Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Next Karate Kid (3½ Stars)


Most of the reviews of this film compare it with the three previous Karate Kid films. This is effectively "Karate Kid 4". I have the advantage of never having seen the first three films and can judge it in its own right.

Hilary Swank plays a rebellious teenage girl who is still traumatised by the death of her parents. While doing badly at school she obviously has a good heart, as shown by her looking after an injured hawk that she's rescued. A retired Japanese American soldier who had been a friend of her grandfather's looks after her by taking her to a Buddhist monastery for a time of reflection.

This is more of a coming of age film than anything else. The fight scenes are few and far between. Pat Morita is past his best years and isn't convincing as a martial arts master. His relationship with the young girl is touching and emotional.

Iron Man 2 (4½ Stars)


Everyone says this is better than the first film. I disagree. Sure, it's a good film, but it has some negative points. Let's just go through it and say what I don't like. I'll leave the positive criticisms to others. And before anyone accuses me of ripping the film apart, look! I gave it a 4½ star rating!

The technology is very over-the-top, bordering on caricature. It seems to have been filmed to make people who know nothing about today's technical limitations say "Wow!" Anyone who knows and works with high tech will only shake his head and say "That won't be possible for another 100 years or more".

The bad guy, Ivan Vanko, isn't corny enough. He's modelled on the Whiplash character in the Marvel comics, but he doesn't use the name. I would have been much happier if there had been additional dialog on the race track:

Tony Stark: "Who are you? What do you want?"
Ivan Vanko: "My name is Whiplash. I'm here to kill you".

The drones confuse the final fight scenes. They should have been dealt with quickly to allow a longer battle between Iron Man and Whiplash. I also disliked the way Jim Rhodes' suit was operated by remote control. Too many enemies at once.

"The Avengers Initiative"? Gimme a break! This is an awful rewriting of Avengers lore. The Avengers began as a chance alliance of random superheroes, provoked by one of Loki's schemes against his brother Thor. That's how Thor, Iron Man, Giant Man, the Wasp and the Hulk came together. Not as an organisation created by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. And remember that Captain America joined later, he wasn't the first Avenger, he was the sixth.

I'm waiting for an explanation in the upcoming Thor film, but what was that hammer doing in the desert in New Mexico? Everyone knows that Don Blake found the hammer in a cave in Norway. Why change things unnecessarily? I grudgingly accept setting the Marvel heroes in the present, although I would have preferred the films to take place in the 1960's. But changing vital plot lines and origins? No no no!

Friday, 18 February 2011

18 Bronzegirls (2 Stars)


This film is confusing. After watching it I still don't know what it's about. There are so many characters with different agendas, some good, some evil, and I can't keep track of their alliances. What makes it more difficult to follow is the frequency with which the characters disguise themselves. Men disguise themselves as women, women disguise themselves as men. For instance, in one scene an old woman introduces herself as Pai Yu-Fei. Then we find out the old woman is really a man. Then we meet the real Pai Yu-Fei. Then we see an identical woman (played by the same actress) who also claims to be Pai Yu-Fei. How is anyone supposed to keep up?

The introductory dialog is worthy of mention. The narrator explains to us what the Shaolin temple was. Then he goes on to say, "The monk Chi Kung wasn't a real monk. In fact, he was evil. He even accepted girls as students."

The shame! The horror! I can imagine the Chinese audiences hissing in the cinemas as these vile words were spoken!

Bikini Summer 3 (4 Stars)

I've received some criticism about the choice of films I review and the ratings I give them. I give Alfred Hitchcock classics like "The Birds" a 3½ star rating, then I give trashy films like this a 4.

Let me start off by saying that I review the films I watch. I don't go out of my way to review films just because they're new or popular or a classic. Whatever film I see in the cinema, on DVD or online is reviewed here. Usually I pick my own films, but if I watch a film on television at someone else's house it will get a review here. That's why most of my ratings are above average. I only watch what I like or expect I'll like.

My tastes are very varied. I don't consider myself a snob when it comes to cinema. I don't stick to a particular genre. Big budget, low budget, American, foreign, I'll watch anything if I think it's good.

And that brings me to trashy films like "Bikini Summer 3". Films like this are enjoyable if they're taken in the context of what they're supposed to be. The film makers and the actors are the last to make any claims that they're making a "classic" with any high social value. They've made a film with pretty girls in bikinis, a splash of comedy and romance, sunny locations and a happy ending. Sit down and forget the world around you while you watch this film. If the film makes you feel good it's achieved its purpose. If that doesn't deserve a high rating what does?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

White Cargo (3 Stars)

This is an amusing little comedy starring David Jason looking younger than I've ever seen him before. 1973, that was 10 years before "Only Fools and Horses". It also features David "Darth Vader" Prowse in what was probably his biggest speaking role without a mask.

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Red Violin (5 Stars)


When it comes to this film I feel inclined to just say two words: Watch It!

This is a brilliant film, one of the best that I've ever seen, but the problem is that I don't know how to make it interesting by describing the plot. If I just tell you what happens it will sound boring and you won't watch it, you'll miss out on this cinematic masterpiece. But let's try anyway:

Samuel L. Jackson plays Charles Mauritz, an expert in musical instruments who travels from New York to Canada to value instruments for an auction. While there he discovers a red violin which has travelled from country to country, changing the lives of everyone who played it. The film tells the story of the violin from its origins in Italy through Austria, England and China to Canada. The recurring theme is that death and suffering accompany the violin wherever it goes. In the end Mauritz's interest in the violin becomes more than business and he develops an obsession for the instrument.

It's difficult to say what makes the film a masterpiece. The episodic nature of the film means that just as we start to relate to characters the scene ends and we move on to the next country a hundred years later. The film is unusual, like nothing I've ever seen before. Samuel L. Jackson is my favorite actor, as my regular readers will already know, and in this film he delivers one of his finest performances. He plays a quiet intellectual who suppresses his emotions, but when his feelings come to the surface the richness of his character overflows.

Watch it!

Carrie (4½ Stars)


Difficult to rate, this film isn't quite a 5 star film, but it deserves more than 4½ stars. This would be an argument for me to add quarter star ratings. I would have given it 5 stars if it hadn't been for the film slowing down in patches towards the end. Slowness is fine with me early in a film because it builds up the suspense, but when the action starts happening it should just flow, there shouldn't be any pauses.

But let's step back. This was the first film based on a Stephen King novel. 30 years later Stephen King is the author who holds the record for the most films based on his books. There have been more than 50 films, if TV dramatisations and mini-series are included. Some of his books have been filmed more than once, including "Carrie" itself, which was refilmed in 2002.

There's no need for me to review the film, since the plot is well known. "Carrie" has been shown on television every Halloween for the last 30 years. Sissy Spacek gives an amazing performance, her face twisted in madness in the final scenes. But tell me, don't you all agree with me that Carrie's mother is the film's real monster?

Saturday, 12 February 2011

A Good Marriage (2 Stars)

Eric Rohmer's films are difficult to review, as I've pointed out in my reviews of My Girlfriend's Boyfriend and Pauline at the Beach. They are films that can be best enjoyed on an intellectual level. The message that Rohmer wants to put across is usually hidden beneath layers of imagery.

Here we see a young woman, Sabine, who wants to be strong and decisive, but her erratic nature lets her down. Though I doubt it was Rohmer's intention, this is a very anti-feminist film. After realising that her affair with a married man has no future Sabine flings herself at the first single man she meets, then tells her family and friends that they will soon marry, even though he is only interested in a casual relationship with her. This is a disturbing film that I doubt I shall watch again.

Agora (5 Stars)


I saw this film in the cinema and was struck by the visual imagery. After buying the DVD and watching it a second time I'm even more amazed. This film deserves to be regarded as a classic.

At its core the film is a story of the personal journey of a woman fighting to establish herself in a man's world. The woman is the astronomer Hypatia who lived in Greece around 400 AD. It isn't a simple story, because at times the background events overshadow Hypatia's plight. It was a world in turmoil. Christianity had recently been made the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the Christians showed their gratefulness for the end of persecution by breaking into murderous riots, killing both Jews and pagans.In the midst of the chaos Hypatia worked quietly, studying the heavens and teaching her students.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Nude On The Moon (4 Stars)


In 1961 the space race was hotting up. Russia had been the first country to put a man into space, but America wanted the prestige of being the first country to land on the moon. Despite telescope pictures of a barren surface, people were worried what they might find. Would there be terrifying monsters lurking in caves below the surface, waiting to attack American astronauts? Would there be mud pits that would swallow up the landing party? Were the dangers so great that it would be better to abandon the attempts to travel to the moon altogether?

Doris Wishman answers our questions in this film that she wrote and directed. The first astronauts land on the moon and find it inhabited by naked women who spend the day swimming and throwing beach balls to one another. There are men as well, but they are servants. The portrayal of this idyllic society encouraged the Americans to continue with the space race, and on July 20th 1969 Neil Armstrong finally made the one small step for a man that was a giant leap for mankind. Unfortunately, after six journeys to the moon we still haven't discovered the nudist colony shown in the film. That's a reason to keep on travelling into space, to the moon and beyond.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Evil Dead 2 (4 Stars)


This sequel to "Evil Dead" begins immediately where the first film left off. Annoyingly, the recap of the first film is inaccurate. This film has more comedy and less horror than the first film. Many critics call it a "bad film" or "so bad that it's good film", but that's unfair. While it doesn't live up to the quality of the first film, it's good in its own right.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Evil Dead (5 Stars)


This was the first film directed by Sam Raimi in 1981, who later went on to greater fame with Hercules, Xena and Spider-Man. It's also the first film starring the young actor Bruce Campbell, who later appeared in Hercules, Xena and Spider-Man. Are you sensing a pattern here?

This was a significant but controversial film, made at an important crossroads in film history. It was made at the beginning of the video era, when home videos were becoming cheap enough to buy. Before then every film had to be made for a cinema audience, so they had to cater to both the public tastes and official approval. That means they had to be good enough to make people want to watch them, but also had to take care not to run fowl of legal authorities by including too much sex or violence. That changed in the early 1980's. A large number of films were made, mostly in America and Italy, which made no attempt to conform to censorship laws. In fact, at first there were no laws in most countries to regulate the new media called "video". Films that would be banned for cinema viewing were made and sold on video.

In England these films were given the name "video nasties". Decency campaigner Mary Whitehouse campaigned for them to be banned. In fact, she called "Evil Dead" the most evil film ever made. That's an amazing statement. When you compare it with more recent films like "Hostel" or "Saw" it's very tame. The film excels not in its gore, of which there are only a few incidents, but its terrifying suspense. By criticising it, the deluded Mrs. Whitehouse was telling us that it was a great film that everyone should watch. I actually wonder if she ever even watched the films that she criticized. I picture her more as a hypocrite who based her "This is evil" rants on what others told her. But why am I wasting my time talking about her? She's the woman who claimed that people are homosexual because their parents had sex during pregnancy. Instead of being allowed to become a public figure in England in the 1970's and 1980's she should have been institutionalised.

The problem with videos has since been solved. All videos (and DVDs) now need an age classification, just the same as films do when they are shown in cinemas. The different ratings from country to country is worth a study in itself. To take one example: if a film contains full frontal nudity it means an automatic 18 certificate in England, but in Germany nudity alone wouldn't mean more than a 12 certificate. Realistic violence, such as shooting, is 18 certificate in England, but 16 in Germany. On the other hand, supernatural horror is rated 18 in Germany, but 16 or less in England.

Unbreakable (4 Stars)


Excellent acting from Samuel L Jackson and Bruce Willis. This is a slow moving but intriguing mystery about a man who survives a train crash.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Brassed Off (5 Stars)


Please forgive me for being unpatriotic, but I'm not a big fan of British cinema. Not modern British cinema, anyway. Back in the 1960's British films were the best in the world, but in the 1970's the British film industry went into decline and hasn't recovered since. The problem is that there isn't enough money. It's not just about expensive special effects. The best producers and screenwriters are tempted to Hollywood by big money offers.

If you were to ask me which country's films I like the most I'd look at my DVD collection before giving an answer. What country were most of the films made in? America comes first. Then Germany. I have a whole bookcase full of German films. After that Japan and China come in as a distant third and fourth. And Britain crawls into fifth place.

I'm not saying that Britain never makes good films. "Slumdog Millionaire" was a great film. And then there's this film, "Brassed Off". Just describing the plot doesn't do it justice. In my opinion this simple little film is the best British film made in the last 30 years. Against the background of true events, it takes place in the north England town of Grimly in 1992. The coal mine which is the town's main employer is threatened with closure. Against this depressing scenario we see the story of one man who is fighting to keep the miners' brass band active. It isn't a comedy, although it does have a few funny moments. The late Pete Postlethwaite excels in his role as the band's conductor, a man with a passion for music above all else. This was the peak of his career. I know, I know... this is a film that doesn't sound interesting from its description, but I strongly recommend it, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Rich and Strange (4 Stars)

This 1931 film, also known as "East of Shanghai", is a forgotten gem from director Alfred Hitchcock. While it appears to be a comedy on the surface it's actually a serious, deeply philosophical film.

A married couple in London complain about their lack of money. After receiving a surprise gift the man quits his job and they go on a world cruise. While away they both find new lovers and split up. If the film has a message it's that money destroys happiness.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Outlander (4 Stars)


This 2008 film cost $47 million to make. When it was released it earned $160,000 in the USA. Ouch. It did slightly better abroad, earning $5 million worldwide. Judging by these figures it was an epic fail. And yet it isn't a bad film. Not at all.

The film stars top Hollwood actors. Jim Caviezel, John Hurt and Ron Perlman are usually a guarantee for a good film. It has a large cast of supporting actors and extras. The special effects are competent. The story is a cross between the legend of Beowulf and Michael Moorcock's sword and sorcery novels.

The date is 709 AD. A space ship crashes in Norway. Only one member of the crew survives, Kainan, but unknown to him a murderous monster has stowed away on the craft. This monster, called a Moorwen, begins to destroy Viking villages, killing everyone. Kainan has to unite warring Viking chiefs to battle the Moorwen.

I don't know why the film flopped. Bad marketing? Maybe nobody knew what to make of it. Most alien spaceships crash in Manhattan, not in Norway. The American audience can't relate to it. This is a film worth watching. Please leave a comment to let me know what you think about it.

From Dusk Till Dawn (5 Stars)


This is one of the best films ever made, and I defy anyone to contradict me. A bank robber and his brother are fleeing to Mexico, taking a disillusioned ex-preacher and his children as hostages. Apart from Harvey Keitel, one of my favorite actors, there are near perfect performances from George Clooney and Juliette Lewis.

While watching the film again today I realised something for the first time, something I've never read in other reviews. The first half of the film is a Quentin Tarantino film, the second half is a Robert Rodriguez film. Anyone who is familiar with the work of these two directors will know what I mean. The first half concentrates on conversation and character development, the second half revolves around over-the-top gore. Although Tarantino is credited as the writer of this film and Rodriguez as the director it's obvious that they influenced one another in their respective work.