Monday, 30 May 2016

Die Another Day (4 Stars)

"Die another day" is the 20th James Bond film, made in 2002. It's the fourth and last film to star Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. It's also the last of the classic James Bond films before the reboot of the franchise in 2006.

The villain in this film has a relatively small goal. He doesn't want to rule the world or become the world's richest man, he merely wants to reunite Korea under the control of the North Korean government. This was a topical subject in 2002, because Kim Jong-il was seen as a dangerous leader. Today it would be even more relevant with Kim Jong-un as the deranged leader of North Korea, expecting all the men in his country to make their hair look as ugly as his.

After the critical acclaim of Michelle Yeoh in "Tomorrow never dies" another action hero has been chosen as the good Bond girl. Halle Berry stars as Jinx Johnson, a CIA agent sent to do the same job as James Bond. There's evidently no communication between the CIA and MI6, but at least the two agents decide to work together when they meet one another in the field. Halle Berry's role is an obvious attempt to combine the fighting skills of Michelle Yeoh with the sultry sex appeal of the other Bond girls, in particular Ursula Andress.

While the plot and the acting is good, the film is spoilt by over-the-top special effects. The invisible car is ridiculous. The scene with the escape from the disintegrating plane is so implausible that it made me laugh to myself. There hasn't been such exaggerated action in a Bond film since "Moonraker".

Money Monster (4 Stars)

This film is so exciting and enthralling from beginning to end that it's easy to overlook the real message. It's a film about corruption by rich executives and the normal poor people -- you and me -- who suffer as a result.

George Clooney plays Lee Gates, a flamboyant financial adviser who hosts a weekly investment advice show, "Money Monster". In one of his episodes he recommends IBIS, a mining company, as "safer than a bank savings book". A few weeks later the company's stock unexpectedly crashes . It's blamed on a glitch in an automated stock trading program, but Lee invites the CEO of IBIS, Walt Camby, as a guest on his show to talk about the crash.

A man bursts into the TV studio with a gun and a bomb during the live broadcast. He's Kyle Ludwell, a delivery man who lost his life savings investing in IBIS. He demands to talk to Lee and Walt live on air. Unfortunately, Walt Camby isn't in the studio because he's flown to Geneva at short notice. Kyle holds Lee hostage while Lee tries to find out what happened to IBIS. As the clock ticks Lee begins to suspect that it wasn't a glitch, it was some sort of corrupt activity. All the time the show's director Patty Fenn is speaking to Lee over an ear piece, advising him what to say next; advice that he doesn't always take.

This is a well written film with first class performances by all the main actors.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

The world is not enough (4½ Stars)

"The world is not enough" is the 19th James Bond film, made in 1999. It's the third film to star Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. Film critics have formed a consensus that this is the worst Bond film ever. I'm so glad that I'm a fan, not a critic. I find the film highly enjoyable, not least because Pierce Brosnan is excellent in the main role, almost up to the standard of Sean Connery.

Of course, if I deny this is the worst Bond film the question will be immediately thrown back at me which one I think is the worst. That's a difficult question to answer because I like them all. If I had to pick my least favourite film it would probably be "Live and let die". I've never really given it any thought.

As far as the Bond girls go, this film treads new ground. The good Bond girl is Dr. Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards. What separates her from previous Bond girls is that she isn't an air-headed rich girl, she's a highly intelligent nuclear scientist. Of course, her intelligence isn't enough to prevent her falling helplessly into James Bond's arms in the final scene. However, the biggest departure from previous Bond girls is the bad Bond girl, Elektra King, played by Sophie Marceau. All of the Bond films have either two or three Bond girls as well as a power-mad villain. This is the only film in which the villain is the Bond girl herself. Elektra King has inherited an oil company after murdering her father, and she intends to detonate an atomic bomb to ensure that her own pipeline is the sole supply of oil from the Middle East. She might not be the scariest of Bond's adversaries, but she's certainly the most seductive. After all, we never saw Ernst Blofeld writhing on James Bond's lap while strangling him to death.

"Do you know what happens when a man is strangled?"

It's a well known but little understood fact that when a man is being strangled he has an erection and sometimes even an orgasm. There is uncertainty about whether this is caused by the blocking of the air tunnel, the restriction of the flow of blood to the brain or a combination of the two. Whatever may be the case, the effect is to relax the muscles in the groin area and facilitate the flow of blood into the penis. This phenomenon has been most commonly observed in American style hanging. In English style hanging, practised in England until the 1960's, the hanged man falls rapidly and breaks his neck, dying almost immediately. In American style hanging there is no rapid fall, so the hanged man is gradually choked to death over a period of minutes. The erection during his struggles adds to his humiliation during the execution.

Women react to strangling in the same way as men, but the effect is less visible, for obvious reasons.

Some couples use this as a form of sexual play. They take turns in suffocating one another to sexually arouse one another. This is usually done merely by restricting oxygen, not by hindering blood flow, so it's called "erotic asphyxiation". Whether the sexual arousal is caused by the lack of air alone is unclear, because these games are played in a sexual context where the participants are already sexually excited. Apart from this, there is often additional sexual stimulus from one person sitting on the other. We see that when Elektra King sits on James Bond's lap while strangling him.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Tomorrow Never Dies (4½ Stars)

"Tomorrow never dies" is the 18th James Bond film, made in 1997. It's the second film to star Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. I was particularly excited when it was made because it starred Michelle Yeoh as the film's Bond girl, Wai Lin. Actually there are two Bond girls. In the photo above Teri Hatcher is shown on the left as Paris Carver, while Michelle Yeoh is shown on the right. There are frequently two good Bond girls, of whom one is killed early in the film. That's Paris Carver in "Tomorrow never dies". Wai Lin is the girl who survives to the end so that the film can close with her lying in Bond's arms.

So what's so exciting about Michelle Yeoh? From the first time I heard she would appear I knew she would be different to all the Bond girls before her. The Bond girls are eye candy for the viewer and sex toys for James Bond. Their sole purpose is to act as damsels in distress for the mighty hero to save, so that they can jump into his arms and his bed. That's not Michelle Yeoh. Ever since her early films, such as "Magnificent Warriors" and "The Heroic Trio", she was an action hero. It was expected that as a Bond girl she would be a martial artist on a par with Bond himself. This was the case. In the film it isn't just about James Bond saving her; they fight side by side and take turns saving one another.

In "Tomorrow Never Dies" there's a power-mad villain, as always, but in this film he isn't attempting to conquer the world. The villain is only the head of an international news corporation. He wants his newspapers to be the most read and his television stations to be the most watched, so he resorts to underhand tricks. He creates an international incident between China and Britain, threatening to make the two countries go to war. He does this so that he can be the first one to report the news. Step by step he causes the situation to escalate, always standing on the front line with his news report planned before the events have even occurred.

This is where Wai Lin fits in. The British secret service sends James Bond to investigate, and the Chinese secret service sends Wai Lin. The two agents each want to protect their own countries, but to do this they have to unite against their common enemy.

The public loved Michelle Yeoh. They were tired of James Bond's sexist attitudes and wanted a woman who could stand up to him. After the film there was talk of Michelle returning, making her the first Bond girl to return in a second film. I had mixed feelings. about it. On the one hand Michelle Yeoh was a fantastic actress that I wanted to see again. On the other hand, one of the key elements of the Bond formula was the appearance of a new girl in every film, showing that he had no interest in romance. As it was, the film studio decided not to bring her back. The next film returned to the usual damsel in distress girl. Almost. The next girl was actually a highly intelligent and independent scientist, but that's a topic for my next review.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Ex Machina (4½ Stars)

I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.

Monday, 23 May 2016

A Hologram for the King (4 Stars)

Tom Hanks gets lost in translation.

He plays Alan Clay, a salesman attempting to sell a high-tech holographic conference system to the King of Saudi Arabia. When he arrives in the city where the king is supposed to live he finds that only one building has been completed, and the king hasn't visited for over 18 months. His frustration turns to rage as he realises that he can't find anyone to help him.

This is an excellent film about a man visiting a country so foreign that it could be another planet. The justaposition of middle eastern and western cultures often seems absurd, especially Alan's journey through Mecca. Friends of mine who have worked in Saudi Arabia have verified that the attitude towards alcohol is accurate. If you ask for alcohol you're told it's forbidden, but if you don't ask you find that it's offered to you when you least expect it.

I almost gave the film a five star rating, but I found the scenes with the cancerous lump on Alan's back distasteful. If that doesn't bother you you'll love the film.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Never Been Kissed (4 Stars)

"There is a big world out there, bigger than proms, bigger than high school, and it won't matter if you were the prom queen or the quarterback of the football team or the biggest nerd in school. Find out who you are and try not to be afraid of it".

This is the sixth film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 1999 when she was still 15. Interestingly, she plays a character who is 17 years old. As you can see in the photo above, she looked older than 15. She had already reached her full height of 5'10" and towered over Drew Barrymore, who is only 5'3".

When Josie Geller (Drew Barrymore) was 17 she was the ugly girl in school. She didn't fit in. She'd never had a boyfriend, and she didn't even have a date for the prom. Now she's 25 and works as a journalist. She doesn't look ugly any more, but she's plain and forgettable. And she still hasn't had a boyfriend. She dreams of her magical first kiss, but her expectancies are so high that it looks like it will never happen.

Josie is given an assignment to return to high school posing as a 17-year-old to write a story about schools today. She's not as ugly as she used to be. Her face isn't as spotty and she's lost weight, but she still doesn't fit in. She's still an outsider. The only friend she makes is Aldys (Leelee Sobieski), the president of the school's Mathematics club, the Denominators.

Josie might not fit in with her classmates, but there's still a romance. She develops a crush on her English literature teacher. He also feels attracted to her, but he keeps his distance because he thinks she's only 17. It's an awkward relationship.

This is beautiful little high school comedy. I enjoyed it, even though Leelee doesn't play the main role.

A newspaper is shown in the film. It isn't completely legible, but it's clear enough to see that the same blocks of text are used as in "A Horse for Danny" and "Basic Instinct". The paragraph beginning with the words "Future plans" is repeated in the second, third and fourth columns. Sloppy.

Green Room (3 Stars)

This is a different type of horror film, grounded in reality. A group of young people are trapped in a building and need to escape, but they're being attacked from all sides. Not by zombies or vampires, they're being attacked by neo-Nazis.

A punk band, The Ain't Rights, is on tour in Oregon. They're desperate for money, so they accept an invitation to play at a bar that's owned by neo-Nazis. I'm surprised they were even invited, because everyone knows that punks are usually left-wing. The bar is located in a remote woodland area, no neighbours for miles. After their set they're about to leave when they see a dead body. The bar's owner, Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart), says that they can't be allowed to leave alive. A siege situation ensues, with the band holed up in a room painted green.

I saw this film with my friends from the Birmingham Film Club. They all enjoyed the film. I was the only one who disagreed, so please understand that the rating only reflects my personal opinion. There's a good chance that you will like the film more than me.

In my opinion, the young people under siege theme has been overdone in horror movies. It makes an interesting twist that the "monsters" are human, but this doesn't make the film better. I don't like the film's slow pace. For me this doesn't succeed in building up the suspense. I expected a rapid onslaught of attackers, rather than occasional short bursts.

On the positive side, Patrick Stewart's performance as the intellectual patriarch of the young Nazi thugs is brilliant. He proves that he's able to play a bad guy.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

A soldier's daughter never cries (4 Stars)

"The golden light above you shows me where you're from,
The magic in your eye bewitches all you gaze upon".

This is the fifth film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 1998 when she was still 15. It's based on the autobiographical novel by Kaylie Jones, in which she calls herself Channe, short for Charlotte Anne.

Channe's family are Americans who live in Paris in the 1960's. Channe's father is an ex-soldier who writes novels about the Second World War. It can be assumed that he's successful as a writer, judging by the size of their apartment and the fact that they have a full time maid living in the house.

When Channe is six her parents adopt a boy called Benoit. They say that his name sounds ridiculous in English, so they call him Billy instead. Couldn't they just have called him Ben? The film then follows Channe's life and loves. In France she's close to a boy in her class called Francis, but her family moves back to America when she's 15. Desperate to find love, Channe sleeps with a number of boys, but she finds that they reject her afterwards.

The film is a well made family drama. Like all films based on true events it doesn't have a clear cut plot with logical milestones. The story winds and turns with random events occurring. As a viewer I almost feel like I'm spying on someone else's life. We grow to know and love Channe through the course of the film. It's a magnificent performance by Leelee Sobieski, who shows a depth of talent way beyond her age.

Killzone 2 (4 Stars)

The original name of this Hong Kong action film is "Saat Po Long 2", so in England it's marketed either as "SPL 2" or "Killzone 2". I'll stick to calling it "Killzone 2" to avoid confusion.

The first film was made in 2005, starring Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung. It's generally regarded as a classic action film. The sequel has nothing to do with it. None of the original cast return, and the locations are different. Is the film studio just trying to cash in on the popularity of the first film? It's not necessary. "Killzone 2" stands as a first class action film in its own right.

The film takes place in Hong Kong and Bangkok. Frequently the action is taking place in both cities simultaneously, and the camera cuts from one city to the other. This unusual film style is very effective.

The film's main character is Kit, a Hong Kong police officer who goes underground to infiltrate an organ trafficking organisation. After his cover is blown he's sent to a prison in Bangkok, which is also used as a place to hold people waiting to be killed for their organs. The boss of the organisation needs a heart transplant himself, and he plans to kill his brother to use his heart. When the brother is taken into protective custody by the Hong Kong police an offer is made to exchange him for Kit.

Another important character is a prison guard called Chatchai who feels guilty when he finds out about the innocent men being held in his prison. There are connections between him and Kit that are a result of coincidence. We often see coincidences in films. Random connections between characters make a good story, but are they plausible? I say yes. There are many coincidences that link people together in real life. We don't recognise them until they happen. How often have you bumped into a friend or work colleague in a place where you never expected to see him?

I've noticed that "Killzone 2" has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The incredibly intelligent critics must like the film. I like it too.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Captain America: Civil War (5 Stars)

The third Captain America film features many of the Avengers, but essentially it's a battle between Captain America and Iron Man. Due to the collateral damage caused in prior battles between the Avengers and their enemies the United Nations has decided to take control of the Avengers; the Avengers can only go into action if given permission by the United Nations Security Council. Tony Stark (Iron Man) welcomes this step, but Steve Rogers (Captain America) rejects it. The situation escalates when Steve's former best friend Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) allegedly plants a bomb at a United Nations summit in Vienna. Bucky is wanted for murder, but Captain America thinks he's innocent and protects him.

In the ensuing battle between Captain America and Iron Man the other heroes take one side or the other, making it a civil war. The action is fast-paced. I loved the film, even though both Steve Rogers and Tony Stark annoyed me as characters. They're both annoyingly stubborn.

The question of collateral damage was never dealt with in the Marvel comics I read, from the 1960's to the early 1990's. It was always the bad guys who caused civilian deaths, never the good guys. Maybe Daredevil #127 (November 1975) hints at the topic, when we see Daredevil endangering innocent lives because he's enjoying his battle with the Torpedo.

By the way, if you haven't seen the film in the cinema yet, please wait until the end of the credits for the final scene with Spider-Man. By now all film fans should know that there are after-credits scenes.

Here are a few spoilers:

1. There's a new actor playing Spider-Man in the film.

2. We don't see Ben Parker die.

3. May Parker is smoking hot.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Deep Impact (4 Stars)

This is the fourth film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 1998. She was 14 at the time, but her character in the film must be older, because she is shown getting married. She certainly looks older than 14. She's aged a lot since "Jungle 2 Jungle", which she made a year earlier in 1997. She's now a lot taller and bustier. Some girls are early developers.

"Deep Impact" was made in the same year as "Armageddon", a film with the same premise of a comet hitting the Earth. Both films were large box office hits. "Armageddon" made more money, but "Deep Impact" was praised by critics for its greater scientific accuracy and its better written screenplay with multi-faceted subplots.

It isn't stated in what year the film takes place, but it's presumably the near future, a few years after 1998. There's now a black president. Was that even thinkable in 1998? The director probably wanted to shock the audience. On the other hand, the president is played by Morgan Freeman, who must be the most reassuringly calm father figure of any colour. He's someone I would like to be my president, if I were American. It's not stated what party he belongs to, but that's typical. In films where we see an American president we're never told what party he belong to, because he's simply the president. That's all we need to know.

A comet is on a collision course with the Earth, threatening to cause an E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event). A spaceship is sent to destroy the comet with nuclear explosives. The mission fails, simply dividing the comet into two pieces which are both headed towards the Earth. Drastic survival measures are needed to save the human race. Since it's expected that all life on the Earth's surface will be destroyed, a huge underground camp is built underground in Missouri, large enough to house a million people. 200,000 people are pre-selected, mostly scientists, politicians and security forces. The other 800,000 are picked at random by a national lottery. Only people under 50 are picked. As an arbitrary age limit I find that too high. 30 would be a lot more sensible, because the survivors have to be of good child-bearing age to repopulate the Earth. And wouldn't it be more sensible to restrict the lottery picks to people with college degrees? Evolution needs a helping hand.

That's where Leelee Sobieski comes into the story. She plays Sarah Hotchner, a young girl in love with Leo Biederer (Elijah Wood). Leo is picked to be saved, Sarah isn't. For this reason they get married, because the marriage partners of people who have been picked are also saved.

Overall, this film is a lot darker than "Armageddon". Whereas "Armageddon" is a film about averting a disaster, "Deep Impact" is about the disaster itself. Several stories are told in parallel about people who never meet one another. There's the spaceship crew, an investigative reporter, and of course Leo and Sarah, the young lovers. The acting is superb throughout.

Off-Topic: Eurovision Song Contest

It's that time of year again. Once a year it's the Eurovision song contest, when countries throughout Europe compete to present the best song. It's emphasised that it's all about the quality of the songwriting, not the quality of the artists singing the songs, but in practice this subtlety is lost.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the first Eurovision Song Contest in 1956. The contest started humbly with only seven countries and now has 42 countries this year. In the early years all the participating countries appeared in the contest on television. Now there are too many for a television show of reasonable length, so there are two semi-finals held. The top 10 countries from each semi-final (based on a jury vote) qualify for the final broadcast. The winning country of the previous year qualifies automatically. (In 2015 it was Sweden). The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Italy also qualify for the final automatically, because they are the countries that contribute the most to the cost of the contest. Money talks.

In the early years the winner was decided by juries casting votes in each of the participating countries. After years of experimenting with different systems, both juries and the public vote in each country, their votes weighted equally. No country is allowed to vote for its own song.

Are the songs any good? That depends on what you like. Apart from occasional exceptions they're easy listening. I personally find the Eurovision songs better than the current chart hits, but nothing exceptional. Nice songs, but forgettable. Nevertheless, I think it's a reasonable premise for a contest to search for Europe's best new song, if it weren't for one thing: the political voting. The Eurovision Song Contest has never been about picking the best song, it's about politics. Last night I didn't even listen to the songs, I just turned on to the last 45 minutes to watch the voting. Here are a few examples of political voting:

  • Countries either give their immediate neighbours the most points (12) or none at all, depending on how friendly they are.
  • A few years ago the British entry was the favourite to win, but scored almost no points. Commentators said it was because Britain was participating in the Iraq war.
  • Last night the voting was polarised by the Russia-Ukraine war. The former Soviet countries all gave 12 points to either Russia or Ukraine, depending on who they support.
  • Last night Germany finished last out of 26. It's the country everyone loves to hate, because of the austerity measures they're imposing on the other EU countries.

The introduction of telephone voting by the public was expected to eliminate political voting, because it was thought that the general public would vote on song quality rather than politics. This assumption has since been proved to be false. There are sometimes differences between the juries and the public votes, but if anything the public is more likely to vote politically than a jury.

This year's winning song, "1944", is about Stalin's ethnic cleansing of the Tatars in Crimea. If it hadn't been for this there would never have been an ethnic Russian majority in Crimea, and the Russia-Ukraine war would never have begun. Songs are barred from the contest that are about current political events, but "1944" is only indirectly about the Russia-Ukraine war. Russia complained about the song being allowed to compete, but the other countries in the European Broadcasting Union (all of which oppose Russia's invasion of Ukraine) rejected Russia's complaints.

There's some confusion about which countries are eligible to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest. All European countries are eligible, of course. Also countries that lie partially in Europe, such as Russia and Turkey. That makes sense. In 1973 Israel was invited to join the contest. That was a controversial decision, probably more about showing political support to Israel than anything else. In order to pretend to be neutral, it was later stated that all countries bordering the Mediterranean sea could take part in the contest, although in practice only Morocco ever accepted the offer, just once in 1980.

But now, amazingly, Australia has been allowed to join the contest. That's practically the most distant country on Earth. Australia took part last year as a guest, but now they're officially allowed to participate every year. Some people have joked that they only take part because an official got them mixed up with Austria. Let's hope that Japan can soon join the contest. It would be good to see Ai Shinozaki representing her country. Oh, did I say it's all about the songs, not the performers? In Ai's case I'll make an exception.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Avengers XXX 2 (3½ Stars)

This is Axel Braun's sequel to "Avengers XXX", subtitled "Along came a spider". It deals with Spider-Man turning bad after he dons a black symbiote costume.

This is the first time I have to criticise Axel Braun's super hero films. Until now he's always lovingly crafted his films to be true to the comic book sources, in both the costumes and the stories. This time he's made up his own ideas. The symbiotic costume isn't an alien life form in the film, it's a weapon developed by Hydra. Tut tut, Axel. Even "Spider-Man 3" keeps close to the comic books in this matter.

In all other regards I have to praise the film. Xander Corvus is the perfect actor to play Spider-Man, even better than Tobey Maguire. Xander has a nerdy high pitched voice, and he keeps up the banter while he's facing enemies. It's obvious that Axel is a comic book fan from his attention to detail.

Slow West (4 Stars)

In the second half of the 20th Century, in particular the 1950's and 1960's, Hollywood churned out westerns at a rapid pace. It was an easy way to make money. Square-jawed men riding through the open prairie shooting anyone they didn't like. It was a simple world of good versus evil. American audiences lapped it up.

After a long gap westerns are being made again today. Usually there's a big fuss about each new film because they're a rarity. They're a retro genre, a nostalgic reminder of the good old days of cinema. However, they aren't made like they used to be. The new films might use the tropes of the classic westerns, but they explore new ground. In particular, the line between good and evil isn't so clear.

"Slow West" is a good example of a modern western. It takes place in 1870. Jay Cavendish is a 16-year-old boy from a noble Scottish family. He's in love with Rose Ross, the daughter of a poor farmer. Jay's uncle strikes Rose because he considers Rose unworthy. Her father defends her and accidentally strikes the uncle dead. Together Rose and her father flee to America to escape justice. They think they will be safe in a land where nobody knows them, but soon wanted posters with their pictures are hanging across America.

Jay travels to America to search for Rose. His life is saved by Silas Selleck, a bounty hunter. Jay pays Silas $100 to accompany him to the place where Rose lives, not realising that Silas is more interested in the reward for capturing Rose and her father, dead or alive.

This is a grim picture of the wild west, populated with dark, unattractive characters. Everyone is looking out for himself. That's the American way. Anyone can become rich if he has a gun in his hand. Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee are both excellent actors, and they complement one another perfectly in their roles: Kodi as the romantic young boy and Michael as the hardened gunfighter. This is what westerns should always have been like.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Ant-Man (4½ Stars)

I wrote a detailed review after watching the film in the cinema, so I shan't write as much this time. Apart from that, I'm going through personal problems at the moment, including my dog being sick, so I'm not in the mood to write a lot.

"Ant-Man" (the film) was a surprise hit in 2015. That's because Ant-Man (the character) is one of Marvel's lesser known comic books. It was one of the first super-hero stories written by Stan Lee in the early 1960's, but Hank Pym didn't last very long as an insect-sized hero. He soon used his size changing abilities to become Giant Man. The film shows Hank Pym as an old man who has now retired from crime-fighting. He picks Scott Lang, a cat burglar and electronics expert, as his replacement. Scott appeared only sporadically in the comics from 1979 to 2015, but after the success of the film he was given his own monthly comic.

The film was a success because it's a well written action adventure. The tie-ins to the the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by featuring the Falcon and mentioning SHIELD are an added bonus.

Of course, Ant-Man (the character) was invented by Stan Lee. It's amazing how many of his heroes from the 1960's are still featured in films today, more than 50 years later. That's a tribute to his brilliance.

Click here for my first review.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (4 Stars)

"Take away the guilt, who'd ever want to get laid?"

There's something very true about that statement. Guilty sex is the best sex. It's not so much sex as an ongoing act, it's the orgasm itself. An orgasm is the most intense and satisfying when you have the feeling that you're doing something wrong. That's why extramarital affairs feel so good that men are willing to risk a happy marriage for moments of pleasure. I shan't go into this in more detail because it's only a minor aspect of the film, but I encourage comments from my readers on this fascinating subject.

This film was a dream come true for Russ Meyer as a director. He was used to making films on a shoestring budget. He came to the attention of the big studios after the success of "Vixen" in 1968, which was made with a budget of $20,000 but earned $26 million at the box office. 20th Century Fox had recently lost money invested in big budget pictures, so they thought that if they hired Russ Meyer they could make it back. They gave him a budget of $2 million to work with. Russ picked his friend Roger Ebert to write the screenplay. Yes, that's Roger Ebert the film critic.

The film is about a female rock group that moves to Los Angeles when the uncle of the lead singer hears of her uncle's death and goes to collect her share of the inheritance. The girls get caught up in the never ending scene of wild parties with sex and drugs. However, there are negative undercurrents, and not everyone is as happy as they seem on the surface.

This was an ode to the swinging sixties. It could be called a deconstruction of the sixties. Everyone is cool and hip and anti-establishment, but as soon as money is involved greed sets in. Free love is upheld as a way of life, but there's also jealousy. "Free love is cool, but not with my girl". Nevertheless, the most impressive scenes in the film are the parties where the strangest of characters are dancing with wild abandon.

The incredible Charles Napier plays a small but significant part in the film. He's the squarest of the square. He stands in the middle of the hippies dressed in a suit and tie with his tidily combed hair.

The limited edition Blu-ray release is amazing. Apart from the film itself being remastered, the extra features are all new. The interviews and commentaries were all made after Russ Meyer's death, so the actors often digress into emotional eulogies when they talk about Russ. He was a great man, though I don't consider this to be his greatest film. Roger Ebert sees it differently. He claims that "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" is the favourite film of many people. That might be the case, but I far prefer "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill" and "Supervixens".

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Bad Neighbours 2 (3 Stars)

"Let's do what parents do best: stop young people from having fun".

The original title of this film is simply "Neighbors", with the typical American incorrect spelling. Outside of America it's called "Bad Neighbours 2", which doesn't just correct the bad spelling, it's also more appropriate at explaining what the film's about by adding the word "Bad".

I didn't watch the first Bad Neighbours film. I don't usually watch films that star Seth Rogen. It's not that he's a bad actor, it's just that I associate him with crude humour. I'm not a prude, I'm okay with a certain amount of crudeness, but with Seth it's like he's trying too hard. He's being crude for the sake of being crude, and it isn't funny, it's just disgusting. I decided to watch "Bad Neighbours 2" because it stars Chloe Grace Moretz, one of my favourite actresses.

Before going to the cinema today the question in my mind was whether I would miss out by not having seen the first film. I needn't have worried. The film's dialogue helped me read between the lines, and I managed to figure out what the first film had been about. That's a well written sequel!

Mac and Kelly Radner have sold their house because they're expecting a second baby. Now the house is being held in escrow for 30 days. According to the explanation in the film this means that the buyers aren't yet sure they want the house. They've signed a contract, but they have 30 days in which to decide, during which they can come back and look at the house at any time. That's not how I understand the word "escrow", and after returning home I looked up the definition of the word, and it doesn't seem to mean what the film says it does, but let's leave it there.

Mac and Kelly are happy with the arrangement, until a newly founded college sorority moves into the house next door. There are wild parties every day that go on till the middle of the night. This would scare off the buyers, so Mac goes to war with the girls, in particular with the sorority leader Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz).

Despite the abundance of young college girls, the film is remarkably lacking in sexuality. I say that as a criticism. Nevertheless, if my car were surrounded by college girls in bikinis I would give up the fight and surrender. I have my limits.

The film was pretty much as I expected. Crude humour from Seth Rogen that disgusted me. First class acting from Chloe Grace Moretz. The overall effect is average.

Chloe should have given Seth a good beating, That would have improved the film.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Spy Next Door (3½ Stars)

A man is dating a divorced woman. They're considering getting married, but her children don't like him. That's a stereotypical story that must have been told time and time again. The difference this time is that the man is Jackie Chan, and he's a spy working for the CIA. In between going on dates and chatting with the kids he has to battle Russian terrorists.

Despite Jackie Chan's zany fighting style that we know from his other films, this is very much a family film aimed at children. The photo above shows the three children, played by Alina Foley (6), Will Shadley (10) and Madeline Carroll (13). All three are impressive, although Madeline shows the greatest depth of emotion. Alina is very precocious at her young age. In an interview in the Blu-ray extra features she says that she's never taken acting lessons and doesn't need them. Let's see if she changes her mind as she gets older.

Madeline Carroll, now 20 years old, has already had numerous film roles. She seems to have enough talent to go a long way in Hollywood.

I've given the film a relatively low rating because I have difficulty relating to it as a children's film. On the other hand, I'm sure that if you have young children you'll enjoy sitting watching this film with them.

Most DVDs and Blu-ray discs have trailers that play before the start of the film. They can usually be skipped, but I like to watch them, because they give me an in-cinema feeling as an introduction to the film. However, the "Spy Next Door" Blu-ray has something awful. When the disc is inserted, the first thing shown is a five-minute advertisement for Butlin's. For my readers who don't live in England, it's a holiday camp. I hate it when the disc contains advertisements that aren't film-related. Even worse when they advertisements are so long. Even worse when they can't be skipped. It's awful! The only thing I could do was go and make a coffee while the ad was running.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Life Blood (3½ Stars)

This is a sleek and sexy vampire film, but with a theological message that would make fundamentalist Bible bashers hit their heads on the wall.

Brooke and Rhea are lesbian lovers. At a New Year's Party in 1969 Brooke sees a woman being assaulted by a famous film star who thinks he can do whatever he wants. She kills him by stabbing him in the neck. Brooke and Rhea leave in their car before the actor's body is found. They stop in the middle of the highway to argue about whether to report what happened to the police. God comes down from Heaven to speak to Rhea. I should say "Goddess", because she's a sexy woman in a see-through negligee, but she claims to be the God of the Bible. She says that she is recruiting women to become angels to fight evil on Earth, and she's chosen Rhea because she has a pure heart. Rhea feeds on God's blood, which gives her eternal life. Rhea begs God to let Brooke live eternally as well. At first God refuses because she considers Brooke unworthy, but she finally gives in, warning Rhea that Brooke will be a thorn in her side. The two girls are left to sleep.

It's quite a sleep. Protective cocoons form around the girls, and they don't awake until 2009. Brooke is overcome by thirst and kills two motorists by drinking their blood. Rhea says that they should be doing God's work and only killing evil-doers, but Brooke doesn't care and goes on a rampage. Rhea has to pursue her to bring her back onto the path of righteousness.

Charles Napier appears as a local sheriff. This was his last film before his death in 2011. He was the most underrated actor I've ever known. He had immense talent and deserved a big break, but he never got it. He spent most of his life playing small roles.

This is God? I should read the Bible more often.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Pixels (4½ Stars)

"Run! It's Pacman!"

Today is the second time I've watched this film. The first time I saw it, a little over six months ago, I had to laugh out loud at the film's humour. Today I already knew the jokes, so I was concentrating on the plot itself. I have to say that it's a really good story. The balance between the action and the romance is perfect. The poignancy of the childhood friends re-uniting is moving in itself. It's also good to see the human side of an American president. That's something barely touched in modern films.

How did "Pixels" manage to get only a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes? Once more it's proof that the oh so smart film critics don't know what they're talking about.

Naturally, the attack by Pacman is the film's outstanding highlight. Even though all the video games shown in the film rate as classics, Pacman is the most iconic of the 1980's video games. It's the game that everyone knows, even today.

Tragically Toru Iwatani, the creator of Pacman, never received the riches he deserved from Pacman's fame. "The truth of the matter is, there were no rewards per se for the success of Pac-Man. I was just an employee. There was no change in my salary, no bonus, no official citation of any kind". It's a thankless job being a video game developer.

I downloaded the Dojo Quest game for my smartphone after watching "Pixels". It's the only game I've ever played on my phone. Is it a good game? I don't know, I have nothing to compare it with. I just know that the film itself is excellent, whatever the Rotten Critics from Rotten Tomatoes say.

Bikini Hoe-Down (3 Stars)

"Oh Jeb... is that a big Bible in your hand, or are you just happy to see me?"

We all know what the bikini films of the 1990's were about. A business is failing, so it has to be saved by attracting new customers with the help of scantily clad women. This formula led to countless classics like "Bikini Carwash Company", "Bikini Airways" and "Bikini Drive-In". Unfortunately, "Bikini Hoe-Down" isn't a classic, despite being made by the King of B-Movies himself, Fred Olen Ray. In my opinion the problem with the film is that he strays too far from the formula. Trying to do something original isn't the right thing to do when you're making a bikini movie.

Three models, April, May and June, are members of a team of models known collectively as the Three Seasons. At the risk of sounding pedantic, shouldn't they be called the Three Months? They appear regularly in Plaything magazine wearing bikinis. Their photographer persuades them to pose naked for the first time. They travel to the glamorous destination for the photo shoot, but they get lost and end up in the sleepy town of Pig Hollow.

In Pig Hollow the largest farm is Ghost Gulch farm, where young Missy Sue lives with her father. The crooked mayor wants to take possession of the farm, so that he can sell the land to the government as a site for dumping nuclear waste. To get his hands on the farm he fakes a tax bill from the IRS for $25,000. Missy Sue is certain she'll be evicted. When the models arrive they offer to make money to pay the tax bill by holding a hoe-down at the farm

I've watched many of Fred Olen Ray's films, and this is one of his weakest. The girls look cute, whether they're wearing bikinis or even less, but they have no acting talent. Fred must have realised that naked breasts alone aren't enough to sell a film. In his following erotic comedies he paid more attention to hiring better actors and actresses.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Under the Skin (4 Stars)

Lust is a dark abyss. When you descend you can never climb out.

I don't claim to understand this film. Stylistically it's brilliant, but it leaves open more questions than it answers. It's possible that the book on which it's based is clearer, but I don't want to read it. The beauty of the film is in its ambiguity.

Do you, my readers, pay attention to my "Popular Posts" list in the side bar? I don't make it clear, but this is actually the list of the 10 most read posts in the last month. Most of the posts in the list remain in the list for months, maybe more than a year. Some are in the list for a few months, drop out, then come back into the list again a few months later. I don't understand the whims of my readers. The posts in the list aren't necessarily my best posts. They're posts that somehow gain my readers' attention.

Most of my posts aren't popular when I first write them. There's a top 10 list of the posts of the last week that only I can see as the blog's owner. Most of my new posts enter this list, because my regular readers check out my posts as soon as I write them, but the interest only lasts a few days, and they don't get enough hits to enter the top 10 of the month. It isn't until much later that new posts get noticed, if at all. For instance, my post in remembrance of Christopher Lee only entered my monthly top 10 in April, 10 months after I wrote it. Why is the post suddenly being noticed now? I don't know.