Thursday, 28 July 2011

One Million Heels B.C. (4 Stars)

This short film from 1993 is a forgotten gem. Short films have a tendency to "disappear" unless they're included on DVD short film compilations, or are added as extras on other film DVDs. I doubt many of my readers will ever see this film, unless it's made available to download somewhere. That's a shame.

The plot: After torrential rainfall over Los Angeles the top soil is washed away and cavemen who have been buried for thousands of years thaw out. One cavegirl enters the city and stumbles into the house of a stripper called Rose. The cavegirl is fascinated by Rose's high heels, so she's given a pair along with some sexy lingerie. Fortunately the cavegirl speaks English so there are no communication problems. When Rose's friend Savannah arrives they make the cave girl welcome in the 20th Century by jumping into the hot tub with her. Unfortunately they're interrupted by the arrival of a horny caveman, so the three girls grab pillows and pummel him in a three-on-one pillow fight. But they make friends and all live happily ever after.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Scream Queen Hot Tub Party (3 Stars)

Not really a film at all, this is an anthology, a skimpy plot barely disguising the intention to show short clips from old horror films.

Five actresses, Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer, Kelli Maroney, Monique Gabrielle and Roxanne Kernohan, are invited to a haunted house to take part in a seminar on horror films. The seminar's leader, Count Byron Orlok, is late turning up, so the girls consult a Ouija Board to find out what to do next. They jump into a hot tub where they discuss the films they've made.

While they're bathing we see excerpts from the following films:

- Slumber Party Massacre
- Sorority House Massacre 2
- Tower of Terror
- Emanuelle 5 (Was that a horror film?)
- Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers

For me the film's highlight was the instructions on how to dance with a chainsaw.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Batman & Robin (4 Stars)

They call this one of the worst movie sequels ever. Unjustly. This is a worthy follow-up to the previous three films. George Clooney is more suited to the role of Batman than Val Kilmer. And definitely a better Batman than Christian Bale.

Once more we have mad supervillains. This time Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, adequately portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman. Arnie's wooden acting is just right for the character. But we shouldn't forget Alicia Silverstone who becomes Batgirl in this film. The picture below speaks for itself. Beautiful and sexy.

I've watched this film a few times, but today was the first time I noticed that the city of Gotham is based on Fritz Lang's Metropolis. There were some similarities in the previous three films, but in this film it's blatant.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Batman Forever (4½ Stars)

People tend to mock this film. They say it isn't as good as the two previous Batman films. I wouldn't completely agree. It might not reach the height of "Batman Returns", but it's in the same class as "Batman", maybe even better. Obviously it's a different style. It wasn't directed by Tim Burton, although he stayed on as producer. This is very much Joel Schumacher's film.

Some of the actors have changed. That's a shame. Val Kilmer isn't as realistic a Batman as Michael Keaton, although he puts on a very good Michael Keaton impression when wearing a mask, even imitating his voice. The strangest change of cast is Harvey Dent, the district attorney who turned evil, played in the first film by Billy Dee Williams, in this film by Tommy Lee Jones. Oops. Not much of a resemblance between the two actors, is there?

But the quality of this film comes from the sheer madness of the two villains, the Riddler and Two-Face. Jim Carrey is perfect as the Riddler, even though the film character has a different origin to the comic book character. Carrey is obviously imitating the incomparable Frank Gorshin. And Tommy Lee Jones is imitating Jim Carrey. It's a perfect mix.

Don't put this film down. Watch it and enjoy it.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Dial M For Murder (4 Stars)

Today is the first time I've ever seen this 1954 Hitchcock thriller. While not as well known as "Psycho" or "The Birds", which I saw many times while growing up, this film fascinates me. I was riveted to my seat from beginning to end.

An ex-professional tennis player finds out that his wife is having an affair and plans the perfect murder. Unfortunately his carefully laid plans are ruined by an element of fate: his watch stops. This causes him to improvise, making a hasty new plan in the aftermath of his failure. I really can't say much more without giving away the plot to those who have never seen it. I strongly recommend this film to my readers.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Matrix Reloaded (5 Stars)

Four years passed between the making of "The Matrix" and the sequel, "The Matrix Reloaded". The first film had been a phenomenon. There were high expectations for the sequel. Then it appeared. And the reactions were mixed.

Why? I can understand those who were disappointed. They expected the sequel to carry on in a similar vein. But it didn't. There were larger portions of the film that took place outside of the Matrix, in the real world. Inside the Matrix we see fight scenes and action; outside of the Matrix we see a more typical science fiction story.

Nevertheless, this film has more action than the first because the questions about the Matrix's nature have already been answered and don't need to be dealt with. The 12-minute car chase and battle on the freeway is nothing short of breath-taking. I find this film just as good as the first, even though it is very different.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Off-Topic: My thoughts on film piracy

You've all seen this warning when you put a disc in your DVD player. Either this warning or a variation of it, depending on what country you live in. Sometimes it remains on the screen annoyingly long, and it's not possible to skip it. Especially amusing is the UK version of the warning screen, which adds that it is not allowed to show the film in oil rigs or prisons. This obviously doesn't refer to personal viewing, it has to do with showing a film to a group of people in a communal environment. But what happens if you show a film in a prison? Will you be arrested and sent to prison?

So what are my thoughts on film piracy? As my regular readers will have noticed, I never include links on this site to places where films can be downloaded. I put links to places where DVDs can be bought, usually Amazon. However, I don't do this out of fear of punishment. If the threats were enforced the police would be too busy chasing teenagers to stop Moslems crashing planes all over America. It's an empty threat, only ever enforced occasionally as an example to scare other people. I don't refrain from copying films because I don't want to harm the film industry. The film companies are multi-million dollar corporations and anything I "stole" from them wouldn't make a dent in their wealth. There is one reason, and one reason alone, why I don't copy films: film quality.

When I watch a film I expect the technical best in picture quality. I'm not happy with a fuzzy picture that's been compressed by a pirate somewhere. I want to see the film in high definition, and in whatever ratio it was expected to be viewed in. I don't accept compromises. And don't even mention films that have been copied with a digital camera by someone sitting in the back row of a cinema. That's just disgusting! This blog is written for those who love films as much as I do. If you're looking for free downloads, look elsewhere. You won't find them here.

In my house I have more than 1100 films on DVD, not including many tv series on DVD. "It must have cost a fortune", people often say when they see my collection. Yes and No. They did cost a lot, but let's put it in perspective. I've been buying DVDs for the last 10 years. So that's 110 films per year, on average two a week. But how much did they cost me? I'm a smart buyer. I don't buy a film when it's new and costs £15. I wait 12 months, by which time I can usually get it for £3. If a film was a good film last year it's still a good film today. So that's £6 or less than $10 per week. That's less than the price of 30 cigarettes, or three pints of beer in the pub. Looking at it this way my 1100 films were very cheap.

I use the excellent web site to assist me in finding good deals for DVDs. I strongly recommend it to anyone who lives in the UK. The website has a pricewatch facility. I enter the name of a DVD and how much I want to pay for it, then I'm sent an email when it's available for the price. Usually I have to react fast, because a price might only be valid for 24 hours. Sometimes a price listed on a website is a mistake, but it is picked up by the pricewatch facility and reported to me. Some companies such as Play and Amazon honour prices that were listed in error. Others such as The Hut and Asda first accept the order then send an email saying "We are sorry that we have run out of DVDs at the special promotional price listed" -- their subtle way of saying they never had any at this price -- "so we have cancelled your order, but you may reorder at our usual price".

So would I never ever download a film online? Under very rare circumstances I would. One example is that I downloaded "The Paperboy" because it was unavailable on DVD. It still hasn't been released in America or England, but after finding that it had been released on DVD in Greece I ordered a copy and deleted my inferior downloaded version. Since then it has also been released in Australia. If a film in my collection is no longer available on DVD I might make a digital copy to share with friends, but only after being completely sure they have no possibility of buying a new copy of the film.

I'll end up with this parody of the FBI warning screen shown above. What it says is entirely true, so read it carefully:

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Blacksnake (3 Stars)

"Blacksnake" is the most common name of the film also released as "Slaves" and "Sweet Suzy". The poster above has little to do with the film itself, I just used it because it's a nice picture.

I'm a big fan of Russ Meyer's films. I wrote about his body of work in my post about "Mondo Topless". "Blacksnake" is the film of his that I like the least, but I thought I'd watch it again. My opinion of the film hasn't changed. It's not a bad film, but it's not really a "Russ Meyer film". It has no similarity with any of his other films before or after it.

It takes place in 1836. An English nobleman travels in disguise to the Caribbean island of Saint Christobel to search for his brother who had gone missing after marrying the island's ruler, Lady Susan Walker. When he gets there he finds a cruel regime in place where the white rulers, including Lady Susan, mercilessly whip, torture and crucify the black slaves. Maybe the subject matter was too serious for Meyer to make a comedy out of it like he did with his other films. Even the leading lady, Anouska Hempel who played Lady Susan, does not have the usual qualities of actresses in Meyer's films: extremely large breasts. And because the film took place in the 19th Century women didn't wear hot pants like the poster for "Sweet Suzy" suggests.

No comedy, no big breasts. This film only deserves 3 stars.

On a side note, this film also features Dave Prowse in one of his many non-speaking roles.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Scott Pilgrim vs The World (4½ Stars)

On the surface this seems like a comedy. It's advertised as coming from the director of "Hot Fuzz" and "Shaun Of The Dead", which would place it squarely in the comedy genre. And yet it isn't a comedy. Not just a comedy, anyway. It's about life within a video game, and by extension is a parody of arcade type video games in general.

Scott Pilgrim is the bass player in a rock band called Sex Bob-Omb. He falls in love with a girl, but in order for her to accept him he must battle her seven evil exes to the death. He at first assumes they are all ex-boyfriends, but then has to battle with a former lesbian lover. As he defeats each ex he wins points an advances a level.

Without intending to give a spoiler, I strongly recommend that anyone who has the DVD watches the alternative ending. This ending is far better than the one used in the film. It makes better sense, and it's emotionally more moving.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Batman Returns (5 Stars)

This is a brilliant film. The use of the dark colours, blue, grey and black, throughout the outdoors scenes of the film is excellent. I have nothing to add to what I said about the film here.

Writing about films more than once emphasises the fact that this blog is a film diary rather than a film review site. I list every film that I watch, as I watch it, so if I watch a film 20 times I'll list it 20 times. Sometimes I might have new insight about a film or be in the mood to write more. Other times, like here, I have almost nothing to add. I'll add a few alternative film posters that I found online.

As much as I loved Adam West as Batman, I think Michael Keaton was visually the best Batman actor ever. Somehow he just looked right. Unfortunately this poster isn't very flattering.

Michelle Pfeiffer was very beautiful as Catwoman, though not really busty enough for the role. At least the costume used in "Batman Returns" was loyal to the comics. Halle Berry's costume in the "Catwoman" film was laughable.

DannyDeVito was perfect as the Penguin. I can't think of any other actor who would have been better for the role.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Batman (1989 version) (4 Stars)

I just watched this film again. It's one of the films that I keep returning to. See my last review here. So I gave it half a star more last time? Sue me!

On a related subject... I recently found out that Tim Burton is making a film version of "Dark Shadows" starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins. This is really exciting news to me. Depp is one of my favorite actors, and I can't think of anyone more suited to playing a vampire than him.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Demoniacs (4 Stars)

"An expressionist film by Jean Rollin".

That's the subtitle of this film. Let me quote the description of expressionism from Wikipedia:

Expressionism was a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas. Expressionist artists sought to express meaning or emotional experience rather than physical reality.

In the early days of cinema, from the early 20th Century till the outbreak of World War Two, German cinema was revered as the world's best. Alfred Hitchcock spent time in Germany learning how to direct films, and his early films show clear expressionist influence. One of the features of expressionist cinema was that the viewer was unsettled. He was shown that the film portrayed a fantasy, and yet he was drawn into it, like into a nightmare. The use of black and white actually enhanced the feeling of a surreal world.

This is where Rollin deviates from German expressionism. Rollin uses rich colours to draw the viewer into a fantasy world. His films are usually overwhelming in their use of colour. He also unsettles the viewer with unusual imagery.

The film takes place in a coastal town. A group of "wreckers" make a living by plundering ships. I had never heard of this practice before, but it seems to be a form of landbound piracy. The wrecker uses lights and false signals to mislead a boat and cause it to run aground onto the rocks. He then plunders what is washed ashore. In the film the wreckers are shown to be sadistic, taking as much pleasure in killing the survivors as in the plundering itself.

But this is a supernatural tale. One day the wreckers are picking up treasure from a ship when two beautiful women dressed in white wade ashore. The wreckers rape and kill the two women. The following day the two women appear as ghosts to haunt them. A few hours later they are no longer ghosts, they have come back to life.

The wreckers chase the women to kill them again. The women flee to a deserted ruined church where they are rescued by a clown. (The clown is a common image in Rollin's films as an absurd contrast to gothic horror). The clown and a bishop are keeping an ancient vampire trapped in the ruins. The women free him, and he gives them supernatural power so they can take revenge on the wreckers for killing them.

Does the film make sense? Not really. Think of it in terms of a waking nightmare. This is an example of what makes Rollin such a powerful director.

Chanbara Striptease (3½ Stars)

Lasting only 65 minutes, this is officially a short film. That's not too long. It's a curious film that is obviously aiming for some sort of erotic sensationalism, but doesn't have a strong plot or good actors to back it up.

On her 20th birthday a Japanese girl called Lila is initiated into Sayama Hashinryu, a fighting style which involves unleashing magical forces by baring her breasts before combat. During the initiation she is propelled 300 years into the past and meets the woman who first invented Sayama Hashinryu. Since this woman is evil and is killing innocent villagers Lila decides to fight her, even though killing her will change the future and prevent the fighting style ever being invented.

An interesting film, trashy but somehow enjoyable. Or maybe it's just because of the bare breasts.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Matrix (5 Stars)

What can I say about this film to do it justice? If you've seen it, as I expect most of my readers have, you know what it's about and I'm sure you have been moved by it. If you haven't seen it there's no way I can describe it. In so many ways it's the perfect film. It mixes martial arts action and deep philosophy with dazzling futuristic science fiction. Love it or hate it, "The Matrix" can leave no one untouched. It prods at the very core of our existence. It challenges us to question the world around us, whether it's real or not. Of course, we shrug it off. The world we live in must be real. It has to be. And yet "The Matrix" plants a seed of doubt in our mind.

This is a film I've watched many times, and will probably watch many more times. I find myself mouthing certain lines before they're spoken. Simple sentences have a deep meaning in the context of the film.

"There is no spoon".

Monday, 11 July 2011

Romulus, My Father (4½ Stars)

This is a fascinating true story based on the autobiography of the Australian philosopher Raimond Gata. His parents were poor Romanian immigrants. His father was a kind but impractical man, with good intentions that rarely succeeded. His mother was a cold woman, incapable of caring for her children, leaving them unfed and unwashed while she had affairs with other men. Raimond obviously loved both his parents, but makes no attempt to cover up their faults. The brilliant performance of the three main actors, Eric Bana, Franka Potente and Kodi Smit-McPhee lifts this slow-moving film to magnificent heights.

Number Seventeen (2½ Stars)

I confess that I'm not sure what this film is about. A couple go to view a house they wish to buy. For reasons unclear to me they are invited to the house at midnight. While there they find a body. Other people come to the house, some as potential buyers, others for more sinister reasons. More and more people arrive, and obviously a criminal plot is afoot. But I just can't figure out what. When we find out that an illegal railway station is hidden underground beneath the house my head started spinning. What was Hitchcock doing? Is this a comedy or a murder mystery? Comments are welcome.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Heartbreakers (4 Stars)

This is a charming little story of love and deceit. Sigourney Weaver has devised the perfect scam. She marries a wealthy man. Then she send her daughter to seduce him. She catches the two of them in the act, which gives her a reason to file for divorce. Understandably, a trick like this will run into problems if practised too often. And that's what this film is about. Light entertainment for a night in.

Gorgeous (4 Stars)

Action has never looked this good? I beg to differ. While I'm a big Jackie Chan film, this isn't one of his best.

It's another of the "message in a bottle" films that have been made as long as cinema has existed. Shu Qi is a young girl in Taiwan who finds a love letter in a bottle washed in by the tide. She travels to Hong Kong to find the note's author and meets a businessman, played by Jackie Chan, caught up in the middle of a hostile takeover. A fairytale with martial arts and industrial espionage. Interesting viewing, but the kind of film you can only watch once.

Spartacus (2004 version) (4 Stars)

While the 1960 film starring Kirk Douglas is more famous, I find this 2004 made-for-television film more enjoyable. For me Goran Visnjic is more credible as the leader of the slave rebellion against the Roman empire. Exciting fight scenes and moving romance. The film tries to explain why some consider Rome the most noble empire in history while others consider it the most evil. Worth watching.

Jennifer's Body (2 Stars)

This is a film that gets it all wrong. It could have been sexy. It could have been scary. It's neither. The sexiest thing about the film is the picture of Megan Fox above. Enjoy the picture. Forget the film.

Anchors Aweigh (4 Stars)

Pure entertainment from the golden days of Hollywood musicals. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra play two sailors on a four-day shore leave in Hollywood. The film was made in 1945 and takes place against the background of World War Two. It's interesting for me, as a European, to see how American day-to-day life was barely affected by the war. People went about their lives, films were made, and restaurants remained open without the fear of bombs falling. A fun film. Sinatra fades into the background. Gene Kelly was a star who overshadowed everyone around him.

The Deal (4 Stars)

This is a difficult film to rate. Maybe 4 stars is too much. I enjoyed the first half of the film very much, but it changed style halfway through and lost its magic.

The premise of the film is amazing, and in the hands of Mel Brooks it would have been an utter masterpiece. Charlie Berns is a Hollywood film producer whose best days are behind him. When he was young he had a string of successes, but now nobody wants to hire him. Just as he is about to kill himself his nephew appears with a film script that he recognizes as what he needs to rejuvenate his career.

His nephew's script is entitled "Bill and Ben", and it tells the story of the 19th Century British prime ministers, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. Although the events take place towards the end of Disraeli's life, when he was in his seventies, Berns picks a black American action star to play the role and renames the film "Benjamin Disraeli, Freedom Fighter". Disraeli is shown running though the desert with a machine gun, mowing down the evil Moslems and single-handedly liberating Palestine.

The film comes to a halt when the action star is kidnapped and the plot has to be rewritten. After this I found the remaining film dull and slow moving. However, it gives fascinating insight into the making of films. As a film about making a film it succeeds. Overall an enjoyable film, but it could have been better.

Can't Hardly Wait (4 Stars)

Is this film deep and meaningful? Is it shallow? Is it a deep film that only pretends to be shallow? Or is it a shallow film that pretends to be meaningful?

Whatever your opinion is, the film certainly stands out as being unique in its genre. It focuses on one evening in the life of a group of teenagers. School is out. Tomorrow they have to begin to confront the cruel world. Almost all the film takes place in a final party the students have together. The main topic of conversation at the party is the high school beauty Amanda having been dumped by her boyfriend the day before. The school jocks, the nerds, the sensitive kids, they all party together in this amusing film. I've only watched it once, so far, but I have a feeling it's a film that will grow on me. Wait for my next review.

Age Of Consent (3 Stars)

This is a tale of an innocent relationship that is misconstrued by those looking on. In fact, such relationships would probably be judged more harshly in our prude 21st Century than in the permissive era of 1969 when the film was made.

James Mason plays an artist who feels he has lost his inspiration. He goes to a remote island off the coast of Australia to find quiet and an opportunity to paint new scenery. While there he meets a 15-year-old girl played by Helen Mirren. Her beauty inspires him, and he uses her as a model for nude portraits. While he views her only as a model, she begins to fall in love with him.

I don't really know what to say about the film. The relationship between the young girl and the older man is shown very neutrally, without moralizing. The viewer is left to make up his own mind whether it's right or wrong. Maybe the consensus in 2011 is different to what people must have thought 40 years ago. I invite my readers to watch the film and make up their own minds.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (4 Stars)

This review is of the film made in 1956 by Alfred Hitchcock. It's rather unusual, because it's a remake of a film made in 1934 by Hitchcock himself. Why did he feel it necessary to remake his own film, which had been a success when it was made? Obviously he felt that he could improve it. I haven't seen the original, but for me this version sums up everything that made Hitchcock the master of suspense.

An American couple are on vacation in Morocco. They meet and make friends with a Frenchman on a bus. A few days later they witness this man being murdered in a marketplace, and with his dying breath he whispers that an important statesman will be murdered in London. The couple are unsure whether to treat this seriously, until their son is kidnapped and they are told they will only get him back if they don't interfere.

Hitchcock may be better known for "Psycho", but as someone who has watched many of his films I recommend this as being more typical of the films he made in his later years.

On a different subject: I've decided that from now on the pictures I use in my posts will link to Amazon UK, not Amazon in the USA. This is because according to my statistics I have more readers in the UK than in America or Canada. I might change this in the future, but this is what I'll be doing for now.