Thursday, 30 September 2010

Run Bitch Run (2½ Stars)

A good old fashioned rape'n'revenge story. Too much rape, not enough revenge.

But why is the film so expensive in America? $21.99 from Amazon? I only paid £3!

Batman XXX (4 Stars)

The full title of this film is "Batman XXX: A Porn Parody", but I don't feel that the title is justified. According to the dictionary a parody is "a literary or artistic work that imitates the characteristic style of an author or a work for comic effect or ridicule". Far from ridiculing the original, this film shows that the director has the utmost respect for the 1960's tv series on which this is based. If you extract the sex scenes the comedy is limited to dialog that could have been taken from the original show. The only real parody element is that Batman's costume has "XXX" on his chest instead of a bat symbol. It's more accurate to call this film a crossover than a parody.

My main problem with this film is that the pornography element is foreign to me. But first, let's make it clear that when I say "pornography" or "porn" in this review I'm referring to hardcore pornography. I've long been a fan of softcore pornography director Fred Olen Ray. The two types are easy to tell apart: in soft porn films there are no views of the genitals, and the sex is simulated; in hard porn films the camera shows everything, and the sex is real.

But to get back to what I was saying, I know very little about hard porn. I try not to be a snob and reject it completely, but I've hardly ever seen any. Until this year the only porn film I'd watched in its entirety was Lasse Braun's "Body Love", which I went to see because of the Klaus Schulze soundtrack. I greatly enjoyed it, but I was told that it wasn't typical. So what was different?

I have a friend who owns a lot of porn videos. (Yes, videos, not DVDs! It seems that technology is late catching up with the porn film industry). He lent me videos on occasions, but I couldn't watch more than the first few minutes. For my tastes they were so primitive. No story, no introduction, just sex from the start. Call me old-fashioned, but I like that little something called "character development", I want to get to know the people before they have sex, not just see random bodies rolling around. I've been told that it's possible to be a connoisseur of pornography, but personally I just don't get it. I assume that the whole point of pornography is to sexually arouse the viewer, but for me as a sensitive person the sight of random bodies humping like animals is a turn-off. (Please, if there are any porn connoisseurs reading this, I'd like you to comment. If porn is an art form, explain it to me).

I went to see "Body Love" in a cinema in Berlin. It was a sleazy looking sex cinema. How many of you are old enough to remember sex cinemas? They used to be common, probably more common than mainstream cinemas, but the advent of videotapes killed them. Men used to sneak into sex cinemas hoping they wouldn't be spotted by friends or family. Now they can watch pornography anonymously at home. I admit that on that one occasion I felt uncomfortable walking into the cinema. I felt like I was descending into the underworld, into a den of vice. But I enjoyed the music and I enjoyed the film. In later years I read a lot about the director, Lasse Braun, an Italian director who had moved to Holland. He had a reputation for trying to make "respectable" hard porn films. Maybe that's why the film spoke to me more than the random body humping of my friend's videotapes.

And now I'm reviewing "Batman XXX". I first heard of this film because it had created a buzz among Batman fans outside of the porn community. On reading about it I found out that the director is Axel Braun. Son of Lasse Braun. So pornography can be a family business? It seems like Axel doesn't fit the profile of a typical porn director. According to his resume he speaks five languages fluently and has a Ph.D in Psychology. Judging by Axel's interviews his father made several attempts to persuade him not to follow in his footsteps. Fortunately he didn't succeed.

I don't know anything about pornography, but I do know about films, and this is a good film. My only criticism is that there is too much sex. In the reviews that I've read half of the reviewers (the Batman fans) say that there is too much sex while the other half (the porn fans) say that there isn't enough sex. That's an indication that there is just the right amount of sex in the film. For me personally it's too much. The DVD contains both the X-rated version and a PG version with the sex omitted. The X-rated version is 119 minutes, the PG version is 25 minutes.

Is it worth watching? Definitely! I gave it 4 stars, didn't I? It's not a film to sit and watch with the family after Sunday lunch, but if you like Batman, give it a try. And after watching it tell me what you think.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Batman Returns (5 Stars)

This is one of the rare cases where a sequel is superior to the original film. While keeping a gothic background Tim Burton added a colourful counterpoint. Batman's seriousness stands in direct contrast to the camp playfulness of the Penguin.

But it's all about the masks. When Bruce and Selina don their masks they become someone else. Or maybe they become their true selves. At the mask ball they're the only ones without masks. They have to stand apart from the rest of the world.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Batman (1989 version) (4½ Stars)

Michael Keaton steps up to the plate as the fourth big screen Batman, after Lewis Wilson, Robert Lowery and Adam West. Tim Burton succeeds in making this the most gothic of all the Batman films to date.

TV Series: On The Buses

The chances are that unless you live in Britain you've never heard of this series. Despite the popularity of British humour in America, this series has hardly ever been shown. Maybe it's because it's too old, having run from 1969 to 1973? Or maybe it's just too British. Apart from being hilarious, it gives a picture of the English working class in the 1960's. (Even the later episodes are very sixties-ish). There are still frequent reruns on British television.

It's set in the fictional town of Luxton, and was filmed on the northern outskirts of London to give it a medium sized town look. It's all about a bus driver, his colleagues and his family. Three films were made based on the series, featuring the same cast, which I'll probably write about soon. If there were one tv series that I'd recommend everyone to buy without having seen it, this is it. Click the picture above for a link to purchase the American box set. You won't be disappointed!

Here on Earth (3½ Stars)

Look! I've finally started giving half stars. It's a help when I can't decide between two ratings.

This is a pleasant teen romance weepy. The plot is predictable, but it's just... pleasant. I wish I could think of a better word. My main problem with the film is that something seems to be missing. There's no logical explanation why Samantha falls in love with Kelley instead of Jasper.

Leelee Sobieski turns in an outstanding performance, she really needs to stop wasting her talent in minor films. (Or minor roles in big films, like "Public Enemies"). As I've said again and again, she's the best actress alive today, and after ten years as an "insider tip" it's time for her to receive the recognition she deserves.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Deep in the Valley (4 Stars)

Love in the pornoverse? This film (called "American Hot Babes" in England for some reason) abounds in silliness, but it has some appeal. Maybe I should start awarding half stars, because this is too good for 3 stars but not really good enough for 4 stars. To summarize: two losers are zapped into a porn video universe, where their favorite videos are acted out 24 hours a day. Heaven or Hell? Not as obvious as you might think.

And before you ask, the answer is no... Denise Richards doesn't get naked.

TV Series: Star Trek

I just want to make a few remarks about the order in which the episodes in the original series are presented in the currently available DVD box sets, which isn't optimal. There are several ways to order the episodes:

1. The broadcast order (the order in which they were originally shown on American television, and is also used for the DVD box set releases).
2. The production order (the order in which they were made, which is also the order in which they were first shown on British television).
3. The stardate order (the order in which the episodes "really happened", which is based on the captain's log entries in the episodes).

The most useful order to watch the series in is the production order, because this best shows the development of the characters. This is most obvious in the case of Spock, who often raised his voice in the first few episodes filmed, but spoke more calmly as Leonard Nimoy developed a style for his character. The costumes were inconsistent in the first episodes until the producers decided what ranks should wear what colour.

Stardates are useful to know the order in which things happened, but it's impossible to correlate stardates and real dates as we know them. The series creator Gene Roddenberry used "stardates" because he didn't want people to fix dates. All he wanted the viewer to know was that the adventures happened in the future. It's been suggested that 1000 stardate units express one year in the original series. In "Star Trek: TNG" one stardate unit is one day. In the films there are further inconsistencies that make an exact correlation impossible.

The following table (which can be copied and pasted into a spreadsheet) lists the name, production number and stardate of each episode. Five episodes have no stardate, so a sensible guess has been made where they fit in. The pilot episode, "The Cage", is said to have taken place 11 years before stardate 3012, which would put it in a pre-stardate era.

Episode Name Prod-Nr Star-Nr Stardate

1.01 The Man Trap 6 5 1513.1
1.02 Charlie X 8 6 1533.6
1.03 Where No Man Has Gone Before 2 2 1312.4
1.04 The Naked Time 7 8 1704.2
1.05 The Enemy Within 5 7 1672.1
1.06 Mudd's Women 4 3 1329.8
1.07 What Are Little Girls Made Of? 10 12 2712.4
1.08 Miri 12 13 2713.5
1.09 Dagger of the Mind 11 14 2715.1
1.10 The Corbomite Maneuver 3 4 1512.2
1.11 The Menagerie Part I 16 18 3012.4
1.12 The Menagerie Part II 16 19 3013.1
1.13 The Conscience of the King 13 15 2817.6
1.14 Balance of Terror 9 9 1709.2
1.15 Shore Leave 17 21 3025.3
1.16 The Galileo Seven 14 16 2821.5
1.17 The Squire of Gothos 18 10 2124.5
1.18 Arena 19 22 3045.6
1.19 Tomorrow Is Yesterday 21 24 3113.2
1.20 Court Martial 15 17 2947.3
1.21 The Return of the Archons 22 27 3156.2
1.22 Space Seed 24 26 3141.9
1.23 A Taste of Armageddon 23 28 3192.1
1.24 This Side of Paradise 25 35 3417.3
1.25 The Devil in the Dark 26 29 3196.1
1.26 Errand of Mercy 27 30 3198.4
1.27 The Alternative Factor 20 23 3087.6
1.28 The City on the Edge of Forever 28 25 3134.0
1.29 Operation: Annihilate! 29 33 3287.2

2.01 Amok Time 34 34 3372.7
2.02 Who Mourns for Adonais? 33 36 3468.1
2.03 The Changeling 37 39 3541.9
2.04 Mirror Mirror 39 40 3580.0  (approx) 
2.05 The Apple 38 43 3715.3
2.06 The Doomsday Machine 35 46 4202.9
2.07 Catspaw 30 20 3018.2
2.08 I Mudd 41 51 4513.3
2.09 Metamorphosis 31 32 3219.4
2.10 Journey to Babel 44 44 3842.3
2.11 Friday's Child 32 38 3497.2
2.12 The Deadly Years 40 37 3478.2
2.13 Obsession 47 42 3619.2
2.14 Wolf in the Fold 36 41 3614.9
2.15 The Trouble With Tribbles 42 52 4523.3
2.16 The Gamesters of Triskelion 46 31 3211.8
2.17 A Piece of the Action 49 53 4598.0
2.18 The Immunity Syndrome 48 48 4307.1
2.19 A Private Little War 45 47 4211.4
2.20 Return to Tomorrow 51 57 4768.3
2.21 Patterns of Force 52 11 2534.0
2.22 By Any Other Name 50 54 4657.5
2.23 The Omega Glory 54 55 4690.0  (approx) 
2.24 The Ultimate Computer 53 56 4729.4
2.25 Bread and Circuses 43 45 4040.7
2.26 Assignment: Earth 55 59 4990.0  (approx) 

3.01 Spock's Brain 61 64 5431.4
3.02 The Enterprise Incident 59 60 5027.3
3.03 The Paradise Syndrome 58 58 4842.6
3.04 And the Children Shall Lead 60 61 5029.5
3.05 Is There in Truth No Beauty? 62 67 5630.7
3.06 Spectre of the Gun 56 50 4385.3
3.07 Day of the Dove 66 68 5660.0  (approx) 
3.08 For the World Is Hollow 65 65 5476.3
3.09 The Tholian Web 64 69 5693.2
3.10 Plato's Stepchildren 67 74 5784.2
3.11 Wink of an Eye 68 70 5710.5
3.12 The Empath 63 62 5121.5
3.13 Elaan of Troyius 57 49 4372.5
3.14 Whom Gods Destroy 71 71 5718.3
3.15 Let That Be Your Last Battlefield 70 73 5730.2
3.16 The Mark of Gideon 72 63 5423.4
3.17 That Which Survives 69 66 5579.0  (approx) 
3.18 The Lights of Zetar 73 72 5725.3
3.19 Requiem for Methuselah 76 77 5843.7
3.20 The Way to Eden 75 76 5832.3
3.21 The Cloud Minders 74 75 5818.4
3.22 The Savage Curtain 77 78 5906.4
3.23 All Our Yesterdays 78 80 5943.7
3.24 Turnabout Intruder 79 79 5928.5

0.01 The Cage 1 1 0.0

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Powder Blue (2 Stars)

A tale of loneliness in the big city.

A well-intentioned film with similarities to "Crash" that never really gets anywhere. Disappointing.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Heavens Fall (2 Stars)

A courtroom drama based on the conviction of nine black men for rape in Alabama in 1931. This was a controversial case for many years, but the film lacks depth. It had critical acclaim and won a few awards, but I suspect that this was due to sympathy for the plight of the defendants rather than objective judgement of the film itself.

Eyes Wide Shut (4 Stars)

Dreams in the night. The mysteries that ensue when a righteous man strays.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Adaptation (5 Stars)

For a film that was nominated for several Oscars in 2002, including a win for Chris Cooper as best supporting actor, it's amazing how few people know this masterpiece of cinema. The following review contains spoilers, so read on with care. Normally I try to avoid spoilers, but I don't know any other way to write this review.

At its core it's a true story. A successful Hollywood screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, is asked to write a screenplay for a best-selling book, "The Orchid Thief". After reading it he realises that he can't see any way to adapt the book to film, so he sinks into depression and insecurity, hindered by the presence of his identical twin brother, Donald, who is everything he isn't. While Charlie is a social misfit and is unable to write, Donald dates girls and quickly churns out a detective thriller. Nicolas Cage plays both brothers to perfection. Charlie is encouraged to spice up the book, adding elements such as sex, drugs and violence to make it more appealing to the audience, but he refuses.

Finally Charlie makes a breakthrough when he decides to write a film about himself writing the film. This is where it gets complicated, especially when the viewer realises he's watching a film about a film about a film. Actually it's a film about a film about a film about a book about true events. As the film progresses the viewer has increasing difficulty to distinguish between fiction and reality. Are we seeing the real events, or things that Charlie invented for the sake of entertainment? In fact, does Donald really exist, or is he a product of Charlie's multiple personality disorder? It's significant that the film in the film doesn't get written until Donald is killed.

Maybe that's the reason "Adaptation" isn't more popular? It's too intelligent for the mass audience. Despite Charlie's eventual capitulation, dumbing down his film by adding sex, drugs and violence, the film still hovers on a high intellectual plain. If you want a film that will make you think, watch this. You won't be disappointed.

Interestingly, Donald Kaufman was nominated for an Oscar for the best adapted screenplay jointly with his brother Charlie. This is the only time in the history of the Academy Awards that someone who didn't exist was nominated for an award.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Amen (5 Stars)

The Greek director Costa-Gavras (real name Constantinos Gavras) is hardly a prolific director. He's made less than 20 films in the last 40 years. However, what he lacks in quantity he makes up for in quality. Any film with his name on it is worth watching, whether it was filmed in Greece, America, France or Germany. His films deal with political issues, and this film, based on true events, is no exception. "Amen" deals with the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church during World War 2, when it refused to take a stand against the slaughter of Jews. More than anything it's a moral drama, showing how a man can be good when all around him are evil. This film is breathtaking in its intensity and should be watched by everyone, whether you are Catholic or not.

Incidentally, here's a film trivia for people who like weird coincidences. When the actor Ulrich Tukur was asked to play the role of SS officer Klaus Gerstein he bought a biography about him to learn about the character. In the book he read that Gerstein had lived in the same house in Tübingen where Tukur had lived as a student. Was he destined to play the role?

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Gypsy 83 (3 Stars)

Some films are difficult to categorise. I'm sure that "film critics" will have a label for this film, based on what they see in it. A road movie. A gay movie. A coming of age movie. A family drama. All of these descriptions fit, and more. But most of all, this is a unique film that has something for everyone.

For me the most memorable moment was when the Amish hitchhiker said, in a melodramatic deep voice, "My name is Zachariah. I'm running away." I laughed so much that I cried.

TV Series: Star Trek

Don't you just hate it when you have to take one disk out of a box to get to another? They should ban DVD boxes like this. It's disgusting!

Good tv series, though.

Spider-Man 3 (5 Stars)

Earlier this year Empire Magazine held a poll. Its readers had to vote for the worst film ever. "Spider-Man 3" made it into the list. 49th position, if I remember rightly. Anyone who watches this film for the first time must have shook his head. How many films have been made in the history of cinema? Nobody knows for sure, but in 2008 alone more than 5000 films were made (the top three countries being India 1091, Nigeria 872 and America 485). "Spider-Man 3" has everything: action, romance, drama, suspense, top rate acting... so why do film fans consider it to be so bad?

Obviously the typical film fan hasn't seen many films. If he had a chance to sit down and watch 800 Nigerian films he might vote differently. The films in the list are all "popular films" that are well known. The sort that are shown on evening television. So there wasn't one Nigerian film in the list. But that still doesn't explain why people think so badly of it.

My only guess is that people were voting based on their expectations. The first two films had been so good that they expected the third film to top it. And it didn't. So they were disappointed and said it was bad. I agree that "Spider-Man 3" was the weakest film of the trilogy, but taken by itself it's still one of the best films ever made. I'm saying that as a naive fan, of course, but I dare any film "expert" to find faults in the cinematography, directing, production, or any other facet of the film.

I'm not saying it couldn't have been improved. Personally I think it should have been about 30 minutes longer. Eddie Brock's alter ego -- was the name Venom used in the film? -- was introduced too late in the film. Instead of moving straight from becoming Venom to teaming up with Sandman, he should have had a battle with Spider-Man by himself first. A battle in which Spider-Man was defeated, but managed to escape. That would have made the final battle against the united Venom and Sandman all the more terrifying. So an extra 30 minutes between the church scene and the meeting with Sandman would have been ideal. I'm a Spider-Man fan who knows who Venom is, but I can't help feeling that people who had never read the comics were confused by the new black-suited character with the big teeth. The extra 30 minutes would have explained it to them.

Nevertheless, this was a worthy end to the trilogy. Sam Raimi wanted to continue with "Spider-Man 4", but was fired over creative differences. That's sad. He was the perfect director for the character. Now there will be a new Spider-Man, a new director, and a new storyline that shows Peter Parker as a super-hero still going to school. Let's hope the next film succeeds.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Spider-Man 2 (5 Stars)

After the phenomenal success of Sam-Raimi's "Spider-Man" the world was holding its breath. Would the sequel be as good as the first film? Nobody needed to worry. "Spider-Man 2" was every bit as good. Peter Parker's relationship with Mary Jane reached new emotional depths, and the action sequences were stunning. Neither Spider-Man nor Doctor Octopus can fly, of course, but their battles took place high above the ground. Incredible! This is an unforgettable film in its own right.

There's an alternate version available called "Spider-Man 2.1", where deleted scenes have been inserted. Forget it. The theatrical film was perfect as it was, the extra scenes add nothing.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Spider-Man (5 Stars)

Let's get nostalgic. When Stan Lee saw the finished version of this film for the first time he must have felt proud. This was the fulfilment of the dream he had when he wrote the first Spider-Man story in 1962. Amazing Fantasy #15 was the beginning of the silver age of comics. Lee's simple little story about a teenage hero changed the course of comic book history.

Fast forward to 2002. 40 years were needed before technology had advanced enough to transfer Lee's ideas from paper to film. And what a film! It's a true labour of love. It's obvious that director Sam Raimi is a fan of the character and treated Spider-Man with respect. The three films he made were intended to be as iconic as the sixties comic stories. And he succeeded. Maybe he rewrote certain events, and in particular he "telescoped events", pushing things together that happened years apart in the comics. For instance, the original Green Goblin first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #14 and didn't die until issue #122, published nine years later. However, the film takes care that the Goblin's death happens in exactly the same way as in the comic.
While I'm in the mood I'll name a few changes between the comics and the film. It's not meant to be complete. Maybe someone can comment on my post by listing other differences.

1. Although the ages are never explicitly stated, Peter Parker became Spider-Man at about 15 in the comics and at about 18 in the film. This is significant, because in the comics his early adventures take place while he's at school. He graduates from high school in issue #28.

2. In the comics he was a teenager in the sixties, in the film he's a teenager in the early 21st Century. All of the new Marvel films place the heroes today, and in general it works. I feel that the Hulk should have been left in the sixties.

3. In the comics Mary Jane was Spider-Man's third love interest, after Betty Brant and Gwen Stacy. In the film it's stated that he'd known her since he was six and had had a crush on her since fourth grade, but in the comics he doesn't meet her until issue #42 (his second year of college?)

I guess changes like these are necessary when you're compressing 2500 pages of comics into 100 minutes of film.

Let's move onto another topic. This is so far the only one of my favourite films that I rebought on Blu-ray after already owning it on DVD. I didn't intend to rebuy any films, but the Blu-ray Spider-Man Trilogy was on offer for £10.47 at Tesco, much less than I'd paid for the three films on DVD, so I made a spontaneous purchase. Was it worth it? Yes!

I need to go into this subject in more detail. When DVDs first came onto the market in 1996 the quality jump from videotapes was so immense that there was no doubt about upgrading. I rebought all my favourite films on DVD without hesitation, as many others did. Within five years DVDs were outselling videos. However, there doesn't seem to be the same rush to adopt Blu-ray since Blu-ray Discs were introduced in 2006. The experts say that it's a big quality jump in terms of sound and picture, but the public isn't convinced. Why not?

The main reason is that the improvement of DVD over videotape was obvious to everyone on the equipment they already had. The improvement of Blu-ray over DVD is only obvious with added investment. To appreciate the improved picture and sound quality of Blu-ray you need to invest at least £1000.

First the sound: Most people who watch films listen to the sound through the inbuilt television speakers. If you're not willing to pay £400 upwards to connect your television to a good hi-fi system you won't hear a difference between DVD and Blu-ray. Added to this is the problem that most people are unable to appreciate the difference in quality between cheap and expensive hi-fi systems. Sad but true. In the days when orchestral music was fashionable people trained their ears to pick out the individual instruments. In today's rock and pop era "loud is good".

As for the picture: If you're using a CRT television or a small flatscreen television you won't notice any difference between DVD and Blu-ray. But analogously to "loud is good" people today believe that "bigger is better", so the sales of large screen televisions are booming. People want a 40" television as a status symbol. The problem is that after changing from a 22" CRT television to a 40" flatscreen television you'll sit down to watch a DVD and you'll notice that something is wrong. The picture is less clear than it used to be. The problem is that the same number of pixels are being shown farther apart on the screen, so the picture looks fuzzier. This problem can be solved by playing your DVD with a Blu-ray player, because Blu-ray players have an "upscaling" feature, which processes the image to increase its vertical resolution from 576 pixels (PAL formatted DVDs) to 1080 pixels. Now it's a question of whether you're willing to pay about £100 for a Blu-ray player or £40 for a new DVD player with upscaling capabilities.

Upscaling a DVD picture is a big quality jump. Almost anyone will see the difference on a 40" television. The question is whether there's a difference between an upscaled DVD picture and a Blu-ray picture. It's not possible to answer that question directly. New films are filmed digitally or digitally mastered at 1080 pixels, so watching them at this resolution you will see fine details and perfectly sharp images. An upscaled 576 picture will look almost as sharp, but not quite. However, older films were transferred from tape to DVD at 576 pixels, and when they're released on Blu-ray they've been upscaled 1080 pixels in the studio from the digital DVD version, because it's faster and cheaper than a new transfer from the videotapes. In this case the DVD and the Blu-ray will look identical. Added to this is the problem that the original master tapes of older films are often in poor condition and even a new transfer wouldn't improve the picture.

I'll give a guideline whether Blu-rays are better than DVDs:

2006 to present: Blu-ray is better
1996 to 2005: Blu-ray may be better, especially in big budget productions
1995 and earlier: Blu-ray is not better

It's not impossible that a pre-1996 Blu-ray is stunning quality, but it's an exception. For any pre-2006 film that you're thinking of buying on Blu-ray, read reviews to see what other people think about the quality, then compare the prices. When an old film is rereleased on Blu-ray it means that the DVD is old but the Blu-ray is new, leading to considerable price differences. For instance, at Asda you can buy "Hollow Man" on DVD for £3 while the Blu-ray version costs £17.50. At price differences like that I'd only buy the Blu-ray if it were my favourite film, and even then I'd want to be 100% certain that the picture would really look better.

"Spider-Man" was made in 2001, and it's worth it. Excellent picture quality and hardly any price difference (at least not at Tesco). When all Blu-ray Discs are so cheap there will be no need to worry about what to buy.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Off-Topic: Marketing Scam of the Year

Okay, I promised to keep my off-topic posts to a minimum, but something has come up that I just can't be quiet about. Many ZoneAlarm users woke up yesterday to see this warning from ZoneAlarm about the ZeuS.Zbot.aoaq trojan.

I've used ZoneAlarm since 2001 and I trust the company, so I immediately clicked on "See threat details". That directed me to a web page that told me proudly that no anti-virus programs can detect ZeuS.Zbot.aoaq except for ZoneAlarm's Internet Security Suite which would cost me $19.95. They even included a comparison chart by an independent company called VirusTotal.

I've used the free version of Avast for years, so I was shocked to see that it doesn't recognise ZeuS.Zbot.aoaq . So I decided to look closer. The test is of Avast 4.8.1351.0. I checked my version number to see if there had been a last minute update, and my version is 5.0.677. I couldn't remember when I last updated, so I did a little research. Avast 5 was released on January 29th 2010. So ZoneAlarm is effectively saying "Our brand new software can detect trojans that last year's versions of our competitors can't."

I can't begin to say how angry I am that ZoneAlarm could stoop low enough to use false information about the ZeuS.Zbot.aoaq threat as a cheap marketing trick. They're trying to scare their customers by telling lies about other companies. I've been reading blogs and tech forums since yesterday, and the backlash is great. Normally forum discussions go back and forth, but I haven't read one single post agreeing with ZoneAlarm or defending their warning. Their firewall is now gone from my computer. I shall never use ZoneAlarm software again.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Iron Rose (5 Stars)

I've been a fan of Jean Rollin's films for years. He's best known for his psychedelic vampire films, but this strange film is the one that I like the most. It's stunning in its gothic eerieness. I've watched it over and over again, and it impresses me every time.

A young couple go for a walk in a cemetery. After making love in a crypt they emerge and find it's already night, and they're unable to find the way out. The cemetery seems to have turned into an enormous maze. While the man tries in vain to find the way out the woman descends rapidly into madness and decides she wants to remain in the cemetery forever.

The film contains no supernatural elements, although the cemetery is certainly unusual. For instance, the couple discover an open grave full of broken skeletons. As in all of Rollin's films the atmosphere is more important than the plot. The film is like an abstract painting that leaves you stunned after viewing it even if you don't understand it.

TV Series: Earth Final Conflict

This was one of the series planned by Gene Roddenberry while he was still alive. If I vaguely remember interviews from when it was first broadcast he had his first ideas for the series way back in the sixties, but he shelved his plans when "Star Trek" flopped. Today it's difficult to believe that "Star Trek" was cancelled because of low viewing figures. But let's not get off the subject.

"Earth Final Conflict" was intended as a series in contrast to "Star Trek". "Star Trek" was (or should have been) a five-year sci-fi series about men going into space, whereas EFC was a five-year sci-fi series about aliens coming to Earth. Robbenberry's widow Majel oversaw the making of EFC. When I sent fan mail to the EFC web site during the broadcast of the second season Majel replied herself, which I thought was a nice touch.

To summarize the series briefly: in the early 21st Century an alien race called the Taelons arrive on Earth. They come in peace and give mankind help with eradicating famine and disease. The Taelons are vastly popular throughout the world, but a resistance movement arises which claims that the Taelons have a hidden agenda. The first season is based on the adventures of an ex-policeman called William Boone who works for the Taelons but is an undercover agent for the Resistance. The first season is full of moral dilemmas as Boone discovers that both the Taelons and the Resistance have their dark sides.

At the end of the first season Boone is killed, and the main character for the next three seasons is a half-human half-alien called Liam Kincaid, who like Boone works for both the Taelons and the Resistance. Many EFC fans say the series fell apart when Boone left, but in my eyes it was a logical step. Boone's story had been played out, and Kincaid was the logical successor. I found the second season to be the best of all, because the moral dilemmas of the first season escalated to a dizzying state, with all the main characters following personal agendas, nobody following a strict party line.

The third and fourth seasons followed the same moral issues of the first two seasons, but the character of Kincaid changed for the worse. My biggest criticism of the entire series is that from the third season onwards his alien nature was played down and he kept stating "I'm a man". This is a point I'd like to discuss with anyone who knows the series. When Kincaid acted as if he were "only a man" his role became more and more superfluous, and the other characters took on a larger role, such as Renee Palmer, who was introduced in the third season but didn't become the central character until the fifth season.

At the end of the fourth season all but one of the Taelons are destroyed, and season five focuses on Renee Palmer's battle against a new alien race, the Atavus. The fifth season was more of a straight-forward sci-fi series, less thought-provoking than the earlier seasons, but it had value in its own right. It was weakened by the removal of most of the supporting characters from the previous seasons. A lot of EFC fans call the fifth season awful. I wouldn't put it quite so strongly, but I agree that the transition from the fourth season was abrupt. Supposedly it was part of Roddenberry's original notes for the Taelons to be destroyed at the end of the fourth year, but the series would have flowed more smoothly if the supporting characters had been kept.

EFC was very popular when it was first broadcast in America, if the viewing figures are anything to go by. From 1998 to 2000 it was regularly in the top three series, with more viewers than "X-Files", "Star Trek: Deep Space 9", "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Only "Hercules" and "Xena" had more viewers. Its popularity slumped in the fourth season, and the long delay before the DVD release helped people forget it. Now the series is finally being released. I'm hoping that there will be a new generation of fans for this flawed but nevertheless great series.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (4 Stars)

The last of the Hammer Frankenstein films, this was better than the previous three. The setting of an old mental asylum conjurs up a gothic atmosphere as eerie as any of the early Hammer films. Unfortunately the film contains the least realistic of all the monsters. His arms look like they're made of leather, not skin.

Noteworthy is the small part played by Patrick Troughton, one of my personal favorite actors. It's a mystery to me that he was never given any big film roles, the peak of his film career being "The Omen". Even when he played small roles he overshadowed the actors around him.

Madeline Smith was (in my opinion) the most beautiful actress of the 1970's. It's a shame that her body stays covered up in this film. More of her is on view in "The Vampire Lovers".

I can't be 100% certain, but isn't that Liz Gebhardt cradling a baby for about 30 seconds in the penultimate scene? She isn't credited, but it looks like her.

General: About this blog

Typical... the first feedback I got about this blog was negative, from a friend who said, "Mike, you don't write much about the films". Let me repeat what I said to her:

This isn't meant to be a film review site. If you want to get details about the latest releases my blog isn't the place for you. My reviews aren't in-depth, and they will rarely be about new films. This blog is my diary, letting you know what films I've been watching and whether I like them. More than anything I want people to argue with me, which is what I said in my introduction. As for not writing much, anyone who knows the previous incarnation of my film diary knows that I only used to write a single sentence about each film due to the space constraints (510 characters for the whole "blog"). So I think I'm writing a lot now.

Concerning the matter of the Amazon ads: I'm not in this for the money. My main intention in adding a clickable box to each review is to give you a link for further information. Some of the films at Amazon have very lengthy customer reviews, in case my mini-review has made you curious. And yes, if you do buy a DVD after clicking on a link I'll earn a few pennies, but I won't cry if nobody does. I don't consider that I am spamming my readers. Check other blogs and you'll see the difference. Loads of banners and frequent begging for you to click on them.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Cool World (5 Stars)

This is a film I have to watch again and again. In my eyes this is the best film of Brad Pitt's career. He plays the role of a film noir detective in a world of chaos perfectly. Maybe others don't appreciate his performance because his character is wooden, but it's deliberately so. Brad is as cold and emotionless as Humphrey Bogart in his best years. It's hard to praise this film enough.

TV Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer

So why should I be writing about this series years after it finished? Easy question to answer: because I'm watching it on DVD now. Besides, it has regular reruns on English television, and some people are only just discovering it now.

It's hard to believe that I actually disliked the show when it was first shown in 1997. It bugged me that the vampires were so weak. One stab with a broken chair leg and they were gone! I gave up watching after a few episodes and didn't pick it up again till the middle of the second season. Then I finally got it. The show isn't about vampires, it's about Buffy and her problems fitting in at school (or college) while battling to save the world. In retrospect the seasons I liked most were the ones while she was still at school. When she went to college it seemed like everyone around her was secretly a demon or a demon-slayer. Apart from the innocent victims, of course, whose numbers were deplenished week by week.

P.S. The box set was a lot cheaper when I bought it. I suspect it's getting more expensive because it's no longer being made, and the stocks are dwindling. If you really want it my advice is to buy it sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

A Horse For Danny (3 Stars)

Okay, okay... I admit this isn't everyone's sort of film. It's certainly not a classic, but it's a feelgood movie that cheered me up for 90 minutes of my life, and that's worth something in the greater order of things.

Did I enjoy the film?

Will I watch it again?
Probably not.

If you want some light-hearted fun, look for this in your local rental store. Watch it with your kids. You won't regret it.

Pandorum (1 Star)

I'd heard good things about this film, but my overall impression was negative. I understand what the director was trying to do. He wanted to create an atmosphere of horror using claustrophobia and darkness. Unfortunately for me it was difficult to enjoy a film in which the screen was too dark for me to see it clearly for the first half hour. Apart from this, the characters mumbled at times, meaning that I needed the subtitles while watching the film. Not a pleasant experience.

One remark on the content: if it really happened that the human race were going to be saved by sending only 60,000 people in a space ship, wouldn't they make sure that all the travellers spoke the same language? It seemed strange that the ship had a Vietnamese gardener who couldn't speak a single word of English.

Metropolis (5 Stars)

What's the best film ever made? Film critics usually vote for "Citizen Kane". Film fans usually vote for "The Godfather". But how many films are still shown in the cinemas 80 years after they were made? Or even 50 years? Yesterday I went to watch "Metropolis" at The Electric cinema in Birmingham. The room was packed. When the film ended the audience broke into applause. I've never seen a film generate such a reaction. Truly a great film.

Introduction to the blog

This is my first attempt at a blog. Amateurish, but I hope I'll get better as I go along. The main intention of this blog is to tell the world what films I've been watching. I'll write a full review of some films, a few thoughts on others, and sometimes I'll just list the film's name, if I have nothing to say about it or have no time to write about it. However, I do intend to list every single film that I watch, with a rating from 1 to 5 stars.

5 stars: Great, must be watched
4 stars: Good, worth watching
3 stars: Okay, it's a matter of taste
2 stars: Poor, not really worth watching
1 star: Awful, it should never have been made

Comments are appreciated, especially if you disagree with my opinion on a film. I love to argue!

I may also comment on tv series occasionally. Apart from this I'll keep off-topic posts to a minimum.