Thursday, 23 February 2012

X-Men: First Class (5 Stars)

My guest writer Kay already reviewed this film here.

Of the four X-Men films made so far this prequel is the best. From the beginning it drew me in with its excitement, drama and fast pacing. I quickly grew to love the characters of Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto). It's amusing to see the young Charles as a womanizer.

The film begins in 1944, but most of the events take place in 1962 against the background of the Cuban missile crisis. I can't fault the film as an opus within itself, but it takes great liberties with the chronology of the X-Men comics and the Marvel universe in general. Random characters are thrown together who were up to 20 years apart in their first appearances in the comics. Sebastian Shaw knew Magneto as a child? Mystique grew up as Professor X's sister? And Hank McCoy turned blue before the X-Men were formed? Tut tut tut..... Still, it was fun watching the characters I know and love. Even if they were anachronisms. I was surprised at the inclusion of Riptide in Sebastian Shaw's Hellfire Club, since he was a relatively minor character who wasn't introduced until 1986. The only character I didn't recognise was Darwin. I had to google to find out who he was, and he actually didn't appear in the X-Men comics until 2006. The reason for his inclusion must have been his skin colour; the film had to be politically correct and include at least one black mutant. Silly.

Click here to watch the trailer.

And click on this picture if you want to read about the REAL X-Men first class, as they were first portrayed in the comics in 1963. Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Iceman and the Beast. Those were the good old days.

Attack the Block (4½ Stars)

An excellent British film that I already reviewed here. Some films are so good that they're worth rewatching. Great acting by young unknown actors. You can buy it in England for £5 or in America for $20. No comment.

Click here to view the trailer.

The Elder Son (4 Stars)

This is a beautiful family drama about a Russian family living in Los Angeles. Rade Serbedzija plays Max, a clarinet player who has been fired from his orchester because of his drinking. His 14-year-old son Nikita (Reiley McClendon) is madly in love with the 31-year-old English teacher who lives next door. His 18-year-old daughter Lolita (Leelee Sobieski) is dating a pilot that she doesn't love just to escape from the poverty and cramped living conditions.

Their life is changed when a car thief on the run from the police enters their lives. Bo, played by Shane West, convinces Max that he is his long lost elder son and is accepted into the family. What starts as a scam develops into something deeper as Bo develops a love for his "father" and a fascination with Russian culture. But then things grow complicated when he falls in love with his "sister".

This is a simple little comedy with a predictable ending, but what makes it good is the quality of the acting. Rade Serbedzija is a veteran actor of great quality, and Leelee Sobieski lifts whatever role she plays to the level of genius.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Scream 4 (4½ Stars)

The Scream trilogy was complete. Nicely rounded off. A film trilogy that will stand for all time as a classic. Then 11 years passed. And now... a new film? What's it about? The trilogy has become a tetralogy? Or it's the first film in a second trilogy? See "Star Wars". I'm not sure. I haven't heard anything about a "Scream 5" being planned, but anything is possible.

The film continues in the same vein as the previous films. Sidney Prescott, no longer a teenager, is being stalked by an interchangeable serial killer. In every film a different person puts on the mask of "Ghostface" to spread his revenge. And as in all films the characters claim they are in a horror film and have to follow the rules of horror films if they want to survive. The movie buffs in the film use the word "reboot" to describe the film a few times, but it's not really a reboot. To be a reboot it would have to be new actors playing the old characters.

Is the film good? I missed "Scream 4" in the cinemas, and I read a lot of reviews before finally watching the film. Most of the reviews were negative. "Nothing new", "the same old story", etc. Well duh! That's the whole point. The film is deliberately rehashing the old plots. Each new incarnation of Ghostface is a copycat killer, that's the whole premise of the film series. And the characters in this film are looking at the old killings (which have been filmed as the "Stab" films within the films) and expecting the killer to make the same moves. "Nothing new" is the film's strength. So whatever anyone else says, I love it.

Click here to view the trailer.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Uprising (5 Stars)

If anyone has the least doubts that Leelee Sobieski is the world's best actress he should watch this film. "Uprising" tells the story of the uprising of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto against the Germans in 1943. We all know that the Jews were slaughtered by the much better armed German forces. While not denying the inevitable outcome, the film concentrates on the successes of the Jewish resistance fighters. Before they died they killed as many of the Germans as they could.

Leelee plays the role of Tosia Altman, a courier who smuggled messages out of the ghetto and brought weapon back in. The acting throughout is superb, but Donald Sutherland deserves special mention as the leader of the Jewish council, tragically pleading his countrymen to remain at peace with the Germans because he expected them to be reasonable.

Here is a photo actually taken in the ghetto at this time. It was intended as a pro-German propaganda photo to show the efficiency of the work of the German army. But what is your impression when you see it?

I feel like I should write something about the horrors of the German Nazi regime and what they did to the Jews, but I don't think I could do the subject justice. Not at this time, anyway. It's something I need to spend a whole day writing about, and I don't have the time. All I'll say for now is that the times may change, but the global hatred of the Jews doesn't. The Jewish people have returned to their land after centuries in exile, but the Moslems today present phony arguments to claim that Israel doesn't really belong to them. Some people in the west are foolish enough to support their anti-Jewish rhetoric, but they're just as naive as the westerners who thought that Hitler was sending the Jews to work camps for their own good. Islam is just as evil as National Socialism, and it has the ultimate goal of slaughtering all the Jews in Israel.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Strange Circus (4½ Stars)

What is real, and what is not?

This film by director Sion Sono plays on different levels of reality. It opens with a 12-year-old girl called Mitsuko being taken to a circus where she is invited to place her head in a guillotine. This is a dream. Or is it? From here we move to reality, where we see Mitsuko at school. Her father is the school's headmaster (Am. principal). Her father calls her to his office and forces her to watch pornographic films that he's projecting onto the wall.

At home the situation is far worse. Mitsuko's father makes her hide in a cello case in his bedroom so she can watch her parents having sex. Later he begins to rape her in front of his wife. Mitsuko is confused and sees her mother as a competitor for her father's love. She begins to take her mother's place, wearing her clothes and using her name.

But then we find out that this is only a story being written by Taeko, a wheelchair-bound authoress. Or is it? Her assistants suspect the novel is autobiographical, so they ask a new member of the team to find out the truth from her. But is he prepared for the secrets he will find?

The film is visually dazzling despite the sordid subject matter of incest and child abuse. Shocking and beautiful.

Click here to view the trailer.

P.S. Please only buy the American edition I link to in the picture above. This is the uncut version. There is also a censored version on sale.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Nasty Girl (4½ Stars)

This film is based on the true story of Anna Rosmus from Passau. Although it keeps close to the details of Anna's autobiography, the names of the characters and the places are changed. This was a deliberate decision by director Michael Verhoeven, because he wanted to show that any town in Germany could be guilty of the same crimes; the difference is that in other towns no young person was nasty enough to stand up and expose the sins of her townspeople.

And so the film tells the story of Sonja Wegmus in the Bavarian town Pfilzing in the late 1960's and early 1970's. The film starts by showing the pressures on a modern young girl growing up in a strongly religious environment. She excels in her convent school, partly due to the nuns passing her the exam questions in advance as a reward for her uncle's generous donations to the school. She is then asked to write an essay entitled "My town in the Third Reich". She had heard so much about the church resisting Hitler, so she was surprised that when she went to interview the town's church and political leaders she was given no exact details. On the contrary, her attempts to access the town's archives were forbidden. She is unable to finish the essay while at school, but the topic occupies her for years, and her investigations slowly reveal that the church is denying that it had collaborated with the Nazis.

A thoroughly enjoyable film. The English DVD cover shown above claims it is a comedy, but the serious elements heavily outweigh the film's few comic moments.

Red Riding Hood (3½ Stars)

This is a 21st Century retelling of the traditional fairy tale. It's been compared with "Twilight", but I see more similarity with "Moby Dick". Valerie is a young woman who lives in a remote village. Every month at full moon they offer their best animal as a sacrifice to a wolf in return for their lives being spared. One month Valerie's sister is murdered by the wolf, breaking the truce, and the villagers decide to hunt it. But there's a connection between Valerie and the wolf. She's the only one who can speak to him. The wolf offers to leave the village forever if Valerie will leave with him.

The renowned wolf hunter Father Solomon is invited to the village to lead the hunt. He tells them that the wolf is actually one of the villagers, which makes the film a whodunnit. Everyone around Valerie becomes a suspect and is tortured to confess his guilt.

Click here to view the trailer.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl (4 Stars)

This is the third Japanese film I've watched in a row. Yes, I'm a big fan of Japanese cinema, especially Japanese horror films. This is a horror mixed with comedy, as the title might suggest, but the humour is subtle. The film doesn't play for jokes, but the viewer has to chuckle over some of the more absurd scenes. Like when the "Frankenstein girl" detaches her arm and attaches it to her head to use it as a propellor and fly.

But let's get to the plot, most of which takes place in a Japanese school. Judging by appearances the classmates are about 16. Keiko is the classroom beauty, and also the leader of the clique of cool girls. Her father is the school's headmaster, which is an additional factor in her favour. Her boyfriend is Mizushima, the only good looking boy in the class. Things go well until a new exchange student arrives, Monami, who also wants to be with Mizushima. On Valentine's Day Monami gives Mizushima chocolates, which I'm told is a tradition in Japan; on February 14th women give chocolates to the men they love. What Mizushima doesn't realise is that Monami is a vampire, and she's added her blood to the chocolate filling which turns him into a vampire.

The jealous girls fight over the boy, but Keiko is no match and Monami kills her. Luckily her father spends time in the school science lab trying to bring the dead back to life. He kills other schoolgirls and stitches their body parts together with Keiko's head to resurrect his daughter. Keiko uses her new superhuman strength to battle Monami once more to win back her boyfriend.

Cheap looking special effects. A ridiculous plot that strains credibility to the limit. And yet it's good fun. More enjoyable than the (objectively) better film "13 Assassins" which I reviewed earlier today.

Click here to view the trailer.

13 Assassins (3½ Stars)

The film takes place in Japan at the end of the Samurai era, probably around 1840. The old ways of honour and loyalty are dying. Where noble men once fought battles of skill with swords, now any unskilled buffoon can buy a gun to shoot his enemies. Against this background the corrupt and sadistic young man Naritsugu inherits the leadership of the shogun from his father. This causes a rift among the samurai. Half say that they should follow him regardless of his moral qualities because it's the "shogun way". The other half want to oppose him, though they prefer to do this by assassination, because they agree that he is the rightful leader as long as he lives.

This is a film that I'd heard a lot about. It's a remake of a 1963 film with the same name, but it borrows more of its style from the 1954 film "Seven Samurai". The film is advertised as having the longest battle scene ever, lasting 45 minutes. And Takashi Miike is one of Japan's best directors.

Unfortunately I had difficulty relating to the film. Everything in the first 90 minutes was a build up to the final battle (which only lasted 30 minutes, not 45 as advertised). For me it was painfully slow. Long discussions about honour and morality, no action. I also found that there were too many assassins to remember. All 13 were introduced by name, but as a typical viewer I could only remember the names and personalities of about five of them. The rest were a blur, especially in the final battle.

The strength of the film is the final battle, of course. If I were rating that scene alone I would give it at least 4 stars, maybe more. The rest of the film doesn't rise above 2 stars. I'll be generous and average it at 3½ stars. I do have to point out that other reviewers have rated this film highly, so if you're a fan of samurai epics check it out. And if you like it more than I do, leave a comment.

Click here to view the trailer.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Woman in Black (2012 version) [Guest Writer] (5 Stars)

So I'm back again to speak about the vengeful spirit from beyond the grave. As I have mentioned before, I'm not a big fan of modern horror movies due to their cliched stories and scare elements. When I heard this movie was being made, my love of Radcliffe's work aside, I was concerned that the film would fall into the same category and a potential for a great horror film would be missed...

I couldn't be happier to have been proven wrong on this outing.

The story is the same as the original (minus some character name alterations, mostly just last names): Arthur Kipps is off to Eel Marsh House to settle the affairs of the estate of Mrs. Drablow when he encouters the titular Woman in Black. The Woman's motivations are unknown to Arthur upon his arrival, as he cannot get any information from the townsfolk, and so he is pulled into the mystery of her past and uncovers the secrets surrounding her past.

The characters feel stronger in this film, showing a more genuine fear involved in a town's desperation to hide their secrets and keep people away from the Drablow estate, and the house itself feels much more alive. The '89 version, in retrospect, is quite clean for a home that was inhabited only by a woman in her 70s. The 2012 version feels dusty and lived-in, lit only with candles (No more electricity like the '89 one)

Altogether, from my own reactions along with those in the theatre, this is definitely worth a viewing. However, if you have issues with theatre patrons freaking out and making noises of shock and surprise, it may be better to wait for later in the movie's run or when it's out on video.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Cold Fish (5 Stars)

Wow! This is the fourth film I've seen by director Sion Sono, after "Love Exposure", "Exte" and "Suicide Club", and I now rate him as one of my favorite directors. The film just blew me away. It's different to anything I've ever seen before.

Shamoto owns a small shop in Tokyo that sells tropical fish. He leads an uneventful life. His biggest problem is that his daughter doesn't like his young new wife who he married after his first wife's death. One day his daughter is caught shoplifting. The shop's owner is persuaded not to call the police by a man called Murata, who also owns a tropical fish shop, but much bigger. Murata and Shamoto become business partners, but Shamoto is soon shocked to discover that Murata is a mass murderer and he is expected to act as his accomplice.

It's difficult to describe the conspiracies and the intrigues that this normal man is dragged into. The police are watching Murata and ask Shamoto for his help. Murata's lawyer wants to kill Murata and asks him to help. But Murata already knows about the police and his lawyer's plans and expects Shamoto to remain loyal. The twists and turns in the plot will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end.

Click here to view the trailer.

The Trouble with Harry (4 Stars)

This 1955 film is one of the lesser known films in Alfred Hitchcock's later years. This isn't a suspense film or a thriller, it's a return to the style of his comedies that he made in the 1920's and 1930's. It almost seems like he's parodying his post-war films. One can never accuse Hitchcock of not having a sense of humour.

A hunter finds a man lying dead in a forest. Rather than being a whodunnit, this film is a who-didn't-do-it. The man has a gunshot wound, so the hunter assumes he has accidentally shot him and buries the body. Later he counts his bullets, realises he can't have done it and digs up the body. A woman in the village confesses to having killed the man, so he buries the body again to protect her. Then another woman confesses. To investigate they dig up the body again. And bury it again. And dig it up again. This is an all-round enjoyable farce. What do you do with a body that everyone claims to have killed?

Bikini Girls on Ice (4 Stars)

The provocative title of this film makes it sound like a soft porn romp, but it's actually a slasher flick. And not too bad. It's not up to the level of films like "Scream" or "Halloween", but it makes a good evening's viewing. And it has lots of pretty girls in bikinis. What's the excuse for the semi-naked tittilation? Read on.....

A group of girls are on their way to a fund-raising bikini car wash. On the way their bus breaks down at an abandoned gas station. Or at least they think it's abandoned. A crazed car mechanic (who bears an uncanny resemblance to WWE's Triple H) is lurking in the shadows picking off the gas station's visitors one by one. He throws the dead bodies into tubs of ice cubes. The cooling must cost him a fortune, because on this one day the body count was ten. The film is no classic, but turn the lights down low, cuddle up with your partner on the sofa and turn on the film. You won't be disappointed.

Click here to watch the trailer.