Thursday, 31 March 2016

TV Series: Daredevil

In the Daredevil TV series, season 2, episode 5, Karen Page is reading an old copy of the New York Bulletin. There's an article with the headline "Local Gangs Push Hard Against NY Law Enforcement", written by Steven Morahan. In amazing poetic gibberish he writes:

Beauteously dependently however the stuffily and coherent rode crud laconically goodheartedly set bee outgrew along much gazelle jeez far lackadaisical as splendidly hey grizzly busted so ignorant outside a peered definite beneath justly hello.

That's only the first paragraph. The camera scrolls down and shows us that there are at least another eight paragraphs of similar nonsense. As if this isn't bad enough, in the next article, headlined "Prominant Socialite Charged with Child Endangerment", Carly Whitaker repeats the same text. She doesn't even know how to spell "prominent" correctly.


P.S. You can click the picture to enlarge it.

10 Cloverfield Lane (3½ Stars)

Michelle leaves her boyfriend after an argument. She has a car crash and wakes up in an underground bunker, inhabited by two men, Howard and Emmett. Howard tells her that there's been some sort of attack, and they have to stay underground because of radiation in the air. At first Michelle thinks that he's some sort of conspiracy freak making up stories about what is happening outside, but after looking through the window and seeing a woman suffering she realises that something really is happening.

Nevertheless, Michelle feels very uncomfortable with Howard. He might have saved her life, but he's very creepy. With Emmett's help she makes plans to escape.

This is a film in two parts. The first part deals with Michelle's life in the bunker. The second part deals with her struggle to survive after her escape. The first part is very compelling, adequately showing the claustrophobia of three people living in a small environment. The second part seems rushed and less convincing.

I've always liked John Goodman as an actor, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the one who attracted my attention. I already knew her from "Scott Pilgrim vs The World" and "Death Proof", but she's now maturing as an actress. I predict a long and successful career for her.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Wicker Man [1973 version] (4¾ Stars)

When I reviewed the 2006 remake of "The Wicker Man" in 2010 I said I would watch the original version soon. As you can see, I'm not the most reliable of film reviewers. If I ever keep you waiting like this again, please remind me.

I enjoyed the remake of the film, but I now have to say that the original is better. It's usually described as a horror film, but I don't think that label fits. It's a supernatural mystery film. A police sergeant travels to the small Scottish island of Summerisle, a fictional island in the Outer Hebrides, to investigate the report of a missing girl. He meets with resistance from everyone he talks to. At first the islanders say that the girl doesn't exist. When he finds evidence of her they say she died of natural causes, but he's unable to find her body. The sergeant, a devout Christian, is horrified to find that the islanders all follow a pagan religion.

This is an excellent film with remarkable performances by Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee. It's somehow absurd to see pagan rituals being practised in Scotland. The Scottish islands and coastal areas are all under the control of extreme Christian sects. In that regard the remake is more credible, because it relocates the island to the north west of America.

Yes, that's Christopher Lee with an amazing hair do!

Monday, 28 March 2016

The Voices (4 Stars)

This is an underappreciated 2014 film starring Ryan Reynolds as Jerry Hickfang, a man who works packing goods in a factory in a small American town. The town is called Milton, but you won't be able to locate it in America by identifying landmarks, because it was filmed entirely in Germany. That's how the international film market works.

Jerry is a man who is mentally unhinged after killing his mother as a child. His mother wanted to commit suicide, so he helped her by cutting her head off. I suppose he meant well. Now that he's in his mid thirties he lives in a closed down bowling alley that used to belong to his parents. He lives with his dog and his cat, that he calls Bosco and Mr. Whiskers. Jerry's problem is that he hears voices. Bosco and Mr. Whiskers talk to him. They give contradictory viewpoints. Bosco tells him to do good, Mr. Whiskers tells him to do evil. This confuses Jerry, so he keeps to a middle path.

Jerry is socially awkward, but at least he has good lucks, so the girls in his factory want to date him. His first date with Fiona (Gemma Arterton) turns out badly. He accidentally kills her after his car breaks down. He's afraid that he'll be arrested for murder, so he asks his pets for advice. Mr. Whiskers suggests a cover up, so he chops Fiona's body into small pieces which he puts into plastic containers. Perfect dog food! He keeps Fiona's head in his fridge, because he likes the way she looks.

Things don't stop there. Fiona talks to him and says she's lonely by herself in the fridge, so she asks him to kill someone else to get her a companion. And the bodies start piling up.....

The film is a comedy, in case you couldn't guess. The viewer is invited to have sympathy with Jerry. After all, he isn't a bad person, he's only killing because the voices make him do it. Even Jesus forgives him.

I can't help feeling that Ryan Reynolds will one day be recognised as a successor to Robin Williams. As well as being a skilled comedic actor, he can do voices that are both realistic and amusing, which was one of Robin Williams' greatest skills. In the film Ryan does the voices for both of his pets, which is somehow appropriate.

Gemma Arterton dazzles as Fiona, whether she's a complete person or only a talking head. She's one of England's best actresses.

Disorder (3 Stars)

This is an exciting thriller about an ex-soldier who takes a job as a security guard, protecting the wife and child of a Lebanese arms dealer. But can someone please explain to me what happened at the end?

Sunday, 27 March 2016

King Kong [1976 version] (3 Stars)

After watching two films about Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre this week, I thought I would watch another film about those famous landmark buildings. The only other film I have in my collection is the 1976 version of "King Kong". In the other two versions (1933 and 2005) Kong climbs the Empire State Building, but in the 1976 version he climbed the recently completed World Trade Center. The film poster shows him standing with one foot on each tower, but he isn't that big in the film. The most he could do was jump from one roof to the other.

When this film was shown in the cinemas it was a big commercial success. In retrospect it's been recognised as a poor quality film. The problem isn't with the special effects, which were adequate for the 1970's and a big improvement on the capabilities of 1933. The problem is that the story was rewritten, and the new screenplay was far inferior. Instead of an expedition to make a film it's a journey to hunt for oil. There's still an actress in this film, played by Jessica Lange in her first film, but she's found adrift at sea in a lifeboat. She's so shallow and ditzy that she's annoying.

Another problem is that the poignancy of the romantic feelings between the ape and the actress are lost. Instead, Kong seems driven by sexual lust. Just look at his wild eyes when he looks at her.

He manages to pull off her top for a fraction of a second. I doubt audiences could enjoy this when the film was in the cinemas, but now that we have DVDs we can pause the film to see what made Kong's eyes so wild.

Peter Jackson showed how it should be done when he remade "King Kong" in 2005. He kept as close as possible to the original story, adding a few details but taking nothing away. Best of all, Peter Jackson set his new version in the 1930's. I admit that it was cute seeing the World Trade Center in the 1976 version, but apart from that the atmosphere was spoilt by setting it in the modern era.

Jeff Bridges challenged Jessica Lange to my favourite game, Backgammon. It seems like he was having trouble concentrating.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Walk (5 Stars)

"All artists are anarchists to some degree".

As I've already told my readers, I consider this to be the best English language film of 2015. It's incomprehensible to me that it didn't win any Academy Awards. Maybe the problem is that it stood in the shadow of the highly acclaimed documentary "Man on Wire" which was made only a few years earlier. It's true, the two films do recount the same major event and what led up to it. As a dramatisation, "The Walk" is painfully accurate, so it is very similar to the content to the documentary. The differences aren't in what the films show, but in what they leave out.

I need to watch the two films back to back to make a full comparison, but here are a few things that stuck out.

"The Walk" describes Philippe Petit's training as a wire walker under the guidance of Papa Rudy, who isn't mentioned at all in "Man on Wire".

Philippe's walk across the Sydney Harbour bridge towers isn't mentioned in "The Walk".

Philippe's relationship with Annie is shown in more details in "The Walk".

In "Man on Wire" Philippe's first visit to New York is described as a failed attempt to walk the towers. In "The Walk" he only goes there to check out the towers. I'm sure that "Man on Wire" is more accurate, but it's easy to reconcile the two stories. Philippe went to New York naively expecting to walk the towers at short notice, but when he was there he realised how big the task was and made plans for his second visit.

In "The Walk" we see that Philippe met his last helpers only two days before the walk. This isn't obvious in "Man on Wire".

The documentary states that Philippe walked between the towers eight times in a period of 45 minutes. "The Walk" is less specific, and it shows only five crossings.

In "The Walk" it seems that Philippe only intended to cross between the towers once, then changed his mind. No mention of this is made in the documentary. My suspicion is that he intended to cross more than once, but he was prepared to stop if he had too many difficulties on the first crossing.

In "The Walk" Philippe's sexual encounter with the unnamed woman he met outside the courthouse is omitted.

Philippe's encounter with the bird is omitted in "Man on Wire". This is only a trivial event, not worth mentioning in a documentary, but in a dramatisation it makes Philippe seem messianic.

Which of the two films should you watch? My answer is simple: watch both! If you really need to choose, watch "The Walk", as it's the more entertaining of the two films. If you intend to watch both, watch "The Walk" first. If you watch the documentary second, you'll see that it confirms some of the things that seem outlandish are true, such as Philippe running around naked on the roof of the South Tower.

Philippe salutes the great city of New York.

Millions stand on the ground, but only one man is in the sky.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Man on Wire (4 Stars)

"If I die, what a beautiful death to die in the exercise of your passion".

On August 7th, 1974 Philippe Petit walked on a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center. He walked backwards and forwards eight times, including performing stunts such as sitting and lying down on the wire, 400 meters above the ground. This was highly illegal, of course. When he was arrested the description of his crime, as shown in the photocopy of the police report, was "man on wire".

Philippe Petit was risking his life. He had carried out similar stunts in the past, such as walking a wire between the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but this was the biggest and the most dangerous. He could have died, but he didn't care. The excitement of walking the wire, if only for a few seconds, would have made it worth while.

"The Walk", a film about this same stunt starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, was my favourite English language film of 2015. I intend to watch it tomorrow, so I thought I would watch the documentary first. The film is about the whole of Petit's life, whereas the documentary concentrates on the one walk and only briefly touches his previous life, so it gives a lot more detail about the planning and mechanics of August 1974. There are a few incidents that I don't remember being mentioned in the film, such as Petit's sexual encounter with a stranger on the day he came out of the courthouse, but I need to watch the film again to refresh my memory.

"Man on Wire" has the honour of being the second highest rated film on the Rotten Tomatoes site. It has a 100% positive rating out of 154 reviews. The top film is "Toy Story 2", with a 100% rating out of 163 reviews, so it comes a close second. I'm not saying this because I put great value in the Rotten Tomatoes site. The reviewers are a collection of professional critics who judge films on their artistic value, rather than whether they are entertaining. A better system, and a more accurate rating, would be a mix of professional and amateur critics.

Some of my friends use the Rotten Tomato rating to decide whether or not to see a film in the cinema. That's foolish. Even if we accept the validity of the Rotten Tomatoes reviews, a 25% rating doesn't mean that it's a bad film, it means that 25% of the reviewers enjoyed it, so my foolish friends might belong to that 25%. But I don't accept the validity. To take a recent example, "The Witch" has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but it's an awful film. I went to the film in a group of 13 people, and only one of us liked it, so we would have given it an 8% rating. The Birmingham Film Club rating is more reliable than Rotten Tomatoes.

A Royal Night Out (4 Stars)

This was one of my top 10 films that I saw in the cinema in 2015. To be honest, I don't know why I'm only giving it four stars. Maybe I'm ashamed to say how much I like it? It's such a beautiful story of a day in the life of the two princesses, Elisabeth and Margaret, one of whom has since gone on to be the longest ruling British monarch.

I can't help wondering if the director approached the Queen to ask for permission to make the film. After all, it seems to be taking quite a liberty, telling false stories about the ruling monarch. Nevertheless, she's portrayed respectfully. She makes mistakes in her childish innocence -- she was 19 at the time, but immature due to being sheltered from the world -- but she always conducts herself as a lady. Her 14-year-old sister Margaret acts wilder, but that's what the real Margaret was like in her younger years. I wonder if Margaret really called herself P2 ("Princess Two"). That's amusing.

The film shows that the worst of rogues, such as the owners of a Soho brothel, treat the royal family with the greatest of respect. To be British is to respect the monarchy. That's something that the current leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, has never learnt. He disrespectfully refuses to sing the national anthem, "God save the Queen". He doesn't deserve to lead a political party. He's a traitor who doesn't even deserve to live in our country. He should be beat up and dumped in an alley where he can reconsider his opinions.

Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters (4 Stars)

When I reviewed this film in 2013 I said that it's worth watching once. I didn't intend to watch it a second time, but recently I couldn't help thinking about it. Partly it's because I'm fascinated by Gemma Arterton. She's not what I would call a stunningly beautiful woman, but something about her appearance is haunting. She has a face that is perfect in its simplicity. If I ever met her I'm sure I would stare at her. Does that sound creepy? I guess it does.

The beautiful Gemma Arterton.

Another reason is that I was recently looking at Zoe Bell's filmography, and I couldn't remember her appearing in the film. I had to watch it again to check her out. It's no wonder that I didn't recognise her in her extreme make-up. I admire Zoe as an actress, not because of her looks, so I can't be accused of being creepy again. Of course, the more I say I'm not being creepy, the creepier I sound.

The not so beautiful Zoe Bell.

The film itself is an enjoyable romp. The anachronisms remind me of Sam Raimi's Hercules and Xena TV series, with a touch of "Van Helsing" mixed in. (That's another film I need to watch again).

One thing I don't understand is why the film has so much bad language. The F word is used repeatedly from beginning to end. I personally don't swear. I never have done, except when I'm quoting the words of others. It seems so pointless. Have you ever listened to people who swear a lot? The seven-letter F word is always given more emphasis than anything else in their sentences. It's spoken louder, as if it's the most important word they're saying, even though it means nothing at all. I live in a Pakistani community, and I often stand listening to young people talking in their own language. Many of them have adopted the English F word into their language and use it frequently, with the same over-emphasis. I can't understand anything they say except for this one word.

Shall I watch "Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters" again? Probably. It's not a film to be watched only once.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

John Wick (4 Stars)

There are so many reasons not to like this film. It has a very simple plot, a wooden, under-developed lead character and barely credible one-man-versus-hundreds action sequences. Nevertheless, I enjoy it. The action is blood pumping, and when Keanu Reeves shot his last enemy I was sad that he couldn't carry on killing. Roll on the sequel!

High Rise (3 Stars)

"This is my party. You are my guests. I decide who is lobotomised".

This film is based on a novel with the same name, written by J. G. Ballard in 1975. The director Ben Wheatley made the wise decision to set the film in the 1970's instead of today. The history of high-rise buildings has run differently in America, where they're called skyscrapers, but in England the 1970's were the golden years of high-rise buildings. They were marketed as affordable quality housing for everyone. Over the next 20 years high-rise buildings deteriorated into virtual slums, and today nobody would use the word "quality" to describe them. They're cheap and filthy, inhabited only by people who are too poor to find anything else. The building in this film still has the naive optimism of the 1970's.

However, the film shows a breakdown of the society inside the building. It's a microcosm of the British class system. The building is self-contained. People leave it to go to work, but everything else that they need is within the building. There's a school, a supermarket, a swimming pool, a gym, a bar... in short, everything people need in their daily life. The problem is that the building doesn't unite people, it separates them. The working class, mostly families with children, live in small rooms on the lower floors, the middle class live in spacious rooms on the middle floors, and the upper class live a pompously rich lifestyle on the upper floors.

The film's main character is Dr. Robert Laing, a neurologist who lives on the 25th floor, caught in the middle of the developing tribe warfare. He's friends with Richard Wilder, a documentary film maker on the second floor, but he also has contact with the building's architect, Anthony Royal, who lives on the top floor, the 40th. Dr. Laing doesn't fit in anywhere. The people on the lower floors reject him because he is too smart. When he's invited to an upper floor party by the architect he's thrown out because they think he's too cheap.

The film has some very good ideas, but it's too splintered to keep the viewer's attention. It's the sort of story that would work better in a book. There are too many people in the film, and apart from the three main characters we have trouble relating to any of them. It's a film I can respect but not enjoy. It's thought-provoking but not entertaining. Could it have been made better by another director? I think not. It's too ambitious a project for a film. Nevertheless, the acting is outstanding, particularly by Tom Hiddleston (Dr. Laing) and Jeremy Irons (Anthony Royal).

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Boy (3½ Stars)

Greta Evans leaves America to escape an abusive relationship. She takes a job looking after a young boy while the parents are on holiday for a few weeks. When she's introduced to the boy, Brahms, she sees that it's really a porcelain doll being carried around by the parents. At first she thinks they're joking, but then she realises they're serious. They even talk to the doll as if it could understand them.

The parents give Greta a list of rules to obey, such as time that should be spent reading Brahms poetry and playing music for him, but she doesn't obey the rules when they leave. Then she begins to notice that the doll isn't lifeless after all. It moves around the room when she's asleep, and she hears it running around in other parts of the house.

This is a genuinely scary film. It starts off slowly, but it picks up momentum as it progresses. I wouldn't call it a great horror film, but I enjoyed watching it in the cinema today. It's a film worth watching at least once.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Air Doll (4½ Stars)

How is it possible for me to fit in? There is only one Me, but there are millions of Others.

This is a very melancholy film, once we look past the rather controversial subject matter. The middle-aged businessman Hideo has bought himself an inflatable sex doll. He doesn't just use it for sex, it's also his companion. He calls the doll Nozomi, the name of his ex-wife who left him. He talks to it when he comes home from work, happy that it doesn't talk back, and he goes for walks with it by pushing it in a wheelchair. That's very sad.

One day Nozomi spontaneously becomes a real person. She can think and feel, and her body is no longer made of plastic, at least on the outside. On the inside she's still full of air.

She wanders around the city as naive as a young child, anxious to learn as much as she can. She takes a job in a video rental store while Hideo is at work, but when Hideo returns home she remains motionless, pretending that she's still a doll. Somehow he can't tell the difference. That's understandable. For months he has been fantasising that the doll is a real woman, so when it suddenly looks real he doesn't notice.

It's a story of human isolation that is very similar to Spike Jonze's "Her", though told differently. In a way Nozomi is the only real person in the film; the people around her are all hollow and empty.

I have to praise the actress Doona Bae for her performance a Nozomi. It must be some of the best acting I've ever seen. She very realistically portrays a doll pretending to be a human and only partially succeeding.

To me personally a sex doll is totally undesirable. It's difficult for me to understand any man wanting something like that. It's not that I think they're depraved, which is probably the opinion of many. They're now sold by respectable companies like Amazon. Click the picture above if you don't believe me. For me the problem is that even the expensive models that cost over £2000 aren't realistic enough. However well made they are they still look artificial. Even if a sex doll looked and felt real, it wouldn't be able to move and talk to me. Maybe when robot technology and artificial intelligence has progressed this will be possible, but the price will be so high that it will no longer be feasible.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Tag (5 Stars)

"Life is surreal".

Yes, life is surreal, especially when you're a Japanese schoolgirl. You have to watch your classmates being slaughtered by the teachers with machine guns in front of your eyes. When you grow up you marry a pig while your friends laugh at you and call you a slut, making you so angry that you have to kill them. And all the time you have the feeling of deja vu, you've done it all before.

The film was directed by Sion Sono, who I consider to be the world's greatest living director. Whether you love him or hate him you have to admit that he pushes the boundaries of film making. The plots are never straight forward. You watch his films and you expect to be amazed. So often in his films a story starts quietly, but escalates to levels of insanity.

In my previous reviews I've carefully avoided giving spoilers of this wonderful film, since I doubt many of my readers have seen it yet. It's based on the science fiction novel "Riaru Onigokko" ("Running World") by Yusuke Yamada, which is also the film's original title in Japanese. Saying it's a science fiction film is a spoiler in itself, because that isn't apparent until the end of the film. If I tell you that the film has similarities with "The Truman Show" and "Dark City" I've already given you big clues to solve the film's mystery.

This is one of the best films I've ever seen. I would put it in my top five, at least. It's brilliant. I didn't intend to watch it today, but I was talking to a friend about it and couldn't resist the temptation. I could watch it every day and never get bored.

The Lovely Bones (4 Stars)

This film is a supernatural drama directed by Peter Jackson in 2009. Despite receiving great critical acclaim it was only a moderate success at the box office, barely making its budget back. This is surprising, considering the enormous success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and "King Kong". Maybe the problem is that it wasn't clear what the film's target audience was. Peter Jackson intended the film to be for adults, but the film's main character is a 14-year-old girl, making it look like a film for teenagers.

The film has many similarities with "What dreams may come". Susie Salmon is a girl who is murdered when she's 14. She finds herself in a world of great beauty. She's encouraged by her only companion in the after-life, a teenage girl called Holly Golightly, to move on, but she feels responsible for her family and friends that she's left behind. She finds that she can influence her family members to different degrees. Her youngest brother is the most susceptible, but he isn't taken seriously when he tells the others that Susie visits him. More than anything she wants to warn them that her murderer lives in the house opposite and might strike again.

This isn't a weepy film like "What dreams may come". Susie is very satisfied in the after-life. She doesn't even have thoughts of revenge towards her killer, she's only worried that her friends and family are in danger from him. Although Susie had a boyfriend on Earth, it's not him that she's most interested in. She has the closest bond to her father.

As after-life philosophies go, it's very vague, not quite agreeing with any of the large world religions. On the other hand, it's less absurd than the concept in "What dreams may come" that you can enter a painting in the after-life. The world in which Susie finds herself isn't Heaven, it's a place between Heaven and Earth where she has to ready herself for her final destination, but it's not a place of punishment like Purgatory, it's a pleasant place, so pleasant that it's not worth leaving to go to Heaven, whatever it might look like in the Peter Jackson universe. I like the idea that it's possible to cling to Earth if you want to. If I were to die tomorrow I'd like to remain close to Cineworld so that I don't miss the next Captain America film.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Key (4 Stars)

This is a film made by Tinto Brass in 1983. It takes place in Venice in 1940, a very beautiful city at a very ugly time. To be precise, the film begins on December 31st, 1939 and ends on June 10th, 1940, the day when Italy entered World War Two by declaring war on Great Britain.

The film deals with a wealthy family. John Rolfe is an English art professor who has lived in Venice for most of his adult life. He tops up his income from the university by being paid to validate fake paintings as authentic. His wife Teresa owns a small hotel. His daughter Lisa is engaged to a Bulgarian called Laszlo who imports foreign goods. Despite the collapse of society around them, the family members are only interested in their own affairs.

John and Teresa have been married for 20 years and are still happy together. Teresa is satisfied with the marriage, emotionally and physically, but John wants more excitement. He knows his wife is very prude, so he's scared of telling her what he wants her to do. He keeps a diary locked in his desk. He decides to write down his sexual fantasies, and he leaves the key for Teresa to find. Yes, that's the key in the title. He knows her well. As soon as she finds the key she opens the desk and reads everything. But what has he written? John has written that he fantasises about his wife having an affair with their daughter's fiancé Laszlo. Wow! What a weird thing for him to want. At first Teresa is hesitant, she's been faithful to her husband all the time they were together, but she eventually seduces Laszlo and an affair begins.

The problem is that Teresa has to let her husband know about the affair. There's an easy solution. She begins to write a diary as well, giving details of her affair, which she hides in a place where she expects her husband to find it. Every day they read one another's diaries but never speak openly about what is happening.

In many ways this is a typical film for the Italian director, Tinto Brass. He's obsessed with marital infidelity, claiming that it's necessary to keep marriages intact. Usually he tells the story from the woman's point of view, i.e. a woman wanting to have an affair despite resistance from her husband. In "The Key" the man is the active agent, pushing his wife into an affair that she initially doesn't want.

I dislike Tinto Brass's morals and find his views on marital fidelity absurd, but I have to appreciate the film as a work of art.

The film's soundtrack is amazing, helping to elevate the sleazy plot to artistic heights. The soundtrack was written by Ennio Morricone, probably the greatest film music composer who has ever lived. He's written the music for over 500 films since 1959. He's best known for composing the music for spaghetti westerns, including the Clint Eastwood Dollars Trilogy, but he has composed music in many other styles, including the amazing piano compositions for "The Legend of 1900". In recent years he has worked with Quentin Tarantino on several of his films, including "Kill Bill" and "The Hateful Eight". He's now 87, but I hope he has many years of composing music ahead of him.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Some like it hot (4 Stars)

"I'm tired of getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop".

I belong to a film club and often discuss films with other people. One thing I've heard repeatedly is that remakes suck. When they say this they're referring both to remakes of foreign films and modern remakes of older films. They point to obvious examples of failed remakes, such as "Dark Water" (a Hollywood remake of a Japanese film) and "Assault on Precinct 13" (a 2005 remake of a 1976 film). My reply to them is that generalisations suck, and I point to "Some like it hot", a remake of the French film "Fanfare of Love". Many consider "Some like it hot" to be the best comedy film ever.

The film begins with a true event, the Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929, when seven prominent Irish mobsters were killed in a firing squad style assassination in Chicago, presumably by rival Italian mobsters under the leadership of Al Capone. Two jazz musicians, Joe and Gerald, witness the killing and manage to flee, but are recognised by the killers. They hatch a plot to escape to Florida by disguising themselves as women and joining a female jazz band.

The two men call themselves Josephine and Daphne. They have a hard time controlling themselves when they're surrounded by scantily dressed women in the sleeping compartment on the train to Florida. They're both attracted to the band's singer, Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, played by Marilyn Monroe. Thinking them to be girls like her, Sugar Kane confesses her most intimate secrets to Joe/Joesephine. She says that she's always falling in love with saxophone players -- the saxophone is Joe's instrument -- but she wants to pull herself together and marry a millionaire instead. She tells Gerald/Daphne that she envies "her" because she's so flat-chested; as a busty woman Sugar Kane has trouble finding clothes that fit.

Unluckily, there is a yearly meeting of Italian mafia families in Florida disguised as a convention to celebrate Italian opera. The Chicago mobsters recognise the jazz players despite their disguises and try to kill them.

This is a hilarious film, even though the humour is dated by today's standards. When it was made in 1959 it must have been absolutely shocking to see men dressed as women. Today we just shrug our shoulders and say "So what?". The film's biggest weakness, in my opinion, is that it was made in black and white, which was unusual at the time. It's claimed that the decision was made because the lead actors, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, looked too ugly to be taken seriously as women. I don't believe this. Make-up could have been used to make them look as pretty as necessary within the context of the film. I think the real reason was that the director feared censorship because the actors looked too attractive and could have aroused illegal desires in homosexuals.

I started this review by talking about remakes. I believe that in the right hands it could be successfully remade today. I can't think of any actress who could come up to the level of Marilyn Monroe's innocent sex appeal, but the advantages of making a colour version with more daring modern humour would silence all criticism, except from Marilyn's most devoted fans.

The German singer Roger Baptist is also a friend of Italian opera.

Anomalisa (4¼ Stars)

Michael Stone is a customer service expert who is scheduled to make a speech at a sales convention in Cincinatti. He has a problem. Everyone in his life sounds the same to him. The voices of everyone in his life, male or female, even his own family members, sound identical. In his hotel he meets a plain-looking woman called Lisa who sounds different to everyone else. He falls in love with her and decides to leave his wife to be with her.

This is a fascinating parable about inter-personal relationships from the brilliant mind of Charlie Kaufman. Tragic and comic scenes are seamlessly woven together. After watching "Anomalisa" today my main impression was of being overwhelmed by a film with such depth of meaning that I was incapable of taking it all in. This is a film that needs repeated viewing before I can make a detailed analysis. On the other hand, I've watched "Adaptation" many times over and I'm still no closer to writing a full psycho-analytical analysis. Let's see how successful I can be with "Anomalisa" after a few viewings.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Allegiant (4 Stars)

"Allegiant" is the third film in the Divergent series, based on the novels by Veronica Roth. It begins after the death of the Erudite leader Janine. Tris and her colleagues from the Dauntless faction want to go out of the city to look for another civilisation, but they are prevented from leaving by Four's mother Evelyn. Eventually they succeed in escaping. Outside the city walls they encounter a highly advanced race that claims the city of Chicago is an experiment that has been running for 200 years. The outsiders seem benevolent, and Tris trusts them completely, but Four suspects they might have bad intentions.

The lines between good and bad become less and less clear in this film. Tris realises that she has to fend for herself. The fight sequences are more exciting than in "Insurgent", making this a better film.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Witch (1½ Stars)

I realise that I'm glamorising this film by reproducing the beautifully stylish film poster above. It gives a false impression. I doubt that the woman in the picture even appears in the film.

The film begins with a man and his family being banished from a settlement in New England. It's not clear why they are being banished. Maybe the man, William, is more religious than the other settlers. Maybe he just has a different style of religion to the others. In the history of mankind nothing has done as much to divide people as religion. For the rest of the film William, his wife and their four children are struggling to survive in a small cottage they've built themselves, living from the crops they harvest.

A fifth child is born, but he disappears under mysterious circumstances. William insists that a wolf took the baby, but the daughter Thomasin blames a witch. For the majority of the film we see the children and the parents blaming one another of witchcraft. At first glance it might seem that the film is just about paranoia and religious fanaticism, but there really are witches in the forest.

"The Witch" was made with good intentions, but it suffers from its uneven pacing. It moves so slowly for so long that when there is finally a burst of action it seems out of place. There's too much emphasis on the religious mania of William and his family. The film would have been better if it had concentrated more on the real witches. The brief glimpses we get of the witches in the forest are unsatisfyingly short.

It's a very dismal film, poorly written and poorly directed. Only the good acting of the principal characters gives it any value.

Friday, 11 March 2016

London Has Fallen (5 Stars)

This is a film that pushes all the right buttons. A Pakistani arms dealer plans an intricate terror attack on London. He uses the funeral of England's prime minister to lure the world's top leaders to one place, intending to assassinate them all with a maximum of collateral damage. The American president is one of the few survivors, and he has to go underground, unable to turn to the police for help because the police have been infiltrated by traitors up to the highest levels. Only his personal bodyguard Mike Banning stands between him and the terrorists.

The special effects are awe-inspiring. The action is fast, hardly allowing a breather from beginning to end. In spite of a few attempts to demonise the USA's drone strikes, it's a clear us-versus-them scenario, in which the western powers are all good and the terrorists are all bad. In the cinema there were visitors who cheered whenever important terrorists were killed. Some people might criticise the film for its pro-western chest-beating rhetoric, but that's what makes it so good. Even since 9/11 there's been an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in the West. This film tells us that whatever happens we shall win.

The film shares several of the main characters from "Olympus has fallen", made in 2013. "London has fallen" deals with similar themes, but there are no references to the previous film.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Insurgent (3 Stars)

"Insurgent" is a sequel to "Divergent", beginning a few days after the end of the first film. The ruling Erudite faction has blamed the Dauntless faction for slaughtering the Abnegation faction, even though it was the Erudite leader, Janine, who orchestrated the attack. Tris and the rest of her Dauntless colleagues are on the run, sheltered first by the Amity faction, then by factionless rebels.

"Insurgent" has flashier special effects than "Divergent", but something is missing. The main characters aren't pleasant enough for us to sympathise with them. In the first film Tris (Shailene Woodley) at least looked pleasant, but in the second film she cuts her hair and looks boyish, no longer feminine.

As a sequel this is a disappointment. I dread to see what the third part will be like when I watch it at the weekend.

Grimsby (4½ Stars)

This is just what I need when I go to the cinema: a side-splitting comedy. Last year I didn't list any comedies in my top 10 films of the year. "Grimsby" has a good chance of making it into my list for 2016. I only deducted half a star because some of the humour was too crude for me, but I might increase my rating the next time I see it.

The film is about Nobby Butcher, a football fan from Grimsby in the north of England. I know the name of the town, but I couldn't have said where it is, apart from knowing that it's somewhere up north. It's not the sort of town that people talk about. Looking at a map I've seen that it isn't as far north as I thought. It's south of Hull, in Lincolnshire.

When Nobby was a child he was separated from his younger brother Sebastian. It's now 28 years later. Nobby is living in a council house with his 11 children, but he's never given up hope of finding his brother. He spots him on television in London and goes to meet him. Unknown to him, Sebastian is now a top agent for a secret division of MI6. At a conference of the World Health Organisation Sebastian is seen with a gun after the president has been shot. This leads to him being treated as a criminal, even by his superiors who think he's gone rogue. Only Nobby stands by his brother and assists him in finding the real killer.

The two brothers Nobby and Sebastian are as unalike as possible. They're played by Sacha Baron Cohen, known for his comedy roles, and Mark Strong, usually typecast as an action hero. The action scenes are over the top and breathtaking. The comedy is hilarious, even when it gets crude. For instance, we see the two brothers being pounded by an elephant's penis. Nasty.

The film is a guilty pleasure. I suspect that most serious film critics are too ashamed to admit that they like it. Not me. I love the film, and I recommend it strongly to all my readers.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Divergent (4 Stars)

This is a rather typical modern story. A teenage girl has to rebel against the system around her. Most of the men and boys she meets are her enemies, but there's one that she falls in love with.

I find the story's premise rather weak. The idea that everyone has to fit into one of five accepted categories is unnatural. In society there are usually only two categories, the rulers and the ruled. Nevertheless, it's a heart-warming story about a young girl who doesn't fit in, even though she wants to.

Hail, Caesar! (5 Stars)

I love this film. How can a film with such a serious background be so funny?

The film takes place in 1951 in Hollywood. Capitol Film Studios is making a big budget film about Jesus Christ, as seen through the eyes of a Roman soldier called Autolycus. During the filming the film's leading actor, Baird Whitlock, is kidnapped and held to ransom for $100,000. According to an inflation calculator that would be approximately $920,000 today. The kidnappers are a group of Hollywood screenwriters who are protesting against the big studio bosses pocketing all the profits. Baird becomes a willing prisoner when he's seduced by the Communist ideals of his captors.

The film revolves around the efforts of the Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix, who is determined to get Baird back while keeping the story of the kidnapping out of the press. He was a real person in the post-war Hollywood era. All the other characters are fictional, but it's easy to guess who they refer to. Even the films shown are obvious references to real films. For instance, the Hollywood epic being made is called "Hail, Caesar", but it's a clone of "Ben Hur".

The comedy comes from the ridiculous nature of the smaller Hollywood films of the time and the second-rate actors who played in them. In fact, even the big name actors are portrayed as second-rate.

This is an obvious candidate for Oscar nominations in 2017. It's not just that the film is very good. The Film Academy voters are nostalgic and like films about films. I can't guarantee that it will win awards, because I have no idea what will be released the rest of this year, but it will certainly be nominated as best film. Does anyone think I'm wrong? I'll bet a pint of beer with any of my local friends.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Bone Tomahawk (3 Stars)

This film was released in America last October, but we had to wait four months to see it in England. I'm not sure what the reason for the delay was. Maybe it was deliberately released after "The Hateful Eight" to bask in its glory as the second western starring Kurt Russell in two months? I shall never understand the hidden strategies and intrigues in the film industry.

Unseen savages raid a small frontier town, Bright Hope, population 268, and kidnap three of the townspeople. The only evidence is a strangely carved arrow in the side of a building. A highly cultivated Indian called "The Professor" is summoned to give his opinion. He tells the sheriff that the savages aren't Indians, they are a nameless tribe of cannibals. The sheriff heads off to retrieve the kidnapped townspeople with a highly unusual posse of three other men, which includes an arrogant womanizer, an old man and a cripple.

My attention was attracted by "Bone Tomahawk" when I heard about its high critical acclaim. After seeing it I don't understand why it's been praised so highly. The first 90 minutes are spent on the trail before we finally see the savages. It's all about the relationship between the four men. Call it character development, if you like, but after half an hour I already knew the men and wanted the story to continue. The best part of the film was the battle with the savages, but this came too late in the film and was over too soon.