Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Big Girls Don't Cry (4 Stars)

This is a film that has more in common with "Dangerous Liaisons"/"Cruel Intentions" than typical American teenager stories. Kati and Steffi are two 16-year-old girls who go to school in Berlin. They are from affluent families and have been friends since childhood. Their peaceful life is shattered when Steffi finds out her father is having an affair. The two girls set out to take revenge on the father's lover, and in the process their friendship with one another deteriorates.

This is an intriguing psychological drama that I saw for the first time today. I've given it 4 stars for now, but I might revise my rating after watching it again. Anna Maria Mühe, 16 at the time the film was made, was chosen for the role of Kati when the director saw her sitting with friends in a cafe, and has since become a very successful actress. Miracles happen.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Take Me High (4½ Stars)

This is a film that I doubt many people have seen. It marks the end of Cliff Richard's acting career. The very few reviews I've seen of "Take me high" label it as a disaster. So why do I like it so much?

I have to confess that I'm biased. The film is set almost entirely in the centre of Birmingham, the city where I live. It was filmed in 1973, so it shows Birmingham as it was before the major city centre redevelopments of the early 1990's. This is Birmingham as it was when I was young. It brings back fond memories.

Cliff plays a young merchant banker who is expecting to be sent to New York, but instead is sent to Birmingham. Despite his initial disappointment, this is where he finds true happiness. He falls in love with the city and a girl. He lives on a barge in Gas Street basin and goes to business meetings by speedboat. Together with his lover he creates a new Birmingham food that he calls the Brumburger. Oh, and did I mention that the film is a musical? I can understand why the film has drawn so much negative criticism, but I love it.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Scream 2 (5 Stars)

"Scream" was an important film because it revitalised the slasher genre. So could the sequel (or rather, the second part of the trilogy) live up to it? The answer is a resounding Yes. "Scream 2" continues with the parody ideas from the first film, but they're portrayed in a less comical way. It's still a film about films, but it has more of the character of an homage than a parody. In fact, we see things from the other side here. "Scream 2" starts with a film called "Stab", which is a film based on the events of the first film. A portion of "Stab", which contains dialog identical to the words spoken in "Scream", is shown on television within "Scream 2", which lifts us a further level from reality. So we're watching a film in which the characters know they're in a film, and in the film the events are filmed to be watched by the film characters. Confusing, huh? Only if you sit down and think about it. Most people prefer to just sit down and be scared.

The finale takes place on stage within a film school. The theatre in a school in a film? We also see the killer videotaping his victims. This is an intelligent film on so many different levels. And it's scary! This is a must-watch film, whether you're a horror movie fan or an intellectual who likes to analyse everything.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Scream (5 Stars)

When this film was made in 1996 director Wes Craven was poking fun not just at himself, but at the whole horror film genre. The "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise which he had created had become stale after endless sequels. He created a parody called "Scream" in which the characters openly stated that they were in a horror movie and were governed by the rules of horror films. And yet this parody succeeded in evoking more terror than the serious films before it had done. Despite being intended as a parody, "Scream" has become the template for all teen slasher flicks that have followed it.

The killer may have one particular victim in his sights, but anyone can die. Everyone is a suspect. Even when the killer dies he can return, maybe supernaturally, maybe in the guise of a copycat killer. "Scream" revived the serial killer genre, maybe even the whole horror film genre. It will always stand as a landmark film.

Hells Angels '69 (4 Stars)

This film is more than anything intended to portray the Hells Angels "as they really are". Several films had been made about the Hells Angels, and some had even starred Angels members as extras, but this film was the first to feature Hells Angels members in major speaking roles, including Sonny Barger, head of the Oakland, California chapter.

Two bored, rich hippies pretend to be bikers from Boston to gain acceptance by Oakland Hells Angels. Once they have gained their trust they use the Angels to create a diversion when they go to Las Vegas to rob Caesar's Palace. When the Angels discover they have been used they hunt down the tricksters to carry out their own harsh justice.

This is an enjoyable biker film, and I strongly recommend listening to Joe Bob Briggs' informative and insightful commentary, which is incorrectly called a "comedy commentary".

On an aside note: the film's title spells "Hells" with an apostrophe, which I know from my schooldays would be correct. However, the motorcycle group itself spells its name without an apostrophe. Sigh... there's no respect for the English language any more.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Count Dracula (4 Stars)

Bram Stoker's "Dracula" has been filmed more often than any other story, supposedly 43 times so far. I own 9 versions of the Dracula story in my DVD collection. German film director Werner Herzog was so obsessed that he filmed the story twice with the same cast. There has even been a Japanese ballet version. What is it about this story that captures people's fantasy? Why does it never lose its appeal? Maybe it's because it's a story about eternal life, something that everyone wants. Maybe because it's a tale of good and evil. I can't give a definitive answer, I can only speculate.

The version that I'm reviewing here was filmed by the BBC for television broadcast in 1977 and split into two parts because of its length. Of all the versions I've seen it keeps closest to the original novel. It lacks the romantic pathos of Friedrich Murnau's 1922 version, and it isn't as sexual as Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version, but it lacks none of the suspense. By remaining accurate to the original book, even quoting snippets of dialogue, it stands as a masterpiece. The BBC evidently didn't invest much money in the film, but that's not a problem, except in the scenes where they attempted to produce special effects, which all turned out shoddy looking. If they had omitted the special effects altogether the film would have been better. I also have to chuckle about Richard Barnes' awful American accent, which is almost as bad as Tom Cruise's pathetic Irish accent. When casting an American character it would be wise to choose an American actor.

Nevertheless, this is a competent retelling of the tale. This is worth watching and comparing with all the other versions available.

I dream of Jeannie XXX (5 Stars)

Let's try to refrain from my usual rant about the title. This film is just amazing. It's the most successful of Axel Braun's parodies so far. The details and the casting are perfect. I'm particularly impressed with Alex Knight's performance as Major Healey. He stutters his way effortlessly from the comedy moments to the sex scenes. In addition I have to say that this is the sexiest film I've ever seen. If all porn films were this good I'd be a porn fan.

The plot is simple, but no more simple than any of the original TV series' episodes. Two lesbians move into the house next door to Major Nelson. Jeannie has no idea what lesbians are, Major Healey is excited ("Lesbians are God's gift to man"), and Major Nelson himself, admirably played by Dale Dabone, doesn't really care. When it turns out that the lesbians are really bisexual Jeannie gets jealous, turning them into dildos and trapping the two majors in her bottle.

Even if you have prejudices against pornographic films, this film is worth watching.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Charmed XXX (3½ Stars)

The film name on the box is "This ain't Charmed XXX", but I've shortened the name because that's nonsense. It should be either "This ain't Charmed" or "This is Charmed XXX", because it obviously   is   an XXX version of "Charmed".

Having got that off my chest, I have to admit that I didn't enjoy this film as much as Axel Braun's other porn parodies. Part of the problem is that I've never been a "Charmed" fan and haven't seen many episodes, so I can't judge how close to the original series the film is. The plot is scantier than in Axel's other films. The two black actors are probably included because they represent someone in the series, but in the film their part is totally superfluous. If you're a "Charmed" fan give this a watch and tell me what you think.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Mars Attacks (5 Stars)

This is one of my favorite films. It's sheer brilliance from beginning to end, from the burning herd of cattle to Tom Jones singing with the birds. Tim Burton had a huge budget at his disposal, which he spent on an array of world class actors to make the most ambitious B-Movie of all time.

"Mars Attacks" started with a set of trading cards published in 1962. In 1984 the cards were reprinted. In 1994 the set was reprinted again with additional cards. A fan following was beginning to build up, so Tim Burton tackled the film in 1996. While he certainly had enough money for realistic special effects, he chose to stick to a B-Movie style throughout, for instance by giving the Martians weapons that looked like water pistols.

Despite being a deliberate spoof, the film stands head and shoulders above the other big alien invasion film made in the same year. "Independence Day" was intended to be serious, but ended up being a ridiculous farce.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Rape of the Vampire (3½ Stars)

This 1968 film was the first full length film made by French director Jean Rollin. Maybe we can excuse him for packing a five-hour plot into a 90-minute film. So much is going on, and there are so many characters that it's difficult to follow all the details. But let's try to summarize it:

Four sisters have been living in an old French castle for 500 years. In the old days noblemen used to practise their swordsplay with them because they knew the girls would stay alive if they were stabbed. They are hated by the superstitious villagers. Fifty years ago the villagers attacked them, raping one of the vampires and blinding another.

A psychiatrist and his two assistants visit the castle to persuade the sisters that they aren't really vampires. He proves to them that they can't be harmed by sunlight or crosses. He then asks one of the sisters to bite him as the final proof, but this turns him into a vampire. The villagers attack the castle killing all the vampires... or so they think.

After the slaughter at the castle a vampire queen arrives from overseas. One sister is saved after an operation in a private clinic where the surgeon specialises in treating vampires. Another sister and the psychiatrist are revived when blood from a corpse drips onto them. At this point it becomes confusing. The vampire queen is planning a wedding which will somehow assure the ultimate victory of vampires over mortals. The surgeon is betraying the queen by searching for an antidote to turn vampires back into mortals. I won't even talk about subplots which run alongside, distracting us from the final battle between the vampire queen and the surgeon.

Is it a good film? Yes and No. It's very artistic, and we see examples of the psychedelic imagery that Rollin uses to perfection in his later films. But the plot is much too confusing. Rollin could have made it a better film by throwing out half of the characters and the minor plotlines. Even the rape itself, after which the film is named, is irrelevant to the later happenings in the film. Rollin fans, such as myself, will want to have this film in their collection, but his later films are better, such as "The Nude Vampire" (1970), "Lips of Blood" (1975), "Two Orphan Vampires" (1997) and "Dracula's Fiancee" (2002).

But Jean Rollin's career is now over. He passed away on December 15th, 2010. He was a unique artist of cinema who can never be replaced. Rest In Peace.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Shame (3 Stars)

A man and his wife, both concert violinists, flee to a remote island to escape a war. They make a new life as farmers selling vegetables. Four years later the war reaches their island and opposing troops battle around them. Rather than take sides their only interest is survival, but as they struggle the couple become alienated from one another, because the husband is willing to kill to survive and the wife isn't. A psychological drama in a world of chaos and lawlessness.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Darkness Falls (4½ Stars)

150 years ago a woman in a town called Darkness Falls gave children a gold coin in exchange for their last tooth to fall out. One day she is wrongly accused of murder and swears revenge before she is hanged. Since then she has been visiting children in the night they lose their last tooth and killing them if they dare to look at her.

In many ways this is an old-fashioned horror film. There is very little gore. The horror is created by suspense. That is what makes this film so good. More films should be made like this today.

I have to ask something though. The film lasts 71:49 minutes, which is the perfect length for the story. So why do the final credits have to last 10:20 minutes? That's longer than most films, and a disproportionate length for such a short film. The longest credits I know are the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, "The Fellowship of the Ring". They run 26:24 minutes, after the film ran for 192:23 minutes.

To put it proportionately: LOTR's credits make up 12.1% of the total film length, whereas Darkness Falls' credits make up 12.6%. Was the film's producer trying to set a record? I suspect that he wanted to puff the film's length out to 82:09 to stop it looking too short. It wasn't necessary. The film was just right as it was. I've been told that the watershed is 70 minutes. A film that lasts at least 70 minutes from the beginning to the start of the credits is a full length film, whereas a film that is 69:59 minutes or less is a short film. The one second difference might not make any difference to the average film fan, but it determines which category a film is placed in for film awards, such as the Academy Awards.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Brides of Dracula (4 Stars)

This is an excellent Hammer film from 1960. Unfortunately they got the name wrong. Dracula isn't in it, and nobody gets married. The correct title would be "Baron Meinster's Girlfriends". But somehow that doesn't sound quite as menacing, does it?

A young schoolteacher is travelling to take up a new job in Badstein, Transylvania. On the way she encounters an old baroness who is keeping her son locked up because she claims he is mad. She releases him, and we soon find out that he's a vampire. Luckily Dr. Van Helsing is in the town and takes up the fight against him.

The plot has as many holes as Swiss cheese, but just turn the lights down, suspend your disbelief and watch this classic horror film. Oh how I long for the days when horror films will once more rely on suspense instead of gore.

Monday, 13 December 2010

American Virgin (4 Stars)

A girl who has sworn to remain a virgin till marriage gets drunk and is filmed topless at a student party. Together with her friends she chases the men who filmed her to Detroit to prevent the footage being published on a "Girls Go Crazy" DVD. The story is a type of coming-of-age comedy. It might be full of cliches, but it's a fun film to watch.

There are a few films with this name. I'm referring to the 2009 version that stars Jenna Dewan as the young virgin.

P.S. That picture above is a screenshot from the film. Honest!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Fifty Dead Men Walking (4 Stars)

This is the true story of Martin McGartland, a young Irishman who acted as an informer within the IRA from 1988 to 1992. The film avoids politics and concentrates on the atrocities committed by the IRA. It's an exciting film, but I confess I had difficulties understanding the accents in places and needed subtitles. Ben Kingsley's acting is excellent, as always.

Night of the Ghouls (4 Stars)

This is Ed Wood's last film, made in 1959, but not released until after his death in 1983. It is a sequel to "Bride of the Monster". A phony psychic has hired actors to pretend to be ghosts in order to con money out of wealthy customers. Unknown to him his house is haunted by real ghosts.

Despite the technical faults typical in Ed Wood's films, this is an enjoyable film. I don't care how many people say he was the world's worst director. He wasn't.

TV Series: Danger Man

This series was known as "Secret Agent" in America. It ran from 1960 to 1966. The first season's episodes were 25 minutes each, the later episodes were 45 minutes. It amazes me how much adventure and action were packed into each 25 minute story. The plots are as intricate as most 90-minute films. I doubt anybody could create television shows like this today. It's a testimony to the brilliance of the writer, Brian Clemens, who later went on to write "The Avengers".

The show's main character is John Drake, played by Patrick McGoohan. In the first seeason he's described as an agent for a secret Nato organisation based in Washington. From the second season on he works for the British secret service. He is a gentleman spy who treats friends and enemies with respect. He is frequently sent on missions to fictional counties, such as Baravia, San Pablo and Slavosk.

After the end of "Danger Man" Patrick McGoohan starred as Nr. 6 in "The Prisoner". Even though he frequently shouts, "I am not a number, I am a free man!" we never find out 6's name. Fans of the series speculate that 6 was John Drake. While there is no definite proof, there are many clues that support this theory, and no evidence against it. For me there is no doubt that 6's real name was John Drake. 6 was a British secret agent who was abducted after he quit his job. The two characters played by Patrick McGoohan have identical personalities. The song "Secret Agent Man", that was used as the theme tune from the second season on, has as its chorus, "Secret agent man, they've given you a number and taken away your name". As far as I'm concerned "The Prisoner" is the fourth season of "Danger Man".

One of the things Patrick McGoohan will be remembered for is what he didn't do. He was the man who refused to be Bond. When "Dr. No" was to be filmed, Patrick McGoohan was offered the role, but he turned it down and Sean Connery was given the job. McGoohan refused to be James Bond due his moral convictions. He didn't want to be a secret agent who was living a promiscuous lifestyle. When Sean Connery quit the job was offered to McGoohan a second time, and he refused again.

Would McGoohan have been a good James Bond? Definitely! He would have been similar to Sean Connery, in my opinion, in everything but looks. When watching the early Bond films I can't help feeling that Connery was imitating McGoohan, since "Danger Man" was a well known TV series at the time. The standard introduction "My name is Bond, James Bond" is a copy of the opening line from the TV series, "My name is Drake, John Drake".

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Lust for a Vampire (4½ Stars)

This is the second film in Hammer's Karnstein Trilogy. It takes place in the 19th Century. Its connection to the first film is unclear. The Carmilla/Mircalla character in this film may either be the same person as in the first film, or a descendant. Nevertheless, this film is my personal favorite out of all of Hammer's gothic horror films.

A beautiful young woman joins a boarding school for young ladies in Germany. Soon deaths begin to occur. The young woman is, as we soon realise, Carmilla Karnstein, who has been raised from the dead. Carmilla is played by the Danish actress Yutte Stensgaard, who is the most beautiful actress I have ever seen. After an acting career that lasted only three years she became a Christian and retired to a life of anonymity. She still has many fans today.

I would have given this film 5 stars, if it had not been for the annoying voiceover in the opening scenes and the awful theme song that blends in at 53 minutes, ruining the erotic atmosphere and sending me scurrying for the mute button on my remote control.

Friday, 10 December 2010

TV Series: The Tribe

"The Tribe" is a New Zealand TV series that ran for five years from 1999 to 2003. It was a real New Zealand series, not an American series filmed in New Zealand like "Hercules" or "Xena". It is set in the near future after a virus has wiped out the whole of the world's adult population. Only the children have survived.

The subject matter of the series makes it very difficult to classify. It also means that the series trod a dangerous line, and was eventually cancelled because it was too daring. Most of the actors in the series were aged between 10 and 16 when they entered the show. Optically this made it look like a children's show. This is the impression I had of it when I first saw it on television. Indeed, on British television it was shown at 4pm in the afternoon, in the middle of children's shows. But wait! Look at the show's subject matter.

Despite all the actors being children, it's a very adult oriented show. The children realise that the human race needs to survive, so sex is a necessity. Don't worry, the show isn't tasteless enough to portray children in intimate situations, but it's common to see young girls carrying babies on their arms. The whole story asks the question what would happen if the adults who had made the laws suddenly disappeared. The children have to stand for themselves and make their own laws.

Unfortunately, the new society isn't as perfect as young teenagers might expect. Instead of law and order the new society's motto is "Power and chaos". The school bullies soon become the leaders, murdering those who oppose them. Other children are made slaves and sent out to work tilling the fields. Rather than a centralised government a series of small tribes arise, each with their own style and face painting, and all at war with one another. A new religious cult arises which is more brutal than any of the tribes. While most of the resistance is based around terror attacks, a young girl has more success seducing the cult's leader to weaken the movement from within.

One of the main companies funding the series was Channel 4, a British television channel. There were constant complaints from Channel 4 about the content, but the final straw was a lesbian relationship in the fifth season. Channel 4 said that this was unsuitable for a children's show and should be stopped. The Tribe's producers said that it wasn't intended to be a children's show and refused to back down. Channel 4 withdrew their funding, and it was cancelled.

If you want to watch "The Tribe" you will have to buy the English DVD boxsets, Region 2 PAL. It's doubtful the series will ever be released in America.

The Vampire Lovers (4½ Stars)

Now this is what cinema is all about. After being bored silly by films like "The Social Network" and "Sex and the City 2" you should watch "The Vampire Lovers" to remind yourself that cinema is an art form. Although it's 40 years old the film still shines as a masterpiece of storytelling today.

This is the first part of Hammer's Karnstein Trilogy. A vampire hunter has wiped out a family of vampires apart from one woman, Mircalla Karnstein, whose grave he couldn't find. Decades later a mysterious young woman stays at the houses of aristocrats, and wherever she goes young women die.

Ingrid Pitt plays the lead character, Mircalla. Her beauty is stunning throughout, though I find her character too cold. I realise that this is deliberate, but I would have preferred more warmth. I only found out today that Ingrid died last month, on November 23rd. Her life story would be good film material in itself. She was born in 1937 in Poland, and spent three years living with her mother in a German concentration camp. After the war she became a successful theatre actress in East Berlin. She suffered harrassment because she was an open critic of the Communist regime, and eventually she escaped to the West by swimming across the River Spree. She married the American soldier who rescued her from the water, and moved to California where she made her first films. After the break-up of her marriage she returned to Europe where she made a few films in Spain before settling in England. Apart from her film career she wrote about a dozen books, some of them horror novels, others biographical works. I bid farewell to a beautiful vampire. May she live forever in our hearts and on film.

Peter Cushing has a relatively small role in the film as General von Spielsdorf. Although he's a one-sided actor, he always manages to be placed in roles that fit his personality. There's no shame in only being able to play one type of role if you're the best there is for those roles.

Jon Finch is a brilliant but tragically underrated actor. Whenever he walks onto the screen in a film the other characters fade into the background. He claims that his lack of public recognition is deliberate. "I never wanted to be a big star. I usually do one film a year, so I always have enough money to enjoy myself and keep myself out of the public eye. It's a very pleasant life, not one of great ambition". This is our loss.

Madeline Smith could hardly be described as a good actress, but she's one of the most beautiful British actresses ever, and nobody can portray an innocent virgin as well as she can. Madeline boasts that she remained a virgin until marriage, so we can assume she was just acting naturally.

Baba Yaga (3 Stars)

This slow-moving supernatural horror film is more of a tapestry of images than a logical story. When a photographer rescues a dog on a dark night she meets a witch called Baba Yaga who takes control of her life. Her camera becomes a weapon, killing those that she photographs, and a doll dressed in BSDM gear comes to life.

The uncut version of this film has only been released in the UK. I advise against buying the American edition.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Off-Topic: Barclaycard APR Increase

I try to keep my off-topic rants to a minimum, but Barclaycard has recently made my blood boil. Last month I received the following letter concerning my Bhs Mastercard, which is operated by Barclaycard:

Let me quote the important part: "Your interest rate for purchases is changing from 18.9% to 23.9% from 31st January 2011. This is happening because we've taken a closer look at how you've been managing your account lately, as well as other financial information we have."

Well, this was like a slap in the face to me. I've been mismanaging my account? They have other negative financial information about me? Let me state for the record that the APR doesn't matter to me because I pay back my credit card balance in full every month. But when a credit card company tells me I'm doing something wrong I want an explanation.

I wrote to Barclaycard and asked for the reasons for their APR increase. I received a reply which was very vague, not answering my questions. In retrospect I suspect that it was a standard letter. Because of this I rang the Barclaycard customer support today. There was a special extension to answer enquiries about the APR increase. The person on the phone, probably a junior employee, stuttered around, and it seemed to me he was repeating standard phrases he had memorised. I kept pressuring him, insisting on finding out how I had mismanaged my account, and eventually he said, "Mr. Hood, it has nothing to do with you. We raised the APR for all our customers."

This left me speechless. So the truth is that Barclaycard had to increase the APR due to their own financial difficulties. Rather than admit this they sent a letter insulting their customers. This is the most disgraceful way I have ever been treated by any financial institution.

Comments are welcome from anyone else who has had problems with Barclays Bank, Barclaycard or any other credit card companies.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Shifty (3½ Stars)

24 hours in the life of a Moslem drug dealer. But that's not what it's really about. This is the story of two friends who have grown apart because one still sells drugs while the other has changed his life. The action is slow and the acting is unconvincing.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Carry On England (4½ Stars)

This is the 28th film in the Carry On series. Though made in 1976, the film is typical of British 1960's humour, as are all the Carry On films. The story is set in England in 1940 and deals with an incompetent army regiment that a new captain is attempting to discipline.

Apart from the usual cast, this was the only Carry On film which features Patrick Mower, who was cast in minor television and film roles for decades, but has recently become well known for playing Rodney Blackstock in the soap opera "Emmerdale". Windsor Davies plays the sergeant major, a role that he was destined to play. Diane Langton was obviously being groomed as a replacement for Barbara Windsor, but she never returned after this film.

Although 29 Carry On films where made, I like to think of this as the last. Two years later the disastrous "Carry on Emmanuelle" was made. "Carry on England" is one of the best films in the series and is an example of the fine humour that the Carry On series should be remembered for.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Carry On Behind (4½ Stars)

This is the 27th film in the Carry On series. An arcaeology professor and his Russian assistant go on an excavation to find Roman relics. The site is adjacent to a camping site in south England. This is one of the funniest films in the series.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The Grudge (4 Stars)

After careful consideration I have to say that this is better than the original Japanese version. The American version is more linear and less episodic. It makes better sense. The subplot about Americans living in Tokyo spices up the film. I also find the film scarier. I felt at home with it as soon as I saw Bill Pullman do his Lost Highway stare in the opening scene. Now I need to watch the sequels.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Invasion of the Bee Girls (3 Stars)

In a government research centre women are turned into human bees who kill their lovers during mating. An interesting concept that would have turned out well with a bigger budget and better cinematography. This looks like a prime candidate for a remake.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Hannibal (4½ Stars)

Although "Silence of the Lambs" is the most famous film about Hannibal Lecter, I find "Hannibal" better. The main reason is that we see more of the good doctor, but I also find that Julianne Moore is a better choice to play Clarice Starling. Giancarlo Giannini, an actor not well known outside Italy, delivers a moving performance as the police detective blinded by greed. The film moves slowly, but when the action kicks in you jump in your seat. A great film all round.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

TV Soap: Coronation Street

While I almost never watch "Coronation Street", I think that I should pay respect to it as the world's longest running television soap that is still being shown. Next Thursday, December 9th, will be its fiftieth anniversary. It's also the anniversary of William Roache who has played Ken Barlow in the soap since the first episode, and is the actor who has played a role for the longest time continuously.

I won't say much about the soap, since I know too little about it, and merely refer anyone who's interested to the Wikipedia page. On December 9th the anniversary episode will be broadcast live. While not a soap fan I'll be sitting watching it with a glass of wine in my hand, taking part in this special occasion and celebrating William Roache's performance as a British icon.

If any of my readers are Coronation Street fans I invite you to write something about it and I'll publish it here.

P.S. The soaps "Guiding Light" and "As the world turns" ran on American television for 57 and 54 years respectively, but have both been discontinued.

P.P.S. Helen Wagner played Nancy Hughes McClosky in "As the world turns" from 1956 to 2010, but she took a four year break from 1981 to 1985.

Exte (4 Stars)

Even after watching "Exte" (Japanese for "Hair Extentions") I'm not sure whether it's meant as a parody or not. Maybe it isn't a parody, but it does subtly make fun of the obsession of Japanese ghost films with long hair.

A man who works in a morgue has the habit of cutting the hair off dead women and selling it as hair extensions. When the body of a murder victim is delivered whose hair is still growing rapidly after death he steals the body and keeps it at home. He now has an endless supply of hair extensions to deliver to the local hair salons. Unfortunately the hair is possessed and kills whoever wears the extensions. A young hairdressing assistant, played by the beautiful Chiaki Kuriyama, is forced to do battle with this evil force.

Star Wreck (2 Stars)

Captain Pirk is stranded on Earth in the 21st Century. Realising that history has been changed, he attempts to change it back by making himself the Earth's emperor. Drunk with power he wages war on all alien life.

This is a parody of Star Trek (various series) with elements of Babylon 5 and Stargate mixed in. The plot is clever and the humour is well conceived, but it's spoilt by poor acting. The characters are all wooden and interchangeable. If you want to see a good Star Trek parody watch Star Trek XXX instead.

Hell High (4 Stars)

Advertised as a slasher movie, this is really an anti-slasher film. The first hour is spent showing us how utterly depraved high school students can be. It isn't till the last 15 minutes that we see the persecuted school teacher go mad and stalk her students dressed only in her lingerie.

A very enjoyable film, and even if it weren't any DVD with a Joe Bob Briggs commentary is worth buying for the commentary alone!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Highlander: The films and TV series

In 1986 a film was made called "Highlander". At the time of its release it went widely unnoticed in America, but it had great success in Europe, especially Germany. After its release on video it started to win fans in America. Film critics also revisited the film and began to pour praise on it. Since then the original film has spawned four sequels, two television series, an animated series and dozens of novels based on the film and television characters. I’m going to make the effort to write a review of the whole Highlander franchise, as brief as possible so that it isn’t boring, but long enough to point out the strengths and weaknesses.

I’ll assume that the readers already know all the films and TV series, so I shan’t shy away from spoilers.

1. Highlander (1986)

The story is about an immortal called Connor MacLeod who was born in 1518 in Scotland and is still alive today in New York City. He can only die if his head is cut off. If his head is cut off by another immortal a supernatural effect called the "Quickening" happens, in which the power and the strength of the dead immortal flows into his killer. There is a rule among immortals that states "There can be only one". All immortals must fight and kill one another until only one is left, who will then receive something called the "Prize". Connor is trained by an immortal Spanish nobleman called Ramirez.

This film was intended as a standalone product. The makers had no intention for a sequel. For this reason we see Connor and Kurgan as the last two immortals battling to the death. Connor wins and receives the Prize in a divine flash of light. In the original version of the film it was stated that the Prize is being allowed to become mortal (is that really a prize?), being able to bear children (immortals are barren) and the gift of telepathy. In later editions of the film on video and DVD (director’s cuts) it isn’t expressly stated what the Prize is at the end of the film, it’s merely some sort of supernatural power.

"Highlander is certainly a classic film that will continue to be cherished and watched as the world of movie making continues to grow and change. It is a triumphant example of the art of cinema, and watching it reminds us all of why we like going to the movies in the first place" (Danel Griffin, film critic).

"The greatest action film ever made… awesome swordfights, an awesome score, and a time-bending plotline that only a philistine could dislike" (Christopher Null, film critic).

2. Highlander 2: The Quickening (1991)

Market forces demanded a sequel. The popularity of the first film meant that a sequel would be money in the bank. The problem, from a creative point of view, was that all the immortals were now dead except for Connor. There had to be a twist to bring them back to life.

"Highlander 2" explains that immortals originally came from the planet Zeist 500 years ago. The immortals are aliens who were exiled to Earth after rebelling against their government, where their essences were placed into human bodies. Luckily this means that dead immortals can be brought back to life, because their essences are still floating around after their death. Connor reverts from being an old mortal to a young immortal again. He battles the immortal Ironside, wins the Prize again, and returns to the planet Zeist to live happily ever after.

The film was, as expected, a huge box office success. However, its success was due to the popularity of the first film. Almost universally fans called the film awful. The makers reacted to this by releasing a new version of the film, completely re-edited, in which all references to the planet Zeist were removed. Although called a director’s cut, this was really a completely new film that merely used footage from the previous version. There was some pleasure among fans who considered that the whole "immortals are aliens" plotline was silly, but removing this just left the film inexplicable, with no real explanation why immortals could magically reappear after being killed.

"Highlander 2: The Quickening is the most hilariously incomprehensible movie I've seen in many a long day, a movie almost awesome in its badness. Wherever science fiction fans gather, in decades and generations to come, this film will be remembered in hushed tones as one of the immortal low points of the genre" (Roger Ebert, film critic).

3. Highlander 3: The Final Dimension (1994)

At this point everyone knew that "Highlander 2" was a catastrophe. So the easiest solution was just to assume that it never happened. A new film was made as a sequel to the first film that totally ignores the events of both versions of the second film. For instance, Connor’s wife Brenda dies in a car crash in this film, even though she died in an environmental disaster in "Highlander 2".

We find that an immortal called Kane has been trapped in a cave for 200 years. For this reason Connor received the Prize by accident when he killed Kurgan. When Kane finally escapes from the cave Connor is un-prized, he becomes an immortal again, and he has to fight Kane to win the Prize again. This film avoids the silliness of randomly reborn immortals, but the idea that the Prize was awarded in the first film by accident sat badly with Highlander fans.

"Highlander 3" was a box office flop. It seems that after the awful second film nobody wanted to give it a chance.

While there were still die-hard Highlander fans, an interesting phenomenon was developing in Highlander fan circles which can still be seen today. Since there were undisguised contradictions in the films, and even alternate versions of films, fans began to make their own personal definitions of the Highlander universe. Each Highlander fan decided for himself what had happened and denied the rest. This phenomenon was called "denialism". Many Highlander fans proudly called themselves denialists when they visited conventions, but really every fan had to be a denialist, since there was no way to reconcile the differences.

Some TV series have similar problems. The timelines in "Star Trek" have contradictions between the original series and the later series, since we repeatedly hear about space ships "a hundred years ago" (i.e. the 22nd Century) travelling to the edge of the galaxy. In "Doctor Who" the Doctor meets the Daleks for the first time in a 1963 episode, although as a Time Lord he should have already known them. Fans of these series just smile, put it down to mistakes and move on. In the case of Highlander the discrepancies are so great that they can’t be ignored. They have to be acknowledged and denied.

"Ultra-fans will rejoice in the face of the third instalment, and it's nowhere near as bad as Highlander 2, but most of you can give it a pass" (Christopher Null, film critic).

4. Highlander TV series (1992 – 1998)

The producers of this series knew they had a problem. They knew that the Highlander storyline was contradictory and fragmented. They decided to make an effort not to make it any worse. They found a way to hook the series into the films, and they took care to remain consistent within the series. The theory is that the original film happened, but there were still other immortals alive at the time, so the battle with Kurgan wasn’t the final battle and the Prize wasn’t given. The second and third films were ignored, or rather denied. This was something that Highlander fans could live with.

The TV series no longer features Connor MacLeod. The main character is Duncan MacLeod, who was born in 1592. Connor and Duncan are called cousins, but because of the time difference we can assume this is meant in a vague sense that would include second cousins, etc.

Critics vary widely in their opinions of the TV series. Fan reaction was almost universally positive, with the UK being a notable exception, where fans never warmed to the series. Germany is the country with the largest fan base, and the series is still being broadcast daily. The main problem with the series was that they had to struggle with a relatively low budget. While it couldn’t aspire to the professionalism of the films in terms of the special effects or cinematography, the stories themselves repeatedly reached artistic peaks. The series was a joint Canadian-French production, so it was demanded that half the episodes be filmed in Canada and the other half in France. This led to the regular pattern that each season would begin in Canada, and halfway through the season Duncan would relocate to his house boat in Paris.

Actually, each season really began in America. The episodes were filmed in Vancouver, but the producers carefully avoided showing well known landmarks and pretended that the setting was a north west American town, presumably Seattle. Later in the series this town was called Seacouver, presumably as a joke, but the name soon became popular among Highlander fans and became its official name.

The premise of the TV series is that immortals have existed since the beginning of time, and are still being born today. Certain people are born with the potential for immortality, but they only become immortal after experiencing a violent death. Some immortals, such as Duncan, are able to "sense" those who are able to become immortal, but most immortals can’t. Throughout the series immortality is shown to be a curse, because immortals have to watch their friends and loved ones die.

The main characters in the first season are Duncan Macleod, his mortal lover Tessa Noel, and a teenage boy called Richie Ryan. In the second half of the season an immortal called Darius is introduced, who used to be a Roman general but has since renounced violence and become a monk. Darius was originally intended to be a regular character in the series, but the actor who played him, Werner Stocker, died before the end of the first season, aged only 38.

In the last episode of the first season the Watchers are introduced, a secret organisation that has been observing the immortals and chronicling their battles for thousands of years. From the second season onwards the Watchers, in particular Joe Dawson, play an important part.

The main change in the second season is in the fourth episode, when Tessa and Richie are shot by a thief. Tessa dies, but Richie is reborn as an immortal. Duncan had already known that Richie possessed the spark of immortality, which is why he had looked after him. After he becomes immortal Duncan begins to train him to prepare him for battles against other immortals. Soon after this Duncan buys a martial arts dojo in Seacouver, which becomes the place he lives while in America, and the dojo’s trainer, Charlie DeSalvo, becomes a regular character.

During the second and third seasons we get to know two friends from Duncan’s past, Amanda Montrose and Hugh Fitzcairn. Both of them are a contrast to Duncan’s strict code of morality. Amanda is a thief, whose only aim in life is to become richer at the expense of others. Fitzcairn is a rogue who gets into problems through his womanizing and always seems to be broke. Fitzcairn’s death in the third season resulted in mass uproar among fans. The show’s producers later admitted that it had been a mistake to kill off such a popular character. Over the next three years they repeatedly brought him back in flashbacks and episodes set in the past.

Another character we meet is Methos, the oldest living immortal, who is living undercover in the headquarters of the Watchers, pretending to be a mortal. While not exactly unskilled as a fighter, he’s a pragmatist. He would rather avoid battling other immortals than risk being killed, so he uses the Watcher databases to find out where other immortals are living and stay out of their way. Methos’s charm is that despite being 4000 years old and very well educated he’s very down to Earth. If he can’t solve a problem he drinks a beer instead.

The fourth season sees a radical change in style. Whereas the first three seasons concentrated on action stories, the next two seasons frequently deal with moral dilemmas. The usual scenario is that Duncan finds himself morally compelled to kill his friends because they are doing the wrong thing. An example of this is the episode "The Valkyrie", my personal favorite episode of the entire series:

In 1944 Duncan and a fellow immortal, Ingrid Henning, fail in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Ingrid blames herself for the failure and spends the next 50 years trying to make amends by travelling round the world assassinating tyrants and dictators. Duncan meets her again when she’s planning to kill the leader of a racist group in Seacouver. Duncan tells her she has no right to appoint herself judge, jury and executioner, however evil the racist leader is. While Duncan is tortured by the burden of his choice Methos tries to lighten up the atmosphere with humour. In the end Duncan kills Ingrid to prevent her going ahead with her assassination. After this he feels depressed as he realises that by killing her he is just as guilty as she was. The final summing up:

Duncan: Ingrid asked me something before she died.
Methos: They usually do.
Duncan: She said, what was the difference between her killing them and me killing her?
Methos: Good question. Right up there with chicken and egg.
Duncan: So what are you saying? There is no answer?
Methos: No, there is an answer. But the real question is whether you’re ready for it.
(Duncan nods).
Methos: Stefanovich killed and Ingrid judged him. Wilkinson killed and Ingrid judged him. Ingrid killed and you judged her.
Duncan: So who judges me?
(There is a long pause).
Methos: Are you hungry?
(And they both walk away together).

The last episode of the fifth season was the most controversial of the whole series. Duncan beheads his friend Richie while believing him to be someone else. This brought out the denialists in full force. Even before the episode was aired it had been leaked to the Internet that Richie would die. At the time it was first broadcast I had friends that I regularly discussed Highlander with. New episodes were broadcast on Friday evening, and we sat discussing what had happened at lunchtime on Monday. After this episode I asked a colleague what she thought about Richie’s death, and she replied, "I didn’t watch the episode. I refuse to watch it. Richie is still alive". While this response might seem irrational, it’s typical among Highlander fans. If they don’t like something they deny it.

The sixth season was by far the weakest part of the TV series, for various reasons. First of all, the three-part battle between Duncan and Ahriman, which had begun in the last episode of the fifth season, was as outlandish and implausible as anything the film sequels had shown. Ahriman had supernatural powers including the ability to change his form, bring people back from the dead and change people’s bodies. (For instance, he gave Joe Dawson back the legs that he’d lost in the Vietnam War).

Second, Adrian Paul had announced that he wanted to quit his role as Duncan MacLeod to prevent himself being typecast. This was his last season, and he played smaller roles, not appearing at all in some episodes. I’m sure Adrian must be kicking himself now, because his subsequent acting career has been a complete failure.

Third, as a result of Duncan’s departure, a new Highlander TV series was planned with a female immortal, so episodes were used to "audition" female characters. This seems unnecessary, in retrospect, because eventually Amanda was chosen for the role. Nobody else was suitable.

Fourth, a very strange way was chosen to wrap up the series. The two-part series finale is a homage to "It’s a wonderful life". While Duncan is sitting brooding, as he has often done before, Fitzcairn appears to him and shows him what would have happened if he had never lived. While many critics praise the artistic qualities of the series finale, I find it silly.

5. Highlander: The Raven TV series (1998 – 1999)

In a way this could be considered Highlander season 7. The star of the series is the immortal Amanda Montrose, and she is supported by an ex-policeman, Nick Wolfe. While there is obviously an element of desire between them they never become lovers. In the final episode Nick is killed and becomes an immortal, as Amanda had known would happen all along. The series should have continued. It had a lot of promise.

6. Highlander 4: Endgame (2000)

This film continues from the television series. Duncan is surrounded by the same supporting characters as in the TV series. The main fault of the film is that a new immortal is introduced, Kate MacLeod, who we discover had been Duncan’s wife 200 years ago and is still the one he truly loves. This seems artificial, since she was never mentioned in the TV series. If Amanda had been presented as his true love the film would have been more natural.

In this film Connor MacLeod dies in a battle with Duncan. As expected, this stirred up the Highlander denialists, and soon Internet blogs worldwide were announcing that "Highlander 4" never happened.

The film was a flop at the box office. It didn’t even take in half of its budget. Film critics were unanimous in saying that the film was watchable, but nothing exceptional. Seen in the context of the TV series, it’s on a par with Duncan’s sixth season episodes, and it’s a better way of adding closure than the series finale. I enjoy "Highlander 4", despite its weaknesses.

"Highlander: Endgame possesses all of the elements of a straight-to-video action movie. Cheap special effects that look cool, weak characters that still pull heartstrings, and a bunch of actors no one really knows unless you have seen this or that obscure flick" (Travis Eddings, film critic).

7. Highlander 5: The Source (2006)

It’s difficult for me to write about this film without clenching my fists in rage. I thought the Highlander franchise had been pulled back together, but this film proved me wrong. It was intended for cinema release, but no distributors would touch it, and it eventually premiered on America’s Sci-Fi Channel. It’s arguable which is worse, "Highlander 5" or the original alien version of "Highlander 2".

In the near future mankind has plunged into chaos. Duncan MacLeod has lost the will to fight and lives as a derelict. Methos and Joe Dawson encourage him to save the world by taking part in a quest to find the source of immortality. After battling with cannibals, immortals and a supernatural monster called the Guardian Duncan succeeds and is given the Prize. How is this possible, since there are still a lot of immortals alive? We find out that the immortals had always misunderstood the rule "There can be only one". It never meant that only one immortal should survive. It meant that only one immortal may have a baby.

For my part, I deny this ever happened. I intend to meet with other denialists on holy ground, where we shall ritually burn our "Highlander 5" DVDs, and we shall be hypnotized to forget the film was ever made.

"It's bad. Cheesily bad, colossally bad, monumentally bad, bad enough to make you never want to watch another movie again bad" (Danel Griffin, film critic).

"The acting is uniformly terrible, the special effects are hideous, the sets are cheap and grubby, and the directing is uninspired. The film is an utter failure. Surely this is the final nail in the coffin lid for this film series. If it isn't, then something is truly wrong with the universe" (Keith Breese, film critic).

8. The future of Highlander?

It’s been announced that the original Highlander film will be remade. It will keep to the plot of the original, but it will be rewritten enough to make it a prequel of the TV series. I expect this means that the Prize won’t be given in the end. This is a daring venture. The first film is the only part of Highlander legacy that everyone agrees is a classic. There’s so much to live up to. There is such a large margin for failure. While I wish the producers luck, I fear that it will be another monumental disaster.

9. Note on the availability

All the Highlander films are still available in both NTSC and PAL formats, even the films that would be best forgotten. The Highlander TV series are now out of print in America, but you can still pick up copies from Amazon marketplace traders, if you hurry. If you wait too long the price will rise. The TV series were never released in the UK, but Region 2 PAL box sets have been published in Germany and are available from Amazon.de. The German boxes include both English and German dialog and the same extras as the American box sets. The only disadvantage is that the episode titles are printed in German.

Dick (4 Stars)

The Watergate affair as told through the eyes of the two 15-year-old girls who used to walk President Nixon's dog. During their time in the White House they got to know all the top politicians and became the president's friends. After hearing a tape in which he shouted at his dog they decide to expose him and become instrumental in forcing him to resign.

I feel tempted to give half a star less because the sexiest scene in the film is ruined by being shown at the end with the credits rolling over it. If you've seen the film you know what I mean.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Better than Chocolate (3½ Stars)

Maggie (Karyn Dwyer) has dropped out of law school to work at a lesbian book store. So far her family doesn't know that she's a lesbian, but that all changes drastically when her mother and younger brother come to live with her. They arrive the day after Maggie meets her new lover Kim (Christina Cox).

The film would have been better if it had avoided all the lesbian clichés. More than anything it seems to be lesbians making fun of themselves. Or maybe that's the intention? But at least the film features the beautiful Karyn Dwyer. Christina Cox is attractive as well, but she looks better with long hair.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (5 Stars)

Please don't forget the apostrophe in the title after "Ladies". In the film Precious makes a big deal about it, and so should we.

This film is the pilot for the tv series with the same name, for which only six episodes have been made so far. It's based on the series of novels by Alexander McCall Smith about Precious Ramotswe, a young woman in Botswana, who decides to open her country's first woman-run detective agency for idealistic reasons. "I love my country Botswana, and I love Africa, and I want to do good with the time God has given me".

Unless you live in Africa the background to the stories will seem very foreign to you. Detective stories in an African village bear little resemblance to stories that take place in America or Europe. The first time I watched this film I was overwhelmed by the settings. It wasn't until the second viewing that I was able to appreciate the stories themselves. The film is growing on me. While not a comedy, the agency's secretary, Grace Makutsi, frequently makes dry comments that make me laugh aloud. "In history class we learned about a former time before computers, when typing was done on machines and the country was called Botswanaland and dinosaurs roamed the earth".

This is a heart-warming film. You will fall in love with the characters and cheer for Precious as she solves her cases. Rarely is a film so unique and so charming. After watching it you will want to see the tv series. In America the pilot film and the tv series have been released in a single box set. In the UK they have to be purchased separately.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Strangers on a Train (4 Stars)

A story of suspense as only Alfred Hitchcock could tell it. Two strangers meet on a train and discuss the possibility of each killing a person the other hates. One of them murders his designated victim without waiting for the other to agree. From a slow start the film steadily increases in pace until it reaches its dizzying climax.

Kaante (3½ Stars)

A difficult film to rate. Its main weakness is that it moves too slowly. It takes 45 minutes before anything begins to happen, and even after that it stops and starts. The film length of 160 minutes is unnecessary. It could have been improved by shortening it an hour. It seems rather absurd that in the strip club all the pole dancers are fully dressed.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Reservoir Dogs (5 Stars)

Is there anyone reading this blog who hasn't seen "Reservoir Dogs" yet? It's a film that should be compulsory viewing for everyone everywhere. It excels on so many different levels. It breaks all the conventions of film making, but it's still exciting from beginning to end. And yes, the actors are terrific. If you haven't seen "Reservoir Dogs" yet, stop reading now and come back after you've watched it. My review after the picture contains spoilers.

This was Quentin Tarantino's breakthrough film. In many ways it's still his best. It tells the story of a robbery that went wrong, a jewel heist, without ever showing the robbery itself. All we see is conversations leading up to the robbery, and then the aftermath. Almost all of the film takes place in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the empty warehouse.

It doesn't matter if you don't like gangster films. "Reservoir Dogs" isn't about gangsters, it's about people. We get to know the characters intimately. We see their strengths and their weaknesses as they crack under pressure. On a psychological level this is an astounding film.

The choice of actors is amazing. They all slot into place. I can't imagine any of them being exchanged for other actors without spoiling the action.

Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth take the centre stage as Mr. White and Mr. Orange. Both of them are world class actors. The development of a father-son relationship between them is moving, and you can feel the tears welling in your eyes when Mr. Orange confesses to Mr. White that he's betrayed him.

Michael Madsen's portrayal of the cold psycopath Mr. Blonde is chilling. When he meets Joe and interviews for the job he seems likeable, but in the warehouse we see his true nature. The bizarre mixture of dancing and torture is one of the film's images that will always be remembered.

Steve Buscemi is a contradictory character as Mr. Pink. He obviously has a lot of anger, and he's closer to cracking up than any of the others, but he's constantly pulling himself together, telling the others and himself that he's a professional.

Lawrence Tierney, who plays the boss, is really the most professional of the characters. For him it's all about business. He doesn't get involved in the joking of the rest of his crew. His son, played by Chris Penn, isn't quite as self-controlled. His shouting in the final scene is a major catalyst in the ensuing bloodbath.

This was a daring film. It could have failed. With lesser actors it would definitely have failed. It was a daring decision to leave the story's central event, the robbery, out of the film altogether. In many ways "Reservoir Dogs" is more like a theatre play than a film. Almost all the scenes could be shown on a small stage. The conversations between the gang members are more important than the action itself. While this was a relatively low budget film, costing barely more than one million dollars, the lack in funding is never apparent. This is a film that will always be remembered.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

TV Series: Blood Ties

I just watched the final episode of the second season of "Blood Ties". With a heavy heart. The episode ended on a cliffhanger, but after three years of waiting it looks doubtful there will ever be a third season. This is tragic, since it was one of the most intelligent, thoughtful tv series ever made. Despite the low budget the special effects are never silly or unrealistic. None of the actors were known to me before this series, but they all deliver solid performances.

To summarize the series: Vicki Nelson is an ex-policewoman who quits her job due to her failing eyesight. She starts a private detective agency, hoping to do easy jobs like proving husbands are being unfaithful, but a series of circumstances (which I consider to be spoilers and won't name here) lead to her specialising in supernatural cases. If there's a werewolf, ghost or demon walking the streets of Toronto, Vicki is hired to deal with it.

Vicki is aided by two men in her work. One is her ex-partner from the police force who still works as a cop. The other is a 500-year-old vampire who makes a living writing comic books. Both of them love her, and she's constantly torn between the two of them, unable to choose. This love triangle is a subplot that runs through the whole series, often as important as the supernatural threats themselves.

The series has just been released on Blu-ray, which is an indication that it still has a fan base. While "Blood Ties" follows a similar premise to "Angel", it's far superior. The storylines are darker and more menacing. This series was cancelled way too soon. Tragic.

Sorority Row (4 Stars)

A slasher film with pretty girls and glimpses of nudity that are too brief to be erotic. The story isn't original. If you've seen "I know what you did last summer" you already know the plot. But in films like this originality isn't as important as the rising body count. Turn the lights off, snuggle up with your partner on the couch, and watch the film. It will be a night to remember.