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Snezhnaya koroleva (1967)
The whole world and a new pair of skates
There are two Russian adaptations of this fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, made within less than ten years, the animated version of 1957 and this live-action movie of 1966. The first version is nearer to the original tale most of the time. In the second version, some chapters have been left out. In the fourth chapter, much has been changed and much was added that is not in the tale. This version is apparently based on an adaptation (for the stage) by Yevgeni Shvarts (or "Yevgheny Schwartz"), which probably explains the higher number of changes.
In both versions, a narrator has been added, in this version the fairy story teller Andersen, played by Valeri Nikitenko, in the older version a character from another tale by Hans Christian Andersen, Ole Luk-Oie. The end has also been changed more or less in both adaptations, and both leave out those parts of the story that (directly) have to do with Christianity, for example Gerda's prayer and the song lines "Roses bloom and cease to be / But we shall the Christ-child see". This is probably due to the fact that Russia was a communist country back then. But the core and the basic message of the story are there in both versions: Kay is robbed of his feelings and abducted by the Snow Queen to her palace in the far north. But without feelings a human being isn't really human any more. Gerda misses her best friend Kay and has to try to get to the Queen's palace and make his heart of ice become warm again. At this point the live-action version is nearer to the original than the animated version, which leaves out the Snow Queen's promise to Kay: if in "the icy game of reason" he manages to form the word "eternity" out of some pieces of ice "you shall be your own master, and I will give you the whole world and a new pair of skates". The outcome of this game is probably an important part of the message of the story - it probably means that pure reason, cold logic, can not lead to eternity - only love can.
The adaptation for the screen makes a good impression overall, for example the actors' performances and the music by Nadezhda Simonyan. The special effects, though, are not very good, for example they inserted animated shots (which were not taken from the '57 version) in some sequences that would have been difficult to do as live-action.
There are lots of adaptations of this story, animated and live-action, filmed stage adaptations, episodes from fairy tale series. I have seen one when I was a child, but which one was it? This one, or perhaps another one? It's too long ago to remember. But I remember that the story really impressed me. The Snow Queen gave me a proper scare. A woman who can turn a small boy's heart into a lump of ice. How easily one can become immersed in the imaginary world of a movie as a child. Everything seems to be practically as real as reality. Even if the special effects are bad. As an adult, one is not - unfortunately? luckily? - as easily impressed by a movie. But the Snow Queen in this adaptation, played by Natalya Klimova, is I think awe-inspiring enough for today's children also to be able to have an exciting time watching this movie. As to this I think the scene in which the Snow Queen is looking at Kay and Gerda through the window is particularly well done. Her white over-sized face makes her look like a menacing giant and her appearing is accompanied by dramatic music.
Conclusion: I think it wouldn't have been a bad idea to stay closer to the original tale, and, as I've mentioned before, the special effects could have been better. And the robber girl's cute animated rabbits in the '57 version, which I haven't mentioned before, are of course missing from this version, there's only a female robber chief who looks like Brezhnev. Still I think that it is an all in all good adaptation of the fairy tale that will probably be fun to watch for children and that grown up fans of fairy tale movies will probably also like. Fans of animated movies will probably prefer the '57 version. I think it is about as good as the live-action version (7 out of 10 points for each). But the later version also includes the Snow Queen's promise to Kay (see above) and I liked the music better, so I think it's slightly preferable. Dosvidanye.
Das blaue Licht (1976)
The Blue Light. Anne: "What kind of light is it?"
Hans: "Well, it's a kind of light, a light, you know, well, a light just as a light is a light, yes, at night when the moon doesn't shine."
A soldier called Hans fought in a war and sustained a leg injury. He has been sent away by the king without pay. The blue light is a crystal that (you've guessed it correctly ;) shines blue. Will Hans be able to use it to take revenge on the king?
I've read two versions of the fairy tale that this movie from the former GDR is based on: the version published in the first edition of 'Grimm's Fairy Tales' (1815) and the version from the seventh (the final edition approved by the authors). I liked the first version better. It's sparser; not every detail is spelled out, so you have to use your own imagination to flesh out the story. Also, it's a little more brutal. The later version seems to have been bowdlerized a bit. If you're fluent in German, you might want to try to find it online; both versions are (currently) available at Wikisource. An English translation of 'Grimm's Fairy Tales' is (currently) available at Project Gutenberg.
The movie is a quite free adaptation of the tale. It could have been nearer to the original but at least it's stated in the main titles that it is a free adaptation. I think it's good that the filmmakers are honest about that. In the movie, Hans is a young soldier, not an old one like in the tale. It's not specified in the original story what the blue light is; probably it's a kind of will-o'-the-wisp. In the movie it's a crystal. There are some additions to the plot, which are necessary to have enough material for a feature film. Most of these additions are thought out well in my opinion. For example, the passage in the king's castle is much longer, and they added some little jokes to it that I liked. The final passage, though, could have been closer to the original. I think they wanted it to be less brutal to make it more suitable for young children. But I didn't mind that very much, seeing that young children are obviously the target audience. The ending has been changed, probably to make the story look less monarchistic. This is probably due to the fact that the movie was made in the (back then) communist part of Germany. But I didn't mind this change very much, either. To my taste the ending is still good.
Anyway, the core of the tale is there, and that's what's most important in my opinion. Hans wants to get revenge because the king has wronged him. The king owes him his pay, and some respect. But Hans must not rely solely on the magic powers of the blue light and he must not exaggerate his revenge. He has to be careful and he has to use his brains if he wants to get what's due to him.
Apart from the plot: I didn't like the music very much. I think it could have been better. But I liked the sets and the costumes, and the actors did a good job, too.
Conclusion: there are fairy tale movies from the former communist bloc that I liked better than this one, especially 'Tri orísky pro Popelku' (1973). (I think that it's more charming and that the music is much better.) And 'The Blue Light' could have been closer to the original fairy tale. But I still enjoyed this adaptation. If you like the genre, see for yourself if you enjoy it, too.
Add another comment, please
There's not a single comment (so far) for 'Tatort'? That's really hard to believe, since it's a very long running and popular series here in Germany. I have seen some episodes, but not enough to consider myself an expert on the series. If you are an expert, please go ahead and add another comment.
Normally I always include a rating for the titles I comment on, but I think it would be unfair to do so in this case. I don't think I have seen any of the episodes from the 70s except for 'Reifezeugnis', and I haven't seen many of those of later years. I don't consider myself an avid fan of the series.
So what can I tell you about 'Tatort' ('crime scene')? The basic idea is interesting. There are about 35 episodes per year (at least nowadays). But you don't get to see the same team of detectives in every episode. There are different teams from different parts of Germany; that's what makes it interesting. (Some episodes even feature teams from other countries, namely Austria and Switzerland.)
But I think that, at least nowadays, too many episodes suffer from bad scripts. Often the cases are too confusing because they cram too much into the 90 minutes running time. If you are interested in examples, go to the user comments page for the episode 'Das Böse'. I have written a comment on it. There's also a somewhat similar comment for 'Der Kormorankrieg', titled 'Execrable' and written by a user called 'moabitnik'. (Please keep in mind that user comments are subject to change and deletion. Though it's unlikely, a comment might be different or gone tomorrow. I only refer to other comments because I think it would be redundant to repeat information that can be read elsewhere.) And I think that in many scripts there's too much 'political correctness', for example there are too many iffy 'power women' among the detectives.
Some more information that might be of interest:
Some episodes were only shown in Austria. They are listed as a spin-off on the 'movie connections' page for 'Tatort'.
'Reifezeugnis' is perhaps the most famous episode. It was directed by Wolfgang Petersen of 'Das Boot' fame and stars a young Nastassja Kinski.
I guess Schimanski, played by Götz George, is the most popular 'Tatort'-detective. He got a spin-off series and two theatrical movies were made with him.
The German experimental rock band Tangerine Dream wrote the title track for 'Das Mädchen auf der Treppe' and scored a hit with it in Germany.
Some episodes are no longer shown as reruns because their content is deemed too controversial. Some episodes have been edited after their original airing, for example because of unwanted product placement.
Every German who has a TV set is required by law to pay fees for the station that produces 'Tatort'. Believe it or not, you have to pay for it even if you don't watch it. So the makers don't have to try hard to get funding for the next episodes. I guess the quality of the series might improve if they had to try harder.
Based on the episodes I have seen in the last few years, I would give 'Tatort' a rating of four points out of ten. But, as I have mentioned above, I might be wrong, since I haven't watched many of the episodes, so I won't rate it.
Edit / addition (27th August 2008): In the last months, I have seen some reruns of old episodes from the 70s and 80s, and some new episodes. There were a lot of good episodes among both of these, so I would now give the series a rating of six points out of ten, because I now guess that the ratio of bad episodes is lower than I had thought before.
To my view there are too many German TV thrillers that suffer from bad scripts. And I really didn't like the script of this one. They cram too much into the 90 minutes of running time. Apart from the case the police are working on, the writer includes a dancing contest that detective Sänger is training for, plus some problems that she has with her parents, plus the precinct moves to another building, plus one of her colleagues seems to fall in love with her, plus an affair that detective Dellwo has with the coroner (played by Iris Böhm), and some other unnecessary stuff. The result is that it is quite hard to follow the story. It all becomes very confusing. The case is a bit complicated, so they should have devoted more time to it. (A man gets pushed before an underground train, is run over and dies. The identity card he has on him is not his own but that of another man. Then there's a second murder; a woman is pushed from a bridge and drowns. All this seems to be linked to an older case, the murder of a prostitute. Tukur plays the suspect (named Petzold), but the police can't prove that he did anything.) There also are some flash-forwards in which Dellwo questions Petzold, which makes it even harder to follow the case.
I think the writer should have explained what made Petzold the man he is, that is he should have included more information on why he acts so strangely and suspiciously. Especially, he should have explained why Petzold does what he does at the end of the movie. If you ask me, it is not consistent with the (rather short) explanation that is given for his other actions. And why do police officers in German TV thrillers so often act like total morons? There's a letter they find which is a clue to the case. One of the officers says that what's in the letter sounds as if it was a quotation from a book. And it really does sound like a quotation. But then they forget about it and instead of trying to find out from which book the words are they concentrate on dancing contests and moving their precinct instead. Only days later the coroner (not the officers) gets back to the clue - and, what a surprise (!), finds out that the words in the letter really are a quotation from a book!
All in all, much too confusing to my taste. It had a bit of suspense, though, and some of the actors were good, for example Tukur, so I have given it three points.
The Butcher Boy (1917)
Funny 'Fatty' film. 'The Great Stone Face' laughs.
I guess this is the first time I have seen a Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle movie. I really liked him in his (title) role as a butcher boy. The way he moves is very funny in my opinion, for example how he handles his knife and the way he rolls a cigarette. I think he is a good actor; his facial expressions really suit the role he plays, for example how he winks at the audience in the end. But one might add that that was probably not too difficult. Anyway I think he would have deserved a longer career. As you probably know it was ruined by greedy journalists who made money by printing false accusations that said he was involved in a scandal.
The plot is not very important. In the first half, Fatty and Alum are employees at a store and rivals for Almondine's affection. After a heavy food fight, Almondine is sent to a girls' school by her father, the store owner. (This is the beginning of the second half). Both Fatty and Alum enter the school in drag, and the fight for Almondine continues. (Some of the characters' names are different in the version that I have seen. It seems that for some reason they replaced the original title cards with new ones.)
There are a lot of corny gags like food fights and pratfalls, but they are done well in my opinion. And there are some gags I really liked, for example how they make the dog run the pepper mill (or is it a coffee mill?), or the scene when Fatty dons a coat although it is obviously not necessary, or when Miss Teachem, the head of the girls' school, spanks Fatty, and he spanks her back.
Buster Keaton is also funny in this, his first, movie; a good addition to the cast. In the first half he is a customer at the store, in the second half he supports Alum in his fight for Almondine. I liked his acrobatics, for example when Fatty pushes him from one room of the school to another, he doesn't show a simple pratfall but lands on his hands and his head and does a little pirouette. Watch out for one scene in the food fight: Alum throws a flour bag at him, but it misses and hits the store owner instead. That makes Buster laugh, which must be a rarity since he normally always shows a neutral expression (which - as you probably also know already - got him the nickname 'The Great Stone Face'). (One more note: Al St. John, who plays Alum, was 'Fatty' Arbuckle's nephew, and later became famous for the role of 'Fuzzy' that he played in lots of westerns.)
I don't like this one as much as I like, for example, 'One Week' and 'The Balloonatic' (films that Buster made later, without 'Fatty'). And it didn't make me laugh out loud often - but it made me smile a lot, so I have given it eight points.
It's easy to see why this one was canceled, but...
... it's also hard to see why it was canceled. As far as I can tell, it is not worse than other (much longer running) German crime series, so I wonder why the ratings were so low that it was canceled. They showed only nine of the thirteen episodes that were made.
The basic idea was to show the work of a special unit of the Berlin police force that is called in when there are emergencies like hostage-takings or bomb threats; there's always a race against the clock, that's why they called the series 'Deadline - Every Second Counts'. I first thought this concept would make the episodes very repetitive, but I think that that is not the case. The problem lies elsewhere...
... I said that it's not worse than other German crime series - but it's not better either. Like in so many other of these series, the stories are too full of clichés, and the plots have too many holes (at least to my view). Here are some examples: 1) Episode 1.4 'Nacht ohne Morgen': when they have found out the name of the man who is in danger, but don't know which hotel he is at - why don't they frantically start calling as many hotels as possible? There's not much time left, but there would still be a chance of finding the right hotel and saving that man. However, all they do is sit around in despair, waiting for another clue that might never come. 2) Episode 1.5 'Doppelspiel': one of the episodes I liked best - but it also has the worst goof of the series. There's a time bomb. Matthias phones Birger and tells him that there are only about 40 seconds left before the bomb will go off (Birger is in the room where the bomb is hidden). And what does Birger do? Instead of running for his life (which any reasonably sane man would do), he decides to try to find - and defuse! - the bomb in that short a time. I won't tell you if he survives since I don't want to spoil it in case you plan to watch it. But I must mention one other thing: they often show a clock counting down. (Not just in this episode; it's really the device that the makers use most often since the main characters always have to race against the clock.) They want to create suspense, but in this case it's very ridiculous: at the beginning of the passage I've mentioned, the clock shows 45 seconds left - but it takes about 1 minute and 40 seconds till the bomb goes off! And I'm not talking about a faulty bomb here - it's really a very bad goof.
I could go on like this for a long time. There are huge goofs in almost every episode, especially character errors that are so blatant they deserve to be called plot holes. (The investigators are portrayed as being intelligent enough to outsmart the delinquents but then they sometimes act like total morons. In other words: The investigators' intelligence is an important basis for the plot, but then the script writers don't seem to care about it any longer.)
On the plus side: good production values, I liked most of the actors, and some episodes managed to create suspense. But in my opinion, they should have saved lots of the money that was spent for the good production values and should have given it to script doctors instead.
U47 - Kapitänleutnant Prien (1958)
I thought this one was a fairly decent movie until I read that Captain Prien never was a member of the German resistance - but in this movie, he is. The two most important parts of the plot are the war action and a completely fictitious story that shows Prien trying to free an old friend of his, a priest who has been arrested because he helped Jews. But Prien was in fact a member of the Nazi party and was never involved in the resistance. They should at least have added a disclaimer telling the viewers that this part of the movie is purely fictitious. Apart from this inaccuracy, I think the movie is enjoyable for people (like me) that like submarine movies. For example, the war action includes Prien's famous raid on Scapa Flow. But even the parts showing war action could have been better. The budget was obviously limited, so they included actual footage from WW II. This may sound interesting, but there are too many problems with that in my opinion. The footage looks much grainier than the rest of the movie, and when the footage changes from new to old, the editing is often not very good. For example, in one shot it's night, in the next it looks like dawn or dusk, then again like night. So the changes from new to old footage (and back) are always very / too noticeable.
On the plus side, there is some funny banter between the mariners. Among them: Harald Juhnke, an entertainer who is famous in Germany. He plays the cook. His scenes are funny, but I guess some of them will make those who like him a bit sad: in these scenes he drinks too much alcohol. Juhnke's alcoholism in real life was very probably the main cause of his death. He was born in 1929, and I think he would still be alive today (2008) if he had been able to control his alcoholism.
Also among the mariners: Ernst Reinhold as Lt. Raufuss (or Rauhfuß?), whom fans of old submarine movies might remember from 'Haie und kleine Fische' (1957). If you haven't seen that one: I liked it better than 'U 47', so I think I can recommend it if you like this kind of movie. I don't think it's a great movie, but it's also about submarines, there's more (and funnier) banter, and it isn't as inaccurate as 'U 47'. (Or, to be more precise, it is a fictitious story that doesn't use the names of real historic persons when such names should not be used.)
Tatort: Satisfaktion (2007)
'Satisfaction': o.k., but not extremely satisfying
It's about a case that involves German duelling student fraternities. The term 'satisfaction' here refers to satisfaction for an insult (or something worse). In duelling fraternities it can be obtained by a fencing duel. These duels are not fought to the death but are subject to strict rules. For example, the duelists have to use lots of protective wear. This episode involves a secret ring of students who don't want to follow the official rules but want to have more dangerous duels, without or with less protective wear. I don't know if such duels are really fought. I think one cannot rule it out completely, but I also think that it's highly unlikely. And this episode involves a pistol duel, which is even more unlikely to happen nowadays. I think there is too much in this episode that is very unlikely or simply not true. For example, it is not true that members of student fraternities have so much influence in Münster as is depicted in this episode. It's an old cliché that is probably a remnant of former times, when a high percentage of students were members of fraternities. Nowadays, only a very low percentage are members. There are still some old boy networks, but there are not as many (and they are not as influential) as the German leftists say. And the leftists now have their own old boy networks (since they started their so-called 'Marsch durch die Institutionen' - freely translated 'march to the top of society's institutions' - in the sixties of the last century), so it's hypocritical (at least in my opinion) when they point their fingers at the conservatives' networks.
Here's a short plot summary: The bones of a student who has been murdered (or killed in a pistol duel) are found. He had been missing for ten years. It comes out that he had been a member of 'Pommerania-Guestphalia' (or, differently spelled, 'Pomerania-Westphalia'), a duelling student fraternity. His father is a member, too, and his brother is also a member of a (different) duelling fraternity. They and the other family members are tight-lipped when Thiel asks them about the victim, so the investigations are going to be difficult. Boerne (the coroner who, as usually, works on the case with Thiel) is also a member of Pomerania. This complicates matters further, because distrust builds between the two. Thiel thinks that Boerne may hide some information from him. Was the student murdered, or was he killed in a pistol duel? And who shot him?
This is not among my favourite episodes featuring the team Thiel / Boerne. There aren't as many good jokes as in some of the other episodes. And the plot isn't very good either. There have been twelve episodes featuring this team so far, of which I have seen eight. This is the third of these that uses the plot element of a kid that is (allegedly or really) not the kid of his supposed father but of another man (the other two are 'Fakten, Fakten' and 'Der Frauenflüsterer'. 'Der dunkle Fleck' also has a somewhat similar element). This gets boring. I think they should come up with fresher ideas. And Thiel acts as if he was an idiot. When Baltus tells him that the victim died from a pistol duel shot, he doesn't question him any further about that - when any mildly intelligent detective would exert maximum pressure on him, since his knowledge implies that he may well be an eye-witness or even a suspect in the case. And there's a bad plot hole. It is stated at least twice in Thiel's presence that Boerne is a member of the fraternity. (Boerne is also present on these occasions.) But later in the movie, he suddenly accuses Boerne of having hidden the fact that he is a member! Also, they overuse the cliché that Münster is (allegedly) reigned by conservative old boy networks. As I have said above, these networks do exist, but they are - at least to my view and knowledge - not as influential and corrupt as they are pictured in these 'Tatort'-episodes. I know that this is just a movie, not a documentary, and that exaggeration is, to a certain degree, necessary. But in my opinion they exaggerate too much and use these clichés too often. The basic idea, murder in a duelling fraternity, has also been done before in lots of German TV thrillers, so it's not a fresh idea, either (examples: 'Balko: Tödliche Verbindung', 'Die Kommissarin: Säbelrasseln', 'SK Babies: Blutige Verbindung'). But at least 'Satisfaktion' is not as badly clichéd as these other thrillers since one of our heroes, Boerne, is a member of the fraternity. In the other thrillers the fraternities consist of only bad guys and idiots (Neo-Nazis for example). This is unrealistic. I don't like the idea of duels and some of the members of duelling fraternities are much too conservative (or even nationalist) to my taste. But there are lots of members who aren't Neo-Nazis. (I can tell since I have met some.) There are even duelling fraternities who accept non-Germans as members. So it's not purely fictitious that the fraternity in this episode has an Asian member. And the fact that they chose this kind of fraternity also shows that this episode is not as badly clichéd as the other thrillers I've mentioned.
On the plus side: it still had some funny moments, for example there is some of the customary funny banter between Boerne and 'Alberich', and there's one scene in the bathroom where they show one of the special sinks for vomiting that can be found at some fraternity houses (for those members who've had too much beer). Well, I'm not sure if it is funny or just ridiculous, but anyway I found it funny that they included this. It also adds some reality.
All in all, this episode is not really good, but not that bad either, so I have given it five points.
The Roots of Heaven (1958)
Interesting story, good actors
It's about an ex-soldier, Morel (played by Trevor Howard), who has come to Africa to protect elephants against extinction. He sees them as noble animals and as 'roots of heaven', that is creatures made by God. First, no one is on his side, but later he manages to find some supporters. The authorities are after them, and they also have to defend themselves against some hunters who want to kill a large herd of elephants.
It was interesting to see how and for what motives some of the characters change their attitudes towards Morel. Some of his pursuers stop pursuing him or even start to help him, and some of his followers leave him and take part in hunting the large elephant herd. I found the character Waitari, an African freedom fighter, to be especially interesting. He has many difficulties. The French colonial authorities are after him, he wants to protect the elephants because they are a symbol of African freedom, he needs money for weapons, and he has to try to control his followers, who want to start an armed fight against the French although it is (probably) too early for that.
At first I didn't like Morel very much. I thought that the priest was right who scolds him for loving animals more than human beings, who need help more than animals. (And as far as I know elephants can be very dangerous. I've seen a documentary about that. When you are in a forest that they see as their territory (that you have trespassed on), they first approach you, and you can't hear them because their feet are so soft. Then they grab you with their trunks and hurl you through the air. A few people die that way every year.) But later in the movie one learns how Morel came to love elephants so much: he was a soldier in WW II, and during the years he had to spend in a prison camp, he read books about elephants. They became a symbol of freedom for him. So I understood and liked him better, and there's nothing wrong about protecting animals anyway (although I think that fighting hunger in the world is still more important.) Plus Howard acts really well in my opinion.
The main reason I watched this movie is that I have been a fan of Errol Flynn ever since I first saw him in 'The Sea Hawk'. In this one, he gets top billing, but he is a supporting actor only. (As I've said before Trevor Howard plays the hero, but the producers probably thought he was not famous enough to get top billing). I think his acting is good. But I think some scenes were very easy to play for him anyway; he plays an alcoholic, and in some scenes he looks as if he was really drunk (when he arrives, with Greco, at the tribal village). (That's what's called 'method acting' ;)
I also usually like films starring or directed by Welles or Huston. Welles only has a small part and I think he overacts, but that doesn't matter because he is really funny in my opinion. The direction is mostly good, as far as I can tell, but some of it could have been done better: there are some long shots of elephants that don't seem to fit in very well with the other shots. Or is this perhaps the editor's (not the director's) fault? I don't know. (There are also some blue-screen shots that don't look very good.)
All in all, I really liked this movie. I think it has some minor flaws, and I didn't like it as much as, for example, 'The Sea Hawk' and 'The Maltese Falcon'. But, as I've said before, I liked both the story and the actors, so I have given this one eight points. I also liked the music (by Malcolm Arnold).
If you like this one you might also try 'White Hunter Black Heart'. It stars Clint Eastwood as John Huston (although he's called 'John Wilson'). I liked it, too, but I liked 'The Roots of Heaven' better. And if you also find the character Waitari interesting, try 'Queimada'. It has a similar character and he's more central to the story. It's not as unknown as 'The Roots of Heaven', but still rather unknown, which is a mystery to me. It stars Brando, has music by Morricone, is directed by Gillo Pontecorvo (of 'La Battaglia di Algeri' fame), and, most importantly, its story is extremely interesting in my opinion.
Amazing Stories: The Eternal Mind (1986)
What happens when you transfer a mind to a computer?
John and Katherine Baldwin are members of the team working on the 'Lurec Project'. They want to find out how to transfer someone's mind to a computer. John is very ill. He is going to die before the scheduled conclusion of the project. John is not an old man yet. He would like to be the first to transfer his mind because that would give him a chance of survival. He asks the others to skip some of the tests so that he will be able to transfer his mind in time. They speed up the project and John gets his chance. Will the transfer be successful?
I especially liked the beginning - when they transfer some of a chimp's memories to their computer - and the ending (I won't say why because I don't want to give it away). But I think that the story is not very original. It reminded me of one of Stanislaw Lem's stories (it's from 'The Star Diaries', but I don't know if it's included in all editions of that book). In that story, a man visits Ijon Tichy (the hero of a lot of Lem's stories) and tells him he has invented the soul. He shows Tichy a crystal and says he has been able to extract his wife's mind and put it in the crystal. Tichy is not sure if that was a good idea... Lem's stories are often a mixture of philosophy, science, and satire. To my view, some passages in his works are dragging, but I like his works so much that I recommend them to anybody who is interested in both science fiction and philosophy. If the above sounds interesting to you, try 'The Star Diaries' (a/k/a 'Memoirs of a Space Traveller') or 'Solaris'. ('The Star Diaries' is probably the better choice for an entry into Lem's works. I think it is more accessible since it's not a single long work but a collection of short stories.)
Perhaps this story was inspired by the story I've mentioned. Or there's a third, even older story that both Lem and the writers of this episode used. (It's hard to tell as long as one doesn't know all stories written before Lem's...) Even if this episode was inspired by Lem's story there are not only similarities but also differences, so I think it's enjoyable to watch even if one knows Lem's story.
All in all, the story may not be very original, but it's still a good episode in my opinion.
Amazing Stories: Miss Stardust (1987)
The beauty pageant
PR-man Joe Willoughby has organized the 'Miss Stardust' beauty pageant. On the evening of the pageant, a 'Cabbage Man' from outer space is beamed to the venue. He claims that he holds the copyright for 'Miss Stardust' beauty pageants and demands that the show be canceled or accept contestants from space...
This one is among my least favourite episodes from this series. There are some jokes that I liked, but there could have been more, and the story isn't very amazing in my opinion. I think the series would have deserved a better conclusion; they should have shown the episodes in a different order, so that a better episode would have been the last one to be shown. Perhaps the makers knew that there would be no third season and didn't care much about a good season finale.
This one wasn't really bad and it wasn't really good in my opinion, so I have given it five points. I liked the episodes best that had more horror, mystery, or sci-fi, and I think they should have made more of those. Episodes like, for example, 'You Gotta Believe Me' (#2.5), 'Thanksgiving' (#2.9), and 'Mirror, Mirror...' (#1.19). (This one is a sci-fi story only on the surface; it's rather from the comedy genre.)
Amazing Stories: Moving Day (1987)
Where does the elevator lead?
Alan is a high school student. His father is an inventor. One day he tells Alan they are going to move. Alan is sad about the news. He doesn't like having to leave his friends, especially Karen, who has been his friend ever since first grade.
When the lights go out in the evening, Alan goes down to the cellar to switch the electricity back on. By chance, he discovers a secret door and, behind it, an elevator that looks very futuristic. Is it a new invention by his father? Or is it something else?
I think this episode is roughly comparable with 'One for the Books' (#1.23) and 'Such Interesting Neighbors' (#2.18). All three are simple, not complex, and all three belong to the sci-fi genre. I liked 'Such Interesting Neighbors' better than this one. It had more jokes and was a little more mysterious. But this one was also o.k. I liked the plot twists (though the twist in the end was somewhat predictable), so it still deserves six points in my opinion.
Amazing Stories: Without Diana (1987)
Will they see her again?
George Willoughby has returned from WW II. There's an estrangement between him and his seven year old daughter, Diana. He apologizes to her for having been away so long. He had no choice. Shortly afterwards, Diana walks away and gets lost - probably in the nearby swamps. She can't be found. Decades later: Kathryn, George's wife, is very ill. She is going to die soon. She says she has lost all hope of ever seeing their daughter again. She thinks it was wrong to hope for such a long time since it made her think about Diana's and her misfortune too much, so life wasn't as good as it could have been; she should have faced reality sooner. Is there really no chance left to see Diana again?
This is a quite sentimental story. If you don't like 'tear jerkers' I think you'd better not watch it. I think it's comparable with 'Dorothy and Ben' (#1.18), also a quite sentimental story. The stories also have the same main theme: the afterlife. I liked 'Dorothy and Ben' better; I think it is more mysterious (Ben's telepathic communication with Dorothy) and has a little more suspense (will Dorothy wake up from her coma?). But I liked this one, too. I think the theme of the story (the afterlife) is very interesting. (But I don't say that the story is very profound; after all, it is only about 20 minutes long). I also liked the music. It's more conspicuous than most other scores in this series. It is by Georges Delerue. I liked his music for 'The Doll' (#1.22) better, but the music for this episode is still so good as to deserve mention.
All in all, a good episode in my opinion. I think if you liked 'Dorothy and Ben' you will probably like this one too and should consider watching it when you have the chance.
Where are they from?
A strange thing happens at the Lewis's home: there's a small earthquake and shortly afterwards they experience a déjà vu; it looks as if they went back in time a few seconds and then experienced these seconds for a second time. Does it have to do with the arrival of their new neighbours? They see Mr Hellenbeck destroy a strange machine. And that's not the only thing that's strange. Why do the Hellenbecks have a pot of water in their middle when they are sitting outside? And why does Mrs Hellenbeck eat the rose that Mrs Lewis gives her for a welcome present?
This is a quite simple story, but that is not necessarily a disadvantage since the running time is only about 20 minutes. However, I think that it could be better if it was a bit longer. I liked the scenes best when the Hellenbecks behave in a strange way, for example when Mrs Hellenbeck eats a rose. There was some suspense; I really wondered who the Hellenbecks are. (Interesting name: Hell and back?) But there are only a few of these scenes; with a longer running time, they could have included more. The ending was o.k., but I don't think it's very original; I think I have seen or read something like it before. (But, to be fair, perhaps the short story on which it is based was fresh and original when it first appeared. It's by Jack Finney ('Invasion of the Body Snatchers').)
All in all, an enjoyable episode in my opinion.
Das letzte U-Boot (1993)
Could have been much better
The story is obviously based on a historic event: the voyage of the submarine U-234, which was bound for Japan. It had weapons, detail drawings for weapons, and uranium aboard. The uranium was meant to help Japan build an atomic bomb. The sub started in April 1945. When Germany capitulated in May, they had to decide whether they would go on to Japan (who hadn't capitulated yet) or surrender...
The movie isn't absolutely accurate historically, but that's not a big problem in my opinion. The makers don't pretend to be accurate; the sub in the movie isn't called U-234. The plot is the big problem. There are a number of small inconsistencies, for example when there's a leak, one of the two Japanese officers aboard seems to know how to repair the (German) sub better than the Germans themselves. I think I could live with these small inconsistencies, but there's also one plot hole that is deeper than the Mariana Trench (I've also sent this as an update to IMDb's 'goofs' section for this title; hope they'll accept it): At the beginning of the movie, one of the German officers explains the abilities of the sub: it can stay submerged for a very long time. As long as it's submerged, detection of the sub is difficult. So why do they stay on the surface almost all the time? This makes the captain seem ridiculously stupid. Why doesn't he take advantage of the best feature of the sub? Of course, they are detected by the radar of a British destroyer (but that is not the end of the movie; I won't give away the ending because I don't want to spoil it.)
On the other hand, I liked the part when they have to decide whether they want to go on or surrender. The officers have differing opinions, there are heated discussions, tension builds. And I think the actors did a good job.
But, as I've said before, it could have been a lot better in my opinion, so I have given it only six points. There was a documentary about U-234 on German TV. Its title is 'Kurs Fernost', made by Discovery Channel. I don't know the English title or if it has ever been shown outside of Germany. It's very good and interesting in my opinion. If you are interested in the theme and have the chance to see it, I think you should consider watching it. And if you want to see a really good submarine movie I think I can recommend the mini-series version of 'Das Boot' (it's longer than even the director's cut version).
Amazing Stories: Gershwin's Trunk (1987)
Jo-Jo Gillespie is a writer of musicals. He has murdered a man. Detective Watts is about to arrest him. In flashback, Jo-Jo tells Watts what led to the murder: Jo-Jo was suffering from writer's block and he had to deliver a new musical soon. His cleaner, Carmen, told him to visit 'Sister Teresa', 'World Renowned Psychic'. Jo-Jo asked Teresa for help. She changed into George Gershwin's ghost, who helped Jo-Jo by writing songs for him. The man Jo-Jo murdered had noticed that these songs are so much different in style from his previous work that they can't have been written by Jo-Jo himself, and he threatened to tell.
Jo-Jo is sure that the new musical will be a success and offers Watts a deal: he will get a share of the profits if he doesn't arrest him. Watts has some conditions: he wants 50 per cent of the profits, and the musical has to be a (financial) success...
I liked this episode, especially the music (for example the song 'Balboa thought it was terrific, when he discovered the Pacific...'). I also liked the twist in the end and the stylish sets and costumes.
I liked it almost as much as 'Secret Cinema' (#1.20), also written or co-written and directed by Paul Bartel (he's also a supporting actor in both episodes). The stories also have something more in common: they are both farcical in style. I liked 'Secret Cinema' a bit better because I think that the story is more interesting and that it has better jokes. But, as I've said before, I liked this one almost as much, so it still deserves seven points in my opinion.
Amazing Stories: Family Dog (1987)
It's a dog's life...
... for the Binfords' dog in this (the only) animated episode of 'Amazing Stories'. Part 1: The children play with the dog, but it's more like torture for him. And he doesn't like the cheap food that Ma Binford gives him. Will he find a way to get out?
Part 2: Two burglars rob the Binfords' home, and the dog is not able to stop them. Mr Binford brings him to Miss Lestrange's dog training camp, where he is trained to be more aggressive. But it seems they don't teach him how to tell right from wrong: first he attacks the burglars, but then he also attacks a policeman. He even starts a criminal career with the burglars. Will he get on the right path again or not?
(Perhaps there are actually three parts. After part 1, they watch a Christmas home movie; that passage may be a separate part.)
I liked the second part better than the first. I think it's funnier. But part 1 is still o.k., and it's much shorter than part 2. I liked the passage after the dog has returned from the training camp best; the way he catches one of the burglars, and his subsequent criminal career. And I liked the animation; it looks really good.
All in all, a good episode in my opinion, but I like the episodes better that have more horror, mystery, or sci-fi. (This is almost pure comedy. There are some good jokes, but I think there could have been more.)
Footnote: There was a spin-off series that was also called 'Family Dog' (1993), but I haven't seen it, so I don't know if it's good.
Tatort: Der dunkle Fleck (2002)
The first 'Münster-Tatort': The Dark Stain
Hauptkommissar Thiel has himself moved from Hamburg to Münster in order to live near his father. When he meets his landlord and neighbour Professor Boerne he learns that Boerne is a forensic expert and that they will work together. The first case for the new team involves a woman who has disappeared and a bog body. They find out that there's a link between the two...
This episode is really entertaining in my opinion. The plot is better than those of the (two) other episodes of the 'Münster-Tatort' that I have seen so far. There aren't as many suspects, clues, and coincidences. It's easier to follow the plot, and there's more suspense. I really wondered who the bog body was, how and why that person died, and how the body got there. (There's one big coincidence that the plot depends on very much: that the bog body surfaces at exactly the right point in time. I usually don't like these big coincidences that are loved (and used ad nauseam) by so many script writers of German TV-thrillers. But I didn't dislike the coincidence in this episode as much as I usually do because it seems to have a symbolic meaning: even if you submerge your guilt deep in your memory or conscience there'll be a day when it comes back to the surface.) The comedy element is good, too. Boerne and Thiel's banter is funny in my opinion (and, to my taste, not as overdone as in 'Ruhe sanft' (#1.659)). I also liked Boerne and "Alberich's" banter and the slapstick (Boerne losing a (tooth-) crown and lisping after that, a nice contrast to his exaggerated self-confidence).
But there also was something that I didn't like at all. (SPOILER warning.) The suspect is a member of the local gentry called Alsfeld. That means he's Roman-Catholic and rotten to the core. That is a cliché that is overused in thrillers set in Münster. Boerne says that Alsfeld is too Roman-Catholic and 'honourable' to have arranged an abortion for his daughter's child. He seems to be of the opinion that that was hypocritical because it would have been better to spare his daughter the emotional stress of having to bear the child (it's a product of incest (it's true that, besides the emotional stress, there would also be a slightly higher risk of birth defects, but this risk is much, much lower than popular belief has it. Please consult the (modern) encyclopaedia of your choice if you don't believe it)). And it's true that she later commits suicide. But in my opinion, Alsfeld couldn't know that in advance. He didn't take the easy way out but ran a higher risk that the shame becomes known, which would mean that his and his family's honour would be compromised, too. (I don't say that Alsfeld is a good guy; he committed some crimes, and he really is a hypocrite. I just don't think that (in that particular situation) he should have acted the way Boerne suggests.)
But it's still an enjoyable episode in my opinion. If you have seen some of the other episodes with Thiel and Boerne, and liked them, and missed this one, I think you should consider watching this one too if you have the chance because you will probably like it, too.
Amazing Stories: The 21-Inch Sun (1987)
Enlightened by TV
Billy is a teleplay writer. He is low on money and the rent is due. Luckily, he gets a commission from a producer to write a sitcom episode - but it has to be completed by the next morning. Billy tries to do it, but after a while he realizes he won't make it and goes to bed. However, the next morning he finds a complete script next to his typewriter. The producer likes it and Billy gets more commissions. He finds out that his plant has typed the script with its long leaves. He wonders how the plant could do it. He looks up that kind of plant in an encyclopedia. It tells him that the plant needs much sunlight - and it probably doesn't get enough near the typewriter - but there's a 21-inch sun near the typewriter, too: Billy's TV set. Will the plant make Billy a rich man?
When I read the title of this episode, I thought it would be some mysterious sci-fi story. I was a bit disappointed because it is basically comedy with only a little bit of mystery or sci-fi. However, the basic idea (the enlightened plant) is really funny in my opinion. (And I liked that Billy speaks to his plant even before it writes the script for him. Maybe it wanted to reward him for being so nice to it.) But I think there should have been more good jokes. I liked some of the other episodes better because I think they are funnier, for example 'Go to the Head of the Class' (#2.8), or have more mystery, for example 'Thanksgiving' (#2.9).
However, I liked the acting and the special effects, and (as I've said before) the basic idea, so this is still an o.k. episode in my opinion.
Amazing Stories: Blue Man Down (1987)
Will he get over it?
(Please don't read this if you haven't seen this episode yet. I don't think it's possible to say much about it without giving away crucial plot details, including the ending. I'll also compare it to another episode from this series, so that one will be spoiled as well. Better only read this if you know the complete series.)
Two police officers are called to a robbery in a supermarket. DeSoto is shot, but Duncan Moore isn't injured. He blames himself for his partner's death. But it seems that both he and DeSoto were off guard because they thought the robber had already gone, and that it might as well have been Duncan who was hit. He has himself moved to traffic patrol. His new partner, a young woman, tries to cheer him up and to give him new motivation. Will Duncan be able to get over what has happened?
I think this story is too similar to 'No Day at the Beach' (#1.14). In that episode a soldier's ghost saves his comrades, and in this one the ghost of a young police officer saves a colleague from his depression (and perhaps even from suicide).
But apart from that (lack of originality) the story is not bad, and I think the acting is good, so this episode still deserves seven points in my opinion.
Amazing Stories: Lane Change (1987)
Cars from the past
Charlene has just left her husband George. She wants to divorce him. She's driving through a rainy night when an old woman beckons her to stop. Something is wrong with her car, and Charlene agrees to take her to the next garage. As they are talking about Charlene's situation, strange things begin to happen. They are overtaken by an old car the driver of which looks like Charlene's father. And they encounter other old cars; in one of them, Charlene sees herself and George. Charlene says she thinks she's going mad. The old woman replies that perhaps she only saw what she wanted to see and what she was meant to see, and that she should reconsider leaving George. But Charlene is a tough woman and dismisses the old woman's remarks as folk psychology. Where are the strange cars coming from? And will the old woman be able to convince Charlene to return to George?
I liked this story. There was some mystery: I wondered where the cars and the people from the past and the future come from, if they are just hallucinations or part of a dream (messages from Charlene's subconscious?), or if time travel was involved. Anyway, what she sees helps Charlene learn something about herself, and I think that that part was well done. And the ending has a twist that I liked. The acting is good, too, and I think that the setting is a good choice for this story. (The lonely road Charlene goes on probably stands for the question which road she will take in the future, and the rain and the night stand for her fears (she mentions that as a girl she had nightmares that involved rainy nights).)
All in all, this is a good mix of mystery and psychology in my opinion.
Amazing Stories: What If...? (1986)
Why does everything disappear?
Jonah, a child about five years old, asks his parents not to leave him alone. They want to go to a party. Jonah is afraid and asks what would be if they didn't return. His parents don't seem to care about him very much. It seems to be more important to them to tell him not to leave his things lying around than to reassure him. And the babysitter isn't very friendly to him, either. Then, strange things begin to happen. First, Jonah's toy fire-truck disappears. Then other things and even people disappear. And it seems Jonah's parents don't even notice him any longer. What is happening?
This is an o.k. episode in my opinion, but I think the ending could have been better. I don't mind if a story is sentimental as long as it's a good story, but the ending of this one was a bit too sentimental to my taste. (I'd like to give reasons for that, but I don't want to spoil the ending.) But I liked the beginning and the middle. There was some suspense: I really wondered why the things disappear and the other strange things happen.
I think if you liked 'Dorothy and Ben' (#1.18), also a sentimental story, you may like this one, too, and should consider watching it if you have the chance. But I liked 'Dorothy and Ben' better, so I haven't given this episode as many points.
The giant pumpkin
Elma, a rich old lady, is very eager to win the annual pumpkin competition at the Yarborough County Fair. She has participated about 20 times and has never won yet. When her rival Mildred wins again, Elma is furious and claims that Mildred's win is based on manipulation. Mildred replies that it is those who are willing to give who will get something back, and that that is true for both gardening and other matters. It seems that Elma is just too miserly.
When Professor Carver visits her and tells her about his project to reduce hunger in the world, she isn't interested. She doesn't care about hungry people and won't give the professor the 10,000 $ he needs to complete his project. But when he offers to give her his new growth formula in return, she becomes interested. The formula could help her win the next pumpkin competition. She gives the professor 5,000 $ and gets the growth formula. It works, so there will be no one to stop her this time...
This is an o.k. episode in my opinion. But I liked other episodes better. One of the reasons for this is that the main character isn't likable. I think that the ending is interesting, but other parts of the story aren't very interesting. For example, I'm not interested in pumpkin competitions very much. However, I think it's very good that the story also deals with hunger, and I think the message of the story is that people should care more about hunger in the world. That is a good message.
As far as I can tell, the story is set in the 1950s. But I think that it probably wasn't any famines from the 1950s that inspired the story; I guess it was inspired by the 1984-1985 famine in Ethiopia (remember the original Live Aid?).
I like stories like 'Thanksgiving' (the previous episode) better because I think they are more amazing, but this one still deserves six points in my opinion.
Amazing Stories: Thanksgiving (1986)
Dora and Calvin, her step-father, are living in the desert, running a 'Last Chance' gas station. They don't have much money, and Calvin is an ill-tempered man, scolding and commanding Dora all the time. He's digging a well, hoping he'll strike water so that the situation will improve. One day, as he is digging, Dora prays to her late mother for help. A few moments later, Calvin comes up again and says that something strange has happened: the ground disappeared beneath his feet. They let down a lamp on a long rope to see how deep the well is now. It must be very deep. Then a very strange thing happens: someone or something is tugging at the rope, and when they have pulled it up again, the lamp has gone - it has been replaced with something different...
One of the episodes that are really amazing in my opinion. There's some mystery; I really wondered who or what is at the bottom of the well. And there's some horror - the ending has a nasty twist. I liked the actors, too. Kyra Sedgwick is good, and Carradine is delicious (perhaps I'm a bit partial because I liked him so much on 'Kung Fu').
I think there should have been more episodes like this one, 'Mirror, Mirror...' (#1.19), and 'You Gotta Believe Me' (#2.5), episodes that feature mystery and / or horror. And I think if you liked the episodes I have mentioned (#1.19 and #2.5), you'll probably like this one, too, and should consider watching it when you have the chance.
Peter is infatuated with his classmate Cynthia. He'd do anything for her. When Cynthia suggests they lay a curse on Mr Beanes, their extremely strict English teacher, he's reluctant at first, but he still consents to do it. According to Cynthia, the curse will give Mr Beanes the hiccups. The magic formula is on the latest album by 'Blood Sausage' - it can be heard when one plays the record backwards. Lots of ingredients are needed to make the curse work, including earth from a fresh grave and the fingertip of one of Mr Beanes's relatives. After some difficulties they manage to gather all the ingredients and cast the spell - with unexpected results...
This is a funny episode in my opinion. There are a lot of jokes that I liked, especially what Cynthia answers when Peter asks her how long it will take to resurrect somebody. Other examples: there's a lesson in which Mr Beanes talks about 'Macbeth' and says that Macbeth committed his crimes for sex. Later, he says to Peter that he also did what he did for sex (because he's so infatuated with Cynthia). Other points: I think it was a good idea to include 'back(ward) masking'. And I liked the main actors - Christopher Lloyd, Scott Coffey, and Mary Stuart Masterson - very much. The special effects (done by Stan Winston) are good, too.
I liked this episode. In my opinion, it's not as good as 'Mummy Daddy' (#1.4), also a mix of comedy and horror, but I think it deserves a high rating (eight points).
Footnote (skip this if you aren't interested in backward masking): as far as I can tell, backward masking really exists. There's a 'Backwards Talk Test' on a John Lennon bootleg that I know ('The Lost Lennon Tapes'), and perhaps you know The Beatles' song 'Rain'; one stanza is played backwards. And after I had read that there was backward masking on Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' (studio version), I played that song backwards. I think the singer (Robert Plant) can really be heard saying 'He will give those with him six six six' and 'There was a little child born naked', etc. But it's a controversial question; people don't agree on the exact wording; and Robert Plant denied that there's any backward masking on the song. 'Sometimes words have two meanings' (you can hear this when you play the record forward). Sometimes not. (If you try it for yourself, keep in mind that not the whole song is said to contain backward messages - that would probably be to difficult to do - there's only one passage that is said to contain the secret messages. Nowadays it's easy to try it out: you can use CDs in combination with sound editing software; you don't need to use a turntable. Also, the passage in question can be listened to on (the current version of) Wikipedia's entry about the song (but all entries are subject to change)). I've read that there are several albums that include a warning on the cover that the album may contain backward messages, but I don't know those albums (I think Electric Light Orchestra's 'Secret Messages' is among them), and the warnings may be jokes. I've also read that the idea of hidden backward messages was inspired by Aleister Crowley, who said (according to the source I've read) that doing things backwards was a way of worshiping Satan.
As I've said before, I think backward masking really exists, but it's a controversial question, so I think it's better if you see for yourself.