Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Hateful Eight (4½ Stars)

In my review at the beginning of this year I said that this might be Quentin Tarantino's weakest film to date. After watching the film a second time I have to confirm it. This really is Quentin Tarantino's weakest film. Of course, this is a relative statement. His weakest film is still better than the best film of most other directors.

On the other hand, the cinematography in "The Hateful Eight" is superior to any of his previous films. I'd like to provide screenshots to back up this statement, but any pictures I show here are too small to give an adequate impression. You have to look at the film itself on a big screen, as large as possible. The beauty of the outdoor scenes is overwhelming. Even the indoor scenes are perfectly laid out like the paintings of a master artist.

Maybe the film's problem is that too much emphasis was made on the cinematography in its creation. The highly controversial choice was made to use Panavision 70mm film cameras to create larger panoramas. This format was fashionable for big budget productions in the 1960's, but it hasn't been used since 1970. As a result less work was put into the character development, which is outstanding in all of Quentin Tarantino's other films.

There is one plot error in the film. Maybe it's not an error, maybe it's deliberate, but it still disturbs me. Marquis Warren, the Bounty Hunter, boasts to everyone in the cabin that he humiliated Chester Smithers, the Confederate's son, by making him suck his penis. This is a terrible anachronism. It isn't a modern film, it's set in the 19th Century, probably the early 1870's. In those days homosexuality was considered to be something shameful. No man at that time would have described such sexual acts so freely. He would have been ashamed to tell people that he let another man suck his penis. In fact, other people might have been so disgusted that they would have shot him, especially a man from the Southern States like the Sheriff.

To prove that there's still justice in the world, Ennio Morricone won the Academy Award for the best film score. Why did he have to wait so long? He should have won an Oscar for "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (1966). He should have won an Oscar for "The Legend of 1900" (1998). There are probably other films with his music that are just as deserving. According to IMDB he's composed music for 564 films. His Academy Award was long overdue.

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Monday, 28 November 2016

Tatort 1000: Taxi nach Leipzig (4 Stars)

This is the 1000th episode of "Tatort", first aired on 13th November 2016. The title is "Taxi nach Leipzig", which means "Taxi to Leipzig". Unlike the usual stories, which are always crime investigations, this is a psychological thriller in which two police inspectors are taken hostage. One is Klaus Borowski, who we last saw in the 999th episode. The other is Charlotte Lindholm, who has appeared in 23 episodes from 7th April 2002 (the 496th episode) to 22nd November 2015 (the 963rd episode).

Since this was a landmark episode a story was written that could bring many of the police inspectors together. There's a police conference taking place in Braunschweig. The topic is risk assessment, methods of police inspectors keeping themselves out of danger. If we look round the room we see many familiar police officers, including two who appeared in the first Tatort episode on 29th November 1970. This is just a little treat for Tatort fans. The only two inspectors that we see for any length of time are Borowski and Lindholm.

At the end of the conference, which most of the police officers found boring and irrelevant to their work, there is a rush to return home. Klaus Borowski has to return to Kiel, Charlotte Lindholm has to return to Hanover. They catch a taxi to the train station together, accompanied by a low ranking police officer from Kiel, Sören Affeld. When Sören, sitting in the front seat, complains about the taxi driver not using his seat belt the driver stops the car and kills him. The driver has a gun, but Barowski and Lindholm don't, so they're at his mercy. The two police inspectors are tied up and told they have to accompany the driver on a trip.

So who is the driver? He is Rainald Klapproth, a former soldier who has served in Afghanistan. Due to a mistake made by his commanding officer he killed an innocent family, but he received the blame. Because of the investigations Rainald's discharge was delayed, so the commanding officer, Erik Tillman, was sent to explain the situation to Rainald's fiancée, Nicki, and offer her comfort. It must have been more than comfort, because when Rainald finally returned home she told him she wanted to marry Erik instead. The wedding is due to take place the next day, so Rainald is driving to see her to make one last attempt to persuade her to change her mind. She lives in Leipzig, 130 miles away.

The story in itself is very simple, but the atmosphere is overwhelming. The taxi journey, including escape attempts, is divided into three acts. In each of the acts one of the characters is heard in voiceover; first Rainald, then Borowski, then Lindholm. We're given the opportunity to get into their heads. Rainald is a very intelligent man, probably intellectually superior to the two officers, and can analyse everything they say by observing their body language. Borowski doesn't like the way Lindholm is handling the conversations and thinks that she's making the situation worse with her insensitive questions. Lindholm is plagued with paranoia, expecting the worst to happen, as she has done since she was a child.

This is a powerful drama, worthy of being aired as the 1000th episode. Roll on the next 1000.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Bride of Chucky (5 Stars)

This is the fourth film in the series of films about the killer doll Chucky. It was made in 1998, seven years after the third film, and it's the first film in the series to have Chucky's name in the title. I consider it to be the best film in the series, and it seems that most people agree with me. It was the most successful film in the series, as far as box office takings are concerned. The critics disagree, but as usual the critics are wrong and the public is right.

The film is given its biggest boost by the hiring of a new director, Ronny Yu. I've only seen a few of his films, but they're all brilliant. "The 51st State", "Fearless" and "Saving General Yang" are all five star films, and so is "Bride of Chucky". I just wish he would make more films. He's only made two films in the last 10 years, which isn't enough to keep his loyal fans happy.

Another improvement over the previous three films is the addition of Jennifer Tilly to the cast. She plays the role of Tiffany, the woman who used to be Charles Lee Ray's girlfriend before he was killed. She's only recently found out that her old lover's soul has been transferred into a Good Guy doll called Chucky. She bribes a policeman to steal the almost completely destroyed doll from the police station's evidence room. She never intended to pay him. She slits the policeman's throat when he delivers the doll.

Tiffany stitches the doll back together, then chants an incantation to Damballah to revive Charles' soul in the doll. It's easy. All she has to do is read the words from the latest edition of "Voodoo for Dummies". I need to buy that book. I wonder if Amazon has it.

Soon Chucky is back to his normal homicidal self. Tiffany makes his first kill easy for him. She handcuffs her new boyfriend to the bed. Like most men, he offers no resistance. Then Chucky jumps on him and finishes him off.

After a lover's tiff Chucky kills Tiffany. That's one of the disadvantages of dating a deranged serial killer. But he regrets what he's done and brings her back to life in one of her dolls. He doesn't need the "Voodoo for Dummies" book, of course. He's an expert in the art of voodoo.

Now Chucky decides to retrieve an amulet that was round his neck when his body was buried. The two dolls arrange to be driven from Lockport, NY to Hackensack, NJ. That's a 390 mile journey. They might have made it in a day, but after reverting to character and killing a few people on the way they have to make diversions to avoid the police.

I admit that I have something of a crush on Jennifer Tilly. She has a beautiful face and a voluptuous figure, but it's not just about her looks. It's her attitude. She's typecast as a dumb blonde, but she's a very intelligent woman. She's one of America's best poker players. And more than anything else, it's her voice. I can't describe it to you, you have to hear it for yourself. She has the voice of a little girl in the body of a woman.

"Bride of Chucky" stands above the previous films in the story, the production quality and everything else. However scary it was to see a little doll on a killing spree, it's more exciting to see a couple share the killings, a miniature Bonnie and Clyde. The film also profits from being influenced by "Scream", made two years earlier in 1996. Ronny Yu correctly decided to add elements of parody to the film, making fun of the whole horror film genre.

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Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Nude Vampire (4 Stars)

"The Nude Vampire" is Jean Rollin's second vampire film, made in 1970. From the beginning of his career it was obvious that his vampire stories were different. Rather can copy the expressionist film style of America's vampire films or the gothic horror films of Hammer Studios, he made films that were bright and colourful. Jean Rollin's films were at the same time erotic and psychedelic. But the differences didn't end there. He wrote the screenplay for his films himself, and they involved very unusual plots, as we already saw in his first film, "Rape of the Vampire", in 1968.

The film begins with a young man, Pierre Radamonte, trying to find out the secrets his father, a successful medical doctor, is keeping from him. His father holds parties for well dressed guests in a mansion that Pierre isn't allowed to enter. One day he steals an invitation and sneaks into the party. Photos of the dinner guests are put into a jar. One photo is pulled out at random, and the woman in the picture is given a gun. She shoots herself without hesitation. A scantily dressed woman (not quite nude, as you can see in the photo above) comes into the room and drinks her blood from the wound.

The next day Pierre's father explains. He's discovered a woman who has the traits of a vampire. He doesn't believe in vampires in the mythical sense, he's a man of science, so he says that she has an illness that makes her feed on blood and live forever. He says that he's attempting to find a cure for her, but Pierre doesn't believe him. He thinks that his father wants to become like her and live forever. As for the dinner parties, Pierre's father has founded a suicide cult to attract superstitious people. He tells them the woman is a Goddess and they should take turns killing themselves to serve her. That might seem ridiculous, but it's no less stupid than the suicide bombers who kill themselves in the hope of being rewarded by a fake God called Allah. At least the members of the suicide cult only harm themselves and not others.

The woman is mute, so she can't tell anyone where she comes from, but Pierre's father suspects that there are others like her. He's right. A large group of people comes to the mansion to free her. Their leader denies that they are vampires, but I can't tell you what they are without giving the story away. Watch the film for yourself.

"The Nude Vampire" is also notable for being the first appearance of the twin sisters Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel. They appeared in about a dozen films together in the 1970's.

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Liebesgrüße aus der Lederhose 5 (4 Stars)

The fifth film in the Lederhose series was released in December 1978, less than a year after the fourth film. It was obviously made with a bigger budget than any of the previous films, as shown by the special effects, the props and the scenes that required stuntmen. Even the story, written by the director Gunter Otto using the pseudonym F. G. Marcus, has more consistency than any of the previous instalments. If one film in the series deserves a Hollywood remake, this is it.

The film begins with Sepp Kirchlechner, played by Peter Steiner, complaining to his friend Willi about his poor life as a farmer in the mountains. Then he receives a letter from a postman, a special delivery involving a trek into the mountains, telling him he's inherited the house and land of his Aunt Edith. This causes Sepp to break into song, accompanied by an invisible orchestra, and the two men dance happily in the mountains. Life is good.

Aunt Edith's house is in a poor state, but at least they find a pantry stocked with enough plum jam to last for a hundred years. Sepp and Willi will never need to go hungry. But even more exciting is that they find an aeroplane in the barn. Sepp decides to open a flying school. Don't worry, he covers up the swastika before the first guests arrive. He hires a flying instructor from France, and he renovates Aunt Edith's house so that it's suitable accommodation.

The first guests are five horny schoolgirls from Munich. They want to learn to fly in the daytime and have sex with the local Bavarian farmers at night. They're most interested in the flying instructor Philippe, but he's only interested in Sepp's daughter Uschi.

Sepp's arch enemy, Mayor Alois Brummberger, is unhappy with Sepp's financial success, so he hires men to sabotage the plane. He pays them 100 Marks each, but he doesn't reckon with the girls. They seduce the men, and the supposed saboteurs become unpaid volunteer assistants at the flying school. Never underestimate the power of German schoolgirls!

To my great surprise there was a lengthy car chase. Five cars, six minutes, including a police car, with multiple collisions and crashes. This was very well filmed, the equal of anything Hollywood had to offer in the 1970's.

In case you were so excited by the car chase that you forgot this is an erotic comedy, you're reminded when the last car crashes into a lake where the schoolgirls are bathing naked. If they were good girls they would check the men for injuries and help them out of the water. But they're bad girls, so their only interest is to rip off the men's clothes and seduce them. It's too bad that Ottokar Schulze, on the right, is homosexual. He's terrified of naked girls.

All's well that ends well. Peter Steiner enjoys a beer with Rosl Mayr in the beer tent. In the previous two films Rosl's character wasn't named. Here at the table Sepp calls her Rosl. I'm sure they were the best of friends off screen. She was a wonderful lady, it would have been impossible not to love her.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Charlie's Angels (4 Stars)

I love this film. It's based on the TV series with the same name, but it goes much further in style and action. It was difficult for me to accept the original Angels from the 1970's as independent women. They seemed to be Charlie's puppets. The new Angels, played by Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz, might still work for Charlie, but they're powerful women in their own right. They do their job because it's what they want to do, and they have fun every step of the way.

The only caveat I have is the personal relationships of the Angels: Dylan (Drew Barrymore) with Chad, Alex (Lucy Liu) with Jason, and Natalie (Cameron Diaz) with Pete. These men are so far below their levels, both intellectually and emotionally, that it's difficult to see why they bother with them. Dylan is even weak enough to fall for the charms of the bad guy. In today's society there's a lot of talk about women being strong and independent, but you don't see what a woman is really like by looking at her at work. You have to look at her at home, in her relationship with her husband or boyfriend, if she has one. If she wants a man she'll have a strong man in her life who takes a subordinate role to her. She won't be happy with a wimp (like the three Angels) or a macho who'll attempt to rule over her.

I'm not in favour of women's equality. I never have been. Women are superior by nature, so they can only become equal by lowering themselves to man's level. This isn't just about domination and sex games. This is about the woman's whole life. She should make the decisions about what car to buy, where to go on holiday, which school the children go to, and all the other small choices made in day to day married life. That doesn't mean the man should go unheard. He can tell his wife his opinions and offer arguments to support them if he disagrees with her. Maybe he'll convince his wife and she'll change her mind, but the important thing is that she makes all the decisions in family life.

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Liebesgrüße aus der Lederhose 4 (4 Stars)

The fourth film in the Lederhose series was made in 1978, a year after the third film. Gunter Otto continued as director. In my review of "Liebesgrüße aus der Lederhose 3" I pointed out a lack of continuity from the first two films. It seems that Gunter Otto is now getting into his stride. He's continuing with the slapstick humour, but he's returned to the eroticism that we grew used to in the first two films that were directed by Franz Marischka.

The continuity is only in the style. As far as the plot goes, there's merely a semblance of continuity. Let me explain what I mean. In a film series with full continuity, such as the Fast and Furious films, each film continues from the previous film. There may be new characters, but any actors who return from the previous films play the old characters with the same history. In a film series without continuity, such as the Carry On films, the same actors return from film to film, but in each film they're someone different. They have different names and they're in a different setting.

Gunter Otto takes a middle path between the two extremes. The actors who return from previous films play the same characters, with the same names and the same personalities, but they're in different circumstances. For instance, Peter Steiner is the actor who plays Sepp, the main character in all of the Lederhose films. He runs a hotel in Pfronten in the first two films. In the third film he's the mayor of a village called Entenbach. In the fourth film he's a train driver. In the first two films he lives with his wife. In the next two films there's no wife, and no explanation why she isn't with him, and he lives with his daughter Uschi. In the third film Franz Muxeneder played the mayor of Almendingen, Alois Brummberger, and in the fourth film he's still Alois Brummberger the mayor, but it seems to be a different village. Sepp and Alois were enemies in the third film and they're still enemies now, though under different circumstances.

In fact, all the main characters from the third film return in the fourth, though with varying continuity. Rosl Mayr, pictured above, was Alois' wife in the third film. In this film she's a woman who runs a farm with the help of young female volunteers. Alois is no longer married to her -- or to put it more accurately, he was never married to her -- so he's able to marry a young attractive woman. Lucky Alois!

Or maybe he's not so lucky. "Liebesgrüße aus der Lederhose 4" is separated into two stories, two acts. The first act lasts for 30 minutes, and the second lasts for the remaining hour. They continue into one another, but the plots are so distinct that either story could be watched without the other. In the first act it's the wedding day of mayor Alois Brummberger and his young bride Josefa. He doesn't realise that he's marrying a nymphomaniac. She has sex with two men before the wedding, she slips away from the wedding reception with one of the guests, and on the wedding night she looks for another man to satisfy her because her husband is too drunk to perform his marital duties. Poor Alois!

The second act takes place a few weeks after the wedding and is about Willi and Sepp, pictured above. Sepp (on the right) drives the local train, and Willi is the ticket collector. They're fired because the train is unprofitable. They decide to buy the train and continue the service privately. At first they have hardly any customers, which is why the train service was stopped. Then Sepp has a brilliant idea. He convinces the girls who work on Rosl's farm to ride on the train to attract male customers. It isn't just about eye candy. The girls are hungry for sex, so they give themselves to the men who travel on the train. Business booms!

This is a hilarious film, a good example of what Germany had to offer in the way of erotic comedies in the 1970's. If you live in Germany there's a good chance that you already know it. If you don't live in Germany, if you're a foreigner who has only learnt German in school, it's worth looking for this classic film.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Seven Minutes (4 Stars)

"The Seven Minutes" is one of Russ Meyer's rarest films. It has never been released on DVD in its own right. It was included as an extra feature on a limited edition release of "Beneath the Valley of the Dolls". I was lucky enough to buy it when it was first released, but it's now out of print.

This is one of Russ's most serious films. It deals with a topic that was close to his heart: censorship. Maybe the 1970's were more liberal than the 1950's, but there were still attempts by the moral right wing of America to outlaw everything it didn't like. In this case it's a highly artistic novel in which a woman describes, in seven chapters, the seven minutes she spends in the act of sexual intercourse. But it's a general subject that affected Russ himself. His films, which he made from 1959 to 1979, were considered outrageous by some, but the pinnacle of erotic art by others. It's no secret which side I take in the debate.

The great actor Charles Napier only appears briefly in the film's opening scenes. I consider him to be the most underrated actor who has ever lived. He should have had a breakthrough while he was young, but he spent most of his career typecast as a square-jawed soldier. It's true, he did have a square jaw, but there was so much more to him.

Mora Gray only appeared in three films from 1968 to 1983. This was her biggest role. She's the rather distracting secretary in the lawyer's office. How did anyone manage to get any work done?

Tatort 999: Borowski und das verlorene Mädchen (4 Stars)

This is the 999th episode of "Tatort", first aired on 6th November 2016. The investigating police officers are Klaus Borowski and Sarah Brandt. Inspector Borowski's first case was in November 2003, and this is his 27th episode. Inspector Brandt has been his partner in 11 episodes since October 2011. The last time they appeared was in the 964th episode on 29th November 2015.

The title means "Borowski and the lost girl". It's not a missing person, as the title might suggest. The lost girl is a 17-year-old schoolgirl, Julia Heidhäuser (pictured above), who has lost her way. She has recently converted to Islam, despite the warnings of her family and friends. If anything, her mother is to blame for what's happened to her. She is cold and remote, not the loving mother that a teenage girl needs.

The story begins with a death. A schoolgirl called Maria, Julia's best friend, is washed ashore. The main suspect is Hasim, a man who was released from prison on the day she was killed. Klaus Borowski is diligent in investigating the case, but he's approached by an agent of the German secret service who asks him to drop the case. Hasim's mosque is a centre of Islamic extremism, where young people are recruited to fight for IS. If Hasim is arrested it could interrupt the investigations. Julia has met an IS fighter in Syria online and intends to go to Syria to marry him. The secret service knows about this and wants her to leave Germany so they can track her to the IS camp. Borowski finds it immoral to use her as bait and arrests her to prevent her leaving the country. He takes her to his house and attempts to deprogram her.

This is a complex story with several themes running in parallel. Borowski is caught in conflicts between doing his job and helping the young girl for whom he feels sympathy. He's horrified that there are organisations in his country that are willing to sacrifice her as collateral damage in the war on terror.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

They call me Trinity (4 Stars)

This is the film that established Terence Hill's signature role as Trinity. It was made in 1970, and he only reprised the role once in a sequel the following year, but it's what he'll always be remembered for.

Trinity and Bambino are brothers. Trinity admires his big brother, but it isn't mutual. They're both cattle rustlers, hardly the most noble of careers, but Bambino works hard at his job while Trinity just wants to sleep in the sun and have fun. For Trinity having fun involves having gun fights.

Bambino has become the sheriff of a small town near the Mexican border. After shooting the new sheriff he's decided to impersonate him and have a quiet time in the town. He's not interested in keeping the law, unless it involves keeping his own identity secret. Just outside the village a Mormon community has settled in a valley. A former major who lives in the town wants to drive the Mormons away so he can use the valley to graze his horses. Bambino knows about this and doesn't want to get involved, but Trinity decides to help the Mormons when he meets their leader's two beautiful daughters, Judith and Sarah. He even considers converting to Mormonism when he finds out that he'll be allowed to marry both of them. In his eyes it's the perfect religion.

The problem with helping the Mormons is that they aren't prepared to help themselves. They totally reject violence, and Trinity has to take off his gun whenever he enters their settlement. How did they lose this simplicity? When Anita Sarkeesian was invited to make a speech at Utah State University in 2014 there was an anonymous threat on her life from someone who said he would shoot her. She asked the university to keep guns out of the lecture hall, but they refused. The university said that it was against state law to prevent guns being carried into the university.

When I lived in Berlin I made friends with two Mormon girls, Brunhilde and Elisabeth. They weren't sisters, but they shared an apartment. Brunhilde was a nurse, Elisabeth was unemployed when I first met her but later managed to find a job cleaning. They were really nice girls, funny and flirtatious. I felt strongly attracted to Elisabeth, but the religion was in the way. She gave me a Book of Mormon, and I read about half of it, but I couldn't carry on. It was such a load of junk, obviously invented by an opportunist who wanted to set himself up as a spiritual leader to make money. It wasn't even a good fake. I couldn't understand anyone being stupid enough to take it seriously. Elisabeth made it clear that she would only date a Mormon, so we never got any closer.

We remained in touch by mail after I returned to England. Ironically, she ended up marrying a man who lived in her house, Freddy Appel, who wasn't a Mormon. Elisabeth Zimmermann became Elisabeth Appel. This made me sad, and I broke off the contact. I lost my chance with her. Maybe if I had been more pushy she would have abandoned her religion for me. I still think about her a lot, after all these years. I tried to find her again after my divorce, but she's probably moved away from Berlin now. Elisabeth, if by any chance you're reading this, please leave a comment so we can get in touch.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Radio Heimat (4 Stars)

The film takes place in 1983 in Bochum, arguably the ugliest town in Germany. In the opening minutes a narrator makes fun of the people who actually like the town. You have to be crazy.

The four friends Frank (the film's narrator), Spüli, Mücke and Pommes have three things in common. They're 16. They go to the same school. They've never had a girlfriend.

It's not that they're shy. They just don't know how to go about it. They look at their parents who're old-fashioned and unattractive, like all parents, and if they managed to find partners it can't be all that difficult. Can it? When they hear that most of the girls in their school are taking dance lessons they join the same dance school. This gives them a chance to touch girls, on the dance floor at least, but they're no closer to getting into a relationship. The problem isn't made easier by all four boys wanting the same girl, Carola. There isn't enough of her to go round.

"Radio Heimat" is based on the autobiography of the German comedian Frank Goosen. He's from Bochum, of course, so he's allowed to make fun of the place. The film is hilarious, most of the humour arising from the comments of the narrator rather than from the action itself. It's similar to the coming-of-age comedies that were common in America in the 1980's, but not quite as ridiculous or overtly sexual. This is a true story, don't forget.

I can relate to the film because I fondly remember the days when I was 16 and had never had a girlfriend. Those were days when I was suffering, like the boys in the film, but looking back on the time it wasn't so bad. I could have enjoyed it more if I'd known then what I know now. I moved on too fast. I got my first girlfriend, Mandy Stickland, when I was sixteen and a half. The relationship only lasted a few months, but it gave me the start I needed. I had a large number of girlfriends after her in quick succession, all short relationships, so many girls that my school friends were jealous of me. I should have waited a few years. Or better still, I should never have dated. Being single has the advantage of helping a man idealise women. I find that being friends with a woman in a flirty but still platonic way is more fulfilling than having a full blown relationship.

Alone in Berlin (4½ Stars)

Otto and Anna Quangel are a middle-aged couple who live in Berlin in 1940. They both support Adolf Hitler, not because of any political convictions, but because they're patriotic Germans. Otto is the shift leader in a factory that makes coffins. Anna belongs to a women's group that visits unemployed women to encourage them to find work that's useful for the war effort, such as manufacturing weapons. They're both good Germans, in their own way.

One day the news comes that their son, their only child, was killed during the invasion of France. This makes them question whether their loyalty to Hitler is misplaced. Otto begins to write messages on postcards criticising Hitler and drops them in public places throughout the city. Most of the postcards are handed in to the authorities, so the young police inspector Escherich is assigned to find the person who wrote them.

The film is based on the lives of Otto and Elise Hempel, about whom a novel was written in 1947, entitled "Everyone dies alone". The novel was filmed twice in Germany, in 1962 and 1975, as well as two television mini-series about their lives being made in 1970 and 2004. The novel was finally translated into English in 2009, which has led to this English language film. Something about the story fascinates people. It shows how a simple person was able to resist Hitler in his own small way.

This is a magnificent film with powerful acting by the lead characters. Brendan Gleeson is quiet, almost stoic in his resistance, expecting to be captured and executed as a traitor at any time, but having no fear of death. Emma Thompson is emotional, afraid that her husband will lose his life. For me personally the most intense person in the film is Daniel Brühl as Inspector Eschinger. He isn't a Nazi, but he takes his job as a policeman seriously. His motivation is to catch criminals, and whoever is writing the postcards is guilty of inciting disorder. His job is made more difficult by the Gestapo, who want to turn it into a political case.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Miami Supercops (4 Stars)

Despite the amusing title of the film, it's one of the few films starring Bud Spencer and Terence Hill that isn't a comedy. At least, it isn't quite a comedy. It's difficult not to laugh when I see Bud on the screen.

In 1978 Doug Bennet (Terence Hill) and Steve Foster (Bud Spencer) were FBI agents based in Detroit. One of their biggest cases was a bank robbery in which $20 million was stolen. They caught one of the three robbers, Joe Garret, but he refused to name the other two robbers and the money was never found. Shortly after the case Steve retired from the FBI to open a flying school, and Doug was transferred to New York.

In 1985 Joe Garret is released from prison. The police track his movements, hoping he will make contact with his former accomplices to collect his part of the money. He heads straight to Miami, but the police find him dead by the docks. Doug is sent to Miami to investigate the case, and he persuades his old buddy Steve to help him. In order not to arouse attention the two pose as local policemen for the Hialeah police force.

This is a fast paced action film, made more intense by the Italian disco soundtrack. I'm not saying I'm a fan of 1980's Italian disco, but it goes well with the film. I'm sure I've said it before, but Bud and Terence were a perfect duo in all the films they made together.

"Miami Supercops" was filmed in Italian, but the version I watched today was dubbed into English. It's a remastered Blu-ray version. The picture is high quality, but the sound is uneven, fluctuating in volume and quality. If the film really should be dubbed they could at least have re-dubbed the film with new voice actors for the remastering.

Bud Spencer was a giant of cinema. He will never be forgotten.

Bud Spencer
31 October 1929 – 27 June 2016

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Tatort 998: Echolot (3½ Stars)

"Tatort" (engl. crime scene) is Germany's most famous television series. From 1970 to now 1001 episodes have been aired at irregular intervals, not counting 13 unofficial episodes which were made in Austria in the 1980's. It holds the record for being the world's most expensive television series. The cost per episode lies between one million and four million Euros, and it's estimated that so far the total cost is more than 1.5 billion Euros.

Despite being classified as a TV series, I prefer to treat the individual episodes as films. For me two conditions have to be fulfilled.

1. Each episode must last a minimum of 70 minutes.

2. The episodes can be watched in any order.

The 70-minute limit isn't arbitrary. 70 minutes from the beginning of a film to the start of the final credits is the official dividing line between a full length feature film and a short film. The Tatort episodes have a standard length of 88 minutes.

The second condition has almost been fulfilled by "Tatort", so close that it doesn't matter. Over the last 46 years there have only been four two-part stories. In the other episodes there are often recurring characters, such as the same police team, but subplots are omitted so that each episode can stand by itself.

"Echolot" (engl. Sonar) is the 998th episode of "Tatort", first aired on 30th October 2016. The investigating police officers are Inge Lürsen and Nils Stedefreund. Inspector Lürsen's first case was in December 1997, and this is her 34th episode. Inspector Stedefreund has been her partner in 29 episodes since November 2001. The last time they appeared was in the 987th episode on 16th May 2016.

Now to the current episode, or film, as I prefer to call it.

A car accident is reported just outside Bremen. A woman has swerved from the road without any apparent reason, her car overturned and she died. Initial inquiries suggest that the car's automatic navigation system has been tampered with. The dead woman, Vanessa Arnold, was one of the co-owners of a small software company that has been developing a virtual assistant based on Vanessa herself. The police inspectors find themselves overwhelmed in the world of computers and artificial intelligence and have to call in outside experts.

The irony in the investigation is that the only person who knows who tampered with the car is the computer version of Vanessa, called Nessa. She can be seen on computer screens, and it's possible to interact with her with the help of a Virtual Reality headset. Effectively, Vanessa is being called as a witness from beyond the grave. We also see the dark side of modern technology. Vanessa's twin Nessa has been trained to perform sexual services on pornographic VR websites.

The exciting thing about what we see here is that the technology is beyond today's possibilities, but only slightly. Within a few years virtual assistants like Nessa will become a reality, and much cheaper than Andrew in "Bicentennial Man". In answering phone calls Nessa effortlessly passes the Turing Test and is considered to be a human.

I intend to watch a few more Tatort episodes over the next two weeks. Whether I continue after that depends on how much I enjoy them.

The Majestic (5 Stars)

"In a place like this the magic is all around you. The trick is to see it".

Jim Carrey is best known as a comedian. That's understandable. The majority of his films have been comedies. However, if anyone asks me which films are his best I say "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", "The Truman Show", "The Majestic" and "Man on the Moon". None of them are comedies. All four show Jim Carrey's talent as a serious actor.

"The Majestic" is a love story. It's a film about the magic of cinema. But more than anything it's about the American way. It's about the contrast between the American ideal and American reality.

When I was in school I studied the history of the Roman Empire, from its founding up to the death of Julius Caesar. Something amazed me at the time. I tried to talk to my Latin teacher, Dr. Jameson, about it, but he didn't understand what I was trying to say. What fascinated me was that many people in the first Century B.C. considered the Roman Empire (or simply Rome) to be the highest form of civilisation on Earth. In particular the orator Cicero, whom I greatly admired, praised the greatness of Rome. At the same time others, for instance the people of Israel, considered Rome to be the most evil force that had ever existed. Rome offered Israel peace, but the Jews fought to the death rather than accept the Pax Romana. How was this possible? How could the same empire be considered absolutely good by some and absolutely evil by others?

The same is the case today. Many Americans believe in their country and the American way of life, calling their country the best on Earth. Many people, especially those in the Middle East, consider America to be the Great Satan. Even a large number of Americans think their country is polluted. This number has become even larger and more vocal since the last presidential election.

The United States of America was founded with great ideals. It was a country based on the principles of equality and freedom, at a time when gross inequality was common in all the European countries from which the American settlers came. The problem in comparing America with the European countries is that they have progressed greatly over the last 200 years and now give individuals more freedom of self-expression than America does.

But sticking with America, we have to make a distinction between the promises made by the founding fathers and the way they've been put into practice today. For instance, it's often taught in school that anyone can become president. In practice, if you have poor parents your chances of becoming president are zero. The first amendment to the United States Constitution (quoted in "The Majestic") guarantees the separation of church and state, but in practice churches have strong influence over communities throughout America, especially in smaller towns.

The difficulty is that America was founded on Christian principles. Church and state were to be kept separate, but it was expected that everyone would nevertheless act according to Christian moral values. To take an example, when the Constitution was written 200 years ago it was the general consensus that homosexuality was wrong, and those who thought otherwise kept their mouths shut. Today the churches, on the whole, still have this view, whereas people who are either non-Christians or less serious Christians believe homosexuality is acceptable. This new division between Christian morals and non-Christian morals is making it difficult to justify the division between church and state. Christian groups want laws to be passed to impose Christian morality on everyone.

In addition, there are many ways in which America doesn't offer the equality that it promises. There have been repeated incidents in recent years of black people being treated worse than white people, even being shot unjustly by the police. This has led many Americans to refuse to swear the pledge of allegiance to the United States and its flag.

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all".

People who refuse to swear the pledge of allegiance on grounds of conscience misunderstand what the pledge is for. America is a county of immigrants. With the exception of native American Indians (which is a topic for another day) everyone or his family has come from other countries. I believe that America should worry less about immigration. Anyone who swears the pledge of allegiance and wholeheartedly believes what he pledges is a true American. Anyone who refuses to swear the pledge of allegiance should be viewed with suspicion as a potential traitor.

Pledging allegiance isn't claiming that America is perfect. It's not saying "I'm pledging allegiance because everyone in America enjoys liberty and justice". The pledge says "I'm pledging allegiance because America is a country which has the principle of liberty and justice for all". Refusing the pledge is to say "I'm not pledging allegiance because I don't believe that everyone deserves liberty and justice".

This is what Jim Carrey stands up for in the courtroom at the end of "The Majestic". He was living in 1951, a time when America had lost its way. People with different political convictions weren't receiving the liberty and justice they deserved. Rather than do something stupid like throw a bomb or disrupt civil proceedings he stood his ground and called people to heed the original American ideals. As we see in the film, some listened to him and others didn't. It will always be that way.

The film theatre after which the film is named, the Majestic, is a metaphor for the state in which Jim Carrey finds America. When he arrives in the town of Lawson the Majestic is a wreck. When he leaves it's a palace.

As I quoted at the beginning of this article: "In a place like this the magic is all around you. The trick is to see it".

Does America have magic? One man can make a difference. If we start out with one man seeing the magic he can tell others about it, and soon everyone will see it.

One place where we can't find any magic is the local newspaper. It repeats the same five paragraphs over and over again in different orders. Click the picture to enlarge it. Sloppy.

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