Thursday, 31 October 2013

Movie Review: Captain Phillips (2013)

Drama on the high seas based on a true tale of modern-day piracy, Captain Phillips offers unyielding tension and a noble Tom Hanks performance.

It's 2009, and American Captain Richard Phillips (Hanks) leaves his New England home and wife Andrea (Catherine Keener) and journeys to the Middle East to takes command of the Maresk Alabama, a container ship traveling from Oman to Mombassa. Wary of pirate activity off the coast of Somalia, Phillips attempts to increase on-board security and readies his crew for a possible attack. But he is already too late. A band of desperate Somali pirates give chase in two speedboats. The fearless Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is a wiry pirate, urging his men to maintain the chase, but Phillips is able to fend off the first attack by pushing his ship to full speed and creating a large wake.

Undeterred, Abduwali returns within hours, with a faster boat. This time, and despite the best efforts of Phillips and his crew, Abduwali and three cohorts all wielding assault rifles make it on board, take control of the Alabama and demand a ransom. In the face of the agitated pirates, Phillips has to try to keep his men and his cargo safe while awaiting rescue. When the crew unexpectedly overpower the isolated Abduwali, Phillips has a chance to free the ship but at the cost of his own liberty.

While there is debate about Phillips' version of actual events as recounted in his book A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea (2010), the film adaptation is a well-executed story of survival and perseverance, with both Phillips and Abduwali pushing events to the limit. Phillips never stops trying to undermine the pirates, and Abduwali never loses sight of his ultimate objective: a large ransom in exchange for either an American ship or an American man.

Once the premise is set and the pirate attack starts, director Paul Greengrass grasps a large wrench, latches on to the tension dial and does not stop twisting. For the final 90 minutes Greengrass provides no respite, as Phillips lurches from one crisis to the next, the hand-held, jerky camera work amplifying the fears of a man thrust into an out of control situation with no definable end.

As the drama moves from the large container ship to the claustrophobic enclosed lifeboat, with navy destroyers armed to the teeth menacingly closing in, global imperatives of no negotiations, no success for the pirates, and no chance of Phillips being allowed to reach the Somali shore as a hostage, crush what started out as a local act of piracy. Both Phillips and Abduwali become subject to much greater global forces, their fate tossed around just as their lifeboat bobbles in the ocean.

Tom Hanks is comfortably within his element as Phillips, a common man catapulted into uncommon circumstances and having to think his way out of a dangerous situation. Hanks does convey some unresolved tension between Phillips and his crew, the relationship never pretending to be anything more that professional. Barkhad Abdi's performance is more edgy, Abdi finding the seam where a fisherman becomes a pirate and does the dirty work demanded by warlords. If Hanks provides the soul of the movie, then Abdi provides most of the electricity, capturing a man having to constantly back away from the brink in order to save his life, feed his family, not lose the respect of his men and hang on to a chance of a payday.

Both Greengrass and Hanks save the best to the end. Greengrass delivers a climax dominated by extreme yet controlled tension, the Navy SEALs moving in to try and do their thing under unforgiving conditions and with no room for error. Hanks gets the final glory, Phillips finally not knowing what to do or what to say, letting go of his emotions, allowing the shock to take over in a postscript that summarizes the hijacking of a large ship into the human trauma of one ordinary man. Captain Phillips may have knowingly sailed into pirate infested waters, but the movie charts a mostly enthralling course.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Movie Review: 360 (2011)

A series of related sketches revolving around the unifying theme of dysfunctional relationships, 360 is a rewarding romp through the credible carnage of broken dreams.

In Vienna, Mirka (Lucia Siposova) sells herself to the world of prostitution through an on-line service, despite the quiet protests of her younger sister Anna (Gabriela Marcinkova). Mirka's first client is supposed to be English businessman Michael, but the encounter does not proceed as planned. In Paris, a Muslim dentist (Jamel Debbouze) is obsessed with a woman, and spies on her as she catches a flight. The dentist seeks the advice of his therapist and the Imam at his mosque. In London, fashion editor Rose (Rachel Weisz) is trying to terminate an affair with Brazilian photographer Rui (Juliano CazarrĂ©), but the physical attraction is too strong. Rui's girlfriend Laura (Maria Flor) dumps him and starts the long trip back to Brazil. Meanwhile, Michael returns home to his wife Rose, and they attend the school play of their young daughter.

On a connecting flight, Laura meets the elderly John (Anthony Hopkins), and they strike up a friendship, John admitting that he has cheated on his wife and that his daughter is missing, presumed dead. Both are stranded at Denver airport due to a storm. Convicted sex offender Tyler (Ben Foster) is gradually being reintegrated back into society, and he also ends up at the airport. Laura is desperate to have a sexual liaison of her own, and attempts to seduce Tyler after meeting him at the airport restaurant, not aware how dangerous he may be.

At an AA meeting, John reveals how the encounter with Laura has changed him. Another meeting attendee, Valentina (Dinara Drukarova) expresses her deep disappointment with her husband Sergei (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), a gofer for a Russian mobster, and confesses that she is interested in another man, her boss the dentist. As the small degrees of separation that connect the world play out, two of these unknowingly linked characters will meet on the streets of Vienna under the unlikeliest of circumstances, disoriented souls oblivious to the grand forces that brought them together.

While undoubtedly episodic by definition, the beauty of 360 lies in embracing life's unexpected quirkiness. Almost everything that can be expected to happen in a standard plot does not happen in 360; instead, other things happen to ping the characters in unexpected directions. Most of the encounters find off-tangent, often messy endings, obvious doors closing and hidden windows opening, never in any anticipated manner.

Directed by Fernando Meirelles with plenty of style sometimes bordering on excessively showy, 360 finds the intriguing parallels in the lives of seemingly unconnected strangers. The most common thread is that of disintegrating bonds, with not one of the characters enjoying an emotionally satisfying relationship. The disappointments do not stop them from seeking the dream of a better future, but the Peter Morgan script is stark: simple happiness is often frustratingly elusive.

Another theme running through the movie is loss, and this extends beyond the emotional loss between couples. John has lost a daughter, Tyler is gaining his freedom but ironically losing his comfortable prison environment. Mirka loses her client, Michael loses control of his deal, then his daughter loses her lines. Sergei loses sleep, then loses the respect of his boss. Most of the losses are never recovered, and Morgan's characters have to shake off the disappointments and carry on, seeking solace elsewhere.

Within the confines of a multi-faceted human-based drama, Meirelles looks for technical artistry at every opportunity, melding scenes together, splashing through the gentle rain and achieving a modern oil painting look dominated by blues and gray. The screen is often loosely divided into strips showing different characters interacting in their own environment, adding a level of dynamism to the simple act of living.

In an ensemble production none of the actors get too much screen time. Hopkins and Flor emerge as the most prominent performers, and their scenes together carry the most fulfilling mix of serendipity and realism. The closing episode in Vienna mercifully does not try to tie up all the loose ends, but manages to finally conjure up something resembling fulfilment for two otherwise despondent people. Happiness is always welcome, and the right relationship may emerge when least expected to add a dash of new vigour to life.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 28 October 2013

CD Review: A Darker Kind Of Salvation, by Closer (2008)

On their debut record A Darker Kind Of Salvation, Sweden's Closer don't necessarily add too much that is new to the melodic death metal genre, but they do what they do reasonably well.

With a bass-happy mid-tempo sound and uniformly shortish lengths of between 3:30 and 4:20, the album features a couple of outstanding tracks. Chaos Internal is a terrific opener, featuring a clever guitar riff with a magnified impact due to an ever so slight delay from the drum/bass foundation. And right from the start, the bass of Johannes Olsson makes a statement of presence which is maintained throughout the album. Open Your Eyes is the other stand-out selection, a persistent yet simple guitar theme yielding to an Eminem-style piano theme,  a welcome touch of civilized originality providing the backdrop for Andreas Melberg's scratchy growl vocals.

There are other interesting, if less impressive, songs on the album. Title track A Darker Kind Of Salvation finds a deliberate trudge towards some kind of salvation, intermittently riding on the fastest horse on the CD. Hell Is Where The Heart Is cranks up the originality dial a notch to build its case on a surf dance ethos straight out of the 1960s.

The one notable misstep is This Hate, the shout-from-the-rooftops clean vocals and too-simplistic melody managing to undermine the good work of the rest of the band.

A Darker Kind Of Salvation is a solid, evolutionary rather than revolutionary, contribution.


Andreas Melberg - Vocals
Per Bergquist - Guitar, Melodic Vocals
Tobias Persson -Drums
Johannes Olsson - Bass
Jonas Skoog - Guitar

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Chaos Internal - 10
2. It Dwells In Darkness - 7
3. A Darker Kind Of Salvation - 8
4. Open Your Eyes - 9
5. What Am I? - 7
6. Caressing The Insane - 7
7. Places Of Pain - 7
8. This Hate - 6
9. Hell Is Where The Heart Is - 8
10. Shelter From It - 7

Average: 7.60

Mixed by Johan Ornborg. Mastered by Christian Silver.
Recorded by Johan Ornborg, Christian Silver, Peter Tagtgren, and Andreas Melberg.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Reflections In A Golden Eye (1967)

A train wreck of weird characters behaving badly, Reflections In A Golden Eye goes off the rails early and never recovers. The story of suppressed homosexuality on an army base teaming with lust and madness spirals into self-imposed chaos.

Major Weldon Penderton (Marlon Brando) commands a US army base in the south. He is stiff, unhappy, suppressed and not interested in sleeping with his wife Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor). She enjoys riding her horse Firebird, and finds sexual satisfaction with willing neighbour Lieutenant Colonel Morris Langdon (Brian Keith). Langdon's wife Alison (Julie Harris) is deeply depressed following the death three years earlier of her newborn child. Alison is only happy in the company of the effeminate and extroverted Filipino houseboy Anacleto (Zorro David).

Also on the base, Private Williams (Robert Forster) looks after cleaning the horses and stables, and has the habit of riding horses in the nude. Penderton starts to get attracted to Williams, who in turn starts stalking the the Penderton household, and invading Leonora's room while she sleeps. With Alison's condition worsening, Penderton growing ever more enamoured with Williams, and Williams developing the unhealthy habit of sniffing Leonora's underwear, the boiling emotions finally erupt.

Based on a 1941 novel by Carson McCullers, Reflections In A Golden Eye is just too close to an unintended comedy. Five of the main characters belong in a mental asylum, rather than a military base, and without a sensible core to hold the film together, it resembles more of a farce than a drama.

Penderton is dour, preens at himself in the mirror, mumbles his incomprehensible military teachings to the bewilderment of his students, gets into a fight with a horse, and stalks his men around the base. Leonora is wild-eyed, over-sexed, and happy to humiliate her man, including whipping him across the face at a swanky party. Alison is deep into depression, operating at edge of reason, while Williams is a voyeur, an intruder, a lingerie-sniffer, and rides horses while naked. And finally there is Anacleto, floating, dancing, singing and smiling for his own entertainment in an astonishing display of flightiness.

The performances match the characters in a theatrical display of exaggeration. Brando mutters, rambles and stares, while Taylor, getting quite porky, sticks either her rear end or her cleavage in Brando's face at every opportunity. Harris mostly just looks into the non-existent distance, and Forster, in his debut, wears a single fixed look of anguish and hardly says anything. Zorro David, in his first and mercifully last movie appearance, is in a world on his own, doing something that on a bad day may resemble acting, but even that is debatable. Brian Keith is left with the only semi-rational character, and he is naturally overwhelmed.

It is all supposed to represent suppression and lust, but director John Huston never finds the fine line where normal behaviour is strained by unresolved internal conflict, and settles instead for a large serving of outright battiness. Huston adds to the air of melodrama-run-amok by tinting the movie with a golden hue, creating a gold-and-black film with just the odd object per frame maintaining its colour. According to the peerless Anacleto, it's all supposed to represent the reflection of what a golden peacock's eye can see, but the effect is that of basic nausea. After the film bombed, normal colour was restored to later prints, but the film's awfulness is most appreciated with the original pee-coloured vision.

Forget the military base: Reflections In A Golden Eye is a certifiable cuckoo's nest.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Movie Review: Murder At 1600 (1997)

A routine thriller with a single new idea, Murder At 1600 cannot overcome an unfortunate regression to the most basic and predictable elements of the genre.

With the United States embroiled in a tense stand-off over US servicemen held hostage by North Korea, young secretary Carla Town is found murdered in a White House bathroom (address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). Detective Harlan Regis (Wesley Snipes) is assigned to the case, and although Secret Service Director Nick Spikings (Daniel Benzali) wants no outside investigation, National Security Advisor Alvin Jordan (Alan Alda) is interested in what Regis may come up with. Secret Service agent Nina Chance (Diane Lane) is assigned to ostensibly help Regis, although her role is really to spy on him on behalf of Spikings.

When Regis and Nina uncover proof that Spikings is framing a lowly White House janitor for the murder in order to sweep the whole affair under the carpet and protect President Jack Neil (Ronny Cox), they team up to chase after the truth. They discover a sordid link between Carla and the President's son Kyle Neil (Tate Donovan), and the more they investigate, the more they become targets of harassment, threats and finally hit squads.

While the premise of a dead body stuffed into a White House toilet cubicle carries a punch, and television director Dwight H. Little infuses a decent amount of style particularly early on,  Murder At 1600 quickly runs out of ideas. All too predictably, the rudimentary script defaults to a series of chase-and-hide-and flee-and-shoot scenes, as Regis and Nina become targets of assassins running roughshod over Washington DC.

The movie suffers from the common cheap thriller disease where the original murder is followed by several more brazen crimes, none of which attract any attention from the media or the appropriate authorities. Here there is a wild shoot-out in a tony residential neighbourhood that ends with a senior member of the White House team very dead, but that incident is somehow missed as an investigation-worthy event.

The resolution of Murder At 1600 is also limp, a contrived blackmail plot that only works at the juvenile level, and an interminable White House infiltration through underground tunnels that all too conveniently ends in the hallway where the President just happens to be walking through.

The exterior DC locations are attractive, although the interiors were shot in replica rooms built in Toronto. Wesley Snipes and Diane Lane do the best that they can with the material, both leaning heavily on their charisma to overcome the inherent outlandishness surrounding them. Snipes puts on his streetwise persona and gets to deliver a few cool lines, while Lane improves once she lets her hair down and decides to join the action, plausibility be damned. Daniel Benzali is too obviously crotchety, while Alan Alda provides a welcome level of quality to the supporting cast. Funnyman Dennis Miller is unconvincing as Snipes' fellow cop.

Murder At 1600 has a prestigious address, but a botched delivery.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Movie Review: Trouble With The Curve (2012)

An affecting father - daughter drama set within the world of baseball scouting, Trouble With The Curve has plenty of spirit and wisdom, although the edges of the story are a bit too tidy.

Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is a legendary old-school scout, working for the Atlanta Braves. With age catching up to him and his eyesight beginning to fail, Lobel nevertheless insists on scouting the old way, eschewing computers and spreadsheets in favour of hours spent in minor league ball parks to get a true sense of what a player is capable of. Gus has a strained relationship with his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), a lawyer striving to make Partner at her firm. Pete Klein (John Goodman) is the Braves' head of scouting and appreciates Gus' instincts, but even he starts to consider not renewing the contract of the veteran scout.

With the entry draft fast approaching, Gus is assigned to scout top prospect Bo Gentry, an obnoxious power hitter. Pete asks Mickey to accompany Gus for a few days, to make sure that the old man's failing health does not get him into trouble. Reluctantly, Mickey agrees and joins her dad on the road trip. Among the troop of scouts also keeping tabs on Bo is Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a former pitcher whose career ended early due to injury. Johnny and Mickey hit it off, but Gus resents Mickey's presence. As they travel between the small ball parks of the Carolinas, Mickey tries to get her father to open up and address the issues that ruined their relationship, but Gus is not the type who can easily communicate. As the trip winds down, both Gus and Mickey find their careers hanging in the balance, and their futures may hinge on properly assessing Bo's true potential.

Trouble With The Curve concludes with all loose ends tied-up into pretty little bows, all the conflicts and future uncertainty settled into happy packages. The more mean characters get what they deserve, Gus and Mickey define their destiny, and a silent, humble pitching prospect suddenly emerges as the real thing, as discovered by the genuine talent spotters. The Randy Brown script (surrounded by a bitter controversy related to its true origins) turns sharply towards the land of fairy tales, and forgoes any attempt at a more mature denouement.

But what precedes the final 20 minutes is much better. The tale of an old school father and his modern daughter provides plenty of material for a rich examination of generational gaps and parental responsibility. Gus' unwillingness to talk about the past or get with the future leaves him vulnerable to be left behind by work and family. With failing health, all he has to rely on are his skills and instincts, irreplaceably assembled from years of hands-on life experience. Eastwood, at the remarkable age of 82, creates in Gus Lobel a lovable curmudgeon, abrasive, impatient and set in his ways. He is also funny, convinced of his ability, and confident that he still has what it takes to assess young talent.

Well paced by producer-turned-director Robert Lorenz, Trouble With The Curve inhales deeply from the essence of minor league baseball. Intimate ball parks, back country roads, crammed bus trips, expectant parents, small, never-renovated motels, and roadside diners make up Gus' world, and it's where he is most comfortable.

Surprisingly at first, Mickey also fits easily into this milieu, temporarily but effortlessly trading in the shiny corporate glitz for garish bed sheets and smoke-filled beer joints, much to her Dad's disgust. A chip of the old block despite his protestations, America's most precious pastime will provide the final opportunity for father and daughter to reconnect. Amy Adams as Mickey has the feistiness to take on Eastwood's Gus, and doggedly pursue relationship repairs in the face of all his dismissive grunting. The truth, once revealed, recasts the heroes and villains of her life, and Mickey's short road trip to keep an eye on Gus turns into a major fork in the road of life.

Trouble With The Curve has a bit of trouble with the ending, but is an otherwise smooth pitch.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Movie Review: The Big Lebowski (1998)

A piece of classic modern nonsense, The Big Lebowski thrives on an mood of utter pacifist irreverence. The Coen brothers Ethan and Joel create a Chandleresque mystery in modern Los Angeles, through the cracked mirror of a skewed society where the peculiar is normal.

Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is unemployed, penniless, and extremely mellow in his attitude to life. In contrast, his best friend Walter (John Goodman) is a strung out Vietnam veteran still fighting the war - any war. They spend most of their time bowling with mutual friend Donny (Steve Buscemi). Two thugs break into The Dude's apartment, demanding money owed by Lebowski's wife. Except that The Dude has no wife. Realizing that they have the wrong Jeff Lebowski, the thugs depart, but not before urinating on The Dude's carpet.

Spurred on by Walter, The Dude visits the mansion of the very rich other Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston), seeking a new carpet. Before long, the rich Lebowski and his personal assistant Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hire The Dude to help secure the release of trophy wife Mrs. Bunny Lebowski (Tara Reid), who has been kidnapped and is being held for a $1 million ransom. Walter ensures that the planned exchange is a total botch, landing The Dude in a lot of trouble, especially when Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore), the rich Lebowski's estranged daughter and an eccentric artist, gets involved, along with pornographer Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara).

The Dude is one of the most indelible slackers created for the movies. Larger than life and utterly comfortable with doing nothing, he never lifts a finger in anger, and actually hardly ever gets angry. As his life gets ever more insane, he maintains an inner calmness and just gets on with extricating himself from each successive mess. Perpetually dressed in a jumble of a house robe, old shorts and ratty t-shirt, his face haggard yet still optimistic, The Dude is a one of a kind. Jeff Bridges embodies the role and delivers a memorable performance, dominating with tranquillity.

The Big Lebowski plot is maybe not as original as the main character, but it's close. The Coens draw inspiration from Raymond Chandler's overcomplicated detective mysteries as well as real-life Los Angeles characters to create a convoluted narrative that always threaten to break out of control, but is just held in check. Some distractions, such as the detective in the Volkswagen, do seem like needless clutter, but overall there are a lot more hits than misses. The juxtaposition of 1940s classic elements, like the old rich man in the mansion, his oily assistant, the vixen, the potentially more dangerous sister, and the pornography sub-plot are all easily modernized. Seen through the eyes of The Dude, who just wants a clean rug to bring together his room, they become often priceless fodder for humour.

Counterbalancing The Dude is Walter, a man strung out and unwilling to view life as anything other than a battlefield. In one his more prominent big screen roles John Goodman matches Bridges' coolness with delightfully unhealthy intensity and a misplaced sense of self-confidence. Walter's ideas rarely help the situation, but he is never short on ideas, which makes him a valuable friend to the passive Dude.

The Dude and Walter spend all their spare time (which is all their time) at the bowling centre, where the submissive Donny receives a constant stream of disrespect from Walter. Against the constant crash of balls striking pins, life's little problems are blown into full fledged crises, as The Dude and Walter manage to make every bad situation worse by talking it through.

The other characters are more linear but play their role in adding to the prevailing quirkiness. The rich Jeffrey Lebowski is the spiritual descendant of General Sternwood from The Big Sleep, and his wife Bunny is not far from Carmen, Sternwood's wild daughter. Julianne Moore is Maude Lebowski, the (relatively) more rational family member, echoing Carmen's sister Vivian. Only Maude has the iciness to compete with The Dude's nonchalance, and she is the only one to get what she wants out of him.

The main cast members are surrounded by hoods, nihilists, pornographers, and really strange bowlers. John Turturro as Jesus Quintana goes way over the top as The Dude's next opponent, but even he seems to fittingly belong in a Los Angeles brimming with wackos.

Filled with attitude and a unique brand of laid back energy, The Big Lebowski throws a perfect game.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Monday, 21 October 2013

Movie Review: Prime (2005)

A romantic comedy with a psychology twist, Prime benefits from an unconventional complication and strong performances by Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman.

In New York, 37 year old Rafaella "Rafi" Gardet (Thurman) has just finalized her divorce, and turns to her therapist Lisa (Streep) to get back on her feet. Lisa's son David (Bryan Greenberg), a 23 year old struggling artist, meets Rafi through mutual friends and soon they are in a serious relationship. The sex is great, but Rafi is fully aware that David is too young to start a family with her, which is what she now wants most in the prime of her life.

With Lisa professionally using her maiden name, Rafi has no idea that David is Lisa's daughter, and proceeds to reveal all the intimate details of the relationship during the therapy sessions. Lisa eventually realizes that her patient is dating her son, and has to decide whether she can continue seeing Rafi and what advice to give to David. Not only does Lisa believe that Rafi is too old for David, she also wants her son to marry a Jewish woman. Lisa has to find a way to reconcile the advice she gives to her patients with the realities of her personal expectations and biases, while David and Rafi begin to struggle with the emerging gaps between their maturity levels.

A romantic comedy that does not telegraph its ending, Prime creates an unusual triangle, affording Thurman and Streep the opportunity to work on the story's strongest bond. The romance between Rafi and David is interesting, but the most engaging relationship in the movie is that between Rafi and Lisa, initially patient and therapist, and then something a lot more complicated. The scenes between Thurman and Streep are delightful, two actresses in fine form feeding off each other.

As Rafi, Thurman is emerging from the wreckage of a divorce and looking to make up for lost time, and in David she finds a toy boy who may be more. She is naturally eager to share all the details of her emotional journey and physical needs during the therapy sessions. Once Lisa connects the dots and concludes that Rafi's lover is her son, Streep starts to shine, often hilariously capturing the nervous mannerisms of a woman trying to professionally hold it together while freaking out on the inside.

The premise allows director and screenwriter Ben Younger to introduce a level of depth rarely broached by the genre. Lisa suddenly has to confront a clash between her personal feelings and the advice she glibly delivers to strangers. Encouraging Rafi to have a fling with a younger man doesn't sound like such a good idea when the younger man is her own son. And Lisa has to re-examine her rigid ideas about religious compatibility when her son is dating a non-Jewish woman that she greatly admires. The dilemmas are of course dealt with lightly and with humour, and but are nevertheless welcome wrinkles in a genre that routinely thrives on either formula or the lowest common denominator.

Bryan Greenberg as David is pleasant enough but obviously trampled by the superior talent surrounding him. Rather than a full-fledged person, David remains just a notch or two above a plot device. The attempt to humanize him with superior art skills is handled superficially, while a pie-throwing sidekick is unfortunately juvenile.

But in Prime it doesn't matter much. What the guy lacks in spark and charisma, his mother more than makes up for.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Movie Review: Marathon Man (1976)

A dark action thriller with an old Nazi unleashing new evil, Marathon Man unspools a tale of conspiracy laced with torture, brought to life by a phenomenal cast in top form.

A fatal traffic accident forces the notorious Nazi Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier) to come out of his hiding place in a South American jungle. In New York, Thomas "Babe" Levy (Dustin Hoffman) is a university graduate student of history, and also a long-distance runner training for the marathon. His brother Henry "Doc" Levy (Roy Scheider) pretends to be an oil company businessman but actually works for a secretive government "Division" headed by Peter Janeway (William Devane), responsible for collaborating with surviving Nazis. The father of Babe and Doc, a distinguished historian, killed himself when his sons were children after being hounded by Senator McCarthy's communist witch hunt.

Szell travels to New York to try and retrieve a fortune in diamonds. Meanwhile, Babe starts a relationship with foreign student Elsa (Marthe Keller), while Doc runs into a series of strange murders and finds himself the target of assassination. Szell is paranoid about his safety, and attempts to eliminate everyone who may threaten him and his hidden treasure. This sets him on a collision course with Doc, and ultimately Szell kidnaps Babe to try and uncover Doc's intentions. Thrust into a world he knows nothing about, Babe can only rely on himself, and unexpectedly calls on his running skills to survive a one-man wave of Nazi terror in the heart of New York City.

While on close examination the plot of Marathon Man is full of some rather large holes, director John Schlesinger assembles a bleak film filled with a growing sense of purely corrupted villainy. The William Goldman script, based on his own book, maintains a strong focus on the characters of Babe, Doc and Szell. The scenes of violence and confrontation, when they arrive, carry a high potency factor due to the elevated blood and gore quotient, but also thanks to the hard investment in character development.

Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman elevate Marathon Man from a potentially hokey thriller to a superior, engrossing experience. Olivier is eerie as Dr. Szell, a surviving Nazi with expertise in dental torture. Olivier's performance is cold, emotionless and mechanical in its intensity, an old man incongruously conveying single-minded determination to get his hands on his treasure. Everything that made the holocaust a terrifying travesty is packed into his eyes, including the callous disregard for any amount of human suffering.

Hoffman, in his last performance as a student-type, is all about the fragility that resides in a scarred soul. Babe (the nickname an obvious reference to a man-child) has never really moved past his father's suicide, and Hoffman's performance is a complex condensation of a growing up process that now has to catch up with history. Hoffman tentatively unleashes Babe to chase his first romance, and he will soon have to deal with learning the true identity of his brother and just how much evil lurks out in the real, non-academic world.

Roy Scheider rounds out the principal cast, and he gets a James Bond-type role, an agent in the shadowy world of obscure government departments but here toiling on unglamourous and distasteful files. Doc has dealt with his father's death by embroiling himself into a world of subterfuge, and Scheider exudes a world weariness emanating from a life of too much lying to himself. William Devane is perfect as the distastefully oily head of the "Division", Janeway thoroughly committed to his job, having long since lost the edge between right and wrong.

Marathon Man is most famous for elevating the dentists chair to a full-on torture experience, Dr. Szell repeatedly asking the cabalistic question "Is it safe?" as he readies his dainty dentist tools to inflict unimaginable pain. The unspoken horror is that no city with a rampaging and tenacious Dr. Szell can possibly be safe.

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Saturday, 19 October 2013

Football: England's All-Time Best International Players

England's 25 all-time best footballers, ranked by number of national team appearances, are presented below.
* = current member of the national team squad.
Last updated after Iceland 2 England 1 (June 27 2016)

72 Appearances (8 goals)
Alan Ball
England debut: May 1965

73 Appearances (1 goal)
Sol Campbell
Central Defender
England debut: May 1996

73 Appearances (0 goals)
Gordon Banks
England debut: April 1963

75 Appearances (0 goals)
David Seaman
England debut: November 1988

76 Appearances (30 goals)
Tom Finney
England debut: September 1946

77 Appearances (3 goals)
Terry Butcher
Central Defender
England debut: May 1980

78 Appearances (6 goals)
John Terry
Central Defender
England debut: June 2003

78 Appearances (5 goals)
Stuart Pearce
Left Back
England debut: May 1987

79 Appearances (11 goals)
John Barnes
Midfielder / Forward
England debut: May 1983

80 Appearances (48 goals)
Gary Lineker
England debut: May 1984

81 Appearances (3 goals)
Rio Ferdinand
Central Defender
England debut: November 1997

84 Appearances (3 goals)
Ray Wilkins
England debut: May 1976

85 Appearances (0 goals)
Gary Neville
Right Back
England debut: May 1996

86 Appearances (1 goal)
Kenny Sansom
Left Back
England debut: May 1979

89 Appearances (40 goals)
Michael Owen
England debut: February 1998

90 Appearances (26 goals)
Bryan Robson
England debut: February 1980

105 Appearances (3 goals)
Billy Wright
Central Defender
England debut: January 1946

106 Appearances (29 goals)
Frank Lampard
England debut: October 1999

106 Appearances (49 goals)
Bobby Charlton
Midfielder / Forward
England debut: April 1958

107 Appearances (0 goals)
Ashley Cole
Left Back
England debut: March 2001

108 Appearances (2 goals)
Bobby Moore
Central Defender
England debut: May 1962

114 Appearances (21 goals)
Steven Gerrard
England debut: May 2000

115 Appearances (17 goals)
David Beckham
England debut: September 1996

115 Appearances (53 goals)
Wayne Rooney*
England debut: February 2003

125 Appearances (0 goals)
Peter Shilton
England debut: November 1970

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