Thursday, 28 July 2016

127 Hours (4 Stars)

I decided to watch "127 Hours" after watching "Steve Jobs" for the second time last month. Danny Boyle has made two utterly brilliant films in recent years, "Slumdog Millionaire" in 2008 and "Steve Jobs" in 2015. I wanted to see what he did between these two films. He made "127 Hours" in 2010 and "Trance" in 2013. I remember the advertisements for "127 Hours" when it was in the cinema, but I didn't realise it was directed by Danny Boyle, so I ignored it. Somehow "Trance" passed me by completely. I never even noticed it. That's two gaping holes in my film knowledge that I needed to fill as quickly as possible. Okay, it should have been a lot quicker than six weeks, but I think that my move from England to Germany is a good excuse for the delay. I hope so.

The film is the true story of the foolhardy American rock and cave climber Aron Ralston. In April 2003 Aron went on holiday alone to Blue John Canyon in Utah, without telling anyone where he was going. He was a loner and needed time for himself, but he himself later admitted that he should at least have told his family where he was. While descending a canyon a rock was dislodged, which fell and trapped his right arm. He was trapped, unable to move, a few feet above the floor of the canyon. All his attempts to free his arm failed, and he soon ran out of food and water. He was trapped in this position for days. To be precise, he was trapped for 127 hours, as the film's title tells us.

The film is even more claustrophobic than "Buried", a similar story of a man being trapped alone. A problem with "Buried" is that there are occasional long shots, giving the impression that the coffin is larger than it is. In "127 Hours" the cinematography is more realistic. This makes it more terrifying. Supposedly people fainted, vomited or had panic attacks when they saw it in the cinema. I can understand that. The film's realism makes it difficult to bear.

"127 Hours" was nominated for six Oscars, but won none. I think James Franco deserved an Oscar as Best Actor. This was the performance of his career. I would have given the film five stars, but I too had problems watching it. Some of the details of Aron's escape were so horrifying that I almost turned away. Next time I watch the film I'll have a glass of wine in my hand to calm myself down.

It's a brilliant film. If you have a better stomach for realistic violence and claustrophobia than me it might become one of your favourite films.

This is James Franco with the real Aron Ralston. There is a certain resemblance, although Aron is slightly taller.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Off-Topic: Württemberg Wines

One of the best things about living in Germany is the wine. Germany is a country with a large production of wine in several areas, but hardly any of it is exported. The only German wines that you're likely to find in English stores are Liebfraumich, Blue Nun and Hock. All three are sweet white wines of questionable quality. This has led to many people thinking that all German wine is white, sweet and poor quality. The Germans laugh about this. They say that people in other countries, especially England, know nothing about wine and wouldn't be able to appreciate good wine. They export the rubbish and keep the good wines for themselves.

Speaking of myself, I drank very little wine when I grew up in England. The only wines sold in my home town, Aldridge,  were French and Spanish. The French wines tasted better, but the Spanish wines were cheaper, so I stuck to the latter. When I moved to Stuttgart (Germany) after finishing university I was told repeatedly by my colleagues that the local wine from the Württemberg region is the world's best wine. That's a big claim to make, so I felt that I needed to try it to make up my own mind. And yes, it was really good. At first I drank more white wines than red wines, but over time I grew to prefer the red wines. It was usual for me to drink about a litre of wine every day with my friends and work colleagues. I would never have been conceited enough to call myself a wine expert, but I knew what I liked.

It was usual for my friends and colleagues to talk badly of other wine regions in Germany and abroad. They called Italian wine Zuckerwasser (sugar water) and French wine tasteless. They also called the Rhein wines (the biggest wine producing area in Germany) Zuckerwasser. In Germany it was customary to give your host a bottle of wine if he invited you to his home. I was warned that the best way to insult someone is to give him a bottle of French wine. The people I knew in Stuttgart cursed French wines so badly that I didn't understood why they were sold in the supermarkets. Maybe they were just meant to be sold to non-Stuttgarters who had moved to the city from other parts of Germany.

After three years in Stuttgart I spent two years in my company's subsidiary office in Mannheim. I was surprised to find no Württemberg wines in the shops. None at all. When I asked I was told, "Württemberg wines taste horrible, they're much too dry. Drink Baden wines instead". Very strange. Baden and Württemberg are two halves of the same German state, but the wine areas were mutually exclusive. It was also impossible to buy Baden wine in Stuttgart. I made an effort to get to know the Baden wines. The white wines were acceptable, not as dry as the Württemberg white wines, mild and drinkable. The red wines tasted horrible. I was glad when I returned to Stuttgart after two years.

During the 20 years I spent in Germany I frequently travelled to other parts of the country. I tried to overcome my prejudices by sampling as many different wines as I could. I never found wines in other regions that I enjoyed as much as the Württemberg wines, but I at least acknowledged that the other wines were good, just not my taste. I quite enjoyed the Pfalz white wines (the area is called Palatinate in English), which were medium sweet and refreshing. They became my wine of choice when nothing else was available. There were a few Baden wines which I knew by name. I completely avoided the Rhein wines (too sweet) and the Franconia wines (too dry).

Now, after spending 19 years in America and England, I'm back in Germany, living just outside Stuttgart. Almost the first thing I did on arriving was buy myself a bottle of wine. My local supermarket only has a small selection of wines, unfortunately, but the wines it has are very good. My first bottle was an Uhlbacher Weinsteige, a dry wine made from Trollinger grapes, one of the three main grapes cultivated in Württemberg (Trollinger, Lemberger and Black Riesling). It has a milder taste than the region's other red wines, dry but crisp.

Please note that Württemberg wine is sold in litre bottles, not 0.7 litre bottles as is usual in other countries. If you see 0.7 litre bottles -- and my supermarket has a few -- avoid them. They're either inferior blends of Württemberg wines, or they're wines rebottled by profiteers hoping to fool people into paying higher prices.

Here are two other wines I have been enjoying recently. Both are wines made from combining different grapes. Ochsenbacher Stromberg is a mix of Trolliger and Lemberger, a very common mix. Both grapes produce equally dry wines, but the Lemberger grapes are fruitier, making the two an excellent combination.

Haberschlachter Heuchelberg is a mixture of two similar grapes, Black Riesling (known in France as Pinot Meunier) and Spätburgunder (called Pinot Noir in other countries). By themselves the Black Riesling grapes produce dry wines with a sharp acidic taste which might surprise drinkers when they first taste it, but after repeated drinking it's delicious. Take my word for it. Pinot Noir, one of the world's best known grapes, but only grown in Germany in small quantities, has a milder taste. In Württemberg the grapes are usually harvested late, giving them a sweeter flavour. Mixing the two results in a very pleasant wine classified as halbtrocken, half-dry.

Heilbronner Stauffenberg is a pure Black Riesling wine. It used to be one of my favourite wines when I lived in Germany. Try it and see what you think.

This is also a Black Riesling wine from Besinger Felsengarten, a large vineyard that cultivates grapes of different types. It's described as a Schwarzriesling Weissherbst. This is a special type of wine that is made from grapes that aren't plucked until after the first frost. This results in a very pleasing natural sweetness. It's a wine best drunk by itself, not in combination with a meal. The late harvest makes the wine look paler, so that some people mistakenly call it a rosé wine. It's not. It's a beautiful pale red wine.

General: Special Characters

In this blog I have always had to use special characters that don't appear on my keyboard. In the past it was usually the fraction symbols for film ratings, but also German special characters. On rare occasions I've used French accents, but usually I avoid them. I've always used the Windows character map to find special characters whenever I needed them. Now that I've moved to Germany I'm using a keyboard that has the German characters, but it's annoying that the pound symbol is no longer on my keyboard. For this reason I've decided to make this post as a reference for myself, rather than for my readers, with a list of the characters I need.

Currency symbols

British Pound: £
US Dollar: $
Euro: €


Quarter: ¼
Half: ½
Three Quarters: ¾

German special characters

Ä Ö Ü ä ö ü ß

French special characters

é à è ù â ê î ô û ë ï ç

Saturday, 23 July 2016

General: Where I am now

Lately I've been reviewing less films than usual. My regular readers will know what this means: I've been catching up on my favourite television series. Maybe the picture above will give you a clue what I've been watching today.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (5 Stars)

I don't usually let myself be put off by a film having bad reviews before I see it. In most cases I don't even bother reading reviews of films I intend to see. Sometimes, however, a film gains a certain notoriety and it's difficult to avoid hearing about it. "Sword of Destiny", or to give it its full title, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny", is a film that falls into this category. It's a sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", released in 2000, which was the most famous Chinese film ever and maybe even the most successful non-English film ever, based on the number of awards it won. Suddenly the company Netflix decided to make a sequel, bypassing the established film studios. It was announced that the film would be released simultaneously online and in cinemas, giving people the choice of whether to see it in the cinema or on a small screen. As I'm sure my friends can guess, I wanted to see it in the cinema. I don't like to make compromises when it comes to film quality. However, almost every English cinema chain, including my regular cinema Cineworld, decided to boycott it. This was a misguided but understandable decision; cinemas consider Netflix to be their arch enemy, responsible for stealing their customers.

I didn't watch it immediately when it was released in February this year. I forget why. I must have been busy with something. But then I started hearing opinions about it: "It's not that good anyway". I knew that Ang Lee hadn't been persuaded to direct it, so I did have a few doubts. The negative reviews kept piling up, impossible for me to avoid, and I lost all inclination to watch "Sword of Destiny" for five months. Until today.

I admit, I sat down expecting not to like the film. I expected to be disappointed. But the first fight scene fascinated me. Then the second. Michelle Yeoh's brooding sense of duty made me fall in love with her all over again. After that Donnie Yen appeared as Silent Wolf, Michelle Yeoh's previous lover who was mentioned in the first film. And more characters. The young warriors Wei Fang and Snow Vase. An army of four warriors who accompanied Silent Wolf. Despite the relatively large number of supporting characters the film was written and directed well enough to present them clearly to the viewer leaving none of them as strangers.

I admit that "Sword of Destiny" lacks the deep spirituality of the first film, but its atmosphere drew me in, holding my attention from beginning to end. So the super smart reviewers who are cited for the Rotten Tomatoes web site only gave it a 20% rating? They don't know what they're talking about.

P. S. As always with Chinese films, I watched the film in Mandarin with English subtitles. However, I read afterwards that the film was made in English and dubbed into Chinese. I'll make sure that I watch it with English dialogue next time.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Off-Topic: Recep Tayyip Erdogan

After the attempted military coup in Turkey this week (July 15th, 2016) we're all fans of President Erdogan. Here's the full text of Jan Boehmermann's poem honouring Erdogan, along with a translation into English.

Erdogan, Erdogan (English translation)

Stupid, cowardly and repressed,
that's President Erdogan.

His shit stinks of doner,
even a pig's fart smells better.

He's a man who hits girls
while he's wearing a rubber mask.

His hobbies are fucking goats
and suppressing minorities.

He likes to kick Kurds and hit Christians
while watching child pornography.

When he lies in bed unable to sleep
he imagines having fellatio with a hundred sheep.

Yes, Erdogan is nothing but
a president with a small cock.

Turks whisper to one another
that the stupid man has shrivelled balls.

From Ankara to Istanbul
everyone knows this man is gay,

perverse, lice-infested and zoophile,
little Recep Fritz Priklopil.

His head is as empty as his balls,
and he's the star of every gang bang

until his cock burns when he pees.
That is Recep Erdogan, the Turkish president.

Erdogan, Erdogan (original German)

Sackdoof, feige und verklemmt,
ist Erdogan der Präsident.

Sein Gelöt stinkt schlimm nach Döner,
selbst ein Schweinepfurz riecht schöner.

Er ist der Mann der Mädchen schlägt,
und dabei Gummimasken trägt.

Am liebsten mag er Ziegen ficken,
und Minderheiten unterdrücken,

Kurden treten, Christen hauen,
und dabei Kinderpornos schauen.

Und selbst Abends heißt's statt schlafen,
Fellatio mit hundert Schafen.

Ja, Erdogan ist voll und ganz,
ein Präsident mit kleinem Schwanz.

Jeden Türken hört man flöten,
die dumme Sau hat Schrumpelklöten,

Von Ankara bis Istanbul,
weiß jeder, dieser Mann ist schwul,

Pervers, verlaust und zoophil
Recep Fritzl Priklopil.

Sein Kopf so leer wie seine Eier,
der Star auf jeder Gangbang-Feier.

Bis der Schwanz beim pinkeln brennt,
das ist Recep Erdogan, der türkische Präsident.

Friday, 15 July 2016

How to be single (3 Stars)

I admit it. I only watched this film because it stars Rebel Wilson. Unfortunately, she's the only good thing about the film. It's a story about four young women in New York who are single, some by choice, some because they've been dumped. Rebel Wilson -- isn't she delicious? -- plays Robin, a woman who makes the most of being single. It's an exciting life in New York. She goes to bed with a different man every night and she never has to buy her own drinks.

The main character, based on the amount of screen time she gets, is Alice, played by Dakota Johnson, who begins the film wanting to find a relationship, but gradually realises that she's better off without men. This is a good message for all women to learn, but she's not a convincing actress. She doesn't have as much charm, charisma and overflowing sex appeal as Rebel Wilson.

"How to be single" is little more than a clone of "Sex and the City", but without the voice-over. I can only recommend it to fans of Rebel Wilson. Come on, I've admitted I like her, and so can you!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

1 Day (4 Stars)

"My generation don't believe in the church thing, we believe in the big bang".

This is a powerful film about the street gangs of Birmingham. When it was released in 2009 it wasn't shown in Birmingham cinemas because of fears that it would incite gang violence. That was a strange thing to do, because it was shown in neighbouring towns like Walsall and Wolverhampton.

The film shows a young man called Flash who's looking after £500,000 for a fellow gang member, Angel, while he's in prison. Angel is released earlier than expected and asks for his money back, but Flash has been investing the money in drug deals and is £100,000 short. Angel tells him that if he doesn't repay him by midnight he'll kill Flash and all his family.

Beneath the surface, "1 Day" is film about a generation without hope. The older generation of Caribbean immigrants in Birmingham cling to religion as a way of life. Their children and grandchildren have no belief in a higher power, so they rely on money and guns. The church keeps its doors open, but the younger generation stays away.

Not many films are made in Birmingham. It's fascinating for me to be able to identify buildings that I know well. There's the Bull Ring shopping centre, the Pallasades and the Dale End car park. I also recognise the small church in Handsworth. I walked past it dozens of times when I went to catch the bus on Soho Road. The familiarity makes the film special to me.