Friday, July 22, 2016

No walls, just Offense

If you were too busy being either enraptured or appalled by the Republican Convention to listen to Wednesday night's episode of Pop Offensive, I have good news: The episode, along with all the others, is now available for streaming from KGPC's Pop Offensive Archives (and you can also check out the full playlist, which has just been posted on the Pop Offensive Facebook page .) Of course, this episode contains nothing so uniquely thrilling as a human being unironically named Reince Priebus, but it does contain something that is of arguably much greater importance: 50 minutes of joyful escapism and a foot stomping mix of catchy, irresistibly danceable tunes. If you don't find that a welcome alternative to listening to an orange-faced gargoyle bellow litanies of societal ills, I'm afraid it may be too late for you.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Charmer, aka Saher Al Nisa' (Egypt, 1958)

That Egypt suffered its own share of post-war anxieties is evidenced in part by the prevalence of film noir within the country’s cinematic output of the 50s and 60s. These films are remarkable not just for their high technical quality, but also for how easily they slot into the genre overall, deep shadows, rain slicked streets and all. As such, they’re worthy of being judged side-by-side with the canonical works of masters like Wilder, Mann and Tournier. Take, for example, The Charmer, which chooses as its subject one of noir’s most generative figures, the shady spiritualist.

From Nightmare Alley to The Amazing Mr. X, the fraudulent fakir has provided for some of noir’s bleakest visions of human nature, given he is a character who cynically exploits people at their most vulnerable. I think it’s a gimme that anyone who is driven to find a supernatural solution to their problems has got to be at a pretty catastrophic low point in their lives. Only a monster would play such a person for a sucker.

Hamza, the character played by Farid Chawki in The Charmer, is just such a monster, although director Fatin Abdel Wahab (Ebn Hamido, The Haunted House) cannot resist giving his exploits a somewhat light-hearted treatment during the film’s first half. The idea of the picaresque con man seems to have an intractable hold on the imaginations of commercial filmmakers, perhaps because they see in him/her a sort of fellow traveler. Wahab, for instance, piggybacks upon Hamza’s prolific use of spooky sideshow gimmicks to swath his moody crime thriller in a haunted atmosphere worthy of Val Lewton. It’s all good fun, but ultimately makes for a stirring transition once The Charmer takes an inexorable turn into darkness.

As the film begins, we find Hamza, a small time crook, on the eve of his release from prison. Another inmate, Kawakby (Tawfik El Deken), has become Hamza’s criminal mentor during his time inside and now asks him for a favor. He will point Hamza toward a treasure ripe for the taking if Hamza promises that, after stealing it, he will use half of the money to pay the tuition of Kawakby’s sister so that she won’t be expelled from school. Hamza agrees, but not necessarily out of a generousness of spirit. Instead, he launches into a diatribe about how much he hates women and about how this job somehow will provide a platform for his revenge against the whole damn lot. Hamza’s misogyny is due, he tells us, to a history of abuse, neglect, and disappointment from the women in his life—in particular his mother, sister, and step-mother. Not surprisingly, that information does nothing to make this exchange any less troubling.

Hamza’s marks are two people who live in the same tenement in Tablia Alley, a rough part of the city. They are Morsi Amin, a drug dealer (Reyad El Kasagby) and Adalat, a matchmaker (Wedad Hamdy). Hamza shows up in the guise of wild-haired holy man Sheikh Maksouf and, using information provided him by Kawakby, makes short work of dazzling the two with his mind reading abilities. A series of supernatural escapades follow, which end with Hamza fleeing town with both Amin and Adalat’s treasure in hand—and each of them blaming the other for the loss. As I mentioned before, most of this is played for laughs, with Hamza making preposterous animal noises (awoooo!) during his conjurations and quite hilariously portraying himself as an ascetic who cannot touch cash.

The Charmer then skips forward in time a bit, where we find a much more high-toned version of Hamza (smart suit, groovy shades) haunting an upscale resort with a female accomplice. His target this time is Rashid Abdel Wahab, a disabled businessman (Mohamed Elwan), and his devoted wife Aziza (Hind Rostom). Hamza introduces himself to Aziza as Sharraf Eddin, a “Spiritual Scientist”, and gradually convinces her that he alone is capable of curing her husband.

Given that he is already planning to rob them, the “treatment” that Hamza then subjects Rashid to can only be seen as needlessly humiliating and cruel—an insult added to injury. Declaring Rashid’s infirmity the result of demonic possession, he proceeds with an “exorcism” that mostly consists of a weird floor show involving dancers in devil costumes and really loud drums. At the same time, opining that it would be helpful to Rashid to be more aroused by his wife, he encourages Aziza to wear ever more revealing outfits. He also sets out to seduce her, with the result that the character played by Hind Rostom gradually goes from being a tremulous innocent to being exactly the kind of back-stabbing gold digger that we’re used to seeing her play. Eventually, she falls so deeply under Hamza’s spell that she says she is willing to kill Rashid to get him out of the way. This, of course, not before Hamza has encouraged her to steal a fortune in jewels from her husband’s safe—such loot being necessary to Hamza purchasing from America the “nuclear device” he needs to complete Rashid’s treatment.

Hamza’s ruse begins to unravel when Kawakby, released from prison, returns home to find that Hamza, contrary to their agreement, has contributed absolutely nothing toward his family’s wellbeing. Incensed, he sets out to track his former friend down—only to blackmail him into giving him a cut of the take when he finds him. Meanwhile, the District Attorney (Hassan Hamed), now hot on Hamza’s tail, has other plans for the two. No amount of legal intervention, however, can prevent poor Aziza from meeting a karmic fate which she perhaps does not so richly deserve.

The Charmer is a rewardingly tight little thriller filled with gorgeous kitsch. The film loses none of its narrative punch for you taking time out to bemusedly savor Sharraf Eddin’s modish office with its smoke billowing whatsit and prominent disco ball, or its talk of nuclear devices from America that cure the lame… or that batcrap crazy dance number, for that matter. More importantly, it is a superb showcase for Egyptian cinema’s legendary tough guy, Farid Chawki. As Chawki is usually presented as more than a bit of a roughneck, it could be said that playing a suave and calculating con man might be a little off his beat—yet he acquits himself terrifically, making Hamza as compelling as he is loathsome. Meanwhile, Hind Rostom, if not playing against type, definitely plays against her normal trajectory, playing a good girl whose heart gradually ices over, rather than the other way around.

Sadly, those sympathetic to Hamza’s brash misogyny might see Aziza’s turn toward treachery as a validation of it. That’s awful, but I like to think, perhaps naively, that those people don’t read 4DK. If they do, I would point out to them that one of the translations of this movie’s Arabic title is “Betrayer of Women”, which indicates to me that no endorsement of Hamza’s behavior is being made on the part of its makers. Yes, it might be nice if they had expressed that sentiment a little more emphatically, but I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate that this is the best we can hope for from a film made in the Middle East—or America, even—during the 1950s. In other words, sure, you might not like this film, and with good reason--but, personally, it is simply too good for me to conceive of any reason that it should not be seen.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Friday's best pop song ever

Yes, I know it's Sunday. Hopefully this awesome and underappreciated tune will make up for the delay.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tune in, turn on, pop off.

How often have you wished that you could relive the night of June 15th, 2016--or, at least, a very specific portion of it? Well, now you can do that last thing only thanks to, where you can now stream last night's episode of Pop Offensive in its entirety. Not only that, but you can also view a complete playlist for the episode on the Pop Offensive Facebook page. Thrill again to Jeff's evermore baroque theme episode suggestions, Todd's unique pronunciation of Foreign names, and, of course, a lot of really fun and amazing music. It's all at KGPC's Pop Offensive Archives, where you can hear, not just this episode, but every other one of the surprisingly large selection of previous Offensives.

Friday's best pop song ever

Sunday, June 12, 2016


We came very close to reaching "Peak Pop" with April's gala second anniversary episode of Pop Offensive. In its aftermath, Jeff and I had to take time off to regroup, with Jeff even fleeing the country. Now we are back and bringing you the first Pop Offensive in two months, which will be streaming live from this Wednesday, June 15th, at 7pm Pacific time. This means that we have had twice the usual amount of time to prepare our playlist for the evening, with predictably phenomenal results. It turns out that, however long we do this, there will always be enough pulse-quickening pop perfection out there for us to consistently turn an otherwise unremarkable two hours of you life into an ass-quaking, era-bridging global dance party. Tune us in on Wednesday and hear for yourself.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Three Supermen at the Olympic Games (Turkey, 1984)

Three Supermen at the Olympic Games looks like what happens when the universe itself rises up in defiance at the existence of yet another entry in the Three Supermen series. One cannot so much review it as draw a chalk outline around it, so does it resemble a sloppy corpse left behind by a disorganized killer. Of course, many of its deficits can be understood when you consider that it was one of the few Turkish entries in the Three Supermen series, which seem to exist only to make the Italian Three Supermen films look like Avengers movies by comparison.

Still, Three Supermen at the Olympic Games is shoddy even by the standards of Turkish trash cinema. There is the usual needle-dropped score (mostly John Williams’ themes to Superman: The Motion Picture), but, beyond that, evidence of the film being used as a sort of clearing house for misbegotten footage from other films is plentiful. Actors were apparently asked to recite their dialogue in close-up against a plain green backdrop, presumably to serve as a kind of narrative glue for insertion into the film as needed. I can’t tell whether this was done out of ignorance of the meaning of the term “green screen”, or if there had been some intention to insert backgrounds behind the actors at some point and someone eventually just said ‘fuck it.” Whichever the case, this practice only serves to increase the disjointed feeling of the movie--with these pallid looking shots of the actors reciting their lines at an uncomfortably intimate remove frequently interrupting the already mismatched scenes.

Given all this, summarizing the plot of Three Supermen at the Olympic Games would be difficult under any circumstances – the IMDB threw up its hands with “Three supermen go to Olympics and mayhem ensues”—which means that watching it without English subtitles, as I of course did, makes it as indecipherable as an alien message in a Stanislaw Lem novel. Still, here’s my best shot:

The Three Supermen (Levent Çakir in a canary yellow wig; Yilmaz Koksal as the stuttering, mentally challenged Superman; and Stefano Martinenghi, the son of director Italo Martinenghi) somehow end up in the service of the Greek goddess Hera (Filiz Özten) and fend off an assortment of medieval knights and modern day gangsters before finally rescuing a stolen briefcase from some pirates. The end.

As you might have guessed from the above, Three Supermen at the Olympic Games’ sense of period is pretty fluid, allowing for elements of ancient Greece, Medieval Europe, and modern day Turkey to intermingle freely on the screen without any kind of visual transition. Probably the most welcome of these anachronisms is a LOT of recycled footage from the comparatively delightful earlier Supermen film 3 Supermen vs. Mad Girl. Returning for a well deserved encore are the colorfully garbed Mad Girl herself (Mine Sun), her army of minions in satiny green Klansmen’s robes, her boss in his dime store devil mask, and, most welcome of all, that silly cardboard box robot with his unmistakably phallic laser gun. The only problem with this footage is that it’s vibrant, comic book inspired color scheme makes the rest of Three Supermen at the Olympic Games look pretty drab by comparison.

You might think that I’m oversimplifying Three Supermen at the Olympic Games, and you’re probably right. For instance, you Syd Field acolytes out there might ask what the point of all its muddled action is—or, to put a finer point on it, what is exactly at stake in it. Could it be, as the title suggests, the Olympic Games themselves? It’s questionable, since we see only a little of those games at both the films’ beginning and end, and there’s reason to suspect that the stock footage used is not of the Olympics at all.

Also, I have to confess to my synopsis being marred by my inability to account for certain of the film’s repeated bits of business, such as the brief clip of Levent Çakir looking into the camera while “flying” (i.e. either being hoisted on a crane or lying on an elevated plank) over a small boat that pops up with numbing regularity. Especially vexing was the Fu Man-Chu wannabe using a mixing console for a control panel who shows up on a television screen at irregular intervals to spout a mouthful of (presumably) expository dialog. Admittedly, these bits, had I understood them, might have smoothed over some of the films more jarring transitions, and if so, that’s my bad. Or is it? Is it my fault that this movie was not in English? I’ll let you decide.

Three Supermen at the Olympic Games’ director Italo Martinenghi, a producer of the original Supermen films in his native Italy, had brought the series to Turkey in the hope of lowering production costs. Three Supermen at the Olympic Games’ stands as testament to the fact that he was resoundingly successful in achieving that goal. It’s hard to imagine it looking any cheaper. If I could recommend it for any reason, it’s that the footage from Supermen vs. Mad Girl it contains is, in most cases, much crisper than that seen in the version of Mad Girl that’s currently available. All the better to appreciate the mighty Dickbot in the light that he so deserves.