Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Raid 2 (5 Stars)

It's difficult to understand why I've waited four years since last watching this film. It's one of the best action films ever made.

It's not absolutely necessary to watch this film back to back with "The Raid", but it's recommendable. In future I shall always watch the two films as a pair. "The Raid 2" begins by cleaning up after the events of the first film. Rama's brother Andi is executed. The good cop Bunawar kills the two police officers that Rama rescued from the tower block in the first film because he wants there to be no witnesses that Rama is still alive.

I admit that the film is confusing. There are three rival gangs, and it's sometime difficult to know who's fighting who. I think I finally figured it out today, but that's only because it was the third time I watched the film.

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Saturday, 26 May 2018

The Raid (5 Stars)

I'm short of time this week, so my reviews will probably be shorter than usual. As my regular readers know, my blog is a film diary rather than a film review site, so I'll name all the films that I watch even if I have no time to write about them.

"The Raid" is a very male film. What I mean by that is that there are 116 men in the film (according to the credits) but only three women, and the three women are only shown briefly. The first woman is Rama's pregnant wife, who we see lying in bed at the beginning for about 30 seconds. The second is the wife of the man in room 726 who we see lying in bed sick for about 20 seconds. The third is a drug addict that we see in a catatonic state for less than 10 seconds. That means we see hardly any women, we only see them briefly, and they're all in some way disabled.

Nevertheless, this is an amazing film, one of the most violent films I've ever seen. After watching it for the third time today I've decided to update the rating to five stars.

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Friday, 25 May 2018

Savage Beach (4½ Stars)

This is the fourth film in the Andy Sidaris collection, made in 1989. As far as I know Andy never used the poster that he's holding up in the picture. That's a shame. I find it visually more attractive than the poster he finally picked.

What do you think? Maybe Andy just wanted to pack Hope Marie Carlton into the poster as well. They're both good posters, but I prefer the minimalism of the rejected poster, with its mix of black, white and red instead of a full colour palette.

In his introduction Andy calls "Savage Beach" an unusual film for him, but he doesn't explain why. To me it seems like a typical Andy Sidaris spy thriller. The only change from the previous films is that the women have more action than the men, but that's part of a general drift in his films.

The central characters are once more Donna and Taryn, played by Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton. As part of their undercover job as pilots for Molokai Cargo they deliver urgently needed medicine to one of the Marshall Islands. On the way back their plane is struck by lightning and they're forced to crash land on a small uninhabited island. As they soon find out, for an uninhabited island it's very busy.

In 1943 the Japanese stole ten gold bars from the Philippines. It was hidden on this island to be retrieved after the war. Japan lost the war, and the location of the island was forgotten. Ever since then the Philippine government has been trying to find it. Information given by a former Japanese sailor on his death bed has finally helped to locate the island. A representative of the Philippine government called Martinez will travel to the island with two American marines to retrieve the gold.

Martinez is played by Rodrigo Obregon, the actor who manages to get himself killed in every Andy Sidaris film. "Wait", I can hear my readers saying. "Isn't he usually a bad guy?" I'm glad you asked. True to character, he's a traitor. He intends to give the gold bars to a Communist revolutionary group after killing the American marines. That's not so easy. When huge amounts of gold are concerned, nobody can be trusted. There are different groups on the island who turn against one another in their greed. Adding to the confusion, there's a lone Japanese soldier on the island who has been guarding the gold for the last 45 years.

After Cody, Rowdy and Travis there's yet another Abilene in this film: Shane Abilene. It must be a big family. He doesn't take part in the action. He just sits in Hawaii coordinating the missions of the female agents. As they say, a man's place is in the home.

There's one thing you have to say in Donna and Taryn's favour. Even after crash landing in the middle of the Pacific they manage to look good.

And they make it back to Hawaii to drink champagne to celebrate another completed mission. This time they meet at Rocky's club on the beach. I wonder what happened to the yacht. Maybe Travis Abilene sailed away in it after quitting the Agency.

The mysterious Agency isn't mentioned in this film. In the opening scenes Donna claims to be a Drug Enforcement agent. This was already hinted at in previous films, but it's contradicted in the later films. Bruce Penhall, in the blue shirt, is a CIA agent that the girls meet on the island. In "Picasso Trigger" he played a thug called Hondo, but now he's a good guy. It gets confusing keeping track of the rotating actors who get killed in one film and return as someone else in the next, but for the next few films he retains his role as the Agency's CIA liaison.

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Thursday, 24 May 2018

La Liceale nella Classe dei Ripetenti (3 Stars)

This is the second film in the Italian Liceale ("high school") series. I don't speak Italian, but the title means something like "The High School Class for Repeaters". In many European countries, including Germany, children need to score a sufficient grade to advance to the next class. If they don't succeed they have to repeat a school year. In theory a child can repeat a class indefinitely into adulthood, but in practice he will leave school when he reaches school leaving age.

I watched both "La Liceale" and "La Liceale 2" (as I prefer to call it) in German cinemas more than 30 years ago. They were given the imaginative titles "Flotte Teens mit heißen Jeans" ("Saucy Teens in Hot Jeans") and "Flotte Teens jetzt ohne Jeans" ("Saucy Teens without Jeans"), leading the films to be called the Hot Jeans series. That was silly, because we never see any jeans in the first two films. I enjoyed the first film a lot. I remember walking out of the second film feeling disappointed. I didn't bother going to the cinema to see the following films in the series. Years later I bought the third film in the series on DVD, but I don't intend to watch it again. It's awful.

This second film isn't awful, but it isn't particularly good either. It's a slapstick comedy about children in one of the last classes of high school (17 or older) playing pranks on their teachers. There's nothing of the coming-of-age drama that made the first film a masterpiece. Gloria Guida returns, but she's not playing the same character. In "La Liceale" she was Loredana, in "La Liceale 2" she's Angela. Rodolfo Bigotti played an American boy called Billy in the first film, but in the second film he's an Italian boy called Carlo. The German distributors in their unfathomable wisdom decided to change the names back to Loredana and Billy, in both the dubbing and the subtitles. I watched the subtitled German version today, and it was annoying. Whenever anyone said Angela's name it was subtitled as Loredana, while Carlo's name was subtitled as Billy.

The Italians are proud of the Liceale films as if they're a pinnacle of Italian comedy. If this is the best they have to be proud of I feel sorry for them. The first film was brilliant, I'll admit that. The rest are average to poor.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Based on a True Story (4 Stars)

Any new film directed by Roman Polanski is a cause for excitement. His films can be relied upon to have high quality. A problem I used to have is that his films are made alternately in English and in French, and it's not very common for French films to be shown in England. Now I live in Germany, and one of the local cinemas shows French films every week. Today I was able to see "D'après une histoire vraie" in French with German subtitles. My French is good enough that I would have risked watching it without subtitles, if necessary, but I might have missed some of the subtleties by not knowing individual words.

The film is about Delphine Daryieux, a successful French author, played by Roman Polanski's wife Emanuelle Seigner. Her latest novel, a biographical novel about her mother, is her most successful book so far. Many female readers say it has touched them. However, there are backlashes that the public knows nothing about. She has been receiving anonymous letters criticising her for lying about her family.

Against this background Delphine meets a woman called Elle who calls herself Delphine's biggest fan. Elle is also a writer; she's a ghost writer who has written biographies for many famous celebrities. Delphine is suffering from writer's block and can't start her next novel, but Elle becomes a close friend and encourages her to write a book about herself. At the same time Delphine decides to write a book about Elle, but doesn't tell her about her plans.

The relationship becomes ever closer, as Elle weasels her way into Delphine's life. They move together, supposedly for two weeks while Elle is looking for a new apartment, but it becomes permanent. Elle become jealous of everyone else that Delphine has in her life.

The film has obvious overlaps with "Misery", but it tells its own story. It becomes a tale of cat and mouse as each of the two women tries to exploit the other.

For me personally the film took too long to get going. It ran very slowly in the first half, only speeding up in the second half. The other member of the film group that I was sitting with disagreed with me and enjoyed the slow build up.

I can't be sure, but was there a Nicholas Cage cameo at the end? The man who asked for his book to be signed looked like him, but he isn't listed on the IMDB page. Please let me know your opinion if you see the film.

Mad City (5 Stars)

Once more I have to stand up to the serious film critics and tell them they're wrong. This film has had mostly unfavourable reviews, but I consider it to be brilliant, like all the films directed by Costa-Gavras (real name Konstantinos Gavras). He doesn't make many films, but the ones he makes are all masterpieces. This is no exception.

The natural history museum in Madeline, California has been forced to make cutbacks. Sam Baily, one of the two security guards, has been fired. He's so ashamed that he can't tell his wife about it. He goes out every day and sits in a cinema watching films until it's his normal time to go home. He begs his former boss, Mrs. Banks, for another chance. When she refuses he goes back with a gun to persuade her. He's not a bad man. He just wants his job back. That's all.

While talking to Mrs. Banks Sam's gun accidentally goes off, badly injuring his friend, the other security guard. Sam panics and locks the museum's doors. He's locked in the museum with Mrs. Banks, a class of young children and the reporter Max Brackett, who was visiting the museum to interview Mrs. Banks about the cutbacks.

Max used to be a reporter on one of the big national channels. Two years ago he was fired for being a loose cannon, and he now works for a small local television station. He sees this hostage situation as a chance to get his old job back. He talks to Sam, advising him on how to talk to the hostage negotiators. Max thinks that Sam has an important story to tell, so he advises him on what to do to become popular with the American public. He makes Sam no promises. He tells him he'll have to go to jail when he leaves the museum, but if he plays his cards right it'll only be a short sentence, and when he leaves jail he'll be offered a television show.

Sam and Max spend three days together with the "hostages". Max coaches Sam in what to say and do. For instance, when the first two children are released Max tells Sam that one has to be black so that nobody will accuse him of racism.

The children aren't scared of Sam. They sit fascinated when he tells them stories. He unlocks the vending machines to give them snacks. Significantly, when the first children are released they're scared of the reporters who rush to interview them and try to run back into the museum.

John Travolta has never been one of my favourite actors, but he's very impressive in this film. It's probably his best performance ever, even better than his role as Vincent in "Pulp Fiction".

In his earlier years I considered Dustin Hoffman to be the world's best actor. Who else came close to him in the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's? This was his last really great film. He's lost his magic over the last 20 years. Let's hope he can get it back.

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Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Sex Pot (2 Stars)

I don't usually bother with American teenage sex comedies. They're usually not very funny and not very sexy. I made an exception for "Sex Pot" because it stars the wonderful Christine Nguyen. Can you spot her in the film poster above?

Mert and Spanky are two teenage boys. Their biggest interests in life are smoking pot and watching porn. Spanky is staying at Mert's house for the weekend. They discover that Mert's older brother has imported a special type of marijuana from Africa. It doesn't just get people high, it's also a potent aphrodisiac that makes people who smoke it want sex immediately. The boys are both virgins, so they see it as an opportunity. They take it to a party where they hope to offer it to the girls.

Yes, that's a typical plot for a stupid teen sex comedy. So what's good about it?

The good news is: we see Christine Nguyen naked.

The bad news is: Christine Nguyen is a minor character with less than 10 minutes of screen time. As the best known actress in the film she's featured prominently on the Blu-ray cover, but that's it. She plays a small, insignificant role in the film.

I'd give the film itself only one star, because it's not worth watching. I've added a star because of Christine's brief appearance. I'll probably rip a short video of her appearance. I don't want to watch the rest of the film ever again.

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Hick (4 Stars)

After complaining a few days ago about Chloe Grace Moretz's last three films going straight-to-video I thought I would watch one of her older films from her successful years. "Hick" is a film I enjoy a lot, but maybe it was a bad example of her early career. I didn't realise until after I watched it today that it also went straight-to-video. Maybe the film industry has always been biased against her?

She plays Luli, a girl from a poor family in Nebraska. It's no sin to be poor, but her mother should have taken better care of her. Luli never knew her father, and all her life there have been a series of men living with them. On her 13th birthday Luli's mother buys her a gun. A girl needs to defend herself, doesn't she? Then they go to the bar for a drink.

Luli decides to run away from home. She wants to go to Las Vegas to find a sugar daddy. She doesn't get very far. While hitch-hiking she gets involved with a wannabe cowboy called Eddie. He's not the sort of rich man she's looking for, but a romantic involvement begins. He takes her to a friend's house where they can have a love nest. When she tries to leave him he goes crazy. He cuts her hair, dyes it black and keeps her tied to the bed whenever he goes out.

The moral of the story is that a young girl should never trust anyone she meets in the street. It's better to get to know men on the Internet and talk to them for a few months before moving together. It's never explained why he wants her to have short black hair. He's just crazy.

"Hick" was made in 2011, when Chloe Grace Moretz was only 14. Her acting ability at that young age was phenomenal. She deserves more than a straight-to-video career.

The film has only been released on DVD in America and England. You can order it on Blu-ray from Germany, if you're able to play Region B discs.

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Monday, 21 May 2018

Assault on Precinct 13 (5 Stars)

This is, quite simply, one of the best films ever made. The film's premise is simple: a police station is under siege from an anonymous gang. The way the story leads up to the siege is an example of a perfect screenplay: the ice cream van, the father and daughter, the gang riding the streets, the police station, the bus driving prisoners to death row. All these elements seem random and unrelated, but they're woven together to provide a firm foundation for the rest of the film.

For the last 13 years I've been in possession of a somewhat fuzzy DVD. When I watched the film two months ago the picture quality got on my nerves. I did a little research and found that the 2012 Blu-ray release is highly praised. I bought it and watched it today. The remastering is wonderful. I'm amazed that the picture has been cleaned up to such an extent. The studio has put in a lot of work to save this valuable film.

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