Thursday, July 30, 2009

Appalled by the Lunchtime Movie Mags

I haven't flipped through the trashy movie magazines at work as much since they were moved to the second floor. But frankly, usually it's good to be in my own little bubble of interests -- at least until they collide with the outside world.

Entertainment factoid I'm most appalled about, courtesy of the current TV Guide: Saturday Night Live's Chris Kattan playing himself in a "clever three-part miniseries"called Bollywood Hero. My first thought was, "Why haven't I heard about this?" Quickly followed by, "Why did I have to hear about it now? Can't I live in blissful ignorance?" It does co-star Neha Dhupia, who was fairly funny as Julie in Singh is Kinng, but it still sounds even worse than that Cheetah Girls movie.

Second most appalling entertainment factoid, from the July 24 Entertainment Weekly: Scarlett Johansson is playing the Black Widow in the Iron Man sequel. In the new promo pictures, even with a red wig and a black catsuit, Johansson mainly looks pouty, and not at all a plausible Natasha.

I must have been in truly willful oblivion about this one. The last I'd heard, they were talking about Emily Blunt for the role (and yes, I am in fact one of those critical comic book nerds: she'd be all wrong too). It would require a Peta Wilson level of skills to pull off the part. And if they can't do it well, they shouldn't do it at all! Of course, Iron Man was really good, so I'm definitely going to go, and then we can let the fuming commence.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nigahen: Seriously, this time

Okay, only slightly more seriously. But this time my DVD has subtitles, and I'm not going to fall asleep in the middle. We just watched the new Harry Potter movie, so in this viewing, I can't help thinking about Parseltongue. And Voldemort's snake, Nagini, and how that's just like people who name their cats Kitty. Kind of endearing for a dark lord.

Anyway, when last I attempted to review Nigahen: Nagina, Part 2, I left off with Anupam Kher's evil tantrika plotting to abduct unknowing snake-child Sridevi. But he was thwarted by one of her guardian cobras (who are a lot more effective than most surveillance and security devices), and by mid-film, he's actually being kept away by the threat of the police -- a humorously everyday twist in a supernaturally-themed plot, but I like it.

This frees her up to get involved with lunkish Sunny Deol, who's back home after an extended time away. (We know that because of his introductory song, about a stranger coming home to his native land). I thought he was in school or something, but no: his mother reveals, "We had gone to the 'Kumbh' fair. ..My son got so lost in the crowd, that we found him after 15 years! You may call it a miracle!"

Old masala plots never die, but sometimes crop up in casual conversation.

And now things get SPOILERY, so feel free to hit the "back" button:

Sunny is actually under Anupam's power, wooing Sridevi as part of the plot to find the usual mystical gemstone. He'd been turned into a snake by magic, and then back into a human again. Frankly, this is more like a Nagina Matchmaking Service than a sensible sinister plan. Hey, let's set this confused, metamorphed snake-human up with the daughter of another metamorphed snake-human, who's endowed with various snaky powers and sympathies! That couldn't possibly go wrong.

I guess he didn't have any Mongoose Boys lying around the cave that he could use.

A few random thoughts:

When a marriage propsal comes for Sridevi, kindly Grandpa Pran is very modern, saying it's not the place of the elders, but the children themselves to decide. Nor is he at all concerned with Sunny's lower social status (but he might have objected to the snake thing, if he'd known).

Sridevi wears a couple of really pretty saris (one green and gold, one white and pink), but alternates them with some puffy, shoulder-padded numbers reminiscent of bad '80s bridesmaid gowns.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Orphans Flood Pitchfork

The Little Ark (1972)

"Somebody better get stabbed with a pitchfork!" isn't the sort of the thing one thinks every day. But nor is it every day that one gets to relive a favorite childhood trauma. I have spent literally years (off and on, of course) trying to identify a movie I saw at a free matinee when I was in elementary school, and was fairly sure I'd finally cracked it with this Dutch production. I could only hope that the creepy dead body and the pitchfork stabbing were in the same movie, the way I remembered them, because otherwise, it would continue to drive me crazy. Besides, how many ultra-violent kiddie matinees could I have seen?

The video box has a photo on the front of a smiling child with a yellow rain slicker and a red umbrella, and on the back, two boys in overalls on a country lane, carrying what look like lunch pails. None of these children or images appear in the movie, but that's nowhere near as misleading as the blurb describing this G-rated film as "great entertainment for the whole family."

A pair of war orphans (Dutch Jan and Javanese Adinda) are being raised by a stern but kindly Dutch couple when a terrible storm hits their village. They wait it out in the church steeple where they've hidden a pet dog, a cat, and a rabbit (no word on the litter box situation), and awake to find a post-apocalyptic world. The whole village has been flooded, swallowed by the sea: just a few roofs and treetops are visible above water that stretches to the far horizon. (The film is, I believe, supposed to be set during the North Sea Flood of 1953).

When his sister worries that the villagers are all "deaded," little Jan taunts her to look out the window and see if anyone is floating belly-up. When she does, there's their adopted mother, floating dead in the water -- the first of the moments in the film that filled the theater with whatever the equivalent of "Holy (Bleep!)" would have been for eight-year-olds.

Rescued by a curmudgeonly fishing captain, whose heart inevitably warms to them, they have various adventures while continuing to look for their missing father.

When I noticed that the film was nearing its conclusion, I started to worry. I'd had my floating dead body, plus another random body washed ashore. But no sign of any pitchfork. Then, suddenly, someone mentions fairly casually: "There's a crazy farmer out in a barn loft."


The former curmudgeon rows out to the loft, with the two children along to assist in hostage negotiations. They convince the traumatized man to hand over his son, and then tow the farmer, still catatonic, in a rowboat, watched by the ship's kindly old cook. I thought to myself, I've seen a lot of Friday the 13th movies since I saw this the first time -- someone really needs to take away that pitchfork!

I'd always thought the farmer actually stabbed someone in the hayloft, but instead, like King Kong, he freaks out at a barrage of flash photography from reporters waiting on the dock.

Odd factoid: the theme song "Come Follow, Follow Me" was actually nominated for an Academy Award; must have been a slow year. "The world is full of things to know," a chorus of children cheerfully sings. Yeah, things to know about tragedy and loss! This tune (thankfully minus the cherubic voices) plays whimsically, and sometimes inappropriately, in the background for much of the film.

Thank goodness I can sleep nights again, having solved The Mystery of the Little Ark. Whether the movie contributed to warping my brain, or at least my taste, is a question that will require much more thought.

As an addendum, here's my 2006 post on the same subject. As you can see, my memory was murky, but pretty good, considering.

"Orphans Flood Pitchfork"

..are the keywords that have entirely failed to identify one of the most morbid films I ever saw, at a free matinee in elementary school. This subject came up when I noticed that Ring of Bright Water is on DVD, a movie I remember mainly for its inevitable ending of animal tragedy. If you go onto Amazon, you'll find lots of reviews featuring phrases like "sobbed for days" and "childhood trauma." But this one wasn't nearly as bizarrely morbid and unpleasant as some of the so-called children's movies I saw when I was little.

The worst I remember was one in which your standard movie orphans were trying to find a home for themselves. They lived for awhile with some people I'll assume were an aunt and uncle, and all went well until there was a terrible flood. We got the scenes of people clinging to rooftops, and then bodies galore, and then they saw someone floating face up, drowned, and it was their aunt. Whoa! Then there was another kindly farmer who took them in, but some other character became unhinged. While the farmer was trying to help the guy, up in the hayloft of a barn, he got stabbed in the stomach with a pitchfork and killed. Again: whoa!

Now, it's quite possible that, as has happened in the past, I am conflating different movies in my memory, so perhaps the graphic drowning and the pitchfork murder didn't take place in the same film the way I think they did. But that would be even worse!

There was also a western that I saw as a kids' matinee. The early part of the movie was all about this wholesome family on a ranch and had lots of repartee: teasing, pranks, romances the characters were involved in. And then suddenly, the whole family was slaughtered! Leaving someone, I seem to recall, alone to wreak vengeance. But all I remember is how shocking and out-of-the-blue the carnage was.

It's funny in retrospect how there was no emotional coddling back in the seventies. Those cute cuddly animals? DEAD! Those kindly authority figures? DEAD! It didn't occur to anybody this could possibly be traumatic. Even my all-time favorite children's book, Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game, all about childhood imagination and creativity, happens to contain a subplot about a serial child killer. (It contains one of the all-time great lines from children's literature: "Nobody plays games in the backyard of a murderer.")

And the name of the theater where I saw all these grisly marvels? What else? The "Cozy."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Imaginary Casting Call

At the Sci Fi convention I just went to, Jules Verne was mentioned a few times in a Steampunk panel, and there were some beautiful pieces of Verneian technology at the art show. I've actually never read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (although I remember watching a TV version during the '70s), and as little as I know, Captain Nemo seems of obvious interest to someone with such a strange and abiding love for cephalopods.

In the book's sequel, it's apparently made clear that Nemo came from Bundelkhand ("now divided between the states of Uttar and Madhya Pradesh," according to the Wikipedia), and developed his bitterness against civilization in the wake of the Sepoy Mutiny. And although I've always imagined him as a craggy old salt, from the way Verne actually wrote him, he's pretty handsome.

Here's his description from the first book, just after a discussion of his "prevailing qualities": self-confidence, calmness, and courage. "He was tall, had a large forehead, straight nose, a clearly cut mouth, beautiful teeth, with fine taper hands...This man was certainly the most admirable specimen I had ever met." (20,000 Leagues, Chapter VIII).

I tend to think straight noses are overrated, so I'm glossing over that. Otherwise, though, I can't help wondering who I'd like to see play a deeply embittered, morally ambiguous genius somewhere between the ages of 35 and 50. For some reason, Saif leaps to mind, maybe because I think he's overdue for another Omkara, but there are bound to be more and better contenders.

For the record, it was Naseeruddin Shah who played him in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie, and whatever people think of the movie, from what I've seen, he did a fine job. Yeah, like he wouldn't.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Turkish Werewolf in the Big Apple

The 1980s produced some very odd cinema. (As well as launching some very odd future bloggers into the world). Here are just a few, recently viewed at a sci fi convention in the Twin Cities area. Oddly, I watched them in reverse chronological order, bringing me back to my first year of high school ... sort of like Harlan Ellison's old-girlfriend horror story "All the Birds Come Home to Roost."

Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam, a.k.a. Turkish Star Wars (1982)

I was lucky to see a subtitled version; most of the DVDs available on the Internet aren't. Not that it likely makes much difference in watchability.

This film is notorious for its intercutting of shots from the original Star Wars into its otherwise unrelated spacemen-crash-on-alien-planet storyline, which bears the most fruit of hilarity in an alien cantina scene that alternates between close-ups of the famous Rick Baker-designed Star Wars aliens and obvious paper-mache masks. Also, the Death Star appears to blow up the planet several times, without it effecting the action on the planet in any way. (Someone in the viewing room suggested they were just blowing up every planet, one by one, until they found the one our hero was on).

The music is also almost totally second-hand, borrowing occasionally from Star Wars again, but mainly focusing on the Indiana Jones theme music. My favorite was an awesome training montage, set to a Meco-like disco version of the original Battlestar Galactica theme.

One of the alien menaces is obviously a guy in a furry orange suit, and the big fight scenes are rather like watching a guy dismembering a Muppet.

Highly recommended, if you ever get the chance.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

This one is, of course, a well-known film, and under normal circumstances I'd have probably left rewatching it pass unmentioned. However, after the film's climax famously segued into the doo-woppy "Blue Moon," as the credits rolled, and continued to roll, a girl sitting next to me, who was either very tired or very drunk, finally leaned over and asked incredulously, "Was that the ending?"

"Yup," I said. "That's how it ends."

She looked confused, and almost like her feelings were hurt. "Well, that wasn't satisfying."

Which made me appreciate, all these years later, just how innovative the film was, and how much it messes with the expectations of the audience. A much younger person seeing the movie for the first time today can still be surprised by things that were new about it, over twenty years ago.

Another note: I've never thought much protagonist David's Jewishness, which is debated by the two nurses, the one who "had a look," and the other (sensible heroine Jenny Agutter) who drily responds that it's "common practice now." But this time, I noticed the menorah on the mantle, during the dream sequence where his family is killed by Nazi zombies. (Hmm, prefiguring that Dead Snow movie we just saw a trailer for?)

The Apple (1980)

One-sentence review: if ever a film cried out for a director's commentary, this is it. "What were they thinking?" will pop into your head every few minutes. It's most often compared to Xanadu and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but as my husband pointed out, it's more like the former in that it was obviously taken seriously by the people who made it. It's like some earnest musical theater folks decided to make a science fiction allegory (set in the future world of 1994) based on a combo Faust/Adam and Eve/Mark of the Beast kind of thing.

Why such a notion would ever occur to anybody is best left to the imagination.

As with a lot of dated futurism (even the ones that, like this, aren't trying very hard), there are nuggets that seem retroactively prophetic. For instance, the song about how the future is all about showbiz ("We live for the moment and we die for fame.") In fact, the whole thing starts with a big televised international talent show -- American Idol, anyone? -- where the cleancut hero and the cleancut (but tempted) heroine are introduced as Carpenters-esque folk singers out of tune with their flashy age. Their sincerity starts to win over the audience, but is dismissed by the bigwigs as mere nostalgia, which is, however, potentially disruptive. An intriguing insight ... but their song about universal love is still pretty unbearable.

As Eve stand-in Bibi, future Night of the Comets star Catherine Mary Stewart not only made her film debut, but she actually did this movie before the stint on Days of Our Lives where I first saw her in the early '80s. Nowhere to go but up!

It's really hard to pick a favorite, but here's a clip:

Welcome to the apple paradise!