Any discussion of Star Wars ripoffs can only really end in one place. Oh sure, there’s Battle Beyond the Stars and Starchaser to talk about, but those are spiritual ripoffs, borrowing ideas, visual cues, character archetypes and maybe a sound effect or two. These types are simply “inspired” by Star Wars, making sure that any accusations of theft a bit of persuasion to justify in a court of law. Except….for one. It’s one of those movies whose reputation precedes it, the kind of thing you’d read about from time to time, or hear mentioned among people who are into obscure, weird movies. And happily, its reputation as something jaw-droppingly weird, as something that has to be experienced to be truly appreciated, holds true. It seems that sometimes you can meet your heroes.
So let’s do it. Let’s talk about Turkish Star Wars.
While Italy built up a reputation for shamelessly ripping off American movies during the late 70s and early 80s, they had nothing on the imitation blockbusters coming out of Ye?ilçam, the Turkish film industry, at the same time. With only a handful of writers and directors, along with woefully out of date equipment, the small but dedicated community of Turkish filmmakers and producers churned out an almost countless number of ultra-low budget films in their heyday. While original films of virtually every genre were produced, a particular favorite tactic of Ye?ilçam filmmakers was to produce their own versions of popular Hollywood films, sometimes going so far as to produce shot-for-shot remakes. There are Turkish versions of The Exorcist, Some Like it Hot, ET, as well as films that take American characters like Spider-Man and Captain America into some extremely strange new territory.
Of particular note in this endearing sub-genre is Dünyay? Kurtaran Adam, which translates to The Man Who Saved the World. The film takes place in the distant future when man has begun to colonize the stars in a new age of prosperity. A mysterious enemy opposes the newly dubbed “Galaxy Tribe” of man, however, pushing back against humanity’s expansion. After a pitched space battle, two human pilots named Murat and Ali find themselves transported to a desert planet inhabited by monsters, primitive humans, and apparently the mysterious force that humanity has been struggling against. Trading in their spaceships for karate chops and flying kicks, the two set out to overthrow the evil Magician behind the Galaxy Tribe’s struggles, discovering the secret history of Earth along the way.
All of the setup for the movie is delivered in a breathless monologue in the opening sequence, one which makes crystal clear why the film is more often referred to as Turkish Star Wars. While some films may be content to borrow themes, ideas, and tropes from Star Wars, The Man Who Saved the World goes a step further by actually stealing whole sections of footage from A New Hope, particular the space battle and flying scenes. This alone earned this film its reputation, but there’s actually a lot more to the surreal experience we’re dealing with here. In addition to using footage from Star Wars, The Man Who Saved the World is also set to a soundtrack that includes the Indiana Jones theme, as well as tracks from the original Battlestar Galactica series. Turkish films from this era, you understand, were notorious for this kind of disregard for copyright law, and it’s somewhat important to view this in its proper context. There wasn’t any malice or ill-intent at play – just extremely tight budgets and a lot of genuine passion for the craft. Think of it like a remix.
When you pay attention to the original elements at work in the film, however, the borrowed footage and soundtrack become small potatoes in the strange smorgasbord that The Man Who Saved The World has to offer. It plays out like an odd combination of mythology, science fiction, and theology, mixing its adventure and space battles with a variety of unexpected elements. Eventually Murat takes on a more than slightly Messianic role after learning of the secret origins of the Magician and claiming an endearingly goofy-looking “sword of power.” It’s in these later sections of the film that we learn more about the mythology at play, a mix of Islamic beliefs and original elements that can get fairly confusing, depending on the quality of the subtitles. This, combined with the hero’s increasingly outrageous physical abilities after a training montage or two, makes the later half of the film play out like some kind of bizarre sci-fi religious text. Not in a propagandist or sermonizing way – just one that will probably leave you scratching your head and genuinely curious about the filmmakers’ headspace. It’s like if the Lou Ferrigno Hercules movies were also trying to teach you about the virtues of Islam.
Your best bet is to try not to make too much sense out of it, and just let the film take you on its bizarre but endlessly endearing train ride. Let the stars’ repeated displays of hyper-virile masculinity and endless karate chopping of extras in whatever outlandish costumes the production had on hand do what they were meant to: put a big, albeit confused smile on your face. Turn your nose up at it if you prefer, but there’s a sincerity and earnestness to The Man Who Saved the World that more than makes up for the less-than-ideal production values, pacing, and editing. It’s the kind of film that can only be described as singular; there really is no other experience like it.
‘Tigers Are Not Afraid’ is Dark Fantasy at its Best
Tom Watches Movies
Issa López immediately sets the stage for her latest film, Tigers Are Not Afraid,
After that harrowing opening, schoolgirl Estrella returns to find her mother missing, seemingly one of the ever-increasing number of innocents spirited away by the local Huascas gang. Estrella joins up with Shine, a boy trying desperately to keep a small band of fellow orphans safe from the Huascas after stealing a gun and cell-phone from one of them. But strange forces linger in the background, pursuing Estrella and her new friends. Estrella was given three pieces of chalk by her teacher, along with the promise that each one would grant a wish; this magically appears to be true, but Estrella’s wishes also seem as much a curse as a blessing.
While other films have positioned fantastical elements as a relief against the harshness of the ‘real’ world, Tigers Are Not Afraid is more ambiguous. In López’s film, the entities silently following Estrella and her new friends are often sinister and threatening. These aren’t comforting fantasies meant as a means of escape, but simply another aspect of an endlessly threatening world. The film is as much horror as it is fantasy, and walks a fine line between the two. Like the gun and cell phone that Shine steals in the opening scenes, Estrella’s chalk brings as much danger as power — power and control over one’s environment is really at the core of the film.
Shine especially is in a constant search for control, and at
López, along with cinematographer Juan Jose
The cast, almost entirely composed of young children, is
There are worse issues to raise with a film, however. That is the cardinal rule, after all: always leave them wanting more. Tigers Are Not Afraid absolutely does that, presenting a dazzling and often harrowing mix of fantasy and brutal realism, and establishing Issa López as the new director to watch for genre fans.
Tigers Are Not Afraid is streaming now on Shudder
‘Stephen King’s IT’ Is Dated but Not Toothless
Tom Watches Movies
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 8, 2017, but for obvious reasons, we’ve decided to spotlight it again.
With the release of the new, big-budget adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, attention is invariably turning to the previous attempt at bringing King’s gargantuan novel to the screen: the 1990 miniseries. The original IT is mostly remembered for Tim Curry’s performance in the role of Pennywise, the sinister clown that terrorizes the children of Derry, Maine. Curry’s Pennywise can often be found on lists of the most iconic horror characters of all time, and it would be easy to assume that without this one element, It would most likely have fallen into the same obscurity that many of those King miniseries now find themselves in, and as the number of people who’ll be watching the 1990 version before flocking to catch the new adaptation are finding out, the original It isn’t actually that good. It’s not exactly bad, but aside from one memorably over-the-top performance, it’s ultimately still an above-average early 90s miniseries.
The story takes place (as the vast majority of King properties do) in a small town in Maine, and something is targeting the local children, in particular, the group of outcasts and misfits dubbed the Loser’s Club. But rather than a run-of-the-mill serial killer, the entity leaving a trail of dead children in its wake is Pennywise, a sinister clown with supernatural powers and a thirst for blood. With the adults seemingly blind to Pennywise, the Loser’s club must band together to put a stop to his reign of terror, and then meet again thirty years later when their old nemesis returns.
It’s place as a beloved horror property — or at least a fondly remembered one — can largely be attributed to one element: Tim Curry’s Pennywise. To be sure, it is a memorable performance, full of the kind of enthusiasm and gusto that Curry made a name for himself with. To what degree you’re bound to find Curry’s character actually scary depends a lot on how you feel about clowns. If coulrophobia isn’t something you suffer from, it’s very likely that Curry’s antics, dripping with camp from start to finish, won’t do much to send chills up your spine. Then there’s the infamous ending, which sees Curry’s Pennywise drop away in favor of a giant spider creature, ostensibly his true form. Full credit to the effects designers — it’s a great looking effect, but it’s also completely devoid of subtlety, substituting the sinister, unsettling vibe of much of the series for a big monster in a surprisingly well-lit cave. Luckily for IT, there’s a deeper horror lurking under the surface, but more on that later.
When Curry isn’t onscreen, which is the vast majority of the time, the series rests solely on the shoulders of the cast and production staff, who usually strain under the weight. In a surprising twist, the child actors who portray the Loser’s Club in their initial encounter with Pennywise vastly outshine their adult counterparts, whose performances generally leave a lot to be desired. Even usually dependable players like John Ritter fall short more often than not. The inadequacies of the adult actors are made somewhat worse by the fact that the second half of the series is notably weaker than the first, with the atmosphere undone by too many montages set to upbeat music.
The production staff, including director Tommy Lee Wallace, also don’t do much to stand out. Wallace’s direction is fine, occasionally capturing a spooky atmosphere, but for the most part the direction in IT feels like exactly what it is: flat, by the numbers TV direction typical of the time period.
So if Pennywise isn’t that scary and the formal aspects of the 1990 production aren’t that interesting, what is there to IT in the end? The series’ best moments, the ones that almost make it worth sitting through all three hours, are the moments of true horror scattered in between clown attacks and the giant spider finale. The Losers Club, like so many child protagonists in horror properties, are the only ones who can see Pennywise and all the aftermath of his antics, but IT throws a twist into this tried and true formula. Horror fans will doubtlessly be familiar with this scenario: during a moment alone, one of the protagonists will see a horrifying vision, in this particular case an explosion of blood from a drain or a family photo album. They’ll run and grab their parents, only to return and find everything normal. What they saw was a vision, a hallucination. IT throws a curveball in this formula by having the blood, creatures, and other terrifying manifestations stay around when the adults are in the room. These aren’t visions or hallucinations, but reality — a reality that adults have trained themselves to overlook.
Why does this matter? Because the true horror of IT isn’t the scary clown or the giant spider — it’s the willingness of societies to look the other way when something is clearly wrong. There’s a key scene when Bev, the only female members of The Loser’s Club, recalls being attacked by the neighborhood bullies. A man across the street sees this happening, and rather than intercede, he quietly returns to his house. It is about what happens when people become so used to cruelty and horror that they train themselves not to see it, to look the other way when presented with something clearly harmful. It’s about the normalization of the abnormal, about the seductive power of willful ignorance when the alternative — action — puts oneself at risk. Look at Henry Bowers, the local bully who’s clearly a dangerous sociopath to anyone who pays attention. What is he, if not just another Pennywise? He’s a problem that everyone looks past because trying to fix it is harder than ignoring it.
Admittedly, this far more interesting aspect is something native to King’s novel rather than something concocted by the makers of the series, so we can’t credit Stephen King’s IT with bringing this particular aspect to the table. We can, however, be grateful that this crucial element was preserved rather than putting a focus on the much shallower horrors of scary clowns and giant spiders.
Watching the 1990 IT, it becomes clear that a second stab is needed to really plumb the depths of the novel and do it justice, as there is a lot of interesting material to be mined. In addition to the more interesting commentary on societal apathy, there’s also King’s dabblings with cosmic horror, something the miniseries pays the barest of lip service to. By the sound of things, Andrés Muschietti has presented us with a far superior version of King’s novel. Does that make the 1990 version obsolete? No, not entirely. Tim Curry’s performance, campy as it is, is still fun to watch. But apart from that element, it won’t be hard for the upcoming second attempt to overshadow its predecessor in most regards.
Fantasia Film Festival 2019: Thomas O’Connor’s Most Anticipated Films
The Fantasia Film Festival is once again looming on the horizon, promising three weeks of fun for Montreal film geeks. As always, the lineup is chock-full of new works by familiar creators and promising new talents, and it can be intimidating to decide where to start. But worry not, for GoombaStomp has you covered. In the lead-up to our coverage of this year’s Fantasia Fest, we’ll be bringing you some of our most anticipated films from the selection.
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The 80s nostalgia craze seems to be winding down a bit, but that hasn’t stopped numerous franchises from getting revivals and reboots. After all, a new Child’s Play reboot only just landed in theatres. The Critters franchise is the latest to board the revival train, with a quasi-reboot from series producers Barry Opper and Rupert Harvey. Critters is probably the best-remembered product of a wave of “tiny terrors” movies that sprang up in the wake of Gremlins. In the case of Critters, the titular pint-sized creatures are ravenous aliens that devour anyone and anything in their path.
The original films are fun, creative creature features with a dedicated fan following, and while the new installment seems to be positioning itself as a soft reboot, there also looks to be a lot of love for fans of the originals. The new film will continue the franchise’s commitment to practical creature effects, and at least one cast member from the original (Dee Wallace) is returning. Critters Attack! promises a lot of what Fantasia audiences love: nostalgia, gore, and black humor, and seeing it with a lively audience will no doubt enhance the experience of seeing this franchise make its return.
Garo – Under the Moonbow
If you’re into Tokusatsu, the colorful world of live-action Japanese superhero shows, you’re probably familiar with Keita Amemiya. Amemiya has worked with numerous major Toku franchises, having directed episodes of Super Sentai, a pair of short films in the Kamen Rider franchise, and even an installment in the Metal Heroes series. But Amemiya seems to prefer playing in his own sandbox, and projects like the feature films Zeiram, Mirai Ninja, and especially his long-running Garo franchise prove that. Garo follows the adventures of a number of armored demon hunters, men and women dedicated to the destruction of the demonic “Horrors” who prey on unsuspecting humans. Garo in many ways acts as a continuing showcase of Amemiya’s talents for atmosphere and visuals, with ever-expanding mythology thrown in for good measure.
It’s that last part that may keep some audience members at arm’s length from Garo – Under the Moonbow. This is a franchise that’s been going on since 2005, and the chances of the new film sparing much time to get newbies caught up is low. But there’s another element worth considering: Amemiya will be there in person not only to present the new film, but also to offer a Master Class to fans. Even if you can’t tell your Kamen Rider J from your Kamen Rider ZO, the chance to hear an industry veteran with a clear and distinct voice and passion share his experiences as a filmmaker is not one that should be passed up lightly.
Ride your Wave
Anime director Masaaki Yuasa has become a regular presence on Fantasia screens, and you’ll get absolutely no complaints from us. Yuasa quickly stood out from the anime pack thanks to his 2004 breakout Mind Game, and he hasn’t slowed down since. His films are singular in most regards, often sporting a signature flat animation style, a wonderful surrealist edge, and a mile-a-minute rhythm. His films are like jazz, as trite a comparison as that is. They’re uptempo and bold, determined to take the audience by the hand and pull them on a wild ride.
But what makes him especially exciting is his refusal to become too bogged down in a style. He equally comfortable with light, enchanting fare like last year’s excellent The Night is Short, Walk On Girl, and the infinitely darker Devilman: Crybaby series. You never know quite what you’re going to get with Yuasa, but you do know it’s going to be something worth seeing. Fantasia always boasts a solid anime lineup, and this year appears to be no exception.
Master Z: Ip Man Legacy
The Ip Man franchise has become a mainstay of modern blockbuster martial arts films, with new installments every few years. While Ip Man 4 will be releasing in China towards the end of July, its 2018 spinoff will be making its Fantasia debut. Max Zhang stars as Cheung Tin-chi, a Wing Chun martial artist who was defeated by Donnie Yen’s Master Ip in the previous installment.
Whether you’re invested in the series or not, Master Z has enough sheer talent in its roster to draw in fight movie fans in droves. Zhang proved beyond a doubt in Ip Man 3 and SPL 2: A TIme for Consequences that he’s one of the martial arts actors to watch out for, with a dazzling onscreen presence and some seriously impressive fighting chops. But throw in a supporting cast that includes Michelle Yeoh, Dave Bautista, and Tony Jaa, and you’ve got the kind of cast guaranteed to fill seats. As if the film didn’t already have enough winning cards in its hand, the legendary Yuen Woo-ping sits in the director’s chair, bringing his decades of experience to the table, making this an absolute must-see for fans of martial arts films.
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