Wednesday, 27 April 2011

TV Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation


Some of my regular readers may wonder why I haven't updated my blog for so long. You're wondering whether I've stopped watching films. The answer is actually Yes. Over the past few weeks I've been watching tv series on DVD instead of films. As you know, I don't regularly review tv series, only when I have something special to say. I've been watching various tv series, such as "Angel", "Supernatural", "Doctor Who" and "The Tribe"... but more than anything else "Star Trek: The Next Generation", which I'll refer to as TNG in this post.

Although I was old enough to have seen TNG when it was first broadcast, I missed it entirely. I jumped straight from the original series of "Star Trek" (TOS) to "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (DS9). For the last 15 years I've watched random episodes of TNG on reruns, but now is the first time I've sat down to watch the episodes in order. It seems like a completely new series to me, so I'll review it as something new.

If I understand the Star Trek chronology, TNG takes place 100 years after TOS. It's also an advance in the stories and the characterisation. The Enterprise in the orginal series is very frugal. The canteen is without decorations, and there are no facilities for recreation. It seems more like a prison than a place of work. In TNG it's better than a workplace, it looks like a home. In the original series the stories all rotated around the three main characters, Kirk, Spock and McCoy. In many episodes, especially in the third season, McCoy was part of the landing team even when there was no logical need for a doctor. It was also questionable whether the captain of a starship would leave his post to go on risky scouting missions. Even if he did go, would he take his second-in-command (Spock) with him?

TNG has more characters who share the stories. While Captain Jean-Luc Picard is the central character, he doesn't dominate the stories like Kirk did in TOS. The Klingons have suddenly become allies and there is even a Klingon on board the Enterprise. The new Klingons look very different, but the reason for their change is kept a mystery until a later series. One thing I find strange is the presence of Wesley on the bridge. He's given a place because he's a child prodigy, but I suspect the decision was made by the programme planners. Overall TNG is more mature than TOS, so some executive in a big office decided that there had to be a young boy to make the series attractive to children.

That's all I have to say for now, after having watched only the first season. I may have more to write after seeing more.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

R.I.P. Elisabeth Sladen


1 February 1946 – 19 April 2011

I just heard about the death of this great British actress. It was a total shock to me. I never even knew she was suffering from cancer. I'm going to sit and watch a few episodes of "The Sarah Jane Adventures" today to remember her. Rest In Peace.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Iron Man (4½ Stars)


In typical New Marvel style the story of Iron Man's origin is retold. I wish that the films could take place in the 1960's, when the comics were first written, but I guess that the film makers thought the films would be more relevant if they took place in the present. One other change from the comics is that the heroes frequently remove their mask in a showdown. That is something that is totally incorrect. The masks -- or in Iron Man's case the helmet -- should stay on.

So what are the other differences here? In the comics Tony Stark designed his suit while captured by the Chinese. Pepper Potts was less efficient and less attractive. And Nick Fury wasn't black.

So no review here. I assume most of my readers have seen the film and know what it's about. If not, go rent it now.

Living Dead Girl (3½ Stars)


This is a film by the master of psychedelic horror, Jean Rollin. Two workers have an accident while illegally hiding toxic waste in a crypt. The result is that a beautiful woman rises up from a coffin. After eating one of the workers she returns to the castle where her sister lives. She's not a vampire or a zombie, as the advertisements suggest. She's only an immortal cannibal.

It's difficult to say who is the biggest monster of the two sisters. The one who is a normal person kidnaps young girls and takes them back to the castle to feed to her sister. The cannibal sister regrets what she does and tries to curb her appetites.

This film is untypical for Rollin. It is has gore scenes that are never included in his usual films. As a fan of his vampire films I found some of the scenes very distasteful.

Quadrophenia (4½ Stars)


First let me say that the picture quality of the UK DVD release of this film is awful, for no apparent reason. I've seen it on television a few times, and the quality was much better. I don't know what went wrong. A similar case of this happening is the second season of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer". The picture quality on televison is excellent, but on the DVD there are parts where the picture starts to wave, like the DVD image has been copied from a fuzzy videotape.

England in 1965. Gang wars between the Mods and the Rockers are common. It's a sad story about Jimmy, a teenage boy from London who finds fulfilment by being part of a gang, the Mods, but realises deep down that it's a sham. His first doubts come when his fellow gang members beat up an old school friend because he's a Rocker. After this he goes from disappointment to disappointment. He loses his virginity to a girl who then rushes into the arms of another man. For him it was love, for her only casual sex. For him the street fights with the Rockers in Brighton are a definition of his existence, but for those around him it's just fun. His fellow gang members call him crazy, and he ends up returning to Brighton for self reflection.

Although this film is about the youth movements of the 1960's, I can relate to it in the context of the Punks of the late 70's, a time that I'm old enough to remember. Jimmy says "I don't wanna be like everybody else, that's why I'm a Mod, see?" Isn't that what the punks said? The truth is that Jimmy isn't like everybody else. He is a sensitive person with deep thoughts. By trying to be like the others he loses his way. A tragic film, worth watching.

Jimmy is played by Phil Daniels, 20 years before he reached fame as Alfie Moon in "Eastenders". Also watch out for Ray Winstone and Toyah Willcox, each in one of their first films, as well as a very young looking Sting playing the suave street thug who speaks coolly before throwing punches.

Race with the Devil (3½ Stars)


This is a road movie with a difference. Two young couples are on holiday in a motor home. While camping in a field one night they witness a woman being sacrificed in a Satanic ritual. Like all good Americans they report the incident to the police, not knowing that some of the police on duty also belong to the cult. They are chased from town to town, trying to reach a big city before the cult members catch them.

Holiday On The Buses (4 Stars)


Sorry about the relatively poor quality picture, but I love the way the film poster is in the style of a picture postcard.

This is the third and final film in the "On The Buses" big screen trilogy. Admittedly it's weaker than the first two films, but even as the weakest film it's worth watching. Stan and Jack are fired from their bus company, and they find a new job driving tour buses for a holiday camp. Predictably, they can't escape Inspector Blake, who is also fired and gets a job as security guard at the same holiday camp. Laughs from beginning to end.

Please also check out my reviews of the tv series, "On The Buses" and "Mutiny On The Buses".

Sunday, 3 April 2011

101 Reykjavik (3 Stars)


Hlynur is a man in his mid 30's who still lives with his mother. He doesn't work, and he's never left his home town of Reykjavik. Though Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland it only has a population of 120,000 and has a distinctive small town atmosphere.

Hlynur spends the days surfing the Internet for porn and the evenings going to bars and getting drunk. Nothing ever happens in his life until Lola, a flamenco teacher played by Victoria Abril, arrives from Spain and rents a room in his mother's house. His mother falls in love with her and a torrid lesbian relationship ensues. Lola seduces Hlynur, using him to make a baby to bring up as his brother.

An off-beat comedy, this is the first film I've ever seen that was made in Iceland. The film is a curiosity. Maybe I'll have more to say about it when I've watched it again.

Incidentally, the DVD costs $32 in Anerica and £4.50 in England. Poor Americans!

Law Abiding Citizen (4 Stars)


This film is a thrilling story with unusual character motivation. Clyde Shelton is a law abiding citizen. He's a family fan who never does wrong. One day two crooks break into his home. During the robbery one of them kills his wife and daughter. The evidence is too weak for a conviction, but one of the crooks, the one who committed the murder, cuts a deal with the prosecution and testifies against his partner. As a result the murderer gets a light sentence, while the other crook is given the death penalty.

Are you with me so far? Good.

Fast forward 10 years. Shelton is a changed man. Disgusted by his wife and daughter's killer walking around free, he decides to take the law into his own hands. He takes revenge not just on the killer, but on everyone who was involved in the trial. After confessing to a series of murders he's arrested, but he manages to continue his revenge plot while sitting in prison. Does he have a helper on the outside? That's the question the prosecution lawyer has to answer.

Gerard Butler delivers an excellent performance. Apart from the one incident where he stabs his fellow cellmate to death we have sympathy with him. Maybe that scene should have been omitted, because all his other victims were those who he considered to be guilty. The cellmate was an innocent bystander. Nevertheless, haven't we all felt that way at some time in our lives? We know who is guilty of crimes, but we see them walk free because the law doesn't have enough proof to convict them? Don't we feel frustrated and tell ourselves that we could do a better job than the police or the legal system? Clyde Shelton represents us as someone who feels wronged and tries to make a difference.

I might have given this film 5 stars, except for the bland performance of Jamie Foxx as the prosecution lawyer. Foxx has never been a good actor, in my eyes. I've never seen him play a role convincingly. There are a dozen other actors who could have played the part better. Nevertheless, this is a film worth watching.

14 Blades (3½ Stars)


I admit that when I watched the film I didn't really understand what it was about. It became clearer to me after watching the interviews with the cast. That's the main reason for the relatively low rating I give this film.

The film is about the leader of a Chinese secret service who is on the run. He's pursued both by enemies and by his own government. I still don't understand the motivation of the characters or why they were against him. But the cast interviews said that the plot is about a bad man who becomes good. Spectacular action, beautifully filmed, but a confusing story.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

If Only (3 Stars)


Excellent acting from Jennifer Love Hewitt in a romantic film that doesn't quite make sense. We can understand what is happening, but not why it happens, and the moral of the story is elusive. To me at least.

A businessman and his lover are having a difficult time together because he isn't giving her the attention she wants. He constantly puts his work first. At the end of an emotionally traumatic day she dies in a random car accident. The man wishes he could have done things differently, and an enigmatic taxi driver gives him the chance to relive the day. But try as he may, whatever efforts he makes, the events repeat themselves, and he realises that there's no way to prevent her death.

Revanche (4 Stars)


This is a gripping Austrian thriller. I don't know how big the Austrian film industry is, but I've only seen two other Austrian films, "Angst" and "The Counterfeiters", and they were all good.

An inept crook robs a bank while his girlfriend waits in the getaway car. As they drive away she's shot dead by a policeman. The policeman is suspended for misconduct, and the crook hides out at his father's farm. When the crook finds out that the policeman lives close to his father he begins to stalk him. While getting close he starts an affair with the policeman's wife, still plotting revenge. This is a thriller with complex moral dilemmas.

P.S. Why does this DVD cost $33 in America when it's only £5 in England?

The Green Ray (2 Stars)


I'd like to subtitle this film "How many holidays does one woman need?" A woman from Paris is dumped by her boyfriend two weeks before they are due to go on holiday together. As a result she takes four holidays, going home from each one early dissatisfied. Her holidays turn into a search for the rare astronomical phenomenon, the "green ray".

Green flashes and green rays are optical phenomena that occur shortly after sunset or before sunrise, when a green spot is visible, usually for no more than a second or two, above the sun, or a green ray shoots up from the sunset point. Green flashes are actually a group of phenomena stemming from different causes, and some are more common than others. Green flashes can be observed from any altitude (even from an aircraft). They are usually seen at an unobstructed horizon, such as over the ocean, but are possible over cloud tops and mountain tops as well.

The reason for a green flash lies in refraction of light (as in a prism) in the atmosphere: light moves more slowly in the lower, denser air than in the thinner air above, so sunlight rays follow paths that curve slightly, in the same direction as the curvature of the Earth. Higher frequency light (green/blue) curves more than lower frequency light (red/orange), so green/blue rays from the upper limb of the setting sun remain visible after the red rays are obstructed by the curvature of the earth.

So what does the green ray symbolize in the film? The answer is obvious. The green ray is a symbol of love, which a person can search for for years, but only lasts for a short while. This might sound cynical, but we see no disappointment over love's passing. The film ends when the green ray has been experienced on a moment of happiness.