Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Man Who Crossed Hitler (4 Stars)

Courtroom dramas are difficult to watch at the best of times. Instead of action or suspense we have to listen to an hour or more of talking. On the other hand, this type of film draws the best out of the actors. I confess that I'm not a big fan of courtroom dramas, but this true story does hold a particular fascination with me.

The film tells about Hans Litten, a Jewish lawyer who dared to challenge Hitler in Berlin in 1931. Two SA officers were on trial for murder after shooting people at a Communist meeting. Litten called Hitler as a witness, but actually used the trial as an attempt to discredit Hitler. Tragically, Hitler outmaneuvered Litten in the interrogations, managing to hold speeches rather than give direct answers. The film also shows the irony of rich Jews admiring Hitler, hoping he would protect them against the rise of Communism. This made-for-television drama isn't available to buy yet, but UK residents can still catch it on Iplayer.

The Bourne Ultimatum (4¾ Stars)

The third film in the Bourne Trilogy. Maybe there will be other films -- there are other Jason Bourne novels waiting to be filmed -- but this film does tie up the loose ends and makes the three films into a nicely rounded package that stands by itself. Or am I mixing my metaphors? Round things don't stand, they roll.

"The Bourne Ultimatum" shows Bourne returning to his roots, finally recovering his memory of when he became an agent. On the way to this goal we have 90 minutes of high octane action. Worth watching, even though I don't like Julia Stiles' new hairdo.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Bourne Supremacy (4¾ Stars)

I haven't read the novels by Robert Ludlum, and I probably never will, so I'll confine myself to commenting on the film itself. But I guess that's what this blog is about, isn't it? The first film, "The Bourne Identity", ends with Jason Bourne having partially recovered from his amnesia and reaching an agreement with Treadstone to be left alone. The beginning of the second film ends with his Treadstone ex-bosses breaking their promise. First he is framed for a terror attack in Berlin. Then a Russian hit man is sent to India to assassinate him.

Following this is pure action all the way, while Bourne takes further steps to retrieve his memory and make amends for the dark deeds he had committed in the past. An exciting film.

On another note, I've got a lot of off-topic subjects on my mind that I'd like to share with the world. I feel tempted to create a second blog to use as my sandbox. Or should I just publish my off-topic posts here? Thoughts and comments are welcome.

I'm also happy to announce that August 2011 has been the most successful month so far for my blog, judging by the number of readers. About 30 readers a day, compared with 10 a day earlier this year. Over half my readers are from Islamic countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and Indonesia. I hope this isn't just a temporary boost for Ramadan, I want you to keep reading next month. My most popular posts are about pornographic films. I seem to have a lot of Axel Braun fans among my readers. Please don't just read my posts, introduce yourselves and leave comments. And I promise you, I plan to be purchasing some more Axel Braun films in the near future, even though they're difficult to buy in the UK. As far as I know he dosn't have an official distributor here.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Cry In The Woods (5 Stars)

I bought this DVD a few years ago on the recommendation of a friend who told me it was her favorite film. I wasn't disappointed. It's loosely based on a novel by Karin Fossum called "He who fears the wolf". I say loosely, because the film adds elements not included in the novel. I read the book after watching the film, and I have to say that the film is better. The film has more of a backstory.

Karsten Skov is a Danish policeman who has moved to the north of Norway. After his divorce he decides to return home. On his last day at work he witnesses a bank robbery. The robber takes a hostage who is an escaped mental patient suspected of murder, and together they hide in the woods.

From this simple story a very complex drama evolves. In typical Norwegian fashion the moral lines between right and wrong are blurred. During the course of the film the viewer develops sympathy for the robber. The search for the two criminals is less important than watching the friendship grow between the robber and his hostage. Karsten is obviously flawed and makes severe errors of judgement. After his last day he continues his investigations "unofficially" because he thinks the police are mishandling the case. Overall an excellent must-watch film.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

TV Series: Dexter

I've now watched the first two seasons of "Dexter" in full and I'm almost at the end of the third season. I enjoyed it from the start, but the third season has wowed me even more than the first two seasons. The plot twists and the ironic character relationships are amazing.

"Dexter" is one of the most watched series in America, but is relatively unknown in England where I live, so I'll attempt to explain it to those who have never seen it. The title character, Dexter Morgan, is a forensics expert for the Miami police, specialising in blood splatter analysis. He has a girlfriend, Rita, played by Julie Benz who is well known from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel", but almost all of his social contacts are from his work. Thus the supporting characters are all police officers.

Dexter, however, has a dark side. He's a psychopath, incapable of feeling emotion. His only pleasure in life comes from killing. His now dead father had recognised this and had trained him to channel his urges by only killing those who deserve to die. While this is a justification for his killings it's not an excuse. Dexter is presented as a monster. And yet it's difficult not to like him.

How many other tv series have there been in which the leading character is a bad guy? I can only think of Tony Soprano in "The Sopranos". This show goes further, though. Tony Soprano, for all his faults, genuinely loved his wife and children. He can be considered a borderline sociopath. Dexter is totally incapable of love. He has to copy the words spoken by others to give a good performance when proposing to Rita.

The series profits greatly from the rich characters of the police staff who work with Dexter. They are all very different to one another, and all likeable in their respective ways. If you haven't seen this series yet, give it a try. You might be surprised at what you find.

The Red Violin (5 Stars)

I already reviewed the film here. Like all good films it can take repeated viewings. This is one of the best films I know. Rather than review the film again I'll quote an Amazon review written by Bob Salter:

Definitely one of the more interesting films to come out of the nineties. The film was made in 1997 and directed by Francois Girard. It follows the tragic history of "The Red Violin". The story commences at an auction of the violin in Montreal. The bidding commences and we are transported back in time to witness the instruments bloody past.

The story commences in 1681 in Cremona, Italy the ancestral home of violin makers. A master craftsman Nicolo, is in the process of making a violin when he receives the news that his young wife has just died in childbirth together with the baby. In terrible grief he brings her body back to the workshop where he mixes blood from her body with varnish and uses her hair as a brush to apply the mix to the new violin. This gives the violin its distinctive colour and thus is born the legendary "Red Violin". We then move forward to an orphanage in 1793 Vienna where we follow the progress of a brilliant young violin prodigy who has possession of the instrument. His young life is cut tragically short. We then move forward to 1890s Oxford where a young aristocratic Byronesque character comes into possession of the violin from roving gypsies. He is a virtuoso on the instrument but sadly it does nothing for his love life and he is shot at by his girlfriend who finds him in bed with a gypsy girl. The violin is damaged and his hand badly injured. The violin is then inherited by a Chinese servant and eventally resurfaces in 1960s China during a time of social upheaval. But through it all the violin survives tainting the lives of all who touch it. At the auction is a violin expert played by Samuel L Jackson, who has identified the violin. But he has one final deception to play and the violin will again continue on its bloody journey through time.

It is a fabulous idea for a film and is an extremely ambitious project which could have easily foundered in the wrong hands. That it does not is a testament to the director. The film makes riveting viewing throughout and has a final fascinating twist. It is helped immeasurably by a wonderful musical score by composer John Corigliano, which deservedly won an oscar. The solos were performed by the the extremely gifted Joshua Bell who demonstrates what a truly wonderful instrument the violin is in the right hands. Overall I found this to be one of the better films I have seen in recent years. Highly recommended.

Slumdog Millionaire (5 Stars)

This is a film that I expect that most of my readers have already seen, so I can make comments without fear of giving away spoilers. It's a stunning film on so many different levels. I could be cynical and say that I'm surprised that it swept the Academy Awards in 2009 because it was too good to win an Oscar.

A young teenager from the slums of India goes on the quiz show "Who wants to be a millionaire?" not because he wants the money, but to gain the attention of his childhood love Latika who watches the show. Surprisingly he answers all the questions correctly and is accused of cheating. The film then tells his life story to explain how he learnt the answers. Each question in the quiz is related to a section of his life.

A visually beautiful film, well acted, with a deep plot that impresses the viewer even after watching it repeatedly. Five stars!

Off-Topic: Terror Attacks Olympic Games 2012

I usually refrain from political comments in this blog. I write about films. But that isn't the only thing I think about all day, and this is the only blog I have to express my thoughts in, so if you're only reading this to hear about films please forgive me while I pull out my soapbox.

On Thursday I watched the live broadcast of the UK prime minister David Cameron answering questions in parliament about the riots in England. It was disgraceful. Politicians of all parties asked if he should take the riots as proof that England doesn't have enough police, but in most cases he avoided answering the questions directly, making it clear towards the end of question time that he is committed to further reducing England's police force over the next 12 months; he claims that a smaller police force can be more effective than a large police force, because police can be moved around the country to where they're needed.

Next year London will be hosting the Olympic Games. In today's political climate, following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that's painting a big bullseye on England's capital. Cameron knows that, so his plan will be to bring thousands of policemen from other parts of the country to keep order and react to attacks. A smart terror organisation can plan for this. There are targets all over the country they can attack, and the lack of police will leave them vulnerable.

Ideally a small attack can be made in London at the beginning of the games. This will make Cameron panic and send even more police to London. Then a series of large attacks can be made simultaneously in other cities. In the ensuing chaos police will be sent back from London to deal with the aftermath. As the police leave the capital London can be hit again, repeatedly and hard, making Munich 1972 look like a children's game.

There's a slim chance that Cameron will make a U-Turn and recruit 100,000 more police officers before next year. But I doubt he has the intellect to see sense. Next year England will be burning, London 2012 will be declared the most disastrous Olympics ever, and I'll be shaking my head saying "I told you so".

Monday, 8 August 2011

Das Geheimnis des Königssees (4 Stars)

A German film, "The Mystery of the Koenigssee". The Koenigssee is a lake nestled between the mountains of Bavaria near Berchtesgaden. A young woman who works in a travel agency is sent to the Koeniggsee to make arrangements for package holiday deals with a local hotel. Though she has never been there before, the locals all stare at her in shock and make it clear she's unwelcome in their village. This is an eerie thriller that has similarity with the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Only available in German.

Take Me High (4½ Stars)

I last watched this film in December and the review is here. I almost felt tempted to give it 5 stars this time, despite the cheesy songs. It's a feel-good movie from beginning to end. Watching it makes me feel warm inside. Even if you don't like Cliff Richard it's worth watching... if you can get your hands on it. As far as I know this film has never been officially released on DVD. It was given free with the British newspaper "The Daily Mail". I just checked, and copies of the free DVD are still being offered for sale on Ebay in the UK.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Eight Miles High (4½ Stars)

The true story of German supermodel Uschi Obermaier, based on her autobiography. I'm not sure what the significance of the English film title is, since both the original film and the biography are called "Das wilde Leben", i.e. "The wild life". Maybe it refers to how high she supposedly soared in her career. Or maybe it refers to her excessive drug consume. I say "supposedly" because at the height of her career between 1968 and 1973 her wealth never reached the heights of her fame and notoriety.

To summarise her life in a few words: Uschi was born in Munich in 1946. In 1968 she was discovered by a photographer in a club and modelled frequently for a new magazine called Twen, mostly naked. She first joined a Munich commune (not mentioned in the film), then later moved to Berlin to become a member of Germany's most famous commune, "Kommune 1", which was conceived as an experiment in true Communism, including free love and sharing all property. She had affairs with Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger, but she describes Keith Richards as one of the few men she has ever truly loved. She "dropped out" and spent years travelling in a bus through Asia and South America with the Hamburg businessman Dieter Bockhorn, who she finally married in India. After her husband's death, thought by many to be suicide, she settled in the USA and became an American citizen. She now designs jewellery.

The film is interesting and entertaining, though it doesn't show much of her modelling career, which is what she was most famous for. In the early part of the film we just see occasional photoshoots as if it was something she just did "on the side". The film's casting is good, except for the choice of the Swedish singer Victor Noren to play Mick Jagger; we would never recognize him as Jagger unless he introduced himself.

Let's go through the claims on the English poster above.

Was Uschi a revolutionary? Not really. She lived in communes because she enjoyed music and the party life. She had no particular interest in Communism or any other political ideology. She was an embarrassment to many of the other commune members.

Was Uschi a supermodel? That depends on your definition of the word. Usually a supermodel is a woman who works for the fashion industry. She did do fashion shoots in the later part of her career, but primarily she posed nude. It was all about displaying her body, not the clothes she might or might not have been wearing.

Was Uschi a groupie? Yes. Sort of. In the Munich commune she got to know the group Amon Düül and made recordings with them despite having no musical talent, as she openly admitted. Later on the (more successful) Amon Düül II split off from them and moved to Berlin to join Kommune 1. Uschi was always surrounded by music and musicians, and she loved the lifestyle. She soon met Mick Jagger, having a brief affair with him before becoming more involved with Keith Richards. Was she a woman who threw herself at musicians for the music's sake, or did she truly love them? That's something only Uschi and those who know her best can answer.

Was Uschi an icon? Definitely! She was a household name in Germany in the 60's and 70's. Some of her photos are still known today. While she was touring other countries in her bus German photographers pursued her relentlessly.

Is the film worth watching? Yes, even if you've never heard of Uschi. She's a very likeable, though superficial person. In the film she seems like a naive little girl caught up in a whirlwind, trying her best to have fun while never understanding what the people around her wanted. This is a better film than the American equivalent "Gia".

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Drei Schwestern Made In Germany (4½ Stars)

At the moment my blog has more readers than at any time since I started it last year. In particular I'm getting a lot of readers from Islamic countries such as Pakistan and Egypt. Just as Ramadan has started. Is it a coincidence? I think not. Moslems all over the world are getting bored and irritated during this month long fast, so they're seeking some distraction on the Internet. Good for you. Forget about religion for a few hours and read about films.

"Drei Schwestern" is a German film not available in English. Even if it were made available in other countries, dubbed or subtitled, it would be difficult to understand. It tells a story that is so typically German that foreign viewers who don't understand the background would be confused.

It's 1947 in a small Swabian town. The Americans are occupying the area. The local black market is being run by Jacob, a Polish Jew. Technically he would be considered a gangster, but the film portrays him very positively. The three sisters in the title are Nora, Freya and Gudrun Sonnenberg, the daughters of the town's previous mayor. Freya is engaged to marry an American colonel, and it's obvious that it's not out of love but in order to escape the German post-war poverty. The oldest sister, Nora, is a very fine and noble person. Freya is egoistic and self-centered. Gudrun is the family slut.

That's the background. All I can say is that the film is magnificent. Although it's a comedy, it's a snapshot of German history. Germans who watch this, especially Swabians, will laugh at themselves and their parents. I strongly recommend this film to my German readers, and maybe if you aren't German but speak the language you might find it entertaining, even if you can't understand the humour. An almost perfect film, I just subtracted half a star because it fizzles out at the end rather than coming to a dramatic conclusion.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Alien Terminator (3 Stars)

A group of six scientists are locked for two years below the Earth working on a research project. The day before they are due to be released they accidentally create a new species, a creature which rapidly grows by eating the members of the team. Yes, this is a low budget rip off of "Alien". Sleazy and predictable, it's worth watching once. No more than once.

Or better still, give it a miss and just watch "Alien".