Tuesday, February 22, 2022

We Are Not Angels 3: Rock 'n' Roll Strikes Back (2006)

Following his previous successes, Serbian director Srđan Dragojević found a calling to America. He then spent the next few years declining offers or being declined. By the time he finally returned to Serbia, having had any grand ideas about the U.S. film industry crushed, he decided to make a new passion project. The only problem was, as is always the case with such things, he needed money. And so he decided to make two cheap sequels to his most popular movie, and hope things panned out for the best (they did not)...

In the 70s, unpopular rock and roll musician Borko (aka Dorijan) decides to sell his soul to become a star. It works, but he is forced to sing only turbofolk, and his life that follows is full of drugs, sex, and general debauchery as he grows older and fatter. In the present, young Marko is an aspiring rock star. After a stage accident results in the two switching bodies, they must navigate each-other's lives, gradually learning both the negatives and positives that eluded them in their old lives...

We Are Not Angels 3: Rock 'n' Roll Strikes Back is an unnecessary sequel, and considered by many Serbs to be one of the country's worst films. Part of this is down to its general low quality, but also because it was seen as a further degradation of a cultural icon. I went into it with trepidation, fully expecting it to be bad, but ready to give it a fair chance. What did I think? Split down the middle. It's not that good, but it's not awful...for the most part.

It got on my good side with the hilariously silly idea that you can play your guitar backwards. I also got a kick out of a Communist making a deal with the Devil, under the logic that Heaven and Hell don't exist, therefore he won't go to Hell when he dies.

The film starts off with this plot, but then it feels like it loses interest and begins an all new one. The movie does eventually get back to Dorijan, and connect the two stories. This results in a body swap, and I was thinking "Oh no, not this again!", since I could see exactly what was coming, and Sara was far too sweet a girl to get propositioned by Dorijan. Thankfully the film doesn't get too awkward, even if it is pretty cliched here.

l enjoyed the film's last act a lot. All the vulgarity and awkwardness is over, and things get pretty sweet, now that everyone's stopped acting like pieces of shit. Some characters you may have written off as vapid or assholes get nice moments.

I think making the series a loose anthology with only the Angel and Devil recurring would have been a good idea. But having the first sequel still be about Nikola does put the kibosh on that, and make it all the weirder when we are suddenly on our own. It's the same issue the Halloween series faced when it tried going standalone.

The comedy here is very mixed, bordering on bad. As is the norm for Serbia in the 2000s, We Are Not Angels 3 is a vulgar film. There are some hits, and more than a few misses, with some of the worst scenes later on. They might get a laugh from some, although it did verge on the gross for me. To name a positive, there's a funny exchange in front of the school, when Marko tries professing his love for Sara...while in the body of a 50 year old, resulting in her launching into a series of put-downs.

While the first two Angels films were directed by Srđan Dragojević, he only serves as writer and producer here, with Petar Pašić taking the reins. He does a decent job for what this is. Visually this is a pretty ugly film. Admittedly this is deliberate, but doesn't really help matters. The whole film has a yellow tinge to it. There are some good shots though.

Comparing We Are Not Angels 2 to its predecessor was already night and day, as the first was shot on cameras from the 80s, giving it a classical feel, while the sequel looked straight out of the 2000s. This third entry is even more of a downgrade, shot on video and looking plain cheap. Now, this isn't a bad thing in it of itself. You get used to it fairly quickly, and overall I think the movie manages to show it's how you direct a film that matters most. It may look cheap and obviously computer generated in places, but it does its best with what it's got. It's only when compared to the previous entries that it suffers.

Music has always been an important element in this series, and giving it the main focus is a good idea. The important thing is for the music to be good. And is it? Ehhhh, it's halfway decent. It's not awful, but it's also no great shakes either, not like the rockin' tunes of Vampiri. The best is an amusing 'sad' ballad, followed by the family performance near the end. There's also a possible reference to Who's Laughing Over There. The film gives a less than flattering few of the music industry, in a facetious light, while also trying to say something about Serbia's culture [or lack thereof].

The acting here is decent. Nikola Pejaković is a reasonably fun lead. He does a great job at being disgusting to look at. In real life he looks totally normal, but here no expense is spared to make him look as unappealing as possible. So a victory or the opposite, depending on your point of view. Zlatko Rakonjac plays the more conventional lead, and does well.

The film handles the bodyswap by showing the characters by their minds rather than the bodies they're inhabiting (does that make sense?). This does alleviate some confusion, while also creating more.

Srđan Todorović and Uroš Đurić return as the Angel and Devil. They are fun, but more understated than in past entries (whether good or bad will depend). Besides them, another returning actor is Zoran Cvijanović, as a new character. He does a good job! It's a pretty small role, but where he impresses is in how different he is to older performances, and how much he captures the look of actors like Miki Manojlović at their scruffiest.

The remainder of the supporting cast are good, from the adorable and spunky Nada Macanković, to the plasicky but bubbly Seka Aleksić, and series veteran Vesna Trivalić. Other performances are pretty bad, and borderline weird (like the 40 year old high school bullies).

My opinion towards A3: Rock 'n' Roll Strikes Back is not as negative as some, but I don't have glowing praise for it either. My overall opinion is that it feels more like a bad episode of The Inbetweeners than a good episode of The Mighty Boosh, if that makes any sense at all. The moral here is, if you must make cash-in sequels, at least try to make them good!...

Saturday, February 19, 2022

A Soviet Rom-Com Double-Feature: The Most Charming and Attractive (1985) and Girls (1961)

The Most Charming and Attractive

Nadya is a proud worker, but feeling the pinch of life. In her 30s and with no partner to show for it, she is aided by a chance meeting with an old friend. The glamorous Susanna gives her pal some tips on how to improve herself, and how to make the men come to her instead of waiting for them. Will this advice pay off, or does true love lie elsewhere?...

The Most Charming and Attractive is a neat Soviet rom-com. It comes from the 80s, a time when things were starting to unravel and open up politically, but you'd never know it from this film, which is content to simply be a fun movie, no matter the times. The title translates as Samaya Obayatelnaya i Privlekatelnaya, which makes me wonder how those Russkies don't dislocate their tongues!

The story here is a mildly subversive one, showing the plight of unconventionally unattractive woman 'past their prime' trying to find love. The film also skewers a lot of romantic conventions, like the need of glitzy fashion and make-up to find happiness. The film's message is presented in a low-key way too. It doesn't just take potshots at cosmetic niceties. Instead it shows subtly how a good balance of things really is the way to go.

Nadya is a likeable protagonist, with plenty of personality. It's thankfully never too awkward seeing her attempts at pursuing the , and there are a few moments where she puts the guys in their place. Her character journey is a good one, and comes to a nice conclusion, if a little obvious.

The supporting cast is a great bunch. We've got a fairly small group of characters, and so we get to know them well. Susanna is a genuine and well-meaning friend, who doesn't see the flaws in her advice. While her husband, amusingly comfortable with being used as a guinea pig, soon becomes 

There are three main guys in the film. The main object of Nadya's misplaced affections is a real Casanova type, always with another woman, and using his limited language skills to impress those around him. He's cold and distant towards Nadya, and has no idea why she's so interested in him all of a sudden. Then there's a fellow who thinks of his marriage as more of a suggestion than binding. And lastly is a hapless bloke who whose attempts at courtship are helped by the friendly old lady at the office, but hindered by just about everything.

One of the most fun and interesting things about the film is the changing attitudes of the three men. Their opinions of Nadya to begin with range from mere indifference to outright annoyance. But her sudden attention leads the others to wonder why, and as they see her focusing on this guy, they think "Why not me? What does he have that I've got? I'm more than enough man for her!', and the psychology alone is enough to make this otherwise unassuming woman totally enthralling for the trio. Even the rogueish 'Don Juan' ends up being entranced in a way by Nadya, with her becoming unattainable for him being like the final clincher.

The cast all do great jobs. Irina Muravyova is a nice lead, looking believable as a plain normal person, while also having a natural charisma that makes her distinctive. Aleksandr Abdulov, Leonid Kuravlyov, and Mikhail Kokshenov all entertain for different reasons as their characters, never feeling identical in appearance or behaviour. Vladimir Nosik is nice as the true love interest, and Tatyana Vasileva is spunky, if fleeting in appearance in the latter half. Everyone else does well, and there were no bad performances.

Director Gerald Bezhanov has a great eye for visuals, and gets the most out of these settings. Even places that only appear once manage to look impressive.

The music is a highpoint here. It's a surprisingly unique and groovy soundtrack, especially for an older Russian movie! You expect them to all have very uniform sound, especially if they're a simple romantic comedy, but this sounded almost experimental.

The Most Charming and Attractive is a great little film, a nice showcase of its country's cinema, and perfect for any Valentine's day...


Tosya is a bubbly young girl beginning work as the cook at a Siberian logging camp. She quickly makes friends and enemies, with both her roommates, and some of the guys. A particular rival is the cocky Ilya, who makes it his mission to prank the poor girl, namely with a bet that he can seduce her. His scheme eventually works a little too well, as he falls for her too, but when Tosya finds out the deception, chaos might be on the menu...

Girls is a marvellous film, full of comedy, romance, and a cast packed with memorable faces. It gets off to a quick start, and breezes right through before you know it.

The film has a perfect cosy winter wonderland feel. I am seriously impressed they were able to make the wastes of Siberia look this good! Whether foreign or domestic, fiction usually portrays this area as an unlivable hell on earth, where the strong suffer and the weak die, but Girls for a change shows it more even-handedly, as a regular place that happens to be a little cold, but everyone makes do just fine.

The story here is pretty cliched by modern standards, using plenty of old-fashioned tropes, but they all work well, and are never annoying, forced, or lazy.

The characters are a highlight here. Tosya is an adorable lead. Sweet, spunky, but also never naive, and will eagerly beat the crap out of anyone giving her guff. Her cutest moments include her dance with a friendly tall girl, and her cheering up of Mama Vera.

Fellow roommate Nadya has her own subplot, and one point of interest is the end. Namely, there isn't one-Sort of. Apparently it was filmed that Nadya decides to call it quits with her boyfriend, rather than to settle for a marriage of convenience. But this scene got cut during editing, and the actress who played Nadya was pissed! I do kinda agree with the decision to cut it though. It may be a marriage of convenience, but he's a good guy, he loves her, and she likes him, so it doesn't seem that bad, at least for a goofy movie like this.

Anfisa is a cold and bitchy girl, but she too gets some development and sympathetic moments (while still retaining enough bitchiness to feel consistent). Her rivalry with Tosya is a fun one, and her interactions with men are well written.

Despite the title, Girls does also pay focus on the boys too. Namely there's Ilya, whose romance with Tosya is the heart of the film. It's a nice story, with enough deceit and misunderstanding to be expected from an old rom-com, which leads to much drama, before resolving in a happy ending.

Where the film started to annoy me a little was in how long the 'on the outs' section was drawn out. It felt a little bit much. I also wasn't crazy about what Ilya does with the gold watch. C'mon, your friends all chipped in for that, mate!

Girls has a pretty large cast, and while I feel not all get as much attention as they could've, I did eventually get a feel for all of them, and none felt blank. Each served a purpose

The cast all do great jobs, getting across their characters and relationships well. A lot of them do blend together, but it's due to a strong script and performances that we eventually figure out who's who, more or less. Nadezhda Rumyantseva is a superb lead. She's extremely animated, and handles the personality and physical comedy of her character like a classic silent film star

The direction in Girls is great, with scenes both big and small shot really nicely. There's a great attention to detail too. Two favourite moments were how it showcases height differences, and the panning shot of all the boots, and Tosya's cute little shoes.

The setting is fantastic, and every bit of it is convincing. So much so that I was curious to read about the production. Apparently it was shot on a mix of location and sets, and some of them weren't really in winter, but warmer weather, and the actors had to deal with this while wearing heavy clothing. That does dampen the fun a little, but good on them for powering through so effectively!

The music is charming and wintery, the kind of tunes you could easily play during Christmastime to get the mood going. There's so much identity here, with a timeless feel that could suit any country (well, unless it's too bloody hot during Christmas, like down under!).

Girls is another classic of Russian romance, and if the world was more like these films, it'd be a lot more fun!...

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Cjamango (1967)

In the wake of seminal spaghetti western Django's success, a horde of imitators sprung up, from what I can only assume was Italy's lax copyright system (sorely needed elsewhere!). Sometimes these films would shake it up a little, such as today's film, Cjamango...Which did not stop the German market from renaming it to Django anyway...

Cjamango is a wily drifter, who has just fleeced a bandido in a card game. No sooner than he celebrates however, there is an ambush, and everyone in the tavern is killed, except for a lucky Cjamango. Hunting those who stole the money and gold, he soon ends up in the empty border town of corrupt official Don Pablo, where he must protect a single mother and her child from the villains surrounding them...

Cjamango is a pretty typical Italian western. You've got a loner hero, the girl who likes him, the idealistic young boy who yells his name, and multiple sets of villains, who hate each-other just as much as the hero.

The film keeps a nice small scale, and never tries to be bigger than what it is. When you get right down to it, Cjamango is a guy who was stiffed in a cards match, and wants his dough back. Fairly simple stuff.

As the film progresses, it becomes apparent the director only had a couple of sets to go between. This isn't a criticism though. Some movies can feel artificial when this happens, but considering it all makes sense here, and these are real locations, it alleviates this. The biggest problem with the lack of variety is with the story, and while Cjamango's isn't boring, it never wowed me.

Cjamango, otherwise a typical cowboy archetype, is quite human, with some vulnerable moments.
The only thing I felt was missing was some backstory. I'm not asking for a lot, and some mystery is ok, but it feels like we came into a story halfway through, and have no idea who this guy even is, even in vague terms. His likeability comes through regardless, and he's not a bad hero to be around, and by no means miserable and brooding.

The little boy is an alright sidekick, and never too annoying. Besides his friendship with Cjamango, he also hangs out with his grandfather (or old co-guardian?), who you just know is gonna bite the dust. But surprisingly it takes an hour!

Also present is a mysterious man in black. He's often hanging about, and you're not quite sure what his game is. This makes for a fun wild card, though he doesn't actually do much till the climax. I liked the answer to who he is, even if I wasn't 100% satisfied with his part in the ending.

Local woman Pearl is a bit all over the place. She's moving away from Don Pablo's town for a job, but also keeps hanging around, and she hates Cjamango, before realising he's ok. She's in the dark about Don Pablo's role in her husband's death, which is strange considering her son knows everything. They never sat down and had a chat about this? "Son, I've got a new job as a showgirl! It's with Don Pablo!"-"Ummm, didn't he murder dad?"-"True, but the pay looks to be real good!" 

The villains here are ok. Don Pablo is a greedy schemer who'll stop at nothing. His death a little sudden and underwhelming, but I guess even though he's a big boss, it might feel a bit underhanded if this portly middle-aged guy was shot by the hero. The bandit Tiger is a more physical opponent, and gets in a couple of good moments in the climax, but doesn't seem to realise Cjamango was going easy on him.

The ending is ok, but a bit of a bummer. Cjamango doesn't get the gold, nor the money, or even the girl, but is instead saddled with a kid! The weird thing is, I remember the ending being a lot more fun, with the guy and girl seeing off the 'unmasked' secret agent at a train station. Although on reflection I may have just been getting it mixed up with the pilot movie of Alias Smith and Jones or something.

Cjamango has a pretty good cast. Headlining the picture is Ivan Rasismov, surprisingly! I'm accustomed to seeing him as villains, playing either cannibals or the Devil. Here he's your average cowboy hero, and he does fine. Mickey Hargitay also appears as the shifty man in black, making the most of his role.

The direction here is decent. Edoardo Mulargia is no Sergio Leone, but he gets the job done, and there is plenty of effort put into some shots!

The score is fairly typical for the genre, in a good way. We've got fun western music, and some suitably rousing tracks.

Cjamango might not seem like much compared to the likes of Sartana or Django, but as far as the little leagues of spaghetti western go, it's a more than decent watch, and worth checking out...

Monday, February 14, 2022

Qirliq Istakan-The Crystal Glass (1999)

The Uyghur people have been through a lot lately. From being governed by the Russians, to being oppressed by the Chinese, they only had a brief respite of freedom in-between two equally untenable prisons. Things are at their worst now, and it's up to the rest of the world to help out. One way for people to do this is to figure out who they even are, for a start (and how to pronounce their name correctly!), and what better way to do this through movies! Despite the restrictions mainland China's cinema already has, especially towards other ethnic groups, the Uyghurs have managed to have a pretty respectable little movie scene going. On a zero budget scale, but still, it's more than some can manage, and it can give one hope. Does that mean the movies themselves are good? Let's see, with 1999's The Crystal Glass...

Osman, Abdul, Rejep, and Tursun are four friends. All approaching middle age, and none really doing what they want in life. They are pretty recreational drinkers, and enjoy a good tipple during get-togethers. Things take a turn for the worse one night when a mystery man's arrival incenses them to go all out on the booze, with unintended side effects...

Qirliq Istakan is quite a neat film! It's a character driven piece, that strives to send a message about society, all while making its audience have a good laugh in the process. Alcoholism has been and still is a big issue in these parts of the world, and here we get a unique depiction of the topic.

While the film portrays drunkenness very well, where it kind of falters is its portrayal of post-drunkenness. It all gets a bit ridiculous and hard to buy. These fellas had way too much to drink, but the worst that'd happen is a bad hangover, yet one now has a permanent compulsion to dance when he hears random noises, and another is a gibbering lunatic, sitting upside down, with his eyes turned back-to-front. These are still amusing to watch, but make you scratch your head.

On the flipside, something I feel the movie really portrays well is the ugly side of drinking, without being preachy about it. It doesn't give a big sermon about why drinking a single drop will send you to hell and turn the blood in your veins to fire. We see the leads casually drinking, and it's seen in a normal light, and when they start drinking too much too quickly, it looks unattractive simply by showing us how much they're barrelling down, and how they're looking.

The characters are a fun bunch. It's Rejep and Tursun who bear the brunt of the alcohol. It's interesting how their repressed desires or lost careers come to the forefront after their bender. Of course like a dumbass I'd completely forgotten they were a poet and ex-dancer, respectively, but once it it sunk in, I appreciated the symbolism.

The other two leads have less to them, since they're the odd ones out, but Osman does serve as the film's narrator. He delivers the framing story to an editor, in quite an amusing scene. His unorthodox storytelling amuses the editor (and his humility impresses him), but it's clear he doesn't know when to stop, as he eventually rambles on so long the poor guy gives him a look of confusion, like 'What the heck did he just say??'.

Also of note is the mysterious guess who spurred on the film's drama by showing how tough he was, how much he could drink, and how great his life was. In stark contrast to how we see him at the end. I thought his character was interesting, and up to interpretation. I wondered if there was more to him, like he was a kind of cin (djinn), rather than a mere man.

Qirliq Istakan is a pretty lengthy comedy at 104 minutes, and while it never bored me or overstayed its welcome, I did wish it used its time better. A single scene might take 10 minutes, meaning a lot less actually happens than you might think. It's never bad, but I wish that extra time could've gone to exploring the leads' families and lives more. This is also quite a wordy film, and I was sometimes racing to finish the subtitles before they disappeared.

The cast here do fun jobs. While they may or may not be experienced actors, they give very natural performances, as if they could be anyone from off the street. This makes them feel very relateable.

The music here is neat, with the main track being a good one! It's repeated a little too much though, as if the composer only had enough time to focus on the one big track. I never got sick of it, but a few reprisals did try my patience, namely the one during Tursun's wedding dance, which I felt should've had an original track (like the one playing on the radio before being cut off!). There are also two songs to enjoy. One is a drinking anthem, while the other is a poetic ballad played during the end. Both are fun, with amusing and interesting lyrics, respectively.

The film is in the Uyghur language, which may sound a bit scary to a layman, but it's fairly intelligible with Turkish, so if you know that you'll be right here. The film is available to watch on youtube, with a neat translation by one Kurban Niyaz, so props to him, and many thanks for helping highlight his culture to the world.

Qirliq Istakan is quite an amusing and intriguing little film. It's cheap when compared to glossy Hollywood films, but even when stood next to them it still bears a pretty unique charm. And as far as zero budget foreign pictures go, it's a great example. A cheap or old camera means nothing when you've got a good script, and this has me excited for more films from these people!...