Machine Girl

This review is going to be short and quick, I want to get to the point fast. If you are in need of medical care, and you stumble upon a mechanic, it is not OK to accept his or her services, even if he does say, “I am the son of a doctor.” As a son of a doctor, I can tell you, this status means no medical skills whatsoever, except maybe a dislike of insurance companies, but that’s not a practical skill. Trust me, you will end up like Machine Girl with an automatic weapon for a forearm and then try going back to school, just try.

Do Not Trust These People with Your Health Care!!!

Do Not Trust These People with Your Health Care!!!

Machine Girl is the tragic story of a woman, Ami, who loses everything, her little brother, her friends, her arm, and her sanity. Her brother, Yu somehow fell in with the wrong crowd, a group of teens with connections to the Yakuza, Japanese organized crime. Anyway, he owed them money (for what? Baseball cards?) and after a very lame fight scene, fell to his death. Through the rest of the movie, Ami flails around her hometown, looking for the teenage gang who committed such a vile act. Instead of consulting the police, she morphs into a one-person A-Team, fighting her way to justice.

And then at one point Ami loses her arm, and as they say, the rest is history. Instead of just attacking her Yakuza victims, she makes a point of firing several thousand rounds into their system, too. Which brings me back to my first point, when you’re sick, see a doctor, not a mechanic. Sure, you want revenge in your twenties, but by your forties or fifties, that’s going to get tired. And how are you supposed to get that thing through airport security? Would be a disaster. Of course, knowing you, Ami, you’d probably shoot your way onto the plane.

Finally, this is a message to Ami. You say to your brother in the beginning of the film, “Violence doesn’t solve anything.” Except plots, it turns out. What happened? Why did you change your mind? Didn’t you see everyone else in your life destroyed by violence, your parents, your sibling, your friends, and yet you still want more? Oh well, a machine gun arm is a little better than a tempura arm, which also makes an appearance in this feature film. I won’t spoil anything else, except to say, if you thought your last encounter with a Fembot was tough, wait until you meet Violet, who brings new meaning to the cone bra.

Now with more barrels.

Now with more machine girl action.

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East Side Story

This week I’m taking a break from the bad movies to look at a documentary about some of the worst movies on Earth—the Soviet musicals. Yes, when Stalin said in 1935, “Life has become better, comrades; life has become more cheerful” he wasn’t simply referring to his brutal purges, he was also talking about Alexandrov’s Volga, Volga, a musical about villagers who travel the Volga to Moscow to become entertainers. Because, you know, the real entertainers in Moscow, had been, like, exterminated. Dana Ranga’s East Side Story is one of the best documentaries I have seen about Soviet film and is required watching for truly devoted readers of this blog.

While from Lenin on the Soviets have tried to compete with Hollywood, Protazanov’s Aelita comes to mind as an early attempt to make a sci-fi film, they have never been truly successful. Big sets and fancy costumes somehow don’t gel with five-year plans. The very idea of a musical in the midst of Stalin may seem counterfactual. Gregori Alexandrov can be considered the pioneer of these 1930s musicals, he directed Jolly Fellows in 1934, never expecting it to get it past Soviet censors. With Gorky’s help, Alexandrov scored a showing with Stalin, who rightly said “it takes a very brave man to make a comedy,” and then, being a fan of the slapstick, didn’t kill Alexandrov and the rest is movie history. Of course, these weren’t run of the mill fun in the sun musicals, they had to fuse social realism, you know, stories about workers, with music. My favorite selection from these often odd-couple offerings is the coal press musical, which features young women mouthing “we sing the song of the coal press.” Score one Stalin! There are other movies about tractors, peasants, and yes, a swineherd in love. Not unlike The Sound of Music, in fact, except with pigs.

While Soviet musicals may have died out with Stalin, the GDR seems to have picked up the shiny baton in the 1950s. Ranga features My Wife Wants to Sing, a totally communist approach to American Idol which looks a lot more fun than the Russian stuff. It being communism, the dancing isn’t great, but at least My Wife wants to have fun—in fact, however off-key, the songs are kind of catchy. In the 1960s, with the division of Berlin came a similar cutting-off of GDR culture. Simply put, the East German hippie musical industry never took off.

Why are Soviet musical numbers not sung in the streets? Beautiful as they are, these bad movies have been forgotten to time. While Americans will be bombarded with say, The Ugly Truth for years, they will never catch Jolly Fellows on cable. The director often quotes Brigitte Ulrich, simply credited as “audience member,” who sums it up this way, “Behind the Iron Curtain, there is laughter.” Not a bad way to put it, really. And who knows, if more Americans saw this, we could finally solve the Cold War, because, well, if they can laugh, they’re not that different after all.

The Jolly Fellows

East Side Story

East Side Story Cover

Ayşecik ve Sihirli Cüceler Rüyalar Ülkesinde (Turkish Wizard of Oz) (Turkey: 1971)

If you know anything about Turkish cinema, or are a reader of this blog, you will know this country’s directors took on and redid most American classics, many of them featuring the same actress—Zeynep Değirmencioğlu, whose luscious innocence captured Turkey’s imagination for decades. Imagine if Judy Garland had not grown up and gone crazy with the painkillers, or better yet, if she had grown up and gone crazy, and the studios kept making her play Dorothy. Unfortunately, this video was never dubbed or subbed into English, so you could watch it in the original Turkish—or you could enjoy the movie unedited with some Dark Side of the Moon—because every Wizard of Oz adaptation worth its salt can be synched to this album. Roger Waters is a freakin’ wizard like that.

I have nothing to say about this video—except to say I am assured that the guy who linked Dark Side with this must have been on some heavy stuff. The movie reminds me of a really scary déjà vu dream—everything looks the same as the original in Turkish Wizard of Oz, but sparkly, unexpectedly colorful, not Technicolor but overheated budget film, and filled with strange, sometimes scary pantomime. This should be a kids movie, but right now it’s looking like a bad trip. Basically, this movie with the music is one long hallucination. Right now, I’m hearing “Time” and watching halogen-Dorothy dance with Scarecrow in what looks like Vision Quest State Park. Like Plan 9, be careful, the days do switch to night arbitrarily and the sets are laughably ridiculous—the Emerald City is in fact a sand castle mold. If you don’t have the time to watch the entire movie, please check out about 36:20—the Cowardly Lion meets the vaguely militaristic “Seven Dwarves” and freaks out in what could be the most awkward piece of cinema history ever. Bad vibes man. Bad vibes.

If I could choose one movie to represent this blog or the work I’ve done on it this past month—it would be this one. Equal parts ridiculous and unself-conscious, Turkish Wizard of Oz does more for the genre of bad foreign film than any other film we’ve watched up to this point. More videos like this and I think I’ll have a book pretty soon.

A Screenshot.

A Screenshot.

Tunç

Power Stone (Japan, 2001)

I think the biggest problem with this series isn’t the movie itself but the cover:

Note: Man in Parachute Pants Not in These Episodes.

Note: Man in Parachute Pants Not in These Episodes.

1)      While Falcon, the guy with the red suit may be in the movie, his buddy with the green parachute pants appears in no episodes on this disc. Uh, false advertising Power Stone?

2)      “Based on the Mega-Hit Video Game.” If you see this on any DVD, run in the other direction.

3)      On the top right, there’s a giant rooster. Now I don’t remember that from any of the episodes, but nevertheless that rooster’s going to give me nightmares for a few years.

Now, back to Power Stone. Meh. The episodes I watched (I could only get through three) were a bit dry, but not dreadful. The Capcom video game sounds pretty exciting from Wikipedia, and, in fact, I was pretty intrigued during the first twenty minutes of “Turmoil in O-Edo.” It made sense to me—Falcon and friends, a concubine named Rouge, the series’ sacrificial lamb Ayami, and a butler named Appolos look for stones. Sounds a bit like the first Sonic the Hedgehog, but whatever, I can deal with that. Unlike Sonic, Falcon isn’t possessive with his stones; both Rouge and Ayami get one during the scenes I watched. He even offered one to a bad guy, who in the same scene, with the help of the stones, transforms into a giant spider to beat the shit out of Falcon. Maybe that’s the general problem with the series, because let’s face it, Falcon’s a softie. If I were a villain on the show, I would be much more likely to take Falcon out to coffee than go to war.

From my limited knowledge of the Pokemon series, the boy protagonist of that one also looks for animals, collects them, and then fights over them with other animals. Of course, Falcon is looking for stones. I guess the problem is the stones aren’t that exciting visually. At least with the Pirates of Dark Water, another stone quest, we get some “gee shiny” moments when Ren finds his crystals. These look more like those annoying stones in Gem Drop.

The battles, too, aren’t violent, and often pretty truncated—most of the episodes are made up instead of resolvable plot developments, an evil pirate comes to Moon Land, causes drought, and then is overcome by the strength of the Power Stone. Didn’t see that one coming!

I don’t know why I’m being hard on Power Stone. It wasn’t bad, just like much of the cartoons out there, the plot was uninteresting and vague. In the very last episode, the prophetic prostitute Rouge reveals that Jack, a mummy/spider who has hijacked a cruise ship (to Soil Land!) is in fact one hundred years old. There is a pause—but who didn’t see that? Do alive people wait on glaciers for cruise ships only to morph into giant grasshoppers? No. Dead Zombies with problems do that.

Final rating: 2 out of 4 stars—an entirely mediocre two stars for a series too bland even for this blog.

A Youtube remix much better than the series itself.

Space Mutiny (South Africa: 1988)

mutiny in SPACE!

Mutiny in SPACE!

Per Jeff’s suggestion, I’m going to try Space Mutiny. This was not easy because, well, it’s already been done, and every copy of Space Mutiny available is the Mystery Science Theater 3000 annotated version. Not to dis the dudes on MST3K at all but it’s hard to build on their magnificent riffage.

But I’ll try. First of all, David Winters WTF? All I know you from is the awesome West Side Story choreography. Unlike Danny Boyle, you cannot switch genre with the greatest of ease. In fact your attempt to add dance to a sci fi flick, the Bolerians, crashes and burns as quickly as one of your many space cart explosions.

Let’s talk about the Bolerians for a moment, because I think they get to the root of the problem. Usually at this point in the review, I tackle the plot, but unfortunately this movie was plotless— there has been a mutiny on a giant space ship populated by very stupid people, not unlike WALL-E, except the mutiny involves South African B-actors and not cute robots. Anyway, the Bolerians are a race of racy females who somehow make it onto the ship and then for the next several hours (days?) of the movie, are held in a giant cell, their only playthings static electricity balls. Their interactions with the movie are luckily limited to a few appearances to the actors in dream form. Imagine Disney’s Cinderella if the Fairy Godmother were whacked off her ass on mescaline. Yet the Bolerians define this movie, just like the director, crew, and actors, they are aimless jellyfishes whose entrances and exits into this project are almost carefully random, ala experimental film except by stupid people.

But why South Africa? Why 1988? While even ensemble comedies like A Fish Called Wanda were commenting on the evil of Apartheid, this movie stays relatively mum. The vaguely fascist Calgun, leader of the elite Enforcers mentions in one scene that he is mad the Southern Star (their space ship) has never touched down on a planet, fine, but then he goes on to mention something about how much he wants to accumulate resources. I guess my question to Calgun is: your spaceship encompasses a brewery, two discos, a vegetable garden, high speed golf carts, and a couple of warehouses inexplicably made up of brick and mortar. What else could you want, man?

Maybe Calgun is frustrated about his name. Everyone else on board is called Steve or Scott, he’s always Calgun. I guess there’s a bad apple on each ship; everyone else on this spandex-happy, hula-hooping cruise to nowhere seems well-adjusted. Maybe Calgun just needs to spend some time dancing. For a space ship on the verge of eternal destruction, there are way too many parties, leading me to believe that even the people on board who care about whether they are becoming space dust are just too embarrassed to do anything; I mean they did steal their ship from the Battlestar Galactica people, right? Not only that, this is the future yet they’re still using tinny Apple computers and riding around in space golf carts in seemingly never ending corridors. And yes MST3K, their commander is Santa Claus. For a movie about mutiny, you wonder why Santa didn’t just ram this clunker into a passing asteroid and do us all a favor.

Very existential and very amazing—5 out of 5. Thank you David Winters and your thinly veiled writer pseudonym Maria Dante. Thank you so much. Now see this movie below. Also, some choice quotes courtesy of IMDB.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096149/quotes

Destiny (Israel: 2005)

Now I don’t dislike this film and to all intents, this is a good movie. Artfully done, nice unorthodox camera work, I like the very long exposures, the quick and quirky camera positions, even the obvious nod to Russian Ark, another film that is shot in one continuous take. For that reason, I can’t really fault this movie’s execution.

Problem is I just don’t get what is happening. I have watched this now one hundred times and here is my best breakdown scene by scene:

1)      Mime dances and looks at the camera.

2)      Woman looks at grave and cries. She holds big rose and then throws it.

3)      Mime runs away.

4)      Woman sits on bench with man.

5)      Mime runs toward bench.

And…End Film!

Various Theories:

1)      Mime is dead ala Sixth Sense but still is afraid people with special glasses will see him.

2)      Mime is actor who is afraid to appear in this plotless movie, ergo continually runs away from the camera’s lens.

3)      Mime is actually improv coach who is checking up on a truant, much bereaved member of his class.

4)      Mime is delivering mime-pizza. Forgets address. Ends up in cemetery.

So, final verdict, one out of four stars. Easily watchable, good concept but poor execution. Now have some mime pizza and check this blog back next week.

Naked Killer (Clarence Fok Yiu-leung, Hong Kong, 1992)

Ah, Naked Killer. OK, Let me just get this off my chest. We can’t keep seeing each other. The gratuitous violence, creepy sex, and ultimately, the grating “genitals” jokes just, well, are too much. You need time to go out in the world and discover yourself: comedy, porno, thriller, who the heck are you and why do you feel the need to sloppily change each scene?

I am ashamed to admit I have seen Naked Killer twice in my life. First I caught parts of it as a sort of impromptu bad film festival my last semester at college and now for this review. For the uninitiated, Naked Killer tackles the story of Kitty, a bad ass man killer who falls for her trainer, Sister Cindy, who trains her in the way of killing dudes (and is very adamant she is not a lesbian, but then proceeds to molest Kitty at a disco). As always happens in soft porn cum thrillers cum crime movies criminal Kitty falls for the detective Tinam even though that goes against everything she stands for. But no worries, bumbling Tinam is so bad at his job he vomits every time he holds a gun and is always getting in fights with his boss, but the vomiting is the really gross part. Things go awry when Sister Cindy starts a battle with her former partner in crime Princess (who is also a lesbian). Get the picture?

So, why is Naked Killer a terrible foreign flick? Several reasons, first, while sexual imagery in movies can often be exciting, here it is out of place and boring. And this is not just because it is soft porn set to synthesized soft rock, no, it is because the sex comes at the wrong moments in the movie. For example, Kitty and Tinam’s first time puts me to sleep because it comes just as Princess is introduced and we start to see some conflict. In fact, the film’s gratuitous sex makes me doubt the seriousness of the central story—if even the director will take long breaks from the action, why shouldn’t the audience?

Fine, Naked Killer has sex. Most audiences were drawn in by the Naked in the title—in fact any nudity in a 1992 Hong Kong film was provocative enough to be censored by authorities, as happened with this movie. But what it lacks is a coherent, believable plot. Why does Tinam throw up every time he holds a gun? What really makes Kitty want to kill men? Who makes poison lipstick (Revlon’s Anaphylaxis Allure?) and wouldn’t it first kill the wearer? Why does Sister Cindy kiss Princess in the first place if they are mortal enemies? Where does Sister Cindy get the fresh supply of pedophiles in her basement? Too many questions. Finally, I cannot take a movie seriously that includes the hilariously subtitled lines, “Don’t worry, I had enough milk that I will survive long enough to have a gastric purge” after Kitty is poisoned.

I give this movie three out of four stars for being sort of good in a “cult classic” sort of way. It is admittedly as much fun to watch with friends as The Killer (another Hong Kong crime movie), and the dubbing/subtitles are hilarious. Or watch it with your enemies—just as fun. Just before you try any full on kisses with them check your epi-pen.

Nudity? Check. Guns? Check. Good times? Check!

Nudity? Check. Guns? Check. Good times? Check!