Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Timecrimes (5 Stars)

Have you ever seen a film that's so different that it just amazes and entrances you? A film that you can't get out of your head for hours after watching it? "Timecrimes" is such a film. It was made in Spain in 2007, and is due to be remade in America next year. Let's hope it won't be butchered.

Hector and Clara are a middle-aged couple who have just moved into a new house by the woods. One day Hector sees a young woman getting undressed in the woods. When he goes to investigate he finds her lying unconscious. While looking at her he's attacked by a man whose head is covered with bandages. Hector flees to a scientific facility with his attacker in pursuit. A scientist tells him to hide in a vat of liquid. When he emerges he's gone back a few hours in time. The scientist doesn't recognise Hector because they haven't yet met, but tells him that as long as he makes sure the events he's already experienced are allowed to happen without being changed he's safe.

Hector refuses to stay where he is and decides to drive home. On the way he's rammed by another car and injures his head. He bandages his head, then realises that he's the man who attacked him. He has to mimic all the things that have already happened. He sees the young woman cycling, so he kidnaps her and forces her to take her clothes off in the woods in view of his house. He knocks the woman unconscious, then attacks his other self when he comes to investigate. After making sure that his original self goes to the facility and hides in the vat he returns home to his wife. She doesn't recognise him in his bandages, and in the following struggle he accidentally kills her.

So Hector returns to the scientist and tells him he wants to go back in time again to prevent himself killing his wife. The problem is that the scientist has already met Hector after being sent back a second time, and Hector begged him not to send him back because everything had gone badly wrong. But Hector insists. And.....

That's more of a spoiler than I usually write. This film is a mindbender. However you try to explain it there are temporal paradoxes. This is a brilliant film, and I implore my readers to check it out. You won't regret it.

Click here to view the trailer.

Source Code (4 Stars)

This is another film already reviewed by my guest writer, Kay. You can find her review here.

The film opens with a man travelling on a train to Chicago flirting with a pretty young girl. But something is wrong. His name is Colter Stevens, but she insists on calling him Sean. When he looks into a mirror he sees an unfamiliar face. Then the train explodes, and he wakes up in an enclosed capsule in a military facility. He's told that it's his mission to travel back in time using a programmed virtual reality -- the "Source Code" -- and find out who planted the bomb which has already killed hundreds of passengers. He can only travel back for eight minutes. When the time is up he returns to the present and has to start again. While Colter's bosses just want him to identify the terrorist and prevent him killing again, Colter is more interested in finding a way to save the people in the virtual reality.

I agree with Kay that the film is excellent. I loved it. Until the end. I don't want to say too much because it would be a big spoiler for a relatively new film. I'll just say that it was totally illogical that the virtual reality suddenly became the real reality. The computer program mystically became able to change events in the past. This left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction when the film ended and loses the film a whole star.

Green Lantern (4 Stars)

My guest writer Kay already reviewed this film here. Unlike Kay I'm familiar with the comics the film is based on. The Green Lantern was one of the more unusual heroes in DC Comics. First published in 1940, the comics are still being printed today, though with occasional gaps over the years. DC, famous for its lack of continuity, has frequently "rebooted" the character and rewritten his origins. The film is based on the silver age version of the Green Lantern who starred in the comics from 1959 to 1985.

Practically the whole film is based around telling the origin of the Green Lantern, i.e. how Hal Jordan was given the ring and the powers. The outer space segments at the beginning alienated me. Even though he received his powers from another world, the comics were very earthbound. For me the film really took off when the Green Lantern made his first public appearance, preventing the helicopter crashing at the dinner party. Let's wait for the next film and hope it will be better.

Bronson (4½ Stars)

The picture used on the film poster shown above is misleading. It gives the impression that this is a boxing film. There are a few fight scenes in the middle, but they're not important parts of the plot.

The film is a true story about Michael Peterson, who later changed his name to Charles Bronson. He was born in 1952, and his main goal in life was to become famous. He couldn't sing, he couldn't act, and even as a criminal he was a failure. In 1974 he committed his first crime, robbing a post office. He stole £26.18 for which he was sentenced to seven years in prison. 38 years later he's still in prison, having spent over 30 years in solitary confinement. The British press has labelled him Britain's most violent prisoner. During his time in prison he's not only beat up guards on a regular basis. He's taken prison staff as hostages and set buildings on fire. After having his photo on the front page of British newspapers and being the subject of a film he's achieved the fame he's always wanted.

If you read about Bronson you'll see that the opinions are divided. Some people think he's a monster, others think he's a misunderstood genius. The film walks a delicate line between the two extremes, while injecting psychedelic elements that have earned it comparisons with "A Clockwork Orange". A fascinating film about a fascinating man. But the last chapters of the story have yet to be written. In November 2010, a year after the film was made, he stripped naked, covered himself with butter and attacked six guards.

I bought a Vampire Motorcycle (3½ Stars)

A ritual is being performed in an empty parking lot in Birmingham to summon the demon Ahriman. Before the ritual can be completed a gang of Hell's Angels interrupt the ceremony. The ritual backfires, and Ahriman possesses a motorbike. The bike develops an appetite for blood and drives round the streets of Birmingham at night looking for blood.

Maybe I'm being unfair not giving it a higher rating. The film is funny, but somehow not funny enough. The dream sequences near the beginning seemed out of place. But then again, I've never much liked dream sequences in films, unless they are absolutely essential to the plot. In most cases, like in this film, dreams are just an excuse to throw in something random. For me the film's outstanding actor is Anthony Daniels, best known for his role as C-3PO in "Star Wars".

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Manos: The Hands of Fate [Guest Writer] (1½ Stars)

As a change-up due to the number of movies I have enjoyed greatly, I now bring a truly monumental disaster in fimmaking history that I still enjoy greatly. Manos was a movie created in 1966 on a dare by an insurance salesman named Harold P. Warren and a screenwriter named Stirling Silliphant. Warren claimed making movies was simple, and that he could make one on his own. He then took $19,000 and went about organizing a cast and crew as well as a camera that could only hold 30 seconds of film, and did not record sound. It is claimed that he promised portions of the profits from the movie to cast and crew, owing about 300% once he was finished.

The story of the movie revolves around a family (The father naturally being played by Warren himself) on a vacation trip. After getting lost they find themselves at an odd house being taken care of by a man named Torgo (portrayed by John Reynolds). The character is supposed to be a satyr, though this is never brought up, and the prostetic goat legs that Reynolds wears for the role (which apparently caused much discomfort for him) are never shown properly, only the oversized thighs. The house is owned by "The Master", a mysterious man who worsips a being called Manos and who has sinister intentions for the doomed family.

Manos is an absolute mess of a film, using many long minutes of footage of farmlands for it's opening, a couple making out in a car seemingly for the duration of the film, and poorly-dubbed voices (most of which done by Warren and a couple others, making some dialogue sound like one person). The premiere was a disaster as well, the movie being ridiculed by the audience.

It eventually found a home on an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and, while being one of the worst movies they have ever had to go through (two of the characters on the show take a moment to apologise for how bad the movie is), it is one of the most beloved episodes by the fans. A fanbase gathered around Reynold's portrayal of Torgo, the only decent actor in the film, so much so that Torgo was portrayed by Mike Nelson (one of the writers and host in later seasons of the show) on a few occasions.

The original movie is almost unwatchable due to the horrible quality of the film, however there are copies of the MST3K version available through YouTube that make the film bearable, even when the characters on the show are at times unable to make fun of it due to it's lack of content. Definitly worth a viewing for those curious or brave enough to take on the challenge.

And yes, with the Spanish word Manos, the title literally translates to Hands: The Hands of Fate. Not exactly the best title, but it sticks with you.

Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows [Guest Writer] (5 Stars)

Since this film is still in theatres I will keep the synopsis brief in order to give viewers a chance to experience the film for themselves and enjoy it fully. The film takes place 8 months after the original (I may be mistaken on that time, but I believe that's right...) and Watson has been preparing his wedding to his Fiance while Holmes has been investigating violent terrorist attacks happening throughout Europe, bringing countries to the brink of war. After reuniting with Watson, the two embark on a journey to uncover the plans of Prof. James Moriarty and his involvement with the ongoing attacks.

This is an excellent follow-up to the original, with Robert Downey Jr. bringing back his eccentricly brilliant Holmes and Jude Law as the straight-man to his odd ways. The use of the pre-planning combat returns, which was a favorite of mine, demonstrating the unique mind of Holmes to predict the actions of his opponents. Certainly worth checking out for those who have seen the original or are fans of Sherlock.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Prager Botschaft (4 Stars)

This film has never been released in English. The title is "Prague Embassy", referring to the West German embassy in Prague and the events that took place in 1989.

Steffen is an architect who lives in East Berlin. His wife Bettina is a teacher. They travel on their honeymoon to Prague, but Steffen is keeping a secret from his wife. His real intention is to go to the West German embassy and ask for asylum. The front door is being guarded by the Czech police, so they climb over the fence into the garden. There are already 1200 East Germans camping in the grounds claiming asylum. By the time the West German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, visits the embassy on September 30th 1989 there are 4000 refugees living in overcrowded conditions. But even in the embassy there is no safety. The East German secret police, the dreaded Stasi, has planted spies posing as refugees.

The main criticism of the film is that it concentrates on the personal life of Steffen and Bettina rather than the political events. For me that is what makes the film convincing. Anyone can read what happened in a history book. But it wasn't just politics, there were people involved, each with their own personal lives. The film shows us how a typical married couple were affected by the tumultuous events around them. This is a powerful film, definitely worth watching. In particular I recommend it to Germany's new generation who have grown up without knowing what it meant to live in a divided country.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

How the Grinch stole Christmas (4 Stars)

I must be getting sentimental in my old age. That's two Christmas films I've watched in one week. Or three, if I include "The Long Kiss Goodnight", which takes place at Christmas though it isn't really a Christmas film.

It's based on a children's book by Dr. Seuss, but something about it just seems too adult. Or maybe I'm underestimating children. The Grinch is an outcast who lives in a mountain overlooking the happy town of Whoville. This Christmas is the one thousandth anniversary of the town, and Cindy Lou, the postman's daughter, suggests that the Grinch be invited to the Christmas celebrations. But the Grinch hates Christmas, which is a recipe for disaster.

Jim Carrey gives a perfect performance, as we would expect from him. He's a true professional and brings 100% to whatever role he plays. However, Taylor Momsen steals the show as the sweet little Cindy Lou. She's the best child actress I've ever seen. The film was made 11 years ago when she was 7, so I ought to check out some of her more recent films.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Elvis XXX (3 Stars)

I've been writing this blog for over a year. 353 posts, of which at least 330 were about films. I allowed myself a few posts that were either about television series or totally off topic. Anyway, check out the list of my 10 most popular posts, the ones that most people read. It's updated daily, but if you look at it today you'll notice something interesting. Six out of the top ten most read posts are about films directed by Axel Braun. Maybe my blog isn't a very representative sample, because I haven't reviewed any films by Steven Spielberg, yet, but it still points to the fact that Mr. Braun is one of the most popular directors alive today. People want to read about his films and find out more about them.

Maybe my blog has been singled out by Internet users because I review his films seriously. Pornographic films have a bad reputation among "serious" film critics. It's all about in-out-bang-bang with poor actors and no plot, they say. I would point them at Axel's films. Like his father before him, the legendary porn pioneer Lasse Braun, Axel Braun lifts pornography up to the level of fine art without ceasing to be pornographic. I'm not saying that his films are perfect. I could fault them for his habit of filming on a small budget, even when a film like "Spider-Man XXX" could have profited from a bigger budget. I've read that his Star Wars parodies, as yet unreleased, have been made with his biggest budgets to date. I can hardly wait to see them.
Having said all of that, I'm sorry to say that "Elvis XXX" is one of his weaker films. Made in documentary style, it would have been better if it had included more songs. The scenes with Jimmy Dean and Muhammad Ali seem out of place, just pushed in so that not every sex scene would involve Elvis himself. Still, Axel manages to capture the tragedy of his later life, such as the scene where Elvis is riding round Las Vegas searching for Marilyn Monroe, refusing to believe that she's been dead for 15 years.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (5 Stars)

This is a fascinating story about four 14-year-old boys who go to a Catholic school. Set in the 1970's, their passion isn't religion, it's comics. Marvel comics, to be precise. Francis is a skilled artist. He draws himself and his friends as a group of superheroes called the Atomic Trinity -- can't he count? -- and the main supervillain is Nunzilla, a personification of their class teacher. The film's strength is the contrast between the innocence of the young boys and the evil they do in the eyes of the Church. In many ways this is similar to Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures". A great film!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Zack and Miri make a Porno (3 Stars)

Zack and Miri have known each other since first grade. Now they're sharing a flat as room mates. Purely platonic, no sex, because after all this time they feel like brother and sister. They're both socially inept, and they both have low paid jobs. Their debts grow so large that their water and electricity are cut off, so they need to do something. And making a porn film is easy money, because everyone likes to see anyone have sex. Right? So they find a few people and start filming.

Behind the sleazy subject matter this is a love story. But it doesn't work. This is the third film I've seen Seth Rogen in, and he's the same loud, bad mouth character in all three. Can he act at all? His co-star Elisabeth Banks was perfect for her role as Betty Brant in the Spider-Man films, but in this film she just seems dull. Okay, she's supposed to be dull, but maybe she overdoes it. Imagine this film, the same story, with David Anders and Leelee Sobieski in the leading roles. That would have been fantastic!

Popeye (4 Stars)

Was this film really released so long ago? 1980? I only found out about it recently. According to IMDB this was the first film in which Robin Williams starred, and he was given the title role. Interesting. He'd played a few minor roles on television before this, but it still seems like he was thrown in at the deep end. I wonder if there's a background story to his being chosen for this role. Whatever it is, he does well in it, showing the talent which would make him famous in years to come. As does Shelley Duvall, who is so perfect as Olive Oyl that I couldn't imagine any other actress playing the role.

As someone who has known and loved the television cartoons for years, my only problem is that the film is a full length feature. I would have preferred it to be a sequence of short films, no more than 10 minutes each.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Nativity (5 Stars)

I bought this film for one reason only. I read that it had been made in Coventry, which is just a few miles from where I live. I didn't expect it to be any good. It's a Christmas film. I don't celebrate Christmas, and I don't even feel sentimental about it. I try to stay indoors and ignore the madness until it passes. but the film knocked me off my feet. It was nothing like I expected.

Paul goes to drama school, together with his girlfriend Jenny and his best friend Gordon. None of them feel talented enough to become actors, so Paul and Gordon become teachers. Jenny leaves Paul to get a job in Hollywood. Paul teaches in a Catholic primary school, while Gordon gets a job in an elite private school, both in Coventry. Their friendship turns to hatred, because Gordon produces successful nativity plays, while Paul's plays are flops, torn apart by the local critics. Paul thinks he can turn things around by asking Jenny to get Hollywood involvement in this year's nativity play.

A simple enough story, but everything about it just "clicks". Martin Freeman is excellent throughout as primary school teacher Paul Maddens. "Those who can't act become teachers. Those who can't teach become primary teachers". Not true in his case, he's a very good actor. I hadn't noticed him before, but he'll receive more attention as Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming Hobbit films. The young children who starred were heartwarmingly sweet. Yes, I'm a softy, I always loved children and wanted my own. When my own children were young they were the centre of my life. Now they're older I still love them, but I miss having small children around me. Maybe I'll be a grandfather one day.

The Long Kiss Goodnight (3½ Stars)

Samantha Caine is a happily married schoolteacher living in Buffalo, NY. But she has a problem. She's suffering from amnesia and can't remember anything that happened more than eight years ago. A private detective called Mitch Hennessey accidentally discovers a clue and offers to help her. At the same time a patient locked in a psychiatric ward recognizes her on television, prompting him to escape and try to kill her. As she slowly recovers her memory she realises that she used to be an assassin working for the CIA, but instead of welcoming her back her former employers try to kill her. The film then becomes a mixture of "The Bourne Identity" and "La Femme Nikita".

In theory the film could be excellent, but it fails to deliver. There are several problems. The biggest problem is the miscasting of the main character. It's impossible to take Geena Davis seriously as a trained killer. I don't care how many awards she's won, she's not a great actress, and this is a role she couldn't pull off. The second problem is the poor screenwriting. For example, the detective, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is introduced as a seedy criminal character, but as the film continues we only see his professional side, and he seems to be a good guy. The third problem is the poor stuntwork. An action film with lots of guns and explosions needs to look realistic to deliver. But it doesn't. For instance, when Mitch is thrown out of a window by an explosion his trajectory just looks wrong.

I've read that a sequel is being planned. Let's hope it's better.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Eric and Ernie (4½ Stars)

I already watched this biographical film on television in January and reviewed it here. I bought the DVD as soon as the price dropped to something I was willing to pay. I never buy DVD's when they're new. Patience is a virtue. If a film is good now it'll still be good next year, so why rush? I can watch last year's good films first.

I don't have anything to add to my original review, except that after a second watching I've added an extra half star. I still think that the film ended too soon. Maybe one day a second film will be made dealing with Eric and Ernie's success years from 1961 to 1984.

Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were not just Britain's best ever comedy duo, they were an important part of British culture in the second half of the 20th Century. It's fair to say that nobody in Britain didn't know them, and very few disliked them. Their Christmas television shows were the most viewed programmes of the year. For some reason they're practically unknown in other countries. Their shows are not shown in America, despite America's fascination with British comedy. I strongly advise anyone who likes British comedy to check them out, especially their BBC series that ran from 1968 to 1977. This is generally considered their best work, although I personally like their earlier and later series just as much. If you're able to watch Region 2 PAL DVD's they're available from Amazon in the UK. Click the picture below for the link.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Body Love (5 Stars)

I've never felt so overwhelmed at the prospect of writing a review. Sometimes my reviews are only a few lines long. Sometimes I write short essays. This is a film that I feel I ought to write a whole book about. So where do I start?

This is a pornographic film. What's the definition of the word "pornography"? The word is commonly used, though many people don't know what it means. First used in 1769, it meant writing about sex, i.e. it described erotic literature. With the development of new technologies it was later applied to photos or films of sexual activities, so its meaning was broadened to the depiction of sex in any media. This means that nude photos cannot be described as pornographic unless they are involved in sexual activities such as masturbation. Since pornography is about the depiction of sex, it also means that sex itself is not pornographic, even if performed in public. In films, pornography is commonly divided into "hard porn" and "soft porn". In hard porn actual sex is filmed; in soft porn the sex is faked, for instance the actors are lying on top of one another, but the camera angle disguises the fact that no penetration is taking place.

Ever since films were first invented sex was filmed. For more than 50 years pornography in films followed a different course to mainstream cinema. Non-pornographic films became longer and more detailed; pornographic films typically lasted no more than 10 minutes. They were commonly called "loops", because they were shown repeatedly. While mainstream cinema was developing into an art form to rival the written word, pornographic films remained on the level of crude masturbation help.

Enter Lasse Braun in the early 1960's. He was an Italian born in France as the son of a diplomat. His early work with pornography involved the production and distribution of loops. He also campaigned actively for the repeal of the laws against pornography. In the 1970's he began to make longer pornographic films which actually had plots, something unknown in filmed pornography. "Body Love", made in 1977, was the peak of his career, and is still considered by many to be the greatest pornographic film ever made. I'm no expert in pornography, but I would doubt that the final orgy scene with 18 participants has ever been bettered.
The film has a simple plot that strings together the various sex scenes. Martine is the daughter of a baron who has married a porn actress. As far as men are concerned, she's still a virgin, though she's had sex with women. Her father holds regular spiritual meetings at his castle, which involve meditation and sex. He wants Martine to finally lose her virginity at the next meeting, despite her reluctance to attend.

The whole film is a surreal masterpiece, but the final orgy scene is unforgettable. Martine enters the room as a ballet dancer, dancing in front of the mostly naked guests who are meditating motionless. One by one she touches and caresses them, bringing them to life, so that they begin to have sex with one another and with her. After tumultuous activity, highlighted by music performed by Klaus Schulze, everyone is lying on the floor, asleep or at least exhausted. Martine walks through the bodies, leaves the room and closes the door behind her. The end of one life, the beginning of another.

At a later date I intend to write about Klaus Schulze, the uncredited musician who wrote the music for the film. It's too much to write about today. The film itself is difficult, though not impossible, to find. It's been reprinted in small editions by different companies over the last 10 years. The picture above links to the outstanding soundtrack album.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave (3 Stars)

Though considered a classic of Italian horror by many, this 1971 film is showing its age. Maybe English high society parties really did look like this 40 years ago, but for viewers today they look archaic and quaint, and could just have well taken place in the 19th or even the 18th Century.

Lord Alan Cunningham is a wealthy millionaire suffering from depression after the death of his wife in childbirth. To ease his grief he hires prostitutes, who he tortures and kills in his cellar. One day he meets a girl at a party, falls in love at first sight and asks her to marry him a few hours later. All seems to be going well after the marriage. Except that his castle is being haunted by Evelyn, jealous of her husband's new wife.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Love in the Afternoon (3 Stars)

Typically, in films directed by Eric Rohmer nothing happens. There are no character arcs. Everyone starts and begins at the same position. There are no car chases, no mysteries, no suspense, not even moments of comedy. This film is no exception.

Frederic is a dull office worker. Though his precise career is never stated, he seems to be an accountant. He does however have an urge to break free, as shown by his flamboyant clothing and the fact that he goes shopping for clothes every afternoon. He is completely faithful to his wife, but he takes pleasure in observing beautiful women. He follows society's norms, but imagines doing otherwise. This is emphasised by a dream sequence in which he's capable of hypnotizing women to do whatever he wants.

Then Chloe comes into his life. They soon enter a relationship, meeting one another at least once a week in the afternoon. No sex takes place, but the relationship is deeper than if it had been sexual. Frederic can talk to Chloe, he can't talk to his wife. Finally Chloe decides to seduce Frederic, solely with the purpose of having a baby. "I've thought it all out. You're tall, you're married, you're not too stupid, you have blue eyes". Chloe strips for sex, but Frederic feels guilty and rushes home to his wife. Back home he tells his wife he wants to make love to her, even though they've never made love in the afternoon before.

The end.

An exciting film? No. A thought-provoking film? Not really. Is it visually dazzling? Far from it. It's a snapshot taken from daily life. Nevertheless, it fascinates the viewer. You might love this film or hate it. Watch it and make your own opinion.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Braindead (5 Stars)

Before there was "Lord of the Rings" there was "Braindead". This film shows Peter Jackson's brilliance as a director, and it was certainly a deciding factor in choosing him for a project as important as "Lord of the Rings". It's a horror film. It's a comedy. It's a love story. It has it all.

Of all the zombie films I've seen, this is the most successful. It lives from the richness of its characters against the background of 1950's New Zealand. The film could have been set in the modern day -- it was made in 1992 -- but the year 1957 was chosen for no apparent reason, apart from Peter Jackson's love of the past. I'm sure that this choice increased the film's costs.

The film has a surprisingly detailed plot for the zombie genre. A shopkeeper called Paquita receives a prophecy that she will soon meet her one true love, but he will be surrounded by death. Minutes later the clumsy mommy's boy Lionel walks into the shop, she recognises him immediately as the man foretold, and invites him on a date to the zoo. Lionel's mother spies on them, resulting in her being bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey, a species that has descended from monkeys that were raped by rats. This turns her into a zombie, who can infect others by biting them. Lionel loves his mother, so he keeps her and her victims in his cellar.

The special effects are low budget and comical rather than horrifying. If anything they are 1970's quality, on a level with Dario Argento's films. But you know what? It doesn't matter! The film is perfect just as it is. A masterpiece that everyone should watch, even if they hate zombie films.

P.S. In America this film was released as "Dead Alive" for copyright reasons.

Letters to Juliet (3½ Stars)

In 1936 Italy decided that it wanted more tourists to visit Verona. A house was built called Juliet's house, claiming to be the house of the fictional character from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". The house has a balcony to be used by women: they can either stand on it to shout out their love for someone, or they can stand silently while a man in the courtyard below shouts up a declaration of love to her. A life size bronze statue of Juliet was placed in the courtyard, and it is claimed that anyone who touches the right breast will be lucky in love. A wall in the courtyard was declared to be Juliet's Wall. Heartbroken women can attach notes to the wall describing their problems, and any letters containing a name and address will receive a personal reply from Juliet herself.

All of this is true, and gullible tourists lapped it up. Today Juliet's house is the main tourist attraction in Verona. This forms the background for the film. Sophie is a "fact finder" for a New York magazine. While on vacation in Verona she is fascinated by Juliet's Wall and decides to investigate it. She observes a woman removing the letters from the wall after closing time, and follows her to an office where a group of women, calling themselves the "Secretaries of Juliet", reply to the letters, signing them as Juliet. The following day she discovers a letter that has been hidden in a crack in the wall since 1957. A 15-year-old English girl called Claire is complaining about losing touch with her Italian lover, Lorenzo. Sophie asks for permission to reply, and writes a passionate letter in Juliet's name saying that even after 50 years she should have the courage to find her lover. "True love has no expiration date". Imagine her surprise that a few days later Claire arrives from England looking for the writer of the letter and asking for help finding her Lorenzo.

This is a beautiful story about love that can survive the passage of time. It's obvious from the start that the director was fascinated by Italy, the landscapes and the cities, and is using every chance to frame the story against a romantic background which is so un-American. My main criticism is that for the first hour the film moves too slowly, the characters moving in circles and not getting anywhere. The last 30 minutes are overwhelmingly romantic. This is a film for lovers to watch while they sit holding hands.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Tamara Drewe (3 Stars)

This film is advertised as a comedy, but apart from a few scenes in the last 10 minutes there was nothing that made me laugh. The film is a love story, more than anything else.

Tamara Drewe was an unattractive girl who grew up in a small village. She moved to London to become a reporter. 10 years later she returns to interview the drummer of a rock band giving an open air concert, and she decides to stay. Thanks to cosmetic surgery she now looks stunning, and all the local men, young and old, become obsessed with her.

I have the feeling this film would appeal to Americans because it is so quaint. I found it unexciting and predictable. It's obvious early on who Tamara is going to get together with, however many other men she has to sleep with before finding true love.

The Woman (2 Stars)

This is the sequel to a film called "Offspring", which I haven't seen. Maybe if I had watched that film first I would have understood "The Woman" better. Both films are based on novels by Jack Ketchum. Maybe the books give more background as well. To me the film just didn't make sense.

Chris Cleek is a lawyer who lives and works in a small town in the woods. One day while hunting he finds a woman living like a wild animal. He does what any other true American would do: he captures her and chains her up in his cellar so that he can civilise her. This involves washing her, feeding her oatmeal, dressing her like an Amish girl and raping her. When the woman finally escapes, surprise surprise, she gets revenge by going on a killing spree.

The real monster in the film isn't the woman, it's the lawyer and his son. The father doesn't hesitate to beat up his daughter's geology teacher when she visits him to complain about her performance in school. The son cuts off the wild woman's nipple then stands masturbating. It's a horrible film about horrible people. Strangely, critics have praised this film. I don't. Give it a miss.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Resident (4 Stars)

This is a very realistic horror story. It's about something that can really happen to anyone. A young woman moves into an apartment in New York. The price is low, and it seems too good to be true. And it is. Her landlord is observing her through spy holes and entering her bedroom while she sleeps. Excellent performances by Hilary Swank, one of my favorite actresses, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who I'd never heard of. Christopher Lee's fame earned him a place in the film posters, but he only plays a minor role.

Friday, 2 December 2011

In The Loop (4½ Stars)

I don't believe this film was very successful when it was released in 2009. I'd never heard of it until I recently stumbled on it by accident. As a political satire its comedy rests in the fact that it's very close to the truth. Too close.

America is considering a military attack in the Middle East. Britain has no official policy. The Prime Minister doesn't want to propose a war because that would make him look like a warmonger, but he doesn't want to oppose a war because that would anger the Americans. Then one day the British Minister for International Development, Simon Foster, blunders by calling a Middle East war unforeseeable in a radio interview, jeapordising Britain's neutrality. He tries to clear up the confusion, but blunders again by making statements that sound like the British government supports the war.

So off he goes to America to take part in meetings to defuse the situation. But everything he says makes things worse. Everyone around him has their own agenda, whether they support or oppose the war. The only thing that unites everyone is a total disregard for the truth. First the politicians speak, then the spin doctors rewrite the speeches to their own ends.

Incredible! This film is a hidden gem. Watch it if you can.

Willenbrock (4 Stars)

This is a gritty thriller that takes place in Magdeburg, a city in the eastern zone of Germany. It shows the contrasts between the shiny new buildings 15 years after reunification, and the poverty in which most of the citizens live.

Bernd Willenbrock is a used car salesman. He's happy with his life, since he's come further than most of the people around him. He owns two houses, one in the city and one in the country. He has two women, one is his wife and one is a lover. Everything is perfect until his house is broken into. He no longer feels safe, and a wealthy Russian friend recommends that he take the law into his own hands. Will this solve his problems or make them worse?

Fortunately, this film is available with English subtitles. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a picture of modern life in eastern Germany.

Schoolgirl Report 4 (4 Stars)

This is the fourth film in the immensely successful German film series, made in 1972. There are several major changes to the previous films.

1. The outer frame of a discussion between adults (parents and teachers) has been removed. The film progresses directly from one scene to the next.

2. The background music has become bawdier. Composer Gert Wilden is obviously imitating the style used in Russ Meyer's films.

3. Famous actors are used alongside the amateurs and unknown actors. This film features Ingrid Steeger in the longest scene, and it is also the first of four films starring the Italian comedian Rinaldo Talamonti.

I'll refrain from describing all the scenes in detail this time, apart from commenting on the racism in two scenes. In one scene an immigrant from Africa is hated by the other girls in her class because of her colour. In the next four girls seduce an Italian, played by Rinaldo Talamonti, after first mocking him and calling him Spaghetti. Was this typical for schoolgirls in the 1970's? I hope not.

I've had a few negative comments about my reports on the previous films in this series. I wish the comments had been written in my blog for everyone to read instead of being made to me personally. The comments didn't concern the contents of the film, but the age of the actresses. This seems like a good opportunity for me to climb onto my soapbox.

Every country is different. Every country has different laws, different customs, and even different morals. Most countries accept the views of one another. But there is one big exception. America thinks that its moral values are right and tries to impose them on the rest of the world. If you're an American who doesn't think like this, congratulations, you're in the minority. This moral bullying is most apparent in the matter of ages. There are very few countries in which 16-year-olds are considered underage. Americans have stricter views and are horrified to see 16-year-old girls naked in films or working in strip clubs. Under pressure from America English newspapers have agreed not to print naked photos of 16-year-olds on Page 3 (which was common from 1967 till 2001). Americans try to close down web sites with pictures of naked girls under 18 because the Internet is American and American laws apply. Or so they think.

The films I am reviewing here are perfectly legal in Germany, where they were made. They are sold by Amazon in Germany. If you, dear American reader, think that the films are "wrong" or "immoral" you need to question your upbringing. I won't be bold enough to say that your opinion is wrong, because morality is relative. But I will tell you that your opinion puts you in the minority.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Joy Ride (3 Stars)

This film is called "Road Kill" in England, which is a better choice than the original title.

Lewis Thomas, a young college student in New Jersey, drives to Colorado to meet a high school crush of his, Venna, when he hears that she's broken up with her boyfriend. On the way he takes a detour to Salt Lake City to bail his brother Fuller from jail, who's been arrested for being drunk and disorderly. With a CB Radio that they've purchased to get help avoiding speed cameras they play a prank on a truck driver with the handle Rusty Nail. Unfortunately the truck driver is a deranged murderer who pursues the two boys from state to state. They think they're free after escaping him, but after picking up Venna he appears again.

I have problems with this film. Considering the screenplay is by J. J. Abrams it ought to be a masterpiece. In fact, most of the reviews I've read rate it highly, and it was a box office success in 2001. Somehow it just didn't grip me. As a horror film it didn't make me jump in my seat. I felt disappointed when the truck driver had the chance to kill the two boys and then released them. The only thing that really lifted the film was Leelee Sobieski's outstanding performance as Venna. Yes, Leelee is my favorite actress, as my regular readers will already know. She's almost 30, isn't it time for her big breakthrough?

Army of Darkness (4 Stars)

This was the first film I ever bought on DVD. I feel sentimental watching it. Do you remember what it was like with your first DVD? Were you like me? I watched the film. I watched all the extras. I listened to the director's commentary. I watched the film again. Ah, those were the days. Now I have over 2000 DVDs and I rarely listen to the commentaries. Unless the commentary is by Joe Bob Briggs, of course, in which case it's usually better than the film itself.

This is the third film in the Evil Dead Trilogy. While the first two films were horror, with a few comedy elements added in the second, this film is clearly a comedy from start to end. More than anything the film showcases Bruce Campbell's acting talents. He's one of the most underrated actors ever. Curiously, the full name of the film is "Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness". This is weird, because the character in the film is called Ash, it's not Bruce playing himself. Or maybe it is :)

The film begins at the point where the second film ends. Ash is sucked back from the cabin in the woods to 13th Century England, where there is a prophecy that a man who falls from the sky will defeat the forces of evil. The film ends on a cliffhanger, but after 20 years there's still no "Evil Dead 4". Come on, Bruce, wake up! It's time to save the world again!

Review of Evil Dead

Review of Evil Dead 2

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Woman in Black [Guest Writer] (5 Stars)

With a remake coming in February, and my own curiosity of this movie for some time, I decided to watch The Woman in Black last night. I can be a bit picky when it comes to horror/thriller movies, as modern movies usually prefer to go for the simple formula of tension build-up, followed up by finding either nothing or a quick unrelated scare followed up by the monster/killer. In my opinion this is a somewhat lazy way of handling scares, which doesn't really get to me. However, The Woman in Black certainly did...

The movie is an adaptation of a 1983 book by Susan Hill, as well as a stage production that has been running since 1987 (Now the second longest running play in the history of London's West End). The story is about a man named Arthur Kidd, a solicitor sent to Crythin Gifford, a small town on the coast of the UK to attend the funeral of Alice Drablow and then handle the organization of her estate in Eel Marsh. While in the church during the funeral, and afterwards in the cemetary, Arthur sees a mysterious woman in black watching him (Seen in the image above). As Arthur goes about the town, the people he speaks to about the house have this odd silence to them about certain facts, as well as any mentions of the Woman he saw. Throughout his time at the house, there is more sightings of the woman along with horrifying noises of some sort of accident that occoured out in the marsh. As Arthur continues to delve into Alice Drablow's things to find answers for what's happening, things continue to build, culminating in a very creepy climax to the film.

This is quite the interesting horror film that plays with your mind and keeps you on edge. Arthur Kipps makes for an excellent protagonist, beind someone that the audience can easily relate and sympathise with as he's led in the dark by the townspeople's silence concerning the house's history and the Woman. The Woman makes for a very unsettling sight as well. With no real special effects in the movie, it takes on a very realistic approach, giving the makeup work of a pale face and sunken eyed, piercing stare that sticks with you throughout her appearances. The fact that for the majority of her appearance she simply stands and stares adds to the unsettling nature, reminding me of the modern amateur video series of the Slenderman on youtube (Which is another character I also reccomend reading about and viewing the video series Marble Hornets, EverymanHYBRID, and Tribe Twelve).

I highly reccomend a viewing of this film as I don't think it will dissapoint. It's certainly made me curious to see the upcoming remake by Hammer Horror in February with Daniel Radcliffe. As an interesting side-note, Daniel will be taking over Adrian Rawlins' role as the protagonist Arthur, who had played his father during the Harry Potter series. Quite the interesting coincidence...

Friday, 25 November 2011

My Best Enemy (4¾ Stars)

Victor Kaufmann is the son of a wealthy Jewish art dealer in Vienna. His best friend is Rudi Smekal, the son of their Austrian housekeeper. In 1938 Austria became part of Germany and everything changed. Rudi became a member of the SS, and the friendship was no longer possible. Victor and his family were sent to concentration camps, while Rudi took possession of the family villa.

But that isn't the end of the story. Only Victor and his family know the whereabouts of a Michelangelo drawing that has been in their family for 150 years. Rudi is sent to Poland to take Victor back to Vienna. On the way back their plane is shot down. Rudi is badly wounded, so Victor exchanges their clothes. Now Rudi has to experience life as a Jew while Victor lives as German.

Schoolgirl Report 3 (3½ Stars)

While the first two films attempt to maintain an image of serious reporting, the third film crosses the line into exploitation cinema. It opens with Friedrich von Thun standing in front of the camera with the now obligatory introduction speech: "Ladies and gentlemen, you already know me if you are one of the 10 million viewers who watched the first two parts of the Schoolgirl Report. You must be asking what we can offer you in a third part. You will see that the following facts are new and even more shocking. Judge for yourselves." In the rest of the film Mr. von Thun, who later went on to appear in such films as "Schindler's List", only appears as a live interviewer on the streets of Hamburg.

This time there are no parents, teachers or psychologists to discuss what is happening. After the introduction we see a group of children, supposedly 15 to 18, arrive at a YMCA hostel. First they run to the nearby lake to bathe nude, where they're observed by Rosl Mayr, the grand old lady of German sex comedy, who gabbles away in her strong Bavarian accent. After lights out the girls and boys run into one another's rooms to have sex, where they're discovered by the hostel's owner. The following morning the girls sit outside talking about incidents from their lives, which forms the film's frame as the girls take turns. The girls repeatedly accuse one another of inventing stories, but the narrator insists that it is completely true. In the words of Friedrich von Thun, "Judge for yourselves".

The first scene is the hardest, and has been omitted from the German DVD release, even though it was on the VCR release and can still be found in the Austrian DVD edition. A 14-year-old girl is raped in the school toilets. The school caretaker finds her and promises to help her if she agrees to have sex with friends of his for money. The voice-over informs us that it is modern society that forces young girls into prostitution. That helps to put things right for any viewers who might be naive enough to blame the caretaker.

The next scene, while slightly amusing, also stretches the credibility gap. A teacher is shown groping the breasts of young schoolgirls during lessons, with the excuse of showing the difference between cotton and synthetic materials. When the teacher is taken to court the girls refuse to testify because he's such a sweet man. They sit together telling each other how he invited them home to give them their first sexual experiences. (This is the only frame within a frame in this film). The only girl who speaks out is one who was jealous because he only groped the others.

Next come two cases of incest. In the first a 15-year-old girl wants to have sex with her 10-year-old brother, but is interrupted by her father. The father hits her while the voice-over intones that the father is acting wrong, he should try to understand instead of punish. In the second case another 15-year-old finds her father having sex with a stranger while her mother is in hospital. She sees this as a threat to the family and offers to have sex with him herself to hold the family together.

In the next story a girl, again 15, seduces the father of a boy in her class. She has an affair with him based on sex alone. Amusingly, she calls him "little doctor" ("Doktorchen") as she demands sex again and again. When the affair becomes public she accuses him of rape in court. The voice-over quotes statistics to inform us that almost all cases of men raping underage girls are unjust, because the girl was the one who wanted it.

Next comes the main comedy relief of the film. A girl who lives in a school (the caretaker's daughter) takes a boy into the headmaster's office late at night to have sex with him. Before they can start they hear a noise and want to hide in the closet, but when they open it they find the headmaster and one of the teachers already naked and hiding. Then in walks the headmaster's wife accompanied by the caretaker, presumably ready for sex as well. They chase one another round the room like in the British farces of the 1960's. Fun. This is also the third and last appearance of comedy actor Michael Schreiner, pictured above, who has gone on to become a major star in German film and television.

Back to serious matters: in the next scene a young couple go to Munich's Oktoberfest. After a ride on the ferris wheel they find a quiet corner where they can have sex. An older man arrives who shoots and kills the boy while they are in the act. He them takes the girl to a cellar to rape her. And the omniscient voice-over explains that this is all the fault of the parents for letting their children go out alone after dark.

The voice-over continues by quoting Valerie Solanas' SCUM Manifesto. Or rather misquoting. He says that today's schoolgirls carry with them a copy of Solanas' Manifesto in which they're told to use men as sexual objects for their own gratification. As someone who has read the Manifesto many times I can guarantee you that nothing vaguely like this is in it.

And to end up a romantic story. A poor boy is in love with a rich girl. The girl's father, a factory owner, forbids them to see one another. So they meet in secret and decide to carry out a suicide pact. Will there be a happy ending? I can't give everything away, can I?

This is probably the weakest of the whole series of 13 films. The lack of plausibilty doesn't bother me. What jolts is the too stark contrast between serious and whimsical scenes. In the fourth film, which I intend to watch soon, things pick up again.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Inception (5 Stars)

Inception: the word means the beginning of something. That isn't the meaning of the word in this film. It's used to describe an innovative technology. If a "conception" is an idea that people have, "inception" is planting an idea into someone's head.

No date is named, wisely, but the scenario is the present day, maybe the near future. Everything looks familiar, but a new criminal technology has been developed. It is possible to enter another person's dream and persuade him to reveal secrets that he would never disclose while awake. This technology is called "extracting" and is the perfect means for industrial espionage.

Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is an extractor, the best in his field. He's hired to steal the secrets from a Japanese businessman, Saito, but fails because Saito is ready for the attack. Saito is nevertheless impressed with Cobb's skill and hires him to do a new job, planting a thought into the heir of a rival company to make him break up the company on his father's death.

The remainder of the film is a dizzying mix of visual effects and mind-bending plots. Cobb and Saito sink deeper and deeper into the heir's mind, until they're in a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream. Battles are being fought on all of the dream levels simultaneously. This is a complex film that requires the viewer to think actively in order to keep up with what's happening. Unlike films of similar complexity – "Donnie Darko", "Lost Highway", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" – there is no slow buildup. The viewer is challenged from the first minutes, and is even left dangling at the end. In the final scene the film ends while we're waiting to see if the top will stop spinning.

I didn't intend to watch "Inception". After its Oscar successes there seemed to be too much hype around it. Then two weeks ago there was a list of the 50 best films ever made in a German magazine. "Inception" was in first place, so I thought I'd check it out. And I'm not disappointed. Far from it. It's definitely one of the best films I've ever seen. Not the best, but in my top 20 at least. It's a film worth watching over and over again, so wait for my next reviews.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Schoolgirl Report 2 (4 Stars)

In the second film of the series German actor Friedrich von Thun, who merely carried out the street interviews in the first film, advances into a more prominent role. He introduces himself with his real name and leads the discussion with a group of concerned parents. He says that no second film was intended, but the thousands of letters received had persuaded the producers otherwise. I don't suppose the fact that the first film had been the biggest box office hit of 1970 had anything to do with it.

The scenes in the second film are shorter, and there are more of them. Each scene is followed by comments from psychologists, teachers and legal experts. The subjects shown are:

* Girls who seduce and blackmail their teacher to get better grades
* Girls who run away from home and are forced into prostitution
* A girl whose first attempt at sex fails
* Girls who are drugged and raped
* Girls (aged 15 and 16) who pose nude for magazines
* Girls (aged 17 to 18) who call for a taxi so they can have sex with the driver
* A 15-year-old nymphomaniac
* A 16-year-old girl who is pregnant

While this film contains more comedy than the first, there are serious undertones. In the first scene the teacher commits suicide after first one girl, then a second, then the whole class blackmails him for better grades. The nymphomaniac in the penultimate scene attempts suicide when the first man who satisfies her is charged with statutory rape.

While the first film concentrated on outdated morals, the main theme of this film is that Germany's laws are outdated. The legal age of consent is 16, but in our modern age girls of 14 should be allowed to have sex, because they are more mature than girls of previous generations. The majority of the people interviewed in the street supported this.

Psycho [Guest Writer] (5 stars)

Hello everyone. I figured I would do my first review for this website with one of my absolute favourite thrillers of all time: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

Hitchcock is known as one of the kings of thriller movies. His brilliant set-ups and character writing bring about excellent stories that pull in audiences in any age. The capabilities of shocking viewers with plot twists as well as using "gimmicks" (for lack of a better term) to ensure interest and full theatres is something not seen these days.

For those who have not seen this movie, the "gimmick" of the film when originally released in theatres was the rule enforced by Hitchcock that audience members would not be admitted after the film began. This was to ensure that people did not come in late and have the first twist of the movie spoiled...
And no, I won't be spoiling it here either. I believe in people experiencing this film in that same manner to get the full effect of it.

Janet Leigh plays Marion Crane, one of the protagonists in the film. She is a very "normal" character, easily portraying a likeable character that's easily to sympathise with. She works for a real estate agent and is given the task of taking $40,000 in cash to the bank to be held for saftey over the weekend. Rather than doing this, she makes a very impulsive decision to leave town with the money in order to use it to marry her lover, Sam Loomis, played by John Gavin. After a few tense scenes she finds herself having to stop at the Bates Motel during the middle of a rainstorm, unable to go any further due to lack of visibility. From here we are introduced to Norman Bates, played brilliantly by Anthony Perkins. He lives at a house on the hill behind the motel with his mother, a sickly but very strongly-opinioned woman that controls Norman's life whenever possible. From there the films spirals into a thrilling mystery of murder and cover-ups that will leave audiences stunned and shocked by the end.

This is truly a unique movie, with Anthony Perkins performance creating one of my favourite characters of all time, portraying Norman as an akward, stuttery man that leaves you with the feeling that something is just not right about him...

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Pierrepoint (5 Stars)

This is a moving drama of unimaginable depth. I admit that I sat crying during some of the final scenes.

Albert Pierrepoint is the most prolific executioner in British history. Between 1933 and 1955 he hanged 608 criminals. He chose the job of hangman because it had been his father's trade, and he wanted to "continue in the family business". The film shows him as having the utmost respect for his victims. Whatever they'd done, by dying they paid for their crimes, and by executing them he was making them innocent. He was not just serving society, he was serving his victims. Not only did he hang his victims, he also washed the corpse and laid it in the coffin.

Pierrepoint remained anonymous in his early years. Even his closest friends did not know his occupation. Since hanging was a free-lance job, payment only made per hanging, he had a regular job delivering groceries. He achieved celebrity status after the war, when he was sent to Germany where he hanged 202 war criminals. Until then he had maintained a strict separation between his work and his social life, which was disrupted when his friends began to praise him for his work. The turning point for him came in 1950 when he had to hang a close friend.

In 1955 he resigned over a disagreement about payment in the case of last-minute reprieves. If he travelled to an execution and the prisoner was pardoned, he received no payment, not even to cover his travel expenses. After his retirement opponents of the death penalty claimed that he had crossed over to their way of thinking, but despite a few statements quoted out of context he never regretted his career choice.

The American release of this film incorrectly calls it "Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman". Albert Pierrepoint resigned in 1955, but executions were carried out by other executioners until 1964.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Katyn (4 Stars)

This film is about one of the forgotten incidents of World War Two: the massacre of 22,000 Polish army officers by the Russians in 1940. When the war began Germany and Russia had signed a pact that deemed they would cooperate in the event that one of them was attacked by another country. The public part of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact made it sound like a non-aggression pact, but there were confidential paragraphs that agreed on more active cooperation. As a reaction to England declaring war on Germany, Russia invaded Poland. The opening scenes of the film show the absurd situation of Polish refugees fleeing westwards to escape the Russians while other refugees were fleeing eastwards to escape the Germans, and crossing one another on a bridge.

Germany and Russia worked closely in the division of Poland. Stalin requested that all captured army officers be handed over to the Russians. In return all other soldiers were handed over to the Germans. Germany imprisoned the POWs and treated them relatively humanely; Russia executed the Polish officers and buried them in mass graves in the forest near Katyn. Those who died at Katyn included an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, 3,420 NCOs, seven chaplains, three landowners, a prince, 43 officials, 85 privates, 131 refugees, 20 university professors, 300 physicians; several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers; and more than 100 writers and journalists as well as about 200 pilots.

The killings were methodical. After the personal information of the condemned was checked, he was handcuffed and led to a cell insulated with stacks of sandbags along the walls and a felt-lined, heavy door. The victim was told to kneel in the middle of the cell, was then approached from behind by the executioner and immediately shot in the back of the head. The body was carried out through the opposite door and laid in one of the five or six waiting trucks, whereupon the next condemned was taken inside. In addition to muffling by the rough insulation in the execution cell, the pistol gunshots were also masked by the operation of loud machines (perhaps fans) throughout the night. This procedure went on every night, except for the May Day holiday.

Evidence of the massacre was discovered by the western powers late in the war years. Russia claimed that the massacre had been committed by the Germans in 1941, after Russia had withdrawn from Poland. Anyone in Poland who denied that the Germans had been guilty for the massacre was imprisoned; in fact, it remained a criminal offence to deny German responsibility until 1989.

Note: Throughout this review I have called the country "Russia" instead of using its official name, the "Soviet Union" or the "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" (USSR). This is a deliberate choice on my part. Calling the country a union implies a voluntary coalition of free states. In actual fact, the 14 member states were enslaved to Russia. The country that waged war against Poland was Russia, and its 14 slave states were dragged into the conflict against their will.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Notebook (2 Stars)

A love story. It starts with an old couple in a hospital, the man reading the woman a story from a notebook. The story is about a poor boy who falls in love with a rich girl in the American south in 1940. There are problems with the girl's parents and the rich fiance.

The film was recommended strongly, "one of the best love stories ever made". That isn't how I see it. The film was so predictable that I knew what would happen and kept thinking "Get on with it!" For me "The Notebook" is just "Titanic" on dry land. And "Titanic" is better.

Schoolgirl Report (4½ Stars)

This is a very difficult film to explain to anyone who isn't German and over 50. It's the first in a series of 13 films made from 1970 to 1980. The films were about schoolgirls having sex, willingly or forced, with schoolboys, older men or even other family members. This sounds like the sort of films to be shown in sordid backstreet cinemas where dirty old men in raincoats queue for an hour or two of guilty thrills. But that wasn't the case. The Schoolgirl Report films were shown in major cinemas and were watched by people of all ages. The first film, which I'm reviewing here, was watched by six million people in Germany alone. 10% of the population! The immense popularity of such sleazy films is unthinkable in other countries.

To summarise the film: girls from a high school go on a bus trip to see a power plant. While the class tours the plant one of the girls returns to the bus to seduce the driver. The teacher returns and finds them having sex on the back seat. The school's headmaster calls a meeting of parents to discuss whether the girl should be expelled. At first the parents favour expulsion, until one of the parents, who is introduced as a youth psychologist, tells a series of stories to the other parents to describe the sexuality of modern schoolgirls. These stories, which take up the majority of the film, lead to the parents voting unanimously against the expulsion.

In the first story a schoolgirl exposes her breasts to a Catholic priest during confession. In the next a schoolgirl seduces her sports teacher. Then we see three very young girls seducing the lifeguard at an outdoor pool. Two girls are shown having sex with classmates for the first time. Another girl has her first sexual encounter with an older man. Yet another schoolgirl experiments with lesbian sex before choosing men. In between the scenes there are interviews on the street where girls are stopped and asked their opinions on sexual questions.

The report format for films was nothing new. Similar films had been made in America in the 1960's, and were shown in backstreet cinemas for dirty old men in raincoats. So what was different about the German report films? First of all, an element of comedy was added. In the first film only one of the scenes was comical, but the comedy increased in the following films. Second, there was a whiff of exploitation and illegality. Many of the girls were introduced as being 14 or 15, although the unnamed actresses were at least 16, the minimum legal age for full nudity in German films. According to the posters the girls in the film were genuine schoolgirls. This was not true. The producer, Wolf C. Hartwig, approached girls who worked in department stores and offered to pay them 300 Marks (150 dollars) a day to act in the films. This was very lucrative, compared to a typical monthly salary of about 600 Marks. The girls were aged 16 to 19, but he chose the ones who looked younger. In the later films several professional actors starred alongside the unknown teenagers.

The Schoolgirl Report films, and the other report films that mimicked their success, were a cultural phenomenon. The great success of this series was due in part to sexuality in Germany being a taboo topic, leading to curiosity about the details of sex. Another factor was the German paranoia after they had lost a war and their country was divided. Yet another factor is that the films have their roots in German literature. It's no coincidence that Schiller is quoted during the film. The film has the structure of 18th Century "Rahmennovellen" ("frame novels"). In the film the youth psychologist tells stories about himself. In these stories nested stories are reported to him. In one of the stories a girl even tells her friend about her experiences, leading to a four-fold nesting.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

TV Series: Heroes

It's been a while since I posted anything. My regular readers will know what that means. Instead of films I've been watching television series. In particular, over the last week I've watched the third and fourth seasons of "Heroes".

I expect most of my readers know this series, since it was one of the most successful and critically acclaimed television dramas of recent years. It tells the tale of people who live among us who have super-powers, or, as the show calls them, "abilities". Some of them are good, some are bad, so we see a world divided into heroes and villains. In the opening episodes we get the impression that these people with abilities are independent of one another, but as the series develops we see that they are all inter-connected, though few of them realise it.

The series was very popular, watched by more than 10 million viewers per week in the first season, but the viewing figures dropped later, and it was cancelled after the fourth season. Why did the audience lose interest? I personally find the later seasons just as compelling as the first season. I see one big problem: the complexity of the stories. There are a lot of different characters with different interwoven story arcs. It's easy to follow if you're watching the series on DVD, but how could viewers keep up if they were only watching one episode per week? People would need to make notes to keep up. On several occasions there were cliffhangers which weren't resolved until two or three episodes later. This was an unusual way to structure a television series. It is more suitable to comic books, because the reader can go back and flip through the previous issue if he's forgotten the reason for something happening.

The stories were complex in themselves. Characters were travelling backwards and forwards through time, changing events. Apart from simple abilities like flying or super strength, some characters were capable of copying, stealing or removing the abilities of others. Some characters had abilities which changed during the course of the series. Some good guys turned bad, and bad guys turned good. How can anyone keep up if he's only watching one episode a week?

I advise everyone to buy the DVD box set, which is now available relatively cheap. If you watch just one episode you'll be drawn in and have to watch them all.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Liebe Mauer (4 Stars)

This is hardly an original story. Modern German cinema and literature is full of stories about love between couples on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. Even David Bowie wrote a song about this topic, "Heroes". And yet this film manages to offer something new. It's not quite serious, but not quite a comedy.

The year is 1989. Franzi moves to West Berlin to go to university. She rents an apartment a hundred yards from the Berlin Wall. She attracts the attention of Sascha, an East German border guard, and soon a romance begins. Franzi exchanges places with Sascha's friend Uschi so she can remain in East Berlin. The following developments are farcical. The German secret police suspects Franzi of working for the CIA. They blackmail Sascha to work for them to get her secrets. The German secret police hire Uschi to spy on Sascha, not realising she is really Franzi. The CIA hire Franzi to spy on Sascha, not realising she is really Uschi. The German secret police hire Franzi to be a double agent and supply them with CIA information, not realising she is Uschi. The CIA and the German secret police already have double agents in one another's headquarters and are passing information backwards and forwards about this dangerous couple, turning the love affair into an international incident. And don't forget what I said at the beginning: the year is 1989, and all around them society is collapsing. Anarchy and running street fights are daily occurrences.

I don't believe this film is available in English. If your German is good enough it's worth watching.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Blue Angel 2 (1½ Stars)

Dave and Jack are two men who wake up in their house one day and realise they're dead. No explanation is given as to who they are, why they live together or how they died, but from their old fashioned clothing and attitude we get the impression that they are gangsters who have been dead for a long time, but have only just been stirred by events in the house. The house has been sold and new tenants are moving in. They decide to haunt the house in order to scare the new tenants and drive them out. But it isn't as easy as it seems.

This film has nothing to do with the film "Blue Angel". The packaging is abysmal; the DVD cover has a photo of Asia Carrera, who appeared in "Blue Angel" but not in this film. The idea behind the film is interesting, but it's poorly acted. Don't waste your time with it.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

This ain't Saved By The Bell XXX (3 Stars)

I admit that it's been years since I've seen the television show that this parody is based on. If I were more familiar with it I might rate the film higher. Judging by photos from the original series the casting is first rate, but I wouldn't expect anything less from director Axel Braun.

The film follows two plots. The boys are asking the girls to go with them to the Friday night dance, and are being routinely turned down. The students are hunting for a mystery man who entered the girls' locker room, only identifiable by an extremely large penis. Is it a student, a teacher or an outsider? We have to watch the film to find out.