Friday, 28 February 2014

Kick-Ass (5 Stars)

This is the first film that I've watched four times since starting my blog in September 2010. How do I remember that so accurately? Easy. I checked out my alphabetical list of posts. There's a link to this list at the top of every page, and the list is always up to date, because it's generated new every time someone looks at it. I hope that my regular readers make good use of it to check out whether I've already reviewed their favourite films. Come to think of it, it's even more useful to people who aren't regular readers. If you're visiting my page for the first time today, please check the list. It's not every film I own, of course. I bought my first DVD player in 2003, which is when my film collection really took off. Before then I watched films, but I watched most of my films on television. I rented films from video stores occasionally, but there were very few that I actually bought. I wish I had started this blog earlier, in 2003 at the latest, but back then I didn't realise how easy blogging is. It was just a matter of getting started. After my first post on September 14th 2010 my posts just flowed. Writing about every film I watch has become a routine, apart from sporadic bouts of writer's block.

In fact, I recommend to my readers that they keep a record of the films they watch as well. You'll be glad you did it in years to come. You don't have to write a lot. You could start by just making a list of films that you watch, together with the date, adding to it regularly. My first reviews were mostly short. They got longer as I went along. In fact, I've got so used to writing detailed reviews that I feel guilty on days when I have nothing to say. I acted against this by deliberately designating March last year as my four-word review month, but I couldn't keep it up for the whole month because there were films that I was itching to write more about. I won't do that again. Not regularly, at least.

Getting round to "Kick-Ass" at last, let me just say that it's a great film. That's obvious, or I wouldn't have watched it so often. The previous times I only rated it four and a half stars, but I've decided to give it five stars now. The film deserves it.

If I had to judge the film on this newspaper report, supposedly published in the New York Post, I would have to give it one star. The same words are repeated in all three columns. Click the above picture to enlarge it and you'll see what I mean. Sloppy.

Girls on top 2 (3 Stars)

The girls that we got to know so well in the first film have left school now. Or at least, we got to know two of them. Victoria (Felicitas Woll) has gone off to study in Berlin, and her place in the clique has been taken by Lucy (Jasmin Gerat). Lena (Karoline Herfurth), Inken (Diana Amft) and Lucy are looking for an apartment in Munich, but even when they find one they can't afford the rent. There's only one solution: they have to find rich boyfriends!

The film is intended as a comedy, but the humour falls flat. It's very difficult to find a German comedy that's actually funny. I have to admit that I bought the DVD for two reasons. (1) It was cheap, and (2) I think Karoline Herfurth is absolutely gorgeous. Her beauty is somehow haunting, she overshadows the other two girls. Here are four pictures from the film to show you what I mean.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Cold Fish (5 Stars)

Life is pain.

Two weeks in the life of a simple Japanese businessman. Nobuyuki Shamoto runs a small shop selling tropical fish. He lives a dull life with his wife and daughter. Every day he eats the microwave meals his wife serves him without complaining. His only escape from daily routine is to sit in the town's planetarium and watch the stars, preferably holding his wife's hand.

Things change when Shamoto meets Murata, the owner of a large fish shop. Murata offers to make Shamoto his business partner, which he naively accepts, not realising what sort of man Murata is. Murata takes possession of his daughter, his wife, and finally Shamoto himself, forcing him to become his accomplice in a series of brutal murders.

This is the second film in Sion Sono's Hate Trilogy, and possibly one of the best films ever made. It's a work of genius.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Vampire Circus (4 Stars)

This is one of the more experimental vampire films made by Hammer Film Studios. It was filmed in 1972, and like the Karnstein Trilogy of 1970-1971 it doesn't feature Count Dracula. It takes place in a town called Schtettel, presumably in Germany, though it might also be in Romania. The villagers live in fear of Count Mitterhaus, who they suspect of being a vampire and stealing their children. When a man sees his daughter being lured into the castle he calls together the villagers, and they break into the castle to kill him. As the count lies dying he utters a curse that everyone responsible for his death must die to bring him back to life.

15 years later Schtettel is under quarantine because of a mysterious illness. Nevertheless, a circus somehow avoids the roadblocks and enters the village. Most of the villagers enjoy the circus -- "The circus is the one thing that keeps people from brooding about death and disease" -- but there are a few who suspect something sinister. One by one the people responsible for the Count's death, as well as their children, die under mysterious circumstances.

This is a very enjoyable film. I'm sure that anyone who likes the old horror films will like it. It has less of a gothic atmosphere to it than most of the Hammer horror films, but that doesn't detract from its quality.

This ain't Avatar XXX 2 (4¾ Stars)

My congratulations to Axel Braun. James Cameron is still working on his sequel to "Avatar", but Axel released his sequel to "This ain't Avatar XXX" two years ago in 2012, only two years after the original film. He doesn't like to waste time. Axel said in an interview that he based his film on rumours about what James Cameron's "Avatar 2" would be about and attempted to make a film that would fit in between the two. We'll have to wait to see whether this has succeeded.

As I pointed out in my review of the original film, Axel used an unusual film structure, making it not a standalone film but a series of scenes threaded between the scenes of "Avatar". This new film doesn't follow any such revolutionary path. It's a simple linear story.

The film begins with Jake Sully being held in a cage after falling into disfavour with the Na'vi at the end of the first film. In the cages surrounding him are other women who look human, but are all mute. After being tortured by two Na'vi women -- a torture he seems to enjoy -- he's taken to a Na'vi doctor for experiments. The Na'vi are able to repair the broken limbs of their own people using healing treatments based on the powers of the forest. The doctor wants to see if it's possible to repair Jake's legs, and she succeeds. After that he's sent back to his cage, but healing him was evidently a foolish decision; he is able to break out, and he flees with three of the women.

Jake being tortured

Jake's torture continues

Compared with Axel's other films, there is very little story to this film. Nevertheless, it's one of his best films. The production quality is first class, and all the forest scenes look magical. The appearance of the Na'vi is just as realistic as in James Cameron's film. As a work of pornography, it's the most erotic film Axel has ever made. As long as you're not put off by blue bodies.

Yurizan Beltran, Pandora Playmate of the Year

Let's finish off by looking at this embarrassing blunder in the final screen at the end of the film. How could a director of Axel Braun's stature slip up like this? It's downright disgraceful!

Musical: Tonight's the Night (4 Stars)

Judging by the leaflet advertising the coming events in Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre this is a new trend: the so-called jukebox musicals, when the best known hit songs of a performer are strung together to tell a story. After Rod Stewart they'll be showing musicals with music by Meatloaf, the Beatles, Marc Bolan, Elvis Presley, Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Cash, and many many more.

I can understand this from two sides. Today's concert halls are full of tribute bands playing the old hits, often just as well as the original bands, and when you stand there you're surrounded by middle-aged women dressed as 20-year-olds singing along. They know every song by heart, and they're glad to live in the past, recapturing their youth. The jukebox musicals are also riding the nostalgia wave, although I have to admit that the women in the audience tonight were dressed more conservatively.

On the other hand, I have to see this from the side of the authors of the musicals, in this case Ben Elton. This is a very lazy way to write a musical. No songs need to be composed, so all the author has to do is put the songs in the right order to tell a story. I admit that some creative steps are needed; for instance, "Maggie May" was sung as a duet, and by dividing the lines between the man and woman the meaning was changed. But that doesn't make this musical an "Evita". Ben Elton is no Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The story itself is a variation on Faust. Stuart is a shy boy who works as a car mechanic in Detroit. He is in love with a girl called Mary, but is afraid to tell her so. She also loves him, but she's waiting for him to make the first move. Stuart thinks that if he were a big rock star like Rod Stewart Mary would like him, so he sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for self-confidence and musical talent. He gets the girl straight away, but he wants to go on the road and perform, showing off his talent and making money. And as is usual in the rock'n'roll business, he sleeps with a different girl in every city. Interestingly, the Devil and Stuart's manager are played by the same woman, which seems to be a statement about the music business.

The story has a happy ending, of course, as everyone who has read Goethe's Faust will know. The Devil gives Stuart back his soul, because she thinks he's too boring to have him in Hell with her forever. This happens just before a big concert, when Mary is coming to watch him. Stuart realises that he's his old self again, too shy and untalented to perform. But then his friend tells him that the Devil never gave him the talent, he had it all along, so he goes out on stage and puts on a fantastic show. And they all lived happily ever after.

A simple story, full of clichés, but does it work? The audience seemed to think so. They applauded at the end of every song. It was noticeable that the applause was longest and loudest after Rod's biggest hits. The crowd had come for the songs, not the story. And the cast certainly delivered the songs. Ben Heathcote was an excellent singer as Stuart, but in my opinion it was Jenna Lee-James (Mary) who stole the show with her incredible voice. There were also great performances from Tiffany Graves (the Devil and the manager) and Jade Ewen (Mary's friend Dee). Ironically, Michael McKell, who plays a Ronnie Wood-lookalike called Stoner, has a singing voice that resembles Rod Stewart more than Ben's voice. The dancing was first rate, though not overly athletic. The band, which played anonymously and semi-visibly behind a thin curtain, were adequately skilled in playing the backing music. The audience loved it, and I liked it too, so let's forget the weaknesses in the story and say it's worth watching, especially if you're in your 50's, a Rod Stewart fan, or both.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (2 Stars)

It's with a heavy heart that I have to rate this film so low. I expected it to be much better. Before writing I thought I would give it 3 Stars out of generosity, but I have to be honest. The film left me cold. While I was in the cinema I was fighting the urge to check my watch to see when it would be over.

Adam and Eve are two vampires who have been alive for centuries. Whether they are the Adam and Eve isn't stated, we're left to our own opinions. They have always been lovers, even though they sometimes spend years apart. When the film begins Adam is a musician in Detroit, while Eve is living in Tangier. In fact, Adam has been a musician for hundreds of years, occasionally giving his compositions to famous people like Richard Strauss and asking them to publish them as their own. Eve decides to visit Adam. He shows her around Detroit, mourning the death of the Motown music scene. Then they return to Tangier together.

It should have been great. It had everything going for it: Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as vampires, not to mention John Hurt in a minor role. The problem for me is that it's way too slow. Considering they are reunited lovers there seems to be a lack of passion. Instead of wanting to make love they just fall asleep entangled during the day, and when it's night Adam doesn't even want to wake up. They're bored with life. They've seen it all and now they're living just because they're too tired to kill themselves. I'm sure that it was the director's intention to show how pointless and dull living forever can be, but for me as a viewer the whole effect is negative.

Surprisingly, the film has been highly praised by critics. It was even one of the nominations for the best film at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. The critics must have seen something in it that I didn't. I'll give it another chance. I'll watch it again when it's released on DVD.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Nymphomaniac (4 Stars)

If there's one thing Lars Von Trier likes to do, he likes to shock his audiences and critics. He has created a heavily stylised film about the life of a nymphomaniac, complete with explicit sex scenes. The film was shown today as a one-day-only event across the United Kingdom. The film was given a live introduction from the Curzon Theatre in London, and after the film several members of the cast answered questions posed by the live audience and sent via Twitter. Amusingly, everyone in the Curzon Theatre was given a brown paper bag to wear over their head for a photoshoot, in order to mock the bad conduct of the film's star Shia LaBeouf at the film's premiere in Berlin.

Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds a woman called Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lying injured near his home. She refuses to let him call an ambulance, so he takes her home to let her clean herself up. She then proceeds to tell him about her life, divided into eight chapters based on objects she sees in his room. When she was 12 she had her first orgasm while seeing a vision of Messalina (the wife of the Emperor Claudius) and the Whore of Babylon. At 15 she lost her virginity to a boy called Jerome (Shia LaBeouf). At 17 she competed with her best friend B (Sophie Kennedy Clark) to see who could have sex with the most men during a train journey. That was the beginning of her life as a nymphomaniac.

Seligman listens to her stories with great interest. He points out that her life has been governed by Fibonacci numbers. For instance, when she lost her virginity Jerome thrust into her three times, then turned over and thrust into her a further five times before orgasming. Together they listen to Bach, a man who used Fibonacci numbers to compose music.

Note: The first 10 Fibonacci numbers are 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34

I'm slightly disappointed, because I expected to see the uncut five and a half hour version of the film today. Instead of that a shortened four hour version was shown. Having said that, I can't imagine what's been cut out, because the film that I saw today was so complete. The main impression that the film has left with me is the brilliance of Stellan Skarsgard as an actor. I've been impressed by him ever since I first saw him in "Insomnia" (the original version), but in this film he's better than ever before.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Her (5 Stars)

This is the best film I've seen so far this year. It was released in December in America, two months earlier than in England, so that makes it a 2013 film, the best film of 2013, knocking "World's End" down into second place. It's received five nominations for this year's Academy Awards, including best film. It sincerely deserves to win the best film award, but I expect something dull like "12 Years a Slave" will win. The judges at the Academy Awards are too old to see clearly. "12 Years a Slave" is a film that dwells on the past, "Her" is a film that brings the future close.

Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is a man who lives in Los Angeles in the near future. His job is to write letters for people who are unwilling or unable to write their own letters. His speciality is writing love letters when couples are separated. His computer software is very advanced, it even imitates the handwriting of the people he represents. He is a very romantic person, but he has nobody in his own life. He's been separated from his wife for over a year, and from what he says there were problems even while they were together.

He installs a new operating system, OS1, on his computer. It's the first fully configurable operating system with artificial intelligence that adapts itself to its user's needs. The operating system speaks with a woman's voice and calls itself Samantha. In fact, it would be more correct to refer to Samantha as a "she", not an "it". Samantha shows distinctly female traits, becoming first a conversation partner and friend to Theodore, and then his lover. At first he feels like a freak for being in love with a computer operating system, but after a while he finds out that a lot of other people are doing it too. It's become acceptable.

I won't give any more spoilers now. Maybe I'll say more about the plot after I buy it on Blu-ray. By then more of my readers will have seen it. I hope so, anyway. This is only the fourth film that Spike Jonze has directed. Two of the others were films written by Charlie Kaufman, namely "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation". I praised them both because of Charlie Kaufman's screenplay, but after seeing "Her", a film that Spike Jonze wrote himself, I realise that he contributed a lot to those two films.

It's a film about alienation. We see people, not just Theodore, living alone. Rather than social interaction they occupy themselves with videogames and Internet porn. When people are walking in the street nobody is talking to one another; everyone is talking on the phone, maybe to distant friends, or maybe to their phone's operating system, we don't know.

I read that the original version of the film was 60 minutes longer. Seeing the deleted scenes on the Blu-ray will be interesting. Or maybe there will be a Director's Cut. Let's wait and see what happens.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Saving Mr. Banks (5 Stars)

Today was my last chance to see "Saving Mr. Banks" in the cinema. I'm glad I took the opportunity while I still had it. Evidently others thought the same as me, because the cinema was packed. This will be a short review, but I have to give away spoilers to explain what makes the film so wonderful.

The film tells the true story of the making of "Mary Poppins", one of Disney's most successful films, based on a children's book with the same name. In 1938 Walt Disney first approached the author, Pamela Travers, for the rights to make the film, but she turned him down. Over the next 20 years he regularly wrote to her, but she always refused. In 1961 she finally went to Los Angeles to meet him. She said she would only sign the contract if Walt agreed to her conditions, for instance that it shouldn't be a musical and there should be no animation included. Walt was unable to win her over until he realised that the book contained biographical elements. She was writing about her father who she had been unable to save as a child.

I don't know who to praise most when it comes to the actors. Tom Hanks is a good actor, but he's never impressed me as much as in this film, playing Walt Disney. Emma Thompson manages to make Pamela Travers look like a grumpy old lady, while letting her hidden pain seep through as understated hints. Colin Farrell is perfect as Pamela's loving father, tainted by his alcohol addiction. Paul Giamatti is usually an unassuming background character that we hardly notice in his films, but in his relatively small role as Pamela's chauffeur Ralph in Los Angeles his acting ability dazzles. This is a very beautiful film. It's all about relationships: Pamela's relationship with her father, with Walt Disney, with Ralph.

Cuban Fury (4 Stars)

Real men dance? Damn right they do!

Bruce Garrett grew up with a passion for salsa dancing. As a teenager he won championships all across England, dancing with his younger sister Sam as his partner. All he had left to do was win the national salsa championships in London. But as he's walking to the ballroom he's stopped by a youth gang. They call him gay because of the way he's dressed, and they beat him up. This makes him quit dancing.

20 years later Bruce is overweight and single. He works designing handworker tools like drills and lathes. He has a beautiful woman as his boss and thinks she's out of his league, until he finds out that her hobby is salsa dancing. This motivates him to get back into training.

Nick Frost is absolutely brilliant as Bruce Garrett. But then again, he's brilliant in every role he plays. A lot of the humour is about his weight. He doesn't look like a typical salsa dancer. The only thing that bugged me about the film was the crude language from Bruce's work colleague, Drew. This is probably what earned the film a 15 certificate. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against crude humour in films, generally, but in this film it seemed out of place. If the language had been cleaned up it could have got a PG rating and become a film to encourage children to start dancing.

P.S. Simon Pegg supposedly had a cameo in the film, but I must have blinked and missed him.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Der Tanzstundenreport (4 Stars)

This is a German film made in 1973. Literally translated its title means "Dance School Report". The name identifies it as an Aufklärungsfilm (a genre of German educational films), but in actual fact it has nothing to do with the typical Aufklärungsfilme of the 1970's, such as the Schoolgirl Reports. It's a pure exploitation film. That makes it all the more amazing that the film has never been released on DVD by itself, it's only available bundled together with the Schoolgirl Report collection. It shows a dance school where young adults (25 to 35) take lessons, but they are all more interested in sex than dancing. Quite inappropriately, the film makes fun of the horny fat girl who can't get a man, even when she runs around naked at parties. My tastes in women must be wrong, because I find the actress Dorothea Rau prettier than the slim women surrounding her.

However, the DVD contains a documentary entitled "From Sex to Simmel", which I enjoyed even more than the film itself. This is about the two most popular types of films made in Germany in the 1970's, the sex films and the Simmel films. Johannes Mario Simmel was an Austrian novelist and screenwriter who wrote very melodramatic stories. They were either murder mysteries or spy stories, but there were several common features. They always revolved around better stationed people, i.e. rich people or the nobility, not the normal German on the street. Love in his stories was always tragic; if a couple loved each other one of them was always killed. In the 1950's he wrote screenplays for 22 films, but from 1960 on he concentrated on writing novels. More than 30 films were made based on his books over the next 20 years. His books and the films based on them were regarded as trash by film critics, but the German public loved them.

Johannes Mario Simmel
7 April 1924 – 1 January 2009

The German sex films of the 1970's were divided into two main groups. The first were the already mentioned Aufklärungsfilme, the most successful German films at the time. The others were the sex comedy films, which were usually set in Bavaria and parodied the German Heimatfilme of the 1940's and 1950's. (I attempted to explain what Heimatfilme are in my review of "Romy", but it's a film genre that's almost impossible for non-Germans to comprehend). "Der Tanzstudenreport" is a tangent on the Bavarian sex comedies; it takes place indoors, not on the mountains, but many of the actors have Bavarian accents.

During the 1970's there were many critically acclaimed German filmmakers, such as Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. This was real cinematic art, and the German film critics heaped endless praise on them, but they had very little financial success. The public wasn't interested in them. Germans wanted to see the Simmel films and the sex films. Wolf C. Hartwig, the producer of the Schoolgirl Report films, became a multi-millionaire during the 1970's. He made his last film in 1984, and now lives a life of luxury in France. He's very outspoken when talking about other German directors of the 1970's. He says that they were getting it all wrong. A good director doesn't create works of art, he makes films that the public wants to see.

Wolf C. Hartwig

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Carnage (3½ Stars)

Cruelty and Splendour, Chaos and Balance

Two 11-year-old boys have a fight in the park. One hits the other with a branch and knocks out two of his teeth. The parents meet to discuss the incident. That's it.

This is a very minimalist film directed by Roman Polanski. Apart from a short introductory scene without dialogue, the whole film takes place in one scene with four people. Only good actors can pull off something like this, and the actors are all first rate: Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and John Reilly. All four do a tremendous job, but in my eyes Kate Winslet steals the show.

P.S. This is the first film I've seen in which Kate Winslet doesn't bare her breasts. Oh wait, there was "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". But apart from that I can't think of any.

Guilty of Romance (5 Stars)

Castles and pits have something in common. They both have high walls. The difference is that the walls of a castle are to keep people out, whereas the walls of a pit are to keep people in.

Yukio Kikuchi is a best selling author of passionate romance novels. Unfortunately his passion is only in his written words. His marriage is a loveless routine. His wife is nothing more than a servant who cooks his food, pours his tea and gets his slippers ready. Every morning he leaves the house at 7am to go to his office to write, and he comes home at 9pm. His wife Izumi can't deal with the dullness, so she asks his permission to get a job. He agrees, so soon she is working in a supermarket offering customers samples of sausages.

While at work Izumi is approached by a talent scout for a Japanese adult video company. I emphasise the word "Japanese", because Japan has a very unique type of pornography. First she poses for innocent "idol" photos, then she has to simulate sex with a male model. This gives her a taste for sex, so she gets together with the man off camera. Ironically this aids her in her life. It makes her feel more passionate towards her husband, and it makes her better at promoting sausages. She doesn't even notice that she's sliding down the walls of the pit.

Then Izumi meets Mitsuko, a university literature professor who works as a call girl at night. Izumi is fascinated by her and begins a new life as a prostitute. She feels like she is finally in control of her life, but things are not as they seem. The ones that she considers to be her new friends are keeping secrets and conspiring against her. The whole affair comes to a climax in a spectacle that could only come from the imagination of the brilliant director Sion Sono.

This is the third film in Sono's "Hate Trilogy" after "Love Exposure" and "Cold Fish". As in the previous two films we see the depths of depravity to which seemingly respectable people can fall. We see dysfunctional family relationships at the centre that are the cause of the depravities, directly or indirectly. Sion Sono is the most exciting director in Japan today.

The film hasn't been released in America, but it's available in England and most other countries.

On my way home by Ryuichi Tamura

I should never have learned words.
How much better off I’d be
if I lived in a world
where meanings didn’t matter,
the world with no words.

If beautiful words take revenge against you,
it’s none of my concern.
If quiet meanings make you bleed,
it also is none of my concern.

The tears in your gentle eyes,
the pain that drips from your silent tongue –
I’d simply gaze at them and walk away
if our world had no words.

In your tears
is there meaning like the core of a fruit?
In a drop of your blood
is there a shimmering resonance of the evening glow
of this world’s sunset?

I should never have learned words.
Simply because I know Japanese and bits of a foreign tongue
I stand still inside your tears,
I come back alone into your blood.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Iron Man 2 (4½ Stars)

I think this film is growing on me every time I watch it. Even though it isn't corny enough. Even though Tony Stark keeps opening his helmet to show his face. Maybe next time I watch it I'll give it a full five stars. I'm tempted.

In the first film Stark's friend Randy Rhodes was played by Terrence Howard. In this film he's been replaced by Don Cheadle. There's a story behind this. In the first film Terrence Howard was the highest paid actor, receiving $4.5 million for his role. We have to remember that before "Iron Man" Robert Downey Jr. was a relatively unknown actor. That was his breakthrough role. By the time the second film came Robert Downey Jr. was already an A List star and could demand a higher salary. Terrence Howard was only offered $1 million for the second film, so he stormed off in a rage and Don Cheadle took his place. His pride at no longer being the film's highest paid actor backfired. He said that after "Iron Man" his career was ruined and he was only being offered $60,000 per film. If he had taken the million offered his career wouldn't have crashed.

As replacements go, it's not too bad. The two actors aren't identical, but they're similar enough to be credible as the same character.

Terrence Howard
Don Cheadle

21 Hours at Munich (4 Stars)

After watching "München 72" last week I decided that I had to watch "21 Hours at Munich" again. Both films are based on the same events, and many of the characters are recognisable in both films. The main difference is that this film concentrates on the work done by the German authorities. We hardly get to know the Jewish hostages at all. In fact, there is hardly any character development and we don't get to know anyone, apart from the terrorist leader Issa. Technically this would make "21 Hours at Munich" an inferior film, but somehow it's still enjoyable. My advice is that you watch both films and make up your own mind.

The Lego Movie (4 Stars)

I don't usually bother with animated films. Not modern CGI films, anyway. I enjoy the old Walt Disney cartoon films from the 1940's up to the 1990's. I know that "Toy Story" (1995) was the first computer generated animated film from Walt Disney, but I think they made a few more films in the traditional way after that. I don't know what the last hand-drawn film was that they made. Maybe someone can tell me.

Anyway... after seeing the highly amusing trailer for "The Lego Movie" I decided to give it a chance. I sat down not knowing what to expect, but I highly enjoyed it. In the first half of the film, maybe more than half, the action was breath-taking. It hardly slowed down for a minute. It was chock-a-block with parodies of other recent films, made comical by the way they were mixed. I noticed references to "The Matrix", "Terminator", "Batman", "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings". There were probably others that I missed.

The film begins with the ruler of the Legoverse, Lord Business, discovering a super weapon called the Kragle. The wizard Vitruvius prophecies that one day a special person will find the only device able to counter this weapon, the Piece of Resistance. A few years later a simple construction worker falls into a hole in the ground and discovers this piece. It connects itself to his back and becomes part of him. Together with an assortment of heroes, including Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Gandalf, he has to battle against the forces of Lord Business.

The film is so unique. It's a breath of fresh air in today's film world. Within the first week of its theatre release it has made $120 million profit, and we can expect this figure to rise higher. Bring on the sequel!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

World's End (5 Stars)

This was doubtless the best film of 2013. Nothing else came close. It's unbelievable that it hasn't received a single Oscar nomination. I won't say anything about the plot in this post, because I already described it last year, so if you haven't seen the film yet read my post from July 2013.

Today was the second time I watched it. I excitedly unpacked my shiny new Blu-ray Disc when it arrived in the mail. I've just got through all the special features, except for the commentaries. There are THREE commentary tracks. I hope they're all interesting. Unfortunately there's no commentary by Quentin Tarantino this time round. His commentary (actually more of a conversation with Edgar Wright than a commentary) on the "Hot Fuzz" Blu-ray is amazing.

I only noticed today the connections with a royal quest. Gary is King Arthur, Steve is a prince, Andy is a knight, Pete is a page, Oliver is a chamberlain. If you remember their respective roles while watching the film it all makes sense.

Here are the first 11 pubs of the Newton Haven Pub Crawl in order.

1. The First Post

2. The Old Familiar

3. The Famous Cock

4. The Cross Hands

5. The Good Companions

6. The Trusty Servant

7. The Two Headed Dog

8. The Mermaid

9. The Beehive

10. The King's Head

11. The Hole In The Wall

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Woman in Black (4 Stars)

I'm reviewing the 2012 version of this film starring Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps. My guest writer Con already reviewed it here. I still haven't seen the original version, so I'll judge it on its own merits.

The London lawyer Arthur Kipps is sent to the town Crythin Gifford in the far north of England to deal with the estate of Alice Drablow, a woman who has recently died. He is told by the locals that nobody will buy her house because they think it's haunted. Arthur doesn't believe in the supernatural and dismisses the stories, but when he's there he sees a mysterious woman in black clothing wandering in the grounds, and sometimes even inside the house. Soon after his arrival mysterious deaths occur. He remains in the town, not just to do his job but also to solve the mystery.

This is one of the new Hammer horror films that have been recently released, and will hopefully continue to be released. I have to say then, with some shame, that the film has never been released in England in its original form. The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) originally gave the film a 15 certificate, so the studios cut 82 seconds from the film in order for it to be given a 12 certificate. (Some reports say only 6 seconds were cut, while 76 seconds were darkened to hide details). The censored version is what was shown in the theatres and released on DVD in the UK. That's disgusting. Ironically, even after the cuts were made there were many complaints from parents who thought the film unsuitable for 12-year-olds. It was necessary for me to buy the film from Germany, where the film has been released uncut with a 16 certificate.

This is selling out at its lowest level. I don't blame the BBFC. They have their guidelines, and even if I don't always agree with the decisions they make, they're only doing their jobs. I am opposed to film studios dumbing down a film just to increase the box office takings by allowing younger visitors. They should be ashamed of themselves, sacrificing art for the sake of money.

I don't know whether any cuts were made to the American version. Can anyone tell me?

Friday, 14 February 2014

Run Fatboy Run (4 Stars)

The film begins with Dennis (Simon Pegg) on the day of his wedding to his pregnant fiancee Libby (Thandie Newton). Overcome with fear (and, as we find out later in the film, an inability to finish anything he has started), he climbs out of the window and runs away. Five years later Dennis is still single. Luckily he is still on speaking terms with Libby, who is bringing up her son Jake as a single mother. Jake idolises his father, forgiving him for any mistakes he has made or continues to make.

Dennis is happy with this situation and wishes it would last forever. But not Libby. She's swept off her feet by Whit (Hank Azaria), a rich American businessman, and it looks like marriage is only a few months away. Dennis decides to fight to get Libby back. Whit is a dynamic person, in both his business and his personal life. Among other things, he takes part in the London Marathon every year. Dennis decides to prove he's just as good a man as Whit by running in the Marathon as well, even though (1) he's overweight, (2) he only has three weeks to train and (3) the deadline has expired for registering for the Marathon.

As a comedy I find the film only slightly funny, but it's very uplifting and encouraging. It's a story of how a person who is a failure in life can succeed against seemingly impossible odds. And it's a romantic film, a good choice to watch on Valentine's Day.

On another subject, even though I bought my first Blu-ray player in 2010 (May 12th 2010, a few months before I started this blog) I've been buying mostly DVDs rather than Blu-ray discs. When given a choice of buying a DVD or a Blu-ray I've chosen the cheaper of the two, which is usually (though not always) the DVD. I've rebought a few of my favourite films on Blu-ray, such as the Spider-Man trilogy, but to be honest it's been very few. After almost four years of owning a Blu-ray player I only have about 40 films on Blu-ray, compared with over 1600 films on DVD. Over the last few days I've watched a few films on Blu-ray, such as "Avengers Assemble", "13 Hrs" and "Run Fatboy Run". I've decided that the quality difference is enough to make it worth buying films on Blu-ray, even if they're slightly more expensive. After all, the price of Blu-rays today is less than I was paying for DVDs in 2002.

Of course, I'll stick to the general guidelines that I laid out in a detailed post on Blu-ray discs in September 2010:
  • 2006 to present: Blu-ray is better quality
  • 1996 to 2005: Blu-ray may be better, especially in big budget productions
  • 1995 and earlier: Blu-ray is not better

This means that I'm willing to pay a pound or two more for Blu-ray releases of newer films, but I'll only by films older than 1995 on Blu-ray if they're cheaper than the DVD.

For those of you who watch most of your films on your computer with a streaming service like Netflix, let me put things into perspective. The quality of Netflix films is superior to DVD, but only if they are well mastered, and only if you are using a high quality monitor or television screen. DVD pictures have a vertical resolution of either 480 or 576 pixels, depending on whether they are encoded in NTSC format (used in America) or PAL format (used in Europe). Netflix's high definition films are broadcast with a vertical resolution of 720 pixels, which means a big improvement for American viewers (50%), but a lesser improvement for European viewers (25%). However, the majority of Netflix customers in both countries don't use a viewing device that is sufficient to give a noticeable improvement over DVD.

Blu-rays have a vertical pixel resolution of 1080 pixels. This is a noticeable improvement over both DVDs and Netflix. If you are a real film fan you won't be cheap and stick to Netflix, at least not for your favourite films. Blu-ray is the only choice for top quality pictures.