I was recently asked the question: "Mike, why do you bother writing a blog? Nobody reads it anyway".
Let me deal with the latter statement first. Nobody reads it? Look at the 3000 pageviews per month. I can tell by the search terms used that find my blog that a lot of people are searching for downloads of films, not reviews, but I'm still confident that at least half of the hits are from people who really want to read my blog.
Now to the actual question. I have a few answers. One is that I like to discuss films. It's very enjoyable to watch a film with someone else, then sit and talk about it afterwards. Unfortunately I have very little opportunity to do so. I live with my daughter, but the last time we sat and watched a film together was six months ago. My original intention in writing a blog was to get feedback from my readers and start online discussions. This aim has been unsuccessful, I get very few comments.
I want to point out new films to my readers. Most people have their preferences, and they don't look much further. Some people only watch new films, i.e. what's in the cinema now. Others only watch action films, while others only watch romances. I like to show people that there are other films out there. There are many good foreign films, especially German. There are high quality pornographic films, good enough for people to overcome their prejudices.
But one big reason for this blog is that I like to think of it as a "footprint in the sand". One day I shall be dead, and all the people who knew me will be dead. I shall be gone and there will be no evidence that I ever existed. If I had lived 100 years ago there would have been no way to avoid this. Today we live in the information age. Whatever I write is stored. As time goes by the amount of data will grow exponentially and whatever I've written will disappear into archives. But it will still exist, and the chances are that one day 500 years from now a historian will find my words at random while researching. He will see my footprint in the sand, and even though he knows nothing about me my words will leave an impression.
Thursday, 31 January 2013
This is the last film that I'm reviewing for my Five Star Month. That makes it 41 films. Or maybe I should say it's 40 films, since I shouldn't include "Sweeney Todd" in the total. Either way, it's more than I expected. I thought I would be reviewing between 20 and 30 films. It's been a fun month for me, watching so many of the films I love most back to back. It's also been a successful month. My month readership figures have gone over 3000 for the first time ever, which is quite a success since my previous record was 2715. I should have theme months more often.
My readers must have noticed that my last four films this month (including this one) are German films. But how many of you have noticed that all four take place in Berlin? Berlin, Berlin, the proud metropolis in the heart of Europe that used to call itself Europe's capital, much to the annoyance of London and Paris. That was in the first half of the 20th Century. The post-war division and isolation of Berlin negated its claim to European supremacy, but now it's struggling its way back. It certainly is a marvellous city, rich in cultural heritage, a city that everyone should visit at least once before he dies.
This is a film that I like more each time I watch it, and I'm glad that it's been released in America. Admittedly, the earlier scenes of the film might be difficult for non-Germans to understand. Indeed, they might even seem foreign to Germans from other parts of the country. In the 1960's and 1970's there was a strong terrorist scene in Germany, which enjoyed sympathy from a large section of the German population. I mentioned this in my review of "Baader Meinhof Complex". This scene fizzled out in most of Germany, but it continued on a smaller scale in West Berlin. There were many people who called themselves "autonomous radicals" who frequently demonstrated against the police. Yes, they indulged in terrorist activities such as planting bombs, but unlike the Baader Meinhof Group they tried to avoid killing or injuring people. The main issue that the radicals protested about was the housing market and the house owners who they referred to as "speculators". The reason for this was that West Berlin was an island, surrounded by a wall, with a large population in a finite space. Every house that stood empty made the problem worse. It was common for houses that were left empty to be occupied, and attempts by the police to evict the squatters were made difficult by the large amount of sympathy the squatters had. This situation, commonly called the "Hausbesetzerszene" ("house occupier scene"), ceased to exist as a movement after the reunification of Germany in 1990.
The film starts in 1987. Six friends live in a house they are occupying in Machnow Street, Berlin-Kreuzberg. They have established themselves as a special film crew in the scene. They make films on subjects such as "How to make bombs", as well as documenting demonstrations and examples of police brutality. In 1987 they plant a bomb in an empty villa on the outskirts of West Berlin. Since it's too far from the city centre and impractical to occupy they would rather destroy it than have it left empty. But the bomb fails to explode. Time passes. Germany changes. In 2000 the villa is entered for the first time, and the bomb explodes.
But what has happened to the six friends after all these years? Tim and Hotte are still occupying the same house, safe from eviction because Hotte is a cripple and can't be legally evicted. Maik has founded a advertising agency and lives a life of luxury. Robert has become a lawyer. Nele is a single mother with two children. Flo has become a member of Berlin's high society, and has dated rich men who have taken her around the world. When Tim realises that the police have evidence, their own films, that would identify them as the ones responsible, he calls the six back together for one last desperate act of self-defence: they have to break into Berlin's highly fortified main police station to destroy the evidence.
The film is brilliant on so many levels. While ostensibly a film about political unrest, it's really a film about friendship, and a character study in how friendship can survive even when people change. When the film starts we see six young idealists, fighting for what they believe in. 13 years later three of them (Maik, Robert and Flo) have been seduced by wealth and have become part of the system they once opposed. Hotte still lives in the past, sentimentally watching films of his old protests before he was crippled. Tim is torn between the old world and the new, but Hotte is his anchor in the past. Nele is always broke and is simply struggling to survive. The story becomes all the more fascinating as they slowly rekindle their friendship while planning their biggest ever attack.
I can relate to the film myself. For a short while I lived in a commune in Berlin-Kreuzberg, close to the street shown in the film. Even though I was never a radical, I knew people who were and sympathised with their aims. But for me it's a broader issue. When I was young I had ideals. I rejected the comforts of society and promised I would never let money rule me. I would always be "alternative". I went to work, and in the first few years of my career I remained true to myself by living simply. Then I got married, which was the biggest change in my life. My wife had never been an idealist like me, and I adapted to her way of thinking. We lived in a large apartment, we had comfortable furniture, we had two cars, we went on holiday abroad every year. The excuse was that I had children and needed to give them the best. There's always a way to rationalise broken promises, especially promises that I made to myself.
My marriage broke up, unfortunately. Despite doing all I could to adapt myself to her my wife drove me away. I still love her and would gladly take her back if she could once more become the cute little 20-year-old I first met. I mean her attitude, of course. Without her I attempted to hold onto my life of luxury, but it all came crashing down. There were the changes that I alluded to in my post about "Pleasantville". Now I have a new chance. I can proudly lead a life without luxury. It depends on definition, of course. Some people would call my computer and my DVD collection luxuries; for me they are necessities. I certainly don't have as much unnecessary stuff as I did during my marriage. I shall die poor, I know that. But I shall die happy, knowing that I've been given a second chance to be true to myself.
Wednesday, 30 January 2013
I don't know how many films have been made about lovers divided by the Berlin Wall. Probably a lot. It's a very good topic for a film. The only other film I've reviewed so far is "Liebe Mauer" ("Beloved Wall"). In my opinion "Wie Feuer und Flamme" ("Like Fire and Flame") is the most powerful film made so far. I'm really sad that it has only been released in German. It's a film that everybody should see.
The film was made in 2001, long after reunification, but it's set in 1982, a time when people thought the Berlin Wall would stand forever. Penelope Kaufmann is a schoolgirl from West Berlin, a typical shallow teenager who likes to party and go to discos. Her world changes when she visits East Berlin for her grandmother's funeral. After the funeral she hears loud music playing at a fairground, and she stumbles on a group of punks. She falls in love with Andreas, the singer in a punk band, and travels repeatedly to visit him. But as you can imagine, this relationship is soon noticed by the German secret police.
East Germany's music scene was suppressed for a long time. It's no coincidence that since reunification the most innovative rock and electronic groups come from the former East Germany.
This film is considered by most Germans, critics and film fans alike, to be the best German film ever made. It typifies the often repeated statement:
"American films are intended to entertain the viewer. German films are intended to educate the viewer."
I admit that this is a generalisation and there may be exceptions on both sides, but as someone with an extensive knowledge of German cinema I have to agree with the statement. German directors want to make the audience think. Sometimes they want them to think about the past, such as the Second World War or the division of Germany. Sometimes they want the audience to go home and think about metaphysical concepts.
This film falls into the latter category. At its heart this is a treatise on chaos theory. A simple occurrence can make a difference between life and death, and change the lives of all those connected. The same story is told three times. Lola (Franka Potente) gets a phone call from her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). He has lost 100,000 Marks ($60,000) from a drug deal, and if he doesn't pay it back within 20 minutes he will be killed. He plans to rob a supermarket, but Lola thinks she can get the money for him by asking her father, a bank manager, for a loan. So she runs through the streets of Berlin to get the money and give it to Manni.
When Lola runs down the stairs of her house she meets a youth with a vicious dog on the stairs. The first time she runs past them. The second time the youth trips her. The third time she jumps over the dog. This simple action, how she gets down the stairs, has drastic consequences. In the first case Lola dies, in the second case Manni dies, in the third case Lola's father dies. There are also big changes in the lives of people that Lola meets.
A repeated symbol in the film is the circle. Clocks, the circular stairway, the rotary phone, the roulette wheel. I'm not sure what this means. The cycle of life? Death and rebirth? The film opens with Sepp Herberger's famous words, "After the game is before the game". These cryptic words refer to football, and mean that if you lose there's always another game. There is also a quote from T. S. Eliot: “At the end of our exploring we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
Click here to view the trailer.
Monday, 28 January 2013
This is without a doubt one of the best films ever made, not just one of the best war movies. It shows the last two weeks of Adolf Hitler's life through the eyes of his secretary Traudl Junge. As with all good films based on true stories, the film doesn't pass judgement on its characters. Instead, we see the bizarre events of April and May 1945. The generals are begging Hitler to leave Berlin to avoid capture. Eva Braun is dancing on the tables while others flee. In the final hours soldiers sit at tables getting drunk while officers are killing themselves in adjacent rooms. The most gruesome scene is Magda Goebbels killing her six children because she doesn't want them to grow up in a world without National Socialism.
Hitler himself is played by Bruno Ganz in the performance of his lifetime. Over the years I have seen many actors portray Hitler, but none as perfectly as here. Ganz must have studied Hitler's mannerisms extensively to imitate them so well. While the film doesn't hold back from showing Hitler's ruthlessness and anger, it also shows the warmer sides of his personality that appealed to the young secretary and made her regard him as a father figure. For instance, when several girls applied for a job as secretary he chose her because she was from Munich. He didn't even interview the other applicants, even though Traudl performed dreadfully when he tested her typing skills. Judge for yourself:
Click here to view the trailer. I'm sorry that I couldn't find a better version on YouTube. For some reason this film has been over-parodied with false subtitles to the original German dialog.
Sunday, 27 January 2013
As evil as Aileen might have been, the film presents her in a non-judgemental way. It concentrates on showing us her personality and leaves the viewer to make up his own mind. We see her hopes and dreams, and how she failed in life. We see her gradual decline as a killer: the first killing was self-defence, the second was in anger, the third was premeditated. And more than anything else we see her relationship with Selby Wall, a young lesbian that she met in a bar.
Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her performance as Aileen Wuornos. This was the pinnacle of her career so far, and it will be difficult to achieve anything anywhere near as good in the future. It's also the best performance I've ever seen by Christina Ricci, who plays Selby. They were born to make this film.
Click here to view the trailer. It's a bit too long and gives away spoilers, but it should give you a good impression about the film.
Saturday, 26 January 2013
This was Russ Meyer's last film, made in 1979. Ironically, it was the first film of his I saw. I still remember going to watch it at a cinema on Stuttgart's main street, the Königstraße, which is now known to the world after being shown in "The Avengers" (or "Avengers Assemble", or "Marvel's Avengers Assemble", or whatever they finally decided to call it). The cinema was next door to a comic shop I used to visit, Heinzelmännchen, a great shop which unfortunately closed down in 2005. But let's try to keep to the subject. The film was advertised with a series of photos of nude women outside the cinema. I shook my head, amazed that a porn film should be shown in a serious cinema on the main street. In those days I was less open-minded than I am now, I disapproved of pornography. A day or two later I read a review of the film in the local newspaper, the Stuttgarter Zeitung, praising the film enthusiastically as a political satire. I thought I should give it a look. And I wasn't disappointed. From then on I watched all of Meyer's previous films in the cinema. (German cinemas frequently show older films, not just new releases).
The film's plot may sound seedy, but look below the surface. Lamar Shedd is a young man from Smalltown, Texas, doing a university correspondence course, despite his IQ of 37. He can only find satisfaction by having anal sex, much to the distress of his wife Lavonia. Lamar works for Smalltown's main business, Sal's Junk Yard, where old cars are recycled to make Polaris missiles. Sal is a tough boss, threatening to fire any employees who don't have sex with her. Lavonia also has sex with Lamar's colleagues, since she doesn't find any satisfaction in doing it Lamar's way. The film's soundtrack is German wartime marching music and Christian hymns.
The film is a sequel to "Supervixens". We see the return of Martin Bormann, who now owns the local Christian radio station, Rio Dio, "100,000 Watts of healing power". Since the last film he's developed a taste for having sex in coffins. His partner is Rio Dio's host, the faith healer Eufala Roop. The film's narrator is Lute, the farmer from "Supervixens". His family is now involved in incest, but what else can we expect in small town America? The film ends with the promise of another sequel called "The Jaws of Vixen", a film that was never made.
The film breaks through the third wall, in a meta-film style. As the film draws to a close the narrator speaks to Russ and draws him into the film. From this point Russ takes over the narration himself. Maybe Russ suspected this might be his last film. He shows some distress that the film crew has gone home and he's been left alone on the set. The only person left with him is Martin Bormann, lying asleep in his coffin.
As a certain popular book tells us, "A prophet is not accepted in his home town". Russ Meyer is American, but very few of his films have ever been released on DVD in America. He has much greater popularity in Europe than in America. In America it's mostly film freaks who know and admire him. In the TV series "Dawson's Creek" Russ's name was mentioned in conversation several times, usually by Dawson, the aspiring film director. I wonder how many of the viewers knew who he was talking about.
Friday, 25 January 2013
I'm afraid that I slipped up here. This should have been my Five Star Month. "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (to give it its full title) isn't quite as good as I remembered it, so I had to deduct half a star. While it's enjoyable, as are all films made by Tim Burton, it doesn't quite live up to the other musicals I've watched this month, "Evita" and "Tommy". The film loses some of its quality by not being sung 100%. The spoken interludes deduct from the film's power. Nevertheless, Tim Burton portrays London with a bizarre gothic beauty. I would still recommend that my viewers watch the film.
The story is allegedly based on the life of a real criminal, though many people doubt that Sweeney Todd really existed. Johnny Depp stars as Benjamin Barker, a barber who is sentenced to 15 years in Australia by a judge on a false charge, because the judge wanted his wife. After his sentence he returns to London using the fake name Sweeney Todd, and he once more works in his old barber's shop. More than anything else he wants revenge on the judge, especially when he finds out that the judge is holding his daughter Johanna as a prisoner in his house.
Sweeney allies himself with Mrs. Lovett, his landlady and the owner of the pie shop below where he works. After he kills another barber who threatens to expose him as Benjamin Barker Mrs. Lovett suggests that he should give her the body as meat for her pies. Over the next few weeks he kills many of his customers to help her business. Helena Bonham Carter is deliciously evil as his accomplice. The viewer can feel some sympathy for Sweeney himself, but Mrs. Lovett has no redeeming qualities.
This is a good film, a very good film. But it doesn't quite deserve the full five stars. Watch it and decide for yourself.
Click here to view the somewhat overlong trailer.
Thursday, 24 January 2013
This German film was called "City of War" when it was first released in England and America. The Americans obviously couldn't make their mind up, because a year later it was reissued with the name "John Rabe", so you can now find the DVD in shops with both names. I hope nobody is confused and buys it twice.
This is a true story about a forgotten war and a forgotten hero. It tells the tale of John Rabe, the head of Siemens in Nanking (China), and how he managed to save more than 200,000 lives in December 1937. Before this film was made almost nobody in Germany, America or any other western country had heard of him. And yet in China children learn about him in school, as the greatest German hero of the 20th Century. I asked a friend of mine from Hong Kong if she knew John Rabe, and her reply was, "Yes. Doesn't everyone?"
John Rabe was born in Hamburg in 1882, and started a career at Siemens. In 1910 he was sent to China, where he worked in several cities before finally being made the head of the Siemens factory in Nanking. He was a patriotic German, and as such he was a member of the Nazi party and supported Adolf Hitler unquestioningly. On the other hand, he had a great love for the Chinese people, an affection which went further than an employer-employee relationship. When the Japanese invaded Nanking he felt responsible to protect not only his workers, but also the whole of the city. He did this by relying on the power of the Swastika. Japan was Germany's ally in 1937, so they held back and didn't attack anyone under the protection of the German flag. He set up a security zone which was a safe haven for the Chinese within the city. Though intended to hold 100,000 people, it eventually contained more than 200,000 people, maybe as many as 250,000.
So why was this great man forgotten outside of China? The reasons can be seen in what happened to him next. In early 1938 he was called back to Germany and immediately arrested. Because of his criticism of the Japanese he was considered a traitor. After the war his problems were not over. Since he had been not just a passive party member, but also an outspoken supporter of Hitler, he was not allowed to work by the allied powers. He and his family lived in poverty. He only survived because he was sent monthly food parcels from China.
The film doesn't hold back in showing the atrocities of the Japanese occupiers. They didn't recognise the Geneva Convention, so they executed any Chinese soldiers that they captured. They raped young girls and cut off men's heads for sport. They were every bit as evil as the Germans, but there is a big difference. The Germans have admitted their crimes, but the Japanese deny their atrocities ever happened. Independent authorities estimate the Japanese slaughtered about 300,000 civilians in Nanking; the Japanese call this an exaggeration and claim it was only about 200 people. (Not a typing error, I really mean two hundred). After the war there were war tribunals with Japanese generals put on trial and executed as war criminals. The generals associated with the Nanking massacre were posthumously pardoned in the 1980's. The official view of the current Japanese government is that the Nanking massacre is merely an invention of Chinese propaganda.
I fully realise that I've only written about the facts behind the film, not the film itself. All I can say is that it's a powerful film worth watching. Five stars! Click here to view the trailer.
Wednesday, 23 January 2013
This is trash cinema at its best, and easily the best film Fred Olen Ray has ever made. If you had asked me 10 years ago I would have said this was my favourite film.
As soon as the opening music starts you know this is something special. The eerie music is reminiscent of 1930's horror films. Or maybe it's an original horror film score. Does anyone recognise it?
The plot is simple but good. Angel Grace is one of three models in the short list for the Centerfold of the Year. She thinks her breasts are too small, so she tries out an experimental beauty enhancing potion. The potion is too effective, it doesn't just increase her bust size, it makes her whole body grow. The final scene where a second model enhances herself and the two battle in downtown Los Angeles while people flee in terror is just too delicious. As a horror/monster movie parody this film is brilliant.
Tuesday, 22 January 2013
First of all, the film has absolutely nothing to do with "The Da Vinci Code", a film based on a novel by Dan Brown. "The Bible Code" is loosely based on the theories of Michael Drosnin and his book of the same name. Very loosely. Drosnin made the theory that secret messages are hidden in the Bible that are only found by rearranging the letters of the original text. This is effectively the opposite of the conspiracy theories in "The Da Vinci Code". Drosnin's theories assume that the Bible is a divine document which contains messages hidden so intricately that only God could have inserted them, whereas "The Da Vinci Code" is about messages hidden by Leonardo Da Vinci that undermine the truths of New Testament Christianity.
Johanna Bachmann is a policewoman in Munich, Germany. She is suspended from duty for using excessive force in the line of duty. On the same day she receives a phone call from a man claiming to be her father, who she has never met before. Before they can meet he is gunned down, so she investigates him and finds out that he was a theologian who had been doing research for the Pope. He had deciphered a prophecy that a great disaster is imminent, but evidently there are people trying to silence him. Her investigations lead her across Europe to Austria, France and Italy. On the way she meets with orders of monks who are following different agendas in the upcoming events. Johanna herself plays a key role, since she has been named in the prophecies.
Let's stop there. I think I've said enough to make it clear why people criticise the film. It's a problem of religion. The film assumes that God exists and is guiding the lives of Johanna and the other principal characters. This alienates non-believers who watch the film, and they say the plot is unbelievable. The film also shows that leading men in the Catholic Church are evil, which alienates believing Catholics. On the other hand, the film still tells us that the Catholic Church represents God on Earth, so it alienates believing Protestants, and also those who believe in other religions. The film's subject matter turns everyone against it. This biases people against accepting the high quality of the acting and the cinematography. All I can say to my German speaking readers is that you should clear your mind of religious prejudices. This film is a masterpiece of German cinema on so many levels. Watch it and try to enjoy it.
For some reason I haven't watched this film for a long time. Years. I'd almost forgotten about it. But this is an amazing film, thought-provoking from beginning to end.
It's a fairytale, beginning with the words "Once upon a time". David and Jennifer are brother and sister (maybe twins), two high-school children of the 90's, but totally different in their personalities. Jennifer is the cool popular girl in class, dating boys, and no longer a virgin. David is an outsider who avoids dealing with the ugliness of reality by engrossing himself in a 1950's television series called "Pleasantville". One Friday night David and Jennifer fight over the television's remote control; David wants to watch a Pleasantville marathon, Jennifer wants to watch a concert on MTV with her boyfriend. (Note for my readers: the film was made in 1998 when there was still music on MTV). The remote control breaks, and a mysterious television repair man immediately appears at the door who gives them a replacement. As soon as he leaves they continue to struggle with the remote control, when suddenly they find themselves inside Pleasantville, dressed in 1950's clothing, and in black and white.
David and Jennifer have now become Bud and Mary Sue Parker, the children of George and Betty Parker, the main characters in the television series. David already knows the episodes inside out, so he quickly works out where they are in the series' chronology, and he advises his sister to play along with the situation until they find a way to escape. Unfortunately Jennifer doesn't conform to the world's moral code. Instead of just holding hands on her first date with Skip Martin, leader of the school's basketball team, she performs oral sex with him. This creates a rupture in the universe, and colours begin to appear. At first David tells her to stop, but then he begins to introduce his own changes by encouraging Bill Johnson, the owner of the soda shop, to be independent and paint.
People begin to change their ways, the young people first, and then the adults. Reflecting the inner changes, they turn from black and white into colour, one by one, while inanimate objects gain colours at random. The changes aren't just in moral issues, such as the teenagers beginning to have sex, which they had never done before. Actually, the parents had also never had sex. Their children had just appeared from nowhere. Everything not shown in the television episodes didn't exist until David and Jennifer introduced it into their world. But there are other changes. For instance, the children begin to read books, much to the disgust of the town's elders. Pleasantville's mayor considers sexual promiscuity and reading books to be equally abhorrent.
Change is resisted, but change wins. Gary Ross, the film's director, wants to present personal change as the catalyst for changing society. "This movie is about the fact that personal repression gives rise to larger political oppression, that when we're afraid of certain things in ourselves or we're afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop". I can see this message in the film, but to me personally the element of personal change is what I take from the film. There's a conversation between Bud and Mr. Johnson:
Bud: "People change."
Mr. Johnson: "Can they change back?"
Bud: "I don't know, I think it's harder."
This is something I've experienced in my own life. 12 years ago I went through a very big change in my life. The change wasn't voluntary, it was forced upon me by a very bad person, probably the most evil person I've ever met personally. I tried to change back later, but it was impossible. At the time I was suffering from depression and asked to be admitted to hospital for help. For a week I was doing well and improving. Then a psychiatrist, Dr. Jeremy Kenney-Herbert, transferred me to another hospital where my life was put at risk by being surrounded by violent patients. At first I accused Dr. Kenney-Herbert of incompetence in misdiagnosing me, but as time progressed I recognised that he was acting with malice. For reasons I can only speculate he hated me and wanted to hurt me. I lost 17 months of my life when I could have been discharged after a few weeks and returned to work.
Do I hate Dr. Kenney-Herbert? No. If I hated him I would lower myself to his level. He couldn't act any differently. He commits evil because it's his nature. I was unfortunate that I crossed his path, that I was put under his control at the time in my life when I was most vulnerable and least able to defend myself. I'm sure that over the years he has ruined the lives of many who have crossed his path. I can be thankful that I've now moved on. I've become a stronger person despite his attempts to destroy me. But I've also become a changed person. I didn't like the changes at first, but I now accept them. I won't attempt to change back.
I've been putting off writing a full report of my time in hospital. At first I delayed it because it was too traumatic for me to write about. Then I told myself I should leave the report until a significant date, such the 10th anniversary of my discharge. When that time arrived I didn't write it out of laziness. Maybe I should do it next month when my Five Star Month is over.
Monday, 21 January 2013
The special edition DVD in my possession contains a full commentary track by Ken Russell. I strongly advise all my readers to listen to it. Nowadays it's become standard for new films to include commentaries by the director, producer and main actors. Usually they only do it because they're expected to, so they're bored, they make random comments, and the final result is dull. This isn't the case here. Ken Russell considers the film a work of love, so he speaks lovingly and informatively about it. Rather than go into details about all the small anecdotes, which are better in his words than mine, I'll just point out one major fact gleaned from his commentary. In the early 1970's Ken Russell wanted to make a film about false religion. When he was given the chance to film "Tommy" he decided to use Townshend's music to make his film about false religion. This is the underlying reason for most of the changes to the music.
The story: The story takes place in England. Tommy is born on Victory Day, May 9th 1945. His father is an air force pilot lost in the war. After a few years alone his mother remarries, but in 1951 his father unexpectedly returns. His mother and step-father murder Tommy's father in front of him, which traumatises him and makes him deaf, dumb and blind. Over the years many cures are attempted, including sex, drugs and religion.
Then a miracle occurs. Despite his affliction Tommy is found to be an unbeatable pinball player. His skill earns millions, which his parents profit from. After this Tommy regains his hearing, speech and sight. Already revered as a pinball player, he's now considered a Messiah. He preaches the healing power of pinball to the lost. Tommy himself lives a life of simplicity, but the people who had hurt him as a child (his bullying cousin and his paedophile uncle) now support him and profit from him. Religion is big business. As time progresses Tommy adds rituals to his religion, and his followers rebel.
Interestingly, the film does not judge Tommy himself. When he takes on the role of Messiah there are no doubts, he really is a Messiah. But the religion built up around him is criticised. It's understandable that the religion created by his self-absorbed followers is bad. That's something anyone who has studied the history of Christianity has seen happen. On the other hand, the religion created by Tommy himself is also criticised. The Messiah made a mistake. So what is Ken Russell saying? If you're a Messiah, give people your message, but don't tell them what to do. Give them the freedom to accept or reject your message.
In 1993 "Tommy" was made into a broadway musical. This version was based on the original rock opera, not the film, so it's all Townshend without Russell's ideas.
Sunday, 20 January 2013
This is the true story of the terror wave in Germany from 1967 to 1977 carried out by the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Fraction), more commonly referred to as the Baader-Meinhof Gang. The film begins with the visit of the Shah of Persia to West Berlin, and it ends with the execution of German industrial boss Hanns Martin Schleyer. The film is made with documentary precision, and yet remains exciting throughout. All of the outdoor scenes were filmed in the same places that the original events occurred. Scenes well known from photos taken at the time are reproduced, including the exact positioning of cars and people in the scenes.
This 10-year period in German history is difficult for non-Germans to understand. The RAF were by their own admission terrorists, and yet they enjoyed great public support. At their peak opinion polls claimed that 25% of Germans under 30 were sympathetic of them. Why? The film attempts to answer that question, although it would have to be twice as long to go into the issues in full detail. After the Second World War Germany was divided into two parts, the democratic west and the communist east. Germany, especially Berlin, was on the front line of the Cold War. Any east-west conflict would have begun in Germany. For this reason the West German government was anxious to suppress any elements in its own country that it saw as Communist. Mostly this suppression was aimed at university students. This is shown clearly in the example of the Shah's visit to West Berlin. When the Shah arrived German students chanted "Down with the Shah". A group of Iranian students (who were actually members of the Iranian secret police) attacked the German students. The German police reacted by brutally attacking the German students who attempted to flee. Although there were many injuries, the shooting of the innocent bystander Benno Ohnesorg by Karl-Heinz Kurras, a plain-clothes policeman, was the catalyst for future protests and the creation of the RAF. People expected justice, but when Kurras was brought to trial he was found innocent. It wasn't until January 2012 that it was revealed that evidence against him had been hidden from the prosecutors.
A problem that non-Germans (and even younger Germans) might have with the film is to know who everyone is. So many characters come and go in the film. Some are introduced by their first name only, others aren't named at all. A commentary track that explains who people are would be a welcome addition to future DVD and Blu-ray releases. A featurette could explain the history and importance of the characters in more detail.
The final words in the film, spoken by Brigitte Mohnhaupt to the other terrorists gathered around her after the news was reported of Andreas Baader's death, can be interpreted as a mission statement for the film, directed at the viewers: "You never knew the people. Stop seeing them as they never were." This is a good motive. 30 years later Baader and his gang are still controversial figures in Germany. Some see him as an evil Communist who wanted to bring down the West German government, while others see him as an idealist standing up to a re-emergence of Fascism in Germany. Baader is either hated, or he's portrayed as a glamorous rock star freedom fighter. Based on the knowledge of people who knew him personally, the film shows his strengths as well as his weaknesses. For instance, the RAF is known as the first terrorist group in which women had leading roles, but the film shows Baader as a sexist who regarded women as inferior members of his gang. "You cunts and your emancipation! It's all about shouting at your husbands!"
On October 18th 1977 Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin committed suicide in Stammheim prison. In the same night Jan-Carl Raspe killed himself.
My only criticism of the film is that it follows the official line of events, rather than leaving them open for the viewer to judge. The suicide itself is very controversial, even today. Claims that the terrorists were executed in prison are dismissed as a conspiracy theory, but unlike other conspiracy theories a lot of facts speak for it.
Baader and Raspe killed themselves by shooting themselves. The idea that prisoners in Germany's highest security prison had guns in their cells is so ridiculous that it defies all credibility. The film shows Baader's lawyer giving him a gun during the trial, but there is no independent proof that this ever happened.
According to the autopsy Baader was shot in the back of the neck from a distance of 15 inches. This is an impossible feat. I attempted this myself, and the furthest I could hold a gun away would be 10 inches. Even if the autopsy is inaccurate, don't people who shoot themselves hold the gun against themselves, pointing it in their mouth or pressing it against their head? Holding the gun in an awkward position increases the chance of a non-fatal glancing wound, or even a wound that would lead to permanent crippling.
Gudrun Ensslin's body was bruised as if she had been beaten prior to her suicide.
Irmgard Möller also attempted suicide in the same night by stabbing herself four times in the chest, barely missing her heart. Is this possible? Four times? She survived, and ever since the incident she denies it was suicide. She claims that she was attacked by masked intruders in her cell.
In the night of the collective suicide there was a power failure in the prison, meaning that the prison was dark and the cameras didn't function.
One of the regular guards on the floor where the terrorists' cells were located was called away from his post for three hours and assured that he would be replaced. Nothing is known of who replaced him during this time.
Saturday, 19 January 2013
Russ Meyer is best known for making "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill", but I consider "Supervixens" to be his best film. It contains more comedy elements than most of his films, but it still contains all the characteristics of his later films. Meyer is my favorite ever director.
Russ Meyer's films take place in a world where the women are strong and the men are weak. The men fall into one of two categories: either they are intelligent and weak, or they are strong and stupid. The women are all intelligent, large-breasted and sexually aggressive. They control the intelligent men by overcoming them physically, and they control the physically strong men by intellectually outwitting them. Meyer's films take place in the southern deserts of the USA, where people live in poverty. The lines are always clearly drawn between black and white, there are no greys. It's always obvious who the good and who the bad people are. Good always triumphs over evil.
The film starts in a small town in Arizona. Clint Ramsay works at a gas station, "Martin Bormann's Super Service". Yes, his boss is the Martin Bormann, Hitler's private secretary who managed to flee at the end of the Second World War. Though it is commonly assumed that he fled to South America, several of Meyer's films show Bormann living in the USA. Clint is married to a beautiful but jealous woman called Super-Angel. They have a fight, and a neighbour calls the police. Police officer Harry Sledge breaks up the dispute.
Clint goes to Super-Haji's bar to get drunk. Harry stays at Clint's house to have sex with Super-Angel. Harry is unable to get an erection, so Super-Angel mocks him. In a rage he kills her and burns the house down. Clint is the only suspect. Super-Haji refuses to give him an alibi because he had refused her sexual advances, so Clint flees, heading west to an undisclosed destination, and the film turns into a surreal road movie. Everywhere he goes he is confronted by busty super-women who cause him problems, with names such as Super-Cherry, Super-Soul and Super-Eula.
Eventually Clint meets a gas station owner called Super-Vixen, and he moves in with her. But his happiness doesn't last long. Harry Sledge visits the gas station by accident, recognises Clint immediately and decides to lure him into the desert to kill him.
This is a film that could only have been made by Russ Meyer. I wish someone else would pick up the baton and make films in a similar style, but since he made his last film in 1979 nobody else has even come close. His films showed a lot of nudity, but they were never pornographic. His films are at the same time a critique on the impotence of men and the impotence of America as a country. I don't expect there will ever be another Russ Meyer, but I hope I'm wrong.
Friday, 18 January 2013
Time flies. Is it really nine years since I saw this film in the cinema? It hit me so hard that I couldn't stop thinking about it for weeks. Usually I wait a year for DVD prices to drop, but this is a film I bought immediately when it was released. I needed to see it again as soon as possible. This is still one of my all-time favorite films, probably second after "Lost Highway". This was also the film that made me a big fan of Charlie Kaufman, the writer of the screenplay. His stories are astounding. Other films of his in a similar vein are "Being John Malkovich", "Adaptation" and "Synecdoche, New York".
Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) have been together for two years. They are complete opposites, which is what drew them together, but it's also the reason for their frequent arguments. Joel is quiet and withdrawn. He likes to spend his evenings at home reading. Clementine is loud and outgoing. She talks incessantly and likes to get drunk. After a particularly nasty argument Clementine goes to a doctor in New York who is offering a new procedure: memories can be selectively removed from the mind. She decides to have all memories of Joel erased so she can start a new life. When Joel finds out about this he decides to do the same and have Clementine erased from his memories. Half way through the procedure he changes his mind and fights to regain his memories.
Of course, there are other twists to the story, as we would expect from any story written by Charlie Kaufman. In particular, one of the doctor's assistants, Patrick (Elijah Wood), falls in love with Clementine when he sees her lying asleep, so he steals confidential information about Joel to act like Joel and present himself as her new lover.
The power of this film is in the way it's presented. Different layers of reality are shown at the same time. We see Joel asleep on his bed, drugged for the procedure. At the same time we see his memories of the previous two years, presented in reverse order, since that is the order in which they will be deleted. Then we see his struggles to create new memories as his virtual world decays around him.
Click here to view the very good trailer. I wish all film trailers had this quality. Not too long, and informative without giving away spoilers. I liked the film promotion at the time of its release. Instead of the big billboards we usually see for new films there were hundreds of small posters all over town, only about three foot high. This made the film stand out from all the other new releases. Less is more. On the other hand, I've found film posters online calling the film a comedy. Idiots! There is nothing at all funny about this film. It's another example of how proficient Jim Carrey can be as a serious actor.
Let's get back to posts for my Five Star Month after yesterday's sentimental off-topic post. And let's get back to Quentin Tarantino, who is probably my favorite director.
The film is supposedly an homage to the literature genre called pulp fiction, short novels published on cheap paper in the 20th Century. Wikipedia dates these novels from 1896 to the 1950's. This must refer to America, because I know from memory that they were published longer in other countries. My father purchased booklets referred to as "pulp fiction" until the late 1970's. In Germany similar booklets were sold until the 1990's. The most common stories in American pulp fiction novels were detective stories. The more recent stories were American old west stories (in England) and vampire stories (in Germany).
Nevertheless, I can't imagine a story like the one in Tarantino's film being contained in any pulp fiction novel. It seems too complex to be presented to the mass market of the early 20th Century. In fact, the film tells several stories which are (seemingly?) unrelated, apart from featuring the same characters. Of all of Tarantino's films, none has left such a mark. Even though it only won one Oscar (best screenplay) after being nominated in seven categories, it's now considered one of the best and most influential films of all time.
The story that begins and ends the film is the tale of a robbery in a restaurant carried out by two small-time crooks, Ringo (Tim Roth) and Yolanda (Amanda Plummer). They are overpowered by the professional gangsters Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta), who have stopped off for a meal.
Jules and Vincent are sent to pick up a (presumably stolen) briefcase belonging to gang leader Marsellus Wallace. After surviving a shoot out Jules experiences a spiritual enlightenment that turns his life around.
Butch (Bruce Willis) is an aging boxer hired by Marsellus to take a fall in the fifth round. Butch betrays his boss and makes a fortune by betting on himself to win. Wallace first sends Vincent to kill him, then attempts to take revenge personally.
Marsellus asks Vincent to take his wife Mia (Uma Thurman) to a restaurant. After going out Mia overdoses on cocaine and almost dies.
Click here to view the trailer. As with all of Tarantino's films it's a poor quality trailer, in this case too long and it fails to give any impression of what the film is about. All it does is show off the big stars.
Thursday, 17 January 2013
It was with sadness that I heard yesterday that the British music store HMV (His Master's Voice) has gone into receivership. This has been the largest music retailer in Britain for many years, and its closure marks the end of high street music sales. Not just music sales, this also affects film sales on DVD and Blu-ray. The company was first formed in 1902. Initially it specialised in manufacturing gramophone records and record players, but over the years it branched into retail and other entertainment items such as television sets. Eventually the manufacturing and the retail divisions were divided into separate companies.
But that's enough of the cold history. Let me give my personal memories. When I was 16 I became a frequent customer of HMV's branch in New Street, Birmingham. The first record (vinyl, of course) that I bought at the shop was "Carnival in Babylon" by Amon Düül II. This wasn't my first ever record, but maybe one of my first 10, and I remember buying it at HMV because it was cheaper than at Virgin Records. Over the following years I bought most of my records from Virgin, but I always checked HMV because it was sometimes cheaper.
The store changed with the times. It skipped the videotape revolution, but in the early 2000's it began to sell DVDs, and by 2005 the main Birmingham store (now in Bull Street) devoted more of its sales area to films than to music. In fact, I bought my very first DVD from HMV in 2002. It was "Army of Darkness".
So what happened? Some people are blaming HMV's demise on the advent of music downloading. I don't think that's the reason. As I already pointed out, HMV was selling more DVD's than CD's. I think the reason was the online revolution. People no longer want to buy from a store when they can get goods cheaper online. I am just as guilty of this. I almost never buy DVD's, CD's or books in a store. I order online. It's cheaper, and I like to save money. One reason for the cheaper prices online is the Jersey/Guernsey tax loophole. The Channel Islands belong to Britain, but they are not part of the UK. Because of this they have no sales tax (called VAT in the UK). If I buy a DVD or CD in a store I'm charged 20% sales tax. If I order the same item online from a Jersey or Guernsey mailorder I don't have to pay sales tax. High street stores can't compete with this.
There are still, and always will be, small specialist stores for those people who are unwilling or unable to order online. But HMV is the last giant to disappear from the streets. Farewell.
A lot of people I've spoken to were disappointed with the second volume of the Kill Bill films after watching the first. I think I understand the reason why. "Kill Bill, Vol 1" attracted a lot of interest from martial arts fans who weren't necessarily fans of Quentin Tarantino. They were drawn to the action scenes, in particular those that took place in Japan at the end of the first film. In comparison, the second film is low key. For those expecting a big climax the final showdown between the Bride and Bill probably seems flat. Let's just say that they don't get it. Whatever action there may or may not be in Tarantino's films, the real battles are fought with words. If you doubt this, look at the conversation between Col. Landa and the farmer at the beginning of "Inglourious Basterds". The Nazi colonel's words cut and thrust sharper than any knife.
This film is more chronological than the first film, but within the chronology it relies on flashbacks. In the first film she battles with Oren-Ishii and Vernita Green. In the second she battles with Budd, Elle Driver and Bill. We also see the Bride's training with the old master Pai Mei.
Click here to view the trailer. It's another poor quality trailer that shows too much of the film.
Tuesday, 15 January 2013
Even though I love this film, it's a difficult film to describe. It's an homage to the Chinese and Japanese fighting films of the 1970's and 1980's, even down to the fake Shaw Brothers logo at the beginning. The film is told in a non-linear way, a style already developed by Quentin Tarantino in "Pulp Fiction". This works well. It puts the action scenes at the beginning and end of the film, and the slow events (that happened first, chronologically) in the middle.
The film is about a hit squad of assassins, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Uma Thurman plays the assassin codenamed Black Mamba. On the day of her wedding she is killed by the other squad members. Or at least, they think she's dead. The police find her alive, and she lies in a coma for four years. When she wakes up she goes on a mission to kill the other members of the squad, and then go on to kill the squad's leader, Bill. Her mission takes her around the world, and there are dazzling sword and martial arts battles. The whole film is made surreal by the soundtrack, which would be more typical for a spaghetti western.
Brilliance, sheer brilliance. Check out the trailer, which includes spoilers of things we don't find out until the second film. Strange trailer.
Monday, 14 January 2013
This was John Carpenter's second film, made in 1976, two years after "Dark Star". In my opinion this is his greatest masterpiece, even better than "Halloween", which he made in 1978. Some people claim this is a remake of "Rio Bravo". This isn't the case, even though the film obviously borrows ideas from "Rio Bravo". There's a thin line between plagiarism and homage.
The story takes place in Anderson, supposedly a bad area of Los Angeles. Maybe some of my readers who live in L.A. can comment on it. A man's daughter is shot by a gang member while she is buying ice cream. He chases and shoots the gang member, then flees to a police station when the gang pursues him. Unfortunately the police station has just closed and is only manned by a skeleton crew babysitting the station until it is emptied the next day. At the same time a bus taking prisoners to death row makes a temporary stop at the station to get medical attention for one of the prisoners. The gang ambushes the police station, which cannot call for reinforcements because the phones have been cut off. The police lieutenant has to defend the station with the support of the criminals, and a bond of friendship develops.
As my readers probably know, this film was remade in 2005. Unfortunately, the remake was a shambles that completely lost the magic of the original. John Carpenter made the film in 16 hours. It's amazing that the film that resulted had such a high quality. And it's just as amazing that the remake, which was filmed over a period of weeks, is so poor.
This was John Carpenter's first film. It was made with a $60,000 budget, extremely low for a science fiction film, even back in 1974. When it was first released it was practically unnoticed by film fans and critics alike. There are no accurate records of the box office takings, but we can assume it was a flop. When it was released on videotape a few years later it became a cult hit. It just occurred to me that even though I use the expression "cult hit" a lot I don't know how to define it. I just read Wikipedia's definition, and though I'm not 100% in agreement it's pointed me in the right direction. A cult hit is a film that failed to gain sufficient commercial success to make it profitable, but it has a large number of fans who rate it very highly, to the extent that they discuss it passionately with like-minded fans. That's my full definition. It partially overlaps with what Wikipedia says, but I think my definition is more concise and more accurate. A cult film may or may not be acknowledged as good by critics. In fact, the opinion of film critics is irrelevant.
But let me get back to the film. This is a sci-fi comedy about a spaceship on a mission to blow up unstable planets. The crew of four are all eccentric, as is to be expected after spending 20 years in space. After travelling through an asteroid storm their ship sustains damage, and they have to fight to survive. Something about the personalities of the crew reminds me of "Mash". I can't help but think that this film was one of the influences for the tv series "Red Dwarf".
It's a shame the film is so poorly preserved. On my DVD both the picture and the sound are fuzzy. Nevertheless, it's still a very enjoyable film.
Sunday, 13 January 2013
Films can usually be slotted into neat genres. There are horror films, sci-fi films, thrillers, romance films, action films, political films, road movies, comedies, biopics, etc. One or two words sum up a film and you know what it's about before you watch it. Each of these genres have their own rules. Of course, there can be crossovers. I personally have a weakness for horror comedies and sci-fi comedies. But how often do you discover a film that is truly original? How often do you come across a film that is so unique that it doesn't fit into any two-word description? "The Legend of 1900" is a truly unique story.
The film is an Italian production, though made in English. It's a film of epic proportions, running to almost three hours and covering a timeframe of 50 years, though the main events happen between 1927 and 1933. The film stars Tim Roth as 1900 (yes, 1900 is his name) in the best performance of his career.
The film takes place on a cruise ship called the Virginian, which has its primary route between Southampton and New York, though it's mentioned that it sometimes visits other east coast cities and even South America. In January 1900 a baby boy is found abandoned when the passengers leave the ship. A coalman on the ship adopts him and gives him the name Danny Boodman T. D. Lemon 1900, shortened to 1900. The boy grows up on the ship, and he never sets foot on dry land, not once in his life. He becomes a prodigious piano player and gains such fame that some people travel on the ship just to hear him play.
During the Second World War the Virginian is used as a hospital ship for the Royal Navy. 1900 continues to play for the wounded and dying. Shortly after the war it's decided to destroy the ship by blowing it up at sea. 1900's best friend, trumpet player Max Tooney, is convinced that 1900 is hiding on the ship waiting to die with it.
I admit that this isn't a film for everyone. It rambles on for three hours and very little actually happens, as far as action or romance is concerned. It's the story of 1900, who we grow to know and love in the course of the film. He's painted before our eyes so vividly that by the time the film nears its end we feel we've made a new friend. If you want to see a film that's truly different, this is something for you.
Unfortunately, in America only a shortened version of the film is available. 40 minutes have been cut out, but it's still a great film. The full version is only available as an Italian import. Click here to view the trailer.
Nick Elliot (Cary Elwes) is an investigative reporter starting a new job in a new town. He rents an apartment in a better area. The landlord's daughter, Adrienne (Alicia Silverstone, starring in her first film) becomes obsessed with him and uses all of her womanly wiles to seduce him. The problem is that he is 28, but she is only 14. Though greatly tempted he resists her, which leads to her taking revenge on him. "If I can't have you nobody else will".
Alicia Silverstone is so delicious in this film. Adrienne is beautiful, sexy, intelligent and precocious. I find it difficult to understand Nick. I would have been unable to resist her. Apart from her beauty and overt sexuality, she was able to win praise for him by rewriting one of his articles. She would have been the perfect partner for him. Unfortunately, this was not only Alicia's first film, it was also her best. In the 20 years since "Crush" she's never played such a powerful role.
There is some confusion with the film's name. To my knowledge there are five unrelated films all called "Crush". This film was made in 1993. Another confusion is that in the DVD release Adrienne's name has been changed to Darian. I have no idea why, it must have been a lot of work to dub the sound whenever she name was spoken. Click here to view the trailer.
Friday, 11 January 2013
This film is a work of genius. It's hard to understand why it hasn't received the fame it deserves. Read the online reviews. It's highly praised by those who have seen it. Unfortunately very few have seen it. It's a very deeply moving story about a relationship between two outcasts, two people who seem to be opposites, but they have an abject loneliness in common.
Leelee Sobieski plays Jennifer Wilson, a 17-year-old goth girl who spends her time alone in her room reading Anne Rice novels, writing poetry and talking to her dead grandmother. She is given a job in a men's clothing store by Randall Harris, a 49-year-old divorced man who spends his evenings at home reading magazines. Jennifer falls head over heels in love with Randall. Although he resists her romantic advances Randall takes Jennifer into his life, and an affectionate relationship develops.
The film is made very tastefully by Academy Award winning director Christine Lahti. Despite the critical subject matter it avoids anything scandalous. It was the first film I saw starring Leelee Sobieski, and she soon became my favorite actress. I don't know Albert Brooks from other films, but he is perfect for the role of Randall. After I watched the film today I sat crying for a long time. It's a moving film that anyone with any feeling at all for romance should watch.
How many of you have had the feeling you were being watched? You might have been walking along a busy street or sitting alone in your room when you felt like someone was looking at you. Don't worry, it's quite natural, as long as it only happens occasionally. If you feel like that all the time it's paranoia.
Truman Burbank lives a normal life as an insurance salesman. But then he finds out that he's being watched by the whole world, 24 hours a day. He has no secrets. Everyone knows everything he has ever done since the day he was born. Unknown to him he is the star of the world's biggest reality show. Everyone he knows, including his parents, his wife and his friends, are actors paid to interact with him.
I've never watched any film as often as "The Truman Show". I first saw it on television in 1999 and taped it. For some reason it spoke to me at that point in my life. Over the next few months I watched it two or three times a week. Every time I watched it I looked at the film from different angles and enjoyed it more.
If anything, the film is even more relevant now than it was when it was made. Reality shows were still new in 1998; today they have taken over television. They are relatively cheap to make. They don't need highly paid actors, they just need normal people who will appear on screen for almost nothing. Reality shows satisfy the voyeuristic lusts of the general public, whether it's "Big Brother" or "The Osbournes". In 1998 "The Truman Show" was an outlandish piece of fiction, today it's very feasible.
This was Jim Carrey's first role in a serious film. He's still considered a comedy actor, but his non-comedy films are better. "The Truman Show", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", "The Majestic", "Number 23", "Man on the Moon". All are brilliant and unforgettable films. Special mention should be made of Ed Harris, who plays Christof. This is the best film of his career. Una Damon also shines in her role as his assistant Chloe.
Click here to view the trailer.
In a recent article in Empire film magazine it was said that even though "Jackie Brown" isn't as popular as Quentin Tarantino's other films it's probably his best film. I don't know what criteria this statement is based on, but I have to say that I agree. For a while I preferred "Kill Bill, Vol 1", but "Jackie Brown" is a film that grips me more. I'd now place it in my top 10 films.
"Jackie Brown" is a tasteful homage to the blaxploitation films of the 1970's and 1980's. "Blaxploitation", sometimes spelt "blacksploitation", is a strange word. It's an exploitation film that features black people, but my question is, in what way do these films exploit black people? Normal exploitation films include gratuitous nudity and sex, so I can understand the word. Nunsploitation films -- what an awful word! -- feature nude nuns, so I can understand the concept. On the other hand, blaxploitation films rarely contain sex scenes, they're just gritty urban crime films that star black actors. Nevertheless, the parameters are well defined, and Quentin Tarantino followed them to create this masterwork.
Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) is a man with a plan. He has saved one million dollars from his business selling guns illegally, and he wants to retire. The problem is that more than half of his money is stored in Mexico. In cash. He uses an airline stewardess, Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), to transport the cash to him a bit at a time. She is caught by the police carrying $50,000, so Ordell decides to bail her out and kill her before she testifies against him. In the following complex but believable story Jackie hatches a plan with Max Cherry (Robert Forster), the bail bondsman. She tells the police she will deceive Ordell and trick him into letting her bring the rest of his money into America. She tells Ordell that she is deceiving the police and will make sure he gets his money. Now she has to remain cool and steal the money for herself while being observed by both the police and Ordell's gang.
Maybe I should write more about the film, but I'm sure I'll watch it again, so I can write more next time. A work of genius. Click here to view the trailer.
Thursday, 10 January 2013
I really love this film. I'm fascinated by it. The leading and supporting characters are painted larger than life, so real that I feel I know them intimately. This is brilliant filmmaking by Joel Schumacher, but it might also be something to do with the main two characters, played by Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall. I can relate to both of them in different ways. It's a difficult film to write about, maybe because of its nihilistic undertones that make it difficult to see any meaning or intention in the film. I'll try to describe the two interlocking stories as best as I can.
Bill Foster (Michael Douglas) is a happy family man who lives in a big ugly city. His life revolves around his wife, his daughter and his job in the defence industry, defending the America he loves against foreign threats. Then everything breaks down. His wife divorces him because she is afraid of him. He has never been violent to her, but she thinks that he might become violent. He loses his job due to government cutbacks. This was common in 1993, when the film was made, because America felt less at threat after the collapse of Communism and the end of the Cold War.
Obviously, Bill is a "good guy". But the unfair treatment by his wife, his employer and society in general push him onto a path of destruction. All he wants is to visit his daughter on her birthday, despite his wife having taken out a restraining order against him. He stumbles from one situation to another, in each of which he is victimised but comes out stronger and more bitter. He is assaulted by a shopkeeper after he complains about the price of a can of Coca Cola, but steals his baseball bat. He is assaulted by a gang, but steals their knife. He is assaulted by the gang a second time and steals their guns. In an army surplus store the owner attacks him, but he shoots him and steals his anti-aircraft gun. Heavily armed he walks across the city, not realising how negatively his innocent actions are perceived.
Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall) is a police officer on his last day of the job before early retirement. He lives under the control of his neurotic wife, who has never recovered since the death (infant death syndrome) of their only child. First she insisted that he take a desk job to keep him out of danger, and now she has talked him into taking early retirement from the job he loves. He is the only one who makes a connection between the day's random incidents involving a man in a white shirt and tie. Ridiculed by his colleagues who don't consider him to be a real cop he works hard on his last day, eventually finding the strength to stand up to his wife and remain on the police force.
When the two men have their final showdown we expect some understanding, but there is none. When Bill says he doesn't know what he wants to do, Prendergast replies, "You know exactly what you were gonna do. You were gonna kill your wife and child". This was the last thing on his mind. But it's too late to defend himself. Bill has become the "bad guy" and has to die.
The film shows Los Angeles at its worst. A city of crime and injustice in the middle of a sweltering heatwave. It's not a cheerful film. It will leave you feeling depressed and unsettled. And yet it's a fascinating film that will make viewers want to watch it again and again.
Click here to view the trailer.
Wednesday, 9 January 2013
In a recent interview Quentin Tarantino called "Death Proof" the worst film he's ever made. I agree. It doesn't stand up to his other masterpieces of cinema. But in this case Quentin's worst film is better than most other directors' best film. It's his respectful homage the the great car chase films of the 1970's and 1980's. It also has hints of "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill", which he promised to remake but probably never will. I'm still hoping he will change his mind, because he's the only director I know who is capable of doing justice to Russ Meyer's best known film.
"Death Proof" did badly at the box office, but I don't think this was because of the film itself. The marketing strategy confused today's cinemagoing audiences. It was released as half of a double bill with "Planet Terror". It was supposed to remind us of the good old days before home videos when an evening at the cinema was a main feature preceded by a B movie. Somehow people didn't get it. They're too used to seeing only one film, so when they were offered two films for the price of one they stayed away.
Kurt Russell stars as Stuntman Mike, a retired stuntman who now spends his time driving cars and killing pretty girls. He has a car that he calls deathproof, claiming that after the way he has rigged it up he can drive into a brick wall at 120 mph and survive. In the first half of the film we see him stalking four beautiful girls, then crashing his car head on into theirs. They all die, he survives. Of course he does; his car is deathproof.
14 months later he's on the road again. This time he's stalking three girls who are members of a film crew. But two of the girls are stuntwomen, so he's bitten off more than he can chew.
If this was Tarantino's worst film, how could he have made it better? The main improvement would have been a longer car chase. This was the main point of the film, after all. Instead of a 20-minute chase it should have lasted 60 minutes. More cars could have been involved, maybe even police cars, and we could have had a few explosions. But whatever else he did, Tarantino should have made the car chase long enough to get himself a place in the record books.
"Death Proof" is an affirmation of Tarantino's foot fetish. He shows close ups of toes in all his films, but never as many as in this one.
Click here to view the trailer. It's not a very good trailer, official or not. Sorry. They should let Tarantino make his own trailers.
Tuesday, 8 January 2013
"Basic Instinct" is a first rate film that is well known for all the wrong reasons. If you mention it to someone they'll start talking about the grand opening in the interrogation scene. And they'll also point out that it features Sharon Stone, a "serious actress", in nude scenes. Yes, that's all true, but this film has so much more going for it. It's so perfectly crafted, everything from the character development to the suspense and action scenes, that it could be called the best film ever made. More than anything else I compare "Basic Instinct" to Alfred Hitchcock's films. It's the sort of film he might have made, about a washed out police detective investigating a beautiful blonde in a story full of twists, except it has more sex.
I think the story is well known. An ex-rock singer is found stabbed to death with an ice pick during sex. His girlfriend was a millionaire authoress who had written a book about a rock singer being killed during sex. The police detective who investigates her falls in love with her.
That's a simple enough story that could have been made into a very bland film in the hands of a less capable director. Paul Verhoeven rose to the task and created the greatest masterpiece of his career. The film is an ode to feminism, maybe a theme that Hitchcock would have avoided. The film is full of strong women and weak men. Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) is the murderer, as the viewer realises very early in the film, but she uses her intelligence and sexual attraction to guide the police investigations, leading them to the conclusions she wants them to reach. She toys with detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), telling him that she's writing a book about him in which he will be killed after falling in love with the wrong woman, then tempts him to get closer to her.
In the famous interrogation scene Catherine Tramell opens her legs and lets the police officers see that she's wearing no panties. This is all about control. She sits self-confidently in front of a group of men who are nervous and sweating. Also interesting is her posture afterwards. Her legs are crossed in a way that almost but not quite reveals her crotch. This keeps the men staring at her, hoping for another flash between her legs, unable to concentrate on the interrogation. This is more effective than if she had simply sat with her legs open for the whole interrogation.
Nick is the main focus of her attention, of course. He has given up drinking and smoking, but she entices him to take up both again. While together in bed after sex she feeds him clues about a possible murder suspect, and he is too befuddled to doubt her. Despite the large number of deaths in her past -- her parents, her college counsellor, her ex-lovers -- he remains convinced of her innocence. She flaunts an ice pick in his presence. She ties him up during sex, to show him that she could kill him at any time if she wanted to.
Catherine's superiority over Nick is emphasised in may details that might not be obvious on first viewing. She is much richer than he is. She has two luxurious houses, he lives in a small apartment. Her car is better and faster than his. She always lets him know when he's welcome and when he isn't, such as initially rejecting his advances in the nightclub. She makes him put his life in danger for her, not just in the sex I mentioned above. She encourages him to pursue her on the road, which almost gets him into a deadly car accident.
Having said all of that, watch out for the smaller details for yourself. The characters are all believable, the scenery is beautiful, and the action is exciting. I can't fault the film in any way.