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

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...

Friday, June 25, 2021

Exit the Dragon Enter the Tiger (1976) and Return of the Tiger (1978)


Bruce Lee has just died, and his friend David suspects foul play. He investigates he last woman to see him alive, learning of a secret plot by a drug lord known only as The Baron. Seeking to avenge the Dragon, the newly christened Tiger sets out to find the hidden evidence of this operation, and put it out of business permanently, just as his old friend would have wanted...

 In the wake of Bruce Lee's tragic death, many copycat wannabes sprang up in his place, with increasingly ridiculous pseudonyms. The most notable of these is Bruce Li, because he had the closest resemblance to the star, though it's hardly like gazing into a mirror. Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger is a =.

 It is strange that the movie is simultaneously trying to push the character of David as a successor and different person, while also casting Bruce Lee knockoff Bruce Li, selling the movie on the fact that this is THE Dragon (or close enough). I think this can be attributed to the [star's] motives, and the film's marketing

Not content with merely trying to ride Lee's coattails with their replacement, the movie is constantly trying to remind us of the icon, with posters everywhere. Even the villains have Lee posters littering their hideouts.

While the move was only made with the intention of cashing in, I did really like the concept of Lee being a larger-than-life figure who chooses a successor to replace him should anything go wrong, and his man honouring Lee by fighting evil, with the help of his friends, neat disguises, and fancy gadgets. One line I liked which reflected this is "There was a dragon." "And here is a tiger!"

David is an alright protagonist, and you really get the sense he cares about his friends. In fact I think he cares about 'em a little too much! His girlfriend says, with complete sincerity, "If I can mean as much to you as Bruce Lee did, I'll be very happy". Dial it down, mate, and pay more attention to your girl!

What I found most surprising about him is his fallibility! He suffers a real beatdown midway through, and is really put through the wringer! It makes you like him more, as it shows he's not just an invincible warrior.

David's allies are ok, though it's a bummer his friend got killed. I was liking the movie building up a roster of characters, and would've been nice and consistent to see them all return in a later film.

The villains are just your typical gangsters. Nothing special. I found one henchman funny with how he offers to find his boss 'for real' no less than 3 times, betraying David each time, and promptly earning another beating. The highlight is the snappily dressed Baron, who goes around in a fancy bowler hat and cravatte, with a sword cane.

For all the talk of going to the police, they are bizarrely non-existent here, not during the public brawls, and not when David is leaving the broken bodies of his enemies everywhere. And they are completely forgotten by the end, when David just decides to challenge the Barron to a duel to the death, and presumably leaves the police to find his impaled corpse by the ocean.

The plot chugs along at a reasonable pace, and the movie is a breezy watch at only 80 minutes. The climax is surprisingly impressive! It's a pretty stripped back encounter, just David against the main villain (=), =. I also liked the foreshadowing of the back kick, and how it was used in the final fight.   It's the location that deserves the most praise. The rocky outcrop with waves crashing against it is a really =   and is filmed so well.

The ending itself however is disappointingly abrupt. As soon as the Baron is dead, the movie just stops. No coda, no happy wrap-up with David and his recovered girlfriend, just a last minute voice-over from Bruce's earlier dialogue, and that's it.

The choreography is pretty decent here. Nothing on par with a real Bruce Lee movie, but most Chinese movies could be reliably engaging with their fight scenes, and this is no exception.   One scene that's less impressive though is the laughable head-bashing later on. It's quite weird, actually. They didn't skimp on the make-up, yet despite looking like he's actually been brutally beaten, there's Ed Wood levels of =.

The acting here is alright, and the dub actors all do fine jobs, if incredibly goofy at times. The 'real' Bruce Lee briefly appears, and is played by Le in a splitscreen effect. Of note are two things. One, the Baron's dub actor seems to change in his final battle! And two, none other than James Hong has a role! His voice is instantly recognisable, and it was a real treat.

Overall, Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger is not one of the worst 'Brucesploitation' films, nor the most tasteless, but it still bears a few problems to its name, some to do with its =, and others all of its own. But if you're gonna watch any films from this subgenre, this is probably the best...

Return of the Tiger

A mysterious man and woman begin making trouble for foreigner Paul's martial arts operations, determined he stop his drug trafficking. He refuses, and tries reasoning with the man, even attempting to hire him as a bodyguard. Paul's opposition meanwhile notices what's going on and also tries hiring the man. Neither realise what these two have really got in store though, but they'll certainly fight to keep their criminal empires...

Return of the Tiger is a surprising film in a couple of ways. The first is its status as a sequel, and this is more of a negative. It doesn't follow on from the previous film at all. It's a shame, I was honestly hoping for a continuation to Enter the Tiger, to really go all the way with Bruce Lee's successor being a superhero fighting all manner of crime each entry, with new disguises, gadgets, enemies, and women. Instead we get a movie that doesn't even try and pretend to be a sequel. I suppose this wasn't the fault of the writing, since it's the English title that makes the connection, but still.

The second surprise is the story itself. It begins with an immediate hook. A mystery pair make an attack on the villains, with abilities and motives that suggest they are very much in control. I was expecting a typical chopsocky protagonist we get to know well. In fact the movie is built on his identity being a mystery, both to the villains and to us.

The two leads are a ballsy duo, who just burst right into the villain's gym, beat up his entire academy, then demand he shut down all his nightclubs, gyms, dojos, and cease his drug smuggling operation. Oh, is that all? He even in complete seriousness suggests Paul should also commit suicide!

The plot started to lose me at the halfway point, after a major twist revealed a Sleuth style game going on, before being complicated by *another* twist, making everyone's true allegiances and identities hazy at best.

Huge stretches of time go without the lead and his lady friend, meaning we get very little insight into their true personalities, and don't get as close to them as we could've. This also has the effect of focusing on the warring crime lords more than it does the heroes, turning this into more of a crime film than martial arts.

The climax doesn't really clear the plot up for us, instead just delivering a big brawl that has double crosses, triple crosses, and heroes who seriously fall for the oldest trick in the book0"Hey, look behind you", and they do! The bare minimum is that at least we do find out who the heroes really are. As far as explanations go it makes sense, even if it's rushed, though it's a bit mundane. The final one-on-one battle is pretty neat though, even if there is no ending.

Return of the Tiger has an ultra groovy soundtrck, comprising of some 70s bangers like Play That Funky Music, White Boy, =, and =.

The villains are decent, with the main duo being distinct from each-other. I liked their grudging interplay. The henchmen are your typical lot, though one scene amused me. When Paul discovers one of his men is a spy, he sends some others to deal with him. You expect them to just kill the traitor, but they encourage him to spill the beans, even offering him money and a plane ticket to flee the country! Very accommodating! So much so that I was kinda disappointed when they inevitably kill him. I just got such a laugh out of these henchmen genuinely good chums to offer a traitor [money and a plane ticket] if he co-operates.

The fight scenes range from fun to confusing. The best was a nifty motorcycle battle. The weirdest was by far the shipping container scene, where the hero is cornered by goons, only for a container to suddenly movie into view and drop down, releasing a couple dozen men all ready for business. This frightens away the baddies, after which the men immediately get back into the crate and it's flown away, then a taxi comes to get Chang Hung from another shipping container!

The acting here is alright. Le is a reasonably charismatic lead, and I really liked Angela Mao, though was sad she didn't get to appear more. Paul L. Smith is a fine villain, and gets to throw down like Bud Spencer in the fights. The other main villain is alright, and his dub actor delivers a great evil laugh.

Return of the Tiger has its pluses as a movie, namely it's not at all a 'Brucesploitation' film, outside of who it stars. In some ways it impresses, in others it's a bit boring after a while. At least it's rarely dull, and that's never a bad thing...

Overall, Bruce Le may have been a decent success if he had tried to do his own thing, though comparisons with Lee would always have been inevitable. The real question is, did he truly honour the man's name? Well, he could fight, and made a few decent movies, so I guess he did alright. As alright as any of these actors could've...

Monday, June 21, 2021

Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla (1994)

The Japanese government is developing two plans to neutralise Godzilla. The first is the direct one, creating a mobile attack robot named Moguera, while the second is the more human Project T, hiring resident psychic Miki Saegusa to take control of the monster's mind. All these projects might be needed sooner rather than later though, when a diabolical clone emerges from space, kidnapping Godzilla's son and wreaking havoc in Japan...

Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla catches my interest right out of the gate with its goofy yet wonderful title, and in most ways it doesn't disappoint. The movie isn't a favourite of many, with some people feeling it doesn't add to the overall mythos, and feels like a filler entry. While I can see where they're coming from, I don't begrudge it these things, as a series about monsters fighting monsters is allowed to just have a 'fun' entry where they hit each-other, and that's it. There's enough mythos already set up for the story to fit snugly too, without adding any new material.

The setting and story for Spacegodzilla is very simple. The first half takes place almost entirely on Godzilla's home Birth Island, and the second half in a city block. I was afraid this would be boring, but this simplicity works in its favour, as the main crux of the movie is a father trying to defend his child from harm. Giant monsters really are just the same as us. They just want to protect their children from danger.

What detracts from the overall experience is the unneccesary 107 minute runtime. The film could've been around 80-90 minutes, easily. This is especially apparent thanks to the completely out of nowhere espionage plot halfway through the film. It's not that it's bad, it just comes so suddenly, without any warning or setup, then ends just as quickly.

The human cast are decent, though there are two many, and some could have easily been combined. Miki Saegusa finally gets to be the main character, though still shares the screen with four other leads, so she doesn't get as prominent a role as she could've. She's alright, but just doesn't leave much of an impression. Dr. Gondo is more distinctive, and cute, and has a nice connection with past films. The two soldiers are alright, with the more serious one being a love interest for Miki, and the other being comic relief.

Yuki is perhaps the best and most distinctive character, bearing a one-man grudge against Godzilla, and is even willing to befriend his son to get to him! Scoundrel. He's likeable despite his obsession, and the movie does a good job of portraying it as a negative, without demonising him as a character. I did question his intelligence though, if he thinks a single bullet, no matter how fancy, is going to kill the king of the monsters.

After a while I felt his character arc just kept stalling. You think he's gonna learn the error of his ways, and give up his revenge and settle down with the girl who likes him, but each time he seems like he's learnt this, the dumbass just keeps on hunting Godzilla, most egregiously in the end, ruining his big moment. Thankfully he does finally do the right thing and even gets the girl in he end, though if I was her I would probably have slapped him.

There is one human villain, in the form of the evil-looking doctor who tags along with the crew for the first act, until Miki is kidnapped and he reveals his intentions to use her powers to keep Godzilla under his control. This naturally goes awry. "What went wrong???" he dramatically cries. I don't know, maybe choosing to hatch your scheme when Earth is under invasion by a giant space monster?

One minor character I found amusing was the hilariously overdramatic newsreader. Yet she probably reports more honestly than most do in times of crisis!

The military are generally sensible here, not portrayed as callous assholes, or as useless bureaucrats. I was confused by why they bizarrely decide to attack Godzilla near the end. Come on guys, you know he's probably here to help, why are you being difficult! And this leads to Yuki losing his cool again and using Moguera to get in on the action, though luckily the other two stop him, and Godzilla presumably takes the first few laser shots as a way of getting his attention. That's a relief!

The climax is a spectacular brawl, and culminates with one of Godzilla's most satisfying victories. Although I admit I started to zone out after a while, with the endless sea of Roger's and Hai's all blending together a little. The action did drag a lot after Spacegodzilla's destruction too. I kept looking at the runtime and going 'It it still not over yet??'. But thankfully the ending itself is lovely! It's low-key and romantic, and shows that even amidst the destruction of this city block, things are still hopeful, and that humanity can count on Godzilla as a friend.

Godzilla is an unequivocal hero here, even if he does have a bad habit of leveling buildings when he goes for a stroll on the town. He's attacked by man, by monsters, and by robots, all while trying to protect his son. If there's one dad deserving of a Father's Day present, it's him!

One thing that sounds a little off though is his roar. His regular iconic roar is here, but alongside a more high-pitched screech he makes. It threw me through a loop every time I heard it. It just sounds...wrong. Spacegodzilla's roar is more fitting though, the higher pitch working in his favour to make him different.

His son Minilla continues to be absolutely adorable! He's a gentle giant, and friend to all. Some say Godzilla is a heartless monster, but tell me, could anything evil spawn such an adorable creature? The only issue is that he disappears midway through, and isn't seen again till the end of the film. I understand why (even if his imprisonment wasn't established in the clearest way), but it's still a bit weird how totally he disappears.

Spacegodzilla is a neat villain. Almost identical to regular Godzilla, his bulking crystalline nature gives him a distinct appearance, and his meaner visuals come across well, especially combined with his actions. He's a bully, even attacking Minilla!

The robot Moguera is a welcome addition to the film, originally having appeared in the 1957 film The Mysterians. It's nice seeing how respectful Toho are of their past, and bringing forgotten or obscure characters back into the limelight. Moguera didn't really get much to do in his original film, playing second fiddle to his alien masters, but here he gets the screentime he deserves. He may not be as visually interesting as Mechagodzilla of the previous film, but he's still a worthy mecha.

The moral of the movie is a bit skew-whiff. We mustn't pollute space with leftover Godzilla cells from battles with his plant clones, otherwise they might reach a black hole and create an evil twin. Ummm, ok? It tries to use this as a jumping off point to criticise general space pollution, which is good, though the way they do it is a bit wonky, especially when neither of the two theories that are proffered for Spacegodzilla's creation are due to man's actions.

The effects are a treat! The cityscapes and destruction is all fantastically realised, as is the integration of monsters with their surroundings. There's never a fake moment. Godzilla is perfectly designed, with a few new touches, such as more orange eyes. They're menacing in a way, despite his more heroic role here. Spacegodzilla. His back crystals do look a little lightweight and hollow, but I otherwise applaud the effort. Minilla looks a little plastic-y, like a big toy, but this is a small thing, and he's otherwise fantastic. And lastly, Moguera is fantastically designed, and even has a few different forms! Such a level of effort was put here.

The direction here is very good, stunning at times with its visuals. Not only does the lack of locations not detract from the movie's appearance, it allows the director to really flesh out these places, and we get to know them very well. The lighting is again great, complementing the scenery perfectly.

The actors all do fine jobs. Megumi Odaka is still a bit so-so as Miki Saegusa. Not really her fault though, moreso the script. Akira Emoto impresses as Yuki, and I liked the other two guys, even if they did blend together at times. Towako Yoshikawa meanwhile is cute as a button! The Heisei's tradition of casting Americans who can't act once again makes an appearance. It's amusingly cheesy, and I can't fault Toho or the Japanese for being diverse.

The music is neat! Akira Ifukube did not return this time round, for a variety of reasons, but Takayuki Hattori does a fine job. What surprised me most of all (pleasantly), was the J-pop ballad at the end, which serenades Godzilla as he walks back to his home during the rolling credits. Even when you think it's gonna freeze-frame on the Earth for the last part of it, it shows Mothra flying about, from several different angles too!

Godzilla vs. Spacegdzilla isn't a perfect entry in the series, but it's got far more good qualities than bad, and is a great way to spend an afternoon in...