Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Cannibals (1980)

Classic Spanish director Jess Franco was known for making visual masterpieces on one end of the spectrum, then making absolute garbage on the other. This is partly tied to the sheer volume of movies he made! Directors in the 30s and 40s would make hundreds of films all the time, because directing was a day to day gig back then, with less emphasis on auteurs. That had all but died out by the 1980s, yet he was a staunch holdout. Cannibals (known by a slew of other titles, such as Mondo Cannibale, and White Cannibal Queen) is considered by many to be his absolute worst. Dear God, what might that entail?!...

Jeremy Taylor is an anthropology professor out on an expedition to the Amazon with his family, when disaster strikes. A tribe of savages kill and eat his wife, and kidnap his daughter, who they believe to be a white goddess sent from the heavens. Jeremy's arm is severed, but he is able to escape, and in his delirium he is taken to a hospital in America to recover. With the help of a newfound love, he is able to regain his strength, and asks the help of a rich husband and wife to finance a new expedition, deadset on rescuing his daughter and gaining revenge...

Cannibals gets off to a quick start, introducing its characters and setting showing a bloodbath, and jumping forward to the present day. Lead Jeremy tries to tell his story, but the authorities don't beleive him, instead assuming an accident must have taken place, and his traumatised mind simply made up a story. I can only imagine how the skeptical pricks would react to Sally from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. "It seems this girl was just chopping firewood when she pierced a bucket of paint, and now she thinks she saw all her friends die."

As the years roll by and we reach the present, Jeremy somehow manages to recover his memory, despite never having lost it in the first place. He intends to mount an expedition back to the Amazon, but finds skepticism. Despite this he manages to build up a team, but what he doesn't know is his daughter has been raised as the goddess and queen of the cannibal tribe.

Jeremy is an average hero  Although I deduct him points in several areas. For one, even if your family insist on coming, maybe don't take them to the cannibal region of the Amazon. The startling thing is Jeremy didn't even know it was a cannibal region until the boat's captain told him as they already reached it! Secondly is him taking along his second wife to rescue his daughter, which is just asking for trouble. And thirdly is his big guilt tripping speech to the bar patrons, calling them all cowards for not helping him in his journey...But everyone in his party gets butchered as the movie goes on, so I frankly think they were quite entitled not to come!

His new wife is likeable enough, though I deduct points from her too for deciding to join Jeremy's expedition, after his last wife was killed on one! Their chemistry is pretty lacking. There's one hilarious moment when she wakes Jeremy up in the night, and he responds with "Oh, it's you". Talk about one of the worst things you could say to your wife!

Jeremy's daughter is a non-entity. We see her as a child, then after an indeterminate period she's suddenly an adult who's fully ingratiated within the tribe. We never get to see how she feels, or what she thinks.

The rich couple are a hoot, definitely the most lively characters in the film. They seem quite mean at first, but despite their almost callous exteriors, they end up being the most endearing characters in the whole movie! Not only do they each get their moments of humanity, but they both ultimately give their lives in order to rescue Jeremy's daughter! They're funny and likeable in a way. You're never quite sure if they're all just taking the piss at Jeremy, or genuinely cheering him on, and they're so fun about it that you don't really mind, especially considering they are still footing the expedition's bill.

Despite that dope Jeremy's best intentions, the expedition is wholly unprepared. The deaths happen within the span of 10 or so minutes, just one arrow after the other. It all happens so quickly that the party never  are never able to react.

Where the movie really loses me is in its mean streak to its characters. It's enough that Jeremy's first wife dies, since that's the inciting incident, and I don't mind if a few of the expedition team get eaten. But it was a bummer watching the rich couple die after they redeemed themselves, and it was especially depressing seeing what happens after! Jeremy may escape with his daughter in tow,

I will give credit though, while the story may be depressing to the point of being unpleasant, there is nothing malicious in Cannibals. It's just such an earnestly bad movie, and it only makes you laugh. As with Franco's other Amazon cannibal movies, this has none of the animal abuse prevalent in the subgenre. Things like that really make you respect a filmmaker, regardless of how trashy the movie may be. Another thing to admire about Jess Franco is that while he may have told a few porky pies (like claiming the Necronomicon was totally real, and he'd seen it for his movie), when it came to the quality of his movies he was always honest, and openly admitted to Cannibals being his worst film.

The acting and dubbing here is hilariously bad, with the lead mumbling his way through every line. Some performers are wooden, others over-the-top, and some even do a decent job.

The gore effects are pretty good, although it is bizarre how we go into like a negative zone during each cannibalism scene. The background suddenly turns black, and there are lots of super close-up shots, to the point where it's a little hard to tell what's even happening. I also got a big laugh at Al Cliver's obviously hidden arm.

The soundtrack to Cannibals is weird in places, such as the main theme, but other bits are quite effective, like the simple tribal chants and rhythms, which build the tension, even in brightly lit scenes. And believe me the movie needs help like that, because most of these areas look paradisical than scary.

The locations are very effective. The movie hits it out of the park with the beautiful and authentic locales. The only way they look unconvincing is that some areas look a bit too curated, if you know what I mean. We're supposed to be out in the primal wilderness, yet there are big open paths, and trees planted in order.

To finish, Cannibals may be an absolutely terrible film, but if anyone could make a film as legendarily bad as this, Jess Franco's the man...

The New Barbarians (1983)

Noted Italian director Enzo G. Castellari had his hand in many genres, from crime, to action, war, etc, and notably the post-apocalyptic genre. A booming market during the 80s thanks to hits like Mad Max, Italy was quick to capitalise, and thank goodness they did, because they really did a great job taking the genre to all kinds of unseen and entertaining places. Castellari delivered to us 1990: The Bronx Warriors and its follow-up, which were more dystopian, inspired by the likes of Escape from New York. 1983's The New Barbarians however was a full-on apocalyptic adventure, and is one of the most distinct and memorable...

It is the year 2019 A.D., and the nuclear war is over. For small bands of survivors, life goes on, but even this small semblance of peace is threatened, as they are ruthlessly hunted down by the Templars, a fanatical cult dedicated to the annihilation of mankind. Opposing them is lone warrior Scorpion, with the unwanted help of his friend Nadir, and the company of a new partner. Together they discover a signal that could lead to a restored society, and must stop the Templars from finding it at all costs...

The New Barbarians grabs your attention right away with its unique credits sequence, which features a city hit by a nuclear bomb, and the process it goes through as the devastation gets worse. It's done in a really unique and interesting way, as the city doesn't just get flattened, nor burnt. Instead most of the buildings are intact. Yet we can tell this city is dying because of the growing haze, which drowns out the sunlight until the screen is bathed in blue, and the rolling fog eventually envelopes everything, until even the music comes to a crawl.

From here on the film is action-packed, having lots of fun with the setting and using it to its advantage. This is a low budget production, but uses its resources well and creates a world we can believe. A couple of the roads maybe look a little too pristine for after the bomb's dropped, but otherwise they're fine, and free of modern day vehicles! The majority of New Barbarians is set out in the 'arid wilderness', and it's great. As fitting as anything in Australia.

The story is basic but effective. The characters have their arcs and journeys, and the stakes are small scale yet large. The origin of the signal goes unexplored, which makes it all the more effective. We get just enough to whet our appetites and make us curious, but not so much to spoil the mystery. The movie is never boring either, despite its thin plot and limited locales. It also knows how to truly surprise, with one of the most jawdropping scenes in all Italian cinema!

The heroes of The New Barbarians are a distinctive bunch, living up to both titles. Scorpion is a badass, simple in all the best ways. His personality and unparalleled skills are clear right from the get-go, along with all of his cool gear. He's a real warrior of the wasteland, regularly fighting off whole gangs single-handed, and rescuing damsels in distress.

Nadir is a cheeky guy, and a wise mentor, trying to teach Scorpion about the power of victory. He's armed with a futuristic bow and arrow, with many fun goodies attached. Many a Templar loses their head thanks to him!

Love interest Alma doesn't have as much personality, not speaking much, but she's a nice presence. She's also useful too, never just sitting around doing nothing.

The villains are just as great. Fanatically religious, and believing mankind to be a pestilence that caused the apocalypse, the Templars see themselves as holy warriors cleansing the Earth. Lead antagonist One is a menacing figure, psychotic and cold, with flashes of insanity. His lieutenant Shadow is more pragmatic. He has self-aware moments, but doesn't care, choosing to continue with this life. And then there's Mako, who's just flat out crazy, and ready to take control for himself.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is Scorpion's relationship with the Templars-He used to be one! At some point in the past he was initiated into the group, but fell out with them, beating One in duel, and earning the legendary status as the only man he is afraid of. One is obsessed with bringing Scorpion back, not just to kill him, but to humiliate and make him submit. The 'understanding' between them can be seen in scenes like Mako's failed attack, where Scorpion says "If One sent him, this is my answer. If he didn't, it's my warning.".

It makes you wonder, was Scorpion once a blinded zealot, who overcame this senseless bloodlust? Or perhaps the Templars began as a benevolent group to protect others, only to be perverted as they saw more and more carnage, and lost their faith in humanity.

The effects in The New Barbarians are cheesy, but great. Sure, it might not be entirely convincing here and there, and some shots might look more like mannequins than others, but overall it's nice. The action and stuntwork is all really well done too.

The costumes are absolutely ridiculous in the best ways possible, from groin straps, to boob bubbles (sadly we see none in action), and a suit of unthreatening yet useful plexiglass armour. The hairstyles are something special too. Hairdressers clearly survived the apocalypse, as the Templars all have fabulous locks, bangs, and bouffants, not to mention dye jobs. They mesh well with their identical uniforms, and while they're always amusing to look at, they also don't take away from their villainy.

The vehicles are a lot of fun too, from the buggies, to the bikes, the cool rigs, and Scorpion's swanky car! There's a level of effort and consistency that I appreciate. Everything looks like it's a part of this strange world.

The cast here do great. Giancarlo Prete is a decently charismatic lead, while Anna Kanakis is a pretty co-star. Fred Williamson adds plenty of charm and sly fun to the movie. Knowingly goofy, but taking it seriously enough for us to care. George Eastman is a great villain, as always, menacing and creepy. Also good are Enio Girolami and Massimo Vanni as his lieutenants. And lastly there is little Giovanni Frezza, a memorable (if fleeting) staple of Italian cult cinema. He has a hilarious role and makes the best of it, with a sense of childlike enthusiasm that wavers between psychotic and adorable.

Genre film titan Claudio Simonetti does a wonderful job with the music, crafting a score that manages to be fun, light, while also ominous. His use of mechanical sounds are great too, such as the ambient beeping, as if from abandoned signal stations.

The New Barbarians is a great time to be had. You honestly can't have more fun with post-apocalyptic cinema than you can here. Good on Enzo Castellari for always delivering a good time, and never being afraid to be weird or daring...

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Jane Bond 008: Operation Karachi (1971)

There's some discussion these days about whether the character of James Bond should be genderswapped (for the record, I disagree, and think he should stay the same, and if anyone wants a female spy, they should just make a new character, like I do). If only people knew that Pakistan and Iran had already beaten them to the punch by over 40 years! That's right, before the official 007 series had even reached its 10th anniversary, out came this genderswapped variation...

Jane Bond is a special agent of British and Pakistani origin, and is dispatched to the city of Karachi to foil a mad villain's plan for world domination. Along the way she enlists the help of a hapless taxi driver, who falls head over heels, and is determined to fight with her...

Operation Karachi is a real disappointment of a movie. If you're familiar with Turkish pulp films, then you can have a pretty reasonable idea of what you're in for, but even on those merits, the movie just isn't as fun as it couldn't been. But where it really fails is in the main concept! Jane Bond 008?? She's barely in the thing!

There is very little story to speak of. The film is predominately made up of characters running from point A to B, or B to A  and it all feels a bit directionless. The climax is ok, but nothing special. It's so unremarkable I didn't even realise it was the climax until the credits rolled. The villains are dispatched without much fanfare, and the whole thing's a bit boring really.

The defacto main character is not Jane Bond herself, despite what lies the title may tell you, but is instead a random taxi driver. In any other film he'd be the useless comic relief sidekick, but because he takes up such a dominant position, he's actually quite a capable scrapper. He's also a hopeless sap, as he fells head over heels for Jane after only 5 seconds, and after she is kidnapped repeatedly over the course of the runtime, he is there time and time again risking his life to save her.

Speaking frankly I'd say the movie does a pretty shitty job of showing off Pakistan. All it does is show off a few barren roads. This is made all the more frustrating because the movie is actually filmed in Karachi! Most zero-budget Asian films do a poor job of overseas locations because they're trying to make Anatolia or Khunduz look like the Daintrees, but here they had access to the location, but make it look like crap.

I'll say this for the movie though, it's got a good runtime in its favour! If this were Indian it'd probably verge in 3 hours, but the Persians must prefer normal film lengths, and so it's a comfortable 90 minutes. Still too long for such a movie? Maybe, but when you're acutely aware of how much worse it could be, you take what you can get.

Operation Karachi was directed by Reza Fazeli. It was also written by Reza Fazeli. And this is probably a coincidence, but it also stars Reza Fazeli. Whether this whole production was a bit of a vanity or ego trip is up for debate. I won't give a concrete answer myself, but I will say: If I was making a movie about Jane Bond, I probably wouldn't make myself the lead, and have the beautiful main actress be hopelessly in love with me.

It's hard to tell, but acting here seems pretty basic. Just decent performances. A little annoying here and there, but generally tolerable. Rakhshanda is a pretty lead, and may have made a cool super spy in a better film.

The music is made up of a few Bollywood style ditties that play every now and then, which are alright, and at the least never dull.

Every review I read of Operation Karachi said that it did not live up to its potential and was an all-round disappointment. I went in with an open mind, hoping to disagree with these assessments, but I can only concur with them. It's a pretty lousy picture. Better quality and subtitles would improve things a little, but not by much, I can't imagine. Avoid, or watch at your own risk...

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Bride of Vernon (2011)

Calvin Dyson is known as a youtuber of all things James Bond, and he's certainly a great content creator! I've watched quite a few people over the years, and my interest in them has come and gone, but he really seems like one to stick around, and produces top notch videos. He is also an animator, and creator of a stop motion comedy film, much to my surprise!

Vernon van Dyke is a friendly mad scientist in the north of England, trying hard to realise his dream of resurrecting the dead, and creating a bride. To no avail, as his experiments keep failing. Then one day, after a date gone somewhat wrong, he finds himself urgently needing to succeed, or else his life will be meaningless...

The Bride of Vernon is a super enjoyable little treat. Only 15 minutes long, it manages to pack in a complete story, that leaves you wanting more, but never has you feeling unsatisfied.

The film has a charming sense of humour, with a touch of black comedy, but never too much. It's always the right balance. A highlight is the date-It's jawdropping how badly it goes! On one hand Vernon really shoulda been watching where he was looking! But on the other hand, Mary did totally distract him. But then again, who keeps sodium hypochloride in the kitchen, ya dope?

Bride of Vernon is a fantastic looking film. The characters all have that DIY look to them, in a good way. They may not look like super polished million dollar creations, but they're not bad at all, and have life to them, especially thanks to their fluid and believable movements. The environments are all stellar too, from the stylish laboratory, complete with a thunderous rooftop (reflective with water), the spooky cemetery, and Vernon's brightly lit and homely kitchen. The rooms never feel empty or barren, with many little objects throughout, such as a nifty record player.

There's a small amount of computer effects, and they mesh well, never feeling like egregious CGI in a classic film.

I adored all the little touches too, from the names on the tombstones, to the book Mary's reading (The Last Man, by Mary Shelley! Nice to see at least someone appreciates it), and the classic "A good cast is worth repeating" motto at the end.

The soundtrack, comprised of a few archive pieces (courtesy of [Chopin]) fit very well with the action, and help build the atmosphere. They're also balanced well too, never drowning out the dialogue.

The cast here is a surprising one for a short student film! There's comedy actor Dan Clark, David Schofield, and Katherine Parkinson! As an Aussie I hadn't actually the faintest idea who the first two were, but I recognised her voice instantly. They all do fun jobs, and despite their dialogue being recorded months apart, you'd never know!

Overall, The Bride of Vernon is an extremely enjoyable time! It's just a shame there haven't been any more stop-motion efforts from Dyson, although goodness knows he's not been idle, still delivering great content in one form or another...

Dear Diary: A Film About Female Puberty (1981)

Janie is a typical teenage girl. Soon to become a woman, she is growing anxious over the changes coming over her, as well as the attitudes and pressures from other girls. Determined to know what's happening, she begins a record in her diary as she asks anyone she can...

Educational films rarely bode well, at least when taken seriously. They're often goofy, or fail to tell their message in a good way. At their worst they can be just plain awkward. One particular example that's gained quite a cult following over the years is today's film, Dear Diary: A Film About Female Puberty. No reward for guessing what it's about. See? The movie's earning points already!

Much to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed Dear Diary! It's short and sweet, telling a good story. While the presentation may be somewhat loony, the messages and lessons here are honestly really good! Informative, easygoing, non-judgemental, and the humour helps make it more accessible to teens who need to know this stuff. The worst you can be when teaching this stuff is cold and detached.!

The ending is a nice way of wrapping things up, and helping girls know how similar they all are when facing these issues. The film's ultimate message is to talk with people about these things, and share what you know, because it's no big deal, and one shouldn't feel embarrassed or ashamed by any of it.

The animated educational sections of the movie thankfully don't come too out-of-nowhere, and don't ruin the flow of the movie

Although as weird as it is, I stand with the film in terms of its sense of humour. All too often people will criticise a film like The Refrigerator ("No survivors, only leftovers...") for being silly, not realising that the movie about a demonically possessed kitchen appliance was a comedy. It's the same with Dear Diary. There are people online levying the same criticisms against this, as if it somehow didn't realise it was being funny. Jeez, if only I knew you could accidentally create a comedy without even trying! What've I been doing all these years then??

The characters are a reasonable bunch for a short film, especially of this variety. Janie is a likeable lead, who asks sensible questions, and goes on a sympathetic journey. All she wants are some answers, and people are either confusing or unhelpful, so she often has to seek answers out from the source. Her friends are a quirky pair, who could easily come off as bitches in the wrong light, but thankfully they come across well.

The acting can be cheesy at times, but that's understandable since they aren't professionals. And they do good jobs for the most part. The worst we get is the occasionally stilted line or delivery, or over-the-top reactions. I particularly liked the main trio. While they weren't going to win any awards or anything, they do well.

Overall, Dear Diary is a fun and brisk watch. If you're a teenage girl reading this blog, Hello, I'm glad you have weird taste in movies like I do, and also I'd heartily recommend you watch this if you feel so inclined! And for anyone who's not a teenage girl, this is still worth a watch, from its educational content to its humour...

The Heart of the World (2000)

State scientist Anna has just made a devastating discovery. The world is suffering from an illness, and will soon die of a heart attack. When it goes, so will everyone else living on the planet, and a panic sweeps the globe. While Anna tries to figure out what to do, her two suitors make a final effort to woo the girl they love before things come to an end...

Guy Maddin is an eclectic Canadian filmmaker and artist, whose body of work carries a significant silent film influence. He's made a few features over the years, of varying quality (They range from fascinating, to laughably stupid, or outright pissing me off).

With 2000's entry Heart of the World, it was his intention to create a short film with enough story and scenes to fill a feature, yet come in at under 10 minutes. In this regard, the project is an unequivocal success. I was skeptical going in, because from the synopsis I read, I'd assumed it was a full movie, and discovering it was only 6 minutes disappointed me. But it manages to cram in a 'complete' story in that time, so for that I applaud it!

The movie bears the appearance of an old Russian silent, like Battleship Potemkin, to name a famous example. Touches of Metropolis and other such movies give the movie the rest of its identity, and these inspirations come together to create a pretty original watch. While incredibly fast, and confusing in some scenes because of this, the movie is mostly well-crafted. The title cards are often extremely dramatic, with lots of build-up. And at times they race by a bit too fast to read. It's borderline subliminal.

A lot of the imagery is madcap, but without being too in-your-face. It gets its themes through familiar visuals or motifs, without going so far as to become obnoxious about it. What I didn't like about the visuals is how overexposed they can be. I can handle faux low quality, as here it gives the move a look of authenticity, but don't make it look that bad, Maddin!

Due to its very nature, Heart of the World is not to everyone's tastes, but overall I admire it. Does the  have any missteps though? Oh yeah, I thought so at least. It was a bit pretentious and anticlimactic for the solution to saving the Earth to be dramatically yelling "Kino!" to its heart, magically saving it. Art cinema can be interesting for sure, but I have doubts chanting its name will cause successful heart transplants!

The film has a small but distinct set of characters. The lead is scientist Anna, who is clever, and heroic in some ways, although I seriously question her taste in men! Nevermind her inability to choose between her two paramours, she has so much trouble deciding that she eventually lets herself be seduced by a gross old industrialist/millionaire.

A daffy mortician and an overeager stage performer, the two brothers are weirdos. The former's way of impressing Anna is to create a conveyor belt for corpses, and the latter is apparently such a devoted actor that he never removes his stage gear, not when he goes to see his girlfriend, and not when the world is ending! Although this turns out to be fortuitous, as an image of Jesus is just what the panicking throng need to see to snap them out of any orgiastic crazes.

Akmatov is an analogue to the corrupt and sinister businessmen of silent classics past. Though as it stands he doesn't actually do anything villainous, he's just gross, which makes Anna's decision to strangle him to death a little suspect. Come on, honey, I thought he was a perv, but you were into him 100%, then as soon as you regain some good taste you murder him??

The music here is as fast-paced as the action, and liable to get your blood pumping by the end, with its classical orchestral sounds, and industrial beats.

As an experiment and as a short film, Heart of the World succeeds, though it may only leave you wanting more, even if you enjoyed it. But still, it's hardly a failure, and may be a source of inspiration to many...