. Sandberg dances around the issue, but fails to admit that the reason most women reject the label of feminism is because rightfully or wrongly, its comes loaded with the baggage of conflict, confrontation, winners and loses, and most women are too smart to want to associate themselves with such concepts.

Depoliticizing what are essentially key career engagement tips directed towards women struggling to overcome internal insecurities may have created fewer headlines, but also more purely served Sandberg's own stated agenda: avoiding the inflammation of gender wars and unnecessary stand-offs. If the objective is to empower women to more boldly strive towards leadership and fulfil their potential as soon as possible in the 21st century, then the sooner the rhetoric of the 1960's is dropped, the faster both men and women can progress towards valuing each other equally.

Subtitled: Women, Work, and The Will To Lead.
172 pages plus Notes and Index.
Published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf.

All Ace Black Blog Book Reviews are here.

CD Review: Arise And Conquer, by War Of Ages (2008)

The fifth album from Pennsylvania's War Of Ages is an enjoyable romp through the better neighbourhoods of Christian metalcore. Arise And Conquer finds enough variety to keep the music interesting within the limitations of the genre, with the band injecting tons of infectious energy.

Leroy Hamp's vocals are mostly screamed growls, with a few clean passages thrown in on the rare occasion. Hamp comes across as being burned at the stake, and angrily blaring that the fire is not hot enough. The rest of the band's sound is defined by guitarists Steve Brown and Branon Bernatowicz, and without rewriting any metal guitar history they demonstrate the talent to add enough texture, some solos, and quite a few variations away from metalcore's traditional monotonal safehouse. Alex Hamp keeps the beat on the drum kit, and blasts the door open on a few excellent breakdowns.

Arise And Conquer boasts four excellent tracks. Opener All Consuming Fire immediately launches the album into a high orbit, with oodles of attitude, a nippy pace and a massive breakdown raked by the eternal All...Consuming Fire....BURN! lyrics. Through The Flames is the most purposeful track and also the most nimble, Brown and Bernatowicz getting busy and buzzy on the guitars, with some of the vocals almost coming across as actual singing! 

Sleep Of Prisoners is a pleasant surprise, War Of Ages taking a swing at metal almost without the core, a catchy riff and solid melody driving the song to the gate of the big boy metal racecourse. The Awakening is not quite as good as the other three, but features an excellent opening 45 seconds filled with a promise that unfortunately is not quite sustained. The other seven tracks are honestly purposeful without digging too deep into new ground.

Arise And Conquer does rise, and if it does not quite conquer, it at least makes a lot of good noise while having a go.


Leroy Hamp - Vocals
Steve Brown - Guitar
Branon Bernatowicz - Guitar
TJ Alford - Bass
Alex Hamp - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. All Consuming Fire - 10
2. When Faith Turns To Ashes - 7
3. Through The Flames - 10
4. Salvation - 7
5. Sleep Of Prisoners - 10
6. Wages Of Sin - 7
7. Yet Another Fallen Eve - 7
8. Generation Curse - 7
9. The Awakening - 9
10. The Deception Of Strongholds - 7

Average: 8.10

Produced by Tim Lambesis and Daniel Castleman.
Mixed and Engineered by Daniel Castleman. Mastered by Nick Zampiello.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

The Movies Of Robert Shaw

All Robert Shaw movies reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

From Russia With Love (1963)

Battle Of The Bulge (1965)

A Man For All Seasons (1966)

The Sting (1973)

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Jaws (1975)

The Deep (1977)

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

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Movie Review: The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

A tense New York thriller, The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three is an unyielding tension-packed hostage drama accentuated by a veteran cast.

Four densely disguised and heavily armed men seize control of a New York subway car with seventeen passengers on board. Using only pseudonyms to address each other, the leader is ex-mercenary Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), and the rest of the gang consists of former New York transit employee Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), the trigger happy Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo), and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman). With the hostage train held between stations, the New York subway system grinds to a halt.

Over the train's radio system, Mr. Blue opens negotiations with Lieutenant. Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) of the transit police, demanding one million dollars within an hour, otherwise a hostage will be killed every minute. Garber has to convince the unpopular Mayor (Lee Wallace) and his assistant (Tony Roberts) to pay-up, the money has to be collected and counted, and then sped through New York to the 28th Street station, the closest entrance to where the hostage train is stopped. With time running out, Mr. Blue starts to lose patience and the subway tunnels fill-up with police officers and snipers.

Not every aspect of The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three works well. The characters are given either rudimentary backstories or none at all, a missed opportunity for Mr. Blue, Mr. Green and Garber. The Mayor of New York is laboriously introduced then unceremoniously dumped. And the ending in particular is a bit ragged, the hijackers suddenly becoming error prone in a manner inconsistent with all the intricate prior planning that went into the hijacking.

But otherwise, the film is a transcendent example of 1970s crime dramas set in New York. The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three derives monstrous energy from the City. Whether the transit employees, the police officers, the politicians or the hostages, here everyone is rude, loud-mouthed, sometimes vulgar, and quite irritable. Yet they do what they need to do to make things work and get by for another day. Faced with a bizarre hostage crisis, nothing in the response goes according to any plan, but sheer persistence and jagged cooperation keeps Garber one step ahead of a lot of dead hostages.

Walter Matthau provides a timely reminder of his effectiveness in dramatic roles, his unkempt persona perfectly suited to the transit authority setting. Director Joseph Sargent portrays a transit system that works but only because of the dogged determination of the stubborn, sweaty characters that run it, and Matthau's Lieutenant Garber is a perfect fit.

Robert Shaw as Mr. Blue is a formidable main foe. A cold hearted killer with ice in his veins, Blue plans for events several steps ahead of everyone else, and whiles away the time solving crossword puzzles as a million dollar life and death drama unfolds. With his British accent elevating him above the prevailing New York riff-raff, Blue appears in total control of an audacious hostage plot.

David Shire provides a drop-dead brilliant music score, a driving, brass-heavy tune with an infectious riff that goes exactly nowhere but enjoys every groovy juncture. The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three careens down the tracks, a blast of an entertaining ride.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

The Movies Of Burt Lancaster

All movies starring Burt Lancaster and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

The Killers (1946)

From Here To Eternity (1953)

Vera Cruz (1954)

Trapeze (1956)

Gunfight At The OK Corral (1957)

Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)

The Young Savages (1961)

Judgment At Nuremberg (1961)

Birdman Of Alcatraz (1962)

The Professionals (1966)

The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

Zulu Dawn (1979)

The Osterman Weekend (1983)

Field Of Dreams (1989)

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

The Movies Of Spencer Tracy

All movies starring Spencer Tracy and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

Test Pilot (1938)

Boom Town (1940)

Woman Of The Year (1942)

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)

Adam's Rib (1949)

Father Of The Bride (1950)

Bad Day At Black Rock (1955)

Inherit The Wind (1960)

Judgment At Nuremberg (1961)

How The West Was Won (1962, narrator)

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967)

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

Monday, 27 May 2013

Movie Review: Judgment At Nuremberg (1961)

A powerful drama examining the culpability of German society in enabling the extremism of Hitler's Nazis, Judgment At Nuremberg is thought-provoking filmmaking at its best. A star-studded cast glows as a courtroom confrontation sheds light on the insidious rise of evil.

It's 1948, and Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) has been recruited out of retirement in the state of Maine to preside over an American-administered post-war trial in Nuremberg, Germany. The defendants are four German civilian judges accused of crimes against the population before and during the war. By not taking a stand against the Nazi laws discriminating according to race and mental competency, the judges are accused of enabling suffering, sterilization, and death.

The most prominent of the defendants is Dr. Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster), an internationally renowned intellectual and published author on the topic of justice, with an impeccable pre-war reputation. Janning refuses to acknowledge the authority of the court and maintains a stony silence as the trial starts, not wanting to legitimize a trial of German citizens presided over by Americans on German soil. The other defendants are less prestigious, and perhaps more susceptible due to less than pristine pasts.

The American prosecutor Colonel Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark) is committed and confrontational. A veteran of the war and several prior court cases, he mounts an aggressive attack on the acquiescence of the judges. By applying and upholding the Nazi laws, the judges normalized state brutality, and Lawson draws a direct link to the resultant mass atrocities at the death camps.

In addition to presenting stacks of documents as evidence, Lawson humanizes the victims and calls to the witness stand two civilian casualties of the Nazi laws: Rudolph Peterson (Montgomery Clift) was accused of being mentally incompetent and suffered accordingly, while in an infamous case, Irene Wallner (Judy Garland) was accused of having sexual relations with a Jew named Feldenstein.

Tasked with the unenviable duty of mounting a defence is young German lawyer Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell). He adopts the stance that society as a whole cannot be found guilty of following the laws imposed by fanatical rulers. Rolfe holds his ground against Lawson's ferocious legal arguments, deflecting a succession of accusations and emphasizing that the defendants were fulfilling their civic duties in applying the laws of the land.

With the courtroom frequently the scene of heated exchanges between Lawson and Rolfe, Haywood struggles to determine how justice can best be served. With the Berlin blockade revealing the belligerent Soviets as much more of a relevant threat than the defeated Germans, Haywood's task is not made any easier when he meets and starts to socialize with Frau Bertholt (Marlene Dietrich), the widow of a German military commander.

Inspired by actual post-war trials, Judgment At Nuremberg is a rollercoaster ride through the evolution of societal forces. Written by Abby Mann, the script maintains an exquisite balancing act as the prosecution and defence take turns to make their case, every thrust parried with a counter-thrust, the moral pendulum swinging from one side to the other.

With Tracy providing sage oversight, Widmark and Schell are well matched and both demonstrate vehement intensity as the legal battle unfolds. But Schell adds a sublime layer of fragile humanity to the role of Hans Rolfe, an intelligent man fully aware that he is representing losers in the courtroom of the victors, yet determined that the German people not be uniformly indicted for the actions of their leaders. Unexpectedly rising to the top of a stellar cast, Schell won the Best Actor Academy Award.

Judy Garland, in her first major film role since 1954's A Star Is Born, and Montgomery Clift add a large curiosity factor to the film. Both battling personal substance abuse demons and barely able to perform, they nevertheless pull out affecting performances as tormented and damaged victims coming back to confront the men who judged them. They both deservedly received Supporting Actor nominations.

Director Stanley Kramer's cameras find plenty of energy in the grand Nuremberg courtroom. Frequently the cameras maintain fluid motion centred on the witness chair, and end their movement by unexpectedly capturing witness and defendant in the same frame, the accuser and accused caught within the same box. Kramer also elegantly resolves the obstacle of simultaneous courtroom translation without ignoring its reality.

Outside the court, Nuremberg is a dichotomy of destruction and rebirth, entire city blocks reduced to rubble by Allied bombing, but some neighbourhoods, markets and restaurants now thriving again mostly on American money. Haywood finds the locals mostly differential to their American vanquishers, and struggling with deep feelings of humiliation and confusion over a dream of restoring nationalistic self-belief turned into a nightmare of devastation.

Dr. Janning finally breaks his silence and eloquently yet emotionally outlines how individual responsibility can be subjugated by the rising tide of immense pride fuelled by intoxicating power. Judgment At Nuremberg asks all the difficult questions, offers no easy answers, and delivers poignant commentary on the dilemmas inherent in a society drifting towards extremism in the name of national reawakening.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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