[Movie Review] Stigmata

StigmataStarring: Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce
Director: Rupert Wainwright
Genre: Horror
Cert: 15
Released: 1999

Stigmata: Marks or sores corresponding to and resembling the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, sometimes occurring during religious ecstasy or hysteria.

There you go – just to get that out of the way prior to the review.

Frankie Paige (Arquette – “True Romance”, “Beyond Rangoon”, “Flirting With Disaster”) is a hard-living tearaway in Pittsburgh (where it seems to rain every day!). Her relentless life is turned upside down as she becomes afflicted with horrendous wounds resembling stigmata. The Vatican’s premier scientific investigator, Father Andrew Kiernan (Byrne – “Enemy of the State”, “Usual Suspects”), is summoned to investigate the case but finds his progress hindered by Cardinal Daniel Houseman (Pryce – “Ronin”, “Tomorrow Never Dies”, “Evita”, “Carrington”, “Glengary Glen Ross”) and his vocation challenged by the feelings he develops for Frankie. It soon becomes clear to Kiernan that a cover up exists and he must find out why before it’s too late for Frankie.

“Stigmata” has all the necessary tools to be a very successful study of the cornerstone of Christian religious beliefs, but in practice comes across as a laborious and drawn-out experience based on a standard tale of conspiracy that we’ve seen all too often in the cinema. The opening scenes of Father Kiernan visiting an isolated Catholic church in Brazil set an eerie and deeply spiritual tone when a statue of the Madonna are shown to be crying tears of blood after the death of local priest, Father Dario. When Kiernan reports this to Houseman, he is surprised to see it brushed under the carpet, and quickly given a new assignment, to quash the media furore surrounding the appearance of stigmata on Frankie Paige.

The movie is quite well paced, in that we don’t see an explosion of the rather disturbing stigmata-inflicting scenes at the beginning followed by 90 mins of dialogue. Frankie is plagued throughout and the malaise she suffers is regular enough to keep up interest throughout, and allows for some very stylishly directed shots of her agony in such places as a train and a nightclub.

The lead performances from Arquette and Byrne are excellent, with the extrememly attractive Arquette proving that her earlier success in hits like “True Romance” and “Lost Highway” were no fluke. Byrne too does a superb job of playing the handsome but doubting priest who is beginning the question his motivation and his vocation, especially when he sees the work he does disregarded by a hierarchy who are more interested in protecting their own interests than uncovering the truth about religious history.

Director Rupert Wainwright doesn’t do very much wrong and shows plenty of promise with the style and atmosphere he exudes here (reminiscent of David Fincher’s “Seven”). Essentially he is let down by the paper thin story which obviously looked better on paper than on celluloid. An interesting, but fundementally flawed effort.

2star

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[Album Review] "Get Your Wings" – Aerosmith (original review)

Get Your Wings - AerosmithAlbum Title: Get Your Wings
Artist: Aerosmith
Year: 1974
Running Time: 38m 6s

Track listing: 1 Same Old Song and Dance; 2 Lord of the Thighs; 3 Spaced; 4 Woman of the World; 5 S.O.S. (Too Bad); 6 Train Kept A Rollin’; 7 Seasons of Wither; 8 Pandora’s Box

Following on from the debut album was never going to be an easy task for Aerosmith but they have done a fairly admirable job here. The appetite and endeavour is still very evident but the naievty has been replaced by a genuine maturity in performance and song writing.

The highlights are wide ranging. ‘Seasons of Wither’ is an outstanding ballad; the applause of a live crowd gradually dies out giving way to the sound of the wind patrolling a desolate landscape. Once the scene is set in your mind, a lone guitar guides you to a troubled Steven Tyler who curses the loss of a love and the feeling of lonliness and isolation. They talk about ‘Stairway to Heaven’ but ‘Seasons of Wither is truly is one of the greatest songs ever written in my opinion.

For those about to rock, don’t feel left out. ‘Train Kept A Rollin’, a cover of a 50s rocker later covered by The Yardbirds in the 60s, is performed immaculately with an expertise that has eluded many great rock n roll superstars. ‘Lord of the Thighs’ is a tongue-in-cheek look at the seedier side of big city America. The performance really excels on this track with drums, bass, lead and rhythm guitar and piano integrating seamlessly behind Tyler’s sinister growl.

‘Same Old Song and Dance’ should float your boat too with its foot-tapping, sax-tinged rhythm, ‘SOS (Too Bad)’ is a pissed-off, battered and bruised rocker that is strangely tuneful and ‘Spaced’ will have your imagination working overtime with its tale of a lone survivor on post-apocalyptic Earth. There is something missing but in the main it is entertaining.

‘Woman of the World’ sounds a little bit dated but is pleasant enough in parts and ‘Pandoras Box’ is notable for being drummer, Joey Kramers, first writing credit. A decent sex-inspired boogie; ‘slitty licker’, ‘well-endowned’, ‘sweet Pandora, open up your doors for me’. Indeed.

There is nothing particularly poor here by any means and Aerosmith have penned an album that is hard to criticize too much. ‘Woman of the World’ drags a little too much and there is something moderately ordinary about ‘Pandora’s Box’ and ‘Spaced’ but essentially it is worth getting for ‘Seasons of Wither’.

3star

[Album Review] "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" – a-ha

East of the Sun, West of the Moon - a-haAlbum Title: East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Artist: a-ha
Year: 1990
Running Time: 44m 48s

Track listing: 1 Crying in the Rain; 2 Early Morning; 3 I Call Your Name; 4 Slender Frame; 5 East of the Sun; 6 Sycamore Leaves; 7 Waiting For Her; 8 Cold River; 9 The Way We Talk; 10 Rolling Thunder; 11 (Seemingly) Nonstop July

A-ha’s time had seemingly come and gone by the time they released their fourth album in 1990, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”. Despite being the biggest pop-band in the world just three years earlier, sales had been steadily declining since then.

Their lead single off this album was their first ever cover version – The Everly Brothers 1961 classic, ‘Crying in the Rain’, and Morten and the boys pulled out all the stops in an absolutely outstanding rendition. As modern sounding a song as they’d ever recorded, Harket sung beautifully and was backed a marvellous acoustic and electric accompaniment. Stand out track on the album by a mile.

We roll straight into the sombre, bass-driven ‘Early Morning’. Strangely chosen as a single, it’s not the most infectious tune on the record although it is fair to say it’s a bit of a grower. The mood immediatly changes for the cool, upbeat, sax and ivory spiel of ‘I Call Your Name’. Unlike previous catchy pop songs penned by the band, this one had some weight as a genuniely well-written tune. Also released as a single, it surprisingly didn’t trouble the Top 40, and was a very obvious sign at the time that the band were on their way out of the public conciousness.

The title track also rattles some cages. The subtely produced intro gives way to just Morten and some acoustics, before eventually being joined by a slight orchestral backing. It’s edgy and brave and frankly, rather good. ‘Money talks and hey I’m listening’, offers Harket. ‘I’ve lived without it, enough to miss it’, he mourns. A very effective lament.

‘Rolling Thunder’ is basically ‘son of Crying in the Rain’. Identical storm-effect intro with even the opening laboured notes ringing bells! But apart from that, the two songs are not similar in the slightest. Actually, the Aerosmith-esque ‘Rolling Thunder’ works brilliantly as a confused power-ballad, regularly crossing the lines between pre and post 1990 A-ha style.

Always liking to close an album on something slightly different, ‘(Seemingly) Nonstop July’ is a beautiful, if slightly off-beat, bar tune ballad. Again the use of the ivories and acoustics provide a perfect platform for Morten’s gorgeous vocals. Excellent finale.

So is just the rubbish left? Not by any means. ‘Slender Frame’ again ramps up with a heavy acoustic and electric sound – something quite common on the album. Mildly intriguing and packed with ideas, it is a tune that never realises it’s potential, but still causes no offence. ‘Sycamore Leaves’ is peculiar and something very new for the band – a thumping drum and cymbal rocker which tells the peculiar tale of someone who seems to be ‘covered by sycamore leaves’. There’s a meaning in there somewhere I’m sure.

‘Waiting For Her’, a heart-wrenching pop-ballad is slightly more irritating though and probably belongs firmly in the late 80s/early 90s where hopefully it’ll stay. That’s not to say it’s a particularly bad tune, it just reminds me too much of the many boy-band numbers that came to dominate the charts in the last ten years.

What’s the deal with ‘Cold River’? Crank up the drum and bass as A-ha tighten those bandanas and swing their mics around a bit too enthusiastically. A great verse leads rather disappointingly into a nothing-chorus leaving the track sounding way too disjointed. A real shame, and the biggest missed opportunity on the album. Finally, Mags makes his lead vocal debut on the rather flimsy and forgettable ‘The Way We Talk’.

So what’s the synopsis? A better album than the more successful “Stay On These Roads” and just enough here to catapult it into join-second best A-ha album so far.

3star

[Movie Review] Scream 2

Scream 2Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette
Director: Wes Craven
Genre: Horror
Cert: 18
Released: 1997

If ever a film cried out for a sequel, it was “Scream”. The first instalment of what is currently a trilogy, was as unique and sharp as a slasher horror can get. Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson (writer of “I Know What You Did Last Summer”) put together a film that successfully poked fun at itself and the genre it represented. Even though the humour came from basically telegraphing what was coming next, it worked effectively thanks to expert direction from Craven. Even I found the first movie enthralling to the point where it made me jump.

“Scream 2” continues from where the prequel ended. Reporter, Gale Weathers has penned the true story of “The Woodsboro Murders” (ie “Scream”) and a movie called “Stab” which is based on the book, has hit the theatres. When two college students are murdered while watching the movie, it seems that a copycat killer has begun a new spree. It eventually becomes clear that Sidney (Neve Campbell) and her friends are in danger again. Bumbling but honest cop, Dewey (David Arquette) flies out to visit Sidney when he hears and all the remaining characters from “Scream” are re-united.

If you didn’t know what to expect in “Scream 2”, don’t worry. Movie buff Randy (the excellent Jamie Kennedy) quickly fills us in on what is likely to happen in a horror sequel – higher body count, more suspects etc. And so “Scream 2” mimics the original in it’s use of irony and ‘in-jokes’.

And that’s not a bad thing. It is much of the same, but it’s done with a great deal of style as before. There may be more violence, and less humour but the combination is such that it still manages to entertain. There are too many flat characters – Sidney for a start, and I’m no fan of Dewey or Gale. But thankfully the young, relatively unknown cast members, Randy, Mickey (Timothy Olyphant), Cotton (Liev Schreiber) and Derek (Jerry O’Connell) all bring individual and different talents to the script.

Derek is the intriguing boyfriend of Sidney – can we trust him? Cotton is the man that Sidney wrongly accused of the murders in the original movie. He did a year in prison because of it. Is he out for revenge? You’ll ask yourself these questions throughout the movie as you search for the person who ‘done it’. As it turns out, the climax is disappointing and kind of felt forced and illogical.

But overall there were enough scares, tension and humour to make this a very respectable and entertaining sequel. However, having just watched the third installment (review elsewhere on the site), I wish they would have quit at this point.

3star

[Movie Review] Fallen

FallenStarring: Denzel Washington, Donald Sutherland, John Goodman
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 18
Released: 1998

There’s nothing like a good supernatural chiller. In fact the last good movie of this ilk that I’d seen was “The First Power” with Lou Diamond Phillips way back in 1990. After watching “Fallen”, it’s still the last good movie of this ilk that I’ve seen. More on that later.

Detective John Hobbes (Washington) is the man responsible for the capture of murderer, Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas). On the eve of his execution, Hobbes goes to see the imprisoned Reese who begins to speak in riddle and mumble a strange language that is indecipherable. He also mysteriously sings a 60s rock ballad. His strange behaviour is taken with a grain of salt by Hobbes who watches Reese die in the gas chamber.

But when a new series of murders begins it seems obvious to Hobbes and his partner, Jonesy (Goodman), that they are dealing with a copycat murderer or an accomplice of Reese. However, when strangers and colleagues begin to deride Hobbes and sing the same tune that Reese sang before his execution, the cop is understandably spooked. Using a clue left behind at a murder scene, Hobbes tracks down Gretta Milano (Embeth Davidtz – “Matilda”, “Schindlers List”) who explains to him all about the evil angel, Azazel, a cursed spirit who roams the earth and can switch bodies by contact. Azazel’s mission is to gain revenge on Hobbes.

So where does “Fallen” go wrong? The premise is intriguing – a foe that can’t be seen and, it seems, cannot be stopped. We’ve got the main character in a seemingly helpless situation. He is being framed for the murders he investigates and how does he explain to his bosses that the murders are effectively being done by a man they have already seen executed?

The answer is probably that the movie runs out of steam very quickly, and the last 40 minutes become very repetitive and one-dimensional. The fun part is seeing Azazel slowly return to torture Hobbes but once that’s done, the story is stretched as far as it will go. Ok, so Hobbes has to find a solution, but interest wanes very quickly as the psychology that you need between the good and bad guy is diluted by the lack of an actual visible foe.

We’ve got some heavyweight actors involved – Washington, Sutherland, and the actual heavyweight John Goodman. All three men seem to go through the motions but there’s not much call for them to do much else in what is an uninspiring and flat script. The attractive Embeth Davidtz puts in a good performance as Hobbes unwilling sidekick, and Gabriel Casseus is the likeable brother of Washington.

“Fallen” wants to be a dark and mysterious religious thriller, but rest assured, this is no “Seven”. Infact, as you can see above, it’s really just a ‘Two’.

2star