Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Before I go to sleep (3½ Stars)

Nicole Kidman, who appears in almost every minute of the film, stars as a 40-year-old woman called Christine Lucas. When she was 26 she was the victim of a violent assault that involved blows to the head. Ever since then she's unable to retain new memories. Every day when she wakes up she has forgotten everything that happened on the previous day, and she thinks that she's 20 years younger. Every day she wakes up next to her husband Ben, who she doesn't recognise, and he has to explain who he is before leaving for work. Every day she receives a phone call from a man, Doctor Nash, who says he is trying to help her retrieve her memory. The doctor instructs her to make a video diary on a camcorder every day. Every morning she has to watch the previous recordings, and every evening she has to record the new things she has learnt during the day. As she struggles to find the truth about her past she doesn't know if she can trust the doctor, her husband or anyone at all.

The similarity with "Memento" is obvious. Rather than dwell on the similarities I'll point out the one major difference. In "Memento" the emphasis of the story is Leonard Shelby trying to find his wife's killer, despite being hampered by his repeated memory loss. In "Before I go to sleep" the emphasis is on Christine Lucas trying to regain her lost memories.

This is a good film with a solid performance by the three main actors, Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth as the husband and Mark Strong as the doctor.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The Police Officer's Wife (2 Stars)

As my regular readers know, I'm a fan of German cinema, particularly films made since 1990. For that reason I'm excited whenever a German film is shown in Birmingham. It doesn't happen very often. Birmingham's alternative cinema, the Mac, often shows foreign films which can't be seen anywhere else. Today they screened "Die Frau des Polizisten" ("The Police Officer's Wife"), a film that won a special award at the Vienna Film Festival. I knew almost nothing about it, except that it lasts three hours and deals with domestic violence.

The film's style can be summed up by the first two minutes. A black screen. The inscription "Chapter One" appears. Then we see a close-up of a branch in the forest. The camera lingers on the image for what seems like an eternity. The picture goes out of focus. Then it's in focus again. Another black screen. "End of Chapter One". People in the cinema broke out in laughter. My friend sitting next to me whispered, "Now I can see why the film lasts three hours". After that the film could only get better. Couldn't it?

"Chapter Two". We see a policeman coming home. He takes off his uniform, slowly untying his shoelaces, hanging up his clothes in an orderly fashion. Eventually he walks upstairs in his underwear. "End of Chapter Two". More laughter in the audience,

"Chapter Three". A close-up of an old man's head as he stands watching a snowy field. He turns and stares into the camera for a minute. Then he turns back and stares at the field again. "End of Chapter Three". By this point nobody is laughing.

And so the film continues for 59 chapters over three hours. We see the policeman, his wife and his daughter. We have detailed views of people putting on their shoes, chopping onions and performing various other mundane tasks. The policeman's family sings children's songs. A fox searches for food in the streets. In some chapters the policeman hits his wife, and we see her bruises getting worse throughout the film.

Reviews of the film say that it highlights domestic violence. That's not the impression that I get from the film. The image that stays with me is the utter boredom of a film rambling on with random images. I'll be generous and give the film 2 stars, because the camera work is very beautiful. I've never seen such interesting close-ups of people's faces and knees. The pictures, taken individually, are stunning. The film as a whole is mind-numbingly dull.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Guest (4 Stars)

Sometimes a trailer doesn't do a film justice. I had seen "The Guest" advertised whenever I went to the cinema over the last few weeks, and I thought I knew what the film was about, but I was wrong. In particular, I didn't know what genre the film belonged to until I got to the last half hour of the film. I don't want to give away too many spoilers, so I'll restrict myself to a brief review.

Caleb Petersen was an American soldier who never returned from action in the Middle East. His family reveres him as a hero, and they try to get on with their life as best as they can. Two years later a stranger knocks on the door. David Collins tells Caleb's mother that he was her son's best friend, and that he was with him when he died. He's invited to stay overnight, but the family like him so much that they ask him to stay longer. David seems to be the film's guardian angel, protecting Caleb's parents and siblings from harm, for instance by beating up the boys who bully Caleb's younger brother in school.

Of course, we can guess that the mysterious guest isn't all he seems to be. He has a dark side, which leads Caleb's sister Anna to investigate him. This much was obvious from the trailer. However, the trailer makes the film seem like a psychological thriller, whereas it's really a horror film. That's the closest to a spoiler that I'll get.

It's obvious that the film's writer and director want to make a sequel. Things are mentioned but not explained, telling us that we have to wait for the next film to get answers. There are other typical markers of horror films preparing us for the sequel.

Maika Monroe is beautiful as Caleb's sister Anna. I hope to see a lot more of her in "The Guest 2". And "The Guest 3".....

General: My Fourth Anniversary

Today is the fourth anniversary of my blog. Was it really only four years ago that I saw "Metropolis" in the Electric Cinema and was so enthusiastic about it that I decided to write something about it? Looking back at my first review, I wrote very little. Most of my early reviews were short. As time went by I started to write more, although there are still short reviews at times. What's important to me is that I should at least list all the films that I watch, so that my blog can be an accurate film diary, recording what I watch and when. If I have a lot to say about a film I'll ramble on, and if I don't I'll just write a few lines.

So far I've written 1365 posts, which is slightly more than 6 posts a week. That doesn't mean I've watched 1365 films. I estimate that about 10% of my posts are about something other than a film, such as a TV series, an obituary to a dead actor or something totally off topic. My site still contains at least 1200 film reviews.

My number of readers fluctuates, but it averages out at about 5000 readers a month. I use the word "reader" very generously. I think that a lot of people are looking for places to download films, and they're probably annoyed when they come to my site and find it doesn't contain any download links.

I don't make any money with this blog. When I first started it I included Google's automatic advertisements, which would have earned me a small amount of money, based on the traffic, or even more for clicks. After about two weeks I removed them. The ads looked annoying to me, and I don't want to annoy my readers. The only way I can earn money is by people using my Amazon links to buy products, but very few of my readers do that.

More than anything else I want feedback from my readers. Some of my regular readers leave comments occasionally. I would like more. I want to know from you whether you agree or disagree with my opinions on films.

Here's to the next year. Or the next four years!

The Sinful Dwarf (1 Star)

What is it about dwarves in films? They're always evil, perverted, or at least downright creepy. I'm sure they can't all be so bad in real life.

This is a horrible film. I feel like I've wasted 90 minutes of my life, but at least I can do some good by writing this blog post to warn others against repeating my mistake.

A young couple, Peter and Mary, move into a cheap boarding house, where they intend to stay until Peter has found a good job. The owner is Lila Lashe, a lady who used to be a singer on stage and television until she was forced to retire by being scarred in a fire. Her son is Olaf, the dwarf in the poster above. Mary suspects something strange is happening in the house, but Peter mocks her. He should have listened to his wife's intuition. Olaf is kidnapping young women and locking them in the attic, keeping them docile by injecting them with heroin. Customers pay him to enter the attic to rape one or more of the women. Ugh.

The film is awful. If you really must watch it, don't say I didn't warn you.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Journey to the Center of the Earth (4 Stars)

I must be getting forgetful in my old age. I was certain I'd seen this film on television a few years ago, but within ten minutes of watching it today it became obvious that it was completely new to me.

This film continued Brendan Fraser's career as an action hero after his roles in "The Mummy" and its sequel. It's not a remake of the famous 1959 film with the same name. On the contrary, this film, made in 2008, takes a step back from the film into reality. Let me explain. Professor Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) goes on an expedition to find his brother Max. Max believed that Jules Verne's novel, "Journey to the Centre of the Earth", was not fiction, but the report of a true story. This would mean that the 1959 film, based on the book, was also true. Trevor is a sceptic, he only wants to find his brother, but he accidentally stumbles into the underground kingdom described by Jules Verne.

The film is good fun, not meant to be taken too seriously. Brendan Fraser is more of a comedian than an action hero, but who cares? He's having fun playing the role, and it shows. My only criticism of the film is the poor quality of the CGI. The film supposedly had a $60 million budget, so couldn't the dinosaurs have been made more realistic?

At the end of the film there's a hook to open the way for a sequel about a trip to Atlantis. I wonder why it was never made. "Journey to the Center of the Earth" was a huge success, earning over $240 million at the box office, which would normally make the sequel a certainty.

Dark Passage (3 Stars)

I thought I would take a look at another Lauren Bacall film that I've never seen before, and I picked this one, "Dark Passage", made in 1947. Judging by the picture on the poster I expected a film noir detective story. I'm sure that's what the poster artist intended to portray, but it's false advertising. It's not a detective story. There's no femme fatale. It's not 100% clear who's holding the gun in the poster. Judging by the angle it should be Humphrey Bogart, but it seems to be a feminine glove, so it could be Lauren Bacall. It doesn't really matter, because neither of them holds a gun at any point in the film.

At the beginning of the film a convicted murderer, Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart), escapes from San Quentin prison. He's picked up by a woman, Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall), who takes him back to her apartment in San Francisco because she believes he is innocent and wants to help him. This is complicated by the fact that Irene's close friend is the main witness who testified against him in the murder trial. To disguise himself while looking for the real murderer Vincent undergoes plastic surgery to change his face.

The film uses experimental cinematography. For the first 35 minutes the film is shown from a POV perspective, through Vincent's eyes. This means that we only see his arms and hands, never the rest of his body. We never see Vincent Parry's face, except in a newspaper photo. For the next 25 minutes of the film we see his face in heavy bandages after the operation. The actor is recognisable as Humphrey Bogart. but only just. After the film has been running for an hour, almost exactly to the minute, the bandages are removed and we can see his face for the last half hour of the film.

According to the featurette on the disc, the film was a flop at the box office, but not because of the film itself. In 1947 Hollywood directors and actors were forbidden to work if they were members of the Communist party. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were not Communists, but they joined an association called the Committee for the First Amendment which protested about Americans being persecuted for their political views. As far as the general public were concerned, the committee members were Communist sympathisers, so the film was widely boycotted. A few months later Humphrey and Lauren left the organisation to save their careers. Humphrey Bogart made the famous statement: "I'm no Communist. I'm just an American dope".

Friday, 12 September 2014

Sexy Warriors (3½ Stars)

3000 years before Christ the two Amazon warriors, Diana and Athena, are locked in mortal combat to win the Orb of Athos. Their legends tell that it will give them what they need most. Diana knocks Athena unconscious. Instead of slaying her fallen opponent, she stands in front of the orb and prays for her reward. She is thrown 5000 years into the future and lands in Gail's Gym in Los Angeles.

Diana assumes that she's been sent to the future because this is where she will find what she needs. The gym owner Gail, played by the delectable Christine Nguyen, tries to help her in her quest. But unknown to her Athena has also travelled to the future to pursue Diana.

This is an amusing little film with pluses and minuses. The biggest plus is the utterly awesome performance by Ted Newsom as the talk show host. The biggest minus is the lacklustre acting of Alexandre Boisvert as Mark, the horny gym member who pursues Gail and the Amazons. He has limited success with Gail, but the Amazons aren't interested in him. As for Christine Nguyen, she looks more beautiful with every film she makes.

Here are a few photos of Christine and the rest of the cast.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (5 Stars)

I avoided this film when it was released in 2011. The main reason was that I was so disappointed with the 2001 version of "Planet of the Apes", and I expected another disaster. After accidentally going to see this film's sequel, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", I thought I would give it a chance. Wow! I wasn't disappointed at all.

This film tells the story of the first intelligent apes. Unlike the original pentalogy it doesn't rely on temporal paradoxes to explain their intelligence. Dr. Will Rodman works for a company called Gen-Sys and is trying to invent a cure for Alzheimer's disease. Chimpanzees are being used for animal testing. Unknown to him one of the female chimpanzees, Bright Eyes, is pregnant when she is injected with the test drug. This results in her giving birth to an intelligent ape. When it is ordered to kill all the chimps Dr. Rodman secretly takes the baby home and calls him Caesar. Caesar is taught American sign language, in much the same way as Washoe in the 1970's.

After attacking a neighbour to protect Dr. Rodman's father, Caesar is put in an animal pound. This is his first contact with other monkeys. His intelligence is underestimated, and he easily escapes. He steals more of the experimental drug and gives it to the other monkeys. They readily acknowledge him as their leader.

The one strength of Tim Burton's 2001 film was the realistic appearance of the monkeys, but this film does it even better, thanks to the advances in computer animation. From the beginning of the film we feel for Caesar, and we take his side when he comes into conflict with humans. It's excellently written and directed. This is a franchise reboot that was worth doing.

Fans of the original pentalogy will recognise the respectful references to the original films. Caesar was the name of the leader of the monkeys in the fourth and fifth films, although he's a different character in this film with a different origin. It's amusing that Caesar's mother is called Bright Eyes. That was the name given to the astronaut played by Charlton Heston in the first film.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Off-Topic: 13th Anniversary of 9/11/2001

Today is the 13th anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York, the biggest terrorist attack in the history of mankind. I wanted to write something about it on the 10th anniversary, but I bit my lip and remained silent. Then on the 11th and 12th anniversaries I held myself back again. Nothing has changed. What I write today is the same that I would have written in previous years.

First let me tell you how I experienced it. On September 11th 2001 I was sitting with friends listening to the radio. The initial news reports were confused. When the plane crashed into the North Tower it was claimed that it was an accident. Then the second plane hit the South Tower, and the news reporters were talking about a "strange coincidence". Soon the British news began to speculate that it was a terror attack. As the day progressed the events became clear.

On the following day, September 12th, I received a big shock. At that time I lived in Herbert Road in Birmingham, and I could see the Chapman Road Mosque from my window. There was a big banner draped across the building with the writing "Death to all Jews and Americans". I rang the police to complain about it. I was informed that the police already knew, but they were waiting until they could get Moslem police officers to go to the scene in order to deal with it peacefully. Ironically, I discovered years later that the Chapman Road mosque is a Shia mosque. Shia Moslems are the enemies of the Sunni Moslems who form Al Qaeda.

Since 2001 I've lived in Small Heath, a part of Birmingham in which more than 90% of the population is Moslem. The western half of Small Heath, where I lived in 2001, is made up mostly of Somalian immigrants. The eastern half of Small Heath, where I've lived since 2002, is made up mostly of Pakistani immigrants. I have a lot of Pakistani friends, all of whom I would consider to be "moderate Moslems". For them the 9/11 attack was a big problem. They knew it was something bad, and they didn't know how to deal with it. One day when I walked into a chip shop one of my friends was beaming all over his face. "Mike, they explained it to us in the mosque. The terrorists were really Jews, and they attacked the World Trade Center because a lot of Moslems worked there". I was dumbstruck. I didn't even attempt to argue with him. He was willing to believe the most stupid of stories just to preserve his faith. Besides, even if I had contradicted him he wouldn't have believed me, because I'm not as intelligent as his teacher in the mosque.

But then, two years later, posters started appearing on the walls of Small Heath praising the "Magnificent 19", the 19 young men who died as martyrs in the 9/11 terror attacks. My friend became nervous and avoided the topic.

Over the years I've discussed the 9/11 attacks with many moderate Moslems, some of them friends, some of them casual acquaintances. A small number still deny the attacks were carried out by Moslems, but the majority give Al Qaeda the responsibility. The moderates admit that the Magnificent 19 were wrong, that they "made a mistake", that they "didn't act in Allah's name". But if I keep up the pressure and ask if the terrorists were evil the moderates become nervous and start stuttering around. I've tried to get moderates to admit that the 19 terrorists were evil and have gone to Hell, but they can't do it. This is the dilemma of Moderate Islam. They claim to be against terrorism, but as far as they are concerned the 19 terrorists are now in Heaven, whereas the firemen who risked their lives to save the 9/11 victims are evil men who are going to Hell.

In all conflicts there are two sorts of people. There are the ones fighting on the front line, and the ones back at home supporting them. For instance, I could never be a soldier, but I sit at home praising the efforts of the British armed forces in other countries. It's the same with Islam. The terrorists crash planes, while the moderate Moslems sit at home supporting them. Moderate Islam is a lie. The moderates are no better than the terrorists, they're just too lazy or too cowardly to join them in their attacks. The moderates pretend to be against the terrorism, and I've seen many eloquent speakers on television criticising terror attacks, but none of them would ever say that terrorists are evil men who are going to Hell. As long as they are unable to do this they are lying.

All Moslems are guilty of the 9/11 attacks. None are innocent. All Moslems deserve to be punished for their part in the 9/11 attacks.

In the "politically correct" West it's considered normal to be tolerant of other religions and ways of thought. That's a mistake, because Islam offers no tolerance in return. Islam should no longer be treated as a religion. Islam should be officially classified as a terrorist organisation, and its members should be handled accordingly. Mosques are terror cells and should be closed. Education should be offered to persuade the Moslems who are sitting on the fence to abandon their so-called religion.

A problem with Islam in the community where I live is that it's considered part of the racial identity. "Pakistanis are Moslems, white people are Christians". That's the cliché. I personally would divide the Pakistani Moslems into three groups.

  1. The radical Moslems who openly advocate terrorism.
  2. The moderate Moslems who visit the mosque, but claim to be against terrorism.
  3. The passive Moslems who never visit the mosque.

The ones in the first two groups are the evil ones. The third group might openly pretend to be Moslem by celebrating Ramadan and not eating pork, but inwardly they are unreligious. They're on a par with nominal Christians. They're the ones who just pretend to be Moslem because it's expected of them in their racial group. They need to be educated that it's acceptable to be a Pakistani atheist, or even a Pakistani Christian. When I lived in Germany I had three Lebanese friends who had converted from Islam to Christianity. One of them had even been a former PLO fighter. If you think my views are extreme you should listen to them. They utterly despise Islam and everything it stands for. I also had a Bangladeshi friend who had converted to Christianity. When he visited his father he could not stay in the house, because his father threatened to kill him.

Hating Islam should not be considered to be racism. On the contrary, white British converts to Islam are the worst Moslems of all, because they have deliberately chosen a path of evil.

If you, dear reader, feel I am being unjust in speaking to you this way, I invite you to leave a comment on this post. If you consider yourself to be a moderate Moslem and regularly visit a mosque (i.e. you're in the second group above), answer this question: Do you believe that the 19 terrorists of September 11th 2001 are evil men who are now suffering in Hell? If your answer is an unconditional Yes, I shall apologise to you personally. You are a good Moslem, and you are the proof that not all Moslems are evil.

On the other hand, if I receive no comments like this it will be proof to me that I am correct in saying that all Moslems are evil.

I shall finish with a quote from Britain's greatest leader, Winston Churchill, from his book "The River War".

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries, improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement, the next of its dignity and sanctity.  The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.

Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step, and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it (Islam) has vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome”.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Thelma and Louise (5 Stars)

This is a brilliant film. It's constructed perfectly. The weakest point is the introductory scene to introduce Louise in the restaurant. After that the film keeps getting better, while Thelma and Louise slip deeper and deeper into a pit of despair. In the final scene, facing the police at the Grand Canyon, it's obvious that they've passed the point of no return, but the point came a lot earlier in the film. After shooting Harlan in the parking lot there was no going back to their old life.

There seem to be two lines that cross one another in the film. As the two women sink deeper, the scenery around them becomes more and more beautiful.

Click here for a more detailed review.

Man-Thing (4 Stars)

Here's a little test. When you're with your friends ask them to name the films based on Marvel comics. They'll have no trouble naming the Avengers, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. Then they'll remember Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four. After a while they'll remember the Punisher, and some of them might even know that Blade was a Marvel character. But how many of them would remember Man-Thing, even though the film was made in 2005, less than 10 years ago?

"Man-Thing" -- there's a hyphen in the film title which the poster designers omitted -- was originally planned as a television movie, but late in the development it was decided to release it in theatres. Obviously not everyone heard about this change of plan. It was shown in American cinemas, but in almost every other country it went straight to video.

I was reluctant to watch the film, even though I enjoyed reading the Man-Thing comics in the 1970's. I read reviews of the film, which where mostly negative. It wasn't until today, nine years later, that I finally watched it. And I was surprised at how good it is!

Okay, the Man-Thing's origin and powers have been changed, but that happens in nearly all of the Marvel films. In the comics the Man-Thing is a man, Ted Sallis, who was transformed into a monster after experiments that were supposed to make him a super-soldier. In the film the Man-Thing is a guardian of a native American tribe. In the comics the Man-Thing kills everyone in whom he senses fear; in the film he selectively kills those who have desecrated the Indian sacred grounds. In the comics the Man-Thing's body is made of slime, usually solid, but he is able to ooze through small holes if necessary. In the film his body is also made up of vines, branches and other swamp material.

Another change is that the Man-Thing has been relocated from the Florida Everglades to the swamps of Louisiana. This is a change that works well, in my opinion. An industrialist has bought land from native Americans so that he can drill for oil. Those who weren't prepared to sell their land were killed. Only the Man-Thing is able to return the land to its rightful owners, but in the process there's a lot of collateral damage.

Mama (4 Stars)

This film may have been written and directed by an Argentinian, but it's a very Japanese film. I'm sure that fans of Japanese horror films will have seen the similarity immediately. I shan't say why here, I'll invite my readers to leave me a comment and say why.

A father crashes his car into the woods with his two daughters, supposedly aged three and one, although they look older. There's a back story to why he's driving through the woods on an icy road, but it's not relevant, and the film would probably have been better omitting it. They take refuge in a cabin in the woods. The father is killed by a supernatural creature, which then adopts the two girls and looks after them as their mother.

The man's identical twin brother Luke devotes his life and his savings to finding his brother and the children. Five years later hunters stumble on the cabin and find the two girls living in a feral state. After spending three months in a hospital for psychiatric evaluation they're adopted by their Uncle Luke and his wife. But the two children have been followed by the creature that they still consider to be their "Mama".

Originally this was made as a short film, and it shows. The back story that I mentioned is unnecessary padding to make it a full length film. Then there's the matter of the brothers being identical twins, which isn't expounded on enough to make it seem more than a loose end. The five-year hunt doesn't add anything to the story. And the custody battles with Luke's sister-in-law just distract from what the film is really about: it's a very well directed horror film with an abundance of suspense.