I know I have a very broad taste in movies, but this half-dozen seems to be taking the piss a little. A Japanese tokusatsu, a spaghetti sci-fi (based on German pulp sf), the last of Jancsó’s self-referential Hungarian meta-comedies, three Children’s Film Foundation movies, a Bollywood film, and a Chinese romcom…
Cutie Honey, Hideaki Anno (2004, Japan). So I was looking for films to add to my Cinema Paradiso rental list when I saw this one and was surprised to recognise the director’s name – whose name I knew from the Evangelion films, of course. So I texted David Tallerman and asked him if he’d seen it. He’d never even heard of it. He immediately looked it up (and discovered the US special edition DVD came with a Cutie Honey lunch box) and bought the (vanilla edition) DVD. Meanwhile, I added it to my rental list and moved it to #1. And it arrived a few days later. And… Well, it makes MTV look like slow cinema. And there’s zero exposition. It is completely bonkers. In a way that Japanese films can only be. Cutie Honey is some sort of heroine, powered by a badge, or something, which was invented by her father, who makes only a couple of of fleeting appearances. And there’s a villain, who is now a tree (really) who wants to take over Japan, or something. And, okay, I’ve no real idea what was going on in this film. The opening scenes have Cutie Honey preventing the Golden Claw from kidnapping a scientist, in some of the most ridiculous fight scenes I’ve ver seen, but none of its seems to make much difference as halfway through a tower grows under the Tokyo Tower and lifts its several hundred feet in the air. And then Cutie Honey battles the villain’s minions, but is captured by swordsman who is half-white and half-black, like a yin-yang symbol, and can fly…. I suppose in many respects, Cutie Honey is not unlike some of the anime films I’ve seen, but having had no previous experience of tokusatsu, I’ve no idea if that’s typical. It was fun, in a mad sort of way. I’d add a couple to my rental list, but I’ve no way of knowing which are the good ones and which are the bad ones – and I’m only assuming Cutie Honey is good because of Anno’s name (because the Evangelion films are very good).
Mission Stardust, Primo Zeglio (1967, Italy). I have a sort of love-hate relationship with spaghetti sci-fi films, which is an awful label for science fiction films made during the the 1970s in Italy to cash in on a post-2001 market, but I can’t think of anything better. Some of them transcended their origins and are now considered cult films. Some vanished into obscurity. Rightfully so. Some are being rediscovered – thanks to releases on DVD by Shameless and Arrow. I have even bought some of them. Mission Stardust is loosely based on the Perry Rhodan series of books, the most successful science fiction series of all time, with more than 3000 volumes published since 1961. I seem to vaguely recall reading a couple of English translations back in the 1980s. Despite its success, there are few film adaptations. It’s claimed it influenced Eolomea, and other DEFA sf films, but only in as much as it was the public face of German sf. The DEFA sf films, incidentally, are good. Well, perhaps not Signale – ein Weltrainabenteuer (see here). Anyway, Mission Stardust has a mission to the Moon encounter a stranded alien spacecraft. A senior member of the crew is dying of leukaemia, but there is a cure on Earth. So the female commander of the alien spacecraft – who gratuitously changes her clothing in front of Perry Rhodan before leaving the spaceship – pilots the shuttle down to a small African nation. Where a crime lord sees a chance to seize power by kidnapping the alien commander. So there’s this weird mix of styles – what starts out as mid-sixties Italian sci-fi turns into a colonoial thriller, but one in which the good guys have super-advanced technology. One of the appeals of spaghetti sci-fi was always the design, that characteristic 1960s Italian design you see in some films of the period from the country. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be much in evidence in Mission Stardust. The alien shuttle looks more like a giant bathysphere than a spacecraft. And the model work is all a bit pants. I found this free on Amazon Prime, so it’s not like I’m out of pocket for having watched it. But it was rubbish, and in no way did it encourage me to read any of the Perry Rhodan books.
Ede megevé ebédem, Miklós Jancsó (2006, Hungary). I have now seen all six of Jancsó’s Kapa and Pepé films and I’m no wiser as to what they’re about. The two title characters play so many roles – including themselves! – throughout the series, and often within a single film. Not to mention Jancsó’s own appearances as himself, sometimes as the actual director of the film. And Gyula Hernádi, who wrote a number of Jancsó’s films, including co-writing credits on these, also pops up every now and again. In this one, Kapa and Pepé meditate on Hungarian capitalism. But not even using Google translate on Hungarian reviews helps explain what’s going on. One review machine-translates as: “Small house in the woods. Mucsi and Scherer are in it. They refused. A puppy protects them. Mucsi is dealing with something of a mystery. Maybe with escorts.” Um, yes. Pepé joins a mafia family who run a prison… but then the film flashes back to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, also starring Peter Scherer and Zoltán Mucsi, and it all has something to do with voluntary execution, both in the mafia-run privatised prison and in Ancient Rome. I’m going to have to watch these six films again, probably several times, but I suspect I’ll never really understand what’s going on in them. But that can be a good thing too.
The Monster of Highgate Ponds / The Boy Who Turned Yellow / A Hitch in Time, Cavalcanti / Michael Powell / Jan Darnley-Smith (1961/1972/1978, UK). I added this collection of Children’s Film Foundation films to my rental wishlist because of the Michael Powell one. I’m a fan of the Archers – that’s Pressburger and Powell, not the radio serial – but I’d never seen The Boy Who Turned Yellow (although directed solely by Powell, the story and script was by Pressburger). I remember the CFF from my own childhood, short films that would play before the main feature at cinemas. I couldn’t tell you which ones I saw, and I’ve no real desire to plough all half-dozen CFF DVD collections the BFI have published. But the CFF was an excellent institution – although it does still exist, as the Children’s Media Foundation, but it hasn’t made films since 1985 after its chief source of funds, the Eady Levy, was abolished. That’s the thing about taxes, you see, they help pay for good things. And when governments cut taxes to win votes, those good things go away – not just the CFF, but the NHS, the welfare state, a proper public transport infrastructure, affordable utilities… Fuck the Tories. But, Weird Adventures… Each of the BFI collections is titled – there’s an Outer Space one (must add that one to my rental list), Runaways, Scary Stories, and so on. The three in this collection are science fiction, although hardly rigorous. In The Monster of Highgate Ponds, a travelling uncle leaves an egg for some sort of dragon with his young nephew and niece in Highgate. The egg hatches and the baby dragon imprints on the two kids. When it gets too big to hide at home, they hide it in Highgate Ponds, but discovery is inevitable – as are the bumbling crooks who try to kidnap the dragon in order to sell it to a zoo. Sadly, what charm the film has is spoiled by the really crappy stop-motion and man-in-a-suit dragon. The Boy Who Turned Yellow is better, although cringingly dated, and the lecturing is a bit heavy. A boy falls asleep in class during a lesson on electricity. On his way home, something weird happens and everyone within a small area in London turns bright yellow. The boy is visited by an alien from a planet of electrical beings, who is responsible for turning him yellow. The alien helps the boy find his pet mouse, who he had lost during a school trip to the Tower of London the previous day. It’s all very, well, CFF. In the final film, Patrick Troughton plays a time traveller. But he’s not Dr Who. And, in fact, it’s not him who does the travelling in time, but two schoolkids, who rescued him when his time machine collapsed on its unsuccessful trial run. Unfortunately, the time machine isn’t that effective and it never sends them to the intended time, meaning they’re usually inappropriately dressed. There’s a nice touch in that a teacher they hate, Sniffy Kemp, keeps on turning up in the different historical periods as a dramatic foil. This one more than the others reminded me of the CFF films I remembered from my childhood, probably because in 1978 I was a child. But they also feel much like the kids’ TV of the time I recall. However, nostalgia only has so much appeal – I mean, much as we complain about how bad things are now, and remember fondly life from previous decades, the 1970s were no utopia. I was insulated from a lot of bad stuff, of course – I was a kid. And though I admire some of the culture produced during that period, and am singularly unimpressed by some of today’s, I am inordinately fond of many of the things we take for granted in 2018, such as smartphones, streaming, cheap international travel (and free movement throughout the EU – while we’ve got it, anyway), or Google translate… (Not to mention a society that is way more equal in terms of LGBT or race relations… if considerably worse in terms of economic equality.) While I sometimes wish times were simpler, as they had been forty-odd years ago, I also know they really weren’t that simple back then, and likely no better than now in many respects, but with nylon sheets and drip-dry shirts, both of which the mere thought of having to suffer make my skin crawl… So I guess nostalgia has a part to play, just perhaps not that big a part. I suspect I’ll add a couple more of these CFF collections from the BFI to my rental list, and nostalgia will play a small part in that, but then I’ve no problem with wearing rose-tinted glasses providing you know you’re wearing them…
Rock On!!, Abhishek Kapoor (2008, India). I recently upgraded my Fire TV Stick, and sold my old one to a friend. I forgot to factory-reset it before handing it over, and thought I’d better double-check my watchlist before he had a chance to plug it in. Because, well, you know… And while doing this using the Amazon website, I discovered that a shitload of Bollywood films had been added. So I bunged half a dozen on my watchlist. Including this one. I think this the first movie I’ve ever watched with two exclamation marks in the title. Four young guys in Mumbai in the 1990s formed a rock band, sort of MTV-friendly grunge, won a battle of the bands and were signed by a label. But the label’s plans and the band’s plans were not the same – the label-owner wasn’t interested in them playing their own instruments, for example. Things come to a head during the filming of the first promo video, when the director seems interested only in filming the lead singer. The guitarist kicks off, the lead singer walks out, and the band folds. Cut to ten years later. The lead singer is a successful executive in his father’s investment bank, the keyboard player now writes advertising jingles, the drummer works in his family’s jewellery shop, and the guitarist gives occasional music lessons while his wife runs a fishing business which barely manages to, er, put food on the table. The lead singer’s wife visits the drummer’s shop, unaware of who he is, discovers their connection, and decides to invite the band members to an upcoming birthday party. Which naturally leads into “we’re getting the band back together” (no prizes for spotting that reference), which ends up resetting wrongs from a decade before. Okay, the music was part of the product, a commercial movie, and for all that they were trying to be musos it sounded massively commercial, but it’s baked into the story. And this is merely a Bollywood take on well-used Hollywood material. There’s probably a 1940s version of it. In fact, I suspect one or two of the Gold Diggers movies from the 1930s might be progenitors. But, despite the US grunge rock, this was still very much a Bollywood film and I enjoyed it. Not a great movie, by any means, but a fun one. And currently free on Amazon Prime.
Zero Point Five Love, GengXiao (2014, China). I’m a big fan of China’s Sixth Generation directors and I’ve watched a lot of the more populist stuff in my time – like Jackie Chan – but the Chinese film industry is as broad as Hollywood, and probably nearly as old – see The Goddess, see here – so I’m always keen to see films from other countries that haven’t in some way been “curated”. And Zero Point Five Love appeared on Amazon Prime with no commentary so I put it on my watchlist. A Chinese girl newly returned to China after time spent in the UK falls in love with an upcoming young executive. They meet cute: she’s a dancer at a corporate event, slags off the CEO for being cheap to a young man who buys her a drink, only to discover he’s the CEO… It’s been a couple of weeks since I watched the film – and I really should write these sooner after watching them – and all I can remember is a fairly standard rom com plot played out in modern-day China with a pair of attractive and likeable leads and a number of English subtitles that really did not make much sense, like “Not as far as the slutty peacock” or “I can’t water your time seflishly anymore” or “I should be wayward for my love”. But, for all that, it’s a nice film. It’s a feel-good rom com and it does the job admirably. It’s no Jia Zhangke or Fei Mu, but neither does it claim to be. Had it been a Hollywood film itwould have been a tenth as interesting. Being Chinese, and a product of modern China, lent it some interest, but it was fairly standard romantic drama for all that. I don’t regret spending the time watching it.
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 895