Thursday, 8 December 2016

Requiem for a Vampire (4 Stars)

"Requiem for a Vampire" is Jean Rollin's fourth vampire film, made in 1971. Towards the end of his life he said that this was his best film. I disagree with this, I believe he made better films, but it's still a fascinating film.

The story opens with a car chase. In the first car there's a man with two teenage girls dressed as clowns. In the second car it's just a man. After a shoot out the man in the first car is killed, but one of the clowns grabs the steering wheel and manages to escape. After wandering around they find a castle inhabited by vampires, or at least half-vampires. Their leader is a vampire called the Master. He says that he's the last true vampire left on Earth. He's very old and no longer has the strength to make others like himself. His followers drink blood like normal vampires, but they're not immortal and they can't turn others into vampires.

The Master immediately detects with his vampiric senses that the girls are both virgins. It's not clear exactly how old they are, maybe 16, maybe 18, but there's a good reason for their virginity: they're lesbians. In this rewriting of vampire mythology, only virgins can become vampires. The girls are asked to bring men back to the castle as food for the vampires. It's easy. All they have to do is run through the fields naked and men follow them, like moths to a flame. Would I follow them? Of course I would!

As much as I enjoy the film, it has a few faults that prevent me giving it a full five stars. I find the torture and rape scenes unpleasant, because the victims are always women. I said that only virgins could become vampires, but evidently it's not necessary to remain a virgin afterwards, because the male vampires in the castle rape their female captives before killing them. Then there are totally unnecessary scenes where naked women are whipped. I hate violence against women.

Nevertheless, the film has the naive beauty that's typical for all of Jean Rollin's films. If you're a fan of his, or a fan of vampire films in general, this is a film you have to see.

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Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Deepwater Horizon (2 Stars)

I love disaster movies. I love films based on true stories. "Deepwater Horizon" also stars some of my favourite actors, so there's no reason why I shouldn't like it, is there?

Unfortunately, that's not the case. It's a poorly written and poorly directed film. In a good disaster movie, like "Titanic" or "Dresden", there's a slow build up in which we get to know the main characters intimately. In "Deepwater Horizon" we're rushed through a background story with Mike Willis (Mark Wahlberg), but by the time he flies to the oil rig all we know about him is that he loves his wife and his family. Doesn't everyone? We know even less about everyone else we see. They're just hollow characters running around in circles. There should have been at least an hour added to the beginning of the film. Don't tell me that would have made the film too long. A good film is never too long.

Another problem was with the technical details of the events leading up to the catastrophe. Every few minutes a text flashed onto the screen telling us what some device or monitor meant, but I couldn't keep up. I needed a longer explanation. There should have been longer explanations. A fictional character could have been added, someone new on the job who could have posed questions about what was happening.

The best part of the film was the disaster itself. It's a well-filmed spectacle of explosions and fires, but even there I have a criticism. In part of the film, when the power failed, the picture was too dark. It was impossible to recognise who was on the screen.

At first I wanted to give "Deepwater Horizon" a 3 star rating, but after reflecting I had to downgrade it. It's not an average film, it's a poor film.

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Tokyo Heidi (4½ Stars)

"Tokyo Heidi" is one of the most original films of the year, pushing the boundaries of the audience's powers of imagination.

The film begins with a Japanese girl called Ryuko. At a cosplay festival she meets Marcus, a Swiss businessman who is in Japan to find investors for a revolutionary new video game. The player's consciousness is downloaded into his game box, referred to unglamorously as a Glotz, and he enters a dream-like state in which he can live out an adventure based on his memories and imagination. Like a normal dream, time runs faster, so he can enjoy several months of game play within a few hours. Not just that, the boxes are networked together, so every player is living in the same world, interacting with one another. I'm in your dream and you're in mine, and we're surrounded by the non-player characters, the figments of one another's imagination.

Marcus and Ryuko marry, and they have a son called Walterli. The game development continues. Marcus begins to have ethical doubts about his game. Test subjects are found to be disoriented when they wake up from playing. After spending months in the game they're unable to tell the difference between the game and reality. Apart from that, his colleagues want to permanently download the consciousness of each player into the network. This has obvious advantages, such as a faster start-up time on the next usage, and it improves the gameplay for other users, because when a person logs out others can continue to interact with him.

Unable to cope, Marcus kills himself. Ryuko inherits the company, but she accepts an offer to sell it to a Chinese company for 900 million Euros. She begins to think she's done the wrong thing. She enters the Glotz to speak to her husband, because his consciousness is still alive within the network. He explains to her that she can destroy the game from inside by attacking the central headquarters where his consciousness is stored. That would be easier for her if Walterli weren't also with her, because he's being attacked by an evil version of herself.

This summary might sound like the complete plot, but it's only the first 15 minutes of the film. "Tokyo Heidi" would be exciting if it were only a battle within a dream world, but there are mind-bending plot twists as the film continues. After watching it in the cinema today my first thought was, "Wow! I have to see it again". So much happened in the film that it's difficult to process it all in a single viewing.

"Tokyo Heidi" is a German film, but a lot of the dialog is in Japanese. It highlights the possibilities and the dangers of virtual reality. As is typical for German films, the viewer is expected to take something with him that he can use in his normal life.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Rush Hour 2 (5 Stars)

There's a big problem with sequels, especially with sequels to comedy films. The sequel has to be different to the original in order to be interesting, but it also has to be similar enough to the original to satisfy the people who are returning to the cinema because they liked what they saw. It's difficult to keep a balance between the two. The first few minutes of "Rush Hour 2" made me groan when jokes were repeated, such as the Beach Boys playing on the radio and "Never touch a black man's radio". I needn't have worried. These repeat jokes where just thrown in to acclimatise the audience and show them they hadn't walked into the wrong film. After the first 10 minutes the film is firrmly in new territory.

The film begins with James Carter taking a vacation in Hong Kong and Inspector Lee showing him around. The first film ended with Carter boarding a plane for his first trip to Hong Kong, so we can assume that the second film begins at most a few days after the first film ended. Carter wants to relax and have a good time, but fate isn't on his side. A bomb explodes in the US Consulate that kills two US customs officials. Lee is told that Ricky Tan, his father's former partner in the police force, is the suspect. He begins to work on solving the case, accompanied unwillingly by Carter.

"Rush Hour 2" was an even bigger box office success than "Rush Hour". The main reason was Jackie Chan, of course, but another reason was that it starred the beautiful Zhang Ziyi (or is her name Ziyi Zhang?) shortly after she gained the public's attention in the award winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".

The majority of film critics rated "Rush Hour 2" lower than the original film, which once again proves that they don't know what they're talking about. It's a brilliant film, and if you liked the first film you'll enjoy the sequel just as much, maybe more.

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Liebesgrüße aus der Lederhose 6 (3 Stars)

I admit that I only watched this film today out of a sense of completism. I have a DVD box set that contains the five Lederhosen films, ground-breaking German erotic comedies released from 1973 to 1978. The box also includes two other films in the series. I don't consider them to be Lederhosen films, whatever's written on the box. Despite having only a tenuous continuity, the first five films form a unity, with many recurring actors, in particular Peter Steiner as Sepp, the main character in all five films. This sixth film, made in 1982, four years after "Liebesgrüße aus der Lederhose 5", features none of the actors from the previous films. The only thing that links it to the previous films is that Gunter Otto is still the director.

It's not just a matter of different actors. The style is a big shift from the previous films. The German erotic comedies of the 1970's had a naive innocence to them. In the 1980's, presumably influenced by the widespread availability of films on videotapes, Germany's softcore films moved closer to hardcore. The films still contain no real penetration, but they became more explicit, showing close-ups of the genitalia, both male and female. I'm sure this is what the German public wanted in the 1980's, but as a connoisseur and admirer of the 1970's films I'm disappointed at the change.

The film is about a riding school called Rosenhof which doubles as a hotel. The owner has recently died, and the new owner is his sister Agatha from Berlin. She's very efficient and businesslike, unlike the Bavarian staff who would rather spend their time having sex than working. Agatha fires most of the staff, which causes a problem when the guests arrive at the start of the holiday season. She hires six photo models who have been stranded in the area after a dispute with their photographer.

Agatha thought things were bad with the original staff, but it's much worse now. She didn't reckon with the libido of her new girls. They mercilessly seduce all the male guests. "Seduce" is a polite word for what they do, because they don't care whether the men are willing or not. It doesn't matter if the men are married or twice their age, they jump on them as soon as their wives leave the room. For instance, they strip a man in the field and demand that he has sex with all of them. He passes out after the first two girls, so they leave him unconscious and run off to find another victim.

I enjoy films in which women force men to have non-consensual sex, but I still don't think this film lives up to the quality of the first five parts.

Incidentally, I've now added the CINEMA tag to all of the films that I've watched in the cinema, not just the films I've seen in Germany. I needed a few hours to go through my old posts, but I think it was worth it. Maybe it's irrelevant to my readers, but it's very useful for me as a record. I may have failed to tag a few films, but I was careful, so I doubt there are many errors. Apart from actual cinemas, I've used the tag for any other public viewing, such as the free film festival in Birmingham's Brindley Place.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Rush Hour (5 Stars)

I first saw "Rush Hour" when I lived in America, and I immediately loved it. It was probably in 2000, about 18 months after its initial cinema release. What I didn't realise at the time was that it was Jackie Chan's international breakthrough. This wasn't obvious to me because I had known him for years. After Bruce Lee's death in 1973 Jackie Chan was touted as the new Bruce Lee. I watched a few of his films and quickly dismissed the comparison with Bruce Lee as a hollow marketing slogan. Jackie Chan was no Bruce Lee. I'm sure that Jackie would be the first to agree with me. On the other hand, Bruce Lee was no Jackie Chan. Jackie has a unique style that sets him apart from other actors. In an interview that I heard a few years ago he said that his favourite actor is Buster Keaton. As soon as he said that it hit me. "So that's who he reminds me of". It's so obvious when you know it.

In the late 1970's I watched a lot of Chinese martial arts films, mostly in a cinema next to the Christian Science reading room in Sutton Coldfield. I don't remember their names, there were so many of them. What I do remember is that Jackie Chan was in a lot of them, so when I saw him in "Rush Hour" he was already a familiar face.

By 1998 Jackie Chan had made more than 60 films. The difference with "Rush Hour" was that it was made in the USA. Chris Tucker was well known at the time, but Jackie was a new face in Hollywood. The two were given equal billing and equal screen time in the film, which was a big risk for normally cautious Hollywood, but it paid off. "Rush Hour" was the ultimate buddy movie. The chemistry between the two lead actors was amazing. Chis Tucker's eccentric but efficient style as a policeman, seemingly taking nothing seriously, contrasted with Jackie Chan's no nonsense approach to police work.

Two men come together from two different cultures. James Carter (Chris Tucker) is a detective and undercover cop for the LAPD. ("We're the most hated cops in the free world. My Mama is so ashamed of me, she tells everybody I'm a drug dealer"). Detective Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) works for the Hong Kong police force. Lee's friend Han is sent to Los Angeles to become the Chinese consul. Han's daughter is kidnapped, and he demands that Lee assist the FBI in finding her. At first the FBI is annoyed by the outside interference and asks Carter to keep Lee away from the investigation, but Lee insists on doing his job and Carter gladly helps him.

I expect most people have seen this film and its sequels already. If not, what are you waiting for? Here are the links to buy the film.

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Saturday, 3 December 2016

Die Kirche bleibt im Dorf (5 Stars)

"The church remains in the village". That's the title of this film that has become a cultural phenomenon. After its surprise success in 2012 a TV series followed that ran from 2013 to 2015. Then a sequel was made in 2015, and it's been announced that after taking a break this year the fourth season of the TV series will be broadcast next year.

The Swabians are a strange people. They populate an area in south Germany that covers most of southern Württemberg and part of Bavaria. The largest city in Swabia is Stuttgart. Augsburg claims to be the capital of Swabia. The Swabians in Stuttgart deny this, while people from other parts of Swabia are undecided. Despite the close proximity the dialects are very different. Swabian German borrows words from French that aren't used in Bavarian or any other parts of Germany. For instance, the normal German word for pavement is Bürgersteig, but the Swabians say Trottwar. Germans from other regions say Swabian sounds vulgar, but I can't comment on it, because I've lived in Swabia long enough to take the dialect for granted.

The Swabians are well known for eating pasta, especially the regional variety called Spätzle. A typical Swabian meal consists of meat, Spätzle and salad. Vegetables are eaten less often. Potatoes are usually only eaten cold as part of a potato salad.

The Swabian dialect is also famous for its large amount of swear words. It's claimed that you can use a different word to insult someone every day of the year. In this scene from the film the farmer Elisabeth calls the mayor a "hinterfotziger Allmachtsdackl". I understand what's meant by it, but it's impossible to translate. "Hinterfotzig" is a combination of the words "hinterlistig" (devious) and "Fotze" (cunt). "Dackel" means a Dachshund, but in Swabian it's spelt "Dackl" and refers to any small dog. It also means idiot, and it sounds particularly rude when combined with a prefix like "Halb-" (half) or "Allmachts-" (almighty).

Probably the most common swear word in Swabian German is "Heidenei" (heathen's testicle). Other common expressions are "Heilandsack" (a blend of "saviour's sacrament" and "scrotum") and "Hafelesgucka" (curious, suggesting someone is examining your faeces).

"Die Kirche bleibt im Dorf" is a scaled down version of "A Tale of two Cities". It's about the two villages Unterrieslingen and Oberrieslingen. The two villages have hated one another for hundreds of years, and nobody knows why. The trouble is that the church is in Oberrieslingen and the cemetery is in Unterrieslingen. Swabians are religious people, especially in the small villages, so the people of Unterrieslingen are forced to visit their neighbours on Sunday. And of course, the people of Oberrieslingen need to be buried somewhere. The church's priest is caught in the middle, but he doesn't mind as long as he can drink the local wine.

When an American millionaire visits Oberrieslingen and offers to pay 10 million Euros for it a war breaks out. Since they can no longer use the church, the residents of Unterrieslingen say their neighbours can't use their cemetery any more. They begin to dig up the coffins and send them back.

This is a hilarious film. It was originally made by Swabians for Swabians, but now it's popular throughout Germany. Everyone wants to laugh at the Swabians.

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (4½ Stars)

In 2000 "Charlie's Angels" earned $264 million at the box office, making it the 12th highest earning film of the year. Since the film was so successful a sequel had to be made. In 2003 "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" earned $259 million at the box office, making it the 12th highest earning film of the year. This was considered a flop, so no third film was made. Am I missing something? Do the studios make such a fuss over a measly $5 million? The film made a profit anyway, even without including the DVD sales.

The same three Angels return as in the first film, Dylan, Natalie and Alex. Before you say that's nothing special, remember that in the original TV series there were four different line-ups in five years. The only thing that remained consistent was that there were always three Angels, so as soon as someone left a replacement was hired.

On the other hand, this film has a new Bosley, who is presented as an inexperienced newcomer. In the first film Bill Murray plays John Bosley, in the second film Bernie Mac plays Jimmy Bosley. I wonder if they're supposed to be related. Whatever the case is, the Angels are two much for Jimmy to handle. He quickly covers his lap when the girls snuggle up to him on the couch. He has to remain professional.

If the Angels are too much for Jimmy Boswell to handle he has to look for love outside of the office. It looks like Melissa McCarthy is more his type. His eyes are all over her, and she likes it. I wish there had been a third film to show us how their relationship develops.

The Angels are always ready for action, with or without clothes. Judging by her stare Alex isn't very happy with Natalie. She's probably thinking, "Why didn't you tell us it would be so cold?"

I've given this film the same rating as the first film, but if anything it's slightly better. The action is goofy and over-the-top, comparable with the Roger Moore James Bond films. I say this as praise, not criticism. The three Angels are larger-than-life superwomen. They pick a fight with 50 soldiers, and the soldiers don't stand a chance. This is true female empowerment. There should be a continuing franchise of Charlie's Angels films. There's no need for the actresses to commit themselves on a long term basis, the rota can change any time. I'd like to see a new Charlie's Angels film every year. Wouldn't you?

"Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" has only been released on DVD in England and America. In Germany it's available on Blu-ray. The default language for the film is English, and even the disc menu is in English, so if you prefer to watch films in high definition order it from using the link below.

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Thursday, 1 December 2016

Arrival (3 Stars)

Today I've decided to add a CINEMA tag (in capitals) to all the reviews of films that I watched in a cinema. It's something I've been considering for a long time. At first I thought I would further specify which cinema it was, using tags like "Cinema: Cineworld" or "Cinema: Electric", but I don't think that's relevant. Today I'll go back and add the tag to all the films I've seen in the cinema since moving to Germany. When I have time I'll also add the tag to films that I watched in England, but there were so many in the last three years that I might forget a few. I'll do my best.

"Arrival" is a science fiction film that centres around Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams). 12 large spaceships arrive at different places on Earth. They don't seem to have hostile intentions, but the reaction to them varies from country to country. In America the army asks Dr. Banks, a university linguistics lecturer, to attempt to communicate with the aliens. In some of the other countries similar attempts are made.

It's not easy. The sounds are so unintelligible that Dr. Banks abandons verbal communication and uses written communication as an alternative. Even so, there are great difficulties. In their language the aliens write sentences in a circle.

The film has received great critical acclaim, and I admit that I was fascinated by the language aspect, but there are great weaknesses, which I'll try to describe without giving away too many spoilers. First of all, if the aliens are part of a race for whom "time is not linear", i.e. they can see the future, why didn't they just look at their visit to Earth in advance and learn English before they arrived? Much easier. That might sound like a temporal paradox, but there's a bigger one in the film. Spoilers!

Secondly, the idea that the aliens want all nations on Earth to work together -- 12 of them, at least -- is laughable. That sounds like a big brother, or rather mommy and daddy, coming down from the sky to bang our heads together and tell us to stop squabbling. Even if the aliens did want it, it's infeasible that it would actually work.

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Linda (3 Stars)

There's something strange about the American releases of old European films. Apart from the awful dubbing, the DVD covers often have nothing to do with the films themselves. Look at the picture above. It's a pretty girl lying on a bed with a book and a pen. What's the pen for? Is it to underline her favourite passages? Maybe, but it doesn't matter. The girl in the picture doesn't appear in the film. No girls lie on a bed reading a book. In fact, nobody reads a book at all in this film.

"Linda" is a film made by Jesse Franco in 1981. I have mixed feelings about Jesse Franco. Over his career he's made some very good and some very bad films. More of the latter. However, the film stars Katja Bienert in the title role, which is reason enough to watch it.

The film takes place on the island of Madeira. That's a Portugese island, but the film was made in Spanish. A young woman called Betsy Norman is working in a luxury hotel, the Transcontinental. She's having an affair with Ronald Medford, the boyfriend of Sheila, the hotel owner. The names all sound very English, don't they? Sheila finds out, and she has a perfect way to punish Betsy. She delivers her to an exclusive brothel where she's locked up and forced to give herself to the high paying customers. Ron searches for her and tries to free her.

So where does Linda fit into the story? She doesn't. She's irrelevant to everything. Linda Norman is Betsy's 16-year-old sister who's living in a convent school in Switzerland. She takes a two-week holiday in Madeira to see her sister, but when she arrives Betsy has already disappeared. Linda meets a young man and falls in love with him, but they separate at the end of her holiday.

It's a weird story. I can't help thinking that Jesse Franco just put Katja Bienert into the film as an after-thought because he was fascinated by her youthful beauty. She was 14 at the time the film was made.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Hateful Eight (4½ Stars)

In my review at the beginning of this year I said that this might be Quentin Tarantino's weakest film to date. After watching the film a second time I have to confirm it. This really is Quentin Tarantino's weakest film. Of course, this is a relative statement. His weakest film is still better than the best film of most other directors.

On the other hand, the cinematography in "The Hateful Eight" is superior to any of his previous films. I'd like to provide screenshots to back up this statement, but any pictures I show here are too small to give an adequate impression. You have to look at the film itself on a big screen, as large as possible. The beauty of the outdoor scenes is overwhelming. Even the indoor scenes are perfectly laid out like the paintings of a master artist.

Maybe the film's problem is that too much emphasis was made on the cinematography in its creation. The highly controversial choice was made to use Panavision 70mm film cameras to create larger panoramas. This format was fashionable for big budget productions in the 1960's, but it hasn't been used since 1970. As a result less work was put into the character development, which is outstanding in all of Quentin Tarantino's other films.

There is one plot error in the film. Maybe it's not an error, maybe it's deliberate, but it still disturbs me. Marquis Warren, the Bounty Hunter, boasts to everyone in the cabin that he humiliated Chester Smithers, the Confederate's son, by making him suck his penis. This is a terrible anachronism. It isn't a modern film, it's set in the 19th Century, probably the early 1870's. In those days homosexuality was considered to be something shameful. No man at that time would have described the sexual acts so freely. He would have been ashamed to tell people that he let another man suck his penis. In fact, other people might have been so disgusted that they would have shot him, especially a man from the Southern States like the Sheriff.

To prove that there's still justice in the world, Ennio Morricone won the Academy Award for the best film score. Why did he have to wait so long? He should have won an Oscar for "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (1966). He should have won an Oscar for "The Legend of 1900" (1998). There are probably other films with his music that are just as deserving. According to IMDB he's composed music for 564 films. His Academy Award was long overdue.

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