Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Offense and sensibility


Last week's episode of Pop Offensive is now available for streaming from the archives. Those who would like to subject this episode to more serious scrutiny can check out the full playlist over on the Pop Offensive Facebook page.

And, with the weekend coming up, you might also want to consider that all 28 episodes of Pop Offensive are currently available from the archives. That amounts to a solid 42 hours of binge listening. I suggest you get an extra large bag of snickerdoodles and tuck in. After all, what are weekends for?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Just 3 Days, Part II (Ghana, 2015)


Is it ironic that it took me four days to watch Just 3 Days? The problem wasn’t just that the film in total is over two and a half hours long. It’s more that, once I got through Part I and started in on Part II, the film became so abundant with craziness that I was making screen captures at a rate of two a minute. Seriously, if you are someone who comes to a movie like this for the crude special effects, outrageous violence, CG blood spatter, and abundant backyard kung fu fights, Ugandan action auteur Ninja has done you the favor of back loading all of that into Just 3 Days’ manic second installment. Of course, that is not to say that the first half, with its unique blend of Christian evangelism and kick-boxing, is not worth an at least cursory look.

Part II begins right where Part I left off, with the trio of kick-boxer Desmond (Akwasi I. Kwarteng), his sister Sophia (Priscilla A. Annabel--who is also credited with Make-up and “Welfare”), and off-and-on best friend Lucas (Osei Owusu) escaping from the Underworld with a magical golden box that they believe will lift the bad luck that has befallen them due to the ill-fated marriage of Desmond’s miniature brother, Dominic (Jospeh Osei) to the allegedly cursed Annah (Elizabeth Arthur.) [Pauses for breath.] Never mind that this magic golden box answers more accurately to the description “yellow plastic box.” What matters is that its theft has roused two of the box’s guardian spirits, who take off in pursuit of Desmond and his partners.


The first of these spirits is Iron Eagle (Akwasi Kwarteng), a primitive computer animation of a giant robot eagle who, upon entering the mortal world, transforms into an imposing and brooding human figure in Ray-bans and a hooded black nylon cape. The other is Tanya (Mabel Amitoh), a flaming statue who likewise transforms into a fiery eyed vixen who, in a nice Max Headroom-like touch, has cornrows the size of actual corn rows. Tanya’s attire is limited to a black sports bra and biker shorts. If you have ever wondered if there was a mall in Hell, and, specifically, if it had a Sports Chalet, Iron Eagle and Tanya’s combined attire should answer your question.

Immediately upon her arrival, Tanya hooks up with two prostitutes who, inspired to pity by her meager coverings, offer to take her in. Meanwhile, Iron Eagle wastes no time in tracking Desmond down and offering him an ultimatum: return the gold box within just 3 days or die horribly along with all of his loved ones. And, yes, you are correct in noting that Ninja has waited until well into his film’s second installment to provide a context for its title.


Just 3 Days being the film that it is, Desmond takes this news home to Sophia and Lucas, after which the three of them engage in a shouty debate over what they should do. Meanwhile, the unsubtly named Pastor Christian (Iddrisu Mohammed Abdallah), a character whose every entrance is marked by the sudden appearance of Christian soft rock on the soundtrack, pays a visit to Dominic and his mother, Madam K (Rose Mensah). Christian has somehow learned of the theft of the box and beseeches Dominic and Madame K to solve their problem through prayer rather than black magic. Thus does this scene set in motion the see-saw that will characterize Just 3 Days concluding half, with sequences in which people’s heads are impaled with katanas alternating with—and being given equal weight as—those in which characters carry on sincere sounding debates about faith.

Such is the dichotomy of Ghanaian cinema, whose country of origin boasts a powerful Christian majority—most of whom, like many other people in the world, nonetheless want to see movies in which shit blows up and people get gorily mowed down with machine guns. Given this, it is legitimate to wonder whether Ninja—whose credits for Just 3 Days include Executive Producer, Writer, Director, Editor and Special Effects director—has a sincere commitment to such issues of faith, or whether presenting them is simply part of the dance he must perform in order for his films to be commercially successfully. It’s conceivable that, like Uganda’s Isaac Nabwana, he’d prefer to skip the religion altogether and just get to the explosions.


If that’s the case, the judiciousness with which Ninja weaves this moral debate into the film’s action is all the more commendable. Unlike the Nigerian film 666 (Beware The End is at Hand), whose surfeit of prosthelytizing made it leaden despite its preponderance of digitally rendered insanity, Just 3 Days trots along at an energetic pace despite it. It also has to be said that what scenes there are of people sitting on their front porches and arguing while fanning themselves accomplish, as they do in 2016, the mean feat of infusing this tale of murderous hell robots with the homely rhythms of everyday life. It is hot in Ghana, after all, so is it not conceivable that its people, made testy by the heat, might wile away the hours by lazily bickering with one another over Mirinda sodas?

Back in the story of Just 3 Days, Desmond, Dominic, and Sophia’s numerous expendable and as-yet-unnamed siblings find the rhythms of everyday life becoming an ever-diminishing commodity as they are killed one by one by Iron Eagle and Tanya. In response, Madam K, a former soldier, goes commando, confronting Tanya in full combat gear—only to beat a hasty retreat when Tanya’s head turns into a flaming death's head before her eyes (not unlike Fantomah.) Later, Tanya further proves that she is a formidable foe, murdering someone simply by spitting magic into her cell phone.


Finally, Desmond and Lucas go to an apparently very well connected kick-boxing promoter named Owen (Emmanuel Afriyie) for help. He presents them with a pair of magic candles, which he will give them on the condition that Desmond waves his payment for an upcoming, high-profile fight. These candles, once the proper incantations have been intoned, provide the men an audience with an underworld being known as the Wise Man. This creature promises to give them a pair of bracelets that will render them invincible if they will provide him with two human hearts—women’s hearts, to be exact. Desmond and Lucas agree to this without hesitation. This is followed by a well-executed sequence in which shots of Desmond’s match alternate with shots of Lucas stalking and killing two women on a deserted country road.

And it is here that Just 3 Days put us on harsh notice that the men we have been positioned to see as its protagonists may not be worthy of it—and that a conclusion in which good triumphs over evil may not look the way we earlier might have assumed it would. What we can be certain of, however, is that that conclusion will only come on the tail end of a lot of kick boxing.


Within the context of African action cinema, Just 3 Days strikes me as an ambitious film—and an indication that Ninja, in his own excitable way, is trying to drag that cinema into the 21st Century. For one thing, its melding of genres—sports drama, horror film, family melodrama, religious parable—seems deliberate and self conscious, rather than the usual reckless hodgepodge of commercial elements. Also, it juggles audience expectations with an unexpected—and almost malicious—deftness. Both of these are indications of a growing confidence on the part of the filmmaker, and bode well for the future of his industry. While so many of the national cinemas covered in this blog have seen their heydays come and go, Africa’s is still an electrifying work in progress whose best days are yet to come.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

POP OFFENSIVE is TONIGHT!


You know that old song that goes "Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag?" Well, at Pop Offensive, we go that a few steps better. We pistol whip your troubles and throw them in the trunk of our car, then leave them tied to a chair in a dingy shed on the outskirts of town. And we do it all with the power of catchy, dance-able songs from around the globe. Unbelievable, you say? Why not hear for yourself by streaming us live from kgpc969.org tonight at 7pm Pacific. Your troubles will be sorry you did..

Monday, August 15, 2016

Just 3 Days, Part I (Ghana, 2015)


When we last checked in on Ghana’s Ninja Productions, they were providing us with as much spectacle as a single digit special effects budget could provide in 2011’s presciently named 2016, a film about a small Ghanaian town invaded by baby-punting ColecoVision aliens. 2015’s Just 3 Days tells a somewhat more complicated tale, involving kick-boxing, family secrets, and an ill-advised journey into Hell.

Ninja stock player Rose Mensah stars as Serwaah, the mother of kick-boxer Desmond and his brother Dominic, a sweet natured soul who is also, among many other things, a little person. Dominic is played by another Ninja standby, Joseph “Wayoosi” Osei. Due to Osei’s uniquely child-like appearance, it’s often difficult to tell whether he is meant to be playing an adult or an especially precocious (and often evil) kid. In this case, specific reference is made to his condition, which gives the actor a rare opportunity to portray a character that is presented in a sympathetic light. Osei truly steps up to the task, delivering what I have to say is an accomplished performance. A scene in which Serwaah details the hardships of raising and caring for Dominic as he sobs quietly in the background is especially affecting.


Anyway, it seems that Serwaah and her family have been plagued by a prolonged streak of bad luck, which seems to have coincided with Dominic’s marriage to Anna, the sister of Desmond’s best friend, Lucas. They assume that Anna must be under some kind of curse, as one well might. Desmond confides this to Lucas, who, despite being sworn to secrecy, immediately runs and tells his mother, forcing her to come clean with him and his siblings. They are indeed cursed, she tells them, and it is the result of one of their ancestors entering into a “bad covenant”, one in which he or she chose to exchange happiness in love for long life. As a result, the members of their family live to a very advanced age, but always, upon finding true love, suffer the death of that loved one very shortly afterward. Their women are also sterile and those children that are born, like Lucas and Anna, are kind of dumb—and, as a result, unable to go to college and get a good job (something that Just 3 Days repeatedly stresses the importance of.)

Desmond’s sister, Sophia, another dummy, somehow overhears this conversation among Lucas’ family and rushes home to tell her mother. And if at this point you’ve guessed that Just 3 Days is set in the same town as the other Ninja movies I’ve reviewed--i.e. a sun-blasted hell hole of malicious gossip and neighbor-on-neighbor back stabbing (and which I have to assume is somewhere in, or on the outskirts of, Kumasi)—, you deserve to give yourself the most sparkly sticker in the box. Almost every plot development in this movie is driven by someone nosing around in someone else’s business and then summarily ratting them out, and, in this case, it leads to Serwaah making a startling revelation to her kids.


She tells them how, on a recent trip to Israel, she met a “strange woman” who, upon hearing of her predicament, presented her with three magical items--which comes as a harsh blow to those of us who went to Israel and came back with only a souvenir dreidel. Serwaah presents these items to her children, an event whose solemnity is undermined somewhat by those items being wrapped in a used FedEx envelope like those supplies you stole from the office last week. They are revealed to be a book, a map, and a key. These, Serwaah tells them, will open a gateway to the “underworld” and lead them to a golden box that, when opened, will free them of their curse.

This revelation sets off all of the shouting and quarreling that fills in the non-action parts of so many Ghanaian action movies. One might think it was a country in which no argument was settled in a calm and reasoned manner. It’s all people sitting on their front porches and dabbing the sweat from their brow as they thunder away irritably at one another. (No soda consumption was observed, however.) At least in the case of Just 3 Days these squabbles were subtitled, so I knew what was being discussed. And what was being discussed was not just strategy, but faith. Serwaah, for instance, wants her children to use those magic items to spelunk into Hades and fetch the golden box. Sweet natured Dominic, on the other hand, feels that they should instead seek release from their curse through prayer. Serwaah scoffs at this notion—which is an odd position to take for someone who believes in a literal hell that you can actually visit.


Anyway, because of their town’s aforementioned shittiness, news of the magic key and its companions quickly makes its way back to Lucas and his family. Lucas wastes little time in attempting to steal them in a violent home invasion robbery. When Desmond and his family respond with kick-boxing and bullets, Lucas’ brother Austine swallows the key, only to have it magically extrude itself from his throat when he takes a shot to the head. Desmond and Sophia then recruit a repentant Lucas to take the journey to the underworld with them.

The Underworld, as you might guess, looks like a video game environment, with a lot of looped screaming on the soundtrack to give it that "dude, we are so totally in hell" ambience. The trio makes quick work of capturing the golden box, only to rouse Iron Eagle, the box’s guardian. This Iron Eagle, mind you, should not be confused with the movie starring Louis Gossett Jr.—unless that movie featured a fierce-looking, man-sized robot hawk.


And it is here that Just 3 Days, Part I ends—as it, like all of Ninja Productions’ films, has been transformed into companion films by a simple click of the editor’s blade. While this is a cagey way of getting people to pay twice for the same film, it also alleviates some of the problems common to sequels, like all of the actors looking obviously older than they did in the first film. Also, it’s unlikely that anyone has ever credibly claimed that their childhood memory of Just 3 Days, Part I was “raped” by Just 3 Days, Part II.

Although I am going to emulate the makers of Just 3 Days and take a powder between reviews, I wanted to say that, at this point, I’m enjoying the movie quite a bit. It seems like an improvement on the earlier Ninja Films, both in terms of having a more cinematic look and uniformly good performances. Which is not to say that it doesn’t have its flaws; some clumsy scene transitions among them, as well as a series of noisome in-film plugs that, while refreshingly honest, make Hollywood’s approach to product placement seem subtle by comparison.


In any case, I enjoyed Just 3 Days, Part I enough that I am now looking forward to seeing what Just 3 Days, Part II holds in store. Let’s hope that it doesn’t disappoint me. (You wouldn’t like me when I’m disappointed.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Inframan, Inframan, does whatever an infra can


Inframan is quite literally one of my favorite films of all time. That makes it all the more inexcusable that I have only just now reviewed it for Teleport City. Please read it, won't you? Only then can I feel that I have atoned for this grievous error.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Silent...YET I LIVE!


I felt compelled to write something today because, let’s face it, it’s been an obscenely long time since I posted something of substance on 4DK. I don’t want to be like that store you give up on after repeatedly being greeted by a “CLOSED” sign, only to take up with some new, younger and sexier store. Because that store doesn’t understand you like I do... and I’m pretty sure it’s had some work done.

I would say my absence is inexcusable if I didn’t have an excuse. But I do, so it isn’t.

On a number of occasions over the years, circumstances have prompted me to share details of my personal life with you, thus rending the fog of mystery that I have so meticulously woven around myself and giving you a rare peek at the distasteful human-ish creature behind it. This is one of those occasions. Fortunately, it is a happy one, as I this time come to you with news, not of my body’s vile rebellions, but of a personal milestone.

You see, in the past weeks, my wife and I and all of our junk have moved from our Tardis-like two bedroom apartment into an honest-to-god house. A house which we own, which is terrifying and amazing. You may have read somewhere that moving is a stressful and time consuming process, and it is—especially when you own as much movies, music and books as I do. (One of the movers suggested that I buy a Kindle.) It is thus that I neglected my duty of watching perilously obscure un-subtitled foreign movies and describing them to you to the limited extent that my monolingual brain was capable.

So now I am writing you, not only to affirm 4DK’s continued existence, but also to assure you that, despite my status as a new home owner, I will not start cluttering the blog with tips about property lines, lawn care, and sewer lateral maintenance. I can only imagine that there are other blogs for that, because God forbid I should ever read one. Anyway, while not doing any of those things, what I will be doing is tucking into some new reviews in the very near future.

I should also mention that, while buying a home is certainly a very adult thing to do, I am fixed in my determination to remain the same juvenile, trivia-obsessed loudmouth that I’ve always been. The number of Thunderbirds toys and Japanese kaiju vinyls that moved into the house with me--along with all the bedding, furniture, appliances and other grownup trappings--should serve as testament to that.

Friday, July 22, 2016

No walls, just Offense


If you were too busy being either enraptured or appalled by the Republican Convention to listen to Wednesday night's episode of Pop Offensive, I have good news: The episode, along with all the others, is now available for streaming from KGPC's Pop Offensive Archives (and you can also check out the full playlist, which has just been posted on the Pop Offensive Facebook page .) Of course, this episode contains nothing so uniquely thrilling as a human being unironically named Reince Priebus, but it does contain something that is of arguably much greater importance: 50 minutes of joyful escapism and a foot stomping mix of catchy, irresistibly danceable tunes. If you don't find that a welcome alternative to listening to an orange-faced gargoyle bellow litanies of societal ills, I'm afraid it may be too late for you.