Friday, 20 January 2017

Off-Topic: Donald Trump's promises as President

Today, January 20th 2017, Donald Trump became President of America after winning the election on November 8th 2016. I can't remember a more controversial presidential candidate in my lifetime. He divided the American population down the middle. People either love him or hate him, there's no middle ground. Those who love him do so because they feel he talks like a normal man on the street, an unusual sentiment to have about a billionaire. Those who hate him do so because they accuse him of prejudice, both racial prejudice and sexism.

His election victory was one of the closest ever. As a result of America's electoral college system he won the election despite receiving slightly less votes overall. (This is disputed by many people, because most states don't count postal votes if the ballot box votes are enough to decide the winner. For me the argument is irrelevant, because he won on the basis of the system as it exists).

My friends who follow me on Facebook know that I've always been a harsh critic of Donald Trump. I've rarely mentioned him in my blog. This article is an exception, if you want to know my views on a single issue. Despite my dislike for some of his policies, I'm a firm believer in democracy. He was chosen as president in a fair election. It's no good for Americans to hold up banners saying "Not My President", because he is their president, whether they accept it or not. Some opponents of Donald Trump have latched on to conspiracy theories that Russian hackers faked the voting results. Other opponents have resorted to violence, smashing shop windows, burning cars and fighting with the police to challenge his presidency. If anyone is to blame for his election victory it's the Democratic Party for failing to pick a candidate that the public could trust.

Nevertheless, I'll give anyone a chance. The election campaign was a time of speaking. Now is the time of action. As of today I'm giving Donald Trump a clean slate. Whatever he's said until now doesn't matter to me. I'll judge him solely on what he does. I may or may not write an article as detailed as this in future, but if you're curious about my thoughts on him a year or two from now write a comment and I'll tell you what I think.

I've decided to post a full transcript of his 16-minute inauguration speech. Read it and judge for yourselves.

Donald Trump's Inauguration Speech

Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans and people of the world, thank you.

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people. Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for many, many years to come. We will face challenges, we will confront hardships, but we will get the job done. Every four years we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent. Thank you.

Today's ceremony, however, has very special meaning, because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.

For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment, it belongs to you.

It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.

January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.

The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before.

At the centre of this movement is a crucial conviction that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighbourhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public. But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealised potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

We are one nation and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams, and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny. The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.

For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidised the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We've defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own, and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We've made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world. But that is the past. And now, we are looking only to the future.

We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down.

America will start winning again, winning like never before.

We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.

We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labour.

We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American.

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.

We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilised world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.

There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.

Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving. We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining, but never doing anything about it.

The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.

Do not allow anyone to tell you that it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again. We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions. It's time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.

We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag.

And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.

So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words: you will never be ignored again.

Your voice, your hopes and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way. Together we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, together we will make America great again.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.

I'll make a few remarks about the speech. I welcome comments from anyone who disagrees with my remarks or wants to point out other things I should have said.

At its heart, this is a very populist speech. Donald Trump is speaking as an American to Americans. He isn't promising to make the world a better place. He's promising to make America a better place by putting Americans first. Promises like this, if fulfilled, can be good or bad. The strengthening of America can be to the detriment of other countries, in particular the immediate neighbours (Canada and Mexico). On the other hand, it's a return to the American Dream of the early immigrants. Anyone who wants to have a good life in comfort and prosperity can come to America. The only obligation is that you work hard. Very little of this dream is a feasible reality today. Making it possible again would raise the reputation of America in the world.

The sentiments about transferring power from politicians to the people are very noble, but is it possible? How will that be done in practice? Donald Trump has been criticised by many of his opponents for his lack of political experience, but he sees it as an advantage. He claims to be an outsider, a normal man who has entered the world of politics to ruffle the feathers of the fat cats. (I'm sorry for mixing my metaphors). He thinks he can bring fresh wind into the White House and American politics in general. He claims that his presidency will herald a permanent change which will remain after he leaves office, whichever party the next president will belong to. That's a big, big promise. I wish him success, but I honestly don't know how he can achieve it.

Donald Trump's words about no longer defending the borders of other nations give me mixed feelings. For many years, since 1945 at least, America has acted as the world's policeman. It looks over the shoulders of the leaders of other countries and steps in whenever a country is deviating from the American ideals of equality and democracy. However laudable this may be, it's not America's job. If a democratic country is overthrown by a military tyrant, why should America put things right? It's up to the people of that country to say what they want.

On the other hand, what if one country invades another? That's a more difficult case, and as a European I'm not unbiased in my judgement. For years Russia has been making threats to neighbouring countries in Europe. Only the NATO alliance with America has prevented Russian expansionism. This speech, along with utterances made over the last few months, suggests that Donald Trump disagrees with the aims of NATO. His attitude is, "Why should America risk a nuclear war to protect a little country like Lithuania? If Russia wants it, let them take it". Agreed, Lithuania is a small country, but I see it as a stepping stone. Europe has had centuries of war with borders being pushed back and forth. Only America's participation in NATO has prevented European wars for the last 70 years.

I listened to the speech as it was broadcast live, and my biggest shiver was when he said that "We will build new roads and highways". That's the exact promise that Adolf Hitler made to the German people when he was elected. I hope this similarity was accidental. He continued by saying "We will get our people off welfare and back to work", which was also a Nazi ideal. Taken naively it sounds good that people should be offered work, but Nazi Germany forced people to work by herding people into jobs when they weren't fully capable of working for health reasons. Unemployment was eradicated not only by offering new jobs but by not acknowledging those who didn't work.

Donald Trump speaks about forming new alliances. He's a Republican politician, but he's a very untypical Republican. He has a pro-Russian stance which would have been unthinkable for any previous president, especially the Republican presidents. His friendship with Vladimir Putin means peace for America, but it could also mean war for little countries like Lithuania.

In the speech Donald Trump distances himself from prejudice, although this seems to be limited to racial prejudice. Whether other minority groups can expect the same equality remains to be seen. As I said above, he has a clean slate.

The talk about God and the Bible in the last few minutes of his speech might alienate Europeans and even non-religious Americans, but it can't be held against him. The American constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, but that's only in theory. In practice the two have always gone hand in hand. Every American president talks about God, the Christian God. If Hillary Clinton had won the election she would have stood on the podium today talking about God. This may never change, definitely not in my lifetime, however many people quote the First Amendment.

Now it's time to sit back and watch history unfold. The biggest test will come four years from now. Will Donald Trump manage to govern in a way which will win over his opponents and give him an increased majority for a second term? I don't know. Time will tell.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Abner the Invisible Dog (4 Stars)

This is Abner in the garden.

This is also Abner in the garden.

I know I watched this delightful little film two months ago. Click here to read the review. It's a film worth watching again and again. In contrast, I doubt I'll return to "La La Land". There's a world of difference between the two films. "La La Land" was made with the intention of creating a classic film, and it failed. "Abner the Invisible dog" was made to be an enjoyable family film, and it succeeded. It's a wonderful film to warm the hearts of young and old alike. It's this sort of film that should receive big awards, not the pretentious blockbusters.

Last time I watched the film it was the original version. Today I watched the German dubbed version. Why? I wanted to compare it. German dubbing is very high quality. Admittedly, there are some films that need to be watched in the original languages, especially dual language films like "Great Wall", but there's no shame in watching most films in German. "Abner the Invisible Dog" sounds very good in German.

The young love of Chad and Molly is touching, even if it goes no further than holding hands and a kiss on the cheek. After all, he's 13 and she's 12. I'm jealous though. No girl ever walked to school with me when I was 13. It was probably my own fault. I didn't like girls my own age. I preferred the busty models on Page 3 of The Sun. I should have set my sights lower. After all, girls don't remain 12 forever.

This is today's Page 3 girl, Holly from Manchester. Topless models -- never fully nude! -- were featured in Britain's best selling daily newspaper, The Sun, from November 17th, 1970 to January 22nd, 2015. There were different reasons for the cessation of the feature. Many women's rights activists called for the pictures to be stopped because they were considered to be demeaning for women. The official statement of The Sun stated that Page 3 was outdated, and nobody wanted to look at topless models any more.

To reply to the second argument first, I understand that the pictures might seem outdated to many people, especially the younger generation. In the 1970's and 1980's the pictures were revolutionary, an opportunity to look at semi-naked women legally without being accused of buying pornography. Today it's different. Anyone can look at fully naked pictures or videos of women on the Internet, so women who are only topless look boring in comparison. That's a shame. Can't the pictures be appreciated as art instead of second-rate pornography?

As for the photos being demeaning, that's absolutely nonsense. The photographs are a monument to womanhood, presenting women in an ideal form. Rather than women being degraded, they're lifted up to a divine level and displayed as Goddesses to be worshipped.

If the feature was stopped in January 2015, how can I say Holly is today's Page 3 girl? The feature might no longer exist in the newspaper itself, but it's being continued online. It's updated daily at, proving that even in today's world of brash explicitness there's still a market for tasteful nudity.

I'm getting off the topic of the film itself, but that's no surprise to my regular readers. Enjoy the film. Enjoy Page 3.

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Wednesday, 18 January 2017

La La Land (3 Stars)

This is the in film at the moment. Everyone is talking about it, especially after it won seven awards at the Golden Globes. It's the #1 favourite to win the Best Film prize at this year's Academy Awards. I found the trailer very impressive. A return to the golden age of Hollywood musicals? Bring it on!

I could hardly wait to see the film in the cinema. I made sure that I went to an English language screening. (In Germany films are usually dubbed). I was surprised to find the cinema packed. There were at least 200 people with me, an extraordinary number for a film not in German.

The film began. The song and dance number on the freeway was overwhelmingly uplifting. I was immediately won over. The following first steps towards a romance between the two main characters tugged at my heart strings. Then came the song and dance number on the hill overlooking Los Angeles. Pure vintage Hollywood. Okay, neither Ryan Gosling nor Emma Stone are outstanding dancers, but they did their best, and their enthusiasm was laudable.

That was the film's high point. From then on it went downhill. The musical numbers, the main reason I wanted to see the film, became fewer as the film continued. Emma Stone's performance in the romantic scenes was riveting, but Ryan Gosling was dull in comparison. He's never been one of my favourite actors, and "La La Land" did nothing to change my opinion of him.

The film's concept is good. We want another Hollywood musical. We need another Hollywood musical. Lots of them. But let's do it better. Instead of choosing A-list actors as crowd pullers the next musical should feature Broadway stars who can actually dance. The film should be jam-packed with musical numbers with only short pieces of dialogue in between.

If you think I'm being harsh in my criticism, watch any musical starring Gene Kelly. "Singing in the Rain" is his most famous film, though I prefer "Cover Girl". There's no comparison, is there? "La La Land" is dull in comparison. They really don't make them like they used to.

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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Queen of the Damned (4½ Stars)

When I first saw this film I hated it. That was back in 2002, long before I started my blog, but if I'd been writing a review I would have given it two stars at most. I still remember my disappointment as I walked out of the cinema, the Odeon on New Street. The novel "Queen of the Damned" was my favourite book. I had such high hopes for the film, because I expected it to live up to the book. It didn't. It's not just a matter of seeing 750 pages compressed into 90 minutes; the film is actually based on the events of two books, "The Vampire Lestat" and "Queen of the Damned", so 1500 pages had been compressed into 90 minutes. So much was missing. It wasn't just that little details here and there were missing. At least 80% of the books' content had been omitted. Compared with the book, all that was left of the story was a skeleton.

I didn't buy the DVD when it was released. I waited a long time. Round about 2008 I was discussing the film with someone who told me that "Queen of the Damned" had the best film soundtrack ever. I could hardly remember the music, so I listened to it and I thought to myself, "Yes, this sounds pretty good. Maybe I should watch the film again". So I bought the DVD, which was very cheap by then, intending to concentrate on the music, but I began to enjoy the film itself.

Let me talk a bit about Anne Rice, the authoress responsible for "Queen of the Damned". She has a very classical style. In an interview she said that she doesn't read modern literature, she prefers the novels of the 18th and 19th Centuries. This is apparent in the way she writes. Modern authors like Stephen King are very direct and action-oriented. When a person walks into a room things happen. Anne Rice's books are different. When a person walks into a room she writes two or more pages describing the room and the atmosphere before anything happens. She's still living in the days before cinema, when literature was a medium that painted detailed pictures to fascinate the reader.

Anne Rice also uses the literary device of frame stories, popular in German literature in the 19th Century, referred to as Rahmennovellen. In its simplest form, a frame story is a novel in which a person tells a story to someone else. An example is Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein", which begins with a sea captain finding a man stranded in the arctic ice. The man is Victor Frankenstein, who then tells the captain how he came to be stranded. This embedded story fills most of the book, and at the end we return to the outer story of the sea captain once more. Almost all of Anne Rice's stories are frame stories, but usually the inner story is a frame story itself, giving three levels of narrative. She frequently drops into a fourth level, a story within a story within a story within a story. Her books are so well written that the technicalities aren't obvious and the stories flow smoothly, but this makes it impossible to translate her books one-to-one into film. Her books are almost all about talking, and the action happens within the talking. Any screenplay based on her books has to be completely restructured.

That's the problem the screenwriters had with "Queen of the Damned". The whole story was rewritten, and a lot had to be dropped in the process. I can appreciate that now. After watching the film a few times on DVD I began to accept it in its own right, rather than comparing it with the books. I can see the passion and the pain of Lestat, a passionate but lonely vampire. I can see his love for rock music. I can see his insolence in deliberately provoking vampires worldwide. It's a beautiful story. I now agree that the film really does have the best soundtrack ever. No other film comes close.

Of course, not everything is perfect. We see David Talbot, the head of the Talamasca, reading a newspaper article about Lestat's concert. The text reads:

America's latest and greatest band, Vampire Lestat, are leading on teenage kids to believe in the supernatural, Mr. Smith of the cult business claims. After the concert that was staged at Death Valley, Mr. Smith agrees that it was an amazing stunt that Lestat and his band pulled off. "This is just one example of to what extent certain people will go to to get the kids of today to believe in such activity. It's appalling, absolutely disgusting".

That's a good article, but if you look carefully you can see that this text is repeated six times, word for word. Click on the picture to enlarge it if you don't believe me. Sloppy.

The Queen of the Damned mentioned in the title is the ancient vampiress Akasha, who Lestat foolishly awakens because he doesn't know better. She's played by the singer Aaliyah (full name Aaliyah Haughton), who had a short but scandalous life. She released her first album, "Age ain't nothing but a number", in 1994 when she was 14. It sold over three million copies in the USA alone. The album's title was taken too seriously, because she married the album's producer, the rapper R. Kelly, a year later when she was 15. The marriage certificate falsely claimed she was 18. The marriage was declared invalid as soon as it was made public.

Shortly after filming "Queen of the Damned" Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash while returning home from making a music video. The film was dedicated to her. She could have had a long and successful film career. She had already been picked to play the part of Zee in "The Matrix Reloaded".

Aaliyah Haughton
January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001

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Monday, 16 January 2017

Great Wall (4 Stars)

I was very excited to hear that this film would be shown in the cinema. Zhang Yimou is one of my favourite directors, second only to Sion Sono. I own every film of his that has been released in English or German. I prefer English releases because they're subtitled, whereas the German releases are dubbed, but some of his films have only been released in Germany. Unfortunately, about half of his films are only available in Chinese. That's a pity. Even his first film, "Red Sorghum", made with a small budget in 1987, is a brilliant piece of art. In the years before 2013 when I rarely went to the cinema I always made sure I saw his films on the big screen. I saw "House of Flying Daggers" in 2004, "Hero" in 2005 and "Curse of the Golden Flower" in 2007. ("Hero" was released in 2002, but it wasn't shown in the UK until three years later). Since then there has been nothing. Zhang Yimou made another five films, and I've managed to buy three of them on Blu-ray, but none of them were shown in UK cinemas.

"Great Wall" is a departure from his usual subject matter, though not from his style. His films are usually romantic epics. Not all of them are love stories in the conventional sense. Often the romance is understated; we can see that two characters have feelings for one another, but their different social positions or their Chinese sense of dignity prevent them putting their feelings into words. In this film there's only a very slight hint of feelings between General Lin Mei (Jing Tian) and the English mercenary William Garin (Matt Damon). An American director would have ruined the film by letting the two share kisses or even more in between the battles, but Zhang Yimou is aware that no Chinese noblewoman would sully herself by engaging in a romance with a foreigner.

The film is about five foreign mercenaries who have travelled to China after hearing about a mysterious new invention which will revolutionise war: gunpowder. It isn't clearly stated when the film takes place, but based on a few clues it must be round about 900 A.D. While camping in the mountains three of the mercenaries are killed by an unfamiliar wild animal. William and his comrade Pero Tovar slay the animal and take its arm with them, hoping to ask someone what sort of creature it is. When they arrive at the Great Wall they're captured, but the Chinese are astounded that they had managed to kill the creature. It's a Tao Tie, one of a horde of creatures that attack once every 60 years. The Wall has been built to keep them out of the Chinese cities.

What follows is a fantasy epic. The highly intelligent Tao Tie, led by their queen, make repeated attempts to storm the Wall and climb over it to overrun China. It's also a tale of redemption. William comes to realise that his whole life of fighting for money has been worthless. He's overwhelmed by the nobility of the Chinese soldiers, and he decides that protecting China from attack is more important than his initial intention to steal gunpowder and make more money as a soldier.

When William and Tovar arrive Lin Mae is the commander of one of the five divisions of the Chinese army. She's the only person who can speak English (or whatever language was spoken in England at the time) because she's learnt it from a soldier who has lived with them for the last 25 years. After the death of the general in the first attack of the Tao Tie she's promoted to general and leads all the Chinese forces. This is probably an anachronism; I couldn't imagine a woman leading male troops in medieval China.

We briefly meet the Emperor of the Chinese Song Dynasty. He's a cowardly teenager, more interested in having fun with his concubines than affairs of state. Can you blame him? Boys will be boys. He's played by Karry Wang, well known in China as the leader of the boy band TF Boys. He was 15 at the time the film was made.

I had never heard of Jing Tian before watching the film, but she's evidently a very popular actress in China. She's attempting a breakthrough into the American market. She will appear in "Kong: Skull Island" and the sequel to "Pacific Rim".

After watching "Great Wall" today I consider it to be a very good film, but not up to the standard of his previous films. The emotional depth is missing that I've grown to love in his films. It's an interesting experiment, to prove that he's capable of making an action fantasy film, but I hope he'll return to what he does best.

Off-Topic: A Tale of two Banks

Over the last few years I've kept my off-topic posts to a minimum. This is a film blog, and it's meant to be about films. The only time I ever posted a lot of off-topic posts was in November 2013. Two events fell together. It was the murder trial for my friend Brian Farmer and the world chess championship. I gave daily reports on both topics, which led to my film reviews being in the minority. In the following years I haven't reported on the chess world championships. I believe I gave top quality reviews of the games in 2013, ideal reading for chess players with medium playing ability, but my posts went unread. I'm sure they would have been popular if people had discovered them, but a film blog isn't the place people usually look for posts about chess matches. Fortunately, I haven't visited any murder trials since 2013. This means my off-topic posts are few and far between. However, I feel that I deserve to let off an occasional rant.

In July 2016 I came to Germany to live with my family. The bank in the picture above, the Kreissparkasse Ludwigsburg, is opposite the house. All of my family had accounts with the bank. One of the first things I did on arriving was to visit the bank to open an account. I was told that I needed to make an appointment to open an account. No problem. The friendly man at the counter checked his computer, and then he gave me an appointment 10 days later. Ten days? I was already quivering with rage at having to wait so long, but I reacted politely, made a note of the appointment and returned home. The first thing I did was sit at my computer and check other banks. I found a bank which promised immediate acceptance of online applications, the Consors Bank in Nuremberg. As things turned out there was a two-day delay because I wasn't a German, but it was still eight days faster than the Kreissparkasse.

It wasn't until days later that I realised what a lucky escape I'd had. Not only does the Kreissparkasse Ludwigsburg have shitty customer service, it also charges horrendous fees. The Kreissparkasse charges 2 Euros per month standing fee. It charges an additional 25 cents for every transaction. A credit card costs 30 Euros per year. A debit card is free, but each transaction costs 25 cents.

Compare that with the Consors Bank. No monthly fee. No transaction charges. Credit cards and debit cards are both free. Every time I use my debit card I'm paid 10 cents by the bank. 10 cents might not seem much, but I use my card about 40 times a month. I just checked my bank statement for December:

Card used: 48 times
Payments received: 2
Cash withdrawn: 2 times

This resulted in a payment of 4.80 Euros. If I'd been with the Kreissparkasse I would have been charged 15 Euros (52 transactions x 0.25 plus 2 Euros monthly fee). That means I made a profit of 19.80 Euros by using a good bank. If my spending habits don't change I'll save about 240 Euros in a year.

If the Kreissparkasse Ludwigsburg is so bad, why do so many people use it? I asked my family members, and they all gave me the same answer. They didn't know that banks charge differently; they assumed they're all the same. The Kreissparkasse Ludwigsburg profits from the ignorance of its customers. If it hadn't been for their bad customer service I would have fallen into the same trap. But now it's time for a change. My daughter Gillian has already changed banks. She's with the Consors Bank like me. My other family members are considering changing, as soon as they're sure that there won't be any problems with their standing payments.

If you're one of my German readers, I hope you'll sit down and compare your bank with the Consors Bank. If you have a good bank already, congratulations. If not, change banks as quickly as possible. Unless, of course, you're so rich that you don't care about earning an extra 240 Euros a year.

Gun Woman (2 Stars)

"A man dies when one third of his blood is lost, but a woman can survive even if she loses two thirds of her blood. God created women superior to men".

The popular Japanese B-Movie star Asami stars in a Japanese version of Nikita. It doesn't tell the same story, but the similarities are obvious.

The Japanese yakuza boss Hamazaki has a son who is out of control. He enjoys killing women and he enjoys raping women, not always in that order. No woman is safe near him. He's an embarrassment to the family business, so Hamazaki sends his son (who's never named in the film) to America.

Before his banishment Hamazaki's son murdered the wife of a Japanese surgeon. The surgeon has dedicated the rest of his life to taking revenge. He gives up his job and follows Hamazaki's son to America, where he takes the name Mastermind. He buys a drug addict, puts her through forced rehab by chaining her to a wall, then trains her to be an assassin. Hamazaki's son is usually surrounded by bodyguards all day long. The only place he's vulnerable is during his regular visits to an exclusive club for necrophiliacs in Las Vegas. It's the ultimate necrobrothel. High-paying clients are given a dead girl to play with, always in perfect condition because she's been freshly killed by the club owners. The bodies are still warm. I sincerely hope that clubs like that don't really exist, but in this sick world we live in anything is possible.

The plan is for the ex-junkie to be put into deep paralysis and disguised as a dead woman. Her guns have been sewn into her chest. She has to rip them out and kill everyone within 22 minutes, the estimated time before she bleeds to death.

As much as I love films with beautiful, deadly women, I can't enjoy "Gun Woman". The scenes with her training were relatively enjoyable, but the last half hour was so ugly that I had difficulty watching to the end. It's all filmed for shock value: a naked woman on a rampage while blood is gushing out of her body. It's not for me. I'll do my best to forget that I ever watched it.

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Sunday, 15 January 2017

Van Helsing (5 Stars)

In my reviews I repeatedly state proudly that I judge films on the feeling they give me rather than their objective artistic merit. I staunchly defend films that serious critics consider to be trash, and I mercilessly attack films that the same critics praise. When it comes to "Van Helsing" I have a funny feeling in my stomach. I love it, I absolutely love it, but I can't avoid the feeling that it's a bad film I ought to hate. I've only watched it once before, in November 2012, and I've been reluctant to watch it again until now, despite giving it a five star rating. The last few days I've noticed that my original review has been getting a lot of hits, almost enough to put it into my top 10 most popular posts list. I don't know why. My readers are fickle. Sometimes a post can be ignored for years, and then it's suddenly noticed and everyone wants to read it. Whatever the reason for my post's popularity, it's an excuse for me to pull it off the shelf and watch it again.

So today I watched it again, trying not to like it. I was deliberately looking for faults. But guess what? I loved it yet again. After finishing the film I had to admit that I still loved it. I find everything perfect, from Hugh Jackman's 19th Century James Bond imitation to Kate Beckinsale's Transylvanian pirate queen outfit. It's a film that shouldn't work, but it does. Boo to the critics responsible for the 23% rating on Rotten Tomatoes!

However, I've found support in an unusual place. Roger Ebert loved the film almost as much as I do. Instead of writing my own plot summary I'll quote his review. Everything below the following photo of Kate Beckinsale is his words. I do this with the greatest respect, in accordance with the terms of use listed on his web site. He's the man who first inspired me to become a film critic, and I feel that my meagre posts can never reach the high standards of his film reviews. By quoting his review I am honouring his memory.

Strange that a movie so eager to entertain would forget to play "Monster Mash" over the end credits. There have been countless movies uniting two monsters ("Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man," "King Kong vs. Godzilla," etc), but "Van Helsing" convenes Frankenstein, his Monster, Count Dracula, the Wolf Man, Igor, Van Helsing the vampire hunter, assorted other werewolves, werebats and vampires, and even Mr. Hyde, who as a bonus seems to think he is the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The movie is like a Greatest Hits compilation; it's assembled like Frankenstein's Monster, from spare parts stitched together and brought to life with electricity, plus lots of computer-generated images. The plot depends on Dracula's desperate need to discover the secret of Frankenstein's Monster, because he can use it to bring his countless offspring to life. Because Dracula and his vampire brides are all dead, they cannot give birth, of course, to live children.

That they give birth at all is somewhat remarkable, although perhaps the process is unorthodox, since his dead offspring hang from a subterranean ceiling wrapped in cocoons that made me think, for some reason, of bagworms, which I spent many a summer hand-picking off the evergreens under the enthusiastic direction of my father.

Van Helsing is sometimes portrayed as young, sometimes old in the Dracula movies. Here he's a professional monster-killer with a Phantom of the Opera hat, who picks up a dedicated friar named Carl as his sidekick. His first assignment is to track down Mr. Hyde, who now lives in the Notre Dame cathedral and ventures out for murder. That job does not end as planned, so Van Helsing then moves on to the Vatican City to get instructions and and be supplied with high-tech weapons by the ecclesiastical equivalent of James Bond's Q.

Next stop: Transylvania, where the movie opened with a virtuoso b&w sequence showing a local mob waving pitchforks and torches and hounding Frankenstein's Monster into a windmill, which is set ablaze. We know, having seen the old movies, that the Monster will survive, but the mob has worked itself into such a frenzy that when Van Helsing and Carl arrive in the village, they are almost forked and burnt just on general principles. What saves them is an attack by three flying vampiresses, who like to scoop up their victims and fly off to savor their blood; Van Helsing fights them using a device that fires arrows like a machinegun.

And that leads to his meeting the beautiful Anna Valerious, who with her brother Velkan represents the last of nine generations of a family who will never find eternal rest until it vanquishes Dracula. (Conveniently, if you kill Dracula, all the vampires he created will also die). Anna is at first suspicious of Van Helsing, but soon they are partners in vengeance, and the rest of the plot (there is a whole lot of it) I will leave you to discover for yourselves.

The director, Stephen Sommers, began his career sedately, directing a very nice "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1993) and the entertaining "Jungle Book" (1994). Then Victor Frankenstein must have strapped him to the gurney and turned on the juice, because he made a U-turn into thrillers, with "Deep Rising" (1998), where a giant squid attacks a cruise ship, "The Mummy" (1999) and "The Mummy Returns" (2001). Now comes "Van Helsing," which employs the ultimate resources of CGI to create a world that is violent and hectic, bizarre and entertaining, and sometimes very beautiful.

CGI can get a little boring when it allows characters to fall hundreds of feet and somehow survive, or when they swoop at the ends of ropes as well as Spider-Man, but without Spidey's superpowers. But they can also be used to create a visual feast, and here the cinematography by Allen Daviau ("E.T.") and the production design by Allen Cameron join with Sommers' imagination for spectacular sights. The best is a masked ball in Budapest, which is part real (the musicians balancing on balls, the waiters circling on unicycles) and part fabricated in the computer. It's a remarkable scene, and will reward study on the DVD. So will the extraordinary coach chase.

I also liked the movie's recreation of Victor Frankenstein's laboratory, which has been a favourite of production designers, art directors and set decorators since time immemorial. (Mel Books' "Young Frankenstein" recycled the actual sets built for James Whale's "Bride of Frankenstein"). Here Frankenstein lives in a towering gothic castle, just down the road from Dracula, and the mechanism lifts the Monster to unimaginable heights to expose him to lightning bolts. There are also plentiful crypts, stygian passages, etc, and a library in which a painting revolves, perhaps in tribute to Brooks' revolving bookcase.

The screenplay by Sommers has humour but restrains itself; the best touches are the quiet ones, as when the friar objects to accompanying Van Helsing ("But I'm not a field man," he insists) and when the Monster somewhat unexpectedly recites the 23rd Psalm.

At the outset, we may fear Sommers is simply going for f/x overkill, but by the end, he has somehow succeeded in assembling all his monsters and plot threads into a high-voltage climax.

"Van Helsing" is silly and spectacular, and fun.

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Thursday, 12 January 2017

Tag (5 Stars)

"Run, Mitsuko, run".

"Run, Keiko, run".

"Run, Izumi, run".

Only Mitsuko can save the world, but how can she save anyone if she doesn't know who she is? The other girls in her school know some of the answers, but Mitsuko has to work out the rest for herself.

Aki knows that Mitsuko is the hero, the centre of the world, and she'll do anything she can to help Mitsuko succeed.

Sur is the most intelligent girl in the school. She knows that there are an infinite number of realities. What she doesn't realise is that all the realities are the same. Whenever Mitsuko tries to change something there are powerful forces at work that will restore the status quo.

Men! Vile, depraved, disgusting. Why should women be allowed equal rights when it's more fun to degrade them and use them as playthings?

Women are enslaved and they don't even know it. They cheer on Mitsuko and want her to win the race, but look carefully. The women at the front wave flags. Mitsuko is their hero, they want her to win. The women at the back wave big penises. They think that's the reward Mitsuko deserves. Women are encouraged to compete, and any woman who succeeds should be given to a man to be used and abused.

This is one of the best films ever made. I can watch it over and over again, and I'm never bored. Each time I watch it I pick up details that I previously missed. The sheer intensity of the film is overpowering. Sion Sono is my favourite director, and this is his best film. So far there isn't an official English release, although it's possible to find *cough* unofficial versions online. It was recently released on Blu-ray in Germany. The Germans have better taste when it comes to appreciating foreign cinema.