Sunday, August 20, 2023

Tosun Paşa (1976)

In the occupied deserts of Egypt, two rival Ottoman families are feuding over who gets the lush Green Valley. They both get it in their heads to ask for the local magistrate's daughter Leyla's hand in marriage, but after a head injury, and a brainwave, the Tellioğulları family decides to make their clumsy butler Şaban pose as Tosun Pasha, a revered figure in the military. Will their plan succeed, or will something go wrong? Or how?...

Tosun Paşa is an entertaining Turkish comedy. In a way it's part of a loose trilogy, along with Süt Kardeşler and Şaban Oğlu Şaban. While none are connected, all three share the running theme of military and Ottoman life. One is about the navy, one the army, and this focuses on the Colonial side of the empire.

The film is a very funny portrayal of the local history. The comedy is pretty universal. There are misunderstandings, slapstick, and over-the-top characters, and it's all a hoot.

The story is simple but effective, and pretty much an excuse to let the various gags and situations play out.

I imagine the relation to the setting and the plot is no mistake either. I'm not sure when exactly this is supposed to be set, but if it's anywhere near the late 1880s, early 1900s, this whole conflict is immaterial anyway! These families are fighting so hard to get territory that's gonna be gone in only a few years time anyway when the Ottoman empire crumbles, and the Arabs take back control.

The film does a great job showing off Turkish culture, from their little habits and customs, to their various 'carnival' games, and of course hamams and Turkish oil wrestling! It's here where the film becomes incredibly homoerotic. I understand cultural differences, and in many ways the Turks (and Europeans in general) have a much healthier definition of masculinity than westerners. On the other hand they had to have known how it looks, and been playing it up for laughs!

The characters are a kooky and kinda unlikeable bunch, but in a harmless and funny way. The two families are Tellioğulları and Seferoğullarına, and no I'm not typing those in full again! The Tellio's are the leads, and are determined to get the land they see as rightfully theirs. After a Sefer-induced head injury results in their patriarch thinking their rivals are the bees knees, and butler Şaban is his father. One thing leads to another and they find themselves posing him as a high official and war hero. Sure enough, the power immediately goes to Şaban's head, and he begins scheming for himself.

If I had to pick a complaint though, it's that we don't really get much from the Sefer family. None are really characterised, nor do they get a lot of screentime. They're basically all the same.

Local mayor Daver Bey is a levelheaded, if slightly oblivious guy. He's fairly wise to the antics of these feuding families, but taken in like a dope by the fake Pasha. Then there's his daughter Leyla, who's a bit of a fickle girl, really! None of the men in this film really love her for her, only for what she can provide them. While she has a thing for a handsome young Sefer man, yet doesn't hesitate to cuddle up with what she thinks is Tosun Pasha, or the real one!

The real Tosun Pasha eventually shows up in the last act, biding his time under an alias to see what exactly's going on, and who's behind it.

This all culminates in a great free-for-all climax, with a big brawl. It does re-use a few jokes a touch, but is still funny, and there's plenty of great stuff. Like how the real Tosun Pasha notices Leyla and is instantly attracted, and they casually have a conversation while there's chaos around them.

The ending sees everyone getting their just desserts. Leyla has ended up with her best option, and the Green Valley is in good hands. And you can guess whose hands that's not...

The cast here is a high point. Kemal Sunal is a fun goofy lead, while Şener Şen is his usual shouty and grumpy self, rotating through various emotions, from fury, to desperation, and more. Some other Turkish regulars are here, like Adile Naşit and Ayşen Gruda, fun as usual. And Müjde Ar is gorgeous! The remainder of the cast is a good one, with some distinct looks.

If there is one oddity it's the complete lack of any Arabs (or at least, Turks playing Arabs). This is supposed to be Egypt, yet there are no Egyptians anywhere to be found, not as retainers, nor plotting sedition in the background. This is understandable since that's not what the movie's about, but it is odd for them to not even be here.

The film looks very good, with countless gorgeous costumes for the ladies, and snazzy suit and fez combos for the guys (so many fezes! A sea of them!), not to mention the tassles. The locations
a sense of DIY grandeur, which fits with the theme of the Turks just plopping themselves down in the middle of a desert, setting up a few stands, and calling it home.

The direction overall is really good, and the mixing of the dessert with these colourful costumes works really well. Regular actor Kartal Tibet is behind the camera, and proves his worth beyond acting once again.

Tosun Paşa is another Turkish comedy classic, and a fun time! Ideally it should be watched with English subs if they can be found, but even if you can't, as long as you're developing an interest you'll get the gist ok. It's funny regardless...

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Karışık Pizza (1998)

Ever since the internet popularity of their cult cinema, a lot of Turkish films get saddled with unofficial titles like Turkish Star Wars, Turkish Batman, etc. Most of the time these nicknames are well deserved, but the further they go on they get a bit more tenuous (Like how Turkish Jaws is an unrelated crime flick with half a minute of shark action). I was curious how the so-called Turkish Pulp Fiction would earn this title!...

A hapless pizza delivery boy arrives to his latest call, finding a gorgeous woman. He lingers too long and discovers she has a body in her bedroom! She pulls a gun and ties him up, and claims he is the killer when a criminal associate shows up. With his life hanging by a thread, can the poor guy escape, or will he be sliced like a pizza?...

Karışık (Mixed) Pizza is a late 90s crime flick with a quirky side. It's a fun thing to see from Turkey. How does it stack up as a film though? It's okay. It's nothing amazing, but it also wasn't bad, and does a few things well.

Despite being made so recently, this wasn't exactly a widespread film, and while I was able to find it, only in what appears to be a workprint, with a constant time-stamp, no credits, and an almost complete lack of music. There's also a version on youtube in better quality, but missing 20 minutes and having three watermarks. You just can't win sometimes, can ya! But short of searching the bargain bin racks in Turkey, or pirating a local TV signal of Kanal D, I guess this is it for now.

Pizza has a sudden beginning, and gets straight to the biscuits. The majority of the film is set in this apartment, and it does drag on a bit in this early section, before the flashbacks get going. It's quite light on dialogue in places too. The movie does manage to work despite its cramped setting, but I feel it was isolated for just a bit too long.

The story is simple on the face of it, but with added complexity, and a series of flashbacks. Not all of which really involve the main story. They allow us to know the mystery lady better, as well as the two crooks. Things do get a little confusing, especially if you haven't figured out who exactly is who yet, but for the most part it's not hard to figure out. Though I was still wondering a couple of things after the movie ended.

The protagonist is ostensibly the pizza guy. We never really get to know him normally, beyond his opening pep talk to a mirror. He spends most of the movie tied up, but does get a couple of moments where he almost escapes. Early on he tries climbing out the window, which is impressive and ballsy, though he was an idiot for trying, and even dumber for going back in. The least he could've done was stand behind the door with a vase!

I've read online summaries say he has fantasies where he's a tough guy against the crooks or saving the day, but this never happens. There are a couple of fantasies where he's in a different role, but when the lady is spinning a yarn to convince her buddy. Since he's otherwise tied up I think the movie could've actually benefited from more such scenes, and lived up to that inaccurate synopsis.

The mystery lady is the most important character. Sexy, crafty, and playing all sides against each-other, we're not quite sure who she is or what her motives are until the end. She's interesting to watch, and we can easily believe how she can wrap others around her little finger, as well as take her seriously as a threat.

Then there are two hitmen(?), one of whom starts out the movie as a corpse. In the flashbacks we see them enjoying their gangster life as they go around blasting rivals away, and planting clever bombs, while both putting the moves on their ladyfriend. Interestingly, if we compare this to Pulp Fiction, we actually see 'Jules's' reaction to 'Vincent' dying.

The last act culminates in an alright encounter. A little lacking in some ways, and I've got no idea why 'Jules' was shot when he was, but the telephone trick was fun! The pizza guy getting shot felt a bit pointless and mean-spirited, though he's ok, and we get an amusing police questioning, mirroring his earlier predicament. Poor guy can't catch a break! I didn't get him wiggling his tongue at the audience though! Cut that out, mate!

The action in Karışık Pizza doesn't disappoint. There are scenes where a single burst of violence is the climax, then we've got a manic shootout, followed by an impressive POV chase scene! You've gotta wonder how 'Jules' thinks he'll get away with openly chasing someone with a gun, and shooting him dead in public!

The movie's got a dark but goofy sense of humour too, like one gangster's sweary reaction to getting shot in the shower. The violence throughout is good too! I assume this was a low-budget production, but it gets around any limitations well.

And now we come to the most important area to discuss-Is Karışık Pizza really the Turkish Pulp Fiction? Not really, but kinda. It's not a copy of that film directly, though it shares a couple of visual choices, such as the two suited-up hitmen, one of whom has long hair (though neither are black, since this is Turkey)]. This feels more generally inspired by Tarantino's style. A quirky but violent tone, a non-linear narrative with a through-line, and scenes of talking punctuated by sudden violence. There were a lot of films in Tarantino's wake that tried and failed to emulate his style, and the lightning in a bottle that was Pulp Fiction. But while not a perfect film in its own right, Karışık Pizza does well, and seems to get Tarantino in a way a lot of these knock-offs didn't.

The direction in Karışık Pizza is one of its best qualities! There are some creative shots, nice framing, and the movie is filmed well despite its minimal setting. The action is shot well, and there's a great stunt in one scene, which I can only wonder how they accomplished. I looked up the director out of curiosity, to see how his career's gone, and it seems to be going pretty well. He's done a few music videos (some of which I've seen!), sports docos, and the new fantasy soap opera Shahmaran! That was a surprise. Here's an obscure Turkish pulp flick, helmed by the same guy behind a big Netflix release.

The acting is good. Olgun Şimşek performs what's either a thankless or easy role, and does well. And assuming it's him, I applaud him for his stuntwork! It's Meltem Cumbul who steals the show, with her sultry and dangerous role as the lady. The rest of the cast is fine, if overacting at times, including Cem Özer as a Jules/Vincent combo who resembles Turkish singer Barış Manço.

Karışık Pizza is an interesting little curio, and has its positives, especially if you're a Tarantino fan. There's a lot better out there to enjoy, even among Turkish crime, but it's worth checking out if you're interested...

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Aaahh Belinda (2023)

Turkish remakes of foreign movies, whether official or not, are pretty commonplace, but not so much of their own. One would hope these films and actors are considered too untouchable to try and match. With this in mind, I was surprised to see a new version of Aahhh Belinda of all things! The original was a magical realist film about feminism and household roles, directed by auteur Atıf Yılmaz. How will this be updated for the modern day?...

Dilara is a stuck-up actress coasting through life. When offered a new gig as a housewife in a shampoo commercial, she is skeptical, but the director guides her through the role of Handan, insisting she not just play the role, but to be it-Be Handan. The moment Dilara opens her eyes, she finds the crew disappeared, the cameras and lights gone. She's in a real apartment, with the actors now living their roles and believing her to be Handan. After running around her old haunts, she realises the whole world has changed, and no-one recognises Dilara anymore. What is happening, and can she find a way back to the real world? Or will she have to get used to a new one?...

1986s Aahhh Belinda is a pretty good film, but not without flaws. With that in mind I could totally see it as worthy of a remake! It's still probably too recent for the 'honour', but a new version could tackle the idea, and maybe explore certain things the original didn't, or do some things better. Does 2023s effort succeed? God no! Bloody hell, I usually like modern Turkish films, but this was a pretty rough one.

Aahhh Belinda 2023 (or Oh Belinda as it's sometimes called in English, because Ah was untranslatable Turkish gobbledygook apparently) starts off with a pretty neat song-and-dance number, and quickly introduces us to our lead character. As the key to the story and development, her personality is integral. So what is she like?...She's a bitch!

Our heroine shows herself to be a rude, angry, and jaded lady, who bitches about everything. You could say this is intentional for her character growth, but she acts like this for the whole film, and never changes. Instead of being subtle, the film spells things out for us. It's not enough that she isn't the fondest of children, here she's gotta yell in the streets about how much she hates them (although this does admittedly lead to a great comeback by the mother).

This actually had me worried about the film's themes. Is this made by a chauvinist who's trying to show why feminists/outspoken women are all vapid bitches, and all they need is to be reminded of their place by a firm husband? How wild would it be if the modern version of this tale was more sexist than the original! Thankfully this doesn't turn out to be the case. In fact there were very little feminist themes to be picked up on at all.

I'm not sure if the themes of the original even transplant well to the modern era. I know Turkey is still a bit behind when it comes to gender politics, but they've had 40 years of modern women since the times of subservient housewives. If Dilara is transported to an 80s world I suppose it could make sense, but nope, this shampoo commercial world has flatscreen TV's and ipads.

The story here isn't the greatest, but it's not awful for the most part, and gets the job done. The pacing can be a bit slow, and a lot more happened in the original by certain points. The film does eventually settle down a bit, and has some good scenes. The mystery does intrigue, even if there are never answers (which works since it never promises any).

Dilara is a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist. Besides the aforementioned qualities, she swears like a  fucking sailor, which fucking gets old fucking fast. Swearing can be an artform if done right. But without that care it just feels mindless, like a kid who's just learned to curse and won't stop, to show how 'cool' they are. Dilara also comes off as slutty. Not because she's having sex. Nothing wrong with that, and the lead in the original did too. But it's how she does it that feels offputting, like a grotty stripper shoving her ass in your face.

She is trapped in the role of Handan, a boring repressed housewife. Everything the outspoken, brash, and contrarian Dilara hates. Yet confusingly, before Dilara took over, Handan was having an affair, with a kinky Dominatrix side, and stole hundreds of thousands of dolla...lira! She doesn't really sound like a submissive figure.

Despite being in this new role  Dilara doesn't really do anything housewifey. Her husband is a meek guy who she can walk all over. After ranting once too many about being from another world, Dilara is briefly committed. She tries acting for the doctors to prove her story, only to be quickly sedated (thank goodness!). Here she speaks with a crazy lady, in a scene I thought was meant to be funny at first, like Dilara mistakenly thinks this inmate spouting gibberish is an important sage. But it turned out this is meant seriously.

Once she's out she tries acting again, going to her old theatre under a pseudonym. She blags her way into a job, before being fired near the end. Not sure why, when they liked her acting anyway. All that matters is she can do the job, not if she's a bank clerk with two kids. This is acknowledged, but never answered. Not really sure what any of this subplot added. Also, it is odd how Dilara meets people from the real world in this commercial one, but that was in the original too, so I can't complain.

The husband is an alright character, if slightly pathetic and possessing a creepy Joker grin. The kids are ok but severely underused. We do get a bizarrely intense bedtime story from their granny, who presumably traumatises the little munchkins with a horror story about The Sack Man. This story was in the original film, but the remake goes way overboard with it. Maybe Turkish grandma's are just really serious about scaring kids straight!

At times Aaahh Belinda almost becomes a thriller, with Handan having helped steal a load of money, and is in trouble from an unseen gang. This feels unnecessary, like the producers thought the movie wasn't interesting enough and needed extra spice. It didn't, and we see so little of this subplot, with no resolution, that it was pointless anyway.

A hyper montage is all we get showing Dilara's growing comfort with her new role. It has some amusing moments, but that's pretty much it. Dilara never seems to have any real emotional acceptance with this world. Only an exchange with her husband, which just leads to sex. And then the only reason she's so happy is because she figures out where the cache of money is hidden. We have no tender moments like with her father in the original, nor anything with the kids. In the end, Dilara doesn't transport back because of acceptance, instead doing a weird rooftop dance. I applaud the use of dancing, plus the abstract idea, but what the heck's even going on?

With Dilara back in the real world, the film has an abrupt ending. I don't mind us into getting a long wrap-up showing how everyone's doing. But I do mind not seeing how these experiences have changed her. We get a disquieting ending, with no moment of triumph or happiness. I had no idea what to make of it. Also, why is the crew wrapping up so quickly and leaving their actress in the dark?

The acting here is alright at best. Some performers do good jobs, others not so much. But my biggest criticism for the leading lady herself. I found her performance to be pretty bad! She does ok in some places, but in others she's hysterical. And how unlikeable the character is also affects her performance.

The score to Aaahh Belinda is perhaps its most interesting quality, both in a good way and bad. It's an intriguing listen, with moody synth tunes and ambient tracks. It builds up quite an ominous vibe, of something not quite right. Trouble is, it really doesn't fit the vibe this movie should be going for! It's just supposed to be about feminine self discovery, and yet the music sounds right out of Hotline Miami. The original film's  TV jingle inspired soundtrack fit way better.

The direction here is well handled. The song and dance prologue is good, and there's a nice cab nightclub shot. I liked the ending shot with title, and how the men behind the original film are credited too. The lighting is cool, with a moody colour palette of neon orange and blue streetlight tinge. It's a little ill-fitting for this story, when compared to the original's more naturalistic lighting, but it looks neat all the same.

And lastly, the film gives us a fun anthropomorphic shampoo bottle costume, which I really appreciate. It's a nice connection with the old film.

Aaahh Belinda gets off to a rocky start, improves somewhat, then has a rocky final act. I think it does have its positives, but I didn't find it a particularly satisfying movie in its own right, and especially not as a remake. As always, stick with the original...

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Cloth Peddler-Arşın Mal Alan (1945)

Out of all the former holdings of the Russian empire/USSR, Azerbaijan seems to have had the strongest cinematic output. They were surprisingly self-sufficient, got to be produced in their own language and not Russian, and there's a steady stream of content, no matter the decade. I've discussed some before, such as the 50s musical O Olmasın, bu Olsun, and today I'll be looking at another, Arşın Mal Alan...

Asker is a wealthy man in search of the one thing he lacks-A woman to be with, to share his riches and home, and to marry. He disguises himself as a cloth peddler and starts scouting for girls on the streets of Azerbaijan with his servant. He soon encounters Gulchohre and falls head over heels. The feeling is mutual, but her grouchy father is against the union. He doesn't want his daughter marrying someone so lowly. How can these young lovers overcome these challenges?...

The Cloth Peddler (Arşın Mal Alan) is a simple but fairly charming musical. It's romantic, ridiculous, and completely unbelievable, and makes for a fun watch all round.

Given that they're both mid-century technicolour costume musicals, I was afraid it might blend in too much with O Olmasın, bu Olsun, but thankfully they are different enough. There are similarities in locations and costumes, but whereas that was larger scale and full of diverse city hustle, this is a bit pared back, and focuses more on general romance.

The story here really only has the one beat. Asker is a rich guy who really wants love, and settles almost immediately for the first girl he sees. Bit of a thin romance, really, and the two lovers don't have a lot of time together before instantly falling in love, but they make a nice enough pair.

The film has strong Coming to America vibes, also about a privileged rich guy going out into the world with his servant to find his one true love. It also has the same kind of conclusion, where riches win out for everybody. What a tough decision!

The characters are fairly basic. Asker is shown as amazingly perfect, and has a habit of serenading those around him all the time. Between this and his singleminded quest for love, his family/servants often look at him like he's a bit daffy. Gulchohre meanwhile is a nice enough girl, who makes it clear to her dad what does and doesn't want.

One issue I had was the characters here all look the same! Similar clothes, colours, hats, and facial hair, etc. You can generally keep a handle on it, but at times I was a bit lost.

The comedy here is pretty fluffy and light, and gets some laughs, both in dialogue and general shenanigans.

The climax is by far where The Cloth Peddler gets the most ridiculous. In any other movie the plucky underdog would find some way of proving his love for the girl to her disapproving father. Maybe he'd even save the day from roving baddies. Here though? Asker breaks into Gulchohre's home in the dead of night and kidnaps her! She wakes up in an unfamiliar place, and starts tying bedsheets together, fully intending to commit suicide! But at that moment Asker comes and swings the doors open. They cry out each-other's names, then dive for each-other's arms and kiss. How romantic!

How Asker doesn't get beaten to death I'll never know. Like, I know he wasn't really kidnapping her, he was just whisking her away to his palatial abode to show her the truth. But this really wasn't the way to do it! Couldn't he just say he'll take her somewhere and stick on a blindfold? Because the way he does it, she absolutely thinks she'd been kidnapped!

Now that it's known that Asker is actually rich, all opposition to their marriage fades, and her dad is happy to accept him as a son. Not much of a moral victory there! The rest of the film is devoted to their wedding. It's all a bit of a conflict-free climax, and could've used a bit more oomph, but is an alright note to end on.

As a musical, this is good. The songs here come hard and fast, but with enough breaks to give the performers and audience time to breath. They are nice enough even if the lyrical content may have eluded me. The singing itself is of note too. While O Olmasın was a regular musical, Cloth Peddler is sung with a more operatic style.

The cast do well in general too. Even if they do all blend together a bit, they get the job done.

This is a very good looking film. It does a great job capturing the look of turn of the century Azerbaijan, and has a nice variety of locations. The home gardens look right out of a Germanic fairytale, especially when a wandering deer joins the heroine, like she's a princess. The direction captures the imagery well, especially with the rhythm of the billowing costumes and dances.

The movie makes use of gorgeous sets, and nifty matte paintings. These are sometimes really obvious, but in a possibly intentional way, and it nice sense of stagelike unreality.

Despite the impression these screenshots give, The Cloth Peddler wasn't originally in colour. It may have been the intention, but factory costs due to the war made it impossible at the time. But recent colourisation efforts have left the film looking its perfect self. While I'm sure it works well in black-and-white too, it feels really fitting and authentic, and exactly like a colour film from that period.

Modern colourisations of old films can be a dicey. Oftentimes it's done against the wishes of creators or the public, only to be trendy. On the logic that black and white is terrible and old, and only colour can make things hip and new. And it often just looks plain awful! Like when it was done for Casablanca, that stripped away all the brilliant shadows and lighting, and made it look like a bad video game. In other cases though, like 1935s She, it was the creator's intention, fits really well, and was done by someone who really knew what they were doing.

The Cloth Peddler is a classic in Azeri cinema. The whole operetta is, in fact. Not only is it popular on the stage, it's received a plethora of adaptions before and after this. This may well be the best though, and makes for a great showcase of their musical culture, as well as cinema in general!...