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Monday, April 29, 2013

AN UNINTENTIONAL GEEK MASHUP

Regular readers of this blog have seen me go on at length about my love of Modesty Blaise and her adventures, so here's an unexpected gem that I stumbled upon earlier today while doing research: I haven't seen the Modesty Blaise origin movie, MY NAME IS MODESTY (2004), in ages, well before GAME OF THRONES happened, so looking back on it now I'm surprised and delighted to share with you...MODESTY BLAISE VERSUS JAIME LANNISTER!!! I swear to god!!!



Yep, that's Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays everyone's favorite sister-fucking badassed knight, the one and only Jaime Lannister, on GAME OF THRONES, getting his ass handed to him by Alexandra Staden as a rather frail-looking Modesty Blaise. Looking at this footage, he would have made a very good Willie Garvin. In fact, before remembering that I'd seen the film and recognizing him thanks to his presence on GAME OF THRONES, for a moment I thought he was Willie, but Willie is sadly not in the movie. (It recaps Modesty's origin up to a certain point in her career, at which time she had not yet met her righthand man/soul mate.) That said, I have to wonder how well he'd pull off the Cockney accent...

Friday, April 26, 2013

IT'S THE WEEKEND! TIME FOR FREAKIN'!!!

After an interminable week — don't ask — the weekend is finally here! Let's hope it's a good one.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

JEEBUS, PLEASE PROTECT ME FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS...

While checking my mailbox for an important piece of mail, I instead received a hand-written letter from one Susan Laurence, a Jehovah's Witness who wrote to alert me at length to outline how conditions today suck — thanks for the heads up — and would be vastly improved if Jesus Christ were in charge of the government. Her contact info was of course enclosed.

Perhaps contrary to what some would expect, I'm not going to bother with responding to Miss Laurence's missive. My response, no matter how eruditely phrased, would likely be perceived as a vitriolic attack from an "heathen" bully, so instead I opt to ignore it.

My stance on religion in general and aggressive Christianity in particular is well established, so I'll just let it suffice to say that I take considerable umbrage at being sent such material, no matter how presumably well-intentioned. I don't spend my time hand-crafting entreaties to lure you to the ways of comic books, punk rock, exploitation films, and pornography, and send them to your mailbox. Instead I write about such things on this blog, a forum that you have to actively choose to experience. For all I knew, "Susan Laurence" could have been either a married name now attached to a long-ago classmate or former girlfriend, or even someone writing to offer me work, so I opened the letter with genuine curiosity, only to be met with proselytizing yammerings.

Though I'm sure such junk mail is meant in all sincerity, I would like to politely suggest that those who feel it's a good idea to send this Mercyful Fate-loving cunnilingus and gay marriage advocate such material kindly fuck the hell off.

The most holy pussy: The only deity I will ever truly worship.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Ramones' "COMMANDO" (1977)

While celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Ramones' first album, I was reminded of this animated version of one of my favorites of their early catalog, namely "Commando" from their third album. This cartoon is the letter-perfect visual accompaniment to the song and the band's sensibility, with the shot of ultra-right-winger Johnny Ramone flipping the bird to Boris and Natasha in direct opposition to their commie leanings. Enjoy!

37 YEARS LATER: The Ramones' "I DON'T WANNA GO DOWN TO THE BASEMENT"

Today marks the 37th anniversary of the release of the Ramones' eponymous first album. While I can't speak for those with more genteel tastes, that album was a life-changer for me when I discovered it some four years after it first came out. That considerable gap in time between release and the album falling into my grubby little hands is understandable, simply because the record got no airplay whatsoever on the Tri-State Area radio stations I listened to at the time, and while I knew one kid in my junior high who was into The Clash, no one in my school was listening to a bunch of grubby-looking, could-be-drug-addicts like the boys from Forest Hills while there were still albums by The Doors and The Beatles to run further into the ground.

Anyway, here's my tip of the hat to Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy, for all the many hours of adolescent angst they helped salve with their anthems of male prostitution, anti-social tendencies, recreational abuse of household adhesives, and the presumed correlation of young love and nazism. And rather than go with my usual pick from that classic initial aural salvo, specifically the indelible "Blitzkrieg Bop," here's my favorite of the album's lesser-heard cuts. And you've gotta love it as a Scooby-Doo-esque cartoon with rock-bottom animation!

SHORTLY BEFORE IRON MAN 3 OPENS, A BIT OF A SNAG...

The much-anticpated IRON MAN 3 is barely a week away and as fans' eagerness builds, an unexpected and irritating kerfluffle is taking place. As explained in detail at Slashfilm, Disney, the power behind IRON MAN 3 and Marvel Studios, is putting the squeeze of the AMC and Regal theater chains in an effort to garner a larger percentage of the box office take from their films, so the theater chains are retaliating by halting sale of tickets for the film at their locations nationwide. As far as I'm personally concerned, Disney can go fuck themselves in the ear since this kind of move screws the people who pay their hard-earned cash to see their movies in the first place, and really, how much more money does that corporation really need? It's a naked cash-grab, no more, no less, and while I'm sure it'll all be worked out before opening day, it shows a real contempt for and/or  lack of giving a squirt of rat's piss about the very people who keep the corporate coffers overflowing.

As you may or may not know, I'm the cruise director for my crew of moviegoing friends — the Cine-Miscreants — whenever assorted genre movies open, so it's on me to figure out when and where to see movies on opening night. In the case of IRON MAN 3, I'd been wondering why the fuck the online ticket sources for NYC have still not made tickets available, especially since I'm trying to sort out the issue in regard to both opening night and the four-film Iron Man marathon the day before. While trying to figure out the problem, I stumbled across the Slashfilm article and I was rather annoyed. 

Manhattan's choices of decent screens are already limited but this situation screws the audience even further. My crew was looking forward to seeing it at the Regal Union Square multiplex since it won't be playing at our preferred Ziegfeld (the Ziegfeld will instead be running The Great Gatsby as of the following week, which sucks because that's where we saw the two previous Iron Man movies), so now I have to figure out a decent screen somewhere in Manhattan that's convenient for everyone to get to and that has decent bars nearby for the after-movie discussion.

I just checked the current ticket availability and thanks to the corporate impasse, IRON MAN 3 is currently listed as only playing at one theater in the entirety of Manhattan — so-so venue on 62nd Street and 1st Avenue — a tiny screen in Williamsburg that will be a bitch for most of my crew to reach (except for one who lives in that area) and a tiny hole in the wall screen in Cobble Hill, which is not far from me but the screen is ridiculously small. And those are the only theaters playing it in the entirety of the five boroughs — and I do mean ONLY — so I wrote my crew with that info and thus far three of them agree with my proposal to wait until the corporations hash things out. I'm fine with waiting but some in my crew may commit violence in the streets if their Tony Stark itch is not scratched as soon as possible.

Oh, and of course all of this means that unless the impasse gets sorted out in time, the four-film all-day Iron Man marathon consisting of IRON MAN, IRON MAN 2, THE AVENGERS, and a day-early screening of IRON MAN 3, ain't gonna happen. I was really looking forward to that...

IRON MAN 3: A WEE TASTE

Monday, April 22, 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

PATTON OSWALT IMPROVISES THE GEEKIEST FILIBUSTER IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION


This one speaks for itself. I shit you not, this is an instant classic of full-on crazed, unabashed, pulled-out-of-his-ass geekery by my man Patton Oswalt. (slow, reverent clapping)

Monday, April 15, 2013

NOW MORE SEMINAL AND LESS SANGUINARY

Never known for ignoring the possibility of cashing in on something popular, the porn industry's latest strike in the parody department arrives in anticipation of the upcoming remake of CARRIE. I'll just let this one speak for itself.

If that line is actually spoken in this movie, it's an instant must-see!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

RED NINJA: THE MOVIE 3 Film Collection (1967)


How cool would it have been to grow up in a country and culture where they actually made decent and fun live-action kid's shows where the heroes were ninjas and it was explicitly stated up front that the heroes killed their enemies? That's just what Japanese kids got when Toei's KAMEN NO NINJA AKAKAGE ("Akakage, the Masked Ninja") debuted, and its over-the-top and often anachronistic content went over big with the audience. And while us round-eyes were no strangers to crazy Japanese live-action superhero fare — thanks to daily after school airings of ULTRAMAN, JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT, SPACE GIANTS, and SPECTREMAN — Akakage's show never made it to the States, presumably because of its (mild) sword-related violence and the occasional gruesome deaths of its villains. (A nasty immolation springs to mind.) Too bad, because its creator, manga legend Mitsteru Yokoyama, already had a massive fan following in the States thanks to GIGANTOR (though that American iteration did not credit him as its creator) and capitalizing on the popularity of that animated giant robot cult favorite might have gotten some American distributor's attention (though the show would have definitely required some cuts here and there for violence).

Yuzaburo Sakaguchi as stylish ninja Akakage.

Yeah, the stuff the Japanese found suitable for children would never have flown here in its uncut form and that's a shame because Akakage — whose name translates as "Red Shadow" — is a hero very much cut from the same wholesome cloth as our own homegrown Lone Ranger (complete with mask that barely obscures his features yet somehow allows him not to instantly be recognized). He's dutiful, extremely capable, kind, loyal to his friends and the good guy feudal lords who employ  his services, and he rocks a bitchin' hairdo and stylish red scarf, so he's a perfect role model for impressionable kiddies. Plus, he kicks truckloads of ass!

A typical day at work for Akakage, and he isn't even impressed with himself.

Aided by his partners, cheery veteran ninja Shirokage ("White Shadow," played by Fuyukichi Maki) and kid ninja Aokage ("Blue Shadow," played by Yoshinobu Kaneko, kid brother of fellow child actor  Mitsunobu Kaneko of JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT renown), Akakage fearlessly takes on all manner of weirdo cults, sorcerers, assassins, thieves, and even giant monsters, with tons of mayhem ensuing in the process, all in steadfast service to keep Japan safe and free. And while the series may not have aired in the U.S., a number of theatrical films were cobbled together from multi-episode arcs of the show and dubbed for release in English-speaking countries. I have no accurate information when that would have occurred but by the sound of some of the familiar actors voicing the characters, voice actors I recognize from scores of Shaw Brothers kung fu flicks that played theatrically and on TV in the U.S. from roughly the mid-1970's through the early 1980's, I'd guess they were released international around 1980 through perhaps 1982. That would have been the perfect time in which to capitalize on the public's fascination with ninjas in the wake of hit low-budget movies like the American-made ENTER THE NINJA and REVENGE OF THE NINJA. Those films particularly captured the imaginations of kids who were too young to get in to see the R-rated thrills contained therein, so the movies made from the old Toei ninja kiddie show was just the thing to scratch that itch. Renaming Aokage as "Watari" in an attempt to cash-in on the name recognition of the character played by Kaneko in the very popular 1966 kid's fantasy film WATARI THE NINJA BOY — a film I'm not sure got much release outside of Japan, though it did play in Italy — and naming at least two of the films after Watari, the movies were unleashed upon an international audience and only made it to American video shelves three years ago. Being a fan of Japanese superhero shows and also being familiar with the image of Akakage after years of seeing him in magazines and items bearing his likeness at conventions (though I did not then know his name), I picked up the DVD on a whim because it cost less than ten bucks and listed itself as containing three movies. A bargain, right?

Well, released under the title RED NINJA, the DVD is a two-sided collection that allows American viewers our first good look at Akakage and his pals, and I have to report that it's a pretty mixed bag. The material's TV origins are readily apparent and I don't see that aspect being a problem for those of us of a certain age who were raised on this kind of program, but modern audiences may be put off by the perceived cheapness that was part and parcel with live-action Japanese superhero shows of its era. Also, the episodic nature of the strung-together serialized installment can cause the narrative to just go on and on and on, which can lead to tedium in spite of there being a lot of action. And when viewed in a concentrated dose, Akakage's adventures come off like one brain-dead action set-piece after another, while the already minimal and kiddie-simplistic plots become more or less beside the point.

As for the characters, I really, really liked Akakage and would be willing to see the rest of this series in its original form. His partners, the elder Shirokage and the tweener Aokage, form with Akakage a potentially interesting "three ages of the ninja" dynamic, but that aspect is not really explored, save for Shirokage occasionally teasing or chiding Aokage for being an undisciplined kid (he doesn't really mean it). Shirokage's a lot of fun, being uncharacteristically cheerful for an  elder master of over-the-top ninjutsu, and his signature move is to whip out a huge kite that he and Aokage often ride into the sky to give battle against ridiculous airborne foes. Aokage, as expected for a show of its vintage, is another in the very long line of incredibly annoying child characters in Japanese fare. It's definitely a cultural thing (or at least it used to be) and it's particularly grating to the sensibilities of most American fans of this genre. Aokage, while a capable ninja warrior and spy, is often portrayed doing broadly-cutesy and "funny" things, sometimes in fast-motion accented with "wacky" music, and those antics bring the narratives to a dead halt. While the series was a wild, over-the-top melange of superhero adventure stories, ninja and samurai tropes, giant monsters, and quest/mission tales, the forced humor just does not fit in with the rest of the ingredients.

When taken at face value for what they are, Akaage's adventures can be acceptable cheesy fun, but I recommend breaking each film up into twenty-minute segments and watching them in such increments over the course of a few days rather than in one sitting. That way they don't become tedious and you won't be subjected to Aokage's buffoonery in saturation doses.

But the one thing the potential buyer of this set needs to know is that while it bills itself as containing three movies, that's not exactly the case. Side A of the sole disc contains NINJASCOPE: THE MAGIC WORLD OF NINJAS, which introduces us to Akakage and his teammates, while Side B features WATARI THE CONQUEROR and WATARI AND THE FANTASTIKS. The snag here is that the latter two are exactly the same movie, with the only difference being that they have different titles. My theory on this is that perhaps that film went out to different territories for theatrical release under different titles and the issuers of this DVD set didn't bother to note that they were the same movie. Either that or the company knew what was up and didn't care, figuring that the cheap price of the item would mitigate the dishonesty. Whatever the case may be, if you buy it, you only get two movies. And of the films on the disc, I'd say the dual-titled film on Side B is the more entertaining one, though NINJASCOPE does include a giant fire-breathing toad monster that's about a notch or two better than most of the creatures found in one of the era's Daiei Gamera series. Smoke a few bonghits and kick back a few beers, and they're an okay way to kill some time.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A GOLDEN MOMENT OF RANDOMNESS

As seen on the 34th Street N/R platform: Either a street performer taking a nap or the most fabulous homeless person ever. (click on image to embiggen)

BAD CRAZINESS ON THE TIMES SQUARE/42nd STREET SHUTTLE PLATFORM


Here's a classic example of how to make a bad situation that much worse.

This afternoon I made my way into Manhattan to run certain monthly errands and stop off at my favorite comic book shop, and my route requires me to take the Times Square/42nd Street shuttle train over the East Side. As I awaited the arrival of the shuttle, I took my usual position near where the conductor's booth would be when the train pulled up to the platform, a spot I favor because it allows me swift entrance onto the car. When the shuttle arrived, I stepped aside and allowed the passengers to begin spilling out to make their way above ground to any of the numerous tourist traps found in Times Square. Near the front of the press of human cattle was a family of very obvious tourists, a gaggle of five corn-fed Midwestern-looking types that included a large and harried dad, an exhausted-looking mom, and three kids ranging in age from approximately ten years old down to the smallest, an adorable little girl of perhaps four.

With dad taking point, the family was clearly out of their element in the SOYLENT GREEN-like crowd, a state of affairs worsened by dad having to navigate several large items of wheeled luggage by himself as mom attempted to corral her two older children. The excited four-year-old took no heed of her parents and attempted to monkey-scramble over the luggage dad was pulling as he said to no one in particular, "Watch where you're going." It was at that exact moment that the little girl, not noticing the gap between the train and the platform that is warned about over the loud speaker without fail in each direction of the shuttle's two stops, slipped feet-first through the gap and landed right on the tracks below the train. I was standing perhaps three feet away from this as it happened and it occurred too quickly for me to grab her as she fell.

As the terrified child began keening like some creature out of Celtic legend, I stuck my head into the conductor's booth and yelled "DON'T MOVE THE TRAIN! THERE'S A KID UNDER THE CAR!!!" As I turned around, the girl's dad dove headfirst after her, landing on his chest at the edge of the platform and having arms that were thankfully long enough to reach her. As he grabbed her, he yanked the poor little thing up with considerable force, unintentionally knocking her forehead against the train car, which sent the back of her skull ricocheting back against the concrete of the platform. Now in grievous pain on top of being scared out of her wits, the rescued waif bawled for all she was worth as her parents did their best to comfort her. I cannot imagine how the poor wee thing must have felt. In an unfamiliar territory, surrounded by throngs of weird-looking New Yorkers, unexpectedly plummeted into some dark rat-infested abyss beneath a massive vehicle of steel, yanked upward and conked cranially against hard objects... A Disney World vacation memory it most definitely was not.

The conductor announced that the shuttle would be out of service while representatives of the MTA investigated the situation, so I got off the train and told the conductor I would stick around if they needed an eye-witness to answer any questions. Things seemed okay as the parents checked the tyke over for possible cuts or broken bones, but at worst she was just more shaken-up than a four-year-old should ever have to be. The parents, for their trouble got a polite lecture from the conductor on how the kid could not possibly have been any luckier with how the incident turned out. You see, if she had landed in a slightly different position or had been down there long enough to panic and move, there was a very good chance that she would come into physical contact with the train's third rail — aka its electrical power source — and then ZAP!!! That's all she wrote. The parents listened to all of this with color-draining looks of horror written all over their faces, quite obviously allowing the "could have been" awfulness to sink in. Just as this was going on, a petite Hispanic policewoman arrived and whipped out a pad so she could take any statements if necessary.

In a sane world, that's where this story of memorable vacation disaster would have ended. But, as this is good ol' New York City, such was not to be.

As the cop was taking notes on what happened, a rail-thin Hispanic man of about 6' 4" appeared as if from nowhere and began wildly gesticulating as he shouted, "YO! THERE WAS ALLA DIS BLOOD AN' SHIT AN' PEOPLES WUZ SCREAMIN' AN' SHIT SO I WAS LIKE YO! I'MA HELP DIS LITTLE GURL!" KNOW WAH I'M SAYIN'???" I know a thing or two about folks who are out of their fucking minds on dangerous drugs, so it was clear to me, and presumably all within earshot, that this man was majorly wrecked on god knows what all. By the look of him, I would say either a serious dose of crack or else some of that oh-so-yummy crystal meth. As this loon ranted and raved in what was a combination of drug-fueled freak-out and an effort to call attention to himself and be perceived as a big man when he had in fact done fuck all, the policewoman tried to herd the tweaker away from the already-stressed tourist family but as she attempted to do that, another Hispanic dude, this one being around thirty years old and wearing a suit and tie, began hurling a litany of abuse at the drug-fiend. "YOU'RE A FUCKIN' PUSSY, YOU MUTHAFUKKA! YOU AIN'T DONE SHIT! WHERE I COME FROM, ONLY A MUTHAFUKKIN' PUSSY TRIES TO BE A MUTHAFUKKIN' TOUGH GUY, YOU FUCKIN' MUTHAFUKKIN' PUSSY! DAT'S RIGHT, I'M CALLIN' YOU A FUCKIN' PUSSY, YOU FUCKIN' PUSSY! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT??? YOU PUSSY!!!"

The suit-and-tie-wearing asshole was not only worked up to the point of his face turning red with veins bulging on his forehead as bullets of spittle sprayed from his lips, he was clearly having the time of his life tormenting the tweaker while there was a cop there to hold said tweaker at bay. This behavior only served to wind up the tweaker, who eruditely fired back with a confusing string of epithets and threats peppered with assorted usages of "pussy" and "muthafukka," accented with  chest-thrust-out "Come at me, bro" physical posturing. The petite cop was clearly not appreciating any of this from either side of the torrent (it could scarcely be called an argument) and as she vainly tried to keep the tweaker in line, she also repeatedly ordered the dude in the suit to shut the fuck up, telling him that he was not helping and was in fact making the situation even worse. Upon hearing that, the tweaker became more physically aggressive and nearly knocked over the cop, while the guy in the suit incessantly mocked and tormented the tweaker in a performance not far removed from that of a bored delinquent who keeps  throwing lit firecrackers into the lion's cage at the zoo, secure in the knowledge that the incredibly pissed-off lion cannot become intangible and stroll right through the bars to feast on him, starting with the offender's asshole.

Now stop and consider all of this for a moment. New York City cops are not renowned for their patience or compassion, especially not when shit like this goes down. The typical NYPD officer comes equipped with a potent variety of weaponry of varying levels of fuck-you-up-ness, including weapons-grade pepper spray, collapsible steel truncheons, tasers, and of course, fully-loaded pistols and a decent amount of ammunition. Most likely, all you've got is your dick in your hand, and I can tell you with considerable certainty that your dick is trumped several times over by any of the aforementioned bits of ordnance. In short, if you fuck around with the wrong cop on the wrong day, YOU LOSE. Neither of the previously-described jackwagons had anything going for them other than their dicks and towering levels of unbridled assholism — well, there was the drug-fueled rage thing — so one would think things might have chilled out a bit when the cop, with a flick of her wrist, whipped her collapsible steel truncheon into extended combat mode.

This here is what we're talking about.

Guess again, bunkie.

The deployment of what is in the right hands an impact weapon of shattering efficacy did absolutely nothing to douse the fire of two men roiling in testosterone and primate dominance displays, so unless she she shot both of them right there on the spot, the cop would require some backup, which she called for on her radio. (It should be noted that while all of this was escalating, the tourist family, now forgotten by all and sundry, wisely took the opportunity to get the fuck out of there, likely taking with them a new-found terror of the Big Apple that they will recount to friends and relatives back in Smallville for decades to come.)

The overwhelmed cop had to wait for maybe thirty seconds — MAYBE — before a literal dozen uniformed male NYPD officers ran to her aid. It was like someone opened a magical chute and cops just slid in from out of everywhere. Seriously, it was amazing.

So do you think the presence of twelve more cops, each bearing the aforementioned arsenal of kill-a-motherfucker-ness upon his person, had any effect on our little two-man act? The answer to that question was a resounding "no" as the two ragers at first paid no attention at all to the police. Since he wasn't on drugs, the guy in the suit eventually twigged to the idea that it would be prudent to clear off when there were a dozen armed cops present who could kill him on the spot and most likely get away with it (after which they'd make a few extra bucks selling his corpse to the White Castle over near Port Authority), so he moved about twenty feet away and paced back and forth, all the while yelling about what a pussy the tweaker was and more shit about "Where I come from..." For his part, the tweaker remained agitated and was led off by about six of NY's finest.

When the smoke finally cleared, the conductor announced the shuttle would once more be up and running, so I got onto the train and waited for it to bear me the one stop to my destination. Unfortunately, suit-and-tie asshole also got on and, spying some garishly-dressed hoochie of the Goya-eating persuasion, he sought to impress her with his self-aggrandizing account of his "bravery" in the face of a drugged-up goon who was being held in check by a tiny policewoman with a truncheon.

And that, dear Vaulties, is how the Spring 2013 NYC tourist season got underway for your favorite Bunche. Oh, joy.

Oh, and when I arrived at my favorite comics shop — the most excellent Jim Hanley's Universe, NYC's best comics purveyor — I regaled the staff (who I am honored to consider family) with this story and they were horrified and amazed by it, despite the fact that they are right across the street from the Empire State Building, a spot with no small amount of insane tourist drama.

EVIL DEAD (2013)


When the original THE EVIL DEAD came out back in 1981, it was lauded as an original and innovative alternative to the era's seemingly endless and mostly fucking awful assembly line slasher flicks, and it remains a landmark in the annals of 1980's horror films. It put both director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell on the map as cult figures and was followed by the delirious EVIL DEAD II (1987) —which perfectly walked the fine line between sheer terror and outright hilarity to end up as one of the best sequels ever made (I think it's easily the best of its particular series) — and ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992), which formed the end of what is now known as The EVIL DEAD Trilogy. I have to admit that I'm the rare horror fan who is not a fan of the original of of the much-beloved ARMY OF DARKNESS, though I do appreciate the original for being something different at a time when different was exactly what was need, so I approached the remake with no particular attachment to or great love for the 1981 version. If anything, I was hoping for a remake almost as good as the superb (though extremely nasty) 2010 take on I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. I saw the remake with a dear friend whom I've known since high school and he's a huge fan of the original; he saw it when he was about sixteen or seventeen, back when HBO was kind of still a new thing and a novelty, while he was alone and house sitting for a mutual friend's parents. He watched the original at night in a house he was unfamiliar with and didn't even know where some of the light switches were, so the stage was set for a young lad to have the living shit scared out of him. To this day he freely admits that it terrified him in a particularly primal way.

The new version follows the basic template that was set back in 1981, with a group of young twenty-somethings going to a cabin deep in the middle of nowhere and finding a dark tome via which unseen and incredibly evil forces are unleashed to wreak appalling havoc. The chief differences between the old and new iterations of the story involve a passage from the evil book now actively being read by one of group rather than the demonic force being called up by playing a recording of a recitation of one of the spells, and the reason for the crew being present in the creepy shack in the middle of nowhere being shifted from spring break to it being chosen as the site where heroin addict Mia (Jane Levy) intends to go cold turkey and have some of her friends and estranged older brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), around for support (plus Grandpa, the family pooch). David left home years earlier, leaving his sister behind to care for their demented mother, who ended her days in a mental institution — the dealing with of which apparently set Mia on the path of hard narcotics — with his desertion royally pissing of their friends, registered nurse Olivia (the dark and lovely Jessica Lewis, whom you may remember from CLOVERFIELD) and school teacher Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), who had to handle Mia during her last attempt at abrupt sobriety. That previous situation not only nearly resulted in Mia's death by overdose — in point of fact, she actually was dead but eventually revived by defibrillator — it also added fuel to the fire of the group's reunion due to David's absence during that near-fatal O.D.

So what we have here is a bad situation made immeasurably worse when the crew heads into the cabin's basement in search of the source of a foul stench and discover the revolting evidence of some sort of dark and horrifying witchcraft ritual (which is seen before the titles). It's never a good idea to enter the basement of a remote cabin in the woods — as we have seen many, many times previous, and as was quite pointedly commented upon for the ages in last years brilliant THE CABIN IN THE WOODS — and it's especially poor judgment to retrieve something that's been sealed in an industrial trash bag and subsequently tightly wrapped in barbed wire. So of course egghead Eric snags said taboo object, opens it, and finds an ancient book haphazardly bound in what appears to be human skin, with pages scrawled with an arcane alphabet hand-written in blood. Loaded with fucked-up illustrations and hand-scribed notes in English that in no uncertain terms warn the reader not to read the book or speak any of its passages aloud, this is the kind of shit that you or I would take one look at and immediately put as much distance between ourselves and it as fast as humanly possible. But, as this is after all a horror movie, over-educated Eric of course does exactly what the notes explicitly warn him not to do, and in no time the withdrawal being suffered by Mia is compounded with a serious dose of full-on, foul-mouthed, murderous demonic possession.

Kids, if you find something like this securely wrapped up in a garbage bag and barbed wire at the site of what was obviously some kind of ultra-evil ritual, complete with the putrefying remains of animals suspended from the ceiling...

...do NOT read aloud from the fucking thing like this fucking idiot did! Round up your friends and get the fuck out of there immediately!!!

From that moment forward, no one is safe and and the sanity and fortitude of all will be pushed to the brink and beyond.

As remakes from the current spate of such efforts go, EVIL DEAD is entertaining enough but it does have some problems. First and foremost, it's just not that scary, despite it being as serious as a heart attack when compared to the original's twistedly humorous approach. Sure, the possessed Mia is creepy as all get-out but the film's suspense is minimal and the narrative relies on gore rather than genuine scares to deliver the shocks. The film is clearly a product of the influence of "torture porn" flicks like the SAW series and HOSTEL, wherein excruciating depictions of mutilation and suffering are lingered over with a borderline-prurient gaze, creating in the audience a sense of physical discomfort as opposed to the more visceral dread generated by the primal horrors wrought by trying to wrap our collective heads around forces and beings that we cannot hope to understand or prevail against. Seeing some crazed psychopath slowly drag a weathered machete across the flesh above one's kneecap is something that's all-too-easy to understand and relate to, and while it is definitely horrifying in the way that the details of  the real-world's "mundane" serial murders can be, it's just not comparable to the horror of the imagination. Instead of making that sort of effort, the film delivers amounts of gore and spew that frankly surprised me, especially when considering how pussified the MPAA has been when applying ratings to violent/gory content over the past twenty years or so, and as such EVIL DEAD will no doubt delight gorehounds to no end. In fact, on the scale of sheer gore, this film easily receives a solid 10 out of a possible 10, which makes me wonder if anyone at the MPAA even saw it.

Now don't get me wrong, I love gore. Love it! It's just that I'm no longer an adolescent who's jonesing for "forbidden" sights and thrills and plot be damned, so when I am treated to bucketloads of the red and gooey stuff, I like to see that element in service of a story with real narrative flesh beyond something told around a campfire. My own personal taste in horror nowadays runs more toward what the given scary scenario has to say about the human condition, and in this case I suppose the demonic possession and what it results in could be seen as a commentary on addiction and how it affects the addicted individual and their loved ones written in the most broad of strokes, but EVIL DEAD obviously has no such considerations on its mind and is instead content with giving us the most basic of setups as an excuse for what is an admittedly impressive bit of way-over-the-top charnel house entertainment. That's all well and good but the individual audience member's mileage may vary.

Some of the gruesome set pieces are quite compelling in the way that one is powerless to look away from a car accident where severed body parts litter the asphalt and splashes of what was once the very fluid that fueled those bodies paint the tableau in congealing sanguinary shades. Especially good are the rather...intimate way in which the entity enters Mia's body (in a nod to the original's infamous tree sequence; ladies, you are guaranteed to squirm), Natalie's solution to a possessed left arm (hint: it involves an electric carving knife), a lesson in the offensive application of a loaded nail gun, and the bifurcation of a once-human tongue via the use of an extendable utility knife, all of which employ the modern grand guignol sensibility taken to a giddy extreme.

Mia and an apparently tasty utility knife.

It should also be noted that this is the first feature from Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez, and while he does not hit the audience with the kind of innovative razzle-dazzle that Sam Raimi brought to the proceedings thirty-two years ago (though certain shots crib from Raimi's memorable stylistic touches), this effort is assured and quite professionally crafted. I hope this film is a springboard to bigger and better works from him.

So when all is considered, I recommend EVIL DEAD but also advise waiting for cable, unless you just have to see its excesses unspool on the big screen, which I can certainly understand. It's entertaining for what it is — not great but entertaining — and if you are a gorehound, you will be in hog heaven. If, however, you are like me and prefer your horror with more meat to it, it's an okay way to pass the time until something heavier is unleashed. Oh, and there's an extra for those who stay through to the end of the film's credits. I mention it solely for completists as it is an utterly gratuitous piece of fan service, adds nothing to the narrative, does nothing to set up a possible/inevitable sequel, and it's over in maybe six or seven seconds. If you miss it, you miss nothing but I figured I alert you to it anyway.

The poster for the theatrical release, making a claim that few films live up to and that this one definitely doesn't.

Monday, April 08, 2013

THE BEACH PARTY'S OVER: R.I.P., ANNETTE FUNICELLO (1942-2013)

Annette, circa 1975.

It's sad as hell but it comes as no surprise that first-generation Mouseketeer and '60's beach movie goddess Annette Funicello has finally lost her two-decade battle with Multiple Sclerosis and perished at the age of seventy. It was truly painful to see the wholesome and once-vivacious exemplar of 1950's/1960's innocent hotness cruelly ravaged by so merciless an ailment, thus in many ways her passing can be taken as a blessing.

I wasn't even a gleam in the milkman's eye when Annette first appeared on the American pop culture landscape — 1955, when she was but twelve years old — but her adorableness struck a chord with the kids of her generation and she pulled off the minor miracle of still looking extremely cute while saddled with headgear that gave her the aspect of a particularly chipper post-apocalyptic mutant rodent.

I mean, seriously, she was the cutest bit of anthropomorphic vermin ever!

I have it on good authority that as Annette matured along with her fellow '50's adolescents, many a young lad's first "funny feelings" in his nethers were stirred by the increasingly lovely brunette whose ancestry quite obviously came from The Boot, and having first encountered her myself when reruns of the 1950's THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB aired when I was around nine years old, I completely understand her seismic effect.

Annette's team-up with the Beach Boys.

But as she grew up into toothsome young Italian womanhood, Annette eventually left Uncle Walt's stable of young faces and enjoyed a brief career as a singer of fluffy, ultra-girly pop tunes before gaining cinematic immortality in a series of cheesy "beach party" movies in the early and mid-1960's that co-starred helmet-haired heartthrob Frankie Avalon. Chock full of innocuous pre-acid rock pop tunes, romantic misunderstandings and ludicrous-looking rear-projected surfing contests, the series required no active brainwaves to be enjoyed and its mindless feel-good style was widely imitated for the rest of the decade by cheapjack konockoffs that made them look as sophisticated as BEYOND THE FRINGE.

Frankie Avalon, you lucky son of a bitch...

Though widely dismissed today, the Frankie and Annette beach party movies were every bit as defining of their decade's pop culture as Beatlemania and the 007 craze, and are fun time-wasters for the pre-pubescent set. In fact, I recommend watching at least a couple of them as a prerequisite for sitting through BACK TO THE BEACH (1987), in which Frankie and Annette, as the very characters they played twenty-plus years earlier, return to their old sandy stomping grounds, bringing humorous marital and parental dysfunction — and no small amount of mid-life crisis on Frankie's part — with them. It's a hoot of a movie, especially for those familiar with the territory and appreciative of the former teen idols being very much in on the joke. Plus, who in hell would ever have expected a latter day beach party movie in which our favorite surfin' couple got to encounter both Fishbone and Pee-Wee Herman? To quote Kelly Bundy, "the mind wobbles!"

I shit you not: Annette in BACK TO THE BEACH, getting down with Fishbone...

...and Pee-Wee Herman (who does a rendition of The Trashmen's classic "Surfin' Bird)!

As times and tastes changed, Annette's pop wave crested and her era was relegated to history while the lady herself was seen as a doyen of the pre-hippie days and a symbol of a now long-lost pre-Vietnam innocence. A perennial on nostalgia shows and retrospectives, as well as famously being a trusted shill for Skippy peanut butter in the 1970's, Annette's dark-eyed beauty was always a welcome sight and I will personally always have a dear spot for her in my heart as being one of the early formative influences on my deep appreciation of Italian women. Surf on in eternity, Annette. You will be greatly missed.

Perhaps the quintessential Annette Funicello image.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

A.A. MILNE IT SURE AS HELL AIN'T

Are you ready for the Eastonian werewolf wrestler punk band Winny Puhh? I kinda doubt it...

Friday, April 05, 2013

CARRIE remake trailer

Good trailer. And while the original deservedly stands as a classic, imagine how much worse the story's catalytic event would be for the protagonist with the addition of modern social networking technology...

Thursday, April 04, 2013

THE CHALLENGE (1982)


NOTE: This is a revised/updated version of a review I ran here some five years ago.  Trust me, this version is an improvement.

The 1980's were a generally terrible period for western-made martial arts movies, featuring an assortment of bland Chuck Norris vehicles and a glut of almost uniformly awful ninja movies, but one quality American production slipped through the cracks and is largely forgotten today, despite the considerable talent that went into its making. That film is 1982's THE CHALLENGE, directed by John (RONIN) Frankenheimer, scripted by John (THE HOWLING) Sayles, and starring Scott (THE RIGHT STUFF) Glenn opposite legendary Kurosawa leading man Toshiro (SEVEN SAMURAI) Mifune, and considering how across-the-board good it is, I'd like to know why th hell it's not available on DVD. THE CHALLENGE had a virtually non-existent theatrical run — under this title, as well as THE EQUALS and SWORD OF THE NINJA — and a blink-and-you-missed-it VHS release, so is there some orchestrated conspiracy to keep this ignored classic out of the moviegoing public's eye?

Not-so-lovable loser Rick (Scott Glenn), the film's ugly American.

The story follows Rick, a so-so has-been-who-never-was of a boxer who's pretty much relegated to being a punching bag of a sparring partner in an LA boxing gym. The guy's unrefined muscle, which is exactly what a Japanese paraplegic hires him to be during a trip to Japan on an errand to return a rare sword to his family, one half of a pair dubbed "the Equals." But what looked to be a piece of cake bodyguarding gig quickly goes sour when Rick finds himself in the middle of a decades-long and deadly-bitter feud between two sides of a noble family, with each faction seeking to possess the reunited swords. On one side there's master-warrior good guy Teru Yoshida (Toshiro Mifune) and his forest-dwelling martial disciples, while the villain of the piece is Teru's modernized (read "evil") asshole of a corporate-head brother, Hideo (Atsuo Nakamura), who's a samurai badass in his own right who also has an assortment of yakuza killers and a heavily armed private army at his disposal. Upon reaching Japan, Rick is paid and given his walking papers, but the bad guys stop him before he reaches the airport and make him an offer he can't refuse: infiltrate Teru's order, pretend to be interested in learning his ways and, once ensconced as a disciple, steal Teru's sword and hand it over to Hideo. Oh, and refusal to comply equals death on the spot, so what's a guy to do?

Rick very reluctantly joins Teru's group of old school budoka and endures their rigorous training, learning much of the mental, physical, and spiritual disciplines that make Teru and his followers both practical, hardcore badasses and "pure" embodiments of the warrior ethic, all the while keeping an eye open for an opportunity to make off with the sword. When that moment comes, Rick leaves the mountain retreat with the weapon in hand but there's enough decency within him to make him turn around and return, apologizing for his lapse in behavior — and then seeing that his every step was dogged by concealed, expert archers who at any moment during his escape attempt could easily have made sure he'd never have gotten away alive — after which he butches up and immerses himself into his training in earnest, finding his way as both a warrior and a man in the process. There's also a rather unnecessary romantic subplot in which Rick falls in love with Teru's daughter (Donna Kei Benz), but I guess if she wasn't around to get kidnapped by the bad guys there wouldn't have been an excuse for Teru and Rick to storm Hideo's corporate fortress and hand out gory ass-kickings and disembowelings like Halloween candy.

And at this point I guess it's fair to include a SPOILER WARNING: IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW HOW THE FILM ENDS, KINDLY SKIP THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS.

The final fifteen minutes or so of the film are a spectacular culmination to the inter-familial war that had been brewing, and since this is a hard film to get one's hands on I feel no guilt whatsoever for revealing the ending. Having fought their way up the various levels of Hideo's corporate building after taking out dozens of guards who were armed with machine guns, the heroes confront Hideo in his study and the moment when the brothers must duel to the death is at hand, so Hideo orders all of his troops to stand down. The master swordsmen begin their duel as Rick and Teru's daughter watch in breathless silence, but the fight is cut short when one of Hideo's overzealous henchmen — a nasty piece of work named Ando — shoots Teru in the shoulder, interrupting the sanctity of the brother-against-brother battle. A furious Hideo beheads Ando on the spot and expresses regret to Teru that their fated skirmish didn't play out as he would have liked, but the now-purified Rick picks up Teru's sword, thereby representing his master's teachings, and steps in to take Teru's place.

Perhaps the most unfair sword fight in movie history.

Insanely overmatched, Rick enters the fray and is immediately chased all over the study like a three-legged mouse avoiding a healthy and vicious tomcat, taking considerable damage as he resorts to fighting dirty, using everything from a stapler to a bookcase as defensive weapons. It soon becomes clear that there's no fucking way Rick will survive this fight unless he gets very, very lucky, so when Hideo's sword gets stuck in a cubicle-divider after a sword thrust, Rick seizes the moment and cuts Hideo's head in half, right down to the neck. The camera then cuts back to the wounded Teru and his daughter, both of whom notice the lack of combat noise from the other room and now expect the worst. The pair are visibly shocked to see a bloodied and staggering Rick emerge with the Equals, at which point he composes himself enough to lay the weapons at his master's feet and kneel in front of the old man, the very picture of Zen serenity. THE END.

What impressed me most about that scene was how it finally played out: Even though Rick soundly defeated Hideo, the heroes would still probably never leave the building alive or would likely face incarceration for multiple counts of homicide at the very least, but that's not what's important here. The Equals were reunited and the morally upstanding characters made it happen, and that's all that matters, with Rick's journey being crucial to the outcome. And unlike dozens of other martial arts films I could name, Rick doesn't evolve overnight into a guy who could take on scores of bad guys with a sword and his fists, instead embracing the spirit of a warrior and coupling that with his street smart, anything goes pugilistic skills when push came to shove. When I first saw THE CHALLENGE and witnessed Rick about to take on Hideo I exclaimed, "Oh, get the fuck outta here!," but I was pleasantly surprises to see that filmmakers didn't buy it either and instead had Rick get his ass handed to him in no uncertain terms until he seized that fortuitous split-second opportunity.

Everything about this movie works — I'll let the romance angle slide — and it holds the viewer riveted from start to finish, so why is THE CHALLENGE languishing in totally undeserved obscurity? I don't understand it and if you ever get to see it for yourself, neither will you.

Poster from the original theatrical release.

Monday, April 01, 2013

GAME OF THRONES: THE EXHIBITION

NOTE: This post assumes the reader is familiar with the GAME OF THRONES television series, so there will be little or no detailed explanation of the photos in this post. Just so ya know.

On this beautiful first day of April, I made my way into Manhattan to West 57th Street for a touring exhibition of props and costumes from HBO's excellent sex-and-violence-laden GAME OF THRONES, joined there by my friend and fellow THRONES-maniac, Lia. It was free and the fans could get themselves photographed on a replica of the Iron Throne, so why the hell would I not attend and photographically chronicle the whole shebang? (Click on photos to embiggen.)

When I got off the subway I made my way to 57th Street and at first was concerned I wouldn't be able to find the venue. I needn't have worried.

As with any geeky event, especially one that costs nothing to see, the line to get in was long.

I arrived just after noon and ended up waiting on the outdoor line for a little over an hour, with another twenty minutes one the line to get photographed on the Iron Throne when I made it inside. Fortunately, Lia showed up not long after I arrived and she kept me company.

The prize I won for answering a GAME OF THRONES-related trivia question (something about Tyrion Lannister): a shield keychain bearing the sigil of House Stark.

Two fans represent as Khal Drogo and Deanerys Targaryen.

At last, the entrance!

An assortment of artifacts. That severed hand looked amazingly lifelike.

Costume for Ygritte the Wildling.

Dour heartthrob Jon Snow's Night's Watch gear.

Costume for Mance Rayder, the king beyond the Wall.

Tyrion Lannister's armor.

Another look at Tyrion Lannister's armor.

Jaime Lannister's armor.

Cersei Lannister's gown (which unfortunately did not smell of rampant consensual incest.

The royal garb of King Joffrey Baratheon, a literal and figurative bastard if ever there was one.

A severed noggin.

 The crown of Renly Baratheon (L) and that of he who currently sits the Iron Throne of Westeros.

Robert Baratheon's drinking horn (which, if you ask me, should show a hell of a lot more wear).

 Note Davos Seaworth's lucky fingers.

Stannis sez: The banner above the Iron Throne. There was a young couple on line in front of me and they got a shot of their eight-month-old sitting the Throne, looking as happy as could be. The photography staff and those milling about all let out a huge collective "Awwww..." when they saw him.

The replica of the Iron Throne. It was apparently crafted from plastic and/or fiberglass.

 
Your Truly on the Iron Throne. Having learned from previous conventions and photo ops that it's always a good idea to bring my own props and costumes since the show itself may not provide such, I brought my enchanter's horns, a fake fur neck wrap, and my plastic crusader's sword. As I prepared to enter the exhibit, security stopped me and told me in no uncertain terms that I could not enter with a  sword. I unsheathed it and showed them it was a plastic toy — albeit a very realistic-looking one — and after that it was smooth sailing. The photo shoot granted the attendee a 4" x 6" hard copy printout on quality paper, along with a jpeg that the recipient could send to their email address.

Lia on the Iron Throne (I loaned her the shades and sword).

 More assorted artifacts.

Costumes for the Starks of Winterfell.



Need I tell you this is the Targaryen section?

 Dragon eggs.

The latest in Dothraki fashions.

Artifacts from Qarth.

Baby Drogon. Semi-spoiler: He doesn't stay this wee for long...

Assorted armaments. I wanted to abscond with most of this stuff.

Note Jon Snow's sword, Longclaw. (It's the one with the white wolf's head pommel.)

 Love that broadsword! (Sorry about the flash.)

Note Needle and Arya's wooden practice sword.


 Sorry about this blurry shot of Robert Baratheon's war hammer. I hope one of those fantasy weapons replica manufacturers eventually releases that particular item.

Seriously, imagine taking a blow to the face with that fucking thing! You wouldn't imagine anything ever again.

A pair of Dothraki Arakhs, also high on my list of "must have" replicas.

The Hound's helm.

 Gendry's helm.

 A House Lannister shield.


 Assorted Wildling artifacts.

Yours Truly in front of the massive map of Westeros.



All too soon, it was back to reality.

My Iron Throne portrait, with the promotional text untrimmed.