Friday, 31 January 2014

Theatre: Coriolanus (5 Stars)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had never seen any Shakespeare plays performed live, even though I have read the majority of them. "Coriolanus" is the first that I have seen. It was performed live in the Donmar Warehouse in London and simulcast to cinema screens throughout the world yesterday, January 30th 2014. "From Mexico to Sidney" was the slogan, although I dread to think what time of day it was in some of the locations.

While I was at school I read two Shakespeare plays in my English Literature classes. The first was "Julius Caesar", the second was "The Merchant of Venice". A few years later my grandfather died and I salvaged his copy of the "Complete Works of William Shakespeare" that my grandmother was about to throw away. I lapped it up, reading play after play in quick succession during a university holiday. Having lost my momentum I didn't continue in the next holiday. I probably read about two thirds of his plays. I don't know how they were ordered, chronologically or by type, but I never got as far as "Coriolanus". If I remember correctly, in the next holiday I began to read the plays of Friedrich Dürrenmatt, which I admit that I enjoyed more than Shakespeare. And then I discovered the books of Michael Moorcock, and Shakespeare was forgotten.

Never having seen Shakespeare performed before, neither in the theatre nor on television, I had nothing to compare yesterday's performance with. The only impression that I had was that it was a modern, not a traditional performance. The soldiers were dressed in typical Roman military garb, but all of the other actors were wearing 21st Century clothing. The common people wore jeans, while the rich people wore fine suits and dresses. The shape of the Donmar Warehouse makes a typical stage impossible, so the off-stage characters were not hidden behind curtains, they were sitting on chairs at the back and stood up when they "entered". This jarred for the first 15 minutes, I admit, but after that I got used to it. The powerful story and the skilled acting engulfed me so completely that small technical details became irrelevant.

I'm glad that I had never read "Coriolanus" before seeing the performance. The story was new to me. I realise that many of my readers may already know the story, but I shan't give it all away in this review. I'll refrain from spoilers, as I do with most of my film reviews.

The play tells the story of the Roman general Gaius Martius, who lived in the 5th Century, long after the decline of Rome's glory. After successfully conquering the city of Coroli he is given the title of "Coriolanus" to honour him. Due to his great popularity the people elect him consul of Rome. A few years later (though it seems immediate in the play) the people turn against him, due to his mishandling of a famine and his outspoken criticism of the greedy common people. As a result he is banned from Rome. In exile he plans his revenge.

The story is very relevant for today. Some people compare Coriolanus with the fascist dictators of the last hundred years, but that's not the connection I make. I see him more as a privileged aristocrat. He's the Eton schoolboy who feels destined to become England's prime minister, not caring when the people he rules over become poor and hungry. The tribunes, though they were elected officials in Rome, represent the press, who sway the public opinion one way or the other. The people are the people. They think they've made up their own minds, but in truth they're being manipulated.

All the actors in the play gave strong performances, but Tom Hiddleston was nothing short of amazing. Whether he was caught up in the bloodlust of battle, angrily decrying the people or weeping with emotion, his performance was stunning. A brilliant actor.

Spuren des Bösen: Racheengel (3½ Stars)

This is the second film in the series of films about the Austrian criminal psychologist, Dr. Richard Brock. It begins with the good doctor browsing in a book shop. An armed gunman runs into the shop, fleeing from the police, and takes the shop's staff and customers hostage. Richard speaks to the gunman, trying to calm him, but after a few minutes the gunman shoots himself in front of the hostages. The police arrest Richard, accusing him of interfering with police activities. As you might remember from my review of the first film, Richard advises the police, but he isn't a policeman. The investigating officer releases him with a caution, but this doesn't stop Richard from investigating the case, because he thinks that the police are doing it wrong.

The title of this film means "Traces of Evil: Angel of Revenge". It's slower than the first film, with less action, but nevertheless a good film. Aren't most detective films slow moving?

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Sonnenallee (4 Stars)

This is a film that takes place in East Berlin in the 1970's. Sonnenallee is the name of a street in Berlin that was divided by the Berlin Wall. The Wall was built so close to the houses that 17-year-old Michael Ehrenreich, who lived on the eastern side, could stand on the balcony outside his room and piss on the Wall. On the western side young people liked to stand on a fire escape overlooking the Wall and shout abuse at their primitive neighbours in the East. There was a checkpoint in the street for West Berliners to cross to and from the East, but of course, the East Berliners were not allowed to cross.

What were the teenagers in East Berlin interested in? Politics? No way! All they wanted was to listen to illegal western music, such as the Rolling Stones. Luckily for them records were frequently smuggled across the border (by bribing the border guards) and sold to the young people of Sonnenallee and the surrounding areas for extortionate prices. Three weeks wages for a Rolling Stones album was typical.

Michael is in love with a girl in his street called Miriam, but he has no chance with her because a rich young man from West Berlin visits her every day.

This is a really cute coming-of-age film. The surroundings are bizarre, incomprehensible not only to foreigners but also to Germans who never lived so close to the Berlin Wall. I don't believe the film has ever been released in English.
Checkpoint Sonnenallee (1972)

Spuren des Bösen: Sandag (4 Stars)

Two boys, Michael Sand and Richard Brock, go to school in Vienna. Michael makes Richard suffer, presumably through bullying. 30 years later they are still in Vienna, but they are no longer just Michael and Richard, they are Dr. Michael Sand and Dr. Richard Brock. Michael is now the owner of Sandag, a building company with operations around the globe. Richard is a criminal psychologist who works primarily as a university lecturer, but also advises the police on difficult cases. After years without any contact the two men meet again. Over 70 million Euros has been stolen from Michael's company and transferred to foreign accounts. The accountant who was responsible for the transfers is due to give evidence in court, but before the trial begins she is murdered.

Richard immediately suspects Michael of murder, based more on his past experiences than any evidence that points to him. Michael is still the bully after all these years and instigates a press campaign against Richard to ruin his career.

This is an award winning Austrian crime drama, the first in a series of films starring Heino Ferch as Dr. Richard Brock. Heino is without a doubt my favourite German actor, and in this film he gives a magnificent performance.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Berlin: Sinfonie der Großstadt (4 Stars)

A film like this is difficult to rate. Normally I rate films by comparing them with other films in the same genre, but in this case I have nothing to compare it with.

The film was made in 1927 and shows a day in the life of Berlin, the capital of Germany. After arriving in Berlin by train it begins with the working class going to the factories, then continues with the middle class going to their offices. We see the contrast between rich and poor, although the director Walther Ruttmann concentrates on the rich. He wants to show affluence and the hope of a bright new future. He tries to dazzle the viewers with images of new inventions like printing presses, telephones and typewriters. We also see sports and the arts in the city. There's even gratuitous nudity when we see a chorus girl getting changed to go on stage.

I wasn't blind to Mr. Ruttmann's subtle stab at religion. Only one church is shown in the city, and we only see one person entering it, an old woman. There's no place for the church in New Berlin, is there?

Even though the American release of this film, "Berlin: Symphony of a Great City", calls it a documentary, I won't give it a documentary tag. The suicide scene was obviously staged. I don't say this as a criticism, I'm just saying that the film doesn't give a purely factual picture of Berlin.

As someone who knows Berlin I would have welcomed a commentary track in which someone tells us where the places are that are being shown. I recognised only a few places. The Kurfürstendamm was the only street I recognised by sight, and in a few other scenes there were street signs that helped me. Maybe a historian could provide a commentary for the next DVD release.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Die Stille nach dem Schuss (4 Stars)

If anyone asks me for an example of a typical German film I would point at this film. It exemplifies the often repeated statement, "American films are made to entertain the audience, German films are made to educate the audience". That might make German films sound boring, but the opposite is the case. This film is both thrilling and fascinating. Literally translated, the title means "The silence after the gunshot", but it has been released in America as "The Legend of Rita".

The German reunification in 1990 was a wonderful event welcomed by almost everyone. This film is about someone who dreaded reunification and suffered when it happened. It features a young female idealist in the early 1980's called Rita Vogt. Even though she is a fictional character, the things that happened to her closely mirror the events around others at the same time. She was opposed to the capitalist system in West Germany, so she called herself a terrorist and robbed banks. Maybe it sounds cynical putting it like that, but it's a fact that the main occupation of German terrorist groups in the post-war period was robbing banks. This is the reason why the German government refused to give terrorist prisoners political status. They were treated like any other bank robbers. Politically, Rita would have considered herself part of the third generation of the Rote Armee Fraktion.

After shooting a policeman Rita flees to East Germany. The Communist authorities welcome her with open arms and supply her with a new name and new identity. For a few years she's able to live in anonymity. The problems begin in 1989. In the months leading up to reunification the governments of the two Germanys begin to cooperate with one another. Rita and the other retired terrorists in East Germany are exposed and hunted by the police.

The DVD that I watched today is a special release as part of a series sponsored by the weekly magazine "Der Spiegel". It features the 50 best German films from 1910 to 2010. It's a very good list, and if I counted correctly I already own 15 of the films. There are certain omissions, in my opinion, but that's always the case with any of these top 50 lists. Tastes differ, and everyone has a favourite film that he'd like to see included. Below is the complete list. Anyone who buys all the films in this list will have a good collection.

List of 50 best German films (1910 to 2010)
  1. 1924    Der letzte Mann
  2. 1926    Metropolis
  3. 1931    M - Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder
  4. 1946    Die Mörder sind unter uns
  5. 1950    Die Sünderin
  6. 1951    Der Untertan
  7. 1951    Der Verlorene
  8. 1955    Des Teufels General
  9. 1956    Die Halbstarken
  10. 1958    Das Mädchen Rosemarie
  11. 1958    Es geschah am hellichten Tag
  12. 1959    Die Brücke
  13. 1966    Der junge Törless
  14. 1966    Spur der Steine
  15. 1969    Rote Sonne
  16. 1969    Katzelmacher
  17. 1972    Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes
  18. 1973    Die Legende von Paul und Paula
  19. 1975    Lina Braake
  20. 1975    Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum
  21. 1976    Im Lauf der Zeit
  22. 1976    Nordsee ist Mordsee
  23. 1978    Deutschland im Herbst
  24. 1978    Die Ehe der Maria Braun
  25. 1979    Die Blechtrommel
  26. 1979    David
  27. 1980    Lili Marleen
  28. 1980    Theo gegen den Rest der Welt
  29. 1981    Die bleierne Zeit
  30. 1981    Das Boot - Director's Cut
  31. 1981    Christiane F. - Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo
  32. 1982    Die weisse Rose
  33. 1982    Fitzcarraldo
  34. 1985    Stammheim
  35. 1987    Der Himmel über Berlin
  36. 1987    Out of Rosenheim
  37. 1996    Jenseits der Stille
  38. 2000    Die innere Sicherheit
  39. 2000    Die Stille nach dem Schuss
  40. 2000    Die Unberührbare
  41. 2003    Goodbye, Lenin
  42. 2004    Gegen die Wand
  43. 2005    Alles auf Zucker!
  44. 2006    Der freie Wille
  45. 2006    Sehnsucht
  46. 2006    Vier Minuten
  47. 2006    Wer früher stirbt,  ist länger tot
  48. 2007    Auf der anderen Seite
  49. 2007    Yella
  50. 2009    So glücklich war ich noch nie

Hot Tub Time Machine (4 Stars)

Be warned! When four men get naked and jump into a hot tub together strange things can happen.

The film was made and takes place in 2010 and centres around three middle-aged friends, Adam, Nick and Lou. All three are stuck in dead end jobs and have relationship problems. Adam has just split up with his girlfriend, Nick's wife is cheating on him and the only girls Lou can get are hookers. After Lou makes an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Adam suggests that they spend a weekend at the Kodiak Valley Ski Resort, the place they used to go when they were young. They take Adam's nephew Jacob with them.

Unfortunately the resort has fallen on hard times. There are very few guests, and most of the shops in the town have been boarded up and abandoned. The three friends jump naked into their hotel room's hot tub, and Jacob grudgingly joins them. Due to Jacob spilling his can of soda on the controls the hot tub malfunctions, and when they get out they're in 1986. The three friends are occupying the bodies of their younger selves, even though they see themselves in their older forms. Jacob (who wasn't born in 1986) remains the same.

A mysterious hot tub repair man tells the friends that until he has fixed the tub they should re-enact the same things that they did on this evening in 1986 to prevent time ripples that could destroy the world. At first they decide to follow his advice, but then they realise that it would be more fun to do things better the second time round.

The whole premise of this film is ridiculously silly, and yet it works. The friends, played by John Cusack, Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson, are so likeable that their bubbly personalities disguise any plot deficiencies. It's a fun film that was deservedly a big box office success. Sure, the humour is homophobic and misogynistic, but aren't those the funniest films?

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Escort 3 (3½ Stars)

In 1997 a low budget erotic thriller called "The Escort" was made, directed by Gary Graver and starring Shauna O'Brien and Landon Hall. The following year Gary Graver made a sequel with the same actresses called "The Escort 2". In 1999 Jim Wynorski made a film called "The Escort 3" that has nothing at all to do with the other films. It's actually the third film in Ross Hagen's Crank Trilogy. The first film was "Virtual Desire" (1995) and the second was "Night Shade" (1996). It seems like someone somewhere got confused when it came to naming this film.

Ross Hagen stars as the supercool Detective Crank Gabovsky. He is investigating the murder of a secretary who worked in an architect's bureau. He finds out that until four months previously she worked for an escort agency. His initial investigations lead him to suspect clients of the escort agency, but as one suspect after another is shot dead it becomes apparent that it isn't such a simple case.

Ross was a fantastic actor. He was perfect as the big city homicide detective who liked to drink on the job. He could have starred in his own TV series. "Crank". He would have become a household name. Unfortunately not even Ross's acting talent can save this weak film. The first half is unbearably slow, padded out with sex scenes irrelevant to the story to hide the lack of a plot. It isn't until the final half hour that it becomes thrilling.

Ross Hagen
May 21, 1938 – May 7, 2011

Inside Llewyn Davis (4½ Stars)

I wanted to see this film because of the era it portrayed, the emergence of music and poetry in Greenwich Village in the early 1960's. But I wasn't prepared for what I saw. The film contained a lot more comedy than was apparent from the trailers. Did this disappoint me? Not at all.

The film follows a week in the life of the struggling folk singer Llewyn Davis. He used to have a successful career as the junior partner in a folk duo, but after the suicide of his partner he has been struggling to find success. Llewyn is homeless, and sleeps on the couch of his friends, a few days in each apartment, as long as they will put up with him. His songs are good but gloomy, and he has no stage presence. As a club owner tells him, he's not a front man.

The film has no resolution. It shows Llewyn walking in circles. The film begins with him as a failure and ends with him as a failure. I suppose this makes the film a tragicomedy. Nevertheless, it's an emotionally moving film. We can feel for this poor man who keeps falling flat on his face while others around him with (apparently) less talent are succeeding. At the moment I feel overwhelmed by the dark but fascinating imagery of the film. I'll write more about it next time I see it.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Flame and Citron (5 Stars)

There's a limit to what you can know. At some point everyone has to choose what to believe. Faith is necessary, whether it's faith in a person or faith in God.

Flame and Citron were the codenames of two fighters in the Danish resistance during World War Two. Effectively they were hit men who acted like secret agents, assassinating their marks without any backup. They trusted each other, they trusted their comrades and they trusted their boss, a police solicitor who took his orders directly from the British army. For a few years Flame and Citron killed only Danish Nazis, who they considered traitors to their country. In 1944 they began to kill Germans, which led to harsh retaliation from the occupying forces.

What started out black and white for them becomes more and more murky as the film progresses. People that they know and love, people that they have placed their absolute trust in, might not be truthful in what they say. This is the conflict I'm speaking of. We can't function in life without trusting others. This applies in peacetime, but even more in war. Trusting the wrong person can cost me my life. Failing to trust the right person can be just as fatal.

But how is it with my moral responsibility? If I trust someone, and then this person incites me to do wrong, am I guilty? It's difficult to give a clear answer to that question. If a person asks me to bring him his coat, but the coat belongs to someone else, am I guilty of theft? In the eyes of the law I am, but morality and the law don't always give the same answer. If, on the other hand, a person or a religion asks me to kill someone, I need to examine my trust very closely before proceeding. If I decide that I have put my trust in the wrong person, I have to judge that person, asking whether he was deliberately misleading me. It can be traumatic for a person to realise that the religion he has believed in all his life is a thing of evil. A person in that state needs help and guidance, not criticism for what he's done. But if a person is unable or unwilling to judge his object of trust, he carries the full guilt for his actions. Legally and morally.

History of the World, Part 1 (4 Stars)

This film by Mel Brooks shows five episodes in the world's history:
  • The Stone Age
  • The Old Testament
  • The Roman Empire
  • The Spanish Inquisition
  • The French Revolution
The stone age episode shows the origins of marriage, humour, art and music. That's an interesting mix. Are these the four pillars that support humanity, in Mel's view? If the word "love" is substituted for "marriage" I might agree. In part. These are the good things in life, the things that are intended to make our lives happy. It omits questions of philosophy, morality and religion. The stone age episode also shows a disrespect for death and those who have just died. Mel Brooks might be best known for his comedy, but he's pushing messages at the viewers below the surface.

So where does religion fit into The World According To Mel? We see that in the second episode. Moses comes down from the mountain with the 15 Commandments, then clumsily drops a stone tablet and only 10 are left. The message is clear: God has spoken to man, but man hasn't listened and only part of God's words remain.

And what about philosophy? In the Roman Empire episode we meet the philosopher Comicus, but his words are equated with comedy. This is a cynical opinion, but it's one that I am unable to argue against, however much I disagree with it. "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" is a valid Weltanschauung. The Roman emperor eats while listening to the philosopher's words. For a while he's entertained by philosophy, but as soon as it points the finger against him he sentences the philosopher to death. Once more, a serious message is hidden behind the comedy.

In the Spanish Inquisition episode we see the immovability of organised religion. The church only accepts the 10 commandments and rejects the other five. Jews are killed who do not accept the "true faith", but ironically they are killed by drowning in water, the same thing that would save them through baptism. On the contrary, the Christian nuns are lifted from the water by the Menorah, the holy Jewish lamp stand. "Salvation is from the Jews", John 4:22.

Finally, the French Revolution episode shows the absurdity of life. Those who are elevated can fall. Those who are low can be raised high. The guilty are rewarded while the innocent are punished. Philosophy is not explicitly mentioned in this episode, but the cruel sword of existentialism hangs over the heads of all. Just when it seems that there is no escape for our hero, the piss boy who has been reincarnated through the centuries (as Moses, Comicus, and the Grand Inquisitor) is saved by a deus ex machina. It's a miracle that can only happen in films. As the slave Josephus says, "Movies is magic".

This is a very enjoyable film, especially the musical sequence in the Spanish Inquisition. Mel Brooks writes such beautiful song and dance routines, I wish he would make a complete musical. The film is very funny as well, even though my review concentrates on its serious messages.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Hanna (4 Stars)

Hanna is a 15-year-old girl who has been living alone with her father in the north of Finland since she was 2 years old. As well as teaching her to survive by herself he has given her a rigorous schooling, including teaching her to speak German (his native language), English, French, Spanish and Arabic. He tells her that she can return to civilisation any time she wants to, but when she does enemies will come who will try to kill her. She makes this decision shortly before her 16th birthday, and at this point her father leaves her to fend for herself. First she is captured by the CIA and is held captive in Morocco. After escaping she flees to Spain and travels across Europe, heading towards Germany with assassins on her trail.

Hanna is played by Saoirse Ronan (however her name is pronounced), a talented young actress who shows considerable skill in the action scenes. I expect great things for her. Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett give solid performances, as is to be expected from actors of their quality. This is an exciting film. For most of the film we are left guessing why the CIA is so determined to capture or kill Hanna, but in the end everything is explained. There's an obvious similarity with "The Bourne Identity". Unlike Jason Bourne, Hanna isn't suffering from amnesia, but just like him she has to run for her life while trying to find out who she is.

Bad Girls from Valley High (1 Star)

Unbelievable. How can a film possibly be so bad? It's a contender for the worst film I've ever seen. Random elements are thrown together from different films are thrown together and stirred until all that's left is sewage.

Danielle, Brooke and Tiffany are the three cool girls at Valley Gorge High School. Not only that, they're ridiculously rich and drive to school in identical black BMW's. Let's call them the Mean Girls, because that's the obvious reference. When Drew, the football quarterback, turns Danielle down for another girl, the Mean Girls kill her and make her death look like a suicide. A year later, on the anniversary of the girl's death, an exchange student called Katarina arrives from Transylvania. Drew falls in love with Katarina, but Danielle is unable to do anything to prevent it because the Mean Girls are mysteriously ageing.

The film is such a mess that I feel like swearing. It starts off bad, it gets worse as it progresses, and the final scenes are utterly stupid. It's the second and last film directed by John Kretchmer. It was made in 2000, whatever IMDB might say, after his first film, "Aliens for Breakfast", flopped in 1994. Since then he's been directing random episodes of TV series, where he can do less damage. As you probably know, in contrast to films the directors of TV series have relatively little creative control.

The film poster that I'm displaying above looks kind of cool. Don't let yourself be fooled. In the film the girls don't look anywhere near as pretty as they do in the poster, even before they start ageing. If they'd looked anywhere near that hot in the film I would have added half a star.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Die Kirche bleibt im Dorf (5 Stars)

The film's name means "The church stays in the village". It was one of the most successful German films of 2012, and in 2013 it spawned a television series with the same name. It's a tale of two villages, Oberrieslingen and Unterrieslingen. They have been enemies for hundreds of years, so long that nobody knows why. If it were up to the villagers they wouldn't speak to one another, but the cruel hand of fate has bound them together. They only have one church and one cemetery between them. The church is in Oberrieslingen and the cemetery is in Unterrieslingen. On Sunday they worship together in the church -- sitting on opposite sides, of course -- and in return for being allowed to use the church the people of Unterrieslingen allow their neighbours to bury their dead in their cemetery.

Maria, Christina and Klara Häberle are three sisters who live on a farm in Oberrieslingen. Klara has a secret. She's in love with Peter Rossbauer, a farmer's son from Unterrieslingen. They meet secretly in the fields because it would be a scandal if anyone found out.

The uneasy truce is broken when a rich American arrives who wants to buy the church and transport it back to Texas. The mayor of Oberrieslingen immediately agrees, because he wants to build a cinema. The people of Unterrieslingen protest and threaten to dig up the Oberrieslingen coffins in retaliation.

This is an amazing film. The director has captured the small village Swabian mentality perfectly. It hasn't been released in English, but if you can understand German you really must watch it.

Klara and Peter meet wherever they can
The scenery in the film is stunningly beautiful. The two villages in the film are fictional, so I had to find out where the film was made. It was filmed in Emmendingen, a small town just north of Freiburg. Here is a picture of the ruins of Emmendingen Castle, which plays an important part in the film.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

This ain't Beverly Hills 90210 XXX (3 Stars)

Donna finds out that both of her parents have been diagnosed with terminal cancer and will die within a week. She goes to the Peach Pit to seek comfort from her friends, but they're too shallow to be interested in her problems. A typical day in Beverly Hills.

I'm a big fan of Axel Braun's films, but this film is a disappointment. Apart from Alexis Texas, who plays Kelly, he doesn't use his normal stock of actors. The men in particular seem to be B List porn stars. In two of the sex scenes the man was having problems, followed by the picture fading out and continuing in a new position. Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticising the men. I know that I couldn't perform in a studio with a director, producer and cameraman staring at me. I'm criticising the film editor. The fade-out should have happened earlier, before the problems became apparent. In addition to this the camera was out of focus for part of the two last sex scenes. I've never seen this happen in any of Axel's films before. Whatever the reason for the blunder, the scenes should have been shot again.

In October 2013 Axel Braun called for the porn industry to stop using actors under 21, and announced that he personally would no longer hire actors under 21. The reason is that in his career he has seen many women become porn stars as teenagers and quit after a couple of years, saying they regretted what they had done. He thinks that 18 is too young for a woman to decide what she wants. I understand what he's saying, and I agree with him in part. I just wonder if any age is old enough. I agree that a 21-year-old is more mature, but having sex in front of the camera is an extreme career choice, and I still think there will be many who regret it, however old they are when they start. In an interview Ron Jeremy said that men tend to remain in the porn industry for many years, whereas there are very few women who stay more than a few years. That's the way things are.

Out of curiosity I checked out the ages of the women who star in this film. Madison Ivy (Brenda) was 19 when the film was made in 2009, and Tiffany Star (Cafe Girl #2) was 18. Both of them are still making sex films today. I wonder how long they will last. Hopefully for many years to come.

Tiffany Star

Monday, 20 January 2014

Marquise (3½ Stars)

The 1997 film "Marquise", with Sophie Marceau in the title role, is based on the life of Thérèse du Parc, a French actress who lived from 1633 to 1668. It could be called a true story, except that in cases where the facts are uncertain the writer/director Véra Belmont makes an arbitrary decision as to what happened.

Thérèse, who used the stage name Marquise, was a dancer and prostitute who worked for her father. After performing erotic dances in marketplaces to inflame the male audience he would offer her sexual services to paying customers in a shabby little cart. The turning point in her life came when she danced in the same town as Molière's travelling theatre troupe. Recognising her talent, Molière bought Marquise from her father and used her as a dancer during and after performances of his plays.

Marquise wanted to be more than a dancer, she wanted to be an actress, but after she froze during her first performance he never offered her a second chance. While at the court of King Louis XIV Marquise was approached by Molière's main competitor, the playwright Jean Racine, who asked her to play the title role in his new tragedy, "Andromaque". It soon became obvious that Marquise was better suited to tragedies than Molière's comedies, so she remained with Racine, despite Molière's claims that he had kidnapped her.

I don't usually watch period pieces, especially not films set in the 19th century and earlier. The whole atmosphere, the clothing and the exaggerated mannerisms repulse me. More than anything, I hate the old royal dances, which to me lack any life. They're merely synchronised walking in groups and holding hands, similar to American line-dancing, but slower. I nevertheless decided to give the film a chance, and yes, it is a beautiful film, especially due to Sophie Marceau's performance, but not quite the sort of film I enjoy.

In the English language William Shakespeare is considered to be the greatest playwright. In the French language it is Molière, whose real name was Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. They're often put side by side as representatives of their respective languages, and some even go as far as to call Molière "France's Shakespeare", but this comparison is unfair to both writers. I am sure there are university theses contrasting the two, but I'll just name the main differences, from the standpoint of someone who knows the writings of both. (Curiously, I have read many plays by both, but never seen any performances of the plays of either. This is something I need to correct).

Shakespeare was an all-round playwright, Molière only wrote comedies. I would go as far as to say that Molière's comedies are far funnier than anything Shakespeare ever wrote.

Shakespeare respected royalty and the church in his plays, whereas Molière frequently mocked the kings and the bishops. It's possible that this difference isn't because they thought differently, it was only because of the different environments in which they lived. If Shakespeare had openly mocked the king in his plays he would have been executed. Modern critics still argue about Shakespeare's attitude towards organised religion, although they agree that he was opposed to the Catholic Church. Molière, on the other hand, lived at a time when free thought was acceptable in France, so it was possible for him to mock the figures of authority without fear of reprisals.

There are other playwrights in the French language who make up for the lack of tragedies in Molière's repertoire. The leading one is Jean Racine himself. There is also Pierre Corneille, who lived at the same time as Molière and Racine. During the 17th century he was probably the most popular of the three, but today critics differ in their opinions on the quality of his works. I shall abstain from commenting, since I have never read anything by him.

Delivery Man (4 Stars)

Over a period of three years David Wozniak made a total of 693 sperm donations to a fertility clinic to raise money. Due to the high quality of his sperm the clinic used it exclusively, and the result was 533 babies fathered by him. He remained anonymous by requiring the clinic to identify him only as "Starbuck". 20 years later 142 of his children file a class action lawsuit to force the clinic to reveal Starbuck's identity, claiming that their human right to know their father outweighs any anonymity contracts. David is given the names and addresses of the 142 claimants, and even though he isn't ready to accept any parental responsibility he goes to meet some of them, helping them without revealing who he is. He says that he doesn't want to be a father, but he can be his children's guardian angel.

This is a very heart-warming film. Vince Vaughn is maybe a strange choice to play David Wozniak. It's a very untypical role for him, but he plays the part admirably. One of the reasons to choose him was probably his height. At 6'5" he always stands out when he's surrounded by 140 teenagers.

It might surprise some readers to find out that this is not just a remake, it's the second remake of a Canadian film made in 2011. (The original version was called "Starbuck", the first remake was called "Fonzy"). Two remakes in two years? That speaks for the quality of the story.

This is a great film to watch if you're sentimental. Like me.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Südsee, eigene Insel (4 Stars)

Watching a German comedy is always a risk, but this film came with strong recommendations, and I wasn't disappointed.

Albert Bursche is the head of the finance department of a large German company. There's an ambitious young man in his department, Dr. Helmut Kupert, who is after his job, and makes no secret of it. I think we can all relate to that. The younger man is academically better qualified and thinks that this makes him better than his older, more experienced boss. What makes things worse for Albert is that Helmut is his next door neighbour.

Things go wrong when Albert's investment adviser absconds with his money. Overnight he becomes bankrupt. The timing is bad, because it's the day before Albert and his family are due to go on holiday to the South Pacific. Not wanting to lose face in front of Helmut, he persuades his family to hide in the cellar for two weeks. He calls it "holiday at home".

I had certain expectations of the film. I expected a message against materialism, and that two weeks spent in a dark cellar can be more rewarding than two weeks lying on a warm beach. This message came, but it wasn't pushed as hard as I expected. The director didn't want to be too obvious, and he presented a few surprises. For instance, when a burglar breaks into the seemingly empty house Albert makes friends with him rather than call the police and give himself away. The film began slowly, building up momentum, until the final half hour which was filled with absurd comical situations. Successful German comedies are a rarity, and this is one of them.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Hostel: Part II (4 Stars)

This film takes place shortly after the events of the first film. It features the same hostel and the same factory, and yet it's a very different film. The two main differences are:
  • In the first film we didn't know what was happening in the factory, so there was an element of mystery while we the viewers tried to figure it out. In this film there is no mystery, since everything is known from the beginning.
  • The first film was told from the standpoint of the victims. This film gives us more insight into the killers and their motivation.
The second film contains less gore than the first, although some of the scenes might be more shocking, especially to men. Instead of male backpackers, the second film shows three female college students on holiday in Slovakia. Overall it's an enjoyable film, a worthy sequel, too different from the first film for me to say which is better. Please watch the first film first.

I watched the Blu-ray version of this film with three commentary tracks. I can especially recommend the commentary with Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino. Quentin gets so excited about films he likes that he draws us in with his enthusiasm.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Piranhaconda (3½ Stars)

A film crew is on location in the jungles of Hawaii making a slasher movie. But they're in real danger. A group of heavily armed mercenaries kidnap the director, along with the leading actress and several of the crew, to hold them for ransom. As if that weren't enough, a giant snake is crawling around killing people, whether they're scientific research teams or idle holidaymakers.

This film is a welcome addition to the bikinis and snakes genre. What's that? You say there isn't a bikinis and snakes genre? Then there ought to be. The film is just an excuse to show young girls in bikinis running in terror from giant snakes. As such it's good, light-hearted fun, worth watching once.

The Life of Pi (5 Stars)

What is better? A story that makes you believe in God? Or a story that makes you despair in the existence of good in the world? That's the question that the film's director Ang Lee asks us, the same question asked by Yann Martel, the author of the book on which the film is based. I haven't yet read the novel, but after watching the film today for the second time I feel an urge to do so. It's rare that watching a film inspires me to read a book. Usually I feel that the film has "said it all". A few times I've read a book first and seen the film later, for instance "Lord of the Rings", "Queen of the Damned" and "The Final Programme". But I can only think of two books that I read after watching a film, namely "The Name of the Rose" (Umberto Eco) and "He who fears the wolf" (Karin Fossum). I was extremely impressed with Umberto Eco's book, because it went a lot deeper than the film of the same name, spending whole chapters in lengthy theological discussions that are only mentioned in the film in passing. Karin Fossum's book disappointed me, because the film "Cry in the Woods" isn't an exact retelling of the story, it just uses the skeleton of the book and heads off in a different direction.

"The Life of Pi" must be one of the most beautiful films ever made, visually and philosophically. It was nominated for 11 Oscars in 2013, of which it won four. Not enough. It's a far better film than "Argo", but I can understand why "Argo" won the best film award: it was more politically relevant, and provided a better background for Michelle Obama's appearance. She would have been out of place presenting an award to a deeply philosophical film.

For those who haven't yet seen it, here is the film's plot. I know that it contains partial spoilers, but in a film like this it doesn't matter. Piscine Molitor Patel, called Pi for short, is a boy who was born in French India. His parents owned a zoo. He was brought up in the Hindu faith, but during his youth he also became a Christian and a Moslem, because he thought that the three religions showed three different sides of God that complemented each other. At the same time he educated himself in rationalist streams of philosophy, including existentialism. When he is 16 his father decides that the family should move to Canada, taking the animals with them. On the way the ship sinks in a storm, and Pi climbs into a lifeboat accompanied by a few animals. After a few fights only one of the animals survives, a Bengal tiger. At first Pi feels threatened by the tiger, but as time progresses he manages to tame him so that they can co-exist in a small space. Together they spend 227 days at sea. When they finally land in Mexico the tiger leaves the boat and enters the woods without looking back.

When questioned by the Japanese shipping company the investigators don't believe Pi's story. To help them he tells them a different story, in which he entered the lifeboat with his mother, the ship's cook and a Japanese sailor. In fights over the next few days the cook killed the sailor and Pi's mother, so Pi killed the cook, and spent the rest of the 227 days alone.

So which story is true? The film's message is that it doesn't matter. What matters is which story is the better story. Which story can make a person believe in God? The 227 days at sea are Pi's spiritual journey. Pi had to learn that to survive he had to abandon religious formalities, such as the vegetarianism required by strict Hinduism. The tiger is interpreted by other reviewers as Pi's image of himself, but it's more accurate to say that it represents God. Pi had to make peace with God on his journey. Of particular significance is the floating island that Pi discovers shortly before the end of his journey. The island provides everything Pi needs, including food -- vegetarian food -- and water. But then he realises that the island is only offering false security and will ultimately destroy him. This is spiritual death, the ultimate result of comfort and ease. He decides to abandon the island, taking with him only the bare essentials he needs to survive, and continues on his journey. When he reaches his goal, the Mexican coast, the tiger leaves without looking back. This signifies God's silence. In past times God was close, such as the incident when Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32), but now we no longer see Him and have to rely on faith.

Of course, my spiritual interpretation of the film only scratches the surface. More details will become apparent if you watch it repeatedly. It isn't a film to watch only once, it's a film to watch many times.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

30 Days of Night (3½ Stars)

This film is based on a simple premise, so simple that I'm surprised it wasn't dealt with long ago. Vampires are awake at night and sleep during the day. (Unless, of course, they happen to be in "Twilight"). So what if vampires are in the Arctic circle, where the sun doesn't rise for weeks during the winter?

The film takes place in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States. On the first day of the Arctic night, a period that lasts 30 days without sunlight, a vampire coven arrives in town. They have no intention of settling in and laying low. They want to kill every man, woman and child in the town. The film develops into a survival story. The married couple Eben and Stelle Oleson, played by Josh Hartnett and Melissa George, lead a group of survivors attempting to hold out until the sun rises. As the film progresses the group shrinks as their members are caught and killed.

This was a highly successful film, making a profit of $70 million when it was released in 2007. I don't see why. It's a good film, but I wouldn't praise it too highly. The acting is first rate, but the plot is weak. From beginning to end it's just a question of who will die next. The vampires are decidedly unglamorous, little more than wild animals. I enjoy vampire films, but I like to get to know the vampires, their thoughts and their motivations. There is nothing at all in these vampires for me to empathise with.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Super Shark (4 Stars)

"Super Shark" (or is it "Supershark", the spelling on my DVD cover?) is a film that will divide viewers. Some will love it, some will hate it. If you like your films to be realistic you'll hate it. If you like films with giant sharks that jump out of the water and bite low flying airplanes you'll love it. Me? I like giant sharks.

I own many films by Fred Olen Ray, but this is the first film of his that I own on Blu-ray. Fred's films are always shot in perfect quality, but in Blu-ray they look even better. My only fault with the film is that all the beautiful bikini babes on the beach get killed. Couldn't Fred just have killed the men and spared the women?

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Romy (4 Stars)

This is the third and last in my series of reviews of films starring Jessica Schwarz. The last for now, at least. I'm sure I'll come back to her again.

"Romy" is a biopic about the life of Romy Schneider, from her early teenage years to her death. She was born as Rosemarie Albach in Germany in 1938 in a town that has since become the capital of Austria. Her family moved to Berchtesgaden when the war began. Romy's parents were both actors, her father on the stage and her mother primarily in film. After the divorce of her parents in 1945 Romy's father went to live in Austria, while she remained with her mother in Germany. From the age of 15 she starred in a series of Heimatfilm films. Ouch! "Heimatfilm" is almost impossible to translate. Literally it means "home film", but it's a film genre that was popular in Germany after the war. They were films that took place in mountain regions, in small towns surrounded by grassy plains. Even though the films were set in the present (i.e. the 1940's and 1950's) they portrayed a simple old-fashioned lifestyle, reminiscent of the previous centuries. Everyone went to church, the young respected the old and families were intact. There was a clear line between good and evil, and good always triumphed.

From 1955 to 1957 she made a series of films in which she played the role of Sissi, the Empress of Austria. These films made her immensely popular in Germany, and for the rest of her life it was common for the press to call her Sissi. As far as the film studios were concerned Romy should have made Sissi films for the rest of her life, but she refused to be typecast. At the age of 20 she moved to Paris to continue her film career, even though she didn't speak a single word of French. Nevertheless, she was already well known in France, so she was immediately offered a film role. She learnt French through rehearsing her lines for "Christine". She never made another film in Germany. For the rest of her life all her films were made in France, with the exception of a few American films like "What's new, Pussycat?"

Despite the critical acclaim that she received, Romy was never satisfied with the roles that she was given. She thought that she wasn't being treated as a serious actress and wanted more challenging roles. She greatly enjoyed the plays of Heinrich Böll and wanted to appear in them in both stage and film versions. She allegedly wrote letters to Böll which he never answered, but in recent years this has been cast into doubt.

The film shows Romy's descent into depression and alcohol addiction, though not very clearly. It seems that the director Torsten Fischer had great respect for Romy Schneider and wanted to concentrate on the positive aspects of her life. That's my only real criticism of the film. It would have been more honest to show her faults, rather than discreetly skipping over them and only mentioning them in conversation. What were the pills that she was addicted to? We see her taking one with almost every drink, but we're not told what they are.

Jessica Schwarz's performance as Romy is perfect. She even shows subtleties such as Romy developing a slight French accent in her later years. It's also amazing how similar Jessica looks to Romy. The film is only available in German, but it's worth watching if you can understand it.

Romy Scheider was found dead at the age of 43. The cause of death was a mixture of alcohol and sleeping pills.

Romy Schneider
23 September 1938 – 29 May 1982

The Door (5 Stars)

Today I spontaneously decided to watch a few films starring Jessica Schwarz back to back. After all, she's an excellent actress. She's probably unknown to most of my readers, because she only appears in German films. Yes, that means that I'll be reviewing German films for the next few days. I'm a big fan of German cinema, especially "New German Cinema", which I define as films made since the reunification in 1990. German films were good before 1990, but in my eyes there was a noticeable surge in quality after 1990.

I often read reviews by people who have seen a German film for the first time. They say, "I was surprised how good it was", and then go on to praise things such as the picture quality, the special effects or the action. New German Cinema (I'll refer to it as NGC) is unknown to most film fans in English-speaking countries. When I talk to people in my film club they often say they like foreign films, and when I ask them which countries they usually say Korean first, followed by Chinese and Japanese. The more adventurous film fans might include Spanish or French films. But German? No, they've never seen anything German. That's a shame. They're missing out. German films are of a higher quality than those from any other European country, including England. The German film industry has a much larger budget than the film industries in other European countries, due to a system of state subsidies of film projects. German actors are less greedy than their American counterparts -- does Will Smith really deserve $40 million per film? -- so there is more money left over to invest in special effects and action stunts. German films look very glossy and well-polished compared with the rough edges of English films. But it doesn't end there. In Germany about 150 films are made every year, and it's difficult to find a turkey among them. There's a lot more quality control in Germany, so poor scripts are rejected in the early phases. Compare this with America, where 500 films a year are made, but the majority of them are so poor that they never make it into the cinemas. If a film is German, especially an NGC film, you can assume a certain level of quality.

Now let's get to "The Door". In his interviews the director, Anno Saul, repeatedly calls it a genre film, but he neglects to say what genre it belongs to. Is it a mystery? A thriller? A horror film? A family drama? I admit that the film's final scenes made me cry.

David and Maja Andernach live in a sleepy suburb of Potsdam, just outside Berlin. Maja works as pharmacist, while David is an artist, a painter who works at home. They have an 8-year-old daughter called Leonie. While David is at home with Leonie he leaves her playing alone so that he can have sex with a neighbour. When he returns he finds Leonie dead in their swimming pool. This leads to the break-up of the marriage, and David becomes practically a vagrant.

Five years later David finds an old door in the woods and enters a tunnel. When he comes out on the other side of the tunnel he finds himself back in time, on the day of his daughter's death. He runs home and reaches her just after she falls into the water and is able to rescue her. And they all lived happily ever after? Not quite. David's younger self returns home and mistakes him for an intruder. After a brief fight the older David kills the younger David in self defence. David buries his younger self in the garden and decides to take his place, but Leonie has seen what happened. David's next door neighbour also witnessed him burying the body, but seems strangely unconcerned. From here on David tries to lead a normal life, lying to his friends and family while trying to figure out what has happened.

This is an incredible film. The plot takes twists and turns, and it's never clear what will happen next. There's something that might sound negative, but it works out well. The director cast the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen in the leading role of David. This was a highly unusual decision, because he can't speak German. Mads learnt his lines phonetically and spoke them for the film. In post-production the actor Ingo Hülsmann dubbed his voice. It's amazing how well this works. The lip movements match, so it's impossible to tell that Mads isn't speaking the lines himself. He plays the role perfectly, as does Jessica Schwarz as Maja.

Fortunately, "The Door" has been released in both England and America. The English version is subtitled, the American version is dubbed. In the case of Mads Mikkelsen's dialogue I should say "re-dubbed". But check out the absolutely awful DVD cover of the English version that I've included below. It must have been designed by someone who knew nothing about the film. It looks like a horror film about a dangerous little girl entering a house. Sigh. The film is about a door in the woods, and it's a man who walks through, not a child.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

General: Bafta 2014 Nominations

The Bafta Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) are the British version of America's Academy Awards, informally called the Oscars. Of all the film award ceremonies that take place each year throughout the world, the Baftas are considered to be the second most important, and a prediction of the results of the Oscars. I actually pay more attention to the Baftas than the Oscars, because I consider the Baftas to be less politically biased and less pro-American. Nevertheless, I have to shake my head at the 2014 Bafta nominations that were announced today. "Gravity" is the film that won the most nominations, 11 in total, including best film, best director, best leading actress and best original screenplay... and also best British film. Oh, it was a British film? I never noticed.

I saw "Gravity" in the cinema in November. I can understand it winning technical awards, for things like special effects and editing, but as far as the story and acting are concerned? I don't get it. It really wasn't that good. Sandra Bullock's acting was lacklustre. George Clooney did better, he's a much more competent actor. The story was vacuous, the sort of tale that a schoolboy could write in a two-page essay.

As for the film being British, it was filmed at Shepperton Studios, just outside London. That's stretching it. There are official guidelines to decide the nationality of films, but there's no international agreement on them. For instance, in France "The Artist" is considered to be a French film, whereas in America it's called an American film. In England "Rome" is described as the most expensive British television series ever made (£66 million for the first season), but in America they call it an American series. On the other hand, the television series "Hercules" and "Xena" were filmed entirely in New Zealand, but nobody would deny that they are American series. So we need classification guidelines that everyone can agree on.

Today it's common for work on films to be outsourced internationally. Filming on location in Eastern Europe is cheap, and a highly skilled film industry has developed there. In my opinion it should be decided simply by who is in charge of the film, i.e. which film studio foots the bill, and where is the studio located? The example of "Rome" best illustrates it. The BBC decided to make a series about Rome. They wanted it to be big and spectacular, but they didn't have enough money. So the BBC approached HBO (an American company) and asked for support. HBO gave the BBC more than 90% of the cash required in return for co-ownership, a large slice of the profits, etc. But whatever wording the contracts might have had, HBO was "only" the financial backer. The BBC instigated the series and retained creative control, so "Rome" is a British series. In the same way, "Gravity" is owned by Warner Bros, an American company, making it an American film. The fact that Warner Bros picked a British studio because of its outstanding facilities for creating special effects is irrelevant. Despite the Bafta organisation claiming that they are "following guidelines" it's just nationalistic chest-beating that must amuse Americans. I'm sure that if "Gravity" had been filmed at Babelsberg studio no one would call it a German film.

I won't comment on the other nominations, I'll just list them here.

Best Film

12 Years A Slave
American Hustle

Outstanding British Film

Mandela: long walk to freedom
Saving Mr. Banks
The Selfish Giant


12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen
American Hustle, David O. Russell
Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass
Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón
The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese

Original Screenplay

American hustle
Blue Jasmine
Inside Llewyn Davis

Adapted Screenplay

12 Years A Slave, John Ridley
Behind the Candelabra, Richard LaGravenese
Captain Phillips, Billy Ray
Philomena, Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
The Wolf of Wall Street, Terence Winter

Leading Actor

Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips

Leading Actress

Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
Judi Dench, Philomena
Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Daniel Brühl, Rush
Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

Supporting Actress

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Oprah Winfrey, The Butler
SallyHawkins, Blue Jasmine

Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer

Colin Carberry (Writer), Glenn Patterson (Writer), Good Vibrations
Kelly Marcel (Writer), Saving Mr. Banks
Kieran Evans (Director/Writer), Kelly + Victor
Paul Wright (Director/Writer), Polly Stokes (Producer),  For Those in Peril
Scott Graham (Director/Writer) Shell

Film not in the English Language

The Act of Killing
Blue is the Warmest Colour
The Great Beauty
Metro Manila


The Act of Killing
The Armstrong Lie
Tim’s Vermeer We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks

Animated Film

Despicable Me 2
Monsters University

Original Music

12 Years A Slave
The Book Thief
Captain Phillips
Saving Mr. Banks


12 Years A Slave
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis


12 Years A Slave
Captain Phillips
The Wolf of Wall Street

Production Design

12 Years A Slave
American Hustle
Behind the Candelabra
The Great Gatsby

Costume Design

American Hustle
Behind the Candelabra
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
Saving Mr. Banks

Make Up & Hair

American Hustle
Behind the Candelabra
The Butler
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug


All is Lost
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis

Special Visual Effects

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim
Star Trek into Darkness

British Short Animation

Everything I Can See From Here
I am Tom Moody
Sleeping with the Fishes

British Short Film

Island Queen
Keeping up with the Joneses
Orbit Ever After
Room 8
Sea View

Jesus loves me (4 Stars)

This film, made in Germany in 2012, is a comedy about the return of Christ and the final judgement. I have to say that it's a typical German film. I couldn't imagine anything vaguely like it being made in America or England.

The story is told through the eyes of Marie, a young woman who lives in an unnamed small town in central Germany close to the Rhein. (The location is kept vague by the town scenes being filmed in Bergisch Gladbach, while the rural scenes are filmed near Freiburg). Marie is the only child in a dysfunctional family. Her mother has run away to join a hippy commune. Her father found a new Russian wife on an Internet dating site, a woman who is younger than Marie. On her wedding day Marie is overcome with horror at the thought of marriage and climbs out of the church window to escape. The day isn't a complete waste because Marie's mother begins an affair with the priest.

While wandering through the town Marie bumps into a mysterious man who introduces himself as Jeshua. She falls in love with him immediately, but it soon becomes apparent through his words and deeds that it isn't just any man; it's Jesus, who has returned to Earth to bring about the final judgement. ("Jeshua" is the original Hebrew form of the name "Jesus"). Marie wants to build a relationship with him, but she doesn't have much time because Jesus intends to destroy the world on the following Tuesday.

The film was written and directed by Florian David Fitz, who also plays the role of Jesus. Jessica Schwarz, currently one of Germany's best actresses, plays the role of Marie. The two contrast one another perfectly: the neurotic modern woman and the naive but powerful Son of God. The film begins with a lot of humour -- as funny as German films can be -- but as it progresses it becomes more and more serious. Philosophical and theological discussions between the main characters become more important than what is happening around them. In fact, I can't help thinking that the whole film was intended to be serious, but the writer added the comedy to make it more acceptable.

"Jesus loves me" was a big box office success in German-speaking countries. Critics praised it, whereas the public was divided. I can see that it's a film that would annoy a lot of people. Most serious Christians would find the portrayal of Jesus Christ blasphemous. On the other hand, non-Christians could also be alienated, because the film assumes the truth of the Bible and presents Jesus as a real character with the power to destroy the world. I recommend that the film is watched with an open mind... at least by those who can understand German. I've read that a version with English subtitles was made, but it was never officially released and only shown privately. The German DVD does not include any foreign subtitles.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Twilight: Eclipse (3½ Stars)

Today I watched this film again for the first time in two years. Read my old review here. I had forgotten how weak it is. The love story between Edward and Bella has no depth, no passion. I'm sure the books must be better, or they would never have become so popular. I've received criticism of my recent reviews of the first two films in November and December, but I'm sticking to my opinion: I believe Kristen Stewart is adequate for the role of Bella. Her open-mouthed performance is just right for a teenage girl overwhelmed by being confronted with a completely different world, far away from Florida in more ways than one. Robert Pattinson is the weak link. Imagine if Ian Somerhalder had played the part of Edward. He would have been much more believable.

I enjoy Taylor Lautner's performance as Jacob, even though he has the tendency to grin too much. I still think that Bella made the wrong choice who to marry.

Something else I don't like about this film is the transformation of Jasper Hale, played by Jackson Rathbone. In the first two films he walks around looking like a confused teenager, somewhat manic, unable to control his bloodlust. In this film he steps up and becomes the leader in the battle against the vampire army. How did that happen? It lacks credibility. If any of my readers have read the books I would be glad to know if the change is just as brash in the original novels.

I'm also curious whether there's any significance in the film's title, "Eclipse", which was also the name of the book. If the book explains the title it certainly isn't apparent in the film.

Here are two photos from what I consider to be the film's visually most beautiful scene. Once more they show why Bella should have chosen Jacob. She would have got a handsome man and a faithful guard dog all in one.

General: Amazon UK's business blunder

Today an email was sent to all people registered with Amazon UK's referral program, the "Amazon Associates", which includes me. The associates have received notification of a change to Amazon UK's shipping costs that is valid immediately. Other customers won't notice until they try to make an order. This is the text of the email:
Our Super Saver Delivery service is changing. From 7th January 2014, all UK orders fulfilled by Amazon, with a total value of at least £10, will qualify for FREE Super Saver Delivery. Previously, the £10 threshold applied to all our product categories except Books, Music, Film & TV, Blu-ray, Software or PC & Video Games.
Simple enough. But what does it mean? I'll only apply it to DVD and Blu-ray purchases, since that's what's relevant to this blog. Until yesterday, if a DVD from Amazon UK cost £3.00, that was the exact amount that had to be paid for normal first class delivery. If it is bought today there are shipping costs of £1.49, making the complete price £4.49, a price increase of almost 50%.

To be precise, Amazon UK's shipping price for DVDs is now £1.19 per order plus £0.30 per item. If the total is more than £10 there are no shipping costs. This also leads to the ridiculous situation that any DVD with a price of £9 will cost more than a DVD with a price of £10.

This change makes a big difference to me, because I make a point of buying cheap DVDs, using the excellent Find-DVD web site. I very rarely buy a DVD that costs more than £4. Of course, by buying three or more DVDs at once I could go over the £10 limit, but in my case this is unlikely, because when Find-DVD tells me of a price drop it's often a limited time offer that I have to react to immediately.

Amazon UK is going it alone on this path. Almost all other UK mail order companies, such as Play, Zavvi and Wow, charge no shipping costs. For cheap DVDs the price difference between the cheapest offers is less than a pound. Effectively, Amazon UK is pricing itself out of the market. Unless Amazon UK retracts this monstrous blunder I shall buy a lot less from them in future and a lot more from their competitors.

Please click here for details on pricing.