Friday, 27 June 2014

Branded (3 Stars)

"Marketing was invented by Lenin, and now it's the foundation of the world economy, the great global brand revolution has won. We are still living in the world Lenin created. It used to be the brands were formed from people's desires. Now it's the people that are being formed according to the desires of the brands".

Misha Galkin is a marketing genius who was swept to success when Communism collapsed in Russia. He's hired to promote cosmetic surgery, so he makes a reality show about a fat woman. For 11 days she's shown on television 24 hours a day, and on the 12th day she undergoes an operation to remove half of her body weight. Unfortunately, the operation fails and the woman never wakes up from a deep coma. Misha becomes the most hated person in Russia and is frequently attacked by protesters who insist that fat is beautiful. Only then does he find out that he was set up by a competitor. The operation was intended to fail to promote a "fat is beautiful" campaign by a coalition of fast food companies.

Misha withdraws from society for six years. In a dream he's told to sacrifice a red cow to receive enlightenment. He returns to Moscow and finds that everyone is fat except for him. He is also able to see grotesque creatures feeding from everyone around him, creatures that are invisible to everyone else. A strange epidemic breaks out in Russia that no doctors can explain. Only Mikhail is aware that it is being caused by the invisible creatures. He recognises them to be a product of advertising, so he decides to fight them by mounting conflicting advertising campaigns.

The film isn't a comedy. It's not really science-fiction either, even though some critics claim it is. It's a satire about the leading companies in the modern world. It's not just about the fast food companies. We see thinly veiled references to many large companies, such as GiantSoft, Obbidas and Soda-Soda. Brands, or more particularly the advertising of brands, is presented as the great evil.

"Branded", also known as "Moscow 2017", is a difficult film to watch. The plot is very weird, and it's little more than an excuse to support the heavy propaganda. For most of the film the message seems to be anti-Capitalism, but then it's emphasised that advertising is a product of Communism. I can't really relate to it.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

In the Name of the Father (5 Stars)

Gerry Conlon died on June 21st 2014 at the age of 60. He spent 15 years of his life in prison for a crime he didn't commit. That's 25% of his life, a big chunk for anyone to lose. The film tells the story of his time in prison and the events that led up to it. In my opinion, this was Daniel Day-Lewis' greatest role. He brings Gerry Conlon to life and makes him deeply sympathetic to the viewers.

I don't want to make a political statement about the imprisonment of Gerry Conlon and the rest of the Guildford Four. If a crime is committed the guilty ones should be punished. In my naive way of looking at things it's as simple as that. The police failed in their responsibility by arresting the wrong people, and the courts failed by finding them guilty. The police who arrested the Guildford Four were certainly heavy-handed. They used beatings and threats to force the suspects to confess. Gerry claims that he signed a blank piece of paper and told the police to write whatever they wanted. If his claims are true, the police officers should have been sent to prison, but they were found innocent of perverting the course of justice. Something seems wrong somewhere.

It's a very good film. Pete Postlethwaite also excels as Gerry's father Giuseppe.

Inland Empire (5 Stars)

Laura Dern stars as Nikki Grace, an aging Hollywood actress whose best days are behind her. She's offered the leading role in a film called "On High in Blue Tomorrows", a love story which promises to make her an A-list star again. At the first rehearsal she's told that the film is a remake of a Polish film called "47", which was never completed because the leading stars were murdered.

As the filming begins Nikki finds herself trapped within the film, as if it's her real life. She further regresses and finds herself in the original Polish film, sometimes on the film set, sometimes within the film. She continues making her film despite gradually losing her identity.

This is the most confusing of David Lynch's films, but its incomprehensiblity doesn't make it any less enjoyable. We feel for Nikki's plight in her never-ending nightmare.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Taugenichts (3 Stars)

This film is based on a famous German novel by Joseph von Eichendorff, written in 1823. A family has named their son Taugenichts, which means worthless. What a name! When he grows up to be an adult he lives up to his name. Instead of working he sits playing his violin all day. That's not too bad, in my opinion. Anyone can be a farmer, but playing a musical instrument takes real skill. But that's not the way the boy's father sees it. He throws his worthless son out and tells him to fend for himself.

Taugenichts is walking along the road playing his violin when a carriage passes him carrying two noblewomen. They are impressed with his music, so they take him with them to their castle near Vienna. First they make him their gardener, which is a job he's not well suited for. Then they find out that he can read, write and do arithmetic -- obviously not common skills in those days -- so they appoint him as their tax collector. He's not so worthless after all.

I'd probably enjoy the book, if I read it, but the film doesn't appeal to me. I've never liked period films with people in fine clothing. It's not my thing, sorry.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Memento (4 Stars)

"I always thought the pleasure of a book is in wanting to know what happens next".

But what if you read the last chapter of a book first? And then the one before it, working backwards until you finally get to the first chapter, which explains the background for everything you've just read?

The film deals with a man who suffers from "anterograde amnesia", a rare illness that I've never heard of. The illness seems so unusual in the film that I doubted at first that it really exists, but evidently it does, and the portrayal of the illness in the film has been described as realistic. Anterograde amnesia is an illness in which a person is unable to form new memories, even though he remembers everything that happened before the illness began. This means that only the person's short term memory is impaired; he can remember what happened a few years ago perfectly, but he can't remember what he did a few hours ago.

I suspect that people with this illness would be totally unable to function in society, but the film shows a man, Leonard Shelby, who has found a unique way to deal with it. He carries a Polaroid camera with him at all times, taking photos of important people and objects, and making notes on the photos to read when he has forgotten what they are. The problem with this is that he suspects people around him of falsifying or destroying notes, so he tattoos the most important notes onto his body.

The film starts with Leonard waking up in a hotel room with the photo of a man and the written instruction "Kill him". A few minutes later Leonard sees this man, so he shoots him. The rest of the film, shown backwards, unravels what led to this murder. As we work our way backwards through the chapters of the book we think we understand what it was about, but we don't find the answers until we reach chapter one.

This was the breakthrough film for Christopher Nolan. When it was made in 2000 it received great critical acclaim, as well as box office success. Interestingly, it wasn't shown in America until a year after its release. The American distributors turned it down, since they thought it would be too difficult for American audiences to understand. They only changed their minds after they saw how successful it was in England and other countries.

Just one hint, something that I missed when watching it. The film is shown in alternating colour and b/w sequences. The colour sequences are in reverse chronological order, which was obvious to me, but the black and white sequences are in chronological order. If I'd known this I would have picked up some of the subtleties. I'll pay attention to this next time I watch it.

This diagram, copied from Wikipedia, shows the correlation between the film and the real life events. You can click on the image to enlarge it.

Dad's Army: The Movie (3 Stars)

This is a television spin-off of the BBC comedy series that ran for 84 episodes from 1968 to 1977. It was made im 1971 and retells the events of the first episode, in which the Walmington-on-Sea home guard was founded.

For those who don't know it: the series was about the home guard in an English coastal town. A group of men who were too old for military service signed up as volunteer soldiers to provide the first line of defence against a German invasion. The men were bumblingly incompetent, but somehow they survived from week to week.

It was a beautiful television series. It was so typically British. When the series started it was barely 20 years since the end of the war, so the British still had a strong sense of pride in their victory. Only the British -- or more specifically, only the English -- were capable of poking fun at themselves in such a sensitive subject.

The film has a bigger budget than the television episodes, but somehow it doesn't work. The film isn't as funny to me as the television series. Somehow the magic is missing.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Kiss (2008 version) (2 Stars)

I wish people wouldn't do this. Every time someone makes a vampire film he sits down and recreates vampire mythology, inventing new origins or powers for what he calls "vampires". We need an Official Vampire Commission to decide on the exact rules for what is and isn't a vampire, as well as specifying what areas may be expanded upon. For instance, any creature that sparkles in the sunlight can't possibly be a vampire, it has to be called something else. Let's agree on a name for the creatures in Stephenie Meyer's books, since they're obviously not vampires. Let's call them woodchuckers. In the next edition of the Twilight books the word "vampire" has to be replaced by "woodchucker" wherever it is used.

And now to "The Kiss" and its own unique rewrite of vampire lore. The first vampire, called the Master, was created by Lucifer. The Master created eight clans and appointed a queen to rule over each clan. The queens are more powerful than normal vampires and can't be killed by any means whatsoever.

The film begins with one of the vampire queens, Santa Maria Del Oro Corazon, the ruler of the Clan of the Snake, being captured and buried after a feud with another clan. Despite being dehydrated, or rather desanguinated, she cannot die, and for the next two hundred years she cries out for someone to rescue her. Finally her voice is heard by a high school student called Jeremy, who has better hearing than most due to years of listening to heavy metal on his Ipod. He digs her up and nurtures her back to health, and then the two of them fall in love. Santa Maria wants revenge against the other vampire queen, but first she has to establish a base of operations, so she goes on a killing spree in the town.

The film is slow moving. The only parts that I enjoyed were the brief glimpses of nudity. As soon as the vampire queens put their clothes back on I lost interest. The story itself isn't so bad, it has more promise than "Twilight", but it could have been filmed a lot better.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Nacht über Berlin (4 Stars)

I've finally been able to buy this film on DVD after seeing it on television 18 months ago. German television, that is. Many, though not all German television programmes are available to view on demand free of cost online, but usually only for a week. The main websites for free viewing are

ARD and ZDF are the two main television companies in Germany, similar to the BBC and ITV in England. The smaller German television companies also have Mediatheks, but the ones I know are all pay services.

A problem with both sites is that they don't have a consistent layout. What I mean is that if you visit the sites every week and get used to what's where on the site, they occasionally redesign, and everything is in different places. For that reason I recommend that you only bookmark the main pages, because links to pages of your favourite categories might break next time you visit.

The ARD page is relatively easy to navigate. I'll assume that my German speaking readers want to watch films, so I'll use that as an example. On the main page scroll down to "Film-Highlights", and then click on "Alle Zeigen" (show all). Doing that today, 18 films are displayed. 13 of them can be viewed immediately. 4 are "for adults only", so they can only be watched after 10pm German time. The site doesn't plan for viewers outside of Germany, so you'll have to figure out what time you can watch it in your own country. One film is blocked for viewers outside of Germany.

The ZDF page is messy. It's not easy to find films, and it seems that the current redesign tries harder to conceal them. On the main page click "Rubriken" (categories). Then click "Film". Then click "Ganze Filme im ZDF" (complete films in ZDF), which is hidden among all the subcategories of "Film" and seems to be in a different place every day. 7 films are displayed. 6 can be viewed immediately, and one film is blocked for viewers outside of Germany. Sometimes you can find more films hidden in other subcategories. For instance, if you click "Film in ZDFkultur" instead of "Ganze Filme im ZDF" another two films are displayed, of which one can only be watched after 10pm and the other is blocked for viewers outside of Germany.

That's a pretty good selection overall. 27 films, of which 24 are available to be watched. They're a mixture of new and old films, all original German films. I suspect that copyright restrictions don't allow the Mediatheks to include foreign films. The films are rarely described, but if you google the names you can usually find reviews on other sites. Or do what I do: just make an intelligent guess what the film is about, based on the title and the picture, and after five minutes you'll figure out if you were right. As I already mentioned, the films are only available for a limited time, so the selection will change every week.

To get to the film itself, I don't want to say too much, so click here to read my original review. The film shows that in the early 1930's the lines weren't as clearly drawn as after Hitler's ascension to power. Henny has a Jewish boyfriend, while her sister is engaged to a Nazi, and they all sit at the same table for Sunday dinner. The "Ballhaus" is a cabaret owned by a Jewish transvestite, but the majority of the guests are Nazis, many of which visit wearing their full uniforms. The Nazis were already anti-Jewish, but most Jews didn't think it would get worse. They naively believed that they could all get along.

My main criticism of the DVD itself is that it doesn't contain subtitles, neither German nor English. Many English people understand German without being expert speakers, so German subtitles would help them when the dialogue gets fast.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Kaltgestellt (3¾ Stars)

This German film, directed by Bernhard Sinkel, is a curiosity. It was filmed in 1979 and presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 1980. Due to heavy criticism from German politicians and reporters it was never released in the cinema, and it wasn't shown on television until about five years later. Foreign film critics praised the film highly, but it was too controversial to be accepted in Germany. It was the wrong film at the wrong time. I have to admit that I'm somewhat confused by it. It shows me a dark side of Germany that I know nothing about, so I have to ask whether things like this really happened.

The film takes place in West Berlin. Hermann Brasch is a single father and a teacher at a Berufsschule, a school which teaches academic subjects to young apprentices, usually 16 to 18 years old. One morning he arrives in school, and five of the children in his class have been arrested. He suspects that the others in the class know something, but they refuse to talk. Then a boy in the class hangs himself. Mr. Brasch finds out that the boy was spying on his classmates for the Verfassungsschutz, literally translated "constitution protection", a German organisation that monitors left wing tendencies in society in general, but especially in schools. Mr. Brasch himself is approached by Mr. Körner, a member of the Verfassungsschutz, and asked for his help in naming school children with left wing tendencies. Rather than cooperate, Mr. Brasch reports Mr. Körner to the school authorities. As a result Mr. Brasch is fired from his job, after which his furniture is confiscated from his apartment, and finally his daughter is taken away from him by social services.

I think you can see why this film was controversial. It portrays West Germany as a heavy-handed police state, just as bad as East Germany. I'm sorry to say that it's never been released in England or America, and even in Germany it's only available as part of a Bernhard Sinkel box set.

Mr. Brasch's daughter Anna is played by Meret Becker. She was 10 years old at the time, and it was her first film role. Since then she has starred in 70 films and more than a dozen television series. She also appears as a guest vocalist on U2's 1993 single "Stay". Click here to see the official music video.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Cloud Atlas (4½ Stars)

In the post I made on "The Phantom Empire" last night I mentioned that I have a pile of 12 unwatched DVDs. So, am I making an attempt to watch them all? Not today, at least. I felt drawn to watch "Cloud Atlas" again. It's such a powerful film that it's worth watching repeatedly. Despite telling six stories in parallel the film isn't overly complex, in my opinion. It's always obvious what is happening.

Here is my pile of unwatched DVDs. They're stacked up on top of my computer, so they're close enough to remind me of their existence. This photo also shows something that you might not know. German DVDs have the writing on the side the opposite way round to English language DVDs. Do you see the ones I mean? "Hoppe hoppe Reiter" (3rd down), "Jud Süss" (9th down) and "Nacht über Berlin" (10th down). English DVD inscriptions are from top to bottom, while German inscriptions are from bottom to top.

Don't worry. I'll watch them all. Eventually. Hopefully soon, but I'm not making any promises. But at least you have an advance warning of future reviews.

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Phantom Empire (4 Stars)

I'm a strange person. Okay, anyone who's known me a few years will heartily agree with that statement, but why am I saying it now? Let me tell you a bit about myself and my strange habits.

As my friends and blog readers already know, I have a lot of DVDs and Blu-rays. I buy most of them online. I place my unwatched films in a pile next to my computer. Since I sometimes order a few films at a time, especially when I order films from Germany (in bulk to save money), the pile can grow as high as 20 films, but usually it's between 5 and 10. You might think that when I want to watch a film I pull a disc out of that pile first, but that's not always the case. Sometimes I'm in the mood to re-watch old films. Even when I do pull a disc out of the pile it's not from the top or bottom of the pile, it's just whatever film I'm in the mood for. Sometimes a film remains in the pile for a long time. For instance, I waited 18 months before I watched "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". That might seem like a long time. But listen.....

Today I decided to pull "Phantom Empire" out of my pile. I knew I'd had it for a while, but I wasn't sure how long. So I checked. And it turns out that I bought it on March 22nd 2006. The film has been lying in my unwatched pile for eight years, while newer films have been coming and going. That's all the more amazing when I consider that I moved house in May 2008. The DVD was physically lifted and carried from the pile in my old house to the new pile in my new house.

Looking at my unwatched pile now, it contains 12 DVDs, none of which have been in it for more than a few months. I could easily empty the pile within a week, if I wanted to. If I give those films priority. If I don't buy any more. Let's see. The pile hasn't been empty since I've lived here. Maybe I should make it a goal.

As for the film... if I'd known it would be so good I might have watched it years ago. It's an expedition to a lost world that has everything: ugly cannibals, beautiful cave women, dinosaurs, killer robots, and Sybil Danning dressed as if she's on her way to a fetish convention. This was Fred Olen Ray's first self-financed film, and he made it in 10 days from November 21st to December 1st 1986, saving money by using the props from a film that he had just finished working on. One day he will receive the appreciation he deserves.

Snow White XXX (3 Stars)

This is the first in Axel Braun's series of pornographic fairy tales made for Wicked Pictures. It tells the story of Snow White as we know it, except that the dwarves are off camera and only hinted at. Axel managed to get Evan Stone to walk on his knees for "This ain't Game of Thrones XXX", but I doubt he could find another six actors to do it. That would have been almost as humiliating as to be pushed around by Jessica Drake.

This is the first film I've seen starring Riley Steele, who plays the title role. (After checking IMDB I saw that she appeared in "Pirates 2: Stagnetti's Revenge", but it must have been a small role because I don't remember her. I'll have to watch it again). She was recently signed up by Axel to appear exclusively in his films. I can see what he likes about her. She has an innocently cute face and a near perfect body without any tattoos to spoil it. So tell me, magic mirror, who's the fairest of them all? Riley Steele or Kristen Stewart? Is it even necessary to ask?

I was very distressed to see that the actors in the film used condoms. That's something I've never seen in any of Axel's films until now. At first I thought that it was to comply with Measure B, but after doing a little research I discovered that Wicked Pictures has required condoms for all penetration scenes for years, "in order to protect the safety of its performers". This is absolutely ridiculous. For years the top porn studios have imposed frequent sex tests on all their performers, ranging between monthly and fortnightly. It's only the smaller, sleazier film studios that require condoms and do without the tests.

Many performers complain about discomfort if they have to have sex with condoms for many hours a day. "Vagina burn", they call it. I can't comment on that, I can only speak for myself as a viewer. The lack of condoms gives a fantasy aspect to the film, whereas using a condom brings it down to Earth. It's normal sex. Apart from that, it's a matter of historical accuracy. At the time when the story of Snow White took place condoms hadn't been invented. This small detail spoilt the story.

It could also be questioned how effective the use of a condom really protected the performers in this film. For instance, in the first scene Alec Knight (the king) performed a threesome with two women. After withdrawing from one woman he entered the other. If one of the women had been infected with an STD it would have been transferred to the other woman. In another scene Barrett Blade (the huntsman) rips off his condom after penetration so that he can ejaculate into the queen's mouth. What sort of protection is that?

The film is good, very stylishly made with opulent music. I'd give the film itself four stars, but I'll subtract one star for the condoms. Despite being a big fan of Axel Braun, from now on I'll boycott all the films he makes for Wicked Pictures.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Terminator (5 Stars)

I just read what I wrote about this film when I watched it the last time, two years ago. There's nothing I can add to that review, so please click here to read it.

Spring Breakers (1½ Stars)

I never used to understand what this strange American phenomenon, "spring break", is about. Now I get it. Young people go to the beach, they party all day, they take drugs and they shoot a few black guys.

The film's abstract editing, with repetitive dialogue that's out of sync with the picture, shows that the director was interested in creating a piece of art. For me it doesn't work. Most of the film was boring. Parts of it were disgusting. The only part I enjoyed was the bikini-clad girls carrying machine guns.

P. S. If the girls had looked as sexy in the film as they do in the picture above I would have rated it higher. Unfortunately, the "artistic" film editing concealed their beauty.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Captain America (4½ Stars)

The full name of this film is "Captain America: The first Avenger". I refuse to use that title because it's wrong. All Marvel fans know that Captain America was the sixth Avenger, since he didn't join the Avengers until the fourth issue. The other five founded the Avengers together, but if a first Avenger really has to be named it was Ant-Man, because he was the one who suggested the group.

Today is only the second time I've watched the film. The first time was two years ago. After reading what I said back then I think I was too harsh. I was shocked by all the deviations from the comic books. But if I look at the film in its own right it's quite good. Even the scenes of Captain America and his Howling Commandos are acceptable. There is fine acting by all, especially Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull and Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. Chris Evans is good in the title role, of course, but the other two overshadow him.

Yes, I change my mind about films sometimes. If you're a regular reader of my blog you'll just have to get used to it.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Robot & Frank (4 Stars)

The film takes place in the near future. Frank is a retired burglar, who is beginning to suffer from dementia. His son is worried about him, so he buys him a robot to do the house chores and look after Frank's health. Frank despises the robot, until he realises that the robot can aid him in returning to burglary. At that point a friendship develops.

This is a cute little film. Veteran actor Frank Langella makes Frank (the character) sympathetic to the viewers. Among critics the film has been widely praised, but the reception among film fans has been lukewarm. That's strange. I would have expected it to be the other way round. Maybe the general public finds the idea of intelligent robots too far-fetched? Just wait a few years. This will happen faster than we expect.

Portrayals of dementia are scary to me. My greatest fear is that when I get older my mental capabilities will lapse. My mind is my greatest treasure, and I would hate to lose it. I'd rather be unable to walk than unable to think straight. I had an elderly friend who was losing his mind. It was so sad. Everyone knew it except for him.

Kiss me quick (4 Stars)

This is an erotic science fiction horror comedy. It's hard to believe that this film was made in 1964. It's so well preserved, and it hasn't even been remastered for its recent release. In fact, all the films I've seen made by Harry Novak are in excellent condition. It makes me suspect that he took special care to store his original master tapes, better care than the big studios used to take. After all, in the 1960's it was inconceivable that people would one day buy films on a disc, or even a videotape. Films were meant to be watched in the cinema, and sometimes on television. That was it.

This was Harry's first film, and it's apparent that he already had too many ideas for one film. The film opens on the planet Droopiter, which is inhabited by males only, who replicate themselves by dividing into two like amoebas. The leader is looking for slaves, and he has heard that on Earth there exists a second gender called women who do whatever they're told. He sends the young man Sterilox to Earth to bring back a woman. Sterilox arrives in Transylvania, in the castle of Doctor Breedlove, who is creating perfect women in a laboratory. He seems to be successful, because the women are extremely horny and rip their clothes off whenever they see a man. Unfortunately he is being hampered by Count Dracula, who keeps raiding the castle to feed on the women. And then he has to look after the monster created by his grandfather, Doctor Frankenstein.

The film is stupid, utterly ridiculous, but it's fun.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (5 Stars)

Made in 1926, this was the first animated film made in Europe, and the first ever full length animated feature film. Previously two animated short films had been made in Argentina. (At 65 minutes in length it wouldn't qualify as a full length feature today. In the early days of cinema 45 minutes was considered full length, but today the minimum length is 70 minutes). What makes the film all the more remarkable is that it was made by a woman, and she was in charge of a team of men. Compare this with the Walt Disney company, which made its first animated film in 1937, but didn't allow a woman to be a director until 2013.

Lotte Reiniger was born in Berlin in 1899. As a child her father took her to theatre performances, and she developed a love for the works of William Shakespeare. When she was 15 she attended a lecture by Paul Wegener, who had just made the film "The Golem". This was a turning point in her life. She decided that she had to enter the film business. Her first step was to join an acting school in Berlin, against the wishes of her parents. She performed small roles in a few plays, but that wasn't where her talents lay. She became noticed when she made remarkably accurate silhouette cut-outs of her fellow actors. In 1918 her hero Paul Wegener asked her to design title cards for his film "The Pied Piper of Hamelin". Only a year later, in 1919, she made her first animated short film.

Her animation technique is based on cutting silhouettes out of black paper. The different parts of the body, the head, shoulders, legs, etc. are cut out separately, then connected by hinges. The figures are placed between two pieces of glass, and behind the glass is a painted background. This is photographed to create one frame. Then the silhouette is moved slightly and photographed for the next frame. Since a film needs 24 frames in each second, "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" needed more than 90,000 frames. This is time-consuming work, so she needed three years to complete the film, from 1923 to 1926. The men in her team were responsible for the lighting and the photography, but she did all the animation herself.

This was her only full length film. Over the rest of her career she made short films, varying between 10 and 30 minutes in length. She was the leading animator in Germany until Hitler came into power in 1933. Since she had left wing opinions and feared reprisals she left Germany and became a British citizen. Even though she was now overshadowed by Walt Disney, she continued to make animated short films for the rest of her life. She finally returned to Germany in 1980 and died a year later.

Lotte Reiniger
2 June 1899 – 19 June 1981

Ace Ventura Jr. (3 Stars)

After a gap of 14 years a third Ace Ventura film was made. This one isn't about Ace himself, who was played in the first two films by Jim Carrey. It's about Ace Jr., his son, who is being brought up by his mother after Ace disappeared on a case.

Ace Jr., now 12 years old, has promised his mother to act like a normal child and not get into trouble by hunting for lost animals all day long. He tries to keep the promise, but when he overhears the pretty girls in his class talking about their lost pets it's too much for him and he reverts to his old ways. Hormones! Although when I was 12 I didn't like girls my own age, I much preferred the girls I saw on Page 3 of The Sun.

The film isn't all that bad, but it's aimed at young teens. I can't relate to it.

Material Girls (2 Stars)

Ava and Tanzie Marchetta are two spoilt little rich girls in their late teens. Their father made millions by founding a cosmetics company. He died a few years ago, but they are still living off his wealth and partying every night. The company is being run by an administrator while they model the products. They're approached by the administrator and advised to sell the company for $200 million. They can have half each, which will be enough to support their party life for years. Then a scandal about one of the company's products breaks out which wipes out the girls' cash. They're forced to do primitive things like ride a bus. Ugh! Worse still, the company's stock price falls, and it's only worth $120 million. Horrified at the prospect of having to live the rest of their life with only $60 million each, they fight to prove the facts behind the scandal.

I know the film is intended as a comedy, but the two girls, played by the real life sisters Hilary and Haylie Duff, are so unpleasant that it's impossible to sympathise with them. When their luck ran out I didn't shed a tear for them, I just wished they would lose more. I've never had the misfortune to meet anyone like them, and I hope I never will.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Wall (2012) (4 Stars)

This film is based on a 1963 novel by the Austrian author Marlen Haushofer. The director, Julian Pölsler, says that he wanted to film the book immediately after reading it, but he had to wait 25 years to acquire the rights. As soon as the project was in his hands he approached the actress Martina Gedeck to ask her to play the leading role of the unnamed woman. As if it were destiny she replied, "Of course I will. It's my favourite book".

I had never heard of the author before today, but the story is something that could have come from the pen of Franz Kafka. Even the title sounds like a Kafka novel. A woman visits her cousin, who has a hut in the Austrian mountains. Her cousin drives into the next village, but never returns. When she attempts to leave she finds that an invisible wall is surrounding the mountain. All attempts to escape prove to be futile. After her initial panic she begins to fight for survival. She grows potatoes and she shoots deer for meat. Initially her only companion is her dog, Luchs, but she later adopts a stray cat and captures a cow that she can milk. The film covers her first two years within the wall, but it's suggested that she remains for many more years.

What is the novel about? Some reviewers call it a sci-fi novel. Some call it an existentialist novel. Some call it a feminist novel. It could be any of them. I don't think that the author planned for a single simple interpretation. The sci-fi aspect is very brief. It's presented as the background of the story, but as it continues it becomes irrelevant. Some reviewers claim that the story is allegorical, i.e. it never really happened. It's the story of a woman who feels isolated. That's possible, but I don't believe it's relevant whether the events are really happening or not. A more important question is what the wall symbolises. Is it there as a prison or to protect her? Initially she sees it as a prison. As time develops her isolation makes her stronger. She becomes able to do things that she would never have attempted to do under normal circumstances.

It's interesting that she has no name. She gives names to her animals, but she herself renames anonymous. It's as if she is on a spiritual journey, freeing herself from her ego. She is regressing to being the Urmensch, the original man. She becomes one with the animals, but she never becomes an animal. "If you try to become an animal you will trip over the animal and fall into the pit". On the other hand, when she finally meets another human, a man, after two years, he is primitive, like an animal. Rather than accepting him for company she shoots him. This is probably one of the reasons for the feminist interpretation. The intelligent, self-sufficient woman has no need of the primitive man. The best that Man can aspire to is to be a hunter-gatherer, but Woman can plan.

The film was a labour of love for Julian Pölsler. He spent 14 months filming in the mountains. It was important to him that he should show all four seasons as they occured, rather than faking the transition with computer graphics. It's even more amazing that Martina Gedeck was willing to do this. She's one of Germany's top actresses and usually makes two or three films each year, but she was willing to be isolated in the mountains for all this time. It's very much a one-woman film, even more than "Gravity". We see the cousin for about five minutes at the beginning and the primitive man for another five minutes near the end; for the remaining 90 minutes Martina is alone on the screen.

What can I take from the film for myself? I have a wall around me. It would be fair to say that it was erected in 2008, when I moved to where I live now. I used to know people and have a social life. Then I withdrew from society. I talked to very few people. To be honest, nothing happened for five years until 2013, when I started to venture outside. I'm currently writing an autobiography, and those will be my empty years. What can I write about them? Nothing. It was daily routine. Did the isolation of those years make me stronger? Probably not. Not in the way that it helped the woman in the film. But I survived. And I'm still alive today.

After Porn Ends (3 Stars)

This is a documentary about the lives of ex-porn stars. It discusses their attitude to their former careers, and how having been porn stars affects what they do today. The documentary features ten women and three men. Some have left the porn business recently, while others left more than 20 years ago.

Let me start with my criticisms of the documentary. The main fault is that there are interviews with too many people. 13 people is too much to take in. If it had been half the number, for instance three men and three women, we could have got to know them better.

Even though the documentary makes an attempt to appear neutral, as all good documentaries should be, it's heavily slanted against the porn industry. The three experts who appear as outsiders dealing with the porn industry are all against it. For instance, Luke Ford, an author who has written a book about the porn industry, says, "All the people in the porn industry are broken, twisted souls with no job skills". I assume he means all the actors, because the directors and film crews are highly talented, but even so he's wrong, blinded by his prejudices.

Some of the information is misleading. Nina Hartley appears several times during the documentary, and she seems to be one of the ex-porn stars. The makers of the film knew that she hasn't retired, because there's an interview in the DVD's extra features in which she talks about her current activities as a porn star. Why didn't they make it clearer in the documentary itself? They must have wanted to give the impression that everyone quits after a while.

In voice-over it was stated that Mary Carey has quit the porn business. That simply isn't true. She's just changed her direction. She used to make hard porn, now she's switched to soft porn. Okay, people who watch hard porn say that soft porn isn't real porn, but for most people porn is porn and they don't even know what the difference is.

Asia Carrera moved to Utah to get away from porn.

Now to the documentary itself. Certain patterns are apparent. There's a contrast between the men and the women. All three of the male porn stars have no regrets about their past career. For instance, Randy West says that he enjoyed having sex with 3000 women, but he felt it was time to move on. Richard Pacheco gave up due to pressure from his wife, but still looks back fondly on his porn days. As for the women, almost all of them regret what they have done. A notable exception is Asia Carrera, who gave up porn for the sake of her children, but has no bad feelings about her former career. It's interesting that she should have this standpoint, since she is the most intellectual of the women interviewed. She's a member of Mensa and could have followed many other careers, whatever Luke Ford says, but she made a conscious decision to be a porn star. While in the business she taught herself all the other jobs in the studio, such as directing and cinematography.

Most of the women left the porn business after only a few years. Some of them quit because they found religion. Others quit because they fell in love, and their boyfriends didn't approve. And then others quit because they became addicted to drugs, so they needed more money and changed their career. After all, prostitution pays better than being a porn star.

Most of the women tell stories of sordid film studios. That's probably what most people think of when they hear the word "porn". Most American studios and probably all British studios are like that. From the little I've seen, I hate those films. Fortunately there are better studios. Vivid is named as the classiest porn company. There's also Hustler, and a few other companies that look after their actresses, rather than treating them as objects.

Richard Pacheco and his daughter Rachel.

Ex-porn stars, especially women, have problems for the rest of their lives after leaving the industry. Some say that they were fired from their jobs because someone in their new companies recognised them. Women are often dumped by their boyfriends when they say they used to be porn stars. The boyfriends make excuses, but the real reason is that they feel insecure knowing that their girlfriend has slept with hundreds of men. They're afraid of being compared. And then there's the problem of telling their children what they used to do. Only two children are interviewed in the documentary, both of whom fully accept their parents' past lives. It would have been more balanced to hear from children who hate what their parents have done.

Nina Hartley, porn star for life.

Nina Hartley's interview in the extra features is very enlightening. It's good to hear from someone who has been a porn star for 30 years and still enjoys it. That should have been included in the documentary itself, as a contrast. She feels liberated by being able to do a job in which she's able to express herself. She frequently takes part in discussions with people who want to ban pornography, in particular Christians and feminists. Nina says that feminists are more narrow-minded than Christians, because they're unable to accept that women really can enjoy having sex with hundreds of men. She says that the girls who quit after only a few years are people who should never have been in the industry in the first place. You have to be a porn star because you feel it's your vocation, not just because you think it's an easy way to make money.

Mary Carey attempted to become the governor of California. Unsuccessfully. One of her policies was tightening gun control, which made her an unpopular candidate. When she's 35 she wants to run for the American presidency. I'd vote for her! Or would you rather have Barak Obama?

Friday, 6 June 2014

Jail Bait (3½ Stars)

Don Gregor is a young man from a good family. His father is a highly successful plastic surgeon. He lacks nothing that he needs, but he falls in with the wrong crowd. He makes friends with Vic Brady, a petty thief, and accompanies him on robberies. Things go well until Don shoots a security guard. Don is plagued by his conscience and wants to give himself in, but Vic won't allow it.

Compared with Ed Wood's other films this is very conventional. No flying saucers, no vampires, no monsters, and not even men in women's clothing. Among the actors are several of Ed Wood's regulars, including Lyle Talbot as the police inspector and Dolores Fuller as Don's sister. A typical Ed-Wood-ism is his lack of understanding of Roman numerals. The film was made in 1954, but the year on the splash screen is MCMXCI. That wasn't the biggest mistake he made in his films. He wasn't as bad a director as many people claim, but this film isn't his best.

The title refers to guns. The thought behind it is that if you carry a gun you'll end up in jail. Too true.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

This ain't the Expendables XXX (4 Stars)

This ain't a parody. Don't just take my word for it, buy it and see for yourself. The film is a remake of the original Expendables film, but in this version the mercenaries are women. Tera Patrick and Kimberley Kane are a lot better looking than Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

Tera Patrick had retired from the adult film industry for six years, but Axel Braun thought the role of Trench was perfect for her and persuaded her to come back. She made the film only five months after giving birth, but her figure is still perfect. Let's hope Axel can give her more roles. She said that she would like to play a super-hero. I think she would be perfect as Mantis in his next Avengers film.

Axel helps Tera with her lines.
Now she refuses to give him back his chair.
Kylie Ireland (Guns Jensen) sharpens her knife.
Kimberley Kane (Bailey Ross) wonders who to kill next.
Ryan Driller learns how to play Strip Backgammon.

This ain't Game of Thrones XXX (4 Stars)

As I frequently point out when reviewing Axel Braun's films, they aren't really parodies, whatever they write on the box. This is a rare exception. It's a hilarious comedy from beginning to end, featuring characters from the "Game of Thrones" series who know that they're in a TV show. While it's difficult to make a version of an epic series with only a small cast, the actors rise to the challenge. There are outstanding performances by all, especially Evan Stone as Tyrion Lannister and Ryan Driller as Jon Snow.

Brandi Love is more Cersei than Cersei.
The trouble with being a midget is that the beds are so high.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Captain America XXX (3¾ Stars)

Axel Braun has now left Vivid Entertainment, where he was in charge of the superhero parody division. This was a big loss for Vivid, since he was responsible for their biggest earning films, but the split was on good terms. Axel says that he wants more creative control, even though he seems to have been able to do whatever he wanted at Vivid. My guess is that he wanted to escape from the pressure of having to make superhero films. I'm sure he enjoys making them, but he wants the freedom to make other films, such as the fairy tale epics that he has recently begun. Don't worry, I'll review some of them over the next few weeks.

"Captain America XXX" was filmed before he left Vivid, but he promised to be available for any work in post-production before the release.

Baron Zemo has hired Batroc to acquire the Cosmic Cube. In the official Marvel films it's called the Tesseract, but Axel has got the name right. Captain America is helping SHIELD agents Sharon Carter, the Falcon and Quicksilver to steal the cube before Zemo gets his hands on it.

Quicksilver working for SHIELD? That's a strange idea. I don't think he ever did that in the comics. Usually Axel remains close to the source material. It was also surprising to see Hellcat working for Zemo. I always thought she was a hero, not a villain. In the opening scene the female soldier with Captain America was wearing an old-fashioned uniform, which made me think the film was set in the 1940's, but I soon realised that it's a present day film.

All the characters are dressed in accurate costumes. Just look at Batroc. Absolutely perfect. In "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" he wasn't wearing a costume at all. The Falcon also looks better than ever.

I almost gave this film four stars, but I knocked it down slightly because Quicksilver was such an unsavoury character. There was no need for him to be so nasty to Diamondback after he captured her. But then again, comic book heroes and villains are all about fighting. I would never be a successful super-hero, whatever powers I had. If a super-villainess confronted me I wouldn't be able to fight her, I'd just stand there and let her beat me up.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Scream 3 (5 Stars)

The final film in the Scream trilogy continues with the theme of a film within a film. Instead of seeing a film about the Woodsboro killings in the cinema, everything happens on the film set. The characters are introduced to the actors who play them. Ghostface returns, with someone else behind the mask. This time his identity is very symbolic of the meta-film plots that have been running through the film series. I won't give away who it is, but when he's unmasked you'll see what I mean.

While in the police station, Sidney opens the police file on herself and finds newspaper cuttings. They are very strange newspaper reports. The photos are of her, and the headlines are about her, but the reports themselves have nothing to do with her. Read them below, or click on the pictures to enlarge them. The first article is about an arms smuggler. The second article is about the resignation of a Chinese businessman, and the text repeats itself in the three columns. Sloppy.