Sunday, 31 July 2016
Thank you, Amazon Prime. I wanted to see this film when it was in the cinema 18 months ago, but you know how it goes: I was busy and kept putting it off, and when I finally had time the film's run was over. "So many films, so little time". But tonight I found it listed among the films included with my Amazon Prime subscription.
Hazel Micallef is a police inspector in the small town Port Dundas in Ontario. She's called to investigate the murder of an old woman in her home. The unusual thing about the death is that the mouth has been forced into a position posthumously, as if saying something. By chance Hazel hears about a death under similar circumstances in a neighbouring area. Suspecting a serial killer, she rings other police districts and finds another seven similar murders, spread across Canada.
The investigations continue with more thorough autopsies, and it's discovered that the people weren't murdered at all. They all committed suicide in order, from west to east, and their bodies were cut with a knife after death to make the police suspect murder. Of course, Hazel wants to find the man present at all the suicides who mutilated the corpses. Then she discovers the existence of an ancient cult that believes Christ could only be resurrected after the suicide of 12 disciples, so she suspects that there will be another three deaths. But who will be resurrected this time?
This is a fascinating film with solid acting from Susan Sarendon as a whiskey drinking police inspector. Despite the supernatural background it's a murder mystery, even after the cause of the deaths is discovered to be suicide. Questions are left open, such as why the 12 suicides had to be stretched from the west to the east coast of Canada. The slow pace might not be pleasing to everyone, but it serves to intensify the atmosphere.
Friday, 29 July 2016
"All eternity depends on this moment".
This is the second film in the Ruby Red trilogy, based on the book with the same name by Kerstin Gier, It begins in 1602 with Gideon taking Gwendolyn to London to see William Shakespeare reciting poetry. After the recital they witness Gideon's ancestor Lancelot de Villiers being murdered by his grandson, the Count Saint-Germain, the founder of the Lodge, the secret organisation that uses time travel to guide history and save the world. This reinforces Gwendolyn's suspicions that the Lodge has sinister intentions. Unknown to her, the Count is Gideon's personal mentor. According to prophecies Gwendolyn will be the most powerful of all time travellers, and her death is necessary to save the world. The Count wants to control Gwendolyn, so he has asked Gideon to pretend to be in love with her, spinning her head by taking her to sumptuous balls and dinner parties over the last 400 years. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) Gideon really falls in love with Gwendolyn, but he is still devoted to the Count, so his loyalties are divided.
While Gwendolyn is visiting the Lodge in 1951 she bumps into her grandfather Lucas, who was a young cleric in the Lodge at the time. She tells him her suspicions about the Lodge, but he says he needs time to discover the truth for himself. He asks her to return in 1953, so she visits him the next day. He promises to give her the results of his investigations, but he doesn't want her to read them until after his death, so he hides them in a secure place and gives her a key. She finds his writings in a journal in 2010, but everything is written in code. Time travel ain't easy!
Of course, the film has paradoxes galore. While visiting 1948 Gideon sees Gwendolyn affectionately hugging his uncle Paul. Full of jealousy he tries to challenge her, but Paul knocks him unconscious and tells Gwendolyn that Gideon is an enemy who works for the Count. Back in 2010, Gideon demands an explanation, but Gwendolyn says that she doesn't understand it because for her it hasn't happened yet. Gwendolyn goes back to 1948 to speak to Paul, who tells her that he's her real father and gave her up for adoption to hide her from the Count. Gwendolyn hugs her father, which Gideon sees and misunderstands. But would she have gone back and hugged him at all if Gideon hadn't already seen her hugging him? My brain hurts!
That's only a brief overview of the plot. Not enough to accuse me to giving spoilers. I strongly recommend the film to anyone who likes supernatural teenage fantasies. Or just read the books, which have already sold millions of copies.
Thursday, 28 July 2016
I decided to watch "127 Hours" after watching "Steve Jobs" for the second time last month. Danny Boyle has made two utterly brilliant films in recent years, "Slumdog Millionaire" in 2008 and "Steve Jobs" in 2015. I wanted to see what he did between these two films. He made "127 Hours" in 2010 and "Trance" in 2013. I remember the advertisements for "127 Hours" when it was in the cinema, but I didn't realise it was directed by Danny Boyle, so I ignored it. Somehow "Trance" passed me by completely. I never even noticed it. That's two gaping holes in my film knowledge that I needed to fill as quickly as possible. Okay, it should have been a lot quicker than six weeks, but I think that my move from England to Germany is a good excuse for the delay. I hope so.
The film is the true story of the foolhardy American rock and cave climber Aron Ralston. In April 2003 Aron went on holiday alone to Blue John Canyon in Utah, without telling anyone where he was going. He was a loner and needed time for himself, but he himself later admitted that he should at least have told his family where he was. While descending a canyon a rock was dislodged, which fell and trapped his right arm. He was trapped, unable to move, a few feet above the floor of the canyon. All his attempts to free his arm failed, and he soon ran out of food and water. He was trapped in this position for days. To be precise, he was trapped for 127 hours, as the film's title tells us.
The film is even more claustrophobic than "Buried", a similar story of a man being trapped alone. A problem with "Buried" is that there are occasional long shots, giving the impression that the coffin is larger than it is. In "127 Hours" the cinematography is more realistic. This makes it more terrifying. Supposedly people fainted, vomited or had panic attacks when they saw it in the cinema. I can understand that. The film's realism makes it difficult to bear.
"127 Hours" was nominated for six Oscars, but won none. I think James Franco deserved an Oscar as Best Actor. This was the performance of his career. I would have given the film five stars, but I too had problems watching it. Some of the details of Aron's escape were so horrifying that I almost turned away. Next time I watch the film I'll have a glass of wine in my hand to calm myself down.
It's a brilliant film. If you have a better stomach for realistic violence and claustrophobia than me it might become one of your favourite films.
This is James Franco with the real Aron Ralston. There is a certain resemblance, although Aron is slightly taller.
Monday, 25 July 2016
Speaking of myself, I drank very little wine when I grew up in England. The only wines sold in my home town, Aldridge, were French and Spanish. The French wines tasted better, but the Spanish wines were cheaper, so I stuck to the latter. When I moved to Stuttgart (Germany) after finishing university I was told repeatedly by my colleagues that the local wine from the Württemberg region is the world's best wine. That's a big claim to make, so I felt that I needed to try it to make up my own mind. And yes, it was really good. At first I drank more white wines than red wines, but over time I grew to prefer the red wines. It was usual for me to drink about a litre of wine every day with my friends and work colleagues. I would never have been conceited enough to call myself a wine expert, but I knew what I liked.
It was usual for my friends and colleagues to talk badly of other wine regions in Germany and abroad. They called Italian wine Zuckerwasser (sugar water) and French wine tasteless. They also called the Rhein wines (the biggest wine producing area in Germany) Zuckerwasser. In Germany it was customary to give your host a bottle of wine if he invited you to his home. I was warned that the best way to insult someone is to give him a bottle of French wine. The people I knew in Stuttgart cursed French wines so badly that I didn't understood why they were sold in the supermarkets. Maybe they were just meant to be sold to non-Stuttgarters who had moved to the city from other parts of Germany.
After three years in Stuttgart I spent two years in my company's subsidiary office in Mannheim. I was surprised to find no Württemberg wines in the shops. None at all. When I asked I was told, "Württemberg wines taste horrible, they're much too dry. Drink Baden wines instead". Very strange. Baden and Württemberg are two halves of the same German state, but the wine areas were mutually exclusive. It was also impossible to buy Baden wine in Stuttgart. I made an effort to get to know the Baden wines. The white wines were acceptable, not as dry as the Württemberg white wines, mild and drinkable. The red wines tasted horrible. I was glad when I returned to Stuttgart after two years.
During the 20 years I spent in Germany I frequently travelled to other parts of the country. I tried to overcome my prejudices by sampling as many different wines as I could. I never found wines in other regions that I enjoyed as much as the Württemberg wines, but I at least acknowledged that the other wines were good, just not my taste. I quite enjoyed the Pfalz white wines (the area is called Palatinate in English), which were medium sweet and refreshing. They became my wine of choice when nothing else was available. There were a few Baden wines which I knew by name. I completely avoided the Rhein wines (too sweet) and the Franconia wines (too dry).
Now, after spending 19 years in America and England, I'm back in Germany, living just outside Stuttgart. Almost the first thing I did on arriving was buy myself a bottle of wine. My local supermarket only has a small selection of wines, unfortunately, but the wines it has are very good. My first bottle was an Uhlbacher Weinsteige, a dry wine made from Trollinger grapes, one of the three main grapes cultivated in Württemberg (Trollinger, Lemberger and Black Riesling). It has a milder taste than the region's other red wines, dry but crisp.
Please note that Württemberg wine is sold in litre bottles, not 0.7 litre bottles as is usual in other countries. If you see 0.7 litre bottles -- and my supermarket has a few -- avoid them. They're either inferior blends of Württemberg wines, or they're wines rebottled by profiteers hoping to fool people into paying higher prices.
Here are two other wines I have been enjoying recently. Both are wines made from combining different grapes. Ochsenbacher Stromberg is a mix of Trolliger and Lemberger, a very common mix. Both grapes produce equally dry wines, but the Lemberger grapes are fruitier, making the two an excellent combination.
Haberschlachter Heuchelberg is a mixture of two similar grapes, Black Riesling (known in France as Pinot Meunier) and Spätburgunder (called Pinot Noir in other countries). By themselves the Black Riesling grapes produce dry wines with a sharp acidic taste which might surprise drinkers when they first taste it, but after repeated drinking it's delicious. Take my word for it. Pinot Noir, one of the world's best known grapes, but only grown in Germany in small quantities, has a milder taste. In Württemberg the grapes are usually harvested late, giving them a sweeter flavour. Mixing the two results in a very pleasant wine classified as halbtrocken, half-dry.
Heilbronner Stauffenberg is a pure Black Riesling wine. It used to be one of my favourite wines when I lived in Germany. Try it and see what you think.
This is also a Black Riesling wine from Besinger Felsengarten, a large vineyard that cultivates grapes of different types. It's described as a Schwarzriesling Weissherbst. This is a special type of wine that is made from grapes that aren't plucked until after the first frost. This results in a very pleasing natural sweetness. It's a wine best drunk by itself, not in combination with a meal. The late harvest makes the wine look paler, so that some people mistakenly call it a rosé wine. It's not. It's a beautiful pale red wine.
In this blog I have always had to use special characters that don't appear on my keyboard. In the past it was usually the fraction symbols for film ratings, but also German special characters. On rare occasions I've used French accents, but usually I avoid them. I've always used the Windows character map to find special characters whenever I needed them. Now that I've moved to Germany I'm using a keyboard that has the German characters, but it's annoying that the pound symbol is no longer on my keyboard. For this reason I've decided to make this post as a reference for myself, rather than for my readers, with a list of the characters I need.
British Pound: £
US Dollar: $
Three Quarters: ¾
German special characters
Ä Ö Ü ä ö ü ß
French special characters
é à è ù â ê î ô û ë ï ç
Saturday, 23 July 2016
Friday, 22 July 2016
I don't usually let myself be put off by a film having bad reviews before I see it. In most cases I don't even bother reading reviews of films I intend to see. Sometimes, however, a film gains a certain notoriety and it's difficult to avoid hearing about it. "Sword of Destiny", or to give it its full title, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny", is a film that falls into this category. It's a sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", released in 2000, which was the most famous Chinese film ever and maybe even the most successful non-English film ever, based on the number of awards it won. Suddenly the company Netflix decided to make a sequel, bypassing the established film studios. It was announced that the film would be released simultaneously online and in cinemas, giving people the choice of whether to see it in the cinema or on a small screen. As I'm sure my friends can guess, I wanted to see it in the cinema. I don't like to make compromises when it comes to film quality. However, almost every English cinema chain, including my regular cinema Cineworld, decided to boycott it. This was a misguided but understandable decision; cinemas consider Netflix to be their arch enemy, responsible for stealing their customers.
I didn't watch it immediately when it was released in February this year. I forget why. I must have been busy with something. But then I started hearing opinions about it: "It's not that good anyway". I knew that Ang Lee hadn't been persuaded to direct it, so I did have a few doubts. The negative reviews kept piling up, impossible for me to avoid, and I lost all inclination to watch "Sword of Destiny" for five months. Until today.
I admit, I sat down expecting not to like the film. I expected to be disappointed. But the first fight scene fascinated me. Then the second. Michelle Yeoh's brooding sense of duty made me fall in love with her all over again. After that Donnie Yen appeared as Silent Wolf, Michelle Yeoh's previous lover who was mentioned in the first film. And more characters. The young warriors Wei Fang and Snow Vase. An army of four warriors who accompanied Silent Wolf. Despite the relatively large number of supporting characters the film was written and directed well enough to present them clearly to the viewer leaving none of them as strangers.
I admit that "Sword of Destiny" lacks the deep spirituality of the first film, but its atmosphere drew me in, holding my attention from beginning to end. So the super smart reviewers who are cited for the Rotten Tomatoes web site only gave it a 20% rating? They don't know what they're talking about.
P. S. As always with Chinese films, I watched the film in Mandarin with English subtitles. However, I read afterwards that the film was made in English and dubbed into Chinese. I'll make sure that I watch it with English dialogue next time.
Monday, 18 July 2016
After the attempted military coup in Turkey this week (July 15th, 2016) we're all fans of President Erdogan. Here's the full text of Jan Boehmermann's poem honouring Erdogan, along with a translation into English.
Erdogan, Erdogan (English translation)
Stupid, cowardly and repressed,
that's President Erdogan.
His shit stinks of doner,
even a pig's fart smells better.
He's a man who hits girls
while he's wearing a rubber mask.
His hobbies are fucking goats
and suppressing minorities.
He likes to kick Kurds and hit Christians
while watching child pornography.
When he lies in bed unable to sleep
he imagines having fellatio with a hundred sheep.
Yes, Erdogan is nothing but
a president with a small cock.
Turks whisper to one another
that the stupid man has shrivelled balls.
From Ankara to Istanbul
everyone knows this man is gay,
perverse, lice-infested and zoophile,
little Recep Fritz Priklopil.
His head is as empty as his balls,
and he's the star of every gang bang
until his cock burns when he pees.
That is Recep Erdogan, the Turkish president.
Erdogan, Erdogan (original German)
Sackdoof, feige und verklemmt,
ist Erdogan der Präsident.
Sein Gelöt stinkt schlimm nach Döner,
selbst ein Schweinepfurz riecht schöner.
Er ist der Mann der Mädchen schlägt,
und dabei Gummimasken trägt.
Am liebsten mag er Ziegen ficken,
und Minderheiten unterdrücken,
Kurden treten, Christen hauen,
und dabei Kinderpornos schauen.
Und selbst Abends heißt's statt schlafen,
Fellatio mit hundert Schafen.
Ja, Erdogan ist voll und ganz,
ein Präsident mit kleinem Schwanz.
Jeden Türken hört man flöten,
die dumme Sau hat Schrumpelklöten,
Von Ankara bis Istanbul,
weiß jeder, dieser Mann ist schwul,
Pervers, verlaust und zoophil
Recep Fritzl Priklopil.
Sein Kopf so leer wie seine Eier,
der Star auf jeder Gangbang-Feier.
Bis der Schwanz beim pinkeln brennt,
das ist Recep Erdogan, der türkische Präsident.
Friday, 15 July 2016
I admit it. I only watched this film because it stars Rebel Wilson. Unfortunately, she's the only good thing about the film. It's a story about four young women in New York who are single, some by choice, some because they've been dumped. Rebel Wilson -- isn't she delicious? -- plays Robin, a woman who makes the most of being single. It's an exciting life in New York. She goes to bed with a different man every night and she never has to buy her own drinks.
The main character, based on the amount of screen time she gets, is Alice, played by Dakota Johnson, who begins the film wanting to find a relationship, but gradually realises that she's better off without men. This is a good message for all women to learn, but she's not a convincing actress. She doesn't have as much charm, charisma and overflowing sex appeal as Rebel Wilson.
"How to be single" is little more than a clone of "Sex and the City", but without the voice-over. I can only recommend it to fans of Rebel Wilson. Come on, I've admitted I like her, and so can you!
Thursday, 14 July 2016
"My generation don't believe in the church thing, we believe in the big bang".
This is a powerful film about the street gangs of Birmingham. When it was released in 2009 it wasn't shown in Birmingham cinemas because of fears that it would incite gang violence. That was a strange thing to do, because it was shown in neighbouring towns like Walsall and Wolverhampton.
The film shows a young man called Flash who's looking after £500,000 for a fellow gang member, Angel, while he's in prison. Angel is released earlier than expected and asks for his money back, but Flash has been investing the money in drug deals and is £100,000 short. Angel tells him that if he doesn't repay him by midnight he'll kill Flash and all his family.
Beneath the surface, "1 Day" is film about a generation without hope. The older generation of Caribbean immigrants in Birmingham cling to religion as a way of life. Their children and grandchildren have no belief in a higher power, so they rely on money and guns. The church keeps its doors open, but the younger generation stays away.
Not many films are made in Birmingham. It's fascinating for me to be able to identify buildings that I know well. There's the Bull Ring shopping centre, the Pallasades and the Dale End car park. I also recognise the small church in Handsworth. I walked past it dozens of times when I went to catch the bus on Soho Road. The familiarity makes the film special to me.
Wednesday, 13 July 2016
This is my first blog post after arriving in Germany. I'll be continuing to watch and review films for as long as I'm here. Would you expect anything less from me? However, I do have a few problems. The main problem is the different layout of German keyboards. The letters themselves are in the same places, apart from Y and Z being swapped. This in itself is a problem. Even though I have the habit of looking at the keyboard while I type, my fingers go instinctively to the places where I expect letters to be. Even while writing this post my fingers keep hitting the Z when I want a Y. If I'm not careful I'll end up writing about "The Paperboz". Ugh!
The special characters are scattered around the German keyboard, some in the same place as the as the English keyboard, some in completely different places. The most difficult character is the @ symbol, which is fiendishly hidden at Ctrl-Alt-Q.
|Standard English computer keyboard|
|Standard German computer keyboard|
You can see the differences in these diagrams. Look at the symbols in the top row above the numbers. The differences are irritating for people like me who type a lot. The characters written in blue are the symbols accessible with the Ctrl and Alt keys. For instance, the square brackets, "[" and "]", have their own keys on English keyboards, but in Germany it's necessy to press Ctrl-Alt-8 and Ctrl-Alt-9.
Now to the film itself. The last time I reviewed it I pointed out that it's difficult to buy. It was released on VHS tape in America way back in 1995, but it's never ben released on DVD in America or England. As far as I know it's only been released on DVD in Greece and Australia. At least in those two countries people have taste! Unfortunately it seems to be out of print in both countries. Luckily it's now been published on YouTube. I assume that this is legal -- I hate illegal downloads -- so click here to watch the film.
Joe Bob Briggs calls "The Paperboy" the most underrated horror film ever. I see what he means. On paper it doesn't look like much. There's no high bodycount. There's no supernatural killer. It's all about the cute 12-year-old boy who lives next door. His upbringing in a fanatical Christian family has turned him into a stalker and a psychopath. After the death of his mother Johnny McFarley becomes obsessed with his next door neighbour, the school teacher Melissa Thorpe, and wants her to become his new mother. He doesn't care how many people have to die for him to achieve his goal.
Johnny would have done better if he'd looked for a girlfriend instead, but the only girl we see in his life is 16-year-old Brenda. She's too much for him to handle. She knocks him off his bike and sends him home soaking wet. Johnny's conduct in the film exemplifies a typical male characteristic: any man who is inadequate in dealing with women has a choice between two courses of action. Either he submits to her, or he resorts to violence.
Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Monday, 11 July 2016
They say that a picture tells a thousand words. This is a picture that tells a million words. Let's say ten million words, because the recent report written by Sir John Chilcot about the Iraq war is over two million words long and says nothing that people didn't already know. What an awful waste of taxpayers' money! The Scum Manifesto is only 11,160 words long, but it's the most important document of the 20th Century. The Bible is about 700,000 words long, depending on which translation you read. The Bible says a lot more than the Chilcot Report, but it contains much less wisdom than the Scum Manifesto, so maybe less is more after all. I'm anxiously waiting for a new version of the Scum Manifesto, updated for the 21st Century. A year ago I was sent a preliminary version, for which I suggested a few modifications, but I'm still waiting for the final version.
So why is my head exploding? I can't understand the stupidity in the world. In America someone shoots policemen who are doing their job, protecting peaceful protesters. Any sane person would take that as a signal that America urgently needs stricter gun control. But the reaction is the opposite. People are saying that more Americans should carry guns so that they can shoot people before they kill policemen. One thing I've heard a few times is, "The only protection against guns is bigger guns", but I know something that Americans don't: criminals always have the biggest guns.
We live in a crazy world. Things are deteriorating fast. America is leading the way into madness, and England isn't far behind. The American presidential candidate Donald Trump says that he won't allow Moslems to visit America. Despite my outspoken criticism of Islam, he's wrong. He doesn't understand Moslems or Moslem culture. I've lived in a Moslem area for more than 14 years, so I claim to know more about Moslems than Donald Trump or any of his advisers. I have Moslem friends and neighbours. I have had hundreds of conversations with Moslems about religion and other topics. The biggest problem with generalisations about Moslems is that you can't generalise. They all think differently. However, I would divide Moslems into three main groups:
1. The extremists. These are the Moslems who kill in the name of Allah. They crash planes, they shoot unbelievers and they beat up gays because they're gay. I don't know how many there are, because I've never met any. I read about them in the newspaper, and some of them even live in Small Heath near to me, but I've never talked to them. For instance, the bombs used in the 7/7/2005 terrorist attack were made in Heybarnes Road, five minutes from my house. Maybe 5% of Moslems fall into this category, maybe less.
2. The moderates. Please note, this is my personal definition of "moderate" that doesn't quite match what other people call them. For me a "moderate Moslem" is someone who believes in Allah and the Koran but wouldn't carry out acts of terrorism. They have an ambivalent attitude towards terror attacks by the extremists. They might disapprove of terrorist attacks, but they accept the terrorist attacks as brothers and have more sympathy with them than the victims of terrorism. This was most apparent to me after the 9/11 attack. One of my friends said that it wasn't too bad, because everyone who died in the World Trade Center was going to Hell anyway. Another friend said that the terrorists made a mistake, but Allah will forgive them because they had good intentions. I would estimate that about 40% of Moslems fall into this category.
3. The unbelievers. This is a controversial category, because no Moslem would admit that he belongs to it. According to Islam, anyone who gives up the faith is an apostate and has to be sentenced to death. Because of this pressure, people in Moslem communities who don't believe in Allah will never admit it. They continue pretending to be Moslems, even though they never read the Koran or pray, and they rarely visit a mosque. They keep outward religious signs like fasting at Ramadan and not eating pork just to convince their friends that they're still Moslems, but they aren't. They're unbelievers. They make up at least 50% of "Moslems", maybe more.
Usually when people talk about Moslems they lump the last two groups into one and call them all moderates. However, the two groups are so different that they need to be treated separately. Donald Trump is too ignorant to realise that the third group, which makes up the majority of Moslems, is totally harmless. It's the first group, the small minority, that he needs to worry about. The second group is more difficult to judge. They're not dangerous in themselves, but they might donate money to extremist causes. Of the three groups, the first and the third are clear cut. You either belong to one of them or you don't. The second group, which I call the moderates, is a vague group which contains everyone not in the two other groups. The attitudes can vary from completely accepting extremism to completely rejecting it, but the majority are somewhere in the middle.
P.S. If you don't know where the picture is from that I used at the beginning of this post you must have had your head buried in the sand for the last 900 years.
Sunday, 10 July 2016
There have been a few films about being buried alive. The most famous is "The Vanishing", a Dutch film made in 1988. A far inferior remake was made five years later, spoilt by inexplicable changes to the ending. Then the Bride was buried alive in "Kill Bill" (Vol 2) in 2004. "Buried", made in 2010, pushes the concept to the extreme by showing a person trapped in a coffin for the whole film.
Ryan Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a truck driver delivering kitchen equipment to Iraq. His convoy is ambushed and most of the other drivers killed. He wakes up to find himself trapped in a coffin. His captors have given him a mobile phone, a flashlight and a few other items to keep him alive. He is being held hostage for one million dollars. If the money isn't paid by 9pm he will be left to suffocate.
I have one piece of advice for my readers. If you watch the film, make sure that the room you are sitting in is completely blacked out and the only light comes from the television screen. This is the best way to experience the claustrophobia of the small coffin. There are moments in the film when the lights go out and the picture is black. Let the room go black around you as you wait for the light to go on again.
Ryan Reynolds puts on an excellent performance as the only person we see in the film. Apart from him we only hear voices on the phone. The film is similar in style to "Locke", in which Tom Hardy sits alone in a car while talking on the phone. It's a strongly political film. Paul Conroy is a pawn in a bigger game. Effectively, not only his Iraqi captors but also the American officials he contacts are his enemies.
It's an unsettling film, not easy to watch. Having said that, it's a very good film, one that you won't be able to get out of your head for a long time.
"Bye bye, Buster, bye bye. Bye bye, Buster, don't cry".
My dog Buster was born on April 10th, 2006. He was the sixth dog in a litter of seven, and he was born in Amington, an area in Tamworth. I first saw him when he was about a week old. The breeder already had several people interested in buying puppies, but I was the first to visit her, so I had the first pick. I don't know why I selected Buster from the litter. It was just intuition. I saw him and knew that it had to be him.
I didn't see him again until I went to pick him up when he was 10 weeks old. Of the seven puppies six had been sold and the breeder was keeping one bitch for herself. I was the last of the six customers who arrived to pick up his dog. The breeder seemed concerned about Buster's well-being. She liked to know where the puppies were going. The other five dogs had been sold to people who lived in Amington, people that she knew personally. I was the only customer who was a stranger, and she was concerned that I might not look after him properly. I assured her she had nothing to worry about, and I stayed in phone contact with her for a few months, reporting his progress.
|Buster at one week old. If I didn't have the photo I would have forgotten that he was ever so small.|
|Buster and his family. Can you see which one he is?|
Buster has been my companion for the last 10 years. Whoever said that a dog is a man's best friend knew what he was talking about. I split up with my wife at the end of 2006, so I was left alone with Buster. He was the joy of my life. With the exception of one weekend that he spent with my daughter in 2008 he's always been with me. I haven't been on holiday since I had him as a pet, so we've always been at home together.
Over the years he's been very healthy. After his vaccinations and micro-chipping I never needed to take him to the vet. That changed this year. On his 10th birthday he was still healthy, as far as I could tell. By the end of April he was showing signs of arthritis in his front legs. He might have had problems before, but that's when I first noticed it. My vet advised me to take him for walks of no more than 20 minutes, but within a few days I realised that even that was too long. First I cut it back to five minutes, and then I found that he couldn't even walk to the end of my street and back, less than two minutes. After taking a dozen steps he stopped and waited for me to carry him back home.
He seems to be happy and doesn't suffer as long as he's relaxing. He still gets excited when there are visitors, behaving like a crazy little puppy, but I have to face the fact that he'll only live for another year or two.
Adding to the complications is the fact that I'm going to Germany on July 12th. I can't take him with me because Staffordshire Bull Terriers are on a list of dangerous dog breeds that aren't allowed to be imported. My daughter has promised to take him, but she's currently living in a flat where pets aren't allowed. The lease runs out in September, so she'll move somewhere else. My friend Rose has offered to look after Buster for two months. Today I brought Buster to Rose, and he immediately felt at home. It's more difficult for me than for him. My house is so empty without Buster.
Thursday, 7 July 2016
This is my list of 30 films that everyone ought to watch at least once before he dies.
- Earth vs Flying Saucers (1956)
- Faster Pussycat Kill Kill (1965)
- The Wild Bunch (1969)
- Young Frankenstein (1974)
- Tommy (1975)
- The Man who would be king (1975)
- Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
- Apocalypse Now (1979)
- The Shining (1980)
- Terminator (1984)
- Thelma and Louise (1991)
- Basic Instinct (1992)
- Falling Down (1993)
- Jurassic Park (1993)
- Pulp Fiction (1994)
- Leon (1994)
- Mars Attacks (1996)
- Scream (1996)
- Lost Highway (1997)
- Dark City (1998)
- The Legend of 1900 (1998)
- The Matrix (1999)
- The Green Mile (1999)
- Donnie Darko (2001)
- Spider-Man (2002)
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
- The World's Fastest Indian (2005)
- King Kong (2005)
- Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
- Life of Pi (2012)
Most similar lists consist of 50, 100 or even 1000 films. I deliberately picked 30 films, so that the films can be watched within a month. I'm well aware that choosing such a small number means omitting many other first rate films. Yesterday I discussed the list with a friend and I was criticised for not including "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Godfather". Those are doubtlessly good films, and I did consider them for my list, but I had to eliminate many good films to keep the list down to 30.
As you can see, the list is chronological, not in order of importance. It's too difficult for me to rank them. If I had to name one film as the most important film of all time I would say "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill". If I knew I were going to die tomorrow it's the film I would watch today.
It took me a long, long time to compile the list. My initial list contained about 90 films, and I spent hours staring at the list figuring out what to eliminate. Now that the list is complete I shan't make any more changes, even if there's a new film made this year which I consider to be the most brilliant film ever made. It would be too difficult for me to eliminate any of the 30 films listed to make room.
I imposed four restrictions on the list:
- Only films in the English language.
- No more than one film by the same director.
- No more than two films from the same year.
- Only films that are easily available.
The second restriction is to make my list more varied. I have a few favourite directors, and I might feel tempted to include half a dozen films by each of them. Having this restriction spreads the list more.
The third restriction is one that I made out of desperation. Even after making the first two restrictions I still had more than 50 films in my list. I noticed that I had a few clusters of films, for instance I had five films made in 1996. By imposing this restriction it was easier to make cuts, for instance I knew that three of the 1996 films had to go. I almost decided to have a maximum of one film per year, but that would have distorted my list too much.
The fourth restriction is for purely practical reasons. If I'm recommending essential films to my viewers, it would be unfair of me to include films that are out of print and impossible to find anywhere. In my case, this restriction only led to the omission of one film, "The Paperboy", which has never been released on DVD in America or England.
This isn't a list of my 30 favourite films. All 30 films in the list are films I greatly enjoy, but I've given priority to the films that I consider to be important. I've already compiled a list of my 50 favourite films, but I need more time to put the films in order. There is a lot of overlap with this list, but some of the films are omitted, due to being pushed out by films that don't qualify for this list (see the above restrictions).
If I've counted correctly, this is the 48th live action film about Tarzan since 1918, making him the fourth most popular character in films after Adolf Hitler, Count Dracula and Sherlock Holmes. Interest seems to have been waning in recent years. There were 44 films from 1918 to 1970, evenly spaced over the decades. After that only three films were made, in 1981, 1984 and 1998. Since then there have only been animated films.
As far as I know, all of the Tarzan films have been set in the same time period, the late 19th or early 20th Century, true to the original stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs. "The Legend of Tarzan", in contrast to the other films I've seen, anchors the story in history. It takes place after the Berlin Conference of 1884, which is mentioned in the preamble, and it ends during the reign of King Leopold II of Belgium, who ruled from 1885 to 1908. However, the events can be pinpointed by the presence of the American ex-soldier and journalist George Washington Williams, who travelled to the Congo in 1890 and died in 1891.
The film begins by showing Tarzan, real name John Clayton III, living as a refined aristocrat after returning to England with his wife Jane. Flashbacks are scattered through the film showing his previous life in the jungle. He's invited to speak to the Prime Minister, who must have been been Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, about accompanying George Washington Williams to the Belgian Congo to investigate whether slavery is being practised. Though reluctant at first he eventually agrees to return to the jungle. As the film progresses we see that he becomes more and more comfortable, preferring the jungle to the boring life of the aristocracy.
Another real life character who appears in the film is Leon Rom, the Belgian soldier who represents King Leopold II in the Congo. He's perfectly portrayed by Christoph Waltz, who excels at making bad guys smooth and likeable. The real Leon Rom was probably a less savoury character, because he was known to keep the heads of dead slaves in his flower bed after executing them.
It's difficult to fault the film, but it's also difficult to praise it. Apart from Leon Rom, none of the characters have much charisma. Even Tarzan himself seems remote and doesn't appeal to the audience. Jane is pretty and takes her stand as a liberated woman who does what she wants, but she lacks credibility as a strong woman. Samuel L. Jackson puts on a good performance as George Washington Williams, showing what a good actor he is, but I have to ask whether the film would have lacked anything if he had been left out. Probably not. His role seems superfluous, as he is always running after Tarzan, struggling to keep up.
This film is intended as the reboot of the Tarzan franchise. Based on the poor results at the box office so far it looks doubtful that a second film will be made.
Tuesday, 5 July 2016
On August 14th 2014 Cliff Richard's house was stormed by the police while he was out of the country, on holiday in Portugal. Someone leaked the raid to the BBC, and the raid was filmed.as it happened. The reason for the police raid was an accusation that Cliff groped a 15-year-old boy at a Christian rally in 1985.
The investigations continued for almost two years. In the course of the investigations it was discovered that the man who had been 15 in 1985 had attempted to blackmail Cliff in recent years. The police rejected his accusation as lies. During the two years other men came forward and claimed to have been sexually abused by Cliff, but none of their claims could be verified. The police reached the conclusion that they were copycat accusers, hoping to get some sort of financial compensation out of the case. On June 16th 2016 the British Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that there was insufficient evidence to proceed and the charges were dropped.
Cliff Richard has expressed dismay over the wording of the CPS's statement. He says he wants the CPS to say he's innocent. Unfortunately, this is not possible. The CPS never makes a public statement that a person is innocent if there hasn't been a trial. The CPS knows that Cliff is innocent, and their statement is just a euphemism for saying he's innocent. "Insufficient evidence" means "nothing can be proved". Cliff is innocent.
The police were recklessly inefficient in their operation. What did they hope to achieve with their raid? Did they really think they could find evidence of something that Cliff had done 29 years earlier, even if it had been true? The leak to the press certainly came from the police force itself, probably from a senior figure. Couldn't the whole operation have been handled more discreetly? The police could have waited for Cliff to return from holiday and visited him at home to interview him.
The problem started with the Jimmy Savile case in 2011. The public became aware that money was to be made from accusing celebrities of abuse. While Jimmy Savile was certainly guilty of acting inappropriately in multiple cases, most of the claims against him were spurious. Jimmy Savile was never put on trial because the accusations against him became public after his death. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "everyone charged with an offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty in a public trial". Jimmy Savile was never given a trial, but he's presumed guilty anyway.
It can be argued that it doesn't matter that people call Jimmy Savile guilty because he's dead anyway, so who cares about his human rights? But the same principle applies in the case of Cliff Richard. Even though he is innocent, online forums are still full of people making unfounded accusations against him. They rely on the literal wording of the CPS's statement, refusing to accept that "insufficient evidence" means "innocent". This is a fault in human nature. People like to point their finger at rich celebrities, hoping that they can be found guilty of heinous crimes.
I'll say it just once more:
Cliff Richard is innocent.
Sunday, 3 July 2016
On July 31st 1971 the Daily Mirror printed an article about a pair of pickled pepper packers who were packing pot instead of packing pickled peppers. I consider it to be a peak of journalistic excellence that can never be reached again.
This is a photocopy of the newspaper article, followed by a transcript for anyone who wants to copy it.
The Pickled Pepper Pot Pushers are Popped into Prison.
Two Mexican pickled pepper packers have been popped into prison.
They were found packing pot instead of pickled peppers.
Police picked up pickled pepper packers Jesus Flores and Alfonso Soto in Mexico City. The impertinent packers should have been popping pickled peppers into cans at a local pickle packing plant.
But the pair pondered that packing pickled peppers was a puerile pastime which pulled in paltry pay packets full of pesos.
So they proceeded to pack pot in place of pickles.
When cans containing marijuana turned up in California and New York, puzzled police pursued a probe of the pot pushers who were packing pot instead of peppers.
Hot on the trail of the pickled pepper packers, they placed policemen in the pepper plant to pinpoint palmprints on packets prepared by the pot pushers.
The plan was perfect.
Now the Peter Piper pair are patiently pursuing prison programmes while police ponder the possible penalties for pushing pot instead of packing pickled peppers.
Saturday, 2 July 2016
When I began to write this article I called it "Tolerance". When I took a break halfway through I renamed it "Tolerance/Intolerance". After completing it I've decided that the best title is "Intolerance".
As most of you know, Britain held a referendum about leaving the EU just over a week ago. No, I won't go into arguments about which decision is right. It's all been said before by people who know much more about economics than I do. What I want to talk about is the fallout. Ever since the results were released (eight days ago) people have been arguing bitterly. Friendships have been breaking up. People have been calling each other stupid because of their voting choices. That's not right. I voted to remain in the EU, and I openly admit that I did so for selfish reasons, not because of the arguments presented in political debates. Within three days of the vote four people unfriended me on Facebook. Why? If I had voted to leave I would still be the same person. But everyone is taking the vote so personally. If I'd voted to leave the EU I would probably still have those four friends, but another four people would have unfriended me instead.
This post isn't about the EU itself, it's about the general issue of intolerance exemplified by the EU referendum fallout. People need to accept the opinions of others, even if they disagree, even if they think the other people's opinions are totally wrong.
These are my core beliefs:
1. Everyone has the right (and the obligation) to form his own opinions.
2. Everyone has the right to express his own opinions.
3. Everyone has the right to do whatever he wants based on his opinions, unless it prevents other people doing the first two things.
I like to describe these as the freedoms to Think, Speak and Do.
(Wiccans might object to my third point, quoting their principle "Do what thou wilt, but hurt none". I don't disagree with them, but this isn't what I'm speaking about here. I want to speak about the freedom to Think, Speak and Do).
20 years ago I had a good friend who was a deep thinker, like me. He analysed all political and religious questions down to the depths. We fell out because he came to different conclusions to me. I accepted his viewpoints, but he didn't accept mine. He couldn't comprehend that anyone who thought things through logically wouldn't come to the same conclusions as him, so he accused everyone who thought differently to him -- including me -- of not thinking enough. That's a root cause of intolerance: denying other people's ability to be able to form their own opinions.
There are different sorts of opinions. Some opinions are about statements that are either right or wrong, whereas others are about things that are purely subjective. An example of the first group is "Mexico is south of the USA". An example of the second is "Italy is a beautiful country".
In the first group there are a range of statements that are either true or false, but it's difficult to prove which. Examples are:
1. "The Earth is flat". This was disputed for hundreds of years, until scientific advances were able to prove it's not true. Nevertheless, there are still a small number of people who deny the evidence of science. Click here for an example.
2. "There is life on Mars". While this seems unlikely, scientists haven't ruled it out. It's something that can only be proved or disproved after astronauts visit Mars and mount a thorough search. That might not be for another hundred years, based on scientific advances and (more importantly) how much it costs. Until then opinions can vary, based on the limited information available.
3. "God exists". This is a very emotional topic, with insults flying whenever there are attempts to discuss it. Those who believe in God's existence call the non-believers evil, and those who don't believe call the believers stupid. Some people say to me that they don't believe in God because nobody has provided scientific proof that God exists, to which I reply that nobody has been able to prove that God doesn't exist. Philosophically speaking, it's easier to prove God's existence than his non-existence. What I mean is, if God really does exist, it's possible to prove this if one day someone comes to the Earth and says, "Hi, I'm God. I was on vacation for the last 5000 years. Now I'm back to see how you're getting along". On the other hand, if God doesn't exist, there is no possible way to prove it. However many years go by without finding God there's always the possibility that he's somewhere else and we're just looking in the wrong place.
Everyone should sit down and think about statements like these and make up their own minds. The more difficult the answer is, the more important it is to think about it.
The second group is more of a problem. I chose an example above which shouldn't cause too much argument. But there are other statements I could use as examples:
1. "Democracy is better than dictatorship". This obviously isn't a question with a Yes/No answer. I personally love democracy as an ideal, but in practise it fails, because it encourages politicians to lie in order to gain votes. On the other hand, dictatorship is frequently linked to suppression of the freedom of speech (my second core belief). In theory it would be possible for a single unelected leader to listen to his people and do what they say.
2. "People should be allowed to carry guns". This is also a hotly debated statement with no clear right or wrong answer. I have my own opinion, but I challenge my readers to think for themselves. Guns themselves are not good or bad, they're just tools like shovels or pencils. Whether they do good or bad is decided by the people who carry them. That's what should be judged, not just generally, but personally. We should ask, "Would I personally be better off with or without a gun? Would I personally be better off if my neighbours and work colleagues carried guns?"
3. "Gay marriages should be allowed". This is another emotional statement. In most western countries the consensus 50 years ago answered No, but today's consensus answers Yes. What has happened here? How can something which was wrong a short time ago be right today? Many people would answer that we're more enlightened today. I judge the matter less positively. I say that people are sheep, believing whatever the media says is right. In countries such as Russia gay marriages aren't allowed, and the majority of the population support this policy. Are Russians somehow less enlightened than us in the West? Are they somehow more primitive or less evolved? Or do they just live in a country where the media says something different?
If anyone wants to know what I think about gay marriages, read my core beliefs again. I believe that (1) everyone has the right to make up their mind about homosexuality, (2) everyone has the right to speak about what they think, and (3) everyone has the right to do what they think is right. This means that my personal beliefs on homosexuality itself are irrelevant, because the third point means that I believe everyone has the right to practise it. Being tolerant is so simple. It's all about not telling other people what they should and shouldn't do.
But let's not stay with my third core belief. Let's go back to the first. Who are the people who object to homosexuality? It's mainly religious people. The world's two largest religions, Christianity and Islam, both condemn homosexuality. Christianity's holy book, the Bible, says that homosexuality is a sin that will be punished by God. Islam's holy book, the Koran, says that homosexuality is a sin and homosexuals should be executed. In recent years some groups within the Christian church have tried to relativise the passages on homosexuality by re-interpreting them, while all the major factions in Islam insist that the Koran passages have to be understood and applied literally. Let's dismiss modern Christian theology and assume that the New Testament passages on homosexuality should be understood exactly as they're written. Even in that case the Christian attitude towards homosexuality wouldn't bother me. The Bible says that God will punish homosexuals at the last judgement, so they can be left to do what they want till then. That's a critical but tolerant policy. Islam, on the other hand, is totally intolerant by telling its followers to murder homosexuals.
And who are the people who accept homosexuality as normal? They're atheists and other liberal thinkers. When I lived in Germany I had a friend who worked in a shop that I often visited. On one occasion she mentioned in passing that homosexuality is okay. I asked her why she thought so, and she was unable to give me any reasons. She assumed I was against homosexuality, so I didn't contradict her in order to keep the conversation going. She became very nervous and agitated when she defended herself, just repeating over and over again that it's okay without offering any arguments to support it. This disturbed me. People with her attitude accept homosexuality because they've been told to accept it, not because they've thought about it. People like my friend could change their mind from one day to the next if news stories and scientific "experts" told them it's wrong. I can't say it strongly enough that people have the obligation to make up their own minds about important issues. Any opinion that you've merely copied from others can be swept away within minutes by skilful propaganda.
I've said that I tolerate opinions that differ from my own, but does that include opinions that I find totally abhorrent, such as racism? It's not so much the opinions that I find abhorrent, it's the resulting actions, step three in my Think-Speak-Do trilogy. Suppressing the liberties of black people is disgusting, but thinking they are somehow inferior is merely stupid. However, I don't reject anyone's right to be racist. Let me give an example. A person might have grown up in an all-white neighbourhood in an English city. Without any personal knowledge of black people he might believe what others have told him about them being intellectually inferior. He might even have read Charles Darwin's books that black people are on a "lower evolutionary level", as Darwin describes them. It's practically impossible to argue with someone with this limited experience, and I might even have shared these views myself if I'd grown up in similar circumstances. The only thing I can do is hope that he'll move somewhere else, make black friends and realise his opinions were wrong.
There's one last subject I'd like to discuss before I end this article on intolerance. Let's assume that you've made up your mind about a subject matter. You realise that your friends think differently, but you've thought about it enough to be able to be able to defend your opinion. Is it better to remain quiet in order not to offend your friends or start arguments? I say No. If you have an opinion about anything at all, you should talk about it. An opinion that you keep to yourself isn't worth having at all. Talk about what you think with them. Maybe you'll win them over because it's something they've never really thought about. Maybe they'll point out faults in your thinking and they'll persuade you to change your mind. Maybe you'll just amicably disagree and remain friends. Or maybe the tempers will flare up and there will be a heated argument. Never, never, never lose your temper in a discussion, whatever it's about. In my opinion, whoever loses his temper in a discussion loses the argument by default. Losing your temper or resorting to insults is an indication that you're unable to defend your opinion by rational discussion and you probably haven't thought enough about the subject anyway.
For me there is no "conservative" or "liberal" school of thought that I subscribe to. I think about everything for myself, so sometimes I agree with the one side and sometimes the other. I have mostly liberal thinking friends -- maybe because conservative thinkers don't like to discuss -- and I sometimes disappoint them with my viewpoints. They say, "You agree with us about X, so why don't you agree with us about Y?" Maybe the answer is that X has nothing to do with Y, except being listed in the same catalogue of guidelines for liberal thought. Just because two people agree about gay rights, it doesn't mean that they have to agree on immigration, whaling or even religion.
I am a tolerant person. I tolerate everything except for intolerance. I try to educate my friends to be as tolerant as me, but I've had limited success, as proven by the four people who have unfriended me because of ny vote in the EU referendum.
Please leave your thoughts on this article in the comments section, whether you want to discuss intolerance in general or just a specific issue.
Friday, 1 July 2016
Empire Magazine is well known for publishing its monthly magazines with alternative covers to tempt collectors to buy multiple copies. In January 2014 they outdid themselves. 25 different covers were printed to advertise "X-Men: Days of Future Past". Moreover, the covers could be arranged side by side to make one large picture. I doubt many people have invested in all 25 copies, so here are the 25 covers. You can click on any image to reveal its context between the two images left and right.
1. Sentinel - Moderately powerful mutant-hunting robot.
2. Havok - Absorbs cosmic energy and releases it in plasma blasts.
3. Toad - Super-strong legs, prehensile tongue, gross paralysing mucus.
4. William Stryker - Mutant-hater, military man, nutjob.
5. Bolivar Trask - Robotics genius, mutant-hater, smooth political operator.
6. Mystique - Shapeshifter.
7. Beast - Superhuman strength, agility, speed and furriness.
8. Quicksilver - Runs at supersonic speeds.
9. Magneto - The master of magnetism.
10. Professor X - The world’s most powerful telepath.
11. Wolverine - Accelerated healing, enhanced senses, retractable bone claws.
12. Bryan Singer - Puppet master, franchise creator, director.
13. Wolverine - Accelerated healing, enhanced senses, adamantium-laced skeleton, retractable adamantium claws.
14. Professor X - The world’s most powerful telepath.
15. Magneto - The master of magnetism.
16. Storm - Mastery over the elements.
17. Rogue - Absorbs the mutant abilities of anyone she touches.
18. Warpath - Super-strong, near-invulnerable, and he can fly.
19. Kitty Pryde - Phases through solid objects.
20. Sunspot - Solar-powered super-strength and near invulnerability.
21. Blink - Teleporter.
22. Iceman - Creates and manipulates ice.
23. Bishop - Absorbs energy to redirect it in kinetic blasts.
24. Colossus - Transforms his skin into organic steel.
25. Future Sentinel - Super-powerful mutant-hunting robot.
Click here to see the covers combined as a complete picture. Most web browsers will allow you to scroll left and right. Unfortunately the image has been compressed to 60% of its original size due to limitations of Google's blogger software.