Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Resident Evil (4 Stars)

Today is the first time I've seen this film since it was shown on television shortly after being released, about ten years ago. I couldn't remember much about it, except that it's a zombie film, and I don't like zombie films. Or at least, usually I don't. Ten years ago I used to hate zombie films, but now I'm more open-minded, and I judge each film on its own merits. This is in contrast to vampire films, which I love. Vampires are much sexier than zombies.

The film is based on a video game made in 1996. I've never played this game, but while watching the film I could get a sense of game-playing logic being applied, suggesting that the film follows the game closely. What I mean is that it was apparent that puzzles were being solved to progress deeper into a virtual labyrinth, a typical feature of strategy games.

A woman called Alice wakes up in a mansion suffering from amnesia. She is attacked and overpowered by an unknown man who enters the mansion, claiming to be a policeman. Before they can talk a group of soldiers come who capture the man and free Alice, saying that she is one of them. Together they venture into an underground lair, The Hive, in which the computer system has "gone homicidal" and killed everyone. With some effort, including loss of life, the soldiers manage to shut down the computer system, only to learn that it was not malfunctioning after all; it had attempted to kill everyone in The Hive in order to prevent the spreading of a deadly virus. The foolish action of the soldiers results in the unleashing of the virus.

Enter the zombies.

Watching it a second time today, the film made a good impression on me. I enjoyed the fast action, which rarely let up. I know the film has been criticised for the lack of character development. In particular, the lead character Alice, played by Milla Jovovich, walks around with the soldiers as a seemingly superfluous hanger on, looking like she is only in the film as eye candy. When her memory begins to return the film has progressed too far to be slowed down so that we can get to know her. This doesn't bother me much. I enjoyed the action, and even though I don't find Milla overly attractive her red dress is a welcome splash of colour in the otherwise dark scenes. For me the outstanding actors are Colin Salmon and Michelle Rodriguez, the soldiers One and Rain. Colin is one of the best actors I know, who never fails to bring quality and distinction into every role he plays. Michelle is a skilled actress, and she also makes it into my revised list of the world's most beautiful actresses.

I've already decided to watch the other Resident Evil films. Watch this space.

Monday, 30 December 2013

TV Series: On The Buses

Over the last two weeks I've hardly watched any films at home. I've been catching up on television series. I won't list them all here. I just want to mention that today I watched six episodes from the fifth season of "On the buses", episodes first broadcast in 1971. I was laughing so hard that I had tears in my eyes. This is first class comedy, better than anything that's been made in the last 40 years. The only other series that comes close to being as funny is "It ain't half hot, Mum", made a few years later, from 1974 to 1981.

Why can't they make programmes this funny nowadays? Is it because the humour is so deeply rooted in the 1970's that it would be impossible to transplant it into the 21st Century? Are we too politically correct today? Do we allow too little? Or too much? The series' humour might seem crude at first glance, but it's actually very innocent. Stan and Jack are presumably in their mid 30's, but as far as sexual relationships go they act like teenagers. The highlight of a date with a clippy (a female ticket collector) is making out with her on the sofa. All that the "bad boys" want to do is kiss and grope, they wouldn't dream of going any further. The clippies are a class in themselves. With very few exceptions they are busty but overweight by today's standards of perfection. I think the polite word to describe them is "thick". Stan and Jack didn't want skinny girls, they had to have meat on their bones, something to squeeze on the sofa after coming home from the pub.

Jack and Stan playing darts with a clippy

The picture at the top is of the UK DVD collection, but it uses a horrible Americanism, the misuse of the word "series". In correct English a television programme is a series, and the yearly chunks are called seasons. This means that we can say, for instance, "The series 'Smallville' is made up of ten seasons". Americans confuse matters by using the word "series" when they mean "seasons". Unfortunately it's becoming more and more common for people in England to imitate this blunder. As in this DVD box set. The company Network which released this DVD collection should be ashamed of their poor command of the English language.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

TV Series: Arrow

Now that my favourite television series, "The Almighty Johnsons" and "Dexter", have finished I need to pick a new favourite. Just in case someone asks. It's not really necessary to have a favourite, but it's good to have an answer ready when someone asks me what my favourite film or tv show is, rather than indecisively mumbling around. To me it's very unsatisfying when I ask someone what his favourite film is and the reply is "I like a lot of things". Sure, I like a lot of things as well, but I like to have a quick answer ready so that people can make a quick impression of me and my tastes. After they get to know me better they'll realise that I'm more complicated.

After watching about half of the first season, I have to say that "Arrow" stands head and shoulders above every other current television series. It's much better than "Agents of SHIELD", which I admit is good, but it doesn't live up to the high expectations I had of it. Why is it that Marvel makes the best films, but DC makes the best tv series? The recent "Man of Steel" film looks pale in comparison with most of the episodes of "Smallville", despite their smaller budget. None of the Batman films since the 1980's live up to the Batman tv series. In my opinion DC should give up making films altogether and concentrate on what they do best: television. The excitement and suspense of "Arrow" is incredible, and the action scenes match and even excel most current films.

Nevertheless, take a look at the screenshot of the legal blurb from the end of the "Arrow" episodes. It's embarrassing, isn't it? They should learn how to spell. Another issue is the final paragraph, concerning the authorship. In the last few years it's become common for films to name a company as their author rather than the real screenwriter, in an attempt to extend the coverage of the Berne Convention. In the case of films and motion pictures there might be some validity, because the copyright expires 70 years after the author's death. I say "might", because some legal experts doubt that the transfer of legal authorship to a company is recognised by the Berne Convention. However, television broadcasts are treated differently to films under the Berne Convention; the copyright expires 50 years after the first broadcast, so the question of authorship is irrelevant. The USA has formally signed the Berne Convention, but in practise it tries not to apply it, especially in recent years when the copyright for many films and television programmes has officially expired. The film and television studios want to retain the ownership, even though they are legally in the public domain. I predict that if the Berne Convention is not overhauled in the next few years the USA will formally leave the treaty, causing chaos in the film world.

47 Ronin (3½ Stars)

It was with some hesitation that I went to see this film in the cinema. After all, the leading role is played by Hollywood's top non-actor, Keanu Reeves. I wouldn't even call him a bad actor like Tom Cruise. It's as if Keanu doesn't attempt to act. This might have worked well in "The Matrix" and maybe "The Devil's Advocate", but in general he's the man to pick as a background character who isn't meant to be noticed. He should never, never, never be given the leading role. What spoke most in his favour in "47 Ronin" is that he wore a beard, ideal for hiding his lack of facial expressions.

Nevertheless, I walked into the cinema with the positive intention of enjoying the film. I had read reviews comparing it with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", one of my favourite films, so I thought I would give it a chance, even though I usually find it unsuitable to compare Chinese and Japanese films. Having said that, within the first 10 minutes I could see how the comparison is justified. This isn't a real Japanese film, far from it. The colours are far too vibrant, though not quite reaching the extremes of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". I know almost nothing about the director, Carl Rinsch, except that it's his first film after a career of making television commercials. Maybe he was deliberately aiming for a Chinese feel, or maybe he didn't know what a Japanese film should look like. It's impossible to judge a first-time director. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he knew what he was doing.

"47 Ronin" is based on a true Japanese story of honour and redemption that took place between 1701 and 1703. The master of a group of samurai was disgraced after allegedly being driven mad by poison, so his followers took revenge after waiting a year. This is one of the most famous tales in Japanese history, and it has been adapted countless times for both professional and amateur theatre productions. The 47 ronin are remembered every year on December 14th. On this date a festival is held in their honour at the Sengaku temple in Tokyo where they are buried. This story has captivated the imagination of the Japanese people for over 300 years. It could be argued that the story sums up the Japanese concepts of honour and loyalty, everything that makes a person Japanese.

I personally disliked the way the story was fantasised. Supernatural elements were added, such as monsters and witchcraft. I would have preferred the story to remain realistic, as close to the real events of the 18th Century as possible. For me the best part of the film was the ending, after all the action and CGI effects had finished. This must be one of the most moving scenes ever shot in a film. If only the whole film could have reached this level of quality.

Graves of the 47 Ronin in Tokyo

Thursday, 19 December 2013

About Time (3½ Stars)

Talk about misrepresented films. Almost all the reviews of this film I had read, including The Infallible Wikipedia, call it a romantic comedy. Maybe they didn't watch it properly? Or maybe they got bored and fell asleep after the first half? It's true, the film begins as if it's a romantic comedy, but as it progresses it becomes apparent that the "romance" element plays a lesser role in the film.

Shortly after his 21st birthday Tim Lake is told by his father that all the men in their family inherit a gift: they can travel in time. It isn't a general time-travelling gift that they can go anywhere they please. What they can do is travel back to a point in their own lives and relive the moment for as long as they wish before jumping back to the present. If they are careful nothing will have changed when they come back. On the other hand, maybe a change was intended, and on returning they can see if it's worked.

Rather than using his powers for gaining wealth -- like going back a week to pick the correct Lotto numbers -- Tim travels back in time to get a girlfriend. As an awkward young man he often leaves a bad first impression, so it's good that Tim can go back and keep correcting his mistakes until he finally gets it right. As he soon finds out, he can't make any girl love him, but having spoken to a girl he likes before the first meeting gives him a distinct advantage. Tim gets the girl within the first half of the film. If it had been intended as a romantic comedy it would have ended there. For the second half of the film we see his relationship with his sister and his father, as well as philosophical discussions on time travel itself.

I don't want to give away too many spoilers, especially since this is a relatively new film. What I do want to say is that there are many logical contradictions. "Rules" about time travel are stated by Tim's father, but later in the film they don't seem to apply any more. I'm not talking about temporal paradoxes, I'm talking about things that the writer/director Richard Curtis didn't think through when he was writing the story.

The film's final message, the lesson learnt by Tim, is that even if you can travel back in time you shouldn't do it. It's better to live every day as it comes and enjoy it. This is a cop out. It's an easy thing for Tim to say, since he ends the film as a happily married man with everything he wants in life. How many of us can relate to that? I would give so much to have Tim's gift, and I would erase all the big mistakes of my life. I wouldn't stop chiselling at my old life until the present turns out just right. In fact, this is just what Tim does in the film. He's a hypocrite saying that time travel is unnecessary, since it's time travel that has led to his happy life.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Twilight: New Moon (3½ Stars)

I promised last month that I would watch all five films of the Twilight pentalogy in quick succession, but things happened. The Brian Farmer murder trial took up half of my time, and my prolonged sickness took up the other half. I still don't know for certain if I was really sick. It might just have been my depression making me feel weak and tired all day.

Anyway, I'm back on track now. This is the second film of the Twilight Saga. If I remember correctly from watching it two years ago, it's the weakest of the films. Considering Edward wasn't there for most of the film we see way too much of him; it's like artificial plot devices are being cast in to excuse appearances to make sure we don't forget him.

The main development in this part is Jacob turning into a werewolf. I had already suspected it after watching the first part, the hints were pretty thick. In fact, we hear that the presence of the Cullens in town is what has provoked the change. Bella begins to have feelings for Jacob, although she affirms at the end of the film that she will always put Edward first. I guess there's no accounting for taste. Why should she pick a moping, brooding vampire who doesn't know what he wants over a big faithful dog who will look after her to the end?

Anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows that I'm a very romantic person. Romantic films make me cry. And yet this film didn't make me shed a single tear. Something's missing. Where's the magic? I can't quite describe what's wrong. Despite my criticism of Kristen Stewart's later films, she's quite adequate for the part of Bella. The problem is probably Robert Pattinson as Edward. He's so incredibly dopey that I can't understand why an intelligent girl like Bella would want him.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Kill your Darlings (4 Stars)

This is a film that I knew from the start I had to see. I discovered Allen Ginsberg's poetry while I was at university. His books were printed in small black paperback editions, square instead of rectangular, and they used to fit easily into my coat pockets. They made good reading during my bus rides to and from university. I read his books over and over again until they were worn out. I remember annoying at least one of my girlfriends by quoting Ginsberg at her.

I went into "Kill your Darlings" with false expectations. I thought it would be the true story of Allen Ginsberg's early years. In fact, it's only the story of his very early years, from 1943 to 1945, before he began to write the poetry that I loved so much. During these two years he studied at Columbia University. Arguably these were his formative years. He became close friends with a fellow literature student called Lucien Carr. Lucien inspired Allen to reject conventional poetry and try to write something revolutionary. When the film starts we get the impression that Lucien is a budding poet in his own right, but as the film progresses we see that he has no poetic talent or even any academic skills. Lucien's university papers are being written by his gay lover, David Kammerer, a former university professor who has taken a job as Columbia University's janitor in order to be close to Lucien.

The situation comes to a head when Lucien finds a new lover, the poet Jack Kerouac, and wants to break off his relationship with Dave. Together with Jack Lucien decides to join the U.S. Navy, but in the night before he enlists Dave tries to persuade him to stay, and Lucien murders him. The 1940's were dark days for justice in America. Lucien claimed that he was a heterosexual who was being unwillingly stalked by a homosexual man, so he was only sentenced to 18 months in prison. After all, by killing a gay man he was doing the world a favour.

The film concentrates on the friendship between Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr. Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan bring these characters to life. Michael C. Hall, best known for his role as the television psychopath Dexter, puts on a superb performance as David Kammerer, ably portraying him as a lovestruck fool. I was somewhat confused by William Burroughs in the film, played by Ben Foster. It was unclear to me why he was hovering around the university library. I know him as a poet and author, of course, but what was he doing at the time of the film, apart from experimenting with drugs and exerting subversive influences on young students?

Allen Ginsberg
June 3, 1926 – April 5, 1997

Howl Part 1, by Allen Ginsberg

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,

who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,

who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,

who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,

who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,

who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night

with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls,

incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,

Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,

who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,

who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox,

who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge,

a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills of Empire State out of the moon,

yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,

whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement,

who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall,

suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark's bleak furnished room,

who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,

who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,

who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,

who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary Indian angels,

who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy,

who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,

who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz or sex or soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to converse about America and Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took ship to Africa,

who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago,

who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the FBI in beards and shorts with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incomprehensible leaflets,

who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,

who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also wailed,

who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and trembling before the machinery of other skeletons,

who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in policecars for committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication,

who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,

who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,

who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,

who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may,

who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked angel came to pierce them with a sword,

who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden threads of the craftsman's loom.

who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a sweetheart a package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the bed, and continued along the floor and down the hall and ended fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt and come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,

who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset, and were red eyed in the morning but prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked in the lake,

who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver -- joy to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses' rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too,

who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams, woke on a sudden Manhattan, and picked themselves up out of basements hungover with heartless Tokay and horrors of Third Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemployment offices,

who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the snowbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steamheat and opium,

who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of the Hudson under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion,

who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of Bowery,

who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of onions and bad music,

who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and rose up to build harpsichords in their lofts,

who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned with flame under the tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of theology,

who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish,

who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom,

who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg,

who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade,

who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave up and were forced to open antique stores where they thought they were growing old and cried,

who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,

who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free beer,

who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway window, jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed phonograph records of nostalgic European 1930's German jazz finished the whiskey and threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans in their ears and the blast of colossal steamwhistles,

who barreled down the highways of the past journeying to the each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude watch or Birmingham jazz incarnation,

who drove crosscountry seventy-two hours to find out if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity,

who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver & brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,

who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each other's salvation and light and breasts, until the soul illuminated its hair for a second,

who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for impossible criminals with golden heads and the charm of reality in their hearts who sang sweet blues to Alcatraz,

who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the daisychain or grave,

who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism & were left with their insanity & their hands & a hung jury,

who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy,

and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy pingpong & amnesia,

who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong table, resting briefly in catatonia,

returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and tears and fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of the madtowns of the East,

Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls, bickering with the echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a nightmare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the moon,

with mother finally fucked, and the last fantastic book flung out of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 a.m. and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little bit of hallucination --

ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're really in the total animal soup of time --

and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrating plane,

who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus

to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,

the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death,

and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio

with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Carrie [2013 version] (4½ Stars)

Is it possible to describe this film without comparing it with the original version? The question everybody will be asking is, "Is it as good as the original?" followed by other questions such as, "Was it worth remaking it?" To be honest, I'm surprised that it's so similar to the original. I would have expected the director (Kimberly Pierce) to experiment with new ideas, even ones that might not have been in Stephen King's book. While watching it I felt like I was seeing an old friend. It's been moved from 1976 into the 21st Century, and the special effects look more realistic, but basically it's the same film. So let's compare!

Sissy Spacek was an inspired choice to play Carrie White in the first film. Chloe Grace Moretz had big shoes to step into, but she does it well. What I like about Chloe is that she isn't a "looker". This might be a disadvantage for her 10 years from now, but at this point in her career it's in her favour. What I mean is that she doesn't really look beautiful. Cute, maybe, but there's something plain about her. Even when she's in her prom dress Carrie doesn't look like the belle of the ball, she looks like a Plain Jane who's had a makeover that will wash off in the morning. Hollywood should use more actresses who look "normal". Just look at all the other girls in Carrie's class. They're all drop dead gorgeous, as if it's a high school for beauty queens. Normal schools aren't like that. In a usual school class there are a few beautiful girls, the majority are plain, and a few are unattractive, for whatever reason.

I liked Piper Laurie as Carrie's mother in the first film, but Julianne Moore is far better. In the original film the mother was a religious fanatic who loved God more than her daughter. She thought she was doing good in the way she was protecting Carrie, but it was obvious to everyone she was doing evil. This still applies in the second film, but she isn't just a fanatic, she's also deranged. Julianne Moore takes the character to the next level.

I was disappointed with the supporting characters, especially Carrie's classmates. In the first film they stood out more, especially Sue and Chris. I felt that I knew them. In the new film they just whiz by in a blur, they're not well developed as characters.

So, was the film worth remaking? It's difficult to say. I enjoyed the original version. I enjoy this version. They're both good. But you don't need to watch both versions.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Holy Rollers (3½ Stars)

Not to be confused with other films of the same name, this is a documentary made in 2011 and is subtitled "The True Story of Card-Counting Christians". It tells the story of a group of Christians, most of whom were pastors, who decided to play Blackjack not as gambling, but as a business. The players themselves did not play with their own money or even keep their winnings. They were paid an hourly wage, and the winnings were paid back to the churches or other investors. By playing according to strict systems, including counting the values of the cards, they had an overall 55% chance of winning. To be sure of winning they had to play as long as possible for high stakes, accepting losing streaks while waiting for the winnings to roll in. The main problem with this system is that experienced casino staff quickly recognise card counters by their playing style, and often evict them while they're still losing.

The team started well. In 2007 they won $1.58 million. As a result of this they increased the size of their team. This is when the problems started. With the increase of players there was less quality control. Players were sent out with the church's money and made large losses not because they were "on a losing streak", but because they were making mistakes. Card counting is all about adhering to the system, not taking chances. After making an annual loss in 2008 the team began to fall apart. They accused one another of stealing. It wasn't until the team was shrunk back to its core members that it began to look up again.

The team disbanded in 2009 while they were ahead, with an overall profit of $3.2 million from 2006 to 2009. The players felt no regret for what they had done. It was just time to move on.

The documentary presents the issues neutrally. Although all the characters in the documentary are Christians, it's not an attempt to preach the Gospel or convert viewers. It's just an attempt to show how serious Christians could carry out a business that most other Christians would brand as unethical. Maybe a weakness in the film is that it doesn't show any change in the characters. We get to know them briefly at the beginning, then in more detail as their work continues, but when they leave the work at the end they're just the same as when they started. They go back to their old daily lives of churches and baptisms. Have they learnt anything from their experiences? I'm sure they did, but the film doesn't make it apparent.

P.S. I apologise to my regular readers for my lack of posts this month. I've been going through a tough time, emotionally and physically. Being at the murder trial every day (see my other recent posts) has been draining my strength, so watching films was the last thing on my mind when I got home. I'm not back to 100% strength yet, but I'm getting there. Thanks for sticking with me.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Off-Topic: Brian Farmer Murder Trial (Verdict)

Day 20 -- December 12, 2013

The jury was called back by the judge after three days of deliberation (since Monday afternoon). The foreman said they had reached unanimous verdicts on three of the defendants, but couldn't reach a decision on the fourth defendant. The judge told the jury he would accept a majority decision of at least 10 jurors and sent them away again. This was the impulse they needed. An hour later the jury announced they had reached their verdicts.

Jason Andrews: Guilty of murder.

Lisa Clarke: Guilty of murder.

Vaughan Davies: Guilty of murder.

Peter Knowles: Not guilty of murder. Guilty of manslaughter (by an 11-1 decision).

At 2pm the judge allowed the defence lawyers to present their mitigation speeches before he passed sentence. I was quite shocked to hear that the lawyers, on the whole, didn't seem to understand what mitigation is. Vaughan's lawyer pleaded mitigating circumstances on the basis of his age, which was justified. The other lawyers were making statements such as "the jury must have got it wrong, he couldn't possibly have been there all the time", as if begging the judge to ignore the jury's verdict. I was surprised the judge didn't interrupt the speech and tell the lawyer to stick to mitigation. Miss Montgomery asked the judge to interpret the jury's verdict for Lisa Clarke, since there was no evidence that she had taken part in the fatal attack. Once more, this was a callous dismissal of the jury's competence, which should have been openly criticised. A valid mitigating argument brought several times was that it wasn't a premeditated attack, it was just a drunken brawl that got out of hand. The judge replied to this, saying that it might not have been premeditated when it began, but if an attack including excessive brutality lasts for two hours, remaining for the whole attack indicates an intention to continue which can be classified as a premeditation to kill.

The sentences were:

Jason Andrews: Life. Possibility of parole after 27 years.

Lisa Clarke: Life. Possibility of parole after 23 years.

Vaughan Davies: Life. Possibility of parole after 14 years.

Peter Knowles: 14 Years. 7 years in prison, 7 years probation.

Lisa Clarke, the ringleader
Jason Andrews

Vaughan Davies
Peter Knowles

Of course, the sentencing doesn't give us all the answers. We still don't know why Brian Farmer was killed. Apart from the random lies told in the witness box we can only guess. The only thing we know with any certainty is that it was Lisa Clarke's plan to kill Brian, and she invited her friends to his flat to commit the act. Her "best friend" John Campion, who chose to leave before the worst violence began, might know the reason, but he isn't talking.

This is a summary of my trial reports:

Friday, 6 December 2013

Off-Topic: Brian Farmer Murder Trial, Day 16

Day 16 -- December 6, 2013

Mr. Denellen spent another 90 minutes trying to rescue Vaughan Davies' credibility as a witness. Effectively he was repeating what he said yesterday, in order to convince the jury to believe his account that Brian was not yet fatally injured on May 7th 2012.

After this the judge instructed the jury on the legal guidelines they have to follow in making their judgement. They were handed a 24-page document, but he summed up the most important general facts. To be guilty of murder a person has to strike a blow that is either intended to kill a person or cause him severe damage. In this case there is no single cause of death, but according to the pathologist three factors contributed to Brian's death: stab wounds, blows to the rib cage and heavy blows to the head. For each defendant the jury has to decide if they think he carried out one of these three. If he did he is guilty of murder. If not, if he carried out minor attacks on Brian, such as punching him, at the same time that someone else was committing one of the major attacks, he is guilty of murder. If not, if he positively encouraged a person who was committing one of the major attacks, he is guilty of murder.

If none of these apply, it has to be asked if the defendant attacked Brian in a different incident in a way that was not intended to kill or severely harm him, but could have inadvertently caused his death. In this case the person is guilty of manslaughter.

If this is not the case it has to be asked if the defendant struck Brian in a non-life-threatening manner. In this case he is guilty of Actual Bodily Harm.

The three verdicts, murder, manslaughter and ABH are mutually exclusive. Each of the defendants can only be guilty of one of them.

On Monday the judge will speak in more detail to the jury.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Off-Topic: Brian Farmer Murder Trial, Day 15

Day 15 -- December 5, 2013

Miss Montgomery continued her closing statement in defence of Lisa Clarke. She called the jury to feel sympathy for a woman trying to do the best she can in her life as an alcoholic.

The prosecution's case that Lisa was the instigator of the assault on Brian rests solely on statements made by the other defendants. Since they are all lying to protect themselves their statements should be dismissed as evidence.

Mr. Lynch's closing speech in defence of Peter Knowles can be summed up in three words: "He wasn't there". There is no CCTV evidence of him visiting Bateman House on any day in May 2012. It would be theoretically possible for him to sneak past the cameras by entering through the car park, but this would mean walking the long way around the Swan Centre, a large diversion from the bus stop. All the other defendants walked in and out of the main entrance, probably not even aware that they were being filmed. Vaughan Davies denies having met Peter Knowles before the trial began. Lisa Clarke never mentioned Peter in her first police statements, and she referred to him for the first time in a statement made in September 2013, 16 months after her arrest, when she knew that he had already been charged. Mr. Lynch considers Lisa to be a manipulative liar who makes up her statements as she goes along, inventing any story she needs to make herself seem innocent.

The whole case against Peter relies on statements that he made to members of staff at Sifa Fireside. He told them that he had been present during the assault on Brian Farmer, but had only hit him twice. Mr. Lynch argued that Peter was referring to an earlier incident, maybe in April 2012, maybe many months earlier. He also made a long description of the mistakes made by Carole Fox, the operations manager of Sifa Fireside. When first informed about the assault on Brian Farmer she failed to fill out an incident report, and when it became clear it was an important matter she tried to cover her errors by adding hand-written notes to the reports of other workers. She claimed that she was adding information from personal conversations with Peter, but she was actually just writing things she had read in newspaper reports. Mr. Lynch called on the jury to ignore all of Mrs. Fox's testimony as the ramblings of an incompetent manager.

Mr, Denellen's began his closing speech by praising Vaughan Davies. If Vaughan had not approached his social worker on May 14th 2012 to tell her about the assault the trial might never have taken place. Lisa Clarke and Jason Andrews might never have been arrested. We have to be thankful for his assistance. On the other hand, this has made him a grass in the eyes of Lisa and Jason, which is why they have said he took part in the attack. In actual fact he did nothing apart from slapping Brian's face twice.

In the speeches by Mr. Evans and Mr. Benson it seemed like every word to come out of Vaughan's mouth was a lie, and his whole testimony should be dismissed. Mr. Denellen tried to put this into context. He went through Vaughan's testimony and showed points that have been proved to be true, such as the date of his arrival in Birmingham and the taxi journey with John Campion and Lisa Clarke. The jury shouldn't reject his complete testimony, they should decide carefully what they consider to be true. Mr. Denellen contradicted the claim made by the prosecution and the three other defence lawyers that the fatal attack took place late on May 5th 2012; he followed Vaughan's account that there were only minor assaults between May 5th and May 7th, and the major assault must have taken place after Vaughan left.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Off-Topic: Brian Farmer Murder Trial, Day 14

Day 14 -- December 4, 2013

Today the closing speeches began. Mr. Evans began by summarising the differences between the four defendants. Vaughan Davies is a habitual liar. Lisa Clarke was the instigator of the attack. Jason Andrews has a long history of violence. Peter Knowles has said nothing, and his silence condemns him.

The first three have told different versions of the events, but Lisa's story best fits the indisputable evidence of the CCTV cameras. The only problem with her story is that she has airbrushed herself out by claiming she was an innocent bystander when the attack took place. In Mr. Evans' opinion all the violence took place on the evening of May 5th 2012, after Brian returned from his shopping trip with Vaughan Davies. Vaughan didn't accompany Brian to assist him, because the cameras show that Brian carried the four bottles of cider by himself without any help from Vaughan. Vaughan went to Tesco's to make sure Brian didn't make a run for it, because the final assault had already been planned. When he returned to his room the attacks took place and Brian was left to die. According to the pathology reports it could have taken up to 18 hours for him to die; it was certainly a slow, painful death.

The text messages between Lisa and Jason on May 16th show that they already knew Brian was dead. Jason was worried about a life sentence, but made no attempt to deny his guilt when Lisa accused him of being the murderer.

There have been different stories about who did what, but Mr. Evans sees this as less relevant. They all encouraged one another to continue. There is no proof that any of them made any effort to defend Brian or call an ambulance for him. Merely standing watching the assault is proof of encouragement.

Second, Mr. Benson spoke in defence of Jason Andrews. He began by saying that Brian is dead and we know that someone has killed him, but it's important for the jury to decide who was the person who actually carried out the death blow. He called the jury to ignore all of Vaughan Davies' testimony, since he admitted himself that he can't stop himself lying. In Mr. Benson's opinion the attack was carried out by Lisa and Vaughan; Jason left early on because he couldn't stand to watch. Later on Lisa and Vaughan decided to blame Jason because they knew he had previous convictions for knife-related crimes. In Mr. Benson's opinion there is not one shred of evidence that Jason performed the slightest amount of violence.

Third, Miss Montgomery spoke in defence of Lisa Clarke. She made an attempt to describe the subculture in which alcoholics live. They don't live by the same moral code as the "normal people" in the jury. For them fellow drinkers are family. They go from one place to another sharing alcohol with different groups of people. Sometimes there are arguments, sometimes they fight, but they accept fights and even injuries as part of their lifestyle. A drinker would not report someone to the police who has hit him, and he would definitely not report someone he sees hitting someone else. The next day they'll meet again with full bottles of alcohol and everyone will be happy. Lisa can't be blamed for not doing anything to stop Jason and Vaughan attacking Brian, for her it was just another drunken brawl. It wasn't until a few days later, when she realised Brian was dead, that she was angry with Jason and broke off their relationship. But even this didn't last, she forgave Jason and they got back together.

Miss Montgomery denies that Lisa was an instigator. All she wanted was a drink, and this was spoilt when Jason and Vaughan attacked Brian. After this her speech had to be interrupted until tomorrow.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Off-Topic: Brian Farmer Murder Trial, Day 13

Day 13 -- December 3, 2013

Today no new ground was covered. Miss Montgomery continued to question Vaughan Davies about the reason for his lies in his original police statements and reports to his social workers.

When questioned by Mr. Lynch, Vaughan said that he had never seen Peter Knowles before the court case began.

Mr. Evans returned to the matter of Vaughan's lies, claiming that Vaughan had been inventing stories to throw the police off track in their investigations. Based on the CCTV evidence Mr. Evans claimed that Vaughan left Brian's flat on May 6th 2012, not May 7th as Vaughan had claimed. I fail to see the importance of this.

The evidence was concluded today. Tomorrow the prosecution and the defence lawyers will present their closing arguments.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Off-Topic: Brian Farmer Murder Trial, Day 12

Day 12 -- December 2, 2013

Miss Montgomery closed Lisa Clarke's defence today, because the only witness on her behalf, John Campion, decided not to appear in court. To paraphrase Charles Bukowski, "If you want to find out who your real friends are, get yourself a court case".

Peter Knowles decided not to testify on his own behalf.

Vaughan Davies took the stand to give his version of events. Contrary to Lisa's claim that they met the first time on May 4th 2012, he said that he first met Lisa in 2010 and has seen her a few times since. He never claimed to be her son. He says that on the May 4th Lisa kept calling him Aidan, her son's name, while she was drunk. At first he contradicted her, but then went along with it to keep her quiet.

Vaughan travelled by taxi to Bateman House with Lisa Clarke and John Campion on May 4th, and he remained in Brian Farmer's flat until the afternoon of May 7th. When he arrived on May 4th Jason Alexander was not asleep in the bedroom, as Jason had claimed in his testimony. Lisa telephoned Jason a few times, asking him to come round, and he eventually arrived a few hours later. During the three days nobody else visited, in particular he didn't see Peter Knowles or Daniel Swift.

Vaughan claimed that there were four attacks on Brian while he was there. The first took place shortly after Jason arrived. Lisa said that Brian had been sniffing her knickers and was punching him in the face. She asked Jason to do something, but he wasn't interested. She kept nagging him until Jason finally took a stereo loudspeaker and smashed it over Brian's head, causing a large cut over his eye. Vaughan cleaned Brian up with a towel. John Campion left, and it was peaceful for the rest of the day. Vaughan claimed that John didn't return, but CCTV footage shows Vaughan going shopping with John on May 5th. Vaughan said that he doesn't remember this.

The next attack took place on May 5th. Vaughan was in the bedroom, and when he came out and saw Jason cutting Brian's beard with a bread knife. He went on to cut his hair. Lisa poured a bottle of cider over Brian's head. Brian told Vaughan that in 1985 he (Vaughan) used to piss on the floor. This annoyed Vaughan, so he slapped his face twice.

The biggest attack took place on May 6th. Lisa was throwing food at Brian. She was opening jars and throwing the contents at him. Jason poured a kettle of boiling water over Brian's head. Vaughan said that he poured a kettle of cold water over Brian to relieve him. Jason was hitting Brian with various items, such as picture frames and ornaments. On Lisa's suggestion Jason forced Brian to swallow four olanzapine tablets.

The fourth attack took place in the evening of May 6th. Jason was stabbing Brian in the neck with a pen. Vaughan asked Brian if he needed an ambulance, but Brian said that it wasn't too bad, similar things had happened before.

When questioned Vaughan denied having seen Brian being stabbed with a knife. He didn't see a hacksaw being used, and he hadn't seen Lisa forcing Brian to drink her piss.

In the cross-examination Mr. Benson suggested that Vaughan's testimony was all lies, and he was blaming Jason for the things he had done himself.

Miss Montgomery questioned Vaughan at length about his previous reports to his social worker and the police, all of which differed from his testimony in court. Vaughan admitted that he had invented the story about the two black men, but he was unable to say why. He also denied that he had been traumatised by seeing an old man "stabbed in the arse", as he had claimed in a previous testimony. Vaughan said that he liked to make things up, he's done it all his life, but he's telling the truth now.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Blue is the warmest colour (4 Stars)

This film, winner of the Golden Palm at the 2013 Cannes Fim Festival and tipped as an outsider for the 2014 Academy Awards, is a difficult film to review. Do I like it? Yes. Do I understand it? No. It's a film I need to watch more than once, and more importantly I need to listen to the director's commentary.

The film tells the story of a young girl called Adele, beginning in her last year at school and ending about five years later when she herself has become a teacher. After a sexual encounter with a boy (presumably her first) she feels that she is more attracted to girls. She wanders into a lesbian bar and meets Emma, a woman four years older than herself. A relationship begins which lasts about two years. The film isn't clear about the passing of time, but I'm analytical and like to nail everything down.

For now I can only write about the things on the surface of the film. Even in today's enlightened age homosexuality isn't accepted in school. When the other girls hear that Adele has visited a lesbian bar they become afraid of her. Adele never really "comes out". Throughout the film she doesn't tell her friends and family that she's a lesbian. Emma, on the other hand, is openly gay.

I don't want to say much more in order to avoid spoilers. I'll just point out symbols that I'm sure mean something, but I'm unable to say what. Emma has blue hair for the first two hours of the film, but when the relationship begins to cool down her hair is blonde. Sure, that's in line with the film's title, but why? I can sense the existentialist undertones of the film, based around Jean-Paul Sartre's statement, "Existence comes before essence", but I'm not well enough acquainted with existentialism to comment further. Food plays a big role in the film, and there are repeated close-ups of people eating. This could mean one of two things. It could be a presentation of the absurd, i.e. that while highly dramatic things are occurring we still have to eat.  It could also represent having to overcome our revulsion with slimy things, finding pleasure in that which disgusts us. Life comes from death; oysters taste best if you eat them while they're still moving.

The film reminds me stylistically of Eric Rohmer's films. For the first two hours there is no background music, except when for instance performers are playing music within the film. In the third hour we hear the first backing music being played in school, and it shocked me so much that I'm determined to find out what it means.