Thursday, February 14, 2019

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Haram Alek (1953)

It's that time of year again. Valentine's Day, which in this neck of the woods means vampires! The Fabulous people of Holly's Horrorland and Little Gothic Horrors are once again hosting, and it's my pleasure to once again discuss a vampiric oddity from a country far away...

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Postal workers Wilbur and Chick deliver a couple of mysterious crates to a wax museum of horrors. These boxes supposedly contain the remains of the real Count Dracula, and Frankenstein's Monster. This is proved unfortunately true when they come back to life, almost scaring Wilbur to death. He tries telling Chick what happened, but isn't believed, until werewolf Larry Talbot comes onto the scene, bringing dire warnings...

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is lauded as one of the most popular horror-comedies of all time, as well as one of the greatest Abbott and Costello films, and one of the best Universal monster movie, which it served as a coda to. A lot of expectation to live up to! For most people it does, but I didn't enjoy it that much. It's by no means bad, but I guess there were just a few things about this that bugged me, and ultimately brought the experience down. I felt that movie focused a little too much on Bud and Lou and not enough on the monsters, who drive the plot, yet get comparatively little screentime. The movie's already a decent length as it is, so being longer probably wouldn't be the answer, but better pacing and writing, in my opinion at least.

The final battle is interesting in that we don't actually see a lot of it, but are on the periphery as Bud and Lou are trying to avoid it, unsuccessfully. On one hand it's pretty annoying that a lot of the film's only monster battle is offscreen, but I think this still works in its own right, especially given the monster brawls that had become plentiful in previous Universal outings.

The ending to ...Meet Frankenstein really bugs me though. There isn't one! It just stops after the climax, quite abruptly. I find it disappointing, though the wonderful parting joke is enough to lessen the blow, and make sure you leave the film with a smile on your face.

The characters here are mixed. The biggest problem is that there are too darn many of them! There's the main duo, the three monsters, Sandra, and the two young lovers. The latter two are the ones who feel the least necessary. Neither really do much, despite their seemingly important roles (lab assistant in the spooky castle, and dogged insurance investigator, respectively). Wilbur and Chick are both fun, with just the right level of childlike naivety, and skepticism, with neither overstaying their welcome.

The Frankenstein Monster gets to do the least, since he's strapped to a gurney for most of the film, only getting to really cut loose in the last few minutes. The Wolf Man is more active in his furry persona, but not by a whole lot since he's gotta revert back to good old Larry Talbot, who's a decent cipher to the supernatural events, even if a little crazy at times. Dracula gets the most, what with being the master villain.

Sandra is an interesting character. For a start, she's fictional Lou Costello's shockingly attractive girlfriend, so you just know she's got to have some sort of ulterior motive. And boy does she ever! (You know how it is, when the girl who dotes on you so much is really only interested in using your brain to revitalise a bedraggled monster). She even orders Dracula around! When Dracula gets ornery at her later on, you believe her when she says her will is as strong as his. Unfortunately the screenwriter evidently didn't, as she's successfully hypnotised, and spends the remainder of the film as a mindless dummy, only to be killed unceremoniously at the end...Well, I say unceremonious, but I mean on a character level. Visually it's quite spectacular! And shockingly final for such a goofy comedy!

The comedy here is spot-on! The dialogue flies by at a breakneck pace, and is almost hard to keep track of sometimes.
 "You’re making enough noise to wake up the dead." "I don’t have to wake him up.  He’s up."
"Whenever the full moon rises I turn into a wolf." "Oh, pal. That's all right. I'm sort of a wolf myself!"
"What was that?"-"The wind."-"It should get oiled."
"Dracula is Dracula! And Sandra's gonna use my brain to make a bigger dummy out of the other dummy."

The movie looks fabulous! It's got an abundance of spooky old scenery, including an old castle that just so happens to be on an American island. There are a few moments of animation, such as the fun credits, and moments of Dracula's bat transformations, which are pulled off quite well, and are visualised seamlessly (I suppose they had to animate backwards to synchronize it with Lugosi's movements). The music also sounds great. The score gets across both mirth and genuine atmosphere.

Lastly, the acting. The titular boys are great! Costello can get a little shrill and loud at times, but is otherwise really talented, as is Abbott, who plays off him perfectly. Meanwhile, Lon Chaney Jr. returns as /Larry Talbot/the Wolf Man, as does Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's Monster (his third outing), and Bela Lugosi returns to the role that made him famous, 17 years later.

While I'm not the biggest fan of this film, it's still a classic, and I highly recommend you seek it out!...

Haram Alek

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was a smash hit, both at home and abroad. Such was its impact that not only did it see an unauthorised 'remake' in Mexico, but also in Egypt of all places! It's a shame the Mummy wasn't in ...Meet Frankenstein, then we could see the Egyptians tackling their mo. 1 'movie monster'!

Since I don't properly speak Arabic yet, I watched 1953's Haram Alek with a Jordanian penpal. Despite the fact that by her admission the harder-to-understand Egyptian dialect gives her brain damage, she helped me dutifully in understanding both the basics and specifics of the film.

The plot to Haram Alek (An Arabic phrase meaning Have Mercy/Shame On You) is much the same as the previous film, albeit with changed names, and some cultural updates. As far as remakes go, this is good. Enough is the same for it to feel familiar, but enough has been changed to make this stand out more in its own right. The dialogue is thankfully not just the same script translated into Arabic, for the most part. The two leads, Ismail Yasseen and Abdel El Kasri don't try and copy the styles of the two Americans, mainly because these guys were already established actors and comedians. They didn't need to ape anyone else, which is a relief. It makes the film feel less cheap.

Haram Alek is quite a bit more streamlined than its predecessor, with the two leads being workers at the museum that receives the monsters, and the Wolfman being the lab assistant. These are appreciated, and make the film feel less cluttered.

While the Gothic look to the proceedings is absent (since Gothic architecture isn't really an Egyptian staple)  the tone remains unchanged, with some scenes coming across genuinely tense!

For all the scenes that are shot very closely to the original, some are interestingly different, such as Ismail hanging out washing while unrealizingly being threatened by the Wolfman, as opposed to Costello looking around a hotel room, and the scene where the duo try barricading the monster out only for it to emerge from another door, rather than it being a case of 'pull not push'.

Despite the more streamlined nature, Haram Alek is almost 10 minutes longer than ...Meet Frankenstein. Why is that, you ask? Could it be perhaps this version has a less rushed ending? More fleshed out characters?  Well, all the bellydancing miiight have something to do with it...

For those who don't have the luxury of speaking Arabic, the amount of characters here can be a bit overwhelming, but it's otherwise not too bad. They're all introduced early enough, and most are easy to tell apart.

The amount of screentime the monsters get is pretty on-par with the original. They're used pretty sparingly, some more than others, but overall appear enough, save for the 'Frankenstein's mummy', who does very little until the end.

While the budget is probably pretty cheap by Hollywood standards, Haram Alek looks quite good, with interesting sets. As for the costumes, they're well-crafted! The story's explanation for the origin of the monsters is that they're Ancient Egyptian, but their true providence is clear from their appearance, and even the movie has a couple of cracks about this.

The Frankenstein monster looked hilariously fake to me at first, but once you get over the feeling of seeing an ultra cheap version of a famous movie monster, it actually doesn't look that bad! The lower half is more stylised and plactic-y, but the rest is clearly either make-up, or a very well made mask. While his chest can look a little boxy at times, he still cuts a pretty intimidating figure thanks to his size and visage.

The Wolf Man looks great. The effect itself is just as good as that in ...Meet Frankenstein, though the transition leaves something to be desired, since they just have the screen go black for a second and BAM, he's now a werewolf.

The acting here is pretty good! Ismail Yasseen is a divisive actor. Some might find him annoying, others really talented. As for me, I enjoyed him well enough, even if he could sometimes get a tad grating. One thing's for sure, he's a king of fake laughter! Abdel Fattah El Kasri meanwhile is more of a straight man, usually frustrated by Yassin's antics and yelling at him to stop fooling around. Interestingly, the duo's body shapes are the complete opposite of Abbott and Costello!
Someone makes for a pretty good Dracula, getting some fun over-the-top moments.Sanaa Gameel/Lola Sedki is delightully evil as the scheming girlfriend. Sanaa Gameel/Lola Sedki and someone else do decently as the nice girl and the Wolf Man, respectively.

Out of the two films, I'd say Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is better than Haram Alek (because duh), but just because it had the balls to take on the challenge of remaking a comedy classic doesn't mean Haram Alek fell short. It's still plenty of fun, and most interesting. I probably wouldn't found it more entertaining had I not been figuratively reaching for a dictionary every sentence. I definitely recommend it as an oddity of cinema, and while it's probably not reflective of Egyptian cinema as a whole, I'm sure it'd be a fine introduction, and certainly more of an attention grabber than some arthouse movie!...

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Missile to the Moon (1958)

...There's a remake of Cat-Women of the Moon?!...It's by all-accounts worse AND cheaper than the original?! How is that even possible? I don't know, but I'll find out!...

Eccentric scientist Dirk has been working with colleague Steve for months now on sending a rocket to the moon. He gets bad news when the government are forcibly demanding to take charge of the operation, and be given all their scientific findings. Intent on seeing through his plan alone for reasons unknown, Dirk takes advantage of the coincidental presence of two escaped convicts, Gary and Lon, and convinces them to be his co-pilots. Meanwhile, Steve notices something is wrong when in the space station's control room with his girlfriend June, and together they investigate, becoming inadvertent stowaways as the ship launches.

The rocket makes it to its destination, but only after a deadly meteor storm that kills Dirk, whose last action is to give Steve a strange medallion. Once the group sets foot on the moon, they quickly come across many obstacles, such as rock creatures, 'the night monsters', and an advanced civilisation made up exclusively of women...

After many months of waiting, I have finally seen Missile to the Moon, and I have to wonder how it earned its reputation as 'Cat Women of the Moon, but worse', because it's not that bad, and is surprisingly good in places! As far as remakes go, it handles the material well, telling a similar story, but changing the characters and motivations enough as to not feel like a pointless carbon copy.  This different spin on the story works well. There's somewhat interesting character dynamics at the beginning, albeit stunted by the almost immediate death of secret moon man Dirk before the rocket reaches the moon.

The characters are all a mixture of stupid to some extent. Dirk arranged for every eventuality, except the biggest one, Steve seems uncaring about the moon women's plight and is only too happy to make out with his 'betrothed', while Judy blows everyone's cover just because she was jealous. Gary's unlikeable, but at least he's meant to be! Lon meanwhile is the most tolerable of the bunch.

The aliens aren't developed much, and while the added setup is appreciated, it also drags the film out long enough that we don't meet them until the 40 minute mark, and with only half an hour to go, there's not much time to get to know them. The greatest developed are Lido, who comes across like she's full of shit (Sure, lady, you knew all the time Steve was an imposter. I believe you), Alpha is a catty and hotheaded bitch, while Lambda is a more gentle and sympathetic character, romantically entangled with whichever male character happens to be in the room at the time...or at least, that's how it seemed until I realised I was actually seeing two separate characters, who both happen to look and act exactly the same. Said second woman Zima really comes into her own at the end, saving the day singlehandedly, feeling much more fulfilled than her counterpart from the original.

Overall, the characters in Missile to the Moon all get shortchanged in some way or another, to the point where Gary hasn't even done anything wrong enough to warrant his sticky end, unlike his counterpart in Cat Women, and you wish Dirk had lived longer so we might further understand his character.

The dialogue is pretty amusing in places, both intentionally and unintentionally.
Gary: "And I used to think those scientists who wanted to reach the moon were kooky. Man, this is it, this is fantastic!"-June: "I can't believe it. It seems like a dream!"-Gary: "Well honey, if there wasn't better material around I'd volunteer to pinch you."

June: "Deliver me from those who don't mean any harm. They're the ones who cause all the trouble."

Gary: "Don't think, honey. Just be beautiful.".

The science isn't the greatest, as can be expected from a 1950s sci-fi picture. There's a dangerous daytime on the moon, rock monsters, giant spiders, and more. At one point the movie surprisingly tries to explain some of the more ludicrous elements of Cat Women of the Moon, such as 'Why did this astronaut crew bring guns?!'. It doesn't explain it well, mind you, but at least it does try.  There's still the bit if idiocy though where upon finding out this one cave has oxygen, the crew promptly decide to take their entire space suits off as they go exploring.

The effects are a surprising high point in Missile to the Moon's favour! We've got good backdrops early on that convince, a decent rocket set, visuals on monitors that don't look really fake, and a good looking meteor field that almost looks stop motion. Then there's the impressive alien life. It looks like a fake rock monster, but it's legitimately a giant and well-made fake rock monster, and its entrance scene is really well handled!

That's not to say all the effects are exemplary though. For a start, the giant spider (an oft-used prop in many other films, including this one's predecessor) is more funny than scary, and has a very unconvincing airy walk. There's one particularly hilarious moment when the rocket lands on the moon, and it's clearly reversed footage of a rocket launching, and we can still see the launching pad and adjacent buildings superimposed on the lunar landscape! There's another scene in a room where there's a pretty looking landscape mural...that turns out to be a window when one of the characters comments on the 'view' outside. What looks good as an intentional illustration looks...less than stellar when intended as a real landscape!

It's staggering to know that what constituted a pittance of a budget for a cheesy b-movie is still more money than most people will have at any one given point in their lives!

The acting is fairly decent from the main leads (most of the time, anyway), but not so much from the alien women, who are all made up of beauty contest winners rather than actresses, save for the main four.  K.T. Stevens and Nina Bara don't impress much as Lido and Alpha thanks to their awkward and stilted deliveries, while Laurie Mitchell and Marjorie Hellen are interchangeable, but good all the same.

Missile to the Moon is an interesting film in that it shows what to do right in a remake, but it's also not that great. Despite its positives, it's only really worth a watch if you want a good laugh, and even then there are more fun 50s sci-fi pictures out there...

5, 30:15, 44:22, 45 mural, 56:52,

Friday, February 1, 2019

Deliha (2014) and Deliha 2 (2018)

When not pointlessly remaking/plundering classic IP's such as Hababam Sınıfı, modern Turkish comedy films have/the modern comedy scene in Turkey has been quite prosperous, with series' like Recep İvedik, the films of Cem Yılmaz, and the works of Gupse Özay, as I'll discuss today...


Eccentric woman Zeliha is wanting for love, and decides to go to a local fortune teller to  Irritated by his unwillingness to tell her anything except for past lives, she threatens him, and he hurriedly rattles off the first random letters he sees on a bottle of cleaning fluid, telling her they're in the name of her future beloved. Incensed by this knowledge, Zeliha goes in search for someone who fits the bill, soon bumping into handsome new tenant Cemil, who's just opened a photography business with his brother Cemal. Zeliha immediately falls for the aloof and hunky brother, while the more down-to-earth Cemal falls in love with her. Helped by her friends, Zeliha goes to various lengths to try and win her new crush's heart, despite his utter lack of interest...

Deliha is a very entertaining romantic comedy, and one that feels relatively fresh and uncliched. Its lead character is quirky in an endearing way. Definitely a crazy girl, and not to everyone's taste I'm sure with her loud and boisterous nature, sharp tongue, and unpresentable demeanour, but she grows on you quickly, and is a fun heroine to follow.

Her friends are all equally fun characters, from Fatoş, the meek Havva, who takes charge more once unwittingly spurned by the dopey Tayyar, the intensely depressing and fatalistic lyricist Fevzi, as well as Zeliha's family. The closest the film has to a villain is landowner Faik, who tries making things as difficult as possible for his long-suffering tenants.

The story to Deliha moves along nicely, with never a dull moment. There are a few frustratingly hard to watch scenes though, courtesy of misunderstandings. Siiiiighhh, the greatest blight/boon to romantic comedies! Thankfully those completely fizzle out after the big one right before the last act.

There's a variety of funny moments, from the initial fortune telling visit, Havva's militant romantic advice, the encounters with Faik, and Zeliha's reaction upon finding out the truth of her Cemil/Cemal confusion. One scene I particularly liked was a chase later on, where the characters start decreasing weight from their ramshackle getaway vehicle by throwing watermelons off the back, then before I could say anything, they themselves were voicing my concerns and going "No, what are we doing. We can't waste food!", and relinquishing the excess weight by different means.

The acting in Deliha is very good. Over the top at times, but always amusing. Gupse Özay disappears into the role of Zeliha, looking nothing like she does in real life, and delivers a great performance. The other cast members all do fine jobs too, such as Cihan Ercan, Hülya Duyar, Cenk Durmazel, Zeynep Çamcı, and Ali Çelik.

There's very nice scoring here, from the main theme, to other recurring tracks, and there's a nice rendition of Hep Sonradan too, courtesy of Özay.

Deliha isn't necessarily everyone's cup of tea, but I found it very enjoyable.

Deliha 2

Recently, Zeliha has been hunting for a new job, with little success. After a scuffle with the scuzzy Faik, now the owner of a new diner, her culinary interests get her a job at the neighbouring restaurant. Zeliha's clumsiness and inexperience quickly makes her a nuisance around the kitchen, but her unpredictable skills and unlikely intuition also serves to aid the restaurant's burgeoning reputation...

Deliha 2 is a follow up that entertains just as much as its predecessor, if not more. The first problem right out of the gate is the way it writes off the romance of the previous film, and while that is incredibly annoying, the movie proceeds to ignore that completely and focus on new things. Whereas the first entry was more of a comedic romance, this sequel has a larger focus on Zeliha's time as a chef. The beginning of the film has amusing moments of job searching, and while one could imagine these taking up more time, they're really only the first 10 or so minutes here, which I like. Not that I'd have minded them being longer, but it's nice showing Zeliha's smarts just as much (if not more) than her klutziness.

The restaurant is a good location  with mostly distinctive and likeable characters, hilarious scenarios, and genuinely effective drama and heart. There's definitely a healthy mix of Zeliha humorously messing up, and being a genuine help. She's a great protagonist, and moreso in this than the first comes across as gentle and likeable, despite her unpolished exterior

Zeliha comes across almost tamer in this film, but is still a wild soul in all the best ways, totally willing to throw down when someone does wrong. Since she already got her romance in the first movie, this story focuses entirely on her career, which is nice to see.

The restaurant's staff are a good new addition, as mentioned above. There's not a lot of the first film's main cast, but many of the background players are still present, along with some new ones, such as an irate but goodhearted dwarf, as played by Şeyma Gökşenli. Cemal and his brother are gone, as is Fevzi, Tayyar and Havva. Given the film's new setting, it makes sense why these characters aren't present as much, especially since we've got a new set of supporting characters at the restaurant, but their presence (Havva's in particular) is missed in the early scenes, where we only see Fatoş. Zeliha's mother doesn't get a whole lot to do, but is present enough, and her cute granny gets a fair amount, with her taste in classic Turkish horror amusing me a lot.

Deliha 2 definitely hits the comedy out of the park. There are very funny moments, like Zeliha's amateur cooking at home, her first time in a professional kitchen ("Bu ne? Şu ne? O ne?"), the restaurant staff's misunderstanding of Korean emotion, and many more.

The film contains more fantastical moments than its predecessor, like kooky fantasies, and garish visual or sound effects during some moments. These work well, and don't feel like too much.

Gupse Özay is a great lead once again, while Eda Ece is a great counterpart to the more bombastic lead. Aksel Bonfil is fine as the hunky chef, and everyone else does well. 'Everyone else' consists of around 15 other actors, just about, so apologies for my not mentioning them all by name! They know who they are.

The soundtrack to Deliha 2 is very good. We've got both returning tracks from the previous film, as well as new ones, and some fun Yeşilçam leitmotifs and songs, such as Hayat Bayram Olsa.

Deliha 2 definitely proves this character has staying power, and I hope she sticks around. I also hope we got a new movie in the series sooner than four years, but at least we can always be sure that such gaps only mean Gupse Özay is working on other great material, which is always a treat. If you're new to modern Turkish cinema (or Turkish cinema period), I highly recommend the Deliha series...

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Luna Papa (1999)

The mountainous nation of Tajikistan is one that's often forgotten by the rest of the world, but despite this, and despite setbacks in their own country, they've still managed to make at least a small impression on the international cinema stage, like with the Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov production Luna Papa...

In a small village, a young woman named Mamlakat ends up mysteriously pregnant. Aided by her father and mentally impaired older brother, she goes out in search for the father through the neighbouring countries. Throughout their journey, the family comes across many trials, and have no luck finding the father at first, and Mamlakat finds herself having to adjust to her changed life back home...

Luna Papa is a somewhat interesting fantasy realist production. The story moves along nicely, with a neat narrative device, likeable and distinctive characters, and quirky situations. There's a good mix of comedy and drama, and the movie at times feels like an odyssey throughout the regions of Central Asia.

I was left confused though by whether or not Mamlakat's pregnancy was supernatural or not. If it was just the horny pilot, how did he romance and bang this young girl who doesn't even seem to know what sex is in under 30 seconds, all without ever showing his face to boot? And how did he have sex with Mamlakat without the two of them ever actually having had sex? All we see is her moaning in pleasure as/while she slides down a hill. Maybe it's meant to be metaphorical, but it didn't really seem that way to me, when so much else in the movie plays out normally and literally.

I was disappointed with the direction the story took near the end. It's like the author wrote himself into a corner, and so we're treated to a plot development akin to a Monty Python skit that's played straight. The movie just sort of ambles along after this point, until reaching the end, which is bizarre in a way that wasn't really signposted before this point, making it feel a bit much.

Visually this is a great movie! The scenery is beautiful, with its deserts, mountains, and ocean-like lakes.

I also found the country itself an interesting sight, with how it seems a mix of older times and modern day things   The film is from the 1999, yet it has a timeless feel that could take place in any other decade of the 20th century. Or heck, it could look like a post-apocalyptic world where everyone's trudging along with what remains of modern day technology! Quite a definition of timeless when it looks like both the past and the future!*

*PS, I sure hope that statement doesn't end up being accidentally insulting to Tajiks! "Uhh, no, I meant your country looks post-apocalyptic in a nice way".

The score is quite good, with some  pieces, though one is perhaps repeated a bit too much, making me wonder how much music they actually had written.

The acting is quite good! Chulpan Khamatova is convincing in the lead role, Moritz Bleibtreu is quite good as the mentally challenged brother forced to adapt near the end, and Ato Mukhamedzhanov works well as the father trying to make the best out of a bad situation. I was a little disappointed upon finding out most of the actors aren't actually Tajik, but I guess it's not that big a deal. The locals probably didn't mind, and also would've specifically liked these actors for all I know. Plus, there may not have been many Tajik actors available to begin with! Every Tajik I've spoken to has reacted in surprise to this movie even existing, with the response of "...We have a film industry?".

Luna Papa is a weird and flawed picture that didn't really come together for me by the ending, but it's still an interesting movie for sure, with its sometimes stunning and surreal visuals almost reminiscent of The City of Lost Children.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980)

Say, have you ever wondered where Fu Manchu studied, or what he's a doctor of? Peter Sellers has got you covered with his 1980 comedy The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu...

On his 168th birthday, the diabolical Dr. Fu Manchu is ready to once again take his rare elixir vitae, but a mishap causes it to be spilt, and so the  villain has to scramble his dacoit forces across the globe in order to gather the necessary ingredients to concoct a new batch of elixir. The retired but no less brilliant Nayland Smith is on the case though, and swears to bring Fu to justice before he can be restored to full strength...

The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu was very harshly received on its release, and I was both curious and worried about whether or not this reputation was deserved. It actually made for quite a stressful viewing experience, since I was enjoying myself, but thought that at any moment the penny could drop and it'd suddenly become awful. Let me put that expectation out of your head right away. This movie is by no means terrible. It may not be a masterpiece, but it's quite an entertaining picture, and I had a smile just about the entire time.

This succeeds as a pastiche. While I feel it doesn't go as far as I would've liked it to in that regard, it's still effective, and if I compare it with similar movies such as Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, it's leagues better. While some really enjoy that film I found it rather...spotty, both as a comedy and as a pastiche. Despite being based on a British property from the 1880s, it felt too modern and American. Fiendish Plot too has some touches of modernity and absurdity, but it's played a lot straighter for the most part, and never goes really overboard, though one or two scenes had me close to groaning. Despite its silliness, the film genuinely made me nostalgic for a period of Chinese history that is either long gone, or never actually existed (or at least not exactly like this).

The pacing gets a little staid at the midpoint, but never falters drastically, and the climax is when things get really high-concept. The climax is mixed though. It's actually relatively free of action, and the resolution isn't about the throwing of fists, clashing of swords, or the firing of guns, but is just a conversation! Sounds utterly anticlimactic, right? It almost is, but said conversation is actually quite interesting, and is the kind of exchange you'd only witness in fiction. Two characters, arch enemies, sitting down and talking to each-other about their roles, what they are without the other, and wondering if they should start their game anew. Thoughtful stuff! What follows next however is just plain weird! It's definitely the most modern part of the film, and while it seems kind of out-of-place, it's almost brilliant in a way when you think about it, and not just a non-sequitur. It is still a shame though that there's not really a proper ending.

There's some talk (mainly on wikipedia) that The Fiendish Plot is a racist movie. That is bullcrap. The film is not racist. Rather, it's a piss-take on both racism in Hollywood, and of hokey stereotypes. We see quite a few hoary old cliches taken out of mothballs to have a good laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. The only thing that bothered me was Sid Caesar's character using the word chink a few times early on. It's period accurate of course, and it's not like the film itself is siding with that word per se, but it's still annoying. There's also one instance of yellow. It's no doubt meant to be spoofing the use of such words in less 'delicate' films, but while in movies like The Pink Panther Clouseau referring to Cato as yellow is obvious as a clear and egregious faux-pas on his part, the utterance of the word in The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu doesn't come across nearly as well.

Apparently this production was a bit of a nightmare behind the scenes, or to put it another way, this was a Peter Sellers film. Quite a tempestuous chap if I do say so myself! Thankfully this doesn't show onscreen. It's very well-made, with neat costumes, great sets, and pretty locations, with Fu Manchu's headquarters getting a stunning snowy mountain environment. The look of everything matches the grand Oriental extravagance that the Christopher Lee series portrayed so well, it looks really good/it's a really good looking movie period!

The Fiendish Plot has an ensemble cast, with names such as David Tomlinson, Sid Caesar, Helen Mirren, Steve Franken, John Sharp, and even John Le Mesurier in a small role (with fellow Dad's Army alumni Clive Dunn showing up briefly too). Given the star's ailing condition, this was perhaps a necessity. These performers all do good jobs.

Peter Sellers makes for a good, albeit frail, Fu Manchu. He appears sparingly earlier on, but gets more to do as the story progresses. While his Indian-face in The Party is pretty cringey by today's standards depending on the viewer (surprisingly enough some Indians tend to view it the most favourably!), Sellers' occasions of donning yellowface never came off as offensive because he was specifically parodying the yellowface prevalent in older cinema (or indeed, recent cinema, if the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu series was any indication).

The accent he affects is similar to the one he used when playing the Charlie Chan parody Sydney Wang in Murder by Death, but not silly and more sincere. He doesn't sound humourless of course, since he's Peter Sellers, but it's nowhere near as bad as Glenn Gordon's cringeworthy accent from the Adventures tv series, and never comes across as insulting or demeaning.

His portrayal of Nayland Smith is an interesting take on the character, but this  is also somewhat of a drawback. While it's unique to see Smith in such a wizened state, it's also a bit tough to watch in places considering that Sellers himself was in an all too real frail state, only months before his untimely passing. Despite the humorously themed eccentricities, the character is treated respectfully, just like his arch enemy. He's a bit of a kook in his old age, but he's still shown to be incredibly sharp and intelligent, as well as dynamic when the occasion calls for it.

The other characters range from good to ok, while a few come off as unnecessary. The Americans are pointless, and the actors playing them are the only reason I'm not immediately impatient with them. As for Helen Mirren's character, I'm not sure. She appears quite a bit in the latter half, but when you actually think about it she doesn't further the plot much. I wouldn't want to see her gone though. She's the kind of almost superfluous character who you'd want to see expanded rather than excised.

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu would be Peter Sellers' last film, right after Being There. While not the greatest swansong one could ask for, in tone and quality it's a fitting enough coda to a remarkable career...

Monday, January 14, 2019

Aunt Clara (1954)

Eccentric old millionaire Simon Hilton knows the end is near, and he also knows his family are a greedy bunch of wretches, so he decides to play a little trick on them. Knowing that they'll all be to busy with their holidays and leisure time to bother showing up for his birthday, Simon intimates that those who show up might benefit favourably in his will. Once they show up, suddenly sucking up, Simon's will announces that they'll receive very little, while the only member of his family who was too busy taking care of others to appear will get the lion's share of his money and holdings-His niece Clara.

Since Uncle Simon had rather a few...somewhat unsavoury businesses, his dutiful manservant and confidant Henry feels he has to 'protect' Clara from these by either trying to steer her clear from them, or by misleading her into believing they're more innocent ventures. Whether or not she's fooled is one thing, but also important is the whereabouts of Uncle Simon's other beneficiary Julie, who seems to have vanished without a trace...or so her weaselly former employers say...

Aunt Clara is a sweet and entertaining comedy. Moving at a brisk pace, it covers a fair bit of ground without feeling overstuffed. We even get a good amount of setup before the lead actually shows up.

Clara is quite an interesting and most definitely cuddly character. You're never quite sure about her. Is she as blissfully unaware as she lets on, or does she know more about the truth than others suspect? Henry is a likeable old sod, and while it's a bit of a surprise to find out the character you've been following for the first 10 or so minutes is a crook, he's not that bad of a guy and there's never a point where you feel like slapping him upside the head, especially by the end when Clara's intervention sets him right.

I liked the prologue in the Blitz. It wasn't necessary to show for the story since Uncle Simon dies early on, but I felt it informed the relationship between him and Henry.

Some elements feel a bit hokey, like the instant love story, but that's forgiveable. Really my only problem with Julie's part of the story is that it takes so long for her to show up (enough time that I was actually a little confused about who she was at first), and that her first scene with Clara is offscreen, despite seeming like an important moment we should see.

Aunt Clara is very funny, with quite a few quotable lines. The film gets a little melancholy in the end in an unexpected way, and has a surprisingly moving ending for what I assumed was just a silly comedy going into it

After I finished the movie, I read a comment online about how comedies back in the olden days were so much sweeter, innocent, and less crass than today's. Very true, but it also got me thinking. While it of course wouldn't be a problem is Aunt Clara was set in a 'naive dreamworld' where nothing is wrong, the film isn't really like that. Instead it acknowledges that there are unsavoury and larcenous things in the world (all with a comedic glance of course), and shows how they can be remedied. Quite an admirable message!

The actors in Aunt Clara all do fine jobs. Leads like Ronald Shiner are fun, giving an exuberant air to proceedings. We get minor roles from British stalwarts like Sid James, and even a cameo from a real life personality, Prince Monolulu, who often frequented racetracks. And most importantly, Margaret Rutherford is simply adorable as the titular Aunt Clara! She plays the role very well, getting across all facets of her character, and nailing both humorous and dramatic moments. The only odd thing is that she's meant to be a niece to Uncle Simon, yet looks at least two decades older than him. Rutherford was only 62 at the time, but she always had that elderly quality to her, like she was born a dotty and doting old grandmother.

Aunt Clara has got to be a prime example of Margaret Rutherford's filmography, and of British comedy cinema of the period...

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Old (2018-)

Webseries pilot Old first came to my attention because of Robine Bailes and Graham Trelfer, creators of the hilarious Dark Corners review show on youtube (which I swear I'll talk about more in-depth someday! As members of the crew, they signal-boosted this pilot on their social media such as Patreon,

In an idyllic but manic nursing home, we follow seniors Fred and Jenny, and their young friend Joy, the establishment's nurse. Joy has just come out of the closet to them, and while they're figuring out a good way for her to meet some new girls, another resident overhears the conversation and creates a fake dating profile for Joy to mess with her. Meanwhile, death stalks the nursing home with the pawprints of the menacing cat Gus...

As far as pilots go, Old sets up its world quite well. There are enough characters to go round, but not so many that it's disorienting. The story is well-written, and never fails to amuse.

The humour is spot-on, often hilarious. It's a good mix of of raunchy without being gratuitous and super in-your face

One especially nice thing about Old is its diversity, not only in casting, but in sexuality, with its bisexual and lesbian characters, as well as the casual treatment of these as regular and normal. Particularly sweet is the conclusion.

The acting here is all very good. Some moments are a little more overdone and exaggerated than others, but otherwise things are fine. Peter Straker, Janie Gray, Monisha Gohil, and Andrew Cunningham are all standouts.

The scoring here is fun, fitting the action well. The song that plays over the end is nice too, with a sweetly sincere ring to it.

Well, this wasn't the longest or most complex of reviews, was it, but this is only half an hour, and comedies can sometimes be hard to review if they successfully hit what they set out to do. Old is a very funny watch, and with any luck it'll make it to a full series, and entertain for a long time...