Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween From Ozzy Osbourne (The Fat, Sweaty Ozzy)

That headline is meant with a lot of love and refers more to me than it does to Ozzy Osbourne. I just want to share with you all this picture of me dressed as Ozzy at a previous job on Halloween some 10 years ago.

(Yes, I know you quibblers will say that I'm doing the Ronnie James Dio devil horns, but the gesture seemed to fit with Ozzy and I'm too tall and fat to pass for the late Mr. Dio, R.I.P..)

(It's always worth noting that when I began this post a few days ago, I had no idea Ozzy was going to show up at yesterday's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear -- awesome appearance by the Blizzard of Ozz!

I was going for the young, scary, Ozzy but I think I came off closer to the old, slightly-crispy, and fat(ter) one.

Still, I love Sabbath, especially all of the Ozzy tracks -- even the weird crap on Never Say Die (1978).

Dig this 1990's (?) reunion clip of the band rocking out a classic track from Master of Reality (1971)...

"Children of the Grave" by Black Sabbath

Monday, October 25, 2010

Summons to Death (1967) with Fanny Fan

A 1967 caper flick, Summons to Death features director Lo Wei in an acting role as well as the delectable Fanny Fan in a supporting one.

Most of what I know about Fanny Fan is thanks to duriandave's wonderful Soft Film blog. Heck, I first watched Les Belles (1960) without paying much attention to the her. It wasn't until my 2nd viewing of the Lin Dai feature that I paid more attention to the actress.

Which is odd because she's a Mamie Van Doren-like bombshell!

So, Summons to Death opens almost like a sequel to another film, or the 2nd chapter of an old serial. A pirate (Ma Ying) is kicking back with Fanny Fan on his yacht when a girl sneaks in, steals a map, and another set of guys raid the boat. There's a fight, villains fleeing, and a treasure map is stolen and then the boat blows up and the credits -- with a very Peter Gunn-like theme -- roll.

Later, big mobster/tycoon Brother Gin (Lo Wei) shows up at Poon's (Ku Feng) house to discuss the treasure map. Poon calls Ma Loong (Cheung Kwong-Chiu) and the gang is starting to come together again.

Then the scene switches to the lair of agent Tang Lui, The Owl (Tang Ching), who's got the requisite James Bond-inspired gadgets -- I liked the steambox with the human hands coming out of the wall to give the guy a head massage!

Really, this is a campfest and not to be taken too seriously which is why Summons to Death is such a fun film.

So circus performer -- or is that a cover? -- Tina Chin Fei is approached by Ku Feng as a reporter -- a cover -- to find her brother (Lo Wei).

Then we switch to a nightclub where Fanny Fan sings a song in a barely-there outfit.

Anyway, there are crosses and double-crosses and then there's more intrigue as Tina Chin Fei and Tang Lui's The Owl team-up.

I especially loved the blatant steal of John Barry's score to You Only Live Twice near the middle of the movie. Hey, at least it was another spy film so the music definitely fit.

Summons to Death is a solid caper flick, nothing too ambitious. For me to rattle off more of the plot would ruin some of the film's surprises, I think.

I watched it on VCD, but you can order Summons to Death on DVD here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Halloween Memory (Dracula, Renfield, and My Grandfather)

Every Halloween, as the TV networks show some classic horror films out of a sense of duty to the few true fans left out in television's wasteland of watchers, I get a little nostalgic.

And it's only now that I realize what an enormous influence my grandfather was on my movie fandom.

Sure, I would have found my way to the monster movie books and magazines on my own as a kid, but would I have gravitated to the flicks from the 1930s without my grandfather's stories of seeing those titles firsthand when they were new and he was a young man working in Depression-era movie theaters in NYC and DC?

Probably not.

When I was a kid, I had that Dracula (1931) poster up on my bedroom wall. It came from a set of mini-poster reproductions -- more like postcards -- of some Universal Horror films.

I can't help but laugh now when recalling my grandfather doing his Renfield impression from the same film.

There's a memorable scene where the ship is found with the crew either missing or killed, and the guys hear this hysterical cackling and the door swings open to the below-decks area and Renfield (Dwight Frye) peers up grinning like an idiot.

My grandfather would sometimes reference that scene as he ambled up from the basement when I was a kid. I was most likely laughing and a little scared at the same time as I was probably only 7 or 8 when I first saw Dracula (1931) on TV.

He'd also sometimes mention Renfield's little spiel later in the film, the one about eating flies or spiders.

Those are two admittedly silly anecdotes but, every time Dracula is on, I think about Granddad.

My grandfather really fostered a love of films from the 1930s in me and it's very hard for me to enjoy American cinema from the 1950s, say, as it just seems so lifeless compared to that earlier era of Nick and Nora Charles, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Jimmy Cagney, and the Universal Horror films.

Here I am, spring of 1975, age 8, clutching my action figures -- including an Iron Man one! -- with my grandparents in their front yard.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Music from Martin Carr of The Boo Radleys

I was a big fan of The Boo Radleys. I think the band's work was criminally underrated, especially final album Kingsize (1998).

Without lead singer Sice, creative force Martin Carr pursued a solo path that included the Brave Captain albums as well as work under his own name.

You can find more details at

Latest tracks by Martin Carr

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Return of Stereolab - A Review of Not Music (2010)

Despite reports to the contrary, Stereolab still exist. The band didn't really break up. They just went on a hiatus.

That doesn't really have much to do with their music, and new album Not Music is out on 16 November 2010 in America on Drag City.

Now, if for any other band I said "The new album sounds a bit like a compilation", it would be a tremendous insult.

Not so with the 'Lab. No, Stereolab are a band who've put out some of the best collections of music in the modern indie era; they've bridged the end of the shoegaze phase, sailed over the post-rock/math-rock years, and landed safely in a new century.

From the first Switched On in 1992 -- released on American standard-bearers, Slumberland Records, on to 2005's magnificent CD/DVD box set on Too Pure, Oscillons from the Anti-Sun, onto 2006's Serene Velocity "best of" on Rhino Records, Stereolab have managed to put out some of the most listenable collections of odds-and-ends, as it were, of any band of their era.

So, so what if Not Music is a collection of leftovers from the Chemical Chords (2008) sessions?

This record still contains some magnificent tracks as well as a few interesting -- and long -- remixes.


Not Music sounds like Chemical Chords (2008) -- no kidding, right? -- and that album sounded like earlier Stereolab recordings such as 1993's The Groop Played "Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music", or the leaner/lighter tracks on 1994's defining Mars Audiac Quintet.

With Chemical Chords, and now Not Music, Stereolab seem to be down to the essence of their sound. The records contain all of the retro-futurist and trippy -- for lack of a better word -- elements of what makes a Stereolab record sound like Stereolab and not Komeda, for example.

While I appreciated the significant-but-small detours the group took in the mid-1990s on albums like 1997's Dots and Loops or 1999's Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night, those tracks are not as immediate and, frankly, catchy as the tracks that caught my ear in 1992 on Switched On.

Sure, the production is cleaner on Not Music but the lean immediacy of the band's work is still the same. You could play any track on that 18-year-old compilation or this new record and give someone an idea of what the band sounds like.

Where Chemical Chords gave us "One Finger Symphony", here we've got "Two Finger Symphony" where Laetitia Sadier stretches out and sounds as serene as she did on the tracks from her recent solo album, The Trip.

(It's probably just easier to rundown my thoughts on these individual tracks than try to pontificate too much about the album as something other than a collection of good songs.)

Album opener -- at least on my copy -- "Everybody's Weird Except Me" not only boasts one of the best Stereolab titles since "How To Play Your Internal Organs Overnight", or "Italian Shoes Continuum", it also is an insanely catchy song that ranks up there with the band's best singles.

"Everybody's Weird Except Me" is the sort of song you have to play maybe 3 times in a row before you can even play the rest of the album.

The layered backing vocals from Laetitia Sadier; the keyboard figures; the bassline -- all of these elements make this just a great track.

And when the music drops out and that mournful organ (?) line ascends, it's a classic 'Lab moment, especially when Laetitia Sadier nearly whispers:

"Find your way to the heart."

"Delugeoisie" sounds like Broadcast-trying-to-sound-like-Stereolab -- couldn't resist that comparison! The track feels like a cover of some weird 1960s song with a touch of "Slow Fast Hazel" from 1996's Emperor Tomato Ketchup.

"Laserblast" sounds like a sprightly outtake from the Dots and Loops sessions.

The delightful "Leleklato Sugar" surprises with horns and xylophones pushing the song into the same sort of sonic space once occupied by the group's much earlier track, "The Light That Will Cease to Fail".

Stereolab here have finally managed to create the same momentum without guitars -- or they are just buried in the mix.

"So Is Cardboard Clouds" opens with a straight piano line and then adds martial drums -- a touch -- and turns into something resembling early Cardigans but with Laetitia's husky voice multitracked as the guitars and keyboard chirps-and-whistles carry the song forward.

"Supah Jaianto" is probably the closest the band has come to sounding like High Llamas. The horns and rolling drums, and even the string samples, echo the more upbeat and compact moments of Sean O'Hagan's band -- not sure if he's on this as my advance didn't have the complete set of credits for the album.

"Sun Demon" has some nice guitar riffs -- almost funky -- but then the song clatters into a noisy section and suddenly morphs into a Beach Boys-echoing keyboard-driven song that almost sounds like Stereolab trying to destroy "Penny Lane".

The two songs that don't work for me on Not Music are the remixes. They remain interesting but not essential; who needs a 8-minute remix of the last album's "Neon Beanbag"? The song is stretched into interesting shapes by Atlas Sound but that's about all I can say. And the 10-minute Emperor Machine remix of "Silver Sands" is even worse.

So, I'm not going to be one of those gushing hacks from a major music publication and declaim: "A return to form!"

Hell, all Stereolab is good Stereolab; they've never put out something that wasn't worth hearing at least once.

No, it's more an assessment of what is a remarkably consistent -- and happy sounding -- record if you cut off those two remixes.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cherie Chung Week: Descendant of the Sun (1983)

Cherie Chung and future director Derek Yee star in 1983's Descendant of the Sun, a loopy martial arts epic. If you've ever wondered how Superman: The Movie (1978) could be ripped-off and set in the world of Chinese myth, this might be the film for you.

Yuen Jan Ji (Derek Yee) is a priest who has been in meditation for 500 years. Or something.

Goo Goon-Chung is the evil Mo Ying, a sort of fairy witch.

There are special effects that echo Star Wars (1977). I said "echo," not on the same level as.

If you're still reading, I fear for your sanity as this flick makes Inframan (1975) look subtle. That Descendant of the Sun was directed by Chor Yuen is a bit surprising.

Hey, it was the 1980s. Krull (1983) was rocking American theaters so why shouldn't Hong Kong theaters have something equally ridiculous?

And at least this bit of nonsense is only 83-minutes long. And Cherie Chung is in it.

Okay, from what I could understand -- and this is my second viewing of this flick! -- Derek Yee's guy is born on earth to Cheng Miu and his wife. The kid does stuff like lift the cart off his dad's legs, and make fire with his hands, and shoot laserbeams at other kids. It's all generally ridiculous AND the score and sound effects actually make things worse.

Shue Shang (Derek Yee) goes to a cave of ice -- just like the Fortress of Solitude -- and finds a crystal that tells him who he really is and all that stuff -- not in Marlon Brando's voice, but still...

The score even rips off John Williams in this segment!

So Cherie Chung shows up as some fairy princess whose attendant servant girls Shue Shang has somehow offended or annoyed. Cherie is decked out in a lot of glitter and jewels and she looks like she should have been an extra in Xanadu (1980) instead.

Shue Shang recovers the princess' talking parrot -- shades of that stupid owl in Clash of the Titans (1981) -- and things progress from there.

Back at the cave, the non-Marlon Brando voice tells Shue Shang that he's completed his training and must now fly out and serve humankind but also that he's got to destroy the bad guy's kingdom.

Mo Ying's plan includes killing off babies and raising new ones that will serve him. Or something. It's all beyond ridiculous and I'm actually making this sound a bit more coherent than it is.

Descendant of the Sun is sort of enjoyable because of the silly effects and blatant Superman steals. I wouldn't recommend looking for anything beyond that.

As for Cherie Chung: she was probably about 22 or 23 when this was shot and she looks lovely but is clearly not a leading lady yet; any pretty face could have played this part.

As it's a period piece, it is a bit odd to see Cherie in a role like this as I seem to be used to seeing her in a modern setting -- Peking Opera Blues (1986) even counts as a modern setting, I guess.

Anyway, this thing ends with Cherie tied to a white cross by the villain and Derek Yee set to fly in and shoot laserbeams at the guy and free her. Stuff blows up and then it just ends.

Descendant of the Sun literally ends with Derek Yee in flight almost as if the makers ran out of film.

Maybe they, like the audience, just ran out of patience with this silliness?

You can buy Descendant of the Sun on DVD here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cherie Chung Week: Fatal Love (1988)

A very handsome Leslie Cheung is "Chicken Wing" in this odd 1988 flick. Fatal Love opens like a murder mystery, and then turns into a ghost story as Leslie is captivated -- in a very 1980s music video-kind-of-fashion -- by Cherie Chung who is a ghost. Or something.

Hey, she's wearing a wig and a white dress so she's otherworldly. And others can't see her so there's that.

Fatal Love never fully explains the seemingly mystical moments at the start of the film so I feel like I should offer a warning about that as the film quickly descends into a more straightforward plot.

There's more than a hint of Vertigo in some of this but the film-making here is not Hitchcock-caliber either.

There's two big negatives one has to get out of the way when discussing Fatal Love: first, David Wu as Leslie's coworker is just so annoying in his scenes that one wants to throw beers at the screen like that scene in Animal House (1978) where the Delta house guys first see Stephen Furst's picture in the slideshow of new pledges.

Second, the score. The score to this thing is very 1980s, very keyboard-heavy BUT it's also very badly used; scenes that don't need music have loud music, scenes that are funny on purpose have loud music, and so on.

Okay, so Chicken Wing finds the grave of the Cherie Chung character which implies she is dead. So how did Leslie also grab her on multiple occasions earlier in the film?

So, Cecilia (Cherie Chung) -- alive but still in that bad wig -- meets up with Chicken Wing but there's a tussle at dinner and Chicken Wing gets roughed up.

Chicken Wing's girlfriend (Ann Bridgewater) is loyal and isn't aware of this mystery woman that the guy's pursuing. Until Cherie shows up at the hospital, that is.

Turns out that Cherie's Cecilia is the girlfriend of some Triad guy (Melvin Wong) and you can probably see where this doomed romance is going?

While Leslie is quite handsome here, he's really not suited to this role. Or, he was overplaying it a bit because he knew the film was not too good. He just seems unnecessarily giddy in some scenes.

As for Cherie, she looks lovely apart from the wigs and a few odd costume choices but she's really just meant to be in this to suffer. She's got to play the unhappy girl of a Triad figure so it's a thankless role.

One very nice scene with Ouyang Sha-Fei redeems the film as the scene feels natural where the rest of the movie feels very much an overstylized product of the 1980s.

Anyway, Cherie wants to leave the Triad guy and Leslie's annoying friend wonders why he's so obsessed with the girl.

There's another nice scene with Cherie and Leslie and Cherie's character's aged grandfather but that is not enough to necessarily recommend this otherwise impersonal film.

By that I mean that Fatal Love is overthought in a very specific 1980s way: the shots, lighting, and clothes all scream "1988" and that's not a good thing.

A few very good human moments with Leslie Cheung and Cherie Chung are not enough to label Fatal Love as required viewing unless one is a fan of the actor and actress.

As I am, I sort of liked parts of Fatal Love quite a bit.

(I know I'm sounding like a schizophrenic in this review but Fatal Love just isn't an easy film to digest, dismiss, or recommend entirely.)

I'd even go so far as to say that those human moments actually seem like they were shot by someone else as they are that different in tone from the rest of this picture.

And as I polish up this review, my annoyance at some elements of the film is being washed away by those real moments of Leslie and Cherie on the bus, or Cherie talking with Ouyang Sha-Fei in the kitchen.

I don't want to oversell Fatal Love, but there's enough here to recommend it for other fans of a similar mindset, I guess.

You can order Fatal Love on DVD here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cherie Chung Week: Goodbye Darling (1987)

Brian has a review of Goodbye Darling here. And I'm really glad he does because it will save me the hassle of explaining the plot of this very annoying Raymond Wong film.

Goodbye Darling is a mix of styles -- all loud and unfunny -- into something resembling a comedy. Lead actor Raymond Wong is like a young, Chinese version of British comedian Ronnie Corbett from TV's "The Two Ronnies" program but without any of the British wit.

Unfortunately, this film is built around Raymond Wong.

In the first segment, he plays a man who gets breast cancer. Let the farce begin!

His buddy is John Shum who is typically over-the-top as most comedy actors were in Hong Kong films from this era.

After a botched bank robbery, foiled by Raymond Wong, Michael Chan shows up as Brother Fu, a Triad guy.

Then Raymond Wong and John Shum show up at their school reunion where Tai (Wong) wants to meet an old flame. It's just pure torture for the viewer.

As things progress, more and more people learn of Tai's breast cancer and think he's only got a year to live.

Then Sally Kwok shows up as a sexy neighbor. It's almost as if the scenes have no connection to one another and that makes the "chapter" title cards between some segments such annoyances. Really, the filmmakers put that much thought into this to divide it into chapters? I don't think so.

Anyway, then Josephine (Cherie Chung) shows up and gets jealous.

Then look for a cameo from Charlie Cho to bring a few moments of awkward comedy to the film.

What plot there is consists of Raymond Wong having another guy go after Cherie Chung because of the breast cancer.

I'm not ruining anything by revealing that Raymond Wong learns to stand up for himself. He also learns that he doesn't have cancer but only after a lot of comedic situations and a lot of small cameo roles by veteran character actors and actresses from Hong Kong cinema.

It's all lazily put together and plot-lines are introduced only to be abandoned, or forgotten about, quickly. Had Raymond Wong and John Shum been more charming leads, this might have been tolerable. As it is, Goodbye Darling is the type of film that just had me asking:

"Did Cherie Chung just do anything between 1987 and 1989? Maybe Chevy Chase's guy was over there and was just stamping a big 'yes' on anything that fell onto Cherie's desk too?"

You can order Goodbye Darling on DVD here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cherie Chung Week: Couples, Couples, Couples (1988)

This 1988 comedy opens with Cherie Chung and Jacky Cheung having a romantic moment in bed only to get interrupted by a neighbor (Lowell Lo) who wants the couple to watch the guy's baby. Couples, Couples, Couples is a largely broad comedy about the vagaries of romance and babymaking.

As neighbor Pao Niu argues with his hot wife (Sally Kwok), John (Jacky Cheung) offers to take care of the baby so the man agrees and Mary (Cherie Chung) seems to like the baby too.

Meanwhile, Mary's sister, Daphne (Elaine Kam), is worried that her husband (Melvin Wong) is cheating on her.

You know, my first criticism of Couples, Couples, Couples is going to involve Jacky Cheung. I know he's a legend but I've always had a hard time taking him seriously -- hell, just tolerating him -- as an actor. He seems to be unnecessarily overdoing it frequently. And his work here is no different. Jacky Cheung hamming it up as a horny guy living with Cherie Chung is just not a pleasant thing.

So when the neighbors take back the kid, Mary and John discuss having a baby: Mary wants to be a mother and selfish John suddenly doesn't want his own, despite liking the baby when it was in the apartment.

Couples, Couples, Couples quickly descends into one of those "let's have a baby" comedies, full of "getting pregnant" hijinks. I hate those films.

So did I hate Couples, Couples, Couples? Not entirely as Cherie Chung is pleasant here and at the peak of her best era. Elaine Kam, as usual, is effective as the sister.

So Melvin Wong thinks that the woman he cheated on Elaine Kam with gave him AIDS. There's an AIDS scare subplot that is shoved into the film which seems a bit over-the-top even for 1988.

So Mary moves in with her now single sister and that provides the viewer with the best scene in the film.

As the ladies struggle to move the furniture in, neighbors Wu Ma and Corey Yuen show up to help. It was a bit odd watching the Shaw legend and future director/fight choreographer play roles like this but they were quite charming here.

After that, there are cases of mistaken identity, gay fear jokes, AIDS panic jokes, and situations that would have been rejected as too silly for "Three's Company". Really, apart from Cherie Chung -- and that bit with Wu Ma and Corey Yuen -- Couples, Couples, Couples is tedious stuff indeed.

Still, for a guy like me with ambitions no higher than enjoying the lovely Cherie Chung at the peak of her career, even garbage like Couples, Couples, Couples is tolerable on some weird level.

You can order Couples, Couples, Couples on DVD here.