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

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964) with Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee stalks the deck of his ship in 1964's The Devil-Ship Pirates looking more like George Hamilton-with-a-beard than a Spanish pirate ship captain but that's a minor quibble. This Hammer production concerns a Spanish pirate ship that runs aground in 1588 England after battling the English fleet.

So the pirates make it to shore, start terrorizing the locals, and a few get captured. Soon, one of Christopher Lee's men shows up and tells the English locals that the Spanish Armada won and these men can no longer be prisoners.

(I guess in the pre-Internet/TV world, you'd have to believe stuff like that.)

The pirates seem a bit grunge-y, while Captain Robeles is somehow spotless. Hammer regular Michael Ripper is in the ship's crew.



Look for Suzan Farmer, from Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966), as local girl Angela. Andrew Keir -- from the same film -- is a local leader who suspects that the Spanish didn't win -- or that there are still British fighting them out in the world -- and so mounts a resistance to the pirates.



Meanwhile, Christopher Lee's Captain Robeles strides into town as only Christopher Lee can stride -- equal parts Dracula and Count Dooku.




While the Spanish loot and terrorize and generally annoy the locals in large and small ways, the British are put to work at repairing the ship. It soon becomes obvious that the state of the ship does not match that of a victor and so the locals are more and more suspicious of the Spanish.

The Devil-Ship Pirates was boring to me as the sense of suspense didn't seem to be there. The locals seemed all too willing to put up with the pirates even though they outnumbered the pirates. And why did it take so long to figure out that the pirates were lying?

There's some swordfighting with Christopher Lee and the actor does his best as the stylish and sinister Captain Robeles but The Devil-Ship Pirates just didn't do much for me.

Proof of that sentiment -- and maybe proof of my senility -- is the fact that in the two weeks from when I watched this film and wrote this half-assed review until now when I'm posting it, I more or less forgot the main plot of this thing!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Pirates of Blood River (1962) with Christopher Lee

More a tale of life in the Huguenot colony of the Isle of Devon in the 17th century than a real pirate flick, The Pirates of Blood River (1962) is an odd but exciting Hammer color classic.

Featuring Kerwin Matthews from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960), and Jack the Giant Killer (1962), The Pirates of Blood River works on some level as an exploration of dueling moralities, as well as dueling swords. It's still not a masterpiece but there are some nice ideas in this flick.

After getting caught by the elders having a fling with Maggie (Marie Devereux) -- a married woman -- Jonathan (Kerwin Matthews) is sent to the penal colony as punishment.




Sporting an obviously fake beard, Jonathan works under the hot sun until the titular pirates invade the colony and he escapes after being thought dead.

Jonathan falls into the hands of Captain LaRouche (Christopher Lee), the eyepatch-wearing leader of the pirates who wants to make "contact" with the Huguenots.




Really, it's worth recommending The Pirates of Blood River simply for Lee's performance as -- clearly -- the actor is having a blast in the role as he rocks the eyepatch, wears the black garb, and uses a French accent.

And, really, it's a treat to see the actor not playing a vampire or a monster for a change.

So the pirates show up at the village and immediately snatch a girl and start ransacking the place.

Suddenly, Kerwin Matthews is trapped emotionally between the elders who banished him and the pirates who may destroy his home.




That dynamic comes to a crisis point when the pirates finally take over the village and have those same elders in chains.

Soon, the pirates -- with Hammer regular Michael Ripper among them -- are fighting over women in the town. Look for a young Oliver Reed in this scene. There's a blindfolded duel which is a bit stupid (and also a waste of time as well).

As the pirates gain control and look for the treasure that they think the villagers are hiding, Kerwin Matthews decides to help defeat the pirates.

The plot doesn't make much sense as a viewer is left to wonder why a guy who was banished by his own people would suddenly decide to fight for them?

The rest of the film is more of that sort of thing as the pirates and Huguenots fight for control of the village and the loot.

The Pirates of Blood River is essential viewing for Christopher Lee fans, and recommended viewing for action film fans. Still, the film would have been stronger with a slightly shorter running time.

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 www.martin-carr.com.

Latest tracks by Martin Carr

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Terror of The Tongs (1961) with Christopher Lee

I think you can tell from this poster that Hammer's The Terror of the Tongs (1961) is not politically correct or culturally sensitive.

No, this tale of the Tongs set in 1910 Hong Kong is a retro blast with Christopher Lee playing an Asian villain a few years before he played Fu Manchu. And, to his credit, he doesn't affect a silly accent while wearing that make-up.

Lee's Chung King speaks perfect English and remains less offensive than Fu Manchu by a tiny degree.

Chung King is the leader of the Tongs and a local casino owner -- I think -- and he has allies in both the local Chinese community and among the British in Hong Kong. Those loyalties are secondary to his loyalty to the Tong.



Seems the Tongs kill their foes using a sacred red hatchet.

The Tongs burst into the home of local British officer Captain Jackson Sale and kill the guy's daughter in the process of retrieving some piece of paper the girl's got in her possession. The paper came from a ship in the harbour where the Tongs also attacked a member of the crew. The captain seems more concerned with tracking down the Tongs than he does his daughter's death.

The lack of grief is a bit weird but, as the film is only 76-minutes long, there's not a lot of time for that sort of thing.

The captain sets about shaking down the locals to learn more about the Tongs and he crosses paths with local (?) girl, Lee (Yvonne Monlaur, from Hammer classic, The Brides of Dracula [1960]), and the French actress doesn't even try to hide her French accent! It's an odd touch to see the lovely starlet in her Oriental garb and make-up but still speaking in her French purr.

Well, she is playing some sort of half-Chinese woman so there is a reason for her accent. Sort of.




So Captain Sale gets himself captured after Chung King's men slip the guy a mickey in Chung King's casino -- where there's a bellydancer (!). It's here that Christopher Lee kicks into Fu Manchu mode and the tortures begin.





I think I'm overselling it. The Terror of the Tongs is not quite that over-the-top. And it's not like one of the Fu Manchu pictures. It's more a story of dockside intrigue in 1910 Hong Kong.

And the short running time keeps the film interesting with not a lot of time wasted.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Stranglers of Bombay (1961)

After kickstarting the Dracula, Frankenstein, and Mummy franchises for Hammer studios, director Terence Fisher took a step backwards and cranked out this 80-minute exercise in Asian exoticism for the company. The Stranglers of Bombay concerns a sect of murderous religious acolytes in India whose exploits are plaguing the British soldiers, as well as locals, in the area.

The villains strangle their victims, hence the title. It's also a convenient way to get a LOT of violence into a film without a lot of blood.

Anyway, the flick is more or less a cavalry-and-indians picture with the British officers standing in for the cavalry, and the members of the Kali cult standing in for the indians.




A piece of silk falls into the hands of the British and the silk is the sacred weapon of the Indian cult. There's a lot of military-type drama as the Brits work to figure out the locals and protect their own. Most of this section is a pedestrian next to most Hammer titles from this era.

It's all boring until a severed hand is tossed in the window of one of the officers' wives.

All of the Brits are stubborn and thick-headed except for Captain Lewis (Guy Rolfe), the effete and stylish British officer who listens to the locals and seems to know his command.

But Captain Lewis resigns in protest and then seeks to find his houseboy who has gone missing. So the Brit is on his own, finding no sympathetic audience for his worries about the missing boy and the dead bodies in the area as it seems neither the British officers nor the locals want to hear any of his stories.

When the guy gets captured and tied up by the cult -- only to be released thanks to a mongoose and cobra battle -- don't ask -- his officers start to listen to his stories.

Look quick for Brit glamour girl Marie Devereux as the slave girl watching over the captured Guy Rolfe.

After reading so much about her, I was a bit disappointed to barely notice her in the film. Well, thanks to the always wonderful www.dvdbeaver.com, this version is indeed cut. Not sure what the chances are for seeing The Stranglers of Bombay in its uncut form as the film is not even out on DVD in England, to the best of my knowledge.


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.

Onward!

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.