Thursday, October 11, 2018

Shoktir Lorai, aka Banglar Robocop (Bangladesh, 19??)


If you enjoyed the “Sweded” version of Robocop presented in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind, you should get an equal kick out of Shoktir Lorai, a Bengali film that is popularly known as “Banglar Robocop.” It could be said that the whole process of Sweding was invented in the B, C, and Z movie industries of countries like Turkey and India, where a budget of a few hundred dollars was never seen as an impediment to remaking a Hollywood blockbuster that cost many tens of millions to produce.

Shoktir Lorai is a perfect example of this bold practice. Throughout its running time, there is never a moment when you are not reminded of how cheap it is. The Robocop costume appears to consist of a few metal plates hung loosely over a black body stocking and barely bridges the uncanny valley between Robocop and the Tin Woodsman. The sets are often comprised of as little as a few props scattered on a barren stage. Musical cues are often just needle drops on someone’s well-worn copy of John Williams’ Superman, The Motion Picture soundtrack.

 
Even the story is stripped down, completely eschewing both the satirical subtext and arch religious symbolism of Paul Verhoven’s original in favor of a basic “villain seeks to steal secret formula and is thwarted by righteous hero” plot. In short, if you are not overly concerned with the faithfulness of the adaptation, but can really appreciate thrift and a knack for cost-cutting, this may be the film for you. It’s conceivable that Shoktir Lorai’s budget was just a couple of coupons.

The film begins with young scientist Dr. Johan (Danny Sidak) and his mentor Dr. Mola working in a laboratory suggested by the presence of a couple of tables and some fishbowl sized decanters containing what looks like carbonated Jello. What they have just invented, according to the computer screen they are staring at throughout the process, is “Brain Wash.” My surmise is that this is a product that comes in handy when your brain has that “not so fresh" feeling.


A dapper, Ajit-like master criminal named Sharif Mohammed has other ideas about the formula, however, deeming it worthy of being acquired at all costs. Before this can happen, though, we must consume a sequence of Johan, his wife (Banglar King Kong star Munmun) and daughter Rita, who could conceivably be played by a miniature 35 year-old woman, frolicking on the beach in an idealized representation of family harmony that is just begging to be disrupted by the incursion of evil. This, of course, happens in short order, when a gang of hooligans show up to beat up Johan and harass his wife.

The family is saved by the intervention of handsome young police officer Inspector Suhil, who, despite being a cop and appearing throughout the rest of the film, is not destined to become Robocop. Another thing about Suhil that has little bearing on the rest of the film is that his girlfriend is Dr. Mola’s youngest daughter, who is introduced for the purpose of becoming a captive during the film’s final act. Other than that, this brief beach adventure serves to establish the fact that Johan is kind of a lightweight and set us to speculating about how neat it would be if he were given robot powers.


The first attempt by Sharif Mohammed’s goons to steal the Brain Wash formula results in an anonymous old man being murdered on the street. Johan witnesses this, and is subsequently forced to drive the thugs back to the vicinity of their hideout, whereupon he is released. Sharif Mohammed is as baffled by this turn of events as you are, and demands that Johan be killed.

An attempt on Johan’s life outside his family home results in little Rita taking a bullet. In her death throes, she executes a bizarre, slow-motion pirouette that Sofia Coppola would have done well to take a cue from. Her sacrifice is for nothing, though, as Johan is also killed. This leads to Johan ending up on the table in Dr. Mola’s lab, where Dr. Mola, for reasons lost to translation, sees fit to turn him into a cyborg with advanced killing power. This process appears to have involved Johan being given the Brain Wash, as, when it is done, an opening in Johan’s robot mask allows us to see his eyes staring out at us like those of a frightened deer (in this way, Johan is like a robot version of the wolf in the Caperucita Rojas movies.)


And it is at this time that Shoktir Lorai becomes the movie that we have wanted it to be for the last forty-five minutes. After Johan has a flashback to Rita’s death--followed by a Darth Vader “NOOOOOOO” moment--he sets out to get bloody, robotically enhanced revenge against her killers with his also pretty pissed off wife at his side to cheer him on. Finally Sharif Mohammed decides to fight fire with fire. He kidnaps Mola’s daughter and forces him to perform the cyborg process on his imposing female minion Julie, whom he summarily shoots and kills to get thing under way. This leads to an absurdly protracted climactic fight sequence in which Johan and Julie repeatedly throw each other into and smash various barriers, walls and other impediments to human-assisted flight as they make lots of loud grunting and gasping noises. I don’t want to spoil things, but one of them ends up getting thrown into an active volcano.


I have been aware of these Bengali knock-off movies—Banglar King Kong, Banglar Hulk¸ etc.—for some time, but, to be honest, Shoktir Lorai is the first one of them I’ve seen. My impressions are that it’s scrappy, rough-hewn nature reminds me a lot of exploitation films from India’s Telugu language cinema and, even more so, Pakistan’s Pashto region, with the fact that it is an attempt to recreate a big budget Hollywood film being the icing on the cake. The degree to which it falls short of that goal lends it a subversive quality that, while probably not intentional, is extremely funny nonetheless. I’d like to think that the people who made Shoktir Lorai are okay with people laughing at (or with) it, because, from where I stand, Danny Sidak in his scrap heap Robocop costume is every bit as funny as Jack Black in his.

Friday, September 28, 2018

It's the FRIDAY'S BEST POP SONG EVER Podcast #11: Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son


The latest episode of the Friday's Best Pop Song Ever podcast could be seen as a fairy tale of sorts, casting teen ye-ye girl France Gall as Little Red Riding Hood and walking hangover Serge Gainsbourg as the Big Bad Wolf--only, in this version, the wolf writes several hit songs for Little Red before metaphorically eating her grandmother.

Please note that the podcast is now on Stitcher, which means that you can rate, comment on, and subscribe to it, all of which I hope you do in rapid succession.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Start the day right with POP OFFENSIVE!


That's right, tonight sees the airing of a brand new episode of Pop Offensive on KGPC (live streaming at 7pm Pacific from kgpc969.org).  But that's not the only news that's fit to print in Pop Offensive land.

For starters, there's the fact that, for the next few months, KGPC is going to be streaming episodes of Pop Offensive at 9am every weekday morning. That means that you can have power pop with your Sugar Pops, drum loops with your fruit loops, ABBA with your avocado toast and... well, it was a good conceit when it started. Anyway, yay! Amirite?

The other news is that October's episode of Pop Offensive will be it's 50th (!!!!), a landmark that I will be celebrating with a deluxe three hour episode stuffed full of music, guests and shenanigans. To accommodate it's girth, this episode will air at a special date and time: Tuesday, October 30th at 6pm. Please mark it on your calendar, because I might get too busy to remind you.

And if you want to hear more about either of these items, just tune into tonight's show , because I'll probably be talking about them.

Monday, September 10, 2018

You can't burn an eBook


The eBook version of my new novel, So Bad It's Good, has just been made available on Amazon/Kindle. This means that it is that much closer to being downloaded directly into your brain, making it, once all of the books are burned, your solemn obligation to travel from household to household, disseminating its contents. This means that you will one day be responsible for creating a new society based entirely on So Bad It's Good, making life like one of those Star Trek episodes where they didn't feel like spending money on futuristic costumes.

But, for now, I'd just like to mention that the eBook is priced at a very reasonable $4.99 and you can download it here.

Monday, September 3, 2018

American Hunter (Indonesia, 1989)


If there were ever an action movie hall of fame, I imagine that there would be a hall dedicated to the humble microfilm, that tiny macguffin that has served as the catalyst for countless car chases, fist fights, acrobatic heists, and scenes of prolonged torture throughout film history. So long is its shadow that nothing in our current technological age has come close to replacing it. The flash drive was a brief contender, but lost its sexiness once people started making them in the shape of teddy bears.

Take, for example, the first scene of American Hunter, in which the mere mention of a microfilm causes a man to pilot a jeep through a top floor window of a high rise office building. From there begins a squalid free-for-all in which various competing interests try to get their hands on the film by any means necessary. Among theses are Adam, played by kick boxer Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, who is later revealed to be a criminal mastermind by the name of Judas, an identity shift that is accomplished simply be people calling him Judas instead of Adam. Then there is mustachioed muscle farmer Frank Gordon, played by Mike Abbott and, finally, "Mr. Selleck" played by The Stabilizer star Peter O'Brian.


If a star with as thin a filmography as O'Brian can be said to be cast against type, the snarling uber-yuppy he plays in American Hunter is definitely that, standing as it does in sharp contrast to the stonily inexpressive engines of justice he plays in other of Rapi Films' Indonesian actioners like The Stabilizer and Rambu, the Intruder. Any cognitive dissonance you might suffer as a result will be shortlived, however, as Selleck is among the first of the baddies to be gorily dispatched by one of his competitors.

In fact, so chaotic is the activity that erupts around the microfilm that no one ever manages to give us a satisfying explanation of what is on it, other than a reference, in one scene, to it's contents allowing its owner to "rob and blow up Wall Street." This is something I am wholeheartedly in favor of, because, honestly, who gives a shit? As long as we are a supplied with an endless parade of over-the-top-action sequences, that microfilm could contain a recipe for kombucha or a collection of "babies scared by their own farts" videos for all we care.


And given this film is well served by the "all machine gun fire all the time" aesthetic of Stabilizer and Special Silencers auteur Arizal, an endless parade of over-the-top action sequences is exactly what we get. This despite the fact that most of the car chases--which, I'm assuming, were filmed without permits on the busy streets of Jakarta--are markedly sedate, as if the participants were driving their parents' cars. Of course, this lethargy does not prevent these chases from ending in cars going airborne and erupting in flames. It should also be noted that a lot of the machinegun fire on display is used toward practical household ends, such as opening drawers and cabinets.

And what vaguely defined hero stands at the center of all this mayhem, you may ask? Well that would be Jake Carver, a principled everyman played by the perpetually acid-wash clad Chris Mitchum, who starred in many of these low budget Asian-backed action films during the 80s. Mitchum is, of course, one of the actor sons of noir icon Robert Mitchum, and he bares a striking resemblance to his dad--with one crucial difference: While Mitchum senior's laconic exterior tended to belie a smoldering inner intensity, Mitchum the younger's laconic exterior doesn't appear to belie much of anything beyond an equally laconic interior. Yet, despite this muted charisma, Mitchum has a good natured vibe that makes him nonetheless appealing. This everyday Joe quality is underscored by the dad-joke quality bon mots he spouts whenever faced with danger, such as when, faced with two goons fitting live electrodes to his temples, he says "I don't think I'm gonna like this." Such a gambit would probably confound any central casting supervillain, whose only reply could be, "No, Mr. Carver, I expect you to... well, yes, you're not going to like it, are you?"


Among film enthusiasts, American Hunter--like other of its brethren in the Indo-action genre, such as The Stabilizer and Lady Terminator--is the kind of film that really separates the scholars from the pleasure seekers. By this I mean that it is totally meaningless, yet yields great rewards to anyone who comes to it unburdened by demands for coherence, thematic content, or character motivation. As a director, Arizal trades a lot in the lizard brain pleasures of seeing motor vehicles where motor vehicles are manifestly not meant to be, such as when a motorcycle hops onto a train car and continues down the center aisle as passengers frantically scramble out of the way. There's also a lot of joy to be mined from the exuberant back flips executed by the somewhat slouchy Chris Mitchum's stunt double, as well as the actually competent brawling of heavies Wallace and Abbott.

Would it be a spoiler to say that, at the end of American Hunter, Chris Mitchum's Jake Carver rescues his love interest, played by Netherlands-born Indonesian starlet Ida Lasha, from the villain's fortress, which is then consumed by a spectacular explosion? It would? Okay, well let's just say that this film will leave you satisfied, though perhaps with the type of vaguely undernourished feeling that might lead you to binge watch BBC historical melodramas in its wake.

Friday, August 24, 2018

It's the FRIDAY'S BEST POP SONG EVER Podcast Episode #10: Fox on the Run


The latest episode of the FRIDAY'S BEST POP SONG EVER podcast is live.
Anybody who knows me won't be surprised that I finally got around to Sweet, one of my favorite bands,. In this case I cover "Fox on the Run", a quintessential nugget of 70's AM gold that also marked the beginning of a career second act for the band.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Featured Review: 3 Supermen vs. Mad Girl, aka Cilgin Kiz ve uc Super Adam (Turkey, 1973)

Originally published 8/10/2014

If you’re like me, you’re first thought, upon being confronted with 3 Supermen vs. Mad Girl, is going to be, “Just what exactly is this girl so mad about?” And if you’re answer is “the unchecked proliferation of 3 Supermen movies throughout the 60s and 70s”, you could be forgiven for thinking so. Of course, blame for the near viral accretion of unwarranted 3 Supermen sequels, remakes and knockoffs over the years can be laid at the feet of various combinations of the Italians and the Turks, with 3 Supermen vs. Mad Girl being one of the entries that is apparently purely Turkish in extraction. As is so often the case, the Turks bring to the franchise that certain, ineffable magic that only they can.

Simply put, if you’re a fan of Z grade comic book movies, the first five minutes of 3 Supermen vs. Mad Girl will make your head explode. It is here, against the backdrop of sets made to the cardboard and construction paper standard now so familiar to Turkish pulp cinema enthusiasts, that we meet the titular Mad Girl (3 Dev Adam’s Mine Sun) and her army of minions in emerald green Klansmen’s robes. She is a vision in bloated bouffant wig, chunky cats eye domino mask, and Vampirella one piece. But, despite her prominent billing, she is just another subordinate, in turn taking orders from a guy whom she calls “Seytan” who sits on a throne and wears what looks like a drugstore Halloween devil mask. Without subtitles, and within the context of a movie like 3 Supermen vs. Mad Girl, it is, I hope, understandably impossible for me to say whether this is supposed to actually be Satan or just a guy in a mask. In any case, it is also in this scene that Seytan and Mad Girl introduce us to their secret weapon, a cardboard box robot with a very phallic disintegrator gun.



Again, without subtitles, it is difficult for me to determine exactly what the above described freak show actually wants. There is a briefcase that switches hands a couple times and appears to be highly coveted, yet what is in it is unclear. A mad scientist named Dr. Zarkon is called in and the robot is employed to disintegrate a train, but again to mysterious ends. Indeed, watching a Turkish action film like 3 Supermen vs. Mad Girl without subtitles provides just about the best testament I know to just how superfluous the device of the “McGuffin” can be in such films, as it is here little more than a polite nod in the direction of narrative traditions and concerns of credible cause and effect that most people coming to 3 Supermen vs. Mad Girl voluntarily -- self included -- very likely don’t give a shit about. All that matters, really, is that it is this briefcase, that robot and the schemes of that mad scientist that set in motion all of the fighting, leaping, chasing and narrow escaping that will make up the meat, potatoes and creamy dessert of 3 Supermen vs. Mad Girl's remaining 60 minutes.

But before we can have all of that, we must have our heroes, the first of whom is played by Levant Çakir, not only the star of the Zagor movies, but also 1970s Turkey’s answer to Batman. With his scrawny body and big head, Çakir is exactly the person you want to see in a form fitting pair of superhero long johns. Here he is introduced in glorious buffalo shot, swim trunked and surrounded by beach babes as Tom Jones’s vocal theme from Thunderball plays on the soundtrack -- the single most audacious act of musical thievery I have yet witnessed in Turkish cinema (which is saying a lot). Çakir’s reverie is not to last, however, as his call to action soon comes in a Mission Impossible style cassette recording bearing his instructions. Soon after, he meets up with his fellow Supermen, one of whom, in unfortunate emulation of the series’ Italian iteration, is a babbling, deaf and dumb simpleton. It is here that the red super suits come into play, those garments that render these normally abled secret agents both bullet proof and able to perform feats that suggest the positioning of a trampoline just off screen.



From this point, the film’s action proceeds apace, with “apace”, in Turkish action cinema terms, meaning that everyone on screen proceeds as if their hair were permanently on fire. A love interest for Çakir is introduced, in the agreeable person of his Bedmen Yarasa Adam costar Emel Özden, and no time is wasted in having her trussed up suggestively in the villains’ lair, awaiting rescue. As in Bedmen, the various acrobatics -- backflips, somersaults, cartwheels, etc. -- that the Supermen perform in the course of the many, many fistfights that follow appear more cosmetic than to have any strategic value, and require a lot of patience on the part of their green hooded opponents, who must wait for them to complete these antics before being punched by them. Also, since this is the 70s, there’s some nudity.

I long ago predicted that I would eventually run out of things to say about these old Turkish pop movies, and it is likely that I have said very little new in discussing 3 Supermen vs. Mad Girl. Yet I now realize that it is sometimes just good to be reminded that these movies exist and of the wonders they contain. After dutifully slogging through the worthy event movies of this past Oscar season to scant reward, I found welcome respite in this film’s swirl of color, movement and violence, virtually unmoored as they were from traditional narrative justifications or meaningful subtext. Yes, that robot’s disintegrator gun looks like a dick, but, beyond that, sometimes a cardboard box robot is just a cardboard box robot. And sometimes that’s all you need.

Friday's best pop song ever

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Pop Offensive is TONIGHT!


Yes, that's right; just when you thought your legs had stopped jitterbugging uncontrollably from my last episode, here I am to start you frugging anew with another collection of catchy and danceable tunes from around the world and throughout pop music history. It all starts at 7pm tonight, Wednesday August 15, streaming live from kgpc969.org. BE THERE!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

It's all on video.

I am well aware that I am a slouchy, soft spoken monster, a point that is mercilessly driven home whenever I have to watch a video like the one below, which chronicles my book event at Oakland's Great Good Place for Books last Friday evening. However, once your revulsion at my misshapen form subsides, you might actually glean some useful information about my new book, So Good It's Bad; for instance, that it is full of "rape, incest, torture and murder", a point that is brought up several times, and that it is in no way appropriate for your precious little bundle of joy, as it might stunt him or her and prevent them from growing up to be the unique and very special person they are destined to be.

All moribund humor aside, I owe a debt of thanks for what was truly a wonderful event to Midlife Mixtape's  Nancy Davis Kho, as fine an interlocutor as one could ask for, and to Kathleen Caldwell at A Great Good Space for welcoming us into her fine establishment--all of which is evident in the video.

Enjoy it, won't you? And if it makes you curious enough about either of my novels to actually read them, just click the cover images in the sidebar to buy the hell out of them.