Monday, 3 August 2015

The Purge (4 Stars)

The plot of this film is irrelevant. All that matters is the premise. In the near future (2022) a yearly event has been instituted in America called the Purge. Once a year, from March 21st at 7pm until 7am the following morning, all crimes are permissible. For these 12 hours all emergency services, police, ambulance and fire brigade, are suspended. While minor crimes such as theft and looting are permissible, the main crime committed during this time is murder. Some people go out to kill their bosses or other people they don't like. Others, and this is the main focus of the film, see it as their patriotic duty to kill the ones who don't deserve to live, such as the poor and the homeless.

In theory, anyone can die during the Purge, but the main victims are the poor who are unable to defend themselves. The rich kill the poor, while the poor kill each other. Many of the rich celebrate the event at home, eating a luxurious meal and sitting at home watching television reports of the mayhem on the streets. God bless America!

The film is intended as a social commentary. It exaggerates the situation we already have in the USA. Why are people allowed to own guns in America? Why is it considered unpatriotic to forbid the right to a gun? It isn't about home defence, whatever people say. It's about the survival of the fittest. In America the government wants every criminal and gang member to be able to own a gun. This means that they will shoot one another and eliminate the unwanted elements in society. Of course, they can also shoot respectable people, but these people can also own guns, theoretically better guns, with which they are able to kill the poorer people in self defence. If they don't adequately defend themselves it's their own fault, they deserved to die. But there is one last legal resort. The government can arrest the poor killers and sentence them to death, so the killing system has succeeded twice over, ridding America of both the unworthy rich person and the poor killer.

America is struggling to redeem itself. There are political battles between those who want gun control and those who oppose it. The upright religious middle class of America insist that it's their right to defend themselves, but what they really mean behind their hypocrisy is that they're insisting on the right to kill. People in the civilised countries of Europe, where very few are allowed to own guns, are confused by this state of affairs in America. Only the future will tell us what will happen. Will America stem the rising tide of anarchy by forbidding private ownership of guns? Or will American society descend to the level of "The Purge"? Or worse?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Lore (4½ Stars)

This film is a curiosity. It's an Australian film, made by an Australian director, but filmed in the German language in Germany. The director, Cate Shortland, says that for her the biggest problem making the film was the language barrier. That's an understatement. How is it at all possible for a director to make a film in a language she doesn't understand? It seems like a total impossibility to me.

The film is about the children of a high-ranking Nazi officer in 1945 at the end of the Second World War. The family lives in the Black Forest, an area that remained unscathed during the war. The father is lost in the war, and the mother abandons her children because she fears being arrested by the Americans. 15-year-old Lore, the oldest child in the family, has to take her sister and three brothers to their grandmother's house in Husum, 900 Km (560 miles) to the north. This is complicated by the fact that the trains no longer run, and Germany has been divided into four occupation zones.

The film is based on a novel by the English author Rachel Seiffert. After reading it Cate Shortland decided she wanted to film it. At first she considered making the film in English, but then decided that it would be better to make it in German. Cate has a connection to Germany, because her husband's grandparents were German Jews who emigrated to Australia in 1937.

I don't think a German could have made this film. It portrays a different Germany to the communal guilt paradigm that all German intellectuals follow. Lore knows nothing about the concentration camps. When people in her village are shown photos by the Americans she agrees with everyone else that it's American propaganda, fake photos using actors. Lore is helped in her travels by a young Jew who has been freed from a concentration camp, but she refuses to let him touch her because he's a dirty Jew. Even at the end of the film we see no more than hints that her attitude might have changed.

Saskia Rosendahl puts on an amazing performance in the title role, all the more remarkable considering it was her first film. She almost wasn't chosen because Cate thought she was too beautiful for the role. I don't think her looks were a problem in the film. Being poorly dressed and unwashed for most of the film kept her looking plain.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Tokyo Tribe (5 Stars)

Sion Sono is a genius. Every film that he makes is a masterpiece. Whatever he does shocks and thrills the audience. He relies less on gore than other Japanese directors like Takashi Miike, but when he shows violence it's over-the-top and enjoys a surreal artistic quality. If there's one word that sums up his films it's Madness.

"Tokyo Tribe" is his first musical, and it's advertised as the world's first battle rap musical. That description in itself doesn't prepare the viewer for what awaits him. Unless, of course, the viewer is already acquainted with Sion Sono's films.

In Tokyo there's an uneasy peace. There are 22 gangs which have carved up the city between them. They each have freedom to operate in their own area, selling drugs and running brothels, not bothered by the police. Some of the gangs are bigger than the others, but they respect one another's territory.

Mera is the head of the biggest gang, the Bukuro Wu-Ronz, situated in the middle of the city. His central position and the size of his gang make him a power broker. He feels secure in his position until there's an incident in a sauna. Mera is relaxing with other gang members when Kai, the head of the Musashino gang, walks in. They're shocked to see how large Kai's penis is. This becomes a topic of conversation on the streets of Tokyo, and Mera is burning with jealousy. He waits impatiently for a chance to kill Kai and wipe out the Musashino gang.

He gets his opportunity when meeting with Lord Buppa, a powerful leader who specialises in dealing with corrupt politicians. Lord Buppa is visited by the High Priest of a Satanic cult from Hong Kong. The High Priest intends to sacrifice his virgin daughter to the Devil, but she has fled to Tokyo to lose her virginity and become unsuitable as a sacrifice. The High Priest requests that Lord Buppa and his allies should search the whole city, including the territories of the other gangs. Mera uses this as an excuse to destroy all the other gangs and kill Kai.

And the war begins. It only lasts eight hours, from evening till morning, but the warring gangs tear the city apart.

It's difficult to describe the excesses of the film. I can guarantee you that it's like nothing you've ever seen before. Madness. I advise you to crank the volume up. Even someone like me who doesn't usually listen to hip-hop could appreciate the music.

Click here to view the trailer.

Friday, 31 July 2015

The Legend of 1900 (5 Stars)

God's piano. It's a music I don't know how to make.

TV Series: Smallville

This is a snapshot of a newspaper shown in episode 2 of the sixth season of "Smallville". You can click on the photo to enlarge it. As you can see, the text from the first column is repeated in the third column. There's also a spelling mistake in the third column, the last word before the headline. Maybe it's a grammatical mistake, depending on your definition. Sloppy.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Maggie (3 Stars)

Happy birthday, Arnold Schwarzenegger! Yes, he's 68 years old today. I hope he's had a wonderful day, and it's only right that I should go to see his latest film in the cinema today.

This is a different sort of role for the former governor of California. He doesn't play the action hero that we've grown used to over the last 30 years. There's only one brief fight scene during the film, and he comes off worse.

It's a film about zombies, but it's not a horror film. It's a deeply moving family drama. In the near future a virus has spread across the world that creates necroambulism. I love that word! Despite 30% of the population being infected and turned into zombies, the plague is now under control. Those who are infected are captured, quarantined and humanely killed. There is no cure for the virus, so being bitten by a zombie is a death sentence.

Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a farmer in Louisiana. He finds out that his daughter Maggie has been bitten by a zombie. Due to the lengthy incubation period before a zombie becomes contagious -- up to eight weeks -- he's allowed to take her home. The film follows the last few weeks that father and daughter stay together as her condition slowly deteriorates.

Let me say clearly that this isn't a bad film. It's an extremely well written and well acted film. Yet it's difficult to enjoy. The film is so depressing. Maybe for the first 15 minutes the audience hoped there would be a happy ending, but after that it became obvious that the situation would only spiral downwards towards a tragic ending. The film seems destined to become a flop at the box office. There were only 15 people in the cinema today, and nine of them were members of my film group. After the film we were stunned. None of us actually said it was a bad film, but none of us could say that we were glad we had seen it. That's the reason for my low rating. I respect the film, but I can't say that I liked it.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Inside Out (4 Stars)

I don't often watch animated films. I'm not sure why I have an aversion to them. It's not because they're (usually) children's films. I have no problems watching films aimed at younger audiences. There's just something that keeps me away from them. Nevertheless, I was curious about "Inside Out" from the beginning. The trailer amused me with its psychological implications. I was also curious because of its massive box office success in other countries. It wasn't released in the United Kingdom until the end of July, more than a month after the USA and most other countries, so I had been reading about its success for weeks.

The film is about an 11-year-old girl called Riley and her move from Minnesota to San Francisco. More than that, it's about the voices in her head that are responsible for guiding her life. These voices represent the five basic emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger. They sit at a control panel in Riley's head looking out through her eyes and taking turns in guiding her actions. Joy is the main emotion, and she tries to keep the activities of her four companions to a minimum. In particular, Sadness is not allowed to do anything.

Everything that Riley does is consolidated into memories, coloured balls representing one of the five personalities. The most important memories are stored as core memories that define Riley's personality. Joy considers it a success when these memories are yellow, her own colour. Very few are purple (Fear), green (Disgust) or red (Anger). None are allowed to be blue (Sadness). These core memories are divided between five islands that define the five major aspects of her life: Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island and Goofball Island. So far so good.

The real problems begin when Riley's family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, into an ugly little house. Joy refuses to let Sadness express herself and keeps Riley unnaturally happy. Are you starting to see the psychological implications of the film? Sadness doesn't actually rebel against being suppressed, but she begins to interfere with the core memories out of boredom, corrupting them. A series of accidents leads to Joy and Sadness losing their place in Riley's head, followed by the personality islands being destroyed. Most of the film is based on Joy and Sadness teaming up to find a way back into Riley's head. At the risk of giving away spoilers, we see that Riley can only become a healthy, balanced person when Sadness is allowed in her life.

The film's strength is its balance between comedy and serious messages. The film is humorous throughout, so I laughed at everything that happened, and the deeper implications of what was happening only sank in a few seconds later. I can imagine these five voices in my own head guiding my life. I wonder which one is in control in my life.

There was a young girl sitting close to me in the cinema, probably about 6 or 7 years old, accompanied by her father and grandfather. I noticed that she laughed in several places, though not as often as me. I wonder how much of it she really understood. "Inside Out" might be appealing to children because of the cartoon characters, but it contains very adult messages. It's probably more suitable for children from 12 upwards.

Ruby Red (4 Stars)

Verdammt noch geiler als Harry Potter!

Teenage fantasies are in at the moment, in books and films. Usually they're aimed at young female readers, so the central character is a teenage girl. The trend started with "Twilight", but there's also "Divergent" and "The Hunger Games". Since this is a big money-spinner in America, it's no surprise that Germany has jumped on the bandwagon. The German authoress Kerstin Gier has written a trilogy of books called "Liebe geht durch alle Zeiten", literally "Love lasts through all times", but called the Ruby Red Trilogy in English. The three books, entitled "Ruby Red", "Sapphire Blue" and "Emerald Green", have sold millions of copies.

The film takes place in London. On Gwendolyn's 16th birthday she discovers she has the ability to travel through time. She's told that this is because she belongs to the Montrose family, and in each generation one girl has this ability. It's usual for the girl to be prepared from birth, but Gwendolyn wasn't prepared because she was adopted as a baby after the disappearance of her parents. She is the 12th time traveller, and according to prophecies she is the last. There is also a De Villiers family, in which one boy inherits this ability. The latest is Gideon de Villiers, now 18. Left to themselves the special teenagers leap randomly into the past. A secret organisation in London, known only as The Lodge, has built a machine called a chronograph which can control which date they travel to. For unknown reasons the Lodge is collecting blood samples from the 12 time travellers (six female and six male).

The 9th and 10th time travellers, Gwendolyn's parents, were renegades. They stole the chronograph and all 10 blood samples. The Lodge built a new chronograph and managed to collect new blood samples from six of the time travellers. The Lodge sends Gwendolyn and Gideon on missions into the past to gather the missing blood samples, including from Gwendolyn's parents, who are still teenagers and fleeing through time.

The Lodge's greatest enemy is a religious order called the Florentine Alliance, which is trying to capture and kill the time travellers. When Gwendolyn asks why she's told that it's a battle between good and evil. But she begins to wonder which side is good and which is evil.

"Ruby Red" is a fascinating film with an intricate plot. It has touches of humour, such as Gwendolyn showing her best friend Leslie, a history geek, the photos that she took while visiting the past. That will get Leslie top marks in her next essay. It's a shame the film has never been released in England. The German DVD has English dubbing, which I listened to for a few minutes. Overall it's good quality, except for the person doing Gwendolyn's voice. It sounds too old for a 16-year-old, and the accent irritates me. English dubbing is never up to the standard of German dubbing.

All external scenes in the film were shot on location in London. For internal scenes buildings in Germany were used. I must admit that it seems strange for a film to have schoolchildren in London speaking German, but after a while I got used to it.

The second film in the trilogy, "Sapphire Blue", was in the cinemas in 2014. The third part is scheduled to be released in April 2016.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Stereo (4 Stars)

After the death of his wife Erik Keppler leaves Berlin and moves to a remote village in the east of Germany. It's a complete new start for him. He gives up his career as a cook and opens a garage where he repairs motorcycles. He finds a new girlfriend, Julia, and he loves Julia's daughter as if she were his own, but he's reluctant to settle down. Julia's father is a policeman and is at first suspicious of a strange man moving from the big city to the middle of nowhere, but they grow to like one another.

Then two strangers appear in Erik's life. The first is a Russian called Gaspar who asks Erik to return to Berlin to kill someone. Erik refuses at first, but Gaspar threatens to harm Julia and her family if he doesn't agree. The second stranger is a hooded man called Henry, who advises Erik to kill Gaspar. The problem is that nobody else can see Henry. Erik thinks he's going mad and visits a psychiatrist. Of course, anyone who knows that what he's seeing isn't real isn't mad. People who are mad believe the illusions.

From this point the story becomes increasingly complex. Gaspar is killed, but other Russians visit Erik who are even more aggressive towards him. Henry pleads with Erik to leave Julia and flea to another part of the country. Erik visits an alternative doctor who treats mental illnesses by a mixture of acupuncture and hypnosis, and the needles seem to hurt Henry as they're pushed into Erik's body. Erik is caught up in a nightmare, and he has no idea why he's the centre of everything that's happening.

This is a bizarre German thriller. It's not quite a horror film, it's not quite a fantasy, it's surreal and defies strict categorisation. Somehow I can't shake the impression that the main point of the film wasn't to tell a story, it was to put the actors Jürgen Vogel (Erik) and Moritz Bleibtreu (Henry) on the screen together. They're two of Germany's biggest actors, but they have never appeared together in a film, apart from "Quellen des Lebens", and even in that they didn't appear in the same scenes. It's not clear why the film is called "Stereo", unless it refers to two men, Erik and Henry, side by side, seeing the world together but each from a slightly different angle.

An interesting film. Curious. Unsettling. But interesting. I need to watch it again.