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Potato Salad (2015)
1/10
Want to sum up every stereotype about youtubing millennials in on sentence? "Kartoffelsalat"
26 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Oh boy, how the hell did I end up in this heap of garbage? Well, I can tell you. Three reasons, even: for one there's a lifelong penchant for trash-movies and cinematic disasters, and the undying hope to either find a hidden gem or at least some form of unwanted humour. Found neither. Then there is Otto Waalkes, which, like many from my generation, I virtually grew up with and whose sheer endless spiral downward is just one of those car-crashes that you cannot pass by without gawking. And then there was an almost anthropological interest in this 21st century phenomenon called YouTube.

Considering that the German film-industry is virtually dead, television following on its heels and heading toward "Unterschichten-TV" (German for "low class"- or "scum"-TV) and most of the mainstream media not even worth switching on anymore, I admit that internet channels and platforms like YouTube are a little spark in the dark. At least one can choose one's own program of interest and where professional journalists and critics fail these days, one is free to look up alternatives. But of course that has it's underbelly as well. I'm talking about self-styled YouTubers like those in the movie, who generate clicks and subscribers (in essence: money and revenue) without producing content that goes beyond pointless rants and cringe-worthy brattling, patreon-begging, aimed entirely at millennial-teens with too much internet at their hands. Those who might download some Justin Bieber videos (because they find him cute), subscribe to channels (because the Vlogger is cute) and watch cartoons with rainbow-colored ponies (for the same reason). All which is all right with me, since nobody is forcing anybody to press and suggested video and it's easy to block content that one deems non-desired. But making a movie (with a budget, no less!) with those kids, that's a whole new spectrum.

At first glance, the premise of the "story" might remind you of "Shawn of the Dead" – had "Shawn of the Dead" been produced by millennials with the IQ of an ounce of salt. A nerdy teen turns his schoolmates into zombies, so he can educate them in various academic skills, which in turn turns them back into humans (upon which the lead character and director) is celebrated as a hero. And that's it! If you now wonder what the translated title of "Potato-salad" has to do with the crapfest, well, the director and script-writer openly admitted that he simply couldn't think of a better title. This might give you an ilk of what level of teen-moronity we're dealing with here.

Are there any redeemable factors here? At least a single joke that is above the level of the shadow of a snake? I tell you honestly: no. And if you're watching this for nostalgic reasons AKA seeing Otto Waalkes in a movie, well, you couldn't feel more depressed if you'd see the former comedy-star sitting on a street-corner, with an empty bottle of plonk wine, even emptier eyes and stretching out his hand to passer-by's. Don't even get me started about "special guests" like Jenny Elvers, who made a name and career out of appearing drunk in talk shows. The rest, as said, are just random kids who talk about fashion, videogames and VIP-news that they've picked up somewhere in the internet, usually from the vicinity of their bedrooms or, if there is some substantial YouTube sponsoring to pay for it, behind a green screen in their parent's basement.

The scariest part: not only did this trash manage to generate a million bucks for production (sponsored mostly by Otto's own production company), but managed to make a profit at the box-office, no doubt generated by the same airheads who frequent those YouTube channels (or rather their parents hard-earned money). And although I don't want to turn this into a rant about incompetent millennials (right, as if I haven't already) and will state that there are exceptions to the rule, the general rule is still damn pathetic, making one wonder if the internet was worth it in retrospect. Those words are often over-used and used far too lightly, but I'll utter them anyway, because I cannot fathom how one can possibly make things worse: this is the absolute bottom of the barrel. I cannot state it enough: 0/10 is my rating – the one star above, that's courtesy of IMDb and I wash my hands with innocence.
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1/10
The movie is "Krass" (and since the word has no real meaning, feel free to insert the worst swear-word you can imagine instead)
26 September 2016
There was a time when I was working in a video-store or, as we call them in Germany, videothek. Good times and the pay wasn't bad either. It was a shared duty of all involved to sporadically check the DVDs for errors. It happened now and again that customers would wander in, complaining that the film didn't work – and of course that they didn't want to pay for a defect film. So, those films were taken home by the employees and watched with German diligence. (Just on the side: 90 percent of the times the disc and film was in perfect order and of course the customers merely tried to get off free; but that's another story). As you might imagine, this sent all imaginable kind of films through my player – don't even get me started on what we had to check which came from the "Adult-section".

Now, why am I brattling on about days past, certainly boring the reader beyond patience? I'll tell you: as justification. And I assure anybody reading these lines, in any other circumstance I wouldn't have touched anything related to "Erkan & Stefan" with a ten-foot-pole. But then came the faithful day when a cross-eyed teen in baggie-pants and over-sized baseball cap appeared before the counter, mumbling something about "didn' work, voll krass, eyh". So, here I was with "Erkan & Stefan – Der Tod kommt krass" at my hands, cursing god and humanity, even trying to haggle with a female co-worker to exchange this film with the one she had to check (a porn involving fecal matters, if memory serves right). She refused.

If you're not familiar with the "comedic"-duo Erkan & Stefan, consider yourself lucky. In layman's terms, we could compare them as the German answer to Ali G. aka Sacha Baron Cohen in the role of Ali G. Or, to call it's by the real name: they're ripping off Ali G. In reality two rather mediocre comedians from Bavaria, the two have slipped into the role of a Turk and a German, both bred and raised in the seedier, ghetto-part of Munich. Their trademark is combining local Bavarian slang with Denglish (a bastardization of German with English words) and Kanak Sprak (also called "Kanakendeutsch", spoken predominantly by Turkish youth in the third or fourth generation, who still haven't managed to grasp the basics of German). Their most infamous "word-creation" (of which, unfortunately, there are many) is "eyh, krass" or alternatively "voll krass". Apart from the Latin origin of "crassus", the word means nothing, apart from something being extreme, both in the positive and negative sense. Sometimes teens will also utter it without any detectable reason or random mingle it into half-formed sentences. As it is, many of their "word-creations" were eagerly picked up by kids and teenagers who came from the shallower end of the social hierarchy – or shall we say: Kanak Sprak spread like typhus.

This charade was played over the next ten odd years. While the critics cringed, muttering sweet pillow-talk like "the most untalented Comedy-Stars of the nation" and the "bottom of the barrel", while language-teachers tore their hair out and parents wept bitter tears over their kids turning into morons, the alter-ego of Erkan & Stefan made those two bozos rich and popular figures. Until the day they dropped their masks on live-TV and implied in fluent German, that they would no longer associate with the scum they've catered to and would no longer play morons for morons. One would go on to become a member of the council on behalf of the German party SPD, the other one tried his luck in a couple of movies, appearing next to Corey Feldman in "Lucky Fritz" and Stephen Baldwin in "Shoot the Duke", before vanishing in the depth of soap-operas and TV-crime-shows. In short, the good news: they're gone and the bad news: their legacy lives on.

That should sum it up, unless we've forgotten something. Oh, yes, the movie: It's a rip-off of "Weekend at Bernie's" and if you're able to find one single, competent gag or something that would raise as much as a smirk: keep it. From me it gets a round number of points: 0/10 (And if you're still with me, wondering what I charged the kid who was responsible for me watching this garbage, that he claimed was not working properly: roughly thirty bucks, because the DVD was long overdue).
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7/10
Fair, balanced, neutral – and if the subject doesn't appear in a "positive light", don't blame the director but thank the subject
26 September 2016
Sure, didn't we all have a good laugh at Sarah Palins expense? Admit it: like me you were waiting gleefully for a new interview during the 2008 elections, waiting for Mrs. Palin to blur out another avalanche of nonsense, hog-wash and absurd gibberish while standing in the limelight. Somehow half-convinced that we were watching an episode of Candid Camera or that somebody had elected the village-idiot to run as vice-president of the United States. At the same time trying to ignore the fact, as one commentator put it, "that (had McCain won), this woman would be a 72-year old man's heartbeat away from being president" – somebody who couldn't find major hotspots like Iraq on a map, but was convinced that she could see Russia from her porch.

I've always been a fan of Broomfield's Gung-Ho-style journalism. Or rather let's say, I've always enjoyed his style without necessarily coming to the same conclusions (no, I don't think that Kurt Cobain was murdered by his wife, as Broomfield has suggested in his "Kurt & Courtney").

The "appeal" (if I may use the word in this context) of Sarah Palin is that she is one of the members of this profession that allows a good insight into her mind. Politicians have long since learned numerous tactics and skills regarding body-language, gesture and syntax to be able to "shield" them off from prying minds. At times this can backfire (to mind comes Bill Clinton, who gave his Spiel away when pointing and nodding in the wrong direction while proclaiming "I did not have sex with this woman!"). Another fine example would be his wife Hilary: comparing her body-language when she was "just" First Lady to nowadays, where she has obviously gone through rigorous training, is like comparing night and day. Save to say, Sarah Palin possesses no such skill.

Broomfield doesn't have to dig through the dirt much. Mainly, he only needs to sit back and let Sarah's (former) friends, allies and acquaintances do the talking. The dirt would appear virtually out of nowhere, as if just waiting to hit Broomfield's camera. We get what we would expect and probably knew from the very beginning: it's a picture of a complete incompetent, bungling yet ruthless and ambitious politician, who entered the presidential race with the same hope of somebody purchasing a lottery ticket at the petrol-station. In short: it would have been child's play to mock or ridicule the documentary's subject, but – being the gentleman that he is – Broomfield opted not to go down that path, so his film never seems like a hatchet job (in contrast, let's recall Michael Moore tearing into a certain actor, of whom he knew that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and hence was easy prey; the contrast couldn't be starker). "Don't demean yourself and ridicule fools – they'll do that all by themselves", like the saying goes. Interesting, entertaining and distinctly neutral (at least from Broomfield's side, who opted to heed that saying mentioned above). 7/10
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7/10
Flawed, but by no means as bad as some would have you believe
26 September 2016
It probably happens to everybody: one comes across a review on IMDb, looking for some info on a movie that one considers a personal favorite, and what does one find? A rating that points more toward the lower end of that rating spectrum and numerous devastating reviews, that point both thumbs (and probably the big toes as well) downwards. Of course everybody is entitled to their own opinion and taste, but in the case of "The Road to Wellville" I cannot help but to break a lance for a film that deserves a little better than what it has gotten thus far.

The actors shine throughout. Matthew Broderick has never played a more likable character since his "Ferris Bueller's Day Out", Tracy Lind and Bridget Fonda sparkle with feminine beauty and although one can tell that Anthony Hopkins was not altogether comfortable with his role, comedy being clearly not his first line of work, he makes the best of what he's given to work with. Same goes for all the supporting cast, who are throughout quirky and likable (including Colm Meany, who has never played a slimier character), and often look, as if they had stepped out of a "Asterix"-comic-book.

Before the disastrous "The Master of Disguise" technically ended his career (and, yes, later associating himself later with Adam Sandler wasn't a good idea either; not for Carvey or anybody else on this planet), you basically couldn't go wrong with Dana Carvey. A virtual chameleon of his trade, Carvey's various roles and guises only had one thing in common: they were always funny as hell and usually stole the scene. Such is the case in this movie. Carvey's George Kellogg is an epitome of grime, sloth and human rot (though not without the vulnerable child at the core), which keeps the viewers emotions of utter revulsion and amusement at a 50/50 level.

Special praise must go to Jacob Reynolds, playing the young George Kellogg. I say it as I see it: he's uglier than a blind horse. But not in a repulsive way, but rather so ugly, that one could stare at his strange features and over-shaped head for hours without getting tired or repulsed. Though his retrospective scenes are rather short, he steals every one of them.

So, why the low rating and plenty negative reviews, I wondered. Well, for one I can understand that some people might not feel comfortable with the scatological humor (of which there is galore). Without having done any research on it, I could imagine that this kind of film would have been more popular in Europe than it might have been in the United States. Often I found myself reminded of French comedies a la Claude Zidi and, since we're speaking of potty-humour, of course Monty Phyton. The main criticism I would place on the director himself. No doubt, Parker is a master of his trade but you can always tell that he was uncomfortable to let his comedy (a field which Parker isn't exactly at home, perhaps with the exception of "Bugsy Malone") deteriorate into slapstick or farce – which the movie is essentially, and there is nothing wrong with that. Parker seems to have aimed more in the direction of biting satire, throwing in moments of seriousness (as in the story of Fonda's dead baby or the troubled history of Kellogg with his adopted son), which seem unnecessary, out of place, almost forced.

And now, more than 20 years down the "Road to Wellville", the movie has aged exceptionally well and is just as enjoyable as it was when I first saw it. The story and message is still as contemporary as it was, perhaps even more so. Think self-appointed health-gurus, militant vegans and fitness crusaders, who'll argue that you'll die healthier if only you forsake all earthly pleasures. In fact, not too long ago, I found myself involved in a random conversation with a vegan. I listened silently, as he told me about his excellent health – and of course that I, as a "meat-eater", was clearly on the doorstep to death. While he prattled on, I measured his skeleton-like appearance, the hollow eyes and a skin-tone that had already a slight hue of greenish (no doubt due to a lack of Vitamin B12). By the time he had seemingly finished his sermon, I nodded in agreement – I mean, what else can you do? – then moved on. And while I contemplated which steak-house I was going to visit now, I found myself subconsciously whistling the movie's title-melody. And don't try to tell me, if you're a friend of the culinary world and well-being, that you don't have a distinct desire for a hearty piece of meat after watching "The Road to Wellville".

Technically a 7/10, though it ranks among one of my personal Top-50 comedies.
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5/10
I wish it wouldn't be so, but in all honesty: I was overall disappointed
26 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Right, some consider "The Killing Joke", right after "Dark Knight Returns", the most essential Batman (solo) graphic-novel. When I read it as a wee lad, it was a real eye-opener about the figure Batman, which in a way made the character so much more realist. Realistic in a sense: yes, it's not just an unblemished superhero in a bat-costume, but Batman is essentially a lunatic whose lunacy is kept in check by a moral compass (the same way I believe the James Bond is essentially a psychopath with a license to kill, but that's another story). It put it into essence that the Batman and the Joker are really just two sides of the same coin, one on the moral spectrum, one on the chaotic side, which would later be confirmed by Nolan's "The Dark Knight".

To keep it short: I rooted for the movie adaptation and I rooted for Conway and Hamill to reprise their respective roles. But when I was done watching it, I found myself not having liked it. Unfortunately and for various reasons and here are the reasons why: Let's start with the positive: graphics and effects were very nice, so was the soundtrack and the voice-actors are once again beyond the shadow of a doubt. The problem I had was the adaptation factor.

We get about half an hour of a Batgirl history-story that could have been condensed to 10 minutes or less, if it had stuck to the source material. That's about half the film, mind you. A story about the partnership between Batman and Batgirl, implied intimacy, a stalker-Mafiosi, that is dropped right after a doctor confirming that Batgirl (after having been shot by the Joker) will never walk again, add nothing to the general storyline and is abandoned completely. So, here we have half the movie – a whole 30 minutes that felt wasted – and it now continues to be a real "The Killing Joke" adaptation. Why the overlong and pretty pointless Batgirl storyline? We can only speculate, but after having watched the film, I had a look at the Wikipedia page and found an "interesting" addition about the "feminist interpretation" of "The Killing Joke" (as one can imagine, as toxic and useless as an "interpretation of feminists of Moby Dick" – but, considering the feminist-raids on virtually all Wikipedia pages in the "current year", not all to surprising) The scenes (in the comics), where the Joker tortures Commissioner Gordon, was pretty gritty at the time of the release, but here it is presented no more shocking than your average PG-13 cartoon. Including the Joker's song-and-dance-routine, this was embarrassing to watch and made the viewer feel sorry for Hamill. And of course we have the iconic ending, which kept the nerds speculating and discussing it until this day. Has Batman finally snapped at the end? Or did he indeed "snap" The Joker? The way it is shot here is so unspectacular, that it ranges on a sentiment of "why would I care?" Which makes it even more disappointing that director Sam Liu has been involved with many of the better DC-Animated-films but doesn't come anywhere close to the what Jay Oliva has achieved with sitting in the director's chair. What remains is a series of bad decisions in almost all aspects, a pedestrian take on a story with potential and a mediocre 5/10
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Der Geisterbräu (1963 TV Movie)
7/10
Not the ultimate version of the play, but still a classic in it's own rights
26 September 2016
After a life of wine, women and song (and while playing a deck of cards), Xavier Bogenrieder, owner of the renowned beer-house "Unterbräu", has finally keeled over. His wake is less than harmonious: for one, one of his mistresses makes an unwanted appearance (and unwarranted financial demands), for the other, his long-suffering widow Wally (Ruth Kappels) is immediately swarmed by would-be future-husbands, among them the local teacher, pharmacist and postal worker. Much to the chagrin of the establishment's manager Sebastian (Karl Peter Holzmüller), who has been loyally keeping the place running but has for the longest time fallen in love with Wally. The local Shepherd Sixtus (Maxl Graf) comes to Sebastian's aid, suggesting that a potential "haunting" might drive Wally into Sebastian's arms, offering himself to play the part of the deceased's "ghost". But Sixtus haunting backfires. Soon the "Unterbräu"-pub has not only gained the reputation of a haunted house, but also loses its regulars and soon the naïve widow has the local bailiff sitting on her shoulder.

Indeed, "Der Geisterbräu" (German for "Ghost Pub") is a classic among South-German / Bavarian "Bauerntheater" ("rural plays"), often shown on TV in the past 50 years, more often played by local theatres. Like most of these stories, the storyline is rather simple and yes – call it a spoiler if you're not familiar with the genre – there will be a happy end for all involved. What differentiates this play from most other "Komödienstadl"-plays that would follow, is the setting itself. As always recorded in front of a live-audience, the seats of the onlookers are elevated, which allows the cameras to record at close range, giving the impression that this was a made-for-TV-movie.

The sets are quiet beautiful, designed with a lot of love for details, giving the feeling of the rural countryside at the turn of the last century (not that much would have changed since then anyway). Other than a majority of similar plays, that often will have a single stage, the story takes place in three different settings (the tavern itself; the loft, where Sixtus prepares his little "hauntings" and neighborhood butchery). All three places are as authentic as possible on live-stage, indeed, watching this and perhaps being familiar with south German beerhalls and taverns, you can almost smell the place. It is hence not surprising that "Der Geisterbräu" counts among the more popular theatre-plays of that time (or rather this version, considering that many other stage companies, both professional and laymen, still feature this play to this very day – the most popular being a version with cult-actor Toni Berger playing the grave-digger, which was aired in color a few years later). A little gem for fans of light, harmless urban theatre-plays, well worth a 7/10
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5/10
National Lampoon's "Family Vacation", without the anarchy and slapstick
26 September 2016
Bruno Kuessling (Peter Striebeck) is your "average Joe": working a boring job as a meteorologist in Hamburg, divorced, and father of Carolin (Katja Studt), a teen going through the tribulations of puberty. Like many Germans, Bruno has a passion for the US. Not the contemporary US but rather the times of Billy the Kid, Geronimo and Al Capone; in short, a passion for the times when the US still used to be the land of unlimited opportunities. Fearing that he would become ever more estranged from his budding daughter, Bruno decides to beat two flies with one swat and arranges a roundtrip through the states for him, Carolin, a former buddy and his girlfriend. However, fate intervenes (Bruno's buddy falls sick with a bad case of mumps) and hence Bruno finds himself travelling in the company of three women, his ex-wife having decided to join the trio. Chaos seems pre-programmed, including the "mandatory" delayed flights and the stress of intercontinental traveling, until Bruno and his entourage finally arrive in Los Angeles. There they join a busload of other, stereotypical, bourgeois German tourists and start their tour across the country, with (again) mandatory stops in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, final destination being New York.

"Wilder Westen Inklusive" is designed as a three part TV-mini-series, weighing in at roughly five hours, but essentially is one long movie. Over-long, to say the least. It's about 40 percent road trip, 30 percent comedy, and 30 percent family-friendly movie, including all those elements of love, coming-of-age, being strangers in a strange land, topped off with a hearty spoonful of schmaltz and relationship drama.

Imagine a reverse variation of "National Lampoon's European Vacation", without the slapstick and – of course – without Chevy Chase. Indeed, main-actor Striebeck can be considered one of the weak links of the production. Sure, the viewer is able to sympathize and even take pity on this "average Joe", who seems to hop from one mishap to the next misfortune, constantly having to juggle between trying to keep the trip from becoming a total disaster, while dealing with his daughter (who of course falls in love and has her first menstrual bleeding), as well as having to manage falling in love with his friend's girlfriend Ingeborg (Gundrun Gabriel) and re-awakening feelings for his ex-wife Marianne (Krystyna Janda). But, as said, a Chevy Chase he is not. Some much-awaited and desired laughter would have pushed the film up a notch, but this falls through after the first half, where everything seems to turn more serious, away from comedy and heading straight into love-triangle and soap-opera territory.

Director Dieter Wedel, a veteran of German TV, is able to keep it together and manages the story from becoming too tedious, but one notices that he must have had a rough time with keeping the momentum up for the full five hours. There are multiple flashbacks, giving us details about the former relationship between Bruno and Marianne that are both unnecessary, unwanted and, yes, even tedious, virtually reeking of filler-material. The supporting cast is both capable and reliable, chosen mainly from veterans of German TV and cinema, but – like mentioned – as stereotypical as they come. Same goes for the portrayal of the Americans: people in the big cities like California and New York are either over-friendly or shallow, Las Vegas is full of crooks and degenerates and the countryside-folk seem generally oblivious of the outside world. And if the Germans learn one thing about US-Americans: their staple source of food is hamburgers and their income comes primarily from tourist-traps. It is a very simple world that Wedel presents us with.

Essentially it's clean, family-friendly fun. But one has to admit that the movie hasn't aged very well, being almost 30 years old and will move likely be enjoyed mainly by nostalgic fans, who have a heart for the 1980's TV-drama or those, who have seen it during its original run. Having done so myself, I give it a 7/10 which, to people who haven't seen it before, will probably be reduced to an average 5/5.
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7/10
The most psychedelic yet to many the ultimate screen-Asterix
26 September 2016
Once again, in the year 50 BC, the Romans are having the holy hell beat out of them by a small village of defiant Gauls, who have inhuman powers, thanks to a magic potion. Rather common, as we all know. Hence the rumor spreads among the fearful Romans, that those Gauls could potentially be gods (unlike in the comics, the Romans here aren't aware of the magic potion). Bad news for Emperor Julius Caesar, who offers chieftain Vitalstatistix a deal: the chief's most capable men (obviously Asterix and Obelix) must complete twelve tasks. If they fail, the village must give up their defiance. If they win however, Caesar will accept their divinity and relinquish his crown – or rather his laurel wreath. Hence, our heroes must run faster than Greek marathon-runner Asbestos, beat Verses (the Persian) at javelin, beat Cilindric (the German) at a fistfight, cross a lake that is the home of sirens, survive the hypnotic gaze of Iris (the Egyptian), eat an enormous meal at Calorofix' (the Belgian) tavern, make it alive through the "cave of the beast", retrieve Permit A38 in "The Place that sends you mad", cross a ravine filled with hungry crocodiles via an invisible tightrope, answer the question of an old man on the mountain, spend a night on the haunted "plain of the dead" and finally survive a fight in the Colosseum in Rome.

Let me start off by saying, in Germany the "Asterix"-comics always had something of a family-tradition. Many a dad bring brought home the newest "Asterix" to their kids and for many kids – including myself – that was pretty much like somebody else's Dad taking his kid to a baseball-game. Actually, there were usually two copies purchased: One to be read and kept in mint-condition, the other one to take to the local grilled chicken shop and read will eating, pretending the grilled bird was grilled boar. (Don't laugh: In Germany it was not uncommon to see people sitting in the "Hendl-Shop", a German version of KFC, chowing away while reading "Asterix" and it wasn't even considered bad manners).

Having dropped that nostalgic tit-bit, I'm not the first to point out that "The Twelve Tasks of Asterix" is considered by many fans the best of all the many cartoon-adaptation. For one, it's not an adaptation, but rather a story completely unrelated to the series. The first two movies, "Asterix the Gaul" and "Asterix and Cleopatra" kept close to the comic, but missed the satire and cultural references that made the comics appealing not only to kids but to adults as well. What came later was clearly produced entirely for kids.

"The Twelve Tasks of Asterix" on the other hand could be enjoyed by both young and old, in fact, seemed to have been geared more at an adult-audience. The scene with the nymphs was rather raunchy for "Asterix"-standards, the task in the Madhouse (a pun on modern bureaucracy) probably wouldn't even make sense to younger kids, while the task with the ghost-legion was rather spooky. The animation remains the most pedestrian of all Asterix-films, but it's the seemingly careless painted backgrounds that give the film its charm and (thanks to the xerographic process) almost psychedelic feel, that at times remind of Ralph Bakshi cartoons like "Heavy Traffic", "Wizards" or many other 'artsy' 70's cartoons.

Producers often don't seem to understand that cartoons and comics are two different medias, which have only one thing in common: they're both painted. That doesn't make them compatible or easily translatable, however. Most of the 'twelve tasks' (perhaps with the exception of Obelix versus the Belgian cook; in German called Mannekinfix) wouldn't work well on paper, nor would they fit into the Asterix (comic)-formula. This is probably the reason why "The Twelve Tasks of Asterix" work, while most other Asterix-cartoons fail at capturing the magic of the comics, or – at best – appear like a pale adaptation.

The third Asterix cartoon (there would be five more, including numerous live-action films and a computer-animated cartoon) would remain the last for almost ten years. After that, the cartoons took on another formula, which usually spliced the stories from various comics together and, as said, were mainly targeting a minor audience. Whether that was because "The Twelve Tasks" was a box-office bomb or not, I cannot tell – but like many other hardcore Asterix-fans I felt sorry that future films would take the direction they did, and that "Twelve Tasks" would remain a unique experience. And this uniqueness made it the ultimate Asterix-cartoon and possibly the dearest to the hearts of most lifelong fans.

7/10
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Lucky Luke (1984– )
6/10
Not perfect, not all that a fan could have wished for but good entertainment
26 September 2016
Mind you, dear reader, I'm writing this from a German perspective and the German-version of those 26 episodes produced by Gaumont & Hanna-Barbera Productions. Versions in your own country may hence vary.

Next to "Asterix" (and without bothering to check it up), I would presume that "Lucky Luke" was the second-most famous comics in Europe during the 1970's and 80's. If you'd collect one, you'd invariably come in contact with the other, so most people collected both series anyway. So, obviously a cartoon-series was produced and obviously the kids flocked to the television whenever it aired. Hence, fond memories for those who grew up around that time, but we have to admit that the show was not without flaws.

A good part of that is to be blamed on the Hanna-Barbera studios, which were notorious for cutting corners and – to a point even understandable – keep any costs as low as possible. It shows in the overall animation, which is a far-cry from the loving details of the comic-books. To mind come the classic "Tom & Jerry" cartoons and what they ended up looking like after HB-Productions got their hands on the franchise. There's a distinct difference in quality between the intro (I presume this was done by the French Gaumont), which looked like straight from the comic-book and the actual show itself. To be fair: the quality of the animation still beats many contemporary, shoddily CGI-assembled cartoons, but as a comic fan one would have expected a little more effort.

As to the stories themselves: they were of course adapted straight from the comics, which made it difficult since the episodes are only roughly 20 minutes long. Difficult to cram in the often complex, detail-loving stories of the comics into such short a space. Most episodes were so condensed or even taken completely out of context, that you often only the title and the title-figures reminded of the original stories. And of course the show was targeted primarily at kids and teens, while the comics enjoyed an audience of both young and old. That gave the show a childish air, filled with juvenile jokes rather than the wit of the comic, that didn't sit well with many fans. Catchphrases keep repeating themselves over and over, pointing toward lazy script writing, Jolly Jumper is way chattier and the dog, Rantaplan – who in the comic only appears sporadically, usually involving story lines with The Daltons – has a much permanent role as a (more often than not) annoying sidekick in the cartoons.

Like "Asterix", "Lucky Luke" was not mere slapstick or kid's entertainment, but also had a certain educational value (Goscinny was painstakingly about details, making the stories and places as authentic as possible), but don't expect to find any of that in the cartoons. Some oversensitive readers have criticized that many of the characters in the comic were way to "stereotypical". Hence, you had the lazy Mexican, the sneaky and reclusive Asians, the simple-minded and gullible Indians, etc., but same could be said about any other character in the comics. Most important though, none of these depictions were anywhere near spiteful, but rather lovingly 'over-stretched'. Don't expect any of that in the squeaky-clean cartoon either. Same goes for Luke's iconic cigarette, which makes no appearance, no doubt upon the insistence of the American production company. Of course, a few years later, when the anti-smoking-hysteria hit Europe as well, the cigarette in the comics was replaced by a straw as well, leaving many fans to lament that Lucky Luke simply wasn't the same anymore. Some hardcore fans have gone as far as to draw in their own pictures of cigarettes into the comic. Some merely defacing the drawings, others turning it into a real art, creating "alternative versions" that would make them worth a handsome price among collectors (but of course most hardcore fans would never sell their comics).

Overall, this analysis may give the impression that the cartoon-show was rather bleak. Not so. It does have redeeming values and, as said, a strong nostalgic factor for people who grew up with it. But it simply didn't get anywhere close to the original cult-comics. In fact, more than "Asterix", "Lucky Luke" seemed to have a much harder time translating to any other media, including a number of rather mediocre real-life-action films. Special praise must be given to the title-song and the ending credits "Poor, lonesome cowboy", which (if I'm correct) are identical in most countries, but with varying, local singers. In the German version, both songs are performed by Country & Schlager singer Freddie Quinn, and most viewers from my generation will probably still be able to whistle and sing along, even 30-odd years later.

6/10
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Iznogoud (2005)
4/10
Plenty of potential, but wasted and squandered never the less
26 September 2016
Being a fan of "Asterix", "Lucky Luke" and not least "Iznogoud" (here in Germany spelled "Isnogud"), its quiet surprising that I came around so late to watch this film. Or perhaps not such a big surprise at all, considering that I've been more or less disappointed by most real-life-adaptations of said comics. Hence, I didn't watch with too high an expectation and left not quite as disappointed as I had expected – but disappointed nevertheless.

I'd agree with most points of criticism that the other reviewers here have pointed out, but would defend Jacques Villeret, who looks like he was born to play the part of the peaceful, tranquil yet rather simple Caliph (and that may sound a little off-place, considering that this was his final role). Michael Youn as titular character, well, not as bad as made out to be, but then again not exactly living up to the comic-Iznogoud either. Too young, in my opinion, and far removed from the figure, that's slimy, scheming, choleric, treacherous and of course likable as an anti-hero can get. I don't blame it too much on the cast though and rather on the lazy script-writing (it would appear that Patrick Braoude has only glanced over the source-material and/or didn't understand it) and Braoude being the wrong man for the job of directing this in the first place.

Not being all too familiar with his prior work, it would appear that Braoude is more at home at children's movies and RomComs, which shines through in "Iznogoud" but really has no place in an adaptation. Call me naïve, but when adapting from a different media, especially one that is so popular and beloved as the "Iznogoud"-comics, I would presume that you primarily want to reach the fans of the source-material. Here we get the impression that the producers reasoned, "oh well, the fans will go and watch it one way or the other, just on account of the title. Let's make it hip and flashy, and see how the kiddies will buy it". Whether the kiddies bought it or not, I cannot tell but I sure know that the fans came, saw and were generally not too amused.

Evidence for this chumming up (no better way to describe it) are the often raunchy one-liners, which may have come from a certain orifice of Braoude, but certainly not the comic. They replaced the often witty, double-meaning dialogues of the source, and are nowhere to be found here. Another piece of evidence (just to point out one), is the "Pretty Woman" dance-sequence, which reeks of pandering to youngsters and is plainly embarrassing for all involved. A rule of thumb: keep song-and-dance-routines out of material where they don't belong and instead keep them, where they belong: in musicals. NOT "Iznogoud"-adaptations! Speaking about pandering: though the film didn't even make it into German cinema (strange but telling, considering how popular the comics are), they did release it on DVD, and of course synchronized it with local voice-overs. From all the competent speakers and comedians, they opted for people like Rick Kavanian and Rüdiger Hoffmann. I doubt that many people from the generation of "Iznogoud"-fans will have gained as much as a smirk from their form of comedy usually referred to as "grimacing" and "vulgar slapstick". Sure, kids enjoy that for reasons of their own, but hearing their voices over the character, probably drove home the final nail of the coffin.

I'd give it 4/10 for good costumes, nice design, the settings and the attempt of the actors to make the best of what they were given to work with; but I certainly won't give it a second view.
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7/10
Michael Sheen carries a movie that would otherwise have been forgotten after the first airing
26 September 2016
Let me start off saying that I'm not a big fan of gay-themed movies. Let's just say: it's not my parking lot or, as they might say in Britain, it isn't my cup of tea. But I wouldn't let this film pass me by, mainly due to the leading actor and considering that I grew up with the original "Carry On"-films.

During the 1980's, the "Carry On"-series (under the moniker "Ist ja irre", roughly translated as "It's insane") was rather popular in Germany. Especially the Cleopatra-, Spying- and Camping-episodes were re-broadcast on TV numerous times. Of course, due to the often incompatible sense of humour, the German synchronization was changed quite a bit, often adding additional lines of dialog and jokes, possibly making the films even goofier. And of course, Kenneth Williams was the comedian that carried almost every film.

Don't expect "Fantabulso!" to be the story of the "Carry On"-films. Though obviously taking an inevitable part in the storyline, the film focuses almost exclusively on Williams and the tragic persona he must have been in real life. A man both driven by ambitious and a sense of narcissism (and that's putting it conservatively), yet too weak to fight off his inner demons, feels of inferiority, doubts or even coming to healthy terms with his sexuality. More so, there is very little – we might even say "none at all" – glamour, as one might expect from a person who was as popular in his heyday. Instead, seeing him ride his bike, living a completely mundane, middle-class lifestyle, we'd never guess that Williams was once a comedian celebrated beyond his locality. Which may have to do with British mentality and lifestyle; here even superstars tend to live rather regular lives off stage, unlike other countries, say the USA, where anybody who has even made an appearance in a reality show will not only pretend to be a diva, but be hyped as one as well.

Not surprisingly, most viewers, apart from the hardcore-fans, knew little to nothing about the cast and it really wasn't until "Fantabulosa" that I personally learned more about this tragic figure of British TV. There had been a similar tragic actor and comedian here in Bavaria, namely Walter Sedlmeyer (whose life-story was turned into the slightly similar film "Wambo", but unfortunately didn't have the benefit of a convincing lead-actor). Hugely successful and respected during his lifetime, considered a national icon and archetype in southern Germany, this changed in the late 1980's, when Sedlmeyer was found murdered and his secret life as a homosexual and tastes for s/m came to light.

We could conclude that "Fantabulosa!" has more than a few moments of length and, especially to those who are not familiar with many of the characters and occurrences, might even seem a tad boring. The reason that this never really is the case, is without doubt Michael Sheen, an incredible veritable actor, who has managed to enrich almost all films he starred in, be it in major roles or as support. It is telling when the actor looks nothing like the subject he portrays, but has the viewer convinced within an instant, that he IS Kenneth Williams. The body-language, the tone of voice, the quirks – Sheen is Williams in everything but physical appearance. To mind comes another biopic, namely Oliver Stone's "The Doors", which had people originally complaining that Val Kilmer looks nothing like Jim Morrison, but who got convinced otherwise at the moment that Kilmer (literally) entered the stage. Sheen's performance alone should be worth the price of admission, whether you're interested in Kenneth Williams or simply want to watch an outstanding performance.

7/10
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Horizon: How to Kill a Human Being (2008)
Season 44, Episode 3
8/10
Fascinating, both from the technical aspects (of execution) to the psychology (of the executioner)
26 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The host of this episode, former Conservative MP, Michael Portillo, takes us through a (though it may sound a little morbid to some) fascinating tour through the methods used in the US-American death penalty. He remains rather neutral on the pro- & contra-stance, though not necessarily opposed to capital punishment, but questioning the methods that are currently in use. In essence, his question isn't so much whether it's morally right or wrong to have another person killed under a penal-code (considering the potential for miscarriages of justice), but rather "How to kill a human being" humanly. If you're not familiar with the issue or methods, some of Portillo's research might be rather shocking – no pun intended.

Portillo's first stop is at a prison where the final sentence is carried out by lethal injection, still the most common form of execution in the US. A sympathetic, though obviously hardened by his work, warden takes him through the procedure and ensures him that the sentence is carried out as humanly as possible, despite the actual killing being done by technicians, rather than medical professionals (obviously due to the Hippocratic oath). Which sounds reasonable on first glance: the culprit receives a lethal cocktail and drifts off into eternal sleep. But numerous "glitches" prior (and since; mind you, this was filmed in 2008), mainly due to the lack of medical experts and the testimony of a patient, who suffered through being injected with one of the three chemicals in question (namely Pancuronium bromide) suggest otherwise. Though being paralyzed, she describes the feeling as "being injected with ignited jet fuel". Portillo than interviews Jay Chapman, who had invented the concept 40 years prior, who concurs that he could never have "imagined idiots carrying out this procedure", but insists that the method is basically humane ("so, they suffer a little bit, but who cares?", is Chapman's assessment).

The documentary moves on to one of the oldest and most common form of capital punishment: death by hanging. We learn that, although ideally quick and almost painless, the executioners still rely on a science (weight to body-height, height of drop, etc.) which has not been modified since around 1886. A miscalculation could result in death through strangulation or decapitation, as is demonstrated on a crash-test-dummy – and, so a scientist informs us, not even an advanced computer could calculate the exact measurements for a painless execution.

Death by electric chair is simulated on a pig-carcass, which proves why it's called "being roasted on the chair", reminding that this form of death is one step above being burned alive on a stake. Five states in America still utilize the gas-chamber (adopting the concept from Nazi-Germany), another form of death that seem painless in theory only – the flaw being that the convicted is basically "asked" to assist in his demise, by taking deep and regular breath of the gas that will kill him, for example. Naturally by instinct most will hold their breath to the point of almost suffocating. This time Portillo offers himself as a test-subject, subjecting himself to noxious, but non-lethal gas, very similar to cyanide. The experience is anything but easy or painless.

The second half of the documentary is dedicated to finding a painless, humane method of execution, which seems to be hypoxia, depriving the brain of oxygen without the body "noticing" it. Again Portillo plays the guinea pig and with the help of the Dutch Airforce undergoes a rapid-pressure-scenario in a pressure chamber, simulating the low oxygen concentration in high altitudes. The results are quiet amazing: within minutes, Portillo begins to lose basic functioning skills without noticing it, slipping into a state of euphoric stupor. When watched over by a physician and told to put his oxygen-mask on, least he'd black out in a few seconds, the former politician merely gives his guardian a puzzled, but quiet happy smile. Still befuddled after the experiment, when inquiring what would have happened after that, the officer in charge only gives him a puzzled look. The answer to that would have been as definite as it would have been final.

The most shocking part of the documentary is yet to come: Portillo presents his findings, the "perfect method to kill a person humanly" in the form of nitrogen hypoxia, to one of the leading pro-death-penalty advocates in America, Professor Robert Blecker. To Portillo's bewilderment, Blecker outright dismisses this method as outright "terrible", citing the lack of justice when the perpetrator of a crime suffers less than the victim. Understandably this kind of response from an otherwise educated man – a virtual call for "an eye for an eye" – leaves the host both perplexed and disillusioned.

Being a sober, objective documentary and answering many questions about the methods, it still raises more questions about the purpose and deeper intent of capital punishment, beyond merely ending the life of a criminal. Is it merely about the state removing an obstacle humanely, without sinking to the level of the culprit? Or is it only about punishment and if so, where does the punishment-factor turn into revenge? Questions that this documentary doesn't answer but raises, leaving them open for discussions to come, at least in counties where capital punishment is still practiced yet who strive on basic human morals and humanity. Today, same as almost ten years ago, when this documentary was recorded. 8/10
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8/10
Lesson one on making good shows for children: don't patronize the audience
26 September 2016
What's the secret to making of making great stories for children that not only stand the test of time, but stay with the target-audience long after they've hit puberty? In my humble opinion it's not trying to patronize the kids or treating them like childish buffoons like so many contemporary children's movies and shows do. Perhaps with the exception of Michael Ende ("The Neverending Story"), few authors have understood that as well as Sweden's Astrid Lindgren. The way Lindgren saw it, kids weren't just little idiots (pardon the expression) waiting to grow up, but rather small adults, who just conceive the world through their own eyes. Evidence to that are countless classics, "Pippi Longstockings" being just the most famous ones, but "Michel from Lönneberga", "Ronia the Robber's Daughter" or (my personal favorite), the often gloomy yet beautiful "Brothers Lionheart".

But let's take a look at "Karlsson on the roof" (this being the title in Germany; the original title roughly translating to "The world's best Karlsson", played by Mats Wikström) through the adult eye: Karlsson is rude, obnoxious, selfish, lawless to the point of being an anarchist, completely irresponsible and so full of himself that one fears, he might spill himself from his own head. He may be, what he actor is – a ten-year-old with an early tendency for male-baldness – though the novel describes him as a short, overweight man, making the figure even more "creepy" (for the lack of a better word). He lives in a drab, working-class neighborhood of Stockholm, in a house on top of the city which seems only accessible through the air. Conveniently, since Karlsson has a little propeller on his back, with which he generally flies around. This caters to the idea that Karlsson is merely the "invisible friend" or figment of imagination of little Lillebror (Lars Söderdahl), an average kid from the neighborhood, and Karlsson's best and only friend.

Whereby, calling Karlsson a "friend" is a bit of a stretch: he generally treats the well-mannered, innocent Lillebror as something like a retarded pet, gets him in trouble with his often mischievous pranks, mooches off him (usually for candy but occasionally off his pocket-money), destroys Lillebror's toys and makes it very clear that he, Karlsson, knows everything better, is the best at everything conceivable. Karlsson keeps reminding Lillebror that Lillebror is just "a stupid, little boy". And, whenever Karlsson plays one of his pranks, he conveniently disappears into thin air, leave Lillebror behind to take the brunt of his furious family. In short: Karlsson is a character that one would wish to toss out the window, if it weren't for the fact that he can fly anyhow.

But that's just the adult's perspective and that's not the perspective through which the story is told. For a kid, Karlsson is the ideal figure: completely care-free, not bound by any rules, responsibilities or regulations, he may eat as much candy as he pleases and has nobody that tells him to go to bed at a certain hour. And if he feels like flying a few rounds over the city at any given time, well, so be it. Despite his often demeaning attitude, he is somewhat of a bigger brother and the person that Lillebror secretly would like to be. Karlsson on the other hand, despite his obvious personality flaws, is a soft hand inside a rough glove, who longs for what Lillebror has: the security of a family that he himself obviously doesn't have. Despite being obnoxious and offensive (not to mention, physically sometimes resembling the demon from "The Exorcist"), Karlsson is a figure that adults would loath, but that most male boys would aspire to be. A wonderful by both actors, who are by no means professionals (Karlsson would remain Wikström only role in the movie and a following mini-series; he'd go on to become a security personnel, while Söderdahl, after playing a somewhat similar role in "Brothers Lionheart" quit acting, became a missionary in South-America and today works as a postal worker).

Has the show stood the test of time? Difficult to say. Perhaps "Karlsson on the Roof" was one of those cases where you had to have been there to get it and perhaps younger viewers these days might wonder, what the fuss about a kid that had his own little house on top of a city was all about, considering that Karlsson had neither internet-connection nor a play-station up there. But for people from my generation the show remains childhood magic and you'd be hard-pressed to find any, who cannot whistle the theme. Which is another interesting tit-bit: while the original soundtrack seemed to have gone more in the direction of folk music, the German version had a rather catchy, bubble-bass-Funk-music as the intro and outro. Occasionally people would quip that this music would have had a better place in a 70's porn-production, but then again, what did my generation know about porn 30-odd years ago? 8/10
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Nihon Gankutsuou (1979– )
7/10
Dated Samurai TV-Drama, but very recommendable for nostalgia-fans
26 September 2016
The basic story of this 15-episode mini-series may sound vaguely familiar: the young Aoi Tsinoske embodies all the values and virtues expected from a Samurai of the Tokugawa-era. He's honourable, dutiful and brave. At the day of his wedding, he is ordered to help put down an uprising of Christians (historically known as the Shimbara-Rebellion). Though the mission is a success, Tsinoske doesn't realize that his cousin Jyudayu, an ambitious and jealous man, who envies Tsinoske's handsome wife and career, has been plotting against him. This leads to Tsinoske being wrongfully accused, losing his rank and wife, and being sentenced to life on a prison island. After ten years, Tsinoske manages to escape with the help of a jovial ex-monk and, with the help of a treasure map, returns to Edo, to take revenge on those that have schemed against him and redeem his name, his wife and honor.

Of course it is a Japanese retelling of Alexander Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo", set in the 17th century Japan. In Germany (back then, both divided countries; to my knowledge it was even more so in East-Germany, where it was dubbed into German) this show was immensely popular. In the west this was probably due to James Clavell's "Shogun" (with Richard Chamberlain) being a TV-hit, watched religiously by millions, as well as an upcoming fascination with Asian history, most likely thanks to the popularity of a million of Kung-Fu-flicks. Of course today that is very different: no countryside hamlet without at least one Sushi restaurant and many kids being more than familiar with Manga and Anime, to a point where some already speak of "German Otaku" (roughly meaning "nerds", who have a fixation on everything Japanese, to a point where it's turning into obsession). But for those who saw the show during its original runs in the early 1980's – many of us still being kids – will remember that there was a distinct air of exclusivity surrounding it that was fascinating, yet strange and unexplored. Probably more so to the Germans who were literally "walled up" in the East and only had a very limited access to the world surrounding them.

Then, for the next 30 years, "Die Rache des Samurai" (the German title, translated as "The Revenge of the Samurai") seemed to have disappeared from the face of the planet. Even a few years back, when searching for information on the internet, all one could usually find was a lone fan-page and forums where like-minded people seemed on a quest to find the series as well (or rather tried to find people who had recorded it back in the heyday of video-cassettes). Which would indicate that the show wasn't very successful in Japan or too popular in other countries (though don't quote me on that; I could be wrong). Only recently, German company "Pidax", apparently specializing in re-releasing lost treasures, brought this out on DVD, making many a viewer's childhood dream come true.

About the show itself: one can definitely tell the age. Though the settings are handsome and the choreography and swordfights are as professional as one would expect from a Japanese production, the overall feel is slightly static, at times even reminding of a chamber-play. There is precious little violence, which even back in the day stood in stark contrast to the bloody Hong Kong flicks, and I distinctly recall schoolmates quipping, that apparently Japanese swords kill you without spilling a drop of blood. Of course more contemporary, realistic Samurai-films have cleared that "myth". The actors are professional, though at times a little hammy, especially lead actor Masao Kusakari, who was obviously cast for his tall frame and good looks (from what I understand, he's half-American and was especially popular, both as singer and actors, among a female audience). But that shouldn't be considered a bad thing; Kusakari does a good job at carrying the sympathy of the viewer, and likewise Jean Marais and Richard Chamberlain, both of whom have been cast as the classic Edmond Dantes, had not been cast on acting skills alone. Norihei Miki as Tsinoske's sidekick and comic relief tends to steal the scenes he's in, although those comedic "interludes" do occasionally distract from the generally sober storyline.

Since I still have not managed to find any other versions, a word about the "Pidax"-DVD-release: don't expect too much in the ways of quality and sound; it is what it is: probably taken straight from the only video-tape one could find. There are no special features, not even original sound (apparently the Japanese version had 23 parts, but I have no idea if that is available only as bootleg or has been remastered), but the German synchronization is as professional as one would expect, though at close look, the dialogue doesn't always match the lip-movements. But those are minuscule issues for people who have spent up to three decades waiting for an official release. For younger viewers it may be a little slow and action-free, but fort those who're interested in a different version of "The Count of Monte Cristo" – and of course to those who've seen it during the original airings – I can only recommend it. 7/10
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Otto's Eleven (2010)
3/10
It makes you feel like walking through a burnt ruin, which you once was a palace
26 September 2016
Otto (as usually playing himself or rather his stage-persona) and his friends live on the North-Sea-island of Spiegeleiland ("Fried Egg Island") and seek to lure tourists over the internet. Unfortunately they get a visit from corrupt Casino-owner Du Merzac (Sky du Mont; Otto's rival in this very first movie 30+ years ago, the name being a name-play on "stupid scumbag") discovers that Otto has inherited a valuable painting and decides to steal it. Otto and his entourage follow the thief to the mainland and, by digging a tunnel under his casino, try to return the valuable heirloom.

I've mentioned it in other reviews, but will say it again here: in his high time, the 1970's and 80's, there was virtually no way to get around Otto Waalkes. As kids, one would trade Otto-audio-tapes, books and other merchandise among each other, rattle down his jokes, which pretty much everybody knew by heart already and the parents would let their kids stay up late, so they could watch his stand-up routine (a mix of slapstick, linguistic humour, spoofs and musical interludes). Not to mention, this first cinema-movie ("Otto – Der Film") remains one of the bestselling local films of all times. Indeed, though no fancy intellectual humour, appealing more to the bourgeois rather than the high-class, Otto had built a memorial for himself – and that's pretty much where the decline started. Did I say decline? No, perhaps "decay" would be the better word yet.

In this 40-odd years, Otto has not changed or progressed one single iota, performing – or rather recycling – the same old jokes, sticking 100 percent to his quirky stage-persona (including during interviews), to an extent where one seriously asks himself: was this ever funny? And, if so, why? Sure, one can look through the rosy lenses of nostalgia but essentially it's like listening to an old, worn-out uncle, who (literally) keeps telling the same joke that amused you when you were a kid and he was still a young dude. In short: nothing short of pathetic. And it's not like Otto had reached a pinnacle with the pitiful display in "Otto's Eleven" yet – for that you'd have to wait another six years, until he produced and starred in "Kartoffelsalad", a movie – if you want to call it that – which very deceivingly stayed on the bottom of IMDb's "Bottom-100"-List for a good amount of time.

It must be said, Otto's greatest strength in his glory time was, that he had a touch on the pulse of time. His parodies were usually spot on and as he once quirked at his musical parodies: "I would just sit around and wait for a song to become famous, so I could take the p**s out of it". It's very clear here that Otto has lost that touch a long time ago. As one can imagine from the basic storyline, Otto and his crew merely spoof films like "Ocean's Eleven", "Ladykillers" and a number of other crime-films, peppered up with the same, lame old jokes that have been in his repertoire for a long, long time.

As for the rest of the cast: Mirco Nontschew's form of comedy can only be described as "pulling grimaces", Rick Kavanian is usually the sidekick of one of the most successful Otto-clones (Bully Herbig) and Max Giermann will probably best be remembered for his Klaus Kinski impersonation, which he performs to perfection, although the routine is getting slightly thin. Highlights would be Sky du Mont, an otherwise rather versatile actor, who unfortunately never got as far as he could have and Olli Dietrich. Dietrich, best known for his role in the improvisation-show "Dittsche", plays the journalist Harry Hirsch, which used to be one of Otto's most famous and enduring comedy-alter-egos. None of those mentioned are able to lift this flick beyond dire mediocrity. More than 3/10 I cannot give and even have a suspicion that one of those points came from sheer pits and for the old-times-sake.
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7/10
The highlight of Otto's career (and sadly the beginning of a steep decline)
26 September 2016
If you're from Germany and from my generation (born in the mid-70's, that is), there really was no way around Otto Waalkes. Kids would recite his jokes in school, parents would let the kids stay up longer just to watch a re-run of Ottos Stand-Up-Show on TV and his trademark cartoon, the "Ottiphant" was to be seen everywhere. Granted, Otto wasn't great intellectual humour like Loriot or Gerhard Polt, often crossing the border of pure, physical slapstick and grimace-humour and if I'd have to compare him to American comedians, I'd go for a cross Jerry Lewis and the Three Stooges in one persona.

The story is simply: Otto is a young, innocent boy from a godforsaken Frisian island, who dreams of making it big in the Big City (namely Hamburg). But all doesn't go as planned once he arrives there. In fact, nothing goes as planned. In order to get cash and open a business – which consists of him making outrageous plans for all intents and purposes – he loans some money from a local loan-shark. Before he knows it, Otto (who didn't read the small print on the loan-sharks contract) finds himself in debt of exactly 9876,50 Mark. By chance and coincidence he rescues the life of Silvia (Jessika Cardinahl), daughter of a high-society lady and falls in love with her. Now Otto has to multi-task, forever trying to find a way to pay off his debt while trying to win the heart of his beloved, before she can marry the slimy socialite Ernesto (Sky du Mont).

It does not come as a big surprise that "Otto – The Film" went on to become the most successful German film at the box-office; a record that has not been broken yet. How else could it have been without aforementioned Otto-Boom? Technically it's a compilation of sketch-material and personas, pumped up by a cinema-production, tied together by the thin storyline and bolstered by numerous guest-appearances and cameos by well-known TV-personalities such as Johannes Heesters, Eberhard Feik ("Tatort"), Elisabeth Wiedemann (an accomplished comedian in her own rights) or Günther Kauffmann (a famed Afro-German actor since his time with Werner Rainer Fassbinder; the butt of this particular joke, namely that Otto considers himself "a negro too", because he has black/dirty feet as well, not really 'PC' by today's standards).

We'd have to lie if we'd claim that the humor has aged very well. There are dozens of spoofs and "cultural references", from "Jaws" to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (which Otto spoofs on a graveyard, dressed up as Heino). But all those references – both to his own show and other movies – are kept in measure, leaving Otto as naïve, chaotic but still lovable bumpkin at the heart's core. Something that Otto wouldn't (or couldn't) replicate in later films, becoming a parody of himself and the references merely the flesh to his potatoes.

Is it compatible with foreign viewers? Hard to say. I'd give it a 30 percent "yes" and 70 percent "no". Sure, the goofy slapstick is rather universal, but unless you're fluent in German and know your way around the Germany of the 1970's and 80's, much of the wordplays and situation-humor will most likely escape you. So yes, it's probably more of a local affair.

"Otto – Der Film" would sadly remain the highlight of Waalkes career, which has since declined. Sure, the comedian made a few new fans with more contemporary films like "Sieben Zwerge" ("Seven Dwarf"), but to many old-school fans his desperate attempts to regain former glory are often saddening, if not pathetic. Waalkes had never developed or progressed an inch from the Otto-persona which he developed in the 70's, sticking to it to this very day, even when making public appearances or giving interviews. Hence, the word "tiresome" comes to mind. Again it shouldn't come as a surprise – sad as it is – that he went on to star in Germany's bestselling comedy of all times to making a cameo in "Kartoffelsalat", which has righteously earned its place in the IMDb's Bottom-100.

7/10
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5/10
It may have been his "new film", but there's nothing new about Otto
26 September 2016
Well, with the biggest local box-office hit ever under his belt, you'd guess that German cult-comedian would try to top (or at least repeat) that success as soon as possible. You'd guess right. Two years after the glory-tour of "Otto – The Film", Otto Waalkes released the follow-up "Otto – The New Film". And he didn't budge one iota from the original formula. This makes the sequel both enjoyable and at the same time set a downward-spiral into motion that has lasted to this day.

Once again countryside-bumpkin Otto is in the big city (this time not Hamburg but Berlin), once again things aren't in his favor and once again he wishes that he was home in his Frisian island-hamlet. And once again he is in debt, this time owning his landlord (Dirk Dautzenberg) – a proto-fascist, who seems to come straight from the 1940's – a considerable amount of rent-money. Unless this is paid off, there is no going home for Otto. His only friend is the landlord's daughter (Anja Jaenicke), an ugly duckling who has taken a shine to our hero, naturally without him noticing it. First he is forced into a form of slave-labor by his landlord, having to do a number of bone-breaking chores, until fortune seems to smile upon him for once. A neighbor, a renowned animal psychologist, asks him to housesit for his cat, which is a rare breed, albeit highly suicidal. In the meantime, the blonde model Gabi (Ute Sander) moves into Otto's former apartment and our hapless hero falls head over heels in love, despite Gabi being an example of arrogance and pretentiousness, constantly working on a plan to meet Arnold-Schwarzenegger-like action-movie-hero – muscles to the neck and bone to everything else that lies above – Amboss. So Otto forges a masterplan, poses as the influential animal psychologist and attempts to wow Gabi's cold heart thus.

As said, the formula is identical to the first movie. A thin story, connected by fast talking Otto and his routines of stand-up-skids, musical interludes and spoofs of various media-phenomena's (in this case, the Schwarzenegger-hype of the 80's, bands like Modern Talking and spoof of various franchises, including two Levy jeans commercials, which garnered the criticism of product-placement). Sure, fans of the Otto-material will find a few laughs but considering that many of the jokes in the first part weren't particularly 'fresh', they often seem way more aged here. Also, what's missing are the competent co-stars and cameos of part one. Not that all actors are particular bad, but none of them are particular funny either. And by "particular bad" we might well have a look at Ute Sanders, who not only plays the part as obnoxious as possible, but seemed to have played the part autobiographical: this film and a one-time appearance in Playboy magazine remained her only time in the limelight, yet she kept haunting the German boulevard press with various sorrow- and sob-stories for years, until moving to Texas, where she works as a volunteer nurse. Not too long ago she released her "celebrity autobiography", which cannot possibly surpass the volume of a haiku.

As said: a couple of okay, even though dated and harmless jokes, that's pretty much all that speaks for the second Otto-film. In the end, it's really pretty much what "Police Academy II" was to the original film: not nearly as good, funny or gritty, but in the light of things to come, still far superior to the garbage that Otto would produce in future years. A mediocre 5/10 is all I can offer.
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5/10
Wanted to enjoy it, tried to enjoy it but had to admit: it all in all left me rather disinterested
26 September 2016
Turning the live of Pablo Escobar – for most, the most ruthless drug-lord in history, for others, mainly his countrymen, a form of Robin Hood – into a motion picture, would conjure up images of a Columbian "Scarface". Unfortunately the director, obviously rather new to his trade, has chosen an entire different direction. The first half is more or less a variation of "Last King of Scotland". As in: naïve, western simpleton (Josh Hutcherson) becomes the boyfriend of Maria (Claudia Traisac), a niece of Pablo Escobar, and soon part of the family of one of the most dangerous drug-traffickers on the South-American continent (Benicio del Toro), and eventually has the ball turned on him. Realizing that he is merely an expendable pawn for the ruthless Escobar, the second part is a thrilling, albeit predictable chase-scene between the Hutcherson-character and Escobar's henchmen.

Del Toro as villain is as competent as you'd expect from the actor, but unfortunately, the script doesn't give him much to work with. We learn preciously little about the figure Escobar. Was he simply a self-serving thug, who hid from the limelight under the disguise of a philanthropist? Or were there deeper shades of grey to the character? We'll never find out (at least not through this movie). Primarily, the film focuses on Hutcherson, whose character (or acting abilities) isn't all that interesting. Again, apart from the basic premise, the film has something else in common with above mentioned "Last King of Scotland": Hutcherson is likewise a fictional character (unlike McAvoy's doctor, that was essentially an amalgamation of various real people). Though some people, like myself, aren't always comfortable with mixing fact and fiction under the mantle of artistic freedom, it at least would have been an opportunity to take a close look at the fascinating figure of Escobar through an outside eye. But once the story is turned into a pure run-and-chase-film and Hutcherson takes centre-stage, making you forget about the titular character, that opportunity is completely wasted.

Rumours have it that there is another Escobar-film planned, featuring Javier Bardem in the title-role will bring. Which reminds us: one of the more memorable supporting actors, playing the role of ruthless killer, is played by Bardems older brother Carlos. Once again proves that acting-skills sometimes runs in the family. The rest of the cast simply left me wondering why I should care very much about them in the first place. Same goes for the chemistry between Hutcherson and Traisac; though no doubt a beautiful actress, there is very little depth to their relationship, which makes it seem forced, merely there to drive the basic storyline.

In the end, it just seems that director Andrea Di Stefano, though technically having done an alright job, bit off more than he could chew for his debut and it doesn't surprise that "Escobar" – at least at this point in time – has remained his only film. So, to see a grand epos on the life and times of Pablo Escobar, we'll probably have to wait a little longer (whereby I have not yet seen the TV-Series and cannot judge on that). I'm probably not the only viewer who sees the whole deal as a huge waste of opportunity, especially in light of having such a fine actor as Benicio del Toro in what could have been the role of a lifetime. A mediocre 5/10, sad to say.
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10/10
In case you're reading this on New Year's Eve of the year 2075 in Germany – yes, it will be "same procedure as every year"
26 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Every country has their own 'idiosyncrasies'. Some have a reason, some can be explained and some others, well, are just simply exist. To be honest, I have no idea why American's don't wear white after labor-day, but they sure have my blessings to do so if it makes them happy. Why do Americans move the fork from one hand to the other after cutting the meat? Well, from what I've heard, it stems from colonial times and was a method to identify British spies (who apparently knew how to use those table-tools properly). And why do the Greeks smash their plates after dancing? I have no idea, but when in Hellas, do as the Greeks do. And when you're in Germany on New Year's Eve, perhaps as a guest of some locals, you most certainly will watch "Dinner for One" – whether you want to or not.

Chances that you know the story already while looking up the title on IMDb are high, but – as they say – "same procedure as every year", and so I'll shamelessly sum it up: As she does every year, Miss Sophie (May Warden) wishes to celebrate her 90th birthday among her best friends: Sir Toby, Lord Pommeroy, Admiral von Schneider and Mr. Winterbotton. Problem is: those four gentlemen have passed away a long time ago, a fact to which Miss Sophie seems oblivious. As every year, Sophie's trusted Butler James (Freddie Frinton) courts the table, while at the same time impersonating the various guests that are not there. And with each serving of the various liquors, naturally getting progressively drunk as the evening goes by. The evening ends after 18 minutes, after which James offers to escort Lady Sophie up to her chambers, because, you know, "same procedure as every year".

How many times have most Germans watched this sketch during New Year? Depends. If they're born after 1963, just multiply the number with their age and you'll get a conservative estimate – conservative because many households watch it more than once during New Year, two to three times being average. As for myself, well, ask me from the top of my head what food is being served in which order and I'll tell you honestly: Mulligatawny soup (no idea what that is and no intention to find out), followed by North Sea Haddock, chicken and fruit. How many times does Freddie Frinton tumble over the tiger's head on the floor? Eleven times (once he misses it, to his own surprise; once he steps over it with a drunk gracefulness and finally he jumps over it). How many drinks is he "forced" to have? 15, not counting the time he drunkenly drinks out of a flower vase and utters, "I'll kill that cat!" (the meaning which escapes most viewers, but as "every year", they'll laugh anyhow). You get my point.

Strange enough, it tends to be the ones who ask that ridiculous question, "what's so bleedin' funny about that?" The answer might be: "Don't ask – it's a German thing (and the answer as to why YOU don't find it funny might be, that neither Miss Sophie nor James are wearing bleedin' bowler hats).

Need I mention that "Dinner for One" has made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the shows that had the most re-runs in German television? You need not worry about missing it on "Silvesternacht" (German for New Year's Eve) – on average the various regional channels will make sure that it runs between 15 and 20 times on that day. However, there are certain cultural restrictions or shall we say: taboos. Do not be so fool hearted to turn on the Swiss-version, for this will only be greeted with dead-silence and hostile glances. Although it features the same actors, this version is mutilated down to 11 minutes and only serves as proof that humor has never made it up the Alps. And for the love of god, do not switch to any given spoof or any of the numerous remakes in various (German) dialects by various comedians, for this will only spoil the evening and create bad air among friends and family. Same goes for the colored version (re-colored by a computer, if you can imagine) – this will kill the mood like an old dog with flatulence under the diner-table and the airing during 1999/2000 had led to public protests and outrage. Rumor has it, that some East Germans still watch the version that ran from 1978-1987, during the communist era. This is considered evidence that the viewer was in the STASI, the East-German secret-service – East Germans only got the privilege of watching the real version in 1988, signaling them that freedom was neigh, less than a year later.

So if you plan to visit (South)-Germany during September, you'll inevitably end up in the Oktoberfest. If you visit Cologne, the visit wouldn't be complete without having seen the carnival and if Hamburg is your destination, you'd have missed out if you haven't tried the local fish-specialties or took a ride on the river Alster. And if you're there during New Year's Eve and didn't get a chance to watch "Dinner for One", well, then you haven't experienced New Year's Eve in Germany.

What rating would I give this? Why, I'm German – need you even ask?
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Der verkaufte Großvater (1976 TV Movie)
9/10
One of the finest and most enduring Bavarian comedies
26 September 2016
The story of "The sold grandfather" has been staged – generally as plays, but occasionally as TV-films – countless times, is considered one of the most popular stage-plays of the Bavarian "Bauerntheater" ("Farmer's theatre", or more correctly, "urban theatre"), and it's safe to say that most actors of rank and name have played in one version or the other. Indeed, the story, simple as it may be, has proved popular in other German states, which is slightly unusual, considering that those stories are generally a purely "local affair". Hence, it would be difficult to name the perfect version, though I might argue that the play from 1976 remains the most popular among aficionados.

The story, short and simple: Farmer Kreithofer (Toni Berger) is down on his luck and pretty much out of money. The ruthless horse-trader Haslinger (Walter Sedlmayr) learns through the grape-vine that Kreithofers aged grandfather (Ludwig Schmid-Wildy), considered useless in running a farm and on the verge of feebleness, actually owns two valuable houses. A fact that is not even known to Kreithofer himself. Tricky, as the reputation of horse-traders would have it, Haslinger first tries to get his daughter Ev (Yvonne Brosch) to engage with Kreithofer's son Lois (Henner Quest), in order to get his hands on the fortune. But the buxom beauty refuses on the ground that she knows nothing about her potential husband. Hence, Haslinger makes the impoverished farmer an offer that he cannot refuse: he'll 'buy' the grandfather off him, on the grounds that he himself no longer has one and that no household is considered complete without its own grandfather. Needless to say, the elder Kreithofer is by no means as feeble as it would seem, realizing which direction the wind is blowing from – namely Haslingers goal to eventually inherit the potential fortune. Hence, the grandfather takes advantage of the greedy businessman, getting served from hand to foot (rubs literally included) by Haslinger and his wife (Erni Singerl). Until of course it comes to light that those two houses are merely figments of the old man's imagination. Or are they…?

As with any other play of that sort: the story is simple, the twist obvious and of course there'll be a happy end, including a young couple getting together, the honest farmer has a financial burden lift off his shoulders, the scheming horse-trader is left with empty hands and the witty grandfather has the last laugh. No surprises are expected and none are being asked for by the audience. All those "rural plays" rely 90 percent on the setting (which transports the viewer into an authentic rural, farming-community setting, unless they're watching it live and chances being that that's already where they're from) and the wit and charisma of the actors themselves. In this version we witness the meeting of three giants of the local scene: Erni Singerl; few plays and television plays would be complete with at least an appearance of this veteran, Toni Berger (probably among the top-five most popular stage-actors in Bavaria, who'd later go on to play the "grandfather"-role himself on numerous occasions) and most prominently Walter Sedlmayr.

A few years earlier, Sedlmayr had been little more than a struggling actor, thanks to his portly body-shape and balding appearance relegated to playing bit parts. After appearing in the pseudo-documentary "Theodor Hierneis oder Wie man ehem. Hofkoch wird" (playing a former cook of Bavaria's last king Ludwig II) that changed drastically and henceforth the Bavarian TV-landscape seemed unthinkable without Sedlmayr appearing in any given production. Indeed, many Bavarians considered him an "archetype": down to earth, witty, humorous, bourgeois, rough but charming, a heart of gold inside an occasional rugged outside; in short, somebody with whom rural Bavarians would and wanted to identify with. Though more at home on a TV-Set, Sedlymayr manages to put all his co-actors into the shade in this production. He plays the scheming, greedy and opportunistic horse-trader to a tit, yet never comes across as unlikeable but more as a lovable scoundrel, who'll inevitably and deceivingly lose that round of "mental chess" that he's playing with the grandfather.

Don't have to say much more to fans of the genre. They'll know the story and more likely than not, they'll know this version, considering it one of the holy grails of "Volkstheater". Those interested but not yet familiar with this kind of theatre, I suggest you might as well start off with "Der Verkaufte Großvater", perhaps even with this version (although that is by no means intended to put down other fine interpretations). 9/10
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4/10
Comic-book adaptation, satire or simply a farce? Difficult to say
26 September 2016
Now, I understand that this film was quiet a hit in its native Spain and realize that (like the comic) it is considered a bit of a national treasure among comic-book-aficionados, like "Asterix" in France and "Tintin" is in Belgium. But that movie or that comic – namely "Mortadelo y Filemon" is not what I'm going to talk about.

I'm going to talk about "Clever & Smart", which is the German title and boy, did they ever butcher that one! The comic was previously rather popular in Germany; mainly during the 1980's until the appeal eventually wore off as the material became more repetitive. It didn't (and didn't strive) to have the intellectual qualities of the series said above. If you're not familiar with the basic story: it's basically a satire of the secret-agent-genre, with two incompetent but sheer indestructible protagonists, said Mortadelo and Filemon. Mortadelo is the more anarchist one of this duo, being able to disguise himself as virtually everything at will, but at the same time the more simple-minded part, despite Filemon not being an intellectual giant either. Filemon is his more rational partner, usually grumpy and seeing himself as the leading man, despite usually bearing the brunt whenever his partner messes up (which is usually the case). Now imagine an episode of "Tom & Jerry". Not the squeaky-clean version of modern times, but the originals, where cat and mouse still fought each other tooth and nail, inflicting more damage and pain to each other than would physically be possible and still continuing the chase – alive and well – two seconds later. And now multiply that by a hundred. There's barely a panel in the comic where somebody involved doesn't get maimed, flattened by steam-rollers, blown up or otherwise mutilated. Rule of thumb being of course, that in the next panel they're up and about as if nothing happened.

Granted, to turn this massive orgy of (comical) menace and destruction into a real-life-action movie prior to the new century and CGI would have been virtually impossible – and if attempted, it would have been way more expensive and labor-intensive than most companies could afford. Granted also, that the computer-animation of 2003 wasn't exactly on par with modern standards nowadays, but it sufficed to turn the comic carnage into a real film. The problem is this: since the source-material was already relatively light when it came to complex story lines, relying almost entirely on slapstick and one-liners, it must have been difficult to stretch this thin material into an hour and a half of film. But, as said, one can watch it for the effects if one is willing to forgive the lack of a deeper story. But I have to give it to the producer: optically both our "heroes" couldn't have been better cast and I dare say, from all the comic-adaptations I've seen – which have been plenty – none have fitted a shoe as perfect as Mortadelo and Filemon.

Now we get to the reason why this film went completely flat in Germany: somebody in marketing saw it as a wise decision to cast the "comedic" (if you want to call it that) duo Erkan & Stefan as the voice-overs for the two agents. If you've never heard of them and/or are not German, nevermind, you haven't missed a thing. The duo makes a living imitating street- and ghetto-kids (one reason why one has adopted a Turkish name), who imitate the demeanor and attire of teen, wannabe hip-hoppers and their comedic repertoire consists mainly of grimacing and pretending that they only have a semi-illiterate grasp of the language. In short: they play morons who imitate the same crowd whom they cater to. Need I mention that many potential viewers either left the cinema as soon as they heard Mortadelo and Filemon "speak" – and that many more simply refused to enter the cinema in the first place? Perhaps the movie would have a chance if they would simply re-synchronize it with competent speakers (which are aplenty; Germany is known to have developed synchronizing movies into an art of its own), but until that happens, the fate of this movie is to lie on the 1-Euro shelves of dying video-stores and grab-shops – and they'll probably lie there for a long time to come. In that form I'd give it 4/10 and would consider it generous.
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Darkroom: Uncle George (1981)
Season 1, Episode 4
9/10
A warm-hearted tale with a second of horror (which should essentially be enough for a good horror short-story)
26 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Bert (Claude Akins) and his wife Margo (June Lockhart) are a salt-of-the-earth, kind hearted couple, who lovingly take care of their bed-ridden Uncle George. A situation which benefits both parties, since Bert, thanks to a "bad ticker", as he puts it, is unable to work and the couple relying on Uncle George's monthly pension money to survive. But one day the inevitable happens and Uncle George blesses the temporal. Now Burt and Margo are pretty much out of options and decide to find a "new" Uncle George among the hobos downtown. Eventually the find a fitting replacement in the shape of Dixie (Dub Taylor), who is reluctant at first, but quickly wooed by the promise of a warm spot, being taken care of, having to play the role of Uncle George whenever the insurance-people pay a visit and – not least of all – as much daily whiskey as he can stomach. As promised, Dixie is bedded, has his legs rubbed in and is supplied with booze, while Margo explains to him how Uncle George came into the benefit of such an opulent pension: Uncle George had worked for the railway, until a train came by and amputated both his legs… Once again a gem in this short-lived and underrated anthology series, I dare say, one of the five best episodes. Other than similar shows, say, for example "Tales from the Crypts", "Dark Room" usually spared the shocks and creeps right for the end of each episode, and does so with "Uncle George". Again we have seasoned film- and TV-veterans, all of whom Have around 200+ roles under the belt and will be easily recognizable by anybody who watches movies. The show is stolen by Dub Taylor, who may have had his golden years as supporting actors in "Bonnie & Clyde" and countless Western movies behind him, but was still able to stand out in small roles like in "Back to the Future III". It's episodes like "Uncle George" that make you long for those days of anthology series, harmless but yet creepy, and often way more entertaining and witty than most stuff you see on TV nowadays. For fans, it deserves a straight 9/10
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Darkroom: The Partnership (1981)
Season 1, Episode 9
7/10
They don't make them like this anymore…
26 September 2016
Live wasn't / isn't easy for young horror-flick-aficionados: As a kid we spent time scanning over the newly arrived TV-schedule, always hoping for some old vampire-, monster- or spook-flick, but since most of them were shown after eleven o'clock, the evening usually ended early with a harsh-sounding "off to bed you go". Life was easier when spending time at the grandparents, who was way more "lenient" in such matters (or shall we say: soundly fell asleep before 10AM), leaving the young mind to his own devices. Like watching shows like "The Darkroom" (here in Germany relabelled as "My Darkest Hour" and narrated by creepy old Karl-Heinz Schroth, telling creepy stories from his second-hand-store).

Creepy ol' Tad (Pat Buttram) loiters around the local truck-stop, where he befriends a biker (David Carradine) who has fallen on hard times, being out of money and transport. After having inspected the biker, who still owns a valuable watch and fine snake leather-boots, Tad offers him a ride. Under one condition: First they must visit a dilapidated funhouse, sitting over a lake, which belongs to Tad and his partner "Al" (according to Tad, a strange kind of guy with an even stranger smell, who shuns the company of people). Reluctant but pretty much out of options, the biker agrees and soon finds himself in the dark funhouse – almost falling apart, with a failing power-generator and something strange lurking in the waters below… There is a good reason why "The Darkroom" never reached the fame of similar shows like "The Twilight Zone" or "Night Gallery" (and hence never made it past its first season): the stories where usually comparably simple, and the sets and effects rather cheap, always looking like leftovers from above mentioned shows. But the episodes often compensated that with an excellent cast and sheer creepiness. Good, neither Carradine nor Buttram are given much to do – one mainly looks scruffy and perplexed, the other one shady and dubious – but "The Partnership" may well be among the creepiest of them all. Of course this stuff wouldn't scare a five year old in this time and age, but if you have a heart for both 80's horror-anthology-series and, perhaps more importantly, creepy old funhouses, I can do nothing more than highly recommend this short. 7/10
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Darkroom: Make-Up (1981)
Season 1, Episode 8
8/10
Billy Crystal at a time, when people still said "Billy who?"
26 September 2016
Paddy (Billy Crystal) hasn't got it easy: cursed with a lame leg, he's virtually penniless, feeds himself on toast with a conservative layer of mustard, has the landlord sitting on his shoulder and keeps himself afloat with menial jobs, such as making deliveries for the shady club-owner Roland (Brian Dennehy), who rips him off over a hundred bucks and tosses him back into the gutter. Paddy's only light at the end of the tunnel is the waitress Brenda, who want him to come with her to sunny Miami, but of course there's the problem with the green paper, from which George Washington so benevolently smiles. Trying to sell his watch, his last valuable possession, at a pawnshop, for a meagre 20 bucks, he overhears the widow (Signe Hasso) of famed silent-movie actor Lamont Tremayne – "the man with the hundred faces", as he was known in his heyday – trying to sell off her late husband's make-up-box. For no other reason than having a soft heart, Paddy buys the box for 20 bucks. He rummages through the content and discovers the make-up that Lamont applied during the filming of his "Revenge of the Colossus". Soon later, a huge guy looking a lot like Paddy, appears at Roland's, roughs up his heavies and demands the hundred bucks (plus interest) that is being owned to Paddy. Enraged, Roland pays Paddy (no his diminished self again) a visit and takes his money back, vowing revenge on Paddy's "tall friend". Paddy contemplates to make a run but is tempted one more time by the magical make-up-box. Shortly later, a one-eyed gambler, again looking eerily similar like Paddy, appears on Sebastian's poker table and milks him for all he's worth. However, this may be only the beginning of Paddy's real troubles… "Make Up" was again one of the highlights of this short-lived series and once again it's mainly due to the excellent cast and generally creepy atmosphere. We get a very young Billy Crystal, before he became a household-name, 'fresh' off playing bit roles in TV-shows and movies (among them Joan River's mega-flop "Rabbit Test" – which Schwarzenegger's "Twins 2" later ripped off mercilessly and turned into a semi-success). Surprisingly enough, there is almost no comedy in his performance, but he plays the hapless Paddy to a tit. Brian Dennehy had always had a penchant for playing shady characters and doesn't disappoint either.

The rest of the cast, although having no more than cameo appearances, should be known to people who've been watching TV between the 1950's and 1980's, with special-guest (so to speak) Signe Hasso, the elusive actress who was 40 years earlier tooted by RKO as "the next Greta Garbo". Which brings us to the premise of this episode, which hints at Hollywood's golden age, and especially Lon Chaney and his reputation as "the man with the 1,000 faces". It's a charming, harmless little romp – surely outdated these days but certainly worth the time for friends of 80's horror- and spooky-anthologies. As far as those go, a 8/10 would not be too much.
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Darkroom: Exit Line (1982)
Season 1, Episode 14
8/10
A chamber-play among TV-Horror-Anthology episodes
26 September 2016
Dan Borroughs (Stan Shaw) is a young, black and very ambitious actor, who's staring in a revamped version of "Othello" on Broadway. The resonance to his performance is generally praised by the audience, but – unfortunately – not by the influential critic Alexis St. Clair (Samantha Eggar), known for her harsh judgment and having the power to either start or end careers. Unfortunately the latter seems to be the case for Dan, who is devastated by St. Clair's evaluation of his performance. So Dan attempts to "impress" the critic with his skills in private. With devastating effects, that might do more than only end his career…

Short but sweet episode, by today's standards rather tame and predictable, but nevertheless another creepy little gem in that tiny little treasure box called "Dark Room". As always, the show consists of a good mix of actors that had seen their prime-time (in that case Eggar), seasoned TV-actors and hopeful upstarts (Shaw). Shaw never made it to the top of the acting-elite, but had his fair share in memorable bit-roles, be it in "Rocky", "Roots" or "Fried Green Tomatoes". Shame that he didn't go further. His performance here is both charismatic and menacing, and tough he never really had any leading roles in major pictures, his performances mainly remained memorable. As far as anthology-series like "Twilight Zone" and the likes go, I give this episode a clean 8/10
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