Thursday, 17 August 2017
Last weekend the second season of "Gotham" was added to Netflix, so I was compelled to watch it immediately. I've watched the first 11 episodes in between my usual film viewing. I was fascinated by the first season, which I watched last year. The second season is even better, based on what I've seen so far. The most exciting character is Tabitha Galavan, played by Jessica Lucas, pictured above. She's supposedly based on the DC villainess the Tigress, but I fail to see any resemblance.
She first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938, where she's drawn with blonde hair, blue eyes and a long skirt. Her real name is never stated in the comics, which is typical for the villains in the Golden Age of comics. They're just bad guys without a background.
I suspect that her appearance in the TV series is based on the Huntress, a villainess who first appeared in 1947.
At a much later date (1987) DC published a comic book series called Young All-Stars which took place during the Second World War. Paula Brooks was a super-heroine who called herself the Tigress. In a later issue she became a villainess and changed her name to the Huntress, presumably becoming the 1947 character. It's difficult to be certain, because DC Comics have never been known for their continuity. This year's canon is next year's apocrypha.
Whatever the case is, Jessica Lucas is delightful in the TV series. I sit up straight whenever she graces the screen, especially when she's in action. She has a viciousness that I find thrilling. She whips men for fun. She strangles men for fun. She shoots men for fun. She stabs men to death while laughing gleefully. In the first episodes of the second season she acts as the servant of her brother, but I cheered loudly when she finally turned against him. An alpha male is no match for an alpha female.
I should backtrack a bit. This article began chaotically due to my admitted crush on Jessica Lucas. Now let me tell you what the series is about. It tells the story of Bruce Wayne before he became Batman. The first season begins with his parents' death when he was 12. He's played by the 13-year-old actor, David Mazouz. Obviously, he will age fast, so the time in the series has to progress to match his physical development. I expect that each season will approximately represent one year in his life, but that isn't apparent to me yet. It's uncertain whether there was a short or a long gap between the end of the first season and the beginning of the second.
When does the series take place? It's deliberately kept vague, although there are a few contradictory clues. The police station has no computers, which would place the series back in the 1990's. There are small mobile phones, which wouldn't have been available until 2005 at least. Gotham City looks old-fashioned, but it could be dated any time from the 1960's to the 1990's. James Gordon is said to have fought in the Gulf War before becoming a policeman, which would date the series about 1995. I like to think of the mobile phones as a distraction and stick with 1995, but it's not really important. Think of it as an alternate universe where the 1990's phones weren't big and clunky.
The series' hero is James Gordon, who joins the Gotham City police force in the first episode. He holds the rank of detective, but he seems to be new in the job, probably only just having been promoted. The conflicts in his character make him appealing to the audience. He's full of naive enthusiasm. He sees that most of the other policemen are corrupt, so he's determined to do things differently. He wants to do everything by the book, but he soon finds out that if he acts within the letter of the law he will never get anything done. The only way he can put any criminal out of business is by asking for help from other criminals. In particular, he has to ally himself with a gangster called Oswald Cobblepot, a man he despises.
In the comics James Gordon is shown without a history. He's already an aged police commissioner in the first Batman story in 1937. Christopher Nolan's Batman films start earlier in his career and show his steady promotion: he's a police sergeant in "Batman Begins", a police lieutenant in "The Dark Knight" and the police commissioner in "The Dark Knight Rises".
"Gotham" also shows the ascent of Oswald Cobblepot from a lowly lackey to the arch-villain known as the Penguin. He begins his criminal career as a young man who carriers the umbrella for the gangster Fish Mooney. He has intelligence and determination which he uses to play the city's different gangsters against one another. As already mentioned, he occasionally allies himself with James Gordon. He uses Detective Gordon as much as Detective Gordon uses him.
The Penguin first appeared as a villain in 1941, but his name Oswald Cobblepot wasn't mentioned in the comics until 1986. It took DC long enough to figure out a name for him!
James Gordon might be the hero, but the Penguin was by far my favourite character in the first season. He's evil, but he's so brilliantly portrayed by Robin Lord Taylor that it's impossible not to like him. Where has this actor been all these years?
Of course, the Penguin has been relegated to second place in the second season, because my favourite character is now Tabitha Galavan. It's not difficult to choose between a man with an umbrella and a woman with a whip.
(If you think that paragraph was just an excuse to publish another photo of Jessica Lucas, you're absolutely right!)
Another fascinating character in the series is the teenager Selina Kyle, who goes by the nickname Cat. This is the name of the villainess Catwoman, although as with all other DC villains she wasn't named until the 1980's. In the comics she carries a whip, but in the TV series we see her with a gun, which would never happen in the comics. She's known to avoid killing at all costs. From what I've read she will begin to carry a whip later in the series. Unfortunately she already wears the stupid goggles on her head which have been part of Catwoman's costume since 2000.
She first appeared as a thief in Batman #1 in 1940. At first she was disguised as an old woman. These are the first pictures we see of her without her disguise.
The story ends with a mutual attraction being expressed between Batman and Catwoman, a theme repeated for more than 50 years in comics, television series and films. In recent years Catwoman has supposedly given up crime and stands on the right side of the law, but I dislike this concept. She's much more fun as a criminal.
Even in "Gotham" there's a spark of attraction between Bruce and Selina. She's presumably the same age as he is, 13 at the most, and they flirt with one another, even though Bruce rejects her life of crime.
Catwoman was a popular character in the early Batman adventures, but she disappeared completely from 1954 to 1966. The reason was the Comics Code. It was considered harmful to children to portray women as violent. That's almost impossible to believe. Was the censorship really so sexist in the 1950's? Men are allowed to be violent in comics, but women have to be gentle?
Another fascinating character is Edward Nygma, a forensics expert at the Gotham City Police Department. Comic fans realised straight away that this is the man who will become the Riddler, one of Batman's maddest and deadliest enemies. "Gotham" portrays him as a good man, but he's suffering from schizophrenia. He has a second personality, an evil personality, which is always telling him to do bad things. He resists, but in the middle of the second season the evil personality finally takes over.
The Riddler first appeared in Detective Comics #140 in 1948. Untypically, we're told from the beginning what his real name is. Yes, his last name is Nigma in the comics, not Nygma. DC has been inconsistent over the years, so the TV series had to pick one of the variants, and it chose Nygma.
Did I already mention that "Gotham" features Jessica Lucas as the Tigress in the second season? Maybe it's the Tigress. So far, after 11 episodes, the name hasn't been used. I'll know more next week.
Other characters that we encounter in the series who re destined to become super-villains are Two-Face and Poison Ivy. There might be others that I've failed to recognise. The last Batman comics I bought were in 1978. I stopped reading them when Steve Englehart quit as author.
Wednesday, 16 August 2017
This is something new for me. It's the first film I've seen that stars Bud Spencer without his lifelong buddy Terence Hill. The big man proves that he can carry a film on his own. Nevertheless, I miss Terence. I'm so used to seeing the two of them together.
I had to watch "Banana Joe" because it was referenced a few times in the documentary I watched last weekend, "They called him Spencer". Evidently it's one of the most popular films among his fans. It's a fantastic comedy film, and the story was written by Bud himself, using his real name, Carlo Pedersoli. Does that mean he has a split personality? Ask Fred Olen Ray, the man with a thousand names.
The film was made in 1982 and takes place in Colombia. Bud plays a good-hearted, simple-minded giant called Banana Joe. That's the only name he has. He's never known his parents, he's never been to school, and he doesn't know what his real name is. He picks bananas on a small island and delivers them to the mainland to earn money to build a school. He wants the children on his island to be smarter than he is.
His plans are endangered when a large company wants to take over the banana picking on his island. Until now everything has been done informally, but now he needs a license to transport bananas to the mainland. That's difficult for a man who has no official name and no birth certificate. He has to travel to the big city, and like Tarzan he's confronted with a new world. He sees new inventions like cars and televisions for the first time.
It's a great big world in the big cities of Colombia, but Bud is a great big man. Everyone has to stop and stare at him.
Bud buys a suit so that he can fit in. It almost works.
He meets a beautiful German woman and takes her on a date, but he doesn't know how to behave. All he eats is a plate of bananas, and he can't stop staring at her legs. Poor Bud. He's never seen a white woman before.
The film is good, light-hearted fun. It's impossible not to like any of Bud Spencer's films. They're not deep and meaningful, but they make you laugh. What more do you want?
Sadly, Bud Spencer is hardly known in England. I don't understand why. He's well known throughout the world, just not in England. Most of his films are available on DVD in America. In Germany they're available on Blu-ray. Germans were always more advanced than America when it comes to technology. I can only find three of his films that have been officially released in England. If you're an English fan you have to import his films from America or Germany.
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Tuesday, 15 August 2017
This is a German film telling the true story of the kidnapping of the German Landshut plane on a commercial flight from Mallorca to Frankfurt in October 1977. The plane was kidnapped by four members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation who demanded the release of nine German terrorists, including Andreas Baader.
After four days the hostages were freed by the GSG-9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9), a newly formed German anti-terrorism unit. Because of the poor performance of the police in handling the terrorist attack on the 1972 Olympic Games it was decided that a dedicated group should be created to fight terrorism. This was GSG-9's first mission, and it was widely praised as a success. When they stormed the plane the only casualties were three terrorists. One GSG-9 member and one flight attendant were lightly wounded, but none of the passengers were harmed.
The mastermind behind the plane's hijacking was Wadi Haddad, a Jordanian who lived in East Berlin. He was employed by Russia's KGB. Russia denied involvement in the operation, despite information given by double agents stating the contrary.
The day after the storming of the plane Andreas Baader and two of the other terrorists were executed in their prison cells. The official inquest claimed they had committed suicide, but who seriously believes that prisoners in solitary confinement would shoot themselves?
The film accurately portrays the claustrophobia and panic of the hostage situation. One of the female terrorists was hysterical, screaming for no apparent reason. The other woman remained calm. The two men were agitated at the thought they might have to die if their hostage demands weren't met.
The film was intended to be released on the 30th anniversary of the hijacking, but it was delayed because of production problems. This year is the 40th anniversary. The film has a lasting appeal that makes it gripping viewing today.
Over the last week I've watched the fifth season of "Lost". After the relatively dull fourth season it's picked up the pace again. There are many more of the Wow Effects that I experienced in the second and third seasons. After each cliffhanger I couldn't wait to see the next episode. It would have been torture if I'd watched the series on television when it was first broadcast. A whole week between episodes? Impossible!
The fifth season is an explanatory season. The puzzles of the previous seasons are being resolved, one by one. Not all of them. There are enough mysteries left to keep me waiting for the sixth season. I'm not sure how much of the concept behind the series comes from J. J. Abrams himself and how much from the co-creators, in particular Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. There might be interviews I can find online that explain the creative process, but I won't read them now because I want to avoid potential spoilers. Nevertheless, I consider "Lost" to be J. J. Abrams' grand opus. However many other great films and TV series he has been responsible for, "Lost" is his legacy, it's what he'll be remembered for.
The way things are now slotting together so logically proves to me that the series was mapped out beforehand. A lot of fans claim that "Lost" changed and got weirder after the first season, but that's a mistake they made from their limited perspective. J. J. Abrams knew the direction he was going from the beginning. This is in contrast to typical drama series like "Supernatural" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", which are planned from season to season, and nobody knows what will happen next year. The only other series I can think of that was so efficiently mapped out is "Earth: Final Conflict", which had a five-year story arc that was precisely mapped out 30 years before the first episode aired.
I intend to lay in a pause before I watch the sixth season, but not for too long. I want to know how it ends.
Monday, 14 August 2017
This film is supposed to be the beginning of a new franchise that will present interlocking stories from Stephen King's books in a combination of films and television series. It's an ambitious project that's intended to compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I'm not a Stephen King fan. I've read about half a dozen of his books and enjoyed them, but not enough to want to read everything he's written. I haven't read "The Dark Tower", although after watching the film this evening I feel tempted to read it.
I'm aware of some criticism from Stephen King fans about the casting of Idris Elba in the lead role as the gunslinger Roland Deschain. As someone who doesn't know the books it's not an issue for me. All I can say is that Idris Elba is one of my favourite actors, and he puts on an excellent performance in the film.
To summarise the plot: Jake Chambers, an 11-year-old boy from New York, is considered to be mentally disturbed because he draws pictures of things and beings from another world, claiming that they really exist. It's understandable that his parents should question his sanity, but they're wrong. One day two of the beings from the other world come to his apartment to kidnap him. Jake meets Roland Deschain, the last remaining hero in the other world, and joins him in a fight against a mysterious man in black.
I found the film exciting and highly entertaining. 95 minutes wasn't enough for me, it could have lasted another hour. According to the critics the film is "incomprehensible to newbies and unfaithful to fans of Stephen King's books". I fall into the first category as a newbie, but I can state that the film wasn't incomprehensible at all. It's a solid foundation for the rest of the Dark Tower franchise.
I went to see this film badly prepared. I wanted to watch the previous two films first, but I didn't get round to it. I've been too busy watching the fifth season of "Lost". That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.
There's a lot that happens in this film, but I'll only mention one thing. The simian flu which wiped out most of the human race has evolved. It now has a new effect on the survivors. It causes the intelligence of the humans to decrease, including taking away the ability to talk. It isn't a gradual development. Anyone who is infected is changed within a day. This is a positive development, as far as the story goes. It's making the new film series prequels to the 1968 original film, "Planet of the Apes". This was canon, and so was its sequel, "Beneath the Planet of the Apes". After that everything deteriorated fast. Making money took priority over making good films.
"War for the Palnet of the Apes" isn't intended to be the final part in a trilogy. It's simply another film in a series. A fourth film has already been planned. In an interview Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar in the films, has suggested that there will be five films, but the exact number hasn't yet been decided. Based on the box office success of the newest film there will be no financial hindrances to making more films.
On another topic: one of my readers has sent me a message telling me that she doesn't find my reviews as good as they were a year ago.
First of all, I'd like to thank her for reading my blog so regularly that she can notice differences. I wish everyone would read my blog every day for a year.
Is it true that my posts aren't as good as they used to be? I don't know. Sometimes I read one of my old posts and I think, "Wow, that was good". Other times I read an old post and feel unhappy that my comments were so superficial. My blog isn't consistent. Sometimes I have a lot to say about a film, sometimes very little. Sometimes I give a detailed description of the plot, sometimes I fly off on a tangent and write about something totally unrelated. My early reviews, 2010 to 2011, were very short. I wrote more once I got into the routine of writing, but even now I sometimes write very little.
My popular post list isn't a reflection on which posts are my best. Usually more than half of the posts concern films that I watched over the last few weeks. It encourages me that my newest posts are the most popular, because that shows me that I have regular readers who check out my new reviews. Looking at the popular post list today, six of the posts are recent posts. The other four are probably successful as a matter of luck, because the posts just happen to contain the keywords that people are searching for.
I've written 2516 posts, including this one. Some of them are better than others. That's natural. I'm no Roger Ebert and I'm no Joe Bob Briggs. They're my two favourite film reviewers. All I can say is that my reviews come from my heart. If you read my blog you'll get to know me.
Yesterday I got my first feedback on my flag of the week series, and it wasn't positive. A friend of mine said that she doesn't understand why I've been publishing pictures of flags, because flags are boring. That's just one opinion. I would like to hear what the rest of you think.
I like the geometric simplicity of flags. The Swiss flag has an abstract beauty. It says a lot by saying little. It's one of the world's most distinctive flags. It's a perfect square, unlike most other flags, which are rectangular. There are no fixed proportions or sizes for world flags. To take a few examples, the United Kingdom's flag is 1:2, the French flag is 2:3 and the German flag is 3:5.
Switzerland is one of the countries which is most obsessed with its flag. Americans like to have their flag on top of their buildings or on a flagpole in the garden. The Swiss scatter smaller flags throughout their houses.
I don't know what my next flag will be. I can't even say for certain that there will be a next flag. I'll just pick a few of my favourite flags for as long as the subject interests me.
Sunday, 13 August 2017
I consider this to be the biggest surprise hit of the year so far. After seeing the trailers I expected it to be good, but I was unprepared for just how good it would be. It doesn't keep to the bounds of any one genre. It's a documentary, but it's also a road movie. The documentary is about Bud Spencer, but just as important is the story of the two men making the documentary.
The film takes place in 2014. 32-year-old Marcus Zölsch from Augsburg considers himself to be the world's biggest Bud Spencer fan. It's not just about having all his films on DVD and Blu-ray. Anyone can do that. Marcus has a room in his house that's dedicated to Bud, whose real name is Carlo Pedersoli. Apart from the film posters on the wall, he has over 2000 pictures, a mixture of film stills, promotional articles and magazine covers. He's determined to meet his hero, but it's not that easy. Most film stars are easy to track down, if you make enquiries at their agencies or talk to paparazzi. Bud has retired, and he lives a very secretive life somewhere in Italy.
Marcus feels overwhelmed by the task of finding Bud Spencer by himself, so he looks for a partner. At an annual meeting of Bud Spencer fans in north Germany he meets Jorgo Papasoglou, a 37-year-old man who is equally devoted to Bud. Jorgo has been blind since birth, but he's discovered something in Bud's films that has fascinated him all his life. The two men set off in a camping bus. First they travel to Paris to visit a stunt man who worked with Bud. He gives them the address of a retired actor in Toulouse. The actor gives them the address of a music composer in Rome. The composer knows the address of a small office that handles Bud's business affairs.
The film is overwhelmingly emotional. It's fascinating to see the friendship develop between Marcus and Jorgo, two men who hardly knew each other before they started their road trip. They have successes and setbacks during their trip. Language is a problem. They're both Germans, and they speak only broken English. They speak no French or Italian. Ironically, Jorgo's blindness isn't a problem. He's so accustomed to never having seen anything that he's self-confident in all situations. Marcus repeatedly accuses him of not being blind and tests him.
The documentary is interspersed with many short clips from Bud's films, especially films he made with his life long friend Terence Hill (born as Mario Girotti). There are many interviews shown in the film which weren't made on the road trip. I suspect that they were made after Bud's death last year. It's fortunate that these two dedicated fans managed to track Bud down before it was too late.
One last warning. Some people in the cinema today walked out too early. There's a hilarious after credits scene. Don't miss it!
The film poster that I've used at the head of this post shows one of the things I hate most about film posters and DVD covers. If a poster shows a film's actors, and the actors are named on the poster, the written names should match the actors. Look at the poster. "Mia Wasikowska" is written over Michael Fassbender's head, and "Michael Fassbender" is written over Mia Wasikokowska's head. I'm not saying that I have trouble telling the two actors apart. I'm just saying that the poster is poorly designed.
I read the novel "Jane Eyre" when I was still at school. It wasn't part of my English Literature classes, it was something I wanted to read. In my mid teens, 14 to 16, I devoured the English classic novels, although this is the only novel by Charlotte Brontë that I read. Maybe I didn't read any more because I couldn't relate to "Jane Eyre" as a teenage boy. It's a book written by a woman for female readers.
The book is a first person narrative, relating everything from a woman's perspective. I should say from a girl's perspective. The novel begins with her aged 10 and ends when she's 19. We see her in three stages of her life.
After the death of her parents she's briefly adopted by her aunt, but is sent to a boarding school because she's considered a burden on her new family. It's a strict Christian school, so she is treated badly and frequently beaten.
When she leaves school she becomes the governess and private teacher of a young girl on a large estate, Thornfield Hall. She falls in love with the estate's owner, Edward Rochester, but he deceives her by not telling her he's already married.
Jane flees from Thornfield Hall and is taken in by a humble clergyman, John Rivers, who finds her a job as the headmistress of a new village school.
The story takes place in the early 19th Century, which is when it was written. It was a difficult time for women. Jane was oppressed by men and men's religion wherever she went. She was a free thinker and wanted to live her own life as she pleased, but it was practically impossible. As a woman she had very few options, and as a poor woman she had none.
Nevertheless, she survived. "Jane Eyre" is usually considered to be a gothic novel, because it's laced with supernatural occurrences, even if we later find out that there are natural explanations for everything that happens. The story's atmosphere is gothic, at least. However, it could be called a feminist novel. Jane doesn't just survive, she takes control of her own destiny. When she arrives at the clergyman's house she's weak and dependent on charity, but when she leaves the house at the end of the novel she's strong and in a position to assist others, including others who are men.
The story has been simplified for the film, but even though some of the novel's details have been omitted it still manages to portray the major themes. The actors in the main roles put on magnificent performances. Michael Fassbender portrays a man who is brash and aggressive, but an emotional cripple. Mia Wasikowska is perfect in the title role, because she looks timid, but Jane Eyre is an intelligent and passionate woman. That's what Charlotte Brontë wanted to express. She wanted her female readers, housewives living in a men's world, to emulate Jane's strength in themselves.
A brief word about Mrs. Fairfax, played by Judi Dench. She is the old type of woman, happy with living a life of subservience to men, a complete contrast to Jane. She's related to Edward Rochester, but she makes no attempt to be any more than a housekeeper. She's a woman. She's a servant. That's all.
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Saturday, 12 August 2017
"Who am I? I am Benjamin, and this is my story".
When Benjamin was growing up in Berlin he wanted to be a superhero. Why not? When I was a young boy I wanted to be a superhero as well. My imagination was based on the Marvel superheros created by Stan Lee. I'd still like to be a superhero today, but I've relegated this to my daydreams. When I close my eyes I fly through space at many times the speed of light. When I open my eyes my feet are firmly on the ground.
Benjamin was a failure in school and a failure in life. Nobody noticed that he existed, especially not the girls. After leaving school he embarked on the exciting career of a pizza delivery man. In his favour he does have one skill, though not a marketable one. He's a computer hacker.
By chance Benjamin meets a group of hackers, Max, Stephan and Paul. No last names. Last names are taboo in hacker circles. Even first names are closely guarded secrets, except to those you trust the most. Benjamin's online name is Whoami, written as one word. That's a cool name, but I think that my online name is better. I am Dancer.
Benjamin suggests that the four hackers give themselves a name so they can appear online as a team. They pick the name CLAY, an acronym for Clowns Laughing At You. Their hacks are on the level of practical jokes, such as displaying animated pictures mocking Hitler at the conference of a right extremist group.
More than anything else, CLAY wants to be taken seriously in the hacker community. There's a well known hacker called MRX whose respect they want to win. To do this they hack the server of the German secret service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst. Data is stolen and given to MRX as a present. This wins MRX's support, but it also draws the attention of European cybercrime experts, who think that CLAY is a threat to world security.
The film turns into a struggle between Benjamin and a Dutch special agent, Hanne Lindberg. She knows nothing about him, but he knows everything about her. After all, he's a hacker. If anything is stored anywhere on a computer he can find it.
This is an exciting thriller which ends with totally unexpected plot twists. In 2015 it was awarded the prize for Best German Film at the Bambi Film Awards. This has won the film international attention, and an American remake has already been announced. Please, please, don't let it be too bad.
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Friday, 11 August 2017
I've been hearing so many good things about this film for months. "Brilliant". "Christopher Nolan's best film". "Incredible music". This excited me. I've been a fan of Christopher Nolan's films for years, but I was disappointed with his last film, "Interstellar", so I hoped that he's back on form.
I'm sorry to say that I'm disappointed with "Dunkirk". It's slightly better than "Interstellar", but I still rate it as the second weakest film in his career.
The problem is that Christopher Nolan became known very early in his career as someone who writes mind-bending stories, such as "Following", "Memento" and "Inception". I'll add "Interstellar" to that list, even though I consider its concept a failure. Now he's making a film about a true story which doesn't lend itself to temporal paradoxes, real or perceived, but he still wants to do something similar to please his fans.
"Eureka!" he cries. "I'll tell three overlapping stories at the same time, the evacuation of Dunkirk seen from the land, the sea and the air, but I'll run the stories at different speeds. That will make my fans happy".
Not this fan. I'm not happy at all. The film's asynchronous narrative is a gimmick for the sake of it. There are some exciting sequences in the film, but they're exciting despite the gimmick, not because of it. It would have been a better film with a traditional linear narrative.
Addendum on Saturday, 12th August, 2017
As expected, I have received complaints about the low rating I gave this film yesterday. Unfortunately the complaints were made on my Facebook page, not in the comments section of my blog. Never mind. My friends praised the film's cinematography and soundtrack. Those are two factors I didn't mention in my review, so I'll make up for it now.
The cinematography is excellent. The scenes are breathtaking, whether they're on the land, on the sea or in the air. For me the cinematography is the best thing about the film. Faultless!
As for the soundtrack, I'm not sure what my friends are talking about. It's good but not great. I love the droning of the planes, which is scarier than in any other aerial attacks I've seen in film. The dramatic music is also stirring in the tense moments of the film, but that's what I'd expect of any film that's worth the price of a cinema ticket. If you want to hear a brilliant soundtrack, watch "Baby Driver".
This is a German teenage musical comedy made in 2014. It's the first in a series of four films, so far, but the two characters have a long history.
Bibi Blocksberg first appeared as the star of a radio play in 1980. At first only a few episodes were planned, but due to the popularity new episodes have been recorded every few months until today. Up until now 121 episodes have been recorded. After the initial radio broadcast they're sold on CD's. I'm surprised that there's such a large market for products like this in Germany.
Bibi was introduced as a 12-year-old witch who lives with her parents in a small town called Neustadt. In the 13th episode she celebrated her 13th birthday. Ever since then she hasn't aged. An advantage of the series being audio only is that the actors aren't seen to age. The actress Susanna Bonasewicz has played the part of Bibi ever since the first episode. She's now 61 years old. I'm curious to hear her voice. Does she really still sound like a 13-year-old?
In 1991 a spin-off radio series began called "Bibi & Tina", which has been running ever since, 86 episodes so far. In it Bibi goes on holiday to a farm and makes friends with another 13-year-old girl, Tina Martin. Tina is another girl who's forever 13, and it seems like it's holiday all year round. In the series "Bibi Blocksberg" Bibi leads a normal life, including going to school. In "Bibi & Tina" there's no school, all she does is have fun riding horses.
In 2004 a television cartoon series began about Bibi & Tina. 46 episodes were made before it was cancelled.
Now we finally have live action films about the two girls. The ages aren't stated in the film. The actresses were both 16 years old in 2014, but they look younger than 16. I wonder how many films they can make before they lose their youthful appearance.
The farm where Tina lives with her mother stands next to a castle where Duke von Falkenstein lives with his son Alexander, who is also Tina's boyfriend. Bibi is unattached, but that doesn't seem to worry her. It's not a secret that she's a witch. Tina and everyone at the castle know about it. Bibi uses her magic powers to play practical jokes on people.
In this film there are two problems that the girls have to solve. The first is that a new neighbour wants to buy Tina's favourite horse from the duke, a horse that she takes out every day. The second problem is the arrival of a new holiday guest, Sophia, who tries to steal Tina's boyfriend.
This is a cute little film. At first I found it disturbing that the cast repeatedly broke into song, but I grew used to it. I can see why Lina Strahl was picked to play Bibi. She has such a good voice that she could easily make a career as a singer. As for the film's story, maybe I'm too old to appreciate it. Girls and horses aren't my thing. I might try another film in the series. I don't know yet.
Thursday, 10 August 2017
This is a true story that took place during one of the darkest periods in American history. Although the expression isn't used in the film, I call it the "Communist witch hunt". After the euphoria of winning World War Two the American government began to realise that Russia, their wartime ally, was an evil country intent on world domination. Russia was a Communist country, so the assumption was that Communism was evil as a system. There was a Communist Party in America, so it was assumed that its members were also evil and intended to overthrow the American government to subjugate the country to Russia.
That is very simplistic reasoning. On the other end of the scale we find Dalton Trumbo, Hollywood's highest paid screenwriter, who had equally simplistic reasons for being a Communist, as revealed in a conversation with his 9-year-old daughter Nicky:
"At school you're eating your favourite food. You see that another girl has nothing to eat. What do you do?
1. You tell her to get a job so she can buy food.
2. You lend her the money to buy food and charge her 6% interest.
3. You ignore her completely.
4. You share your food with her.
If you choose the fourth option you're a Communist".
That shows Trumbo's reasoning behind becoming a member of the Communist Party. He wanted to help people. That's all. On the other hand, he was criticised by his fellow Communists. His friend Arlen said to him, "You talk like a radical, but you live like a rich man". We see that in the photo. He lived on a ranch. He owned a large field which contained a lake. His daughter had a pony.
Let's look at the fourth option in Trumbo's Communist Test again. Let's assume there are 30 children in school. Nicky has food and the other 29 have nothing. If she shares her food with everyone else nobody will have enough to eat and everyone will be hungry. It's more sensible to share with just one or two people, so that they at least have enough to eat. Being selective in your help is more sensible.
How do you select? If nobody has food Nicky would share with her best friend. If her brother and sister were in the roof she would give them priority. That's the sort of Communism that Dalton Trumbo practised. He was relatively wealthy, but not a millionaire. He didn't spend much on himself, but he wanted his family to live in comfort. He paid the legal costs of his critical friend Arlen. That's the same attitude that I have. I invest in very little luxury for myself, but I want my children to have enough. Maybe I don't give my friends money, but that might just be because I don't have enough money to give. I've never been in a position where I could afford to be generous.
Dalton Trumbo wasn't a traitor. He didn't want to overthrow the American government. He loved America, and he loved democracy. His only crime was that he thought America should be fairer. More money for the poor and less money for the rich. He wanted to persuade the government to spread the wealth, but the self-centred establishment that didn't want to give up any of its privileges misinterpreted what he said. They claimed that he wanted to force them to spread their wealth.
There were many Communists who were persecuted by the American government, but the main targets were those who worked in Hollywood, especially directors and screenwriters. In a way, it's understandable that they had to endure the brunt of the guilt. They were in a position to influence the American public with either direct or implied messages in their films.
All those who were members of the Communist Party or merely suspected of having Communist sympathies were blacklisted and forbidden to work in Hollywood. Dalton Trumbo was one of ten men arrested and imprisoned for his political beliefs, or more accurately for his political affiliations. America was in the grip of anti-Communist hysteria. The good people of America had forgotten the foundation on which America had been built: the freedom of speech. I would add to that the freedom of opinion. As Trumbo aptly puts it in the film, "Everybody has the right to be wrong". Nobody should be arrested or disadvantaged because of his membership of a political or religious group; he should only be judged on the basis of what he says and does.
A subplot in the film is Trumbo's troubled relationship with his daughter Nicky. He loved her, but the government pressure on his life harmed the family. Nevertheless, she followed her father in wanting to do good. When she was older she joined the Civil Rights Movement to fight for the equality of black people in America.
Before watching "Trumbo" I already knew about the Hollywood blacklist, but some details were new to me. For instance, after his release from prison Trumbo was still forbidden to work, so he wrote screenplays under false names. This led to absurd situations. In 1956 he wrote the screenplay for "The Brave One", using the pseudonym Robert Rich. At the Academy Awards Robert Rich won the Oscar for the Best Screenplay, and nobody knew who this person was. It wasn't until he wrote "Spartacus" in 1960 that the political climate was calm enough for him to write under his own name.
I was also quite shocked by the attitudes of actors at the time. John Wayne, of all people, considered Dalton Trumbo to be un-American and a traitor. There was no solidarity between the professionals in the film industry. They took opposite sides in the war on Communism.
Bryan Cranston's acting in the main role is nothing short of magnificent. He was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor, but didn't win. The award was given to Leonardo DiCaprio for "The Revenant". Once more I'm utterly amazed. The Film Academy chose wrong.
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