Sunday, 31 August 2014

CD Review: Saxon, by Saxon (1979)

Saxon's self-titled debut effort helped usher in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, although as an album, it is more quietly competent than dazzling.

The band was still grappling with their talent and the metal movement that would emerge from the shadow of punk. Saxon had just changed their name from Son Of A Bitch and signed with the French label Carrere, and while the debut contains the germs of their future more successful sound, none of the tracks on Saxon emerge as stand-out achievements.

The boys from Barnsley do quickly get down to the business of demonstrating admirable dedication and solid blue collar credentials, revving simple rock'n'roll structures into more metallic and anthemic compositions. Driven by lead singer Biff Byford's distinctively high and sometimes theatrical pitch, Saxon is an honest effort that opens the door to better music. Stallions Of The Highway, a relatively underdeveloped and routine celebration of motorcycles, was the band's biggest success from the album and helped to propel the band to the forefront of the NWBHM movement.

The better material is sprinkled throughout. The opening duo of Rainbow Theme and Frozen Rainbow reveal confident songwriting willing to experiment with beefy structures and careful build-ups. Arriving halfway through the songlist, Judgement Day, at 5:30 in length, is the longest and likely best track on the album, elevated by a signature change at 3:15 that unleashes a marvellous two minute instrumental interlude that builds to a frenzy of sensational shredding by guitarists Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver. Album closer Militia Guard is a hair-in-the-wind drive on the open highway, unwittingly heralding a new era of metal, an era that Saxon helped to create with a modest debut and plenty of good intentions.


Pete "Biff" Byford - Vocals
Paul Quinn - Guitars
Graham Oliver - Guitar
Steve Dawson - Bass
Pete Gill - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Rainbow Theme - 8
2. Frozen Rainbow - 8
3. Big Teaser - 6
4. Judgement Day - 8
5. Stallions Of The Highway - 7
6. Backs To The Wall - 7
7. Still Fit To Boogie - 7
8. Militia Guard - 8

Average: 7.38

Produced and Engineered by John V.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Movie Review: How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days (2003)

An insipid romantic comedy, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days overplays its thin premise and outstays its welcome, wasting the talent of all involved.

Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) is a "how to" writer at Composure magazine, a women's monthly filled with the typical airheaded articles about relationships, sex and fashion. Andie has aspirations to write more meaningful material, but is prevented from doing so by her editor Lana (Bebe Neuwirth). Andie's next assignment is to write about all the irritating relationship mistakes that women commit to drive men away. At a bar she randomly chooses hunky advertising executive Benjamin Barry (Matthew McConaughey) as her victim. Andie's plan is first to seduce Ben then aggravate him with clinginess to ensure that he breaks up with her within 10 days, thus providing her with the material for her piece.

Unknown to Andie, Ben has his own bet going with his boss and work colleagues. He wants to prove that he can get any woman to fall in love with him within 10 days, thus earning him the right to be the representative for a lucrative diamond jewelry account. And so when Andie starts to unleash her plan of trampling all over Ben's world with the most annoying behaviour possible, he proves remarkably resilient, since his objective is to still have her as a lover at the end of 10 days, no matter the cost.

Five different writers had a hand in the script of How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, and the strain of pulling together a coherent movie is painfully evident. The story is both convoluted and inane, even for the rom-com genre, and once the respective motives are established within the first 20 minutes, director Donald Petrie somehow manages to stretch out proceedings to an agonizing 116 minutes.

And most of the running time consists of Andie trying to make Ben's life as miserable as possible, from asking him to fetch her drinks during the last crucial seconds of a basketball playoff game to dragging him to a Celine Dion concert and a chick flick marathon. When all these obnoxious behaviours fail, she graduates to redecorating his immaculate bachelor's pad with cutesy stuffed animals, crashing his poker night with the guys, and unleashing a puppy to piss all over his home and office.

It's a concentration of abominable behaviour that would never ring true and is meant to be really funny, but in Petrie's hands whatever humour was possible is replaced by flat delivery and a prevailing mood of exaggerated nastiness. Of course the film eventually veers to the well-trodden path of true love emerging from the ashes, but Andie's cruelty and Ben's connivance make that outcome more ludicrous than usual when it finally arrives.

Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey don't even try to convince, and play their roles with a combination of distorted disinterest and tacky typecasting. In her few scenes Bebe Neuwirth provides a dose of irreverent aloofness, but the rest of the supporting cast is weak and consists of more television-level talent in the form of Kathryn Hahn, Annie Parisse and Robert Klein.

How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days is a tiresome exercise in vexatious behaviour, with a stale exterior and a hollow core.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Friday, 29 August 2014

CD Review: The Link, by Gojira (2003)

Often sounding like infants clobbering as loudly as possible on whatever pots and pans they can find in the kitchen, Gojira's The Link is repetitive, noisy, incessant and basic.

The French band's second studio elements has a strong streak of individuality, striving for an uncompromising jungle fury sound, but it's not enough to compensate for a headache-inducing simplicity where the objective appears to be pounding for the sake of pounding. There are some melodic moments on the better tracks like The Link and Indians, while dreamy instrumental closer Dawn points to a more mature direction that would have been interesting to pursue further, but even it cannot escape the repetitivitis ailing the album.

But for the most part The Link consists of angry blasts of cacophony, with insufficient substance to register as anything more than an unwelcome locomotive.


Joe Duplantier – Vocals, Guitar
Christian Andreu – Guitar
Jean-Michel Labadie – Bass
Mario Duplantier – Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. The Link - 7
2. Death Of Me - 6
3. Connected - n/a (short noise effects)
4. Remembrance - 6
5. Torii - n/a (short instrumental)
6. Indians - 7
7. Embrace The World - 6
8. Inward Movement - 6
9. Over The Flows - 6
10. Wisdom Comes - 6
11. Dawn - 8

Average: 6.44

Produced by Gabriel Editions.
Engineered by Laurentx Etxemendi. Mixed by Joseph Duplantier and Jean-Michel Croux.
Mastered by Laurentx Etxemendi.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Broadcast News (1987)

A dazzling foray into the exacting world of nightly television news, Broadcast News is triumphant combination of pragmatic drama, humour, and romance set in a charged workplace.

At a high profile Washington DC network television station, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) is a well-regarded journalist still hoping for a chance to take over the anchor chair. His best friend is producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), who is equally smart and career driven, but suffering from stress due to an unbalanced life of all work and no play.

Aaron and Jane believe in the old-fashioned principles of news being about the news and not about celebrities and pretty faces. Their world is rocked when handsome dunce Tom Grunick (William Hurt) is hired as the new anchor for the nightly news show. With a background in sports and no understanding of world affairs, Tom is Aaron and Jane's worst nightmare. But Tom does prove himself to be a good anchor, and despite herself, Jane falls in love with him, threatening her friendship with Aaron. With the station in an upheaval due to impending staff cuts, the professional and personal lives of Aaron, Jane and Tom are thrown into turmoil.

Written and directed by James L. Brooks, Broadcast News is one of the smartest movies to come out of the 1980s, with crisp dialogue, episodes of broad humour, and ultimately a human-centred drama about ordinary lives subjected to high stress in an evolving industry.

The spiritual sequel to Network (1976), Broadcast News is an equally excellent trip through the world of television news. But while Network was still all about fighting the good fight against news yielding to commercial interests, Broadcast News understands that the fight is lost and nobody cares. The barbarians are inside the gate, and Aaron goes as far as likening Tom to the devil himself, disguised as a handsome charm merchant, taking over in front of the camera to satisfy aesthetic sensibilities despite knowing nothing about journalism. Meanwhile, when Jane stands up to give a rousing talk about defending the principles of good newscasts, the audience of fellow journalists cannot empty the room fast enough.

Broadcast News is also smart enough to give the devil his due. When Aaron turns to Tom for tips on how to succeed in front of the camera, Tom is suddenly is in his element, and yes, the uninformed simpleton knows what it takes to be a star anchor. Aaron finally realizes that being the high profile face of the news is an altogether different profession than being a journalist, and his dream of both finding and presenting the news is a generation too old.

In addition to presenting an inside look at the exhilarating world of assembling a nightly news show, Brooks enjoys serving up his tasty romantic triangle, and takes a thoughtful stance on the parallels between love and life. In an example of dazzling writing and directing, the most romantic scene has nothing to do with physical closeness. Jane and Tom connect as he successfully anchors emergency coverage of an emerging crisis in real time, Jane producing the segment, communicating with Tom through an earpiece, and pushing the buttons that make it all work.

The cerebral Jane ultimately falls for the dishy Tom in a hurry, leaving the earnest Aaron sidelined in friendship hell. And if even Jane can be seduced by style over substance, there is nothing left to defend: the news industry stands no chance, and has to offer up the pizazz to maintain the love of an audience much less intelligent than Jane.

Albert Brooks and Holly Hunter deliver the definitive performances of their careers. Brooks gives Aaron the caustic voice of brains over beauty, the smartest kid in the room still not quite understanding that it takes a lot more than smarts to succeed. Hunter never had a better role than Jane, written by Brooks at the most well-rounded character in the film. Hunter perfectly occupies the space where the studiously organized Jane even schedules her crying breaks, and otherwise rolls through her career with a voracious appetite that leaves hardly any room for a personal life but plenty of opportunities for spectacular successes in the production booth.

William Hurt has possibly the most difficult role, and plays Tom as a self-aware handsome face, under no illusions that career doors are opening due to superficial reasons. But among the three lead characters, Tom is perhaps the most in tune with where the television industry is headed. If he ever had any illusions he has long since replaced them with a willingness to ride the wave running in his favour.

Robert Prosky as the executive producer of the news show and Jack Nicholson as the network's star self-aggrandized New York-based anchor provide weighty support. Lois Chiles and Joan Cusack round out a terrific cast.

Brainy, lively, and playful, Broadcast News is a ratings winner.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

The Movies Of Chris Cooper

All movies starring Chris Cooper and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

Money Train (1995)

A Time To Kill (1996)

American Beauty (1999)

Me, Myself And Irene (2000)

The Patriot (2000)

The Bourne Identity (2002)

Adaptation (2002)

The Bourne Supremacy (2004, uncredited)

Syriana (2005)

The Kingdom (2007)

The Company Men (2010)

The Town (2010)

The Muppets (2011)

The Company You Keep (2012)

August: Osage County (2013)

Demolition (2015)

Live By Night (2016)

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

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

CD Review: Time 1, by Wintersun (2012)

A full six years in the making, Time 1 unfortunately crosses the threshold from ambitious to pompous.

What proved to be just the first part of Jari Mäenpää's vanity project under the Wintersun banner features just the five meaningful songs but a length of about 40 minutes. Despite the numerous overlayed recording tracks and infinite computer processing power, the outcome is a lumpy porridge of epic folk progressive metal, often prolonged into endless orchestral meandering, singularly lacking in focus and intensity.

Mäenpää's own Ensiferum managed the same heroic sound with more punch if less polish, and bands extending all the way back to Manowar have dabbled with the same themes, all in a more compact and thoroughly more digestible form.

Mäenpää adopts the longer is better philosophy, and while there are segments that sometimes work well, notably on Sons Of Winter And Stars, most of the material just buckles under the weight of a production that demands every note to be epic. When everything aims to be grand, then nothing stands out, and it all just goes on, riding its own rudderless momentum into the land of no one cares.


Jari Mäenpää − Vocals, Guitar
Teemu Mäntysaari − Guitar
Jukka Koskinen − Bass
Kai Hahto − Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. When Time Fades Away - 7
2. Sons Of Winter And Stars - 7
3. Land Of Snow And Sorrow - 6
4. Darkness And Frost - 7
5. Time - 7

Average: 6.80

Produced and Mixed by Jari Mäenpää.
Mastered by Jari Mäenpää and Miika Jussila.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Elements, by Atheist (1993)

On their third album, a contractually-obligated effort, Atheist continue their unique quest to marry good jazz to robust metal. The outcome is Elements, a CD that manages that mix as best at it can be managed, but whether the concept is fundamentally a good idea remains highly questionable.

The album was thrown together by Kelly Shaefer to satisfy a label requirement, cobbling together a line-up, writing the material, recording and producing all in about 40 days. Nine of the twelve tracks on Elements have a meaningful length, and all are united by the theme of the earth's basic building blocks, with some of the musical embellishments channeling the subject matter. Air is by far the most potent track, and achieves the most metallic composition while retaining strong jazz shadings. Samba Briza is short but infectiously good, delivering exactly what it says on the can, an irresistible dance tune that demands a hot Caribbean night. Animal settles into a thick groove, possibly benefiting as the most metal and least jazz cut on the album.

Elsewhere the content settles into predictable jazz arrangements bulked up by metallic content, and delivered with the band's customary sparse airiness. Good as it is, it remains more of an interesting experiment than an unqualified success.


Kelly Shaefer - Guitar and Vocals
Rand Burkey - Guitar
Frank Emmi - Guitar
Tony Choy - Bass
Josh Greenbaum - Drums

Michael Dissantos replaced Greenbaum on drums after recording but prior to release.
Piano by David Smadbeck.

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Green - 7
2. Water - 7
3. Samba Briza - 8
4. Air - 9
5. Displacement - n/a (short instrumental)
6. Animal - 8
7. Mineral - 7
8. Fire - 7
9. Fractal Point - n/a (short instrumental)
10. Earth - 6
11. See You Again - n/a (short instrumental)
12. Elements - 7

Average: 7.33

Produced by Atheist and Mark Pinske.
Engineered by Mike Pinske. Mixed by Mike Pinske and Kelly Shaeffer.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Book Review: The Big Short, by Michael Lewis (2010)

An entertaining autopsy of the great sub-prime mortgage recession from the perspective of those who saw it coming, Michael Lewis' The Big Short is a fabulously readable and humorous financial disaster story.

Lewis tracks down the individuals inside the Wall Street banks, hedge funds and private investment firms who took the time to spot the growing insanity of money being shovelled to unworthy borrowers, and the subsequent mortgages being packaged and peddled as AAA investments to unsuspecting investors.

As with many situations requiring uncommon wisdom to stand against the tide, the characters who had the resolve to bet that the mortgage-backed bond industry was a house of cards about to crumble were oddballs and outsiders. Steve Eisman was a caustic lawyer turned equity analyst with a sharp, foul-mouthed attitude that co-workers either loved or hated. Together with friends and colleagues Vincent Daniels and Danny Moses, he founded Front Point Partners. Eisman took a deep dive into researching the sub-prime mortgage world, did not like what he saw, and started betting against it.

Michael Burry was even more of a loner. Fighting a variety of physical ailments including childhood cancer and the loss of one eye, Burry was a doctor before becoming an accidental investment blogger, and then created Scion Capital. He uniquely understood the inherent weakness of junk mortgage bonds labelled as low risk investments, and rapidly growing into a trillion dollar industry built on giving enormous amounts of money to borrowers who could never repay their loans. Burry was the primary instigator behind the invention of the credit default swap for mortgage backed securities, essentially a tool to short (or bet against the viability) of bonds being sold as prime investments.

Greg Lippman was perhaps the one insider who saw the disaster coming. A consummate bond salesman working for Deutche Bank on Wall Street, Lippman took the time to understand what people like Eisman and Burry were saying, and from his vantage position as an insider started the incredible movement towards the large Wall Street firms betting against the very product that they were selling.

And there was the trio of Charlie Ledley, Ben Hockett and Jamie Mai, founders of small time investment firm Cornwall Capital with a talent for betting against whatever Wall Street was peddling. They stumbled into the world of credit default swaps, could not believe the opportunity, and jumped in with two feet.

For every big winner there are also many losers, and Lewis also turns the spotlight to the world of the investment rating agencies being outclassed by the banks, and the clueless CEOs and bond traders who rode the wave of wealth being created from thin air and never took the time to understand their own products or foresee the impending market implosion.

But this is not just a book about who, but also how. Lewis manages the difficult task of transforming the highly complicated and jargon-filled world of finance into a smoothly accessible human-centred story. He does not shy away from the details, but explains the complexities in common language, and repeats the most difficult concepts in various contexts to help the reader grasp the intricacies of an opaque world that set off on a feeding frenzy of money from nothing, and headed towards a cliff at high speed.

And drawing on extensive interviews, Lewis recreates, often with terrific humour, the key meetings, encounters and inner thoughts of the principal players as the disaster detonates, banks disintegrate and the financial markets are shaken to their foundations.

And in the end there is the human toll, as the high-stakes game of betting that trillions of dollars of paper wealth will evaporate causes unimaginable stress, even among the men who made the right call against all the odds and prevailing logic. The Big Short is an incredible true story, and an astoundingly good read.

Subtitled "Inside The Doomsday Machine".
Published in paperback by W.W. Norton & Company.
264 pages, plus Afterword and Index.

All Ace Black Blog Book Reviews are here.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Movie Review: The Charge Of The Light Brigade (1936)

Long on rousing action and short on historical accuracy, The Charge Of The Light Brigade uses the actual battle of 1854 as a climax but constructs an entirely fictitious narrative as a lead up story. The film is nevertheless a wildly entertaining and lavishly produced spectacle.

In the tribal areas of India in the mid-19th century, the 27th Lancers of the British Army under the leadership of Major Geoffrey Vickers (Errol Flynn) are tasked with keeping the peace in the Suristan territory, controlled by local leader Surat Khan (C. Henry Gordon). The nearby British presence is centred on a fort in the remote town of Chukoti. Vickers saves Khan's life during a hunting expedition. But there is unexpected trouble for Geoffrey when he discovers that his fiancée Elsa (Olivia de Havilland) has fallen in love with his younger brother Captain Perry Vickers (Patric Knowles).

With regional tensions rising Khan decides to betray the British and align himself with the Russians, and orders his men to commit a massacre at the Chukoti fort, murdering women and children who were under the protection of the 27th Lancers. Khan repays his debt by sparing Geoffrey's life. War breaks out in the Crimea, and both Vickers brothers are reassigned to augment the British forces waging battle. With Khan's men deployed on the front lines but protected by Russian cannons, Geoffrey spots an opportunity for the Lancers to gain a measure of revenge and turn the tide of the war, but this will involve a daring raid against superior forces.

An early example of a big production action epic loosely inspired by British military history, The Charge Of The Light Brigade is filled with scenes of mounted armies mobilizing, marching and charging. The action is frequent, intense, and enjoyable, as director Michael Curtiz captures what it means to be a hot and sweaty mounted brigade ordered to battle the unforgiving terrain and the hardened local tribes at the far flung edges of empire.

Between the combat scenes, there are plenty of costumes, parties, dances, politicians, impressive sets and a large number of lively extras to provide the context for the battlefield exploits. At almost two hours in length, The Charge Of The Light Brigade maintains breathless momentum, and builds a powerful story of military alliances, betrayal and the intrigue that forces armies into motion.

Less impressive is how far the story veers away from the historical record. The charge itself is stunningly recreated in the final twenty minutes of the film, but all the events leading up to it are manufactured out of the Hollywood dream factory. The outcome is not uninteresting; just an unnecessary divergence to the land of fiction as an alternative to an already compelling reality.

Working with the script that they do have, the stars help to make it all work. This is a film made for Errol Flynn, his charismatic attitude overflowing with panache, and he is always watchable as the confident, determined and professional Major Geoffrey Vickers. Olivia de Havilland is less convincing but still adequate, the role of Elsa underwritten into a box of love and affection for two brothers, but with insufficient meaningful scenes to bring the character to full life. David Niven makes a good impression as Captain Randall, one of Vickers' trusted subordinates. Patric Knowles, C. Henry Gordon, Nigel Bruce, Donald Crisp, and Henry Stephenson provide sturdy support.

The Charge Of The Light Brigade carries an unintended legacy related to animal cruelty. The filming of the raucous battle scenes resulted in the death of dozens of horses injured in falls caused by trip wires. The subsequent outrage reached all the way to the political sphere; horse trip wires were banned and the industry moved towards more humane treatment of animals on film sets.

Galloping full speed ahead and consequences be damned, The Charge Of The Light Brigade kicks up plenty of dust and holds nothing back.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Movie Review: Grand Hotel (1932)

A multi-star ensemble drama set entirely at a Berlin hotel, Grand Hotel is a lavish production that takes its time to develop some momentum, but eventually ties some threads together into coherent mini stories.

The lives of several people intersect at the luxurious Grand Hotel. Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo) is a Russian ballerina facing a motivation crisis. Baron Felix von Gaigern (John Barrymore) is a suave thief with significant money problems, pretending to be a distinguished gentleman. General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery) is an industrial magnate trying to conclude a key business deal, but he is distracted by stenographer Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford). Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) is a lowly accountant in Preysing's empire, and has a terminal disease.

Grusinskaya and the Baron meet and fall in love as he is trying to steal her pearls, and she finds her emotional salvation in his affection. Preysing runs into a tough negotiating team and has to bluff his way to a deal. Flaemmchen has to decide whether or not to compromise herself for a shot at glory as Preysing's mistress. And the Baron is the only person displaying genuine affection towards Kringelein. Before they all leave the hotel, their lives will collide with unintended consequences.

Directed by Edmund Goulding for MGM, Grand Hotel is the earliest example of a star-studded cast and multiple interwoven story lines connected primarily by a single location. And the cast of stars is in fine form, although they do all lean towards self-conscious theatricality. With Grusinskaya at her lowest ebb, Garbo gets to say "I want to be alone" and variations thereof three different times in a span of a few minutes, sentiments that would forever jump off the screen and be associated with the actress' general attitude towards life.

Both Barrymores are eminently watchable as they deliver committed performances. Wallace Beery defines "bombastic", and Joan Crawford takes a large step towards stardom as the third-billed star, and gives the film's most affecting performance as the pragmatic Flaemmchen.

The film is staged exclusively inside the hotel, and the sets are made to look appropriately luxurious. But with a running length of 112 minutes, Goulding does begin to run out of ideas on how to make the various hotel rooms and expansive lobby interesting.

The initial lack of focus on any single person or narrative hampers the opening 45 minutes of the film, as the characters take too long to introduce themselves and the events that landed them at the hotel. The early scenes are all longer than they need to be, and it's only once Grusinskaya and the Baron meet and discover a new spark in their depressed lives that Grand Hotel starts to hum.

As usual conflict helps to fan the flames of drama, and the friction between the haughty Preysing and the humble Kringelein finally emerges to provide Grand Hotel with its central theme of rich and poor, healthy and sick, the cold and the caring, the corporate and the individual intersecting at the same venue. By the time the Baron has made his last attempt to secure the funds that he needs, and Flaemmchen has confronted her ticket out of anonymity, all the stories collide in Preysing's suite. At the Grand Hotel the rich and powerful may try to control the agenda, but all the guests have to pays their bills.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Movie Review: Midnight In Paris (2011)

A fantasy romance inspired by the confluence of wistful time and divine place, Midnight In Paris finds Woody Allen at his best, crafting a love letter to a city rich with passion and history.

Successful Hollywood screenwriter Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) still dreams of becoming a respected book author. On vacation in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams), Gil finds himself inspired by the city's rich heritage and starts to muse about living there permanently, an idea that Inez dismisses. With Inez enjoying sightseeing and partying with pompous professor Paul Bates (Michael Sheen) and his wife Carol (Nina Arianda), Gil starts to take midnight walks on his own.

He stumbles into an alternate reality of Paris in the 1920s, inhabited by the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. They interact with him naturally, inviting him to parties and Stein even offering to review a draft of his novel. Gil moves back and forth between Paris of today with Inez in the daytime and the 1920s on his own after midnight, where he eventually meets Pablo Picasso's lover, the mysteriously attractive Adriana (Marion Cotillard). She is also seeking her true destiny in the company of her contemporaries, and an impossible romance flickers to life.

Midnight In Paris celebrates the city's charming magic, and toys with the nostalgia of the past always glowing brighter than the reality of the present. It is among Woody Allen's best films, finding the sweet spot where his favourite themes intersect: troubled love enriched by an enchanting cityscape prompting an examination of a man's path in life.

The opening montage, showing iconic Parisian scenes, noticeably lingers on for a good minute longer than the usual introduction, Allen sending the message that the city is one of his main characters. And throughout the film, Allen bathes the Paris of the past and the present, whether at night or during the day, with warm, comforting hues dominated by reds and yellows. Even the rainfall feels mild and soothing, while the numerous bistros emit an ever welcoming glow at all hours.

And Gil is drawn into this mystique, finding in the city the perfect match for his romantic soul. Gil is most at home when walking the streets of Paris alone, and he gradually realizes that his connection with the city will define his happiness much more so than his relationship with Inez.

Allen, who also wrote the screenplay, does not bother to explain Gil's frequent sojourns into the past, allowing the time shifts to be as natural as the human imagination. The theme, however, is clear. The glorious past is an inspiration for the present and the future, but pining to live there is an emotional cul-de-sac. The past is always the present for its generation, with the business of living and loving a constant and dominant requirement. Wistful sentimentality is what yesterday feels like, but only from today's vantage point.

Midnight In Paris is populated by a perfect cast, Wilson creating in Gil an articulate man still seeking his place in life. McAdams breaks away from her traditional perkiness to provide Inez with a pushy edge, a modern woman trampling over her man's tender vulnerabilities. Marion Cotillard ghosts into the movie as Gil's muse, his most direct expression of love for the past, and also the signpost for the future.

Michael Sheen, Carla Bruni and Léa Seydoux have small but memorable roles in Paris of the present, while Adrien Brody (Salvador Dali), Kathy Bates (Gertrude Stein), Corey Stoll (Ernest Hemingway) and Tom Hiddleston (F. Scott Fitzgerald) have a ball bringing the past to life. Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Degas, Matisse, T.S. Eliot and Luis Buñuel are other celebrities of previous eras that cross paths in the dreamy mists of the night.

Embroidered with delicate humour, Midnight In Paris is a whimsical masterpiece.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Movie Review: The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)

A clunky damsel-in-distress drama, The Two Mrs. Carrolls is hampered by wild over-acting and ham-fisted directing.

While on a trip to Scotland, painter Geoffrey Carroll (Humphrey Bogart) meets and falls in love with Sally Morton (Barbara Stanwyck). But she is then shocked to find out that he is married and has a young daughter Beatrice (Ann Carter). Geoffrey claims that his wife is an invalid, and she soon dies. About two years later, Geoffrey is seemingly happily married to Sally and living in a quaint village in England.

With Geoffrey suffering through a drought of inspiration, Sally's former boyfriend Charles "Penny" Pennington (Patrick O'Moore) reappears in her life, along with his friends the haughty Mrs. Latham (Isobel Elsom) and her seductive daughter Cecily (Alexis Smith). Geoffrey and Cecily are quickly embroiled in an affair, and Sally starts to feel threatened.

Completed in 1945 but only released in 1947, The Two Mrs. Carrolls follows in the footsteps of movies like Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), and Gaslight (1944), and with Bogart and Stanwyck in the lead roles, the elements are there to create a compelling mystery. And there are brief snippets of a potentially interesting movie hiding somewhere inside the head of a philandering artist who can only paint when he is plotting murder.

But this may be one of Bogart's worst performances, and most disappointing films. His portrayal of Geoffrey Carroll often crosses the line into unrestrained wide-eyed madness more suitable for the local theatre. In a story that demands subtlety in pursuit of tension, Bogart delivers sledgehammer psychosis. Stanwyck is better, but only marginally. Her Sally hides behind naiveté, but when the time comes to display worry and fear, she also climbs over the top.

The directing by Peter Godfrey is generally inept. He is unable to find any threads of empathy or nuanced character evolution to tie the drama together, and from the bombastic music to the plodding plot points, The Two Mrs. Carrolls reeks of clumsy execution.

Child actress Ann Carter is victimized by some of the most ridiculously adult-sounding lines of dialogue ever spouted on the screen by a young performer, and her theatrical delivery, obviously not helped by the tone-deaf Godfrey, is off-putting. Alexis Smith is underused, but provides the one performance that matches the intended tone of the material, her Cecily an insidious presence worming her way into the Carrolls' marriage.

The film stumbles its way through the familiar territory of Sally's infatuation turning to concern and then panic as she discovers that her husband is troubled and hiding many dangerous secrets. Even in 1947 it's all been done before, and much more stylishly.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Movie Review: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

A raunchy sex comedy with some romance elements, Forgetting Sarah Marshall finds humour in breakups, new beginnings, and revenge sex in the alternate reality of a picture-perfect Hawaiian resort.

Peter (Jason Segel), the creator of music for television shows, is unceremoniously dumped by girlfriend Sarah (Kristen Bell), the glamorous sex-symbol star of a CSI-style series. Unable to get over the breakup, Peter seeks to mend his broken heart at a Hawaiian resort only to find Sarah also vacationing there with new boyfriend Aldous (Russell Brand), a global pop music star.

As Peter and Sarah do their best to avoid each other and regularly fail to do so, Peter meets the resort's receptionist Rachel (Mila Kunis), and they start a tentative relationship. Surrounded by assorted other guests and resort employees stumbling through their own issues, Peter, Sarah, Rachel and Aldous need to untangle their lives, which suddenly become more complicated when Sarah receives unwelcome news.

Co-produced by Judd Apatow, directed by Nicholas Stoller and written by Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a rare example of an adult sex comedy that actually works, and without resorting to toilet humour. The film's success resides with Segel's witty script, which in addition to a continuous stream of raunchy situations creates a large number of memorable and often hilarious characters, even in the smallest roles, and sets them loose to do their thing.

The depth of enjoyment within the ranks of the secondary characters is quite remarkable. The list covers Russell Brand as Aldous Snow, Jonah Hill as Matthew the waiter with stardom aspirations, Paul Rudd as Kunu the surf dude with memory issues, Jack McBrayer and Maria Thayer as the newlyweds with wildly diverging sex drives, Bill Hader as Peter's stepbrother and even William Baldwin and Jason Bateman doing their best David Caruso impressions in promo snippets as Sarah's co-stars.

In most other comedies these secondary and tertiary roles would be sketched in and played by nobodies. Here they are recurring and sustained, carrying their own comic momentum and delivered by actors keen to leave an impression. Brand, in particular, delivers a performance so cool and laid back as the superstar who stole Sarah's heart, that it's impossible not to fall under his magnetic spell.

And in the three main roles, Segel, Bell and Kunis shine as the three awkward points of the love triangle. Segel has rarely been better in a restrained performance that emphasizes pathos over doofiness. Bell is perfectly cast as Sarah, an ice cold and self-assured television star who will unexpectedly meet her own vulnerabilities once she hits a crisis point. And in a breakout role, Kunis dazzles with a fresh spray of girl-next-door appeal.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is firmly aimed at adults, and the unrated version does not shy away from nudity (mostly Segel's) and several scenes of couples energetically and loudly coupling for comic effect. The film wastes no time in setting up the premise, surrounding it by anarchy and then vigorously milking it for all its worth over the course of 110 frantic minutes. While most of the jokes do work, the approach here is that the next good gag is only as far as the next minute.

With talent in peak form delivering the laughs, Forgetting Sarah Marshall will be no easy task.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Movie Review: Silverado (1985)

A valiant attempt to revitalize the Western, Silverado packs in all the genre elements but lacks the required subtlety and sophistication to craft a memorable experience.

In the wild west, Emmett (Scott Glenn) shoots dead four assailant trying to kill him. He then saves the life of Paden (Kevin Kline), who had been left to die in the desert, and the two men join forces and make their way to the town of Turley. Emmett helps his brother Jake (Kevin Costner) escape from the clutches of sheriff Langston (John Cleese), while Paden renews acquaintances with Cobb (Brian Dennehy), his former riding partner. Emmett, Paden and Jake then team up with Mal (Danny Glover), a black cowboy and expert marksman who was driven out of Turley.

The four men head to the town of Silverado, and on the way rescue a wagon train of settlers from bandits. Hannah (Rosanna Arquette), a member of the wagon train, is soon widowed and catches the eye of both Paden and Emmet. In Silverado Emmet and his new friends walk into the middle of a land dispute where Emmett's past will catch up with him, a professional gambler (Jeff Goldblum) will complicate matters, Paden will have to confront Cobb again, Mal reconnects with his father and sister, old scores are settled, and new lives are started.

Despite featuring a dream cast and boasting Kevin Costner's breakthrough role, Silverado is merely competent. The film's fundamental weakness is a simplistic good versus evil narrative that, while enjoyable as a straightforward romp, recalls the genre's earliest era, where characters were all good or all bad with no place for shadows of complexity. Silverado pretends that the 1960s and 1970s never happened when it comes to the genre's evolution, maybe in an attempt to reach out to a younger 1980s audience just looking to cheer on the good guys without straining any mental muscles.

Also contributing to Silverado's problems is a sprawling script, written by director Lawrence Kasdan and his brother Mark, that attempts to cover too much territory. The film bounces from one set-piece to another searching for all the traditional genre elements and squeezing them in, whether they belong or not, and extending the running length to a wholly unnecessary 133 minutes.

Thrown into the mix are the strangers who become allies, the canyon ambush, the wagon train in danger, the land dispute with ruthless cattlemen, the revenge story across generations, the black cowboy fighting racism, the father/son bonding, the saloon confrontation, the good girl forced to become a whore, the corrupt law officers, the expert marksman and the quick draw, the mysterious gambler, and the final shootout on the dusty main street. Silverado lines them all up and ticks them off a master checklist in what becomes an eye rolling exercise in unfocussed and soulless filmmaking.

With so much going on the characters remain superficial, the heroes and bad guys defined as such and growing only in the most predictable directions, as the film rushes to the next derivative climax. Some of the characters, including Rosanna Arquette's Hannah and Jeff Goldblum's Calvin, are quite poorly underwritten.

On the positive side, Silverado projects and maintains a jovial attitude thanks mainly to Kevin Kline's performance. Without veering into comic territory, Kline injects just enough dry humour to ensure that the film avoids taking itself too seriously. Scott Glenn, in a rare but welcome starring role, provides the counterbalance as quieter, more intense presence. Costner is a bundle of barely controlled youthful energy in a vivacious performance that launched him on a charisma-fuelled career.

Kasdan and cinematographer John Bailey bathe the film in bright yellows to create an upbeat, sun-drenched visual aesthetic, and the sets recreating Western towns are intricate if a little too polished. And the air of good intentions and professional delivery permeates the movie, with the galaxy of stars clearly having fun but also doing a fine job of bringing the disparate characters to life, Brian Dennehy a standout as the gruff Sheriff Cobb profiting from the business of being the law.

In pursuing a long-shot resurrection of a much loved genre, Silverado is difficult to dislike but also infuriatingly naive.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...