Monday, 21 May 2018

Assault on Precinct 13 (5 Stars)

This is, quite simply, one of the best films ever made. The film's premise is simple: a police station is under siege from an anonymous gang. The way the story leads up to the siege is an example of a perfect screenplay: the ice cream van, the father and daughter, the gang riding the streets, the police station, the bus driving prisoners to death row. All these elements seem random and unrelated, but they're woven together to provide a firm foundation for the rest of the film.

For the last 13 years I've been in possession of a somewhat fuzzy DVD. When I watched the film two months ago the picture quality got on my nerves. I did a little research and found that the 2012 Blu-ray release is highly praised. I bought it and watched it today. The remastering is wonderful. I'm amazed that the picture has been cleaned up to such an extent. The studio has put in a lot of work to save this valuable film.

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Sunday, 20 May 2018

Deadpool 2 (5 Stars)

Any worries I may have had about "Deadpool 2" were unfounded. It's brilliant. It surpasses the first film in its excellence. It's my favourite film of 2018 so far. It even surpasses "Avengers: Infinity War" in quality. I can't praise it highly enough.

"Deadpool 2" has the same comic banter as the the first film, complete with dialogue that breaks the third wall, but it also has some very serious scenes, especially in the first half. It's the contrast between these scenes and the comedy that make it a stronger film than the first.

I was particularly happy to see the return of the Juggernaut. He was shown in "X-Men: The Last Stand", but the film didn't do him justice. Vinnie Jones portrayed him as a comic character, which I consider inappropriate. He was one of the most deadly villains of the X-Men in their early years.

The film cleans up the continuity with the first Wolverine film, in which Deadpool appears as a very different character, in both appearance and personality. Deadpool goes back in time and kills his alternative self. Thank you. He also does away with his alter-ego in the DC universe by going back in time and killing Ryan Reynolds before he could star in "Green Lantern".

I can't say anything else without giving away spoilers. This is a film that everyone should watch. Marvel fans will laugh out loud at the subtle in-jokes, but even those less acquainted with the comics will find it hilarious.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Deadpool (5 Stars)

I'm planning to see "Deadpool 2" tomorrow, so I've decided to watch the original film to get myself in the mood. It was a very close second in my top 10 film list for 2016.

It's easy for me to enjoy the film because Deadpool is someone I hardly know from the Marvel comics, so I don't have to compare him with the original. He didn't appear in the comics until what I consider to be the post-canon period, so I don't care what they do with him in the films.

I admit to being nervous about tomorrow's film. Will it live up to the first film? I'll let you know.

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Rampage (4 Stars)

Today, 19th May 2018, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, married the American actress Meghan Markle. I was presented with a difficult choice: should I sit at home and watch the wedding, or should I go to the cinema and watch a film about a big monkey? Anyone who knows me already knows what I decided. I picked the big monkey.

The film begins in a space station orbiting the Earth which is being used as a laboratory for genetic research. One of the subjects escapes from its cage and wrecks the station. A scientist flees in an escape pod, taking with her canisters containing the bacteria that have been developed. The escape pod burns up on reentry into the atmosphere, and the canisters are scattered across North America. In Florida a crocodile swallows a canister. In Wyoming a grey wolf is infected by a broken canister. The third canister infects George in the San Diego nature Preserve.

Who's George? That's the big monkey. He's an albino gorilla who was saved from poachers by the primatologist Davis Okoye. George is a highly intelligent gorilla who converses with Davis using American Sign Language.

The result of the virus is to make the infected animals grow in size, at the same time becoming stronger, more agile and more aggressive. Energyne, the company responsible for the genetic research, transmits a signal to lure all three of the creatures to their headquarters in Chicago. When they arrive in the city Davis tries to reason with George.

There's a hidden joke for people who understand sign language. Whenever Dwayne Johnson talks to George he speaks aloud while making the signs. Whenever he says "It's me" he makes the sign for "rock". That's amusing.

Is it a good film? That depends on what you want to see. Dwayne Johnson has made enough films for us to know what to expect. Any film that he appears in is infeasible and over-the-top, but it's good entertainment. It's not serious cinema, it's good fun. If you want 90 minutes of wild escapism you won't be disappointed.

Verne Troyer does not appear in "Rampage", but since I'm remembering him this week I thought it would be appropriate to share this photo that was taken with Dwayne Johnson. If I'm not mistaken, Verne is attempting to imitate The People's Eyebrow. Sorry, Verne, you can't do it. Very few people can. It takes years of practice.

Friday, 18 May 2018

November Criminals (3 Stars)

Something has gone wrong with Chloe Grace Moretz's career. A few years ago she was the it girl, someone who was obviously a rising star. From the age of seven she was a successful child star, making three or more films a year. She first came to the general public's attention playing the foul-mouthed teenage super-hero Hit Girl in 2010, when she was only 13. She went on to star in even bigger roles, including "Let me in", the remake of Stephen King's "Carrie" and the critically acclaimed "Clouds of Sils Maria". Maybe it was the box office failure of "Clouds of Sils Maria" that was the turning point. After that she was given mostly smaller roles. She seemed to be getting back to star status with two successful films in a row, "The 5th Wave" and "Bad Neighbours 2", but both films were savaged by the critics. Now she's crashed. Her last three films have gone straight-to-video, which is a death knell for anyone's career. Even worse, the films are hardly available on disc. "Brain on Fire" (2016) has only been released on DVD in China and Hungary. "I love you, Daddy" (2017) hasn't been released on DVD anywhere, so it's more accurate to say that it's been released straight-to-trashcan. "November Criminals" has been released on DVD in Germany and a few other European countries, but without an American or English release it's destined to be forgotten.

Added to this, "November Criminals" has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. No films ever score that badly. Even "The Room" has 26%. Is this really one of the worst films ever made?

The answer is a clear No. It's not a great film, but I've seen much worse. The story is interesting – the script is co-written by Steven Knight – and all the actors know how to act. There's just something intangible missing. There's nothing about the film that excites me.

The film is a love story, a coming-of-age story and a murder mystery. Addison Schacht and Phoebe Zeleny are classmates, both 17, both the children of rich parents. The school they go to is filled with rich kids. It's the better side of town. Both have applied to go to university. Addison is an above average student, but Phoebe is brilliant, so they'll be going different ways.

One evening they visit a coffee shop where Addison's best friend Kevin (also a classmate) has a part time job. Phoebe tells Addison she wants to have sex because she doesn't want to go to university as a virgin and she wants her first time to be with another virgin. That's a shock to Addison, because until now they've only been friends, but he doesn't say No. Would any 17-year-old virgin refuse an offer like that? They drive to Phoebe's house to do it. 15 minutes later there's a news report about a shooting in the coffee shop. Kevin is dead.

Understandably, this puts Addison in a crisis. He knows that if he hadn't been in such a rush to lose his virginity he would still have been in the cafe and he might have been able to stop it happening.

Even worse is that the police call it a gang-related shooting. This is a euphemism for "There's nothing we can do about it". Kevin was from an African American family, one of the few black students in the school, so the assumption is that if a black boy gets shot it must be because he was in a gang. Addison knows that this wasn't the case, so he begins to investigate the case himself, with Phoebe's help. At the beginning Addison and Phoebe remain platonic, despite having had sex once, but as the investigations continue their feelings for one another deepen.

This is only a film for fans of Chloe Grace Moretz. That includes me. If you admire her as an actress, don't be put off by the Rotten Tomatoes reviewers. It's not that bad.

Perdita Durango (4 Stars)

This film, also known as "Dance with the Devil", has been released in many different versions, with different scenes being cut in different countries. Both the rated and the unrated American versions are censored. The British release is censored. Even the Australian release which calls itself "uncut" is missing about 10 minutes. It's not only violence that has been censored. Some of the cuts appear to be due to copyright reasons. There are excerpts from other films that are removed in America. Until recently the only uncut version was available in Spain, a dubbed version without the original English dialogue. This year an uncut version was finally released in Germany, complete with the original English dialogue. This is the only version I can recommend.

Perdita Durango is the name of a young prostitute who lives in America. She travels to Mexico to scatter her sister's ashes. On the way back she meets an enigmatic man called Romeo Dolorosa. He's a bank robber, a drug dealer and a Santeria priest. (Wikipedia claims that he's only pretending to be a Santeria priest. It seems like the author didn't pay attention to the film).

Santeria is a variant of voodoo practised in the Caribbean. It's strongly influenced by Catholicism, but its ceremonies involve animal sacrifice. Allegedly human sacrifice has also been practised in past centuries.

The relationship between Perdita and Romeo is a tale of love and obsession. At first she resists Romeo, then she becomes fascinated by his lifestyle, and finally she wants to control him. He has a job to do, transporting frozen fetuses from Mexico to a cosmetics company in Las Vegas, but he wants to perform a Santeria ceremony before crossing the border into America. Perdita suggests that they kidnap a gringo and eat him at the next ceremony. They grab two 17-year-old teenagers in a busy street, Duane and Estelle, who become their companions for the rest of the film. Romero treats Duane as a friend, because he thinks that dying in a Santeria ceremony is the biggest honour a person can have. The two youngsters were previously virgins, but Romero rapes Estelle and Duane has a voluntary sexual relationship with Perdita. A twisted foursome begins.

Romeo is being pursued by an American DEA agent, played by James Gandolfini, who doesn't want to intervene until he crosses the border. After all, Mexico is out of his jurisdiction.

Why is James Ganolfini injured? He was hit by a car. Twice. Estelle's father is also hit by a car. That's my biggest complaint about the film. Seeing someone being accidentally hit by a car twice in one film is a bit weird, but seeing three identical car accidents in one film is ridiculous. It looks like slapstick. These accidents aren't even essential to the plot. All three could have been removed without taking anything away from the story. In fact, they should have been removed, because it would have improved the story.

Alex de la Iglesia is one of my favourite directors. Most of his films have been made in Spanish. He's only made two films in English, "Perdita Durango" and "The Oxford Murders". It's notable that these two films are weaker than any of his Spanish films. Maybe his creativity is lost in translation?

This is the cover of the recent German release, available on Blu-ray and DVD. It's the only version you should buy. I won't even give you links to the American and English releases.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Austin Powers: The Spy who shagged me (4½ Stars)

I admit it. The main reason why I decided to watch the Austin Powers trilogy this week is to remember Verne Troyer, the actor who played Mini-Me and died last month. The exact cause of his death isn't clear. Early reports claimed that it was suicide, but the official cause of death has been recorded as alcohol poisoning. The truth is probably a mixture of the two.

Some epitaphs written online say that it's wrong to concentrate on his size, he should just be judged as a man. I understand what they're saying, but it's impossible to write about him without mentioning his size. At 2'8" (81 cm) he was the world's smallest actor. Peter Dinklage (4'5", 135 cm) is a giant in comparison. Verne Troyer's height is what he'll be remembered for. That's an undeniable fact. But we should also remember him as a good actor. After seeing him at his audition Mike Myers was so impressed with Verne's acting ability that he rewrote the script to give him more screen time. How many actors can say that about themselves?

The first film takes place in the 1990's (1997), while the second film takes place in the 1960's (1969). Dr. Evil has invented a time machine, with which he travels back in time to steal Austin Powers' mojo while he was frozen. This mojo is the essence that makes Austin what he is, including his charm, his sexual prowess and his skill as a secret agent. Austin Powers travels back in time using a Back-To-The-Future-ish car to challenge Dr. Evil. He's at a disadvantage because he's already lost his mojo, but he receives assistance from Agent Felicity Shagwell, a swinging, free-loving sixties girl who is the exact female equivalent of Austin himself.

In the first film Mike Myers played two characters, Austin Powers and Dr. Evil. In this film he also plays the evil henchman Fat Bastard. Yes, that's his name. Yes, that's really Mike Myers. He's hardly recognisable under all that make up, body padding and whatever else was used to disguise him.

Because Dr. Evil's son Scott wasn't evil enough to be the successor to the Evil Empire a clone has been made from Dr. Evil's DNA. The clone is Mini-Me, played by Verne Troyer, identical in every respect except for his size. Dr. Evil immediately appoints him his successor. This annoys Scott, who now wants to try to be more evil, but it's too late.

I made a mistake in my last review of "The Spy who shagged me". I claimed that it was a blunder that Mustafa and Number Two magically reappeared after being killed in the first film. I should pay more attention. Mustafa was killed in 1997, so it's not a mistake to see him in 1969. It all makes sense. As for Number Two, he's thrown into a fire pit in the first film, but we never see him die. When he returns in this film he has burn marks on his cheek, so we can assume that he was somehow rescued from the pit. He might have burn marks in other places that his fine suits hide from sight.

Overall the film is just as good as "International Man of Mystery", but I have a few small problems with it. I find the humour with the Fat Bastard character unnecessarily vulgar. I also find it strange the way Elisabeth Hurley's character is removed from the film by the revelation that she was always a fembot. If you watch the first film you can see that this was impossible.

Verne Troyer
January 1, 1969 – April 21, 2018

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Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (5 Stars)

This is a brilliant spy spoof, maybe one of the best parody films ever made. It was written by the comedian Mike Myers, featuring himself in the two main roles. The film makes fun of 1960's spy films, primarily the James Bond films. For fans of the old films it's an opportunity to sit and spot references, but even for the younger generation who have only limited knowledge of the old films it's hilarious. It's also a comedy about the English hippy culture of the 1960's.

Now to the plot. Austin Powers was England's best secret agent in the 1960's. His nemesis was Dr. Evil, a megalomaniac who wanted to rule the world. Isn't that what they all want to do? After failing in an attempt to kill Austin Powers Dr. Evil flees into space. He puts his body in deep freeze, so he can return when Austin Powers is dead or too old to stop him. Austin foils his plan by also letting himself be frozen, ready to be thawed when Dr. Evil returns.

The return is in 1997, the year when the film was made. While the two opponents prepare to clash we see Austin trying to adjust to the modern world. His biggest problem is that free love is no longer practised. He expects women to have sex with him – he uses the word "shag" – immediately after meeting him. It's not so easy these days. He has to be charming and polite and work hard to get women into bed.

Dr. Evil, also played by Mike Myers, has less problems adjusting. He was never interested in free love. All he wanted to do was rule the world. His biggest problem is building a relationship with his son Scott, who was born during his absence using his frozen semen.

A lot of the humour revolves around Austin Powers' social ineptness, but it's wrong to compare him with Johnny English, who is also inept as a spy. When it comes to his job Austin Powers is highly skilled. He knows exactly what he's doing. He rushes into action to take on his enemies with his trusty Walther PPK/S in his hand. This is one of the film's few errors. He's shown using the gun in 1967, but it wasn't designed until 1968.

Austin Powers is a skilled spy, but he has one fatal weakness. When he meets beautiful women he's too confused to think straight. That's understandable. I would have the same problem.

This film was followed by two sequels, both of which were almost as good as the first film. In 2008 he tried to continue with his success by starring in another self-written comedy film called "The Love Guru", but it didn't have the same magic as the Austin Powers films. Let's see if he's able to get his mojo back one day.

If you want to buy this film you'll have a difficult choice. The full version is only available in England. The American version has cut several scenes, some of which are included as "deleted scenes" in the extra features, but not all. In particular, Christian Slater's scene has been removed entirely from the American version. The American Blu-ray release has the film in its original 2.35:1 ratio, but the DVD releases on both sides of the Atlantic present the film in a cropped 2:1 ratio. In England the film has never been released on Blu-ray.

If you've never seen the film before your best choice is to buy the American Blu-ray. It's the best quality you can get for your money. If you're a fan of the film like me – I saw it in the cinema when it was first released – you'll be annoyed by the missing scenes, so you'll be better buying the English DVD.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Picasso Trigger (5 Stars)

This is the third film in the Andy Sidaris collection, made in 1988. In the introduction he calls it the second film, and he repeats this in the Behind The Scenes featurette, but he's wrong. He must have been too confused by Julie Strain's antics. At the beginning of the introduction she jumps into the room with her breasts exposed. Naughty girl! Even when she covered up Andy couldn't stop staring at her.

I don't understand why people call "Hard Ticket to Hawaii" a cult film and not this film instead. I consider "Picasso Trigger" to be the best of the early films in the Andy Sidaris collection. It has fast paced action that puts it ahead of the first two films.

Once more the film deals with The Agency. Based on the evidence in this film alone if sounds like it's referring to the FBI, but it's still being kept deliberately vague. The leading male actor is Steve Bond, who plays Travis Abilene. Is he yet another cousin of Cody Abilene (in "Malibu Express") and Rowdy Abilene (in "Hard Ticket to Hawaii")? He must be a close relation, because he's living in the same yacht that belonged to the two other Abilenes. Although he's the leading male actor, Dona Speir has more screen time as Donna. As the Andy Sidaris films continue the women in his films become steadily more important than the men.

A lot of characters return from "Hard Ticket to Hawaii", making it look like a sequel, but that isn't the case. Not exactly. The actor Rodrigo Obregon returns in a new role. In the last film he played Seth Romero, the second in charge in a drug cartel. In this film he's Miguel Ortiz, a man seeking revenge for his brother who has been given the death penalty for unnamed crimes. His glasses, beard and curly hair aren't enough to disguise him.

Miguel is attempting to kill all of the Agency operatives who were involved in bringing his brother to justice. After killing them he intends to kill the witnesses who testified in court. Some of the Agency members survive the attacks, so they go underground pretending to be dead. This gives them freedom to prepare a counter-attack.

"Picasso Trigger" introduces a theme which is used in most of the following films: remote controlled toys are used as weapons. It's a simple but effective idea. Explosives are attached to a miniature car or plane. Then they're sent towards the enemy, and boom! He never saw it coming.

I was curious to see how many Playmates are in this film, so I checked out the character biographies.

  • Dona Spier (Donna) was Playboy's Playmate of the Month in March 1984.
  • Hope Marie Carlton (Taryn) was Playboy's Playmate of the Month in July 1985.
  • Roberta Vasquez (Pantera) was Playboy's Playmate of the Month in November 1984.
  • Cynthia Brimhall (Edy) was Playboy's Playmate of the Month in October 1985.
  • Kym Malin (Kym) was Playboy's Playmate of the Month in May 1982.
  • Patty Duffek (Patticakes) was Playboy's Playmate of the Month in May 1984.
  • Liv Lindeland (Inga) was Playboy's Playmate of the Month in January 1971.

Seven Playmates of the Month in one film! Andy knew what he was doing.

Most of my readers must know IMDB (Internet Movie Database), but how many of you know IMFDB (Internet Movie Firearms Database). I stumbled upon it by accident when I mistyped IMDB in a Google search. It's an easy mistake to make when you type as badly as me. The F is next to the D on the keyboard. The IMFDB is a site that describes the guns used in films. The site's contributors must be big gun freaks to be able to recognise all the guns seen briefly in films. In "Picasso Trigger" a lot of different guns are used.

  • Beretta 950BS Jetfire -- used by Taryn.
  • Dan Wesson Model 15-VH -- used by L. G. Abilene (Travis' father).
  • Luger P08 -- used by Travis
  • Kimar 911 -- used by several thugs
  • Single Action Army -- used by Patticakes
  • Edison Giocattoli Sharkmatic -- used by a thug
  • Armalite AR-7 -- used by Pantera
  • Karabiner 98k -- used by a butler
  • Ruger 10/22 -- used by Taryn
  • Colt Model 1878 Reproduction -- used by Hondo
  • Winchester Model 1300 -- used by several thugs
  • Koon Snake Charmer -- used by Kym
  • IMI Uzi -- used by Taryn and Miguel
  • IMI Micro Uzi -- used by Hondo, one of Miguel's men
  • Sterling Mk. IV -- used by Edy

That's 15 different guns, and multiple copies of some guns were used. Andy Sidaris' films are a delight for gun collectors. I can't help wondering, did Andy have a big box of guns at home that he brought to the film sets? Or did he just tell the actors to bring their own guns? In America anything is possible.

Here are the members of The Agency gathering at the end of the film for their obligatory glass of champagne. For a change they're meeting at Edy's club in Honolulu, not on the Abilene yacht.

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Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Avere Vent'anni (3 Stars)

I noticed today that Amazon Prime includes a film starring Gloria Guida, "Avere Vent'anni", known in English as "To be twenty". It was made in 1978 at the peak of her career.

Unfortunately, the version that's included on Amazon Prime is heavily cut. The original version is 94 minutes long, but the version I watched today is only 73 minutes. From what I've read it's not a matter of censorship. The original film is a mixture of comedy and serious social commentary. The shortened version removes most of the serious scenes to make it funnier.

The film is about two young girls, 20 years old, according to the title, who are hitch-hiking to Rome. They have no money, so they decide to live in a religious commune. The guru teaches his disciples to meditate and distance themselves from the pleasures of the flesh. This is frustrating for the two girls, because the men in the commune resist their sexual advances.

They do get sex, but not the way they expected it. The guru pimps them out as prostitutes to make money to support the commune.

Some reviewers call this a cult film and say that it's essential to watch the uncut version to appreciate it as a political drama. I accept that the uncut version must be better, but I have no intention to spend any money on it. If Amazon Prime adds the uncut version I'll watch it, otherwise I'll forget about it. The version I watched today is a dull erotic comedy, and I'm not interested in seeing what was cut.