Monday, 31 October 2016

Sennentuntschi (4 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #31. It's an excellent film to watch on Halloween, a perfect mix of mystery, suspense and terror.

The story is based on an old Swiss folk tale. Three shepherds sit drinking in their mountain hut, Erwin, his son Albert and Martin. Erwin and Albert have lived all their lives in the mountains, but Martin is a new arrival. Erwin tells Martin the legend of the Sennentuntschi. When men are in the mountains they can make a woman out of a broom, straw and a rag. If they pray to the Devil he will make the woman come to life. The woman will cook and do the housework, but if the men have sex with her she will kill them. It's just a story that men tell one another when they're drunk. Albert stitches straw and a rag to a broom and dances round the room with it. Erwin speaks an incarnation and the straw doll turns into a beautiful woman. They all dance with her. Eventually they collapse in a drunken stupor.

The next morning the shepherds wake up and assume that they imagined things while they were drunk, but the woman is still there. They try to talk to her but she's mute. She's not just mute, she acts like a new born baby, not understanding anything around her. As soon as Erwin is left alone with her he rapes the woman. Martin sees what has happened and decides to take her into the village, but on the way down the mountain he changes his mind and rapes her. It's what men do, especially lonely men who live on a mountain without women.

As is to be expected, the woman takes revenge. But the story doesn't end there. The woman goes down to the village by herself. The priest tries to warn everyone that she is evil, but the local policeman defends her. He means well, but the Sennentuntschi is on a mission to take revenge on every man she meets.

This film has only been released in Germany, but the German Blu-ray has English subtitles. It's highly recommendable.

Here is a list of the 31 horror films that I've watched this month.

1. Blood Reunion (3 Stars)
2. Sharknado (3½ Stars)
3. Let the right one in (5 Stars)
4. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (4 Stars)
5. The Iron Rose (5 Stars)
6. Cowboys and Vampires (3 Stars)
7. Strippers vs Werewolves (3 Stars)
8. Let me in (5 Stars)
9. Demons (4 Stars)
10. Exte (4½ Stars)
11. Vampire (4 Stars)
12. Tag (5 Stars)
13. Freezer (4 Stars)
14. Shikoku (4 Stars)
15. Dark Water (5 Stars)
16. Tormented (1½ Stars)
17. Child's Play 2 (4 Stars)
18. In a dark place (3 Stars)
19. I know what you did last summer (5 Stars)
20. I still know what you did last summer (5 Stars)
21. Cabin in the Woods (5 Stars)
22. The Mist (5 Stars)
23. Mirrors (4 Stars)
24. The Wicker Man [2006 Version] (4½ Stars)
25. Green Inferno (4 Stars)
26. Girlhouse (4 Stars)
27. We are the night (5 Stars)
28. Zombie Strippers (3 Stars)
29. Monster Club (3 Stars)
30. Bikini Swamp Girl Massacre (2 Stars)
31. Sennentuntschi (4 Stars)

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Bikini Swamp Girl Massacre (2 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #30. I have to admit that I selected it because of its title. If I'd read a review first I would have known it's a Troma film and I would have watched something else.

I don't like Troma films. I've tried to understand them, and on a certain intellectual level I know what they're about, but I don't enjoy them. There are lots of films today made with poor acting, but they're the result of untalented actors trying to put on a good performance and failing. That's not what we have with Troma. No attempt is made to act. Lines are simply spoken in a way that it's obvious that it's a film, not reality. I see this as a type of alienation technique. The owners of Troma Entertainment, Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, don't want their viewers to immerse themselves into a film and forget reality. They want the viewers to remember they're just watching a film, nothing more, nothing less.

Is this art? It depends on your definition of the word. I suppose it is, but it's not the sort of art I can relate to. The girls in the film are pretty, especially when they remove their clothes, but they're not actresses; they're just pretty girls speaking lines in front of a camera. I wasn't scared when they were attacked and chopped to death by the evil Indian Coowahchohee. No attempt was made to make the deaths look realistic. It was merely amusing.

Iron Man 2 (4½ Stars)

There's one important thing I forgot to point out in my previous reviews of "Iron Man 2". This is the film that introduced the Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson. To make up for it I've posted the extra-large picture above. Take a long, hard look at her. Isn't she beautiful? Since then we've seen her in "Avengers Assemble", "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and "Captain America: Civil War". Let's hope she'll return in many more Marvel films. Even though I prefer her costume from the canonical Marvel comics of the 1960's I have to admit that her costume in the film, based on much later comics, does look sexy.

Some of my readers might wonder what I mean when I refer to Marvel stories as canonical or non-canonical. By this I mean, naively speaking, a division into what really happened and what was made up. Of course, all the stories were made up, but the difference is that in the early years Stan Lee held a tight grip on the stories and made sure all the comics were consistent with one another. In later years stories were written without paying attention to what had happened in the past. If there were contradictions they were just shrugged off with the excuse "My story takes place in an alternative universe".

So where do I draw the line between canonical and non-canonical? Temporally, I'd say that everything from 1961 to 1974 is canon, starting with Fantastic Four #1 and ending when Roy Thomas resigned as editor-in-chief. Everything written since 1991 (after the Infinity Gauntlet mini-series) isn't canon. As for the years 1974 to 1991 I have to differentiate. Those are the years when Marvel continuity began to fall apart, although a few writers held on to the foundation. Anything written in that period by Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin is canon. Anything written by Mark Gruenwald and Jim Shooter isn't canon. I would have to go through all the other authors one by one. Please don't think that when I say "not canon" I mean "bad". For instance, I find Frank Miller's Daredevil stories highly enjoyable, but for me they're not canon because they rewrite Daredevil's origin as laid out by Stan Lee.

As always, I appreciate opinions on this subject. If you disagree with me write something in the comment box below. It's best to leave a comment with your name (or code name), not just sign as Anonymous, so that I can tell who is writing what.

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Welcome to Norway (4 Stars)

Primus is a man with a vision. He owns a run down hotel in the north of Norway. He hasn't been able to attract many visitors, so he has an idea that is sure to succeed: he turns his hotel into a refugee centre. It's easy money. He's paid $12,200 per year by the Norwegian government for every refugee that he houses, and since his hotel is large enough for 50 refugees he'll earn more than $600,000 a year.

What seems so easy soon turns into a nightmare. When the bus arrives with 50 refugees none of them speak Norwegian -- does that surprise anyone? -- and hardly anyone speaks English. Primus' profit margin shrinks when he realises that he can't just put the government grant in his pocket. He needs to provide the refugees with food, Playstations and language courses. On top of that the government grant is initially withheld because the inspectors don't consider the accommodation suitable, so he has to carry out renovations on his own costs. The refugees don't get on with one another because of religious differences. Then he has to witness that his daughter begins a lesbian relationship with a Lebanese Moslem.

Fortunately Primus finds one young refugee, Abedi from the Congo, who is a language genius. He speaks English, French, Norwegian, Arabic and Swahili, so he's able to function as an interpreter. He also becomes Primus' best friend in the centre.

This is a hilarious comedy. I was laughing no much that I was crying, and it seems that the other people in the cinema felt the same. It's a tragic comedy, due to Norway's refugee policy that was tightened this year. In theory Norway has an open door policy, as far as entering the country is concerned, but as soon as a refugee arrives he has to prove that he has sufficient reasons to remain in Norway, even if he comes from a war zone. More than 90% of the refugees in Norway are deported to Russia or Greece. (By an agreement reached with the EU, refugees who arrive via another EU country can be deported to any EU country if refused asylum, but Norway doesn't like to deport refugees to Sweden or Finland because of the danger that they will re-enter Norway illegally at uncontrolled border crossings. Refugees who arrive via Russia are returned to Russia if they still have valid Russian transit visas, but if their visa has expired attempts are made to deport them to other countries).

I've watched a few Norwegian films, but this is the first comedy I've seen, and it makes a good impression. Norwegians are evidently able to make fun of themselves. I like that.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Tracks (5 Stars)

There's very little I can say about this film that I didn't say in my last review. It's a miraculous film about a miraculous achievement by a powerful woman. Robyn Davidson would probably disagree with that description. She claims to be an ordinary person, but I can guarantee you that she is far from ordinary. Here are three photographs of her taken in 1977 by Rick Smolan for National Geographic.

In the film Adam Driver annoys me in his role as Rick Smolan. I'm sure this was deliberate. Robyn Davidson was a woman carrying out a mission and Rick was merely her photographer, but he felt that he ought to accompany her and support her as a man. That's a typical male way of thinking. Robyn needed no support. As a woman she was capable of doing everything my herself.

Mia Wasikowska was the perfect actress to play Robyn. Compare the photos above, Robyn on the left and Mia on the right.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (4 Stars)

The more I think about this film, the less I understand why it was made. It's so out of continuity with the rest of the Marvel films. All the other films feature characters from the 1960's Marvel comics, but the Guardians of the Galaxy are a team that didn't appear until 40 years later in 2008.

The film isn't too bad, but they got Gamora's costume totally wrong. She should be wearing a full body fishnet with nothing underneath. Drax is also too weak in the film. He should be flying through space punching holes in space ships.

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Monster Club (3 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #29. I'm a big fan of Vincent Price. He was a magnificent actor who towered above his peers, and if anyone says otherwise I'll bite him with my rubber fangs. He made some brilliant films, such as "The Abominable Dr. Phibes", but he also made a lot of poor quality films in his career. He could have had his pick of the best films offered, but it seems like he didn't care. He had nothing to prove. He was the greatest horror film actor of his day, and he knew it. All he wanted to do was have fun making trashy little films. Like "Monster Club", made in 1981.

The film begins with the author Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes, famous for his horror stories, walking home at night. He meets a man (Vincent Price) begging on the street. He offers the man money for food, but the beggar doesn't want food, he's desperate for blood. The beggar takes a few sips of Ronald's blood, not enough to seriously harm him, then introduces himself as the ancient vampire Erasmus. When Erasmus finds out who his generous benefactor is he says he's a big fan of his books, and he takes him to a club where monsters meet. In the club Erasmus is kind enough to explain the differences between the monsters, based on their genealogy.

We have the primate monsters: vampires, werewolves and ghouls. Now, a vampire and a werewolf would produce a werevamp, but a werewolf and a ghoul would produce a weregoo, and a vampire and a ghoul would produce a vamgoo. A weregoo and a werevamp would produce a shaddy. Now, a weregoo and a vamgoo would produce a maddy, but a werevamp and a vamgoo would produce a raddy. Now, if a shaddy were to mate with a raddy or a maddy the result would be a mock. Frankly, that's just a polite name for a mongrel.

If a mock were to mate with any of the other hybrids, their offsprings would be called shadmocks.

It's quite simple, really. All you have to do is remember the basic rules of monsterdom. Vampires suck, werewolves hunt, ghouls tear. Shaddies lick, maddies yawn, mocks blow, but shadmocks only whistle.

As well as mating with each other, monsters also mate with human beings. The results are nearly always disastrous, but they will do it.

The genealogical chart taken from the film also includes a humegoo, the offspring of ghouls and humans. I suppose there are other variations, like shaddyhums, maddyhums and raddyhums, but Erasmus didn't want to confuse Ronald more than necessary.

From this point on "Monster Club" turns into an anthology. Erasmus tells Ronald three stories about the monsters in the chart. These stories are actually based on short stories written by the real life Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes. In between the stories various musical groups appear on stage, including UB40 and the Pretty Things. The songs are performed in full, showing that they are are as important as the stories themselves. I greatly enjoyed the music, but I found the stories forgettable.

Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes
30 May 1919 – 20 March 2001

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Friday, 28 October 2016

Zombie Strippers (3 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #28. It's a curious film. It's a comedy that attempts to present zombies as sexy. That's such a ridiculous premise to me that I can't even laugh at it. Vampires are sexy. There's no doubt about it. But zombies?

The film begins with a scenario destined to make it sound dated within a few years of being made. It's all about George Bush facing a shortage of soldiers in his fourth term as president. In order to continue with dozens of simultaneous wars he's sponsored the development of a serum to make soldiers able to continue fighting after they're killed. One of the soldiers involved with the project escapes and runs into a strip club. He bites a stripper and she turns into a zombie.

This zombie continues her job as a stripper and becomes an instant hit with the all-male audience. Evidently the men are turned on by her dripping blood and gaping wounds. As I said, it's too ridiculous to be funny. The other strippers are jealous of the zombie's success, so they demand to become zombies as well. What??? One of the disadvantages of having zombies as strippers is that they kill men when they give them lapdances. But that doesn't matter. For every man who's killed another five walk in the door to see the hottest show in town.

This isn't a sexy film. It's not even scary, it's just disgusting. Not even Robert Englund's appearance as the strip club's owner can save the film from turning into a disaster.

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Doctor Strange (5 Stars)

This is the most eagerly awaited film of 2016. The general public has been whipped into a frenzy by skilfully timed news releases and trailers, but I've been more anxious to see it than anyone else. Doctor Strange was always my favourite Marvel character. His early stories in Strange Tales were masterpieces, and I consider the 17-part story of his battle against Baron Mordo and Dormammu in Strange Tales #130 to #146 to be the highest achievement ever reached in comic books.

The first attempt at making a film called "Doctor Strange" failed miserably. If you haven't seen the first film, made in 1978, count yourself lucky. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth of anyone who watches it. It's a disgrace to the name of such a mighty hero. The new film needed to put things right.

As far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is concerned, the new Doctor Strange film was of crucial importance. For the last eight years Iron Man has been the most popular character in the MCU, but Robert Downey Jr. has been hinting that he feels too old to continue with the role. A replacement was needed. Doctor Strange would be a good character for a long term continuation, because he isn't an action hero who needs to be young. The same actor could play the role for 40 or more years, but only if the films are good enough to make the public want to keep coming back. So much could be done wrong by picking the wrong actor or writing a poor quality story.

Benedict Cumberbatch was picked for the role of Dr. Stephen Strange. I have to say that this was an excellent choice. He's not my favourite actor. I find him very straight-laced and unemotional in practically every part he's ever played. But when it comes to Doctor Strange, this is just what's needed. In the comics Doctor Strange was probably the most cool and aloof of all the Marvel heroes.

I was very disappointed to hear that Tilda Swinton was chosen to play the part of the Ancient One. A woman? That's ridiculous. However, she does play the role well, if I try not to compare her with the comics. By now I've come to accept that the films are only partially faithful to the original stories. Some changes to Doctor Strange's origin, as presented in Strange Tales #110, were necessitated by having to tie the story into the Thanos Infinity Gem film, which will effectively round off the first big arc of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I can't say too much about the film in this early review for fear of giving away spoilers to my readers who haven't yet seen it. All I'll say is that it lives up to its promise. It magnificently portrays the mystical dimension as drawn by Steve Ditko in the 1960's. The street fight scenes seem to be copied from "Inception", but that's acceptable in the context of the film. The only small fault I can pick with the film is Rachel McAdams' unconvincing acting, especially in the early scenes of the film. I hope we never see her again.

My initial verdict after a single viewing is that this is the best film of 2016 so far. If you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for?

P. S. As well as the mid-credits scene there is a scene at the end of the credits, so don't walk out of the cinema too soon.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

We are the night (5 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #27. My last review was longer than usual, so today I'll just say three words.

Best. Vampirefilm. Ever.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Girlhouse (4 Stars)

"Porn is not what it used to be. It's moved forward. It's mainstream and accepted".

This is my Halloween Challenge film #26. It's a Canadian slasher film made in 2014 which I'd never heard of until today when I was browsing a list of Amazon Prime's horror films. That's probably because it was released direct-to-video. Why did that happen? It's a high quality horror film, much better than many other films that make it into cinemas. Maybe it's a type of racism. Canadian films aren't taken seriously.

There's so much that I could write about this film. It has depths of meaning and social commentary that deserve much more than one of my short reviews. Let's just start with the quote above. Porn isn't what it used to be. That's true. I'm old enough to remember the old days. If you wanted pornography you either had to buy a magazine or go to a back-street cinema. In England, where I grew up, there were two sorts of pornographic magazines. There were the "soft porn" magazines, in which there were pictures of naked women. Magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, Mayfair, Men Only, Escort, Razzle and probably many more that I've forgotten. I first got to know them at home. My father had a secret hiding place in a box on top of a wardrobe. The box contained documents about table tennis matches -- my father was the secretary of the Walsall Table Tennis League -- and the magazines were stashed at the bottom. I wonder whether my mother knew about them. I never asked. I probably first discovered them when I was 12. I checked the box about once a month, and the selection changed. There were never more than half a dozen magazines, but some went and some came. I soon learnt how to tell the difference. I didn't like Playboy and Penthouse; they were too smooth and artistic, too American. I didn't like Men Only, Escort and Razzle (all published by Paul Raymond), because the girls looked too slutty. Mayfair was the best, and I even bought copies occasionally when I was older. It was a good compromise between sexiness and stylishness. Sadly this changed when Mayfair was bought by Paul Raymond in 1990. It became a clone of his other magazines.

The soft porn magazines were usually sold in normal bookstores like W. H. Smith's. There were also "hard porn" magazines which contained photos of men and women having sex or engaging in fetish activities. My father never had magazines like that, they weren't his style. I sometimes saw them at friends' houses when they had somehow got their hands on a copy. They were only sold in "adult bookstores" which didn't allow anyone under 18 to enter. By the time I was 18 they were obsolete. They'd been replaced by "sex shops", which specialised in videotapes, new on the market at the time, but also sold sex toys. I remember briefly walking into a shop like that when I was 20, but I felt so uncomfortable that I walked straight out again.

I never visited any adult cinemas in England. I had no interest, even when I was old enough. On one occasion I visited an adult cinema while I was at university in Berlin. My favourite musician was Klaus Schulze, and he had written the soundtrack for a hardcore sex film by Lasse Braun, "Body Love". I felt very awkward buying a ticket. I felt like yelling "I'm only here for the music", but I kept my head down. The film wasn't quite as bad as I expected, but that was the first and last time that I ever visited an adult cinema. I didn't even watch another hardcore pornographic film at home until 30 years later, but that's another story.

I know I've written a lot, but there's one thing that should stand out: in the good old days before the Internet pornography was an overt affair. You had to go somewhere in person and hand over your money in a cinema or shop. There was the danger that you would be seen by a neighbour or work colleague. This is the biggest change in pornography today. Nowadays pornography is a very private, discreet affair. It's something that you can sit and watch at home without anyone knowing.

Does that make it better? Not necessarily. There's good and bad pornography today, as there always has been. As I said above, I considered Mayfair good and Razzle bad, although I admit it's a matter of taste. Some people liked reading Playboy. I didn't. I don't claim to be a connoisseur of Internet porn, but I'll make one sweeping statement: the good pornography is for sale, the bad pornography is free. That makes sense. A company that makes money from selling pornography online can invest the money they make into better cameras, more skilled actors, better settings, etc. Anything that's free is either amateurs having sex in their bedroom, or it's a haphazard mix of material stolen from other web sites, often poor low resolution copies.

One of the booming areas of Internet pornography today is webcam sites. I tried to find out how many there are, but I can't give an answer. It's a large number, at least 20, maybe many more. Most of them are advertised as free, but after signing up for a free membership you find that you can only enjoy tasters of what's on offer. To see everything you have to pay money. That's a good business strategy. Some webcam sites feature professional porn stars who appear in films, but most feature amateurs. For some reason the majority of the amateurs are from Colombia and Romania. There are different features available from one site to another, different prices, different amounts of nudity shown for free, different video quality, but one thing is common to all the webcam sites: they're about chatting with naked girls.

 This is what "Girlhouse" is about. It's a house where six girls live. They put on live shows for their customers, some shows free, others for money. It's a 24 hour a day service. All the rooms in the house are available to view, so it's possible to watch the models not just when they're performing, but also when they're asleep, eating breakfast or playing cards with one another. Girlhouse intends to bind customers to their website by letting them get to know the girls as people, not just as naked bodies.

The film follows Kylie Atkins, a student at a university in Charlotte, North Carolina. She moves into the Girlhouse to earn money for her studies. She's still at university, so she isn't in the building all day, but whenever she's there she's being filmed. Often it's casual, but she spends a lot of time in front of her laptop chatting with Girlhouse customers and stripping for them.

We see customers from all over the world, but two are important to the story. The first is Alex, a university student. He's a paying member of the site and calls himself Tugboat. After all, men like to remain anonymous when they're watching porn. He lets his roommate Ben watch over his shoulder, and Ben immediately recognises Kylie. They went to school together. This prompts Ben to wait outside the university, and when he accidentally meets Kylie he arranges to take her on a date. Of course, it has nothing to do with seeing her naked online. Or so he says.

The other is Loverboy. a lonely man who spends all his free time watching Girlhouse. He has a good job as a computer technician, but he's socially awkward and has no success with women. He idolises the girls in Girlhouse, and Kylie immediately becomes his new favourite.

Two people. Two names. Both paying customers. But there's a big difference. Tugboat is a horny young student from a wealthy family. Loverboy is a dangerous man with psychopathic tendencies. He's killed in the past, and he can kill again, if pushed hard enough. The push he needs is when he observes the girls in the house making fun of a photo that he sent Kylie. He knows enough about computers to trace the location of the Girlhouse. He puts on a mask and a black wig and goes on a rampage, killing everyone in the house. Because of the webcams he's being watched by people all over the world, but nobody can do anything because the house's address is secret.

The film opens with a scene that is supposed to show how Loverboy became what he is. It happened when he was about 13 years old. Two girls chase him across the field and corner him before he can get into his house. Why was he running? I wouldn't have run away from girls at that age.

We aren't told the names of the girls in the film, but the one on the left is Camren Bicondova, best known for playing Selina Kyle in "Gotham". She offers to kiss the boy if he closes his eyes. I would have accepted an offer like that immediately.

But it's a trick. As soon as his eyes are shut they pull his shorts down.

It all happened fast. His shorts are below his knees before he can lift a finger to defend himself.

He wants to pull them back up, but Camren's well placed foot stops him.

The battle is lost. Within seconds his underwear is also round his ankles.

Camren and her friend step back to admire the results. Are they impressed?

No. They think it's hilarious.

The boy pulls up his clothes and runs away in shame while the girls laugh at him. Camren mocks him by shouting, "Come back, lover boy". This name stayed with him all his life.

Is this what turned Loverboy into a killer? If you're bullied by girls, will you grow up to hate women? If that's the message the film wants to give I disagree. I was never bullied by girls as a child. I regret it. If it had happened it would have given me something to fantasise about for the rest of my life. I wouldn't have hated girls, I would have tried to manoeuvre myself into situations where it would happen again. Loverboy already had the seeds of hate in him before the girls mocked him. We see that by the fact that he ran away from them. I would have let them catch me.

There's a second bullying scene that happens shortly before his killing spree. Loverboy is in an office repairing a computer server. It's an office in which only women are working. He has to kneel on the floor to access the server. The woman at the front desk opens her legs wide. Loverboy can't control himself, he has to stare. When she sees him looking up her skirt she accuses him of sexual harassment and threatens to tell his boss and get him fired. This is a pattern in his life. Whenever Loverboy feels lust he's humiliated. When he sends Kylie a photo of himself the other girls laugh at him. The result is that he has to kill the objects of his lust.

The film begins with a quote by Ted Bundy blaming pornography for becoming a serial killer.

"In prison I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence, just like me. Without exception, every one of them was deeply involved in pornography. The most common interest among serial killers is pornography. Pornography can reach out and snatch a kid out of any household. It snatched me out of my home 20, 30 years ago".

Ted Bundy was executed in 1989, so he's talking about being snatched by pornography in the 1950's or 1960's, long before the days of the Internet. What was the terrible pornographic material that made him a killer? Bettie Page movies? Eric Stanton cartoons?

I already know the interview from which this quote is taken. It's on YouTube. I don't know why the film's director took it seriously enough to quote, as if it has some validity. The whole interview is the babbling of a psychopath who feels no remorse for what he's done. Rather than accept any responsibility for what he's done he blames pornography. That's not a random choice. He was an American, so he picked something that most good Christian Americans dislike, hoping it would make them feel sympathy with him.

Don't blame pornography. Don't blame bullying. If a man kills, blame the man.

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Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Swiss Army Man (4 Stars)

I went to see this film at the Metropol cinema in Stuttgart today. It's fortunate that I live in Germany, as far as films go. This is the second Daniel Radcliffe film in a row that's been boycotted by UK cinemas. The first was "Imperium". Maybe people who lived in London had a chance to see them, but my friends who live in the tiny little town Birmingham missed out on these two films, each remarkable in its own way.

The film starts with a man on a deserted island. He calls himself  Hank, although as we later find out that's not his real name. It's not clear how long he's been there, but he's in a state of depression. He's about to hang himself when he sees a corpse washed up on the beach. He tries to revive the corpse by giving it the kiss of life, but it's too late. When the corpse farts Hank thinks that there's some life left in it, so he takes the corpse back to the beach and they become friends.

Note: I did some research on the subject, and corpses really do fart, especially if they've been in the water.

This is a buddy movie of a different kind. Two men bond after meeting under extreme circumstances. The only problem is that one man is alive and the other is dead. Hank talks to the corpse as he carries him around the island. After a while the corpse talks back and introduces himself as Manny. It's not giving anything away to say that the corpse is only talking in Hank's imagination. Hank sees Manny as only half dead and thinks he can reanimate him by encouraging him to talk about his previous life. Hank even dresses as a woman whose photo he finds on Manny's mobile phone and teaches Manny how to flirt with her.

It's a ridiculous comedy, but it does have a serious side. Hank and Manny engage in conversations about the meaning of life, raising many important questions. Towards the end of the film there are some surprises, i.e. plot twists, that tell the audience that things weren't exactly as Hank portrayed them in his conversations. Was he imagining them, in the same way that he saw Manny as alive, or deliberately lying to his new friend? That's not certain. Watch it for yourself and make up your own mind.

I still haven't decided what I think about Paul Dano as an actor. He's been in a few films, but the first time I paid attention to him was in his role as Brian Wilson in "Love & Mercy", one of the best films of 2015. It's not easy to judge him on his goofy role as Hank in "Swiss Army Man". I'll watch out for him in the future. If anything, the best actor in this film is Daniel Radcliffe, especially in the scenes where he isn't talking and he's only a corpse.

Green Inferno (4 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #25. It was made in 2013 by director Eli Roth, and it's a respectful homage to the cannibal films of the early 1980's. This is something most film critics forget in their reviews. They compare "Green Inferno" with modern horror films, when they should be comparing it with the old cannibal films.

Justine is a naive young freshman student at the Columbia University in New York. She's a good girl who's only interested in studying, not student protests, but she's attracted to a protest group when she sees it's led by an attractive young man called Alejandro. The group is planning a trip to Peru to protest about a large corporation cutting down a forest and destroying the habitat of an indigenous tribe. After initial hesitation Justine decides to travel to Peru with 13 other students. Nobody knows where she is because she lies to her father, an attorney who works for the United Nations; she tells him that she's going on a university field trip.

The protest itself is fairly successful. Before they can be arrested the activists publish videos of the corporation's activities on the Internet which quickly go viral. Then they're sent home by plane. Unfortunately they don't get very far. Soon after takeoff the plane has a defect and crashes in the jungle, possibly as a result of sabotage, killing half of the passengers. Justine and the other survivors are captured by the tribe that they intended to protect. It's a tribe which practises cannibalism, and the students are eaten one by one while the others attempt to escape.

Cannibal films, like zombie films, aren't pretty to look at. If anything, cannibal films are uglier, because zombie films just involve a few scratches and bites, whereas cannibals settle in for a full meal. I've watched "Cannibal Holocaust" and "Cannibal Ferox" as part of my education as a film fan. I still have them on DVD in boxes in the cellar, but I don't intend to return to them any time soon.

What a beautiful place to die!
"Green Inferno" stands up as a modern adaptation of these films. The cinematography is much more beautiful, not just because it's more modern, but because the old cannibal films had a low budget even for the time when they were made. This also means that the gore is a lot more realistic than in the old films. The most terrifying scene is when the first victim's arms and legs are chopped off while he's still alive and screaming.

Other reviewers criticise "Green Inferno" for its lack of plot and suspense. They don't get it. It's not a film about telling a story full of suspense. It's about the sheer horror of watching your friends being eaten alive in front of you and knowing you could be next.

This isn't a film for everyone. The violence and gore is extreme. It is, however, a film that ought to be watched by anyone who takes cinema seriously.

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Monday, 24 October 2016

The Wicker Man [2006 version] (4½ Stars)

This is the 21st film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 2006. It's also my Halloween Challenge film #24. It's convenient when the two film series that I'm watching overlap.

I have to confess feeling some confusion why this film is rated so poorly among critics and fans alike. Yes, I know that the original 1973 version is considered to be a cult classic, but that's no reason to refuse the remake a fair judgement. In my opinion the new version does all that's necessary to make a successful remake: it copies the premise and basic plot of the original film, but it deviates enough from the original to make it worth watching in its own right.

In the near future I intend to watch the two versions back to back, preferably on the same day, and I'll be able to go into the differences in detail, but today I'll just focus on one point: the religion, or rather the religions in the film. In the original the policeman (Edward Woodward) was a strong Christian, arguably a Christian fanatic. For him his job on the island wasn't just about finding a missing child, it was a religious war. In the new film the policeman (Nicolas Cage) doesn't seem in the slightest bothered about Christianity. He's neither for it nor against it, he just doesn't care, probably the same as  the majority of Americans today.

The other religion is the pagan religion of the islanders. The religion is similar in both films, but in the new film there's a protofeminist element. In the 1973 version we have Lord Summersisle, in the 2006 version we have Sister Summersisle. The island in the new film isn't just ruled by women, the men have been socially emasculated. Very few men are on the island, and there are hints that most male children are slaughtered at birth. The few men who survive are allowed to work and procreate, but they aren't allowed to speak. It's possible their tongues have been removed, but it might be the case that they've never learnt how to talk. The island's school is for girls only, since boys don't need to be educated for their purpose in life as manual labourers and studs.

Leelee Sobieski only appears in a few short scenes, but her youthful innocence as an island girl brightens up the film.

One of the film's greatest strengths is Nicolas Cage's phenomenal performance as the naive policeman who doesn't see that he's in way over his head. He doesn't even realise that he's making a fool of himself when he walks around flashing his Freeway Patrol badge, thinking it gives him the authority to investigate a murder. He's a lot less competent as a policeman than Edward Woodward in the original film, but he plays the part seriously, avoiding humour by overlaying the role with his trademark sad eyes. I venture to say that this is one of Nicolas Cage's greatest roles.

Maybe a reason for the film being rated so badly is that most film critics are men, and they're scared of the brave new world shown on the island. Men are okay with offering women enough power to think they're equal, but that's it. Men are terrified of giving women full equality, because they might want more and seek superiority in society. A world where women rule and men serve is a nightmare. Some men have female domination fetishes and enjoy roleplay in which they're controlled by a woman, but when it's no longer a game it's too much. Women have to remain subservient. This film shows a world where the tables have been turned, and male critics have to call it absurd to rid this lifestyle of any credibility.

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P. S. If you've seen the film and you're wondering why I've tagged James Franco as appearing in it, you've probably only watched one of the versions. He appears in the theatrical version, flirting in a bar with Leelee Sobieski, but this scene has been removed from the Director's Cut.