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Monday, January 31, 2011

PIRANHA (2010)

Wouldn't you know it? With a glut of 3-D movies coming out last year and so many of them being a complete waste of time, it figures that I would intentionally skip the one that actually deserved my ticket-buying cash while lumping it in among the rest of the crap.

PIRANHA, cribbing its title and basic "chew 'em up" thrust from the 1978 cult item of the same name, has nothing on its mind but giving the audience that likes this kind of thing exactly what it wants: a shit-ton of vicious gore spurred by carnivorous fish, accented with copious amounts of buck nekkid tits and ass. The beauty of this particular serving of such delights is that it was crafted by people who understood just what kind of movie they were making and were in on the gag.

The story relates the dire events following an earthquake that unleashes a massive number of prehistoric piranha upon the unsuspecting drunk and horny attendees of Spring Break in the fictional town of Lake Victoria, with the plot knowingly eschewing deep character development in favor of sheer fun ultra-gory humor. The principals include the sheriff (Elizabeth Shue), her partner (Ving Rhames), her kids (a teenage son and two pre-teen siblings), a couple of porn stars (I'll get to them presently), and their super-sleazy "girls gone wild"-style boss, a pornographer played to the hilt of amusing loathsomeness by Jerry O'Connell.

Jerry O'Connell primes Riley Steele for tequila body shots.

The plot cribs from several notable films in the "carnivorous fish eat the living shit out of everybody in sight" genre (including a terrific cameo role by Richard Dreyfuss as pretty much Matt Hooper from JAWS), but never once feels like a ripoff because it uses its antecedents as fodder for spoof that notches the insanity up to "11." You get the water populated by revelers who won't listen to the warnings of the authorities and people being eaten as they engage in assorted aquatic fun (as seen in pretty much every JAWS movie), folks stranded on a dodgy seafaring craft that's only moments away from allowing the hungry fish access to the strandees (think JAWS 2), and crazy set pieces in which bathers are eagerly devoured in glorious displays of arterial spray and mangled carnage, only with said gore and carnage piled on to a ludicrous degree, resulting in a final twenty minutes in which all hell breaks loose (and then some).

Jet skis, shotguns, ravenous fish...sheer bliss.

In other words, a perfect example of this specific genre, a roller coaster waaaay over the top lunacy that solidly delvers on all counts.

I won't give away the plot particulars because it's all simply a more intelligent and intentionally funny take on stuff we've seen countless times since JAWS hit in 1975 and you could pretty much write most of it yourself, but I will stop to point out one sequence that literally stopped me in my tracks. There's a bit where the pornographer sets off on a yacht to film his two porn star companions performing a nude underwater ballet in swim fins that evokes images of sensuous mermaids performing fluid arabesques unhampered by the constraints of gravity. This moment of stunning gorgeousness is a painstakingly choreographed submerged pas de deux brought to vivid life by British model and actress Kelley Brook and porn actress Riley Steele and it must have been a visual knockout when seen projected in 3-D.

The awe-inspiring "mermaid ballet" sequence: an instant classic moment in world cinema.

While the sequence certainly has its exploitative aspect, it's kind of odd because although it provides loving glimpses of just about every millimeter of the actresses' nubile flesh, the action is tasteful — digital shading eliminated any shots that would have been too gynecological in nature — and the musical accompaniment, the familiar "Lakme-Flower Duet," renders the visual truly compelling. It's a moment of genuine artful beauty in a film otherwise populated with looniness and people being ripped apart by slavering CGI piranha that must have been amazing in its original 3-D version, and I thank French director Alexandre Aja for every frame of it. And yes, I'm being completely sincere.

The simple sensuous beauty of the human female form as seen in action underwater.

And while the blonde of the pair (Steele) is certainly easy on the eyes, it's Kelly Brook whose goddesslike form and face nearly made my peepers fall out of their sockets since there is now little worth seeing after witnessing her at all, much less unabashedly and confidently naked.

The wonder of nature that is Kelly Brook. Jumping Jesus in a basket of honey-glazed chicken...

I'm assuming her Euro upbringing left her without the squeamishness regarding onscreen nudity that most American actresses bear, so she gets extra points for being so game about it all. Then again, if I were a woman and looked like her, I would never wear clothes, simply on general principle. In fact, there should be an internationally-agreed-upon law forbidding Brook from ever being clad, unless it's really cold or something. And adding to this excellence is the fact that she's funny and can act!

Bottom line: PIRANHA is is a ton of fun if you have a taste for this flavor of cinematic excess, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Its content is about as extreme as it gets for a film with an "R" rating, and I would like to know who was asleep at the usually stringent MPAA ratings board the day this one came up for consideration. (According to the director's commentary, the film was passed without cuts, and if that's true, I'm frankly astounded.) Damn, I wish I'd seen this on the big screen and in 3-D!

GET DOWN WITH THE CREW OF THE SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO!!!

Somehow I don't think the creators of the classic anime series SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO saw this coming when they came up with the series nearly forty years ago. I guess the crew took time during their year-long intergalactic race against time to learn some bitchin' dance moves.


The best is when Leader Dessler is defeated by being "served" with a breakdancing move.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"THINK ABOUT THIS"

My old friend and colleague Tracey the Waitress Goddess sent me the following industrial safety video, and it is one for the books. It reminds me of something Monty Python would have come up with during their Sam Peckinpah period.


And as if the content weren't dire enough, that song is enough to make you want to slash your wrists with a twisted sardine can lid.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984)

What more could there possibly be left to say about Rob Reiner's modern classic THIS IS SPINAL TAP?

When I and my old friend G-Man saw it in 1984 at Westport, CT's now-defunct Fine Arts IV theater, we'd heard it was some kind of spoof documentary that lampooned the ripe-for-satire world of heavy metal and all that goes with it, so we figured we'd give it a look. Going in, we didn't know the film was populated by many familiar faces from assorted TV comedies and films, but we immediately recognized Marty DiBergi, the "documentary's" director, as Rob Reiner, whom we of course knew after having grown up seeing him as Michael "Meathead" Stivic on ALL IN THE FAMILY. And it only got goofier from there, but we very swiftly forgot the actors and accepted them as the characters they so believably brought to life.

In case you somehow missed it during the course of the past nearly three decades (which I can't believe I just wrote!), THIS IS SPINAL TAP chronicles "the world's loudest band" during what turns out to be a tour laden with just about everything that could possibly go wrong working rock band. The hard-rockin' trio of rhythm guitarist David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean, aka Lenny from LAVERNE & SHIRLEY), mutton-chopped bassist and Lemmy lookalike Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer, who would later go on to TV immortality as the voice of several characters on THE SIMPSONS) and functionally brain-dead lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest, future director of BEST IN SHOW, in the comedic role of a lifetime) are the only constant members of a band that has existed since the days of the British Invasion of the 1960's. (NOTE: for you young whippersnappers out there, the British Invasion was the pop music movement led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones that also opened the floodgates for a ton of mostly mediocre subsequent groups.) After undergoing several stylistic changes in order to ride on whatever trends were popular, the guys end up as Spinal Tap, a fairly generic "cock rock" band that churns out some of the most idiotically puerile tunes in metal history, and from there rolls an avalanche of gags that have since entered popular lexicon.

The meat of the film follows a tour in which Spinal Tap — who are now considered more or less has-beens — experiences one setback after another, a state of affairs made worse by the presence of St. Hubbins' incredibly pushy and annoying girlfriend, Jeanine (June Chadwick). Her arrival upsets the apple cart of the relationship between St.Hubbins and Nigel, and the audience soon realizes it's watching a tense love triangle. The deep-but-platonic bromance of St. Hubbins and Nigel cannot be denied and it's frustrating to see the rift between them caused by Jeanine's meddling and would-be creative input (and, to be fair, St. Hubbins blindly allowing her to get away with it). Most comedies of THIS IS SPINAL TAP's era traded in post-ANIMAL HOUSE tastelessness and gross-out humor in lieu of actual character development, but this film very much allows us to get to know and care for these loopy musicians and that is what gives the film its heart and staying power within the popular consciousness.

In closing, I would like to briefly take you back to Fine Arts IV with me and G-Man: As we watched the film, we understandably laughed our asses off, but we seemed to be the about only people in the place who were laughing at all. Our heartfelt guffaws eventually did not sit well with certain members of the tony Westport audience and a middle-aged woman chastised us for our perceived ill manners and lack of compassion for the poor subjects of the "documentary," an act that met with the approval of the surrounding patrons. It took me a minute to figure out why they were upset with us, and then it hit me. I turned around, incredulous, and said to her, "Lady, do you think this is an actual documentary?!!?" She answered in the affirmative, so I snapped at her, "This is a comedy, you idiot! Those are actors playing characters, not real people! They're all actors from other stuff! See the director? That's Meathead from ALL IN THE FAMILY! The blond guitarist is Lenny from LAVERNE & SHIRLEY! Jesus Christ!!!" There was a moment of silence from the audience after they processed being yelled at by some crazed nigger, but then came a slow wave of "Ooooh" as they realized they'd been duped by the film, such was its verisimilitude. From that point on the audience got properly into it and laughed along with me and G-Man. Idiots.

Friday, January 28, 2011

YOU JUST CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP

Yes, dear Vaulties, it's PROJECT POPCORN, the Russian ripoff of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000.


That red dog thing, "Ketchup," is without question the worst puppet I've ever seen that isn't just a sock with eyes drawn on in laundry marker. (Thanks to Topless Robot for posting this.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

SCUMMING ATTRACTIONS: BURY ME AN ANGEL (1972)

Now that I've seen and enjoyed the first season of SONS OF ANARCHY, I've been reminded of one of my all-time favorite movie trailers. SONS OF ANARCHY's popularity notwithstanding, the biker movie is a genre whose time came and went, but its era left behind such marvelous artifacts as this perfect example of a grindhouse coming attraction reel.


The movie's a dull, amateurishly-shot piece of utter crap, but that awful barroom fight sold me on seeing it. Trust me, don't waste your time.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

THE ETERNAL GLORY OF RAY HARRYHAUSEN

This is sheer bliss. Every creature Ray Harryhausen ever animated, with musical accompaniment by the equally great Tito Puente. There is no way to make this any better. It's just not possible. (Well, maybe if they substituted Puente's tune for Frank Zappa's "Inca Roads...")

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TO TEMMERE

Heidi Klum as Kali and Seal as Sinbad. No, seriously!

Hey, Temmere-

While they are admittedly miracle-workers when it comes to making gorgeous and accurate small scale versions of familiar movie monsters, I doubt Revoltech will attempt to tackle Harryhausen's Kali from THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

Classical depiction of Shiva in statue form.

And you are quite correct in thinking it was Shiva, which shows more thought than the filmmakers put into getting the Hindu gods straight; the Harryhausen version is clearly modeled after the classic "dancing Shiva" statue posture, but the figure and features of the Sinbad version are clearly female, plus it's identifiable as Kali by the belt of skulls that adorn her waist (usually seen in classical depictions as severed human heads, accessorized with a garland of severed arms, but presumably toned down here for the purposes of a kid's movie).

Harryhausen's Kali, shortly before she starts to dance.

That said, while Revoltech may or may not get around to making Kali, there have been a couple of replicas of her that got released in the '90's and they're both quite good. First up is the smaller of the two, and eight-inch version that's part of a series of other notable Harryhausen characters.

The whole set can be had via Amazon for $149. I've seen these up close and they're okay, but they're a bit too small for my liking. The cyclops and dragon from THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD are both available at much larger scale and featuring incredible detail, so I'd search those out instead, especially the dragon.

But if you're willing to spend that kind of scratch for this kind of thing, I highly recommend going for X-Plus' exceptional 12" Kali.

The 2002 X-Plus 12" Kali. (photo by J. Pidgeon)

Released in 2002 as a limited edition of 5000, this one's simply gorgeous, with a convincing fake stone texture (it's made of vinyl), and its arms have enough articulation to occasionally vary the figure's positioning. It's available on eBay for $150, with another $25 tacked onto that for shipping. If you have the disposable cash, I say go for it. I got one when it first came out and it looked beautiful while I had on full-time display; mine now resides in a box because not only is it tall, it's also rather wide, and as a result it takes up a good deal of shelf space.

BEING HUMAN-SERIES 1 (2008)

As a lifelong "horror kid," I used to be perfectly ready and willing to give any and all horror offerings a chance. That, however, was before I got burned once too often by shitty cookie cutter slasher films that traded gore for actual scares, an avalanche of piss-poor and unnecessary sequels, and the onslaught of horror movies that were neither scary nor original — the spate of bad J-horror remakes immediately come to mind — or toothless confections aimed at a PG-13 audience in hope of making more money by avoiding the literally restrictive "R" rating. Those films wallowed in anti-creativity, completely devoid of compelling narrative, intriguing monsters, and characters one actually gave a shit about. The sole reliable oasis during this nearly three-decade-long plague was the two-pronged TV dose of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997-2003) and its spinoff/companion series, ANGEL (1999-2004), both of which featured terrific ensemble casts, truckloads of action and monsters, and inventive writing that more often than not turned horror's hoary tropes on their heads, but since those shows gave up the ghost (no pun intended) I've been hungry for something, anything to sate my craving for a regular helping of the good stuff. (I've heard SUPERNATURAL is quite good and I've seen one episode, but that's as far as I got with that one.)

Then came word of a series running on England's BBC 3 called BEING HUMAN, and I initially wrote it off because it looked like any one of the foofy post-BUFFY WB/CW shows featuring pretty twenty-somethings angsting over shit I just did not care about, only with its hook being that its protagonists were monsters who sought to live "normal" lives. I grew up enjoying a lot of U.K. television, so its foreign origin had no bearing on my instant disdain; its perceived similarity to the aforementioned homegrown tripe is what kept me away, especially the idea of the three monsters sharing a rented house and facing the day-to-day problems faced by young people and blahblahblahblah pfooey. To me it was simply a premise that could not in any way be good. Then came word of a remake getting underway on this side of the Pond, and with rare exceptions continental American remakes of British TV shows tend to be quite dire. And as is per usual with this kind of thing happening in the U.S., there was a certain amount of pre-air hype revolving around it and I was inevitably asked by many of my friends and acquaintances for my opinion of it and its original version. Having never seen the original and having absolutely no interest in what I was certain would be a dumbed-down version of a show I'd convinced myself was no good in the first place, I could not comment, but the opportunity came to rectify that state of affairs when I received the DVD set of the original BEING HUMAN's first series as a belated Christmas gift (NOTE: in the U.K. a TV season is referred to as a "series").

BEING HUMAN follows the intertwined lives of housemates Mitchell (Aidan Turner), George (Russell Tovey) and Annie (Lenora Crichlow), who happen to be a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost. The lads work at a hospital in Bristol while Annie initially remains bound to the house because it's where she fell down the stairs and died, and over the course of the series' six episodes we get to know the trio very well and learn to care a great deal about them in the process. Though the protagonists are supernatural creatures, the scripts focus far more on their characters than their paranormal gifts/curses, and its that taking of time to define these people that gives the show its heart. We've seen the archetypes many times before — the vampire who struggles with what he is while attempting to retain his humanity, the tortured reluctant werewolf, the sensitive ghost who has been denied eternal rest for reasons they have yet to figure out — but here they are each quite fresh in approach, especially the lupine George (I'm famously a werewolf supporter, so George was the major draw for me and I was not disappointed in the least). There are also several plots that play out over the run, each involving aspects of the various supernatural sub-societies that co-exist under our unknowing noses, and every one of them is interesting and well-written, but I won't go into their particulars so you can see and enjoy them for yourselves.

The show strongly delivers equal measures of humor, drama and outright horror and somehow manages to seamlessly blend them in ways that remind one of BUFFY at its best, only with considerably less broad strokes (BUFFY was great, but it was very comic-booky in execution at times). BEING HUMAN is exactly what it sells itself as, specifically a character study of people who happen to be creatures straight out of myth and legend, and it handles its fantastic subject matter believably and intelligently.

The bottom line here is that BEING HUMAN was in no way the dud I so narrow-mindedly anticipated it would be, and I enjoyed it so much that I watched the entire first series in one go, intending to just watch the first episode at bedtime and not finishing until 5AM. I've already ordered Series 2 and I eagerly await finding out what happens next. Fuck the remake, check out the original. If your tastes are anything like mine and you welcome the return of character-driven horror on TV, you'll eat this bad boy right up. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Friday, January 14, 2011

BEST HARRYHAUSEN TOY EVER!

One of the latest additions to my endlessly-growing toy collection is this incredible skeleton warrior from the Ray Harryhausen classic JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), which happens to be one of my all-time favorites movies and my nominee for the title of "Best Mythology Movie Ever Made." The film retells the classical story and lets master stop-motion animator Harryhausen loose to create wonders as only he could, and the sequence involving Jason and some of his men fighting a pack of armed skeletons has rightly gone down in film history as one of the greatest moments in the cinema of the fantastic. Seriously, check this out:



Totally kickass, even in today's arena of CGI. I saw that film projected at Lincoln Center a few years back and the place went absolutely berserk when that scene came on, which was only made better by us rabid film junkies being able to directly show our love for the sequence to its creator, who was seated in the audience. It's been a favorite of mine since childhood, so when I heard that Japan's exceptional Revoltech toy company was releasing a super-articulated replica of one of the skeleton warriors, I did not hesitate to pre-order one. I received it yesterday and I spent a couple of hours checking out its considerable excellence.

The box for Revoltech's skeleton warrior from the Ray Harryhausen classic JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.

When I took it out of the box I was so amazed by how articulated it was, I could not resist posing it in Broadway-style flamboyant positions.


The skeleton sings "The Impossible Dream."

The skeleton comes with a sword, a spear, two different shields — one emblazoned with an octopus and the other with a lion's head — and his base features two more skeletons clawing their way out of the ground to join him, one of which is armed with a sword and features an articulated neck, mandible, and arm.


Bottom line: this is one of the finest toys I've ever had the pleasure to snag, and I wish I had the disposable cash to get six more (so I could have a whole set of the bloodthirsty, unholy bastards).

SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK OPENING PUSHED BACK UNTIL MARCH

I can't say I'm surprised, but the opening of the problem-plagued musical SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK has been pushed back by yet another month. Apparently a lot is being done to fix the steaming debacle that I saw during previews, including "a new ending" being crafted, a statement that would lead one to assume that it had one in the first place, which it didn't. I'm curious to see what they come up with, because damned near anything would have been better than what I got. Hell, I would have even accepted a grubby wino in an ill-fitting Spider-Man costume pissing into the orchestra pit. Now, that would have been entertaining! Anyway, go here for the skinny from the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS.

SOMETHING TO TIDE YOU OVER

Hey, gang.

I'm currently weathering the flu, which is why I have not posted anything new lately. Anyway, here's a YouTube clip to hold you over until I'm up and about again; it's a terrific look at the majestic wildlife to be found on the New York City subways. Enjoy!

Monday, January 10, 2011

MANIAC (1934)

Ed Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) is often cited as "the worst film ever made," but I take issue with that assessment because, unlike innumerable very bad movies, it is very, very entertaining from start to finish and it is also (mostly) coherent in its storytelling. A more legitimate contender in this department (though also entertaining to an incredible degree) is 1934's MANIAC, a fifty-minute supposedly serious examination of assorted mental disorders, all embodied within the person of one very, very fucked-up guy and explained in periodic "educational" placards that bring the plot (such as it is) to a grinding halt.

A feeble attempt at granting this film some modicum of socially-relevant respectability.

Or rather that's how the filmmakers got away with its considerable excesses back in the days; it's actually a primitive exploitation film of the highest/lowest order and should be seen by all students of the genre, as well as by those fueled by cheap booze and low-grade ditch weed.

Our protagonist: Don Maxwell (William Woods).

The narrative opens in the lab of Dr. Meirschultz (Horace B. Carpenter), a bushy-haired, German-accented and quite obviously mad scientist whose twisted experiments focus on various aspects of re-animating the dead. Aided by former Vaudeville actor/impressionist and inexplicably-wanted felon (?) Don Maxwell (William Woods), the doctor sneaks into a morgue and successfully re-animates the corpse of a recently dead woman with a serum he discovered, so with that success the doctor declares he needs a corpse with a shattered heart with which to continue his work, this time transplanting a re-animated and undamaged beating heart into said corpse.

What a way to get a Saturday night date: re-animating recently-dead hot chicks.

But Maxwell's corpse-pilfering errand is derailed when he's interrupted and frightened by two cats having a fight (why the cats are hanging around in a dungeonlike basement morgue is anyone's guess), so he returns to the lab empty-handed and crazed-looking, right after being once more frightened off, this time by a fight between a dog and a cat in the street. (??? Are there neighborhoods where animal fights just spontaneously break out all the time?) The mad scientist blows a gasket and hands Maxwell a pistol, with which he is told to shoot himself in the heart so the doctor can still have a corpse to work with. Instead, Maxwell does the only sensible thing and kills the doctor, at which point he goes full-tilt, balls-out-hallucinating insane, without preamble and for no apparent reason.

With no warning, Maxwell goes completely mad and hallucinates footage cribbed from HAXAN (1920) and Fritz Lang's SIEGFRIED (1923).

Ah, sweet hallucinations...Wheeeeee!!!

With the mad scientist now tits-up dead on the laboratory floor, Maxwell puts his impersonation skills to good use and literally becomes the crazy old Kraut, even taking over the quack's practice. (I guess it stands to reason that the scientist might have had a practice outside of his interest in re-animation. I guess...)

Maxwell becomes Dr. Meirschultz. Would you trust this guy as your personal physician?

From there the film veers wildly into sheer incoherence and lunacy that rivals that of its protagonist, all of which is driven by ludicrous dialogue, directing choices that amount to visual non sequiturs, and, above all, some of the most entertaining terrible acting in cinema history. Case in point: this classic sequence in which a patient goes insane after Maxwell/Meirschultz accidentally injects him with the re-animation serum.


Wow. Just...WOW.

The crazed dude then abducts the re-animated woman and steals her away into the countryside, at which point her gown opens for no reason other than to expose her '30's tits.

GASP! Tits...of the '30's!!!

Sure, it's obviously an early exploitation film, but the nudity element clearly marks this as a pre-Hays Code grindhouse product, and more power to it for going that extra sleazy mile.

More tits of yore. Think about it for a moment: this could be your grandma.

The sex-crazed injectee then goes on to strangle his topless victim, after which that's the last we hear of him. In other words, the sequence existed for no reason other than to provide an eyeful of nekkid titties. A noble artistic intention, to be sure, but I would have liked to have some resolution to this particular plot thread.

Then there's a totally from out of nowhere bit where Maxwell, who by this point has fully become Meirschultz, wrestles one of his neighbor's cats and pops out one of its eyeballs.

Delighted with the results of his efforts, Maxwell scoops the feline peeper from the floor

and promptly eats. it.

Exactly why is anyone's guess, because it is in no way made clear by the script. There's more — a lot more — but I think you get the point that this film is off-the-rails crazy and totally worth seeing. Plus, at a mere fifty minutes in length, it's mercifully short.

Helmed by Dwain Esper — director of such socially important works as MARIHUANA, THE WEED WITH ROOTS IN HELL! (1936), SEX MADNESS (1938) and THE STRANGE LOVE LIFE OF ADOLPH HITLER (1948) — MANIAC (originally SEX MANIAC, but presumably changed to its present title so as not to mislead its sleaze-hungry audience into thinking the film was about the mauler of topless chicks) is a fascinating and hilarious time capsule that conclusively proves exploitation and lurid sleaze are nothing new in the movies, and even by today's standards it's still quite shocking. I can't imagine how I would have reacted to it if I'd had the opportunity to see it during my early youth and the years in which I absorbed tons of old movies of a far more wholesome pedigree, but I bet I would have loved it.

Poster from the film's original release as SEX MANIAC.

Friday, January 07, 2011

2011'S BEST COMICS: AVENGERS PRIME #5

SPOILER WARNING! If you have not yet read this particular comic and plan on doing so, don't read this post!

Now that 2011 has begun, it's time to start taking note of the year's best comics, and right out of the gate we get AVENGERS PRIME #5, the excellent conclusion to a majorly fun mini-series. But before I get into discussing it, a little background for the non-geeks who may be reading this.

Those who have been reading comics since 1961 know that the comics put out by Marvel form a massive collective narrative tapestry commonly referred to as the Marvel Universe, and it all amounts to a soap opera about super-types. While not all of its titles are directly interconnected, the tales told of the Marvel Universe and its assorted champions and ne'er-do-wells do spill over into one another and sometimes the ramifications of a particular narrative "event" do have a marked effect on the whole shebang, sometimes for years on end. The most recent perfect case in point would be the events of "Civil War," a 2006-2007 multi-part, imprint-wide crossover (which followed another imprint-wide crossover, and so on) that saw Tony Stark (aka Iron Man), a long-established hero known for making some very bad judgment calls, chief among which in this storyline was backing the Superhuman Registration Act. The Superhuman Registration Act essentially boiled down to a law requiring all super-powered beings (and non-superhuman crime-fighters) to register with the government, exposing their true identities and operating with governmental approval, and that mandate demanded full compliance or those who did not fall in line would face prosecution and imprisonment. Tony Stark, who had always maintained strong U.S. government connections from his capacity as one of the world's top advanced munitions developers, supported full compliance, which rendered him a pariah in the eyes of much of the superhuman community, and soon ideological battle lines were drawn between Stark's faction and that of Steve Rogers, better known as Captain America (perhaps the most true blue and morally unquestionable superhero ever). Cap and his group of outlaws fought the good fight on the grounds that that the Registration Act violated their civil liberties, but many dire events spun out of the "Civil War" arc, two of the most egregious of which were the surrender and subsequent presumed assassination of Captain America (as chronicled in the best-selling "The Death of Captain America"), and the ill-advised cloning of the presumed-dead Thor to create an dangerous out-of-control duplicate with the strength of raw power of its genetic source.

In the years following the end of "Civil War," readers endured the seemingly endless wait for Cap's inevitable return (which finally happened in CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN from 2009-2010), Tony Stark's tenure as head of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the return of the real Thor, who, as one would be right in imagining, was greatly offended at being cloned without his knowledge (which earned an armored Stark a long-overdue ass-kicking), leaving the three core members of the Marvel Universe's #1 super-team, the Avengers, either at odds or in states of outright hostility with one another. To a longtime follower of the overall Marvel Universe soap opera, that was some tragic shit.

Now comes the five-part AVENGERS PRIME mini-series, written by Brian Michael Bendis and superlatively illustrated by Alan Davis — one of my favorite comics artists of the past two-plus decades — with inks by the equally-talented Mark Farmer. It not only gives me a visually-stunning fix of Marvel's version of several Norse realms (cobbled together unnaturally by a convoluted series of events), but it also finally allows the deep battle scars that divided Thor, Cap (who is now simply Steve Rogers, but in charge of U.S. security) and Stark to be somewhat healed as the contentious trio are thrown headlong into the strange area of living mythology and forced to work together to survive and try to find a way back to Earth. A lot of neat stuff happens as the heroes air their grievances — mostly and deservedly at Stark — , get separated and have to fight all manner of threats in order to stay alive (Rogers' one-man melee against a horde of heavily-armed Dark Elves was a show-stopper), Thor loses his hammer (a very big deal), Stark's armor is useless so he must cobble something together with limited resources, the dragon Fafnir shows up, the Enchantress shows up, about a gazillion dwarves, elves and monster battle it out on an epic scale...

Thor assembles an army of disparate and hostile factions...

...to battle against a horde of monsters led by Hela, the Norse goddess of death (who has never looked more awesomely badassed). Ho. Lee. SHIT. (Click on these to see them large. Believe me, you really want to.)

Jesus, a whole bunch of fun and cool shit happens, okay? And it's interesting to note that in five issues there's more brisk and solid entertainment than I got out of any of the bloated, overlong comics epics that have come in the wake of DC's "Sinestro Corps War" arc (2007).

But the thing that was the icing on this delicious cake was the moment near the end when our three heroes take the steps to restoring their friendships. After facing and defeating the impossible for the umpteenth time, Rogers and Stark express admiration for each other's performance in the final battle, which leads Rogers to apologize for some of the things he (rightfully) said to Stark in the first chapter. Stark, in turn, makes a deep and heartfelt apology to Rogers for his considerable assholism during and since "Civil War," stating to the former Cap that he feels he's not half as good at anything as he is when he's doing it with Rogers and that he hopes he will be allowed to earn back his friendship, after which there's a silent panel of Rogers looking Stark square in the face while placing a firm hand on his shoulder. Rogers then embraces Stark, who returns the hug, and a number of their colleagues smile in silent acknowledgement as two of the cornerstones of the Marvel Universe's main cast patch things up. It was a real bromance moment, and I have to admit it brought a tear to my eye. There will definitely be a long road back to full reconciliation, but it all starts right here, and it warms my heart to see the heart of the Avengers on the road back to once again being a harmonious unit.

To sum up: AVENGERS PRIME #5 earns a solid 10 out of a possible 10 for every aspect of its final results and will be on my shelf the second the collected edition inevitably comes out. This is the kind of thing that filled me with delight at my heroes when I was a kid, and it's rare that I get that feeling as an adult, so this was pure gravy.

MY TOP 25 ALL-TIME FAVORITE MOVIES (AS OF THE BEGINNING OF 2011)

NOTE: parts of this article were cribbed from a similar piece I ran six years ago, plus one or two others that featured films discussed after that post. I had intended to do an all-new one but I remembered the old version, looked at it, and realized several of the films listed there still made the list, so I re-used the pre-existing entries with a little minor tweaking here and there. The rest, including a few new photos, is fresh.

Dear Vaulties-

As fellow movie goons, you know a person's favorite films change as they go through life and sometimes films that one once loved immensely are relegated to the status of fondly-recalled footnotes in your moviegoing life. Such films for me include JAWS, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and of course STAR WARS, all good films but at the time they each filled a certain need that I had before I discovered other things (translation: girls). I still enjoy them and may tune in when they turn up on the TV (which JAWS seems to do every other weekend; I'm not exaggerating. Channel 55 out of Long Island once had it on its syndicated schedule three times in one month alone!), but they just don't have the same resonance that they once held during my formative years.

Now, as a jaded 45-year-old movie addict, there are a handful of films that have stood the test of time and that I will watch from start to finish no matter what hour of the day or night they may be airing. What follows are, (in almost no particular order) my top 25 all-time favorite movies, and I realize that by divulging this information I will probably lose your respect, but, what the hey? A man's gotta stand up for what he loves, be it a beat-up car, a woman he knows is bad for him (but he just can't help himself), or a dumbass film that anyone in their right mind would have burned years ago. Enjoy, and feel free to send back your own list of what rocks your cinematic world.

KING KONG (1933)

This is the film that I can state is without a doubt my favorite movie. Let's face it, it has everything! A violent giant monster (in fact a whole island swarming with dangerous beasties of every description), a bunch of arrogant assholes who think nothing of the possible repercussions of removing said monster from its home, a hot heroine who spends much of the film in her torn undies, a fun story that's straight out of a boy's adventure pulp, Kong on the loose in Manhattan (which wouldn't cause much of a stir nowadays), the battle with planes atop the Empire State building and those poignant final lines. Sheer movie magic. In fact, I got to see the restored print (most of the violence put back in after almost 40 years of re-edits for re-releases) on the big screen when I was eight-years-old and I've been a fan ever since. My mother insisted I see it and I bless her ever day for that bit of parental wisdom. And I'll always know how old she is since KONG was released during the year of her birth.

MONTY PYTHON & THE HOLY GRAIL (1975)

Sure LIFE OF BRIAN is a much better film, but this movie just kills me for the sheer lunacy of it. The jokes are all over the place and don't make sense much of the time, but who cares? If you laugh, it has succeeded, and this film may be the one that I have voluntarily sat through more than any other. Not much else to say on this one really, since nearly every person on the planet has seen it at least once. I still love my mother's reaction the first time that she saw it: "What the hell is this? Are the knights supposed to be retarded or something?"

PINK FLAMINGOS (1972)

Easily the most tasteless and offensive comedy ever made, this film had a major impact on my sense of humor when I first saw it back in 1982. If you haven't seen it, it's probably the most low-budget, technically inept and poorly acted film you'll ever witness, but it is absolutely fucking hilarious. The "plot" centers around a war to claim the title of "Filthiest People Alive" as waged by the heroic (?) family of Divine (the late 300-pound transvestite, Glenn Milstead) against the evil Connie and Raymond Marble. Divine and family are indeed pretty filthy — what with engaging in cannibalism to rid themselves of obnoxious police officers, a son who forces his date to fuck him while he thrusts two live chickens between their furiously rutting bodies (much to her chagrin), shoplifting raw meat in their crotches, throwing the sleaziest birthday party ever committed to celluloid (witness the singing asshole to truly understand horror), and many other offenses — but the Marbles believe themselves to be worse (they are merely dope dealers, pornographers, and kidnappers who impregnate young girls and sell the resulting babies to lesbian couples. Fucking poseurs!) and will stop at nothing to prove it. Needless to say, they don't stand a chance. Definitely not for all tastes, this movie makes me smile at the mere thought of it, although I could have done without the infamous final sequence in which Divine actually eats a freshly-laid dog turd on camera. But then again, I've since seen "German" porn, so the dog turd wouldn't begin to register these days... Anyway, hooray for John Waters!!!

SORCERESS (1982)

Starring absolutely no one that anyone's ever heard of and made for a budget of about $500, this is a strong contender for the dubious title of "stupidest barbarian flick ever made." Directed by Jack Hill, the mad genius behind the equally unbelievable SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975), SORCERESS tells the story of two nubile twin sisters (who believe that they are boys) who seek to kill their evil sorcerer father with the aid of three ludicrous sidekicks (obligatory barbarian hunk, bikerish Hagar the Horrible lookalike, and a bargain basement goat-man). Loaded with nudity, ridiculous fights and some of the worst special effects ever created, this couldn't possibly be funnier if it were intended to be, and if I had to get rid of every movie in my collection except for three, SORCERESS would make the cut. Oh, and this is sadly not available on DVD, so look for it on cable or on the now-gathering-moss shelves of your local VHS rental store (if one somehow still exists in your town).

TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934)

The best Tarzan movie ever made. I've written on this one before at length, so for the purposes of this post let it suffice to say that never before or since has a film so chock-a-block with sex and violence been so wholesome.

ALAKAZAM THE GREAT! (1960)

Legendary Japanese Manga god Osamu Tezuka (ASTRO BOY, KIMBA THE WHITE LION, PHOENIX 2772, DORORO and about a thousand other nuggets of excellence) tackles Wu Cheng-En's sixteenth century literary masterpiece JOURNEY TO THE WEST in this lively animated musical. It follows the adventures of the legendary monkey king and his companions, and has an almost hallucinatory feel to it. As usual, Tezuka wears his Disney influence on his sleeve, but once you learn to ignore the saccharine songs (not an easy feat), you'll be drawn in by the incredible visuals and endless fights against monsters, magicians and gods. You also get to see the hero go from being a total asshole to being a great king, and the sweet love story between him and a cute girl monkey named Dee Dee is actually quite touching (although she does allow herself to be somewhat of a doormat).

ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)

My favorite horror movie. One of the most faithful adaptations of a novel ever made, this is the movie that I feel best captures the flavor of Manhattan's Upper West Side. An utterly believable tale of supernatural and nuptial violation of the worst kind, this is one slow-burning, paranoia-inducing mammajamma. There are those who prefer THE EXORCIST, but this is a thousand times more subtle and you aren't really sure whether Rosemary is insane or not until it's too late.

MOTHRA(1961)

Clearly influenced by the basic plot of KING KONG, MOTHRA is the finest of the many Toho studios monster/fantasy epics. When an unscrupulous businessman kidnaps two foot-tall native women from a previously-unexplored island in the Pacific and presses them into a life of exhibition as freaks, he doesn't reckon with the fact that they're actually magical priestesses of the goddess Mothra — and the goddess does not take kindly to those who would harm her priestesses. An orgy of Tohoscope destruction ensues as the military is thwarted at every turn (even atomic cannons are useless), and they slowly come to realize that they really are dealing with a pissed-off deity who defies the laws of man's science. Avoiding the usual pitfalls of this genre, MOTHRA has a tight script, characters you care about, and a villain who is an utter piece of human trash (and obviously meant to be an American, although they don't come straight out and state it). And who can forget the song that the twin fairies sing constantly? Onlookers think it's just some wistful island melody, but don't realize it's the song that gives Mothra an unerring bead on their exact location, the beauty of which is that the girls are encouraged to sing, thereby ensuring the doom of untold thousands. A fucking masterpiece and the Mothra characters have not been used as well since, with the exception of 1964's GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, which some hail as the best of Toho's classic-era giant monster cycle.

SHOGUN ASSASSIN (1980)

It's rare when a distributor can edit together highlights from two films and create a movie that endures in the hearts of martial arts fans and gore addicts for nearly thirty years. Of course it doesn't hurt when the two films in question are the first installments in the classic six-film series based on the LONE WOLF & CUB samurai comics. This film is a visual feast with cinematography and colors that will make you drool, to say nothing of an interesting plot which is chock full of wall-to-wall slaughter and dismemberment! I first saw this one in 1985 and was totally blown away. I'm very hard on the quality of the fight scenes in martial arts films — especially the swordsmanship — and the fights here are among the finest I've ever had the joy to witness. Tomisaburo Wakayama stars as Lone Wolf, a man of impeccable honor and skill who is framed for treason against the shogun. Taking his infant son along with him "down the road of vengeance," Lone Wolf proceeds to kick so much ass that it's impossible to keep a body count. And if you like bloodshed, the red paint flies quite generously, even hitting the camera on occasion (seriously!). But the real star here is the skill of Wakayama; his utter mastery of the katana is evident in every frame of the film. Trust me on this one and keep in mind that there are maybe ten minutes in the entire running time where there's no fighting!

SEVEN SAMURAI (1952)

Not just Kurosawa's masterpiece, but also the quintessential samurai film and one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.

THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)

This is the martial arts film that earned the whole genre its largely undeserved rep for outrageous gore and violence. THE STREET FIGHTER follows the adventures of Terry Tsurugi, one of the hardest dudes in screen history, as he takes on seemingly impossible assignments of a questionable nature for whomever will pay his price. This guy is one ultra-nasty customer who will tear off any part of you that gets close enough (the fate of a would-be rapist is a highlight), and he won't hesitate to do whatever it takes to get paid. When a brother and sister who hired Tsurugi to rescue their brother from his appointment on death row reveal that they don't have the rest of the money they owe him, Tsurugi immediately announces that he'll put the sister out on the streets as a whore until he gets his cash. This leads to the brother's accidental fall to his death from Tsurugi's penthouse window. The sister ends up as a heroin-addicted prostitute in Hong Kong (after suffering a horrible — but thankfully off-camera — gang rape) and just happens to run into her escapee brother, who of course vows to kill Tsurugi for his younger brother's death and his sister's current shameful status. Next, our "hero" refuses a Yakuza kidnapping assignment because it would bring him into conflict with the one man that he respects: his father's old karate training buddy, Masaoka (a tiny, fat badass). This puts him on the Yakuza's shitlist as well. The rest of the movie details Terry's constant — and brutal — encounters with the two pissed off parties and ends in a blood-soaked hand-to-hand battle that finds the vengeful brother minus his larynx (he turns up in the sequel with bionic vocal chords). Not for the squeamish, scenes of this turned up in the Tarantino-scripted TRUE ROMANCE. Fuck ENTER THE DRAGON, this is the real deal. Yes, your Bunche actually said "Fuck ENTER THE DRAGON." If you know me at all, you know I don't say that lightly.

FORBIDDEN ZONE (1980)

Definitely not for all tastes, this is a positively lysergic live action cartoon that's not for the kiddies. Featuring Herve Villechaize as King Fausto of the 6th Dimension, more impressively bizarre characters than any one movie has the right to include, and the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (that's band frontman Danny Elfman as Satan in the photo), FORBIDDEN ZONE brings to mind what would have happened if Max Fleischer made a cartoon short while out of his mind on some seriously good peyote. Funny as hell and unfortunately still rather obscure, I strongly urge you to seek this one out. (NOTE: this is available in its original black & white and in a colorized version. Stick to the original.)

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

The best mythology movie ever made and the best of many classics from Ray Harryhausen (in my opinion anyway; there are those who make a valid case for THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, but I go with this one for its slightly more "adult" approach). Motherfuck CGI, this is how special effects are supposed to look! Too many great scenes to recount, but I will say that the theme tune, with the pounding rowing rhythm, makes most of John Williams' tiresome Wagner knockoffs look like the derivative crap that they are.

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

A compelling story, interesting characters, a no-win scenario and boatloads of gore all add up to make the best zombie ever made, or that will ever be made, for that matter. This warped a lot of young minds back in '78, boy... And the cool black guy lives at the end! (Perhaps as a nod to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD's unforgettable downer of a conclusion.)

THE HUMAN TORNADO (1976)

Simply put, the funniest black exploitation film ever made. This is the sequel to the nearly unwatchable DOLEMITE (1975) and out-does its predecessor valiantly. For those not in the know: Dolemite is a character whose exploits have been passed on through folk tales and rhymes in American black culture since at least the early 1900's. He's basically Super-Nigger, since he's the greatest badass/ pimp/comedian/lover/fancy dresser ever to walk the Earth! Sample line from the epic poem about him:

Dolemite went to New York City,
Kickin'ass 'til his boots were shitty.

Anyway, this installment sees our hero (played by the hideously middle-aged and out of shape Rudy Ray Moore) evading a Southern sheriff after said sheriff finds out that his wife has been paying Dolemite to fuck her (her line to our hero while in post-coital bliss: "Dolemite, you're worth every cent I pay you!"). Dolemite and his friends (including a young Ernie GHOSTBUSTERS Hudson) flee to California after carjacking the most outrageous homosexual character in celluloid history (he's glad to be hijacked since he always wanted to go to California anyway, and he gets along just fine with his abductors), and find out that the local mafia are moving in on Dolemite's nightclub. Well, Dolemite ain't havin' dat! Much lunacy, bad '70's outfits and terrible martial arts ensue, and just wait until you see the musical numbers! My only warning is that you skip the standup comedy scene just after the insane credits sequence; it really sucks, and seems like it's setting the viewer up for a repeat of the original DOLEMITE's anti-charms.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)

Superior to DR. NO (1962) in virtually every way, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE was one of the two films that really established the template from which the James Bond films would define themselves (the other being GOLDFINGER). The international scope is increased, the violence is nastier, the sexual content is extremely tawdry for its day (007 and Tatiana unwittingly starring in a porn reel being perhaps the most obvious example), the bad guys are perfect Cold War antagonists (Lotte Lenya's Rosa Klebb being an especially creepy standout) and the series' signature gadgets make their first (and relatively realistic) appearance in the form of Bond's well-equipped briefcase. Connery's cooler than the Abominable Snowman's dick and his fight with Robert Shaw as SPECTRE psycho Red Grant is one of the most realistic on record, so if your taste in 007 runs more to the non-over-the-top flavor, you cannot go wrong with this, the best of the James Bond series.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)

Often compared with THE GODFATHER PART II as being one of the minute number of sequels that surpass the original, this second STAR WARS film remains the strongest of the bunch thanks to it taking the time to flesh out its characters a bit (well, as much as you can in a space opera anyway) and dazzle the eye with sequence after sequence of briskly-paced latter day Saturday afternoon serial thrills. We get the budding romance between Han Solo and the Princess, Luke's early Jedi training under Yoda (back when the tiny Jedi master was still awe-inspiring and full of genuine wonder), the battle on Hoth, the Millennium Falcon hauling ass all over half the galaxy and getting into a number of memorable scrapes (chief among which is undoubtedly the asteroid field chase)...the list just goes on and on. But the real genius of the film lays in the decision to make it Darth Vader's movie and give the bad guy a showcase worthy of his towering evil. Killing off failed subordinates at a rate that's almost comical and being simply amazing as the most pimped-out villain in the history of deep-space nefariousness, Vader rocks this one like a motherfucker, capping it off with his now-immortal revelation to Luke Skywalker near the picture's end. Some make the point that STAR WARS was a perfect stand-alone film and that both THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) can't necessarily be enjoyed as a satisfying whole without seeing the original, but in the case of EMPIRE I could not disagree more, and nearly thirty years after the fact it remains my hands-down favorite of the entire STAR WARS series and is the only one I will ever sit through again and again.

MANDINGO (1975)

It took me a long time to finally come to grips with it, but considering how fascinated I am by its source novel and the big-screen translation thereof, I finally reject my guilt over the subject and admit that this world-class offender is a flat-out favorite. If you were horrified by the more vile truths about some of our fair nation's history that were made plain in ROOTS, don't ever watch this slavery-era soap opera. I find it to be an apocalyptic moment in the annals of bad taste cinema and as such I find its acting and plantation soap opera histrionics so over-the-top that it's frequently hilarious — the performances by Susan George and James Mason are simply impossible to keep a straight face through — but its frank depictions of the worst realities of slavery is no laughing matter and is indeed horrifying to witness. I don't think mainstream Hollywood has produced a major motion picture as vicious or offensive before or since, and if this were released today there would be full-on race riots in the streets. Click here to read an earlier, more in-depth Vault post about this one.

THE COURT JESTER (1956)

I always loved Danny Kaye's live-action cartoon appeal, and nowhere is it seen in fuller flower than in this musical sendup of colorful swashbuckler movies. Kaye stars as Hawkins, the musically talented entertainer among a cadre of forest-based outlaws led by a masked Robin Hood type called The Black Fox, and all Hawkins wants to do is fight alongside the hero in his war against King Roderick, usurper to the English throne. That chance comes when Hawkins is assigned to escort the infant actual heir to the throne to safety, lest the babe fall into the hands of the bad guys, and he's accompanied by the Fox's lieutenant/daughter, Jean (Glynis Johns, better known as Mrs. Banks in MARY POPPINS, who was absolutely gorgeous in her youth), with whom he is in love and the feeling is mutual, but romance must wait in the face of patriotism. From there grows a tangled comedic web, rich with laugh-out-loud gags, ridiculous situations, anachronistically clever dialogue — the legendary "vessel with the pestle/flagon with the dragon" bit in particular — and even one of the most spectacular (and funny) swordfights you will ever see. Even if you hate musicals, you owe it to yourself to see this one.

INFRA MAN (1975)


Though not adapted from any pre-existing comics source, this film gets my vote as the second-best superhero film ever made (narrowly missing the #1 position thanks to the existence of THE INCREDIBLES). An out-of-its-mind fusion of Shaw Brothers kung fu flicks, Toho rubber-suit monster movies, and a liberal dose of Ultraman, INFRA MAN is one of that rare number of films that looks and feels exactly like what one would think a little boy's idea of the perfect movie might be. It's colorful, features almost non-stop action and mayhem, displays virtually zero logic or attention to reality, and the icing on the cake is some of the worst/best dubbing in the history of films imported from Asia, but the film will always have a very special place in my heart thanks to its villain, the one and only Princess Dragon Mom (Terry Liu, seen above). She's tits-out evil, positively loves being tits-out evil, and has nothing on her mind other than the complete and utter destruction of all humankind, but first she and her ragtag legion of bargain basement monsters must eliminate mega-badassed and utterly invincible bionic superhero Infra Man. (Yeah, good luck with that.) I was fortunate enough to see INFRA MAN in the theater during its 1976 U.S. release and I have been a hardcore fan ever since (so is Roger Ebert, believe it or not). It's available on DVD in a gorgeous uncut widescreen transfer that gives the viewer the option of watching it withy the ludicrous dubbing, and while I'm usually a "subs over dubs" guy, this is one of the rare exceptions to that rule and I cannot recommend the dubbed soundtrack enough. My full-length love letter to this completely bonkers film can be read here.

WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY-THE UNBEARBLY LONG, SELF-INDULGENT DIRECTOR'S CUT (2007)

I was not a fan of the theatrical version of this film, but the waaaay longer director's cut available on DVD is a totally different animal. A knowing sendup of just about every rags-to-riches music industry biopic (using the Johnny Cash biopic WALK THE LINE as its launching point), WALK HARD is a tour de force of played-straight hilarity chronicling the career of country legend Dewey Cox, who crosses over from C&W into rock 'n' roll and beyond, and the results are simply hilarious. The long version fully fleshes-out the characters and narrative, allowing star John C. Reilly to really show us what he's made of as an actor, and plays like an American music epic on nitrous oxide, so by all means check it out and be ready to laugh your ass off.

ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979)


I wrote a whole piece on this classic a while back, but let it suffice to say that it's the perfect expression of the interconnected joys of rock 'n' roll and teenage rebellion.

THE WOLF MAN (1941)

Werewolf stories are my favorite in the horror genre, and much of what we now accept as the template for tragic lycanthropy tales comes from this cinematic Rosetta Stone. One of the crown jewels of the Universal horror cycle of the 1930's/1940's, THE WOLF MAN is packed to the rafters with fog-laden black & white atmosphere, ominous gypsies, and that unique flavor of Universal horror, but what sets it apart from its brethren is Lon Chaney Jr.'s indelible performance as the utterly doomed Larry Talbot. The character would return in several sequels alongside the Frankenstein monster and Dracula, but his subsequent appearances bear none of the heartbreaking tragedy found here.

SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975)

Another classic from Jack Hill, the mad genius behind SORCERESS, this one's kinda like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE starring a bunch of '70's-era gang chicks straight out of an ABC Afterschool Special and with a script like something written during a three-day tequila and uncut cocaine bender. Taking place in a world so far removed from any recognizable reality that it may as well be set on the planet Qxzzblnzrg, the film follows the adventures of the Dagger Debs, a high school girl gang auxilary to the waaaay overage Silver Daggers, and what happens when their power structure is upset by the arrival of new girl/badass in town Maggie (Joanne Nail). Maggie catches the eye of the Silver Daggers' leader, Dominic (Asher Brauner), which does not sit well with Lace, the head of the Dagger Debs (Robbie Lee, whose performance redefines the concept of "chewing the scenery"), and from there things veer straight into "I cannot fucking believe I'm seeing this" territory. A delirious mash-up of 1950's J.D. movie tropes, REEFER MADNESS-level inaccuracy regarding what it depicts, and shameless exploitation, this is the kind of film that they just don't make anymore and thank the gods that it's preserved on DVD.

GET CRAZY (1983)

From the same people who made ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, this is more or less the same kind of movie — a live-action rock 'n' roll cartoon —, only geared for a majorly-stoned R-rated audience. The plot is pointless to recount since there pretty much isn't one, but what passes for such springs from the backstage preparations for the New Year's Eve 1983 celebration at the fictional Saturn Theater live music venue (based on the real-life Filmore West) and the insane assortment of stars who converge on the place when its beloved owner is believed to be on his death bed. It's a head-on collision of blues, glam, punk, hippy-dippy junk and just about everything else under the sun in a cornucopia of gags that come flying so fast that you'll need a batting helmet. Featuring Daniel Stern, Ed Begley Jr., Malcom McDowell (hilarious as David Bowie/Mick Jagger fusion Reggie Wanker), Lou Reed (as the reclusive and Dylanesque Auden), and a plethora of lunatic character actors, this overflowing craziness is further gilded with several fun musical performances, several of which are crazy takes on "Hoochie Coochie Man" (most notably the version performed by Lee Ving of the legendary L.A. punk band Fear). In short, GET CRAZY is a perfect party flick and a true crowd-pleaser. Why the hell this film isn't on DVD is totally beyond me (although it most likely has to do with the music rights), so the only way to see this now is via a rare airing on cable or on an old VHS tape.