Monday, July 29, 2013

The Friends of 4DK: Bikinis Y Rock (Mexico, 1972) by Tars Tarkas

The cavalcade of guest stars continues here at 4DK while I nurture my budding prehensile tail. This week finds my fellow Infernal Brain and host of the jawesome TarsTarkas.NET, Tars Tarkas, stepping outside of his comfort zone.

It has come to my attention that certain people believe that I only review films with "Bikini" in the title. Nothing could be further from the truth! At TarsTarkas.NET, I strive to cover a diverse range of cinema from all corners of the square globe, regardless of words in their titles. And to prove it, this guest post will cover that Mexican music-saturated comedy, Bikinis Y Rock. Oh, son of a ---  

Bikinis Y Rock features a lovable loser and his more lovable more loser friend as they save his dad's clothing company thanks to the power of bikinis. But a rival bikini company has them in their targets. If you think this sounds vaguely familiar, that's because Bikinis Y Rock is a remake of a prior film called A Ritmo de Twist! Yes, Mexico did a reverse Rock Around the Clock/Twist Around the Clock! Both films feature famed comedian Manuel "El Loco" Valdés, brother of Germán "Tin Tan" Valdés and "Don Ramón" Valdés. El Loco starred in A Ritmo de Twist, but this time out Valdés plays a loopy cult leader along with some of his fellow tv comedians.

Bikinis Y Rock is one of those movies where bands are constantly performing at parties that go on forever and everyone dances. Unlike real parties, where people just stand around holding red plastic cups until it's time to run to the yard to vomit. Said bands and parties take place at a commune run by El Loco's guru character, who looks like a mugshot you'd find while browsing those "Are sexual predators in your neighborhood?" websites. Attending this Guru's hippie cult are Alex and his friend Lalo (Ricardo Cortés and Lalo "El Mimo"), who are instrumental in the cult having their non-stop rocking.

Alex is drafted by his father to help save his floundering clothing company, so Alex and Lalo go to play clothing designer. Which doesn't seem to involve designing clothes, but does seem to involve denying jobs to their two sort of but not really girlfriends Sabrina and Claudia (Verónica Castro and Olga Breeskin). No matter, as the two girls take secret snaps of the upcoming bikini line, which they promptly show off to their new boss, the head of a rival design company, who sets off to make her own copied bikinis.

If that doesn't sound exciting enough to get you to drive to Mexico to track down a VHS of Bikinis Y Rock, knowing that Alex and Lalo then kidnap two maids and dress up as those maids to sneak into the rival clothing designer's factory will see you reaching for your keys and passports. But don't leave just yet, there is more magic to Bikinis Y Rock...

While Alex and Lalo make their required stop into the girl's locker room and then go take a nap in an office, the maids are partying down with the cult. It is sort of surreal to see two Mexican maids dressed as stereotypical maids rocking their socks off to covers of American rock music sung by Mexican bands while the piles of hippies lie all around them, so drugged out they can barely party down. Bikinis Y Rock tackles the big issues of 21st Century America, truly a visionary cinematic spectacle!

The two rival clothing companies will face off at a local fashion show, but first Alex and Lalo's designs are stolen by their rivals thanks to the help of a tiger. Thankfully no hippies are fed to the tiger, as that would be unfair to the tiger. Will Alex and Lalo get to show off their cool designs that save their company? Eh, who cares, they're playing more rock music! Dance your cares away.

Musical director Gustavo César Carrión probably did the score to all your favorite Mexican films, because he seemed to do the score to almost all of Mexican cinema for 40 years! From El Baron Del Terror to Las Modelos de Desnudos, Carrión was the soundtrack of generations.

While Bikinis Y Rock isn't for every palate, there are a few reasons to seek it out. First being fans of the many songs performed by various Mexican garage bands, including El Ritual, a psychedelic rock group that performs American Woman. You can also find covers of We Got To Live Together and We Got The Power.

Another reason is the pair of eye candy, Verónica Castro and Olga Breeskin. Bikinis Y Rock was Verónica Castro's first film, and the young actress was married to Manuel Valdés and had a productive career in film and television. Olga Breeskin is the daughter of Russian violinist and conductor Elias Breeskin, and took up violin herself. She made a name by performing nightclub acts with her instrument and barely any clothing. Olga towers over most of the actors and actresses in Bikinis Y Rock, with her exotic pre-super model look. Both actresses have the amazing charm and attractiveness so often found in Mexican cinema, which make you wonder just why the two main characters don't want them anywhere near them. A mystery for the ages.

From the highs of surreal musical performances and comedy to the lows of making you watch filthy hippies, Bikinis Y Rock packs a cinematic experience that you won't be able to find surfing late night cable. Unless you have that really cool late night cable, the one with all the hippie channels.

A honey of a sound.

Summer is here and it's time for breezy sounds. Hence my latest review for Teleport City is of Honey Ltd., a "lite psych" female vocal group whose lone and until now unreleased album was produced by the great Lee Hazlewood. Drink it in, won't you?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Turkey tome

As wide of an audience as the internet offers us, we bloggers know that we're nothing until someone wants to pay money to read our drivel in a bloody bewk.* Thus I am proud to announce that the Turkey edition of the Directory of World Cinema, to which I contributed, is now available from Intellect, Ltd.

Somehow I lucked out by being asked to review 3 Dev Adam and The Deathless Devil, which, to me, are the first and last words in Turkish cinema. Given this, I'm surprised that they were able to find so much other good stuff to put in the book, including a surprisingly comprehensive Science Fiction and Fantasy section. Check it out, won't you?

*That's a Hard Day's Night joke, which means that, if you got it, you're probably old.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dark Rendezvous (Hong Kong, 1969)

It's paradoxical, but it's gotten to the point where, if I haven't in a while muddled my way through an un-subtitled foreign film in a hapless display of half baked assumptions and clumsy guestimation, I feel like I'm letting you readers down. And so I give you Dark Rendezvous, a film about which this review will tell you as close to nothing as is possible while still warranting being called a review at all.

Dark Rendezvous is one of a handful of stylish thrillers from Shaw Brothers Studios that were long considered MIA until turning up a couple years ago on the Ziieagle Movie Box, a set so voluminous that it had to come on its own external hard drive. The film is less of a boilerplate genre entry than some of those other missing films -- like, for instance, 1967's near slavish Bond pastiche Kiss and Kill -- and so lends itself less easily to interpretation by a monolingual philistine such as myself. Still, I can clearly see that Dark Rendezvous features a suave private eye caught up in a web of intrigue (Ling Yun), a beautiful femme fatale with a knack for killing (Angela Yu Chien), and a mysterious nightspot called the BBB Club where patrons, staff, and entertainers alike all wear domino masks. That is, I can understand enough to know that I'd like to understand more.

The film was one of three Shaw titles shepherded by Japanese director Murayama Mitsuo between 1969 and 1970. Mitsuo's other work seems to consist largely of a string of war pictures produced by Daei during the same period. Still, despite an efficiency that put him at the helm of five pictures in two countries over the course of two years, the director clearly didn't see the need to skimp on style. In terms of visuals,  Mitsuo brings to Dark Rendezvous the best of both Japanese and Hong Kong pop cinema circa 1969: Starkly formalist compositions that make the most of the wide Shawscope frame and a sensual and effusive use of color that takes the studio's typically saturated palette to its limits.

While I did not understand a lot of what I was seeing while watching Dark Rendezvous, I did make a shit ton of screen caps of it. And so let those serve as a placeholder until I can find a translated copy of the film and give you a proper review. I hate to say it, but sometimes, in the battle between reviewer and un-subtitled films, the movie wins.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dus Numbri (India, 1976)

Ah, the altruistic thief. So far Indian cinema has given us Jugnu, Guru, Fakira, and now Dus Numbri. Out of all of these, Dus Numbri might strike the most fear into the hearts of his less civic minded criminal brethren, thanks in no small part to his customized logo tee and omnipresent beret and sun glasses (“to hide the tears”), not to mention star Manoj Kumar’s mumbly, monotonic portrayal of him.

Rising to fame in the 60s as a hero of “Patriotic” films, the stone faced Kumar provides Dus Numbri with a center that doesn’t necessarily hold. Thankfully, other of its stars seem more in tune with the film’s reckless silliness. Hema Malini plays another in a long line of sharp tongued, street smart beauties, and is even given a whip at one point so that she can summon the past glories of Seeta aur Geeta. Pran, as seems often the case with his more comedic roles, is given the opportunity to ham it up in a series of wacky disguises. As much as this kind of typecasting might put these stars on auto pilot, there’s no question that they nonetheless light up the screen whenever upon it, providing a welcome contrast to the lead footed heaviness of Kumar’s turn as the tortured, albeit whimsically attired, hero.

Here Kumar plays Arjun, whose policeman dad is framed as a counterfeiter by his fellow officer Karamchand (Om Shivpuri) and subsequently thrown in jail. Arjun’s mom is driven mad by the ordeal and later, when the wife of Karamchand (Hema Malini), the true counterfeiter, threatens to report him to the authorities, he has her killed. Karamchand’s infant daughter is then whisked away to be raised by someone named Fernandez. In the aftermath, Arjun ends up growing up hard, spending more time in jail than out of it. By the time we catch up with him twenty years later, he has embraced his undesirable status, adopting the moniker Number 10 (it says so on his shirt), a common, largely pejorative term for a parolee.

With a gift for appearing seemingly out of thin air, Number 10 uses his might to extract a punishing “tax” on the ill gotten gains of any criminal operating in his area, which is then used to help the needy. It is through these vigilante activities that he comes into contact with Rosy (Hema Malini again), a savvy street hustler who is actually Karamchand’s child grown up. Rosy initially responds to Arjun’s shutting down of her street card game operation by hiring thugs to kill him, but, after seeing him handily dispatch those thugs, falls in love with him.

Aside from economic redistribution, Arjun’s other passions include (1) proving his father’s innocence and (2) curing his mom of her dementia. When his mother, meeting Rosy, mistakes her for her mother, Arjun starts to see her as the key to his mother’s recovery. Mom, in a momentary lapses into lucidity, also lets it slip that Rosy’s mom had evidence of Arjun’s father’s innocence. Arjun, with some difficulty, then tracks down his father in a jail in Calcutta, where he learns the truth that Karamchand was the actual counterfeiter. To set things right he enlists the aid of Pran as the corrupt but kind hearted police officer Karan Singh.

In order to draw Karamchand out, Arjun and Karan Singh go into business with “Dilruba from Delhi” (Bindu), a dancer and madam who runs a formidable counterfeiting operation out of her basement. Karamchand’s associate, Police Inspector Jaichan (Prem Nath), begins an aggressive crack down on the operation, finally staging a raid on Dilruba’s home. Jaichan, it is soon revealed, is actually the brains behind the whole counterfeiting scheme and will stop at nothing to get his hands on Dilruba’s top quality printing plates, including torture and the kidnapping of Arjun’s addled old mom.

When it comes to its villains, Dus Numbri continues the steadfastly populist tradition of Indian action cinema by making the primary proof of their evil be the fact that they are members of the moneyed classes. The generously proportioned Prem Nath is perfect for this kind of role, a literal fat cat who looks like he eats orphans sandwiched between 1000 rupee notes for breakfast. He also comes equipped with a lair that, thanks to some sloppy editing, appears to have its own rapidly self assembling gas chamber.

Other signs of sloppiness put Dus Numbri in an interesting position: somewhere between hastily assembled “B” thrillers like Saazish on the one hand and the more lavish crowd pleasers of a Manmohan Desai or Nasir Hussain on the other. Dus Numbri’s labyrinthine plot certainly has the ambitions of those latter films, but there seems something rushed and corner-cutting about its telling that makes it at times hard to follow – especially once its doubles are doubled and allegiances start to switch with every new, and frequent, revelation of a character’s hidden identity.

Of course, not really caring whether or not you understand the plot is often a key asset in enjoying these types of masala films, and, if that’s you, there’s no reason not to watch Dus Numbri. For one, it has a great selection of upbeat songs from Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Manoj Kumar has a classic “I’m going to sing about how I’m going to kill you in front of everyone and you’re going to nod along like a fat idiot” number, which is rapidly becoming my very favorite genre of Bollywood tune. Furthermore, during one of Kumar and Pran’s disguised escapades, they sing the antic “Na Tum Ho Yaar Aloo”, the lyrics of which spin a ridiculous shaggy dog story about finding a missing washer woman.

Plus, if you’re a fan of Hema Malini-based meta humor, Dus Numbri will scratch that very peculiar itch as well. The visit by Malini’s Rosy to the mental hospital where Arjun’s mom is housed brings her face to face with a patient who thinks she’s Hema Malini (another thinks she’s Rekha) and, later, during the aforementioned jokey musical number, Ashok produces a snapshot of Hema Malini he boasts of finding in a wallet. All of these are indications that not everyone involved in Dus Numbri took it entirely seriously. If you follow suit, the film will likely provide some modest rewards.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Friends of 4DK: Museo del Horror (Mexico, 1964) by Denis Klotz

So I'm still relying on contributions from my friends to keep the content at 4DK rolling over while I evolve to the Next Stage of Human. This latest entry is by my magisterial M.O.S.S. colleague Denis Klotz, author of the smart and wryly funny The Horror!?

A series of kidnappings of young, beautiful women shakes a Mexican city at the end of the 19th Century (or at the beginning of the 20th?). The police, as they always are in the movies I watch, are clueless, even though a rather less than happy press puts a lot of pressure on them.

Unlike the audience, the police don't even know that the kidnappings are committed by a man with the face of a mummy, wearing a stylish ensemble of slouch hat and black coat, nor do they know that he brings his victims to a comfy graveyard lair where he kills them by tossing a mysterious fluid on them. We are even allowed to have suspects before the police has them. Three men living in the boarding house of Dona Leonor (Emma Roldán) are really rather suspicious, and secretive.

First, there's Professor Abramov (Carlos López Moctezuma), embalmer and hobby taxidermist who really likes to handle parts of human corpses right in his mini lab in the boarding house, and does a lot of creepy, meaningful staring over dinner. Secondly, there's Luis (Joaquín Cordero), once a famous actor before he hurt his leg. Clearly, once you have one limp leg, your acting career is over. Now, Luis owns an old theatre whose backroom carries his new passion - a handful of wax figurines of famous female theatre roles. Our third and last suspect is Raul (Julio Alemán), a young doctor who just happens to make some sort of secret experiments for which he buys human cadavers from the local grave robbers.

Raul is very much in love with Dona Leonor's daughter Marta (Patricia Conde), his childhood friend now working as a nurse in the same hospital as he does. Marta, a rather more independent young woman than typical of a film like this (and consequently an actually likeable female lead), however, has taken rather a shine to Luis, something Raul doesn't exactly change by saying charming things to her like "You only romanticize Luis because he's a cripple!". Grave robber and jerk: serial killer or our romantic lead?

While the young people are sorting out their love lives, further kidnappings and killings happen. The police are finally lead to the boarding house and actual suspects when the first potential witness to one of the kidnappings is killed there with a curare dart, a method the killer will continue to use on people who know too much. It will still take them quite some time to figure out what's going on, and if not for the consequences of the whole love triangle, the killer would probably never be caught.

In Mexican horror cinema, the influence of the classic Universal horror and assorted movies stayed strong throughout the 40s and 50s, when most national cinemas were more interested in alien invasions. Even in the first half of the 60s, it wasn't at all strange for a Mexican movie like Museo del horror to reach back to Michael Curtiz' Mystery of the Wax Museum (and probably the handful of other wax museum based horror and mystery films), and treat its own version to all the fog and dark graveyards the budget could afford. See also the love lucha cinema still carried for the classic Universal monsters in the 70s, when the classic Frankenstein monster or Dracula in his guise as a dark-haired foreigner with an excellent cloak had been rather quaint and old-fashioned in their country of origin for decades.

Museo del horror's director Rafael Baledón's career contains so many movies in so many different genres of popular cinema, it's difficult to actually form an opinion about his body of work when one is only interested in about half of the genres he worked in, and can get one's hands on even fewer of his films. What I do know about him is that the gothic horror movies of his I've seen are quite beautiful to look at and accomplished entries in the genre that eschew much of the - generally also wonderful, but in a different way - silliness Mexican directors loved to add to the Gothic tropes.

Despite being at least partly also a mystery, Museo del horror is no exception to that rule, with much love lavished by the director on the obligatory shots of our creepy murderer sneaking through the dark, so many fog-shrouded streets you might think the film is set in movie-London, and shadows and creaking doors wherever you go. It would be interesting to know what contemporary Mexican audiences were thinking about these accoutrements of a very traditional style of horror at this point. Going by the style of films which came soon after, I assume they weren't so much getting tired of old-fashioned monsters and fiends, but were rather looking for a more contemporary (poppier) visual style of filmmaking.

Fortunately, we are now as removed from Baledón's classicist style as we are from the more colourful (and actually filmed in colour) films that came after, so we are in an excellent position to enjoy both styles of filmmaking. The gothic horror parts of Museo del horror make this proposition easy enough, with Baledón hitting every hoary plot beat not in a perfunctory manner, but with the style, class and conviction of someone working within parameters he understands deeply, and clearly loves.

Less successful, and very much perfunctory, are the film's mystery elements. I, at least, find it difficult to imagine anyone - quite independent of her knowledge of other wax museum horror pieces - will be surprised by the identity of the film's killer or his motivation, despite the two red herring suspects the film introduces. In this regard, I was rather surprised by how little the movie explains in the end. We never learn what the actual nature of Raul's suspicious experiments is, nor what the whole business with the mummy face is about, nor how the killer's lair manages to be at two places at once.

In the end, though, I can't say I actually cared about these curious holes in the film's narrative, nor about the mystery's obviousness, for I found myself permanently distracted by the excellent mood of gothic horror Baledón produced.