Wednesday, July 18, 2018

POP OFFENSIVE is TONIGHT!


You've been waiting for Pop Offensive episode #47 for so long... and now, here it is, sneaking up on you like a thief in the night. And as much of a hassle as it is to change your schedule at the last minute-- to postpone your wedding, heart bybass, or what have you--it's always worth it.

Because, as unpredictable as Pop Offensive's schedule is, there is always one thing about it that is completely predictable. Yes, I will endlessly plug my new book and podcast, but that's not what I mean (though I would bookmark those links, if I were you.)

What I mean is that, whichever episode of Pop Offensive you listen to, you are guaranteed to hear a meticulously curated selection of some of the most catchy, danceable and melodic pop music that this crazy world has to offer, be it released last week or harkening back to the dawn of the rock era. It's a bastion of stability in chaotic times, really, even though it itself can come off as pretty chaotic, and I can come across as pretty unstable.

So, to sum up, you owe it to yourself to live stream Pop Offensive tonight--that's Wednesday, July 18th--at 7pm from http://kgpd969.org. If you succumb to your worst impulses and go on that date with that foxy movie star instead, fret not; you will still be able to stream the archived version of the show, along with the archived version of all 46 (46!!) of the previous episodes, from http://www.kgpc969.org/pop-offensive .

Now get out of here, you little scamps, before I box your ears.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Podcast on Fire's Taiwan Noir Episode 27: Hello Dracula and The 36 Shaolin Beads


In the latest episode of Taiwan Noir, Kenny B. and I discuss Hello Dracula, Taiwan's casual, more friendly take on Mr. Dracula, and The 36 Shaolin Beads, a film I round in the dollar bin at Walgreen's and quite liked. Stream the episode now and be astounded by the rigor we bring to these arguably silly topics.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

SO BAD IT'S GOOD is GO!


Just about a year ago, I published a little book called Please Don't Be Waiting for Me. It concerned a bunch of teenage punk rockers who went to Berkeley High School by day and went to punk rock shows in San Francisco.by night. Hey, that sounds like me and my friends back in the early 80's, which is when the book is set. Then one of their friends gets brutally murdered and they end up getting chased around by homicidal Hells Angels and meth addled, racist skinheads. Ok, that never happened to me and my friends... but it could have.

Anyway, it turned out that people who read the book liked theses made up people of mine, as did I, so I decided to put them through their paces again, this time in a book called So Good It's Bad. This book starts out with a disastrous DIY band tour (something I know a lot  about) that leads to our protagonist Scott and his band mates being held hostage by a family of dangerous loonies, one of whom is a serial murderer popularly known as The Jackpot Killer. Chaos and bloodshed ensues.

Plot synopsis aside, what's most important about So Good It's Bad is that, after months of me teasing you with it, it is finally available. In fact, you can purchase it right now from Amazon by going here (though you don't necessarily have to fuck off.)

It's also important--and dreadfully so--that the book's release will kick off a flurry of promotional activity on the part of your truly. This will include a launch event that will take place in Oakland on August 10th, at which I will read from the book and write my name in your copy of it whether you want me to or not. There will likely also be interviews, podcast appearances and publicity stunts involving varying degrees of public nudity. Watch this space to keep pace, because I'm sure you'll want to witness them all, no matter how much cross-country or international travel it involves.

That's all in the future, of course. For now, all I would like for you to do is read the book', hopefully enjoy it, and recommend it to a friend or two. (Also, Good Reads and Amazon reviews are always nice, but I won't ask for those outright, because that would be unethical.)

Finally, if you are someone who likes to look at and touch things--and I mean that in the most innocent way imaginable--I think that you will find the book to be a pleasing physical artifact, as it was once again designed by my talented friend Andrew Nahem. Then again, if you find the idea of confronting an actual book in all its stark physicality utterly nauseating, there will be an eBook version, though you will have to wait a few weeks.

In summation: MY NEW BOOK IS NOW AVAILABLE. PLEASE BUY IT. I HAVE MADE THIS ENTIRE PARAGRAPH AN AMAZON LINK SO THAT YOU CAN DO SO MORE EASILY. THANK YOU.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Creature (India, 2014)


Last Monday, I went vinyl record shopping with my nephew in the East Bay, and ended up in an Indian DVD shop on University Avenue, where the voluble sales clerk talked copies of Baahubali and Ek Tha Tiger into my hands. I was grateful for this guidance, because it had been a very long time since I had seen a Bollywood movie of even remotely recent vintage—since before I started writing Funky Bollywood, to be honest—and also because I ended up liking both films.

But there was one more film that I walked out of that store with, one that I had chosen myself by virtue of the cover alone, which advertised a CGI monster movie in which beauty-turned-scream-queen Bipasha Basu faces off against a horrific part dinosaur/part man. The film’s title: Creature (also known as Creature 3D, if you are watching it in 3D—or if you are one of the characters in the movie, who is experiencing the creature as part of their natural field of vision.)


Like its title, Creature is a pretty on-the-nose affair, as are most of Indian cinema’s first stabs at a particular genre, taking the modern day monster movie, as presented by Hollywood, and stripping it down to its basic machinations. All of the expected tropes and plot points arrive right on time, from the jump scares down to the ironically portentous dialogue (“I’m glad we honeymooned here, rather than in London or Paris,” says one newlywed immediately before being torn into pieces.)

All of this is woven into an engagingly slick little package by director Vikram Bhatt (Raaz) who, armed with a budget of Rs. 18 crore (roughly 2.7 million U.S. dollars), even comes up with CGI effects that rise above passable quality. This latter makes Creature a must-see for anyone (like me) who has ever made fun of Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani, a film whose only purpose seems to be to make Mega-shark vs. Giant Octopus look like Jurassic Park by comparison.



The creature in question bears a slight resemblance to Ray Harryhausen’s Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth, and benefits considerably from the obviously great care taken in designing its movements. This is a monster whose personal mantra appears to be “Always Be Hunting”. When he is stalking his prey, he moves in a slithering crawl that is almost sickeningly visceral, then breaks into a loping gallop when it’s time to strike. Less care was taken, unfortunately, with the sound design; we’ve all heard about the ingenious combinations of sound and technique that were combined to fashion Godzilla’s iconic roar. In the case of the creature from Creature, what we are obviously hearing is a gruff voiced man yelling “ROAR” into a microphone, perhaps with his hands cupped around his mouth.

The film also seems to be holding its nose a bit in its presentation of gore, but it does give us one shot of a severed leg and, in another scene, a severed arm. And, if it is at all possible to over-react to such a sight, the actors do their earnest best to pull it off.



Of course, in addition to special effects, Creature also has a plot, and that concerns Ahana Dutt (Basu), a fiercely determined young woman who, in the wake of a family tragedy, moves to Northern India’s lush Himachal Pradesh region to realize her dream of building and operating a “boutique hotel”. This, in defiance of everyone else’s characterization of the surrounding area as a “jungle”, she names the Glendale Forest Hotel, and true to that name, it is a very Western-looking, almost chalet-style construction that could just as easily be in Northern California as the Swiss Alps.

We join the Hotel’s grand opening party in progress, where Ahana meets and immediately makes googly eyes at Karan (Pakistani dreamboat Imran Abbas), a man who shows up with an acoustic guitar despite later claiming that he is only posing as a musician, even though he has just made that one acoustic guitar sound like an entire orchestra. This was in one of only four songs in the movie, just two of which are picturized on the actors. On the DVD, each of these songs is accompanied by a super title announcing where you can download them as ringtones (you stay classy, T-Series.)


Sadly, by the time of the party, we have already been privy to the two newlyweds and one hapless maintenance man being slaughtered by the creature. Ahana is soon privy to this, too, and as the killing continues, attendance at the hotel drops, leaving her prey to another monster, the profit-hungry bankers who threaten to repossess the hotel from her.

It has to be said that the best part of Creature is Bipasha Basu’s portrayal of the very well-written character of Ahana, an admirably rugged heroine who insists on taking the lead in every battle, be it against the monster or her creditors, all while fiercely holding on to her dream of entrepreneurship. In this way, Creature sort of comes off like a sci-fi retelling of Once Upon a Time in the West, in which, rather than Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale’s Jill must protect her ranch against the predations of Godzilla. Casting Basu against Imran Abbash in all his emo-ish frailty goes even further toward establishing her as a total boss.


As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, one of the joys of watching Indian takes on genre cinema is in seeing how the chosen genre’s tropes collide with the idiosyncratic traditions of Hindi cinema. Sadly, no such joys are to be had with Creature, as the film tamps down on its Indian-ness as furiously as Ahana tries to put a Western face on her endeavors in the hospitality industry, doing so in open defiance of the wilds that surround her. This is true from the locations, which could be literally anywhere in Europe or the Northern United States, to the dialogue, roughly 40% of which is spoken in English.

It is suggested that Ahana’s actions have unleashed the monster, and that it is somehow the personification of some past sin of hers. Is Creature, then, a cautionary tale about post-diaspora Bollywood’s ever-increasing Westernization? If so, what is the monster that has been, or will be, unleashed? Until we know the answer, Creature merely comes across as a slickly engaging, though pretty generic creature feature.

Friday, June 29, 2018

It's the FRIDAY'S BEST POP SONG EVER Podcast, Episode #8


It's difficult for me to express how much I love Syd Straw's version of the dB's "Think Too Hard." It is literally one of my favorite pop songs ever. Thus I am grateful that I have a podcast on which I can give it the attention it so sorely deserves. Check it out, won't you? And if you like what you hear, please subscribe.


Pop Offensive spells EXCITEMENT!


The archived version of last week's Pop Offensive has been made available for streaming, which means that, if you go to kgpc969.org/pop-offensive, you can listen to it now, along with any of our forty-five (!) previous episodes.This was one of our more energetic installments, careening heedlessly from punk to pop to soul to electro to glam to Europop without so much as a glance over our shoulders. (God, I even played Aqua!) Listening to it should leave you as amped up as Judy and Mickey are in the above picture, though without being fed handfuls of amphetamines as they clearly have been.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

POP OFFENSIVE is TONIGHT!


My former Pop Offensive co-host Jeff Heyman used to give me a hard time about using so many pictures of women with guns in our posters. But I challenge him--and anyone else, for that matter--to confirm that the thing Jane Fonda is holding in the iconic photograph above is an actual gun, as it looks more likely to have been made by Dyson than Smith & Wesson.

Anyway, I hope you all will live stream Pop Offensive tonight from KGPC969.org, because it's going to be a rollicking good time. And I want to say that, by playing bright and upbeat music in these dark times, I am not trying to distract you, but rather to fortify you. Join me, won't you?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Abar: Black Superman (United States, 1977)


Abar: Black Superman has bubbled up to the surface of the pop cultural conversation in recent weeks, thanks to the phenomenal success of Black Panther. Taking a cue from its title, some writers are calling it “the first black superhero film”, and I won’t disagree with that—though I will point out that it’s tag line at the time of its release was “the first black science fiction film” and that it is as much a tale of mad science as it is of costumed heroics. On top of all that, it is also a thoughtful examination of being black in America circa 1977.

The film starts with Dr. Ken Kincaid (J. Walter Smith) and his family moving into the all white Los Angeles neighborhood of Meadow Park. The neighbors excitedly queue up to meet the new arrivals, until it is revealed that the Kincaids are black, at which point they completely lose their shit. One woman insists, to Dr. and Mrs. Kincaid’s faces, that they are not in fact the Kincaids, but rather their maid and chauffeur. When the Kincaid’s correct this notion, the whole neighborhood explodes into a collective racist hissy fit.


Crude signs (“NO SCHOOL BUSSING”, “GO BACK TO YOUR BLACK GHETTO”) are made and brandished, the N word is tossed around like it is going out of style, the Kincaid’s two children are called “Pickaninnies”, garbage is thrown at the house, and one tubby nebbish with a swastika armband walks around giving the “sieg heil” salute. That night’s local news leads with “A black family has moved into the Meadow Park,” and soon the City Planning Commission is meeting to discuss ways of quelling the situation. It as if the entire city’s equilibrium has been knocked off balance by the movements of this one modest family.

Of course, thing were different in 1977, but Abar’s depiction of white racism in Los Angeles as being so naked and vocal doesn’t quite jibe with my experience of Los Angeles when I was living there in the nineties. Sure, it was a racist city; jaw-droppingly so. But its racism was more insidious in nature, more ingrained (one could even say “institutional”). People didn’t talk openly about being racist, like they did so preposterously in Crash. Otherwise they might taint the city’s liberal, easygoing image. Instead, divisions within the city’s populace were enforced by the unspoken social force fields that confined people within neighborhoods like South Central, Westwood/Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood and insured that many residents of those areas never ventured into or met anybody from the others. In contrast to such a diabolically elusive system, the screaming, self-identifying harridans of Abar come off as overly broad, ridiculous caracatures, stereotypes even. But if that’s the price white people have to pay for a hundred years of African American actors having to wear bones through their noses in countless cheap jungle adventures, then I’d say that we got off pretty easy.


Anyway, as the racism of the Kincaid’s neighbors is so virulent that it can be seen from space, it is not long before it comes to the attention of John Abar (Tobar Mayo) and his fellow social justice warriors in the Black Front of Unity, or BFU. A cross between the Black Panthers and the Hell’s Angels, the BFU hop on their hogs and head toward the Kincaids’. Of course, the sight of black people on motorcycles alone is enough to send the white protestors scurrying back into their homes like scared rabbits, whereupon Abar introduces himself to the Kincaids and is invited inside, whereupon we see that the Kincaid’s home, with its succession of richly upholstered, primary colored rooms, is more like the dance academy in Suspiria than any home in a white middle class neighborhood has a right to be.

Dr. Kincaid shows Abar to his beaker-filled basement laboratory and reveals that he is working on a serum that will give a man superpowers – that is, if he can find the right subject to test it on, hint hint. This is more than Kincaid has told his wife (Roxie Young), to whom he has only referred to this project in the most mysterious terms, telling her that it is of “such tremendous magnitude that one day it will alter the destiny of the world.”


After this encounter, Abar returns to Watts, where he is normally seen preaching on a street corner in front of a large sign that says “SLA AVENGE ‘NOW’.” He has agreed to act as the Kincaid’s bodyguard, but is not around to prevent one of the bigoted local crazies from disemboweling their tabby and hanging it from their front door. Soon after, Kincaid’s son Tommie (Tony Rumford) comes across a thug planting a bomb on the property. When the thug makes a hasty retreat in his van, Bobby takes off after him, only to be run down and killed by him. This proves to be the tearing point for Abar, who bursts into Kincaid's lab and lustily chugs down the serum, then heads out onto the streets of honkytown to explore his superpowers. In a weird twist, this somehow convinces Kincaid that Abar is a “psychopath” who needs to be stopped. Gun in hand, Kincaid takes off after him.

It has been amply stated that the acting in Abar is uniformly dreadful. I won’t disagree, though I will conjecture that the poor actors may have just been overwhelmed by the amount of dialog they were asked to recite, which is a lot. In this way, the film follows in the discursive tradition of black community (or “gospel”) theater, in which metaphorical representation is eschewed in favor of the characters having long discussions in which the play’s themes are laid out in a very on-the-nose fashion.


In Abar, the primary topics of discussion are whether Kincaid is betraying his people by moving into a white neighborhood, rather than staying in the Ghetto where he is most needed. When he is not urging Kincaid to move back to the ghetto, Abar engages with him in plural discussions of the relative virtues of Dr. Marin Luther King’s non-violent approach to protest and Malcolm X’s more confrontational one. This affords the opportunity for portions of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to appear on the soundtrack.

To be fair, not all of Abar’s actors are amateurs, although some clearly are. The children, in particular, have that dumbstruck monotone delivery typical of so many first-time child actors, coming off like twin versions Dee from What’s Happening. This is especially taxing on credulity when young Tony Rumford is required to exclaim melodramatic lines like  “I hate them! I hate them all! They killed our cat.” J. Walter Smith, on the other hand has an authoritative purr worthy of Morgan Freeman, and it serves him well in the scenes where he is debating Abar, though he has a tendency to turn to granite when more warmth is required. As his wife, Roxie Young, has the thankless task of playing the buzz kill spouse who exists only to hector her husband to give up doing his awesome experiments in his basement labs in favor of becoming a staid family man. Nevertheless, she projects an admirable kind of patient strength while modeling a colorful array of Afro-centric fashions. Meanwhile, Tobar Mayo's shaved head, delicate features and soft voice give him an alien quality that well serves his portrayal of Abar, who seems to exist on a plane above the petty squabbles taking place around him.


In keeping with Abar’s thoughtful tone, Abar’s superpowers, once revealed, turn out to be more mental than physical. This means that he can undo both white racism and the ghetto with his mind. In a dizzying closing montage, he goes from turning a bum’s wine jug into a quart of milk to willing a gang of truants to go to college and graduate, all in the course of a few seconds of screen time. Finally, he mentally commands a hurricane to descend upon Meadow Park and literally blow all the bad white people away. In the aftermath, the woman who earlier accused the Kincaid’s of being their own servants comes to them begging forgiveness, claiming that her hostility was due to her being a black woman passing for white. Kincaid patronizingly tells her that he was aware of this fact, and also aware of her Sickle Cell Anemia diagnosis. Burn.


Abar is the sole directing credit of one Frank Packard, who is also credited with playing "Jonah" in The Spectre of Edgar Allen Poe. Packard seems to have been infatuated with the interior of the Kincaid home, and is at his best visually when exploring it's assortment of bizarre color schemes and weird modish details. Aside from this, he does little to prevent Abar: Black Superman from being called a cheap and poorly acted film.

And let's be honest: It is. But, because of that, some people will tell you that it is also stupid, which it isn’t. True, its message does sometime get garbled by its limitations, but at least it has something to say. I’d choose it over Crash every time.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Fantasy Mission Force (Taiwan, 1983)


I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but I think that, when reviewing Fantasy Mission Force, the first thing that needs to be said is that it is clearly a comedy. I think most people would agree with this, though some (you know who you are) would prefer to ignore that fact and skip right to talking about how crazy, awful, or crazy and awful it is. That’s tantamount to showing a Chinese citizen Anchorman and telling them it’s a drama.

Which isn’t to say that Fantasy Mission Force isn’t crazy. It takes place in a world beyond the dimensions of time and space—and, if coherence is a dimension, that too. Sharing a director, Yen-Ping Chu, with Pink Force Commandos and the Shaolin Popey movies, it is a certified work of Weird Fu, though one with an unusual pedigree thanks to its absurdly top-loaded cast. This includes Jimmy Wang-yu, Brigitte Lin, Adam Cheng, Pearl Chang Ling and-- the primary reason that many people who might otherwise have ignored this film have seen it—Jackie Chan.


How Jackie Chan came to be in Fantasy Mission Force is the stuff of cult movie legend, and, like most cult movie legends, the likelihood that it is largely apocryphal is high. As the story goes, Chan starred in the film as a way of returning a favor to its producer and star, Wang Yu. Producer Lo Wei, angry that Chan had left his company for Golden Harvest, had allegedly ordered Triad thugs to put the hurt on Chan, who appealed to Wang Yu to use his alleged “connections” to circumvent that beating, which Wang Yu did, allegedly. You got all that? The thing is that, like all the best cult movie legends, it is entirely plausible. It is also an ironically grim backstory for a movie as unabashedly goofy as Fantasy Mission Force to have.

FMF reminds me a lot of Bollywood masala movies like Dharam Veer for how, in its eagerness to engorge itself with as many crowd-pleasing elements as possible, it completely ignores the intricacies of period. In Dharam Veer, that results in a world where gladiators, pirates, knights in shining armor, and gypsies all maintain an uneasy coexistence. In Fantasy Mission Force it results in a version of World War II in which the Nazis dress like extras from The Road Warrior and drive swastika-emblazoned muscle cars.


The movie takes place in a sort of Rorschach test version of war-torn Asia that could be literally anywhere and nowhere at once. As it starts, we see a quartet of military Generals--one French, one British, one African, and one American—-being taken captive by the Japanese. When the American is asked to identify himself, he sternly replies “General Abraham Lincoln!” If you are someone who needs your movies to make sense, this sequence will shout an immediate warning to you to either let go of that entirely or stop watching.

Yet you’re still watching, aren’t you? Such is the fatal allure of Fantasy Mission Force’s giddy stream of nonsense. And now you’re watching a scene in which the top brass of What-the-fukistan are looking at slides of Roger Moore’s James Bond, Snake Plisken from Escape From New York, Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, and Brigitte Lin’s character from Golden Queen’s Commandos. None of these completely fictional beings, one of them announces, is available to head a rescue operation. This alerts us that the characters they do choose for the operation will be just as much fictional archetypes as those just mentioned, that the force is as much, or more of a fantasy than the mission. Thus FMF is, step by step, laying the groundwork for it to do whatever the fuck it wants narratively—all while worrying at old wounds by making the Japanese occupiers its villains and ensuring that it’s redemptive violence will provide easy catharsis for its audience.


Anyway, it is determined that the man for the job is Wang Yu’s Captain Wen, who is then shown careening around in a jeep, casually firing a machine gun one-handed as extras dutifully fall on all sides of him. Just like in The Dirty Dozen (and also The Wizard of Oz) Wen wastes no time in assembling a band of roguish ne’er-do-wells to join him. Sun (Sun Yueh) is a hobo and master thief. Greased Lightning (Frankie Koh) is an escape artist. Lily (Brigitte Lin) is a gunslinger with a score to settle against her caddish ex-beau Billy (David Thao), who is also along for the mission. Hui Bat-Liu and Fong Ching are members of the Scottish Guard and also (I think?) gay.

Finally, there is Sammy, played by Jackie Chan, an exhibition fighter from New York who bills himself as “The Chinatown Strongman”. Now, before you get excited about all the great martial arts sequences that are about to unfold, let me tell you that Chan is here mainly for comic relief purposes that make use of his gift for slapstick. In the English dub, his bumbling character is even given the whiny, simpering voice (“Master!”) that is usually reserved for Hui Bat-Liu. To complicate matters, Hui Bat-Liu is also given that voice, which suggests that the whiny, simpering voice actor really got a workout on this film.


Indeed, given the array of talent at it's disposal, FMF really doesn't provide us with much in the way of hand-to-hand combat, preferring to fall back on gunplay and explosions instead. Brigitte Lin alone is provided with any kind of showcase, while the awesome Pearl Chang, playing Chan's manager, is given none, and is relied on mainly for her irascible comedic persona. Even a confrontation between Chan and Wang Yu consists mostly of Wang Yu trying to crush Chan with an earthmover as Chan wheels around in a car. My friend and podcast co-host Kenny B suggested that this was perhaps because the producers weren't willing to fork out for the kind of insurance that would allow their stars to throw down in earnest.

Anyway, once the team is assembled, it’s time for a couple of completely random digressions. First, the gang finds themselves captured by a tribe of amazons who are, by all appearances, ruled over by a tuxedo-clad Adam Cheng. Though this might seem like a detail worth examining, it is completely dropped once the Force frees themselves from the amazons and blow up their island as a way of saying goodbye. Next they spend the night in a haunted house filled with hopping vampires and mah-jongg playing ghosts.


If you have by now concluded that Fantasy Mission Force is essentially the honey badger of movies, you are absolutely right. And for all those who revel in the many fucks it does not give about being a conventional movie, there are an equal number of people who are enraged by it, insulted, even—thus its online reputation for being the Worst Jackie Chan Movie EVER.

Personally, I think that comprehension-defying films like Fantasy Mission Force provide a crucial service to serial movie consumers like me, in that they challenge our expectations, expand our idea of what a movie can be and, most importantly, open our minds. Of course, for that to happen, one must respond to the first of its many demands on our suspension of disbelief with a hearty “fuck yes!"