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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's the 4DK Animalympics! Round 11

Aashiq from Char Dervesh

Skill Set: Loyalty, swashbuckling

Just as you would expect of a dog owned by Feroz Khan, Aashiq (as portrayed by "Dog Romer") is a complete badass. I mean, just look at that picture. Doesn't that really say it all? This animal, despite lacking opposable thumbs, has just run his human adversary through with a sword and is now standing over him trying to figure out how to best convert him into dog food. Okay, to be honest, I don't think that's actually what just happened. But still, you have to admit it's an iconic image.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Feeling a bit stretched

The twin demons of adult responsibility and the encroaching holiday have conspired to make me feel like I'm being stretched a bit thin, so I apologize in advance if I'm a little light on the posting this week. I promise to at least provide updates on the Animalympics and the Friday pop song, and hope to be back with full reviews of more crazy shit next week.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Child of Peach (Taiwan, 1987)

Child of Peach is the first in the series of goofy Taiwanese martial arts fantasies starring the teenage actress Lam Siu-Lau in the role of Peach Kid, a figure somewhat surprisingly derived from Japanese folklore. I've already covered the third Peach Kid film, the wonderful Magic of Spell, on this blog, and while Child of Peach may not boast anything quite as awesome as Spell's miracle of human/root hybridization, Ginseng Boy, there is still plenty that marks it unmistakably as part of the series. And by that I refer to, among other things, its copious wire-work and cartoon-assisted displays of martial arts prowess, insistently chirpy Cantonese synth-pop score, abundance of bad guys with hair-metal dos and duds, and numerous instances of people, animals and giants pieces of fruit pissing and farting upon one another.

I don't want to go overboard in stating how "weird" Child of Peach is, first of all because so many of its absurdities are clearly played for laughs. Secondly, it's a children's adventure film made during the eighties, a time when a lot of children's adventure films were pretty damn weird regardless of their culture of origin. As such, I think it would sit fairly comfortably alongside movies like Labyrinth or The Neverending Story as part of a kiddie matinee of its era. Except, of course, for all of its violence. And its strangely translated swearing ("Your kung fu is nothing but a shit!"). Oh, and also? All of the face pissing.

Indeed the urine in Child of Peach flows like the great Yang Tze, into the faces and mouths of all and sundry and out of some places we would never have previously expected urine to issue from. This is a film in which the sight of a monkey pissing into an unwitting soldier's drinking cup represents the height of comedy. When an old lady's ass gets set ablaze, a giant, sentient peach uses its powerful stream to douse the flames, and then gives her a blast in the face as a coup de grace. And, in case you were trying to reassure yourself that that spray was just meant to be peach juice, the old lady then smells her fingers, makes a sour face and gives us angry verbal confirmation of the much less desirable alternative.

Child of Peach begins with a recounting of Peach Kid's origin, which is fairly archetypal and could even be characterized as a more peach-dependent telling of the Man of Steel's origin. It seems that at one time there existed, on the peak of Mount Holy Mother, high in the Himalayas, an enchanted paradise called the Peach Garden, which, despite its snowy surroundings, was always bathed in sunlight thank to the power of a magical weapon called the Sun Sword. The Peach Garden was lorded over by a budding nuclear family made up of the Master, his wife and their infant son, and guarded by a trio of kung fu capable, child-to-animal shape-shifters named Tiny Dog, Tiny Monkey and Tiny Cock -- the last of which names offers up opportunities for quips so lazy and juvenile that even I have to pass on them.

This being a fantasy martial arts film, and given that the requisite weapon of supernatural power has already been introduced, it is now time for a super-villain with designs on said weapon to make the scene, and so the Kabuki-esque King Devil and his Kajagoogoo-coiffed minions show up at the Peach Garden with the intention of stealing the Sun Sword. In the process, and despite the best efforts of the Tiny three, they murder the Master and Mistress and, with the removal of the sword, plunge the garden into endless, blizzard-swept night. Before this can happen, however, the Mistress places her young son inside of the Garden's -- Mascot? Diety? -- the Holy Peach, a giant, intelligent peach which opens up like a clamshell for the purpose. The peach then takes flight and heads for brighter territories, where it is soon found by an elderly couple who, taxing their creative capacities to their fullest, decide to name the enclosed child Peach Kid.

Because Peach Kid lived in the time before the time-lapse training montage was invented, we instead have a helpful fairy (Shadow Liu Chih-yu) on hand to transforms him from infant to strapping, super-strength endowed twelve year old in a matter of minutes. Thus he is now able to strike out on his mission of vengeance against King Devil, who has now enlisted the aid of an old witch and her army of Vince Neil-haired, zombie midget offspring in his quest for Martial World dominance. Coincidentally, it just so happens that an oafish young nobleman by the name of Knight Melon (Boon Saam) is assembling a force with the intention of mounting an invasion of the King's hideout, Devil Island, at that very moment. Unfortunately, Melon feels that having an underage superhero on his team might serve to upstage him during his glory moment, and so turns Peach Kid away. This proves to be a mistake, of course, leading -- once Peach Kid has re-teamed with the not-dead-after-all Tiny Monkey, Tiny Dog and Tiny Cock -- to Melon being permanently relegated to the role of comic relief fat guy once the high-flying preteen magical kung fu mayhem starts in earnest.

Having starred in such loopy fare as Kung Fu Wonder Child and Magic Warriors in addition to the Peach Kid films, Lam Siu-Lau is perhaps as much of a patron saint of the wild and silly side of Taiwanese martial arts cinema as Polly Shang-Kwan. In contrast to Shang-Kwan's game, in-on-the-joke approach to such shenanigans, however, Lam Siu-Lau affects an unflagging earnestness that serves to enhance the hilarity of the outlandishness around her equally well. This is especially appropriate since these films, unlike Shang-Kwan's, are less of a showcase for their stars' fighting abilities than they are for the myriad off-the-wall wonders that their simple but imaginative special effects accomplish.

Since Child of Peach exhibits a sort of constant, low-level oddness throughout the majority of its running time, it's difficult to single out any one feature as being the strangest. That is, of course, until we reach the film's final moments, during which the giant peach itself enters the climactic fray, taking the form of a giant peach marionette which the Peach Kid and his three young fellow fighters pilot Voltron-style. In fact, few moments in world cinema high or low can match the instant when that marionette opens its mouth and vomits forth a flying, sword-wielding Peach Kid, rocketing forward like a human missile to deliver the death blow to the villain. At that moment it seems like the only fitting response -- or, at least, the one most in the spirit of Child of Peach itself -- is to literally piss oneself laughing.

It's the 4DK Animalympics! Round 10

The terrifying, adorable dog from James Bond 777

Skill Set: Terrorism, adorable-ism, safe-cracking

The T.A.D. is the most formidable weapon in the arsenal of James Bond 777's criminal mastermind, "Boss": an animal so sweet natured in appearance that his victims will happily roll around on the floor and maul themselves to death just to please him. Add to this his ability to lead his canine cohorts in a daring bank robbery and you have before you a veritable poster child for misleadingly heartwarming anipal evil. Any Animalympics contestant spotlighted during a week in which 4DK has already prominently featured the frankly astonishing exploits of Teri Meherbaniyan's Moti is, of course, placed at a distinct disadvantage, but the T.A.D.... well, to be honest, probably won't be the one to topple Moti's lead. But, nonetheless: Awwwwwww.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Teri Meherbaniyan (India, 1985)

I submit that no Bollywood movie is more of a love story between a man and his animal than Teri Meherbaniyan. For instance, notice that, while our hero is provided with a human love interest, she doesn't even survive until the interval. That's because no mere woman can compete for Ram's affections against his Moti, as played by Brownie, The Wonder Dog. At best, she'll only get in the way, hence Poonam Dhillon's summary dismissal via prophylactic suicide at roughly the one hour mark.

Teri Meherbaniyan begins with a motorcycle-riding Jackie Shroff running over a puppy. As harrowing as that may sound, this incident is actually meant to show us what a great guy Jackie's character is. Because, rather than charging bystanders a few rupees to watch the animal's death agonies or rushing it home to throw in the stew pot, he whisks it off to the vet for some puppy triage. The credits then roll as we watch a time-lapse montage of Jackie, aka Ram, tenderly nursing the pup back to health, ending with said pup having grown into a strapping, full-size Moti. And I have to admit, it's hard not to like the guy after witnessing this. Obviously Jackie's years of tending to that mustache have given him the small critter nurturing skills necessary to such ministrations.

Ram is a government officer of some kind, though exactly what his title might be is unclear. In any case, his job seems to entail him being some sort of agent of progress, sending him to backward, outlying villages with the message that feudalism is just so last century, and then driving that message home with his righteous fists. This message and mode of delivery is especially unwelcome in Lakhanpur, where Thakur Vijay Singh (Amrish Puri!) has got himself a nice little racket going exploiting and terrorizing the community of farmers under his charge. Thus Vijay Singh, who prefers to delegate his dirty work so that he may hide his viciousness behind a facade of benevolence, repeatedly dispatches his team of kung fu guys to deal with Ram, only to have those kung fu guys repeatedly sent packing by Ram's and Moti's superior martial arts skills.

Lakhanpur also boasts among its population a feisty, loudmouthed tomboy of a village belle by the name of Bijli (Poonam Dhillon), whose presence struck me as having the primary function of striking up pleasant audience associations with Hema Malini's similar role in Sholay. Be that as it may, it is not long before Ram and Bijli dutifully follow the script's directive to fall ass-over-teakettle in love with one another. No sooner have they proclaimed their affections, however, (during a song picturization in which Jackie Shroff wears an awesome tee-shirt labeling him a "SINGLE man") than Ram is called away for a brief assignment in the city. Given that Bijli is a target of Vijay Singh's unwanted and entirely unwholesome affections, Ram leaves Moti behind to guard over her in his absence.

The flaw in this plan becomes clear in a quite disturbing sequence that reveals Moti as being... well, a bit of a perv, really, and an interspecies one at that. Bijli responds to Ram's departure by immediately doing a really dirty wet sari dance and then stripping down to her, um, under-sari for a bath. Unfortunately, Moti won't stop peeking around the corner to get an eyeful, so Bijli ties him up in an adjoining room. This provides the perfect opportunity for Vijay Singh and his goons to burst in and try to make good on their rapacious designs, in a scene so liberally punctuated with lightning flashes and crashing thunder that I half expected Sultan Rahi to jump out from behind a curtain and start yelling and pointing at everybody. Bijli ultimately practices the preferred Bollywood method of rape prevention by plunging a dagger into her stomach and then using her dying breath to laugh in Vijay Singh's face as if she had somehow come out the winner in this situation.

Upon his return, Ram greets the news of Bijli's death by assuming that Moti has dropped the ball in his guard duties, leading him to beat the poor animal mercilessly. This is just one of many scenes that make Teri Meherbaniyan a film that, while appearing on paper as being geared toward animal lovers, would in reality be as distressing to them as watching actual vivisection. Ram is quickly alerted to the truth of the situation by Vijay Singh's kindly adopted-daughter/captive Sharada (I'm sorry, actress, I don't know your name), upon which he immediately falls to his knees and tearfully serenades Moti with the film's mournful theme tune. And it is at this moment that Brownie, The Wonder Dog, thespian, pulls out his secret weapon. He cries. HE FUCKING CRIES!

Though he has spent the first half of the movie proclaiming his love for Bijli, Vijay Singh quickly moves on after her death, simply transferring his rapey intentions to Sharada, despite the fact that she is his adopted daughter. Of course, we soon learn that he only adopted her in order to pilfer the fortune she inherited from her deceased father, a man whom Vijay Singh had claimed to be his best friend -- a fact which further establishes the depths of Vijay Singh's villainy while making his sexual proclivities no less vomit-conjuring. In any case, Ram somehow manages to deflect the Thakur's intentions by prodding Sharada into marrying the village's resident mute simpleton, Gopi. This turns out to be the move that finally tears it for Vijay Singh where Ram is concerned.

As we've already seen, tying up Moti does not bode well for those doing the tying, and so, when Ram, Sharada and Gopi do just that while enjoying a leisurely picnic in the countryside, we know that it is just a matter of seconds before Vijay Singh and his two right-hand men, Banwari and Sadarji, will emerge from the shadows to do their dirty work. With Gopi and Sharadi incapacitated, and Moti straining helplessly at his bonds, Vijay and his men viciously beat, choke and stab Ram to death, leaving behind manufactured evidence that will link Gopi to the crime. However, Ram had set up one of those newfangled camcorders in order to record his gang's bucolic interlude, and the device recorded the dastardly deed in its entirety. Of course, the machine was in Vijay Singh's plain view the whole time, but apparently, being essentially a bumpkin at heart, he assumed that it was just some kind of picnic-enabling robot that these city folks have nowadays. Thus he is blissfully unaware that he has just been Rodney King-ed several years before that name would have any significance as a verb.

So here we are with an hour remaining of Teri Meherbaniyan's running time and our apparent hero suddenly killed off. And it is at this point that something indescribably wonderful happens to Teri Meherbaniyan. By which I mean that our Moti steps up to take his rightful place in the spotlight in the most preposterously violent manner possible. Traumatized by seeing his master brutally murdered before his eyes, this most loyal of anipals sets out to single-pawedly hand out bloody payback to all those responsible. And with this, the remainder of the film takes on something of the look and tone of an 80s slasher film, complete with menacing stalker-vision sequences shot from Moti's point-of-view as he hunts down Vijay Singh's accomplices one by one, forcing one off a cliff and another into the river to drown, as he works his way up to the Thakur himself.

Each of these killings is immediately preceded by Moti experiencing a psychotic flashback to Ram's murder, communicated with quick cuts and repeated shock zooms to portray his fevered state of mind, and followed by a scene of him dropping flowers on Ram's grave and once again turning on the waterworks as the mournful theme reprises. Meanwhile, both Ram and Bijli manage to maintain a presence in the film by way of song and dance numbers that take place inside Moti's brain.

Nothing you might say could convince me that Teri Meherbaniyan is not the greatest Bollywood film about a revenge-obsessed, serial killing house pet ever made. I understand that the film -- along with, for obvious reasons, Brownie/Moti himself -- made something of a splash in its day, and I can see why. While its first half pretty much just trots out all of the standard Bollywood action movie tropes, it does so with the type of crude, reckless energy that I'm more accustomed to seeing in South Asia's regional pulp cinema -- complete, unfortunately, with much of the male-centric, Haseena Atom Bomb-like chauvinism that entails (for instance, the proximity of Bijli's wet sari dance to her attempted rape by Vijay Singh bears an uncomfortable suggestion of cause and effect). But it is its final act conversion into a sort of doggie Death Wish that makes Teri Meherbaniyan something all its own, something special. The very type of film, in fact, that is this humble blog's reason for being.
Ultimately, all of the humans in Teri Meherbaniyan prove to be pretty useless. Despite the presence of Ram's camcorder at the crime scene, it is only by the efforts of a solicitous snake from a neighboring shrine that the authorities are lead to the exonerating tape that it contained. And even then it is Moti who proves to be the ultimate instrument of justice, as demonstrated in a final confrontation in which Amrish Puri endures his fatal mauling with the same level of staunch professionalism he did having his head eaten by a giant crocodile at the end of Gangaa Jumanaa Saraswathi. If Teri Meherbaniyan has any message at all -- and it probably doesn't -- it is that the animals of the Earth are far from just acting as agents of an indifferent nature, and that, when they attack you, you better believe it's personal. See this movie.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Toys rule

I don't miss selling old toys. Once it got to the point where I had to be competitive, it became more about hassle and less about fun, which just seems kind of wrong. But, man, sometimes I sure do miss some of the cool crap I used to have:

Yes, the ugly truth is revealed. All those many Ultra series with their myriad variations on Ultraman and their armadas of futuristic vehicles were just about pimping toys to impressionable Japanese children. Ultraman was the He-Man of the 70s!

A Thunderbirds playset made in Spain during the mid 60s. I love the complete randomness of color selection in regards to the paintwork on the figures and vehicles, plus the fact that the box is made of wood with lithographed paper glued to it.

Now Mazinga can join you in the bathtub!

Crappy picture. Sorry. But, in case you can't make it out, that's a vinyl figure of one of the characters from that noted bit of MST3K fodder, Time of the Apes. Yes, that's right. Back in the day, someone actually made toys for Time of the effing Apes!

If I had a kid, I would totally make them wear these Kimba galoshes. Even if it wasn't raining.