Thursday, September 30, 2004

A Friendly Neighborhood.
I actually don't have much to say

The first major Spider-Man villain was The Chameleon who showed up in Spidey's 1st issue. He's has a smooth featureless white mask for a face, and no one knows what he looks like underneath. He can of course disguise himself as just about anyone. He uses that to commit crimes. That's the Chameleon.

The second major villain was in the 2nd issue, The Vulture. He's a creepy, predatory bird-faced old man in a green suit with wings. He flies. It was some formulat that gave him the power to fly. In fact many of Spidey's earliest and most prominent villains were scientifically astute. The Vulture was never that impressive, but he did manage to hand Spidey his own @$$ a number of times.

The third issue featured a character that all the world is now familiar with, Doctor Octopus. Slightly shorter, certainly dumpier, and a whole lot geekier than Alfred Molina, Doctor Octopus was a great villain. He was a man of science who followed that Mad Scientist credo that his immense intelligent should lead him to fame, riches, and power. The great thing about Doc Ock is that he's a terribly week looking villain for the most part, but was always immensely powerful and dangerous.

Fourth villain up for a fourth issue was The Sandman who due to being exposed to nuclear reaction found his body at first fused with sand and later reformed of it. Though he normally maintained a fully human appearance, he could mold himself to any of a number of shapes or slip away through cracks where he would reform elsewhere. Again, though not of science, he was the result of science gone wrong, another common feature of Spidey villains. The Sandman is extremely strong and difficult to fight because of his continually shifting form, so Spider-man always had to come up with creative ways of stopping him. Also, The Sandman had some of the coolest drawn hair in comic's history.

Fifth was Doctor Doom. Fantastic Four cross-over villain. I'm not talking about the Fan Four.

Peter Parker's buddy Doctor Curt Connors was trying to use reptilian regeneration science to build himself an arm for one he'd lost in the sixth issue. Problem was, he got back his arm, but the Lizard genes took him over and turned him into a monster, The Lizard! What always made for great conflict was that The Lizard was vicious, but Pete never liked the fact that he had to beat his friend's @$$ in order to subdue him.

Seven saw The Vulture come back, and Eight had Spidey fighting some no-name, The Living Brain. Nine, however, had Electro, one of my favorite villains if only for his looks. Donning a green suit streaked with gold lightning bolts, and one of the kookiest lightning bolt pattern mask of all time, Electro took to the life of crime. I don't remember his origin exactly, but two quarters and a jelly sandwich say it had something to do with him being struck directly or indirectly by lightning.

Issue Ten had the largely laughable villain mob, The Enforcers. Though they appeared many times over the years, I wouldn't call them major villains. The big dumb guy, Ox, was kinda fun.
Eleven and Twelve were a two-parter with Doc Ock.

Issue Thirteen featured another favorite of mine, the fish bowl headed, Mysterio! Mysterio was an unidentified specialist in illusions and special effects. His issues were always surreal and bizarre fun. I'm still undecided on whether it was cool or a letdown that every time Spider-Man found Mysterio behind all the bullsh!t that he usually beat his @$$ in nothing flat.

Back to science gone awry was Issue Fourteen's landmark creation, The Green Goblin. It wouldn't be for another 25 issues (2 years) before we would discover that the orginal (and best) Goblin was the father of Pete's best friend Harry Osborne. The Green Goblin was every great villain rolled up into one: super strong, stocking a full arsenal of strange deadly weapons, able to fly on a dangerous rocket glider, and being totally deranged. Petty crime to world domination, the Goblin tried it all as long as it was Evil. Truly great stuff. Several other folks (including Harry) would become the Goblin over the years, but no one beat Norman Osborne for hilarious lunacy and true evil.

By that time in his year and three issue lifespang, Spider-Man attracted the attention of one of his other ultra-classic villains, Kraven the Hunter. Kraven was a typical figure with the dark Joe Stalin features that were the trademark of every Russian villain from Boris Badanov on up. However Kraven's greatest thrill, the big hunt, gave his costume a little more flair than the standard dark had and coat of the Cold War killer with it's Lion's head vest, the belt of claws and the leopard skin pants. Late in his career, Kraven's character was given great treatment when his obsessions and manias for capturing and killing Spider-man finally led to his suicide following all his failures. Unfortunately, I understand like the original Green Goblin who also died a great death, the original Kraven's been brought back to life.

Issue Sixteen had Daredevil and Spidey duke it out under the mechanations of one of the lamest villains ever The Ringmaster. If not for Double-D (that's Daredevil), I would've likely pretended issue sixteen didn't exist, and just skipped to the Green Goblin in #17, or the return of The Sandman in #18 and #19.

One could argue that I've left out a figure who was always something of a major villain to Spider-Man all along, newspaper man, J. Jonah Jameson. Well, Jonah was responsible for many a plot against Spidey, but perhaps none more so than Issue #20. Jonah hired a thug to undergo an experiment that would give him super strength and graft a large robotic tail onto his back. What would be the more logical creation to stop a man-sized spider than The Scorpion? The Scorpion's got both a coolness and lameness to him. In the right hands, he rocked and socked.

#21 had fun but minor insect-themed villain The Beetle, who I actually liked better with the weird and lame suction cups on his hands. Still, the Beetle's big time compared to The Clown and The Master of Menace in #22 (they might be lamer than the Ringmaster, but I've never read the issue). The Green Goblin was back in #23, and then I don't know what the hell is going on in #'s 24 or 25 before the Goblin would sweep up again in #'s 26 and 27. #28 saw the first appearance of the Molten Man who showed up another time or two. #29's another Scorpion appearance, but #30's a total mystery (maybe it's the return of The Clown and The Master's of Menace but they were too ashamed to give them another cover).

I'm stopping there. I don't know what I was doing in the first place. The Kingpin, who would be more of a major Daredevil villain, shows up 20 issues later in #50. In #46 was one of my other favorites, though a minor villain, who had a wonderfully bizarre costume, The Shocker. Sure some major villains would show up many years later, but in the first four years, Spider-Man had pretty much establish bad guys whose @$$es he would be beating for the next 40 years.


Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Mad Props Materials Account
You're guess about the title is as good as mine...

Somewhere in here it's very possible that I mentioned one of my favorite Kids in the Hall sketches, which I believe was called "Geralds." In it, Bruce and Mark (I'm assuming you know who I'm talking about, and if not, don't worry about it.) play a pair of lawyers who are meeting to discuss the proposals drawn up by their respective clients. Within moments, you realize that one of them represents a guy and the other a girl who are merely dating. However, it becomes apparent that nearly every phase of their relationship is debated over like the points in a business merger.

Perhaps needless to say, but it's a fantastic piece of comedy.

It's also, for this day-and-age, a high concept piece. Of course you may say that that's redundant after calling it classic. Well, Monty Python's café full of Vikings chanting "spam" is classic, but it's hardly high concept. (Though not to piss off any rabid geeks out there, I'm not saying that Python wasn't by-an-large high concept....but they were also frequently silly.)

Imagine, if life was really like that. Or even if it weren't lawyers, what if it was just some sort of mediator or moderator? Wouldn't that be incredible and/or ridiculous?

Everything broken down. Everything scheduled. Every move pre-negotiated.

Now, I think some people today are just driven enough or lazy enough to actually enjoy the sound of something like that. You meet, and immediately afterward some dating period paperwork is signed like a lease. Then every date is settled beforehand. Then when the lease is up, you could option to re-lease or perhaps upgrade.

You wouldn't really have to make any of the decisions. If it wasn't working you just wait for the lease to be up, or you force a break. If you don't want to have sex, then you just put that clause in the contract before the date. And so on. And so on.

I seriously think I know people who could dig on something like that.

Ultimately, while it sounds interesting, I don't think it would work in any traditional sense. If there's one thing I've read that keeps couples together, it's the mutual working together to make it work.

Think about it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Pétite Parlance of the Time
Good Lord, I wrote an post comparing myself to a Charlton Heston movie...

I'm certain that if you've read my little ditties for any amount of time, then a rant should come as little or no surprise right. Does the pope where a funny hat? I'm afraid that he does ladies and gentleman. So let's get ranting shall we?

I took a handful of psychology classes on my own initiative in college. I took a few communications classes that were related to psychology in college. I also, have had an active enough interest in the subject to read up on it periodically. Similarily, I've dabbled in sociology. I'm not ready for a private therapy practice, but I guess I get by.

The reason I bring it up is simply that having a few basics down in psychology and sociology (history, linguistics, and anthropology are pretty good too for this) helps give you an understanding of why people do some of the stupid stuff they do it, and sometimes why they can't necessarily help it. Stereotypes are a good for instance. They get started because it's the brain's way of classifying categories of information. The example that was always used was how difficult life would be if you had to learn what a door was each and everytime you encountered one. Unfortunately, not every category is good and/or not every entry put into it is positive. This, of course, leads to everything from ethnic jokes to the Ku Klux Klan. Usually, the only way to break it down is to expose people to a wider variety of entries into said category to spread out the positives and the negatives.

That's pretty basic. It ignores other prejudices that people have despite their exposure. Nonetheless it goes a long way to explain where moronic stuff like racism gets started.

The reason I gave that example is because it also comes pretty close to what I was going to start ranting about today. Part of the reason I want to rant about it is because I've yet to see a satisfactory explanation of it. What the hell is the deal with Small Talk? That's what I really want to know.

Actually I need to amend that: What the hell is the deal with Small Talk with people you've known forever and a day or who you talk to on a regular basis?

Granted I don't like the stuff much to begin with, but at least with a total stranger, I get it.

Honestly, have you ever had someone ask you about the weather...and you just wanted to smack them for asking? Ok, if you live in a weather challenged environment, then perhaps it's relevant. It might actually be interesting if the weather is really extreme or unusual. Otherwise, who really cares? I mean that. For instance, I live in Southern California. Anyone want to take a guess to what my weather is like? If you guessed sunny and about seventy-something degrees, then you'd be right on. What about tomorrow? (Pause) Did you say the same thing? Bingo.

Do you see where I'm not real interested in weather related questions?

On the other hand, I've seen it snow twice in Houston, Texas. That's weather worth commenting on only because it's extremely uncommon. Other than that Houston is hot and muggy almost all the time.

Now, "How are you?" is a relevant question when dealing with someone who's being you are concerned with. I mean that very sincerely. It's a simple and direct way of inquiring into another's well-being. Unfortunately, because our health and being are similar to Southern California weather, it doesn't always get anywhere or reveal any news. In fact, what's the most common response? (Pause) Your'e so good. That's right, "Fine." Now in most cases that's probably true. The funny thing is that as a listener, we've become so accustomed to "Fine" that we hear it and immediately move on. If we hear anything else, the first response is often: "What? I can't be bothered with this right now." If were not listening though, we don't learn anything, hence making even asking the question ridiculous.

I've pretty well limited asking that question to when I really want to know (like when I know something may be amiss)....or again, with new people. Other than that, I don't need to have my concerns calmed by a "fine" that may or may not be completely disingenuous. Then again, if I get something other than a "fine" and I'm gonna listen, it'd better not be some panty-anty bullsh!t either. I know. I'm harsh.

Now the final topic that I just don't get is perhaps just purely my own hangup. So here's a little backstory...

When I was a kid, many of our friends of the family were couples my dad knew through work. Part of what brought our families together is that we all moved around a good amount and so we could all relate to being transplants. Anyhow, when there was a gathering of some sort, the time before dinner was usually fun banter about any number of topics. Come dinners end, though, it usually turned to misery for me as the talk turned to nothing but business. It was complaining about some guy in some annoying department down the hall and so on and so forth, or they'd all be laughing about some business deal or something that was completely incomprehensible to anyone not in the business.

What I wanted to know was if they spent all week at the office, day-in-day-out, why would they want to spend all their free time talking about it? I got to know most of these guys and I knew that they each had interests other than work. Many of those interests overlapped. Yet, there we were, often for several hours listening to business stuff. I imagine it helped add to why my sister and I got to be such good friends. After all that moving and that business talk, we had to have someone else to turn to, right?

Ultimately, I think that's bred in me a total dislike for talking about my job. Now, that doesn't work out so well because I work in the entertainment industry. Ok, in SoCal, I'm safe because everyone knows someone who does this crap, but once I'm out of the state or on the phone with relatives....Egads! No more! It doesn't matter how monotonous or unglamorous what I do is simply because to them I'm in Hollywood. Anyhow, I don't feel the need to share what I do with anyone because I can't imagine them finding it any more interesting than I do.

Now take my best friend. He works in hosptial administration. When we talk, we sometimes talk about aspects of our jobs that we like/hate or wacky folks we work with, but never just about the job. I have no idea exactly what he does except in the broadest strokes, and vice versa. We've never felt any need to plumb it any further, because neither of us really cares what the other does. We talk about the stuff that made us friends or had kept us friends.

Guess it can't always be like that, but...

Well, I've felt that if someone is really fascinated by their field or wants to share it with me, then they should take the time to do just that. After all, if I'm brought up to speed just enough, I may: a) actually find it more interesting than I previously thought or b) at least feel like I understand it well enough to ask more meaningful questions. Otherwise, I don't feel terribly compelled to talk about my work and I'm not going to inquire about anyone else's on some superficial level that I'm probably already familiar with. And yes, the exception is the inevitable "And what do you do?" if I'm meeting some schmoe for the first time.

The most hilarious thing is that I often get looked at as though I'm some kind of hideous social leper for not wanting to waste my time with tidbits of conversational fluff. I won't say meaningless because I suppose I don't think it's totally without meaning. I'll give the fluffsters that much.

I guess this all happened when everything became a "career" instead of a "job." I can't imagine a bunch of blacksmiths standing around talking smithin' back in the day. I mean you might trade some tips or whatever, but not talk about it for hours and hours and hours. You'd probably talk about huntin', drinkin', sports, or w'men. You know, the stuff that didn't involve fire and molten metals.

Anyhow, that's just what I think.

At the same time, if asked about my job, I'm not a totall @$$clown about it. I'll answer your question albeit concisely for the most parts. But I gotta wonder why you wanna know, and if you don't really wanna know then why are you asking. And if you do really wanna know, for God's sake why? Stuff like that.

Of course the fact that I don't follow most of what people think passes for news these day (I still wanna know what makes Laci Petersen so much more special than any of the other murdered or abused pregnant women that day.) or sports. That rules out a couple of other common small talk topics for me. Again, I can do it, and so as to not be completely rude I will do it when the need calls. Doesn't mean I have to like it.

In many ways, to me, small talk is like television, you can get so much more done (or discussed) without it.

My thoughts on this could go for days. I'm clipping them here.


Monday, September 27, 2004

Sometimes You Watch it Just Cause You Have To...
At least there weren't any cows...

No time for an introduction of any sort.

Instead, I'm given an opportunity to discuss the shortcomings of my favorite subgenre.

Let's just dive into:

Between God, The Devil, And a Winchester (1968, d. Marino Giralami)

The Story: A map to a stolen treasure pits a boy against bandits, a surrogate father, and a mysterious preacher. (Ummm...that about covers it.)

The Review: I'm sure I've mentioned the fact that when spaghettis try to do traditional Hollywood Western stuff, I begin to do the opposite of enjoy them. Way back when I did a review of Last of the Bad Men, and the character name Kitosch aside, I complained about all the cows in the movie. Granted, it's not like they spent the whole time effing about with cows, but it was more than in any other spaghetti western. It was more than enough to make me uncomfortable. Luckily, Frank Wolff's way weird villain was enough to sway it safely back into familiar spaghetti territory.

It's the reason I'm scared of A Long Ride From Hell. The fact that it stars former Hercules Steve Reeves is sort of a mixed bag. What scares me is the frequent references to Steve and his fictional brother in the movie as being ranchers. No cows. No farms (unless their being raided or someone's hiding out there). And no...

This weekend's spaghetti featured another convention of sorts, the wagon train. Well, sort of...close enough in my book.

The reason for some debate is the fact that this movie goes the opposite direciton of many movies today. It actually assumes you know too much instead of the modern approach of 'you must be a moron' spoonfeeding. For instance, Chasquisdo (Gilbert Roland) leads expeditions across the mountain passes. Ok. So when our little band gets going, it looks like they've joined some wagon train that Chasquisdo is guiding. Ummm, nope. All those other yo-yo's are just his men. Of course, since we never actually really meet any of them, feel free to label them Cannon Fodder #1, Cannon Fodder #2, #3, etc.

Also, this movie featured an awful lot of groups of people hiking over rocks. That's it. Just hiking over rocks. Somewhere in all that hiking all this weird and clumsily built up double-crossing gets under way. Now that's in addition to the storyline with the crooked Colonel that started at the beginning, brought the bandits in, and eventually roped in Chasquisdo. Of course that part of the story gets dropped about a third of the way in, and doesn't reappear until about a sixth left. The strangest bit is that the for all the time they spend with the renegade Colonel at the get go, they certainly don't waste any time building him up as anything more than a plot device.

Which brings us to Richard Harrison's character, Pat Jordan, our hero. Somewhere, I think someone meant for it to be a shock that he's a priest, but I don't know who and I don't know who they were trying to surprise. It certainly doesn't seem relevant to anything going on in the story. His almost constant vow of inaction doesn't make for much of a hero. About the only implication of his being a badass follows Chasquisdo giving him a pistol which he uses to shoot a match out of Chasquisdo's hand. So he bust some bad just don't get to really see all. However, the one convention is established: like so many screen priests/monks from spaghettis to kung fu flicks, they're all secretly whoop@$$ killers.

Ultimately, there's not much to recommend in this movie. Though I've liked Gilbert Roland in nearly everything I've seen him, Chasquisdo just doesn't give him much to do. For instance, he's got this weird iron club hand, but later you see him working his fingers inside it. What's the point? Why does he have it? Granted, he uses it to club some dudes, but that doesn't explain why he has it. It doesn't seem terribly convenient to have on. Who knows? This also loses point for the all too often use of a child actor who spends 9/10 of his scenes mugging for the camera. This was in addition to the arleady constantly mugging character, Uncle Pink. At least he mugged in an actorly fashion, the kid just looked like he was over exaggerating every expression. So when the tender moment comes for the mugging kid and Chasquisdo...frankly, I kept hoping Gilbert Roland and this movie would move up a few notches by shooting the kid.

I guess the only plus is that it wasn't The Mug himself, George Hilton, and the mugging kid. Not even Klaus Kinski could've redeemed any aspect of that casting. That's saying something.


Friday, September 24, 2004

The Omega Man
Modern uses for the character of Robert Neville

If you don't have the same thirst for Charlton Heston science fiction vehicles as I do (Except maybe for Soylent Green, because once you know the twist...) and if you don't read up on your classic sci-fi/horror, then you're not likely to have any idea what the hell I'm referring to in my li'l title up there. Lemme explain. (It's not a review, it's an interpretation of a theme.)

The Omega Man (1971) and The Last Man on Earth (1964) were both film versions of Matheson's famous novella, I Am Legend. The book dealt with Robert Neville who was, as far as he knew, the last man on earth. Of course Neville wasn't alone. A plague of some sort had turned the population of the world into a species of vampires. Each day, during the day, Neville roots the wreckage of society for supplies, and he spends the night fending off attacks from the monsters outside. One day Neville rescues a "human" woman which brings about his eventual downfall when she turns out to be one of the vampires.

Simple enough right. It's a great page-flipping story.

My reason for bringing it up was that I got to thinking about the rant that I've been on this week. I've been steamed about all sorts of stuff. Now, I'm generally annoyed by the general stupidity of a good portion of society, but it rarely comes to head like this. It's like elevator music, normally I can just tune all the stupidity out.

Several things brought this to this point for the end of the week. The first is all these people I know, or friends of friends who are having children (I've already ranted about people having and raising kids these days, and what a colossal mistake that usually turns out to be). The second was a news story about this idiotic couple who killed this old man trying to steal his car and then hid his frozen corpse in a public storage locker. And last, the fact that my lunch order was f*cked up and no one seemed to care.

Let's take this in order. But first more about Robert Neville:

In the end, when the vampires finally manage to get their hands on Neville a funny little bit of philosophy takes place. The lead vampire reasons that as Neville is the last man, then it is only right that he be destroyed. Evolutionarily speaking, Neville's a member of a past archaic era, and just as primitive man likely wiped out the last of the cro-magnon man, so should the vampire wipe out the last of humanity. (Oh I should mention that these vampires do like chomping on some good old fashioned human meat, but don't subsist on it in a Dracula kind of way.) If you look at it one way, then it comes across as the sad fate of humanity at it's own hands (Neville was partially responsible for the research that led to the plague that led to the vampires). If you look at it in a more Nietzchean fashion, the vampire is absolute correct. It's a modernization of ideals, and in order to move on, the vestiges of the past need to be eliminated. Oddly enough, that's just what they do.

Now back to my pissy mood.

The baby thing. Well, I'm not gonna rehash is all over again. Luckily the personal friends of mine who have recently had or are with child are financially sound and emotionally stable. Not necessarily so much with the friends of friends. Then I hear about people I went to school with who are having or have had children, and my fear begins to spread. Then I look around on the streets and the stores, all these people with way, way too many li'l spawn running around brainlessly and crowding out everything. Sure some of them maybe cousins or some such and sometimes there are multiple parental types, but there's usually still too many kids to be divided up amongst these people. Perhaps you don't see this wherever you are, but it's a constant in Los Angeles.

For instance, you walk into a burger joint
, and there's like twenty people between you and the counter. One person is at the counter ordering. When they finish, suddenly all twenty of those people walk away to go sit down and you discover that you're next in line. Then you take a look at the twenty people. There are three adults, and the rest are kids of varying ages from teens on down. Now even if you divide that up, that's still like six kids for each parental unit.

And before you make any race calls or some such: Trust me, I've seen it for nearly each and every race and ethnic group out there in my trips around town.

Of course that's an extreme, there are plenty of people I've met for whom one child is one too many for them to handle on any level.

Either way, why are we suprised as a nation that in this society we seem to be turning into a sociopath generating machine? Morals, ethics, and courtesy seem to be at an all time low. I'm not playing it Joe Conservative either. Tradition can be a way, way stupid bullheaded thing, but some stuff is always worth preserving. You know like that "Do Unto Others..." bit. You don't have to be religious to appreciate that. So people of my generation are already handicapped for that kind of stuff thanks by and large to the 'peace and love' generation parents who became the 'sex, drugs, & rock 'n roll' generation before spawning a bunch of kids they had no equipment with which to handle. And now the slacker devil-may-care Gen-X and Gen-Y are having kids with even less tools. Nice.

Which brings me to my second point: the car-jacking couple turned murderers.

Ok, so it isn't as bad as the cousin turned killer for french fries story from the other day, but it was still a stupid stupid thing that shouldn't and once upon a time wouldn't have happened.

The victim was going to meet with the couple to complete the sale of his EIGHT year old SUBURBAN truck. Lemme repeat: EIGHT year old SUBURBAN. Note that that doesn't look anything like BRAND NEW FERRARI or 2003 ESCALADE. I don't imagine that the Blue Book value of that truck made it anything remotely worth killing that man over. I mean, no car is worth dying for, but that's just really, really f*cking wrong.

Some I'm guessing that these two criminal pieces of sh!t either A) didn't know any better or B) plain didn't give a fat rat's @$$ about this guy.

It kinda reminds me of that Utah woman whose child died because she refused a Caesarian section because she didn't want to have scars. Did you ever see this woman? In addition to routinely making an ignorant cold-blooded dipsh!t out of herself, I'm not sure that with that face she should really worry about scars. Call that a cheap one, but what do I care about that human stain. She falls under my category of people who are actually a waste of the couple gallons of water and $6.00 worth of chemicals that make her up. (In case you ever wondered, that is literally about what a human body's value is. Think about it. Hard.)

The only positive thing in a sense is that she didn't have and raise that kid if she herself is already that far gone. What would the kid have ended up like? "Ted Bundy Jr., dinners' ready!" Criminey.

Tell you what, I'll back abortion if only because it keeps people who aren't going to raise their kids properly or who aren't ready for them from having them. That's fine with me. You're welcome to call me whatever names you want for that one.

The final straw was of course my lunch which doesn't exactly hold on the level of infanticide, but it fits my thread here. I wasn't p!ssed off that my lunch was effed up. I was pissed off at the incredibly glib attitude that thos responsible for it took about it. I'm aware that I'm not an executive so my opinion doesn't count, but I certainly would've treated them with more courtesy had it been the other way around. Simply apologizing would've been nice. I didn't expect them to run out and get me something else, but I would've expected a little "Oh, sorry, we effed up."

I think that's just another indicator of what I'm talking about today. Even respectable people with decent jobs that are financially and socially in the middle of the road have veered off into a sort of trashiness. My job sucks too and there are aspects I hate about it, but I still do it and I'm careful and thorough about it. When I screw up, I apologize and try to remember it for next time.

So Robert Neville again.

The thing about stuff like this is that the slide tends to continue. Every now and again we have something like a new golden age, then it all starts to slide again. The Roman empire is perhaps the best documented and well known textbook case of this. And I'm sorry, but I'm not sure where the golden age is supposed to kick back in. Maybe it's something I have to get in on.

I'm all about evolutionizing new ideas, but not in glorifying trash. So I won't take the path of what seems to be the majority these days. However, once you've let something regress and go feral, it's difficult to reign it back in again.

If the trend continues, then maybe it's time my voice fade away, and what represents both the future and an accelerated form of entropy needs to take over the earth. (Think me=Neville and the world=the vampires. See how that works?) I've never once believed in trying to turn back. It's impossible. You move forward or you're not moving at all. Perhaps, however, the world itslef has passed me by, and my time was past before it got started up.

You would think I was too young for that.


Thursday, September 23, 2004

Trouble Man
No, not the blaxpolitation movie...unfortunately

For those of you who don't know it, for a few minutes every day, people all over the country (in this case, the U.S.) regress into adolescence.

Seriously. Two questions: 1) 'Do you ever flip through and read random people's weblogs?', and 2) 'Did you ever keep a journal or read someone else's journal when you were in high school?'

Assuming you didn't say yes to both, I'll let you know a little fun fact: Not a lot has changed. If you said 'yes' to #1 and 'no' to #2, then you might still pick up on that fact, but you really are still missing something in a way. If you said 'no' to #1 and 'yes' to #2, then I suggest you go check some out. You're missing a beautifully sad thing. Go on. I'll be waiting here when you get back.

I mean it's sad enough that these people haven't grown up mentally or emotionally. What makes it worse is that they're broadcasting that fact. Then again, if everyone else out there seems to be on the same page....

And people wonder why I say that most people aren't emotionally mature to handle having kids.... I don't get it.

I'm certainly not claiming to be the most mature or grownup person on earth, and sometimes I get some of the same stupid impulses and immature fears that I did when I was a kid. Only difference is that I recognize them when they come, and I try not to act on them. It takes a little practice but trust me, you can get there.

My favorite is when the person claims to be a writer or an aspiring writer. These are usually the same people who read books with titles like The Writer's Quest or Journey on Paper. (I should look those up. Are they real titles?) Most real writers that I've met or read about did one thing: they wrote. They didn't spend all their time trying to pin down what it was that drove them to put pen to paper. Also, they seem to experience life, not over analyze it. Their journals, for those that kept them, set down their experiences, feelings and travels usually in a manner consistent with their fiction. I don't think I ever read one that said something along the lines of: "He was such a d!ck at the party, and I cried in front of him. My friends tried to cheer me up, but he was SOOO MEAN!! :( " Or anything like least not past 21 or so.

In fact, I've come across a few writers who had more emotional weight, maturity, and a whole lot less pretension than some of the crap I've come across on-line.

Yes, in some respect, it's not fair to bash all over the little journal keepers' weblog; however, as I pointed out before: they broadcast it. Anyone can see it from anywhere in the world. Some of those people might look and say "Awww," or "How sad." Others look at it and go "Wow, they've officially wasted my time and theirs both."

That's why, other than opinions, you don't see anything personal from me here. I write would-be essays and reviews. It's full of 3/4's baked intellect and better than half-@$$ philosophy. I think in most cases, even at its best, it could still be blown full of intellectual holes, but that's what I like about. Besides, any over pouring of emotionality and you're going to end up sounding Goth anyhow. They've managed to ruin the words 'blood,' 'tears,' 'dark,' 'soul,' etc. Try using those in something heavily emotional without sounding like some angst ridden teenager.

It's also why I don't write poetry, but can be amazed by it. Well, nothing from the last 30 years or so. I wanna know how those old guys wrote all the wobegone stuff without sounding like pretentious teary-eyed sad sacks. There's a beauty in the language....a beauty that is largely missing from the weblog world (and the world in general now that I think about it).

Then again, it seems reflective of that whole thing that I've read several writers comment on recently about when novels turned from the third person to the first person. Song lyrics are often the same way. Call me old fashioned but I get tired of hearing 'I' all the time. Part of the journey is someone else going on the trip and you sit back and watch.

Maybe it's just my affinity for the movies.

Course I think they've gotten just as childish which they sort of were from the get-go.

Then again, so are the people making them. It USED to be professionals. Aren't enough of them left.

That's the funny thing about even this website. Not mine, but sites like Blogger in general. To me it's a total catch-22. It allows for more people who otherwise would never have access to some of the tools of publishing, or possibly expose them to audience who might be able to make use of their talent. It's possible. It's already happend (There are a slew of Korean movies that were based on popular weblogs, and several books have been published made up of nothing but blog entries). On the other hand, it also gives open court to wannabe's and those who just don't have any business cluttering up the information universe (Not to say they can't keep it in nice li'l notebooks at home).

Feel free to call me elitist. I'm merely speaking the truth. Not everyone gets to be creative in a professional capacity and not everyone needs to be published for all the world to see. I'd hate to think we missed a great author because some editor got tired of digging through rubbish to find a diamond.

I know, I's not the popular view of the internet where everyone gets a voice.

At least I'm consistent, allow me to demonstrate: I think the same thing about video cameras.

While making movies is a ridiculously expensive venture that, for what you get out of it, shouldn't cost nearly as much, there's a reason in most cases that they are in the hands of professionals. If you ever peruse some of the better and funnier b-movie review sites, you're bound to have come across some of the distributors who truck in no-name made for video in podunk garbage. It's usually horror movies. It's often got some amount of amateur porn in it. It often lacks anything even resembling quality or intentional entertainment. (Call me crazy, but you usually have to have actors and a script for that.)

As those cameras become higher and higher in quality and become lower and lower in cost, then anyone can start making movies. Some might say that that's great. I disagree. Assuming that you made a really great movie that unfortunately had to come out in exactly the same way as a bunch of lesbian goth vampire movies, lemme ask you one question: Is anyone gonna take you seriously? You could have the Citizen Kane of straight to video movies, but because of the medium and all the other junk out there it'll be passed over. Unless maybe someone finds it...twenty years later.

Most people want to be discovered...not rediscovered. But, take what you can get.

Look at it this way: Communism was supposed to put everything in the hands of the people, right? Well look at how well that turned out.

Trust me. There comes a time when you just got to get elitist about it to some degree. I'm not saying that I'm the best, that's why I keep a real job that just happens to be in the industry. There's a lot of hopeful writers, actors, and directors out here in Hollywood who got no business doing any of the three. Sadly no one'll just tell them that it's time to quit pretending and to go home. No one'll convince them that it's terrific to have a dream, but here on planet Earth we also have to have real jobs. There are a lot of places where you could be doing a lot more for the world than waiting for calls and auditions that aren't coming.

Sorry. Had to say it. Now if only the message'll find the right people.


Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Strike Up the Band
I dunno...

Gonna be honest: Lately I've been way to drained to honestly come up with what I want to write about in these things.

I never get to finish movies any more, old or new. I don't usually like writing any kind of review of something I've seen unless it's been a really long time and I really found some new stuff in it. Otherwise, what's the point.

I don't get much time to read. It's been taking forever to get through the few books I've got lying around my place.

Not that I talk about it here, but I don't get much time to draw either.

I do read what few comics that I get when I get a chance, but there's a certain degree of rarity in that. And there's not much to talk about them. Comics seem to be in a real mediocre phase. They're either for fanboys or trying to rope in new readers. The artwork is either sub-par or rendered pedestrian by the sheer number of people who draw exactly the same way. After all aren't you sick of seeing everything done up manga style? I sure am. What little manga I tend to like, I like one way: Japanese. I don't need to see some fanboy rip off wanna-be sh!t. If you do decide to go that route, you're really really got to show me something.

The more I think about it, the more it annoys me.

There've been a few things I've picked up, but only to look at where the artwork has been this unholy combination between Eastern and Western styles. With the big doe eyes but with the stylized exagerated body shapes it ends up looking like Disney characters on methamphetamines. It doesn't fly.

Then there's all the other all too slick or way too sloppy stuff. That's followed by the overuse of that blocky colors art deco John Kricfalusi look, or some other cartoony style. There's just anothing distinguishing or exciting about any of it after a while.

Not that the writing's anything to write home about either. Most of it's ruined by too much hyper realism. As in, it's got to be way too realistic. I was all to happy to suspend my disbelief, but that doesn't really matter anymore.

There's nothing fun or individual about a lot of the characters anymore either.

Finally, why do both of the majors each of like fifty books for their two flagship titles. It may be carrying the rest of it...but it's still stupid.

Dunno. Just felt like bitching.


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Cut it Out
An incredibly brief thought on censorship

Back in college I took a class in films and censorship. Now some of the stuff we talked about was literally the removal of footage from various films, but some of what we talked about was protestation whether the film was actully banned or not. Naturally, of course, we only touched on the world perspective to censorship as applied to filmed entertainment, and primarily we focused on the U.S.

It's funny because the more I've thought about it, the more of I've realized that because I'm really into film (and a lot of marginal film at that) I've seen quite a bit of censorship in my time. The most hilarious part is that as the world "progresses" forward, many of the changes of things once considered horridly shocking or a threat to the nation's morals are at best laughable now. Any movie before 1950 or so that was once considered horribly offensive is likely laughable in the face of something on the level of say Verhoeven's Showgirls.

Then again, there's so many levels of what could potentially be attacked and the why's behind the desire for it's removal. It could be brutal. It could be shocking. It could be vulgar. It could be tasteless. And let's consider the fact that many levels exist between Pasolini's Salo (a disturbing Italian film based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade) and Deep Throat (one of the first highly successful and theatrically run hardcore porn). Then again to some of our more censoring friends, there's absolutely no difference.

Probably my earliest and perhaps funniest encounter with it was the TV broadcast version of The Breakfast Club. Now, thanks to an older sister, I had gotten to see both versions. For comedy value, nothing beat the edited version. When "Eat my shorts" became a badly mismatched mouthing of "Eat my...socks," I was usually laughing my @$$ off. Nowadays, much of the language in the movie is permissible by TV standards, but if you luck out, you'll catch the version where everything is still cut out. To me, what it illustrates so beautifully how idiotically pointless it was to cut the language. (Let's face it, who can't usually figure out what they're saying?) At the same time, it also showed how pointless in many cases it was to even use that language. (I could make an argument in this modern age that Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor had a message in the 'offensive' language they used that has now been rendered obsolete by overuse.)

Of course, this was the 80's, where years later I realized a strange phenomenon. On one end, controversy raged over sexually charged films like American Gigolo, Body Heat and 9 1/2 Weeks. At the same time, no one seemed to pay nearly as much attention to the rise of the Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Norris, etc. action movies which tended to have gallons more gratuitous blood than the above had nudity. Now horror movies with their sense of grisly and often sadistic violence had issues with the ratings bored, but the nearly "cathartic" mowing down of Commies and villains slipped by with ease. In fact, it wasn't until Robocop that a mainstream Hollywood action movie was facing an 'X' rating. Following that, the social politic on screen violence began to change, and by the time The Matrix rolled around, movies were considered at least partially to blame for all the real world violence paticularly amont teens.

I'm not gonna say the connection is completely unfounded, but with the sex movies I can say that 9 1/2 Weeks didn't make me want to have sex as much as it merely provided me with tips for an already active libido. That's of course where I find the Puritannical ethic in America to be a touch backwards. Certainly the protest against violence in the cinema goes back and forth, but the fact that for a decade it slipped by and escalated unnoticed while movies with perhaps a little too much skin were hanging on the edge of an 'X' seems a little twisted. (Some folks just blame Reagan.) Again, I'm not advocating gratuitous sex and nudity in movies (though a little can be okay...but just a little, y'know), but I think people have just a little more natural biological drive to have sex than to shoot people up no matter what they show in the movies.

At the same time, while we're technically supposed to be removing violence from the movies, what's left in comes across in a bizarre fashion. More in chase of box office than worries about national morals, the studios have become hellbent on going no higher that PG-13 ratings no matter what the subject matter. The result is a violence that appears more bloodless and hence cartoonish that it can't possibly be getting across the anti-violent philosophy they claim to espouse. As far as I'm concerned, if you're gonna ban the Looney Tunes for making cartoon violence look painless, why not go after the real movies for doing the exact same thing?

After all, a kid's got a lot more access to a handgun generally than to an anvil atop a ladder. Not to mention that as a child, I would've been more likely to try to impersonate Keanu Reeves in The Matrix than I would Wiley E. Coyote. Right?

I say that if the violence stays make it looks like it hurts.

Kinda like, I'm pretty sure that those 50's sexual hygiene films probably did a whole lot more for abstinence than just telling kids not to have sex. Hell, they could probably save money and just start showing them again. With the aging, dust, and scratches, they're likely to be twice as scary. It's what you don't see that's scary after all, right? What's funny is that today's moral majority would never dream of showing those movies. Just like with the Health class textbooks they keep trying to ban because the books actually admit that people have sex. I want one of those f*cks (an appropriate use of the word, yes?) to look me in the face and tell me that their morals are better than those of the 50's. (...or at least stronger. I don't wanna imply that I think the 50's were altogether right either.)

(Not to preach, but to my mind, it would probably be best for everyone if people admitted to themselves that other people including their children are going to have sex. After getting over that really minor stumbling block, they can set about teaching their children the right moral, ethical, responsibile and emotional tools to handle sex. So far, pretending it doesn't exist doesn't seem to be ending unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. It seems to me that the former "Love" generation seems unequiped both as parents and adults to give their children those tools and hence they've decided to make up with it with self-righteousness.)

Somewhere along the line before I got onto my own soapbox I had more of a point. To me, it's a matter of irresponsibility. Sex and violence in certain films is handled by people with a firm grasp on their message and creativity. I'm not worried about them. Others are doing it merely to be gratuitous. In some cases, I'm not worried about them, but wouldn't want my future children to be watching them. ("No, no, that's Daddy's copy of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!") Then there's the final case where it's not only gratuitous but also completely irresponsible. Those are the ones that no matter how minor the offense should be banned or at least slapped with the NC-17. A lot of this of course has to do with taking the business out of movie making, and in being in the business of making movies.

That's about all.


Monday, September 20, 2004

The Settling of Accounts
This weekend, well...I got gunned down

Somehow, against great social odds, I managed to slip in one of the spaghetti's that I had ordered. Although, I had actually at one point wanted to talk about my recent revisit to David Cronenberg's Videodrome, but I realized that I had nothing to add to the subject. What I mean is that I watched the commentaries on the beautiful new Criterion disks and watched the special features, and I found that they said everything that I would have wanted to say about it. Now on one hand that's very reassuring that mentally you're on the same track as the creative piece that you were looking at, but it doesn't leave you with much to say since your thoughts were exactly original: they were all there in the movie already.

Anyhow. While the movie does still apply to TV, if you substitute 'computer' for 'TV' throughout the movie, it takes on a really creepy prescience. If you've never seen it, give it a look. And if it's been a long time, maybe you should go back and see it again. Then you can get your own thoughts about it, and don't have to read mine.

So. As I'm sure I mentioned at some point, Sergio Sollima's Face to Face is one of my favorite spaghetti westerns. It's a wonderful film that shows an unusual and incredible psychological dynamic, but that doesn't stop it from being filled with a wild display of whoop @$$. Also, it features one of my favorite Morricone scores. Sergio made three spaghettis in total, and until Blue Underground released his third and final western, Run Man, Run, I had been unable to find the other two. Thing is, it was always his first that appeared on everyone's top spaghetti lists. It was considered a classic. It had Lee Van Cleef. It had Tomas Milian. It had another great Morricone score. But it was missing from...well...everywhere.

Finally, this weekend, I got gunned down at...

The Big Gundown (1966, d. Sergio Sollima)

The Story: Gunslinger and unofficial lawman Jonathon Corbett (Van Cleef) has political aspirations and the capture of the outlaw 'Cuchillo' Sanchez (Milian) for a wealthy developer could seal his future, but along the path of the chase the face of evil begins to change.

The Review: Ok, so I built the hell up out of this one, and I'm gonna probably let it down a bit. In fact, that's the problem. Over time, I think that I built this one up in my own mind for so long that it couldn't do anything but let me down a bit. The more I think about it though, while it still can't beat Face to Face for me, The Big Gundown was still a pretty spectacular spaghetti western.

First off, let's start with the title. The one, I've referred to as so far is of course the U.S. title. Though it's certainly a rousing albeit generic title, it does have spaghetti written on it. However, the original Italian title was
La Resa dei Conti, which in the context of the movie is probably best translated "The Settling of Accounts." This, of course, lacks the all too important 'oomph', but it is more indicative of the story's content. It's an important thematic thread that makes it's way through the movie: You get what you pay for. For bullheadedly and blindly hounding the wrong man, Corbett gets nothing but trouble. For constantly letting himself get into trouble, Cuchillo gets punished time and time again by Corbett and others. For other characters, their various vices, greed, and crimes gets them served up a justice that is proper. But not all of the scores come as retribution, it's all the trade off of events along the way that eventually brings Cuchillo and Corbett to a positive understanding of one another.

The movie does a spectacular job of stripping off layers to it's characters personalities. When we first meed Corbett, he's obviously the hero. He represents the law in a lawless place. In discussing his political aspirations, he espouses belief in the future and not in profit. Like the audience, Corbett believes that Cuchillo is guilty and that he should be brought to justice, but as the plot unravels, his unquestioning effort to stick to goal shows that he's wrong for not pursuing or looking at any contrary evidence. Finally, at the bottom, Corbett is shown to be a cold-blooded killer and a lawbreaker himself. Only after Cuchillo holds up enough mirrors to him does he begin on his own path of self-redemption.

Cuchillo gets a similar treatment, but not to nearly the same depth (The dualistic character study, to me, was perfected in
Face to Face.). Cuchillo is accused of raping then killing a young girl, and when Corbett (and the audience) first see him, he immediately takes off running. Soon following, in a brilliant tension enducing scene, Cuchillo is then left alone with a young Mormon girl until Corbett arrives to arrest him. It doesn't take long, however, to realize that Cuchillo is no pederast despite his being a scoundrel. Going a step further, the scoundrel façade fade to reveal that he's little more than a wild and hedonistic boy in a man's body. At the same time his sense of right and wrong, though Nietzchean in it's own way, is very well developed and, when he speaks about it, thoughtful. In the end though, Corbett comes out changed, but Cuchillo is still wild and arrogant (but loveable, don't get me wrong).

The movie makes fine use of it's many varied locations. It was a nice change to spend a good deal of time out of the familiar vistas of Almeria. There were a host of amazing shots. Of particular note is the shot of Cuchillo crouched down in the cane field which craned up to show the squadron of hunters in pursuit all around him. Though this wasn't my favorite Morricone score (
Navajo Joe is rapidly on it's way to No. 1), it remains a strong one nonetheless and carries many of the sweeping operatic movements to fit the peice. The other characters were fine enough, and some of my favorite 'canon fodder' showed up (Seriously, there are certain guys who only show up in these things to get shot). Perhaps my only objection was with the other master gunman, Baron Von Schulenberg, who came complete with villain's monocle. At one point he's in a buckskin outfit (à la Last of the Mohicans), but when he adds a cape to it, he's a very thinly disguised Nazi.

In summation, a good film and possibly a great film that unfortunately my anticipation may be blinding me from seeing at present. Perhaps I'll have to let it lie for some time, before passing final judgement on it. Maybe if I had seen
Face to Face after having seen it, my opinion may have been higher, though Face would likely have still been the better. For those of you who may be wondering about the third Sollima western, Run Man, Run is actually the further adventures of Cuchillo, but doesn't really compare to the first two. I made need to watch it again, but my initial feeling is that it was a fun solid movie that just didn't hold the depth of the other two.

As a warning to those of you who may search it out, U.S. versions of the film go from truncated to heavily truncated. Some are missing about twelve minutes and others are missing about seventeen all together. The original running time is a little over an hour and forty-six minutes. Problem is, if you find a full length copy, get ready to watch it in Italian or a patchwork of English and Italian. Since the film was truncated, English recordings for the scenes or moments that were cut were never recorded. As they don't exist, they can't be put back into the movie, right? If you have a problem with that, you can stick to the cut English only version, but be prepared for several moments in the movie to make a whole lot less sense in certain parts.

And that's...umm...all I have to say about that.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

"The Fastest Gun in the West Joins with the Most Brutal Hands in the East!"
Lo Lieh and Lee Van Cleef...anyone else salivating out there?

By the late 70's the blaxploitation film had fallen by the wayside and soon Fred Williamson would be the last man carrying the torch for the black action hero. Similarly, Bruce Lee's death brought about the death of the original Martial Arts Movies wave (at least in the U.S. It would be years before Jackie Chan's Kung Fu antics which would win over most of the world would finally break back into the States.)

Back in the day, though, those two trends affected more than just trends in the movies. Luke Cage (aka. Power Man) would emerge as the first superhero to bring the tenets of the black action hero to the Marvel Universe. Likewise, Daniel Rand (aka. Iron Fist) would be an iconic presence as a martial arts hero in the comics world who would likely only be surpassed in popularity by Shang Chi, the Master of Kung Fu. As their film counterparts had done before them, their popularity waned with the changing of the trend. Iron Fist's series had already been cancelled, and Luke Cage was on his way out. In an attempt to save them them both, an experiment was tried to put the two unlikely heroes together in the same book.

Interestingly, it paid off. The combined effort, Power Man and Iron Fist ran for nearly ten more years which was twice as long as Luke Cage's solo title.

Combining world's like that wasn't a novel idea in the realm of mid- to low-budget filmmaking, (I just wanted to bring up Cage and the Fist.) but neither was it ever as succesful. As the market began to dry, particularly in the U.S., as the three biggest exploitation genres died off, they tried any number of cross-overs to keep the magic alive. Many of the results not only did little favor for either of the genres they combined, but they became some of the most memorable if only for their sheer outlandishness. Movies like Black Samurai, Take a Hard Ride, My Name is Shanghai Joe, and today's review piece....none other than:

The Stranger and the Gunfighter (1974, d. Antonio Margheriti)

The Story: While breaking into a series of vaults, thief Dakota (Lee Van Cleef) accidentally kills wealthy Chinese businessman Wang only to find himself freed from the gallows by Wang's nephew, Ho Kiang (Lo Lieh) who's been forced by a warlord to search for his uncle's treasure, but the clues that they need to follow are tatooed on the backsides of Wang's four former mistresses.

The Review: As usual with many of my reviews, I want you to take a moment to go back and read that last paragraph one more time. Then I want you to look me in the eye and with a straight face tell me that that doesn't sound like a helluva lot of fun.

Ok, ok. Yes, it's very similar, and a whole lot less slick than Shanghai Noon and/or Knights, but it also hit the screens 25 years earlier. Not too mention the fact that it is a lot of fun one way or the other. It's kind of like a cover song, there's always something to the original.

Granted, there are some stupid sound effects to get past each time Ho does any aerial acrobatics. So the sooner you can get over those, the faster you get back to having fun with this one.

Of course you have to keep in mind that I'm praising this film when I tend to hate the more comedic spaghettis. I can't stand the Terence Hill Trinity stuff which everyone else seems to love. And I know I've mentioned here that George Hilton's smiley-face hokey performances take away from what I prefer to be a grim affair. Something about this works though, and I think a lot of that has to do with both the leads playing it straight.

All too true that despite being co-produced with Hong Kong's legendary Shaw Brothers, this movie once again goes through the tired device of the all-knowing vaguely mystical Chinese hero. His different approach always gets him out of bad situations. His logic defeats bad guys in both fights and banter. He whips out the abacus and the acupuncture needles. And in the end, he always teaches our white hero a little something. In all, he's a stereotypical character. Maybe it's Lo Lieh's air of nice-guyness, his almost child-like lack of pretension, or just the general back-and-forth between his character and Van Cleef's that somehow just pulls it off.

Speaking of which, this is perhaps the most passive role I've seen for Van Cleef who is usually proactively shooting someone in these westerns. In this one, Cleef's Dakota is definitely the sidekick as he provides Ho with assistance whether that be in the form of directions or little cultural nuances. Basically, he's either following Ho along on his search, watching him whoop some cowboy @$ while he sits back and has a laugh or a drink. Sure, he occasionally shoots someone, but that's because he's a good sidekick. Naturally, Lee's such a familiar old hand in these movies that he's hard not to like (even when he plays the world's most evil scumbags, there's still some familiar charm to him [see The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly]).

Considering this is the same director who would later make Yor: The Hunter from the Future and Cannibal Apocalypse, Italian exploitation maestro
Margheriti keeps this to being a remarkably straight forward affair. The only real excess which also happens to be really cool, in a strange gothic way, is the villain Hobitt's (?!?) mode of transportation: a giant horsedrawn church on wheels. I would have included the super strong Native American in those excesses if not for the natural comic book tendencies of this movie in the first place. Margheriti does a fine job of pacing out the violence and the jokes along a steady narrative. In places, he also proved to be one of the better non-Asian directors at catching martial arts action. If not for that damned sound effect when Ho jumps around.

Is it a great spaghetti western? No.

Is it a great kung fu flick? No.

Is it a fun movie with a goofy premise that you just don't see anymore? Yes.

It's something that strikes me about these crazy Italian flicks like this one. It's their infinite watchability. They're rarely great movies, but they're so easy to relax with and enjoy. You can see why this stuff played so well on UHF channels on TV for years. That may not seem like much of a statement, but when you think about all the pretentious crap that plays in our theaters today, it is something. In the past couple of years there's been quite a few decent movies that have breezed by that I may have even liked, but I can't chill watch them again when I have nothing else to do. This one I could probably pop on any old time.

So like I said: If this one ever hits the video stores or you catch it on cable one day, kick your feet up, grab a snack, and just let this one play out. Your bound to have a pretty decent time that'll be more satisfying than the $9 crap you could be suffering through at the theater.


Monday, September 13, 2004

Frankenstein & Funicello And/Or Go-Go & Machine Gun Joe
That was better than my first title...

I'm not sure who I want to kill more now that the first half of this post got eaten once again. Is it Blogger? Is it Netscape? Is it me because of my own ineptitude? It's a great question.

What I wanted to do (and want to do slightly less now) was a little comparison between films that very obviously have very little to do with one another. There are several factors however that link them, and that was what I wanted to focus on. I think what's driving me to do this is simply the opportunity to mention these two films in the same breath. Opportunities like these don't come around every day.

Without further ado (and assuming something doesn't crap out on me), let's get on with the show.

In this corner:

Pajama Party (1964, d. Don Weis)
The Story: Martian Go-Go (Tommy Kirk) is sent to Earth to prepare for an invasion but gets swept up in the schemes of an old conman, the antics of the fun-loving beach gang, and the loving arms of the mad-cute Connie (Annette Funicello).

Fair enough, right?

And in this corner:

Death Race 2000 (1975, d. Paul Bartel)
The Story: In the future (Um...the year 2000, but I can't very well say 'In the past...' while introducing a sci-fi film.), a brutal cross-country race is underway where racers score points for mowing down pedestrians, but a subversive group plans to topple the government by first sabotaging the race.

Please tell me that at this point, you're scratching your head wondering why I would compare these two movies.

To tell you the truth, I don't know either. I would, however, recommend you making a double feature out of them. I'm serious.

Well, they're both very obviously exploitation movies, and considering their respective companies of origin that should come as no suprise. The former emerged from Samuel Arkoff's American International Pictures which spawned the latter's maker, Roger Corman's New World Pictures. Both of these were giants of the B-movie in their heyday. Now, Pajama Party wouldn't exactly be considered exploitation, at least not in the same more sleazy sense that Death Race 2000 is. That's only because it was in those 10 years between their releases that made all the difference in what was allowed on screen in terms of violence and more importantly nudity. Make no mistake about it though, with all of Pajama Party's now relatively innocent skimpy clothing, innuendo, and frequent singing and dancing it was aimed at pulling money out of and hence exploiting one audience: teenagers. Death Race does the same thing, it just trades the 'singing and dancing' for 'blood and guts' and 'T&A'. I'd be willing to bet that that combination was meant to draw in that same target demographic.

But that's just off the top of my head.

Apart from that, about the only thing they have in common besides both featuring car chases is ...ummm, nothing. Well, at least in terms of content. That's not to say, though, that nothing else joins them.

The most common criticism you'll find of the teenage beach gang movies, most famously the Frankie & Annette vehicles, is that they were anything but reflective of the youth of those years. In fact, you'll find that criticism spread to nearly every other genre was that it was not indicative of the various political and social movements of the 60's. Oddly enough, it was actually in odd fare like westerns such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where people, particularly teenagers, seemed to find parallels to their own times.

On the flip side, Death Race 2000 is very much a commentary on the times. Like much sci-fi of the 1970's it had taken on a darker more Orwellian tone, and much of it was a precursor to the post-apocalyptic subgenre of the 1980's. By the then the character of the anti-hero, particularly popularized by Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name role, had been firmly established and David Carradine's Frankenstiein can obviously be placed on the evolutionary charts just before Mel Gibson's Mad Max and Kurt Russel's Snake Plissken. (Go back and watch Escape from New York again and tell me that Kurt isn't doing a two hour impersonation of Clint.) As it plays the movie is self-conscious of itself as it admonishes a generation obsessed with sex and violence in a movie filled with sex and violence. It's bright and flashy locations, costumes, and vehicles aren't so far removed from Pajama Party's, but the tone has turned from bright and cheery to decadent and cynical well in keeping with the disillusioned feeling of the aging and defeated 'Love Generation.'

To me there opposite nature, tonally and thematically, within that ten year span still makes them similar. Much of that has to do with the fact that they're still aimed at the same age-group auidence. Furthermore, it's the fact that whether they are reflective of the times or not, they're both still completely farcical. In retrospect, neither is founded in a reality that existed or that came to pass. To me, that means that they are cut from the same cloth despite their appearance.

It's hard for me to pinpoint any singular moments in Death Race that I enjoyed above all others. Going in, I knew to expect a youthful Sylvester Stallone in the role of the villainous Machine Gun Joe Viterbo. What came as a pleasant shock was the realization that racer Nero the Hero was played by Cobra Kai Sensei Martin Kove from The Karate Kid. Well, ok, if I have to pick one: The scene where the nurses wheel out the old folks to be euthanized under Frankenstein's wheels, and Frank decides to dodge the old folks and wipe out the doctors and nurses lining the sidewalk. That was pretty classic.

It was a little easier to pinpoint in Pajama Party. I wasn't exactly expecting Chinatown level twists and turns, nor Groucho Marx level quips and banter. That's hard to do in a movie where you can feel a song-and-dance number just because you can feel that enough time has passed without one. The movie did, however, featured comedy great Buster Keaton. The only problem was that he was talking and in a ridiculous kiddy movie, nonetheless he actually acquitted himself admirable. My favorite bit was actually in two parts, but they're definitely of a 'you have to see it' nature. Buster gets into a war with a perfume counter girl. They spray each other back and forth with bottles of ever increasing size and of course contents. Hi-Larious. Trust me. Later at the party, the girl shows up and empties a Dr. Pepper on Buster who then heads to get the bottle off the water was a nice semi-running gag. Also of note are the dance moves Buster busts with a bikini-clad Susan Hart. Good stuff.

Having said all that, I feel that it's time to draw this discussion to a close.

I'm not sure what the point of comparing those two movies was exactly, but it felt right at the start anyhow. In any event, to the uneducated or the uninitiated, it's bound to make me look like I know something about movies. I like to think that I least a little bit.

Seriously. Double Feature.


Friday, September 10, 2004

(Note: I haven't gotten all erratic about writing these. Work's busy. Network problems. Blogger problems [coupled with the network, they seem to enjoy eating posts when I try to save them]. Now onward, ho with a rewrite of yesterday's post.)

Get Out Your Orange Face Paint
Dedicated to all of you who ever said: "Charlton Heston as a Mexican?!?"

Bruce Lee may have had trouble breaking into lead roles in the movies (and the selection in the States may still be slim), but at least he finally broke the tradition of having primary Asian characters played by white guys in bad make-up.

Probably, a personal favorite still has to be Ricardo Montalban as the lead Japanese character in the Marlon Brando vehicle Sayonara. Ricardo is a fine actor, but nothing could be more ridiculous than his impersonation of a Japanese accent through his own significant accent. We won't even go into the make- up job...At least Sean Connery's Japanese makeover in You Only Live Twice was kind of farcical.

As I'm writing this partially in a "boy, weren't we stupid back then" tone, I don't even want to get into the horrors of "blackface." I don't think I need to say anymore about that than's already been said. Sheesh.

Then there were the days when many of the "Indians" in a large number of Westerns were played by white guys coated in some kind of funky orange paint. Perhaps the best was when these bright orange badly wigged "savages" had bright blue eyes. Believe me I've seen it. Beyond the obvious surface offensiveness of the whole affair, these guys were also quite eyesore.

Now Native American characters only occasionally show up in spaghetti westerns. When they did they were usually played by dark-skinned Italians or Spaniards who had somewhat Native American features. At the very least, the one's I've seen were completely without the orange paint. More often than not, there were no pure blood Native American characters, but a plethora of half-breeds. Usually these half-breeds were, shall we say, prone to violence, hence perfect for the spaghettis oft revenge-centered plotlines.

As I mentioned above, if Charlton's role in Welles' Touch of Evil ever prompted you to question this strange tradition of race-swapping, then you're already primed for today's spaghetti western review. We proudly present Burt Reynolds as....

Navajo Joe (1966, d. Sergio Corbucci)

The Story: The feared bandit, Duncan, and his massive gang slaughter Indian villages and Western towns with abandon until they're hired to rob a railway train, but their plans are thwarted at nearly every turn by the stealthy and swift Navajo Joe.

The Review: If you really want to know the plot to Navajo Joe just re-read the above until you think you have it. Seriously. There's not much more to it. Well, ok, a little, but for the most part I'm not joking.

Don't get me wrong. I did enjoy the movie. I feel I should say that because I'm gonna spend most of the rest of the review trashing it.

First, it was beautifully shot. It had great outdoor locations and it made great use of them. Joe's rocky grotto home was a particularly visually interesing spot. Also, if you're a fan of spaghettis, it did have a whole lot of people being killed in a variety of clever and creative ways. For most spaghetti fans, that's always a big bonus. (Duncan's gang's enormous size insures lots of cannon fodder.) There's one more thing I love about this movie, but we'll save it until the end so I can end on a positive note.

Now on to the thrashing.

Seriously, plots do not get more linear than this. Duncan tries to do something. Joe either outright thwarts him or just kills a handful of his guys. Duncan does something else. Repeat until the big finale between Duncan and Joe. The End. I spent most of this movie waiting for something involving a twist or a turn or something to throw this movie from its rather straight-to-the-point path. Part of it is the fact that Joe never seems to really have any trouble wreaking havoc on the bandits. When he gets captured at the end, I never doubted that he'd be free, albeit a little worse for wear, and back fighting the bad guys.

With Joe's luck, you'd want him sitting next to you at your favorite Indian casino.

The only character in the movie that gets the least amount of depth is actually the half-breed bandit leader Duncan. Unfortunately, it doesn't come until nearly the end when it's a little too late to get really involved in it. For the longest time, it appears as though Joe is just out to whoop some @$, and again the revelation for why he's hunting Duncan is both too late and totally unsurprising. Perhaps the weirdest almost-subplot in the movie (you have to have a plot before you can really have a subplot) involves the seemingly arch-villain who hires Duncan's nasty squadron of cutthroats to rob the train. The mystery surrounding his identity dries up pretty quick, and then he's dispatched before he even gets a hint of real motivation for being evil.

Maybe it's just me, but cartoons and comics are about the only places where characters get to be evil just for evil's sake.

As for the acting, there's not much that can be honestly said. The English dub job on this one is pretty atrocious. It's probably a half-step away from being on the Godzilla dub-job level. No one appears to be ridiculously overacting in whatever language they may have been speaking originally. Aldo Sambrell is his usually creepy evil self as Duncan. Though seemingly half-crazed, he's not as threatening as he could be, but the guy always just looks like a bad dude. No doubt about that. As for Burt...well...

Depending on what generation you're of, you just may not really no or understand the screen presence that is Burt Reynolds. I'm not talking about even the strong performance he put in for Boogie Nights. I mean proper Burt Reynolds. I mean Deliverance-style Burt. I mean Sharky's Machine Burt. I mean smoking Smokey & The Bandit Burt. Burt's one of those guys who you just can't tell if he's a good actor or not, but he's just got this undeniable and totally enjoyable screen presence. He's Burt, and you just can't not watch him.

At the very least, Burt doesn't look particularly Native American, but at least he's got naturally dark features and a deep tan. Burt does look great in his swanky buckskin outfits. Burt, like that action heroes of old, looks like he can actually handle a gun or a night. Burt also has the athletic agility to pull of a lot of the cool stealthy sneak-attacks that Joe pulls off. Granted, Burt doesn't get much of a chance to become more than a one-dimensional character, but the Burt-ness just carries you on through somehow.

You just can't say whether it's good or not with any authority. Especially when Burt's not even dubbed by Burt.

Now one of my most common gripes in these movies is the horrible use of day-for-night photography. Navajo Joe has a lot of it. The funny thing is that the photography, in and of itself, is actually quite beautiful. The soft perpetual twilight brings about a certain mystical quality to the terrain being shot. The primary factor ruining the effect is that you know that it's supposed to be nighttime. After all, that just past sunset look of dusk just doesn't last that long.

If there is any reason to see this movie, (and I'm absolutely serious) it's the soundtrack. It is hands down one of Maestro Morricone's best. Not as well known as his other work, it is still an incredible work. The driving beat and the use of chanting and howling voices is both striking and fascinating. A few of the tracks are available on various Morricone collections, but unfortunately the complete CD is out of print (and expensive if you can find it). I gots to get me some of that.

In the end, Navajo Joe is almost certainly strictly for spaghetti enthusiasts. It doesn't have nearly the draw and power of Corbucci's stronger work like Django, or The Great Silence. The print from the Japanese DVD I saw was very crisp, and only had a few patches of scratches and spots. So once again, I had fun, but I don't know if you would.

I'm hoping that the quality of the pasta will improve once my copies of the Shaw Brothers/Spaghetti crossover The Stranger and The Gunfighter, Sergio Sollimas' The Big Gundown (the last Sollima western I needed), and straight up rare spaghetti double feature Johnny Yuma/Between God, The Devil, and a Winchester arrive in my mailbox.

We shall see my friend.

We shall see.


Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Sex: Apparently It's Not Just for Procreation Anymore.
Who would've thought...

There's no way to say this without having to do 1,000 words of explanation afterwards, and even then I imagine that it's still not gonna sound right.

Nonetheless, I face this fate bravely, and I say: I'm tired of sex, really just worn out by it.

Now for the attempt at a brief explanation: I don't mean the physical act of love. Yes, if there was that special someone here, and she was ready to go buck nasty as soon as I walked in the door from work...I would happily oblige. So that's not what I mean. And yes, I enjoy looking at a beautiful woman (clothed or if need be naked) as much as the next hetero-male. And sure I got my own tastes and touches in the arena of "a body meets a body," but there's a line out there and it's way past being crossed.

Never once in the statement above did I say I was immune to sex. Let's make that clear.

It's just become a small matter of less is more.

For instance, one night, I was instant messaging with a friend of mine, and she revealed she was looking at the Victoria's Secret Catalog on-line. So I pulled up the same page, and started to peruse the latest in overpriced underwear. She led me through a few things asking about my tastes in different things. Finally we ended up on the page 'o panties, and she asked me what I liked. So I'm combing through all these tight bare @$es in thongs and g-strings and whatnot when I found what I thought sexiest: the boyshorts.

Boyshorts are arguably the least revealing of all of them, but there's something to the way they fit and what they do show. Anyhow...

Part of my decision was influenced, I believe, by the bevy of buttcracks I've had to look at constantly in recent months. I know I'm not the first to say it, but it was a major factor in my feeling of less is more. Even on a really hot girl, it isn't terribly attractive. Usually, between what her underwear is doing, the waist of her pants, and her general positioning, it usually looks strange, trashy, just plain bad, or all of the above. Besides which, but I've never heard of that being considered attractive on a fella, and we've been more prone to that sort of thing for year now. I believe everyone knows what I'm refering to when I say 'plumber's @$$.' Right?

So if it looks that bad on a guy, who says it does anything to improve a girl's attractiveness?

Sadly, I already know that there are some who are against me on this one.

Again, I like a nice @$$, that's just not the way I wanna see it.

But that goes for everything in clothing. I'm not even going down the path of people wearing stuff that they ain't got no business wearing in the first place. That goes without saying. I spent a lot of Labor Day weekend down at the beach, and I can tell you, that's a plague that runs rampant. (The only thing it's really good for is the self-reassurance when you say to yourself "Whoa, thank God I'm not that guy.") Seriously though, there's a way I see the people around me, and there's the way I see pornstars and rockstars dressing. I don't see nor do I want to see everyone in that way.

The fact that it's spread to younger and younger girls is really disturbing. I think it's odd how we have this drive to lower teen sexual activity, pregnancy, and disease transmission, while at the same time we've gone farther and farther to sexualize children. As a society we abhor child pornography and pedophilia, and yet we've got TV shows that follow how long before some child star is legal.

I would've thought this would be something that feminists would've jumped all over....apparently I'm wrong. If you're well beyond the age of consent, then I can see standing under the banner of 'sexually liberated woman.' But these aren't women, they're girls. I wouldn't want to see boys dressing or behaving that way either. Like that Calvin Klein ad stuff a few years was just...well, icky.

It's kinda like how I hate hearing kids on say American Idol perform songs like Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing. Not only is it creepy, but you just can't take it seriously. No matter how technically well the kid sings the song, you can tell there's nothing real-world behind it.

I would say it has something to do with maturity, but there are too many 40+ year old boys running around out there for me to say that. There's also so many people with emotional walls that as the song said "so high you can't get over it/so low you can't get under it." Not too mention so many women who have become so neurotic over whether they're receiving the right kind of pleasure or the right amount of orgasms that they've completely lost the point. But all of that is part of a whole other politic that I don't want to get into. Though a lot of that last one is all from the constant flood of sex advice and columnists, etc.

Which gets me to my next topic....

Each week, I read The Onion. Then I read The Onion A.V. Club. Then after the articles, interviews and reviews, I read Dan Savage's Savage Love. I enjoy the column no matter how disturbing, and I usually enjoy Dan's advice and/or retorts. And yet...

Well, I'm not sure whether I should be thankful that I don't have some weird-@$$ fantasy or fetish that I must indulge in, or whether most of these folks have just become convinced that they have to have one no matter what because everyone else seems to.

That isn't to say there isn't some somewhat kinky or weird sh!t I'm into, it's just that I can separate the fantasy from the reality. There's some things that would be great if I could actually see them, touch them or do them. Then there's other things where the fantasy is more attractive than the reality could ever be.

I tend to think of it this way: You may really, really like The Monkees and they may make you feel great, but that doesn't mean that anyone else is gonna like them nearly as much as you do.

Let's just say that Dan's a helluva lot more understanding than I am.

To me a fetish is a fetish. It's your personal hangup. I think there's more going on problem wise if you're so hung up you can't perform without acting out your fantasy. I think it's also a by-product of our crazed intent to individually be as self-obsessed as humanly possible. There are some things in the bedroom where it's middle ground. There are others where you have to ask yourself: am I having sex with my partner or with my fetish?

I kind of think of a lot of it like tatoos as well: Sure that li'l butterfly tatoo's all cute now in your late 20's, but what's it gonna look like saggy, stretched out, and with a few varicose veins running through it? With fetish stuff, it's a question of when does cute/kinky become scary/gross?

Anyhow, that wasn't even my initial point. My point should've been simply thus: I'm tired of hearing about your fetishes.

I honestly couldn't care less what kind of weird sh!t you're into, and why do people feel compelled to tell me? It doesn't disturb me (unless it verges into scat/necrophilia territory), I just don't care. The only thing I ever get curious about is how in the hell someone found out that they were into [insert fetish here] in the first d@mn place.

My number one objection has got to be S & M. You wanna talk about a cult of wannabe's.

Don't get me wrong...once again. I'm not saying there aren't some real heavy duty tie-your-balls-to-the-wall hardcore fiends out there. Of course there are. And they scare me.

But most of the people you run into or catch on TV who go on and on about this stuff tend to be some trendy yuppie @$holes.

Simply put, if you can't tell me thing one about Comte Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade then I don't want to hear about...(and if you're one of those hard folks I mentioned above you'd probably be able to do a powerpoint demonstration on what a sissy you think the Marquis really was.)

Of course my feelings about this have just brewing over for years now. I guess it started when I had to stop back and ask myself why it was that every magazine for men had essentially become Playboy Lite. Furthermore, I don't get why guys buy Maxim and FHM and Arena and Stuff, etc. when they're all essentially the same magazine. Unless I'm buying porn, a magazine, to me, has to consist of more than pages of half-naked 'celebrities' (which is shorter than writing 'singers', 'models', and 'actresses') and a few gadgets.

On a similar note, my distaste continued when I too noted like Kevin Smith that it wasn't just little girls who were into Britney Spears, that it was 30 year old guys. And it wasn't about the music, it was about wanting to f*ck her. Which again says something about the 40+ year old boy mentality: "I can't deal with women my age, but I could relate to this bubbleheaded starlet. That's for sure."


And for any women who might be cackling and agreeing with me there, lemme put it to you this way: If you hold strongly to the bitchy, selfish, and immaturity-masquerading-as-mature tenets of Sex and The City, there's a good chance you're gonna die alone without a man or the sex.


On that cheery note: Get your hands out of yours or each other's pants, put some clothes on, get over your wannabe weird would-be obsessions, and do something with your lives that means something.