Sunday, 31 March 2013

Die Frau, die im Wald verschwand (4 Stars)

I watched this film a year ago and reviewed it here. I don't have much more to say about it, except that it's a film worth watching more than once. I only noticed the frame structure of the film today. Most of the film takes place within the mayor's house, the story being told in flashbacks. At one point there's a flashback within a flashback, and in the inner flashback a story is related, making the narrative a threefold nesting.

The story takes place in the fictional town of Großgelden in Swabia, but when the film started the person watching it with me said, "Stop, I recognize that town, it's Schwäbisch Hall". And since she knows the town well she went on to point out landmarks. It's a beautiful place, and I hope I can visit it one day.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Candy Stripe Nurses (2½ Stars)

This is the last in the series of nursesploitation films made under the oversight of Roger Corman in the 1970's. Technically speaking, Corman is the executive producer of the film series, though he isn't described as such. I haven't seen the other films in the series, and I confess to being disappointed by this film after the rave reviews I've read of it. To me it just looks like a clone of a 1960's Carry On film, but with added nudity. The film has three unrelated plots, one for each of three girls featured and their amorous adventures with patients.

I didn't know what a "candy stripe nurse" is before watching this film. It's an unpaid volunteer nurse who does unqualified nursing jobs in a hospital. Apart from being purely voluntary, sometimes it was required of the students in nursing schools, and sometimes it was ordered as community service after committing a crime. The nurses were named after the striped uniforms they wore to differentiate them from real nurses.

Juan of the Dead (3½ Stars)

In the last few years there has been a rise in the popularity of zombie films. Every time I browse the DVDs in my local supermarket I see new low budget films with "zombie" in the title or photos of rotting corpses on the cover. To be honest, I don't understand the fascination with zombies. Vampires are different. Vampires are sexy. Zombies are just ugly and disgusting. That doesn't mean that I don't like zombie films, as long as they're good. I intend to watch a few Japanese zombie films in the next few weeks. I just don't understand the latest zombie craze.

"Juan of the Dead" is a Spanish/Cuban film, made on location in Cuba. Juan is a lazy Cuban ex-soldier who spends his days lying in the sun and telling his friend Lazaro that Cuba is Heaven on Earth. It always has been and always will be the best place on Earth. He changes his mind when Cuba is suddenly, inexplicably, overtaken by zombies. He's forced to fight for his life.

This is a comedy, like many other zombie films. The Cuban television broadcasts refer to the zombies as American dissidents who are trying to undermine the Socialist way of life. Entertaining, but not worth watching more than once.

I've decided not to add links to film trailers in YouTube. Not regularly, anyway. While browsing my older posts I noticed that some of my links were broken. That's annoying. I removed the links from those posts, but I can't check every single post for broken links. In future I'll only post links to trailers if I think that the trailer is somehow significant in explaining the film.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Matrix Revolutions (5 Stars)

It's been years since I last watched this film. In fact, it's been almost two years since I watched the first two parts. In June 2011 I wanted to watch all three films in a row, but I got distracted. I'm sure I had reasons, but I have no idea what they were. Watching this brilliant film today made me want to watch the whole trilogy again. Next time I'll be sure to watch them back to back.

Judging by fan reviews, this is considered to be the weakest film in the trilogy. It's the least Matrix-ish of the three films. Those who have seen it will know what I mean. It's more of a straight science fiction battle. And yet the film is logical. It couldn't have been made any other way. It's what was needed to end the story.

The Execution (3 Stars)

In 1945 five teenage girls are freed from the concentration camp in Birkenau. Together they emigrate to the United States to begin a new life. They settle down and get married, but stay in touch with one another. The past is forgotten until 1970, when they recognise the former head of the concentration camp, now a restaurant owner in Los Angeles. They report him to the Simon Wiesenthal Institute, but they find out that nothing can be done because he has already been tried as a war criminal and has served his prison sentence. This is not good enough for the women, since they have all been raped and tortured by him. Together they make a plot to execute him.

This is a very good story, but the film is let down by poor acting. None of the women are believable characters, and their fake German accents make their performance even worse. In the hands of a better director with better actors at his disposal this could have been a masterpiece. This film is in urgent need of a remake.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Talk to her (4 Stars)

For years I've heard good things about Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, but I've never watched any of his films, not even the ones that were made in English. On occasions I've even taken the time to check out descriptions and reviews of his films, but they never appealed to me. Then a friend of mine told me that "Talk to her" is her favorite film and I must watch it. I googled it, and seeing Pedro Almodovar's name I decided to give it a chance. I found it very cheap online, so I bought it. That was in March 2012, a whole year ago. Since then I've picked up the DVD a few times, turned it in my hand, then put it back on the shelf. Had I wasted my money on something I would never watch?

Today I finally took the plunge. To me it's a confusing film. I didn't know what to make of it. In a way it reminds me of Eric Rohmer's dramas, although in contrast to Rohmer "Talk to her" does have a plot and does come to a well defined end. I felt tempted to leave the film unrated, since it's very difficult to judge. It's not quite like anything I've seen before. Usually I like to assign any film I watch to a genre and judge it within the parameters of that genre. "Talk to her" stands by itself in a vacuum.

The film takes place in Madrid and centres around two couples: Marco and Lydia, Benigno and Alicia. The majority of the film concerns the friendship between the two men.

Marco is a journalist who writes travel reports. Lydia is a bullfighter. The two meet when Marco is asked to write a report about Lydia. She refuses to give an interview, but a romance develops. Three months later she is gored by a bull and falls into a coma.
Benigno is a nurse. Alicia is a ballet dancer. Benigno is a loner who has spent all of his life looking after his mother. Every day he watches Alicia practising at a ballet school opposite his apartment. After his mother dies he plucks up the courage to speak to Alicia, but since he has never dated a girl he can't talk to her and nothing develops. A week later she is involved in a car accident and falls into a coma. She is delivered into the hospital where he works, and due to the special attention he gives her he is appointed her personal carer.

When Lydia is admitted into hospital Alicia has already been lying in a coma for four years. Marco and Benigno meet, and a strong friendship develops. Marco feels helpless sitting next to his comatose girlfriend, but Benigno has finally overcome his shyness and talks to Alicia incessantly. He claims that he and Alicia get on better than normal couples.

The film has won many awards, including an Oscar for best original screenplay in 2002. It's doubtless a good film, but difficult to follow. I'll probably watch it again, to give myself a second chance to take it in. There seem to be many layers of meaning, in particular the gender roles. The symbolism is over-obvious. Lydia is a strong woman who dresses like a man and does a job normally only associated with men. In the bullring she kills bulls, strong male animals. Benigno is a weak man who can only overcome his fear of women if they are asleep or unable to talk to him. The men bond, united by their helplessness towards women.

Superman vs Spider-Man XXX (4 Stars)

Comic fans' hearts will beat faster at the title of this post. "Superman vs Spider-Man" was the first and greatest co-produced comic by Marvel and DC. It was released as an over-sized comic in 1976, at the peak of the bronze era. Ironically, it was first planned that the two heroes, the flagships of their respective companies, would meet in a film. Axel Braun has finally made the film, 35 years later, in his own inimitable style.

The mainstream Marvel films make the mistake of having the heroes remove their masks, but Axel knows better. Spider-Man keeps his face covered throughout the film, just as he does in the comics. The final scene – no spoilers here – shows that this film is within the Spider-Man continuity and lays a foundation for the next Spider-Man XXX film.

Product Info: The classic 1976 superhero crossover gets the XXX spoof treatment, courtesy of undisputed porn parody king Axel Braun and adult powerhouse Vivid Entertainment. When Doc Ock and Lex Luthor join forces to defeat their nemeses, Spidey and the Man of Steel meet for the first time and must work together to foil the evil duo's nefarious plans for world domination. Ryan Driller and Xander Corvus reprise their award-winning roles and headline an all-star cast that includes Alexis Texas, Andy San Dimas, Capri Anderson, Kagney Linn Karter, Jenna Presley as Spider-Woman and an astounding Jazy Berlin as Black Cat. With lavish production values, spectacular VFX and Braun's legendary attention to detail, SvS XXX is the porn parody event of the year!

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Arrival of Wang (4½ Stars)

We all know what happens in science fiction films. If an alien comes to Earth he speaks English and he lands in America, usually New York. Sometimes he can speak English due to the existence of a "universal translator", but in most cases it's assumed that English is the universal language. As for picking New York to arrive, isn't that where everyone in the universe wants to go to? Immigrants from Russia, Italy and Ireland have passed through Ellis Island, desperate to become Americans, so why shouldn't Martians and Venusians do the same?

Despite my sarcasm you know there's truth in what I say. But "The Arrival of Wang" tells a different story. An alien arrives from a distant galaxy. He speaks Chinese, and he lands in Rome. Gaia, a young Italian woman who writes subtitles for Chinese films, is hired to interpret for him. At first she tries to remain calm and do her job, but the brutality of the interrogation methods forces her to take a stand.

This is a very eerie film, and the slow pace aids in developing the atmosphere. This is the only recent Italian film I've seen, not including films made by Italian directors in English, such as "The Legend of 1900". It's proof that a film doesn't need a big budget to be good. I greatly enjoyed it.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Superman XXX (4 Stars)

This is another masterpiece from the undisputed king of pornography, Axel Braun. Nobody else has done as much to raise pornography from its seedy background to the level of art. This is in spite of the relatively small budgets that he has to work with.

Judging the film as a work of pornography, it's the most erotic and arousing of his films that I've seen so far. Judging it for its story, the plot is more complex than most of his films to date. Judging it as a parody, well, it isn't a parody. As I've pointed out in the past, none of his "porn parodies" qualify as parodies. The word "parody" is only used to exploit the legal loophole that allows parodies to use characters copyrighted by other companies.

The film is based on the 1978 Superman film starring Christopher Reeve, not on the comics. This goes as far as Axel setting his film in the 1970's and dressing the actors accordingly. Eric Masterson even imitates Gene Hackman's portrayal of Lex Luthor wearing a ridiculous wig. In my opinion that was the biggest faux pas of the original film; I'm not aware that Lex ever wore a wig in the comics. My suspicion is that the director (Richard Donner) didn't think that a major role could be played by someone who was bald, so Lex was given hair, and it was only revealed in the final scene that it was a wig. Luckily Eric loses his wig earlier in this film, in the middle of his first sex scene.

It's always worth watching the DVD extras for Axel Braun's films. He gives insight into how he has to work around his small budgets. It was also interesting to see that this was the first time Axel brought his son Richard, now 18, onto the film set. Axel Braun is a second generation director of porn films, having taken over from his father Lasse Braun, and he seems to be encouraging his son to follow in his footsteps. Or at the very least he's showing him that it's an option. The Braun family could become a porn dynasty for many decades to come.

Until now I've never been able to find Axel Braun's films in England and had to order them from America. Now I've discovered an excellent company called Movietyme that specialises in selling American DVDs (Region 1 NTSC) in England. Unlike CD Universe in America they don't stock all of his films, but I'm sure they would be willing to order anything they don't have. They're more expensive than for "normal" films, but I strongly recommend them to all my English readers who want to buy Mr. Braun's films.

Overboard (3¾ Stars)

I watched this film two days ago, but I'm only sitting down to review it now. The problem is my self-imposed "four word month". While it might seem at first glance that only writing four words about a film is lazy, the opposite is the case. It's a lot more difficult to write a good four word review than one of my usual rambling reviews. In the case of "Overboard" I was stumped. I wracked my brain and came up with nothing. So I'm now declaring my four month word over. It was fun while it lasted. I expected to receive complaints from my regular readers, but the opposite was the case. My friends were unanimous in praising my four word reviews. But now they're over. Sorry.

I haven't been watching many films this month. Over the last week I've been catching up on some television series I own on television. I've been watching "Star Trek TNG", "Ally McBeal", "The Vampire Diaries", "La Femme Nikita", "Teen Wolf" and "Torchwood". They're all very good series, I may write about some of them soon. Apart from that I've been following the Jodi Arias trial every day, which has taken up a lot of my time. At the risk of sounding cynical, it's the best reality show I've ever seen. I need to write my thoughts about the trial in detail, but not yet. Maybe after the verdict, maybe shortly before.

But wasn't I supposed to be writing about "Overboard" today? There's not really much I can say about it. It's a romantic comedy, and whatever the trimmings romantic comedies always follow a strict pattern.

1. Girl meets boy.
2. The girl doesn't like the boy, but as time goes on she grows to like him.
3. Girl and boy go different ways. (Sometimes geographically, sometimes she returns to an ex-lover).
4. Girl realises she can't live without the boy and returns to him.

Try applying that to any romantic comedy, and even if there are variations the pattern fits. Look at the films I've reviewed already, such as "Leap Year", "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Letters to Juliet". I almost forgot "The Elder Son" and "Tamara Drewe". Romantic comedies are always predictable, but they can be good. It depends on the trimmings and how good the actors are. In the case of this film Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn are both very competent in their roles. I greatly enjoyed the comedy in the first half of the film, and I was disappointed when the second half became more serious. Nevertheless a good film. Not quite four stars, but watchable.

Kurt Russell is an actor that I latched onto late in his career. Isn't it strange how you can sometimes see a character in films for years before really noticing him? I never paid attention to Kurt Russell till I saw him in "Death Proof". After that I went back and rewatched some of his older films, such as "The Thing". He's always been a good actor, I just never noticed.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Monday, 4 March 2013

Winter Sleepers (4 Stars)

Never underestimate a farmer.

After watching "Cloud Atlas" I thought I would go back to Tom Tykwer's early films, when he was developing his style. Even though there's a certain amount of action in this film the lack of plot and the lack of a final resolution reminds me of Eric Rohmer's films. The film revolves around four people who are painted vividly.

Marco is a skiing instructor.
Rebecca translates English romance novels into German.
Rene is a cinema projectionist.
Laura is a nurse.

Rebecca and Laura live together in Laura's house in Berchtesgarden, a winter ski resort in Bavaria. Marco and Rebecca are lovers, but Marco is unfaithful to Rebecca. He is also fiercely jealous, suspecting her of infidelity for no logical reason. Rene and Laura are lovers. Rene suffers from an accident in the army. A grenade exploded behind him, and as a result of the injuries his short term memory is faulty. He takes photographs of everything he sees to remind himself of what has happened, but sometimes he sees photos that mean nothing to him.

Shortly after Christmas Rene borrows Marco's new car. He has an accident with a farmer that results in the death of the farmer's daughter, but he forgets about the accident and is puzzled by photos he finds of an unknown car. From this point on the story rambles on in random directions. While that may sound negative, the film doesn't need a plot. It's a fascinating view of individuals who live in a winter landscape. This isn't Tykwer's best film, but it's nevertheless enjoyable.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Countess (4 Stars)

Search for the truth.

This is a 2009 film starring Julie Delpy as Countess Erzsebet Bathory, commonly called Elizabeth Bathory in English. Julie Delpy also wrote the screenplay, directed the film and composed the music. She's a true all-round talent. The film was made in Germany with mostly German actors (the exception being William Hurt), but it was made in English.

Countess Bathory is known as the woman who bathed in the blood of virgins, thinking it would give her eternal youth. There are doubts whether this really happened, but other films such as Hammer's "Countess Dracula" perpetuate the story. In recent years there seems to have been an obsession with the real Countess Bathory. Between 2008 and 2009 there were three films made about her, all three claiming to tell the true story and not the myth of the blood monster. I own all three on DVD, so maybe the obsession is mine. Apart from that there was a Hungarian television series about her life in 2010, which hasn't yet been made available in English. All three films claim to tell the truth, but if you watch them back to back you would get the impression that they are about three different women. "Blood Countess" (2008) accepts her blood-letting as true and shows her as a lesbian who only used men to gain more power. "Bathory" (2008) rejects the blood-letting completely, and shows her as a powerful but misunderstood woman struggling to survive in a man's world. "The Countess" (2009) takes a middle path, showing the blood-letting in a story told by a narrator (Daniel Brühl), but then the narrator suggests that it might all have been fabricated by her enemies.

What are the other similarities and differences? "Blood Countess" and "The Countess" show her as cruel, while "Bathory" shows her as gentle. "Blood Countess" and "Bathory" show her as emotional, whereas "The Countess" shows her as remote. "Bathory" is the only film of the three that doesn't attribute any lesbian tendencies to her. All three films have in common that she was hated by the men of her time for the simple reason that she was a woman.

So which of the three films paints a true picture? It's impossible to say, because history is written by the victors, and Countess Bathory lost the fight against her male opponents. "Bathory" is doubtlessly the most enjoyable film, since it shows the Countess as a pleasant, likeable woman. If I had to make a guess I'd say that "The Countess" is more accurate. Whether or not she really killed virgins to bathe in their blood, I believe she was a cruel woman. Although I enjoy the film, this is the very reason why I can't rate it higher. The main character is someone that I find repulsive.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Three Musketeers (1993) (4¼ Stars)

I hate double-sided DVDs.

My intention for March was to write only 4-word reviews. I have to give up now, there's way too much I have to say about this film. Or at least I can make a compromise. I'll write 4-word summaries, as above, then add more thoughts if necessary.

I enjoy this film, the 1993 version of "The Three Musketeers", but as far as the DVD release itself is concerned, this is the worst DVD in my collection. To explain: you have to put the DVD in your player. You watch half the film. Then you have to turn the disk over to watch the other half. This is dreadful. Disgusting. Shameful. What is the point in making a double-sided single-layer DVD? Is it cheaper to manufacture than the usual single-sided double-layer DVDs?

I don't like double-sided DVDs anyway, even if they're double-layered. I have a few in my collection, and I hate them all. The "City of Angels" DVD has the film on one side, the extras on the other. "Snatch" has two different versions of the film, one on each side. The "Kung Fu" box set is made up entirely of double sided DVDs to halve the number of discs. Some of the DVDs in the Sopranos box sets are double sided. I despise this. The sides, A or B, are marked in very small writing on the edges of the discs. It's just unacceptable. It's not just a problem that the lettering is so small, and almost illegible. The problem is that the lettering is inconsistent. On some DVDs the "A" means that the side it's written on is the first side, so it should be placed face down in the player. On other DVDs it means that the opposite side is the first side, so the "A" should be face up when putting in the disc. I've solved the problem for myself by always putting the first side face down when I put a DVD back in its case. But it's still no excuse. Double-sided DVDs should be banned.

As for the film itself: "The Three Musketeers" is a novel written by Alexandre Dumas in 1844 that has somehow won the imagination of film makers. It has been filmed at least 30 times from 1903 till today. In fact, it has been filmed twice in the last three years. There must be a psychology to films that are constantly remade over the years. There must be something special about the stories. As far as I know, the story that has been filmed the most often is Bram Stoker's "Dracula", filmed more than 40 times. Other multiply filmed stories are "Cinderella", "Tristan and Isolde" and "Dangerous Liaisons".

This version of "The Three Musketeers" stars Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt and Charlie Sheen as the title characters, plus Chris O'Donnell as D'Artagnan, who is actually the film's main hero. Tim Curry is his usual evil self, and Rebecca de Mornay is sexier than I have ever seen her in any other film. It's an exciting film from beginning to end. It's just a shame I have to get up half way through to turn over the DVD.

Sexual Witchcraft (4 Stars)

Sex can be magic.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (4 Stars)

It all ends here.