Monday, January 30, 2012

Gakuen Mokushiroku: Highschool of the Dead

The Short Version? Highschool unDead
What Is It?Action Horror T&A Cartoon
Who Is In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? No.

Back in October when the second season of The Walking Dead began airing, AMC also ran a Halloween-themed movie marathon (if a movie a day qualifies.) They were going to show Survival of the Dead, which I had yet see, hosted by George A. Romero. After the season premiere of Walking, and probably during my chilly reception to The Talking Dead, I decided that I would finally stream Survival off Netflix instead of bothering with the edited broadcast version with its commercial interruptions. As tends to be the case with Netflix, as soon as I decide to watch something, it's no longer available, and I was instead left with Highschool of the Dead. Like most people, I have the lifelong scars from those days that still allows me to love Heathers and Brick, so I decided to check it out.

I have tried to get into legitimate anime (as opposed to the Americanized stuff I grew up on like Battle of the Planets and Robotech) since the early nineties, but what little tickled my fancy tended to be the most prurient in nature. Zombie fiction though, I've loved since grade school. I'll give even the most rotten looking zombie shit half a chance, and combining flesh eating with somebody's freshman year seems like a chocolate and peanut butter combination. It was the anime part I had the most reservations about, since I find the stuff that gets animated in Japan and shipped to the U.S. tends to target the lowest common denominator in both cultures. Gakuen Mokushiroku: Highschool of the Dead is a rare and spectacular work of agitprop artistry, in that in manages to synthesize the very worst aspects of every genre it approaches to simultaneously serve as the nadir of each, tacitly proposing the abolition of all three.

For instance, I'm a big supporter of the shambling undead, as I prefer the psychological impact of creeping inevitability over the adrenaline rush of fast zombies. Gakuen Mokushiroku mostly favors old school shambling, but only in the form of lackadaisical predictability, repeating every hoary cliche and rendering the undead's victims painfully incompetent non-entities. However, these guys will get their run on occasionally, and with one exception, they're all of the bite-beat-turned variety. You don't get to see the slow, painful deterioration of bite victims, but even after they go all "rage virus" on you, they're pussy imbecile zombies that can easily be outrun, outsmarted, and outfought. There's no emotional component-- they're video game cannon fodder.

Gakuen Mokushiroku also represents the worst in anime. The "humor" is so painfully sophomoric and obvious that it's nearly invisible, beyond the tropes signalling "this is humorous," like nosebleeds in sexual situations and reaction shots to a sarcastic "burn." There's a ton of violence, but not a bit of it has any more impact than, again, the 8-bit bloodletting of an "edgy" eighties video game. Everyone turns out to be some form of archaic weapons master, and swordfighting with the living dead seems like shooting fish in a barrel. The character designs are totally prefab, seen countless times elsewhere, aside from maybe the chubby dork sharpshooter. The characters are completely shallow, and the plotting is mind-numbingly by the numbers. If you've seen one episode, you've seen them all. Adding to this feeling is that each twenty-five minute installment includes three minutes of obnoxious credits that you have to sit through to get to epilogues whose substance is largely reiterated in the next episode. Hell, there was even a "clip show" about four episodes in the catch up all their latecoming viewers.Finally, aside from one nude sequence midway through the twelve episode run, the sex here is all sizzle and no steak. Every bit of cleavage bearing, pantie flashing fan service is packed into each episode, without any of it being remotely titillating. I was shocked by that nude sequence, but only because I thought the show was designed for twelve year olds without internet access, because even the most desperate pubescent could scrounge up better stroke material out of Sears circulars or daytime television. The excesses of the show destroy any stroke value (for instance, the internet gif where a bullet in Matrix-style passes between a woman's individually swaying breasts.)

In the high school sub-genre, there has rarely been a less appealing gag than having one newly hunky fan-insertion protagonist lusted after by girls from every (hair) color in the rainbow. There's a mean bossy girl, an ex-girlfriend next door, the mystifying femme, the dumb blond bimbo-- all with tits bigger than their heads. They have names, I suppose, but they're all just types defined solely in one dimension. The voice acting is performed by the same faceless, indistinct lot behind every forgettable anime, and their performances are broad, flat, and grating. While there are students and teachers, the action leaves the actual high school fairly early, and there's little about that setting that impacts on the semblance of a story. It's every crappy teen flick in set-up, but in execution it's just every crappy zombie movie and/or anime.

Gakuen Mokushiroku: Highschool of the Dead is so wretched, I took finishing it as an endurance test that took me several months and the threat of lapsing off Netflix to complete. Unsurprisingly, while a few subplots are resolved, the mini-series is left wide open for a continuation. After slogging through the banality of this farce, you can't even expect the satisfaction of a complete story with any sort of finality. This is like one long introduction to the most tired franchise characters possible in a genre mash-up that makes potted meat product out of the detritus of its influences. I watched the whole thing, and my life was lessened by the time flushed away during my malignant exposure.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John? by Gavin Edwards (2006)

Gavin Edwards is a freelance magazine writer who was sort of like the Bob Rozakis of Rolling Stone Magazine. Readers would ask him a random, often amusing question about the popular music industry, and he'd do his best to answer it. As a column, this required considerable brevity, so Edwards decided to expound on previous responses, add some new ones, and publish it as a book with the similarly gratuitous title Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John?: Music's Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed. The result is a brisk read, perfect for the bathroom, lunch break, or a simple single sitting during a trip. It's broken up into fifteen themed chapters (rock star sex lives, misheard lyrics, deaths, etc.) then further compartmentalized by roughly one Q & A per page. These modules of trivia allow the reader to stay on for any length of time they wish before setting the book down and picking up fresh. It's fairly trashy, like gossiping at a lounge table before a set, but it's a fun way to meander through the least necessary and most difficult to conventionally access ephemera of rock history. Given the choice between this or some shit unreferenced, sub-literate wiki, there's no contest.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Frank Review of "The Devil's Hand" (1961)

The Short Version? The Devil's Advocate, without all the good stuff.
What Is It? "Thriller"
Who Is In It? Hawkeye Pierce's dad, Commissioner Gordon
Should I See It? Not really. Whatever.

From the swingin' surf rock that plays over the opening credits, you know that this film is going to be pretty swell... compared to all the other boring ass moldy public domain crap available for fishing out of a Wall*Mart bin. It's about a guy who is selected to be the new mate of a witch, so he dumps his ailing girlfriend and takes advantage of being a casual member of an evil devil cult that actually refers to itself as an evil devil cult. As cults go, it's impressively multicultural, which was a slight thrill for me, after having seen a lot of other Aryan junk from this era recently. It stars an Italian and two Mexicans, and the best looking girl is a black chick who gets to dance a few times. The movie is totally watchable, if you've got it on in the background while submitting online job applications or something. The women are all attractive, the acting is reasonable, the footage is well shot, and the brief running time is agreeable. The protagonist is kind of a slimeball, and it doesn't make sense that two barely legal hotties are after a middle aged man, but that's showbiz. I was hoping for a twist ending that took advantage of his anti-heroic qualities, but infringing upon Commissioner Gordon's religious right to perform human sacrifice is pretty good, too.

Friday, January 13, 2012

nurghophonic jukebox: "Your Love Just Ain't Right" by Angel

Written By: Andre & Keith Williams
Released: 1991
Album: Your Love Just Ain't Right
Single?: Yes.

I caught this song on “MTV International,” a syndicated block of videos that ran on Spanish language channels hosted by Daisy Fuentes. Angel speaks less español on this song than Gerardo did on "Rico Suave," so sights were clearly on crossover. It didn't take, I can't find any lyrics online, and the music video only came up available on YouTube in May of 2011. It's as repetitive as one would expect from a dance track, but I found it catchy, and thought I'd share. According to another YouTuber, "1991 dance-pop single from Angel Ferreira, a former background singer for artists like Madonna and Vanessa Williams. Today he leads an Afro-Cuban musical group known as Angel & The Mambokats." Dude can dance too, although people with a low voguing tolerance had best avert their eyes.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Frank Review of "Terrified!" (1963)

The Short Version? Pre-Slasher movie
What Is It? Thriller
Who Is In It? Nobody
Should I See It? Probably not.

I wish Terrified! was a better movie. It has an interesting premise, with acting decent for its time and budget. There is an aficionado of fear conducting unscientific experiments in a small town. From simple games of chicken on the highway to burying a man alive in cement, our killer relishes the terror he inflicts. The guy is sharp looking in a neat black suit and tie with black gloves and mask concealing everything but his eyes. Between his distinctive looks and obsessions, the killer serves as a prototype for the slashers of a decade on, but this guy also enjoys verbally taunting and manipulating his prey.

There are three primary characters pursued by the killer. Rod Lauren plays Ken, a brooding James Dean type fascinated by the effects of terror on society. Ken offers a few heavy-handed monologues on the matter, which nonetheless elevates the material above the usual mindless b-movie nonsense. Lauren was a one hit wonder whose life took several tragic turns, including a murder accusation and his later suicide. Steve Drexel plays David, a workaday guy vying for the affections of a shared love interest. Tracy Olsen plays Marge, the lovely young woman torn between the two men. Ken is given a few flashback moments to round out his character, but for the most part, none develop beyond that outline.

Most of the running time is spent in a ghost town converted into one large haunted house, through which the killer teases and chases Ken. This is fun at times, but goes on too long, and could use a few more bodies to divide the killer's time. From there, a few minor complications arise, the killer's true identity is revealed, and after wasting a quarter of an hour, everything wraps in a matter of minute. Not a typo.

Someone could do a really nifty remake of this picture. It needs more characters and a lot more red herrings to jerk the audience around about the killer's identity, but without it feeling like a wimpy cheat. A few more bloodless murders could be played out instead of just teased, and a few more armchair psychological/philosophical rants could be fun. Until then, this is just a dated, thrill-less thriller with a nifty antagonist but not a lot to do.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Comic Reader Résumé: Spring-Summer, 1982

ré·su·mé [rez-oo-mey, rez-oo-mey]
1. a summing up; summary.
2. a brief written account of personal, educational, and professional qualifications and experience, as that prepared by an applicant for a job.

March, 1982 was a decidedly off month for me. My copy of Conan the Barbarian #135 by Steven Grant, Mark Silvestri & Josef Rubinstein came out of a grocery store three pack purchased by my father four or five years after publication. I probably bought The Saga of Swamp Thing #2, but only because I was a sucker for photo covers, and that might have just come out of a cheapie bin as late as 1989. I have no recollection of either story.

I definitely picked The Warlord #58-61, because I was really into Mike Grell's riff on The Man in the Iron Mask. I'm just as confident I bought them a year or two after the fact at the flea market, and that I could never force myself to read the Arion back-ups.

By comparison, April of 1982 was boffo. DC Comics Presents #47 came home with me because it was the first Masters of the Universe comic book tie-in, and I was totally into He-Man at the time. Paul Kupperberg's story was okay, I guess, but I totally hated the art by Curt Swan and Mike DeCarlo. I could have sworn Skeletor was killed when He-Man threw his sword into the villain's chest, so I was confused when he turned back up again in another comic. When Conan stabbed somebody, they tended to stay dead. I always found super-heroes mingling with licensed properties weird, and I was somehow savvy enough even then to recognize instances like this where it occurred. I have absolutely no memory of the back-up, "Whatever Happened to Sandy the Golden Boy?"

The Rose and the Thorn had an origin recap in The Brave and the Bold #188, and the multiple personality disorder feminist angle tripped out my unsophisticated brain. The cover and interiors by Jim Aparo were striking, and writer Robert Kanigher had me hooked with the title, "A Grave as Wide as the World." The Nemesis back-up by Cary Burkett and Dan Spiegle was less impressive, as I found the art ugly and a disservice to the reservedly cool look of Nemesis, sort of a Steve McQueen type.

I recall looking through a buddy's copy of Marvel Fanfare #3 with the sweet Michael Golden art, which was likely my introduction to Ka-Zar and the Savage Land. I also really dug my pal's Avengers #221 because of the novel voting ballot cover to select two new team members. I distinctly recall reading Avengers #222 at the beauty salon where my grandmother got her hair done. The team of Jim Shooter, Steven Grant, Greg LaRocque & Brett Breeding did a fine job by my standards, as I retained a soft spot for Masters of Evil Moonstone and Tiger Shark for years. I especially thought Whirlwind was cool, aside from the dippy helmet, because he could deal so much damage while protected by his tornado. Egghead was the odd man out, a wimpy scientist amongst scary villains.

I guess I was a bimonthly reader. I don't believe I bought anything in May, except perhaps the second part of the Rose & Thorn team-up in The Brave and the Bold #189. Just as likely, I fished it out of a back issue box years later. It had nazis, who were pretty ubiquitous thanks to Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it didn't not stick to my brain like the first part.

You would think a kid set loose for the summer would be all over comic books, but these were pretty much dead months to me. In June, I only picked up Weird War Tales #115, around the time the Creature Commandos feature merged with G.I. Robot. Robert Kanigher and Fred Carrillo crafted the affecting tale "You Can't Pin a Medal on a Robot," which impressed me with its stoicism and depressed me with its pathos. Those poor disabled soldiers, fighting for countries that dubbed them freaks and sent them off on suicide missions.

My one new comic for July was Batman Annual #8, which I pulled off a spinner rack at Gemco. I was fascinated by "The Messiah of the Crimson Sun" by Mike W. Barr and Trevor Von Eeden. I had never seen art or coloring like that before, the latter provided by Lynn Varley of eventual The Dark Knight Returns fame. It was beautiful, striking, and had scope of apocalyptic magnitude, up to and including the appearance of a Christlike figure. It was my first Rā's al Ghūl story, who remains one of my favorite villains, Batman or otherwise. Of course, any time I read a Rā's story of less grandeur or with art inferior to the high standards set here, I feel the creators are just plain doing it wrong. I still have my original copy, sans cover and some early pages, plus a complete reading copy. This was the first "graphic novel" I ever read in terms of feel and quality, despite it simply being an annual. Has DC ever collected all the '80s Barr Ra's stories in a trade paperback? I'd much prefer to see something like this in a hardcover than the umpteenth repackaging of Alan Moore stories. I guess that I was so bowled over, I skipped August entirely.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Frank Review of "Nightmare in Wax" (1969)

The Short Version? The Garage of Wax
What Is It? "Horror."
Who Is In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? No.

The House of Wax is a classic film shamelessly and artlessly ripped-off by this floundering feature. The main differences are that this was contemporary instead of a period piece, none of the acting or effects are any good, the cinematography is a muted mess, plus there's no goofy anaglyph 3D to lend any cheese factor. The killer's technique doesn't make a lick of sense, the cops in this program are morons, and the only thing worse than the non-story is the cop out ending. Terrible from front to back. Completely worthless.


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