Thursday, February 28, 2019

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

Brilliant, albeit sometimes ineffective inventor Caractacus Potts lives in the English countryside with his two children Jeremy and Jemima, and his imaginative and somewhat loony grandfather. Together they have all sorts of adventures, from a catastrophic first meeting with the wealthy and concerned Truly Scrumptious, to attempting to sell a new kind of whistling candy, and saving up the money to restore a beautiful old racing car, which the family names Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. While on a picnic with Truly, Caractacus tells everyone a fantastical adventure, of how the evil Baron Bomburst tried to steal Chitty for himself, so the family has to travel to the far away land of Vulgaria to stop him...

Based somewhat tenuously on the pretty good book by Ian Fleming and brought to the screen by his friend and noted screenwriter Roald Dahl, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is renowned as one of the quintessential children's fantasy films. Having first seen it as a child myself, I've always found it to be a wonderful picture. It has a larger-than-life feel to it, never gets dull, and is full of imagination, even if it can get weird at times.

The biggest problem I have with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is its confused story. It feels almost like two movies in one! We follow a pretty normal slice-of-life tale about a 1920s-ish family, and then at the hour mark it abruptly morphs into a garish fantasy! When I was a kid I thought it was just plain abrupt (I was pissed by the ending 'fake-out', lemme tell ya!), but on reflection it does seem a little clearer that what we're seeing is just Caractacus telling a make-believe story. It still comes completely out of left field though

One of the weirder things about the fantasy is how everyone's character arcs continue, meaning that not only was all of that merely fictional, but Caractacus was including the growing romance between him and Truly, which is...weird. Either that or it was the kids including that part of the story...which is still weird, and precocious to boot.

If I were to suggest potential fixes to the pacing issues present here, I suppose the Toot Sweet storyline could've been cut, so it doesn't take as long to reach the fantasy section. On the other hand though, one might lasso suggest that the fantasy section be excised, letting the movie be a normal 1920s family picture for the entire duration.

Moving beyond this problem, the story is well told. The first half is more down-to-earth, and has some amusing scenes, and quieter moments. The fantasy half is more over-the-top and whimsical, and while not all of the jokes landed for me

The musical numbers in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang are superb. They're bouncy, light, and sound great. My favourite tracks were Me Ol' Bamboo, You Two, Posh, and others. I like them all, even the somewhat superfluous ones. Some of the songs repeat, often effectively, such as the reprisals of Hushabye Mountain, and Truly Scrumptious. While the latter is only partial, it still harmonises really well with the immediate reprise of the short Doll on a Music Box, and is a great character moment. What doesn't work as well is the titular song. Good...lord! It gets several mini reprisals, and that's not to mention the instrumental recitations throughout. It gets a bit tiring after a while! Still a fabulously jaunty piece though! You'll be humming it for days, nay, years!

The characters all feel well-realised, and we enjoy going on an adventure with them. My only complain is that Jeremy and Jemima, Grandpa, and even Chitty herself are basically pretty much absent from the final half hour.

The acting is fun all round. Dick van Dyke's American accent in comparison with his English father and children is juuust a little distracting at first, but you forget it quickly enough as you settle back and enjoy his energetic peformance, and we can all be thankful he didn't attempt a British accent again. Lionel Jeffries is great as Grandfather Aidrian Hall and Heather Ripley are fine as far as child catchers* go, and Sally Ann-Howes is nice. Gert Fröbe is a great villain, as bombastic as his name implies, while British 'German' Anna Quayle is such a cute button that you almost forget she's playing a psycho creep who locks children up. Benny Hill delivers a surprisingly un-comedic performance, doing well, while Robert Helpmann is absolutely terrifying as the Child Catcher. Other performances range from either annoying to fun. There's certainly no shortage of actors on display in this 2 and a half hour behemoth of a film!

*That was a typo. I meant actors! But c'mon, that is too good not to keep! Some typos are gold!

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang looks absolutely spectacular. The car itself is well designed in all of its forms, and while there's clear green screen work during the flying scenes, it's not too bad. The movie is filmed on location in England and in Bavaria, which still looks like a living breathing fairytale land, aiding the production perfectly. The marrionette dance scene apparently did require strings, although I didn't notice any when casually watching. Lastly, the Posh number looks stunningly filmed! Either they had an aquarium set done up to look exactly like the open ocean, or they really did dip Lionel Jeffries in an out of the real thing while he sang!

While it has some pacing issues due to its schizophrenic story, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang moves along briskly enough, and is an  absolute treat for kids of all ages. I highly recommend it!...

Firestarter (1984) and Firestarter 2: Rekindled (2002) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]


Andy McGee and his daughter Charlie are on the run from a shadowy government agency called the SHOP. Years ago they ran a secret experiment on a group of college students, resulting in the majority of them dying, and the survivors developing superpowers. Charlie and his wife Vicky both gained Telepathy, and the ability to control others, while the daughter they soon have has a terrifying ability to produce flames. Intent on controlling Charlie's powers for their own ends, the SHOP tries to take her, killing Vicky in the process. In the present day, the father and daughter desperately try and stay one step ahead of the SHOP, but it seems like the net's closing in, and they may have to launch a final fight to save themselves...

The tone to Firestarter is set well with its surprisingly subtle opening credits, which only show smoke against a black background, rather than give into the temptation to just show an inferno. The movie starts off in media res effectively enough, with succinct flashbacks showing the original experiment that led to this catastrophe, as well as the inciting incident that left Andy and Charlie on the run

The biggest problem facing Firestarter is that it's just a little boring. I'm not sure if it's because of any one drawn-out section, but rather there are a lot of scenes that go on just a bit too long, and this all adds up a lot in the long run. If you consider what happens in the first hour, it's not really that much, either! The second hour is even more compressed, once the heroes are captured.

The characters are decently written, and we get a few subtle touches, like Charlie effortlessly introducing herself as Roberta to strangers, indicating without explanation how many times the two have had to do this before. Andy    I don't like that he's willing to get Charlie to kill though. I can't really buy a non-sociopathic father saying to his daughter "Hey honey, could you please burn these guys alive for me? Do it for daddy, yeah?"

The main couple of villains are ok, though the seemingly endless legion of white men in suits aren't particularly threatening adversaries given the ease in which they're eliminated (it's also weird how many times we see them shooting at Charlie, then screaming and begging for their lives. If you dopes had've focused on running away like you already started to, you wouldn't need to plead!). The real villain of the piece is John Rainbird, who makes for a spectacularly creepy and effective villain, adept at manipulation, and holding unsettling plans for Charlie.

There's not much supporting cast, but what there is is fine, namely the farming couple. I like how smart and perceptive this random countrytown farmer is shown to be. I'm also glad they don't get killed. That happens so much in 'on the run' type movies! The heroes shack up with a kindly family or old couple in an isolated farm, and their hosts invariably get butchered.

Firestarter doesn't exactly end on a happy note. The depressing climax feels unearned. These characters have spent years on the run, knowing nothing but trouble, and now at their lowest point they've been help captive for weeks, but due to their clever thinking they're able to arrange an escape and finally be at peace!...And then the other penny drops. The ending afterwards is fine, and wraps up the movie well enough, but it's still a bit too dour. Although I suppose it was inevitable given the whole point of the movie from an entertainment perspective is to see Charlie blow stuff up.

The acting is quite good. David Keith delivers a good performance, and he plays the psychic well, not looking too cheesy. He does a little, but not to the point where it's laughable, and to give an example, it's more subtle than Scanners (not to knock Scanners too much though). Drew Barrymore's line reading is a bit poor in some places, but she does well in others. I felt she looked a little uninterested in the final battle though.

George C. Scott is great as Rainbird. He's spectacularly off-putting, and completely overshadows the otherwise fine Martin Sheen. As for his race, I seemed to recall there being a scene in the movie where Rainbird explains his name to Charlie, and specifically says he's just of Native American descent. This made me wonder if the same was true in the book, or if he was actually Native American in that. Short answer, he is, and that scene I remembered doesn't actually exist.

The direction is pretty good. The blackout scene in particular is well-directed in that it actually looks like it's dark! All too often the magic of the movies shows rooms with the light off where everything's tinged a pleasant light blue in which you can still see the actors' faces, and they can still converse with each-other   Here though, George C. Scott's face is cloaked in darkness for long periods. Visually good? No, but it makes sense and at least feels more realistic than your typical film.

The soundtrack to Firestarter is weird. It's scored by Tangerine Dream, and sounds a little odd with such a movie. That's not to say it's not good, because it is, even if it does feel like a retro 80s soundtrack from the last couple of years. The tracks have a nice sound to them, and match the scenes well in places. The only real issue I have is that by design it's not the kind of soundtrack that you could use all the time, so large stretches of the movie seem to pass without any music.

Lastly, the pyrotechnic effects hold up very well even today. Given how dangerous and temperamental fire is, I feel sorry for the crew who had to handle it, but admire their efforts and skills!

As far as adaptions go, this sounds like a pretty faithful one, barring some minor alterations here and there. Despite this, the notoriously hard to please King hates the movie, considering it to be the weakest of all adaptations of his works. That's really saying something given the...umm, *ahem*, quality of others!   While I do find Firestarter to be a bit boring, it's nowhere near as absurd and ridiculous as other King adaptions, and the effects hold up too...

Firestarter 2: Rekindled

Vincent Sforza is an investigator working for what he thinks is an insurance company devoted to bringing compensation to the survivors of the Lot 6 program. As it turns out, he's been leading hitmen to the addresses of these people, so the still alive John Rainbird can erase all evidence against his wrongdoings. Knowing that his old nemesis Charlie McGee is still alive, Rainbird wants to find her most of all, and this time he's prepared, with six superhuman boys

Firestarter 2: Rekindled is the epitome of a unnecessary sequel. It has no reason to exist beyond cashing in on the original. As for its quality in its own right, it's ok. It's a pretty decent watch, though it could wear on the unwary viewer quite a lot, considering it's a miniseries, and therefore three hours long!

The story is ok, albeit a bit rambly. Where it really falls apart though is in regards to the continuity with the first movie, which is really bad. If they had've not shown flashbacks, things would've fared a little better, and I guess we're just supposed to accept that Rainbird escaped what was undoubtedly certain death in the last movie, but that's not what happens. We're shown flashbacks that completely rewrite what happened before, and not only is the Lot 6 experiment expanded to have had dozens of people who are all still alive, as opposed to only 10, all of whom are dead, but Rainbird is retconned to being the leader of the Shop. Whereas his motivations in the original lined up pretty much exactly with the remorseful doctor he assassinated (i.e. kill the 'abberrant' girl at the first opportunity, because 'no-one should have that much power'), he's now a Machiavellian 'Professor X' who wants to create an army of living weapons, presumably to take over the world or something.

The characters are alright. Charlie feels nothing like the girl from the previous movie, and only so much change can be explained away by the passage of time, but one can look past that. Something that throws some people off, purely because she was a little girl in the previous film, is that she's 'totally down to fuck', as they say in the parlance of our times. I say one shouldn't judge her for being sexual just because she was a child in the previous film. That's ridiculous...Though you can feel free to judge her for for her taste in men, because girl, why are you picking random sleazeballs in a dirty back alley? Gross!

Vincent is a likeable enough protagonist. Nothing special, but watchable. Rainbird is an ok villain, though he's really only Rainbird in name only. He bears literally nothing in common with the one in the first movie. The 'enigmatic' fortune teller is an annoying prat, who grinds the story to a halt whenever he appears, and shoves unwanted predeterminism on us, and what bugs me even more is that his visions are proven right at every turn, seemingly excusing him for his shitty behaviour in the eyes of the film.

Being a miniseries, this is full of superfluous moments, and subplots that go nowhere, such as the one about a former Lot 6 subject being aided by the police. This feels most egregious because of the pointlessly depressing ending this side story gets. Just as it's getting interesting, the lead suddenly gets killed off and everyone else in her story gets sudden onset memory loss, before never being mentioned again. If this character was just going to get killed anyway, what the hell was the point of watching a huge chunk of the movie devoted to her? If this was meant to lead into a tv series, surely it'd be better to keep as many avenues for story open as possible? I think it would've been much easier if they'd just excised this subplot completely. After all, can't a TV movie designed to lead into a full series just be 90 minutes?

Equally infuriating is Vincent's fate at the end, which feels completely pointless, and only serves to prove that 'stopped clock is right seven times a day 'dickhead who can tell the future correct once again. Overall, the movie ends on a pretty glum note.

The effects here aren't great, but they're ok enough for a tv budget. There's a lot more CGI, which I get. Nevermind that this is a lower budgeted affair than the big Hollywood movie, but fire is really hard to work with, and there aren't many actors who like being set on fire.

The acting is decent. Marguerite Moreau and Danny Nucci make for fine enough protagonists Malcolm McDowall isn't in his prime here, and sometimes makes you seriously question his acting ability. Dennis Hopper seems kinda bored as the fortune teller. There are some moments of hilariously incompetent acting, nowhere else more evident than in the flashback scenes. When Charlie 'kills' Rainbird, he literally yells 'Flames! NOOOOOOO' when fire is shot at him. It's the cheesiest thing imaginable, and completely takes you out of the movie. It's by far the funniest moment you'll see in it though!

Despite its flaws, I think I could recommend Firestarter 2 for at least one viewing. While a rewatch would almost certainly be intolerable, I guess it's got enough good qualities to warrant watching at least once, and the bad ones make for an amusing viewing experience too. Overall, this is like a subpar X-Men movie, which might not exactly inspire confidence, but isn't a damning criticism...

Tintin and the Blue Oranges (1964) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

Famed man of science Professor Cuthbert Calculus has published a new book on the urgency of fixing world hunger, wherein he pleads for the rest of the scientific community to rally behind him in finding a way to feed those less fortunate. He soon receives a mysterious blue orange in the mail from a Spanish colleague. It's quickly stolen, so his heroic young journalist friend Tintin and he abrasive Captain Haddock accompany him to Valencia to find out what's going on, getting embroiled in an international conspiracy in the process...

Tintin and the Blue Oranges is a mixed bag of a film. A mixed bag of oranges, you might say!...I apologise for that. Anyway! There isn't much of a plot here, sadly. It gets off to a good start, but devolves into the leads being taken prisoner, escaping, having a chase, being taken prisoner, escaping, having a chase, etc. It ends up looping a lot, feeling like you're watching the same scenes re-filmed multiple times. The climax doesn't really break from this either, and is thusly unsatisfying.

The heroes are a fun bunch to follow, with all their weird idiosyncrasies, and iconic designs. Snowy the dog is both adorable and helpful, stealing any scene he's in!

The villains are a complete non-entity. After kidnapping the Professor, they not only do next to nothing, we rarely even see them, and they just sort of vanish, and get dispatched super easily, with the final confrontation being with a separate group of criminals, who kidnap Calculus and Zalamea themselves.

As much as I can judge the acting, they look spot-on in their roles, and do a good enough job portraying them. Jean-Pierre Talbot is ok as Tintin, if not hugely interesting, while Jean Bouise is more lively and bombastic as Captain Haddock. Perhaps a bit much so, but I can't say it's not faithful to the comic character, at least. Felix Fernandez doesn't appear a whole lot as Professor Calculus though. Neither do the actors playing the Thom(p)sons either, also getting kidnapped and held offscreen for large swaths of time. Man, there are a lot of kidnappings in this movie! Quite a lazy crutch to continually rely on so much.

The actors playing the villains get too little to talk about, and appearing for an extended cameo is the character of Bianca Castafiore, who's incredibly annoying here, but I do think that's meant to be the point. One neat thing is that the Spanish characters/actors in this film actually speak Spanish! And the same goes for Arabic ones, too.

The direction here is standard for the most part, but interesting in a few places, such as the double room scene with the Thom(p)sons ,and a few Scooby Doo moments. Filmed largely in Valencia, Spain, Tintin and the Blue Oranges looks spectacularly beautiful! I'd recommend it for the visuals alone.

The music in Tintin and the Blue Oranges is very fun, and exactly what you'd want from a Tintin movie! They repeat the main tune a bit too much though, and it's played so fast in some instances that it's bound to give you a heart attack!

Tintin and the Blue Oranges doesn't really compare to the comics it's based on, but it's an otherwise harmless time...

Scooby Doo Meets KISS (2015) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

You know you've got it tough as a villain when you're pitted up against the Scooby gang! You think you've got it easy, but then our plans are all foiled by those meddling KISS...

The Scooby gang are 'invited' to a KISS amusement park to solve the mystery of a malevolent witch who's scaring away patrons and tearing attractions apart in her search fr a mysterious rock. Also on the scene is KISS itself, who exhibit strange powers that might be the key to this mystery...

Compared to other entries in the franchise, Scooby Doo Meets KISS is weird! It's your typical latter day Scooby Doo movie. Telling a fun mystery, with a healthy does of irony and sincerity, playing the characters and situations more for laughs than the original series ever did, but still playing it relatively straight (that is, the writers not treating the whole thing as beneath them). This entry has a gimmick, such as the one that went to Wrestlemania, or meeting Batman, but what sets this film apart is its absolutely bizarre story. We get other dimensions, 'alien' species' based in rock and roll lore, Lovecraftian gods, and magical powers! Is all of this really happening though?...I shan't say, but what's certain is that this is at least happening for the majority of the movie, so it still comes off as out-of-place.

While the plot seems pretty clear once the magical elements are introduced, there is still a regular mystery here at play, which unfortunately takes a backseat to all these interdimensional shenanigans. This is annoying, especially as it is still important, despite almost being treated like an amusing afterthought by the movie.

Since this film is headlined by KISS, you'd be right to assume they get a few opportunities to bust out a tune. They're used in moderation, with only about 5 total, counting the opening and ending credits.

The voice acting is pretty hit and miss. The main gang are great as usual, both old members and new (Matthew Lillard was born to play Shaggy! In animation, at any rate), and KISS don't do that bad of a job (certainly better than their turn in Phantom of the Park, one can safely presume), but other performances can get a bit grating, such as the psychic, and the witch. Of note is the presence of Garry and Penny Marshall! They sometimes struggle with the ridiculous dialogue, but at least they keep a straight face.

The animation here is very good. There seem to be a few digital touches (mainly due to the more trippy high concept stuff at play), but it's mostly traditional animation, and it does a good job of being updated while also having the proper Scooby Doo look to everything.

As far as Scooby Doo movies go, this isn't that bad, but it's not the most enjoyable, and is a little too weird at times. Still, it's got a little to recommend it, and it's probably the best KISS related movie we'll ever get...

Sound of Horror (1964) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

Invisible dinosaurs are a universal fix for movies. Does your film need to be awesome? Add in invisible dinosaurs! Are you adapting Tekken and need more stupid plot points? Add invisible dinosaurs! Is your film a B-Movie from the 1950's or 60's with very little money behind it? You'd better add invisible dinosaurs, unless you're prepared for the derisive laughs your film's going to get when the audience sees the rubber monster effects.

A band of archaeologists are searching for a hidden treasure in a cave system in the Greek countryside. The area is reputedly cursed, and this fear comes true when people start dying at the hands of an invisible terror, which always gives off a terrifying wail before it kills...

Sound of Horror is a sometimes dull picture, populated by uninteresting characters, and containing extended scenes of people either standing around quietly, sleeping or making coffee. The unremarkable appearance to a lot of the proceedings also takes it down a peg. Despite these issues, it does manage to be genuinely tense at times, with the titular sound being quite eerie, even if it doesn't sound anything like you'd expect from a dinosaur.

The pacing is pretty good, although after a certain point it feels like the movie ends, then just as the characters are prepping for the denouement it suddenly all starts again, and we have to stay seated for another half hour just for basically a rehash of what we already saw. All of this culminates in a pretty unsatisfying ending.

The characters are all a pretty dull bunch, and I frequently lost track of who was who, and how many they are. They're pretty interchangeable, especially the women, who are only distinguishable through their hairstyles. Unendearing and a bit sexist, they never make a great impression, though none are outright unlikeable at least.

The conversations these people get can be pretty amusing though, from their conversations on superstitions, to an abrupt and out-of-nowhere atom bomb moral. One notably funny moment of the former is when they're arguing to the superstitious housekeeper Calliope that the curse may well have existed at some point, but can't anymore, because man's now invented the atom bomb, and landed on the moon. It's another age now, so clearly the curse gone past its sell-by date, so let us all go back in the cave to get the treasure!...And we'll just ignore the fact that we found one of our mates there brutally slashed to death and drained of blood only 20 minutes ago.

The biggest disappointment is when Calliope gets killed, despite having been the one who's talked the most sense into these dopes. Why couldn't one of them have been eaten instead? Although frankly she behaved like a total idiot in the last scene, so I guess she had it coming. A sacrifice at the end also feels unnecessary, since we already got a sacrifice by dynamite 20 minutes previously. And the implication of 'I can't be bothered living as a cripple so I might as well just blow myself up' isn't exactly a positive one!

The monsters are decent. Their being invisible aids them most, since it makes them scarier than any rubber suit could. The drawback though is that we never see them coming. We don't get any cool  moments, instead just watching literally nothing happen while the music tenses up, as if the movie is saying 'You can't see anything, but something very scary is there, believe us!'. The explanation behind them being invisible is so hurried and unbelievable that they may as well have just said 'It's magical'.

Since they're of the invisible variety, I can't show you a picture of the  but I can show you one of the leads reacting to it.

The acting here is standard, but not that great. The dub acting is tolerable at best, but always sounds like the same couple of actors over and over again.

Shockingly enough, both Soledad Miranda and Ingrid Pitt are in this movie! Firstly it's shocking just because of how dull and low-budget this movie   but it's also shocking because I didn't even notice they were here! The print I watched was not only low-quality, but the kind of low-quality that does not go well with black-and-white, so their iconic beauty went completely unnoticed.

The direction is quite bad.  The staging is ok, but it's the handling of the actors where it really falls down. Their reactions to the invisible threat, and to those being attacked by it is so ridiculously lax that you'd think the men have taken xanax as they casually stand and do nothing while someone gets killed in front of them. Then when they do react with the proper urgency, it comes off as laughable given how much time has passed, and how late they are.

Sound of Horror is a flawed movie, but it's got its upsides to it, and is worth checking out if you're interested, and want to see what two of European horror's most famous starlets got up to in the early 60s...

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 no. 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...