Monday, August 6, 2018
Having watched and reviewed all 10 seasons of Bewitched, I can consider myself juuust a little familiar with the show (Yes, I am aware I have not in fact reviewed Bewitched yet, but it's my blog, so I'm allowed to break the laws of the space-time continuum if I want). I naturally assumed it saw popularity in other countries, but shame on me for not realising sooner that those ever-industrious Turks remade that too!...
Murat is a businessman and doting father, liked by many, but also loathed by others who wish to see him thrown from his company. when his son is seemingly killed in a traffic accident. Despondent, he tries committing suicide, but is saved by a mysterious little girl. The quirky Çiçek insists on coming home with him, and makes things happier for him and his kind but beleaguered maid, while making life difficult for his spiteful family, eventually uncovering the truth about his son's disappearance...
Minik Cadı is like if Bewitched tripped some acid and slipped into another dimension. It's got enough qualities of the tv show to be recognizable (a nose-twitching witch (well, lower jaw in this case), her somewhat meddling relation, as well as your typical 1960s sitcom tropes like the nosy neighbours always seeing the magical hijinx but never being believed, etc), but also plenty of differences too. This feels like a genuinely original take on the Bewitched story, and is enjoyable from start to finish. Its biggest drawback is that it comes to a natural conclusion an hour in, and there's still 20 minutes left. At least what we get following that is still entertaining, and I was never clawing for the remote going 'When will this end?!'. You know, it just came to me what this feels like. It's as if you watched a two-parter of Bewitched, followed by the next episode, so you'll get just about an hour of one story, then an extra 20 minutes of other stuff.
The weirder qualities to Minik Cadı are for sure its shockingly adult themes. From apparent child loss, to attempted suicide, attempted rape, kidnapping, and sexuality, and nudity, it has quite the laundry list of things ensuring no Western parent would let their kid anywhere near this film! As for what I think, it's suitable I suppose. It might be pretty heavy subject matter but it's not like you're watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is still a children's film after all.
Samantha in this version is a cosmic prankster who you do NOT wanna mess with! An endearing (if terrifying) presence, Çiçek is way more proactive than her American counterpart! Quick to punish those who commit a wrongdoing, but kind and rewarding of those who deserve it, in such a way that you wouldn't expect from a kid. She comes across as wise beyond her years.
Poor Murat and Ayşel meanwhile are stuck with a family borne from the seventh circle of hell. Cheering when they think Murat's son has died (caring so little about their decorum that they're pretending to openly weep, then switch to raucous laughter as soon as the couple exit the room, not switching back when they come back in!). Thankfully these scoundrels quickly get their just desserts, so the movie's not a horribly frustrating watch. It's quite rewarding, actually! There is, however, one thing stopping one from totally enjoying the movie depending on how good their perception is, and that's the status of Murat's son. He's ok, just being held captive by thugs (on second thought that's not really 'ok', but you know what I mean!), but unless you're fluent in Turkish and notice other little half-details, you may well think he's actually dead!
The romance here is pretty good, even if Murat is a bit of a dope for taking almost an hour plus a skimpy costume change to Ayşel courtesy of Çiçek to realise that his maid is hot and fancies him, and he should really pursue her affections before it's too late. The two actors have a decent amount of chemistry together.
The acting in Minik Cadı is reportedly marked by weird accents, as pointed out to me by a Turkish pal who I showed a few scenes to, but seems good, albeit sometimes over-the-top. The highlight is by far Çiçek Dilligil, who exudes a devious charm, a brilliantly sarcastic expression, and a level of cuteness unparalleled in Turkish cinema. Her acting really impressed me, because the expressions that she's able to convey isn't the kind of behaviour I imagine you can coach a kid, at least not easily. They have to either actually be like that, or be familiar enough with the behaviour to imitate it. Massive props to Dilligil for doing so well!
Bülent Kayabaş gets a pretty surprising role! Given he has nearly 200 credits, I suppose it's not odd for him to be in a more serious part, but I've only seen Kayabaş in more manic and comedic ones, so for him to be a grieving father and genuine romantic lead was a surprise. He does well, too, showing a bit of versatility as an actor. His moustache though. Ugh, the 70s'... Meral Zeren is good as Ayşel, and gets a few great moments. She's a badass in the climax even before being granted with karate powers by Çiçek.
In the Gladys Kravitz role is Yeşilçam stalwart Hulusi Kentman, known as the ever grumpy yet lovable grandfather figure of Turkish cinema, with some 300 to 500 roles to his name. Adile Naşit is in the Endora role, which is an utterly bizarre yet very fitting combination if you're familiar with both Turkish movies, and with Bewitched. Her character is a lot more helpful than Endora, mainly because there's no sexist Darren to gum up the works, I imagine.
On the effects front, Minik Cadı is pretty on par with Bewitched. Objects move on their own convincingly enough, while the 'vanishing' edits usually aren't too bad, and the animals present are cute. What surprised me most were the scenes at the end when Çiçek is driving. There's no hidden 'real steering wheel' anywhere I could see, nor is there a sign of and stuntpeople, and the vehicle is actually in motion!...Oh god, they actually let the 6 year old child drive the car, didn't they! There was one moment where I noticed an older shot being re-used, where it was clear due to Çiçek wearing different clothes in the close-up than the long shot (this being one of the only scenes where she is wearing something else). Finally, the opening and ending credits are decent animation and very reminiscent of this movie's inspiration.
The music here is nice, with a healthy amount of rescorings of the leitmotif. As for the main theme proper, it's a nice enough song, but...errr...Çiçek Dilligil is a lovely actress, but she also cannot sing. Then, as if to answer my doubts about whether she was actually good but let down by misleading poor sound quality, we get a reprise from her, proving to me that she is in fact the problem. The main theme isn't repeated much for a Yeşilçam movie, pleasantly enough! We get the little instrumental tunes here and there, but the theme proper mainly just plays at the beginning, then around the 50 minute mark. Quite a restrained use, you may say! Well unfortunately it's no sooner than that first reprise ends that the second begins! The fact that the first reprise was sung by a different vocalist does not in fact make it less repetitive to hear it twice in a row. We hear a couple of snippets at the end too, but that's fine.
Minik Cadı is a very enjoyable piece of Turkish cinema, and proof that just because a movie from Turkey is weird, doesn't mean it always had to look cheap or badly made. Bewitched couldn't have asked for a better remake!...No, seriously, it couldn't. I mean, what the heck was the official one we got, my god!...
Sunday, August 5, 2018
Man eating beasts drinking the blood of the innocent, women who can change their outfits at the drop of a musical number, monkeys on horseback with hand grenades! It's time again to jump into the weird world of Pashtun cinema!
For some time, a fearsome monster has been stalking the countryside of Pakistan. Slaughtering anyone in its path and eating their flesh, it seems unstoppable, but opposing the malevolence is a noble bandit seeking to avenge his lost spouse, and clear his name in her death. Teaming up with another woman seeking revenge, they take the battle to a local crime lord, who may know more about the sinister goings-on than he lets on...
Adam Khor is a typical example of a Pakistani b-movie (or z-movie, depending on your point-of-view), and for what it is, it's decent. The plot is pretty scattered in how its told, but is otherwise quite straightforward. There's a monster on the loose, and the protagonists are trying to get him. What's less normal is the rapidity in which characters are introduced and killed shortly after we meet them. This happens to two seemingly important characters early on, coming as a bit of a surprise.
Something I found quite interesting and amusing is how each set of characters perceive the story's events. The cops think there's a human serial killer on the loose, the heroes think they're in a gangland tale, while the villain knows he's the main attraction in a monster movie!
The climax isn't hugely satisfying, but it's serviceable. The final development is absolutely crazy, in a good way. Very nearly in the negative though considering it was coming across like a deus ex machina, but then I realised the hero was only being gifted a weapon, rather than having the villain gift-wrapped for him. One thing to note is that Adam Khor thankfully does have a denoument. Granted, it's only 15 seconds long, but it at least has one! It probably sounds like I'm kidding, and I partially am, but it legitimately is at least a little satisfying, despite being rushed (which a 2-and-a-half hour film has no business being).
Speaking of crazy, this film has that in spades. It's not as bizarrely random like others of its type for the most part, but it does still have its strange moments, such as the aforementioned grenadier monkey, the climax, or the hero's introduction, where he busts out of the Earth like he's a demigod.
Coming to Adam Khor's status as a monster feature, I'd say the film sticks to the 'rule of Jaws' very well, in that it shows just enough of the creature to keep your attention, but not too much so that you lose interest too soon. Its full introduction is something nifty too. It's super cheesy, but entertaining in how thick the movie lays it on with the ooky skeleton props, cobwebs, the sound effects, and other assorted creepy imagery.
Badar Munir cuts an imposing enough figure as the main hero, but he does an incredibly poor job at protecting the women in his life from horrible deaths. Also, for an innocent man, he gets discovered by slashed-up corpses an inordinate amount of times. It's no wonder the police keep thinking he's guilty of being the cannibal!
The villain is a gang leader and head of a satanic cult, yet the fact that he's also the monster is a surprise even to his henchmen. On that note, his transformations often seem like a Jekyll and Hyde affair, which is...strange. So he's an evil crime lord, but rather than deliberately transform himself into a demonic killing machine, the process happens against his will and his underlings don't know about it? He spends quite a while in the film's midsection being in a more vulnerable state, before abruptly shifting back into a vicious gangster for the last act.
The women in this movie are quite varied. The most notable is Shehnaz, who's a badass partner to Munir, netting her fair share of kills, though she ends up sitting the final battle with the man eater out, since she momentarily forgets how to aim her gun. The other woman we see are either victims, bystanders, or singers. Also of note is that these Pakistani women are curvy and proud of it, strutting their stuff and knowing full well they've got the goods.
Adam Khor is full of familiar faces of Pakistani B-grade cinema, though Badar Munir is as of yet the only one I'm able to confidently name, along with Shehnaz...Khan(?). Those two do competent enough (albeit overacted) jobs, while everyone else ranges from hammy to positively manic, chewing vast amounts of scenery.
The songs here are typical of South Asian cinema. Not great, but tolerable, albeit often very shoehorned in. There's usually no proper segue into them, feeling very rushed as we're flung from a serious (perhaps even sombre) moment straight into a cheery tune. One I dug was when the imprisoned police officer gets his time to sing near the climax, and I also liked the dramatic way his girlfriend joins in at the end. It actually felt like this number had a purpose in the narrative, and endeared these two characters more to me.
As stated, the songs were enjoyable, though the fact that each of the women singing seem to die after almost every one in the early parts of the film did put a bit of a damper on the fun. Quite a shame given all the effort the characters put into their lavish productions, only to meet a grisly fate. Another running theme is that a lot of the guys being serenaded walk away at the end of the numbers disinterested, having shown little interest in their sweethearts' show.
My favourite song was the number at about the hour-and-a-half mark. It was fun and peppy with nice singing and melodies, neat dancing and choreography, and it was steamy in a borderline homoerotic way, which is a very nice sight for such a movie, not just because it left me going "Niiiiiiiiice", but because it's potentially a progressive sign.
Adam Khor is a very violent film, with lots of fake blood being spilled, flesh being torn off or punched out. A lot of it's pretty unconvincing, but fun, and some looks good. The make-up/costume design for the titular man eater is good, in the sense that it's pretty funny to behold, but effort has at least been put into it, regardless of how silly he looks. Far less inspiring are the dogs/wolves, which look like papier mache and are laughable when eating people. Finally, some of the scenes (namely the musical numbers) are shot in the rain, with it even playing a big part in a few of the musical numbers. While for all I know Pakistani movies may well have been able to simulate rain, that probably would have been beyond their budget and resources. With that in mind it's impressive that they had the tenacity to film in rain, and the patience to wait for it! Especially having timed choreography around it!
The editing here is pretty crazy. Characters doing jump cut disappearing tricks are not unexpected in the musical numbers, but it's still weird seeing the laws of reality break every time people start singing. Other scenes have multiple quick cuts with flipping frames and gunshot sound effects, feeling somewhat disorienting. Some moments are not only not well lit, but also tinted (often a dark blue), making some parts a bit hard to make out, including the final battle. Finally, there's so much slow motion that it sometimes feels like the characters are legitimately stuck in a time bubble.
Of all the Pashtun movies I've seen so far (which isn't many I'll grant you), Adam Khor is perhaps the best. That's not to say it's good in the traditional sense, but if you're blessed with patience in abundance, it's worth a watch...
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Hi all! Just here with a bit of news, and it's all good, never fear. I've been quite sporadic in posting reviews as of late, due to a variety of other things. I'd usually become busy, be exhausted, then get distracted by other things (be it leisure, or other activities like writing, plants, attempted arts and crafts, amateur piano practice, lingual studies, etc), and I'd alternate between really not feeling up for writing any reviews, or feeling very much up for it and getting a metric ton half written!...Only for something else to take up my attention and prevent me from finishing them, and by the time I'm ready, I'm not feeling it at that point. That, and a mix of me attempting several big projects at once in order to finally get them scratched off my review list (such as the James Bond series, The Persuaders, The Prisoner, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Terence Hill-Bud Spencer films, etc) has usually left me pretty beat, and I end up only getting a few reviews posted in the last minutes of the month, or none at all. I'm planning on making a change by finally implementing a proper schedule! No idea when the dates will be (perhaps they'll be fluid), but I'll probably post two reviews a week, whenever possible, and if I have some written ahead of time, and pace myself rather than trying to watch everything in 3 days, I should hopefully manage. I'll make a start next month with a lot of interesting stuff to discuss, making a start with weirdo Pakistani horror, and ending with some fun Europe-gazing adventure!...
Saturday, June 30, 2018
Noir is a genre I like, but I also like the entries in the canon that knew not too take themselves too seriously. Not that I'm hugely opposed to serious Noirs, but it is a rather conventional and cliched bunch of pictures, so any humorous take on them is welcome by me (as long as they're not jeering and mean spirited). Find the Blackmailer (or Follow the Blackmailer as I keep mistakenly referring to it as) is one such movie. A contemporary mystery-comedy...
Low-rent private detective D.L. Trees is suddenly given a new case from the local politician John Rhodes, a candidate for mayor with a platform based around complete honesty. He's being blackmailed by his soon-to-be brother-in-law Freddie Molner, and once threatened to kill him-An unfortunate act when Molner has a crow trained to say "Don't kill me, Rhodes!" in the event of his death. Worried that the up-to-his-neck in trouble blackmailer will end up arrested or dead sooner or later, Rhodes hires Trees to find that crow!...
Find the Blackmailer is a very pleasant surprise! Running at only 55 minutes long, it's a very brisk story, packing in a somewhat interesting mystery with enough twists and turns to keep you satisfied, even if there aren't that many clues or suspects. The ending is a bit cramped though. It doesn't feel rushed, but there could've been an extra scene or two, or just an extra minute or two to allow the scenes room to breathe. I was also briefly afraid Pam wouldn't be present for the ending, but she is there in the final minutes.
With its minimum amount of longer scenes, Find the Blackmailer at times resembles a stage play adaption, but is handled well enough to not suffer from the common drawbacks of this medium switch (long talky scenes where the camera never moves and the actors emote to the camera or a nonexistent audience)
Trees is a bit of a lousy detective, in how he promptly disturbs crime scenes, freely admits/blurts out confidential case facts to potential suspects, and is perpetually unable to pay his loyal but snarky secretary, but when the chips are down, he gets results! He's a fun lead, surprisingly clever at times. Might grate on some, but he's a fun dope. Exemplifying his likeability is when he's talking to the police. He's declining to answer because of his client confidentiality (and wanting to solve the case for himself), But he freely admits that if his client did end up being involved in the murder then he'd freely cooperating with the police. Quite a nice surprise, given the lousy track record PI's in fiction have with the fuzz.
The rest of the cast are pretty good. The beleaguered Hickey is a fun addition, coming into his own as a character to an extent. The crime boss Farrell is fine, though kinda just vanishes halfway through. Meanwhile, the other villains are ok, but a tad boring. The client John Rhodes plays a good role in the story, with his hopeful but nervous outlook on trees' ability as a detective. It is a bit annoying though that he never has to tell the truth about Freddie to his fiancee. She is the murder victim's brother after all! She never even appears, let alone finds out about the murder, or her brother's shady past.
Lastly and most importantly is Pam, Trees' snappy secretary. I really enjoyed Pam, and her relationship with her boss. A good example is at the start when he allows for her to covertly listen in on Rhodes going over the facts of the case. I also dug how she's with the police, transcribing at the crime scene. She's a dutiful and efficient underpaid secretary, for sure!
A couple of random notes. You've gotta love how lazy and secretary reliant PI's were when they can't even write down the important details the client told them after the fact, but needs the secretary to jot it down in real time. Ah well, at least they get to work, and we get to see more of 'em.
Find The Blackmailer has plenty of witty and/or bizarre dialogue on display.
Trees: "Don't bother me, I'm thinking"-Pam: "Uh-uh, you just think you're thinking."-Trees: "You really wanna know I'm thinking how I'm gonna pay your salary?"-Pam: "I have it! I'll lend you the money."
Trees: "Looks like we've got a case. Now if only I could find that bird."-Pam: "Don't worry about the bird. You just got it, but good...What was that little crack about love not being worth the trouble?"-Trees: "Aww, that's strictly for the carrots tray, sweetheart"-Pam: "Yeah, well I'm just a 'bicycle built for two' gal, so don't try any up on me."
Trees: "Hey, how late do you think a kid like Mona Vance would stay up?"-Pam: "Why? Think she'd like to know about Molner too?"-Trees: "If she doesn't already"-Pam: "You're not gonna go up and see that dame at this time of night!"-Trees: "Why don't you stop that. I'm only gonna ask her a couple of questions."-Pam: "Yeah, well I don't like her kind of answers"-Trees: "Well remind me to pour you a saucer of milk when I get back, will ya?"-Pam: "Oh, so I'm a cat, huh?"-Trees: "On you it's becoming, now are you gonna call Mona or am I gonna have to do it myself?"-Pam: "Woof."
Other assorted isolated lines of amusement are "Beat it before I throw a moth in your muffler", "60 Grand? Well that would feather everyone's nest nicely. including the crow's!", and courtesy of Pam "Y'know, you wouldn't make a bad scarecrow at that. Sometimes I think you're pretty cute".
The acting is pretty decent. Some deliveries aren't as good in places, but the leads all do well, especially Marjorie Hoshelle as Pam! She moves and emotes really well, and is she didn't have a full and rewarding career I'm going to be very disappointed.
Follow That Blackmailer is definitely worth a watch if you're into mysteries, especially those with a sense of humour...
Horror-comedies were quite a common thing back in the 1940s, which was both a blessing and a curse. The former because I love horror comedies, especially from this period! The latter however because a lot of them were either crap, or just not that great. Today I'm looking at The Smiling Ghost, to see which category it falls into...
Down-on-his-luck guy 'Lucky' Downing is hired by the wealthy Bentley family to pretend to be the socialite Elinor's fiancee. She's been plagued by a curse that manifests in the form of a nefarious ghost that kills or cripples every man she's engaged to. Keen on finding out who's responsible for this, Elinor and her family use the unwitting Lucky as bait. Fortunately for him, the ace reporter Lil Barstow is on his side, telling him what's going on, and and together they set out to solve the mystery of the Smiling Ghost...
The Smiling Ghost is rather a mixed bag. For a start, it's a much better comedy than it is horror. It focuses so much on trying to be funny that most genuine scares are pushed to the sideline a bit, though the ones that are present are nicely spooky.
The mystery does get interesting at about the 40+ minute mark when we get the first clue. But by that point my interest had waned considerably, not surprisingly given that's the 40 minute mark. The most trying moments of the film are all before that point, while I impatiently waited for the good stuff to get going.
Something that irked me is how the movie goes to all the trouble of introducing a large cast of suspects that it expects you to keep track of, only for the first clue to pretty much reveal the killer's true identity, until the last 5 minutes, when there's a twist I did not see coming! I won't reveal it, but I will at least mention that there is a twist to save you from switching off early.
One moment of note is when a character is juuuust about to impart an important clue...and actually does! I was very grateful that he didn't immediately get killed. The amount of times that happens in old mysteries is infuriating, even when it's intended as a joke.
Lucky is a bit of a dope, but a somewhat courageous dope, even if he comes off a bit unlikeable early on. Elinor is a character I wasn't sure how to feel about. At first she doesn't act too bad, even if you wonder how much of her lovey-dovery feelings towards Lucky are an act, considering she only hired him to pretend. It's when Lil starts having feelings for that Elinor starts behaving a bit sketchily. Then there's a specific act she committed in the past that ends up being surprisingly relevant, as opposed to being ignored like I thought it'd be. Until the ending, Elinor ends up being a bit of a non-entity as the investigation progresses, but that's ok, as it allows Lil Barstow takes on more of a role from that point forwards. She's definitely a much more deserving side protagonist.
As for the more minor players, the Bentley family butler is amusing, but his presence kinda highlights how annoying it is that the white butler is allowed to be an assertive guy, but the black one has to be subservient
The weirdest thing about The Smiling Ghost is one character's fascination with shrunken heads, and his desire to turn Willie Best's head into one, as it's a 'perfect specimen of the negroid variety'. This is a plot point that could've been super awkward in a movie from the 1940s, but it thankfully comes across more quaint and eccentric, and the wants of an intentionally bad character (though that turns out not to be the case in the almost shockingly ghoulish ending). Speaking of, the ending itself is the second weirdest thing about the movie. Ah well, at least more screentime for Willie probably meant he got more pay!
The acting in The Smiling Ghost is competent enough. Wayne Morris is a decent enough performer even if his character veers on the insufferable. Of note is that he kinda resembles a young Regis Toomey. Willie Best is an endearing presence as usual, even if I was a bit tired of the 'scared black butler' archetype/stereotype, especially given the presence of a more snarky white butler. Of note for Maltese Falcon fans is the presence of Lee Patrick, but she doesn't do much.
While the dialogue can sometimes be a bit annoying (only to a small degree), there are moments of greatness, like/such as "Nobody is gonna put me in a coffin and get away with it!". This almost makes up for the hopelessly American way everyone pronounces 'valet'.
The titular 'Smiling Ghost' looks nicely spooky, somewhat reminiscent of Lon Chaney in London After Midnight. One interesting note about the effects is a comparison to the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who. I won't say specifically what for fear of spoilers, so let me just say that The Master's 'real actor from a distance-super fake mask close-up' masks have nothing on The Smiling Ghost! I'm genuinely impressed! The special effects person earned their paycheck that day!
The Smiling Ghost isn't that great a picture, but it's tolerable, never bad, and has got enough neat aspects to recommend it if you're into this sort of movie, but otherwise you could find some better examples...
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Come on come all to another year of May Monster Madness! This year I'll be looking at Monster Squad (no, not THAT one...or THAT one either)...
Walt is a young criminology student working at a wax museum. One night he plugged in his Crime Computer, and it brought to life the museum 'exhibits' Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man, once villains but now seeking to make up for their past misdeeds. Together, this group seeks to fight evildoers wherever they may spring from...
The Monster Squad did NOT get off to a good start! Not only was the writing in the first episode shockingly awful, but the effects seemed pretty lousy too! Thankfully it steadily improved in quality with every episode, and is ultimately entertaining!
Quite a lot of the humour falls flat on its face in the earlier episodes, but that too gets steadily better One weird joke I'm still not sure about is the somewhat slow-witted policeman named Officer McMacmac. What?! My favourite presence is by far the Crime Computer. On paper a supercomputer that literally burps out its info-cards may not sound that funny, but it made me laugh every time, even in the really bad early episodes. The concept of a supercomputer that you talk with via an in-built telephone is also a great visual design.
The show is quite cheap, horrible so in many episodes. The visuals are sometimes its greatest downfall, but are also occasionally triumphs. There is some possibly re-used footage whenever the team 'come to life', but if they are, the editing sometimes shortening them or showing from a further way or closer angle than normal makes them feel fresh and new.
The make-up for the three monsters had me confused at first. I thought it was awful to begin with, but not only did I warm to them, I realized that they're actually pretty good! I guess the abysmal first episode just had me soured on the show's overall design. That's not to say the designs are perfect though. Both Frankenstein and Dracula have gaps in their make-up, around their eyes and mouth, as well as the insides of their hands. The Wolf Man's look is by far the best!
The characters are a lively and distinctive bunch. They're not amusing all of the time, but make the show a joy to watch, and it truly does live up to its cool high concept, even if it does leave you yearning to know how it all began, because a simple narration in the opening credits isn't enough! I need more!
It seems a bit of a cheat at first that we only get Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man, but on reflection, not only is three enough, it also makes sure the show doesn't get overcrowded. It's also a pleasure how often the three monsters are the ones doing hands-on investigation as well as brawling, and they aren't upstaged by their human buddy, who's usually a stay at home agent, instructing from the sidelines.
Walt is funny in how he sometimes talks like an overdramatic kid with his nose stuck in a dictionary. He has the kind of characterisation that could be infuriating in the wrong hands, or even in a decently written but taken seriously show.
One minor annoyance is that it's pretty inconsistent how much the authorities/general public know about the team, and how much has to remain a secret.
Something else strange is how the Wolf Man is never actually called that. The opening narration refers to him simply as 'The Werewolf', and he's named Bruce in the show itself. Did they not have the rights to the character? If not, it's surprising they were able to get away with this character who's the Wolf Man in all but name.
The villains are the most mixed aspect of Monster Squad throughout its run. Some are quite good, most are mediocre, and a couple are awful! Their henchmen are often derivative thugs, with their most often being exactly two, and more often than not their names are emblazoned on their clothes. Another issue is similar motivations. This starts dwindling at around the halfway mark, giving way to more interesting motives, perhaps because the writers got a stern call from the higher ups to pretty please use more imagination.
The effects range from good, to not that great, to downright awful, but you get the feeling that a lot of the more unconvincing ones are used with a grin. Less appealing though are the really obvious and cheap sets and costumes in a lot of the early eps, making the show feel like a no-budget 15 minute PBS production.
I'm not that crazy about the main theme. It's a bit weird and noisy.
Ok, let's delve into the episodes proper...
The Queen of all bees is dissatisfied with the way things are being run, and holds the world at ransom, threatening to destroy humanity unless her demands are met...
Good god this episode is awful! I was dreading the future of the series once I saw this, and knew at once why it only lasted one season! This is trash. The production values are appallingly cheap, with obvious sets, super fake 'honey', a guy in a low-rent bear costume, and the puns. Oh my god, the puns! Bee-lieve, bee-witching, bee-dazzling, bee-guiling, bee-wildering, bee-seech, bee-moan, bee-loved, bee-headed, etc. There's literally over 50, if I'm remembering correctly! It's beyond a joke!
Beyond that, the villains are still annoying, and the plot not very interesting or well written. The heroes don't get that much chance to shine, and overall this is a painful watch!...
The city's mayor is replaced with a lifelike doll by the nasty Mr. Mephisto, who increases taxes in the city, shutting down practically every local business and lining his pockets with all of the money. That is, until the Monster Squad figure out what he's up too...
Mr. Mephisto is an improvement over Queen Bee, but baby steps. It's still not that great. The villain is at least less annoying. He doesn't really get a fitting title though. Mr. Mephisto sounds more like a demonic figure rather than a dollmaker using his skills for theft. His henchmen are just barely tolerable, but they're women, unlike the rest of this show's second bananas, which were usually always men!
The climax is a total mess, literally as well as figuratively. Hardly all that appealing.
Mr. Mephisto is one of the show's least good episodes, but it's not totally awful, and is at least watchable, which is certainly something...
Archfiend The Tickler is a clown who has never laughed in his life, and has devoted himself to that one goal, at the expense of everyone else's happiness. Setting his eyes on one-time foes the Monster Squad, he plots a dastardly revenge to tickle them until their bodies collapse...
The Tickler is where Monster Squad starts picking up. The episode isn't perfect, but it's watchable, mainly thanks to the good antagonist. The actor (Ivor Francis) does very well with the material, coming off like a Bond villain! I mean that in the good way not as a pejorative.
The villain of the week's hideout actually looks like a real location this time, rather than a poorly dressed-up set, and it's got some neat touches to it!
The humour is improved once more, with some funny dialogue like when Walt destroys an indestructible cage with a laser, saying "It hasn't been invented yet but I used it anyway".
The Tickler isn't perfect, but it was at this point when I realized the show's quality had taken a definite upswing...
An embittered ringmaster and his circus cadre decide to get revenge on America by holding thousands of children hostage for millions of dollars, which they'll use to buy all the toy stores in the country.
This entry has and ok story and some decent laughs, but the villains are a pretty gross bunch, mainly down to the overeating 'fat' lady, and whoever did the make-up job for the Ringmaster.
The addition of 'stupid gas' is...well, stupid, but it at least saves the episode from going to a very dark place regarding what fate would befall these kids if the government didn't pay up, so stupid gas it is!
Billy Curtis is ok as the villain, despite the ugly make-up, By the way, his self- described title is The Impish Impresario, which is a much better title than just The Ringmaster!
The Ringmaster is a step back for Monster Squad, but it's still better than its worst...
The Music Man
The failed singer and manager of a music shop robs a successful charity blind of all its earnings, in order to hire everyone in America to attend his latest concert. Unwilling to let a charity be robbed, or let the world be subjected to the terrible singing of the Music Man, the Monster Squad sets up to stop him, going in subtly with an undercover job...
The episode begins with an amusingly bizarre joke about a charity devoted to battling the dreaded affliction 'natural causes', the leading cause of death in most people It's perhaps repeated a smidgen too much, but it's entertaining, as is the one near the end about Dracula's impressions. I also got a kick of the intro, with the three monsters calmly and serenely playing violins.
The villain is pretty meh. He's nicely sparkly though, even if the costume itself is pretty awful. He has the makings of a neat plan, but it doesn't end up coming together that well, probably because he doesn't even get close to fulfilling it.
The sound trap that the Music Man has the heroes in is a somewhat neat and creative prison, but a bit annoying to hear.
Overall, this is an ok ep, but one you'll perhaps want to have turned down for a lot of the duration...
The villainous No Face impersonates Chief Running Nose in an effort to wrest control of the city away from the mayor, instituting a new policy making all crime legal. Not satisfied with his handsome drip-feed of money, once criminals everywhere have stolen all the money they can, No Face will make crime illegal again and pocket all of the ill-gotten goods, unless the Monster Squad can stop him...
No Face, with its portrayal of Native Americans, was one of those occasions where I wasn't sure if the show was going to end up insightful and witty, or shockingly racist. How does it do? Um, cringey, but not that bad. It's worst fault is the name Chief Running Nose, but that does at least pay off in a good way by the end. Overall, given we see him at the end wearing modern day clothes (as well as speaking normal English), I figure the episode knows full well having him decked out of full old-world native regalia, featherhead and all, is over-the-top and not something most indigenous Americans don't wear commonly, and is just taking the opportunity to be goofy.
This brings up an interesting point, however unintentionally. The way Native Americans were often portrayed on older comedy shows, with full-on tribal outfits, is actually quite progressive in a way, as it's showing them still holding true to their culture and customs, with their sometimes broken English showing that they still speak their original languages, keeping them alive for new generations. Do I think any of this is intentional? Oh hell no, but it's a nice thought regardless.
There are quite a few laughs to be had here, from the funny witness description, to Chief Running Nose (really No Face)'s line "Because White Man speak with forked tongue, and subdivide sacred land with fork lift, I forking over certified cheque for 24 dollars!".
Unlike a lot of the series' prior enemies, No Face came across like a more genuine supervillain, as The Tickler did, rather than just a random criminal, even if his motivation (Get lotsa money!) is the same as just about every other episode. I also found it effective how we never see his true face, until the end of that scene ruined that mystique, with a pretty bad effect to boot. No Face gets a neat music accompaniment in one scene too!
Regarding the actor who plays him, I was wondering if he was Native American, rather than a white guy in brownface. My reaction to their identity is as follows-"THAT'S SID HAIG?!". Ok, so that's a 'No' for the 'Are they actually Native American?' question, and a "So that's why!" for why No Face is the best villain in the show's run!
Getting to the heroes, there's clever thinking on their part, and the episode showcases all of their skills quite well! We're also treated to an amusingly loquacious Wolf Man. There's a reference to the show's overarching continuity, and if this episode is to be believed, the Monster Squad have saved the city once a week for 5 years. Really?! I've heard of older shows starting off in media res, but not by that much!
No Face is by far the best episode in the series, and a great example of what this show could be at its heights...
A disgruntled TV astrologer who never gets a prediction right has turned to crime, having stolen a nuclear bomb in order to make his latest prophecy come true-That of an earthquake separating California from the mainland. Can the Monster Squad stop him in time?...
Siiigh, one step forward, one step back. The Astrologer has some good aspects, such as a motivation that's different from the series' norm, even if it seemed like a bit of a ripoff of Superman (in actuality this predates that movie by 2 years, so that's neat!). The villain is its greatest weakness though. Feeling like his outfit was cobbled together from random parts in a costume box, Johnathon Harris does a painful job as the Astrologer.
There are some funny moments here and there, usually when Harris is offscreen. There's a 'ticking clock' that goes way past its supposed time, even by TV logic, which kinda ruins the climax. There's also a weirdly depressing ending, almost mean to poor Dracula.
The vengeful Ultra Witch demands to have her jailed boyfriend returned to her, and has made all the world's cows (except Arabia) dry up, and turns all U.S. soldiers into castor oil when her demands aren't met right away. Thankfully the Monster Squad has an ace up their sleeve-They're monsters, so Ultra Witch will be more liable to trust them. Will their plan succeed?...
Somewhat dated Ronald Reagan jokes aside, Ultra Witch is a decent outing, and has the welcome addition of Batman alumni Julie Newmar! The plot is the right amount of silly. Serious props to Fred Grandy for acting his ass off in the way he interacts with the cardboard cutouts. You totally believe they really are the team due to his enthusiasm! I also liked the concept of Dracula sending a morse code message with his pulse.
The climax is quite good! While the fight itself isn't that impressive, it's at least clear to make out thanks to the nice use of colour
By the way, it was this episode where I realized that there hadn't been any puns (terrible or otherwise) from the villains since Queen Bee! Thank god for that!
Ultra Witch treats us to yet another interesting motive. It's not even wanton destruction this villainess craves (although she's more than happy to cause it), but the release of her wizard boyfriend (unrelated to next episode's baddie). I also find it neat how we get to see Drac going undercover by coasting on his former reputation, one that a witch of all people is likely to actually recognise.
Ultra Witch's costume is of note It's still terrible, yes, but it at least looks like effort was put into thinking of an actual costume rather than just dressing the actor up in random junk and calling it a day. The henchmen actually have a bit of character to them, even if they look pretty similar as henchmen past.
This is another fun entry, which is thankfully becoming increasingly common for me to say with this series!...
An angry wizard seeks revenge against the American government for stiffing him, so he starts miniaturising major landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, etc. During their investigation, two of the Monster Squad are shrunk and trapped inside the tiny landmarks, leaving only Walt and Dracula to save the day...
The Wizard is a pretty entertaining time to be had.
I couldn't help but find it amusing when the characters are going on about America 'losing her identity' when all these landmarks are whisked away, yet they're all European in origin. Hehe. I bet Chief Running Nose won't be losing any sleep over 'em! Also, for a villain The Wizard's motives aren't that bad. The dude was legitimately screwed over by the government, so he's getting back at them for leaving him with worthless property by placing all of the nation's most famous landmarks on said worthless property, opening it for tourists even. So far you've said nothing wrong, Mr. Wizard! But alas, he's a bit of a dickhead, so the Monster Squad have to kick into gear and stop him.
Walter's latest invention (a universal antidote biscuit) is fun, though makes him a suicidal wackjob at the beginning! Also, laughing gas isn't a poison.
The climax is fun, despite budgetary limitations. In fact, the invisible sword fight is quite entertaining, with both actors giving it their all! The pre-cut watermelon a minute later is just embarrassing though.
Arthur Malet makes for a fine villain as The Wizard. It's almost kind of a shame they didn't try and tie this into the previous episode though. Oh well, it still stands well on its own...
Evildoer The Skull has stolen the body of Tutankhamen, the world's greatest thief, and he resurrects the long dead pharaoh to steal precious diamonds. What will the Monster Squad have to say about this?...
This episode has humour that doesn't really hit the mark, but is intermittently funny (the borderline racist Asian character named Kung Fooey is not). The villain is pretty entertaining, and has a neat design, although he does sound basically the same as Dracula. I'm less positive towards the annoying henchman, who is sadly not strangled by Tutankhamen.
We almost get another Universal monster on display this episode in the form of the mummy. Unfortunately it does barely anything, especially in the climax, even though the end does kinda set him up for a return, though it's really just for a joke conclusion. Kind of a shame the personality we hear of (King Tut as one of the most devious criminal masterminds in history) wasn't explored more, because that sounds like high concept fun!
The finale is pretty interesting, in that while there is a brawl, the true showdown is more low-key and psychological (to the extent that a goofy show like this can be, of course). And funnily enough, the whole time I as yelling at the Wolf Man to just reach up and pull The Skull into the grave, and woudn't you know it, he ends up doing just that! It serves The Skull right, trying to use a bullet by poking someone with it!
The effects here aren't very good, with an obviously plastic and obviously hollow diamond, and an unimpressive mummy.
With it's Kilink-inspired baddie, The Skull is a neat episode, albeit imperfect...
A diabolical gangster has taken control of the weather, and will bring America to its knees unless he is unanimously voted in as President for Life of the United States. Obviously the Monster Squad cannot allow this, but how will they fare when one of their own is frozen solid?...
The Weatherman makes for a relatively amusing time, but it's not that comfortable to watch in winter. Brrrrr!
This one of the only episodes in the entire series that actually shows the effects of the villain's plan! This is accomplished through use of stock footage though, which could perhaps be seen as a little insulting?
There are very good effects for the people who get frozen. So good that they'd look good in a higher budget movie!
The Weatherman is a pretty fun villain with his swaggering crime boss demeanour, and he gets a very anti-Bond speech during the climax in how quickly he decides to kill the leads, but the mystique is ruined by how easily he's disarmed twice in a row afterwards.
The final battle this time round is...interesting. 'Interesting' in this case is not code for 'funny', but at least it's not samey. I had a good time with this episode, though maybe I'd enjoy it more if I wasn't shivering the whole way through!...
Lawrence of Moravia
Foreign dignitary Lawrence of Moravia is unsatisfied with being able to buy anything he wants, and derives much greater pleasure from stealing it instead. Having set his eye on the largest pearl in the world, it'll take the combined efforts of the team to stop him...
The Monster Squad do battle with a nefarious Arab sheik, and boy do I hope this won't be racist! Thankfully it's mostly not. *phew* once more!
This struck me as a really good final episode! It has by far the best climax, character moments, a fun villain, henchmen who are varied and mostly not annoying (more in that later), and is an all-round great time! My how this series has improved!
It's interesting how the heroes meet the villain relatively early on, and that part of the episode is a nervous conversation, a tete a tete between the two parties. The Monster Squad are at their best here, coming across as very endearing! They are the heroes we need!
The effects are ok. The costuming is pretty good! Dracula's make-up is somewhat faded in this episode. This kinda has an unintentional positive effect, make his cheeks appear more sunken, and thus more deathlike
The oil rising is less convincing, with it being obvious it's only entering into a thin chamber sitting in front of the actors, designed to make it look like they're being submerged despite it being plainly obvious they're not.
Despite not being Arabic, Joseph Mascolo acquits himself off pretty well, making for a fun enemy. His henchmen though, not so much. They're in obvious brownface, and it's embarrassing!
Lawrence of Moravia is the pinnacle of what this show could accomplish, and is well worth a watch!...
Criminal mastermind(s) Albert/Alberta are plotting a dastardly scheme in order to hold the world ransom, and the Monster Squad must stop them in order to avert an apocalyptic catastrophe...
This episode is borderline surreal! A literal half man-half woman is stealing two of every animal in order to flood the world and create a new 'Genesis'. What the flying heck? Bloody weird! As for the hows of his plan, I'm only going to describe them with "Uhhhhhhhhhhh"...
My greatest fear going into this episode (right after if it'd stand up next to Lawrence of Moravia) was whether or not it'd be inadvertently transphobic. Thankfully it's not. *phew* While is not is still pretty annoying (thanks mainly due to his 'half' obsession), as are his henchmen. Vito Scotti also doesn't do a very good job at being Alberta. So bad that his Alberta personality fleetingly speaks.
Despite some decent moments, this isn't that great of an episode, nor is it a good send off for the series as a whole...
Monster Squad is a very flawed show, but it's got enough upsides that I recommend giving it a watch. Just make sure to avoid the first episode like the plague, and to make Lawrence of Moravia the last one you watch...
Thank you all for reading, and be sure to check out all the other contributors to this year's May Monster Madness! They'll all have fangtastic posts, I am sure!...
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
When I go trawling through lists and film databases at random, seemingly pedestrian looking titles sometimes grab my attention with crazy sounding plot descriptions. They don't usually live up to them, but it's always good to take a look anyway. In this case, Uzun Ince Bir Yol (A Long Thin Road) purported itself to be a movie bout former Turkish heart-throb Tarik Akan in a Seventh Seal style game for his life against Death! Let's see if it lives up to that summary...
Turkish expatriate Müşfik has arrived back to his home country with his wife and son, during a holiday drive. The trip takes the family though Turkey, but things seem off as Müşfik keeps seeing the same man wherever they go, no matter how much distance they travel. In his haste speeding across a road, he causes a traffic accident, killing several people. With his family unaware of what he's done (??), he just keeps on driving, eventually arriving at the home of his parents. The mystery figure continues haunting Müşfik, and he struggles to fight back against what seems to be the inevitable...
Uzun Ince Bir Yol is a 1990s Turkish film directed by Tunç Başaran (yes, that one), possibly taking inspiration from the Greek play Alcestis and the Turkish folk tale of Deli Dumrul, which both centre on trying to cheat death (or rather, Death, capitalized, since it makes for much better theatrics if the lead is actually conversing with another actor who can talk back, rather than just yelling at an abstract construct for thee hours).
The plot and characters maybe feel a little underdeveloped, and not a lot really happens, with the majority of the film's runtime devoted to seeing a creepy guy interspersed with driving, hanging out by the ocean and sunbathing, strange scenes where Müşfik is tied to a ship's mast and sprayed by his wife and son with shaken-up wine bottles, etc. Thankfully his encounters with Death do ramp up in intensity as the movie progresses, and bar a couple of scenes I never really found it boring overall.
There are other plot threads that seem either forgotten or just not paid much attention too (assuming a key line didn't fly right over my Turkish-illiterate head), such as when Death influences Müşfik's son to accidentally shoot someone with a harpoon gun. I don't even think the little brat noticed! The last half hour is where things get a bit more interesting, with kooky dream sequences, more abstract visuals, and Death finally looking the part with a cloak and scythe, which he does get to use.
Everything culminates in a weirdly upbeat ending that seems to forget Müşfik totally killed like half a dozen people, or that his son impaled a woman. Is this a case of the movie wanting to have its cake and eat it too (in this case, wanting to have a happy ending regardless of how much or little the characters actually deserve it) or did I simply miss something in the patches of dialogue I didn't understand? Either way...the movie is better thought-out than the previously-used idiom (or analogy? Metaphor? Whichever), because of course someone is gonna eat the piece of cake they have, since that's the whole damn point of having a slice! What else were we supposed to do with it, use its component amount of crumbs for mathematical problems? Goshdamn passive aggressive proverbs trying to shame us for eating cake.
The acting is pretty good here. As noted in my Üçüncü Göz review, the then-39 year old Akan looked more like 65, and he does here at first until he shaves his beard early on, with only a moustache remaining. Not only does this shave away a few decades from his visage, it leads to him looking not only completely different from his bearded self, but also his younger one!
Taner Barlas does quite a good job as Death, looking just weird and offputting enough without being really obviously malevolent. He delivers his lines in a powerful and menacing manner. I also thought it a nice touch that Death is always dressed in white as opposed to black.
The rest of the acting is ok, but nothing hugely impressive.
One weird touch to the movie is how the main characters alternate between languages. I guess I should give the movie props for trying to realistically portray a multilingual family that hail from different countries originally, but it's as confusing to listen to from an audience's perspective as much as I imagine it is to actually talk like that. There were times when I'd hear a word and wouldn't be sure if it was Turkish or English.
The cinematography here is quite good, especially some scenes! The movie manages to look quite evocative and almost epic in places, with the ancient locations on display such as an ancient Colosseum aiding the production superbly. There's a great use of lighting too, with deep oranges, and the blue of the ocean and the night sky contrasting well with the yellow of the lamplight in one scene.
Uzun isn't exactly an effects heavy production, but what there is is good, from a dream decapitation, to an implied harpooning, and the scenes of Müşfik's wild careening through traffic looks convincingly dangerous! A flying effect later on is well handled too.
The soundtrack, by Hasan Yükselir, is quite good in spots, though a lot of the movie is either un-scored, or is just very low-key. As for the good pieces, they have kind-of a medieval Romanian sound to them. That's the best I can describe it, anyway, next to 'It sounds like an N64 era Castlevania game.
Uzun Ince Bir Yol isn't that great of a movie, but it's got its redeeming qualities for sure, and despite the undercurrent of gloom and death, it really makes you wanna visit Turkey's South/West coast!...