Thursday, 28 February 2013

Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters (3½ Stars)

This was the first film that I went to see as a member of the Birmingham Film Club. Mike McAuley organised it, and there were another eight in attendance, including me. I wasn't the only new face, there were three others who had never attended a film club meeting before. We met in a Wetherspoons pub on Broad Street, the Figure of Eight, an hour before the start to have a drink and a chat. It was great to meet other film fans, but the time we had to get to know one another before the film was far too short. Probably the weekly film quiz evenings would be a better opportunity for socialising. When I signed up as a member I wasn't sure whether it was the right sort of club for me, but I told myself I would go to four meetings before deciding whether to stay. After today's meeting it's looking positive. The only negative thing was the film price: £11.90 (about $18) is far too expensive, in my opinion. Okay, it was a 3D film, but that's just a poor excuse to increase the prices.

The film itself was an enjoyable romp. It tells the story of the fairy tale characters, Hansel and Gretel, after they have grown up. As adults they have become bounty hunters who hunt witches for money. The film's action is fast, and the anachronisms fit in surprisingly well. Judging by the clothing the film takes place in the 18th Century, but Hansel and Gretel have an assortment of weapons including machine guns and hand grenades to battle the witches. The film is an obvious self-parody, but it's fun and worth watching once.

Click here to view the trailer.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (3½ Stars)

This is Harry Potter's seventh year of school. This would be the upper sixth form, the last year of school for him, except that he's dropped out of school. He's gone underground after the events of the last film. Now he's on a mission to find parts of the Dark Lord's souls hidden in mystical objects called "horcruxes". From the previous film I understood that there were seven horcruxes, but now Harry only speaks about five. Maybe I missed a detail somewhere.

The film moves very slowly. I can't help feeling it would have been better to make one film out of the seventh Harry Potter book instead of two. Why was it split into two films? Was it for artistic or commercial reasons? I suspect the latter, but I haven't read a reliable answer anywhere.

General: Michelle Obama at the Oscars

Like many film fans I sat and watched the 85th Academy Awards yesterday. I put up with Seth MacFarlane's bad jokes and the awful music because I wanted to find out what the judges of the world's largest film academy consider to have been the year's best films. "Argo" was voted the best film, while "The Life of Pi" was the film that won the most awards.

But as always, the big story isn't necessarily about the films themselves, it's about visitors who make a spectacle of themselves or behave tastelessly. We all remember Angelina Jolie showing her right leg at last year's ceremony. This year Angelina was trumped by Michelle Obama's appearance in the most tasteless spectacle ever staged by the Academy Awards. Surrounded by men and women in military awards she announced the best film award to "Argo", a film about an American operation in Iran. The Iranian president has already protested against her appearance, and this is an international incident that will not be forgotten soon.

To be fair, it's doubtful that the Academy's organisers orchestrated this award. I am sure that the initiator was President Obama, who wanted to send a veiled threat to Iran. Now please don't get me wrong. I consider President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be the world's most dangerous despot and a threat to world peace. I strongly believe that there should be military action against Iran to remove him from power. What I don't agree with is that the Academy Awards should be used as an opportunity to announce Obama's plans.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Nacht über Berlin (4 Stars)

This is a love story that takes place in dark times. The literal translation of the film's name is "Night over Berlin". It's a made-for-television film that was first broadcast on German television on February 20th, and can still be watched online at the ARD Mediathek until February 27th. I strongly recommend it to anyone who can speak German. Please watch it soon, the link will be broken after next Wednesday. German subtitles are available.

Dr. Albert Goldmann is a family doctor practising in Berlin in 1932. He is also a member of parliament for the SPD party. He grew up in an orphanage after losing his parents at a young age. Unfortunately for him his parents were Jews, even though he knows nothing of the Jewish culture or religion. Albert is a pacifist who wants to reform the country through parliamentary means, whereas his younger brother Edwin is a Communist who wants to bring about a violent revolution.

By chance Albert meets Henny Dalgow, the owner of a popular Berlin cabaret. Establishments like this were common in pre-war Germany, and a few still exist today, but I doubt anyone from other countries could imagine what they are like, apart from seeing them in films. Song, dance, drinking, satire. At first Albert despises Henny, because the majority of her customers are Nazis and their supporters, but a deep love develops between them. This love continues until the dramatic event of February 27th 1933. The German parliament building, the Reichstag, is burnt down.

Although the film is based on true events, the filming of the Reichstag fire created a problem for the film makers. Even today, 80 days after the event, there is no proof who actually carried out the attack. Adolf Hitler, who had become the leader of a minority government on January 30th, blamed the Communists. The Communists blamed Hitler, saying he had arranged the fire so he could blame others. The film remains neutral by showing that an unknown foreigner committed the act by himself. In my opinion, as an armchair historian, I do believe that the Communists were responsible. However, their act of terrorism backfired. On March 5th there was a new election, and the Nazi party won a huge majority, because the German people thought only Hitler could restore order in the face of the Communist threat.

German made-for-television films can't be compared with their counterparts in America or England. They are often filmed with big budgets and are of the same quality as "normal" films. This is a good example. I hope the film will be made available with English subtitles.

Click here to view the trailer. It should give you an impression of the film even if you can't understand German.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (3½ Stars)

Though visibly the most appealing film so far, very little seems to happen. Rather than being packed with action like all the previous films it moves slowly. And what happened with the blossoming romance with Cho that we saw developing in the last two films? I have a feeling that the film has omitted something that the book explains.

I was also disappointed to see Severus Snape take the side of the Dark Lord. Until now he was my favorite teacher at Hogwart's. I liked to see him as being strict and unfriendly, but on the side of good. Just like a normal teacher! In contrast, I found Dumbledore's familiarity with Harry Potter alienating.

Getting back to the maturing of the characters, just look at Tom Felton in the poster above. He's no longer a child, he has the facial features of a man.

General: My Film Ratings

I recently received a comment on my post about "Blazing Saddles", which I shall quote here in full:

I take issue with your 1/2 star deduction for what you say is a slow start to the movie. I only take issue because after looking through some of the other reviews I was astonished to see the following:

Legally Blonde (5 Stars)
Little Nicky (5 Stars)
Thelma & Louise (5 Stars)
and one that I actually recommended Sweet Home Alabama (4 1/2 stars).

While Sweet Home Alabama is an amazing movie it should be no where near the cinematic genius that is Blazing Saddles. I know it has to be difficult to rate the movies using this system but I just thought you should see some of us do pay attention to the ratings you bestow upon these movies. I would love to see a way to sort things by their ratings, would be nice to get a better understanding of how you hand out the stars. 

I'm very happy when I get comments like this, so I've decided to answer it in public, not as a reply to the comment which might otherwise have remained unnoticed.

I don't really have a system for giving ratings. It's based on my purely subjective feelings when I watch a film. If I love it it gets a 5, if I hate it it gets a 1, and everything else gets a rating in between. I know it's difficult to compare films of different types. If I put a horror film and a romantic comedy next to one another and ask which is better it's difficult to give an answer. I try to rate a film within the parameters of what it is and what it's meant to achieve: If it's a comedy, does it make me laugh? If it's a horror, does it scare me? If it's a pornographic film, does it arouse me?

More than anything else it matters whether a film has a message I can take with me. The question I ask, whatever the genre, is "Does the film speak to me?" Can I relate to the main characters? Can I relate to where they live? Can I relate to their problems? While I'm usually open and attempt to enjoy anything, there are certain things I can't relate to. I don't enjoy films with excessive violence against women or children. I don't like films set in Victorian England, because the whole restricted system disturbs me. I don't like pornographic films without a plot, because random copulating bodies seems pointless.

Sometimes my opinion of a film changes over time. The best example I can think of is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. When I first watched the films in the cinema I was amazed, I would have given them 5 stars if my blog had already existed at the time. Then I watched them again and found them less enjoyable. In total I've watched them four times, and each time I liked them less. I would probably give them a 3-star rating now, because they no longer speak to me. Other films grow on me. An example is "The Majestic", which annoyed me on first viewing but improved with repeated viewing.

Sometimes I watch a film and I just know I'm giving it an unfair rating, and I usually say so. I give Alfred Hitchcock's films relatively low ratings, for which I apologise. I used to like them when I was younger, but they no longer speak to me.

Having said all of the above, I'm always glad of criticism. When I reviewed "The Warrior" in another blog I wrote for briefly I gave it 3 stars and said that I didn't understand it. A friend of mine sat with me for an hour explaining it -- it's loosely based on a true story -- after which I watched it again and gave it 5 stars. If anyone thinks I've rated a film too high or too low, please tell me and I'll think it over. Some films are easy for me to rate, whereas others are difficult, and even while writing my post I'm unsure. To take an example, the Harry Potter films are difficult for me to rate. Maybe next time I watch them I may have a better idea.

But let's finish by discussing the five films used as examples in the comment that I quoted.

1. "Blazing Saddles" -- Maybe this deserves 5 stars. A factor in giving the rating was that I think "Young Frankenstein" is better.

2. "Sweet Home Alabama" -- Even though a direct comparison is impossible, I agree that "Blazing Saddles" is a better film. Maybe I should drop the rating to 4¼ Stars.

3. "Legally Blonde" -- You're not the first person to criticise me for giving this 5 stars. Yes, I know this is a ditzy superficial film, but I like it. I like it a lot. Something about it is heartwarming. I agree that it deserves a lower rating, objectively speaking, but I'm not objective. Sorry. It might not be a film for everyone, but it's a film I've watched repeatedly and enjoyed every time.

4. "Little Nicky" -- I refuse to budge on this. The film is a work of genius on so many levels. I know it's received mixed reviews, but to anyone who doesn't like it I just say watch it again and you'll like it more.

5. "Thelma and Louise" -- Does anyone doubt this film is a classic? Are you really criticising my rating? It's brilliant.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

This ain't the Smurfs XXX (4 Stars)

Smurfs taste like licorice.

Those of us who have watched "Donnie Darko" know Donnie's thoughts about Smurfs:

"Smurfs are asexual. They don't even have reproductive organs under those little white pants. That's what's so illogical about being a Smurf. What's the point of living if you don't have a dick?"

This film is Axel Braun's answer. We see that the Smurfs are far from being asexual. Naive, yes. Asexual, no.

Brainy Smurf has invented a teleportation device to travel to a random location. Together with Smurfette and Papa Smurf he travels to the headquarters of Hustler magazine. Gargamel converts one of his minions, Sansette, into a Smurf and sends her after them to seduce and capture them. When she doesn't return Gargamel follows her and they all end up in the Hustler offices.

This is a very visual film. I feel tempted to include screenshots, but this is isn't an adult blog. Even when I write about pornographic films I want my posts to be PG. This is a cute film, funny and sexy. I recommend it to anyone who likes the Smurfs or has a blue skin fetish.

At this point I'd like to bring up another subject. Axel Braun has attempted to fight the illegal distribution of pornographic films on the Internet. As far as I know, his attempts to take legal action have all failed so far. It seems to me that the American legal system is biased against pornography. If it were a case of preventing the downloading of "normal" respectable films the courts would be much faster to act. This is a gross injustice to the actors and makers of pornographic films who work just as hard as their mainstream counterparts, but earn less money. Mr. Braun has to fight an uphill battle against the prejudices of the country he lives in.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (4½ Stars)

A storm is coming.

Harry Potter is coming of age. I don't just mean the character, I mean the film series as well. I'm glad that the swearing has been toned down since the last film. It's restricted to one exclamation from Ron's lips.

Harry is now 15 and in the 5th form (commonly called Year 10 to align it with the school systems in other European countries). He has his first kiss with Cho. Ah, that brings back memories. I had my first kiss when I was in the 5th form as well, though I was already 16 at the time. It was a clumsy kiss with Mandy Stickland, a friend of my sister's, outside her house in Aldridge after I walked her home. It was nowhere near as romantic as Harry's first kiss. My second kiss, a few days later, was better. Not as hurried, and more passionate. And yet it's the first kiss that I'll always remember. In fact, even though my relationship with Mandy lasted three months it's that one kiss that I remember more clearly than anything else.

Non-Americans probably don't realise that Dolores Umbridge is based on Mary Whitehouse, the bigoted anti-immorality and anti-progress campaigner of the 1970's and 1980's. History will remember her as a person who did evil in the name of good. If she were alive today she would be campaigning to ban the Internet because of its adverse effect on morals. When I was young she scared me; I thought that she would harm the society I was growing up in. Fortunately my fears were unfounded. She faded into obscurity after an injury in 1988 and died in 2001, having failed to bring about changes in any of the issues that meant so much to her.

This is the darkest of the Harry Potter films so far, and contains hints for the following stories. I'm glad that I'm watching them at last. But I'm still not tempted to read the books.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Sweet Home Alabama (4½ Stars)

Lightning never strikes twice in the same place? Only in Alabama.

This film is a good example of the differences between the tastes of critics and normal people. Critics tore the film apart and gave it poor reviews, but it was a box office smash and has become an enduring favorite. Since I consider myself a normal person, not a critic, I side with the viewing public.

So what do the critics hate? Romantic comedies are a film genre that's already cast in stone with basic rules that aren't deviated from. They're predictable. They're told from a woman's perspective, and we know from the beginning who she will end up with, however many disappointments and setbacks there might be on the way. Maybe, objectively speaking, this is a reason to criticise this film and the whole genre it belongs to. But moviegoers enjoy a feel-good film with a happy ending.

Melanie Smooter and Jake Perry are childhood sweethearts in Pigeon Creek, Alabama. They grow up and get married, but the fairytale romance doesn't work out. Melanie runs away to New York, changes her name to Melanie Carmichael and becomes a successful fashion designer. She dates the city's most eligible bachelor, the son of the New York mayor. When he proposes to her she rushes back to Alabama to clean up a loose end: she's still married to Jake.

Of course, as soon as Melanie and Jake get together we see the chemistry and know they'll reunite. Only someone who's never seen a romantic comedy before wouldn't see it coming. Predictable, but I'm not complaining. The film's strength isn't only in the romance itself. It contrasts the life of the big city and the small town. It contrasts the life of the North and the South. The North/South divide in the USA is something I never truly understood before I lived in America. The South may have lost the Civil War, but the nostalgia for the pre-war days is still strong 150 years later. Melanie finds herself realising how much she's missed when she treds the soil of Alabama for the first time in seven years.

Click here to view the trailer.

Incidentally, Charlize Theron was originally signed to play Melanie, but she jumped out at the last moment. This was lucky. I can't imagine anyone but Reese Witherspoone in the role.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (4½ Stars)

This is one of those films that I sat down to watch with the completely wrong expectations. I expected it to be a camp comedy. I mean, with a name like that what do you expect? And even the trailer seemed to point in that direction. But I was wrong, very wrong. This is a very serious film that doesn't play for laughs. The figure of Abraham Lincoln isn't ridiculed in the slightest, he is presented as a true hero, fighting for the country that he loves so much. History isn't changed in the film, the vampirism is cleverly woven into the historical events that children learn in school.

When Abraham was a child he witnessed his mother being killed. Years later he finds out that the killer was a vampire, so he works as a vampire slayer before entering politics. When he becomes president he learns that the true reason that the South wants to retain slavery is so that the slaves' blood can be used to feed the large vampire community in the South. The southern leaders enlist vampires to battle at Gettysburg. As the only person in the government who knows the truth of what is happening he has to devise a plan to defeat the army of the undead.

The quality of this film is astounding. It starts slowly and builds up momentum towards the end. I won't post a link to the trailer. It's awful. Just watch the film, and prepare to be amazed. And I shouldn't forget to mention Rufus Sewell, one of my favorite actors, especially when he plays a villain. He sends shivers down my spine whenever he enters a scene.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (4 Stars)

Both the characters and the story are maturing, as I suspected when I watched the previous film in the Harry Potter series. Most noticeable to me was the introduction of swearing to the film, all spoken by Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). I almost jumped up in shock when he told Harry to "Piss off", and he used the exclamation "Bloody Hell" several times in the rest of the film. I personally found this unpleasant, and I hope that the bad language won't get even worse in the remaining films.

The film is characterised by a darker element than the previous three films. Death is now a reality, as we see in the case of Cedric being killed only a short time after he became Harry's friend and companion. Harry, Ron and Hermione are now 14, and they are beginning to have teenage angst, not knowing who to invite to the dance. I'm enjoying the films as a series; together they're more than the sum of their parts.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

High Anxiety (4 Stars)

This film is a parody of Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo", with frequent references to other Hitchcock films, such as "Spellbound", "Psycho", "North by Northwest" and "The Birds". The film is written, directed and produced by Mel Brooks, who also plays the leading role and sings the theme song.

Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) takes over as the head of a mental asylum, after the previous head dies under mysterious circumstances. Dr. Thorndyke tries to unravel the mystery, but he is hampered by his fear of heights.

This is a departure from Mel Brooks' usual style, but nevertheless enjoyable. A treat for Hitchcock fans.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Twelve Chairs (3 Stars)

The film takes place in Russia in 1927, ten years after the revolution. The mother of a previous Russian nobleman reveals on her deathbed that she had hidden the family jewels by sewing them into the lining of one of their dinner table chairs. These chairs were later confiscated by the Bolsheviks. The rest of the film is devoted to the hunt for the 12 chairs, which have since been divided and sold separately.

This is the only film directed by Mel Brooks for which he did not write the story himself, so it can be argued that this isn't a real Mel Brooks film. To use the technical terms, it isn't an original screenplay, it's an adapted screenplay. The film has elements of the slapstick that characterises his later films, but it isn't up to the usual high standards we expect from him.

I found out today that the Russian novel this film is based on has been filmed 18 times between 1933 and 2011. Eighteen times? I wonder what it is about the story that captures the imagination of audiences and film makers.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Silent Movie (4½ Stars)

With the exception of "Young Frankenstein", which I've watched a few times, I haven't watched any of Mel Brooks' films for at least 10 years. I don't know why. After rewatching "Blazing Saddles" yesterday and "Silent Movie" today I'm reminding myself just how good they are. His films are funny and intelligent at the same time.

This film has a circular plot. Mel Brooks has made a silent film about himself making a silent movie. That's it. The humour isn't in the overall plot, it's in the individual situations. This is silent film slapstick at its best. The highlight of the film, in my opinion, is Marty Feldman. Though he's best known for his television appearances, this film is what I'll always remember him for. Tragically, he died at the young age of 48. What a waste!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Blazing Saddles (4½ Stars)

I admit it. After watching "Django Unchained" I couldn't resist the temptation to watch "Blazing Saddles" again. It's been a few years since I last watched it and I wanted to see it again. Apart from that, after the last depressing film this morning I needed to watch a comedy to cheer myself up.

The first time I heard about "Blazing Saddles" was in my late teens through a friend called Nick (Nicholas Keane). He told me that whenever he wanted to impress a new girlfriend he took her to see "Blazing Saddles" in the cinema. I have no idea how that was possible. Maybe it was being shown for a long period of time at a cinema in Birmingham? I know that, for instance, "Ryan's Daughter" was shown for six months at a cinema. I can't imagine anything like that being done today. Anyway, I never felt inclined to see the film because I associated it with Nick's romantic flings.

Then I went to study in West Berlin. I liked the German way of having film seasons on specific directors. For instance, every day a different film directed by Ingmar Bergman was shown. Then films directed by Mel Brooks were shown. I didn't even realise that I was going to see "Blazing Saddles" because it had been renamed in Germany to "The wild, wild west". Don't you just hate it when they rename films?

The film impressed me greatly, and I could understand why Nick liked to take his girlfriends to see it. It's a western parody, and it's just funny from beginning to end. A black man is appointed sheriff in a racist town in Texas. As in "Django Unchained" the N word is used abundantly. The film starts slowly, which is why I deducted half a star, but builds up momentum throughout. The final 10 minutes are a masterpiece.

Here's the German film poster. I prefer it to the original American poster, apart from the film being renamed. If you look carefully it does say "Blazing Saddles" at the bottom left.

Eine andere Liga (3 Stars)

"Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel".

This German football quote from the 1950's, which has since risen to the level of a proverb, fascinates me. The literal English translation sounds ridiculous. The best way to express it in English is "There's always another game", or maybe "There's always tomorrow".

This is a depressing film. It made me cry a lot, and not in a good way. It begins with 20-year-old Hayat being diagnosed with breast cancer and having a breast removed. This is a horror that no man could fully comprehend, but the talented young actress Karoline Herfurth manages to express it with her actions, facial expressions and tears. After being released from hospital she joins a football team and falls in love with the trainer. She finds new hope -- nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel -- but whatever happiness and success she experiences is made bitter by the knowledge that a new tragedy is waiting to happen.

At the end, during the credits, people are shown being interviewed and asked to explain what the offside rule in football is. The answers are mostly comical. Finally the interviewer says to the camera, "Everyone knows what offside is, but nobody can explain it. It's the same with love".

That's very true. But the film is still depressing.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Men in Black 3 (4½ Stars)

I'll take a few days break from Harry Potter. There are other films I want to watch, and apart from that watching the films in a row makes them feel like extended television episodes. I missed "Men in Black 3" in the cinema, and I finally got round to buying the DVD this week. I couldn't resist the temptation to watch it, having loved the first two films. When the film was in the cinema I read a lot of negative reviews, so I sat down to watch it with mixed expectations.

The first 10 minutes made me groan. It seemed like a parody of the first two films. But after that it settled down. I enjoyed the action, the comedy, and the time travel paradoxes. I decided to read reviews to see why people didn't like it, and I was surprised to find that the majority of the reviews are positive. Now I understand. A film's first reviews are by film critics, and the later reviews (after the DVD release) are by film fans like me. That explains it. The critics hate the film, the fans love it. That's something that happens a lot. I'll knock off half a star because of the weak opening scenes, but apart from that I would consider it a 5 star film.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (4¼ Stars)

I've been criticised for calling the first two Harry Potter films silly. First of all, I never called the films themselves silly; I just said they contained random silliness. To take just two examples, I thought the flying keys and the flying car which came and left of its own volition were silly. However, maybe the word "silly" is too strong. Maybe a better word would be "childish", which I don't mean in a negative way. Both the books and the films were intended for children, so childlike elements were appropriate. Children laugh when unexpected random events happen. So I apologize for my use of the word "silly".

Having said that, the third film doesn't contain any such childish elements. I have the feeling that the films, as well as the books they are based on,  are growing up with the characters. If "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was written for 11-year-olds, this is a story for 13-year-olds.

Speaking of the characters themselves, Ron's face is now finally showing signs of maturing. Hermione's figure is showing the first hints of womanhood. But for me the biggest shock is Harry's Slytherin nemesis, Draco Malfoy, played by Tom Felton. He looks so different in this film that I at first doubted he was being played by the same actor.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (4 Stars)

An enjoyable film, especially the final showdown. On the other hand, the film still has some of the silliness of the first film. Maybe the problem is that I'm not putting myself into the mindset of the targeted age group? Maybe, maybe not. When I was 13 I was reading novels by Somerset Maugham and poetry by Rod McKuen. I don't think I would have liked J.K. Rowling's books.

It's interesting to me to see the physical development of the main characters from the first film to the second. It fascinates me to see the changes as children mature into adults, so I'll be paying attention to it over the course of the next films. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) himself has changed the most. Between the first and the second film his face became less round. He's lost his baby fat. Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) has shot up in height, but his face looks the same. Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) hasn't changed at all.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (4 Stars)

This is the first of the Harry Potter films, based on the book of the same name. In America both the book and the film are called "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone". The name was changed because the publisher thought that American children were too stupid to understand the original name of the book. They would think that the book is about philosophy, not magic. Since this statement was made by an American who obviously knows best I shan't argue with it.

The casting of the three main characters, Harry and his two friends Ron and Hermione, was either an act of inspiration or genius. It must have been immensely difficult to pick three children aged 11 who could be expected to act proficiently for the next eight to ten years. 12 years have now passed since the original film, and the success speaks for itself. Over the course of the eight films the three children developed into young men and women with enormous talent.

Of the other actors I'll just mention Maggie Smith. I was especially happy to see her in the role of Professor Minerva McGonagall. She already proved herself to be the perfect schoolteacher in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", made 30 years earlier. She now seems to be reprising her role.

Over the next few weeks I shall review some, maybe all of the Harry Potter films. I haven't read the books, so I'm in no way biased by having to compare the films with them. What I enjoyed most about the film I watched today was the school atmosphere. The concept of a traditional English school being used for teaching magic is splendid, and it was well realised. What I enjoyed least was the random silliness, such as the flying keys.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (3 Stars)

"Ghost Rider" was one of the best comics of the 1970's. It was well written and well drawn, and it had more of an edge than the Marvel comics of the previous decade. This film, in comparison, is a shambles. The only thing in its favour is that the special effects are slightly better than the first film. Apart from that, the story is silly and the acting is dreadful. There's already talk of a third Ghost Rider film. It can only get better. Can't it?

It's a shame, because the Ghost Rider character has such promise. The series is in serious need of a reboot. As much as I usually like Nicolas Cage, he's totally wrong for the role. We need someone 20 years younger with long blond hair.

Shadowlands (4 Stars)

Now how would I sum up my feelings about this film in four words? I can think of something, but it's so trite that I'm ashamed to even say what it is.

The film tells the true story of the relationship between C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham. It begins in 1952, it shows their marriage in 1956, and it ends with her death in 1960. Opposites attract. He was a stuffy Oxford professor, still a bachelor in his 50's. She was a brash modern woman, recently divorced. He was a man with a deep Christian faith. She was an atheist and a Communist. Tragedy struck. Soon after their marriage she was diagnosed with cancer. The few years they had together were the happiest of Lewis's life, but after her death he lost his faith in God. Whether he found his faith again is a matter of dispute, since the only book he wrote after her death, "A Grief Observed", gives conflicting statements.

I had trouble relating to the first half of the film, which presented Lewis in his background at Oxford. Even though it only took place 60 years ago the world shown is so remote to me that it seems like scenes from hundreds of years ago. Maybe this is because Oxford University follows traditions that are rooted in the distant past. Lewis, as portrayed by the great Anthony Hopkins, is such a cold, reclusive character that it was difficult for me to find any sympathy with him. It wasn't until the second half of the film that I started to enjoy it. I was deeply moved by the emotional power of the love the two felt and Lewis's emotional decay after his wife died. I recommend the film to my readers, if you can put up with the slowness of the first half.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Django Unchained (5 Stars)

Who was that nigger?

I felt tempted to end the review there, just to annoy one of my regular readers. You know who you are. But I do have more to say about the film, so I'll carry on.

After going to see "The Life of Pi" yesterday, this is the second time in two days that I've been to the cinema. I don't think I've ever done that before. I may never do it again. I'm not a regular cinema-goer. It costs a lot, so I wait for special occasions. It has to be a film that I expect to like a lot, and also a film that's visually spectacular. "The Life of Pi" and "Django Unchained" both fulfilled these conditions.

As my readers already know, I'm a big fan of Quentin Tarantino. He can't do wrong in my eyes. Any new film he makes is a big excitement for me. But he can still surprise me. This film had more comedy to it than any film he's made so far. Even the shootout at Candyland was comical in the midst of the flying bullets.

I approached the film with some trepidation, I admit. Jamie Foxx is one of the worst actors I know, so I groaned when I heard he would have the lead role. I needn't have worried. Once again Tarantino has coaxed the best out of a second-rate actor. I've always disliked John Travolta, but in "Pulp Fiction" he was perfect. And what about Michael Madsen? He's never made a good film, except for those directed by Tarantino. In my opinion this is the best film of Jamie Foxx's career, and he'll never reach this height again. Unless, of course, he stars in Tarantino's next movie.

I'm sure Tarantino had "Blazing Saddles" in mind when he wrote the film, but he doesn't push it. The references to "The Wild Bunch" and "Birth of a Nation" are stronger. There even seemed to be an incestuous nod to Tarantino's own "Kill Bill" in the Candyland shootout. Maybe my readers can point out other film references. Please leave comments.

There's been a lot of controversy about the use of the word "nigger" in the film. Supposedly it's used 113 times. The alleged overuse of this word has led some people to call Quentin Tarantino racist. Others have said that he has no feeling for the suffering of blacks in America, so his portrayal of them is heartless. The first statement is obviously wrong. The film is set in a racist society, so racist words are used. It isn't a racist film, it's a film about racists. There's a big difference. And the black guy wins in the end. So to call Tarantino a racist is just ridiculous. As for Tarantino not having any feeling for black suffering, the same could be said of any white man. But Tarantino is a director who accepts input from his actors. Whatever he lacked, due to his skin colour, has been added by Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, and maybe by other black actors in the cast.

I've had the idea that I might make a whole month of four word film reviews. Like my review for "Boxhagener Platz" and the review I almost made for this film. The only problem is that it might be too difficult. In the case of these two films the words just came to me naturally. They were so obvious as a mini-review. I might not always have the inspiration. But let's see. I'll tentatively name March my Four Word Review Month and see how it goes.

Boxhagener Platz (4 Stars)

That too was Germany.

The Life of Pi (4½ Stars)

I saw this film in the cinema today. I enjoyed it greatly, but I didn't see the spiritual aspects of the film until I sat and thought about it later. I need to watch it again before I write a longer review. I'll just make one comment now. Other reviewers write about the question of what really happened. As I see it, the whole point of the film is that it doesn't matter what really happened. When the writer sees Pi's wife and says "So the story has a happy ending", Pi replies "That's up to you. It's your story now". Believe what you will.

Click here to view the trailer. Despite the colourful images it fails to capture the essence of the film.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Leap Year (3½ Stars)

Anna Brady is a successful career woman from Boston. Her boyfriend Jeremy is a heart surgeon. They've been dating for four years, but Jeremy still hasn't proposed. When he travels to Dublin for a conference, Anna hears about an Irish tradition that women can propose to men on February 29th in a leap year. She flies to Ireland to surprise him, but due to bad weather the plane lands in Wales. She takes a boat to Dingle, and a local inn-keeper offers to drive her to Dublin. On the way she starts to have feelings for the driver. And you can guess the rest. It's a standard romantic comedy with a road movie mixed in.

On the positive side, I love the Irish scenery in the film. On the negative side, I can't stand Anna's character. Her personality and her social image sum up everything I hate about America. "If you have money, flaunt it". The film received bad reviews from critics, but it was a box office success. Audiences are fickle. How did "Dark Shadows" and "Rock of Ages" flop while this weak film made a profit?

The film was made in 2010, but when does it take place? The last Feb 29th on a Monday before 2010 was 1988, but it couldn't have been that year because Anna has a Blackberry. So the year must be 2016. It's curious that the film was set so far in the future. Or maybe the writer just didn't think it through.

Click here to view the trailer, which gives a nice impression of Ireland's beauty but gets the calendar wrong. That shows Feb 29th on a Thursday, which would be 2024.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Bettie Page: Dark Angel (3 Stars)

This is a strange film. It's supposed to be the true story of the final years of Bettie Page's career, 1955 to 1958, but it provides very little information. It seems to be an excuse to recreate some of Bettie's best known films. These remakes are good, very true to detail, but what's the point? They offer nothing new. Any true Bettie Page fan would rather watch the originals, despite the scratches. If anybody wants to find out more about Bettie I would recommend "The Notorious Bettie Page", made a year later in 2005. I'll review it later this year.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Thirst (2 Stars)

This is a Korean film. I don't like Korean films. That must come as a shock to my regular readers who know me as an open-minded film fan who will watch anything. In my defence, I watched "Thirst" today. So why don't I like Korean films? Am I being racist? Let me try to explain.

Most of the films I watch are American films. That's probably true for most of my readers. But I also watch a lot of foreign films, such as German, Japanese and Chinese. I've watched enough of these to recognise a general national style. It's not easy to put into words, it's often just a feeling, but when someone tells me something like "X is a German film" I know roughly what to expect. German films are thoughtful and educational. Chinese films have lots of vibrant colours, whether they're action or romance films. Japanese films have darker colours and move slower than Chinese films. Norwegian and Swedish films rely on the atmosphere for effect rather than character development. English films have some sort of social relevance, they relate to life in England. I'm not saying that these differences are fixed. "The Bible Code" is German, but it has a very American style. "The Eye" is Chinese, but it has a Japanese style. I've watched a lot of French and Spanish films, but I haven't been able to see a pattern. I've watched a few Korean films, and there's something about them I don't like. They have a rough edge. I can't quite describe it, but this film has it too.

If I knew I didn't like Korean films, why did I buy this one? I had read very good reviews about the film, but the main reason was that it was a vampire film. My fascination with vampire films borders on obsession. Unfortunately, I found out today that it isn't what I would call a real vampire film, and I was disappointed.

Sang-hyun is a Catholic priest. He travels to Africa to take part in an experiment to find a cure for the Emmanuel Virus. The experiment fails, all 500 participants in the experiment contact the virus and die. But Sang-hyun comes back to life. The reason is that he had been given a blood transfusion with blood taken from a vampire. He returns to Korea and he's greeted as a miracle worker. Sick people beg him to lay his hands on them. He claims to have no healing powers, but miraculous cures occur and his fame spreads. At the same time he finds that he can only stay alive by drinking blood. Since he is still a man of God he avoids killing anyone by siphoning blood from comatose hospital patients.

Sang-hyun begins an affair with Tae-ju, a childhood friend who is now married. She drinks his blood and becomes a vampire. Together they kill her husband, but he returns to haunt them as a ghost. Tae-ju goes on a vicious killing spree which disgusts Sang-hyun.

I've described the plot at such length to give you an idea of how bizarre the film is. If it had been made in Japan it would have had a different "feeling" to it. As it is, it did nothing to change my prejudices towards Korean films. My guest writer Kaylena has already expressed her liking for Korean films. Maybe she can give it a more positive review.

Click here to view the trailer.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Flowers of War (4 Stars)

This is a film about the Nanking massacre of 1937. Like "John Rabe", it's a true story, based on the memories of one of the survivors. The two films take place in the same city at the same time, the second half of December 1937, but they have nothing to do with one another.

Christian Bale is John Miller, an American undertaker who is called to bury the priest who ran an American convent school. Due to the Japanese attacks he barely makes it there alive. In the convent he finds only terrified Chinese girls aged between 12 and 14, and a 10-year-old boy who had been adopted by the priest. John feels responsible for the children, so he pretends to be the new priest in order to negotiate with the Japanese. While he's there a group of prostitutes take refuge who had escaped from a Chinese brothel. Together they have to fight to survive in the face of overwhelming Japanese brutality.

This is a darker, more depressing film than "John Rabe". When the film started, for the first half hour, I thought to myself, "Wow, this is another five star film". As it continued I was disturbed by the repeated rape scenes. To put it bluntly: the Japanese intended to kill every man, woman and child in the city, so why not fuck the women first? They considered the Chinese to be subhuman, on a level with animals, so they had no rights. Nevertheless, the rape and murder scenes turned my stomach, so I've deducted a star. People less sensitive than me will enjoy the film more.