Monday, June 30, 2008

Everybody's got something to hide except for Sunil Dutt and his monkey

The 1974 Bollywood film Geetaa Mera Naam is one wild little masala. If you're not sure whether you want to invest your time in reading my full review of it over at Teleport City, perhaps you'd like to watch a clip?





Uh huh. I thought so.

Friday, June 27, 2008

From the Lucha Diaries Vaults: Santo vs. Las Lobas (Mexico, 1972)

Allow me to introduce this week's labor-saving installment of "From The Lucha Diaries Vaults" in a manner that might seem a little off-topic at first. You see, in previous posts I've sought to establish the eerie parallels between the careers of Bollywood bad guy Amrish Puri and Canto-cinema bad guy Sek Kin. Then, this week, in a suitably eerie parallel, David Wells at his Soft Film blog and I at mine -- with no previous planning, no wirework and no CGI -- each reviewed films in which Sek Kin and Amrish Puri, respectively, played werewolves. Freaky, right? Like, those aren't fingers crawling up your spine -- they're totally goosebumps, dude. (BTW, the movie that David wrote up sounds like a real hoot, so you should just stop messing yourself over how scary what I just told you was and go read his review.) Anyway, to keep the werewolf-y vibe going -- or perhaps I should say, in solidarity with Beth, in avoidance of all things non-werewolf-y -- I thought I'd post a review of a werewolf-themed Santo movie, Santo vs. Las Lobas, which also happens to be one of my very favorite Santo movies. Enjoy!

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As much as I sincerely love Santo movies, I have to admit that, when I sit down to write about them, I take for granted that I'm usually going to spend part of my review ticking off the various ways in which a particular film fulfills certain formula requirements. So, when a Santo film surprises me as much as Santo vs. las Lobas did, I really have to take my hat off and bow down. Unlike Santo's other monster movies from the seventies, which were mostly throwbacks to Universal's monster movies from the forties, Las Lobas is clearly a product of its time. It's unremittingly bleak and oppressive in the way that only a horror film from the seventies can be, and it likewise makes a virtue of it's grainy and murky photography as many such films of that era did. (There's actually one scene that reminded me in particular of the original version of The Hills Have Eyes, though Las Lobas predates that by a few years.)

It's not these stylistic touches, however, that really made me sit up and take notice of Las Lobas, as much as it was the way in which the film puts Santo in some situations I really hadn't seen him in before. Las Lobas starts with Santo being asked to come to the aid of a rural village besieged by a clan of werewolves. Having once again had his memory of countless previous encounters with wolfmen and other monsters somehow erased, Santo somewhat callously demurs, scoffing at the very notion of lycanthropy. His feelings begin to change, however, when, later that night, his efforts to escape from a pack of vicious demon dogs (I know they should be wolves, but they're even referred to as dogs in the dialog) leave him literally hanging from the rafters of a deserted arena, screaming for help. Santo is really terrorized and rendered helpless - pathetically so - in this scene, and I actually found it kind of shocking to see; I've really got to give Las Lobas props for, for the first time, leaving me unsure of exactly where a Santo movie was going. Later, when Santo goes to the village and tries to question the villagers about what's going on, they're so crazed with fear that they threaten him and tell him to butt out - then pummel him with fruit and vegetables! The final surprise comes when we learn that, having been bitten by one of the demon dogs, Santo himself will turn into a werewolf at the next full moon if he doesn't defeat the king of the werewolves. Putting added pressure on Santo is the fact that the rise of the werewolf king will bring about the end of mankind and herald an age of werewolf dominion on Earth. You know, the whole apocalypse thing.

Now, I'm so immersed in all things Santo at the moment that it's hard for me to determine if the degree to which I love Santo vs. las Lobas can be separated from the context of Santo films as a whole. It's certainly far from a perfect film. The she wolves actually look pretty terrible when seen under direct light (which the filmmakers wisely avoid as much as possible) and the fact that it manages to be so consistent in tone makes those moments when it breaks with that tone (some cheesy action music in one later scene, for instance) especially glaring. For this reason, while I enthusiastically recommend Santo vs. las Lobas, I wouldn't recommend it as anyone's introduction to Santo. I think it would be ideal to first watch something like Santo contra la Invasion de los Marcianos and then this one, thus treating yourself to two very opposite extremes of quality Santo.

Listening to: The Futureheads "This Is Not The World"

It's sad, but, at first, the only way that I could enjoy the Futureheads' latest was by pretending that it was the product of an entirely different band from the one that produced their eponymous debut, which was probably one of my favorite albums of the last ten years. And sure enough, by means of that little bit of self-deception, I came to take great pleasure in the hard-driving, faultlessly melodic guitar pop that This Is Not The World presents. In fact, if terse songwriting with shout-along refrains and ear tickling harmonies played with all the angst-driven haste of a man on fire running toward a well is your cup of tea, you really couldn't do much better than this album.

Funny thing is, though, that after listening to the record for a while under the pretense that it was by some new band called The Sutureheads, or the Futurehoods, or something, I began to think, "Hey, this sounds a lot like The Futureheads." Because, on close listening, it turns out that among all of those four/four rhythms and anthemic, eighth-note-riding choruses lie touches of the same controlled dissonance and quirky turns of phrase -- both lyrical and musical -- that distinguished the band's debut. Even some of their much-touted "angularity" pops up in the stabbing, stop-start cadences of tracks like "Broke Up The Time" and "Everything's Changing Today". And, of course, there are also those distinctive Sunderland accents of theirs, which make it pretty hard to hear them as being anyone else (even though, admittedly, they also make them sound a bit like The Proclaimers on "Hard to Bear", the album's only relatively down-tempo track).

So the fact is that The Futureheads that gave us gems of infectious spaz-pop like "Decent Days and Nights" are not gone, only hiding. Fortunately for us, what they're hiding in is a pretty great little pop album.

Video: The Futureheads "Radio Heart"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Amrish Puri as a werewolf! Amrish Puri as a werewolf!

I clearly don't get what the deal is with Bollywood horror. My understanding was that it was a reviled genre so outside the mainstream that staff at many Indian DVD shops won't even acknowledge its existence. If that's the case, then what exactly is Jaani Dushman? Certainly in many respects it's a typical 1970s masala, with star-crossed lovers, evil thakurs and Sunil Dutt mounting a horse by doing a backflip. But its central plot revolves around a yeti-like werewolf that murders young women on their wedding day -- and if that doesn't make it a horror film, I don't know what would.

Directed in 1979 by Rajkumar Kohli -- who also gave us the eye-popping 1976 version of the also supernaturally-themed Nagin -- Jaani Dushman is anything but outside the Bollywood mainstream, boasting an impressive all-star cast that includes the aforementioned Dutt, Rekha, Jeetendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Reena Roy, Neetu Singh, Satrughan Sinha, and a brief cameo by Aruna Irani as one of the victims. But the real attraction for me -- as the title of this post may already have given away -- is the presence of a young, barely credited Amrish Puri in the role of the werewolf during the first half of the movie. (To explain: the movie's version of lycanthropy is the result of possession by a vengeful spirit, and that spirit takes residence in more than one host throughout the film.)

I'm not going to give Jaani Dushman a full-blown review because (1) to be honest, I found most of the non-werewolf-y parts of it kind of dull, and (2) the currently available DVD from Music India that I have is missing a fairly crucial reel during the last act. I will say, though, that the horror sequences are at least worth fast-forwarding to, at once both surreal and surprisingly violent. Plus, dude, come on: Amrish Puri as a werewolf!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Oceans Against Us: Santo vs. Blue Demon in Atlantis

Oceans. We should have drained those damn things a long time ago. They're a hazard, filled with sharks, giant squid, and billions of gallons of deadly water that can sneak up and drown you when you least expect it. That's why Keith and I over at Teleport City will be sounding a warning all Summer long with a series called Oceans Against Us, in which we'll be reviewing a number of hard-hitting documentaries on this urgent subject. Keith has already fired off the first volley with his review of War Gods of the Deep, and now I'm joining in with my take on Santo vs. Blue Demon in Atlantis. Remember, you can either live in fear, or die in ignorance, so you dismiss these screeds at your own peril.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

From the Lucha Diaries vaults: Kaliman en el Siniestro Mundo de Humanon (Mexico, 1976)

Okay kids, Daddy's busy, so go read your lukewarm leftovers in the form of "From the Lucha Diaries vaults". That's where I post an old review of a Mexican wrestling movie from my site The Lucha Diaries while I tend to other pressing matters of state. Don't hate, though, because what I'm busy with is a feature-length review of Santo vs. Blue Demon in Atlantis that's just for you because you're special. Sure, I know your Mom says that I'm just sleeping off my traditional "thank God it's Tuesday" celebration, but she would say that wouldn't she?
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Kaliman is a popular costumed hero of Mexican comics and radio. A somewhat new agey super hero, his super powers -- from what I can glean from Kaliman en el Siniestro Mundo de Humanon -- are telepathy, the ability to quote from the Koran and endlessly spew all sorts of pseudo spiritual hooey gooey, and some vague form of martial arts that involves lots of crouching and hand waving. Kaliman en el Siniestro Mundo de Humanon is not a lucha movie, but it contains enough dopey weirdness for ten Santo movies (providing that one of those ten isn't Profandores de Tumbas), and that for me is enough to qualify it for inclusion in The Lucha Diaries.

I've heard that the first Kaliman movie was one of the most expensive productions in Mexican film history, complete with globe-spanning locations, lavish sets, and a large international cast. Kaliman en el Siniestro Mundo de Humanon, however, is the second Kaliman movie, and it exhibits the kind of downward scaling and hastiness of construction with which viewers of late 70s lucha films will be comfortably familiar. Kaliman himself, though he does not wear a face obscuring mask, does share with Santo and Blue Demon the fact that his super hero identity is in effect twenty-four/seven and, as such, requires him to wear his Kaliman costume at all times, no matter what the circumstances. The producers highlight this to fine effect by placing the film's action in Brazil, because nowhere could Kaliman's outfit of turban, cape, and blindingly white tunic and tights look more conspicuous than as he strolls among the bikini clad sun worshipers on the beaches of Rio.

Kaliman's sidekicks include a small boy wearing a fez (more of a liability than an asset, really, because he keeps getting kidnapped and imperiled - and simply leaving him at home never appears to be an option) and a woman who wears very little else besides a black veil that conceals her hideously disfigured face, which is later revealed to itself be a mask concealing -- for no reason other than shits and giggles, apparently -- her real face, which is unremarkable but at least not at all disfigured. These are strange characters, indeed, though the villains in El Siniestro Mundo de Humanon serve to normalize them a great deal. Humanon, for instance, who wears a bright red Klansman's outfit (but with sunglasses worn over the hood) and a cape with an atomic symbol on it, hides out in a secret jungle compound with a magical dwarf lady, a cackling, hyperactive witch doctor, and a grizzled right hand man with the demeanor of a crazy old prospector and does all kinds of weird shit for no discernable reason. Among Humanon's projects are the placement of animal brains and electronic parts into captured scientists to create what he calls "Zombie-tronics", a collection of living disembodied heads in jars, and a furry cyclops who he claims to have evolved from a rock. Obviously a stop needs to be put to all this, because, even though none of it really make any sense, it's not particularly right either.

Kaliman en el Siniestro Mundo de Humanon
hits the ground running, providing a rich, projectile stream of insanity that lasts from it's first moments to its very last. And if that doesn't sound like an endorsement, you don't know me very well.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Super mourner powers activate!

Hey, I'm as sensitive as the next guy -- twice as sensitive, even -- but when it comes to movie violence, there's a particular type of gleeful, self-conscious gratuitousness that never fails to make me -- to put it politely -- laugh my fucking ass off. When a filmmaker lets me know that he has gone out of his way to show me a close-up of a blood-spraying stump, or holds on a shot of some lovingly fussed-over makeshift carnage for far longer than any considerations of narrative or drama would require, or just goes that one extra step to make some gore effect much more disgusting than it really needed to be, its like a warmly conspiratorial elbow in the ribs that lets me know I'm in the presence of a kindred spirit... and that, yes, it's okay to laugh. A lot.

You'd be right in assuming, as you probably are, that such antics appeal to me because, to some extent, they speak to the most juvenile part of me. After all, these filmmakers I'm talking about, who delight in both piling on and magnifying the gross details of bodily disintegration, do so in the same spirit as those ten year old boys who, when telling a dirty joke, gets so caught up in making the particulars as disgusting as possible that they lose sight of the punchline. At the same time, though, the adult in me recognizes something almost celebratory in the way these movies revel in the spectacle of flesh at its most permeable... as if each is a giddy paean to life at its most messy, and in all its absurd improbability. That we can actually maneuver ourselves through the world in these flimsy sacks of viscera that we inhabit is indeed a wonder, and when I see those vessels so cheerfully rent apart on screen like the offal-filled piƱatas that they are, it seems like an acknowledgement -- both joyful and brattily defiant -- of the odds we beat every moment just by staying in one piece.

So far the films I've found most dependable in providing this distinctive brand of feel-good grand guignol include that jaw-to-the-floor kung fu splatter-fest to beat them all, The Story of Ricky, Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (duh), and, of course, more early products of the Troma mill than I care to fit in this space. But I think that The Machine Girl, the Japanese production just released to US DVD by Media Blaster's Tokyo Shock imprint, has earned its place in that pantheon right out of the gate. With a dedication to carnage that defies, not only commonly accepted standards of good taste, but also the laws of physics and human anatomy (more than once I found myself saying, "Wait... that can't come out of there"), this scrappy little upstart goes the distance to prove that it has everything its older, Romero-plundering siblings have and, perhaps, even more.

The story of Ami, a teenage schoolgirl who becomes a revenge-crazed killing machine after her younger brother is bullied to death by a gang lead by a powerful yakuza's son, Machine Girl is in such a rush to get to the red stuff that it doesn't even bother to go through the motions of having an even remotely original premise. Once she is captured, tortured, and literally dis-armed by her prey's father and his goons, Ami is fitted with a prosthetic arm that could double for an anti-aircraft gun and -- thank you, Planet Terror -- ready to get busy. And business, she is very, very good -- what with the many exotic sparring partners Ami's foes throw at her, including shiruken-throwing teenage ninjas, a master of the flying guillotine, and the sweet, not-so-old mother of her brother's killer modeling the dreaded -- but fabulous -- "Drill Bra".

Where Machine Girl does tread some new territory is in how it explores the question of if, as we've seen demonstrated in countless action films before, loss can turn the loved one of a murdered innocent into a vengeance-crazed killing machine, what would happen if the aggrieved loved ones of those in turn murdered by said killing machine were also turned into killing machines themselves? The answer to that question is Machine Girl's "Super Mourner Gang", made up of the parents of the aforementioned shiruken-throwing teenaged ninjas -- all since bloodily dispatched by Ami -- who each wear football uniforms with the photograph of their dead child emblazoned across the chest, and who cry those children's names in anguish as they wield chainsaws and other instruments of mayhem with deadly accuracy against Ami. It's admittedly pretty ballsy for a film like Machine Girl -- that could, with some justification, be described as "gore porn" -- to so savagely lampoon what is arguably at least an equally pornographic aspect of above-the-board culture. But, to my mind, it's on the side of the angels. I'll any day take Machine Girl's rowdy transgressions over that turgid, mainstream media-fueled, fetishization of grief that would so eagerly turn the private suffering of others into kitsch. Personally, I imagine that the Super Mourner Gang's headquarters is inside a giant, teddy bear-covered shrine built by strangers who thrilled to the details of its members' tragedies on the Today Show (or the Japanese equivalent of same).

So, needless to say, The Machine Girl is for everyone. Wait, I mean NOT. NOT for everyone. In fact, if you are in the least bit squeamish, I would recommend running from this one like a sprinter with a bladder problem who's just realized the only available restroom is on the opposite side of town. But if, in reading my above effusions, you've experienced any twinge of self-recognition, I would buy the hell out of this shit. You won't be sorry.

Nagin (India, 1976)

My taste in retro cinema generally tends to veer Sixties-ward, but in the case of Bollywood, I've got to admit that the 1970s are where it's at, and 1976's Nagin is a good example of why. I don't know if I'll get around to writing a long form review of this one (right now I'm concentrating on giving the Teleport City treatment to another Feroz Khan starrer from that decade, the sublime Geetaa Mera Naam) but I wanted to at least get some images up, because for this one director Rajkumar Kohli used a palette that was lurid even by Bollywood standards. Feast your eyes!

Nagin is just one of a number of Indian films made over the years based on the concept of a vengeful female snake taking human form -- and, in fact, I see that a new, no doubt CGI-laden version is due out next year. In this version a group of guys (lead by Sunil Dutt and Feroz Khan) get on the wrong side of said snake lady (Reena Roy) when one of their number mistakenly kills her lover. Through assuming a variety of guises, the driven-insane-by-grief serpent then sets out to stalk, seduce and kill each of the men one by one. And that's it. There's no long separated siblings or sickly mother - just a compact and fast-paced little horror film plot, spruced up with a few decent Laxmikant-Pyarelal musical numbers, all the expectedly nightmarish interpretations of period couture you could want, and numerous excuses for Sunil Dutt and Feroz Khan to punch people -- including each other -- in the face.

Nagin abounds with the type of primitive Bollywood special effects that, while technically as bad as they could be, are still affecting by virtue of their very strangeness. (Seriously, you may have seen a lot of bad special effects, but you've never seen bad special effects like these before.) This, combined with the "Bava meets Sirk in a Sno-cone factory" look of much of the movie, makes Nagin a truly memorable visual experience, if perhaps not a pleasant one for those who prefer more muted tones... or epileptics, for that matter. Myself, I love a movie that blasts my eyes while it's blowing my mind, so this one snaked its way right into my cold little heart.

Back on the Bolly-western trail

A few days back I reviewed the Bollywood "curry western" Khotte Sikkay, and now my review of that film's follow-up -- also starring Feroz Khan and Danny Dezongpa -- Kaala Sona has just been posted over at Teleport City. If you think you might like your oats with a bit of Indian spice, this is definitely one to check out.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Listening to: Ladytron "Velocifero"

Ladytron's latest inhabits the same glacial, shoegaze-tinged, electro-pop territory as their 2005 disc Witching Hour, but, unlike its more varied predecessor, keeps the level of aggression (or, at least, Ladytron's typically cool and composed version of same) pretty much at a constant peak throughout. This set stomps through your head like a very methodically rampaging, emotionally distant Japanese robot*, the closest thing to a break coming with the Mira Aroyo fronted, baroque-pop-channeling track "Kletva". Another welcome taste of sixties influence comes with the Nancy & Lee flavored, boy-girl vocal dynamics of album closer "Versus". A thoroughly addictive listen overall. So far my favorite track is "Burning Up", which forcefully re-tables the question so eloquently posed by Witching Hour's "Destroy Everything You Touch". That being: Why the hell hasn't somebody tried to recruit this band to do a Bond theme yet?

*If you think that it's redundant to call a Japanese robot "emotionally distant", you obviously have yet to meet Robocon.

Video: Ladytron "Ghost"

Not a joiner. Oh, wait... A joiner, apparently.


I've just signed on with the Large Association of Movie Blogs, which is sort of the Super Friends for geeky movie bloggers like yours truly -- and in casting in so late in the game I've probably consigned myself to the Samurai or Apache Chief-like status of one of that latter group's lesser members (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course). If you'd like to read my answers to LAMB's standard questionnaire -- and marvel, as I did, that they actually let me join anyway -- please feel free.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dolphy + Bond + Batman = Huh?!

Among the staples of 1960s Filipino cinema were James Bond inspired spy movies, costumed superhero adventures, and broad parodies of Western pop culture. So guess which one of those 1966's James Batman is. Or just read my full review over at Teleport City.

Shout-outs from Sangthong central

I'm long overdue in linking to this wonderful, highly informative post over at Rikker's blog Thai 101. It's the first part of a roundup of all of the classic Thai movies that are currently available on DVD, complete with basic production info, manufacturer name and release dates, and, perhaps most importantly, indications of which DVDs are subtitled in English. (Hopefully a second installment is soon to follow. Rikker?)

My impetus for shaking off my torpor and finally getting to it is the very generous effort Rikker put into translating the Thai Wikipedia entry regarding Sangthong Sisai. As you might recall, Sangthong was the toothless Thai character actor who was the subject of a desperate, tear-stained (well, if a blog post could be tear-stained) plea for information that I posted last week. You can read the entire translation in the comments section below this post, but some highlights include the information that the 1970 film Tone was Sangthong's film debut, and was the vehicle that launched him into stardom. He would go on to appear in many films after that and also have a successful career as a recording artist. His real name was Piak Sihera, and later on he would do hard time for attempted murder. (Believe me, that is not a face I would want to see with murderous intent behind it!)

Thanks again, Rikker. With this information in hand, I'm happy to say that 4DK is that much closer to being the full-fledged Sangthong Sisai fan site that it is destined to become.
Mood: Awesome!

Hammer gone postal

This is a little outside my usual orbit, but, say, how cool is this series of Hammer horror stamps just issued by the British postal service? Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the release of the first Christopher Lee Dracula film, the set includes the original poster artwork for that film, The Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy. Also included are some posters from the Carry On films, which are also celebrating their 50th birthday. Judging from my intentionally limited exposure to British titty humor, I imagine I'd rather gnaw my own eyes out than watch any of those particular films, but some of the posters look kind of cool anyway.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

From the Lucha Diaries Vaults: Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra (Mexico, 1971)

Man, last week I must have set some kind of record for posts; there were like a million of them -- exactly a million, I think, if I calculate with both my fingers and toes. This week, though, not so much. That is because I'm currently immersing myself in the career of Filipino king of comedy Dolphy in preparation for my Teleport City review of James Batman. And that's where my recently inaugurated feature "From the Lucha Diaries Vaults" comes in. That's the feature that simply involves me lazily reposting old capsule reviews of Mexican wrestling movies from my site The Lucha Diaries. (Hey, they're new to you, right?) This week's review covers Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra, probably the worst Santo film ever made. And if you like this stuff, why not just spend your entire day browsing through the dozens upon dozens of similar reviews I have up over at the Diaries. It's not as if you have anything better do, right?

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It's impossible to discuss Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra without first discussing Santo Frente a la Muerte, and, because of that, I think that a little disclosure is in order: I have a very unhealthy relationship with Santo Frente a la Muerte. It's a truly awful movie; eighty to ninety percent of Santo's scenes in it are shot with a laughably unconvincing double, it's musical score is inappropriate to the point of approaching ironic commentary, and it's obviously on-the-fly location shooting is continuously marred by passers-by gawping both at the actors and into the camera. But it's just so brazen and unapologetic in its crappiness that, I have to admit, I secretly thrill to it.

Perhaps this is because I see something in Santo Frente a la Muerte that I lack: a brash and heedless strain of self acceptance that says, "Yes, I'm crappy, but who's the idiot watching me? Oh, sorry, that would be YOU, wouldn't it?". And, lord, Santo Frente a la Muerte is crappy. So crappy, in fact, that it's hard to believe it could be any crappier than it already is. And it couldn't be, apparently. Because when they were through making Santo Frente a la Muerte, there was some crappiness left over. And they took that crappiness, stitched it together, added a bunch of new crap to it (and a lot of old, as well), and created its sister film, Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra. So, now that I've unburdened myself to you, I don't mind telling you that, while I approached Misterio de la Perla Negra with an outward display of trepidation, deep inside I wanted it to hurt me. Really bad.

Most of the cast from Frente a la Muerte returns for this one, including Santo's unconvincing double - who, for easy identification, is also wearing an unconvincing double of Santo's mask, which looks like it's made from a pair of off-white pantyhose with silver lacing up the back. One new addition to the cast is Maria Eugenia San Martin, playing a lady who makes her living dancing badly at nightclubs. This provides an opportunity for padding in the form of two lengthy examples of her act. For the first, a lavish musical production number from some film from the 1950's, complete with shots of an appreciative 1950s audience, is inserted in its entirety into La Perla Negra with clumsily added close-ups of San Martin to tell us we're supposed to think she's actually participating in the number. For the second one - and this is more what we're used to - San Martin dances solo to tinny canned music in a dank and tiny third rate basement supper club. Santo (the real one) watches her appreciatively, and we're helpfully provided with a close-up POV shot of San Martin's chest, just to make the whole scene that much more classy.

Much of La Perla Negra is made up of this kind of padding, and most of it is footage taken from other films. To add to the overall incoherence, that footage is often inserted without any rhyme or reason, as is the case with a lengthy free-for-all wrestling match between a bunch of masked female wrestlers that just pops up during the first twenty minutes and has nothing to do with the story. Simply put, if I were to randomly edit together parts of every dollar dvd I bought at Walgreens over the last year - including the cartoons and silent films -and mixed it up with some grainy vacation videos, I would end up with something with more narrative drive than - and actually quite similar to - Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra.

More simply put, Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra is furiously and irredeemably awful. Oh, the chills! In fact, people, I think it's time to break out the bubbly. I've watched all but a very small number of Santo's films at this point and I think that I can say with near certainty that this is the absolute worst. That's right, I said it.

Some people consider Samson vs. the Vampire Women to be a classic "so bad it's good" film, and they just don't get it. Because Samson aka Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro is an attractively shot and well paced film made by experienced craftsmen who cared about creating a quality product, who felt a responsibility to their audience to be entertaining, regardless of how silly the plot and characters in their film might be. Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra, on the other hand, was made by people who, while they might have had the know-how to make a better film, really didn't care to, and really didn't care if their audience knew it. You get the sense that these guys would have been happy to splice in anything that would run through a projector, celluloid or no, just to fill out the required running time, be it calcified strips of bacon or film strips made from woven human hair.

And, again, I admit it: I admire them for it. So, hats off to you, you brazen hacks, wherever you may be. Yours is truly a singular accomplishment.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I love you... me neither

Reviewing the 1969 French film Slogan -- a movie without which the French pop power couple of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin might never have existed -- seemed like a great change of pace after most of what I've been covering for Teleport City lately. But was my verbal facility up to the task of describing a film whose climax involved no blowing up of any gigantic underground compounds... or whose cast included no masked luchadores? Read my full review and find out.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Yaayyy!

Tao, an in-the-know reader of Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal, has answered the call put out on Tuesday and identified the Thai character actor pictured above (the one who so captivated me with his performances in Tone and Jong-arng Payong). His stage name is Sang Tong SeeSai, a Thai phrase which translates into English as "ugly as sin". Tao was also kind enough to provide a link to this YouTube clip featuring a video montage of Sang Tong's musical moments from Tone:


Also? It's Friday. Yaayyy!

Thai Wikipedia entry re Sang Tong SeeSai

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Red Eagle redux

Back in December, I wrote a review for my site The Lucha Diaries of the 1970 Thai film Insee Thong, the last of a series of films starring Thai superstar Mitr Chaibancha as the masked hero The Red Eagle. An updated version of that review has just been posted over at Teleport City which includes a couple bits of new information I gleaned from the kind and knowledgeable commentors over at Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal, mainly in the form of corrected film titles and dates. I also took the opportunity to add a few more screen caps. This was a really fun piece for me to write on what -- to me, at least -- is a really fascinating subject, so I hope y'all will take the time to check it out if you haven't already.

Feroz Khan es muy macho

June is shaping up to be something of a Feroz Khan-a-thon, what with my recent review of Khotte Sikkay, Nagin and Geeta Mera Naam in the viewing pile, and a review of Kaala Sona forthcoming. And now my review of 1980's Qurbani, probably the ultimate Feroz Khan film, has just been posted over at Teleport City. Produced, directed by and starring Khan, Qurbani is a classic of Bollywood action cinema, one that delivers all of the overheated thrills, brazen ascot wearing, and OTT to the point of parody machismo that so many others have promised yet somehow failed to come through with. Plus it has an amazing cast, including Vinod Khanna, Amjad Khan, Amrish Puri and Zeenat Aman in a wet sari. In fact, don't even bother to read my full review: just go rent the movie, already!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Bat Girls, Blue Falcons and Black Roses

Yesterday I posted images of some lobby cards from my pal David Wells' collection for the super boss looking Josephine Siao film Blue Falcon. Now David -- who is also the webmaster of the Connie Chan appreciation site Movie-Fan Princess -- informs me that he will be sharing further treasures from his vaults via his brand new blog Soft Film (in fact, he's already got some images up of flyers and a soundtrack EP from another crazy-looking Siao vehicle, Lady Killer aka Bat Girl.) These will include posters, lobby cards, leaflets, handbills and other ephemera documenting the vibrant pop cinema of 1960s Hong Kong. There will definitely be some revelations here for those whose awareness of HK film from this period doesn't go beyond the output of Shaw Brothers or Cathay.

Though it means that my lazy ass is losing a source of non-labor intensive content for my own blog, I'm excited about this development, because I'm dying to see all of the insane stuff he's had locked away.

http://softfilm.blogspot.com/

Listening to: The Long Blondes, "Couples"

The crowd for the Long Blondes show at the Great American Music Hall this past Monday was decent sized, but far from the packed-to-the-rafters house I expected. How could this be, I ask, when they are such an obviously genius band? Perhaps it's because some critics, after a cursory listen (yes, Pitchfork, I'm looking at you), have dismissed their sophomore album Couples as a failed attempt at reinvention. But the fact is, despite a couple of forays into dark disco territory (which suit them quite well, actually), the material on Couples exhibits all of the wounded, fiercely literate wit, knife's edge songwriting, punkish drive and dissolute glamour of their debut. Indeed, both the title track and the single "Here Comes The Serious Bit" rank among their best. Live the band was no disappointment, either, though I got the sense that singer Kate Jackson and guitarist Dorian Cox generally have to work extra hard to compensate for the black hole-like anti-charisma of the rest of the band. Still, Jackson was in excellent voice, proving that the power and range you hear on the albums are no studio creation, and the band as a whole sounded fantastic. If you haven't already, by all means check them out.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Have you seen me?





I'm the toothless, disconcertingly skeletal guy who appears in the 1970s Thai movies Tone and Jong-arng Payong. Though I bring joy to my fellows with my jaunty singing, my identity remains a mystery to those farang who blog about vintage Thai cinema. Even Wise Kwai doesn't know who I am. Todd would greatly appreciate hearing from anyone who knows my name... and exactly what my whole deal is. Of course, doing so won't win you any prizes -- because, honestly, has the world really gotten to the point where someone deserves a prize just for knowing who some toothless guy from an old Thai movie is? Please!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Pictures from awesome looking movies that you will probably never be able to see: Blue Falcon

David Wells over at Movie-Fan Princess occasionally likes to torture me with tantalizing glimpses of incredible looking old Hong Kong movies that have long been lost to history. This time I decided to share the pain. Below are scans of lobby card images from David's personal collection from the 1968 Cantonese film Blue Falcon, one of the wave of "Jane Bond" films that swept HK during the mid sixties, in this case starring Josephine Siao. All I can say is: Waaaah!

(Click images to enlarge)






Ganga Ki Saugand (India, 1978)

Ganga Ki Saugand is another one of those movies that I was going to watch eventually no matter what. It's an Amitabh Bachchan action thriller from his peak year of 1978 that not only pairs him with his greatest onscreen foe, Amjad Khan, but also with one of his greatest leading ladies, Rekha, and also features a score by the fantastic Kalyanji Anandji (Don, Qurbani, Bombay 405 Miles, etc.). And it's got Pran in it. That it still manages to be pretty mediocre just goes to show that there was no surefire formula when it came to these movies, though one suggestion might have been to not poop them out with such alarming frequency (this is just one of at least nineteen movies that the Big B appeared in between 1977 and 1979) and instead focus more on things like maintaining consistent narrative momentum and making sure that those things that are interesting about your film get more play than those things that aren't. Just a thought.

Things do pick up a lot during the last hour when Amitabh finally makes the transformation from village simpleton with a funny haircut to badass dacoit with a manly 'stache. It must also be said that Amjad Khan, for all his many dastardly turns, comes off as a particularly nasty little shit here, playing a thakur who banishes his own mom when she threatens to come between him and his apparent plan to rape every innocent young girl on his estate. Pran also has a nice role as a noble untouchable with a proverb for every occasion. My favorite line of his -- and I liberally paraphrase -- is when he tells a corrupt priest that bathing in the Ganges won't make him any purer because, after all, the fish that swim in it everyday don't stink any less.

Because it lacks the urban setting that would occasion some of their funkier freak-outs, K-A's score is relatively subdued, though still features some nice tunes. My favorite among these is a choice example of the "Prophetic Item Number", which is picturized in classic style. Khan's Jaswant Singh is simply too arrogant and filled with self regard to realize that the nautch girl is singing about what a douche he is and the terrible fate that awaits him, but Jeevan, playing one of his minions, keeps making these "Oh no, she di'n't" faces.

Ganga Ki Saugand ends with an Amitabh vs. The Airplane scene that presages the finale of Toofan, though it is in no way as wicked awesome (Amitabh refrains from going airborne). Still it does lead to a great/awful miniature shot in which a toy plane putatively containing Amjad Khan crashes into the Ganges. This conclusion underlines one of the picture's main themes: the Ganges as ultimate equalizer, making a mockery of man's systems of caste and class with it's unbiased giving and taking of life. I didn't hate Ganga Ki Saugand, and, if I hadn't come to it hoping for something brisk and funky along the lines of Be-Sharam, I might have enjoyed it more. Still it wasn't a star-on-the-calendar moment in terms of my ongoing relationship with Amitabh. Maybe next time.

From the Lucha Diaries vaults: Un Rosa Sobre el Ring (Mexico, 1973)

Welcome to a new feature of 4DK in which I repost some of my favorite reviews from my site The Lucha Diaries -- which in most cases are those that make me look the most like a clueless idiot. If this strikes you as just a lazy way for me to generate new content on this blog without having to actually write anything new, you would be right on the money. But, if it's new to you, what the hell are you complaining about? Anyway, if you enjoy this type of thing, be sure to check out the site, because there are dozens more similarly cloudy-minded and stubbornly uninformative reviews of Mexican wrestler movies to be found there.

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Una Rosa Sobre el Ring is a straight up melodrama, a soap opera set in the world of lucha libre. Mil Mascaras appears in it, but it's really no more than a cameo, and he doesn't venture outside of his professional wrestling role to right any wrongs, heal the sick, or hurl any vampire midgets into other vampire midgets. In short, I have absolutely no business writing about this movie. Sure, I did watch it, but I've also watched open heart surgery on the Discovery Channel, and I don't feel like that makes me any more qualified to comment on the quality of its execution.

The problem is that the dvd of Una Rosa Sobre el Ring, like about half of those that I've watched in connection with compiling these diaries, has no English subtitles, so I had no idea what was being said, and wasn't entirely clear on all of the relationships between the characters. If the cast of characters had included a mad scientist, or a mini-skirted femalien, or a werewolf, or a diabolical criminal mastermind, or an evil, disembodied brain, it would have been a different story, because those, for me, are part of a universal language. If you at least give me a mad scientist and a burly guy in a wrestling mask, I can pretty much put all the rest of the pieces in place. But the trials and tribulations of everyday life? The vagaries of the human heart? Come on! I'm a guy! I need you to spell that shit out for me! Don't make me guess at it, otherwise I'm just going to get it wrong and piss you off.

Anyway, the little that I can with certainty tell you about Una Rosa Sobre el Ring is that it stars Crox Alvarado as an aging luchadore haunted by the death of an opponent in the ring. But, hold up; now that I've said that, I realize that I can't really say with certainty that his role was that of an "aging luchadore". It may have just been age inappropriate casting, with his obviously very advanced years not intended to be a focus of the story. In any case, I definitely can say that a remarkable effect is achieved at the film's conclusion when Alvarado dons his mask and enters the ring against Mil Mascaras. His formerly pendulous man-maries are suddenly rock hard, and he seems to gain a few inches in stature. It's almost as if it's an entirely different person in the role.

Una Rosa Sobre el Ring also features a lady who becomes a nun, an impoverished orphan who gets slapped upside the head a lot by a mean guy who takes his panhandling money, and a guy in a suit who is repeatedly shown punching a buff guy with a club foot in the face and knocking him out, which I think is meant to be comical. I could further pad this review by mentioning that its an Agrasanchez production and then go on to enumerate all of the technical failings that go hand in hand with that - but I just got finished jumping all over Agrasanchez in my review of El Hijo de Alma Grande and I'm exhausted from the effort.

Well, almost exhausted. The sound looping in this film is really atrocious, giving us a 10 year old newsboy who has the voice of a 35 year old man, a crowd of people who visibly applaud yet emit no sound, and physical blows that sound full seconds after they're landed. As far as the onscreen production values go, the fact that the film focuses a lot on people who are desperately poor works well within the typical Agrasanchez film's budgetary restrictions. They're not so good at realizing a super villain's high tech lair, but a squalid hovel they can do.

As far as the story goes, as I said, I really can't say. But there's a lot of exaggerated gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair going on that suggests to me that, were its dialog understandable, Una Rosa Sobre el Ring might just be a lot of fun to watch. Not fun enough to prompt me to invest in those much needed Spanish lessons, mind you, but fun nonetheless.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tone (Thailand, 1970)



Tone is the Thai equivalent of a 1960s youth rebellion movie, which is to say that there's no youth rebellion in it at all: Just good kids being good, dancing sedately, trying to get into good schools, drinking punch, bowling, and settling their romantic differences in the most clear-headed and amicable way possible -- even if they do so while wearing some seriously funky period clothes and listening to that crazy longhair music. Fortunately, there are also some vicious underworld characters on hand so that we can still have the traditional Thai movie finale in which the Thai police show up en masse to shoot the hell out of some people.





The immediate attraction of Tone is that it features The Impossibles, a band that was phenomenally popular in Thailand throughout the seventies, and who still draw huge crowds for their reunion concerts today. In keeping with Tone's lightweight, um, tone, The Impossibles (and, yes, their name apparently was taken from the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon) were seen as the safe alternative to the protest music that the actual rebellious youth of Thailand were listening to at the time, and, as such, here perform original songs that celebrate the innocent joys of things such as school vacations and rail travel. The band was also the first Thai band to record English language versions of Western pop hits, and here they perform The Beatles "Birthday", Crazy Elephant's bubblegum chestnut "Gimme, Gimme Good Lovin'" and "Time is Tight", among others. Though they would soon adopt a sound heavily influenced by American funk -- even doing covers of early Kool and the Gang songs on later albums -- they here demonstrate a garage-born, harmony-inflected sunshine pop sound.





The film follows the journey of Tone, an orphaned young country boy whose dream of attending university in Bangkok is hampered by the fact that he has no family or friends to sponsor him in the big city. His fortunes change, however, when he rescues Aod, a visiting college kid from the city, from a gang of local thugs. Aod, who is also an orphan, invites Tone to come live with him in Bangkok in the home he shares with his brother and sister. Unfortunately, while in Tone's village Aod has also met and become smitten with the beautiful Kularb, a childhood friend of Tone's to whom he has recently confessed deeper feelings. Ultimately Tone, Aod and Kularb all end up in the city, making for a low-key love triangle that the filmmakers provide an easy exit strategy from in the form of Aod's also beautiful sister Dang, who quickly falls for Tone. Somewhere in all this the kids get on the wrong side of a nasty pimp with ties to the thugs in Tone's home town who has evil designs on Kularb and Dang. This situation leads to the aforementioned guns-blazing denouement, one that is somewhat at odds with much of the wholesome shenanigans that have preceded it.





Tone started out quite slow, but as it went on I found myself becoming completely charmed by it. Once the action moves to the city and starts to focus on the with-it, Nehru jacket wearing ways of its young protagonists, it creates a winsome, candy colored and completely unreal bubblegum psychedelic world in which the stubborn decency of those protagonists actually makes a strange kind of sense. (Note that these kids have posters of Petula Clark, rather than Hendrix or Jim Morrison, on their bedroom walls.) Given this, the film is also quite the visual treat for fans of kitschy late sixties fashion and decor -- and, with its combination of musical numbers and wholesome antics, would be an especially smooth entryway into classic Thai cinema for fans of Bollywood's more carefree confections from the period. Recommended.