Thursday, 30 June 2016

Batman (1966 version) (5 Stars)

This is the best Batman film ever made. Normally I accept other opinions, but in this case I make an exception. However much anyone tries to convince me that the films starring Michael Keaton or Christian Bale are better I won't listen. Adam West was born to play Batman. If you think any of the other films are better you're wrong. 'Nuff said!

The film is camp. That's often said as a criticism. People say that the Batman comics are dark and serious, not camp. Obviously they haven't read many of the comics. The original comics, which began in 1939, were very dark and menacing in their character. This continued until 1961, when the comics took on a lighter tone. It wasn't until 1977 that the writer Steve Englehart restored the old dark character to the comics. This means that this film, a spin-off of the Batman TV series, was accurate to the character of the comics as they were written in 1966.

I only found out when listening to the film commentary today that Catwoman, one of the villains in the film, wasn't a common character in the comics at the time. She first appeared in 1940 and was a regular villain until 1954. That's the year when the Comics Code Authority was founded. It was then deemed inappropriate for a woman to be evil. I don't know what to say to that. As a result she disappeared until 1966. She was a popular character in the first season of the Batman TV series, which led to her being re-introduced into the comics.

Catwoman finally became established as a major character in 1993, when she was featured in a mini-series in the DC anthology comic Showcase. The success of this series led to her being given her own comic in the same year, which ran until 2001. Incidentally, if you own a copy of Catwoman #1 check out the letter page. A letter from me is printed. Yes, it's the same Mike Hood. I wrote the letter to Showcase, and it was printed in the first issue of Catwoman.

In 2002, after a gap of a year, Catwoman's comic was relaunched, starting again from number 1. She was given an updated costume, including goggles which varied in size until the artists decided what looked best. In my opinion goggles look bad on her whatever the size. I hope she'll lose them soon.

Central Intelligence (3½ Stars)

Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock, is one of the biggest action stars in Hollywood today. After a short but successful wrestling career he made the step into acting in 2001 to play the Scorpion King in "The Mummy Returns". After that he played the title role in "The Scorpion King" in 2003. Although this film was a big box office success, I found it dull, and The Rock's acting seemed wooden to me. (I can't help calling him The Rock). That's one of the main reasons I criticised him in my review of "The Mummy Returns" three years ago. At the moment I don't know how to judge him. He put on a poor performance in "Hercules", but his acting in "Fast & Furious 7" was impressive, and in last year's blockbuster "San Andreas" he was nothing less than amazing.

Now he's turned his hand to comedy. He plays Bob Stone, a boy who was bullied in school because he was fat. The only boy who stood up for him was Calvin Joyner, the school's most successful student, and the one voted most likely to succeed, But votes in school don't mean much. 20 years later Calvin has a boring job as an accountant. Bob has made something of his life. He has worked out every day, shedding his fat and building up muscle. He's joined the CIA, but he's been given the blame for the death of his partner and his bosses think he's gone rogue. Bob has nowhere to go to, so he turns to Calvin, who he hasn't seen since graduation day.

This is where it gets very uncomfortable. Bob acts like a stalker. In fact, he is a stalker, because he knows all about Calvin's life. As a CIA agent he has access to secret knowledge. Calvin gets caught up in the battle between Bob and his former CIA bosses.

It's an outstanding comedy, despite the inherent creepiness of The Rock's character. He's a gentle giant, a tough fighter who is vulnerable inside. Kevin Hart, who plays Calvin Joyner, is a brilliantly funny comedian.

In 2003 The Rock announced his retirement from wrestling to dedicate himself to acting. He's returned to the ring occasionally for guest appearances, but he's no longer a full time wrestler. In 2003 he also added a quite spectacular tattoo to his body. Even as someone who doesn't like tattoos I have to appreciate it as a work of art. At the time the tattoo was criticised as a hindrance to his acting career. I can understand that. It's more difficult for actors with tattoos to find work. Why did he do it?

It's part of his culture. He's mixed race, having a black Canadian father and a Samoan mother, but he feels most attached to his Samoan heritage. It's a custom for Samoans to have a tattoo that tells their life story. The tattoo was custom designed by the tattoo artist, based on the description The Rock gave of himself.

This photo shows the tattoo's template. The Rock is proud of it as part of his heritage. It's who he is, so questions of difficulty acting didn't come into his head. And if the tattoo really is unwelcome in a film there are make-up women who know how to hide it.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Elvis & Nixon (4 Stars)

In December 1970 Elvis Presley requested to visit President Nixon in the White House. Very little is known about the visit, except that Elvis, a collector of police badges, wanted a badge of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The conversation between Elvis and the President was held in private in the Oval Office. The details of the conversation have never been made public. All that remains is a photo taken before they parted. The film portrays the meeting between the two famous men and carefully treads the line between truth and fiction. None of what is said can be guaranteed to really have been spoken, but nothing can be disproved either. It's not true, but it could be true.

The film starts off slowly, maybe too slowly. The character development doesn't really succeed when we see the two men separately, preparing for the visit. We don't get to know them until they're in the room together. That's when the sparks fly, when we see their personalities bouncing off one another. Nixon expects to meet a rebellious rock'n'roll star, but the man he meets is different. Elvis is conservative and pro-American to the core. He hates drugs, he hates hippies and he voices his support for the "war in South-East Asia".

There's a war of egos going on before the two men can settle down and open up to one another. Nixon tries to impress Elvis with the size of his house and the gifts he's received, but Elvis calmly says that everything he has is the same or better. Nixon might be the President, but Elvis is the King.

The film has a subtle comedy element to it. It's not just the clash of two worlds. It's the portrayal of Elvis' child-like naivety. He asks to be made an undercover agent for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs so he can help combat drug abuse and anti-Americanism. He says he can infiltrate the Grateful Dead and the Black Panthers.

"Elvis & Nixon" is a film that might not be for everyone, but it has a charm that will entrance all fans of good cinema. Please check the film out, and leave comments with your feelings.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Never Been Kissed (4 Stars)

Didn't I watch this film a short while ago? Yes. If you check my alphabetical list of posts you'll see that I watched it six weeks ago on May 19th. I was working my way through the films starring my favourite actress, Leelee Sobieski, but at the moment I've stalled after only six films. I intend to continue next month. Don't worry, when I get to the end of her films I'll publish a list of her films in the sidebar so that you can read the reviews in order, even if they're spread so thinly in my blog that you would otherwise have problems finding them.

I haven't mentioned it yet, but Leelee Sobieski has quit acting. I thought this was only temporary while she was taking time looking after her children, born in 2009 and 2014, but it seems that she doesn't intend to return. In 2012 she said in an interview with Vogue, "Ninety percent of acting roles involve so much sexual stuff with other people, and I don’t want to do that". I don't understand why she said this. As far as I remember, almost none of her films have her doing sexual stuff. There might be occasional kisses, but that's about as far as it goes. When I re-watch the rest of films I'll remind myself, but until then I'd say that in Leelee's case it's not 90% of her roles, it's 5% or less. If she really wants to avoid sexual roles she could specialise in horror films, because they almost never have any explicit sexual scenes. Alternatively, she could audition for parts in Steven Spielberg's films, because it's well known that his films don't have love scenes.

It's a real shame. For years I've considered her to be the most skilled actress alive today. She's attractive, as you can see from the photo above, but it's more like that. She exudes talent, and it'll be thrilling to watch her 40 years from now when she's a grand old dame of cinema. Presuming she doesn't give up acting before then.

For now I'll have to content myself with re-watching her body of work so far. 26 films, four mini-series and one television series. So it's not just a random occurrence that I've watched this film again so soon. I want to watch Leelee's films to remind myself how talented she is.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (3½ Stars)

Johnny Blaze has fled from the USA to Romania and lives as a recluse in an attempt to control the Ghost Rider's power. He's approached by Moreau, a member of a holy order, and asked to find a young boy called Danny. This boy is the Devil's son, and in three days time the full power of the Devil will be transferred to him, resulting in Hell on Earth.

While not the worst Marvel film ever made, "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is certainly disappointing. I agree that CGI is necessary to portray a character with a flaming head, but the film relies too heavily on CGI. It could have been toned down a little.

There are some discrepancies to the first film. At the end of the first film the Devil offers Johnny Blaze his soul back, but he refuses it because he wants to retain his power to fight the forces of evil. In this film we see him desperate to get his soul back. Couldn't he just have asked? As well as that, in the first film he only turns into the Ghost Rider at night. In this film he can transform at any time.

The Ghost Rider franchise is due to be rebooted next year. I hope the next film will be better.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Young Frankenstein (5 Stars)

A few days ago a friend of mine was looking at my alphabetical list of posts to see what films I've reviewed. Her first question to me was why "Pulp Fiction" is listed three times. Yes, she's a new reader of my blog, or she would have known the answer. My blog isn't really a film review site, it's more accurate to call it a film diary. It lists every single film that I've watched since I started the blog in September 2010. If I watch a film more than once I write about it more than once. I've watched "Pulp Fiction" three times since September 2010, in January 2013, June 2013 and November 2015. Sometimes I say very little about a film, especially if it's a film I've already written about before. I might just use one small detail about the film as an excuse to write about an unrelated topic. In cases like that it's not a review at all, it's just the ranting of a crazy Englishman.

Usually the rating I give a film is the same every time I watch it. Usually, but not always. Sometimes I like a film more the second time I see it, sometimes less. In my alphabetical list the date of each post is shown, so in the case of differing ratings you can assume that the most recent post is what I think.

This is the fourth time I've watched "Young Frankenstein" since September 2010. I don't know how often I watched it before then. At least twice, probably more often.

What shall I write about the film today? Nothing! This is my blog, and I can do what I want!

Off-Topic: Britain leaves the EU

For those of you interested in politics: Britain has just voted to leave the European Union.

For those of you not interested in politics: Ai Shinozaki is beautiful.

If you want to talk to me about the referendum result, please leave a comment below this post. If you don't, just enjoy the photos of Ai.

The Conjuring 2 (4 Stars)

This is the second film about the psychic investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, a husband and wife who spent years investigating haunted houses with the support of the Roman Catholic Church. Their most famous case was the Amityville haunting in 1976. The first film deals with the Perron haunting (1971), and this film deals with the Enfield haunting (1977). The Amityville case is shown briefly in flashbacks at the beginning of the second film. It probably wasn't shown as a film in its own right because it's already been the subject of more than a dozen films.

The film begins with the Warrens, who lived in Conneticut, considering retiring from psychic investigation because of the toll it was taking on their family. However, they aren't able to retire because representatives of the Church ask them to travel to England to investigate a haunted council house in Enfield, in the north of London. A single mother, Peggy Hodgson, is living with her four children. Furniture and other objects are moving by themselves. The spirit of a former resident of the house, Ben Wilkins, is possessing the 11-year-old daughter Janet and speaking through her lips with an old man's voice. After the Warrens arrive they discover that Ben Wilkins is actually being controlled by a powerful demon who intended to lure them to England to kill them.

As in the case of most psychic phenomena there are people on one side who insist that everything is genuine and people on the other side who insist that everything is fake. People believe what they want to, and each side clings to individual pieces of evidence that prove they're right while ignoring everythin else. In this case the sceptics claim that the haunting was faked by Janet and her 13-year-old sister Margaret. I have difficulty believing that two girls of this age could succeed in fooling the Catholic Church and its representatives. Apart from this, police officers also witnessed furniture moving by itself. In order for the haunting to be faked a lot of people would have had to be participating in the deception. I don't believe that a large number of people are capable of keeping a secret of this magnitude for 40 years.

I'm not someone who believes in paranormal phenomena for the sake of it. I'm a natural sceptic, but I'm also open to the possibility that things happen that can't be explained. I don't know enough about the Enfield case to form an opinion, but let's assume that it really did happen roughly as portrayed in the film. My tendency is to look for a different explanation to what was seen, or at the least I say I have no explanation. I have trouble accepting that the Catholic Church and its representatives have power to battle demons and other unseen forces. If I really believed that the Catholic Church has the power to drive out demons I would want to join it, but I can't become a Catholic because I think that what they believe about God is rubbish. That's my dilemma. Maybe a cult within the Catholic Church has somehow tapped into power which has nothing to do with the beliefs of the mainstream church. I don't know.

But getting back to the film itself, it's a good film which does its job scaring the viewer. The question about whether it really happened or not only complicates the issue. I'm someone who thinks too much. That's one of my biggest faults. I recommend that you just sit back and enjoy the film as it is.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Iceman (4 Stars)

This is a mind-bending martial arts film that begins in the 17th Century and continues in modern day Hong Kong. It's a remake of the 1989 film "The Iceman Cometh", but the remake is intended as the first film of a trilogy.

Four young boys become blood brothers and swear to be friends for life. They all sign up to fight for the imperial Chinese army. He Ying (Donnie Yen) is sent on a mission to India to find a time travel device, the Linga, rumoured to be Shiva's penis. He brings it back to his general, but his blood brothers have turned against him because they want the device for themselves. He's accused of being a traitor and is sentenced to death. He's buried alive and wakes up in 2013. He's devastated to find that the Ming Dynasty has fallen, so he vows to travel back in time to change events and keep it in power. But he's not alone in Hong Kong. His three brothers are also alive, and one of them is the chief of police in the city.

In the unfamiliar new city He Ying makes friends with a young girl he meets in a club. At first her intention is to take advantage of him, because he's carrying gold ingots worth thousands of dollars, but a romance develops.

The action scenes are breathtaking, but I admit there's a lot I don't understand. Why are the four brothers immortal? Why was He Ying buried with the time travel device? Wouldn't it have been more sensible to take it off him first if it was so important? Some of the details of the story are rather slippery. For instance, in order to travel through time Shiva's penis has to be inserted. I suppose that any sacrifice is worth while to save the dynasty.

This is a 3D film. I watched it in 2D, but it was obvious that the special effects were filmed with 3D in mind. For instance, objects were flying towards the camera, presumably to make the cinema audience jump. I'm not a fan of silly tricks like that. Good cinematography doesn't have to rely on cheap tricks.

I understand that Donnie Yen insisted on a clause in his contract saying that he wouldn't be filmed inserting the Linga.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Mad Max: Fury Road (3 Stars)

"Where must we go, we women who wander this wasteland in search of our better selves?"

I gave this film a bad rating when I watched it last year. Click here to read my review. I don't think any of my reviews has ever stirred such displeasure with my fellow members of the Birmingham Film Club. Everyone liked it except for me. I really wish they had left comments on my blog so other people could appreciate their point of view. As it was they verbally accosted me whenever we met. They kept telling me to watch it again and see if I would change my opinion.

This year "Mad Max: Fury Road" won six Oscars, more than any other film, so I decided to watch it again. I still don't consider it to be a masterpiece, but I've begun to appreciate it more. I can see the importance of the feminist aspect of the film, something that I overlooked last year. Imperator Furiosa has rebelled against her leader, Immortan Joe. She has freed his five wives and is taking them to a haven run by women, the Green Place. The wives are little more than slaves. They're all glad to escape, even Angharad who is close to the end of her pregnancy.

These are the six women. I don't know if their names have any particular significance in the film. It's more likely that they're private jokes in the mind of the screenwriter/director George Miller.

The title character Max, played by Tom Hardy, is a man on the verge of madness. He constantly sees visions of people from his past. He finds a focus in his life by aiding Furiosa in her mission.

Here are a few random photos of the six women. Of course, they're less glamorous in the film than they are in real life. They're all easy to recognise, except for Charlize Theron, who has a totally different appearance as Furiosa.

Are they powerful women? At the beginning of the film only Furiosa is strong and self-confident. The five wives are still struggling to find their way in the wasteland of a male-dominated society. Cheedo even doubts she's doing the right thing and considers returning to her oppressive husband. It isn't easy to leave a life of slavery if that's all you know. But the women hold together, and they become stronger by forming a sisterhood. There's even a man, Max, who is willing to assist them.

But Max knows his place. When he's brought the women to a place of freedom his work is done. He doesn't stand rejoicing with them. He quietly slips away.

Gods of Egypt (4 Stars)

How can the critics get things so wrong? This film was given advance reviews calling it a poor film, and yet I came out of the cinema today highly satisfied. Were the critics watching a different film to me? Or have they just lost track of what the general public likes? The job of a good film critic is to advise people whether to see a film or not. That's my opinion. Any praise or criticism of a film should relate to that. It shouldn't just be about telling the public whether a film is politically or socially relevant. The public goes to the cinema to be entertained.

Does "Gods of Egypt" entertain? The answer is a resounding Yes. The film has sword and fist fights. It has flying Gods. It has battles with giant monsters. I was thrilled from beginning to end. I expected nothing less. The film was directed by Alex Proyas, responsible for masterpieces like "Dark City" and "The Crow". He was justifiably annoyed at the critical reception of his film, calling the critics deranged idiots. He claims that they don't make up their own minds about films, they just look over the shoulders of the other critics, copying the opinions of one another.

A lot of criticism of the film when it was being made was that the majority of the actors chosen for the roles are white. In fact, all the film's major characters are white; only the supporting characters and the extras are black. I can understand the logic. "Egypt is in Africa. The people who live in Africa are black. So a film about Egypt should use black actors".

Unfortunately, this line of thought is based on ignorance of anthropology. The film's date isn't stated, but we can estimate that it takes place between 2500 B.C. and 2000 B.C. At that time the population of Egypt was Caucasian. It's unclear when dark skinned people (presumably invaders from central Africa) moved into Egypt, but some scholars put the date as late as 300 B.C., after the death of Alexander the Great.

There are three types of evidence we can use to determine the hair and skin colour of the ancient Egyptians: ancient paintings, mummified corpses and literary descriptions.

The drawings of people in the pyramids and tombs shows the skin varying from pale, to gold, to pink. No drawings show people with black skin. None at all. The hair colour varies from yellow, to brown, to black, but the majority of the drawings show people with red hair.

Recent DNA tests have shown that the majority of the mummified corpses had red hair. It's more difficult to determine the skin colour because of the decay of the flesh over time.

Combining the evidence of these two sources, we can deduce that the majority of the Egyptians from 1500 B.C. to 1000 B.C. had pale skin and red hair. Light blond and dark blond hair existed, but it was less common.

The problem with the literary descriptions is that they're more recent, from 350 B.C. onwards. The descriptions of Egyptian statesmen are inconsistent. Some describe them as dark skinned, and others as having a ruddy complexion. This suggests that the population of Egypt was already a mix of various races by this time.

What happened to the red-haired people of Egypt? There are two possibilities. One is that the red-hair genes were weak, and they were wiped out by intermarriage with other races. The other possibility is that the people migrated northwards to Scandinavia and the British Isles. This could have been a speedy journey (like the current migration from Syria to Germany), or it could have been the slow drift of a migrant people over the course of hundreds of years. A third possibility is that the red-haired people were slaughtered as rebels or inferior during or after the rule of Alexander the Great, but there are no historical reports to support this.

In case all this talk about the ethnicity of the ancient Egyptians is too complex for you to follow, what about the other features of the film? It shows Gods and men living side by side. Is that something you want to argue about? Not me. As far as I'm concerned it just shows that it's a fantasy film. We don't have to quarrel about details. Moreover, in a scene which takes place in space we see that the Earth is flat. Any critic who sits down and writes, "The film gets it wrong; the world isn't really flat" just doesn't get it. He really is a deranged idiot.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

I love you, Phillip Morris (4 Stars)

"Did I forget to mention I'm gay? Yeah, I'm gay. Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. I have been as long as I can remember".

This is the amazing true story of Steven Jay Russell, the con man who became famous for escaping from prison four times, more often than anyone else in America. Two of his escapes were from maximum security prisons. His most spectacular escape was by faking his own death. He might still be walking free today, if not for his love for Phillip Morris. Whenever he escaped he headed straight to Phillip's house, which is where the police were waiting for him. Love makes the smartest of men do crazy things.

He's now serving a 144 year prison sentence in Texas. He's locked in his cell 23 hours a day, and he's only allowed out to shower and exercise under strict supervision. This is unique in America's prisons. Normally only murderers and other violent criminals are dealt with so harshly. No other criminal who has only committed fraud is treated like this. After the experiences in the past this is deemed necessary, because it's the only way to be sure that he won't escape again.

What do children see when they look at the clouds?

Is that cloud a bat?

What about that cloud? It's a dog's head.

I have no idea what this cloud looks like.

On a general note, I'm surprised to see that all three of my recent James Bond film reviews are in the list of my 10 most popular posts. That's today, June 19th. If you're reading this post next month or next year they might no longer be in the list, which is shown on the right. All three of the films feature Pierce Brosnan. I'm not sure whether this is because of a general interest in James Bond or in Pierce Brosnan himself. Currently "The world is not enough" is in fifth place, "Tomorrow never dies" is eighth, and "Die another day" is ninth. Only "GoldenEye" isn't listed, although I remember that it spent a few weeks in my top 10 after I wrote the review in January.