Sunday, April 26, 2009

Maggie Cheung in Mother vs. Mother

It says a lot about Maggie Cheung's talents that she survived sub-Wong Jing fare like 1987's Mother vs. Mother. Maggie appears in a thankless role in a series of 1980's fashion missteps opposite Jacky Cheung (who rocks a hideous black-and-white plaid shirt with a pair of stonewashed jeans!) in this tale of two would-be lovers whose parents have a history of bickering.

Jacky's father is played by the late Hong Kong legend Bill Tung and his wife is played by another late Hong Kong legend, Lydia Shum. Lydia is quite funny in this film and this is probably the first time I've seen her in such a prominent role.

Teng Pi-Yun plays a rival for Bill Tung's affections and it seems that he almost left Lydia at the altar to run off with the other woman.

But he didn't and it seems he's endured a lifetime of badgering by Lydia and now, as his son is about to date Teng Pi-Yun's daughter (Maggie Cheung), the sparks really fly.

Jacky Cheung plays a video director and Maggie plays the owner of a clothing shop where Jacky borrows furs and assorted garments for his films. There's a lot of cute courtship stuff but the real highlights of the film involve Lydia Shum.

In particular, a scene in a restaurant where Lydia gets into a shouting match with a showgirl who she thinks is Jacky's girlfriend is quite funny.

But after 90 minutes of this, it gets to be a bit shrill. Somehow the ending redeems the proceedings with a kind of only-in-a-Hong-Kong-film bit of nonsense: the two mothers are somehow strapped to a big wagon wheel and are arguing and fighting as it's about to conveniently roll off a cliff and into the sea. When Bill Tung gets involved, it gets even wackier.

Still, those last few minutes and assorted bits and pieces can't change the rest of the film which wasn't quite ridiculous enough to be on a par with a Wong Jing film and, thus, somehow seems all the more forgettable.

And, for what little I've read online about this film, it was quite successful at the box office at the time.

You can order Mother vs. Mother on DVD here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

2 Shaw Musicals: The Yellow Muffler & Sweet and Wild *UPDATED*

The Yellow Muffler

If my research is correct, 1972's The Yellow Muffler was the last Shaw Brothers film (maybe the last film, period) directed by Japanese director Inoue Umetsugu. The director previously helmed some of the very best of the Shaw Brothers musicals, including: Hong Kong Nocturne, Hong Kong Rhapsody, King Drummer, and The Millionaire Chase, to name but a few.

Before I rewatched The Yellow Muffler I had considered this film a lesser musical in the Shaw library -- and it is in some minor ways -- but it held up remarkably well on this second viewing.

I first saw this film about 5 years ago on VCD at a time when I was hesitating about which Shaw re-issues to purchase on DVD. That was before I became aware of the limited runs on some of these titles, how Celestial/IVL were only doing one initial pressing of these marvelous DVD's. There are probably a good two dozen titles that I wish I had purchased on DVD when I had the chance and now it's too late as those titles are long out-of-print.

Luckily, The Yellow Muffler is not out-of-print and that may be due to the film not having a single big name at the center of the film. Certainly, Betty Ting-Pei is a well-known Shaw starlet but her fame for me and many other fans comes from the distinction of being Bruce Lee's lover (?) on the night of his death.

But she is an enjoyable screen presence even if not quite the young ingenue; that role is served by Irene Chen Yi-Ling as the middle daughter of this story; Irene also provided for me the sole bright spot in the Jenny Hu-starring Guess Who Killed My Twelve Lovers.

I think the third and youngest sister is played by Ellen Pan (Ai Lien Pan) but I can't verify that.

The romantic lead of the film is played by Paul Chun Pai, brother of David Chiang and half-brother to actor/director Derek Yee.

And the gruff, stern, and yet somehow lovable stage magician father is portrayed by Goo Man Chung in a really delightful part.

Shaw regular Pang Pang also pops up as a cafe owner (part of the fun of these Shaw films is spotting the regular cast of supporting actors!).

If the musical numbers are not quite as memorable as those in other Shaw musicals, they are at least well integrated into the plot, with the majority seeming to spring out into an alternate universe of what the characters are thinking or imagining or dreaming. The best musical bits involve the three sisters on stage trying their hand at performing despite their gruff father's protestations not to enter the life of show business.

There's a subplot where the father seems to lose his sight and I'm not exactly spoiling anything by saying that he gets his sight back (in a manner of speaking) in time for the big musical and emotional finales.

The whole "hey kids, let's put on a show"-plot involving the Paul Chun character and his friends at the studio -- the Yellow Muffler being the symbol of their club -- is fun. And there are some nice jokes at the expense of the director in the film which I venture to add are somehow references to the real director's experience being a Japanese director on a Chinese film set.

Certainly, not the Shaw's best musical but by no means the worst. Fans of Betty Ting-Pei's wigs alone will have a fun time watching this release!

Sweet and Wild

Sweet and Wild is a weird film for me. It's a musical but it is sort of a huangmei-styled musical but with a distinctly modern-vs.-traditional approach to the integration of the songs into the larger plot.

I think this may have been Li Ching's only film in 1966, apart from a cameo in The Knight of Knights, and it's fun to watch the spunky 18-year-old take charge on the screen. She really is a delight in this film even if the style of the musical presentation sometimes baffled this viewer!

The title sequence begins with Li Ching running toward the camera, almost ready to jump off the screen, only to point to the title cards as they flash on the screen.

In a weirdly confusing plot for such a short film, Li Ching's country girl gets nearly stripped (!) by a bunch of city guys after a fairly upbeat back-and-forth song, and then is practically attacked by an old patriarch of a family in a case of mistaken indentity that seems to get more confusing as the film's 87 minutes progress.

Ouyang Sha Fei is good as a female matriarch and Shaw regulars pop-up all throughout the film: Ling Yun, from King Drummer, makes for a surprisingly steadfast and understated romantic male lead; and Kang Wai, future husband of Jenny Hu and future father of Terence Yin, makes for a very effectively slimey villain.

I feel like I would have probably enjoyed this film more if I knew more about huangmei opera but, as it is, it was still a pleasant film thanks largely to the young and very charming Li Ching.

You can order The Yellow Muffler on DVD here.

You can order Sweet and Wild on DVD here.

[Photos: YesAsia/Celestial Pictures].


Big thanks to duriandave and ebay seller cyk5391antiques for the awesome magazine cover featuring the lovely Irene Chen!

(I feel like I'm encroaching on dave's starlet territory here, but he's the one that hipped me to this cover!)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Another Cherie Chung Double Feature

Hong Kong Hong Kong

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that 1983's Hong Kong Hong Kong is one of *the* masterpieces of modern Hong Kong cinema. I say that while admitting that there are parts of the film that felt melodramatic (the music, for instace) but I also am admitting that I think that the film worked completely with uniformly great performances all around; so what if we've seen this kind of story over and over when it works so well?

1983's Hong Kong Kong Hong Kong tells the story of illegal immigrants from the Mainland to Hong Kong and it provides a fascinating picture of a Hong Kong that has changed a great deal in the past 26 years, I'd venture to say. Cherie Chung, still looking radiant in her plain flowery dresses, lives with fellow immigrants in a shantytown but yearns for more. She agrees to a marriage of convenience with an older man, played by Kwan Hoi San, but her path seems set to intersect with a Thai-Chinese boxer played by Alex Man.

While there are moments in the plot that do feel a bit too contrived, on the whole, the performances all feel very real, with Cherie especially projecting vulnerability and longing with just a glance.

Alex Man's boxer meets a fellow boxer/gambler played by Lo Lieh (he of the classic King Boxer and numerous other Shaw films) and soon is being groomed for bigger and bigger prizes.

Cherie's old husband simply wants a kid and she sees the marriage almost like a business agreement which she can leave once she provides a son to the old man.

The love triangle and the boxing plot collide in an ending that I'm sure will stay with me for days.

What does it say about a film that my biggest complaint is simply the sometimes obtrusive musical score?

The images of Alex Man boxing against a neon skyline -- Toshiba glowing in the background representing other immigrants to Hong Kong but ones with a bit more success; the bright lights a level of power and money that the young boxer is struggling to reach -- and Cherie's reactions as she watches Alex box on television are just vivid and wonderful for me.


Stanley Kwan's Women is a decent little film that seems like an inadvertent time capsule entry on Hong Kong life circa 1985. If you can get past the dated hairstyles and clothing choices, there's a nice little film about fidelity in here. Cora Miao, Mrs. Wayne Wang, gives a nice, understated performance opposite Chow Yun-Fat. Cherie Chung is on the cover of the DVD and on the poster but, really, she has a supporting role; she's quite good too as the other woman breaking up Cora's marriage.

The film seems like some kind of precursor to Sex and The City as Cora and her gal pals get together to discuss their lives and the men in their lives or to just celebrate being single and successful.

Stanley Kwan really had a knack at directing women (Centre Stage, Full Moon in New York, and Rouge, for example) and he lets the focus come largely from Cora's character's perspective.

At the same time, it would be easy to turn Chow Yun-Fat's cheating hubby into a cartoon scoundrel but it doesn't happen; he's not perfect by any means but the character remains interesting and somewhat sympathetic.

Cherie Chung's role is the cartoony one and she is admittedly a bit shrill in this role -- maybe it was written that way on purpose?

Most of the actresses that I like so much (Anita Yuen, Maggie Cheung) are adept at different styles of acting and can excel in multiple genres. Cherie certainly showed a lot of range even before Peking Opera Blues; I feel like, were I to watch that film today, I'd probably appreciate Cherie's performance a good deal more now.

Cherie was recently spotting dining with director Peter Chan (hat tip to HKMDB News) which is surely good news for the actress if the rumours are true about her considering a return to acting.

The film also features a nice supporting turn from Elaine Kam and a young Eric Tsang with hair!

Hong Kong Hong Kong is out-of-print on DVD but you can order the VCD here.

You can order Women on DVD here.

Jenny Hu Double Feature

Guess Who Killed My Twelve Lovers

1969's Guess Who Killed My Twelve Lovers starts promisingly enough: six attractive young people singing a song extolling the beauties of Hong Kong while riding in a boat touring Victoria Harbour.

But Guess Who Killed My Twelve Lovers is not Hong Kong Nocturne or even The Yellow Muffler; it’s a mess!

Jenny Hu stars as a woman also named Jenny Hu (that’s convenient) who is rumoured to be a killer-on-the-run, specifically a woman who went berserk and murdered a batch of men in one instance (hence the title).

Mr. Ivy Ling-Po, Chin Han, is the lead actor and he’s just not very good at comedy – or is it that the comedy here is just not very good? His scenes feel strained, particularly an early scene where he arms himself with trashcan lids and kitchenware in an attempt to sneak up on and confront Jenny, who he thinks is a killer, as she is hiding in his bathtub.

The whole cast is stranded in a fishing village after a typhoon warning. This conveniently explains why no one can leave and why the phone lines are down which means the whole mistaken identity plot can proceed.

There are too many songs and a lot of silliness: a song about fish being served at dinner!?!; Jenny commandeering a motorboat to rescue a drowning boy from a shark (shades of Adam West fighting a shark in the old Batman theatrical film); disguises, and on and on and on for 90 minutes.

The only thing that made the film watchable for me was the presence of Irene Chen. Now, I think I saw Ms. Chen in We Love Millionaires and The Jade Faced Assassin but I watched the former so long ago and so early in my Shaw cycle that I didn’t take note of her. And I watched the latter recently but she didn’t stick out in my mind.

Here Irene plays a local girl engaged to Chin Han and that provides the gist for the majority of the romantic part of the plot as she thinks that Jenny is going to steal her man and so on.

But her best scene is a stick fight/fistfight with one of the female teens from the boat in the beginning. This scene is actually the only thing that made me laugh in the film and it is quite playful, referencing other wuxia figures like The Golden Swallow seen in other Shaw films.

Brian was kinder to this film than I can be; I have a high tolerance for this kind of silly film, especially from this era, but it felt like something Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello would have starred in near the end of their career together in the mid-1960’s. Compared to King Drummer or Blue Skies, it's insignificant to me as a viewer.

River of Tears

River of Tears is a short (74 minutes!) over-the-top weepy, like something Douglas Sirk would have directed.

Jenny stars as a nightclub singer who is being blackmailed into performing and seducing men with her act and then blackmailing them for money. After his younger brother falls prey to Jenny’s charms, older brother Chin Han investigates and soon falls in love with Jenny.

Chin Han is much better in this film than in Guess Who Killed My Twelve Lover, though his part is thankless but necessary.

Chin Han’s father is played by Shaw regular Goo Man Chung who I previously knew from various Shaw historical and wuxia films.

The blackmailing gangsters are played by Yeung Chi Hing and Paul Wei who I’ve already seen in dozens of Shaw Brothers features.

The film is frequently ridiculous and rushed in conveying seriously melodramatic material but if you can tolerate this sort of hokey stuff, it’s quite good. Jenny Hu looks a lot better in this film than in Guess Who Killed My Twelve Lovers -- her hairstyles and fashion choices are more suited to her physical features here, I think –- and she seems as an actress better suited to melodrama than to comedy. And if you like her singing, she also gets to sing in this film in a couple of nightclub scenes.

There’s even a very dated slow-motion montage of the young lovers running in the park.

You can order Guess Who Killed My Twelve Lovers on DVD here.

You can order River of Tears on DVD here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cherie Chung Double Feature

My Darling Genie

Perhaps the most famous bit of this film is the still/poster of Cherie Chung dressed up like an island girl, tan, teased hair, bare midriff; it's a small scene in the film but, obviously, it sticks in one's head.

Cherie plays a genie/goddess/whatever hidden in an ancient Chinese umbrella in a cave underneath a construction site in Hong Kong. Construction worker Derek Yee (yes, the future director) finds her and frees her from the umbrella; it seems a combination of water on the umbrella and/or just extending it will free the delightful genie.

Yee's character's father owes money to local gangsters and the rest of the film consists of hijinks involving them, led by comedian Yi Lui who looks a bit like Adam Sandler. Or maybe Frank Stallone.

To his credit, Yee's character first instructs the genie to heal a local boy in a wheelchair. Then the boy's mother thinks that she's been blessed and so prays for luck in mahjong and gambling. And so on.

The “running around” of the film’s plot gets tedious after a while and the film is, honestly, sometimes a chore to sit through. Cherie is cute, playing a wide-eyed innocent with the same skills she would later show in Peking Opera Blues. And the DVD picture is anamorphic widescreen, which is a nice touch. These Shaw re-issues look better than many other films from this era (1984).

It’s not quite as bad as similar Wong Jing films (Prince Charming, How To Pick Up Girls) from this era but it’s certainly silly.


This film started off promisingly but it remained a very weird mix of farce, romance, and seeming lite sexploitation romp for this viewer.

Cherie Chung plays Cherie, an aerobics instructor (yes, we get to see her in all manner of tight spandex outfits -- she even wears an exercise outfit out on a dinner date!) being wooed by an older man. A very young and quite handsome Tony Leung Ka-Fai plays a lonely photographer who, while driving his car in circles in the middle of nowhere, almost runs over the dripping wet Cherie who swam to shore after jumping off the old guy's yacht. Whew!

That setup is a bit contrived but the early scenes with Cherie and Tony are quite good; the photography and art direction are high quality, and the love scenes are tasteful and still sexy -- Cherie has a bit of semi-nudity that, I'm sure, is probably legendary among film fans. This section of the film surprised me with its tenderness, and the abundant chemistry between the two young and beautiful stars is very apparent with the wordless love scene up the stairs of Tony's house quite expertly crafted.

And Tony shows his bare backside about 10 times in this film, if he's more to your liking than the angelic Cherie.

But Cherie is just stunningly beautiful in this film; it's unbelievable to me how she would ever end up in 4th Place in the Miss Hong Kong Pageant!

The film is beautiful to look at and the quality of the film-making -- at least the visual aspects -- shouldn't be a surprise as the director, Patrick Tam, went on to be Wong Kar-Wai's editor on Ashes of Time and Days of Being Wild. And the old businessman trying to woo Cherie is played by Chu Yuan, the director Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan and The House of 72 Tenants, among other Hong Kong classics.

The plot soon spins wildly out-of-control as it turns out that Leung Ka-Fai's character wants money from the old businessman to make films, prompting a wild scheme meant to deceive Cherie into thinking that Tony is dying of cancer so that she will leave Tony and he’ll get to make films and the businessman will get Cherie.

Then, with almost no explanation, there is a wild chase to the Club Med facility in Malaysia where the films ends on a beach with the three main character arguing and throwing fruit at each other.

If I was a film student, I could probably do some BS-thesis on the end of the film -- the symbolism of the fruit and all that -- but I somehow don't think the director was aiming for that kind of meaning, despite his obvious talents.

No, I think the film is typical of many Hong Kong films of that era as it veers wildly through genres, sometimes in the space of a few scenes. Still, that's why I love these films.

There is a certain freedom at work here, and economy of production, that one just doesn't find in Western films.

And the other thing you can't find in any Western film is a beauty like Cherie Chung. She remains, in this movie fan's imagination at least, the Grace Kelly of Hong Kong cinema (as this photo from last Christmas illustrates).

You can order My Darling Genie here -- amazingly, it's not out-of-print yet.

You can order the VCD of Cherie here -- the DVD is out-of-print.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cherie Chung Gets Baptized (Is Nothing Sacred?)

I'll admit that a part of me finds it distasteful that someone took film inside a church as Cherie Chung was baptized a Catholic. I say that, though, as a devout atheist who can recall a time when he had a sense of the sacred.

Aren't some things just off-limits for cellphone-picture-taking? Shouldn't they be?

I think what is weirder for me is seeing the legendary actress driving herself away from the church service. Somehow I picture stars of Cherie's status having staff do that sort of thing -- is she out of money or something? According to the the HKMDB News translation, she denies a return to film for financial reasons.

Looking at these pictures, I am reminded of how I used to be utterly fascinated by Grace Kelly: she never took a bad picture; she was feminine grace with the name Grace; she was a talented actress who became more than just a pretty face; she became royalty of a sort.

Hong Kong continues to crank out starlets who make Ah Sa and Ah Gil look like pretty graceful and talented in comparison but the days of the legendary beauties, like Cherie, are perhaps over.

There's no more sense of the sacred and neither is there a sense of much glamour anymore, I'm afraid.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Li Ching Double Feature

I have to give credit to duriandave for this blog post of his which served as my inspiration to dig out a few more Shaw titles from my "yet-to-be-watched" pile; for those keeping score at home, that pile of Shaw DVD's is now down to 42( ! ).

The Human Goddess

This film is a weird mix of kids' film, romance, fantasy, musical, and -- thanks to one-and-a-half topless scenes with female extras -- almost a 1970's exploitation film from the Shaw Brothers' studio. The "Baby Queen" of the Shaw studios, Li Ching, stars as a goddess who wants to become human. After spying how "peaceful" the mortal world is (thanks to peeking in on Lovers' Lane in Hong Kong), she descends to Earth and promptly falls in with Chen Fengand Peng Peng ("Pigsy" from the Shaws' Journey To The West series) who run an orphanage. Said orphanage is about to be taken over by a ruthless businessman. You can almost predict the rest.

Li Ching was probably about 23 when this was filmed and she looks really cute -- dangerously cute when she wears just Chen Feng's pajama top to bed in an early scene! -- and I can't think of another Shaw actress in 1971 who could play this kind of role with such ease; a mix of cute, innocent, and sexy and a deity to boot? Only Barbara Eden and Li Ching could possibly make this kind of thing work in that era.

The male leads think that Li Ching is a hooker thanks to her saying that she lives in "The Heavenly Palace" which is the name of a hotel on Lovers' Lane, near where they run into her. And Li Ching thinks that Chen Feng's character is the reincarnation of her lover (a plot device ignored and never returned to after an early scene).

The songs are sometimes quite out-of-place but not horrible -- an early song is almost a rip-off of Mary Poppins -- but the best is one shot on location in 1971 Hong Kong with Li Ching singing in front of the HSBC building on the edge of a fountain and in other familiar landmarks (familiar to me, at least, just from films).

Another great scene is when the Goddess goes to a "psychedelic" disco, has her drink spiked by two young guys, and, instead of passing out, ends up dancing on the ceiling and pouring her drink back down into the mouth of one of the guys below! Just goofy and silly.

There is some unintentional humour when, after a mishap in trying to feed the kids in the orphanage, the Goddess suddenly puts the kids to work -- with a song, 'natch -- before they can eat. What follows looks to my 21st century perspective like the creation of a sweatshop, the kids being sung into submission to make crafts and other knickknacks before they can eat a hot meal!

The special effects are sometimes awful but there is a certain retro-charm to them; the image of Li Ching, garbed almost like Kwan Yin, hovering over the Hong Kong cityscape as the film fades out took on a weird sort of visual poetry for me, almost reminiscent of the end of Cocteau's Beauty And The Beast.

Rape Of The Sword

Don't let the title fool you; this is not some Cat. III exploitation film from the Shaw Studios but rather a routine, but exciting, little wuxia film from 1967.

The film starts with heroine Li Li-Hua in her quest to retrieve a green sword (precursor to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, perhaps?). Li Ching ends up being her student. And there are a few songs as well for some reason.

The film has a 78-minute running time and it moves quickly, so quickly that a little more backstory would have helped; I sometimes felt like I had missed something.

But the film serves as a refresher course on a LOT of Shaw actors that I've seen in other films: Chen Hung Lieh, playing another villain after his similar turn in Come Drink With Me; Ku Feng from Cheng Pei-Pei's The Jade Raksha, Golden Swallow and The Dragon Creek, among others; Tian Feng from Cheng Pei-Pei's Thundering Sword and Brothers Five; and Fan Mei Sheng, the battleaxe-wielding badass from The Water Margin and about a dozen other great films.

You can order The Human Goddess here.

You can order Rape Of The Sword here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Paint The Sun Up In the Sky": More on Perfect Pop and Female Vocals

This clip of Sophie Ellis-Bextor covering an obscure 1970's classic (I don't think it charted in the States which would explain why my encyclopedic mind didn't register it) got me thinking about what I liked about pop music and, specifically, why I more and more preferred female vocalists over male vocalists.

I can't pin it down. If I could, I probably wouldn't have to blog about music ever again.

(Since the best Kenickie clips have been yanked off of YouTube, they will not make this countdown.)

Sophie Ellis-Bextor "Yes Sir, I Can Boogie"

Sophie's limited dancing skills, her pronunciation of the word "dance," and her look; Susanna Hoffs, looking ridiculously hot, as she sings "Some have a style that they work hard to refine..."; The way the song speeds up in "Secrets" and Tracy Tracy sings: "Paint the sun up in the sky" with renewed urgency; the vocals in Puffy's "Yume No Tame Ni" right before the guitar solo -- around minute 1:37; theres more drama and genuine emotion poured into a seemingly ironic bit of retro like "Judy" than in any po-faced Radiohead track; the silly, breathy, overwrought emotion in the Supremes song -- so over-the-top that it starts to have meaning again without any irony; and the song that turned me into a big fat puddle of jelly when I was a 9-year-old looking up at the TV: "Sam" by Olivia Newton-John; and Blondie, adding the sexy that Olivia was missing only a few years earlier.

The Bangles "If She Knew What She Wants"

The Primitives "Secrets"

Puffy AmiYumi "Yume No Tame Ni"

The Pipettes "Judy"

Diana Ross & The Supremes "Love Is Here And Now You're Gone"

Olivia Newton-John "Sam"

Blondie "Heart of Glass"

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Some Thoughts on Marvel's Secret Invasion

I don't buy monthly comics so I usually catch up on stuff when the paperbacks come out. So I'm now finally catching up on a lot of the Secret Invasion titles from Marvel. I've read a few Avengers titles and the Ms. Marvel book, but these are the two volumes that I want to highlight today.

The New Avengers: Illuminati by writers Brian Michael Bendis and Brian Reed with art by Jim Cheung is a great read that chronicles the discovery of the invasion by the alien Skrulls. The Illuminati are a group of six superheros tasked with tackling the most serious of Marvel Universe crises. The six are Charles Xavier/Professor X, Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Blackbolt, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Namor, the Sub-Mariner. This slim, 5-issue volume details their exploits in a daring raid on the Skrull homeworld, escape from it, and subsequent alien revelations.

The whole thing feels very cinematic and I was reminded of how much more compact and wordy comics were when I was a kid. Now, quite obviously, a good comic is much more like a film in many ways, with panels and their placement functioning like edits and shots in some director's vision. The events in these 5 volumes would have probably been crammed into one double-sized issue in a Marvel comic of the 1970's.

But, the sequence that stands out is in issue 4 where the guys sit around and discuss their problems with women. This is exactly the sort of thing that Marvel does so well; DC Comics now tries to do this thing but none of their characters fill me with such affection the way these six characters do. By revealing their humanity, the superheroes become even more mythic, more relatable, and then so much more appealing. Sequences like this probably reveal some deep psychological reason about why adults like me still read comics.

Secret Invasion, by writer Bendis and artist Leinil Yu, contains the 8-issue main series. I probably should have read all the related titles first as these 8 issues contain the main story of the Invasion; there won't be any surprises for me in the other volumes, I'm sure.

I was a bit confused in parts but overall this was a fun read. Not quite the cosmic event for me that older Marvel epics were but still a thrilling story. I know the fans probably wanted the wordless, two-page battle spreads but I thought there were too many of those. The art is decent -- Mr. Yu draws Spiderwoman better than anyone, I think.

The sequence where the Skrull queen posing as Spiderwoman confronts Nick Fury is classic; Fury's "Yeah, but my god has a hammer"-line, while standing behind the now-returned Thor, was awesome and hysterical! I cackled like a 12-year-old!

The ending, which I won't spoil, seemed a bit rushed and the final two-page "reveal" was a bit too obvious for my tastes.

Certainly, for whatever their weaknesses, I enjoy Marvel events like this much more than similar "event" books from DC Comics; with those DC ones, I am always lost and trying to catch up on the DC Universe continuity even while said event book seems to be set on rebooting it. Again.

Check our Marvel Comics for more details on all the Secret Invasion books. It's now spun-off into something called Dark Reign. I guess I'll be reading those paperbacks in a year's time.

[All images copyright Marvel Comics.]

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"I'll Be You" -- The Replacements vs. Throwing Muses

This is the story of one of my fondest memories of my time at the University of Maryland Record Co-Op.

It is also the story of a battle between The Replacements and Throwing Muses. Read on!

Common promotional glossy of Throwing Muses from that era; I'm pretty sure I had a few copies of this lying around The Record Co-Op

In early 1989, both bands had released albums on Sire, the Muses putting out their third full length, Hunkpapa and the 'Mats putting out their third album on a major label with Don't Tell A Soul, also on Sire.

I was, and am, a fan of both bands and I'm also probably one of the very few people who can say, with a straight face, that I think that Don't Tell A Soul is the equal of the band's earlier Pleased To Meet Me -- maybe *not* the equal to Tim, though.

So when both bands were set to play D.C. the same night in early April 1989, I had a choice to make: would I go see the 'Mats for the first time at the Warner (I think) with most of my coworkers or would I go see the Muses for the 2nd time?

I should also note that the first show I ever saw at the old 9:30 Club was Hugo Largo opening for Throwing Muses in late 1987. I recall Kristin Hersh's penetrating stare into the lights as she sang, almost like she was hypnotizing herself, and Mimi Goese from Hugo Largo singing a cover of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" as she peeled off t-shirt after t-shirt -- in my mind it seemed like a dozen but it was probably only about 4!

As the store was on very good terms with the majors -- especially Warner Brothers labels like Sire -- it was a given that free tickets would be forthcoming no matter which show I chose. But, obviously, I was going to see the Muses again and use the label connection we had at the Co-Op to make sure I got to meet the band.

I purchased the pictured copy of Rimbaud's Illuminations and worked the final shift at the Co-Op that Thursday night -- just like normal -- only filled with excitement at seeing and probably meeting one of my favorite bands; I think a Sire label rep had told me on the phone that he'd be there to take me backstage (not a hard thing to do at the old 9:30 Club, in any event). So, rather than just be another autograph seeker, I wanted to give Kristin Hersh something meaningful and the Rimbaud seemed like a good choice.

So, I get to the show, meet the weaselly record company guy, and enjoy the concert. I forget who the opening band was but it might have been Shadowland or Big Dipper -- I know I saw Big Dipper probably 4 times in that Record Co-Op era.

I should state for the record that not all record company reps were weaselly; in fact, the college reps for RCA/BMG, Arista, and Capitol were pretty cool and awesome and very much fans of the music they were promoting. And the rep for CBS was a former coworker of mine from the Co-Op who had made the leap from label rep/intern to a real employee of said record label.

But this Sire or WB guy was the stereotypical label guy: florid shirt, balding but with a ponytail -- exactly the sort of guy who would never get the Muses or their music. He was nice, but not exactly on the same wavelength as the fans in the audience.

Not that I was ever that outwardly cool or hip, but even I was a bit embarrassed that I'd have to go backstage to meet the band with this representative of The Man next to me.

The show was great, maybe not as magical as when I had seen the band in 1987 with Hugo Largo, but still memorable already.

I was far in the back of the club, near the section between the entrance and ticket window, where the bar starts, as the Muses were nearing the end of their set and I look over and there's Tommy Stimson from The Replacements with Tommy Keene next to him! Just standing there watching the show. Not only that, but Tommy Stimson was dressed exactly as he was in the "I'll Be You" video -- bowtie too!

So I go over to Stimson, explain how I had wanted to see the 'Mats but didn't, how all my coworkers were probably at his show (which had ended by this time, obviously), and how much I loved the new album. I think I got him to autograph a ticket stub for my coworker too.

As for Tommy Keene: he's the legendary power-popper from D.C. who got signed to a major label (Geffen), almost broke big, and then continued to put out quality work for another few decades. I could do whole blog posts about him. And I saw him again shortly after this, backstage at a Matthew Sweet gig. But that's a story for another time.

So, shortly after this meeting, I go backstage, and meet Kristin Hersh and the rest of the band. It's hard to remember now but, at that time, Tanya Donelly was not quite the presence she would become with Belly in 1993. She wrote maybe one or two songs per Muses album (usually my least favorite songs on those albums) and it wasn't until "Not Too Soon" in 1991 that her Muses tracks seemed to become as memorable for me as the Kristin Hersh-penned ones. Donelly had worked with The Breeders on their first album in 1990 but I don't recall anyone raving about that album except for British music journalists and maybe me mainly due to the cover of "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" with Kim Deal and Tanya harmonizing.

In my youthful exuberance, I gave Kristin the pictured copy of Rimbaud's Illuminations -- like she had never read *that* before? -- chatted with her a bit and then stumbled out into the night; I also remember meeting some girl from Northern Virginia who was really into Frazier Chorus (which was a weird band to be into in America in that, or any, era).

And I vividly recall that Kristin and Tanya were dressed exactly the same as they were in this MTV interview segment -- maybe they had just returned from NYC before their D.C. gig?

Kristin Hersh continues to put out great music as a solo artist, with 50 Foot Wave, and with Throwing Muses from time to time.

Here's an NME review of the Muses from that same tour.

For good measure, here are the two videos of the moment in April, 1989.

Throwing Muses "Dizzy

The Replacements "I'll Be You"

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Sanctum Sanctorum

Here's a peak into my Sanctum Sanctorum.

Since today was Office Clean-Up Day and, since Kozo made it cool to have toys in the office, I figured now was as good a time as any to reveal the goofy crap in my work office.

(Well, WKW, John and Paul, and Simon Yam are hardly goofy; the House of Fury poster is behind the door, hidden from view! LOL!)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Green Arrow: Quiver

I am a bit late to the game with this one but I finally read Kevin Smith's take on one of my favorite DC Universe characters: Green Arrow in Green Arrow: Quiver, which collects Smith's first 10 issues of the title.

First off, let me say that the artwork is atrocious! Sorry to offend any Phil Hester fans out there, but...come on! This is like a collection of rushed stills from the Justice League Unlimited TV series (which I liked but it was TV series, not a volume to slowly read and place in my library!). So, I was truly buying this only to see how Kevin Smith would handle this character as a writer and, as the world of comic books is a visual world, that's saying something; it's still hard for me as a fan to enjoy a comic without first enjoying the art -- even good Jack Kirby art, for instance, can make a weak story more interesting.

But, sadly, Kevin Smith's story doesn't help to make the art here any more palatable.

First off, all of the characters speak with the same voice. People have said the same thing about Smith's film characters but the trait is much more noticeable here.

Second, the character never quite felt like Oliver Queen. Maybe the whole "coming-back-from-the-dead" plot is to blame there? I just never quite felt like this Green Arrow was the same one that I grew up with or loved in some recent titles.

And, as the story worked hard to fit this tale in the DC Universe continuity of the time, that's an important point; this tale doesn't take place outside of continuity like, say, Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman.

While there are references to the glory days of the Dennis O'Neil take on the character, they are simply references to past successes; much like the references in a Tarantino film, they simply remind you of older -- better -- works.

And the plot quickly descends -- literally! -- into a pit of morbidity that seems somehow forced for this character and this story. All the religious stuff is a distraction too. And simply having the character talk about being a liberal doesn't automatically make it the same crusading Green Arrow we've seen in the past.

As the plot wrapped itself up, I kept thinking that it was like some old, leftoever Dr. Strange story, lost since the 1970's, with the characters simply changed.

A major, major disappointment. I'm sure I will not be reading Smith's take on Daredevil now.

Cherie Chung to Return?

News today, by way of the Hong Kong Movie Database Daily News site, that quite possibly the most beautiful woman in the world (I say that a lot, don't I?) may be returning to the screen to pay the bills!

I can't say that I ever thought Cherie Chung was a great actress -- she was quite good in Peking Opera Blues, of course -- but she was a star and her career spanned the end of the Shaw Brothers era and continued through some of the best times that Hong Kong cinema ever enjoyed (Peking Opera Blues).

She has maintained her natural beauty in an era of manufactured and vapid pop starlets; for any lack of dramatic acting ability, Cherie always gave us a charming screen presence that was never quite as simplistic as what Charlene Choi sometimes brings to the screen.

I think I need to go to the resort in that picture -- I need a vacation, after all!