Thursday, 25 August 2016

Beach Volleyball Detectives (3½ Stars)

"There are two styles in Beach Volleyball. One is White Beach Volleyball. It's for justice. The other is Black Sand Beach. It's the dark side".

That quote should suffice to show that this isn't a film to be taken seriously. The premise of the film is that beach volleyball is an ancient fighting art which has been disguised as a sport. If you can accept that you can enjoy the film. If not, there's no point in watching it.

Haruka, Mie and Kie are three police officers in a small Japanese town. Beach volleyball is their life, whether they're at work or play. In their spare time they're on the beach playing volleyball. When they're on duty they capture criminals by throwing volleyballs at them.

One day they're called into the station and told that there's an important mission. A terrorist intends to detonate a nuclear bomb in Japan. Nobody knows who he is, but there are leads that the bomb is hidden at the international beach volleyball championship in Tokyo. Wakana, a detective from Hawaii has been assigned to lead the squad on an undercover mission. The four women enter the competition as the Japanese team.

Unfortunately the film's budget didn't stretch to hiring foreign actors. The Russian team is played by Japanese women with blonde wigs. The Indian team is played by Japanese women with dark makeup. The Chinese team is played by Japanese women with big breasts.

While investigating the plot at the beach volleyball championship the girls discover something even bigger and more evil. What can be more evil than detonating a nuclear bomb? Only one thing. There's a network of illegal beach volleyball championships in which girls have to fight to the death. This is a perversion of the noble fighting art of beach volleyball. What's more important? Saving millions of Japanese lives or protecting the integrity of beach volleyball? That's an easy question to answer. People come and go, but beach volleyball lasts forever.

For some unfathomable reason this film has an 18 certificate. Why? There's no nudity in the film. The violence is limited to throwing volleyballs. Even when the girls take a bath after their games the camera shows nothing more than heads and shoulders. You can see nothing that you don't see in the live coverage of the Olympic games.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

From Beijing with Love (3 Stars)

Stephen Chow directed this 1994 film as well as playing the lead role. Ling Ling Chat is an agent for the Chinese secret service who went into early retirement because his bosses didn't think he possessed the necessary skills for his work. He returned to his former job as a butcher, but always hoped that one day he would be called back for duty. This day finally arrives after 10 years. A dinosaur's skeleton has been delivered to the Chinese national museum. The head has been stolen by criminals to be sold to the highest bidder. Ling Ling Chat is considered to be the most suitable person to track down the ones responsible.

If Ling Ling Chat was lacking in skills 10 years ago, he's even more rusty now. He's forgotten how to use a gun. Fortunately he's spent all this time practising with his meat cleaver, so it's now a deadly weapon in his hands. A beautiful secret agent is assigned to assist him, but he doesn't suspect that she's a double agent who is waiting for a chance to kill him.

This is a rather unsubtle James Bond spoof. It's been compared with "Johnny English", but it doesn't reach the same level. In the case of "Johnny English" the humour comes from an incompetent spy succeeding against powerful enemies more by luck than by skill. In the case of "From Beijing with Love" almost everyone is incompetent, both Ling Ling Chat's friends and his enemies. This makes the film less amusing overall. It's not a bad film, but I don't enjoy it as much as his other comedies like "Shaolin Soccer".

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Hole (2001 film) (4 Stars)

This is a British horror film from 2001, not to be confused with other films made with the same name. It's known for being the first major role for Keira Knightley, when she was still 15. There's also a controversy surrounding the film, which I'll deal with later.

I've known about this film for some time. It's been on my maybe-watch list for years, but today I just happened to see a copy of the film lying in a bargain bin for less than a Euro, so I grabbed it while I could.

The film begins with news reports that four missing teenagers have been found. One is alive, the other three are dead. A police psychiatrist interviews the survivor, Liz, to find out what happened. She explains that she had a crush on Mike, a boy in school, but she couldn't get him to notice her. She asked her best friend Martin to arrange some way of putting them together. Martin had the keys to a nearby nuclear fallout shelter. He offered to let them into the shelter with two other teenagers, Jeff and Frankie, where they could party in isolation for a few days. He said that he would lock them in for three days, then return to let them out. If teenage hormones didn't run wild in such an enclosed area when would they?

The trouble was that Martin didn't come back. The four teenagers ran out of food and water. When the hatch to the shelter was finally opened by an anonymous stranger only Liz was still alive.

The psychiatrist doubts that this story is true. She thinks that Liz is traumatised and unable to remember the truth. The interviews continue and the true story slowly emerges.

This is a chilling story. The film structure is experimental, but not unique. The Chinese film "Hero" also presented several false stories before telling the viewer the truth. I don't think this is an effective form of story-telling. In the case of "Hero" I initially disliked the film when I saw it in the cinema, but I grew to like it more after repeated viewing. I have mixed feelings about "The Hole". What's the point of spending half the film showing a false story, something that never happened? Nevertheless, I intend to watch it again soon.

Now to the controversy. The teenagers in the film are presumably sixth formers, which is 17 to 18 in the English school system, but Keira Knightley was still 15. There's a brief scene in the film in which she appears topless. It's interesting to see that celebrity web sites that publish nude screenshots of actresses claim that she was either 16 or 18, depending on which side of the Atlantic they're based, but none admit that she was 15. It's easy to prove they're wrong. Keira was born on March 26th 1985, and the film was released on April 20th 2001. It's obvious that the film couldn't have been filmed less than a month before its release; in fact, judging by the outdoor scenes, the acting was probably filmed in autumn 2000.

There's another matter that I didn't know about before watching the film. In one scene Frankie, Keira Knightley's character, walks into the boys' changing room in school, to talk to her boyfriend Jeff. It's a beautiful scene. She marches through to the showers, surrounded by mostly naked boys, with a majestic grin on her face. The boys all scatter, terrified of her. I love films that show a woman in control. But one unnamed boy stands out. Literally. When Keira passes him he's half erect. She carries on walking and he disappears behind her, but when she moves to the side we can see him in the background staring at her, fully erect. This adds to the realism of the scene, but I'm surprised that it was left in the film. I feel tempted to provide screenshots, since I haven't been able to find any online, but this isn't a pornographic blog, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Or better still, watch the film and you'll see it for yourself.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Stralsund - Außer Kontrolle (4 Stars)

The title of this film means "Out of control". It was made two years after "Mörderische Verfolgung", which I reviewed yesterday, but the action in the film seems to take place shortly afterwards, because the Stralsund chief of police has only recently been replaced after her injuries in the first film.

In this film a money transporter has been ambushed by a pair of criminals. One of the security guards is killed, and the other is trapped in the back of the vehicle when it's driven away. The police search in vain for the vehicle, but it's been disguised too well to be identified. The police's only hope is to find clues that will identify the criminals. Once more Nina Petersen has to solve the case, but this time she has problems. Her work is hindered by a senior police officer who pulls rank and insists on solving the case himself. When Nina realises that he's making mistakes she takes matters into her own hands.

Once more this is a gripping thriller. A theme repeated from the first film is criminals turning on one another when they're under pressure. If anything, we get to know the criminals better than the police. This is a very well written and directed film. I attribute this to Martin Eiger, who was responsible for writing and directing 28 made-for-television crime thrillers from 2003 to 2015.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Stralsund - Mörderische Verfolgung (4 Stars)

This is a German film that was made for television in 2009. The title can mean either "Deadly Pursuit" or "Deadly Persecution", and both translations are appropriate. It was originally intended as a one-off film, but it was remarkably succesful and was watched by almost six million viewers, so from 2011 to 2015 seven sequels were made. They all feature the police force in Stralsund and particularly police inspector Nina Petersen, played by Katharina Wackernagel. I'm not sure whether "inspector" is an accurate translation of her rank, because the German police have a different structure to their English and American equivalents. In German her rank is "Kommissar". She's a uniformed police officer who has a lot of responsibility in solving cases, so she seems to be more like a detective.

The plot: Michael Broder's company burnt down. When he tried to claim insurance he was wrongly accused of starting the fire himself, so he killed the person who accused him of arson. The law isn't always fair, and insurance companies are rarely fair, but murder isn't a good solution. He was arrested and sent to prison.

Six month later the Stralsund chief of police, Susanne Winkler, receives a phone call from her ex-lover Mona to meet her at an insurance company. It's the same company which dealt with Michael Broder's claim. When she arrives she finds the staff tied and gagged, and she too is overpowered by a masked man. He demands two million Euros and the release of Michael Broder.

This is an exciting thriller with twists and turns as the plot develops. It's more original than any other hostage dramas I've seen. Right up to the end it isn't obvious what will happen next. The situation can only be solved by Nina Petersen's skillful psychological ploy, managing to turn the hostage taker and his accomplices against one another.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Shaolin Girl (4 Stars)

Rin Sakurazawa comes from a small Japanese village and grew up with her grandfather, a master of Chinese kung fu. When she was nine her grandfather sent her to a Shaolin temple in China to train her kung fu skills. (I wasn't aware that Shaolin temples accept students who are women or Japanese, but I'll let it pass). She doesn't even take a break from her training when she receives news of her grandfather's death. After 10 years she returns to Japan, and she's shocked to find that the local dojo has closed. The dojo's former teacher now owns a restaurant that serves Chinese noodles. Rin tries to encourage people to learn kung fu, but nobody is interested. Only Minmin, a part time waitress in the Chinese restaurant, agrees to learn kung fu, on condition that Rin joins the university lacrosse team. Soon all the girls in the lacrosse team are learning kung fu in order to improve their lacrosse skills.

There's a subplot going on which I didn't understand. A secret organisation based in the university is attempting to make money out of exploiting the university's best athletes. Judging by the menacing music every time we see this clandestine group they must be very, very evil, but I fail to see what's so bad about a university helping athletes to succeed. Isn't that what they all do, especially in America? There are also connections between this organisation and a Japanese fighting school, which makes it even more confusing.

This isn't a film to be taken too seriously. It's light-hearted fun with over-the-top fight scenes and lacrosse games. I just wish I could have understood the motivation of the evil organisation.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Emerald Green (4 Stars)

This is the third film in the Ruby Red trilogy, following "Ruby Red" in 2013 and "Sapphire Blue" in 2014. Over the course of the three films the meek schoolgirl Gwendolyn Shepherd has developed into an action heroine. In the film's climax she returns to 1786 to battle the evil Count of Saint Germain looking like a young Emma Peel in her black leather outfit. Or maybe not so young. The three films are supposed to take place shortly after one another, but the German make up artists didn't succeed in hiding the passage of time. In 2013 the actress Maria Ehrich was 20, but she had the appearance of a 16-year-old. Now that she's 23 she looks older than 16, at least 21. Nobody would ask for her ID when she goes to a club. Gwendolyn's best friend Leslie is also 16, but the actress Jennifer Lotsi has aged even faster. There is no way I can accept her as a schoolgirl, she looks at least 25. No insult intended. 25 is a good age.

This is the first film in the series in which temporal paradoxes are dealt with. Maybe I shouldn't say that they're dealt with, they're only mentioned in passing, and we're left to scratch our heads. The Count of Saint Germain lived in the 18th Century, but his plan to rule the world can't succeed until Gwendolyn, born in 1997, has reached her 16th birthday. Gwendolyn has to fight him to stop his plan succeeding, but he actually already succeeded 200 years ago when she travelled back in time to challenge him. He became immortal, and he's now living in disguise in the 21st Century to make sure Gwendolyn doesn't stop him. But of course, he wouldn't be around to stop her if he hadn't already succeeded.

People don't understand time. It's not what you think it is. It's complicated, very complicated. People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff.

The film contains the most beautiful scenes of the trilogy. Gwendolyn's real parents, who gave her up for adoption, are hiding in the Scottish Highlands in the early 20th Century, so Gwendolyn travels back to 1920 to be trained in martial arts by her father. The scenes where they are fighting on the mountains are stunning. I'm sure it's intended as a homage to Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert in the first Highlander film.

This is the only film in the trilogy that I've managed to see in the cinema. The films weren't shown in England, and I only moved to Germany last month. "Emerald Green" was released in the cinemas on July 7th, but luckily the film has been so successful that it's still being shown after six weeks. I went to an early afternoon showing, 2:45pm, at the EM Cinema in Stuttgart's city centre. The theatre was small, only seven rows with 10 seats each, and it was almost full, about 50 people. Surprisingly, I was the only man in the audience. As far as I could see, before the lights went out, there were three middle-aged women, and all the rest were teenage girls. I admit that I felt intimidated. The two girls on either side of me added to my feelings. The girl on my right, probably in her late teens, was lucky enough to have an empty seat in front of her, so she had her feet up over the seat, showing off her beautiful legs, but making me feel trapped. The girl on my left, who couldn't have been a day over 14, had her hand on the shared arm rest, so I had to withdraw away from her. She was fidgeting with her legs throughout the film, bumping her leg against mine, so I was cringing as far in the right of my seat as I could without making it look like I was trying to touch the girl on my right. It was an awkward situation, but I somehow managed to concentrate on the film. I suppose it was my own fault for going to see a teenage fantasy film in Germany. Next time I'll go later in the evening.