Sunday, July 26, 2015

Minik Cadi, aka Little Witch (Turkey, 1975)

My main takeaway from Minik Cadi is that its star, Cicek Dilligel, is the most horrifying child to have ever walked the Earth.

In the film, Dilligel plays "Cicek", a magical little girl who makes people's clothes disappear and then either deposits them in sexy situations or makes them want to have sex with each other. Yes, this is a Turkish sex comedy starring a child, so strap in.

Also starring in the film is Turkish beauty Meral Zeren, who plays Aysel, a timid housekeeper in love with her wealthy businessman employer, Murat (Bulent Kayabas). You'd have to flip a coin to determine whether Murat looked more like a pornstar or a pedophile, such is his mustache's sleazy ambiguity, but suffice it to say that he is a certain aspect of Minik Cadi personified--that being, the aspect of it that is not all about a horrifying little girl weirdly leering at everybody.

The version of Minik Cadi that I watched lacked English subtitles, and probably mercifully so. I might be able to describe it's plot to you had its characters not all been grotesque caricatures whose actions in no way conformed to actual human behavior. Suffice it to say that there is a corporate intrigue subplot that involves business associates of Murat's who are somehow trying to screw him over, in part by setting a honey trap for him with the aid of a stylish floozy played by sexpot Senar Seven.

There is also a kidnap plot involving Murat's young son, although the way it is staged makes everyone at first assume that the boy has drowned. We immediately know that something is afoot, though, because Murat's awful family, who live with him, present a unified front of mawkish lamentation when he is around and then party like it's 1999 whenever he leaves the room. It is at this point that Cicek makes her entrance, seemingly appearing from underneath the grieving Murat's car just as he is about to drive off a cliff.

Cicek's introduction involves a bone chilling sequence during which we watch Cicek Dilligel's face in closeup as it robotically files through a series of "expressions".  These expressions all fall into a category that would normally be considered cute, winsome, or adorable, and the problem is not that they are cloying--though they would be if they were not presented by Dilligel with all the cynicism of a 50 year old saloon girl. It is as if she is cruelly mocking anyone stupid enough to fall for her babydoll shtick. There is seriously no point at which she does not come off as venemously sarcastic.

From this point on, Minik Cadi plays out like a remake of Bewitched in which Samantha is a frightening child and Darren is played by John Holmes. As far as movie magic goes, it's certainly nothing we haven't seen before. Cicek casts her spells by wiggling her chin and the special effects are all of the type by which an actor vanishes simply by stepping out of frame when the camera is turned off. Cicek even has a hectoring mother witch who appears from time to time to set her straight, although she looks less like Agnes Moorehead than she does a senior resident of a Palm Springs trailer park.

Anyhoo, once introduced into the household, Cicek puts Murat's family through all the expected comic humilations while at the same time trying to make a love connection between Murat and Aysel.
She also magically strips Senar Seven down to her knickers and makes her materialize in a room full of horny men--which is hilarious, because they will probably rape her. On the other hand, Cicek saves Aysel from rape on two different occasions by transforming her into an animal--a dog in the first case, and a bear in the latter. Given the current sensitive climate, I am prompted to ask whether it is victim blaming to imply that Aysel would not have been raped had she not been human. Serves her right for walking around all bipedal like that.

Oh, and there is also a topless, big titted mermaid so that we can truly feel like we're watching a combination nudie cutie/children's film directed by the guy who made Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny.

Finally a pair of hit men--who I like to think of as audience surrogates--show up to assassinate Cicek. This admittedly provided some interest, though it only ended up with Cicek having a couple more foils to magically strip of their dignity. Then there's a scene where Cicek and her witch godmother wander around a rotting old house and cicek talks to a rat.

Minek Casi reached a peak of sorts for me near its conclusion, when Cicek transformed herself into a monkey wearing a Mr. Spock tee shirt. It was a nice try, but nothing Minek Casi could have done at that point would have convinced me that watching it had not been a soul wrecking waste of time. If anyone deserves Cicek Dilligel's cheerful derision, it is I.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Pop Goes the Offensive.

The archived version of the latest episode of Pop Offensive is now available for streaming, so you can relive the magical evening of Tuesday, July 15, just as if you had stepped into a very limited time machine. You can find the episode here on the 9th Floor Radio site, and the complete playlist here on the Pop Offensive Facebook page.

That said, I'd like to apologize for an audio quality issue on this episode. It turned out that we were only broadcasting one channel of the music, so a couple of the songs sound a little strange. This is all part of us dealing with some new equipment in the run up to 9th Floor Radio's taking its place on the FM dial as KGPC, a full fledged broadcast station. We at Pop Offensive are very excited about this transition, even though it means that we won't be able to say "fuck" on the air anymore. Or "cock". In any case, we tracked down the cause of the glitch and it will not be repeated.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Friday's best pop song ever

Gabba Gabba. We accept you.

As one of the participants in Tuesday's 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down commented, "Rock 'n' Roll High School IS 1979." And Carol,  you could not be more right. It boasts enough spandex and animal print to swath a planet-sized Pat Benatar, a soundtrack on which corporate rock monoliths like Fleetwood Mac jostle elbows with the emerging new wave (remember when Blondie opened for REO Speedwagon? I do.), and a glib attitude toward teenage sex that could only have existed before AIDS. It also takes us back to that oh-so-narrow window of time in which P.J. Soles and Vince Van Patten might have been thought of as bankable stars. (She's the girl who got her tits out in Halloween! He's... well, a Van Patten.) More important, however, is the fact that it functions in part as a Ramones concert film, as well as the closest thing to being The Ramones own Hard Day's Night--both especially worthy of note in light of the early departure of all four original members of the Ramones to the great CBGB's bathroom in the sky.

If any of the above makes you so "J" that you missed out on our little tweet-along, relax. A transcript of the entire event--with screen captures (thanks again, Carol)--has just been posted on Storify:

The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down: Rock 'n' Roll High School on Storify.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tonight! The 4DK Monthly Shout Down lets it all burn with ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL!

Sure, we all blew up our schools to the sound of thundering punk rock, but somehow Rock 'n' Roll High School presents it in a light that makes it all seem fresh again. See for yourself tonight, when the overgrown teenagers of the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down Crew audit this classic of late 70's rocksploitation starring the one and only Ramones. The head banging starts at 6pm Pacific time. Simply join us on Twitter, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, and add your voice to the cacophony. A link to the complete film is below.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Tuesday: Go back to school with the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down!

It’s funny. In my high school, you’d get made fun of for liking the Ramones. And that was the best case scenario. Yet, in Rock and Roll High School, we’re shown a school where the Ramones are as beloved as KC and the Sunshine Band, Elton John—with or without Kiki Dee—and Grand Funk Railroad combined, adored even by popular girls who take their fashion cues from Battle of the Network Stars. If I had gone to this school, I would have been at the top of the social food chain. I might even have been friends with Clint Howard. Oh, it does set one to dreaming, doesn’t it?

Anyway, if you would like to join the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down crew in exploring this strange parallel dimension, simply log on to Twitter this Tuesday, July 9th, at 6pm Pacific time and, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, tweet along as we take the measure of a modern day classic.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Vynalez Zkasy, aka An Invention of Destruction (Csechoslovakia, 1958)

Vynalez Zkasy (released in the U.S. as The Fabulous World of Jules Verne) may represent Czech FX pioneer Karel Zeman’s quest to emulate the style of 19th century fantasy illustration—to the end of presenting the future through a Victorian lens—at its most extreme. That does not mean that it is any less fascinating than, nor nearly enchanting as, films like The Stolen Airship and Cesta do Praveku/Journey to the Beginning of Time. It only means that there is a vague miasma of obsession that threads through the movie’s general air of wonderment.

Like The Stolen Airship, Vynalez Zkasy is based primarily on one of Jules Verne’s novels (in this case 1896’s Facing the Flag) while liberally borrowing elements from another (in this case, most noticeably, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). The story is narrated by Simon Hart (Lubor Tokos), the dashing young assistant to Professor Roch (Arnost Navratil), who, at the film’s opening, is confined to an insane asylum. It is during a dark and stormy night’s visit to that asylum that both Roch and Hart are kidnapped by a band of pirates lead by Captain Spade (Frantisek Slegr). Spade is in turn acting on orders from Count Artigas (Miloslav Holub), a wealthy scoundrel. You see, Roch’s current work has seen him unlock “the secrets of matter”, a discovery which he sees as only to the benefit of mankind, while Artigas sees its potential for providing the destructive power of a humongous gun which he will use to make the leaders of the free world wet themselves in fear.

Spade and his men herd Roch and Hart aboard their schooner and sets sail for Artigas’ hideout, which we eventually learn is housed, Blofeld-style, within a dormant volcano. On the way, they use a stolen submarine to ram unsuspecting merchant and passenger ships and rob them of their treasure. The scene of the pirates donning deep-sea diving gear and trudging across the ocean floor to pillage the hold of a sunken vessel provides the impetus for some delightful puppet animation, very reminiscent of the moon walking scenes in the Soviet silent Cosmic Journey. Zeman even throws in a fight with a giant octopus for good measure.

In the aftermath of one of their attacks, the pirates take aboard a comely female survivor, Jana (Jana Zatloukalova), whose obligatory role in Vynalez Zkasy is underscored by just how little she is given to do throughout the rest of the film. Once arrived at the hideout, Roch is quickly seduced into aiding Artigas in building his super gun, at which point Hart, no longer of use, is banished to a rundown shack on the outskirts of the villain’s high tech manufacturing facility—which begs the question of how a sharecropper’s cabin ended up inside a volcano. As for Jana, she immediately busies herself with tidying up around the place and, from that point on, is not seen without being in the midst of one of the many domestic chores that come up when one is confined within a cyclopean high-tech lair.

Being a guy, Hart doesn't bother to clean his hovel and instead tasks himself with finding a way to foil Artigas’ plan--while, of course, taking time out to put some gentlemanly moves on Jana. Eventually, he ties a note to a weather balloon and sets it assail. Normally, we would see this as a poignantly futile gesture, so destined to fail that no further mention need be made of it. But then we consider that this is a film set in a Jules Verne universe, in which Victorian gentlemen in bowler hats happily traverse the skies in pedal-powered airships, and so it should be no surprise when the balloon, with note attached, quickly lands in the hands of the British Military. An attack is planned, of which Artigas is quickly notified, and the rest of the movie plays out as a race against time with Hart and his allies rushing to dismantle the gun before the forces of order arrive.

With its stylish interpretation of what is basically a boy’s adventure yarn set amid an anachronistically tricked-out turn-of-the-century, Vynalez Zkasy couldn’t help but remind me of Aleksandr Gintsburg’s The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin. However, while I enjoyed Vynalez Zkasy a lot, I have to say that I enjoyed Gintsburg’s film more. That is because, amid its visual dazzle, Garin is anchored by the sterling performance of Evgeni Evstigneez in its title role. The performances in Vynalez Zkasy, by contrast, are generally competent but flat (reportedly at Zeman’s instruction), which leaves the performers constantly at risk of being upstaged by all the visual sorcery that surrounds them. Also working against them are all of the fetishistically ornate sets and background mattes (Zeman went so far as to paint costumes and set elements with striped rollers to emulate the unique crosshatching used by Verne illustrator Jules Ferat) in which they are placed, which threaten to render them little more than minor design elements.

While echoing certain generic elements of Engineer Garin, Vynalez Zkasy also shares with it the creeping nuclear dread of its era, which was perhaps inevitable. This stands at odds somewhat with Zeman’s normally whimsical tone. Nonetheless, the film retains a certain, inimitable integrity. That is because it is a document of a very specific and deeply personal aesthetic, one that Zeman struggled so hard to keep consistent that he frequently employs animations using photographic cut-outs of his actors for matching shots. If, in this case, that aesthetic becomes a bit claustrophobic in practice, that is to be begrudgingly forgiven. Suffering their occasional indulgences is the price we pay for having artists of such unique vision in the world.

If you want to learn more about Karel Zeman, please see my friend and colleague Keith Allison’s fantastic overview of his career over at Teleport City.