Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Collateral Beauty (4½ Stars)

Here we go again. It's another one of those films. I mean the films that prove that the critics have lost touch with the public. This is a wonderful film, deeply moving in its romantic moments. It's a box office success. The public loves it. I love it. But the critics hate it. I shan't even bother trying to explain to you what they don't like about it. I'll just say that they're wrong.

The film is about Howard Inlet, the founder of a highly successful New York trading company. He has three business partners, but it's his genius and his charisma that carry the company. His life changes when his six year old daughter dies. His marriage breaks up. He becomes depressive and unable to work any more. After two years his partners lose their patience and want to have him declared mentally incapable of running the company. They find out that he's written letters to Love, Time and Death, complaining about what they've done to him. The partners hire three actors from a small theatre company to pretend to be these entities. They also hire a private detective to film him when he meets and argues with these three people, in the hope of making him seem unbalanced.

I shan't say anything else about the plot. You can already imagine that as soon as Howard is convinced that they're who they're pretending to be they have a profound effect on him. Unexpectedly, the three actors also connect with the three partners, helping them deal with their respective problems.

For years I've never liked Will Smith as an actor. That's beginning to change. He's no longer typecast as the brash kid from the ghetto. As he's getting older he's playing more serious roles, like this one. The film features several of my favourite actors, but Will Smith stands above them.

I repeat once more. This is a wonderful film, so don't let anything the critics say put you off watching it.

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Sunday, 29 January 2017

Split (4½ Stars)

This is a film about a man with a rare form of schizophrenia, known as multiple personality disorder (MPD) or dissociative identity disorder (DID). People who suffer from this illness commonly refer to themselves by different names depending on which personality has control. In most cases one personality takes over the others are suppressed, but sometimes two can be active at the same time and communicate with one another. The film presents an even rarer case of personalities accompanied by different personal traits, i.e. one of the personalities is diabetic while the others aren't.

James McAvoy plays a man called Kevin (his birth name) with 23 personalities who have been living relatively peacefully for years. He/they have been visiting a psychiatrist who has been treating the individual personalities for years. The dominant personality is Barry, a polite and articulate personality, but a more aggressive personality called Dennis has been struggling to take over, with the help of another personality called Patricia.

The film begins with Dennis kidnapping three 16-year-old girls and locking them in a basement. He tells them that he needs them for the arrival of someone or something called the Beast. While trapped the girls meet the other personalities and try to get help from some of them, in particular Hedwig, a nine-year-old boy.

I've always enjoyed watching James McAvoy as an actor, but I've considered him to be one-sided. He always plays a likeable, impishly smiling character. In "Split" he finally has a chance to show what he can do. The transitions from one personality to another are sometimes shown by changes in clothing, but mostly they're shown by different facial expressions and mannerisms. James McAvoy delivers the performance of a lifetime.

The film is also a return to form for the writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. His first few films, in the 1990's and early 2000's, were acknowledged as masterpieces, but his films over the last 10 years have been less favourably received. "Split" is his best film in a long time. It also has a tie-in to one of his previous films, but I'll let you discover which one for yourself.

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Gold (4 Stars)

This film takes place in Canada in 1898. It's an unmotorised version of a road movie, since it deals with a journey across 1500 miles across rugged land, alternating mountains and forests. What stands out in my mind after watching it isn't so much the story, it's the beautiful panoramic cinematography. In recent years a lot of  fuss has been made about "The Hateful Eight", but "Gold" is just as magnificent, even without the 70 mm camera hype. The cinematography is much superior to other films like "The Revenant".

Emily Meyer (Nina Hoss) is a woman who emigrated from Germany in 1892. Since then she's been working as a handmaiden in Chicago. That's a long way to travel to become someone's slave, but even in the 19th Century America didn't always deliver what it promised. She answers a newspaper advertisement and joins an expedition of Germans heading to Klondike in north west Canada, where gold has been discovered. The expedition's leader is Wilhelm Laser, a man who found gold in Klondike in 1896 and is now running a group to guide fellow Germans to make their fortunes.

That's the point where Emily should have been suspicious. If Wilhelm Laser had become so rich from digging for gold, why didn't he stay where he was and find even more for himself? Why did he need to charge $500 per person as a tour guide? Could it be that he could earn more as a tour guide than as a gold digger? That's the only logical conclusion. I'm just as sceptical of money-making schemes today. If someone sells me a book for $20 about how to make money fast it's obvious that the author makes more money from the book sales than from the scheme he's recommending.

Anyway, only three other Germans are as gullible as Emily. A fifth person is travelling with the group, a German news reporter, who doesn't plan to stay in Klondike. His only intention is to write about the gold rush for the people of Germany. There's also a packer with them, whose only job seems to be looking after the horses.

Soon after the journey begins the worst suspicions become true. I mean my worst suspicions, the people in the party never expected problems. Wilhelm Laser sits struggling with maps, and it's clear that he doesn't know the way. A few days later he attempts to desert the party in the middle of the night. The five Germans take their money back and sentence him to death by hanging. That's frontier justice at its best. After this they decide to continue to Klondike without him. The packer can evidently read maps better.

They continue on across the hostile terrain, through woods and plains, through valleys and over mountains. As the journey continues their horses die, and the group becomes smaller as one by one they're no longer able to continue.

The film is carried by Nina Hoss's magnificent acting. She plays a woman who's as hard as nails, a woman who's learnt to keep her emotions under control. She's the perfect prototype of a 19th Century pioneer woman. Strong but feminine. Her role cements her position as one of Germany's most talented actresses.

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Friday, 27 January 2017

Female Agents (3 Stars)

This is a film that's loosely based on the life of Lise de Baissac, called Louise Desfontaines in the film. I never understand why films based on real people change the names. Maybe it's because relatives of dead heroes might argue too much if certain events are over-dramatised. I don't know.

The film takes place in early 1944. A British geologist visited the coast of Normandy to test its suitability for an allied landing. He was wounded in a firefight, but he managed to escape after putting on the uniform of a dead German soldier. He was thought to be German and taken to a military hospital in Paris. The British army wants to retrieve him from the hospital before his cover is blown. After all, he can't speak German, and he can't remain silent indefinitely.

The solution is to send a group of French women into the hospital. Two are disguised as nurses. Two are dancers in a cabaret to entertain the wounded German troops. A fifth woman is a driver, waiting for the others to push the geologist out of the hospital in a wheelchair. What they don't realise is that his identity was already discovered before they arrived, so the supposedly peaceful mission turns into a shootout between the female agents and the German soldiers stationed at the hotel, followed by a chase across the city.

It wasn't rare for women to fight against the Nazis. There were a lot of French women who fought in the French Resistance. What made these agents different is that they were working under the command of the British army.

I like the subject matter of the film. It's fascinating to see women fighting against men. What spoils it for me is the semi-biographical nature. The women are so unglamorous. Most of them died in the course of this mission -- sorry for the spoiler -- which made it disappointing to me. That's one of the disadvantages of true stories. In real life the good guys (or girls) don't always win.

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Thursday, 26 January 2017

Into the Wild (4½ Stars)

"Some people feel they don't deserve love. They walk away quietly into an empty space, trying to close the gap to the past".

Wow! That quote from the film is full of meaning. The film's main character, Chris McCandless, speaks the words to someone else, his friend and ersatz father Ron Frenz, but he's unknowingly speaking about himself. Maybe his parents were too involved with their personal problems to show him their love, but his sister definitely loved him. He left his home to get away from society and all its ugliness, but he was really running away from the people who loved him.

I don't want to describe the plot again. I said a little about it in my last review when I watched it in 2015. I didn't write very much then, but I didn't need to. The film is based on a true story. I've always loved films that are about real events, things that really happened. It's not just because I can relate to true events, it's because the films have a different pattern. In a fictional film everything is put together logically. A leads to B, B leads to C, C leads to D, etc. Films are often criticised if they leave loose ends. Films about true life aren't like that. Things happen at random. Things happen that don't reach a resolution. An existentialist would say that life is absurd. Even though I can't relate to existentialism in general, I have to agree with this statement. Life really is absurd.

That doesn't mean that life can't be steered. The decisions that a person makes have consequences. If Chris McCandless had decided to go to law school he would now be living in a big house somewhere surrounded by his children and maybe even his grandchildren. By walking away quietly into an empty space he had a much more exciting life, but also a shorter life.

I have sympathy with Chris McCandless. More than that, I have the greatest respect for him and what he did, even though it was something I personally could never have done. He walked out of the world in order to find himself. I've spent the last few years searching for myself. At times, particularly in the years 2000 to 2006, I didn't make any advances in self-knowledge because there were too many disturbances around me. Too much noise, both literally and figuratively. From 2006 onwards my thoughts turned in on myself. I discovered myself. I wouldn't say I've reached the end of my path. I still struggle with questions of morality, because I don't know whether Good and Evil are absolute or relative values. I'd like to think of them as absolute, but if they really are absolute my brain is too limited to encompass them, so it's easier to think of them as relative.

One conclusion that I've reached relatively recently, in the last 12 months, is that I have to look at the world relatively to myself. I am the measure of all things. I've come to accept that I'm a good person. I'm not perfect, I make mistakes, even in moral issues, but I trust myself to want to do good. For that reason, I can judge people based on their relationship to me. Anyone who thinks badly of me is a bad person. Anyone who thinks well of me is a good person. One step up, anyone who talks badly about me, putting his bad thoughts into words, is a very bad person. At the extreme end of the scale, anyone who does bad things to me is utterly evil.

I'm not saying people should like me. Tastes are different. I find some people boring, so why shouldn't they find me boring as well? However, I'm a strongly moral person, so anyone who thinks that I'm bad is a bad person. It's as simple as that. This isn't narcissism. A narcissist wants everyone to think good about him. I don't. I accept that many people in this world will think badly about me, and there's nothing I can do to change it because they're on a morally lower level than I am. Maybe they'll change, maybe they won't, but it's not up to me to educate them.

That's something I see now, since returning to Germany. My ex-wife thinks that I did bad things in the past. I know I didn't, but I won't argue with her. I'll let her carry on thinking whatever she wants to about me. Maybe one day she'll reach a point of enlightenment when she's able to understand. I have no need to be appreciated by others. I'm beyond that.

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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Die Hölle: Inferno (4½ Stars)

Weltuntergang, wir feiern uns selbst, mit Weibern im Hayat Hotel.
Die Bitch aus der Hölle, sie trägt ein feuerrotes Kleid von Channel plus Halz und Pelz.
Wir sind wieder mal wach, weil jeder Tijara macht,
So viele Sünden, die wir grad begehen, dass wenn wir sie beichten, ein Priester erblasst.
Es ist tief in der Nacht, unser Gewissen, es schläft.
Wenn es um Business geht, steht Loyalität unter Liquidität.
Sie ballern sich Ecstasypillen, bisschen Netflix und Chill.
Sag wieso ist 'ne Frau eine Schlampe, wenn sie gar keinen Sex mit ihm will.
Hier hat niemand 'nen Wunsch mit dem Weed in den Lungen.
Keiner von denen hat die Berge gesehen, aber dennoch laufen sie mit Skimasken rum.
So viele der Jungs sind zu tief in dem Dunst dieser Suite schon versumpft.
Wir werden nicht in die Hölle kommen, denn sie kommt zu uns

Ich zünd' die Kippe an im Fegefeuer,
Denn alles hier ist sowieso schon egal.
Alle hier in meiner Gegend, Choya,
Werden täglich von Dämonen gejagt,
Und ich zünd' die Kippe an im Fegefeuer
Denn alles hier ist sowieso schon egal.
Alle hier in meiner Gegend, Choya,
Tragen statt Mama 'ne Roli am Arm.

Roli am Arm, wir feiern uns selbst, die hungern, wir schmeißen mit Geld.
Ich fahre jetzt auf dem Highway-to-Hell in 'nem weißen SL Dicker, scheiß auf die Welt,
Diese Stadt ist kaputt, alles nur Asche und Schutt,
Wir tragen die Waffen wie Schmuck: Uzis, Kalash, passend zum Look.
Uns flüstert der Teufel ins Ohr, du brauchst das Zeug von Dior.
Wir holen uns alles, doch alles was wir für uns haben, hat dann an Bedeutung verloren.
Wir tragen ein Palestintuch und die Bomber in schwarz,
Firstclassticket zur Hölle, aber in den Himmel geht's nur per Economyclass.
Jeder will hoch zur Million durch Drogen und Co,
Kids aus der Gegend, sie stehen auf der Straße, doch keiner von ihnen spielt Pokémon Go.
Wir liefern, die Kunden sind ziellos und lungern in Spielos herum.
Wir werden nicht in die Hölle kommen, denn sie kommt zu uns.

The text above is the lyrics of the film's title song, written and performed by Nazar, an Iranian refugee who has been given Austrian citizenship. I'm too lazy to translate it all, apart from the last line, which is used as the tag line on the film poster.

"We aren't going to Hell. Hell is coming to us".

Germany has an incredible film culture, which is mostly unknown to people from other countries. This is an Austrian film, and Austria itself has a smaller film industry, but it profits through the cooperation of German film professionals. If you turned the volume down to hide the dialogue you would think that this is a Hollywood film, based on the production quality. The story itself is thrilling and will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The central character is Özge Dogruol, a young Turkish woman working as a taxi driver in Vienna. She's a lonely person who hardly speaks, due to being sexually abused as a child by her father. One evening after work she hears screams. She looks out of her window and sees a woman being tortured in a neighbouring apartment. A man with a knife in his hand looks back through the window at her. She calls the police, but they're too late. The woman is already dead. Özge asks for police protection, but the racist police officers don't take her seriously.

The next day, while Özge is away, she's visited by her cousin, and the cousin is killed by a man waiting in the apartment. A senior detective is put on the case. He tells Özge that there's a serial killer who has already killed women in six different countries on both sides of the Mediterranean. The victims are all young Moslem women. They are burnt, cut and forced to drink boiling water. Özge recognises this as an image of Hell in the Koran. There is no way to escape the murderer. After she's chased through the city she takes refuge in the detective's house, where a romance develops between them.

Özge and the detective decide to help one another to find the killer, but they have different goals. The detective wants to arrest him. Özge wants to kill him.

This is a brilliant film, which I would have given five stars if the violence against women weren't so revolting. It's the best film I've seen in the cinema so far this year. I sincerely hope that it film will be made available in English.

Demons 2 (3 Stars)

Gries, Gras, Grottefuß, Gäs laufet barfuß.

This is a sequel to the Italian film "Demons", made one year later in 1986. Once more the film was written by Dario Argenta and directed by Lamberto Bava. This is another of the rare cases in film history where a film is better known for its screenwriter than for its director or actors.

The film takes place in Hamburg a few years after the events of the first film. As you may remember, the Demons (which look and act like zombies) were defeated by keeping them trapped in West Berlin, surrounded by the Wall. In the meantime everyone in West Berlin has been killed, but the Demons themselves have also perished, maybe because of a lack of food. It's not sure whether the Demons have really died or are just sleeping, so the city has been declared a forbidden zone which nobody is allowed to enter.

Sally is a 14-year-old girl who lives in a high rise building called The Tower in Hamburg. Her friends all all in her apartment for her birthday. (Wikipedia claims that she's 16, but she isn't. Her age isn't stated in the film, but I counted the candles on her birthday cake. The actress who plays Sally was 15 when the film was made). Since Sally's boyfriend hasn't come to the party she locks herself in her bedroom and watches television. There's a program about four East German teenagers who climb over the Berlin Wall looking for Demons. One of them awakes when a girl cuts her finger and her blood drips onto it. The Demon quickly attacks the teenagers and turns them into Demons like itself. Sally sits staring at the screen, seemingly sexually aroused by the violence. Then the Demon turns to face the camera. It walks towards the camera, then climbs out of the screen into Sally's bedroom and attacks her.

This is Sally before the change.

This is Sally after the change. It's true what they say: too much television is bad for you.

Sally attacks her party guests and turns them all into Demons. In the first film the means of transformation wasn't specified. I assumed that people become Demons after being bitten, as is usual in zombie films. The Demons usually bite their victims, but that's only because they're peckish for a mouthful of meat. It isn't what makes a person a Demon. The change comes after being scratched with a Demon's claws.

Unlike traditional zombies, the Demons aren't slow, lumbering creatures. They can run and jump with supernatural agility. They break into the other apartments in the building, killing or changing everyone they meet. We don't see the original Demon who climbed out of the television set any more. Sally is the leader, and all the others swarm after her in a pack.

I don't enjoy "Demons 2" as much as the original film. In typical monster films the viewer knows who the hero is, and he watches him (or her) fighting to survive while everyone around him is being slaughtered. In "Demons 2" it's not clear who the hero is who will survive to fight again in the sequel. The film does have a survivor, but we don't know who it will be until everyone else is dead. Until that point, every time we think we know who the hero is he's suddenly killed, leaving us with a feeling of disappointment.

Apart from that some of the mini-demons look far too unrealistic, like little rubber dolls. It's not a film I can get enthusiastic about.

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Monday, 23 January 2017

Office Space (4 Stars)

When I watched this satirical film today I had a nagging feeling that it reminded me of something. Eventually I figured it out. "Catch 22" (the novel, not the film). It's a different sort of story, but a similar sort of humour. I'm sure that if you watch it you'll see what I mean.

The film shows the working life of an employee in Initech, a computer company responsible for banking and accounting software. Everyone is crammed into cubicles in an open space office. The cubicles are so small that people have to squeeze in and out of them. In "Catch 22" Yossarian censors letters written by US soldiers to their wives by blacking out adjectives and other irrelevant information. In "Office Space" Peter Gibbons processes TPS reports, methods of quality control for the software they produce. Nobody in the company, especially not the boss, knows what the employees do in their cubicles, so external consultants are called in to interview everyone, with the intention of streamlining the company by firing anyone whose job is deemed unnecessary.

Peter's best friends in the company are scheduled to be fired, but Peter himself tells the consultants that he arrives late every day, spends hours staring at his computer screen and only works on the TPS reports for about 15 minutes a day. The consultants are so impressed that they recommend him for promotion. Also noteworthy is Milton, an employee who was fired five years ago, but the company forgot to tell him, so he still comes to work every day.

The only thing Peter enjoys in his life is the time he spends with his new girlfriend, Joanna, a waitress who works in a small restaurant next to the office building shared by Initech. It's a bland little restaurant which would never attract customers under normal circumstances, but because of its location office workers eat there for the sake of convenience. Joanna is also frustrated with her job, especially the endless discussions with her boss about how many badges she should wear on her outfit.

This is a parody of large impersonal American companies. Nobody knows what anyone else does, and by squashing everyone closer together people know even less about one another. Anyone who works in a company like that can sympathise with the characters in the film.

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Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Student (4½ Stars)

God is God.

You shall see Hell all clear in the sky,
You shall see darkness,
You shall see good and evil,
You shall see city walls crumble and towers fall.

God is God.

You shall see the Lord of Life and Death,
You shall see Heaven in Hell,
You shall be blinded by light,
You shall see darkness.

God is God.

You shall see the walls crumble,
Walls built of pain,
And above the cries of man
Hear one voice saying

"I am Alpha and Omega,
The beginning and the end,
I am the first
And I am the last".

God is God.

You shall see Hell,
You shall see evil,
You shall see darkness,
You shall see sorrow,
You shall see death,
You shall see

God is God.

This is a fascinating Russian film about a teenage boy, presumably 16-ish, who has suddenly become a fanatical Christian. Maybe the change itself wasn't so sudden, but it was abruptly discovered by the people around him who were too blinded by their own interests to see what had been happening to him. If they'd loved him they might have seen his interest in religion developing and guided him in a different direction.

Venya's mother is a single parent. She works hard, doing three jobs to feed herself and her son. The first she hears of the problems is when the school rings her to tell her that Venya has been staying away from swimming lessons. He tells his mother it's because he's a Christian and he finds it immoral that the girls in his class wear tiny bikinis, enticing men to sin. At first the teacher thinks he's pretending to be religious to disrupt class, and his mother thinks he has a psychological disorder because of her divorce, but it soon becomes obvious that the religious conversion is genuine. Throughout the film more than half of what he says is Biblical quotes. The film kindly shows the Bible reference in the top corner of the screen whenever it's a quote.

Venya demands that the school change to adapt to his beliefs. As well as demanding that the swimming lessons are carried out in more appropriate clothing, he protests against the teaching of the evolution theory and sexual education. The only person who listens to him is his best friend Grischa.

The teachers react to him in different ways. The school's orthodox priest respects Venya's religiousness and wants him to join his church. The headmistress has vague religious beliefs and tries to meet Venya halfway. Venya's teacher is an atheist, but she sees that the only way to argue with Venya is on his own grounds, so she spends weeks studying the Bible to find verses that contradict his extremist beliefs.

The film is both shocking and fascinating. As a viewer I was torn between sympathising with Venya and despising him. He's a much too complicated character for me to take one side or the other. My main criticism is that towards the end of the film he shows traits of hypocrisy. I don't think this would happen in a boy like him. What I mean is, people who grow up in a religion, Christian or otherwise, are often hypocrites, because they follow their religion as a tradition, assuming it's correct rather than feeling true inner devotion. A person like Venya who discovers Christianity outside of the church would be compelled to faithfully follow what he believes to be right.

"The Student" isn't a film that's easy to write about. It's a film that needs to be discussed. I hope to receive comments from my readers, especially those with strong religious convictions.

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Saturday, 21 January 2017

Hell or High Water (4½ Stars)

Two brothers go on a crime spree, robbing a series of banks in small towns in Texas. They're not typical bank robbers. Instead of raiding the safes they only take money from the draws, so they only collect a few thousand dollars from each bank. They don't rob people in the banks, only the banks themselves. Most importantly, they only rob branches of the Texas Midlands Bank.

They have a score to settle. Their mother has recently died, and because she was in debt to the bank her ranch will soon be claimed. Toby Howard has discovered oil on his mother's land, and he wants his children to profit from it, so they don't have to grow up as poor as he did. The mother was in debt due to taking out something called a reverse mortgage. I had no idea what this is, and even after reading about it I have difficulty understanding all the details. It's a special type of loan only available in America, Canada and Australia. Home owners aged 62 and over can take out a loan, using their house as security, which they don't have to pay back. Each month the interest is added to the loan balance. When the person dies the bank takes possession of the house, unless the relatives are able to pay back the complete loan immediately. To me this seems like a dirty trick for banks to get their hands on houses they want, and that's how the Texas Midlands Bank is portrayed in the film: a greedy institution exploiting the poor.

The boys have a perfect plan to launder the money they steal. They take it to an Indian casino in Oklahoma and buy chips. They bet a few dollars, and then they cash out the chips with a cheque written by the casino, so that the whole amount looks like winnings. They then deposit the money at the Texas Midlands Bank, and when they have enough they use the money to pay off their mother's debts.

But every plan, however perfect, runs into problems. The two brothers are pursued by a Texas Ranger who's three weeks from retirement and wants to end his career with a big success.

This is a gritty film, set in abysmally poor towns in Texas. The action comes in bursts when you least expect them. It's impossible not to feel sympathy for the robbers, fighting back against the power of the banks.

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Thor: The Dark World (4½ Stars)

This film has an incredible blend of styles. It starts off as a fantasy epic, looking suspiciously like a clone of "Lord of the Rings". It turns into a fast flying "Star Wars" imitation. It finally settles into a typical super-hero film. Which is it supposed to be? All of them!

Anyone who has left comments on my blog in the last week has noticed a change. For the last six years I have automatically accepted comments. This is what I consider to be the best way to handle comments, because it's frustrating to write a comment and not see it immediately appear on the web site. However, I've been forced to change my policy due to a large amount of spam I've been receiving over the last few weeks. The spam has all come from one single person who has been posting between 10 and 30 ads to my comments every single day. I've had to remove each comment individually. To avoid this I've now added comment moderation, so that his comments never arrive on my blog. It's much better that way. Don't worry, I guarantee that I'll approve all genuine comments within a day.

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P. S. Why is the film called "Thor: The Dark Kingdom" in Germany? Crazy Germans!

Friday, 20 January 2017

Off-Topic: Donald Trump's promises as President

Today, January 20th 2017, Donald Trump became President of America after winning the election on November 8th 2016. I can't remember a more controversial presidential candidate in my lifetime. He divided the American population down the middle. People either love him or hate him, there's no middle ground. Those who love him do so because they feel he talks like a normal man on the street, an unusual sentiment to have about a billionaire. Those who hate him do so because they accuse him of prejudice, both racial prejudice and sexism.

His election victory was one of the closest ever. As a result of America's electoral college system he won the election despite receiving slightly less votes overall. (This is disputed by many people, because most states don't count postal votes if the ballot box votes are enough to decide the winner. For me the argument is irrelevant, because he won on the basis of the system as it exists).

My friends who follow me on Facebook know that I've always been a harsh critic of Donald Trump. I've rarely mentioned him in my blog. This article is an exception, if you want to know my views on a single issue. Despite my dislike for some of his policies, I'm a firm believer in democracy. He was chosen as president in a fair election. It's no good for Americans to hold up banners saying "Not My President", because he is their president, whether they accept it or not. Some opponents of Donald Trump have latched on to conspiracy theories that Russian hackers faked the voting results. Other opponents have resorted to violence, smashing shop windows, burning cars and fighting with the police to challenge his presidency. If anyone is to blame for his election victory it's the Democratic Party for failing to pick a candidate that the public could trust.

Nevertheless, I'll give anyone a chance. The election campaign was a time of speaking. Now is the time of action. As of today I'm giving Donald Trump a clean slate. Whatever he's said until now doesn't matter to me. I'll judge him solely on what he does. I may or may not write an article as detailed as this in future, but if you're curious about my thoughts on him a year or two from now write a comment and I'll tell you what I think.

I've decided to post a full transcript of his 16-minute inauguration speech. Read it and judge for yourselves.

Donald Trump's Inauguration Speech

Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans and people of the world, thank you.

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people. Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for many, many years to come. We will face challenges, we will confront hardships, but we will get the job done. Every four years we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent. Thank you.

Today's ceremony, however, has very special meaning, because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.

For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment, it belongs to you.

It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.

January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.

The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before.

At the centre of this movement is a crucial conviction that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighbourhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public. But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealised potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

We are one nation and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams, and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny. The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.

For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidised the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We've defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own, and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We've made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world. But that is the past. And now, we are looking only to the future.

We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down.

America will start winning again, winning like never before.

We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.

We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labour.

We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American.

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.

We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilised world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.

There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.

Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving. We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining, but never doing anything about it.

The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.

Do not allow anyone to tell you that it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again. We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions. It's time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.

We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag.

And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.

So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words: you will never be ignored again.

Your voice, your hopes and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way. Together we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, together we will make America great again.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.

I'll make a few remarks about the speech. I welcome comments from anyone who disagrees with my remarks or wants to point out other things I should have said.

At its heart, this is a very populist speech. Donald Trump is speaking as an American to Americans. He isn't promising to make the world a better place. He's promising to make America a better place by putting Americans first. Promises like this, if fulfilled, can be good or bad. The strengthening of America can be to the detriment of other countries, in particular the immediate neighbours (Canada and Mexico). On the other hand, it's a return to the American Dream of the early immigrants. Anyone who wants to have a good life in comfort and prosperity can come to America. The only obligation is that you work hard. Very little of this dream is a feasible reality today. Making it possible again would raise the reputation of America in the world.

The sentiments about transferring power from politicians to the people are very noble, but is it possible? How will that be done in practice? Donald Trump has been criticised by many of his opponents for his lack of political experience, but he sees it as an advantage. He claims to be an outsider, a normal man who has entered the world of politics to ruffle the feathers of the fat cats. (I'm sorry for mixing my metaphors). He thinks he can bring fresh wind into the White House and American politics in general. He claims that his presidency will herald a permanent change which will remain after he leaves office, whichever party the next president will belong to. That's a big, big promise. I wish him success, but I honestly don't know how he can achieve it.

Donald Trump's words about no longer defending the borders of other nations give me mixed feelings. For many years, since 1945 at least, America has acted as the world's policeman. It looks over the shoulders of the leaders of other countries and steps in whenever a country is deviating from the American ideals of equality and democracy. However laudable this may be, it's not America's job. If a democratic country is overthrown by a military tyrant, why should America put things right? It's up to the people of that country to say what they want.

On the other hand, what if one country invades another? That's a more difficult case, and as a European I'm not unbiased in my judgement. For years Russia has been making threats to neighbouring countries in Europe. Only the NATO alliance with America has prevented Russian expansionism. This speech, along with utterances made over the last few months, suggests that Donald Trump disagrees with the aims of NATO. His attitude is, "Why should America risk a nuclear war to protect a little country like Lithuania? If Russia wants it, let them take it". Agreed, Lithuania is a small country, but I see it as a stepping stone. Europe has had centuries of war with borders being pushed back and forth. Only America's participation in NATO has prevented European wars for the last 70 years.

I listened to the speech as it was broadcast live, and my biggest shiver was when he said that "We will build new roads and highways". That's the exact promise that Adolf Hitler made to the German people when he was elected. I hope this similarity was accidental. He continued by saying "We will get our people off welfare and back to work", which was also a Nazi ideal. Taken naively it sounds good that people should be offered work, but Nazi Germany forced people to work by herding people into jobs when they weren't fully capable of working for health reasons. Unemployment was eradicated not only by offering new jobs but by not acknowledging those who didn't work.

Donald Trump speaks about forming new alliances. He's a Republican politician, but he's a very untypical Republican. He has a pro-Russian stance which would have been unthinkable for any previous president, especially the Republican presidents. His friendship with Vladimir Putin means peace for America, but it could also mean war for little countries like Lithuania.

In the speech Donald Trump distances himself from prejudice, although this seems to be limited to racial prejudice. Whether other minority groups can expect the same equality remains to be seen. As I said above, he has a clean slate.

The talk about God and the Bible in the last few minutes of his speech might alienate Europeans and even non-religious Americans, but it can't be held against him. The American constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, but that's only in theory. In practice the two have always gone hand in hand. Every American president talks about God, the Christian God. If Hillary Clinton had won the election she would have stood on the podium today talking about God. This may never change, definitely not in my lifetime, however many people quote the First Amendment.

Now it's time to sit back and watch history unfold. The biggest test will come four years from now. Will Donald Trump manage to govern in a way which will win over his opponents and give him an increased majority for a second term? I don't know. Time will tell.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Abner the Invisible Dog (4 Stars)

This is Abner in the garden.

This is also Abner in the garden.

I know I watched this delightful little film two months ago. Click here to read the review. It's a film worth watching again and again. In contrast, I doubt I'll return to "La La Land". There's a world of difference between the two films. "La La Land" was made with the intention of creating a classic film, and it failed. "Abner the Invisible dog" was made to be an enjoyable family film, and it succeeded. It's a wonderful film to warm the hearts of young and old alike. It's this sort of film that should receive big awards, not the pretentious blockbusters.

Last time I watched the film it was the original version. Today I watched the German dubbed version. Why? I wanted to compare it. German dubbing is very high quality. Admittedly, there are some films that need to be watched in the original languages, especially dual language films like "Great Wall", but there's no shame in watching most films in German. "Abner the Invisible Dog" sounds very good in German.

The young love of Chad and Molly is touching, even if it goes no further than holding hands and a kiss on the cheek. After all, he's 13 and she's 12. I'm jealous though. No girl ever walked to school with me when I was 13. It was probably my own fault. I didn't like girls my own age. I preferred the busty models on Page 3 of The Sun. I should have set my sights lower. After all, girls don't remain 12 forever.

This is today's Page 3 girl, Holly from Manchester. Topless models -- never fully nude! -- were featured in Britain's best selling daily newspaper, The Sun, from November 17th, 1970 to January 22nd, 2015. There were different reasons for the cessation of the feature. Many women's rights activists called for the pictures to be stopped because they were considered to be demeaning for women. The official statement of The Sun stated that Page 3 was outdated, and nobody wanted to look at topless models any more.

To reply to the second argument first, I understand that the pictures might seem outdated to many people, especially the younger generation. In the 1970's and 1980's the pictures were revolutionary, an opportunity to look at semi-naked women legally without being accused of buying pornography. Today it's different. Anyone can look at fully naked pictures or videos of women on the Internet, so women who are only topless look boring in comparison. That's a shame. Can't the pictures be appreciated as art instead of second-rate pornography?

As for the photos being demeaning, that's absolutely nonsense. The photographs are a monument to womanhood, presenting women in an ideal form. Rather than women being degraded, they're lifted up to a divine level and displayed as Goddesses to be worshipped.

If the feature was stopped in January 2015, how can I say Holly is today's Page 3 girl? The feature might no longer exist in the newspaper itself, but it's being continued online. It's updated daily at Page3.com, proving that even in today's world of brash explicitness there's still a market for tasteful nudity.

I'm getting off the topic of the film itself, but that's no surprise to my regular readers. Enjoy the film. Enjoy Page 3.

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Wednesday, 18 January 2017

La La Land (3 Stars)

This is the in film at the moment. Everyone is talking about it, especially after it won seven awards at the Golden Globes. It's the #1 favourite to win the Best Film prize at this year's Academy Awards. I found the trailer very impressive. A return to the golden age of Hollywood musicals? Bring it on!

I could hardly wait to see the film in the cinema. I made sure that I went to an English language screening. (In Germany films are usually dubbed). I was surprised to find the cinema packed. There were at least 200 people with me, an extraordinary number for a film not in German.

The film began. The song and dance number on the freeway was overwhelmingly uplifting. I was immediately won over. The following first steps towards a romance between the two main characters tugged at my heart strings. Then came the song and dance number on the hill overlooking Los Angeles. Pure vintage Hollywood. Okay, neither Ryan Gosling nor Emma Stone are outstanding dancers, but they did their best, and their enthusiasm was laudable.

That was the film's high point. From then on it went downhill. The musical numbers, the main reason I wanted to see the film, became fewer as the film continued. Emma Stone's performance in the romantic scenes was riveting, but Ryan Gosling was dull in comparison. He's never been one of my favourite actors, and "La La Land" did nothing to change my opinion of him.

The film's concept is good. We want another Hollywood musical. We need another Hollywood musical. Lots of them. But let's do it better. Instead of choosing A-list actors as crowd pullers the next musical should feature Broadway stars who can actually dance. The film should be jam-packed with musical numbers with only short pieces of dialogue in between.

If you think I'm being harsh in my criticism, watch any musical starring Gene Kelly. "Singing in the Rain" is his most famous film, though I prefer "Cover Girl". There's no comparison, is there? "La La Land" is dull in comparison. They really don't make them like they used to.

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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Queen of the Damned (4½ Stars)

When I first saw this film I hated it. That was back in 2002, long before I started my blog, but if I'd been writing a review I would have given it two stars at most. I still remember my disappointment as I walked out of the cinema, the Odeon on New Street. The novel "Queen of the Damned" was my favourite book. I had such high hopes for the film, because I expected it to live up to the book. It didn't. It's not just a matter of seeing 750 pages compressed into 90 minutes; the film is actually based on the events of two books, "The Vampire Lestat" and "Queen of the Damned", so 1500 pages had been compressed into 90 minutes. So much was missing. It wasn't just that little details here and there were missing. At least 80% of the books' content had been omitted. Compared with the book, all that was left of the story was a skeleton.

I didn't buy the DVD when it was released. I waited a long time. Round about 2008 I was discussing the film with someone who told me that "Queen of the Damned" had the best film soundtrack ever. I could hardly remember the music, so I listened to it and I thought to myself, "Yes, this sounds pretty good. Maybe I should watch the film again". So I bought the DVD, which was very cheap by then, intending to concentrate on the music, but I began to enjoy the film itself.

Let me talk a bit about Anne Rice, the authoress responsible for "Queen of the Damned". She has a very classical style. In an interview she said that she doesn't read modern literature, she prefers the novels of the 18th and 19th Centuries. This is apparent in the way she writes. Modern authors like Stephen King are very direct and action-oriented. When a person walks into a room things happen. Anne Rice's books are different. When a person walks into a room she writes two or more pages describing the room and the atmosphere before anything happens. She's still living in the days before cinema, when literature was a medium that painted detailed pictures to fascinate the reader.

Anne Rice also uses the literary device of frame stories, popular in German literature in the 19th Century, referred to as Rahmennovellen. In its simplest form, a frame story is a novel in which a person tells a story to someone else. An example is Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein", which begins with a sea captain finding a man stranded in the arctic ice. The man is Victor Frankenstein, who then tells the captain how he came to be stranded. This embedded story fills most of the book, and at the end we return to the outer story of the sea captain once more. Almost all of Anne Rice's stories are frame stories, but usually the inner story is a frame story itself, giving three levels of narrative. She frequently drops into a fourth level, a story within a story within a story within a story. Her books are so well written that the technicalities aren't obvious and the stories flow smoothly, but this makes it impossible to translate her books one-to-one into film. Her books are almost all about talking, and the action happens within the talking. Any screenplay based on her books has to be completely restructured.

That's the problem the screenwriters had with "Queen of the Damned". The whole story was rewritten, and a lot had to be dropped in the process. I can appreciate that now. After watching the film a few times on DVD I began to accept it in its own right, rather than comparing it with the books. I can see the passion and the pain of Lestat, a passionate but lonely vampire. I can see his love for rock music. I can see his insolence in deliberately provoking vampires worldwide. It's a beautiful story. I now agree that the film really does have the best soundtrack ever. No other film comes close.

Of course, not everything is perfect. We see David Talbot, the head of the Talamasca, reading a newspaper article about Lestat's concert. The text reads:

America's latest and greatest band, Vampire Lestat, are leading on teenage kids to believe in the supernatural, Mr. Smith of the cult business claims. After the concert that was staged at Death Valley, Mr. Smith agrees that it was an amazing stunt that Lestat and his band pulled off. "This is just one example of to what extent certain people will go to to get the kids of today to believe in such activity. It's appalling, absolutely disgusting".

That's a good article, but if you look carefully you can see that this text is repeated six times, word for word. Click on the picture to enlarge it if you don't believe me. Sloppy.

The Queen of the Damned mentioned in the title is the ancient vampiress Akasha, who Lestat foolishly awakens because he doesn't know better. She's played by the singer Aaliyah (full name Aaliyah Haughton), who had a short but scandalous life. She released her first album, "Age ain't nothing but a number", in 1994 when she was 14. It sold over three million copies in the USA alone. The album's title was taken too seriously, because she married the album's producer, the rapper R. Kelly, a year later when she was 15. The marriage certificate falsely claimed she was 18. The marriage was declared invalid as soon as it was made public.

Shortly after filming "Queen of the Damned" Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash while returning home from making a music video. The film was dedicated to her. She could have had a long and successful film career. She had already been picked to play the part of Zee in "The Matrix Reloaded".

Aaliyah Haughton
January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001

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