Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Snowden (4 Stars)


I missed this film when it was in the cinema. My thanks to Netflix UK for offering it online, so that I could watch it while on holiday in England. Netflix Germany doesn't include it in their catalogue.

Edward Snowden is a controversial figure, in America at least. In America he's divided the country down the middle. Judging by the fervent online debates a few years ago his supporters and opponents are numerically evenly matched. In the rest of the world he's almost universally considered to be a hero. The American divide isn't necessarily along party political lines. At the end of the film there are quotes from two leading Democratic politicians, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Clinton considers Snowden a criminal who should be put on trial, whereas Sanders praises what Snowden did.

Technically, yes, Edward Snowden broke the law. He worked for the CIA, an American government agency, and he swore oaths of secrecy. He broke these oaths when he smuggled out thousands, maybe even millions of documents and gave them to representatives of the Guardian, a British newspaper. His justification is that he considered the CIA and the NSA to be acting illegally, so it was his moral duty to resist. The film draws a connection between Nazi Germany and modern America; at the Nuremberg Trials the officers were convicted as criminals because they had obeyed orders, whereas the Germans who defied the Nazi regime are now regarded as heroes. This highlights Edward Snowden's moral dilemma, but it's a poor comparison, because the Nuremberg Trials were a result of Germany losing the war. If Germany had won the Nazi officers would have been heroes, whereas the rebels would have been executed as traitors. In the case of Snowden's revelations there has been no war to prompt a black-and-white judgement of what he did. The aftermath of wars is the only time when moral ambiguities are (seemingly) eradicated, because the winners are right and the losers are wrong. Winning a war is proof that God was on our side.

Edward Snowden was and is an American patriot. He believes in the American constitution and the American way of life. What he didn't accept was the way the NSA and CIA were spying on normal citizens, uninvolved with criminal activities. The contents of Facebook, emails and everything else online was being monitored and stored. It was possible to observe people through the camera of laptops even when the laptop was turned off. I wonder if this is still possible now. Laptop manufacturers may have closed the security breach since it was revealed by Snowden. Maybe, maybe not.

As a protest I'm writing this post while sitting at my laptop completely naked. I hope Donald Trump will look at me after reading this post. I want to make him jealous. On the other hand, if there are any sexy super-spies checking my credentials, please come and visit me. You already have my address.

Since Snowden's revelations new laws have been passed in America forbidding the mass accumulation of private data. I don't take this seriously. This was already illegal, but government agencies did it anyway, and I'm certain they still do it now.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Snowman (4 Stars)


Depending on its success, this is the first in a series of films about the Norwegian detective Harry Hole. Is that a typical Norwegian name? Up until now the author Jo Nesbo has written 11 books about him, all of which have become international bestsellers.

The film didn't take much to win me over. As soon as I saw the beautiful Norwegian scenery in the first five minutes I was in love with it. I would have given it a good rating whatever happened next. However, there were no disappointments for me, even though I'm not a big fan of murder mysteries.

Over a period of seven years women have been disappearing in different places in Norway. Sometimes their bodies were later found cut up into small pieces, sometimes they simply remained missing. Detective Harry Hole from Oslo is the first to suspect that the cases are related. They all have in common that the woman who was killed had a child from a man who wasn't her husband. A snowman was always found outside the woman's house; as we find out later in the film the snowman was built before the murder in preparation.

The film weaves through a series of surprises and fake clues, keeping the audience guessing until the end. The murderer taunts the detective, sending him clues about who his next victims will be before he kills them.

Michael Fassbender puts on an excellent performance in the lead role. The supporting characters also fill their roles well, especially Rebecca Ferguson as Harry Hole's assistant Katrine.

I've seen reviews that criticise the film for its complexity. It's impossible to please critics nowadays. Either a plot is too simple ("predictable") or too complex. I enjoyed the way the case kept heading towards a conclusion, only for something to happen at the last minute that proved the detective was wrong his assumptions. That's good storytelling.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Star Trek: Into Darkness (3 Stars)


After my disappointment with the previous Star Trek film I was reluctant to lay my money down to see "Star Trek: Into Darkness" in the cinema. It's now been available on Netflix for a while, so I finally broke down and watched it, more out of curiosity than anything else. I'm happy to say that it's better than the last film. It's quite good actually, almost worthy of a four star rating, but one thing holds me back: it's just not Star Trek.

For me it's sacrilegious for new actors to play the characters I've known and loved all my life. Zachary Quinto is relatively similar to Leonard Nimoy as Spock, but all the other actors are so distantly removed that I could weep. Chris Pine might be a good actor, but he's not James T. Kirk, not even close. I wouldn't recognise John Cho as Hikaru Sulu if his name weren't occasionally shouted. Worst of all is Zoe Saldana as Uhura, whose first name I refuse to speak or write. She's much too skinny for the role, and her personality in the film is nothing like that of the woman played by Nichelle Nichols in the original series. I still can't get over the fact that a romance is supposed to exist between Spock and Uhura. That's wrong, wrong, wrong!

Maybe I'll watch the film again one day and forget that it's supposed to be about Star Trek. Then I might give it a higher rating. Don't hold your breath while you're waiting.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

IT Chapter One (5 Stars)


This is a first for me. "IT Chapter One" is the first film that I've gone to see in the cinema three times. The first time was when it was the opening film of the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival, the second time was with my son Benjamin, the third time was today with my daughter Fiona. Benjamin loved the film, Fiona was less impressed. She's not a horror movie fan, but I expected her to like "IT" more. It's a classic horror film that relies on suspense, rather than excesses of gore, so I expected her to appreciate it more. My suspicion is that she was so shocked by the film's goriest scene, Georgie's arm being bitten off at the beginning, that she was turned off for the rest of the film.

I've read a few criticisms of the portrayal of Beverly Marsh in the film, claiming that she's sexualised as a young teenager in her bikini scene, and that there are hints of child abuse in her flirting with Derry's pharmacist, Mr. Keene. These criticisms obviously come from people with sexual hangups who don't get it, so I'll do my best to explain.

To put things straight, she's not wearing a bikini in her scene by the lake -- or is it the sea? -- it's her underwear. When she sees that the boys have stripped down to their underpants to dare one another to leap into the water she rips off her outer clothing and jumps first. That has nothing to do with sexualisation, it's about female empowerment. Anything boys can do girls can do better, which isn't just true for adults, it's true for 13-year-olds. Beverly pushes the boys out of the way and jumps first, forcing them to follow her and prove that they are real men.

So were the boys real men? The following scene shows that they aren't. Beverly lies by the water sunning herself while her underwear dries off. The boys sit staring at her, rigid and uncomfortable, unable to say a word. Beverly isn't innocent. She can feel the boys' eyes all over her body, and she's enjoying their discomfort. She's revelling in the power she has over them.


Boys stare. It's what they do. When I was 13 I stared at every girl who walked past. I stared at schoolgirls, and I stared at women who were twice my age. Now that I'm older the only difference is that I've learnt to stare less obviously. But sometimes I still get caught.

Concerning the scene with the pharmacist, how can anyone possibly see any child abuse in it? Isn't it obvious that Beverly is flirting with him, not the other way round? There are men who have a perverted interest in young girls. That's not who I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the normal, decent men who know what's right and wrong. When girls reach a certain age they notice boys staring at them. Boys of their own age do it so obviously that it's difficult to miss. But they also notice older boys staring, and even adult men. So what do they do? Insecure girls are embarrassed and try to cover up any flesh accidentally on display. Self-confident girls encourage the stares. What does a girl do if she's sitting in the classroom and she sees her teacher glancing at her legs? Some girls would pull the hem of their skirt down to cover themselves, while other girls would open their legs to give him a better view, gazing back at his face and hoping he will blush with embarrassment. That doesn't mean that the girl has any sexual desires for her teacher. It's merely a power game. "I can make you look at me. I can arouse you. You can't resist me".

That's what Beverly's flirting with the pharmacist is about. Power. She smiles at him, she makes compliments about his looks, she leans over the counter towards him. He's like a fish on a hook; he's trapped and he doesn't even know it. The difference between Beverly and the classroom teasers is that she's abusing him. While he's staring at Beverly he doesn't notice her friends stealing items from the store. This is a brashness that very few girls of her age would possess, but it happens. Beverly is a 13-year-old who is smart enough to be aware of her womanhood and strong enough to use it to her advantage.

The only child abuse we see in "IT" is the genuine abuse that Beverly suffers at the hands of her father. In a way he's the film's biggest monster. While the other children only have to face Pennywise, Beverly also has to battle to survive against her father. We can assume that this constant struggle is what has made her so strong.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (4 Stars)


This is a visually stunning film, clearly superior to the original. The atmosphere is so intense that it's terrifying. This film makes it clear that the world of Blade Runner is a post-apocalyptic scenario, which was only hinted at in the first film.

I went to see "Blade Runner" with the Birmingham Film Group, and we were more than 20 people. I wish the Stuttgart Cinema Meetup were as successful. When we discussed the film afterwards there were mixed opinions. Some considered it to be brilliant, whereas others considered it to be boring because it was too slow and unintelligible. Yes, the film is slow, but that's its strength. Yes, the film is difficult to understand, but when I sat at home in the evening and thought about it everything slotted into place. This is a film that needs to be watched more than once to be appreciated, and I'm sure I'll enjoy it even more next time.