Monday, January 31, 2022

Ator the Invincible (1982-84)

Ator the Fighting Eagle

In an ancient land, the evil cult of the spider has dominated for as long as anyone can remember. Only one man was brave enough to stand up to their tyranny, and while he lost his life, prophecy speaks of a son who will triumph where he failed-Ator. Years later, the young warrior is ready to be married when the spider cult attacks. All alone, he is found by the mysterious Griba, who tells him of his past and trains him for the fight ahead. Now Ator must explore this world, fight new threats, and fulfill the prophecy...

Ator the Fighting Eagle (aka Ator the Invincible) is Italian schlockmeister Joe D'Amato's take on Conan the Barbarian, on a vastly tinier budget. I adore sword and sorcery films, and Ator is one of the small genre's best heroes! His films would never find themselves on any Oscars lists, but as far as fun adventure goes, they're second to none.

Sword and sorcery films are one of the simpler kinds of fantasy, and my favourite subgenre in it. For me there's nothing that beats the simplicity of a muscly barbarian beating up bad guys, getting into swordfights, and fighting monsters. The story to Ator is never more complicated than that.

Along his journey Ator faces various other threats, including zombies, a malevolent enchantress (with really ineffective curses), and even his own shadow. Then there's of course the main baddies-The spider kingdom. They're a bit of a disappointment though, after how big they're built up to be. I find it hard to believe that this band of a dozen marauders were able to usher in an unstoppable age of darkness for 1000 years! Especially when all it takes to defeat them is one dude who's only known how to fight for three days.

Being a typical adventure movie, there's naturally a romance here, and it's sweet enough...And also one of the ickiest things imaginable! Ator and his beloved Sunya are brother and sister! He turns out to be adopted, sure, but they didn't know that when they fell in love and asked to be married! Ewwwww, what a couple of weirdos!

Ator's other goal is to rescue his people. Usually in these kinds of movies it's an absolute one-sided massacre, but here they actually hold their own, and do pretty well, making it not nearly as much of a bummer as it could've been. But we needn't feel bad for those who died, or worry about all the villagers taken hostage, because the movie completely forgets them, and they are literally never seen or mentioned again.

The action is ok, but some of the confrontations are a little lacking. When the sorceress is exposed, she just yells at Ator and leaves! Sure, she swears undying vengeance, but she doesn't actually do anything there and then, she just buggers off. Then there's the 'thrilling chase' through the misty forest, where the heroes briskly walk away from what I presume to be shambling zombies, for all of half a minute, then the scene's just over, with no follow-up. I actually wondered if the tavern we see them in next scene was an illusion, and they were still in the creepy forest, but nope. Then there are the blind swordmakers. The non-confrontational aspect of this scene actually fits, though is a little disappointing coming on top of all these previous encounters.

Ator is a good hero, and cuts a fun image. He's a little hard to take seriously with his permed hairdo and ginormous fluffy knee-high boots, but he plays it so straight that it works.

The girls are pretty good. Sunya is fairly passive, and is offscreen most of the time, leaving thief Roon as Ator's main partner. She's distant at first, pretending to only be in it for the money, before falling head over heels for him.

Special praise goes to the cuddly bear sidekick! He is adorable, and proactive too The only thing cuter than an animal sidekick is one that helps save the day on numerous occasions (even if he does disappear at random).

The villains are a cliched bunch, but entertaining. Dakar is great visually, while Griba looks more like a hobo. Dakar gets a hilarious death scene. It is a little anticlimactic, but understandable since Griba takes his place as the true main antagonist, along with a giant spider.

The acting is what you'd expect from a movie like this. Miles O'Keefe might not be the most talented actor out there, but he's got a great physique, and is never bad. Sabrina Siani and Ritza Brown are very pretty. Edmund Purdom remains dignified, despite all the goofy stuff he's wearing, while Dakkar plays the role he was born for as Dakar. He's a fun foe, and makes the most of his scenes (and can handle spiders well!). And Laura Gemser has a short but entertaining role as an evil sorceress.

The effects here are pretty good, especially considering the low budget. We get inexpensive make-up work, and the shadow fighting is clearly just the actor miming. The giant web at the end is well-crafted (except for close-up shots where we can plainly see it's just rope). The spider is clearly a giant puppet, but the movie keeps enough of it offscreen or in the shadows to not be too unconvincing, and it's used well in the final battle.

The location work is pretty neat. We have some fairly basic sets here, as well as great natural locations, and an old Roman amphitheatre. I was particularly impressed with the overgrown statues in one scene. A cool touch that sell the antiquity of this world.

The music here is fairly standard fantasy stuff, and gets the job done. My only complaint is the bizarrely out-of-place pop song that plays the movie out.

Ator the Fighting Eagle is an all-round fun adventure. In my opinion it's actually better than Conan the Barbarian! Obviously not on a technical level (or, well, any level), but in terms of simple sword and sorcery fun, Ator nails that sweet spot much better. With a handsome hero, dastardly enemies, pretty ladies, and giant monsters, what more could you ask for?...

The Blade Master

The kindly inventor known as The Great One has made a terrible new discovery-The Geometric Nucleus-and he knows that evildoers from all over the land will seek it out. He sends his daughter Mila out to find the noble warrior Ator, the only one capable of defending the Nucleus. No sooner than she leaves, the evil Zor takes over the castle, determined to learn the Great One's secrets. And so begins the hero's next grand adventure...

In terms of quality, The Blade Master (aka Cave Dwellers, aka Ator the Invincible 2) represents an immediate step down. The budget has been slashed in every department imaginable. But despite all of this, it still manages to be a fun movie, if in somewhat different ways.

The lack of budget is firstly apparent in the absence of grand locations. The majority of The Blade Master is characters running through an endless forest, or some cave sets. We get the occasional small village or temple, but that's it. Then there are the cheap props such as hubcap armour, lazy workarounds like invisible enemies (a fine idea on its own, but not here), and the 'ancient' castle having modern handrails. All of this adds to the charm, and even though the movie as a whole looks nowhere near as good as The Fighting Eagle, at no point is it any less enjoyable.

The crowning moment of all this comes when Ator must reach the castle for the final battle, and he does so with the aid of what's clearly a modern day hang-glider! As he soars through the air, we not only see glimpses of a modern city, but repurposed footage from Where Eagles Dare. It's like every cheap and amazing thing about the movie encapsulated into one scene!

The other big section is the fight against a snake cult, where Ator formulates a clever battle plan to liberate the town. Sadly, despite all his planning he doesn't get the chance to be General Ator, because the village elder drugs him, to hand to the cult. Talk about an idiot! A bunch of cultists visit your village and give you an ultimatum-Let us kill you, or we kill you! Not really much of a choice, so you may as well fight if you're gonna die anyway, rather than roll over and immediately feed all your virgins to a giant snake monster.

This leads to a fun battle, although incredibly frustrating when Ator and co. takes their sweet ass time getting free, leading to the brutal deaths of not one, not two, but all five of the fair young maidens! They just get tossed into the jaws of death one by one, while Ator patiently waits his turn.

There are many amusing things here and there in The Blade Master. First up, there's Ator's dwelling at the awfully vague 'ends of the earth, where nature itself stops' (it in fact does not). Somehow limping from an arrow to the chest, it takes Mila what must be a grand total of 20 minutes to get there, but the rest of the movie to get back, over several days.

Ator is a very basic hero here. His backstory almost completely contradicts what happened in the first film. The recap does mention those events (waving away Sunya's fate so quickly I never noticed until recently), but they can't possibly fit in this timeline.

His sidekick Thong is a fan favourite. A man of few words, and possessing a nifty fashion sense, he can kick ass with the best of them. He even saves the day at the end when Ator and the Ancient One are being too useless.

Mila is a tolerable sidekick/love interest. And her dad is a wise old guy. I do question his abilities when it comes to the nucleus though. If this old bastard invented it, can't he un-invent it? But no, instead the lazy git foists the job onto faithful Ator on the other side of the planet. You'd also think this dope could have invested in more than three guards for his enormous castle, so Zor and his fearsome army of a dozen men couldn't take it with ease.

Another funny bit is when Mila and Thong infiltrate the castle through a secret passageway, yet are followed the whole time, and the area is full of guards anyway, making one wonder about their idea of a secret passageway.

Lastly, there's a ridiculous moment at the end, when the Great One suddenly becomes a lawyer, and tells Ator he musn't kill a disarmed Zor, or else he will become a murderer. He shouldn't become a barbarian and take the law in his own hands...But he is a barbarian, and last time I checked there were no judges, jury, or police back in ye olde caveman days! I said it before in my Deathstalker III review and I'll say it here. If your enemy is disarmed in a swordfight, it's ok to kill him as long as it's immediate. Only when they're without a weapon for like half a minute does it become bad, but otherwise it's part of the fight!

The acting here is much the same as the last film, albeit without anyone of Purdom's calibre. Miles O'Keefe is as muscly as ever. Lisa Foster is alright, and the silent Kiro Wehara has a lot of personality as slender badass Thong. And I thought David Brandon does a pretty good job as the villain.

Joe D'Amato's direction is fairly decent, and some shots are particularly well framed. When not stuck in a 'cave', or purloined from other films, the scenery is actually pretty good! Filming in Italy has its highlights.

The Blade Master may not be what's considered a good movie, no, but it's joyous fun! Despite its flaws, both technical and scriptwise, it still manages to deliver a cracking time, and is well worth a watch for fantasy fans. You'll gasp, you'll cry, you'll piss yourself laughing!...

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Gülizar (1972)

Mid-century Hollywood delivered plenty of fun romantic comedies, before the scene eventually changed. We still got new rom-coms, but updated for a modern era, as things often are. But there are always holdouts, and such films were still in vogue even 20 years later in countries such as Turkey, for which we can be grateful. Despite changing times, there were still plenty of films to scratch that Doris Day style itch, such as 1972s Gülizar...

Pervin is a mischievous girl, fresh out of school and eager to have fun. For a laugh, she applies at a nightclub (under a pseudonym), and to her surprise is accepted. She soon attracts the attention of playboy Suat, and it turns out the couple are betrothed to each-other. Eager to rebuff his advances, Pervin causes him to break off the engagement, but this only causes more trouble when the in-laws all wonder why Suat's ignoring their daughter in favour of this singer-Gülizar...

Gülizar is a fairly conventional romcom, both by its own country's standards, and internationally. This is a good thing, as it's a thoroughly enjoyable time. There are all the expected characters, conflicts, and cliches, but all handled in a fun way.

The movie is fairly simple, as well as economical. We're introduced well to our heroine, and her life. In fact the movie could've done a little more. Pervin's school life is almost immediately dispensed with, as if she graduated offscreen. I'm not saying it should've stayed a major element of the movie, but an extra scene or two would've been nice.

After the set-up, the film mainly focuses on Suat trying to woo Gülizar, with mixed success, until he finally charms his way through her hard exterior. There's a bit of drama, but never unbearably so, and the romance feels believable enough.

Pervin, alias Gülizar, is an enjoyable lead. Sweet, and slightly naughty, she's always fun to watch. Likewise, Suat is your typical Casanova, swanning from woman to woman, until he sees the one girl he can't have, and suddenly he's ensnared.

Meanwhile, the fathers off the prospective in-laws find themselves at each-other's throats after the marriage falls through, and their arguments grow more and more heated, all while their wives sit on the sidelines, exasperated at what men they're being.

The movie is broken up by a few songs. These are nice enough, and never feel crowbarred in, since it is the heroine's place of work, and its nice to see how great of a singer and performer she is, rather than just be told. Is it just an excuse to throw a few songs in, and to give Emel something to do with her main talent? Sure, but since when is that a bad thing!

There's some good comedy here, with many funny scenes. Some highlights being Pervin 'attempt' at suicide, and the barfight near the end, which is sudden and ridiculous, as all bar fights should be. Pervin's disguise to scare Suat away is also great, and will send a chill of terror down any man's spine.

Being a Turkish film there is also drama, but never overly so. There are moments that verge on melodramatic, which is to be expected, but these never dominate, and are over quickly.

Visually, Gülizar is a treat. The colours really pop out, and there's always lots of good cinematography to catch our attention. One highlight is the musical number at the start, which has an almost Bollywood vibe, with the sudden costume change and the nifty props. Pervin herself is also visually distinct. Among a crowd of identically dressed schoolgirls, her flash of red hair makes her instantly stand out.

The acting is a high point. Emel Sayın is gorgeous, a great singer, and acts well too. Ediz Hun is good, getting moments of humour, while also being suave enough. Both carry the comedy as well as the drama. Hulusi Kentmen and Atif Kaptan are fun as the duelling fathers, and the rest of the cast entertain.

Gülizar is a simple but fun addition to Turkey's classic rom-com collection. It's an entertaining and universal film, regardless of how little Turkish you may speak...

Mavi Boncuk (1975)

A household of guys are out on the town, when their visit to a nightclub ends with them being beaten up after they can pay the extortionate bill. As revenge they decide to kidnap the club's star attraction, famous singer Emel Sayın. She is naturally just a little bit peeved at the ordeal, but both parties soon realise they hold grudges against the same crooks, and together they scheme a bit of payback...

Mavi Boncuk (The Blue Bead) is one of Turkey's most beloved comedy classics. It's got a fun hook, a brisk runtime, and features many Turkish icons at the top of their game.

The plot is reminiscent of Overboard, but predominately does its own thing. There are some who really rail into that film now, and while I don't wish to be harsh to them, I think such people look into things too much, and are unable to simply switch off and have a good time with a movie. The same is true here.

But there are many reasons why I think the plot and romance in Overboard works just fine. There are two factors at play. The first is the story, which has to make sense. Second is the characters. We have to believe everything they do and how they interact, otherwise it'd come off like they've got Stockholm syndrome. How does Mavi Boncuk fare? I think it handles it decently, and it's all tongue in cheek anyway, though the woman does start acting a little strangely in the last act!

On that note, I found the last act to be a bit lacking. The guys all come to the right decision, and we get the kind of ending reunion we all expect, but everything that happens in-between feels a bit small. We don't get much of a resolution to the nefarious nightclub. The ending is nice, though I kinda wish there was a little more.

The cast assembled here is a who's who of Turkish cinema, from heartthrob Tarik Akan, funny man Kemal Sunal, mature Münir Özkul, diminutive Halit Akçatepe, cackling Adile Naşit, and more, all doing good jobs, and sharing great chemistry. A notable presence is singer Emel Sayın, who is not only a fun presence, in acting and musically, but she is also playing herself! It's a surprising touch, and gives a neat dimension.

This is a musically neat film. The main theme is a great song, even if it is a bit repetitive and overlong towards the end (especially when they repeat it!). The rest of the score is likewise, using the song to create different tracks and leitmotifs, all of which are lots of fun. 

The film works visually too. It's a low-budget movie when compared with Hollywood, naturally, and the settings it uses are minimal and small-scale, but effective. The ritzy nightclub is nice, as is the boys' flat, complete with old movie posters, giving a nice bit of aesthetic and history.

Mavi Boncuk is a fun example of Yeşilçam cinema. Not one of my favourites, but still a good time to be had...