Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Faster Pussycat Kill Kill (5 Stars)

"Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to violence!"

This is the seventh film in the Russ Meyer Collection, and the fourth and final film in his Gothic Quartet. It's difficult to believe that "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill" was made almost spontaneously, with very little planning. After finishing "Motorpsycho" Russ was speaking to his wife Eve (who was still his business partner even though they were separated), and he said "We've just made a film about a gang of three men. Why don't we make a film about a gang of three women?" Eve liked the idea, so Russ wrote a script and the filming began only a month later. The interpersonal relationships of the two gangs are so similar that it's even possible to see who represents who in the two films. Varla is Brahmin, Rosie is Dante, Billie is Slick.

The public's reaction was lukewarm. "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill" earned a staggering $36,000 at the box office. Nobody knew what to make of it. It was truly a film ahead of its time. 15 years later Russ, who personally oversaw the marketing of his films, decided to release it on videotape in France. He was surprised how successful it was, so he released it in America, and there still wasn't much interest. He tried releasing it in other countries, and it was wildly successful all over Europe, selling millions of copies. Things didn't change in America until the film received praise from an unexpected source in 1998. When appearing on the Johnny Carson Show the director John Waters was asked what his favourite film was, to which he replied, "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill is the best movie ever made, and possibly better than any movie that will ever be made".

Just like in "Motorpsycho", it's a gang on the road who are violent for the sake of it. The difference is in the equipment used. The men in "Motorpsycho" drive motorbikes. I'm no expert in motorbikes, but they look like relatively simple models to me. The girls in "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill" drive Porsches. They're not poor boys, they're rich girls. Rich, beautiful, powerful, cruel. They kill men for fun, and if they can earn money while they're doing it, all the better.

It seems strange in retrospect that this was the first film made by Russ Meyer that features no nudity at all. I'm not aware that he's commented on it. My guess is that he wanted to avoid any suggestion that he was exploiting women. The actress Tura Satana, who plays Varla, demanded a contract that stated that she wouldn't be shown nude, despite working as an exotic dancer. She was worried about the future. She thought she might marry a man who would become the president, so she didn't want nude films of her to exist that would harm his career.

This doesn't mean that Tura was prude. Far from it. Russ Meyer wrote in all his film contracts that his cast and crew were forbidden to have sex during the filming of a movie. This was because he started early every morning and wanted everyone to be fresh and full of energy. Tura complained about this, saying she needed sex every day. Russ grudgingly accepted Tura's demands, but asked, "How can you have sex? Your boyfriend isn't here". She told Russ she would pick one of the film crew. The man she chose was Gil Haimson, the assistant cameraman. Russ needn't have worried about Tura, she woke up fresh for work every morning. Gil, unfortunately, appeared for work exhausted every day, forcing Russ to do most of the camera work himself.

But the story doesn't end there. Apart from three drivers the film's budget didn't allow the use of stuntmen. The actors had to do their own stunts. The first man that Varla kills in the film, Tommy the car club member, was played by Ray Barlow. He was terrified of Tura Satana. Tura was 5'11" tall, and she had black belts in Karate, Aikido and Taekwondo. In the fight scene with her she was as gentle as possible with him, but he still injured his hand. Varla was supposed to break Tommy's back by standing on him and pulling his arms back, but Ray refused to do it, fearing he would suffer real damage. A replacement had to be found. Who stepped in? Gil Haimson. Luckily only one take was needed for the back breaking scene. Despite Tura's reassurances that it wouldn't hurt much, he was injured so badly that he couldn't work for the rest of the day. And yet she still demanded his sexual services that night, injured or not.

Tura Satana was able to play the role of Varla so well because it wasn't so unlike her real personality. She chose a man. She used him for her pleasure. She bruised his body. Then she abandoned him. When the filming was over she had no more use for him, so she never saw him again.

What makes "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill" so good? I've always considered it one of my top 10 films, but after watching it again today I feel like it should be in my top five. The action is so fast. The musical score is perfect. It's true, the girls are evil, but it's impossible not to take their side. And yet I can't put into words what's so special about it. It's a film that everyone has to watch before he dies.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Motorpsycho (3½ Stars)

"Motorpsycho", made in 1965, is the sixth film in the Russ Meyer Collection, and the third film in his Gothic Quartet. It's filmed somewhere in the deserts of California. We see hardly any houses, just a gas station and a few wooden shacks. The film is about a motorcycle gang riding to Las Vegas, raping and killing as they go. Why? Because it's fun.

Cory Maddox is a veterinarian. When he comes home from work he finds his wife battered and raped. A neighbour describes the bikers, and he recognises them from the previous day. The sheriff has no interest in pursuing them. He looks at Cory's wife and says, "She'll be all right in a week or so. After all, nothing happened to her that a woman ain't built for". Cory drives into the desert to take justice into his own hands. On the way he finds a couple lying in the road. Both have been shot. The man is dead, but the woman, Ruby Bonner, is only lightly injured. Ruby describes the bikers as her assailants, and then she joins Cory on his quest for revenge.

The bikers have the interesting names Brahmin, Dante and Slick. I wonder what Russ was trying to tell us. Brahmin is a Vietnam veteran, with military training that makes him a tough opponent. After spending hours in the hot desert sun he begins to think he's still in Vietnam, which makes him even more dangerous.

I've heard some people say that this is one of the best films ever made. I wouldn't rate it so highly, but it's still a remarkable film.

I'll bring up something here that I should have mentioned in my previous posts. Russ Meyer is often criticised for the derogatory remarks made against women in his films. That's a very shallow criticism made by people who haven't taken the time to study his films in depth. Russ has the opinion that women are superior to men, as we see repeatedly in his later films. If he puts sexist words into the mouths of the men in his films it's intended to show how stupid men are. Here are two other typical quotes from the men in his films.

"The trouble with women is they like to see things the way they like to see them, not the way they really is". (sic)

"Damn fool females! All they do is yammer their damn fool heads off instead of doing for men what they should be doing".

Monday, 28 September 2015

Mudhoney (4 Stars)

"Mudhoney" was made in 1965. It's the fifth film in the Russ Meyer Collection, and the second film in his Gothic Quartet. Whereas "Lorna" was set in the present day, "Mudhoney" takes place in 1933, during the Great Depression. The setting for this film is Spooner, Missouri. I tried to locate the town, but it seems that it doesn't exist. On closer examination I recognised the main street of Locke, California in some of the scenes. That little town must have been in a state of confusion to have two films made in it in such a short time.

"Mudhoney" shares a lot of elements with "Lorna". I'm glad I watched them back to back, or I might have missed the connection. There's a preacher, there's a woman unhappy in her marriage and there's an ex-convict. However, in this film the moralities are assigned differently. In "Lorna" the preacher is an all-powerful figure who stands outside the action, speaking as the voice of God; in "Mudhoney" the preacher is a man like us, speaking God's will as he understands it, but sometimes making mistakes. In "Lorna" the unhappy woman commits adultery to find satisfaction; in "Mudhoney" she feels tempted by other men, but she stands by her husband's side because it's her duty. In "Lorna" the ex-convict is an unrepentant killer running from the law; in "Mudhoney" the ex-convict is someone who killed in self-defence, but he's served his time and he wants to start again.

The men of Spooner are motivated by violence, greed and lust. The two main locations are the Wade Farm and the town's whore house. In the Depression farming and whoring were the only ways to make money. The farm is owned by old Lute Wade. He lives with his niece Hannah and her husband Sidney. The ex-convict Calif McKenny is living and working on the farm for the summer months.

Sidney is a violent man who frequently beats his wife. He spends every evening in the whore house, where old Maggie pimps out her two daughters, Eula and Clara Belle. This was the only place where it was possible to buy alcohol. It was during the Prohibition, but Maggie made her own corn liquor. Sex and alcohol, everything a man needs.

Unlike "Lorna", this is a film where the women fight back. Hannah is prepared to defend herself with a knife, and there are frequent comments that Maggie's daughters are "as strong as any man".

"Mudhoney" is a cold, dark thriller. Just like "Lorna" there is a line between good and evil, and those who cross it perish. In this film the preacher himself dies when he transgresses. God's law forgives no man, even if a sin is committed with good intentions.

When "Mudhoney" appeared in the cinemas in 1965 nobody knew what to make of it, and it flopped miserably. But somehow it didn't disappear. It was shown at drive-in theatres and had a cult following. Today, 50 years later, it's regarded as a masterpiece. Just like all the films in the Gothic Quartet.

Lorna (4½ Stars)

"As ye sow, so shall ye reap" (Galatians 6:7)

This is the fourth film in the Russ Meyer Collection, made in 1964, and it's a big change in style from his earlier films. His first three films were light-hearted comedies, but in this film there isn't a trace of humour. It's the first of the films referred to as Russ Meyer's Gothic Quartet, at the same time his most controversial and his most popular films. All four films are shot in black and white, and they're set in dilapidated poor towns. In the case of "Lorna", he chose Locke, California as the setting, a town with a population of less than 80.

Locke's main street in 2006.

The film takes place over the course of 24 hours. One night and one day. Jim and Lorna have been married for one year, but Lorna isn't happy. All the passion and romance has gone from their marriage. Jim doesn't even remember that it's their wedding anniversary.

While Jim is at work in the town's only business, the salt mine, Lorna goes for a swim in the lake. She is attacked by an escaped convict from the local prison. The convict attempts to rape her, but after a short struggle she submits to him, overwhelmed to be with a man who really wants her. (Some people criticise the film for its rape scene, but they didn't watch closely. There's no rape. Lorna has already consented to the act before it begins). Lorna takes the man back to her house for a meal and offers to run away with him. It's obvious to us, as viewers, that he's only using her, but she doesn't see it.

The film is a moral parable. It's a world of black and white. There are good men and there are sinners, there is no in-between. The preacher on the road warns us not to enter Locke, because we will get caught up. The greatest of all sins is adultery, and those who commit adultery will die.

Dead in the dirt.

Dead in the salt mine.

I'll refrain from making my own moral judgement on the film and its characters. I'll leave it up to Russ Meyer, who speaks through the mouth of the preacher. This was the first film in which he preached to the viewer, as he does in many of his other films.

This is the first of Russ Meyer's films in which there is real dialogue. The preacher returns at key points in the film to warn of God's impending judgement, but his monologues shouldn't be interpreted as narration. The characters themselves tell the story.

Locke is a harsh town. Men have to fight to survive. The thread that connects the four films in the Gothic Quartet is violence. Some men fight for good, some men fight for evil, but they all fight. In this film the women are the victims, but in the other three films we see that they too can be violent. I'll write about that when I get to them.

Wild Gals of the Naked West (3 Stars)

This is the third film in the Russ Meyer Collection. It was made in 1962, and it's one of the weakest films in the whole collection. Clocking in at 61 minutes, it only qualifies as a short film. There are three segments in the film.

1. (0:00 to 5:50) The history of America's wild west is explained.

2. (5:50 to 28:00) An old man called Snake introduces us to a town so bad that it was never named. There are many short comedy sketches.

3. (28:00 to 61:00) A stranger arrives in the no-name town. He becomes sheriff and cleans up the town. More comedy sketches.

As in Russ Meyer's previous films there is no dialogue. In the first segment an unseen narrator speaks to us. In the other two segments Snake speaks to the camera to explain what's happening.

There's a bizarre contrast between the indoor and the outdoor scenes. The outdoor scenes look realistic, whether they're in the town or the mountains. The indoor scenes are eerily empty. Either the background is a plain wall, or the room's decoration is painted onto the wall. The following two pictures should explain what I mean.

The sheriff enters the saloon, but we don't see a saloon. There's a door frame with saloon doors in front of a plain yellow wall.

The sheriff goes to his room and finds the hotel's owner waiting for him. The only props are the door frame and the bed. The picture, the lamp and the table are painted onto the green wall.

The main problem with the film is that the first half isn't really a film at all. The humour is funny, but there's no story. It's just a string of unrelated sketches. The actual plot doesn't begin until the third segment. While the sheriff goes round town doing what he has to do the jokes from the first half are repeated, but by now they aren't funny any more. Another problem is that whetever the film's title promises there isn't much nudity. This wasn't Russ Meyer's finest hour.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Eve and the Handyman (4 Stars)

"Man is constantly building his own little scrap pile".

Before I write about this film, let me make a few remarks about the official Russ Meyer collection. When he retired from making films in 1980 he had made 21 films. A few years later he authorised a release on videotapes of what he called his official collection of 17 films. He deliberately omitted four films which he didn't consider to be representative of his work. I've seen 20 of the 21 films, and the inclusion or omission of certain films seems arbitrary to me. "The Seven Minutes" is very different to his other films, so I understand it being omitted, but "Blacksnake" is also different and it's been included. In 2001 Russ Meyer made one last film, a documentary, which he added to his official collection, making it a total of 18 films. I intend to watch the whole of his official collection in order over the next few weeks.

"The Immoral Mr. Teas" (1959), which I reviewed earlier today, is the first film in the Russ Meyer Collection. "Eve and the Handyman" (1961) is the second. Once more it's a short film (less than 70 minutes from the beginning to the final credits).

At first sight this might seem like a simple role reversal from the first film: Mr. Teas was a male voyeur, Eve is a female voyeur. It's true, Eve Meyer does spend the whole film observing the unnamed handyman, but it has nothing to do with voyeurism. This film is Russ Meyer's first and only dabbling with film noir. He uses many of the conventions of film noir to great effect, while turning others on their head.

Eve is the film's detective. The whole film is seen from her perspective. She is present in every scene, whether she is on or off camera. As in "The Immoral Mr. Teas" there is no dialogue, but this time the voiceover isn't an external narrator, it's Eve's immer monologue, in true film noir tradition. She spends a whole day secretly observing the handyman as he does his daily tasks, such as cleaning the floor, washing windows and unblocking toilets.

When the day begins Eve considers the handyman to be a worthy opponent. She says she intends to outsmart him, but she can't be sure that she'll succeed. As the day continues she changes her mind. She sees that he's a bumbling idiot, making a mess of almost everything he does, and she stands laughing at him from afar. It's the handyman's relation to women that makes him weak. Unlike Mr. Teas he's not a voyeur. When women expose themselves, always deliberately, he tries to look away, but he doesn't succeed. When he's cleaning the outside of a window of a high building a secretary inside is wearing a very low cut top. This distracts him and he accidentally unhooks his safety harness, almost falling to his death. Eve finds this hilarious. In another scene he buys an ice cream sundae, but he's unable to eat it because a busty waitress is standing in front of him. He runs out of the restaurant in fear.

That's the dilemma that men face when they're confronted by provocative sexy women. It doesn't matter whether you're a Mr. Teas or a Handyman. If you stare at the women you're in their power. If you try not to stare you still can't resist taking little peeks and you're in their power anyway.

(In Russ's later films we see a third group of men. They're the ones who have the will power not to stare at all. If they're completely ignored the sexy women mock them by saying they aren't real men, forcing them to look to prove their manhood, leaving them too in the women's power).

When we finally find out the reason why Eve is following the handyman it's a disappointment. I expected a serious resolution to the film, but it's pure comedy.Nevertheless, it's still a powerful film.

The Immoral Mr. Teas (5 Stars)

This short film was a revolution in cinema when it was released in 1959. It was the first film in America featuring nudity to be shown in normal cinemas, rather than in seedy backstreet sex cinemas. It could be asked what happened, why this film was given special rights. After watching only a few minutes of the film the answer becomes apparent. This isn't a nudity-for-the-sake-of-nudity film, it's made to high artistic standards, despite its small budget.

"The Immoral Mr. Teas" is a strikingly effective homage to the silent film era. There is no dialogue in the film, and the only voice we hear is the voiceover of a narrator, like the old movie tellers who improvised what they said during the showing of silent films, either explaining what was happening on screen or talking about something completely different.

The film is named after the leading actor, Bill Teas, who the narrator calls Willy. Maybe the film is misnamed. It should be called "The Innocent Mr. Teased". He's not a bad man in any way. He's an innocent man caught up in a world he can't handle. On the one hand there's modern technology, on the other hand there are modern women. The film bears a message which is repeated throughout most of Russ Meyer's films. Women in the modern world are strong and empowered, but this female empowerment expresses itself in cruelty. We even see this in the action of the young girl who lives next door to him. When Willy walks away after giving her back a toy she's dropped she throws a stone at his head.

Mr. Teas is a voyeur, but Russ Meyer dispenses with the traditional notion that voyeurs are predators who spy on women. Here we see the voyeur as a victim. Willy works as a bicycle delivery man, and his work brings him into regular contact with three women: a dental nurse, a secretary and a barmaid. All three wear low-cut tops, and they flaunt their breasts at him while totally ignoring him. He sits staring at them for minutes on end without getting a reaction, positive or negative. Realising something is wrong he goes fishing at the weekend to be alone, but even there he isn't safe. The whole lake is deserted, but a woman arrives who wants to sunbathe next to him. She even makes poor little Willy move to make room for her. When she takes her bikini off Willy is so terrified that he jumps into the water to escape.

There's only one solution for Willy, who is in his late 40's and probably still a virgin. Willy sees a woman soliciting customers on the street and decides to pay for sex. After all, if he pays he's in control, isn't he? Wrong. Even the street girls are in on the act to bully Willy. After being paid the woman makes Willy strip, then he has to stand watching her iron his clothes. She knows he's a voyeur, and that's all he's allowed to be. He puts his freshly pressed clothes back on and goes home, just as unhappy as before.

Who is Mr. Teas? He is Russ Meyer's picture of the new man. Russ saw the times changing all around him. The post-WW2 years were a time when women were becoming more and more liberated. It wasn't a matter of women claiming equality with men, they were seeking a position of superiority. If they were beautiful they could flash their bodies at men to turn them into confused, bumbling idiots. If they weren't beautiful they could at least throw stones at men.

Russ isn't presenting this picture of a brave new world as a warning. He's showing it as something wonderful that we as men should embrace. Being controlled by women isn't such a bad thing, is it?

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Bride of Frankenstein (5 Stars)

This film was made in 1935 as a sequel to the 1931 film "Frankenstein". The monster was seemingly killed at the end of the first film, but "Bride of Frankenstein" shows us how he survived. The principle actors Colin Clive and Boris Karloff return as Henry Frankenstein and the monster, but Henry's wife Elizabeth is replaced by a newer, younger actress, 17-year-old Valerie Hobson. (I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere). Baron Frankenstein, Henry's father, doesn't return in this film. We're told that he died, making Henry the new baron. The actor Frederick Kerr really did die in 1933, and I believe it was the right decision to rewrite the script rather than replace him with another actor.

"Bride of Frankenstein" is an example of a sequel that far surpasses an original film in terms of success and critical acclaim. Today it's considered to be the best film directed by James Whale, and the best horror film made by Universal Studios. It almost didn't get there. The American film board demanded 15 minutes of cuts from the film, footage which has been lost forever. It wasn't the film's violence that the censors objected to. It was scenes that they thought mocked Christianity, as well as the English actress Elsa Lanchester revealing too much cleavage in the film's prologue. The scene pictured below made it into the film, so what else happened that was so bad? Was she leaning forwards, enticing Percy Shelley and Lord Byron to look at her enormous breasts? Enormous? I've seen bigger.

Elsa Lanchester plays two roles in the film. She appears first as Mary Shelley, then as the Bride herself. At least she kept herself covered up enough to keep the censors happy in the latter role. But she still likes to have the attention of two men.

Something I didn't know until today is that Universal Studios wasn't considered to be a major film company in the 1930's. It was an independent film company, much smaller than Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount. Universal was known for making low budget films, which included all of its early horror films. It wasn't until the late 1950's, after changing owners a few times, that Universal was acknowledged as a major studio.

Gods and Monsters (4 Stars)

This is the story of the last few weeks in the life of the British film director, James Whale. After a series of strokes his mental health is rapidly deteriorating. He can clearly remember events that happened 40 years ago, but he forgets what happened a few hours ago. His only companions are his housekeeper Hanna and his new gardener Clayton. While sitting with Clayton he talks about his experiences as an officer in the First World War, and also about his most famous films, "Frankenstein", "The Invisible Man", "Showboat" and particularly "Bride of Frankenstein".

The film is disturbing to me for personal reasons. I find it distasteful to watch films in which people suffer from senility. It's something that I fear for myself. For me my brain is my most prized asset, and the idea that I might no longer be able to think clearly when I'm older fills me with horror. I would rather be unable to walk than unable to think logically. My worst fear is that if it ever happens I might not even be aware of it. My grandfather became senile in his final months, which expressed itself in him being rude and swearing at everyone. A short time later he didn't even remember what he had said. It was terrifying. On the other hand my mother, who lived longer than him, kept a clear mind up to the end of her life.

It's a strength of the film that it nevertheless brought me to tears in the final scenes. Ian McKellan gave a moving performance as James Whale, for which he received an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. I have a suspicion that apart from the senility Ian was playing himself. Those who have seen the film will know what I mean. I was also astounded by Brendan Fraser's performance as the gardner, Clayton Boone. He's not an actor that I usually associate with tender, sentimental roles, but his acting was so subtle and multi-layered that it was breathtaking. He was the one who most deserved an Oscar, as Best Supporting Actor.

In his suicide note James Whale wrote:

Do not grieve for me. My nerves are all shot and for the last year I have been in agony day and night -- except when I sleep with sleeping pills -- and any peace I have by day is when I am drugged by pills.

I have had a wonderful life but it is over and my nerves get worse and I am afraid they will have to take me away. So please forgive me, all those I love and may God forgive me too, but I cannot bear the agony and it is best for everyone this way.

The future is just old age and illness and pain. Goodbye and thank you for all your love. I must have peace and this is the only way.

James Whale
22 July 1889 – 29 May 1957

Friday, 25 September 2015

Phantom of the Opera (1943) (4 Stars)

The novel "Phantom of the Opera", written by Gaston Leroux, has been filmed nine times, in 1925, 1943, 1962, 1983, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1998 and 2004, each time with slight differences to the story. This is the 1943 version, intended by Universal Studios to be a crossover between their horror films and their musicals. There are extended musical scenes, but today most film fans would only refer to it as a horror film.

The film was made in 1941, but its release was delayed for the most ridiculous of reasons. It was thought that the lead actress, 17-year-old Susanna Foster, showed too much cleavage in some of the scenes. It was necessary to remove some scenes and replace other scenes with different takes, mostly long shots which didn't highlight her breasts.

The 1943 film, unlike all other versions of the story, has a love square, if that's the correct expression for a woman being the object of desire of three different men. Maybe it should be called a love pyramid. The young singer Christine DuBois is dating the police inspector Raoul Daubert, but she is being pursued by her fellow singer Anatole Garron, and the phantom himself is also obsessed with her. In this version the phantom isn't an opera singer, he's Erique Claudin, a former violinist at the Paris Opera House.

Interestingly, in the original script Erique isn't Christine's secret admirer, he's her father. A scene was filmed in which he revealed his relationship to her, but it was removed, probably because Susanna showed too much cleavage. The remaining scenes suggest a love interest, even though this wasn't intended while filming.

In the book and the other film adaptations the opera "Faust" is used, but it wasn't possible for this film. The opera's copyright holder lived in France, and it wasn't possible to contact him because of the German occupation. New musical pieces were written for the film.

I can't compare the film with the other adaptations because this is the only version I've ever seen. The acting is competent by all the main actors. There's a good mix between horror, comedy and music. Susanna Foster has an amazingly powerful voice, despite her young age. She's famous for one note she sang in the film, a G above high C. Amusingly, Anatole backs away as she hits this note, as if afraid that his ears will burst.

Am Ende des Tages (3½ Stars)

Robert Janacek has everything any man could want. He's a candidate for election to the Austrian parliament, and due to his popularity his election is a mere formality. He's married to Katharina, the beautiful daughter of an Austrian millionaire. They're expecting their first baby. They're driving to one of Katharina's father's houses in the mountains to take a break before the election.

On the autobahn they're pursued by another vehicle. At first it seems like random road rage, but when they stop Robert recognises the other driver. It's Wolfgang, an old school friend that he hasn't seen for more than 20 years. They talk for a while, but Robert doesn't want to be seen with him in public. Wolfgang is a transvestite, and photographs of them together wouldn't be good for his image as a politician. Robert tries to get away, but Wolfgang pursues him on his trip to the mountains, becoming increasingly violent, threatening to reveal a secret Robert has kept since he was 15.

This is a thrilling story, as far as the action is concerned. The secrets come out too soon. I would have preferred to have been kept on edge until the end of the film. Well, a few last secrets are squeezed out in the final scenes, but by that time it was too late, I already hated Robert and didn't care what happened to him. It's a far from perfect film, but worth watching once. If you can speak German. I doubt it will ever be made available in English.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Girls against boys (4 Stars)

Shae goes to college in New York. She's dating a man almost twice her age. The man then breaks up with her because he "wants to make it work with his wife". To get over it she goes out dancing. She flirts with a man, but when she says that it was nothing serious he rapes her. She goes to the police to report the assault, but the police officer doesn't believe her. "How can you have been assaulted? You don't look that bad".

Luckily Shae has a friend, Lulu, who likes to kill men. Together they go out and punish all the men who wronged Shae, including the inconsiderate police officer. That's all that Shae wants, but it's not enough for Lulu. The revenge might be over, but the killing has to continue.

I love rape'n'revenge films. Not enough of them are made in my opinion. There's something delicious about the concept of it. First the man gets what he wants, then he gets what he deserves. This is a well-made film, a welcome addition to the genre.

Invisible Centerfolds (4 Stars)

As I wrote in my blog post yesterday, "The Invisible Man" is a film that will be watched forever, constantly inspiring young film makers. One of those young film makers is Dean McKendrick, who wrote and directed "Invisible Centerfolds" as a tasteful homage to James Whale's film. It's a tribute to the power of today's computers that even a low budget film can have better special effects than what we saw 82 years ago.

The plot begins the same way as "Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold", but it soon skids off in a different direction. Crystal, Beth and Kay are three models competing to become the Playpen Pet of the Month for February. Crystal and Beth are unscrupulous, willing to do whatever is necessary to be chosen, even if it means sleeping with the photographer. Only Kay, played by Christine Nguyen, has morals. She doesn't want fame, all she wants is to make enough money to pay for her training to be a dental hygienist. In a bar she complains to a stranger that she's sick of men staring at her all the time. She wants to be appreciated for something other than her looks. The stranger is Professor Ray Jennings, currently working on an invisibility potion. He offers Kay $15,000 to be his first subject for human trials.

So Kay becomes invisible. For a short while. Initially she fades in and out of visibility at random intervals, but as time progresses she becomes able to control the change. First she takes revenge on the lecherous photographer. It's easy to kick a man in the balls when you're invisible. After that she has more serious problems. A gangster on the run from the police wants to be made invisible.

This is a newspaper shown in the film. The print is too small to read, but in the second column of the mobster article there's a comma after every word, making it look more like a shopping list than a news article. Sloppy.

All's well that ends well. Kay falls in love with the professor and they live happily ever after. This is what it looks like when Professor Jennings makes love to the Invisible Woman. I'm sure H. G. Wells would approve.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Invisible Man (4 Stars)

When watching this film, made 82 years ago in 1933, my question is "How did they do it?" There were no computers, there was no greenscreen. Of course, as soon as the film was over I read up on it. According to Wikipedia, "When Claude Rains had some of his clothes on or was taking his clothes off, the effect was achieved by shooting him in a completely black velvet suit against a black velvet background and then combining this shot with another shot of the location the scene took place in using a matte process". Do you understand that? I don't. Maybe that's just as well. Films are more enjoyable if they're seen as something magical. It's no coincidence that Georges Méliès, recognised as the father of modern films, was a stage magician before he turned to making films to dazzle the audience in fairground tents.

Even though the film is all about invisibility, I find the Invisible Man, the scientist Jack Griffin, most terrifying when he can be seen. His bandaged face and hands make him look like a mummy. In sequels he began to wear face cream to make himself visible, but this detracted from the horror effect. Everyone who sees this terrible man, assumed to be scarred and deformed beneath the bandages, shrinks away in fear.

The film bears many similarities to "Frankenstein", made by the same director, James Whale, two years earlier. We have an obsessive scientist, his beautiful fiancée, the police and the villagers. Both scientists are mad. Henry Frankenstein thought that making new life put him on a par with God, whereas Jack Griffin's sights were lower: he merely wanted to rule the world.

Today was the first time I've watched the film for a long, long time, more than 40 years. It's a film that will be watched forever, a constant inspiration for young film makers.

Sorority Girls 3D (3 Stars)

The short film contained on the DVD may not be to everyone's taste, but don't you think that the disc has the coolest FBI warning ever?

The plot is simple. Beverly Lynne auditions six girls who want to join a sorority house. To prove their suitability they have to play Truth Or Dare in the nude.

The film is humorous, if you like giggling college girls. It seems to be unscripted, which makes it even cuter. Films like this will never win any Academy Awards, but it fills a niche that I enjoy: nudity without pornography.

The DVD contains two versions of the film, in 2D and 3D. I watched the 2D version on my television. I took a brief look at the 3D version, but it looked blurred, even with the 3D glasses supplied. Out of curiosity I put the film in my computer, and to my surprise the 3D version looks perfect. I'll have to remember that when watching 3D films in future.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Armed Response (3½ Stars)

Burt Roth (Lee Van Cleef) is a retired police officer. His three sons served in Vietnam. After returning home from the war Jim (David Carradine) opens a bar, while Tommy (Brent Huff) becomes a private investigator and Clay (David Goss) carries out shady deals that he won't disclose to the rest of his family.

A valuable statue is stolen from Tanaka, the head of a Los Angeles gang. Tanaka agrees to buy it back from the thieves for one million dollars. Clay and his partner Cory Thornton (Ross Hagen) are hired to carry out the exchange. Cory double crosses everyone when the exchange takes place. He kills the thieves to keep the money for himself. He attempts to kill Clay, but Clay escapes with the statue heavily wounded and gives it to his father before dying. His father has no idea what the statue is or how much it's worth. Cory tells Tanaka that Clay is the one who stole the money and the statue. Tanaka believes this and decides to wage war on the Roth family.

This is a mildly entertaining film with some good acting. It was one of Lee Van Cleef's last films and one of Brent Huff's first films, both of whom are outstanding actors. Lee spent his early career typecast as a bad guy in American westerns, but from the mid 1960's onwards he specialised in spaghetti westerns in which he usually played the good guy. I've seen him in a few films, but this is the first time I've seen him in a film which isn't a western.

Brent Huff is a different case altogether. He's someone that Hollywood passed by. In his very first films he showed that he had the talent to make it all the way to the top, but somehow he was never noticed. That's tragic.

Ross Hagen is a cool character in every film he appears in. He's just so likeable. It was difficult for me to take him seriously as the bad guy in "Armed Response". He's too pleasant to be bad.

The film's weak link, as far as the acting goes, is David Carradine. I never liked him much as an actor. He had a very rigid style that might have been appropriate in "Kill Bill", but it's certainly inappropriate in "Armed Response".

As is typical for low budget direct-to-video films, the film relies on plot twists rather than big production values. Although Cory is the film's bad guy almost all the film deals with the battle between the Roth family and the Tanaka clan. I can't help feeling that when they made the film they either ran out of time or money. The end is unsatisfying. Cory is never challenged, his death is accidental. In the final scene Burt Roth says that he wonders what has happened to Cory. That isn't the way to end a film. I would have rated it higher if not for this disappointment.

I should also mention that Michelle Bauer appears in a non-speaking role as a nightclub dancer. We only see her for 20 seconds, but she always lights up any scene that she appears in.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Lego Movie (4 Stars)

This is a confusing film. What I mean is that the film's target audience is confusing. On the surface it seems to be made for young children, but the film's underlying messages are so deep that they can only be understood by adults, or at least by intelligent teenagers 14 and upwards.

Emmet is a construction worker who lives his life according to the instructions given to him. He sleeps when he's told to, he wakes up at the correct time every day, he works according to the rules, he watches the recommended television shows, he even listens to the same music as everyone else. The turning point in his life comes when he falls down a hole in a construction site and finds a previously unknown Lego block, the piece of resistance, which attaches itself to his back and can't be removed. This identifies Emmet as a prophesied master builder who will save the world.

The message early in the film is obvious, to adults at least. Emmet lives in a society where everyone is assigned a role and does what is expected from him. I almost called this a Fascist society, but it's also the principle by which Communist countries are run. It's any country with a strong ideology which refuses to let anyone think differently, and it even applies to our western countries which use subtle persuasion to tell us what to think. Emmet doesn't question what he's told. He accepts the world that is presented to him, and he accepts its ideologies unquestioningly. He only progresses from being generic to becoming special when he opens his mind and begins to think for himself, without the instructions.

As the film continues we see much wider visions. It isn't just a matter of the ideologies of the world about him, he has to question the reality of the world that is presented to him. The world around him seems to be real, but he's living inside the Matrix. Without being aware of what's happening in the real world he can't battle the enemy forces in his own universe. The Lego Movie borrows so heavily from "The Matrix" that it's possible to figure out who represents who in the two films.

However, the film goes one step further, exploring a path uncharted in "The Matrix", apart from hints in "The Matrix: Revolutions". We see destiny. We see the hand of God guiding the universe, even controlling the success or failure of Emmet in his attempt to change the universe. Emmet saves the world because God wants him to. But the question that's left open in the Lego Movie is whether God only decides to save the universe because Emmet is so determined to do it. Is there a symbiosis between God and His creatures? Can God change his mind, influenced by the creatures that He has created?

But it doesn't end there. What is the nature and the morality of God Himself? Let's assume for a moment that the Bible's Old Testament is true in its portrayal of God. We see that God created the universe, then He created man in His own image, and then He gave laws telling man how to conduct himself. God defined what was right and wrong in the commandments He gave to Moses. Effectively He defined good and evil. Good is what God wants, evil is what God doesn't want. If we are true believers we follow God's instructions because they're awesome. We do what we're told and we go to Heaven. If we don't obey we go to Hell. It's as simple as that.

Today it's become common for people to reject the biblical concepts of good and evil because they don't believe the stories are true. But let's carry on assuming that the stories really are true. Should those who believe that God exists automatically accept everything that God says? To take just one example, the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong, that it is evil. It's the responsibility of believers to stand up to God and tell Him that He made a mistake. He should think it over and put things right in a Third Testament.

As the Lego Movie shows us, the first person to challenge God's authority is a male, the Devil. The film ends on a cliffhanger as a female enters who challenges both God and the Devil.

Everest (4 Stars)

This film tells the story of the multiple expeditions to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1996. In the first few minutes we're told about the problems. In the past the mountain had been scaled by very few elite, highly skilled climbers. Now Everest had become commercialised. Different companies were offering tours to the top of Everest for people who may have been fit, by normal standards, but certainly weren't the elite climbers who should have been attempting such a dangerous ascent. At a price of $65,000 per customer it was good business.

The film focuses on the leaders of two tours, Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, who decide to pool their efforts and lead their teams together, despite their different styles. Rob is a hand-holder, whereas Scott demands that his customers do as much as they can themselves, otherwise they don't deserve to be on Everest. We briefly see other teams at the beginning of the film. Rob especially is shocked by the crowds at Everest's Base Camp and predicts that they will be getting in one another's way.

Five people died trying to get back down from the peak. Five people shown in the film, that is. On the same day another three people died in another team not shown in the film. Was it worth it? Was it worth taking commercial tours to the top of the most dangerous mountain on Earth? It could be asked whether it's worth climbing Everest at all, but there will always be adventurers who put their lives at risk to achieve extraordinary feats.

The film is spectacular. The actors themselves tend to fade into the background. The film's real star is the mountain itself. Some scenes were shot on location, at Everest's Base Camp (5335 metres) and Camp 2 (6400 metres). Those are presumably the highest locations on the mountain accessible to normal people. The higher scenes were filmed in Pinewood Studios, England. The end result is breathtaking. This is also one of the few films I've seen in recent years that profits from 3D.

Despite the big publicity that the 1996 "Mount Everest Disaster" received, it's been pointed out, somewhat cynically, that it was a good year. Only 3% of the climbers who ascended higher than Base Camp died, compared with the previous yearly average of 3.3%. Was eight deaths in a single day exceptional? Not at all. For instance, on April 18th 2014, while the film was being made, 16 sherpa guides setting up equipment for the climbing season were killed in an avalanche. This never made the news. They were only poor local people, not rich westerners.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Creatures the world forgot (1½ Stars)

This is one of the few Hammer films from the 1960's and 1970's that I hadn't seen before today. I was warned away from it by people who told me it was bad. Even though the price was very low I hesitated a long time before buying it. Finally I changed my mind after seeing the following publicity photo from the film, Julie Ege standing topless with a spear. Any film with actresses like this can't be all that bad, can it?

Yes it can. The photo is false advertising. Julie doesn't appear topless in the film. Occasionally her top slips to the side, revealing a brief glimpse of bare breast, but not enough to offer the slightest titillation. This meant that I had to judge the film on its story and acting alone.

So what's it about? In prehistoric times two tribes meet one another, one with dark hair, the other with blond hair. They make peace by intermarriage. The leader of the Darkies marries the daughter of the Blondies' leader. She has twin sons, one of whom is dark haired, the other blond. When they grow up the leader prefers his blond son, because he's the better hunter. Both boys fall in love with Julie Ege -- who can blame them? -- and they take turns in knocking her unconscious and carrying her away. Eventually they fight to the death and the blond boy wins.

The film has no dialogue. There's only grunting from beginning to end. There were no doctors in those days. Whenever anyone was injured while hunting the others battered him to death with a rock, presumably because they didn't respect anyone who was weak. Hammer's other prehistoric films at least had dinosaurs for the men to fight with; this film just has cavemen fighting among themselves all day long. I felt myself hating them so much that I wished a volcano would erupt and kill them all.

This is Hammer's worst film. I almost gave it 1 star, but I added an extra half star because Julie Ege has a cute face.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Why don't you play in Hell (5 Stars)

This is a very personal film for the Japanese director Sion Sono. The early parts of the film are auto-biographical. When he was a teenager he formed a group of amateur film makers around himself. They called themselves the Fuck Bombers. They shot 8mm films and dreamt of becoming big film makers one day, as long as they didn't have to compromise their ideals of being different and original. Sion Sono shot scenes of a friend dressed up as Bruce Lee in a playground, resulting in the children laughing at him and calling him an idiot. But that didn't stop him. He carried on making films, and now, 30 years later, he's one of Japan's most famous film directors. Another successful director to emerge from the Fuck Bombers is Noboru Iguchi, director of films like "Machine Girl" and "Robo Geisha".

The film begins with a popular toothpaste commercial in which a 10-year-old girl sings a catchy pop song. Unknown to the general public the girl, Mitsuko, is the daughter of a gang boss called Muto. A rival gang attempts to assassinate Muto, but only his wife is at home, who manages to kill the attackers. She's sentenced to prison for 10 years.

During this time Mitsuko continues to make television commercials. She wants to make a feature film, but nobody will hire her, because by this time her family connections are known. Shortly before his wife's release from prison Muto promises her that he will make a film starring their daughter. Through a series of coincidences he meets Hirata, the leader of the Fuck Bombers, and a film is planned. The Muto gang is about to attack the Ikegami gang, so Hirata suggests that he films the raid, with Mitsuko leading the attack. If people really die it will make the film more realistic.

The result is a bloodbath rarely seen in films. The deaths come too fast for the bodies to be counted. All the time Hirata, who obviously represents Sion Sono himself, dances through the mayhem, encouraging the gang members to put on the best possible performance for the cameras. After all, that's what directors do. They direct.

I've told my readers so often that Sion Sono is a genius that they must be getting fed up of hearing it. But it's true. This film is proof of it. It contains more comedy elements than his other films, but it has the same madness.

One last thing: other reviewers have compared "Why don't you play in Hell" to "Kill Bill". Sion Sono discusses this in an interview included on the DVD. He disagrees with the comparison with "Kill Bill". He says that the main influence is Bruce Lee's films, especially "Fist of Fury" and "Game of Death".

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Greatful Dead (4½ Stars)

Nami grows up in a rich family. The problem is that her parents ignore her. Her mother's main interest is feeding the world's starving people. One day she leaves on a charity mission to the third world and she never comes back. Nami's father finds a lover in her absence. Her father and the lover spend all their time locked in a room reading the Bible and praying. Nami's sister, her only companion, runs away from home, leaving Nami totally alone. She finds comfort in ordering items from the television shopping channels, luxury items that she doesn't even unpack.

Nami's father dies when she's 18, leaving her a sizeable fortune. She has no need to work, so she spends her days spying on other people. Using binoculars and telescopes she searches for others who are as lonely as she is. She calls them "solitarians". She keeps a diary of what her fellow solitarians do every day.

Her favourite solitarian is a rich old man that she sees buying pornographic DVDs. She enjoys watching him so much that she rents an apartment overlooking his house. Things go well until he's visited by volunteers from a local church. They visit him regularly to read the Bible with him. It horrifies Nami that he's no longer lonely, so she resorts to extreme measures to get him back all for herself.

This is an amazing film directed by Eiji Uchida, a director that I had never previously heard of. Based on its quality I want to see more of his films. It's a simple story, and nothing in the peaceful first half prepares the viewer for the events that happen in the second half.