Saturday, 30 April 2016

Avengers: Age of Ultron (4½ Stars)

It's interesting to read recent interviews with Joss Whedon, the man who directed "Avengers: Age of Ultron". He says he's disappointed with the film. It seems that the more time passes the more critical he becomes of the film and the harsher he judges himself for his failure. That's rather amazing, considering the film's success. "Avengers: Age of Ulton" earned $1.4 billion at the box office, making it the seventh highest earning film ever.

I don't consider it to be a bad film at all. It captures the essence of the 1970's Avengers comics that I love so much. If anything, the film is in the style of the Roy Thomas Avengers comics.

The film's weaknesses are things endemic to Marvel's films, things that Joss Whedon can't be blamed for. The characters are changed from the way they appear in the original comics. They have different powers, different origins and different costumes. To take a simple example: in the comics Ultron is created by Hank Pym (Ant-Man), but in the film he's created by Tony Stark (Iron Man). If I were to describe every way this film's characters deviate from the comics I would be writing for hours.

I've heard rumours that the original version of the film was three and a half hours long, but it was shortened to make it more suitable for the cinema. That's a shame. I hoped for the release of a Director's Cut, but Joss Whedon has said there won't be one. I see that in the context of his disappointment with the film. I'm hoping that the studio will force his hand or even release the original version without his consent.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Interstellar (3 Stars)

This is Christopher Nolan's most ambitious film to date, exceeding even "Inception" in its scale. It's his first attempt to create a film that can be called an epic, depending on your definition of the word. It's also his biggest failure. In his attempt to write a film that stretches across billions of miles and dozens of years he's produced a piece of work that is painfully slow.

The film begins in the near future when the human race is in danger of extinction. Dust clouds are killing almost all the crops, leading to mass starvation. The film's hero, Cooper, is recruited to fly a mission through a wormhole to find habitable planets to relocate the human race.

The twists and turns in the plot, which I won't further discuss here, rely on a huge bootstrap paradox. Human beings from the far future are sending back information needed to save the human race. They don't seem to be very good at it. Rather than send barely comprehensible messages, couldn't they have phoned up the Earth's top scientists and told them what to do? Or better still, couldn't they have sent a big rescue pod back in time to whisk everyone away to a new home? The film doesn't make sense.

The contrast between the lazy farming community and the space exploration is deliberate, but I found the farm scenes too boring. The talks about ghosts annoyed me, and I only tolerated them because it was obvious that it would be relevant later in the film.

Stanley Kubrick left a legacy with "2001: A Space Odyssey". This is clearly what Christopher Nolan intended. Whereas Stanley Kubrick's film is a classic of cinema that will never be forgotten, Christopher Nolan's Space Odyssey fizzles out before it even starts.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

On The Road (3½ Stars)

I've noticed something over the last few years. It might have been happening longer, but it's only become apparent to me in the last five years. It's become customary for films to have the logos, usually animated, of several different studios shown at the beginning of films. This is in contrast to the good old days when only one film studio logo was shown. My assumption is that the logos advertise all the studios that contributed to the financing of a film. The smaller a film is, the more studios are displayed. For instance, "On the Road" begins with the following six logos.

Lionsgate, for 21 seconds.

Icon, for 13 seconds.

Sundance, for 8 seconds.

IFC, for 7 seconds

MK2, for 11 seconds.

Film 4, for 11 seconds.

That's a total of 71 seconds, more than a minute, that the viewer is forced to sit through the opening animated logos. I'm curious whether the length of the logos has any relationship to the percentage of the cash that each studio provided.

The book "On the Road", written by Jack Kerouac in 1957, is recognised as one of the most significant novels of the 20th Century. Considering its importance, it's amazing that the film was a failure at the box office, despite its abundance of famous actors. It tells the story of Jack Kerouac's friendship with the con man and thief Neal Cassady from 1947 to 1950. In the book the characters are given fictional names, although it's obvious who is referred to. Sal Paradise is Jack Kerouac, Dean Moriarty is Neal Cassady, Carlo Marx is Allen Ginsberg, Old Bull Lee is William Burroughs, etc.

The film shows Jack and Neal travelling across America on various occasions, usually accompanied by other friends or relatives. The main cities they visit are New York (Jack's home), San Francisco (Neal's home) and Denver (the city where Neal's father lived).

If the book has a message, it's lost in the film. I can only guess what Jack Kerouac was trying to tell his readers. Jack portrays himself as relatively reserved, carried along by the youth movement of the post-war generation rather than being a part of it. Neal Cassady is a reckless, carefree person. He's introduced as the man who stole 500 cars, which immediately makes him a hero among the New York anarchists. He's sexually promiscuous, despite his attempts to be faithful to his second wife, but he's sad to the core. His life is empty. In the end we see him clinging to Jack to find happiness, but Jack rejects him.

Chappie (4½ Stars)

Warning! This review contains spoilers!

People who only watch films on streaming services miss out. Today I watched "Chappie" on Blu-ray for the first time. The special features menu listed an alternate ending, and I had to watch it. Deleted scenes don't usually add much to the enjoyment of a film, but alternate endings fascinate me, especially if they put a different twist on a story. For instance, "Scott Pilgrim vs The World" has an ending that's better than what we see in the film. Edgar Wright made the wrong choice in what he put into the film. The film "Chloe" has several alternate endings, which all highlight the story's conclusion from a different angle, and watching them one after another adds to the enjoyment. "Joy Ride" also has several alternate endings, but these give a totally different resolution to the story.

In the case of "Chappie", I found the alternate ending on the Blu-ray so hilarious that I had to laugh out loud. In the official ending Chappie's life is saved by uploading his consciousness to the closest robot. In the alternate ending Chappie's life is saved by uploading his consciousness to every robot, resulting in hundreds of Chappies walking around Johannesburg.

I prefer the alternate ending, but I suspect that the director Neill Blomkamp wanted to end the film on a serious note. Apart from this, the official ending is a better hook to a sequel. Originally "Chappie" was intended to be the first part of a trilogy, but it received unfavourable reviews, so it's unlikely the other two parts will be made. That's unfair. I find "Chappie" brilliant.

Watching "Chappie" on Blu-ray today something seemed strange to me. The picture was somehow sharper than what I'm used to from other films. That's not meant as a criticism, it just looked unusual. It wasn't until half way through the film that I recognised what was different. Usually when a film is shown the foreground is in focus, and the background is slightly blurred. That mimics the way we see with our eyes; we focus on one point, and everything else is less clear. "Chappie" is filmed differently. When there's a city scene, everything is in focus, whether it's in the foreground or far in the background.

Miles Ahead (3½ Stars)

This is a biopic about the legendary jazz musician Miles Davis. It takes place in 1980, when he re-emerged to perform after a five year hiatus. There are frequent flashbacks to his earlier years and his relationship to his wife Frances. Though not explicitly stated, it's suggested that the break up of his marriage was a contributing factor to his retirement from music in 1975. Over the following five years he spent all his money on drugs and parties. In 1980 we see him as an emotional wreck, behaving more like a gangster than a serious musician.

Don Cheadle's performance as Miles Davis is nothing less than awe-inspiring. My problems with the film are its non-linear narrative. I knew nothing about Miles Davis' life before I went to see the film, and it wasn't clear to me how much time was elapsing between the events. After reading about him it seems like the film's flashbacks take place from 1958 to 1968. This was only a short time in his career. He performed as a jazz musician from 1944 to 1991, apart from his five year break.

I have to say, after watching the film, that I still know very little about Miles Davis. The film focuses on his relationship with his wife and less on his music. What influenced his musical development? What made him change his style over the years? Those are questions left unanswered.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Jungle 2 Jungle (3½ Stars)

This is the third film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 1997. I use the word "starring" very cautiously, because she only has a minor role. She was 13 at the time. It's a remake of the French film "Un indien dans la ville".

Michael Cromwell is a commodities trader who lives in New York City and works in the World Trade Center. He's planning to marry his fiancée Charlotte next month, a glamorous fashion model, but there's a problem: he's still married to his first wife Patricia, who left him 13 years ago. She was sick of big city life and went to work as a doctor in a remote village in Venezuela. There are no telephones in her village, so Michael has to travel there in person to get her to sign the divorce papers.

On arrival he gets a big shock. Unknown to him, Patricia was pregnant when she left, and she now has a 13-year-old son called Mimi-Siku, who has been brought up as an Indian. Michael is proud to have a son and takes him back to visit New York. But things aren't so easy. Mimi-Siku is rooted in his Indian culture. He walks around the city barefoot, armed with his bow and arrows and his blowpipe and poisoned arrows. Boys will be boys.

So how does Leelee Sobieski fit in? She plays the role of Karen, the daughter of Michael's best friend. Mimi-Siku falls in love with her at first sight. He gives her the new name Ukume, which means beautiful in his language. Very appropriate. What 13-year-old boy could resist her?

As I said, Leelee only plays a small role in the film. Mostly she just stands gazing lovestruck at Mimi-Siku. She plays bigger roles in her following films, which I'll review over the next few weeks.

Criminal (4 Stars)

This is a gritty action thriller with a hint of science fiction. A Spanish anarchist has created a backdoor to control all of the world's defence satellites. He intends to hold the world to ransom. One of his closest associates, a Dutch man, decides to bail out by selling the secret to the CIA. The only person in contact with the Dutch man is the CIA operative Bill Pope, who is ambushed and shot dead. The CIA uses a previously untested procedure to transfer the dead operative's brainwaves into the brain of a jailed psychopath. They expect the psychopath to act like Bill Pope after the operation, but he's actually a mixture of the two personalities.

This is a fast-paced thriller that only pauses for brief romantic interludes. Highly recommendable.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Shanghai Knights (4½ Stars)

Made in 2003, "Shanghai Knights" is a sequel to "Shanghai Noon". Since the last film Chon Wang (pronounced John Wayne) has been the sheriff of Carson City, Nevada. Roy O'Bannon has gone to New York to invest the money the two of them made in the first film. They're reunited when Chon Wang hears the news of his father's murder. The killer is a senior member of the British royal family, 10th in line to the throne. Chon Wang's sister Lin has gone to London to track him down. Chon and Roy sail to England to assist her.

"Shanghai Knights" has all the antics and humour of the first film. Rather than repeat the jokes, as is common in sequels, it adds new humour by making fun of England and English traditions. We meet historical figures such as Queen Victoria, Charlie Chaplin and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We also see why Jack the Ripper was never caught. Watch the film to see what happens.

Victoria (4 Stars)

What's this obsession with flashing lights? When I bought my ticket to see "Victoria" at the box office of the Mac cinema the lady warned me that the film has flashing lights. Okay. When I showed my ticket to walk in the lady checking the tickets warned me that the film has flashing lights. I told her that I'd already been told about the flashing lights, to which she replied that she had to tell me again. Then I sat down to watch the film. And up pops a big warning on the screen: "The following film has flashing lights". Talk about overkill!

The film began, and there they were. Flashing lights from the first seconds. It was a scene in a Berlin rave club. Was I supposed to run out of the cinema screaming?

The film is about Victoria, a young Spanish woman who works in a cafe in Berlin. She's only been there three months and she doesn't speak German yet. That's pretty silly, in my opinion. I know there is mass unemployment in Spain, more than anywhere else in Europe, but why has she gone to live in a country where she can't speak the language? In fact, why does anyone want to employ her? If I owned a cafe in Germany I wouldn't want a waitress who can't speak the language.

When Victoria leaves the club she meets four young men, with the enigmatic names Sonne, Blinker, Fuss and Boxer. They're proud that they're real Berliners who have lived in Berlin all their lives. They're even proud to be from East Berlin, although judging by their appearance they must have been born after reunification. East Berlin has been better integrated into Germany than the rest of East Germany, so it doesn't have the Ossi feeling about it that the rest of the eastern territories have. That's very obvious if you visit Berlin as a tourist. As soon as you leave Berlin in any direction, the poverty starts on the other side of the city limits. It's sad but true.

Victoria mistrusts the men at first, but she finds their carefree attitude exciting, so she tags along with them. She begins to feel attracted to Sonne. She can communicate with them by speaking English, but when they're talking among themselves she doesn't know what's happening. She gets involved in a criminal activity. Boxer owes a gangster 10,000 Euros, so they rob a bank to get the money, with Victoria driving the car.

The story is good, and despite what other reviewers have written I find it plausible. It might seem like a fantasy tale to middle-class film reviewers sitting in their armchairs in England sipping tea, but I know Berlin. It's another world. It's an exciting world. It's probably the most exciting city in Europe. Adventures happen every night. I've walked the streets of Berlin at three in the morning. It's a city that never sleeps.

The whole gimmick of the film is its cinematography, which is emphasised in the film poster shown above. One take. It's a single camera shot, in real time, for the whole two hours of the film. The camera follows Victoria out of the club, in and out of cars and buildings, in lifts, up stairs onto a roof. The cameraman must have had a strong, steady hand to manage that feat. While it's an impressive achievement, it doesn't make the story better. It's a powerful tale in itself. I would have enjoyed it even if it hadn't been shot in one take.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Shanghai Noon (4½ Stars)

It was Bruce Lee who made Chinese fighting films, usually referred to as kung fu films, popular to the general public in the west. Previously a niche market, they were elevated to the screens of the big cinemas. After Bruce Lee's premature death in 1973 the film studios were in a dilemma. How could they keep on making money from kung fu? They needed a new action star.

Within a few years, by the end of the 1970's, Jackie Chan was being promoted as "the new Bruce Lee". I watched a few of his films at this time, and even though they were reasonably good I had to say that Jackie Chan wasn't a new Bruce Lee. He had a different fighting style, and most of all he lacked Bruce Lee's intensity.

I forgot about Jackie Chan. It wasn't until I saw "Rush Hour", 20 years later, that I rediscovered him. Far from being a new Bruce Lee, he was a new Buster Keaton. Jackie was still fighting, but it was kung fu comedy. He battled in amusing ways, using unusual props to gain victory. That was in 1998. In 2000 the film "Shanghai Noon" was released. It was immediately obvious to me that "Shanghai Noon" was copying the formula of "Rush Hour", but that didn't stop me liking it. Both films are about an east-west culture clash. Both films are about an unlikely pairing between action heroes from China and America. Moreover, both films involve a kidnapping. I'll have to rewatch "Rush Hour" soon. It's been too long.

In 1881 a Chinese princess faced an arranged marriage with a man she found repulsive. She was offered help fleeing to America, but when she arrived she was kidnapped and held for ransom. Four imperial guards, including Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) travel to America to deliver the ransom money. In America Chon Wang becomes separated from the other three guards and meets an outlaw called Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson). Roy is a rogue with a good side. He robs trains, but he doesn't want to kill anyone. At first his interest is in stealing the ransom money the Chinese guards are carrying, but his noble heart makes him become more interested in saving the princess.

This is an excellent mix of wild west gunfighting and Chinese martial arts. It showcases Jackie Chan's skills as a fighter and a comedian.

The Jungle Book [2016 version] (4 Stars)

In 1967 Walt Disney made an animated film based on Rudyard Kipling's collection of short stories that were collected into a single volume called "The Jungle Book". Considerable rewriting was needed to thread the events of these stories into a single story. The Walt Disney film is considered to be one of the best children's films ever.

Now a new version has been made. It's called a live action film, but I use the word live very loosely. The boy in the story, Mowgli, is played by a real person, the first-time child actor Neel Sethi, but all the animals and most of the backgrounds are computer generated. The emphasis is on realism. As such, it's a masterpiece. The state of the art computer animation makes the animals look real. Even more astounding is Neel Sethi's acting, considering he was effectively performing to empty scenes, imagining the creatures that would be added later.

The new film is based on the 1967 film, rather than on Rudyard Kipling's original book. Apart from minor details the story follows the same plot as the 1967 film, with the exception of the end. You'll have to watch the film yourself to see what I mean.

The differences between the two films are more in the mood than in the story itself. The 1967 film was very child-friendly. The new version is still aimed at children, but it's aimed at today's children who are less sheltered than the children of previous generations. It's harsher. There's more violence between the animals. It's scarier.

Was the film worth remaking? That's a difficult question to answer. As a remake it's a success, and it's an enjoyable film, but was it necessary? I somehow don't think that 20 years from now it'll be considered a classic. 20 years from now children will still be watching and loving the 1967 film, while this version will be forgotten.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Love and Peace (5 Stars)

This is a very different type of film from my favourite director, Sion Sono. Or maybe it's not so different. It's his first film aimed at the whole family, with a message that young children can appreciate. That's very different for him. On the other hand, the film escalates from an everyday scenario into utter madness. That's very typical for him.

Ryoichi is a failure, He's 33, an unsuccessful rock singer working in an office of a company selling some sort of widgets used in musical instruments. His colleagues make fun of him because he acts so awkwardly. He feels attracted to a woman in his office, Yuko, who is just as socially awkward as he is. She's also attracted to him, but they're both too shy to make a move.

Ryoichi buys a pet turtle who becomes his best friend. He talks to him and he sings to him. He tells him about his dreams of becoming a big rock star. He also tells him about his love for Yuko. He calls the turtle Pikadon, a slang word for an atomic bomb. One day Ryoichi's colleagues mock him for taking the turtle to work. In embarrassment he flushes Pikadon down the toilet, but immediately regrets it.

Pikadon is washed through the sewers to the underground lair of a man who collects unwanted Christmas gifts. If they're animals, he feeds them to health. If they're toys, he repairs them. He gives them magic candy to make them able to talk. The man accidentally gives Pikadon the wrong candy, giving him the ability to grant wishes. Pikadon loves Ryoichi and begins to grant him his wishes, but there's a side effect: the bigger the wishes are that Ryoichi has, the bigger Pikadon grows.

And so we have Ryoichi on stage, performing to thousands, while Pikadon is on a rampage through Tokyo, knocking down buildings like Godzilla. There are so many messages in the film that complement each other. Anti-war messages, anti-consumerism, and most of all the importance of love. In his craving to become the world's biggest rock star he forgets about Yuko, the woman he once loved.

It's wonderful to see one of Sion Sono's films on the big screen. Until now I've only watched them on Blu-ray and DVD. I have to complain, though, about the lack of availability of his films. Out of his last 20 films only eight have been released in England with English subtitles. A few others have been released in America, and others haven't been released in English at all. That's disgraceful. This needs to be changed.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

She-Hulk XXX (3½ Stars)

This is Axel Braun's second film starring Chyna as She-Hulk. It takes place before the events of "Avengers XXX". We see how Jennifer Walters first gained her powers by receiving a blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner. The film is faithful to the spirit of the original comics, unlike the official Marvel films. The gamma radiation -- whatever that may be in the context of the Marvel universe -- that infects her blood changes her, but in a different way to her cousin. When Bruce Banner, a brilliant scientist, becomes the Hulk he loses his intelligence and is motivated purely by anger. Jennifer Walters is a shy, retiring woman, but when she becomes the She-Hulk she loses her inhibitions and acts flirtatiously and sexually. In the comics the sexual side is played down, only hinted at, but a film like this uses the opportunity to put her sexual appetites into the forefront.

The Internet may be a blessing for most people, but it's turned into a curse for the porn industry. So much pornographic material is freely available to anyone who types a few sexualised keywords into Google's search bar that the attitude has become prevalent that porn should be free. Why should anyone pay for it, it's there to be shared? While this may be true of the primitive amateur videos that people upload to the Internet, let's not forget that there's a serious porn industry, especially on the west coast of the USA. There are serious directors, producers and actors who struggle to make a living from their work. Directors like Axel Braun. Actresses like Chyna. They deserve to be rewarded for the effort they put into the films they make.

Film piracy is a general problem today. Torrent sites abound, sharing the newest blockbusters. This is especially prevalent for pornographic films. Whereas people might feel guilty about downloading "Batman vs Superman", they don't have any qualms about downloading "She-Hulk XXX", because after all, it's only porn, and porn is free. Axel Braun has long campaigned to fight the piracy and file sharing of adult films. In 2010 he filed a lawsuit against 7000 people who had shared his film "Batman XXX", supposedly the most downloaded pornographic film ever. He had to fight against the double standards of the American legal system. He lost the case, because evidently the judge didn't consider pornography worthy of legal protection.

The fight continues. All I can do is urge my readers to pay for Axel Braun's films. If he doesn't earn enough money he'll stop making them. That would be a big loss.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Batman (1989 version) (4 Stars)

I just realised that I've reviewed this film three times already, and each review was only a few sentences, saying almost nothing. Maybe it's a film that I don't have much to say about. I like it, obviously, or I wouldn't be watching it today for the fourth time in six years. I don't know exactly how often I watched it before I started writing my blog in 2010. Maybe another four times.

This film is very good in itself, even though it stands in the shadow of the sequel, "Batman Returns". Once more I shan't say much about the film, because I watched it today in memory of Prince, who died yesterday at the age of 57. Prince's music makes this film special. It dominates two of the scenes with the Joker, the songs "Party Man" and "Trust" blasting out in the foreground. It was an inspiration of genius that Tim Burton picked Prince to compose music for the film. Prince's chaotic music style perfectly underlines the Joker's madness. Prince released a CD called "Batman" which is usually considered to be a film soundtrack CD, but it actually includes several songs not used in the film. It's a shame that these songs weren't used as well.

I discovered Prince's music quite late. In the 1980's I rarely listened to the radio, and television music channels were in their early days. Actually, I listen to the radio even less now, and I almost never watch television music channels. The first Prince song I heard was "Kiss". I was on a business trip to the Robert Bosch factory in Homburg, Germany. There were three English contract workers staying in the same hotel as me. Usually we sat and had a drink in the hotel bar, but one evening we went to a discotheque in the town centre. "Kiss" was played several times during the evening. I remember asking the English guys what the song was.

That must have been in the middle of 1986. 1986 was also the year in which I bought my first CD player. I bought "Parade", the 1986 album that included "Kiss", as one of my first CD's. After that I bought the rest of Prince's albums on CD, although I soon decided that I didn't like his first two albums, "For You" (1978) and "Prince" (1979). These two albums were typical soul music, which I've never liked. It wasn't until "Dirty Mind" (1980) that he started to develop the eccentric musical style that he became known for. If anything, "Dirty Mind" and "Controversy" (1981) were transitional albums in which his style was still evolving. In 1982 he released "1999", which I consider to be his best album, although his best selling album was "Purple Rain" (1984).

I carried on buying his albums as they were released, but "Batman" (1989) was the last album of his that I really enjoyed. His later albums were okay, but I realised that I wasn't listening to them. I'm sure my readers have similar experiences with their favourite musicians. You buy all of their albums, but when you have a dozen albums on your shelf you notice that you don't listen to them all, just your favourites.

I know very little about Prince himself. He kept his personal life secret. He claimed to be a Christian, but he was also sexually promiscuous. Some people mocked him because of his height -- he was only 5'2" tall -- but they had to respect him for his musical skills. On stage he played guitar, but he was a multi-instrumentalist who played most of the instruments on his albums. He lived for music. In the late 1980's stories emerged that he was recording one or two songs a day and storing them in a vault to be released posthumously. This is an exciting prospect, the promise of new music after his death, but people who have seen his vault are less optimistic. They say that the recordings made in his most prolific era weren't stored digitally, they were on tapes, and there's a danger that they will have deteriorated over the last 30 years. Nevertheless, it will be good to hear what's been hidden all this time.

June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Avengers XXX (4 Stars)

It was with great sadness that I heard about the death of Joanie Laurer, better known as Chyna, yesterday. The cause of death hasn't been officially announced yet, but I assume it was suicide. She was a tortured soul. Millions of fans adored her, but she wasn't capable of finding happiness in her personal life.

Chyna gained fame by appearing in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) from February 1997 to November 2001. February 1997 was the month that I began to watch WWE on a regular basis, so I watched her from her first appearance onwards. She first appeared as a bodyguard for Triple H (Paul Levesque). Her duty as bodyguard was to attack Triple H's opponents when the referee was distracted to help him win. Her usual form of attack was the low blow, a vertical strike with the forearm between a man's legs from behind. While she wasn't the first to use such an attack, Chyna was the first to use it on a regular basis.

How effective is the low blow as an attack? In actual fact, it isn't. The men attacked this way fall to the floor clutching their groins with anguished faces, but it's all acting for the camera. The arm is held horizontally, which means there's no contact with the testicles when the punch lands. It can't even be called a punch, because the fist is extended too far forwards to risk any contact. There's so little danger that male wrestlers don't bother wearing protective cups, even when they know that a low blow has been scripted into their fight.

However, Chyna later admitted that in her later years at WWE she frequently caused her opponents real pain by angling her arm upwards and not pushing her fist far enough forwards. If challenged at the time she said that it was an accident, but years later she laughed about it. "If I'm being paid to hit a man between the legs I'm going to do it right". Was that sadism or just having fun? She never said.

When Chyna first joined the WWE she was very masculine. She had thick muscles and a flat chest. A year later, when she was already taking part in wrestling matches against men, she had a boob job and cosmetic surgery to make her look more feminine. This is when she gained her greatest popularity.

Triple H and Chyna were already dating before she joined the WWE. Their relationship lasted about four years. After they broke up, Chyna got engaged to the wrestler X-Pac (Sean Waltman), while Triple H went on to marry Stephanie McMahon, the daughter of the WWE's owner. An amusing incident during Chyna's time living with X-Pac is that she called the police to report domestic violence. She accused him of hitting her, but after the two of them were examined she was charged with assaulting him. It's possible that X-Pac started the fight, but Chyna was the one who finished it.

While still working as a wrestler Chyna posed for Playboy, calling herself Joanie Laurer because the name "Chyna" was copyrighted by WWE. It didn't make much difference, because everyone knew who she was. In 2001 she left the WWE for unclear reasons (Chyna's version of the story differed from the WWE's official statement). She wrestled briefly in Japan and finally retired from wrestling in 2002. Five years. A brief but very distinguished wrestling career.

Joanie Laurer, no longer called Chyna, remained in the public eye by appearing on television shows, including being a regular cast member on the reality show "Surreal Life". By this time it was obvious to everyone that her life was falling apart. She was addicted to alcohol and drugs. She was disintegrating before the eyes of the public.

From 2009 to 2013 Joanie appeared in a number of pornographic films, including "Avengers XXX". You see, I didn't forget that I'm supposed to be writing about a film. The director Axel Braun said that as soon as he saw a photo of her he said she was born to play She-Hulk in his films. After this film she starred in "She-Hulk XXX". She would have appeared in "Avengers XXX 2" (which I intend to review soon), but Axel found her too difficult to work with.

Seeing Chyna as She-Hulk convinces me that Axel was right; Chyna really was born to play She-Hulk. Watching her in the film I have to ask whether she's playing a superhero or just playing herself. She starts an argument with Thor, accusing him of cowardice. This makes Thor angry, so she silences him by demanding sex from him. Thor may be a God, but he's no match for She-Hulk. She walks away leaving him on his back, drained and exhausted with his hammer hanging limp

But now this wonderful woman is gone. She died too young, but she'll never be forgotten, as a wrestler or as She-Hulk.

Joanie Laurer
December 27, 1970 – April 20, 2016

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Unfriended (5 Stars)

This is one of the most original films of the last few years. It's a film that has created a whole new genre. Many reviewers fail to understand it and call it a found footage film, a genre which started with "The Blair Witch Project". Even casual viewing should show that isn't the case. It's the first film in the real-time computer screen genre.

Laura Barns was a high school girl who committed suicide as a result of cyber-bullying. On the first anniversary of her death her ghost returns and haunts a computer, or maybe she's haunting the Internet itself. When five friends (later six) are having a Skype conference call she gatecrashes the conversation and begins to threaten the friends, accusing them of killing her.

This is a wonderful film. It's scary, though not too scary. Its strength is in the way the story is told.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Midnight Special (3 Stars)

This is a good example of the differences between the judgements of critics and the viewing public. The critics love it. They call "Midnight Special" a new science fiction classic. After watching it I have to say that the ideas behind the story are promising, but they're under-developed, and the film's pacing is much too slow. I briefly fell asleep in the cinema, and my friends from the film group also complained that they had been having difficulties staying awake.

Alton Meyer is an eight-year-old boy with unusual abilities. He speaks in foreign languages that he's never heard before, which gains the attention of the religious cult to which his parents belong. Alton is considered to be a prophet, and his utterances are quoted in the sermons. The FBI pay attention when they find out that some of Alton's words contain classified military information. Before Alton can be arrested his father runs away with him.

One of Alton's strange characteristics is that he can't be in the sunlight. The windows have to be blacked out during the day, and he also has to wear goggles to shield his eyes from ambient light. Other things happen in Alton's vicinity, such as earth tremors and satellites falling from the sky.

Despite occasional car chases and crashing satellites, the film is painfully slow. Alton's powers are only partially explained, which I found frustrating. This isn't a film I can recommend.

This is the 2000th post on my blog. I've been busy over the last five and a half years. I'd like to thank my regular readers, the ones I know and the ones I don't, for sticking with me all this time. If you've been reading this blog for a long time and I don't know you personally, please leave a comment and introduce yourself. I'd like to get to know all my readers.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Inside Llewyn Davis (4 Stars)

A man, a guitar, a cat, nowhere to live. Actually it's two cats. Maybe three. Llewyn Davis catches his friend's cat after it runs away when he opens the door. He brings it back, but when he gives it back to his friends they say it's the wrong cat, so he adopts it. He carries the cat with him when he hitch-hikes from New York to Chicago, but he abandons the cat half way. When he's driving back to New York he runs over a cat. It looks like the cat he abandoned, but that would be too much of a coincidence, wouldn't it?

Llewyn Davis is an unsuccessful folk singer in New York in 1961. His songs are quite good, but he doesn't have much of a stage presence and earns badly. He engages in couchsurfing. That's a word that I only learnt after watching this film. It refers to someone who has nowhere to live, so he does a round of his friends, sleeping on their couch for a few days, then moving to the next friend as soon as they get tired of him. It's a good way to live if you're a poor musician in an expensive city.

I don't like folk music much, but I enjoy the feeling of the folk era in New York City (mostly Greenwich Village) in the 1960's. It was a time of rebellion. The young were protesting against the old, and especially against being forced to fight in the Vietnam War. Young people sat in dingy cafes and hung on every word from the mouths of the new breed of folk singers. I might have been sitting with them if I'd been alive in that era. After all, the rock music that I love so much didn't exist then, it only emerged in the early 1970's.

I don't know if this film has a message. Probably not. But it's enjoyable as a snapshot of the folk music scene in 1961.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Man who knew Infinity (4½ Stars)

"An equation is only worth something if it expresses the thoughts of God".

This film is a true story about the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Despite having received only limited formal training in Mathematics he was able to write hundreds of mathematical statements and conjectures. His weakness was that the equations came to him intuitively, so he could not prove them. Many of his equations were in regard to infinite series, which is the reason for the film's title.

Ramanujan came from a poor family in Madras. He travelled to England in 1914 with the intention of publishing his equations. He met Professor Hardy at Cambridge University, who became a close friend. Hardy tried to teach Ramanujan how to prove his equations. Apart from Hardy very few of the professors at Cambridge accepted him, partly because of his unconventional approach to Mathematics, partly because he was an Indian.

This is a beautiful film that concentrates on Ramanujan's personal life, in particular his relationships to his wife, his mother and Hardy. Even though the film has to do with complex mathematical issues, everything is presented in a way that remains entertaining to the majority of viewers who only learnt Mathematics for a few years at school.

Let me make a comment on the quote at the beginning of this post. It was spoken by Ramanujan in the film, because he was a deeply religious man (a Hindu). Maybe he really spoke these words when he was alive. If he did, he was wrong. Let me explain my reasoning.

Let's assume for a moment that God exists. Let's also assume that God created the universe. An omnipotent God could have created any number of universes. He could have created a universe in which our planet is the base with nothing beneath us, i.e. we would live on a flat planet. He could have created a universe without gravity, where unattached objects float off into space. However, God couldn't have created a universe in which 1 + 1 = 3. Mathematical principles predate God, and God doesn't have the power to change them. In fact, mathematical principles would exist if neither God nor the universe had ever existed. God isn't omnipotent when it comes to Mathematics. He has to obey its rules, just like we do. When we study Mathematics we're learning absolute truths that are greater than God. Equations, if they are true, aren't words spoken by God, they're words that God himself must listen to in awe.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

A Horse For Danny (4 Stars)

Girls and horses. Horses and girls. What is it about horses that fascinates young girls? When my daughter Fiona was a child she was fascinated by horses and said she wanted one of her own one day. I'm glad she changed her mind as she got older. I don't know where I would put it. This film shows Leelee Sobieski in the film's title role as Danny Fortuna, an 11-year-old girl who didn't just dream of having a horse, she went out and bought one with her own money that she'd earned from gambling.

This was Leelee Sobieski's second film, made in 1995 when she was still 11. Obviously talent scouts were already aware of her acting skills. How many 11-year-olds are given the leading role in a film? Her arch-rival Kirsten Dunst didn't have an outright leading role like this until 2006, when she was 24 and had the title role in "Marie Antoinette". (Kirsten had a co-leading role with Michelle Williams in 1999 in "Dick"). In fact, if I count correctly, Leelee had the lead role in five films before she was 20.

I only realised when watching this film how big Leelee's ears are. It's not just as a child, they're still large now she's an adult. I didn't notice because in her later years her hair usually covers her ears. I'm not saying that to criticise her in any way. It's something that distinguishes her. She was a cute young girl, and now she's grown up to be a beautiful woman.

When I first reviewed this film in September 2010 -- it was only the third film that I ever reviewed! -- I said that I probably wouldn't watch it again. I only took the DVD down from my shelf today because I'm working my way through all of Leelee's films. I'm glad I watched it again. I probably gave it a lower rating the first time because I considered it to be too childish. Girls and horses. Watching it again today I appreciated it more. It's a very heart-warming drama that shows that dreams can come true; even the dreams of young girls.

Leelee plays Danny Fortuna, a girl whose parents have died. The reasons aren't stated. She now lives with her Uncle Eddie in his trailer at the side of a horse racing track, where he works as a trainer. Danny has an eye for horses. She's too young to place bets herself, so her older friend Mooney places the bets for her. One day she sees a temperamental horse called Tom Thumb. She recognises potential in him and manages to save $7000 to buy him.

Here's a newspaper report about Tom Thumb's first victory. The headline reads "Tom Thumb shows his bloodline", but read the article itself:

Future plans will, of necessity, have great bearing on the
of the fact that any menace from without to the peace of our
continents concerns all of us and therefore property is a subject
for consultation and cooperation. This was reflected in the
instruments adopted by the conference.

Of no less importance was the common recognition shown
situation as it now stands. Decisions will have to be made of
the actual planning of the project will take considerable time but
it is left that these steps are very important.

After these two paragraphs, which aren't even written in good English, the first paragraph is repated again. Sloppy.

Then there's a second newspaper report, headlined "The little horse does it again". The text reads:

Of no less importance was the common recognition shown
of the fact that any menace from without to the peace of our
continents concerns all of us and therefore property is a subject
for consultation and cooperation. This was reflected in the
instruments adopted by the conference.

This is quite interesting. It's the first line of the second paragraph from the first newspaper, followed by the second to fourth lines of the first paragraph. If the lines are arranged like this the text is good English. But more interesting is that this exact paragraph was already used in "Basic Instinct" in 1992 (Paragraph 2).

The second column begins with a partial paragraph with these words:

comes common knowledge that there is pressure from the inside 
which will materially change the aspect of the case.

Does this text sound familiar to you? It ought to. It's also a text taken from the newspaper used in "Basic Instinct". It's from the paragraph that I refer to as Paragraph M. It seems that the film production companies are copying their sloppy texts from one another. Don't they know better?

Here's a third newspaper shown in the film with the headline "Tom Thumb to Tucker Stakes?" The text of the first paragraph is the same as the first paragraph in the previous newspaper. If you look at the other paragraphs you'll find more random excerpts from the newspaper shown in "Basic Instinct". Very, very sloppy.

The Huntsman: Winter's War (3½ Stars)

Isn't it funny to see Chris Hemsworth fighting with axes instead of a big hammer? However many films he appears in I can't help thinking of him as Thor. Unless something big happens in the next 40 years Thor will remain his signature role.

Chris might be a good actor, but one thing he isn't good at is doing accents. He's Australian, which is obvious at the beginning of "The Huntsman". In the middle of the film he seems to be attempting an Irish accent. After that his accent sounds Scottish. Throughout the film he speaks in an artificially deep voice, as if trying to disguise the confusion in his accents. If he were putting on any accent at all it ought to be German, because that's where the original fairy tale of Snow White is supposed to take place. But to be honest, I wouldn't have a problem if he just spoke with his normal Australian accent. In a fantasy world it doesn't matter if the people sound like they come from different countries. It also doesn't matter in historical films, in which the language used isn't the language spoken at the time. To take the example of another actor, Russell Crowe always speaks with his own accent. Does it bother you that a Roman general speaks with a New Zealand accent in "Gladiator"? It's okay with me.

Now to the film itself. It's been incorrectly labelled a prequel to "Snow White and the Huntsman", which was made four years ago. It's actually a sequel, because it takes place after Snow White has become queen. What might have confused reviewers is that the opening scenes are flashbacks to things that happened before Snow White was born. This will especially have confused reviewers who only watched the first five minutes before writing their reviews. The poor overworked reviewers must have so many films to review that they have to make sacrifices in their time allocation.

In "Snow White and the Huntsman" we heard that the Huntsman was a widower. In the flashbacks we see his wife and how she died. We also meet Queen Ravenna's younger sister Freya. Then, when the film's story finally begins, we see that after Ravenna's death at the hands of Snow White in the first film Freya has become a mighty queen and has conquered almost all of the kingdoms surrounding Snow White's kingdom. Freya now intends to attack Snow White using the power of the magic mirror. The Huntsman makes it his goal to find the mirror and return it to Snow White.

This is a cute little fantasy tale. The set pieces succeed, such as the romantic interludes and the humour surrounding the dwarves. Unfortunately, the end result is disjointed. Allegiances change during the film, and the old enemies seem to eager to forgive one another. It's a reasonable film, but far from a masterpiece.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

General: Message to my readers

When people commit suicide the attitudes are always the same. Some people feel pity for the person who ended his life. They say that he must have been in a bad way. Those close to the person blame themselves. "Surely we could have done something to stop him". Then there's the general sadness of those who miss the departed person.

Let me tell you that I don't want anyone to talk about me like that when and if I kill myself. I've only recently begun to consider suicide. For a long time I thought suicide to be an inferior form of death, but I've come to the conclusion that the ideal deaths that I dream about are nothing more than fantasy. Suicide is a simpler and more practical option.

If you hear of my death by suicide, please don't be sad for me. Rejoice! Be happy that I've found the death that I chose for myself. It means that I've found release from this ugly world I've had to live in for so long. If you hear that I attempted suicide and failed, you should mourn for me. It means that I'll be surrounded by doctors and nurses calling me crazy, none of them having the slightest idea of what motivated me.

I attempted suicide when I was 18. The main reason, which I never admitted to anyone until years later, was my inability to deal with the changes in my mother. I had always been close to her, I had always confided my most intimate secrets in her, but she had developed an alcohol problem. She got drunk every night, and she turned me away when I wanted to talk to her. This was awful. I had never felt so alone. I took a train to another city, I went up a hill, I swallowed a packet of rat poison and went to sleep, hoping I would never wake up. But I did wake up, not feeling anything except for a bad taste in my mouth. I went back home, and I didn't start to get ill until late in the evening. I was sent to A&E first for a stomach pump, then delivered into a mental hospital, where I stayed two months.

The worst thing about the hospital was the condescending attitude of the doctors. I heard them say again and again that it wasn't a real suicide attempt, it was just a cry for help. That insulted me. Didn't they see that I was trying to avoid help by travelling far away from home and going to a place where nobody was nearby? My only mistake was the bad planning. I thought rat poison would take effect immediately.

It's been a long time since then. I've occasionally thought about suicide, but I've never made any specific plans. Usually it was at times when I was feeling depressed. Now that I'm considering it more seriously, I know that it mustn't be a rash decision. I have some important things to tie up before I go. It might not be until next year. This will give me time to plan. I've learnt from my experience when I was 18. I don't want to fail again.

I have already decided on the inscription I want on my gravestone. Yes, I want to be buried. I'm against cremation for environmental reasons. The inscription will be an affirmation of victory:

I have lived.
I have died.
I shall live forever.

My ex-wife has promised that she will arrange for this inscription on my gravestone. To avoid any misunderstandings I'll also specify it in my Will. I hope that anyone who sees my grave won't shed tears. I want them to be happy and laugh. Maybe my best friends could even visit my grave every year on the anniversary of my death to drink and have a party in my remembrance, but it would be too conceited of me to expect that. The best I can do is hope that I won't be forgotten.

Wilbur and the Baby Factory (2 Stars)

This is a curious film made in 1969, but not released until 1971.

Wilbur Steele is a student and a political activist. What is he protesting against? Everything! He runs a non-profit organisation called "Protestors Inc". If anyone wants to protest against something he supports them. If anyone has nothing to protest against he counsels them and helps them find something to protest against.

The way Wilbur is shown portrays the typical bourgeois attitude of the middle classes in the 1960's. They saw that students were protesting, so they dismissed it by saying "Students will protest against anything". It's disgusting that the director/writer Tom McGowan should treat the student revolts of the 1960's so blandly. There were real issues at stake.

Wilbur is shown as being shallow when he turns to capitalism. He's told that if he drops out of college and abandons his organisation he'll be paid big money for working with a secret company. He suspects that it's a government organisation, but he signs up anyway. After all, money is all that he's interested in, like all other students. Right?

This secret company actually wants to take over the world. They say that the Earth is populated by inferior beings. They want to introduce a new super race. They have a scheme to put additives into food that will sterilise 80% of the world's population within a year. At the same time, they have selected a group of people who will become the new master race. Wilbur has been picked because he's highly intelligent and athletic, and his family has had no notable illnesses for generations. 2000 women have been picked for similar reasons. Wilbur has to get them all pregnant within two years. Wow, that's more than two a day!

It's an interesting story, but it's totally ruined by the awful acting. Who are all those names on the cast? Did Tom McGowan pick them up off the street at random? Only Stuart Lancaster, an amazing actor who appeared in several Russ Meyer films, is convincing as the company's billionaire financier. The rest deliver their lines with the enthusiasm of reading a shopping list. The poster above calls the film sexy, but it isn't. Even the nude scenes are dull. Naked women who can't act. Boring.