Thursday, July 28, 2011

Comet Gain Bring Us A Free MP3 From The New Album

You know, I hate to admit this but I avoided listening to Comet Gain in the mid-1990s mainly because of certain hipsters I knew who listened to them. Fearing the band another group of twee tossers, I cautiously picked up a CD from Comet Gain in England in 1999 and loved it.

They ain't twee! Frankly, this new cut sounds a bit like mid-period Go-Betweens!

So it's with delight that I bring you a free Comet Gain MP3 from their upcoming album Howl Of The Lonely Crowd, out in the US on 4 October on What's Your Rupture?. The album features production by Edwyn Collins, Ryan Jarman of The Cribs, and Alasdair Maclean of The Clientele, among others. In addition to leader David Feck, Comet Gain contains Jon Slade, once of Huggy Bear.

Follow Comet Gain on MySpace:
http://www.myspace.com/thecometgain

Download "An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls" here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Noel Gallagher Releases First Solo Video


Noel Gallagher finally debuted his solo single today, via a video clip. "The Death of You and Me" sounds quite a bit like "The Importance of Being Idle" by Oasis, but it also sounds a lot like Jon Brion! Dig that brass! And that organ (?).

Quite a bit better than I expected. And while I miss the Liam snarl on a Noel composition, this sort of world weary, slow burn single is quite nice too.

You can play "The Death of You and Me" below or at NoelGallager.com

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds will be out on 8 November.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010) Arrives On DVD!


(My review copy was the Australian All Region/PAL DVD edition. Machete Maidens Unleashed will be available on DVD in America on 26 July. Check your local or online retailers!!!)

Ever since I read some anecdotes from Allan Arkush and Joe Dante in a book about Roger Corman from Starlog magazine writer Ed Naha, I've been fascinated by the work of these sorts of filmmakers in the 1970s.

The stories in that book detail a sort of 'all bets are off'-style of making a picture, as well as a good deal of exploitative know-how from Roger Corman. The guy's trailer editors exhibited a lot of wit and creative license when trying to market a B-film shot in the Philippines to audiences in American drive-in theaters.




Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010), from director Mark Hartley and producer Veronica Fury, is 84 minutes of pure joy for lovers of cheap (and fun) cinema. The film also fleshes out those Corman anecdotes into a full-length tale about the mix of Filipino and American B-movie talents during the glory days of grindhouse cinema.




The film wisely divides its time between pioneers of the Filipino B-movie industry, like Eddie Romero, and the Americans, like Roger Corman, who saw the Philippines in the 1970s as a cheap place to make a film. That said, I'd still like to see more about Eddie Romero and star John Ashley as I think there's a lot of stories probably left to tell about their low budget exploits.




What makes Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010) such a joy to watch is that the documentary displays a lot of fondness for this era, no matter how limited the talents of some of the individuals involved. The documentary walks a fine line which never quite turns into outright derision, no matter how ridiculous the film involved.

What's always missing in a lot Tarantino's work is that he manages to name-check all of the right things -- his taste is great, obviously -- but he misses a lot of the joy; Inglourious Basterds (2009) is surely never as much fun to watch as the original Fred Williamson film it's ripping-off/referencing.




Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010) reminds a viewer of an era of exploitation glory, where a film about women being tortured in a jungle prison camp was somehow not the stuff of horror but of empowerment.





Featuring interviews with action heroines like Pam Grier, Gloria Hendry, and Rosanne Katon, the film also serves as a sort of feminist take on blaxsploitation; instead of the macho male black hero, these flicks were sometimes lead by Pam, or another African-American actress, and they ended up being tales of not only racial empowerment, but sexual as well. As Pam leads a group of battered women out of a jungle prison, the viewer is witnessing both a cheap-but-fun actioneer but also one of the only venues where a black woman could dominate a motion picture in the 1970s.



Jeanne Bell, seen here in plenty of clips but not in any interview segments, was another African-American B-movie queen but she always looked a little softer than Pam Grier, maybe not quite as believable when playing a hard-and-fast action heroine.




Bond girl Gloria Hendry (1973's Live And Let Die) is here, as well as Jayne Kennedy (star of 1976's The Muthers, on disc 2 of this DVD edition), but it's Playboy Playmate -- Miss September of 1978 -- Rosanne Katon who still captivates. Ms. Katon clearly gets the appeal of these films. Without taking herself too seriously, she understands why these films were so popular. With her girl-next-door looks, Ms. Katon managed to look so wholesome and fresh-faced even when kung fu-ing her way out of a jungle in the Philippines.





The coverage of Apocalypse Now (1979) is de rigueur, I suppose, given that Coppola shot his epic in the Philippines. That coverage also manages to link up the political turmoil in the country with the American filmmakers using the place as a locale for so many tales of escaping from oppression; the irony of a fascist ruler imposing martial law while Americans were making films about women breaking out of work-camps is the sort of thing I never considered until seeing Machete Maidens Unleashes (2010).

Director John Landis is also quite funny in his interview segments, though he might seem a bit too cynical; yes, the films under review here were largely exploitative but they were still enjoyable and tawdry bits of fun.



I don't want to reveal all of the pleasures of this documentary but Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010) is essential viewing for fans of exploitation cinema. There's a lot of love for these genre pictures here and I as a viewer very much appreciated that.

Just seeing recent interviews with legends like Jack Hill, Pam Grier, and Sig Haig was a great thing.




There are also segments on the Cleopatra Wong pictures which I have yet to see, though I've read about them.




The bonus features on this Australia DVD are numerous, including 55-minutes of additional interview segments, and more than an hour of exploitation trailers for most of the films covered in the documentary. Unfortunately, the trailers are included in one long DVD chapter!

Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010) is on DVD now at all the usual online retailers!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Captain America Arrives (And I'm Happy!!)



As I've written before, while Superman: The Movie (1978) may have provided an emotional punch that Star Wars (1977) did not, I wanted it to be a Marvel comics hero's story instead. I wanted it to be a film about Captain America.

I can remember thinking as an 11-year-old that Captain America was the hero that mattered to me, not the too-perfect Kal-El.

And I know that some will say that Steve Rogers/Captain America is also too perfect -- too much of a Boy Scout and all that -- but the character still appeals to me. There's something poignant about his plight as a World War 2 hero trapped in a modern world. And that situation also spotlights the duel between idealism and actuality, between old fashioned virtue and cold reality.

Captain America stories, especially those in a modern setting, remain ones about the battle between morality and cynicism. Steve Rogers, as star Chris Evans noted in an interview, always does the right thing -- that's his nature -- so we feel his struggle as he tries to maintain his moral purity in a world that is constantly seeking to destroy it, or diminish it.

In a world of gray nuance, he's a walking flag.



In the 1970s, as a shy and somewhat sarcastic kid, I gravitated to Ben Grimm and Captain America; The Thing had a personality like my own -- caustic, cynical, but good-hearted -- while Captain America represented the person I wanted to be.

Even after Vietnam and Watergate, Captain America still fought for the same ideals he had in World War 2 and I admired that.

Whatever problems exist in this country, whatever horrible things we've done in the world, the ideals of America still inspire, still matter, and Captain America was a character who could remind us of that.

Is it any wonder that the guy has been embraced by both big liberals like me as well as right wingers?



Now that I've seen the film -- at a midnight showing in Bowie, in the same theater where I saw the first X-Men at midnight back in May (?) of 2000 -- I can say that Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) succeeds on many, many levels.

Firstly, Chris Evans removes all doubts within moments that he was the right casting choice. Whether a scrawny Army reject, or a hulky hero, Steve Rogers seems like the same guy all along and for that Evans' deft touch deserves a lot of praise. Recalling Christopher Reeve in the first Superman flick in many scenes, Chris Evans actually makes Steve Rogers a touch more nuanced than he was in many of those Jack Kirby comics I read in the 1970s.

All of the supporting players are uniformly good, especially Stanley Tucci who seems to be underplaying what could have been a broad, farcical role.

The negatives are that -- clearly -- the film feels like one long introduction to The Avengers (2012); not for nothing did the audience erupt in cheers and applause after that post-credits sequence and not at any of the obvious moments in the film.

And, on that note of being a set-up for another flick, Hugo Weaving is quite good as the Red Skull but his plans never get fully explained despite his character having a fair amount of screen time. While I was happy to not have to waste a lot of time on a backstory for a comic book villain, I felt like that lack of backstory was diminishing the gravitas of the world domination plans being thwarted by Cap and his commandos.

The other negative is the pacing which seems a bit flat.

That said, Iron Man (2008) didn't strike me as exceptionally well-paced. But, like that film, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) succeeds during all of the character moments that matter, as well as in the period details.

The highlights of each film were character bits, not any action set-piece. Director Joe Johnston here seems to wisely be erring on the side of restraint and I appreciated that.



Steve Rogers' relationship with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) seems believable and -- as others have noted -- mature; like Pepper Potts and Tony Stark, there's a dramatic plot-centered need for the guy-and-gal to be together. And their banter seems less the device of a witty screenwriter and more the well-scripted remarks of two romantically inclined adults.

Given the way that the Captain America film must end to get Cap into the modern age and leader of Whedon's Avengers, there's also a great deal of pathos here as Cap becomes that man-out-of-time figure I loved so much as a child.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) is not perfect but it's a very enjoyable film and one that is fun without being too complicated. With no reason to make Captain America into a dark-and-brooding Batman figure, director Joe Johnston has discovered the complexity of Steve Rogers.

The very lack of brooding -- the consistency of the guy and his morality -- is what ultimately makes the character as compelling as Bruce Wayne. As he navigates the world like a bulked up Clark Kent, Steve Rogers/Captain America bears the burden of his own ideals and those of his country.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Even Wong Kar-Wai Makes Mistakes


Looking more and more like a bad idea -- revoke my fanboy card! -- Wong Kar-Wai's version of the Ip Man story is finally near release. Near enough for a trailer, at least.

While it's unfair to judge the film based on a teaser, I can say it's a little disconcerting to see the Hong Kong cinema-pilfering The Matrix (1999) now being pilfered for a more-or-less Hong Kong film.

That said, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai looks impressive, both stylish and spry.

However, the presence of the overused Zhang Ziyi in the cast, and the fact that the story has already been told a few times, makes me wonder why I should care about this?

After more than a decade away from the martial arts genre -- not counting 2008's Ashes of Time Redux -- Wong Kar-Wai may have some tricks up his sleeve.

It's got to be better than Donnie Yen's jingoistic chest-beating, right?

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Made The Mistake Of Watching The John Carter Trailer


As soon as they went with the generic title -- John Carter (2012) -- I should have taken the hint and ignored the new trailer for the upcoming Edgar Rice Burroughs adaption.

I'm guessing that Hollywood producers -- constantly on the lookout for a new franchise to kick-start -- did a sort of taste-test of audiences, found some basic recognition of the John Carter name, and went forward with this crap.

The trailer has as much to do with Edgar Rice Burroughs' vision as Tarzan, The Ape Man (1981) with Bo Derek did.

When I was about 14 to 15, I was still a voracious reader of comic books -- which is where I first stumbled upon John Carter in the Marvel-published title in 1977 or so -- but I somehow got hooked on Edgar Rice Burroughs and managed to read, in the space of two years, all of the Tarzan novels, all of the Pellucidar books, and the 11 John Carter of Mars titles.

The novels are largely disposable in some ways but there's a lot of imagination at work in the Mars books, more than in the Tarzan stuff. Burroughs created a world and a backstory every bit as rich and detailed as anything Tolkien dreamed up. Burroughs, though, was largely concerned with entertainment and not moralizing.

While I may not remember the specific plots of those 11 books, I do remember the feeling I had when reading them. And that feeling of wonder and excitement is nowhere to be found in that trailer.

I'm not asking for much, Hollywood, am I? A bit of wit and a sense of adventure, maybe? Just take those Frank Frazetta covers for two of the 11 John Carter titles and make those into films.

Of course, that will never happen.

Some things are better read and left to the imagination than halfheartedly brought to CGI life.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shu Qi in Three Times (2005)


About a week or so ago, I presented a few shots of Shu Qi from Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Millennium Mambo (2001), a film that I think is largely an arty failure.

However, I did enjoy his 2005 film Three Times quite a bit. As it is made up of three segments, the lack of heavy plotting seems to work in the director's favor; the segments are not really long enough to get bored with.

And the set-up of three segments in three different eras (1966, 1911, 2005) signals that the film's devices and bits of artifice are more important than strong characterization. Here, the director is setting out to experiment so I, as a viewer, can overlook the weaknesses that made Millennium Mambo (2001) a bit tedious and self-absorbed.

For a real review of Three Times (2005), including a bit of context for each of the three segments, check out Kozo's review here.

As always, Shu Qi looks beautiful and lovely whether playing a Sixties pool hall girl, a 1911 courtesan, or a hip city gal in modern Taipei.

The gorgeous cinematography by Ping Bin-Lee deserves high marks as well.