Friday, 24 March 2017

TV Series: The Flash

The last few days I've been watching "The Flash". I'm growing to like the series, as you can see by the fact that this is the second article I've written about it within a week.

The series features Candice Patton as Iris West, shown in the picture above. In the series she's a blogger, like me. Well, maybe not quite like me. Check out the following example of her blog posts, which we see in season one episode five. You can click on the screenshot to enlarge it.

As you can see, when she runs out of things to write she simply repeats the same text and hopes that nobody will notice. The second paragraph begins with the same words that she wrote in the middle of the first paragraph. I'm not as sloppy as her. I write good posts.

Something about Candice Patton has been bugging me. It seemed somehow familiar. Now I know where I've seen it before. As Iris West she has the same open-mouthed amazed smile when she sees the Flash that Chloe Sullivan used to have in "Smallville". I don't think it's a coincidence. Candice Patton and Allison Mack must be related. Remotely.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Cloud Nine (3 Stars)

I find this film very depressing. Maybe I'm in the minority. Other critics praise the film's positive, uplifting messages. When the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 it was given a ten minute standing ovation. I can understand that people like it because it's an original film, dealing with a taboo topic: sex between old people.

Werner and Inge are an elderly couple who live in Berlin. Inge is 69, Werner is 72. They've been married for more than 30 years. Inge has a part time job sewing clothes, whereas Werner devotes his spare time to his hobby: trains. It's a strange hobby that his wife doesn't share with him. He listens to recordings of trains pulling into stations. Why he would want to listen to recordings of trains is unfathomable, because a busy train line runs past their back door. I tried to locate the house, based on clues in the film. I can't be certain, but it has to be either in Pankow or Prenzlauer Berg, both areas in the former eastern zone of Berlin.

Inge falls in love with Karl, one of her customers. He's 76, older than her husband, but slightly fitter because he cycles a lot. The word "love" is stretching the description of their relationship. It's pure lust. The two have almost nothing in common, she just visits him to have sex. She confesses the affair to her daughter and talks about having butterflies in her stomach, but it's not romantic, it's just the feelings of physical desire in her.

Inge doesn't want to leave her husband. She still cares for him, but she wants the excitement of a sexual relationship with another man. Is she totally stupid? Doesn't she realise what she's giving up? It's not like her husband is mistreating her in any way. From the beginning of the film we see him treating his wife affectionately.

Even though the word isn't used in the film, it's about polyamory. The word has different definitions. Two conflicting definitions are:

1. the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved.

2. the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.

I've spoken to people who consider themselves polyamorous, and they always use the second definition. "I have too much love to give it all to one person". They're lying to themselves and to others. What they really mean is "I don't have enough love to dedicate myself to one person". If they stuck to the first definition there wouldn't be a problem.

Polyamory is always about sex. Sex feels good, we all know that. A person might not be prepared to settle down, so he or she can have multiple sexual partners for pleasure. I don't judge that. If his partners are happy with the situation it's okay. What isn't okay is to claim that he loves everyone he sleeps with. He's degrading the word Love.

If a man and a woman love one another they'll be faithful. I have been in many relationships in my life, some more serious than others, and I was always faithful. Sometimes I felt tempted, even during my serious relationships, but I loved my partner too much to risk my relationship for sexual pleasure. After 30 years of marriage Inge should have known better.

"Cloud Nine" is praised for showing that an old woman can enjoy sex just as much as a teenager. I criticise it for showing that an old woman can be as stupid as a teenager.

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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

A Cure For Wellness (4 Stars)

This is a film that's been savaged by the critics, but friends of mine who saw the film in England last month highly recommended it, so I had a choice. Do I listen to highly devoted film fans or the narrow-minded critics? That's a rhetorical question. I arrived at the cinema with my money in my hand.

The film begins in New York, but after the introductory scenes it continues in Switzerland. Roland Pembroke, the CEO of a large finance company, has gone to spend a few weeks in a health spa in Switzerland. The board of directors waits patiently for him to return, but they receive a letter from him -- a hand-written letter, not an email -- that he intends to remain in the health spa indefinitely. That raises panic, because they need his signature to agree to a merger. The board decides to send a young executive, Mr. Lockhart (whose first name is never disclosed), to persuade him to return.

And so Lockhart heads to the Swiss Alps, where he finds the spa housed in a castle on a mountain. The suspicious villagers who lived at the foot of the mountain already gave me a clue about what was to come. On his arrival Lockhart is obstructed in his attempts to speak to Mr. Pembroke. He decides to stay overnight at a hotel in the village, but on the way his taxi collides with a deer. He wakes up in the health spa three days later with his leg in a plaster cast. The head of the spa, Dr. Vollmer, offers to let him stay until his leg has healed. Lockhart agrees, but as he gets to know the other residents at the health spa he becomes aware of one fact: nobody ever leaves.

The film is delightful in many ways. The first half of the film is a Kafkaesque nightmare. Lockhart is repeatedly told that he's a patient in the spa, not a prisoner, but whenever he attempts to leave there are obstructions. It's also a mystery, as Lockhart tries to unveil the reason why nobody wants to leave. Then there's a horror story about the Baron who lived in the castle 200 years ago, a mad scientist who performed experiments on living humans to cure his wife's infertility. All the different stories intertwine to form a whole.

A few small facts detract from the overall quality. There are some unnecessary subplots. The opening scene with Morris, another company executive, dying of a heart attack, is superfluous to the story, and is only briefly mentioned later on. Lockhart's mother's psychic abilities add nothing to the story. The illegal dealings of Lockhart's company are also irrelevant. "A Cure For Wellness" has a running time of 146 minutes, and I have nothing against long films in principle, but if the unnecessary scenes were cut it would shorten the film and make the story much tighter.

The critics are wrong. It isn't a bad film, but it could have been better.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island (4 Stars)

This is the third remake of the 1933 film "King Kong". Was it necessary? That depends on the way you look at it. Peter Jackson's version, made in 2005, was such a towering cinematic achievement that it could never be equalled in quality, let alone surpassed. However, Warner Bros wants to make a film about a battle between Godzilla and King Kong, maybe followed by battles with other monsters, which would be difficult, considering that the 2005 version ended with King Kong's death. This means it was necessary for "King Kong" to be remade yet again, this time leaving the giant monkey alive.

It's obvious the film was intended to be a blockbuster. Several big stars were thrown into it, enough to attract any film goer. If I have to list the film's strong points, that's the biggest advantage. Samuel L. Jackson puts on an epic performance as the army colonel with a madness akin to Captain Ahab, driven by revenge. I can't remember when I was so impressed by him. John C. Reilly has never been one of my favourite actors, but he wowed me in his role as the abandoned US pilot. John Goodman also impressed me as the seasoned scientist. Tom Hiddleston is just Tom Hiddleston, he can't do a thing wrong. Those four actors carried the film for me. In comparison, Brie Larson was dull, maybe because I was comparing her with Naomi Watts. Jing Tian is one of my favourite actresses, but she was underused, spending too much time in the background. I hope we'll see more of her in the sequel.

Unfortunately, the film is less than the sum of its parts. It was let down by the silly story, which was little more than a last-man-standing yarn, in which all the minor characters were killed one by one while the major characters miraculously avoided death. In previous versions the other monsters on the island were an assortment of dinosaurs, but in "Kong: Skull Island" they're weird looking lizards and birds, plus a walking tree. I expected stunning special effects, but I was surprised to see that despite the advances in computer wizardry over the last 12 years the special effects aren't as good as in Peter Jackson's film.

"Kong: Skull Island" isn't a bad film, and it's better than the 1976 version, but it falls way behind the quality of the other two versions.

I almost forgot to mention the music. The film is set in 1972, so the music is all taken from the early 1970's. A lot of the music isn't just incidental music, it's music that's being played on a portable record player that the soldiers are carrying with them. To me the music was more thrilling than the film itself. When Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" began I couldn't control myself, I had to sing along with Ozzy. Not loud enough to disturb the other cinema guests, of course.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Logan (5 Stars)

As soon as I saw the first trailer in the cinema I knew this would be a different sort of X-Men film. If anything, Hugh Jackman himself must have insisted on the film being a change from his previous roles as Wolverine. He said well in advance that he wanted his next film as Wolverine to be his last. After eight films spread out over 17 years he felt that he was growing too old to play the role. He wanted his ninth and last film to be different. He's succeeded.

During Wolverine's lifetime it was commonly assumed that he's immortal. In the chronology of the X-Men films he was more than 100 years when he joined the team. In "Logan" we see that he's not immortal, he just ages slowly. The film takes place in the near future, 2029. His healing powers are failing, and he takes longer to recover from injuries. Some injuries don't heal at all, as we see from the fact that he walks with a limp. He's given up being a hero and prefers to use his birth name, Logan. He's a limousine driver, struggling to make a living.

All of his former companions in the X-Men are gone, presumably dead. The only survivor is Charles Xavier, formerly one of the most powerful mutants on Earth. Charles is suffering from dementia and has trouble controlling his powers. He has frequent seizures that cause everyone around him pain or paralysis. Charles is being kept in a fortified building in an uninhabited territory in Mexico where he can't hurt anyone. Logan visits him and brings him medication to calm him down.

Logan can't escape the past, however much he tries. In Mexico a woman approaches him who recognises him as Wolverine. She begs him to take her 11-year-old daughter to North Dakota, but why?

The film tells a very powerful story. It's a dark story that takes place in a dark world. To say more would give away too much of the plot for those who haven't seen it yet. However much I may have liked Hugh Jackman in the past, in "Logan" he gives the best performance of his life. It's probably the best of the X-Men and Wolverine films so far. I'll have to watch all nine back to back to make sure.

Up until now it's the most successful film of 2017, having earned $523 million at the box office. That's well deserved. It's also my favourite film of the year so far.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Off-Topic: Internet Censorship

Two years ago I wrote a post complaining about Internet censorship. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) asked the company American Apparel to remove an image of a model advertising a body suit because she looked like she was under 16. It was irrelevant that the model, Kacy Anne Hill, was 20 at the time the photo was taken. All that mattered was the warped fantasies of the ASA who looked at an adult woman and immediately started fantasising about young girls.

After reading about the censorship I was fortunate enough to find that the allegedly offensive photo of Kacy was still on the American Apparel web site. It was removed later in the evening, so I posted it on my blog to protest against Internet censorship. I searched the American Apparel web site for other photos of Kacy, and I found 39 similar images which I saved to my hard drive. Within three days these photos were also removed from the site. As a result I decided to post a complete gallery of the 40 images to protect them from being lost forever.

I'm very pleased with the way my posts and the gallery have been received. On the day that I posted the photo it was nowhere else on the Web (according to Google). A week later it was on two other web sites. Now, two years later, the photo is available on 23 different websites, on many of them in its original size (1035 x 1380 pixels). I am proud that I am personally responsible for saving this photo from censorship. Today, as I write these words, my post about Kacy Anne Hill is the most viewed page in my blog. I hope that my readers will continue to download and share all 40 of her photos.

The main reason for my post was to make a stand against Internet censorship, but I also did it because I know it's what Kacy wants. She said in an interview that she finds the complaints about her photo ridiculous. I have the greatest possible respect for Kacy, and I am doing whatever I can to keep her photos alive. I hope that she will read these words and they will make her smile.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

TV Series: The Flash

This afternoon I watched the first three episodes of the DC television series, "The Flash". Yes, I know I'm two years late. I never watch television as it's broadcast live. Most of the stuff that's broadcast is junk, so when I lived in England I didn't even have a television license. In Germany the law is different, unfortunately. Every household must pay for a television license, whether they own a television or not. There have been numerous court cases by people who think this is unfair, but none have succeeded.

For those of you who don't know much about the character, apart from what they've seen on television, the Flash is a character who first appeared in DC Comics in Showcase #4 in October 1956. This was an anthology comic which featured different characters each month as a trial. The more popular characters, based on the response from reader letters, were given their own comic. The Flash was featured in another three issues of Showcase, issues #8, #13 and #14. Finally he was given his own comic in March 1959 which ran for 26 years, until October 1985. The comic was cancelled due to his death in a storyline, but as all fans of Marvel and DC comics know, "Nobody stays dead except for Uncle Ben", so he came back to life in 2009. Some guys have all the luck.

Some comic fans are probably shouting at me to tell me that the Flash started much earlier, in Flash Comics #1 in January 1940. Yes and No. There was a character called the Flash who appeared for 104 issues of Flash Comics from 1940 to 1949, but it was a different Flash. He was a college student called Jay Garrick. The character who was introduced in 1956 was a police forensic expert called Barry Allen, a man who liked to read comics about Jay Garrick, the Flash.

After being struck by lightning Barry Allen adopted the name of the hero in the comics he loved so much, and he even based his costume on the comic. What he didn't know is that the character in the comics really existed. The author of the comics, Gardner Fox, claimed to have written stories that he dreamt about. In actual fact he was having visions of a parallel universe. A few years later (in Flash issue #123, September 1961) Barry accidentally travelled to this other world and met his hero. Over the following years there were other meetings between the two Flashes.

That's an interesting plot device, something I like about the story. In the comic someone reads a comic about a person he considers to be fictional, but is actually real. This provokes the question whether the comics that we read today are real or not. It's the opposite scenario to "The Matrix". In "The Matrix" it's suggested that there's a world outside of the one we live in. In the Flash comics it's suggested that there's another world inside our world.

Barry Allen was blond in the comics. A notably large percentage of the male heroes in the 1950's and 1960's comics had blond, bright yellow hair. I'm not sure why this was. Maybe it was a beauty ideal of the time. Maybe it was just because it was easier to draw. On a side note, it was customary for comics to draw black-haired people with blue hair, to avoid a black splodge of ink on the page. Blue looked like black on casual reading.

Ginger hair was also very common in the comics of the 1950's and 1960's, also intended to give a contrast between the characters. Barry Allen's girlfriend, Iris West, was ginger. It's a shame that she's fallen victim to the modern racist policy of making one major comic book character in each film and TV series black.

Yet another case of miscasting by studio executives who have no respect for the original comics. Barry should be blond, Iris should be ginger.

That brings me up to the current series, of which I've now watched the first three episodes. The series has a different feeling to the comics. Barry Allen is a forensic scientist, like in the comics, but he seems to be younger. His age isn't explicitly stated, neither in the comics nor the TV series, but in the comics he was very much an adult. If I had to peg his age I'd estimate he was about 30. In the series Barry Allen is played by Grant Gustin, who was 23 when the series began, but he looks and acts younger. I assume he's intended to be a college graduate at the beginning of his career, which would make him at least 21, but he looks and acts like a teenager. In his voice-overs he sounds like a clone of Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man.

The TV series tones down the silliness that I hated in the early DC comics. In the series his speed is top speed is measured at 347 miles per hour. Maybe he gets faster in later episodes, I'll see when I get to them. In the comics he breaks the sound barrier in his first adventure, within two days of gaining his powers. which would mean he was running at 767 miles per hour. In his second adventure he ran faster than the speed of light, so fast that he could break the time barrier and run forwards and backwards through time.

I jumped for joy when I saw that John Wesley Shipp plays the part of Barry's father, Henry Allen. I wasn't expecting to see him. He played Barry Allen in the previous Flash television series in 1990. As I remember, it wasn't as good as the new series as far as the special effects were concerned, but it had some very good stories. I need to watch it again.

But you have to admit that John Wesley Shipp's costume was closer to the original than Grant Gustin's costume. Why do they have to change everything? It's not right. Rather than invent new costumes for super-heroes the producers should look at the comics and try to copy the old costumes as closely as possible.

Before I finish, I'd like to point out that two newspaper reports were shown on computer screens in the second episode. Both articles are a shambles. The same texts are repeated over and over again. If you don't believe me, you can click on the following screenshots to enlarge them. That's so sloppy.