Sunday, 30 June 2013

Star Wars XXX (4 Stars)

It's claimed that this is the highest budget pornographic film ever made. I've tried to find out the size of the budget, without success. All I know for certain is that it must be more than $8 million, since that was the budget of the previous record holder, "Pirates XXX 2". This might sound like peanuts compared to the budgets of Hollywood blockbusters, but you have to remember that a typical porn film is just half a dozen people banging one another inside a house.A typical porn film budget is anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, and a budget of $100,000 is considered to be huge.

"Star Wars XXX" is described as a "porn parody". Usually I point out that Axel Braun's films aren't really parodies, but in this case it really is. The film contains a lot more comedy than any of his other films. Nevertheless, the attention to detail is outstanding. As soon as you see a character you're immediately reminded of the person in the 1977 film. It's not just the uniform, it's the facial resemblance and the mannerisms. As well as this, great pains were taken to make the sets resemble the locations in the original film as much as possible.

One other advantage of the film is that so many of the actors claim to have been Star Wars fans all their life. Derrick Pierce (Labria) says he has watched "Star Wars" (or "Star Wars Episode IV", as it was later renamed) at least 30 times. Dick Chibbles says that he has always wanted to play Luke Skywalker, or at least Han Solo, and he was disappointed that he could "only" play Chewbacca. Seth Gamble, who seems to have the same real life personality as Luke Skywalker in the original film, describes himself as a Star Wars geek. In the "Behind the scenes" featurette the cast members stand up one by one to proclaim their love for the film.

Allie Haze is the most beautiful Princess Leia ever, and we see Luke Skywalker lose his virginity. What's not to like about the film?

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Pulp Fiction (5 Stars)

As much as I love watching new films, it's good to go back and rewatch my favourite films. This is definitely one of them. It's commonly regarded as Quentin Tarantino's best film. I'm not sure whether I agree with that. It's not that I disagree. I just can't pick a favourite. They're all classics, in their own way.

I made a lot of notes with things I wanted to write about this film, but since I'm certain I'll watch it again soon I'll save them till later. This time I'll just talk about John Travolta's character, Vincent Vega, going to the toilet. Or at least, that's what they call it in England. The Americans prefer to say "restroom", as if people went there to relax.

Vincent goes to the toilet three times during the film. I'll describe them in chronological order, not the order they're shown in the film. The first time is for a piss, the second time is for a shit -- I'm quoting him, he uses the P and S words, I don't -- and the third time he doesn't say, but it's obviously a shit. The last two times he's shown reading a Modesty Blaise novel on the toilet. This book is the pulp fiction after which the film is named. All three visits to the toilet have an impact on the story.

1. The first time he goes to the toilet Marsellus' wife Mia overdoses while he is out of the room.

2. The second time he goes to the toilet the restaurant robbery starts while he is away.

3. The third time he goes to the toilet Butch enters the house and is able to shoot him. Vincent is knocked back into the toilet by the blast and lies dead clutching the Modesty Blaise novel.

In addition, there are three other visits to the toilet by other characters, which have less impact. It's interesting that Vincent is present on all three occasions.

1. The unnamed fourth man is in the toilet when Vincent and Jules enter the apartment. He emerges with a gun in his hand, but when he shoots he misses.

2. The robber Yolanda says she wants to go to the toilet, which would have ended the Mexican standoff, but she's persuaded to hold it.

3. Mia goes to the toilet in the restaurant, which gives Vincent time to find something to say.

Is there a significance to these repeated visits to the toilet? They're too frequent to be accidental. I can't see any internal significance, but it's been suggested that Quentin Tarantino is paying homage to the 1989 film "God of Gamblers", which was also driven by repeated visits to the toilet.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (3½ Stars)

This is the sequel to "Sherlock Holmes", once more starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. My guest writer Kaylena already reviewed it here.

Instead of writing about the whole film I'll just zoom in on the chess game between Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty in one of the final scenes. The last 13 moves of the game are called out loud, but we aren't shown the position on the board. The question that most chess fans will ask is whether these moves are possible. If I had watched the film when it was first released in 2011 I would have researched it, using the pattern matching algorithms of the chess database program Chessbase; as it is I'm two years late, and the work has already been done for me. My main source is a blog post by Stefan Jonsson.

According to the film's chess consultant, Adam Raoof, "Not much of the footage of the actual game we filmed survived the edit, but it was a famous Larsen game with reversed colours and using some variations". The game he's referring to was between Bent Larsen and Tigran Petrosian in 1966. Unfortunately the first few moves of the game that we see being played don't match the ending. Holmes is shown playing Black, although we can calculate from the final 13 moves that he must have been playing White. This is a goof, but admittedly something that practically nobody would notice. Another goof is in the photo below, taken from the film. The black king and queen are on the wrong squares. Evidently Mr. Raoof wasn't paying attention.

The game's full notation is printed below, or click here to replay the full Holmes-Moriarty game in a Javascript window.

Sherlock Holmes - James Moriarty

 1. e4 c5
 2. Nf3 Nc6
 3. d4 cxd4
 4. Nxd4 g6
 5. Be3 Bg7
 6. c4 Nf6
 7. Nc3 Ng4
 8. Qxg4 Nxd4
 9. Qd1 Ne6
10. Qd2 d6
11. Be2 Bd7
12. O-O O-O
13. Rad1 Bc6
14. Nd5 Re8
15. f4 Nc7
16. f5 Na6
17. Bg4 Nc5
18. fxg6 hxg6
19. Qf2 Rf8
20. e5 Bxe5
21. Qh4 Bxd5
22. Rxd5 Ne6
23. Rf3 Bf6
24. Qh6 Bg7
25. Qxg6 fxg6
26. Bxe6+ Kh7
27. Rh3+ Bh6
28. Bxh6 Rf5
29. Rxf5 gxf5
30. Bf7 Qb6+
31. Kh1 Qxb2
32. Bf8#

Addendum on June 29th: This is something I've never done before. I'm extending my post a day after I first wrote it due to comments I've received. Usually I would add additional thoughts in the comments section, but in this case it's too much.

After I made my post an anonymous person contacted me and suggested the following game as an alternative to the game that I included in my post. Click here to replay it in a Javascript window.

James Moriarty - Sherlock Holmes

 1. c4 e5
 2. Nc3 d5
 3. cxd5 Nf6
 4. g3 Nxd5
 5. Bg2 Be6
 6. Nf3 Nc6
 7. Ng5 Qxg5
 8. Nxd5 Qd8
 9. Ne3 Qd7
10. d3 Be7
11. Bd2 O-O
12. O-O Rad8
13. Bc3 Nd4
14. Re1 f5
15. Nc2 f4
16. Na3 Bg5
17. Nc4 fxg3
18. hxg3 Qf7
19. Rf1 e4
20. Bxe4 Qh5
21. Bxd4 Rxd4
22. Ne3 Rf6
23. Qb3 Kh8
24. Bf3 Qh3
25. Bg2 Qxg3
26. fxg3 Bxe3+
27. Kh2 Rh6+
28. Bh3 Bxh3
29. Rf4 Rxf4
30. gxf4 Bf2
31. Qxb7 Bf1#

It has two major advantages over the game in my original post::

1. Sherlock Holmes is playing black.

2. The opening moves are the moves we see being played.

This game also matches the final 13 moves that are spoken out loud in the film. The reason is that in the film the old "descriptive moves" are used, which are ambiguous because they make no difference between White and Black. Since the 1980's unambiguous algebraic moves have become more common. For instance, the following algebraic notation and descriptive notation describe the same four moves.

Algebraic: 1. e4 e5 2. Nc4 Nf6

Descriptive: 1. P-K4 P-K4 2. N-QB3 N-KB3

This game is a good construction to match what the film shows us, but I still think that the more plausible explanation is that the film's opening moves were a goof. The reason is that this construction contains severe blunders on both sides. In move 23 Holmes could have taken Moriarty's Queen (23... Bxb3). Even worse, in move 28 Moriarty misses an immediate checkmate (28. Rf8#). The game in my original post, which follows the 1966 Larsen-Petrosian game until move 25, is a lot more logical.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Sherlock Holmes (3½ Stars)

My guest writer Kaylena already reviewed the film here. I'm not quite as enthusiastic about it as she was. Like her, I haven't read any of the Sherlock Holmes books.I've heard it claimed that the books contain a certain amount of action, not just logical deduction and investigative work. That may be the case, but in the Sherlock Holmes films I've seen in the past the detective was far from being the fighting figure that Robert Downey Jr. portrays. To me this was a very different Sherlock Holmes, difficult for me to grow accustomed to. It was a big shock to see him taking part in bare knuckle boxing matches for fun. (See the photo above).

In many ways, the character is identical to Tony Stark in the Iron Man films. Holmes and Stark are both geniuses. Holmes and Stark are both eccentric to the point of madness. Holmes' sidekick, Dr. John Watson (Jude Law), is the nagging voice of sanity, much the same as Pepper Potts in the Iron Man films. Or maybe the robot butler Jarvis is the one who fulfils that role.

The setting is perfect. Guy Ritchie was the best choice for director. He has a passionate love for London, and his dull coloured portrayal of the streets has a morbid beauty. I need to watch the film again. This is a film I'd like to sit and watch with someone else. It's a shame Kaylena lives so far away.

Titanic (5 Stars)

This was probably the most hyped film ever. I remember the months leading up to its initial cinema release in 1997. Even though the Internet existed at the time, it hadn't established itself as a part of everyone's lives the way it has now. Information flowed slower in those days, but the upcoming film about the Titanic was still making big waves. So many films had been made about the Titanic before, in particular the film starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, also called "Titanic", made only a year earlier in 1996. What was the point in making yet another Titanic film? Then the studios leaked that it would be a love story. A big budget love story. People were expecting it to make enormous losses, but the closer the release date came the more people began to expect something good. The media promotions were driving the public into a fervour. Then the film finally appeared just before Christmas 1997, and everyone loved it. News reports showed people leaving the cinemas in tears. I don't remember such a fuss ever being made about another film before or since.

The film remained in the cinemas a long time, about three months in my local cinemas, although I've heard stories about it being shown even longer elsewhere. I went to see it quite late, February 1998, I think. Later in the year it came back to the cinemas, with television ads telling us to "go watch it again". This type of film promotion was also unique, as far as I'm aware. I didn't go back to the cinema a second time, but I did feel tempted, though only because the video and DVD release were delayed so long. The studios were milking the film for all it was worth. The fact that it won 11 Oscars at the 1998 Academy Awards gave it an extra boost. When the DVD was finally released at the end of 1998 it became the first film to sell over one million copies on DVD.

Over the next few years something strange happened. People turned against the film. In the early 2000's the Internet was becoming more widespread, and it became common for people to write badly about "Titanic". By 2005 it had won a series of reader polls as the "worst film ever". Were people crazy? No way it was that bad. I think the problem was that they had binged on "Titanic". They'd watched it so often that they'd grown sick of it. But I still liked it. I just shook my head at all the negative criticism.

In 2012 the film was rereleased in a 3D version, totally unnecessarily, in my opinion. I expected it to flop, but it was a big hit in the cinemas again. Currently the film seems to be "in" again. The public is fickle, but not me. I loved the film when it was first released, I love it today, and I see no reason why I should ever stop loving it.

It's interesting to see what has happened with the two leading actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. They both gave outstanding performances in "Titanic". Since then Kate Winslet has gone on to make one excellent film after another, establishing herself as a world class actress. For Leonardo DiCaprio it's been different; "Titanic" was the peak of his career, and he's never risen to the same level since. Of course, he starred in "Django Unchained", but that was a great film despite him, not because of him.

Monday, 24 June 2013

God Bless America (4 Stars)

Ever since I was at school I've been fascinated by the legacy of the Roman Empire. Many praise it as the pinnacle of human society, whereas others call it an empire of evil. It was founded on high philosophical principles, but it's remembered for the cruel way it treated the Jews during their occupation of Israel. They advocated peace throughout the known world, the Pax Romana, but Rome is remembered for its endless series of wars. The Roman senate was an early form of democracy, but Rome turned into a dictatorship under the Caesars.

I wish I could be alive two thousand years from now to see how history judges America. It's a country that was founded with high ideals. When it was first settled it was a land of freedom for people who were escaping the oppression of the European countries they came from. The American constitution is a wonderful document. It sets out marvelous ideals. Many Americans say that they love their country, but what they really love is the American dream. Not the American reality.

America is a land of cruelty, in which only the strongest survive. Those who have high paid jobs have benefits and can go to the doctor for free; those who have badly paid jobs have to pay for doctors' fees themselves. Shouldn't it be the other way round? America's liberal gun laws have led to every criminal and madman being able to buy a gun and shoot anyone he doesn't like. As for freedom of speech, it's very difficult to express your viewpoints in America, especially if you're a Communist or an atheist. The equality of black and white is still something that has to be fought for on a daily basis, not something that can be taken for granted.

In the film Frank (Joel Murray) is a deep thinking man who is able to see behind the veil of the society he lives in. The Populus Americanus is kept happy with the circuses presented on television. Happy and distracted. Why worry about society when all people talk about is American Idol and Kim Kardashian? (American Idol is called "American Superstarz" in the film, maybe they objected to being pointed at). In a fit of rage Frank kills Chloe, the teenage star of a reality show. This is a one-off act of protest for him, but he's witnessed by a 16-year-old girl called Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) who encourages him to wage war on all displays of American shallowness, rudeness and meanness. Together they go on a killing spree that climaxes in an assault on American Idol. Sorry, I meant American Superstarz.

This is another film that's difficult to rate. In cases like this I should have a list of categories for a film, give marks for each and average out the result. The message behind this film is profound. The speeches are bold, even though they may seem pretentious. Frank's dullness is deliberate, I'm sure of it, but it spoils the film for me. He's meant to be an average middle-aged American, but to me he's too average. On the other hand, Roxy's enthusiastic rejection of shallowness in all its forms is inspiring, however exaggerated her views are.

This is a good film with a good message. It's not a message of depression. The director doesn't want to inspire the viewers to anarchy, but he does want to wake them up from their complacency. They should open their eyes to the America they live in.Things have changed a lot over the last 400 years. Whereas people fled to America in the past, today there is much more freedom and equality in the European countries that they left behind. America isn't a lost cause. Things can be changed. But the only way to change is to look to the countries of Western Europe for guidance, countries where freedom and equality reign.

P.S. I hope everyone noticed the dialogue that was copied from "Jackie Brown".

P.P.S. I'm neither a Communist nor an atheist, but I strongly defend the rights of people to have views different to my own.

Dirty Little Secret (3¾ Stars)

This film, the true story of the relationship of Jodi Arias and Travis Alexander, is difficult for me to rate because I sat down to watch it with a certain amount of bias. I watched the murder trial for almost five months, so I'm well aware of the facts. To give a fair rating I would have to stand back and put myself into the position of someone who knows little or nothing of the story. I think the story could have been filmed better, and I actually hope it will be remade, since it's a story worth telling. With an improved screenplay it could be the "Fatal Attraction" of the 21st Century.

The film is divided into three parts:

1. The relationship (60 minutes)
2. The last day, including the murder (10 minutes)
3. The trial (10 minutes)

The first part, the relationship, takes up the bulk of the film. It's very enjoyable. In my opinion it captures the essence of the relationship perfectly. Jodi was an oppressive lover, burning with jealousy if another woman as much as talked to Travis. Travis was a young man struggling to balance his religious faith with his sexual desires. Although Travis probably wasn't a virgin when they met, Jodi was the sexual aggressor who introduced him to things he had never dreamt of before. She was too much for the Mormon boy to handle. Even when he realised that she wasn't the right woman for him and broke up with her he couldn't resist her when she came back for new sexual encounters. Some people call Travis a religious hypocrite. I say that those people are the hypocrites themselves. They should recognise human nature, or rather male nature, for what it is. If I had been in Travis' position I would have been just as helpless in Jodi's hands.

The second part is acceptable, as it is, although the drama of the stabbing itself seems subdued. I would have preferred this part to be filmed differently, showing the whole round trip from California to Arizona and back, not just the one day. I'll describe this more in connection with the third part, except to point out one inaccuracy in the film. When Jodi visits Travis she says it's to say goodbye because she is leaving Arizona. At this time she had actually already left Arizona and was living in California. Her only intention in visiting him was to kill him.

The third part, the trial, is muddled. It looks like random scenes were stuffed together at the last minute because someone heard about them in the real life trial and thought "It would be nice to include that as well". For instance, I doubt that anyone who doesn't know about the case would understand why there's a flashback to Jodi screwing on her car license plate upside down. In the trial scenes it's not obvious that Jennifer Willmott is the defence attorney. This could have been done better by fleshing out the last two parts.

The second part should have started with Jodi faking a burglary at her grandmother's house. Then it should have shown her preparations. The phone calls arranging to meet her lover in Utah. The gas cans. The road trip. Turning her cell phone off. Then the sex and the murder. Getting rid of the murder weapons. And finally the continued trip to Utah and having sex with the other man the same day that she had killed Travis.This might all be confusing, but it could be explained by the words of the prosecutor in the third part.

The trial phase of the film deserves to be fleshed out. More emphasis should be given to the way Jodi tried to destroy Travis on the stand. We should hear more of her tales of Travis being abusive to her, which would be in stark contrast to what we saw in the first part. We should hear her saying that Travis forced her to carry out sexual practises against her will. The trial phase in the film last 10 minutes, I think it could be done justice by expanding it to 20 minutes. It's not necessary to include the testimonies of Dr. Samuels and Alyce LaViolette, even though they would be amusing as comic relief.

For a true story to be made into a good film it doesn't have to include everything. It's okay to simplify matters that would take too long to explain and ruin the film's pacing. The closing scene of Jodi singing hymns in prison is poignant, I admit, but can anyone who doesn't already know about Jodi understand what it's about? I would omit it.

There are a few minor errors worth pointing out. When Jodi movies to Arizona she says that she is open to doing any job, even waitressing. She had worked for ten years as a waitress already, so she wouldn't have made a remark like that.

In the prison scene after sentencing her cell isn't portrayed accurately. She is kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, so she isn't able to see or hear other prisoners.

The biggest mistake is that in her cell Jodi apologises to Travis. This is out of character. One thing that became apparent during the trial is that Jodi feels no remorse at all. She blames Travis for making her kill him.

Overall I can recommend the film, especially to those who have followed the trial. After all the months of courtroom lies it's refreshing to be reminded of what really happened. Maybe some of the details of the final day, prior to the killing, are still unknown, but the film supplies a reasonable estimation of the events. Only Jodi knows what really happened, but she will never tell the truth. The film will be aired on the Lifetime TV channel a few more times, so click here for the schedule. I'll definitely buy the DVD when it's released, and I hope that the Lifetime documentary will be included as a special feature.

Click here for my previous thoughts on Jodi Arias.

Machete (5 Stars)

I'm glad that director Robert Rodriguez toned down the old film effects in this film. The only fake film scratches are at the beginning. "Planet Terror" was a good film, but he overdid the effects. I can understand him wanting to make the film look old for nostalgic effect, but if you watch the film more than once it gets boring. My advice to Robert for future grindhouse films is simple: release the DVD with both scratched and unscratched versions, and let them be selectable using the Angle option. I assume this wouldn't be too difficult, since the films are first made in pristine condition and the scratches are edited in later.

I already reviewed the film here. It's a film that grows on me more every time I watch it. My only criticism is that too much is packed into the final showdown. It's like Rodriguez had lots of ideas that he felt the need to include before it was too late, such as the nuns with guns. This could have been easily solved by adding an extra 30 minutes to the film.

The Dictator (4 Stars)

This is the fourth character film made by the British comedy actor Sacha Baron Cohen. Though weaker than the preceding films, it's still riproaringly hilarious. He invites people to laugh at things they're normally too polite to consider funny.

Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen (Cohen) is the evil but naive leader of the fictional North African country Wadiya. He visits the USA to hold a speech to the United Nations affirming his intention to further suppress human rights. While there his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) attempts to kill him, and thinking he has succeeded he replaces him with a body double, a simpleton under his control. The real Aladeen is forced to get a job in a health food store in Brooklyn while he tries to find a way to get his kingdom back.

The film's best scene is only present in the extended version. This is the battle between Aladeen and his busty bodyguard Etra, played by the American stripper/model Busty Heart. It's amazing that he managed to avoid being crushed by her killer breasts. It's even more amazing that he wanted to avoid it.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Jackie Brown (5 Stars)

This is doubtless one of my favourite films. Something about it touches me. Part of it is the music. I'm not aware of any other film that uses the Philly Sound as extensively as "Jackie Brown". Part of it is the fast talking dialog from Samuel L. Jackson, who is probably my favourite actor. But the film's biggest attraction is the stunningly beautiful Pam Grier in the title role. The film opens with her being displayed as she passes by on an airport's moving walkway, the modern world's equivalent of a pedestal. She is truly a Goddess among women. Even though she (unfortunately) doesn't discard any clothing, every time she appears on the screen she sends a thrill through me.

The Blu-ray that I watched today contains a discussion between film critics that took place 14 years after the film's initial release. All five of them are enthusiastic about the film. They describe it as a "sleeper", a film whose quality only becomes apparent with time. I can see what they mean. Although it was a box office success, it made less money than Quentin Tarantino's other films. It only received one Oscar nomination, namely for Robert Forster as best supporting actor. (Wasn't he the film's main male actor?) Both critics and fans have needed years to warm to the film. It's a lot more mellow than the usual Tarantino style. There's much less violence and there are no over-the-top action sequences. It's a film that speaks to the heart. It's a poignant love story, about a love which never quite reaches fruition.

Beautiful. Click here to read my last review.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Kill Bill (5 Stars)

In the past I reviewed "Kill Bill, Vol 1" and "Kill Bill, Vol 2" separately. I shan't do that any more. Even though they appeared in the cinema separately, a year apart, it's only one film. Quentin Tarantino originally intended it to be released as a four hour film, but the film studios didn't go along with this. In 2008 Quentin promised a four-hour single film version would be released on DVD "soon", with certain changes to make it more similar to the versions released in Japan, but now it's 2013 and there's still nothing. My guess is that he's still arguing with the studios.

This is a film that I have to keep watching. Sheer genius!

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Artist (4 Stars)

This is a beautiful film. Maybe four stars isn't enough, but at the moment I'm trying to save five star ratings for my absolute favorite films. In 2012 it won five Academy Awards, including the Oscar for best film. It's easy to see why. It's a very stylish homage to the days of silent movies. It isn't just filmed without sound, it retains the characteristics of silent films. The only thing done wrong is that after the final scene we should see the words "The End" and fade out. The five minutes of rolling credits were out of place. Silent films never did that.

The film is either a French or an American film, depending on where you live. In America it's called an American film made by a French director. In France it's called a French film made in Hollywood. That figures. We need someone from a neutral third country to decide what it really is. On the Internet it's referred to as an American film, but that's because America owns the Internet, as we all know.

The story is suitable for the film type, or maybe I should say that the film type is suitable for the story. It's a silent movie about silent movies, or rather about the death of silent movies. It starts in 1927 with the silent movie star George Valentin at the peak of his career. He helps a young starlet, Peppy Miller, get a job at Kinograph Studios, where he works. In 1929 the first movies with sound are made, talkies. George says talking movies are stupid, so he invests all his money in a self-directed silent movie that flops. Peppy embraces the sound era and becomes a major Hollwood star. The fortunes are reversed. Peppy offers George help, but he's too proud to accept it.

I have a few silent movies in my DVD collection. "Birth of a Nation" (1915) is an important milestone in film history that all true film fans should own. "Nosferatu" (1922) is also a classic. I also own a few of Alfred Hitchcock's silent movies, notably "The Farmer's Wife" (1928), "The Manxman" (1929) and "Blackmail" (1929). And of course, the very first film that I reviewed in this blog was "Metropolis" (1927). I have no regrets that today's films use sound, but I can understand the allure of silent movies. They were an art form in themselves, and they demanded much more skill from the actors. Facial expressions and small gestures carried the scenes.

For those interested in the advent of talking movies, another film that deals with the same subject, though from a different perspective, is Bernhard Sinkel's "Kinoerzähler".

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Off-Topic: Berlin, Three Presidents, Three Speeches

Yesterday, June 19th 2013, America's President Barak Obama held a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. This made him the third American president to speak in Berlin in the last 50 years. It's interesting to see the change in attitudes over the years. When President Kennedy visited Berlin in 1963 people lined the streets and threw flowers to him. When President Reagan visited Berlin in 1987 there were riots by people protesting against him. President Obama's visit to Berlin was treated with indifference and didn't even attract as many spectators as a David Hasselhoff concert.

President Kennedy presented America as Germany's protector, and everybody wanted him. President Reagan also presented America as Germany's protector, but Germans thought he was making matters worse by stationing cruise missiles on German soil. This is ironic, because history has shown that Reagan did far more to assist German reunification than Kennedy ever did. President Obama has nothing to offer Germany, so his awkward, over-long speech seemed to be directed more at the American media than his German hosts.

Transcripts of the three speeches can be found online, but I've gathered them together for comparison.

President Kennedy's speech in Berlin, June 1963

President Reagan's speech in Berlin, June 1987

President Obama's speech in Berlin, June 2013

It's interesting that although Reagan carefully avoided Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" blunder, Obama blatantly repeated it. Maybe Obama believes the apologists who have claimed that it wasn't a mistake after all. These claims stem from patriotic Americans who have poor knowledge of the German language. President Kennedy really did say "I am a jelly doughnut", and Wikipedia is wrong to claim otherwise. Wikipedia has even posted a warning on its talk page not to write anything about this subject. "While the urban legend is well-known in the English-speaking world, in Germany it is not". This is incorrect. When I lived in Germany Kennedy's words were often cited as a point of ridicule.

R.I.P. James Gandolfini

Yesterday, June 19th 2013, the great actor James Gandolfini passed away while on holiday in Italy. He was 51 years old. It seems to have been a heart attack, but until now no official medical report has been released. Tributes to him are already springing up all over the Internet, pointing out his long and distinguished film career from 1987 till today. But let's be honest: the role he will always be remembered for is Tony Soprano in the television series "The Sopranos". It was the gangster series watched by people who hate gangster series. It's more than six years since the last episode was broadcast, and yet today still lists the Sopranos complete series box set as its best selling television box set. It has a timeless appeal.

It's tragic that such a great man should die so young by something as commonplace as a heart attack. It should have been a mob hit. I know I haven't done justice to him in this short tribute, so here's a link to the BBC's tribute.

Man of Steel (4 Stars)

Last night I went out to see "Man of Steel". I've never been a Superman fan, but for me it was an excuse to get out of the house and spend time with other members of the Birmingham Film Club. I had a lot of fun, even though I was shocked to see that almost none of them have seen my favourite film, "Lost Highway". It's my favourite English language film, anyway; at the moment I like "Summer in Orange" more, but it hasn't been released in English, and probably never will be. It's far too German to be popular abroad.

My problem with Superman, the comic book character, is that he's too strong. He can do almost anything. At least "Man of Steel" toned this aspect down by not giving him super speed and letting him run around in a blur. I've read very few of his comics, but the ones I read all seemed to revolve around an excuse for Superman to be weakened to make his battles more credible. Imagine a fight between Superman and the Joker, or any of Batman's enemies. One punch and he's dead. It makes me wonder what the point of Batman is in the DC Universe.

"Man of Steel" is a slightly darker take on the Superman mythology. He lives as a drifter, afraid to reveal his powers, but unable to stand idly by when people need help. He's drawn into the open when a fellow exile from the planet Krypton arrives on Earth, General Zod, who has powers similar to those of Superman. The final battle is over the top action, in which most of Metropolis is destroyed. It was an enjoyable film, but my lack of sympathy for the Superman character makes it unlikely I'll want to watch it again.

Rock of Ages (4 Stars)

This review must come as a shock to my regular readers. I've regularly complained about Tom Cruise's acting ability, but now I've watched one of his films and even given it a good rating. Let's just say that I keep an open mind. Even the worst actors have their day. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't a good actor, but he was perfect in "Terminator". Keanu Reeves is also a poor actor, but he was the perfect choice for "The Matrix". Kyle McLachlan is probably the worst actor I know, but who else could have starred in "Twin Peaks"? I watched "Rock of Ages" because of the music, and I have to admit that Tom Cruise didn't do a bad job as the washed up rock star Stacee Jaxx. Supposedly washed up, at least. Whenever he climbed on stage he found his old magic.

When this film was in the cinemas last year a film critic for the "Metro" wrote, "It's difficult to believe we used to like music like this". He then went on to ridicule what he called "hair metal", in which long-haired men sing like castrati. I wonder what music the reviewer listens to at home? Does he prefer the type of music where black men dress like pimps and sing about bitches and hoes? No, the rock music of the 80's was real music. Calling it "hair metal" is an insult, it was never about the hair, it was all about the music. I don't like the term "glam metal" either, since it only refers to the stage shows, not the musical style.

The main characteristic of 80's rock music was that it shed the blues element that was characteristic of the big 70's rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. The beats were fast, the music was loud, and yes, the men sang in high pitched voices. More than the 70's, the rock music of the 80's was good time party music, uplifting, happy music. People can complain that the days are gone, but the music is still available today, on CD's or as MP3's. The music of the 80's will live on forever.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Off-Topic: Men's Fashion: The Tie

Today I read a fascinating article on the BBC's website. At the G8 summit currently taking place in Ireland none of the world's leaders are wearing ties. This is a matter of great interest to me. When I was at school I had to wear a tie as part of my school uniform. In my late teens and early 20's I commonly wore a tie because I thought it made me look smart. When I moved to Germany I worked in an office where only the bosses wore ties, so I discarded my tie to fit in. I still wore a tie at the weekend, but shortly after my marriage there was a turning point: my wife threw away all my flamboyant English ties and bought me dull German ties to replace them. That took away my pleasure in wearing ties, so I only put on a tie if I really had to.

This started me thinking. What purpose do ties serve? A jacket keeps me warm, shoes protect my feet, but what does a tie do? Nothing. So why do men wear them? After only a little thought the answer was obvious: the tie is a symbol of male supremacy. It's a phallic symbol with which men tell women that they have something women don't. Later, in the 1990's, ties became fashionable for women, but this just proves my point. In our liberated age misguided women think that equality is achieved by becoming like men. A woman can't have a penis, but she can put on a tie.

The importance of the tie is also shown in an old German tradition, the Weiberfastnacht, which takes place on the Thursday before the Christian festival of Lent. Literally translated it means "women's fasting night", but the name is deceptive, because it has nothing to do with Christianity. It's traditionally a day in which women take charge. In central Germany women storm the council houses and take charge of the towns, passing new laws which, unfortunately, expire at midnight. In southern Germany men are expected to obey their wives on this day. But the most significant tradition on this day is that women cut off men's ties. I was fascinated when I saw this the first time; one of the secretaries in my company cut off a boss's tie and pinned it on the wall as a trophy. The other bosses quickly removed their ties to protect themselves. The symbolic male emasculation was unmistakeable.

To me it was so thrilling that over the next few years I repeatedly set myself up as a target. Although I never usually wore a tie to work, on Weiberfastnacht I dressed smart and put on a tie when I took the train to work. Older women ignored me, but every year schoolgirls were pointing at me and whispering. Some years nobody would find the courage, but most years they would approach me, always in a group, and the ringleader, scissors in hand, would snip off my symbol of male supremacy.

Another unnecessary fashion accessory is the hat, though it could be argued that it does have a purpose, hiding a man's baldness or taking the attention away from older women's grey hair. The turning point for the hat as a male accessory was President Kennedy. He was the first American president who didn't wear a hat, which started the hat-less fashion trend. I'm hoping that the casual look of today's politicians will herald the death of the tie.

The Girl who kicked the Hornets' Nest (2 Stars)

This is the third part of the Millennium trilogy. It begins at the point the second part left off, showing Lisbeth being delivered to hospital to be treated for the gunshot wounds she received at the end of the second film. She spends more than half of the film lying in her hospital bed, hardly the right place for a film's title character.

The film falls flat after the first two parts. At its core it's a courtroom drama, even though more time is spent gathering evidence than in the courtroom itself. Lisbeth has been charged with the murder of her father. We, the viewers, already know that she's innocent. We already know everything about the secret operations surrounding him in the 1970's. There's no real mystery, everything was revealed in the last film. All we see is the reporter Mikael Blomkvist and his friends scrambling to find evidence to prove what we already know. To me this is extremely boring. According to the quote on the film poster above, David Edwards of England's "Daily Mirror" called this "the thriller of the decade". I try my best to respect other people's opinions, I really do, but in this case I doubt his professional judgement.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Hindenburg (4 Stars)

This review is for the 2011 German film. Although it was only made for television it is far superior to the big budget Hollywood film with the same name made in 1975, at the peak of the disaster movie craze. As I've pointed out before, in Germany television movies are of much higher quality than their American and English equivalents, often surpassing the quality of cinema movies.

Having said that, this film has been savaged by critics in Germany and abroad. I've read many of the negative reviews, and they don't attack the cinematography or the talent of the actors. The criticism is of the historical accuracy. They say that the whole espionage affair that took place during the flight of the Hindenburg is pure speculation, not based on facts. The critics just don't get it. It isn't supposed to be a documentary of a disaster. It's a work of fiction that just happens to take place at the same time as a historical event. To compare it with "Titanic", which is admittedly a strong influence on this film, nobody complains that Jack Dawson and Rose never existed, even though they were shown dining with Molly Brown, a real person. I think the problem for the critics is that while Jack and Rose were historically insignificant characters, the fiction in "Hindenburg" involves people who would be of high political importance, if they really existed.

Let's get the facts out of the way first. The Hindenburg was the world's largest airship. After making journeys safely for over a year, it burst into flames shortly before landing in New York on May 6th 1937. It was close enough to the ground that people who jumped from the windows survived. While the reason for the fire isn't 100% certain, the most commonly held theory is that it was caused by a gas leak ignited by static electricity. The fire completely destroyed the airship within 37 seconds.

The film has to do with a plot to blow up the Hindenburg. At the risk of giving spoilers, the bomb on board the Hindenburg is found and the ship is saved, so the actual explosion takes place due to the accidental causes of gas leak and static electricity.

Edward Van Zandt owns an American company that produces non-inflammable gas. The Zeppelin company that made the Hindenburg needs this gas, but is unable to buy it due to an American trade embargo against Germany. For this reason they are forced to use inflammable gas. The German government makes a plan to destroy the Hindenburg while it is moored in America to raise public opinion against the embargo. Edward's wife Helen is responsible for making sure the bomb is on the Hindenburg. She flies from Germany to America, secure in the knowledge that the bomb won't explode until a few hours after the landing. Unfortunately the Hindenburg is delayed by bad weather, meaning the bomb will explode while they are still in mid air.

And now for the love triangle. We need one of those! Merten Kröger is one of the engineers responsible for designing the Hindenburg. Shortly before the flight he meets Jennifer Van Zandt, Edward's daughter, obviously out of his league, but he pursues her anyway. Her lover is Fritz Rittenberg, an aristocratic German industrialist, who is also an important member of the Nazi party. Fritz is also involved in the plot to destroy the Hindenburg. Following the "Titanic" formula I just knew there would be a sex scene between Merten and Jennifer before the disaster happened, but I had to wait until late in the film.

I have a warning for my English speaking readers: the Hindenburg DVD released in England and America is a shortened 106 minute version. If you want this film on DVD, buy the original German release, which contains the full 183 minute version, and it includes a dubbed English version. The American Blu-ray release contains the uncut version, but it's extremely expensive.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Uncle Adolf (2 Stars)

This film makes me sad. It's an interesting subject, one that deserves to be filmed, but it's been made so badly. It shows the relationship between Adolf Hitler and his niece, Geli Raubal, from 1925 to 1931. This relationship was also shown in the film "Hitler: The Rise of Evil", but only as part of the larger story of Hitler's rise to power.

Watching the two films back to back is like night and day. Robert Carlyle brought Hitler to life, giving modern viewers clues to his phenomenal success. Ken Stott, who plays Hitler in "Uncle Adolf", is more of a caricature of the man himself. He acts like a buffoon, making it difficult to see how anyone could take him seriously. I have grave doubts about the historical accuracy of some parts. It concentrates on Eva Braun's jealousy of Geli, which is a pure supposition, not based on any historical reports I know of. The film shows that Geli was pregnant by a Jewish musician. This was a common story at the time, but there's no proof that it was more than anti-Hitler propaganda. The only relationship that Geli had which we can know with any certainty was her affair with Hitler's chauffeur.

In fact, it's very difficult to sift through the post-war propaganda to be certain what really happened. It's true that Hitler had some sort of a relationship with his niece. Was it sexual? Maybe, maybe not. He drew naked pictures of her, of which some still survive. She shared an apartment with him from the age of 17 to 23. Let's make it clear that this relationship, even if it had been sexual, was not illegal. No laws in Germany forbid marriage or sexual relations between an uncle and his niece. The age of sexual consent in Germany is 16, so she wasn't too young for him. (During this time he was 36 to 42). However, the thought of an uncle "touching" his niece had a very bad taste with the general public, just as it does today.

Nowadays people associate Hitler with Eva Braun, his lover who he married shortly before his death. However, he is recorded as saying that Geli is the only woman he ever loved. He also had a string of relationships, some with celebrities such as the actress Renate Müller. One significant fact is that four of Hitler's lovers, including Renate, committed suicide. Geli died by shooting herself. Eva Braun attempted suicide. This would suggest that Geli was one in a string of his lovers. Why did they kill themselves? None of the women left suicide notes, or if they did the notes were destroyed. One recurring theme is that Hitler's lovers spoke of him having "perverse masochistic tendencies". Geli told a friend that her uncle made her piss on him. In isolation this might be dismissed as propaganda, but Hitler's other lovers tell similar stories.

This is a film that needs to be remade. While it's impossible to know the complete truth about what happened, the new film should stick to things which are highly probable.

Hitler: The Rise of Evil (5 Stars)

This film was made for television in 2003 and deals with Adolf Hitler's rise to power. It begins with his youth and continues to 1934. When I first heard about Robert Carlyle being picked to play Hitler I was horrified. He looks nothing like Hitler! Or so I thought. The first photos of Carlyle changed my mind, and seeing him in the film itself convinced me. Everything from the mannerisms to the facial expressions made him more Hitler than Hitler. This is the mark of a true actor. Imagine if Tom Cruise had been picked to play Hitler. People would be laughing in the cinemas up and down America.

The film is based on several historical sources, but in particular the memoires of Ernst Hanfstaengl, who plays a prominent role in the film. His name is largely unknown today, but he was an important person in Hitler's rise to power. His official role was that of Hitler's press secretary, but effectively he created propaganda for Hitler, the role that was later fulfilled by Joseph Goebbels. He was a rich German who lived in America from 1904 to 1918. His wife was an American of German descent. He made many contacts during his studies at Harvard and through his business in New York, including a friendship with President Theodore Roosevelt. When Hanfstaengel allied himself with Hitler, Hitler's supporters were members of the working class. Hanfstaengel used his aristocratic background to introduce Hitler to wealthy circles who were able to donate to his cause.

I grew up in England, well after the second world war, and I always heard the same things: Hitler was stupid, an uneducated painter, etc. I always had problems believing this. How could a stupid man become a country's leader? Post-war propaganda. "The Rise of Evil" doesn't do this. It portrays Hitler as a powerful man with a sharp mind and outstanding leadership qualities. He was driven by two things: his love for Germany and his hatred of the Jews. Many people blame Hitler for instigating anti-semitism, but this is far from the case. In the early 20th Century, even before the first world war, anti-semitism was strong in Germany and Austria. For instance, German university clubs didn't allow Jewish students to become members. Many newspapers were openly critical of the Jewish influence on society. Anti-semitism isn't something that Hitler forced on the German people, it was already there, he only had to fan the flames to make it grow stronger.

The film is impressive, portraying Hitler's evil without resorting to the insults that are usually thrown at him by the war winners. I recommend this more than any other film about Hitler.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Raging Boll (4 Stars)

Yet another documentary! I only wrote about one documentary from 2010 to 2012, and now it's been three documentaries in two months. I do actually watch more documentaries, usually those broadcast on television, but they don't meet my criteria for being written about:

1. The documentary is in one part.

2. This one part lasts at least 70 minutes.

This documentary is about a subject that's been fascinating me lately. The subject is Uwe Boll, or rather the way people hate Uwe Boll. I still don't completely understand it. "Raging Boll" is a neutral handling of the subject, based mainly on interviews with Boll himself, but also giving the opinions of his family, his friends and his enemies. The title of the film is based on his boxing matches against his critics in September 2006. When I saw the cover photo I expected the fights to be shown in detail, but unfortunately that wasn't the case.

For those who don't know about the boxing matches, prior to 2006 Uwe had been constantly attacked online. Not just his films were criticised, the attacks were personal. Web sites such as IMDB were full of death threats against him; as fast as the moderators deleted the threats new ones appeared. Uwe sent invitations to his harshest critics to face him in the boxing ring. The plan was to fight five matches one after another in Vancouver, but since one of the matches had to be held in Spain it took place on an earlier date. The matches were scheduled to last ten rounds each, but he managed to knock out all his opponents in the first round.

My respect to the critics who were man enough to face Uwe in the ring, but on the night they were cry babies. One critic objected, "The fight is unfair, you've been training". Uwe answered, quite correctly, "You've had two months time to prepare. Why weren't you training?" Indeed, after the four fights Uwe held a speech in which he said that his opponents had lost because they hadn't prepared themselves for their fight, just as they hadn't prepared themselves to make good film criticism.

Uwe calls online film critics amateurs. The ones who criticise him, anyway. For me that isn't an insult. My film blog is amateurish as well, and I don't care. I'm no Roger Ebert, not now and I never shall be (even though I do feel a certain kinsmanship with him). If I were a journalist I'd make more of an effort to write professionally. But one thing I would never do is make death threats to directors or actors that I don't like. If you asked me for a list I could probably name half a dozen actors that I dislike, by which I mean that I don't think that their acting ability merits the amount of money and fame that they receive. If you asked me for a list of musicians I could probably name even more, because there are many rappers whose music and misogynistic image I detest. But why make death threats? I wouldn't say, "Tom Cruise makes bad films so he deserves to die". That's silly. All I'd say is, "Tom Cruise is a highly overrated actor. Instead of hiring him directors should give talented young actors a chance".

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Infernal Affairs 3 (3½ Stars)

This film, the third in the Infernal Affairs trilogy, is a close companion to the first film. The story straddles the first film, taking place both before and after it. It modifies the way we see Lau Kin. After the end of the first film I had sympathy with him. It seemed to me that he had a sincere intention to become a good man, despite the ambiguity of killing the other mole in the elevator at the police station. Would he have shot Chan on the rooftop? I think not, although that might not be the conclusion the scriptwriter or director wanted me to make.

"Infernal Affairs 3" makes things clear. Lau finds out that there are five gang moles in the police force, and one of them is supposedly killing the others to conceal his identity. Lau decides that he has to be the survivor. We see him spying on Superintendent Yeung from the police force's "security department", whatever that is. At first I had the impression that he was one of the moles, but as the film progresses it becomes clear that he's a "good cop", the embodiment of what Lau wants to be. Then, as the film comes to a close, Lau goes into a mental meltdown. He begins to think that he is the police mole Chan. This follows up from themes from the original film, the mental stress of having to spend years pretending you're someone you're not.

It was difficult for me to understand the beginning of the film. I didn't understand everything that was happening, and even when I did understand things I didn't understand their relevance. I have a feeling that if I watch the trilogy again I might understand and enjoy it more.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Client List (3 Stars)

This film is supposedly based on a true story, but it's impossible for me to check if that's really the case because the names and locations have been changed. A family in Texas is struggling because the husband has injured his leg and can't do construction jobs, while his wife can't find any sort of job. They have three young children, so they're in a crisis. The wife, Samantha Horton, sees a newspaper ad for a job in a massage parlour in a neighbouring town. She doesn't realise until she starts work that it's really a brothel. At first she only keeps the job because she's desperate for money to save her family, but she soon finds out that she's highly skilled at what she does.

I had to watch this film because Jennifer Love Hewitt plays Samantha. I'm fascinated by her. I already gave her my vote as the world's sexiest actress. Somehow I don't like her in this role. Jennifer is usually such a clean character, whiter than white, so it's disturbing to see her fall apart in this film, degenerating into a cocaine addiction. My disappointment with the film won't prevent me from watching the television series that has followed from the movie. How could I not watch it? It also stars Jennifer Love Hewitt.

The film highlights how primitive the United States is. It would be impossible for a situation like this to arise in a civilised country like England or Germany. Any family in this situation wouldn't just receive unemployment pay, there would be more than adequate financial support for the children. Nobody in a civilised country would have to suffer like this, unless it were the parents' own fault, for instance wasting money on drugs or gambling. America is a country built on greed. The rich hold onto their money and look down on those who are less fortunate, wailing about the slightest increase in taxes. It's a country where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Infernal Affairs 2 (4 Stars)

This isn't a sequel to "Infernal Affairs", it's a prequel, so if it had been an American film it would have been called "Infernal Affairs 0". In the first film we met Lau and Chan, who have been undercover operatives for ten years in the police force and a criminal gang respectively. This film deals with the first six years of their undercover operations, from 1991 to 1997. We see the slow advance of the two men in power, while also seeing more of the relationship between the emerging crime boss Sam and the police. An important background to the film is the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China in 1997. This development means big changes not only for the police force, but also for the crime lords.

I read reviews comparing the Infernal Affairs trilogy to the Godfather trilogy. After I watched the first film I thought this comparison was silly, because it didn't have anything in common with "The Godfather". The second film, however, is closer to the Godfather films, since it shows more of the power struggles and internal politics of crime families.

While watching the first film I was confused by Buddhist undertones that seemed to have nothing to do with the film itself. In the second film Buddhism plays an even stronger role, in words at least. I still don't understand the relevance. Maybe one of my readers can explain it to me.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Infernal Affairs (4½ Stars)

This film was recommended to me a week ago by someone who told me it's his favourite film. Whenever somebody names his favourite film and it's something I've never watched I take a closer look at it. I read reviews, and if I'm still interested I watch it.

I had already heard about this film a few years ago. I knew it was a Chinese gangster film, that was about it. I prefer old Chinese films, i.e. films that deal with the days when disputes were settled with fists and swords. Those were the good old days, and it has to be said that the Chinese films in that genre, especially those made since the reunification with Hong Kong, have been outstanding. I find modern day Japanese gangster films dull, so I was never tempted to watch "Infernal Affairs", assuming it would be similar in style. I was very, very wrong.

This is a psychological drama, a cat and mouse game in which it's uncertain who is the cat and who is the mouse. Chan Wing is a police officer who is planted as an undercover operative in a gang. Lau Kin is a gang member who has infiltrated the police force. Years pass by. After 10 years Chan Wing has become the gang boss's right hand man, while Lau Kin has become a senior police officer. After a drug trafficking operation goes wrong both sides learn they have a mole. Because of their trusted positions both Chan and Lau are above suspicion, and they are each assigned the duty of finding the mole. Moles, I should say. The gang boss asks Chan to find the mole in his gang, while the police want him to get information from his boss who the mole in the police force is. On the other hand, Lau is put into the internal affairs department and told to find the mole in the police force, while the gang boss is telling him to find the mole in the gang. If that sounds complicated, it is. Things come to a head when the two men finally meet one another.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Ausschwitz (unrated)

Whatever the DVD cover above suggests, this isn't a film drama. It's a documentary by Uwe Boll about the Ausschwitz concentration camp and the Holocaust in general. I really don't know how to rate it, so I didn't. It's not very informative, as far as facts are concerned, but that wasn't Uwe's intention. Rather than make a documentary that tells us about Ausschwitz, he's made a documentary telling us how little people know about Ausschwitz. If anything it should be seen as a taster that inspires the viewers to do their own research.

The film begins with an introduction by Uwe. Then there is a series of questions posed to German schoolchildren, probably aged 15 to 16. Then there is a 30 minute dramatisation of a typical day in Ausschwitz. Finally more questions are posed to children.

Uwe's introduction is curious. He speaks in German, then repeats what he just said in English. Then he goes back to German, then English, speaking the two languages alternately. Curious is the fact that he doesn't repeat himself exactly. When he speaks English he starts the same way, but goes off in a different direction. Only people who understand both languages will get the most from his introduction. The main thing that he says is that today's children know nothing about Ausschwitz, and recent films don't help because they concentrate on heroes. His intention is to show Ausschwitz as it really was, without any heroic adornment: Jews went there, they were killed, their bodies were burnt, the end.

The second part, the interviewing of the schoolhildren, is hampered by poor English subtitles. The answers given by the children may seem stupid, but if you can understand German they're even worse. Typical questions and answers are:

"How many Jews did Hitler kill?" -- "A lot, more than a thousand"

"When did the Holocaust take place?" -- "The 1800's"

The third part, the dramatisation of a day in Ausschwitz, is chilling. So many people talk about Hitler being evil, but Uwe Boll shows us that the normal German was just as evil. While Jews are being gassed the officers sit and talk about their holiday plans. Babies that cry too loud are shot in the head. It was truly awful.

Finally, in the fourth part children are interviewed again. The second batch of children seem to be better educated. Their answers aren't perfect, but they aren't quite as stupid. These children evidently paid attention in their History lessons.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Bring it on again (3 Stars)

"Bring it on" was an international box office hit, so it spawned a series of four direct-to-video sequels. The sequels star different actors in different towns. The only thing that links the films is that they're all about cheerleading. The second film in the series is about Whittier, a girl who goes to college with the dream of becoming a successful cheerleader. She finds the rules of the cheerleading squad too restrictive -- she isn't even allowed to wear a belly ring! -- so she founds a new squad by enrolling students from the university's martial arts, ballet and musical drama clubs.
This is college through the eyes of a cheerleader:

There's a logical order to the college universe. Way up at the top of the ladder are football players. They rule. Just underneath them are basketball players, smaller biceps but still desirable. Then soccer hunks, lacrosse studs, fraternity presidents, fraternity keg-masters, guys with cars with parking passes, because guys with cars without parking passes are a waste of time. Then come black student union activists, varsity fan clubbers, lit-mag squares, pep-band dorks, film society toads, campus ministers, school mascots. And then, all the way at the bottom, are campus DJs, one spot above cafeteria workers.

Play Misty For Me (3½ Stars)

Clint Eastwood stars as Dave Garver, a womanizing DJ who plays easy listening jazz during the night in a five-hour show. Jessica Walter plays Evelyn Draper, a lonely woman who sits listening to his show. Every night Evelyn calls and requests the song "Misty" by Errol Garner. One day Dave finds her waiting for him in a bar and he takes her home for a one-night stand. This is a fatal mistake. After this she pursues him, not leaving him alone when he decides to turn over a new leaf and be faithful to his girlfriend Tobie. First her jealous rage is against Tobie and any other woman in his life; then she turns against Dave himself.

When this film was made in 1971 it was a shocking portrayal of a spurned woman. Today we would call her a stalker, but the word wasn't in use at the time. The film stands in the shadow of "Fatal Attraction", a better handling of the same subject matter in 1987. It could have been made better. The wooden acting of Donna Mills as Tobie is annoying. In fact, none of the characters have real depth.

As well as starring in the film this was the first film that Clint Eastwood's directed. That's something I've never understood. How can a person act and direct at the same time, especially if he's in the main role? It seems to be a contradiction in terms, since the director is the puppeteer and the actor is the puppet.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

New York Minute (4 Stars)

This was the last film made by the Olsen Twins, and in my opinion their best. The real star of the movie is New York City itself. From the opening scene onwards we are treated to gratuitous cityscape views, and the director takes every opportunity to present luscious street views throughout the film.

Mary-Kate and Ashley play the schoolgirls Jane and Roxy Ryan. Despite being twins they're very different. This is a recurring theme in their films, making me wonder whether it reflects their real life personalities. Jane is a top student seeking a scholorship to study economics in England, whereas Roxy plays truant from school and lives as a groupie. Usually they avoid one another as much as possible, but on this day they have to travel from their Long Island home into the city together. They accidentally get mixed up in the operations of a Chinese gang that is producing counterfeit CD's and DVD's.

I find it difficult to understand the negative reviews it has received from critics. It's high speed action and comedy from beginning to end. For many years I shied away from films made by the Olsen Twins because of the glitzy marketing image surrounding them. Films like this show that they have talent.

Postal (4 Stars)

Let me quote something from a YouTube video I was watching earlier today:

Uwe Boll is the single worst human being to ever walk on the planet since Adolf Hitler, and I'm serious when I say this. I fucking hate Uwe Boll with a blazing passion. As a movie fan I've come to form many elaborate opinions on certain things. I've formed a lot of complex opinions about certain film makers, and Uwe Boll is among the worst and the most immature, the most trashy, the most unsympathetic, the most uncharismatic and the most untalented film maker to ever live on the face of the fucking Earth. I hate this guy, not just as a film maker but as a human being. Now let me go into why I hate Uwe Boll so much. For one thing, I don't think I need to tell you that his films are shit. I don't. Everybody knows this. It's been said so many times and I don't think I could contribute anything new to saying how bad his movies are. Now, the reason why I think this guy is such a crappy person is because he cannot take criticism. The thing is, he is actually aware of how bad his movies are, but he keeps making them, but for some reason he doesn't like it when anybody else points out that they're bad. Whenever somebody talks bad about his movies he either bitches about them and he calls them out, or he challenges them to boxing matches and beats the crap out of them for all the stuff that people say against his movies. And not only is he a shitty film maker, but he's also a bully. Yeah, that's the little adding on top of the shit sundae that is Uwe Boll.

That was just the beginning of a 12-minute rant. Another video blogger says:

Why the hell do you think I made this video? To get people to watch his stuff, find stuff out about him, and then hopefully follow human instinct and try to kill him.

As far as I know no other film maker has ever inspired such hatred. People called Ed Wood's films bad, but they didn't try to kill him. The hatred that Uwe inspires fascinates me, even though I don't share it. I actually find his films quite good, and judging by interviews I've seen with him he's a pleasant, friendly person. In my post on "Bloodrayne 3" I proposed theories why he's hated so much, but after watching "Postal" I have another reason. All the Uwe Boll haters that I have found online are Americans. "Postal" is a film that makes fun of America.

I lived in America for a few years, and I discovered something interesting. When Americans sit together they criticise their president, they criticise American wars, they criticise taxation, and many other issues. But as soon as a foreigner like myself says something critical of America -- and believe me, my criticism is always voiced politely -- the same Americans huddle together and defend their country bitterly. They don't try to bring arguments in favour of their country, they just say things like "You're not an American, you have no right to say anything against our country". Unfortunately, those who have been born and lived all their lives in America are blind to their country's problems. Only those from abroad can see what's wrong. The Americans criticised George Bush, now they criticise Barak Obama, and they'll criticise their next president as soon as he lets them down. What they don't see is that their two-party system is doomed to failure and will always produce inadequate leaders. As an example of a successful democracy they should look at Germany, which has six parties represented in its government, not including other parties which have not yet received enough votes to join the government. That is real freedom of choice.

"Postal" is advertised as being "live action South Park". The comparison isn't quite accurate, but I'll let it stand. The advantage of "South Park" is that even though its humour is controversial its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are Americans. They are allowed to make fun of America; Germans aren't. But let's be fair. Uwe also makes fun of Germany and himself in the film. He appears in the film playing himself, but he presents himself as a caricature of a German dressed in a Bavarian costume including Lederhosen. Uwe actually comes from north Germany where such outfits aren't worn. He sits joking about people asking how he's able to make so many bad films, and he says that he finances them with Nazi gold. The guy has a big sense of humour, how is it possible not to like him as a person?

The film can be seen as a satire, but to me the scenes were so close to what I saw while living in America that it was difficult for me to laugh. Rather than a satire it was merely an exaggeration of American life. The film's hero, who is only introduced as Postal Dude, is a normal, everyday guy. He's an innocent. He believes in peace, but the world he lives in drives him to violence. He's not a vigilante or a hero like the man in "Hobo with a Shotgun", he's just someone trying to survive in a hard world. He lives in a trailer and still loves his wife, even though she's grown fat since he married her. She's ungrateful for this and has sex with many men while he's away at work. He lives in a world of police brutality and corporate greed. We see racism, road rage, government bureaucracy and shallow news reporting as features of American life. And then there are guns and religion.

Postal Dude's uncle is the leader of a religious cult. The Taliban have a cell in the back rooms. Osama Bin Laden himself is living with them. The Taliban are planning a biological terror attack that will destroy America, but the cult wants to stop them so they can destroy the whole world. Poor Postal Dude is caught in the middle, trying to talk reason to those around him, then killing those who won't listen to him.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Hobo with a Shotgun (4½ Stars)

This is the ultimate grindhouse vigilante film. It's a faithful replication of the gore films from the early 1980's, in particular the Italian films. I hesitated a long time before buying this film, not sure if I would like it, but I needn't have worried. The young film makers Jason Eisener and John Davies have created a magnificent piece of art on a minimal budget. The violence is over the top, turning the film into a surreal symphony of blood.

It's a tale that everyone can relate to. Every decent person, at least. A simple homeless man arrives in a new town and is horrified by the crime and lawlessness. When he discovers that the police are corrupt he takes the law into his own hands. It's the story of an underdog: one man can make a difference. All he needs is a gun.

Cabin in the Woods (4½ Stars)

"Cabin in the Woods" didn't tempt me into the cinema when it was released last year, but the polarisation of the reviews I've read since then has fascinated me. Some people write that it's a revolution in the horror genre, while others write that it safely adheres to the old formulas. This obviously means that someone is getting it wrong, but it's also an indication that the film must have complexities that make it easy to misunderstand. After watching it I can see the problem for reviewers. A lot of people just don't get it, since the film does indeed throw a curved ball at the horror genre. But to call it a "revolution" is also wrong, because that would mean that it's the beginning of a new era in horror films, the first of a new type. That isn't the case; this is clearly a one-off, a film with a style that can't be repeated without resorting to plagiarism.

Five teenagers go away for the weekend to a remote cabin. They find a book in the cellar and read aloud the words written in Latin, which, unknown to them, are an invocation to raise the dead. After this the zombies kill them one by one. This is the same old formula that we know from "The Evil Dead" and the films that followed it. But this isn't all. We see that the events are being observed and controlled by people in white coats in a control room below the Earth.

While I sat watching it influences from three other films were obvious to me: "Scream", "The Truman Show" and "The man with the golden gun". Let's go through these in turn.

"Scream" sets itself up as a critique of modern horror films. The movie buffs within the film smugly state the rules of the genre. In "Cabin in the Woods" the five archetypes of teenage horror victims are presented: the Whore, the Athlete, the Scholar, the Fool and the Virgin. In the film it's stated that the first four have to die, while the fifth may or may not die. This is incorrect; in horror films the Virgin always survives.

"The Truman Show" is a world which is a reality show in which the unknowing star is steered by a programme director watching from afar. In the same way the five teenagers are the stars of a horror movie. They think they are making their own decisions, but the directors are subtly influencing them.

In "The man with the golden gun" James Bond had to battle his adversary in an artificial world. He could only find victory when he broke out of the artificial world and emerged into the real world, recognising the surrounding artefacts as props. In "Cabin in the Woods" Marty, the Fool, is the one who makes a breakthrough by finding the elevator to escape from the cabin into the high tech real world below it.

I was very happy to see Sigourney Weaver appear in the final scene as the bad ass controller bitch running everything from behind the scenes. The part was written for her. Nobody else, male or female, could have played it better.

Seeing Chris Hemsworth and Anna Hutchinson (the Athlete and the Whore) together by the lake made me gasp. They looked so much like Travis Alexander and Jodi Arias, it was remarkable. I'm sure this was accidental, but it must be obvious to anyone watching it.