Monday, 30 January 2012

Easter Parade (4 Stars)

This film was made in 1948. I've been through phases with the old Hollywood musicals. As a child I saw them on television and enjoyed them. When I grew older I thought of them as "old fashioned" and snubbed them. It wasn't "cool" or "in" to like old films. Now that I'm even older I'm more open minded. Older and wiser. Quality is quality, whether it's new or old. And this is quality. Fred Astaire is at his toe tapping best in this film.

The film is a love story. Don Hewes, played by Fred Astaire, is a successful dancing star who is devastated when his dancing partner leaves him to pursue a solo career. He claims he can make any other girl into a star, so he goes to a bar, sees Hannah Brown (played by Judy Garland) dancing, and makes her an offer to join him. For him it's just about business, but she falls in love with him.

But let's be honest. The plot doesn't matter. It's all about the dancing and the visual splendour. The cinema audiences in 1948 bought their tickets to see Fred Astaire and Judy Garland dance. They weren't disappointed. The spectacular dance numbers, especially Fred Astaire's solo dance in the toy shop, will mever be forgotten.

Underwater Love (4 Stars)

When he was at school Aoki had a crush on Asuka. He wrote her a love letter, but lacked the courage to send it to her. Before he can find the courage he dies by drowning. 15 years later he's told by the God of Death that Asuka only has a few days left to live. He returns to Earth as a kappa, a mythical Japanese sea creature. He gets a job in the fish packing factory where Asuka works and helps her to fight against the God of Death.

Obviously the film can't be taken too seriously. The God of Death is portrayed as a chain smoking hippy. The film is a musical, with the cast breaking into song at random moments. Despite the silliness it's enjoyable.

Click here to view the trailer. That's probably the only way you'll get a true impression of what the film is about.

Super (3 Stars)

The similarity with "Kick-Ass" is obvious, but this is a much darker and less moral film. Frank is a disillusioned "normal guy". He considers himself a failure, but he has one good thing in his life. He has a beautiful wife, Sarah, who gives him strength. Then things go bad. Sarah turns to drugs and becomes a crack addict. She leaves him to live with Jacques, a drug dealer.

In the midst of his desperation a Christian television programme motivates him to become a costumed hero. Super powers aren't necessary, all you need is the will to do good. So he makes a costume and calls himself the Crimson Bolt. He walks around town beating up drug dealers and thieves with a wrench. And also people who butt into lines in cinema queues. There's no difference between large and small crimes in his eyes. A girl who works in a comic shop, Libby, recognises him and joins him as his kid sidekick, calling herself Bolty. Together they go on a mission to kill Jacques and get Frank's wife back.

This is an ugly film, in many ways. It shows a man who has good intentions carrying out bad deeds to achieve his aims. For me as a comic book fan with a sense of idealism it hurts me to see a "hero" acting like this. Maybe it's a good film. But I didn't enjoy it. Sorry. It's one of those films where I feel like I have to wait a year and then watch it again. Maybe I'll appreciate it more then.

Click here to view the trailer.

Norwegian Ninja (4 Stars)

In 1984 a Norwegian politician called Arne Treholt was arrested and tried for treason, having allegedly spied for Russia. This was the biggest spy affair in Norwegian history. This film attempts to tell the real story in a semi-documentary style.

In the 1980's there was a secret Nato organisation called Stay Behind. The purpose of this organisation, which had branches throughout Europe, was to influence public opinion and sway people to vote for political parties that would support a preemptive military strike against Russia. They did this by carrying out terrorist attacks in major European cities which could be blamed on Russia. The first attacks in Italy and Turkey were accepted as necessary evils, but when plans were discovered to blow up a Norwegian oil rig King Olaf of Norway objected. He created an elite fighting force called the Norwegian Ninjas to fight against Nato and preserve the Norwegian way of life.

Those of us who live in Europe and are old enough to remember the political climate of the 1980's will understand this film best. The atmosphere of cold war paranoia was oppressive. We were afraid of the Russian threat, but we also mistrusted our American big brother who was promising to protect us. In Germany the popular slogan was "Lieber rot als tot", i.e. "I'd rather be red than dead". The film shows Norway as the lone voice of reason in a world gone mad.

Click here to view the trailer.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

I spit on your grave (4 Stars)

This is a review of the 2010 remake of the 1978 film with the same name. The original was the first, and arguably still the greatest "rape and revenge film". The plot is very simple. A female author rents a secluded cabin to finish a book. While there she is raped by four men. After recovering she takes revenge, killing all four men one by one.

The film was one of the most notorious of the "video nasties" in the early years of video. These were films that went direct to video without cinema release to avoid certification. When films were first sold on videotapes the existing laws only required films to be classified for cinema release. A release on video alone meant that the film could theoretically be bought by a person of any age, and more importantly it avoided the danger of the film being banned outright. The laws of most countries soon caught up with the new technology, and the film was banned almost everywhere. In England it was declared a criminal offence to even possess the film, being placed in the same class as films containing child pornography. It was allowed to possess the film in 2001, but an uncensored version of the film wasn't released until September 2011. The film is still banned in Ireland today.

But now let's get back to the remake. I'll concentrate on the differences. Obviously it has better production quality as a newer film, but the gritty atmosphere of the original has been retained. Instead of four men a fifth also rapes her, a policeman. This answers the question that might have been asked after watching the original version, why didn't she report the incident to the police? What I like about the new version is that the rape scene is shorter. Almost half of the original film was taken up by the rape, but in the new film only two of the men are shown raping her, although we are told that all five raped her. The new version spends more time on the revenge. The methods of killing the men are more imaginative. The death scenes are more explicit.

So which version is better? The old or the new? That's a question I can't answer at the moment. I'd need to watch them both back to back, and even then I might not have an answer.

Click here to view the trailer.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Crow (4¾ Stars)

No doubt about it, this film is a classic. It gained popularity, maybe even notoriety, through the death of the lead actor, Brandon Lee, during the making of the film. In one of the scenes a real bullet was accidentally used instead of a blank. It was never discovered who fired the fatal shot. Conspiracy theorists connect the shooting with the death of his father, Bruce Lee, 20 years earlier.

I prefer to ignore the scandals surrounding the film and judge it on its own merits. The film has a beautiful gothic atmosphere, both the unnamed city in which it takes place and the lead character himself. In the film it's become a custom for buildings to be set on fire every year on October 30th, the day before Halloween, Devil's Night. On this day rock musician Eric Draven and his fiancee Shelly Webster are murdered by arsonists, using the annual chaos as a cover. A year later Eric rises from the grave with supernatural powers to avenge their deaths. He battles evil dressed in black leather with a crow on his shoulder and a guitar in his hand.

Though made in 1994 the film has an 80's feel to it. Its style makes it seem older than it is. I had to deduct a quarter star for the slushy music at the beginning and the end.

Bitch Slap (4 Stars)

Three beautiful girls are in the desert looking for something. For most of the film it's not made clear what it is. Money? Treasure? Weapons? Various clues are given, but the question isn't answered till the end. The women are working together, but are far from being friends, and argue with one another throughout the film.

The film is the love child of Rick Jacobson, with assistance from Eric Gruendemann. It was his dream to make a film exactly how he wanted it, without interference from company executives who, in his opinion, have no idea about film quality and are only interested in making money. Jacobson financed the film himself, forcing him to make a low-budget movie, but he didn't want it to have a low-budget look. He did this by locating the film in the desert to keep the overhead costs low, and he filmed in the daylight to save costs on lighting. Smart. He wanted to make the film popular by giving the audience what they want, namely girls and guns, while keeping the story quality high. And he did a good job.

Watch out for appearances by Jacobson and Gruendemann's old friends from their work on the tv series "Hercules" and "Xena". Michael Hurst has a major role, while Kevin Sorbo, Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor appear in smaller roles.

While the film has a sensible plot, that isn't the point. It's all about the action. It's as exaggerated and over-the-top as the (admittedly limited) budget allows. Watch the trailer and decide if it's the right film for you. You'll either love it or hate it. Me? I loved it.

Click here to watch the trailer.

Countess Dracula (4 Stars)

"Based on the true story of Countess Elizabeth Bathory". So the film claims. It would be more accurate to say it's based on the legend of Elizabeth Bathory. She is well known in folklore as the woman who gained eternal youth by bathing in the blood of virgins.

This is one of Hammer's lesser known films, and can be considered a hidden gem. It's no less enjoyable than any of the 60's films starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. The evil countess is played by the beautiful actress Ingrid Pitt, who I've already described in my review of "The Vampire Lovers".

The film is 40 years old and doesn't seem dated at all. It's a must in the film collection of anyone who enjoys classic horror.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Terminator (5 Stars)

Some films are just so good that they have to be watched over and over again. This is one of them. I think most of my readers will know what it's about, so I won't go into too many details. In the near future the human race will be conquered and enslaved by machines. A leader called John Connor succeeds in rallying humankind against the machines. To prevent this happening the humans send a cyborg, a "Terminator", back in time to kill John Connor's mother before he's born.

This is one of the greatest action films ever made. It has a different style to the sequel, "Terminator 2", which was made seven years later. It's not just the sequel's bigger budget and more impressive special effects. The first film has more of the style of a horror film, an unstoppable monster such as we know from films like "Halloween". In the second film we move into typical science fiction territory. I'm often asked which film I like more, the first or the second. The honest answer is that I don't know. They're both so good, in their different ways, that I can't decide between them. I just checked the list of my 10 favorite films that I posted three months ago and I didn't include "Terminator 2". That was a mistake. I have to redo that list. One day. It's too difficult, I change my mind all the time.

In recent years James Cameron has become more famous for making other films, "Avatar" and "Titanic". Those two films are good, but nowhere near as good as as his two Terminator films. They will stand the test of time and be valued as masterpieces centuries from now.

This ain't Happy Days XXX: Fonzie loves Pinky (4 Stars)

This is an excellent sequel to "This ain't Happy Days XXX", which I reviewed four months ago. It loses none of the humour of the first film, and if anything it's even sexier. The story revolves around the Fonz's only true love, Pinky (Kiera King), returning to town. I can't really say much about it, except that in my eyes Axel Braun can't do wrong. He's been called the Stanley Kubrick of porn, which is meant as a compliment, but it's not the comparison I'd make. I find his style more similar to Martin Scorcese.

Click here to see the trailer. And this time I'm not just being lazy giving you a link. I strongly advise you to watch the trailer to get an impression of the loving care Mr. Braun has put into the film.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (4 Stars)

I confess to never having seen this film before today. The first four parts of the pentalogy have been familiar to me since I was young.

The film takes place 10 years after the rebellion of the apes in the fourth film. During this time a nuclear war has taken place, and the world is living in post-apocalyptic squalor. Humans and apes are living together in peace, but the apes are the leaders. Caesar, the chimpanzee who led the rebellion in the previous film, is the benign ruler, but the warlike gorillas are angry with the privileges he gives humans.

Caesar goes on a mission to find the tapes of the interviews made with his parents in the third film. Although the main reason is to get to know his parents, since they died when he was too young to remember them, he also wants to find out what will happen in the future that they came from, in order to prevent it.

While the film's action is interesting, it fails to answer questions such as how humans lost the capability to speak. It might be the final part of the pentalogy, but it leaves open more questions than it answers.

The Legend is Born: Ip Man (5 Stars)

Though made after "Ip Man" and "Ip Man 2", this biographical film takes place earlier. It shows Ip's early life, how he began to learn the Wing Chun fighting style at the age of 13, before going on to get a formal British education when he was 16.

The film's action, like those in the two preceding films, is very realistic. It can't be compared with the extravagant wire fu fights in films such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". The opponents in the Ip Man films don't carry out movements that deny the laws of physics. Nevertheless, the fights are stunning. The film is further enriched by the historical background of the Japanese pressure on China in the early 20th Century, and by the romance in Ip's early life.

Click here to view the trailer.

Sex Drive (4 Stars)

Ian is a normal young man who lives in a small town and works selling donuts. But he has a problem. He's still a virgin. He meets a girl online who promises to go all the way with him, so he steals his brother's car and sets off on a nine hour drive to meet her, accompanied by his best friend Lance. Unfortunately he bumps into his best female friend Felicia as he leaves, makes an excuse about going to see his sick grandmother, and he can't prevent her jumping in the car with him.

What starts out as a typical teen farce surprises with a number of humorous situations. The car breaks down on the way and they are taken in by an Amish community. Many of the young people are currently in the period of Rumspringa, a time between the ages of 16 and 18 when they are allowed to sample worldly pleasures before deciding if they want to keep the Amish faith. Ian, Lance and Felicia are invited to a wild Amish party consisting of rock music, alcohol and drunken nudity. But they can't stay. The online lover is waiting.

As teenage coming of age comedies go, this is one of the best.

Click here to watch the trailer.

Azumi 2 (4 Stars)

This film begins where the first film ended. Rather than being named "Azumi 2", as if it were a sequel, it should have been called "Azumi, Part 2". The two films build one whole. In the first film Azumi fought and killed two of the three warlords named by her master. In this film she searches for the third.

The action in this film equals the standard of that in the first film. In this film she begins to doubt her mission. Although Aya Ueto carries the film in the title role, Chiaki Kuriyama gives a dazzling performance as the beautiful but deceitful Kozue. I grew so attached to Kozue that I was sad when she was killed. Only a good actress can make the viewer feel empathy for the bad guy.

In my last post on January 11th I said I would add YouTube trailers to my blog. I added the trailers to my blog since the end of December, and I discovered to my horror that it causes my pages to take twice as long to load. This is not acceptable. I still want to put links to trailers, but I'll no longer embed them. As it turns out, there aren't any trailers for this film online. I'll find a solution starting with my next film review.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

New Year, New Changes

Maybe I'm 10 days late, but I wish all my loyal readers (especially my followers) a Happy New Year. The New Year also brings a change in the format of my blog. After long hesitation I've decided to add YouTube videos to my posts. In the past I never wanted to because I wanted the emphasis to be on what I write. But then again, I don't always write a lot, so including the trailer might persuade someone to buy the film. And so, yes, I'll take the plunge. I'll add the YouTube video of film trailers backdated to the beginning of this year, as long as they're available. I'll only add the official film trailers, not user made videos that might possibly include stolen content. Please, readers, tell me what you think about this. Depending on what you say I'll decide at the end of January whether to contine including videos. I might even go back and add videos to some of my older posts. Only the more popular posts, of course, not all of them.

And a special thanks to my guest writers Kay and Con. I hope both of you will continue to write for the blog in the New Year.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Tears For Sale (3 Stars)

The story is about two sisters, Mala and Ognjenku, who come from a family of professional mourners. These are people, usually women, who are hired to visit a funeral and cry emotionally in order to make it an emotional event. While most commonly practised in far eastern countries, this service is also provided in England by companies such as Rent A Mourner. The story takes place soon after World War One, when most of the men have been killed. The sisters' village only has one old man left who is being shared by the women to give them children. Mala accidentally kills the man, so the sisters are sent to find a new man to replace him. They find two men, wandering performers, a human cannonball and his assistant, that they take back to their village. Unfortunately the sisters have fallen in love with the two men, so they try to kidnap them and take them away again.

This film, while supposedly based on a true story, is told in the style of a fairy tale with lavish but surreal backgrounds. At the time it was the most expensive film ever made in Serbia, but this record has since been broken. The film is highly critically acclaimed, but I found it difficult to enjoy. Maybe the problem is the claim that it's a true story; I found it just too difficult to believe.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Franklyn (3½ Stars)

Loss. Separation. Reunion.

Knowing (4 Stars)

Alex Proyas has only directed a handful of films over the last 20 years, but they are all outstanding. Quality not quantity. "Dark City" and "The Crow" are two of the best films ever made. "Knowing" comes close to the same levels, despite the plot being difficult to logically follow.

In October 1959 the children of a junior school are asked to draw pictures of what they think the future will be like. The pictures are put in envelopes and sealed in a metal container and buried to be opened 50 years later. On this date they are handed out to the new generation of schoolchildren at random. The envelope given to Caleb Koestler doesn't contain a picture, it contains a sheet full of seemingly random numbers. Caleb passes it to his father, an astrophysics professor at M.I.T., who realises that the numbers are the dates and locations of all of the major disasters of the last 50 years. The last three disasters are still in the future, and the numbers predict the world will end on October 19th 2009. Can the future be changed? Watch the film to find out.

Azumi (4½ Stars)

This is a film based on a long running Japanese comic book, which unfortunately I've never read. When it was released in 2003 it was the most successful film of the year in Japanese cinemas. While being typical to the genre of "one warrior defeats 100 armed opponents", now well known to Western audiences from watching "Kill Bill", it still maintains a level of realism.

Azumi, played by the beautiful 17-year-old actress Aya Ueto, is an orphan who has been brought up by a rogue Japanese warrior, a Ronin, who has taken a vow to bring peace to Japan. To do this he is training a group of assassins who will kill any warlords who intend to begin a war. Killing one person to save many lives is a noble pursuit, but as the film shows there are always others who get killed while trying to protect the one. Azumi is the most skilled of the group of five assassins. The final scene in which she single-handedly takes on a whole village is breathtaking. This is the best Japanese sword fighting film I've seen.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Attack the Block (5 Stars)

An excellent, though morally doubtful film. A teenage gang in South London assault a nurse walking home at night. They steal her money and her mobile phone. While leaving her behind they witness an alien invasion, hundreds of hairy man eating monsters falling from the sky. After asking their drug dealer for advice they decide they are the only ones who can save the Earth from the threat. But how can they save the world while having to run from the police?

The film is advertised as a comedy, but it isn't really a film to laugh at. It's more of a satire, and at its core very thought-provoking. It shows how extreme situations can turn bad guys into heroes. The young cast, none of whom I remember seeing before, act brilliantly. The only big name actor in the film is Nick Frost, who plays a relatively minor role. When I started to write this review I gave the film 4¾ stars, but no, it deserves 5. I can't find fault with it. Watch it and enjoy it!

Twilight: Eclipse (3½ Stars)

Not having read the books, I have to judge this film, the third in the Twilight saga, on its own merits. It compares unfavorably to the first two parts. Poorly paced, it spends a long time building up the suspense of a battle against an army of vampires, which is over within minutes. As a love story the Bella-Edward-Jacob triangle is lacking in feeling, because Kristen Stewart is unconvincing as a woman torn between two men. See "Pearl Harbor" for a more gripping story of a love triangle. The books might be good, but they don't translate well to the big screen.

The Ghost (4 Stars)

This film is also called "The Ghost Writer" in some countries.

Ewan McGregor plays a ghost writer who is hired to assist a British ex-prime minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), in writing his memoirs. To do this he has to go to the remote American island Martha's Vineyard where Lang is living in virtual exile. Lang is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged humanitarian crimes, having delivered Al Qaeda terrorists to the American CIA for interrogation under torture. He is safe in America, since the USA is one of the few countries that does not recognise the ICC. The ghost writer is caught up in the frenzy of public protests and media coverage while trying to do his work and delve into Lang's past.

Significantly, the ghost writer is never named in the film. Ghost writers always remain anonymous, as part of their contract. They are commonly used by politicians or celebrities who are unable to write their own autobiography, whether it's due to lack of time or lack of writing skill. Seriously, does anyone really believe that Katie Price wrote her own books? Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan excel as the two main characters. The slow and steady suspense are typical for films directed by Roman Polanski. I don't think Polanski has ever made a bad film. He's an old school director who puts the emphasis on the plot rather than sensational special effects.

Sweet Karma (4 Stars)

The film begins in Moscow and continues in Toronto. A Russian agency is promising young women a new start by offering them jobs as maids in Canada. When they arrive they find they've been deceived. Their passports are confiscated and they're forced to work as strippers and prostitutes. They aren't even allowed to leave their motel room unaccompanied. Karma is a mute woman whose sister disappears after travelling to Canada. She soon realises what's happening and sets out to kill everyone in the agency, one at a time.

The film isn't as sexy as the poster suggests. It's a gritty tale of violence and revenge. If you like tough women who kick ass, this film is for you. I don't understand why the main character is mute. It adds nothing to the story. If it's meant to symbolise something I don't know what it is. Maybe my readers can help me. Please leave a comment.