Bulletproof black man flips the script in Harlem.
So, we watched the entirety of the new Netflix series Luke Cage. Our love of blaxploitation films made it mandatory. Of course, Luke Cage isn't blaxploitation—it's serious black-oriented drama. But anyway we queued it up. For those who don't know, the series is based on a Marvel Comics character who was a bulletproof, super strong black man who lived in Harlem. The show does away with the comic book Cage's bright yellow costume, but leaves the Harlem setting, political machinations, and dealings of crime kingpins that intertwine as normal people try to get on with their lives.
Most members of the sizable cast are black except for several supporting roles, and the occasional one-off—i.e., a technician here, an office worker there. The series is basically an exact negative of about 10,000 television shows over the years that cast blacks in supporting roles. A vocal percentage of the public is not dealing well with it. Some call the show racist. It made us think of the famous unattributed quote: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” These racially sensitive critics watched How I Met Your Mother, Arrested Development, True Detective and scores of other lily white television shows in droves, but the existence of a single show like Luke Cage is threatening.
But let's put all that aside for the moment. Is the show any good? There are some of the same failings as other action-oriented series, but on the whole it's entertaining. Just be forewarned—it's akin to The Wire more than any superhero extravaganza. The characters are deeply explored. Serious comic book action fans will be disappointed. And second, the complete immersion into an African American culture will be unfamiliarto many viewers. In the end, you simply have to have an interest in the premise and the characters to enjoy the show. For us, the immersion into a nearly 100% black Harlem is one of the show's strengths. For others, not seeing characters that remind them of themselves will be alienating. And that's absolutely acceptable in terms of deciding how to spend one's hard earned free time selecting television shows. Such people should say they aren't interested in the premise. They shouldn't make phony claims that the show is racist.
We think American broadcast media need more shows that reflect reality. Here's the reality—the U.S. is both diverse and extraordinarily segregated. 75% of white Americans have zero black friends, while around 60% of blacks have zero white friends. 100% white environments and white points of view have been shown on television for decades. Luke Cage airs a black point of view, with complex relationships, romantic entanglements, ambitions, dreams, and dealings with harsh realities. There should be room for that, particularly considering television history. On a completely different note, we really are looking forward, twenty or thirty years from now, to a scholarly examination of all these damned superhero shows and movies. There's a real pathology here.
Geishas go wild in Noboro Iguchi's scattershot sci-fi epic.
Above, two posters for Robo-geisha, or Robogeisha, as it was titled in the west. Only for the adventurous, this is low budget action gore, or maybe subversive shock sci-fi, or possibly transgressive black comedy. In any case, it's about a pair of orphaned sisters who compete as assassins after receiving cybernetic implants, are separated and exploited by a powerful corporation, and eventually are thrown together in a final duel. You get sword fights, machine guns, sparks and bloodspray and explosions, a walking castle, copious miniature/computer/stop action efx, and lots of shakycam—aka the budget filmmaker's crutch. If the whole bizarre counterculture spectacle is preposterous, well, you've been warned. Viewers generally react one of three ways—some like it; some want to like it because it will make them cool; and some dislike what they see as a sophomoric mess. We won't say which we were, but we'll note that even with the numerous references to films ranging from Godzilla to Ichi the Killer, Robo-geisha isn't as clever as it thinks it is. The smartest aspect of it is that director Noboru Iguchi and cohorts managed to create their own cinematic genre. That, no matter how you feel about the actual movie, is pure genius. Robo-geisha premiered in Japan today in 2009.
Scientist creates test tube baby that grows into Barbara Carrera. We'll have two, please.
These two pretty posters were made to promote the sci-fi movie Embryo. It hit cinemas stateside in 1976 but didn't reach Japan until today in 1977. What you get here is a research biologist, played by Rock Hudson, who in classic mad scientist style learns he can accelerate gestation and decides to experiment on humans. He acquires an early stage fetus and dumps it in his magic tank. In hours it's born, in days it's a child, and in short order it's Barbara Carrera. So he's the smartest scientist who's ever lived. At least until one figures out how to create a test tube Elke Sommer. Carrera is super beautiful and super smart, but has one big problem. Can you guess what it is? We'll give you a hint—if you think too long she might be dead before you answer. The threat of early death will throw anyone for a loop so we'll forgive poor Barbara her transgressions. She dances naked—and that's worth all the forgiveness in the world.
A Wood time was had by all at 1995 triple bill.
Above, a very nice chirashi mini-poster made in 1995 to promote a cinematic triple-bill of three Ed Wood films—Plan 9 from Outer Space, Glen or Glenda, and Bride of the Monster. None of the three played in Japan when originally released—and if you've seen any of them you realize there's no reason they should have—so this poster is for their premieres. The reason this happened is because Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood became a hit in the U.S. in 1994 and this triple bill occurred about a month in advance of that film's arrival in Japan.
The art is signed, which you can see in the inset image at right, but we can make neither heads nor tails of it. Or rather, we can make out the letters just fine for the most part, but we can't really determine how they should be arranged. Conjizukin or Comjizukin seem most likely, but we get nothing on either of those names with online searches. We weren't surprised. These artists with their esoteric sigantures. We guess none of them imagine they might one day be obscure and their abstract autographs might actually be a hinderance to recognition. If anyone can identify who this is drop us a line.
Update: The answer has arrived. A reader has informed us the artist is Suzuki Cohjizukin. We'll dig up more work from him a bit later, and thanks very much to the person who wrote in.
Once again Brazil brings the freak out of an unsuspecting visitor.
This chirashi mini-poster, of which you see both sides above, was made to promote the Japanese release today in 1984 of the softcore epic Emmanuelle IV, spawn of a franchise that just gave and gave and gave, to the tune of seven direct theatrical sequels, plus dozens of television films and at least thirty other cinematic excursions of close or distant relation. This one will really make you wonder what happened to the big budget softcore movie. It's fun, engaging, highly budgeted, and a consistent turn-on.
Since Emmanuelle's original portrayor Sylvia Kristel was by now deemed too old to be the title ingénue, the writers decided to send her away to Brazil for rejuvenating surgery. She opens the film, gets on a plane, and when she emerges from her full body treatment, she looks like twenty-four-year-old Swedish actress Mia Nygren. Wanting to test out this new chassis, Nygren runs amok in Rio de Janiero and environs, as Brazil's tropical heat and wanton ways wreak havoc on a yet another white girl's psyche. By the end of the second reel she's a full-on nympho.
Emmanuelle IV is a cut above regular sexploitation—it's brilliantly shot in city and jungle, competently acted, and absolutely chock full of lithe hot bodies. Besides Kristel and Nygren, the parade of world-class beauties include Deborah Power, Sophie Berger, Dominique Troyes aka Marilyn Jess, and Sonja Martin. There was no porn in the original release, but x-rated scenes were shot and did appear in the French DVD version. But of the red hot goddesses mentioned above, only Jess went all the way, which is just as well—in a film as elegant as this, it would be a shame to see hairy-assed dudes climbing all over the entire female cast like monkeys. Or maybe that's just us.
We have some images below, and should explain, their sheer number reflect our love for this movie. We first saw it on cable in our youth and it stayed with us. Whenever asked why we live abroad, we always credit high-brow literature and cultural curiosity and everything to do with the brain. But when we're truthful we have to admit stuff like Emmanuelle IV had an influence too. Even if people in exotic lands didn't act that crazy, the places existed. We had to see them. And you know what we found? People do act that crazy.
Me and you Barbarella! High noon. Time to settle this once and for all!
As long as we're on movie posters today, above is a completely different type of femme fatale. The promo art, which we think is quite nice, is for the DVD release of CQ in Japan today in 2003. If you look closely at the right border of the art you can just make out the Japanese text. The movie was made by Roman Coppola, starred Jeremy Davies, Angela Lindvall, and Élodie Bouchez, and dealt with a struggling young director making a cheeseball sci-fi movie to pay the bills while working in his spare time on his beloved art film. That's Lindvall above as secret agent Dragonfly, a Barbarella-type space heroine, armed with vaguely organ-shaped retro-futuristic space gun. CQ premiered in 2002 and quickly achieved cult status, but writer-director Coppola has not had much opportunity to direct films since then, though he did helm a 2012 Bill Murray project called A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. We haven't seen it, but we know it flopped pretty hard. We've talked about CQ before, so we won't reiterate except to say we loved it.
Another blonde stirs up trouble in the benighted jungle.
Amazonia: Kopfjagd im Regenwald, for which you see a West German promo poster above, was originally Italian made as Schiave bianche: Violenza in Amazzonia, and was titled in English White Slave. We really enjoy lost world movies and this one looked like it fit the bill—fierce looking blonde woman on the poster holding a sword, jungle setting—so we tracked down a copy and had a look. We were imagining something along the lines of those entertaining ’80s actioners that all ended with big battle sequences and climactic decapitations. It was only after acquiring the film that we learned it was also known by another title—Cannibal Holocaust 2: The Catherine Miles Story. Uh oh. We are less fond of cannibal movies than lost world movies, but we forged ahead, bravely, with popcorn and beer.
Basically, a woman played by Elivire Audray is kidnapped by Amazon tribesmen and must submit to tribal customs in order to survive. But considering the fact that various loin-clothed alpha males soon begin to fight to possess her, the real question might be whether the tribe can survive her. All of this is wrapped inside a murder trial taking place after Audray's rescue, where a courtroom learns not only every sordid, sexual detail of her time with her tribe, but that her very presence in the jungle may have been part of a conspiracy, and her kidnapping might have been in reality a rescue. We can't really recommend this movie, but its eventual anti-capitalist twist is interesting, and at least you get to see plenty of Audray, below. Amazonia: Kopfjagd im Regenwald premiered in Italy in 1985 and opened in West Germany today in 1986.
Russ Meyer's tale of killer cats from Southern California is absurd but entertaining.
Though the text is in English, this promo for Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was made for a 1994 re-release in Japan. You can see that the flipside at right is partially in Japanese. Faster Pussycat is one of those movies—everyone has heard of it, but fewer than you'd suspect have actually seen it.
So what's the deal? Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams drag race, wisecrack, and roughhouse their way around Southern California. But because they're bad tempered and sociopathic, they eventually kill a guy, which then requires abducting the only witness, and in turn leads to a scheme to cheat a wheelchair bound old man out of his disablement stash. It's an uneasy alliance between these three kittens, destined for implosion, an inevitability helped along by Satana's unending torrents of shouty abuse.
You really have to hand it to Meyer—what he did, he did really well. Faster Pussycat is a completely overdone tale of reckless youth and the lawless west, but ripping around the Mojave Desert with these girls is consistently fun. The type of moral decay and geographical desolation showcased here is one of American film's time-honored motifs. Meyer's entry in the genre holds up pretty well. The movie originally premiered today in 1965.
Sharky's Machine hums along nicely, but only up to a point.
This poster for the 1981 thriller Sharky's Machine was made for the movie's premiere in Bangkok. Every blue moon or so Hollywood decides to update a ’40s film noir. Sometimes these are excellent movies—Body Heat as a rework of Double Indemnity comes to mind. Sharky's Machine is based on William Diehl's novel of the same name, which is a restyling of 1944's Laura. If you haven't seen Laura, a detective falls in love with a murdered woman, focusing these feelings upon her portrait, which is hanging over the mantle in her apartment. In Sharky's Machine the hero, Atlanta vice detective Burt Reynolds, falls in love with Rachel Ward via his surveillance of her during a prostitution investigation, and is left to deal with his lingering feelings when she's killed.
When Ward observed years back that she had been too prudish in her artistic choices, we imagine this was one movie she had in mind. We agree. Reynolds' 24/7 surveillance of a high priced hooker is not near frank enough. This is where vice, voyeurism, and sleaze as subtext should have come together overtly, as it does in Diehl's unflinchingly detailed novel, rather than as stylized montages, which is what Reynolds opts for.
Sex and nudity aren't always gratuitous. The plot driver in old film noirs is often sex, but it couldn't be shown. Remaking a noir affords the opportunity to explore the sexual aspect further, as in Body Heat, where it's literally the lure of sex with no boundaries—exemplified in that famous (but implied) anal scene—that snares the hero in an insane murder plot. In Sharky's Machine it's sexual objectification that is the initial driver. Reynolds' loves Ward's body first and her personality later, but the surveillance that is the key to this is barely explored.
It's a missed opportunity to not only make a better thriller, but to examine this lust-to-love transition as an aspect of all romantic relationships. Reynolds doubled as both star and director of the film, and while his relative newbie status in the latter realm may be a reason he didn't push the envelope, he still manages in his third outing helming a motion picture to put together a final product that is stylish, dark, and neon-streaked—everything a neo-noir should be. Upon release many critics had problems with tone—violence and humor seemed to clash. Reynolds' was a semi-comedic cinematic figure and his previous two directorial efforts had been comedies, which may have led to jokes leaking into unusual moments of the film. But these days the mix of violence and comedy is common, so we doubt you'll be terribly annoyed by these few incongruities.
The main flaw with the movie, besides its chasteness, is not its tone, but that it feels compressed in the latter third, especially as relates to the love subplot. True, the film is already a shade over two hours long, but it's time that flies by, populated as it is by so many interesting roles and great actors (Bernie Casey, Brian Keith, Vittorio Gassman, Charles Durning). Another seven minutes would not have hurt. Still, we recommend this one. It should have been as bold a noir rework as Body Heat, but there's plenty to entertain in other areas, and Hollywood may make this film perfect yet—a new version of Sharky's Machine is in development with Mark Wahlberg in the lead. Hah hah—who are we kidding? They'll screw it up completely. You already know that.
Novedades Editores takes readers on a five city tour of street crime and murder.
Mexican pulp art has grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to the efforts of vendors and collectors. It differs from U.S. pulp in that it was produced decades later—during the 1970s and forward. The covers you see here today are prime examples of what is generally classified as Mexican pulp, made for the comic book series El libro policiaco, or "The Police Book," and published by Novedades Editores during the early 2000s. The series was so popular that, like the U.S. television show C.S.I., the books diversified into multiple cities—New Orleans, New York City, Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco. Each city's stories centered around a local police department staffed by a multi-ethnic array of cops and support personnel. And as the banner text proclaims, the interior art was indeed in color, ninety-two pages of it per issue. All the covers here were created by Jorge Aviña, an artist who began his career during the 1970s, and has had his work exhibited in London, Switzerland, Barcelona, and Paris. We'll have more from El libro policiaco a bit later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1973—Peter Dinsdale Commits First Arson
A fire at a house in Hull, England, kills a six year old boy and is believed to be an accident until it later is discovered to be a case of arson. It is the first of twenty-six deaths by fire caused over the next seven years by serial-arsonist Peter Dinsdale. Dinsdale is finally captured in 1981, pleads guilty to multiple manslaughter, and is detained indefinitely under Britain's Mental Health Act as a dangerous psychotic.
1944—G.I. Bill Goes into Effect
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Servicemen's Readjustment Act into law. Commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, or simply G.I. Bill, the grants toward college and vocational education, generous unemployment benefits, and low interest home and business loans the Bill provided to nearly ten million military veterans was one of the largest factors involved in building the vast American middle class of the 1950s and 1960s.
1940—Smedley Butler Dies
American general Smedley Butler dies. Butler had served in the Philippines, China, Central America, the Caribbean and France, and earned sixteen medals, five of which were for heroism. In 1934 he was approached by a group of wealthy industrialists wanting his help with a coup against President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and in 1935 he wrote the book War Is a Racket, explaining that, based upon his many firsthand observations, warfare is always wholly about greed and profit, and all other ascribed motives are simply fiction designed to deceive the public.
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