Saturday, 31 August 2013

Fireflies in the Garden (2½ Stars)

This is a complex family drama told in two episodes, about 20 years apart. Michael Taylor is a successful author. He returns home to his parents after finishing his latest book, the autobiographical story of his childhood and suffering under a cruel, domineering father. In flashbacks we see the events that he has written about.

Judging by the abundance of top actors in the film it was intended to be a big film. But somehow it just doesn't work. There are too many characters and too many events stuffed into the 90 minute film. If this had been a true story I could have excused it, because real life is never tidy, but as a work of fiction it's too messy. Too much happens in the present, such as Michael's mother dying and his ex-wife getting pregnant. If the film had concentrated on the past events and kept the present events to a minimum it would have been better. Some things were cut too short, such as Michael's relationship with his Aunt Jane. I was hoping to see some intensification of the sexual attraction after the first teasing encounter at her bedroom door.

But my biggest disappointment -- and yes, I know this is a spoiler, but I'll include it because I don't recommend the film -- is that Michael decided to burn his manuscript before it was published. Destroying the past is a sin. It should be remembered, whether it is good or bad.

One amusing thing about the film is the casting of Michael's Aunt Jane. As a teenager she's played by Hayden Panettiere, as a middle-aged woman she's played by Emily Watson. No! I do not believe that a person could change so much in 20 years, you can't convince me. Apart from Emily being six inches taller, how could her eyes have changed from brown to blue?

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (4 Stars)

When I watched this film 12 months ago I only gave it a 3 star rating. After watching it again today I have to revise my judgement. I was too harsh on it. The total disregard for the continuity of the X-Men comics disturbed me, but to be fair, all the X-Men films have messed up the continuity. It isn't the same X-Men, it's just identical characters shuffled around. This is clearest in the relationship of Wolverine and Sabretooth to one another. In the comics Sabretooth is Wolverine's father, but in the film they are brothers.

Let's just try once more not to compare the comics and the films too strictly. This is a good film in its own right. I'm glad I watched it a second time today. I enjoyed it.

Alyce (3½ Stars)

"Alyce" is the original name of this film. It has been rereleased in America as "Alyce Kills", in case people can't figure out from the picture on the box what it's about.

A young girl called Alyce goes out with her best friend Carroll. They go out to a bar and get drunk, but that's not enough fun. Carroll attempts to buy drugs, but changes her mind at the last moment because the dealer is creepy. They go up onto the roof of Alyce's apartment building to drink a bottle of wine. They clown around, and Alyce pushes Carroll off the building. It was only an accident, but Alyce is afraid of being charged with murder, so she tells the police that she wasn't with Carroll when she fell. The problem is that Carroll is still alive, though badly injured, and might contradict Alyce's story if she recovers. So Alyce does the only thing she can: she visits Carroll in hospital and suffocates her with a pillow.

I've heard it said that the first time you kill someone it's the hardest, and after that it keeps getting easier. This is the case with Alyce. To escape her guilt she flees into insanity, killing one person after another.

This is an unsettling film. Maybe it's too realistic. It isn't a supernatural slasher as in "Halloween", it's a normal everyday girl who goes on a killing spree. It's worth watching again. Let's see how I judge it next time.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Camel Spiders (4 Stars)

This is a scary film. It made me yell a few times while I was watching it, that's how scary it was. In fact, it was so scary that I doubt I'll watch it again. It's deliciously revolting to watch them tear a man's skin off his face within seconds.

During a firefight in Iraq a US soldier is killed. His body is shipped back home to Arizona, but giant camel spiders are nesting inside his body. Back in Arizona the truck carrying his coffin is involved in a road accident and the spiders escape. They breed fast in the desert areas of Arizona and hunt down unsuspecting people.

Camel spiders are a genuine species that exists in the middle east, but the ones in this film are exaggerated in size. There is some debate whether they should be classified as spiders or not, because they only have six legs.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Rope (4 Stars)

"Rope" was made in 1948 by Alfred Hitchcock. Today it's one of Hitchcock's lesser known films, but it is noteworthy for various reasons:

1. It was Hitchcock's first colour film.

2. It used the revolutionary film style of taking place in real time. Ideally Hitchcock would have filmed the whole film in one take, but film reels only held 10 minutes of film. The film consists of nine takes, each lasting slightly less than 10 minutes, which were put together without further editing. The extended takes were difficult because the first colour film cameras were so bulky and could not be moved during filming, only swivelled. The set's walls had to be rolled in and out to follow the characters as they walked from room to room.

3. The film's trailer didn't contain excerpts from the film, it was a prequel, showing a conversation that took place before the film's events. The only words spoken by the murder victim are in the trailer, not in the film itself.

4. The murderers were homosexuals, which was a taboo subject at the time. All overt references to homosexuality were removed from the script shortly before shooting, but it was still obvious enough for the film to be banned in many American cities.

The film opens with two university graduates, Brandon and Phillip, strangling a fellow ex-student, Daniel, with a piece of rope. They put his body in a chest. A party is due to take place, so they put a table cloth over the chest and arrange the buffet and drinks on top of it. The invited guests are Daniel's parents, Daniel's girlfriend Janet, Janet's ex-boyfriend Kenneth, and their former prep school housemaster Rupert Cadell.

Alfred Hitchcock's film camera
The motive for the murder becomes apparent in the conversation at the party. Rupert Cadell has been a big influence on the boys, especially Brandon. He taught them philosophy based on Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the Übermensch (sometimes translated into English as "superman", but I prefer to use the original German word). This comes up repeatedly in their conversations.

"Good and evil, right and wrong, were invented for the ordinary average man, the inferior man, because he needs them".

"Moral concepts of good and evil and right and wrong don't hold for the intellectually superior".

These are dangerous concepts for a teacher to present to impressionable young men. But his lessons went even further.

"Murder is a crime for most men, but a privilege for the few".

"Murder is an art that a few superior beings should be allowed to practise".

This is the motive for the murder. Brandon feels the need to kill someone to prove that he is an Übermensch, one of the privileged few. He has invited Daniel's family and friends to the party to unknowingly celebrate that one of the weak ones has been eliminated to improve the human race.

After teaching the boys in school Rupert went to fight in World War 2. Even though he still has the same ideologies, on a purely intellectual level, his wartime experiences are causing him to have doubts. Nietzsche's philosophies were one of the main influences on Adolf Hitler's thoughts. This has led him to question who has the right to say that he is superior to others. Is intellect alone the proof of superiority? This leads to a philosophical contradiction, something absent from Nietzsche's pure logic. In order to qualify as an Übermensch and live without moral concepts you have to possess your own innate moral standards. In other words, those who have no concept of good and evil are unworthy of becoming Nietzsche's perfect amoral man.

These philosophical questions fascinate me. That's why I rate the film higher than most of Alfred Hitchcock's films. I too read Nietzsche's books when I was a teenager. I was young and foolish then. I now reject his thoughts.

Scandalous Behavior (2 Stars)

This film, made in 1999 and directed by James Hong, has also been released as "Singapore Sling".

Michelle Drake is engaged to marry Stephen Tanner, the owner of a Texas oil company. While on holiday in Singapore she is arrested for possession of a gun, and she is sentenced to five years in prison. A rich Singapore businessman, Adam Chance, arranges for her to be released on condition that she marries him. For two years they remain together, but Michelle doesn't love him. She runs away and returns to America to her fiance. In her absence Stephen has moved on and is living with his childhood sweetheart, Lisa Blair, but he throws her out when Michelle returns. She doesn't tell him that she is now married.

Michelle might not love Adam, but he loves her. He flies to America and offers to invest 20 million dollars in Stephen's company if he sends Michelle back to Singapore. Stephen's oil wells have run dry and he is deeply in debt, so he doesn't hesitate to accept the offer. After all, he still has Lisa in reserve.

This was the last of four films directed by James Hong, who also plays Adam Chance. I can understand why he hasn't been allowed to direct any more films. The quality is so poor that it's embarrassing. As director he should have planned the shoots better. In some scenes, when the camera switches to another angle the actors are standing in different positions. When the camera returns to the previous angle the actors are back in their old positions. That's messy editing, messy directing, messy everything. The plot is overly complex. My short summary above probably seems complex already, but there are other details and other characters that I didn't mention. There's a romance between Stephen's brother and a strip club owner, attempts to discover new oil, rivalry between the two brothers, a stolen ruby and the escapades of Adam's henchmen. Too much is happening.

The DVD cover emphasises Shannon Tweed, who plays Stephen's ex-girlfriend Lisa, even though she has a relatively small role in the film. As the best known actress she gets her picture on the cover. Shannon's fans will be disappointed.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Hick (4 Stars)

Luli is a teenage girl from Nebraska. On her 13th birthday she's given a gun. Fed up of her dead end life, she decides to run away to Las Vegas to find a sugar daddy to finance her rise to fame. But things are never as easy as they seem. What follows is a road movie across the seedier landscape of the southern states. It's easy for a pretty young girl to hitch a ride, but the friendly motorists always want something in return. Luli learns how to drink whiskey, snort cocaine, rob gas stations and commit murder. But however low she sinks things can always get worse.

The film only had a limited cinema release due to its difficult subject matter. It was savaged by critics who accused it of stereotyping people from the southern states of the USA. I hate to disagree with the critics who know so much more than me, but this is a good film. Chloe Grace Moretz delivers a stunning performance in the leading role, and the supporting characters are just as convincing. A lot of the film's quality seems to come through the creative style of the director, Derick Martini. Before today I had never heard of him, but I'll check out his other films.

Himizu (5 Stars)

When I bought this film I knew nothing about it. I hadn't seen a trailer or read a review. Nobody had recommended it to me. I didn't know whether it was a horror film, a gangster film or any other genre. I didn't even know what the Japanese title means. So why did I buy it? Simple. I knew it was directed by Sion Sono, so it had to be good.

There are three directors whose films I buy unconditionally: Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch and Sion Sono. Apart from that there are a few directors of whom I buy most of their films, such as Andreas Dresen, Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski. As far as actors go, I buy all films starring Leelee Sobieski and Jennifer Love Hewitt. I buy Leelee's films because she's a brilliant actress who never fails to amaze me, and I buy Jennifer's films because I have a crush on her and enjoy looking at her. I'll also buy any film written by Charlie Kaufman, because his stories blow my mind.

A problem I have with Sion Sono is that not all of his films have been released in England or America. Fortunately he seems to be more popular in Germany, so most of his films are available with German dubbing, which I have no trouble understanding. But there are still a few of his films that I haven't been able to buy in English or German.

The film is a tale of morality about a 14-year-old boy called Sumida. As a Japanese teenager things aren't easy. Christians, Jews and Moslems have an omnipotent God who dictates what is right and wrong. The Japanese Gods aren't omnipotent, so the Japanese have to find their own path. The film takes place shortly after the Japanese tsunami of March 11th 2011. Sumida lives in a small one-room house by a lake, while his less fortunate neighbours live in tents and makeshift huts. His mother and father have deserted him, so he drops out of school to continue the family business of renting boats. Unfortunately his father took out a loan from the Japanese mob (Yakuza) before he disappeared, so mobsters come to Sumida trying to get money from him. Sumida buys a knife, paints his face and walks the streets of Tokyo, trying to do good by killing those who he thinks deserve to die. The question that we, as viewers, have to ask is whether this is enough to make him a good person.

This is a lusciously told, deeply moving story. The ugliness of the city and the people who live in it contrast with the kind hearts of Sumida's neighbours who have been left with nothing. In fact, everyone around Sumida looks up to him and wants to help him, as if they recognise the light that shines from his soul despite his many mistakes. Sumida's classmate Keiko loves him, even though he hits her whenever she tries to get close to him. The film is magnificent from beginning to end.

I found out after watching the film that it's based on a comic book series called "Himizu". I read a few issues online and see the similarity, especially where the moral issues are concerned, but Sion Sono has gone in his own direction and made it his own story.

By the way, "himizu" is the Japanese word for "mole".

Snatch (5 Stars)

Some films are just so good that they have to be watched repeatedly. This is one of them. I strongly recommend it to any Americans who have a fetish for English accents.

Click here for a fuller review.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Off-Topic: Jodi Arias and the American Legal System

Yesterday (August 26th) Jodi Arias appeared in court in Phoenix, Arizona for the court to set a date for her murder trial to continue. Judge Sherry Stephens didn't set a date, because she said she needed time to consider new motions made by Jodi's defence team, for instance that all jury members should be compelled to declare whether they have Twitter accounts. Jodi will appear in court again on September 16th to set a new date for the trial.

Something is wrong. Something is seriously wrong with the American legal system, in particular the Arizona legal system. The trial began on January 2nd. On May 8th the jury found Jodi Arias guilty of the pre-meditated murder of Travis Alexander. But this wasn't enough. Under Arizona state law the jury is required to make three decisions in cases that involve the death penalty. In a second phase, the aggravation phase, they have to decide whether the murder was particularly cruel. On May 15th the jury found Jodi Arias guilty of killing in a cruel manner. After this decision the judge is compelled to give the defendant at least a life sentence in prison, but in a third phase, the penalty phase, the jury has to decide whether the defendant deserves to die. On May 23rd the jury returned that they were unable to make a unanimous decision. This meant that the penalty phase was declared a mistrial and has to be repeated with a new jury.

The first penalty phase was a relatively swift event, in which Jodi held a speech and presented a slide show explaining why she deserved to live. The repeat of the penalty phase will be a larger event, because the new jury will have to hear the evidence again. It's estimated that the second penalty phase will last at least four weeks. When it finally starts.

According to official figures, up to April 25th the defence costs for Jodi Arias, paid for by Arizona tax payers, were $1,687,328.21. This doesn't include the prosecution costs and the court costs. And yet the trial is chugging along, with no signs of coming to an end any time soon. The full trial costs, not including the costs of future appeals, could be up to five million dollars. Something is wrong.

Let's start with the sentencing. In England, where I live, the jury doesn't decide on the sentence. The jury's job is to decide between guilty and not guilty. If the jury says guilty, it's the judge's job to pick a sentence. Isn't that a better system? How could an average man on the street decide whether a person deserves to live or die? Everyone might have an opinion, but the opinions are based on emotions. Only a person with legal training should be allowed to make choices like that.

Then there's the amount of legal support. Why was Jodi Arias given two defence lawyers? Wasn't one enough? They took turns asking questions, but both of them were in court every day throughout the trial.

The biggest problem with the trial is that the judge allowed it to be sidetracked by the defence team. For months Jodi and the defence team's experts were allowed to speak badly about Travis, despite having no facts to back up their accusations. An English judge would have declared this out of order and insisted that the trial stick to the facts. Jodi accused Travis of owning pornographic images of young children, even though no traces were found on his computer or in his apartment. Jodi accused Travis of abusing her, even though she never had any bruises. In particular, Jodi's diary, which she updated daily, always described Travis in the best possible words and never mentioned any of the things she accused him of when she appeared in court.

Possibly the most tragic character in the trial was the defence team's domestic violence expert, Alyce LaViolette. She is a woman who has somehow remained hidden in the medical and legal systems for decades and has only been exposed now. She is a man-hating lesbian who unconditionally blames men for all acts of violence within relationships. Her testimony lasted for weeks, at a cost of $300 per hour, but it can be summed up in a few seconds:

"Men abuse women. Women don't abuse men. This means that if Jodi killed Travis it must have been self-defence".

Whatever evidence was presented to the contrary, Alyce simply rejected it. Even yesterday, shortly after the court hearing, Alyce gave an interview to CNN in which she said that she is still convinced that Jodi is innocent because she acted in self-defence. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Alyce's opinion is as good as mine. The difference between her and me is that she claims to be an expert and she is being paid a lot of money to state her opinion. The weeks she spent in court have proved beyond a shadow of doubt that she is not an expert. She has never been an expert in domestic violence, because her prejudices blind her to objective reasoning. She should never have been allowed to work in this area all these years, but somehow nobody noticed just how unqualified she is.

The harm that Alyce LaViolette has done over the last decades can no longer be undone, but at least something should be done about her performance in the Jodi Arias trial. During her testimony on Jodi's behalf Alyce lied under oath. She was asked how often she had defended a man in court. She answered "once or twice". It was then shown that she had never defended a man. She should be formally charged with perjury. Apart from being fined or imprisoned, she should be required to repay all the money she earned from the trial. She should also be barred from ever working as a domestic violence consultant again.

Considering the immense legal costs, Alyce LaViolette's fees being refunded are only a drop in the ocean. I have a suggestion. Jodi Arias loves publicity. She gave television interviews immediately after being found guilty on May 8th. She sells art and t-shirts from inside prison, and she even has a web page. Let's offer to make her the star of a reality television show. A person in a high security prison has never been filmed on a regular basis before. This would be compelling viewing. Put a webcam in her cell that broadcasts 24 hours a day. Put cameras at strategic places in the prison's communal areas. Have a show with weekly highlights on prime time television. Any money that Jodi would normally earn should be used to repay the court costs. This should fully cover the costs within a few months. Anything earned after that can be paid to Travis Alexander's family.

The Fall (4 Stars)

This is a review of the 2006 film directed by Tarsem Singh, not the more recent film with the same name. It's a film I would really like to discuss with someone else. It is visually stunning. I feel it has a deeper meaning, but I don't see what. Maybe a lively discussion with a friend over a glass of wine would help.

The film is set "a long time ago" in Los Angeles, but judging by clues in the narrative we can assume it takes place in the 1920's. A five-year-old Romanian immigrant, Alexandria, is in hospital after breaking her arm at work picking oranges. Was child labour usual in those days? That's sad. She makes friends with Roy, a film stuntman who has broken his leg while jumping off a bridge onto a horse. He wants to die because his girlfriend has left him for the film's lead actor. Roy tells Alexandria a story about six great heroes who have sworn to kill an evil Spanish leader, Governor Odious. We see the story in Alexandria's imagination, the characters being played by people that she knows in the hospital, both patients and staff. The story sometimes changes as it goes along. If Alexandria says that she doesn't like something Roy changes the story to accommodate her wishes.

Visually the film is a treat. It features scenery and landmarks from around the world. This is the most amazing thing about it. According to the director the film was shot in 24 different countries, although only 16 countries are referred to in the final credits, including South Africa, India, Italy, China and Brazil. In some "scenes" he cuts from one country to another when walking in and out of buildings. This extravagance must have cost him a fortune. He also risked his life and the lives of his actors in making the film. After filming an explosion in Tibet the crew was surrounded by soldiers. They only escaped by insisting the explosion was an accident. The filming on the steps of a mosque in India had to be abandoned twice because the crew was being stoned by believers, but the third attempt succeeded.

In today's world of cinema it's refreshing that a film can be made without CGI, relying only on real stunts and real locations. Look at the photo above. It seems unreal, but it's a genuine location in Tibet. Maybe I would give the film a higher rating if I understood its meaning better. If it has one. I welcome comments from my readers.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Django Unchained (5 Stars)

I watched this film in the cinema in February. I finally ordered it online last week, received it yesterday and watched it today. I loved it in the cinema and enjoy it even more now. I'm unable to find fault with it. The characters, the costumes, the sets, the action, it all seems perfect. But what else is to be expected from Quentin Tarantino? He's flirted with western imagery in the past, and I have the feeling that he's been building up to this. Many scenes in "Kill Bill" had the atmosphere of westerns and even used the music from spaghetti westerns.

I recommend that my readers check out my first review, since I'll just add a few points here. Samuel L. Jackson's performance as the "house nigger" Stephen is amazing. When watching the film I completely hate his character, which is the desired effect. He seems so disgusting, he has no redeeming qualities. It's like he has betrayed his race, he looks down upon and despises all other black people. I can't think of any film character in recent years that I've hated so much.

Christopher Waltz won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Dr. King Schultz in "Django Unchained", and he deserved it. Okay, he is technically a supporting actor, but he has almost as much screen time as the leading actor, Jamie Foxx. He also won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "Inglourious Basterds", but in that film I'm sure he had more screen time than the supposed leading actor, Brad Pitt. He is such an astounding actor. Even though he's been making films for more than 30 years, "Inglourious Basterds" was the first time I noticed him. I really need to check out more of his films.

One thing I should mention is that slavery is a taboo subject matter in westerns. I've watched many westerns in my life, mostly the old westerns from the John Wayne era on television. Slavery was "normal" in America before the Civil War, and yet I don't remember seeing a single cowboy film that shows any hint of slavery. It was a brave decision for Quentin Tarantino to make a film in which slave trading is one of the major plot lines of the film.

I forgot to mention in my original review that this film has a short after-credits sequence. It's the first time this has happened in a Tarantino film. Let's wait and see if it's the start of a new trend.

Bring it on: In it to win it (3½ Stars)

This is the fourth film in the series of "Bring it on" cheerleading films. It was released straight to video, like the last two installments. So what's new? Does it have anything new to offer after the last three films?

This is a romantic comedy cheerleading drama based on "West Side Story" with elements of horror films and army boot camps. Try saying that in one breath!

As in all the other films, the story centers on competition between two rival cheerleading squads. There is no initial build up or introduction. The film begins with the two teams arriving at Camp Spirit-Thunder for the national championship. Unusually, the teams don't just arrive to compete, they have to spend time being trained by an independent squad of trainers who look and dress like soldiers. The two teams are the Sharks from the West Coast and the Jets from the East Coast. Carson, the captain of the Sharks, falls in love with one of the boys in the Jets. This leads to anger and opposition on both sides. Even though the conflict scenes are based closely on "West Side Story", the romance follows the rules of romantic comedies. This film's dance scenes are more athletic than the ones in the previous films. The routines seem to be up to the level of international gymnastics.

The film is good fun, and will certainly appeal to a certain type of American teenage girl, but it doesn't live up to the quality and excitement of the previous installment.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Off-Topic: Poison Gas in Syria

According to articles in the news over the last few days, President Obama has become very concerned about the use of poison gas in the Syrian civil war. Now please don't get me wrong, I think it's disgusting that a government should use gas against its civilian population, but I hope Obama remains sensible. Has he learnt nothing from the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq? Who appointed America to be the world's policeman? It's not even as if America receives thanks for doing it.

America and its allies went into Afghanistan to capture Osama Bin Laden and remove the Taliban from power. This was an admirable task, but after it succeeded America remained to help stabilise the country. But the average person on the street thinks of America as an occupying force, so foreign soldiers are killed daily.

America and its allies went into Iraq to capture Saddam Hussein and remove him from power. This was an admirable task, but after it succeeded America remained to help stabilise the country. But the average person on the street thinks of America as an occupying force, so foreign soldiers are killed daily.

Do you see a pattern? In the case of Afghanistan and Iraq there was some justification, because Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were threats to the western world. On the other hand, President Assad of Syria is only a threat to his own people. This is a case of Moslems killing Moslems, as they have been doing for hundreds of years. If America intervenes Islamic extremists will put a spin on it that America is once again oppressing Islam, and the ignorant Moslems in the Arabian deserts and European cities will believe them.

My advice to Barak Obama, David Cameron and the rest of the western world is simple: stay out of Syria! It's an internal Syrian problem that they should deal with themselves. If Assad wants to gas a few million Moslems, let him get on with it. Maybe it will open people's eyes and expose Islam as the Religion of Hate that it has always been. If anyone at all should intervene it's Syria's neighbours. Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq can send troops into Syria. Not America.

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (4 Stars)

I didn't intend to see this film in the cinema, but I changed my mind at the last minute and joined the others from the Birmingham Film Club. I was pleasantly surprised. I wouldn't call it a great film, but it was definitely worth watching. The buildup and the character development in the first half was incredible, and even though the action scenes were weaker I still enjoyed it.

It's based on the first of a series of six best-selling novels written by Cassandra Clare. Even to someone as naive as me it's obvious what's been going on in the boardrooms of the film studios. "Look at all the money Harry Potter made us. We need a new Harry Potter. Is there anyone here who reads books? Do you have any suggestions what we can film next?"

"Mortal Instruments" (the film) isn't a new Harry Potter, neither in essence nor in style. It isn't even a new Twilight. But it is a good film about a teenage girl caught up in a hidden supernatural world. Clary Fray (15 in the book, but her age is unspecified in the film) witnesses a murder in a nightclub. After this her mother is kidnapped, and the apparent murderer becomes her friend. He tells her that her mother used to be a Shadowhunter, someone who hunts demons.

I can't help feeling that a story like this with an excess of minor characters would work better as a TV series than as a film. With the right executive producer it could become the new Buffy. But I'm still looking forward to the second film in the series.

Friday, 23 August 2013 (3½ Stars)

This is a British crime thriller made in 2010 and directed by Noel Clarke. It features four girls in London, four friends who accidentally get mixed up in an international jewel robbery. It's structured like the 1999 film "Go". The same three days are shown four times, once from the standpoint of each of the girls. There are short sequences at the beginning and the end where they are all together and the story is only told once.

The film has had mixed reviews. Some people praise it exuberantly while others hate it. I think I can understand why. The film's structure, which is used more effectively than in "Go", is something that could amaze some people but annoy others. After watching it for the first time today I feel the need to see it again, but I think I'll wait a few months. That way it will be fresher, and apart from that I have so many other films on my to-watch list.

I never knew that Noel Clarke is a director. I know him from "Doctor Who", in which he played Rose's boyfriend Mickey. The Doctor always teased him for being unintelligent, and this impression stuck with me. It's so easy to typecast someone based on their screen performance, and in this case I was totally wrong. This film proves him to be a very talented director. And actor, because he appears in the film as the gangster Tee (Trevor). Other Doctor Who stars are reunited in the film. Camille Coduri appears as the mother of one of the girls, and Michelle Ryan plays the bad-ass gangster Kelly.

Star Trek XXX 3 (4 Stars)

This is the third film in Axel Braun's series of Star Trek porn parodies, and the first to be shot in 3D. Today I watched the 2D version. I might go back to watch the 3D version next month. We'll see. My regular readers already know that I'm a critic of 3D films. Even if the 3D is done well -- and in films like "The Hobbit" it was a mess -- it seems pointless to me. As far as I'm concerned, today's 3D films are a transitional technology. The films aren't really three-dimensional, they're just overlayed with special effects to make them look three-dimensional. A true 3D film would allow the viewer to move his head to see the action from a different angle. The final stage would be fully holographic films, but the technology needed to record and display such films is far off.

The film uses elements from the fourth episode from season two of the original series, "Mirror Mirror". It's also a bold attempt to make a crossover between the original series and the rebooted film franchise. Captain Kirk, played once more by Evan Stone, beams up to the Enterprise after exploring a planet. There is a transporter malfunction that sends him back in time to when he was young. But an evil Kirk from a parallel universe has also been sent back in time to the Enterprise, so there are three Kirks on the ship.

In my review of "Star Trek", usually referred to as "Star Trek XI", I complained that the actors used in the reboot didn't look enough like the actors from the original series. After travelling back in time Captain Kirk meets characters who look like the actors from the reboot; Michael Vegas looks like Chris Pine, Richie Calhoun looks like Zachary Quinto, and Ana Foxxx looks like Zoe Saldana. This is an amusing but effective way to reconcile the two Star Trek universes.

The two Kirks practise their lines while Spock checks out Uhura in the mirror
Judging by the information in the Making Of featurette, this film is the brainchild of Eli Cross, who is only credited as the camera operator, although he seems to be Axel's right hand man in the production of most of his films. Eli is a Star Trek nerd who challenges any fan to show who knows the most about the original series. He has whimsically added something to the Star Trek canon. After having sex with Spock, Nurse Chapel asks him what his first name is. He says she couldn't pronounce it, but she insists, and he tells her his name is Clark. "So you're Clark Spock? I can pronounce that!"

An in joke for Trekkies: in the opening scene two Enterprise shore party members are shown talking on a planet.

"Why did you transfer into science out of security?"
"I didn't. I just started taking blue uniforms from the laundry".
"Trust me, kid, red shirts will get you killed every time".

Kick-Ass 2 (5 Stars)

I went to see this film yesterday with fellow members of the Birmingham Film Club. Actually it's now the "Birmingham Film & Theatre Club" because it was renamed last month, but I'm sticking with the old name. I expected the film to be good, but it exceeded my expectations. It had everything I want in a movie: action, well developed characters, a good plot, a hint of romance, high school scenes -- I'm a sucker for American high schools -- and strong comedy. Yes, comedy. The main difference between this film and the first is that there is more comedy. This is what lifts it from being a good film to a great film.

Another thing that improves the film is that Chloe Grace Moretz, who stars as Mindy Macready (Hit Girl), is now older. A 12-year-old super-hero, which was her age in the first film, is difficult to accept. It stretches credibility even within the comic book genre. She's 15 now, both in the film and in real life, which is the typical age for teenage superheroes. That would be approximately the age at which Peter Parker became Spider-Man in the original comics.

I don't like to write too much about new films for fear of including spoilers, so I'll just give a brief overview of the film's premise. The film takes place three years after the events of the first film. Dave Lizewski has given up appearing as Kick-Ass. After the death of her father Mindy Macready has promised her new guardian to give up being Hit Girl, but she's skipping school and training in secret. After seeing on the news that a new wave of super-heroes are emerging who claim they were inspired by Kick Ass Dave and Mindy decide to team up and return to action.

Jim Carrey is just perfect as the new super-hero Colonel Stars and Stripes. Of course he's perfect, he's Jim Carrey, and everything he does is perfect.

P.S. One important spoiler: there's an after-credits scene, so please don't run out of the cinema too soon.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Joy Division (3½ Stars)

After watching "Control" yesterday I thought it would be appropriate to watch the Joy Division documentary again. "Control" is based on the biography written by Ian Curtis's widow Deborah, "Touching from a distance", whereas the documentary is based primarily on interviews with the other band members.

Peter Hook (bass guitar), Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards) and Stephen Morris (drums) were all 50 in 2007 when this documentary was made. They've obviously distanced themselves from their days playing in Joy Division. Speaking of Joy Division's first album, "Unknown Pleasures", Hook says he doesn't understand why people like it because he thinks it's shit (or rather shite, as in Manchester's dialect). It's true, the band's music style became very different when they changed their name to New Order. They abandoned their gothic style (even though "gothic rock" wasn't a commonly used term at the time, because people didn't over-categorise music the way they do now) and turned to electropop. I find it sad that they are effectively rejecting the influence that Ian Curtis had on them, like it was a burden to be cast off.

Even judging by their own words, the other band members had limited communication with Ian Curtis. He spent his evenings reading books by Kafka, Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre. These were the main influences for his lyrics. 20 years later someone explained the song texts to the band and they said, "Wow! Is that what we were singing about? We never paid much attention". It's a sad, sad legacy for Ian Curtis, that even those closest to him didn't understand his thoughts.

Interestingly, Annik Honore denies that she had an affair with Ian, despite his wife's claims that this was the reason for the marriage's breakdown. She says they were just good friends. My opinion on the matter is that both women are unreliable sources, and the truth needs to be verified by someone else. It's typical for a wife with a distant husband to blame the problems on another woman. It's also typical for a woman having an affair with a married man to pretend it never happened. My personal opinion, after hearing both sides of the story, is that Ian felt a bond with Annik because she was the only one he could talk to. He probably didn't sleep with her, as his wife claimed. I'm sure that for a person like Deborah a sexual relationship would have been the worst form of infidelity, but for a person like Ian sex was secondary. Having fellowship with another woman on an intellectual level was more dangerous to his marriage.

I've added a "Documentary" label to my list of labels at the bottom right. There are now enough of them on my blog that it's worth it.

Love will tear us apart

When routine bites hard,
And ambitions are low,
And resentment rides high,
But emotions won't grow,
And we're changing our ways,
Taking different roads,

Then love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

Why is the bedroom so cold?
You've turned away on your side.
Is my timing that flawed?
Our respect runs so dry,
Yet there's still this appeal
That we've kept through our lives.

But love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

You cry out in your sleep,
All my failings exposed,
And there's a taste in my mouth,
As desperation takes hold,
Just that something so good
Can't function no more.

But love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Control (4½ Stars)

It all used to be so simple, everything.
Now everyone hates me.
I've made everyone hate me.
Even the people who love me hate me.

This is the true story of Ian Curtis, the singer of the band Joy Division, from 1973 to 1980. During his short life he achieved only moderate success, and he was almost penniless at the time of his death. A few years later people looked back at him, and he's now recognised as one of the best English songwriters ever. Many people, myself included, regard him as the very best. His vocal style makes people compare him with Jim Morrison, but Ian's song texts are darker and more morbid. Maybe Jim reached that level in songs like "The End", but for Ian the mood was constant.

Originally Ian was only a poet, but at a Sex Pistols concert in 1978 he met three musicians who were looking for a singer for their band. After joining them he became solely responsible for the lyrics. The band's original name was Warsaw, but after a few months they changed it to Joy Division.

Ian married at the age of 19. He thought he was in love, but he soon realised it was a mistake. Two years later he met and fell in love with Annik Honore, a Belgian embassy worker. During the last two years of his life he became increasingly aloof. He isolated himself not only from his wife, but also from the other band members. On stage he entered a trance-like state, staring upwards and dancing awkwardly.

On May 18th 1980, the day before Joy Division was due to fly to America for their first American tour, Ian watched "Stroszek" (a film about a foreigner in America), listened to Iggy Pop's album "The Idiot", then hanged himself. He was 23.

Ian Curtis is played by Sam Riley, an English actor/singer who looks and sounds uncannily like Ian Curtis. He captures Ian's mannerisms perfectly in the stage performances. While watching I was caught up in Ian's isolation and couldn't help suffering with him. The film's dismal atmosphere is intensified by being filmed in black and white. I've deducted half a star because the film fails to show Ian's genius.

Here are the lyrics to Joy Division's best known song, written by Ian Curtis.

She's Lost Control

Confusion in her eyes that says it all,
She's lost control.
And she's clinging to the nearest passer by,
She's lost control.
And she gave away the secrets of her past,
And said, "I've lost control again",
And of a voice that told her when and where to act
She said, "I've lost control again".

And she turned around and took me by the hand
And said, "I've lost control again",
And how I'll never know just why or understand,
She said, "I've lost control again",
And she screamed out kicking on her side
And said, "I've lost control again",
And seized up on the floor, I thought she'd die,
She said, "I've lost control".

She's lost control again.
She's lost control.
She's lost control again.
She's lost control.

Well I had to phone her friend to state my case
And say, she's lost control again,
And she showed up all the errors and mistakes,
And said, "I've lost control again",
But she expressed herself in many different ways,
Until she lost control again,
And walked upon the edge of no escape,
And laughed, "I've lost control".

She's lost control again.
She's lost control.
She's lost control again.
She's lost control.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Lock, stock and two smoking barrels (5 Stars)

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant! Why doesn't Guy Ritchie make films like this any more?

Scott Pilgrim vs The World (4 Stars)

This film is a curiosity. It's difficult to pin it down to any particular genre. On some levels it seems to be a superhero film, but as I pointed out in my last review, it's about a person whose life is a video game. I haven't read the comics on which the film is based. Based on the synopsis on the Scott Pilgrim Wikipedia page it appears to closely follow the plot of the comics. Without reading the comics I don't know whether they also have the video game aspect to them.

My main problem with the film is that I don't understand why Scott would want to leave his girlfriend Knives for Ramona. Knives has such an attractive, bubbly personality, and she seems like a perfect match for Scott. Ramona, on the other hand, is quiet and broody. That's why I prefer the alternate ending that's included on the DVD. The official film ending follows the comics; Scott and Ramona live happily ever after. Sigh..... In the alternate ending Scott returns to Knives, with Ramona's blessing.

I'm very impressed with the artistic quality of all the films I've seen that were directed by Edgar Wright. Other examples are "Shaun of the Dead" and "World's End". He's already begun work on the new Marvel film, "Ant-Man". I expect great things from him in the coming years.

Kick-Ass (4½ Stars)

I'm going to see "Kick Ass 2" with my friends from the Birmingham Film Club on Wednesday, so I thought I would watch the first film again in preparation. I've written posts about the film twice before, but in both posts I managed to say almost nothing about the film. That's the way I am. I get so easily distracted. Maybe I can make up for it now.

The film is based on a comic book series with the same name, but it's also heavily influenced by Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man". Dave Lizewski is a normal everyday teenager, just like Peter Parker. They are both outsiders in school. Both are pining for a girl who is out of their league. The difference is that Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, but there is no supernatural intervention in Dave Lizewski's life. The only thing on his side is a desire to do good. He doesn't have superpowers, so he buys himself a costume online to at least pretend he's a superhero. He trains for a few weeks, then goes out into the city to be a hero called Kick Ass.

As you can imagine, this doesn't work out well. A geeky, unathletic teenager has no chance against thugs with knives and guns, however good his costume looks. Luckily for him there are real superheroes in the city, a father-daughter team who are heavily armed and have been training for years. Big Daddy and Hit Girl come to his rescue.

If there is one lesson to be learnt from this film it's "Don't try this at home"! Sure, it's admirable to want to make a difference. But doing it Dave's way is suicide. Become a policeman instead.

The Sandman (4 Stars)

Here's some information for my readers who aren't acquainted with German cinema. About half of the films made in Germany each year are detective stories. Someone is killed, and a policeman has to solve the crime before other people get killed. Sure, there are detective films in other countries, but the fact that so many are made in Germany must say something about the German psyche. I personally prefer the other half. This film is an exception, maybe because it deviates from the standard formula.

I'm reviewing the film made in 1995 starring Götz George and Karoline Eichhorn in the main roles. It's a popular film title. There were films made with the same name in 1983, 1993, 2011 and 2012, none of them related to one another. This was Karoline's first big role, and she's now one of Germany's top actresses. I've already written about other films she's appeared in, namely "Drei Schwestern: Made in Germany", "Die Frau, die im Wald verschwand" and "Ossi's Eleven".

Götz George plays Henry Kupfer, a best selling author who has just written a novel about a serial killer. Karoline Eichhorn is Ina Littman, the producer of a television talk show called "Eye to Eye". Henry has been invited to be interviewed on the show. While researching for the show Ina finds evidence that Henry didn't just make up the story, he is describing murders that he has committed himself. Rather than hand over the evidence to the police she decides that it would make the show a big hit if Henry could be interrogated and exposed on live television.

As I said, this is a twist on normal detective stories. Instead of a policeman, the investigator is a television producer. As far as I know, this film has never been made available in English. I can recommend it to any of my readers who understand the German language.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Get Christie Love (3 Stars)

I'd heard about this film for a long time, as well as the television series with the same name based on it. It was discussed in "Reservoir Dogs", and Quentin Tarantino has repeatedly praised it in interviews. He describes it as a Pam Grier film without Pam Grier. Today I watched it, and that's the film's main problem: it doesn't have Pam Grier. Teresa Graves is cute in the title role, but that's all she is. Cute. She doesn't have Pam Grier's badass attitude. I apologise to Quentin Tarantino. Usually I agree with his recommendations, but not this time. Maybe the television series is better. I'll never know.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Dinocroc vs Supergator (3½ Stars)

I suppose that a film with a name like this must be the result of a Roger Corman/Jim Wynorski collaboration. Nobody else would have the nerve to make a film sound so trashy. But then again, why not call it what it is? It is trashy. So what?

In a research facility on the Hawaiian island Kauai the unscrupulous scientist Jason Drake (played by David Carradine in one of his last roles) has created mutated crocodiles and alligators. One of each escapes from the research facility. The alligator is merely an oversized version of everyday alligators, whereas the crocodile looks suspiciously like the velociraptors that we know from "Jurassic Park". In fact, throughout the film I got the impression that it was intended to be a cheap man's Jurassic Park.

The film has all the hallmarks of Jim Wynorski classics -- big monsters, fast action and pretty girls -- but it isn't up to his other films. I think the problem is the way the girls are presented. Repeatedly busty girls appear in bikinis or other skimpy clothing. The scene builds up suspense, suggesting further nudity. Then snap! A giant monster appears and bites the girls in half before we can see any more. I wasn't keeping a body count, but there were way too many pretty girls getting killed.

Still, it's good fun. For the sake of pure escapism it's worth watching once. I've read that the American DVD release contains a commentary by Roger Corman. That would have interested me. Unfortunately it isn't included on the English release.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Extraterrestrial (4 Stars)

You know what it's like. You go out partying. You drink too much. The next morning you wake up in bed with someone and you don't even know each other's names.

Okay, I admit that it's never happened to me. I've never drunk so much that I forgot the night before. And I've never woken up next to a stranger, especially not someone as beautiful as the Spanish actress Michelle Jenner, who plays Julia. The man in her bed is Julio. The biggest problem with the situation is that she lives with her boyfriend Carlos, who is away on business but could return at any time. There is an unnatural calm over the city. Madrid has a population of more than five million people, but the streets are empty. The phones, the television and the Internet aren't working. They finally hear a report on the radio that the Earth has been invaded by flying saucers, and all the major cities have been evacuated. Wow, they missed all that? It must have been some party! How much did they drink?

The only other person in the city is Angel, a single man who lives next door to Julia. Carlos returns from a refugee camp the next day looking for Julia. Angel threatens to tell Carlos that Julia and Julio have had sex, so an intricate game of deception begins. They convince Carlos that Angel is an alien who has infiltrated the population.

The film is very minimalist. For most of the film we only see the four characters, until they meet a fifth person late in the film. Despite the sci-fi background it's not a sci-fi film. It's about the complications of a drunken night out. The alien invasion is just an added difficulty in dealing with Julia's mistake.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Double Dare (4½ Stars)

This is a documentary, not a film. I always have difficulty rating documentaries. Maybe the problem is that I don't know what to expect. Do I want to be told something new? Do I want my already present knowledge of someone or something to be confirmed? Or contradicted? Do I want to be amused by anecdotes? I think 4½ stars is a fair rating for this documentary, but I could just as well have given it any rating between 3 and 5 stars.

The documentary is about two stuntwomen, Jeannie Epper and Zoe Bell. I already had some knowledge of Zoe, but Jeannie's name was new to me. They are presented as examples of two generations of stuntwomen. Jeannie was the stunt double for Lynda Carter in "Wonder Woman", whereas Zoe was the stunt double for Lucy Lawless in "Xena Warrior Princess". This is presumably the reason why the two are shown side by side.

The documentary begins shortly after the final episode of "Xena". Zoe is unemployed, and she feels that she can only find more work if she leaves New Zealand and goes to America. It's moving to see her in tears when she's turned down after an audition to be Vicki Pratt's stunt double in a new television series, not named in the documentary, but presumably "Mutant X". Jeannie already lives in Hollywood, but she's also struggling to find work due to her age. At 59 it's difficult to find a job, although she has the advantage that Steven Spielberg admires her and is still quick to hire her for his films.

Zoe travels to America to visit an awards ceremony for stuntmen. While there she stays in Jeannie's house. On a free day stuntmen meet to make high falls for fun. No comment! After her jumps she's approached by a talent scout who tells her that Quentin Tarantino is looking for a stunt double for Uma Thurman for an upcoming film, "Kill Bill". She auditions and is immediately accepted. It was a lucky break that she was in America at the time of casting for all involved. Quentin says that he had been auditioning women for days without finding anyone suitable and was "shitting bricks". When he heard that Lucy Lawless's stunt double was in Hollywood he was excited because "Anyone who can double Lucy Lawless can double Uma Thurman". He seemed to have made his mind up already, and Zoe's audition was just a formality.

It's relatively recent that women have been able to work as stuntwomen. Until the 1960's, if a woman needed a stunt double a skinny man put on a wig. In part, this still happens today. While watching the third season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" I noticed that in some fight scenes Buffy was really a small man with a scarred face. This was shoddy filming. A stunt double should never be seen. After a few episodes I could easily tell them apart, even without seeing the face, because the wig worn by the stunt double was less glossy than Sarah Michelle Gellar's hair.

But I'm getting off the subject. In the 1970's the first women worked as stuntwomen. A few at first, but the numbers steadily increased. Jeannie Epper, who came from a family of stuntmen, was one of the first.

The DVD extras are just as interesting as the documentary itself, and I strongly recommend that you watch all of them. The interviews with Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino give a lot of insight into the profession of the stuntwoman and action films in general. Quentin is a big fan of "Xena". He says that he's certain that if "Xena" is watched 20 years from now it will be just as fresh and original as it is today. I agree. Listen to the interview yourself to hear his other thoughts on the series.

The Policewoman (4 Stars)

This is a gripping drama about a young woman called Anne who is new on the job as a policewoman. Before joining the police force she worked for five years as a postal worker, first delivering mail and then behind a counter. She decided to join the police because she cared about people. She went to police academy in her home town of Berlin, where she wished to stay, but now she finds herself posted to the area of Lütten-Klein in Rostock. It's an unglamorous city with high criminality. Anne soon becomes disillusioned when she realises that she can't make a difference. She has affairs with a petty thief and also with one of her married colleagues, both of which she regrets. But I'm already saying too much, I don't want to add spoilers.

I bought this film because so far I have enjoyed all the films I've seen directed by Andreas Dresen. I wasn't disappointed. If you enjoy gritty urban dramas set in eastern Germany, I can recommend this film without reservation. It's only been released in Germany, but it has English subtitles. It's also worth noting that the film, made in 2000, was the first major role for Axel Prahl, who plays Anne's colleague Mike.

Monday, 12 August 2013

TV Series: The Sarah Jane Adventures

Today I watched a few episodes from the third season of "The Sarah Jane Adventures". I have to admit feeling some sadness, because I can't look at the leading actress, Elisabeth Sladen, without remembering her untimely death. Just look at the photo of Elisabeth with David Tennant in the photo above. She may have been 63, but she looked much younger. And yet two years later she was dead. She was diagnosed with cancer in February 2011 and died in April. The only thing she could be thankful for was that it wasn't a long lingering death.

For the few people who don't know the series, the premise is that after being "abandoned" by the Doctor ex-companion Sarah Jane Smith has devoted her life to protecting the Earth from aliens. Sarah Jane is aided by her adopted son Luke and his schoolfriends Clive and Rani. In many ways "The Sarah Jane Adventures" was a series out of time. Though made in the the 21st Century (2007-2011) it was in the style of the 1970's Doctor Who episodes. How can anyone be scared of the monsters? It's too difficult to take them seriously. And yet the stories are thrilling adventures that keep viewers on the edge of their seats from beginning to end.

The series was cut short by Elisabeth Sladen's death. Only the first two episodes of the fifth season were completed. The time she spent on television, as short as it was, will keep her memory alive for generations to come.

Yet another scene from the series: the Doctor with Clive, Luke and the incredibly beautiful Rani, as played by Anjli Mohindra. Of all of the SJA cast Rani is the one I would most like to see return, maybe as a future companion. Click the picture above to see a good reason for her return.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Groundhog Day (4 Stars)

Phil Connors, the weatherman for a tv station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is sent to Punxsutawney, also in Pennsylvania, to report on the yearly Groundhog Day on February 2nd. Why, you may ask, is a weatherman sent to do an anchorman's job? This is because of a legend that if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day spring will come early, but if the groundhog returns to its burrow winter will continue for another six weeks.

When Phil and his crew attempt to leave the town after the event they are trapped by an unexpected blizzard. On the next day Phil wakes up in his hotel room and it's February 2nd again. The day repeats itself. Everything, apart from what he directly influences, is the same. Then the day repeats itself again. And again. And again. Phil's attempts to escape by suicide fail, because he is reborn on the same day. He indulges in crimes such as assault and robbery, but since the next day never comes there are no consequences. He has sex with strangers, and makes multiple attempts to win the heart of his colleague Rita. He even presents himself as God, telling people he knows everything that will happen.

The reaction to the film is interesting. Many see it as an affirmation of Buddhist philosophy. Catholics say that it represents Purgatory. People from other religions claim it supports their faith. The director, Harold Ramis, says that he had no interest in a spiritual exposition, he just wanted to make a good film. In my eyes, this is what makes the film so popular. The way it's been made, everyone can see in the film what he wants to. There is no right way or wrong way to interpret the film. I also have an opinion, what it means to me, but I won't even state it here. Like everyone else, I see what I want to see.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Raptor (3¾ Stars)

This film was produced by Roger Corman, and shows elements of his style throughout, but for me it's more typical of the director Jim Wynorski. Jim seems to have an even bigger knack than Roger of making watchable films on small budgets. "Raptor" is no masterpiece, but it's fun to watch. The special effects are laughable, but the story is believable, the action is gripping, and as in all of Jim's films the female actors are first rate eye candy. His monster films have a distinct 1950's feel to them.

Unfortunately, many of his films never make it onto DVD. He makes his films to be shown on late night television channels, i.e. American television channels, so people like me who live in England don't get a chance to see them. I hope this will change. I have a feeling that Jim's time will come. Despite the large volume of his work he's largely unknown, but one day he'll find the recognition he deserves. I estimate that I have about a dozen of his films in my DVD collection. Maybe I'll have a Jim Wynorski month in the near future. Watch this space.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Summer on the Balcony (4 Stars)

This film is impossible to describe without making it sound boring. It is so down to Earth, so normal. Nothing happens to the main characters that couldn't happen to you or me. If we were middle-aged women living in Berlin, that is. And yet the story is fascinating, however mundane it might seem.

Katrin and Nicole are two women in their late 30's who live in apartments in the same house in Berlin. Katrin is divorced with a 12-year-old son, and has been unemployed for three years. Nicole has never been married and works as a community nurse, taking care of old people who are unable to wash or dress themselves. Nasty. I don't know which one of them I pity more.

The two women are best friends and spend their evenings sitting on Nicole's balcony drinking until late into the night. They both dream of the big romance waiting just around the corner. But it never comes. Then one summer Nicole meets Ronald, a truck driver. She puts up with him despite his obnoxious personality. She asks him one night in bed, "Do you think being good at sex gives you the right to be such an asshole?" When Ronald moves in with her the friendship between the two women breaks down.

The film is directed by Andreas Dresen. I've watched a few other films by him, such as "Willenbrock" and "Grill Point". He has a very distinctive style that I greatly enjoy. I'm determined to watch more of his films. This film has only ever been released in Germany, Region 2 PAL, but it has English subtitles.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Off-Topic: Vegetarianism

I intended to write this post on August 5th after reading an article on the BBC's web site. At first I decided not to, because I've been making a lot of off-topic posts lately. But after being unable to resist writing about bread yesterday I decided it doesn't matter. So I apologise to all my hardcore film fans who aren't interested in anything else but films. Here are my thoughts on vegetarianism.

There are five major reasons for a person to be a vegetarian:
  1. His religion forbids eating meat
  2. He pities animals
  3. He doesn't like the taste of meat
  4. He is allergic to meat
  5. He thinks eating meat is unhealthy
(1) If your religion forbids the eating of meat, you're right to obey whatever your holy book says. Some religions are selective. Sikhs don't eat beef and Jews don't eat pork. Certain branches of Hinduism advocate strict vegetarianism. It's a matter of your personal conscience within your own belief system. I assume that the majority of my readers come from a Christian background, so let me tell you what the Bible (New Testament) has to say on the subject:

1 Corinthians 10:25 says "Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience".

Romans 14:2 says "One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables", but continues in verse 3 by saying "Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats".

These verses are significant. The Bible clearly excludes both vegetarianism and the selection of "clean" and "unclean" meat, but it also forbids arguing about it. In the early days of Christianity many Christians thought it was wrong to eat pork, due to a misunderstanding of the covenant made with Abraham. Rather than argue over trivial points of doctrine like diet, Paul says believers should concentrate on the more important points of doctrine that they agree on.

(2) There's not much I can say about pitying animals. Some people think that it's cruel to kill an animal to eat it. This is an opinion held by a minority of people, but it's just that: an opinion. It's impossible to say if they're right or wrong. All I can say is that in western countries animals are slaughtered humanely, so that they don't suffer. They aren't even aware of their death. On the other hand, there are many people, including myself, who are selective in their choice of the animals they eat because of feelings towards them. I have never eaten a dog or a cat, and probably never shall, because I think of them as pets. In England it's not usual to eat horsemeat, but it's relatively common in Germany. And it tastes good!

(3) If you don't like meat, just accept it. Don't force yourself to eat something you don't like. This is very common on a selective basis. Many people only eat poultry because they dislike the taste of beef and pork. Other people only eat fish, no meat at all. Incidentally, some people who only eat fish call themselves vegetarians. There's a certain logic to this, because they say they don't eat meat, but it's incorrect. Real vegetarians, whatever their reason for being vegetarian, are annoyed by them calling themselves vegetarians. The correct word to describe someone who eats fish but no meat is "pescetarian".

(4) The same arguments apply to this as those in the last paragraph.

(5) This is actually the main reason why I wanted to make this post. The most common reason for vegetarianism in western countries is that it's healthy. Even those who are vegetarian for other reasons add, "It's healthier anyway". I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it isn't true. The health advantages of vegetarianism are pure propaganda used to win people over, made without scientific backing.

The most common claim is that vegetarians live longer. Scientific studies are inconclusive, but they point in the opposite direction. The problem is that it's very difficult to get unbiased results. On the one hand, a larger percentage of vegetarians than non-vegetarians smokes. This could be a reason for their shorter life expectancy. On the other hand, people who eat meat have, on average, more active lifestyles and do more sport than vegetarians. Maybe this should be allowed in surveys, because the lack of meat in a diet may lead to more lethargy. Apart from this, is a comparison fair that lumps all meat-eaters together? Some people eat a lot of meat, others eat only moderate amounts, some people eat only certain types of meat, some people eat meat that contain preservatives, etc. There are so many different factors to consider.

The BBC article that I mentioned in the first paragraph is about the cloning of meat; meat can now be grown without needing a live animal. This should satisfy vegetarians in the first two categories that I named. This invention moves us one step closer to Star Trek's food replicators.