Sunday, June 25, 2017
Dr. Jim Brewster is a famed scientist, noted for his research into glandular medicine, but his latest experiment has left him changed. Now partly primate, and victim to periods of instability, he needs the spinal fluid of the living to return to normal. Standing in his way is his old partner, but aiding him is his sister Agatha, and his ape sidekick, while a plucky reporter and his photographer investigate the strange goings-on at the Brewster estate...
The Ape Man is a typical example of the kinds of movies poor Bela Lugosi had found himself in after his period of fame had waned. Big name studios didn't really want anything to do with him, while smaller scale ones were all too happy to take on a well known name to fill as many seats as possible for their cheapie horror films.
The story here is pretty lacklustre, and quite simple, though the hour long runtime makes that a bit less annoying. I do with there was a little more to the plot, but I fear that's asking too much of something like this.
Dr. Jim Brewster (Jim?!) is a tormented and desperate lead, and by focusing so much time on him while in a sound(ish) state of mind, we get plenty of time to explore his inner turmoil and develop his character, before he goes ape-crazy. Unfortunately, the film ends up veering a bit in the other direction. Sure, the doc is villainous for much of the movie, killing people, but he's doing so for their spinal fluid, and rarely has the ape-crazy freakouts he feared so much, and nothing really comes from the possibility of him losing his senses.
One thing I dug is Agatha's personal and professional fascination with ghosts, which isn't of any importance to the plot, but fleshes her out. I like that the writer felt the need to give this supporting character such a distinctive hobby, and it helps her have a bit more personality than she otherwise would have. Funnily enough, the ghostly record scene is probably the spookiest thing in the movie!
The reporter and the dame are your typical heroes in a story like this, and they work as audience surrogates, even if we know far more than they do about the proceedings. I actually found it a little fun watching them play catch-up, realizing what was going on.
The whole movie we see a bizarre man watching on, and bugging the players, and his appearances culminate in a truly bizarre ending! I would've loved to see theatrical screenings of this film back in the day. Either the audiences were laughing, or they would've been pissed! Maybe throwing popcorn at the screen even, though it's not that bad.
The effects are ok. There's not a whole lot done to Bela's face besides having fake hair glued to the sides, but he looks the part of a part ape-part man.
It seems there are three methods to showing apes on the silver screen. Either you get real ones and run the risk of them not doing what you want and/or tearing the crew to shreds, or you go the old timey route and get a guy in a costume, or the modern route and use all computers. This film goes the second one, and is all the more chuckleworthy for it. It's a pretty unconvincing outfit, but it brings a smile to the face, so it's ok-ish by me.
William 'One Shot' Beaudine handled the direction in The Ape Man, and he does a fine job. The movie's framed well, and the scenes done in all one take show an extremely confident director! Sometimes it can come across as cheap, and god knows Beaudine didn't do it for artistic reasons, but there are worse ways to cut costs than to leave the camera running as long as possible.
The score is pretty decent, though one track in particular sees far too much use in the final act, being played on repeat constantly.
Bela Lugosi is always worth watching, even if the movie isn't, and this is no exception, though he's not exactly the pinnacle of fun either. He's amusing to watch, but the script isn't quite strong enough to give him anything really good to do, though it is amusing seeing him make gorilla noises, and it's heartening seeing how seriously he took proceedings even when slathered in silly ape-man make-up. The rest of the acting is fine, with performers Wallace Ford and Louise Curry being serviceable, if stereotypical. The American Minerva Urecal is decent as the sister to Lugosi's titular character, though no effort is made to give her a Hungarian accent, and the whole movie you're liable to wonder how and where these siblings were raised! Emil Van Horn is apey as the ape, Henry Hall does ok, while Ralph Littlefield is a bit weird. Apropos of nothing, one last thing to note is-Why isn't Barney A. Sarecky in this movie?...
The Ape Man isn't great, and nowhere near a classic, but for a low-budget B-Movie coasting on its star's name, it's not that bad, and is worth at least a watch. It's guaranteed to not cause a run in your stockings!...
The fabulous Emma (of Little Gothic Horrors), and lovely Magaly (of her self-titled blog) have organised the Beautiful Creatures blogathon, and I was eager to take part in it, particularly due to the sad lack of May Monster Madness this year. The occasion is a celebration of monsters either tragic, misunderstood, good at heart, and everything in-between. I wasn't sure what to cover, but a glance through my not unsubstantial DVD collection led me to a neat pick...
The Ape Man offers us a character that is as layered and complex as one could hope for. A good and pure scientist at heart, he foolishly tampered in nature's domain by trying to figure out a way to tun humans into apes. Unbeknownst to him, this process is quite permanent, and the only way to change himself back is through cold-blooded murder! Though prone to fits of animalism, Brewster still holds love for his sister, and entreats her to help him get the spinal fluid of the innocent in order to survive as a true man. The sister, arguably the real monster of the piece, exploits her brother in a way by helping and encouraging his now warped desires, rather than trying to make him see reason. Brewster's old partner, Dr. Randall, is similar, having had the poor sense to assist his friend in his disastrous experiment, but having the morals to know when enough is enough. However, Brewster wanted himself locked up in a cage to manage his condition, while Dr. Randall invites Agatha over, resulting in her brother's 'freedom'. Couple this with the fact that Brewster could only afford the one cage and has to bunk with a gorilla shows Randall's true colours, and they're far from shining. He's clearly orchestrating events to occur in a way suited to him. What could his ulterior motive be?? Perhaps he's trying to steal Brewster's research for himself, and is using the poor doctor as a hapless guinea pig in a grand experiment. There's one thing the bad Dr. Randall didn't count on though, and that's Brewster using his newfound ape-strength, plus his cowed gorilla, to fight back, killing the diabolical mastermind. It's sadly too late for Brewster though, as he succumbs to madness, and has to be stopped. A sad story I know, but the best stories about men (or women) being turned into apes are often the sad ones...
Say, I'm not reading too much into this, do you think?...
Friday, June 9, 2017
What a title! Sh! The Octopus. Sounds great, right? Well not to me it doesn't! If you're going to have punctuation in your title, surely you should go all the way? It should be Sh! The Octopus!. The title feels naked without the second exclamation mark!...
Paul Morgan has just purchased an out-of-order lighthouse, built on a small rocky island. Soon enough, he discovers weird things afoot. Meanwhile, two bumbling police officers, Dempsey and Kelly, run into a terrified woman, bringing news of her father having been murdered, by the crime lord known only as The Octopus. Seeing this as their big break, as well as a way of getting fast cash thanks to the standing reward for the arch-fiend's capture, the duo make their way to the lighthouse the lady escaped from. Upon arrival, they run into several other people, each with shifty backgrounds and potentially shady motivations, but they're all soon on the run when the lighthouse is attacked from all sides...but only by one adversary. It turns out the crime lord Octopus is also an actual giant mutant octopus! How ever will this band of unlikely characters get out of this mess? And who is The Octopus? Could it be one of them?...
Sh! The Octopus is a very brisk mystery, running at only 54 minutes long! I wish it would've been longer, but there's no telling how that'd affect the movie. Given its rather small plot, it might've ended up running too long.
The plot here is a goofy little mystery, with an interesting setting, and a few twists and turns. Things progress pretty smoothly at first, but there's a bit of a lull in the last act, with more of characters bumbling around in dark grottos than discovery of clues and furthering of the plot.
I'll say nothing of the ending, except that I saw it coming exactly 10 seconds before it happened, thinking "Man, wouldn't it be funny if it turned out XXXXXXX". It's for that reason that the surprise doesn't piss me off. It's very tricky having this kind of conclusion, so I'm glad the movie pulled it off. It also made me pleased with previous revelations regarding pretty much all the characters (other than Kelly, Dempsey, and the villain), that I didn't like at that point. That contrivance ends up making total sense! And so do all the other little things that don't make much sense.
I really dig the concept of Sh! The Octopus, of a bunch of characters stuck in a small confined location run by a powerful villain who can watch and spy from all angles, having the metaphorical higher ground (or indeed, higher water).
Moving onto the comedy, some of the dialogue is a bit cringey, akin to a double act trying and failing to be like Abbott and Costello, but other lines are great, like when everyone's stuck in the cave system below the lighthouse and Dempsey says "C'mon, Kelly, on your feet, we've got work to do", leading the snarky Polly to respond with "You've got a nice place to do it in". Polly is full of snappy retorts. There's also a fabulous line involving world domination that I simply can't spoil!
While the writing may be at times subpar, the creators of Sh! The Octopus spared no expense when it came to the effects, and they look great! Given its B-Movie nature, and obscurity, chances are it was a low-budget affair, and if so, the money must've gone to very good use. The story is mostly confined to the one location, leaving the production team to focus on key moments, which works greatly to their advantage.
The effects on display that I can reveal include quite convincing octopus tentacles, which writhe quite convincingly. The octopus itself is decent in the one scene we see the whole thing. There's a phenomenally great piece of work in the climax, which has enthralled many on the internet, and is the reason this movie came to my attention in the first place! Probably the only effect I felt didn't impress was one at the very end, which was just...weird!
Finally, there's some wildlife cuteness present, from candle-wielding turtles (or tortoises?), seals, and frogs. Awwww!
The direction in Sh! The Octopus is surprisingly good for a film of its type! This isn't a point-and-shoot production by any means, and is staged very well! The discovery of the body hanging in the lighthouse has got to be the best directed moment in the movie. It's genuine horror movie material.
The performances here are decent. The main duo of Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins can get a little annoying here and there, but nothing majorly bad. My favourite actor in the movie is definitely Margaret Irving, whose sassy and sarcastic delivery is a delight. Marcia Ralston in entertaining too, particularly with her Australian/Trans-Atlantic accent. The actor/actress playing The Octopus is also a lot of fun. Sure, they may be overdoing it a tad, but they seem like they're enjoying themselves, in a role they probably didn't normally get.
One last thing of note is that this film is a loose adaption of 1920s stage play The Gorilla, which itself was adapted three other times, with those productions actually bearing that name. I'm not very familiar with any of those, so I'm not sure how Sh! The Octopus compares. They certainly sound different! I'll have to check them out at some point (the ones that aren't lost, anyway).
Sh! The Octopus is exactly what you think it is based on that amazing title, and it's all the better for it, as it's a pretty good time! Not great, but certainly an entertaining viewing experience, as well as a showcase for some truly impressive effects work. May you stretch out your tentacles to find it, just like I did!...
Saturday, June 3, 2017
Persian theatre has a long and interesting history. Noted local director Bahram Beyzai, having written a book on the subject, has also penned many plays of his own, including 1979's Death of Yazdgerd, which he adapted to the big screen only three years later...
It's the middle of the Arab invasion of Persia. The fleeing King Yazdgerd is dead, and the Iranian millennium has concluded with his sudden and violent demise. He was seemingly murdered by a poor miller who desired the king's gold, but under threat of the brutal torture and execution of not only himself but his wife and daughter, the miller and his family concoct various accounts of what really happened, in the hopes of saving themselves. Will they succeed, or will their machinations backfire?...
Death of Yazdgerd is quite a mixed bag of a film. It starts off with dialogue that feels like it's trying to fill up as much time as possible without really saying anything, but as it goes on, we get fascinating themes, with examinations on loyalty, duty, doubt, and the illusion of truth. Quite a list of interesting things for a movie I found merely annoying and somewhat pretentious to begin with!
Getting to the negatives, the first couple of acts are rather interminable. We're subjected to the Miller and his family telling various disjointed and contradictory stories of what happened, random flowery yelling, and various excuses from "He's not the king!" to "He's not really dead!", 'We didn't really kill him.' and 'We killed him because thought he was a thief. How were we to know he was king?'. They're so overly theatrical and obsessed with semantics, as if that's going to make an impression on the authorities. "Yes, we killed the king, but is death really the end, or is it just the start of a new beginning in life? Therefore we didn't murder him, but freed his soul to embark on a grand journey of enlighten...urk!". It's at that last point where I would stab them to death, and was hoping the authorities would too, if only to save me two hours of their inane nattering.
It's around the 40/45 minute mark when things start getting interesting. The story the family start telling at that point is actually a plausible one, and thus doesn't feel like it's wasting our time as well as the guards', and following that is when the prosecuting officials start to wonder if what they previously believed to be true is really a misconception.
Unfortunately problems once again arise, as the movie feels like it goes for to long, dashing its chance to conclude the story in a fitting matter in order to continue its yelling screed. I myself yelled at the screen to the characters, saying 'Will you performance artists shut up already?!'. I swear, they missed their calling by becoming a milling family rather than opening their own playhouse.
I didn't mind the ending, as it eventually comes to the conclusion it would have if not for the needless extension, but then the Arab army shows up, and it once again feels like the movie's extended itself past its natural endpoint. Then, after introducing all this new stuff, the movie has the balls to just abruptly end, without concluding any of this newly brought up story. Granted, this type of an ambiguous ending could absolutely be effective, but it's not here. Perhaps that's solely down to the movie already having felt like it naturally ended twice before, and without that issue, this would be a fine ending. I'm not sure. I'm also curious how the movie would go if it was trimmed down to about 45 minutes (preferably by removing the first 45), had a new section added, bumping it back up to at least 90 minutes, and was divided into two halves-The judgement by the Persian officials, and judgement by the invading Arabs. That's just me randomly speculating though.
The writing on display in this movie is sometimes subpar, sometimes very good! Its presentation though leaves much to be desired. Perhaps if this story was to be adapted to the medium of film, it would've worked better as a flashback-heavy tale, like Rashamon, where we see multiple accounts, at odds with each-other. But then again, if no performances of the original play were ever filmed, then it's perhaps a nice treat seeing the equivalent of a filmed recreation.
One last thing to note regarding the plot is how much of an impression King Yazdgerd has over the events for a character we never actually see, besides a covered-up body. Speaking of that, assuming they didn't just use a mannequin to play the king, it must've been quite an easy acting job for that guy! Though less so on stage, I imagine. I hope the guy didn't get an itch!
The acting here is...strange. Stage acting is different from the movies, for various reasons, given the different medium. What's considered normal for a theatrical production can feel overdone and/or unnatural in a cinema setting. Such an issue befalls Death of Yazdgerd. The performers are definitely passionate (with Soosan Taslimi being the best in my opinion), and they probably work great in a play, but come across a bit overly theatrical in a movie, like they're aiming for a back row that doesn't exist.
The direction starts out a bit lacklustre and point-and-shoot, but it perks up in the final forty or so minutes, with more interestingly staged visuals. As for the location itself, it looks quite good. The majority of the film is set in a rundown old building rather than an opulent ancient city, so I imagine it wasn't too hard on the set designers/location scouters.
The lack of much music at all definitely hurts the experience of watching this film. Many of the scenes could've been aided by some scoring, at least a little.
One surprising moment was seeing an abacus! Seeing such a recognizable object still in use in the modern day in a film set over a thousand years ago, looking relatively unchanged at that, is weird!
Finally, the original Death of Yazdgerd play has history stretching beyond the movie. It was revived in 2005 for a Canadian production, and again in 2014 in India, for Bengali audiences. Nice to see it's still enduring even to this day. The movie was sadly never released in its home country from what I hear, having been banned by the censors for not shaping up in their eyes. God only knows what problem they had with a PG film like this! Apparently the sole reason was that its actresses' heads weren't covered up.
Death of Yazdgerd is a film I hesitate to recommend. It's got just as many good qualities as bad, and if you want an example of great Iranian cinema you could certainly go elsewhere, but if you believe in sampling all areas of a country's cinema before forming an opinion, then this comes hesitantly recommended...
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Gather round, my dear readers. Did you happen to know that there's an Egyptian remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show containing Dracula as the villain, and heavy satire on Egyptian economics of the 1980s?...Why are you staring at me like that?...
The young couple Ali and Mona are headed for a party when their car gets a flat tire. Stuck in the pouring rain and without a spare, the two lovers decide to trek through the bad weather to a house they passed by in hopes of using the telephone. Things are immediately off though, with this eerie house being filled with strange music, and bizarre people. Soon, the lord of the house awakens-Count Dracula! Whatever he could possibly want with Mona and Ali, one can be sure it's not good...
The 1981 film Anyab comes from director and writer Mohammed Shebl, and co-writers Hassn Abd-Raboo and Tarek Sharara, and is largely a remake of the famous cult musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For the first couple of acts, this is a really faithful remake, recreating several scenes, and using similar songs in similar places. The Criminologist is even present as the narrator. Differences and deviations start popping up soon enough though, and one of them is actually a lack of deviancy! A lot of what's in Rocky Horror probably wouldn't have gotten past the local censors of the time, and thus all of the transvestitism, homosexuality, incest, etc are gone, and replacing Frank-N-Furter is Count Dracula! Yes, really! Well, better than showing a watered down and tame version of Frankie, I guess, but it's a weird addition! On top of all that, it's about halfway through the movie when the really strange happens. But more on that later.
Delving further into the Rocky Horror connection, this is definitely a remake rather than a ripoff. A presumably unauthorised one, but a remake for sure. There's even a moment where there's a visual nod to the 1975 film. A little unsubtle, but at least it's showing its inspiration upfront. As for the context, the Egyptian populace of the time might not necessarily have been familiar with some of what Rocky Horror homaged, but they were familiar with other bits of Western pop culture, and Fangs showcases or lampoons them in similar ways to, say, Charles Atlas in RHPS. This is most prominent in a fight scene near the end that riffs on the 60s Batman Series. As for the use of Dracula, that actually makes sense in an odd sort of way. He is from Transylvania after all...
Some more omissions from the original are Rocky and that entire Frankenstein narrative, Eddie and Dr. Scott, as well as Magenta and Columbia. Really, Fangs almost stops being a remake as soon as Dracula first shows up. One the other end of the spectrum, Shebl may not have been able to actually recreate them with the censors breathing down his necks, but he does deliver a subtle but noticeable nod to the dual bedroom scenes.
Onto the story, it's not all that great. It starts off well, but it really starts to drag a bit after Dracula's first mention. There's a lot of music playing, and it is nice but it feels like it should lead up to something, like a big musical number, and it never does. We just see the partygoers dancing, and dancing, and dancing, and dancing, while every now and then we see Dracula sloooowly getting out of his coffin. Things briefly liven up, but only for Drac to sing a song, so still not story progression. Following that is a dinner scene, and it's not bad, but there's not a great deal of dialogue, and this bogs the proceedings down quite a bit. If we're nearly 40 minutes in, you need hurry up and tell the story already!
Then comes the second half, and boy do things take one hell of a downturn here! This is the point when the movie decides to be satirical, and shows random vignettes of everyday people being screwed over by real life vampires in the form of money grubbing salesmen, taxi drivers, tutors, doctors, etc. (all starring the leads in various different roles, with Dracula always being the victimiser). Firstly, these scenes are pretty clumsy, all coming right after the other in a barrage, only cutting back to the 'Criminologist' laughing hysterically for a few seconds before moving right on to the next one, etc. They get tiring very quickly, and they never end! This part of the movie lasts a painful 17 minutes! May not sound like much, but when there's a new vignette every 2 minutes, it feels way longer. It's hard to overstate how much this move completely kills the tone of the movie, as well as any connection to Rocky Horror. What had come before was so faithful, which makes the diversions that much more bizarre!
Once that's over and done with, the movie FINALLY gets back to the plot, and at this stage I was pissed off, all my good will for the film having been burnt out. To pull me back in, it'd have to work extra hard! Thankfully, it does! The last half hour of the movie is by far the best, with the story coming together, some neat character progression, and a great finale! Not only is the climax really well-handled in the visual and effects departments, but the ending is a pretty sweet one too, spending time wrapping the movie up at its own pace, with beautiful visuals, like when the young lovers are happily running together in a sparse landscape, and as the camera pulls back, we see pyramids in the distance.
I bet you're eagerly wondering what the music is like in Fangs, and how it compares to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At first it's as abundant in musical numbers as the original, as it speeds along with the opening track right into a Dammit Janet analogue, and a There's a Light one a short time afterwards. There's a bit of a lull following this, and any Rocky fan will be expecting a Time Warp style rendition, but it never comes, and the next song takes nearly 20 minutes to arrive. The interlude really takes the wind from the movie's musical sails, but it's able to get back on its feet with three further tracks in the final act.
The songs themselves are quite good! Some of them I liked plenty, while others not as much. The biggest issue pretty much all of them face is the repetition of lyrics to pad the tunes out. This isn't so much a problem in some songs like Where's the Light, or Everything Looks Like Everything, not because it's not present, but because those songs flow better with the lyrics in that style. Meanwhile, the repetition is at its worst in the I Can Be So Ruthless number. It does have some good lyrics, and it doesn't sound bad, but there's just a little too much filler.
The remainder of the score is positively groovy! I applaud the composers of this movie.
While most of the soundtrack is original, there's some lifted music present, but for parody purposes, such as using the James Bond theme when a plumber arrives to fix a problem during the satire interlude. That works. The Clockwork Orange theme when we're back to the actual somewhat serious movie though? Not so much! At least that fits better than the William Tell Overture that plays a bit later! At least I think that's in the public domain.
It's hard to describe this movie's genre in a way. It's of course mainly a horror and a musical, but no normal horror flicks get interrupted by economic lecturing on financial instability for half an hour. Is it a comedy? Maybe, but the satire scenes aren't funny-They're more matter-of-fact. There are a couple of amusing lines in the rest of the film, but any levity comes about more from the somewhat deliberately goofy nature of the setting and genre trappings. Certain scenes are actually aided by the movie being more of a horror. The made-up vampire extras actually succeed in being legitimately a bit spooky due to their blank stares and lack of dialogue. The dinner scene has a sense of unease, though it doesn't end with quite as much punch as Rocky Horror.
The effects are for the most part really quite good, especially in the finale! I don't want to spoil too much, but it gets full on 'climax of Evil Dead' there! The fangs look pretty good too, which is always an import part about vampire movies. If they look unconvincing, the movie as a whole can suffer. I'm particularly impressed they managed to craft fangs that would both look convincing, and not impede the singers! The costuming and make-up all looks great (and suitably glam rock-ish), as does the set design for most of the movie. The spooky house looks convincingly spooky, if a little too well-lit in a couple of rooms, like Dracula's tomb. One amusing effect is for the red lips at the beginning. Either the filmmakers were unable to accomplish that image from Rocky Horror, or just didn't know how, so they painted the rest of the actor's face black to try and manage it DIY style!
The actors in Fangs do a decent enough job, with some better than others, and they can all sing well. Ali El-Haggar and Mounna Gbbr (how on earth do you pronounce that surname?!) are fine as the happy all-American (or should I say all-Egyptian) couple. By the way, El-Haggar has quite a unique and odd face! Ahmed Adawiyya didn't really impress me as Dracula. His performance as the Count seemed a bit...I don't know, petulant?
Onto the 'prominent black guy' as I knew him for the movie, since he's never named, played by Tal'tt Zean. From the moment I saw him I hoped he was playing Dracula, as he's much more visually interesting, and a fine actor. Thankfully he does still play a pretty sizeable role in the movie, even if it takes a while before the story gets around to that. And finally, the guy playing the criminologist, Hassan Al Imam, is ok, until he has to laugh! He's pretty terrible and annoying then, like he's really overdoing it! Haddey Saddekk is decent as the beleaguered hunchback servant Shalash, seeming like more set dressing at first but getting time to shine in the final act.
While I've gone over all the Rocky Horror similarities, there's one very interesting and no doubt completely coincidental parallel to Shock Treatment! There are a few moments where we hear the spooky gust of wind. That same kind of ambient noise was a subtle but recurring motif of Shock Treatment, and potentially one of its more fascinating aspects, depending on how much you like reading into things. Like I said, this is probably just happenstance. I imagine that even if Shock Treatment had been released before this was (it came out in the same year), there's no way the Egyptians would've seen it. After all, the Americans didn't see the dang film, due to its awful mismarketing!
One last thing to discuss is the man behind this oddity-Mohammed Shebl. He was a director passionate about the horror genre, and sought to make his own, but they were frowned upon in Egypt at the time, and had trouble when it came to censorship. Sheble managed to overcome all these hurdles and deliver a horror film that passed all scrutiny, and was released just fine. Sadly it wasn't a success, and Shebl wasn't able to make a great deal of movies before his untimely death in 1996 at the age of 47, but he at least gave/gifted the world with four. Fangs (Anyab), The Talisman (Al-Ta'weeza), The Nightmare (Kaboos), and Love and Revenge...With a Meat Cleaver (Gharam Wa-Intiqam... Bis-Satur). I hope to watch them all soon, and I hope the genre is flourishing in Egyptian cinema now.
All in all, Fangs is an extremely promising Egyptian horror film, but it very nearly falls apart halfway through. I highly recommend watching the movie, at the least as a bizarre artifact, but I also recommend skipping the satire section. Watch it some time afterwards if you like, but don't let it break up the movie for you and ruin the experience!
Sunday, April 30, 2017
After the huge success of the 2004 Turkish science fiction comedy G.O.R.A., a sequel was probably inevitable, but it took a good four years for the follow-up A.R.O.G. to come about. Potentially an optimistic sign, as it could mean the writers were working extra long and hard to deliver the best they could. Does it succeed? Let's see...
Turkish salesmen Arif is living comfortable with his beautiful alien wife Ceku, when his old enemy Logar shows up, seemingly wishing to make peace, and bless Arif and Ceku's marriage. This turns out to be a ruse, however, and Logar traps Arif and sends him to the distant past, while making himself up to look identical to his foe in order to abscond with Ceku. Arif, one million years into the past, has to work out what to do, and after a period of uncertainty and depression, he comes across a human civilization. This community of peaceful cavepeople, the Arog, are oppressed by a neighbouring tribe, and Arif, along with Crow, the rebellious and artful son of the villainous tribe's leader, strive to liberate the land, and get Arif back home...
A.R.O.G. is an example of a good sequel in one sense, but not so much in another. It has little to do with the first movie besides the main character, and what gets him sent to the past, which works both for it, and against the movie. On the negative side is that there's no Gora, or even any sci-fi elements (bar the framing), characters like 216, Bob Marley Faruk, Garavel, and more are nowhere to be seen, while the ones who do return are only present in the opening and closing minutes. Where it does work in how the series so far is kinda akin to the Tourist Ömer franchise, wherein the same lead character is in a wildly different location each movie. In that sense, it's like an anthology comedy, starring the same everyman lead Arif as each movie does something new, and that's something to be appreciated, as it means the film isn't just a retread of the first.
The film is also over two hours, but doesn't feel overlong. A few minutes could definitely have been trimmed, but as it is, the movie's not boring. Moving onto the story in its own right, it's fine. Not the most original of tales, but it's told in a way that feels fresh and enjoyable. The characters are fun, the conflict well-written, and the final standoff might be a bit too goofy for some with its anachronistic nature, but I didn't have too much of a problem with it. My biggest gripe was with the resolution for the bad tribe, which seemed a little too brief.
The humour in A.R.O.G. mostly lands. Thee are many funny lines, moments, and gags, as well as some amusing pop-culture references here and there. They don't feel too forced, seeing as how Arif would be exactly the kind of person you'd expect to spout them. As for the visual pop-culture jokes, the 2001 one felt a little obvious, but the Ghost-style pottery scene was hilarous. Perhaps my favourite gag in the film was Arif's bizarrely inaccurate concept of time travel, wherein he thinks if he advances prehistoric culture to a modern technological level, that'll make time catch up to the present.
The acting here is all pretty fun, with many good performances, especially from Cem Yilmaz. Özge Özberk is nice in her relatively brief but important role, and other returning actors from G.O.R.A. like Ozan Güven are nearly unrecognizable from the previous film. New actors to the series, such as Nil Karaibrahimgil, do fine jobs too. No real complaints about the acting, though I don't yet understand Turkish, so maybe a not-so-good performance flew past my radar. I'm sure there aren't any though.
The effects here look pretty good! The locations and sets are great, looking convincingly caveman-ish. Or at least, Hollywood caveman-ish. The make-up and costuming is all realized well. There's some CGI present, and it's not too bad. The biggest computer effects are a couple of prehistoric beasties, and they're clearly CG, but they don't look awful or anything, and are kept to a minimum. Onto the soundtrack, it's ok, and serves its purpose well.
One amusing little aside. A.R.O.G. is reportedly one of the most expensive Turkish movies ever made. While it of course doesn't look bad or cheap in the slightest, at first I was surprised that a film looking like this could have such a seemingly high budget!...uuuuntil I realized this is one of the most expensive Turkish movies ever made, which doesn't necessarily mean the budget was 450 million dollars, or something like that.
While not as good as G.O.R.A., A.R.O.G. is still quite a funny movie, and just like its predecessor a nice example of modern Turkish cinema. It also did super well at the local box-office! Until recently it seemed like this was the end of the series, but coming next year I believe is Arif V 216. Well that's a sequel that certainly took a long time! Hopefully it's as good a follow up as this is, and there are no diminishing returns. I remain optimistic, and I recommend A.R.O.G....