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Thursday, April 27, 2006

CATHODE RAY HELL: THE WORST OF AMERICAN FANTASTIC TELEVISION PART 1

I promised a couple of my friends in the UK that I’d come up with a list of some of the very worst that American television had to offer in the field of sci-fi/fantasy/horror. I’m willing to bet that most of these never made it to the UK (with very good reason!) but I swear that all of these existed and I have personally borne witness to each and every one.

Most of these aired as regular series but a lot of them also went out as part of the pretty much dead genre of the network-funded made-for-TV movies and believe me some of them were staggeringly awful. If you can think of any I missed, please feel free to add comments. And so, without further ado, I bring you…

BAD AMERICAN FANTASTIC TELEVISION: THE NEVER-ENDING CORNUCOPIA OF CATHODE RAY CRAP!

THE MAN FROM ATLANTIS-Before Patrick Duffy found fame as Bobby Ewing on “Dallas,” he was a web-fingered amphibian hero who may or may not have been from Atlantis (we never found out since he suffered from amnesia). After two mediocre TV movies “The Man From Atlantis” graduated to a full-fledged series in which our hero teamed up with a bunch of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” rejects and fought crime and alien invasions in the deep seas. The sets on this show rivaled “Doctor Who” during its leanest moments but unfortunately didn’t have the scripts to save it. This show was boring to the point of narcolepsy and faded after half a season, but not before spawning an equally bad Marvel Comics series.

THE PHOENIX-Starring that tanned, blonde bohunk who was the most prominent of Khan’s men in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, this was about a benevolent — and dull — alien who used his powers to dazzle proto-new agers and help the innocent for about five weeks before the network pulled the plug.

SPORT BILLY-For those of us who despise sports, this animated show was like a hot poker up the asshole as personally administered by the Devil himself. For some reason, Zeus decides that kids on Earth need a child demigod to come down from Olympus and teach them about good sportsmanship so he sends the impossibly annoying title character. I only saw this once because a friend told me that it was the worst thing he had ever seen, and it just goes to prove that crap marches on since this show has been eclipsed in awfulness many times over since it first aired back in the early 1980’s.

THE IMMORTAL-A guy finds out that he has a rare blood type that renders him immortal and spends the rest of the short-lived series trying to stay ahead of the evil scientists who want to more or less dissect him. During the course of his journey he helps out those in need, giving blood transfusions that instantly cure the ailing. Every single episode.

LUCAN-The adventures of a young man who was raised by wolves and his odyssey in search of his real parents. Basically a wandering hero scenario, the only unique thing about this was the fact that Lucan’s lupine upbringing gave him wolf-like powers for no apparent reason which lead to lots of sequences of him sniffing about and growling at people before he got into ultra-pathetic fistfights; too bad they never had him mount other males in a display of dominance. This came from a TV movie and as a series lasted for less than half a season.

LOGAN’S RUN-A rock-bottom cheap series chronicling the further adventures of Logan and Jessica — now accompanied by a fey android named Rem — in a devastated future world that looked a lot like off-roads areas of Southern California. Every week — until a swift cancellation — the trio drove around in a hovercraft/van that wouldn’t even have passed muster in a bad B&W serial like THE PURPLE MONSTER STRIKES, encountering “far-flung” future oddballs who dressed in polyester and shower curtains. If you excised the sci-fi elements this would be indistinguishable from any other low budget show that had a couple of guys driving around aimlessly in their cool car solving crimes and helping the innocent. Of note today only because it starred Gregory Harrison before his role on “Trapper John M.D.”

PLANET OF THE APES-See the above entry, swap the hovercraft/van for sneaking around on foot and hiding in the bushes, and add Roddy McDowell in chimp makeup yet again. Two interchangeable astronauts crash land near Ape City and get into watered-down variants on the scenarios found in the feature films. Died a quick death and bored the living hell out of “Apes” fans from coast to coast. Occasionally turns up on syndicated television with two episodes edited together in a sorry attempt to pass itself off as an actual feature. In a stunning example of flogging a dead horse, this was actually followed up with an equally bad animated series.

THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR-A young alien prince is sent from his embattled home world to Earth so he can master his powers and eventually return to save his planet from would-be conquerors. Aided by his mentor (pre-Oscar Louis Gossett Jr.), Matthew uses his powers to help the innocent, blahblahblah. Cancelled quicker than it would take you to go to the fridge for a fresh beer.

GALACTICA 1980-As if the original “Battlestar Galactica” wasn’t bad enough, this cheapjack series plumbed new depths of the moronic by having the Galactica finally make it to the Earth and opt to observe rather than contaminate the Earth with their advanced technology. So what we’re left with is a couple of blow-dried shitheads on flying motorcycles running around doing things that would have seemed pitiful even on “CHiPs.” No more space battles, no more exotic alien worlds; none of the few things that were good about the parent series, therefore an utter waste of time. No joke, this show looked like a test-run for “The A-Team,” which isn’t all that surprising since that was also forced upon the public by one Glen A. Larson, the creator of this turd. Cancelled in the blink of an eye, this show has dated to the point of being physically painful to sit through nowadays. Avoid like lemonade made at Chernobyl.

HOLMES & YOYO-In this alleged sitcom a detective is assigned a new partner, a bumbler in the Gilligan mold named Yoyonovich (Yoyo for short), who happens to be a robot. Laughter did not ensue and the series died after a month or so.

VOYAGERS-Following the adventures of two time travelers whose job it was to fix temporal glitches in history, this one season wonder was painfully juvenile and is now remembered solely as the starring vehicle of John Eric Hexum, the guy who accidentally killed himself on the set of a low-budget movie by firing a blank round directly into his temple. His co-star, Meeno Peluce, was one of the all-time most annoying and treacly child actors ever and he now languishes in well-earned obscurity. The only reason I ever saw this was thanks to the girls who lived on my hall during my second year of college who never missed it because of the Hexum eye-candy, and it never hurts to take a look at what the girls are into. Well, almost never…

STRUCK BY LIGHTNING-Cancelled almost immediately, this was a sitcom about what if the Frankenstein monster was revived today (1980), a question that no one asked and no one stayed tuned to see answered.

SMALL WONDER-At the top of the list of most people’s Top Ten Worst Television Series In The History Of The Universe, this Cthulhu-level atrocity followed the purportedly humorous antics of V.I.C.K.I., an emotionless, allegedly cute robot fashioned to look like a dark-haired little girl in a pink dress. Inexplicably running for nearly a decade in syndication (much like that equally atrocious Auschwitz of non-comedy “Momma’s Family”) at all hours of the day and night, words cannot adequately communicate just how terrible this show was. Much like the Mi Lai massacre you just had to be there. There is nothing sadder than unfunny comedy since when comedy fails there is absolutely no entertainment to be garnered from it; at least if a horror film blows you might be able to find humor in it (HALLOWEEN VI-THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MEYERS is a textbook example of this point) and not feel utterly robbed of the short amount of time wasted in your existence. Every second spent on “Small Wonder” amounts to grand larceny on a cosmic scale and will make you want to kick your own mother right in the box for being so cruel as to bring you into a world that could create such crap.

PROJECT UFO-A pitiful attempt to cash in on the success CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, this snooze-a-rama weekly delved into the files of “Project Bluebook” and took the viewer on a low budget tour of U.F.O. sightings and investigations headed up by two actors portraying Air Force operatives with less emotion than that expressed by your toothbrush. If you actually got a good look at one of the bogeys they invariably were composed from various sundries found around the studio on any given day, most memorably a Millennium Falcon model kit which had been inverted, spray-painted gold and covered with discarded Kodak film canisters. Cancelled with blinding swiftness, which was odd since NBC was running some of the most infamously bad programming on the air at the time (such as “Pink Lady and Jeff,” “B.J and the Bear,” “The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo,” “CPO Sharkey,” “Supertrai”n and a plethora of other intelligence-leechers).

THE CLONE MASTER (TV MOVIE)-A boring white guy (Art Hindle) clones multiple, equally boring duplicates of himself for reasons that were far too dull to go into.

THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN NEMO-Jose Ferrer as Captain Nemo returns from who-knows-where in the late 1970’s and proceeds to do not much of anything worth mentioning.

WONDER WOMAN (TV MOVIE)-This aired the year before Linda Carter boosted the sale of Kleenex and featured Cathy Lee Crosby as a blonde version of the Amazon heroine. Bearing no resemblance whatsoever to anything that you know about the legendary comic book character, Crosby runs around in chic couture in pursuit of villain Ricardo Montalban. It’s very, VERY bad but I have to admit that I like it a lot. And the coolest thing about the story is that Montalban’s villain views his relentless chasing by Wonder Woman as sort of a mating dance between equals, and when he’s lead away in cuffs at the end he looks at her and says — in that smooth-ass voice of his — “Won-dair Woo-mon, I luff you.”

THE GEMINI MAN-Thanks to an underwater accident involving radioactive waste and scientific logic that would make Ed Wood cringe, a scuba diver gains the power of invisibility which can be controlled by a wristwatch (???). He immediately becomes a secret agent and goes on a series of run-of-the-mill mid-‘70’s adventures that captured the imagination of absolutely no one. Cancelled after maybe five installments. And what the hell did that title have to do with anything?

CITY BENEATH THE SEA (TV MOVIE)-Irwin (“Lost In Space”) Allen strikes again with this festival of stock footage from “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” Dealing with an underwater city of the future, an attempted gold heist, a giant underwater kelp monster and a physician who happens to be able to breathe underwater, this is one colossal mess that was intended to serve as the pilot for a series that never happened.

THE HIGHWAYMAN-I only saw one episode of this attempted ROAD WARRIOR rip-off and as near as I can determine it had something to do with two leather-clad guys (one of whom was that annoying Aussie battery pitchman and Popeye lookalike “Jacko”) cruising the post-apocalyptic highways in an eighteen-wheeler and handing out justice when needed. The one that I saw was so low budget that it may as well have been a blank screen, and featured the heroes traveling back in time to the 1980’s so they could spend a half hour showing an eighteen-wheeler driving down the LA freeway in regular traffic. Whoa, dazzling! Cancelled after around four episodes.

THE DARKROOM-A weak descendant of “The Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery,” this was hosted by James Coburn who would be seen developing strange pictures in his darkroom and then telling us the not-so-scary tales contained. The only story I remember liking had to do with a scientist who had developed a headset that allowed him to hear and understand the whisperings of the plants in his lab. He hauls his skeptical wife into the lab and forces her to listen to the plants, which confirm her suspicions about her husband’s infidelities with his lab assistant. She then whips out a pistol and plugs the stupid bastard. Very swiftly cancelled.

MANIMAL-A guy can shapeshift into all sorts of animals to fight crime, but can’t hold the audience’s attention enough to avoid lightning-swift cancellation.

AUTOMAN-See the above entry and substitute the shapeshifting guy with a sentient computer-generated hero who can turn into a car.

MISFITS OF SCIENCE-Sort of a really, REALLY feeble version of the Fantastic Four only minus costumes, cool gadgets, aliens, monsters and anything else that made the FF rock so hard. The four sorry heroes drove around in an ice cream truck (no, really!!!) and fought the usual assortment of low budget bad guys before falling into the maw of cancellation. Remembered now solely for being the launching pad for the unwelcome TV series career of Courtney (“Friends”) Cox.

CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER-HEROES and LEGENDS OF THE SUPER-HEROES (TV SPECIALS)-These two live-action landmarks of just how bad television can be featured nearly all of the prominent DC Comics heroes doing schtick comedy that would have embarrassed even the most shameless of Borscht Belt comedians, and as if that weren’t agonizing enough Adam West and Burt Ward reprised their roles as the Caped Crusaders in a move that actually made their fans embarrassed for them. The first special dealt with the heroes fighting the villains during sketches best described as anti-comedy, and the second show was the now-infamous super-hero “roast,” in which the DC villains insulted the heroes with jokes that were about as funny as a children’s AIDS ward. But the moment that really sent this into the stratosphere of crap was the insult monologue delivered by perhaps the most offensive black character ever seen on television, namely “Ghetto Man,” a pimped-out super-mack in purple-lame bellbottoms and enormous platform shoes. These are often found in bootlegged form at conventions, so be forewarned. They’re not funny, they’re not clever and they’re certainly not entertaining. If you choose to sit through these you will live to regret every second.

THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL-So bad that it is worthy of a ten page article all its own, this was cranked out to appease fans who were drooling in anticipation of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and it managed to please none but the dangerously insane STAR WARS loons. Aired only once during the Thanksgiving holiday of 1979, this two-hour atrocity has since earned a well-deserved place of dubious honor in the annals of TV infamy not just for its shameless, bald-faced attempt to milk a rabid fan base, but also for the fact that it is just plain kicked-in-the-balls-with-a-titanium-ski-boot bad. The plot, such as it is, centers on Chewbacca’s family anxiously awaiting his return home to celebrate “Life Day,” a nebulously defined holiday that apparently blends Thanksgiving and Christmas. Chewie’s family consists of his wife Mala, son Lumpy and aged patriarch Itchy. There are lengthy sequences of them communicating in the signature Wookie growls, moans and warbles, all without benefit of subtitles or entertainment value. Endless awful “comedy” and musical sequences happen and one by one all of the heroes from the movie finally show up (after lots of stock footage of space dogfights that anyone who was a kid in the late 1970’s had seen many times after May 25, 1977), with Harrison Ford so clearly not wanting to be involved that he seems ready to tell the audience to go fuck itself with an apple corer, and Carrie Fisher looking so stoned that I’d bet good money that she didn’t even know where she was. The only good sequence in the entire show is an outstanding animated sequence by Canada’s vastly underrated Nelvana animation studio, a sequence that introduces bounty hunter Boba Fett. Another perennial found at the dealer’s tables at sci-fi conventions, this show is nearly unwatchable, even for the unprecedentedly high kitsch factor, so beware!

THE GREEN HORNET-Despite my love of all things Bruce Lee related, I would like to go on record and state that this show was utterly unwatchable when Bruce wasn’t putting his foot through some baddie’s skull. There was only one good episode and that featured Bruce versus Mako (the sorcerer from CONAN THE BARBARIAN) in a fairly tame fight to the death. Dead after less than twenty episodes.

THE CHARMINGS-A truly terrible sitcom about all of the classic fairytale characters falling under a witch’s spell and waking up in modern day Los Angeles circa 1992. It followed the utterly run-of-the-mill domestic escapades of Snow White and her husband, Prince Charming and was cancelled after less than a month. The only real gag on this show was that the Charmings and all of the other fairytale folk were the neighborhood weirdoes, what with wearing their period costumes all the time in modern LA; in all other respects it was a totally average show.

WOOPS!-The Fox network has absolutely no qualms about foisting utter shit upon the unsuspecting American public and “Woops!” just may be the absolute nadir of their output. How’s this for a series concept: World War Three breaks out and wipes out the entire human race except for about seven people who each represent a certain facet of human nature. They all just happen to be located within range of the house that will be the one location for the entire short-lived run and they promptly get down to the business of post-holocaust survival. If done right, that could have been a decent setup for a very tense drama, but “Woops!” was a sitcom and each episode was meant to teach some sort of moral to the gobsmacked viewer. The survivors had to contend with potent narcotic berries (the anti-drug story), giant arachnids, a giant turkey (the Thanksgiving episode) and other such stupidity before the show was quickly (and mercifully) cancelled. And with everyone else in the world being radioactive ash, there was pretty much no chance of mixing things up with guest stars or new characters. The one episode I wish I had on tape was the Christmas episode, which featured the only other survivor of the nuclear war, namely Santa Claus. At the same time both horrifying and hilarious, you haven’t lived until you see Santa recount being safe in his toyshop as the bombs fell and how he ignored the pleas of his wife, the elves and his reindeer for shelter from the atomic fire. He was too terrified to let them in and as he tells the story he pretty much has a nervous breakdown. At the end he flies off in search of people with whom to share the Christmas spirit. Merry Christmas, kiddies! My then-roommate Mark and I watched this show each week in sheer disbelief and Mark is the only other person I know who ever witnessed this train wreck. If I’m not mistaken, “Woops!” was axed after approximately eight episodes.

THE NEW PEOPLE-When a jet liner crash lands on an uncharted island in the late-1960’s, the teen survivors (in garish “mod” outfits) find an abandoned fully furnished city that was apparently built but never used for nuclear bomb testing and promptly decide to start their own society. A new utopian society free of all of the hang-ups of the Establishment, man! A society where blacks and whites, guys and chicks, hippies and straights can all integrate and do their own thing, man! And then nothing interesting happened, man! And it was quickly cancelled, man! Bummer, man…

TO BE CONTINUED

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

EL BUNCHO’S VIDEO RENTAL RECOMMENDATIONS: CLASSICS OF MARTIAL ARTS ASS-WHUPPIN’ THAT YOU NEED TO SEE

WARNING: this is a long post and if you have no interest in the subject or my recommendations regarding it, stop reading now. If not, enjoy!

Every now and then a would-be movie renter needs a bit of help when choosing from an unfamiliar genre, and perhaps no genre is more misunderstood and maligned than that of the martial arts flick. Most Americans roll their eyes at the mere mention of “chopsocky” films and the incredibly stilted — and often hilarious — dialogue that goes with the territory, along with a perceived sacrifice of story in favor of mindless violence and ass-whuppin’; admittedly, these criticisms are not invalid, but much like any other genre one must sift through a lot of real shit to get to the gems, but a feature unique to this kind of picture is that sometimes the pieces of shit can be more fun than their more serious-minded brethren.

Marilyn D. Mintz in her 1978 study of the subject, THE MARTIAL ARTS FILMS, defines a martial arts film by pretty much any content that portrays the act of physical combat between people, a ridiculously liberal interpretation that allows her to classify such films as ROCKY, THE THREE MUSKETEERS, and THE MARK OF ZORRO as such, a position that I heartily disagree with; yes, boxing, swordsmanship and the like can be applied as both sport and combat arts, but for the purposes of clarity I would like to define the martial arts film as any film that features combat involving mostly Asian forms of hand-to-hand and weapons fighting, whether the combatants are of Asian descent or not, although I will be focusing on films produced in China and Japan since virtually all entries produced anywhere else on the globe are generally horrendous specimens indeed.

And now that I’ve gotten the requisite film-fuck horseshit out of the way, let’s get down to it!

There are literally thousands of martial arts films to sort through, featuring just about every possible permutation of ways in which to do harm to one’s fellow man lovingly depicted in glorious Technicolor sanguinity, and it’s the job of die-hards such as yours truly to endure the utter garbage out there so that we can advise you laymen on what to avoid and what to treasure.

Even if you have a limited knowledge of the subject, or none at all, you have no doubt heard of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, both of whom have unquestionably done more to popularize the genre to the world at large than any other actors, and they have both contributed their share of classics and clunkers. I’ll spare you an analysis of their respective output and just give you the films of theirs that you need to see; Bruce only made four complete features before his untimely death in 1973, and Jackie has an uninterrupted catalog of films that encompasses three decades, so remember, the following are their quintessential works and should not be missed:

BRUCE LEE

FIST OF FURY (aka THE CHINESE CONNECTION)
Thanks to a moron at the American film distributor fucking up, the film that was to be released as FISTS OF FURY in the States had its new title switched with that of THE BIG BOSS, which was retitled THE CHINESE CONNECTION to riff off of the then-current THE FRENCH CONNECTION and the heroin-related content, so seeing this film as THE CHINESE CONNECTION lead to a bit of confusion as this film has nothing whatsoever to do with drug smuggling. Instead, FIST OF FURY is an archetypal “You killed my master!” revenge flick that has Bruce as the top student at a kung fu school in Japanese-occupied China whose master is poisoned by the dastardly Samurai fuckheads at a local karate/swordsmanship/Japstuff dojo. Bruce and his schoolmates endure all kinds of shit from the intolerably obnoxious Japanese because their teacher did not believe in vengeance, but since this is a Bruce Lee movie it’s only a matter of time until Bruce puts his slipper-clad foot right up the collective ass of every motherfucker in the dojo, all while firmly standing up for Chinese pride in the face of imperialist racism. Intense and violent as hell, complete with some of Bruce’s — and martial arts cinema’s — most spectacular fights, and the mother of all downbeat endings, this is simply the best film Bruce Lee ever made, and it’s painfully obvious when Bruce stepped in to stage and choreograph the fights with his Hollywood trained eye since the hack director handles every other sequence in a rather pedestrian style that was common to much of Chinese cinema at the time.

RETURN OF THE DRAGON
Originally THE WAY OF THE DRAGON, this was released in the West after the success of the US/Hong Kong Warner Brothers collaboration ENTER THE DRAGON, hence the cash-in moniker. The story, involving Bruce as a badass country bumpkin sent to Rome to protect a relative’s Chinese restaurant from abuse by the Mafia, is no great shakes, but this is the only film completely directed by Lee from start to finish, and the fights rock some major ass. The highlights include Bruce decimating the mob’s attempts to fuck with his countrymen, and a stunning one-on-one battle between Bruce and Chuck Norris in the Colosseum that has justly been hailed as one of the classic set-tos of the entire genre.

ENTER THE DRAGON
Perhaps no other film exemplifies what Westerners think of as a kung fu flick as much as this textbook tournament story. Bruce is a Shaolin monk/bad motherfucker sent by British intelligence to participate in an exclusive competition on a kung fu megalomaniac’s private island while simultaneously searching out a missing British operative/mole and gunning for the gweilo scumbag (Bob Wall) who caused his hapkido badass sister (Angela Mao Ying) to kill herself. The James Bond angle is a bit of a reach and in no way fits in with Bruce’s established “badass for the little guy” persona, but when you have this much wall-to-wall, balls out ass-whuppin’ who fucking cares? Lee’s fighting skills verge on the superhuman and there is not one other character in the whole piece that is even remotely a challenge for him — certainly not an out-of-his-league John Saxon — with even the final battle against the claw-handed main baddie being pretty much Bruce Lee kicking an old man’s ass, but it’s pleasure nonetheless to see him and the God of the over-the-top Afro, Jim Kelly, beat the pus out of all comers. For me the highlights are Bruce’s so-unfair-that-it’s-embarrassing beat-down on Bob Wall (in which Lee’s movements were so fast that the film had to be undercranked so they could be seen on screen) and the battle in the underground dungeon/heroin processing plant where Lee takes on about a hundred guys using his fists, feet, a pole, two billy clubs and a pair of nunchaku, with a very young, pre-eye surgery Jackie Chan on the receiving end of a savage neck-snapping. Simply put, a perfect Sunday afternoon popcorn muncher with enough violence for the guys and shirtless Bruce Lee and Jim Kelly as eye candy for the ladies and gay dudes.

BRUCE LEE: A WARRIOR’S JOURNEY
Of the many Bruce Lee documentaries, this is hands down the best and it does the Nobel Peace Prize-worthy service of including the full-length fight sequences from the unfinished Lee-directed GAME OF DEATH, thereby sparing you the torturous experience of sitting through that posthumously-released act of cinematic necrophiliac rape. You see, before Bruce took the dirt nap he had begun shooting a film that he both wrote and directed, and all that exists of this work is a sequence wherein Bruce and two other Chinese dudes who are best left out of it ascend a pagoda and Bruce fights a martial arts master of a different style on each level, finally ending up in a visually bizarre and stunning throwdown against one of his real life students, namely all seven feet and two inches of NBA legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The greedy bastards at Warner Brothers and Golden Harvest took the footage and crafted a “movie” around it featuring an utterly unconvincing double for Lee, and the film is not only stultifyingly boring but it also has the nerve to paste a photo of Bruce to a mirror while his double peers into the looking glass. But never mind that bollocks; the documentary is both fun and informative, with a wealth of screen tests and home movies, and of course the ass-whuppin’ footage.

JACKIE CHAN

SHAOLIN WOODEN MEN
A young nobody when he made this one, Jackie plays a silent serf at the local monastery who seeks to learn kung fu skills for reasons that are revealed late in the story. Not great or spectacular by any means, this is worth a look at Jackie’s pre-superstardom output and is strictly optional for the casual viewer.

SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW
This is the first inkling of what was to come, insomuch as it is a hell of a lot of fun and is the first pairing of Chan and the scene-stealing Simon Yuen — father of Yuen Woo Ping, the genius who later went on to choreograph the fu on display in the MATRIX trilogy, among other stunners — as student and teacher. Jackie plays an abused servant at a martial arts school who is taken under the wing of the last master of the snake fist style, a style the master keeps secret since he is the last of the line and is being sought by a murderous Eagle Claw proponent who seeks to wipe out the snake fist once and for all. After being secretly tutored in the discipline, Chan engages in a series of set-tos and eventually incorporates a house cat’s fighting technique as witnessed against a cobra into his own skills, a bit of thinking that figures heavily into the final fight. A surprise hit, this was remade the next year as…

DRUNKEN MASTER
Without a doubt, this is Jackie Chan’s finest hour and is also simply the funniest martial arts film ever made. Realizing that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the producers pretty much remade SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW, only amping up the humor and fight scenes, and coming out with a five star masterpiece. Jackie plays an outrageously irreverent version of legendary real life martial arts hero Wong Fei-Hung, here reinterpreted as a young-but-talented trouble-making kung fu asshole who is the bane of his father’s existence, and is so incorrigible that his father enlists the lad’s uncle, the drunken master of the title, to train him and set his ass straight. What ensues is a cornucopia of spectacular and downright hilarious ass-whuppery replete with weapons, rude behavior and jaw-dropping choreography, basically a feature length highlight. Trust me, there is not one boring moment in the entire movie, and films this fun are more rare that tits on a fish, so under no circumstances should you miss this one. This also unsurprisingly proved to be box office gold, and was remade the following year as…

THE FEARLESS HYENA
Pretty much the same as the previous two, though not quite as good, but worth checking out if you can’t find the other two. Plus it has what may be the first time we see Jackie in drag.

WHEELS ON MEALS
Typical of Chan’s mid-1980’s output, this entry greatly benefits from the presence of Jackie’s “brothers” from his Peking Opera school days, namely Samo Hung and Yuen Biao. Shot in Spain and with a distinct emphasis on comedy rather than action, this film goes down in history for the riotous final half hour in which the heroes engage in melee combat with a series of opponents, most memorably when Jackie takes on Benny “the Jet” Urquidez in a fight that rivals the Bruce Lee/Chuck Norris match in RETURN OF THE DRAGON. Trust me and skip straight to the last half hour, and you will not be disappointed.

DRUNKEN MASTER II
Up there with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and THE GODFATHER PART 2 as a sequel that may be better than the film that spawned it and makes you say, “Holy FUCK! That was a KICKASS movie!,” this fifteen-years-later sequel is simply amazing from start to finish and is considered by some to be the finest martial arts film ever made. I don’t agree with that assessment, but this sure is one entertaining mammajamma, and a more than worthy companion to the original. I won’t recap the plot in order to save the surprises for the first time viewer, but if you can track down the Hong Kong version since the American release — titled LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER — chops off the politically incorrect ending in which our hero has quite by necessity drunk himself into a broadly-played state of mental retardation. As a catalogue of stunning beatdowns this film is hard to surpass and may actually be a bit more palatable to the layman than the original because of the slicker, faster production values.

Now that you have the skinny on the gods of kung fu cinema, here are a few picks that may or may not be found at your local Cocksucker, er, Blockbuster Video, but each has virtues that make them all special and a lot of fun, so here we go:

13 EVIL BANDITS (aka FLYING CLAW AGAINST 14 DEMONS and AGAINST THE DRUNKEN CAT PAWS)
Chia Ling — also known in the West as Judy Lee — stars here as a badassed kung fu chick who gets two poisoned darts fired directly into her eyeballs and spends the rest of the movie doing the DRUNKEN MASTER thing, a prescribed treatment that is guaranteed to cure her blindness (???). Yeah, she’s blind, but that doesn’t stop her from kicking the ass of pretty much everyone she encounters. In fact, if we weren’t told that she’s blind we’d never have known it. There’s also a nearly incomprehensible main plot that has something to do with a bunch of bad guys out to get revenge on the magistrate who imprisoned their leader (I think), the inevitable final melee that involves an over-the-top comedic government official who may be cinema’s only pipe-smoking kung fu flaming homosexual badass, the bizarre antics of “the Poison Dwarf,” and there’s even a ludicrous romantic subplot in which the male half of the couple turns into a demon for no adequately explained reason. Feeling like it was edited by a weed whacker-wielding psycho on some bad brown acid, this film makes virtually no sense whatsoever, but it’s lively as hell and never goes much longer than two or three minutes without a fight breaking out. In fact, this is what I’d imagine a kung fu movie lensed by a nine-year-old might look like, and it even exudes a childlike sense of sheer fun.

LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF KUNG FU (aka LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA)
Considered in some circles to be the best kung fu film ever made — an opinion I do not share — this tells the story of a warrior cult who believe in a quasi-magical form of pugilism that will make them immune to bullets. Learning nothing from the deaths of wave after wave of adepts during tests against rifles fired at point blank range, the head of the cult orders the assassination of their former top instructor, now deemed a traitor thanks to his denouncing their belief in bullet proof kung fu as suicide and leaving the cult to become a recluse. The student sent to kill him has been brainwashed into a state of homicidal zealotry, and it’s up to a female adept who has remained loyal to the former instructor to stop the assassin and/or find and warn the elder, both difficult tasks. When the assassin and the adept clash, it’s great fun as they both seek to accomplish their missions in secret while steering clear of an abbot who also wants to plant his foot in the former instructor’s ass. It all snowballs to the inevitable conclusion, and to say more would spoil the surprises, but I will say that you get many incredible displays of classical kung fu styles performed by the cream of the Shaw Brothers studio crop.

THE STREET FIGHTER
Without question this is my favorite martial arts film that doesn’t have a classical setting, and is also my absolute favorite karate flick. The incomparable Sonny Chiba stars as Terry Tsurugi, a lethally skilled thug for hire in 1974 Tokyo who must protect an oil heiress from the combined forces of the Mafia and the Yakuza (who for some reason are said to be based in Hong Kong, which would actually make them Triads, but why quibble?). That’s pretty much the basic plot, but as the story unfolds we get to know Tsurugi and see the source of his animalistic rage, rage that is frequently expressed in a graceless ballet of maiming, bones broken in x-ray, and spewing blood, all of which won the film the first X rating for graphic violence. Not for the squeamish or easily offended, this is an exploitation milestone and should be seen at least once. And Sonny Chiba’s performance is simply unforgettable.

KIDS FROM SHAOLIN
An early Jet Li film, this is a charming and light-hearted comedy/romance about two families who live on opposite sides of a river; one family has nothing but sons, the other has nothing but daughters, and all of them are masters of kung fu. Li shines as the eldest son, and the two families continually war against each other in an effort to see whose style is better. The fu on display is exemplary, particularly that of Li and a kid called “Monkey Boy,” and it all comes to head when an army of bandits attempt to abduct the girls. The would-be abduction ignites a twenty-minute martial arts free-for-all replete with flying limbs and spectacular weapons forms that must be seen to be believed.

MY YOUNG AUNTIE
Beautiful Shaw Brothers regular Hui Ying Hung gets her only starring role as a proper, traditionally raised girl from the country who marries a man old enough to be her father, much to the chagrin of his Western-influenced son. Our heroine must endure her new nephew’s disapproval and attempts to get her to leave, all while trying to adapt to a more sophisticated life with modern trappings. And as if that wasn’t enough, she also has to thwart a plot to screw over the government. Good thing she also happens to be a hardcore kung fu phenom! The film culminates in a multi-person nonstop kung fu brawl that goes on for over a half hour and is so exhausting that I had to stop the DVD about halfway through to take a break.

SEVEN BLOWS OF THE DRAGON (aka THE WATER MARGIN)
Imported by Warner Brothers at the beginning of the Seventies kung fu movie boom, this Shaw Brothers epic tells the story of the Mountain Bandits, a bunch of Robin Hood-esque folk heroes, and their rescue of the unjustly imprisoned Jade Dragon, a pole fighting master who is framed for treason by his adulterous wife and the steward of his house. Loaded with colorful characters — Black Whirlwind and Young Dragon steal the movie — and crazy fights, this is more fun than it has any right to be and includes a scene where a bad guy warns one of his men against the technique of one of the heroes thusly: “Watch out! The Double-Kick of Death!!!,” at which point the wielder of the aforementioned technique proceeds to kick the guy THREE times. Entertaining as a motherfucker.

CHINESE SUPER NINJAS (aka SUPER NINJAS and FIVE ELEMENT NINJA)
It’s the old Chinese versus Japanese thing again, but this time it’s in the hands of infamous director Chang Cheh, widely hailed as the most bloodthirsty of the Shaw Brothers helmers. A bunch of sneaky ninjas slowly decimate a Chinese kung fu school with the help of a female spy and “the five element ninjas,” and the one surviving student escapes to train in a
style specifically designed to defeat the five elements. Old school kung fu at its best, and the final fight against the master ninja has a shockingly explosive ending that is understandably edited for television airings.

FIVE DEADLY VENOMS (aka THE FIVE VENOMS)
The five students of the Poison Clan have left the temple and entered the outside world, and their ageing master sends his last pupil to find out what has become of them. What’s the big deal, you may ask? Well, the five students are each masters of individual skills that give them superhuman powers to complement their prodigious kung fu expertise; there’s the Toad (invulnerability), the Snake (penetrating strikes), the Centipede (multiple fist attacks), the Scorpion (stunning kicking prowess), and the Lizard (ability to cling to walls like Spider-Man), all of whom were groomed in evil skills that if misused could threaten the world at large. The remaining pupil has been schooled in a bit of each technique and must determine if the Venoms are using their abilities for good or ill, and if they have become villains they must be stopped, which is only possible by allying with at least one of the wayward Venoms. Much intrigue and creative violence ensues, culminating in an outrageous fight with the Lizard standing on the wall and kicking ass.

MARTIAL CLUB (aka INSTRUCTORS OF DEATH)
A character study of two warring schools who each seek the spotlight position in a traditional lion dance festival, this film features several great fights but really focuses on the importance of taking one’s training seriously and not using it for purposes of showing off, a lesson painfully learned by one of the protagonists.

MASTER KILLER (aka THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN)
One of the best Shaw Brothers films and unquestionably the film that made Gordon Liu a star, this recounts the supposedly true story of San Te, the man who brought Shaolin kung fu to the outside world. Basically a feature-length look at one man’s years-long training for the cause of justice, the film holds the viewer riveted from start to finish, each frame made more involving due to Liu’s ultra-expressive, sad-eyed visage. The kung fu is exquisite and the hero’s accidental invention of the three-sectional staff is a gem; this is a perfect film to show to people who aren’t into martial arts films since the movie intimately focuses on San Te’s personal struggle, a struggle that just happens to involve half a decade’s grueling study in the killing arts.

SHAOLIN CHALLENGES NINJA (aka HEROES OF THE EAST)
A young man (Gordon Liu) dreads entering into an arranged marriage with the daughter of his father's Japanese business partner, that is until he sees his bride. The two marry and all goes swimmingly until the wife is revealed to be a mistress of the Japanese fighting arts, a fact that ignites an ongoing battle between the spouses over which is better, Chinese kung fu or Japanese budo. The two square off over hand-to-hand and swordsmanship, with the husband soundly defeating the wife, while gloating over Chinese superiority the whole while. Having had enough, the wife attacks her husband with ninja trickery and defeats him, which leads her husband to denounce her abilities as "murder" and not martial arts. The wife immediately leaves her husband and returns to her family home, and at his servant's insistence the husband gets shitfaced drunk and writes his wife a scathing letter that pisses all over Japanese martial arts. The letter is intercepted by her male relatives, each one a hardcore master, and HOO BOY!!! are they insulted. The Japanese masters then show up at the husband's home and declare that each of them will take him on one at a time each day in order to disprove his insulting comments. What ensues is a joy to behold as Gordon Liu puts his money where his mouth is and kicks much Rising Sun ass while simultaneously gaining his in-laws' respect and winning over his fiercely traditional wife (she stops wearing her formal kimono and adopts Chinese garb while cheering him on). Nobody gets killed and the film ends on a note of two proud cultures reaching an understanding, something you never see in a Chinese versus Japanese scenario. Perhaps the perfect martial arts date movie because love — and being a total badass — conquers all.

MAD MONKEY KUNG FU
One of the all time classics, this one relates the story of a Peking opera performer who enjoys his wine a bit too much and endures great tragedy as a result. The hero performs tales of the legendary Monkey King with his beautiful sister and unfortunately the girl’s beauty arouses the lust of a local whorehouse owner (played by perennial all-purpose bad guy Lo Lei, here seen in a rare appearance without his trademark long white wig and beard) who frames the hero for drunkenly raping his concubine. Protesting his innocence, the hero is sentenced to death but is saved when his sister offers to become the brothel owner’s woman, but the bad guy is such an outright son of a bitch that he needlessly and sadistically adds injury to insult by having the innocent actor’s hands savagely crippled. The story then skips ahead a few years to find the actor now barely scraping out a living as a candy salesman, aided by his pet monkey. The hero soon attracts an unwanted sidekick in the form of Monkey, a young street urchin whose apelike demeanor earned him his nickname, and the two soon come to depend on each other. When local ruffians kill his monkey after he is unable to pay protection money, the hero trains Monkey to take the place of his pet. While working at another job to bring in extra cash, Monkey catches sight of the hero’s sexually enslaved sister and attempts to rescue her. After the inevitable ass-kicking, Monkey begs the actor to train him in monkey kung fu so he can save the sister, plunging the story into a grueling training sequence. After much intense hard work Monkey proves to be a natural prodigy at the simian style, and he and his master storm the whorehouse to lay down some righteous payback. Unquestionably one of the most satisfying revenge flicks, this is stunning in every way.

Honorable mention: YES, MADAM and RIGHTING WRONGS
Both of these are recommended due to the presence of Cynthia Rothrock, a petite blonde American kung fu champ who can outfight any man. YES, MADAME pairs her with a young Michelle Yeoh (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON) and the final fight scene is fucking incredible, so much so that it has been known to make non-believers fans of kung fu movies. RIGHTING WRONGS co-stars Rothrock with Yuen Biao, but for all intents and purposes Rothrock owns the film, especially during her blistering fight with the equally badassed Karen Shepard. Both films are definitely worth checking out for the awesome fights, but both have dated badly and bear all the visual earmarks of mid-1980’s action cinema that very quickly became quite tired.

And with that, let me remind you to add any of your own picks to the comments section.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

BY ANY OTHER NAME

Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in a publicity shot for GOLDFINGER (1964).

Ladies, once again one of my favorite subjects has been greatly on my mind — namely your pussies — and I need your feedback.

I often find myself in situations where I'm in conversation with a group of women and the subjects soon turn ribald; guys, don't let them fool you, women talk about all sorts of raunchy shit all the time and can be far, FAR more filthy and graphic than we usually get. A good example of this was the other night when a few nice young ladies I know were discussing certain aspects of a new boyfriend, exchanging every possible detail about the guy, and the girlfriend in question eventually offered up details about her own equipment that one would think best reserved for her OBGYN. She referred to her genitalia as her "junk," and upon hearing that I thought back to the women I have known intimately over the years and how they talked about their bits. One or two used "cunt" ( a term I rather dislike due to its guttural sound rather than any perceived offensive content), most liked "pussy" and several skirted the issue of using a term altogether, opting instead for "down there" or some other such vague turn of phrase.

So, ladies, when you give voice regarding your own vaginalicious excellence, what do you call it? Write in and lemme know; as you have no doubt gathered by now, I spend much of my time pondering the deeper issues of existence...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

THE THINGS YOU MISS WHILE YOU’RE AWAY

I expected to have missed some small bits of drama during my time away from the barbecue joint, but I never expected anything like the story I’m about to relate.

When I walked in yesterday my boss asked me, “Hey! Did you hear about the brick attack?” I had no idea what the fuck he was talking about, so he told me, and along with the eyewitness accounts of those on shift and a few of thee locals I was able to piece together the details.

Last Tuesday night at 11:19 PM, one of our neighbors, a woman named Magnolia, was awakened by a repeating heavy “THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!” near her rear window. When she got up to see what was happening she was shocked to see a guy atop the roof of a building on 20th Street — right around the corner from the barbecue joint — hurling bricks for no apparent reason. Magnolia then called the police who showed up en masse, and the brick hurler quickly directed his attention to them, lobbing brick with an arm that would have made New York Yankee Randy Johnson green with envy; the guy was atop a roof several houses away from the intersection, yet he managed to nail one cop in the foot, bounced bricks off of the foot-cops’ riot shields, and crack a couple of police car windshields.

The barbecue joint’s waitress/goddess, Tracey, had just finished hosting the first of her Tuesday night Battle Hill poetry readings in the restaurant — drop in on the first Tuesday of each month and get some fucking culture, ya douchebag!!! — when she looked outside and saw a gathering of policemen looking up toward a rooftop. Fearless to a fault, Tracey went outside to see what was up, thinking it was the kids who live upstairs chucking wads of wet paper towels onto the sidewalk like they did last summer and noticed a police car with an enormous hole in its windshield. “Fucking great,” she thought, “those kids have graduated to throwing bricks at cop cars and they’re gonna be in a world of fucking MAJOR trouble!”

Ever the chronicler of local goings-on, Tracey whipped out her digital camera and began to snap away, having her husband, Brendan, pose next to the shattered window as though he had punched through it with his fist, at which point they saw a brick go flying toward the gendarmes.

The thrower was now clearly visible and heaping invective upon his victims. “Nobody protected my girlfriend!” he yelled as he retreated to the roof of the under-construction condo to replenish his supply of ammunition. Meanwhile, Tracey, Brendan and a few of the regulars gathered across the street in front of the convenience store for a ringside seat, utterly unworried about being pegged with a projectile because the thrower was specifically targeting thee cops.

By this time it was obvious that the guy was either out of his mind or on drugs, or maybe even both, so the confrontation escalated to include a searchlight-equipped helicopter and a fully geared-up SWAT team, complete with snipers. As he continued to chuck cement blocks from the rooftop battlements, the SWAT professionals drew a laser-targeted bead on his chest, only to be interrupted by the thrower’s mother who positioned herself between her son and the automatic weapons. “Don’t shoot! He is confused!” screamed his mother in a heavy Brooklyn/Hispanic accent, a diversion that allowed the masonry-flinger to withdraw the ladder he had used to access the roof, and he fled to another building, all under the fascinated scrutiny of Tracey and Brendan, who had themselves climbed onto another rooftop for an unobstructed view.

The fleeing masonry pitcher then used a shovel to break into another building in a bid to escape, but the cops had figured out where he would exit so the apprehended him and tasered the shit out of him.

The next day my boss came in and was surprised to see the remnants of the yellow “crime scene” tape across the barbecue joint’s front door. Upon getting all the details he went outside and retrieved one of the thrown bricks as a restaurant keepsake, an item that now sits on our shelf of oddball tchochkes — a bottle of Laotian snake whiskey with an actual King Cobra in it, a “barbecue Barbie” who looks like a twelve-inch trailer park chippie, a ceramic blackface Minnie mouse, and other hideous excellence — complete with the following day’s news story on the incident from the New York Post.

BACK TO WORK

And so, my not-so-excellent vacation has come to an end and I am back to work at the barbecue joint. How weak-assed was my vacation, you may ask? Let’s put it this way: I was actually anxious to get back to work.
At least my first night back saw the place playing host to my old friend Amanda’s birthday party, a soiree replete with various East Coast comics-biz glitterati. A good time was had by all, and the birthday girl enjoyed herself to no end, and that’s just what I wanted to see.

As for the goals I set for myself to accomplish during my time off, I am sorry to say that very few of them got done. The much-needed osh-osh did not happen, I only managed to rid myself of a few of the boxes that were taking up space in my too small and too crowded studio apartment, and other than my bathroom having been given a proper scrubbing, my apartment still remains the model of disarray. However, I did manage to get some writing done, create perhaps the best pot of gumbo I ever made (substituting the Dungeness crabs with Alaskan King Crab legs gave the brew an incredible seafoody flavor), emotionally and psychologically center myself so that I am no longer openly and hair-trigger hostile to nearly everyone who crossed my path, and I also slept. A LOT. My body obviously needed it.

The one epiphany that I had during my time off is that I will most likely never plan my vacation around someone else, either to visit with them or have them stay with me unless they are my steady girlfriend or wife; in the past couple of years every time I have planned on spending vacation time with a nice young lady something has gone wrong with the party in question, and I so seldom get vacation time that it is too precious for me to map out only to have those plans go down the toilet at the eleventh hour. Perhaps the powers that be don’t want me to be happy in that regard, and so I concede defeat. So now if whichever person I want to see happens to be in town or I happen to be where she is, then that’s fine. I can handle disappointment well up to a point, but I have finally learned my lesson and it’s time to look out for Number One.

And with that, it’s back to work.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

MAY 25TH, 1977: KICKED IN THE ASS BY THE FORCE

Remember when you were a little kid and your folks took you to the movies for the first time? I can’t speak for everyone else out there, but I still have clear memories of the first movie I saw in the theater, namely a now obscure animated feature called GULLIVER’S TRAVELS BEYOND THE MOON. I didn’t know at the time that it was a dubbed Japanese import, but I will never forget the feeling of having the movie theater’s Stygian blackness envelop me and remove me from the mundane world, placing me firmly in the fantasy world the flickered onscreen. The largeness of the space only accentuated my own three-year-old smallness in that big, cushioned seat, and being utterly sucked in by the storytelling made me feel a sense of magic and wonder unique to the movies for the first time in my life.

For me, going to the movies was that most special of treats, and having proven to my parents that I could be well-behaved and sit spellbound, I went to a hell of a lot of flicks in those pre-VCR days, even attractions that were distinctly not for kids (THE GODFATHER and SERPICO immediately spring to mind). My first favorite film was the lavish live action Disney version of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (one of many influences that lead me to think of becoming a marine biologist, a field that I did not end up pursuing, but still study as an amateur to this day), eclipsed five years later by JAWS, and, yes, all those stories that you’ve heard about how it literally scared people off out of the oceans for years are absolutely the gospel truth (my mom tells me that after seeing Hitchcock’s PSYCHO in 1960 she was too terrified to take a shower if no one else was in the house for quite some time). Such was the power of cinema in the days before “films by committee.”

But no movie-going experience before or since has utterly shaken me to the core as both a film fan and a human being as seeing the original STAR WARS on opening night in May of 1977, an event that occurred quite by accident.

My father had recently moved back to the New York area after nearly two years near Washington, D.C. (where I had visited him during the Bicentennial and we had seen the legendary INFRA-MAN as a first-run movie), and in one of our many vain attempts to foster any kind of real parent/child relationship we drove into Manhattan one evening, intent on seeing Woody Allen’s ANNIE HALL. When we arrived in the city, we were dismayed to find that every theater that had the movie was sold out for all shows that night and we were simply shit out of luck.

We wandered about Times Square for some time, trying to figure out what to do next, when my dad spotted a movie poster outside the Astor Plaza for some film called STAR WARS. There were no people on line for it, and neither one of us was surprised by that since we’d never heard word one about it. Lacking anything better to do, my dad looked at me and said, “You want to give this a shot?” I said, “Why not?” and we entered the nearly deserted foyer. Once popcorn and sodas had been obtained, we took our seats among the roughly eighty people in the place. Soon the lights dimmed and we readied our selves for what would probably be another cheesy sci-fi potboiler (my parents may not have agreed on much, but neither of them ever forgave me for dragging them to see the horrendous Italian borefest WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS). Assorted trailers came and went, and then the familiar signature tune and logo of 20th Century Fox pictures lit up the screen. Then the audio abruptly went silent and the screen went black, save for tiny blue letters that read, “A long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far away…”

Then BAM! A blaring musical sting exploded out of the speakers, swiftly cohering into a lush orchestral arrangement, as the camera pulled back on a massive star field to reveal the words “Star Wars.” As the title faded further into the distance, a text crawl like those found in the old Flash Gordon serial chapter plays that my father loved during his youth set the scene for the audience.

Then a multi-engined spacecraft hauled ass over the camera, firing blast after blast behind it, clearly in an attempt to shake off some pursuing menace. As the embattled cruiser flew into the horizon, the pointed white tip of an obviously bigger vessel loomed into view, itself returning volley after volley at its fleeing prey. And the huge, wedge-shaped ship loomed further onto the screen, giving a clue as to its massive scale. And it kept coming. And coming. And coming. How fucking big was the damned thing??? With hugeness like that on display, all I could think of was that this is what a space opera helmed by Cecil B. DeMille would have looked like.

And my initial perception was not far from the mark at all; the audience was dropped smack dab into a fully- realized universe of space fantasy, dripping with all manner of indescribable aliens, creatures, robots, spaceships, heroes — both competent and otherwise — lightsaber-wielding warriors, mind-boggling state-of-the-art visual effects, and an asthmatic black-clad villain whose helmet made his head look like a big cock. All of which got capped off with the most spectacular space battle ever seen on film up to that time. In short, everything a lad just a month short of his twelfth birthday would want to see, with the exception of some luscious boobies (which we kinda got anyway since Princess Leia was obviously unencumbered during her stay on the Death Star, especially when she was soaking wet in the trash compactor).

When the credits rolled, the entire audience stood and cheered like zealots at a revival meeting; without knowing it, we had become the first generation of STAR WARS cultists. Upon reaching the outer lobby I purchased the movie program, and pored over every minute detail of the photos that would soon become familiar across the globe. And as my dad and I drove back to his apartment in White Plains neither of us said a word. We were both simply too stunned by the experience.

When I returned to school in Westport that Monday, I ranted and raved like a religious fanatic about STAR WARS, and my sixth grade schoolmates looked at me as though they were witnessing my utter mental breakdown. The saddest part was that there was no way for my wild tales to be proven until the film opened in town, something that didn’t happen for another month since this was the days long before multiplexes and saturation openings. But in the end I was proven right, and all of my adolescent contemporaries fell under the spell of STAR WARS and “drank the Kool Aid,” so to speak. And the rest was history.

That’s my story, but please write in with your tale of seeing STAR WARS for the first time, especially if you saw it when it came out. It’s kind of hard to communicate what a kick in the ass that movie gave to the general public at the time, especially when trying to get it across to this current generation who are victims of George Lucas’ — and most of Hollywood’s, for that matter — creative bankruptcy.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

TALES OF FAIRFIELD COUNTY: GOIN' SPOOKIN'


Just another Saturday night in Fairfield County.

The squeal of tires peeling out cut through the silence of the night like a bone saw through a cadaver’s chest. To Duffy it was a trumpet’s blare heralding a night of intoxicant-fueled adventure, and with his pal, Root, at the wheel the evening was pregnant with possibility, dude.

They’d been prowling the privileged back streets of Westport in search of any sort of diversion; slutty girls in three-sizes-too-small Led Zepplin T’s who might sloppily suck their dicks if plied with some peach schnapps, scoring a connection for booger sugar at the local arcade — provided they could get past the rinky-dink security set up by that faggot gangster pedophile who owned the place and had kicked them out two weeks previous for booting beer foam and half-digested light-bulb-warmed pizza all over the Space Invaders console — , spray-painting pejorative graffiti against their high school administrators on the outer wall of the high school's field house, spraying accelerants into mailboxes and sparking them up, ragging on all those fuckin’ homos and dykes coming out of the Brook Café…

Man, any of that shit could happen and be awesome, but the boys needed something special. Really special, but what’d be totally fucking perfect?

The repeating strobe blur of affluent suburbia’s demi-mansions looming, all bright and ostentatious in front of them, swept swiftly past and smeared across the windows as they faded into the rear, only to start over again. The glow-in-the-dark orange of the too-close full moon.

Yeah… The acid’s wrestlin’ with the pot, and with a backseat cooler full of beers and hard liquor, there was a whole world of epic thrills to be conquered. They were fuckin’ heroes, man, scouring the badlands for boredom so they could kick it in the fuckin’ ass! All they needed was a sign from the gods of partyin’, and their task would be made clear.

The car wound its way through the labyrinth of Valley Road, and it took all of Root’s skills as a drunk driver to keep it on the right side of the street. Rounding a sharp corner, the pairs' addled vision spotted a white-lipped nigger in what looked like a foxhunting jacket holding out his arm, offering a rusty metal ring. And wouldn’t you know it? Fucking coon isn’t getting out of our way, and he’s mockin’ us, standin’ like a fuckin’ faggot!

The car swerved into a shrub arrangement in an effort to avoid running over the stupid spook and Root killed the engine with a bitter flick of his wrist, twisting the key free from the dash. He half-leapt, half-fell from the vehicle onto the lawn and hollered, “What’s yer fuckin’ problem, boy?” at the ebony figure. Then the boys realized it was just a cement lawn jockey, but it was oh-so-much more than just that. It was their sign. Tonight they would head out of Westport and go spookin’!

As Witchfinder General’s imaginatively titled “Witchfinder General” bansheed out of the car’s speakers, their Camaro crossed the Saugatuck Bridge, nearing the border of Norwalk, specifically South Norwalk. The place was totally without morals, man, and stuffed with all the spooks they’d need for their little bit of entertainment.

Spookin’ was a game of timing and skill, definitely not for pussies. The object was to find a nigger, drive up right next to him and yell, “Hey, nigger!” as loud as possible, and then haul ass. You had to haul ass because otherwise the spook might haul you out of the car and kill you. Then they’d fuck you, and whatever else they do to lead up to one of their cannibal feasts. And for the really brave, the perfect way to spice up spookin’ was to drive as fast as possible after a likely boogie and chase the fucker, even all over the sidewalk. And who cared if you fucked up one of their lawns, or fences, or even a front porch? Their houses were all fucking rat traps anyway. And if you hit one of the chocolate folks, the local cops couldn’t care less; just one more of them offa the streets so they don’t have to bother with arresting them in the first place. It was a win/win any way you looked at it.

As the last of his twelfth Coors trickled down his gullet, Duffy tossed the beer can over his shoulder, adding to the mountain of discarded aluminum in the back seat, and began rolling a fat joint. He sparked the end and inhaled deeply, eventually passing the illicit smoke to Root. A navigator needed to be sharp, and a good hit was just what the doctor ordered. Root sucked down several lungfulls, washed them down with a slug of peach schnapps, and complemented the thick liquor with a beer chaser. Soon now, very soon…

Duffy slapped Root on the shoulder and pointed to a teen spook on the sidewalk ahead of them. Root smiled like a Jack ‘o lantern and gunned the engine. With a roar, the Camaro accelerated at the kid like a shot, and the wide-eyed smudge ran for his life.

Knocking over trash cans, Root and Duffy whooped and hollered as the car bore them on their hunt, every nerve alive, every sense sharp; so sharp that the boy they pursued looked like three people, and when all three lined up the target would be had.

The kid dove over a flimsy picket fence and landed face first into a soggy bag of raked leaves, narrowly missing being clipped by the speeding Camaro. The car halted, and the boys stuck out their heads to yell, “Hey, nigger!” Laughing, they peeled out into the street at eighty miles per hour, looking over their shoulders through the rear window at the spooked spook.

The boys were thrown forward by the sledgehammer impact as the front end of the Camaro wrapped itself around the street lamp they swerved into. Duffy’s football-thug bulk torpedoed through the windshield, crushing his skull and shredding the flesh from his face, his corpse rolling to an eventual stop in the garbage-strewn street. Root’s teeth were savagely wrenched from his mouth and dispersed into his esophagus upon making contact with the unyielding steering wheel. His neck snapped back and he began to choke on the blood and dental fragments.

Soon the Camaro ignited, and the unconscious Root's flesh fused with the now-molten pleather seat cushions.

Just another Saturday night in Fairfield County.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

THE BEST LAID PLANS...

Wouldja believe that already the major plan I had for my time off has fallen through? Yes, I took my time off when I did out of severe need for some R&R, but I took it during this week so I could spend some quality time with a favorite lady-friend while she was in the country for the first time in over a year. We had a variety of plans ready to go — including some much needed osh-osh — but now that’s all moot.

The lady in question was coming back to the States so she could visit with her elder sister in New Jersey and then head up toward Maine to spend Passover with the rest of her family and visit with her brother who has thankfully kicked ass on a very serious illness and is now engaged to be married (You GO, Jeffrey!!!), all while fitting in time to see me for few days. All great, but upon returning to the US, she was informed that the father of a mutual friend of ours who had been visiting her in London had died, apparently during his daughter’s time with lady-friend, and the friend came home to find him there and was understandably devastated. So, my lady-friend called me to let me know that her friend had asked her to stay on for a bit and lend emotional support, which I totally understand, thereby cutting out one of our two days together. Then today she calls me from her sister’s place and tells me that her nephew is very sick and her sister has asked her to stay another day, thereby killing our time together outright. She apologized and hoped that we could perhaps meet up during the summer — who knows when or where? —but let’s face it, what can she do? Family is, after all, family.

So, so much for my surprise reservations at a Manhattan hot tub and at an exquisite Chinatown eatery, to say nothing of some very expensive "leafy inhalables" purchased for the occasion, but shit happens. Perhaps it's for the best since what little time we would have had together would have been overshadowed by the spectre of drama. I’m not angry about it, but now I have no reason to stay in Brooklyn for the remainder of my vacation.

Monday, April 03, 2006

VACATION! (ALL I EVER WANTED)

After enduring a long week of barbecuing and dealing with the public, my much-needed time off begins. As previously stated, with the exceptions of a pre-planned ten days in the UK last May, my regular days off per week and exactly one sick day, I have been at the barbecue joint every single day since a week before it opened last year on St. Patrick’s Day, occasionally covering for my boss or the other kitchen guy, and I have reached my limit. I need to detox.

Ever since my career in comics came to an abrupt and unceremonious end, I have endeavored to figure out “what next?” and as a result I have neglected several aspects of my personal, non-professional life, and during my break I intend to remedy that. I’m not traveling, but am instead going to concentrate on actually organizing my apartment for the first time in about three years, going out to the movies, doing some more writing, spending quality time with a favorite lady friend, hanging out with a pal from high school who is for all intents and purposes my brother, and getting as motherfucking stoned as humanly possible via some seriously stinky buds that can be smelled from across the room — just the smell of my backpack after obtaining said smokables is enough to get me arrested — and simultaneously breaking in a spectacular new hookah. And if the mood strikes me I may also brew up a batch of my famous fully loaded gumbo (hopefully Alaskan King Crab legs will be available at the local fish market).

So, my time off will amount to putting things in order, pussy, and partyin’, and, MAN, am I ready for all of it!