Thursday, 9 June 2011

EKEK 2011

So I closed my festival season (it's all year, baby) by visiting an underground festival which promised a full night of seven movies. The catch was that these movies were not announced to the audience before they were screened, so you had a chance see anything. I have heard rumours that films such as Enter the Void and Antichrist actually got their finnish premieres in this festival in years past. Sadly, no big must-see films were around this time around, but the  festival was at least as surprising as I had hoped.

Karamoja! (1955)
Director: William B. Treutle

Back in the days of exploitation, mondo documentaries were a way of showing nudity and violence on screen. In the everyday life of certain foreign peoples and tribes there are more than enough and thus low-brow tastes could be camoflagued under the cover of doing a documentary about a native tribe. In actuality these films are colonialistic and treat their subject with racist contempt.

Karamoja is a sort of forebearer to this sleazy phenomenon, but at the very least it is much nicer towards its subject, almost uncharacteristically for its time period. The film merely comments of what is on screen, not how it seems compared to the western point of view, yet has a little patronizing attitude. It does have a flimsy plot of a sort, about a dentist dying from cancer  and seeking to travel during his final months. Telling the audience this has no real purpose as the film is solely about the lives and habits of the people of the Karamoja tribe in Africa. Thus it is shown how they hunt, farm, play, dance and have a wedding. It's the kind of film one wouldn't make any more from the same kind of viewpont at least, but the subject is interesting and it does not feel streched.

Fun fact: The film is also known as Wang, Wang. Not to be confused, of course, to Weng Weng.


Otley (1968)
Director: Dick Clement

I've started to suspect that I may actually have something against London in the swinging '60s. People kepp telling me how great the films based to that time and place are, yet I still find them mostly boring. Aside from the shagadelic birds in mini skirts, of course. But at the very least what doesn't get to me is the sense of humour of that time period.

Gerard Arthur Otley (Tom Courtenay) is a swinger that stumbles drunk to stay over at his friend's house one night. When he wakes up in the morning, he finds out his friend has been murdered and he's wanted by the police for that. This publicity, in turn gets him mixed up in the affairs of international espionage, criminal organizations and defence organizations. Otley always manages to escape from a close shave to another trouble. Yet the film really doesn't have too big ups and downs, it's all played at the same flat intensity. The main character is unlikeable and the comedy isn't the least bit funny (although a wonderfully weary 8-year-old has one good scene in the beginning). Really, actually the swinging set of '60s is the best thing about this. Who says I hate that period now, when I'm willing to give this film a whole extra star just for that?


Virus (Fukkatsu no hi, 1980)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku

The first really good film of the night came from the director of Battle Royale. Virus is supposed to be an US-centric catastrohy film about the spread of a deadly virus across the globe. Yet only a Japanese director would approach the subject with as crazy solutions as these! The film manages to surprise me a time and time again, and it certainly doesn't tread on the same tired plot formula of most catastrophy movies. I'm going to discuss the exquisit plot in the next two paragraphs, so if you wish to remain unspoiled, feel free to skip them.

The fast-moving story begins in West Germany as an espionage thriller. A vat of deadly, artificially made virus enhancer gets stolen. Then, the spies crash their plane in the Alps. Come next summer, in Italy there are flocks of dead cows. The disease as well as panic soon spreads to Japan and to the United States. In the latter, the president of the United States (Glenn Ford) is trying to figure what to do to save his country, as one of his generals (Henry Silva) wants to just nuke other countries, to be on the safe side. This goes on until the president and the general are the last people alive in the US. When the president dies, the general arms the nuclear weapons to be active for use.

The only surviving people live in the research stations in the Antarctic. They have a submarine but are afraid to go back to other continents for fear of getting the disease. But since there's nothing else to do, they solve all of science's biggest problems in months. These include the knowledge of how to predict earthquakes precisely, how to develop an antidote for the virus which earlier in the film had no possible antidote, and how to get women to put out (elect them each to do a duty of 100 men a year by unanimous male vote). But as they learn of a nuclear threat, they must journey to stop it to Washington DC itself!

The film is cheesier than a ploughman's sandwich (to paraphrase the brits) and it's hilariously large plotholes are big enough to drive a submarine through. Many scenes don't seem to have anything to do with the main plot, the Japanese scenes being the prime example. The action scenes excessively use stock footage and the precence of George Kennedy as the leader of the Antarctic UN does make this feel almost like a ZAZ movie where laughs come non-stop. Just like catastrophy movies should, it is also littered with big stars in small roles (Edward James Olmos! Bo Svenson! Sonny Chiba!). This instantly became one of my favorites of the genre.


Clown (Klovn: The Movie, 2010)
Director: Mikkel Nørgaard

In Denmark there is a popular Office-like single-camera sitcom about the hapless Frank and his rude friend Casper called Clown. I have only seen one episode of the series, but it seems that much of the comedy comes from the shared sense of shame as the viewers symphatize themselves with the protagonist Frank who tends to screw up royally again and again. Well, the movie version has some of that, but mostly it goes completely off the rails. As a result, I laughed harder at this than in years watching an actual comedy in a movie theatre.

Frank (Frank Hvam) hears at a party that his girlfriend is pregnant. She hasn't told him yet because she's not sure whether he's ready to be a responsible father. If the child doesn't get that, she's willing to have an abortion. Frank sets out to prove he's a good father candidate by agreeing to take care of his 12-year-old nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) for a week. As the first night goes badly when Frank leaves Bo at the mercy of burglars, he decides to take Bo with him to a canoing trip with his friend Casper (Casper Christiansen). The problem is, Casper was trying to just get away from his wife to visit a famous brothel and to score with teenaged girls at a music festival. Tour de Fis!

Road trips are a popular source of comedy, and Clown does steal many of its cues from more popular American comedies. Yet if the Nordic cinema has one advantage over that is that we are not in the least bit shy about nudity and sex unlike the Americans. So in terms of obscenity, the film actually goes past The Hangover and such gross-out comedies by miles. Honestly, I'm surprised that the climatic slide-show ever got past any sort of film boards. The main characters aren't really that likeable as their stupidity borders on insanity, but the unreal and outrageous solutions which they have for their problems makes it all the more funny. And really, who doesn't love a good sleazebag moron like Casper?


He-Man and She-Ra in: The Secret of the Sword (1985)
Directors: Friedman, Kachivas, Lamore, Reed & Wetzle

For many, the harderst film to watch during the whole night was this 1,5 hour toy commercial.  I myself got through it by help from a tactical bathroom break. The "film" is more or less five totally similar episodes of Masters of the Universe smashed together. They all involve someone getting kidnapped by bad guys and He-Man and She-Ra teaming up to rescue them. They probably got a five-year-old to write this just by giving him the same toys.

For those that don't know, He-Man is a swordsman and a superhero living in the land of Eternia. For adults, the funniest thing about him is the blatant homosexuality of his pink-dressing alter ego Prince Adam. In the film he sure likes to shake hands with moustached musclemen who have a picture of a heart on their chest, and then ride behind them on the same horse to their forest hideout. When Adam raises his sword and shouts: BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL! I HAVE THE POWER!, his clothes swith to bondage gear and a fur diaper, and he adapts the name of He-man. Yet no one (save She-Ra) ever knows or guesses who he is. There's also a lot of bad guys that He-man must fight to keep Eternia free. She-Ra is He-Man's sister from another dimension who has pretty much the same qualities as well as problems. She is also a pretty blatant attempt to sell MotU toys to girls, as she rides a unicorn pegasus, lives in a land where everything is of rainbow colors and is friends with a goofy team of witches who resemble Smurfs in their appearance.

The film's plot really consists on just new characters popping up all the time to stand around, and after explaining what they are about to do, and finally using their special fight powers. You know, like presenting what a new toy can do. The toy family seems to have quite a few branches. The film's animation is as cheap as possible as every sort of animated movement is used multiple times, and usually the only thing moving is the character's mouths. The best thing in the whole He-Man franchise, his nemesis Skeletor, comes in way too late to completely save this, but at least his misogynism and diary-writing habits keep things funnier for the about 70 different endings this has.


Death Smiles on a Murderer (La morte ha sorriso all'assassino, 1973)Director: Joe D'Amato

I slept through most of this and thus am not qualified to give a proper review. If I find it, however, I'll promise to return to it in the second part of my Giallo post.

Marked for Death (1990)
Director: Dwight H. Little

These festivals have a reputation of saving a really kick-ass action flick for last. Marked for Death is certainly one of Steven Seagal's finest films, and brutal enough for the title as well. For in the 90's, movie audiences didn't feel catharsis at the end of action films unless the villain was murdered several times in a row, every time a bit more violently.

It was also the time that Seagal didn't need to play an "ex" anything. He plays a current DEA agent that is just on a vacation to visit his sister's family and his old friends. His fight against drugs in Colombia, however, has earned him a reputation which is like a target on his masisve forehead for ruthless Jamaican drug dealer Screwface (Basil Wallace). This is emphasized when Seagal kills some of his men on his spare time. When his family is in danger, of course it calls for drastic measures on behalf of Seagal.

The film builds itself up for a final showdown, and Seagal isn't even superhumanly invincible this time around and Screwface does get a blow or two in. But as we know, nothing can really break his spirit and make him make another face. Seagal gets his vengeance by first decapitating Screwhead's twin brother. When Screwface finally appears again later on,  Seagal first presses his eyes to his sockets, then kicks him through a wall to an elevator shaft and finally drops him to be impaled on a a bar on the roof of the lift. Now THAT'S Justice, as Charles Bronson says in Kinjite.

★★★ 1/2

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