Sunday, 30 January 2011

Little Shop Of Horrors (3 Stars)

This is an amusing but dated horror comedy. A man who works in a flower shop discovers an unusual new flower, that he names Audrey Junior after the girl he loves. Soon he discovers that Audrey Junior only grows when fed human flesh, so he becomes a killer in order to get food for it.

Helen of Troy (4 Stars)

Everyone knows this story. It's one of the oldest love stories ever written, based on true events, but I suspect that the romantic element of the story has been exaggerated. Paris of Troy goes to Sparta to propose a peace treaty between the rivalling kingdoms of Sparta, Greece and Troy. While there he falls in love with Helen, the wife of the King of Sparta, and takes her back to Troy. This angers the other kings and causes Greece and Sparta to unite against Troy.

Anyone who has watched the 2004 film "Troy" starring Brad Pitt should watch the other versions of the film, including this one. I find this version much more enjoyable. Even better is the 2003 version, made with a smaller budget, but excelling due to its closer following of the original story.

Interestingly enough, none of the film versions tell us that Helen left her nine-year-old daughter Hermione behind, since this would have lost her sympathy with the audience.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Dark City (5 Stars)

A man wakes up suffering from amnesia. He has a knife at his side and a dead woman is lying in the next room. The police suspect him of being a serial killer, but how can he prove to them he's innocent when he even suspects himself? As he dodges the police he's also pursued by a group of mystery men dressed in black. The only person who knows the truth is a psychiatrist who limps around the city giving cryptic clues as to what is happening.

This is one of the best films I've ever seen. If you haven't yet seen it I advise against reading other reviews, because it's difficult to say more than a few words without spoiling the film's mystery which unfolds as it develops.

The film was released in the same week as "Titanic" and suffered as a result at the box office. It was filmed on a budget of $40 million, but only earned $27 million in the theatres. Since then it has gained great critical acclaim. It's a film that is worth watching over and over again.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Saboteur (4 Stars)

In 1942 a saboteur starts a fire in an American factory that manufactures aircraft destined for use in the war. Barry Kane is the only man who sees the saboteur, but as fate would have it he's also the one suspected by the police. Kane has to travel across America, from Los Angeles to New York, pursuing the saboteur while hiding from the police. In the process he uncovers a conspiracy of Nazi sympathisers in America secretly working to sabotage America's war effort. An exciting thriller.

Hattie (2½ Stars)

A film about the life of film star Hattie Jacques, pictured above with her husband John Le Mesurier, was long overdue. This film was a disappointment to me. Rather than show her life from her childhood on, telling us of her rise to fame, we only see the sordid details of her affair with her lodger John Schofield that led to her divorce. There was more to her life than this. Now we need another film about this wonderful woman!

Once upon a time in the Midlands (3 Stars)

A tale of conflict and cowardice. Jimmy, a small time thief, returns from Glasgow to Nottingham to visit his ex-wife and win her back from her new boyfriend who he considers to be a spineless coward. His reappearance wreaks havoc in the quiet town.

It's difficult to write about this film. It has a lot of promise, and it's a film I want to like, but after watching it a second time it still doesn't enthrall me. It stars Rhys Ifans, one of my favorite actors, and Robert Carlyle gives the performance of a lifetime. So what's wrong?

First of all, Rhys Ifans is miscast. He's far from his usual supercool self. He just can't convince me that he's a coward. He's not a fighter, but I'd expect him to laugh about a challenge and not take it seriously rather than run away. The plot has holes, such as the Scottish gang giving up too fast after not finding Jimmy. Maybe Nottingham seems to be just too placid and complacent. There's a small war going on, but the neighbours don't even look out of their windows. But truly, I don't know what's wrong with the film. It's missing a vital spark. It could have been a lot better, but I don't know how.

Monday, 24 January 2011

An American in Paris (4 Stars)

Forget Fred Astaire. For me Gene Kelly has always been the big man of the classic Hollywood musicals. He had a touch of comedy to his routines which sets him above all his contemporaries. I always wait for the moment when he does his trademark gesture of gazing upwards during longer dance routines, as if in a trance. I don't like his singing, but there are enough opportunities to watch him just dancing in his films.

This is a bittersweet film about everyone falling in love with someone who loves somebody else. Even the abrupt "happy ending" for Gene doesn't resolve the sadness of the other characters. The highlight is his 16-minute dance routine with the ballet dancer Leslie Caron. Somehow it doesn't clash with Gene's tap dancing, the styles dissolve naturally into one another.

Survivors Exposed (4 Stars)

Trashy but good. Six girls take part in a reality show, in which they have to survive on an island. They are a psychiatrist, an ex-Navy seal, a hot dog seller, a pro surfer, a Sunday school teacher and a sports medicine expert. The concept is similar to the Bare Wench Project trilogy and shares several of the same actors.

Most reviews that I've read of this film rate it as bad. I'd say the reviewers just don't get it. This film is about good fun with beautiful girls. That's all. What else do we need?

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Die unglaublichen Abenteuer des Guru Jakob (4 Stars)

A Bavarian teen comedy featuring Israeli superstar Zachi Noy. I don't believe it has ever been released in English, but the title translates as "The unbelievable adventures of Guru Jacob". Two teenage layabouts have the idea of pretending to be an Indian guru and his assistant in order to make money from naive believers. It swings between romantic comedy and typical German slapstick.

Bloody Birthday (3 Stars)

Three children are born during a solar eclipse. Ten years later they all become killers. As horror films go this doesn't really pack a punch. The element of suspense is missing.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Idol (4½ Stars)

Even after watching thousands of films in my life I'm still confronted by films that are so far from the norm that they take my breath away. This French film, made in 2002, is a remarkable example.

Zao is an old Chinese man, a retired cook, who lives in an apartment building in Paris. A young Australian actress called Sarah moves into the apartment opposite his. She suffers from depression because she is unable to get a good part, and she is having an affair with the husband of her theatre company's leading lady. When Sarah confesses to Zao that she intends to kill herself on the opening night of her theatre's next production he doesn't try to talk her out of it, he just promises to cook for her every day until her suicide. Over the following weeks a self-destructive romance develops between the two.

People who have read my old reviews already know that Leelee Sobieski, 19 at the time the film was made, is my favorite actress. Her performance that alternates between wild abandon and cold depression is astounding. 73-year-old James Hong, who I'd never noticed before this film, gives a calm, subdued performance. A great film, but best if you understand some French, as the English subtitles aren't always accurate. For instance, "He cooks for me" isn't the best translation for "Il me fait manger".

Lemon Popsicle 8: Summertime Blues (3½ Stars)

This is the 8th and last of the Lemon Popsicle films, a series of Israeli teen comedies made between 1977 and 1988. They tell the story of three friends, Benny, Johnny and Momo, who live in Tel Aviv in the 1950's. The first few films show them still at school, then we see them doing military service, and finally they enter the career world doing exciting jobs such as pizza delivery. Their main interests are rock'n'roll and picking up girls.

The three main characters are very sterotypical, and their personalities bounce off each other for comic effect. Benny is the quiet introspective boy who is always falling in love and getting hurt. Johnny is the fat jovial boy, the funniest of the three, but also the voice of reason when they get into trouble. Momo is the handsome casanova who heartlessly seduces girl after girl.

Worth watching? Yes, but as with most film series the first films are the best. They were filmed in Hebrew and dubbed English for the international market, but the director Boaz Davidson also remade the first film in the USA, using new actors but almost the same dialog, calling it "The Last American Virgin". The original films have never been released on DVD in America, but they are available in Germany. Significantly, the Lemon Popsicle films were adapted for the American market in the guise of the Porky's films, made in Canada from 1982 to 1985, in which many of the comedy scenes from the first three films were directly copied.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Poison Ivy 2 (3½ Stars)

This film has absolutely no relationship to the original, which I have already reviewed. The film poster itself is nonsensical. "Lily just wanted to be like Ivy"? Lily didn't know Ivy. Lily is not a young teenage seductress like Ivy in the original film, she's a victim.

Lily is a music student who has an affair with her professor, inspiring him to paint again after many years of only teaching. When she realises that the affair is wrong and tries to end it he rapes her.

Two things stand out in this mainly bland film. One is the stunning beauty of Alyssa Milano naked. While dressed she looks like a little girl, but when she removes her clothes she is a sexy woman. The other is the brooding oriental cello player who haunts the film in a ghost-like quality. I'm not sure what the director intended to say by showing him standing watching or playing cello at key moments in the film, but it unnerves me.

The Birds (3½ Stars)

This is one of the best known of Alfred Hitchcock's films. It stands out as unique in his body of work. There is no mystery, no secret murderer. This is a supernatural horror story, based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier. In the small American town of Bodega Bay residents are attacked by birds.

The film is terrifying, and everyone can relate to the fear of being attacked by a bird that swoops down and pecks at your face. I would have rated the film higher, except for the anticlimatic ending. There is no resolution to the story. It simply ends abruptly, leaving the viewer thinking that 30 minutes of footage is missing. A disappointing ending to an otherwise great film.

Mondo Topless (4 Stars)

I've been hesitating for days before writing this review. I'm afraid that it won't do justice to the film or the man behind it: the legendary Russ Meyer. Finally I decided to write something, anything, and then possibly return and improve it later.

I gave this film 4 stars. Would Russ have judged it the same way? Probably not. In the interview on the DVD he calls it "a piece of crud" that he only made to make money after his previous films had been unsuccessful. I think he's being unfair to himself. This so-called piece of crud was his first big success as a film maker and finally made him a millionaire. If he didn't like it, the fans did, and it was shown at drive-in theaters across America for more than a year. The public couldn't get enough of it.

It was the right film made at the right time. Technically it can't be called a film. Running at only 60 minutes long it only qualifies as a "short film", since the official watershed for feature films is set at 70 minutes. It's not a story, it's a documentary. It features interviews with strippers, mainly from San Francisco, alongside images of them dancing on stage or running naked through the countryside. It's difficult to imagine a film like this even being made today, let alone being watched by millions. Its success has to be seen in the context of 1966 America. The sexual revolution was in progress, but most people were too scared to walk into a strip club because of the peer pressure. Russ Meyer knew this and decided to show Americans what they were missing in the relatively respectable environment of a film theater.

"Mondo Topless" is in the middle of Russ's film career. It comes immediately after his quartet of gothic black and white films, which were unsuccessful at the time but now considered classics. After making big money with this piece of crud he could relax and create pieces of art without financial pressure. He started working his way towards the erotic farces, which I personally consider to be the highlight of his career. If watched in order the slow progression of his films from serious to comical is obvious.

"Vixen" (1968) was Russ's biggest commercial success. Made on a budget of $75,000 it earned more than $20 million at box offices worldwide. This made the big Hollywood studios sit up and take notice, and he was signed by 20th Century Fox to make the sequel to "Valley of the Dolls", called "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls". Russ was promised a free hand in making the film, but Fox insisted on reducing the nudity and the Nazi subplots in the film. Nevertheless, it was a moderate success at the box office, and for many Americans it's the only Russ Meyer film they know. Russ's opinion of the film greatly varies from interview to interview. Sometimes he called it his definitive work, other times he cursed the interference from Fox. Whatever his true thoughts were, he learnt from his experiences and went back to making his films by himself without corporate support.

He made his last film in 1979, "Beyond the Valley of the Ultravixens". This Brechtian comedy about sexual frustration and religious hypocrisy ends with Russ showing himself making the film, showing characters from his previous film "Supervixens" (1975) and promising a sequel called "The Jaws of Vixen". This sequel was never made. It's unclear why not. Some people claim that he thought his films were no longer wanted because of the rise of hardcore pornography. That seems ridiculous, because soft porn films still have a place today, and films of the quality of those made by Russ Meyer would have remained popular. It is also said that Russ had withdrawn to make his "final work", an eight-hour autobiography, but all that he ever released was the disappointing 70-minute "Pandora Peaks" in which he alternates footage of himself revisiting his World War 2 locations with pictures of busty women. I suspect that the real reason is that he had simply lost the creative spark that had made him unique.

In 2004 Russ Meyer died. When I heard about his death I cried. I cried because my dreams of his return to film making were over. I cried because a giant of cinema, the greatest director ever, had passed away. I cried because he had died alone, having been dead for two days before his body was found. It might seem a strange thing to say, but after watching the many interviews included on the DVD's of his films I feel that I know and love him.

Farewell, Russ, you will always be remembered. 2000 years from now when names like Spielberg and Lucas are long forgotten, you will still be held high as a pioneer of the film industry.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Dementia 13 (2 Stars)

This was one of the first DVD's I bought, but for some reason I never watched it until today. It's been sitting gathering dust in my bookshelf since 2002. Was it worth the wait? Not really. The film has cult status as Francis Ford Coppola's first "major" film. Unfortunately it's confusing, with a non-linear plot. The film is a mixture of subterfuge, supernatural occurrences, axe murders and is topped off by a Sherlock Holmes style whodunnit. The problem is that the viewer doesn't know which character to follow and identify with. For the first half hour we see the story of Louise, a woman who hides the fact that her husband has died in order to get his mother's inheritance. We see her plots and schemes to get what she wants, and then she's suddenly murdered, throwing the viewer off balance.

After Louise tries to confuse her mother-in-law by faking the return of her husband's sister Kathleen from the dead, Kathleen really does reveal herself. And the killing continues, one person after another being struck down with an axe. A strange story.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Poison Ivy (4 Stars)

I once read that a good film can be measured by the number of second rate sequels that follow it. There have been four installments so far, each one poorer in quality than the one before. The films are unrelated to one another, except in the concept that a young girl invades a family and destroys it through her wiles and sexuality.

The first film has some merit, but there is one big problem with it: Drew Barrymore! She is totally miscast as the teenage seductress. However much she tries we can't take her seriously. Everything about her radiates a good girl image.

I need help with something. Leonardo DiCaprio is supposedly in the film in a minor role, but I must have blinked and missed him. Can someone please tell me what scene he's in?

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (3 Stars)

This is the 8th and last Hammer film about Dracula. Like the film before it, "Dracula A.D. 1972", it takes place in modern day London. Unfortunately this prestigious film series doesn't end with a bang but with a whimper. There are too many conflicting film styles thrust upon the viewer. The vampire story barely comes to the surface, most of the film being taken up with Satanic rituals and James Bond style action.

The plot is basically that Count Dracula has set himself up as a top businessman in London. He has gathered political, business and scientific leaders around himself to perform Satanic rituals. His aim is to release a new strain of the Bubonic Plague at midnight on November 23rd to wipe out all life on Earth, including himself, because he is tired of living forever. While a secret branch of the police try to aid Van Helsing in hunting down Dracula, the Count is protected by professional killers on motorbikes.

The plot has more holes than Swiss cheese. The rituals have almost nothing to do with the rest of the story, apart from unnecessarily attracting the attention of the police. Why are Dracula's brides kept chained up in the cellar? Why do the motorbike killers shoot some of the police but spare the others? The action sequences are exciting, but when Christopher Lee finally faces Peter Cushing in the last half hour the film grinds to a halt. The nonsensical story makes it the weakest of the Hammer Dracula films.

Pauline at the Beach (3½ Stars)

The truth hurts a few, but lies hurt everyone.

See my general thoughts about Eric Rohmer's films in my review of My Girlfriend's Boyfriend. This film is a double love triangle, much more complex than it looks on the surface, featuring opposite pairs from three age groups.

Pauline and Sylvain are 15.
Marion and Pierre are in their mid 20's.
Louisette and Henri are in their mid 30's.

France in the early 1970's. Pauline is on holiday with her older cousin Marion who is in the process of divorcing her husband. On the beach they meet Pierre, an old friend of Marion's who has loved her since before she was married. Marion falls in love with Henri and begins an affair with him. She tries to encourage Pierre to take Pauline's virginity, but Pauline is more interested in Sylvain, a boy her own age. When Pierre finds Henri at home with Louisette, a slutty beach saleswoman, Henri convinces Pierre that Sylvain is having sex with Louisette. After Pauline has broken up with Sylvain, Henri confesses to her that Marion is too perfect for him to love, he much prefers Louisette. The next morning he makes a clumsy attempt to seduce Pauline. Interestingly, the conversations show that young Sylvain admires Henri's womanizing.

Eric Rohmer says that he needed 30 years to write this film, which may not be apparent from the minimalist result. The story has a clear beginning, but no real ending. The characters drift apart as casually as they met. Rohmer defies all rules of good film-making. There are no character arcs. Nothing has changed. Pauline is still a virgin. Louisette is still a slut. Marion is still looking for love. Henri still lives to conquer women. Pierre is still lonely. Sylvain is still growing up to be like Henri. Think of this film as a voyeuristic window into a few days in the lives of six people.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Yella (3 Stars)

Yella is an accountant who moves away from her small home town in former eastern Germany to escape her ex-husband. On arriving in Hannover she has a chance meeting with a crooked investment banker and begins to help him with his schemes. Whatever she does, the hand of fate is hanging over her, and history repeats itself.

An interesting film, but it's difficult to reconcile the film's supernatural undertones with the overall mundane world of cut-throat business deals.

The Road Home (4 Stars)

This is a beautiful love story set against the cold landscape of the Chinese mountains. A man returns home when he hears of his father's death. His mother, who is devoted to Chinese traditions, insists that he is carried back to his village from the place he died by hand. The majority of the film is then dedicated to the story of how the man's parents met and fell in love.

The plot is simple, and holds no big surprises. There's no doubt in the viewer's mind that there will be a happy ending, because we already know that they married and had a son. However, the atmosphere is overwhelming and will draw you in. This is a film for lovers to watch together. It will make you feel good inside.

I also need to point out Zhang Ziyi's beauty. She is perfect for the role of the shy young village girl. She never seems to grow up. She looked like a 16-year-old when she made this film, and even now that she's in her 30's she doesn't seem to have aged.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Killing Car (3 Stars)

This is a very untypical film for Jean Rollin, a departure from his usual style that doesn't quite succeed. It's not just that there are no vampires or other supernatural creatures in this film. Instead of his usual beautiful landscapes he uses an ugly city as his background, starting symbolically with a junkyard and ending with a shootout in an industrial dockyard.

The plot is about a serial killer, a beautiful woman who places a miniature car on the body of her victims. The mystery is her motive for her seemingly random murders, which is solved near the end. I'm a big fan of Jean Rollin, but this is definitely his weakest film, and I can't recommend it.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Samurai Princess (1 Star)

An over-the-top Japanese gorefest in which Japanese androids chop samurai warriors into little bits. As far as I'm concerned the film is senseless violence with a plot too thin to add any justification. If the film were as sexy as the cover photo suggests I might have given it an extra star, but all we see is ugly half-human girls slaughtering everyone in sight.

By the way... why do Japanese films like to splatter blood against the camera lens? Is it supposed to be frightening? Or artistic? To me it just reminds me that it's "only a film" and makes everything unrealistic.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Eric and Ernie (4 Stars)

A fascinating biopic about the early years of Britain's best ever comedy duo, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. Although I know and love their comedy shows, having grown up with them, the information I discovered in this film was all new to me.

Ernie was born in 1925 and became a child star, performing song and dance routines on stage from the age of 6. For reasons not stated in the film his parents simply handed him over to a theatrical agent and had almost nothing else to do with him. Over the years he slowly added comedy to his act. When he was 13 he met Eric, and together they put on comedy shows in which dancing played only a minor part. They had great success and became national celebrities in the 1940's. During this time they were managed by Eric's mother, who the film portrays as a tyrant who practically bullied Eric into becoming a star. "You're not intelligent, and the only thing you're good at is making a fool of yourself on stage, so get out and do it".

In 1954 they had a major setback when their first television series flopped, due to the fact that they weren't allowed to write their own material. After this they took some time off before deciding to make a comeback, learning from their mistakes and only using their own jokes.

I love this film after seeing it on television, and I definitely want to watch it again. The actors who play Eric and Ernie (three each at different ages) are well chosen, especially Daniel Rigby who plays the older Eric Morecambe. His appearance and mannerisms are so perfect that I almost believed I was watching the real Eric.

My only criticism about the film is that it wasn't enough. It ended too soon, stopping at the end of the 1950's. I would like to see a film of their whole life, including the background stories of their major television and film successes until Eric's death in 1984. Their tv shows have recently been released on DVD, and they will be remembered forever.

Night of the Hunted (4 Stars)

A mystery surrounding a black tower that houses people suffering from a strange illness. A stunning film from the legendary French director Jean Rollin, lavishly filmed, starring Brigitte Lahaie, one of the most beautiful actresses of the 1970's and 1980's. She appears in several of Rollin's films, but my favorite films of hers are "Sechs Schwedinnen im Pensionat" ("Six Swedish girls on holiday") and "Sechs Schwedinnen an der Tankstelle" ("Six Swedish girls at the gas station"), both directed by Swiss director Erwin C. Dietrich.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Kick-Ass (4½ Stars)

I finally watched this film again after reviewing it on November 5th. Rather than say too much about the film itself, which I think is great and has my full recommendation, I want to say something about the comic books that acted as the inspiration for the film.

I'm a big comic book fan. I'm especially enthusiastic about 1960's Marvel Comics. Before anyone laughs at me for being old-fashioned, let me point out that the recent Marvel films about Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Iron Man are all based on the 1960's comics. Daredevil and the X-Men are comics that started in the 1960's, but the films are based on 1970's versions of the stories.

Traditionally comic fans talk about the gold, silver, bronze and modern eras of comic books. There are some differences in definition of these eras, since they're a matter of opinion rather than fact. But let me give you my defintion:

Golden Era: 1938-1960
Silver Era: 1961-1969
Bronze Era: 1970-1984
Modern Era: 1985 onwards

These eras have different characteristics. The golden era started with the invention of Superman in Action Comics #1. In the golden era a character was introduced, such as Superman or Batman, and his comic was a standalone item. If you read Superman comics you didn't need to know that Batman even existed. They lived in different cities, they had different enemies, and they never met. Even the Justice League of America, a group that contained Batman, Superman, the Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, had no relationship to the individual comics of the heroes. The JLA existed neither in Superman's Metropolis or Batman's Gotham City, but in an undefined city, and it seemed that the characters lived there all the time. In fact, it could be argued that the JLA's members weren't even the same characters as the ones with the same names in their individual comics. They were alternate versions.

The golden age is considered by many to have ended in 1950, when there was an industry slump and relatively few comics were sold. I'll accept that argument. In that case I would call the 1950's the Sleeping Era.

The silver era began with the appearance of the Fantastic Four in 1961. In fact, the whole silver era was driven by one man, the legendary Stan Lee. Although he had been writing comics since 1941, mainly monster stories and romance comics, he had a period of sensational inspiration in the 1960's. He said himself that he didn't know how he was doing it, but everything he did turned to gold. Stan Lee invented in quick succession a series of characters who are still popular 50 years later, such as Spider-Man, Daredevil, Thor, the Hulk and Iron Man, to name just a few.

The only way to describe the success of his comics is by showing the difference to what had gone before. The stories no longer took place in fictional cities. Almost all of the heroes lived in New York City. Only the Hulk was isolated in New Mexico. This resulted in the biggest single difference: the comics were all interlocked in one big story. The heroes met each other on occasions. They often shared the same enemies. They lived in the same world. Later on the expression "Marvel Universe" was used, but to be fair this expression wasn't coined until the bronze era. As far as the silver age writers were concerned, their comics were taking place in our universe. The buzz word that they used to describe their concept was "continuity". None of their comics contradicted one another.

Another of the differences of the silver era comics was that the heroes weren't shown as flawless. Just because they were superheroes it didn't mean their private lives were super successful. Spider-Man was Peter Parker, a shy teenager with a sick aunt. Daredevil was Matt Murdock, a blind man. Thor was Donald Blake, a weak man who needed a walking stick. Iron Man was Tony Stark, a man who needed a heart machine to stay alive. The readers could relate to the heroes in their weaknesses.

The bronze era of comics doesn't have a clear starting point. The landmark occurrence is Silver Surfer #18 in 1969, which marked the end of the silver era. This was the last comic written on a regular basis by Stan Lee. It's fair to say that he had burned himself out. After eight years of writing the best comics the world has ever known -- and I refuse to be contradicted on that statement -- he turned more and more to corporate responsibility. Apart from occasional stories, his only regular writing in the 1970's was his Spider-Man newspaper strip.

The bronze era is marked by proliferation. In the silver era a relatively small number of comics were published monthly, and they sold millions of copies each. In the bronze era many, many new comics were created, new heroes appearing every year, all battling for the market. The new heroes were mostly very two-dimensional characters, like the golden era flawless heroes. Apart from a few notable exceptions, such as Steve Englehart's body of work, this was a very forgettable era. In fact, Englehart's success was because he attempted to revive the spirit of the silver era. He was also instrumental in returning Batman to his gritty golden era personality, after Batman had spent the silver era as a camp, comical character.

The modern era started, in my opinion, with "Crisis on Infinite Earths", published by DC Comics in 1985. This was primarily a "universe reboot", since DC's lack of continuity had led to hundreds of ridiculous contradictions between their comics. It was also a super-crossover like Marvel's "Secret Wars" in 1984, in which just about all the heroes published by the respective comic companies teamed up. The modern era is marked by several different factors:

Artwork was becoming more important than the storytelling. There were bigger pictures and less speech bubbles.

New companies were growing important. There had always been small comic companies in America, but now some of them were selling a lot of comics.

Anti-heroes became popular. There were a lot of heroes, such as Wolverine and Elektra, who would rather kill a villain than hand him over to the police.

The main difference in the modern era came through the break-up of the bullpen, due to the advance of computers and the Internet. In the previous eras the writers and artists had all sat together in the same building, working and socialising together. Stan Lee affectionately said that the Marvel bullpen used to talk about comics at lunch, and after work they would sit in bars drinking and talking about comics. They lived comics 24 hours a day. Today most writers and artists work from home, scattered across the USA. Only the colouring and final production of comics is done under one roof.

Another change in the modern era -- and I'm finally getting back to "Kick Ass" -- is the abandoning of continuity. DC made several attempts to introduce continuity and finally gave up. Marvel's continuity just faded away. "Kick Ass" is a Marvel comic that isn't just outside of the Marvel continuity, it rejects it. Dave Lizewski is a teenager who reads Spider-Man comics and wants to be like him. This is the author's way of saying that the character Kick Ass doesn't live in the Marvel universe, he lives in the same world as you and I do.

(Incidentally, in early stories of the Fantastic Four it's made clear that Marvel characters really lived in our universe. Reed Richards said that he sent summaries of the group's adventures to comic book companies to be written about. Johnny Storm is shown reading Fantastic Four comics. Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby appear as guests at the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm).

My preferences lie with the silver era, as I've stated above. I'm happy that many of the silver era comic characters have been filmed in recent years. My main criticism of the X-Men films is that they skipped the silver era and started with bronze era characters. I have big hopes for the upcoming Thor, Captain America and Avengers films. (Before anyone comments, yes, I know that Captain America was a golden era hero, but his silver era stories were much better). 2011 and 2012 will be big years for Marvel films.

Chocolat (3 Stars)

This film, as well as the book it's based on, is a fairy tale with strong moral lessons. Vianne, a woman who is openly atheist moves into a strict Catholic village to open a chocolate shop. It would be too simplistic to say the villagers are hypocritical. They have a sincere desire to lead good lives. However, they are in a state of denial. Evil is in their midst, but since they can't deal with it they simply close their eyes and pretend it doesn't exist. The village's mayor, the Comte de Reynaud, has a genuine love for the villagers when he decries chocolate as sin to protect them. He is a good man, and his sadness is touching.

Five Academy Award nominations. This is obviously a good film, but I can't give it a higher rating. Somehow it doesn't speak to me, despite the excellent performances by the actors involved, especially Alfred Molina as the mayor. The village of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where it was filmed, is idyllic and beautiful. Maybe too beautiful. I guess I'm too old for fairy tales.

The film poster is uninspired. It should have shown Juliette Binoche offering Alfred Molina a chocolate. He is the one fighting to resist temptation throughout the film.

Suck (3 Stars)

According to the Rolling Stone quote on the film poster, "Suck has the potential to become a cult classic". In a way I agree. The concept of the story has a lot of promise. A rock band struggling for success has a stroke of luck when their lead singer becomes a vampire. This immediately propels them into the headlines, and their fame grows as one by one the other band members become vampires. The guest appearances by rock oldies Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop cement the film's cult potential. But it doesn't quite make it. Why not?

The problem is the music played by the rock band, the Winners. While moving in a rock milieu they can't be taken seriously. Their fans are all dressed like heavy metal freaks, but the music rarely surpasses Green Day in hardness. With more appropriate music the film would have fulfilled its potential.