Sunday 21 April 2024

Movie Review: Hot Fuzz (2007)

Genre: Comedy Action  
Director: Edgar Wright  
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton  
Running Time: 121 minutes  

Synopsis: Overachieving Constable Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) of London's Metro Police is promoted to sergeant and shuffled off to the sleepy village of Sandford, Gloucestershire. He finds the local police service under Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent) happy to generally do nothing as long as Sandford is competing for the Best Village award. Nicholas partners with Constable Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), the Inspector's son, and meets local supermarket owner Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton) and other influential members of the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance. When a series of grisly "accidents" claim multiple lives, Nicholas is the only officer to believe a murderer is on the loose.

What Works Well: With Bad Boys II and Point Break as two favourite inspiration sources, this send-up of police action movies leverages all the cliches into over-the-top and mostly on-target comedy. Director Edgar Wright and his co-writer and star Simon Pegg deploy exaggerated violence and manic editing to also skewer traditional quaint English countryside attitudes. Pegg keeps a straight face as the way-too-serious cop who can never switch off, but humanity rises out of the carnage through the friendship he forges with Nick Frost's Danny Butterman. The supporting cast animates the pulse of a village with the darkest of underbellies.

What Does Not Work As Well: With focus meandering towards solving a slasher mystery, the running time drags on, and a couple of ultimately pointless chase scenes run out of breath. The all-guns-blazing final act leans more towards excessive action than wit, and is cluttered by a few too many barely defined side-characters.

Conclusion: Forget the gory deaths, find the missing swan.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

Movie Review: Lust For Gold (1949)

Genre: Western  
Director: S. Sylvan Simon  
Starring: Glenn Ford, Ida Lupino, Gig Young  
Running Time: 90 minutes  

Synopsis: Legends persist of a huge gold mine in the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix. Barry Storm (William Prince) arrives in the region and claims to be the grandson of "the Dutchman", who located the mine decades ago. Many men have since been murdered trying to retrace his steps. Barry interviews old timers and researches state records, and flashbacks reveal the story of his grandfather Jacob 'Dutch' Walz (Glenn Ford). He found the gold then succumbed to the charms of local woman Julia Thomas (Ida Lupino), who was desperate to escape an unhappy marriage to the useless Pete Thomas (Gig Young). Back in the present Barry continues his search for the gold, despite great risks.

What Works Well: Based on a few facts obscured by many legends, this western treasure hunt tale is enlivened by numerous flashbacks to different eras, tracing the gold mine's origins to Mexican adventurers and Apache Indians. The film's heart is the long flashback to Jacob Walz's story and his romance with Julia Thomas, director S. Sylvan Simon portraying them both as conniving products of an uncompromising frontier and deploying Noir touches through Julia's strong femme fatale tendencies. The final chapter of Walz's adventure is a brutal revelation of true colours at the treasure's gateway.

What Does Not Work As Well: Despite ending in a literal cliffhanger, the bookend story is unworthy, with underpowered casting and a profound lack of logic undermining villainous intentions.

Conclusion: Greed persists through the ages.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

Movie Review: The Trials Of Cate McCall (2013)

Genre: Legal Drama  
Director: Karen Moncrieff  
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Nick Nolte, James Cromwell  
Running Time: 89 minutes  

Synopsis: Lawyer Cate McCall (Kate Beckinsale) is on probation due to an alcoholism problem. Despite support from her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Bridges (Nick Nolte), she only has limited visitation rights to see her daughter. As part of her probation Cate is assigned a pro bono case to appeal the murder conviction of Lacey Stubbs (Anna Schafer), and finds enough irregularities in the initial trial proceedings to cast doubt about Lacey's guilt in the mind of Judge Sumpter (James Cromwell). But Cate's apparent moment of triumph is just a gateway for a new set of unexpected problems.

What Works Well: Writer and director Karen Moncrieff confidently wades into the tumultuous life of a bright but flawed protagonist refusing to do anything the easy way. Cate's past and present have merged into one large mess, and Lacey Stubbs' convoluted murder charges add complexity well beyond most cinematic court cases. Kate Beckinsale powers through the ups and downs of the central role with aplomb, ably supported by a grizzled Nick Nolte deploying a lifetime of questionable wisdom.

What Does Not Work As Well: For the 89 minutes of running time, too much is going on. A prior wrongful conviction case hovers over Cate's psyche but receives sketchy treatment, while the Lacey Stubbs case falls victim to plenty of telling but no showing. The final act unsurprisingly unravels, the rush to satisfying resolutions trampling all over important procedural explanations.

Conclusion: A mixed verdict due to ambitious but excessive plotting.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

Saturday 20 April 2024

Movie Review: Soul Surfer (2011)

Genre: Biographical Drama  
Director: Sean McNamara  
Starring: AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Carrie Underwood  
Running Time: 106 minutes  

Synopsis: In Hawaii, Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) was born with a love for competitive surfing. She is home educated by her loving parents Cheri and Thomas (Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid), and enjoys a life-long friendship with fellow-surfer Alana (Lorraine Nicholson). In 2003, 13 year-old Bethany is winning amateur competitions and about to turn pro when she loses an arm in a shark attack. Despite the setback, she is determined to resume competitive surfing.

What Works Well: Based on actual events, Bethany Hamilton's story is wholesome, inspirational, and capable of scaling emotional peaks. Director Sean McNamara gives the faith-based elements due prominence, with Carrie Underwood appearing as a church youth leader, but most of the focus in on a young woman dealing with a most unexpected personal trauma. The harrowing shark attack and its immediate aftermath are handled with shocking elegance, before the drama shifts towards emotional recovery and reset. Passable special effects are used to obscure AnnaSophia Robb's post-attack arm, while gorgeous cinematography enlivens the frequent surfing scenes.

What Does Not Work As Well: An army of writers contributed to the script, resulting in predictably cringey tonal choppiness. While AnnaSophia Robb grows into the role, the adult acting oscillates between competent and one-take expediency.

Conclusion: Rides the waves with humble swagger.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

Movie Review: The Bigamist (1953)

Genre: Romantic Drama  
Director: Ida Lupino  
Starring: Joan Fontaine, Edmond O'Brien, Ida Lupino, Edmund Gwenn  
Running Time: 80 minutes  

Synopsis: In San Francisco, traveling salesman Harry Graham (Edmond O'Brien) and his wife and business partner Eve (Joan Fontaine) are being vetted for an adoption by bureaucrat Mr. Jordan (Edmund Gwenn). Although Harry's reputation in the community is stellar, Jordan senses something is off and keeps digging. His sleuthing leads him to Los Angeles, and the discovery that Harry is also secretly married to Phyllis (Ida Lupino) and a father to a young baby. In flashbacks, a despondent Harry recalls how he ended up leading a double life.

What Works Well: This is a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of two loves co-existing in one man's heart, and writer Collier Young (Lupino's ex-husband, Fontaine's current husband) studiously refuses to pass judgement. Occupying most of the running time, the details of Harry and Phyllis finding companionship then passion are tragically heartfelt. Harry's love for Eve remains true even as it melds with business partner appreciation, while Phyllis provides domesticity and an escape from loneliness on the road. Director Lupino maintains a sombre tone but also peppers the drama with inside Hollywood jokes, a few at the expense of Edmund Gwenn.

What Does Not Work As Well: With the shock premise surrendered in the title, the mostly mopey tone results in a running time that feels longer than 80 minutes. The annoying lack of courage to hold honest conversations is the catalyst for almost all of Harry's problems.

Conclusion: Relationship status: really complicated.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

Movie Review: Too Late For Tears (1949)

Also Known As: Killer Bait  
Genre: Crime Noir  
Director: Byron Haskin  
Starring: Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy, Don DeFore, Kristine Miller  
Running Time: 100 minutes  

Synopsis: Married couple Alan and Jane Palmer (Arthur Kennedy and Lizabeth Scott) stumble onto a bag full of ill-gotten but untraceable cash. He wants to immediately contact the police, but she believes this is their big opportunity to be rich, and convinces him to wait one week. They store the bag at a train station, but Jane anyway embarks on a spending spree. With Alan still insisting they need to do the right thing, Jane spots an opportunity to achieve her dreams when criminal Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea) shows up to demand his money.

What Works Well: This is an unpredictable noir exploring emotions tested by unexpected wealth. Jane Palmer is an unforgettable greed-driven force of evil, and Lizabeth Scott's searing performance brings an epic femme fatale to life. Jane has never met a man she cannot manipulate, and dark references to her first marriage suggest she has been playing this game for a long time. In Roy Huggins' screenplay (based on his own book), every role surrounding her matters, and the small but effective cast shines with intensity. Alan's sister Kathy (Kristine Miller) and his wartime buddy Don (Don DeFore) gain prominence as the twisty machinations unfold.

What Does Not Work As Well: Some of the plot details are clunkily convenient.

Conclusion: But not too late for murder, seduction, and multiple layers of subterfuge.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

Movie Review: Valkyrie (2008)

Genre: World War Two Drama Thriller  
Director: Bryan Singer  
Starring: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp  
Running Time: 121 minutes  

Synopsis: Already disgruntled with the Nazi regime, the German army's Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) loses an arm and an eye in a North Africa battle. He is subsequently recruited into a group of officers conspiring to overthrow Hitler, including General Olbricht (Bill Nighy), General Beck (Terence Stamp), and General von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh). However, the crafty General Fromm (Tom Wilkinson) remains staunchly non-committal. Stauffenberg conceives a plan to assassinate the Führer, blame the SS for an attempted coup, and activate Operation Valkyrie, a contingency protocol to deploy the reserve army.

What Works Well: Based on actual events, this brisk historical thriller enjoys good pacing and ever increasing tension fueled by risk, courage, and a sense of duty. Director Bryan Singer stages the action within quality sets and hustles tactical details along with admirable efficiency, only pausing to enjoy a couple of preceding assassination attempts. The third act is dedicated to the centrepiece July 20, 1944 bombing-plus-coup, Tom Cruise's confident charisma enhancing a faithful recreation of a chaotically tumultuous day.

What Does Not Work As Well: Despite the efforts of a stellar supporting cast, too many men-in-uniforms jostle for limited screen time, devoid of any depth outside their peripheral plot involvement. Consequently, their vision for a new Germany is opaque.

Conclusion: A worthy tribute to the cause of thwarting evil.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

Movie Review: Eye Of The Needle (1981)

Genre: World War Two Espionage Romantic Drama  
Director: Richard Marquand  
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan, Christopher Cazenove, Ian Bannen  
Running Time: 112 minutes  

Synopsis: Britain-based German spy Henry "the Needle" Faber (Donald Sutherland) uncovers critical information about the upcoming Normandy landings. Pursued by Scotland Yard's Inspector Godliman (Ian Bannen), Henry escapes and eventually shipwrecks onto the secluded Storm Island. While attempting to arrange a U-boat extraction, he starts an affair with the lonely Lucy Rose (Kate Nelligan). She is the mother of a young son and stuck in a frigid marriage with the bitter David (Christopher Cazenove), who lost his legs in an accident on their wedding day.

What Works Well: The adaptation Ken Follett's novel is a well-paced mix of wartime spy action, nationwide manhunt, and passionate romance. The drama is propelled by a secret that can alter the war's outcome, and the two central performances carry the weight of responsibility: Donald Sutherland is cold blooded and supremely confident, while Kate Nelligan smolders with waiting-to-be-awakened fervor. Director Richard Marquand makes excellent use of rugged Scottish locations and builds tension towards a crackling love-versus-duty climax.

What Does Not Work As Well: Frequent knifings and plenty of plot holes compete in a race for most perforations. The police chase elements suffer from lack of character definitions and never gain meaningful traction.

Conclusion: Threads the multi-genre needle.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

Saturday 13 April 2024

Movie Review: Hypnotic (2023)

Genre: Fantasy Mystery Thriller  
Director: Robert Rodriguez  
Starring: Ben Affleck, Alice Braga, William Fichtner  
Running Time: 94 minutes  

Synopsis: Austin Police Detective Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) is still traumatized by the unsolved kidnapping of his young daughter. Danny and his partner Nicks (J.D. Pardo) respond to a tip about an impending bank robbery and experience the immense mind control powers of the evil Dellrayne (William Fichtner). Danny seeks the help of fortune teller Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), and starts to believe Dellrayne's crime spree is related to his daughter's disappearance.  

What Works Well: Director and co-writer Robert Rodriguez creates a mélange of ideas borrowed from movies like The Matrix, Paycheck, Inception, and Firestarter. The outlandish episodes are initially layered with the emotions of a distraught father and quizzical enough to maintain some interest. The start of the third act briefly threatens a step-up in storytelling quality.

What Does Not Work As Well: The rules of engagement in a world of hypnotists capable of instant mental domination are too fragmented and inconsistent to ever make sense, exposing the first hour to an embarrassing volume of incredulousness. The flicker of hope that emerges with a premise reset is quickly extinguished with an avalanche of over-the-top antics, late character non-introductions, and the convenient piling-on of additional on-the-fly parameters. 

Conclusion: Beware the foundation-free constructs.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

Movie Review: Marlowe (2022)

Genre: Crime Drama Neo-Noir  
Director: Neil Jordan  
Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming, Danny Huston  
Running Time: 109 minutes  

Synopsis: In Los Angeles of 1939, private detective Philip Marlowe (Liam Neeson) is hired by the married and wealthy Clare Cavendish (Diana Kruger) to find her missing lover Nico Petersen. Marlowe's investigation leads him to Floyd Hanson (Danny Huston), manager of the exclusive Corbata Club; Clare's retired movie star mother Dorothy Quincannon (Jessica Lange); studio boss O'Reilly; mobster Lou Hendricks (Alan Cumming); and Nico's sister Lynn (Daniela Melchior). As the dead bodies start to accumulate, Marlowe is drawn into a conspiracy involving the cross-border drug trade.

What Works Well: Although the shine is artificial, the pre-war Los Angeles era is recreated with affection. The plot is suitably complicated and features the required mix of crime, cover-up, jealousy, lust, triple-crosses, and quests for elusive objects and power, all swirling around elites and wannabes who should know better.

What Does Not Work As Well: Despite borrowing Raymond Chandler's legendary creation, the milieu and people never progress beyond a sense of dress-up: neither the locations nor outfits look lived-in. The dialogue is contrived, over-extending the writing talent and leaving the characters devoid of genuineness and struggling against an empathy void. Plot twists and coincidences are more bizarre than impressive, with an apparently key influencer largely invisible and plenty of loose ends abandoned in a blizzard of unconvincing explanations.

Conclusion: The stuff that disappointments are made of.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.