Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Dark Knight Rises (4½ Stars)

This is the final film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Rachel Dawes was killed in the second part, so she doesn't need to appear in this film. That's just as well. Christopher Nolan might have chosen Whoopi Goldberg to play her this time.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Thor: Dark World (4½ Stars)

The film continues where "The Avengers" left off. Thor is fighting battles in the nine worlds to make peace. His brother Loki is still imprisoned. Jane Foster is attempting to move on with her life, since she hasn't seen Thor since the first film ended. This film centres around the return of a dark elf, Malekith, who plans to use a long hidden weapon to destroy all nine worlds, plunging them into darkness. Jane unwittingly becomes a pawn in the battle, and Thor has to fight to protect her. I was happy to see that the final battle took place in London. Why should New York, in particular Manhattan, always be smashed up in big action films? London deserves to be destroyed as well.

The film has incredible action scenes, balanced with a good dose of humour. It's definitely worth seeing in the cinema. I saw it in 3D, but in my opinion the 3D is unnecessary and doesn't add anything to the film. I'll probably go to see the film again on Sunday.

Here's an important spoiler for people intending to see the film in the cinema. There are two additional scenes. The first is in the middle of the credits, and it has some importance as introducing a character for the "Guardians of the Galaxy" film. The second is at the end of the film, and even though it's not essential to the plot it's worth watching. Please don't run out of the film too fast.

I left the cinema at 2am and decided to walk home. I walked past the homeless people who sleep in front of the Birmingham Bullring. There were quite a lot of them, about 20 huddled up under their blankets. What shocked me most was seeing a mother with her two children, who looked about five or six years old. She was calling them to lie down. In my opinion it's totally wrong that small children have to sleep outdoors. That sort of thing makes me feel ashamed to be British.

Thor (4½ Stars)

This is another first for me. "Thor" is the first film that I ever saw on DVD first, then went to see it in the cinema at a later date. There's a logical reason for it. It was shown today as part of a double bill with "Thor: Dark World". I thought it would be a good idea to catch up, since I missed "Thor" in the cinema when it was first released in 2011. I'm glad that I saw it on the big screen today. It's a visually spectacular film that can't be fully appreciated at home.

The casting of Idris Elba as Heimdall is disappointing. He bears little resemblance to the character from the comic books, as the above photos make clear. His choice was criticised by fans when the film was first made, and those who agreed with his choice called the other side racists. That's incorrect. I want a white actor to play Heimdall for the simple reason that he's white in the comics. The population of Asgard isn't like Earth. On Earth we have different races and different skin colours, but Asgard is an all-white world. The only way to explain that one person is black in an otherwise 100% white world is to attribute it to a birth defect. Those who fling the racist slur around need to be aware that it was actually racial reasons that led to Idris being chosen. Today films need a black character to make them attractive to black viewers. In the superhero films one of the supporting characters has to be made black. It can't be the main character, because that would alienate the white audience. The maximum is two black characters, a man and a woman, but there should never be more than one of either.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

General: My first user poll

Yesterday I was talking to a friend about my recent review of the documentary "Helvetica", in particular about my criticism of the the font Arial. My friend expressed the opinion that nobody cares about Arial's capital S being badly designed. Nobody except me would notice this error, and anyone who reads my post will just shrug and say "So what?" So I've added a user poll in the sidebar. I'm considering writing more posts about typography in the future, so I want to know what my readers think. Please let me know.

The Dark Knight (5 Stars)

This film grows on me more every time I watch it. The only weak part is the episode with the two ships in the last half hour. Sure, I know why it was included, and it's significant for the plot, but at that late stage in the film we needed fast action, not slow lingering soul-searching.

Nevertheless, the statement in the film poster that I used for this post is very depressing. I wouldn't like to live in a world without rules. Whether it's the rules set by society or rules that I have created for myself, I need rules. Rules mean stability. Rules mean order. Without rules there is chaos. That's the goal of the Joker in this film. He doesn't want to get rich, he wants to see the city burn.

"Everything burns".

At the end of the film, and I apologise for the spoiler, Batman goes a way towards accepting this.

"Sometimes the truth isn't good enough. Sometimes, people deserve more".

That's an extremely negative attitude. If knowledge isn't based on the truth, what good is it? Indeed, if rules aren't based on the truth, what good are they?

It was an embarrassing blunder to cast Maggie Gyllenhall as Rachel Dawes in the film. She's no Katie Holmes. In some cases switching actors from one film to the next works, such as the transition from Jodie Foster to Julianne Moore in the Hannibal Lecter films. Those two actresses look relatively similar, and Julianne Moore did a good job at imitating Jodie Foster's mannerisms. But in the case of Maggie Gyllenhall, she's so unlike Katie Holmes that it's a shock when watching the two films back to back. To be fair to Maggie, I can't think of any actress who could have stepped into Katie's shoes. The mistake lies squarely with Christopher Nolan as the writer and director. When he found out that Katie Holmes wasn't available he should have written Rachel Dawes out of the film altogether.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Batman Begins (4 Stars)

"It's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you".

It must be obvious that this is the film's main quote, even to people who don't watch out for film quotes. It's repeated twice in the film for emphasis. It's a Biblical principle. In Matthew 7:15-16 we read, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them". Even though this verse speaks specifically about prophets, Christians apply it to all people. It's impossible for us to look into a person's heart and see if he's good or evil, but we can see what he does and make a judgement. Many people claim to be good. Many people are called good by others, whether they are politicians, religious leaders or philanthropists. In cases like that we need to take an unbiased look at the person's deeds to decide whether it's true or not.

I promised in my last review that I would watch this film again. It's taken me 18 months to get round to it. It is a good film, although I still think that it's really Daredevil wearing a different costume.

I offer my congratulations to Katie Holmes, who plays Bruce Wayne's childhood friend Rachel Dawes in this film. In 2005, when the film was made, she began to date Tom Cruise and became a member of the Scientology Church to please him. She has now seen the error of her ways and renounced her connection to Scientology. It's wrong to even call Scientology a "church", it's just a pseudo-scientific self-help organisation that calls itself a religion to get tax breaks. It's a shame that she couldn't persuade Tom to leave as well, so she had to divorce him.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

R.I.P. Lou Reed

Let's remember the man who taught us to walk on the wild side.

Lou Reed
March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (5 Stars)

Okay, after watching "I love you, Phillip Morris" yesterday I had to watch another film with Jim Carrey, and this was the best choice I could make. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is one of the best films I've ever seen. It's definitely in my top five. The screenplay by Charlie Kaufman is mind-blowing.

Click here to read my last review. That includes the facts about the film, and I can't improve on what I wrote, as far as the facts are concerned. I'd just like to add something about the underlying philosophy. Forgetting the past is criticised in no uncertain terms. That's something everyone should take from the film. However painful a person's memories might be, it's better to remember them than to forget them. To quote the famous words of George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". We see this in the film in the case of Mary Svevo, but I won't say anything more about it here because it would be a spoiler.

Mary changes her attitude once she realises what she's forgotten. She begins by saying, "Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders". This quote from Friedrich Nietzsche is so important to her that she says it twice during the film. My regular readers know that I have a low opinion of Nietzsche, so I'm glad that she rejected this philosophy by the end of the film.

Let me quote Nietzsche's "Midnight Song". I've added my own translation, which is more accurate than the official poetic translations:

O Mensch! Gib Acht!O man! Listen!
Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht?What is the deep midnight saying?
"Ich schlief, ich schlief."I was asleep, I was asleep,
Aus tiefem Traum bin ich erwacht.     I awoke from a deep dream.
Die Welt ist tief,The world is deep,
Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.Deeper than day could know.
Tief ist ihr Weh —The world's woe is deep,
Lust — tiefer noch als Herzeleid.And the world's longing is deeper than heartache.
Weh spricht: Vergeh!Woe tells it to cease,
Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit,But all longing wants eternity,
Will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!"Deep, deep eternity."

Night knows secrets that day doesn't. We can conclude that night keeps the secrets from day, jealously concealing the knowledge gleamed from dreams. The night is the messenger of forgetfulness. The world is torn between two extremes: longing for the future and heartache for the past. Nietzsche sees woe as a negative element that tries to hold back longing. Woe is the ally of heartache and wants to preserve it. Woe wants to keep the world centred on the past, but longing strives forward to eternity. This might not seem bad in itself, but we see the consequences in the context of Nietzsche's other writings. By striving towards the future we abandon the past completely. This means that in the quest to become the Übermensch, the Superman, the weak ones of the past are trampled underfoot.

That's a very brief explanation of the poem, I know. Philosophy students have written whole theses about this poem, not always agreeing with one another in their expositions.

A balance is needed between the past and the future. As a certain eccentric film fan once said:

"Live in the present, fight for the future, remember the past".

Friday, 25 October 2013

I love you, Phillip Morris (4 Stars)

This is the true story of Steven Jay Russell, a notorious American con man and prison escaper. He's the only person in America ever to have escaped from prison four times, including twice from a maximum security prison. That's quite an achievement, a work of genius, but obviously Steven wasn't smart enough to stop himself being re-arrested. Or maybe he has an Achilles heel, as the film shows. Tragically, his love for Phillip Morris has been his downfall.

Steven Russell and Phillip Morris met in prison. Steven was in prison for insurance fraud, Phillip was in prison for "stealing" (i.e. not returning) a rental car. The film suggests that Phillip's crime might have been an accident, maybe he just forgot that the rental time had expired. Steven was already a hardened criminal at this time, revelling in his trade as a con man. They spent a few months sharing a cell, their own personal love nest. Steven's skills as a con man kept him in money, even behind bars, and they lived in relative comfort. It wasn't until they were separated that Steven decided he had to escape. Whenever he escaped he went straight to Phillip's home, which made it easy for the police to find him.

Steven's cons were so bold that they were magnificent. During his career he impersonated a doctor, a lawyer, a judge and an FBI agent. His most extravagant escape was by faking his own death. While watching the film I couldn't believe it really happened, it seemed too crazy to be true. But it did. Check his Wikipedia page.

Jim Carrey was the perfect choice to play Steven Russell, the man with many faces. Ewan McGregor also fits in well with his subdued portrayal of the shy Phillip Morris. I've read that the original version of the film had to be toned down because the homosexual scenes were too explicit. It's sad that prejudice like this still exists today. On the other hand, seeing Jim Carrey in any sex scene is somehow unsettling. I can't remember him having a sex scene in any film so far. In the first 10 minutes of the film we see him singing in church, having sex with a woman and having sex with a man. I don't know which of these three scenes is the most disturbing.

"How does a person who doesn't exist go on existing?"

This film's big quote jumped out at me. It was unmissable, and as usual I paused the film to write it down. Maybe it's something that just applies to me and my psyche. The question touched me deeply, but maybe I'm taking it out of context. In the film it's the soul-searching question of a deceiver who never lets anyone see his real face. For me it's more a matter that I'm a person that nobody really knows, because my life has moved through drastically different phases. It's not that I'm hiding the past, I've just left it so far behind that I'm unrecognisable as the same person. I'm like a ghost floating through this world. I want to touch people I meet with acts of kindness, but I don't believe I have ever done anything truly memorable. I continue my existence by re-inventing myself for each new phase of my life.

My regular readers probably know that I'm a big fan of Jim Carrey, especially his serious films. Despite occasional comic elements I'd say this is a serious story. It's not so much his skill as an actor that attracts me, it's his choice of films. What I mean is, seeing Jim Carrey's name in a film's credits is the guarantee that it's a well written story, whatever it's about. I feel tempted to do a Jim Carrey film marathon, but now isn't the right time. I'll just weave in a few of his films with my regular viewing.

Total Recall (4 Stars)

I'm reviewing the version of the film that was made in 2012, starring Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid.

I'm somewhat confused by the reviews that I've read about the film. So many science fiction fans say "It isn't as good as the original". Was the original really that good? I can vaguely remember seeing it once when it was broadcast on television about 20 years ago. I wasn't very impressed, mainly because of Arnold Schwarzenegger's wooden acting. That's all I can remember, apart from the hooker with three breasts. She was cute. It was directed by Paul Verhoeven, and his films are usually good, so maybe I should go back and watch it again.

The film takes place in the future when most of the world has become uninhabitable due to radioactive pollution. The only countries still existing are the United Federation of Britain (not just the British isles, it also encompasses part of western France and Belgium) and the Colony (Australia). The elite live in the UFB in relative comfort, while the Colony's population is poor and underprivileged. There is a tunnel that connects the two countries, "the Fall", which is used for workers from the Colony to commute to the UFB.

Douglas Quaid is a citizen of the Colony who works in the UFB constructing robots. It's a dull job, and he wants some form of relief. In the future vacations are impossible due to the inhabited world being so overcrowded, but technology supplies a replacement. A company called "Total Recall" offers the implantation of false thoughts, allowing the person to temporarily be anyone he wants to be wherever he wants to be. Douglas visits the company, but as he's about to be imprinted with the thoughts it's discovered that he's already been imprinted. He's not who he thinks he is.

This is a high octane thriller. The two lead characters, Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale, are both excellent actors. Jessica Biel is okay, I guess, but she's eclipsed by the other two. Whenever she's on the screen she contributes nothing to the action. I have an antipathy to films about a post-apocalyptic world, but I'll still give this film a good rating. Colin and Kate deserve it.

I have a bad habit. Well, it might be a bad habit if I did it in company, but when I'm alone it's excusable. I wait for memorable quotes in a film, and when a quote comes I stop the film to write it down. It's good that I'm not married, I'm sure that would annoy my wife. Often I'm not even aware I'm waiting for a quote, but when it comes I recognise it immediately. Every film has at least one quote that sums it up. Good films have several.

"The past is a construct of the mind. The heart wants to live in the present".

That's deep. But is it true? I think it depends on a person's past. We all have phases in our life. If my present life is dull, there are two things I can do. I can either live for the future or reminisce about the past. The latter might seem to be a negative attitude, but I don't criticise it. Maybe a person has had a thrilling or distinguished past, so it would be a loss to forget it.

"Live in the present, fight for the future, remember the past".

That second quote isn't from the film, it's all mine. You can quote me.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Helvetica (4 Stars)

"Helvetica" is a documentary made in 2007 about the typeface with the same name. The film was released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Helvetica's creation in 1957 by Max Miedinger. It presents balanced opinions between those who love Helvetica and those who hate it. One thing that we can't deny is that it's the world's most used typeface. We see it in public signs, brochures and on our phones. Apple computers use Helvetica, while Windows-based PCs use a similar typeface called Arial. Those who love Helvetica do so because it's very economical in its spacing and neutral in its message. As one designer says in the documentary, "If you want to make a brochure and have no skill as a designer, just write the text in a bold Helvetica font in one size and it'll look good". Those who hate Helvetica do so because it's overused. They think that Helvetica has run its course and needs to be replaced with new typefaces, maybe typefaces that haven't even been designed yet.

Arial was first created as an optimised version of Helvetica for IBM printers in 1982 and went through a few changes before it was officially adopted by Microsoft in 1992. Almost all the letters are the same in shape, height and width, meaning that the untrained eye can't tell the two typefaces apart, but there are distinct differences in the letters G, Q and R, as well as the digit 1 and certain non-alphabetic characters like the Euro symbol. The characters that have a loop are terminated diagonally in Arial, but vertically or horizontally in Helvetica. This includes, among others, the letters C, G, J and S.

Helvetica G
Arial G
Helvetica Q
Arial Q
Helvetica R
Arial R
Helvetica C
Arial C
Helvetica S
Arial S

I love the little flourish on the leg of Helvetica's capital R. It almost looks like a small serif that was slipped into the design as a bonus. Arial replaces this with a flourish in the bar of the capital Q, but this is less aesthetically pleasing.

I consider the capital S in Arial to be a design fault, because the diagonal slant of the termination doesn't match that of the capital C. In comparison, the small S is correctly formed, as you can see from the following examples.

Helvetica Small C
Arial Small C
Helvetica Small S
Arial Small S

Microsoft hasn't noticed this error since the Arial TrueType fonts were created 20 years ago, so I doubt it will ever be fixed.

I've never been a fan of the Helvetica typeface, since I prefer serif typefaces. I've always considered Helvetica a passe-partout typeface, and I've only ever used it for footnotes when writing documents. I steer away from Arial, of course, only using it online when Windows presents it as the default. I've lived with Helvetica all my life, so it's difficult for me to imagine a time when it didn't exist. This film has given me insight into the aesthetics of the typeface, so I now feel tempted to experiment with it in the future.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Cheerleader Massacre (3¾ Stars)

This is the last film in my Julie K. Smith marathon. Did I really get through all of her films in a week? I feel sad that it's over. Maybe it wasn't good to leave this film till last. It's one of those if-you-blink-you'll-miss-her roles. Her character isn't even named.

Jeremiah McPherson was locked in a mental hospital after killing 11 people. 20 years later he escapes. Bodies are piling up faster than the police can count them, but one of the officers suspects that the killer is someone else. Nevertheless, the police pursue McPherson into the snow covered mountains. At the same time a group of cheerleaders is stranded in the mountains after their bus breaks down.

The film is good, but no masterpiece. In the middle it seems to be padded as if the writer ran out of ideas. It would have been no shame to let the film be 15 minutes shorter. That would have improved it.

Baberellas (3½ Stars)

Like "Survivors Exposed" this film is about a reality show, but it's on a whole different level. The show is "Plunder That Planet", broadcast on the Galactic Erotic channel to billions of horny lifeforms throughout the universe. In each episode the sexual energy is drained from a planet, leading to the planet's destruction. In this episode the Earth has been chosen. To do this the planet's "nexus" has to be located and kidnapped. This is the one person on the planet with more sexual energy than anyone else, because this person has a sexual connection to everyone else on the planet.

The show's host, Queen Sartanika, identifies the energy of the nexus, but is unable to decide who it is because the possible subjects are too close together. They are the four girls in a rock band called Top Heavy. It's necessary to abduct the whole band to investigate further.

This is a fun film, and not just because Julie K. Smith appears as Top Heavy's lead singer. However, this is too ambitious a film to be made on a minimal budget. The cheap CGI effects distract from the otherwise good quality of the film. It's also a shame that the video quality of the film is so poor. Even though it's a relatively recent film, less than 10 years old, it looks as if the film has been transferred to DVD from a videotape. That's a problem with a lot of films I've been watching in my Julie K. Smith marathon, as you can tell from the poor quality screenshots I've been using.

I absolutely love the film's theme song, "Kiss my Galaxy" by Hydraulic Clown Head. I'll have to see if I can get it for my MP3 player.

Survivors Exposed (4 Stars)

This film was made in 2001. It was directed by Jim Wynorski, and it stars a lot of the actresses who appeared in his Bare Wench Project trilogy. It also features Lenny Juliano, once more playing a somehow likeable pervert. He does it so well, like he was born for the role.

Lenny Juliano plays Cliff Probate, the host of a reality show in which six beautiful girls have to survive on a remote island. He tries to use the situation to his own advantage, offering to make sure that any girl who gives him sexual favours will win the one million dollar prize. But they all turn him down. He's unable to keep the girls under control. After the first contestant is voted off the island she refuses to leave. At the second vote the girls are so sick of Cliff that they vote to eject him.

Here are the girls. They're all beautiful, but you can guess who my favourite is.

Julie K. Smith
Aimee Sweet
Alexus Winston
Aria Giovanni
Shauna O'Brien
Tess Broussard
And last but not least, here's Lenny Juliano. Oh wait, sorry, I got that wrong. He really is the least. If he can't get a girl at least he can hug a doll.

Lenny Juliano

Click here for my first review of the film. I didn't say much, but you can check it out anyway.

I can't resist the temptation to add one more photo of the beautiful Julie K. Smith. She's one girl I'd love to be trapped on a desert island with. As long as she puts that knife down.....

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

TV Series: My Babysitter's a Vampire

Newspaper snapshot from My Babysitter's a Vampire, Season 1 Episode 3. Click here to enlarge.

It seems from this newspaper that the inhabitants of Whitechapel, Ontario, where the series is set, are fluent in Pidgin Latin. The text begins "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit. Ut vestibulum diam et erat mollis elementum". The great orator and defender of the unjust Cicero would be turning in his grave.

This television series is based on the film with the same name. Unlike "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" it continues from the film with the same characters played by the same actors. In fact, the series jumps straight into the action without introducing the characters, so anyone who hasn't seen the film first would be confused. If anyone wants to know if the series is worth watching, here are two compelling reasons:

Kate Todd without fangs
Kate Todd with fangs
Kate plays Erica Jones, a 17-year-old schoolgirl who bites on the first date. But then again, she has to, because there won't be a second date. I would be begging her for a date.

On a personal note, this is the 1000th post since I started this blog in September 2010. Yesterday I sat for a long time wondering what to do. I didn't know whether to make a special post, or just post a picture of the letter M. I used to have a great interest in typography, back in the early 1990's when fonts were in rare supply on PC's and very expensive. I lost interest when TrueType was introduced and the font glut began. After long deliberation I decided to continue with business as usual and make a normal post.

Nevertheless, here's the letter M that I planned to use. It's too good to waste. This is the letter M from the typeface Palatino, designed by Hermann Zapf in 1948. I've used the version that was digitised by Bitstream Inc, respectfully renamed Zapf Calligraphic. The italic version of this font is considered by many to be the most beautiful font ever created. Microsoft refused to pay the licensing fees for using Palatino and has created a similar but inferior clone called Book Antiqua.

The letter M is significant in typography, especially computer typography. The size of a font is described as the M height, more commonly spelt as "em height". Fonts are calibrated to the size of the capital letter M. This means that if a font is a 36 point font, the capital M is exactly half an inch tall from top to bottom. (One inch is 72 points). This is a mark of quality in the free computer fonts that can be downloaded from many sources. Fonts in which the capital M doesn't match the font size are poor quality and shouldn't be used.

Hermann Zapf without fangs
Maybe I'll make a few posts in the future featuring my favourite fonts. They will all be old fonts, because I haven't concerned myself much with computer typography since the mid 1990's. I'm open to recommendations of high quality new fonts, if my readers know any.

This month my reader numbers are soaring up to record levels. But are the readers really paying attention? If you've read the post this far, please leave a comment congratulating me on my 1000th post. I'm curious if anyone will do this.