Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I never knew it could be like this!
Casablanca re-imagined in Rhodesia, diamond thieves, the transition to black rule, bodice ripping, soap opera music, Hawk the Slayer, Escrima action, sons and daughters of big stars, and British Cult Movie hero Cliff Twemlow ...
... all in one remarkably terrible, yet fairly entertaining, film, Tuxedo Warrior (aka The Africa Run aka The Omega Connection)
John Wyman is Cliff, a fallen engineer who now runs a seedy bar near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, with illegal gambling in the back. He wears a white linen jacket at all times, and yes, Holly Palance does actually call him "Tuxedo Warrior."
Carol Royle is Lisa, a lady with a gambling addiction, on the run with her husband (John Terry, from Hawk the Slayer), who has stolen to feed her habit. Of all the lousy joints in the world, she has to walk in to the Omega, run by her former lover Cliff. She and hubby need Cliff to help them get across the border. I don't know, kind of reminds me of some other movie ...
The Casablanca love story plot is exploited to give us all manner of ridiculous flashbacks of Cliff and Lisa set to syrupy soap opera style music. But the dialouge is even more sacharine:
"What if I have to leave you?"
"What if HAVE to leave you?"
"You ... WON'T!"
It is tough to be too critical of the actors with such a bad script.
The diamond thieves action subplot is more fun. They're trying to escape into Zimbabwe with stolen jewels. Young James Coburn Jr. re-steals the stolen jewels, with angry former partners in hot pursuit. Of course they end up at the Omega, where kung fu ensues. Best of all, a couple of sticks are taken off the wall in the middle of fight, and Escrima (Filipino stick fighting) happens -- in Zimbabwe. Actually the fight scenes are by far the best part of this movie.
The end of British colonialism is also mined for effect, with stalwart Ken Gampu playing the new police inspector about to take over from a Brit expatriate. Cliff admits that he likes Africa the way it used to be. The white police inspector complains that the motherland doesn't want the expats back. Are white colonials the target audience?
This movie marks the beginning of Cliff Twemlow's brief yet fascinating film career. Twemlow did not write this movie, but the title is borrowed from his memoir, an account of his days as a bouncer in Manchester. Twemlow has a supporting role here as Chaser, a thug working for gambling interests, and for himself. The title, and fights and stunts, which Twemlow coordinated, are really the best things about this film. Over the next decade, Twemlow went on a b-movie binge, starring in and writing a string of low-budget actioners that have achieved minor cult status.
He also did the music for Tuxedo Warrior and all his other films.
Twemlow died in 1993 at age 59. While none of his films are available on DVD, it kind of makes him an appealing cult movie figure, doesn't it?
Monday, March 10, 2008
Herc -- Totally unexpected winner. Plays both ends against the middle and gets away with it, screwing his old bosses, his new boss, and Marlo.
Perlman -- With risk comes opportunity. That's Judge Perlman to you. Also a winner for surviving McNulty personally and professionally and scoring Daniels.
Carcetti -- His ability to put on a show for the cameras is like an evangelical preacher, somewhere underneath all that BS there might actually be a heart, albeit a tiny one that needs watering.
Rawls -- Hanging on by his fingernails all the way to a cushy state police job.
Bubs -- Growing as a person, getting closure on his past.
Greeks -- Slingers come and go, but the "Greeks" stay powerful behind the scenes.
Slim Charles -- Staying in the game long enough to outlast his bosses
Scott -- Corporate journailsm at its finest
Valchek -- Pro Quid Joe Po-Po
Developers -- No surprise!
Clay Davis -- Still running his game with his silvery tongue.
McNulty -- No surprise! But he does get Beadie.
Freamon -- Maybe he went along with McNulty because he's has a little McNulty in him. When he first joined the MCU, he had been stuck in Property for 13 years on a political beef. On the plus side ... Shardeen!
Daniels -- Got to be Commissioner for what, a week? Too many scruples for the job.
Chris -- Sadly OK with incarceration if his people are taken care of.
Snoop -- Not smarter than "the Young-in'"
DuQuan -- Too sensitive to live, so now he's a zombie
Cheese -- A punk with big ideas, in over his head.
Prop Joe -- Smart, but not smart enough. Why didn't he just kill Marlo?
Omar -- Like Daniels, too principled.
Gus -- Also like Daniels.
Alma -- More Daniels.
Butchie -- Surprised he lived that long.
Winners or Losers? You Decide:
Levy -- Came out OK, but got compromised as the cops have evidence against him
Michael -- The New Omar. Makes sense, since he's got the balls for it, and has no repsect for Marlo and the other bosses.
Marlo -- He walks, but is banned from the streets. How long will he be able to abide by that?
Avon -- Making a comeback from his cell?
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Now you can get it on DVD, complete with extras including the original film (with commentary), before it was edited and partially re-shot by the theatrical distributor.
Producer/Director/Special Effects guru Dennis Muren, along with writer and co-director Mark McGee and special effects man Jim Danforth, provides self-effacing commentary, explaining that they were only teenagers at the time they made the original film (1965-1967). During the filming, they realized that their script wasn't nearly long enough, so they added all sorts of padding scenes. Looking back on the film today, Muren notes that they didn't know anything about directing actors either.
Equinox is most famous for its stop animation work and camera tricks, which caught the eye of producer Jack Harris, who bought the film and reworked it for realease. The film is also pioneering in its use of front projection, putting the actors and the animated monsters on screen together. Muren later worked on a little project called Star Wars, and Danforth and McGee also have long film resumes.
While the continuity problems, dialogue and some of the acting are negatives (for some), the animation and effects are well-crafted. While the film cost only $6500 to make, you can't put a price tag on the thousands of hours put into the creative elements of this film.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
An early Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) film worth watching is his Joint Security Area, which presents an incident where North and South Korean troops actually meet at the center of the Demilitarized Zone.
The Joint Security Area is the heart of the DMZ. South Korean and North Korean soldiers are in outposts just yards away from each other, each patrolling the woods nearby. There have been many incidents over the decades.
In this film, North and South Korean soldiers come into repeated social contact in the wooded area of the JSA. As the soldiers develop friendships, they find much in common. But how much longer can this secret relationship continue without being discovered by two militaries at odds with each other, just yards apart?
Joint Security Area stars the husky Song Kang-ho, who plays the lead in our next recommended film, the excellent Memories of Murder, an early film from the director of The Host, Bong Joon-ho.
Memories of Murder
A serial killer stalks young women in the countryside during the last years of South Korea’s military dictatorship. When the air raid drill sirens sound at night, everyone must get off the street and go home. But if you are walking on a country road, that could take a while, and the killer is waiting for you.
A cop from Seoul is brought in to help the incompetent local police, who are more likely to beat a confession out of an innocent man than find the killer. With DNA testing in its infancy and not available in South Korea, how will they match any evidence to the killer?
Nowhere To Hide
People either love or hate the cinematic tour de force, Nowhere to Hide. You’ll never see a crime film with so much beautiful imagery and intriguing camera work. It’s probably too stylized for action fans, but maybe too rough for the art house crowd.
The story features a bad boy cop chasing a slippery villain through the Fall and into the freezing Korean winter. Park Joon-hoon gives a commanding performance as Detective Woo, a flawed, violent and relentless cop. Ahn Sung-kee is also excellent as the cunning villain, who the police come close to, but just can’t seem to catch.
The other stars of this movie are the Korean seasons. The murder at the heart of the case takes place in a gloriously colorful Fall. The chase leads into the deep cold of a Korean winter. When Dectective Woo makes one barefoot pursuit of his suspect through a labyrinth of back alleys, you really get a sense of just how cold that winter is.
The music is noteable as well. Great use of an obscure early Bee Gee’s song, Holiday, and a Korean rock band modeled after Deep Purple, of all things.
Director Lee Myung-se is definitely a stylist, rapidly shifting from one technique to another,and yes sometimes he goes way over the top with them. But his direction and production design creates a constant stream of distinctive imagery.
Friday, February 29, 2008
The feature film was the cage fighting masterpiece Cage 2. I didn't even know there was a Cage 1, but here was the sequel playing to a half-filled theater. That afternoon, I became a Reb Brown fan, for better or worse. As I left the theater, I thought, "A Reb Brown-Lou Ferrigno flick playing in a real theater. Cynthia Rothrock movie posters lacquered to telephone poles all over town. What a country!"
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
While Hardcore is more cerebral, Vice Squad is a more visceral look into the Hollywood sex underworld, specifically pimps and prostitutes.
Season Hubley plays a sex worker in both pictures. In Vice Squad, she plays a surburban mom who for some reason goes to work as a freelance Hollywood street hustler -- named Princess. The premise turns out to be unnecessary as the film really isn't about her having a dual life, but rather about her helping the police catch a brutal pimp who has murdered one of his girls. The problem is, because of the premise, Hubley is never really dressed like a hooker. Still, Hubley gives a fine performance.
The other obvious flaw in Vice Squad is the pimp. Ramrod is a white Cowboy with all the trimmings -- western shirts, boots, 4x4 with custom paint job. Now asking an audience to believe in a white Cowboy pimp is a lot for a film or an actor to overcome. But Wings Hauser actually makes it work, turning the unlikely Ramrod into a truly intense and frightening villian. Unfortuantely, I don't know if giving a great performance in a low-budget exploitation movie as a white pimp is something you can add to your demo reel. But Wings Hauser can act, damn it!
Good pacing and the performances of the two leads will help you get past the way Princess the hooker dresses, the Cowboy-style pimp, and the uninteresting supporting cast, because once the battle between Ramrod and Princess is on, it's on like Donkey Kong.
Vice Squad list:
- Ramrod vs. Princess
- Pimp Stick (and you thought Mommie Dearest was the master of the wire hanger)
- Fred Berry as a Sugar Pimp
- Black male undercover cop with braided hair with beads in it, like Venus Williams.
- Rich old man with weird marriage/funeral fetish
- Extremely painful comic relief
- Bit by Stack Pierce
- Blink and you'll miss Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith in one of her last film roles
- No Reb Brown (unlike Hardcore)
Monday, February 25, 2008
Hardcore and Vice Squad are two gritty looks at West Coast vice realesed three years apart. Hardcore is a cerebral look at a conservative midwesterner searching for his runaway daughter in the underworld of the seventies LA porno scene, plus you get Calvinist theology! Vice Squad is a classic sleazy, violent 1982 exploitation film that, although flawed, is genuinely dramatic with some great performances.
Hardcore writer-director Paul Schrader drew upon his own background growing up in the Dutch Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. George C. Scott plays Jake, a pious middle-aged businessman with no wife and a teenage daughter. His daughter disappears on a church trip to a Calvinst youth convention in Southern California.
The film contrasts the simple piety of the Grand Rapids church members with the seedy world of Hollywood (the city, not the industry). Scott travels to SoCal to meet with the police, who are of little assistance. He hires a low-rent Private Investigator (Peter Boyle), who is as coarse as Scott is refined, and openly contemptuous of Scott's midwetern values. Boyle refers to his client as Pilgrim. After several weeks, the PI brings the news home, suddenly appearing in Grand Rapids to show Scott a porno reel featuring his missing daughter.
Scott returns to LA and slowly begins edging himself into the porn world. He meets a stripper/porn actress/prostitute (Season Hubley) who he pays to help him find his daughter.
While Hardcore sure is gritty, it has some light comic moments, especially with Scott and Hubley together. The Calvinist background really develops Scott's character, who seems to have gone through a metamorphosis when relative Dick Sargeant tracks him down in LA.
- Scott calmly explaining the tenants of Calvinism to porno-stripper-whore Hubley
- Scott going undercover with toupee and designer jeans
- Scott beating up the guy from RoboJox
- Strippers doing Star Wars light sabre routine in club
- San Francisco's North Beach porno area circa 1979
- Reb Brown is the bouncer at a massage parlor
Season Hubley, convincing here, would also play a very different kind of prostitute in 1982's Vice Squad, which I'll get to next ...
Thursday, February 21, 2008
From the AP--
O’Neal says he has no desire to be a star with his new team. Those roles belong to Nash and Amare Stoudemire, he said.
“I’m more like a senior adviser so I don’t like to come in here and try to take over,” O’Neal said. … “Just like your basic karate movie where the young guys come to the old guys with beards who have them do weird stuff to get to the other side. That’s who I am, the old guy with a long beard.”
“You like that analogy?” he said, obviously pleased with himself. “That was pretty good?”
Nash was a willing sidekick.
“I think this is his 73rd Asian martial arts film,” he said. “We’re excited to learn from the great master.”
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Dr. Laura Miller, Professor of Anthroplogy at Loyola University Chicago, is author of the books Beauty Up and Bad Girls of Japan, and admitted avid fan of Korean TV drama Dae Jung Geum . Miller focused on the cultural impact of the successful Korean TV shows Winter Sonata and Dae Jung Geum in Japan. Since I'm reporting from the audio, I didn't get to see the slides and examples of Hallyu inspired products that got a big response from the audience.
In 2004 “Japanese newspapers were full of denigrating reports of Bae Yong Joon's reception by fans of Winter Sonata" at the Tokyo airport. The fans were portrayed as a “horde of hysterical nymphomanic old biddies” who were said to swarm the airport. “Estimates grew from 3,500 in early news reports like in the Japan Times, to 5,000, and then yesterday I found a source that 6,000 women were there.”
“The old girls were reported on with much contempt for buying expensive memorabilia and for doing things like holding group birthday parties” in honor of Winter Sonata star Bae Yong Joon. "The Winter Sonata boom is important for many reasons, besides the juicy opportunity for journalists to poke fun at female fans.” “The Korean Wave also put a formerly denigrated and neglected market segment, women over thirty -- and by the way, whenever the news accounts say middle aged women, they include women right at thirty -- into the public limelight and presented them as active cultural agents.”
“If it were only female fandom that was at stake, interest in the phenomenom would have passed quickly." However, “in Japan, the Winter Sonata machine alone generated billions in revenue,” from sales of DVD sets, soundtracks, novels guide books, photo books, Korean language texts, biographies and testimonials. Also from items such as a $291 teddy bear, hand cream, socks, treats and chocolates, tours, Korean food and theme restaurants.
“Scholars have pointed out that there was already an increasing interest in Korean popular culture among young people prior to the Winter Sonata explosion,” evidenced by World Cup soccer mania, travel to Korea, interest in Korean food, and a 1990s fad of aesthetic travel to Korea for “mug work“ and sauna treatments. The term Korean Wave, thought to originate in Taiwan or China, predates Winter Sonata in Japan, appearing in a newspaper in 2001.
While travel to Korea has fallen from its peak, in January 2004 through October 2004, 2 million Japanese traveled to Korea, up 40% from the previous year. Many of these tourists flocked to Korean drama locations.
Other cultural effects of Winter Sonata include influence on fashion, hair, and glasses. There were also Winter Sonata style weddings, and specualtion of Winter Sonata inspired divorces “due to women who suddenly became disenchanted with fuddy duddy husbands who didn’t compare well with Yon-sama (Japanese honorific name given to Bae Yong Joon and his character by the fans)."
Yon-sama “also changed Japanese willingness to give donations, not a normal part of Japanese culture," by giving 300 million Won to tsunami victims. Former Prime Minister Koezumi said ”I will make great efforts so that I will be popular as Yon-sama." The New York Times speculated that Yon-sama had qualities lacking in the average Japanese man: “sincere , pure, giving, passionate and soothing.”
In the book Japanese Style Korean Wave, Japanese sociologist Mori Yoshitaka, Interviewed many Japanese fans (including his own mother -- how's that for sourcing) and was unable to “find any easy generalization that could characterize why fans were drawn to the series.”
The Dae Jung Geum series “offers even more ideas for why Korean dramas are popular in Japan.” A historical drama about the first female physician to the Korean court. The story involved not only her rise, but Korean cuisine and herbal medicine. “The series generated a lot of interest in Japan in traditional Chinese medicine and in Korean cooking.”
“It had great historical interest for Japanese viewers of all ages, both male and female. They recognized a shared continuity in ancient East Asian cultural flows, and Chinese cultural elements suchas a writing system, Confucian norms, and herbal medicine.”
“The story appealed to Japanese self-help ideology as well. The inspirational tale of personal struggle and success was presented in an imagined world of fair competition in which Jung Geum succeeds by studying and working hard.”
“The series portrays modern gender models that many found redeeming.” Strong female characters who combined traditional traits ("Hard-working, obedient, pretty, cultured"), with modern traits ("professional, focused,scientific, innovative, self-reliant, and independent").
“Optimists have expressed the idea that this new Japanese fascination with things Korean might help ease political tensions between the two countries. However, most scholars haven’t found evidence that the political situation has changed very much.”
“Even so, the Korean Wave has had a very positive effect on people’s general image of Korean and their interest in Korean culture and history."
The Chicago Hallyu event featured other speakers including Robert Cagle, who contributed some fascinating analysis to Cult Film Confidential via a recent interview.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Windprints is an interesting film that tells a story of a black serial killer in rural Namibia during the last years of Apartheid. The killer's identity is known, but he is able to disappear into the wilderness and escape capture. He only kills local blacks, and some of the locals believe he has magical powers.
Two journalists, an Englishman (John Hurt) and a white South African cameraman (Sean Bean) from Johannesburg, arrive to make a documentary film about the murders. The tension between the city-bred cameraman and the rural whites who are hard-core apartheid supporters is palpable. Is there more to the story of the murders that just a crazy man in the bush?
An intriguing crime drama that makes great use of an unusual location, and gives a rare look into life in rural South Africa during Aparthied.
This film is not available on DVD, but has aired on the Encore cable channels.
Also, someone has posted it in chunks on YouTube.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Man-Sung Son, head of SMS Productions, was one of the speakers at a recent event in Chicago on the Korean Wave or Hallyu (the recent surge of Korean culture, especially film and TV, throughout Asia).
Film was “once thought of as an undignified field,” by Korean parents, who were more likely to encourage their children to become doctors, engineers, or lawyers. "Currently in Korea, it is more difficult to get into film school than medical or law school”. Sung added that many young Koreans come to the US to study film, returning to Korea to direct or pursue cinematography.
Noting that Korea has been attacked from outside 931 times, Sung addressed the concept of Han, "a gross wound to one’s soul," a longing for unfulfilled desires. According to Sung, repressed emotions of many generations are now pouring out in Korean drama. "Oppression breeds artistic talent," Sung explained.
As a film producer, Sung feels that Korean cinema has vastly inproved, but lighting and sound still have a way to go, with low wages impacting quality.
On Hallyu's economic impact, Sung pointed out several examples:
- Yong-Jun Bae, star of internationally viewed Korean TV drama Winter Sonata is worth about $2 billion, and replicas of the sunglasses he wears on the show sell for over $200.
- Restaurants in China suddenly serving Korean food is similar to the expansion of Japances cuisine in America after the 1980 US miniseries Shogun.
- Incidents of women seeking expensive plastic surgery to look more like the star of a Korean TV show.
- Some Asian women are looking for Korean husbands, seeking "strong men who express emotion."
On what is next for Korean film:
- Some Korean dramas will be produced in US, in English, within two years.
- There are many Korean-Americans in Hollywood, as actors, directors, distributors, producers and animators.
- There will be more US adaptations of Korean films.
- In Japan, Korean TV episodes are being turned into theatrically released films.
According to Sung, "excellent storytelling, romance, strong yet emotional characters, and most importantly, old fashioned moral values are worked into Korean drama."
The Hallyu event featured other speakers including Robert Cagle, who contributed some fascinating analysis to Cult Film Confidential via a recent interview. Full audio of the event is available thank to Chicago Public Radio's Chicago Amplified series.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
Popsy Pop (AKA Queen of Diamonds) is quite possibly the best Franco-Italian co-production shot on location in a Venezuelan mining town -- ever.
If you're a fan of low-budget international action, you will probably enjoy it, as Popsy Pop maxes out on its assets: Claudia Cardinale, Stanley Baker, a controversial author, and locations, especially the mining town.
The 1971 film was written by and co-stars Henri Charrière, then world-famous for writing Papillion, about his supposed escape from the notorious Devil's Island prison, located in nearby French Guyana. Like Mickey Spillane starring in I, The Jury, this movie features a famous author/character who probably has no business acting. Henri plays an old man out for one last score. He's not as bad as Spillane was -- the old man part is definitely convincing. Charrière is the main supporting player here, as Baker and Cardinale star.
The film opens with a voiceover intoning that the region at the Northern tip of South America is where most bad men go. Did not know that. A map of the region is next, with an animated arrow that shows the action taking place here (E. Venezuela), then here (Santo Domingo, aka Dominican Republic), and lastly here (Haiti). Just so you know, in advance. Will there be a quiz at the end of the movie?
The diamond mining town is lively, with hundreds of residents mixed in with Cardinal, Baker, Charrière, and a few supporting players. Baker is in charge of security for the mining company. Cardinale and Charrière arrive on a boat together, but pretend not to know each other once they arrive. Cardinale is brought in by the mining company to enterain the workers. She ingratiates herself immediately with Baker, who guards the diamonds.
Cardinale sports all kinds of ridiculously flashy outfits, whether working or not, at this filthy remote jungle outpost. When she performs at the local bar, she gives a three-minute Parisian show girl routine, with costumes and a song which regales Popsy Pop as the toast of Caracas. I kinda think the miners would have preferred a stripper, but since it's a movie they all go nuts for it. Then a fat lady comes out to sing and flaunt her huge ass, to even wider acclaim.
Aside from the catchy Popsy Pop theme, there is also a nice presumably Venezuelan theme, that is repeatedly "played" by two guys in blackface, wearing tuxes and carrying mandolins.
The mining town is suitably gritty and the hundreds of locals onscreen add some real atmosphere. Being a low-budget effort, much of this film is shot in natural light, and there is some nice location work here. The few interior scenes look they were either not lit or very poorly lit.
When we eventually get to Santo Domingo and Haiti, we also get an intersting new character, a preacher/voodoo/huckster who might also be a diamond fence. He leads a strange cult that seems to only attract women. Plus he sings spirituals in a rich baritone, and plays the organ.
The print I saw (retitled "Queen of Diamonds") had a rather abrupt cut in the ending scene. I'm thinking there is probably another version with a different outcome.
This is a pretty minor entry for Cardinale, who worked with Fellini, Leone and Herzog. Having entered the business after winning a beuaty pageant, she's custom-made for the role of Popsy Pop. My favorite outfits: the yellow sundress, the Popsy Pop costume with the male backup dancers sewn into it, and the electric blue glam mini-dress with matching leg-strapped boots. While eye candy is part of the role, Cardinale is a capable actress who get the best role as the clever Popsy Pop easily outwits man after man.
Baker, a respected British star who mainly played villains, really isn't given much to work with here, but plays his role with authority. He doesn't get to wear any kicky outfits.
Definitely worth a look if you can find it.