Friday, May 30, 2014

The offense lingers on

The Pussycats

Wednesday's Pop Offensive was another rousing success. For two glorious hours, the digital air rang with jaunty J-Pop, garrulous girl groups, percolating power poppers, yodeling ye ye girls and more, all combining to send the listeners at home into a collective St. Vitus dance. Can you prove it didn't happen? Answer: No, you cannot! Because now the whole joyous affair has been immortalized for your streaming enjoyment at the 9th Floor Radio archives. Come on in and join the party!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pop Offensive returns!

Once again, my dear friend Jeff Heyman and I will be taking over the studios of Peralta College's 9th Floor Radio to flood the internet with a wide assortment of foot stomping tunes from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Hell, we might even play some of that new bullshit. You can stream the whole noisome affair directly from the 9th Floor site starting at 7 pm Pacific, this coming Wednesday, May the 28th.

If you live in the future, good news! You, too, can listen to the 5/28/14 edition of Pop Offensive by streaming it from the Pop Offensive page of the 9th Floor archives, where it shall live forever in digital infamy. And I'll be gol-durned if you residents of the present day can't also listen to last month's debut episode by going there right now!

Those of you who want to provide any feedback, blowback, or pushback during the course of the show can reach out to us via my Twitter account @FOURDK. Use the hashtag #popoffensive if you're nasty.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dara (Pakistan, 1968)

It’s hard to believe that, back in 2010, I spent an entire month watching nothing but jungle adventure movies. This especially because I do not particularly care for jungle adventure movies. You see, readers? Such is the mania that my love for you inspires.

My main take-away from that couch-bound safari of mine was the overwhelming evidence that, of all of the internationally recognized pop culture icons, from Superman to James Bond, the one that the most countries want to lay claim to is Tarzan. Thus we have competing versions of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Jungle Lord from corners of the globe as far flung as Israel, Indonesia, Egypt and India, to name a few. The trouble is that, rather than simply speaking for itself, that knowledge made me feel duty bound to report to you on whatever new cultural permutation of Johnny Loincloth I stumbled across. Which brings me to Dara, which is doomed -- despite its halfhearted attempts at subterfuge -- to become forever known among you as “Pakistani Tarzan”. (Just ask Turkish Star Wars, whose continued cries of "I have my own name, dammit!" continue to go unheeded.)

Dara is a product of Pakistan’s mainstream, Urdu language film industry based in Lahore – otherwise known as “Lollywood”. That is why it does not, like every Punjabi language Pakistani film I’ve reviewed, star either Sultan Rahi or, like every Pashto language Pakistani film I’ve reviewed, Badar Munir. Who it does star is Nasarullah Butt, a bodybuilder who served simultaneously as both Mr. Asia and Mr. Pakistan from 1954 to 1965 and who is here making his film debut.

Now, if you think that naming Nasarullah Butt’s debut film Dara might constitute a none-too-subtle attempt to create positive associations with a certain other South Asian athlete turned action star, you could be forgiven. Indeed, Butt, besides being of a similar body type, shares with Indian stunt film king Dara Singh -- who, by the way, also played Tarzan -- the signature move of picking up his opponents and twirling them overhead before using them as human missiles. That is, of course, not to deny Butt his own claims to star quality. He is possessed of both brutal good looks and a winning smile and, while perhaps no Olivier, commands the screen with a certain brand of raw charisma.

That Charisma comes in handy, because Dara’s Pakistani Tarzan, named Dara, follows the grand tradition of the majority of movie Tarzans in being dumb as shit. This, of course, does not prevent him from being sexual catnip to every attractive woman who finds herself within pheromone range, of which Dara offers an impressive number. For starters, there is the film’s version of Jane, named Seema (Rani), who, I'm pleased to announce, follows in a grand tradition of South Asian B movie heroines in packing a pistol which she is by no means afraid to use. Next comes jungle girl Sonya, whom Dara repeatedly rescues from the rapey designs of a man whom I will just refer to as Mustache, who is the unscrupulous (and rapey… did I mention rapey?) partner of Seema’s fortune hunter father.

And finally, of course, there is an evil jungle princess (Aliya) who is determined to have the ape man as her own personal boy toy. Unfortunately, like so many jungle princesses before her, she has a nearly Aspergian grasp of the intricacies of courtship. It turns out that tying your love interest and all of his friends to stakes and then singing at them is not the surefire way to spark a lasting romance.

 If that is not a classic "Bitch, please" look that Dara is sporting, I don't know what is.

Yet it is just possible that Seema is even more hormonally addled by Dara’s meaty proximity than is the Princess, as evidenced by a dream sequence that takes place at the film’s midpoint, when Tarzan… I mean Dara… has been presumed dead after a fall from a silly looking miniature bridge. Here Seema awakens in a fog enshrouded netherworld, surrounded by, not just Dara, but a whole host of loincloth clad muscle boys, all perched and flexing atop individual pedestals. She is inspired to song.

Without subtitles, it’s impossible for me to say with any certainty what Seema is singing. But, were I to guess, I would say that it’s an early precursor to Diana Ross’ 80s hit “I Want Muscle”. Long exposure to a well-oiled, mostly naked muscleman has, in his absence, driven Seema into a kind of erotomania that only a small army of such men can now satisfy. Here, as so often before, a Tarzan movie has revealed itself to be really all about unbridled female lust, and this scene, being so close to the heart of the matter, is undeniably Dara’s main attraction.

The funny thing about all of these variously provenanced Tarzan movies -- be they your Daras, your Zimbos, or your Zambos -- is how much they are really just Tarzan movies, with their specific cultural contexts providing very little in the way of detours from the usual formula. As an audience, this reduces us to less engaged spectators than detached observers, waiting in dull eyed resignation for the rolling out of the inevitable.

For starters, there is the standard roll call of boilerplate jungle perils (lions and bears and snakes, oh my!) and the stock footage used to realize them.

(Sorry, fans of quicksand and spiky pits; those two seem to have been either overlooked or ended up on the cutting room floor.)

And then there is the "lost" treasure, which, once found, drives those finding it into a googly eyed lather of cartoonish greed…

…from which skullduggery and backstabbing follows, delivering with them the simplistic rebuke to modernity and “so called” civilization (can we really say who the true savages are? CAN WE?) that we’ve all been waiting for.

Of course, along with the hoary, Dara also boasts those standard Tarzan elements that are every bit as welcome as they are predictable. There are, for instance, silly costumes, such as the Leopardman outfits worn by the evil princess’s guards.

There is also a monkey. Here he is a Capuchin rather than the standard issue chimp, but he nonetheless acquits himself impressively in the field of simian screen heroics. There is one scene where he escapes from the captivity in which he and Dara are being held by the princess’s guards and races for help. Despite the obvious animal cruelty involved, I have to admit that I found the sight of the little guy hauling ass through the jungle with both hands tied behind his back pretty rousing. I am a horrible person.

In the hands of director Aslam Dar, Dara’s virtually surprise-free cocktail of luddism, female libido and pulp histrionics is well mixed, with more than a few stylish touches. This may in fact be the most noirish of the wannabe Tarzans, featuring shadowy deep focus shots and a surfeit of moody lighting. Of course, nothing too radical, mind you. This is Tarzan, after all, and it’s unlikely that Pakistani audiences in 1968 were any more prepared than American ones would have been for the kind of dark reboots of beloved heroes that are all too common today. No, no matter how jungly the perils, our movie must end on a shot of a smiling Tarzan and Jane -- or, in this case, Dara and Seema -- riding off into the sunset on an elephant. And here it comes.

The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down vs. everybody

As expected, Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein brought out, not just the most, but the best of the Monthly Movie Shout Down gang, resulting in the liveliest tweet-along we've had to date. A link to the Storified transcript is below, complete with a host of fashion-focused screen captures courtesy of the lightning fingers of  The Cultural Gutter's Carol.

The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down: Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein at Storify

And now, with that all behind us, there is only to look forward. Behold the enhanced trailer for the action packed subject of next month's Shout Down:

Excited? You bet you are! See you next time!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tonight! The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down throws down with SANTO AND BLUE DEMON VS. DR. FRANKENSTEIN!

That's right: Santo and Blue Demon have finally made their way to the Monthly Movie Shout Down. And it's all going down tonight!

The film is 1972's SANTO AND BLUE DEMON VS. DR. FRANKENSTEIN, a spicy combination of mad science, zombies, beast men, brain switching, sexy lady detectives, and, of course, lucha libre's very own Holmes and Watson, Santo and Blue Demon. Back in 2009, I listed this as being among the ten most essential Santo films and, believe me, I do not make such claims lightly.

Join us on Twitter tonight -- that's Tuesday, May 13th -- at 6pm PDT and, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, tweet along with us as we enjoy this Mexican wrestling movie classic together. A link to the complete feature is below:

If this post somehow leaves you wanting for information about this auspicious event, by all means please visit the official Shout Down site.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Las Tres Magnificas (Mexico, 1970)

Thanks in large part to the Italians, the rules of the movie western were as loose as they would ever be during the late 60s and 70s. So why not a film like Las Tres Magnificas, in which a beleaguered frontier town finds salvation in the form of a trio of pantless chorus girls turned vigilantes? Of course, such burlesque set ups were typical of the good naturedly horny Mexican pop cinema of the era, especially when an eye popping "usual suspect" like the beautiful B movie starlet Maura Monti was involved.

Las Tres Magnificas was Monti’s second to last feature film -- the last being 1971’s The Incredible Invasion with Boris Karloff -- and followed right on the heels of the wonderful Cazadores de Espias. Some of Monti’s co-stars from Cazadores are also here, including Eleazar “Chelelo” Garcia, who, true to the Mexican pop cinema rule of quotation marks, is known mostly for his comedic turns. The fact that Garcia’s character is the closest thing that Las Tres Magnificas has to a villain speaks adroitly to the film’s lightweight nature.

Here Garcia plays bumbling bandit Felipe Mendoza, who, along with his two gun slinging sons -- Clemente, who dresses all in white, and Modesto, who dresses all in black -- poses an ongoing nuisance to the people of Las Tres Magnificas’ subject town. It should be noted that, while both sons are portrayed as every bit as oafish as their dad, they are in fact played by a pair of bona fide Mexican matinee idols; Latigo himself, Juan Miranda, in the instance of Clemente and Dominican sex symbol Andres Garcia in that of Modesto. In any case, seeing as this particular town comes with the usual combination of timid sheriff and passive -- indeed almost invisible but for the habitués of the saloon -- populace, the local padre has no choice but to seek help from outside.

This he finds in the much touted form of the titular Magnificas, whom he comes across in all their frilly knickered glory during one of their beer hall song and dance numbers. In contrast to Monti, who plays Candida, the remaining Magnificas are played by a pair of actresses who might be less familiar to Mexican genre movie fans. Where we might expect to see, say, Lorena Velazquez or Amedee Chabot, we instead have famous ranchera singer and actress Lucha Villa as Paz and former pageant winner and future soft pop singer Renata Seydel as the blonde Dulce. From this point on, much comedic hay is made of the irony of this bawdy trio taking their marching orders from a man of the cloth, with the Magnificas at one point even masquerading cheekily as choirgirls.

Because of its cast and concept, I had hopes that Las Tres Magnificas would be sort of a western version of one of the Las Tigressas movies. That hope, however, was in vain. More of a comedy than an action film, Magnificas, rather than endowing its heroines with Emma Peel-like martial skills, focuses instead on the havoc they cause just by being women. As such, the pastor has them hit the town disguised as a trio of virginal belles of the prairie, their garters and frilly intimates amply concealed beneath layers of bustles and petticoats. From there they proceed to seduce and then systematically humiliate the three Mendozas, leading to jealous squabbling among the gang that conveniently undermines their capacity to commit further crimes.

This is not to say, of course, that Magnificas, being, after all, a western, is completely bereft of action. In one scene, the Magnificas fend off attacking Indians with a cannon mounted in their stagecoach, a pulpy touch that reminded me of the Spaghetti Western’s vision of a frontier littered with abandoned military armaments just there for the taking by any Django or Sartana who happens by. In another scene, the girls masquerade (they do a lot of masquerading) as Indians to attack the Mendozas with bows and arrows. Unfortunately, true to the film’s slapstick nature, this scene includes a bit where an arrow, missing its target, ends up striking a painting of a cow. When that arrow, lodged in the cow’s udder, is pulled out, a stream of milk issues from the painting. Oh my sides!

Given it has at its disposal the highly regarded singing talents of Lucha Villa, Las Tres Magnificas is also something of a musical, with the star being given ample opportunities to belt out throaty ranchera numbers. Even Juan Miranda is given the chance to pluck out a romantic ballad and, later on, joins with the two Garcias in a comic moonlight serenade of the three female stars, who reward them by dumping multiple buckets of water on their heads. All of these melodic interludes, composed by award winning music director Manuel Esperon (a contributor to the score for Disney’s The Three Cabelleros, among others) are pleasant enough, with by far the most catchy being the Tres Magnificas’ theme song, which the stars sing both upon their entrance and departure from the film.

Taken as a whole, Las Tres Magnificas is a pretty pure example of “kitchen sink” 1960s/70s Mexican pop cinema, featuring as it does a bit of comedy, a bit of action, some song and dance, some beefcake and, for Dad, frequent occasion for the Magnificas to be seen lounging about in their complicated preindustrial underwear. And it is at this point in the review that I would normally say something like, “and that’s good enough for me” (accompanied, you might imagine, by the sound of me expectorating and the ring of a spittoon), but the fact is that I could have just as easily taken a pass on this one. Shocking, I know, but, while it has its charms, I see this as one more suited to the completists among you. Of course, that also depends on what you are completing; if it is your viewing of every film starring Maura Monti, then you are indeed engaged in one of life’s most admirable pursuits. If it is the viewing of every film in which a comical barroom brawl is accompanied by cartoon sound effects, then hell is too good for you.

[Note that the version of Las Tres Magnificas I watched lacked English subtitles, which, given the simplicity of the film’s story, caused me little regret other than that I was unable to determine whether it passed the Bechdel Test.]

Next Tuesday: The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down returns with SANTO AND BLUE DEMON vs. DR. FRANKENSTEIN!

Psst! Yes, you! Do you like masked luchadores? Do you like tweeting about movies on the internet? Do you like SANTO? How about SANTO and BLUE DEMON?

Well, have I got an event for you... and you don't even need to get into my clown van to participate.

Next Tuesday, May 13th, at 6pm PDT, it's the third 4DK MONTHLY MOVIE SHOUTDOWN, this time featuring the classic masked wrestlers vs. monsters mashup SANTO AND BLUE DEMON vs. DR. FRANKENSTEIN.

Don't believe me? Here's the trailer:

On the day of the Shout Down, I will post the full movie both here and on the official Shout Down site. Come the allotted time, all you need to do is log into Twitter, start the movie, and, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, join the conversation.

It is muy importante  that you join us for what will surely be the first of many appearances on the Shout Down by Santo and his little blue buddy. The first two Shout Downs have been a blast, and this one is sure to be too. Tweet you there!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Lost in Space

Often times the most interesting things you find on the internet are those that you weren't even looking for in the first place. Case in point: an mp3 compilation album that I stumbled across on iTunes which I found so mysterious I felt compelled to write about it at length. And I'm talking Teleport City length. Check out "The Best You'll Never Find", my review of that collection, which has just been posted over at the grand old lass.