Sunday, 31 December 2017

Lesson of Evil (5 Stars)

Simon Cowell says that "Mack the Knife" is the best song ever written. High praise indeed. It's a translation of a German song written by Bertolt Brecht in 1928. It was a number one hit for Bobby Darin in 1959 on both sides of the Atlantic. This film features two versions of the song: the original version sung by Bertolt Brecht and Bobby Darin's version. My friends who understand German will see that it's very loosely translated.

Mack the Knife, 1959

Oh the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear,
And he shows them, pearly white.
Just a jackknife has old Macheath, babe,
And he keeps it out of sight.

You know when that shark bites with his teeth, babe,
Scarlet billows start to spread.
Fancy gloves, though, wears old Macheath, babe,
So there's never, never a trace of red.

Now on the side walk, Sunday morning,
Lies a body just oozing life. Eek!
And someone's sneaking round the corner.
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

There's a tugboat down by the river - don't you know? -
Where a cement bag's just a drooping on down.
That cement is just there for the weight, dear.
Five'll get ya ten, old Mackie's back in town

Now did you hear about Louie Miller?
He disappeared, babe, after drawing out all his hard earned cash,
And now Macheath spends just like a sailor.
Could it be our boy's done something rash?

Now, Jenny Diver, Suky Tawdry,
Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown,
Oh the line forms on the right, babe,
Now that Mackie's back in town.

I said, Jenny Diver, Suky Tawdry,
Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown,
Yes, that line forms on the right, babe,
Now that Mackie's back in town.

Look out, old Mackie is back!

Click here to hear the song sung by Bobby Darin.

Die Moritat von Mackie Messer, 1928

Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne,
und die trägt er im Gesicht,
und Macheath, der hat ein Messer,
doch das Messer sieht man nicht.

An einem schönen blauen Sonntag
liegt ein toter Mann am Strand,
und ein Mensch geht um die Ecke,
den man Mackie Messer nennt.

Und Schmul Meier bleibt verschwunden
und so mancher reiche Mann,
und sein Geld hat Mackie Messer,
dem man nichts beweisen kann.

Jenny Towler ward gefunden
mit einem Messer in der Brust,
und am Kai geht Mackie Messer,
der von allem nichts gewusst.

Und das große Feuer in Soho,
sieben Kinder und ein Greis,
in der Menge Mackie Messer, den
man nichts fragt, und der nichts weiß.

Und die minderjährige Witwe,
deren Namen jeder weiß,
wachte auf und war geschändet.
Mackie, welches war dein Preis?

Click here to hear the song sung by Bertolt Brecht.

The Bobby Darin version is more modern and has a snappy beat to it, but from a poetic point of view the original version is better. It's difficult to translate songs.

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General: Top Films of 2017

This is my personal 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 2017. 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 "Loving Vincent", which begins on December 28th in Germany) 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 other countries until the next. That's why I listed "Birdman" and "Whiplash" in my top 10 list for 2015.

1. Tragedy Girls

I saw this at the Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival in September, and I was totally amazed. This is a film that can regenerate the teen slasher genre.

2. The Bar

Alex de la Iglesia has been my favourite European director for years. This is yet another masterpiece. I loved it so much that I went to see it in the cinema twice.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Last year I had Marvel films in the top three places. This is the only Marvel film this year.

4. Wonder Woman

Overall I've been disappointed with recent DC films, but this is an excellent film, thanks to the work of the director Patty Jenkins. No male director could have made it as good as it turned out. Maybe Quentin Tarantino, but he doesn't count.

5. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

This is a simple but captivating film. I don't understand why it wasn't more successful.

6. Victoria & Abdul

This is the only British film in my list. It's a true story and a comedy at the same time. That's a perfect mix.

7. Queen of Katwe

I can understand this film not being successful. True films about chess players sound boring, but this is a masterpiece. It was released in America in 2016, but the German release wasn't until April 2017.

8. Hidden Figures

This is the third true story in my list. It was made for political reasons, as an answer to the supposed prejudice against black actors at the Academy Awards. For me the race of the three main actresses is irrelevant. I enjoyed the film because it shows three powerful women.

9. IT Chapter One

I saw this in the cinema three times this year. That's a record. It's a very good film, the best Stephen King adaptation for a long time.

10. Divine Order

This is the fourth true story in my list. It's also a film about strong women. This is the second year in a row that I've included a Swiss film in my top 10. I wonder if there will be another one in 2018.

That's my list for this year. I went to the cinema 124 times, and I've seen 120 films. (I saw "The Bar" twice, "The Snowman" twice and "IT Chapter One" three times).

I welcome top 10 lists from my readers. Please leave them in the comments.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Azumi 2 (4½ Stars)

The story of Azumi continues directly from the first film, taking place a few days after the assassination of the warlord Ieyasu. The pace slows down as Azumi begins to have doubts about her path. She was trained all her life to kill individuals, the leaders, in order to prevent wars. Now she looks back on the hundreds of people she's killed and asks herself whether she herself has become a bringer of death. She has to face the army of the warlord Sanada. What's the difference between an army being slaughtered by another army and an army being slaughtered by her personally? She no longer has the moral comfort of one on one battles.

(This is manga, so read from right to left).

After the death of her master (at the end of the first film) she turns to the priest Tenkai for guidance. He impresses on her the importance of her mission, so she continues undaunted. For a while, at least. She meets the fighter Kozue, a member of the Uego clan which has sworn to protect Sanada. Azumi asks Kozue why she killed her friend Nagara, and the answer is simple: "It was my mission". A mission can save lives, but a mission can also cause death.

The two Azumi films form a whole. I strongly recommend that you watch them back to back for the fullest enjoyment.

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Friday, 29 December 2017

Azumi (5 Stars)

This is an amazing film that grows on me more every time I watch it. The story is based on a simple premise. Japan has been ravaged by war. War is ugly. To prevent another war taking place assassins are trained to execute the leaders who want to start another war. Killing a few people can save the lives of thousands, maybe even millions.

That's where Azumi comes in. She was adopted as a young child after the death of her mother. Together with other orphans she's been trained to become a ruthless killer.

That's a good idea for today. Just think how history would have been changed if a young woman with a short skirt and a long sword had slain Adolf Hitler in his bed. And what about the present? We need a beautiful female assassin to kill Vladimir Putin. And Kim Jong-Un. She could kill Donald Trump as well. In fact, she could kill every male leader on Earth to make way for women of peace.

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X-Men: Apocalypse (4 Stars)

This is the first time that I've watched "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "X-Men: Apocalypse" back to back. Almost back to back, at least. They were two days apart, but that's still close enough for me to make a direct comparison. More than anything I noticed a difference in the pacing. "Days of Future Past" moves fast and keeps the viewer excited throughout the movie. "Apocalypse" moves slowly, and even when there's action it doesn't last long. There's too much stop and start.

Apocalypse isn't successful as a villain. What I mean is, at no point do we have the slightest sympathy with him. He's just a Big Evil with no redeeming qualities. Compare him with Magneto, who makes us cry when we see the inner suffering that makes him do evil things.

William Stryker is an even worse villain. Who is he? Comic fans will jump up and answer that question immediately, but we can't assume that cinema audiences have read hundreds of comics before buying their cinema ticket. The film should explain to us who he is, but it doesn't, leaving him as a blank slate.

After making the film Olivia Munn, the actress who plays Psylocke, said that she wants Psylocke to have her own film. Let's not laugh that off as the empty request of an actress who thinks too highly of herself. I think she could pull it off. Unlike most of the characters in the X-Men films she actually looks like the character she's supposed to be playing, including the costume. She didn't have much screentime, and there was absolutely no background story. (The same applies to Angel. There was poor character development throughout the film). In the comics she's a heroine, but a solo film could pick up where "Apocalypse" ends, showing her as a villainess seeking redemption, struggling to get back tothe right path. The public would love a film like that.

I'm still not sure about my rating. I always have problems rating X-Men films. Maybe four stars is too high, but that's what I'll stick with for now. I might think differently next time I watch it.

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Thursday, 28 December 2017

Happy Birthday, Stan Lee

Happy 95th birthday to Stan Lee, born as Stanley Martin Lieber on 28th December 1922. He began his career as a comic book author in 1941, but he's most famous for the comics that he wrote from 1961 to 1969. During these nine years he reached a creative peak that no other person has achieved in a whole lifetime.

The comic book characters that he personally invented during these years are still popular today: the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Spider-Man and many others.

In the late 1950's and early 1960's the comic book industry was dominated by DC Comics. DC wrote stories about powerful super-heroes, while Marvel Comics wrote love stories, horror stories and cowboy stories. Lee had previously written super-hero comics, but he'd stopped because he found them too remote and unapproachable. In effect, he considered super-heroes to be too super. In 1961 he created the Fantastic Four as a group of heroes who had great powers, but were very down to Earth and human. For instance, Ben Grimm became the strongest man alive, but he thought of it as a curse because he was ugly. A year later Stan Lee created the Hulk, who was even stronger, but his curse was that he lost his intelligence and became a brute. This became the pattern for all of his later heroes. Nobody was perfect. Iron Man had a weak heart, Daredevil was blind and Thor's alter-ego needed a walking stick.

This wasn't the only innovation in Stan Lee's creations. DC's heroes weren't based in the real world. They lived in fictional American cities with names like Gotham and Metropolis. These cities weren't just far away from the reader, they were far away from one another. The heroes didn't meet one another in their comics, and they had different enemies. DC created a team group called the Justice League, containing their top heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern, but in the Justice League the heroes seemed to be always together, as if they didn't have a solo career. It was as if they weren't even the same characters. Marvel's characters, on the other hand, were almost all based in New York, so they frequently bumped into one another. Only the Hulk was geographically separated; he was based in New Mexico.

Within a few years Marvel's comics were outselling DC. The underdog became the champion. Unfortunately, this led to business decisions taking priority over art. One of Stan Lee's co-creators, the artist Jack Kirby, was treated unfairly by Marvel Comics as a company. Without going into too much detail, a lot of comic book fans blamed Stan Lee, but he had nothing to do with it. Stan just wanted to write comics; the businessmen and accountants had already taken over his company.

Today I read an article in a German magazine claiming that Stan Lee's influence in the early comics is exaggerated, that the success was due to Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. This is utter nonsense, and easy to disprove. Stan's comics were also drawn by other artists, such as Gene Colan and Bill Everett. All of these comics were highly successful. Do the German experts really think that it's just a coincidence that Stan Lee was associated with all the successful comics, whoever happened to be the artist? They really should go back to school. I don't deny that Jack Kirby was a great artist, but he would never have received the same level of fame without Stan Lee's assistance.

Stan Lee is a genius. He's the greatest comic book writer there has ever been, and probably the best there ever will be. Fifty years on, his contribution to modern culture is still as strong, and it shows no sign of slowing down. He's my hero. I respect and revere him more than anyone else I know.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

X-Men: Days of Future Past (5 Stars)

This is the fourth time I've watched this film, and my rating has been bobbing up and down like a yo-yo. Evidently I don't know what to make of it. Who knows what I'll rate it next time! Today the story gripped me like it hasn't in the past. Maybe I was just in the right mood for the film. That's why I could never be a professional film critic. I'm much too erratic.

Hank McCoy is apparently a Star Trek fan. He has one eye on Bolivar Trask, the other on Star Trek reruns. By a strange coincidence the episode being shown is "City on the Edge of Forever", in which the Enterprise and its crew has to travel into the past to change the present.

Jennifer Lawrence appears as Mystique and shows that blue is beautiful.

Or do you prefer her with a normal pink skin? It's hard to choose.

There's a newspaper shown in the film. Wolverine is checking it out, holding it in place with his unenhanced bone claws. But take a closer look at it. The first two columns are about the peace treaty between America and Vietnam, but in the third column everything breaks down. The text is about the murder of Isidore Fink, the owner of a small laundry at 4 East 132nd Street. It's strange that this report is in a 1973 newspaper, because the murder took place on 9th March 1929. As if this weren't bad enough, the same text is repeated in the fourth column. That's all very sloppy.

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Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock (4 Stars)

Spock is dead. Long live Spock!

At the end of the second Star Trek film Spock died. His death scene and his funeral are shown again at the beginning of this film. Soon afterwards we're given hints that he might not be dead after all.

Spock's father, Ambassador Sarek, comes to visit Jim Kirk to ask him why he didn't preserve Spock's consciousness before his death. It's customary for a Vulcan to pass on his essence, made up of his memories and his soul, to his best friend by mind meld before his death. This had not been possible because Spock was already trapped inside the warp drive containment room when Jim arrived. However, it's discovered that he had already mind melded with Leonard McCoy a few minutes earlier.

It's then revealed that the power of the Genesis Project has caused Spock's dead body to regenerate, so he's now been reborn as a young but rapidly ageing child on the planet called Genesis. Sarek requests that Spock's essence be transferred back from McCoy to Spock's body in a rarely used Vulcan ceremony called fal-tor-pan.

My question is, what's done with Vulcan essences if the body isn't miraculously regenerated? It was unexpected for Spock's body to return. Would the essence have remained in McCoy, transferred to an unborn child or stored in a Vulcan essence super-computer? Has this question ever been answered in the Star Trek canon? Please let me know.

Saavik (Robin Curtis)

Saavik (Kirstie Alley)

I felt slightly disappointed when I saw that Saavik was played by a different actress in this film. I don't like inconsistencies in casting in film series. Look how "The Dark Knight" was spoilt by replacing Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal. However, I changed my mind as the film progressed. Robin Curtis looks more like a Vulcan than Kirstie Alley. I hope that doesn't offend any of my Vulcan readers. It might just be that I'm prejudiced in my ideas of what Vulcans should look like. At the fal-tor-pan ceremony there's a Vulcan banging a gong who looks Chinese. Maybe there's more racial diversity among the Vulcans than I suspect.

And while we're on the subject of the women in the film, could it be that Nichelle Nicholls is getting more beautiful with age? I liked her appearance in the last two films, but she looks even better now. She's stunning, even at the age of 52.

"Star Trek 3" has a minimal cast, compared to the previous films. We're used to seeing dozens of extras playing the crew of the Enterprise. In this film Jim Kirk steals the Enterprise from a space dock, so his only companions are his closest friends: McCoy, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov. Uhura and Saavik join him later.

This is an odd film. Is it worse than the even films? I don't think so. It's just as good as the second film, "The Wrath of Khan".

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Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Ip Man 2 (5 Stars)

This is a film in two acts. The first half shows Ip Man's struggle to be accepted by the other martial arts teachers in Hong Kong in 1950. The second half shows the battle between the martial arts clubs (led by Ip Man) and a boxing champion who mercilessly beats his opponents to death. What links the two halves is the overshadowing cruelty of the English oppressors. Hong Kong had been under British rule from 1841 to 1941, when it was conquered by Japan. After World War 2 the British returned, but their rule was much more dictatorial in the early years. The hatred that the Chinese population felt for the British is well portrayed in this film.

It's good that I'm not a patriot, or at least I'm not a blind patriot. I don't know any other film that's as anti-British in its sentiments as "Ip Man 2". It's a brilliant film. A few years ago I read an interview in which Donnie Yen said he considered it to be his best film. I wonder if that's still his opinion today. He's made a lot of exceptionally good films. I find it difficult to say which of his films I like the most. "Ip Man" is also a brilliant film, though different to its sequel. "Ip Man" is more historically accurate than "Ip Man 2". The first film was intended to be a biopic, complete in itself, whereas the second film is an action sequel tagged on. The second film shows the atmosphere of the years of British rule, rather than giving precise details.

Darren Shahlavi
5 August 1972 – 14 January 2015

The boxer in the film, Taylor "The Twister" Milos, is a fictional character, based on a combination of boxers that Ip Man faced in the 1950's. He's played by the British actor Darren Shahlavi, who frequently played the bad guy in action films during his short career. I'm always shocked when I hear of people dying young, especially people who seemed to be fit. He died of a heart attack caused by atherosclerosis, a disease that causes narrowing of the arteries. There are generally no symptoms, so he was unprepared for his death.

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Monday, 25 December 2017

Love and Peace (5 Stars)

As my close friends know, I don't celebrate Christmas. When I was a child my parents made a big deal out of Christmas, and I admit that I loved receiving presents. When I left home at the age of 22 I stopped celebrating Christmas. I was lucky enough to marry a woman who thought the same as me, so we could ignore Christmas together.

It's not just the religious aspects of Christmas that I'm ignoring. It's also the cultural and commercial aspects. Christmas is considered to be a Christian festival, even though it's not mentioned in the Bible. Its roots are in pagan festivals celebrating the winter solstice.

Christmas is the celebration of Jesus Christ's birth. In the Bible the date of his birth isn't stated, and it's highly unlikely that he was born in winter. In South Germany there's the ridiculous idea among Catholics that the "Christkind" (Christ as a child) brings presents to children. Don't the people who believe this know that Christ didn't stay a child, he grew up to be a man?

In most parts of the Christian world presents are delivered to children by a man in a red cloak called either Santa Claus or Father Christmas. There are so many regional variations in the legends that he's barely the same character from one country to another. In the area where I live Santa is accompanied by a man called Ruprecht, who dresses in a brown coat. Ruprecht asks children if they've been good or bad. If they've been good Santa gives them sweets. If they've been bad Ruprecht beats them with a stick.

Many of my friends openly admit that they don't believe in Jesus, but they celebrate Christmas anyway. They use various excuses. Some say that they're celebrating Christmas as a pagan festival. Others say that they're celebrating Christmas as a time of goodwill. Others say that they're celebrating Christmas just for their children. I don't criticise people who have any of these reasons for celebrating Christmas, but I personally can't accept any of these reasons for myself.

What puts me off about Christmas most is the commercial aspect. People are expected to buy more things, whether it's gifts or food. I find that appalling. If I want to buy someone a gift I can do it any time of year. I've never bought any of my children a Christmas present, not even once. They soon realised that they couldn't expect anything from me or their mother. They received (and still receive) regular presents for their birthdays, as well as sporadic presents during the rest of the year.

That doesn't mean that I'm blind to the existence of Christmas. There are films about Christmas. "Love and Peace" is one of them. However much I dislike Christmas itself, this is a wonderful film.

Doctor Strange (5 Stars)

After watching the undisputed weakest MCU film yesterday, I decided to watch one of the best MCU films today. Despite complaints of whitewashing (casting a white British actress as an Asian character) it's an excellent film. Tilda Swinton fits into the role much better than I expected. My readers might accuse me of being a hypocrite. I'm one of the strongest critics of Idris Elba being cast as a Norwegian God in "Thor", so why do I accept Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One? I think the answer is that I don't accept her, I merely tolerate her. I know that she's the wrong actor for the role, but she's such a good actress that I can overlook the casting mistake. She was killed in this film, so we don't have to put up with her in future MCU films.

I have less problems with Chiwetel Ejiofor being cast as Baron Mordo. In the early comics his race is ambiguous. It wasn't until much later, 25 years after his first appearance, that an origin story was written claiming that he was of Romanian descent. For me this was a non-canon story, so I'm happy with him being portrayed by a black character.

I love the visual effects in "Doctor Strange", but what makes the film so good to me is the fact that after the origin story is out of the way the action comes fast and furious with hardly a pause. This is what an action film should be like.

One very slight criticism I have of the film is the portrayal of Dormammu as an enormous non-corporeal being, similar to Galactus in the second Fantastic Four film. The comics always showed him in humanoid form with a burning head. I assume the filmmakers wanted him to look scarier, but the change was unnecessary. Whoever Stan Lee created was perfect exactly exactly as he created him.

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Sunday, 24 December 2017

The Incredible Hulk (3 Stars)

I didn't intend to watch this film again so soon. The reason I watched it today is that I've recently watched two videos about the upcoming "Avengers Infinity War" film, and both said that fans should prepare themselves for it by re-watching all the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe films, even "The Incredible Hulk". They both named it explicitly. It's the least popular of the MCU films, not without reason. It's considered part of the MCU, but only because of the appearance of Tony Stark in the final scene. Apart from that it's like a standalone film. Let me give you my reasons.

"The Incredible Hulk" has a different actor playing Bruce Banner, Edward Norton instead of Mark Ruffalo. In all the other films the actors are consistent.

The Hulk's CGI character looks different to his appearance in "The Avengers" and later films.

There's no origin of the character, which makes it seem more like a sequel to "The Hulk" (2003) than a reboot as part of the MCU.

Instead of the Hulk's love interest Betty Ross returning he's been flirting with other characters, in particular the Black Widow,

There's a fifth reason that I should add as well: it's just not that good. It's the lowest rated MCU film in my blog. I can't understand why I gave it four stars when I watched it three years ago. I was being far too generous. It was probably a sympathy vote because I like the character so much. There were too many Hulk-vs-soldiers fights. One would have been enough. The Abomination was introduced into the film far too late, practically as an afterthought. A better film would have been 25% origin story, 25% Hulk-vs-soldiers, 10% origin of Abomination, 40% Hulk-vs-Abomination.

The greatest strength of "The Incredible Hulk" is Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. He's the best person ever to play the role. He fits the role best because he's the puniest. Even Mark Ruffalo looks too tough. Supposedly Edward Norton quit because of differences with Marvel. He wanted more creative control over the character. He rewrote the script for "The Incredible Hulk", but his rewrite was turned down. I'm sure that whatever he wrote would have been better.

I'd rather forget about "The Incredible Hulk" and not consider it part of the MCU, but I'll wait for "Infinity War and see if there are any tie-ins.

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Emerald Green (4½ Stars)

This is the third and final part of the Ruby Red trilogy. For anyone who has any doubts, it's proof that Germany can handle big budget fantasy epics.

Gwendolyn's life is getting more and more complicated. She's just found out that she was adopted. She's suffering from a broken heart after Gideon turned against her in the second film. The world is plunging into financial chaos as the Lodge's inner circle manipulates the stock markets, forcing the largest banks to close. Count Saint-Germain is about to become immortal and rule the world. Gwendolyn's history teacher has become the Lodge's grandmaster and won't let her off her homework. Buffy the Vampire Slayer could have dealt with it because it happened to her every week, but it's a major crisis for Gwendolyn. There's only one thing she can do. She needs a break. She goes back to Scotland in 1920 to be trained in fighting skills by her father. Her real father.

The exact location in Scotland isn't divulged in the film, but I can tell you where it was filmed. It's the Island of Skye, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. If I had to undergo physical training in order to save the world it's the place I would go. The stunning scenery would grant me inner peace.

I admit it. Whenever a film takes place in Scotland I would rather show you photos of the landscape than write about the film. Can you blame me?

All good things come to an end. Gwendolyn has to put on her tightest leather costume and travel back to 1762 to battle Count Saint-Germain to the death. The 18th Century never knew what hit it. (Before any fans of the film complain, I know that's not the Count in the picture. It's the best screenshot I could make of Gwendolyn's costume).

I have to end this "review" with yet another panoramic view of Skye. That's probably the Scottish mainland in the distance. I hope that it will give my readers inspiration for their next holiday.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Sapphire Blue (4 Stars)

This is the second film in the Ruby Red trilogy. At the end of the first film Gwendolyn was unsure whether or not to trust the Lodge and its leader Count Saint-Germain. Her doubts are cleared up in the opening scenes. Gideon takes Gwendolyn on a date to the Black Swan tavern in 1602 to hear William Shakespeare recite a poem. She witnesses the Count murdering his own grandfather, presumably after his father had already been born.

This makes Gwendolyn curious why her cousin Lucy and her husband Paul have stolen the Lodge's chronograph. First she travels back to 1951 to ask her grandfather for advice. This is before the chronograph was stolen. He promises to help her, but he says he won't tell her straight away; he'll leave a message for her to find after his death.

In the meantime Gwendolyn continues to misbehave. She goes to an evening party, a soirée, in 1763. At first she does her best to blend in, but eventually she gets bored and puts on a performance of the Time Warp. The aristocratic ladies and gentleman have never seen anything like it. Within minutes they're swinging their hips and imitating her dance moves.

In this film Gwendolyn finds a new ally, Xemerius, a water-spitting demon. Nobody except for Gwendolyn can see him, but he can still make people wet. Xemerius isn't a time traveller, he's stuck in the present, but he's lived in London for hundreds of years, spending most of his time watching rich people, so he can tell Gwendolyn what he's seen. After all, the Lodge members are some of the richest men in England, so he knows all about them.

In the first film Gwendolyn's best friend Leslie, played by the 18-year-old actress Jennifer Lotsi, could easily pass for a 16-year-old. "Sapphire Blue" was made only one year later, but she's aged fast. She looks like she's 20, at least. The make-up artists should have worked harder on changing her appearance.

This is a more complex film than "Ruby Red". There are more time jumps in this film, and more paradoxes, where Gwendolyn and Gideon experience events in reverse chronological order. For instance, Gideon demands an explanation from Gwendolyn for something she hasn't done yet. In another scene Gwendolyn asks her grandfather to decipher a book he's written in code, but it's before he wrote it and he doesn't understand the code. Time travel ain't easy!

This is a good film, but I suspect that the novel on which it's based is even better. I'm tempted to buy the book trilogy.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Ruby Red (4 Stars)

What's it about? It's a teen science-fiction fantasy adventure about two families of time-travellers. 16-year-old Gwendolyn Shepherd, the long prophesied "Ruby", has to stop her boyfriend's great-great-great-great-grandfather coming to the 21st century to enslave the world. The plot might sound very difficult to take seriously, but it's based on a best-selling novel by the German fantasy author Kerstin Gier.

Gwendolyn attends an exclusive private school in London where the girls seem to outnumber the boys ten to one. I'm jealous. Why couldn't I have gone to a school like that? I would never have been able to concentrate enough to pass my exams, but it would have been worth it. The girls would have been fighting over me for years.

Gwendolyn sits and tells her best friend Leslie about the 18th Century. I'm not listening. I'm just looking at Leslie's legs.

What a magnificent looking school! But I'll let you into a secret. It's not really a school at all. None of the schools in London looked exclusive enough, so Ehrenburg Palace in Coburg, Germany was used in the film.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (4 Stars)

Very often after watching a film, especially old films, I read the thoughts of other fans and critics before starting my review. I don't want to copy them, but I'm looking for inspiration and possibly trivia about the making of the film that I didn't already know. In the case of "Star Trek 2", released 35 years ago in 1982, there are literally hundreds of online reviews. I checked a few of them, but I'll only pick up on one statement. One writer wrote that "all Star Trek fans agree that Star Trek 2 is the best Star Trek movie". He should change that to "almost all". Admittedly, it's a long time since I watched the films, but as I remember I enjoyed the fourth film the most. I'll get round to reviewing it soon.

Having said that, I need to praise one thing about the film. The scene in which the two star ships manoeuvre around one another in the Nebula is more like a Star Trek episode than anything else in the film series. It's a classic battle of wits, Jim Kirk as he was before his promotion to Admiral. Maybe this is why so many Star Trek fans call it the best film?

This is a sequel to "Space Seed" an episode in the first season of "Star Trek". It features the return of Khan, a genetically engineered human being from the 20th Century, who was exiled at the end of the television episode. Khan says that it's been 17 years since his exile, but this is possibly incorrect. It's 17 years in our time, because the episode was aired in 1967 and the film was made in 1982. The first Star Trek film takes place two and a half years after the end of the Enterprise's five-year journey, of which the first three years were shown (out of order) in the TV series. Assuming that the adventure with Khan took place in the first year that would mean the first film took place about seven years after Khan's banishment. It's not clear how much time has passed between the first two Star Trek films, but it's obviously less than 10 years.

Stardates can be used as clues, but they don't help much, despite the attempts of Star Trek apologists to correlate them to our time. The whole point of using stardates in the original series was to prevent viewers being able to pinpoint the real dates of the episodes. As stated in the writer's guide for the original series:

We invented "Stardate" to avoid continually mentioning Star Trek's century (actually, about two hundred years from now), and getting into arguments about whether this or that would have developed by then. Pick any combination of four numbers plus a percentage point, use it as your story's stardate. For example, 1313.5 is twelve o'clock noon of one day and 1314.5 would be noon of the next day. Each percentage point is roughly equivalent to one-tenth of one day. The progression of stardates in your script should remain constant but don't worry about whether or not there is a progression from other scripts. Stardates are a mathematical formula which varies depending on location in the galaxy, velocity of travel, and other factors, can vary widely from episode to episode.

The stardate for any episode is random, according to the writer's guide, but it's a number of days. If we wanted to be pedantic in our analysis we would get into contradictions. The earliest episode is "Where no man has gone before" (Stardate 1312.4), and the last episode is "All our yesterdays" (Stardate 5943.7). That means the last adventure takes place 4630 days after the first, which is more than 12 years. So much for the "five year journey". The first adventure of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" takes place in Stardate 41153.7, which would be 96 years after "All our yesterdays". That sounds roughly right, but I think it's more by chance than deliberate. Each Star Trek series has aligned its stardates differently, making an exact analysis impossible.

One big improvement in the second film is that the costumes have been improved. The Star Fleet insignia are now metal badges. In the first film they looked like patches sewn onto sweatshirts.

There's something curious in this film. There's a new Vulcan officer, Lieutenant Saavik. Jim Kirk repeatedly addresses her as "Mr. Saavik". Is this supposed to imply that in future generations gender-specific titles will be abolished? Or does it mean that Kirk is getting old and can't tell the difference any more?

It's also significant that at Spock's funeral Saavik is the only person crying. Even pure-blooded Vulcans have difficulty keeping their emotions under control.

I just mentioned that Spock dies in this film. I hope that's not a spoiler for the 0.2% of the world's population who haven't seen this film yet. Yes, he dies, but he comes back to life in the third film, which I intend to watch tomorrow. That's just like in Marvel comics: "Nobody remains dead except for Bucky Barnes and Ben Parker". (Except that Bucky Barnes didn't remain dead, and Ben Parker has to die again every time the Spider-Man film franchise is rebooted). What I'm curious about is whether Spock was intended to remain dead when "Star Trek 2" was made. I haven't managed to find a clear answer online. Indirectly the answer is Yes, because William Shatner says he expected it to be the last Star Trek film. Luckily for us fans he was wrong.

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