Thursday, 1 December 2016

Arrival (3 Stars)

Today I've decided to add a CINEMA tag (in capitals) to all the reviews of films that I watched in a cinema. It's something I've been considering for a long time. At first I thought I would further specify which cinema it was, using tags like "Cinema: Cineworld" or "Cinema: Electric", but I don't think that's relevant. Today I'll go back and add the tag to all the films I've seen in the cinema since moving to Germany. When I have time I'll also add the tag to films that I watched in England, but there were so many in the last three years that I might forget a few. I'll do my best.

"Arrival" is a science fiction film that centres around Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams). 12 large spaceships arrive at different places on Earth. They don't seem to have hostile intentions, but the reaction to them varies from country to country. In America the army asks Dr. Banks, a university linguistics lecturer, to attempt to communicate with the aliens. In some of the other countries similar attempts are made.

It's not easy. The sounds are so unintelligible that Dr. Banks abandons verbal communication and uses written communication as an alternative. Even so, there are great difficulties. In their language the aliens write sentences in a circle.

The film has received great critical acclaim, and I admit that I was fascinated by the language aspect, but there are great weaknesses, which I'll try to describe without giving away too many spoilers. First of all, if the aliens are part of a race for whom "time is not linear", i.e. they can see the future, why didn't they just look at their visit to Earth in advance and learn English before they arrived? Much easier. That might sound like a temporal paradox, but there's a bigger one in the film. Spoilers!

Secondly, the idea that the aliens want all nations on Earth to work together -- 12 of them, at least -- is laughable. That sounds like a big brother, or rather mommy and daddy, coming down from the sky to bang our heads together and tell us to stop squabbling. Even if the aliens did want it, it's infeasible that it would actually work.

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Linda (3 Stars)

There's something strange about the American releases of old European films. Apart from the awful dubbing, the DVD covers often have nothing to do with the films themselves. Look at the picture above. It's a pretty girl lying on a bed with a book and a pen. What's the pen for? Is it to underline her favourite passages? Maybe, but it doesn't matter. The girl in the picture doesn't appear in the film. No girls lie on a bed reading a book. In fact, nobody reads a book at all in this film.

"Linda" is a film made by Jesse Franco in 1981. I have mixed feelings about Jesse Franco. Over his career he's made some very good and some very bad films. More of the latter. However, the film stars Katja Bienert in the title role, which is reason enough to watch it.

The film takes place on the island of Madeira. That's a Portugese island, but the film was made in Spanish. A young woman called Betsy Norman is working in a luxury hotel, the Transcontinental. She's having an affair with Ronald Medford, the boyfriend of Sheila, the hotel owner. The names all sound very English, don't they? Sheila finds out, and she has a perfect way to punish Betsy. She delivers her to an exclusive brothel where she's locked up and forced to give herself to the high paying customers. Ron searches for her and tries to free her.

So where does Linda fit into the story? She doesn't. She's irrelevant to everything. Linda Norman is Betsy's 16-year-old sister who's living in a convent school in Switzerland. She takes a two-week holiday in Madeira to see her sister, but when she arrives Betsy has already disappeared. Linda meets a young man and falls in love with him, but they separate at the end of her holiday.

It's a weird story. I can't help thinking that Jesse Franco just put Katja Bienert into the film as an after-thought because he was fascinated by her youthful beauty. She was 14 at the time the film was made.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Hateful Eight (4½ Stars)

In my review at the beginning of this year I said that this might be Quentin Tarantino's weakest film to date. After watching the film a second time I have to confirm it. This really is Quentin Tarantino's weakest film. Of course, this is a relative statement. His weakest film is still better than the best film of most other directors.

On the other hand, the cinematography in "The Hateful Eight" is superior to any of his previous films. I'd like to provide screenshots to back up this statement, but any pictures I show here are too small to give an adequate impression. You have to look at the film itself on a big screen, as large as possible. The beauty of the outdoor scenes is overwhelming. Even the indoor scenes are perfectly laid out like the paintings of a master artist.

Maybe the film's problem is that too much emphasis was made on the cinematography in its creation. The highly controversial choice was made to use Panavision 70mm film cameras to create larger panoramas. This format was fashionable for big budget productions in the 1960's, but it hasn't been used since 1970. As a result less work was put into the character development, which is outstanding in all of Quentin Tarantino's other films.

There is one plot error in the film. Maybe it's not an error, maybe it's deliberate, but it still disturbs me. Marquis Warren, the Bounty Hunter, boasts to everyone in the cabin that he humiliated Chester Smithers, the Confederate's son, by making him suck his penis. This is a terrible anachronism. It isn't a modern film, it's set in the 19th Century, probably the early 1870's. In those days homosexuality was considered to be something shameful. No man at that time would have described the sexual acts so freely. He would have been ashamed to tell people that he let another man suck his penis. In fact, other people might have been so disgusted that they would have shot him, especially a man from the Southern States like the Sheriff.

To prove that there's still justice in the world, Ennio Morricone won the Academy Award for the best film score. Why did he have to wait so long? He should have won an Oscar for "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (1966). He should have won an Oscar for "The Legend of 1900" (1998). There are probably other films with his music that are just as deserving. According to IMDB he's composed music for 564 films. His Academy Award was long overdue.

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Monday, 28 November 2016

Tatort 1000: Taxi nach Leipzig (4 Stars)

This is the 1000th episode of "Tatort", first aired on 13th November 2016. The title is "Taxi nach Leipzig", which means "Taxi to Leipzig". Unlike the usual stories, which are always crime investigations, this is a psychological thriller in which two police inspectors are taken hostage. One is Klaus Borowski, who we last saw in the 999th episode. The other is Charlotte Lindholm, who has appeared in 23 episodes from 7th April 2002 (the 496th episode) to 22nd November 2015 (the 963rd episode).

Since this was a landmark episode a story was written that could bring many of the police inspectors together. There's a police conference taking place in Braunschweig. The topic is risk assessment, methods of police inspectors keeping themselves out of danger. If we look round the room we see many familiar police officers, including two who appeared in the first Tatort episode on 29th November 1970. This is just a little treat for Tatort fans. The only two inspectors that we see for any length of time are Borowski and Lindholm.

At the end of the conference, which most of the police officers found boring and irrelevant to their work, there is a rush to return home. Klaus Borowski has to return to Kiel, Charlotte Lindholm has to return to Hanover. They catch a taxi to the train station together, accompanied by a low ranking police officer from Kiel, Sören Affeld. When Sören, sitting in the front seat, complains about the taxi driver not using his seat belt the driver stops the car and kills him. The driver has a gun, but Barowski and Lindholm don't, so they're at his mercy. The two police inspectors are tied up and told they have to accompany the driver on a trip.

So who is the driver? He is Rainald Klapproth, a former soldier who has served in Afghanistan. Due to a mistake made by his commanding officer he killed an innocent family, but he received the blame. Because of the investigations Rainald's discharge was delayed, so the commanding officer, Erik Tillman, was sent to explain the situation to Rainald's fiancée, Nicki, and offer her comfort. It must have been more than comfort, because when Rainald finally returned home she told him she wanted to marry Erik instead. The wedding is due to take place the next day, so Rainald is driving to see her to make one last attempt to persuade her to change her mind. She lives in Leipzig, 130 miles away.

The story in itself is very simple, but the atmosphere is overwhelming. The taxi journey, including escape attempts, is divided into three acts. In each of the acts one of the characters is heard in voiceover; first Rainald, then Borowski, then Lindholm. We're given the opportunity to get into their heads. Rainald is a very intelligent man, probably intellectually superior to the two officers, and can analyse everything they say by observing their body language. Borowski doesn't like the way Lindholm is handling the conversations and thinks that she's making the situation worse with her insensitive questions. Lindholm is plagued with paranoia, expecting the worst to happen, as she has done since she was a child.

This is a powerful drama, worthy of being aired as the 1000th episode. Roll on the next 1000.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Bride of Chucky (5 Stars)

This is the fourth film in the series of films about the killer doll Chucky. It was made in 1998, seven years after the third film, and it's the first film in the series to have Chucky's name in the title. I consider it to be the best film in the series, and it seems that most people agree with me. It was the most successful film in the series, as far as box office takings are concerned. The critics disagree, but as usual the critics are wrong and the public is right.

The film is given its biggest boost by the hiring of a new director, Ronny Yu. I've only seen a few of his films, but they're all brilliant. "The 51st State", "Fearless" and "Saving General Yang" are all five star films, and so is "Bride of Chucky". I just wish he would make more films. He's only made two films in the last 10 years, which isn't enough to keep his loyal fans happy.

Another improvement over the previous three films is the addition of Jennifer Tilly to the cast. She plays the role of Tiffany, the woman who used to be Charles Lee Ray's girlfriend before he was killed. She's only recently found out that her old lover's soul has been transferred into a Good Guy doll called Chucky. She bribes a policeman to steal the almost completely destroyed doll from the police station's evidence room. She never intended to pay him. She slits the policeman's throat when he delivers the doll.

Tiffany stitches the doll back together, then chants an incantation to Damballah to revive Charles' soul in the doll. It's easy. All she has to do is read the words from the latest edition of "Voodoo for Dummies". I need to buy that book. I wonder if Amazon has it.

Soon Chucky is back to his normal homicidal self. Tiffany makes his first kill easy for him. She handcuffs her new boyfriend to the bed. Like most men, he offers no resistance. Then Chucky jumps on him and finishes him off.

After a lover's tiff Chucky kills Tiffany. That's one of the disadvantages of dating a deranged serial killer. But he regrets what he's done and brings her back to life in one of her dolls. He doesn't need the "Voodoo for Dummies" book, of course. He's an expert in the art of voodoo.

Now Chucky decides to retrieve an amulet that was round his neck when his body was buried. The two dolls arrange to be driven from Lockport, NY to Hackensack, NJ. That's a 390 mile journey. They might have made it in a day, but after reverting to character and killing a few people on the way they have to make diversions to avoid the police.

I admit that I have something of a crush on Jennifer Tilly. She has a beautiful face and a voluptuous figure, but it's not just about her looks. It's her attitude. She's typecast as a dumb blonde, but she's a very intelligent woman. She's one of America's best poker players. And more than anything else, it's her voice. I can't describe it to you, you have to hear it for yourself. She has the voice of a little girl in the body of a woman.

"Bride of Chucky" stands above the previous films in the story, the production quality and everything else. However scary it was to see a little doll on a killing spree, it's more exciting to see a couple share the killings, a miniature Bonnie and Clyde. The film also profits from being influenced by "Scream", made two years earlier in 1996. Ronny Yu correctly decided to add elements of parody to the film, making fun of the whole horror film genre.

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Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Nude Vampire (4 Stars)

"The Nude Vampire" is Jean Rollin's second vampire film, made in 1970. From the beginning of his career it was obvious that his vampire stories were different. Rather can copy the expressionist film style of America's vampire films or the gothic horror films of Hammer Studios, he made films that were bright and colourful. Jean Rollin's films were at the same time erotic and psychedelic. But the differences didn't end there. He wrote the screenplay for his films himself, and they involved very unusual plots, as we already saw in his first film, "Rape of the Vampire", in 1968.

The film begins with a young man, Pierre Radamonte, trying to find out the secrets his father, a successful medical doctor, is keeping from him. His father holds parties for well dressed guests in a mansion that Pierre isn't allowed to enter. One day he steals an invitation and sneaks into the party. Photos of the dinner guests are put into a jar. One photo is pulled out at random, and the woman in the picture is given a gun. She shoots herself without hesitation. A scantily dressed woman (not quite nude, as you can see in the photo above) comes into the room and drinks her blood from the wound.

The next day Pierre's father explains. He's discovered a woman who has the traits of a vampire. He doesn't believe in vampires in the mythical sense, he's a man of science, so he says that she has an illness that makes her feed on blood and live forever. He says that he's attempting to find a cure for her, but Pierre doesn't believe him. He thinks that his father wants to become like her and live forever. As for the dinner parties, Pierre's father has founded a suicide cult to attract superstitious people. He tells them the woman is a Goddess and they should take turns killing themselves to serve her. That might seem ridiculous, but it's no less stupid than the suicide bombers who kill themselves in the hope of being rewarded by a fake God called Allah. At least the members of the suicide cult only harm themselves and not others.

The woman is mute, so she can't tell anyone where she comes from, but Pierre's father suspects that there are others like her. He's right. A large group of people comes to the mansion to free her. Their leader denies that they are vampires, but I can't tell you what they are without giving the story away. Watch the film for yourself.

"The Nude Vampire" is also notable for being the first appearance of the twin sisters Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel. They appeared in about a dozen films together in the 1970's.

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Liebesgrüße aus der Lederhose 5 (4 Stars)

The fifth film in the Lederhose series was released in December 1978, less than a year after the fourth film. It was obviously made with a bigger budget than any of the previous films, as shown by the special effects, the props and the scenes that required stuntmen. Even the story, written by the director Gunter Otto using the pseudonym F. G. Marcus, has more consistency than any of the previous instalments. If one film in the series deserves a Hollywood remake, this is it.

The film begins with Sepp Kirchlechner, played by Peter Steiner, complaining to his friend Willi about his poor life as a farmer in the mountains. Then he receives a letter from a postman, a special delivery involving a trek into the mountains, telling him he's inherited the house and land of his Aunt Edith. This causes Sepp to break into song, accompanied by an invisible orchestra, and the two men dance happily in the mountains. Life is good.

Aunt Edith's house is in a poor state, but at least they find a pantry stocked with enough plum jam to last for a hundred years. Sepp and Willi will never need to go hungry. But even more exciting is that they find an aeroplane in the barn. Sepp decides to open a flying school. Don't worry, he covers up the swastika before the first guests arrive. He hires a flying instructor from France, and he renovates Aunt Edith's house so that it's suitable accommodation.

The first guests are five horny schoolgirls from Munich. They want to learn to fly in the daytime and have sex with the local Bavarian farmers at night. They're most interested in the flying instructor Philippe, but he's only interested in Sepp's daughter Uschi.

Sepp's arch enemy, Mayor Alois Brummberger, is unhappy with Sepp's financial success, and he hires men to sabotage the plane. He pays them 100 Marks each, but he doesn't reckon with the girls. They seduce the men, and the supposed saboteurs become unpaid volunteer assistants at the flying school. Never underestimate German schoolgirls!

To my great surprise there was a lengthy car chase. Five cars, six minutes, including a police car, with multiple collisions and crashes. This was very well filmed, the equal of anything Hollywood had to offer in the 1970's.

In case you were so excited by the car chase that you forgot this is an erotic comedy, you're reminded when the last car crashes into a lake where the schoolgirls are bathing naked. If they were good girls they would check the men for injuries and help them out of the water. But they're bad girls, so their only interest is to rip off the men's clothes and seduce them. It's too bad that Ottokar Schulze, on the right, is homosexual. He's terrified of naked girls.

All's well that ends well. Peter Steiner enjoys a beer with Rosl Mayr in the beer tent. In the previous two films Rosl's character wasn't named. Here at the table Sepp calls her Rosl. I'm sure they were the best of friends off screen. She was a wonderful lady, it would have been impossible not to love her.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Charlie's Angels (4 Stars)

I love this film. It's based on the TV series with the same name, but it goes much further in style and action. It was difficult for me to accept the original Angels from the 1970's as independent women. They seemed to be Charlie's puppets. The new Angels, played by Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz, might still work for Charlie, but they're powerful women in their own right. They do their job because it's what they want to do, and they have fun every step of the way.

The only caveat I have is the personal relationships of the Angels: Dylan (Drew Barrymore) with Chad, Alex (Lucy Liu) with Jason, and Natalie (Cameron Diaz) with Pete. These men are so far below their levels, both intellectually and emotionally, that it's difficult to see why they bother with them. Dylan is even weak enough to fall for the charms of the bad guy. In today's society there's a lot of talk about women being strong and independent, but you don't see what a woman is really like by looking at her at work. You have to look at her at home, in her relationship with her husband or boyfriend, if she has one. If she wants a man she'll have a strong man in her life who takes a subordinate role to her. She won't be happy with a wimp (like the three Angels) or a macho who'll attempt to rule over her.

I'm not in favour of women's equality. I never have been. Women are superior by nature, so they can only become equal by lowering themselves to man's level. This isn't just about domination and sex games. This is about the woman's whole life. She should make the decisions about what car to buy, where to go on holiday, which school the children go to, and all the other small choices made in day to day married life. That doesn't mean the man should go unheard. He can tell his wife his opinions and offer arguments to support them if he disagrees with her. Maybe he'll convince his wife and she'll change her mind, but the important thing is that she makes all the decisions in family life.

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Liebesgrüße aus der Lederhose 4 (4 Stars)

The fourth film in the Lederhose series was made in 1978, a year after the third film. Gunter Otto continued as director. In my review of "Liebesgrüße aus der Lederhose 3" I pointed out a lack of continuity from the first two films. It seems that Gunter Otto is now getting into his stride. He's continuing with the slapstick humour, but he's returned to the eroticism that we grew used to in the first two films that were directed by Franz Marischka.

The continuity is only in the style. As far as the plot goes, there's merely a semblance of continuity. Let me explain what I mean. In a film series with full continuity, such as the Fast and Furious films, each film continues from the previous film. There may be new characters, but any actors who return from the previous films play the old characters with the same history. In a film series without continuity, such as the Carry On films, the same actors return from film to film, but in each film they're someone different. They have different names and they're in a different setting.

Gunter Otto takes a middle path between the two extremes. The actors who return from previous films play the same characters, with the same names and the same personalities, but they're in different circumstances. For instance, Peter Steiner is the actor who plays Sepp, the main character in all of the Lederhose films. He runs a hotel in Pfronten in the first two films. In the third film he's the mayor of a village called Entenbach. In the fourth film he's a train driver. In the first two films he lives with his wife. In the next two films there's no wife, and no explanation why she isn't with him, and he lives with his daughter Uschi. In the third film Franz Muxeneder played the mayor of Almendingen, Alois Brummberger, and in the fourth film he's still Alois Brummberger the mayor, but it seems to be a different village. Sepp and Alois were enemies in the third film and they're still enemies now, though under different circumstances.

In fact, all the main characters from the third film return in the fourth, though with varying continuity. Rosl Mayr, pictured above, was Alois' wife in the third film. In this film she's a woman who runs a farm with the help of young female volunteers. Alois is no longer married to her -- or to put it more accurately, he was never married to her -- so he's able to marry a young attractive woman. Lucky Alois!

Or maybe he's not so lucky. "Liebesgrüße aus der Lederhose 4" is separated into two stories, two acts. The first act lasts for 30 minutes, and the second lasts for the remaining hour. They continue into one another, but the plots are so distinct that either story could be watched without the other. In the first act it's the wedding day of mayor Alois Brummberger and his young bride Josefa. He doesn't realise that he's marrying a nymphomaniac. She has sex with two men before the wedding, she slips away from the wedding reception with one of the guests, and on the wedding night she looks for another man to satisfy her because her husband is too drunk to perform his marital duties. Poor Alois!

The second act takes place a few weeks after the wedding and is about Willi and Sepp, pictured above. Sepp (on the right) drives the local train, and Willi is the ticket collector. They're fired because the train is unprofitable. They decide to buy the train and continue the service privately. At first they have hardly any customers, which is why the train service was stopped. Then Sepp has a brilliant idea. He convinces the girls who work on Rosl's farm to ride on the train to attract male customers. It isn't just about eye candy. The girls are hungry for sex, so they give themselves to the men who travel on the train. Business booms!

This is a hilarious film, a good example of what Germany had to offer in the way of erotic comedies in the 1970's. If you live in Germany there's a good chance that you already know it. If you don't live in Germany, if you're a foreigner who has only learnt German in school, it's worth looking for this classic film.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Seven Minutes (4 Stars)

"The Seven Minutes" is one of Russ Meyer's rarest films. It has never been released on DVD in its own right. It was included as an extra feature on a limited edition release of "Beneath the Valley of the Dolls". I was lucky enough to buy it when it was first released, but it's now out of print.

This is one of Russ's most serious films. It deals with a topic that was close to his heart: censorship. Maybe the 1970's were more liberal than the 1950's, but there were still attempts by the moral right wing of America to outlaw everything it didn't like. In this case it's a highly artistic novel in which a woman describes, in seven chapters, the seven minutes she spends in the act of sexual intercourse. But it's a general subject that affected Russ himself. His films, which he made from 1959 to 1979, were considered outrageous by some, but the pinnacle of erotic art by others. It's no secret which side I take in the debate.

The great actor Charles Napier only appears briefly in the film's opening scenes. I consider him to be the most underrated actor who has ever lived. He should have had a breakthrough while he was young, but he spent most of his career typecast as a square-jawed soldier. It's true, he did have a square jaw, but there was so much more to him.

Mora Gray only appeared in three films from 1968 to 1983. This was her biggest role. She's the rather distracting secretary in the lawyer's office. How did anyone manage to get any work done?

Tatort 999: Borowski und das verlorene Mädchen (4 Stars)

This is the 999th episode of "Tatort", first aired on 6th November 2016. The investigating police officers are Klaus Borowski and Sarah Brandt. Inspector Borowski's first case was in November 2003, and this is his 27th episode. Inspector Brandt has been his partner in 11 episodes since October 2011. The last time they appeared was in the 964th episode on 29th November 2015.

The title means "Borowski and the lost girl". It's not a missing person, as the title might suggest. The lost girl is a 17-year-old schoolgirl, Julia Heidhäuser (pictured above), who has lost her way. She has recently converted to Islam, despite the warnings of her family and friends. If anything, her mother is to blame for what's happened to her. She is cold and remote, not the loving mother that a teenage girl needs.

The story begins with a death. A schoolgirl called Maria, Julia's best friend, is washed ashore. The main suspect is Hasim, a man who was released from prison on the day she was killed. Klaus Borowski is diligent in investigating the case, but he's approached by an agent of the German secret service who asks him to drop the case. Hasim's mosque is a centre of Islamic extremism, where young people are recruited to fight for IS. If Hasim is arrested it could interrupt the investigations. Julia has met an IS fighter in Syria online and intends to go to Syria to marry him. The secret service knows about this and wants her to leave Germany so they can track her to the IS camp. Borowski finds it immoral to use her as bait and arrests her to prevent her leaving the country. He takes her to his house and attempts to deprogram her.

This is a complex story with several themes running in parallel. Borowski is caught in conflicts between doing his job and helping the young girl for whom he feels sympathy. He's horrified that there are organisations in his country that are willing to sacrifice her as collateral damage in the war on terror.