Friday, 31 July 2015

The Legend of 1900 (5 Stars)

God's piano. It's a music I don't know how to make.

TV Series: Smallville

This is a snapshot of a newspaper shown in episode 2 of the sixth season of "Smallville". You can click on the photo to enlarge it. As you can see, the text from the first column is repeated in the third column. There's also a spelling mistake in the third column, the last word before the headline. Maybe it's a grammatical mistake, depending on your definition. Sloppy.

Maggie (3 Stars)

Happy birthday, Arnold Schwarzenegger! Yes, he's 68 years old today. I hope he's had a wonderful day, and it's only right that I should go to see his latest film in the cinema today.

This is a different sort of role for the former governor of California. He doesn't play the action hero that we've grown used to over the last 30 years. There's only one brief fight scene during the film, and he comes off worse.

It's a film about zombies, but it's not a horror film. It's a deeply moving family drama. In the near future a virus has spread across the world that creates necroambulism. I love that word! Despite 30% of the population being infected and turned into zombies, the plague is now under control. Those who are infected are captured, quarantined and humanely killed. There is no cure for the virus, so being bitten by a zombie is a death sentence.

Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a farmer in Louisiana. He finds out that his daughter Maggie has been bitten by a zombie. Due to the lengthy incubation period before a zombie becomes contagious -- up to eight weeks -- he's allowed to take her home. The film follows the last few weeks that father and daughter stay together as her condition slowly deteriorates.

Let me say clearly that this isn't a bad film. It's an extremely well written and well acted film. Yet it's difficult to enjoy. The film is so depressing. Maybe for the first 15 minutes the audience hoped there would be a happy ending, but after that it became obvious that the situation would only spiral downwards towards a tragic ending. The film seems destined to become a flop at the box office. There were only 15 people in the cinema today, and nine of them were members of my film group. After the film we were stunned. None of us actually said it was a bad film, but none of us could say that we were glad we had seen it. That's the reason for my low rating. I respect the film, but I can't say that I liked it.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Inside Out (4 Stars)

I don't often watch animated films. I'm not sure why I have an aversion to them. It's not because they're (usually) children's films. I have no problems watching films aimed at younger audiences. There's just something that keeps me away from them. Nevertheless, I was curious about "Inside Out" from the beginning. The trailer amused me with its psychological implications. I was also curious because of its massive box office success in other countries. It wasn't released in the United Kingdom until the end of July, more than a month after the USA and most other countries, so I had been reading about its success for weeks.

The film is about an 11-year-old girl called Riley and her move from Minnesota to San Francisco. More than that, it's about the voices in her head that are responsible for guiding her life. These voices represent the five basic emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger. They sit at a control panel in Riley's head looking out through her eyes and taking turns in guiding her actions. Joy is the main emotion, and she tries to keep the activities of her four companions to a minimum. In particular, Sadness is not allowed to do anything.

Everything that Riley does is consolidated into memories, coloured balls representing one of the five personalities. The most important memories are stored as core memories that define Riley's personality. Joy considers it a success when these memories are yellow, her own colour. Very few are purple (Fear), green (Disgust) or red (Anger). None are allowed to be blue (Sadness). These core memories are divided between five islands that define the five major aspects of her life: Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island and Goofball Island. So far so good.

The real problems begin when Riley's family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, into an ugly little house. Joy refuses to let Sadness express herself and keeps Riley unnaturally happy. Are you starting to see the psychological implications of the film? Sadness doesn't actually rebel against being suppressed, but she begins to interfere with the core memories out of boredom, corrupting them. A series of accidents leads to Joy and Sadness losing their place in Riley's head, followed by the personality islands being destroyed. Most of the film is based on Joy and Sadness teaming up to find a way back into Riley's head. At the risk of giving away spoilers, we see that Riley can only become a healthy, balanced person when Sadness is allowed in her life.

The film's strength is its balance between comedy and serious messages. The film is humorous throughout, so I laughed at everything that happened, and the deeper implications of what was happening only sank in a few seconds later. I can imagine these five voices in my own head guiding my life. I wonder which one is in control in my life.

There was a young girl sitting close to me in the cinema, probably about 6 or 7 years old, accompanied by her father and grandfather. I noticed that she laughed in several places, though not as often as me. I wonder how much of it she really understood. "Inside Out" might be appealing to children because of the cartoon characters, but it contains very adult messages. It's probably more suitable for children from 12 upwards.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Ruby Red (4 Stars)

Verdammt noch geiler als Harry Potter!

Teenage fantasies are in at the moment, in books and films. Usually they're aimed at young female readers, so the central character is a teenage girl. The trend started with "Twilight", but there's also "Divergent" and "The Hunger Games". Since this is a big money-spinner in America, it's no surprise that Germany has jumped on the bandwagon. The German authoress Kerstin Gier has written a trilogy of books called "Liebe geht durch alle Zeiten", literally "Love lasts through all times", but called the Ruby Red Trilogy in English. The three books, entitled "Ruby Red", "Sapphire Blue" and "Emerald Green", have sold millions of copies.

The film takes place in London. On Gwendolyn's 16th birthday she discovers she has the ability to travel through time. She's told that this is because she belongs to the Montrose family, and in each generation one girl has this ability. It's usual for the girl to be prepared from birth, but Gwendolyn wasn't prepared because she was adopted as a baby after the disappearance of her parents. She is the 12th time traveller, and according to prophecies she is the last. There is also a De Villiers family, in which one boy inherits this ability. The latest is Gideon de Villiers, now 18. Left to themselves the special teenagers leap randomly into the past. A secret organisation in London, known only as The Lodge, has built a machine called a chronograph which can control which date they travel to. For unknown reasons the Lodge is collecting blood samples from the 12 time travellers (six female and six male).

The 9th and 10th time travellers, Gwendolyn's parents, were renegades. They stole the chronograph and all 10 blood samples. The Lodge built a new chronograph and managed to collect new blood samples from six of the time travellers. The Lodge sends Gwendolyn and Gideon on missions into the past to gather the missing blood samples, including from Gwendolyn's parents, who are still teenagers and fleeing through time.

The Lodge's greatest enemy is a religious order called the Florentine Alliance, which is trying to capture and kill the time travellers. When Gwendolyn asks why she's told that it's a battle between good and evil. But she begins to wonder which side is good and which is evil.

"Ruby Red" is a fascinating film with an intricate plot. It has touches of humour, such as Gwendolyn showing her best friend Leslie, a history geek, the photos that she took while visiting the past. That will get Leslie top marks in her next essay. It's a shame the film has never been released in England. The German DVD has English dubbing, which I listened to for a few minutes. Overall it's good quality, except for the person doing Gwendolyn's voice. It sounds too old for a 16-year-old, and the accent irritates me. English dubbing is never up to the standard of German dubbing.

All external scenes in the film were shot on location in London. For internal scenes buildings in Germany were used. I must admit that it seems strange for a film to have schoolchildren in London speaking German, but after a while I got used to it.

The second film in the trilogy, "Sapphire Blue", was in the cinemas in 2014. The third part is scheduled to be released in April 2016.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Stereo (4 Stars)

After the death of his wife Erik Keppler leaves Berlin and moves to a remote village in the east of Germany. It's a complete new start for him. He gives up his career as a cook and opens a garage where he repairs motorcycles. He finds a new girlfriend, Julia, and he loves Julia's daughter as if she were his own, but he's reluctant to settle down. Julia's father is a policeman and is at first suspicious of a strange man moving from the big city to the middle of nowhere, but they grow to like one another.

Then two strangers appear in Erik's life. The first is a Russian called Gaspar who asks Erik to return to Berlin to kill someone. Erik refuses at first, but Gaspar threatens to harm Julia and her family if he doesn't agree. The second stranger is a hooded man called Henry, who advises Erik to kill Gaspar. The problem is that nobody else can see Henry. Erik thinks he's going mad and visits a psychiatrist. Of course, anyone who knows that what he's seeing isn't real isn't mad. People who are mad believe the illusions.

From this point the story becomes increasingly complex. Gaspar is killed, but other Russians visit Erik who are even more aggressive towards him. Henry pleads with Erik to leave Julia and flea to another part of the country. Erik visits an alternative doctor who treats mental illnesses by a mixture of acupuncture and hypnosis, and the needles seem to hurt Henry as they're pushed into Erik's body. Erik is caught up in a nightmare, and he has no idea why he's the centre of everything that's happening.

This is a bizarre German thriller. It's not quite a horror film, it's not quite a fantasy, it's surreal and defies strict categorisation. Somehow I can't shake the impression that the main point of the film wasn't to tell a story, it was to put the actors Jürgen Vogel (Erik) and Moritz Bleibtreu (Henry) on the screen together. They're two of Germany's biggest actors, but they have never appeared together in a film, apart from "Quellen des Lebens", and even in that they didn't appear in the same scenes. It's not clear why the film is called "Stereo", unless it refers to two men, Erik and Henry, side by side, seeing the world together but each from a slightly different angle.

An interesting film. Curious. Unsettling. But interesting. I need to watch it again.

Friday, 24 July 2015

The White Masai (4½ Stars)

This film is based on the first volume of the autobiography of Corinne Hofmann, which sold more than four million copies worldwide. The names of the characters have been changed for the film, but the dates and places are the same.

In 1986 Carola Lehmann went to Kenya on holiday with her boyfriend. While there she became infatuated with Lemalien, a Sambura warrior that she saw dressed in his traditional tribal clothing. On the spur of the moment she decided not to go home to Switzerland. Instead, she moved to Lemalien's remote village and married him.

At first things go well for Carola. Then she realises that life with Lemalien isn't as easy as she imagined. The cultural differences are overwhelming. It's a patriarchal society where the women have to work to support their husbands. The men sometimes go hunting, but they eat the best food among themselves and only give the women the scraps. Carola opens a store to support her family, but this leads to even more problems. Lemalien grows insanely jealous when he sees her smiling at male customers, and he accuses her of having a lover.

The film was made on location in Kenya. Apart from the main actors, extras were used from the Sambura tribe for the sake of realism. The cast and crew lived with the Samburas while they made the film to learn about their lives and their culture.

The panoramic scenery of the film is overwhelming. Obviously the director, Hermine Huntgeburth, fell in love with the beauty of the Kenyan wilderness, and she did her best to present it at every possible opportunity.

Just as overwhelming is Nina Hoss's beauty in the main role as Carola. I've always been fascinated by her face, and the film offers many close-ups. Please forgive me for the many screenshots that I've decided to share with you.

Lemalien is played by the French African actor Jacky Ido. He puts on an amazing performance, considering this was his first film. Since then he's appeared in about a dozen French films, but he's best known for his role as the projectionist in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds". He also has an important role in the German film "West" as the American secret service agent John Bird.

The film was released in America in 2005, but is sadly already out of print. It's still available in Germany, but the German edition doesn't contain English subtitles. Sorry.

Maybe the film's one fault is that Nina Hoss doesn't have a Swiss accent. She's from Germany and was born in Stuttgart. She doesn't speak the local Stuttgart accent (Swabian) in the film, she speaks Hochdeutsch, "high German". The DVD contains an interview with Corinne Hofmann, and she has a strong Swiss accent. It was probably better that Nina didn't try to imitate a Swiss accent. It wouldn't have turned out well.

I intend to re-watch some of Nina's films over the next few weeks. If I get round to it. My pile of DVDs that I want to watch again is getting higher every day. So many films, so little time.

I bought a Vampire Motorcycle (4 Stars)

This film with the amusing title was made in 1989 and released in 1990. Rather than being a low budget movie, it's described as a no budget movie, because it cost, in the words of the director, as much as "four bricks and a pint of beer". The cast and crew worked for free. For props they used their own property or items and locations that they borrowed from the television series "Boon" which most of them were making at the time.

A cult are performing a ritual to summon the demon Aruman in a Birmingham car park. They're attacked by a biker gang. One of the cult members is killed by the gang just after he's possessed by Aruman, and his blood trickles onto a motorbike, passing on the possession. The bike is sold to a courier called Noddy. Unknown to him it's become a vampire. It doesn't go out in the sunlight, and at night it goes out by itself, either killing randomly or seeking revenge on the biker gang.

The Electric cinema presented this film today as part of its Shock & Gore festival. The director, the screenwriters and the lead actor Neil Morrissey (Noddy) answered questions about the film afterwards. The director Dirk Campbell (second from right with the bottle of beer) said that he hadn't watched the film for 30 years. Not quite correct, since it was made 25 years ago, but I'm amazed at this. "I bought a Vampire Motorcycle" was his only feature film; everything else he made was for television. I bought the film soon after it was released on DVD ten years ago. Doesn't Dirk own a copy? I'm not a film maker myself, so I don't understand the mentality of people who work on films. Is it something they do, then move on? Is it just a job that they do and then forget afterwards?

Most of the outdoor scenes were filmed in Digbeth (an area close to Birmingham's city centre). I recognise some, but not all of the streets. Digbeth was an industrial area, but it's being renovated into a trendy area, with nightclubs and expensive apartments. For the pub scenes the White Swan was used, a pub in Henley-in-Arden, south of Birmingham, that belonged to the actor who played the film's police inspector. They really trashed the place. I wonder if he regretted offering the pub to his pals.

The film's original name was "Bloodrunner", but it had to be changed because there was a comic with this name. That was fortunate. The new name was much better. It sounds ridiculous, and yes, the film is ridiculous, but it's become a cult classic. How can anyone not like this zany film?

The four men said that they would like to do a sequel. That would be good, but it's just wishful thinking. Back in 1989 they were young and crazy. They didn't mind working seven weeks for nothing, they were just having fun. If they did it today they'd have to plan responsibly. They would need a budget. I'm the first person in line clamouring for a sequel, but realistically I don't think it will happen.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

TV Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Is it really four years ago that I began to watch "Star Trek: The Next Generation"? I moved through the series slowly, only watching a few episodes each month, as if I were watching a real television series. Almost. If I'd been watching it as it were broadcast I would have been watching for seven years, but that's only because the series wasn't broadcast every month of the year. As it is I calculate that I watched an average of one episode a week for the last four years.

Now I've moved on to "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (which I'll refer to as DS9 for the sake of brevity). I missed the beginning of this series when it was first broadcast. I began to watch it in 1997 in the middle of the fifth season, and I was hooked for the next two years. (It finished broadcasting in June 1999). Since then I haven't seen any episodes repeated on television. It's interesting to finally catch up on the early episodes that I missed, 16 years later.

When asked which Star Trek series I like most I always reply "the original series" without hesitation. I feel sentimental about it. I grew up with Kirk, Spock and McCoy at an early age. I've watched the episode so many times that I only need to watch a few random seconds of any episodes to remember which one it is. And yet I have to acknowledge that the following series did things better. For instance, in "The Next Generation" the captain rarely took part in an away team, which makes a lot more sense. In the original series only Kirk, Spock and McCoy were fully developed as characters, then Scotty, Uhura and Sulu as peripheral characters, and everyone else was a hazy shadow in the background. In "The Next Generation" all of the Enterprise's principal crew members are shown in detail in one episode or another.

In DS9 the character development is taken a step further. Unlike the previous series DS9 isn't set on a space ship travelling through the galaxy constantly encountering new situations; it's set on a space station, and so the interaction between the regular cast members isn't just a matter of sub-plots, it's the principal dynamics of the series. It's all about the characters, so they're shown in their full richness from week to week. The series even has the flavour of a soap opera, which I mean as a compliment.

Rather than it being a well disciplined star ship crew, the series opens up with characters who distrust and sometimes even dislike one another. The series begins soon after the end of the war between Cardassia and Bajor (which was sometimes mentioned in "The Next Generation", but never shown in detail). After the occupation of Bajor the Cardassians abandoned their space station near the planet. Bajor requested the United Federation of Planets to administer the space station with their help, even though Bajor was not yet a member of the Federation. This leads to two main factions within the station, which the Federation renamed "Deep Space Nine". Most of the Bajorans accept the Federation, but some think of them as a new occupying force. Ferengis operate businesses on the space station, often using shady means to make a profit.

One thing contained in DS9 that's absent from the previous series is religion. The Bajorans are a deeply religious people, and we repeatedly hear that only their faith helped them survive the Cardassian occupation. Commander Benjamin Sisko, the head of the space station, is considered by the Bajorans to be the Emissary of the Prophets. Despite his natural scepticism as a man of science he accepts this role.

Sometimes episodes deal with topics that are thinly veiled references to current topics in our real world. For instance, in the season one episode "In the hands of the prophets" a religious leader interrupts school classes because they teach scientific theories that contradict the Bajoran beliefs. This leads first to children being taken out of school, then to acts of violence.

Another example is the episode "Duet", in which a Cardassian visits the space station who used to work in a labour camp where the Bajorans were raped and slaughtered. He was only a filing clerk, but does this make him innocent of the crimes committed in the camp? There are passionate arguments for and against his innocence. Do the survivors of the camp want justice or revenge?

The Gallows (3 Stars)

On October 29th 1993 a high school play is performed about a tragic love affair which ends when the man is hanged. Due to an accident with the props the young actor really is hanged and killed. 20 years later the school decides to put on the same play. Little do they suspect that the school is haunted, and the ghost wants to punish those involved with the new play.

This is a found footage style horror film. One of the high school students films his friends as they rehearse for the play and then break into the school to sabotage it when they realise it will be a flop. The school and the cellar below it become a dark labyrinth as they flee from whoever or whatever is stalking them.

As a found footage film it's adequate. The genre has become very stylized with its shaky camera techniques and poorly lit sequences. That's also the film's main weakness. The style is so well defined that it offers nothing new. The film does nothing wrong, but it also does nothing that makes it stand out from other films in the genre.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Ant-Man (4½ Stars)

Ant-Man? Who's Ant-Man?

That's the question people were asking when Marvel announced this film a few years ago. Even some fans of Marvel Comics weren't sure who he is, because he is admittedly one of Marvel's more obscure heroes. The man behind Ant-Man's mask, Dr. Hank Pym, has been a regular character in Marvel Comics for over 50 years, but he only appeared as Ant-Man in 16 comics, Tales to Astonish #35 to #48 and Avengers #1, from September 1962 to October 1963. In the following years he appeared using many names, including Giant Man, Goliath and Yellowjacket.

Hank Pym first appeared in Tales to Astonish #27 as a scientist experimenting with ants and size changing. "Tales to Astonish" was a monthly comic presenting science fiction stories. We can assume that when Stan Lee wrote this story in January 1962 it was a standalone story, with no intention to feature Hank Pym again.

Later that year everything changed. After the success of the Fantastic Four, Marvel's first super-hero comic since the 1940's, Stan Lee decided to launch a series of super-hero comics. He began with the Hulk (May 1962), Spider-Man (August 1962) and Thor (August 1962). After these came Ant-Man (September 1962), for which he brought back Hank Pym in a new costume. The cover of Tales to Astonish #35 incorrectly announces "The Return of the Ant Man" (spelt without a hyphen for one issue only). It was the return of Hank Pym, but the first appearance of Ant-Man. At first he fights as a solo character, but in Tales to Astonish #44 (June 1963) he's joined by Janet Van Dyne as the Wasp.

In September 1963 Stan Lee decided to create a second super-hero team. This was to be a different type of team to the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four were a team who were made up of people who only appeared in that team (apart from a short-lived series of solo adventures of the Human Torch in Strange Tales #101 to #122). The Avengers were a team of super-heroes who also had their own lives and their own battles away from the team. Apart from Ant-Man, the Wasp, Thor and the Hulk the team also features Iron Man, who was first introduced in March 1963.

Where's Captain America, you might ask? He didn't join the Avengers until the fourth issue, so it's incorrect to call him the first Avenger. If anything, Ant-Man should be called the first Avenger, because he was the one to suggest the creation of the team in the excerpt from Avengers #1 shown above. But this was the first and last time Hank Pym appeared as Ant-Man in the Avengers comics. In Avengers #2 he was already Giant Man, the character he became in Tales to Astonish #49 (November 1963).

As the years went by Hank Pym's relationship to Janet Van Dyne changed. First she was his assistant, then his fiancée, then his wife. Then he began to beat her, and they were divorced. Most of the original Marvel heroes were imperfect, in one way or another. Daredevil was blind, Thor's alter-ego Donald Blake was lame, Iron Man suffered from heart attacks. Hank Pym seemed to be healthy at first, but in the late 1960's we found out he was schizophrenic.

Now let's finally move on to the film. We see Hank Pym as an old man who has given up crime-fighting after the death of Janet Van Dyne. He has taken great care to prevent his size-changing powers being acquired by anyone else, but a former colleague of his, Darren Cross, has devoted his life to re-inventing a method of shrinking human beings. Darren intends to sell this technology to the highest bidder, even if it's an organisation that is intent on using it for evil purposes. Hank Pym trains a reformed cat burglar, Scott Lang, to become the new Ant-Man and destroy Darren's research facility.

Despite being far distanced from the content of the original comics, I found the film faithful to their style. The screenplay was written by Edgar Wright, director of "Scott Pilgrim vs the World" and I assume that the comedy elements were written in by him. Originally he was the film's director, but he walked out because of creative differences. This worried me, but the final result still shows enough of his style to make it an excellent film.

One slight warning to people who haven't seen the film yet. It has two extra scenes, one in the middle of the credits and one at the end of the credits, so please don't leave the cinema until the very end.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Terminator: Genisys (4 Stars)

This is the fifth Terminator film. My rating for this film is provisional. Despite being warned in advance reviews and interviews I wasn't prepared for how different this would be to the previous Terminator films. There were shock effects in the first half hour that knocked me back in my seat, and I wasn't sure how to judge them, positively or negatively.

Here is a very brief description of the plot. To say more would be unfair to people who haven't seen the film yet.

The film begins in 2029, shortly before the events of the first Terminator film. John Connor sends Kyle Reese into the past (1984) to protect his mother, Sarah Connor, from a T-800 Terminator sent to kill her minutes earlier. While Kyle is standing in the time machine he sees John Connor being attacked by a Terminator that has travelled back from the future (after 2029). This changes time and gives Kyle new memories, but due to being in the process of travelling through time he also retains his old memories from before the time change. Kyle becomes a man with two pasts. Are you confused yet?

Kyle returns to 1984. The events of the first film are repeated, but everything has changed, because there have been subsequent time jumps following the attack on John Connor. In particular, a re-programmed T-800 has been protecting Sarah Connor since 1975.

After watching the film I read detailed reviews, which I advise my readers against doing until after they've seen the film themselves. Too many spoilers! Most of the reviews were negative. I think this is unfair. The criticisms seem to come from purists who don't like the events of the first Terminator film being undone. Slow down a bit. Maybe the events have been changed, but we haven't been robbed. We still have the original film in our hands to watch as often as we want to. In time travel films the past is in a flux and can be changed repeatedly. This is because in the Terminator films there is a single time-line, unlike Marvel's parallel universe concept. In Marvel comics travelling back in time to change the past doesn't change anything, it just creates a parallel time-line with the changed events. (I don't yet know whether this concept also applies to the Marvel films, such as "X-Men: Days of Future Past"). In the Terminator films, once the past has been changed the future time-line has been changed and the old time-line has been permanently erased.

Just one small point in closing. You'll only fully appreciate this film if you've already seen the first two Terminator films. It isn't necessary to have seen the third and fourth films.

Monday, 20 July 2015

An Accidental Christmas (3 Stars)

Maybe this should be described as an accidental film review. I'm slightly out of season here. As my friends and regular readers already know, I don't celebrate Christmas, so maybe I should defy convention by watching a Christmas film in July.

Jason and Vicky Wright have been married for 15 years. Jason is a successful lawyer, while Vicky used to be an architect, but she gave up her job to look after their children, Melissa and Will. After all this time together Vicky has decided to leave Jason. He loves his wife and he works hard to provide a good lifestyle for his family, but that's not enough. Vicky feels neglected when he's away working long hours. It's an amicable separation. Vicky has custody of the children, but they live close together and Jason can see them as often as he likes. They've been separated for almost a year, and now the first Christmas apart is looming.

Christmas doesn't mean much to me, but it means a lot to the children in the film. When they find out that their parents have made separate plans for Christmas they scheme to bring their parents together. They trick their parents into going to the same beach hotel where they spent their honeymoon. This is an awkward situation for the parents, but the children do everything they can to play cupid.

This is a slushy romantic film, over-laden with clichés, but it does carry a serious message. However many problems there may be in a marriage, however difficult it is for two people to stay together, their children never want a divorce. The children are the ones who suffer most, and so the parents should make every possible effort to stay together for their sake. It might not always be possible, and even if it is it takes work on both sides, but it should be attempted.

When I told my wife I wanted to leave her she didn't understand why I was leaving. I told her, but it was as if she was deaf, she kept trying to find other reasons. My 11-year-old son Norman knew my reasons. I overheard him talking to her in the next room, trying to get her to change, but she didn't understand him either. When a separation is pending, both parents should listen to the children. They often understand what's going on better than one or both of the parents.

The film was made in 2007 and is now out of print in America, but it's still available in Germany with the original English dialogue. You can buy it on DVD for 10.49 Euros or Blu-ray for 5.00 Euros. I like the way German companies set their prices.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Species 3 (3½ Stars)

This is the third film in the Species series. "Species 2" made a loss at the box office, so it was decided that "Species 3" would be a direct-to-video film. I don't understand it. Nobody was interested in watching a film about sexy naked aliens any more?

The film begins where the second film ended. Eve has just been severely wounded and is being taken back to the laboratory from which she escaped. However, the ambulance driver overpowers the soldier accompanying him and attempts to free Eve. Unknown to either of them Eve is pregnant. She has a baby girl and then dies.  The driver runs away with the baby. But we soon see that the driver is really a university professor who believes that the new alien species has a right to survive. He keeps her in his cellar while she grows into adulthood (which only takes a few days).

The film continues with a conflict between two types of aliens. The aliens born to the infected astronaut in "Species 2" are half-breeds with a genetic fault that makes them susceptible to illnesses. Only Eve's daughter, who the professor calls Sara, is relatively pure. The half-breeds want to mate with Sara, but she refuses to mate with them, because she expects the offspring to be diseased.

It's not only the alien half-breeds who want to mate with Sara. The university dean (in the picture above) decides to rape her after she greets him at the door naked. He's a typical man, unable to control himself when he's sexually aroused. Of course, Sara kills him before he can rape her. Rightly so. He deserved it.

One of the most amusing scenes is the female half-breed Amelia setting up a website to find scientists who could help her be cured.

"Hi, my name is Amelia, and I am looking for anyone in an accredited biochemistry programme who's recently done work in advanced DNA electroporation".

"Have you done any unusual lab work in proto-plastic cell suspension? Specifically any kind of trans-membrane conductivity and permeability diffusion? I'm looking for a man who's measured pore coefficients greater than 10e-16 meters squared per second. If you're that man, please submit some sample data in response by an email to me. If I like what you write we can meet. I promise you won't be disappointed".

Sweet talking like that is enough to attract any horny young scientist. Or is it just the naked photos?

The film was made on a much smaller budget, only four million dollars instead of the thirty-five million available for each of the previous films. However, the end result still looks professional, due to this being the first film in the series that was filmed digitally. The special effects were kept to a minimum, which had the advantage of reducing the amount of gore. The acting is adequate and spiced up by occasional nudity, but overall the story isn't gripping. It's an interesting film, but not worth watching more than once.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Love & Mercy (5 Stars)

This is a film about the musician Brian Wilson, told in parallel in two phases, his life in the 1960's and his life in the 1980's. The dates are never explicitly stated, but it seems like the main periods dealt with by the film are 1964 to 1966 and 1986 to 1988. Brian Wilson is played by two different actors, Paul Dano as Brian Wison in his early twenties and John Cusack as Brian Wilson in his late forties. Before I saw the film I thought that using different actors would detract from the realism, but it works very well. People's appearances do change over a period of time. I know that from my own experience. In my early childhood I had white hair, in my late teens my hair was yellowy blond, in my thirties my hair was dark blond, almost brown, and now I shave my head to hide the size of my bald patch.

The film opens with the Beach Boys already at the height of their fame. It was a family group: Brian Wilson, his brothers Dennis and Carl, a cousin and a childhood friend. From the beginning Brian was the driving force. He wrote the songs and the Beach Boys performed them. On stage Carl Wilson was the more dominant personality. This was just as well, because Brian said that live performances were too stressing for him, and he decided to stay at home while the group was touring. His strength lay in creating new songs in the studio, not in performing them on stage.

Brian's time away from the band allowed him to record "Pet Sounds" with session musicians. This was released as a Beach Boys album, but it was effectively Brian Wilson's first solo album, since the other band members added almost nothing to it, musically or vocally. Surprisingly, it was their least successful album. I say "surprisingly", because I'm used to it being regarded as their best album. I don't understand why it took so long to become popular. Maybe it's because the American public associated the Beach Boys with surfing music, and "Pet Sounds" was too different for them to accept straight away.

Behind closed doors not everything was so positive. Brian Wilson heard voices in his head, which was made even worse when he experimented with LSD and other drugs. His father, who had produced the band's first few albums, hated Brian's new music and said so in unpleasant ways.

In the 1980's we see Brian Wilson under the control of Dr. Eugene Landy, a domineering psychiatrist who lived with Brian and had taken complete control of his life. Dr. Landy's treatment had made Brian active again after a period of three years spent in bed, but as we see, he wasn't happy. People who know about Brian Wilson probably know what happened next, but I shan't say any more to leave it as a surprise for those who still haven't seen the film.

This is an incredible film, whether or not you consider yourself a Beach Boys fan. The atmosphere of the past decades is perfectly recreated, the happy 60's and the dismal 80's. It feels like we're living in the past. Both actors who play Brian Wilson give first class performances, but in my opinion it's Paul Dano who stands out. The film has been tipped as a contender for the Best Film at next year's Academy Awards, and I can see why.

The real life Brian Wilson, who is now 73, has praised the film for its accuracy, especially in the portrayal of his mental illness in the 1960's. Compare this with other biopics like "Foxcatcher", which Mark Schultz criticised for its inaccuracy. For some of the scenes the original locations were used, such as the recording studios which the Beach Boys actually used. Paul Giamatti bases his portrayal of Dr. Eugene Landy on surviving film footage of the eccentric doctor, both his speech patterns and his mannerisms. "Love & Mercy" is more than a piece of entertainment, it's a respectful tribute to Brian Wilson's life.

I'd like to add a few personal thoughts, based on my impression of Dr. Eugene Landy, pictured above with Brian Wilson (the real people, not the actors). Mental illnesses do exist, and psychiatrists are necessary to treat them, but in my opinion there should be more stringent controls on what psychiatrists are doing. It's true that Dr. Landy was an extreme case, but it happens more often than people think. I too spent 17 months in the hands of an abusive psychiatrist, Dr. Jeremy Kenney-Herbert.

My closer friends already know about this, but I'll give some brief details here. In 2000 I was suffering from depression.after a relationship break-up. I was caught up in a vicious circle. The depression caused me to lose my job, and I was refused unemployment benefits, so I ended up sleeping on the streets, which made me even more depressed. An Anglican priest advised me to commit a small crime, because being in prison would give me free food and board. I couldn't do this, because I have a natural aversion to breaking the law.

One day I witnessed a man committing a violent assault. I saw a chance to be arrested without committing a crime. When the police came I confessed to the assault and they arrested me. Unfortunately, I'm not a very good liar. After three hours of questioning they were convinced it wasn't me and sent me back onto the streets. I kept up my story in the hope that I would be re-arrested, but it never happened. After telling my story to a G.P. I visited, Dr. Benn in Ladywood, I was referred to Dr. Kenney-Herbert, and I was admitted to a mental hospital. That was fantastic. A comfortable room, three meals a day and nice people to talk to.

The first 10 days were okay. Then I was transferred to another hospital, and the worst time of my life began. Imagine the situation. There were 12 patients on the ward. 11 of them were young (under 35), black and violent. Then there was me. They noticed straight away that I didn't fit in. A rumour spread that I was an undercover policeman, and I was frequently beat up. I don't blame Dr. Kenney-Herbert for considering me to be violent when he first met me. After all, that was what I told him. But after my admittance into hospital he requested details about me from the police. He read the police report, but nobody else in the hospital ever saw it, because it was "lost". It's obvious that after reading the report he realised his mistake, but rather than admitting to it he tried to cover it up. I stuck to my story for two weeks after my admittance into hospital. (After my initial arrest and release I was put on bail for 7 weeks, so I continued to claim to be guilty for this time. After the 7 weeks were over I admitted that I had lied about it).

I had difficulty making out Dr. Kenny-Herbert's motives. At first I thought he was incompetent in the way he treated me, but as time progressed I realised he was malicious. He wanted me to be attacked by the other patients, hoping that I would retaliate, because that would prove to everyone that I was violent. After months of mistreatment without retaliation he tried a different tactic. He claimed that the only reason I got into so many fights was because I was attacking the other patients first.

It was obvious that Dr. Kenney-Herbert wanted to keep me locked up for the rest of my life. He might have succeeded, if I hadn't been extremely lucky. He was transferred temporarily for six months. The psychiatrist who replaced him, Dr. Russell, read my files and immediately noticed something was wrong. He interviewed me at length two days in a row. At the end of the second interview he asked me, "Do you know why you're in this hospital?" I replied "No", to which he answered, "Neither do I. Let's see about getting you out as quickly as possible".

So it isn't just Dr. Eugene Landy. Other psychiatrists such as Dr. Jeremy Kenney-Herbert can be just as malicious, doing everything they can to harm the patients in their care. This is wrong. I was helpless. I was vulnerable. I was suffering from depression and unable to defend myself. In fact, all my time in hospital I never received any treatment for depression. If anything, my state of mind deteriorated while I was in hospital, and I didn't start to recover until I was released.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

West (4 Stars)

This film, originally released in Germany in 2014 but only now being shown in English cinemas, is based on a novel by Julia Franck. The novel is loosely based on Julia's childhood experiences when she emigrated from East to West Germany with her mother.

Nelly Senff, a citizen of the German Democratic Republic, has a PhD in Chemistry, and she carries out research on pyrolysis in a research lab in East Berlin. She lives with Dr. Vassily Batalow, a Russian scientist, and although they aren't married they have a son together. (This seems strange in a morally strict Communist country in the 1970's, but I'll accept it). While visiting Moscow for a conference in 1975 he dies in a car accident. Because they weren't married Nelly isn't allowed to go to his funeral. After his death Nelly is repeatedly questioned about her relationship with Vassily, and finally she decides to emigrate to West Germany. She has no political motivation in going to the West, she just wants to be left in peace.

In 1978 she arranges a fake marriage with a West German citizen, so that she and her 9-year-old son Alexei can go to the West. When they arrive in West Berlin things aren't as ideal as she expected. Nelly and Alexei are housed in a refugee camp, and she's shocked to find that other immigrants from East Germany have lived there for two years. Worse still, a German official and a member of the American secret service insist on questioning her about Vassily for days on end. When she tries to get a job she is only offered unskilled labour, because she's considered too much of a risk to be allowed to work on important research projects.

This is a gloomy film that shatters the myth that people from East Germany could expect a successful new life in West Germany. I suspect that the director intended to make the film a metaphor for later events in German history. When Germany was reunited in 1990 the East was dazzled with promises of wealth in a capitalist society, but even now, 25 years later, the Ostzone (Eastern Zone) is still a second class society with lower wages than in the Western Zone.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Planet Terror (4 Stars)

This film is a fun ride from start to finish, despite the somewhat unsettling scenes with sick people. It succeeds in its goal of being a homage to the zombie films of the 1970's. Originally this film appeared in the cinema as half of a double bill with Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof". Surprisingly, it wasn't very successful at the box office. I think that the idea of having two films for the price of one confused cinema goers, so they stayed away. That's sad.

The Blu-ray disc contains a longer version of "Planet Terror". It's not correct to call this a Director's Cut. It's simply the version that would have been released if it had been a standalone film instead of half of a double bill.

It's interesting to see that the two films, "Death Proof" and "Planet Terror", exist in the same universe. Dr. Dakota Block and Texas Ranger Earl McGraw appear in both films, played by the same actors. Earl McGraw also appears in "Kill Bill" and "From Dusk Till Dawn". He's killed at the beginning of "From Dusk Till Dawn", so if anyone wants to put the films in order "From Dusk Till Dawn" has to be last.

The Blu-ray Disc contains two versions of the film. One is a (relatively) clean version, while the other has many scratches on the film, as if it's an old, worn-out film roll. Of course, the film was made in its clean form and the scratches were added artificially afterwards. The clean version is only included as a favour to people who don't like scratches on their films. I watched the clean version today, but I think the scratched version is better, and that's what I shall watch in future.

Oh Boy (4 Stars)

This is a story of alienation in the big city, in this case the city of Berlin. 25-year-old Niko stumbles around the city, meeting people, friends and strangers, as he tries to get a cup of coffee. The film is appropriately filmed in black and white to intensify the effect. We shouldn't blame it all on the city. It's also Niko's fault. He's unable to complete anything he starts, whether it's learning to play the trumpet, a law degree or a relationship.

Despite being the first film made by the director Jan Ole Gerster, the film made a big impression on film critics. At the 2013 German Film Awards it won six awards (Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Music). Does the film have a message? If it does, I must have missed it. It's a film that encourages the viewer to ask questions, but it doesn't offer any answers.

Today we're used to seeing Berlin as the dazzling, multi-coloured biggest party city in the world. The Berlin shown us in "Oh Boy" is dark and dismal. That's probably the only Berlin that many of its residents see.

The film has been released in America as "A Coffee in Berlin". It's worth checking out, if you're adventurous enough to try out a different sort of film.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Ip Man (5 Stars)

This is the third time I've watched this film. In fact, my personal definition of a good film is "a film that I want to watch at least three times". "Ip Man" is growing on me, and I enjoy it more each time I watch it.

I wrote about the plot in my last review, so this time I'll just make a few extra points.

Donnie Yen is always a good actor, but he's never been as convincing as in this film, playing a martial arts expert who doesn't want to fight. This isn't just apparent in his words. Even in his first fight he relies on defensive moves, only hitting back when absolutely necessary. Ip Man was a man of wealth who spent his life relaxing with his family and studying. He would probably never have become a teacher if he hadn't lost all his money in the Japanese invasion.

Today I listened to Donnie's interview about the film for the first time. He spent eight months learning Wing Chun in preparation for the film. That's dedication. He also lost a lot of weight, I forget how much, so that he would look like Ip Man in his old photos. He only ate one meal a day, and some days he even skipped this meal, despite his intensive training. Was this even healthy? Probably not, but the end results were astounding.

Donnie Yen was originally asked to play the part of Ip Man in 1998, but there was a long delay in making the film because of legal battles. Two different studios wanted to make a film about Ip Man, and each wanted the exclusive rights. In the end both studios made a film. The first was "Ip Man" (2008) and the other was "The Grandmaster" (2013). Two very different films with very different actors. Both are good, in their own ways, but in a direct comparison "Ip Man" is far superior.

From the way the film is structured it seems that no sequel was planned. The film's financial success led to the making of "Ip Man 2" in 2010, which I shall probably watch again soon. A third film is planned to be released in 2016, also starring Donnie Yen, making it a trilogy. "Ip Man 3" has already generated controversy by announcing that it will star Bruce Lee as a CGI-generated character. I hope that they don't skimp on costs. This sort of strategy could turn out really good or really bad.

Friday, 10 July 2015

The Grey Zone (4 Stars)

Of all the films I've seen dealing with the Holocaust, this is possibly the most disturbing. The usual way to portray the concentration camps is that the evil Germans killed the good Jews. It's all so simple, so black and white. This film tells another story, about the Jews who fought to survive by siding with the Germans against their fellow Jews and were rewarded for their efforts.

The film, previously a play, is based on the memoirs of the Hungarian Jew Dr. Miklos Nyiszli. Because of his skills as a surgeon he was appointed as Josef Mengele's personal assistant, carrying out autopsies on dead twins. He was a VIP in the Auschwitz camp, enjoying better privileges than most of the German officers.

There are other levels of Jews who served the Germans. There were the musicians playing cheerful music to greet new arrivals in the camp. The most bizarre group was the Sonderkommando, the special unit, the Jews who administered the gas chambers, escorting other Jews into the showers and carrying the bodies out afterwards. In the evenings they sat eating opulent meals with the best wines.

The film also tells the story of an uprising, in which gunpowder was smuggled into the camp to blow up one of the four crematoriums. That's the film's positive story, of Jewish resistance against the Nazis, but it's not the main theme of the film, it takes a sideline to the cruelty of Jews against Jews.

The outstanding actor in the film is David Arquette, who plays Hoffman, the Sonderkommando member struggling to redeem himself after beating another Jew to death. This is the most overwhelming performance of his career. Steve Buscemi is noteworthy as the camp's slippery black market trader, amassing wealth for himself for the day when he's freed from the camp. Harvey Keitel, one of my favourite actors, is less convincing as the German officer Erich Muhsfeldt. He doesn't seem to be evil enough for the role of a mass murderer. Or maybe that's the way he should have been portrayed. I've never met any mass murderers, so how can I know what they're like?

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Ted 2 (4¾ Stars)

He's back! The foul-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear that you wouldn't invite home to meet your parents. The first film ended with a wedding (John and Lori), and the second film begins with a wedding (Ted and Tami-Lynn). It's a shame that Lori is missing from the sequel. My guess is that Mila Kunis (Lori) didn't have the time to appear. That's the bad news. But the good news is that John's new love interest is the lawyer Samantha, played by the beautiful actress Amanda Seyfried. John certainly gets all the best girls.

I don't want to say too much about the film, because it's still in the cinemas. The basic plot is that Ted wants to adopt a child, but to do this he needs to be legally recognised as a person. To do this he hires the already mentioned lawyer Samantha. "Ted 2" repeats a lot of jokes from the first film. That's also a small warning for people who intend to see it in the cinema. You'll enjoy the film more if you see "Ted" first. Characters from the first film appear without being introduced again. Personally, I find the film even funnier than the original film. The jokes are sexist, homophobic and racist. What more do you want? I would have given the film five stars if not for the horrible song in the middle. You'll know what I mean when you hear it.

This is very much a film-goers' film. What I mean is that there are a lot of jokes about recent film blockbusters. For instance, Amanda Seyfried is repeatedly compared with Gollum from "Lord of the Rings" because of her big eyes. Quite unfairly. She has beautiful eyes. What do you think?