Saturday, 31 August 2019

Angel Has Fallen (4 Stars)

This is the third film in the "Fallen" film series about Mike Banning, a secret service agent who works for President Trumbull of the USA. It's not the third part of a trilogy, just a second sequel, so it's open for a fourth part to be made if the studio and the actors wish to continue. That the studio will want to continue is obvious, because as long as the franchise makes money they won't stop. It's a cash cow that will be milked until it's dry. Gerard Butler is still fit enough for a few more years as an action hero, Morgan Freeman doesn't need to be young, and the supporting characters can be replaced as needed.

This film is about a supposed terrorist attack on the president while he's out fishing. Through careful planning Mike Banning is framed as the perpetrator, acting as a double agent for Russia. I call it a supposed terrorist attack, because the real attackers aren't foreigners or even politically motivated. They're Americans who are acting for financial gain.

Unlike the first two films, "Angel Has Fallen" has a comedy element. When he has nowhere else to go to, Mike Banning takes refuge with his father, an eccentric, paranoid war veteran. For most of the film Mike is on the run, being hunted by his own government. Rather than running away, he's running towards the president, because he knows there will be a new attempt on his life. Those of you who expect special effects and big explosions like in the first two films won't be disappointed.

Anna and the Apocalypse (5 Stars)

This is the best high school zombie musical ever. I dare anyone to contradict me.

The cover of the English DVD compares "Anna and the Apocalypse" with "La La Land". That's an unfair comparison. "La La Land" is an awful film, in which neither of the two main characters can dance skilfully. The actors in "Anna and the Apocalypse", especially Ella Hunt as Anna, are all exquisite dancers. This is what a musical should be like; even musicals that don't have zombies.

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Friday, 30 August 2019

American Werewolf in Paris (5 Stars)

My face is as red as the blood moon in the photo. Before starting this review I checked the last review that I wrote two years ago. To my great shame I discovered a spelling mistake. It's no use looking for it, because I corrected it as fast as I could. It's embarrassing. That mistake has been a blemish on my blog for the last 22 months. I'm begging my readers, please help me out in future. If you ever see a mistake in spelling or grammar, leave a comment and I'll correct it immediately. I want to be perfect, but I'm still far from my goal.

As I pointed out in my last review, this is a film that's universally hated, by critics and film fans alike. I seem to be alone in loving it. I make no apologies. I consider it to be a brilliant film, so if you don't like it, the problem lies with you, not me. If you haven't seen the film yet, watch it with an open mind. Tell me what you think. If you've seen it and don't like it, watch it again. It's not necessary to watch "American Werewolf in London" first. It parodies the first film, but it has a standalone plot, and it's humorous in its own right.

Success Rate:  - 0.9

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P. S. I just realised that after writing two reviews I still haven't said anything about the plot. Maybe next time. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you must have noticed that I'm inconsistent in my reviews.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Paradise Hills (4½ Stars)

A young woman called Uma wakes up on a beautiful island. She's told that she's been sent to the island by her parents to learn good manners and how to behave like a fine lady. If that were all that's needed she might have accepted her holiday away from home. Unfortunately, part of the "behaving like a fine lady" means marrying the rich man that her parents have picked for her. When she makes it clear that she loves someone else, she has to undergo daily brainwashing sessions to persuade her to change her mind.

The island is full of young women who've been sent for reconditioning. Most of them would do anything to escape. The island's employees are all men. They act like servants and treat the women like royalty, bowing before them, but Uma suspects that the adulation is fake. The women on the island are the real slaves. She's warned by another woman not to drink the milk with the evening meal, because it drugs the women and makes them sleep all night. When she remains awake she sees that the island's men are busy all night, pushing the women on trolleys to rooms where operations are carried out.

That sounds sinister in itself, but there are even bigger secrets. I can't say too much, for fear of giving away spoilers, but I'll just say one thing. Uma begins to suspect that nobody who visits the island ever returns home.

This is a film that will probably miss its target audience. It's a very ambitious science fiction thriller, but on the surface it doesn't look like science fiction. It looks like a period film with pretty girls living a fine life. You need to be an insider to know what to expect. As soon as I saw that the screenplay was written by Nacho Vigalondo I knew it would be a mind-bending science fiction story. As the film develops, with one plot twist following another, the audience's imagination is stretched ever further. Maybe it's stretched too far. At first I wanted to give "Paradise Hills" a five star rating, but I deducted half a star because it goes too far.

I can't think of any other film I can compare it with. It's something that has to be seen to be believed.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Lords of Chaos (5 Stars)

I don't understand the Norwegian justice system. Varg Vikernes was found guilty of a vicious pre-meditated murder, shown in the film in lurid detail, for which he was sentenced to 21 years in prison. That's the longest prison sentence allowed in Norway. That doesn't seem like much to me, but I accept that a maximum length is necessary. What bothers me more is that the sentence also said he had the chance of parole after 12 years. That's laughable. As it turned out, he was released after 15 years, also too short. But what's parole anyway? I thought parole is meant to be early release for good behaviour. That didn't apply to Varg. After nine years he ran away from a low security prison. He was found and re-imprisoned within 24 hours, but in any other country his chances of parole would have been immediately cancelled. Added to this, while in prison he published a blog inciting hatred against Jews. That should also have ended his chances of parole. In other countries, if you break the law while you've been freed on probation you have to go back to prison to finish the rest of your sentence. Not Varg. In 2014, within the original 21 year period, he was found guilty of promoting racial hatred in France. Maybe Norway's justice system ignores crimes committed abroad.

Varg doesn't approve of the film "Lords of Chaos". He objects to being played by a Jewish actor, Emory Cohen. I can see that it's a problem for him, but I think it's funny.

He was doubtlessly a musical genius. He played all the instruments in the "group" Burzum, guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, as well as singing vocals. How can such a brilliant young man have such a twisted mind? He burnt down churches to protest about Norway turning its back on Odin, its true God. I shan't comment on that. Churches are just buildings, not people, and maybe Norwegians were to blame for building their churches out of wood. But ending another person's life is a terrible crime. Even hate speech is awful in itself. Couldn't he just have made music?

Varg didn't kill just anybody. He murdered his former friend Oystein Aarseth, aka Euronymous, an equally brilliant musician. Today, 25 years after his death, he's regarded as the founder of the Norwegian black metal scene.

The film shows Euronymous as being responsible for Varg's excesses. Euronymous spoke big words against Norwegian Christians and criticised the insincere Swedish death metal bands, calling them life metal bands, but that's as far as it went. Euronymous spoke out against them, but it was just words. He was more interested in making music than burning churches. When he criticised Varg's complacency, Varg went out and set a church on fire. Euronymous praised this action, but still didn't want to do anything himself. It was only when Varg mocked him that he took part in church burnings.

Eventually Varg turned against him. It could be argued that Euronymous was responsible for his own death. If he'd toned down his rhetoric, Varg might not have become such an extremist.

The film itself is amazing. It shows everything that happened with brutal documentary authenticity. It's a chilling peek into the world of death metal. I have great respect for the musicians. They believed in something, and they lived for what they believed. Maybe they were mistaken. I'm referring to the ones who didn't kill anyone. Those who killed people were definitely mistaken. Did they really believe in Satan? I don't know. They wanted to lead a Satanic lifestyle. That's more honest than the hypocrites who say they want to lead a Christian lifestyle, but have never read the Bible.

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Rocketman (5 Stars)

I watched "Rocketman" two months ago, but I returned to the cinema today because a sing-along version was being shown. The cinema was virtually empty, only about a dozen people. I guess the film is yesterday's news, and today everyone was watching Tarantino or "Blinded by the Light". That's a shame. As I've often said, a good film is a good film, even if you watch it months, years or even decades after it was first released. And good films are always watched best on a big screen.

Instead of text on the screen with a bouncing ball, the usual standard for sing-along films, the text was in blue sequins, like in the poster above, and each word turned golden as it was sung. Approximately. It's good that I already knew the songs, or I would have been off-beat if I'd followed the changing colour slavishly.

Surprisingly, I was the only person in the audience singing. Didn't the others want the sing-along experience? A woman sitting in the row in front of me repeatedly turned round and looked at me critically. Did she she think I was singing too loud? I half expected her to come up to me after the film.

The sing-along text was missing from one song, "Pinball Wizard". I have a theory. All the other songs in the film were written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, but this one song was written by Pete Townsend. Maybe he refused to give the studio the rights to print his text on screen. That's strange, because the song was allowed to be sung in the film, but in the world of copyrights strange things happen.

For some reason the title song uses a wrong word in the film. In the original song a line is

"I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife".

In the film Taron Egerton sings "I miss my life". Naturally I sang the correct lyrics, whatever was on the screen. It's possible that the text was changed to emphasise that Elton John was gay. That's silly. It's just a song, it wasn't meant as a statement of sexual preference.

It's a sad film. Elton John was never loved by his father. His mother claimed that his father just wasn't capable of showing his feelings, but later in the film we see that he could show his feelings to his other children, just not to Elton. Even Elton's mother didn't love Elton as much as she loved the money she could get from him. That's tragic, but maybe the pain is what formed him. Would Elton John have been as productive if he'd had a happy childhood? We'll never know.

Bernie Taupin was his one true friend. Elton had lovers, and he's happily married today, but Bernie is the one who's stuck with him every since his early years as a performer. This friendship is touching, and it's definitely something that has formed him and his character.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Once upon a time in Hollywood (5 Stars)

Some films are too good to watch just once. Any Quentin Tarantino film is too good to watch just once. That's why I returned to the cinema today to watch "Once upon a time in Hollywood" a second time. The cinema wasn't quite as full as it was two days ago, but let's be fair, today is a weekday, and I went to an early showing. Some people work while others are watching films. I feel sorry for them.

Watching today, I made an attempt to compare it with Tarantino's other films. There's less of a narrative, as I pointed out in my first review. It's his most self-indulgent film to date. It's all about nostalgia for a past era, in films, television and music. I'm including music, because the music that we hear on the radio is essential to the film, even more than it was in his early films ("Reservoir Dogs", "Jackie Brown" and "Death Proof"). I recognised most, but not all of the songs. I grew up in England, and England has always had a different pop music scene to America. Maybe the two music scenes are merging now, in the YouTube generation, but in the 1960's the music played on the radio in the two countries was very different.

Where does "Once upon a time in Hollywood" rank among Tarantino's films? Ask me again next time I watch it. It's difficult to compare his films. I can never decide which one I like most, they're all so good. It's not his best film, but it's definitely not his worst. I already know that it'll get a high place in my top 10 list for 2019. I'm glad I started doing a top 10 in 2015. Think of it as a snapshot of my opinion at the end of each year. When I look back at my old lists, I'd rate the films differently today. I'd put "The Walk" at the top of the list for 2015. My tastes change. Slightly.

Monday, 26 August 2019

I Am Mother (4 Stars)

This is a feminocentric film that fails the Bechdel test on a technicality. There are only women in the film, and they never talk about men, but one of them isn't named. Nobody said the test is perfect.

This is an Australian science fiction mystery. It takes place in a distant (or maybe not so distant) future when the human race has died out in a global catastrophe. In a scientific complex a robot has been entrusted with 63,000 frozen human embryos. The robot hatches one of the female embryos and brings it up to adulthood. The robot calls itself Mother, and the child is called Daughter. She's never allowed to leave the building. When Daughter asks why the other embryos haven't been hatched, Mother says that it needs practise at parenting, so one child was raised first, and the others will come later.

Everything is idyllic until one day when Daughter hears someone banging on the door. She opens the door and a woman stumbles in who's suffering from a gunshot wound. The unnamed woman sows seeds of doubt in Daughter's mind. She says that Mother is malicious and has been lying to her all her life. Daughter finds out that Mother has indeed been keeping secrets from her, but the woman doesn't seem to be honest either. Who should she trust?

This is a very suspenseful story, an example of how a mystery should be told. From the early scenes of the film onwards we're given hints that all is not as perfect as it seems, and we slowly discover the truth through Daughter's eyes. It's a slow moving film with only occasional action, but it isn't boring for one moment. The two women deliver excellent performances, Clara Rugaard as Daughter and Hilary Swank as the unnamed woman. Hilary Swank is different to any other role I've seen her in. She effectively portrays a neurotic woman.

The only thing that bothered me about the film was the religious references. The woman is obviously Catholic, and it seems that the symbolism of the Virgin Mary as an alternative mother is relevant, but the idea is never fleshed out.

"I Am Mother" has been released by Netflix in America and Britain, but it's being shown in cinemas in most other countries. I'm glad I live in Germany and could see it on a big screen. It has a cinematic beauty which would be lost on a smaller screen.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Once upon a time in Hollywood (5 Stars)

Hollywood is the place of dreams. The problem with dreams is that they don't last. When you wake up in the morning they're gone. This is what we see in "Once upon a time in Hollywood", the 9th film by Quentin Tarantino. Sharon Tate is at the beginning of a successful career. After six years of minor roles she's finally become a face that people recognise. She expects her career to continue to dizzying heights, and her marriage to Roman Polanski is additional help.

Rick Dalton's success is waning. After years as a successful film and television actor he's having to play smaller roles. He's advised to go to Italy to make spaghetti westerns, but he thinks it's below him. The only person who believes in him is his stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth, but Cliff is on his way out as well. His bad temper makes him unpopular on film sets.

While I was sitting in the cinema I was asking myself what the film was about. When I walked out at the end I still didn't know. There doesn't seem to be a plot that leads from A to B. There are no recognisable character arcs. The story just rambles on, in a way typical for a true story, but in this case Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are fictional characters. I'm sure they're composites of well known actors from the 1960's, but I won't know who Quentin Tarantino is thinking of until he names them in an interview. I can see some similarity between Rick Dalton and Lee Van Cleef, but I'm sure Tarantino is thinking of other actors as well.

Nevertheless, the story, or rather the non-story, is overwhelming. We're immersed in the good old days of Hollywood. Was 1969 the turning point? I don't know. I really want to hear Tarantino himself talk about the film.

I'm going to see the film again next week. Maybe I'll understand it better the second time.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Crawl (4 Stars)

This is a film with a simple premise that's very effectively filmed. Florida is being hit by a Category 5 Hurricane. While everyone else is being evacuated, Haley travels into the area, because her father isn't answering his phone. She finds him lying unconscious in his basement after having had an accident while doing repair work. The water is starting to rise, so she tries to drag him out. The water itself isn't the biggest problem. Two alligators enter the basement, and as the water rises further there are more alligators swimming in the street around the house, attacking anything that moves.

"Crawl" is a terrifying film that made me jump more than once. The atmosphere and tension are superbly crafted. This is what a horror film should be like. My only criticism is that Haley shouldn't have survived. She's bitten by an alligator more than once in the film, but every time she pulls her arm out of its mouth and carries on fighting. I've never been bitten by an alligator, but I don't see how she could have escaped. Wouldn't the loss of blood from the first bite have put her into a state of shock?

The film's title doesn't refer primarily to crawling. Haley is a competitive swimmer who uses the crawl stroke.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Blinded by the Light (4½ Stars)

This is a film that snuck up on me unawares. Usually I hear about upcoming big films months in advance, either by word of mouth or by seeing trailers in the cinema. I knew nothing about "Blinded by the Light" until two weeks ago. That's when a friend of mine in England mentioned it as a musical about the songs of Bruce Springsteen.

Based on that description alone I wouldn't have gone to see it. I don't like Bruce Springsteen's music. I wouldn't say I dislike it either, I've just never bothered listening to it. The only Bruce Springsteen song I could name was "Born in the USA". I knew the song "Blinded by the Light", because it was a big hit for Manfred Mann's Earth Band, but I didn't know that Bruce Springsteen had written it. That's how disinterested and uninformed I was.

Further research told me that the film is set in Thatcherite Britain. Interesting. And it's a true story. That's it! I had to see it. Those are two selling points that I can't resist. I've always had a weakness for true stories, especially if they're stories that take place in recent history, since World War Two. And I've always been fascinated by the period of Margaret Thatcher's rule from 1979 to 1990. I missed those years entirely, because I was living in Germany. They were times of turmoil and social unrest, but also years of cultural developments. I was an outsider looking in, and it wasn't until the Thatcherite years were over that I realised what I'd missed.

The film is based on the autobiography of the journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, who is called Javed Khan in the film. In 1987 he's 16 years old, and he's feeling pressure from all sides. His Pakistani father has traditional family values that he wants to impress on his son, but Javed feels more British than Pakistani. Racism was stronger in the 1980's than it is today, so he wasn't able to fit in with British society. Even though there was a growing Pakistani community in the drab industrial town of Luton, he was the only Moslem in his sixth form college. A fellow student at school, a Sikh called Roops, introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, which changes his life. He feels like the songs are written for him in his circumstances.

I can recognise so much of British, or rather English culture in the film. I felt at home while watching it. At the same time elements of nostalgia are thrown into the film, starting with the Rubik's Cube in the opening scene. This is England. This is 1980's England. It was a tough time, it was a miserable time, but looking on it from afar it was also a beautiful time.

The film itself is beautiful. On the surface it seems disjointed, with elements of comedy coming directly after political tragedies and high school scenes, but it's a true story, so that's what I expect. Life doesn't follow neat character arcs, and it doesn't always have happy endings, but in this film there's a happy ending. That's the closest I'll get to giving a spoiler.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Girlhouse (4 Stars)

This is a horror film about a slasher who targets the webcam girls who live in an exclusive mansion called the Girlhouse. They perform live shows for paying customers on a web site with the same name. The mansion's location is secret, but the masked slasher is a computer hacker, so they can't hide from him.

I wrote a detailed review about this film the first time I watched it three years ago. I don't want to repeat myself, so click here if you want to know more about the film. Today I'll just write a little about my own experiences with webcams.

The first webcam site that I ever used was MyFreeCams (MFC). I couldn't remember when this was, but I checked and I still have the email confirming my free membership in November 2012. I was curious, and I clicked around, jumping from webcam to webcam. There were hundreds of girls to choose from. Some were fully clothed, some were topless, some were nude. I liked the girls who were flirting on camera, rather than the ones who just spread their legs in slutty poses. In fact, the slutty girls turned me off. I've always been attracted to mild eroticism rather than pornography. Some girls appealed to me on MFC, most didn't.

I tried out a few other web sites, such as Chaturbate (CB) and LiveJasmin (LJ). CB was even sluttier than MFC, but there were a few girls who stood out as elegant. I liked LJ because the girls were all clothed in free chat. They acted sexily, trying to tempt the customers to pay for nude private chats. I liked this sexy flirting, but I never paid for a private chat. It wasn't what I wanted. I just clicked around the different web sites when I was feeling bored, but I was never a regular viewer. I had more important things to do, such as watching films.

In early 2015 I discovered a Colombian girl called Paola on Chaturbate. She had just turned 18, and it was only her second day as a cam girl. Nobody else had discovered her yet, so she talked to me for hours. It was just like a private chat, but it was free. Over the next few days and weeks her chat room had more visitors, and she became very popular, but she always talked to me more than anyone else. She called me her first lover. She was always fully nude on camera, but she still had an aura of naive innocence about her. I logged on every day to talk to her for months. Then suddenly, poof! She was gone. She disappeared without a word of warning.

12 months later she finally logged on again. She said she'd got married and had a baby. I was happy for her. I hoped she would stay, but after three days she was gone again. I haven't seen her since.

Shortly after that I moved to Germany. I'm not interested in webcams any more. I'm still sad that Paola has gone. She was a lovely girl. After watching "Girlhouse" today I logged into MFC to see what's going on. There's something for every taste.

There are young looking girls like Anne. According to her profile she's 23, but she certainly doesn't look it. There were more than 600 men in her chat room, so she must be one of the most popular webcam girls.

Lindy is more to my taste. I like big girls. I must be in the minority, because there were only three men in her room.

Ivy is an 18-year-old American girl who boasts that she earns $300 an hour, even though she never takes her clothes off. She calls the men who give her money worthless pigs, but they love it.

There are even Moslem girls like Nayla for men who think it's sinful for women to show their hair.

The webcam industry is booming. I have no idea how many different sites there are, at least 20 of them, but MFC, LJ and CB are the big three. If you've never visited a webcam site, try one of these. They all offer free accounts, but most of the girls expect money from you. If you want more intense interaction you have to pay for private chats, but even if you're a poor guy like me you can still get something from them.

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Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Zardoz (3 Stars)

Even though this film doesn't talk about a future catastrophe, it has all the characteristics of a post-apocalyptic film, good and bad.

The film takes place in the year 2293, about 300 years after a group of scientists were able to give mankind's evolution a push. Everyone is now immortal. Nobody can die of natural causes, and if anyone dies accidentally his essence and memories are put into a biologically cloned baby. Ageing does not occur naturally, so the baby's body has to be biologically accelerated until it reaches the optimal age, the equivalent of a 20-year-old.

Everyone is eternally young and beautiful. That sounds like a perfect world, but one of the side-effects is that men are no longer capable of having an erection. Maybe that's an advantage. If immortal humans were able to procreate there would be overpopulation.

The Immortals live inside the Vortex, an invisible protective dome the size of a large city, but containing only idyllic fields and lakes. Paradise. Maybe they needed to hermetically seal themselves to protect themselves from residual radiation of a global war? It's possible, but as I said, no future catastrophe is explicitly mentioned. Outside of the dome unevolved homo sapiens are thriving. Civilisation has collapsed and they live as savages. The Immortals call them the Brutals. Afraid that the Brutals will one day become strong enough to challenge them, an Immortal called Arthur is appointed to handle them. He presents himself as a God called Zardoz, and flies around the world in a giant stone head giving orders. He creates a warrior caste called the Exterminators, gives them guns and tells them to kill everyone who doesn't belong to their caste. They obey without hesitation. It's God's will.

But one of the Exterminators is different. He discovers a library and learns how to read. He suspects that Zardoz is a fake, not really a God, so he climbs into the stone head before it flies into the Vortex. The two cultures meet.

Sean Connery has the lead role as Zed, the intelligent Brutal. He stumbles through the Brave New World with hammy overacting, which is appropriate in the context of the film. His outfit must have been bought in a fetish shop. "Zardoz" can be considered a male-centric equivalent of "Barbarella". Sean Connery is eye candy for ladies.

The cheap special effects are annoying. There's an attempt to make psychedelic imagery, but it fails. Robert Fuest would have crafted the film much better. The film has an interesting premise, but the result is disappointing. To me, at least. I've read that the film has a cult following. Watch it and decide for yourselves.

Success Rate:  - 1.8

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Tuesday, 20 August 2019

The Shape of Water (5 Stars)

I don't think that my favourite film has ever won the Best Film award at the Oscars. I just looked at the list of past winners, and maybe "Slumdog Millionaire" is an exception. I'm not sure without checking what other films were released that year.

Most years I'm really annoyed when the Best Film award is announced. I feel like throwing a shoe at my television set. "How could a film like that have won? What were the judges thinking?" I could name many, many examples, but I'll just pick out "Argo". It's not a bad film, it's quite a good film, but it was nowhere near best film of the year. Other nominations were "Django Unchained" and "The Life of Pi", both of which would have been worthy winners.

The last two years were different. "The Shape of Water" and "Green Book" might not have been my favourite films of the year, but they're both very good films which deserved to win. They might not be as good as "Tragedy Girls" and "Deadpool 2", but they're both excellent films. (Which reminds me... when will Brianna Hildebrand get her first Oscar?)

"The Shape of Water" is like "Beauty and the Beast", except there's no Beauty. Elisa is a plain looking woman, not beautiful, not ugly, just average. She's the sort of woman that you wouldn't give a second look if she passed you in the street. Her real beauty is inside. She's a loving, caring person. She has problems in her own life, such as being mute, but she still puts others first. Isn't that better than being a beauty queen?

It's said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When the Beast looks at Elisa he sees the Beauty. She's perfect in his eyes.

Most of the film takes place at night. It's a dark film, both visually and atmospherically. The film takes place at night out of necessity. Elisa is a cleaning lady who goes to work with her mop and bucket when everyone else goes home to bed.

The film is a fairy tale. It's a beautiful fairy tale with a happy ending. There are problems in the film, there are even tragedies, but the viewer knows from the beginning that they'll live happily ever after.

Success Rate:  + 7.8

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Monday, 19 August 2019

Yesterday (5 Stars)

Miracles happen.

One miracle is that Himesh Patel was picked for the lead role despite never having appeared in a film.

Another miracle is that the cinema was more than half full today, even though the film is in its sixth week.

Today was the second time I've watched "Yesterday" in the cinema. Some films are so good that they have to be seen more than once.

My friend Anna Weston appears as an extra, but I wasn't able to spot her. According to IMDB she was part of a family at a concert. A face in the crowd. When I buy the film on Blu-ray I'll look closer.

Or maybe I'll watch the film again in its seventh week. Sometimes miracles need a helping hand.

I have a DVD that contains MP3's of every Beatles song ever released. I burnt the DVD myself in 2002. I downloaded the songs to replace the CD's that were stolen by Thomas Kuzilla in 2000. I should sit and listen to all the songs again.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Die Hölle: Inferno (4½ Stars)

Don't be fooled by the "I love New York" shirt. This is an Austrian film that takes place in Vienna.

Özge Dogruol is a Turkish woman who scrapes a living in the poor suburbs of the city. She works night shifts as a taxi driver. Her hobby is Thai boxing. She has a criminal record for violent assault.

While looking out of her window she sees a prostitute being murdered in a house opposite. The killer sees her and hunts her down. Rather than run, she becomes the hunter. The police want to arrest the murderer, but she wants to kill him.

This is a thrilling film that is up to the quality of anything made in Hollywood. It's worth watching for the car chases alone. It's available in English with the title "Cold Hell". If you've never seen any Austrian films before, this is a good place to start.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Klaus Schulze: Das Wagner Desaster (1994)

Klaus Schulze - Das Wagner Desaster

KS Canon 40

Track Listing (CD 1):

1. Wagner (Wild Mix) 28:32
2. Nietzsche (Wild Mix) 28:40
3. Entfremdung (Wild Mix) 10:00
4. Versöhnung (Soft Mix) 11:44

Track Listing (CD 2):

1. Liebe (Soft Mix) 28:00
2. Haß (Soft Mix) 28:34

Bonus Tracks:

3. Encore Sevilla 19:17

(1) Wild Mixes by André Zenou
(2) Soft Mixes by Klaus Schulze

Rating: 4 Stars
Bonus Tracks: 3 Stars

This is the 40th solo album recorded by Klaus Schulze. The material was recorded live in Paris on 27th May 1994 and Rome on 31st May 1994. In the original release "Versöhnung" was the third track on the second CD, but it was moved to make room for the bonus track. I disagree with changing the track order just to cram on extra material, however good it may be. In this case the rearrangement hides the intended structure of the album. The three wild mixes come from the same three live recordings as the three soft mixes. It would have been better to give them the same titles to emphasise this.

The bonus track was recorded in Sevilla, Spain on 26th October 1991.

It's difficult for me to rate this album. The music is good, but it doesn't excite me. I have more than a hundred Klaus Schulze CD's in my shelves. I've never counted how many. There are CD's that I listen to over and over again, but this is the first time I've picked up "Das Wagner Desaster" for more than ten years. It's not that I don't like it, it's just that Klaus has made better albums.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Timeless (4 Stars)

The film opens with a Kafkaesque nightmare. A man has been arrested without being told what his crime is. He's refused a lawyer, and he has to sign a confession which he hasn't read. This scene has no relevance to the film's main story, because it's only something being broadcast on American television, but it sets the tone for the rest of the film.

In 1932 Arnold was listening to a record in his apartment in Stuttgart when he found himself kicked through time into the future, probably the early 2020's. The world around him has changed so much that the city is hardly recognisable. Luckily the first person he meets is Jane, who is quick to believe his story. Anyone else would have referred him to a psychiatrist. She brings him to her friend Konstantin, who takes Arnold under his wing and educates him in the ways of the world.

The viewer can relate to Arnold from the beginning. He's an innocent young man, almost childlike in his naivety, who stumbles open-mouthed through the new world, hardly able to take in the images around him. When he returns to his old apartment he finds it being used by right wing extremists. There's a police raid, so he takes refuge in another apartment that's being used by left wing extremists. There's another police raid, so he's on the run again. Poor Arnold isn't interested in politics. He just wants to return to his own time, even though he's warned that he would have terrible years ahead of him.

Outwardly the new Germany looks nothing like 1932, but the society shows great similarity. The late Weimar Republic was the breeding ground for dictatorship, and it's the same in the 2020's. Hans Schmidt – probably the most insignificant sounding German name possible – has just been elected as the German Chancellor. He speaks a message of love and peace, but peace is to be achieved by conforming to society's norms. It's no longer permissible to speak out against the government. That's the thing about would-be dictators: whatever they say sounds pleasant, because if they didn't sugarcoat their words nobody would elect them into power.

Konstantin is a difficult character to analyse. When we first meet him it seems like his main interest is in picking up women for one-night stands. He's a heartless rogue, but somehow likeable. As the film progresses he changes, or maybe it's just his true nature being revealed. Instead of picking up women he wants to overthrow the government, an armed revolution. "Fucking and shooting are the same thing".

Arnold goes along with the revolution. He picks up a gun because his friend tells him to. He's not sure whether it's right or wrong, but he'll do it anyway.

"Timeless" highlights problems that we have today. We can trust the government, or we can trust an anti-government ideology. It's practically impossible to find our own path in the middle of the two extremes. It's easy to believe what others tell us, but difficult to sift through the information thrown at us and make up our own minds. I've experienced this in my own life. In 1990 there was a demonstration on the Königstrasse, Stuttgart's main street, against the American attack on Iraq. A young woman stood up who said she was the leader of the League Against Fascism. She held a short speech, denouncing the American military intervention, and the crowd loved it. Everyone was cheering and applauding everything she said. When she stopped speaking I asked her why she was supporting Saddam Hussein, a Fascist dictator. I wanted to compare the American attack on Iraq with the war against Adolf Hitler, but I never got that far. Everyone was yelling at me and telling me to be quiet. I felt such aggression against me that I had to leave. I understand this situation better now than I did at the time. There was an anti-American ideology that prevented its followers from thinking clearly.

The film's Chancellor Hans Schmidt is definitely a bad person. Is it necessary to take up arms to assassinate him? That's a tough question to answer. The important thing is that everyone should answer the question for themselves. Don't shoot someone because your friends tell you it's your duty. But don't follow the laws blindly. My personal tendency is to follow the laws of the land, but there comes a point where I'd put my foot down and say enough is enough. There are lines I won't cross, and it's up to me to draw my own lines.

Maybe this looks like a cool revolution, crossing the road with guns in violin cases, but is it the only way? It's probably better to leave the guns at home and take violins to the concert. Art should influence society.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Casino Royale [1967 version] (4 Stars)

This film was made in 1967, but its story starts years before. "Casino Royale" was the first James Bond novel, written by Ian Fleming in 1953. It was originally filmed for television in 1954 with an American playing James Bond. Horror of horrors! Incidentally, that's a good question for pub quizzes, if the question is phrased well enough to deceive the teams: "Who was the first actor to play James Bond?" Barry Nelson.

Ian Fleming went on to write more novels about James Bond, and they were all bestsellers, so Charles Feldman bought the rights to "Casino Royale" in 1960, hoping to make a film. It was short-sighted of him to only buy the rights to one novel, because Albert Broccoli, the founder of Eon Productions, bought the rights to all of the other James Bond novels shortly afterwards. Eon was able to make the first James Bond film for the big screen, "Dr. No", while Feldman was still struggling to finance "Casino Royale". After this he tried to make "Casino Royale" in partnership with Eon, but they couldn't reach an agreement. Eon wanted to buy the rights from Feldman to make the film themselves, but Feldman wasn't selling.

By 1965 Eon had made four James Bond films, and Feldman was still sitting on his hands. He wanted to make a film based on his vision of James Bond, claiming it was the real James Bond, but he was afraid of lawsuits if Eon felt he was in any way harming their ability to make future films. The final result was effectively capitulation; instead of making a film that he claimed to be the first real film about James Bond, he made a satire. His views on Eon's James Bond franchise can be found in the film, barely disguised, but everything is presented humorously, so Eon had no basis for a lawsuit.

The film stars David Niven as the original James Bond, 007, who has now gone into retirement. He complains that MI6 has given his name and his number to a new agent, who is nothing more than a sex maniac. The whereabouts of this new agent are unknown, so M asks him to return to active duty. First Bond refuses, but there's an assassination attempt while M is visiting. Bond survives, but M is killed. Bond returns to MI6 as the new M, and his first job is to pick a new 007 that lives up to his own principles of chastity and morality. He soon finds an adequate agent, Cooper, who is renamed James Bond. James Cooper Bond is trained to resist women, however close they come to him. That's a skill that Sean Connery never mastered.

The whole film parodies the sexy female spies of the Eon Bond films. For instance, when the original James Bond goes to console M's wife for her loss, she's been replaced by the Scottish SMERSH agent Mimi. She has eleven daughters, aged between 16 and 19, who all want to seduce and kill Bond. Yes, you must be asking the same questions that I did.

We see very little of James Cooper Bond after he's appointed. M (the original Bond), has a genial idea to confuse SMERSH. All of the MI6 agents are called James Bond. Even the female agents are designated as 007. Never mind SMERSH, I think that confuses the viewers as well.

This isn't who you think it is. It's James Bond.

This is Agent 007 as well. No, I'm not talking about Ronnie Corbet, I mean the girl. Her real name was Mata Bond, the daughter of James Bond and Mata Hari. Now she's been sent into action as a super-spy who doesn't hesitate to use the weapons of a woman.

Women have all the advantages. If the weapons of a woman aren't enough, which is a statistical possibility of 0.1%, they can fall back on the weapons of a man: guns!

Guns, guns, guns, wherever James looks, and he has only one gun in his hand. He doesn't know which way to point it.

The evil mastermind Le Chiffre, played by Orson Welles, is surrounded by beautiful women. Why does he need so many? I'd be satisfied with the identical twins Susan and Jennifer Baker. Or is it Jennifer and Susan? I don't know which is which.

Ursula Andress plays Vesper Lynd, who's also Agent 007. Wasn't she in another James Bond film?

The film degenerates into total chaos in the final scenes. It's so similar in character to the final scenes of "Blazing Saddles" that I can't help feeling it was the inspiration for Mel Brooks. Despite its comic elements, it keeps approximately to the plot of the original novel. One major difference is that whereas it's the same man in the novel (and the 2006 remake), in the film it's different James Bonds in action from scene to scene.

Success Rate:  + 1.5

Order from
Order from
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Marvel Years 09.07 - July 1969

Fantastic Four #88

Title: A house there was!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Fantastic Four: Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Johnny Storm, Crystal

Villain: Mole Man

Regulars: Susan Richards, Alicia Masters

It's usual for Stan Lee's stories to stretch credibility. There are parallel universes, beings who eat planets, and scientific devices that can snoop on anywhere in the world. Marvel fans have got used to that. However, this story stretches credibility so far that it snaps.

Susan Richards has been allowed to buy a new house while her husband Reed is away fighting super-villains. Okay, he trusts her, but is his trust in her well founded? This is the house she wants for her son to grow up in? There's just a small entry hatch on the surface, and the rest of the house is underground. What mother would want her baby to grow up in a house without sunlight?

And look at the internal architecture. It's hardly attractive. What was Susan thinking? In fact, what was Stan Lee thinking? After all the years he's spent writing about Millie the Model, Chili and Patsy Walker he should have some idea about what women want for themselves and their children.

Reed and Susan still haven't decided on a name for their eight-month-old baby, but in this issue we have the first two suggestions. Johnny Storm wants the baby to be called Johnny, and Ben Grimm wants the baby to be called Benjamin. That figures. I still think Victor would be a better choice. It might make Doctor Doom so sentimental and teary eyed that he'll never attack the Fantastic Four again.

But what about the house? It turns out that it was built by the Mole Man, and it contains a device that will make the whole of the human race blind, starting with those closest. When the Fantastic Four lose their eyesight and are attacked by the Mole Man, we all know what's going through Reed Richards' head:

"That's the last time I let my wife use my credit card!"

Captain America #115

Title: Now begins the nightmare!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Buscema

Villain: Red Skull

Regulars: Rick Jones, Sharon Carter

Guests: Yellowjacket

The Red Skull has found the Cosmic Cube, which turns all his wishes into reality. He could easily kill Captain America, but he's too proud to give him an easy death. He wants Captain America to beg for mercy.

When he realises that he can do nothing to break Captain America's spirit, he swaps bodies with him. Then he teleports Sharon Carter to Captain America's hotel room and tells her that the Red Skull is threatening him.

This issue briefly mentions Rick Jones' Teen Brigade. It first appeared in Avengers #1, and since then it's occasionally shown, for instance in Tales To Astonish #97. This group of radio hams never seems to be very effective, except to remind us that the stories are taking place in the 1960's, not the present day.

The Crazy Credits emphasise that Sam Rosen's lettering is legible. That shows that Stan Lee is keeping a closer eye on him after he misspelt Johnny Craig's name last month.

Amazing Spider-Man #74

Title: If this be Bedlam!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita

Villain: Man-Mountain Marko, Maggia, Lizard (vision)

Regulars: Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborn, Randy Robertson

The Saga of the Stone Tablet continues. Dr. Curt Connors has been kidnapped by the Maggia to decipher the stone tablet. That's strange, because his subject is Biology, not Ancient Languages.

Dr. Connors' wife and son are being held as hostages. Spider-Man frees them.

Dr. Connors works feverishly to decipher the tablet, despite fear that the stress will turn him into the Lizard. Eventually he realises that the hieroglyphics are a chemical formula. He mixes a liquid, not knowing what it will do, and gives it to Silvermane, the aged head of the Maggia. It makes him young again. The stone tablet contains the formula for the legendary fountain of youth.

The Avengers #66

Title: Betrayal!

Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Barry Smith

Avengers: Thor, Iron Man, Goliath, Vision, Yellowjacket, Wasp

Villain: Ultron-6

After the last issue the Black Panther returned to Africa. Awww, he didn't even say goodbye to the readers. In his place, Thor and Iron man have returned to the team. The Avengers.have been summoned to the SHIELD Helicarrier to test a batch of a new metal called Adamantium. The Avengers take turns trying to break it, but it's indestructible.

The Vision feels faint and leaves the Helicarrier without the others. Later he returns by himself and steals the Adamantium. When fighting with the SHIELD agent on guard we see the first use of the Vision's signature punch, if you can call it a punch. He makes himself unsolid, puts his fist or his whole arm inside his opponent, then partially solidifies himself. This causes the opponent severe bodily stress that makes him pass out.

This gives Barry Smith an opportunity to show off his artistic skill. What a picture. I'll be glad when he can get a visa and work for Marvel legally.

Later the Vision returns to the Avengers Mansion and attacks his team mates. He lays the Vision Punch on the Wasp and Yellowjacket, knocking them both out. Maybe I should shorten Vision Punch to VP, because it will be happening a lot in upcoming issues, more often than Spock's Vulcan Death Grip. Their fight is interrupted by a loud rumbling noise. It's Ultron with a new body that the Vision has built out of Adamantium.

From now on I'm going to have problems syncing the multi-part adventures of Thor and Iron Man with the Avengers. This is what Stan Lee has to say about it:

I get his point, but I'll still do my best to put the stories in the right order. If it's too tough for me to solve problems by myself, I'll refer to Travis Starnes' Complete Marvel Reading Order for advice.  In this case he suggests that Avengers #66 to Avengers #68 take place before Iron Man #15 (this month) and Thor #171 (December 1969). An alternative would be to place it before Thor #163 (April 1969).

Iron Man #15

Title: Said the Unicorn to the Ghost!

Writer: Archie Goodwin
Artist: Johnny Craig

Villain: Unicorn, Red Ghost

Regulars: Janice Cord, Jasper Sitwell

Johnny Craig's name is spelt correctly this issue. That's because Sam Rosen has been replaced by Artie Simek as letterer. Poor Sam will never be able to live it down in the bullpen.

The Unicorn seemingly died in Iron Man #4. Here we see that he survived, but at the cost of his sanity.

The Red Ghost finds the Unicorn and brings him back to health, giving him a temporary cure for his rapid ageing. We last saw the Red Ghost in the chaotic Fantastic Four Annual #3, before then in Avengers #12. He's lost his power to become unsolid, and he's also lost his cosmic apes. He's trained two new monkeys to replace them.

Tony Stark has invented a Cosmic Ray Intensifier (TM), a device that can fire concentrated cosmic rays, the rays that are usually only found in space. It was these rays that gave the Fantastic Four and the Red Ghost their powers. The Unicorn steals the Cosmic Ray Intensifier and brings it to the Red Ghost, who uses it on himself. While Iron Man is fighting with the Unicorn, the Red Ghost flees with his monkeys. He blows up the building where Iron Man and the Unicorn are fighting.

Thor #166

Title: A God beserk!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Him, Karnilla, Haag

Regulars: Odin, Sif, Balder

Enraged that Him has kidnapped Sif, Thor pursues Him, threatening to kill Him. Balder says that the Warrior Madness has come over Thor. He should be merciful, because Him is just a child who doesn't know what Him's doing. Thor refuses to listen and battles Him into submission. Him encloses himself in a cocoon for protection. Thor attempts in vain to tear the cocoon apart. As the cocoon drifts off into space, Thor comes to his senses.

Odin has been watching the fight and is angry with Thor. Odin decrees that Thor must travel alone to seek Galactus.

Sub-Mariner #15

Title: The Day of the Dragon!

Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Marie Severin

Villain: Dragon Man, Dr. Dorcas, Tiger Shark (flashback)

Regulars: Vashti, Dorma

Guests: Diane Arliss

Prince Namor returns to Atlantis, and he's recognised as the rightful king. He wants to reunite with his lover, Lady Dorma, but Lord Vashti tells him that she's left. In his absence there was a threatening message from Diane Arliss, Tiger Shark's sister, accusing Atlantis of keeping him prisoner. He actually escaped in Sub-Mariner #9. Lady Dorma left to search for Sub-Mariner and hasn't been seen since.

Diane Arliss tells Sub-Mariner that she's holding Dorma prisoner at Empire State University. He goes there and finds Diane accompanied by Dr. Dorcas (last seen in Sub-Mariner #6), Professor Gilbert (last seen in Fantastic Four #35) and Dragon Man (last seen in Avengers #42). Dragon Man is now being controlled by Professor Gilbert.

Sub-Mariner defeats Dragon Man, then promises Diane Arliss that he will find her brother Todd (Tiger Shark) for her.

Daredevil #54

Title: Call him Fear

Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Gene Colan

Villain: Mr. Fear

Regulars: Foggy Nelson, Karen Page

First Captain America, now Daredevil. That's the second super-hero in six months who's faked the death of his civilian alter-ego. If it carries on like this Irving Forbush will be reported dead while taking his yearly vacation in Latveria.

Daredevil is missing his billy club, which is usually disguised as a walking stick. Karen Page took it when Matt collapsed in a restaurant in Daredevil #51 and never had a chance to return it. He asks for it back, but she says she wants to keep it, as it's the only thing of Matt's she has to remember him by. Later at night Daredevil breaks into her apartment and steals the walking stick while she's asleep. Hmph! He could be drummed out of the super-heroes union for something like that!

Mr. Fear, who we last saw in the yellow costume days of Daredevil #6, has been released from prison and challenges Daredevil to a fair fight. Does Daredevil really expect a fair fight? He foolishly accepts the challenge. At first the fight goes in Daredevil's favour, but then Mr. Fear points at Daredevil and he collapses in fright, in front of onlooking crowds.

The Incredible Hulk #117

Title: World's End?

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Herb Trimpe

Villain: Leader

Regulars: Betty Ross

The Leader fires a nuclear missile towards Russia to start a nuclear war. The Hulk breaks out of his plastithene prison and threatens the Leader, so the Leader's giant robot attacks the Hulk. The leader doesn't want his equipment to be damaged in the fight, so he teleports the Hulk and his robot to an off-shore volcanic island. After defeating the robot the Hulk jumps back to the base. It's lucky that he knew the way. He must have homing pigeon abilities.

It's too late for the Hulk to do anything about the nuclear missile. Betty Ross calms him down, so he turns back into Bruce Banner. Bruce quickly programs a Hunter Missile (TM) to track and destroy the nuclear missile while it's still over the open sea. The strain makes him turn back into the Hulk. The Leader launches a second nuclear missile. The Hulk leaps into the air and lands on it before it's too fast. He twists it, so that it keeps heading upwards, until it explodes in the upper atmosphere.

The Leader realises he's lost and leaves in his flying craft. The Hulk falls into the sea and reverts to Bruce Banner.

X-Men #58

Title: Mission: Murder!

Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Neal Adams

X-Men: Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, Iceman

Villain: Sentinels, Professor Abdol (Living Monolith)

Regulars: Alex Summers, Lorna Dane

Guests: Mesmero, Banshee, Magneto (robot)

I make no secret of it: the Sentinels are the recurring Marvel villains that I like the least. I can't take them seriously. How could any mere robot be given as many abilities as they have? Nevertheless, they're an important part of the Marvel canon, and if I suspend my disbelief I can accept their importance in the X-Men stories. The Sentinels represent bigotry. The represent the philosophy that all mutants are evil just because they're mutants.

The Sentinels capture Iceman, Angel, Mesmero and Banshee. They don't capture Magneto, because he's only a robot. This was the reason why he claimed to have lost his powers.

Alex Summers is walking free, because he made a deal with Larry Trask that Lorna Dane wouldn't be harmed if he obeyed him. When it becomes obvious that Larry was lying, Alex uses his powers. The Sentinels subdue him by shielding him from the cosmic rays that are the source of his power. On the other side of the world, Professor Abdol begins to turn into the Living Monolith again, but the Sentinels shield him from the rays as well and capture him.

Judge Chalmers argues with Larry Trask about whether all mutants are evil. Larry says that he will decide after he's captured them all. When the Banshee attempts to escape, Larry gives the Sentinels the command to destroy all the mutants in the area. Judge Chalmers punches Larry, knocking the medallion off his neck that his father gave him. This was a signal dampener, to prevent the Sentinels detecting that Larry too is a mutant.

Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #13

Title: The Super-Patriot!

Writer: Gary Friedrich
Artist: Herb Trimpe

Villain: Super-Patriot

Regulars: Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones, Jasper Sitwell, Laura Brown

Ever since Jim Steranko left this title there's been no continuity in the creative team. It's like the Nick Fury comic is a hot potato that nobody wants to hold. I have to admit, nobody could do this comic justice the way Jim Steranko did.

Nick Fury is arrested by Dum Dum Dugan for murder. He breaks out of prison with the help of a Sonic Disintegrator Ring (TM) that Laura Brown smuggles in to him. He goes into hiding on the streets of New York City. He sees a costumed speaker who calls himself the Super-Patriot, telling the crowds that they have to protect America from the traitors.

Jasper Sitwell attempts to arrest Nick Fury, but fails. He might have been top of his class in the SHIELD academy, but he's still an inexperienced young agent.

The next day the Super-Patriot announces that he will blow up the United Nations building to rid the city of traitors. Nick Fury attacks the Super-Patriot at the same time as a SHIELD task force arrives. Together they overcome him. Nick Fury pulls off the Super-Patriot's mask, and he sees his own face.

Doctor Strange #181

Title: If a world should die before I wake

Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Gene Colan

Villain: Nightmare

Regulars: Clea, Wong

Guests: Eternity

This story has a delayed double splash page. Here are the first three pages to put it in context.

That's beautiful art by Gene Colan, but I still don't appreciate double-page pictures with a gap in the middle. Panoramas like this should be in the centre pages, where a complete picture can be printed without an ugly white line in the middle.

Doctor Strange challenges Nightmare to battle. Nightmare accepts, but he says Doctor Strange must wait an hour, so that he'll have time to be afraid.

When the battle begins, Nightmare sends his minions against Doctor Strange, who can easily be defeated. Then Nightmare takes up the battle himself. He turns the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto against Doctor Strange.

Other comics published this month:

Millie the Model #172 (Stan Lee, Stan Goldberg)
Chili #3 (Stan Lee, Stan Goldberg)
Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #68 (Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers)
Captain Savage and his Battlefield Raiders #15 (Arnold Drake, Don Heck)