Friday, 30 May 2014

Scream (5 Stars)

My at-home viewing is jumping from one trilogy to the next. I just finished the Matrix trilogy, and now it's time to start watching the Scream films. Yes, I know that there's a fourth Scream film, but it was released years after the third film and can be judged as a different entity.

It's almost 20 years since "Scream" was released. I'm not sure how well it's known, except among horror fans. A friend of mine calls anything made before 2000 an old film. I agree that we need some sort of dividing line between new and old, or maybe different lines to divide different eras of cinema, but I don't think that 2000 was a significant year, as far as cinema is considered. I would say that the new era began in 1996, because that was the year that DVDs first appeared on the market. By that definition "Scream" would qualify as a new film, since it appeared in the cinemas in December 1996.

The film is "new" in other ways. It revitalised the horror genre, which had grown stale since the 1980's due to repeated formulas and endless sequels. Wes Craven was partly responsible for this, after churning out six sequels to "Nightmare on Elm Street", each worse than the one before. He realised that both he and the industry in general needed a fresh start. This fresh start was "Scream". It's difficult to pin its success on any one reason. Unknown young actors? A light-hearted, almost humorous treatment of death?

What I like about it is that it's a clever parody of the whole horror film genre. The characters are all horror film fans, and they're living their lives as if they're living in a horror movie.

Sidney: "But this is life. This isn't a movie".
Billy: "Sure it is, Sid. It's all one great big movie. Only you can't pick your genre".

Randy describes the rules of horror films to his friends, the rules that need to follow in order to survive:
  1. Don't have sex.
  2. Don't drink or do drugs.
  3. Never say "I'll be right back".
He's not so far off, as far as rule 1 is concerned. Virgins always survive to the end of a horror film. Rule 3 is true as well. I'm not sure about rule 2, I'd have to watch some classic horror films to see if it really applies.

If you like good horror films, you will enjoy "Scream". It relies on suspense, not gore, and it's intelligent enough to make you think.

Off-Topic: Nude and Proud

Today I read that Scout Willis, the 22-year-old daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, walked topless through New York City as a protest against Instagram's ban on photos that show nipples. Similar bans exist on Facebook and Twitter, so I doubt that the photos she posted of her topless walk in Twitter will last long before they're removed. This is a topic that I feel very strongly about. Nudity, or rather the right to be nude, is a symbol of female empowerment. That's something that the Femen movement has understood, by writing protest messages on their naked bodies. Liberated women expose themselves, oppressed women are forced to cover themselves. I'm not saying that women must be nude, I'm just saying that they should have the freedom to be nude if they want to. In public, online, whether they consider themselves pretty or not. Many women feel forced to cover themselves up because they don't think that they conform to the official norms of female beauty, but that shouldn't be a hindrance. All women are beautiful, in their own way.

Scout Willis shopping.

An argument for Instagram's nipple ban is that nudity shouldn't be allowed online to protect children. But look at the photo above. There's a small child in the picture, and the mother is making no attempt to cover her eyes. Do you think the little girl will be traumatised by what she's seen? Not at all. If it has any effect at all, it will encourage her to expose her body as she grows older.

The influence of the parents shouldn't be underrated. Scout's mother Demi posed for the cover of "Vanity Fair" when she was seven months pregnant. It was a very tasteful photo that led to public discussions about the beauty of pregnant women when it was published in 1991. And in case you haven't already guessed, it was Scout inside her mother's belly.

Even though it was considered scandalous for an A-list actress like Demi Moore to pose naked, she was no stranger to nudity. At the age of 18 she had posed naked for the magazine "Oui". Men's magazines are often criticised by feminists. It's said that they objectify women. That's partially true, but it's a matter of perspective. Objectification is in the mind of the men who read those magazines. For the women who pose it's a form of expressing themselves. Most women are afraid to walk naked in the street, because they live in a restrictive community where they might be arrested. Men's magazines present a safe environment in which they can express their freedom in safety. If men who look at the magazines see the women as objects it's their own problem. If nudity were more common it would be less of a problem for men. A man whose boss walks around the office with bare breasts would be unlikely to go home and treat women in magazines as sex objects.

This is the first post on my blog in which I have openly shown nudity. In future I shall do it more often. I shall post photos of actresses who expose their bodies in public. Only actresses. After all, this is a film blog. Scout Willis is an actress, although she's only been in three films so far.

Please note that my photos will be restricted to tasteful nudity, such as what I have shown above. I shall not publish photos of sexual acts, because this is not and never will be a pornographic blog. I shall only depict such nudity as can be legally shown on the streets of New York.

Incidentally, you can click on any of the photos above to see larger versions.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Matrix Revolutions (5 Stars)

"The story's about preserving life and what you believe. No matter whether you're a Moslem, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, black, white, Asian, purple or green, these are universal subjects and things that every human being on this planet struggles with on a daily basis. That's why people connect to this movie". (Jada Pinkett Smith)

After watching this film, the third in the Matrix trilogy, I watched brief excerpts from the in-movie special features that were filmed for the Blu-ray release, more than two years after the trilogy had been made. I'll have to go back and watch all of the features when I have time. What stuck with me is that the actors all spoke of making the Matrix as a life-changing experience. It wasn't just another film, it was something special that will remain with them all of their lives.

I won't describe the plot, because anyone who hasn't seen the film yet doesn't deserve a description. I'll just mention one thing. Gloria Foster, the actress who played the Oracle in the first two films, died before this film was made and was replaced by Mary Alice. I'm somewhat surprised by the way this was handled. They must have made an enormous effort to find someone who looked as similar as the original actress. And yet a big deal is made in the film about the new appearance. If it was going to be discussed in the film I would have selected someone who looked completely different, maybe 20 years younger or a different skin colour.

Maleficent (4 Stars)

This is a film claiming to tell the truth behind the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty", written by Charles Perrault in the 17th Century and later retold by the Brothers Grimm. It would be more accurate to say that it tells the truth that was hidden behind the lies in the 1959 Walt Disney film with the same name. What I mean is, the 1959 film changed a lot of the details of the fairy tale. In particular, that film was the first time the evil fairy was named Maleficent. In turn, children's books written in the last 50 years have told the tale based on the film, not on the older stories. I think it would be fair to say that most people today know the Walt Disney version of the story.

I would rather not say too much about the new truths revealed by the film, since it's still in the cinemas, and that would spoil it for my readers who haven't seen it yet. It's a beautiful story of myth and magic, which I can strongly recommend. I was pleasantly surprised that the 3D effects looked so good. Angelina Jolie looks magnificent when she flies through the sky with her brown wings.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Matrix Reloaded (5 Stars)

This is the second film in the Matrix Trilogy, made four years after the first film. I'm sure that when they made "The Matrix" the Wachowski Brothers, Andy and Lana, had no intention of making a second film. The first film was complete in itself. They probably didn't expect it to reach the level of success that it did. As a science fiction film it exceeded all expectations. Not only was it a box office success, making a profit of more than $400 million, it received critical and even intellectual acclaim. As early as 2000 university classes were held discussing the philosophies of "The Matrix".

The second and third films were made back to back and released in May and November 2003 respectively. The second film ends on a cliff-hanger, not usually an acceptable device, but not too bad considering there was only a six month delay before the continuation. Really, the last two films can be seen as a single film, since they belong together in content and style.

Whatever some people may say about it being not as good as the first film, I consider this to be a masterpiece, and a worthy sequel to "The Matrix". If you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Matrix (5 Stars)

If you haven't seen this film yet, don't expect me to tell you what it's about. Crawl out from under the rock where you've been hiding for the last 15 years and watch it now.

Audition (4 Stars)

All words are lies. Pain doesn't lie.

Aoyama, 42,  is the producer in a film company. He is bringing up his son alone after the death of his wife. He wants to find a new wife, but due to his heavy work load he doesn't have the time. One of his colleagues makes a suggestion. He should advertise a new film and invite young women to audition for the main role. The film will never be made, of course, it's just a way for him to get to know women. Out of a hundred applications he invites 30 women for the auditions, but he's already picked out one woman, Asami, because of an interesting essay accompanying her application. As hoped for, she also shows interest in him, and a romance develops. They go to a hotel, but she disappears in the middle of the night, and Aoyama is unable to find her. She no longer answers her phone, and all the details she has given him about home and business contact addresses turn out to be lies. But Asami knows where to find him. She visits him when he least expects it, and she tortures him with sadistic pleasure.

A girl I used to know once shared with me her wisdom on sadomasochism: "If a man says he enjoys pain, it means I'm not hitting him hard enough". In "Audition" Asami pushes sadism to the extreme. Aoyama is not a masochist, as far as we can tell, but even if he were she takes it too far. Director Takashi Miike shows us the connection between pleasure and pain in no uncertain terms. One of Asami's past victims is shown sitting in his wheelchair masturbating while he thinks of her.

This is an extreme film, and very difficult to watch, even though the torture scene is relatively short. It's the stuff that nightmares are made of. Some people will love it, while others will find it disgusting. I enjoyed it. But I wouldn't want to be in Aoyama's place.

Monday, 26 May 2014

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

This is the film that I've most anxiously awaited this year. It was intended as a sequel to "X-Men: First Class", but also a cross-over with the X-Men trilogy.

In the future (2023) mutants have been hunted and slaughtered by killer robots known as sentinels. These sentinels have also enslaved the world, similar to the machines in the Terminator films. In addition to killing mutants, they also kill all humans who have the genetic possibility to have mutant children. The human race is to be kept pure. Pure and docile.

A small number of mutants have survived, but are on the run. They include Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine and Kitty Pryde. The other mutants around them are based on Marvel characters, but they're not all easy to identify, since their portrayal in the film is so different to the way they were in the comics. I guessed some of them, but I had to resort to sites like IMDB to find out who they were. Kitty, whose powers in the comics were limited to making herself intangible, is shown with powers to project people's consciousness into the past. Weird. On the instructions of Professor X and Magneto she sends Wolverine's consciousness back into the body he had in 1973, so that he can prevent Mystique killing Bolivar Trask, which was the key event leading to the creation of the Sentinels.

Phew. Is all that confusing? Yes. I won't describe the main part of the film, but at the risk of giving spoilers I want to point out some things at the end of the film.

When Wolverine returns to the future, everything has been changed. Jean Grey is still alive, so it seems that by changing time the events of "X-Men: The Last Stand" never happened. Judging by the ages of the mutants around him after his return it seems like he hasn't returned to 2023, but to an earlier time, probably round about 2005. Also, back in 1973, we see that William Stryker captures Wolverine, but Stryker is really Mystique in disguise. This seems to imply that the events in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", in which Stryker was himself, have also been cancelled and never happened. This gives the X-Men franchise a clean slate. Anything can happen in the next film, and it doesn't matter if it contradicts what happened before.

Now to a comparison with the comics. The film is based on a story printed in Uncanny X-Men 141 and 142, dated Jan-Feb 1981, but actually released at the end of 1980, since comics had the strange habit of releasing comics approximately 10 weeks ahead of their cover date. That means the January issue of X-Men was in the shops in mid October. The story begins in the far distant future, the year 2013! There are only seven mutants left alive: Magneto, Kitty Pryde, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Franklin Richards (son of Reed Richards and Sue Storm) and Rachel Summers (daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey). Professor X is already dead. In the comic Rachel Summers sends Kitty's conscience back into her body in 1980, when she was the X-Men's youngest member at only 13, in order to prevent Mystique killing an American senator.

I would have preferred the film to stick to these characters. Someone like Chloe Moretz would have been perfect to play Kitty Pryde as the film's main character, but unfortunately the X-Men films are all so Wolverine-centric that the story had to be rewritten for him to take centre stage. Never mind. But what's more interesting is the difference in the nature of existence between the comic and the film. In the film things are simple: Wolverine's consciousness goes into the past, changes events, and everything is new; the mutant slaughter never happened. In the comics, the theory is that once something has happened it can never be undone; going back in time and changing events doesn't cancel the future, it just creates a branch in the timeline. This means that after the events of Uncanny  X-Men 142 there were two futures, one in which the mutants live and one in which they die.

Quite ridiculously, Marvel has decided to number all the alternate universes. The normal Marvel Universe is called Earth-616, whereas the future with the slaughtered mutants is Earth-811. Marvel now adds universes for each film, so they can say that if stories contradict each other it's just because they happened in different universes. For instance, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy takes place in Earth-96283, whereas the new Spider-Man films take place in Earth-120703. That's a cheap trick to explain contradictions. In the good old days attention was paid to continuity. In the silver age of comics (1961-1969) the events in Marvel comics were happening in our universe, and were threaded around real events, such as the Moon landing. In the bronze age (1970-1984) Marvel's stories were said to be taking place outside of our reality in a place called the Marvel Universe. That's okay, though it certainly isn't what Stan Lee intended when he invented his super-heroes. Marvel's main rival, DC Comics, had always set its stories in fictional cities, such as Gotham and Metropolis. Stan Lee decided to place his heroes in our world, in particular New York, so that his readers could relate to the stories. The invention of the Marvel Universe brought Marvel down to the level of DC, effectively saying, "That place in our comics is called New York, but it isn't really New York, it's just a city that looks like New York in a different universe". Unpleasant, but acceptable. But now we're asked to accept that there are a potentially infinite number of New Yorks that we have to distinguish.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Karate Kid (2010 version) (4 Stars)

I've heard a lot of bad said about this film. Mostly "It's not as good as the original". That's a common criticism of remakes. People who love a film usually groan when it's made again with different actors and maybe even a different style. In my case I'm unbiased, because I haven't seen the 1984 original version. Apart from that, the new version stars Jackie Chan, and he's never made a bad film.

The story is about Dre, a 12-year-old boy who moves from Detroit to Beijing with his mother. Presumably her company has sent her to China, but we aren't told why, and we never see her going to work. Dre hates it. The country is so foreign to him, he doesn't speak the language, and he's bullied at school. Things start to change when he develops a friendship with his building's maintenance man, Mr. Han, who turns out to be an expert in kung fu.

To be honest, the film has the wrong name. It should be called "The Kung Fu Kid". Karate is a Japanese fighting style, whereas kung fu is Chinese. It's true that karate originated from kung fu, but over the centuries it has developed in a different direction. Karate concentrates on short effective strikes, whereas kung fu has more elegant movements. On the other hand, karate is a well defined style, whereas kung fu is divided into a variety of fighting styles.

The chemistry between Jackie Chan (Mr. Han) and Jaden Smith (Dre) is overwhelming. The viewer can sense that it's not just acting. When the two hug one another we can feel that Jackie has a fondness for the young boy, the next generation of actors, whereas Jaden truly looks up to Jackie as a mentor. It's a beautiful film, whether or not it's as good as the original.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

X-Men: First Class (4½ Stars)

Tomorrow I'm going to see "X-Men: Days of Future Past", so I rewatched "X-Men: First Class" today. It's a very good film, even though it jumbles up X-Men characters from the 1960's to the 21st Century.

Read my original review here.

One more photo of Mystique. Nude and proud. It's a shame she lost her nipples.

Friday, 23 May 2014

The Life of Pi (5 Stars)

This was the second film in today's double bill with Gina. I'm glad that she chose it. It's one of the most beautiful films ever made. Even the opening scenes of the zoo in India are amazingly artistic.

After the film Gina told me that she's surprised I like the film so much, because I'm an atheist. An atheist? Where did she get that idea from? In my opinion atheism is one of the world's most nonsensical philosophies. It is impossible to prove that there is no God. It's a theory that can only be accepted in faith. Those who believe that atheism is somehow scientific are deluding themselves. Not only has science never proved that there is no God, there is also no conceivable way to attempt a proof.

Atheists may retort that those who believe in God also have no proof that He exists, but theists have a stronger foundation. Someone who believes in God may have no proof, but he at least knows how to prove it. A believer in God knows he can speak to God and wait for an answer. An answer would prove God's existence, while no answer would be inconclusive. An atheist has no test he can carry out, so the atheist's position is weaker.

P.S. If you're looking for an actual review of the film click here.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

World's End (5 Stars)

Today my friend Gina visited me to watch a film double bill of her choice. The first film we watched was "World's End", probably my favourite film of 2013.

The town where the film is set, Newton Haven, doesn't actually exist. The filming took place in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire. It's a new town, i.e. a town that was created in a previously unsettled area. Towns of this type are common in the USA and Canada, but they are rare in Europe. Letchworth was first settled in 1905, so all the buildings seen in the film are relatively new. The film is about a pub crawl, so it's ironic that Letchworth didn't have any pubs until 1974.

Usually when I watch a film at home Buster lies on my lap. Today Gina was the V.I.P., so he devoted all his attention to her.

Great Bikini Bowling Bash (4½ Stars)

This is a beautiful little film from Dean McKendrick, reminiscent of the 1990's bikini films. For those who don't know them, they were very stereotypical erotic comedies, with titles like "Bikini Carwash Company", "Bikini Drive-In" and "Bikini Airways". The plot is always the same. A business is making a loss, so to save it the female employees wear bikinis to attract more customers.

And that's the plot here. Jenn is the owner of a bowling alley that she inherited from her father. She has a long term lease on the property, but her landlord intends to sell it, which would make the lease null and void. The alley can only be saved if Jenn buys the building herself, so together with her employees, Lucy and Candy, she holds a bowling competition in which the girls wear bikinis. There is even a not so subtle mention of "Bikini Carwash Company", the film that kicked off the bikini film craze, when Lucy says, "This is just like a bikini car wash, but with balls".

But it's no longer the 1990's, it's the 21st Century, so Dean McKendrick tells us that salvation by bikini no longer works. The bikini bowling event makes $5485, which might seem like a success, but it's nowhere near the $3 million that Jenn needs to buy the bowling alley. New strategies are needed. Fortunately the world bowling champion, Troy Smith, learnt how to bowl in Jenn's alley. Is there any way that three sexy girls can persuade him to donate the money they need?

The film stars all of Dean's regular cast, including Eric Masterson, Ryan Driller and Mary Carey. These three are the ones who carried the film, in my opinion. Eric has always been an outstanding actor, but lately Ryan has been very impressive. I should have mentioned Ryan when I reviewed "Stacked Racks from Mars" earlier this week. His performance greatly impressed me. Mary has recently announced her retirement from hardcore pornography; it's good to see that she is still appearing in soft porn films.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

My Babysitter's a Vampire (4 Stars)

It's interesting to watch the activity on this blog. Usually my new posts are read the most, probably because my regular readers are catching up with what I've been writing. But sometimes I write a post, it's ignored for months, and then it suddenly gets a lot of hits. My original post of "My Babysitter's a Vampire" is an example of this. I wrote the review back in October, seven months ago. But now it's been read a lot over the last few days, I have no idea why. Maybe the series has just started again on television, so it's getting new fans? Whatever the reason is, I decided to watch the film again today and increased its rating by half a star.

Even though I like having a lot of traffic for my blog, I would rather have a little good traffic than a lot of fake traffic. What do I mean by that? For instance, I used to get a lot of "readers" for my Axel Braun reviews. At first it made me happy, but then I used Google's Webmaster Tools to check how people were finding the posts. They were searching for things like "watch glee xxx", so Google sent them to my post "This ain't Glee XXX". When they arrived at my page and found out it was only a review, not a download site, they probably cursed and searched elsewhere. I do not offer illegal downloads, I never have and I never will. Especially not downloads of Axel Braun's films. Where pornography is concerned too many people think it should be free, but Axel works hard and he deserves to earn money for his films. If anyone really wants to watch one of his films for free, I'll make you a deal. Come round to my house, I'll put a DVD on, and we'll watch it together. That's the only way I'll help you see it for free.

In the sidebar you can see a list entitled "Popular Posts". These are the articles that have been read most often in the last 30 days. The list changes from day to day, but there are certain posts that have been in the list for a year or more.

"The Green Mile" is my most popular post ever. This is due to people searching for "Miss Lotta Leadpipe", which is the name of the erotic comic that Percy was reading in the film. My site is the only one that tells people that this comic doesn't exist. Moreover, it was a film error, because no female domination comics existed until the late 1940's.

"What must be said about Günter Grass" is also an ever popular post. This is because people are still trying to find out the truth behind his scandalous poetry. Maybe I should write more off-topic posts if they're so popular.

Some posts have temporary popularity due to events elsewhere. For instance, the actress/model Busty Heart appeared on a French television show, which led to enormous popularity for my post on "The Dictator". This was so extreme that the traffic on my site doubled for four months, due to French readers accessing this post.

This graph shows my reader numbers from 2010 to 2014. It took me a few months to be noticed, but since then 3000 per month has been usual for me. The exception is November 2013 to February 2014, when I was getting 6000 readers per month, half of them for "The Dictator".

My recent post about the documentary "Unhung Hero" is currently the most read post. It has twice as many readers as the second most popular post. Judging by the search terms people are using, they want to read about Patrick's girlfriend Kasha. I'm sorry to disappoint you, I can't tell you more than what I know from the film.

I don't know what's given "My Babysitter's a Vampire" its current boost. If it continues for a few more days it'll push its way into my top 10 most popular posts. Let's wait and see.

Please leave a comment and tell me which one of these three vampires you would like to bite you: Rory (Cameron Kennedy), Sarah (Vanessa Morgan) or Erica (Kate Todd). For me personally it has to be Erica. Kate Todd is one of the hottest actresses on television today. I admit that Vanessa Morgan looks almost as good, but for me it's not just about looks. In the film and TV series Sarah is a good girl, while Erica is a bad girl with an attitude. Bad girls are more fun.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Four Weddings and a Funeral (4 Stars)

This was the most successful British film ever. It was made on a budget of £3 million and earned over £250 million at the box office. It was made in 1994, but I didn't see it until today. Sometimes I'm slow.

The film takes place in episodes over a 15 month period, one episode for each wedding. There's no separate episode for the funeral, because the death takes place at a wedding. I won't tell you which one, that would be too much of a spoiler. It centres around Charles (Hugh Grant) and his friends, as they meet at weddings, either as guests or as the bridegroom or best man. A recurring theme is that people meet at weddings and then go on to get married. In a way I can understand this; a wedding is a romantic place to meet someone.

The film is a comedy, but it's a subtle comedy, with humour that takes a while to sink in. The timing of the jokes reminds me of the 1960's Carry On films. After every joke there's a pause or a scene change. If you're a Carry On fan you'll notice it immediately. I did.

I bought the film on Blu-ray for only £4. Recently I carried out a small poll among my Facebook friends, asking how many of them buy Blu-rays. Of the five who answered, only two said Yes. If I add my own vote to the pool it makes three out of six, i.e. 50%. What was more interesting was the reasons why my friends don't use Blu-ray. One of them wasn't aware that Blu-ray players are capable of playing DVDs. A common answer was that they're too expensive.

I have to say that the price issue is partly true. Usually, I'd estimate in 90% of cases, Blu-ray Discs are more expensive than DVDs, but Blu-ray Discs are cheaper today than DVDs were ten years ago. This is especially the case for films that are more than 12 months old. The other 10% is significant. In particular, television box sets are often cheaper on Blu-ray than DVD. The reason for this is that a typical 22-episode box set is made up of six DVDs, but only four Blu-ray Discs. The good companies pass the savings on to the customers.

Price shouldn't be an issue anyway, because the difference is so small. Films usually cost no more than £2 extra on Blu-ray. I never buy films immediately after their release in the stores, I wait 12 months. By then the DVD costs £3 and the Blu-ray costs £5. I think the improvement in the picture quality is worth it. There is an improvement in the sound quality as well, but my home entertainment system isn't good enough to show the difference.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Stacked Racks From Mars (4 Stars)

Jim and Mike are next door neighbours who work in the same office in Los Angeles. They have to work long hours, including weekends, so their wives, Veronica and Stephanie, develop a strong friendship.

Isis and Vala are in a spaceship orbiting the Earth, gathering information to prepare for an invasion. They watch television broadcasts that confuse them, since they are unable to distinguish what is truth and what is fiction. In order to find out more about Earth they possess the bodies of Veronica and Stephanie for a week. During this time they discover that Jim and Mike don't really work at the weekends. They make it a priority to find out why Earth men lie to their wives.

This is a beautiful little tongue-in-cheek comedy from Dean McKendrick, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite directors. His films are simple fun that captivate through their simplicity. And don't forget the Benny-Hill-ish scene with the golf clubs in the garden.

Isis and Vala examine Earth men.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (5 Stars)

Over the last week I've watched a lot of disappointing films. Five films with 3 stars or less. I needed something good today to cheer me up. This is one of my favourite films ever.

If you want to know more about it, look for my other reviews in this blog. Or take my word for it and buy it. You won't regret it.

Godzilla (2014 version) (2 Stars)

What happened? I don't think I've ever been so disappointed by a film. The trailers made the film look so fantastic, it looked like a potential for my film of the year, and yet it fell flat.

The problems were so manifold that I don't know where to begin. Let me just list them briefly.

  • We didn't see enough of Godzilla.
  • The Motus (re-imagined Mothras?) looked ridiculous, as if made out of metal.
  • Ken Watanabe, usually a good actor, spent all the time staring into space.
  • Joe Brody dies after being picked as the assistant to deal with the crisis.
  • We see too much of the soldiers, even though they're ineffectual.
  • The nuclear explosive crisis at the end is confusing.
  • The mass destruction of cities by the Motus is hardly shown.
  • Most of the film's action is too dark.

I don't understand why some people enjoy the film. The only thing in its favour is that Godzilla, when we see him, looks like the original Japanese Godzilla. In the 1998 film she (yes, Godzilla was a female in that film) looked more like a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex. I went to see the film with about a dozen members of my film group. We were all psyched, expecting something incredible. When we walked out of the cinema the opinions ranged from "average" to "awful piece of shit". None of us liked it.

If you're a hardcore Godzilla fan I'm sure you'll go to see it whatever I say. But it's not worth the money.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Titanic (1943 version) (4 Stars)

It was 1943. The war had already turned against Germany. German cities were being bombed daily, and despite Hitler's promise of an Endsieg (final victory) German soldiers were on the retreat. But what was going on in Germany apart from the war? "Titanic" was being filmed, with a budget of four million Reichsmark, the equivalent of $190 million today. The film was so important that soldiers were relieved from duty to serve as extras in the film.

Cinema had always been important in Nazi Germany. Detractors say that this was because it was a means of propaganda. This is an unfair criticism. The true reason is that Adolf Hitler and Josef Goebbels were both passionate film fans. During the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) Germany had led the world in film production, both in artistic quality and box office success. Hitler and Goebbels had grown up with these films, and any patriotic German was also proud of German films. In 1933 the German film industry was on the verge of collapse. Jewish film directors and actors were no longer allowed to work, leaving a vacuum behind them. Josef Goebbels stepped in to take charge of the film industry and make sure it continued to make top quality films.

From 1933 until 1945 all films had to be personally approved by Goebbels, both before and after production. This wasn't necessarily to create Nazi propaganda in the films; it was to prevent anti-German propaganda or general negativity. Films were intended to be escapism, so that the average German would watch them and be happy. Were the Third Reich films inferior to the Weimar Republic films? Not at all. Film critics have to grudgingly admit that the German film industry was still flourishing, making better films than America and England.

"Titanic" was an important film project to Goebbels personally. He granted it a bigger budget than any other film he had commissioned. The film's story concentrates on the president of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay, and his insistence that the Titanic should arrive ahead of schedule to improve the company's share value. The only voice of reason is First Officer Petersen, who repeatedly implores both Ismay and the captain to sail slower. A romance develops between Petersen and the rich Russian aristocrat Sigrid Olinsky. There are also smaller romances, such as between Sigrid's makeup girl and a violin player. The film isn't on a par with James Cameron's "Titanic", technically speaking, but the acting is first class and the disaster is presented as well as can be expected in an age before computers.

The ship scenes were filmed on board the Cap Arcona, a passenger ship that had been commandeered by the German navy. At the end of the war, when Germany's concentration camps had been captured by the Russians, the Cap Arcona was used as a prison ship for holding Jewish prisoners. On May 3rd 1945 the British air force mistook it for a military vessel and attacked it, killing approximately 6400 Jews. This was four times as many people as died in the Titanic.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Hulk (2 Stars)

Today is the first time I've watched this film since I saw it in the cinema when it was first released. It's so long ago that I had to check when it was. July 2003. That's a long, long time ago. I never bought it on DVD until now because I was so disappointed. Seeing it on sale cheap last week I decided to give it another chance.

This is the biggest failure of all Marvel films this century. That's all the more amazing, considering that the director was Ang Lee, a man who (usually) does nothing wrong. Look at all his other fantastic films like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Life of Pi" and "Lust & Caution". What went wrong with "The Hulk"? I don't know. There must have come a point in the film's development when he realised he had a turkey on his hands, but it was too late to go back. Supposedly he was so disappointed when he saw the final product that he wanted to give up film making, and he had to be persuaded to carry on by his father.

What's best about the film is the beautiful cinematography. What's bad about the film is the noticeable overuse of CGI, the poor story and the total disregard of the comic book origins. And then there's the lacklustre acting by Eric Bana (Bruce Banner) and Jennifer Connelly (Betty Ross). The responsibility for the poor script lies with Ang Lee alone. The script he received had Zzzax and the Absorbing Man as the villains who would challenge the Hulk. Ang demanded a rewrite, making the Absorbing Man Bruce Banner's father. That was so idiotic. Obviously Ang has father-son issues that he feels compelled to reflect in his films. Worst of all is the idea that Bruce inherited his susceptibility to gamma rays from his father. The film goes to great lengths to explain the scientific background of what happened. Why? In the comic Stan Lee just tells us that Bruce Banner was exposed to gamma rays and became the Hulk. That's all. No explanation needed.

Something else that disturbs me is that the Hulk has facial expressions reminiscent of King Kong. It wasn't until recently that I found out that this was deliberate.

I don't know if I'll watch this again. Maybe ten years from now I'll give it another chance. Till then.

Gigantic (1½ Stars)

Brian Weathersby works in a store selling luxury Swedish beds. Ever since he was young his dream has been to adopt a Chinese baby. He's been fighting with the authorities for years, because they don't think that he's suitable as a single man. In walks Happy Lolly, the spoilt daughter of a rich father. She buys the most expensive bed in his store, then falls asleep on it. They begin an awkward relationship. Neither of them have ever dated anyone, despite being in their 20's.

The film is called "Gigantic", and it was a gigantic flop. It earned less than $200,000 at the box office. I'm hardly surprised. I found the film dull from beginning to end. The attempts at humour failed. The drama of parental isolation didn't move me. The only action was when Brian killed a homeless man in self defence, but this scene seemed pointless in the context of the film. It's not worth watching.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Friendship (4½ Stars)

This is a road movie about the journey of two Ossis from Berlin to San Francisco. If you don't know what an Ossi is, where have you been since 1989?

Tom is an outsider at school. He has no friends apart from Veit, also an outsider. They leave school in 1990, shortly after the Berlin Wall is demolished. When they receive their first West German Marks on July 1st 1990 they decide to go on holiday to San Francisco, since it's the world's westernmost point. "Beyond San Francisco there is only sea and Asia".

Their shiny new Deutschmarks aren't enough to pay for a flight to San Francisco, so they fly to New York. After all, the two cities can't be that far apart, it's all the same country. With $55 between them they begin to hitch-hike across America. They're hindered by the fact that they can't speak English. On the way they do whatever they can to make money to survive. In one town they work as strippers in a gay bar. In another town they paint pieces of broken concrete and sell it as fragments of the Berlin Wall.

Believe it or not, this comedy is based on a true story. The producer, Tom Zickler, made this journey with friends in 1990. He really did work as a stripper to make money. Fact is often stranger than fiction.

As a comedy, "Friendship" is only moderately funny. I enjoy it more as a serious film. It's a brilliant portrayal of the culture clash when two Communist teenagers enter the free world. The boys are so delightfully cute in their naivety. Unfortunately the film has only been released in Germany, and the DVD doesn't have English subtitles.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (3 Stars)

As the poster above says, this is the finale that will last forever. Too true. It was unnecessarily stretched over two films to keep it going. This film has more going on than the first part, but it should still have been compressed. I estimate that the story from this second part could have been told in 60 minutes. Add that to the 40 minutes from the first part plus five minutes for the final credits, and we have 105 minutes, a reasonably sized film, instead of the four hour colossus that the studios forced on us. But even the final credits were stretched out to 12 minutes 28 seconds by listing actors who only took part in the first three films of the series. It's all so tiresome.

In this film Bella makes her first steps as a new-born vampire, while attempting to look after her daughter Renesmee. The Volturi fear what Renesmee might become when she is older, so they come to America to kill her. Carlisle Cullen gathers vampires from around the world to face the Volturi, not to fight against them but to peacefully persuade them that Renesmee will be harmless. In this film not only Jacob but all of the werewolves in his tribe stand at the side of the Cullens.

Obviously the fans loved it. The film made it into the top 50 highest earning films of all time. I suspect that the majority of the viewers were either fans of the books or people who had seen the previous four films and wanted to know how the story would end. It's not worth seeing in its own right.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

TV Series: Hinterland

This is a detective drama television series set in Aberystwyth, a beautiful little town on the Welsh coast. Today I watched the first episode, so my thoughts will be based on this episode alone. In common with other British detective drama series, the episode is feature length (95 minutes) and the story is self-contained, so it's more like a film than a normal television episode.

Detective Chief Inspector Tom Mathias has just transferred from London to Aberystwyth. There are hints that there were problems leading to his departure from London, but no details are given. Maybe this will be cleared up in future episodes. On the first day at his new job an old woman is found murdered, and he has to investigate the case. As an outsider he doesn't know the etiquette in dealing with the local people, but his colleagues accept him and support him in his work. In particular, he doesn't speak Welsh, although he speaks English with a Welsh accent and seems to understand what his colleagues are saying. His background will be explained in later episodes, I hope. My assumption is that he comes from South Wales, where mostly English is spoken.

This highlights my main problem with the series, or at least the one episode that I've seen so far. The main character is thrown at us, and we don't know who he is. The only feeling we have about him is that he's a loner. I wish his character could have been developed first. The first thing we see after the opening credits is his arrival at the crime scene. To me it seems strange that the police in his department unconditionally accept him as their new boss from the beginning. I would have expected them to mutter about him behind his back, especially since he forces everyone to speak English to him, even though they prefer to speak Welsh among themselves.

The episode itself is slow and brooding. Normally I would see this as negative, but the episode is padded with views of the beautiful Welsh outdoors. The scenery is stunning, and it's aggressively pushed in our faces. For instance, the dead body is found at the foot of a waterfall, and the camera pulls back to let the viewer take in the scene. Other reviewers call "Hinterland" a Celtic noir series. Celtic noir? I've never heard that expression before, but it sounds cool.

I admit that I wouldn't watch any more episodes for the story alone. Neither Tom Mathias nor the supporting characters have enough charisma to draw me in. But I feel like watching a few more episodes to enjoy the view of the Welsh mountains and valleys. Here are a few examples of the beautiful scenery.

Tom goes jogging on the cliffs.

Here's where he works. That's a cute police station.

The dead body must be down here somewhere.

There it is!

This is where the murderer is arrested. You see what I mean about the scenery being pushed in our faces?

Talking about Welsh mountains and valleys, I hope we see more of Detective Mared Rhys in future episodes. What would I have to do to get her to arrest me?

Tom and Mared interviewing a suspect. Can he keep his mind on the job?

Obviously not. Hands off, Tom!

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (2½ Stars)

Today was the first time I watched this film, despite having the Blu-ray disc on my shelf since November. I kept putting off  watching it because I thought I might be disappointed. And I was. I don't doubt that the book is worth reading, but the film leaves a lot to be desired. I'm not alone in my criticisms. Film critics have almost unanimously panned the film as the weakest link in the Twilight Saga, and in 2012 it was nominated in eight categories at the Razzie Awards, including Worst Film and Worst Director.

In my opinion the film should never have been made. Why oh why was the book "Breaking Dawn" split into two films? I haven't seen Part 2 yet -- I'll watch it tomorrow -- but it looks like the two parts should have been compressed into one. Part 1 is painfully dragged out over two hours. In the first hour almost nothing happens, apart from the wedding. The first hour could have been squashed into 10 minutes, and the second hour could have been told in 30 minutes, making a good half film. As I see it, the decision was political. At the time the Twilight Saga was competing with the Harry Potter films, which had just finished earlier in the year. The last book of the Harry Potter series had been split into two films, so the film studios behind Twilight said "We can do that too". Total idiocy.

I shouldn't end this review without telling you the film's plot, so here goes:

Edward and Bella marry. They have a baby. The end.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Kill 'em all (4 Stars)

When people ask me what sort of films I like I don't like to pin myself down to a specific genre. Even if I give a list of genres I might accidentally leave one out and give a bad impression of my tastes. I feel inclined to say that I like good films, but that's a shallow answer that says nothing. A better answer would be to say that I like films with a good story that are well acted and well filmed, but I put the story above everything else.

In that case, why do I like "Kill 'em all" so much? The story is so flimsy that it's non-existent, and there's practically no acting in it. The film lasts 79 minutes, of which at least 70 minutes is fighting. Okay, it's well filmed, I'll give the film that.

The plot can be described in two sentences. Eight top assassins are kidnapped and put in a room together. They are told that they have to fight one another to the death, and only the winner will be allowed to leave.

There is no character development. The eight assassins are introduced by eight fight scenes.They hardly speak to one another in the room, called the Killing Chamber, and what they do say is limited to clichés like "I'm not here to make friends, I'm going to kill you all".

The fighting is good though. It's mostly hand to hand combat, but some swords are used, and later in the film even guns. The battles are realistic, not idealised. The eight assassins come from different countries and have different fighting styles. I can't identify the styles, but I could at least see that they were different. I like the film because it succeeds in doing what it sets out to achieve: 79 minutes of brutal violence.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Gladiator (5 Stars)

After watching "Pompeii" recently I thought I should watch "Gladiator" again. This film is so much better. It's an epic that keeps the viewer entranced from beginning to end. I'm actually surprised that I haven't watched it for so long. It's a film that deserves repeated viewing.

The film is set at the end of the second Century A.D. in the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Russell Crowe plays General Maximus Decimus Meridius, who was responsible for conquering Germania. Knowing that he is about to die, Marcus Aurelius entrusts Maximus with the task of turning power over to the Senate after his death. Before this can be made public knowledge, the emperor's son Commodus strangles his father and declares himself the new emperor. Maximus refuses to acknowledge Commodus, so he is sentenced to death. He escapes and kills his executioners, but while on the run he collapses from exhaustion and is captured by slave traders. Maximus is sold as a gladiator, and he soon becomes the mightiest fighter in the arena.

The film is both epic and moving. Even though Russell Crowe is the main character, the actor who impresses me the most is Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus. Despite being evil he wins our sympathy, when we see how he is suffering from the perceived lack of love from his father. In 2001 the film was nominated for 12 Oscars and won five, including best film.

Apart from the names of the emperors, the film doesn't keep to historical accuracy. Marcus Aurelius is portrayed too positively. In the film he wants to end the dictatorship of the emperors, but he was actually a tyrant who wanted Rome to continue as a dictatorship. For more than 100  years emperors had chosen a military general as successor, but Marcus Aurelius went against tradition by appointing his son as his heir, the exact opposite of what is shown in the film. Marcus Aurelius wasn't murdered, he died of natural causes. Commodus reigned for 12 years after his father's death, not the seemingly short time in the film. Commodus' madness was even more extreme than in the film. He claimed to be a God on Earth, the reincarnation of Hercules. During his reign he renamed the months of the year to match his own 12 names, Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus Herculeus Romanus Exsuperatorius Amazonius Invictus Felix Pius. He frequently fought in the arena, usually naked.

Can anyone tell me what the point is of selling a Blu-ray disc inside a paper box which has artwork identical to that of the inlay of the amaray case inside? Look at the picture above. They're exactly the same. The backs are identical as well, take my word for it. I don't like the paper boxes anyway, because they are never sealed, and they're often already scuffed when I buy the Blu-ray. The amaray case is sealed, and then the sealed case is put in the box. Even if I have an undamaged box, repeatedly taking the case out and putting it back in damages it. Usually I throw the paper box away. If it at least looked different there would be a point in keeping it. As I see it it's just an unnecessary increase in the production costs and a few more trees cut down.

The Other Woman (4 Stars)

Carly Whitten is a highly successful lawyer in New York. She's been dating men for years, but she's never found one who lives up to her high standards. Finally she meets a rich, handsome businessman called Mark, and it just clicks. After eight weeks together -- a long time for her -- she decides to take the relationship to the next level: she invites him to meet her father. At the last minute he makes a suspicious excuse to back out of the meeting. She goes to his home in Connecticut and finds out the truth. He is already married.

Being a good girl, Carly decides to break off the relationship. But before she can inform Mark, his wife Kate comes to visit her. Soon they become friends, and they want to team up against Mark. Before they can do anything they discover that Mark has another girlfriend, Amber. She joins the team, and the three women make plans to make Mark suffer.

This a beautiful little revenge film which plays for laughs from the beginning. For the first hour I could hardly stop laughing. After this the film became more serious, when it deviated into financial matters which I won't discuss here to avoid giving spoilers. This was unfortunate, but the comedy picked up again in the last ten minutes.

Overall it's a very enjoyable film. The strongest appeal comes through the on-screen chemistry between Cameron Diaz (Carly) and Leslie Mann (Kate). Kate Upton (Amber) doesn't seem to fit into the trio and seems like she's just tagging along for the ride. The film would have succeeded without her. I was disappointed that Nicki Minaj, who plays Carly's secretary Lydia, didn't have more screen time. In the few minutes that we see her she displays a selfish bitchy attitude which should have been developed. Apart from that, she's the sexiest woman in the film.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Land of Hope (4 Stars)

This is a film that could never have been made in America or Europe. In fact, only Sion Sono could write and direct a film about a nuclear power plant disaster in this way. Anybody else would concentrate on nuclear power issues and fill the film with anti-nuclear propaganda. There isn't a hint of it in this film. I'm sure Sion has his opinions on the subject, but it's not his intention to talk about them. He's only interested in showing how people react in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster.

First the facts: on March 11th 2011 the eastern coast of Japan was hit by a tsunami following an underwater earthquake. This led to the meltdown of six reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Now the fiction: at an unspecified date a few years after the Fukushima disaster history repeats itself in western Japan. There are frequent references to Fukushima, since the people in the district compare their situation to what was done in Fukushima, asking if the government has learnt from it.

Yasuhiko is a farmer on the island of Nagashima, which is also the name of the island's only town. He runs the farm with his wife Chieko, his son Yoichi and Yoichi's wife Izumi. Chieko is suffering from Alzheimer's, but she is still able to work. When the island's nuclear power plant is damaged by the tsunami the government cordons off the area in a 20 kilometre radius around the plant and evacuates everyone in the area to the mainland. The cordon runs through the middle of Yasuhiko's road, so his friends from across the road are evacuated, but he's told that his side of the road is safe. The evacuees are put into crowded shelters. Yoichi and Izumi have a small house on the mainland, so they move voluntarily. Yasuhiko and Chieko remain behind to look after their farm.

A month later the government decide that the radiation has spread further and say that the whole island should be evacuated. Yasuhiko refuses to leave, even when he sees that the flowers are beginning to die. The ones that die first are the ones with the deepest roots. This mirrors the relationship between people and the land they live on.

The film is less violent than Sion Sono's other films, but we see the same elements of madness under duress. The most normal of people can be pushed over the brink of madness under extreme situations. Some people take the easy way out by denying there is any danger, while others fall into irrational paranoia. This is a fascinating character study that I can recommend to my readers. In many ways the film is similar to "Himizu". The difference is that "Himizu" deals with the results of the 2011 tsunami on the life of one boy, whereas "Land of Hope" shows the results of a tsunami on a whole community.