Friday, 15 December 2017

Lost in New York (4 Stars)

This is an eerie short film made by Jean Rollin in 1989. Michèle and Marie are two young girls who live on the coast of France. Marie has a talisman which she calls the Moon Goddess. With it all their wishes can be fulfilled. The girls wish that they could visit New York.

Their wish is fulfilled, but it's not as they expected. They're no longer children, they've become young adults. They're both in New York, but they're separated. They're on opposite sides of Manhattan, one on the West coast, the other on the East coast. They wander through the streets day and night, trying to find one another. There are perils on the way. Marie is attacked by a female mugger, but she manages to overcome and kill her. Michèle meets a vampiress who feeds on women's blood. Michèle survives and continues her search for Marie.

Eventually they find one another, but they only spend a few minutes together. The spell wears off, and Michèle is transported back to France. Only Michèle. Marie doesn't come back. Michèle sits on the beach every day waiting for Marie to return. Finally, after 60 years, Marie returns. The two old women embrace one another and try to rekindle their friendship.

This is a very unusual film, even for Jean Rollin. It shows an unglamorous side of New York. We see the city centre briefly, but mostly we see the streets near the docks, the poor areas where the houses are in disrepair. This is a side of New York that tourists never see.

It's difficult to say what the film is about. The magic of youth and the disillusion of old age? Maybe. I don't know whether Jean Rollin ever gave any interviews about the film. I'd like to know why he made it. Whatever his purpose was, it's intense and haunting.

I bought the film on DVD ten years ago, but it's currently out of print. I hope it will be re-issued. It's an essential film for all of Jean Rollin's fans.

Model for Murder (4 Stars)

When I watched "Cosmic Calendar Girls" last week I said that I might re-watch the other two films in my collection starring August Ames. Here's one of them.

There's been a small war taking place on August Ames' Wikipedia page. On the one side it's the people who want to make the page as factual as possible; on the other side it's the cyberbullies and their supporters who don't want to be named as responsible for her death. The last edit was made only three hours ago, and I doubt it's the last version of the page. Let me state the facts here.

On December 3rd August Ames posted on Twitter that she didn't want to have sex with a man who regularly performed gay porn. She criticised her agent for signing her up for this film.

Bruce Beckham, the actor that she refused to have sex with, replied by calling her homophobic and uneducated.

Over the following two days a series of people, mostly gay men, attacked August on Twitter. The leader of the pack was Jaxton Wheeler, who called on August to swallow a cyanide pill.

On December 5th August Ames killed herself.

Bruce Beckham's initial reaction was to say that her death wasn't his fault. A day later he expressed regret and apologised for what he said. Several of his friends, including Dirk Caber, Conner Habib, Topher Drew and Mathew Mason, contradicted him and insisted it wasn't his fault.

Jaxton Wheeler, on the other hand, feels no guilt about his statements and continues to lie about his participation in killing August. In an official statement he says "None of my aggression was directed at August nor her ability to consent to who she decides to work with". I would quote more of his words, but I find them too sickening. He presents himself as a defender of the gay community to justify being responsible for August's death.

It's totally disgusting that a group of homosexual men ganged up on a sensitive young woman and drove her to suicide. Criticising these men doesn't make anyone guilty of homophobia, whatever they say. There are gay men throughout the world who would never have acted so badly. This whole catastrophe isn't about the pros and cons of homosexuality, it's about men being abusive to women. (If you check Jaxton Wheeler's Twitter account you can find examples of him talking badly to other women).

Now let's finally get back to the film itself. August Ames plays an upcoming model called Audrey Elfs. She's murdered early in the film, but she's shown taking part in a photoshoot at the beginning. I've reviewed the film elsewhere. Today I'll just publish some snapshots from the film's photoshoot.

August Ames
August 23, 1994 – December 5, 2017

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Ninja Assassin (4½ Stars)

My guest writer Kaylena praised this as one of her favourite films six years ago. Normally that would have prompted me to watch it as soon as possible. I didn't, because I thought it was a Korean film. I don't know how I got this idea. The film's main actor, Jung Ji-hoon, is Korean, but it's an American film.

There are very few martial arts films made in America. There are lots of films where a character is a martial arts fighter, such as "Rush Hour" with Jackie Chan or "Unleashed" with Jet Li, but for me a martial arts film is a film in which the fighting is as important as the plot itself. Many films like that are made in China and Japan. Let's make my own personal definition of a "martial arts" film, which deviates from Wikipedia's definition, to explain what I'm talking about.

1. Both the good guys and the bad guys use a fighting style which originates in the far East.
2. The fighting scenes (including training and talking about fighting) make up at least 50% of the film's running time.

Using this definition I can only think of three American martial arts films.

1. "Enter the Dragon" (arguable, since it was co-produced by Golden Harvest)
2. "Kill Bill"
3. "Ninja Assassin"

If you can think of any others that qualify as American martial arts films, please let me know. The comments box is below my post. If you don't see it, click on the word "comments" below the post. It's not difficult to find, but I get so few comments that I sometimes wonder if it's because my readers don't know how to comment.

The film is about a secret group of assassins based in Japan. The group is made up of nine clans, but we only see one clan in the film, the Ozuna clan. Orphans, male and female, are taken into the clan and trained to be killers. It's not about honour or philosophy, it's a purely mercenary operation. The clan will kill anyone, anywhere in the world, for 100 pounds of gold, or whatever the current market value is. At the time the film was made it was $1,556,000. This price has remained constant for over one thousand years. Naturally, there are cheaper assassins for hire, but the nine clans are the most efficient. If you want to kill a head of state who's surrounded by a hundred soldiers a typical contract killer wouldn't be able to do the job. The clans guarantee success after receiving payment.

The training in the Ozuna clan is severe. The students frequently kill or seriously wound one another. Anyone who is too weak to continue is killed. Anyone who attempts to leave is killed.

After completing his training Raizo (Jung Ji-hoon) is sent on his first mission. He has to kill the head of the Russian mafia in Berlin. He succeeds, but before returning to Japan he's asked to kill a young girl who has attempted to leave the clan. He refuses, which makes him an outcast. He tries to hide, but assassins from his clan keep coming to kill him.

Involved in the story is Mika Coretti -- an Italian? -- a Europol agent based in Berlin, played by the beautiful Naomie Harris. She has been investigating the Ozuna clan as responsible for the assassination of the Russian prime minister. What she doesn't know is that the CIA hired the Ozuna clan to kill him. Her superiors try to persuade her to stop the investigation, but when she continues the Ozuna clan is hired to kill her as well. Raizo considers it his duty to protect her.

"Ninja Assassin" has dazzling but bloody fight scenes from beginning to end. There's also a touching story of redemption, as Raizo tries to make up for his past. The plot can be criticised in a few points. For instance, I can understand why the Ozuna clan were hired to kill a prime minister, but were they really needed to kill Mika? A man posing as a CIA agent could have done the job for $5000.

Order from
Order from
Order from

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

A Ghost Story (4 Stars)

This is one of the most unusual films I've seen for a long time. It's not the first time a haunted house film has been told from a ghost's point of view, but I've never seen it done so effectively. Supposedly the film's budget was only $100,000. How is that possible nowadays? The lead actors must have worked for free.

A young couple live in a small house in a rural area. They aren't named in the film, but in the credits they're called C and M. I'll use those names for the sake of simplicity. C is a musician. M seems to be an interior designer, but it isn't completely clear.

C is killed in a car accident. In hospital he wakes up as a ghost. A big light shines in front of him, signifying a call for him to move on, but he refuses to walk into the light. He goes back home to be with his wife. She can't see him, so he stands watching her as the days, months and years roll by. The only way he can make himself noticed is by making lights flicker and moving objects.

Eventually M sells the house and moves out. Instead of following her C remains in the house. A new family moves in. They leave after he scares them by throwing plates. A group of young people move in. Then the house is demolished and a large office building is built on the same spot. C spends years walking through the building.

This is a very emotional film. I could feel C's loneliness. He's desperate to make contact with the living, especially the people he loves, but whatever he does to make contact scares people.

Despite its slowness, this is a fascinating film. It'll make you think about it for a long time afterwards.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The Bar (5 Stars)

We all go to bars, cafes and restaurants. It's part of modern life. We either go in groups or alone. Even if we're sitting with friends we still don't know most of the the people around us. Next time you're in a bar look at the other people and ask yourself who they are. The outward appearances usually give clues, but even they can be deceptive.

There might be a millionaire businessman.

There might be an ex-soldier suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

There might be a suicidal housewife enjoying her last drink ever.

There might be a married man looking for a one-night stand.

There might be a psychopath looking for his next victim.

The truth is, you just don't know who you're sharing a room with. Only a sudden crisis can force you together and make you talk to one another. That's what happens in "The Bar", a brilliant psychological drama made by the eccentric Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia. First the customers are sitting drinking a coffee or a beer, staring at the wall without talking to one another. Then an unseen sniper shoots two people as they leave the bar.



Within minutes the strangers in the bar are fighting for their lives, punching one another, strangling one another, pulling guns on one another.

"Fear shows people as they really are".

But it's better if we never find out.

Monday, 11 December 2017

The Mountain Between Us (3½ Stars)

Let's be honest. Any film that stars Idris Elba is worth seeing, whatever it's about. I prefer to see him as an action hero, but even in quieter roles he can express an emotional depth. He's one of the best actors in Britain today.

Two people meet at Boise Airport in Idaho on December 28th. Dr. Ben Bass (Idris Elba) is a brain surgeon, Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) is a journalist. They've both booked a flight to Denver. Ben has to perform an operation the next day, Alex is getting married. Because of heavy storms the flight has been cancelled. That's an emergency for both of them. They decide to split the cost of booking a small charter plane.

While flying over the mountains in Utah the pilot suffers a stroke and the plane crashes. The pilot is dead. Alex is badly injured. Ben is relatively unharmed, only suffering a few small bruises. Alex has to rest three days before she can walk. After that they begin to walk across the snowy mountains looking for civilisation, accompanied by the dead pilot's dog.

Prior to the release of the film there was some excitement about the dog, a Labrador who's only ever called Dog. The trailer gave the impression that the dog would die, which caused complaints in Internet forums. This prompted the studio to make a statement that the dog would not die. I'm not aware that a film studio has ever released an official spoiler like that before.

The film features exceptional performances by the two leading actors, underlined by breathtaking mountain scenes. The weaknesses are in the story itself. The epilogue, after the two return to civilisation, should have been short. Instead, it was painfully dragged out. The film could have come to a conclusion 15 minutes earlier.

One Million Years B.C. (4 Stars)

This film tells a version of prehistoric times that you didn't learn in school. One million years ago there were small human tribes scattered over the Earth at different stages of cultural development. They had to protect themselves from the dinosaurs which wandered around the wastelands looking for food.

The film's hero, Tumak, is the son of his tribe's leader, Akoba. There's no social justice in the tribe. When a wild animal has been cooked the strongest eat first, and the weakest have to fight over the scraps. Just because a man is strong now it doesn't mean he'll always be privileged. While he's at his physical peak he can do whatever he wants, but when he gets old the younger men bully him and don't give him enough food.

Tumak thinks it's his time to step up. He rips the food out of his father's hand, but he soon finds out that he underestimated his father. Akoba wins a fierce battle, so Tumak is banished from the tribe. Tumak almost perishes, but he's found by the women of a blond-haired tribe. They have different ways. They share their food fairly. They even bury their dead, instead of leaving their bodies as food for wild animals.

There's a love story. Dark-haired Tumak falls in love with blond-haired Loana, played by Raquel Welch. Was this the world's first interracial marriage?

"One Million Years B.C." was made in 1966, four years after "Dr. No", which I watched yesterday. Compare the pictures of Ursula Andress and Raquel Welch, both screenshots from the respective films.

There's an uncanny resemblance. Actually, they should be even more alike. Raquel Welch's skin is darker. She only looks pale because of the film's lighting.

But the similarity doesn't stop there. They sound the same in the two films. When "Dr. No" was filmed Ursula Andress's Swiss accent was too strong to be easily understood, so her voice was dubbed by the German actress Nikki van der Zyl. It's no good checking the voice with other films. Nikki dubbed Ursula's voice in her other English language films.

Raquel Welch's Latin American accent was also considered too strong, so Nikki dubbed her voice in "One Million Years B.C." I have difficulty understanding why. The film's dialogue is all in a primitive language which seems to have a vocabulary of less than 10 words, so it shouldn't have been a problem for Raquel to speak her own lines. Ah, the mysteries of cinema!

Nikki Van Der Zyl

There's another curiosity about the film. Among the promotional stills released for the film there was a photo of Raquel Welch hanging on a cross. She's wearing an outfit similar to the cloth bikini she wears in the film, but I can guarantee you that she isn't crucified in the film. It's a very sexy photograph, delightfully sacrilegious, but otherwise totally irrelevant.

Order from
Order from

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Dr. No (4 Stars)

This is the first James Bond film, made in 1962. I can't help wondering if anyone imagined that the James Bond films would still be successful after 50 years. Ian Fleming's novels, on which the character was based, were only moderately successful at the time. They didn't begin to sell well until after the first few films were made. The initial public reaction to "Dr. No" was mediocre. Critics called the film silly.

Then the film received support from two unexpected sources. The Vatican condemned "Dr. No" as a dangerous mixture of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex, and the Kremlin said that Bond was the personification of capitalist evil. After recommendations like that everyone wanted to see it, and it became a huge box office success, relative to its budget. The critics also sat down and looked at the film again, realising it was better than they initially thought. It now has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 96%.

What makes "Dr. No" so good for me is being to analyse it in retrospect after seeing the other films. I can't remember when I first saw it on television, probably in my early teens, but I'm sure I didn't enjoy it as much back then. There are certain recurring motifs that take place in all or most of the films.While watching the film this evening I found myself chuckling whenever one of the motifs occurred.

The first and most obvious motif in the film is James Bond flirting with Miss Moneypenny, M's secretary. She's madly in love with him, but for Bond she's just a plaything. Their relationship is never consummated. By that I don't just mean that they don't have sex; they don't even go on a date. Bond always has an excuse when she starts insisting..

The real reason Bond doesn't take it any further is that Moneypenny is too plain for him. He's only interested in glamorous women like Ursula Andress. When he meets a woman like her there's no hesitation and there are no excuses. He gets her into bed before the end of the film. That's another regular motif: the Bond Girl. In actual fact, most of the films have two or three Bond Girls. There's one good Bond Girl who assists him in his mission, and there's one bad Bond Girl who works for his enemy. In this film the good Bond Girl is Honey Ryder, played by Ursula Andress, while the bad Bond Girl is Miss Taro.

This film is guilty of  whitewashing. Miss Taro is supposed to be Chinese, but she's played by Zena Marshall, a white British actress. The title character, Dr. No, is supposed to be half Chinese, but he's played by Joseph Wiseman, a white Canadian actor.

The optional third Bond Girl is another good Bond Girl who is usually killed in the first half of the film. This procedure is called fridging. A woman is said to be fridged if she is introduced into a film only to be killed, so that the male hero is even more determined to catch or kill the bad guy.

The second good Bond Girl in "Dr. No" is Sylvia Trench. She isn't fridged, and she's actually unique among all the Bond Girls. She's the only Bond Girl who appears twice in two consecutive films. The reason is that she was originally intended to be Bond's regular girlfriend. After the second film, "From Russia With Love", it was decided that Bond didn't need a girlfriend, so she simply disappeared.

If there are three Bond Girls, which one does James Bond sleep with? All of them! In most cases Bond is such an incredible lover that the bad Bond Girl falls in love with him and turns against her master. But not this time.

That introduces the third motif: Bond is irresistible to women. Some try to resist him, but none can succeed. He only has to walk into a room and the women stare at him longingly.

The fourth motif is that Bond always wins in the casinos. He has skill at games like Poker, but even when he plays games of chance he never loses.

The fifth motif is that in each film he has to face a criminal mastermind with far reaching plans that can be anything from world domination to simply destabilising the world. In this film Dr. No only wants to ruin America's space program by making the moon rockets crash.

The sixth motif is that the evil mastermind never kills Bond when he has the chance. He spends time talking with Bond as if they were friends, boasting to Bond about all the details of his plans.

The seventh motif is a car chase in almost every film. The chase in this film is simple because of the relatively small budget. As the films continue the chases become longer and more extravagant.

The eighth motif is that the film ends with a big explosion. This almost didn't happen in "Dr. No". The budget was exhausted before the explosion could be filmed. The producer, Albert Broccoli, asked United Artists for extra money to film the explosion, and he was given another $100,000. That was 10% of the film's budget! Fortunately the explosion succeeded first time, or the film would have ended with a puff of smoke instead of a big bang.

That's all the motifs I can think of in this film. Others start later in the series, and I'll mention them when we get to them. Did I forget anything? Please let me know.

Order from
Order from
Order from

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Cosmic Calendar Girls (4 Stars)

It was with great sadness that I heard about the death of August Ames yesterday. She hanged herself on December 5th, four days ago, but the story wasn't made public at first. Now it's been reported on dozens of web sites. Most of the articles call her a "porn star", which is all that most people need to know to judge who she is. Porn stars enjoy a low esteem in the general public, especially female porn stars. Since the advent of high speed Internet it's become common to watch pornography, but people still look down on the actors and actresses who provide the entertainment they enjoy. What people forget is that there's a lot more to the porn stars, or adult entertainers, as they prefer to call themselves. They might be married, own pets, be well educated or active in their communities. They might be sensitive and afraid. Every one of them is a unique human being. They're just people who have chosen a certain career, supposedly one of the most difficult careers.

I wanted to write a tribute to August yesterday. I couldn't bring myself to do it. I read all of the online articles I could find. I read the final tweets on her Twitter account. I wanted to write a summary, adding my own thoughts. I couldn't do it. It hurt too much.

So today I took the logical step of watching one of her films to remember her in the privacy of my own home. I own three films she stars in on DVD: "Cosmic Calendar Girls", "High Heel Homicide" and "Model for Murder". Most of August Ames' films were hardcore pornography, but she also made a small number of softcore pornography films, which are more to my taste. As far as I remembered, out of the three films "Cosmic Calendar Girls" is the film in which she plays the biggest part, so that's the film I chose. I may watch the other two soon.

August Ames plays Ilya, a calendar model from Galaxia in the seventh star system of Orion. This is Ilya's normal appearance. For unknown reasons last year's calendar sold badly. I wonder why. Maybe the Galaxian feminists have been staging protests against women being objectified?

The publishing company wants to try something new. Ilya has dressed up as an Earth girl to make the calendar look more exotic.
What do you think? They might be on to a winning idea. If it doesn't succeed they could always try making a calendar with kittens and puppies next year. But let's give Ilya a chance first.

August Ames is stunning, even as a blonde. I would buy her calendar. The Galaxians hire Earth's top photographer to take pictures of her in the natural surroundings of Earth. Unfortunately, there are problems that prevent the photoshoot taking place. Ilya falls into the temptations of Earth. She drinks too much alcohol, which makes it impossible to maintain her Earth girl appearance. She starts to revert to her Galaxian look.

Now let's talk about the circumstances that led up to August's death.

It all began with a battle on Twitter. When I looked at August's account yesterday morning there were a large number of tweets. When I checked again today most were gone. Maybe Twitter removed them. Maybe the tweeters themselves felt ashamed of what they'd written and removed their own tweets. I hope the latter is the case. It's possible that there were even more messages that had already been removed before I checked yesterday. I don't know.

On December 3rd August Ames posted that she had refused to perform a sex scene with a man on the grounds that he regularly performed gay pornography. Her anger wasn't directed at the man, the porn star Bruce Beckham. She was angry with her agent for signing her up for this film, because she had clearly stated that she didn't want to perform with gay men or crossover men. ("Crossover" is the insider term for straight men who perform homosexual acts in films).

The first attack came from Bruce Beckham himself, who called her homophobic and uneducated. August defended herself by saying that she wasn't homophobic, because she's bisexual and feels strongly attracted to women. She added that many female porn stars refuse to perform sex scenes with men who are gay or crossover. For August the refusal to have sex with Bruce had nothing to do with homophobia, she was merely exercising her right to decide who she wanted to have sex with. Allegations were raised that the health checks in the gay porn industry aren't as stringent as in the mainstream porn industry, but this has been denied by others. I'm no expert on the subject, so I shan't comment further. What I can say is that for two days people were arguing about the subject. The claims of homophobia continued, while August's friends jumped in to defend her. Then she killed herself.

It's a clear case of cyberbullying. There's no doubt about it. Obviously, a stronger person wouldn't have reacted that way. August was a sensitive person, and the insults hurt her. She had already admitted to suffering from depression on occasions. But that's the way it is with any type of bullying, whether it's on the Internet or in the school playground. It's always the weak people who are the targets of the bullies. It's no fun attacking strong people. When I first entered grammar school there were bullies who picked on me. It didn't last long. They gave up when they realised that I didn't care.

However weak August may have been before her suicide, it was the bullies who pushed her over the edge. They're responsible for her death. They killed her.

This evening I've noticed that the discussions are still continuing. Bruce Beckham himself initially claimed to be guiltless in her suicide, but in his later tweets he expressed remorse. Unfortunately his friends are undoing his feelings of guilt by telling him it's not his fault. There's nothing wrong with feeling guilt. Guilt is therapeutic. If you tell yourself you did wrong you're less likely to make the same mistake in the future.

There's a small irony in the film "Cosmic Calendar Girls". At the end of the film August Ames begs the photographer to have sex with her, but he refuses, because he knows what she really looks like. She seeks solace by having a threesome with two other women. Homophobic? No way! She has sex with women after being refused by a straight man.

I'll end this review by posting a small photoset of August Ames, fully clothed. This should help those who didn't know her before now to appreciate her. Out of respect, I'm only posting photos in which she's fully clothed. If you want to see more explicit photos or videos of her there's a website called Google which will point you in the right direction.

The copyright holder for these photos is the Canadian film studio Twisty's. I hope they will allow me to use these images to honour August Ames in her death.

August Ames
August 23, 1994 – December 5, 2017