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Friday, January 29, 2010

THINKING WHILE CRAFTING MEATBALLS

The first batch of my patented meatballs for 2010 gets underway.

Vaulties-

though this year has most certainly gotten off to a very good start indeed, I admit I've been lax with postings, due in part to not having as much time and motivation as I would like (along with having been out sick since Tuesday morning, only returning to work today). I'm working to correct this state of affairs by writing and stockpiling a number of articles that will allow me to get back on regular track, so I thank you for your kind patience.

While sick over the past few days I wasn't all that hungry, so when my appetite finally returned all i wanted was something simple to craft that would be a treat for my ravenous gullet. Several options were weighed until I settled on my patented meatballs, a delicate fusion of Italian and Swedish meatball flavors and techniques, and while cooking them I ruminated on the past month. (For me, cooking is something of an exercise in meditation whose results you can eat, so it's a win/win.) Among other things, my life has been improved by a new computer, a serious drive to stay true to my New Years' resolutions (so far successful), some much-needed and appreciated quality time with a kind representative of The Goddess, rooftop practice sessions with a new manriki gusari, some serious original comics art that is on its way, and a night out with some good friends who live far enough away to make regular visits a logistical pain in the ass, so it's all good.

I'm going to make like Geek in SURF'S UP and ride this wave of positivity, fully embracing its energy with a zen, one-with-it-all acceptance and serenity. I hereby surrender to whatever good fortune the fates have in store for me. What can I say? I'm groovin' on some of the best vibes the universe has sent my way in who can remember when, and I hope my aura reaches out and shares itself with all who are receptive. It wasn't so long ago when booze and other substances put me in a chemically induced version of this frame of mind, but this is the pure stuff and I like it just fine, baby. (No, I have not embarked on a twelve-step program; I'm just in a good place at the moment.)

And with that, I'm off to a weekend of getting my blogging shit together. Have a good weekend and take good care of yourselves, o my friends on the Internet whom I know in actuality and those whom I'll likely never meet. And if you have a steady squeeze, hold them close and love them ferociously.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

WILLOW ROSENBERG: AN APPRECIATION

When it comes to cool characters who are witches, the geek in the know bows to the sweet-faced awesomeness of Willow Rosenberg from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997-2003), oh so memorably brought to life by the frankly adorable Allison Hannigan. I have seen a couple of BUFFY episode since it ended it its original run and every time Willow is onscreen my mind comes to a complete halt. The girls from THE CRAFT have their charms, the sisters on CHARMED are okay, and Kim Novack in BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (1958) gave off waves of classy supernatural sexiness, but there's just something about Willow. That red hair, those sad eyes and her mellow/sleepy voice are irresistible, plus you've just gotta admire a gal who can flay a man with a mere gesture.

Ah, Willow...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A BRIEF HEADS-UP

It's not out until march, but trust me when I tell you that the collected edition of Bob Fingerman's comedic post-apocalyptic yarn FROM THE ASHES is a well-drawn and scathing look at a wry post-nuke Manhattan. It's also got an always-welcome behind the scenes section featuring preliminary art and a look into Fingerman's creative process, which is the kind of thing I just eat up when it's included in a collected edition.

I'll post a link when my PUBLISHERS WEEKLY review of it goes up, but don't wait for that. Order it today!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

THE LAST OF THE CARTWRIGHT BOYS RIDES OFF INTO THE SUNSET: R.I.P. PERNELL ROBERTS (1928-2010), THE MAN WHO WAS ADAM CARTWRIGHT AND TRAPPER JOHN M.D.

Pernell Roberts in his signature role, BONANZA's Adam Cartwright.

And so and era passes. Pernell Roberts, the last surviving Cartwright, is dead at 81, finally losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. Best known to TV addicts and Western fans of a certain age as Adam, the eldest of BONANZA's Cartwright boys, Roberts left an indelible mark on that show as the most somber and serious-minded of the Ponderosa brood. He left the show in 1965 after six years of acting in a show that the distinguished stage actor thought bit the big one and was briefly replaced by a stepson nobody cared about (Barry Coe) and former Zorro Guy Williams as Ben Cartwright's nephew, Will (Williams quickly departed to become Professor Robinson on LOST IN SPACE and was replaced by David Canary as Candy Canaday). Quoth Roberts in a 1964 LOOK magazine interview, "The plots, the godawful plots. They take a plot and write it six different ways for six different Sundays. One week its lawyers night, next week it's ranchers night. You change protagonist, but it's the same old plot. And the writing-GAD!"

Roberts continued to do TV, stage and movie work and eventually landed the role of a modern day (1979-1986) "Trapper" John MacIntyre, late of the infamous 4077 M.A.S.H. unit, on TRAPPER JOHN, M.D.

Roberts as Trapper John MacIntyre.

And now he's gone. Think I'll watch a couple of Adam-era BONANZA episodes when I get home tonight...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC: YER BUNCHE'S ALL-TIME FAVORITE SCI-FI ROBOTS

Wouldn't this shot make for an ideal hip-hop album cover? I can just hear the beat from EPMD's "It's My Thing" accompanying it.

Among lovers of sci-fi and its myriad permutations, sooner or later the discussion is going to roll around to the robots we have known and loved, so now it's this blog's turn to engage in that inevitable forum of discourse. Having been an active fan for as long as I can remember, I've seen innumerable movies and TV shows that brought us automatons who ranged from the humorous to the downright diabolical and after over four decades of weighing their merits against each other, I've come up with a short list of my favorite manufactured folks. For the sake of this piece I'm sticking strictly to robots as opposed to the other common form of artificial intelligence, namely the android, a creature usually defined by it being virtually indistinguishable from the average human being save for the fact that it's manufactured and may possess abilities that humans don't. Hence no Data, Gigolo Joe, Cherry 2000, Ash, Bishop, Galaxina or Roy Batty on this here list. Anyway, here's what I came up with.

ASTRO BOY

Known as "Tetsuwan Atomu" —translation: "Mighty Atom" — or "Atomu" for short in his native Japan, us Westerners were introduced to him as Astro Boy when his black & white cartoons were syndicated here in the 1960's and he's been held in very high and warm esteem by many ever since. I absolutely loathe "cute" characters in general and "cute" robot characters in particular, but Astro Boy defies the stereotypes established by such nausea-inducers as Twiki, V.I.N.C.E.N.T. and the unspeakable 7-Zark-7 by having a sweet and well-rounded personality meant to serve as a bridge between humans and the ever-growing robot populace in his future era of the 21st Century. Astro Boy's considerable adorable appeal also provides a great counterpoint to the fact that he's one of the most badassed superheroes out there, kind of a thinking, flying, heavily-equipped arsenal. When in combat mode, there are few characters who can match Astro Boy for sheer bravery, moxie and indefatigable tenacity in the face overwhelming odds. Often losing limbs in battle, Astro Boy will fight on and on, even unto being reduced to naught but a hope-filled and defiant head on a torso, and that's something I cannot help by admire and be inspired by. Plus he's got telescoping rifles that extrude from his ass-cheeks, making him a very literal badass. Seriously! (That aspect of his arsenal was trimmed from the American version.) No lie, in my estimation of what it means to be a first-rate superhero, Astro Boy ranks among the all-time greats.

GIANT ROBOT

Aka "Giant Robo" in its country of origin, this manga-derived and later impressively animated hunk of hardware is my human-controlled war-machine of choice, beating out the more familiar Gigantor thanks to it being a guy in a rubber suit instead of being a cartoon, as well as for its loony design trumping Gigantor's armored knight look. Who but a Japanese madman like cartoonist Mitsuteru Yokoyama could have come up with a 10-storey humanoid robot that shot seemingly endless rounds of missiles from its fingers while looking like a crazed Egyptian pharaoh?

Giant Robot in action.

Syndicated in the States as JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT beginning in 1969, I never saw the show, but I did see the movie edited together from some of its episodes, the insane and out-of-control VOYAGE INTO SPACE, which played for years on the Tri-State area's 4:30 MOVIE as a "Monster Week" staple, and it's a flick I cannot possibly recommend enough. A perfect way to amuse kids and drunks/stoners, the movie is overflowing with goofy aliens, giant monsters and all kinds of mayhem, all of it looking to get its collective ass kicked by a square-footed giant that looks like a sci-fi hieroglyph rendered by an acid-head.

ROBBY

One of the many indelible elements that made FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) a classic, Robby is perhaps the acme of the sci-fi automaton. Designed as an all-purpose thinking machine, Robby is a walking computer who acts as a protector to his creator, Doctor Morbius, and the doctor's hot blonde 19-year-old daughter, as well as being a mechanical manservant. He also has the capability to synthesize items that he's sampled, a talent put to use by the visiting Earth cruiser's alcoholic cook who has him whip up sixty gallons of primo whisky. Prior to the release of STAR WARS (1977), Robby was by far the most iconic robot in all of science-fiction, and if you ask me he might still be considered as such.

R2-D2

Paired with the incredibly annoying robo-queen that is C-3P0 (god damn, did his schtick grow old fast!), it's easy to see this little astromech droid as nothing more than a kooky comic foil to its gilded, prissy counterpart, but R2 merits a re-examination in its own individual right. Essentially a rolling toolbox, R2's strengths lie in its interesting design — "What if a fire hydrant suddenly sprouted in a hospital's germ-free ward?" — and plucky attitude that includes a willingness to mix it up with the bad guys right in the thick of things. It's tough, brave, and has the decency to speak in binary chirps and whistles, thus sparing us what would have been an inevitably irritating cutesy voice. Think I'm wrong about that bit of inevitability? Take a look at the entire STAR WARS saga and ask yourself when George Lucas ever overlooked even the slightest opportunity to fill the screen with vomitously cute and merchandisable characters, with the notable exceptions of R2, Chewbacca and Yoda?

BENDER RODRIGUEZ

A complete and total disgrace to all that is good in robots (and Mexicans) everywhere, FUTURAMA's Bender is a triumph of anthropomorphized bad taste and overall offensiveness, so how could I not adore him? Rude, crass and literally fueled by alcohol, Bender steals virtually every story he's in and considering some of his co-stars, that's no mean feat. Extra points for his stint as cross-dressing professional wrassler "the Gender Bender" and for using time travel to steal hundreds of priceless items from throughout human history, including Eddie Van Halen's guitar and Christ's cross.

TOM SERVO

When it comes to MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000's 'bots, some people have a tough time choosing between Crow or Servo, but not me. Equipped with vestigial arms, a transparent sphere for a head and a hover-skirt to facilitate locomotion, Servo won my favor from the moment he opened the gumball machine spigot that passes for his mouth, and he cracks me up like few other comedic creations. A sensitive intellectual of highly suspect sexual orientation, Servo's referential lexicon is vast, as is his capacity for comfortable cross-dressing, the playing of genuinely disturbing games (the creepy "Dog & Bear" immediately comes to mind), attraction to senior citizens ("Estelle!") and unabashed defense of "tearing down all the barriers" and allowing strange, androgynous man/women to hang out in the bedrooms of underage adolescent males. (His stirring defense of Mr. B Natural, anyone?) Blessed with a deep baritone voice and hilariously performed by Kevin Murphy (after originator Josh Weinstein left the show), Tom Servo would be my all-time favorite robot if not for the existence of the original "bubble-headed booby," namely...

B-9, aka "ROBOT"

As 'benign" as his designation would suggest (unless re-programmed to murderous intent by that shitheel Dr. Smith), the Class M-3 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot was the small screen's answer to FORBIDDEN PLANET's Robby and the similarities between the two were several (including being designed by Robert Kinoshita). But while Robby was a glorified (though nonetheless charming) tool, B-9 was ever so much more. Initially intended as a probe that would survey a colony world before his human crew-mates set foot outside their spaceship, B-9 had no personality to speak of and was re-programmed by the aforementioned Zachary Smith to murder the Robinson Family while they slumbered in their suspension tubes on the way to Alpha Centauri.

B-9 in the evil thrall of Dr. Smith.

That scheme failed and for the early part of LOST IN SPACE's first year, B-9 remained under Smith's nefarious command. That state of affairs was thankfully thwarted when nine-year-old electronics prodigy Will Robinson set about on a second re-programming that not only rendered the machine once more on its intended crew's side, but also unexpectedly unleashed the most unique of all fictional robotic personalities. From that moment on, B-9 was "Robot," an actual part of the Robinson family, and while always addressed as "robot," it was less an acknowledgement of his manufactured status than it was for all intents and purposes his name; he had been addressed as "robot" from Day One, but his newfound personality soon imbued him with the worthiness of being recognized as an individual. Though composed of metal, wires and sophisticated circuitry, the Robot was easily the most distinctive and fun character on LOST IN SPACE, second only to Dr. Smith and rounding out a trio consisting of the fey doctor and young Will, a dynamic that came to dominate the show at the expense of the other characters. The Robot was the most perfect foil imaginable for Dr, Smith, and their insulting exchanges became the stuff of legend, as did the Robot's arms-a-flailin' cry of DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!!!"



Behind the scenes: the Robot gets busted by security on the 20th Century Fox lot.

But more than anything else, it was the Robot's sense of humor and outlook on life that endeared him to me and damned near everyone who watched LOST IN SPACE during our youth. (His ability to play the acoustic guitar was also a plus.) The Robot's deeply mocking and borderline-asthmatic guffaw was infectious and his observations on humanity were often priceless, but undoubtedly the crowning gem of his comments had to be from the second season episode "The Colonists," wherein black-clad and bitchy space-Amazon the Mighty Neolani spouts ludicrous pre-Women's Lib "feminist platitudes," foments an insurrection among the Robinson females and subjugates the Robinson males, relegating them to slave labor. Always looking out for Number One, Dr. Smith affects the personality of a sensitive artist and successfully woos the estrogenic oppressor, thus avoiding work. When questioning Neolani's relationship with Dr. Smith, Will openly states his confusion, which leads to this incredible exchange with the Robot:

The Robot (attempting to make things clear to Will): The female of the species always has a soft spots for artists.

Will (very skeptical): How do you know so much about "the female of the species?"

(The camera zooms in for a closeup of the Robot's featureless bubble)

The Robot: I have been around, Will Robinson. I have been around.

When I saw that bit again as an adult, I nearly laughed myself to death. Did his second re-programming give the Robot memories in which he was once a playa? (I don't know about what you think, but the image of the Robot humping his way from space station to space station is rather disturbing and it leads me to wonder about the uses to which the Robinson women put him on lonely nights when the men-folk were off setting up weather stations on some god-forsaken world's inhospitable polar ice caps... That said, I bet he'd be a considerate and giving lover.) The only moment that even comes close for sheer insanity involving the Robot is the sequence in "Castles in Space" in which Chavo the space-Mexican — no, I am not bullshitting you — gets him shitfaced-wasted on tequila. (This was third season episode and by that time the writers had pretty much adopted a "fuck logic" attitude, with many scripts crafted by the hilariously-named Peter Packer.) Returning to the Robinson's camp with his arms characteristically a-flailin' and bellowing a hideously out-of-tune rendition of "Cielito Lindo," the Robot giggles like a madman before falling over unconscious, eventually waking up and sitting with an icepack perched atop his bubble as he vows never to drink again. Think about how miserable he must have been. The poor bastard couldn't even puke! But whatever the case, I love the Robot with a respect equaled only by that which I hold for Spock. Now there's a MY DINNER WITH ANDRE scenario I would have loved to see acted out: Spock and the Robot, hanging out and jamming, kicking back some brews and grousing about chicks. That's entertainment!

Friday, January 22, 2010

GERRY ANDERSON'S NEW CAPTAIN SCARLET (2005)

CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS (1967) was British kiddie TV mastermind Gerry Anderson's followup to his classic THUNDERBIRDS (1965), and the two programs could not have been more different in approach and content if they tried. CAPTAIN SCARLET was very much a product of the Cold War and depicted an inter-planetary war of nerves between the Earth and the Mysterons of Mars, an emotionless disembodied presence that launches the conflict after a first contact encounter that goes disastrously wrong (an Earth expedition mistakes a Mysteron probe for an act of aggression and destroys one of their cities, thus pissing off the technologically superior aliens). Featuring marionettes that departed from the large-headed and somewhat cartoony-looking designs of all previous Anderson shows, CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS was bleak, paranoia-laden and serious as a heart attack, in other words not at all what was expected from a kid's show of its era (or even now, come to think of it), and as a result it has gone on to earn a well-deserved place in the pantheon of cult science-fiction TV.

GERRY ANDERSON'S NEW CAPTAIN SCARLET kicked off in 2005, ditching the puppets in favor of CGI, and the results have been quite commendable. Rather than continuing from where the original series left off, the new run chose to start from the ground up and retell the start of the Earth/Mysteron conflict, a launching point that also provides the origins of the titular protagonist and his arch enemy, Captain Black. Both are agents of Spectrum, kind of a "homeworld security" organization in the year 2068, and both were manning the mission that went wrong when a panicky Captain Black fired missiles upon a Mysteron city. Hauling ass away from the site of devastation, the Earthmen found out about the Mysterons' bizarre powers the hard way when they were killed and resurrected as flawless clones under Mysteron control and dispatched back to Earth, there to serve as havoc-wreaking agents of destruction bent on wiping out the entire human race. Captain Scarlet eventually shakes of the Mysterons' control and rejoins Spectrum with a major advantage: his cloned body can now regenerate from even the most grievous of injuries and damage, making him pretty much indestructible.

Pumped full of lead and he still ain't dead: the indestructible Captain Scarlet.

Captain Black, on the other hand, stays evil and is the catalyst for several of the show's plots, constantly acting as a remorseless and deadly thorn in Spectrum's side. From that setup, the new CAPTAIN SCARLET ramps up the energy episode-by-episode, dropping its heroes into fast-paced international and interplanetary adventure and intrigue on a grand scale. The limitations of doing this show live-action and with marionettes are left in the dust and in no time the viewer gets used to the CGI figures, accepting that even the CGI humanoids rendered in a high-budget flick like AVATAR have not yet worked out all the kinks of completely convincing movement and facial expressions, and the show's scripts and voice acting more than make up for any deficiencies in the animation.

With the exception of some tweaks in national origin and gender, the characters are much the same as they were in the 1967 version (the most notable change being Lieutenant Green's reimagining as a woman), and the classic design of the series' vehicles and spacecraft have been given a forty-years-on update that works seamlessly, especially the new look for the utterly kickass Spectrum Pursuit Vehicles (or SPVs, if you prefer). The all-female Angel Squadron are back as well, and their leader, Destiny, is given a hell of a lot more to do this time around and more or less renders the heroic pairing of Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue into a trio you can really root for. I've dug the Angels since I was in the single digits, and I say their fighter planes are a million times cooler than an X-Wing any day (I prefer the original Sixties version, but the new ones convey a real sense of badass power the original lacked; the originals were sleek, surgical implements with which their pilots precisely removed removed enemy bogies from the air).

The modern Angel "Falcon" fighter.

As yet unavailable in the U.S. on DVD or in broadcast (I snagged the first series on a "gray area" DVD at a 2007 Big Apple Con), the new CAPTAIN SCARLET is well worth checking out if you stumble across it and is a textbook example of just how to bring a classic series into the 2000's. I'm guessing that the rebooted DOCTOR WHO gets waaaay more attention because it's Britain's answer to STAR TREK in terms of pop cultural significance, but GERRY ANDERSON'S NEW CAPTAIN SCARLET is a far better series across the board, with not a bad episode in the bunch, something I cannot say about DOCTOR WHO (despite how much I've enjoyed many of its installments).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

WHEN COMICS HAD BALLS!

Lately I've kind of hit a snag in regard to coming up with ideas for daily posts — not writer's block, but rather the occasional lack of inspiration — so I cruise the Internet for something to light my fire. While researching I stumbled upon an excellent gallery of vintage comics covers and just had to share some of them with you. The whole site's worth checking out in detail, but the following are my favorites of the lot:

The lesson learned here would appear to be that real men didn't need planes!

I have no idea just what the fuck was going on here, but this is the kind of cover that the kiddies dig.

A cover that quite succinctly depicts the sorry plight of the working cartoonist.

How can you not love a cover where a guy's face explodes in a shower of undefinable crud for no explained reason?

Lastly comes this cover that manages to cram a gunslingin' sheriff-type, Nazis, an impending rocket launch and a fistfight into one image. The only things missing are a gorilla with a machine gun and some slimy, tentacled alien tearing the space-suit from a big-titted Wally Wood-drawn space-babe. Who wouldn't want to read this comic?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

THIS ONE'S FOR AMBER

My pal Amber is an unspeakably cool lady who's a geek that hand-crafts her own superhero getups, looks terrific in them and has a sense of humor about all of it, so when I stumbled across this cover all I could do was think of her reenacting this in a convention's cosplay contest:

Art by Nick Cardy.

I wanna know what Hal Jordan would have to say about this!

ENTER THE FAT DRAGON (1978)

My man Sammo Hung, king of the fatassed badasses.

Even though it stars my man Sammo Hung, with a title like ENTER THE FAT DRAGON I expected this 1978 ass-whuppin' comedy to be just another of the lame Bruce Lee cash-ins that spewed forth from the Szechaun-pepper-ravaged anus of the Hong Kong film industry in the wake of Lee Siu Lung's untimely death. Those films were the worst kind of exploitative cinematic necrophilia imaginable, uncaringly besmirching Bruce's good name in every way short of actually digging up his fetid corpse and fucking it in the ass on camera, so I wasn't exactly open to witnessing another one and consequently avoided ENTER THE FAT DRAGON for the better part of the past twenty-some-odd years whenever it crossed my path. But be that as it may, I finally figured that if I could willingly have endured THEY CALL ME BRUCE? (1982), a film that was about as funny as a burning children's cancer ward, then I could at least give Sammo Hung's Bruce riff a chance. Hoo-boy, am I glad I finally did, because ENTER THE FAT DRAGON came from out of nowhere to totally kick my ass and take its rightful place as my all-time favorite Sammo Hung movie. Yes, good things really do come to those who wait (or, in my case, avoid).

Contrary to what some sources would have you believe, ENTER THE FAT DRAGON is not a parody of ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), but is instead a respectful tribute to Bruce Lee's overall cinematic persona and a lampoon of his movies in general. Sammo stars as Ah Lung, an affable country bumpkin pig farmer who idolizes Bruce Lee.

Ah Lung fantasizes about being as awesome as his hero.

Ah Lung leaves his rural home and sets off to Hong Kong for a job in his uncle's dinky back alley restaurant, and once he arrives the plot becomes totally superfluous as what passes for a story reveals itself as nothing more than a feature-length excuse for fight scene after fight scene. You get the requisite gang of local toughs who refuse to pay at the restaurant, a twisted crime boss with a trio of international martial arts masters at his command, and an arrogant star of Bruce Lee cash-in/ripoff movies who thinks he's the shit, so there are plenty of asses in sore need of a good kicking and Ah Lung is just the guy to do it.

The film's comedy is as broad as one would expect from a Hong Kong flick of its era, but the refreshing thing about it is that while martial arts comedies often feature a goofy protagonist of dubious merit who becomes a kung fu expert in time to defeat the film's Big Bad, ENTER THE FAT DRAGON gives us a goofy protagonist who's not only a badass from the get-go, but a major-league serious motherfucking badass like nobody's business. I've seen many Sammo Hung movies and have always delighted in watching him decimate his opponents with grace skill and power that utterly belies his girth, but the shattering asskickings he hands out in this film are spectacular and cover hand-to-hand and weapons techniques with a deceptive ease. Ah Lung may be a goofball, but once he's in combat mode you'd better get out of his way unless you actually want to experience a year or two of intensive physical rehab.

Ah Lung, armed with sticks and about to beat the ever-loving shit out of a pack of assailants.

No joke, the boy is the baddest motherfucker on two legs, and it must be humiliating for the film's numerous in-shape antagonists to be so thoroughly brutalized by a guy who looks like his diet is composed entirely of sacks of White Castle double-cheeseburgers and Chicken Rings.

Like I said, there really isn't any plot to speak of, so the gags that hold the film together between outbursts of bone-crushing violence at times feel like random skits from some sub-MAD TV sketch show and offer little to recommend them. Perhaps the funniest thing in the film is an element that would have likely gotten the filmmakers killed if they'd included it in a film made nowadays, and that's the ludicrous sight of classic-era kung fu flick actor Lee Hoi San (HEROES OF THE EAST, THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN and many, many others) in a huge mutton-chopped Afro wig and blackface, presumably as a parody of Jim Kelly from ENTER THE DRAGON.

"Whatchoo lookin' at?": the venerable Lee Hoi San in a ridiculous example of kung fu minstrelsy.

The core of the film's comedy, however, is Sammo Hung's Bruce Lee-worshipping Ah Lung and his dead-on accurate impersonation of the late legend's mannerisms, gestures, battle squawks and familiar facial grimaces. Though the only physical resemblance Hung bears to Bruce Lee is a common ethnicity, Hung's Lee riffs are funny as hell to those who get the gag and should definitely be checked out.

So I heartily recommend ENTER THE FAT DRAGON for those who enjoy quality fight scenes and could not care less about having a plot get in the way of the ass-whuppin.' While no DRUNKEN MASTER (also from 1978), this one's good for a laugh and will get you pumped up enough to make you want to go out and beat up Asian guys in blackface.

Poster from the Japanese release.

R.I.P. GLEN BELL (1923-2010), FOUNDER OF TACO BELL, DEAD AT AGE 86

My hands-down favorite fast food — when prepared correctly — is the mighty Taco Bell, and now its founder, one Glen Bell, has passed on at the age of 86. If you also adore what he wrought, take a moment to remember his contribution to classic "munchies" cuisine and if possible scarf down some of those fantastic tacos in his honor. Thanks, Glen. The shit's delicious!

A book crying out for a major motion picture adaptation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

BYE-BYE BI: R.I.P. PORN FAVE ERICA BOYER (1956-2009)

Erica Boyer, a mainstay in American porn, was killed in a car crash on New Year's Eve, mere days after her fifty-third birthday. The star of such flesh-epics as WHITE BUN BUSTERS and HANNAH DOES HER SISTERS (both 1986), BACKSIDE TO THE FUTURE 1 (1988), WONDER REARS (1991), and the excellently-titled READ MY LIPS: NO MORE BUSH (1993), Boyer had a reputation for being a real sweetheart of a human being about whom few in the industry had a bad word to say, and she was justly renowned for her torrid girl/girl work (though supposedly bisexual, many feel Boyer was more likely a straight-up lesbian). A detailed obit for her can be found at AVN.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

GONE FOR THE 3-DAY WEEKEND

Dear Vaulties-

I'm outta here for the three-day weekend, so check back in on Tuesday. Have a kickass weekend!

-Yer Bunche

Friday, January 15, 2010

KING FRAT (1979)

The deserved success of NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) inevitably spawned several imitators that had none of the original's quality in the department of overall cinematic craftsmanship, a trend that continues to this day, and most of that wretched breed chose to focus on ultra-lowbrow gross-out/"shock" humor, reasonless vulgarity and gratuitous nudity to put asses in seats. But none of the ANIMAL HOUSE clones was as flagrant in both its ripoff status or its chimp-with-a-camera filmmaking than 1979's KING FRAT, a film that brings to mind what ANIMAL HOUSE might have been like if it had been helmed by a ten-year-old. I was first introduced to the film during my own wild college days and watched it while out of my mind on any number of intoxicants that evening, so I remembered little of it except for it's horrendous theme song and have sought to see it again from a far more sober point of view. Unavailable in the U.S. on DVD until a recent release on a solo disc and in a double feature with the 1977 T&A festival CHEERING SECTION, KING FRAT is now once more unleashed upon an unsuspecting public and it has to be seen to be disbelieved.

KING FRAT has no linear plot to speak of (which makes it ideal for watching while completely fucked up) and is instead a series of "comedic" adventures starring a pack of seriously overage students at Yellowstream University. Lacking the wit to come up with characters as memorable as those found in the film it so mercilessly rips off, KING FRAT gives us a bland assortment of perpetually-drunk automatons (they can hardly be called characters) who carry out what the script dictates, and among them can be found a profane black dude, the requisite freshman pledge, the jock (who constantly wears a football helmet so we know he's a jock, as if the fact that he's named "Jock" wasn't enough of a hint), a couple of interchangeable ladies' men, a jaw-droppingly offensive "Injun" stereotype named "Chief" who's played by a white guy (and dressed like a crazed Vietnam veteran), and a painful John Belushi/Bluto knockoff by the name of J. J. "Gross-Out" Gumbrowski (John DiSanti).

College student "Gross-Out" (forty-one-year-old John DiSanti) hits the can with his faithful inflatable girlfriend, Griselda.

Unlike the beloved Deltas from ANIMAL HOUSE, you will not give a shit about what happens to any of these manikins or root for them in any way.

Since KING FRAT has no actual plot, here's a breakdown of things that go on in the movie, little of which is tied together by what is commonly known as story structure:
  • The Pi Kappa fraternity hears about a "fart contest" — which is announced with a front page headline in the local paper — and enter sure-fire winner Gross-out in the proceedings. He goes up against a number of flatulent contestants, including his ex-girlfriend/female counterpart, and the object is to produce farts of incredible volume while not "drawing mud."
  • The freshman pledge is desperate to lose his virginity to his chaste girlfriend, but that plotline leads absolutely nowhere and not even its "twist" conclusion can save it.
  • Gross-Out and the black dude pump marijuana fumes into the funeral of the school's recently-deceased dean (whom they killed by causing him a fatal heart attack during a drive-by mooning) and exit the scene with the corpse in the back of their bitchin' ride (a hearse). The dead dean's body is then taken to the frat house, where it proceeds to pop up throughout the film's lowjinx.
  • The black dude inexplicably has a job scrubbing floors for the obnoxious and uber-whitebread enemy frat, a position allowing him to be beaten up by enemy frat boys when their mascot, "Dionysus," is stolen. The mascot in question is one of those fountain of a cherubic little boy taking a leak, only here, in a failed attempt at visual wit, the statue is eqipped with a poorly-crafted oversize phallus. If that doesn't sound funny, that's because it isn't.
  • A Pi Kappa in a gorilla costume rips off John Belushi's famous Peeping Tom scene and as a result falls from a tree when busted by the object of his voyeurism, breaking his leg in the process. That leads to the open-negligeed girl suddenly turning sweet and accompanying him in the ambulance, where she straddles and fucks fucks him, only to discover upon arrival at the hospital that they are stuck together like a pair of dogs rutting in the street. They're led into the emergency room (she with a paper bag over her head to preserve her modesty), where they displace an old man who bitches endlessly about being unable to piss.
  • The dean who steps in to replace his dead predecessor vows to affect an attitude that was the polar opposite of the previous dean's stance regarding the Pi Kappas and comes off as a tenth-rate Dean Wormer whenever he tries to foil the Pi Kappa's fun. John Vernon is an admittedly tough act to follow, but...
  • The battle between our heroes and their foes is a pitiful fistfight that's the most feeble knockoff of ANIMAL HOUSE's climax imaginable.
  • The film ends with a wordless and incongruous shot of a pre-teen boy wearing a t-shirt announcing he'll be in the school's class of 1999 (twenty years from the film's release date, meaning the kid would be nearing thirty upon graduation). The child sneers at the camera and lets loose with a belch, after which the credits roll.
With all of that (and less) in mind, KING FRAT is very obviously a complete and utter disaster, but as such it's a fascinating mess. It's a textbook example of a cheap ripoff that so slavishly apes its source material but gets everything totally wrong, and it is for that reason that I highly recommend experiencing it for yourself. Much like with THE COUNTRY BEARS, I sat from start to finish of KING FRAT with my eyes bugging out of my head and my mouth hanging open in disbelief at its shameless ripoff-ness and lower-than-lowbrow content — seriously, how do you beat "drawing mud?" — and I was highly entertained by its worthlessness. It seemed like just when the film couldn't possibly stoop any lower, it would do just that and then top (bottom?) itself again. So I heartily recommend renting KING FRAT to run it for a room full of drunken reprobates who will no doubt enjoy jeering at its staggering incompetence. It's a true anti-classic.

The packaging for the DVD pairing of KING FRAT and CHEERING SECTION: the image used for KING FRAT is not from the film.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

PONDERING THE IMPORTANT STUFF: QUESTIONS FROM A MONSTER KID

During the blessed days before the advent of cable TV and the near-total extinction of local showcases for cheesy old horror and sci-fi flicks, Yer Bunche was what used to be called a "monster kid," a young mind raised on and heavily influenced by FAMOUS MONSTER OF FILMLAND magazine, THE MONSTER TIMES, and the cornucopia of monster movies that was found on pre-mid-'80's television. Even then I understood that the majority of such material depended on the audience's willing suspension of disbelief, yet I just couldn't help but ask questions inevitably raised by those narratives that were rife with monsters, homicidal maniacs and aliens that ravaged the world at large. Questions such as the following:

Could the Wolf Man be distracted from attacking you by throwing him a rubber ball or a squeaky chew toy? Maybe some Gaines-Burgers?

Would the Golem have objected if you molded a huge dick from his clay body and had him go about avenging wrongs against the Jewish community with a huge hard-on?

Is the Gorgon's pubic hair also intermingled with living snakes? And if so, are they cute l'il garter snakes?

Is it just me, or did Christopher Lee's Dracula really dig being evil?

Were the castaways on the MYSTERIOUS ISLAND annoyed that they didn't have any drawn butter when they boiled and ate that giant crab?

How do re-animated severed heads speak when they no longer have vocal cords and are unable to draw breath?

Would anyone have thought the kids from VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) were all that peculiar if they'd been born in Sweden?

Did any of the sighted people left in the wake of the world-blinding meteor shower in THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962) make even the slightest attempt to use defoliants on the deadly carnivorous plants?

Why would anyone design the world's first (and totally kickass) giant robot to look like some sort of kitsch Egyptian pharaoh?

Was the Id monster in FORBIDDEN PLANET (1957) intended (not inappropriately, considering its reason for coming into existence) to look like an angry, ambulatory nutsack?

What was done with Kong's corpse after his fall from the Empire State Building? It was during the Great Depression and there were plenty of hungry people in New York City, if you get my drift...

Was the Creature from the Black Lagoon "physically compatible" with the human females he kidnapped?

Was Rodan the only classic era Toho giant monster clearly depicted as eating humans?

Why did people give a fuck about getting killed by the Mummy when they could so easily outrun him or just leave town? Sure, he'd probably catch up with you eventually, but it would take ages and you could just leave again.

Regarding General Ursus from BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970): why is a gorilla sporting the Latin name for "bear?"

Thanks to him being cobbled together from sundry bits of corpses, did the Frankenstein Monster smell of decomposition?

Considering how Godzilla is the embodiment of the horrors of the atomic bomb, what would the half-life of his turds be?

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly: why are there so many alien worlds populated entirely by hot chicks, and why is our space program doing absolutely fuck all to establish contact with these noble races?