Monday, December 28, 2009

Darna! Ang Pagbabalik (Philippines, 1994)

When we last checked in on Darna, Vilma Santos, the most beloved actress to play the Filipina superheroine, was bidding farewell to the role with her appearance in 1980's Darna at Ding. After Darna at Ding, Darna would take a somewhat lengthy sabbatical from the big screen, not returning until 1991, when the series would be revived with the Nanette Medved fronted Darna. That film apparently did well enough to merit a sequel, and so, in 1994, came Darna! Ang Pagbabalik (Darna! The Return), a film that would add former Oakland Raiders cheerleader and beauty queen Anjanette Abayari to the list of actresses whose turn at playing the sparsely attired heroine would only last through one picture.

The eruption of the Philippines' Mount Pinatubo in 1991 seems to have provided the inspiration for Ang Pagbabalik's opening sequence, in which Darna alter ego Narda's tiny village is devastated by volcanic mud flows ("lahars") from a cataclysmic eruption. Compounding matters is the fact that the villagers were unprepared for the catastrophe thanks to the unspecified actions of a gang of slick racketeer types whom Darna is seen giving the business to as the credits fade. Unfortunately, Darna is unable to further protect her neighbors from the disaster, because, no sooner has she returned to her human form as Narda than she is attacked by a mysterious, green garbed figure who steals the magic stone necessary to her transformation.

Given no choice but to flee, Narda, her little brother Ding (Lester Llansang), their Grandma, and their water buffalo Blackie -- amid much sorrowful lamentation over the sad hand that fate has dealt them -- all join in the mass migration of the villagers across the arid plains toward safety. This exodus eventually leads Narda and her lot to the slums of Manila, where they find shelter with family friend Pol (Rustom Padilla). And from this point, Ang Pagbabalik plays out as much as a melodrama about the hardships faced by provincials in the big city as it does a superhero adventure.

Darna! Ang Pagbabalik is the first Darna film I've seen that features Darna's arch nemesis from her comic book incarnation, the Medusa-like Valentina. This is not to say that Valentina had not appeared in any previous Darna films, because she had. Unfortunately those films -- such as Vilma Santos's debut as Darna, Lipad, Darna, Lipad! -- all appear to be lost now, and are hence unavailable for viewing by me or anybody else. In any case, despite the presence of Pilita Corrales in the role of Valentina, it is Valentina's daughter, Valentine -- as played by veteran Filipina actress Cherie Gil -- who really takes center stage here.

It seems that Valentine, masquerading as a wealthy Televangelist named Dr. Adan (and hiding her mane of snakes under a turban which has a tendency to pulsate at inopportune moments) has come to hold the majority of the city's poor and downtrodden in an almost hypnotic grip. Preaching of a coming "day of redemption", Adan tells the faithful that Manila will be spared from the coming catastrophe in a rapture-like event, one that will see the city lifted up into the heavens and then returned to Earth once danger has passed. "Don't worry," she tells them. "Pray and wait." And so, a continuous stream of refugees from the volcano-ravaged outer provinces pours into the city, all and sundry hoping to be spared from the rapidly advancing lahars.

Little do these huddled masses know that Manila, in actuality, will provide them with no such shelter, and that, if everything goes according to Valentina and Valentine's plan, the entire population of the Philippines will be wiped out once the mud flows inevitably arrive. When even their beloved Lola (that's grandmother to you) falls under Dr. Adan's sway, it becomes imperative for Narda and Ding to locate the stolen magic stone so that Darna can get busy and get to the bottom of this massive religious scam.

Given that the Philippines is a place where life for many is hard, and whose populace, partly as a result, is not immune to excesses of religious enthusiasm, Ang Pagbabalik's none-too-subtle message -- that praying is not always the answer -- is not one to be taken lightly. Nor is its depiction of a corrupt power exploiting the faith of the common folks for its own ends. In this sense, the movie struck me as being similar to the Gamera films that Shusuke Kaneko was making in Japan at roughly the same time, in that it seems like an attempt by its director to infuse a timeworn pop cultural figure with a new, more cutting-edge relevance. And I have to say that the attempt was largely successful, adding a whole new layer of interest alongside the self conscious campiness and cheeseball spectacle carried over from earlier entries.

In an earlier review, I referred to former Darna stars Vilma Santos and Eva Montes as having a boyishness that contributed to their takes on the character having an agreeable, kid sister-like quality. Anjanette Abayari, on the other hand, is, as they used to say, built like a brick shithouse -- really and truly gifted with the kind of body that makes me weep for my lost youth. Even if Ang Pagbabalik were a much less entertaining picture than it is, the promise of Abayari's next transformation into Darna, with the marriage of her ample proportions to meager fabric that that entails, would be enough to keep most heterosexual men riveted throughout its 105 minute running time.

That said, Abayari impressively overcomes such distractions to give us a very likeable performance, imbuing her Darna with the same air of guileless approachability that we've come to expect from this people's superhero. She even manages to convey Darna's intrinsic wholesomeness, despite her appearance's potential for inspiring evil thoughts. Also present is Darna's appealing, street-level cockiness -- so key to Vilma Santo's take on the role -- which to my mind is best exemplified by an exchange in which a criminal goon tells Darna that he enjoys hurting women, to which she replies, "Hurt me. See how much you will enjoy."

All in all, Darna! Ang Pagbabalik was a pleasant surprise. Having previously seen clips of the film, I was expecting to dedicate a much larger portion of my word count to praising the majesty of Anjanette Abayari's rack. However, it turned out that the film had enough going on in it that I was engaged on levels beyond that more basic one (though on that one, too, of course). The direction and acting are generally quite good if you allow for the comedic mugging and hand-wringing OTT-ness that are part and parcel of the Darna experience. And the moments of calculated melodrama are often surprisingly effective, such as the scene in which Narda is trapped amid the crush of Dr. Anand's worshippers as her two competing love interests -- the virtuous village boy Pol and the big city policeman Max -- try to reach her from opposite edges of the crowd. (If you're familiar with the rural populism of these films, it won't be too hard for you to figure out who ends up winning out in that competition.)

Of course, all this is not to say that Ang Pagbabalik doesn't come with its fair share of cheesiness. But if you're the kind of person who can forgive pitiable flying effects and a shabby sounding synth score -- and, if you're not, I'm not entirely clear on why you're reading this blog in the first place -- there's much here worth celebrating. See how much you will enjoy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Trip to the Moon (Egypt, 1959)

I hope to one day establish that every nation on Earth at one time or another made a film whose title could roughly be translated as "A Trip to the Moon". So far, in addition to Georges Melies' famous 1902 effort, we have the Indian Trip to Moon and now this Egyptian made film from 1959. Of course, the opening credits of the film itself translate the title as "A Journey to the Moon", but, seeing as the currently available DVD bears the Trip to the Moon name -- and is a crisp-looking release with English subs that is well worth owning -- I don't want to create any unnecessary obstacles for those wanting to seek it out.

A Trip to the Moon presents few cultural hurdles for an American viewer such as myself. In fact, if you've seen films like Abbott and Costello Go to Mars or The Three Stooges in Orbit, you're half way to having seen it already. Popular star Ismail Yasin had been appearing in tailor-made screen comedies for decades by the time of making it, and A Trip to the Moon -- as those aforementioned, roughly contemporaneous American films did for their respective stars -- represents his patented comedic take on the space race, not to mention the science fiction genre as a whole. The film even includes topical references such as a shout-out by its star to Laika, Russia's first canine cosmonaut.

Here Ismail plays "Ismail", a driver for an Egyptian newspaper who longs to be a photojournalist himself. As the film opens, he is chauffeuring a news team to an observatory where the launch of a space rocket built by German scientist Mr. Sharvin (you know that he's German by the way he constantly exclaims "wunderbar!" and "fantastisch!") is about to take place. Once they arrive at the site, Ismail begins wandering around taking pictures of his own and is soon mistaken for a spy. Fleeing from security guards, he hides inside the rocket, where Sharvin is busy giving a tour to observatory representative Mr. Roushdy -- who is played by handsome actor Roushdy Abara, here essentially serving as the non-singing Dean Martin to Ismail's Jerry Lewis.

Predictably, a subsequent scuffle between Sharvin and Ismail results in the rocket being prematurely launched, and the scientist and his two reluctant passengers are hurtled into space, where they quickly face all of those standard perils that astronauts in 50s sci-fi films seem obliged to endure: meteor showers, zero gravity, oxygen leaks, etc. Complicating matters further, Ismail quickly finds the spaceship's well-stocked liquor cabinet and starts hitting the sauce with gusto. Drunk and homesick, he then dons a spacesuit and attempts to make the long walk back to Earth, resulting in Roushdy having to go outside and retrieve him. Finally -- and perhaps a full fifteen minutes since their leaving Earth -- a shortage of fuel requires the hapless crew to make a forced landing on the moon.

Once they have landed, the surface of the moon reveals itself to be a vast desert that more resembles the mental image of Egypt that most of us entertain than it does any extraterrestrial landscape. In fact, it's easy to imagine the Sphinx and the great pyramids lying just out of frame in many of the shots. But, hey, you work with what you got; while Hollywood had Bronson Canyon, Egypt had the Sahara. In any case, it is not long before a delightful cardboard box robot by the name of Otto (he even gets his own credit at the film's opening) lumbers along and hypnotizes our space travelers, leading them back to the underground bunker of a character called Mr. Cosmos.

Mr Cosmos explains to the gang that he is among the last survivors of a devastating atomic war that cleared the Moon's surface of all life. (Um, okay.) Along with his young daughter Stella (Sophy Sarwat), he has managed to shield a few others within his sealed compound, and, true to the template, these all turn out to be, like Stella, pulchritudinous young women in tiny skirts and leotards. Ismail proceeds to use Cosmos' super telescope to give the girls a visual tour of his home country, finally focusing in on his own house, where he is surprised to see his wife making out on the veranda with a handsome stranger. D'oh! Roushdy responds to Ismail's resulting lamentations with dismay, saying he's crazy to bellyache about the old trouble-n'-strife when there's all this fresh moon lady tail to chase (though not exactly in those words).

And so, as Ismail seeks solace in the booze (it doesn't take long to figure out that Ismail Yasin's brand of funny is the kind that comes in a bottle), Roushdy gets busy making with the Captain Kirk on Stella, explaining to her all of our quaint Earth customs like kissing and acting like married people. Whenever I see one of these scenes, I can't help speculating upon what an actual, real-life douchebag (rather than a fictional one like Roushdy) would do if put in this situation. I imagine that his confabulations about the standard form of greeting between humans would include some things far less chaste than kissing, and there would probably be something in there about how roofies are the one source for all essential vitamins and minerals.

Anyway, eventually, in order to facilitate the Earthling's safe journey home, Mr. Cosmos directs them toward a stockpile of atomic fuel used during the war that has been stashed in a cave on the Moon's dark side. After making the expedition, the group finds the fuel guarded over by a group of horribly maimed and scarred soldiers, many of whom appear to be portrayed by real-life amputees. As you might imagine, it's a sequence that's pretty short on chuckles, and is the one point where A Trip to the Moon veers very markedly away in style from the more innocuous types of American space spoofs I referenced earlier. Finally, a uniformed officer -- even more scarred than the rest, and obviously driven to the brink of insanity by his plight -- tells the Earth people that, if their planet has discovered "the atom... then their destiny will be like ours". He then describes how his forces pursued victory at all costs, and directs his visitors to behold what remains of his "heroic officers". And then they all give Hitler salutes.


As inherently hilarious as cuckoldry, chronic alcoholism, fascism, and the ravages of nuclear war may be, I found very little to really laugh at in A Trip to the Moon. Still, I found it immensely entertaining. This is in part due to the sheer novelty of seeing an Egyptian popular film from its era, but also because there is just something undeniably cozy about the way the picture so dutifully trots out all of the hokiest tropes of 50s space travel movies. Even the heavy-handed moralizing, which is only out of place by virtue of the film being an ostensible yuck-fest, seems practically plucked of a piece from cautionary, Eisenhower era space operas like World Without End. It is a cheap film, but also a professionally made one, with a few instances of imaginative and resourceful special effects. (Ismail and Roushdy's spacewalk is especially nice, even if there are moments when you can see their shadows cast against the space backdrop.) And to top if off, the whole thing clocks in at a brisk 90 minutes, meaning that it's over long before it overstays its welcome.

I understand that Ismail Yasin also starred in a film that follows closely in the footsteps of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which pretty much guarantees that, DVD gods providing, he will someday in the not-too-distant future be making a return appearance at 4DK . Skoal!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's the 4DK Animalympics! Round 14

Ramu from Haathi Mere Saathi

Skill Set: General weepiness, cat wrassling, causing Rajesh Khanna to set himself on fire in order to make ends meet due his high feeding cost.

In case you were wondering, the three main events in the Animalympics are ass-kicking, hell-raising, and shit-disturbing. We're basically looking for animals that manage to be two-fisted even without, in most cases, the benefit of actual fists. This makes Ramu and his other elephant friends from Haathi Mere Saathi a bit of an odd choice, because they're a fairly kindly lot, more about teaching their audience a lesson about friendship and brotherhood than anything else. YAWN! However, Ramu is also a friend to all children -- like Gamera! -- which, in the critter-rich wilds of India, necessitates that he occasionally defensively stomp on a cobra or fling a leopard around with his trunk. In addition to that, he is a misunderstood hero -- like James Dean! -- which means that people think he's much more of a badass than he actually is. This all happily combines to allow us to include him here. I also have to warily tip my hat to Ramu for being the inspiration for some of the most harrowing depictions of child peril that I've ever seen in a Bollywood movie -- which is quite a statement given the industry's amply demonstrated willingness to go there for the sake of wringing an emotional response out of its audience. The worst of these is when crazy Tanuja has a vision of Ramu stomping on her infant son. In sum, it serves as a sobering reminder that it's all fun and games until somebody gets their head crushed.

[NOTE; The 4DK Animalympics will be taking a vacation for the next couple of weeks, but will be back with more violent animal awesomeness after the holidays.]

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Burning of the Red Lotus Monastery (Taiwan, 1982)

Burning of the Red Lotus Monastery is based on a seminal wuxia novel that's been adapted for the screen numerous times throughout the history of Hong Kong martial arts cinema. This, though, is a Taiwanese take on the story, starring Wolf Devil Woman auteur Pearl Cheung Ling and directed by Yu Hon-Cheung, the man who gave the world Dwarf Sorcerer and the much sought-after Monster From the Sea, so I think it's safe to say that it can stand alone on the strength of its own unique charms.

That said, despite her prominent billing, Pearl Ling only appears in the movie for a total of about two minutes, showing up for a brief introduction during the opening moments and then returning again at the conclusion to play a key role in the climactic battle. It all has a very tacked-on feel, as if the producers, upon watching an early cut of the film, with all of its scenes of people randomly turning into flying balls of energy and shooting animated lightning bolts at each other, looked at each other and said, "Hey, you know what this movie needs?". At this point, as I imagine it, Pearl was called in for the afternoon's worth of shooting her role required, thus by her presence certifying the film as a bona fide work of weird-fu.

It seems that no one in Burning of the Red Lotus Monastery would argue that the Fen Lien Temple is not a very, very bad place. As we see in the film's opening scenes, the chief monk and his assorted long-haired masters have a habit of abducting unwary female worshipers and turning them into sex slaves. Thus it is not long before an official, Chief Lu Shiao Chin (Meng Fei), an emissary of what the subtitles refer to as "Headquarters House", comes knocking on the door to have a look-see. Fan Lien minion Can (Wei Ping Ao) sets out to dispose of this interloper, but only ends up with a broken leg for his trouble, and along with it a thirst for vengeance that does not bode well for Lu Shiao Chin. Coming to Can's aid in his vendetta are both his master and his master's master, Grandmaster Yung (Chi Kuan-Chun), who bring a formidable amount of magically-enhanced martial arts skill to the task. Eventually even Grandmaster Yung's sister (Pan Yingzi) joins the fray, though it soon becomes clear that she has her own, very different (amorous) designs on Chief Lu.

Ultimately the gang ends up imprisoning Lu in the temple underneath a giant bell, and it's up to the remaining disciples of Headquarters House to free him. Leading the charge is a master swordswoman by the name of Red Aunt (Elsa Yeung Wai San, who last captured our hearts in the slap-your-mama awesome Thrilling Sword), who comes aided by her amusingly foul-mouthed, magically fu-enabled, pre-adolescent son Chi Tsu (Au Dai). Also on board are Lu's fellow disciple Liu Chih (Lau Tak Hoi) and Can's own daughter, who has clearly chosen righteousness over the bonds of family. Oh, and, of course, there's also the eleventh hour arrival on the scene of Pearl Cheung Ling, who, as far as I could make out, was only ever referred to as "Official".

Pearl Cheung Ling or no, Burning of the Red Lotus Monastery is a film that is as fun to watch as it is difficult to sort out. It will, however, be a disappointment to kung fu purists, as its martial arts are in great part cartoon-assisted and don't require any physical contact between the participants. For me, its most baffling aspect was how it ends with Pearl Cheung Ling and Meng Fei exchanging meaningful glances and walking off into the sunset together, as if there had been some kind of romantic connection established between them, when, in truth, Pearl's character had just shown up without being referred to at all throughout the entirety of the film. Complicating this even further was the fact that I'm pretty sure that Meng Fei's character was supposed to have been killed during the second act. I imagine that there is some kind of behind-the-scenes story that explains why things went down this way, and that it is every bit as convoluted as what went on in front of the camera.

The Red Lotus Monastery: a model community

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Friday's best pop song ever

It's been exactly a year since I began this feature, and I couldn't think of a better way to mark the occasion than with the band I first started with.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More big cat hating from our friends on the Subcontinent

First of all, I want to make clear that I do not advocate stabbing lions in the head, unless you are Sultan Rahi and you do it in an awesome painting rather than in real life. I also do not advocate wrestling with enraged tigers. However, I do advocate you watching this clip of Pistolwali star Jyothi Laxmi doing just that.

Need I say: "Mind it!" I was pleased to discover that, unlike last time I checked, YouTube now boasts a respectable number of clips of Jyothi, whom I consider to be the world's most attractive astonishingly ugly woman. I think you'll all agree that this paradox becomes even more apparent when you see her face in motion, as opposed to in still photographs. In any case, I felt it had been too long since she graced these pages, so here you go. Rrrowwrr!!

It's the 4DK Animalympics! Round 13

Moti from Teri Meherbaniyan

Skill Set: Crying on cue even more reliably than SRK, creating a deep emotional bond with his audience, mastery of The Method

Every time I see Moti from Teri Meherbaniyan crying like that, I think of this ceramic bank my friend gave me that looks like a crying dog holding a gun to his head with one hand while clasping a bottle of poison in the other. I thought it would be easy enough to find a Google image of it, but apparently it's a less common item than I had thought. I'm now convinced that I'll be able to sell it on eBay for a bajillion dollars. Anyway, setting my future tchotchke-based wealth aside for the moment, the point is that Moti is not just about sadness and weeping. He expresses a wide range of emotions and mental states with equal mastery, including rage, lust, psychosis -- you name it, really. In short, whether he is doing Shakespeare in the West End or appearing before the cameras in Bollywood, Moti brings a level of professionalism to his performances that makes those of all the other participants in the Animalympics look like cheap parlor tricks by comparison. Rumor has it that he is next slated to play the world's first dog to be stricken with Progeria.

Bidding still open!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Changhezah (Pakistan, 1989)

To the Western viewer not conversant in Punjabi, a film like Changhezah might beg the following question: Of what importance to a film are the details of plot when you already have plenty of shouting, punching and shooting to carry you through the action? After all, genre movies, at their heart, are really just about the observance of ritual, aren’t they?

This may especially be the case when it comes to the films of Sultan Rahi. The man starred in literally hundreds of movies and, from what I can gather, most of them covered pretty much the same ground. It seems that, as long as there was a wrong to be avenged, a righteous hero to avenge it, and a suitably despicable villain to be on the receiving end, the storytelling particulars were fairly incidental. Changhezah goes some way toward confirming this by dusting off once again the old “lost and found” plot, replete with babies switched at birth and confused issues of parentage, which seems to be a sort of default mode when it comes to the storylines of South Asian action films.

I’m currently reading Mushtaq Gazdar’s essential Pakistan Cinema: 1947 – 1997, which has provided me with some much needed context regarding Rahi’s films. As mentioned in my review of Faqeeria, Rahi’s career defining role came in the 1979 film Maula Jat, which was released during the martial law rule of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. This was a time of increased visibility for Punjabi films, thanks to Zial-ul-Haq’s board of censorship, in honor of its newly created guidelines, repealing the certificates of every film approved before the institution of the regime. This move effectively took a huge number of films out of circulation, and opened the way for the typically cheaper and more quickly made Punjabi and Pushto language films to fill the gaps between releases from the mainstream film center in Lahore.

The months prior to Maula Jat’s release had also seen the trial and execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the democratically elected Prime Minister who was unseated in the coup that brought Zial-ul-Haq to power. Events such as these lead portions of the audience to see special significance in Maula Jat’s tale of a righteous everyman’s triumph over a tyrannical clan leader, and the film did particularly well in those areas that had shown strong support for Bhutto in the elections.

Just as in Maula Jat, Rahi finds himself, in Changhezah, loudly challenging the authority of a despotic villain. This time it’s a tittering madman by the name of Mangal, who is for once not played by Mustafa Qureshi, Rahi’s adversary in Maula Jat and countless subsequent films (including the deservedly notorious Hitlar). The film also pits Rahi’s character, Changhezah, against a dogged police inspector who believes himself to be the son of an older, also dogged police inspector. However, he is in reality the son -- thanks to the aforementioned baby switching -- of the man whom Changhezah believes to be his father, who is amusingly shown in flashback sporting, not only the same wig and bounteous fake mustache worn by Rahi throughout the film, but also the exact same outfit that Changhezah is wearing when we first see him. (Clearly Changhezah comes down on the side of nurture over nature.)

Sultan Rahi’s frequent leading lady Anjuman is also on hand, mainly just to have the movie’s songs picturized on her and to act sassy. She carries every one of the film’s musical numbers, but for one notable exception; that being a sequence showing a group of uniformed schoolboys singing a patriotic song about Pakistan, punctuated by bits of newsreel footage of the country’s armed forces in battle, shots of the Koran, and images of citizens in prayer. At the end of the song, the kids release a flock of doves into the sky, one of which falls to the ground, bloodied. As the children’s pretty young teacher takes the wounded bird in her hands, the soundtrack is overwhelmed by the sound of gunfire, charging horses and hollering male voices. A gang of rowdy thugs on horseback then appears on the scene and starts to terrorize the group, but, fortunately, Changhezah is within earshot. It’s very tempting to speculate upon just what or whom these peace-hating hooligans are meant to represent, but, given the lack of translation, I’m afraid to do so would be overly presumptuous.

Though Rahi gets a good many opportunities to display his unique personal brand of kung fu throughout the film, one gets the sense that these scuffles are all but warning shots, and that Changhezah’s righteous fury is like a volcano that’s slowly building up toward a major blow-out. Thus it’s no surprise when the movie’s final melee comes to have something of an orgasmic quality, with Changhezah frenziedly hacking, slashing, slicing, dicing, shooting and stomping his way through his enemies, and finally driving a sword repeatedly through the heart of a prostrate Mangal. Even Anjuman and the prim young school teacher get in on the shooting and punching action at this point, which might provide some catharsis for female viewers who have watched their characters simper from the sidelines and get treated as punching bags throughout the previous two hours. This to me seemed very similar to the end of Faqeeria, during which the female captive, who had throughout the film been depicted as a helpless victim, was abruptly transformed by the prevailing spirit of wrathfulness into a back-flipping, high-kicking she-devil.

And wrath, thy name is indeed Sultan Rahi. The perpetual mien of indignant fury, compulsive accusatory hand gestures, and constant, throaty, echo-plexed yelling all start to make a lot of sense when you realize that he’s not just portraying rage as an emotional state. The man simply is rage. Sure, you might think that there are corollaries to this type of character in Western cinema, but you get the sense that even Bronson and Eastwood’s most vengeance crazed characters at least occasionally took time out to watch the game or enjoy a beer. Not so with Rahi. Ire is his game and fury is his beer. And, that my friends, is one aspect of these films that needs no translation whatsoever.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I love you, Joe Walker

In some ways, 2009 has been a shitty year. First we lost Feroz Khan and now I learn, by way of Michael Barnum's Pedro (The Ape Bomb) Blog, that Italian actor Tony Kendall -- aka Luciano Stella -- passed away just last week.

Kendall starred in numerous European genre pictures throughout the 60s and 70s, but is probably most well known for his role as detective Joe Walker in the Kommissar X movies, a series of Eurospy films that set themselves apart from the pack by the degree to which they so enjoyably reveled in their own ridiculousness. Kendall's Joe Walker took the smug sexual entitlement of the typical 1960s screen secret agent and turned it up to 11, resulting in him being, as I described in a review of one of the films, a man who, "if he existed in the real world, would be enveloped in a perpetual cloud of mace".

As offensive as this may sound, what was amazing is how easily, with repeated exposure, you could warm to the character, and soon find yourself going along just to hear his next cringe-worthy double entendre or excruciating pick-up line. Of course, Joe Walker also performed all of the other expected duties of a 60s movie superspy and, in doing so, combated hooded master criminals and their armies of uniformed minions with a preposterous level of smirking unflappability that just made the self-parody that much more delicious, while at the same time not cheating us in the least out of the thrills

I think it's fair to say that Joe Walker, like Feroz Khan, is one of Teleport City's patron saints and, because of that, we've done a pretty good job of covering his exploits. To read some of our reviews of the Kommissar X films, go here. In the meantime, enjoy the following clip of Joe Walker in action. It's in German, but since Walker speaks the international language of awesome, that should be no hindrance.

Thanks for the magic, Tony. You'll be missed.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Paa? Gaa!

This post will alert all of my in-the-know readers to just how out of touch I am with current Bollywood releases. I mean, who has time to keep up when so many of Dara Singh's old movies are being released on borderline unwatchable, unsubtitled VCDS? So rich and creamy is my obliviousness in this area that I have only just today become aware of Paa, a film released to India's theater screens this week amid much fanfare. It stars Abhishek Bachchan as the father of a 13 year old boy afflicted with the rare, age-accelerating disorder Progeria. And the actor portraying that boy? Why, it's Abhishek's 67 year old dad, Bollywood icon nonpareil Amitabh Bachchan! WTF?! That sound you hear is Oscar hungry, stateside father and son acting duos kicking each other in the ass for not having come up with this truly inspired concept in stunt casting first. Expect an American remake starring Tom and Colin Hanks to be in production by the end of the week.

People, remind me not to turn my back on Bollywood again. Because, obviously, when I do, things get really frigging weird

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's the 4DK Animalympics! Round 12

Dharmendra in a bear suit from

Skill Set: Unknown... and too unpleasant to speculate upon.

Dharmendra: Man, beast, or both? The question has plagued both zoologists and film fans for nearly half a century. And with Azaad, Dharmendra appears to have given us an answer... sort of. Does the fact that he wears this costume for the purpose of pitching woo make him some kind of proto-furry? I won't speculate. But whatever the answer, his inclusion here is justified by this disquieting merger of man and anipal's status as a true benchmark in the history of Bollywood anthropomorphism.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Putlibai (India, 1972)

Putlibai begins with a title card touting the fact that it was filmed on location in the ravines of Chambal. The area is notorious for being a hiding place for bandits, including, at one time, that most celebrated of India’s lady bandits, Phoolan Devi, aka The Bandit Queen. Putlibai itself could be said to tell the story of a bandit queen, though it notably does so almost ten years before the fabled exploits of Phoolan Devi. Nonetheless, the film comes across like nothing so much as an early 70s precursor to the countless “Daku” movies churned out by India’s Z movie industry in recent years, which themselves are in no small part indebted to Phoolan Devi for their existence, and in particular to Shekhar Kapur’s controversial film account of her exploits, 1994’s Bandit Queen.

The film stars Indian B movie starlet Jaymala, a leading lady in such 4DK favorites as Spy in Rome and Love and Murder. Jaymala would also later star in 1974’s Gupt Gyan, a hit movie commonly described as India’s first sex education film. I have to admit that I only made it through Gupt Gyan as far as the part where they started showing pictures of actual disease-ravaged genitals, at which point I was rocketed back to vivid memories of vomiting into my lunch bag during “Social Living” class at Berkeley High School.

In any case, I found online an account of Jaymala’s career that refers to her singling out her titular role in Putlibai as her personal favorite, and if that’s true, I can see why. The character’s transformation from glamour-puss dancing girl to death-dealing one-armed lady outlaw certainly offers her quite a range of emotions to play with, and the fierceness she brings to the task is certainly a prime contributor to the film being as enjoyable as it is.

The film begins with notorious dacoit Sultan Singh (played by Bhopuri film star Sujit Kumar) falling hard for the dancer Putli, a development that makes her a person of interest for the local constabulary, who are intent on hunting the bandit down. The police’s constant harassment of Putli becomes so severe that Sultan Singh eventually whisks her away to his encampment for her own protection. Love soon follows, and it is not long before Putli has born the bandit a daughter. Putli returns to her village to raise the child, but is soon forced to flee by the authorities, leaving her daughter behind in the care of another woman.

She has to disguise herself in male drag in order to do it, but Putli nonetheless eventually proves her mettle to Sultan Singh and is made a part of the gang proper. Their days of pillaging the countryside hand-in-hand are short-lived, however, as Sultan Singh is soon murdered by his covetous underling Babu Singh. Even more short-lived is Babu Singh’s term as leader of the gang, as his unwanted advances quickly earn him a chest full of lead from Putli. Now the leader of the gang, Putli sets about getting payback against all the dirty screws responsible for making her and Sultan Singh’s lives miserable.

Putlibai’s opening title card, in addition to trumpeting its location, also gives thanks to the local police for their assistance, which is a bit ironic, given that -- at least from my non-subtitle-assisted take on things -- they are played as the heavies in the film. At least I think it’s fair to say that Putli picks them off with such righteous abandon that you’d think she had some kind of special permit, and nothing in the way their deaths are portrayed indicates that we are expected to shed any tears. That our sympathies should lie with her makes a certain amount of sense once you witness the disproportionate amount of force that the authorities bring to bear upon Putli and her small band. At the conclusion alone, literally hundreds of armed-to-the-teeth officers descend upon the ravine, within moments leaving Putli standing alone before them with her cohorts dead at her feet. Bolstering her underdog status at this point is the fact that an earlier police raid has left her minus one arm, a state of affairs that renders her ability to still squeeze off rounds from her submachine gun all the more impressive.

Putlibai is a perfect example of a perhaps below average Indian film being elevated by an above average score. Jaykumar’s songs for the film are really quite good, marked by thumping rhythms and buoyant, instantly catchy melodies. Especially nice is the Qawwali that comprises the film’s final musical number, Aiseh Besharam Ashiq Hain Yeh Aaj Ke. The picturization of this song is also very effective, in that we see Putli, who began the film as a dancer performing for others, now, as leader of the gang, enjoying tribute from the Qawwali chorus and in return showering them with cash, just as Sultan Singh did her in the beginning.

I enjoyed Putlibai. I may be reading into things, but Jaymala really did seem like she was having a blast, as well she should have. As her wrestling showcase in Spy in Rome demonstrated, she was not one to shy away from physical action, and Putlibai offers her more opportunities for same than I imagine most Bollywood actresses of the day received in a lifetime. She also manages to deliver on the pathos end of things, as well. After all, crime -- no matter how much fun we have watching it being committed -- does not pay, and there always comes in stories such as this that moment in which the transgressor is called to accounts. When that moment came for Putli, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t detect a little bit of actual sadness on her behalf stirring within my spiritually withered frame.

Also check out Aiseh Besharam Ashiq Hain Yeh Aaj Ke

Friday, November 27, 2009

8 things that I really hope will be in the UFO movie, but probably won't be

I recently learned, by way of Bloody Disgusting, that a movie version of one of my all time favorite TV shows, the 1960s British science fiction series UFO, is being planned with Dawson's Creek, Fringe star Joshua Jackson in the role of Paul Foster. Of course, I don't have very high hopes for this project, especially given the disappointing standard set by other recent screen adaptations of Gerry Anderson properties. But, then again, I'm not all that hard to please, either. I mean, I liked the Avengers movie, for Christ's sake!

So, anyway, below is a list of some elements from the TV series that, if they were to be included in the movie, would lead me to forgive a multitude of sins. None of them probably will be, though. I've included explanation only where necessary, as, in most cases, the sheer awesomeness is apparent from the photos alone.

1. The Moonbase uniforms

This one is a total deal breaker. If I don't see the SHADO Moonbase staffed by silver-clad women in purple wigs, I am spending my ten dollars elsewhere. And damn it, filmmakers, do not forget the tear-away leggings with optional silver mini-skirt for off duty wear!

2. Gull-wing doors

3. Nehru jackets

4. Moonbase Interceptors with only one missile

For those who don't know, the Interceptors were the SHADO Moonbase's last line of defense against marauding alien aircraft. A very porous line of defense, it turns out, due to the tactical oversight of equipping each of the Interceptors with only one missile and then launching them just three at a time. Thus, once they inevitably failed to do the job, all involved would take consolation in the fact that they had done their best and brace for the worst, paving the way for yet another plot-advancing breach of the organization's security. Undoubtedly, someone will get the bright idea that they are "improving" upon the original concept by correcting this oversight, but they will be wrong.

5. Lack of affect

Some blame the fact that producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson were more accustomed to working with marionettes for the combination of wooden demeanor and monotone line delivery exhibited by many in the series' cast. Whatever the reason for it, it contributed nicely to the off-kilter ambiance, rife as the show's story lines were with both moral ambiguity and the more earth-bound variety of alienation. There is reason to hope that this will be retained in the big screen version., thanks to Mad Men's recent bringing of the whole "deer in the headlights" style of acting back into fashion.

6. Skydiver

We might actually get this one, thanks to the movie's director also being an established special effects director, and thus undoubtedly a big nerd constitutionally incapable of not appreciating the original series most awesome super-vehicle.

7. Ed Straker's hair

8. The theme tune