Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Aykut Enişte 1 and 2 (2019-21)

Aykut Enişte

Aykut Aslan is an honest shopkeeper, engaged to the vapid Nurhan, and scared stiff of her thuggish family. One day, his shop is emptied by burglars, and insurance agent Gülşah comes to inspect the losses. She quickly discovers he'd left the door unlocked to chase the thieves. But a call from her father provides the answer to both their troubles. If Aykut pretends to be her girlfriend, Gülşah will look the other way and sign his insurance papers. Unfortunately the act works too well, and Aykut must do all he can to scare away this new family before his future in-laws find out...

Aykut Enişte is your typical modern day Turkish comedy, which is definitely a good thing in my eyes! It's a thoroughly entertaining picture, with plenty of comedy, romance, drama, and more. It gets off to a quick start, and introduces characters at a good pace. It has quite a large cast, but due to the time it takes, and the attention it gives each one, the film never feels overstuffed.

The plot itself is fairly simple. Aykut and Gülşah's arrangement allows for many comedic scenarios with her family, as he gets to know them, and tries alienating them, with no success. From hunting trips gone wrong, to destroying artistic sculptures, nothing tarnishes Aykut's image in their eyes. In fact these disasters only seem to improve his standing, for one reason or another.

The comedy in Aykut Enişte is often the kind you can see coming, but it does so in a good way, so you don't mind. There are also plenty of unexpected moments too. Throughout there's a variety to enjoy, from slapstick, to wordplay, eccentric characters, etc. The dialogue is hilarious in places, with a particular highlight being near the end, when an exasperated Aykut lists off the remaining hypothetical things he could do to make the family not like him.

The film's biggest problem for me is that it's just so awkward! You can see exactly where these misunderstandings and lies will lead, and there are so many of them. I'll give the movie credit, the reveals often aren't as bad as they could've been. I was expecting my skin to go so tight I could be mistaken for a corpse, but the anticipation for these moments is worse than the result.

The climax is great. It's split into two, resolving Aykut's engagement, and chasing his feelings for Gülşah, leading to a last-minute dash to the airport, which results in a funny subversion. The film culminates with a great dance, which is great visually, and on a character level. The ending is a little abrupt, but everything has been wrapped up, so it's not too egregious. At first I found it odd the burglars weren't caught, but I don't mind this, as that may have been a bit too convenient.

Aykut is a good lead character. He's a bit clumsy, and not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but is good at heart, and has hidden talents (well, not-so-hidden for those who actually care to listen). He's a relatable guy, and fun to be around.

Gülşah is amusingly devious, in a nice way. She comes across a little unsympathetic at times, since what befalls Aykut is entirely her fault. She's the one dragging this out, and changing the conditions of the agreement, screwing Aykut over more and more. She tries telling him his life isn't the only one that's hard, but based on what we've seen, he's pretty hard up and she's doing quite comfortably, besides a gently nagging father. But overall she's a likeable girl, and never bad.

The two have a good romance together. They're not making eyes right from the get go, and just treat each-other like regular people. At first I wondered if this was a lack of chemistry, but as the film went on I really liked it. The fact that neither are instantly smitten means their friendship progresses quite naturally as their characters change, and their feelings grow.

Gülşah's brother Mithat is lots of fun. Completely brother-obsessed, he's determined to be Aykut's new best friend, and won't leave him alone. He's often cute and never obnoxious. I felt the two parts of his character fit well together. He's a big adorable manchild, but he's also an adult. He'll say or do things (like charming the ladies) that you don't often see from characters like this, and I thought it made him well-rounded.

Perhaps my favourite member of the family is young Sude. Feared by the others, Aykut quickly learns not to babytalk her. Despite her age she is fiercely intelligent, and more of a parent to her mother than the other way round (while never coming off as overly precocious or spoilt). She does have a softer side, more befitting her age, and it's sweet when it comes up, namely in the last act. Overall she is used just enough.

The rest of the family is fine, and has their moments. Sadi is the most level-headed one, while his wife Şule is a bit of a connoisseur, and older daughter Dilşah is a slight headcase. Out of the three, I liked Dilşah most. Her feelings towards men are amusing, as are her interactions with Aykut. I also really dug one little moment she gets with Mithat, showing that they're still bro and sis, even if she otherwise wants all men dead. I did find that Şule and Dilşah looked a bit too similar though, which made some scenes a little confusing.

Aykut's prospective in-laws are an amusingly criminal bunch. Nurhan is a demanding and stuck-up bitch. How Aykut ended up engaged to her is both a mystery, yet entirely plausible. Her family are antagonistic to Aykut, except when they think he has money to give, then suddenly they're his best friends. I liked the speech Aykut gives at the climactic wedding cancellation, and it's a nice message about how this simple but consistent bad behaviour is so harmful. There's a funny ending to the scene too, that is exactly what I was expecting, in a good way (you can't get through to 'em all!).

The remainder of the characters are good, from Aykut's coworkers (including the human turtle Toptik), and the obnoxious father-daughter dancing team, who serve as the final antagonists in a way. It's very satisfying seeing them lose!

The cast is packed with talented actors, all of whom embody their characters perfectly. Cem Gelinoğlu is fun as the titular hero, as both an everyman and comic relief, and Melis Babadağ is sweet and romantic, and quirky when need be. Mekin Sezer is amusing, while Ecrin Moğultay is adorable and hilariously stern, delivering a great performance, especially for her age. Ege Kökenli has a great exaggerated screen presence as Nurhan. And lastly, Müfit Kayacan, Lale Başar, Selen Domaç, and the rest of the cast are all good.

The music here is all good, with some typical modern Turkish melodies. A lot of these modern films sound similar, but never in a bad or samey way. Instead it's a nice familiarity. The direction is fun too, and we see a decent amount of of Istanbul.

Aykut Enişte is a great time. A little cringey at times from the awkwardness, but it's all part of the experience, and it's nice to see a movie good enough to make you not only look past such elements, but maybe even enjoy them...

Aykut Enişte 2

Aykut and Gülşah are getting ready for their marriage, which must occur within the month, or else her family will lose their money. A hitch comes in the form of Talat, the prodigal brother-in-law. Despite the animosity everyone holds, Aykut is determined to see the best in him, and sees nothing wrong when Talat asks for his ID. The very next day, he realises he's been scammed, and Talat has sold his ID and got him married to a green card immigrant. Desperate for his new family to not realise how naive he's been, Aykut reluctantly teams up with Talat to try and reverse his mistake before his wedding comes...

Aykut Enişte 2 is a great sequel. It builds on what came before, and delivers a new plot that's similar enough to the first, while also being its own unique thing, rather than just blatantly copying what came before.

Aykut is again a fun lead to follow. It's amusing seeing his 'naivete', and how he reacts to the characters around him (one highlight being his encounters with a less-than-friendly neighbourhood child and father). He gets some dramatic moments that flesh out his personality, and explore his backstory just enough.

While Gülşah is more secondary here, since she knows nothing of the overall plot (and if she did, disaster would fall), this doesn't mean she is underused. She has some really good scenes with Aykut, including the school trip.

On the romantic angle, Gülşah is a cutiepie, and shares great chemistry with Aykut. It's nice seeing how their relationship is portrayed when they're together from the get-go. While it might be too lovey-dovey for some, I liked it, and I felt it was always believable.

The biggest addition to the movie is the character of Talat. Alluded to in the previous film, and the main reason for Dilşah's unstable and grumpy attitude, he is everything you'd expect. Always happy and smiley in a suspicious way, he's either asking for money (which he gambles away), or making excuses for not giving what he owes.

The film does a really good job of making Talat not irredeemable. A character like this could've easily been unbearable, and you certainly wanna slap him much of the time, but his personality comes across as...not endearing or lovable, but likeable enough that you understand he's not bad, just misguided and addicted.

The next new character is Selbi, an immigrant from Azerbaijan. Surprisingly pretty, any man would be lucky to be scammed into marriage with her! Naturally she's none too pleased to hear this deal is off, and insists on compensation. She's a grumpy sort, especially after the mini-disasters that befall her, but has a sweet side, and is ultimately a good friend. I really enjoyed her presence, and felt it added a lot. Surprisingly she doesn't even appear until the second half of the movie, yet she gets plenty of development/characterisation and screentime. The only thing I wondered is why someone would need to illegally emigrate from Azerbaijan to Turkey.

Sude doesn't appear as much as I'd have liked, but her scenes all count. You'd never guess she was Talat's daughter, and their relationship is an interesting one. At first she is happy to see her father back, and insists he not be sent packing. But she is less than thrilled upon seeing his gift-A shape sorter for a valedictorian. She tries connecting with him, but eventually puts her foot down, and bluntly tells her father to behave, or she will destroy him. She's far more of a parent than he is!

Mithat is as cute and innocently obsessive as before. He's overjoyed at first to see Talat back, yet also wary after his previous encounters. He becomes instantly smitten with Selbi, much to her annoyance, and is indirectly responsible for much of the misfortune that befalls her. Still though, he might get lucky!

The rest of the family entertain. Dilşah has some good scenes with her ex(?), and holds her own. Matriarch Şule meanwhile is a culture buff this time round, proclaiming "One country with two flags!" and going slightly overboard in trying to cater to her new Azerbaijani guest. There are long stretches where the family don't appear, but the scenes they do get alleviate this.

Aykut Enişte 2 has a very good structure. While it might be a little long at 2 hours, it breezes right by, and each scene has purpose. The film opens by catching us up to speed with the cast and their personalities, then shakes things up with Talat's unexpected arrival. From here we get some funny moments as Aykut tries following the trail of his ID. The second hour changes gears and is focused on trying to get money for the Azerbaijani lioness.

The dramatic moments are all handled well, namely Aykut's obligation to the family. What really excels is how the central drama is delivered. No-one's anger is misplaced, and Aykut isn't mistreated. It's acknowledged that it's not really his fault, and the pressure of getting the inheritance in time is ultimately a 'selfish' action. I appreciate how multi-faceted the conflict is.

Other things I liked were Aykut's unwillingness to take advantage of Selbi's amnesia to sign the divorce papers (long story!), and the stuff with the teacher near the end. All of this plays really well into Talat's arc after Aykut confronts him (even if the dialogue was a little confusing at first).

Everything culminates in a really wonderful climax! It's creative, fits with the leads' personalities and perfectly sells why these characters are in love. This ranks as one of the best proposals to have ever been in a Turkish film!

There are plenty of laughs to enjoy here. Just like the first movie, Aykut Enişte 2 has plenty of awkwardness on display. It's never too bad though, and all has a point. Without it, Talat would never have been reformed, Selbi wouldn't have found help, nor new friends, and Aykut's grand proposal wouldn't have happened.

The cast here all do a fantastic job. Everyone from the last movie is on top form, with Cem Gelinoğlu and Melis Babadağ being great leads once again (while Başar and Domaç are made to look differently). Newcomers Hakan Yılmaz and Nezaket Erden are perfect additions. Yılmaz nails the phoney positivity of Talat, but also shows enough genuine warmth and sincere smiles that his character doesn't feel soulless. Erden meanwhile provides a different female character to the others, and has a nice mature look.

The visuals are once again superb, and the city of Istanbul is shown well, from its high points to the dingier suburbs. The film is very well directed, and I particularly liked the moment with a certain photo. It's shown cleverly, enough for us to notice, and not shoved in our faces.

Aykut Enişte 2 is a perfect example of a sequel done right, and more than lives up to the first movie. Overall, both are well worth checking out, and great introductions to Cem Gelinoğlu and these other actors...

Char Horaz-The Speckled Rooster (2000)

Uyghur author Memtimin Hoshur specialised in social tales, predominately seen though a comedic lens. They'd often be framed by a mild-mannered but quirky guy, recounting the stories as if they actually happened. I'd be interested to read someday! Until then, there have been a few low budget movies based on his works, coming out of the East Turkestan region, such as today's, The Speckled Rooster...

Once again, facetious and anonymous local writer Osman visits his publishing 'friend', this time with a story about a speckled rooster. One night the fowl mysteriously seemed to change genders, from a gentle hen to aggressive rooster. What follows is a strange series of events, with theft, criminal misdeeds, and a bit of magic...

I was already interested in Char Horaz (The Speckled Rooster), especially when I learnt it was a sequel to The Crystal Glass. Once I began though I got an odd feeling. The intro seemed oddly downbeat. The lighting was down, the publisher looked older and less happier, Osman's jokes didn't seem to land as well, etc. I was hoping the movie proper would be better, and that's a yes and no, mostly the latter.

The story feels thin and unfocused. For the longest time I was unsure what it was even supposed to be about. It finally finds some direction by the halfway point, but it's still vaguely written. Not enough really happens for my liking, until the last half hour, when it feels like things finally come together. The climax is pretty out there and entertaining By the end I felt the film would've worked a lot better as a 45 minute short film.

There's a smaller cast here. Osman is predominately the lead, and is alright, though doesn't get as much time to be funny. None of his friends from Qirliq Istakan appear, which works in a sense, since it allows this to be its own story, and a more malleable one. On the other hand, they could've provided some much needed levity and comradeship. His lone friend here is an alright enough guy, with some nice tall tales about the White House.

The rooster naturally doesn't have a character, per se, but his actions are important. He's a real asshole chicken, and ends up meeting a slightly sticky end because of his attitude. Though not without one last trick.

The villain doesn't come into play until the last half hour, but makes a good impression when he finally shows up. A burly gangster, he organised the theft of Osman's chicken, and turns its strange abilities into a fully-fledged business, easily shrugging off Osman's complaints. He ends up getting a taste of his own medicine though, in a bizarrely satisfying way.

As described by its Youtube introduction, the film is an allegory on the diminished masculinity of Uyghur males during Chinese occupation. What this has to do with hens that turn into roosters is anyone's guess. I figured the message would come together by the end, and it does, in a bit of a loose haphazard way. The majority of the film came off a little unfocused with its themes, and went on weird tangents. When Osman visits an old shaman(?) woman, she tells a story of a landowner's son who magically transformed into a woman, and the events that followed. There are also some entirely irrelevant comments about injections which I couldn't tell were serious, or just meant as a bit of a lark.

The sorta transgender stuff is the most interesting thing about Char Horaz, especially when it comes back in the ending, and intertwines with the central message. It's a pretty funny ending, and certainly a case of poetic justice! It also manages to not be offensive either. That's what surprised me most, seeing how openly and non-judgmentally a subject like this is treated, in what the west would call the less enlightened third world.

Whether or not the message in Char Horaz comes together successfully or not is up for debate. There is one positive I'll give the movie though. While it may have been too vague, I appreciate that it also wasn't really blunt and obnoxious. I have a mental image of an Oscar winning drama where the Chinese do horrible things for 3 hours, and it ends with a man screaming "Do we not have the masculinity anymore to fight this?". Granted it would've been hard doing that at all even if they wanted to, considering the Chinese government would be breathing down their neck, but still, I appreciate the thought.

Perhaps my biggest problem with the film is the animal related content. There are a few fights between chickens (and some rams in one scene), and it got to the point where I felt I was watching a cock fight! To the film's credit it does use trick photography to accentuate the confrontations and make them look more intense than they really are, and we never see anything truly violent. But it's still a bit unpleasant on principle. This is especially apparent by the end, in what is either make-up on the chicken friend, or worse! One of the last shots does also indicate he may have served a culinary purpose too.

Given the film's slight supernatural tone, there are a couple of special effects to match. Not so special, in fact. One is decent, for a pretty brief flash, while one near the end is pretty laughable. Nothing to complain about though considering the place, and nonexistent budget, so I'm happy they even tried.

The music in Char Horaz is pretty uninteresting for the most part. You've got some alright ethnic tunes, but nothing that really jumps out and makes an impression. Late in the game we do finally get a track fitting the bill, and it's quite nifty! Like a Chinese infused modern dance beat. I didn't care for the super sped up version over the credits, but the main one is a fun listen.

Overall, Char Horaz wasn't that fun of an experience to me. It's not a terrible film, nor does any one element ruin it. It's just the effect of many little things, that drag it down till it's just not very engaging or enjoyable.

Information on this subject isn't exactly widely available, at least not out in the open, so it's hard finding out about Uyghur films, namely this series. There is also another film, Sarang. I'm not sure if it's another in this series, but has the same actor, and is worth mentioning for the music alone, which is lovely! I haven't yet found it with subtitles, but it'll definitely be on my radar, even if I found Char Horaz to be a disappointment...

Monday, May 30, 2022

Two Evil Eyes (1990)

Horror icons George Romero and Dario Argento have had a long connection, ever since 1978's Dawn of the Dead. This culminated with the 1990 collaboration Two Evil Eyes...

Two Evil Eyes (or Due Occhi Diabolici in Italian...not that any of the cast is) an anthology based on the works of literary icon Edgar Allan Poe. Originally intended to have 4 directors working on it, before being pared down to 2. It is long at two hours, but moves by fairly swiftly, and is an even quicker watch if you divide the viewing in half, and watch them like TV episodes

The first segment is The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar. This is low-key and small-scale, and the base story is good. Younger trophy wife Jessica is eager to get her husband's money, and has cooked up a scheme with an old lover, also a doctor. They have Valdermar under hypnosis, to give the answers they need, but when he suddenly dies too early for the paperwork to go through, they decide to keep him 'alive'. Things seem to go off without a hitch, until Valdemar begins crying out for help, from beyond the grave.

It's here where the story goes a bit off-the-rails. It was already a loose update of the original story, which is fine, but then it decides to spice things up with some malevolent ghosts from the other side. It's all a little vague. It's a decent idea, but it does feel a bit unnecessary, and unexplored. Considering Valdemar has very real grievances, I thought his being undead was already enough to cause trouble.

The original story is pretty fantastical and pseudoscientific, but what really sells it is the way it's told. The factual tone gives it credence. The film's understanding of hypnotism isn't as good, and half the events seem to happen by accident. Another weird thing is why Robert self-hypnotises just to go to sleep. Why not just be patient? Or take a darn sedative if you need it that badly. Naturally this all backfires in a darkly ironic(?) way.

Of the two segments, Valdemar definitely feels like a TV production. Not in a bad way necessarily, though it could leave some wanting. Overall it's a decent watch.

The Black Cat feels very different to its predecessor. While Valdemar was small and cooped up, The Black Cat is wider and more expansive, with the lead's job takes him all over the place, on the periphery of other more interesting stories. The central crux is still intimate, focusing on the toxic relationship between crime scene photographer Rod Usher, and his girlfriend Annabelle. Things take a turn with her adoption of a street cat, and Rod begins to lose his mind.

This could be a little tough for cat lovers, but the movie is never in bad taste with its animal violence scenes, and knows the art of discretion. And thankfully the movie ends with a disclaimer saying all the feline cast members were treated humanely. It is a bit of a mood killer, just as the ending hits you, and the credits are ready to roll, but at least it does come right out of the gate to soothe any worries.

Rod is a cruel man, who charms some people, sometimes through sheer brazenness, but those who really know him, or suspect, see what he's really like. Annabelle is a a bit off with the fairies, but otherwise a nice girl, and I found her relationships with her students was sweet. They're loyal too! The investigating officers are an enjoyable world-weary bunch. There's also one scene with a strange bartender!

The crime scene stuff ends up being a bit pointless. The toll of a job like that does serve as a decent reason for why Rod is so unstable, but it just doesn't play that big a part. And it's actively teasing when the story opens with a sensationalistic pendulum murder, only to not follow through on it at all. It feels like these are only there to make for good trailer material (not that any trailer would be allowed to show them), and to act as Poe references in an otherwise unrelated story.

There are some good twists and turns throughout, as well as a period-set dream sequence. The ending is a little overblown (you know you're supposed to cuff both hands, right Officer?), and Rod's fate is headscratching. What was he trying to do? And why couldn't he just get the keys to the handcuffs?

The Black Cat's greatest potential could've been in mixing the gothic romanticism of old and the squalid urban environments of the new, but it never really bothers. The elaborate murders are just brief set dressing, and the dream sequence is great, but once it's over it's over.

The effects are a high point here. For Valdemar, while the dead man's lips not moving looks like an obvious ADR job (even if it is partly book accurate), the make-up itself is great, especially as he increasingly decomposes. There are a few death scenes, which verge on the more subtle, to overtly gory (bordering on funny). Black Cat has a few creative crime scenes, and some gore throughout. Tom Savini does a great job with the effects work.

The acting is good all round. Valdemar's smaller cast is led by Adrienne Barbeau. Her age does make it a little hard to buy as a young goldigger, but she does well. Ramy Zada is good as the somewhat reluctant but in-too-deep doctor, and Bingo O'Malley was best to me in his decomposing role. Tom Atkins shows up briefly at the end, which is a nice treat.

The Black Cat segment has the larger cast, headlined by Harvey Keitel. He delivers a great performance as the coldhearted Rod Usher, while Madeleine Potter is a good co-star  The supporting cast is good, with Martin Balsam, and John Amos in a fun part as the detective. We even see a young Julie Benz, as well as a cheeky cameo.

The music is overdramatic in places, quiet and effective in others. And sometimes so quiet it fades totally into the background. The song that plays over the end credits is strange, and very continental. While the rest of the movie feels very American, the composition sounds very Italian.

Two Evil Eyes is a decent movie, but doesn't really represent both directors at their best. It doesn't even really capture the identities of either creator. But for what it's worth, this isn't the worst anthology I've ever seen. It's not even the worst anthology about cats I've ever seen. And Edgar Allan Poe has 'inspired' far worse than Two Evil Eyes...