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Thursday, April 26, 2007

THE TV GODS ARE KIND: PASSIONS IS SAVED!!!


This has been a great day; I got a new job, a doo-wop band on the subway performed a beautiful rendition of "I Only Have Eyes For You" — my favorite song, especially the version by the Flamingos — I made an incredible seafood stew of scallops, catfish, and bacon in a creamy white wine sauce, and then I received news that put the icing on the cake: PASSIONS, the greatest TV show in the known universe, is moving to cable! Here's the scoop:

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - DirecTV is getting into the scripted series business for the first time with "Passions," the low-rated soap that will end its eight-year run on NBC in September. The show will move to the satellite broadcaster's original programming channel, the 101, on September 17 -- 10 days after it wraps on NBC.

While continuing to produce "Passions" for NBC didn't make sense because of the show's low ratings, it works great for DirecTV, said Marc Graboff, president of the network's corporate sibling, NBC Universal Television, West Coast. "The studio gets to continue to produce it, and its core audience of devoted fans gets to continue to watch it," he said.

NBC Universal TV has found a way to "produce the show effectively" by reducing the budget, accomplished mostly by going from five episodes a week on NBC to four on DirecTV. While the majority of the cast and crew are expected to continue on the series, the revenue from DirecTV still "more than covers" the studio's costs, Graboff said. What's more, the pact, a first between a major TV studio and a satellite provider on a scripted series, feels like a test deal for the future, he said. "I can see shows that are too narrow for the broad network tent but make sense to continue on other platforms finding a future there," Graboff said.

-Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

HIRED!

The last time I was unemployed I went for two years without a steady gig, existing on freelance writing jobs and the occasional stint as a dog walker. This time around my unemployment lasted for less than a month, and I have not had a chance to get used to the sleep-when-you-like, look-for-work-whenever lifestyle again. And that’s a good thing, because I am now the copywriter/proofreader for a design company located a stone’s throw from Grand Central Station and staffed with an abundance of comics geeks and other assorted fellow wackos. They do design work for all manner of sports, comics, and movie cards, among other things, and the place is riddled with colorful comics art and toys. A good fit, no?

I start next Wednesday morning — I have some outstanding freelance that needs attending to before I start a full-time gig — so wish me luck as I once more leap into the entertainment media arena!

Monday, April 23, 2007

I'M A JOKER, I'M A SMOKER, I'M A MIDNIGHT TOKER

I came across this still of Conrad Veidt from the 1928 silent film THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, and while I had heard that the visual for Batman's arch-enemy, the Joker, was cribbed from that film, I had never before found a letter perfect example. Well, feast your eyes on this shit:

I don't know what you think, but that's the motherfucking Joker.

In the film, the character was disfigured as a child, a permanent smile carved onto his face, and damn my eyes if he isn't creepy-looking as all fuck. That visage would go on to delight comics fans for over six decades, a countenance forever connected with diabolical schemes such as this; from "The Joker's Comedy of Errors," BATMAN #66 (August-September 1951):

Don't worry, dear readers! It's Batman, and I'm sure he can more than handle the Joker's boner!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

MUSICALS DON'T HAVE TO SUCK

It's not every day that I get to share a Broadway matinee with my mom that includes a bunch of Muppet stand-ins singing songs with lyrics and visuals about jerking off to porno, fisting and pussy-eating, and having her laugh her ass off throughout, so I offer a deeply-felt thank you to the maniacs responsible for AVENUE Q, 2004's Tony winner for best musical.

The premise is simplicity itself: take a group of characters and a format obviously inspired by SESAME STREET, shift the target audience from wee ones to adults and deal with issues common to the grownup experience, fuel it with loads of risque — and tasteless — humor and songs that subvert the usual Broadway treacle, and you have a side-splitting show that is definitely not for the kiddies.

The cast includes various analogs to some of the Sesame Street-residents that we know and love (the Bert stand-in is a closeted homosexual with a crush on his straight roomie, and Lucy the slut, described by the creators as "What if Prairie Dawn grew up and went bad"), a non-puppet couple (one of whom is a Japanese woman who is so hilariously un-PC that they never would have gotten away with her if played by a non-Asian actress), a pair of young twenty-somethings whose romance is a lot more realistic than anything I've ever seen on the stage (including the infamous and graphic Long Island ice tea-inspired puppet sex scene), two cute little bears who resemble Snuggle and convince people to act on their worst urges (financial frivolity, drunkenness and possible suicide), a superintendent who happens to be Gary Coleman of DIFF'RENT STROKES has-been fame (not the real Coleman, but a woman playing him with borderline-vicious irreverence), and my favorite of the lot, Trekkie Monster,

a ribald "descendant" of Cookie Monster who lives for Internet pornography — he has a number devoted to that called "The Internet is For Porn" — and tunefully urges the audience to "grab your dick and double-click." And, no, he has nothing whatsoever to do with STAR TREK despite his name.

The set looks like a much seedier (read "realistic") version of the SESAME STREET neighborhood, and the stage is flanked with two large plasma screen TV's which broadcast animated segments that punctuate the piece and bolster the whole homage/parody effect, and unlike MEET THE FEEBLES, Peter (the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) Jackson's foray into Muppet-based offensiveness (which I love, but don't recommend to the squeamish), there's a real sense of loony fun to the proceedings. But keep in mind that the show's frank and tasteless content is not for all tastes and ages and may offend the blue-haired set, while simultaneously opening up doors of perception that those under fifteen or so may have some serious questions about. Knowing this, the official site lists the following among its FAQ section:

Is Avenue Q appropriate for children?

Adults love AVENUE Q, but they seem a little, er, fuzzy on whether it's appropriate for kids. We'll try to clear that up. AVENUE Q is great for teenagers because it's about real life. It may not be appropriate for young children because AVENUE Q addresses issues like sex, drinking, and surfing the web for porn. It's hard to say what exact age is right to see AVENUE Q - parents should use their discretion based on the maturity level of their children. But we promise you this - if you DO bring your teenagers to AVENUE Q, they'll think you're really cool.

That's definitely a fair assessment, so it's up to you to take it from there. My seventy-four year old mom absolutely loved it — but then again she raised my questionable ass, so she's been broke in, and was even persuaded to sit through %98 of PINK FLAMINGOS before she bailed — and I almost snarfed water through my nose when she exclaimed aloud, "Did that monster just say 'Grab your dick and double-click?'" after which she howled like a harbor seal. And it was also fun to behold a set of parents, seated directly in front of me, cringing during most of the running time while their eleven-year-old son absorbed cheerfully-conveyed foul language and two nude puppets sixty-nining.

Now I am by no means a fan of the tourist trap bullshit that passes for Broadway fare these days — tarted-up adaptations of movies and Disney cartoons, jukebox musicals where you'd do better to just shell out the cash for the "greatest hits" albums by the groups being covered for one tenth of the ticket price, overblown and soulless spectacles, turgid revivals of shows that were dated forty or more years ago — so AVENUE Q's originality, in execution if not concept, and confrontational nature are a breath of fresh air in a theatrical dumping ground for disposable multi-gazillion dollar performance junk food. I have not enjoyed a Broadway show since the incredible SWEENEY TODD back in 1982 — although I've got to give it up to THE LION KING for its truly amazing visuals — and the mere existence of a show like AVENUE Q gives me a glimmer of hope for the survival of true creativity on the Great White Way.

But the one downside to all of this was when the show ended and the cast did their curtain calls, and the actors appealed to the audience for money; I'm all for cancer-treatment charities and Actor's Equity, but I was amazed that they had the balls to beg for money from tourists and locals who shelled out, in some cases, over a hundred bucks per ticket. And that was after a number during the show proper where the cast leaps off the stage and canvases the audience for donations, and when they didn't get much cash from the theatergoers, they complained about it during the post-show begging. And then they compounded that by auctioning off a backstage tour and photo op with the puppets for whoever forked over the most cash, bidding starting at $150. All of this created a truly uncomfortable atmosphere, and the bidding petered out at $200, just after one of the bear puppets agreed to show off her boobs to the winner. Come back, funding for the arts!!!

But don't let that deter you. AVENUE Q is a pisser, even if you hate musicals.

INSPIRATIONAL FILM QUOTE OF THE WEEK

From TENACIOUS D in THE PICK OF DESTINY:

You guys, having some Satanic guitar pick isn't going to make your rock any better. Because Satan's not in a guitar pick... he's inside all of us. He's in here, in your hearts. He's what makes you not want to go to work, exercise, or tell the truth. He's what makes us want to party and have sex with each other all night long. He's that little voice in your mind that says, "Fuck you" to the people you hate.

Readers, I dunno about you, but I can totally relate.

Friday, April 20, 2007

R.I.P. MASSIMO BELARDINELLI, 2000 AD ARTIST (1938-2007)

For twenty-six years one of my favorite comics has been Britain's 2000 AD, a (mostly) science fiction weekly anthology that gave the world such strips as JUDGE DREDD, NEMESIS THE WARLOCK, and the exquisite STRONTIUM DOG, along with allowing a newbie Alan (WATCHMEN) Moore to cut his teeth, so what's not to love? The magazine has seen many of its strips evolve into long-running series, some of which started out brilliantly but ended up dragging on interminably, and there is no strip that exemplifies this problem more than the Pat Mills-scribed fantasy epic SLAINE. Its first five years rank among the most entertainging comics I've ever read, but it has grown stale and still lurches on, propelled by increasingly murky artwork. Such was not the case when in the hands of its second artist, Italian comics veteran Massimo Belardinelli.


SLAINE revolves around the adventures of its titular hero, an uncouth, unkempt, and generally unpleasant Celtic barbarian who kills just about everyone and everything that gets in his way, a task made simple by his ultra-violent nature and his ability to channel the power of Danu the Earth Goddess through his already lethal body in the form of the "warp spasm," a berserker state that gives him tremendous, inhuman strength and fury, literally twisting and contorting his body into a tableu of lysergic flesh. Author Mills said that it was a difficult concept to visualise, but when Belardinelli took over the series from Mills' wife, Angie, the perfect illustrator for the warp spasm was found thanks to Belardinelli's fleshily livid style. Sadly, though equipped with a wild imagination, Belardinelli's artwork was too turgid to match the rollicking scripts, and he was soon dismissed in the wake of reader objections, allowing the incredible Glenn Fabry to take over and launch the strip to the classic status that it richly deserved in its early days.

When his time on SLAINE was abruptly brought to an end, Belardinelli was handed the humorous sci-fi series ACE TRUCKING CO., never a favorite of mine, but the 2000 AD readers responded enthusiastically and it ran for quite some time. And now Belardinelli has passed on.

From Wikipedia:

Massimo Belardinelli (1938 - March 2007) was an Italian comics artist best known for his work in the British science fiction comic 2000 AD.

Bellardinelli had previously worked on a number of IPC titles and when 2000AD was being developed in 1978 he landed the plum job of drawing DAN DARE, which was to have been the feature strip of the new comic. However, Bellardinelli's vivid style and exaggeration of an established character displeased many readers, and after a year he was moved to the future sport strip Inferno (an installment of the popular Harlem Heroes series).

Series he worked on for the comic include DAN DARE, FLESH, MELTDOWN MAN, and SLAINE: he will be most affectionately remembered for ACE TRUCKING CO., which he co-created after requesting that writers John Wagner and Alan Grant come up with a strip featuring many different types of alien.

Represented in the UK by Studio Giolitti, he ceased UK work when that agency folded.

His work was notable for its delicate brushwork and imaginative depictions of the fantastic. Bellardinelli also hid numerous self-portraits in his strips. Many characters (and even some inanimate objects) bore a striking resemblance to their artist.

A self-portrait from 2000 AD.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

YOU (DON'T) ONLY LIVE TWICE: BARRY NELSON, THE FIRST JAMES BOND, DEAD AT 89



I heard about this last week, and I can't believe I forgot to run it: And for the record, in the 1954 TV adaptation of CASINO ROYALE, 007 was rewritten as an American named "Jimmy" Bond. I know; I get the douche-chills when I think about that...

Barry Nelson, 1st on-screen James Bond, dead
LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Barry Nelson, an MGM contract player during the 1940s who later had a prolific theater career and was the first actor to play James Bond on screen, has died. He was 89.

Nelson died on April 7 while traveling in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, his wife, Nansi Nelson, said Friday. The cause of death was not immediately known, she said.

After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1941, Nelson was signed to MGM after being spotted by a talent scout. He appeared in a number of films for the studio in 1942, including "Shadow of the Thin Man," "Johnny Eager" and "Dr. Kildare's Victory." He also landed the leading role in "A Yank on the Burma Road," playing a cab driver who decides to lead a convoy of trucks for the Chinese government.

Nelson entered the Army during World War II and went on the road with other actors performing the wartime play "Winged Victory," which was later made into a movie starring Red Buttons, George Reeves and Nelson.

After the war, Nelson starred in a string of movies, including "Undercover Maisie," "Time to Kill" and "Tenth Avenue Angel."

He is the answer to the trivia question: Who was the first actor to play James Bond? Before Sean Connery was tapped to play the British agent on the big screen in 1962's "Dr. No," Nelson played Bond in a one-hour TV adaptation of "Casino Royale" in 1954.

Nelson switched to the stage during the 1960s and 1970s, appearing on Broadway in "Seascape" "Mary, Mary" and "Cactus Flower." He earned a Tony nomination in 1978 for his role in "The Act," which also starred Liza Minnelli.

"He was a very naturalistic, believable actor," said his agent, Francis Delduca. "He was good at both comedy and the serious stuff."

Among his other film credits were "Airport" and "The Shining," and he also appeared on such TV shows as "Murder, She Wrote," "Dallas" and "Magnum P.I."

More recently, Nelson and his second wife (they married in 1992) spent a lot of time traveling. He planned to write a couple of books about his time on stage and in Hollywood.

Nelson is survived by his wife. He did not have any children from either marriage.

TECHNOLOGY ON THE MARCH: PLASTIC PUSSY FOR YOUR POOCH

I was alerted to the following gem on Gizmodo.com by my former boss at the barbecue joint and I just had to share it with you.

There's a product out called the Hot Doll that's basically a sex doll for for your horny dog. There's one sized for the wee pooch:

And a girlfriend for the slightly larger leg-lifter:

Having once had a dog who was so fucking horny that his nickname was "Humpy," I can totally understand and applaud the need for such a contraption, but the logistical horrors of its maintenance are pretty grody. I mean, do you just hold it with its nose in the air and let the pooch paste dribble out, or do you just leave it as is and hope the genetic ointment builds in layers and serves as shellac?

My mom's aged and horrible chihuahua has a stuffed toy octopus whose tentacles she'll randomly mount and frig herself dizzy, and when she's gotten hers she disdainfully dismounts the plush cephalopod, turns her nose to the ceiling and lets out a haughty "Hmph!" I have laughed myself silly at this spectacle for over a decade, and my mom and I now exclaim, "Here she goes again!" whenever little Mame wants to get her wank on. Then there was the local gas station dog near the Westport train station in the early 1980's who was the most loyal critter imaginable thanks to the sickos at the gas pumps who would merrily jerk the pooch off in full view of their horrified patrons. They'd call him over, grab him by the crank, and he'd wrap his forelegs around the arm of the kindly human and vigorously pump away, his eyes rolling backward, until he blasted potential puppies all over the tarmac. He'd then take a few moments to collect himself, and then he'd trot back over to his favorite spot and relax, tongue lolling out of his mouth. The looks of abject horror on the drivers' faces was admittedly hilarious, and I totally understand the need to do anything to alleviate boredom during a mindless work shift — a friend of mine worked at the gas station and participated in the canine handjobs — but that shit just went beyond the pale.

So I applaud the creators of the Hot Doll for sparing us such moments of public bestiality, but it's only a matter of time until some guy ends up in the ER with his turgid member lodged balls deep into a plastic Great Dane.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

READJUSTING TO THE WAKING WORLD

Some of you have asked me what I’ve been up to since fucking off out of the barbecue joint, and how I’ve been doing. Well, thanks for your concern, but I’m doing just fine; the only odd thing is getting used to functioning on a mostly diurnal schedule like much of the rest of the world, but I’m still kind of programmed for late nights. Thanks to being currently unemployed I can come and go as I please, so I have happily wallowed in the hedonistic luxury of sleep whenever I like, interrupting my rest only to look for work, both in person and online. But fuck the full-time job search for now; I haven’t gone anywhere for a real vacation in nearly two years, and I certainly don’t have the scratch to so right now, so I’m mostly taking it easy for the time being.

My former co-worker, Joy, gave me an Amazon.com gift certificate as a going away present, and I used it to finally obtain the hard to find CD of the "best" of British comedy punk band Splodgenessabounds. The album's a truly bizarre and merrily sophomoric overview of the group's strange ouvre, including such non-hits as "Blown Away Like A Fart In A Thunderstorm," "I've Got Lots of Famous People Living Under the Floorboards of My Humble Abode," "Whiffy Smells," and of course the immortal "Michael Booth's Talking Bum," so that album has become the unofficial soundtrack to my recent liberty, therefore I extend hearty thanks to Joy.

I’ve been to the movies, I’m going to see AVENUE Q on Broadway next weekend with me mum — she’s paying — I’ve hung out with long-unseen friends, and I gotta tell ya, I love it. And while I’ve gone drinking socially, my once-legendary tolerance for the tequila and beer combo has receded to human level due to me not drinking to alleviate boredom and a general sense of my life going nowhere, so if you and I go out to hoist one, don’t expect me to be sucking down the cactus juice like I recently did.

Anyway, that’s what’s going on.

THE SISTER STREETFIGHTER SERIES (1974-1976)

The one and only Etsuko "Sue" Shihomi.

If you ever need to cite a film series that absolutely adheres to the theory of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” look no further than the first three of Toei Studios’ four ONNA HISSATSU-KEN (“Killing Fist Woman”) flicks, the first of which saw release in the West as SISTER STREET FIGHTER.

Having nothing whatsoever to do with my man Sonny Chiba’s superlative THE STREET FIGHTER (1974), the importers sought to fool the chopsocky-hungry into thinking ONNA HISSATSU-KEN (also 1974) was part of a sister series by slapping the STREET FIGHTER name on it and playing up Chiba’s presence in the film despite the fact that he’s in it for maybe ten minutes. Such chicanery notwithstanding, SISTER STREET FIGHTER is a total blast from start to finish and sports one of the classic examples of hilariously ludicrous dubbed karate flick dialogue.

The story follows the adventures of Koryu Lee (Etsuko “Sue” Shihomi), a half-Chinese practitioner of Shorinji-kenpo, and her quest to find her missing undercover cop brother who has been captured by a bunch of Yakuza assholes. Koryu heads to Japan and not five minutes after the opening credits we are treated to the first of many hardcore ass-kickings handed out by our heroine against a restaurant full of creeps.

In two seconds these guys will have the living shit soundly kicked out of them.

From then on it’s non-stop — and I do mean NON-STOP — violence and carnage as Koryu screams, kicks and bashes her way across the Land of the Rising Sun, with the action slowing down only for the brief moments necessary to provide a character’s name or display topless junkie strippers writhing about and screeching, “Heroin! Heroin! I must have my heroin!” No joke, there are even fights during the expository scenes, for fuck’s sake!

During the course of all this madness it quickly becomes apparent that the film takes place in one of those movie worlds where the police exist in name only and everybody and their grandma knows karate. The main bad guy actually collects martial artists who spend most of their time hanging around his swimming pool and showing off their signature moves (each helpfully identified by subtitles) when not squabbling amongst themselves, a gang of guys run around with wicker baskets over their heads for no apparent reason,

Thai kickboxer chicks in Fred Flintstone outfits (???) with paper bags over their heads with no explanation,

a shirtless assassin decked out with a Mohawk, cape and wrasslin’ hose to accent his blowgun and shield, and there’s even a jaw-dropping bit when the basket-heads invade a ballet studio and have their asses handed to them by the head ballerina — in tights, no less — who just happens to be a master of Ryukyu Kojoryu Karate (a bit of info provided by subtitles during a shot of the petite dancer throwing some guy like he was an empty bag of potato chips).

By the time the “story” reaches its climax, Koryu’s brother is killed, thereby upping the ante into tried-and-true revenge cliché territory, and she must take on the main baddie, giving both of them the opportunity to display their hitherto unseen ability to fly through the air and float there during combat. Throw in aid from another cute karate chick, bolstered by the utterly gratuitous appearances by Sonny Chiba and Masashi “Milton” Ishibashi, forever infamous as Junjo from (you guessed it) THE STREET FIGHTER and RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER, topped off with a guy getting a sai shoved through his skull (horrible crunch noise included),

and you have a fast paced, logic-and-sanity-bending spectacle that will delight young and old alike with it’s “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. And while the violence is nowhere near as over-the-top as that on display in the rated-X-for-violence THE STREET FIGHTER, SISTER STREET FIGHTER acquits itself quite admirably, including five shorn minutes of gore and violence restored to the recently released uncut DVD, such as a great bit where Koryu twists a guy’s head one-hundred and eighty degrees, and his broken-necked corpse staggers backwards down a flight of stairs, oozing blood from the mouth and staring at the other Yakuza scumbags in the room before falling over.

Giving new meaning to the phrase “quickie sequel,” SISTER STREET FIGHTER: HANGING BY A THREAD hit the screen a mere four months after the original and it’s pretty much a remake of the first one, right down to having virtually the same cast as more or less the same characters, only with a lot more kinky sex and sadistic violence. This time out, Koryu leaves Hong Kong for Japan in search of some guy’s daughter who’s been kidnapped and discovers the girl has been sold into prostitution, addicted to heroin, and used as a mule for diamond smuggling by having the jewels surgically implanted in her ass cheeks.

Our heroine’s investigation brings her into contact with her long-unseen sister, an expert jeweler who doubles as a cutter for the Yakuza and horribly degraded mistress to the sleazy-as-all-fuck villain, another Mr. Big type who collects martial artists as a hobby. The sumbitch even has a training facility that would have been right at home on S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Island in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (my vote for the best James Bond movie ever made, BTW), complete with a small army of karate assholes, the worst among whom are the heinous Honiden brothers, a trio of martially-skilled sociopaths lead by Masashi Ishibashi in a role that is impossible to distinguish from his deceased character in the previous movie. There’s even a cocky thug-for-hire played by the awesome Yasuaki “Shoji” Kurata, veteran of more samurai and HK Shaw Brothers kung fu epics than I can count (perhaps most notably the Shaw Brothers 1978 classic HEROES OF THE EAST, aka SHAOLIN CHALLENGES NINJA), and while he whores himself out to the bad guys, he’s actually the brother of a cop who gets murdered at the beginning of the film and eventually teams up with our heroine.

The villains repeatedly attempt — and fail — to kill Koryu, and things just escalate to an insane degree, so much so that I, a man who’s endured at least three hundred martial arts films, got a headache. Don’t get me wrong; I had a great time watching the flick’s exquisitely-choreographed, ultra-violent carnage, but once Koryu’s sister betrays the boss and gets her eyes graphically gouged out for her efforts, and both she and the kidnapped girl get sadistically murdered, the film ceased to be good, sleazy fun and I found myself waiting for it all to end. That malaise wasn’t helped by the fact that the film apes its predecessor so mercilessly that I felt like I was stuck in an endless loop of SISTER STREET FIGHTER with some extra violence shoehorned into it, and most of the crazed exuberance taken out. If not for its cloned nature, SISTER STREET FIGHTER: HANGING BY A THREAD could have stood on its own as a competent thriller, but as is it’s just okay.

The third entry, RETURN OF THE SISTER STREET FIGHTER, was unleashed barely eight months after the last outing and once again the filmmakers more or less remade the first one, this time with the added twist of ripping off many tropes from ENTER THE DRAGON, most notably the villain with an artificial hand/weapon. Koryu sets out from Hong Kong to once more kick ass in Japan, her righteous fury this time directed against another Yakuza and his collection of badasses who have kidnapped her cousin and forced the woman to use her scientific knowledge in aid of their scheme to control the world’s gold economy (don’t ask, it makes no fucking sense). Yasuaki Kurata is also on hand again as pretty much the same guy he played previously, but Masashi Ishibashi shakes things up by ditching his persona from the previous two installments — to say nothing of THE STREET FIGHTER and RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER — and going for some skin dye and a pimp suit with a collapsible steel whip.

I don’t know if he’s supposed to be Black or Hispanic or what, but he sure as shit looks like a complete idiot.

And bad though that may be, there’s even a Japanese actor in head-to-toe blackface as an African warrior, complete with oogah-boogah over-the-shoulder leopard skin, animal hide shield and a big, honkin’ spear. I’ll spare you any further details because it’s just another trip down a well-traveled road, but I’ll let it suffice to say that the third installment suffers from the same “been there, done that” cloneness of number two, and just like the previous film it would have been just fine if the first movie didn’t exist.

I guess the filmmakers figured they’d milked the cookie cutter adventures of Koryu Lee for about all they were worth, so when 1976’s SISTER STREET FIGHTER: FIFTH LEVEL FIST came out, it was a sequel in name only, having squat to do with the previous three. Etsuko Shihomi is back, but this time she’s Kiku, an unmarried girly girl whose kimono salesman dad is desperate to see her married off, but since she’s a badassed karate instructor she’s not interested in matrimony (hey, unlike Koryu, at least this chick has a job, rather than just inexplicably wandering from ass-kicking to ass-kicking!). The plot, such as it is, once more involves drug smuggling and by this point I could not care less; the virtually action-free plot not only moves slowly, but also “treats” us to several unwanted musical numbers and attempts at comedy. Kiku has a cute friend named Michi (the half-Yank, half-Japanese Michi Love) who lives with her Black half-brother Jim (Hen Wallace), both orphans from Okinawa who share a Japanese mother and weathered the intolerance of cruel locals so their sibling bond is built on mutual suffering. Unbeknownst to Michi, Jim works as muscle for drug smugglers, and when he is killed she has an excuse to seek revenge but of course gets captured, prompting Kiku to finally get off her kimonoed ass and fight, by which point the flick has been running for a full hour and the wait just isn’t worth it. The rest of the running time drags on interminably, even when the fists and feet are bashing the shit out of everyone and everything in sight, so the final film in the series is a hugely disappointing washout. I guess someone tried to broaden the series’ appeal by softening Shihomi’s persona and introducing tear-jerking melodrama, but you usually can’t have it both ways in martial arts movies, so they should either have gone for a straight up festival of violence, or given Michi and Jim their own separate weepy (which would definitely have been more interesting than this film).

The glue holding all of these films together was star Etsuko Shihomi, a protégé of Sonny Chiba’s, and inarguably the most hardcore of the female asskickers to grace the Japanese cinema. Her every move was both visually captivating and savage, plus she was very easy on the eyes, reminding me of a Japanese Mariska Hargitay. I mean, look at those eyes:

Jesus H. Christ! The only Asian ass-kicking gal from the Good Old Days who comes close is the gorgeous Hui Ying-Hung, but that’s fodder for another article…

Sadly, like some other martial arts movie goddesses — most notably, her contemporary Angela Mao Ying — Shihomi got married in 1987 and has become more or less a recluse, retiring from show biz altogether and shunning the spotlight, including even granting interviews. Too fucking bad for us fans, because her like will never be seen again.

So, the bottom line: if you see any of these flicks, stick with the vastly entertaining first installment. If you mess with the rest of them, especially the last one, it’s on your own head. Hey, man, I suffer so you don’t have to.

TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

IN REMEMBRANCE OF JOEY RAMONE

As the lovely Xtina reminded me, today is the sixth anniversary of the passing of my man Joey Ramone. If you have no idea who he was, look him up and crank some of his tunes, "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" being rather appropos. And what better picture of him could I run on this particular blog than one of him in Japan, representing next to a statue of Kamen Rider?

We miss ya, Joey. GABBA GABBA HEY!!!

OH, FOR FUCK’S SAKE!-MOST HORRIFYING COMMERCIAL OF THE YEAR

Have any of you borne witness to the horror that is the current ad for Berries and Cream Starbursts? It opens with two stoned-looking (and I should know!) dudes hanging out at a bus stop, munching on the new flavor of Starbursts fruit chew candies, and when one of them mentions the berries and cream goodness, this guy suddenly appears from out of nowhere:

"Did you say berries and cream?" shrieks the Little Lord Fauntleroy homunculus, bedecked in his foppish finery. The stoners look at him like he just stepped off the mothership. and he compounds the bizarreness by launching into a singsong bit where he's clapping his hands like a Capuchin monkey on crystal meth and singing "Berries and cream! Berries and cream! I'm a little lad who loves berries and cream!" while rhythmically capering in place.

There's a brief pause as the stoners look utterly gobsmacked by this:

The camera cuts back to Foppy McDouchebag who ups the ante by somehow becoming more manic, repeating (!!!) his song and adding a heel-clicking leap of joy before doing a Jolsonesque jazz hands finish as he squeals "Berries and CREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAM!!!" The End.

Exactly what the fuck does that ad mean? I was waiting for Carson Cressly to savagely kick the guy's ass on general principle, but no such luck. Can anyone explain this one to me? This horror can be seen at http://www.boardsmag.com/screeningroom/commercials/4078/ and simply has to be seen to be disbelieved.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

GOOD RIDDANCE TO DON IMUS

When famed shock jock Don Imus' MSNBC simulcast show got cancelled yesterday in the wake of his controversial comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team, the Scarlet Knights, I thought it was just a slap on the wrist while his CBS program remained on the air unchecked, so imagine my surprise when CBS actually fired his no-talent ass today. Public outcry and fleeing advertisers are one thing, but usually broadcasters of Imus' prominence will get off with a reprimand and an insincere apology to the offended party, but Imus seriously fucked himself in the ass by referring to the mostly Black basketballers as a bunch of "nappy-headed ho's." When the Scarlet Knights went on TV with a live press conference to address how Imus' comments took the spotlight from their hard-won achievements during the season, his description of their hair was proven to not only be an offensive racist slur, but also utterly nonsensical since not one of the girls sported an Afro.

Anyway, what I want to know is why it's taken so long for anyone to do anything about Imus' behavior; he's been repeatedly cited for sexist and racist comments for years, but I guess he got busted this time because his venom tainted a story that was ready-made for an inspirational movie about a group of empowered young women and their coach, and as we all know, America loves to be touched by such sagas. I honestly believe Imus' idiocy would have once more gone unpunished had it not been so pointlessly focused on a group of young women of color who did nothing more than strive to be the best on the court, coupled with his reference to them as "ho's." These alleged "ho's" were all exemplary students at one of the nation's most rigorous institues of higher learning, and in no way deserved Imus's lazy, ignorant attempt at humor.

I, for one, have hated Imus' brand of humor for thirty years, ever since I heard some of my fellow campers at Wilderness Camp guffawing to his pedestrian japes, and my hatred only grew when he blatantly copied nearly every move that made rival Howard Stern successful yet never bothered to actually be funny. I mean, look at this album cover from the 1970's:

The motherfucker couldn't even come up with an album title without referencing Richard Pryor's Grammy-winning "That Nigger's Crazy," for fuck's sake! I'd like to kick his nuts off for biting from my man Richard... I'm glad he's off the air, but let's see how long that lasts. And lose that goddamned cowboy hat! Unless you're out there roping cattle, Don, it makes you look like a poseur dickhead.

HOW DID I NOT THINK OF THIS?

There are times when I could really kick myself for not coming up with something that was right there in front of me. I was cruising the internet today and found the following image. Dear readers, I give you the brilliance that is GG ALLIN ALDA.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

GRINDHOUSE TANKS AT THE BOX OFFICE


Looks like the bloom is off the rose (Rose McGowan, that is); despite lots of good reviews, GRINDHOUSE got a serious shellacking at the box office during its opening weekend and will probably continue to decline for a few legitimate reasons:

1. Unless it's a flick about Hobbits hauling their asses to a volcano, the majority of the American moviegoing public are not willing to sit through a three hors-plus movie.
2. Add the well-deserved "hard R" rating to the running time, and you automatically shear off a percentage of the audience.
3. Why release a carnage-loaded thrill ride during a holiday weekend traditionally associated with Jesus, going to church, and dressing up in foofy Easter duds?

I was discussing this with my pal Chris Weston (he's in England and the film is not yet scheduled for release over there) and he suggested that due to it's failure in the US, GRINDHOUSE would most likely be split into two separate features for its European release; I pooh-poohed that idea on the grounds that the film is constructed as an "experience" rather than two disparate efforts, but just this morning Chris sent me the following, cribbed from somewhere on the internet:

"After its disastrous opening weekend, many have begun the manic speculation as to why "Grindhouse" failed to click with US audiences.

The film's extended 192 minute runtime, lack of audience awareness of the 'Grindhouse' concept, and generally bad counterprogramming move to release the film at Easter is being cited as the most likely reason.

Harvey Weinstein told DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com that "I'm incredibly disappointed. We tried to do something new and obviously we didn't do it that well" and adds that according to research, it was that runtime that was "the single biggest deterrent".

The fate of the films now is in question and there's already one idea - splitting the movie in two like it will be in European territories. With what is said to be a near $70 million budget, and an at least admitted $30 million marketing cost, the company is in definite need to try and recoup its money. 

"We could split the movies in a couple of weeks. Make Tarantino's a full-length film, and Rodriguez's too. We'll be adding those 'two missing reels' that's talked about in the movie" says Weinstein.

Whilst non-English speaking territories have already been set for the dual-film release, there's now also talk that the planned single releases for the UK and Australia will be turned into dual-release films as well."

Pfooey, sez the Bunche. Oh, well, It'll probably go over nicely on DVD where the viewer has control over the running time and can take breaks as neccessary. In the meantime, here's some GRINDHOUSE-related spank material:


If the producers really wanted to recoup their losses, they'd release this cover as a big-assed poster! 'Scuse me, but I have to go be alone for a while...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

THE ANCIENT WRITINGS OF BUNCHE

I spent this Easter weekend at my mom's house in Connecticut, and when I got there she handed me a stack of essays, compositions and such that I'd written when I was around nine years old. Among them were pages from my fourth grade class' attempt at journalism, the "Super School Paper," a cutting edge source of information on which I served as feature editor and contributor. My early efforts included a piece on how Hermes became the patron god of those who live by their wits, a brief description of how the 1933 version of KING KONG came to be, and the following bit of Halloween fiction:

MY TRIP INSIDE A PUMPKIN

On Halloween night I was walking down the street to my friend's house. I had a log way to go so I felt a rest would be nice. There in front of me was a pumpkin! Then I felt myself contracting! There was a hole in the pumpkin shell so I went in. Then I grew to my normal height. In front of me was a... I don't know what to call it but it was horrible! It was red and panting heavily. His teeth were that of a shark's and his nails were cut to a sharp point. Then with an earth trembling roar he sped after me! Suddenly a giant bird scooped me up and dropped me to a paradise beyond imagination! There was a brook at my feet so i took a drink. It was a magic elixir. Then I was at my friend's house.

Steven Bunche
1st Prize-
Mrs. MacDonald's

It was a real kick in the guts to see all the earmarks of my lurid purple prose evident at such a young age, to say nothing of winning first prize for pretty much tripping out and describing the unnameable Lovecraftian horror lurking in the innards of a fucking pumpkin!

Friday, April 06, 2007

GRINDHOUSE (2007)

I'll cut straight to the point: if you love 1970's exploitation flicks the way I do, stop reading this right now and get your ass on line for GRINDHOUSE. The film aims to recreate the experience of sitting through a sex-and-violence-drenched double feature in a grungy environment, complete with simulated shit-quality prints and dubious trailers, and succeeds in spades. And it really is a double feature, with the two films and other goodies adding up to three hours and eleven minutes of balls-out mayhem.

The first feature is Robert Rodriguez's PLANET TERROR, an ultra-gory throwback to the days when zombie flicks ruled the screen (with a strong dose of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK thrown in for goood measure) and logic came in a distant second. An experimental gas escapes into the air of a small Texas town, rendering most of the populace into flesh-scarfing, pustule-festooned undead, and those lucky few who find themselves immune must take up arms and kick motherfucking ass to stay alive and attempt to stop the gas from spreading and bringing about the end of the world. Rose McGowan headlines as go-go dancer Cherry Darling, whose unfortunate encounter with some flesh-munchers leaves her minus one leg, and her mysterious ex-boyfriend, El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez, the director's little bro), proves to be quite the badass as he dispatches zombies with extreme prejudice and equips Cherry with a machine gun/grenade launcher prosthetic limb. In between offal-showering set pieces, there's a healthy streak of ludicrous humor, and I laughed my ass throughout at the over-the-top gleeful bedlam of the whole thing.

After some fake trailers (I won't spoil the surprises, because they're laugh-out-loud hilarious, especially the one with Nicolas Cage in the most outrageous role of his entire career) we get Quentin Tarantino's DEATH PROOF, a delightfully schizophrenic hybrid of VANISHING POINT's gearhead histrionics, the psycho-behind-the-wheel found in flicks like DUEL and THE CAR, and the tough girl genre best exemplified by the immortal FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! The story gets off to a slow start as we meet four young women who are unwittingly stalked by the scarfaced Stuntman Mike, played by one of my all-time favorite actors, Kurt Russell, who looks like he's having too much fun for his own good.

Kurt Russell as the twisted Stuntman Mike.

Stuntman Mike is a particularly sadistic yet charming vehicular serial killer, and after the story pulls a PSYCHO by letting us get to know and care about the women only to have them horribly killed (I rather liked the bouncing severed leg), another group of women is introduced. This quartet consists of two professional Hollywood stuntwomen, an up-and-coming actress, and a makeup artist, and when Stuntman Mike sets his jaundiced sights on them he doesn't realize he's chosen absolutely the WRONG bunch of girls to fuck with. All of this leads to one of the most harrowing and spectacular chase scenes since maybe as far back as THE ROAD WARRIOR, with real-life Kiwi stunt maniac Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman's stunt double on KILL BILL, here playing herself) giving her all on a car hood as she holds on for dear life at nearly two-hundred miles per hour while Stuntman Mike attempts to run her and her companions off the road.

Zoe Bell: pretty — and badassed like a motherfucker — in pink.

No bullshit, campers, I have not had this much fun at the movies in years, and I left the theater with a smile on my face so big that my head nearly split in half. Do NOT miss GRINDHOUSE in the theater; it'll still be excellent fun on DVD, but a major part of the experience is seeing it with an audience of jazzed-up louts who are in on the vibe and whoop and holler at all the right places. You've heard of other films being touted as "thrill rides," but GRINDHOUSE actually delivers a cracking good, sleazy romp just as exhilirating as a go-round on the Wild Mouse with a gut full of tequila and a brain pan full of really good LSD. I know it's early yet, but GRINDHOUSE not only gets my highest recommendation, but also steps up as my choice for the most entertaining movie of 2007. And considering how pussified R rated movies have become in the violence and gore department over the past twenty-five years or so, I have no idea whatsoever how they got away with even a third of the gruesome carnage on display here.

TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

GOING OUT WITH A BANG: A FAREWELL TO BAR BQ

NOTE: to truly get the proper ambience for this post, listen to The Meteors album “Meteor Club-The Best Of.” Trust me on this one, especially the tune “Electro.” Oh, and also put on the Damned’s “Drinking About My Baby” on endless loop for full effect.

So this past Saturday night was my final shift at the barbecue joint and it was quite a shindig, an evening loaded with good wishes, good friends, and a couple of serious hints and a half for my beige ass. But before I get to all that, let’s skip back to a few days previous.

One of the things that I stated I would not miss was work related injuries; about a month ago my hands were severely burned when grease drippings from the oven latched onto me like fucking napalm, and since one of the realities of kitchen work is getting cut or branded such an ouchie was par for the course, so I ignored the burns and went back to what I had to do. The problem with that was the washing of implements every ten minutes or so, and the industrial strength soap that would not allow my wounds to heal, my skin only fighting its way back from crocodileness on my two days off when I had no contact with noxious chemicals. I swear to the gods, my hands looked like I was motherfucking Boris Karloff making a grab for the Scroll of Life in THE MUMMY (1932), a condition that elicited coos of nurturing sympathy from the sweet lesbian couple who live across the street from the barbecue joint. And as if that shit wasn’t irritating enough, on Friday night I suffered an allergic reaction to something in the air in the kitchen, and my eyes felt like they had been splashed with nitric acid. I itched like a bear all night, getting maybe two hours of sleep, and I had to be at a press junket/book signing for GRINDHOUSE in Manhattan Saturday morning by 9AM.

When I awoke I was horrified to learn that my eyes were nearly swollen shut, and various parts of my sexy self were covered with a virulent, itchy rash (even parts that REALLY shouldn’t ever get irritated, if you get my drift), requiring lots of Neosporin, Benadryl itch stopping cream, and calamine lotion. Undaunted, I made it to the signing and got the first of many pleasant surprises on my final barbecue day: I got to meet not only Quentin Tarantino, but also director Robert Rodriguez, actor Freddy Rodriguez, and the whip-it-out-and-jack-it-like-a-monkey double-barreled hotness of Rose McGowan and my dream girl, super-hot and funny NYC geek girl Rosario Dawson. No pics were allowed by the studio, but I did get to chat with all of them, and they were all very nice and funny as hell, particularly Rosario. I got my “making of” book signed by the lot of them, and got the lovely Miss McGowan to sign a GRINDHOUSE poster for the barbecue joint’s kitchen. I then hightailed it back to Brooklyn and went on duty for my final shift.

When I arrived at work there was a palpable air of melancholy about the place, and the staff of the restaurant next door even hung up a sign letting me know I’d be missed.

And in the barbecue joint the daily drink special was changed to “the Bunche,” a shot of Jose Quervo tequila and a beer chaser, my nightly dose of choice now made available for those brave enough to surrender to its evil.

While I showed up ready to put my nose to the grindstone one last time, my kitchenmates wouldn’t have it, so I pretty much got to take it easy and chat with well-wishing regulars until we got fucking avalanched with takeout orders. But before that my boss and his family showed up to wish me well and thank me for my contributions to the restaurant over the past two years. And then we got slammed with so much bar traffic and people ordering food that the place had not one empty seat in the house for hours, so I wasn’t able to hang out with the friends and lunatics I had invited until about 9PM, an hour after my stated time of departure from the kitchen.

Once out in the dining/drunkenness area I threw myself into the festivities with Bacchanalian abandon, reveling in the good vibes, the laments at my leaving, the bevy of drunken hot chicks squashing their jubblies all over me (no, I did not get lucky, those cruel harpies), and the frightening amounts of Budweiser and tequila that found their way down my gullet. Luckily for me the party gods were on my side that night, and while I ended up rather looped and sentimental by the end of the night, I held it together well enough. My tolerance for the Budweiser/Cuervo mix is legendary, and after this special Saturday night I vow to put it to rest (at least as a daily, multiple-round act of boredom-diverting self-destruction).

Presiding over the bar was the joint’s Nordic nymph, Joy (aka “the Frost Giant’s Daughter”)

and the soundtrack for the night was provided by one of my absolute favorite regulars, one Soren DeSelby, who provided the discs full of stuff that not only I would love, but stuff to delight those in attendance and not send them fleeing for the door. Some of the patrons even complemented the bar on the music, making me happy, and Soren deservedly proud of his excellent efforts.

My little sister, Meredith, showed up with her boyfriend, Hugh (whom I liked quite a bit and hope to get to know) and got to meet several of my friends and extended family, charming the living shit out of them while virtually every guy in the house told me to my face that they wanted to nail her… Now, my sister is twenty-five tears old, has a boyfriend and can take care of herself, plus the fact I’m not an overprotective big brother, so I offer the following bit of advice to all horny guys (and, to be honest, a few of the women in attendance) in the known universe: if you want to nail some guy’s sister, don’t tell the guy, Tell the sister, and risk either a fun time or a solid right to the gob. I mean, what am I, a fucking pimp, for fuck’s sake?

During the rest of the night, as I wallowed in soused bliss and cheery tidings, I posed for pictures both straight and silly,

ruminated on just how much pulled pork can look exactly like vomit,

introduced my buddy Hughes to my other favorite Irishman, namely Garth Ennis,

and marveled at the sight of Harley the bunny deep in a trance induced by her owner.

No joke, I wandered over to where Erin sat and saw the cute little rabbit in her lap flat on her back, stiff as a board with her little legs pointing straight up to the ceiling. Erin explained how the bun was hypnotized, then she revived Harley by pressing a pressure point; the wee beast then groggily began to stir, sat upright and raised her ears to suss out the situation, none the worse for wear.

But all good things, and eras, must come to an end, so I departed the joint shortly before 3AM, taking advantage of a ride kindly offered by my friend, the foxy as a motherfucker Lia. All in all, a great sendoff, with the only thing missing being the presence of Tracey the waitress goddess, who was away for a reading of her literary works in New Orleans. I’ll see her again soon enough, though.

The scary part of all this is that I awoke the next morning at 11:30 WITHOUT A HANGOVER, and dropped in at the barbecue joint to turn in my final time sheet. Both joy and my former-kitchenmate, Andres, looked shocked to see me at all, much less feeling so chipper and ready to head into Manhattan for a full day of shopping. I bid them farewell and sauntered out into the beautiful, sunny day, my future uncertain but bound to be an upgrade, both creatively and socially.

So I bid you adieu, Bar BQ, and much continued success. My job there is done, so now it’s on to other things. Wish me luck!

Bunche — senior cook and force of nature at Bar BQ, A Brooklyn Barbecue Joint. March, 2005-March 2007