Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Las Vegas Serial Killer (2 Stars)

I was asked a short while ago how I come across so many obscure films. I assume that this is one of the films that my friend was referring to. The only way to answer the question is to deny that films like this are truly obscure. Obscurity is in the eyes of the beholder. If you're someone who only knows the films that you see in the cinemas, anything older than 10 years must seem obscure to you. Depending on your age, of course. If you only watch English language films, anything from other countries must seem obscure. If you only watch Hollywood blockbusters, low budget films must seem obscure to you.

I review films from any age. My very first review was "Metropolis", made in 1927, and yesterday I reviewed "Avengers Assemble", made in 2012. I review a large number of German films, most of which are well known to people who live in Germany. I watch many low budget films. Anybody who appreciates the magic of cheap films that rely on a good plot rather than fancy special effects knows the name Ray Dennis Steckler. He was a director who made about 30 films from 1962 to 1997. When people say "low budget" they usually mean a film that costs less than $100,000 to make, but Steckler's budgets were the lowest of all. Some of his films were allegedly made for less than $500. This was possible by using his family and friends as actors, and filming everything himself. His most famous film is "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies", made in 1963. I strongly recommend that film, but "The Las Vegas Serial Killer" isn't one of his best.

The film is about Jonathan Glick, a killer who is released from prison and settles in Las Vegas. Far from being reformed, he immediately sets out on a killing spree, murdering prostitutes and nude models. At the same time two petty thieves are operating in Las Vegas, mugging women and stealing their handbags. Glick kills a woman shortly after she has been robbed, leading to the thieves being the main murder suspects.

The problem with this film is that unlike Steckler's usual films there is no real character development. We have no explanation for the way Glick is; he merely stalks the streets and kills. The two thieves hardly talk to one another, so we don't get a chance to understand them. The film is as cold as a documentary.

Batman Begins (4 Stars)

I saw this film in the cinema when it was released in 2005. At the time I was disappointed. In a way I still am. The problem isn't that it isn't a good film. It's an excellent film that tells the story of one man's journey to overcome the fear and guilt that has tortured him all his life. My problem with the film is simply: it's not Batman. This isn't Batman in any of his incarnations; the dark detective of the 1940's and 1950's, the camp superhero of the 1960's and early 1970's, or the brooding crime fighter of the late 1970's till today. If anything, I'd say that the character we see in the film is really Daredevil in a different costume.

Watching it again today, for the first time since 2005, I tried to clear my mind. Instead of looking at it as a copy of the comic books I tried to accept it as a film in its own right. Yes, looking at it that way it succeeds. This is a new Batman, but he's a Batman we can respect in his own right. It's amazing how similar Christian Bale looks to Michael Keaton when wearing the Batman mask, they look nothing like one another otherwise.

On second viewing I enjoyed the film a lot more. It seems like a film I should watch a third time to get to know it better. I'll review the plot then.

Click here to view the trailer.

Avengers (5 Stars)

It might surprise my readers to know that I don't often go to cinemas. Usually it's four to six times a year, but this is the first film I've seen on the big screen since I went to see "Paul" 12 months ago. There aren't many films that I consider worth the additional expense involved. It isn't just the high price of the film ticket. I also have to reckon in the price of the bus fare to the city centre. And the price of wine gums. Yes, wine gums. It's a ritual with me. When I go to the cinema I must have a packet of wine gums, preferably Bassett's. This time it had to be Haribo wine gums, the second best. I try to pick a time when the cinema is empty. Early in the day, and not in the first week. For "Avengers Assemble" I was successful, there were only three other people with me for the early afternoon show. I don't have a problem with crowds as such. It's the smell of popcorn. It makes me feel sick. I have to sit at a safe distance from anyone with popcorn. At least my wine gums don't smell.

But now to the film itself. By the time I'm writing this it's officially the third most successful film ever. The final box office figures have yet to be published, but it's unlikely it will overtake the other two, "Avatar" and "Titanic". There has been a long buildup to this film, starting with "Iron Man", then continuing with "Iron Man 2", "Thor" and "Captain America". Was it worth the wait? Does the film live up to its hype? I say yes.

Joss Whedon has done a great job, as far as the portrayal of the characters is concerned. Thor is closer to his personality in the comics books than he was in his own film. In the trailer Thor laughed in response to a quip from Tony Stark. In the film itself the quip is still there, but the laugh has been cut. Smart thinking. Thor is a serious character, it's all about battles and glory, he doesn't have a sense of humour. Captain America excels in this film, unlike in his solo film. He's the weakest of the Avengers, but he's a natural leader, as we see in the later fight scenes. The other Avengers don't hesitate to follow his orders. Unfortunately there's a scene where he carries a gun, again. Iron Man was already perfect in his solo films, and he remains so here. After the disappointing performance of Eric Bana in the first Hulk film I loved Edward Norton's performance in the sequel, but Mark Ruffalo is even better. Supposedly he's signed up to make six films as the Hulk, so we can finally expect some continuity.

I'm a bit disappointed with the new guy, Hawkeye. He seems much too tech savvy in the film. In the comics his background is as a circus performer. He should be more down to Earth. And what happened to his costume? His mask? The H on his head? His costume in the film is almost as bad as Halle Berry's Catwoman costume. The Black Widow's costume isn't very accurate either, but I'll let that pass since her costume in the comics varied greatly over the years.
I've heard some criticism that the Avengers spend half of the film fighting one another while the real bad guy, Loki, sits on the sidelines and gloats. This isn't incorrect. There were a lot of fights between the Avengers in the comics, starting in Avengers #16 with the new line-up (Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch). Most of the fights were between Captain America and Hawkeye. The other fights in the film certainly don't seem out of character.

I'll refrain from writing about the film's plot, since my guest writer Kaylena has already promised a full review. Let me just end this post with a few words about Thanos, who appeared in the middle of the credits sequence. The words he speaks are cryptic, but easy to understand for anyone who knows writer Jim Starlin's epic stories from the 1970's and 1980's.
"Humans! They are not the cowering wretches we were promised. They stand. They are unruly, and therefore cannot be ruled. To challenge them is to court death".

I await the next films with trepidation. Thanos is the most powerful enemy ever faced by the Avengers, a tragic figure who could only be defeated because he was weakened by his love being spurned. But this is the reason I'm nervous. An all-powerful being who can do anything, such as killing 50% of the living creatures in the universe by snapping his fingers, works well in comics, but how will he be portrayed in films? Even Galactus, who is far weaker than Thanos, was hardly shown in the second Fantastic Four film. Let's wait and see. I might write a post about Thanos next month. Watch this space.

Click here to view the trailer.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (4 Stars)

The original version of this film, made in 1958, is hailed as a cult classic. Unfortunately I've never seen it. I only know this version, which was made in 1993. From what I've been told it keeps close to the original. The film is even set in the 1950's, not in the present date. The main improvement is in the more realistic special effects, and of course it's in colour. For me this is the film that I will always associate with the name of Daryl Hannah.

Daryl plays Nancy Archer, a rich woman who is the co-owner of her father's company. She is being used by both her father and her husband. By a stroke of luck she encounters a flying saucer which shines a ray on her that makes her very tall. The film is called "50 foot woman", but she looks bigger. She then has the chance to get revenge on the men in her life. This is an amusing feminist fantasy. And I hope I can get my hands on the original version soon.

Incidentally, let me add something to make my American readers jealous. I bought this DVD a week ago. I saw it on sale for £0.99, approx $1.54, and grabbed it straight away. Brand new, still factory sealed. I thought I'd got a great deal, but yesterday I checked and the price is £0.27 now, only 42 cents. At prices like that, why rent? Buy it, and if you don't like it throw it in the trash. It's great to live in England.

Europa Europa (5 Stars)

Yes, I confess that I've been refraining from writing reviews deliberately over the last few days. I wanted my tribute to my murdered friend, Brian Farmer, to remain at the top of my page. This might seem alienating to my regular readers who are only interested in my film reviews, but this was important to me. Sorry. Now I have a few reviews ro catch up on. The first is "Europa Europa", the true story of Solomon Perel.

Solomon was born into a Jewish family on April 20th 1925 in Peine, a small German town near Hanover. When the Nazis came into power his family emigrated to Poland, where they expected to be safe. In 1939 Germany invaded Poland. Solomon's family was arrested, while he himself managed to flee into Lithuania, which was under Russian control. He spent two years in an orphanage and became a passionate Communist. In 1941 the Germans conquered the area, and Solomon surrendered to them, claiming his name was Josef Peters, an ethnic German whose parents had been killed.

Even though he was only 16, Solomon/Josef worked in the German army as an interpreter. His two years spent in the orphanage meant he could speak perfect Russian. After a year he is sent to a Nazi academy in Berlin and becomes part of the Hitler Youth. This is where he remains until the Russians invade Berlin in 1945.

The film makes no attempt to excuse the way Solomon lived his life. He was no hero, he simply did what he could to survive. Even if it meant denying his faith to fit in as a good German. Under the same circumstances it's what I would have done too. A remarkable film that has won several awards. And yes, that's the beautiful and talented actress Julie Delpy in the photo above. This is one of her earlier films.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Off-Topic: Tribute to Brian Farmer

On May 19th at 6:10pm a man called Brian Farmer was found dead in his flat. His body had evidently been lying there for at least a week, and there was evidence of murder. The details are still unknown, so I'll update this post as soon as I know more. Or maybe I'll repost it to keep it at the top of my page.

Brian Farmer had been my friend and neighbour since 2003. We spent many hours sitting and drinking together. I want to post some of my memories of this wonderful but eccentric person.

Brian was born in Hay Mills, Birmingham in 1948. He served in the British army for 22 years. When he left the army in 1993 he came to live in Small Heath, Birmingham. He spent the last two years of his life living in Yardley, Birmingham. (For those unacquainted with Birmingham, Small Heath, Hay Mills and Yardley are neighboring districts that are linked by the Coventry Road).

In the army Brian worked as a driving instructor for tanks. He didn't only instruct British troops, he was also sent to Canada to teach Canadian soldiers. He told me an amusing story of an exercise he took part in in the north of Canada. Several tanks had to take part in a race to a place that was 30 miles away across the ice. Brian's tank was the only one to arrive, all the others got lost.

Brian's hobby while in the army was mountain climbing, and being posted to foreign countries gave him plenty of opportunity. Brian claims to be the only person ever to have climbed to the peak of Mount Fuji in the winter. He attempted the climb as the leader of a group of four soldiers. The base of Mount Fuji is guarded by American soldiers, since climbing attempts are forbidden in winter, but he forged a document saying he was allowed to make the climb. On the first day he could see that the three soldiers with him were having problems, so he brought them back down. He was about to abandon the mission himself, but then he spontaneously turned back and climbed to the peak as a solo mission.

Brian told me that the happiest day of his life was when he shot down a Turkish plane with a machine gun in Cyprus. He says that this was an amazing achievement, since the chance of shooting down a plane with a hand held gun is close to zero.

I asked Brian on more than one occasion how many people he had killed during his time in the army. At first he was evasive and changed the subject. Finally he told me that it's something he would rather forget. When he remembers the army he prefers to think about the good times drinking with his friends.

When Brian turned 40 he was put in charge of the officer's mess. At first he was annoyed at this, because it meant he was no longer in active combat, but he soon grew to enjoy his new job. It meant that he was allowed to grow his hair long, which is a rare privilege in the army. He also mixed with high ranking military personnel. In particular, he claimed to be a personal friend of Prince Phillip and spent time with him whenever he visited the troops.

In 1990 Brian volunteered to take part in the Gulf War. I don't know the reason he had to volunteer. Maybe his regiment, the Royal Irish Hussars, didn't take part in the war. Prince Phillip was present when he volunteered, and when he heard that a member of the regiment had volunteered Phillip said, "It must be Brian, he's the only person crazy enough."

After fighting in the Gulf Brian returned to his duties in the officer's mess. He could have continued with the job for years, but he retired for the sake of his son. Brian's son was also in the regiment, and it was a tradition that if father and son are in the same regiment the son is never promoted to a higher rank than his father. Brian had never advanced further than sergeant, so he thought he was holding his son back. After Brian retired his son was promoted twice within 12 months.

Brian had saved money and was planning to buy a cottage on the Isle of Skye. Unfortunately, his wife divorced him immediately after he said he was quitting the army. The savings were divided, and he couldn't afford his dream any more, so he returned to Birmingham.

After leaving the army Brian had problems dealing with "normal life" and was unable to hold down a job for more than a few weeks. When I met him in 2003 he was working as a traffic warden. One of his many jobs. He was fired because he was letting off elderly women with a warning. He told me that he didn't have the heart to write a ticket for little old women.

Brian's main hobby after the army was his motorbike. I don't know if he belonged to a club, but he went on biking trips with friends and visited biker bars. He had a large collection of LPs, mostly from the 1960's and early 1970's. He never owned a CD player. Brian liked to drink, especially beer and cider. He had a special mix of brown cider, white cider and rum which he proudly offered to his friends when they visited. I refused, it tasted vile to me, but he enjoyed it.

During his time in Small Heath, where he lived for almost 20 years, he lived in a squalid single room. He was obviously unable to look after himself. He kept his rifle, a souvenir from the army, in his wardrobe. I once asked him if it was loaded, to which he replied, "Mike, there's nothing as useless as an unloaded gun".

In his last few years he was having trouble with his memory. I first realised it was serious when he forgot the name of his granddaughter. Later on he forgot what road I lived in, even though he had visited me many times. As he became more confused the parasites descended on him to take advantage. He received his army pension on the last day of the month. The local drug addicts used to visit him on that day, claiming they were his friends and asking him for money. He was too senile to refuse, and he was almost broke by the next day. On one occasion he refused to open the door and his window was smashed. This led to him being evicted, but his new place in Yardley was bigger and better. Unfortunately the addicts soon found out his new address, and the cycle started again. It's almost certain that some of them were responsible for his murder. I'll post more details as I find out.

Link to the BBC report of Brian Farmer's murder.

Click here to view the police appeal concerning the murder of Brian Farmer.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Nightmare in Suburbia (4 Stars)

This is a 2004 German film called "Der Teufel von Rudow", literally translated "The Devil of Rudow". I prefer the English title.

Thorsten and Cora are two teenage university students who live in the small town of Rudow, just outside Berlin. When they go to McDonald's they can't get any hamburgers because the man in front of them buys all the burgers. They follow him home and see him standing in the street throwing the burgers over the fence into a garden. Their curiosity is further aroused when they meet a gun-wielding, karate-kicking leather-clad blonde waiting outside the house.

This is a very unusual German film. It doesn't seem German at all, it has the style of the American horror films of the 1990's. It's almost a parody, but not quite. It's more of a homage to recent American films and television series. References are made to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Tomb Raider", as well as to teen horror movies in general. The final battle takes place in front of a film poster of "I know what you did last summer". Very enjoyable. The film is available on DVD in German with English subtitles.

The Interview (3½ Stars)

The film "The Interview", written and directed by Theo Van Gogh, was made in 2003, a year before his death. Since then it has been remade twice, in 2007 and 2011.The film I'm reviewing is the 2007 version, starring Steve Buscemi and Sienna Miller.

Pierre Peders is a successful war journalist. After falling into disfavour with his boss he's sent to New Tork to interview Katya, the star of an American soap, "City Girls". He hates the assignment, he looks down on Katya, and she despises him for his lack of interest in her. After the initial arguments the interview goes ahead, but it's more of a cat and mouse game, in which Pierre and Katya play mind games with one another.

The acting by the two main characters is impressive. For most of the film they are the only characters. Some people might rate this film higher, but for me it was too slow. Nothing really happened.

Click here to view the trailer.

Theo Van Gogh is best known for making a short documentary film about the abuse suffered by Moslem women. After the film was shown on Dutch television he was murdered for telling lies about Islam.

The Majestic (5 Stars)

This is the third film that was directed by Frank Darabont. His first two films, "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile" are more famous, but this film is every bit as good.

The film takes place in 1951. Peter Appleton (played by James Carrey) is at the beginning of his career as a Hollywood screenwriter. The first film that he's written, "Sand Pirates of the Sahara", has just been released. Then he's visited by government agents who tell him he's been blacklisted and can never work again in the film business because he visited a meeting of the Communist party while he was in college. Peter gets drunk, he drives his car off a bridge, and he wakes up on the beach in the small town of Lawson with amnesia.

Lawson is stricken with grief because 72 of its young men, an enormous number in such a small town, have been killed in the Second World War. But Peter's arrival is a shock. He's mistaken for Luke Trimble, the son of the town's cinema owner, a war hero who hasn't been seen since 1942. He's taken in by the man who thinks Peter is his son, and together they reopen "The Majestic", the town's only cinema. Everyone is happy again.

I admit that this film isn't for everyone. It moves slowly, just like Darabont's first two films. And yet it's a masterpiece. Every detail of the small town life is memorable. It's difficult to describe the effect the film has on me. Jim Carrey is at his best. Brilliant!

Watch the trailer. That's the best way to get an impression of the film.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Audrey Hepburn Story (5 Stars)

When I started to write this review I gave the the film 4 stars, but as I wrote it I realised just how good it is and upped it to 5. This made-for-television movie is the peak of Jennifer Love Hewitt's career. I can't fault it, neither for its richness of information, nor for its entertainment value. I read many other reviews before writing this, and the majority are negative. They seem to have been written by Audrey Hepburn fans who consider it sacrilege for a "lesser" actress to step into her shoes. This isn't the case with me, so I feel that my review will be less biased.

The film starts with Audrey filming "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and her nerves at not being accepted by director Truman Capote, who had wanted Maralyn Monroe for the role. The rest of the film is shown in flashbacks.

Audrey was born in Belgium in 1929. She had an English father of unclear occupation (in the film, at least) and an aristocratic Austrian mother who called herself a baroness. When she was five her father left to work in London. She didn't meet him again until 1939, when he was arrested in front of her eyes as a Nazi sympathiser.

In 1937 Audrey was sent to a boarding school in England, where she developed a passion for ballet dancing. When the war broke out her mother took her to live in Holland, where she expected they would be safe. For a while Audrey was able to continue her school and her ballet lessons, but when Germany invaded Holland in 1940 they lived in fear. As a young girl Audrey assisted the efforts of the Dutch resistance.

After the war Audrey moved to England, where she continued her ballet lessons, until she was told that she didn't have the natural talent to become a prima ballerina. She became a chorus girl, but she was soon "recognised" and moved to America, first appearing in a Broadway play, "Gigi", then going to Hollywood where her film career took off. The rest of the film shows her film successes, her love affairs and her marriages

Jennifer Love Hewitt portrays Audrey Hepburn as a modest but lively young girl caught up in the whirlwind of a big world that overwhelmed her, whether the things around her were good or bad. She is so likeable and lovable. The film is touching because she's shown as spending all her life in search of her lost father. Is this a true portrayal of Audrey's character? If it is, I love her.

To answer the criticisms of the film. People say that Jennifer doesn't look like Audrey. I've looked at photos, and what are they talking about? The two are very similar. It can't be expected that they could have found an absolutely identical actress. In comparison, look at the many actors who have played Adolf Hitler over the years, everyone from Bruno Ganz to Robert Carlyle. Some look more accurate than others, but none are perfect. Admittedly, Jennifer is bustier than Audrey, but her clothing in the film succeeds in hiding this. Then people criticise that the film ends in 1961, so it doesn't show all the highlights of her career. I admit this is a problem, but the film lasts over three hours already, and they had to stop somewhere.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Following (4½ Stars)

This film is often considered Christopher Nolan's first full length film, but technically it isn't. At 67 minutes in length it's officially a short film, since 70 minutes is the borderline between short and full length films.

The film seemed strange when it started, but within 20 minutes I was riveted. The main character is Bill, an unemployed writer in London. No exact date is given, but the film seems to be set in the late 1980's. Bill spends his days following random people. Never the same person twice. No malicious intents. It's just voyeuristic curiosity.

The turning point comes when he's challenged by Cobb, a man he has been following. Cobb introduces himself as a burglar who doesn't just enter homes to steal things, he also wants to enter the lives of people and get to know them by examining their personal belongings. This fascinates Bill, and they commit crimes together. But it causes problems for Bill when he decides to follow one of the women he has robbed.

The film goes through many twists and turns. It's sometimes difficult to follow, since the scenes are shown out of chronological order. This seems to be a favorite style of Christopher Nolan, since he also did this in "The Prestige". I found the lack of chronology unnecessary in "The Prestige", but in "Following" it works well. However, I do recommend that my readers watch the film twice. A lot of the details aren't apparent until the second viewing. And the film is only 67 minutes long, after all.

Click here to view the trailer.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Scream 3 (5 Stars)

I'm a big fan of the "Scream" films, as regular readers of my blog will already know. I even like this film, which is generally considered inferior to the first two parts by horror fans. Maybe the problem they have is that Kevin Williamson didn't write the screenplay, he merely had an advisory role for the new writer, Ehren Kruger. I personally don't see any break in the continuity. It's a logical conclusion to the trilogy; logical as far as the rules of trilogies allow. Here are film freak Randy's thoughts on the matter:

Is this simply another sequel? Well, if it is, same rules apply. But here's the critical thing. If you find yourself dealing with an unexpected back-story and a preponderance of exposition, then the sequel rules do not apply. Because you are not dealing with a sequel. You are dealing with the concluding chapter of a trilogy. That's right. It's a rarity in the horror field, but it does exist, and it is a force to be reckoned with. Because true trilogies are all about going back to the beginning and discovering something that wasn't true from the get-go. Godfather, Jedi, all revealed something that we thought was true that wasn't true. So if it is a trilogy you are dealing with, here are some super trilogy rules.

One: you've got a killer who's gonna be superhuman. Stabbing him won't work. Shooting him won't work. Basically, in the third one, you've gotta cryogenically freeze his head, decapitate him, or blow him up.

Two: anyone, including the main character, can die. This means you, Sid. I'm sorry. It's the final chapter. It could be fucking Reservoir Dogs by the time this thing is through.

Three: the past will come back to bite you in the ass. Whatever you think you know about the past, forget it. The past is not at rest! Any sins you think were committed in the past are about to break out and destroy you.

I couldn't have said it better myself. The whole film is full of irony and self-parody on various levels. It's a meta-film. "Scream 3" is about a film being made about the Woodsboro killings, which took place in the first two films. The film within a film is called "Stab 3". The first two Stab films were based on the events of the first two Scream films, but since there have been no more killings since the end of "Scream 2", "Stab 3" is purely fictional. But now a killer has appeared who is killing people in the same order as the deaths in the screenplay of "Stab 3", so the film is coming true. We see doubles running through the film; the characters are accompanied by the actors playing their roles. And hanging over all of this are Randy's words, telling us that everything that is happening is part of a film. Different layers of reality. This is an incredible film, no less riveting than the first two.

Click here to view the trailer.
I reviewed "Scream" here.
I reviewed "Scream 2" here.
I reviewed "Scream 4" here.

Army of Saviours (3½ Stars)

This is a difficult film to rate. Did I enjoy it? In part, yes. I found the story fascinating, but at the same time alienating.

This is a true story, based on the autobiography of Marga Spiegel. In 1918 Menne Spiegel was a hero who fought for Germany and was awarded the Iron Cross for bravery. 25 years later he's considered an enemy of the German people, because he's a Jew. In 1943 he lives in the Westfalian town Ahlen with his wife Marga and his daughter Karin. The next day all the Jews are going to be sent to "work camps", but Menne has heard rumours that nobody returns from these camps alive. He persuades his wife to go into hiding on the farm of an old army comrade, Hermann Aschoff. Since his wife and daughter are blonde and don't look like Jews they can live in the open with false names, claiming that they have lost their home in a bomb raid. Menne himself has a typical Jewish appearance, so he has to be hidden in the barn of another farmer, Pentrop. Since the two farms are adjacent this leads to the absurd situation that Menne can look through the window of the barn and spy on his wife and daughter, but he can't leave the barn to talk to her.

The strength of this film is the portrayal of simple German farmers as heroes. Most of the friends and family of the farmers are loyal Nazis, so apart from the farmers themselves nobody can be told the truth about Marga. It focuses on the close friendship between Marga and Hermann's wife Anni, the only other person to be let in on the secret. The weakness of the film, for me at least, is its episodic character. Rather than showing a continuous story it shows disjointed scenes that occurred at random intervals during the two years the family was hidden. But I admit that this might be my problem. The film isn't meant to be entertaining, it has a documentary character.

The heroism of the farmers was successful. In 1943 there were 98 Jews who lived in Ahlen. 95 were sent to the work camps. None of them returned. At the end of the war Menne and his family were the only survivors.

Here's a trailer of the film when it was shown in American cinemas with the title "Saviours in the Night". The English DVD release is called "Army of Saviours".

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

One Way (4 Stars)

At its core this is a good old fashioned rape and revenge film, although the many plot twists disguise it. The film was a box office flop and slated by critics. Til Schweiger, who both produced the film and played the lead role, has defended the film rigorously and calls it a masterpiece that has a message for all women who have ever been raped. If that was his goal in making the film he's off target. Films like "I spit on your grave" and "Run Bitch Run" have more to say about this topic. The very fact that the film's central character is a man, not the woman who has been raped, distracts from the film's message.

When Angelina was a young teenager she was raped by four boys. They were found innocent in court for lack of evidence. Angelina had a breakdown and spent two years in a psychiatric hospital. Her only comfort was a fantasy in which a mysterious general appeared and executed the boys.

Now to the present. She works in a top advertising agency in New York. One day when she is working late she's raped by Anthony Birk, the owner's son. She turns to a co-worker for help, Eddie Schneider (Til Schweiger), who is her best friend and also engaged to marry the owner's daughter. Eddie pays for her hospital bills, but when the court case comes he gives a false statement that contradicts Angelina's story, making her whole story sound like a fantasy.

So the revenge ensues. With the support and approval of the general Angelina drugs Anthony, rapes him with a strap-on and shoots him. Unfortunately Eddie had been fighting with Anthony earlier in the evening, so he's arrested and put on trial for murder.

This synopsis of the plot might be misleading. I've told the story from the woman's perspective. The film actually shows everything from Eddie's perspective. He's the one put in the centre of the happenings, and his character, with all his strengths and weaknesses, are put in the spotlight. His suffering as a man falsely accused is focussed on rather than the rape itself. That's the film's biggest flaw. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the film, despite its lack of consistency. It is never boring.

The film runs for just under two hours. I decided to watch the interview with producer Til Schweiger. He said that the original cut was 3 hours 20 minutes long! Wow! Then he said that the DVD would include only the important scenes that had been deleted, not the trivial scenes. And yet the DVD still includes 57 minutes of "important" deleted scenes. If a "director's cut" is ever released I'd watch it out of curiosity. But I'm not sure that adding an extra hour to the story would improve it.

Click here to view the trailer.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Family Plot (3½ Stars)

This was the last film directed by Alfred Hitchcock before his death. It starts with two seemingly unrelated stories, and then brings them together as the film progresses.

Blanche Tyler is a fake psychic. She impresses her clients by telling them secret knowledge that her boyfriend, a cab driver and hobby detective, has discovered. One of her clients, a very rich woman, offers to pay her $10,000 if she can trace her nephew, the heir to her fortune, who was given up for adoption as a child. Her boyfriend is told that the heir has died, but he visits the burial place and the grave is empty.

The heir has faked his death after killing his parents. He is now living a life of a crime under a false name. Together with an accomplice he has been kidnapping people and demanding diamonds in exchange for their release. When he finds out that Blanche is searching for him he suspects she wants to blackmail him and tries to kill her.

An unusual story that suffers through the lack of a linear plot. Not one of Hitchcock's best films.

Hercules (4½ Stars)

It's hard to believe that when I first watched this film I didn't like it. I think the problem is that I compared it with the Hercules tv series, which I absolutely love. But this 2005 made-for-television film has very little in common with the series produced by Sam Raimi. The television series is camp fun, full of comic anachronisms, with each episode leading up to battle scenes that have more in common with ballet than actual fighting. This film is a serious adaptation of the Greek legends of Hercules. The epic proportions of the story remind me of why I liked to read the Greek myths when I was younger.

The story is set against the background of a war between Zeus and his wife Hera. Communities decide which side they want to take, which God they prefer to worship. The division also goes through families. The soldier Amphytrion (Timothy Dalton) worships Zeus, while his wife Alcmene (Elisabeth Perkins) is a high priestess of Hera. During a storm a sailor, Antaeus, is possessed by Zeus and rapes Alcmene. The following day she makes love to her husband before telling him about the rape. She becomes pregnant with twins, and an oracle tells her that she will have two boys from two different fathers. The two boys are Hercules, son of Zeus, and Iphicles, son of Amphytrion,

Alcmene is the oldest child of King Theseus of Tyrins, but her younger brother Eurystheus is named as heir. She feels wronged and is determined to place her son Iphicles on the throne; as high priestess of Hera she hates her son Hercules because of his father.

Eurestheus is engaged to marry Megara, who is the daughter of King Creon of Thebes and also a priestess of Hera. During a harvest festival she gets drunk and seduces Hercules. Too ashamed of what she has done she accuses him of rape. She gives birth to triplets, three boys. At first Hercules is banished to the mountains for the rape, but he later finds favour by saving Creon's life, and Creon gives Megara to Hercules instead. Megara hates her husband, and Alcmene advises her to drug Hercules on the wedding night. This leads to Hercules mistaking his sons for demons and killing them. His marriage is annulled and Megara is given back to Eurestheus, who shortly afterwards succeeds his father as king.

Hercules is plagued with guilt and attempts to kill himself, but Zeus intervenes by striking him with a non-lethal lightning bolt to stop him. Hercules is treated for his wounds by the wood nymph Deianeira (Leelee Sobieski). While Hercules is barely conscious she seduces him and bears a son called Hyllus, not telling him till years later that the son is his.

The oracle tells Hercules that to atone for the crime of killing his children he must carry out six tasks, "labours", for Eurestheus. Egged on by Megara he attempts to give Hercules impossible tasks which will lead to his death. The list of tasks varies in the legends, and the ones shown in this film are:

1. Hercules must slay the Stymphalian birds, which turn out to be harpies.

2. Hercules must slay the Nemean lion, which lures warriors to their death by pretending to be a beautiful woman in distress.

3. Hercules must capture the Cretan bull alive, which turns out to be his "father" Antaeus wearing a helmet with bulls' horns.

4. Hercules must tame the mares of Lemnos. He first encounters them in the form of beautiful women. This seems to be a common theme.

5. Hercules has to defeat Eurestheus in an archery contest. The first to shoot the Ceryneian hind wins. This hind is the pet of his son Hyllus, so the plan is that if he succeeds his son will hate him.

6. Hercules has to go to the entrance to Hades and capture the three-headed dog Cerberus. When he arrives he is ambushed by Antaeus, who has been freed by Megara, so the oracle tells him he does not have to complete this final task.

In the meantime Eurestheus and Megara have a daughter called Iole. The oracle warns her father that if she marries her husband will kill him. Eurestheus gives up his hope of having an heir to his throne and begins a love affair with Iphicles, who he names as his heir. Megara prevents this by tricking Alcmene into killing him at the next harvest festival. But Hyllus falls in love with Iole, and the prophecy comes true.

How can so much be packed into such a short film, only 160 minutes long? It's an amazing tale of parents killing their children, rape, deceit, husbands and wives hating one another. The scale of this story is epic. Admittedly, it's been simplified from the legends. If it had been more accurate it would have lasted twice as long. Paul Telfer is a relatively unknown Scottish actor, but he dazzles in the role of Hercules. Sean Astin seems very much like a Hobbit in his role as Hercules' best friend, the poet Linus, who follows him on his tasks but never gets involved. Leelee Sobieski steals the attention whenever she graces the screen as Deianeira. Timothy Dalton is outstanding as Amphytrion. Unfortunately, the American DVD release of this film has been shortened to 120 minutes. The full version is only available in the German release, which includes the original English dialog. I have both versions and can see no logical reason for the cuts, mostly material taken out of the first half. If you're able to watch Region 2 PAL DVD's order the film from You won't regret it.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Mr. Popper's Penguins (4½ Stars)

Jim Carrey plays the part of Tom Popper, a successful real estate broker in New York. His father dies and leaves him six penguins in his will. Popper feels burdened at first, but then grows attached to the penguins and wants to keep them. Unfortunately the New York Zoo, which must be a cover for SHIELD, sends Agent Coulson to take the penguins from him.

I wouldn't say that Jim Carrey is my favourite actor. And yet whenever he makes a new film I buy it unconditionally. I don't even bother to watch the trailer. I know it'll be good. There's no other actor that I do that with.

Although I already knew him as a comedian, the first time I sat up and took notice was when he made "The Truman Show". That film touched me more than any film ever had. For a few months I watched it two to three times a week, which is more often than I've ever watched any other film.Then I saw "Man on the Moon", and I said Wow! Jim Carrey was more Kaufman than Kaufman. After that I started rewatching the comedies of his that I knew and looked for the ones I hadn't seen before. At that time I rented videos; nowadays I prefer to buy, because DVDs today cost less than videos did 15 years ago. It's nice to see that some things are getting cheaper with the passage of time.

I love every film that Carrey stars in. I wouldn't say it's his acting that attracts me primarily. It's his good taste in carefully choosing the films he wants to star in. If Carrey signs his name on a film contract it's because he's certain it's a great film, and we can trust his decision. He may have started his career as a comedian, but his serious films are the ones that impress me most. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is one of my favourite films, definitely in my top three. I'll have to watch it again soon. I didn't like "The Majestic" much when I first watched it, mainly because the pro-American jargon disturbed me as a European, but it's now grown on me and I treasure it highly. "Number 23" is a difficult film to watch, but with repeated viewing it improves.

Getting back to the film itself, it's not just a comedy, it's also a love story, a family drama and a moral tale. It's a film I highly recommend to all my readers. Clark Gregg is a fantastic actor, as always. He really deserves to play bigger roles.

Click here to watch the trailer, if you really need any convincing.

Incidentally, the extras for this DVD contain a rather unusual extra. It's a short film, 6 minutes long, which is a sequel to the main feature. It shows how Agent Coulson travels to Antarctica to make a new attempt to capture the penguins.

No penguins were harmed during the making of this film.

Jim Carrey, on the other hand, was bitten mercilessly.

But he had it coming.

Friday, 11 May 2012

General: DVD Extras

Just out of curiosity, I'd like to know what my readers think about the extras included on DVDs and Blu-ray discs? Do you always watch them? Never watch them? Only watch them for your favourite films? If the extras are on a separate disc do you load it at all?

Please answer me, and you can give different answers for the different types of extras:

* Audio commentaries
* Deleted scenes
* Alternate endings
* "Making of" Features
* Interviews with cast and crew
* Photo galleries

I think that's all the common categories. If I've forgotten any I'll add them later.

What I'm trying to get at is that DVD reviews always make a big deal about the extras, criticising releases that don't have any, but does anyone really care? Speaking for myself, I have a very large collection of DVDs, I watch a lot of films, and I just don't have the time to watch lengthy extras for every film in my possession. But I'll answer for the above categories:

1. I almost never listen to audio commentaries. The main exception is if the commentary is by Joe Bob Briggs. His commentaries are usually more entertaining than the films themselves. I can also recommend the commentary by Adam West and Burt Ward on the 1966 Batman film.

2. I sometimes watch the deleted scenes of films that I enjoy. Usually after I watch the first scene I know whether the others are worth it. In most cases the deleted scenes were removed with good reason.

3. I almost always watch alternate endings, if available. I find it fascinating to see different resolutions to stories. Usually I agree that the ending used is better than the alternatives that the director also shot. "Joy Ride" has about half a dozen different endings, not as satisfying as the one actually used, but interesting to watch. One example where the alternate ending is far better is "Scott Pilgrim vs The World".

4. I occasionally watch the Making Of features. This is usually if I recognise the locations used in a film or want to know more about them.

5. I only watch interviews with the cast and crew if it's one of my favourite actors or directors. I'll watch any interview with Leelee Sobieski, Jim Carrey or Russ Meyer.

6. Photo galleries? Never! They're boring!

Splash (4½ Stars)

This 1986 film is a modern day fairy tale. It has something for all the family, so it's become a film that's often been shown on television for the last 25 years. All my readers must have seen it unless they've been living in an Amish community till now.

The plot is simple. An 8-year-old boy falls off a boat and is rescued by a mermaid. 20 years later he falls into the sea again, and he's rescued by the same mermaid. They fall in love, and after a few problems they live happily ever after. It's a lovely story that can touch the hearts of adults and children alike.

This was one of the first films for both Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah, and the first leading role for both of them. That's where the similarity ends. Tom Hanks has gone on to become one of the world's most successful actors. Daryl Hannah has starred in many films since then, but "Splash" is still the biggest film of her career, and she's a relatively unknown actress. She played an important role in "Kill Bill" in 2003, but I doubt many cinemagoers took notice or even remember her name. She seems destined to obscurity.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Nude on the Moon (4 Stars)

It's difficult to explain why I like this film. I wouldn't say it's a good film. I can't even say that it's so bad that it's good. It's just bad. And yet it appeals to me. It's not even the "nudity" aspect, because the title is misleading. The girls on the moon aren't actually nude, they're just topless. There are many other films in my DVD collection that show more flesh than this.

I already wrote a review of the film last year. Let me just add a few points to what I wrote. I can't fault the acting of the two male characters who play the astronauts. William Mayer and Lester Brown are surprisingly skilled considering that they are totally unknown. The women on the other hand were probably hired from local strip clubs; they show no acting ability whatsoever.

In best Ed Wood style the lighting is inconsistent. Night and daylight swap when the camera shows different angles. When seen from space the Earth is mirrored. Some of the details of the plot just don't make sense. For instance, the astronauts don't want to take the gold they find on the Moon back to Earth because they expect it to turn into dust when they pass through the radiation belt. Strange.

Maybe it's the love story that appeals to me. A man has to go to the moon to discover that his soulmate is on Earth waiting for him? Whatever it is, this is a film that I keep returning to.

Shaun of the Dead (4 Stars)

Zombies are overrunning the country? Let's go to the pub!

Click here to view the trailer.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Hazard (4 Stars)

This is a departure in style from the other films I've seen directed by Sion Sono. Most of the film takes place in New York, and the usual religious symbolism is missing. In addition the cinematography is different, most of the action being filmed with a hand held camera.

Shin is a shy young boy who goes to America on holiday. Within an hour of arriving he's robbed of everything he's carrying. He spends a week sleeping on the streets, and then he meets two Japanese Americans who take him under their wing. Lee and Takeda are confusing characters. They make a living by driving round the city in an ice cream van selling ice cream laced with drugs. They also rob shops armed with shotguns. Amusingly, they take Shin with them to learn English. While Lee and Takeda hold the guns Shin stands reading from a Japanese-English phrasebook. "Wait, let me find the page. Give. Me. Your. Money. Is that right?"

Lee is also fascinated by the poetry of Walt Whitman and tries to explain it to Shin. Takeda accompanies Lee on his escapades, but his main interest is in a waitress called Nancy who he loves from afar.

This is a chaotic film, like most of Sion Sono's films. Things happen for no apparent purpose. Lee and Takeda don't really seem like gangsters, they just rob shops for the fun of it.

This film hasn't yet been released in England or America, but luckily it's available in Germany. As with most German films the DVD isn't subtitled, it's dubbed. Both English and German dubbing is available on the disc, but I could hardly understand the English dialog, the German is much clearer.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Callan: Wet Job (2 Stars)

I'm a big fan of the Callan tv series, as I already stated in this post. Although being well acquainted with the series I had never heard of this film until last week. Needless to say I ordered it straight away. I received it yesterday in the mail... I could hardly wait to watch it... and then?

This film was made in 1981, and in the story's chronology it takes place 10 years after David Callan has retired from Section. Or so he thinks. There's a loose end from one of his previous jobs. Callan will be named as the killer in a book that is being written by a politician. He isn't actually ordered to take the job to cover it up; he's just told that if the book is published he will be sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, but if he uses in his defence that he was working for the government he will be killed.

A good story. And yet the film makes me sad. As an epilogue to Callan's career it's an unworthy end to one of the best English drama series ever. It's amazing how much Edward Woodward has aged in the nine years since the series finished. Some men age less gracefully than others. But that's not the problem. The first thing I noticed was the unpolished acting and cinematography. The whole film seems like a live play, in particular the live television plays that were common in the 1960's. Everything seems unrehearsed. The camera work is so bad that it's embarrassing. In many of the scenes the heads of the people speaking are cut off, we only see them from the shoulders down. The action scenes are laughable. Bang goes the gun, then the camera shows a person with a red spot on his head who unconvincingly falls over. Then there's the dialog, which seems like an amateurish rush job that reduces the concept of the tv series into cliches. The whole film is disgraceful. If you're a Callan fan, give it a miss. If you aren't I beg you not to watch it first, or you'll never want to watch the series.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Prestige (4½ Stars)

I remember seeing a trailer for this film in the cinema a few years ago. Based on what I saw, probably the same trailer I'm linking to here, it didn't seem interesting. A tail of rivalry between two stage magicians? Yawn. Set in London in the 1890's? I don't know how I stayed awake for the main feature. I have a thing about period dramas set in Victorian England. Somehow the whole society disturbs me. The gentlemen dressed in black suits with top hats. The ladies dressed in countless layers of clothing that must have taken hours to get into. The common people in dirty clothes and rags. Nobody in between, everyone is at one extreme or the other. In today's talk the word "gentleman" is used to refer to a man who treats women well, but in Victorian days it referred to a man who dressed in a certain way, because it was assumed that any man who dressed well would act in a civilised manner. Even today, in England at least, there are leftovers of this meaning. Though not impossible, it's not common to refer to a man who dresses in scruffy clothes as a gentleman.

Maybe that's my problem with the whole Victorian era. Unless the weather dictates otherwise, I wear jeans and a t-shirt every day. I only wear a suit to weddings and funerals. Having to live in the Victorian age would have been a horror for me. All those black suits and top hats? Awful! And yet I like to keep myself clean and tidy. I wouldn't have liked to wear dirty rags like a commoner either. I would have liked to be a middle case, the case between the two extremes that didn't exist.

Recently the film was strongly recommended to me, so I gave it a chance. And I wasn't disappointed, despite the Victorian setting. The big name actors, Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine and David Bowie, carry a well written story to perfection. But first let me explain the film's title, using the words of Michael Caine as Cutter, because it's a word I'd never heard used in this context:

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course, it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret. But you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige".

Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, two junior magicians starting their career as assistants to a master magician. Michael Caine plays Cutter, an "engineer" who prepares tricks for a magician behind the stage. Cutter also acts as a father figure and adviser to both the young men throughout the film. One day a magic trick goes wrong and Angier's wife dies during a performance, drowning to death.

Both young men become magicians in their own right. Borden is technically better at performing tricks, but Angier is a better stage man, more entertaining to the audience. Angier blames Borden for his wife's death, so he disguises himself and sneaks into Borden's performances to sabotage his tricks, even to the extent of  trying to kill his rival before the eyes of the public, making it look like an accident.

This all changes when Alfred Borden begins to perform a spectacular new trick, "The Transported Man", in which a man disappears from one side of the stage and reappears at the other side of the stage less than a second later. Angier becomes obsessed with this trick, and his desire to learn its secret becomes more important than his revenge. But the biggest trick of all lies ahead. Angier dies in his quest and Borden is wrongly sentenced to death for his murder. Borden remains calm in prison and promises to return from the dead. Can Angier do the same?

None of what I've written is really a spoiler, because the film starts with Angier's death and tells the rest of the story in flashbacks, jumping backwards and forwards through time. This is my only real criticism of what is otherwise a close to perfect film. Some films profit from being told out of sequence. It heightens the suspense for the viewer wanting to know how things resulted in the scene we see at the beginning. I don't think that's the case here. The actual story behind the film is very simple. It wouldn't have lost anything of the drama or suspense by telling it in the order it happened. The lack of chronology just makes the story unnecessarily complicated. Nevertheless, it's a great film worth watching.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Tai-Chi Master (4½ Stars)

This 1993 film has also been released with the name "Twin Warriors". Jun Bao, played by Jet Li, and Tien Bo are two young boys who grow up in a Shaolin temple and become close friends. As adults Tien Bo takes part in a friendly competition against another trainee monk. His opponent cheats, which leads to a more serious fight that gets both Jun Bao and Tien Bo expelled from the temple. They take up residence in a town that is being taxed heavily by local soldiers. Jun Bao sides with the rebels, but Tien Bao is more ambitious and joins the army, rapidly advancing to the rank of general. The two friends are now enemies.

Dazzling fight scenes including action from Michelle Yeoh, who plays one of the rebels.

Lina Braake (3½ Stars)

Lina Braake is an 81-year-old woman who has lived most of her life in the same apartment. When her landlord dies he states in his will that she can remain in the apartment for the rest of her life. Soon after his death the heir sells the house to a bank, and the will is declared invalid. The bank arranges for her to be put into an old people's home, where she has to share a room with two other women.

At first Lina is totally depressed and spends all her days in bed. Then she pulls herself together, motivated by one goal in life: she wants to take revenge on the bank. An ex-employee of a bank who also lives in the home advises her on how to carry out a bank fraud, making herself seem creditworthy enough to take out a loan which she doesn't intend to repay.

This is a beautiful little story of the success of the little person in a battle against the system. It can be criticised for being too straightforward, because Lina doesn't have any problems in achieving her goal, but overall it's an enjoyable evening's viewing.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Three into two won't go (4½ Stars)

This is a powerful family drama made in England in 1969. For some unfathomable reason it has never been released on DVD, but thankfully it's still being shown occasionally on British television.

Steve Howard (played by Rod Steiger) is a sales director who often has to leave home on business trips. While driving home from Manchester he picks up Ella, a hitchhiker played by Judy Geeson. From the beginning, even before she gets into the car, she makes it clear to him that she's in charge and he has to do whatever she wants. They pull into a hotel outside Birmingham where they sleep with one another. The next day he drives home. The end... or is it?

No, this is just the beginning. This is where the nightmare begins. The similarity with "Fatal Attraction" is striking. Ella travels to Steve's home and makes friends with his wife. Then she claims to be pregnant, and does everything she can to break up the marriage. Unlike "Fatal Attraction" -- sorry, this is a spoiler -- Ella doesn't really want the married man for herself. She persuades him to leave his wife, waits for him to tell his wife, then says that she doesn't want him because he's too old for her. Ella's motivation in life is to have fun, as she tells Steve when they first meet. She breaks up the marriage simply because she enjoys doing it.

This is a beautiful film which is stylistically like Eric Rohmer's films. The lack of background music makes the film stark and cold. If you get the chance to see this on television it's worth it.

The Outsider (3 Stars)

This film confused me when I watched it. It wasn't so much that I didn't understand what was happening, it was that I didn't understand the motivation of the central character, Lukas Berlinger. At different times in the film, which takes place over a period of 30 years, he's pursuing different goals, some altruistic, others to make money. After watching the film I read the booklet enclosed with the DVD. Ah ha, it's a true story! That explains everything. Our lives don't have well defined plots, we move in different directions over the years, and there's even the deus ex machina which is a poor plot device in a fictional screenplay, but it's part of real life.

Lukas Berlinger was the son of a rich industrialist who owned a factory in South Germany making chemicals. His father took in a boy, Johannes Roeder, who lost his parents, and the two grew up as brothers and friends. Lukas studied biochemistry, graduating with honours, and took over his father's factory. Johannes became a politician and had a high position in the Nazi party. Because of his important career Lukas was excused from military service, but he was lazy and spent his days getting drunk. Then he finally found the motivation to do something useful: he learnt how to fly a plane and began to smuggle people out of Germany into Switzerland. He did this successfully for years while continuing to feign laziness, but the Nazis began to put pressure on him to work harder. His wife committed suicide, so he fled from Germany and settled in Argentina. He had to leave his son behind, who was adopted by Johannes.

For the next 20 years he worked developing ways to grow food in the world's dry regions and became an internationally acclaimed scientist. In the process he also became very rich. In 1968 he finally returned to Germany. Johannes was still active in politics; he had become a senator in Baden-W├╝rttemberg. He had also been buying land to build a large recreational park. The only problem was that Lukas's abandoned factory stood in the middle of the land. Protesters lobbied Lukas to ask him not to sell, and he agreed. He decided to use the old factory to build zeppelins. Yes, zeppelins! When I watched the film this seemed silly, because the production of zeppelins had been halted 30 years earlier. As a piece of fiction this would have been too ridiculous to believe, but it really happened. This was the pet product of an eccentric old man with a lot of money.

Then came the deus ex machina. There was a thunder storm and the factory was hit by lightning. Everything went up in flames. Lukas was thought to be dead, but he flew away in a small aircraft. He cruised over the Swiss alps enjoying the scenery until he finally ran out of fuel and crashed. This aspect of the film is poetic, of course, we can't be sure that it was what really happened, but we know that he crashed, and the suicide makes a good end to the story.

Overall, this is a curious film about a curious man. A really pleasant and entertaining character, someone that I wish I'd known personally.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Jennifer's Body (3 Stars)

I already reviewed this film last year and only gave it two stars. Normally I wouldn't return to a film that I didn't enjoy, but I had a few reasons to do so. First, a friend of mine recently told me it's one of his favorite films. Second, I couldn't remember what the film was about, which was painfully obvious when I tried to discuss the film with him. Third, I've recently developed a sort of crush on Amanda Seyfried, and I'd forgotten she was in the film, so I had to go back and watch it again.

I suppose the very fact that I'd forgotten almost everything about the film is a testament to its poor quality, but I watched it again and made a determined attempt to enjoy it. I've upped the rating to 3 stars, but it's far from being a great film. This time I'll write a plot synopsis so that I don't forget it again.

Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needi (Amanda Seyfried) are two schoolgirls who have been friends since early childhood. Jennifer is a beautiful cheerleader, Needi is a bespectacled plain girl that nobody pays attention to, except for her nerdy boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons). They live in a small town called Devil's Kettle. Charming name. One day an indy rock band called Low Shoulder come to town to play a concert. The band kidnaps Jennifer and offers her as a virgin sacrifice to ask Satan for fame and success. Unfortunately she isn't a virgin, which means that she comes back to life as a deranged young woman who needs to eat human flesh to survive. Only Needi sees the change in her, so she has to take action against Jennifer even though everyone, including her boyfriend, thinks she's mad.

Despite a certain amount of gore and bloodletting, the film just isn't horrific. Nothing in it made me jump or shudder or want to turn away. For me Megan Fox wasn't credible as the school sexpot. I'm sorry, to me she just looked average. I fail to see why people make a fuss about her. And maybe I'm biased, but I can't accept Amanda Seyfried as the school's Plain Jane. Even in her spectacles she's a lot more attractive than Megan. It's something about her big eyes that change colour in the light, turning anything from blue to grey to green.

Isn't Amanda gorgeous? I wouldn't say that she's an outstanding  actress, but she's delicious to look at. Please check the photo below as well. Amanda is supposed to look dull next to Megan, but however they make her up she still looks a lot better.

Shaolin Temple 3: Martial Arts of Shaolin (3 Stars)

This is the third and final film in Jet Li's Shaolin Temple trilogy, made in 1986. The trilogy doesn't end with a bang, it ends with a whimper. I've seen most of Jet Li's films, I'm a big fan of his, but this is the worst so far. In my opinion, at least. I've read other reviews that praise this movie so highly that I wonder if they were watching the same film as me.

In this film, unrelated to the first two parts of the trilogy, Jet Li plays Zhi Ming, a trainee in a Shaolin temple who was taken in by the temple as an orphan when he was a young child. Unknown to the monks he has spent all his life planning revenge against the warlord who was responsible for his father's death. When he first leaves the temple to attempt revenge he's interrupted by two other young people, a man and a woman, also trying to take revenge on the same warlord. These two people are "secular residents" who live within the grounds of another Shaolin temple in the south. After this they join forces to attack the warlord together. A subplot is that the woman wears a bracelet around her ankle that identifies her as the woman that Zhi was pledged to marry at birth.

The films fights are less spectacular than those in the first two films, though they make up for it by taking place in dazzling locations, including a battle on top of the Chinese Wall. An interesting film, and I'm sure that Jet's fans will want to watch it, but overall disappointing.

It's amusing to be as a Westerner how important food is to the Chinese. A recurring theme in Jet Li's films, not just in this trilogy, is the problem of the Shaolin monks being vegetarian. They're never shown as being happy in this, they're always looking for an excuse to eat meat, knowing that "Buddha will understand". In Western countries vegetarianism is accepted as an alternative lifestyle, but to the Chinese with their great love for food it's something inconceivable. In this film Zhi Ming is shown sneaking out of the temple to roast a snake to put in his bread buns, and when a leading monk accidentally eats it his face lights up with joy.

Fast Five [Guest Writer] (3 Stars)

Former cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) partners with ex-con Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) on the opposite side of the law. Since Brian and Mia Toretto broke Dom out of custody, they've blown across many borders to elude authorities. Now backed into a corner in Rio de Janeiro, they must pull one last job in order to gain their freedom. As they assemble their elite team of top racers, the unlikely allies know their only shot of getting out for good means confronting the corrupt businessman who wants them dead. But he's not the only one on their tail. Hard-nosed federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) never misses his target. When he is assigned to track down Dom and Brian, he and his strike team launch an all-out assault to capture them. But as his men tear through Brazil, Hobbs learns he can't separate the good guys from the bad. Now, he must rely on his instincts to corner his prey... before someone else runs them down first.

Okay, I have been a fan of the Fast and the Furious movies mainly because I love fast cars - call it being a mechanic's daughter it's in my blood. When the first movie came out, I was on pins and needles and fell in love although now if I were to watch it, my enthusiasm has waned a bit, not for the cars - just the movie. This, I'm assuming, was their attempt at bringing everyone from all of the Fast and the Furious movies to make it seem just that much bigger and - wait for it - they added the Rock. Doesn't it seem like he has his fingers in every pie out there? Get the fuck out of my pie dude! >:c I enjoyed the rock when he was a wrestler in all of his cheesy "smelly" glory and I fell in love with his goofy side when he got involved with comedies. I hated him in Doom - god can we say box office nightmare? I wouldn't say I "loved" him in this movie because he just seems so....cliched. I'm sorry but it all just felt rote to me - as if I had seen it a hundred times. I enjoyed the action sequences - I'm not going to lie. I loved seeing the pretty cars and it was a good movie to watch when I had some time on my hands to kill. Would I have paid to go see this movie in theaters knowing what I know now? More than likely not. Would I have rented the DVD as a New Release? Again, probably not. Would I have bought the DVD when it went on sale for, let's say, $10? Sure, why not? I guess that about says it all, doesn't it? But, like I said, it wasn't "bad" and I have definitely seen worse. I also will say that I'm a sucker for Vin Diesel as crazy as that makes me (Mmm those muscles make me salivate). He can hijack my car any day of the week as long as he kidnaps me and takes me along for the ride!  :3

Also given, Vin's last name he does make an obvious choice for a movie about car's don't you think? Haha!