Saturday, 25 November 2017

Embrace of the Vampire (4 Stars)

"You think that love is a cherished gift, but you're wrong. It's a blight and a curse".

This is the first time I've watched this film for five years. Too long. It might not be my favourite vampire film, but I consider it to be the most erotic vampire film ever made.

I became aware of something for the first time while watching the film today. Despite the strange changes in vampire mythology, "Embrace of the Vampire" has more of the feeling of Anne Rice's vampire novels than any other vampire films, including the ones directly based on her books. Look at what we have. It's an ancient vampire, aloof and brooding. He's longing for something he can't have. He's evil, nothing like the well-behaved Cullen vampires, but his sadness makes us feel sympathy for him.

The 17-year-old virgin Charlotte, educated by nuns, is torn between her boyfriend Chris and the unnamed vampire. Why? Isn't it an easy choice? A few years with a man who'll get fat and lose his hair, or an eternity with an ageless vampire?

This film kick-started Alyssa Milano's supernatural career. Three years later she was hired to play Phoebe Halliwell, one of the lead characters in the long-running TV series "Charmed".

I'm still playing around with Media Player Classic, which I discovered a few days ago. See the post that I made yesterday. I watched the film on my computer, partly with VLC and partly with MPC. In some parts of the film, especially at the beginning, the picture quality was better quality with MPC. In scenes where there was no movement the picture seemed to be dithering with VLC. I've made two snapshots to show the difference.

Snapshot using MPC
Snapshot using VLC

You'll get a better impression if you look at the uncompressed pictures in their full resolution by clicking on the pictures shown above. The dithering in the VLC version is obvious if you look at Alyssa's hair on the front of her head. That's ugly. But there's something else that you'll only notice in the uncompressed versions. VLC has stretched the picture, which is probably the reason for the dithering. It doesn't do this when I watch normal videos, whether it's videos that I download from the Internet or the high resolution rips that I've made from Blu-ray films. It looks like it's a problem with DVD playback.

Also, doesn't VLC make Alyssa's complexion look paler? This might also be a result of the stretching.

I'll check this problem further the next time I watch a film on DVD.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Sorceress (4½ Stars)

I watched this film two months ago, but I didn't put the Blu-ray disc back in my bookcase when I'd finished with it. I left it on my table because I wanted to listen to the director's commentary. It took me two months. but I've finally got round to it. It's a highly enjoyable commentary track. Jim Wynorski is entertaining and informative, the two qualities that are essential.

I'll just point out a few details from the commentary that interested me the most. I strongly recommend that my readers buy the Blu-ray and listen to it for themselves. You won't regret it.

Jim Wynorski had a budget of $350,000 for the film. That might not sound like much, but it was a lot of money for a low-budget director like Jim. He hired Fred Olen Ray as producer, and together they stretched the money as far as it would go.

The house used in the film belonged to six real witches in Los Angeles; six lesbian witches who were happy to let their house be used. It was full of appropriate paintings and artefacts for the film, so no additional props were needed. The witches supposedly laughed at the film, they said that it was an inaccurate portrayal of witchcraft, but Jim gave them a copy of the film on VHS when it was finished. He would give them a copy of the Blu-ray today, but he's forgotten where the house was. He only knows it was number 1938, because the house number is in one of the shots. Does anyone recognise it?

All the other buildings used were offered as locations by friends and colleagues.

There were no costumes made for the film. The actors brought their own clothes from home.

The biggest expense was the hiring of a police car.

The beer that the actors drank in the film was free, on condition that the labels were showing. That's a good deal. Does anyone want to give me free beer in exchange for me publishing photos of me drinking it in my blog?

The film's success is down to the high quality actors. Here's a scene with Linda Blair and Michael Parks. He's incredible. The more often I see him, the more I understand why Quentin Tarantino called him the world's best actor. What I didn't know before listening to the director's commentary is that he was a method actor. In the film he plays a confused character, and that's how he spoke to his fellow actors between scenes. Supposedly Linda Blair was unnerved by him.

I find the film's shower scene very stylish, even though it doesn't reveal much. It was kind of the lesbian witches to let the actresses use their shower.

Have you ever seen a knife killer having so much fun? Rochelle Swanson is a fantastic actress. My screenshot captures her at the moment of ecstasy. And speaking of screenshots.....

I watched the film on my computer today, so I'd like to make a few comments about the software I used. For years I used the VLC media player to watch DVDs on my computer. It's far superior to the Windows Media Player, and it's free. Unfortunately, it isn't able to play Blu-ray discs. Last year I began to use Cyberlink Power DVD. It's a commercial player that costs about $50, but it was bundled with the new Blu-ray drive I bought for my computer, so I got it for free. It's an attractive piece of software, but it's buggy. The screenshot button doesn't work when playing Blu-ray discs. That makes the software worthless for me.

I tried a few other free programs, but they were all defective in one way or another. Evidently it's more difficult to write software for Blu-ray discs than for DVDs. The only way I could make screenshots was to rip the film in full resolution to disc, then make screenshots of the resulting MP4 with VLC. Now I finally have a solution. A few days ago I discovered a program called Media Player Classic Home Cinema, shortened to MPC-HC. It's a completely free open source program. It's a simple program, lacking the features of VLC, but it plays Blu-ray discs and it allows screenshots. That's all I need. It's the program I'll be using from now on. Click here to download the newest version.

Evil Toons (4½ Stars)

Everyone hates being woken up early in the morning. So do I. But there are rare occasions when it's acceptable. One of them is when the postman is delivering something marvellous. Look what he brought me today. The 25th anniversary edition of "Evil Toons", remastered for Blu-ray, personally signed by Fred Olen Ray. For something like this he could have knocked on my bedroom door and dragged me out of bed naked.

"Evil Toons" was filmed in eight days in late 1991 and tells a true story, featuring the people who took part in the incidents. How do I know it's true? It's because Fred Olen Ray tells us it's all true, and we know he would never lie to us.

Four college girls are hired to clean a house before it's sold. It's a large house that's been empty for years, so they have to stay in the house all weekend. Whatever pays the bills. On the first evening a mysterious man in a long cloak delivers an old book written in Latin. Just like college girls anywhere in the world, they do what comes naturally. They open it and read one of the pages out loud. This summons a demon who's been trapped in the pages of the book. The demon possesses the body of one of the girls, Roxanne, and she goes on a killing spree.

"This looks like an interesting book, girls. What should we do?"

"I know! Let's read it together. What's the worst that could happen?"

"I will kill you all! I will devour your souls! The streets will run with blood!"

As you can see, it's not recommendable to read old books written in Latin, or any other old language that you don't understand. Since this is all a true story, it means that the Earth had a narrow escape in 1991. If you're reading my blog now you know that you're alive and safe. How did the girls manage to defeat the demon? It's not a secret. If you hurry you can still get a copy of the story on Blu-ray, limited to 1000 copies, all signed personally by Fred Olen Ray. If you wait too long you'll have to make do with the DVD release. It tells the same true story, but it doesn't look as good. That's a shame. An important story about the world being saved needs to be watched in the best possible quality.

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Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Mad Monk (3 Stars)

A tale of Gods and demons. This is a film made in Hong Kong in 1993. I suspect that I would have understood it better if I were more knowledgeable about Chinese mythology. I couldn't distinguish which characters in the film are based on Chinese legends and which were added for comic effect.

In Heaven the Gods complain to the Jade Emperor about the poor conduct of Dragon Fighter Lohan, a lower ranking God. They say that he's unworthy of having reached Nirvana and want him to be sent back to Earth to be reincarnated as an animal. The Goddess of Mercy intervenes and sets Lohan a task to prove his worthiness. He is to be sent to Earth as a human, with the full knowledge of his Godhood but none of his divine powers. Within three days he must change the lives of three people, a beggar, a prostitute and a villain. All three are destined to remain in their current positions for their next nine lives, but he must rehabilitate them so that they can be reborn in a higher state.

As if that task isn't difficult in itself, Lohan discovers that the villain has pledged his service to the evil God Heh Lo Sha, who wants to walk the Earth and prevent anyone being reincarnated ever again.

The film confused me from beginning to end. The comedy is on the level of slapstick, but there are serious messages behind it. Parts of the film are visually disgusting, such as the beggar having a body that's covered with contagious boils. Nasty.

I can't imagine that I'll watch this film again. Maybe if a Chinese friend wants to sit with me and give me a running commentary of what's happening I'll reconsider.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Cape Fear (1991 Version) (5 Stars)

Let's get into the old argument about remakes again. When I was a teenager the original version of "Cape Fear", made in 1962, was my favourite film. I found it so terrifying, much more than the so-called horror films that I used to watch on Friday evening with my mother. I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy the Hammer Dracula and Frankenstein films, but they were more camp than horror. "Cape Fear", on the other hand, sent shivers down my spine.

Then it was remade in 1991. I missed it at the time. I wasn't much of a film fan back then. Times change. I heard about the remake a few years later, and I groaned. How could such a brilliant film be remade? I didn't bother renting it on video. I just wasn't interested. Then I finally saw it by accident on television. What I mean is, the TV guide said that "Cape Fear" would be shown, so I sat down to watch it, thinking it would be the original version. It wasn't. I overcame my initial disappointment and didn't turn it off. And as it carried on I thought to myself, "Hey! This is good after all!"

Max Cady is a criminal who has spent 14 years in prison after raping a young woman. He holds his defence lawyer, Sam Bowden, responsible for his imprisonment, because he didn't defend him adequately. Now Max wants to make Sam suffer by raping his wife and daughter before his eyes.

"Cape Fear" is a good example of how a good film can be remade even better. The basic story is the same, but there's more of a psychological terror aspect to the remake. Max Cady uses his wiles to infiltrate the family. He attempts, successfully at first, to persuade the lawyer's daughter to like him. There's less of a good-vs-evil story in the remake. Sam Bowden is shown to be a man with vices, something which is only hinted at in the original. The religious aspect is more pronounced in the remake. We see Max Cady speaking in tongues.

The strength of the remake is also in the actors. Robert De Niro puts on the best performance of his lifetime as Max Cady. When I watch him I really hate him, and I mean that as a compliment. Not many actors could make me feel so emotional about the character they play. Juliette Lewis is also outstanding as Sam Bowden's daughter Danny, who is a more important character in the remake than in the original.

The film is directed by Martin Scorsese. I know he's a famous director, but there are very few films of his that I enjoy. This is his best film, in my opinion, followed by "Hugo" and "The Aviator". Maybe I'm biased concerning the latter two films, because I've always liked films about films.

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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Happy Death Day (4 Stars)

I watched this film in the cinema today. "Happy Death Day" is the original English title, but in Germany it's shortened to two words as "Happy Deathday". I consider that an improvement.

Theresa Gelbman, nicknamed Tree, is a university student. On her birthday she wakes up in the bed of Carter, a male student she's never met before. The day is uneventful, but in the evening she's followed by a man in a mask who stabs her to death.

The end? No. She wakes up in Carter's bedroom. It's the morning of her birthday again. The events happen exactly the same way, but in the evening she avoids the place where she was stabbed. That's no help. The masked man finds her in the new place, and she's killed again. And the day starts again.

Tree tries again and again to live through the day without dying, but whatever she does and wherever she goes she's killed. Tree is convinced that if she manages to avoid being killed she will escape the time loop and move on to the next day.

Does the film remind you of "Groundhog Day"? Of course it does, and the film itself admits the connection. When Tree tells Carter what's happening to her he replies, "That sounds just like a film called Groundhog Day with Bill Murray". I don't think that "Happy Death Day" has the same spiritual depth as "Groundhog Day", but it's just as much fun to watch.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Off-Topic: My Last Secret

I often tell my friends that I have no secrets. I tell them that my life is an open book. In fact, I've been accused on more than one occasion that I talk about my openness too often, as if I'm obsessed with it. Maybe that's true. I live in a world where secrets and lies are the norm, so I'm proud that I'm different.

A few months ago one of my Facebook friends asked people to post what their biggest regret was. That's when it hit me. My biggest regret is something that I've never told anyone, not even my wife. (I met my wife about a year after it happened). It's something that still weighs on my conscience after all this time. Keeping something big like this makes me a liar when I claim to be open. Now it's my time to confess. I hope that thousands of people will read this, whether they're my friends or strangers.

When I was 24 I frequently dated older women, aged 35 to 40. There was no particular reason for it, I just did. For a few months I was working late hours in a big company. It wasn't shift work as such. I had to reboot the office computers repeatedly while I was installing software, so I had to wait until the office workers had gone home. I used to chat with one of the cleaning ladies. She was an intelligent lady, easily capable of doing a better job, but for personal reasons she didn't want to work more than two hours a day, so cleaning was her only opportunity.

Our talks became more and more personal. I told her about my life, she told me about hers. She had two teenage sons, 15 and 13. The younger son was disabled. He had a calcium deficiency, which led to a string of other problems, both physical and mental. She told me that her marriage was in a rut. There was no love left in the marriage, but they tolerated one another and stayed together for the sake of the children.

Then it happened. One evening we had sex. It was embarrassing. It was just a quick roll on the office floor. There was no romance involved, it was just sex.

Or so I thought. Afterwards she told me that it was the best sex she'd had for years. She said it was the first time in ages that she'd had sex with someone she truly loved. She loved me? That was a shock, but I thought I'd go along with it. We arranged to meet the next day, Saturday, for our first date.

We met in the city centre. As soon as I saw her my heart sank. I knew immediately I'd done something wrong. At work she dressed like a normal 40-year-old, in simple but appealing clothing. When she arrived for her date she was dressed in bright colours, tight fitting clothing, trying to look like a teenager. I found her appearance repulsive. Maybe I should be glad for the way she dressed. After a few hours together I told her I didn't think it would work between us. There was a small scene. "Is it because I'm too old?" No, it wasn't her fault at all. It was because I was too immature. I should have known better.

Luckily there were no scenes when we met again at work. We still spoke to one another, but we remained cool. She was obviously suffering.

A week later she told me her husband had left her. She hadn't told anyone about her "affair", but she said she'd been crying at home and everyone knew something was wrong. Her husband threatened to leave if she didn't tell him what was wrong. She didn't tell him. He left.

I have never forgiven myself for breaking up this family. Please don't tell me it would have happened anyway. That's just rationalisation. I am guilty of a great crime, so terrible that I've kept it secret for more than 30 years. The only good that's come from it is that I've learnt my lesson. Since that date I have never slept with a married woman.

Confessing my sin publicly is therapeutic. I hope that shouting it out to the world will lift the dark shadow from my soul.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Escapees (4 Stars)

This is one of the few Jean Rollin that I hadn't yet seen. It reveals a different side of his creative genius. It isn't a horror film, it's a thriller. It's not a fast-paced thriller, of course. Nothing is ever fast-paced in his films. Interestingly, Jean Rollin considered the film a failure and never released it. He stored the tapes for 20 years and practically forgot about it. Then a television company approached him and offered him payment for the rights to 15 films. He thought he only had 14 films, but then he remembered "The Escapees" and gave it to them with his others. Then he received praise for the film, and he didn't know why, so he had to watch it again to remind himself what it was about.

Wow! He forgot this beautiful film?

The film is about two girls in a mental hospital, Michelle and Marie. We don't know how exactly old they are, we're only told that they're under 18. Michelle thinks she's not sick enough to be in the hospital, while Marie knows she's ill. Nevertheless, they run away together.

The girls meet the performers of a small carnival show at the roadside. Maurice is the owner, and he puts on open air shows with two exotic dancers from Africa. The fourth member of the show is Sophie, a pickpocket who mingles with the audience and robs men while she dances with them. Michelle and Marie are hired to serve drinks, so they travel with them from town to town.

While performing in a coastal town the police raid the show and arrest Maurice and the dancers. Sophie, Michelle and Marie escape together and take refuge in a small bar. They plan to stow away in a ship headed for the Leeward Islands. (Yes, I had to google that as well. They're a French colony halfway between Australia and South America). But the bar's owner is a fortune teller, and when she reads their future she's too terrified to tell them what will happen.

Despite the obvious differences, this is very much a Jean Rollin film. We have the beautiful women and the surreal atmosphere. There are also scenes which are totally unreal, and yet they fit perfectly into the film. For instance, when the police arrive to arrest Michelle, she walks out of the house carrying Marie's dead body. The police don't stop her, they just step back and let her pass. They don't even follow her. That could never happen in the real world, but it's typical in the psychedelic dreamscape of Jean Rollin. Stunning!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (2017 Version) (4 Stars)

Today I went to see the new version of "Murder on the Orient Express" in the cinema, as I announced yesterday when I reviewed the original version. The new version turned out pretty much as I expected. It looks superior to the original in its cinematography, while the story is almost the same. The new version is so similar that I have to ask what the point was in remaking the film. But I suppose that's a rhetorical question. It's all about money.

One of the few changes is that two characters in the original film have been combined into one. The Scottish soldier (Colonel Arbuthnot) and the Greek doctor (Dr. Constantine) have been merged into a Black American doctor, Dr. Arbuthnot. I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere.

The original is a pure mystery film. The new version adds a few elements of action. I can't name all the additions because that would mean giving away spoilers. One example is that in the original the train has to halt because the rails have been covered by snow in an avalanche. In the new version the train drives into the snow and the engine is derailed. There's a new chase scene when one of the suspects attempts to leave the train. Do today's audiences need more action to be able to sit through a film? I suppose they do.

One slight change that I regret in the new version is the lack of claustrophobia. In the original all the interviews by Hercule Poirot were held inside the train. In the new version he spends more time outside the train.

My summary is simple: the new film is quite good, but unnecessary from an artistic point of view.

My Big Night (5 Stars)

Happy New Year!

What can you expect when you watch a film directed by Alex de la Iglesia? The answer is simple: anything is possible. If you sit down to watch one of his films with fixed expectations you'll be surprised, maybe even shocked. The trailer for this film is enough to scare away the most hardened of film fans. It's a variety show for New Year 2016 that makes the Eurovision Song Contest look like high culture in comparison.

But as I said, you never know what to expect from Alex de la Iglesia. The seeming shallowness of the New Year's party, which is actually being filmed in October, is merely the backdrop for conspiracies, corruption and a bizarre love story between two people who have a fetish for scars. As they aptly say, "Tattoos are fake. They're who you want to be. Scars are who you really are". It's difficult to argue with that.

Oscar's body is covered with tattoos, making him something he isn't. They proclaim him as a fan of the singer Alphonso, but he's come to the party to kill the man whose music he loves so much.

But love is real, isn't it? The lesbian sound engineers exchange passionate kisses and a quick fumble while the riot police are fighting with the demonstrators outside.

Do you know what the film's about now? No? That's okay, just watch it. The good news is that the original Spanish Blu-ray release has English subtitles.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (1974 version) (4 Stars)

Tomorrow I'm going to see the new version of "Murder on the Orient Express" in the cinema, so I thought it would be appropriate for me to watch the 1974 version first to help me make a direct comparison. I shan't say much about the plot, because I assume it's the same as the new film, and I don't want to give away any spoilers.

However, I have to ask how anyone could not already know the 1974 film. It used to be regularly shown on television, and I've seen it several times, often enough to remember the plot.

Like the new film, "Murder on the Orient Express" had an ensemble cast. It had a good selection of the biggest actors of the 1970's, just as the new film has some of the biggest actors of the 2010's.

I expect the new film to be more luxuriously set and have better cinematography than the original, but will it be a better film? I don't know. I'll leave that decision to Mark Kermode and his fellow critics. The original film received six Academy Award nominations and won one, Ingrid Bergman as best supporting actress. Let's wait and see what happens this time round.

Hercule Poirot, who was only on the train when the murder was committed by chance, was a magnificent detective. Why couldn't he have been staying in Praia da Luz on 3rd May 2007, the night when Madeleine McCann went missing? If he had interviewed the McCanns and the Tapas Seven he would have uncovered the murderer before sunrise. Where are the great detectives when we need them?

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The Bar (5 Stars)

I was lucky enough to see this film in the cinema six months ago. Germany is very civilised, as far as films go. Since moving to Germany I've seen two of Alex de la Iglesia's films in the cinema. None of his films are ever shown in English cinemas. Not one. I don't understand that. Don't the film distributors in England consider the public intelligent enough to appreciate such brilliant films?

"The Bar" begins as a mystery. Eight people are in a bar on a busy street in Madrid. One goes out and is shot by a hidden sniper. Within minutes the street is deserted. A second man goes out to check the body, and he too is shot. For the first half hour the six remaining customers and the two members of staff speculate about what's happening.

Once the mystery is solved -- no spoilers here! -- the occupants of the bar realise that they are all in danger, Instead of working together to escape they turn on one another.

The film's strength isn't in the plot, which is fairly simple. It's all about the character development. Every person in the bar is described vividly. I'm certain that everyone who watches the film will recognise himself in one of the characters.

I can't begin to describe how good the film is. Alex de la Igelsia has been one of my favourite directors for years, but this is yet another pinnacle of brilliance. If you've never watched a Spanish film this is a good place to start.

If you're wondering how to lay your hands on this film, the original Spanish release, available at, has English subtitles. The Blu-ray is also listed at

Thursday, 16 November 2017

New Fist of Fury (5 Stars)

Do you recognise the face in the picture? A very famous martial arts star? Come on, think about it. When you're told the answer it's obvious. Here's another photo that might help.

Have you got it yet? It's Jackie Chan. Wasn't he a cute boy back in 1976? This was his breakthrough film, his first leading role after playing minor roles in more than 30 films. Don't forget, he was only eight years old when he began his acting career.

This is a sequel to "Fist of Fury", in which Bruce Lee played the part of Chen Zhen, a mythical Chinese hero who fought against the Japanese while they were occupying China. Chen Zhen died at the end of "Fist of Fury", and the Chinese need a new hero. Ah Loong, played by Jackie Chan, steps into his shoes. We also meet Chen Zhen's father and sister.

The first film took place in Shanghai, but the sequel takes place in Taiwan. The Jingwu school has relocated. There are several fighting schools on the island, different styles of martial arts, but the Japanese insist that all the schools must unite into one. Most of the schools resist this demand, saying that the uniqueness of their individual styles makes an amalgamation impossible. Okimura, the leader of the Japanese fighting school -- I assume it's karate -- says that if anyone can defeat the top fighters from his school he will allow the Chinese schools to continue to exist separately.

The best Japanese fighter is Okimura's daughter, whose name isn't stated in the film. Hardly surprisingly, she's played by a Chinese actress, Cheng Siu-Siu. All the Japanese characters are played by Chinese actors. In 1976 no Japanese actor would have appeared in such an overtly anti-Japanese propaganda film. What's strange is that this was Cheng's only film. She shows amazing acting and fighting skills, so I'm curious what went wrong with her career.

The original film was 115 minutes long. In 1980 it was re-released in a shortened version, only 79 minutes long. Unfortunately I watched the shortened version today. From the little I've read it seems that the 36 minutes that were removed were parts in which Jackie Chan didn't take part. The film was streamlined to showcase him better.

Despite the shortening, I loved the film. While I was at university (1974 to 1978) I watched a lot of Chinese films. They had a gritty, unpolished edge to them. This was the case with Bruce Lee's first two films, "The Big Boss" and "Fist of Fury", and also with the many films whose names I have long forgotten. This style is so amazing that I would like to watch more classic kung fu films from the 1970's. Can anyone make me recommendations?

This film was the beginning of the push to promote Jackie Chan as the new Bruce Lee. I heard about it at the time. I saw a few Jackie Chan films in the 1970's, and I remember saying to myself at the time "That guy's good, but he's no Bruce Lee". I'm glad that this silly promotional campaign was soon forgotten, allowing Jackie to be himself with his own personal style.

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (3½ Stars)

This is the fourth film in the Indiana Jones series, made with a long gap after the third film. 19 years! Was it necessary to revive the film franchise? That depends on who you ask. It was money in the bank for the film studios. I suspect that there were letters and emails being sent for years begging Steven Spielberg to do it again.

Does it still have the magic of the old films? Sort of. Steven Spielberg has never made a bad film. In my eyes he's the most reliable film director who has ever lived. He knows how to make films, he follows the required steps and he makes a quality film every time. However, he never takes risks. By avoiding risks he doesn't make the truly great films like Quentin Tarantino, but if he took risks he might make the occasional bad film. We need a Steven Spielberg who's consistently good. We also need the risk-takers who occasionally create works of brilliance.

As for "Crystal Skull" itself (I prefer to abbreviate the film title), it's a fun adventure. Harrison Ford travels round the world -- this time to South America -- to prevent mystical archaeological artefacts from falling into the hands of evil empires. In the previous three films the enemies were the Nazis. In "Crystal Skull" the enemies are the Russians. When the film was made there were criticisms from Russia that Russia was demonised, as if all Russians were evil. So what? The film is set in 1957, at the height of the Cold War, and Russia was generally regarded as the world's Evil Empire.

The main representative of the Evil Empire is Irina Spalko, played admirably by Cate Blanchett. She's dressed in an unflattering grey suit, more typical of Chinese Communism than Russian Communism, but the very unsexiness of her outfit makes it bizarrely appealing. She's a caricature, much like the villains of the early James Bond films. All that's missing is a ridiculous name, but Steven Spielberg doesn't do that. That's a shame. She could have been called Irina Spankyu.

An unusual aspect in this film is that instead of dealing with only mystical artefacts there are aliens involved, making this the first Indiana Jones science fiction film. The crystal skull in the title is the real skull of a visitor from another planet.

I've decided to give the film a relatively low rating because of my personal reaction to the film. It ticked all the boxes, I couldn't find any fault with it, but while watching it I found myself getting bored. I'm used to the Spielberg style, so it seemed too smooth and too predictable to me. I doubt I'll watch it again. Maybe, maybe not.

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