Saturday, 31 December 2016

Kick-Ass (5 Stars)

Big girls don't cry. Nor do little girls.

This is the last film I watched in 2016. It's a good way to end the year. It's a brilliant film in so many different ways. It's not so much a parody of super-hero films, it's more of a deconstruction. I've never read the Kick-Ass comics, so I can't comment on how faithful the film is to the original source material. What I can say is that the way it copies and almost plagiarises Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man film is amazing. Scenes are subtly copied in passing, so subtly that the similarities could be missed on idle viewing.

This was the first film that I saw starring Chloe Grace Moretz. At the time it was a curiosity. A 12-year-old action heroine? So weird. Since then I've seen her in many other films as she's grown older, and I've observed her talent as an actress developing. Watching "Kick-Ass" again today I can recognise that she already had immense talent at an early age. I can hardly wait to see all the wonderful films she will make over the next 50 years.

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Friday, 30 December 2016

General: Top Films of 2016

For the second year in a row I've decided to post a list of the 10 best films of the year. Before you read it and angrily write that I shouldn't have omitted <fill-in-the-blank>, let me make a few remarks:

To qualify for the list I must have seen the film in the cinema in 2016. Any film that I didn't see will not be included. Maybe I decided not to see a film. Maybe I missed a film because I was sick in bed and couldn't go out. Maybe a film wasn't shown in my local cinemas. Whatever the reason, if I didn't see a film in the cinema it won't be in the list.

By the same reasoning, it's relevant when I see the film. If a film is shown over the New Year period from December to January (like "Star Wars: Rogue One") the film might be included in one year or the other, depending on when I go to see it. In the same way, some films, particularly the Oscar contenders, are released in the USA in one year but not shown in England until the next. That's why I listed "Birdman" and "Whiplash" in my top 10 list for 2015.

1. Doctor Strange

This is much better than the first Doctor Strange film, made way back in 1978. I can't wait to own it on Blu-ray.

2. Deadpool

As Marvel films go, "Doctor Strange" and "Deadpool" couldn't be less alike, but they're both masterpieces in their own way.

3. Captain America: Civil War

Yet another Marvel film! After not including any Marvel films in last year's list Marvel gets the top three this year. There was a fourth Marvel film this year, "X-Men: Apocalypse", but it didn't make the list.

4. Tokyo Heidi

A wonderful Swiss film, with dialog in a mixture of German, English, Japanese and Chinese.

5. The Girl with all the Gifts

At least I have one English film in the list this year!

6. Love and Peace

This is a 2015 Japanese film directed by Sion Sono. Last year he made five films, and of the three I've seen so far this is the weakest, but it's the only one I saw in the cinema, so it's the only film that qualifies for the top 10 list. I made the rules, so I have to keep them.

7. My Big Night

This is a 2015 Spanish film directed by Alex de la Iglesia. It wasn't shown in German cinemas until this year.

8. Race

The fascinating true story of Jesse Owens.

9. A Hologram for the King

Yet another English language film by the brilliant German director Tom Tykwer.

10. The Hateful Eight

Any other Quentin Tarantino film would have topped the list, but this is his weakest film so far and just manages to creep in in 10th place.

That's my list for this year. I've seen 77 films in the cinema, and these are the best of the best. I welcome top 10 lists from my readers. Please leave them in the comments.

Assassin's Creed (4 Stars)

This is a film based on the popular Assassin's Creed games designed by Ubisoft for PlayStation, Xbox and Microsoft Windows. I've never played the games myself, but from my understanding the film only uses the fictional universe of the games as a premise while telling a new story. The story concerns two ancient organisations, the Templars and the Assassins, who have been battling for centuries. They both have the same goal, but have different methods of achieving it. The Templars want to have peace on Earth by reconditioning mankind to give up their free will. The Assassins want peace on Earth by killing those who oppose peace.

Callum Lynch is a criminal on death row awaiting execution. However, after receiving the lethal injection he wakes up in Spain. He's told that the execution was faked, because the Templars want him to carry out a mission for them. He is the last living descendant of an Assassin who fought in Spain in 1492. With the help of a device called the Animus a person can directly experience the life of one of his ancestors. The Templars want Callum to reveal to them the location of an artefact called the Apple of Eden, supposedly an apple from the tree in the Garden of Eden that first gave man the ability to see the difference between good and evil. Using this apple the Templars want to undo the effects of the first apple and make mankind innocent again.

Callum agrees to assist the Templars in their quest, but as he continues he begins to understand his heritage as an Assassin.

The film features incredible acting by Michael Fassbender as Callum Lynch. In contrast, the film's main actress, Marion Cotillard, is bland and uninteresting. I fail to understand her current popularity in Hollywood. She hasn't impressed me in any films she's made until now.

I have a few thoughts about the film's background, in particular its representation of the Templars, often referred to as the Knights Templar. Did they exist in 1492? According to historical records the Templars were a military organisation within the Roman Catholic Church from 1129 to 1312, when they were officially disbanded. The film identifies the Templars with the Spanish Inquisition, asserting that Tomas de Torquemada was the leader of the Templars. There is no historical support for this theory.

Today's Templar organisations were founded in the 18th Century, different organisations arguing with one another over which of them is the real organisation. The truth is that none of them are. The new organisations are all Protestant in their theology, whereas the original Templars were Catholic. The only connection between the old and the new organisations is a determination to fight against the spread of Islam.

The film's action takes place in 1492. Is this the correct year? Sultan Muhammad XII surrendered on January 2nd 1492, but the film's action seems to take place while he was still in power.

Apart from these minor quibbles, it's an exciting action film. A lot is expected from it. Even before the film was completed it was stated that two sequels were planned, and some scenes for the second film were shot in advance to save money. Critics are unhappy with the film, but the initial reports suggest that "Assassin's Creed" will be a box office success, though maybe not as big a success as expected.

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Thursday, 29 December 2016

The Thing (4 Stars)

After seven independent films, all of which were critically acclaimed, this was John Carpenter's first film made for a major studio. Of course, film studios are more interested in money than ratings, so they were mostly impressed by the box office successes of "Halloween", "The Fog" and "Escape from New York".

"The Thing" failed to live up to its expectations. When it was released in 1982 it was an all-round flop. It made a loss at the box office, and critics slammed it. I can't understand what people were thinking. To coin a phrase, was it ahead of its time? Critics now consider it to be one of the best horror films ever made.

The film is about a scientific outpost in the Antarctic. 12 men are living together, far removed from the rest of the world. They take in a dog that they see being hunted by a seemingly insane Norwegian scientist from another science station. What they don't realise is that it isn't a dog. It's an alien creature that has the ability to take on the appearance of anything it kills.

If it were only a Thing it would be dangerous enough, but it's a highly intelligent creature. It's capable of quietly blending in, biding its time. It also has the ability to duplicate itself, sexless procreation, so soon there are several of the Things in the station. Paranoia breaks out, because nobody knows who is human and who is an alien. The scientists also feel a sense of responsibility. It's not just about saving their own lives. If they allow the creature to reach civilisation the whole of the Earth's population could be wiped out.

I forget when I first saw "The Thing". Probably 10 to 15 years ago. The first John Carpenter film that I saw was "Dark Star". Looking at it today it seems dated, especially the special effects, but that doesn't detract from its quality. It's an old school horror film that relies on suspense, rather than blood and gore. Is it really one of the best horror films ever made? I don't know. I wouldn't list it in my Top 10, but it's still an excellent film.

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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Jurassic World (4 Stars)

I have mixed feelings about this film. I gave it a low rating in my last review, which I've only slightly improved this time, but there is something about it that appeals to me. The action is thrilling, and the special effects are the best of the four films so far. My main problem is the characters. I could warm up to Chris Pratt as the animal trainer Owen Grady and the failed love pair Vivian and Lowery in the control room, but none of the other characters interest me. The worst of all is the arrogant park leader, Claire Dearing. Every time a dinosaur came anywhere near her I hoped that it would bite her head off. I felt the same way about the two children, her nephews Zach and Gray. In the first film I sympathised with the children, but these two boys are just silly little brats who should have become dino food in the first half hour.

I'll give it another chance some time next year. When I have time I'll watch all four films back to back so I can judge it in context.

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Lucy (4 Stars)

"Humans consider themselves unique, so they've rooted their whole theory of existence on their uniqueness. The number one is their unit of measure. But it's not. All social systems we've put into place are a mere sketch. One plus one equals two. That's all we've learned. But one plus one has never equalled two. There are, in fact, no numbers and no letters. We've codified our existence to bring it down to human size to make it comprehensible. We've created a scale so that we can forget its unfathomable scale".

But if humans are not the unit of measure and the world isn't governed by mathematical laws, what governs all that?

"Film a car speeding down a road. Speed up the image infinitely and the car disappears. So what proof do we have of its existence? Time gives legitimacy to its existence. Time is the only true unit of measure. It gives proof to the existence of matter. Without time we don't exist".

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Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Tag (5 Stars)

What do you do if all your friends are dead? You run, and you don't look back. You run until you reach the end of the world.

This is one of the best films ever made. It's an adaptation of the science fiction novel "The Running World" by Yusuke Yamada. It's a film about the objectification of women in modern culture. It's easier to play with women than live with them.

Unfortunately, it hasn't yet been released with English subtitles. There's a Blu-ray version with German dubbing. That's better than nothing, I suppose.

Death on the Nile (3 Stars)

The rich heiress Linnet Ridgeway goes on a cruise along the Nile. One night she is murdered. All nine of her friends accompanying her have a motive for wanting her dead. By a stroke of luck the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot just happens to be a passenger on the same cruise boat, so he helps to solve the murder.

If I were judging Agatha Christie's book, "Death on the Nile", I would doubtlessly give it five stars. I read most of her books when I was younger, and I greatly enjoyed all of them. However, I don't think that her books translate well to film. Long periods of the film were spent with the detective, Hercule Poirot, sitting with the others and explaining to them how he had deduced who was a possible suspect and who wasn't. That might be fascinating in a book, but in a film it's boring, however talented the actors are.

Forget the film. Read the book.

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Monday, 26 December 2016

Shanghai Noon (4½ Stars)

"This is the West, not the East. The sun might rise where you come from, but this is where it sets".

Despite having a few unwatched films on my shelf -- I binged in the Black Friday sales -- I'm still returning to watch some of my favourite films that I've watched many times before. That's the way I am. I watch films depending on my mood, and sometimes I just have the urge to watch the films I love the most. At the moment I'm on a Jackie Chan kick (pun intended). And why not? After watching the Rush Hour trilogy earlier this month I want to see more of him.

Jackie Chan has made over a hundred films. I probably have about a dozen on disc, and I've seen another dozen in the cinema. That means there are many, many more of his films that I still haven't seen. Let's hope for a low-price box set of the best films of his career. Remastered Blu-rays, of course!

"Shanghai Noon" is a comedy, throwing in lots of little jokes for fans of the classic westerns, in particular the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western trilogy. I notice new things every time I watch it.

The film begins in China. A princess is kidnapped and taken to America. The ransom has to be paid in gold. The imperial guard Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) is one of the party who travel to America with the gold. After a train robbery he gets separated from the others in his delegation, and he forms an uneasy partnership with the leader of the train robbers, Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson). He's not really a bad guy, for him robbery is just a job, a way to make money. That's the American dream, isn't it? Anyone can make money if he works hard. Roy O'Bannon is a gentleman robber. He never robs women, and he never, never shoots anyone. When he hears about the kidnapped princess his sense of chivalry is awakened. The thought of the gold also attracts him.

This is one of those films that everybody needs to watch, whatever sort of films he usually likes. Action films? Westerns? Comedies? "Shanghai Noon" has something for everyone.

In England the film has only been released on DVD, but the American Blu-ray release of "Shanghai Noon" and "Shanghai Knights" is region free, if you prefer to pay a few pounds more for a better quality picture.

"That's another fine mess you've gotten me into".

The Chinese princess is played by the beautiful actress Lucy Liu. Is it worth travelling hald way across the world to rescue her? What a silly question!

"Never bring fists to a gun fight". Although somehow I don't think Owen's guns are a match for Jackie's fists. Not even close.

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Sunday, 25 December 2016

Paul (5 Stars)

Do you like this review? If not, I invite you to write your own. If you want to become one of my fabled guest writers please leave a comment and I'll let you know how we can arrange it.

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Iron Man 3 (4½ Stars)

I don't celebrate Christmas. I say that so often that by now my friends are tired of hearing it. However, I weakened today and watched a Christmas film, "Iron Man 3". I hope that all my readers enjoy this day, whatever it means to you.

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Saturday, 24 December 2016

Mary Poppins (5 Stars)

Beautiful. Magical. "Mary Poppins" is a Christmas film without being about Christmas. We're carried into a different world where everything is possible if we just look up to the skies rather than looking down at our feet.

I'm surprised that I only gave this film four stars the last time I watched it. Maybe the heat beating down on my head in Brindley Place made it too difficult for me to fully enjoy it. Whatever the case, my rating was wrong.

This is a children's film, but also full of social criticism that adults can pick up. Having "Saving Mr. Banks" in the back of my mind made a few details obvious to me that I might otherwise have missed.

What I take for myself on watching the film today is the contrast between the world of women and the world of men. The world of women is bright and colourful, while the world of men is dark and dismal. Men have banks where the only thing worth doing with money is using it to make more money. And what do you do when you have more money? You use it to make even more. What else?

Winifred Banks, the children's mother, wants to enter the world of men. Votes For Women! She's demanding the right of women to participate in men's affairs, choosing which men should rule over them. Mary Poppins takes the opposite course. She invites men, in particular George Banks, to enter the world of women. Men should learn to express emotion and take time for the education and entertainment of children. However well-intentioned Winifred Banks' motivations were, she was wrong. By striving to become more like a man she was neglecting her children and becoming less like a woman. She was giving up everything that makes Woman special. Winifred Banks wanted to be chained to railings when she could have been flying in the sky.

"Mary Poppins" is a timeless story, as relevant now as it was in 1964. On December 26th, two days from now, the Mary Poppins musical is premiering in Stuttgart, with a full German cast singing in German. The musical will be performed all January, for people who want to spend 130 Euros on a good ticket. I've heard a few of the songs and they're surprisingly good. The trick to translating songs is to write new texts with a similar message that fit the original melody. Accurate one-to-one translations don't work. Only a skilled musical composer can translate songs.

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Friday, 23 December 2016

Lake Placid (4 Stars)

Grandma, what a big mouth you have!

 It's a long time since I watched this film, at least 10 years. It used to be one of my favourite films. Watching it again today I don't rate it quite as highly. Or maybe it's just my mood.

The film is centred around a lake called Black Lake in Maine. The lake really exists, but since the film was made in Canada other lakes were used for filming. As far as the film's name goes, that's explained early on. "We wanted to call it Lake Placid, but the name was taken". After a number of mysterious deaths in the lake it's discovered that there's a giant crocodile, estimated to be 30 feet long. Kelly Scott is a palaeontologist sent from New York to investigate. She's assisted by Hector Cyr, a mythology professor with a passion for crocodiles. Why mythology? Hector explains that in many civilisations crocodiles are worshipped as Gods, and he himself has a morbid fascination with them.

The film is marketed as a horror film, but it has a lot of comedy. The main characters clash to comic effect. For me the film's main star is Betty White, the old woman who lives at the side of the lake. It doesn't matter how old she is -- she was born on 17 January 1922 -- she still has the attitude of a sassy teenage girl. I love her!

Due to family staying with me for the next two weeks I'll have less time to spend on my blog. I'll still write reviews every day, but they will probably be shorter than usual.

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Enemy (3 Stars)

I have the greatest respect for Jake Gyllenhaal. I wouldn't necessarily list him among my favourite actors, but one thing is certain: he isn't a conventional actor. He has the courage to accept film roles that might not appeal to mainstream audiences. He takes risks. Looking back over his career, the risks don't always pay off. He's had a few big successes, such as "Brokeback Mountain" and "Everest", but many of his films have lost money at the box office. Including "Enemy". That might be enough to ruin the career of a lesser actor, but in Jake's favour the films that lost money have received praise from critics.

I don't know what to make of "Enemy". While writing this I'm still undecided whether to give it an average three star rating, or not rate it at all. My ratings are always intuitive gut reactions, not based on objective judgement of a film's qualities. I say that with pride. In this case I just don't know what to say about the film.

The first 15 minutes of the film were so depressing that I had to take a break. I didn't know whether I wanted to continue watching. We see a university lecturer in Toronto, Adam Bell. If I were to describe him objectively he's a success. A high-paid job and a beautiful girlfriend who loves him. But that's not the way he sees it. He lives in a boring city, he has a boring job, he has a boring relationship. Daily repetition. He repeats the same words about political theory to different classes, year after year. He has sex with his girlfriend every night, but to me the sex scenes are more depressing than anything else. There's no passion. It's something he does because he needs release. I have to say, if I were in a relationship like that I'd never want to have sex again. Sex without passion is meaningless.

That's the point where I took a break. When I returned to the film things started happening. We find that Adam never watches films. Also a bad sign in his life. A university colleague recommends a film to him, which he borrows from a video store. What the film is about is unimportant, except that it's a light-hearted film intended to cheer him up. What matters is that he spots an actor who looks identical to him. He tracks down the actor, who also lives in Toronto, and they meet. Their voices sound identical. They sound identical. They even have the same scar on their chests.

In contrast to Adam, the actor, Anthony Claire, has a happy life. He leads a glamorous life, he lives in a beautiful apartment, and he's married to a beautiful wife who is six months pregnant. This isn't enough for him. We hear in conversations that he's been having affairs, possibly with actresses. The temptations in the film world are many.

As they become involved with one another their lives overlap. Adam pretends to be Anthony, while Anthony pretends to be Adam.

So what's the film about? After watching it I still didn't know, so I searched the Internet for opinions.

Film critic Forest Wickman says it's a parable about what it's like to live under a totalitarian state without knowing it.

The actress Sarah Gadon, who plays Anthony's wife says that the film is about a man who fears female intimacy.

Jake Gyllenhaal says the film is about a man who  has to figure himself out before he can commit to life as an adult.

The director Denis Villeneuve, the person who should know what the film is about, writes: "A man who wants to leave his mistress and go back to his pregnant wife must confront his worst enemy: himself. This man should be in competition with another version of himself. In the dark spaces of his mind, Adam deals with an obsessive sexuality that cuts him off from intimacy and therefore any hope of true love. In order to be able to return to his regular life, his narcissistic side turns against the object of his sexual desire and destroys it".

These thoughts don't help me much. I need to watch the film again and try to understand it for myself.

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Thursday, 22 December 2016

Im Namen meines Sohns (4 Stars)

The title of this German film means "In the name of my son". It's the true story of one of the most spectacular cases of a serial killer in recent German history. The names of the characters in the film are changed, which I find strange, because in the end-of-film texts the real people involved are named. I'll use the real names in this review, rather than the fictional names used in the film.

In 1992 the 13-year-old Stefan Jahr disappeared from the boarding school where he was staying. Four weeks later he was found dead. The police investigated the case thoroughly, but they found no leads. Stefan's father Ulrich suspected the head of the boarding school, but the police couldn't find any evidence. When the case was closed a few years later as "unsolvable" Ulrich accused the police of knowing who the killer was and covering it up because it was an important member of the community. After giving a series of television interviews blaming the police Ulrich was sued for slander, but he got off lightly with a warning.

The years went by. Ulrich was approached by a Russian private detective who offered to help him, not charging him his full rate because the case interested him. The detective discovered a pattern that the police had missed. In 1995 and 2001 two other boys of approximately the same age had been found dead. One had disappeared from a boarding school, the other from a school holiday camp. Both had blond hair, like Stefan. The police had never connected the cases because they happened in different parts of Germany, hundreds of miles apart. Further investigations revealed that in 1998 a boy had been killed in Holland, in 2004 in France, both of them blond, both of them taken from holiday camps. The killer was obviously someone who had contacts with schools and holiday camps over a large area. As for the three-year interval, nobody can understand what goes on in the head of a madman. Children spoke of a masked man who visited tents and bedrooms at night, but nobody took it seriously.

Finally, in 2011 a children's worker called Martin Ney was arrested. Stefan had been his first victim, when Martin was 21 and still a student. Over the years he had worked in many camps, carefully planning attacks that he often didn't carry out until years later. He was charged with three murders, including Stefan's. Not all the cases could be proved, so the court restricted itself to the murders for which there was sufficient evidence.

This film is more than anything the story of Ulrich Jahr. It shows how a murder can ruin a person's life. After his son was killed he became obsessed with finding the killer. He lost his job, he neglected his younger son Oliver, and his wife left him. He spent 19 years of his life living only to find the killer. When he succeeded his life was over. Nine days after Martin Ney was convicted of murder Ulrich Jahr died of a heart attack, happy that justice had been served.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Shut In (3½ Stars)

The film begins with a tragic accident. Richard Portman leaves home with his son Steven to drive him to a boarding school. It's necessary. Steven has just been expelled from his local school, and it's a rural area with no other schools. On the way father and son argue, and the car swerves onto the wrong side of the road. Richard is killed instantly. Steven is badly injured and is left as a paraplegic, unable to move, talk or show any signs of intelligence.

Six months later Mary Portman is struggling to look after her son. She has to dress him, feed him, lift him in and out of bed; in short, she has to do everything for him. She lives in a remote house in the middle of the woods in Maine. She works as a child psychologist in a smaller house on her property. Her food and supplies are delivered by the receptionist who works for her, so she never leaves, only walking from one house to the other. Apart from her receptionist she only has contact with her patients and their parents. She also talks to a therapist by Skype.

One day a 10-year-old boy, Tom, one of her patients, turns up at her house late at night, in the middle of winter. She rings his mother and arranges to have him picked up the next day. However, Tom disappears during the night. Over the next few days Mary thinks she hears Tom in her house, but she can't find him. She thinks she's hearing a ghost, and she even doubts that he ever visited her on the first evening. Is she going mad, or is something sinister happening?

This is a neat little psychological thriller with traces of horror. It's not a masterpiece, far from it, but I can recommend it for viewing on a cold night indoors, sitting cuddled on the sofa with your partner.

Rush Hour 3 (4½ Stars)

"A donkey's lips will not fit on a horse's mouth".

The film opens with Ray Carter (Chris Tucker) in New York as a traffic cop. Evidently he hasn't just been demoted, he's been kicked out of Los Angeles altogether. Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) is accompanying his friend, Ambassador Han, who we know from the first film, to speak at the United Nations. It's about making a final push to expose the Chinese Triad, a shadowy gang that has existed for more than 500 years. An attempt is made to assassinate Han during his speech. Lee pursues the shooter, but lets him go when he discovers that it's his brother. Carter and Lee follow clues that lead them to Paris.

I loved the first two Rush Hour films unconditionally. I have mixed feelings about the third. Putting it simply, the first half of the film is a four star film, the second half is a five star film, so I've averaged it out at four and a half. Not that four stars is a bad rating. By my personal definition any film I give four stars is worth watching. Rush Hour 3's only weakness is in comparison with the first two films.

For me the problem in the first half is the balance between comedy and action. In the first two films there was a perfect equilibrium. In the third film there's too much comedy, at the expense of the action. Other reviewers have criticised "Rush Hour 3" for being a copy of the first two films, adding nothing new. I disagree. If it were more like the first two films it would be better.

However, the scenes that take place in Paris can't be faulted. There's an exciting car chase, and the final battle takes place on the Eiffel Tower.

After three films Chris Tucker finally gets surrounded by hot girls. Can he handle that many? That's probably why he didn't survive to make "Rush Hour 4".

My friends in Birmingham know me as a passionate lover of live music. I was the founder of the Birmingham Rock Music group, which specialised in visiting concerts featuring local bands from Birmingham and the Black Country. The group still exists, but it's drifted off in other directions since I left England, arranging visits to any rock concerts, whether the bands are from Birmingham or not. I've been asked more than once why I don't write concert reviews in my blog. The reason is simple. I don't know how to. Reviewing films comes easily to me. When I visit a concert I know whether I enjoyed it or not, but I don't know how to explain why. It's not my thing. Sorry.

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Monday, 19 December 2016

Scarface (5 Stars)

The poster above is a pleasant piece of art, but why did the artist find it necessary to increase the breast size of the two leading ladies, Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elisabeth Mastrantonio? Both of them are flat-chested in real life, but the artist has blown them up to D cups for the poster. I believe that the technical term for his changes is artistic license.

This is a remake of a 1932 film with the same name. The original is about an Italian immigrant called Tony Camonte in Chicago in the 1920's. The remake is about a Cuban immigrant called Tony Montana in Florida in the 1980's. It begins with the refugee crisis of 1980. Refugees were fleeing from Cuba by boat to the USA. Rather than try to stop them, Fidel Castro loaded criminals onto the boats with them in an attempt to destabilise America. Not much has changed since then. Almost 30% of the one million so-called refugees who have arrived in Germany in the last two years have committed crimes since arriving. They pretend to be fleeing from conflict zones, but in truth they want to move to a country where crime isn't punished as harshly as where they come from.

Tony works his way up from the bottom. He begins with murder and progresses to selling drugs, primarily cocaine. His downfall comes from taking drugs himself. "Never get high on your own supply".

I didn't see "Scarface" when it was first released in 1983, but I bought the soundtrack. The music is by Giorgio Moroder, who used to be one of my favourite musicians. His 1976 album, "Knights in White Satin", was one of the most revolutionary albums of the disco era, inspiring much of what came after it. Equally ground-breaking were the two albums that Giorgio wrote and produced for Donna Summer, "Love to Love You, Baby" (1975) and "A Love Trilogy" (1976). (He produced other albums for Donna Summer, but these two are the ones regarded as classics).

I finally got round to watching the film 20 years later, because it was one of my wife's favourite films. Introducing me to "Scarface" was one of the few good things she did for me. Watching it again today, for the first time in years, made something clear to me. There have been a few good gangster films in the last 30 years, such as "Goodfellas" and "Casino", but no film influenced "The Sopranos" as much as "Scarface". Despite the different ethnic origins the two Tonys, Montana and Soprano, have many traits in common.

A newspaper is shown with a front page article about Tony's arrest. You can click the above picture to enlarge it, but it might still be difficult to read, so here is a transcript of the first three paragraphs:

Drug King Posts Record $5,000,000 Bond

Cuba-born Tony Montana charged the Drug Enforcement Agency today with infringing on his Fourth Amendment rights in a press conference held after he posted a record $5,000,000 bond.

The facts regarding the situation remain the same, state the authorities. Details concerning the action have been given a preliminary investigation, but it is felt that only by a more detailed study will the true facts become known.

Many persons feel at this stage that some legal action is forthcoming. but it now becomes common knowledge that there is pressure from the inside which will materially change the aspects of the case.

That all sounds like a good newspaper report, but if you look at the fourth paragraph it begins with the words, "The facts regarding the situation remain the same, state the authorities". That means the second paragraph is being repeated. Sloppy.

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Sunday, 18 December 2016

True Memoirs of an International Assassin (4 Stars)

Kevin James isn't the first actor you would expect to play the lead role in an action movie. His unsuitability to the role was maybe intended as the main focus of the humour in "True Memoirs of an International Assassin", but guess what? He fits the role well. It looks like his time spent as a mall cop has prepared him.

Samuel J. Larson has a boring office job, but he dreams of being a world-renowned author. After work he sits writing a book called "Memoirs of an International Assassin". To be more realistic he uses information fed to him by a drinking buddy who claims to be a retired Mossad agent. The book is accepted and published online -- download only -- by an Internet startup company. What else can Sam expect? This is the 21st Century.

One other problem of 21st Century publishing is that once an author signs over his book to a publisher it's out of his hands and can be manipulated against his will. The word "True" is added to the book's title, and it's advertised as non-fiction to make it more interesting to the public. The book becomes a big seller. Sam gets rich. But the wrong people are reading the book.

Sam is kidnapped and shipped to Venezuela by a revolutionary called El Toro. El Toro believes that Sam really is the book's main character, code-named the Ghost, and he asks him to kill the President of Venezuela. Sam escapes from El Toro, but he's kidnapped by Venezuela's biggest crime lord, a Russian called Masovich, who gives Sam the assignment to kill El Toro. The CIA have been observing Sam's movements, and they speak to General Ruiz, the president's chief advisor, about him. The general invites Sam to the palace and asks him to kill Masovich.

Sam wants to deny that he's the Ghost, but it's not that easy. Everyone who hires him as an assassin threatens to kill him if he fails. The only solution is for him to become the Ghost.

This is a hilarious film. Like Johnny English, Sam Larson is an inept international agent, but unlike Johnny English he's an intelligent man who at least knows what he should do from his research. Kevin James really can be an action hero, with the assistance of well-trained stunt men.

"True Memoirs" (I'll shorten the film's title) is a Netflix original film, so it can only be watched online. It's been given a 0% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes web site. What? Are the critics so stupid? Any film that makes me laugh so much is worth a thumbs up. If I want quality entertainment I should check what other films have been rated so poorly on Rotten Tomatoes.

Model for Murder (4 Stars)

Who's the most beautiful woman at a photoshoot? Is it the woman being photographed?

What about the woman standing behind the photographer, the lowly makeup artist?

Does Sarah Hunter look like a plain Jane? Maybe she does, but only when she applies the makeup to others and not herself.

This is Sarah Hunter on the cover of the October 2015 issue of "Penthouse". Don't be too fast to judge girls on their first appearance.