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Plot: eclectic group of urbanites is locked into a studio during a TV gala.

Álex de la Iglesia has never released a truly bad film. While there are peaks and valleys in his filmography de la Iglesia is a master technician who knows exactly what he’s doing. What has become clear over the past couple of years is that Blanca Suárez is his new muse, and has rekindled his creativity. Not that everything that de la Iglesia commits to celluloid is an instant (or guaranteed) hit at the box office. Mi Gran Noche (My Big Night internationally) takes its title from the 1967 hit single and 2013 triple CD+DVD compilation Mi Gran Noche (50 Éxitos De Mi Vida) from headlining star Raphael and is a celebration of his impressive life and career (albeit infused with a bit of fiction). It was presented at the 2015 San Sebastián Film Festival but neither was apparently enough to get the necessary draw at the cineplexes. Which is perplexing because with a few minor cuts this is the stuff that usually does well on the Asian and Indian markets.

After his Hollywood bid The Oxford Murders (2008) failed to establish him in the English-speaking world and the gothic horror throwback Witching and Bitching (2013) didn’t do much to catapult Spanish horror back into the mainstream Álex de la Iglesia returned to his old stomping grounds of the comedy. Since the limited series Plutón B.R.B. Nero (2008-2009) de la Iglesia has surrounded himself with an assembly of new talent, both young and old, while alternating between drama, comedy, and the occassional horror. As Luck Would Have It (2011) and Perfect Strangers (2017), the 2016 Italian original was inscribed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being adapted no less than 18 (!!) times, as of this writing, across the world in countries including but not limited to Turkey, Mexico, South Korea, France, Hungary, Armenia, Greece, Vietnam, China, and Russia. A rebel at heart Álex de la Iglesia is at his best when he can lay fire at the establishment and its institutions. Filmed from late February until mid-April 2015 on an estimated budget of 4 million euro (and recouping 2,6 million of that at the box office) My Big Night sees Álex de la Iglesia satirizing celebrity culture, tabloid journalism, as well as the plasticity and manufactured nature of populist entertainment. To be more specific, it offers a damning critique of how heavily-scripted televised entertainment is a product, a medium to convey, confirm and perpetuate a certain narrative, agenda, or ideology. In other words, this is a black comedy harkening to the days of Common Wealth (2000).

Blanca Suárez follows in the footsteps of Maria Grazia Cucinotta and Macarena Gómez and is, for all intents and purposes, de la Iglesia’s latest muse. It’s easy to see why too. Suárez looks absolutely ravishing and with appearances in Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In (2011), as well as the Platino Award-winning series Cable Girls (2017-2020) and Jaguar (2021-) she could very well be on the verge of an international breakthrough. No wonder then that he would cast her again in The Bar (2017) just two years later. Ana Polvorosa, Mario Casas, and Hugo Silva all were in Sex, Party and Lies (2009) and Polvorosa would go on to star alongside Suárez in Cable Girls (2017-2020). Enrique Villén, Carmen Machi and Carmen Ruiz have been with him for over a decade by this point. Compared to them Mario Casas, Pepón Nieto and Jaime Ordóñez are relatively new additions. The prerequiste monument here is Terele Pávez. Pávez first drew attention some 56 years prior with the romantic comedy We Are Eighteen Years Old (1959). This wouldn’t be all that special or noteworthy under any of the usual circumstances, except that it was the debut of none other than infamous enfant terrible and future prolific one-man exploitation factory Jesús Franco. Pávez has been with de la Iglesia since his breakthrough with The Day of the Beast (1995) and the wonderful Common Wealth (2000) as has Santiago Segura – and it’s great to see him be so respectful as to always write a role or two with them in mind. Pávez would pass away in 2017, aged 78, after an impressive six-and-a-half decade career. Also present are producer Carolina Bang and crooner Raphael as a fictionalized version of himself.

October, 2015. At the studios of Mediafrost TV it’s all hands on deck for crew and technicians as filming for the 2016 New Year’s Eve gala drags on into its second week. When an unfortunate on-set accident kills one of the extras the ETT summons chronically unemployed José Díaz Martiño (Pepón Nieto) at the last minute to the industrial pavilion on the outskirts of Madrid where the gala is being recorded. There he’s hurried to table 21 by stage manager Paco (Luis Callejo) and seated with seasoned extras Yanire (Ana Polvorosa), her boyfriend Josua (Luis Fernández), and playboy Antonio (Antonio Velázquez). While exchanging the usual formalities who catches his eye is beautiful Paloma (Blanca Suárez), an affluent socialite everybody believes is jinxed. José is supposed to watch his retired and superstitious septuagenarian mother Dolores Martiño Sepúlveda (Terele Pávez) as his high-strung sister María (Toni Acosta) is on the way to Disneyland in Paris, France for a vacation with her kids. Complications arise when Dolores torches his sister’s apartment and a municipal police officer (Daniel Guzmán) drops her off at the studio. At another tabe sits grifter Soriano (Enrique Villén) and he's in cahoots with Romanian thug Luca (Filip Bulgary) to pull off a daring extortion racket on one of the show’s young stars. Meanwhile outside angry demonstrators violently protest the studio’s recent management decisions.

Behind the scenes things aren’t much better. Producer José Luis Benítez Quintana (Santiago Segura) has to keep things moving according to plan and constantly deal with everybody’s fragile egoes. Hanging as a sword of Damocles above him is the imminent termination of 500 employees to keep the channel profitable. Hosts Roberto (Hugo Silva) and Cristina (Carolina Bang) are married and when they’re not at each other’s throat (sometimes literally) they’re actively sabotaging each other’s career. Caught in the middle of the domestic dispute is their writer (Ignatius Farray). Aging crooner Alphonso (Raphael) has stipulated that he will only perform as the headliner. Alphonso’s embattled Russian personal assistant, publicist, and attorney Yuri (Carlos Areces) has had enough of the decades of thankless abuse and plans to get even with his employer. For that purpose he has hired Óscar García (Jaime Ordóñez) who will kill Alphonso during the show’s climactic finale. What he doesn’t know is that Óscar García (is de la Iglesia a vintage Terrorizer fan?) an Alphonso superfan. Standing in the shadow of Alphonso is blonde chiseled Latin music star Adanne (Mario Casas). The beefcake heartthrob is the victim of groupies Lourdes (Marta Castellote) and Sofía (Marta Guerras), unaware that they are recruits in Soriano’s extortion scheme. Adanne’s unscrupulous handler Perotti (Tomás Pozzi) is desperately trying to contain the situation. In the exterior production control room mobile unit master control operators and “hysterical lesbians” Rosa (Carmen Machi) and Amparo (Carmen Ruiz) try to cut the best footage from a chaotic production while dealing with personal problems. As the night drags on things come to a violent head during the gala’s epic finale.

With Álex de la Iglesia growing up with the classic Iberian fantaterror and the decades worth of exploitation that his country had spawned the first thing that My Big Night flashes after the musical opening number is a pair of big bouncing naked breasts. That being out of the way you know exactly what you’re in for. About half an hour in Nieto and Suárez start comparing scars in a vignette that’s as childlishly funny as it is innocent. Well, any and all excuse is good to have Suárez showing off her thong. Here it’s that and in The Bar (2017) he and writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría invented a scene that required her to strip down to her lingerie. How we suffer for our art. When it’s not Suárez glancing seductively de la Iglesia points his camera at the Martas, Castellote and Guerras. We probably missed a ton of references, but it’s always fun to have Julio and Enrique Iglesias, horror director José Luis Merino, and Marie José Cantudo casually mentioned in passing. As with much of his post-Common Wealth (2000) repertoire there are references to Star Wars (1977) and the bit with the circular blade is the closest de la Iglesia has come to re-enacting the drillbit scene from Lucio Fulci’s City Of the Living Dead (1980). Adanne is a parody of Puerto Rican singer Chayanne and the song 'Bombero' (a riff on his 2002 hit 'Torero') more than a few times reminds of ‘Dard – E – Disco’ from the Farah Khan-Shah Rukh Khan hit romantic comedy Om Shanti Om (2008). Not only does it feature similar production design it oozes with the same garish Bollywood excess. Sadly there’s no ‘Deewangi Deewangi’ equivalent, but it’s the sentiment that counts. It sort of makes you long for de la Iglesia doing a The Dirty Picture (2011) take on Spain’s Cine-S star Andrea Albani. Not that this ever reaches the levels of self-awareness of that or, say, Om Shanti Om (2008), but as a general swipe at television and mass entertainment you could do far, far worse.

When My Big Night failed to perform as expected at the box office de la Iglesia and Jorge Guerricaechevarría almost immediately went back to the drawingboard. Was it always the plan for My Big Night to set up The Bar (2017), was one just the natural result of the other, or was the second a mere economic necessity to recoup the losses? Who knows… What is perhaps most telling is that Luis Fernández’ Josua at one point flat out states the central premise to The Bar (2017) in what otherwise would be considered a throwaway line. Either way de la Iglesia was able to retain all principal players (Suárez, Casas, Ordóñez, Machi, and Pávez) and in record time penned a screenplay that felt like a much more serious and darker take on what was done here. My Big Night and The Bar (2017) are two sides of the same coin, two interpretations of the same idea, and thus thematic companion pieces featuring the same leads. Hardly the worst idea on part of Álex de la Iglesia and writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría as a main cast this talented couldn’t possibly let go to waste that easily. Blanca Suárez certainly has reignited the fires of creativity for Álex de la Iglesia and he would be out of his mind not to utilize the prestige and marquee value she brings to a project to the fullest possible extent. Here’s hoping that the next de la Iglesia-Suárez feature is even bigger and better.

Plot: Tokyo is threatened by the Panther Claw. Can Cutie Honey save the day?

The Far East has a long and storied history for being a haven for some of the strangest, wackiest cinematic outings of the past several decades. Whether they are the fantasy wuxia / martial arts romps from Hong Kong, the Philippines and its one-man industry Cirio H. Santiago, or the Thai jungle action flicks from Chalong Pakdeevijit. Japan has long delved into its classic literature and more recent manga and anime catalogue for features. While these adaptations were less commonplace in the sixties to eighties, they became the bread-and-butter for Japanese cinema from the nineties onward. Manga come in every possible form and variety and there’s no subject that the comics leave untouched. Whether they cater to a specific interest or aim themselves at a certain demographic the only unifying factor is that they are drawn entertainment. If proven successfull enough a manga might be turned into a television series or full length feature. One of these popular manga was Cutey Honey from 1972 that was translated to screen simply as Cutie Honey (キューティーハニー), a decidedly more sanitized iteration of the character.

Cutey Honey was dreamt up by Gô Nagai, a pioneer of ecchi and hentai manga in the late 1960s. Nagai was influenced by the work of Osamu Tezuka and after graduating from high school he worked as an assistant for Shôtarô Ishinomori. Nagai’s first brush with controversy happened in 1968 when his comic Harenchi Gakuen (Shameless High School) not only became a huge success and revolutioned the manga but instigated a round of book burning by the domestic conservative Parent/Teacher Associations. Gô Nagai quickly made a name for himself with his deranged, slightly perverse, humorous and sex-oriented parodies of popular sentai properties of the day. Among Nagai’s most enduring creations are not only Cutey Honey but also Legendary Panty Mask and Kekkō Kamen. At the very least Nagai was an equal opportunity offender as he came up with absurd characters like Testicle Boy. In 1972 Gô Nagai envisioned Cutey Honey as a parody to the super sentai shows Ultraman (1966 and 1972) from Tsuburaya Productions, Kamen Raidâ (1971) from Ishinomori Productions and Toei Company and Warrior of Love Rainbowman (1972) from Toho Company Ltd.. Cutey Honey was a manga series for the shōnen (teenage boys) that appeared in Weekly Shōnen Champion's 41st issue of 1973 where it ran until April 1974. When it was adapted into a TV series it was originally aimed at the shōjo (teenage girls) market, free of excessive violence and nudity, and more of a ploy to sell a line of changing Barbie dolls. However, the anime landed at the shōnen timeslot forcing Nagai and his producers to change it accordingly. The series was cancelled over its racy content but somehow ended up attracting a good portion of teenage girl fans. Compared to Nagai’s more outrageous creations Cutey Honey beams with indefatigable optimism and joie de vivre.

The first Cutey Honey anime series aired in 1973 and has since been recognized as an early form of and the foremost precursor to the mahō shōjo (魔法少女) subgenre. Since her conception in the early seventies Cutey Honey has been adapted for the big – and small screen several times in the form of animated series, a live action series and several big screen adaptations. Suffice to say, while Legendary Panty Mask and Kekkô Kamen were brought to big screen too, Cutey Honey is by far Nagai’s most enduring and recognizable creation. There would be no Sailor Moon (1991-1997) without Cutey Honey. Cutey Honey is fantasy fuel taken to ridiculous extremes (without the overt sleaze of, say, Kekkō Kamen) and she has been an inspiration to cosplayers and otaku since 1972. Her sheer insanity makes the Italian fumetti photo comics from the sixties look relatively sane in comparison.

Move over Argoman (1967). Step aside Infra-Man (1975). Make way Lady Battle Cop (1990). Here comes Cutie Honey, the hot bod sentai bot in figure-fitting neon pink spandex complete with strategically placed heart-sharped boobwindow for maximum cleavage. The Warrior Of Love who can defeat any enemy with the candy-colored super-powers emanating from her chest and ass – and when those prove not powerful enough she wields a mighty sword to boot! The combined fevered imaginations of Luigi Cozzi and Jing Wong couldn’t possibly conceive something this unabashedly fetishistic and objectifying. It makes Valerie Leon in whatever little she was wearing in Zeta One (1969) and Caroline Munro and her space bikini in StarCrash (1979) look positively measured in comparison. "Crazy” is too mild a term to describe how deliciously over-the-top Cutie Honey truly is.

Honey Kisaragi (Eriko Satô) is a life-like android driven by nano-technology made as a mirror image to her professor father’s long-lost daughter. To hide her nature as a simulacrum Honey has adopted a good-natured, ditzy, giggly teenage girl façade. Now that she has come of age Honey is not exactly what you call upwardly mobile but she somehow has managed to secure work as an office temp at Tachibana Trading Corporation. She’s habitually late, spends her days wondering what it is that everybody does at the office, and kills the hours bringing everybody tea. She contemplates the merits of taking a bubble bath, drinking sparkly wine, and lounging around her apartment in lingerie. One day her uncle Utsugi (Masaki Kyomoto) is kidnapped by Gold Claw (Hairi Katagiri) and Tokyo (and, by extent, the world) is threatened by the dangers of the Panther Claw, a host of interdimensional baddies led by the fiendish Sister Jill (Eisuke Sakai). Honey rushes to the streets (in nothing but her lingerie, because of course) chomping down as much onigiri (rice balls) and green tea as she possibly can. She must load her powers, you know?

Once fully charged Honey activates her Imaginary Induction System, or I-System, by pressing the pink heart-shaped button on her choker and saying “HONEY FLASH!” This transforms her into the neon-pink spandexed Warrior Of Love, a hyperkinetic kawaii superheroine wielding the deepest of cleavage and the sharpest of swords! As the Panther Claw descends upon Tokyo law enforcement desperately tries to contain the situation. When police officer Natsuko Aki (Mikako Ichikawa) arrives on the scene with her assistants Todoroki (Ryo Kase) and Goki (Ryo Iwamatsu) she realizes that she got more than she ever bargained for. The strange going-ons attract the attention of photojournalist Seiji Hayami (Jun Murakami). Finding herself chased by both Natsuko Aki and Seiji Hayami, Cutie Honey befriends the former in civilian form and vies for the attentions of the latter. As the villain’s drill-shaped lair emerges from underneath the Tokyo Tower, Cutie Honey engages Black Claw (Mitsuhiro Oikawa), Cobalt Claw (Sie Kohinata) and Scarlet Claw (Mayumi Shintani) in battle. Will Cutie Honey’s unwavering optimism, love, and cleavage be enough to repel the evils of Sister Jill?

Embodying Cutie Honey (quite literally, really) in this incarnation is Eriko Satō (佐藤 江梨子). Satō initially rose to fame as a gravure idol under the alias Satoeri and later became a very popular and much in-demand swimsuit model. She appeared semi-nude on and in the June 24, 2003 issue of Frau. That was closely followed by a photo shoot and 15-second television commercial for Takano Yuri Beauty Clinic with J-pop singer Gackt (then again in 2006) and consolidated her success by releasing a popular calendar in 2004. In those times before Haruka Ayase she was the ideal candidate to play Cutie Honey. For those of whom Satō is a bit much there’s model-turned-actress Mikako Ichikawa (市川 実日子). The other cast includes popular urban/r&b singer Kumi Koda and television actress Mihoko Abukawa (appearing both as Tachibana company office workers) as well as Jun Murakami.

Appearing in small cameos are series creator Gô Nagai (a taxi driver whose vehicle Cutie Honey crashes into, conveniently ass first) and director Hideaki Anno (as an office worker). Adapting Cutie Honey for the big screen was animator, director, and actor Hideaki Anno, best known for his anime series Nadia: the Secret Of Blue Water (1990), Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996) and, more recently, the AYTIWS approved Shin Godzilla (2016) (which also starred Mikako Ichikawa). Who better to helm a tokusatsu sentai spoof than a master of the genre? Calling Anno the Hayao Miyazaki of his corner of anime wouldn’t be too far off. Hideaki’s post-project depressions are the things of legend, yet for some reason it’s difficult to fathom how anybody could be depressed after making Cutie Honey. Withdrawal, perhaps? One of the great feats of the Gô Nagai manga was that it catered to everybody’s tastes. For obvious reasons much of the situational nudity is, understandably, absent here.

And what’s not to love about a superheroine with powers concentrated in her chest and ass? The pastel pink-white-blue production design and monsters are crazier than StarCrash (1979) and Infra-Man (1975) combined and the wardrobe is some of the most deranged this side of Bitto Albertini’s Escape From Galaxy 3 (1981). Cutie Honey is a candy-colored phantasmagoria of various shades of insane, and unabashedly fetishistic in its reliance on cleavage – and pantyshots. Anno relishes putting Eriko Satô in the tiniest of lingerie and takes great pleasure in ogling her from just about every flattering angle and compromising position possible. The score is a schizophrenic mix between 1970s groovy Eurospy funk and J-pop and the special effects work is decidedly old-fashioned and campy. The Panther Claw minions look like the goons from the action-comedy Black Mask (1996). What’s not to like about a super heroine that takes time out of her busy day saving the world to spent a night on the town with her best friend only to end up badly singing karaoke in a drunken stupor? Cutie Honey makes Argoman (1967) and Infra-Man (1975) look like sophisticated works. It’s just as unbelievably shallow and silly as the manga and anime it was inspired by. That Cutie Honey just was a tad inspired by Forrest J. Ackerman’s equally zany Vampirella and its 1996 big screen adaptation (which wasn’t really all that big) should surprise no one.

Cutie Honey is uniquely Japanese in its brazen insanity and singular commitment to lifting the spirit. Only the Japanese are able to dial up the crazy farther than the Italians and Chinese in their heyday. Cutie Honey is crazier than the prime works of both Luigi Cozzi and Jing Wong, combined. It was followed by an anime series called New Cutie Honey (1994) and a few years later Toei Animation continued with Cutie Honey Flash (1997). In the new millennium there was Re: Cutie Honey (2004) and a shortlived live action series called Cutie Honey: the Live (2007) that saw Mikie Hara (原 幹恵) taking up the mantle as Honey Kisaragi on national television. A sequel (or rather more of a soft reboot) would only materialize some twelve years later. Cutie Honey: Tears (2016) went for a more serious direction and a darker, edgier tone that took more after Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012). The long awaited sequel saw former gravure model Mariya Nishiuchi (西内 まりや) taking on Satô’s role and donning the famous pink bustier (one far more practical and not nearly as tacky/revealing). Two years later a new anime series followed with Cutie Honey Universe (2018). In the years since no new plans for a Cutie Honey sequel (or reboot) were announced. Regardless, there’s a time and place for adorable camp like this and Cutie Honey offers a copious helping of just that.