Friday, September 21, 2007

Dan, Dan, Popeless Condi and D-Wars D-light:
The Friday Revue

Keep this PreCode horror comic cover in mind -- Tales of Horror #8, Toby/Minoan, 1953

Dan the Man, My Son!

Sam Gas Can (CCS alumni and beloved Pizza Wizard creator Sam Gaskin -- hey, Sam!) posted this comment yesterday:

"Steve! Your son, Danny, had some cool drawings in our gallery of Brattleboro folks at HBML junk store today! It seems like wherever I turn, there's something he's doing!"

Great to know, check it out if you're in Brattleboro, folks.

and his bandmates Sam Phillips and Jeremy Latch scored at a Friday night gig at the Tinderbox last Friday, I'm told, though I missed it (Dan didn't tell me it was happening); his mom did go, and she was blown away. Here's some of what she had to say: "It was amazing -- they are so good... At the end, Danny did one of his original songs -- it was just totally beautiful... he's awesome, he's really, really good!"

Kudos to Dan and Sam and Jeremy, and I can't wait to hear you guys! More info on their upcoming tour and gigs, once I know...

Dan Clowes Detonates Classroom

  • CCS senior Morgan Pielli shared this news today -- check it out, Eightball and Clowes fans.

  • As Morgan points out, "And it seems to have made EVERYONE into a dick!"

    Pope Nope to Rice

  • Here's the most neutral US news source I found on this apparent Papal dis of Condi Rice,
  • but note the comment from fisticuffs at
  • "This is story is so misleading, the pope is on vacation. Shit, I'm a nobody and I wouldn't pause my vacation to meet with Condi Rice either..."

  • My Kind of Grindhouse Redux

    Completely on a whim, after savoring a Mexican dinner with Marge last night, I tucked into the nearby West Lebanon NH cinema and paid my $8 to see something I'd never heard of, Dragon Wars (onscreen title: D-Wars).

    I did so based solely on the poster (here it is), which looked like a cheesy CGI giant monster pic, a theatrical Boa vs. Python pastiche (rip-off of a rip-off). It's been ages since a poster alone grabbed my eye or a movie popped up sans any prepublicity had kissed my eye or ear beforehand. For that matter, it's been a long time since a completely unknown-quantity monster pic popped up at a local cinema, sans ballyhoo, and it turned out to be... bliss, joy, nirvana.

    Released by a distributor I've never heard of (Showbox) from a production company I didn't recognize (Younguu Art) -- in and of themselves, alluring mysteries to this creature cinephile-- the writer-director credit on the one-sheet cinched it for me. Hyung-rae Shim is the fellow who remade the 1967 Korean monster pic Taekoesu Yonggary/Yongary, Monster of the Deep a few years ago (don't ask me how I remembered that immediately while glancing at the poster, but I did).

    Doing a little homework after returning home with visions of D-War dancing in my dome, I was also delighted to find Shim was the director and star of the South Korean caveman/dinosaur curio Tirannoui baltob/Tyranno's Claw (1994), for which I have a soft spot in my skull. Shim is apparently a very popular TV comedian in his home country, and I'd love to see his other sf/fantasies, particularly the Ultraman-like Power King/Armicron: Outlaw Power (1995). Shim's 1999 Yonggary remake was buried as direct-to-video product in the US as Reptilian (2001, from Columbia Tri-Star Home Entertainment) -- it's not any good, but I had a fine time with it, due in large part to the rather dire CGI, which was strangely 21st-Century appropo, given the original In-Zip Byon flick's lame sub-Eiji-Tsuburaya man-in-suit monster. The two Yonggarys perfectly reflect low-budget monster filmmaking of their respective eras.

    Taekoesu Yonggary (1967)

    The original Yongary most memorably danced to '60s rock music in one sequence and died with his rubber tail twitching spastically. Nothing in the remake was as memorable, but Shim is clearly a filmmaker intent on making daikaiju eiga (giant monster movies), and that's enough for me to pay for a ticket and see what he's up to now.

    I'm glad I seized the opportunity. D-Wars turned out to be a brand-new (2007) Korean fantasy film shot with American actors, and -- as lunkheaded an opus as it undeniably is -- a major step up for Hyung-rae Shim's gleefully adolescent brand of monster movie. Joon-ho Bong's The Host this isn't, but according to a number of online sources, this was a big hit in South Korea just last month. Yep, it's that new -- amazing!

    The D-Wars CGI monsters are great, the American cast relatively high profile (Yonggary was populated by relative unknowns), and it's all consistently delirious enough to be intoxicating. What more do I need?

    That cast, lead by vets like Robert Forster (Medium Cool, Jackie Brown, Alligator, etc.), Chris Mulkey (Twin Peaks) and Elizabeth Pena (Jacob's Ladder, Lone Star, etc.), seem utterly adrift throughout, as do telegenic leads Jason Behr (Roswell, The Grudge, Skinwalkers, The Shipping News, Rites of Passage) and Amanda Brooks (Flightplan). Nothing new in this, really -- remember Nick Adams ( with Frankenstein Conquers the World, Invasion of the Astro-Monsters), Russ Tamblyn (War of the Gargantuas) and others were down this road long, long ago. This is delicious in its own way, and Brooks and Behr (both utterly chaste throughout) are easy on the eyes, but the South Korean filmmaking team give it their all.

    The casual viewer would likely assess this as Lord of the Rings meets Transformers meets those Sci-Fi Channel giant snake movies. The fact of the matter is Japanese filmmakers were making films like this decades ago (Kaitei gunkan/Atragon, 1963; Kairyu daikessen/The Magic Serpent, 1966, etc.), and Asian filmmakers were copping their licks as quickly as they could. Shim is just the newest and richest and most popular kid on the South Korean block doing it, and more power to him. The mishmash of obscure monster mythology and Godzilla and Transformers-style trashing of Los Angeles merges fun critter and mega-destruction FX with a loopy fusion of Asian mythology (I'm not versed in Korean myth or folklore enough to judge its fidelity to its cultural wellsprings), supernatural 'destiny' reincarnation hokum, vast armored armies marching with saurian mounts and an entourage of raptor-like critters and flying dragons, and much, much more. At one point, the metropolitan monsters-on-the-loose action pauses and the whole demented confection is sweetened by -- sigh -- a cameo from Bronson Cave (the classic standby from countless 1940s-70s western, action, serials, horror and sf movies) . My heart soared.

    So, see, when CGNN reporter Ethan Kendrick (Jason Behr) spots an outsized reptilian scale protruding from the scorched dirt at an L.A. crime scene, he flashbacks to his childhood encounter with an enigmatic antique store owner named Jack (Robert Forster). Actually, he enjoys a flashback inside his flashback, and that's where the fun really begins. Betwixt flashback, flashback-within-flashback (in medieval Korea) and mucho maladroit dialogue exposition, Jack explains that Ethan is the reincarnation of a warrior who loved and protected (to the point of a martyr-like suicide for the duo) a young woman mystically tied (via birthmark) to the Buraki, an ancient race of dragons -- or, uh, the Yuh Yi Joo -- hmmm, wait, uh -- look, I can't recall which is which, and wasn't sure which was which as it was happening. Anyhoot, another dragon, Omoogi, I think, was out to devour the young couple, but they took the big plunge and the woman's latent Yuh Yi Joo or whatever was thus safe for centuries. Failing that, Imoogi comes roaring and hissing back 500 years later, seeking the reincarnation of the Buraki-or-Yuh Yi Joo-princess, now a working-out-in-the-gym 19 year-old babe named Sarah (Amanda Brooks), who likewise bears the birthmark of the dragon on her shoulder. She hasn't any idea any of this is happening yet -- her destiny is unknown to her -- but with her 20th birthday right around the corner, the Imoogi is about to hit the fan.

    Now, I usually haven't much patience for this kind of fantasy exposition, but something between Robert Forster's wrapping his tongue around "Imoogi," "Yuh Yi Joo" and "Buraki" and the very cool medieval flashback (evocative of The Magic Serpent, in a good way) amused me greatly. Once big bad Buraki (an outsized cobra-like dragon) started gulping down elephants and trashing greater Los Angeles while chasing down Sarah, Terminator-style, while Ethan and the U.S. government close in on her as well (the Secretary of Defense orders her assassination!), Shim's opus picks up momentum as the absurdities and coincidences grow increasingly giddy. It shouldn't work, but it does.

    This isn't quite the D-Wars shot I wanted to run, but it's close: recreating the Tales of Horror #8 cover on the big screen!

    The dialogue is risible, the dramaturgy flaccid and ridiculous, the setup in the first fifteen minutes almost as overloaded and lame-ass as Uwe Boll's abysmal Alone in the Dark, but I had a shit-eating grin plastered on my fuzzy mug by the time Imoogi was wrapped around the downtown landmark Bank Building (like the 1953 Pre-Code Tales of Horror #8 comic cover I've put at the top of this post, "The Snake That Held A City Captive!") lashing out at black-op helicoptors. Man, I live for these kinds of cinematic setpieces.

    Things -- and I do mean things -- only escalate from there. Did I mention the He-Man-like villain (Michael Shamus Wiles) that keeps popping up? No? Oh, sorry. OK, there's that, too. It's sprawling, insipid, stupid fun (per usual, hero and heroine consistently outrun and outdrive Imoogi, though we see the super-serpent cover three L.A. blocks in mere seconds time and time again), and I had a grand time with it. The finale boasted the coolest Asian dragon I've ever seen in a non-animated film, an unexpected climactic payoff for this vet monster fan.

    Kim Jong-il's monster movie: Pulgasari!

    Now, bear in mind I'm a sucker for this stuff, particularly Korea's faux-daikaiju eiga. High on my list of faves is the bizarre North Korean Pulgasari (1985), the only giant monster film made under pain of death -- by incarcerated South Korean director Shin Sang-ok, kidnapped along with his wife in 1978 by none other than that Axis of Evil despot Kim Jong-il while his poppa Kim Il-sung still ruled. It's sort of comforting to know that, even if you're threatened with public execution, you still couldn't make a better monster movie than Gojira or Majin (which is the closest daikaiju-eiga kindred to Pulgasari), but that's neither here nor there
  • (here's a marvelous archival The People's Korea link on the film, if you're interested).

  • If you're seeking a classy adult evening entertainment, D-Wars ain't it.

    But if you're like me, this is a cinematic pig trough brimming with loopy delight. All in all, D-Wars is weird, akimbo and punch-drunk, but the blast I had was due most of all to seeing a new Korean sf-action film in a local theater on a big screen.

    It's been ages since anything like this gimped through a New England theater.

  • Here's the certain-to-slow-your-computer official D-Wars website, should you wish to know more,
  • the one-stop Rotten link-feast to national critics trashing the movie (what do they know? Is there a single Pulgasari fan among them? I think not!),
  • and had I known all this, I'd have rushed to the theater long before last night.

  • In fact, I'm going again this weekend. To a matinee. Now, that's entertainment!

    Have a great Friday and a wild weekend!

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