Calculate your chances...negative...negative...negative!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Friday, December 15, 2006

RIP William Monroe Wright 1926-2006

I've been extremely fortunate. In 31 years, I've only had to attend two funerals. I've known all my grandparents and even two great grandparents, all my aunts and uncles and haven't lost any friends or immediate family. It's something I've been thinking about a lot recently since I got the call last Tuesday that my grandfather had an aneurysm burst and probably wasn't coming home.

It all seemed so sudden. We'd literally seen him two days prior, looking more alive than I'd seen him in years. It was his 80th birthday party, which he got to celebrate with friends and family. If you'd told me then, I wouldn't get to speak to him again, I'd scarcely have believed it.

In fact, the day he went was his 80th birthday proper. He'd spent the day Christmas shopping with my grandma and they were on the way out the door to dinner when he fell in the hallway, and that was that. His body hung on for another week, but we'd really lost him that day.

There'd been a couple of medical scares in years prior. He'd been given six months to live at least a couple times, but he was determined to live better and stayed with us for longer than we'd expected him to. He got to see my two cousins and came so close to seeing my wedding and possible great grandkids.

I'd always felt a special bond with my grandfather, though we'd had few really long involved conversations. He was the archetypal strong and silent type, the kind of person who could tell you a lot with out saying a word. Yet, as I got older, I could see so much of myself in him. My mother always told me so and I really think it's true.

I see him in my sense of humor, in the way I tend to gently tease the ones I love. I can see him in the way I tend to observe more than participate, all the while happy to be there. And, of course, I'll always see him when I sign my full name. His name is my middle name.

These past couple of weeks have been really sad for me, but I think I'm done being sad for a while. This Christmas is going to be hard, as we'll all be thinking of him, knowing how much he loved having everyone around for the holidays. My grandmother, who I always knew was an amazing woman, has been really strong during all this, but I know it's going to be especially rough for her.

For me, I think the moment I lost my sadness was at the wake when I saw a line of people out the door for nearly four solid hours waiting to pay their respects. To know that my grandfather meant that much to so many people makes me feel good. I hope I should be so lucky to positively impact as many people in my life.

And I should also hope to be so luck as to go quickly, feeling no pain and having seen all the people I love one last time.

Rest in peace, Grandpa Bill. You will always be missed.

Working out Grief through Cratedigging

My grandfather passed away earlier this week. While I'll probably try to collect some thoughts later on about that, the day of the wake I took my mind off things for a while by doing some cratedigging. Here's what I came up with:

Interesting jazz(ish) stash here. From the back: Willis Jackson "Bar Wars" (a record long my "my list"), Paul Horn/Lalo Schifrin "Jazz Suite on the Mass Texts" (which I bought even though I have mp3s someone rapidshared), Bobbi Humphrey "Flute-In" (another from "the list" and another with Idris Muhammad on drums), "Lullaby of Birdland" ("12 Different Interpretations by 12 Modern Arrangers played by 12 exciting Jazz Groups" sounded too good to pass up).

Front row: Red Garland "Rediscovered Masters" (which I've been in a Garland mood, so that was a nice find), Al Hirt/Lalo Schifrin "Latin In The Horn" (I had no idea this existed!) Johnny Nash "I Got Rhythm" (this record has eluded me for too long.)

Now this is a fun batch. Apparently these all belonged to Keith Higginbotham (see the label stickers on the covers.) Looks like a nice batch of bubblegum/sunshine pop I love sooooo much!

Back row: The Happenings "Psycle", 1910 Fruit Gum Co. "Simon Says", Andy Kim "How'd We Ever Get This Way" and "Rainbow Ride" (one of these is supposed to be brilliant...I think.)

Middle set: The Peppermint Rainbow "Will You Be Staying After Sunday", The Rose Garden, Lover & Friend "Reach Out Of The Darkness".

Fronts: Bobby Russell "Unlimited", Bryan Hyland "Tragedy/A Million To One".

Then there was Spirit "Spirit of '76" and a German pressing of "Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde" which was a destiny find as I'd has "This Wheel's On Fire" running though my head all that day.

Finally, this was the capper for me. Obscure Muncie garage band The Other Five. The top side is a Bert Russell tune which sounds kinda like Son of Hang On Sloopy. There's horns and everything, so someone put some money into this. The flip is an interesting arrangement of the Kink's "You Really Got Me." Great Nuggets style 7" and probably worth several times what I paid.

The cats aren't so impressed with the current stash though. They can't decide if they want to hear Sergio Mendes or perhaps something from my Command records library buried further in the stack.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

RIP Bud.

There's absolutely nothing that can describe the rip out your guts and stomp on them feeling that accompanies the decision to put a pet to sleep. Nor is there anything quite like the self-doubt that accompanies that decision, no matter how right that decision is. When the pet isn't that old, I think it's even worse.

It's hard to understand how Bud could have gone from so healthy like he was in this picture from July to so sick in about three months like he did when everything started. It makes you feel so helpless trying to do everything you can and seeing no change or a change for the worse.

Eventually you reach that point where you know things aren't going to get any better and all you're doing is prolonging the misery. Knowing that doesn't make it any harder to let go.

Bud was a trooper and Bud was a survivor. Three years ago, he came back from hepatic lipidosis caused by a severe urinary tract blockage. I almost lost him, but he rebounded in time. This time, the hepatic lipidosis was symptomatic of a gall bladder blockage and by the time we discovered it, the chances of recovery weren't so good. It started looking like neurological damage was setting in. There was just too much happening, too many unknowns and I couldn't stand to see my friend suffer any longer.

I thought he'd be with me for a long time to come. I really thought we'd beat this. He'd looked so much worse before. While we could have rolled the dice and hoped for the best, the look in his eyes told me it was time to let him go.

It's still not easy. I'm totally cried out*, but that doesn't mean I'm not hurting.

Part of me feels it was too soon to bring not one but two new cats into my life, but the other part of me knows how much easier they are making this period on me and my fiancee. They will never replace Bud and we're not trying to. But, they needed home and we needed cats. Pets are incredible healing and having two little ones running around reminds me of all the good times Bud and I used to have. And that makes me smile.

So, here's Beans and Eliza (names subject to change.) We're glad they came to live with us and while we wish Bud could be here to meet them, we think he'd approve, wherever he is.

* - later that day I got a call from my dad. My grandfather had an aneurysm burst, fell and is more or less in a coma and probably won't be coming home. When it rains, it pours.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Review: Q: The Winged Serpent

Larry Cohen makes films that are awesome examples of why I love so called B movies. His films all have a unique vision, are slightly off center and unafraid to be different. The low-budget, almost guerilla way in which they are made seem to work in their favor and give them a look and feel that major studio releases can't replicate if they try, and believe me they have.

Don't get me wrong. Q also has many of the short comings typical of B movies. Even if one cast aside the absurdity of a giant half reptile and half bird Aztec god coming to life in modern (circa 1982) New York, you're going to find it hard to believe that only one guy, a spazmotic petty thief named Quinn (played by Michael Moriarty,) stumbles across the thing. The special effects are cheesy, the story gets a little convoluted and a little slow.

But there's no denying this is a very entertaining film. The cast (which, in addition to Moriarty includes David Carradine and Richard Roundtree) is great and plays with appropriate amounts of tongue in cheek. Really, it's the characters that drive this film and while the story has the usual Cohen mixture of horror, supernatural and religion, Quetzlcoatl almost becomes second to just watching the characters interact.

Of course, I also love watching the way Cohen stitches together scenes. There's a lot of subtle little touches that are clever and add to the humor of the film. It's also great to watch the way he nearly turns New York into a character in the film. Considering it was the architecture of the city (and specifically the Chrysler Building) that inspired the film's story, it's only appropriate you see so much of the city in the film.

The only thing that's kind of a bummer about Q is knowing they just don't make films like this anymore. Movies like these that don't try to bowl you over with effects or star power, and aren't afraid to laugh without going over into self-conscious parody or gross out humor just don't seem to come along too often anymore.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Review: Ray Sings, Basie Swings

Despite the title, this isn't really a recording of Ray Charles singing with Count Basie. The thought of those two titans of music collaborating is a pretty tantalizing prospect so when the producer responsible for "Genius Loves Company" discovered a 1973 tape of Ray Charles from a gig he shared with the Count, he decided to make it happen. Taking Ray's vocals from the otherwise unusable concert recording, he got the modern Count Basie Orchestra to lay down the tracks and "Ray Sings, Basie Swings" was born.

On the surface, it really looks like a grave robbing Frankenstein job going on here. Basie has been dead since 1984 and this Ray Charles tape is over 30 years old. The fact that Charles died in 2004 and had one of his biggest years in decades only adds to the feeling of exploitation.

Oddly enough, this album works in spite of it self. Mind you, this is nowhere near as good as an actual meeting of Charles and Basie would have been, but for a vocal track recorded with a different band, laid on a new track from a ghost band, this is a lot more enjoyable than it should be.

It helps a lot that Ray was in fine form on that night in 1973. He's got a lot of energy and sounds like he's having a lot of fun. Though it wasn't intended, Ray's style actually fits in well with the Basie sound which the current orchestra does a pretty good job of emulating. I don't think ghost bands are ever as good as the same band with their leader, but this isn't bad.

The end result is an album that is sure to make purists gag but if you can get past the feeling of necrophilia, is actually a fun listen. No, it's nothing essential, but it's far from the travesty it probably should have been.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Review: Candy Tangerine Man

Candy Tangerine Man starts off similar to a million other blaxploitation films. We see Baron pimping his girls, cruising around in a Rolls Royce (that looks like it was stolen from Ronald McDonald) and generally being a stone cold player. When he drops a young girl he's won in a pool game against his rival off at a bus station with a wad of cash and tells her to leave prostitution, we get a hint that Baron is a pimp with a heart of gold.

That act of kindness doesn't quite prepare the viewer for what comes next. Baron drives to a secluded location, ditches the fly threads and the Roller, dons a square shirt and tie and drives a four door back to suburbia where he has a wife, two kids and a yard to mow. Our hero leads a secret life, it seems.

Like every blaxploitation hero, Baron is looking to get out of the game after one last score. In this case, it's some sort of fake bond paper scheme. (See, it's hard out there for a pimp, so Baron has to diversify.) Along the way he has to fight off his rivals, corrupt cops and even associates turning on him.

In many ways Candy Tangerine Man is every blaxploitation film you've ever seen. It's kind of disappointing that the one thing that really sets it apart, the whole secret identity angle, isn't pursued more. In fact, it really serves as little more than showing Baron's motivation for leaving the game.

The other thing that was kind of disappointing was the two cops following Baron. It's as if the director couldn't decide if they were supposed to be slapstick comic relief or psychopathic scum, so they alternate roles from scene to scene. They also give one of the slowest, most boring car chases I've seen. Of course, between the Baron's Rolls and the 70s cop car, you probably had ten tons of steel on the road so I shouldn't be to surprised they couldn't break 40 MPH.

While there isn't a lot here that hasn't been done before, fans of the genre will probably enjoy this one quite a bit. It manages to have a very sleazy low budget vibe without looking like a completely low budget production. It isn't the best blaxploitation film I've ever seen, but it is one that deserves to been seen more than it has been. With what looks like a legit DVD issue on the way finally, that should be a little easier to do soon.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Why the Donnie & Marie Star Wars Special is the most Awesome Star Wars show ever.

It's funny. For a while I've been looking for this particular Star Wars related clip and last night I discovered it was right there under my nose the whole time. (It was hidden on the Return of the Ewok DVD I had acquired a while ago.) Anyway, I'm pleased to say it maybe even surpassed my expectations and is at least as good as the Holiday Special (at a fraction of the running time) and possibly even better.

Let me break down some of the many reasons why:

- Inspired casting. Donnie and Marie as Luke and Leia was a bit obvious, but how about Kris Kristofferson as Han Solo? Red Foxx as Obi Wan? Paul Lynde as whoever the character was Peter Cushing played in the first Star Wars movie. You heard me. PAUL LYNDE.

- Han Solo sings Sly & the Family Stone's "I Wanna Take You Higher." Unless Lucas digitally added that to a "special edition," I don't recall that happening in any of the movies.

- Singing and dancing stormtroopers. Mel Brooks, eat your heart out.

- Vader has a batallion of ice skating girls for no apparent reason.

- This is more curious than greatness, but apparently Han flys an Apolo rocket and Vader pilots the Millenium Falcon. Huh?

- I think this script would have been rejected by the makers of the "Turkish" Star Wars for not making any sense.

Trust me, there's more. Check it for yourself (for as long as YouTube allows this to live):

Part 1:

Part 2:

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Free Zone Halloween Extravaganza! With mp3s!

As promised, here's my part of the 2006 Free Zone Halloween Extravaganza! Enjoy!

Hour 1, Songs that remind me of Halloween:

The Raving Vampire Part 1 - Souls Unlimited
Rockness Monster - Akimbo
Monsters I've Met - Shel Silverstein
Sukie In The Graveyard - Belle & Sebastian
Mr. Hyde - The Coachwhips
I Was A Teenage Werewolf - The Cramps
The Mask - Dangerdoom (f. Ghostface)
Voodoo Soul Stew - The Daktaris
Ghost Train - Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Satan Is Real/Straight to Hell - Hank III
The Ghost - I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness
Children With Horns - If Thousands
Meathook - Jawbox
Cowboys and Aliens - Kitchens of Distinction
Psycko - Laika and the Cosmonauts
Hunted By A Freak - Mogwai
You Have Killed Me - Morrissey
Psychic Vampire - The Wipers

Hour 2, Halloween favorites and other creepy stuff:

There Is A Haunted House In Town - The Wonderland Singers
The Whip - The Vampires
The Monster Mash - Bobby 'Boris' Pickett
Suspicion - Alfred Hitchcock
The Shreik of Agony - Bob McFadden and Dor
The Wrists Twist - Frankie Stein and his Ghouls
Spirits, Monsters, Witches - Gershon Kingsley & Peter Waldron
Excerpt From A Christian Perspective on Halloween - Mike Warnke
Black Mass - Mort Garson
Little Green Riding Hood - The Children of the Night
Phantom of the A Go-Go - Don Hinson and the Rigomorticians
Creatures - Frankenstein and the All-Star Monster Band
Vampire Bat - Wesley Willis
Frankenstein - Boris Karloff
Random Horror Music and Sounds
Godzilla - Blue Oyster Cult
Godzilla Genealogy Bop - Mystery Science Theater 3000

(Big thanks to Scar Stuff for a lot of these tracks. Saved me a lot of time converting old records and introduced me to some new stuff.)

Hour 3, Giant Monsters Stomp Tokyo:

Godzilla Approaches and Main Title - Godzilla (1954)
Japanese Army March I - Godzilla (1954)
Tokyo In Flames and Ending - Godzilla (1954)
Main Theme - King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Mothra's Song - Mothra
Main Title - Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964)
Main Theme - Monster Zero (1965)
Young Go Go - Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966)
Godzilla vs. Kumonga - Son of Godzilla (1967)
Monster March - Godzilla's Revenge (1969)
Give Back Sun - Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
Godzilla March - Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
Gojira and Jet Jaguar Punch Punch Punch - Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
Car Chase - Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
Miyarabi's Prayer - Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Main Title - Terror of Mechgodzilla (1975)
Gamera March - Gamera vs. Viras

(Huge thanks to X-Y-Z Cosmonaut for providing most of these tracks.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Mystery Smell: Solved!

There's only three of you that are going to care, but you know that funky smell that a majority of the dollar DVDs have? Anyone else wonder what that's all about?

Recycled DVD cases.

You're welcome.

From back when I actually liked computers

I'll always head over to Platypuscomix site as there's some great "child of the 80s" stuff happening there, but I gotta say the Applepalooza feature really takes me back. I can't count the hours I wasted playing that same version of Spy Hunter on our old Apple ][c. (BTW, IIRC you have to get the rocket launcher to shoot down the helicopter, which requires playing a near perfect game.) Pooyan was another fave.

Check it out here:

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Free Zone Halloween Show

Alright. I did my Halloween show last night and frankly I'm proud to say it's killer. I'm going to try something I've thought about for a while. I'll post mp3s of the show after it airs. I'm going to do this via Rapidshare and I'll have each hour as a seperate file.

I always have a lot of people ask me about doing this, so we'll see how it works out. Obviously, this is a lot easier to do when the show is prerecorded as I'm not taping the shows off the air anymore. (That was a pain.)

Years from now, I'll probably be glad I have two plus spindles of old Free Zone shows. :)

Anyway, keep watching the skies...err...this space and I'll probably have the shows and playlist posted this weekend for your downloading enjoyment.

And be sure to listen to Tim D. on Saturday night, if you have the chance. An extra hour of daylight savings time Free Zone excitement there. :)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I'm still here.

Things have been crazy busy and crazy stressful. I won't get into all that.

I did want to drop a heads up that you should really check out the Free Zone this Friday night. I'm still semi-retired, but I'm putting together a hell of a halloween show this year, including an hour of nothing but Godzilla music.

As always, the show is on 88.7 FM WICR midnight to 3am Friday and Saturday (technically Saturday and Sunday morning, but you get the idea.)

To my out of state readers, if you want to check it out, check the WICR home page and you should get a popup for streaming. (Good luck, it's norotiously flaky.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Science Fiction Double Feature

I didn't feel like going out Saturday night, but I felt like killing a few brain cells in a non-chemical related manner. So, I cooked up a fantastic (if I do say so myself) double bill of post-Star Wars coattail riders. Just in case you weren't around then, Star Wars inspired a ton of movies trying to cash in during the late 70s. Most of these are pretty bad, but they are usually amusing to watch.

First up, I went with Message From Space, a 1978 Toei production with an international cast. Not a lot of star power here, though we get Vic Morrow as a boozy ex-army guy, the chick who played Sister Street Fighter in the Princell Leia spot and Sonny Chiba doing another cameo where he appears late in the movies, does a little swordfighting and is disguised so much, you can barely tell it's him.

Message From Space plays like a Japanese fantasy movie that happens to take place in space. The planet Jillucia has been taken over, so the elder throws these walnuts...err..."Liabe seeds" into space to find the people who will save their planet. His daughter Esmeralida (who is Sister Street Fighter) is sent to find them and avoid the bad guys, yada, yada, yada.

Of course the walnuts seeds find a standard issue "ragtag bunch of misfits" who have to come together and save the world. A lot happens in this movie and frankly it's difficult to get a grasp on everything. (This seems to be a standard feature of a lot of Japanese fantasy film I've seen.)

Here's what you really need to know: the story is cribbed from Seven Samurai, the ending is pure Star Wars, there's a "funny" robot sidekick (think Twiki with less charm) and the bad guys all look like metallic silver witches. The effects in this film aren't bad. They're not as good as Star Wars, but they're leagues better than, say, Fugitive Alien.

Next up, I went with a classic, Luigi Cozzi's immortal Starcrash. I hadn't seen this one before, and frankly was a bit skeptical about if it would live up to the hype. Well, let me tell you, it does.

Space smuggler Stella Star is out running space police with her humanoid(?) sidekick Akton when they come across a ship that had been attacked. They stop to check for survivors, and are pinched by the cop and his robot partner. After a day in hard labor (where Stella stages a prison break that results in the deaths of many other prisoners,) Stella and Akton are called upon by the Emperor to find a missing scout ship that was spying on the bad guy and just happened to have the Emperor's only son on it.

This flim follows the episodic serial formula kind of like Star Wars where they get in a scrape, they get out of it, then another one, then they get out of that, etc., etc. There isn't so much plot development as there is a goal and one thing after another on the way to attaining it.

Starcrash is a wonderful slpat of technicolor vomit on the screen. Who knew outerspace looked like a disco? Everything in this movie is a bright primary color, even the stars in outer space.

Not only is this fun to look at, but Cozzi tried damn near every effect avaliable at the time short of CGI. I mean, there's even stop motion animation in here, which I know isn't cheap or easy. Sure, the models look like random parts glued together and spray painted in stripes, but you can tell he was really trying to get it right.

And dig the John Barry (James Bond) soundtrack. Christopher Plummer as the Emperor? And David Hasslehoff??? (OK, maybe not Hasslehoff.)

There's a lot I love about Starcrash, but I think my two favorite things were Joe Spinell as the popeyed baddie Count Zarth Arn and his evil ship that looked like a giant palm with the fingers curling inward for an attack. Stella Star's spacekini wasn't bad either.

If you want to see Message From Space, you have few options right now. It's not officially out on DVD here or in Japan. It was out on VHS and it's not too difficult to find a DVD of that. Starcrash is out in both an official and "public domain" version. The official version is anamorphic at the correct aspect ratio while the PD is cropped and retitled Female Space Invaders. However, the color on the official version is very dull from all the screen shots and reviews I've seen. I went with the PD version. The panning & scanning isn't too bad and the colors are approporately loud (plus the disc is about a quarter what the official one costs. Personally, I feel having the colors right for Starcrash is most important, but your mileage may vary.

Fun double feature. Maybe I try a couple other Star Wars wanna bees this weekend.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Review: Yongary Monster From the Deep (Alpha)

Being a fan of Gamera means you often times catch some flack about how cheesy the movies are. I'd argue part of Gamera's charm is the fact that the films are so darn cheesy. But, let me tell you this, if you're lactose intolerant, stay far away from Yongary. It's a whole week's worth of dairy in one serving.

Meet Yongary. He's our new exchange monster from Korea (though, according to legend, he has some Japanese blood in him too.) As you can see, he kind of looks like someone took Godzilla's body, stuck Gamera's head on it and then put a rhino's tusk on the nose just for fun. Admittedly, suitamation in 1967 (the year kaiju broke) was on the down swing quality wise, and the Yongary suit looks at least as good as that year's model of Godzilla and Gamera suits.

Much like the cobbled together suit, this movie is also cobbled together. If you take the bulk of Godzilla (the movie) and graft on the Kenny from Gamera, you've got Yongary's basic plot. And this is the first kaiju movie that I think was written by a ten year old Kenny, as there's just little going on here that makes much sense.

A mysterious earthquake is moving across Korea as a result of Chinese nuclear tests. It turns out the earthquake is actually Yongary who can borough through the ground. Yongary emerges to drink some gasoline and stomp some buildings. Ichio (our Kenny) observes Yongary itching after coming in contact with some sort of ammonia compound. Our hero dump a ton of the ammonia on the monster, causing severe rectal bleeding (you think I'm making this up?) and a disturbingly realistic death scene while Icho waxes reflexive on "did we really have to kill him?"

The End.

Now, I can't catalog all the things just plain wrong with this film, so let me just list a few:

- Ichio seem to be the only person to have a name in this film
- Everyone is an unlikely mixture of two rare things (like the Prime Minister's son and the country's top scientist)
- Korea is developing an itching ray for reasons never explained
- Yongary's death scene is very disturbing
- Civilians (including children) are allowed on highly dangerous military missions

You get the drift.

Ichio in this film is downright sadistic. We're introduced to the itching ray early in the film as he uses it to pull a prank. When he's caught and informed he almost caused his victims to scratch to death, he responds with "yeah, but you gotta admit it was funny."

Later, Ichio sneaks out to get a better look at Yongary. You think he's going out there to make friends with the monster, but no. He's brought the itching ray again! While he's sending the monster in to a fit, he takes delight in the fact that it looks like he's dancing. (A rock version of a Korean folk song starts playing. Words can not describe how bizarre it is.)

Finally, Ichio sits there watching Yongary's painful death shakes with a big shit eating grin on his face. Why he pulls the last minute introspection bit, I don't know. It really seems half hearted and despite what he's saying, he doesn't seem too broken up to see the monster die.

Then there's Yongary's stunning special effects. You don't need to look closely to notice things like a flame thrower nozzle in Yongary's head or an extra wheel balancing a cut in half jeep. It seems cardboard boxes were used extensively in this film representing everything from bricks to models of buildings. There's also horrible matte shots and the worst blue screen effect I've ever seen.

Alpha has taken their disc from the old pan and scan VHS. It doesn't look bad and since this is a pretty horrible movie that everyone assumes is public domain, I doubt this is ever going to get a better DVD release. This movie isn't for the purists anyway.

It's been a while since a movie gave me this many unintentional laughs. Well worth the $5 or whatever this disc will set you back.

Here's box art from a couple of super 8 digest versions of this movie. As with all the pictures in this review, I've shamelessly lifted these from other sites. (Thanks Stomy Tokyo, DVD Drive-In, Shill Media...)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Review: Voyage Into Space

Voyage Into Space was a movie AIP assembled from five episodes of Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. Sokko was a very silly show where a group called Unicorn is defending the Earth against to Gargoyle gang led by the evil Guillotine. Unicorn's star agent is ten year old Johnny Sokko who, due to being in the right place at the right time, controls a giant robot called...err...Giant Robo.

Sokko controls Giant Robo with his wrist watch transmitter. This robot, who looks a little like King Tut, is apparently indestructible. He can fly, shoot missiles out of his fingers and lasers out of hit eyes. This is pretty convenient as Gargoyle keeps bringing new monsters down upon the Earth and only Giant Robo can defeat them.

Sokko is like the Uber-Kenny. Minutes after seeing Giant Robo for the first time, he knows all about it and knows how to control it completely. In true Kenny fashion, he becomes the proxy savior of the planet. One has to wonder how all the Unicorn agents who were working their way up paying dues have to feel about some snot nose kid coming along and because he just happens to have a robot, he becomes top agent.

There are a few things I'm curious about though. For one thing, I never understood why Unicorn always seems so reluctant to have Johnny call in Giant Robo. I mean, that always seems to be the option that saves the day, so why not just cut to the chase and bring in the Robo? (Yes, I know, the show would be about five minutes long otherwise.)

I also have to wonder why AIP called this Voyage Into Space considering there is no voyage and the whole thing takes place on Earth.

Budgets are low, stories are implausible and footage is recycled. Still, this is great fun if you dig seeing men in rubber suits wrestling around. These episodes work pretty well in movie form and I'm not sure for me anyway I'd really need to own all 26 episodes on disc.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Terror of Tinytown's Big Adventure

On his new spoken world album In The Grip of Official Treason, Jello Biafra uses the Terror of Tinytown as an allegory for the Iraq war.

Wow. I didn't see that coming.

In the changer

It seems like the only time I get to listen to music for fun anymore is when I'm driving. Maybe that's why I find myself making so many gas wasting trips out for nothing in particular. It also seems like this is a year for me where I'm rediscovering heavy music.

The CD that has really floored me so far this year is the new one from Envy, Insomniac Doze. I've long thought Japan has some of the most interesting bands in the world, and this disc is no exception. Envy combines the progressive hardcore of Neurosis with the loud/soft dynamics of Mono and the end result is an album that is as beautiful as it is brutal.

I'm also really digging the new one from Mastodon. It's called Blood Mountain and is pretty progressive metal. Mastodon have long been recommended to me as a band I'd like, but I never heard them until now. This is what I'd imagine music majors making a metal record would sound like, though it never gets wanky or gratuitous. I'm convinced listening to this disc makes my own drumming more interesting, so that's a plus too.

Though you couldn't exactly call it progressive, Slayer's new disc Christ Illusion also features some impressive drumming courtesy of Dave Lombardo, who is back in the fold to reunite the classic Slayer lineup. And it's hard to call this album anything but classic Slayer. It's not breaking any new ground, but at this point in their career, who expects them to? Sometimes it's just great to hear an awesome band doing what they do best.

And here's an oldie I've been up on: The Deftones White Pony. I wasn't keen on much of the nu-metal thing, or whatever you want to call it, but when a friend played this for me back when it came out, I had to admit it was damn good. I recently scored a copy of this for $1, so that was pretty sweet. I don't know how the rest of their catalog stacks up, but this disc is some classic moody angst music.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Review: No Blade Of Grass (WTF-film)

It's astonishing to me the multitude of ways fiction writers have come up with to end the world. No Blade of Grass is based on a book I haven't read, so I can't tell you how close it comes to that. The film version, however, plays a bit like Panic in the Year Zero, with famine caused by a grass/grain destroying virus being the culprit this time.

Nigel Davenport is tipped off by his daughter's government scientist boyfriend that London is about to go under martial law so they high tail it out of there to find his brother's farm in the country. Apparently being in the country has made the farm immune to the virus. The country almost instantly slides into kill or be killed mode and along the way they pick up a slightly unhinged weapons expert and damn near the entire population of a small village and fight bikers, army and farmers.

There's not a whole lot of set up to the story. The movie starts as the family gets the call to pack up and go and the previous year is detailed in a few flashbacks. While this is going on, we also get a few flash forwards to some terrible scene about to happen. In fact, almost anytime a character in the movie says something optimistic, scary organ chords break in and a clip of something violent yet to happen pops up flashing tinted red.

The flash forwards are interesting and keep you disoriented and on edge. Otherwise, there's not a whole lot happening here to build tension. Everything in this movie happens so nonchalantly, the electricity that a world sliding into anarchy would have never happens. There's also a love triangle that starts and fizzles out and there's the requisite environmental warning message interspersed periodically throughout the film.

I wonder how the book is because there are some good ideas here. It just seems like the movie gets it wrong somehow. It's not a bad film, and if you're into the apocalyptic environmental disaster thing, you'll probably want to catch this. I just don't know how much I could recommend others look for this rather obscure film.

WTF presents another reconstructed version on this disc. A majority of the film is from a widescreen print that looks pretty good, a little artifacting aside. There are a few more gristly scenes cut back into the print from what appears to be an Italian VHS source. I'm guessing the widescreen source was a cable showing, possible TCM as this is an MGM film. I'm thinking cable because of what was cut out (some nudity and a rape scene) and a few instances of language that are blocked out. The VHS shots are pan and scan and in the one scene with dialogue, it goes to Italian. It's a minor annoyance, better than not having the scenes in there.

Other than that, there's an image gallery on the disc and this time around, that's it. No complaints, just not the usual bounty of extras WTF puts on their discs. If you can't wait for TCM to show it again, or you want it unedited (even with an aspect ratio and language change,) this is a nice disc to own. Not the best movie I've ever viewed, but it was decent enough and it fits in with the WTF collection quite nicely.

And this is the last of my WTF reviews, at least until they put out a new disc. To sum up, I don't know who is behind these releases, but it's obvious it's someone with a love of film. There's more going on here than your standard bootleg. I look forward to whatever they put out in ther future.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Review: Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds (WTF-film)

Environmental conditions have caused fossilized dinosaur eggs to hatch. The dinosaur terrorizes a small town near Mt. Fuji. Our hero rushes to the scene hoping to find the dino and reap financial rewards, but eventually seeks it as a way of finishing his father's (who was also a scientist and predicted such things) work. He finds the dino and it fights with a prehistoric bird. His girlfriend screams a lot. Fuji erupts and kills the prehistoric creatures and our hero and his girlfriend narrowly escape.

I wanted Legend of Dinosaurs to be good, but it just wasn't. The story, which combines elements of various Godzilla films, the Loche Ness Monster legends and even a pinch of Jaws, was just boring. The monsters were stiff and uninteresting. The characters sucked. Etc., etc.

There are three things of note about this film. In spite of this feeling like typical kiddie fare, it's actually pretty bloody in spots. A girl is ripped in half and a dinosaur has his eye gouged out. Plus there's a breif bit of nudity.

The second thing, and the one redeeming quality of this film, is the totally out of place cop show jazz/funk soundtrack. I really expected to see some Ford LTDs chasing through San Fransisco when the music got going. There's some great music in here, aside from the cowboy band (and all the horribly out of time clapping.)

Finally, this was the last film featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 before it left it's local market and headed to the Comedy Channel. This was another of the infamous Sandy Frank's syndicated TV edits with terrible dubbing and vile panning and scanning.

WTF presents essentially the region 2 disc with subtitles, new menus and an isolated music track. The video quality is alright, better than the pan & scan version but nothing you're going to show off your HD TV with. I really have no complaints with the disc, I just don't consider it an essential purchase unless you're a kaiju completist.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

If I seem a little busy...

this is why.

It's going to be our last show with bassist #4 (or 5?) Carrie Sloo. Apparently Californie is the place she ought to be.

We're coming down to "cram time" as It's getting close to show time and due to a multitude of reasons, we haven't had the practice time we usually get. Our last show was several notches less than good and I don't think any of us would like to replicate that.

So, if the reviews and rants seem to have dried up for a while, I'm probably behind the drums.

And if you're in Indy next Friday, stop by and say hi.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Review: Godzilla il rei de mostri (WTF-film)

If you've been following along on my blog, I'm sure you're aware that I own a lot of obscure videos. I think of all the off the beaten path stuff I've come across, this has to be one of the most obscure and strange things I own. In fact, about the only information I've found about just what the heck it is comes from the source I got it from, WTF-film.

And this disc really made me go WTF.

Let me tell you what I know about Godzilla il rei de mostri, aka Cozzilla. In 1977, director Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash, Contamination) decided to bring his favorite movie back to Italian theaters. However, he decided to go one better and create his personal version of his favorite movie to put back in theaters. Thus, what we have here was born.

Starting with Godzilla, King of the Monsters (the US version of the first Godzilla film with Raymond Burr,) Cozzi decided to play up the whole Godzilla as an allegory for nuclear war angle. A prologue was created with World War II footage. War footage was spliced into effect scenes, which were completely re-edited.

To top things off, the entire film was color tinted using a process he called Spectrorama 70. The soundtrack was also remixed into a Sensurround like process. The end result apparently ran about a half hour longer than it's source material, though the version featured here is about 88 minutes. Apparently this is a broadcast version of the film.

Like most things Luigi Cozzi did, this seems to have the best of intentions behind it but is just so wrong headed, it's almost amazing. Though the US Godzilla, King of the Monsters does down play Godzilla being a product of Hiroshima (after all, the US dropped the bomb in the first place,) Cozzi absolutely hits you over the head with it. Again and again, WWII stock footage interrupts effect scenes and spoils the pacing in an already edited (and compromised) version of this film.

The colorization is like blobs of yellow, red and blue are placed on your TV. The effect is totally garish and weird. Characters end up having blue faces against a yellow sky.

Unlike all the other discs I got from WTF-film, this one doesn't have artwork or even a menu. I think it's safe to say this is a work in progress because according to their website, they're working on a recreation of this film.

I suppose that's a good thing because this disc is really difficult to watch. The video master used for this disc looks several generations removed from the film and has severe damage during Godzilla's attack on Tokyo. Everything is smeary and blurry. Given the rarity of this film, it's doubtful a better version is going to turn up.

It's also worth mentioning that this disc is in Italian and is not subtitled. Probably not that big of a deal, as I'm sure only people who have Godzilla memorized are going to seek this out anyway.

And that brings me to the bottom line. I really can't recommend this disc to anyone but the most curious, hardcore Godzilla fan. Cozzilla is an interesting curiousity, but watching a poor quality video of a crudely colorized and bizarrely edited version of Godzilla is probably not going to appeal to many people.

More thoughts on Prophecies of Nostradamus

Since writing my initial review of Prophecies of Nostradamus: Ultimate Edition, I've had some time to watch the rest of the collection and check out the commentary track for the Japanese version. Although I really liked this movie on first pass, I have to say, PON has grown on me with subsequent viewings. I still don't think I can go so far as to say this is a great motion picture but I think this is quickly on it's way to being one of my favorites.

This movie is hypnotic. I never thought someone's horrific vision of the end of the world could be so hauntingly beautiful, but it is here. There's a strange beauty in the images of this film that stay with you after the film is over.

I still think the ending is kind of a flame out ending. Like the filmmakers had painted themselves into a corner and a "things are bad, but let's do something to make them better" ending was about their only option. I also have to admit, the film needed some ray of hope, if not a happy ending proper, to leave the audience feeling something more than total despair.

One of the more interesting things about this film is Toho's self-imposed banned status on it. When I watched this movie the first time, I couldn't understand quite what was so offensive about it. Then, when I was listening to the commentary track, I was reminded of how in Japan radiation survivors are treated with a great deal of reverence. In Prophecies of Nostradamus, survivors of fallout are shown as cannibalistic zombies and later, completely mutated creatures. Given that frame of reference, it's easy to understand what had people so upset.

I find it peculiar that in spite of (or perhaps, because of) all the controversy, this was Japan's top grossing picture for 1974. It's also interesting that unlike many other films where the controversy dissipates over time, this film still seems to be too hot to handle. It was last shown on Japanese TV (and I'm assuming this was a cut down showing) in 1980 and Toho's attempt to release this movie on VHS in the mid 80s was squelched by protest. (I'm guessing the uncut version of this film that has made it into the bootleg market originates from this aborted home video release.)

Because the radiation survivor scenes caused so much uproar in Japan, I assumed those would be excised from the other cuts of the film. Not so. In fact, it's the story elements, especially parts with Dr. Nishiyama's family, that got the worst of the scissors. The prologue, which establishes Nishiyama as a descendent of Nostradamus to explain why the guy knows so much about his prophecies, is also clipped from all other versions as is the Prime Minister's optimistic speech at the end.

There are a few other little cuts here and there. A repeating shot in the slug sequence is wisely axed, but for the most part anything dealing with effects is left alone.

In my initial review, I pegged most of the story elements as existing to pace the action. While I still feel this is a large part of what they do, I realize in seeing the International cut where a lot of them are removed that they also serve to give the film humanity. These sequences basically connect the disasters to Dr. Nishiyama and show why this guy would be so concerned with saving the world when the odds seem so hopeless. These scenes are the pretty much what Nishiyama is fighting for and without them he seems to be an environmental avenger for no particular reason.

I'm not going to go scene by scene into what's different, but I do want to quickly run down a few things that changed from version to version. As I mentioned, all cuts other than the Japanese axe the opening prologue and the prime minister's bit at the end. At 90 minutes, the international cut takes a lot of the story elements out too. There's still enough that you get the drift of what's going on, but there are a lot of things that make more sence in the uncut version as they are explained better.

The French cut is the shortest version of the four in this set. It clocks in at about 74 minutes! (Keep in mind, the original uncut is 114.) This version is based on the international cut, but entirely chops out about three more scenes in the early part of the movie (the scene with Akira's father, Akira and Mariko's love scene and the lecture scene) and oddly enough reinserts one of them (Akira's father) much later in the film (between the smog mirror scene and Mariko telling Akira she's pregnant.) The placement of this scene is absolutely bizarre and I couldn't begin to speculate the reason for the change.

The Last Days of Planet Earth is probably the version most people in the US have seen, if they've seen this at all. It's based on the international version mostly, though it does kind of have a prologue of it's own and there are some little bits here and there that didn't appear in the international cut. Mainly, this version is notorious for an intrusive narrator explaining things that the movie explained in the uncut version and some pretty bad looking insert shots when English text was needed. It's also heavly panned and scanned though it does have the best color of any of the versions on this set. (Curiously, about half of Last Days is optically reversed. What's up with that?)

It's a shame that the commentary track WTF added to the uncut film is so hard on the ears (imagine a transistor radio, in a tin can, streamed over the internet and mixed in with the film's soundtrack.) The guy, whoever he is, knows a ton about this movie. Well worth suffering through the low audio quality for.

I'd also like to mention that there are Easter Eggs on discs three and four of this set. They are more promotional material and a pair of reconstructed trailers. The trailers are curious. I wonder how they knew what the original trailers looked like to remake them?

Well, I think I've written enough about this film for right now. This is a pretty amazing release of a pretty amazing movie. Hopefully, someday Toho will release a real version, but even then, I doubt they will come close to the care and attention to detail this release has.

PROTIP: don't put your Cabbage Patch Kids in the microwave.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Review: Prophecies of Nostradamus: Ultimate Edition (WTF-film)

aka Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen, Catastrophe: 1999, Last Days of Planet Earth

Where to begin with this one?

First off, what you need to know about Prophecies of Nostradamus is that it is a mid-seventies environmental disaster film. In fact, it may be the mid-seventies environmental disaster film to end all mid-seventies environmental disaster films. It's long, pretty heavy handed and kind of a downer.

In the film, we follow Dr. Nishiyama, an environmental scientist who has inherited a book of Nostradamus' writings, as he attempts to tell the Japanese government that pollution, the arms race and nuclear fallout are causing the prophecies to come true. First all the fish in the ocean die. Then giant slugs are discovered. Mutants are born to humans. SST jets explode in the sky. And on and on and on.

There really isn't much story to this movie. It's basically a series of one catastrophe after another designed to scare the viewer into a more Earth friendly way of living. There is some subplot involving Nishiyama's family, but it really serves as more of a breather from the waves of destruction than anything else. The ending isn't so much of an ending as it is an idealistic appeal for conservation and restraint.

This is one of those movies people either seem to really like or really hate. A lot of that seems to hinge on which cut of the movie you've seen (more on that later.) I've only seen the full Japanese cut and skimmed the other versions. Even though the full cut runs nearly two hours, it feels much shorter because there is just so much insanity happening. The pacing is really brisk and the viewer never has time to get bored.

I can excuse the fact that there isn't much story because that's really not the point. What little acting there is is well done. There's talent in this film, even if they mostly just have to react to the madness happening around them.

This film is really about showing scenes of death and destruction and to that end, it succeeds fantastically. The effects are very well done, for the most part, and there are a ton of them. It's obvious there was a lot of money put into this film. Contrast this one to Toho's Godzilla film of the year (Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla) and you'll see what I mean.

And while there's not much story, this film has an abundance of atmosphere. There's a chilling beauty to it that's reflected in everything from the shots to the excellent Tomita score. It's the kind of movie that puts you in a mental place rather than putting you into a character's life and it's very effective in keeping you there once you're reeled in.

More people know about this film than have seen it because it was banned by Toho themselves. Shortly after hitting the theater, protests began over the film's portrial of the nuclear fallout afflicted natives in New Guinea and the post-nuclear war mutants. It was censored pretty heavily before Toho decided to pull the plug. An international cut of the film was released however (Catastrophe: 1999,) which had about twenty minutes of mostly dialog cut and an American TV version (Last Days of Planet Earth) was cut even further.

It's this American TV version that most people have seen. It was released on VHS and laserdisc and aside from an obscure Eurpoean tape of the international cut is the only home video version of the film avaliable outside the gray market. Late in the 90s, Toho tried to release Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen on video, but again, the protests were too great.

This Ultimate Edition of Prophecies of Nostradamus from WTF-flim has got to be the Criterion Collection edition of gray market releases. It's five DVDs long and includes four versions of the film. Discs one and two feature the uncut Japanese version. Disc three has a restored international cut. Disc four is a French version (no subtitles) and five is the Last Days of Planet Earth cut.

The reason Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen is split over two discs must be the wealth of alternate audio tracks including isolated sound track, a commentary track and an alternate audio drama CD reading. I wish the fidelity on the commentary was better. It's a little hard to hear on the bit I flipped over for. Also, the drama track is puzzling. I really don't know what it is and I wish that had been explained.

The reconstructed international cut was made using the audio from the Eurpoean tape and the video from the Japanese cut. Apparently the video on the tape was cropped so the Japanese footage was edited approporately and a new title sequence was created to mirror the correct one. I really appreciate the restoration notes included on this disc.

The French and US cuts seem to be pretty much as they were. Nothing special about them.

The video quality on Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen is much better than I expected. I know there's a version of this floating around but it's unsubtitled and has a timecode at the top, from what I understand. WTF's version is subtitled and does not have a timecode on it. The video is a little hazy and the colors are kind of washed out, but for a film this rare, this is still a great presentation.

The French cut is the roughest video on the set. While it is widescreen, it is cropped on the sides. It also has the blurry look of dubbed video. The US Last Days fares the best on the image quality but it's heavily panned and scanned. Also, a minor quibble here, with all the care put in on this set, it's a shame a laserdisc source wasn't used for Last Days. Granted, the VHS dub looks good, but I'm sure a laserdisc source would have been even better.

In addition to the commentary, soundtrack and drama CD audio, there are WTF’s usual image galleries featuring promo material for the film. There are also notes included on the restoration of Catastrophe: 1999 and the incorrect credits on the French cut. I really dig trivia like this and I hope WTF includes more information like this in their future releases.

I should also note that WTF offers a two disc set of just Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen for those not interested in doing the compare and contrast with the edited versions of the film. My feeling is, with a film this big and over the top, you need a DVD equally big and over the top to contain it. If you're interested enough to seek this obscurity out, you're likely to be interested enough to dig the alternate versions as well.

Short of Toho reversing their ban, which seems unlikely at this point. I'm confident in saying this will be the definitive version of Prophecies of Nostradamus on DVD. An overwhelming release of an overwhelming movie. I can’t say this is a film that will click with everyone, but if you like disaster films or Toho effect movies, you really need to check this set out.

Sidenote: While I was watching this, my fiancee called and asked me "What cha watching? Toho vs. Tokyo." The more I think about it, the more I think she may have nailed the essence of this movie without even knowing of it's existance.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Review: The World the Flesh and the Devil (WTF-film)

Ralph Burton gets trapped in a coal mine and when he manages to escape five days later, he discovers he is apparently the only living creature left. A radioactive dust has seemed to have wiped out all other life on Earth.

He drives up to New York hoping to find other survivors and, after a lengthy time isolated, comes in contact with Sarah Crandall, who has been keeping an eye on him for a while. Their relationship is tense and awkward from almost the beginning. Sarah can't decide weather to rip his clothes off or run away screaming and Ralph seems more interested in trying to single handedly rebuild civilization than anything more than companionship.

The situation is exasperated by the appearance of another man, Ben Thacker, who, after Ralph saves his life, quickly puts the moves on Sarah. This, of course, leads to a big showdown over Sarah and if I told you anymore, I'd have told you the entire film.

WFD starts out pretty strong. Nothing that hasn't been done a million times by now (the whole "Last Man on Earth" bit) but it looks like this is going to be an enjoyable enough film. Harry Belefonte is a suprisingly good actor and really puts in a good effort doing the whole alone on the planet/slowly losing mind/trying to hold on to some sort of normalcy thing.

Then we meet Sarah and what was a "Day After" survival film becomes girl really likes the guy/guy likes girl but won't show it kind of films. When Ben appears, the love triangle is complete and you can pretty much guess what happens.

The thing is, once Ralph and Sarah meet, there isn't much character development and that's a huge problem considering the film switches into an entirely character driven story. For example, I really don't understand the whole racial subtext between the two other than this was 1959 and interracial couples were pretty taboo. The scene where Ben lashes out at Sarah essentially about how they wouldn't be equals if they weren't pretty much the only two people on the Earth seems out of character for him and unprovoked by her.

I also tried really hard to find something good about Ben but just couldn't. From the moment he was able to get out of bed, it seemed like he was planning Ralph's demise and to have his way with Sarah regardless of how she felt about it. Considering the ending (which I won't spoil for you but I will say was a total cop-out ending,) the other characters must seem something redeeming in him. It's never revealed to the audience though.

It's a shame that this movie went the way it did. There's some beautiful cinematography and the music is excellent. Belafonte is promising, when he actually has a chance to develop his character. While I was still interested in the movie until the end, it was hard to walk away feeling anything less than dissapointed.

However, WTF-flim's DVD of this movie isn't dissapointing. The picture could be sharper (possibly sourced from video) but it still looks pretty good and the Cinemascope aspect ratio is preserved. There's also an isolated music soundtrack, so you can just listen to the score, and there's a photo gallery. I almost feel it should go without saying to those of you who have read my other WTF reviews, but the cover is nicely done as is the menu.

Still, it's hard for me to recommend this disc because the film kind of left me cold. If you are a fan of The World the Flesh and the Devil, and can't wait for TCM to run this one again (as apparently they show this from time to time,) I don't think you'll be dissapointed with this disc. For anyone else, I'd suggest keeping an eye on the cable guide before picking this one up.

Just call me Toshio...

because it's looking like I'm obsessed with turtles.

Here's a couple of Gamera trailers to go with my last post. This first on is for the US version of the first Gamera film, Gammera the Invincible. This still has a bit of the classic US drive in trash trailer feel to it.

To the other end of the Gamera time line, here's the trailer for Gamera vs. Zigra. This film was never released theatrically in the US and wasn't even seen over here until 1987. This is the Japanese trailer, but it's subtitled and it has English supers!

Both of these come from the long out of print Neptune Media VHS versions of these films. Gammera the Invincible is essential as it's the only time this has appeared on home video in it's correct aspect ratio and it looks a million times better than any of the DVDs floating around.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Gamera vs. Gammera (vs. Godzilla King of the Monsters)

I'd encourage you to check out this article Phil Hall over at Film Threat has written about Gamera in his Bootleg Files column. Honestly, I was going to cover this movie in a similar fashion, but he beat me to the punch. Oh well. Even though I don't agree with his assessment that Gamera was the worst kaiju creature ever, I still think he's "always entertaining". ;)

So, let me piggyback on what Phil wrote over there. As I'm sure you know, I love Gamera and most of the reason being he and his films are just so dang goofy. I mean, a giant, fire eating, flying turtle who is friend to all children? Sign me up!

This first Gamera movie wasn't quite the loopy kiddie fare as the rest of the series though. It's pretty obvious the inspiration for this one was the first Godzilla film, as Gamera shares it's ominous tone and rather stark black and white feel.

Even so, there are moments in the film, like when Gamera rescues Toshio from the lighthouse (which, to be fair, Gamera had just smashed) that portray Gamera as more of the good guy he'd become in later films. It also feels like Gamera is portrayed a bit more sympathetically in this film than Godzilla would be in his first.

Like the first Godzilla film, Gamera wouldn't make the voyage to America without some major alterations. Scenes with Americans were added and love interest subplots were removed in both films.

Godzilla, The King of the Monsters (the US version of Gojira) is shorter than it's Japanese counterpart, even with added scenes. One of the most interesting thing about how that movie was Americanized was that it wasn't just dubbed into English. Instead, the story was retold through Steve Martin's (Raymond Burr) eyes so he'd have to ask for someone nearby to translate what was going on. It was a pretty clever solution and I'm sure it saved money as the whole film didn't need dubbed, just a few parts where he's directly talking to main characters.

The American version of Gamera was titled Gammera the Invincible. It actually runs longer than the Japanese version due to the inclusion of many scenes by the US distributor. Almost all of these scenes are talky and grind the film to a halt.

I will say one positive thing about the US scenes, the military scenes added in the US are a million times better than the US military scenes in the original movie, even though they are a little "wacky" in tone. I'm willing to bet Daei found some Americans on a military base and put them in the movie as they are clearly not actors.

The other thing that bothers me about Gammera the Invincible is the dubbing. Now, this version was dubbed by Titan (think Speed Racer) who normally do a great job. For some reason, everyone talks like Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's in the dub track here. Of course, it's still miles better than the second version of Gamera which would come to us from the infamous Sandy Frank.

Gammera the Invincible was released in 1966 by World Entertainment Corp. It then went to TV, where it played along side the rest of the Gamera films that AIP brought straight to TV. Apparently in the 80s, the rights to the Gamera films switched over to Sandy Frank, who was bringing bunch of Japanese movies and TV shows to America.

For many of us who grew up in the 80s, this was how we were exposed to Japanese shows from the 60s and 70s as many cable and UHF channels bought these films and they were staples of creature feature and Saturday afternoon movie shows. Of course, the Sandy Frank syndication package also accounts for a large part of the third season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the highlight of the series, for me anyway.

Rather than paying again for the right to the US Gammera the Invincible, Frank just took the Japanese film and redubbed it. The good thing about this was, for the first time we saw the untampered version of Gamera in the states. However, the dubbing was atrocious, to the point of making the movie unintentionally comical.

This Sandy Frank version made it to home video, both as cheap VHS and as half of a laserdisc Gamera double feature. It's currently unavailable on DVD, though it's not difficult to find on the collector's circuit. Same for the MST3K version.

Gammera the Invincible first made it to home video in 1998 when Neptune released an excellent letterboxed tape. They also released the Japanese Gamera widescreen and subtitled on VHS and laserdisc, which is the only time the completely unaltered movie has been available in the US. Unfortunately, Neptune seemed to go out of business quickly and the pricey tapes weren't generally available and are still difficult to come by.

Currently Gammera the Invincible is languishing in public domain hell. In 2003, Alpha released a DVD of the 16mm pan and scan TV print of the film and since then everyone and their brother has done likewise. I am normally a big fan of the public domain, but in this instance I wonder if Gamera is truly in the public domain.

This situation seems to happen for a lot of foreign films; the US distributer fails to renew their version of a film as they haven't renegotiated the rights for the film. These version then fall into the public domain, but the original film is still protected meaning they'd still have to be licensed from the original foreign company but not the US one who made the alterations.

Confusing isn't it? I guess that's why a lot of stuff falls through the cracks. It seems like many foreign film companies either don't know what's going on or don't feel it would be worth their time to pursue the copyright on their works.

While it's nice to get all these movies for cheap, it greatly diminishes the likelyhood of getting anything other than cheap copies. Who would want to put the money into releasing a restored version of a film when not only would it have to compete against dozens of cheap versions, but someone could rip off your restoration job and there'd be little you could do about it?

If you're really interested in the film, I'd suggest you look for the Neptune VHS*. Seeing Gammera the Invincible in it's proper aspect ratio is like watching a different film. The Gamera movies look considerably less cheap when seen widescreen, but unfortunately US audiences rarely got a chance to see them this way. The cheap DVDs out there range from ok to unwatchable, but even at best, you're watching a highly compromised version of the film.

I strongly doubt the Sandy Frank versions are ever going to make it to DVD legitimately, but here's the Sandy Frank song from MST3K to tide you over.

* Neptune also released separate dubbed and subtitled widescreen tapes of a couple other Gamera films. I have Gamera vs. Zigra on the way in a dubbed version that AIP never released to TV. Correction: Baah. It's the same damn Sandy Frank dub with the little girl whining about wanting a Coke every five minutes. Still, this one isn't out on DVD in a "public domain" version and the tape is letterboxed, so it's got that going for it.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Review: TV Favorites: Classic Commercials (Madacy)

This was an impulse purchase. I dig the old commercials and I saw this two disc collection in Best Buy for $8. Even though I was very aware of Madacy's reputation as bottom of the barrel quality wise, I figured for $8 I couldn't go too wrong. Famous last words, I guess.

Let me mention the good first. Rather than trying to cram almost four hours of video on one disc, Madacy made this a two set. I didn't notice any ugly macroblocking typical of budget releases. I appreciate the fact that they grouped the commercials by theme (food, kid's stuff, celebrities, etc.) and for the most part they got it right. I didn't notice many duplicates, which is also a surprise.

When I put the disc in, I was greeted with a nice menu that looks like an old TV and plays clips from the commercials. Because of that, I though maybe the quality would be better than I was expecting. How wrong I was.

OK, I know this material wasn't exactly preserved well, nor was it designed to be. I've seen a lot of commercial tapes, and the quality is always hit or miss. In the case of this collection, it's like they started with poor material and managed to make it worse.

The stuff that was likely cribbed from Rhino's old Commercial Mania tape looks alright, but it goes down hill fast from there. It's like half of this disc is taken from tenth generation slow speed VHS dubs. Color commercials look like blobs and streaks moving around on your screen, as if Jackson Pollock did animation. Black and white clips are so dark, it's difficult to tell what, if anything, is happening.

To add insult to injury, about fifteen minutes of footage that otherwise doesn't look too bad is completely ruined by a flashing white streak that appears across the screen intermittently. It looks like someone doing the transfer had a short in a cable somewhere and they didn't bother to go back and fix it. Pathetic and lazy.

I wish I had something better to say about this collection as there are some great clips on here. Too bad most of them are unwatchable.

Here's a few of my favorites that I also found on YouTube.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Review: The Green Slime (WTF-flim)

Protip: this is not a documentary about You Can't Do That on Television.

A giant asteroid is approaching the Earth and only Commander Jack Rankin (he of the Ronald Regan hair, permanent smirk and the thumbs-up) can save us. In order to do this, he will have to collaborate with his former partner Commander Vince Elliott (who is packing a lemon sucking face and the tendency to get people around him killed.) Rankin and Elliot previously had a falling out over some mission procedures and over the luscious Lisa Benson, who just so happens to be the head doctor on the space station they'll be using as base.

While planting explosives on the asteroid, the crew encounters a living slime that covers their equipment in the short time they are there. A researcher who has tagged along wants to take back a sample to study and when Rankin swats the specimen out of his hands, a small bit splashes up on his space suit. The decontamination process causes this unnoticed bit of slime to grow rapidly. On one part of the ship, everyone is celebrating the asteroids demise. On the other, creatures that feed on energy and grow rapidly are beginning to take over.

As you can guess, the next hour of the movie is spent trying to kill the creatures, which only seem to feed on being shot until about the second to last reel when shooting them magically works. We also have the unfolding subplot of what happened between Rankin and Elliot (it's never really explained, but apparently it had something to do with fatally putting several men in danger to rescue one) and, of course, the love triangle between the the Commanders and Dr. Benson runs it's awkward course.

Several people, including one of the main characters, die. Many of the silliest monsters not appearing in a Roger Corman film die. Unconvincing models do their thing. And the two people you know were going to live happily ever after do, I think.

It's kind of hard to believe The Green Slime was a 1968 film. Everything about this movie, short of the go-go 60's theme song and general vibe, could have come straight from an AIP flick ten years earlier. I've read somewhere this film was intended to be part of a series and kind of a tribute to old space serials like Rocky Jones, which would explain a lot.

The acting is stiff and there's no real likable characters. Rankin is an asshole, Elliot is a bit of a putz and Benson seems to be hedging her bets and playing both sides. Some of this may be due to the unusual circumstances under which The Green Slime was made. The back story of the movie is probably more interesting than the movie itself.

Apparently, this was the first Japanese-American movie collaboration, and, through writer Ivan Reiner, there's Italian influence as well. The film was shot entirely in Japan, in English, using all Caucasians and most of the extras came from the nearby US Air Force base. It may or may not be connected to an earlier series of Gamma 1 films. Similar sets and props are used, but the connection is never made clear.

MGM and Toei prepared different cuts of this movie for the US and Japan respectively. This wasn't uncommon at the time, and still isn't as rare as it should be today. The US cut is what I've been talking about so far. Japan got a shorter version of this film (basically all the love triangle stuff is pulled) with different, more serious music cues. This Japanese cut of the film is also the only version to appear on DVD to date. Prior to this WTF-film release, anyone wanting to see the US version of The Green Slime was left with either the pan and scan VHS or a DVD-R sourced from that tape.

What WTF has done is take the shorter Japanese cut of the film, edit the missing scenes back in and sync it to the US soundtrack. I was a little curious as to how this would work as the only version of the US film I knew of was badly cropped versus the original Cinemascope aspect ratio of the Japanese DVD. Well, WTF located an interesting compromise, an Italian broadcast print which is the same as the US version of the film but instead of being panned and scanned to 1.33, it's just cropped on the sides to about 1.78.

It's a lot less disorienting going from the 2.35 scenes to the 1.78 than it would be if the old US tape was used, but there's another catch with this solution. First off, the colors are over saturated and the whole thing has a video look to it. The other problem is, there's a bug on the lower left hand corner of screen with, I'm assuming, the TV station's logo.

Even with these flaws, I found the presentation to be much more enjoyable than watching the old US tape. Until an official disc is released, this is the best we're going to get. I know a lot of work was put into this version and I can't imagine going back to the tape after seeing this composite widescreen version.

However, WTF's disc doesn't stop there. How does two more versions of this film grab you? On the second disc, we get the Japanese cut and split between the two discs, the Italian version. Unfortunately, neither of these are subtitled. Since the Italian version seems to mirror the US version (I only noticed the end music changed,) this one is not that big of a deal. I can't really see anyone watching this one for more than curiosity's sake*.

I wish the Japanese cut had been subtitled, but it's still pretty easy to follow, so it's not that big a deal. It's nice to have it, to compare and contrast with the US version, but, considering it's pretty obvious when a scene was cut into the composite US version, it's almost unnecessary. Still, if you want to check out the different music, there it is.

There's also trailers and an image gallery. The cover is also good looking, though I'd have put the English title on the spine as that is the focus of this release. Still, it looks good on the shelf so I can't really complain.

For most people, this set is probably going to be a little bit of overkill. I know it was for me. However, I genuinely appreciate the completest nature of these releases from WTF-flim. Even though most people won't have too much need for the other cuts of this film, the composite US version is the only version you need until Sony (or whoever controls the MGM catalog these days) decides to give this one a proper release.

Like Commander Rankin, I give this set a hearty thumbs-up.

* In case you're wondering about why the flim was split over two discs rather than making this a three disc set, well, it seems as if this was broadcast in two parts as there's are "end of part one" and "beginning of part two" title cards clearly part of the broadcast. I really can't see anyone watching this, I think it was just included for completeness sake, so it's no loss either way.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The future of animation.

Saddly, I halfway think I'm telling the truth.

Review: Battle of the Dragons (WTF-film)

(aka Kairyu daikessen, The Magic Serpent)

For most moviegoers, there isn't much in Battle of the Dragons' story they haven't seen before. A royal family is violently removed from power with only the young prince narrowly escaping. The prince then trains in seclusion with a wise old master. Just as the master is about to tell the prince the truth of his past, he is killed. The prince then heads out to seek revenge and reclaim his kingdom. Along the way, he falls in love with a young woman who, it turns out, is the estranged daughter of the evil wizard who made the overthrow of his family possible and who is planning a coup of his own.

Get the idea?

While the plot may not win any awards for originality, the movie works well due to good acting and a snappy pace. The story is adequate, but I don't think it's really the main attraction of this film anyway.

See, you're never going to get bored because it's as if Toei decided to throw nearly everything that was hip and happening in Japanese cinema of the day (1966) in this one flick. Swordplay, ninjas, kaiju, magic. You name it, it's in there. With so much stuff going on, you might think Battle of the Dragons would be a mess, but somehow it all holds together nicely.

Some of the blue screen effects are dated and obvious, but for the most part the effects in this film are very good for the time. I really like the kaiju fight at the end. The monsters have a neat design and someone put some time and money in to the miniatures they are stomping though.

Unfortunately, this movie has kind of a reputation for being another cheesy Asian movie. I think this is due to the fact that like the Gamera movies, it was picked up by AIP for TV syndication and has only ever been available to US audiences as a dubbed, pan and scan shell of what it really is.

Contrasting this to the US TV version (which is out on a Retromedia disc with Return of the Giant Monsters) is almost like watching two different movies. WTF's disc is a anamorphic widescreen presentation taken from a good looking print with just the smallest damage in a few spots. The colors are a little dull, but that may be a fault of the film stock used at the time. I'm guessing this print is taken from the region 2 disc.

WTF-film again impresses with the options offered on this disc. You can watch this film in Japanese with subs, English dubbed* or hear just the soundtrack. The subs are easy to read, though at times there's a lot to read on the screen, and the Japanese audio is clear and sounds good. The English dub (done by Titan) is slightly lower in fidelity, which is most apparent as a few music cues had to be cut back in from the Japanese soundtrack due to AIP adding their own credits.

There are also trailers, the AIP TV opening credits, an image gallery and alternate audio. Honestly, I can't tell what's alternate about the alternate audio. It brings up a screen with Japanese text and plays a version of either the opening or closing song. Again, I'm guessing this was taken from the region 2 disc, but I really don't know. It's nice to have, even if it's something I'm not interested in really.

As seems to be standard with WTF-flim discs, the menu looks nice (though this one is a little confusing in the layout) and the artwork and disc look very nice. Again, this is another winner from WTF-flim and is highly recommended.

* one interesting thing about the English dub. Not only are the actors dubbed, but the kaiju are redubbed as well. For some reason the dragon now has Godzilla's roar, the frog sounds like Rodan and the giant bird, Mothra.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More Dollar Tree Halloween Crap!

I couldn't justify buying any more of this junk, but man, are these people getting some mileage out of their (probably) bootleg Halloween stuff this year. I stumbles across two more products bearing the same images as the posters, figurines and finger puppets I blogged earlier.

These are some really crappy PDA pictures, so bear with me.

Here's playing cards. Yep, nothing says Halloween quite like a game of hearts. WHOOOOO!!!! Veeeerrrryyyyy Scaaaaarrrrrrryyyyyy Kiiiiiiddddddssssss.

OK, this is going to require a little more explaining because the picture is so terrible. It's slime in a can. Not like Silly Putty, this actually looks like slime. It's watery and looks like it would make a huge mess and possible be toxic to young kids who will inevitable try to eat it.


Hear that sound? It's the bottom of the barrel being scraped. I mean, playing cards? Come on. The slime is at least a little cool, but what's next? Temporary tatoos? Coloring books? I guess they could still slap those pictures on a pack of gum or something like that.


I gotta say though...King of the Lizards STILL MAKES ME LAUGH! Heh heh heh.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Review: The Giant Claw (WTF-film and CryptFlicks)

The Giant Claw is one of those movies I can't figure out why they never got around to featuring on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Pretty much from first frame to last this movie is nothing but cinematic cheese.

Here's my one sentence summary of the Giant Claw: The military, led by a know-it-all electrical engineer, defends model airplanes from a marionette buzzard and stock footage from Earth vs. the Flying Saucer. That's pretty much the whole enchlada right there.

I can't understand why Mitch MacAfee, the electrical engineer, is flying planes for the Air Force as a civilian or why he knows so much more about everything than anyone else in the movie. If this guy was so damn smart, why wasn't he in the military to begin with or why wasn't he an atomic physicist rather than being the guy to waltz in and tell the military's top atomic guy where he'd gotten it all wrong?

The military in this movie is of the "shoot first, ask questions never" persuasion so there's little attention given to what this bird is or why it's here. Well, there is one scene in the middle of the movie that grinds everything to a complete halt that functions as the token "oh yeah, guess we better throw some motivation into the mix" explanation. Needless to say, the science is pretty laughable.

Speaking of laughable, check this mug out:

Yep, that's "The Giant Claw" in all it's mutant Muppet buzzard glory. This silly puppet is the only reason anyone cares about this film anymore. Everything else in this movie has been done a million times in nearly every Z-grade sci-fi film of the time, but the Claw stands out even among ridiculous movie monsters of the time.

Just when you start losing interest in the movie, the Claw attacks and your brain struggles to process what you're seeing. Nothing about these effects look convincing and the scene where the Claw picks up a Lionel train has to rank with the hubcap saucers from Plan 9 and the exploding rocketship on a stick in Robot Monster.

How I came to acquire two versions of this film on DVD can be explained by my habit of buying things in lots on eBay. Someone was selling a lot of CryptFlicks discs about a week before I bought a lot of WTF-films discs. I got the CryptFlicks lot cheap, so I didn't mind the fact that I ended up with a double dip and a few films that are out officially on DVD now.

Both of these discs appear to be sourced from video and I'm willing to guess it's the obscure Goodtimes release that serves as master. If you remember buying Goodtimes VHS tapes back in the day, you have an idea of what kind of quality to expect. The print is in good shape but the master looks to be a combination of slow recording speed and cheap tape.

Both of these discs have a solid encode, though WTF's transfer is sharper and has better blacks. The sharpness of WTF's disc emphasizes the video nature of the master, but overall I preferred this disc to CryptFlicks. They both look good though and you won't be disappointed with either.

I think CryptFlicks has an edge in the audio department, however. The audio on the master is slightly clipped and it sounds like WTF used some sort of noise reduction that left the dialogue a little muffled. CryptFlicks' version is a bit noisier, but when it comes to trading noise for high end, I'll always pick the noise unless it's too obtrusive.

Each of these discs have a unique quirk that is worth mentioning. Once in the viewing of WTF's disc I noticed a slight video roll (or whatever you call that line you get from a wrinkle in a videotape.) It's brief and doesn't effect much of the screen. CryptFlicks' disc cuts off just as the end title card is fading in. Neither of these flaws are deal breakers, but I just noticed them, so I thought I'd mention them.

Both of these discs come cased with art. CryptFlicks' case shows the movie poster on the front and has a brief synopsis and movie stills on the back, just like all their other releases I own. WTF's case is a little more abstract with just a cloudy sky and text. The info about the movie is cool, but I don't like this case as much as the others in their collection.

In addition, WTF's disc has silkcreened artwork while CryptFlicks' disc is silkscreened with just the name. Both discs have menus and chapter marks. CryptFlicks gives a chapter every five minutes while WTF chapters scenes. WTF also includes a trailer and image gallery.

While there's nothing wrong with CryptFlick's disc, I have to give WTF the edge. Although I prefer the clearer, if noisier, audio from CryptFlicks, the sharper image and extras make the WTF version of this film the one to own, at least until Sony (or whoever owns the Columbia Pictures catalog from the 50s these days) decides to finally put this one out officially.