Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Not on DVD: Tuxedo Warrior

Wow ...

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?"
"You won't."
"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

The Wire -- Winners and Losers


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.

RIP Snoop

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

Equinox: On DVD At Last

The 1970 low-budget, high-creativity film Equinox was a staple of the San Francisco and Sacramento area Creature Features show with the legendary Bob Wilkins. Several years ago I bought a grainy VHS dub, which reminded me a bit of watching Creatures Features on a little TV with the rabbit ears antenna.

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

South Korean Film Blow-Out

Joint Security Area

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.