Wednesday, 30 November 2011
This film is called "Road Kill" in England, which is a better choice than the original title.
Lewis Thomas, a young college student in New Jersey, drives to Colorado to meet a high school crush of his, Venna, when he hears that she's broken up with her boyfriend. On the way he takes a detour to Salt Lake City to bail his brother Fuller from jail, who's been arrested for being drunk and disorderly. With a CB Radio that they've purchased to get help avoiding speed cameras they play a prank on a truck driver with the handle Rusty Nail. Unfortunately the truck driver is a deranged murderer who pursues the two boys from state to state. They think they're free after escaping him, but after picking up Venna he appears again.
I have problems with this film. Considering the screenplay is by J. J. Abrams it ought to be a masterpiece. In fact, most of the reviews I've read rate it highly, and it was a box office success in 2001. Somehow it just didn't grip me. As a horror film it didn't make me jump in my seat. I felt disappointed when the truck driver had the chance to kill the two boys and then released them. The only thing that really lifted the film was Leelee Sobieski's outstanding performance as Venna. Yes, Leelee is my favorite actress, as my regular readers will already know. She's almost 30, isn't it time for her big breakthrough?
This was the first film I ever bought on DVD. I feel sentimental watching it. Do you remember what it was like with your first DVD? Were you like me? I watched the film. I watched all the extras. I listened to the director's commentary. I watched the film again. Ah, those were the days. Now I have over 2000 DVDs and I rarely listen to the commentaries. Unless the commentary is by Joe Bob Briggs, of course, in which case it's usually better than the film itself.
This is the third film in the Evil Dead Trilogy. While the first two films were horror, with a few comedy elements added in the second, this film is clearly a comedy from start to end. More than anything the film showcases Bruce Campbell's acting talents. He's one of the most underrated actors ever. Curiously, the full name of the film is "Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness". This is weird, because the character in the film is called Ash, it's not Bruce playing himself. Or maybe it is :)
The film begins at the point where the second film ends. Ash is sucked back from the cabin in the woods to 13th Century England, where there is a prophecy that a man who falls from the sky will defeat the forces of evil. The film ends on a cliffhanger, but after 20 years there's still no "Evil Dead 4". Come on, Bruce, wake up! It's time to save the world again!
Review of Evil Dead
Review of Evil Dead 2
Saturday, 26 November 2011
With a remake coming in February, and my own curiosity of this movie for some time, I decided to watch The Woman in Black last night. I can be a bit picky when it comes to horror/thriller movies, as modern movies usually prefer to go for the simple formula of tension build-up, followed up by finding either nothing or a quick unrelated scare followed up by the monster/killer. In my opinion this is a somewhat lazy way of handling scares, which doesn't really get to me. However, The Woman in Black certainly did...
The movie is an adaptation of a 1983 book by Susan Hill, as well as a stage production that has been running since 1987 (Now the second longest running play in the history of London's West End). The story is about a man named Arthur Kidd, a solicitor sent to Crythin Gifford, a small town on the coast of the UK to attend the funeral of Alice Drablow and then handle the organization of her estate in Eel Marsh. While in the church during the funeral, and afterwards in the cemetary, Arthur sees a mysterious woman in black watching him (Seen in the image above). As Arthur goes about the town, the people he speaks to about the house have this odd silence to them about certain facts, as well as any mentions of the Woman he saw. Throughout his time at the house, there is more sightings of the woman along with horrifying noises of some sort of accident that occoured out in the marsh. As Arthur continues to delve into Alice Drablow's things to find answers for what's happening, things continue to build, culminating in a very creepy climax to the film.
This is quite the interesting horror film that plays with your mind and keeps you on edge. Arthur Kipps makes for an excellent protagonist, beind someone that the audience can easily relate and sympathise with as he's led in the dark by the townspeople's silence concerning the house's history and the Woman. The Woman makes for a very unsettling sight as well. With no real special effects in the movie, it takes on a very realistic approach, giving the makeup work of a pale face and sunken eyed, piercing stare that sticks with you throughout her appearances. The fact that for the majority of her appearance she simply stands and stares adds to the unsettling nature, reminding me of the modern amateur video series of the Slenderman on youtube (Which is another character I also reccomend reading about and viewing the video series Marble Hornets, EverymanHYBRID, and Tribe Twelve).
I highly reccomend a viewing of this film as I don't think it will dissapoint. It's certainly made me curious to see the upcoming remake by Hammer Horror in February with Daniel Radcliffe. As an interesting side-note, Daniel will be taking over Adrian Rawlins' role as the protagonist Arthur, who had played his father during the Harry Potter series. Quite the interesting coincidence...
Friday, 25 November 2011
Victor Kaufmann is the son of a wealthy Jewish art dealer in Vienna. His best friend is Rudi Smekal, the son of their Austrian housekeeper. In 1938 Austria became part of Germany and everything changed. Rudi became a member of the SS, and the friendship was no longer possible. Victor and his family were sent to concentration camps, while Rudi took possession of the family villa.
But that isn't the end of the story. Only Victor and his family know the whereabouts of a Michelangelo drawing that has been in their family for 150 years. Rudi is sent to Poland to take Victor back to Vienna. On the way back their plane is shot down. Rudi is badly wounded, so Victor exchanges their clothes. Now Rudi has to experience life as a Jew while Victor lives as German.
While the first two films attempt to maintain an image of serious reporting, the third film crosses the line into exploitation cinema. It opens with Friedrich von Thun standing in front of the camera with the now obligatory introduction speech: "Ladies and gentlemen, you already know me if you are one of the 10 million viewers who watched the first two parts of the Schoolgirl Report. You must be asking what we can offer you in a third part. You will see that the following facts are new and even more shocking. Judge for yourselves." In the rest of the film Mr. von Thun, who later went on to appear in such films as "Schindler's List", only appears as a live interviewer on the streets of Hamburg.
Rosl Mayr, the grand old lady of German sex comedy, who gabbles away in her strong Bavarian accent. After lights out the girls and boys run into one another's rooms to have sex, where they're discovered by the hostel's owner. The following morning the girls sit outside talking about incidents from their lives, which forms the film's frame as the girls take turns. The girls repeatedly accuse one another of inventing stories, but the narrator insists that it is completely true. In the words of Friedrich von Thun, "Judge for yourselves".
The first scene is the hardest, and has been omitted from the German DVD release, even though it was on the VCR release and can still be found in the Austrian DVD edition. A 14-year-old girl is raped in the school toilets. The school caretaker finds her and promises to help her if she agrees to have sex with friends of his for money. The voice-over informs us that it is modern society that forces young girls into prostitution. That helps to put things right for any viewers who might be naive enough to blame the caretaker.
The next scene, while slightly amusing, also stretches the credibility gap. A teacher is shown groping the breasts of young schoolgirls during lessons, with the excuse of showing the difference between cotton and synthetic materials. When the teacher is taken to court the girls refuse to testify because he's such a sweet man. They sit together telling each other how he invited them home to give them their first sexual experiences. (This is the only frame within a frame in this film). The only girl who speaks out is one who was jealous because he only groped the others.
Next come two cases of incest. In the first a 15-year-old girl wants to have sex with her 10-year-old brother, but is interrupted by her father. The father hits her while the voice-over intones that the father is acting wrong, he should try to understand instead of punish. In the second case another 15-year-old finds her father having sex with a stranger while her mother is in hospital. She sees this as a threat to the family and offers to have sex with him herself to hold the family together.
In the next story a girl, again 15, seduces the father of a boy in her class. She has an affair with him based on sex alone. Amusingly, she calls him "little doctor" ("Doktorchen") as she demands sex again and again. When the affair becomes public she accuses him of rape in court. The voice-over quotes statistics to inform us that almost all cases of men raping underage girls are unjust, because the girl was the one who wanted it.
Michael Schreiner, pictured above, who has gone on to become a major star in German film and television.
Back to serious matters: in the next scene a young couple go to Munich's Oktoberfest. After a ride on the ferris wheel they find a quiet corner where they can have sex. An older man arrives who shoots and kills the boy while they are in the act. He them takes the girl to a cellar to rape her. And the omniscient voice-over explains that this is all the fault of the parents for letting their children go out alone after dark.
The voice-over continues by quoting Valerie Solanas' SCUM Manifesto. Or rather misquoting. He says that today's schoolgirls carry with them a copy of Solanas' Manifesto in which they're told to use men as sexual objects for their own gratification. As someone who has read the Manifesto many times I can guarantee you that nothing vaguely like this is in it.
And to end up a romantic story. A poor boy is in love with a rich girl. The girl's father, a factory owner, forbids them to see one another. So they meet in secret and decide to carry out a suicide pact. Will there be a happy ending? I can't give everything away, can I?
This is probably the weakest of the whole series of 13 films. The lack of plausibilty doesn't bother me. What jolts is the too stark contrast between serious and whimsical scenes. In the fourth film, which I intend to watch soon, things pick up again.
Thursday, 24 November 2011
Inception: the word means the beginning of something. That isn't the meaning of the word in this film. It's used to describe an innovative technology. If a "conception" is an idea that people have, "inception" is planting an idea into someone's head.
No date is named, wisely, but the scenario is the present day, maybe the near future. Everything looks familiar, but a new criminal technology has been developed. It is possible to enter another person's dream and persuade him to reveal secrets that he would never disclose while awake. This technology is called "extracting" and is the perfect means for industrial espionage.
Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is an extractor, the best in his field. He's hired to steal the secrets from a Japanese businessman, Saito, but fails because Saito is ready for the attack. Saito is nevertheless impressed with Cobb's skill and hires him to do a new job, planting a thought into the heir of a rival company to make him break up the company on his father's death.
The remainder of the film is a dizzying mix of visual effects and mind-bending plots. Cobb and Saito sink deeper and deeper into the heir's mind, until they're in a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream. Battles are being fought on all of the dream levels simultaneously. This is a complex film that requires the viewer to think actively in order to keep up with what's happening. Unlike films of similar complexity – "Donnie Darko", "Lost Highway", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" – there is no slow buildup. The viewer is challenged from the first minutes, and is even left dangling at the end. In the final scene the film ends while we're waiting to see if the top will stop spinning.
I didn't intend to watch "Inception". After its Oscar successes there seemed to be too much hype around it. Then two weeks ago there was a list of the 50 best films ever made in a German magazine. "Inception" was in first place, so I thought I'd check it out. And I'm not disappointed. Far from it. It's definitely one of the best films I've ever seen. Not the best, but in my top 20 at least. It's a film worth watching over and over again, so wait for my next reviews.
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
In the second film of the series German actor Friedrich von Thun, who merely carried out the street interviews in the first film, advances into a more prominent role. He introduces himself with his real name and leads the discussion with a group of concerned parents. He says that no second film was intended, but the thousands of letters received had persuaded the producers otherwise. I don't suppose the fact that the first film had been the biggest box office hit of 1970 had anything to do with it.
The scenes in the second film are shorter, and there are more of them. Each scene is followed by comments from psychologists, teachers and legal experts. The subjects shown are:
* Girls who seduce and blackmail their teacher to get better grades
* Girls who run away from home and are forced into prostitution
* A girl whose first attempt at sex fails
* Girls who are drugged and raped
* Girls (aged 15 and 16) who pose nude for magazines
* Girls (aged 17 to 18) who call for a taxi so they can have sex with the driver
* A 15-year-old nymphomaniac
* A 16-year-old girl who is pregnant
While this film contains more comedy than the first, there are serious undertones. In the first scene the teacher commits suicide after first one girl, then a second, then the whole class blackmails him for better grades. The nymphomaniac in the penultimate scene attempts suicide when the first man who satisfies her is charged with statutory rape.
While the first film concentrated on outdated morals, the main theme of this film is that Germany's laws are outdated. The legal age of consent is 16, but in our modern age girls of 14 should be allowed to have sex, because they are more mature than girls of previous generations. The majority of the people interviewed in the street supported this.
Hello everyone. I figured I would do my first review for this website with one of my absolute favourite thrillers of all time: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.
Hitchcock is known as one of the kings of thriller movies. His brilliant set-ups and character writing bring about excellent stories that pull in audiences in any age. The capabilities of shocking viewers with plot twists as well as using "gimmicks" (for lack of a better term) to ensure interest and full theatres is something not seen these days.
For those who have not seen this movie, the "gimmick" of the film when originally released in theatres was the rule enforced by Hitchcock that audience members would not be admitted after the film began. This was to ensure that people did not come in late and have the first twist of the movie spoiled...
And no, I won't be spoiling it here either. I believe in people experiencing this film in that same manner to get the full effect of it.
Janet Leigh plays Marion Crane, one of the protagonists in the film. She is a very "normal" character, easily portraying a likeable character that's easily to sympathise with. She works for a real estate agent and is given the task of taking $40,000 in cash to the bank to be held for saftey over the weekend. Rather than doing this, she makes a very impulsive decision to leave town with the money in order to use it to marry her lover, Sam Loomis, played by John Gavin. After a few tense scenes she finds herself having to stop at the Bates Motel during the middle of a rainstorm, unable to go any further due to lack of visibility. From here we are introduced to Norman Bates, played brilliantly by Anthony Perkins. He lives at a house on the hill behind the motel with his mother, a sickly but very strongly-opinioned woman that controls Norman's life whenever possible. From there the films spirals into a thrilling mystery of murder and cover-ups that will leave audiences stunned and shocked by the end.
This is truly a unique movie, with Anthony Perkins performance creating one of my favourite characters of all time, portraying Norman as an akward, stuttery man that leaves you with the feeling that something is just not right about him...
Tuesday, 22 November 2011
This is a moving drama of unimaginable depth. I admit that I sat crying during some of the final scenes.
Albert Pierrepoint is the most prolific executioner in British history. Between 1933 and 1955 he hanged 608 criminals. He chose the job of hangman because it had been his father's trade, and he wanted to "continue in the family business". The film shows him as having the utmost respect for his victims. Whatever they'd done, by dying they paid for their crimes, and by executing them he was making them innocent. He was not just serving society, he was serving his victims. Not only did he hang his victims, he also washed the corpse and laid it in the coffin.
Pierrepoint remained anonymous in his early years. Even his closest friends did not know his occupation. Since hanging was a free-lance job, payment only made per hanging, he had a regular job delivering groceries. He achieved celebrity status after the war, when he was sent to Germany where he hanged 202 war criminals. Until then he had maintained a strict separation between his work and his social life, which was disrupted when his friends began to praise him for his work. The turning point for him came in 1950 when he had to hang a close friend.
In 1955 he resigned over a disagreement about payment in the case of last-minute reprieves. If he travelled to an execution and the prisoner was pardoned, he received no payment, not even to cover his travel expenses. After his retirement opponents of the death penalty claimed that he had crossed over to their way of thinking, but despite a few statements quoted out of context he never regretted his career choice.
The American release of this film incorrectly calls it "Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman". Albert Pierrepoint resigned in 1955, but executions were carried out by other executioners until 1964.
Monday, 21 November 2011
This film is about one of the forgotten incidents of World War Two: the massacre of 22,000 Polish army officers by the Russians in 1940. When the war began Germany and Russia had signed a pact that deemed they would cooperate in the event that one of them was attacked by another country. The public part of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact made it sound like a non-aggression pact, but there were confidential paragraphs that agreed on more active cooperation. As a reaction to England declaring war on Germany, Russia invaded Poland. The opening scenes of the film show the absurd situation of Polish refugees fleeing westwards to escape the Russians while other refugees were fleeing eastwards to escape the Germans, and crossing one another on a bridge.
Germany and Russia worked closely in the division of Poland. Stalin requested that all captured army officers be handed over to the Russians. In return all other soldiers were handed over to the Germans. Germany imprisoned the POWs and treated them relatively humanely; Russia executed the Polish officers and buried them in mass graves in the forest near Katyn. Those who died at Katyn included an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, 3,420 NCOs, seven chaplains, three landowners, a prince, 43 officials, 85 privates, 131 refugees, 20 university professors, 300 physicians; several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers; and more than 100 writers and journalists as well as about 200 pilots.
The killings were methodical. After the personal information of the condemned was checked, he was handcuffed and led to a cell insulated with stacks of sandbags along the walls and a felt-lined, heavy door. The victim was told to kneel in the middle of the cell, was then approached from behind by the executioner and immediately shot in the back of the head. The body was carried out through the opposite door and laid in one of the five or six waiting trucks, whereupon the next condemned was taken inside. In addition to muffling by the rough insulation in the execution cell, the pistol gunshots were also masked by the operation of loud machines (perhaps fans) throughout the night. This procedure went on every night, except for the May Day holiday.
Evidence of the massacre was discovered by the western powers late in the war years. Russia claimed that the massacre had been committed by the Germans in 1941, after Russia had withdrawn from Poland. Anyone in Poland who denied that the Germans had been guilty for the massacre was imprisoned; in fact, it remained a criminal offence to deny German responsibility until 1989.
Note: Throughout this review I have called the country "Russia" instead of using its official name, the "Soviet Union" or the "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" (USSR). This is a deliberate choice on my part. Calling the country a union implies a voluntary coalition of free states. In actual fact, the 14 member states were enslaved to Russia. The country that waged war against Poland was Russia, and its 14 slave states were dragged into the conflict against their will.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
The film was recommended strongly, "one of the best love stories ever made". That isn't how I see it. The film was so predictable that I knew what would happen and kept thinking "Get on with it!" For me "The Notebook" is just "Titanic" on dry land. And "Titanic" is better.
To summarise the film: girls from a high school go on a bus trip to see a power plant. While the class tours the plant one of the girls returns to the bus to seduce the driver. The teacher returns and finds them having sex on the back seat. The school's headmaster calls a meeting of parents to discuss whether the girl should be expelled. At first the parents favour expulsion, until one of the parents, who is introduced as a youth psychologist, tells a series of stories to the other parents to describe the sexuality of modern schoolgirls. These stories, which take up the majority of the film, lead to the parents voting unanimously against the expulsion.
In the first story a schoolgirl exposes her breasts to a Catholic priest during confession. In the next a schoolgirl seduces her sports teacher. Then we see three very young girls seducing the lifeguard at an outdoor pool. Two girls are shown having sex with classmates for the first time. Another girl has her first sexual encounter with an older man. Yet another schoolgirl experiments with lesbian sex before choosing men. In between the scenes there are interviews on the street where girls are stopped and asked their opinions on sexual questions.
The Schoolgirl Report films, and the other report films that mimicked their success, were a cultural phenomenon. The great success of this series was due in part to sexuality in Germany being a taboo topic, leading to curiosity about the details of sex. Another factor was the German paranoia after they had lost a war and their country was divided. Yet another factor is that the films have their roots in German literature. It's no coincidence that Schiller is quoted during the film. The film has the structure of 18th Century "Rahmennovellen" ("frame novels"). In the film the youth psychologist tells stories about himself. In these stories nested stories are reported to him. In one of the stories a girl even tells her friend about her experiences, leading to a four-fold nesting.
Thursday, 17 November 2011
I expect most of my readers know this series, since it was one of the most successful and critically acclaimed television dramas of recent years. It tells the tale of people who live among us who have super-powers, or, as the show calls them, "abilities". Some of them are good, some are bad, so we see a world divided into heroes and villains. In the opening episodes we get the impression that these people with abilities are independent of one another, but as the series develops we see that they are all inter-connected, though few of them realise it.
The series was very popular, watched by more than 10 million viewers per week in the first season, but the viewing figures dropped later, and it was cancelled after the fourth season. Why did the audience lose interest? I personally find the later seasons just as compelling as the first season. I see one big problem: the complexity of the stories. There are a lot of different characters with different interwoven story arcs. It's easy to follow if you're watching the series on DVD, but how could viewers keep up if they were only watching one episode per week? People would need to make notes to keep up. On several occasions there were cliffhangers which weren't resolved until two or three episodes later. This was an unusual way to structure a television series. It is more suitable to comic books, because the reader can go back and flip through the previous issue if he's forgotten the reason for something happening.
The stories were complex in themselves. Characters were travelling backwards and forwards through time, changing events. Apart from simple abilities like flying or super strength, some characters were capable of copying, stealing or removing the abilities of others. Some characters had abilities which changed during the course of the series. Some good guys turned bad, and bad guys turned good. How can anyone keep up if he's only watching one episode a week?
I advise everyone to buy the DVD box set, which is now available relatively cheap. If you watch just one episode you'll be drawn in and have to watch them all.
Saturday, 5 November 2011
The year is 1989. Franzi moves to West Berlin to go to university. She rents an apartment a hundred yards from the Berlin Wall. She attracts the attention of Sascha, an East German border guard, and soon a romance begins. Franzi exchanges places with Sascha's friend Uschi so she can remain in East Berlin. The following developments are farcical. The German secret police suspects Franzi of working for the CIA. They blackmail Sascha to work for them to get her secrets. The German secret police hire Uschi to spy on Sascha, not realising she is really Franzi. The CIA hire Franzi to spy on Sascha, not realising she is really Uschi. The German secret police hire Franzi to be a double agent and supply them with CIA information, not realising she is Uschi. The CIA and the German secret police already have double agents in one another's headquarters and are passing information backwards and forwards about this dangerous couple, turning the love affair into an international incident. And don't forget what I said at the beginning: the year is 1989, and all around them society is collapsing. Anarchy and running street fights are daily occurrences.
I don't believe this film is available in English. If your German is good enough it's worth watching.
Thursday, 3 November 2011
This film has nothing to do with the film "Blue Angel". The packaging is abysmal; the DVD cover has a photo of Asia Carrera, who appeared in "Blue Angel" but not in this film. The idea behind the film is interesting, but it's poorly acted. Don't waste your time with it.