Friday, 30 September 2011

Killer Elite [Guest Writer] (4 Stars)

Okay so I recently went to watch this movie in theaters and since I'm a huge De Niro fan and will watch almost anything with him featured in it, this hit my radar pretty quick. I also like Jason a little just because he can deliver those raw, gritty action films that I'm so fond of although I wasn't a huge fan of his smut-filled Crank.

So here's the low-down. Killer Elite pits two of the world's most elite operatives - Danny (Jason), an ex-special ops agent and Hunter (De Niro), his longtime mentor - against the cunning leader of a secret military society (clive owen). covering the globe from Australia to Pairs, London and the Middle East, Danny and Hunter are plunged into a highly dangerous game of cat and mouse where the predators become the prey.

Seems a bit muddled huh? Well here's an easier version of the plot: contract killer Danny Bryce (Jason) attempts to get out of the “game” after a job in Mexico turns ugly. That is, until his closest friend and mentor, Hunter (Robert De Niro) is captured by a rich Dubai sheik. In order to free his friend, Bryce must succeed in completing Hunter’s assignment - to kill three British Special Air Service (SAS) agents responsible for murdering the sheik's three oldest sons in cold blood. Bryce quickly assembles a team and gets to work - subsequently drawing the attention of former SAS operative, Spike Logan (Clive Owen) who will stop at nothing to protect the soldiers.

So when I saw the trailers I was initially excited about this movie - more so because my De Niro was featured in it than anything else and he really played his part well. Being able to watch the well-known veteran kick some major ass was a huge plus in the movie but excluding him and the intense action and fighting scenes I was left a bit cold and unsatisfied. It seems they really tried to fit way too much into this movie and it came off almost clumsy and disjointed rather than smooth and thrilling. The romance part of it was unnecessary in my opinion and only made the plot all the more confusing but of course Jason just needs to get his piece on the side. I've never been the biggest fan of Clive Owen mainly because everything that comes out of his mouth almost sounds like a cliche and it seems he's just too 2 dimensional for me to really emotionally invest in during the movie. So his part was a let down for me as well.

Overall this is a nice movie to watch if you have some time to kill and are in the mood for some hard-hitting and wild action and special effect scenes but I'm sad to say that it didn't live up to all my expectations. *sighs*

Raging Pheonix [Guest Writer] (4¾ Stars)

Okay this is my first post on the site so I knew it had to be a good one to begin on a positive note and I found the perfect movie because it came out of nowhere and was completely unexpected.

The story goes like this: A violent gang is abducting and killing women around Thailand. Sanim and his friends, having had loved ones abducted, have joined together to break the gang of kidnappers. In a botched kidnap attempt, Deu is saved by Sanim's crew. After learning their unique martial arts style, Deu helps lure the gang into an epic battle to save the women across Thailand.

The storyline seems pretty straightforward and you would think everything is expected and while some of it is there are some twists that leave you intrigued to the very end. The beginning of the movie was a little off-putting for me mainly because it almost seemed comedic and unrealistic at least from where we enter into the story. Spoiler alert (although I'm not really giving anything major away, I still thought it appropriate to let you know beforehand). In the beginning after the introduction scene where we see random women disappearing we cut in on the Deu where she's told she has a band gig that night. Cut to scene in the bar where they are rocking out and suddenly at the end of the song she throws the sticks down (she's the drummer) and runs across the bar to attack (in an odd manner) some random guy demanding why she was kicked out of the band. She ends up hanging around his neck like some awkward and clumsy necklace as people try to drag her off and then suddenly we see her being left behind by her band and she ends up falling in a field of tall grass and crying to the sky about why she is supposed to be so lonely and the pity party ensues. Now the beginning isn't QUITE as jarring as I make it sound; I wanted to get the bare information down. This is what confused me in the beginning because we don't know anything about this character and I have no idea that I'm supposed to sympathize with her plight and feel more confusion and bewilderment than empathy. We later learn that she was abandoned by her family when she was young but we don't know this in the beginning. I think it would've been better if they had maybe done a lil flash back to show her history- perhaps a quick memory of her abandonment as a child somewhere in the beginning when she is first introduced to us. I will also admit there were a few inaccuracies to the movie at times for instance the leader of the smuggling ring caused some question marks to pop up all over my head and with the quick way that she ended up going from complete noob to fighting genius in such a short time (we have to go on the assumption that the training is actually longer than the montage) but if I wanted to watch something that really made me think then I definitely wouldn't go for an martial arts movie. I always think those type of movies, while it can have some great moments in between the fighting, is meant to lead me into a fantasy world so I can go with the flow when something otherwise unbelievable is presented to me.

But with all of that being said, I absolutely loved this movie and would recommend it to anyone that enjoys a good action movie with some angst-y drama in it. The quality of the film was surprisingly good and the fighting style was really unique and almost reminded me of LXD (League of Extraordinary Dancers) with a bit more punch (literally). I was never bored throughout the movie because it kept the pace up and the action was really engaging. I wasn't even bored when they did the dramatic scenes to go into their past because they kept it simple and let us get deeper into each character. The ending was a surprise too and maybe it's because I come from a family of fighters, army, marine, and navy brats that I appreciate quality action films so much. The fighting, while unique and entertaining, was realistic with the style. For example the way that the female lead used her body during fighting made sense. I didn't get the sense that "oh that was so fake and over exaggerated". Honestly it's probably one of the best martial arts films I have seen lately and despite the beginning.

This is a definite must-see in my opinion! If you do watch it, just go with the thought in mind that it has it's serious moments but also it's comedic breaks in there as well which let me laugh while I enjoyed a good fight. I'm simple like that I guess. Heh.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Legend of the Fist (4½ Stars)

Yet another film about the fictional Chinese martial arts hero Chen Zhen who fought against the Japanese during their occupation of China. The first was "Fist of Fury", made in 1972 starring Bruce Lee as Chen Zhen. This film was remade in 1994 with Jet Li as Chen Zhen, entitled "Fist of Legend", but with a different message. The story is the same, but while the 1972 version was very black and white, painting the Chinese as heroes and the Japanese as thoroughly evil, the 1994 film showed good and bad in both nationalities.

Now it's 2010, and in "Legend of the Fist" Donnie Yen steps up to play Chen Zhen. Rather than a remake, this is a continuation of "Fist of Fury", taking place about 15 years later. Once more the Japanese are the bad guys. Japanese death squads are assassinating Chinese patriots in Shanghai. Only one person can stand up to them. Chen Zhen, thought to be dead, dons a mask to battle the forces of evil. The similarity with Kato in the 1960's television series is no coincidence. Although the film is about Chen Zhen, it's obvious that Donnie Yen wants to present Bruce Lee in the film. He is imitating Lee's fighting style, mannerisms and clothing.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Terminator 2 (5 Stars)

This is one of my favorite films. I watched it again today for the first time on Blu-ray, the Skynet Edition.

First to the film itself before I comment on the Blu-ray release. In the first film we see a machine from the future, a Terminator, sent to the past to kill Sarah Connor, because her unborn son John would become the leader of the Resistance. In this film another Terminator is sent to kill her son who is now 10 years old. (Supposedly. The actor Edward Furlong was 13 at the time of filming, and he both looks and talks older than a 10-year-old). The horror of being pursued by an unstoppable killing machine is once more shown perfectly, as in the first film, but with better special effects. The film could hardly have been made any better.

As for the Blu-ray itself, I have many complaints. Much could have been done better. The picture itself is excellent, an improvement from the DVD, but not quite as crisp as modern films. In my recommendations in an old post I advised against buying pre-1996 films on Blu-ray. This is a worthy exception, as far as picture and sound are concerned. The design of the Blu-ray itself is very faulty. It lasted minutes, literally minutes, for the Blu-ray menus to load. The time needed was so long that I would have suspected the disc was faulty, if not for having read other reviews complaining about the long loading time. Evidently the Blu-ray was searching for an Internet connection to somehow improve the menu usage.

The second major fault is an astounding design error. The Blu-ray is advertised as containing the "Skynet Edition" of the film, but it isn't listed in the disk menu. Only the theatrical release and the extended version are listed. The Skynet Edition of the film is only available after typing 82997 on the keypad of the Blu-ray remote control. There are no instructions to do this anywhere on the case or the enclosed booklet. I only know about it because I've read about this being an "Easter egg" in a review. Easter eggs are usually hidden extras. In this case it isn't an extra feature that's been hidden, it's the main film itself. Whoever came up with this idea should be fired, publicly humiliated or shot. This must qualify as the most stupid Blu-ray or DVD feature ever.

Nevertheless, this is the best release of "Terminator 2" so far. Go make yourself a coffee while the disk is loading. You have time. And don't forget to type 82997 when you finally see the menu.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Gulliver's Travels (3½ Stars)

For me this is an example of a film being too short. Fleshing it out for an extra half hour or more would have made it much more enjoyable. In particular, Jack's visit to Brobdingnag wasn't developed enough.

Apart from the name of the main character and the island he's stranded on this film has very little to do with the books written by Jonathan Swift. It's a comedy starring Jack Black. That says it all. Jack plays Lemuel Gulliver, a mail man in a large New York company. When sent on a solo trip to the Bermuda Triangle -- do companies really do that? -- he's shipwrecked and lands in a country where everyone is smaller than him. Supposedly he's 12 times their size, but to me the ratio looked more like 24:1.

Is it a good film? Ho hum, difficult to say. I like Jack Black, but this isn't one of his best films. It's enjoyable, good for a few belly laughs, but nothing memorable. Like so many films made today.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Paul (5 Stars)

I was sure I'd already reviewed this film. I saw it in the cinema earlier this year when it was released. I must have forgotten. I'm slacking.

An incredibly funny film, as only the creative team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost can make it. Each one is funny by himself, but together they're nothing short of genial. They play two comic book fans from England who go to the comic book convention in San Diego. While touring before returning home they pick up a hitchhiker called Paul. Paul is an alien who's been kept prisoner by the American government for 60 years. Pursued by FBI agents, rednecks and gun-toting Bible bashers they flee northwards. Hilarious. Five stars. My fullest recommendation to my readers.

This ain't Glee XXX (4 Stars)

A perfectly cast musical porn parody from Axel Braun. You'll love it or you'll hate it, depending on what you expect from the film. Too much singing? Too much sex? Not enough music or sex? If I had more time I'd add close up photos of the whole cast. For now, just enjoy this photo of Rachel and Mercedes.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Avatar (4½ Stars)

Today I watched "Avatar" for the first time. Two years late. Why did I wait so long? The answer is simple. The whole hype about the film put me off. If someone tells me a film is great and I should see it I might watch it, depending on what I know about the person's tastes. If a few people tell me a film is great I almost certainly will watch it, to see what the fuss is about. But if almost everyone is telling me a film is great I rebel against the public opinion. I don't want to watch what everyone is watching. I want to be different.

Having said that, I have to admit that "Avatar" is a good film. It's not a science fiction masterpiece like "Terminator" or "The Matrix", but it's certainly better than the Star Wars films that I've always considered overrated.

I don't want to say too much about the content of the film itself. I expect most of my readers have already seen it. The premise is simple. A wheelchair-bound ex-marine is sent as part of an expedition to a remote planet called Pandora. With the aid of computer controlled biogenetics his consciousness is transferred into an artificial body which resembles the natives of the planet. While his mission is to infiltrate the native population for the purpose of mining valuable ore, he grows more and more sympathetic with the natives and their plight.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

This ain't Cops XXX (3½ Stars)

A parody of the reality show "Cops" by director extraordinaire Axel Braun. The film is episodic in nature, like the tv show. Evan Stone stands out as the quintessential bad cop. In the first scene he's called to settle a domestic dispute. He brutally beats up the husband without provocation, then has sex with the wife while still shouting abuse at the husband. Nothing like real life. Is it?

Friday, 23 September 2011

General: Belated Anniversary

Today I realised that I missed the one year anniversary of my blog. It was September 14th 2010 when I made my first post about Metropolis, inspired by the audience reaction in the cinema. I've come a long way since then. In my early months I often thought I was writing for myself. I considered 10 readers per day "acceptable", but I rarely reached that. In February 2011, for instance, I only had 124 readers all month. But now I must be doing something right. I regularly have 40 readers a day, more than I would have dreamt possible in the early days.

What I miss most is feedback from my readers. Please, if you're reading this, I want you to become followers of my blog. There's a subscribe link at the bottom of the page. And most of all, leave comments. I want to hear from you. Tell me what you like or don't like about individual posts or my blog in general. I want to improve the blog so that I'll have even more readers this time next year.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Number One Girl (2 Stars)

A light evening's viewing. Entertaining but forgettable. Tony and Dragos are two friends who grow up in London. Tony moves to America and becomes an action movie star. Dragos remains in London and becomes a gangster. Once a year Dragos holds a beauty contest, Miss Fashion and Cosmetics, to which his friend Tony is regularly invited to sit on the judges' panel. The only condition is that Tony should not get involved with any of the girls, since the respectability of the contest should be above reproach. But this year Tony falls in love with the favorite to win the contest.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Goodbye Lenin (5 Stars)

This is an outstanding, but very unusual film. It's a difficult film for those who aren't German to understand. There are many amusing little subtleties about the difference between the West and East Germans, the Wessis and the Ossis. East Germany was arguably the world's largest ever prison camp, keeping 16 million people trapped behind a wall and shooting any who tried to escape, but the film shows nostalgia for the "good old days" when the Ossis lived in a much simpler world.

Christiane Kerner is a faithful supporter of the East German political system. She even receives awards from the country's leader, Erich Honecker. On October 7th 1989, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic (DDR), she has a heart attack and falls into a coma. She sleeps for eight months and wakes up on June 22nd 1990. She is only expected to live a short while, so her son decides to hide from her the political upheavals that took place while she was in coma. With the help of a friend he makes false television reports to show her that the DDR she loves is still functioning. She lives another four months, until October 6th 1990, but the current political events are hidden from her; in fact, history is completely rewritten for her sake.

This was the biggest year for Germany since the end of the war, from October 7th 1989 to October 3rd 1990. It was a year in which all Germans were anxious to watch the news every evening, eager to find out what had happened next. These are the events that Christiane missed:

October 7th 1989: The 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) is celebrated in East Berlin with a traditional military parade. After the parade Gorbachev says in an interview that reforms are necessary. In the evening there are demonstrations in many cities that are brutally broken up by the police. More than 1000 people are arrested,

October 9th: There are many protests in German cities, and the largest is in Leipzig. More than 70,000 people demonstrate for a democratic renewal of the DDR chanting "Wir sind das Volk" ("We are the people"). The police do nothing to break up the demonstrations.

October 16th: More than 120,000 people demonstrate in Leipzig.

October 18th: The DDR leader Erich Honecker resigns due to ill health. He is replaced by Egon Krenz, who is very unpopular in the DDR.

October 23rd: On the evening before the formal election of Egon Krenz 300,000 people demonstrate in Berlin against the government.

November 3rd: DDR citizens are allowed to leave the country by crossing into Czechoslovakia. Thousands use the opportunity to flee to the West.

November 4th: More than a million people demonstrate in East Berlin for freedom and democracy in the DDR. The television broadcasts the demonstration live.

November 6th: In Leipzig there are large demonstrations demanding free travel and free elections.

November 7th: The complete DDR government resigns.

November 8th: The government is re-elected by the political office and Egon Krenz becomes General Secretary.

November 9th: In a press conference broadcast live in television private journeys into West Germany are unconditionally allowed. On the same evening thousands of people from East Berlin queue at the border posts to enter West Berlin. The border patrols are overwhelmed and open the gates for people to cross without checks.

November 19th: Millions of East Germans cross the border into West Germany. Many do not return.

November 27th: The new DDR Minister President Hans Modrow announces widesweeping reforms in the DDR, but categorically denies that reunification is possible.

November 28th: West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl presents a 10 point plan for the two German states which will lead to reunification.

December 1st: The DDR parliament removes the requirement for a one party state from the constitution, allowing the creation of other political parties.

December 2nd: A parliamentary committee publishes a report about corruption and abuse of power in the leadership of the socialist party.

December 3rd: The leadership of the socialist party resigns. The public prosecutor calls for the arrest of many politicians, including Erich Honecker.

December 6th: Egon Krenz resigns.

December 7th: The DDR parliament dissolves the secret police.

December 11th: At a demonstration in Leipzig there are calls for reunification.

December 19th: Helmut Kohl meets Hans Modrow in Dresden for talks about cooperation between the two countries. Modrow refuses to accept reunification.

December 22nd: Berlin's Brandenburg Gate is opened for pedestrians to walk through unhindered.

December 31st: The New Year is celebrated with a giant fireworks display at the Brandenburg Gate by both East and West Berliners.

January 15th 1990: More than 2000 demonstrators storm the offices of the secret police and trash the building.

February 1st: Minister President Modrow presents a plan for German reunification to parliament.

February 5th: The DDR parliament allows freedom of the press.

February 7th: The DDR opposition groups unite to create the political party Bündnis 90 (Alliance 1990).

February 10th: Michail Gorbachev promises Helmut Kohl that the Soviet Union will not oppose German reunification.

March 7th: The DDR parliament allows the creation of private companies.

March 18th: The first free elections take place in the DDR. The Christian Democratic Union wins 48% of the votes, the Socialist Party 21%, the Communist Party 16%, the Liberals 5%. Unexpectedly, Bündnis 90 only gets 3% of the votes.

April 12th: Lothar de Maziere becomes the DDR's Minister President. The government wants to join West Germany as soon as possible. (Note the language: the talk was no longer of a reunification of equals, but of the DDR applying for membership of West Germany).

April 27th: Negotiations begin in East Berlin about the economic, political and social union of the two countries.

May 2nd: It is decided to abolish the DDR currency and adopt the West German Mark.

June 6th: The West German terrorist Susanne Albrecht is arrested in the DDR. A series of other ex-terrorists are found who have been given new identities by the DDR secret police.

June 8th: The football World Cup begins. Germany has a united team made up of players from both countries.

June 13th: The demolition of the Berlin Wall begins.

June 21st: The parliaments of both German countries agree on a contract to lead to unity. The Green Party in West Germany and Bündnis 90 in the DDR challenge the contract because it does not treat the two German states as equals.

July 1st: The West German Mark becomes the official currency of the DDR.

July 8th: The united German football team wins the World Cup.

August 23rd: The DDR parliament votes to join West Germany on October 3rd.

September 12th: A peace treaty is finally signed between Germany and the allied powers (America, Russia, England, France). No treaty was signed in 1945. The allied powers agree to start withdrawing their occupation troops from Germany on October 3rd.

October 3rd: Germany becomes reunited.

This ain't Happy Days XXX (4 Stars)

Casting is spot on in Axel Braun's Happy Days spoof for Hustler. Especially the voice of Howard Cunningham (James Bartholet) as he informs us in voiceover that the production was "filmed in front of a live, masturbating audience". The art direction, recreated set design and costumes are all faultless right down to the old fashioned underwear and body hair. In fact everything is so much like the original that they didn't even change any of the names.

Richie (Alan Stafford), Ralph (Jack Lawrence) and Potsie (Anthony Rosato) have their eyes on a trio of cheerleaders and wish they had a way with the ladies like the Fonz (Tommy Gunn). Richie is picked to ask him for some advice. Fonzie is game and invites two chicks (Tori Black & Codi Carmichael) into his office to give the guys a show rather than some actual advice. After that he tells the guys what to wear, how to walk and most importantly: Fonz recites the HNC: how to nail chicks.

Meanwhile, Joanie (Missy Stone) loves Chachi (Kris Slater) and tells him to stop seeing other girls if he wants to go steady. A little later she calls her best friend Jenny (Penny Flame), unaware that Chachi is right there about to fill Jenny's mouth as soon as she stops talking on the phone. Back at Arnold's Diner Richie manages to impress one of the cheerleaders and get a date with her after closing time. Potsie and Ralph however end up chickening out.

The exposition (as in talking) scenes in between those in which the actors expose themselves are surprisingly lengthy and feature plenty of nods to plots and lines from the original series. For instance, Ralph and Potsie overhear the Fonz scolding his nephew about cheating on "Shortcakes". So the nerd patrol visit Joannie and the three of them end up popping each others cherries as Joannie decides to rob Chachi by "stealing her own virginity". This turns out to be the most inspired scene in the film, with little Joannie shouting out orders to the two bumbling guys all the way.

But there's still more to come: downstairs, Mr. Cunningham is off delivering a speech at the Leppards Lodge while his wife (Raquel Devine) promises Fonzie anything to make sure Richie stops doing his Fonzerelli impression. Before long, The Fonz and Mrs Cunningham are going at it, the Nerd Patrol is on the stairs watching again and in typical sitcom style, everybody walks in just after their climax. Cue audience laughter and freeze frame.

(review quoted from Wolfgang Rodenbach)

Monday, 19 September 2011

Max Schmeling (5 Stars)

I approached this film with some doubts. It's been less than 10 years since a film was made about the life of Max Schmeling, the excellent 2002 film "Joe and Max". A further reason to doubt is that the title role is played by Henry Maske, who has never acted before. I needn't have worried. From the opening scenes on I was drawn in by the quality of the acting and the film itself.

The original German film is subtitled "A German legend". The English release is subtitled "Fist of the Reich" and the DVD cover has a picture that has nothing at all to do with the film. Forget the senseless marketing attempts by idiots in England who probably never even watched the film before mass-producing it. This is not a war film, it's a film about a German boxer who was unfortunate enough to live during the war. Max wasn't really pro or anti Nazi, despite attempts to portray him as an opponent of Hitler. In truth he was just a boxer who loved his sport and wanted to win without interference from politicians.

The best way to describe "Max Schmeling" is to say how it differs from "Joe and Max". While both films portray the life of Max Schmeling as the central character, "Joe and Max" concentrates on the deep personal friendship between Max and Joe Louis which started with their first fight and continued until Joe's death 45 years later. "Joe and Max" develops the character of Joe Louis, whereas "Max Schmeling" just shows him as a tough opponent. "Joe and Max" shows Max's life from his first fight against Joe Louis till he met with Joe the first time after the war; "Max Schmeling" ends with Max's last fight and doesn't show his new job as the Coca Cola representative in Germany.

The fights are better choreographed in this film, but that was to be expected. Gentleman Henry Maske is a boxer, not an actor. And yet he succeeds admirably as an actor. At several points I had to chuckle because he both looks and sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is a first class biographical film, showing Schmeling's rise and fall. The viewer is involved from the beginning, cheering when he succeeds and sharing his tears when he fails. More than "Rocky" ever was, this is a film with heart and emotion. A film to watch even if you aren't a boxing fan.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Spider-Man XXX (4½ Stars)

Axel Braun has done it again. After his porn parody of Batman he has released an incredible parody of Spider-Man. While his main focus has been on recreating Spider-Man as seen in the 1960's comics there are a few references to the recent films. In particular Braun recreates Sam Raimi's iconic upside down kiss scene, adding an upside down blow job. After all, it is a porno.

In the film Spider-Man battles Electro. We have guest appearances by the Kingpin and the Black Widow. There's diverse name-dropping throughout the film. Dazzler and Hawkeye are mentioned, and in the penultimate scene we see the Kingpin standing gloating over Captain America's shield. Axel Braun remembered to include Peter Parker's high school friend Liz Allan, who was forgotten in Raimi's films. Overall the casting is excellent, apart from Peter Parker himself, who is played by Xander Corvus. Rather than model him on the comic book character, Braun has picked an actor who looks like Andrew Garfield. Compare the two photos below, Andrew Garfield on the left, Xander Corvus on the right.

Also compare the costumes in these two photos. Does anyone else think that Garfield's costume sucks? Apart from the X on the chest Corvus's costume is a faithful recreation of the costume as seen in the comics. Garfield's costume is just bad. The next time Hollywood decides to make a film they should phone Axel Braun to get advice for casting and costume.

This is a brilliant film. If you've never watched a porno this should be your first. I've only deducted half a star because the film would have been better with a bigger special effects budget.

Axel Braun is already filming a Superman vs Spider-Man crossover. The man is going from one peak to the next in his homages to the comics and television series we loved as children.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Alexander (4½ Stars)

There are three versions of this film: the original theatrical version, the director's cut, and the "final cut". The third version is supposedly structured differently to the first two. I can't comment on the differences because the third version, the final cut, is the only version I've seen. Judging by director Oliver Stone's introduction this is the way he really wanted the film to be, free of the constraints of having to satisfy the film studio, the critics or even the audience. As such this is a very self-indulgent film. Oliver Stone is saying, effectively, that he's made this version for himself.

Obviously this is a work of love. Stone states his admiration for the epic films he watched as a child, but he also admires the man Alexander. He has a fascination with the remarkable young man who achieved greater victories in a short lifespan than any other leader ever. Stone wants to show how he grew up, how he became king, how he triumphed and how he died at the age of 32 without leaving an heir.

Stone succeeds in imparting this fascination on the viewer. We feel Alexander's passion and his belief in his noble destiny as the son of Zeus. He see him torn between love and contempt for his ambitiously evil mother. We feel his idealism as he proclaims freedom from slavery in the kingdoms he conquers. Only when he becomes overcome with fanaticism to continue fighting, not stopping to enjoy the spoils of victory, do we finally feel alienated. Like seeing an old friend on a doubtful path I found myself calling out "Turn back, Alexander, before it's too late".

My main criticism of the film is that it took so long to get started. If it had showed Alexander's life chronologically I would have accepted the slow start. As it was the film begins with Alexander's greatest victory, the Battle of Gaugamela, but rather than start with the battle itself we have long discussions of strategy. I'll deduct half a star for that, but overall this is a brilliant film, a masterpiece.

I believe that the final cut that I'm reviewing here, sold under the name "Alexander Revisited", is no longer available on DVD. It's worth looking for if you can find a second hand copy.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Let Me In (5 Stars)

The next time anyone tells me that American remakes of foreign language films suck I'll point at "Let me in" to contradict him. After seeing both this and the Swedish original, I have to say that this is the better film. Director Matt Reeves doesn't seem to have even attempted to give this remake a unique touch. In content and atmosphere it's almost identical to the original, apart from relocating the story from Sweden to New Mexico. And yet it rises above the original. Why? The reason is simple. The phenomenal acting of the two main characters, Owen and Abby, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz.

These must be the greatest young actors alive today. I already knew Kodi, born in 1996 in Australia, from his appearance in "Romulus, My Father". His acting had already impressed me. Chloe Moretz, born in 1997 in America, is best known for her role in "Kick Ass". That film was deliberately over-the-top and didn't show off her acting abilities, but in "Let me in" she has a chance to excel.

To explain the plot briefly, without giving too many spoilers: Owen is a 12-year-old boy growing up in the snowy mountains of Los Alamos, New Mexico. He's a puny little boy who's badly bullied at school. He doesn't have any friends and spends the evenings spying on his neighbours through a telescope. Yes, he's very creepy. If he were 20 to 40 years older we'd find him disgusting, but at his young age we can feel sympathy for him. Then a couple move in next door, a young girl called Abby and her father. Or at least he thinks it's her father. We soon find out that they have a strange relationship that isn't explained until later in the film.

Yes, Abby is a vampire. It's a vampire film. But this is like no other vampire film ever made. It's a love story, rightly compared by critics with "Romeo and Juliet". Owen and Abby are two young lovers from two different worlds. Do they have a chance? Will their love end as tragically as in Shakespeare's famous play? Watch the film and find out.

Incidentally, "Let me in" is the first full release of the revitalised Hammer Films after the episodic "Beyond The Rave". It was a curious choice for Hammer to make a remake so early in their new phase, but after seeing the film I have to say it was a good choice. I'll be sure to watch all the following Hammer films. Wait for my reviews in this blog.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Queen To Play (4 Stars)

This film takes place on the beautiful Island of Corsica. Although mostly known as a popular holiday destination, we see its other side. For the residents of the island it's a dull place where nothing ever happens, and people dream of getting away and moving to France where the real world lives. If only they had the money. The chasm they see between their own poverty and the wealth of the rich holidaymakers makes their plight all the more frustrating.

Helene works as a maid in a hotel. One day while changing the sheets she sees an American couple playing chess on the balcony and is amazed by how sensuous the game is. First she tries to learn chess by herself, with the help of a chess computer. Realising she's making no progress she approaches an elderly professor who lives as a recluse on the island and asks him to teach her.

The development of the plot is very predictable, but this is an enjoyable feel-good film about a poor woman in a dead end existence who finds the strength to move on and make something of herself. Inspired by the beautiful game of chess.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sonne, Sylt und Kesse Krabben (3½ Stars)

I've always been a fan of the 1970's German sex comedies. While they can't be called "good films" they portray a beautiful naivety that mirrors the German culture of the time. This 1971 film has less sex than most of the other films of its time, and has more in common with the American nudist films of the 1960's. There's no plot as such. We see several characters, male and female, on holiday on the island Sylt and their visits to the nude beaches. Some men are successful in picking up women, others aren't.

At some point I want to write a full essay on the 1970's German sex comedies, but today I'll just concentrate on the actress Ingrid Steeger, on the left in the above photo, who was the most famous actress in these films. The following mini-biography is adapted from information on the DVD.

Ingrid Steeger was born as Ingrid Anita Stengert on 1/4/1947 in Berlin. She grew up in poverty in the area Alt-Moabit. After visiting a business school she worked as a shorthand typist in an architect's bureau, then became an usher in a cinema, and then became a go go dancer together with her sister Jutta. A photographer discovered her and pictures of her appeared in various men's magazines.

In 1968 Ingrid Stengert won the Miss Film Festival contest. She made her first experience as an actress in Super-8 films, the first of which was "The Perverse Mistress and her Victims". This was the beginning of the wave of sex films in Germany. Ingrid Stengert was discovered by the producer Gero Wecker and soon she became one of the most prominent actresses in these films.

Out of respect to her father she changed her name to Ingrid Steeger. She starred in Oswalt Kolle's "Your husband, the unknown creature" and in many cheap and quickly produced "report films" about stewardesses, hostesses and housewives. In particular she starred in the 4th and 5th "Schoolgirl Report" films. Among Steeger's films in the early 70's there are also curiosities like the Western "A long ride to Eden" and the 3D sex film "Love in three dimensions".

From 1973 onwards Steeger appeared almost only on television. She frequently bared her breasts in the cult comedy series "Klimbim" which was based on the American series "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In". She played various roles in the series, in particular the dizzy blonde who introduced the show and the ugly daughter Gaby in the Klimbim family. She achieved great popularity and was showered with awards.

Her personal life was less successful. Ingrid Steeger and her men was the top subject of the boulevard press. In 1973 she married the cameraman Lothar Elias Stickelbrucks who helped her distance herself from sex films. In 1975 they were divorced. Steeger had a five year relationship with the Klimbim producer Michael Pfleghar who constantly abused her, even on the film sets. Together with him she also made the tv series "Two heavenly daughters" and "Susi", which failed to become as popular as "Klimbim".

After the big game hunter Peter Koenecke the actor Jean-Paul Zehnacker, who also starred in "Susi", became the next man in her life. She took up residence with him near Paris from 1983 to 1986. An affair with the director Dieter Wedel led to small roles in his successful tv series "Wild West Inclusive" and "The Great Bellheim". In 1992 she met the Dakota Indian Tom LaBlanc and married him soon after, even though she could speak no English and he could speak no German. This marriage ended after three years.

Ingrid Steeger was often a guest star in German tv series. She had more success in the theatre, From the late 1970's onwards she frequently took leading roles in major stage productions such as "Kiss me, Kate".

The press is still interested in Steeger's private life in the new millennium. She is currently involving herself in work to aid orphans in Romania. She now lives alone in Munich.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Grüne Wüste (3 Stars)

Yes, I admit it. At the moment I'm on a German film kick. This isn't as unusual as it sounds. In the early days of cinema the films that were the most successful and also the most critically acclaimed were made in Germany. This started in the early 1900's with the first silent movies, and continued until the Second World War. People who closely followed the dialogue in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" already know this. The praise that is spoken for the films made during Hitler's rule is genuine. It wasn't until after the war that Hollywood became the major force in world cinema. Even today German films are worth watching, probably more than those made in any other non-English languages.

"Grüne Wüste" translates as "Green Wilderness", referring to the endless green when the children look down on the trees in the valley, and the film is subtitled "Whatever happens I shall always remain with you". It's a weepy coming of age drama about first love. Katja and Johann are 13 and live in a small farming community near the woods, the Odemwald in the south east of Germany. Their childhood friendship develops into a romance. When playing in a ruined castle they discover the grave of a knight buried in his armour, and they spend all their time carefully digging up the body, planning to open a museum when they're grown up. But the relationship doesn't run smoothly. Katya's mother is having an affair with Johann's father, oblivious to the fact that Katya is traumatised by seeing her mother with two different men. Things deteriorate further when Johann is diagnosed with cancer.

This is a deeply disturbing film. I found the scenes where Johann was in hospital so unsettling that I had difficulty watching the rest of the film. It's not a bad film, on the contrary, but it's not a film that will make the viewer feel better.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Böseckendorf (5 Stars)

East Germany, October 1961. The barbed wire fences separating the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic are due to be replaced by concrete walls. In preparation for this the small village of Böseckendorf, population 300, is going to be evacuated because it lies too close to the border. The members of the farming community will lose their land, receiving no compensation, and will be sent to live in cities far away. The people of the village refuse to accept this and decide to flee to the West en masse, even though they know that the border guards have orders to shoot anyone trying to break through.

I've read a lot of negative criticism of this film. Most of it comes from former residents of Böseckendorf who remember what happened. They say that the events in the film are over-dramatized. In the film the villagers are seen crossing a river, although no river flows anywhere near the village. I understand the complaints, but people have to understand that the film isn't meant to be a documentary. It's a film based on the true events, but altered slightly to make it more entertaining. As such, the film is a success. We see the hypocrisy of Communism, claiming to have liberated East Germany, but actually suppressing the people much more cruelly than Hitler ever did. While not a historically accurate picture of the events in Böseckendorf a vivid picture is painted of life in East Germany and the terror of living under Communism. Five stars.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A year ago in winter (3 Stars)

A powerful emotional drama. Lilli is a 20-year-old performing arts student. Her mother is the owner of a chain of fashion stores. Her father is a famous scientist and author. Lilli's perfect world breaks apart when her younger brother commits suicide for no apparent reason. One year later her mother commissions an artist to paint a portrait of the two children together, as if the brother were still alive. Over the following few months Lilli grows close to the artist while embarking on a voyage of self-discovery.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Aimee & Jaguar (2 Stars)

This is a true story based on the autobiography of Lilly Wust. She's a woman living in Berlin in the middle of the air raids in the later days or World War Two. She's married to a soldier fighting on the Russian front, but in his absence she's having affairs with other men. One day in 1943 she meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman, Felice Schragenheim, who works for a Nazi newspaper. Unknown to her Felice is a Jew who is pretending to be a loyal German in order to pass information to the resistance.

While I don't doubt that the film is accurate, the background seems absurd to the modern viewer. In the middle of wartime Berlin there's a group of lesbian Jews who are still living the lifestyle of 1930's German decadence, but in their own homes, not in clubs or cabarets. Even after the second viewing it was difficult for me to comprehend. I'll give it 2 stars for now, but I might raise the rating next time I watch it.

Berlin 36 (4 Stars)

This true story is a case of fact being stranger than fiction. 1n 1936 Germany was due to host the Olympic Games in Berlin. America threatened to boycott the games if Jewish athletes weren't allowed to compete. The world's best female high jumper at the time was a German Jew called Gretel Bergmann. She had already emigrated to England, but she was encouraged to return to Germany to train for the Olympics. Behind the scenes the German authorities were terrified of the negative propaganda if a Jew won the gold medal for Germany, so they desperately hunted for a better German athlete. And they found one. Unfortunately it was a man, so they had to disguise him as a woman to take part. I suppose the medical checks weren't as stringent in those days.

This is a fascinating film which shows primarily how "normal people" hated Jews. Gretel had to fight to prepare for the Olympic Games while being treated as an unwanted foreigner in her own country.

Mean Girls (3½ Stars)

Like "Heathers" this is a film about a high school clique. The humour in this film isn't so dark, although there are traces of morbidity. Basically, it's a similar story of an outsider taking on the in clique and winning. Amusing.