Saturday, 24 September 2016

Eyes Wide Shut (4 Stars)

"No dream is ever just a dream".

This is the eighth film starring Leelee Sobieski. It was released in 1999, but she was still 14 when she appeared in the film because her scenes were filmed in early 1998. The film was shot over a period of 400 days and still holds the world record for the longest uninterrupted period of film shooting. That must have been a gruelling experience for the film crew and for Tom Cruise, who appeared in most of the scenes.

Despite being set in New York, the film was made in England. The Greenwich Village street scenes were painstakingly recreated in Pinewood Studios, including the accurate placement of items such as newspaper vendors. It was so accurate that anyone who lived in New York in 1999 and saw the film wouldn't be able to tell that it was only a film set.

Leelee Sobieski only appears for a few minutes in the film, as the promiscuous daughter of the costume shop owner Milich. This is the first of two films in which she co-stars with the prolific Croatian actor Rade Serbedzija. The other is "The Elder Son", made in 2006. In both films he plays her father.

The film is an adaptation of the 1926 book "Dream Story" by Arthur Schnitzler. The original story is set in Vienna, one of the world's most elegant but decadent cities at the time. I agree that New York City is a more appropriate setting if the story were to happen today. It's a city of contrasts. Dr. Bill Harford is a rich doctor who lives in a wealthy apartment and goes to luxurious dinner parties. The rest of the world lives in poverty, such as the prostitute Domino. When Bill enters her apartment he's speechless, he's never seen such squalor. After this he spends his time wandering the streets as if sleep-walking, stumbling from one situation to another. The highlight is when he gatecrashes the meeting of a religious cult where the members are practising free sex.

Is it real? Is it fake? At the end of the film many questions are left unanswered. Stanley Kubrick liked to leave ambiguity in his films. In the case of "Eyes Wide Shut" it's appropriate. When you're dreaming everything seems real. When you wake up and remember the dream you see contradictions that weren't apparent while you were asleep. What's real for a moment is fake afterwards.

There's a scene in which Tom Cruise reads a newspaper article about the death of a woman he recently met. The article is written in great detail. Unfortunately some of the lines are doubled. In the first column it's the 7th and 8th lines, in the second and third columns it's the 9th and 10th lines. You can click on the picture above to check for yourself. Sloppy.

Here's a full transcript of the article, not visible in the above screenshot:

A former Miss New York was rushed to New York Hospital this morning in critical condition after a drug overdose, police sources said.

Amanda Curran, 30, was found unconscious in her room at the Florence Hotel by security personnel after her agent asked them to check on her because he'd been unable to reach her by phone.

Workers at the Florence told police she had not been seen since 4 a.m. when she returned to the hotel accompanied by two men. The staff said the men seemed to be holding a giggling Curran upright as they brought her into the posh hotel.

Police have been unable to locate the two men, but a police spokesman said they did not suspect foul play in Curran's overdose.

"We don't believe there has been any crime against Miss Curran, but we would like to talk to those two men to see what they can tell us about her final hours before she was discovered", the spokesman said.

Officials decline to say what drug or drugs Curran OD'd on. It was unclear if there was anyone in the room with her at the time she ingested the drugs.

Her sister, Jane Curran, told The Post, "The overdose must have been an accident. Mandy and I were as close as sisters can get. If there had been anything wrong, she would have told me".

Jane, a 26-year-old perfume consultant, said that her sister was emotionally troubled as a teenager, but she managed to put it behind her.

"She'd undergone treatment for depression in her teens, but that was a long time ago".

She said that her sister was not totally satisfied with her career, but was still hoping to turn her beauty pageant success into an acting gig.

"Things hadn't gone as well as she'd expected after winning the Miss New York title, but she was considering several television offers.

"She has many important friends in the fashion and entertainment worlds and she believed she'd break through in the end. It was just a matter of time".

After being hired for a series of magazine ads for London fashion designer Leon Vitali, rumors began circulating of an affair between the two.

Soon after her hiring, Vitali empire insiders were reporting that their boss admired Curran -- not for how she wore his stunning clothes in public, but by how she wowed him by taking them off in private, seductive solo performances.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Deadly Pickup (4½ Stars)

This is the best of the three erotic thrillers made by Dean McKendrick this year. After seeing all three of them I have to say that I approve of the new direction he's taken in his films for Retromedia.

Breezy Johnson is a girl hitch-hiking somewhere in California, presumably close to Los Angeles, in a small town close to the sea. She seduces the man who gives her a lift, then kills him at the point of orgasm. She stabs him in the neck with a small needle attached to her ring laced with a fast-acting poison. She steals his money and his gold ring before leaving him dead at the roadside. We might think that she's just a robber, but as the film progresses we see that she's a psychopath who kills for fun. She only takes her victims' money because she can, not because she needs it.

Once more Dean McKendrick proves that he's a better director than Sal V. Miers. The sex scenes are much more erotic, and also more realistic. If the sex has to be faked it should be faked well. In fact, the sex scenes in "Deadly Pickup" are probably the best in any of Dean's films. Maybe it's because of the natural talent of the lead actress Carter Cruise, an actress that I haven't seen before. She's appeared in a few of Axel Braun's films, but none that I've seen because I boycott the films that he makes for Wicked Pictures.

Billy Snow returns as a policeman, this time in uniform. This time he has a new partner. In "Model for Murder" he worked with Erika Jordan, in this film he works with Mike Gaglio. No offence to Mike, but I know who I'd rather have as my partner.

Billy does his best to investigate the case and catch the killer. Breezy is one of the main suspects, but no policeman is a match for a beautiful cold-hearted killer. She takes his gun and his clothes before he has a chance to defend himself.

This film also marks a new step for Dean McKendrick in his choice of actresses. Kira Noir is the first black actress he has used in any of his films. I welcome racial diversity, and I hope this will be the beginning of a new trend. Apart from being beautiful she's a very competent actress, so she deserves to return in his next films.

I'm excited by films in which women kill men during sex. For me it's the ultimate form of female domination. Dean McKendrick already used this theme in "Love Machine", but in "Deadly Pickup" the killings are even more realistic. I was disappointed to see that Breezy has no sexual preference, she also kills women. When she had a lesbian scene with Sarah Hunter I expected her to spare her partner, but she didn't. That was the only scene in the film that I didn't enjoy, and the only reason I haven't awarded a full five stars.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Joan of Arc (5 Stars)

This is the seventh film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 1999 when she was still 15. It was originally broadcast on American television as a three-part mini-series, each part lasting 60 minutes. The budget was $20 million, an exceptionally high amount for a television production at that time. It was edited into a film for cinema release in other countries, but unfortunately material was excluded to reduce the running time to 140 minutes. In Germany it was edited into a two-part mini-series, each part lasting 90 minutes, without any cuts. That's the version I watched today, because as far as I know it's the only uncut version available on DVD. Even the supposedly uncut Dutch version only lasts 150 minutes. If anyone is interested in buying this film I strongly recommend the German version. The dialogue is in English throughout. The only problem is that on-screen text is in German, texts like "The Cathedral of Reims in the North of France". That should be easy to guess, even if you don't speak German. As for the what-happened-next texts at the end, typical for true stories, here is the translation:

As Joan prophesied: seven years after her death Burgundy allied itself with France and drove the English out of the country.

Charles ruled for 30 years.

Cauchon became the archbishop of the Diocese of Rouen.

Jean de Metz never married.

Isabelle finally managed to get the judgement against her daughter overturned.

500 years later Joan was declared a saint.

Witnesses of Joan's execution claimed that her heart wasn't damaged by the flames.

I hope that will help if you decide to buy the German DVD.

The film was nominated for 13 Primetime Emmy Awards, more than any other film in 1999, but strangely won only one award, for Peter O'Toole as the best supporting actor. I admit that this was the best performance of his career, exceeding even his best known role as Laurence of Arabia, but it was Leelee Sobieski who carried the film. If anyone had doubted that she was the world's best actress, seeing her as Joan of Arc proved it. How could a 15-year-old girl portray such a complex range of emotions? It was pure brilliance.

Joan of Arc, the real woman, fascinates me. Based on the evidence of her accomplishments I consider her to be the strongest woman who ever lived. Maybe I should say that she was the strongest girl, because she was executed at the age of 19. At the age of 16 she led the French into battle, winning a series of battles against the English (more battles than shown in the film). She did nothing for herself. Her only aim was to re-unite France under King Charles and drive the English out.

Before Joan's birth there were prophecies that a Maid of Lorraine would free the French. It's true, Joan was born in Lorraine, and when she became famous the French called her the Maid of Lorraine, but she refused to accept the title. She saw herself as a solitary servant of God. From the age of 10 onwards she received visions of St. Margaret, St. Catherine and St. Michael (the Archangel Michael). She saw them and heard their voices. She impressed representatives of the Catholic Church when she described Michael's appearance and it matched the description written in a secret document in the Vatican. Was that just a coincidence? I admit that I'm a sceptic, but it does seem remarkable that a 16-year-old girl would have knowledge of Catholic secrets that not even the priests were told.

Joan was a simple peasant girl. She never learnt how to read or write, so she had to dictate her letters to scribes. However, the records of her speeches show that she was outstandingly intelligent. The transcripts of her trial still exist, and they show that she fearlessly opposed her accusers and outwitted them with her answers to their questions. When she was burnt at the stake she showed no fear, staring silently at a cross as she burnt.

The reason for her execution is laughable by today's standards. Even though most of the trial concerned her visions, whether they were from God, from the Devil or invented by herself, that isn't why she was convicted. The clerics couldn't be sure that the visions didn't come from God, and they were afraid of God's punishment if they called them fake. Joan was executed because she wore men's clothing. Men were scared of her, especially the religious leaders. In the history of the world religion is a men only club, telling women what to do and what to wear. If anybody anywhere tells women what to wear, whether they're told to cover or uncover themselves, it's wrong.

Of course, I can't agree with Joan of Arc theologically. I despise the Roman Catholic church, but I have the utmost respect and admiration for a woman who was powerful enough to take a sword in her hand and do what the men around her were too weak to do.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Model for Murder (4 Stars)

I watched this film earlier this month. Click here for the review. I watched it again today to get a better impression of Dean McKendrick's newer films, his erotic thrillers. I see a lot of promise in his new style. The only real improvement necessary is to make the films longer. A thriller shouldn't run for less than 90 minutes, it needs time to build the suspense.

A small fault in the film is the sound editing. In the beach scene the waves are so loud that the dialogue is barely comprehensible. The microphones should have been placed closer to the actors. Alternatively, the sound could have been dubbed with a studio recording.

Billy Snow and Erika Jordan make a good pair as the detectives O'Neill and Parker. It would be good to see them reprise their roles in future films. Are you reading this, Dean?

I'm very impressed with Sarah Hunter, shown above with Jon Fleming. As well as being a fine actress, the contrast between her plain girl-next-door appearance when clothed and her incredible sexuality when undressed is fascinating. She's my favourite of the new batch of Retromedia actresses. I hope to see a lot more of her, with and without clothes.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Doctor Who and the Daleks (4 Stars)

I couldn't resist. Even though I've owned this film on DVD for years I had to buy the remastered Blu-ray version. My first impression when watching the Blu-ray was mixed, but then I compared a segment with the DVD and was able to see the improvement. The remastered version of this film isn't as perfect as "Planet of the Apes", which was filmed only a few years later, but there's a reason for it. It was the first film made by a new company, Aaru Productions, and they cut costs by using cheap film material for the original tapes. The film had a total budget of only £180,000 (about $400,000 at the 1966 exchange rate), so the film still looks amazingly good for the money spent.

Purists hate this film, but it's not all that bad. There are changes to the basis premises of the television series, so it can't be considered to be canon. The Doctor isn't a Time Lord, he's a human scientist who has built a time machine in his back garden. The Black Dalek has decorated his control room with lava lamps. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable film, carried primarily by the outstanding action of Peter Cushing. He could have been one of the real Doctors on television if he had been willing to commit himself to a long-running series.

Then there's the colour, the beautiful colour. In the ancient days of black and white television it was practically miraculous to see television characters in colour. The original Daleks used on television were mostly grey, but that wasn't a suitable colour for a film. The majority of the film Daleks were blue, while the higher ranked Daleks were red or black.

The Daleks in this film are relatively weak, compared to the versions shown on television in the 21st Century. They can be grabbed and spun around. They can only move on metal floors. However, this is true to the initial episodes.

"Doctor Who and the Daleks" doesn't live up to the quality of the original story from 1963, but it's visually appealing and a good sci-fi thriller in its own right.

"If you knock over my lava lamps you will be exterminated. Exterminated".

Saturday, 17 September 2016

SMS für Dich (4 Stars)

This is a German romantic comedy directed by Karoline Herfurth, who also plays the main role. The title is best translated as "Text for you", because "SMS" ("Short Message Service") is the usual German acronym for a text message sent by a mobile phone.

Germany isn't known for making romantic comedies, they're more of an American phenomenon, but this is an excellent attempt to make an original film in a very rigidly defined genre. For most of the film I thought it was running in a completely different direction, but towards the end it slipped into the standard rules. You know what the rules are, don't you? You don't? Let me tell you what they are one last time:

1. Girl meets boy.
2. The girl doesn't like the boy, but as time goes on she grows to like him.
3. Girl and boy go different ways. (Sometimes geographically, sometimes she returns to an ex-lover).
4. Girl realises she can't live without the boy and returns to him.

If that isn't what happens it's not a genuine romcom, so it's not a spoiler for me to tell you that this is the film's end result.

Now to the plot. Clara Sommerfeld is a young woman who writes and illustrates children's books. She's engaged to be married, but her fiancé Ben is run over by a drunken driver in front of her eyes. Two years later she still hasn't got over her loss. She still writes text messages to him, partly as therapy for herself, partly in the hope that he somehow can read the messages on the other side. What she doesn't know is that Ben's mobile phone number has recently been reassigned. Mark, the sports reporter for a Berlin newspaper, is fascinated by the romantic messages that he receives from a stranger. He already has a girlfriend, but she's not a romantic person, which makes Clara's text messages all the more appealing to him. He becomes determined to meet the mystery woman.

Karoline herself visited the cinema, Metropol in Stuttgart, to present the film. I was thrilled to meet her. She's a beautiful person, inside and out, a talented actress, and now she's showing that she has other skills by directing her first film.

Best TV Series of All Time

Two weeks ago I published a list of the best TV series of all time as suggested by the German magazine "TV Movie". I was very critical of the list. Click here to read my post. I decided to put together my own list, but I felt myself incapable of making an objective list, because there are so many television series that I have never watched. Apart from that, I have my own tastes, in particular a natural tendency to rate comedy series lower than drama series.

Eventually I thought of a way to make a list that's almost objective. I gave points to all TV series given Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for the last 50 years, based on whether they won awards or were only nominated. I added a few bonus points for the current Amazon best sellers. I multiplied the result by an age factor to give a bias to newer series. Then I multiplied by a "cult factor" to give a bias to series that I hear people talking about. This is the result.

  1. Sopranos
  2. Game of Thrones
  3. Star Trek
  4. Xena Warrior Princess
  5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  6. Sex and the City
  7. Ally McBeal
  8. Lost
  9. MASH
  10. Taxi
  11. Highlander
  12. La Femme Nikita
  13. Homeland
  14. Breaking Bad
  15. Orange is the New Black
  16. Twin Peaks
  17. Dexter
  18. Columbo
  19. X-Files
  20. 24
  21. Boardwalk Empire
  22. Office
  23. Cheers
  24. Downton Abbey
  25. Mad Men
  26. Frasier
  27. Rome
  28. Mr. Robot
  29. West Wing
  30. NYPD Blue
  31. Friends
  32. Batman
  33. Seinfeld
  34. Kojak
  35. Big Bang Theory
  36. Avengers
  37. ER
  38. Heroes
  39. Deadwood
  40. Desperate Housewives
  41. House of Cards
  42. 3rd Rock from the Sun
  43. Dallas
  44. True Blood
  45. Charlie's Angels
  46. Alias
  47. Star Trek: TNG
  48. Walking Dead
  49. Starsky and Hutch
  50. Simpsons
Before you complain that one of your favourite series is missing from the list, there are a few of mine missing as well. In a personal list I would have put "Doctor Who" near the top, but the series had so few points to begin with that even the maximum cult factor couldn't push it into the top 50. I'm also sad that recent series like "Daredevil", "Arrow" and "Gotham" are missing from the list. If it had been my own list I wouldn't have included "Sex and the City" at all, because I hate it. People have different tastes.

Nevertheless, comments are welcome. Let me know what you think of the list.

Friday, 16 September 2016

I'm with the hippos (4 Stars)

This is a 1979 Italian comedy starring Bud Spencer and Terence Hill. I've translated the title literally. It was released in English as "I'm for the hippos", which changes the meaning, but not as much as the Dutch version, which is called "The four fists on safari". The French go all the way by calling it "Cul et Chemise", i.e. "Ass and Shirt". (I don't use the British word "arse" because it sounds too vulgar to me. I use the American word "ass" because it sounds funny). Today I watched the German version, which is called "The Crocodile and his Hippo". There are a few hippos but no crocodiles in the film, so what sense does that make? The Germans have taken great liberties with the film in their dubbing. In the original film the two main characters are called Slim and Tom, but in the German version their names have been changed to Crocodile and Hippopotamus. That's quite amazing. Are they making fun of Bud because of his weight?

Slim (Terence Hill) and Tom (Bud Spencer) are two cousins who grew up in Rhodesia, before the country changed its name to Zimbabwe. Rhodesia used to be the richest country in Africa, its opulent farms producing so much food that it could be exported worldwide. Zimbabwe is now the world's poorest country, and its population is starving. How did this happen in such a short time? One man is responsible for ruining his country: Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, first as prime minister, then as president. Zimbabwe is nominally a democracy, but he retains power by forging the election results and imprisoning anyone who dares oppose him. Originally he was considered a hero as one of the rebel leaders who opposed white rule in Rhodesia, but now he's hated by his people so much that they would beg the former white leaders to return. The biggest mistake he made was his land reform policy. Most of the country's farms were in the control of white farmers. At first he encouraged the farmers to sell their farms to black buyers, but when very few farms were sold he encouraged his supporters to ransack the farms and drive the white people out. Today the former Rhodesian farms are uncultivated weed patches. If anyone complains Mugabe sends his soldiers to slaughter whole villages.

"I'm with the hippos" shows Rhodesia in its affluent days. Slim returns to Rhodesia after spending a few years in Canada. He's an animal activist, and he's shocked to see that his cousin Tom is running safaris for foreign tourists. He sabotages the safaris by shooting the tyres of Tom's land rover. What he doesn't know is that Tom is also opposed to killing animals for sport. Tom gives his customers rifles loaded with blanks, and when the animals don't die he tells them they missed their targets. Bravo, Tom! I like your style.

Other entrepreneurs have less respect for animals. A millionaire called Ormond wants to capture thousands of animals to export them to Canada. As we see, Slim has returned to Rhodesia because he heard of Ormond's plan and wants to stop him. Most of the film is a series of comic scenes in which Slim and Tom battle with their nemesis.

I recently bought a box set of films starring Bud Spencer, to remember him in his death. His real name is Carlo Pedersoli, and he died on June 27th 2016. I would have rewatched some of his films which I already owned at the time, but as my regular readers know that was shortly before my move to Germany and I'd already packed most of my films. Now, after a three month delay, I can make up for it. Bud Spencer was one of the greatest actors of all time, and definitely Italy's greatest actor.

Many of Bud's films also starred Terence Hill, the blond-haired, blue-eyed Italian, whose real name is Mario Girotti. They were a perfect as a duo, their comedy bouncing off one another in more than 20 films.

Bud Spencer
31 October 1929 – 27 June 2016