Thursday, 31 July 2014

Violet & Daisy (4 Stars)

Violet and Daisy are a pair of teenage assassins in New York. With the exception of the opening scene that introduces the girls carrying out a typical job successfully, the whole film takes place on Daisy's 18th birthday.

Violet (Alexis Biedel) and Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) have been working together for three years. On her 18th birthday Daisy wants to quit, because she feels like she's never had a real life. In a magazine she sees a fantastic new dress that she wants, but she's broke, so she agrees to do one last job. They have to execute someone who has stolen from their boss. In the closing credits he's called Michael, but in the film itself we never hear his name. I have to admit that it's more appropriate for him to be an anonymous unnamed character, so I'll refer to him as X.

This is the job that changes Daisy's life. It's a trauma for both of the girls, but we see things primarily through Daisy's eyes. When they arrive at the apartment they find out that X (James Gandolfini) wants them to kill him. He's suffering from cancer and would prefer a quick death. The girls find X very pleasant and develop an affection for him. They spend a whole day with him, talking and exchanging their life stories. He repeatedly asks them to get on with their job, but the more they get to know him the less they want to kill him.

More than anything, the film is a psychological drama. It could even be described as a coming-of-age story, as Daisy attempts to regain her childhood, looking up to X as a father figure. James Gandolfini plays the role in a very relaxed way, stealing the scenes with his magnificent acting. He repeats the mannerisms that he used as Tony Soprano, but he's a very different character. Saoirse Ronan also excels as the innocent little girl with a gun. If anything, the weak link is Alexis Biedel. We hear in the film that she also has father issues, but they're not put across as convincingly.

When Saoirse Ronan doesn't know what to do...

she sucks a lollipop!

The film's cinematography is noteworthy. There are so many scenes which are framed so beautifully that I feel like posting a hundred snapshots. I'll try to restrain myself and just post the best.

Alexis Biedel, beautiful assassin.

Sleeping with the enemy?

When teenage nuns deliver pizza...

don't forget the tip!

Wolverine (5 Stars)

We don't all have claws.

As always, Marvel films need time to grow on me. On first viewing I'm always critical, usually because of deviations from the comics in relation to the costumes and powers of the super-heroes. Then I need to wait a while. On second viewing I'm able to accept the film in its own right, rather than seeing it as a cheap imitation of a comic book. Today is exactly one year since I watched "Wolverine" in the cinema. Now I have the Blu-ray Disc in my hand, which I bought online for £4.99 (including postage). And today my impression was overwhelmingly positive.

So much about the film overwhelmed me today, the second time I saw the film. I love Japanese culture, past and present. I often watch Japanese films, but in none of them does the camera linger so seductively on the Japanese scenery. I can understand why. Japanese films are made for Japanese viewers who know Japan, so there's no need to emphasise the background. That's all it is, a background. For an American director making a film for (primarily) American viewers, it's all about the atmosphere, so the background becomes the foreground. The big cities, the small towns, the bullet train, the temples... it's all important. These settings make the film unique.

The story is poignant in showing Logan's way back. He begins the film as a nomad, stricken with grief after killing Jean Grey in "The Last Stand". Defending Mariko, the granddaughter of his old friend Yashida, helps him to become a hero again. Japan is the country of his rebirth.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Notorious Cleopatra (3½ Stars)

This is a rather whimsical tale of Queen Cleopatra and her relationships with the two most powerful men in the Roman Empire, Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony. Egypt was a poor country at the time, and its only value was in its corn exports. Caesar wanted to control Egypt's food, Cleopatra wanted to control Rome. Arguably, Cleopatra would have succeeded, if Caesar had not been assassinated by his enemies before she took complete control of him. He was a powerful man who had fought wars and conquered many nations, but she was a beautiful woman, and he was powerless in her arms.

I have seen several actresses playing the role of Cleopatra. The most famous of them was Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film. Considering that Cleopatra was reputed to be the most beautiful woman who had ever lived, I'm surprised how plain the actresses are. I'm not criticising Elizabeth Taylor as an actress, but was she the most beautiful woman on Earth? Not even close. "The Notorious Cleopatra", made six years later in 1969, puts things right. Loray White, who used to be the wife of Sammy Davis Jr., is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. Her beauty, her charm and her overwhelming sex appeal would have enslaved me.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Toy Box (3½ Stars)

This is a film that's screaming for a remake. It has so many good ideas in it, but it's let down by the poor production quality. It was made in 1970 when the technical possibilities didn't exist that we have today. The script should be reused for a big budget horror film.

Donna works for her uncle, who is the ultimate voyeur. He pays people to come to his castle for sex parties, so that he can sit and watch them. Donna's boyfriend Ralph travels all over the world to find people of different races and skin colours to take part. They are extravagant parties, with role-playing scenes such as Roman gladiatorial fights, but they always end as mass orgies.

Donna and Ralph don't usually take part in the parties, but this is a special occasion. The uncle has died, and his last wish is that for his wake there should be one last orgy around his corpse. The party begins as normal, but then strange things begin to happen. Guests are murdered and decapitated. Random men and women become possessed by an unseen force and kill their sex partners. Ralph and Donna try to escape, but the doors are locked.

I have mixed feelings about the film. The combination of sex and horror works well, but the horror scenes are let down by poor special effects. Some of the ideas can only have come from a very twisted mind, such as the possessed bed sheets which rape and kill a woman. Then there's the butcher who keeps dead women on meat hooks. He unhooks a woman so that he can have sex with her decaying corpse, but while he's in the act she comes back to life as a zombie and kills him. It's all very fascinating, but it could have been done better. The film should be remade.

Off-Topic: Nicki Minaj

Singer Nicki Minaj, never a person to avoid controversy, has announced her new single, "Anaconda", with cover art that many people have called overly explicit. Why? She's not even naked. She's a beautiful, self-confident woman who has no hesitation in revealing her beauty in skimpy clothing. Nicki is a real woman with real curves. Compare her with Miley Cyrus, who has a body so flat that at first glance she looks like a boy.

Nicki originally wanted to be an actress, and she even visited an acting school before turning to music. I admit that her music is not to my taste. She sounds better than most rappers, but it's not something I would listen to at home. My interest in her is because of her looks and, more importantly, her willingness to expose herself. She has starred in one film so far, a small role in "The Other Woman", and I hope she will make many more films.

Yesterday Nicki released a second promotional photo of herself for the single, wearing the same pink bikini. I hope this means it's what she will be wearing in the music video.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Atomic Hotel Erotica (4 Stars)

As you might guess from the text on the poster above, this film is based loosely on the famous song by the Eagles, "Hotel California".

Jason and Rob (played by Frankie Dell and Ryan Driller) are software developers. They have been asked to optimise the company's search engine, and the first one to succeed will receive a sizeable bonus. This might sound ridiculous to Europeans, but it's the way business works in America. In Europe everything is about teamwork, but in America employees are encouraged to work against one another. This is why offices in America have an unpleasant atmosphere, compared to Europe. In the case of the film's fictional company, the competition imposed by the bosses is pointless; both men know that Rob is the better programmer and will solve the problem first, so it would have been much more sensible to give Jason another job. As it is, since Jason knows he can't succeed by fair means, he wants to steal Rob's work and hand it in first, pretending that it's his own solution.

Jason and Rob both have beautiful wives, as is to be expected in any film directed by Dean McKendrick. Jason has a happy relationship with his wife Elena (Sophia Bella), but Rob complains that his wife Laura (Krissy Lynn) hasn't had sex with him for six months. At first we feel sorry for Rob, but when we see him at home we realise that it's all his own fault. Laura wants to have fun with him, including going dancing and having sex, but he's always too busy working. The silly, silly man.

Rob is sent an anonymous letter offering him an all expenses paid weekend for four at a luxury hotel, the Atomic Hotel Erotica. What's that they say about things that seem too good to be true? Since the holiday is for four, he invites Jason and Elena along. At the hotel there's only one other couple, the wealthy rancher Vince (Eric Masterson) and his girlfriend Sasha (Mary Carey). The hotel is run by the creepy owner Grismer LaVey (Mike Gaglio) and the equally creepy hotel porter Wilfred (Frankie Cullen). As the viewer sees, guests are captured in photos and never allowed to leave. Is that a reference to "The Shining"?

The guests are oblivious to their impending doom and continue to work against one another. Elena seduces Rob so that she can steal his computer program from him. Laura gets over her sexual frustrations by having sex with Jason and Wilfred. Only poor Grismer, the film's evil puppet master, never gets laid. But then again, Mike Gaglio never gets a girl in any of his films. At a quick count I own 12 films that he stars in. We ought to start a petition to get him laid.

The film has great performances by Eric Masterson, Ryan Driller and Mary Carey. As a low-budget sex romp it succeeds, and I'm sure its target audience won't be disappointed.

E.T. (5 Stars)

There's no winning. It's like life. You don't win at life.

After watching "E.T." at the Brindley Place Film Festival earlier this month I felt the urge to watch it again. Watching it in the comfort of my own home, without the distractions of the cold weather, I could fully appreciate the film. It's understandable that it was the most successful film ever at the time of its release. It's a film for the whole family, from young children to their grandparents. It's a tale of childish innocence, wrecked by the pain of the parents being divorced, but healed by the arrival of a magical new friend. The science fiction aspects of the story are underplayed and fully credible. There's no reason for visitors from another planet to be aggressive conquerors. Why shouldn't they be peaceful botanists?

I bought the Blu-ray Disc on Ebay for only £3.75 (including postage). That's a bargain. I was somewhat disappointed that it only contained the 2002 edited version, not the original version, after reading that Steven Spielberg considers the original version better. It would have been good to compare. I'd read that all recent DVD releases contain both versions, but they probably omitted the original version from the Blu-ray release because it isn't available in high definition. Shame.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Man from Uncle: One spy too many (3½ Stars)

This is one of the Man from Uncle films that was made my editing two episodes into a single story. Rather than just putting together two episodes, new scenes were filmed, such as the appearance of Yvonne Craig as Maude Waverly, the niece of Uncle's boss, Alexander Waverly.

"The Man from Uncle", more correctly spelt "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", was one of the great spy series of the 1960's. It was devised as a television equivalent of the James Bond films. In fact, Ian Fleming was hired to lay out the original concept of the series. Originally the series was intended to be about one spy, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), but a guest star in some of the early episodes, the Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), became so popular with fans that it was decided to make him a regular and give him equal billing as the series' top star.

This film, edited from the first two episodes of the second season, is about a man called Mr. Alexander -- we never find out his first name -- who sees himself as a successor to Alexander the Great. He intends to conquer the world with the help of a powerful new poison gas that he has stolen, but he believes that before he can achieve his destiny he has to break each one of the Biblical Ten Commandments. I fail to see the connection between a Greek leader and the Jewish law, but this is typical for the eccentric plots in the TV series.

A Man from Uncle film is planned for next year, directed by Guy Ritchie, and starring Henry Cavill and David Beckham. David Beckham? That sounds like a recipe for disaster. I hope Guy Ritchie knows what he's doing. Whether the film is good or bad, it should lead to a reasonably priced TV series box set being released, maybe even remastered for Blu-ray. Let's wait and see.

Friday, 25 July 2014

General: George R. R. Martin at Comic Con 2014

George R. R. Martin is best known as the author of the "Song of Fire and Ice" fantasy novels, which have been adapted for television as "Game of Thrones". Today he was interviewed at the San Diego Comic Convention. I'm sure the whole interview will soon be made available on YouTube, but for now I watched it live and can't post a link. He mentions that reading the story of Wonder Man in Avengers #9 was the main influence on his future story-stelling. He must have been 15 when he read it in 1964. He thinks that this story should be retold in a future Avengers film.

Most significant to me was his opinion of the Marvel films so far. First he complained about Ant-Man being missing from the Avengers in the films. Then he went on to say:

"You can't go wrong if you stick with Stan Lee. That's always been my opinion on these Marvel movies. The best ones are the ones that are closest to what Stan Lee did. It's when they start to be creative, when they think they can be better than Stan Lee, mostly they can't".

Could anyone have said it better?

P.S. The video has now been posted on YouTube. Click here to listen to the interview.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Pig Keeper's Daughter (3½ Stars)

Pigs make a lot better friends than some people I know.

The pig farmer Buck Swyner is worried that his daughter Moonbeam will never get married. After all, she's already 19. Moonbeam's best friend is a pig called Lord Hamilton. She fantasises that one day when she kisses him he will turn into a handsome prince. This never happens, but she keeps kissing him anyway. Then a young salesman arrives in town. The pig farmer thinks that this could be the right man for his daughter, but unfortunately the salesman is more interested in his wife than his daughter.

I suppose that when this film was made in 1972 it was considered outlandish and shocking. Bare breasts and sex scenes on a farm! By today's standards it all seems so innocent. The girls are very pretty, especially when they take their clothes off. The sex scenes are boring.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Guns, Girls and Gambling (3½ Stars)

John Smith (Christian Slater) has been kicked out by his girlfriend, so he drives into the desert, hoping to find luck in a casino on an Indian reservation. After losing most of his money on the slot machines, he takes part in an Elvis impersonation contest. He doesn't win, but he makes friends with the other four impersonators and sits playing poker with them all night. He falls asleep at the table, and when he wakes up the others have gone. He's beat up by casino security guards who accuse him of stealing a sacred Indian mask. They assume it was him, because it was taken by someone dressed as Elvis. John tries to find the other Elvises to clear his name, but they are being killed one by one. John is caught in the middle of a battle between Indians, cowboys, corrupt policemen and a mysterious blonde assassin who quotes Edgar Allen Poe before shooting her victims.

This is an amusing story with a multitude of plot twists. Every time you think you understand what's happening something else happens to contradict it. I didn't count the plot twists, but there were too many, right up to the final minutes. At some point the film should have settled down and told the rest of the story in a linear fashion. Some people might like this film, but it's too eccentric for me.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Engelchen macht weiter (3 Stars)

In the good old days people never paid much attention to continuity. The name of this film, "Engelchen macht weiter", means "Little angel carries on". That would suggest that it's a sequel to "Engelchen", "Little angel", made a year earlier. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's the same actress, Gila von Weitershausen, who plays the main role in both films, but this time she's a completely different character. In the first film she was Katja, a 19-year-old virgin from Bamberg. In this film she's Helena, a 24-year-old housewife and mother from Munich.

Helena is married to Gustl, 12 years older than her. They have a young son, aged about three, judging by his size. They live in an enormous apartment in Munich. I don't know how they can afford it on his salary as a salesman in a furniture store. Gustl is unhappy because they only have sex twice a day. He tries to pick up girls in cafes, but they all turn him down because he's too old. They call him a granddad. I suppose that 36 must be extremely old. Apart from that, Gustl is suffering from a mental illness: he sees all the women around him naked, whether he wants to or not. He visits a psychiatrist, who says that the only cure is to be surrounded by women who really are naked. He recommends that Gustl should take part in an orgy.

Gustl persuades Helena that an orgy would be good for their marriage. They put a contact advertisement in a local newspaper asking for couples to take part. And the fun begins.

Don't forget that this is an old film. It was made in 1969, shortly before the wave of German sex comedies began. Despite the sexual subject matter, it's a very tame film. The picture on the poster above has nothing to do with the film. It's a cute film, but boring. There isn't enough sex, and the comedy isn't funny. Curiously, the film has received a lot of good reviews. Other people must see something that I don't.

Mulholland Drive (5 Stars)


Imagine you dream that you're dead. Then you wake up and you find out it's true. How can that be? Maybe you weren't the one who was dreaming. Maybe you were a character in someone else's dream. Maybe you still are. It could be that you only live in the dream of a dead person. If that's the case your actions are without consequences. It doesn't matter if you do good or bad. You can kill someone and never be caught. But be careful who you kill. If you kill the person in whose dream you live your existence is over.


Off-Topic: Vladimir Putin, the Face of Evil

I am a very fortunate person. I was born in England after 1945, which means that I have never experienced war in my own country. My mother, who was a child during World War 2, told me about the sheer terror of the nightly bombing raids, how her family had to run to the bomb shelters, and how she saw buildings destroyed in her home town of Walsall.

All my life I've heard the patriotic chants in England about how We won the war, about how England beat Germany, etc. I'm patriotic, but I'm also realistic. It was Russia that won the war, with assistance from England and America. It was Russian troops that drove the German army back. It was Russian tanks that rolled into Berlin. It was Russian soldiers who raped German women in every town they occupied.

For America World War 2 was a casual affair. At the time it was called "the war in Europe". America sent its forces overseas, while in America life continued as usual. England was caught up in the war and would have been totally annihilated without foreign help. America entered the war to help England, but American assistance wasn't enough. If the war had been fought by America and England alone, England would have fallen, and American public opinion would have caused them to cease fighting against Germany and concentrate on the war against Japan. Only Russia had the military might and the manpower to squash Germany.

And who gained any advantage from the war? Only one country. Russia increased its borders by permanently occupying land it had captured during the war. As well as this, nominally independent states such as Poland and Romania, the so called "Eastern Block", became puppet states that were only allowed to make decisions with approval from Russia.

Yes, I know that the country was called the U.S.S.R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) from 1922 to 1991, but that was just a politically induced renaming to put itself on a par with the USA, calling the occupied countries such as Ukraine and Georgia "states". For me the correct name of the country was always Russia.

For 40 years after the Second World War there was a state of tension, called the Cold War. There was fear that there could be an armed conflict between Russia and America. This tension reached its peak in 1962, when Russia threatened to station nuclear missiles in Cuba. After this there was a relative calm in America, but there was still a lot of unease in front line countries like Germany until the 1980's. Nevertheless, despite all the tension, there was peace. In the West people could go about their daily lives unhindered.

This could change soon. The person pictured above, Vladimir Putin, is the single most evil person on Earth. In his lust for power he could plunge the world into a new World War. Russia invaded Crimea, part of Ukraine, and is still occupying it. Russia is arming rebels in Eastern Ukraine, letting Ukrainian terrorists do the fighting while giving them instructions and logistical support. Ukraine is the first step in his goal to reconquer all the countries that Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin gave independence in the 1990's. Putin thinks, probably correctly, that Ukraine is not important enough to the West to be worth fighting for. Technology has increased greatly since the 1940's. If America waged war against Russia now it wouldn't just be a war in Europe. Missiles would be fired at American cities.

For all their complaints, America and the West have given up Ukraine. Russia might as well have it. After all, there are a lot of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, which was Putin's excuse for invading. But what will they do when Russia attacks the next country? If Moldovia, also a country with over a million Russians, is next, there will be complaints from Romania, but hardly anyone else. But what if Estonia, a NATO member, is attacked? That could be the push that the West needs to declare war on Russia. Over the past few months Putin has been testing the West's air defences. Russian fighter planes have approached America, England and Holland to test their reactions. America and England passed the test, launching planes to challenge the Russian planes before they entered their airspace. Holland was unprepared and let the Russian planes fly deep into their territory before challenging them. Russia is preparing for war. Western countries like England are reducing their armed forces to save money.

What can be done to stop Putin? The easiest thing would be to shoot him. Crack marksmen from England or another country could assassinate him at a public function. "Off the books", of course. While there is the danger of him being replaced by another extremist, it's highly doubtful that the successor would be anywhere near as evil as Putin. The West could use the time of chaos after Putin's death to make an armed incursion into Ukraine to drive back the Russians.

Sanctions are another alternative, but there has to be a united effort for them to work. Some countries that are dependent on trade with Russia, such as Germany, which uses Russian gas, might break ranks and continue to trade. The sanctions have to be extreme. As well as freezing the assets of all Russian companies in the West, there has to be a travel embargo. All flights to and from Russia need to be stopped. This could cripple Russia's economy in the short term, but in the long term it would fail, unless there is political reform. What I mean is, Russia is a large country, rich in natural resources. The immediate effect of sanctions would be harmful, but over a period of 10-20 years Russia could become self-sufficient and stronger than ever. And Putin might still be in power.

While sanctions might seem the better, i.e. more moral alternative, assassination would be more effective. If anyone in the world deserves to die, it's Vladimir Putin. If he's allowed to live millions of people will die. An opportunity was missed during the World Cup in Brazil. That would have been the best time to kill him. Let's not wait too long. I have been fortunate enough to live in an era of peace. I want my children to have the same privilege.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

TV Series: Batman

If you don't have a Blu-ray player yet, this is a reason to invest. We've been waiting 50 years for this release, and it looks incredible. Next Thursday, July 24th, Adam West (Batman), Burt Ward (Robin) and Julie Newmar (Catwoman) will appear at Comic-Con in San Diego to discuss the release. The main question will be, "Is the release uncut?" There have been rumours that some of the celebrities who appeared in cameos during the wall-climbing sequences might not have given permission to be featured. I personally doubt this, but let's wait and see.

I follow Adam West on Facebook, and it's very noticeable that he hasn't said anything about the release, even though he's been witnessed visiting the film studios over the last few months. My assumption is that he's been ordered to remain quiet about it. Not a problem. But the suspense is killing me. The series will be released on November 11th 2014. That's the date the German Fasching season begins. Very appropriate.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Private Duty Nurses (1½ Stars)

This film, made in 1971, is the second in the the tetralogy of nurses films sponsored by Roger Corman as executive producer. In general I'm a fan of his and respect him for making good quality low budget films, but during his long and varied career he's been responsible for a few turkeys. This is one of them. I've only given it a half star because it features pretty nurses, but nothing else speaks for it.

Three nurses, Lola, Lynn and Spring, rent a small house in Manhattan Beach, California, when they get their first job in the city after qualifying. After the opening scenes we never see them together. Lola dates a black doctor who has been barred from being hired at the South Bay Hospital because of his skin colour. Spring dates a motor cyclist who puts his life at risk by driving dangerously in his races. Lynn dates a doctor who is investigating pollution in the bay. These are all interesting stories in themselves, but swapping from one to another every few minutes doesn't help. If anything, it gives the film the feeling of a soap opera episode. Added to this, after about an hour the film editing becomes erratic. The pictures flash and words are repeated, in a misguided attempt to create a work of art. As I already said, the girls are pretty, but the film is nowhere near as sexual as the poster above suggests. There are only a few glimpses of bare breasts. Mostly we're just treated to pretty smiles while they're wearing their uniforms. Isn't it tragic when a film poster is sexier than the film itself?

I own all four of the nurses films in a DVD box set. None of them are really outstanding. I'll never watch the films again. If any of my friends who live locally want the set they can have it.

Kick-Ass 2 (4¾ Stars)

Who's Stan Lee?

This film takes place three years after the events of the first film. Dave Lizewski has given up his super-hero identity as Kick-Ass, whereas Mindy Macready is still training as Hit-Girl, but she's trying to keep a low profile. As expected, things don't remain peaceful. The emergence of new super-heroes, as well as a new super-villain called the Motherfucker, leads Dave to don his mask again and ask Mindy for help.

The film features a lot more of Mindy than the first film. We see her attempting, unsuccessfully, to join a high school clique and date boys. In both films Hit-Girl is the real hero, while Kick-Ass is just tagging along and getting his ass kicked.

It's difficult to say which of the two films is better. The action is better in the second film, but there are weaknesses, such as the over-abundance of costumed characters and the brief but disgusting faecal humour. It's bad enough that we hardly get to know the new heroes in the first half of the film, but in the second half we see costumed characters without even being told their names.

A third and final film has already been promised. Let's see if that's the perfect film that we're waiting for.

Shadow of a Doubt (4 Stars)

I guess Heaven takes care of fools and scoundrels.

20 years after making "Shadow of a Doubt" Alfred Hitchcock claimed that it was his favourite film. It was made in 1943, but shows no evidence of the war being in progress, so it can be assumed that it was set a few years earlier.

The film is about two Charlies. Charlotte is the oldest of three children who live with their parents in Santa Rosa, California. Charles is her favourite uncle, who has been living in New York. Old Charlie comes to stay with the family, as he intends to move back to Santa Rosa. The whole family, especially Young Charlie, is glad to see him, but he has a secret. He's running away from something.

 I wonder what happened to Estelle Jewell, shown in the middle of the picture above as one of Young Charlie's friends from school. This was the only film she ever made, but the few scenes that she appears in are memorable. She has the habit of looking at men's crotches when she talks to them. In the above scene, when she walked away she brushed against the older man. This is typical for the subtle sexual titillation that Hitchcock liked to hide in his films. So subtle that if anyone criticised him he could deny it and say that it was accidental.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Red Violin (5 Stars)

Usually I plan my viewing in advance. When I finish a film I lay a disc on the table next to my DVD player so that I know what to watch next. I'm rarely an impulsive viewer. It has to be a very good film to break my routine. A film like "The Red Violin". I talked to a friend about it last night, and today I had an uncontrollable urge to watch it again. I think I included it in a list of my top 20 favourite films a while ago. It ought to be in the top 10. It's a brilliant multi-cultural epic. If I remember correctly, the film's story-telling, interweaving three events at a time (17th Century Italy, 20th Century Canada and changing sequences in between), was confusing to me on first viewing, but from the second time on everything was obvious. It's difficult to believe that the film only won one Oscar (for the soundtrack). It deserved more.

Off-Topic: Happy Birthday, Angela

Today is the 60th birthday of Germany's leader, Angela Merkel. She's the humble Ossi who has become, thanks to German reunification, the most powerful woman on Earth. Her background is in science, not politics. After studying Physics she did a PhD in Quantum Chemistry, and she has published several papers on the subject. She entered politics shortly before reunification. She stood for election as the CDU candidate for Stralsund in 1990. After winning, Germany's leader Helmut Kohl recognised her capabilities and gave her a place in his cabinet. The CDU lost the election in 1998, and she was appointed party leader in 2000. In 2005 the CDU won the election again, and she has been Germany's leader ever since.

Angela is often compared to the UK's previous leader, Margaret Thatcher. Both of them are women, and both belong to centre-right parties, but that's where the similarity ends. Margaret Thatcher was someone who divided the UK into those who loved her and those who hated her; Angela Merkel does her best to unify the population and presents herself as the leader of the people, accessible to everyone, whatever their political persuasions. Despite her high intelligence, which is obvious in the way she speaks, she has become popular with the common man by her overt support of the German national football team, which won the World Cup this year. While cynics might think she was just looking for cheap publicity, in actual fact she's been a football fan all her life, and she enjoyed being photographed with her heroes. Angela is riding a wave of popularity which shows no sign of coming crashing down any time soon.

Tammy (3 Stars)

Life isn't fair. You're gonna have to scrape and claw for everything you want.

The trailer for "Tammy" was so hilarious that I instantly decided to watch the film. Unfortunately the scene shown at length in the trailer was the film's funniest scene. Nothing else lived up to it.

Tammy is a fat girl in small town Illinois who works in a fast food restaurant. Yes, I know it's not politically correct to call a woman fat, but since most of the film's jokes are about her weight I think it's appropriate to emphasise it so bluntly. After being unfairly fired she decides to drive to Niagara Falls. Her horny old grandmother tags along for the ride. For the next 80 minutes we have jokes about Tammy's size and her grandmother's libido. There's also a romantic element to the story. Tammy meets a handsome farmer. Can he love her despite her size?

It's a cute little story which encourages us to laugh at the fat girl. Tammy shows no regrets for the way she looks, she accepts herself, which is a wonderful thing, but her (misguided?) overconfidence in her good looks is used to ridicule her even more. I expected and hoped for a moment of seriousness at the end, when the audience would be made ashamed of themselves for laughing at someone else's misfortune, but it never came. It's not a film for an overweight woman (or man) to watch to find comfort. Except that Tammy finds true love in the end. Okay, I know that's a spoiler, but you would have guessed it anyway.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Kotsutsubo (3½ Stars)

For a few weeks Mitsuko has been raped by Ichida, one of her teachers. She hasn't told anyone about it, because she thinks that her classmates will blame her for what has happened. So she visits the burial place of a cursed woman, because it is rumoured that anyone who consumes the ashes from her funeral urn will die. She puts some ashes into a bottle of water and offers it to Ichida, but he isn't thirsty. Another schoolgirl, Koha, who has a crush on Ichida, takes the bottle and gives it to another teacher. This teacher commits suicide by jumping out of a school window, but when her body is found her left arm is missing. Ichida is told about the ashes, and he forces several other schoolgirls to drink from the bottle. They all commit suicide after seeing a ghost which is only visible to those who have swallowed the ashes. But a body part, such as an arm, a leg or the head, is missing from each corpse.

In many ways this is a typical Japanese ghost story, but the plot is more complex. The director seems to have a leg fetish, because in many scenes the camera zooms in unnecessarily on the schoolgirls' knees. That's not a problem for me!

Byzantium (4¼ Stars)

Only those prepared to die will find eternal life.

This is yet another rewriting of vampire mythology. How many different alternatives can people come up with? In this film vampires can walk in sunlight, although they prefer the dark. They can't enter a home unless invited. They can only be killed by being beheaded. That's pretty standard stuff. But it gets wild when it comes to becoming a vampire. To become a vampire you have to carry a sacred box into a shrine on an uninhabited island off the coast of England. When you're there your double drinks your blood, and you emerge as a vampire. That's new. Apart from this, in the Byzantium Universe only male vampires are allowed. Two women, a mother and daughter, have become vampires by stealing the box, so the males are hunting them.

Despite the erratic reinventing of vampires, this is a fascinating, typically British vampire film. Clara and Eleanor Webb, played by Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan, are a mother and daughter who are about 200 years old. Since they both look young, they pretend to be sisters. Clara earns her money from prostitution, occasionally killing her customers if she thinks they're carrying enough money with them. Eleanor was only 16 when she became a vampire, so Clara still thinks of her as a child and expects her to remain pure.

The two vampires are always on the move, running as soon as they get into any trouble. They move to North Haven, a fictional English coastal town. Clara takes over a hotel, the Byzantium Hotel, and turns it into a brothel, while Eleanor goes to school. But they haven't settled down long before they start killing people again. How long can they stay before they're noticed?

Gemma Arterton has a haunting beauty in all her films, but in "Byzantium" it's especially appropriate. Her appearance is a fascinating mix of a sex siren and the girl next door. Saoirse Ronan is also beautiful, although she dresses down to look plain in this film. I've always wondered how to pronounce her name, and after listening to the interviews in the Blu-ray extra features I still don't know. Sam Riley and Gemma say her name differently, so I don't know which one of them is right. Or maybe they're both wrong.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (4 Stars)

I went to see this film today as Cineworld's "Secret Screening". This is an event that happens a few times a year, in which a film is shown before its release date, but the customers aren't told what it is. I was rather surprised that this film was selected today. In the past the Secret Screening always featured films several months ahead of their release date, but this film is due to be released next week.

I went to see the film with six other members of the Birmingham Film Club. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to sit together. Cineworld has recently introduced allocated seating, despite the complaints of its customers. For the Secret Screening the seats can only be booked online in advance. The seven of us were given seats at random in different parts of the cinema. The allocated seating was introduced last month and has already shown itself to be a failure, but Cineworld's central management has no interest in listening to what its customers have to say. It was reported in the press that Cineworld's ticket sales have decreased in the last four weeks. The management blames it on the World Cup, but the real reason is that their customers are now going to cinemas which don't have allocated seating. In big cities like Birmingham there is plenty of choice.

I shan't say anything the film's plot, since it still hasn't been officially released in England. All I'll say is that I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. I'm a fan of the original "Planet of the Apes" pentalogy, especially the first two films. The third film was unnecessary, but it worked. The last two films let the franchise down. Tim Burton's remake in 2001 was visually interesting, but disappointing as far as the content was concerned. I didn't bother watching "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", because I mistakenly thought it tied in with the Tim Burton film. I only discovered today that it was a reboot. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is the second film in the rebooted series.

It's worth watching. And I'll check out "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" soon.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Cobra Verde (3½ Stars)

The Africans believe that the Devil is white.

Many people call Klaus Kinski the best actor who has ever lived. I don't share this opinion, but I can understand it. He's certainly the most intense actor who has ever lived. Whenever he walks into a scene his face is so powerful that it intimidates the viewer. He could be accused of over-acting, but this is because we live in an age when under-acting has become the norm. What I mean is that he was born in the wrong age. He belongs in the time of the silent movies, when actors used their facial expressions to tell the viewer what they were thinking. Klaus Kinski is probably the last true master of this art.

The film is based on a novel by Bruce Chatwin, "The Viceroy of Ouidah". It's about the rise and fall of Francisco Manoel da Silva. As a young man in Brazil he becomes the country's most feared bandit, known as Cobra Verde (the green snake). He is known for walking barefoot rather than riding a horse. When he walks into a town everyone flees. As successful as he is as a bandit, he feels the need to find a new life. When he's told that he can find God in the west, he walks east. He is hired to oversee the slaves on a large sugar plantation, but he falls into disgrace when he gets all three of the owner's daughters pregnant.

Rather than kill him, the owner arranges for Francisco to be sent on what he considers a suicide mission. He is sent to West Africa to acquire new slaves from the Kingdom of Dahomey, where the mad king has killed all the previous slave traders. Francisco fearlessly wades to the shore alone, refusing to be accompanied by soldiers, and takes an abandoned castle as his residence. He trains the local women to fight, and he overthrows the king with an army of bare-breasted warrior women. He lives in luxury until 1888, the year when Brazil abolishes slavery. Without being able to trade slaves he has no more income, and he's declared a criminal by many countries.

The film is visually beautiful, but has a depressing atmosphere throughout. The soundtrack is by Florian Fricke, who also wrote the music for other films directed by Werner Herzog.

Is the Devil white? Yes. And he looks like Klaus Kinski.

Klaus Kinski
18 October 1926 – 23 November 1991

Sunday, 13 July 2014

R.I.P. Tommy Ramone

Yesterday Tommy Ramone, born as Erdelyi Tamas in Budapest, died at the age of 62. He was the last surviving member of the original line-up of the Ramones. To me he was more important than the other members for an important reason. I absolutely loved the Ramones' first album. And their second. And their third. When I heard their fourth album, "Road to Ruin", I was disappointed. It was good, but it wasn't great. The magic had gone. When I checked to see what had gone wrong I saw immediately that Tommy had left the band. Even though he was only the drummer, his departure negatively affected the band. So for me, Tommy was always the person who made the Ramones great. Sure, their later albums had a few good songs on them, but they were never masterpieces like the first three.

I still remember where I was when I first heard the Ramones. I walked into a record shop in Berlin-Charlottenburg and heard "Blitzkrieg Bop" being played. It was like nothing I'd ever heard before, so I went up to the counter and asked what it was. This was the beginning of a passion I've had for the Ramones that's lasted over 30 years. A passion for the Ramones with Tommy on drums, that is. That was the real Ramones.

Tommy Ramone
January 29, 1949 – July 11, 2014

I've been busy today, but tomorrow I'll sit and listen all three of the Ramones' studio albums that feature Tommy. I'll also listen to "It's Alive", a live album released a few years later featuring the band's original line-up. This is, in my opinion, the best live album made by any band ever. Rest in peace, Tommy.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (4 Stars)

This was the seventh film at the 2014 Brindley Place Film Festival. Yes, I know that I missed the sixth film. I shall also miss the last two of the nine films.

Here are links to my posts about this year's film festival.

It was glorious weather today, probably the sunniest day all week. This had the negative side effect that the sun's glare in Brindley Place made it difficult to make out the details in the film's darker scenes.

This is the second film in the Indiana Jones series, made three years after the first part, but it takes part before the first film. Technically it isn't a prequel, because the film's events play no part in introducing what happens in the first film. It's a totally unrelated story which could just as well have taken part after the first film.

The story opens in 1935 in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Indiana Jones has to flee from a gang boss after a trade goes wrong, and his plane crashes in the Himalayas. When he arrives he's told by the villagers that his coming was foretold, and they send him on a mission to retrieve the village's stolen holy stone. This leads to a confrontation with a cult of Kali worshippers who are in the process of collecting five stones with which they can conquer the world.

I enjoyed this film, which I saw today for the first time, a lot more than "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark", which was shown at last year's film festival. Maybe the reason is that it's more of a typical Steven Spielberg film. George Lucas has kept his fingers out, apart from writing the story for the film. After watching it today I feel the need to see it again, so that I can enjoy it without the distraction of bright sunlight.

Here's a little quiz for my fans. How many of you can spot your favourite film fan, Dansator, in the crowd? I'll give you a clue. I'm the only person wearing orange. (Click on the picture to enlarge it).

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Ghost (4 Stars)

This was the fifth film at the 2014 Brindley Place Film Festival. For the first time, disaster struck. After 45 minutes the screen went blank, and we were informed that a cable had burnt through. We had to wait slightly longer than half an hour for repairs. That gave us a chance to buy extra food and drinks.

"Ghost" is a weepy film with doubtful theological content, but it's enjoyable to anyone wishing to suspend his disbelief. Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) and Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) share an apartment in New York. One night after a visit to the theatre they are mugged in an alleyway and Sam is fatally shot. As a ghost he looks down on his dead body and his grieving lover. For a while he follows Molly around, not knowing what else to do. Then he finds out that it wasn't a random mugging; the murderer had been hired by his work colleague to prevent him exposing illegal money transactions. Molly is also a target, so he wants to protect her, even though he has no way of communicating with her. Finally he finds a psychic, played by Whoopi Goldberg, who can act as a go-between... provided Molly can be convinced that she isn't a fake.

It's an enjoyable film, but nothing that I could watch frequently. The last time I saw it was about 10 years ago. I'll wait another 10 years before watching it again.