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Sunday, December 30, 2007

I AM LEGEND (2007)


It's been said that the third time’s the charm, and when applied to this third cinematic adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 science fiction/horror novel I AM LEGEND that assessment is only partially accurate.

Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) is a military scientist attempting to cure a pandemic that has wiped out nearly all of the world’s population, leaving him, as far as he knows, the last uninfected man on Earth. You see, the plague was an unexpected by-product of a successful cancer cure that mutated into a virus that killed about 90% of mankind, transforming the remaining survivors into mindless, animalistic “darksiders” who combust when exposed to UV radiation and roam the streets at night in search of food. Neville proves immune to the plague and when not working on the cure he cruises around a desolate Manhattan hunting deer for fresh meat and working his way alphabetically through the DVDs at a deserted video store (he’s up to G), his only companion being a German Shepherd named Samantha (“Sam” for short).

Neville operates from his sumptuous brownstone near Washington Square, a home fortified with all manner of military security and an assortment of no-nonsense ordnance, to say nothing of a fully equipped laboratory, but while he has plenty to occupy his time he’s quite lonely. He broadcasts an endless loop radio message alerting any survivors to his existence and names a contact point where he can be found every day at a certain time, but after three years no one has responded to his message. And as he periodically hunts the infected for anti-virus test subjects Neville notices their behavior becoming more savage and aggressive, even copying the traps he sets for them.

That setup is all you need for a compelling story, and I AM LEGEND is a very, very good film that allows Will Smith a showcase for his acting abilities since he has only a dog to share the screen with and his performance is punctuated by the film having virtually no music throughout its running time. I used to think that Smith was just another pretty-boy who headlined churned-out blockbusters and frivolous flicks, but here he proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that he can act his ass off, imbuing Neville with quiet intelligence, sensitivity, and a loneliness that’s simply heartbreaking.

But the film does have its flaws. The infected antagonists are all rendered in iffy CGI, giving them the aspect of video game characters and causing them to clash wildly against the obviously live Neville and Sam; it almost looks like we’re along for the ride as Neville finds himself in some sort of “shooter” virtual reality simulation. But that quibble is minor when stacked against the real issue: the film actually goes out of its way to not be your standard Hollywood blockbuster/mindless action movie, and as such it’s simply terrific, so why did the filmmakers throw that all away during the last reel? I won’t say what happens — because I still recommend the film nonetheless — but the film totally douches out during the final twenty-five minutes and effectively sinks what could easily have become a classic of the genre. All the striving not to insult the viewer’s intelligence is traded in for cheap sentimentality and an ending straight out of a bad DIE HARD sequel, throwing in bits of business that utterly defy the well-constructed logic that came before. Seriously, once the film nose-dived I was greatly disappointed, especially when I considered just how engrossing it was up to that point.

I don’t know what it is about Matheson’s novel, but for some reason it has never been made into a fully satisfying feature film. THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), with my boy Vincent Price, kept the novel’s straight-up horror edge with the plague victims mutating into vampires, but was hampered by a weak script and a budget that wouldn’t have bought a decent box lunch (although some of the admittedly creepy visuals did inspire George Romero’s landmark NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, so it wasn’t a total loss). THE OMEGA MAN (1971) was basically a backyard G.I. Joe scenario enacted on celluloid, filled with shoot-‘em-up action, car chases, and Charlton Heston in the lead, totally unbelievable as any kind of scientist and coming off as a slightly over-the-top fusion of his earlier turns as Moses, Judah Ben-Hur, and Taylor. And now the current I AM LEGEND comes along and almost delivers a perfect, contemporary treatment of Matheson’s bleak narrative, but it still manages to scuttle all of its virtues by adhering to an unfortunate status quo at the last minute.

If you can see I AM LEGEND at a bargain matinee (or can obtain one of the gazillion bootleg copies of the perfect-quality widescreen studio screener that’s been all over New York City) it’s definitely worth checking out for the good stuff, but be prepared for the cop-out when it happens. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

FLICK YOU!!!


After careful consideration I have decided to change the title of the CINEMA SHITHOUSE column to FLICK YOU!!! I love all manner of movies, "flicks," and I share my thoughts on them with you, so "Flick You!!!" (Insert rimshot here) Up first, my review of I AM LEGEND...

Friday, December 28, 2007

ANOTHER SACRED TOME ENTERS THE VAULT

Thanks to Big Wang I now hold the first appearance of HOKUTO NO KEN (aka FIST OF THE NORTH STAR) in my grubby paws.


Ah, bliss...

SOUND & FURY: THE CURSE OF "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT"

Having been savagely awakened at Jesus o'clock in the morning by a bunch of drunk chicks squalling Twisted Sister's 1984 mega-smash hit "We're Not Gonna Take It," I haven't been able to get the fucking thing out of my head, its relentless chorus echoing through my brain while I attempted to read my CINEMA SEWER book on the subway to work.

The 1984 album featuring "We're Not Gonna Take It."

"We're Not Gonna Take It" stands out in my estimation as the epitome of pop/faux metal, featuring a repetitive/annoying hook, lyrics that are a tad vague as to who the singer is bitching about and exactly what the "it" he's not gonna take anymore is, all delivered by a guy who looks like a butt-ugly, post-apocalyptic drag queen.

Once seen as an anthem that railed against oppressive family values, when looked at today one realizes that interpretation largely hedges on one having seen the iconic and endlessly overplayed video, featuring Mark Metcalf — superb as ROTC uber-asshole Doug Neidermeyer in NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE — portraying an over-the-top cartoonish douchebag of a dad who loudly chastizes his son for any number of infractions, most notably objecting to his son's love of Twisted Sister, a band that at the time was barely known outside of their frequent gigs as a New York bar band (I still rmember the radio ads for them from when I was in high school that described them as "Twisted Sister! The band that will unfreeze your face!!!"). Once the kid expresses his desire to "rock," he strikes a chord on his cheesy guitar and blows daddy out the second story window, at which point the kid is magically transformed into lead singer Dee Snider (the aforementioned post-apocalyptic drag queen). The ensuing slapstick so offended certain protectors of public decency that the video became one of the first works to find itself on the hit list of what would eventually become the Parents Music Resource Center, better known as the PMRC (not nearly as catchy as SPECTRE, but that was already taken). If ya ask me, that's proof positive that those stuffy old senatorial wives didn't know what the fuck they were talking about.

These dudes fuckin' RAWK!!!

The mild public outcry against the song is really amazing, especially considering just how innocuous "We're Not Gonna Take It" actually is. It always struck me as what a twelve-year-old with delusions of "rebellion" would have penned; overblown, lacking much in terms of actual musical merit, and wholly appropriate for a cheesy Broadway musical show-stopper wherein the hero rouses the peasants to storm the castle. If it were me staging such a stirring scenario I'd have pretty much the whole cast put their all into it, exhorting the audience to sing along in a show of solidarity, only to have the characters mercilessly gunned down by heavily-armed military police, with an actor in Dee Snider gear and makeup being the first to get capped in the knees.

Snider has described the Twisted Sister musical aesthetic as attempting a fusion of Slade and the Sex Pistols, but if that was truly the intent the band utterly missed the mark, instead sounding like product designed to be gobbled up by adolescents (what a shock!). You can say what you want for the occasionally adolescent aspects of the Sex Pistols, but at least their vinyl rebellion sprang from something real, namely the shit conditions to be find in the UK during their time, but what did Twisted Sister have to gripe about? They were from Lawn Guyland, for fuck's sake! What's the worst they had to endure? Irritating accents and the ever-present threat of encroaching Negroes? Spare me.

And considering its ubiquity on both TV and the radio, I'm shocked that "We're Not Gonna Take It" peaked at a mere #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But that makes no nevermind since the song has now achieved iconic status as one of the "classics" of Eighties music, right up there with "Take On Me," "We Built This City (On Rock 'N' Roll)," and "Don't Worry, Be Happy," and it's often used in commercials, thus raking in untold residual greenbacks for Dee Snider.

Making matters even worse is the way pop culture tends to recycle itself every twenty years or so, and the teens and young adults today are now the new standard-bearers for some of the most obnoxious and artistically void music in the history of the pop medium, reviving the aural horrors of the MTV generation and ensuring that those songs pollute the minds of even younger listeners. Or the once-slumbering minds of curmudgeonly forty-somethings such as Yer Bunche.

I'd like to be able to say I'm not gonna take it anymore, but it looks like that fucking song is here to stay, so I'll just have to keep on taking it, and not in a good place.

Twisted Sister: the possible inspiration for S.O.D.'s "Douche Crew?"

SOUND AND FURY: GILLIGAN... AT THE PMRC HEARINGS?!!?

While researching for a post I'm writing that expresses my hatred of Twisted Sister and their ubiquitous hit "We're Not Gonna Take It," I found an hilarious error in All Music.com's text on the band's role in the infamous PMRC hearings of 1985, namely the following:

"For his part, Snider remained in the camera eye, however, appearing before a Senate committee later that year (along with such rock & roll luminaries as Frank Zappa and Bob Denver) to testify against the Parents Music Resource Center's demands for music censorship legislation."

Um, correct me if I'm wrong, but Bob Denver's the dude who starred in the title role on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND (he was Gilligan, not the island) and was obviously not in the audience when Reverend Jeff Ling read aloud the lyrics to the Mentors' "Golden Showers." John Denver, however, was there and laid a righteous smackdown on those dumbass senatorial cunts, telling them in no uncertain terms that he was strongly against their call for industry-wide record censorship.

John Denver: a great American and staunch defender of the Mentors' inalienable right to sing about deviant sex acts, gang rape of drugged women by biker gangs, raging venereal diseases, and the felonious assault of homosexuals. Plus, he hung out with the Muppets. The motherfucker was cool!

Upon reading All Music's error I pointed it out to them on their feedback section, so let's just see how long it takes them to fix it, if they even bother.

IN THE WEE HOURS: SOME VERY TWISTED SISTERS & OTHER MUSICAL DIVERSIONS

Dee Snider: not my idea of Mister Sandman.

As I write this it's nearly four in the morning. Why am I awake? Well, here's a new one: I was awakened twenty minutes ago by a group of very drunk females standing out side my building, merrily slurring the words to the loudest rendition of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" I've ever endured. These chicks yowled that eighties chestnut for all they were worth, and even though I fucking hate that classic of faux metal I have to admit that the spirit was infectious. Somehow I just knew they weren't gonna take "it," whatever "it" was, and they made damned sure the world — or President Street, anyway — knew as well, repeating their bourbon-soaked statement no less than three times.

Needless to say, I am now fully awake.

Luckily there's a very good BBC documentary playing on PBS, POPULAR SONG: SOUNDTRACK TO THE CENTURY, to keep me company. The segment I came in on focused on the Tin Pan Alley/Brill Building songwriters and crazy-assed Phil Spector, so the music was generally excellent, scouring "We're Not Gonna Take It" from my sleep-deprived consciousness. The next episode just started and it's focusing on the thermonuclear impact felt when the Beatles hit, as well as that of the legion of blues-based white boys that followed in their wake (big focus on Eric Burdon and the Animals), and there's no way I can get back to sleep with that kind of stuff on the air.

Good thing I went to bed at nine-thirty.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

THE SHOEMAKER: ANATOMY OF A PSYCHOTIC (1983)

I've read many books on serial murderers and other assorted criminals — perhaps too many — and I have to say that THE SHOEMAKER may just be the best of the lot.

I don't know why you may read this kind of stuff — gory and lurid descriptions of unspeakable and inhumane crimes against helpless victims is a good bet — but I read it because I'm utterly fascinated and appalled by the depths to which the human mind can sink. What does it take to allow oneself to not only kill for no good reason, but to do so in the sickest, most depraved manner possible? That's a question I've sought to have answered since my mid-teens and while many books have presented the sordid details on dozens of such cases, both famous and not, many such books aim their focus on describing the myriad horrors committed and the subsequent investigations leading to the apprehension of the culprits, often giving short shrift to the circumstances that created these human monsters.

Journalist Flora Rheta Schrieber, author of SYBIL (1973), examines the case of Joseph Kallinger from birth through his brief murder spree and paints a picture of sheer tragedy unlike anything you've ever read in a true crime account or even fiction, actually eliciting outright sympathy for the psychotic burglar/killer from the book's opening pages.

Joseph Kallinger.

Born to an unwed mother in 1937 and later adopted by a pair of Austrian immigrants, Joseph was a soul doomed from the beginning. His inhumanly stern foster parents psychologically and physically abused him relentlessly from the moment he came into their "care," grooming him to follow in the father's footsteps as a skilled shoemaker while restricting him from all outside contact, save for his schooling, and threatening him with genital mutilation and burning his fingers on the flames of their gas stove. These early torments, among others, sowed the seeds of paranoid schizophrenia and eventually lead to tragedy when Joseph married (twice) and started his own family. While his shoe repair business thrived, Joseph's behavior became increasingly bizarre — including arson and hallucinations of communicating with God, who reportedly told him it was his mission to save the human race by creating perfect orthopedic lifts, leading Joseph to experiment at that with a series of insane tests on hamsters — and his anti-social tendencies escalated to the point of iron-handed mastery over the kingdom of his household, causing the increasing delinquency of his adolescent brood to be met with harsh reprisals that could fairly be considered torture. When his "discipline" became too much to bear, his children filed charges of cruelty that resulted in their father being sent to prison, yet during his time behind bars Joseph did not receive proper psychiatric care, despite the recommendations of several qualified mental health experts that he be sent to a facility that could help treat his illness, and so he withdrew further into his insane fantasies as a way of coping with the abuses and deprivations suffered while incarcerated.

To make a long and heart-breaking story short, Joseph was eventually released and his name cleared after his kids agreed to say that they made up their stories of abuse (in exchange for gifts of money, clothes, and fine food, effectively making their dad their bitch) and once outside he eventually enlisted one of his sons for his latest hallucination-appointed mission: the redemption of the human race by its total annihilation. His psychosis egged on by visits from the Spectre of Death and a dismbodied featureless head named Charlie, Joseph and his son went on to break into private homes and steal any valuables they could find, castrate and murder a young boy, kill another of his own sons because the kid was insubordinate and belligerent (as well as engaging in sex with men, thereby shamefully making him "a fag"), and finally hold a house full of people hostage, resulting in the stabbing death of a well-known local nurse. From there Joseph's mission inevitably unraveled and he was issued multiple sentences that ensured, once and for all, that he'd never see the outside world again. At least the guy got therapy out of it this time, but at the cost of innocent lives.

What makes THE SHOEMAKER so compelling is Schrieber's focus on the human angle of the Kallinger case, a recounting made all the more trenchant by her years-long dialogues with the man, conversations that are quoted verbatim from Kallinger himself and show him for the irreparably-damaged individual that he is. His adoptive parents simply had no business raising a child, and if there had been any kind of serious child welfare agencies back in those days perhaps the soul-and-mind-crushing tragedy of Joseph Kallinger's life could have taken a different course. Read this book and you just may never bitch about your own parents again.

DAIKAIJU GIGAS: THE MOST ABSURD GIANT MONSTER EVER?

While at home for Christmas I once more entered the converted garage that long ago served as my room and perused the few remaining items that gave the place its feel as "The Vault of Buncheness-Northern Annex," such as a couple of old sci-fi toys, sundry VHS tapes, books that look and smell like the 1970's, and other random tchotchkes. It's all there for comfort, but by far my favorite item goes to the toy of Gigas, one of the more ludicrous-looking of the monster menagerie found on ULTRAMAN, the TV show most responsible for ruining me for life.

Gigas, the Abominable Snowman's short bus-riding cousin.

Gigas — surprisingly, not short for "Gigantic Ass" — is a completely outlandish man-in-suit (or "suitmation" if you prefer) critter from the Land of the Rising Sun that looks like what would have happened if the Abominable Snowman had fucked an ice cream cone, or maybe the result of a matter-teleportation accident involving the Son of Kong, Al Jolson in blackface, and the Bumble from RUDOLF THE RED-NOSED REINDEER.

The Bumble: far more scary than Gigas.

Though I'd been an ULTRAMAN groupie my whole life I hadn't seen the show since my family left California back in 1972, then rediscovered it in 1986 by way of a Japanese-language twentieth anniversary tape obtained from a Japanese-run business that illegally copied homegrown VHS tapes for their countrymen living in Manhattan (this place is also where I first saw my beloved FIST OF THE NORTH STAR). From the looks of it I'd hazard a guess that the tape was of a theatrically-released "best of" from the series that included many memorable monster fights, but the unquestioned highlight of the tape was the fight between Redking — known to us stoners as "the Shrunken-Head Godzilla" — and Gigas. In some remote frozen clime, the two giants briefly clash before Gigas is frozen solid (?) by a Science Patrol bomb and his body explodes in icy chunks for no apparent reason. So not only does Gigas look balls-out stupid, he also expires in stunningly idiotic fashion. Bravo to Eiji Tsuburaya and his effects-maniacs for knocking yet another one out the park, and utterly delighting my inner six-year-old!

As the years passed and the original ULTRAMAN series finally made it to DVD, Gigas slowly made his (its?) was up the rungs of my affection and now stands as my favorite of all of Ultraman's foes; the Baltans, Ultraman's arch-enemies, come in at number two, but I don't find them as laughably goofy.

A representative Baltan, one of a legion of intergalactic psychedelic lobster-men.

Knowing this, my pal Namegon hooked me up with one of those crazy Japanese toys that looks exactly like the monster as seen on TV; some of these toys go so overboard in detail that they even include representations of the zippers used to seal the sactors inside the suits, as evidenced in a replica of Ultraman himself that adorns one of my bookshelves and has shoes with clearly-depicted zippers.

Gigas, Barbie's new boyfriend.

The toy given to me by Namegon was every inch what I expected from the obsessive Japanese manufacturer and is a treasure to the fan in every way, utterly capturing Gigas' DIY-on-Jaegermeister look and expression of "I just took a dump in my pants," but the icing on the cake is the text written on the packaging's cardboard section. I swear to God it actually says this, complete with grammar and punctuation errors:

JAPANESE ARTISTIC MONSTERS COLLECTION

Do you remember these monsters? They were so cool!! & everybody loved there. You must miss them after they disappeared. But don't worry, they are back now, and they are never leave you!!

Considering how many Japanese speak English, was it so hard to find somebdy to provide a decent translation? Whatever; that amazing bit of "Japlish" only adds to the excellence of one of my favorite monsters, a big lug who will apparently never leave me. (I can't say the same for some of the women in my life.)

TIME FOR A TITLE CHANGE

Regular readers of the Vault know I've got a frequently-run column called CINEMA SHITHOUSE, but now I have to come up with a different title for that corner of my internet fiefdom. You see, while trawling the darker recesses of Manhattan's oddball hole in the wall bookstores and magazine shops that cater to more "outre" tastes (bastions of reading that are dwindling on a daily basis) I stumbled across a Canadian mag entitled CINEMA SEWER , and it's a hell of a lot of fun (sleazy as a motherfucker, too). Its chief instigator, one Robin Bougie, has even put together a "best of" collection that just came out in book form, so since he got there first with the CINEMA SEWER title I feel it necessary to rename CINEMA SHITHOUSE so nobody will thnk I'm biting off of this guy's thing.


Yer Bunche, with the CINEMA SEWER collection.

I'm pondering several new titles for CINEMA SHITHOUSE, but I'd also like to include you, dear reader, on this process. Please send in any suggestions you may have, and while I'm certain to get many gag responses I really need some assistance on this one, so please help a brutha out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

HAPPY KWANZAA?

Okay, I have to ask: am I the only black guy who thinks Kwanzaa is a load of bullshit? Today's the first day of that annual celebration, and I just ain't feelin' it. Never did.

By way of explanation as to exactly what Kwanzaa's supposed to be, here's an excerpt from the good old Wikipedia:

Kwanzaa (or Kwaanza) is a week-long Pan-African festival celebrated primarily in the United States, honoring African American heritage. It is observed from December 26 to January 1 each year. Kwanzaa consists of seven days of celebration, featuring activities such as candle-lighting and pouring of libations, and culminating in a feast and gift giving. It was created by Ron Karenga, and first celebrated from December 26, 1966, to January 1, 1967, timed to coincide with Christmas so that it would be remembered. Karenga calls Kwanzaa the African American branch of "first fruits" celebrations of classical African cultures.

Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966. Karenga said his goal was to "...give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society." The name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza", meaning "first fruits". The choice of Swahili, an East African language, reflects its status as a symbol of Pan-Africanism, especially in the 1960s, though most African-Americans have West African ancestry.

The official stance on the spelling of the holiday is that an additional "a" was added to "Kwanza" so that the word would have seven letters. The name was meant to have a letter for each of what Karenga called "The Seven Principles". Another explanation is that Karenga added the extra "a" to distinguish the African-American meaning from the African one. Kwanzaa is also sometimes incorrectly spelled "kwaanza".

Kwanzaa is a celebration that has its roots in the black nationalist movement of the 1960s, and was established as a means to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation and study of "African traditions" and "common humanist principles."

In 1967, a year after Karenga proposed this new holiday, he publicly espoused the view that "Jesus was psychotic" and that Christianity was a white religion that blacks should shun. However, as Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents, Karenga altered his position so as not to alienate practicing Christians, then stating in the 1997 Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday."

So now you get the idea. (And you've got to give that Karenga dude points for the unintentionally hilarious "Jesus was psychotic" statement; makes John Lennon's "We're more popular than Jesus" pale in comparison, no?)

I dunno, the whole thing strikes me as an attempt to manufacture a connection to aspects of African culture that we, as American-born blacks, have no bond with save for our genetics (and even our genetics have been considerably mongrelized since we the day our ancestors first got here, making for too-sexy critters like meself) so why not instead come up with a celebration of our own thing, an American thing that recognizes the contributions that black American influences have made not only in this fair land's melting pot culture, but to that of the entire globe? (And don't hand me that "African-American" horseshit either; I am not African, I am an American. I was born here, I believe in the concept of a pan-ethnic society, and even though it doesn't always work I staunchly support the intent.)

And as for the "Seven Principles," they're all well and good in and of themselves and are an admirable list around which to found a philosophy:

1. Umoja (Unity) To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems and to solve them together.
4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
5. Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
6. Kuumba (Creativity) To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
7. Imani (Faith) To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Having read and absorbed all of that I have to say that this list has very little to do with what I see happening in some realms of black American society. All seven principles fall by the wayside for me when I see blacks being our own worst enemy (don't forget who really allowed the slave trade to flourish on the African end of things), what with the staggering lack of focus on the family as a unit, the appalling dissemination of thug culture and behavior that was once known as "coonish," a focus on personal material gain and bling-bling rather than a concerted push for education and the arts... My list goes on and on, while the list of the Seven Principles is quite clear and concise in what it puts out there. If Kwanzaa is to have any real meaning for anyone, keep those precepts in mind year-round, and not just for a week.

Oh well, at least it's not technically a "religious" thing. And while I'm not down with much of the whole Kwanzaa thing, I do love me some Kwanzaabot.

Kwanzaabot (voiced by Coolio) and Bender Rodriguez, from FUTURAMA.

CHRISTMAS '07-EPILOGUE

So I made it through Christmas without the crushing dysfunction I expected and even managed to get a fun photo with my my mom.


As long as I've known her she's kvetched about how she "doesn't take good pictures," at times going out of her way to ruin any photo op by looking horribly uncomfortable and grimacing. This year, I have no idea how, I was able to not only get her to have fun, but I was also able to get her to let her guard down, look ridiculous, and let her seldom-seen sense of humor shine through. It was indeed a Christmas miracle.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A REMINDER OF JUST HOW GOOD I'VE GOT IT

I swung by the barbecue joint on Saturday night so I could say "hey" to my former co-workers and wish them all a happy holiday, as well as visit with Tracey the waitress goddess and be brought up to date on the pace's goings-on...that and I wanted to get my drink on before having to endure two-and-a-half potentially dysfunctional days in Westport.

During the course of the evening there was a point when Tracey's wolf-like alertness focused upon someone who strolled by the front door and she ran outside to corral him indoors. The person turned out to be a guy named Francis, a fifty-something poet that Tracey knew from the neighborhood. When he first sat down and began to make conversation he came off like a bit of a religious nut, going on at length about his Catholic school upbringing and pulling well-learned quotes out of the Bible that he applied to just about anything that anyone else said, all while wearing a very visible and very large crucifix. Long used to the loons who hang out at the barbecue joint's bar, Scott (the Texan former-bartender who's been frequently mentioned in posts about the place) and I exchanged glances that silently communicated, "Oh, fuck, here's another one," but as Francis became more comfortable he proved to be quite an interesting and fun guy. But there was something about him that I just couldn't put my finger on, something that just screamed "other."

As the evening passed Francis and I bonded over music, pop culture, and all the other shit you've come to expect if you read this site regularly, having a grand old time, and after a while Tracey bought him a brisket sandwich and a beer. Following suit I bought him another round, and that was when Francis began to loosen up and let flow the details of his life.

Francis.

Francis was once a husband and a father but he apparently bottomed out on booze and is now homeless, residing in warmer seasons in Prospect Park and becoming a well-known and beloved neighborhood "character." He carries his few earthly possessions in a canvas shopping bag, panhandles for money on the street and the subway, and fills scraps of paper with his poetry. What money he manages to scrounge up he sends to his wife (the self-admitted love of his life) and kids, and any cash that remains is spent on whatever is needed to keep him alive. Francis recently attempted sobriety, but fell slightly off the wagon and was now living on the subway to stay warm. He even mentioned how he wished he were down in New Orleans, which prompted Joy the bartender to interject, "New Orleans? I went to Tulane!" Francis smiled and commented "I used to sleep on the roof at Tulane." Not missing a beat and with utmost seriousness Joy replied, "So did I!"

Tracey and I laughed our asses off at that one, knowing Joy as we do.

I greatly enjoyed the time I spent with Francis, but all too soon the hour grew very late and I had to be together enough the next day to handle going home to Connecticut. Moved by Francis' situation, I left the barbecue joint, hit one of the bodegas on Fifth Avenue and bought him two notebooks and a couple of pens, anything to let his thoughts and poetry be recorded on something other than scraps that could blow away if he dropped one of his piles of scribblings. I wished him luck and told him I'd like to hang out again. But who knows when that'll happen again?

When I got home I could barely sleep, slumber giving way to contemplation of such a personable and brilliant mind going to waste thanks to drink and homelessness. Just makes one think.

THE CARDS KEEP ROLLING IN!

This one's from guitar virtuoso and all-around madman John Gibson, a dear friend since my freshman year of college. This guy is the person who opened my eyes to quality heavy metal, and for that I owe him an unrepayable debt. And as for this card, nothing to enjoy here, right?


Good thing I hate titties.

And this one's from another friend I met during college, Matt Maley. We worked together in the Marvel Bullpen and then he settled down with one of the coolest women in the world, after which they had a beautiful little girl. Matt is also unfairly talented in the drawing skills department and this card, while great, barely hints at his excellence.

A CANDY CANE FROM SANTA


My favorite thing about this one is the appalled mother shielding her child's eyes.

IT'S A SOPRANOS CHRISTMAS!


So this Christmas I got my mom a new DVD player and as I write this she's totally immersed in the final season of THE SOPRANOS, a show she absolutely loves despite her old ladyish abhorrence of sex, violence, and non-stop profanity in her entertainment. She's fascinated by her own sympathy for Tony Soprano, a guy whose volatile criminality is underscored by his own deep-rooted flaws and insecurities, and she spends much of her viewing time analyzing how Tony is "a victim of his upbringing and environment" (she's a family therapist). So she's happy as a clam, appreciative of her other gifts, but elated that she can at last see the finale of her favorite soap (or olive oil) opera. So thank you, David Chase, James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, the much-missed Drea De Matteo, and all the rest of you who made THE SOPRANOS happen. You lot saved Christmas in my dysfunctional place of growing up.

As for me, I got a bunch of cool stuff but any time spent at home that doesn't involve tension, sniping, and emotional vitriol is more precious to me than any material gift could possibly be (okay, so I wouldn't scoff at some serious cash). I still have another eight hours before I step onto the south-bound Metro North train and make my way back to the security of the Vault, but I honestly think that time will pass without any of the usual bullshit. Wish me luck.

IN MEMORY OF THE GODFATHER


While you enjoy your Christmas don't forget to take the time to remember James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, who passed on exactly one year ago (Merry Christmas...NOT!). Crank up your copy of "Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved)" and boogie down next to the Christmas tree.

THE "OH, FOR FUCK'S SAKE" 2007 CHRISTMAS SPECIAL: CHANNEL 11's THE YULE LOG

One of the most marvelously absurd programs in the history of television is Channel 11's annual airing of THE YULE LOG, a kitschy bit of seasonal programming that takes up four hours of screen time with this:


Yes, it's four solid hours of a fucking fireplace with a log burning in it while the usual assortment of Christmas standards provide the backgorund to so awesome a spectacle. Think I'm bullshitting? Just Google "The Yule Log" and you'll find a number of sites both honoring it for its wholesome evocation of a "family" atmosphere, and appreciating it for the insanity of its continued and venerated existence. Jewish Warrior Princess and myself have cracked up over it for years, and just ten minutes ago I saw an ad for the airing that begins at nine this morning, an ad that elicited a giggling "Oh, for fuck's sake, that lunacy is on again!" from Yer Bunche. I may even throw a tape into the VCR and record the fucker for prosperity (despite the fact that it's available on DVD, something I just can't see spending money on).

Four commercial-free hours of a piece of burning wood, and somehow it's not considered porno for pyromaniacs (maybe the steady stream of Christmas music harshes the boner). Anyway, here's the whole poop on THE YULE LOG as found on Wikipedia (!!!), and not one word of it was made up by Yours Truly. You just can't make this shit up:

THE YULE LOG

"The WPIX Yule Log" is a television program which airs traditionally on either Christmas Eve and/or Christmas morning on New York City television station WPIX. A radio simulcast of the musical portion was broadcast on sister station WPIX-FM (now WQCD) until 1988.

The program, which has run anywhere from two to four hours in length, but as of 2007 is officially listed as three hours, has no story and no TV commercial interruptions. It is simply a film loop of a Yule log burning in a fireplace, with a traditional soundtrack of classic Christmas carols and secular music playing in the background.

ORIGINS
The Yule Log was created in 1966 by the station's general manager, Fred M. Thrower. Inspired by an animated Coca-Cola commercial a year earlier that showed Santa Claus at a fireplace, he envisioned this television program as a televised Christmas gift to those residents of "The Big Apple" who lived in apartments and homes without fireplaces.

The original film was shot at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of New York City John Lindsay. $4,000 (US) of advertising (along with a roller derby telecast that night) was canceled on Christmas night for the show's inaugural airing. Thrower, and WPIX-FM programming director Charlie Whittaker selected the music, largely based on the easy listening format the radio station had at that time, with the likes of Percy Faith, Nat King Cole, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Mantovani and The Ray Conniff Singers to name a few. During the shoot, the producers removed a protective fire grate so that the blaze could be seen to its best advantage. Unfortunately, a stray spark damaged a nearby antique rug valued at $4,000.

The program was both a critical and ratings success, and by popular demand, it was rebroadcast for 23 consecutive years, beginning in 1967. [Bunche note: IT'S A FUCKING LOG!!!] However, by 1969 it was already clear that the original 16 mm film was quickly deteriorating from wear and needed to be re-shot. (In addition, the original loop was only seventeen seconds long, resulting in a visibly jerky and artificial appearance.) Station producer William Cooper, a future recipient of a Peabody Award, again asked to shoot the loop at Gracie Mansion. However the mayor's office, remembering the mishap with the rug, refused permission. So in 1970, WPIX found a fireplace with similar andirons at a residence in California and filmed a burning log on 35 mm film there on a hot August day. This version, whose loop runs approximately six and one-half minutes, has been the one viewers have seen ever since.

DECLINE AND REVIVAL
From 1974 until 1989, a special message by WPIX-TV vice president and general manager Richard N. Hughes usually preceded the program, which ran every Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and sometimes both. But the high costs of running the program without commercial interruption prompted a new WPIX general manager, Michael Eigner, to cancel it in 1990—the same year that director Whit Stillman included a scene of a New Yorker viewing the Log in his film Metropolitan . Despite hundreds of protesting letters, the log remained off the air. [Bunche Note: IT'S A FUCKING LOG!!!] Beginning in 1997, however, WPIX offered various versions of The Yule Log on the Internet.

In March of 2000, Log fan Joseph Malzone of Totowa, New Jersey created a web site called "Bring Back The Log" (now called theyulelog.com), and petitioned station management via the internet to put "The Yule Log" back on the air. The site generated little response until Malzone received a letter from a New Yorker living in Australia who remembered the program. Slowly but surely, nostalgic interest in the Log grew. Then came the September 11, 2001 attacks. Three months later, it was formally announced on WPLJ radio that the special would return. Betty Ellen Berlamino, VP/general manager of the station, explained that people wanted "comfort food TV" following the incidents of that fateful day. The digitally restored program was the most-watched TV program in the metropolitan New York area for Christmas Day of that year, and has been winning its time slot annually since.

The original master film of the 1970 fireplace shooting was found in WPIX's film archives in Fort Lee, New Jersey by Julie O'Neil, who served as the program director at that time, in a case marked "Fireplace" and misfiled in a “Honeymooners” film can marked with the episode title “A Dog’s Life” (which led to the title of a 2006 40th anniversary special about the Log, “A Log’s Life”).

THE LOG'S LEGACY
In 2003, Tribune Broadcasting, parent company of WPIX, announced that in addition to being broadcast in New York City, "The Yule Log" would be broadcast in additional U.S. television markets on other Tribune-owned television stations, and would also air in high def that year as well. The program made its "national" debut in 2004 on Chicago's WGN-TV and its sibling Superstation.

Other stations (and cable channels) have spawned imitations. Fellow Tribune station WDCW (then known as WBDC) in Washington, DC has done their own version, filming a log burning at Colonial Williamsburg. Beginning in 2003, a MOJO HD executive was inspired as a youth by WPIX's Log, he produced his own version, which airs every Christmas as well as via On Demand. Oregon Public Broadcasting, the Madison Square Garden Network, and the CHUM Television group in Canada have also borrowed the concept.

In 2005, Tribune began making a version of the Yule Log video recorded in MPEG-4 format available for download, advertising it as a "Portable Yule Log" for those traveling. [1] In December 2006, to commemorate the program's 40th anniversary, WPIX aired a one-hour special about its history. Titled "A Log's Life," the documentary included commentary by Fred Thrower's son Mitch, Bill Cooper's widow Kay, and Malzone. The program was broadcast four times, including once on Christmas Day, directly following a completely restored three-hour version of the 1970 "Log". Researched and compiled by Malzone and Christmas musicologist Lawrence "Chip" Arcuri, this latest incarnation features a newly re-digitized play list of the original soundtrack, which includes a number of tunes from the 1970 version that are not currently available on compact disc, but only on LPs now out of print.

Monday, December 24, 2007

COMING SOON! Darwyn Cooke's NEW FRONTIER GETS THE ANIMATED TREATMENT


Darwyn Cooke's 2003-2004 masterpiece DC: THE NEW FRONTIER is getting the direct-to-DVD animated feature treatment, and I simply can't wait to see it. The comic was a six-issue tour de force of Silver Age geekery that not only nailed the huge cast of of characters' personalities, but also delivered one hundred percent on the artwork front, with artist/writer Darwyn Cooke making other artists just give it up and cut off their own hands, his love of the material as evident as the "S" on Superman's barrel chest. If you love the DC heroes of the Silver Age you owe it to yourself to read it, and once done you'll see why I'm so damned psyched for the movie version; it's being shepherded by Bruce Timm, the guy who gave us BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, the WB SUPERMAN cartoon, and JUSTICE LEAGUE (both regular and UNLIMITED), all of which were very, very good, and Cooke himself told me to my face that he couldn't be happier with the adaptation of his baby. When a creator actually has something positive to say about an adaptation of his work, that's some serious shit, my friend, especially in a medium virtually synonymous with fucking comic books (and their fans) right in the ass.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER will be released on DVD on February 28th, 2008 in single edition and 2-disc collector's versions, and here are some stills from it to whet your appetite. Damn, I want to see this!


Wonder Woman, voiced by the ultimate bit of no-brainer casting, Lucy "Xena, Warrior Princess" Lawless!


Neil Patrick Harris as the Flash!


J'onn J'onzz (the Martian Manhunter) essayed by Miguel Ferrer!


Superman voiced by Kyle (BLUE VELVET) MacLachlan!


Wonder Woman, ready to kick your ass if you don't buy the DVD!!!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

COMIC BOOKS ARE FOR IDIOTS: SCORE!!!

It's a Christmas miracle! Thanks to my man in Florida, Big Wang, I now own the original comic book in which one of my favorite comics series, FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, first appeared back in 1983.


This landmark of superhero ass-whuppin' set me back a total of $55, including postage and handling from Japan, and if that ain't a steal I don't know what is!

Big Wang, I could kiss you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

ON THE SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK: LAMENT FOR THE LAST DINOSAUR BARS


Mona's: soon to go the way of the dinosaurs.

One of the many things that used to be great about NYC back in the days was the squalid excellence of the East Village and its myriad bars and hangouts, most of which have been supplanted by coffee and wine bars or some other such yuppie foofery. During my entertainingly misspent youth I frequented many a verminous watering hole, most especially the late, lamented Downtown Beirut and King Tut's Wah-Wah Hut, but now the only dives I hit in that area are Library (perhaps the only bar kind enough to have a projection screen and allow me to run THE STREET FIGHTER on my birthday), Otto's Shrunken Head, and the occasional pop-in at the once great Ace Bar. Many others have loudly bemoaned Manhattan's cancerous decline into a gigantic, over-priced, soulless tourist trap, but I'll put it into terms us comics geeks can clearly understand: This ain't Metropolis, this is Gotham fuckin' City! It's supposed to have some edge to it, and the dive bars in the Village were among the last bastions of true NYC flavor.

My friend Xtina understands this state of affairs better than most, having grown up in lower Manhattan and witnessed her home's raw coolness erode over the past sixteen years or so, and this morning she sent me the following:

Friends,

My dear friend Deena just sent me devastating news about the east village. Most of us know that the East Village ain't what it used to be. That hideous looking condo across the street from the cube on Astor Place sums it up. However, I did not lose faith. Losing Coney Island High was a big blow. Then Kim's Video stores began to dwindle. But even when CBGBs closed its doors, I did not lose faith. When my favorite diner, Polonia, on first Avenue and 7th began to raise its prices after undergoing a fancy rennovation, I did not lose faith. Starbucks, Subway restaurants and smoothie stores are now everywhere. Vinyl stores and vintage clothing stores turned into nail salons and cafes. Tower Records and video are long gone. Sounds Records turned into a tattoo parlour. St. Mark's Place is unrecognizable. I won't even get into rent prices. Yet, through it all, I always felt the East Village was still the coolest place for New Yorkers. My dive bar Mona's, where I have a million fond memories, may have tossed that awesome jukebox with the 45 singles, but it still had great music, a cheap pool table, and that cute bartender who always served me free beers who shall remain nameless. ALL of you know how special that black hole is to me. We have had a lot of wonderful times there and at Sophies. But, now, this HURTS more than all of the above. Read it and weep friends...and if this does not motivate us for a long and overdue gathering at our sacred ground, nothing will.

From the New York Post:

December 20, 2007 -- IT may be the final nail in the shared coffin of East Village dive bars. Two longstanding holes-in-the-wall, Sophie's on East Fifth Street and its sister spot, Mona's on Avenue B, are up for sale. "The neighborhood has changed so much," co-owner Bob Corton told Page Six. "I love both bars, but they're dinosaurs now." Corton plans to sell the low-lit saloons after the holidays. He has run Sophie's, which adopted its name from its original owner, the late Sophie Polny, since 1986. He opened Mona's in '89. Corton assured us he'll stay in the neighborhood but couldn't predict the future of his beloved drink tanks: "Once the places are sold, what happens to them is really out of my hands."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

HOW MANY FIVE-YEAR-OLDS COULD YOU TAKE IN A FIGHT?


Thanks to Cranky Frankie for sending me this one.

You are in an enclosed area roughly the size of a basketball court. There are no weapons or foreign objects. Everyone is wearing a cup (so no kicks to the groin). The children are merciless and will show no fear. If a child is knocked unconscious, he is "out." The same goes for you. How would you fare? Click here to find out.

And for the record, I scored a 30.


Terror of the playground!!!

THE SEASONAL GREETINGS CONTINUE

The latest holiday cards have arrived! First up is the work of indy comics gadabout and fellow Brooklyn resident Dean Haspiel , a guy I've known forever and who turned in some memorable work a few years back in the first (and excellent) volume of DC's BIZARRO COMICS. I met Dean when I was an R.A. in college at SUNY at Purchase back in the fall of 1986, and he had the comics fever even back then. Also Dean was famed on campus for an amusing incident involving drunkenness, the roof of the library and two broken legs, but seeing as that's his story I'll leave it for him to translate into a graphic novel.


This one's from Jason Brown, a crazed loon with his finger in several artistic pies and one of several creative types I really need to get off my ass and make more time for in the coming year. He's a very cool guy and I've unintentionally and unfairly neglected him for far too long. And is it just me, or does he bear a strong resemblance to Popeye in this pic?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

NAUGHTY SITCOM LINE OF THE WEEK


Until it went into syndication on NYC's Channel 11 a few months ago I never gave the CBS sitcom TWO AND A HALF MEN a chance, thanks to my long-standing prejudice against that network for being a bastion of wholesome programming adored by old farts (how else to explain the longevity of JAG?). But two things made me reconsider the show:

1. The realization that maybe CBS was capable of thinking outside the box, as evidenced by the generally excellent EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, another show that I didn't give a chance until it hit syndication.

2. TWO AND A HALF MEN is a favorite of my pal Amanda, and our senses of humor are nearly identical (juvenile, tasteless, dirty, and morbid) so if she liked it as much as she did...

I checked out the show when it debuted in syndication and found that I'm in full agreement with Amanda. TWO AND A HALF MEN reminds me of the sitcom the two of us would write, although admittedly fettered by the FCC. I was amazed that the character study of Charlie, a drunken, womanizing songwriter (appropriately played by real-life gash-hound Charlie Sheen), Alan, Charlie's semi-queeny divorcee brother (John Cryer playing to type), and Jake, the divorcee's overweight, lazy asshole of an adolescent dim bulb son contained a steady dose of very sleazy humor for a CBS offering, at times even eclipsing the excesses of some FOX shows, and it wasn't just sleaze for sake of prurience. The shit was flat-out funny.

Anyway, tonight's rerun included a bit of dialogue that made me do a double-take at the same time that it appealed to me for bringing up what may be a network sitcom's first joke about one of my favorite hobbies. After returning from a sushi dinner, Alan bitches about his dislike of the cuisine:

Alan: You know what I hate about sushi? It's all fleshy, and flappy, and it tastes unnatural on my tongue.
Charlie: Alan, I think I know why your marriage didn't work out.

An honest to God cunnilingus joke. On a CBS sitcom.

Sweet.

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007)

One of the worst sequels since EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977), this movie sucks ass on so many levels it would be nearly impossible to address its utter awfulness in this forum. All you need to know is that it was released theatrically with a PG-13 rating in an attempt to lure in the all-important teen market, to which I call "Bullshit!" and point out that at no point in history has an R-rating kept any truly determined underage attendee out of unwholesome flick they wanted to see. And all the unrated DVD version has to offer by way of stronger-than-PG-13 material is slight usage of the F word.

I've occasionally described certain action flicks as being what a nine-year-old boy would have come up with if he filmed his own backyard play with his G.I. Joe Adventure Team toys (that was a seventies thing, with the big Joes and not those glorified butt plugs from the eighties), but in this case I would mean it as the harshest pejorative, so I won't use it since even the old G.I. Joe toy commercials were better than this turd.

Seventies-style G.I. Joe, simply standing around, sporting a fierce medallion and a white man 'Fro; nonetheless more entertaining than anything found onscreen in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD.

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is louder, dumber, and just plain "more"-er, with naught upon which to hang its many by-the-numbers action set pieces, and since the plot is a gigantic "who gives a fuck?" — the terrorist mastermind is a disgruntled former-CIA computer whiz...YAWN — there's simply nothing here to recommend. Did Bruce Willis really need cash for a can of noggin wax that badly? I love the Bruce and after enduring this piece of shit even I want to force him to dress in a Little Lord Fauntleroy getup, complete with enormous lollipop, and stand him on a corner in Bedford-Stuyvesant while forcing him at gunpoint to shout, "Rap music is for homos!!!"

The new look for Bruce Willis. Hey, man, payback's a bitch.

The resulting dismemberment would definitely be a lot more fun to watch than this complete and utter waste of time and money. Don't even watch this one when it hits cable. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

LEGEND OF SEVEN MONKS (2006)

Originally entitled MASTER OF THUNDER in Japan (for reasons that remain obscure in the US release), this martial arts/sorcery flick is pretty minor stuff, though it is fun while it lasts. It tells the story of a demon who wants to enter and conquer our plane of existence and the secluded holy order whose task it is to periodically perform the "sealing" ritual that keeps him at bay in Jigoku (the Japanese version of good old Hell). The current crop of holy adepts get the living shit mercilessly kicked out of them in the deep woods by the demon's insanely skilled henchman at the beginning of the movie, leaving one young monk barely alive but in no shape to handle the sealing. All that's left to get the job done are the head monk, skilled but now in his sixties, and the cute girl who serves as the temple's cook and the monk's adopted de facto daughter, and the two of them couldn't possibly deal with the threat so the girl ventures out into the mundane world in search of enough replacement monks to kick ass on the enemy once and for all. She tracks down three young men and three young women, each with ties to the original band of monks who defeated the demon in 1970, the last time he tried to get loose, and in no time the disparate band of weirdoes and misfits are in training for a final showdown with cosmic evil. Also figuring into this is another ageing monk who was once partnered with the other old dude back in the days, but when the demon's previous attack left his sister a casualty of war he left the temple and become a recluse who carves religious figurines. The rest of the story builds to the final conflict and sees the former monk get off his ass and eventually win the day with an act of supreme sacrifice.

As this kind of stuff goes LEGEND OF SEVEN MONKS isn't bad, but it feels like a kid's movie with delusions of grandeur and would be forgotten immediately after viewing if not for the first onscreen pairing of chopsocky legends Sonny (THE STREET FIGHTER) Chiba and Yasuaki Kuarata. I have hardcore love for both of those guys, and they're the sole reason I picked up this flick without having previously heard of it.


Martial arts movie royalty: Sonny Chiba and Yasuaki Kurata.


Chiba's a well-known face to those of us who love ass-whuppin' and ultra-violent exploitation sleazery, but Kurata is mainly known in the west as the all-purpose Japanese heavy in several Hong Kong productions, having played memorable sympathetic antagonists in HEROES OF THE EAST (aka CHALLENGE OF THE NINJA, 1979) and FIST OF LEGEND (1994). He's one of the most expressive actors ever to grace the martial screen, and even when he's played straight-up bad guys he's virtually impossible not to like, and it's fun to see him and Chiba go at it, even at this stage in life (although the crazy acrobatics found in their earlier, more intense works is simply out of the question for guys in their sixties).

So LEGEND OF SEVEN MONKS is worth seeing solely for the old fogeys, but Chiba fans should also be alerted to the fact that Sonny's mostly present for the last quarter of the film, his total screen time adding up to just about fifteen minutes. The rest of the flick belongs to Kurata and the antics of the monks-in-training. And peaking of the monks, they're kind of annoying in that way that only Japanese teen idols can be, simultaneously cute enough to spontaneously cause diabetes and display acting chops that are limited at best. The girls are cute and the two Japanese guys are a couple of zeroes, but the most irritating of the lot is an African guy whose performance is just a couple of notches shy of modern day minstrelsy. I'd have thought the Japanese were past this kind of portrayal of blacks, but seeing as we're seldom seen in Japanese cinema — I'm sure it's a question of there not being enough blacks in the country to make us societally ubiquitous yet, rather than a conscious ommission — I guess there hasn't really been much cause for change in this area since the 1970's heyday of karate flicks. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

COMIC BOOKS ARE FOR IDIOTS: WHITHER NEXUS #100?


When the beloved NEXUS resurfaced in July after a ten-year absence, I was one happy comic book reader and posted about it with gushing happiness. Mike Baron and Steve Rude's superhero saga/space epic never failed to deliver the goods — provided Steve Rude was behind the artistic wheel — and when it went AWOL it left a noticable void in the landscape of quality comics. Then, from out of nowhere, it came back, original creative team at the helm and picking up right where it left off, so I gobbled up the first new issue (#99) and eagerly awaited the next installment. That wait has gone on for the past six months and while I was well aware of Rude's legendary perfectionism and deadline-blowing ways, this was too much to take after so long a drought. I called my favorite comics shops every week to see if there was any sign of issue #100, but nobody knew anything.

I called Jim Hanley's Universe this morning (Wednesday is the day when the new stuff hits the stands) and asked the lovely Julie if there was any word (she's a recent convert to the joys of NEXUS), but she didn't see it on the day's manifest. Irked, I hit google for an answer and this is what I got. Not what I wanted to hear, but at least it's a legitmate excuse and I now have a tentative release date. From the press release on Steve Rude's website :

NEXUS 100 TO BE RESOLICITED FOR JANUARY ON SALE DATE!

Rude Dude Productions announced Nexus 100 to be Pushed Back

Pheonix, AZ – September 21, 2007 – Are we sitting down? Rude Dude Productions announced today that the long awaited Nexus 100 is being delayed until January. Blame the perfectionist nature of the Dude. The painted story is taking longer than thought. And why the decision to resolicit? Because it’s going to buy us the time to send out all three issues without delay. Month after month, as originally intended.

To refresh your memories, in addition to the 23-page main story feature, Nexus 100 contains the first fully-painted Steve Rude art ever done for a comic story. “When She was Young,” Part II, an eleven-page Sundra Peale story that takes place at the beginning of Sundra’s career and reveals her first meeting with a notorious and very treacherous---ah, long time fans will probably guess---but for now just keep it under your hats. Baron and Rude consider this painted story a landmark achievement in itself. All their usual writing and art trademarks abound!

And don’t forget the bonus 12-page feature, “The History of Nexus” by journalist Bill Baker. See how it all began! Early, previously unseen Nexus art! The crew from all 3 Nexus publishers tell all! Readers new and old to Nexus will find this feature an invaluable resource. Heck, Baron and Rude even found out a few new things!

Nexus 100: Space Opera, Act 2 due out the first week in January can be previewed on Comic Space: www.comicspace.com/Steve_Rude. Rude Dude Productions also has a limited number of advanced black and white previews available in their store at www.steverude.com/store.

A FRIVOLOUS WASTE OF TIME: WHAT'S THE MOST MEMORABLE TV THEME TUNE?


While sitting on the bowl last night and growing a tail, I once more pondered the deeper questions of existence. This time I veered away from solving the AIDS crisis and bringing the world's races and religions together in a lasting bond of peace and love, instead concentrating on something really importnat, namely trying to figure out exactly what would win the prize for most memorable TV theme tune of all time, with or without lyrics.

There are literally thousands to pick from and over five decades from which to dredge up those aural cues, so what to choose? I can't speak for the rest of you, but as a child of the rerun generation I have more TV theme tunes permanently burned into my cerebral cortex than I can remember, some long-forgotten that occasionally pop back to the forefront of my memory when jogged by totally unrelated stimuli (I once attended a funeral and found myself internally humming "I Married Joan"). Some have even passed into Americana, such as the theme from the 1960's Spider-Man cartoon, a show that has hardly aired for many years, last having been seen in Tri-State area syndication in the late-1970's; that song's longevtity in the face of encroaching obscurity may have to do with the Ramones having covered it on their final album, and the fact that the kids who watched the cartoon ages ago are now parents, and the kid-friendly nature of the song makes it easy to teach to the little ones (and it turned up during the end credits of the first Spidey flick).

While trying to come up with my number one choice for most memorable TV theme tune I scoured the vast warehouse of useless knowledge that is my brain and came up with this short list (in no particular order)

DOCTOR WHO (the original BBC Radiophonic Workshop version from 1963)
"The Shake," better known as the theme to THE AVENGERS once Emma Peel entered the series (1964)
BATMAN (1966)
BARNEY MILLER
SUPER CHICKEN (featuring a great staccatto rhythm and some seriously silly lyrics)
CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS
JONNY QUEST (the original, not any of the later bullshit)
THE PERSUADERS
BONANZA
IT TAKES A THIEF
THE ODD COUPLE
MAUDE (hands-down the best lyrics ever for a 1970's sitcom)
THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (I think of my buddy Jared every time I hear this one)
THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (especially the dirty parody version)
LOST IN SPACE (the dynamic season 3 opening)
HOKUTO NO KEN, aka FIST OF THE NORTH STAR (the original "You Wa Shock" version and the subsequent "Silent Survivor," perhaps the first metal anime tunes)

As for my absolute choice for most memorable, I'd give it up for Lalo Schifrin's immortal "Mission: Impossible" theme. It's iconic, has that unique start/stop rhythm, and is, next to the deathless James Bond theme, probably the most recognizable spy tune of them all. It's been covered innumerable times, many of them terrific, most notably a version with lyrics by the Kane Triplets (United Artists, 1968) and a badass instrumental cover by the Meatmen, the same masters of bad taste who gave the world "Tooling For Anus" and the anti-Beatles anthem "One Down, Three To Go."

Anyway, that's my nominee. And your opinion?

MORE SEASONAL GREETINGS

The holiday greetings are rolling in, and here are the latest three. First up is this Chanukkah card from my buddy Josh Crystal of Crystal J Design . He's the nephew of my pals Ruth and Dvorah — two nice Irish lasses...not! — and I first met him a few years back during one of Ruth's celebrated summer cookouts. Like many of my non-blood family he's a comics and sci-fi goon, traits that instantly endeared him to my crew, so we took him under our collected wing and corrupted the living shit out of him (not that it was all that hard to do). He's an alright guy and I wish I saw him more often, his card making me smile and remember just how much I like him.


This one's from Gregg Schiegel, mastermind of Hatter Entertainment and a comrade from my Marvel Bullpen days whose comics work back then didn't even display a hint of the virtuosity he'd later develop. I've seen examples of his work since that bygone time, and with each passing year he only improves. And this card gets extra credit for depicting Middle East folk who look like Middle East folk rather than Ted Nugent with five o'clock shadow.


And finally one from my friend of over three decades, Tom Petrone, seen here essaying the role of Dr. Watson in a production of "Sherlock's Last Case."


Along with being a terrific actor — both in "bear" porno and onstage — he's a master of the absurd, silly, and just plain idiotic, and this gag definitely falls into all three of those categories. He came to me last year with the idea for this and asked if I'd help him out with the Photoshop chores on it, and I happily said yes. As you can see, it's one of my patented awful digital collages that tries (and fails) to emulate the DIY charm of Terry Gilliam's cutout visions of madness, and I'm glad to see my buddy has put it out there this season.