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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

FROM THE ARCHIVES: SOME FUN STUFF FOR NEWCOMERS

(Illustration by Kevin Kobasic )

Rabid readers of ribaldry, ridiculousness, and rampaging lunacy-

For any of you out there who may be newcomers the the Vault of Buncheness, I bid you a heartfelt "Welcome!" Here's a shortcut to some of my own favorite pieces from the archives; there's a lot here to mull over and there's something for everyone (not all of which is work-safe), so enjoy! And this is only the tip of the iceberg...

-Yer Bunche, keeper of the Vault of Buncheness and champion hen-teaser

TEN INDISPENSIBLE TREASURES FROM THE RECORD VAULT

JAMES BOMB: WHAT IS THE WORST 007 FLICK?

STUPID MOVIES YOU NEED TO SEE

LOVE SONG TO THE MIGHT AND MAJESTY OF THE CHILI DOG

FAY WRAY, KING KONG, AND THE END OF AN ERA

A PERFECT DAY

COSTUME DRAMA: HALLOWEEN AS A SUPERHERO

THESE KIDS TODAY

FULLY LOADED GUMBO EL BUNCHO

FOR THE LOVE OF WARREN: HOW I DISCOVERED REALLY GOOD HORROR COMICS, AND SOME FERVENT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BEGINNERS

THE SACRED 25: THE SONGS I SIMPLY CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT

50 THINGS I LEARNED FROM THE MOVIES

TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932) and TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934)

STRAPHANGER’S VENGEANCE: PEOPLE ON THE SUBWAY WHO NEED SEVERE BEATINGS

HALLOWEEN RAMPAGE 2008!

SMOKE ‘EM IF YA GOT ‘EM: CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER FULL-TIME STONER

POPEYE SPEAKS

THE UNBELIEVABLE BUT 100% TRUE STORY OF “SUPERCAT”

TRUE TALES OF FAIRFIELD COUNTY: THE FINE ART OF “LINCOLN LOGGING”

SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH: TRUE TALES OF FIRST PORNOGRAPHY

FEMALE SAVAGES ON THE LOOSE!!!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

SUNDAY'S PORN DAY: SCORE aka THE "TRON-A-SUTRA" (No, seriously)

Things have been rather lean in the newly-released porn department, so I'm saving the best (?) of the run-of-the-mill stuff for next week. This time around, I'm quite pleased to alert you to the existence of SCORE, a beautifully-made Kama Sutra-style instructional guide to various sexual positions as enacted by performers in an environment and gear that evokes the original TRON (1982). Aw, who the fuck am I kidding? This basically is TRON, only it's sex-oriented as opposed to gaming/gladiatorial scenarios and has no narrative. It's strictly a sharing of information.

A pair of programs — the "penetrator program" and the "receptor program" — demonstrate "the Sitting Bull."

The instructional action in SCORE is played utterly straight and takes place on the TRON world's game grid, guiding the user through twenty sexual positions, and though it's done with a straight face, the concept is kind of amusing. (Well, I found it funny...) While the positions in question are accurately demonstrated, the participants never break from the whole TRON aesthetic and no genitalia is on view, which is to say that the imagery of glowing, helmeted characters fucking with their clothes on might not get you into trouble if you watch it anywhere not considered work-safe. There's no nudity but there's also no doubt whatsoever as to what's being represented, so proceed with caution.

So I thought SCORE was fun for what it is and was glad to see the whole porn parody thing taken in a new and very well-crafted direction, even though I doubt you could really rub one out to it. And I don't know about you, but I always found Yori to be a cutie and a half, so I found all of this rather charming. (Which is not to say that the programs depicted are necessarily Tron and Yori.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)

The spectre of the late John Hughes looms large over American cinema of the 1980's, with the writer/director often cited as "the voice of a generation." Personally, I never bought into that assessment of the guy's work because his films about the teenage condition were really no different than similar fare that came in previous generations, with the sole difference being that Hughes' films were fortunate enough to happen at a time when Hollywood movies could be more honest about youthful sexual longings, insecurities and the distinctly post-1970's suburban partying excess that defined much of the MTV decade (or at least that defined the goings-on when and where I grew up). I'll also grant that Hughes' strong suit was that not one of his protagonists was what would usually pass for the idealized "glamorous" teenager (with the possible exception of Molly Ringwald in THE BREAKFAST CLUB), instead populating several of his stories with dorks and losers of both genders, something that insecure kids could easily identify with. While the majority of Hughes' teen flicks were, I believe, aimed at girls, WEIRD SCIENCE was a straight-up adolescent male fantasy writ large, and as such it's my favorite Hughes movie and one of my favorite films from its era.

In case you somehow missed it, WEIRD SCIENCE follows Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) and Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall), two nerdy high school losers who are the butt of constant abuse from bullies (including a young and embarrassingly new wave-looking Robert Downey, Jr.), Wyatt's meathead asshole of an older brother, Chet (Bill Paxton, in perhaps his most definitive role this side of Hudson in ALIENS), and can't get the time of day from any living female. When Wyatt's parents leave for the weekend, Gary offhandedly suggests that the pair use Wyatt's computer to simulate the ideal woman, feeding the computer with every bit of data that could facilitate the fantasy. What they did not expect was the program and a half-assed voodoo ritual actually working and coming up with Lisa (former fashion model Kelly LeBrock), a total knockout redhead with amazing, godlike superpowers.

The arrival of Lisa (Kelly LeBrock): the '80's answer to Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus."

Sweet, British-accented, funny, genius-level smart, smokin'-hot and completely willing to acquiesce to her creators' sexual whims, Lisa is a literal genie let out of the bottle, and the rest of the movie chronicles her successful efforts to make confident men out of a pair of pathetic losers who hadn't seen a trace of pussy since they slid out of their mothers'. It's a noble and utterly selfless quest that's fueled by the movie throwing all logic and realism out the window and embracing the sensibility of what is essentially a live-action cartoon, an aspect cited by many viewers as what makes this their least favorite of Hughes' "big three" (the other two being THE BREAKFAST CLUB and the achingly funny SIXTEEN CANDLES).

In my humble opinion, it's that very cartoonishness that makes WEIRD SCIENCE a gem, and some of its elements would be right at home in a comic book or a particularly good issue of MAD. It's also a strong contender for the title of "Best Male Fantasy Movie Ever Made" and some of its qualifying characteristics include the following:
  • Kelly LeBrock's Lisa is not at all what one might expect from a film like this. Sure, she's fine enough to make the corpse of Liberace claw its fetid way from the grave and loudly proclaim a newfound heterosexuality, but though she plainly states that Wyatt and Gary made her and can therefore do with her whatever they chose — meaning exactly what you think it does — she is in no way a mindless sex-puppet. She's smart — positively brilliant, actually — fun, adventurous, and supportive of the boys. In fact, her commitment to seeing them "man up" is quite single-minded, even realizing that her sex-goddess-made-flesh factor intimidates the boys and then adjusting her plan to make them of interest to the rather bland girls they are attracted to (girls who tellingly lack virtually all of the desired elements that they made sure to imbue Lisa with). As previously mentioned, Lisa also possesses superpowers, and they are indeed formidable. In fact, Lisa's ability to bend the fabric of reality to her will with zero effort would have been horrifying in the hands of most other characters, and her creators should be commended for having some of their own goodness manifest in her personality. Instead of a world-destroyer, she's a benevolent and fun-loving Aphrodite for the then-nascent digital age.
  • The lunacy that transpires over the weekend of Wyatt's parents' absence is epic and much of it has become the stuff of fond reminiscence for those of us who saw it when it first came out, but the one sequence that still reduces me to near-incontinence is when Lisa takes the obviously underage boys to a waaaaay ethnic blues bar and encourages them to get their drink on. At first quite uncomfortable and terrified by the place, the boys allow alcohol to work its magic and in no time they find themselves genuinely befriended by a pack of hard, old school Greek, Hispanic and black dudes, all of whom are amazed that they appear to be sexually involved with Lisa (who does nothing to correct their assumption and actually bolsters it). The whole sequence is funny, but it becomes hilarious when the scene skips forward by several rounds and finds Gary completely shitfaced, now sporting a pair of shades and a pimp hat, and channeling an old school black dude's conversational style to incredibly un-PC effect.
Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) inexplicably becomes the blackest man in the known universe.

That sequence fucking kills me and is so over-the-top offensive that it does a complete one-eighty, becoming a satire of its own outrageousness. It's a classic moment and reads just like the twisted John Hughes I first encountered years earlier during his days as a writer for NATIONAL LAMPOON, a Hughes whose incredibly filthy and mean-spirited bent was considerably sanitized for Hollywood deployment.
  • Bill Paxton's turn as Chet is a study in the comedic asshole and he is nothing less than fantastic.
Behold the testosterone-fueled majesty that is Chet (Bill Paxton).

Infinitely worse than the pussified new wave bullies Max (Robert Rusler) and Ian (Robert Downey, Jr.), Chet is a shotgun-toting, jarheaded douchebag of the highest order and he's that rare bad guy that you just love to hate.
  • The aforementioned new wave bullies serve to point out just what a couple of pussies Wyatt and Gary are. Rather than being in any way physically threatening, Max and Ian are more of an annoyance than a physical threat, and even the biggest milquetoast could most likely kick the living shit out of both of them with little effort.
Max (Robert Rusler) and Ian (Robert Downey, Jr.), two bullies who are un-threatening but assholes nonetheless.

But the real point of these limp bullies is to illustrate what Wyatt and Gary would be like if they were themselves assholes. Max and Ian are the dark reflection of our dorky heroes, only a tad more posh and romantically connected to the girls Wyatt and Gary like, girls the bullies would ditch in a heartbeat for a shot at Lisa. Perhaps my only complaint about this film is that Wyatt and Gary did not get in at least one shot to the kisser on these pricks. Chet would kick their asses if they attempted it with him, but these escapees from A Flock of Seagulls? I'd call it a fair slap-fight.

And on top of all that, the boys get to drive fast and fancy cars, throw a kickass house party, rout a gaggle of post-apocalyptic biker mutants — including Michael Berryman, the black punker chick from REPO MAN and Vernon Wells, pretty much reprising his role as Wez from THE ROAD WARRIOR — get the girls of their dreams (dull though they may be) and, last but definitely not least, get to see Lisa naked (which we don't, unfortunately).

Re-examining WEIRD SCIENCE after so long was like a welcome trip back to some of the favorite parts of my very much misspent youth with an old friend I had not seen in a very long time, and I gotta tell ya that it felt quite good. Do yourself the favor and check it out, either for the first time, or for the hundredth.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A MUSICAL EPIPHANY

Rick Wakeman (in wizard drag) and pals, circa 1975.

Grownup awareness and hindsight sure can be a bitch...

A friend recently hooked me up with forty-two episodes from the Mike Nelson years of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, and as I make my way through them I occasionally encounter one that I missed during the original run. Such an episode is the one where Mike and the Bots took on THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN — a film I cannot believe was made by the same guy who directed THE BLACK CAT (1934) — and during one of the skit segments Mike does an impersonation of former Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman during his "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" solo period, complete with ludicrous cape and a fright wig to simulate the musician's signature tresses.

MST3K's Mike Nelson channels solo Rick Wakeman.

That bit kicked me in the head as, for the first time in nearly twenty years, my thoughts turned to the Rick Wakeman album "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" (1975).

Even the promo ad was overblown and pretentious.

For those who've never heard of it, "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" is Wakeman's musical evocation of exactly what its title states, and it's an ambitious bit of heavily-orchestral composition accented by Wakeman's talented keyboard fiddling. Fraught with choral vocals that sound like two-thousand singers were in the studio and minimally-worded retellings of some key aspects of the Arthurian legends — the lyrical scarcity theoretically allowing the music to fill in the narrative and descriptive gaps — the album can be seen by some as an ideal soundtrack to a lengthy D&D campaign (which would not be inappropriate since Dungeons and Dragons first appeared scarcely a year before Wakeman's foray into Camelot, and both efforts simply reek of that early 1970's fantasy vibe). Lancelot, Galahad, Excalibur, the Lady of the Lake, Guinevere, Merlin, and of course Arthur are all present and represented with the kind of legendary aural bombast that would have made Basil Poledouris turn green with envy.

God help me, I used to love that record during my mid-adolescence, appealing as it did to my "romantic" side, but now I look back on it and ask myself what the fuck I was thinking. While there're some admittedly interesting moments to it, "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" has got to be one of the most overblown and pretentious pieces musical masturbation ever recorded, very clearly the product of a twenty-five-year-old with delusions of grandeur (plus, it was written during Wakeman's recovery from three minor heart attacks at that young age, so that may factor into it). Particularly embarrassing are the bits where the lush orchestral compositions abruptly derail into teeth-grinding examples of rinky-dink "pee-anny," most notably during the track devoted to Merlin. It's largely the same thing Wakeman was shooting for with the soundtrack to Ken Russell's LISZTOMANIA (1975), only everything worked much better there and had Roger Daltrey along for the ride. But what really pushes this whole exercise over the top is the fact that it was supported by a live show of "King Arthur on Ice" — no, I am not making that up — that not unpredictably lost Wakeman money, leading to inaccurate reports of the composer going bankrupt as a result.


An example from "King Arthur on Ice."

Now that I've listened to the "Arthur" album again for the first time since perhaps 1990 or 1991, I cannot believe that I used to lay there in my room in Westport at the age of sixteen (a good three years before I ever smoked weed), caught up in its dreamy evocation of Malloryesque pageantry and actually buying what Wakeman was selling. As anyone who knew me at the time can attest, I was far from shy about sharing the music I loved with all and sundry (often much to their great annoyance), but "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" was never spun for my friends, which leads me to conclude that on some level I knew it was a load of bullshit and realized I would be soundly and deservedly ridiculed for being a fan. I feel like a complete twat and wish I could go back in time and kick myself right up the arse (as FATHER TED creators and writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews once so eloquently put it) for ever being such a complete and utter pussy. It's hard to convey what this album's really all about to anyone who has not heard it and I won't even try to give the album a proper review because everything I could possibly say about it, and more, can be found in the review posted here.

So, what's your equivalent to "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" as the once-beloved album that now makes you want to wear a bag over your head out of sheer embarrassment? Please write in and share your shame.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

HAPPY 56th BIRTHDAY, ELVIS COSTELLO

Today is the 56th birthday of Declan Patrick MacManus, aka Elvis Costello, one of my favorite musicians of all time (especially when backed by the Attractions). I cannot count how many times I've listened to his first five albums (with his eighth, PUNCH THE CLOCK, getting slightly less attention), and while his more "mature" work is quite good, none of his work will ever match the magic I experienced with his early stuff. Looking like an even dorkier version of Buddy Holly but possessing an eloquently-stated youthful vitriol, his tunes very much spoke to me and helped get me through the latter half of my teen years in a way that Devo's high-tech leanings couldn't. While the spud-boys from Akron played in the field of the mind, Costello very much dealt with matters of the heart, expressing anger, frustration, the awkwardness and discomfort of relationships and all that dreadful shit that youth is heir to, and who couldn't relate to that?

So, to celebrate Costello's birthday I intend to play 1980's GET HAPPY!! in full, followed up by the two-disc, personally-compiled set of my favorite of his works (several of which reside on GET HAPPY!!, but I'll never tire of them), a set that my old friend Cat and I have listened to until the songs in question have become a part of our DNA.

And with that, I'm off to crank me some Costello! I suggest that you do like wise.

Monday, August 23, 2010

FUN WITH CAPTIONS!!!

Young Hiroshi was elated by his in-the-nick-of-time rescue, until he realized he'd been saved by NAMBLA-Man.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

FUN WITH CAPTIONS!!!

MORK & MINDY, in its original tokusatsu version.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A BLAST FROM THE DISTANT CARTOON PAST

One of the many blessings of YouTube is that you can put in even the most cursory of searches and you're likely to find stuff you haven't seen in ages. Recently, very dim memories of a cartoon I remembered as "Johnny Cypher" popped into my head, spurred by hearing a snippet of music that reminded me of its theme song. I had not seen that show since I was maybe five years old, so this was going back by four decades, but I checked YouTube and there it was. Seeing it again was verification of half-remembered early superhero cartoons and I have no idea where whoever posted this stuff got it from. Here's the theme song (NOTE: you know you're in trouble when a cartoon theme song is sung by kids, so beware):


That insidious theme tune stuck in my brain like a railroad spike for decades, as well as the hero's unusual method of flight; it was not until 1974 that I read about the Red Tornado, and I remember glimpses of a flying Johnny Cypher popping into my head when I read about him in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA.

Of interest to old school cartoon geeks is the fact that this show was from Joe Oriolo, the same guy who gave the world THE MIGHTY HERCULES, a not-very-fondly-remembered early-1960's cartoon that described the "softness in his eyes" and "iron in his thighs" of the legendary Greek hero (who for some reason was rendered to look like the '50's-era Elvis gene-spliced with the Max Fleischer Superman, only in an over-the-shoulder toga and ballet slippers) in its unforgettably fey theme tune (that was sung by Johnny Nash of later "I Can See Clearly" fame).

"Softness in his eyes, iron in his thighs..." Uh, yeeeeeah...

Also of note is that JOHNNY CYPHER IN DIMENSION ZERO's animation was apparently outsourced to the Japanese studio that earlier gave the world MARINE BOY (1966), which also has a wretched theme song and featured voice work by SPEED RACER's Corinne Orr.

And for the record, MARINE BOY was a much better series than both THE MIGHTY HERCULES and JOHNNY CYPHER IN DIMENSION ZERO combined, and it should be put out on DVD immediately. Just sayin'.

Anyway, JOHNNY CYPHER IN DIMENSION ZERO's episodes and there were a staggering 130-138 (depending on which source you glean information from) six-minutes segments. Here's one of them:


Is there anyone else out there who has dim memories of this superhero artifact? Write in and share!

Friday, August 20, 2010

DOCTOR WHO: SERIES FIVE-Part 3

And now, on to the final episodes of the current run!

Series Five-Episode 12: The Pandorica Opens (Part 1 of 2)

Van Gogh's depiction of the TARDIS exploding.

Within the space of this episode's first few minutes, we are bounced from France in 1890 to Churchill's headquarters in 1941 and then to locations in the year 5145, before the story proper gets underway in the Roman-occupied Britain of the 2nd Century A.D., so you just know this one's going to be big.

In the year 5145, an incarcerated River Song receives a mis-directed phone call from Winston Churchill who is searching for the Doctor, and from Churchill she receives info so startling that she immediately escapes from her cell and sets off in pursuit of what turns out to be a painting by Van Gogh that post-Impressionistically depicts the TARDIS violently exploding. Instigating the Doctor's arrival at the Roman camp (using a two-pronged scheme that made me laugh out loud), River greets him and Amy with the disturbing painting, which is entitled "The Pandorica Opens." In the earlier two-parter involving the Weeping Angels, River mentioned to the Doctor that she'd be there with him when the Pandorica, an object believed to be myth, opens, so now the Doctor is spurred to investigate.

Our heroes search Stonehenge for the hidden entrance to the Pandorica.

Eventually determining it to be located beneath Stonehenge, our heroes find the Pandorica and the Doctor determines the object to be a highly-sophisticated and heavily-fortified prison, but what could be so balls-out dangerous as to warrant such a containment vessel? It is also noted that the Pandorica's multiple layers of defenses are being deactivated from within while it also sends powerful transmissions out into deep space. In no time, spacecraft bearing representatives of damned near every race the Doctor has ever contended with arrive and clog the skies over Earth, leading the Doctor to believe that they are all there to claim whatever powerful entity lurks within the Pandorica. As Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Judoon and who the hell knows how many other aliens arrive in the flesh, the Doctor talks trash about how he's defeated them all in the past and will most likely do so again, and now the Pandorica is in his hands, so they'd all better behave.

The Doctor trash-talks the universe.

But ain't it funny how such hubris can come back to bite one on the ass? That's what the Doctor finds out in no uncertain terms when the Pandorica opens and its genuinely surprising secret is finally revealed. Meanwhile, as River Song pilots it, the predicted explosion of the TARDIS takes place...

Series Five-Episode 13: The Big Bang (Part 2 of 2)

River Song takes aim at...No! As River herself would say, "Spoilers!"

I reeeeeeally can't give away what happens in this very good series finale, but I will say that it all ties up quite satisfactorily.

So...I was very impressed with this first year of Matt Smith's Doctor and am eager to see how he makes the character his own in years to come. Out of the thirteen stories in this run, I would cite "The Vampires of Venice" as the weakest and that one wasn't even bad per se, just weaker than the rest. Unlike the Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant runs, there was not one dud in the lot and that's quite impressive. I'm also an unabashed River Song fan and loved every moment she was onscreen, so her promised return next year has me quite eager. However, I hope they don't give away absolutely everything about her, despite promises from the show's producer to finally fill us in on her backstory...

My one major gripe with this run is with the character of Amy Pond. As a great fan of the ginger ladies, I was caught up in the hype over how cute she is, but as the series progressed I came to find her quite irritating, making moves and decisions that didn't make a lick of sense. She started out okay, but then I felt like the writers mostly lost interest in caring about crafting her into a fully-realized character. Maybe I'm missing something, but I hope they do something to fix her in future installments. Oh, and I do not give a rat's ass about Rory. He had his uses, especially during the run's second half, but if you ask me both his and Amy's arcs have pretty much run their course by the end of the series, so having things end as they do doesn't really make sense to me. But, whatever. I'll be back for more when Series Six rolls around, so who the hell am I trying to kid?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

DOCTOR WHO: SERIES FIVE-Part 2

And we're back, with more of the rundown on Matt Smith's first series as the Doctor!

Series Five-Episode 6: The Vampires of Venice


The Doctor's intention to take Amy and Rory on a romantic holiday gets derailed as the trio must deal with a pack of suckfaces in the Venice of 1580. Good for what it is, this is a somewhat lesser entry for this year's-worth of DOCTOR WHO and I wish the vampires could have been straight-up evil undead from out of Earth legend rather than aliens (in this case the fishlike Saturnynians), but the trope of monsters pretty much always turning out to have a scientific/sci-fi explanation has been part of this show's fabric almost since its inception back in 1963, so I guess I'm shit outta luck. Oh, and this episode also showcases the love triangle involving the Doctor, Amy (who very blatantly threw herself sexually at the Doctor in a previous episode) and the hapless Rory, a situation that evolves in interesting ways in subsequent episodes.

Series Five-Episode 7: Amy's Choice

Five years after the events with the vampires, Amy and Rory are happily married and awaiting the birth of their first child. But this is DOCTOR WHO, so there's no way things can be as they seem... Sorry, but I can't say anymore about this one without giving it all away, but I must mention that I love the insanely enormous pregnancy prosthetic that Karen Gillan sports throughout.

Series Five-Episode 8: The Hungry Earth (Part 1 of 2)

In a Welsh village in 2020, a drilling operation catches the attention of a previously unseen branch of the Doctor's old foes, the Silurians, a race of reptile-men who have hibernated for ages and now seek to wipe the human infestation off the face of an Earth that they see as rightfully theirs. Tensions swiftly reach the boiling point as some of the locals, along with Amy, find themselves in the clutches of the Silurians with vivisection slated for their immediate future. One of the Silurians, a ruthless warrior named Alaya, is likewise in the hands of some surface-dwellers and the Doctor, who seeks to negotiate peace, but how can this impasse be settled without great cost to both sides?

Series Five-Episode 9: Cold Blood (Part 2 of 2)

In this very satisfactory conclusion, the situation gets resolved in ways that are both deeply saddening and thought-provoking, particularly in how a child character will perceive his mother after this tale's events. More than any other story in this run, this two-parter feels a lot like an old school DOCTOR WHO story, particularly one from the Jon Pertwee era, and to me there's little better. That said, this story makes me long to have the Ice Warriors brought back, and I know I'm not alone in that wish.

Series Five-Episode 10: Vincent and the Doctor

NOTE: this is the only story in this run that does not in some way reference the tear in time/space.

Upon discovering something strange in a painting by Vincent Van Gogh while checking out a gallery exhibition of the artist's work, the Doctor and Amy jaunt back to 1890 to investigate. Meeting Van Gogh proves to be a thrill for both of our time-traveling heroes (they're huge fans), and it's soon made clear that the artist's mental instability allows him to see a large monster that has been horribly killing off innocent locals.

Written by Richard Curtis, the co-writer of all the best episodes of BLACKADDER, this episode is a celebration of Van Gogh's work as contrasted against his tragic madness, and I have to admit that upon my first viewing I did not care for it. However, upon further consideration (and how this story very importantly figures into later episodes) I recant my initial misgivings, though I did find the monster to be kind of beside the point and wish instead that the story could have simply focused on the Doctor's time spent with the tortured artist. Yeah, I know there would have been hardcore DOCTOR WHO fans who would have bitched and moaned if there should even be one episode without some kind of alien or monster as a threat, but I find such flights of scary fancy to pale in comparison before the all-too-real horror of gradually losing control of one's faculties, an aspect that lends this story a great sense of poignancy in the face of the inevitable. Of particular note is the episode's coda, which at first struck me as incredibly cruel, but now makes great sense in a way that will make all art-lovers in the audience bawl like children. Myself included.

Series Five-Episode 11: The Lodger

A strange anomaly traps the TARDIS and Amy in a materialization loop while stranding the Doctor in present day England, where he moves in as a lodger at the house from whence the unknown force emanates and lures unsuspecting people off the streets to their deaths. Sharing a flat with corpulent Craig Owens (James Corden), a sweet sort who is madly in love with his friend, Sophie (Daisy Haggard), the Doctor sets to work at sorting out whatever is messing with the TARDIS while also gently nudging Craig to express his feelings to Sophie, an act that would shake him from his cozy rut.

This is another story where I found the human interest of the narrative to be far more involving than its sci-fi elements, but I doubt that the average DOCTOR WHO viewer would have gone for a whole episode of the Doctor acting as matchmaker. Craig's shy and obvious affection for Sophie pulls at the heart-strings and the viewer will be compelled to see how this quiet little love story turns out, but to get to that denouement we have to go through the usual sci-fi motions, which in this case are quite beside the point. Then again, if the sci-fi element were not a part of it, there would have been no reason for the Doctor to fit logically into the narrative, so I guess I should just shut the hell up and be happy with it as it stands.

TO BE CONCLUDED

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

DOCTOR WHO: SERIES FIVE-Part 1

The Matt Smith era of DOCTOR WHO has begun in earnest, complete with new logo, so let's get down to it!

When photos of then-upcoming eleventh Doctor Matt Smith began hitting the Internet, there was much speculation as to whether he would be any good. That speculation was based solely upon his look in the part and I have to admit that I was one of those early nay-sayers. The guy sported appalling "hipster" hair, facially resembled the result of a matter transporter mishap involving Daryl Hall and Neil Patrick Harris and, worst of all, looked like he would have been right at home fronting an emo band named "The Dour Huguenots." In other words, he looked like The Doctor as re-interpreted for the Jonas Brothers generation.

Matt Smith: the eleventh Doctor, or some emo puss?

But DOCTOR WHO has often been more than what it looks like and I would have done well to remember that oft-proven fact. It turns out that Smith is indeed a very good fit and it will be interesting to see how he makes the character his own over the next few years, hopefully losing that verbal delivery that sounds like equal parts David Tennant and Patrick Troughton. DOCTOR WHO is only as strong as the actor playing the title character, and I think Smith bears watching.

And so, on to the episodes!

Series Five-Episode 1: The Eleventh Hour

Landing the damaged TARDIS in a Leadworth garden in 1996, the still-regenerating Doctor meets young Amelia Pond (Caitlin Blackwood), a little Scottish girl whose room houses a strange crack in time/space that simply should not be (and is also the connecting thread for this entire series). After giving the phenomenon a quick once-over and hearing an ominous voice state that "Prisoner Zero has escaped," the Doctor heads back to the TARDIS to sort out its issues (it's regenerating as well) and promises Amelia that he will return in five minutes (which, when taking the TARDIS' time-traveling capabilities into account, can be stretched to however long the Doctor needs to affect repairs). Once the TARDIS is sorted, the Doctor does indeed return, but it's twelve years later and cute little ginger Amelia has grown up into very cute ginger nineteen-year-old Amy (Karen Gillan), now a costumed kiss-o-gram girl.

The Doctor and Amy Pond (in a sexy policewoman outfit).

Over the twelve years between her last sighting of the Doctor, Amy was shunted from psychiatrist to psychiatrist, eventually being tarred as somewhat mentally ill for her insistence that "the raggedy Doctor" was not a figment of her imagination, and she is not exactly pleased to see him again. But that gripe is put aside when the Doctor points out a non-existent room in Amy's house that has provided the aforementioned Prisoner Zero with a refuge for the past fourteen years. Needless to say, the shit hits the fan, involving Prisoner Zero, an alien race called the Atraxi, Amy's childhood friends Rory (Arthur Darvill) and Jeff, and the Doctor once more having to bail the Earth out of total destruction at the hands (?) of alien mega-weaponry. When all is said and done the Doctor promises to be right back, intending to take the TARDIS on a short trip to the moon to make sure it's in proper working order, but he once more overshoots his arrival time and ends up in Amy's garden two years after leaving. An overjoyed Amy is glad to see him again and accepts the Doctor's offer to travel with him, yet stipulating that she be back by the next morning. What Amy does not tell the Doctor is that she's due to marry Rory the next day... (Hey, a lot can happen in two years.)

Series Five-Episode 2: The Beast Below

In the 33rd century, after man has left the Earth to avoid the solar flare that will torch the planet — an event mentioned several times in previous DOCTOR WHO stories, I believe going back as far as 1975's classic "The Ark in Space" (which if you ask me was shamelessly ripped-off for ALIEN, which was released over four years later) — the Doctor and Amy find themselves aboard Starship UK, a huge spacecraft incorporating the entirety of the United Kingdom (and Northern Ireland).

Starship UK.

Once there, they find themselves unraveling the mystery of why the moving spaceship seems to produce no engine vibrations and why anyone inquiring into the ship's history has their memory erased. Once revealed, the ship's secret does not paint the human race in the best light and the Doctor is faced with what appears to be a major no-win situation...

A very good installment with several surprises (well, surprises for folks who aren't lifelong geeks, anyway), this story is notable for the introduction of Queen Elizabeth X, played by Sophie Okonedo, whom you may recognize from the movie of AEON FLUX; she was the operative with those disturbing hand-feet. Oh, and she was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in HOTEL RWANDA.

"I'm the bloody queen, mate. Basically, I rule." And how!

Known informally as Liz Ten, she's the coolest thing to happen to the Monarchy since who knows when and I would looooove to see a lot more of her. (Doubtful, since she's stuck in deep space ruling the dispossessed United Kingdom, but there you go.)

Series Five-Episode 3: Victory of the Daleks

The Doctor is called to London during the Blitz by none other than old acquaintance Winston Churchill (Ian McNiece) and is horrified to discover Daleks — and their attendant lethal tech — being created for deploy as "ironsides" soldiers in the trenches of WWII. The Doctor tries and fails to convince Churchill of the evil that is literally staring him in the face, and why does Amy not recognize Daleks when she sees them? The Daleks attacked the Earth in "Doomsday" and "The Stolen Earth"during the early 2000's and as a resident of the planet, Amy could not possibly have missed them, so what's up with that?

Everything's better with the inclusion of Winston Churchill!

From this confusion emerges the new Dalek Paradigm, a larger and presumably more ominous re-design of the classic DOCTOR WHO nemesis that, to me, looks far less appealing than what came before and now bears an aspect waaaaay too close to toys (which I'm betting is no coincidence). Nonetheless, this episode's tons of fun and Ian McNiece's Churchill warrants return engagements.

Series Five-Episode 4: The Time of Angels (Part 1 of 2)

In a story that smacks a tad of ALIENS, we are re-introduced to both the mysterious River Song (Alex Kingston) and the horrifying Weeping Angels from the exceptional Series Three episode "Blink." Involving a search through a downed spacecraft for what is believed to be a single Weeping Angel, the characters soon discover there's more going on than they imagined and that they are royally, utterly screwed. This time around, we get a bit more info on the Weeping Angels and their bizarre capabilities, including the fact that anything that captures the image of an Angel becomes an Angel. Therefore, it is a very bad idea to capture one on videotape, which Amy finds out the hard way as she watches a tape supplied by River Song.

The Weeping Angel tape: definitely not a Netflix recommendation.

And exactly why is River helping out a pack of military clerics under the command of Father Octavian, who seems to have encountered the Doctor before?

River Song (Alex Kingston) is back, and I totally welcome her return.

Series Five-Episode 5: Flesh and Stone (Part 2 of 2)

Things go from bad to worse as the retrieval force gets whittled down one by one, and that pesky fissure in time/space drops in. What more need be said about a cosmic phenomenon that puts the frighteners on the Weeping Angels?

I was afraid that bringing back the Weeping Angels would cheapen their impact, but that was definitely not the case here. This two-parter is certainly no "Blink," but equalling or besting that story would have been virtually impossible, so be thankful that this was as good as it is. Also worth mentioning is the ongoing fun and mystery of River Song. Just who the hell is this woman and exactly how does she fit into the Doctor's life? What minute details we glean this time around give us more than enough to ensure continued interest and that's just fine with me.

TO BE CONTINUED

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

DOCTOR WHO: THE END OF THE DAVID TENNANT ERA

I finally got my hands on the last year and a half's worth of DOCTOR WHO and after all that waiting I've gotten a chance to watch all of it. Given the choice when it comes to my favorite TV shows, I prefer to get several of them and just spend a weekend watching as much of it in sequence as possible, thus fully immersing myself in outright geekery. Anyway...

And so David Tennant's run as the tenth Doctor came to an end and ushered in an eleventh in the form of Matt Smith, so here's a roundup of the specials leading up to Smith's arrival.

Special #1-The Next Doctor

Picking up where the previous series left off and finding the Doctor greatly saddened by what he had to do to save companion Donna Noble's life, our hero's cosmic/temporal vagabonding brings the last Time Lord to Christmas Eve in Victorian England, 1851, where he finds some seemingly random dude running around with a sonic screwdriver and a hot companion who also calls himself the Doctor? Needless to say, what's up with that? We find out the answer to that question along with the real Doctor and the results are tepid at best, featuring a squirm-nducingly trite ending. Moving on...

Special #2-Planet of the Dead

Returning to the U.K. in the early 21st century, the Doctor ends up on a London bus that gets transported to a barren desert world where he and the bus' passengers must figure out a way to return home before they are horribly eaten alive by the millions of flying stingray-like creatures that destroyed the place. This is a nice little self-contained story that is notable for Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan from EASTENDERS and the BIONIC WOMAN reboot attempt), an aristocratic thief who is every inch the Doctor's equal and a great foil for him. de Souza is something of a thrill-junkie and she's introduced while making like Tom Cruise in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE as she steals a priceless artifact from a museum while suspended from a retractable wire array. However, it is her skilled larcenous capabilities that cause the Doctor to reject her as a companion, without even letting her set one foot inside the TARDIS, but I hope she returns at some point, however briefly. Also among the unwittingly transported is Carmen (Ellen Thomas), a woman possessed of psychic abilities who enigmatically warns the Doctor of ominous things to come...

Special #3-The Waters of Mars

A strong contender for the title of bleakest DOCTOR WHO story ever, this one finds our cosmic vagabond turning up on Mars in the year 2059 and encountering the first manned scientific base on the red planet. A fully-functioning bio-dome system, the base runs into grave problems when they use water tapped from a buried deposit of ice that appears to have been sealed off for a reason by a race indigenous to Mars (presumably the Ice Warriors), and it soon becomes apparent that no one is getting out of there alive. The Doctor knows for a fact that this is indeed the case because the entire crew have gone down in history for dying in an unexplained thermo-nuclear blast, and he is torn between simply leaving the scientists to their historic fate, stating that their deaths are one of the events that is permanently fixed in time, or ignoring what has been written and allowing them to escape the horror they unintentionally set free, a horror with its eye set on the Earth. I won't give away what happens, but the Doctor learns a very hard lesson about fucking with what was/is to be, a lesson taught to him in a way I was genuinely shocked to see on what is still considered by many to be a kid's show...

Special #4-The End of Time Part 1

It's back to present day Earth on Christmas Eve of 2009 after an extended holiday before his prophesied demise, and the Doctor has to contend with the Master's (John Simm) umpteenth resurrection while also re-encountering Wilfred (the excellent Bernard Cribbins), Donna Noble's grand-dad, who wants the Doctor to restore his daughter's memories of her time with the Doctor and once more set her free from her mundane go-nowhere life for adventures in time and space. Donna herself (a returning Catherine Tate) is about to get married, but she's beginning to have visions of her supposedly suppressed experiences with the Doctor. Also, once back in action, the Master enacts a plan of such villainously brilliant magnitude that I had to admire what he accomplished. Oh, and there's also a biiiiiiiig development involving the status of the Doctor and the Master's status as the presumed last of the Time Lords...

Special #5-The End of Time Part 2

I can't really discuss this episode without giving away its many twists, but let it suffice to say that it is a satisfying coda to David Tennant's run as the Doctor. And longtime DOCTOR WHO fans only need to look at the accompanying photo to know what's in this one, and yes, that is former-007 Timothy Dalton as, well...Watch it for yourself.

Though skeptical at first, I soon came to enjoy David Tennant's take on the Doctor — though he could be at times questionably unstable and out of character compared to what we know of the vagabond Time Lord — and I admit that I'm sad to see him go. His infectious sense of wonder at the universe around him, even after ages of traipsing all over creation, was a terrific character touch and breathed fresh life into what had become something of a moribund series (which is not to slag off Christopher Eccleston's work during the first year of the show's reboot, not by any means). Now we have Matt Smith, who looks to me like the unintended results of a matter transporter accident involving Daryl Hall and Neil Patrick Harris, and I'm curious to see what he brings to the table.

TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, August 16, 2010

FUN WITH CAPTIONS!!!

After retiring from the lucrative franchise that made her a star, Dr. Zira embraced her interest in pornography and took the reigns behind the camera, helming such tenderloin classics as DAMN DIRTY APES, SWOLLEN RED BUTTS VOL. 15, MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO YOU STRAIGHT UP THE POOP CHUTE and EAT THAT BANANA.

IP MAN 2 (2010)

The fictionalized chronicle of the life and career of the guy who set Bruce Lee upon the path of badassery continues with mixed results, but this film is better than the garden variety sequel and yields several very impressive fight sequences. And when we get right down to it, that's what we're here for, soapish melodrama be damned!

Having relocated to Hong Kong from Foshan after WWII, Wing Chun master Ip Man (Donnie Yen) struggles to make enough money to support his family and pay the rent. His wife is expecting a second child, his son needs money to pay for his schooling and Ip can't get any students for his newly-opened Wing Chun school, so the narrative is pretty much one of those Chinese melodramas in which the audience is meant to draw inspiration from the put-upon, "perfect" protagonist and endure along with him as he moves from one treacly soap opera trope to another. Luckily, before things get boring/sappy,Ip's skills are tested by a young punk (Xiaoming Huang) and his pals, and so impressed are they by the ass-kicking they receive, they become his students on the spot and spread the word about the master's excellence. Unfortunately for Ip and his students (but fortunately for the viewing audience), the school catches the attention of the local kung fu community and Ip's top student runs afoul of some students of Master Hung (my boy Sammo Hung), a fierce proponent of Hung Gar kung fu (that the "five animals" style, for the layman).

My boy Sammo Hung as Master Hung, restoring glory to modern kung fu cinema.

The set-to between Ip's student and Hung's boys — which degenerates into a totally unfair three-on-one beatdown that Master Hung's boys lie about — swiftly escalates into a war between schools (which Ip does not condone) and Ip is made aware of the corrupt local "old masters" system, in which he would first have to defeat all masters who challenge him before being granted the right to teach, after which he would also have to pay a fee to keep practicing. After vanquishing two of the elder masters,Ip must face Hung, and what results is the highlight of the film, a fight that proves Sammo's still got it in no uncertain terms. Good lord, the hands in that fight...

Duel of the masters: Ip versus Hung.

Once that fight is settled (an impressive and quite serious draw), Ip is allowed to teach but he immediately states that he will not pay any fees for that right, thus instigating more shit between his and Hung's schools. That shit eventually sorts itself out in the name of Chinese solidarity, which is a good thing because the British assholes have gotten so out of control that they need a serious Chinese foot shoved straight up their collective ass. One of the local occupying police is particularly heinous, treating the local Chinese like less than dogshit while extorting money from the area's martial arts masters (the fee that sifu Ip called "bullshit" upon), and in his cadre of scum is a western-style boxer (Darren Shahlavi) who does some seeeeeeeeriously vile shit during an exhibition match pitting western boxing against Chinese boxing (aka good old wholesome kung fu) that requires Ip Man to step into the ring and bring the hurt after a film's worth of misery and abuse.

Sifu Ip versus a British piece of ambulatory feces (Darren Shahlavi).

Now, from what I've heard, this flick was supposed to skip straight to when sifu Ip began training a young Bruce Lee, but apparently there were difficulties with securing the right to do so from Lee's estate. Instead, we get what is pretty much an average kung fu flick with some admittedly good fights and as such it's worth sitting through, but the Lee angle would have been awesome to see. Instead of straight-up Brucage, we get an obviously tacked-on ending where a perhaps-twelve-year-old Bruce shows up and demands to be Ip's student, only to be politely advised to come back when he's older. The kid playing Bruce looks the part and rocks Lee's signature cockiness and gestures to a degree that is both accurate and snigger-inducing, and I hope that if there's another Ip man flick it will deal with the master's tutoring of Lee Siu Lung.

The wee Bruce Lee demands to learn from the best and gets rejected...for now.

The only real difference between this film and the first one is that this time the villains are some vile British assholes instead of some vile Japanese assholes, and each and every one of the actors they got to play the nasty white guys gives an over the top and awful performance that borders on the unintentionally comedic, especially Charles Mayer as the corrupt colonial officer. But, fuck it. If you've bothered to read this, then you're already a martial arts movie goon and will put up with the film's soap opera/weepy aspects in order to see the ass-whuppin', and what's on display here is definitely work your time. Not great, but worth a Netflix rental.