Thursday, 28 August 2014

TV Series: Twin Peaks

Through the darkness of future past
The magician longs to see,
One chants out between two worlds,
"Fire, walk with me".

Agent Cooper lectures on Tibetan methods of detective work.

His colleagues are fascinated...

but only Lucy does her homework.

Falling Down (5 Stars)

This is one of my favourite films. I already reviewed it last year (this is the link), so I'll just add something personal that occurred to me while watching it today. It's something that I never noticed before. The misunderstood good guy, Bill Foster, reminds me of my father, while the police detective, Martin Prendergast, has similarities with me. Or rather, it's the relationships of my father and me with our wives. My father was a good man. He had many faults, he was difficult for me to get on with, but his motives were always good. I know that he loved me and my mother, even though he was unable to tell us. Just like Bill's wife in the film, my mother was afraid that my father might hit her. But he never did. It was just the way he looked at her, she claimed. After 24 years of marriage without the least bit of violence, shouldn't she have realised he would never have hit her? No. Years after his death she repeated the same accusations. "Your father never hit me, but he could have hit me, any time".

As for the detective, he's hampered in his work by a neurotic wife. I should have drawn the connection with myself years ago. My wife called me at work every day, often asking me to go shopping for her, because she was unable to manage the house by herself. Brigitte was never happy with me, she never thought I was doing enough, and she frequently expressed how much she hated me. I would have done anything for her, but she drove me away when I needed her most. She also needed me. She suffered greatly having to bring up four young children by herself. She still blames me for leaving her. 17 years later she still doesn't realise that I loved her and wanted to stay. Right up until the last minute I would have changed my mind if she had shown signs of wanting to make a new start.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

TV Series: Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks Train Station.

With love, Laura.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World (5 Stars)

In the second Jurassic Park film Richard Attenborough plays a smaller role. John Hammond, the man who founded the park, is now old and spends most of his time in bed. His nephew has now taken over the running of his company, Ingen. We only see Richard Attenborough at the beginning of the film, in his bedroom, and in the final scene in a television interview. Nevertheless, in these two short scenes he puts on a magnificent performance.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

TV Series: Twin Peaks

A policeman's dream.

Julee Cruise, the sound of Twin Peaks.

Jurassic Park (5 Stars)

After hearing the news of Richard Attenborough's death yesterday I decided to watch two of his films. I actually only own two films he appears in, namely the first two Jurassic Park films. They are both films that I have seen many times, but when I sat down to watch "Jurassic Park" this evening I paid special attention to his performance. There are small details that I never noticed before, details that probably hardly anyone has noticed, but they make a strong effect on the performance. For instance, when he talks about his flea circus on the streets of London his bottom lip is quivering. How does he do it? I can't make my lip quiver like that. It perfectly expresses the emotion that his character, John Hammond, is feeling at that point in the film.

Richard Attenborough was a magnificent actor. It's even more amazing if you remember what point this was in his career. He appeared in almost 60 films from 1942 to 1979. Then he took a break from acting for 14 years to concentrate on working as a director. "Jurassic Park" was the first film he made when he returned to acting at the age of 69, and he wasn't at all rusty. He still had the old magic. He wasn't the main character; in fact, he's in sixth place as far as the minutes of screen time go, but his performance makes the film. He was a giant of cinema who will never be forgotten. Rest in peace.

Richard Attenborough
August 29, 1923 – August 24, 2014

Monday, 25 August 2014

Lucy (4 Stars)

Today I went to see "Lucy", the new blockbuster from director Luc Besson. By my definition it's a French film, although most of the dialogue is in English. Since it takes place in three countries, America, France and Taiwan, parts of the dialogue were in Mandarin and French, which was annoyingly left unsubtitled. I expect this was deliberate, so that we can empathise with Lucy, a woman surrounded by people speaking languages she can't understand.

The film is about how a woman is accidentally given the ability to tap into the resources of her brain and utilise its capactites to 100%. She is forced to transport a new recreational drug, CPH4, by having a bag sewn into her abdomen. During a fight with one of her captors she's kicked in the stomach and the bag ruptures. This sparks a transformation, and she gradually begins to become more powerful, ultimately gaining Godlike abilities.

I enjoyed the film, but I have to admit that it has plot holes as big as the gaps in the sweaters my grandmother used to knit. At the beginning the drug is only to be sold as a recreational drug, but as the film progresses the crime boss seems to realise what has happened to Lucy. If he had known this, why didn't he ingest the drug himself? In the final scenes Lucy doesn't deal with the approaching criminals herself, because she doesn't want to be distracted. She could easily have incapacitated the criminals within seconds before going on with her work. This plot hole was just an excuse for the insertion of action scenes to make the film more attractive.

At only 90 minutes (minus credits) I felt that the film was rushed. If another half hour had been tagged on we could have had more character development. In particular, Morgan Freeman's character, Professor Norman, could have been fleshed out. Maybe Luc Besson wanted to avoid the mistakes made in "Transcendence", which dragged on too long. "Lucy" does deal with similar issues to "Transcendence", but with different moral conclusions.

"Lucy" further establishes Scarlett Johansson as one of Hollywood's most talented actresses. The film has flaws, but if you are prepared to overlook them you'll see that it contains a lot of fascinating ideas.

A word of thanks to Nick, my favourite employee at Cineworld in Birmingham. Today I panicked when I arrived at the cinema, because I realised that I'd forgotten my Unlimited Card. I asked him if I could get a refund by keeping the receipt and showing my card the next time I go, but he solved the problem a lot more easily. He said he would let me in without a ticket. That's great customer service, but I doubt it would work for everyone. Nick knows me because I often make complaints, usually about Cineworld not showing films I want to see.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Terminator 3 (4½ Stars)

Imagine if you knew you were going to do something important with your life. Something amazing. Maybe the most important thing anyone has ever done.

This is a film that I keep returning to. I was disappointed when I first saw it in the cinema, but it's grown on me. I admit that it doesn't live up to the high quality of the first two films, but it's still a good film, and I'll argue with anyone who says otherwise.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Big Sleep (4½ Stars)

This was Lauren Bacall's third film, and her second film with Humphrey Bogart, to whom she was now married. After only three films she was already typecast as a seductive bad girl. I don't say that to criticise her. She did it so well.

The film is based on a 1939 novel with the same name by Raymond Chandler. The film contains most of the characteristics of film noir, such as the cynical private detective working in a big city and the femme fatale. The book's plot is complex, and the film makes no attempt to simplify it.

A retired general hires private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) to investigate gambling debts that his younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) has had to pay to a bookshop owner, Arthur Geiger. Usually the general's personal aide, Sean Regan, would have carried out the investigations, but he disappeared a month earlier. By coincidence Sean used to be one of Philip's friends. Philip speaks with the general's older daughter Vivian (Lauren Bacall), who at first assumes Philip has been hired to search for Sean, but then becomes very curious when she finds out that he's doing something else.

Philip visits Arthur Geiger's house, but finds him dead. Only Carmen is in the room with the body. Carmen claims that Arthur was killed by Joe Brody, a gambler who had previously blackmailed her father. Joe now wants to blackmail Carmen, saying he will blame her for the murder. In the same evening the general's driver, Owen Taylor, is found dead. Philip goes to Joe's house, where he finds Joe with Vivian and Arthur's assistant Agnes. Carmen arrives and tries to shoot Joe, but Philip stops her. Then Joe is shot by Carol Lundgren, the general's former driver.

Philip meets Eddie Mars, the owner of an illegal casino and also Arthur's landlord. Eddie complains that Sean has run away with his wife. Carmen tells Philip that Vivian has been having an affair with Eddie. Philip confronts a man who has been tailing him. The man turns out to be Harry Jones, Agnes' lover. He says that Agnes is the only one who knows where Eddie's wife is hiding. Before the information can be revealed, Harry is killed by one of Eddie's men.

And so it continues. I hope I got all that right. The story confuses me as well. Philip's investigation begins with the gambling debts, but as the film continues it's no longer about the debts. Philip develops an obsession to find out what secrets are being hidden that drive the people to kill one another. All he can be certain of is that Vivian is in the middle of everything.

The film takes place in a very stylish world of trickery and deception. It's an unreal world. What I mean is that all woman we see, whether they are shop assistants or taxi drivers, are stunningly beautiful. And they all flirt with Philip, distracting him from his investigations. But whatever else happens, Philip's main interest is in Vivian. She's the most beautiful and the most dangerous of all the women around him. Whenever they talk it's like they're sparring with one another. He's trying to get information from her, while she is trying to cross-examine him. Vivian's laces her conversations with sexual innuendo in an attempt to wear Philip down.

To have and have not (4 Stars)

"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow".

This film carries the name of the author Ernest Hemingway on the poster, but the film has very little to do with his novel, apart from borrowing the names of the characters. In Hemingway's book Harry Morgan is an alcohol smuggler during the Prohibition who turns to smuggling Chinese immigrants into Florida. Somehow I think cinema audiences would have had problems sympathising with such a character. In the film Harry Morgan is an American living on the island of Martinique in 1940 who takes rich customers on fishing trips.

Martinique is a small island in the Caribbean which used to be a French colony. After Germany conquered France, a German-friendly government was installed on Martinique, and the German secret service became active on the island. The majority of the islanders hated the Germans and the puppet government, but they were afraid to do anything. Members of the French resistance sneaked onto the island to continue the fight against the Nazis. Harry just did his best to ignore the conflicts and carry on doing his business. In 1940 America was still independent, as far as the War in Europe was concerned, and so was Harry. This changes when he's desperate for cash and does a job picking up resistance fighters from another island. At first it's only for the money, but the cruel methods of the German occupiers make him sympathetic to the resistance's cause.

At the same time a young woman called Marie Browning arrives on the island, claiming to be from Brazil, although she has an American accent. She flirts with men in the hotel and steals their wallets while dancing. Harry is the first person to see what she's doing, but he promises not to expose her as long as she shares the money with him. He calls her Slim, a nickname that she hates, so she calls him Steve in return. The two fall in love, but Slim makes it clear from the beginning that she's in charge and has to do whatever she says. As an old school macho he repeatedly tells her what to do, but she refuses.

The bigger story is what was happening off screen. Harry Morgan was played by the famous Hollywood actor, Humphrey Bogart, now 44 and at the peak of his career. Marie Browning was played by a 19-year-old girl called Betty Perske in her first ever film role. They had met briefly on the set of "Passage to Marseille" a few months earlier, but their second meeting on February 29th, 1944 changed history. Humphrey was totally smitten with Betty, and he kissed her at the end of the day's filming. This was a shock to the other members of the cast, because he was known to be a perfect gentleman, not a man who would take advantage of an actress 25 years younger than himself. Apart from that, he was married, although it was a well known fact that he was having problems due to the excessive drinking of his wife, the actress Mayo Methot. Shortly after the film was completed, before it was released, the director Howard Hawks urged Betty Perske to change her name to the more glamorous sounding Lauren Bacall.

By the time the film was released there was a passionate affair between Humphrey and Lauren. Humphrey divorced Mayo on May 10th, 1945, and he married Lauren 11 days later. They were soul mates in the truest sense of the word and remained together until his death of cancer in 1957.

Switching Goals (2 Stars)

Sam and Emma Stanton are 12-year-old twin sisters who live in a town called Evanston. I'm not sure which Evanston is meant, because I saw a car with a Conneticut license plate, and there's no Evanston in that state, only in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Wyoming. The film was made in Canada, so I suppose they didn't know any better.

As in all of the films starring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the two girls look identical but have different personalities. Sam is good at sport, while Emma is more fashionable and attracts the boys. They're both jealous of one another. Sam wishes she could find a boyfriend, whereas Emma wishes she were better at sport so that she could gain more acceptance from their father, a soccer coach.

Until now the children's soccer teams have only been for boys, but now they have to accept female players as well. In order to please Emma, her Dad picks her for his team, the Hurricanes, which means that Sam has to play for another team. This is a big loss, because, as we see, Sam plays soccer better than any of the boys. Emma soon realises that she is letting her father down by playing in his team, so the two girls agree to swap clothes to change places. But while they're masquerading as one another Greg, a boy who wanted to date Emma, ends up taking Sam out.

The deception doesn't last long. The girls are exposed, and they have to play for their own teams again. Luckily Emma has some talent after all. During games she flirts with boys on the other side, and while they are distracted her team mates can score goals.

Maybe young teenagers would like this film. It doesn't appeal to me. On the contrary, I find it disturbing that the two girls are so precocious at their young age. Do girls really date boys when they're 12? And more to the point, do their parents allow it?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Master (4 Stars)

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is an American sailor in the Second World War. When the war is over he is traumatised by his experiences and is unable to settle down. After doing a series of jobs he stows away in a yacht one night. When he wakes up the yacht is at sea, and he meets the yacht's owner, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Far from being angry, Lancaster offers Freddie work on the yacht, and he also invites him to his daughter's wedding. Freddie soon discovers that Lancaster is the leader of a cult called The Cause, and the other passengers on the yacht call him Master.

Freddie becomes a close friend of Lancaster and joins the cult, even though the other members warn Lancaster against him. They think that Freddie is unwilling to get over his alcohol addiction and become a better man. Freddie also has problems with aggression. Whenever anyone insults Lancaster or The Cause Freddie beats him up. Lancaster says that he doesn't approve of violence, but makes no attempt to stop Freddie doing it again.

The fictional cult, The Cause, is obviously based on Scientology. In The Cause people advance through psychoanalysis rather than meditation. It is taught that perfection can only be attained by remembering and dealing with things that happened in past lives. Apart from the similarity in the teachings, the film mirrors conflicts that Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard had with his son and other family members.

The film created controversy as soon as it was announced. The similarities to Scientology were enough to make many cult members angry. Legal proceedings were avoided by never claiming the film was about Scientology, even though everyone knew it was. Apart from this, the film isn't directly about the cult; the central character is Freddie Quell, and it follows his spiritual journey, while The Cause and its members remain in the background, sometimes helping, sometimes hindering him.

The powerful performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman won them Oscar nominations. The only thing I would fault is that the film has no resolution. Freddie drifts into The Cause, remains a while and drifts back out with almost nothing to show for it. He hasn't become a better man. On the other hand, I'm sure that this was intentional. Other films by Paul Thomas Anderson, which he both writes and directs, have the same style. One of the things that screenwriters learn is that the characters in their scripts should follow arcs. They should start the film as one person and end as another. In a typical character arc a person begins either as weak or morally objectionable, and then the film presents challenges, at the end of which the person is stronger or a better person. This might be good storytelling, but is it the way real life works? Not necessarily. There's nothing wrong with experimental films that do without character arcs, but to me personally I feel that something is lacking.

Off-Topic: Internet Censorship

Under the "right to be forgotten" ruling by the European Court of Justice, people can request Google to omit topics or individual web pages from search results. For instance, in 2001 Patrick McVeigh, the sales director of the Yorkshire Post, vandalised a shop in Leeds, attacked the owner and stole several items. His brother Terence also took part in the crime. They were both jailed for nine months. Newspaper reports about this incident still exist online, but Patrick would like them to disappear, i.e. he would like to pretend it never happened. After all, information like this could be harmful to his career.

This is the article that Patrick McVeigh has requested to be removed. It was written on The Guardian's website by Martin Wainwright on February 8th, 2001.

Leeds fans jailed over shop attack

Two businessmen were jailed yesterday for smashing up an Asian-owned corner shop during last year's tense Uefa Cup clash between Leeds United and the Turkish champions Galatasaray.

Patrick McVeigh, who was advertising sales director at the Yorkshire Post at the time, and his brother Terence, who worked for a mobile phone company in Leeds, were given nine month terms for the "mindless" attack.

Leeds crown court heard that the two men went berserk in Holbeck Wines off-licence on April 20 last year, hours before the second leg of the European fixture at United's nearby Elland Road stadium. Tension was high in the city after the deaths of two Leeds fans two weeks earlier in Istanbul, during violence before the first round.

Ian Skelt, for the prosecution, said that the McVeighs were part of a gang who invaded the shop in front of the terrified Patel family who ran it, and tore it apart. Patrick, 30, and Terence, 35, initially started grabbing beer bottles from a fridge while others created a diversion, he said.

When the Patels protested, Terence McVeigh reached up to remove a closed circuit TV security camera. Mr Skelt said: "At about that point one of the group threw a bottle, narrowly missing Mrs Patel's head. Mr Patel sustained a cut lip".

Patrick McVeigh then overturned the shop till and swept goods off the shelves.

The men were later identified from video footage taken outside Elland Road, where other Leeds fans attacked police and journalists.

Both brothers pleaded guilty to causing affray and were also ordered to pay £300 each in compensation.

Anthony Kelbrick, defending Patrick McVeigh, said that an "exemplary life with numerous achievements" had been marred by a moment of drunken madness. He had also been depressed at the time over the death of an uncle whom he had treated like a father. He has been sacked by the Yorkshire Post.

Bryan Cox, for Terence McVeigh, said that alcohol and emotion about the fatal stabbings in Istanbul had influenced his client's behaviour.

Passing sentence, Judge Stephen Gillick told the brothers: "This was not high-spirited drunkenness. It was violent and terrifying conduct".

He added: "The only way courts can protect premises such as this from mindless hooligans is to make it clear to you and others that, drunk or not, depressed or not, good character or not, well paid or not, if they are brought to justice inevitably a sentence of imprisonment will be imposed".

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Thursday, 14 August 2014

How to marry a millionaire (3 Stars)

After hearing about Lauren Bacall's death I decided to watch at least one of her films, preferably one I hadn't seen before. It's amazing that out of her more than 50 films only six are available on Netflix. As you probably know, her main films were made in the 1940's and 1950's. In later films she only played minor roles, for instance Paul Sheldon's agent in "Misery". Of the six films carried by Netflix, only one of her classic films is included, namely "How to marry a millionaire" from 1953. Marilyn Monroe was given the main billing as the most famous actress of the time, and even today the DVD releases only show Marilyn on the cover, but it's obvious on watching the film that she's just a supporting actress.

Schatze Page (Lauren Bacall), Pola Debevoise (Marilyn Monroe) and Loco Dempsey (Betty Grable) are three young models in New York. After being divorced from a poor man who worked in a gas station Schatze wants to make a new start. She's determined to marry a millionaire. Preferably an older man, so that he'll die and leave her the money. To make sure that she meets the right sort of people, she moves into a luxury penthouse apartment with Pola and Loco. Even with the three of them contributing towards the rent it's still too expensive, so Schatze sells the apartment's furniture (which doesn't belong to her).

Even though Pola and Loco are in on the plan, they're not as focussed. Schatze introduces them to rich old millionaires, but they prefer handsome young men. Ironically, Schatze has to fight off the advances of a sloppily dressed young man, not realising that he's one of the richest men in the city.

Which one would you marry? Tough choice.

For me, when I think of Lauren Bacall I associate her with Hollywood's film noir period. To me she was the ultimate femme fatale of the 1940's. "How to marry a millionaire" is very different. I have to admit that I didn't enjoy it very much. It was promoted as a comedy, but apart from the slapstick scenes centred around Pola being short sighted I didn't find it funny. The film seems to be more about presenting eye candy to the audience. For instance, the scene where the three girls are modelling various outfits in a New York store is unnecessarily long. Maybe I'll watch a more typical Lauren Bacall film in the next few days.

Lauren Bacall
September 16, 1924 – August 12, 2014

Bicentennial Man (5 Stars)

I would rather die a man than live for all eternity as a machine.

This is the third film I've watched this week starring Robin Williams. It's always been my favourite out of all his films, but watching it today has struck me just how good it is. It ought to be in my top 10 films list. Most critics have given it bad reviews, complaining about it being overly sentimental. That's the film's strength. It's a film that always makes me cry, however often I watch it.

The film, based on a short story by Isaac Asimov, begins in the near future: the year 2005. That's the film's one major mistake. Scriptwriters and directors should learn that when setting a film in the future that uses future technology the year shouldn't be precisely specified, just in case the film is still being watched after that date and the technology isn't available. In the case of "Bicentennial Man" it was an unnecessary blunder. The film was made in 1999, only six years earlier, and it should have been apparent at the time that the robots in the film wouldn't be invented so soon.

Anyway, the film begins with the delivery of a robot to the wealthy Martin family. The robot is played by Robin Williams, although at this stage of the film he's only recognisable by his voice. He's given the name Andrew, and he is put to work as a servant, cleaning and cooking for the family. As the company that sells him describes Andrew, he's a household appliance. But it soon becomes clear that he's more than this. He develops artistic skills, and he spends his free time listening to opera. Andrew becomes especially attached to the family's 7-year-old daughter Amanda, who he calls Little Miss.

The film is told in episodes over the next 200 years. I don't want to describe the plot at length, except to say that Andrew requests repeated modifications, "upgrades", which are all intended to make him step by step more human. This is Andrew's burning desire in life, to be a human and no longer a machine.

The film is perfectly structured. Many films that are told in episodes stretched over a period of time seem disjointed. Not "Bicentennial Man". We stay connected to the Martin family over five generations as the family members are born, grow old and die. This is a brilliant film. Whatever the critics say.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Insomnia (2002 version) (4 Stars)

You don't get to pick when you tell the truth. The truth's beyond that.

This is the second film I've watched this week starring Robin Williams. As far as I know it's unique among his films. This is the only film in which he plays the bad guy. When Robin Williams first appears on screen, almost an hour into the film, our first instinct is to like him. After all, it's Robin Williams! It's a mark of his acting ability that he's subtly able to convince us he's an utterly reprehensible character, and by the end of the film we're desperate to see him arrested or killed.

Detectives Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are sent from Los Angeles to Nightmute, Alaska to help the local police solve the murder of a teenage girl. This is partly because the Nightmute police have had no experience of dealing with murders, but also to get Detective Dormer away from Los Angeles. The police's internal affairs division has suspicions that Dormer has been cutting corners to get convictions. However, on the plane Eckhart tells Dormer that he intends to testify against Dormer when they return to Los Angeles.

Dormer sets a trap and lures the killer to a cabin by the sea. The area is extremely foggy, and in the confusion Dormer accidentally shoots Eckhart. He realises that he might be blamed for deliberately killing his partner, so he fakes the evidence to make it look like the killer fired the shot. A day later the killer, a murder mystery author called Walter Finch (Robin Williams), rings Dormer and confesses to murdering the girl. But Finch saw Dormer shoot his partner, so he blackmails him to protect himself from arrest. Together Dormer and Finch make a plan to plant evidence of the murder on the girl's ex-boyfriend. Dormer's judgement is confused by a lack of sleep, due to the sun shining all day in the Arctic Circle.

This film is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film with the same name. In lesser hands it would have been a disaster, but Christopher Nolan ably recreates it. The original takes place in Tromso, Norway, but the main differences are in the film's moral undertones. In the American film Detective Dormer is a good man who has sometimes done bad things to solve cases. The end justifies the means. In the original the detective's dark side is emphasised, and we have greater difficulty sympathising with him. As well as this, the film ends differently in the two versions. I don't want to give the story away by going into details. All I'll say is that the American film ties everything up neatly, whereas the Norwegian film leaves open ends.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

What dreams may come (4½ Stars)

This is the first of a few films that I'll be re-watching to commemorate Robin Williams' death. "What dreams may come" is an obvious first choice, since it deals with the death and afterlife of a character that he plays.

Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams) meets Annie Collins (Annabella Sciorra) while on vacation in Switzerland. It's love at first sight. They marry within weeks. After this the film fast-forwards to a time when they have two children. The children die in a road accident. Four years later Chris is also killed in an accident. This is where the film begins.

After a few days of lingering on Earth, watching his wife and the others he has left behind, Chris finds himself in an afterlife which is based on his own imagination. He lives in the beautiful scenery of a picture that his wife has painted. The afterlife is a mosaic of connected areas that each dead person has created for himself. He can either stay in his own area or visit others. A former acquaintance, Albert, acts as his guide through the new world.

A few weeks later Albert informs Chris that Annie has died, but he can't see her because she has committed suicide, and all who commit suicide go to Hell. Albert refuses to accept this. He travels into the depths of Hell to find his wife.

This is a very beautiful film, both the imagery and the romantic elements. At its core it's a love story. Love is stronger than death. The theological aspects of the film are interesting. Heaven is whatever you want it to be. That's a slushy notion which very few religions or philosophies would accept unconditionally, but in the context of the film it doesn't matter. While watching the film I made notes of quotes that I found relevant, mostly words spoken by Albert, the spirit guide. Any of these quotes could be used as the introduction to a lengthy philosophical discussions

"Thought is real. Physical is the illusion".

"It's not all fire and pain. The real Hell is your life gone wrong".

"What's true in our minds is true, whether other people know it or not".

"You can see the dead in your dreams if you want to".

R.I.P. Robin Williams

Yesterday Robin Williams was found dead in his home, presumably as a result of suicide. I expect that the exact cause of death will be given in the next few days. One thing that I can say for certain is that he was a tortured soul. No amount or fame or riches can make a person immune to depression.

The best tribute I can give to Robin Williams is to talk about what he meant to me, as a film fan. When I hear his name, the first image that springs to mind is a scene from the Academy Awards about 10 years ago. He was sitting in the audience smiling, presumably amused by a bad joke told by the host. He looked so happy at the time. I can't remember what year it was or what films won awards that year, but I remember his face.

The first time I became aware of Robin Williams was round about 1995. That's probably later than most people, but at the time I lived in Germany and rarely went to the cinema. My real passion for films didn't begin until 2003, when I bought my first DVD player. My friend Robert Young, who lived in the same village as me, invited me to his apartment, and we watched "Mrs. Doubtfire" on video together. This was the first of many films that I saw him appear in.

People who know his career better than me refer to him as a comedian. I think of him as an actor, who has appeared in many outstanding roles. He was a talented actor who brought depth and emotion to whatever character he played. My favourite film of his is "Bicentennial Man", which I'll probably watch in the next few days. He may have left this Earth, but in his films he will live on forever.

Robin Williams
July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014

Terminator 2 (5 Stars)

This is one of the best films ever made. The mix of action, drama and mind-bending time paradoxes makes it a masterpiece. It's difficult to decide which is better, the first or the second Terminator film. They both have a lot that speaks for them. The original film followed the pattern of horror films, an unstoppable killer, but the second film is a more typical science fiction film.

The paradoxes build up here. We find out that Miles Dyson was the man responsible for the invention of the artificial intelligence that led to the creation of the Terminators. But he could only do this by copying the structure of a CPU that was salvaged from the brain of a Terminator sent back from the future. You see the problem?

Today I watched the longest version of the film, the so-called Skynet Edition. This has a final scene showing Sarah Connor in 2027 with John and her grandson. This contradicts the beginning of "Terminator 3", which takes place in the early 2000's when Sarah is already dead. Oops. But I guess "Terminator 3" continues from the theatrical version of "Terminator 2".

I've heard rumours about a reboot of the Terminator franchise. I admit that this would be preferable to making a sequel to the awful fourth film, but it still worries me. How can anything new stand up to the near perfection of the first two films?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Magnolia (4 Stars)

Things go round and round.

This is a film that I find it very difficult to write about. It tells several unrelated stories, only connected by the fact that they all take place on the same day, and some of the people know each other. A recurring theme in the stories is the alienation between children and their parents. And then there are the frogs falling from the sky.

It's a fascinating film that kept me glued to the screen from beginning to end. But when it finished I had an empty feeling. I was expecting the stories to be somehow linked together in a final scene, but they weren't. That was the point. Things happen side by side every day. We don't live in a well-scripted cinematic universe. When I leave home in the morning I say hello to my neighbours. It could be that several of us have intense personal dramas before we go to bed in the evening. And yet the only connection between these dramas was a simple greeting in the morning.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Happiness of the Katakuris (4 Stars)

This film, directed by Takashi Miike in 2001, is a remake of the Korean film "The Quiet Family". It's a unique film for the eccentric director. It's the only comedy he's made, and it's also his only musical. The random songs remind me of Bollywood films rather than American musicals. They start at the least expected moments, usually dealing with subjects like death and murder.

After working for years as a shoe salesman Masao Katakuri is fired, and his severance pay is just enough for him to buy a guest house in a remote area. He hopes that one day a main road will be built close to the house, but if it doesn't happen he's facing bankruptcy. He runs the guest house as a family business with his wife, his father, his two children. Also living in the house are his granddaughter and his dog Pochi. Don't forget the dog, he's important to the story!

The guest house's first few guests all die, either by suicide or accidental deaths. Masao doesn't want to call the police, because he thinks that bad publicity will keep people away from his guest house. Instead of this he persuades his family to bury the bodies. The only person who suspects anything is Richard Sagawa, a con man who is attempting to marry Masao's daughter Shizue. But he can't inform the police, because he's a wanted criminal.

As a rather absurd comedy it's enjoyable. I find the claymation sequences out of place, although other reviewers seem to like them.

The poster that I've used above is misleading. The film has nothing at all to do with "Dawn of the Dead". The dead bodies don't really come back to life. They just jump out of their graves to take part in the musical numbers. After that they go back to rest.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Life Stinks (4 Stars)

It's good to be alive. There's so many things you can't do when you're dead. (sic)

"Life Stinks" is somewhat untypical for the films directed by Mel Brooks. Usually he makes parodies, but this is only a comedy. Having said that, the film does have a serious message, especially to me, because I can relate to what the main character is going through.

Goddard Bolt, played by Mel Brooks himself, is the richest man in Los Angeles. At a meeting with his lawyers he tells them that he owns half of the city's slum quarter, and he plans to buy the other half that is currently owned by the city. He wants to build a flagship building complex for his company, Bolt Enterprises. The meeting is interrupted by Goddard's biggest rival, Vance Craswell. Vance says that he's just bought the city's half of the slums, and he wants to buy Goddard's half, so that he can build new luxury apartments for the rich. The meeting is deadlocked, with both men refusing to sell to the other. Vance offers a wager. He says that if Goddard can live for 30 days in the slums as a penniless homeless person he'll give him his half of the land; otherwise Goddard has to hand over his half.

And so the city's richest man has to live on the streets, begging for money and food. The film is intended to be a comedy, but I couldn't laugh. It was like seeing my own life. I was never a billionaire, but I had always been relatively wealthy, richer than most. Then my life came crashing down around me and I lived on the streets, sleeping first under a canal bridge, then in an abandoned factory. Then I was admitted to a hospital, where I was treated badly. Just like Goddard in the film, who was almost killed by being given the wrong medication. Goddard's time of suffering lasted 30 days, followed by a few days in hospital. I was on the streets for about the same time, but I had to spend 17 months in hospital.

So I can't laugh at Goddard's plight. Although I can appreciate his improved outlook as a result of his suffering. Life doesn't stink. It's good to be alive, even if you're living on the streets. There are so many things you can't do when you're dead.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Evil Dead (2013 version) (4 Stars)

This is a remake of the classic 1981 horror film with the same name. I don't like to generalise when it comes to remakes. Some are bad, some good, and a few are even better than the original.

As in the original film, five teenagers (two boys and three girls) go to spend some time in a remote cabin in the woods. In the original it was just a vacation, but in this film it's four teenagers taking their friend Mia to an isolated place to get over her drug addiction. They refer to the drug as "dope", which is a generic term for several drugs in the USA, but judging by her extreme withdrawal symptoms it must be heroin. The teenagers find a strange book in the cellar, and one of the boys reads it aloud, leading to Mia being possessed by a demon.

What is it about books written in foreign languages and illustrated by mystical symbols? Why do teenage boys feel compelled to read the words aloud, even though they don't understand what they're saying? I wouldn't do that. Would anyone? Or does it just happen in films?

I gave the first film five stars when I reviewed it in February 2011, and I've only given the remake four stars. I don't know if I'm doing the right thing. The original was a classic, it was a film that's important in film history, but is this film any worse? It's different. It was made with a $17 million budget, compared with $90,000 for the original version. It's a very modern film. There's a lot of gore, with realistic special effects. The gore is pushed to the limit, surpassing anything seen in the original film. Normally I don't like horror films that rely on gore rather than suspense, but in the case of "Evil Dead" that's what the film is all about. If the original was a classic horror film of the VHS tape generation, the new version is a classic of the Blu-ray generation. Sam Raimi's collaboration as producer has made sure that the film didn't end up looking like a cheap imitation of the original. Four stars is all I'm giving it today, but I might increase the rating next time I watch it.

While watching the film I was trying to guess who would be the Bruce Campbell. What I mean is that in the original film one character survived for the sequels, namely Ash, played by the legendary Bruce Campbell. Evidently the film makers expected viewers to be thinking this way, because there were false clues, and we didn't find out who was the Bruce Campbell until close to the end.

Apart from that, the real Bruce Campbell appears in the film in a brief cameo. If you blink you'll miss him.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Passion (3 Stars)

"There's no backstabbing here. It's just business".

This quote, so significant that it's repeated twice in the film, doesn't mean what it says. What it really means is "There's a lot of backstabbing here, but get over it, in business it happens all the time".

Only two actresses made it onto the poster, but it's actually a tale of three women. Christine (Rachel McAdams) is the head of the Berlin branch of an international advertising company. Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) and Dani (Karoline Herfurth) are top employees who work for her. Christine is seriously screwed up. When she has sex with men she fucks them with a strap-on, while making them wear a mask and blonde wig so that she thinks she is fucking herself. That's an extraordinary form of narcissism.

Isabelle has an idea for a big advertising campaign, which she films together with Dani. Christine presents it to the New York bosses as her own idea. At the first possible opportunity Isabelle lets them know that she thought it up. A vicious rivalry develops between the two women, which is complicated by the fact that they desire one another. Apart from that, Isabelle has had an affair with Christine's boyfriend Dirk. And Dani is in love with Isabelle. It's a love triangle between the three women, with Dirk as a drunken buffoon in the middle of them.

Christine is found dead in her apartment. Isabelle is blamed, even though she swears she's innocent. Did she do it or not?

This is a remake of the 2010 French film "Love Crime". As film flops go, this film is up there with the best. The film's budget was $30 million, but it only earned $1.3 million at the box office. It's difficult to see where the money was spent. The film looks and feels like a cheap made-for-television movie. Director Brian de Palma is obviously trying to emulate Alfred Hitchcock's cinematography in his close-ups and camera angles, but it seems awkward rather than artistic. As erotic thrillers go the lead actresses are very un-erotic. They're pretty, but not sexy.

Noomi Rapace kisses Rachel McAdams.
Noomi Rapace kisses Karoline Herfurth.
Rachel McAdams kisses Karoline Herfurth.
All these kisses took place in the office during working hours. I wish I worked in the advertising industry. I wouldn't mind being the drunken buffoon in the middle, waiting to be used when the women have stopped kissing one another.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Emperor (3 Stars)

Revenge is not the same thing as justice.

This is the true story of the events of September 1945. After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan had surrendered, and was now being occupied by America. General MacArthur travelled to Tokyo with two aims. First, he had to round up war criminals for execution, and second he had to establish a new government to rule Japan as a peaceful nation. He gave his aide General Fellers the task of finding evidence about Emperor Hirohito's role in the war, effectively to decide whether he should be executed or not.

At first glance it might have seemed clear cut. Hirohito was Japan's leader, so why shouldn't he have been guilty? On the other hand, he was only 18 years old, and 14 at the time Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. As the investigations continued it became more and more unclear. He was considered a living God by the Japanese, and as such he was above the mundane issues of political decisions. He was present at top government meetings, but traditionally he remained silent.

General Bonner Fellers was the ideal man for the job, since he had a deep knowledge of Japanese culture. He had written a paper on "The Mentality of the Japanese Soldier", not an easy topic for a Westerner to understand. Apart from this, while at college he had dated a Japanese girl. The end result of his investigations led to Hirohito continuing as Japanese Emperor until 1989. 

General MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito, September 17, 1945

As my regular readers know, I'm fascinated by Japanese culture, so this film was of great interest to me. There are first class performances by Tommy Lee Jones as Douglas MacArthur and Matthew Fox as Bonner Fellers. I almost didn't recognise Matthew Fox in the film, because his face has become more gaunt since he starred in "Lost". My main criticism of the film is that not enough happens. It has the style of a courtroom drama, as the investigations into Hirohito's past continue, but there aren't enough key events to have the plot twists typical for that genre. The flashbacks to General Fellers' love affair seem out of place, as if intended to pad the film's 100 minutes rather than supply character depth. Another problem is that the film doesn't use Hirohito's age as a mitigating factor. He had become emperor on the day of his birth in December 1926. When Japan invaded China in 1937 he may have been Japan's ruler, but he was only 10 years old. To what degree was he responsible?