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Saturday, February 28, 2009

I MUST SEE THIS MOVIE: DETROIT METAL CITY (2008)

I just finished reading an advance copy of the first volume in Viz Media's English-language translation of Kiminori Wakasugi's hilarious manga series DETROIT METAL CITY and totally fucking loved it, and when I picked it up and saw the King Diamond-esque protagonist on the cover I remembered seeing some untranslated hype material for the live-action film version just under a year ago at the 2008 NY Comicon.

Cover of the first DETROIT METAL CITY manga collection.

Back then I took one look at it and dismissed it as the latest lame-assed Japanese filtering of Western stupidity, but now that I've actually read the manga I take back that ignorant viewpoint and am dying to get my hands on a subtitled DVD of the 2008 live-action movie.

Kenichi Matsuyama as uber-pussy Soichi Negishi.

The DETROIT METAL CITY manga tells the story of Soichi Negishi, an acoustic guitar-playing complete pussy of a musician whose real interests lie with Swedish pop music that would give many listeners diabetes, but his true gift lies in writing songs and performing as Lord Johannes Krauser II, an over-the-top-offensive death metal singer/guitarist who fronts the series' titular band. When on stage, Soichi loses himself in his demonic stage persona — who's look is more than a little bit influenced by Gene Simmons of Kiss and Mercyful Fate frontman and solo artist King Diamond — and bellows out ultra-stupid songs of rape, bestiality, matricide, patricide and damned near every other "-icide" one can think of, all the while delighting his fans who totally buy into his satanic act as the inspirationally-transgressive real deal.

Detroit Metal City's demonic frontman, Lord Johannes Krauser II (Kenichi Matsuyama), whose press releases state he raped and killed his parents.

As DMC's popularity flourishes, Soichi's discomfort with his lurid stage antics grows as his insane manager does everything in her power to warp Soichi into a lifestyle more in line with Krauser's purported forays into into garden-variety murder, cop-killing, public molestation of the innocent and cannibalism. This twisted manager determines whether a DMC song is worthwhile by just how wet it makes her — she's very candid in her discussion of this — and her efforts at corrupting the sweetie-pie Soichi swiftly bring into play marijuana, heroin, hulking leather boys and the drug-induced anal violation of his elderly male neighbor (who totally enjoys it, is revitalized and becomes a DMC fan on the spot). But despite his success and growing fame/infamy, Soichi keeps his rock 'n' roll self hidden from his friends and family out of a deep sense of shame at what he's doing, to say nothing of how being Krauser brings out parts of his personality that he never knew existed (i.e. very public displays of disrespect for authority, verbal abusiveness toward women, generally unbecoming behavior). And all that's just a smattering of what's in the first volume!

Which brings me to the movie. All that I've read about the reception of the movie is overwhelmingly positive and by all reports the film is every bit as ludicrously offensive as the comics, so I'd like to get my hands on a subtitled copy of the DVD. The cartoon version is available with subs, but it's the live-action version that I need to witness because there's nothing more visually idiotic than the goofy stage shows of metal bands, especially death metal bands, with a gimmick, and the Japanese are absolutely the right people to bring that loopy madness to vivid, crazy life. So does anyone out there know where I can find this with subs? I've searched all over and come up with bubkes...

Friday, February 27, 2009

WATCHMEN AND ONE GEEK'S APATHY

Now that mishegoss over the release of the WATCHMEN movie has been resolved, the film will open without a hitch and I'm kind of surprised to find that I don't really care all that much.

Not too long ago I was excited to see that WATCHMEN, hailed by many as the greatest graphic novel of all time, was getting made into an A-list Hollywood production, especially in a time when special effects can handle the story's epic scope and the visuals to bring the awe-inspiring Dr. Manhattan to believable life. I was psyched to hear its content would not be watered down to avoid an R rating. I was intrigued by the casting of Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach and loved the look of the Owlship as it took flight out of the water off NYC in the trailer's footage. But now, the more I see of the film in new trailers, magazine and internet coverage and such just doesn't turn me on. It looks like another "video game movie" with that strangely disconnected look/feel to it, and I'm frankly tired of movies whose environments appear so...fabricated.

Yeah, I know movies are just that, fabrications assembled for our amusement, but there was more going on than just simple entertainment when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons literally rewrote the book on superhero stories, and I'd say the graphic novel's enduring popularity speaks to that. When WATCHMEN first hit (was it really over twenty years ago?), many of its thematic elements had not been seen in American comics before and now the "realism" and examination and deconstruction of the superhero as an archetype found in its pages have become a part of the four-color lexicon, for better or worse. With that in mind, what does a movie of WATCHMEN really offer other than seeing the vision of Moore and Gibbons played out in live action across the screens of the nation's multiplexes, nearly twenty-five years after its ideas have been assimilated? What was eye-opening abut WATCHMEN in the first place is hardly such now, and those who would never read a comic book will probably skip the graphic novel without giving a damn and proceed to the movie based on the fun they had with last year's IRON MAN and THE DARK KNIGHT, and I also wouldn't be surprised if after those two box office juggernauts the average audience member exited WATCHMEN wondering what the big deal was.

If anything, I hope interest in the movie spurs the general public to actually read the source novel and absorb one of the tightest pieces of graphic novel craftsmanship in history. Moore's now-immortal characters read unlike just about any others within the comic book medium, especially Rorschach and my vote for the most underrated of the story's heroes, Daniel Dreiberg (aka Nite-Owl), and Moore's script would more than likely not have borne the gravitas that it did if not for the stunning visual contribution of illustrator Dave Gibbons. For nearly every one of the people who read it when it was serialized in monthly chapters back in the 1980's and for those who've discovered it in recent years, WATCHMEN stands as a monolithic achievement and that rarest of comics that successfully crosses over from the four-color ghetto to be deservedly hailed as a straight-up novel of great merit, and that is what separates it from the graphic novel herd.

Now bear in mind that while I do like it I emphatically do not consider WATCHMEN to be the greatest of all graphic novels — largely due to the inclusion of all that "Tales of the Black Freighter" horseshit and "the Squid" — nor Moore's best work, but the majority of readers, both comics fans and not, hail it as such and the grousing of one lone blogging idiot will do less than nothing to turn that tide of popular opinion so I'm not even going to make the attempt. I'm just curious to see if after all the hype, coupled with the book's lofty reputation, the movie will have even one tenth the presence the novel possesses. More often than not, books lose much of their juice when translated to the screen and the artistically successful book-to-movie translations are few and far between, ROSEMARY'S BABY and LITTLE BIG MAN serving as examples of just how the right director and a great script can generate a classic.

But WATCHMEN does not have a Roman Polanski or an Arthur Penn at its helm. Instead it has Zack Snyder in the driver's seat, the guy who gave the world the unnecessary, mediocre DAWN OF THE DEAD remake and the vastly overrated and simultaneously overwrought and utterly artificial 300, a bit of information that only serves to lower my expectations. Yet you know and I know that I'll see WATCHMEN as soon as possible, if for no reason other than to be able to review it here on The Vault and just to be able to say that I saw it, no matter how it pans out as a work of cinematic entertainment, so that's all I have to say on the subject until whenever I sit my beige ass down in some movie theater's indoor twilight and watch Rorschach cause grievous bodily harm to assorted creeps.

NOTE: it's anyone's guess as to when I'll actually get to see WATCHMEN. Last week some of my co-workers attempted to get tickets for the 10PM Imax showing on opening night and discovered that all showings for opening weekend were sold out and had been for a few weeks. I'm sure the story will be much the same at standard venues, but I will try to see it anyway and won't be surprised if I end up having to wait for a few days. In other words, if you're looking to this blog for an ASAP review, I advise you to consult the major reviewers instead.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

FUTURAMA: INTO THE WILD GREEN YONDER (2009)

What's supposedly the last of the straight-to-DVD installments of FUTURAMA has hit and it's probably the best of the batch next to BENDER'S BIG SCORE (2007), but that's not necessarily a ringing endorsement. It's an entertaining enough way to pass eighty-eight minutes, but it didn't by any means knock me out.

The Planet Express gang are having a kickass business holiday on Mars Vegas while Professor Farnsworth is paid vast amounts of cash to look the other way yet legally verify that all of Leo Wong's — intern Amy's dad — environment-raping development of a totally new Vegas landscape is kosher. The environmental ravaging draws the attention of some very vocal eco-feminists but their protests fall on deaf ears as Leo Wong puts his plans for a miniature golf course into action, uncaring that it will lay waste to an entire planetary system, and at the heart of this system is a violet dwarf star that holds an incredible secret of great importance... During all of this, Fry develops the ability to read minds and gains membership in the Legion of Mad Fellows, Bender hooks up with the wife of the robot Mafia's DonBot, Amy and Leela fall in with the eco-feminists and unintentionally murder the headless corpse of Spiro Agnew (don't ask) and towering "space hero"/asshole Zapp Brannigan is called in to bring the eco-feminists to justice.

INTO THE WILD GREEN YONDER is entertaining enough, but it proves once again that FUTURAMA works best in self-contained half-hour doses that allow the jokes to fly fast and furious while maintaining a brisk pace. To varying degrees, all of the DVD movies are a bit overlong and a lot of the material seems included solely for the purpose of padding out the running time, as seen in this installment's subplot of Bender and the mob wife; that plot is introduced and goes absolutely nowhere, contributing absolutely nothing to the overall plot. In fact, that subplot could have been completely excised with no discernible effect on the rest of the feature. The eco-feminists when first seen appear to be a one-off gag, but their presence throughout the film becomes quite tiresome and predictable, leading Leela into behavior that is wildly out of character for her, and that flaw mars the last third of the film. In fact, I think it says a lot that the funniest thing on the DVD is a special feature that allegedly takes us behind the scenes of the making of FUTURAMA and reveals that every single creative task needed to make the series is handled by actress Lauren Tom, the voice of Amy. This segment is laugh-out-loud funny and should not be missed.

While it's always fun and entertaining to once more immerse into the well-realized world of FUTURAMA and its loony cast, this film kind of just chugs along until the secret of the violet dwarf star is revealed — a secret that turns out to be worth the wait and rather cosmically awesome — and displays considerably less wit than I know the filmmakers are capable of. What happened? Did the writers just lose interest? I hope not, because there is talk of bringing FUTURAMA back from the sepulcher of cancellation and if that's the case I'd like to see a return to the form that made the show the most unique of the Fox stable of animated shows and a beloved classic among sci-fi humor geeks. But until then INTO THE WILD GREEN YONDER will have to serve to hold us FUTURAMA fans over until the series is resurrected, and I'd like to see that happen sooner than later thanks to the film's wide-open-for-a-sequel ending.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ASS WEDNESDAY

As I see so many of my co-workers adorned with an ash cross on their foreheads today, I wonder if Catholicism had instead instituted "Turd Wednesday" and required the smearing of shit on their heads, would they do so? And just once I'd like to see some wiseass go up to get his facial ash and instead demand full-on blackface instead of a tiny cross smear. Then I'd love to see the Jolson-looking dude burst out onto the street and scream the most Amos 'n' Andy-style "HALLELUJAH!!!" possible.

"HALLELUJAH!!!"

But that's just me being a heathen.

A QUICK QUESTION TO ALL YOU MARTIAL ARTS MOVIE BUFFS OUT THERE

Have any of you seen the Thai ass-whuppin' flick CHOCOLATE (2008)? I've heard nothing but great stuff about the fighting and am contemplating picking up the DVD or seeing it in the theater when it opens here in Manhattan. Any recommendations or caveats?

COMING SOON!!!

Hey, folks-

sorry for there not being a proper post today, but I've been swamped in both my job and my personal life and just haven't had the time. I do have some stuff in progress so I'll probably be back on track by Friday at the latest, and you can expect the following:
  • A review of INTO THE WILD GREEN YONDER, the latest straight-to-DVD FUTURAMA movie
  • A review of the straight-to-DVD WONDER WOMAN movie
  • A look back at the mind-boggling RAT PFINK A BOO BOO (yes, that's an actual film title and not just me getting drunk at the keyboard)
  • My thoughts on the upcoming WATCHMEN film adaptation and my utter apathy toward it
So thanks for checking in and I'll be back soon.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

SHIN KYUSEISHU DENSETSU HOKUTO NO KEN: RAOH DEN-GEKITO NO SHO (2007)

Okay, I've gotta ask. What the fuck happened to FIST OF THE NORTH STAR?

When it debuted back in 1983 as a weekly manga, HOKUTO NO KEN (aka FIST OF THE NORTH STAR) immediately made a name for itself as an ultra-violent post-apocalyptic martial arts superhero yarn that stole liberally from Bruce Lee and THE ROAD WARRIOR. a recipe that, though short on literary merit, piled on the action and awesome fights between characters whose superpowers more or less rendered them gods of war/hand-to-hand combat. Once condemned by Japanese parents' group for being too over-the-top violent and gory — and when the Japanese complain about something being too gory, you have to sit up and take notice — the manga just passed its twenty-fifth anniversary and is now hailed as a landmark work, while those of us who discovered it through its length animated TV version still recall that show with great fondness (even untranslated it was the perfect time-waster for stoned, college-age superhero/anime fans). So it was inevitable that FIST OF THE NORTH STAR would get the remake/reboot treatment that many of the classic manga properties have received over the past decade or so — including 8-MAN, TETSUJIN 28 (known to us round-eyes as GIGANTOR), DEVILMAN, CASSHERN, CUTIE HONEY and GE-GE-GE NO KITARO to name but a few — and, just like the majority of the remakes, damned near everything that made the source material (and some of the early adaptations) so much fun in the first place had been excised and the action/violence that once served as the main draw is now tepid at best, a state of affairs that seriously confuses us long-term fans because there's nobody on the planet who can make with the ass-whuppin' and gory violence like the Japanese.

I'm greatly saddened and deeply disappointed to say that all of the past several years' worth of FIST OF THE NORTH STAR (hereafter referred to as FOTNS) original stories and remakes/retellings of the original saga have fallen flat and are uninvolving, turgid bores that offer nothing to fans of the original except for the characters they know and love. But there's no trace of life or liveliness to any of it, not even during the fight scenes, and even the most diehard of FOTNS fans can't help but notice. It truly amazes me that while there are loads of new and quite impressive toys being newly generated from the franchise, the films display less fun, imagination and genuine entertainment value than a bunch of action figures.

Which brings me to this feature, the final chapter in the real "meat" of the FOTNS saga, namely the decisive moment when Kenshiro, the series' protagonist and one of the deadliest superheroes ever created, has his final showdown with his hulking elder brother, the ruthless Raoh, over the successorship for their family's sacred (to say nothing of superhuman) martial art, Hokuto Shinken (roughly translated as "Divine Fist of the North Star").

Raoh: post-apocalyptic conqueror and the worst nightmare of martial artists everywhere.

In the manga it took about fifteen collected volumes (out of a total twenty-seven) to reach this point in the highly-charged story, an epic tale of facing one's destiny, fighting for law and justice in a world where those concepts simply no longer apply, and the value of friendship and honor, at the core of which lay a power struggle involving the three living Hokuto Shinken practitioners — Kenshiro, Raoh and the ironically-pacifistic Toki, whose combination of skill and gentle compassion would have made him the perfect successor had he not been doomed to a slow death due to radiation poisoning — and when the story finally reached Ken and Raoh's final set-to, audiences were fully invested in its outcome and expected a blistering battle of titans. They were not disappointed and, if memory serves, that confrontation took three whole episodes of the 1980's TV adaptation to tell, sparing not one iota of the fascinating and awesome gallery of skills that Ken had accrued on his long, hard hero's journey to that moment. The fate of the entire world rested on Kenshiro's battered and scarred shoulders and he fought his badder-than-Darth-Vader brother with power and heart that would have done our own Superman proud, finally delivering a killing blow that elicited a smile and heart-felt words of admiration and respect from Raoh, a presence who had been a bitter rival all his life.

A dying Raoh finally shows his little brother some respect.

It was fucking awesome to witness and rather heavy and sad in the way that only Japanese tales of tragic warriors can express, but all of its grandeur is reduced to less than a pitiful wet fart of a finale in this 2007 feature film. All of the basic details of this section of the saga are present — along with some of the minor retconning of recent years' FOTNS stories — such as the Gento warriors rallying to prevent Raoh from killing their mysterious, helmeted general (who turns out to be Ken's long-presumed-quite-dead fiancee, Yuria) and Raoh's death match with Fudoh, a mythical giant who was the only living being to fill Raoh with fear during the days of his training, but those events all have the action either given short shrift or utterly cut away from to focus on scenes of dialogue at another location, effectively bringing the action to a screeching and unwanted halt while boring the living shit out of the increasingly-somnolent viewer.

That boredom factor has been the undoing of all recent FOTNS installments but it seems even more pronounced here, thanks to what this arc could have and should have have been. Time that should have rightly been given over to the settling of the Ken/Raoh thing is instead wasted on far too many sequences featuring nothing but talking heads speaking in low, ominous tones, trying (and failing) to engage the viewer and convince us of just how serious all of this is. And while these dialogue-heavy scenes are beautifully illustrated (as seen in the stills above), the animators lavished the bulk of their efforts on making the non-action stuff look as nice as possible while crapping out on the fight sequences. Compare the look of the previous images with the one seen below, a shot of Raoh during the final battle:

Again I ask, "What the fuck happened?" I know animating the abundantly-muscled heroes of FOTNS is a daunting task, especially when coupled with convincingly bringing to life blows and techniques capable of leveling whole cliff faces as delivered in what are supposed to be too-swift-to-perceive seconds-worth of time, but this is both sloppy and a ripoff to the fans and is in no way what I expect from a theatrically-released feature film. SHIN KYUSEISHU DENSETSU HOKUTO NO KEN: RAOH DEN-GEKITO NO SHO — or FIST OF THE NORTH STAR: RAOH FIERCE FIGHTING ARC — only works in theory if the viewer is already very familiar with the overall content of the series from the get-go, but even then so much has been excised that all that remains is a hollow shell of the tale that will more than likely confuse the newcomer and definitely hugely disappoint the longtime FOTNS follower. This movie is a failure on just about every level and yet I somehow hold out hope that the final film in this multi-film and DVD project that spanned four years will somehow make up for the sleeping aids that preceded it. ZERO: THE LEGEND OF KENSHIRO was released in Japan back in October and I've heard nothing about it other than that it chronicles the events leading up to the hero's motivating defeat and humiliation, a story fans have heard about a million times, but if it's as exciting and violent as it could be, I won't mind the rehash.

But I'm still wary.

Monday, February 23, 2009

FUN WITH CAPTIONS!!!

Just another day in Brooklyn.

FORMER PASSIONS STAR MAKES THE LEAP FROM SOAPS TO PORN!

Kelly McCarty, aka PASSIONS' balls-out loony Beth Wallace: soon to be appearing in one-handed entertainment. Hooray!

When the greatest soap opera in the history of the known universe, PASSIONS, went off the air last August, I wondered what would become of the actors whose surreal misadventures I'd followed for about seven years. The only one I'd seen in anything since being on PASSIONS was Justin Hartley, who left the show in 2006 and is now a cult favorite as the Green Arrow on SMALLVILLE, and now my friend Jessica alerts me to Kelly McCarty, who played balls-out insane Beth Wallace, has decided to make a go of it as a porn star. The skinny on this can be found at Soap Central and I am curious to see how this move works out. I'm also of course curious to see one of my favorite soap actresses involved in action usually undertaken by stars with names like "Taffy De Lish" or "Little Oral Annie," but I suppose that was a given.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

THE TOP 20 ALBUMS THAT FOREVER CHANGED MY MUSICAL PERCEPTIONS


When I signed up on Facebook I did not expect to be constantly bombarded with people sending me cute little doodads, requests for me to join every organization under the sun or pass on a "stoner" to twenty-five people, and much of the Facebook junk mail I get I simply delete and move on. But in the past couple of weeks I've found myself addicted to a number of questionnaires that have been circulating about movies, books and music, but the one I filled out today really made me wrack my brain and I figured I'd share my results with you in hope that you'll share your own results with me. I was sent the questionnaire by fellow music-freak Glenn "The Jew" Greenberg and his introduction to "The Top 15 Albums That Changed My Musical Perceptions" read roughly as follows:

Think of 15 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. They might not be what you listen to now, but these are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world.When you finish, tag 15 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Tag, you're it!

So here are my answers to the questionnaire, in no particular order (with five extra picks to make an even twenty), so please write in with your own list if you feel like sharing.

THE TOP TWENTY ALBUMS THAT FOREVER CHANGED MY MUSICAL PERCEPTIONS by Little Steven Bunche-Mrs. Buffington's class, Grade 6

1. Q: ARE WE NOT MEN? A: WE ARE DEVO! (1978)-Devo

When I first witnessed Devo performing "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Jocko Homo" on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE back in 1978, I had no idea what the fuck I was hearing and seeing. The bizarro sounds put out by a quintet of dorky-looking white boys from Ohio caused something to click within my thirteen-year-old brain and from that moment I became an active participant in the music I listened to, allowing myself to really pay attention to and comprehend a song's lyrics and musicianship while finally getting that a band was actually trying to create a sound that made them unique, separating them from the musical masses. When I first heard this debut album by Devo, it simultaneously opened my doorways of musical perception and permanently killed any desire to listen to mainstream radio. Plus the album displayed a sense of intelligence and wit that I'd never before encountered in anything I'd heard previous.

2. A DATE WITH ELVIS (1986)-The Cramps

Not the first Cramps album I ever heard — more on that later — but definitely the one that cemented their sound for me and also the album where the band's sexual obsessions reached unabashed, ludicrous and often hilarious heights. By far the band's finest hour.

3. IT'S ALIVE (1979)-The Ramones

I'm kind of cheating with this one because it's impossible for me to pick which of the Ramones' first three albums affected me the most, so I go with this excellent recording of a live New Year's Eve show they did in England back in 1977. It's damned near every song from their first three records and this double-LP captured the band's undeniable live energy like no other live album, showcasing exactly what made the Ramones' brand of stripped-down, primal rock 'n' roll great. As a kid who grew up on a steady diet of oldies, this was like a new band working in an almost-dead language that I was familiar with, and as this came out during the tail end of the disco plague, it was like a miracle cure.

4. OCEAN RAIN (1984)-Echo & The Bunnymen

Orchestral as a sumbitch, lyrical and more than a little bit "fruity," there's just something about this strange assemblage of nautically-themed tunes that struck a chord with me. Conjuring up all kinds of dark seafaring imagery in my head, I listen to this album more often than I care to admit.

5. PENTHOUSE & PAVEMENT (1981)-Heaven 17

Perhaps the quintessential British "fag rock" album, this is a tour de force of catchy new wave dance tunes and has been a favorite of mine since I wandered into Bleeker Bob's record store back in 1981 and heard "The Height of the Fighting" blasting from the store's sound system. That song hit me like a one-million-volt anal probe and it was all I could do not to start wildly dancing about the place after tearing off my clothes and donning war paint. I bought the album on the spot, the first time I ever bought an album motivated solely by happening to be in the right place at the right time; I've bought other albums on the spot since this one, but none have given me even one tenth the pleasure I get from "Penthouse & Pavement." In fact, this album has the unique distinction of being the only vinyl LP I played so much that I actually wore out three copies before I got it on CD. (I have worn out other albums, but not the same one multiple times.) Not for all tastes, but I fucking love it.

6. ORIGINAL MOODY'S MOOD (1968)-King Pleasure

One of the very few jazz records I own, this was an album that my mother turned me on to when I was around ten. A collection of King Pleasure's classics — the exquisite "I'm In the Mood For Love," "Jumping With Symphony Sid," "Red Top," "Don't Get Scared" and others — this one goes down easy and is a joy to experience. I have a limited capacity for enjoying jazz, but this album is responsible for that door being opened to me.

7. GRAVEST HITS (1979)-The Cramps

The first Cramps album and my first exposure to them at the age of fifteen. Simple, minimalist, grimy "psychobilly," this hooked me with the dribbly opening riff on "Human Fly" and I haven't looked back since.

8. HAIR (1968)-Original cast recording

This somewhat-risque album was considered wholly appropriate for my family's turntable — surprisingly, it was my mother's album and her favorite at the time — and has been burned into my musical lexicon since I was four. I had no idea what the songs about masturbation, drugs, comparative analysis of interracial sex and commentary on the Vietnam War were about, but I did know that the album was "groovy" and I liked it very much indeed. Especially the fifteen-note opening riff to "Donna."

9. ARMED FORCES (1979)-Elvis Costello and The Attractions

The other album that had a huge hand in making me give up pop music radio for good. Intelligent, beautifully played and shocking the hell out me with the fact that a guy with such a ridiculous stage name could have such a smooth voice, this one resonates for effortlessly shifting between being outright rockin' and having a seriously dark, sad and bleak undercurrent. "Party Girl," "Big Boys," "Goon Squad," "Oliver's Army" and many truly excellent songs flesh this one out and make it what many consider the best of this artist's catalog. In terms of enjoyment I prefer the musical grab bag of "Get Happy!!" but this is the one made me pay attention.

10. SPECIALS (1979)-The Specials

Hands-down the best of the British ska revival albums of the late-1970's/early-1980's, this was my first exposure to the genre and it greatly appealed to me as some sinister mutant hybrid of reggae and I-don't-know-what. It was like nothing I'd heard before and it's light years better than much of the by-the-numbers ska acts that followed in its wake.

11. DIRTY LOVE SONGS (1986)-GG Allin

I love rock 'n' roll and I love juvenile and filthy stuff, so how could I not enjoy the extremely questionable work of GG Allin? Possessing not one iota of redeeming social importance, this 2-record set was an eye-opening primer on exactly how vile and stupid one performer's work could be and, god help me, it's one of my favorites. This is where I first encountered such moving ditties as "I Wanna Fuck Myself," "I Wanna Piss On You," "Kill the Children, Save the Food" (a song about Ethiopia released around the time of the sickening "We Are the World"), "Abuse Myself I Wanna Die" and the Hank Williams, Jr. parody/tribute "Scumfuc Tradition," and when I'm feeling depressed I put this on, sing along and skip about my apartment like a loon (although not with a microphone lodged up my ass like GG would have done). In fact, despite its undeniably across-the-board-offensive material, I recommend this album for kids ten and under precisely because it displays a childlike — to say nothing of childish — sensibility and even feels like it was written by a very naughty eight-year-old.

12. WILD PLANET (1980)-The B-52's

I'd heard and loved "Rock Lobster" for its retro-1960's "Batman"-esque feel, but this was the album where the B-52's sounded less like a quirky gimmick band and more like a group with a feel and style all their own. While their first album had a lot of fun and playful poppy stuff on it, "Wild Planet" bears a strange atmosphere of things in the retro world being not quite right that carries through the entire record, culminating with the moody instrumental "53 Miles West of Venus," a piece that interestingly brings things full circle back to the first album's sci-fi opus "Planet Claire." It should also be noted that this was another album that I bought on the spot when I heard it being played in a record store at the time of its release, and what sold me was the excellent "Give Me back My Man," which instantly became — and remains — one of my all-time favorite songs.



13. NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, HERE'S THE SEX PISTOLS (1977)-Sex Pistols

Without question, this is THE seminal album of punk rock as we know it. The Ramones may have gotten there first, but the Pistols refined the DIY concept with a well-earned sense of anger over the shitty state of the UK during their time and proved that a singer didn't need to have actual musical ability to be affecting and lend songs of dissatisfaction great emotional power.

13. BATMAN THEME (1966)-The Ventures

I love twangy surf instrumentals, so how could I not love an album of such by one of the genre's cornerstone bands that provides kickass covers of mid-1960's adventure/spy TV shows? This was my first Ventures album and it made me a fan for life — in spite of its unimaginative title — featuring "Hot Line," their fun version of the "Batman Theme," and a haunting and percussion-driven "Get Smart," but the tune on this that just kicks my ass every time I hear it is their version of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."

14. THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (1979)-The Who

This soundtrack to the documentary of the same name is basically a "greatest hits" collection with one major distinction: it captures The Who in all of their manic glory in a succession of terrific live performances, each with the one-of-a-kind drumming of the exceptional Keith Moon. I bought this album during the Summer of 1980 in order to give myself a broad overview of the band rather than the limited exposure to them I'd thus far had, which was mostly "Tommy" and whatever handful of hits were played repeatedly on the radio, and as a result I'm a Moon-era Who fan for life.

15. SIN ALLEY (1986)-Various obscure artists

As previously stated, I grew up listening to old school rock 'n' roll, so I love trying out anything that's old and obscure from the form's pre-Beatles days. When I chanced upon this questionably-legal compilation in the Summer of 1986 I had no clue who any of the performers on it were, but I was willing to give it a chance since it and its two subsequent volumes were on sale for five bucks each at New Haven, Connecticut's now defunct Rhymes Records, one of the best record stores I've ever had the pleasure to enter. Loaded with totally obscure bands and solo acts, this is a treasure trove of the kind of music you'd expect to hear at Jesus O'clock in the morning while trying to hold down your eighth shot of Jose Quervo in some dank, smoky, windowless basement decorated with mangy leopard print tapestries while a way-past-her-prime stripper stuffs her stretch-marked, pastie-adorned jugs in your face. This is now available on CD and I urge you to take a chance on it.

16. MACHINE GUN ETIQUETTE (1979)-The Damned

The third salvo from the first U.K. punk band to commit their music to vinyl, this, along with their seminal first album, is the record that cemented the Damned as punk royalty. Standing apart from their contemporaries by being rather apolitical and instead concentrating on kickass tunes (many of which displayed their sense of humor), the Damned flew in the face of British punk's oft-cited credo of "all you need to to do to make music is pick up an instrument and simply hack away," with the music bearing professionalism, genuine quality, and catchiness, all propelled by the fantastic vocals of vampirish frontman David Vanian (to whom I would say Glenn Danzig owes a considerable stylistic debt). This album includes such classics as "Melody Lee," "Smash It Up Parts 1 & 2," "Love Song," "I Just Can't Be Happy Today,"Anti-Pope, an exceptional cover of the MC5's "Looking at You," and the song that made me a fan for life, the transcendent "Plan 9 Channel 7." Seriously, check this out:


If you choose to add a Damned album to your collection, I'd say go with this one over the self-titled first record. It features the band at its best, and the Damned at its best is truly a force to be reckoned with.

17. WALK AMONG US (1982)-The Misfits

Now justly hailed as a classic and latched onto by later-day fans in the same way that Led Zeppelin saw a resurgence in the early-1980's, this is the definitive release from the band that pretty much cornered the market on "horror punk." Since its release, it has influenced countless bands and serves as a gateway cornucopia to everything that made the Misfits the best thing ever to come out of Lodi, New Jersey. This is the rarest of the rare, namely an American punk album where there's not one dud song on the whole damned thing. Frontman Glenn Danzig went on to considerable solo success (and doucheiness) while the band continues to this day under the auspices of Jerry Only, but this album is the classic Misfits from which the big deal hype springs.

18. DON'T BREAK THE OATH (1984)-Mercyful Fate

Hands down my favorite metal album of all time, I was so taken with this one that when I first heard it I got up from my drawing desk in the Marvel Bullpen and immediately went out to buy myself a copy on CD, which I then proceeded to listen to at least three times a day for the next three months. The music and musicianship are powerful, King Diamond's all-over-the-place vocal stylings are singular, and never has Satan-oriented metal sounded so beautiful. Not for all tastes but it sure as Hell kicked my black ass!

19. PHILOSOPHY OF THE WORLD (1969)-The Shaggs

This one is definitely not for all tastes, as it has been universally hailed as one of the worst albums in the entire history of the known universe since its release four decades ago. Now falling under the "outsider music" label, this album by three sisters of considerably questionable musical ability is easy to make fun of and find unintentionally hilarious — aspects that drew me to it like a fly to fresh dogshit — but as I grew older I found it to contain  considerable heart to go along with its seemingly endless black hole of anti-tunefulness. Though it's an ear-wilting head-scratcher from start to finish, the standouts here are the title track, the charming "It's Halloween," and the song that frequently tops polls for the worst song ever recorded, the immortal "My Pal Foot Foot," which relates the singer's search for a missing cat. In fact, the less said about that one the better, as it speaks quite eloquently for itself:

I speak without hyperbole when I state that my life was irrevocably changed after hearing that song for the first time.

20. OVER-NITE SENSATION (1973)-Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

What more need be said about this one, other than that it was my introduction to the looney/dirty/musically incredible world of Frank Zappa? "Dirty Love," "I'm the Slime," "Fifty-Fifty," "Zomby Woof," "Dinah-Moe Humm" (which was a real eye-opener when heard at age thirteen), and the epochal "Montana" are all present, and not one of them has ceased to sound fresh.

FUN WITH CAPTIONS!!!

Behind the scenes at Joan Rivers' latest bit of "work."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

THE 1933 KING KONG AT THE FILM FORUM NEXT SATURDAY!!!

It's simply impossible for movies to get any better than this.

Well, I know where I'll be next Saturday! Manhattan's Film Forum is running the original KING KONG, my favorite movie of all time, and I urge you to see it on the big screen if you've only ever seen it on TV. As Bunche is my name, I swear you haven't experienced that movie until you see it BIG. Here's the Film Forum's listing for it:

KING KONG

(1933, Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack) “Bring-’em-back-alive” filmmaker Robert Armstrong, with scream queen (and Film Forum member) Fay Wray in tow, sets out in search of the Ultimate Attraction: The Greatest Ape of Them All. Released the week of FDR’s bank holiday, the Mighty Kong still smashed box office records. Approx. 104 min.
2:45, 6:25, 10:10

“The grand-daddy of all monster movies.”Total Film

“More than a technical achievement, but a curiously touching fable.
There is something ageless and primeval about King Kong.”

– Roger Ebert

“Still the quintessential pulp saga, capable of popping eyeballs 70-odd years later
without the help of computers.”

– Michael Atkinson

"The best motherfucking movie ever made. So goddamned good, it'll make you eat your own legs on live television! And fuck Peter Jackson in the left ear for that boring-assed remake!!!"
– Yer Bunche

The one hitch here is that tickets are only available on the day of the show at the Film Forum's box office, and there's a bit of info regarding that; from the Film Forum's webiste:
  • Tickets for double features are NOT available online. SEE NOTE BELOW
  • Tickets for double features go on sale on day of screening at the box office.
  • First show time of the day: sales begin when theater opens (generally 12:15pm).
  • Second show time of the day: sales begin 20 minutes after the first show time.
  • All remaining show times: Tickets for the show time you're interested in go on sale 20 minutes after the previous 'same titled' show time.
  • Keep your ticket stub in a secure place as you will need it for re-entry.

Tickets sales policy for triple features is the same as for double features.

SELLOUTS: Once a film sells out, tickets for the
next available show time go on sale immediately.

AN EXPLANATION OF OUR TICKET SALES POLICY
FOR DOUBLE FEATURES

Film Forum sometimes presents double features (one admission charge entitles you to see two films) as part of our repertory program. All double features are clearly marked as such on our website.

Unfortunately, we cannot sell tickets to double features online or in advance. The number of seats available for each show is dependent upon the number of tickets sold to the previous show, and, ultimately, to the number of people who stay on to see both features. For this reason we must sell shows in consecutive order. After tickets are sold for the first two films of the day, sales for each film begin 20 minutes after the start time of the preceding film of the same title.

When one-half of a double feature is sold out, we start a standby line outside. People often leave after the first feature, therefore freeing up additional seats. Our ushers are trained to count seats and get in as many people from the standby line as possible (for that reason, we ask your cooperation in NOT leaving coats or other belongings on seats!). It's extremely rare that a film is so popular that the standby line does not get in.

The double feature is a tradition that we're proud to maintain. We've generally gotten very positive feedback from our members and other audience members regarding them. We apologize to those who think our double feature policy an inconvenience.

But even with all that said, who gives a fuck? It's KING KONG! Ya just gotta go!!! The Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston Street in Manhattan, between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street (aka 7th Avenue), and is most easily accessible from the 1 train, right around the corner from the theater at the Houston Street station. KING KONG may just be the most quintessentially "New York" movie ever made, what with it being about a foreigner who ends up in the Big Apple and gets his ass totally kicked, so pack up the kiddies for a trip to Skull Island and I hope to see you there!

Friday, February 20, 2009

“SUGGESTED FOR MATURE READERS”: Tim Pilcher’s EROTIC COMICS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY-VOLUMES 1 & 2

Author Tim Pilcher at the 2009 NYC Comicon: your guide through the history of porn comics.

Since homo sapiens first picked up a hunk of charred wood and scrawled images across the walls of caves, there has been the undeniable urge to create and view works depicting the myriad expressions of human sexuality. Appropriately born from fulsome Paleolithic goddesses of fertility, gaining sophistication of craftsmanship in the Greek ideal of male beauty embodied by the kouros, and ranging across the globe while providing insight into the sexual attitudes, fears and desires of countless diverse cultures, erotic art has been considered both sacred and profane, depending on the beholder. All of which is a high-falutin’ way of saying there’s always been a fascination to erotic/pornographic art, and that fascination has been given voice in just about every way imaginable. But what interests us here is the erotic in the comics medium, its history and evolution, all areas that are compellingly addressed in British author Tim Pilcher’s highly informative, lushly illustrated and thoroughly entertaining two-volume EROTIC COMICS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY (with additional research by Gene Kannenberg, Jr.) from Abrams ComicArts.

Volume 1.

Volume 2.

Exhaustively researched and approached with an enthusiastic and scholarly eye, the two handsome hardcover editions chronicle the evolution of erotic comics and gives readers intimate looks at the lives of the pioneers and legends in the field. Pilcher’s work here is never less than compelling and acclaimed comics scribe Alan (WATCHMEN, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN) Moore provides the letter-perfect introduction to Volume 2, but when presenting two volumes of sexually explicit material, even when viewed in an historical context, it’s probably a good idea to answer the many questions certain to be raised about the books. Fortunately, Tim Pilcher was kind enough to speak with Yer Bunche and address some of these queries.

Yer Bunche: What separates the erotic from the pornographic?

Tim Pilcher: I think the terms are really interchangeable. Cultural snobbery will always label middle and upper class porn as erotica. It’s the same as sates of mind. The only difference between being mad and eccentric is how much money you have in the bank. Alan Moore deliberately prefers the more provocative term, pornography (literally “drawings of prostitutes”), but I think that has too many unfortunate negative connotations in the general public’s mind as it conjures up plastic bodies, expressionless faces and soulless sex. Erotica, literally “desire” and “works of art,” implies a bit more thought and creativity has been employed in the expression of sexuality, but basically they are two sides of the same coin. Legally, of course, erotica has some sort of artistic merit, whereas pornography is there merely as a means of arousal. But let’s face it, some people can get turned on by staring a photograph of a pair of shoes, so the lines are utterly blurred and definitions are meaningless.

Bunche: What sparked your personal interest in the genre?

Pilcher: I was first made aware of erotic comics when working in the now defunct Comic Showcase in London, England. We were selling Kate Worley and Reed Waller’s Omaha the Cat Dancer and Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss sealed in plastic bags. During that time the wonderful Melinda Gebbie popped in from time to time and showed me pages from a new erotic comic series she’d started called Lost Girls, back around 1990, written by Alan Moore. Years later I read and excellent article Alan wrote on the history of pornography for Arthur magazine and that got me thinking about the genre in comics. I did some research and was amazed to find the last English language book written on the subject was Maurice Horn’s Sex in The Comics way back in 1985. I couldn’t believe that no one had explored this subject area for over 20 years, particularly as the explosion in erotic comics and the Eros line happened after Horn’s book came out. So, I would say that Alan Moore was one of the primary inspirations for the two volumes of EROTIC COMICS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY, and that’s why it was such an honor to get him to write the foreword to the second book.

Bunche: What motivates the human interest in viewing images of sexuality?

Pilcher: The same motivation that drives humans to have sex, or as popular science author Richard Dawkins calls it, “the selfish gene.” We are driven to procreate as much as possible, regardless of population explosions and food shortages; it’s not a rational thought process. I think we are part of a small selection of animals on the planet that have elevated procreation into a recreational activity and thanks to advances in medicine and contraception, it’s one with far fewer repercussions than just 50 years ago. It’s an age-old saying that men think about sex every couple of minutes, so the desire for sexual imagery has mostly come from males. Of course, this heightened interest in sex isn’t necessarily healthy. We now see overt and covert sexual imagery on TV, in magazines, billboards, cinema, food packaging… everywhere, mostly to sell a product of some sort. Sex + cola = massive sales, and whatnot. This has had the adverse effect of influencing younger people, who are emotionally unequipped for it, to have sex earlier and earlier, and who feel massive pressure to live up to certain—unrealistic—sexual and physical ideals, which is starting to have worrying repercussions for society as a whole.

Bunche: How do you feel erotic comics have evolved since the days of the early, illegal porn comics known as “Tijuana Bibles?”

Pilcher: Well, apart from the obvious points of better printing and paper quality, improved art and more space and thought given over to actual storylines, I think the sheer diversity of erotic comics is what strikes me these days. There are comics to cater for every fetish and sexual proclivity imaginable, from relatively tame heterosexual threesomes, to gay, bi, lesbian, transgender stories covering rubber bondage orgies, to uncomfortable rape fantasies and scat play. Basically, if someone’s been aroused by it, it’s a safe bet that someone’s created an erotic comic about it. Although, I haven’t see any ‘furries’ comics myself, but I’m sure they’re out there!” (Note for those in the dark: “furries” are folks who dress in animal costumes for the purpose of sexual adventuring. As for “scat play,” feel free to look that one up for yourselves.-Bunche)

Bunche: What sets apart the expression of erotic content in comics as opposed to any other medium?

Pilcher: What sets erotic comics apart from any other type of erotica are the same strengths that comics have over novels, photographs, or films. That’s to say you can have a rich storyline, which is intelligent, erotic and intriguing. Of course there’s a lot of dross out there—and there has been, ever since the earliest Tijuana Bibles were scribbled down—but the potential for sophisticated porn in comics is greater than the DVD or mens’ magazine industry. Erotic comics blend prose and imagery and thus make erotic graphic novels appealing to heterosexual couples, as the books satisfy the visual stimulus for men while providing the text, story and character development that women find more arousing. Also the fact that the stories are drawn means that women aren’t intimidated—as much—by surgically enhanced porn actresses, a major turn-off for many women I’ve spoken to. Plus, it takes imagination to fill in the gaps between panels and the story can proceed at the reader’s rate, rather than that of a director dictating pace in a film. Comics feel less voyeuristic and more intimate somehow, probably because we can get inside the minds of the characters and share their fantasies. Moreover, there is no uncomfortable feeling that any of the participants have been coerced into making this erotica, as it has come purely from the imagination of the artist straight on to the page. No one is psychologically damaged or harmed in the making of an erotic comic, unlike much of the fairly nefarious Hollywood porn industry. Of course, how the erotic graphic novel affects the viewer is an entirely different subject. I do think there are some creators who have gone too far and their work is verging on the insidious, however, as the old saying goes, “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Bunche: What is the goal of your books?

Pilcher: The goal of the books is to shine a light on an area of comics that hasn’t had a critical eye cast over it for the last 20 years. While I wish I could have gone more in-depth with my analysis, it would take an academic book to do that and mine is more of a road sign to start people off on a journey of self-discovery. There are plenty of dead ends, potholes and police roadblocks along the path, but the journey, rather than the destination, is worth taking as it gives a fuller picture to the sequential medium that we love so much. Almost every comic creator has made an attempt at creating erotica at some point—some more successfully than others—whether as private commissions or by producing full graphic novels, and even Jack Kirby tried (and failed)! To ignore erotic comics is to ignore an important part of the history of the medium.

Bunche: How do American erotic comics differ from those created elsewhere?

Pilcher: I think American erotic comics are fast catching up with Europe and Japan, where the genre has been covered in this medium extensively since the late 1960’s. Generally, Americans (on the surface) are still much more prudish than their European cousins. I was in Angouleme and there were lots of couples coming up to the stand and looking at the erotic graphic novels together with no embarrassment whatsoever. I think that aspect of “shame” is still palpable in the US and it’s this I’d like to see disappear. Adults should be able to enjoy erotica and erotic comics without fear, guilt or shame.

Bunche: Why is this stuff often considered offensive or “forbidden?”

Pilcher: Throughout history there has always been a deep-rooted hypocrisy about open sex and sexuality. There have been periods when certain acts or proclivities have been made illegal and other periods where it was perfectly acceptable; homosexuality was accepted in ancient Greece and Rome, yet until the second half of the 20th Century it was illegal in the UK. Of course, Church and State have always tried to stamp down on expressions of sexuality (a war that’s as winnable as the ones on terror and drugs) and have constantly introduced oppressive legislation to prevent erotic creativity, often under the guise of “protecting the children.” And don’t get me started on how the Catholic Church “protects” children. The fact is that sexual politics is something that has been used throughout history to criticize and topple regimes and it makes governments nervous. Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for them, their laws are often so wide-reaching that they are, more often than not, unenforceable, as seen by numerous court cases such as the infamous Lady Chatterley’s Lover case in the UK in 1960, in which the prosecution famously asked, “would you let your wife and servants read this?” revealing the class distinction of the repressive hypocrisy left over from the Victorian era. Also, the UK Customs battles with Knockabout Comics in the 1990s, helped reveal the pointlessness of trying to censor what adults can and can’t read. The state lost all these cases. In fact, there are very few cases that the CBLDF—the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund—has lost in the USA, highlighting that once the initial outrage and publicity has died down, most cases are dropped by the prosecution, wasting thousands of US taxpayers’ money. The majority of volume 2 focuses on how censorship of erotic comics has been used as an excuse to introduce new and insidious laws that undermine the basic human right of the freedom of expression and speech. Now, more than ever, we need to secure these rights, which are under threat.

Bunche: Is there any one artist, post-Tijuana Bibles, whose work could be considered “ground zero” for the erotic comics genre?

Pilcher: It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific artist who was solely responsible for the rise of erotic comics. In my books I point out that it’s been more a war of attrition with each artist and writer creating the right work for that point in time; Crumb and S. Clay Wilson in the Sixties, Milo Manara in the Eighties, Franco Saudelli and Giovanna Cassotto in the Nineties, all played key roles. I think the formation of Fantagraphics’ Eros Comix line was another huge leap forward and saw companies like NBM move into erotica with their Amerotica and Eurotica lines. Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman’s Little Annie Fanny and Frederic Mullally and Ron Embleton’s Oh, Wicked Wanda! in Playboy and Penthouse are important landmarks. So I wouldn’t say it was one individual, but rather a gathering of brave artists, writers and publishers willing to expand the genre and push the medium in new directions.

Bunche: Some people find themselves highly aroused by erotic comics — a certain ex-girlfriend comes to mind — whereas other explicit media does not appeal to them. Any thoughts on this?

Pilcher: I think erotic comics managed to straddle an area whereby there is just enough material to still arouse, without everything being explicitly laid out for the reader (although some do). Plus, most modern, mainstream visual pornography is created for men, so it only shows what arouses men (stylized, cosmetically enhanced blonde bimbos) and this consequently turns women off. Erotic comics are ultimately about stories that fire the imagination. This has appeal to both men and women, as they can transpose themselves into those scenarios. With a DVD the viewer is a passive observer, but with a comic the reader is drawn into the story. After all, the largest sex organ is the brain.

EROTIC COMICS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY-FROM TIJUANA BIBLES TO UNDERGROUND COMIX is currently available and EROTIC COMICS 2: A GRAPHIC HISTORY-FROM THE LIBERATED '70S TO THE INTERNET will be released on March 2nd.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

IF YOU'RE GONNA INSULT PEOPLE, AT LEAST SPELL IT RIGHT

If there's one thing that makes me absolutely bloody sick, it's when those who write bigoted, hateful graffiti can't even be bothered to properly spell the slurs meant to offend the various groups of people whom they hate. I've seen much anti-black tagging that somehow managed to deprive the word "nigger" of a "g" or add a surplus "r," making me feel that my entire race was not worthy of being properly insulted, but this morning I was truly saddened by a shocking display as I exited Grand Central Station.

The ad seen below, for the new Showtime series UNITED STATES OF TARA, depicts Buck, one of the series protagonist's multiple personalities, a facet of her messed-up psyche that is quite obnoxiously male and rather butch. So fucking what, right?

Well, some joker decided to point out said butchness with a graffitoed anti-lesbian slur that reads "BULL DIKE."

This improper spelling of the word "dyke" shows the appalling failure of the American public school system and I weep for a generation that feels such inaccuracies can fly in this day and age. I hope the perpetrator of this crime against our proud national history of insulting the living shit out of those different from us reads this post and hangs his head in embarrassment. For fuck's sake, buy a goddamned dictionary!

FUN WITH CAPTIONS!!!

Early casting efforts for the role of Spock did not go very well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

THE GREAT MST3K QUESTION

Watchers of the late, great MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 endured many a movie of questionable merit during its eleven seasons on the air (if one includes the never re-shown KTMA first season, which I don't, so let's call it ten official seasons), all of which were to some degree made bearable by the wall-to-wall running commentary — now commonly referred to as "riffing" — provided by cheesy puppet automatons Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo, series creator Joel Hodgson and subsequent host Michael J. Nelson (or just plain "Mike" for short). Most of the films seen on the series were low-budget stinkers, some objects of cult adoration and many just obscure time-wasters, but all in some way left an impression on the show's rabid fan base, which leads me to ask the following question. From the entire run of MST3K, which episodes/films were:

A. The most laugh-out-loud hilarious?
B. The most deadeningly boring?
c. The across-the-board worst film they ever aired?

Everyone has their favorites and there were a total of 177 non-KTMA episodes, so there is a lot to choose from. By way of getting the ball rolling, I'd like to offer my own short list of notable entries in no particular order.

HAMLET

This 1961 German version of the Bard's masterpiece is a true endurance test and lends credence to the ages-old complaint from students that Shakespeare is boring. In this case Shakespeare is sooooo fucking boring that I often throw this one on during my frequent bouts of insomnia and, brother, lemme tell ya, it works better than the most powerful prescription sedative. Not even some character voice dubbing by Ricardo Montalban makes this one tolerable, and not even the riffing of Mike and the 'Bots does anything to alleviate the crushing boredom. My choice for the most hands-down dull episode.

EEGAH

Richard Kiel, later to gain international fame as Jaws in the Roger Moore 007 opuses THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER, stars here as a caveman who has inexplicably survived unchanged in a Californian desert and runs into some early-1960's hot-rodders, eventually getting a massive hard-on for the hero's girlfriend. A failed attempt at making a pop idol out of its Jonny Quest-esque star, Arch Hall Jr., this is loaded with embarrassing kitsch and a few feeble musical numbers, giving Joel and the 'Bots a sitting duck target for their verbal abuse.

FUTURE WAR

A true monument to cinematic awfulness, try and wrap your head around this concept and imagine being the exec who gave it the green light: Cyborgs from the future raid the past for slave labor and use the phoniest dinosaurs you've ever seen as trackers of runaway slaves. One of these slaves is an irritating Jean-Claude Van Damme lookalike/soundalike who feebly fights the dime store dinosaurs with his limited kickboxing skills in what appears to be a cardboard box factory. Nonsensical and boring are a painful combination, and not even the crew of the Satellite of Love can spin gold from this barnyard full of straw.

MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE

Not unjustly considered by many to be the absolute worst film ever made, MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE is truly incredible to experience. It's incompetently made, boring as hell, is one of the least-scary horror films in history and features the grotesque Torgo, a grungy junkie-looking piece of work who has an unusual gait due to his legs apparently being those of a goat-demon (a point not made completely clear in the script, but it's implied since he's the servant of the Satanic "Master"), and it not only reduces Joel and the 'Bots to crying and near-nervous breakdowns, it also prompts the evil scientists in Deep 13 to realise they've gone too far this time and actually apologize. That said, I think it's one of the show's crowning glories and the riffed version is the only way to watch this movie without taking a ball peen hammer to one's own skull; I saw MANOS on TV in the late 1970's and have been scarred for life, so if you must see it at least see this version.

SANTA CLAUS

I first saw this film when it played annually in theaters during my formative years, and while it's a total piece of shit I have a very soft spot in my heart for some of its bizarro imagery. Plus, how can you not appreciate a cheap Mexican kiddie movie in which Santa Claus fights a minor devil? And whatever you do, do not miss the first ten minutes, in which we are "treated" to an incredibly politically incorrect display of children from around the world. Wait'll you see the kids from Africa... This one plays every Christmas Eve at my mom's house in Connecticut while she's out at midnight mass and I'm getting bombed with a friend or two.

SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS

One of the most legendary of the bad movie pantheon, this is another one that I saw in the theater as a child and even then I knew it was horrendous. But how can you not enjoy getting totally ripped on cheap booze and watching Santa thwart the plans of Martians who seek to kidnap him and force him to make the apathetic children of the Red Planet happy by bringing Christmas to Mars? This one features a polar bear outfit and a robot suit that rank among the all-time most bogus — seriously, they have to be seen to be believed — as well as the screen debut of 1980's sexpot Pia Zadora as the imaginatively-named girl Martian, "Girmar." And the icing on this lysergic Christmas cake is Milton DeLugg's indelibly awful themesong, "Hooray For Santy Claus;" once heard it sticks to you like the most industrial-strength napalm, and you may never get it out of your head. One of the best of the series, with Joel and the 'Bots in top form.

TIME CHASERS

One of the most fondly regarded of the latter episodes, TIME CHASERS is a zero budget story of a bespectacled geek who somehow turns his single engine prop plane into a working time machine. The Monday after this one first aired, the Marvel Comics Bullpen discussed it for hours. Definitely a Top 10 episode and a strong contender for Best Episode Ever.

MITCHELL

An instant classic and considered by many to be the best of the lot, this mid-Seventies Joe Don Baker private eye yarn gives new meaning to the term "low rent." Baker plays the title character, a loathsome slob who is totally unappealing in every way, an aspect that rendered him the perfect target for riffing abuse, and Joel and the 'Bots attack him with harsher-than-usual vitriol. In fact, so bad was their abuse of Baker that he's allegedly been quoted as saying he'd cause grievous bodily harm to the show's cast if ever he got his hands on them. Needless to say, that threat only spurred the team to riff on another one of his flicks, FINAL JUSTICE, but sarcastic lightning did not strike twice.

OPERATION DOUBLE 007

As a lifelong fan of James Bond movies, especially those made during the series' 1960's heyday, this retitled version of OPERATION KID BROTHER nearly made me laugh myself to death. I'd heard of the original film thanks to it being infamous for starring several Bond series regulars, villains and love interests, to say nothing of starring Sean Connery's spectacularly untalented younger brother, Neil, as the younger brother of the actual 007. Easily the most insane of the legion of Bond spoofs, the MST3K edition is one of my favorites and should not be missed, especially not by those who know their 007 flicks.

CAVE DWELLERS

MST3K had a lot of fun at the expense of cheesy barbarian and sword & sorcery/musclemen pics, but this one is especially ludicrous thanks to horrendous acting, a ridiculous script and the unforgettable sight of the beefcake barbarian hero hang-gliding.

THE BRAIN THAT COULDN'T DIE

One of my favorite 1950's B-pictures in the first place, this story of a mad scientist's revival of his decapitated girlfriend's noggin and subsequent search for a suitable replacement body is only enhanced by the commentary, and there's even a wonderfully lame/gory scene where a guy gets his arm torn off by "the monster in the closet," so what's not to love?

RED ZONE CUBA

My buddy Chris G thinks I'm out of my goddamned mind for loving this one as much as I do, but it's simply impossible for me not to love a film that reenacts the Bay of Pigs invasion with something like seven guys.

ESCAPE 2000

The sequel to the execrable 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, this one's an awful Italian ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK sorta-ripoff featuring an annoying "hero" named Trash and John Saxon slumming as the bad guy. Terrible and cheap, but good for a laugh.

I ACCUSE MY PARENTS

Not for all tastes, this 1940's cautionary tale about parental drunkenness and neglect is one of my favorites because it plays like a WWII-era version of the rich and dysfunctional families I grew up among in Westport, Connecticut.

GODZILLA VS. MEGALON

The show tackled the Japanese giant monster genre with two Godzilla flicks and five Gamera films, but this is by far the funniest of that rubber-suited lot and one of the funniest shows in the series. Taking what many consider to be the worst Godzilla film ever made (I disagree with that assessment) and turning themselves loose on it, Joel and the 'Bots codified the riffing playbook with this one and this particular Godzilla film has never been more entertaining. Big G fights a humongous cockroach (Megalon) from the undersea Mu empire and once more tangles with extra-ludicrous space monster Gigan, aided by superhero robot and blatant Ultraman ripoff Jet Jaguar, and it's a stone hoot. Done ultra-cheap and having no city-stomping whatsoever, this is pretty much Godzilla and company reduced to backyard tag team wrasslin', which in and of itself should be enough to work with, but then you get brilliance like this:

Sadly, the DVD of this one was recalled when it became apparent that the company didn't have the rights to release it on DVD, so an old recorded-from-cable VHS copy is the only way to see it now (although I hear it's still offered for rental via Netflix...).

THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN

An astronaut returns from a trip to Venus afflicted with a disease that makes him melt like a boner at a Phyllis Diller film festival while also turning him into a cannibal for no good reason. Much melting goo, severed heads and general stupidity make this worth your time and vastly improves the dull and stupid theatrical version.

CATALINA CAPER

This feeble caper comedy is notable for its cast of some of the blandest white people ever captured on film — there are many "bland white folks" jokes to be had, perpetrated by actual Caucasians — and several musical numbers of questionable merit, but the highlight — accent on "high" — is a visibly stoned Little Richard performing the atrocious "Scuba Party," a tune that almost single-handed undoes the excellent songs that he's deservedly remembered for.

TEENAGE CAVE MAN

This was the first episode I ever saw and to this day I place it in my Top 5, not just for its no-budget caveman antics starring a much-older-than-teenage, pre-THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn (as a cave youth with Brylcreemed hair), but also for a pair of outstanding shorts; "Catching Trouble" is an outrageous 1940's document of the carefree rape of the Florida wilderness (PETA would shit if this came out now) while "Aquatic Wizards" treats us to the exciting world of professional waterskiers, with Joel and the 'Bots knocking the jokes out of the park.

There were so many episodes of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 that I know I'm leaving out some obvious contenders, but if push came to shove I'd break it down thusly:

BEST EPISODE OVERALL-I know I'm gonna get shit for it, but I've watched MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE more times than any other episode and it makes me laugh my ass off. This is the one I'd recommend if you could only see one installment; if the concept of the show is to skewer the supposed worst that cinema has to offer, this episode does its job with great aplomb, and it's no easy feat making this dead dog of a film even the slightest bit entertaining.

MOST BORING FILM EVER RUN ON MST3K- without question I give this to the German HAMLET. No two ways about it, this is a total snoozer and would test the patience of even the most diehard and forgiving Shakespeare groupie.

WORST FILM EVER TO RUN ON MST3K- this one's a very tough call since there are several very strong contenders, but again I have to cite MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE. Once you see it you'll probably agree with me since there are few movies in motion picture history that even come close to its level of wretchedness.

So, dear readers, what do you have to say on this subject? Write in immediately!