[Movie Review] Face/Off

00183_001Starring: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Gina Gershon
Director: John Woo
Genre: Action
Cert: 18
Released: 1997

One of my favourite jibes is ‘you mustn’t be two faced because if you were you’d wear the other one’. Not that I’d consider saying that to either John Travolta or Nicolas Cage after what they’ve been through in this movie.

Sean Archer (Travolta – “Broken Arrow”, “Michael”) is the Chief of a special covert FBI task-force. They’ve spent years on the trail of terrorist, Caster Troy (Cage – “Con Air”, “City of Angels”) and Archer in particular is looking to avenge the murder of his young son by Troy. In an airplane hanger shoot-out, Archer finally gets his man. However, he is soon told that the dying Troy and his imprisoned brother (and partner-in-crime), Pollux Troy (Alessandro Nivaro), have planted a bomb in the city and they have no way of finding it before it kills thousands of people..

Knowing that the only person Pollux would talk to about the bomb is his brother, Archer agrees to undergo state-of-the-art surgery which replaces his face and voice with that of Caster, whom the FBI have kept alive underground. Archer, under the guise of Caster Troy, goes to the prison and attempts to solicit the information from “his” brother. The plan goes pear-shaped though when the real Troy arises from his coma and takes on the identity of his nemesis, Sean Archer. With roles reversed and so much at stake, it’s only a matter of time before both the protagonists face off.

When it comes to invention and originality, the plot of “Face/Off” is right up there. The whole premise of two people swapping actual physical identities is up there in the realms of science fiction. Somehow though the plot remains strangely believable. Most of the credit for this goes to the two main stars who are each called upon to deliver two very different performances in one movie. While Travolta’s tough guy image is a specialist taste (I enjoy it for what it’s worth), Cage is equally adept at delivering both a heart-warming and a brazen, aggressive performance and he does so here brilliantly. Also worth a mention is Archer’s wife, Eve (Allen), who is excellent as the spouse who is let down just a little too often.

Director John Woo, was responsible for one of the worst Hollywood movies ever (“Broken Arrow”) and his erratic career is further emphasised by the fact that this is one of Hollywood’s best action flicks. His trademark slow motion sequences are carried out well, if a little excessively at times, and the action set-pieces are mind-blowingly entertaining demonstrating a superb use of panning and sound.

In addition, the emotive issues in the movie (Archer’s loss of his son and his inability to get over it, his wife struggling to come to terms with her husbands busy and dangerous vendetta against Troy) are handled sensitively and succeed in staying away from the more ‘nauseating’ angle that many action films have suffered from in the past (any Stallone rubbish for example).

Great storyline, excellent performances, superb direction, immaculate production and maximum entertainment. But damn it, I never give five stars to anyone.

Ok, maybe this once.

5star


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[Album Review] "Done with Mirrors" – Aerosmith (original review)

Done with Mirrors - AerosmithAlbum Title: Done With Mirrors
Artist: Aerosmith
Year: 1985
Running Time: 35m 46s

Track listing: 1 Let the Music Do the Talking; 2 My Fist Your Face; 3 Shame on You; 4 The Reason a Dog; 5 Shela; 6 Gypsy Boots; 7 She’s on Fire; 8 The Hop; 9 Darkness

The 1985 Aerosmith release, and first under new lable Geffen, was “Done With Mirrors”. For fans this was a big album as it saw the return to the fold of original guitarists, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. The two guitarists turned up at a Valentines Day gig in 1984 and were reunited on stage with the rest of the band. When it became clear that love was back in the air, Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay stepped aside again to allow Brad and Joe to reclaim their place in what used to be Americas greatest rock n roll band.

The album itself, while containing moments of promise, was a bit of an anti-climax and is without a doubt my least favourite. The only track that could slide comfortably into a greatest hits compilation is ‘My Fist Your Face’, an in-your-face rocker which shows that the rock solid attitude and sneering two-finger salute was still working fine. ‘Let the Music do the Talking’ was regarded as the relaunch track which stood for everything Aerosmith believed in. Nice sentiment, but somehow it just seems a little unimaginative at crucial moments. Musically, it smokes at times; killer harmonica and slide guitar effects but lyrically it is a real let-down.

‘Shame On You’ is a funky number featuring a Led Zep-style stop/start riff. It sounds good enough but the Aerosmith quality coating is missing. Some things don’t change though: ‘pulling down your knickers, who ya gonna spank’, squawks the near-40 year old Tyler. I hope your children aren’t listening, mate.

‘She’s on Fire’ is a Middle Eastern sounding rocker. Great slide work from Perry, strong back up from the rhythm section, a smouldering vocal performance from Tyler and a wonderfully composed middle-breakdown lift ‘She’s on Fire’ into quality status. ‘The Hop’ kicks the door down, sweeps everyone off the floor with its brash 80s-influenced boogie, turns with a defiant smirk and strolls out the backway. Nice stuff.

The rest of the album seems best to fit into the ‘half-baked’ category. The pedestrian paced, ‘The Reason a Dog’ always threatens to blow you away but maintains a disappointing mid-tempo beat throughout and’Shela’ reeks of the blues influences of the past but it never quite lifts its head off the pillow.

‘Gypsy Boots’ is a chaotic chase through the streets of Anywhere which despite a face-saving mid-section could do with a little more work and ‘Darkness’ is a budding classic that was carelessly left off the original release. This moody ballad (actually released as a single), benefits greatly from a dominant Hamilton bassline and features a number of tempo changes including a caffein-injected chorus and a screeching Perry solo that drowns out everything else in the vicinity.

The problem with the album is that it is so close to being definitive Aerosmith, it often sounds nothing like them. The missing ingredient is without a doubt polish and class, the same qualities that made “Rocks” and “Toys in the Attic” such gems.

1star

[Album Review] "Parklife" – Blur

Parklife - BlurAlbum Title: Parklife
Artist: Blur
Year: 1994
Running Time: 52m 52s

Track listing: 1 Girls & Boys; 2 Tracy Jacks; 3 End of a Century; 4 Parklife; 5 Bank Holiday; 6 Badhead; 7 The Debt Collector; 8 Far Out; 9 To The End; 10 London Loves; 11 Trouble in the Message Centre; 12 Clover Over Dover; 13 Magic America; 14 Jubilee; 15 This is a Low; 16 Lot 105

This is the album that really broke Blur as a mainstream favourite. Strangely it is an album that long time fans could enjoy too even if it does aspire to be a chart topper.

‘Girls & Boys’ is definitely the most famous song ever about Britons abroad. It certainly pulls no punches as it describes the reality of love on the beaches of Greece. It’s the straight-talking focused onslaught of Damon Albarn’s vocals that really makes the difference. ‘Tracy Jacks’ is the tale of a civil servant suffering a midlife crisis in much the same way as Reginald Perrin did. The firm bass and drum vertebrae manages to staunchly hold the song together very well. Nice tune.

‘Parklife’ has to be one of the finest Britrock tunes ever. In an interesting and successful move, actor Phil Daniels guest vocals over a repetitive but addictive chord. He explains how the mundane everyday existence of your average Joe can be fulfilling to one and all. There’s not a dancefloor in Europe that doesn’t explode in unison to this.

The future is welcomed by an unimpressed Albarn in ‘End of a Century’. He tells us that the ‘end of a century is nothing special’. Nice acoustic, trombone and flugelhorn touches and the backing vocals blend in well with the overall direction of the track.

Parlez-vouz Francais? Blur touched on continental sentiment in this melodic orchestral gem. Lending a guest backing vocal is French female singer, Laetitia Sadie, who weighs in seductively behind Albarn. The song was later re-recorded in a duet with . Francois Hardy and released as a single.

‘London Loves’ is a cool little ditty dedicated to London and the impersonal and unforgiving nature of the big city. It is fairly reminiscent of early stuff and certainly retains street credibility. The eighties are revisited for ‘Trouble in the Message Centre’ which rocks along like a modern sounding Human League.

‘Magic America’ is comical but devestatingly cute and cynical at the same time. It’s the tale of a young man who wants to go to ‘magic America’ where ‘fifty nine cents gets you a good square meal from the people who care how you feel’. Biting, hilarious stuff. ‘Jubilee’ could have been written about me. A seventeen year old kid who ‘dresses incorrectly’, no one teaching him where to go or how to dress not that he cares. Damn good song but as I listened to ‘He dresses incorrectly…no one told him how to do it’, I couldn’t help thinking of ‘Oh Micky, you’re so fine…’. You’ll no what I mean when you hear it. It just amused me, ok?

‘Badhead’ is nice. Mid-tempo’d and tuneful and tastefully flanked by an appropriate sax and trombone support and while not exactly groundbreaking, ‘This is a Low’ is a suitably solemn acoustic number which is pleasing enough.

I’m not overly impresssed with ‘Bank Holiday’ which is a speedy throwaway 100 second experience and ‘Clover Over Dover’ sounds uneasy with its convenient rhymes and its thin repetitive sound. ‘Far Out’, ‘Lot 105’ and ‘The Debt Collector’ are forgettable enough too and seem to be just filling material.

Without the poorer songs, “Parklife” would have been an excellent album but it’s just a little too long and a bit too full of fillers for me to say that. It is a good disc though and contains some of the best Britrock songs of the 90s.
3star

[Album Review] "Hunting High and Low" – a-ha

Hunting High and Low - a-haAlbum Title: Hunting High and Low
Artist: a-ha
Year: 1985
Running Time: 37m 17s

Track listing: 1 Take On Me; 2 Train of Thought; 3 Hunting High and Low; 4 The Blue Sky; 5 Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale; 6 The Sun Always Shines on TV; 7 And You Tell Me; 8 Love Is Reason; 9 I Dream Myself Alive; 10 Here I Stand and Face the Rain

With the return of the 1980s Norwegian pop-kings in the year 2000, this seems like an opportune moment to take you through their career, record by record.

The mid-80s was about hair spray, funny clothes and some bloody awful pop music. There were many image-conscious, talentless twits out there earning good money, so it was pleasing to see quality song-writers and performers like A-ha make it. At first glance, you probably dismiss A-ha as just another good-looking band with a few good tunes. This debut album proves that there was a lot more to them than met the eye.

The hit singles are the obvious place to start. It took three attempts for the band to make the breakthrough. Their debut single, ‘Take On Me’, only became a No 2 UK hit on it’s third release (that’s a patient record company!), in the main thanks to the ground-breaking half-sketch/half-reality video. But that’s to do a disservice to one of the 80s finest pop tunes. With it’s indelibly catchy keyboard jaunt and perky vocals, ‘Take On Me’ is guaranteed a place in the musical hall of fame for good.

To go one better on the next release is one thing, but to go one better with a song like ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ was amazing. Dark and swirling, but uplifting at the same time, this pop-rock classic pierced a hole right through the charts and went to number 1 for 2 weeks in the UK, bringing credibility to a chart suffering under the weight of candyfloss like Wham and Bananarama.

Although a notch down from a quality perspective, ‘Train of Thought’ is a likeable and focused pop tune, memorable for the cool pipes that Pal debuts to great effect. The title track is a real beauty, absolute raw emotion. No one writes or performs ballads like a-ha do, and this has been proven throughout their 2000 release, “Minor Earth Major Sky”. ‘Hunting High and Low’ is an acoustic gem, beautifully sung, elegantly performed. When Morten sings ‘watch me tearing myself to pieces’, ‘do you know what it means to love you…’, it really raises the hairs on your neck. Incredible.

But what makes this album such a must is not just the excellent singles, but also the back up excellence of most of the other tracks. ‘The Blue Sky’ might sound a little like it was played on a yamaha keyboard by a lucky bid at Christmas, but the song has a cool hook which would probably translate pretty well to a more modern sound. ‘Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale’ is pretty well written fare; the story of a lonely young boy living rough after rejection from society. The orchestral chorus and oboe tinged verses work a treat, as do the touching lyrics – ‘I’ve been lost in so many places, seeked love from so many faces’..

‘I Dream Myself Alive’ doesn’t break any moulds, but the derivative keyboard strokes work very well as a background to Morten’s determined vocal. The album closer ‘Here I Stand and Face the Rain’, comes across as very nouveau, possibly well ahead of it’s time. Pal works the acoustics in a resignated stop-start style that only add more helplessness to Morten’s depressed lyric – ‘Help me; I need your love; don’t walk away; the dark scares me so; we’re nothing apart; lets stay friends forever’. The hollering finale is wonderfully eerie and closes off the album in remarkable style.

The last two tunes are non-offensive album filler. ‘And You Tell Me’ is a super-delicate sub-two minute ballad, ‘Love is Reason’ a sign of the happy-go-lucky pop style that a-ha were too excel at (‘Maybe Maybe’, ‘You are the One’, ‘Touchy’).

Overall, this is a marvellous album and arguably A-ha’s best.
4star

[Album Review] "So Far So Good" – Bryan Adams

So Far So Good - Bryan AdamsAlbum Title: So Far So Good
Artist: Bryan Adams
Year: 1993
Running Time: 62m 20s

Track listing: 1 Summer of ’69; 2 Straight From the Heart; 3 It’s Only Love; 4 Can’t Stop this thing we Started; 5 Do I have to Say the Words; 6 This Time; 7 Run to You; 8 Heaven; 9 Cuts Like a Knife; 10 (Everything I Do) I Do it for You; 11 Somebody; 12 Kids Wanna Rock; 13 Heat of the Night; 14 Please Forgive Me

This collection of greatest hits is a real mixed bag. Bryan Adams used to be a real top notch rocker. His early hits are fabulous examples of repressed aggression. ‘Run to You’ is probably the most memorable as Adams laments his current love and embraces his bit on the side. But in a tasteful way. ‘Somebody’, ‘It’s Only Love’ (duet with Tina Turner) and the irresistible ‘Summer of 69’ rock with passionate authority and ‘Heaven’ is an outstanding ballad that I fondly remember from my early teens.

Infact you would probably be as wise to buy ‘Reckless’ which is the Adams album which contains all the above tracks. You wouldn’t have to put up with the tedious ‘Everything I Do….’, ‘Do I Have to Say the Words’ or ‘Please Forgive Me’. It seems that the passion and imagination disappeared at this point only to be replaced by melodramatic tosh.

Not buying this greatest hits though would result in you missing out on the excellent, brooding ‘Heat of the Night’ which would be a shame but the rest of the stuff is mediocre.

As I said, a mixed bag which is not one you will dust down too often unless you are a real fan.

2star

[Album Review] "Rocks" – Aerosmith (original review)

Rocks - AerosmithAlbum Title: Rocks
Artist: Aerosmith
Year: 1976
Running Time: 34m 34s

Track listing: 1 Back in the Saddle; 2 Last Child; 3 Rats in the Cellar; 4 Combination; 5 Sick as a Dog; 6 Nobody’s Fault; 7 Get the Lead Out; 8 Lick and a Promise; 9 Home Tonight

No bones about it – this is the best Aerosmith album. Ever.

‘Back in the Saddle’ blows things wide open with its homage to the wild west. Tom Hamilton plucks the bass along in fruity style with Joe Perry blowing off riffs in all directions. The good time groove of ‘…Saddle’ is prevalent in two great slices of stadium rock later on the disc. ‘Get the Lead Out’ will have you dancing in the aisles before it fades out in unsettling style only to be replaced by the anthemic ‘Lick and a Promise’ which could actually physically make you stand up, clench your fist, and cheer loudly.

‘Nobodys Fault’ is another classic track. Aeromsith stand on the edge of insanity as they proclaim the end of the world thanks to the danger posed by the San Andreas fault along California which has long been associated with the threat of earthquakes. Kramer pounds relentlessly, Hamilton grits his teeth as his demented bassline sounds out the alert, Tyler screams doomsday warnings in what is total lyrical heaven and Whitford and Perry exchange malicious guitar licks like there is no tomorrow. Which is exactly what this song is telling you.

More great stuff to come: ‘Rats in the Cellar’ picks up the ‘Toys in the Attic’ mantle as Aerosmith’s fastest rocker. This tale of urban disintegration comes complete with police siren sound affects, continuous snare drum, tortured harmonica and tension-enhancing lyrics; ‘Catch me if you can, throw me in the slam’, challenges Tyler.

‘Last Child’ rolls in melodically with a light guitar strain before reality kicks in and the funky, itchy beat takes over. ‘Last Child’ sees the band take a simple rhythm and hug it tightly for the entire experience with Whitford and Kramer hammering out a great understanding.

What’s left? ‘Sick as a Dog’ is a total pop experince with excellent guitar harmonies and the use of hand claps to further expose the obsessive beat, ‘Combination’ is a Joe Perry composition which is as dark as ‘Sick as a Dog’ is bright but wins through thanks to its brooding, pained concept and dual vocal offensive and finally ‘Home Tonight’ is another fine ballad which contains timely sentimentalilty, a beautiful Joe Perry solo and a 101 piece orchestra. Aerosmith really wound up a great album in dramatic style.

‘Rocks’ is rock and roll paradise and if Aerosmith were all to snuff it tomorrow, this album would deem them immortal forever.

5star

[Album Review] "Toys in the Attic" – Aerosmith (original review)

Toys in the Attic - AerosmithAlbum Title: Toys in the Attic
Artist: Aerosmith
Year: 1975
Running Time: 37m 11s

Track listing: 1 Toys in the Attic; 2 Uncle Salty; 3 Adam’s Apple; 4 Walk This Way; 5 Big Ten Inch Record; 6 Sweet Emotion; 7 No More No More; 8 Round and Round; 9 You See Me Crying

The hair is longer, the confidence is higher, the attitude is sharper and the music is getting better all the time. “Toys in the Attic” is a near milestone in 70s rock history for several reasons; ‘Toys in the Attic’, ‘Sweet Emotion’ and ‘Walk This Way’. Retrospect was to show us that all three songs would become the backbone of the Aerosmith story and American rock…although I would prefer to stay in 1975 for now.

The album opens up with the thundering ‘Toys in the Attic’ which sweeps you off your feet from the opening bars to the final cymbal. The ferocious pace was unmatched on an Aeromsith disc before this. ‘Sweet Emotion’ is a pure classic. It opens with the definitive Tom Hamilton bassline [a line originally rejected by Tyler during the early years], rises and mellows again before it finally erupts into a crescendo of attitude.

‘Walk This Way’ is the ultimate in simplicity, but yet the ultimate in rock and roll braggadocio. Tyler almost raps his way through this tale of lost virginity while drummer, Joey Kramer, and lead guitarist, Joe Perry, bounce an insatiable rhythm off each other. To once again visit the land of retrospect, the song was covered by Run DMC in 1986 and featured Joe and Steven Tyler guesting on the track – this resulted in another Top 10 hit and made the song the most popular and well known in their repertoire.

So apart from the cream, is there anything else on this album? There is ‘You See me Crying’, a lavish orchestral ballad which exudes over-the-top sentimentality and pathos accompanied with a beautiful piano piece from Tyler. Incidnetally, vocally, Tyler is outstanding on this cut.

‘No More No More’ is a mature look at life in a rock and roll band and is an indication of how the pressures of being at the top of your profession can affect you;’Blood stains the ivories of my daddy’s baby grand, ain’t seen no daylight since we started this band; Times are a-changing, nothing ever stands still, If I don’t start changing, I’ll be writin’ my will’. Marvellous piano and guitar accompaniment.

For the umpteenth time, Aerosmith manage to combine rock and roll basics with a horn-driven chorus on ‘Adams Apple’. Tyler explores exactly where orinigal sin originated. Absolutely nothing wrong with this track. ‘Big Ten Inch Record’ is an all out band party. Total innuendo in this jazzy, big-band cover version which features some high powered harmonica and piano performances.

The two moderate areas on the record are ‘Uncle Salty’ which seems a little anemic in comparison to what preceeds it but is still not half-bad. The same goes for Brad Whitford’s heated ‘Round and Round’ which is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin at times.

This is a powerhouse of a record which houses several classics and semi-classics. The best Aerosmith release so far.

4star