Sunday, 30 December 2012

Grapes of Death (4 Stars)

Jean Rollin is best known for making vampire films. This was his only venture into the zombie genre. However, it retains all of his usual trademarks, such as beautiful scenery, psychedelic imagery and beautiful naked women. In some respects it could be argued whether the creatures really are zombies, since Rollin defines his own parameters. But then again, Rollin's vampire films all redefined the rules based on his current mood when shooting.

Elisabeth and Anna travel from Paris to a small village called Roubles in the middle of a wine-making area in the mountains. Maybe someone with a knowledge of French geography could tell me where this is. South or central France? Elisabeth is going to meet her fiance, Michel, while Anna is merely taking a vacation. Anna is killed by a zombie who boards the train shortly before reaching their destination, so Elisabeth stops the train and runs for her life. She soon finds out that almost everyone in the area is a zombie, due to the wine being infected after the grapes had been sprayed with a new pesticide.

The film is full of typical Rollinesque elements. When Elisabeth is lost in the mountains a blind woman has to guide her to the nearest village. Blind women are common in his films. The female zombies have less marks than the males, retaining their beauty despite small scars. In fact, the "queen zombie" (played by Brigitte Lahaie) claims to be infected, but she has no marks at all and acts like a normal person. She strips naked to lure the zombie-killers to their deaths.

This is a difficult film to rate. Maybe 4 stars is too generous. The film is chaotic, and it ends with a seemingly illogical twist. But I'm sure that anyone who enjoys Jean Rollin's other films will enjoy it.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Shanghai (4½ Stars)

This is the best example of film noir that I've seen in years. The film was made with a big budget and is shot in an exotic location, but it retains all the characteristics of film noir. But since there are supposedly differences in opinion on what "film noir" is, let me tell you what the key elements are.

1. There is a murder.

2. There is a male detective working to solve the murder. Though usually a private detective it might be a policeman or someone acting as a detective would. The detective is often flawed, for instance a drinker or a chain smoker.

3. There is a dangerous woman involved with the detective, a femme fatale.

4. The film is made either in black and white, or with subdued colours.

5. The film's pace is slow, relying on a dark mood rather than action.

If you check the Wikipedia page you will find a broader definition, but I disagree with most of what is written. If the five elements listed above aren't included it's not film noir. Wikipedia is a useful tool, but it isn't always right.

The film begins in October 1941, two months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Paul Soames (John Cusack) is an undercover agent working for U.S. Naval Intelligence. His cover is as a reporter who writes pro-German articles for an American newspaper. After spending time in Berlin he is transferred to Shanghai. While there he discovers that his best friend, also a secret agent, has been murdered. He makes finding his friend's killer his priority.

Shanghai was a fascinating but dangerous city when Soames arrived. Most of China had been conquered by the Japanese, but Shanghai was jointly occupied by various powers and divided into sectors, the British, the French, the German and the Japanese. Nevertheless, everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before Japan took the whole city for itself. The Chinese resistance saw Shanghai as their last battleground against the Japanese.

Soames works in the British sector, where his American newspaper is located, but his investigations lead him into the other sectors. He meets and befriends Anthony Lan-Ting, the city's Chinese crimelord, as well as the city's Japanese intelligence officer, who likes him because of his pro-German articles. But he also embarks on a dangerous relationship with Lan-Ting's wife, the film's obligatory femme fatale.

The film's slow, plodding pace makes a refreshing change to all the Hollywood action films made today. There should be more films like this. I highly recommend it to my readers.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Texas Killing Fields (3 Stars)

"Inspired by true events"? I hope the true events referred to weren't too identical to what was shown in this film. The characters are ugly, throughout. Though it has been rated as a good film by many others I couldn't enjoy it for the simple reason that I found nobody among the main characters who I could like and relate to.

Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a deeply religious police detective who has been transferred from New York to Texas City, Texas. His partner is Mike Souder (Sam Worthington), a disillusioned godless man who solves the crimes given to him, but that's it; he has no motivation to do any more, despite the begging of his ex-wife Pam (Jessica Chastain), also a police detective in neighboring Clark County. A girl has been reported missing in Texas City, another day in the office for Detectives Heigh and Souder. Pam suggests that the missing girl is connected to over 60 killings in her district. Brian wants to look into it, but Mike tells him to stay away because it's "not their jurisdiction". Besides, the killings took place in a swamp area known locally as the Killing Fields, and anyone from Texas knows that it's best to stay out.

Texas City is an ugly place, judging by the film. The area is full of prostitutes, some as young as 14. The pimps are violent to the girls. The police are violent to the pimps, beating them up during interrogation. This is one place I would not like to be questioned by the police, I would leave the station without any teeth. When the film was over I didn't know who I hated the most, the killers or the police.

Click here to view the trailer.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

R.I.P. Gerry Anderson

This has been a sad Christmas for television, sci-fi and the entertainment industry in general. Yesterday, December 26th 2012, a truly great person passed away, and the world will never be the same. Although Gerry Anderson's biggest successes were in the 1960's, fifty years ago, his legacy has survived till today, and I can say with certainty that another fifty years from now his body of work will still be remembered.

Gerry was born on April 14th 1929. He entered the emerging television industry as a director and producer. He began by making children's programmes involving puppets, such as "The Adventures of Twizzle" (1957) and "Torchy the Battery Boy" (1960). I've never seen these series, so there's a chance they no longer exist. His real breakthrough was a tv series called "Four Feather Falls" in 1960. I saw this repeated on television a few years ago, and I was amazed at its originality; the daring mix of a western cowboy series with added sci-fi elements. Being made with puppets it had the appearance of being a children's show, but it was serious enough to appeal to older audiences.

Yet Gerry wasn't completely happy. It was his dream to make a live action series, but his puppet shows were so good that the television studios made him continue with them. His following series also featured puppets and were set in the mid 21st Century: "Supercar" (1961), "Fireball XL5" (1962) and "Stingray" (1964). These series were the first to use a new technology called Supermarionation, conceived by Anderson himself. The voices were recorded by human speakers in advance. The puppet wires were not used merely for moving the puppets, they were metal wires which carried the audio signals of the recordings. Sensors in the puppet heads moved the lips in synch with the dialog, creating greater realism than ever possible with puppets before. Gerry also had the foresight to film "Stingray" in colour, even though at the time colour television was not available in England and was only available in America on a limited basis as an experimental service. Although "Supercar" and "Fireball XL5" had elements to make them appealing to children, "Stingray" was a clear attempt to make a puppet show for adults.

Then the television series was broadcast that made him truly famous. "Thunderbirds" (1965) was his first full length series, each episode lasting 50 minutes, which often seemed too short. Rather than looking like tv episodes, each episode had the character of a small film. No attempts were made to adapt the series for children, this was an adult programme, and it was broadcast at the peak viewing times. The fast paced action, backed up by strong characterisation, made this one of the best television series ever made. Two spin-off films were made by Anderson, and while they never achieved the commercial success of the television series, they stand far above the dismal live action film made in 2004 without Anderson's participation.

After this Gerry made a few more puppet series, including "Captain Scarlet and the Mysterions" (1967) and "Joe 90" (1968). I don't understand the departure from his previous style. I wish he had continued with "Thunderbirds". These new series leaned once more towards children's entertainment. They still enjoy a cult following today, but even Gerry's most hardcore fans will agree that he had passed his peak.

In the next decade Gerry was finally given his wish to make live action series. "Space 1999" (1975) still has many fans today, but in my opinion "UFO" (1970) was far superior. This is a forgotten gem, known only to relatively few fans. It almost reaches the height of "Thunderbirds", and is much more serious than the apparent fetishwear of some of the actors suggest. (For instance, why should the moonbase radio operators be required to wear purple wigs? Why do the submarine crews wear fishnet tops?)

Gerry's television programmes are still fondly remembered by audiences today. The 32 episodes of "Thunderbirds", tragically few, are still broadcast all year round by British tv channels. Who can he be compared with? Nobody even comes close. In the 1960's nobody had the skill to match him. In the 21st Century it would be impractical. Nobody would make a puppet show like "Thunderbirds" today, because it would be much cheaper to use CGI animation. In an interview Gerry dispelled the myth that puppets were used to save money. On the contrary, the costs of the large scale props and explosions were enormous, making "Thunderbirds" a much more expensive series than "Doctor Who".

I heard about his death on the news last night, but I decided to delay writing a tribute until I had rewatched the first "Thunderbirds" episode. Yes, the "Thunderbirds" and "Stingray" box sets were among the first DVD's I ever bought. I won't write anything about his character as a person; I'll leave that to those who knew and loved him. I shall only praise the pioneer, the great man, who has left an eternal legacy behind him. R.I.P. Gerry Anderson. Whatever changes will be made to technology, as long as entertainment still exists your name will be remembered. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of years from now, people will gain pleasure from your creations.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Air I Breathe (4 Stars)

I already reviewed the film in October last year. What should I add to the review? Overall I've rated it less highly this time. I found on second watching that I was looking for a golden thread of hope, which was never clearly defined. Sure, there were happy moments, but maybe not happy in the way you would expect.

Forest Whitaker (Happiness) finds true happiness when he knows he is going to die. It's not even a happiness based on the promise of an afterlife, it's simply happiness that he has escaped a life of meaninglessness.

Brendan Fraser (Pleasure) also finds fulfilment in the events leading up to his death. He has been denied the pleasure of unexpected surprises, so being confronted with something he knows nothing about satisfies him.

Kevin Bacon (Love) saves the life of the woman he loves, but he still has to accept that she is married to his best friend.

Only Sarah Michelle Gellar (Sorrow) finds true happiness in the film. She is offered a way out. She is allowed to become anonymous and hide from her life of glamour and paparazzi.

I've read different reviews about which of the characters connects the others. The gangster called Fingers appears in connection with all four characters, though only slightly in connection with the doctor, Love. Others say that it's the doctor who connects everyone. In my eyes Sorrow is the true central character. The other three, Happiness, Pleasure and Love, all work together to give her a new start.

This is an interesting, haunting film. I'm sure I shall watch it again, at the right time. Click here to view the trailer.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Ninjaken: The Naked Sword (2 Stars)

Murasame is a female ninja on a mission to assassinate an evil warlord. She is injured in battle and takes refuge in a Buddhist temple run by women. At first she thinks they are harmless lesbians, but she soon discovers a sinister side.

Trash. Poor acting, an illogical plot and some very distasteful scenes. The only reason I give it more than 1 star is the gratuitous nudity. Apart from that, forget it.

We are the night (5 Stars)

As my regular readers know, this blog isn't a film review site, technically speaking. It's my film diary. What I mean is, I tell my readers what films I watch, as I watch them, and I write about them. "So what's the difference?" Simple. If I watch a film twice I write about it twice. That's something a real review site wouldn't do. And that's relevant in this case. This is the third time I've watched this film since I started the blog in September 2010. I already reviewed it in March 2012 and October 2012.

I don't often watch a film spontaneously. Whenever I finish watching a DVD I put the next DVD next to my player. I already had a different film lying there ready to watch. And yet I picked this one. The reason is, yesterday I bought a new television. I bought an LG 42CS460, a 42" LCD flat screen. My first new television since December 2008. My old television, a 32" LCD screen, LG 32LG5020, still works fine, but I was in the mood for an upgrade. I wanted something bigger and better. I wanted to try it out by watching a film that I've watched recently, something that I know has a high quality picture, and I picked up "We are the night". Good choice. I love the film, and the television is great quality for its size.

The television cost me £289 from Richer Sounds in Birmingham. It's only slightly more expensive from other shops, for instance £299 from Argos, but I strongly advise my English readers to choose Richer Sounds. For those of you who don't know it, it's the best retailer for hifi and entertainment systems in England. That's not just an opinion, it's a fact, and anyone who looks at them objectively will agree. First of all, they're cheaper. They have a price guarantee, that they will beat any other price listed online. Not just match the price, they promise to beat it. Not that it's usually necessary, because they're already the cheapest for every article I know of. As well as this, look at the customer care deals, the "extended warranty". For 10% of the purchase price they offer a 5-year warranty, which includes the television being picked up from and returned to my home, and a replacement set being provided during the repairs. In this case I paid £28.85 for the extended warranty. Compare this with Argos. The television is only £10 more expensive, but the extended warranty only lasts for three years and costs £104.99. No comparison, is there? Apart from this, I have to say that my experience with the Richer Sounds staff has always been good. They all seem to know what they're talking about and give good advice. At other stores -- I almost named one I've been to, but I don't want to be sued for slander -- it's all about sales, getting the customer to buy the highest price article to earn the highest possible commission.

Apart from my televisions, over the years I've bought stereo systems, DVD and Blu-ray players, and accessories like cables and headphones from Richer Sounds. There's no reason to shop anywhere else. Please take my advice. You won't regret it.

Addendum on Monday, 1st June, 2015

Since I wrote this post, things have got even better at Richer Sounds. The five year extended guarantee is now FREE for all their televisions.

Drawn in Blood (4 Stars)

This 2006 film doesn't slot tidily into any genre. Murder mystery? Horror film? Art house? It's somewhere in between. It's a unique film that could never have been made in America, not even as an independent film. Though filmed in English, the director is Hungarian and the film crew is mostly German.

Marian, who lives in New York, travels to Berlin when she hears that her brother Michael has killed himself. She has doubts that his death was really suicide, but the police have found no evidence of foul play. While in Berlin she meets his friends, including Eric, a promiscuous comic book artist, famous for drawing a comic about a serial killer called Dagger. Before she leaves Berlin she's caught up in a mystery: a series of famous actresses and singers are being murdered in ways that mimic killings in Eric's comics. Are these killings somehow connected with her brother's death?

The cinematography is as important to the film as the story and the actors themselves. The picture is dark and grainy, making Berlin look like a deep pit, a place where evil lurks around every corner. I recommend the film to anyone who is interested in seeing something different.

Click here to view the trailer.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Big Bad Mama (4½ Stars)

The film begins in Texas in 1932. It was the dark days of prohibition, when a foolish ban of alcohol due to the pressure of Christian fundamentalist groups created the biggest crime wave America has ever known. Wilma McClatchie loves her two daughters and wants the best for them. She isn't willing to let them marry poor men and live a life of poverty. She goes on the road with them robbing banks and kidnapping in order to make money.

The film has no aspirations of being a quality film. Roger Corman never expected to win any Oscars. And yet it's thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end. And that's what films are about. Having fun. There should be more films like this.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (4 Stars)

This is a cautious 4 star rating. I left the cinema today feeling confused, not really knowing what to think. I'm sure I'll have more to say after I buy the film on DVD, whenever that time comes. I'll probably wait until the full trilogy is available to buy.

I wasn't planning to go to see "The Hobbit" in the cinema, not for the film itself. What encouraged me to hand over my £9.25 ($15, the most I've ever paid for a cinema ticket) was the experimental new 48 frames per second. This is a big revolution in filming, more important than 3D, so I had to see it for myself. I needed to see what the fuss is about. Some less qualified reviewers talk about 48 fps like it's an advancement of the 3D experience, or somehow necessitated by 3D. Not so, and I wish I could have seen "The Hobbit" in 48 fps 2D to examine the 48 fps technology in isolation. Unfortunately, even though a 2D 48 fps version of the film exists, it will not be shown in cinemas, probably to avoid confusing the public by giving them too many choices. Only three versions are on general release: 2D 24 fps, 3D 24 fps and 3D 48 fps. Very few cinemas have opted to show the 3D 48 fps version, because it means buying a new film projector for just one film. For instance, in Birmingham only one cinema, the Odeon Broadway Plaza, is displaying the film in this resolution.

So what's my verdict on the technology? Obviously, 24 frames per second is enough for the human eye. This has been the standard frame rate since 1927, and there has been no call for it to be improved before now. The frame rate could even have been increased in the pre-digital film age. It's a matter of photography, and still cameras have had shorter exposures than 1/24 seconds for over 100 years. The question is of the effect. The relatively long shutter speeds used in 24 fps filming create a blur in rapidly moving images. The best example is a waterfall. If you photograph a waterfall at 1/24 seconds it looks natural, like flowing water. If you photograph a waterfall at 1/1000 seconds it looks like frozen water. This would suggest that the 24 fps technology leads to more natural images. And yet the opposite is the case. This is because the human eye is able to process images more than 24 times per second. In testing the results vary between 60 and 110 times per second. I expect that it varies from person to person.

24 frames per second has been "enough" since 1927 because each individual frame (i.e. photograph) is blurred, but in a motion sequence the blurs run into one another and create a streaming effect. Most DVD players offer the possibility to step through a film frame by frame. Try this out in a film sequence with rapid motion. The individual frames probably look ugly to you, like poor quality photographs, and yet the film played normally looks good. Today, for the first time, I watched a film at a higher frame rate. It looked different. Something that I wouldn't have been able to define if I hadn't known what it was. All my life I've been used to 24 fps films. I've grown accustomed to the 24 fps "blur". It's something artistic. Seeing a film at a higher frame rate pulls the film closer to reality, it makes it more like what I'm used to seeing in real life. The characters looked more "real". It looked less like art and more like real life.

Let me repeat that, because it's at the crux of the matter, and it explains why many critics have already criticised the new technology:

48 fps films look less like art and more like real life.

This is the same as comparing an oil painting and a photograph. Both are good. Which is better? Art experts would immediately reply that an oil painting by a master artist such as Leonardo da Vinci or Vincent Van Gogh is better. Why? Analyse their paintings with a magnifying glass. They are inaccurate. They are blurred. But it's just this that makes them better. Great artists use "inaccuracies" to create an artistic effect.

Watching "The Hobbit" gave me the unsettling effect that I wasn't watching a film at all. I felt like I was watching live actors on stage. I'm not saying, at this point, whether it is good or bad. One film isn't enough to judge the technology. All I can say is that it's something I'm not used to. My only question at this point is: why 48 frames per second? If we're aiming for greater realism, why not push it to the level of reality? Today's technology can handle it in both filming and projecting. If the human eye can handle up to 110 images per second, let's show films at 120 frames per second. 48 fps seems to me like a halfway solution. I've read that James Cameron was originally planning to film "Avatar 2" at 60 fps, but he's now considering 48 fps instead.

I've never given my opinion on 3D films so far, and I think now is my time to say something, at the risk of bloating this review. I think it's all a big hype. At the very least, in its present form 3D films are unnecessary. The image is projected onto a 2D screen in front of the viewer. All the 3D technology does is add depth to the image, and occasionally project something forwards from the screen. This can be done to good or bad effect. Let me give two examples from "The Hobbit". When Gandalf released the butterfly it seemed to be flying towards me, almost reaching me in at my seat in the centre of the theatre. This was excellent. The second example is Radagast meeting the party. He seemed to be a 2D image standing in front of a deep 3D landscape. This was ugly.

I'm not saying that 3D should be abandoned altogether, but we need true 3D, and the technology is still far off. What I mean is, in a true 3D film the viewer would be close to the image, virtually speaking. If he leans to the left or right he would see details obscured by looking at the image from the front. Or he could look up or down for a different view. The viewer could even be placed within the film, so that he can observe the characters from behind. This sort of 3D technology, which goes in the direction of holography, would be worth it. I doubt I'll see it within my lifetime. The current 3D technology is just hype. We don't need it.

After all of this I haven't said anything about the film itself. I'll keep my thoughts short. I agree with those who criticise the decision to make the book into a trilogy. It's obviously a film studio decision. "Peter, your last trilogy earned a lot of money. We need you to make another one". Today I enjoyed the film. But it was slow paced. It could have been better. One three-hour film could have covered the whole book. But wait till I've seen all three films, and I'll say more.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Haunting Desires (3 Stars)

I've been jinxed with this film. I first saw it on television round about 2004, but it I didn't decide to buy it until 2008. The prices were unacceptably high, so I had to wait till I found a good offer on Amazon Marketplace. Finally I ordered it, and it never arrived. Not the fault of the seller, it was someone I'd often ordered from, it was just "lost in the mail". They refunded my money because they didn't have any more copies. After a long wait, more than a year, I ordered it again. Despite being factory sealed the wrong DVD was inside the case. What was contained was a special free-for-rental-stores version of "Tough Luck", obviously intended for free viewing because occasional adverts flashed across the screen during the film. And now, the end of 2012, I finally ordered the film again. And got the correct film, as advertised. Although I do have my complaints with the version I received. Read on.

The film is about a string of murders involving men who had visited the Underworld strip club. Investigations are carried out by a police detective (Jay Richardson) and a newspaper reporter (Beverly Lynne). As they get closer to the truth, sometimes helping, sometimes hindering one another, they stumble on the fact that the club's owner (Evan Stone) and his dancers are all vampires.

The film is good, one of Fred Olen Ray's more adventurous stories. Evan Stone dazzles as the gothic vampire prince. There's a small role played by Eric Masterson as the reporter's boyfriend. In itself I would give it at least 4 stars. The trouble is that this is a censored edition. It's been a long time since I saw it on television, but I'm certain the sex scenes were longer. If I'm right it would be unusual, because Fred's films are never censored. This DVD isn't released on his own Retromedia label, which might be the reason. The film as contained on the disk is only 67 minutes long (from the beginning to the final credits), making it officially a short film. Fred never makes films this short. There must be something missing. So my overall rating is based on the totally unnecessary cuts.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

H.O.T.S. (2 Stars)

The film takes place at Fairenville University, lovingly known to the students as F.U. When new student Honey Shane isn't considered good enough to join the Pi sorority she retaliates by creating H.O.T.S. which she calls a non-sorority. Every girl is accepted who has been refused by Pi. The girls of H.O.T.S. have to pledge to seduce every boy in the university so that there are none left for the Pi sisters.

Not a bad plot in itself, but in my opinion the film is poorly made. There's not enough sex and not enough comedy to make it interesting. I was falling asleep while I was watching it. Not worth watching.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Vertigo (3½ Stars)

When people talk about Alfred Hitchcock they always name two films: "Psycho" and "The Birds", usually in that order. I know both films well from their constant repeats on British television while I was growing up. For many years I've been told that many film critics consider a film called "Vertigo" to be his best work, but I've never had a chance to see it till now.

James Stewart plays John Ferguson, a former police detective who has quit his job after an accident that led to another policeman's death. A rich friend of his asks him to follow his wife, because she has been acting strangely. He thinks that she is being possessed by the spirit of her great-grandmother. At first he observes her secretly, but when he sees her attempt suicide by drowning he has to reveal himself to save her life. From this point on a relationship develops between the two.

I have a problem with Alfred Hitchcock's films. All of them. I'm sure the critics are right and I'm wrong. This is a film that deserves more then the 3½ stars I've given it. My problem is that his films seem so dated. The clothing, the way of talking, everything seems to be a relic of a different era. My apologies to Hitchcock fans, my ratings are subjective, and I can't rate it higher.

Passport to Paris (3½ Stars)

Almost all the films I review are part of my personal DVD collection. Occasionally I go to see a film in the cinema, but no more than five or six times a year. A few years ago I rented DVD's, but now that the prices have dropped so low I rarely do it. I only download movies or watch them online if they're otherwise unavailable. But there's something I never do. I don't borrow DVD's from friends. Maybe it's because I don't have any friends who own DVD's I would want to watch? I said never, but this film, "Passport to Paris", is a rare exception. I have never had the least interest in the Olsen twins. To me it seemed like a case of all hype and no talent. And then, one day, a friend of mine practically forced a box set of their films into my hands. They've been lying on my shelf for weeks and I really need to give them back eventually, so I decided to give them a chance. One of the films at least.

Mary-Kate and Ashley play Melanie and Allyson Porter, twin sisters from Northwood, California. As a gift for their 13th birthday they are given a 10-day holiday in Paris during spring break. They stay with their grandfather, the U.S. ambassador to France. Their initial excitement is soon dampened. For their first meal they're given snails and frogs' legs to eat, and wine to drink. They eat pizza and drink Coca Cola in secret, to the horror of Henri, the embassy's chef. They're sent on sight-seeing tours to the city's museums, but all they want to do is meet boys and go dancing. But in the end, predictably, American culture triumphs. Henri comes to realise that hamburgers and french fries taste better than French food, and at an official dinner party the girls persuade everyone to drink water.

The film is actually better than I would have expected. It's a lot more entertaining than other children's films I've seen. On the other hand, the American propaganda is sickly. Maybe people who don't come from France have a natural aversion to eating snails, but does anyone really think hamburgers and fries taste best? And the suggestion that it's wrong for children to drink wine appalls me; just because America imposes restrictions it doesn't mean it's wrong. French children learn to drink wine with meals as soon as they are able to sit at the table, which leads to a more natural attitude towards alcohol later in life.

After watching this I'll definitely check out the other films in the set. The girls seemed to be proficient actresses at 13, when they made this film. Let's see what they were like in later years.

General: My Film Ratings

I've heard a few comments about my ratings being inflated. Supposedly three stars is average, above three is good and below three is bad. And yet the majority of my films have higher ratings. I give very few films 2 stars, and almost none earn 1 star. That's easy to explain. I'm not a neutral film reviewer like someone who works for a magazine and watches everything thrown on his desk. I only watch films that I expect to be good. If I expect a film to be bad I won't even give it a chance. Only a few bad films slip through, and I rate them accordingly.

I've thought about making January next year my "Five Star Month". For a whole month I'll only watch films that belong to my favorites. I'll give priority to films that I haven't reviewed yet, i.e. films I haven't watched since I started my blog in September 2010, but I might repeat one or two. I'll see as I go along.

On an unrelated topic... recently I read something that depressed me. An acquaintance of mine writes a blog that I only occasionally check. He advised his readers with valuable music collections (vinyl or CD): "Don't hold onto your collection till you die. Your wives or children won't appreciate them and they'll dump them in the trash. Sell your collection before you die, so that someone will profit from it and you can enjoy the money". He wrote this about music, but it applies just as much to film collections. I have about 1400 films on DVD. Some are common, some are rare, others will be rare 20 years from now. I can imagine my daughter going through my DVD's one day, picking out a dozen she likes, and boxing the rest for the rubbish dump. That's sad. I'd rather give my DVD's to someone than have them destroyed. Maybe there aren't many people who would like them all, my tastes are too varied. I don't plan to die any time soon, but these things can happen suddenly.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Judgement in Berlin (4 Stars)

I'm glad I discovered this film. I only found out it existed after I watched "Westflug" earlier this week. The film is enjoyable in itself, but more than anything else it's fascinating how two films can be made based on the same true story and turn out so different.

The differences are caused by the different goals of the two films. "Westflug" is about the three people involved in the hijacking. "Judgement in Berlin" is about the judge who presided over the trial. The first 10 minutes of "Judgement in Berlin" cover everything that happened in the first 90 minutes of "Westflug". It's just presented as a brief background so that we know what the trial is about.
I won't go into details about the events of August 30th 1978 again, you can find them in my review of "Westflug". If you haven't read it already, check it now before continuing.

Strangely, in this film the names of the main characters are changed once more. The West German lover is Hans Schuster, the waitress is Sigrid Radke, and her friend who carries out the hijacking is Helmut Thiele. Their real names were Horst Fischer, Ingrid Ruske and Detlef Tiede. In "Westflug" they are called Michael Franjek, Anja Rautenberg and Jürgen Treske.

The legal and political problems surrounding the trial are expounded in much greater detail in this film. Judge Herbert Stern was flown in from America with the guarantee that it was a simple case that would be over in a few hours. After all, Helmut had hijacked a plane in front of 70 witnesses, and he had confessed to the hijacking. But as soon as he arrives the case is bogged down by legal and constitutional arguments. In America criminals are tried by a jury, in Germany there is no jury. Helmut was being tried in Germany by an American court. The defence lawyers requested a jury, the prosecution didn't want a jury. When the judge said he would allow a jury the prosecution lawyers -- who worked for the US state department -- claimed that the decision whether a jury should be allowed was a political, not a legal decision, so the judge had no authority to decide. Effectively, as representatives of the American government they were telling the judge that they outranked him. The prosecution lawyers only backed down when the judge threatened to dismiss the case.

Even after the appointment of the jury things didn't run smoothly. The streets were full of anti-American protesters. Russian soldiers stood in front of the courthouse intimidating the jurors. The Polish cabin crew lied in court because they were scared of high ranking Polish ministers sitting in the audience. Overall, this was a very unique trial in American history. And a very good film. It's a shame "Westflug" has never been released in English, or at least subtitled, because I would recommend watching the two films together.

Bikini Warriors (4 Stars)

Cindy is a prostitute who is arrested for the 36th time and threatened with life imprisonment as a repeat offender. But she is offered a deal. If she goes undercover into a female fighting club she will be pardoned. A typical plot for a Fred Olen Ray film, and it works well. The film's weakest link is the club's reigning champion, Sascha, played by Kylee Nash. It seems like Kylee is becoming a regular in Fred's films. He's never had any strong actresses in his films, but Kylee must be the worst. The film's strongest point is Eric Masterson who plays Cindy's lawyer. He has boundless talent, he never disappoints me.

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Girl who played with Fire (3½ Stars)

This is the second part of the Millennium Trilogy. I reviewed the first part last month. It takes place slightly more than a year after the end of the last film. The Millennium magazine is continuing successfully under Mikael Blomqvist and his team. Lisbeth is still abroad. A junior reporter is almost finished with an investigation on the kidnapping and trafficking of young women from former Soviet Union states to Sweden to work as prostitutes. The report will be a big scandal, since he has uncovered that the trafficking has been sanctioned by top Swedish politicians, judges and police. In one of the coincidences so common in films, Lisbeth chooses this time to return to Stockholm. The reporter and his girlfriend are murdered, and Lisbeth is framed.

In the first half of the film the emphasis is on Mikael's investigations into the sex-trafficking. Lisbeth is in the background since she has gone into hiding. As the film progresses the emphasis is taken off the sex-trafficking, and the film concentrates on Lisbeth. We see that she has a surprising connection to the trafficking.

I don't doubt that this is a good film, but somehow it fails to grip me. Today I watched and enjoyed it, but I can't see myself watching it again. It's difficult to say why. Maybe it's the gritty realism of the film. There is no fantasy element or exaggerated action. It's all very down to Earth.

Here are two film trailers. If you watch them both you'll think they're for two different films. The first trailer is the original Swedish trailer with subtitles. In my opinion it gives a good impression of the film. The second trailer is made in America and shows scenes out of context to make it look like an action film. Now do you see what I mean by good and bad trailers?

Monday, 10 December 2012

Everything must go (3½ Stars)

This is a film that I bought on a friend's recommendation, and it's not at all what I expected. Just look at the trailer. It looks like a comedy. Will Ferrell is in it, so it ought to be a comedy. And yet it isn't. It's a tragic little story that doesn't even have a happy end. I'm sorry if that was a spoiler. What the trailer doesn't tell you is that the person's tragedies are all brought upon him by his addiction to alcohol.

Nick Halsey loses his job because of his drinking excesses. His wife leaves him because she found out that he was unfaithful while on a business trip, even though he was too drunk at the time to remember it. She throws all his property onto the front lawn, changes the locks and leaves on holiday. At first he simply sleeps on the front lawn in the middle of his property, but then he begins to sell it because he's told that the only way he's allowed to keep his lawn full of furniture is to have a yard sale.

It's a depressing story, and even his anti-materialistic enlightenment when he realises he doesn't need property to be happy doesn't make it any more cheerful. But my main problem with the story is its premiss. Nick's wife throws him out, she changes the locks and leaves. The house was their joint property, so why doesn't he simply break in and change the locks again? The police detective tells him that if he breaks in he'll be arrested. But why? It's his own house. I could see a possible problem if his wife is inside the house, because she could accuse him of intending to assault her. But the house is empty, so what's the big deal? If any of my American readers can explain it to me, please leave a comment. The film takes place in Scottsdale, Arizona, in case there are specific state laws to be taken into consideration.

I'd like to add a few thoughts on the subject of alcoholism. I don't understand it. At certain times in my life I drank heavily, but I was never addicted to alcohol and I don't understand how anybody could become addicted. It's something I can take or leave. I always have alcohol in my house "for special occasions", but sometimes a bottle remains unopened for over a year because I have no desire for it. At the weekend I had two glasses of wine with my daughter to celebrate, but it will probably be weeks before I drink anything again. I don't think there's anything in alcohol itself that creates the addiction. During my peak period I was drinking more than a bottle of wine a day, mixed with spirits and liqueurs. The problem must be in the alcoholics themselves. They must have a personality disorder that makes them liable to addictions, i.e. if they didn't become addicted to alcohol it would be something else.

Westflug (4½ Stars)

This film has never been released in English. Its title means "Flight to the West". It's the true story about the hijacking of the Polish airplane LOT 165 on August 30th 1978. For reasons unknown to me the names of the hijacker and the other main characters have been changed. Maybe they didn't give their agreement to the film? As far as I can tell the story is accurate, with only slight dramatization to make it more interesting. I'll use the names of the characters in the film.

Michael Franjek was an engineer for a West German firm who was doing a contract in Eberswalde, an East German town about 40 miles from West Berlin. While there he met and fell in love with a waitress called Anja Rautenberg. He made a plan to smuggle Anja and her 12-year-old daughter into West Germany with false passports, which he would give them while they were on holiday in Danzig, Poland. Anja's work colleague Jürgen Treske would accompany Anja, posing as her husband.

But then things went wrong. The East German secret police had been observing the trio for months, and they had informants who told them of their plans. Michael was arrested on the train to Poland and never delivered the passports. Jürgen had an idea. Using a toy gun he bought in a Polish market he hijacked a plane flying from Danzig to East Berlin, forcing it to land in West Berlin.

On their arrival the American armed forces arrested Jürgen and Anja, although Anja was soon released because she had not participated in the hijacking. The other passengers on the plane were offered the possibility of remaining in the West, which a large number of them accepted. The hijacking was an embarrassment for the West German government, because on the one hand it openly supported East Germans who wanted to escape, but on the other hand they had only recently signed an agreement with East Germany agreeing to extradite plane hijackers. The solution was that the hijacker had been arrested in the American sector of Berlin, so he would have to be tried by an American court. At first things looked bad; Jürgen was facing up to 10 years in prison. Then, after six months of being held by the Americans his lawyer realised he had never been read his rights ("You have the right to remain silent", etc). Because of this his arrest and imprisonment was unlawful and he could sue the American government for $600,000. In the end a compromise was reached: Jürgen dropped his charges and allowed himself to be tried in return for the Americans buying Michael Franjek's freedom. As it turned out, Jürgen was sentenced to nine months imprisonment, of which he only served a few days because he had already been held for almost nine months.

That's the story. I think that spoilers aren't misplaced in the case of true stories. The film started off slowly. The first half hour, the beginning of the romance and the introduction of the main characters was dull. It could have been dealt with quicker, or maybe in a livelier fashion. But the actual plane hijacking and the aftermath were gripping.

I've since found out that an American film called "Judgement in Berlin" has been made about the same incident. It seems that it's a courtroom drama, so it probably goes into the legal issues in more detail. I intend to watch it soon.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Joan of Arc (5 Stars)

This week I've had comments from three different people that I've been reviewing too many porn films. Though the criticism isn't fully unexpected, I reject it. Look at the title of this blog. "Film Fan". It's not "Porn Film Fan" or "Non-Porn Film Fan". I like films. I like good films. If a film is a good film it doesn't matter to me whether it's pornographic or not. And compare the porn actor Eric Masterson with the non-porn actor Tom Cruise. Which of them is the better actor? Eric Masterson, no contest!

While we're on the subject of porn and Tom Cruise, there's an amusing story. In the film "Eyes Wide Shut" Tom had to film a sex scene with Nicole Kidman, who was his wife at the time. The director hired two porn stars to show Tom and Nicole how to have sex. When this was reported in the press Tom denied it, even though various cast members confirmed it was true. He must have thought it put his manhood in question if he needed to be shown how to have sex with his wife. Far from it, he just didn't understand what the demonstration was for. Porn stars don't have sex the way normal people do. It's not about the sex itself, it's about displaying the sex for the camera. The couples always use positions to give the best possible exposure to the camera. That's something married couples don't do at home, and it's what Tom and Nicole needed to learn. There's no shame in that.

But I'm getting way off the topic. Let's make a connection here, however tenuous it might be. The leading actress in "Joan of Arc", Leelee Sobieski, also appeared in "Eyes Wide Shut". I hope that satisfies my critics. If anyone has the slightest doubt that Leelee is the best actress alive today, watch this film. It's all the more amazing when you consider that she was only 15 when she made the film. That's realistic, considering that the real person was 16 when she became famous, and 19 at the time of her execution.

In the 15th Century France was divided into three parts: one called France, one called Burgundy, and an area that was occupied by England, which the English arrogantly referred to as "England". For the sake of convenience I'll refer to the total of the three parts as "France" from now on. The people of France were impoverished and overtaxed by the constant battles with the English.

The film concentrates on Joan herself and her personal struggles. She was born into a poor family, and never learnt how to read or write. She was rejected by her father who had wanted a son. She found comfort in her Christian faith. At the age of 10 she received a vision of St. Catherine. She received a second vision when she was 16, and from then on the visions came regularly, guiding her. The main direction of the visions was to support the dauphin Charles to become king and unite France, driving the English out of the country. Did she really receive divine visions, or was she deluded? While the film suggests the former, it doesn't insist on it. The viewer can make his own mind up, based on his own religious disposition. But one thing can't be denied: this 16-year-old girl had such charisma that she motivated the French to fight against the English. Joan continued on her quest, even when St. Catherine informed her that Charles would betray her.

She was captured by soldiers from Burgundy on May 23rd 1430, and handed over to the English. Her trial for heresy began on February 21st 1431. She was burnt at the stake on May 30th. Her trial was recorded, and an almost complete transcript still exists today. The answers she gave to the examiners show that she had remarkable intelligence.

Throughout the film Leelee Sobieski presents Joan of Arc believably, her strengths, her doubts, her fears. The supporting characters deliver solid performances, but the most noteworthy is Peter O'Toole as Bishop Cauchon. This is the most outstanding performance of his entire career, in my opinion. Cauchon has an animosity towards Joan and strives to remain stern towards her, but without a single word Peter's facial expressions show his sympathy towards the young girl. How many actors can do this today?

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Dirty Blondes From Beyond (4½ Stars)

Of Fred Olen Ray's recent films this is the best. The plot is strong, and the acting is superb, even by the female actresses.

The film starts in a far away galaxy. It's a galaxy which is inhabited only by women. Princess Farra of Byfraxia is waiting with her assistant Vema for the arrival of the delegation from the Vulvian Empire to form an alliance. But they are betrayed. The warships of Vulvia attack, forcing Farra and Vema to flee, closely followed by Empress Krella of Vulvia and her assistant Tharis. Farra's ship eventually arrives on the Earth, somewhere in a remote mountainous area of America. Their spaceship is spotted by a farmer, who reports it to the local sheriff. The police don't take the call seriously, but it's passed on to a secret government agency that deals with extra-terrestrials. They send their two best agents, the men in black suits and sunglasses, Smith and Jones. A private UFO watcher called Will also sees the spaceship and tries to track it down. In the meantime Farra and Vema take refuge at the house of a redneck hermit called Jock. Astounded by the strange creatures called "men" they proceed to experience sex as often as they can.

Alexandre Boisvert, who plays Agent Smith, has never impressed me as an actor before now. But as a cool special agent he's found his niche. Evan Stone is perfect as Jock; he always does best when he's playing dim-witted characters. Will is played by Eric Masterson, who astounds me more every time I see him. Please, somebody should give this guy a break. He's a brilliant actor. At first Christine Nguyen seemed miscast as the evil Empress Krella. She's just too sweet for me to accept her as a bad girl. But as the film progressed I realised how well she fits in. It's difficult to say why I like her so much. I wouldn't call her a great actress, but there's something about her. It's her personality that shines through in every role she plays. She's someone who obviously loves life and loves whatever she does.

Bikini Time Machine (4 Stars)

I admit it. I'm on a Fred Olen Ray kick at the moment. I just can't get enough of his films. This is the fifth film directed by him that I've watched in the last two weeks, and I'm sure more will follow. Sure, they're low budget films, and they might not be to everyone's taste, but they're a load of fun. They're not meant to be taken seriously.

A university professor has invented a device to cast a person's thought waves and a replica of his body into the past. A side effect of the procedure is that while in the past the person is unable to resist having sex with the first person they meet. At the same time Laura, a restaurant owner, is threatened with eviction unless she can pay $15,000 to renew her lease by the end of the week. The professor visits the restaurant looking for people he can hire to test his machine. Maybe they can reach an agreement that will help everyone.

The film features Fred's regular actors, Tony Marino, Nick Manning and Ted Newsom. A welcome newcomer is TJ Cummings, who plays the leaseholder's son Teddy. I hope to see more of him in future. As usual, the lesbian scenes are more erotic than the boy-girl scenes. That's typical for soft porn. Keep making films, Fred. One day you will find recognition for your life's work.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Schoolgirl Report 11 (3 Stars)

This is the 11th film in the German Schoolgirl Report series. Ernst Hofbauer returns as director, but he's not able to rescue the film from its poor script. It seems like the producer/writer Wolf C. Hartwig was desperately trying to do something different, but in the process he was making logical errors. Maybe mistakes had been made in previous films, but nowhere else are they as obvious as in this film.

The outer frame of the film is a radio show. Four people have been invited to the studio to discuss laws for the protection of young people, whether they're sufficient or need to be improved. The four people are a youth psychologist, a housewife, a school headmaster and a police inspector. As is to be expected after watching the previous ten installments, they sit and tell each other stories. Unfortunately the stories are irrelevant to the topic.

1. The police inspector talks about Martina, the 17-year-old daughter of a colleague. She was struggling with her schoolwork, especially Mathematics and French. One of the boys in her class helps her learn, but they also become lovers. After a few months he dumps her for another girl, so she takes an overdose and kills herself.

2. The psychologist talks about an 18-year-old girl called Regine. She was also having problems in school, so her parents hired a private teacher to give her lessons. Then she accuses the teacher of having raped her, as we see in a nested story. After listening to her the prosecutor interviews the teacher, who claims that she had tried to seduce him, but he had refused her advances. The prosecutor immediately believes the teacher. Of course. Men stick together. But fortunately this is proved to be true when a medical examination reveals that Regine is still a virgin.

3. The recording engineers talk about their own experiences in the next room. Gitte talks about her first time, when she was 16. Together with her friend Gabi they went to meet two boys, Hansi and Traugott, in a cabin in the woods. The girls thought the boys were experienced, the boys thought the girls were experienced, but in truth all four were virgins and scared. The two couples make love very awkwardly, but in the process they knock over a shelf containing tins of paint which fall on their naked bodies. Amusing.

4. The headmaster tells the others about Michaela, a good student whose marks had recently been getting worse. When he returns home one day he finds a suicide note from her in his letterbox. He rushes after her and narrowly manages to save her from jumping in front of a train. She explains why she was doing this in a nested story. One day she found a 100-Mark note (about $60) on the floor. After picking it up she was surrounded by three bikers who threatened to report her to the police. First they had sex with her, then they sold her as a prostitute to rich men and Italians. Seeing no way out of the dilemma she had decided to end her life, but the headmaster helps her to stand up to the bikers and report them to the police.

5. The mother is the last to tell her tale, about her daughter, Heidi. On Heidi's 18th birthday her friends visited her and decide to help her lose her virginity. After telling each other about their first times (nested stories), one of them invites Heidi to her house to meet her cousin Achim. They lock them in a room and say they won't let them out until Heidi is no longer a virgin. Achim doesn't want to go along with it, so he covers the keyhole and together they make sounds like they're having sex. After this Achim walks Heidi home. He confesses that he loves her, and they make love.

Overall an average film, that doesn't live up to the quality of the previous installments. The comedy sketch with the paint-splattered virgins is the film's highlight.

I've already reviewed the first ten Schoolgirl Report films. You can find links to them in my alphabetical list of posts.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Telstar (3½ Stars)

This is the true story of the English music producer Joe Meek, based on his life from 1961 to 1967. He was a true innovator in the music industry, but also a tragic character. Before him all recordings were made live in the studio. What I mean is, a group played a song together, and if one of the musicians slipped up or the singer hit a bad note the whole song had to be recorded again. Meek was the first person to record the different instruments on different tracks and mix them together. It seems so obvious to us today, but it was new at the time and took a few years to catch on with other producers.

Unlike other producers, Meek worked at home. The musicians recorded in his living room, his bedroom and even his bathroom. Considering the chaotic atmosphere of his recordings, as shown in the film, the recording quality was amazingly good. He had a session band called the Tornadoes that he used as the backing group for different singers, but they also had hits in their own right. In particular "Telstar", which was recorded in 1962 and sold over five million copies. Unfortunately a French composer sued Meek for copying the song from him, so he never received any money from the sales. The court case was settled in Meek's favour, but not until three weeks after his death, so Meek died penniless.

Joe Meek had a difficult life. He was a homosexual in a time when homosexuality was illegal. Towards the end of his life he became increasingly paranoid, convinced that his enemies had bugged his apartment. On February 3rd 1967 he killed himself after shooting his landlady. Despite dying at the young age of 37 his musical legacy remains.

As for the film, it's a problem to me. It seems disjointed. In the first half it's a comedy, focussing on Meek's chaotic lifestyle. In the second half the mood turns dark as we follow Meek's mental decline. Another problem with the film is that in the first half we don't really know who Joe Meek is. He's suddenly thrust on us, and we don't understand his motivation or his character. It would have been better if we can seen at least 15-20 minutes of his earlier life to introduce him. It wasn't until the second half that I began to have a feeling for him. I would give the first half of the film 2 stars and the second half 4½ stars, so I'll average out my rating at 3½ stars.

Click here to view the trailer.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 [Guest Writer] (3½ Stars)

I felt it was about time that I put in another review to satisfy Mike's nagging although I haven't been online for him to do it lately. Ha! I recently went to go see this movie in theaters. It was the only movie that was out that I really wanted to see although I did debate between this and the movie with Denzel Washington, which I still intend to see sometime soon, but this won out. And what is with all of the pornos lately? o.O

Bella (Kristen Stewart) is enjoying her new life and new powers, after the birth of their daughter, Renesmee (played by Mackenzie Foy). Soon, however, their family bliss is threatened again, by a new menace. Vampire Irina (Maggie Grace) comes to visit and sees Renesmee performing a fantastical feat and comes to the conclusion that the Cullens have transformed a child into an immortal. This is a huge faux paux and a death sentence for the entire family so Irina goes to the Volturi with the issue and that sets the Cullens on a mission to find allies to witness that Nessie is not what is claimed. 

Okay so this is the epic conclusion. This is what everyone was waiting for and in a way they did deliver. I'm not a Twilight fan and I never claimed to be. I didn't like the first one, second one, or fourth one. The third one was slightly better than the rest but that's not saying too much in my opinion. I only enjoyed it for the blood and mayhem - all 20 (?) minutes of it in the movie. The breaking dawn part 1 pushed me past my absolute limit of endurance and got on my last nerve. So don't expect me to do a review on those any time soon. You'd see nothing but a bunch of ranting from me. Now this is probably my favorite out of all of them. I won't say that it was a home run hit out of the ballpark but it didn't suck to the point that I wanted to carve my eyeballs out with a dull rusty spoon either. The things I enjoyed about this film was the fact that Bella's character finally grew a damn backbone. Most of this series she's seen as some victim that needs to be protected and it took her till the end to finally be able to play with the big boys and hold her own.

I could've cared less about the lovemaking scene between Bella and Edward. Honestly, considering some teens and preteens watch that movie I would've said it was inappropriately highlighted in the movie. Another thing that I didn't like or understand was the fact that they felt the need to CGI the child. What was the point of that? They were too cheap to get a real baby? It wouldn't have been all that difficult. It was wholly distracting during the first part of the movie and I could've done without it. I've also heard some complaints about the wolves in the movie and the CGI used for them but I didn't see anything wrong with the effects concerning that portion of things. The introduction to new characters made things interesting and opened a few more doors to us into their world outside the Cullen clan. I will say there was one or two side notes that seemed....unexplored and unexplained. For instance the man - I forget his name - that was against battling against the Volturi and was the biggest loner out of all of them. When we first meet him he seemed like he could add something interesting to the storyline. They even showed him again a few times throughout observing and making up his mind about whether he would stand with the clan or not. The director made it seem as if his opinion was truly opinion either way and yet we didn't see what that opinion was - or at least it wasn't highlighted or addressed in the movie. I was expecting him to make some grand entrance at the end of the movie during the battle and show off some amazing feat that saves an ally or two. But I got nothing from him. What was the point?? I did enjoy the ability to see the world of vampirism through Bella's eyes and experiences along with seeing all the other vampire abilities out there along with her new abilities. The child that played Renesmee was fine. It felt like she was often more a moving and living prop than anything else with no other purpose but to be proof of her humanity. If you're looking to this movie for a lot of action, don't. It has one big battle scene at the end of the movie and that was it. I will say I enjoyed the ending the most out of the entire film.

I thought I would be generous with this film and give it a three and a half stars instead of the three that some say it deserves. It wasn't knock my socks off. It was more of a good way to while away the time. I also wouldn't suggest paying to see this in theaters, not worth the movie ticket in my opinion.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Big Trouble in Little China (5 Stars)

Usually I don't like films which have a too complex plot. I don't mean a mysterious plot or a plot that's difficult to understand. What I mean is a film with too many interlocking plots, usually involving too many characters. That's certainly the case in John Carpenter's "Big Trouble in Little China". There are so many characters with different agendas clashing together that it's difficult to remember who everyone is by the end of the film. And yet it works. The total chaos in this film makes it enjoyable.

Let me make an attempt to describe the opening scenes. It will give you an idea of the unrelated subplots melding together into a whole. Truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) makes a delivery to San Francisco's Chinatown. While there he offers to drive his friend Wang Chi to the airport to meet his fiancee, Miao Yin, who is arriving from Hong Kong. At the airport Jack sees the lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrell) in the crowd and is fascinated by her beauty. While he is talking to her a gang kidnaps Miao Yin and takes her away to force her into prostitution. Jack and Wang Chi pursue them in Jack's truck, back into Chinatown, but they are blocked by a funeral procession mourning a martial arts society's leader. Another society arrives, led by a mysterious sorcerer Lo Pan, and in the ensuing battle most of the funeral party is slaughtered. Jack has to flee without his truck, and for the rest of the film getting his truck back is his main motivation.

Jack and Wang Chi find out where Miao Yin is being held and almost manage to save her, but Lo Pan's gang arrives and steals her from their grasp. We find out that Lo Pan is a 2000-year-old sorcerer who has been cursed, and he can only be cured by marrying a woman with green eyes. Miao Yin has green eyes, which is very rare for a Chinese woman. But Gracie also has green eyes.

I'll leave the description at that. You need to watch the film to find out the rest. There are far too many details to describe in this short post, even avoiding spoilers. This film is awesome. Martial arts, supernatural danger, gang warfare... the film has it all!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Fortress of War (4 Stars)

This film is intended as a tribute to the Russians who died fighting a hopeless battle for the Fortress of Brest rather than surrender to the Germans in June 1941. It is told through the eyes of a 15-year-old boy, Sasha Akimov, one of the few survivors of the assault. The film is told with documentary precision. The matters of human interest, such as families and love affairs, are kept to a minimum. The emphasis is on the ugliness of the war. Within four days, from June 22nd to June 26th, almost all the Russians in the fortress were killed. A large number of women and children surrendered, but they were executed a year later. The Germans were too heavily burdened by the war to keep prisoners indefinitely.

The fortress has since become a war memorial as a symbol of the German invasion of Russia. Unfortunately this status is based on a falsification of the truth. The film gives the impression that Brest was on the Russian frontier. This is not true. Brest was a Polish town that Russia had occupied since 1939. In 1939 both Germany and Russia invaded Poland. The difference is that after the war Germany gave up its Polish territory, whereas Russia kept it. The official version of history as rewritten by Russia is that Brest was already part of Russia in 1941.

Still, it's a good film. Click here to view the trailer.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Teenie Weenie Bikini Squad (4¼ Stars)

A series of accidents have been occurring at the Playpen Club, shortly before the Playmate of the Century is due to be announced. Since he suspects that the accidents might be deliberate attempts to disrupt the event and as a result bring his tottering empire crashing down, Playpen's founder and owner, Tony Tefler, hires the Teenie Weenie Bikini Squad to investigate.

This Fred Olen Ray film is an obvious Charlie's Angels spoof, but also refers heavily to Playboy and Hugh Hefner. Tony Tefler, known to his friends as Tef, is an old man who acts cool and dates his Centerfolds of the Month. Think of him as a serial monogamist, changing his girlfriend each month. The questions asked about Playpen are also valid for Playboy: can print magazines survive when there's Internet porn? Can softcore films survive when today's films are explicit? The latter question is ironic, considering that Fred Olen Ray's films are never truly explicit.

Despite the generally wooden acting, this is an enjoyable film. Even Evan Stone doesn't live up to his normal quality, the only good actor is Ted Newsom as Tef. It's difficult to rate; better than a four, not quite a five. Judging it by the standards of soft porn films, it's a very good film. Pretty girls, lots of nudity, and even a story. If you've never watched any of Fred Olen Ray's film's this is a good place to start.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Already Dead (2 Stars)

If you had the chance to take the law into your own hands, how far would you go?

This is curious. I saw this DVD on my shelf. I can't remember when I bought it, or even why I bought it. Judging by the product description it didn't look like a film I would like. But I watched it anyway.

Tom Archer is a happily married man with a young son. One day he comes home late after going to a business celebration with his wife. When he comes home he finds both the babysitter and his son dead. They want to call the police, but the burglar is still in the house. He knocks Tom unconscious and rapes his wife.

The police can't help. Nothing to go on. No clues who the suspect might be, so after three months the case is dropped. Tom goes into grief counselling. After three months of weekly sessions he's still in the same state. So his psychiatrist gives the remarkable advice, "The only way for you to get over your problems is to get revenge. I have some friends who can deliver the killer to you for $500,000".

So it happens. Tom is led to an abandoned factory where the killer is tied to a chair in the centre of the room. He is given everything he needs to get revenge and is left alone. He has hammers, nails, pliers, a drill, a chainsaw, and even a gun in case he wants to end it quick. But suddenly it doesn't seem so simple. Could you, dear reader, kill a man in cold blood, even if you are sure he deserves it?

The film is a cross between a psychological thriller and an action film. The gore is limited, but horrifying. I admit that the plot itself is fascinating. It's something any parent could identify with. My criticism is that the film wasn't fast enough. Too many slow phases. It couldn't hold my interest. Or maybe it just isn't my sort of film.

Click here to view the trailer.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Avengers XXX (4½ Stars)

Axel Braun is a genius. There's no other way to describe him. Open-minded film fans have probably noticed the recent flood of so-called porn parodies onto the market. It's a popular trend. But not all the films are of the same quality. Those directed by Axel Braun are a level above everything else. Check the movie poster above. Unlike in Joss Whedon's official Avengers film Hawkeye's costume is correct. The attention to detail is first rate throughout the cast. Just look at the Scarlet Witch's costume. Perfect! The only problem is that this film also has Nick Fury's skin colour wrong.

The film starts out with the aftermath of a battle between the Hulk and the Abomination in Las Vegas. Nick Fury calls the Avengers together to plan the Hulk's capture. The party is gatecrashed by Spider-Man, who wants to join the Avengers but isn't accepted. During the following tense hours they argue with one another and have sex.

Axel certainly knows his comics. Captain America isn't the first Avenger, he's presented as the last Avenger in the film. He doesn't appear until the final scene. Once more there is great acting from Eric Masterson as Hawkeye. He's a man to watch.

Click here to view the trailer.
One thing that I hate is having to be on the defensive when I talk about Axel Braun's films. When I talk about him people reply "But I thought you liked real films". Like they have no value in themselves. On the one hand, this is intellectual snobbery. Porn films are thought of as bad just because they are porn. That's all. On the other hand, I do understand the embarrassment factor. After a family meal we can sit and watch "Silence of the Lambs". But putting on a porn film, even a good porn film, would create an awkward situation. I couldn't sit on the sofa watching humping bodies on screen with my parents or children. My mother even used to make comments when there were brief nude scenes in mainstream films on television. "Why do they have to show that?" For her it was the height of bad taste for Kate Winslet to bare her breasts in "Titanic". Pornography is a guilty pleasure in our society. It's thought of as something men watch when they're alone in order to "get off". It's true, I've seen primitive porn videos that are at that level. To me they were disgusting, no artistic content whatsoever.It will take a long time for this stigma to be shaken off.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Busty Housewives of Beverly Hills (4 Stars)

Doug lives in Cleveland with his wife Kate, where he works as a psychic and hypnotist. He's not very good at either, though his wife humours him. Then they inherit a house in Beverly Hills from his aunt. At first they're happy when they move in, but they soon realise that since they only inherited a house, not money, their financial problems aren't over yet. Their neighbours are a film producer and the owner of an oil company. They try to blend in, but when the neighbours see posters of Doug performing his act they ridicule him. But then a mysterious stranger hands Doug a mystical pendant and promises him immediate success as a hypnotist.

The film reunites the regular stars of Fred Olen Ray's films: Ted Newsom, Tony Marino and Evan Stone. But the actor who really amazed me is Eric Masterson, who plays the role of Doug. His performance made me sit up and take notice. He's the best new actor I've seen in a long time. All the other actors, both male and female, seem like amateurs next to him. So I checked him out on IMDB, and he's hardly a newcomer. He's appeared in 449 films since 1998. Most of them seen to be hard porn films, but in my opinion he's wasting his talent. On the basis of this film I'd say he can make a big career in mainstream films. I'm not exaggerating when I say that he seems to be one of the best actors alive today. I'll have to check some of his other films. He fascinates me.

In case you're wondering what "Hypno Vista" is, it's subliminal messages flashed onto the screen during the film. They only appear for one frame, so you're aware there's a message but you can only read it if you play the film in slow motion. I did this in a few sections of the film, and the messages were remarkable only for their dullness. A typical message during a sex scene is "Keep staring at my boobs". As if I weren't doing that anyway! Shouldn't the message be something like "Send Fred Olen Ray all your money"?

Overall it's a very enjoyable film. Mostly due to Eric Masterson, but the plot is also intriguing, and the other male actors perform adequately. Apart from Tony Marino, who manages to look bored every time he appears in a sex scene. The women who star in the film are all poor actresses, without exception, but they make up for it with good looks. I'll still rate the film highly, and I recommend it to my readers.

Lady Chatterley's Ghost (4 Stars)

Vera Montez is one of America's biggest actresses in the days of silent movies. Then talkies come, and nobody wants her any more. Her voice isn't good enough. Luckily she's saved enough to live a life of luxury after her forced retirement. For the next 50 years she dedicates herself to the study of the occult. Finally she dies, forgotten and unknown by our cruel world.

Flash forward to the present. Charles and Sandra are a wealthy married couple. Charles is a successful businessman, and they live together in a large house. They have everything they need. Except for love. Sandra is having an affair with the gardener, while Charles has various lovers. Charles has recently bought Sandra an old copy of "Lady Chatterley's Lover", and she becomes obsessed with the book.

Then Charles takes the bold step of hiring one of his lovers as the new maid. But he gets more than he bargained for. The maid is the ghost of Vera Montez, who has taken on flesh once more because she has been attracted by the book that once belonged to her. But what are her intentions? Does she want to help her new employers or destroy them?

This is an enjoyable film, directed by the master of soft porn himself, Fred Olen Ray. It might not be to everyone's taste, but I like it a lot. It seems that his plots are becoming more complicated over the last couple of years. I'll be reviewing a few more of Fred's films in the next few days.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Baby Dolls Behind Bars (3½ Stars)

Maggie Grey, a highly successful cat burglar, is finally arrested when she is caught attempting to steal a statue of the Goddess Phucket. A year later crimes are still taking place for which Maggie is the only suspect, but she has the perfect alibi: she's in prison. Police woman Sissy Dunlop is sent to the same prison, masquerading as an incarcerated jewel thief.

Don't be confused by the film's title. The story has nothing in common with the women-in-prison exploitation films of the 1970's. The film is directed by Fred Olen Ray, and as such it's a light-hearted soft porn. Apart from Sissy and Maggie we never see any of the other inmates. The true star of the film is Christine Nguyen, who plays the prison warden, Matron Grell. Something about her fascinates me. In every film she appears in she is bubbly and happy in a way that makes me smile. Also noteworthy is Dale Dabone as the judge.