Tuesday, September 29, 2015

2016 Part 2 (Ghana, 2011)

I approached 2016 Part 2 with a lot of excitement. Really. That’s because all of the highlights from the mind blowing 2016 trailer were in Part 1, which meant that Part 2 was mostly uncharted territory. I mean, I won’t go so far as to say that 2016 Part 2 was cloaked in mystery, but it at least had a light cardigan of mystery draped casually over its shoulders. Who could imagine what it might contain?

In my review of Part 1, I related to you that that film ended with our hero, Mr. Oppong, receiving some kind of ultimatum from the aliens. That, it turns out, was wrong. It was an assumption on my part, based on untranslated dialog—and, as we all know, “assume” makes an “ass” out of someone named “Ume”. What was actually happening is that Mr. Oppong was eavesdropping on the aliens without their knowledge and just happened to hear their next plan of attack. BTW, I am here and only here going to entertain the conceit that 2016 Part 2 is a separate film from Part 1 by saying that Ebenezer Donkor here returns as Mr. Oppong, even though it is clearly one movie that has been arbitrarily cut in half in order to sell more VCDs.

Soon we are gifted with another dispatch from Ghana’s least invested TV news anchor, who distractedly gives us the English version of the Aliens’ master plan. It seems that the aliens have somehow managed to turn the cell phones of everyone in Ghana into bombs. “By tomorrow at 12:00,” she tells us, “every phone is going to explode.” Then, in strict adherence to the journalistic code, she advises her audience to “pass this message on”. She further advises them to turn their cell phones off, ensuring that every person over 60 who never turns their cell phone on will mistakenly turn it on and be blown to smithereens as a result.

Sincerely, though, you’d think that such a simple plan of action might be easy enough to follow through on, but in 2016 Part 2 it only gives the characters further reason to bicker at each other while consuming endless bottles of soda. These people clearly didn’t get the same memo about Ghana being “the most peaceful land on Earth” that the aliens did, as they are seemingly incapable of communicating other than with balled fists and bared teeth. Only the character played by little person actor Joseph "Wayoosi" Osei shows any industry, attempting to hack into his phone and disarm it. Even Oppong’s teenage daughter, Cara (Prescilla Anabel, who is also credited with doing the film’s makeup and something called “Welfare”) can only carry this news so far down the road before stopping to have a screaming match with somebody.

All of this takes up most of the film’s first twenty minutes, during which we see very little of the aliens. In fact, 2016 Part 2 is very stingy with its aliens throughout, only pausing occasionally for one of them to stroll rigidly into frame to chuck a horribly rendered CG motorcycle at someone or decapitate them with an also horribly rendered boomerang. In most cases, their presence is only indicated by shots of people running away while looking fearfully over their shoulder at nothing. It is hard for me to believe that the effects sequences in this movie would be so costly that cutting back on them would be a budgetary decision, but that might just be my First World privilege talking.

Likewise, 2016 Part 2 does little to add upon the creative carnage of its predecessor, but for one thing: Apparently the aliens have taken the time between parts 1 and 2 to learn kung fu. This means that, if you felt the films in the Alien and Predator franchises were lacking for not having scenes of their titular creatures delivering flying kicks to the faces of unsuspecting humans, you will now feel that a grave injustice has been righted.

Anyway, now that the aliens have truly revealed themselves as typical low budget action film villains, the solution to the problem they present is obvious. All that’s needed is the creation of a Terminator-like cyborg to fight them, a task that Mr. Oppong completes in record time. This stoic killing machine (Ntul Andrew, in a role in every way identical to the one he played in B 14) is then set loose to casually stroll along the same quiet suburban streets that all of 2016’s action takes place in and dismember any alien he comes across.

There then follows more bickering, lots of it, and mostly between women, which gives this portion of the film the feeling of a Bravo reality show sponsored by Orange Crush. There is also a prayer circle with people speaking in tongues. Finally, in a scene lasting literally less than 10 seconds, the cyborg leaps into space and somehow blows up the alien mother ship, which prompts the statement/question: “So wait… You mean you could’ve done that all along?”

Because I loved both 2016 Part 1 and B 14, I really wanted to at least like 2016 Part 2, but, sadly, the film’s ceaseless Housewives of Kumasi style caterwauling—minus the mitigation of people angrily spraying soda pop on one another--erased every last scrap of charity in my heart. You’d think that filming a movie in one go and then cutting it in half would be an ideal way to avoid the dreaded sequel slump, but, perhaps honoring tradition, 2016 Part 2 beats the odds and delivers the very type of bitter disappointment that we have long ago become accustomed to. Given that, my only advice is to ignore its existence completely.

As a public service to those of you who plan to download 2016 Part 1, and would like to walk away from it with a sense of closure, I suggest you append to it the following title card, which I offer free of charge:


Sunday, September 27, 2015

2016 Part 1 (Ghana, 2011)

In 1912, cartoonist Windsor McCay used the available technology to make Gertie the Dinosaur, a short film in which a live action McCay appeared to be interacting with a cartoon dinosaur. In 1945, using a related but much more sophisticated technique, MGM gave us Gene Kelly dancing with a cartoon mouse in Anchors Aweigh. Finally, in 2011, 2016 director Ninja used the technology available to him to integrate ColecoVision quality computer animated aliens into footage of various people bickering on their front porches.

2016 is a movie that I am obligated to review by virtue of my having long ago joined the internet chorus of people trumpeting on about its insane trailer—and this despite the fact that all of you with any interest in seeing it have most likely tracked it down already. In that case, you already know that it is essentially a no-budget remake of Independence Day set in the suburbs of Ghana. And if that sounds like a massive over-reach to you, you obviously know very little about Ghanaian action cinema, and even less about the films of maverick multi-hyphenate Ninja.

As you might recall, I introduced Ninja to 4DK’s readers with my review of his/her B 14, an earlier film in which the producer-director-writer-cinematographer-editor employed no end of bargain basement movie magic to tell a tale involving a child crime lord, a voodoo powered android that shoots endless lengths of chain out of his palms, and a lot of CG blood spatter. Those who are fond of that film will find much cause for reminiscence in 2016, as it contains most of the same cast and locations.

2016 lacks the breakneck pacing of B 14, in part because Ninja chooses to give his alien invasion tale the simmering build-up of a 1970s disaster movie—or, come to think of it, Independence Day. In that tradition, we are first given a portent of the disaster to come, in a scene in which a scientist seated at a table full of computer monitors in front of a white sheet catches sight of the alien mother ship orbiting just above earth’s atmosphere. We are then given a glimpse inside the spaceship, where a trio of alien creatures eyes a hologram of the Earth covetously. These appear to have been lifted from a bootleg Alien vs. Predator handheld video game and mashed-up into one franchise-bridging hybrid—a Predatalien, if you will.

Then it is time to meet the large cast of characters whose lives will be effected by the disaster. This is accomplished in a series of vignettes featuring various pairs of people having animated conversations either on the front porches of their houses or on the stoops outside their apartments. Much soda pop is consumed. My take away from this is that (a) Ninja was not equipped to shoot indoors and (b) it’s hot in Ghana.

Unfortunately, the version of 2016 that I watched was not subtitled. I’m confident that, if it had been, 2016 would have revealed itself to be, if not a more complex film than it otherwise appeared, at least a more convoluted one, as there is a lot of chatter going on throughout. In any case, this is just my interpretation, but it seemed to me that all of those conversations during its first act were fractious in tone. It also seemed that the pending alien visitation was the subject of most of them, and that a lot of incredulity was being expressed over the idea that visitors from outer space would choose Ghana as their touchdown point. Meanwhile, the scientist, Mr. Oppong (played by B 14’s Ebenezer Donkor) has been sounding the alarm about the maybe invasion and meeting with a lot of skeptical pushback from the populace, who just want to be left to sit in the sun and drink their pop.

Whatever was being discussed, what was unmistakable was the frequency of references to Ghana in these conversations. And this was something I loved about 2016: unlike other productions, which try to make vague their provenance in order to have more international appeal, it seems determined to never let you forget that it is a film made by Ghanaians in Ghana about Ghana. It even seems to take a peculiar sort of patriotic pride in the idea that Ghana would be the target of an alien attack. Whether intended or not, this puts in unflattering contrast the chauvinism of those many American films that take for granted that any life form who would take the trouble of traveling billions of light years to Earth would first stop off in New York or Washington.

Anyway, Mr. Oppong’s “I told you so” moment comes when the aliens contact him directly to communicate their plans. This is followed by the film’s one English language sequence, in which a somnolent TV newsreader relays the Aliens’ intentions in the most blasé manner possible. The aliens, she tells us, have “shown interest in Ghana” and, after some investigation, have determined that it is “the most peaceful land on Earth.” Because of this, they have decided that they will “migrate here by 2016.” Of course, they must first wipe out the country’s entire population. “The destruction,” she concludes, “can be any moment from now.”

I have to say that this plan shows a shrewd understanding on the aliens’ part of the ignorance and indifference with which most of the world at large regards virtually anything that happens in Africa. Seriously, if the entire population of Ghana was replaced by insectoid space aliens, could you imagine anyone at your office job being aware of it, even if George Clooney had made a documentary about it?

With this revelation out of the way, all the carnage promised by 2016’s trailer is soon to follow. It will be noted, however, that the aliens take a very intimate, one-at-a-time approach to exterminating the populace, in that almost all of these scenes involve a single alien stalking a single fleeing victim through the deserted streets. These sequences momentarily give 2016 the feel of a Friday the 13th style slasher movie, albeit one shot entirely in the blazing sunlight. It is also these sequences that deliver both of the trailer’s most notorious money shots, by which I of course refer to the toddler who gets kicked into the stratosphere and the lady who gets squashed by a very poorly rendered airborne sports car.

In saying that 2016 is more deliberately paced than B 14, I in no way mean to imply that it is a less entertaining film. The sheer lunacy of its action and special effects sequences is enough to maintain an air of excited anticipation throughout its more talky bits. And those bits themselves contain much to keep us entertained, such as the impressive assortment of bootleg tee shirts worn by the cast and the odd mundane details that Ninja chooses to focus on. The only way you could be disappointed by it is to expect it to live up to its trailer, a feat that no film could accomplish.

Like many African exploitation films, 2016 became an instant franchise at the moment of it being shorn into two halves. Thus Part 1 ends with a cliffhanger in which the aliens deliver to Mr. Oppong some kind of ultimatum. What is it? I have no idea (no subtitles, remember?) Nonetheless I am going to ask that you remain in suspense until I get around to watching Part 2. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Welcome to Cairowood

You know, I'm about a lot more than luring people into Bollywood's seductive embrace--though, of course, I am about that. Take, for example, my latest piece for Teleport City, in which I provide a handy introduction to the glamorous pleasures of Egyptian Cinema's golden age. These films offer all the attractions of classic Hollywood, with the welcome addition of lots and lots of belly dancing. It's called "Welcome to Cairowood" and you can Check it out here.

Star Crash: accident report.

Regret missing last Tuesday's 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down of Star Crash? Well, here's some good news: Thanks to the transcript linked below, you will be able to effectively HALT THE FLOW OF TIME and experience the event anew. It's science.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Adding crackle to the pop

This past Wednesday's Pop Offensive was our first on the FM dial. That's right, if you were looking for a reason to move to the Lake Merritt area of Oakland, CA, I can't think of a better one than that it will put you withing the narrow range of KGPC's 100 watt transmitter. Of course, Jeff Heyman and myself, being true professionals, were unfazed by this potential bump in our Q factor, and continued on as usual, rolling out an unpredictable selection of melodic and dance-able music from around the world, be it pop, punk, electro-polka,  or vomitous Eurovision treacle.

Of course, we will continue to archive the episodes in streaming form for you late comers, as we have with this one. To hear it, simply go to the Pop Offensive Archive at 9thfloorradio.com and push "play". If your ears need written confirmation of what they are hearing, you can read the full playlist for the episode, which has just been posted on our Facebook page.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tonight: Pop Offensive #18 is GO!

That's right, people. Jeff Heyman and I are baaa-ack, bringing with us enough catchy, toe-tapping music to make you dance like an organ grinder's monkey. If that sounds like your idea of a fun way to while away a Wednesday evening, tune us in tonight at 7pm Pacific on 9th Floor Radio, where we will be streaming live until 9pm.

Oh, and if you feel the need to reach out to us during that time, please feel free to tweet us at @PopOffRadio. We'll be waiting for you!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tonight! The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down collides with STAR CRASH.

Tonight, the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down crew halts the flow of time and goes back to 1979, a glorious, pre-Jar Jar, pre CGI era, in which the worst threat a scantily clad space vixen might encounter was a herky-jerk, stop motion giant robot. Yes, tonight we are watching the awesome Star Crash, the creme de la creme of cheap Italian Star Wars knock-offs, and you won't want to miss it.

To join in, simply pop on to Twitter at 6pm Pacific time and, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, comment along with us as we watch this drive-in classic via the YouTube link posted below. It's going to be crash-tastic!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

4DK's Week of Wonders

Quit your jobs! Abandon your children! Forsake your gods! Why? Because, next week, 4DK is GOING ON BLAST.

Tuesday: The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down rubbernecks STAR CRASH!

Why not channel some of your excitement about the new Star Wars movie into tweeting along with us to Star Crash, the galactic overlord of cheap Italian Star Wars knock-offs. Of course, the idea of cheesy 1970s stars like David Hasselhoff and Marjoe Gortner being engulfed in a maelstrom of practical special effects might not appeal to you, but I can't imagine why not. To participate, simply join us on Twitter at 6pm Pacific time and, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, fire off your tweets like a pleather-clad space centurion "pew pew pew"-ing away at a giant stop motion robot as we watch this drive-in classic. A link to the film will be provided here on the day of the event.

Wednesday: Pop Offensive returns! 

Very soon, those of you within a narrow radius of Oakland's Laney College (you know who you are) will be able to listen to Pop Offensive on KGPC at 96.9 on the FM band. This will most likely not be the case with Wednesday's installment, which will be our gala 18th episode. Weep not, though, because you will still, as always, be able to stream the episode live from the 9th Floor Radio website, as well as listen to the archived version whenever your lazy ass gets around to it. (I said stop crying!) By that means, and only that means, will you be able to hear the fevered mix of world pop music that Jeff Heyman and myself have put together for you. What annoying bit of treacle will the "Spotlight on Eurovision" expose this week? What do the Ultra Chicks have in store? What seemingly unremarkable thing will leave Jeff aghast? Will there be nuggets? Tune in at 7pm PT and find out!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Podcast on Fire's Taiwan Noir Episode 19: Feng Shen Bang

This latest edition of Taiwan Noir is the second of our back-to-back episodes covering special effects laden Taiwanese fantasy films. This time we cover 1969's Feng Shen Bang, a mythological adventure crawling with crazy creatures. Listen here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Struggle on the Nile (Egypt, 1959)

As most of you probably know, the recently departed Omar Sharif, before starting his ascent to international stardom with his role in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, had already become a major star in his native Egypt. Seeing a 26 year old Sharif in 1959’s Struggle on the Nile, it’s easy to see why. Indeed, those who’ve become accustomed to the masculine gravitas projected by the magnificently ‘stached Sharif in so many of his English speaking roles might even be taken aback by the fresh faced and clean shaven version that appears here. This younger Sharif (billed here a “Omar El Cherif”) is downright pretty--though, as we will also see in Struggle on the Nile, mere prettiness is not enough to keep him from being upstaged by a particularly electric performance from one of his co-stars.

In the film, Sharif plays Muhasab, a naïve village boy who has been tasked by his father, the village chieftan, with shepparding the Bride of the Nile, a dilapidated sailing vessel owned by the village, from Luxor to Cairo, where it will be sold for cash that will be used toward purchasing a motorized barge. This, it is believed, will make the village more competitive in matters of commerce. At the same time, the journey is clearly intended as a transition into manhood for Muhasab. We are told that he has been feminized by his mother during his upbringing, as symbolized by an earring she has made him wear since an early age. This is ceremoniously torn from his ear by his father on the eve of his departure.

To look after Muhasab along the way, his father appoints Mujahed, a rugged family friend played by rugged star Rushdy (or “Roushdy”) Abaza, who we’ve previously seen here at 4DK in Oh Islam!, Bride of the Nile and El Achrar. The chief also entrusts Mujahed with a purse containing £6000 that the village has collected toward the purchase of the barge. This he hands over to Muhasab in a potentially costly test of his ability to be responsible for it. We then have a scene of Muhasab bidding a fond farewell to Ward, a village belle whom he promises to marry upon his return (and who is played by an actress I was unable to identify).

Meanwhile, Abu Saafan, a ruthless rival merchant, assigns Hisham, one of his minions, to insert himself into the Bride’s small crew and sabotage the mission. He is also directed to kill Muhasab and steal the £6000. The rest of the crew is made up of two more or less bumbling sidekick types, one of whom is the village idiot who’s in love with a donkey. (As we’ve seen in Ismail Yassin’s Tarzan, the Egyptians don’t shy away from bestiality as a comic subplot.)

Suffice it to say that Muhasab fails his first test of character spectacularly. Upon the Bride’s first stop, at the port of Qena, Hisham lures him to a carnival where he and a couple of cohorts easily relieve him of the purse. It is only by the fist-wielding intervention of Mujahed that it is retrieved, after which Mujahed locks it away in the ship’s cellar. Hisham then recruits the carnival’s hoochie coochie dancer, Nargis (Hind Rostom), to charm her way aboard the boat and get her hands on the money. Arriving at the dock with suitcase in hand, she begs to join them, claiming that she is fleeing from an abusive lover. Above Mujahed’s objections, a smitten Muhasab allows her aboard.

Predictably, Nargis’ presence causes havoc aboard the Bride of the Nile. Mujahed commands her to stay in the ship’s hold, but she continues to make herself a mischievous presence on deck, where she is a crippling distraction to the all-male crew. (Upon seeing her, one of them, according to the English subtitle, exclaims of the light-skinned Nargis, “I love white plumpness!”) One episode, in which she comes on deck to wash her bare legs in the river’s waters, results in the ogling crewmembers allowing the ship to run aground.

Even more destructive are Nargis’ emotional manipulations. She easily seduces the callow Muhasab and begins the work of turning him against Mujahed. Mujahed, for his part, desperately tries to get rid of her, but finds that she outsmarts his every effort to strand, abandon, and even kill her. Eventually, she maneuvers Muhasab, who is quick to forget his romantic commitments at home, into a quickie marriage. Then she sets her romantic sights on Mujahed, inciting in Muhasab a jealous rage that leads to a physical confrontation between the two friends.

I have elsewhere described Hind Rostom as Egypt’s answer to Rita Hayworth, and have since learned that she was described in her time as the Egyptian Marilyn Monroe. However, if she must be described by way of comparison, I suggest that we broaden the field of potential corollaries to include the female stars of Indian cinema. I say this because I think that fans of classic Bollywood films will see in her an Egyptian equivalent of the great Helen. Like Helen, she typically plays the role of the vamp, siren, or homewrecker, and as such must, within the male dominated culture she inhabits, eventually be punished for inflaming the libidos of the men around her, as well as for the misdeeds those men have committed as a result.

Rostom, who has given outstanding performances in Egyptian classics like Cairo Station and Sleepless, takes to her role in Struggle on the Nile with astonishing ferocity. It is nothing if not a bravura performance, exhibiting, on the one hand, a scalding sensuality, and, on the other, a chilling sociopathic remove. It is a classic femme fatale turn, no doubt the result of Rostom taking full advantage of a role that keeps her front and center for much of the film.

Despite the heat that Rostom brings to the film, the fact that so much of its drama takes place within such a confined space renders it a bit of a slow boat to Cairo, pacing-wise. Its focus on a destructive love triangle playing out on a boat tempts comparisons to Polanski’s Knife in the Water, although director Atef Salem in no way manages the sustained tension that Polanski does in his film—nor, apparently, does he mean to. Instead, Salem treats much of Nargis’ bedevilment of the men around her as antic farce, complete with whimsical music. This creates even more of a disconnect once events take a markedly darker turn near the film’s conclusion. (Beware yon spoilers ahead.)

Indeed, when Nargis’ comeuppance arrives it is a gruesome one. And this despite the fact that Muhasab’s horny impulsiveness and terrible decision making has played as much or more of a part in the Bride of the Nile’s difficulties than any of her scheming did. Nonetheless, upon arriving home with the much anticipated barge, Muhasab is given a hero’s welcome by the village—and happily falls into the welcoming arms of his none-the-wiser fiancé. He is, by all appearances, no more of a man and no wiser than when he left. Given that, this dubiously “happy” ending tempts one to turn a side eye toward the two hours of Struggle on the Nile that has preceded it.

As far as recommending Struggle on the Nile goes, I'm torn. On the plus side, it is considered by many to be a classic of Egyptian cinema. Hind Rostom’s performance deserves to be seen, as do those of Rushdi Abaza and Omar Sharif, despite my having found Sharif’s character loathsome. The strain of misogyny that runs through it, however, has to be reckoned with. Our choice, on the one hand, is to turn away from the chauvinistic view of womankind that the film presents. On the other, it is to celebrate the woman who—in the tradition of all great screen femme fatales, Helen and Rita Hayworth included—took what little was offered her and imbued it with as much power, ferocity and raw living spirit as her considerable skills allowed. I suppose which of those you choose depends on the extent to which you see that as any kind of power at all.