Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Top 5 Godzilla Movies

Saturday, I'll be seeing the latest Godzilla flick, Godzilla: Final Wars, on the big screen. It will actually be the third Godzilla I've seen on the big screen, having seen the amazing Godzilla Mothra King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack a year ago...or was it two years? Who the hell knows...and Godzilla 1985 in it's theatrical run. I'm a pretty huge Godzilla fan. I loved them as a kid. Then I tried to pretend that I liked them "ironically" as a teenager (irony really being just an excuse to keep watching Godzilla movies and listening to KISS records after you've figured out that they're crap). Now, I just love them, and I don't give a shit what anyone thinks. These are my top 5 Godzilla films. Not ranked in order, because each one is great in a different way.

Godzilla (1954): This is actually a very good scifi monster movie. It's as beautifully photographed as any Japanese film from that era, with a strange, shiny quality to the nighttime, rain-soaked city of Tokyo. Later Godzilla designs moved his eyes to the front of his head to humanize him, but in this version, the eyes are on the side, implying a reptile whose only thoughts are to satisfy it's hunger. There's certainly no sense that you could reason with this thing. Great theme music, great sound effects, and really kind of scary.

Godzilla vs. Megalon(1973): This was the second Godzilla film I saw (the first was the awful Godzilla's Revenge). They broadcast it on NBC, with a guy in a Godzilla suit introducing the film and cracking jokes between commercials (I recently found out that it was John Belushi). I guess this is my choice for a fun, "campy" Godzilla flick. It conjures memories of all those Saturday afternoon creature features growing up. Godzilla teams up with a robot to fight two monsters, Gigan and the incredibly weird Megalon (some kind of giant roach with a light on his head who spits exploding stones or something). And it's one of those where there's a kid with a baseball hat who keeps saying that Godzilla's not a monster, he's just misunderstood. There's so much wacky shit in this movie. Godzilla even does a flying drop kick on Megalon, which is utterly insane. The weirdest part is this scene right at the begining, when the kid is in the water on some kind of float that's shaped like a big fish, with two smaller fish on the sides that act as propellors or something. Every time I see it, I'm amazed that it's actually in there. It seems like the kind of false memory you'd have from your childhood--getting something you dreamed mixed up with something you actually saw.

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah(1991): This one is from the second series of Godzilla films, made in the late 80s and early 90s. Ghidorah is my favorite monster, so that gives this a big advantage. But this also has a complex, time-travel plot, probably the best story in any Godzilla film, and even some effective emotional resonance between Godzilla and an old Japanese general.

Godzilla vs. Destroyah(1995): The climax of the second series. For all-out, rock'em-sock'em monster fight action, this is the one. Destroyah is a pretty nasty beast, with elements of Alien and Predator in it's design.

Godzilla Mothra King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001): This might be my very favorite. Takes Godzilla back to it's dark roots. The new Godzilla design has a fat stomach, similar to old drawings of T-Rexes, and hollow, pupil-less eyes. This is sort of a reimagining of Godzilla as a mythological monster, representing the souls of angry Japanese soldiers (I think). The elemental gods of fire(Ghidorah), water(Mothra), earth(Barran?) and air(Rodan) must be summoned to do battle with him. You really feel the sense of doom when Godzilla is attacking, and some of the deaths hurt. And it has Ghidorah.

For the record, I think the fan-favorite Destroy All Monsters is overrated. It should be the best of them, but there's actually very little monster-vs.-monster action, and when there finally is, it's just everyone ganging up on Ghidorah. Although it is the best film title of all time.


So, quick update, Bobbie had her gallbladder out Wednesday, everything seemed to go well, but then she had to go in to the emergency room Thursday, and ended up being admitted to the hospital. She had some kind of infection, but fortunately nothing was ruptured (as the doctors at first feared). She's home now, and recovering. I actually finished the L.A. Weekly crossword puzzle, and only had to go to the internet for the last letter. "Jute" is a burlap fiber (the cross word, for the clue "bewildered," was "at sea"). Not exactly the Sunday NY Times, but it's something.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Danger: Diabolik (Mario Bava, 1968)

A few months ago, I was flipping through channels waiting for some show to come on, and IFC was airing a documentary about the works of Mario Bava. I tuned in for a couple minutes, and they started showing clips of one of his films that I'd never heard of, some sort of ultra-mod superhero flick called Danger: Diabolik. My first thought was, "how have I survived this long without seeing this film?"

Danger: Diabolik would be a great movie whenever I had seen it. If I saw it when I was 10, I would think it was an awesome action movie. At 18, I would have loved it as a "so bad it's good" piece of camp entertainment. Now, at 38(!), I find that I love it for being exactly what it is. Diabolik is not a superhero, he's a super thief who, with his girlfriend, Eva Kant. They continualy outfox the uptight authorities in a futuristic, psychedelic world similar to that of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls or Barbarella. Bava has an incredible eye, linking series of exquisitely-framed shots together to produce a kinetic action feel. Dialogue is minimal, and there are long stretches where you'd swear you were watching a silent movie, where the story is conveyed entirely through action and images. The lusty way he photographs Marisa Mell in her wardrobe of sexy, mod outfits is sometimes reminiscent of Russ Meyer.

One of the most interesting things about the film is the relationship between Diabolik and Eva. They are an anomoly in film, or at least in Hollywood: a monogamous couple in an action movie. They don't start out strangers or old acquaintences and fall in love, nor do they face a crisis in their relationship that must be resolved by the movie's end. They are in a steady, mutually passionate relationship from the start. This is in sharp contrast to, for instance, James Bond, especially considering the outlaw aspect of the characters. Despite being a criminal, Diabolik is apparantly a devoted, monogamous lover. We see no evidence of infidelity. When he steals priceless diamonds, it is to give them to her. It's tempting to say that she exists to give him an excuse to steal, but they are as passionate as any monogamous couple outside of The Addams Family. In the scene in which Eva is introduced, as the two switch cars in a tunnel, on the run from the law, he can't help giving her a quick up-and-down inspection, and stealing a kiss through his mask. Later, when they have time for a full-on makeout session, there's real passion between them, and John Phillip Law takes delight in caressing Marisa Mell's arms and burying his tongue in her mouth (what an actor!). And while Diabolik is obviously the mastermind here, he treats Eva as an equal, a partner in crime. There's no question that she is devoted to him, yet he never tires of wooing her. In contrast, we see the gangster Valmont dominating his women through fear (a scene of Valmont telling his woman when to answer the telephone brings to mind Ordell and Melanie's scenes in Jackie Brown), and the sadistic thug who captures Eva torturing his bound captive with a cigarette. Diabolik does not control or dominate his woman through power or violence. He is no pimp. He treats her with respect, and gains an accomplice he can trust with his life. I suppose the fact that the comic was created by two women should be of little surprise.

Watching the film, I thought "this would make a great double-feature with Barbarella." When I logged on to the American Cinematheque website the next day, the schedule was up for their annual Mods and Rockers festival, and lo and behold, they're running a double feature of Danger: Diabolik and Barbarella! Also, Goldfinger, with this intriguing-sounding film, starring Shirley Eaton (the girl who gets covered in Gold in Goldfinger):

THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU, 1967, MGM/UA, 95 min. Dir. Lindsay Shonteff. In answer to the ultimate trivia question – What movie stars both Frankie Avalon and Klaus Kinski? – it’s THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU!! Golden girl Shirley Eaton plays the diabolical leader of a worldwide Amazon sect intent on ending the world’s male domination. Loosely based on Fu Manchu-creator Sax Rohmer’s Sumuru character, this is an amusing example of 1960’s pulpy pop culture at its most bizarre. Beehive hairdos, beautiful wicked women in skintight costumes, clueless secret agents and exotic locales (it was filmed largely at the Shaw Bros. Hong Kong studio) punctuate this campy, Saturday matinee-style thriller.

There's also a double feature of The Loved One and Lord Love a Duck (two excellent dark comedies), and Angel, Angel Down We Go paired with another very interesting-sounding flick:

MARYJANE, 1968, MGM/UA, 104 min. Director Maury Dexter (THE MINI-SKIRT MOB) takes on the pot problem with Fabian (can you dig it??) as a hip high school teacher trying to investigate campus marijuana use. Caught between uptight faculty and distrustful kids, he’s framed for possession and is soon jumping through hoops to not only clear his name but also help troubled youth Jerry (Michael Margotta) before the ruthless teen drug dealers can get the upper hand. Although a little dated, a surprisingly credible B picture looking at the mushrooming use of grass in 1960’s Southern California high schools. With Diane McBain, Kevin Coughlin and a teenage Patty McCormack (THE BAD SEED). [Please note that this, the only surviving print of MARYJANE, is faded.]

Monday, June 20, 2005

Mitch Hedberg

Got this Mitch Hedberg CD, that comes with a DVD (as so many CDs do these days). The DVD is interesting, because it contains his Comedy Central special as it aired, and the raw tape of the hour-plus performance from which the T.V.-half-hour special was edited. What's interesting is that he really bombed. At the end of his set, he decides to just tell a few extra jokes for coverage, and by that time he's pretty much won the audience over, so that ends up being most of what is on the actual special. They totally punched up the laughs for the beginning segments, too.


Our hard drive crashed Saturday morning (or overnight Friday). There was no warning, no symptoms leading up to it. It was working fine Friday night, totally crashed Saturday morning. The damn thing wasn't even 6 months old.

It was still under warranty with Gateway, so they're sending us a new hard drive, but there was a LOT of stuff on there that's most likely lost. I took the drive to Best Buy, where we got it, so that they could try to recover the data on there, but I'm far from hopeful. I mean, it's fucking Best Buy. I've been trying to call them to check up on it, but I can't even get through on the phone. And they charged me $89 just to try, whether they succeed or not, which I think is a fucking ripoff.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Corporation (2004)

Everyone go watch this movie. Right now. Then tell everyone you know to watch it.

All the more relevent today, as Microsoft is literally censoring freedom and democracy in China. Jesus, this is some sad shit:

Weblog entries on some parts of Microsoft's MSN site in China using words
such as "freedom", "democracy" and "demonstration" are being blocked. Chinese
bloggers already face strict controls and must register their online journal
with Chinese authorities. Microsoft said the company abided by the laws,
regulations and norms of each country in which it operates. Also being
restricted on the free parts of the site are journal entries that mention "human
rights" and "Taiwan independence". Those using these banned words or writing
entries that are pornographic or contain sensitive information get a pop-up
warning that reads: "This message contains a banned expression, please delete
this expression."

Monday, June 13, 2005

Irony Is Hard.

I'm trying to sort out my thoughts on The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Not that I'm trying to decide whether I liked it--I loved it, unquestionably. I guess I'm trying to get a handle on exactly how to take that whole "ironic detachment" thing. I am, of course, a part of the ironic detatchment generation, so it doesn't put me off in the way that it seems to do with others. Anderson is a filmmaker who swings more to the intellectual side of things than the emotional, and there seems to be a general consensus that that's a bad thing. I don't buy that. One could just as easily point to some of those classic movies of the '70s and fault them for swinging too far towards the gut. But there are times when I'm watching a movie like The Life Aquatic, and I'm laughing, but I'm not sure if I'm really supposed to be laughing. Or if I'm laughing for the right reasons. There's a scene cut to David Bowie's "Life on Mars?" that is just one of the most rapturously beautiful moments I've ever seen in a film. But it's also a scene that is intended to convey a moment of emotion, and I can't really say it succeeds. But then, how do you even quantify success or failure of such a thing? Another viewer may call it "one of the most emotionally pure moments in cinema," and they wouldn't be wrong. They would merely have a different perspective. More interesting is the question of whether that moment is even supposed to be emotionally resonant, or if it was intended to feel cold and phony.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Cuban Sandwich

The first time I ate a Cuban sandwich (from Porto's Bakery in Glendale), my mouth nearly jumped off my face and started dancing around. It's the clash of flavors, each elbowing each other to get to the forefront, creating a sensory overload: garlicky roast pork, sweet, salty ham, sour pickles, spicy mustard, gooey swiss cheese and crisp, chewey bread. When the second half of the sandwich wasn't quite as transcendent as the first, I developed a theory about the ratios: pork should outweigh ham 2:1, to bring out the more subtle flavor of garlic.

Porto's Cubano is refined and polite. The fillings all fit neatly on the sandwich, the bread is dry and crisp, the flavors work together as a team. At El Cochinito, the cubano is rude and rowdy. The sandwich is a little greasy, and this extends to the bread. The flavors all want to be the star, and they'll push the flavor in front of them down the stairs to get it. You wouldn't take this sandwich home to your family, but you'd sure as hell love to spend the weekend in Vegas on a bender with it.

Cafe Tropical's sandwich is somewhere in between, and somewhere else entirely. This sandwich does have a star: swiss cheese, much more abundant than at the other places, oozes out from between the bread, giving it a familiar feel: sure, grilled ham and swiss, I know this guy. It's aiming for satisfying rather than jarring. The Cafe itself may be one of the most pleasent places to eat in L.A., and by 11:00 on a Friday, it's full of Silverlake slackers slacking their day away. Photos of Fidel and Che are on the wall, and you could be easy to pretend you were in some vaguely revolutionary tropical paradise. One of the coolest murals in town is painted on a building across the street, an action portrait of psychotic monkeys brutaly eating bananas. Where Porto's is a community institution overflowing with hungry masses, arriving there as not often to buy wedding cakes, Cafe Tropical is a neighborhood hangout in the truest sense. El Cochinito, tucked anonymously into a stripmall anchored by 7-11 and Baskin & Robbins, is a place with one purpose: food. Nobody goes there but the true seekers.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Mechanical Musical Marvels

Monday, June 06, 2005

Random Stuff

Bobbie's site is live, baby! I seem to have found a niche for myself, writing short blurbs for websites. This will make my fortune! Actually, I'm finding myself to be quite good at audio editing. Spent an hour or two last night getting the audio together for the site. Still have to edit the video files, which I imagine will be a harder job.

I replaced my DVD player. Thanks to the advice of several posters at CHUD, I got the Philips DVP642, which apparantly is easily programmed into region freedom. I don't know why that should be a big deal for me, since I don't really buy enough DVDs that I'd run out of Region One titles I want, but at least I can get Spaced. At any rate, it seems to operate much better than the one it's replacing.

We had a pajama party Saturday night, and I intended to take a bunch of pictures and post them, but...well, you know how parties go. I got so busy with the business of hosting that I forgot all about it. Robert Lu brought some banh mi from Mr. Baguette. Absolutely delicious. As Robert said, the bread makes it. They bake their own on the premises, and it's chewey, crusty bread filled with good meat and pickled vegetables. Even tasted good the next day, with the bread going stale.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Inevitable "Growing Up Star Wars" Post

I don't want to talk about Revenge of the Sith, which I saw two weeks ago. Suffice to say that I think this whole "Prequel Trilogy" idea was rather ill-advised. But I thought it might be fun to do a little post about how I related to the films growing up, because my story seems to be somewhat different from many people my age, or at least people that I interract with on the internet.

The story starts out pretty much the same. Let's see, 1977, so I was in third grade, and this commercial comes on TV for this new movie, Star Wars (and isn't that title just so perfect? Two words, tells you everything you need to know), and I got extremely excited, told my parents in no uncertain terms that I wanted to go see this movie. Weeks went by, finally it opened in our town. My friends and I had been drawing these huge battles between spaceships and robots and futuristic tanks on lunar surfaces, and I have a vague memory of riding to the theater, and my mom or dad asking me "are you excited to be going to this movie?," and I said something like "Yes! Finally I get to watch a movie about the things I've been drawing!" (Stop me if this is getting too cute) So we get to the theater, and the movie is sold out! This is pretty amazing, never happened before, but we came back the next night, saw the movie, and I absolutely loved it. As we were leaving the theater, I distinctly remember my mom saying "so what did you think?" And I replied "I liked Sinbad better."

Sinbad was Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, which had come out a month or so earlier, and which I had been equally excited about. I'm not sure what that comment meant. Maybe I was just slightly more excited by the mythological stuff than futuristic space stuff at that moment, maybe after all that build up I couldn't help feeling just slightly let down when my mind was only figuratively blown, when I didn't walk out of the theater transformed. But this is, I guess, where the story diverges from so many others, because I know alot of people did leave the theater transformed. To me, Star Wars was a cool movie, but so was Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, Godzilla vs. Megalon, The Spy Who Loved Me, Young Frankenstein...and I never really thought Star Wars was any more interesting than the rest of them. I only saw it once in the summer of '77. In fact, when I got back to school the next year, and all these kids were talking about having gone to see it 5, 12, 20 times, I was like "you can do that?" The idea that you could go see a movie more than once was completely new to me. I never asked my parents, but I can't imagine they would have approved (I did end up seeing it 2 or 3 more times in the summers of 78 and 79).

If Star Wars held a higher place in my youth than those other movies, it was because of the ancillary marketing: all those action figures and toys to play with. I had an 8 Track tape of the soundtrack, the first album in my collection, which I listened to constantly, and I also had Meco's disco version of the soundtrack (which was cooler than the original because it had sound effects from the movie mixed in). I had a giant graphic novel adaptation, which I read over and over. It had a reproduction of the movie poster on the inside back cover, which I memorized, and puzzled over why the actors playing smaller parts, like James Earl Jones, Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing were billed higher than Luke, Han and Leia. I didn't regularly buy the Marvel spin-off comics, but I do remember having two really cool issues: one was a sort of mini-prequel about Luke and Biggs back on Tatooine bullseyeing womp-rats in Beggars Canyon (or however that line goes), the other a 7 Samurai ripoff about Han and Chewie teaming up with a giant green bunny and some other characters to protect some space villagers from space bandits. I bought and read some of those Star Wars poster books, with all kinds of cool information like that Obi Wan scared the Sand People away by imitating the sound the somethingsomething dragon. So, in that respect, Star Wars does cast a pretty big shadow over my youth, for a while. But after Battlestar Gallactica premeired, I pretty much tossed Star Wars aside. The Vipers and Cylon Raiders were much cooler toys than the X-Wingers and TIE Fighters.

I know alot of people were disapointed by Return of the Jedi. To me, by that time, I was a cool teenager, and I already thought of Star Wars as a kids movie anyway. I'd been watching Mad Max, The Road Warrior, Escape From New York, Heavy Metal, Conan the Barbarian, The Sword and the Sorcerer, horror movies like Creepshow...those were badass movies, in my mind at the time. Star Wars was so "nice" that I thought of it in about the same way I thought of 101 Dalmations or The Wizard of Oz. It wasn't until after college, when I was living in a town with a great video store, and I started renting alot of those movies that I loved so much as a kid or a teenager, and found that, in the harsh light of adulthood, most of them just sucked. But Star Wars was great. Star Wars, Empire, and to some extent Jedi, held up remarkably well. They are just great films. Heavy Metal...not so much.

The Grape Soda Incident

Forgot to mention this little story. Sunday, I made my bi-weekly trip to Galco's. I was getting 12 sodas, so I had one of those baskets you carry. I had one more bottle to get, but I couldn't quite make it past the crowd in the aisle, so I set my basket down on an open case of Grape Nehi on a counter and made my way through the crowd. Came back, put the soda in my basket, picked the basket up, and started walking toward the checkout. Well, apparantly, when I picked up the basket, I knocked three of the sodas over. It was a strange time-delay thing. I had already turned around when they hit. The bottles didn't shatter, but their caps all flew off and sprayed me from behind with a sticky purple shower. As I was trying to figure out what happened, I felt more hitting me on the head. I looked up, and the soda had actually hit the roof and created a puddle up there that was dripping down on me! The guy came over and said "Here, let me get you a cart." Meanwhile, I picked up the bottles to stop them from spilling. So he comes back with a shopping cart and says "Here's a cart, I'll clean that up." I said "I'm OK, I have a basket." And then he says, rather sternly, "Just take the cart, sir." Logically, I know it was perfectly reasonable for him to say, but I stewed about it all day, the implication that I was too incompetent to make it from there to the checkout counter without another spill unless I had a shopping cart.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Happenings about town

Cartoon Brew informs us of this incredible happening at the L.A. Film Fest:

ToonTime with THE RZA
Wed Jun 22, 8:30pm The Ford Theatre, $15.00
A founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, THE RZA has been on a non-stop hot streak since the early Nineties. A multi-talented hip hop phenomenon, THE RZA has recorded and produced countless albums, he's scored films for Jarmusch and Tarantino, he's acted in movies, and recently he published his first book. But now, he faces his greatest challenge… CARTOONS. While some of the strangest, coolest cartoons you've ever seen screen behind him, THE RZA will layer together a soundtrack live, demonstrating his skill at using music to complement the action on screen and evoke moods with a few notes. Don't miss this once-in-a-lifetime performance when the animated and the Wu collide.

Also, a screening of 36th Chamber of Shao Lin!!!

And, at some point in the next month, I HAVE to get to the Robert Williams exhibition at Otis College!

Gonna be a busy month...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

How I spent my weekend

Friday was my Day of Retail Excess. For lunch, I went to Cafe Tropicale in Silverlake and got a Cubano sandwich. I'll devote another post to that. From there, I hit Amoeba records. I was planning on then heading up to Burbank and working my way through that strip on San Fernando just south of Media Center where there's about half-a-dozen used bookstores, but it's amazing how quickly you can burn through a hundred bucks at Amoeba. I got La Dolce Vita on DVD, and a cheap, used copy of The Beastie Boys DVD Anthology. I picked up the new Common CD, and the first Ultramagnetic MCs. They also had some really cheap copies of License to Ill, so I got one for Bobbie for her birthday present (so she can put it on her iPod Shuffle, since the copy I have is on vinyl). So I skipped the Burbank strip, but I did go by Brand Library. For some reason, I got a bunch of Classic Rock CDs: The Who Live at Leeds, Van Halen's Women and Children First, KISS Alive (I probably wouldn't have picked that up under any other conditions--I have it on vinyl--but it seemed like a good idea to listen to that on my birthday), greatest hits albums of Mott the Hoople and Sir Douglas Quintet. But I also got vol. 2 and 3 of Howlin' Wolf's Chess Box, a collection of Albert King, and the Bobby Digital CD.

Stephen gave me a couple DVDs as birthday presents, which was nice. He gave me Ronin and the Criterion Seven Samurai. Good kid, already thinking in terms of double-features. Bobbie gave me a can of Macadamia Nuts (which maybe doesn't sound like a big deal, but they're one of my favorite things, but they cost like $8 for a tiny jar, so it's really quite special). I also won an ebay bid for a December 1968 Playboy (Cynthia Myer centerfold, and an interview with Eldridge Cleaver). When Bobbie came home, we walked to the Farmer's Market, and I got a new basil plant for the kitchen (I killed mine a while back), and some really good cherries and banana bread. Oh yeah, and some limes. Came home and mixed a strong drink of orange, pineapple and grapefruit juice with a banana, fresh-squeezed lemon (from the tree in the front yard) and lime juice, white and gold rum, and crushed ice in the blender.

I never got to watch those DVDs--my player broke down. It's just perpetually "loading" now. It's not very old either--maybe 6 months. I may take this opportunity to go region-free.

Most of the rest of the weekend was spent being productive, yet I still feel like there's tons of stuff I haven't done. Completely cleaned the house and backyard, in preparation for the party next week, and did alot of work preparing things for Bobbie's website. Stayed busy until about 3 O'clock Monday, at which point it was...BBQ time! I got one of those Trader Joe's BBQ Tri-Tips, a couple of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (mostly for Bobbie), and some corn on the cob. Smoked that shit for over an hour, sipping rum-n-coke, eatin' macadamias and listening to Howlin' Wolf. That's a good time, y'all. Oh, I also got some potato salad from Von's. I got the mustard kind instead of the "classic" or "homestyle" or whatever, and it's a perfect compliment to a BBQ plate--tangy, but in a completely different direction from the spicy BBQ sauce. After dinner I was a little disappointed that I couldn't watch any DVD's, but a while back Brandie had bought the Indiana Jones box set on VHS at Amoeba for, like, $8, so we watched Raiders of the Lost Arc...perfect ending to a great weekend.