Saturday, 23 September 2017

Sketch of the Week

Here's a little picture I drew when I was bored. I hope you like it.

Bullet Ballet (3 Stars)

When the world was woken,
Save all unknowing eyes,
And thoughts that once were spoken
Left only to despise,
And when the dawn is breaking,
Look upward to the sky,
If life is so hard to live
Why not die?

Friday, 22 September 2017

Run Lola Run (5 Stars)

This film is generally considered to be the best film ever made in Germany, based on polls held in magazines. A more cynical opinion is that most Germans don't understand it, so they say they like it because they're afraid people will think they're stupid if they don't.

Is the film difficult to understand? On the surface it isn't. I can describe it in one sentence:

"Run Lola Run shows how minor decisions can have wide-reaching consequences for oneself and others".

I could end my review there. That's the only explanation anybody needs who's puzzled by the film. However, there are other themes that run through the film.

One is the concept of parallel universes. I don't know what exactly influenced Tom Tykwer, the director, but I see strong parallels with the stories of Kang the Conqueror in "The Avengers", particularly in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Parallel universes are an integral part of Marvel's comic book mythology, but Kang was more responsible for the creation of parallel universes than anyone else because he frequently travelled back from his home in the future to battle the Avengers. We see an affinity between Lola and her parallel selves, for instance in Lola's second universe she knows how to take the safety catch off a gun, something she learnt in her first universe.

Who is the blind woman? She's someone able to see more than others. She sees the results of minor decisions and intervenes to shape the future.

There's also the influence of God. In Lola's first universe she runs between the nuns, but they ignore her. The the second universe the nuns make room for her and stare at her as she runs between them. In the third universe Lola asks God for help, so the nuns block her path and force her to run into the middle of the road. So, possibly, it's not only our own decisions that shape the future but also God's decisions, based on our requests.

Is there a balance between the parallel universes? In each universe someone lives and someone dies. Is this a coincidence or the way that Tom Tykwer sees fate balancing the universes so that they don't diverge too much?

The biggest problem is that even if we know that our smallest decisions affect the whole world we can't act accordingly. If we knew that good deeds would lead to good results we could lead good lives to make everyone happier. That's not the case, at least not in the way cause and effect are portrayed in the film. Our decisions have effects that are seemingly random from our point of view. If Lola robs a bank the cashier will hook up with a colleague for sado-masochistic games. If Lola doesn't rob the bank the cashier will have a car accident that cripples her. So what's right and what's wrong?

I'm glad I watched "Run Lola Run" today. It's reminded me that it needs a high position when I publish my list of my 50 favourite films.

Order from
Order from
Order from

Sleeping Beauties (5 Stars)

I'm happy to say that this is the best film I've seen by Dean McKendrick so far. This is the 19th film he's made for Retromedia since 2013, and it's his second erotic fairytale. I really need to do a marathon of his films. Maybe next year.

The film is about a noblewoman somewhere in Europe called Beauty who is engaged to marry Prince William. Beauty is a good name for the actress Sarah Hunter. A spell is cast on her by her jealous best friend Margaret. She pricks her finger on an enchanted rose thorn and falls asleep, supposedly for all eternity. However, 400 years later the castle where she lived is being renovated to be used as a hotel and her body is discovered. Harry, the building constructor, kisses her, and she comes back to life. Harry takes her back to America and lets her stay in his house. By a strange coincidence Harry's wife Peggy looks identical to Margaret. This could have been developed, such as Margaret returning from the grave to further torment Beauty, but the supernatural possibilities are ignored. From this point on the story is only about the rivalry between Harry and his colleague Richard.

I consider this the most sexually arousing film made by Dean McKendrick. The first two sex scenes are the best, the first between Harry and Beauty, the second a bath tub scene between Peggy and Beauty, but the overall standard of the sex scenes is outstanding. As in all of Dean McKendrick's recent films there's a shower scene, but this time the view is partially obscured by being filmed from outside. There have been some complaints from other reviewers who don't like shower scenes, but I find them a highlight of Dean's films.

William Bryant, who plays Harry, amazes me. In his first film for Retromedia, "Cinderella's Hot Night", his acting was dull and lifeless, but in "Sleeping Beauties" he's excellent. Maybe he needed time to warm up, maybe he spent more time practising his lines this time round. Whatever the reason is, he's like a new person.

Andy Long, one of the Retromedia regulars, returns. He always puts on a solid acting performance, and this time he shows he can play a bad guy. To top it off, the awesome Ted Newsom returns as Harry's boss, Mr. Logan. He plays the role straight, but it's difficult not to smile when I see him. He has one of those faces.

Incidentally, where in Europe does Beauty come from? Margaret talks with her about a war against Saxony, suggesting it's in central Europe. Then we see this scene in the town where Harry is working.

The red telephone box immediately identifies the location as England. It's actually the seaside village of Mousehole, at the intersection of Fore Street and North Cliff. I wonder whether this is stock footage or the location of Dean McKendrick's last holiday. If he hasn't been there yet I can strongly recommend it as a place for a relaxing vacation.

But then we see this town scene, immediately recognisable as Prague. That's also a beautiful place for a vacation, though somewhat busier than Mousehole.

Then we see Prince William's castle. This is the only scene I didn't recognise, so I had to search for the castle online. It's a castle just outside Segovia in Spain.

There's one small detail I'd like to correct in the film. Harry is shown reading a 200-year-old book, and he says that he has problems understanding the old English. It shouldn't be a problem for him. The English language has hardly changed for the last 450 years, apart from adding new words. There are only a few words no longer in use, such as "anon", but most people are acquainted with these from watching Shakespeare's plays.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Shanghai Knights (5 Stars)

It's my birthday today, so what should I do? Go out for a meal? Spend the evening in a romantic nightclub? Anyone who thinks I would do these things doesn't know me well enough. There's only one thing I can do to make a good day perfect: I must watch a film!

Since it's my birthday it has to be a good film. I can't take a risk with something I've never watched before. This makes "Shanghai Knights" the ideal choice. I've watched it a few times before, the last time only 18 months ago, but today it hit me just how wonderful it is. It contains Jackie Chan's best comedic fight scenes. He wins all of his fights except one. A pillow fight against sexy girls in a hotel room? Poor Jackie doesn't stand a chance, not even with Owen Wilson at his side. It was an unfair fight, 13 against 2, but the numbers don't matter. One girl could have overcome Owen and Jackie.

"Can you handle us, Jackie?"
This is a globe-trotting adventure, beginning in China and continuing in America, after which the bulk of the story takes place in London.

The film is full of amusing anachronisms, much like an episode of "Xena Warrior Princess", but it still manages to give a realistic picture of life in England in the late 19th Century. We see the contrast between the rich nobility and the poor commoners, the appearance of the first motor vehicles and the terror of Jack the Ripper. This is screenwriting at its best from Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who are best known as the creators and executive producers of the "Smallville" TV series.

A sequel called "Shanghai Dawn" was planned immediately after "Shanghai Knights", but due to Jackie Chan's busy schedule it was never made. Now, after the project has been simmering for 12 years, it looks as if it will finally be made. Let's see if Jackie still has his magic as the Buster Keaton of Kung Fu.

Order from
Order from
Order from

Blade Runner (3 Stars)

After 35 years a sequel to "Blade Runner" has finally been made. It's planned to be released in the cinemas next month. That's a good enough excuse for me to rewatch the original film for the first time in 20 years.

I only vaguely remembered the film, more the images than the plot. I saw it on television and had no wish to buy it on DVD, which is a sign that I didn't enjoy it much, but I could no longer remember why. I know that many people consider it to be the greatest science fiction film ever made, so I thought it would be worth investing a few Euros in the Blu-ray edition of the Final Cut. This was first released in 2007, so it's not the version that I previously saw, but I assume that this is the best version, since the director Ridley Scott was personally involved in the re-editing.

In the far distant future -- 2019 !!! -- the colonisation of other planets has begun. Artificial humans, called replicants, have been sent to these planets to make them habitable before humans arrive, and to act as slave labour when humans arrive. The replicants are identical to humans in all ways, except for greater intelligence and physical strength, and a complete lack of emotion. They're created as fully developed adults. The artificial intelligence of the replicants sometimes results in a development of emotions, so they've been built with a four year life span. It's illegal for replicants to visit the Earth.

Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, an ex-policeman whose job was to hunt down replicants on Earth who are either fleeing slavery or trying to find ways to extend their lives. The arrival of four extremely dangerous replicants causes his former boss to beg him to take up his job again.

After watching it again, I can see why it didn't appeal to me. The special effects, especially the futuristic views of Los Angeles, look cheap. The project was too adventurous for the technical possibilities of 1982. I can see that "Blade Runner" influenced "The Fifth Element", which succeeded visually due to the superior computer graphics available in 1997.

I don't like the fact that the whole film takes place at night. There's no justification for this in the plot itself.

The story is far too slow and plods from scene to scene. This would be acceptable if the film were building up to something, but even the final showdown is slow. The final conversation between Rick and the replicant Roy reminds me of the confrontation between Captain Willard and Colonel Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now", but it's not as deep. That's probably what I dislike most about "Blade Runner". There's a constant feeling of depth in meaning, but when you look closer it's just an illusion.

I honestly don't see what's so special about the film, but I'm prepared to discuss it with my readers. Please leave comments.

Order from
Order from
Order from

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Cinderella's Hot Night (4 Stars)

After a series of erotic thrillers Dean McKendrick is trying his hand at something else: erotic fairytales. Maybe this shouldn't be seen as a new direction but as a return to form, because the film's end result is strikingly similar to the erotic comedies he's been making since 2013.

Cindy is a student doing an unpaid internship at a company called Universal Imports. Because of a lack of money she tells her boss that she can't afford to pay her rent and needs to leave to get a paid job. He considers her an asset to his company and offers to let her stay with his family. She accepts gladly, but his wife and two daughters don't like her being in the house. Soon after this the boss dies in a plane crash. Cindy remains in the house and is treated as a slave, having to cook and do the housework for the three women.

In the original fairy tale the stepsisters are ugly, but that's not the case in this film. Grace and Sylvia obviously get their good looks from their mother Mona, played by the delectable Beverly Lynne.

The two girls look so sweet that they could melt in your mouth, but don't let their looks deceive you. They're spoilt little rich girls, and they're mean to the core.

Enter Prince Steven from the small European kingdom of Kritonia. He's been doing deals with America with the help of Universal Imports, so he travels to Los Angeles to throw a New Year's Party for all the company employees. Mona is desperate for one of her daughters to marry the prince, since her husband died leaving the family in debt. They don't allow Cindy to go to the party because they think she's too plain and would show them up. What do you think?

Wow! Normally Cindy wears ripped jeans, but this is how she looks after she's given a makeover by her fairy godmother. She wears a mask so that nobody can recognise her. The prince falls in love and dances with her all night, but she has to leave before midnight, leaving her slipper behind.

I think you know the rest of the story.

Prince Steven searches everywhere to find Cindy aka Cinderella, but I would have looked for the fairy godmother instead. Isn't Christine Nguyen the most beautiful fairy you've ever seen?

I'm very happy that "Cinderella's Hot Night" reunites Christine Nguyen and Beverly Lynne. They're two of Retromedia's most beautiful actresses. Most of the other actors are new to Retromedia. Unfortunately Ryan Driller, best known for his role as Superman in Axel Braun's films, only has a brief appearance as the family lawyer.

The sex scenes are of the high quality that we expect from Dean McKendrick. I particularly enjoyed the shower scene with Karlie Montana as Cindy, in which she managed to express her sadness while showering. Sexuality and emotional depth don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Black Sheep (4 Stars)

New Zealand has a population of almost five million people and thirty million sheep. Imagine if the peaceful sheep turned into vicious flesh-eaters. The humans on the islands wouldn't stand a chance.

This film, made in 2006, is unlike most other low budget horror films. It has amazing production quality and realistic special effects. The usually cute sheep turn into fearsome brutes that stampede and attack any people they encounter.

There's a serious message which is pushed in the closing scene. It's wrong to genetically engineer sheep -- or any other animals -- because we're tipping the ecological balance carefully created by Mother Nature over millions of years. My reaction to this message is to shrug my shoulders. It's not that I disagree, I just think that the message is in the wrong place. Only Germans watch films to be educated. I watch films to be excited, terrified or amused, or any combination of the three.

Order from
Order from
Order from

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Dangerous Liaisons [2003] (4 Stars)

I've been trying to get my hands on this film for years, and now I've finally succeeded. It's the 16th film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 2003, whatever I might have written in my list in the sidebar. I knew about the film, of course, but I forgot to leave a gap for it. When I have time I'll go back and renumber the list.

"Les Liaisons Dangereuses", to give the film its original name, was made as a three-part mini-series for French television, but it was later edited into a film. I watched the film version today, and if my information is correct a lot was cut out in the editing. The original mini-series was 252 minutes long, 3 x 84 minutes. The film is only 189 minutes. Even if the start and end credits and short recaps aren't counted, it still means that at least 40 minutes of the film itself is missing. I can hazard a guess, because one of the important plot details is dealt with very briefly in what I saw today. I wish I could get my hands on the original mini-series to compare.

This is one of two films that Leelee Sobieski made in French. The other is "The Idol", made a year earlier. This was possible because she was educated bilingually and can speak fluent French. The film I watched today has been dubbed into English, and fortunately she dubbed her own voice.

The film is based on the 1782 French novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. Supposedly it's one of the world's most often filmed novels, having inspired more than a dozen films in different languages. The only two novels that have been filmed more often are "Tristan and Isolde" (about 20 times) and "Dracula" (more than 50 times). I'm only talking about adaptations of Bram Stoker's original novel, of course. There are hundreds of films that include the character of Count Dracula in newly written stories.

The original novel is set in the palaces of the kings and noblemen of France in the 18th Century. This adaptation retains the names of the principal characters, Valmont, Merteuil, Tourvel and Volanges, but they're aristocrats living in Paris and St. Tropez in the 1960's. Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil is jealous because her lover has left her to marry a much younger woman, Cecile de Volanges. She's closely acquainted with an infamous womaniser, Sebastian de Volmont, so she asks him to seduce Cecile and get her pregnant before the wedding. Sebastian agrees in principle and says he will begin after a two-week holiday, but he stays away longer because he falls in love with his married cousin, Marie de Tourvel. Growing impatient, Isabelle hires a handsome young violinist, Raphael Danceny, supposedly as a music teacher, but actually to tempt her away from her fiancé. Cecile and Raphael do fall in love with one another, but Raphael is too much of a gentleman to consummate the relationship, so Isabelle begs Sebastian to finally seduce Cecile.

Sebastian has immediate success with Cecile, but Marie resists his advances. This leads to the absurd situation that he pursues Marie romantically every day while sleeping with Cecile every night. Eventually Raphael finds out about Cecile's "affair" with Sebastian and leaves her to begin a relationship with Isabelle.

That's just a brief summary of the plot. So many other things happen that you need a scorecard to keep up. This is an intricate drama of epic proportions. I can understand why the story still fascinates people all over the world 235 years after it was written.

Don't be too harsh on Sebastian. Like most womanisers, he's a slave to his own desires. It's not just a sexual matter, it's also about his pride. After years of successes with women he most desires the women who say No to him. That's the reason he wants Marie so much. When she finally falls for him he loses interest. He leads a lonely life.

The really evil person in the story is Isabelle de Merteuil. She's willing to destroy the lives of any number of people in order to avenge being insulted.

Needless to say, the main actors, Catherine Deneuve, Rupert Everett and Nastassja Kinski all play their roles perfectly. However, they're overshadowed by the prformance of Leelee Sobieski as Cecile de Volanges. She can never do anything wrong.

The Adjustment Bureau (5 Stars)

Today is only the second time I've watched "The Adjustment Bureau". I'm not sure why I've waited so long. Did I forget what a good film it is? Maybe the problem is that I don't like Matt Damon as an actor. I'm not saying he's a bad actor, it's just a personal antipathy that I have based on the way he looks. Doesn't it ever happen to you? You meet someone and you immediately like or dislike that person based on superficial details like their clothes or the shape of their nose. It's not a problem with Matt Damon, it's a problem with me. Sometimes I'm superficial, and rather than deny it I have to face up to it.

Having said that, I have to admit that Matt is the best person for the role of David Norris. He looks just like how I would expect a young Congressman to look, especially a Congressman planning to become a Senator and maybe even the President.

Matt Damon as President? We could do a lot worse.

The main reason why I decided to rewatch the film today is because my original review has become popular over the last few weeks. Today it's the second most popular post in my blog, based on the number of readers. I'm not sure why. It's taken my readers four years to discover this post, but I've just reread it myself and I have to agree that it's one of my best posts. That causes me problems today, because I don't think I can write anything better.

Please click here to read my first review. It sparked a short conversation with my friend Elizabeth. I wish other people had joined in, because the film deals with important questions about the nature of free will. These are questions primarily for those who believe in God, but it's also an interesting subject for atheists and freethinkers.

Rather than review the film today I'll just quote the speech on free will held by the sinister Mr. Thompson, as played by Terence Stamp, probably one of the best actors alive today.

"We actually tried free will before. After taking you from hunting and gathering to the height of the Roman Empire we stepped back to see how you'd do on your own. You gave us the Dark Ages for five centuries, until finally we decided we should come back in. The Chairman thought that maybe we just needed to do a better job with teaching you how to ride a bike before taking the training wheels off again. So we gave you the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution. For six hundred years we taught you to control your impulses with reason, then in 1910 we stepped back again. Within fifty years you'd brought us World War I, the Depression, Fascism, the Holocaust and capped it off by bringing the entire planet to the brink of destruction in the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that point a decision was taken to step back in again before you did something that even we couldn't fix. You don't have free will, you have the appearance of free will".

Order from
Order from
Order from

Monday, 18 September 2017

The Circle (4 Stars)

This is a good film that deals with important issues.

Mae Holland (Emma Watson) applies for a job at a large Internet company called The Circle. At first she treats it as only a job, but after a few weeks she's criticised for not taking part in the company's after-hours and weekend activities. It's expected that The Circle should be her whole life. She begins to get more involved with the social life surrounding the company, and she finds that she enjoys it.

The Circle is a company that is seeking 100% transparency, both on the Internet and in real life. "Secrets are lies" becomes a company slogan. Small video cameras are placed all over the world which are monitored at The Circle's headquarters. Mae volunteers to be the first person to let herself be monitored 24 hours a day. Almost 24 hours. She's allowed a three minute break when she goes to the bathroom. People all over the world observe her with voyeuristic pleasure.

Mae is completely in agreement with the company's goals, and she wants The Circle to be given more power, which pleases The Circle's founder and chief executive officer, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks).

There's so much that be said about the implications of the film that I hardly know where to start. The film is a social commentary on the use and the abuse of the Internet today, but it's also a warning about what could happen in the future.

In the 1940's George Orwell wrote a book called "1984", in which he predicted that a world would come in which the state, "Big Brother", would monitor everything that people do. He was wrong. In today's world the Internet and social media encourage people to allow themselves to be monitored. So many people, mostly young people, live their lives on the Internet. They post messages to Facebook many times a day to let their friends know where they are and what they're doing. Sometimes this goes to ridiculous extremes, too much information, as in the case of a friend of mine.

Post 1: "I'm about to go to the toy store".

Post 2: "I'm caught in a traffic jam".

Post 3: "I'm almost at the toy store now".

Post 4: "Now I'm in the toy store".

This might seem ridiculous, but my friend considered it natural to make these posts.

Another example of potentially unwanted information is the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine. President Putin insists that no Russian soldiers are invading Ukraine and it's just a civil war. However, Russian soldiers have been posting photos of themselves in Facebook with messages like, "My assignment to Ukraine will soon be over". Vladimir Putin lies, the Internet doesn't.

Would I like my whole life to be recorded? Yes, definitely! My earliest memories are when I was four years old, and even my later memories, up to 14, are patchy. I wish I had a recording of my whole life so that I could be reminded of everything that happened from my birth onwards. The recording would be for me, primarily, but I'd like to be able to show incidents to other people when they don't believe what I tell them.

Would I like this recording to be publicly available? That's a difficult question. I don't mind the mistakes that I've made in my life being publicised, as long as they're shown in context. I believe that whatever I did that was wrong was motivated by good intentions. Most things, anyway. When I was 11 I broke an ornament in my uncle's house, and I hid it under a chair rather than admit it. When I was six I kicked a dirty football against my mother's washing on the clothesline and denied it was me. That's the first time I've ever admitted these two wrong-doings, and I feel so free! There might be other similar transgressions that I can't remember.

I'm not ashamed of my sexual fetishes being publicised. It's not a problem for me, because none of them are illegal. Or are they? A few years ago the pornography laws were tightened in England. Among other things, films that feature face-sitting were made illegal. I was quite horrified when the changes happened. Reading between the lines, it seemed that all domination practises that appear to be non-consensual were outlawed. Could I be arrested if my life's recording showed the many times that women have suffocated me by sitting on my face?

It's not just about me, of course. There are people who have led less moral lives than me. A thief wouldn't want his thefts made public. A paedophile wouldn't want recordings of himself looking at child pornography to be revealed. But from my point of view, activities like that should be revealed to the world. Criminal acts shouldn't be hidden.

Maybe a compromise could be made. A person's whole life could be recorded for the public, with the option to block certain areas. For instance, a whole house or certain rooms could be excluded from being monitored. It's still possible for crimes to be committed. For instance, a man can kill his wife within his own home. However, it would still be enough to identify the crime. If the wife is missing, the recording would show when she last entered the house and that she didn't leave again, so the police can check if she's been buried in the cellar.

The biggest problem of absolute transparency is the possibility of abuse by a totalitarian regime. A government that expects absolute obedience might punish citizens who visit opposition rallies. There are endless dangers.

This is a subject I'd like to discuss with my readers. Please leave comments.

Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival 2017

This is a list of the 51 films shown at this year's Fantasy Film Festival, together with a link to the review, and a rating if I saw the film.

1. "IT Chapter One", America, 5
2. "The Mermaid", China, 4
3. "Shockwave", China, 4½
4. "Rendel", Finland, 4
5. "Super Dark Times", America, 2
6. "Raw", France, 2
7. "Trench 11", Canada
8. "Bitch", America, 4
9. "Vidar the Vampire", Norway, 4
10. "Blade of the Immortal", Japan, 5
11. "The Autopsy of Jane Doe", America, 5
12. "Crucifixion", UK, 2
13. "Double Date", UK
14. "Mayhem", America, 4
15. "Sicilian Ghost Story", Italy, 3
16. "47 Meters Down", UK, 2½
17. "Night of the Virgin", Spain
18. "Land of the Little People", Israel, 3
19. "Psychopaths", America, 1
20. "Jungle", Australia, 4½
21. "Hounds of Love", Australia, 3
22. "Have a nice day", China
23. "Bad Match", America, 4
24. "Marlina the Murderer", Indonesia, 5
25. "Hatchet 4", America, 4
26. "Radius", Canada, 2
27. "M.F.A.", America
28. "Darkland", Denmark, 4
29. "Playground", Poland, 1
30. "Colossal", Canada, 4½
31. "My Friend Dahmer", America, 4
32. "Figaros Wolfe", Germany
33. "Black Hollow Cage", Spain, 4½
34. "Reset", China, 4½
35. "Tragedy Girls", America, 5
36. "Killing Ground", Australia, 3
37. "Schneeflöckchen", Germany
38. "The Strange Ones", America, 1½
39. "Memoirs of a Murderer", Japan, 3
40. "It comes at night", America, 2
41. "Game of Death", America, 4
42. "Replace", Germany
43. "Fashionista", America, 4
44. "It came from the desert", Finland, 4½
45. "Veronica", Spain, 3
46. "68 Kill", America, 4½
47. "Kuso", America
48. "This is your death", America
49. "I remember you", Iceland, 4
50. "The Vault", America, 4
51. "The Villainess", South Korea, 5

As you can see, the majority of the films were made in America. Here are the statistics, so that you don't have to count for yourself.

19 films: America
4 films: China
3 films: Australia, Canada, UK, Germany, Spain
2 films: Japan, Finland
1 film: Denmark, France, Iceland, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Norway, Poland, South Korea

Flag of the Week: Georgia

The flag of Georgia is a simple but very beautiful piece of art. It's approximately based on the Jerusalem Cross, but the variation in the design improves its aesthetic qualities. It's an old flag, dating back to the 11th Century Kingdom of Georgia, but it's only recently been used as Georgia's official flag.

In the early 20th Century Georgia used a red-black-white flag. This is a curious design that looks somehow awkward to me, like a black and white patch on a red jacket. I'm not aware if there was any significance to the choice or relative sizes of the three colours. When Russia attacked and occupied Georgia in 1921 this flag was outlawed. Over the next 70 years it remained a symbol of defiance against the Russian puppet government installed in the "Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic".

In 1991 Georgia became an independent country again, and the red-black-white flag was once more used. However, there were movements in the country to return to the old red-white flag as a symbol of continuity with the Kingdom of Georgia in the Middle Ages. The flag was finally changed in 2004.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

The Villainess (5 Stars)

This is the 51st film in the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival.

The annual Fantasy Film Festival always places the two films that are expected to be the most popular in the first and last place. This year the festival opened with "IT Chapter One" and closed with "The Villainess". I agree with the choices. They're two very different films, but I've awarded both of them five stars.

After an opening sequence with the biggest body count I've seen in the first few minutes of any film, "The Villainess" settles into a story similar to "Nikita". Perhaps it's more accurate to call it "Double-Nikita". After Sook-hee's arrest she's taken to a secret government agency that trains young women to be assassins. Unlike in "Nikita", she was already an expert killing machine before her arrest, after being trained by a gangster earlier in her life. The new training is only needed to polish her social skills and make her more efficient as a killer; i.e. if she's sent to kill someone she should avoid killing 50 other people who get in the way.

Sook-hee is promised that she will only have to serve the agency for 10 years, but after her first mission she will be allowed to live a normal life outside, as long as she carries out assassinations when needed. Her first mission is after three years. She leaves the agency's building and finds a job as a stage actress. She gets married. Months go by, in which she hopes the agency has forgotten her, but the call to duty comes when it's least expected.

This is a stunning film. The action scenes are better than in any Korean film I've seen until now, and there's also great emotional depth.

The Vault (4 Stars)

This is the 50th film in the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival.

I wonder if a film like this has ever been made before. A gang robs a haunted bank. They quickly overpower the staff and the customers, but when they open the vault in the cellar they're attacked by ghosts.

The bank robbery has been efficiently planned, and nothing should have gone wrong. A warehouse opposite the bank is set on fire. The gang members enter the bank disguised as firemen who want to check the fire hasn't spread. They even ask the security guard to lock the door to prevent anyone else entering while they investigate. That's a brilliant plan that would probably have worked, if it hadn't been for the supernatural intervention.

"The Vault" is a well made film. It's not just a robbery and a ghost story, it's also a psychological thriller. The bank's employees and customers keep their cool, relatively speaking, but the gang members crack under the stress and turn on one another.

I remember you (4 Stars)

This is the 49th film in the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival.

This is a beautifully eerie ghost story, set in an abandoned town in the north west of Iceland. The film set didn't have to be built, it was already available. The director was able to find a town that's been abandoned for 70 years, just as eerie as the film itself. There's no electricity, no Internet and no telephone reception, so the cast and crew were cut off from the world while they were filming. That's a big sacrifice to make.

The film is made up of two stories which are shown in parallel. The first takes place in the abandoned town by the sea fifteen years ago. The second takes place in the present in a small town somewhere in the middle of Iceland. (The places aren't named in the film, but I'd love to find out where they are). In the present day story a doctor is sent to help with the post-mortem investigation of a woman who has hanged herself in a church. The doctor is still suffering from the loss of his eight-year-old son who mysteriously vanished at a petrol station. A schizophrenic patient of the doctor speaks about his son being together with Bernodus, a boy who disappeared in the abandoned town while it was still populated.

And there are ghosts.

The atmosphere of this film is perfectly balanced. It's scary without being grotesque. It's probably the best European ghost film I've ever seen.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

68 Kill (4½ Stars)

This is the 46th film in the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival.

This was one of the best films of the festival this year. I have slight criticisms, which I won't repeat here to avoid spoilers, but overall the film is perfect. It's about Chip, an innocent young man who is doomed to be surrounded by manipulative evil women. After his girlfriend persuades him to take part in a robbery for $68,000 every woman he meets wants it, and they're prepared to kill anyone to get it.

I recommend that everyone should watch it. No exceptions!

Veronica (3 Stars)

This is the 45th film in the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival.

We discussed this film for a long time after it finished. I found the suspense and the atmosphere effective, but I criticised the story and the randomness of the supernatural events. The others defended it. They said that films about demonic possessions are bound by tight parameters, and "Veronica" follows the rules precisely. "Veronica" does exactly the same as the last 20 films of its type, but it does it better. I can accept that, but it's still not a film that I like. I think that a three-star rating is fair, but it's possible that many of my readers will rate it higher.

It came from the desert (4½ Stars)

This is the 44th film in the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival.

This is an amazing film made by the Finnish director Marko Mäkilaakso. Two teenage boys, Lukas and Brian, want to go to a party in the desert which will be attended by their favourite actor, the star of the Eradicator movies. Lukas knows that Brian has a crush on Lisa, so he invites her as long as well.

The teenagers discover giant ants trapped in an abandoned government facility, and they accidentally release them. A battle to the death between teenagers and ants ensues.

This is a wonderful film, a perfect mix of humour and action, with a touch of horror.

Addendum on Thursday, 21st September, 2017

There have been a lot of hits on this post over the last 24 hours, mostly from readers in Finland, enough to push it into my top 10 of the most popular posts of the month. I feel almost ashamed that so many people are reading one of my shortest and least informative posts. While I was at the Fantasy Film Festival last week I set myself a ten minute time limit for writing each post. This was necessary for health reasons. I was away from home for up to 12 hours a day (including travel time), and I needed to sleep when I got home.

Theoretically, I could add something to my review now. I remember "It came from the desert" well, since it was one of my favourite films of the festival. But I prefer to save my thoughts until I watch it again on Blu-ray. For me this is a Must-Buy film. It's the best teenager-versus-giant-ants film I've ever seen.

A word to my Finnish readers, who are possibly reading my blog for the first time: I hope you'll become regular readers. My blog is about films in general, not just horror, so you'll find the most diverse reviews. I appreciate comments on my reviews, but don't get them often enough. Please leave comments not just on this post, but on whatever I write.

Fashionista (4 Stars)

This is the 43rd film in the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival.

Do you ever watch a film, and after it's finished you don't know whether you liked it or not? That rarely happens with me, but it happened today. When Fashionista's final credits rolled I sat in silence trying to take in what I'd seen.

It's not an easy film to understand. The narrative is told in a non-linear manner. It's not just flashbacks; that would be easy to understand. Confusing are the flashforwards to things that don't happen, chronologically, until the end of the film. Of course, if you're watching the film for the first time you won't know that they were flashforwards until the film is almost finished.

Confusing as well is that the main character, April, is played by two different actresses who sometimes appear in the same scenes. This is a film that must be watched more than once to be appreciated.

Ken and April are husband and wife, and the co-owners of a clothing store in Austin, Texas. It's the perfect job for April, who can never have enough clothes. Most women love clothes, but in April's case it's an obsession that borders on a sexual fetish. She moans orgasmically when she puts on new clothes.

Ken has an affair with one of April's friends, and the couple separate. April meets a rich man who shares a clothing obsession, namely that he wants to clothe women. That might have been the perfect partner for her, except that he wants to enjoy threesomes with April and other well-dressed woman. Then she finds out that he has become rich by making snuff movies.

I'm not sure how to rate the film to be fair to it. Three stars isn't enough. Four stars feels like too much at the moment, but that's what I've given it. I'll be able to give a more accurate rating next time I watch it. I sincerely hope that the Blu-ray release will include a director's commentary.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Game of Death (4 Stars)

This is the 41st film in the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival.

What's the point in making a film that almost nobody will see? In his introduction the festival host told us that we were very fortunate to be able to see "Game of Death". Apart from a few festivals it won't be shown in cinemas, it won't be shown on television, it won't be released on Blu-ray or DVD, and it won't be available on the major streaming services. It will be available exclusively on Blackpills, a video streaming service for mobile phones.

The film's plot is absurd, but effective within the context of a horror comedy. Seven people in their late teens (four boys and three girls) meet for a house party. They find a 1980's style game console called Game of Death, for two to eight people. The players have to hold their fingers on a button while someone presses the start button, then away it goes.

The rules of the game are simple. In each round one of the players has to kill someone, either a fellow player or an outsider. If nobody is killed within five minutes one of the players is killed at random. There are 24 rounds.

At first the young people think it's a joke and want to stop playing. But then BOOM! The head of one of the men explodes. They have the choice of turning on one another or finding other victims. The logical decision is to drive to a care home for the elderly where everyone will die soon anyway.

I love the film. It's ridiculous, and the special effects are very 1970's-ish, but it's thrilling from start to finish. Maybe I should install the Blackpills app on my phone.

It comes at night (2 Stars)

This is the 40th film in the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival.

At a time in the near future the human race has been decimated by a deadly virus. There's no cure. Anyone who is infected dies. People with the virus are contagious for a few days before the symptoms become visible, symptoms such as bleeding from the mouth. Families live in isolation to prevent infection, but drinking water is in short supply, suggesting that polluted water was the way the infection was first spread.

A married couple live with their teenage son. They keep to themselves, like everyone else. They decide to be compassionate and take in a couple with a young child who have no home. They don't seem to be infected, but how can they be sure?

The film is already a box office success, but I don't understand why. The action is painfully slow, and there's very little suspense. Apart from this, the picture is too dark for most of the film. This is something the film industry has forgotten. In films made up to the 1960's night scenes were always artificially lit, so it was clear what was happening. Just because you and I see unclearly when we walk in a moonless night, it doesn't mean that night scenes in films have to be just as dark. Artistic license should take priority over clinical accuracy.

Memoirs of a Murderer (3 Stars)

This is the 39th film in the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival.

In most countries there's a time period within which a crime must be tried in court, or at least within which the proceedings begin. For instance, in England most criminal offences have a six month time limit. If something is stolen, the theft must be reported to the police within six months so that a charge can be made, if necessary against persons unknown. For major offences, such as murder, there is no expiry period. In Japan there used to be a 15 year time period, after which a person could no longer be tried for murder. This has since been changed in Japan, but it's still not allowed to try anyone for a murder committed before April 28th 1995.

From 1992 to 1995 there was a serial killer that the press called the Tokyo Strangler. He committed his final murder on April 27th 1995, one day before the deadline. In 2017 he decides to confess to his crimes, knowing he can no longer be tried for murder. He apologises to the relatives of his victims, and he writes a book about his murders that immediately becomes a bestseller. The general public reveres him as a celebrity, but there are two men who refuse to let go. One is the detective who unsuccessfully investigated the case in 1995. The other is a television host who also investigated the case in 1995.

This film has a lot of action, and there are repeated surprises until the very end, but I find the premise unfeasible. The plot twists also lack credibility.

The Strange Ones (1½ Stars)

This is the 38th film in the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival.

Two brothers are travelling together. They tell people they meet on the way that they're going on a camping trip, but it's obvious from their private conversations that they don't intend to return home. There's a mystery that slowly unravels as the film continues.

In my eyes this was the most boring film of the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival so far. I have no problems with suspense fuelled by slow action. What I don't like is needless scenes of the characters staring at the camera as if they've forgotten their lines.

One of my readers has noticed that there are gaps in my reviews of the films for the festival. For instance, "The Strange Ones" is the 38th film, but the last film that I reviewed, "Killing Ground", was the 36th film. That's easy to explain. There are 53 films being shown at the festival, but I only intend to see 42 of them, for purely practical reasons. The last film each day finishes after midnight, but my last bus home leaves at 11:48 pm. Taxi fares are extortionate in Stuttgart, so I have to miss the last film.

When the festival is over I'll post a complete list of the films with links to the reviews of the films that I watched.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Killing Ground (3 Stars)

This is the 36th film in the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival.

This is an Australian serial killer film. Or maybe I should say serial killers, because two brothers act together as a team. They attack and kill campers at a remote site in the Australian outback, raping the women first.

After a family is wiped out, a young couple camp in the same spot. They discover evidence of the previous family being slaughtered, but before they can report it they too are attacked.

"Killing Ground" is a well made film with a lot of suspense, but I don't find it particularly memorable after the three outstanding films I watched earlier in the day.