Tuesday, August 15, 2017

WEDNESDAY! POP OFFENSIVE returns!

That's right, babies. This Wednesday, August 16th, is the third Wednesday of the month--which means that, if you tune into http://kgpc969.org at 7pm Pacific time, you'll hear a percolating parade of catchy, danceable pop tunes from around the globe. K-pop, J-pop, Europop, Turkopop, we don't care! We play it all! So grab your ticket and ride. Because, as the O'Jays say, "If you miss it, I feel sorry, sorry for you..."

Friday, August 4, 2017

Today: Buy some music and support trans rights

From midnight to midnight Friday (that's today) BandCamp, one of the best places to support independent music on the internet, will be donating 100% of their share of every sale to the Transgender Law Center, an organization dedicated to changing "law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression." In short, it's just one of the many actions that people of conscience throughout the world are taking to push back against the torrent of intolerance, suppression, and legislative terrorism that is erupting from this government's seat of power like an unending stream of projectile vomit.

In acknowledgement of the possibility that you might not completely hate my music, I'll tell you that I have three albums available on Bandcamp, which you can buy here. But that's not the point. The point is that, whether you like my music or not, you should head on over to Bandcamp now, find an artist you do like, and purchase her/his/their album. Hell, find several artists. Most music on Bandcamp is sold on a "name your price" basis, so you can come away with an awful lot of cool tunes for very little dosh.

And, hey, it's a great cause. To quote the AV Club, your donation will support TLC's efforts to "get health care for trans veterans, prevent violence and abuse against incarcerated trans people, trans youth outreach and education, trans rights litigation, and more." It's also important to support companies like BandCamp who are willing to forego some of their profits for the sake of a good cause. After all, every fight for human rights needs a great soundtrack.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Moscow - Cassiopeia (Russia, 1974)


Sending teenagers on a lifelong journey into space is an idea many parents would endorse, as well as, I’m sure, more than a few teenagers. Judging by Moscow – Cassiopeia and its immediate sequel, Teens in the Universe, it was also an idea that had some purchase in mid-70s Russia, where the (deep breath) Maxim Gorky Central Movie Studio For Children and Youth Films produced them with the presumed goal of turning teens libidinal energies toward the exploration of space and other science-y stuff.

Like virtually every Soviet sci-fi film, Moscow – Cassiopeia begins with the receipt of a mysterious distress signal from somewhere deep in space. This trope is so prevalent that there must be a concrete reason for it. My guess is that the Soviets were eager to present their interests in space as altruistic rather than imperialistic--unlike you know who. I mean, I guess it’s conceivable that the U.S. might spend billions of dollars in order to respond to an anonymous call for help from billions of miles away, but would you want to tell the ghost of Kitty Genovese that? (Google it.)


It is eventually determined that the signal comes from the planet Alpha in the remote star system of Cassiopeia. This leads into a conference at which teenage scientist Sereda (Misha Yershov) presents his plan to build a rocket with engines that work on the principle of “annihilation” (which is somehow supposed to be less polluting than a normal engine.) This rocket could travel the distance necessary to investigate the signal, although such a trip would take 27 years. For this reason, Sereda suggests a teenaged crew be selected for the mission. This way they will be young enough upon their arrival not to be soaked in their own incontinence.

If this was a Japanese sci-fi movie, Sereda would be ten and clothed in disturbingly snug micro-shorts, and the adult authorities would nonetheless endorse his plan without question—as the Soviet authorities do the plan of the less alluringly garbed Sereda. Thus is a mission team selected that is comprised of three dashing young boys and three winsome young girls. These all present as ideal Soviet youths by virtue of being perpetually grim faced and task-bound—except when their captive sexual tension results in some jealousy-fueled tussling. This, I think, is supposed to be funny, as are some other ostensible comedic moments in the film that are as impenetrably mysterious as the signal itself. At certain points, everyone starts laughing and whimsical music plays on the soundtrack, and you will just be like “…what?” This includes a lot of the putative antics surrounding Sereda’s attempts to find the author of an anonymous mash note he has received.



Also on board is the accident-prone Lobna, who is played by future TV director Vladimir Basov Ml. in his first film appearance. As a mischievous stowaway, Basov essentially plays the Dr. Smith role in this film, although without being a hysterical gay caricature. It is Lobna's combined inquisitiveness and gracelessness that ends up causing the ship to accidentally go into light speed and reach Alpha well ahead of schedule. This is fortuitous, because there's no novelty in seeing a bunch of forty-somethings farting around on an alien planet set. Unfortunately, we have to wait until the next film, Teens in the Universe, to see the sexier alternative.

Another character I should mention is a mysterious older gentleman, played by Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy, who refers to himself as "I.O.O.", which stands for "Executorial Official of Elucidation." I'm tempted to see that title as a satirical jab at Russian bureaucracy by some upstart screenwriter, but then I might just be projecting. Anyway, this figure provides our introduction to the film, speaking to us directly as he informs us that the story we are about to see is true, although it took place in the future--a statement seemingly designed to explode the mind of a teenage pothead. From there, he pops up throughout the narrative and at times seems to be controlling events through some unknown means (communism, perhaps?), something that the sequel will hopefully shed some light upon.



And will I watch the sequel to Moscow - Cassiopeia, you may ask? Of course, I will--as will I report upon it to you. I found the film engaging and thoroughly charming. The young cast is appealing, the soundtrack--a mix of bleep-bloop electronic music, Russian folk songs, and swinging 70s soft rock--is awesome, and the 70s sci-fi set design is enough to please any fan of Space: 1999, Logan's Run, or any other entertainment in which future people appear to be living inside a pricey refrigerator. Simply stay tuned to this frequency for my next mysterious transmission.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Friday's best pop song ever

Der Fluch Des Schwarzen Ruben, aka Thirteen Days To Die (Germany/France/Spain, 1965)


To my knowledge, Thirteen Days to Die is the only cinematic attempt to modernize Rolf Torring, the adventuring hero of a series of German pulp novels that rose to popularity during the years leading up to World War II. It seems the idea was to present Torring as a sort of James Bond figure, and that’s not an improbable fit. Both Bond and Torring put a dashing face on the privileges of empire, each treating the exotic lands of the developing world as mere theaters for their ever more destructive antics (and, in Bond’s case, procuring grounds for his harem.) Of course, each man was the face of a different empire in a different time, which might account for why one of them had a lot more holding power than the other.

One need only look at the cover illustration of one of the Torring novels from the 30s to see why the character has aged badly: In each, he is presented as the great white hunter, charged with taming a savage land with the assistance of his loyal companion, a muscle bound and perpetually shirtless black brute who is often depicted wrestling an alligator or tossing opponents overhead like ragdolls. This is Pongo (you heard me) and he looks as if he could have been one of the “noble savages” so notoriously fetishized by Leni Riefenstahl in her later years. He is also likely to be one of the reasons that the Rolf Torring novels are less well remembered (and have less cross-cultural appeal) today than other, less potentially controversial German pulp series, like, say, Perry Rodan or Jerry Cotton.


Fans who are well versed in the Eurospy genre will find much that is familiar within Thirteen Days to Die, and for good reason. The film’s director, Manfred R. Kohler, had his hand in a number of Eurospy efforts, including the Kommissar X entry Three Golden Serpents, which he wrote. 13 Days bears a lot of similarities to the Kommissar X films, from its snappy, lighthearted tone to its shrewd use of an exotic Asian location (Thailand, in this case.) Like them, it plays out as a series of well-staged and mildly farcical fight scenes punctuated by well-shot tourist footage of local landmarks and customs.

What Thirteen Days to Die lacks that the Kommissar X movies had is a magnetic central presence of the caliber of Tony Kendall, or even Brad Harris. As Torring, who is rechristened “Ralph Tracy” for the English dub, Bavarian actor Thomas Alder doesn’t leave much of a footprint. This may be because he delegates so much of the action to one of his two associates, who, thankfully, are a lot more entertaining to watch. One of these if a hulking Swede by the name of Warren (“Hans” in the original, “Hank” in the English dub) who is played by Euro-genre stalwart Peter Carsten (Dark of the Sun, And God Said to Cain) with a lot of good natured bravado.


And then, of course, there is Pongo, who is played by French body builder Serge Nubret. In this incarnation, Pongo is at least allowed to keep his shirt on for the most part—that is, until the final act, for the entirety of which Nubret wears nothing more than an abbreviated pair of cut-offs (which, to be fair, he looks amazing in.) While outshining his co-stars in terms of charisma, Nubret’s character is treated like a houseboy by his companions—making their drinks, fetching their mail—far too often for his performance to be enjoyed without a fair amount of cringing. That’s a shame, really, because Pongo is clearly the muscle of the group, the heavy lifter, and the energy and physical mastery Nubret brings to his action scenes make them the highlights of the picture.

The film’s action begins when Torring and his team arrive in Bangkok to investigate the theft of a necklace belonging to the Thai royal family. The perpetrator of the theft is a gang led by Perkins, whose portrayal by Euro villain extraordinaire Horst Frank is a master class in effete menace. Perkins answers to a mysterious number one who is none to pleased when it is found that the necklace is missing a section, the absence of which makes it impossible to decipher the code contained within its pattern of jewels. Thus begins a campaign of extortion against Thai Prince Gulah in an effort to get him to divulge the location of the missing piece.


Meanwhile, Torring and his crew are assisted by Barrington (Carlo Tamberlani, also seen in the Kommissar X films The Green Hounds/Death Trip and Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill), the director of the museum that the necklace was stolen from. Also lending a hand is his assistant, Chitra, who is played by Metta Rungrat. Rungrat is a Thai actress whose meager credits included a bit part in the ill-fated Jim Kelly vehicle Hot Potato. She also co-starred with Thai superstar Sombat Methanee in a Thai Krasue film called Krasue Sao. Her part here is fairly substantial, as her character turns out to have more to do with the affair of the necklace than even she imagined at the outset.

Of course, this being a Eurospy film, Rolf, Hans and Pongo are assailed by myriad assassins from the moment they set foot in Thailand. To the filmmakers credit, each of these attempts in pretty nutso, one involving a little girl throwing a pot full of acid into Hans’ face and another a poison-coated butterfly. Pongo, of course, gets to wrestle and alligator, and Rolf, a tiger. Unfortunately for Perkins, none of this manages to prevent Team Torring from getting closer to finding the missing piece of the necklace—and with it the solution to the code that will lead them into the stunt and explosion filled climax.

Oh, and there’s also a monkey. He’s named Kango.


I would be lying if I didn’t admit that, despite my deep reservations about its racial attitudes, I enjoyed Thirteen Days to Die. It’s resemblance to a missing Kommissar X movie pretty much guarantees that. It’s got everything that makes any competently made Eurospy movie cozily diverting. The score, by German sexploitation veteran Gert Wilden, is a jazzy spy movie delight, complete with a chugging, Peter Gunn-style theme tune. And then there are familiar faces like Horst Frank and Carlo Tamberlani, whose very presence lulls you into a sense of security, false or otherwise. Nonetheless, it’s hard to enjoy any of these old spy movies without acknowledging the extent to which their heroes are simply defending the status quo, rather than working from any innate sense of justice. I guess in the 60s, people thought that was cool—until they didn’t anymore.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A bog of blogs


So I decided it was time to clean up the links in my Blog Roll, because—what with my new book, my podcast, my radio show and my writings elsewhere online—it seemed like I just didn’t have quite enough to do. In doing so, it occurred to me that I should maybe clarify for all of you what my policies regarding linking to other blogs are—even though that begs the question of whether any of you pay attention to the Blog Roll at all. I mean, have any of you found a blog you enjoy via a link from 4DK, or any other blog, for that matter? Until you can supply me with a succinct answer, I’m going to assume that you responded with an enthusiastic “yes” and continue with this post.

Because, you see, you can actually consider those links to other blogs in my sidebar as a personal recommendation from me. I don’t just link to a site because people ask me to. In fact, I won’t do it unless I have read and liked that blog and returned to it on at least an occasional basis. Given that, I was very happy to find on this latest pass that, aside from a couple of dead links, the vast majority of the few dozen blogs on the list are still thriving, with posts as recent as this week. Because, as you probably know, starting a blog is as risky a proposition as opening a coffee house in Seattle, or a jerk store in Jerkistan. Many are abandoned after a couple posts, left to drift eternally in the vast loneliness of cyberspace like a digital version of Laika the space dog. This is why it is important that your first post not be anything that requires a reader response, because nothing is sadder than a readers poll whose only response in fifteen years is a spam comment about Azerbaijani escorts.

Of course, I generally delete those derelict sites when I find them, except on a couple of conditions. If an author has kept her or his blog going long enough for it to have archival content rich enough for it still to be valuable to readers, it stays up. A good example is my pal David Wells’ blog Soft Film, which did the hard work of compiling a lot of hard-to-find information about classic Cantonese films in one place. Unfortunately, David chose to take that blog offline completely, taking with it a little of the world’s light, and so the link was tearfully removed. Still available for all to see, however, are Andrew “The Search For Weng Weng” Leavold’s twin blogs, Bamboo Gods and Bionic Boys and Destroy All Monstruous, both of which review a comprehensive list of classic pop films from, in the former case, the Philippines and, in the latter, Mexico. Also an inexhaustible source of wonder is Professor Grewbeard’s Magic Carpet Burn, which, though not updated since Halloween of 2011, still contains a wealth of drool worthy images of old comics, 60s kitsch, and monster movie ephemera. Greta Kaemmer’s Memsaabstory, if not for its many thoughtful, informative and highly amusing reviews, would still be up by virtue of the Nahiiin Face Gallery alone.

Then again, there are those abandoned blogs that remain on my list as my passive aggressive way of hectoring their authors into reviving them. These include Amrita Rajan’s Indiequill, as well as Rumnique Nannar’s Roti Kapada aur Rum, which left a black hole of shouty enthusiasm in its absence.

As I said, I recommend every one of these blogs, but when I look at 4DK’s blog roll I see a lot more than a personal “best of” list. I also see a vast combined knowledge that amounts to a kind of alternate film history, one in which more than just the winners have their say. I think of the thousands of neglected, ignored and forgotten films that these writers have struggled to drag into the light, whether out of altruism, sheer competitiveness, or obsessive curiosity. It makes me proud to be one of them. And because of that, I hope that each of these writers, when they choose to walk away from their respective projects, choose to leave them online for the enjoyment of future generations of pathetic film geeks such as ourselves. The ghosts of all those neglected, ignored, forgotten—and, yes, derided—will thank you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Now you can read PLEASE DON'T BE WAITING FOR ME anywhere!



Rejoice bibliophobes, for the last physical impediment to you reading my new novel, Please Don't Be Waiting For Me,--by which I mean actual books in all their loathsome, paper-based tactility--has been removed. In other words, an eBook version of PDBWFM has just been made available on Amazon for the perhaps-too-reasonable sum of $4.99 (you see, you have to make eBooks less expensive than print books because they kind of suck--hey, just my opinion!) If this is you, head on over to Besos' place and download that sucker.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Friday's best pop song ever

PLEASE DON'T BE WAITING FOR ME is GO!


Last night's launch event for my novel Please Don't Be Waiting For Me, held at Oakland's A Great Good Place For Books, came off swimmingly. Books were signed, questions asked and answered, pictures taken, booze consumed... in other words, a good time was had by all.


I want to thank Nancy Davis Kho for being such a great interlocutor (and for asking me a few questions I really hadn't expected) and Kathleen from GGPFB for so generously making her store available to us. But, most of all, I want to thank all of you who came by to show this grizzled old hack some love.




With this event out of the way, the book's release finally feels official. The next big step is it's release as an eBook next Tuesday. In the meantime, if you would like to hold a signing and/or reading and/or orgy of unrestrained adulation in your home town, contact us via the book's website: pdbwfm.com.