Film Review: "High Crimes" (2002)

Posted by prla1983 on January 10, 2005 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

Last night I got around to see "High Crimes" on DVD, a 2002 movie featuring the beautiful Ashley Judd (Heat) and the brilliant Morgan Freeman (Shawshank Redemption, Se7en). With these two on the lead roles you can't really lose, can you? Well, no, not really.

Claire Kubik (Judd) is a hot shot lawyer working for a well known firm who happens to manage important and mediatic cases. She's very self-confident, sophisticated and fresh and knows very well what she wants and likes. And she likes living with her husband, Tom (James Caviezel), on the country side. However, this idyllic scenario soons turns into despair when she learns that Tom isn't quite who she had always known and is in fact a military dissident accused of a capital crime who turns out to be known as Ron Chapman. It all goes back to a few years earlier, when Tom/Ron took part on a covert special operation that ended on him allegedly shooting nine innocent people at point blank range. Claire believes her husband is innocent and decides to help him in military court. Aware that she really isn't familiar with the ground she'll be stepping on, she asks for the help and assistance of a former military lawyer, Charlie Grimes (Freeman), whose biggest struggle by then is to avoid alcohol like he's been proudly doing for over 400 days successfully. Grimes is a relaxed, easy-going type guy who likes to be a "wild card". He doesn't play by the rules and that usually works for him. Together, Claire and Grimes work alongside a newbie military lawyer (Adam Scott), only to find the spider web they have to entangle is bigger than they imagined at first.

I don't want to go along with the rest of the plot as it's not really necessary. "High Crimes" is a typical courtroom thriller that's been done over and over again and it's quite predictable even if you haven't seen many of these genre films. However, the fact that it doesn't promise too much also means that it doesn't have too much trouble delivering well enough. Especially interesting, in my opinion, is the way we get to see the different versions of what supposedly happened during the blood stained operation in South America. Director Carl Franklin shows us the same characters, in the same exact situation, doing the exact same things, except the roles are exchanged. This has been used to the same effect in 2003's Basic and most likely comes from earlier on. Either way, it's probably the best way to keep us on our toes and give the audience a graphic taste of both sides in question, like we are jurors in this case.

The acting is very good, and I can honestly say I was quite stunned by Ashley Judd as she looks beautiful on screen. Her freshness and confidence impressed me in a way I haven't felt like in a good while and that was a good surprise. Morgan Freeman doesn't surprise me at all, he just keeps adding insult to injury with yet another brilliant performance showing he's not only classy, he's also extremely versatile. James Caviezel delivers a strong performance aswell although there's not much room for him to shine, at least not as much as it does for Judd or Freeman. However, within the confines of his role in this story, he does what he needs to do: be convincing. The supporting roles are convincing aswell - Juan Carlos Hernández is particularly scary in the role of Major James Hernandez - and of particular interest to me is the appearance of Jude Ciccollela as the judge, who you might know as the Mike Novick of acclaimed TV series 24.

The story itself unfolds in a very fluid manner, Freeman adds the touch of class - and in this case of smart comedy too - and despite the somewhat weak and predictable plot and mandatory final twist, the film is still satisfying and entertaining.

*** out of 4

2004 End of the Year Round Up

Posted by prla1983 on January 02, 2005 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

We've already said goodbye to 2004 and so it's time for yours truly to jump in the best-of-the-year lists bandwagon. Considering I haven't really seen many new movies this year, having focused in old classics, I don't really fee like I'm able to put out a decent movie top 10 for 2004, so I'm sticking to music. It turned out kinda lengthy so if you're easily bored, you better look someplace else ;)

10. Iced Earth ~ The Glorious Burden (Website)
I must say that what stroke me first about this album was its cover. I just loved the battle picture, really digged the drawing. Not being an Iced Earth fanatic, I decided to check it out and was quite impressed with the quality of this album. Most songs are quite catchy and even the ballads are ok, despite me not having an inclination for metal ballads. The special edition 2-disc set also includes a very nice long and progressive piece titled "Gettysburg" which definitely should be present in the regular edition as it is pretty much the highlight of this album.

9. Mastodon ~ Leviathan (Website)
Every now and then there shows up a band which is genre-defying while decidedly good at their own kind of sound. This year, this title goes to Mastodon which surprised me with their Pantera meets Dillinger Escape Plan kind of sound. They can also be very diverse, mixing really powerful, heavy and speedy songs with more laid back tunes, including an awesome 13 minute progressive epic. This is a band definitely worth keeping an eye out for.

8. Fates Warning ~ FWX (Website)
Thanks to Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater (on his HotD thread), 2004 was the year I got to know Fates Warning. This is also a band I have to investigate further in 2005 as I find there are definitely some hooks in it but I still haven't gotten to the bottom of it. There's gold here though as any Fates Warning fan would surely tell me, I can feel it but I haven't found it myself yet. As it is, I really enjoyed FWX, Jim Matheos guitar work is quite nice and Ray Alder's voice is definitely an added value for me. Time to drill down into their back catalogue...

7. Franz Ferdinand ~ Franz Ferdinand (Website)
Every once in a while there's an album coming out from which you seem to have heard every track somewhere before but the truth is that it's all new stuff. That's Franz Ferdinand's 2004 debut for me. These tunes have such powerful hooks it's unbelievable and you can even dance to it. I wonder if this band is a one-hit (well, one-album actually) wonder or if they can take their thing to the next level. Perhaps 2005 will tell us?

6. Edguy ~ Hellfire Club (Website)
Edguy's strength for me resides in their powerful choruses, it just sounds so great! Tobias Sammett's voice seems to be perfect for their type of sound and apart from the odd cheesy balad, this album steps on the gas all the way. Unfortunately, as with most of power metal, it can be as good as boring after a while and that's the only problem I found in it. It's ok, the only thing you need is to put it down for a while and then spin it again a couple of months later. Fresh as new! Aside from that, Hellfire Club is one hell of a record, I wish I had caught them live earlier last year.

5. Dream Theater ~ Live at Budokan (Website)
Dream Theater filled the hiatus between original releases in 2004, with a live album recording in the mythic Budokan in Japan. This was part of the Japanese leg of the Train of Thought show and it was released both in DVD and Audio CD format. This is a great addition from the band, featuring an amazing set of roughly 3 hours (as we're used to) with the majority of Train of Thought being played but also revisiting When Dream and Day Unite with "Only a Matter of Time" (the first time for a live release if I'm not mistaken). But the devil (in a good sense) is in the details, as they say. Beyond This Life has this amazing Frank Zappa homage live extension, the rendition of Hollow Years is purely amazing with an extended solo by John Petrucci (as he also did later in the show for In The Name of God). If that wasn't enough, the band also plays the godlike Instrumedley piece which is an awesome track to have on record. Dream Theater proves once again their mighty power. 2005 will surely bring even better things from them, considering a new album is to be expected and it's the 20th anniversary of the band.

4. Ayreon ~ The Human Equation (Website)
I've already given a mention in an earlier entry to this project so I'll refrain from saying too much right now. Suffice to say that this is a winner right from the starting lane considering it includes James La Brie, Devin Townsend and Mikael Akerfeldt. This simply had to be in my top 10. Period.

3. Blackfield ~ Blackfield (Website)
If I had to pick a musician of the year, that title would go hands down to Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree. The guy is like the King Midas. Everything he touches turns gold. Be it his own Porcupine Tree or producing for Opeth and Paatos, you can't lose with him. 2004 saw the release of yet another of his side projects, entitled Blackfield, together with Israeli songwriter and singer Aviv Geffen. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of sad yet beautiful music, if a definition for such thing exists. It may take a couple of spins to actually put the pieces together but when it does, the reward couldn't be better. Think of it as a stripped down version of Porcupine Tree and there you have it. And this is more than enough to fill the gap between Porcupine Tree's albums, from which a new opus is about to see the light of the day and it's called "Deadwing".

2. Green Day ~ American Idiot (Website)
Green Day will always have a soft spot in my heart, considering I've grown up with them from very early on. Despite that, I don't think I'm biased when I give the second spot to them as it is by all means well deserved. Never before has Green Day sounded so tight and focused on their work. The band has been growing with each release and going through different stages in their career and the same goes for Billy Joe Armstrong's songwriting. From the love-punk-pop of the first couple of songs, through the Dookie acclaimed masterpiece and my favourite Insomniac into the more comercially-aware Nimrod and Warning, the band has finally come of age and American Idiot is proof of that. They found their place proving the teenage angst wasn't just instrumental, maturing into a cohesive and well-aware ideology while maintaning their awesome gift for catchy melody and choruses. Finally, one interesting thing I found was the intriguing (to say the least) twelve minute, multi phase piece as the second track of the album. Green Day going progressive within punk-pop? Good!

1. The Gathering ~ Sleepy Buildings (Website)
The number one spot had to go The Gathering, obviously. Even if 2004 was in many respects one of the worst years of my life, the single fact of having seen The Gathering live in front of me (and yes, add Dream Theater show to the bill aswell) has the gift of making me regard last year as a positive one. 2004 was also an amazing year for the band itself, considering they've been touring most of the time and giving out great shows indeed. As for the record itself, Sleepy Buildings is a selection of The Gathering's back catalogue as played in an accoustic show in early 2004. Some renditions are absolutely wonderful and "Saturnine", "Amity" and "Travel" hitting home perfectly. "Locked Away", the opening track is so similar to Jeff Buckley it's even scary. And that's a good thing, if you ask me. The Gathering's voice, the beautiful Anneke van Giersbergen, really shines and stands out in this record. 2005 will hopefully bring a new album from the band and most importantly for Anneke, she'll give birth to "a petit gar├žon". So, when all is said and done, this number one spot is not just the best album for me, it's also the band of the year. Go TG!

Anneke during the Sleepy Buildings acoustic show

There's also some honorable mentions I rather not leave out. Persuader has come back in 2004 after some conflicts inside the band releasing Evolution Purgatory. While not on par with their amazing debut back in 2001, it's still an awesome power metal record. L.A. based Megadeth has also come back to the scene and to their golden days, I must say, with the very politically-aware The System Has Failed while Swedish band Pain of Salvation released Be, a strange yet fabulous concept album about the meaning of life itself. A Perfect Circle has been put in the backburner while its members pursue more important interests (Tool being one of those for vocalist Maynard James Keenan), not without releasing eMOTIVe, a covers album with renditions of Joni Mitchell, John Lennon or, believe it or not, Black Flag. Funny. Joe Satriani also delivered a strong album, full of catchy melodies, while asking whether Is There Love in Space?. Dream Theater's bassist John Myung side project The Jelly Jam also released a new record, summarily titled 2, their second album (surprise, surprise), which is a valuable addition to the progressive genre spectrum. Finally, a word of appreciation for Angra's Temple of Shadows, a fantastic power metal album coming from Brazil and containing an interesting mix of influences.

Last, but definitely not least, it's important to say that 2004 is a very sad year for music at large considering ex-Pantera guitarrist "Dimebag" Darrell was shot on stage during a Damageplan gig last December. Much has been said about this truly sad and disgusting episode but I must stress that things like this don't belong in 21st century nor anywhere else for that matter and must not happen. Ever. Rock on Dimebag!

Here's hope for 2005!