Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Funky Bollywood: It's a launch!

I hope all of you who are able will come to tonight's launch event for Funky Bollywood at San Francisco's Lost Weekend Video. I, of course, will be there to sign books and answer your questions, so if you see me, please come up and say hi.

I look like this:

Lost Weekend is located at 1034 Valencia Street, between 21st and 22nd Streets, in San Francisco's sunny Mission District. The festivities start at 7pm. See you there!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book event on the horizon

Now that Funky Bollywood is finally finding its way into the hands of curious readers and the reviews are pouring in, it's time to celebrate. And that celebration, not surprisingly, will be taking place right here in San Francisco, at the Mission District's venerable Lost Weekend Video on the evening of Tuesday, March 31st. In addition to a head bopping presentation of funky film clips and tunes, I'll be on hand to sign books--which will be available for sale--and answer questions. The funky fun starts at 7:00. I hope you  can join us.

If you are, however, among the vast majority of the Earth's inhabitants who do not live in the San Francisco bay area, rest assured that I am working on other, Funky Bollywood related events both throughout the U.S. and beyond. Keep an eye on this space over the coming weeks for details.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

La Guerrera Vengadora 2 (Mexico, 1991)

It was inevitable that there would be a sequel to La Guerrera Vengadora, given the first film left so many questions unanswered. Questions like, "Why simply walk down a flight of stairs when you can instead take a crotch-punishing motorcycle ride down them?" Or "How can a single woman best put to use that rocket-firing stunt cycle that she has stashed away in her spare bedroom?" You feel me, ladies.

La Guerrera Vengadora 2 basically reunites everyone who was not blown up in the first film. This of course includes its bodacious star, Rosa Gloria Chagoyan, who plays Ana Rosa, a mild mannered high school chemistry teacher by day who leads a double life as a leather-clad, motorcycle riding vigilante by night. Also returning are Ana Rosa’s constant dwarf companion, Reintegro (Rene “Tun Tun” Ruiz) and Chagoyan’s IRL husband, Rolando Fernandez, as Ana Rosa’s hotheaded police detective boyfriend, who again spends as much time vociferously blowing his top as he does blowing helicopters out of the sky with a grenade launcher. I am henceforth going to refer to this character as “Inspector Hothead”, since I have still not been able to figure out what his goddamn name is.

Closing this circle of nepotism is Rolando’s father, Raul Fernandez, in the director’s chair, here benefitting from both a surer hand and a higher budget than he had with the first film. Fernandez Sr. also co-wrote and co-produced the film with his son, which makes Rolando’s casting of himself as such a churl seem all the more self effacing. The family enterprise here, after all, is that of bolstering the image of Rosa Gloria Chagoyan as an iconic cinematic badass, which I imagine is vastly preferable to running an insurance office or a bodega.

La Guerrera Vengadora 2 notifies us by way of an opening vignette that the Ana Rosa of Vengadora 1 has since moved on from personal vendetta to being an all-around crime fighter. A masked gang stages an insanely violent bank robbery that quickly devolves into an insanely violent hostage standoff. This can only be broken by La Vengadora crashing her bike through a plate glass window and mowing down all offenders present with her cycle-mounted machine guns. Meanwhile, a wheelchair-bound mafia kingpin decides to send a message to Inspector Hothead by dispatching a knife wielding psycho to Ana Rosa’s home. Ana Rosa, however, has received warning and flees, leaving behind Sonia, a student whom she has taken in, to fall victim to the psycho’s blade.

As Sonia dies in Ana Rosa’s arms amid much throaty lamentation, the kingpin’s goons take advantage of a Benny Hill-like interlude between a busty housemaid and a horny comic relief milkman and kidnap the little daughter of the police chief (who is played by Carlos East, looking well past his suave leading man roles in Mexispy films like Cazadores de Espias and Blue Demon Destructor de Espias). Ana Rosa is soon on their trail, having found that trustiest of movie clues; a matchbox bearing the name of a nightclub. And, really, who among us does not commit a nefarious act without leaving behind a matchbox bearing the name of an establishment that is literally the hub of all of our activities? (If you were to rifle through my pockets at this very moment, you’d find one imprinted with the name “My Place”, meaning my actual place, because I never leave the house.)

This turn of events leads to a callback to one of Vengadora 1’s most memorable “branding” moments, in which Ana Rosa throws a huge fur worthy of Isabel Sarli on over a form-flaunting dress and hits da club looking like a fanfic version of Jessica Rabbit. Naturally, all of the men in attendance react as if she is the first woman they have ever laid eyes on and, before too long, a pair of the kingpin’s butch female operatives saunter up to feel her out, so to speak. This leads to Ana Rosa, in the guise of an underworld floozy, being granted access to the kingpin’s mansion, where she makes off with a file disclosing the location where the chief’s daughter is being held. The first of many motorcycle chases follows, and you can lay money on there being many sick jumps, sweet asplosions, and rad wheelies involved.

Now all that remains is for Ana Rosa to don a form-fitting black leather outfit, arm herself with a formidable looking crossbow, and, with Reintegro in tow, stage a nocturnal raid upon the mansion. (And, seriously, what is the deal with crossbows? Can somebody tell me at what pop cultural moment such an unwieldy and impractical weapon became the ultimate symbol of bad assery?) It goes without saying that the mansion comes complete with huge air ducts that make for easy egress once La Vengadora has rescued the little girl from the hands of the knife wielding maniac. That said, the perilous chase that follows makes good use of this stock setting, providing the film with what turns out to be a standout action set piece. Equally deft is the following sequence, in which Ana Rosa and the girl dodge competing bands of well-armed pursuers throughout the dank and labyrinthine interior of a ruined 19th century fortress.

I am happy to say that the makers of La Guerrera Vengadora 2 for the most part avoid the icky sexual violence that marred the first film, although they can’t resist the opportunity presented by the presence of an imperiled child to plague our minds with the thought of no small number of narrowly avoided atrocities: toddler vs. flamethrower, toddler vs. axe-wielding psychopath, toddler vs. giant rotary fan, to name a few. A moment of silence should also be taken for the dignity of wee Rene Ruiz, who is made the butt of just about every cartoonish sight gag that has ever been perpetrated in the name of lowbrow comedy, from running around with his ass on fire, to falling in a hillock of flour and having people think he’s a ghost, to engaging in a mock bullfight with a fat biker sporting horns on his head. One hopes that there is a special place in heaven for such performers.

Despite those potential hurdles (pardon the pun) to sensitive viewers, it has to be said that La Guerrera Vengadora 2 betters its predecessor in almost every conceivable way. Its action is expertly staged and virtually nonstop, benefiting from some truly outstanding stunt and pyrotechnic work. Its climax, in particular, had me surprised to find myself hooting and hollering like a good ol’ boy. In that scene, la Vengadora flees from her attackers—who are first on motorcycles, then in a helicopter—the little girl clinging to her back as she roars around on her motorcycle, raining fiery death on her pursuers with the various ordnance at her disposal. This bit ends with her making a preposterous, wire-assisted motorcycle jump across a wide ravine, her little charge holding on for dear life the whole way.

Good stuff. And recommended. Keep in mind, however, that I was very drunk while I watched this movie. You should be, too.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Funky Bollywood: Buy it now!

Ok, there's been enough teasing. I first mentioned my book Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970s Indian Action Cinema on 4DK in early June of 2014. Now, some eight and a half months later, and after a couple of significant delays--due in part to the book going from being a self-published venture to getting picked up by England's esteemed FAB Press--Funky Bollywood's official release date has arrived. And that's today.

Granted, this whole literary darling business is new to me, and I'm still struggling to understand some of the vagaries of the publishing business. But, in our case, "release date" means that this is the date that our distributors starts shipping the book. That means that, if you were to go to your favorite brick and mortar book store today and ask for Funky Bollywood, they might not have it yet (but, hey, it wouldn't hurt to ask anyway and, besides, our favorite brick and mortar book stores could always use the attention). It also means, though, that if you were to order it from your favorite online retailer, yours would no longer be considered a "pre-order" and can be expected to arrive withing a reasonable amount of time.

Of course, if you're lucky, you might also be able to order the book directly from FAB Press and still receive one of the special signed and numbered copies that were reserved for advance orders.

From the comments I've been getting here and on social media, a lot of you are very interested in seeing what Funky Bollywood is all about. And now, once you've finally had a chance to read it, I'm very interested in hearing what you have to say about it. If you would like to weigh in with your various comments, questions, and castigations, I'd love to hear from you over at the Funky Bollywood Facebook page.

And now, here are a few places where you can buy Funky Bollywood right now:

Funky Bollywood at Amazon US

Funky Bollywood at Amazon UK

Funky Bollywood at Barnes & Noble

Funky Bollywood at Books-A-Million

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tonight! It's the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down vs. Starman vs. the EVIL BRAIN FROM OUTER SPACE!

That's right, Shout Downers. You--or someone bearing a vague statistical resemblance to you--asked, and the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down listened. Starman is back--and by a demand as uproarious as the keening voices of one or two meek shut-ins can reasonably be claimed to be. On the menu for tonight is Evil Brain From Outer Space and it's a doozy, filled with all the weirdly balletic fighting, creepy aliens, witches and child inappropriateness that last month's Invaders from Space lead you to expect--nay, demand!

A link to the complete film is below. Just fire that baby up tonight at 6pm PT and join us on Twitter, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, to give appropriately tweet-lengthed voice to your horror, despair and confusion.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Infernal Brains Podcast, Episode 18

"Dial now! Our cat beasts are awaiting your call."
Here's a challenge: Try to say "Pakistani cat lady" 10 time fast. Then and only then can you understand the difficulty involved in assembling an episode of the Infernal Brains Podcast (Tars Tarkas and myself being unmatched in our... uh, er... what was the word?... um... eloquence!) And then you will further understand why it took us nearly an entire year to complete this latest installment, an examination of the grimy Pashto horror film Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay, aka Cat Beast. Okay, that's not true, really. We've just been really busy, is the thing.

Anyway, you can either download it here or watch it with a screamy slideshow via the YouTube link below.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Tuesday! Starman returns to the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down!

And so a council was called of the highest authorities in the galaxy, at which it was determined that Starman, a creature made from the strongest steel, would once again return to Earth at the behest of the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down crew. The threat this time: Evil Brain from Outer Space, a Frankensteinian creation of the evil Walter Manley Enterprises, whose scientists joined elements of three completely different movies to form one extremely disjointed and chaotic--albeit entertaining--movie-like substance.

Will Starman triumph against this ungodly creation? To find out, join us on Twitter, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, this Tuesday at 6pm PT and tweet along with us to the film using the link that will be provided here on this blog. It's what Starman would do.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Terrorist (South Africa, 1978)

You get a good idea of where Terrorist is coming from early on, when the mother of its subject white family, upon discovering her husband being held at gunpoint by a black intruder, murmurs in hushed dread, “Terrorists!” You also get a good idea of where it’s coming from when you learn, as I did, that it was originally titled Black Terrorist and was produced in South Africa at the height of Apartheid. It’s pretty racist, is what I’m saying.

Terrorist is what today would be called a “home invasion” film (think The Purge, or The Strangers). It begins with a nice white family returning unexpectedly from a nice white family occasion to find their isolated home in one of South Africa’s most godawful desert regions occupied by a trio of gun wielding black men, aka the terrorists of the title. In the terrorists’ favor, it should be said that they had not expected the family to be home, as they were depending on faulty information from one of the family’s treacherous black servants, whom they subsequently tie to a tree and fill with bullets for his mistake. This later prompts one of the white characters to remark upon how “they” treat their own. (Look, it gets worse from here. I’m just warning you.)

Like so many cinematic bands of kidnappers, the terrorists include among their number a psychopathic loose cannon who acts as sort of a group id, raping and brutalizing the hostages so that the other two can be freed up to spout lofty rhetoric about reclaiming their homeland. Among the bloody hijinks that summarily follow are the murders of both parents, which leaves their pair of toe headed super children to fend for themselves. The oldest of these, Anna, played by former beauty queen Vera Johns, manages to make a break for it and flee off into the savanna, leaving her little brother, who I’ll just call Junior, in the terrorists’ clutches.

To say that Anna then assembles a rag tag band of rescuers to save her brother taxes the meaning of the term “rag tag”, as her choices are limited to the random dregs of humanity who have happened to collect in the dusty hell hole that her parents had chosen to call home. These include an alcoholic Scottish loner and, most conveniently, a scruffy, camo-clad mercenary with a literal fuck ton of weapons at his disposal. Finally, there is a hunky American journalist (Robert Aberdeen) who just happens to be motoring by. This last character provides the mouthpiece for the film’s lone instances of mild anti-apartheid sentiment, although it is expressed in such terms of lightweight hippy idealism that it is easily dismissed by the other white characters. (“You know nothing about living with these bastards”, spits crusty mercenary guy.)

This motley band of saviors stages a bloody siege upon the house in which the terrorists are holed up, leading to gory casualties on both sides. In the aftermath, the remaining two terrorists take Junior and flee in their van, making for the coast and the boat that will take them back to Terrorist Central or wherever. Meanwhile, the savagery that he has witnessed has turned our peace loving American friend’s mantra from “can’t we all just get along” to “let me at ‘em”, leading him to eagerly take up arms and join Anna and company in hot pursuit.

While it is unquestionably poisoned by ideology, I found Terrorist to be less a work of pure propaganda than it was an especially cynical attempt at making a crowd pleasing thriller. And at this it is depressingly competent. Director Neil Hetherington reels out one time tested thriller trope after another—the near escapes, the nail-biting standoffs, the instances of help being near at hand but frustratingly out of reach, etc.—with a, for the most part, numbingly adequate level of technical acumen. Of course, this is not to say that the film is without its technical failings, especially in the areas of lighting and sound, and those walk blissfully hand-in-hand with the deeply shitty movie that Terrorist is at its core. Ironically, its one saving grace may be its (uncredited) musical score, which has an unmistakable, blaxploitation inspired, funky vibe—though this, sadly, has the effect of making the film overall even more of a “fuck you” to black culture.

I have no idea how much of a hit Terrorist was in its day, but it shares with successful thrillers both before and after the fact that it exploits a popular anxiety of its time. And by that I refer to the obsessive fear of retribution that comes with being the unrightful usurpers of a land. Perhaps this is why Hetherington chooses to end the film on an uncertain note, suggesting that the return of the terrorists is inevitable, much like the proverbial crows coming home to roost.

Rating: Fuck this movie.