Sunday, 21 August 2016

Stralsund - Außer Kontrolle (4 Stars)

The title of this film means "Out of control". It was made two years after "Mörderische Verfolgung", which I reviewed yesterday, but the action in the film seems to take place shortly afterwards, because the Stralsund chief of police has only recently been replaced after her injuries in the first film.

In this film a money transporter has been ambushed by a pair of criminals. One of the security guards is killed, and the other is trapped in the back of the vehicle when it's driven away. The police search in vain for the vehicle, but it's been disguised too well to be identified. The police's only hope is to find clues that will identify the criminals. Once more Nina Petersen has to solve the case, but this time she has problems. Her work is hindered by a senior police officer who pulls rank and insists on solving the case himself. When Nina realises that he's making mistakes she takes matters into her own hands.

Once more this is a gripping thriller. A theme repeated from the first film is criminals turning on one another when they're under pressure. If anything, we get to know the criminals better than the police. This is a very well written and directed film. I attribute this to Martin Eiger, who is responsible for writing and directing 28 made-for-television crime thrillers from 2003 to 2015.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Stralsund - Mörderische Verfolgung (4 Stars)

This is a German film that was made for television in 2009. The title can mean either "Deadly Pursuit" or "Deadly Persecution", and both translations are appropriate. It was originally intended as a one-off film, but it was remarkably succesful and was watched by almost six million viewers, so from 2011 to 2015 seven sequels were made. They all feature the police force in Stralsund and particularly police inspector Nina Petersen, played by Katharina Wackernagel. I'm not sure whether "inspector" is an accurate translation of her rank, because the German police have a different structure to their English and American equivalents. In German her rank is "Kommissar". She's a uniformed police officer who has a lot of responsibility in solving cases, so she seems to be more like a detective.

The plot: Michael Broder's company burnt down. When he tried to claim insurance he was wrongly accused of starting the fire himself, so he killed the person who accused him of arson. The law isn't always fair, and insurance companies are rarely fair, but murder isn't a good solution. He was arrested and sent to prison.

Six month later the Stralsund chief of police, Susanne Winkler, receives a phone call from her ex-lover Mona to meet her at an insurance company. It's the same company which dealt with Michael Broder's claim. When she arrives she finds the staff tied and gagged, and she too is overpowered by a masked man. He demands two million Euros and the release of Michael Broder.

This is an exciting thriller with twists and turns as the plot develops. It's more original than any other hostage dramas I've seen. Right up to the end it isn't obvious what will happen next. The situation can only be solved by Nina Petersen's skillful psychological ploy, managing to turn the hostage taker and his accomplices against one another.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Shaolin Girl (4 Stars)

Rin Sakurazawa comes from a small Japanese village and grew up with her grandfather, a master of Chinese kung fu. When she was nine her grandfather sent her to a Shaolin temple in China to train her kung fu skills. (I wasn't aware that Shaolin temples accept students who are women or Japanese, but I'll let it pass). She doesn't even take a break from her training when she receives news of her grandfather's death. After 10 years she returns to Japan, and she's shocked to find that the local dojo has closed. The dojo's former teacher now owns a restaurant that serves Chinese noodles. Rin tries to encourage people to learn kung fu, but nobody is interested. Only Minmin, a part time waitress in the Chinese restaurant, agrees to learn kung fu, on condition that Rin joins the university lacrosse team. Soon all the girls in the lacrosse team are learning kung fu in order to improve their lacrosse skills.

There's a subplot going on which I didn't understand. A secret organisation based in the university is attempting to make money out of exploiting the university's best athletes. Judging by the menacing music every time we see this clandestine group they must be very, very evil, but I fail to see what's so bad about a university helping athletes to succeed. Isn't that what they all do, especially in America? There are also connections between this organisation and a Japanese fighting school, which makes it even more confusing.

This isn't a film to be taken too seriously. It's light-hearted fun with over-the-top fight scenes and lacrosse games. I just wish I could have understood the motivation of the evil organisation.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Emerald Green (4 Stars)

This is the third film in the Ruby Red trilogy, following "Ruby Red" in 2013 and "Sapphire Blue" in 2014. Over the course of the three films the meek schoolgirl Gwendolyn Shepherd has developed into an action heroine. In the film's climax she returns to 1786 to battle the evil Count of Saint Germain looking like a young Emma Peel in her black leather outfit. Or maybe not so young. The three films are supposed to take place shortly after one another, but the German make up artists didn't succeed in hiding the passage of time. In 2013 the actress Maria Ehrich was 20, but she had the appearance of a 16-year-old. Now that she's 23 she looks older than 16, at least 21. Nobody would ask for her ID when she goes to a club. Gwendolyn's best friend Leslie is also 16, but the actress Jennifer Lotsi has aged even faster. There is no way I can accept her as a schoolgirl, she looks at least 25. No insult intended. 25 is a good age.

This is the first film in the series in which temporal paradoxes are dealt with. Maybe I shouldn't say that they're dealt with, they're only mentioned in passing, and we're left to scratch our heads. The Count of Saint Germain lived in the 18th Century, but his plan to rule the world can't succeed until Gwendolyn, born in 1997, has reached her 16th birthday. Gwendolyn has to fight him to stop his plan succeeding, but he actually already succeeded 200 years ago when she travelled back in time to challenge him. He became immortal, and he's now living in disguise in the 21st Century to make sure Gwendolyn doesn't stop him. But of course, he wouldn't be around to stop her if he hadn't already succeeded.

People don't understand time. It's not what you think it is. It's complicated, very complicated. People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff.

The film contains the most beautiful scenes of the trilogy. Gwendolyn's real parents, who gave her up for adoption, are hiding in the Scottish Highlands in the early 20th Century, so Gwendolyn travels back to 1920 to be trained in martial arts by her father. The scenes where they are fighting on the mountains are stunning. I'm sure it's intended as a homage to Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert in the first Highlander film.

This is the only film in the trilogy that I've managed to see in the cinema. The films weren't shown in England, and I only moved to Germany last month. "Emerald Green" was released in the cinemas on July 7th, but luckily the film has been so successful that it's still being shown after six weeks. I went to an early afternoon showing, 2:45pm, at the EM Cinema in Stuttgart's city centre. The theatre was small, only seven rows with 10 seats each, and it was almost full, about 50 people. Surprisingly, I was the only man in the audience. As far as I could see, before the lights went out, there were three middle-aged women, and all the rest were teenage girls. I admit that I felt intimidated. The two girls on either side of me added to my feelings. The girl on my right, probably in her late teens, was lucky enough to have an empty seat in front of her, so she had her feet up over the seat, showing off her beautiful legs, but making me feel trapped. The girl on my left, who couldn't have been a day over 14, had her hand on the shared arm rest, so I had to withdraw away from her. She was fidgeting with her legs throughout the film, bumping her leg against mine, so I was cringing as far in the right of my seat as I could without making it look like I was trying to touch the girl on my right. It was an awkward situation, but I somehow managed to concentrate on the film. I suppose it was my own fault for going to see a teenage fantasy film in Germany. Next time I'll go later in the evening.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Song for Marion (3 Stars)

So many films are made each year. I estimate that about 500 films are made in America, 100 in England and 100 in Germany. Of course, thousands are made in other countries, but those are the three countries whose films I watch the most. How can I possibly decide what to watch? It's not just a matter of watching two films a day, which would theoretically be enough to see all 700 films from my three favourite countries. I also like to watch films more than once. And of course, many films never make it into the cinema, so I have to wait until they're released on Blu-ray.

My film choices aren't completely random, but they also aren't completely under my own control. Films shown in cinemas have a good chance of finding their way into my watch list. While I lived in England I tried to watch at least two films in the cinema each week, and now that I'm in Germany I try to watch at least one film in the cinema. Films that are already in my extensive DVD and Blu-ray collection have a good chance of getting a repeat viewing. My preferences for buying new films (preferably on Blu-ray) are based on certain factors, some positive, some negative.

1. If a film is about someone with cancer I don't watch it.

This might seem random, but I hate films about cancer. I find it so depressing as a subject. I prefer to bury my head in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist.

2. If a film stars Gemma Arterton I watch it.

There are a few other actors whose films I have to see. Apart from Gemma there's Jim Carrey and Chloe Grace Moretz. There are also a few directors on my must-watch list, including Quentin Tarantino, Sion Sono and Zhang Yimou.

I could quote other positive and negative factors in deciding which films to watch, but I'll leave it at these two. They put me in a dilemma. "Song for Marion" is a film about cancer that stars Gemma Arterton, so should I watch it or not?

As you can see, I've decided to watch "Song for Marion", albeit a few years after it was released in 2012. I have no regrets about watching it, even though I've only given it an average rating.

The film is about an old married couple, Arthur and Marion, played by Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave. They are proof that opposites attract. Marion is cheerful and full of energy. She takes part in sessions with a local amateur choir. Her husband is a grumpy old man who thinks that singing is silly. When Marion's cancer enters its final stages she spends as much time as possible singing. This confuses Arthur, but he tolerates it. After her death he becomes a total recluse, until he finally decides to try singing to see what it's all about. The choir's teacher, played by Gemma Arterton, helps him break out of his shell.

This is a wonderfully moving film with high quality performances from all of the leading actors, including Christopher Eccleston who plays Marion's son. I found the singing itself rather dull. It's not up to the standard of musicals, but that was never the intention. The cancer is depressing, but once it was out of the way the film picked up for me.

Snowpiercer (1 Star)

It's not very often that I have trouble watching a film to the end. However disappointed I might feel when watching a film I make an effort to stick it out in the hope that it will improve. "Snowpiercer" is a film that attracted me with its high profile cast: Chris Evans, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer and especially Ed Harris. They're all actors who I've seen turn in excellent performances in film after film, so gathering them together in one film is a recipe for success.

Or so it seems. Twice I paused the film and went to make a coffee, and felt tempted not to carry on watching.

First the plot. In the near future an attempt has been made to combat global warming. It backfired, plunging the Earth into a new ice age. The only survivors are the people travelling on a train that circles the world once a year. There are first class passengers, economy passengers and freeloaders. The latter group, presumably stowaways who jumped aboard to save their lives when the catastrophe began, live in the back of the train. At first they were given no food and had to resort to cannibalism. After a few months they were supplied with protein bars, tasteless but life-preserving, in exchange for doing menial labour on the train. After 18 years the train is still moving. One man among the freeloaders, Curtis, decides to stage a rebellion. He leads an army of rebels to challenge the train's creator, Mr. Wilford, who is rumoured to live in the very first carriage.

The train is full of superstition, orchestrated by the leaders. Mr. Wilford is revered as a God, the saviour of mankind. The train's engine is a sacred artefact.

I took some time to read customer reviews on Amazon. It seems that this is a film that divides opinions: some people love it, some people hate it, and there's no middle ground. I personally don't see how anyone can love it. It just doesn't make sense. Why should a train, of all things, be able to keep mankind's last survivors alive? Why is the exact one-year cycle necessary to travel round the world, even if the train really did travel so slowly? There are other ridiculous things that happen later in the film, which I'll keep to myself to avoid spoilers. The claustrophobia of everything happening in narrow railway carriages doesn't make the film terrifying, it just makes the action all the more ridiculous.

Despite the use of English speaking actors, this is a Korean film. Maybe that's part of the reason I don't like it. I've never enjoyed Korean films. It's difficult to say why. There's something about the style and the feeling of Korean films that disturbs me. I also have an aversion to post-apocalyptic films. "Planet of the Apes" is the only post-apocalyptic film which succeeds in showing futuristic terror. All the other films, including this one, are full of speculation about what might happen. This speculation often veers into barely credible ideas, such as people praying to television sets or dogs being trained to find women for breeding purposes.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Iron Man (4½ Stars)

"I am Iron Man".

Those four words, the last words spoken before the credits rolled in the 2008 Iron Man film, were the film's biggest surprise. They were the film's biggest shock. They weren't a shock to naive cinema goers who were new to the intricacies of the Marvel Universe. They were a shock to hardcore Marvel fans like me who've known Iron Man since he first appeared in Tales of Suspense #39 in 1963. I've read his early adventures from the 1960's countless times. I grew to know and love him when I was a child. Maybe "love" is an over-statement, because he was the least charismatic of all the early Marvel super-heroes, but I did know him. I knew his mannerisms. I knew the way he spoke. I know that he would never have spoken the words "I am Iron Man".

Why was it deemed necessary to make this drastic change to the character? It's a bigger change than placing him in a different century, 45 years later in the present day world. It's an even bigger change than relocating the country of his super-hero rebirth from China to Afghanistan. Those were logical changes. Making him reveal his secret identity at the beginning of his crime-fighting career is totally illogical.

This was the film that kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, usually referred to simply as the MCU. It's a series of films that feature different characters, but are all interrelated. So far (at the time of writing this review) there have been 13 MCU films. At the moment another nine films are planned, but the exact number might still change. The films are leading up an adaptation of Jim Starlin's Infinity Gauntlet mini-series, first published in 1991. It will be a very loose adaptation, since the original comics featured the Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock battling Thanos, with assistance from the Avengers. It's unlikely that the Silver Surfer will be brought back after he was poorly developed in the second Fantastic Four film, and Adam Warlock hasn't even been hinted at in Marvel films so far.

After that it's possible that the MCU will either end or be rebooted. The actors playing the Avengers and the other super-heroes are getting older and don't want to play the characters forever. Up until now Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark is the most iconic, so it's difficult to imagine the MCU continuing without him.

Of course, the film has a cameo by the incomparable Stan Lee. If you blink you'll miss him. Tony Stark mistakes him for Hugh Hefner at a party. At least, that's what we see if we watch the extended scene which was cut from the film. In the deleted scene Tony Stark apologises for his mistake, and Stan replies, "That's okay, I get this all the time". In the version used in the completed film we only see the greeting, so it's more logical to assume that it really was Hugh Hefner being played by Stan the Man Lee.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Chappie (4½ Stars)

This is yet another brilliant film that has been unjustly savaged by the critics. Sometimes I get the impression that there's a secret conspiracy to persuade the public to stay away from good films in the cinema. The rest of the time I just think that the critics are stupid.

"Chappie" was intended to be the first film of a trilogy. The director Neill Blomcamp says he already has plot summaries for the other two films, but he doesn't yet know if he'll be able to make them. I blame the critics.