Friday, 23 March 2018

Place Beyond The Pines (2 Stars)

I've known about this film for a few years and had only heard good about it. After watching it today I don't understand why the critics unite in praising it. Rather than being a consistent narrative it rambles on from one story to another, changing the lead character in the style of a soap opera. For the first 90 minutes I had difficulty maintaining interest and almost turned it off. It was only in the last 45 minutes when Dane DeHaan's character was introduced that I began too enjoy the film.

The story is about a policeman who shoots a bank robber in the line of duty. He's plagued by guilt and leaves the police force to enter politics. 16 years later his son becomes friends with the son of the man he killed, not knowing about their connection.

The film takes place in three stages, like a play in three acts, with different characters who come and go:

1. The bank robber and his life.
2. The policeman and his moral struggles.
3. The policeman's son.

Maybe the film could have been made better, but I don't know how.

The seemingly random film title is the English translation of Schenectady, the name of the town in upstate New York where the film takes place.

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Thursday, 22 March 2018

Sorceress 2 (3 Stars)

This is a film that makes me sad. It's supposedly a sequel to "Sorceress", made two years earlier in 1995. I say supposedly because it's a completely different story with new characters. The only connection is that Julie Strain appears in both films. That isn't bad in itself, but what disappoints me most is that "Sorceress 2" uses footage copied from the first film. Why? For me that's the ultimate in bad filmmaking. When I first saw "Sorceress 2" I thought the opening scenes were a flashback to the first film. I could have accepted that. Then I realised that it was a new story using old footage, and I clenched my fists in rage. "So maybe Julie Strain wasn't available for this film", I assumed. That was another error. As the film progressed I saw Julie in newly filmed scenes, so why didn't she film a new scene for the beginning of the film? It's inconceivable.

The film has a plot typical for supernatural erotic thrillers. A witches' coven is ruled by three sisters who have lived for centuries by absorbing the life essence of men that they seduce. Now they want global domination by marketing cosmetics which will turn other women into witches. That's a ridiculous plot, but I could have swallowed it. What I don't like is that there's a man, Deacon John, who is controlling the witches. He seems irrelevant to the story. Couldn't the sisters just absorb him and carry on without him?

The film also stars Julie K. Smith as one of the three sisters. Usually, seeing the two Julies together in a film would be a guarantee for quality, but not this time. At the end a third film is announced, "Sorceress 3: The Sweet Spell of Success". It was never made. I'm glad.

I bought this film on DVD in 2005. It's now out of print. "Sorceress" has been remastered for Blu-ray. Don't expect to see a new release of "Sorceress 2" any time soon.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Drive (4 Stars)

After watching "Neon Demon" last week I decided to watch a few more films directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Luckily several of them are available on Netflix. I'm beginning to get a feeling for his style now. He and his films have never been nominated for Academy Awards, but he's a favourite at independent film festivals, most notably at the Cannes Film Festival. His two most highly praised films so far have been "Neon Demon" and "Drive".

First of all I'll state my biggest criticism of "Drive": it's too short. The plot is complex, so 100 minutes isn't enough. A running time of 150 minutes would have done more justice to the subplots, as well as further developing the characters. Is there a director's cut lying in a draw somewhere?

Ryan Gosling is the film's unnamed hero. He's moved to Los Angeles to make it big, like so many other anonymous faces in and around the film industry. His job of choice is as a stunt driver. Nobody can crash a car like him. Aren't stunt men the most anonymous of all film stars? They're paid to remain unseen.

His relative success in Hollywood isn't enough to pay the bills. He works as a car mechanic. He also does freelance work as a getaway driver for robberies. It's all very impersonal. He doesn't want to make friends, he just does his job. He doesn't even speak to the crooks that he drives to and from crime scenes. They respect him for his driving skills, not for his personality.

He becomes romantically attached to his neighbour, a woman whose husband is in prison. It's a very underplayed romance. He's a decent man and respects the woman's marriage. When the husband is released from prison they make friends, and he offers to help him pay off debts to other criminals. He offers his services as a getaway driver to rob a pawn shop, but the robbery turns out wrong. Instead of the relatively small takings the Italian mafia is using the shop to store over a million dollars. The innocent driver gets caught up in a mob war in which he's the designated scapegoat. Or is he so innocent? That isn't clear. He might be a quiet person whose casual attitude makes other people think he doesn't know what he's doing, but he's more than able to handle himself in a fight.

The film is characterised by two features: bright colours and extreme violence. The style is very much like Quentin Tarantino's films, or at least it would be if there were more conversations. That's why "Drive" needs an extra 50 minutes. And, of course, Tarantino's films don't have such dazzling colours.

I can't help feeling that Nicolas Winding Refn is still slowly developing his style. His big masterpiece is yet to come. I can hardly wait.

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Monday, 19 March 2018

Tomb Raider (2018) (4 Stars)

The rebooting of the Tomb Raider film franchise puzzled me. Didn't the original films, made in 2001 and 2003, say it all? From my vague remembrance of the films they were action-filled adventures, good fun to watch once but with no outstanding qualities. They were both moderately successful at the box office, and they were the breakthrough films for Angelina Jolie. I would have been happy if a third film had been made in 2005, but instead of that we've waited another 13 years, and now we have a new actress stepping into the shoes of the adventurer Lara Croft.

A review on the BBC's web site says that putting the 2001 and the 2018 films together is like comparing a Terminator with Postman Pat. That's amusing, but it's obvious what's meant. In 2001 the film began with Lara Croft already at the peak of her fighting powers. She was a virtually indestructible killing machine, every bit as powerful as the character in the video games on whom she was based. The 2018 film shows Lara earlier in her development, so it could be called a prequel. She isn't given her iconic twin guns until the final scene, which is when she first begins to look like Lara Croft.

There have been some complaints about the casting of Alicia Vikander from video game fans who say that she's too flat-chested to play the role. Other fans have answered that the character is more flat-chested in the recent video games. I've never played any of the games, so I've had to rely on fan pages that show comparisons of her appearance over the years. It seems to me that she started in 1996 with large breasts, her breasts were shrunk in the mid 2000's, but since then they've been growing again. Her breasts looked larger in the early games because her waist was unnaturally narrow, but that has been corrected over the last few years.

My opinion is that Alicia Vikander is slightly too flat-chested, but she's acceptable as the character. It's nothing that a good push-up bra can't put right in the next film.

Having said that, Alicia Vikander is an excellent actress, and she fills the role well. I don't know how old she's supposed to be in the film, I'd guess 22 or 23, but she's made up to look very young. In most of the early scenes she looks 18 at the most.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Walton Goggins appear as the film's main villain. He's an underrated actor that not many film fans know. I hope this film will boost his popularity. He has the skill to go a lot further in his career.

I feel tempted to watch the original Tomb Raider films again for the sake of comparison. Maybe.

The Paperboy (5 Stars)

In 1994 the Canadian horror film "The Paperboy" was made. In 2018, 24 years later, it still hasn't been released in England, America or even Canada. If you were lucky you might have been able to buy a copy of the Australian DVD release ten years ago, but it's now out of print.

Despite its practical non-existence, if you search online you'll find a lot of reviews. It's an insider tip for fans of horror films. They recognise its quality and speak about it in hushed tones. One of the film's most vocal advocates has been Joe Bob Briggs. When he presented it on "Monstervision" he called "The Paperboy" the most underrated horror film ever. His recommendation is enough to make anyone sit up and pay attention.

Today I watched "The Paperboy" with my son Benjamin who's visiting me for a few days. He loved it, of course. He has good taste in films, and if anything he's easier to please than I am. He says of almost every film that he watches with me, "Will you give this five stars?" In this case the answer is a clear Yes. This is in the list of my 50 favourite films.

What I like about the film is that I can relate to the main character, 12-year-old Johnny McFarley. I've never killed anyone, neither when I was 12 nor when I was older, but I can see myself in him. Maybe if I'd been tipped by tragedies in my life I could have turned out like him. There's a madness in him that I can see in myself. He wants a family. He wants to be loved. He's frustrated that his good deeds are misinterpreted by others. He lusts for his 16-year-old neighbour Brenda -- as I also used to lust for older girls who were out of my league -- but when she rejects him his feelings turn to hate. That's a step that I never took in my youth, because my intellect and my moral standards protected me, but how close was I to following a path of evil? I don't know. Probably a lot closer than I think.

Or maybe that's just the quality of the film. Maybe it's not just me. Maybe it would speak to the heart of any man who remembers what it was like to be young and confused, too hormonally imbalanced to make the right choices in life.

This is a film that I can recommend to anyone and everyone. I hope that it will eventually be remastered for Blu-ray. It deserves it.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Mummy Returns (4½ Stars)

After watching "The Mummy" earlier today I had to watch the sequel as quickly as possible. It was made two years later in 2001, but the film's story takes place nine years later. Rick O'Connell and Evelyn Carnahan met in the first film; now they're married and have a precocious young son who's inherited his mother's intelligence and his father's reckless lust for adventure.

The back story is fleshed out in the sequel. In the first film the Mummy Imhotep mistook Evelyn for his lover Anck-Su-Namun, but now we find out that she's really a reincarnation of Nefertiri, Anck-Su-Namun's slave. That's an easy mistake to make. After 3000 years in the grave you can get people mixed up.

This is a very good film, but not quite up to the standard of the original. One of its weaknesses is in the use of CGI. In the first film the computer effects were used discreetly to add awe to the film whenever needed. In the sequel the computer effects are over-used and dominate the imagery.

I recommend the film strongly, especially if you're able to buy the trilogy as a box set in America and England.

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The Mummy (5 Stars)

The last time I watched the 1999 version of "The Mummy" I said that it was "a great film that I should watch more often".  That was five years ago. I don't know why I've waited so long. There's no logical reason. After watching it today my first thought was "Wow! I should watch this again as soon as possible!" Some films are just perfect. By "some" I mean very few. "The Mummy" has everything in perfect proportions: action, suspense, humour and romance. Compare it with the 2017 version, which isn't bad in itself, but it isn't that special either. I can't remember why I gave it four stars. There must have been something I liked about it when I watched it, but whatever it was I've forgotten it now. It just wasn't memorable.

If you live in America or England you can buy the trilogy of Brendan Fraser's mummy films on Blu-ray for a very cheap price. Click the links below. In Germany it's cheaper to buy the films individually.

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Saturday, 17 March 2018

Ip Man 3 (5 Stars)

Here's a photo of Mike Tyson and Donnie Yen at the American premiere of "Ip Man 3" in Los Angeles, four weeks after I saw it in Birmingham. Donnie Yen might be a magnificent actor and an incredible martial arts fighter, but dress sense isn't his skill. Doesn't he at least have a wife who can tell him that neon green suits aren't in fashion?

In my opinion this was the best film of 2015, despite being slightly weaker than the two previous films. The filming for "Ip Man 4" began this month. I can hardly wait!

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Friday, 16 March 2018

The Neon Demon (4 Stars)

Jesse is a 16-year-old girl who moves from Georgia to Los Angeles to become a model. On arriving she meets a photographer called Dean who takes her first photos. She uses these pictures to present herself to a modelling agent, who immediately recognises she has talent.

The modelling business is hard and merciless. As Jesse quickly rises to the top the other models ask her who she's been sleeping with to get so far. They don't believe that it's possible to become a top model without sleeping around. Jesse is naive and hardly believes what's happening to her. She's like a deer caught in the headlights, as her new best friend Ruby tells her. Ruby says that she's a makeup artist, but she doesn't admit that she does makeup for corpses to prepare them for burial.

The lights are bright, the music is loud, and Jesse's virginal innocence prevents her from seeing the dangers of the new world she's entered.

The Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has a psychedelic style which is unique today. He has more similarity with 1970's directors like Robert Fuest. There's a distinct similarity with the colour contrasts of Stanley Kubrick's "Clockwork Orange". The clash between the superficial beauty and the depths of the horror beneath the surface is staggering. After watching "Neon Demon" you have to rub your eyes and ask yourself if you really saw what just happened. This isn't a film for everyone, but it's a film for viewers who like to be shocked.

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