CAMEL SPIDERS

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A Syphy Channel original produced by Roger Corman? Why should it matter?

JIM WYNORSKI – that’s why.

CASABLANCA

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You must remember this…came out on Blu Ray a little while ago. In a nifty box. With extras and accoutrements. So what’s so friggin’ great about this new release?

Believe it or not – a new transfer featuring a significantly better transfer, with more obvious grain structure and a darker, more film-like look.

A DANGEROUS METHOD

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The inimitable David Cronenberg directs The Vig, Sweet Sassy Fassy, and the Sexy Tomboy Beanpole in this tense tale of legendary minds clashing over vag. C’mon guys – Broskis before Hoeskis…

DAVID LEAN DIRECTS NOEL COWARD (CRITERION BOX)

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The only film I’ve seen in this set is Blithe Spirit, which is a really fun supernatural comedy about a guy whose hokey séance conjures the ghost of his wife, which severely annoys his current bride. I’m sure the remastered Technicolor film is glorious. Let’s all find out.

DRAGONHEART

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Rob Cohen’s lighthearted adventure charmer pushed effects boundaries, paving the way for Gollum and his contemporaries. Making a giant lizard look real wasn’t a problem – convincingly making one talk? That’s the real trick – especially when it sounds like Sean Connery. I remember enjoying the film for its playful sense of humor, a hilariously snide performance by the fantastic David Thewlis, and a lovely score by Randy Edelman (who was on quite a tear around this time. This score, his Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story work, his awesome theme for The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Last of the Mohicans – this is all strong stuff. And I love his scores for Billy Madison and The Quest, as well). I’ll be picking this up shortly, hoping it holds up.

STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER

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And the delectable Edwidge Fenech strips nude for us all. The tale of an illegal abortion and its murderous fallout, this lurid film is often considered a Giallo – but it’s pretty devoid of the style and elegance and mystery typical of the genre. The film is far too coarse to be anything but exploitation – but it’s comically rough and rotten exploitation – so if that’s your cup of tea, take the plunge.

THE QUEST

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I’m going to render an opinion that runs counter to all that we know: The Quest is a better film than Bloodsport.

Jean Claude Van Damme had long believed that a decent budget and a meaningful story might legitimize the tournament film – he’d gone on record saying that, were Bloodsport a better-crafted film, it would have been an ever bigger success. He was also stung by the failure of Street Fighter, as he believed that the film should have been a showcase for the game’s fantastical martial arts – something he thought might be easier to do with a tournament film. So in many ways, Van Damme’s directorial debut sees him revisiting one of his first and finest successes and one of his first and greatest failures – and making it over in a very personal way.

The Quest’s period nature grants it a visual richness the back-alleys and warehouses of Bloodsport can’t compete with. The Quest is far better shot than Bloodsport (perhaps his time spent with Woo wasn’t as pointless as JCVD would have us believe). The fights are more visually interesting and visceral (certainly The Quest does a better job of showcasing “The World Warriors” than the Steven DeSouza cheese classic or Newt Arnold’s film). The Van Damme character, Christopher DuBois, is a being with pathos and an actual arc (meant in some ways to speak to his own experiences as a performer). And the tournament itself has actual stakes beyond just proving who’s the best (not jas’ foh meh – but foh my SHIDOSHI). The Quest’s only real failing is in the casting of its villain – a forgettable beefy dude with guyliner is just no match for BOLO.

That said, the rest of the cast is aces – Roger Moore brings self-aware smarm, and Jack McGee and – especially James Remar – bring olde-timey movie ham. There is a charming attempt to create some Old Hollywood-style glamour with this film, as filtered through the peculiar lens of a little Belgian boy with dreams of America.

In the end though, the film failed at the box office. It was released when Van Damme’s career was suffering a previously unseen lull. The film was relatively expensive, and the budget – along with a lawsuit brought by actual Kumite competitor and JCVD business partner Frank Dux – made backing Van Damme a dodgy proposition. He finished his Universal pact with the decent-enough “Die Hard in a…” thriller Sudden Death, and from there, it wasn’t long before he found himself going DTV – despite actual decent work in the underperforming but interesting Maximum Risk, the heavily-compromised but not-entirely-awful-if you-just-somehow-cut-out-Dennis Rodman Double Team, and the absolute masterpiece KNOCK OFF. Legionnaire saw video first, the atrocious Universal Soldier: The Return died on the silver screen, and – in the face of another expensive flop – it was wham-bam-thank you, Van Damme.

But The Quest is good. You should check that out.

Air Collision
Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Assault on a Queen
BBC Natural History Collection 1: Planet Earth
Bending the Rules
The Bodyguard
Camel Spiders
Casablanca
Come Blow Your Horn
Confucius: Live Action Movie
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel – A look at the life and times of one of our most treasured filmmakers
Crows Zero – Takashi Miike strikes again with this tale of High School Yakuza wars from 2006. Based on a comic, of course
A Dangerous Method
David Lean Directs Noel Coward
Don Quixote
Dragonheart
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
In the Land of Blood and Honey
Iron Maiden: En Vivo
It’$ Only Money
Joe Bonamassa: Beacon Theatre Live From New York
Lion of Judah
A Night to Remember
Phil Collins: Live at Montreux 2004/1996
The Quest
Rusalka
South Park: The Complete Fifteenth Season
Strip Nude for Your Killer
UFC: Best of 2011
Who’s Got The Action?
Who’s Minding The Store?


MADONNA – MDNA

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My comics-reviewing colleague Adam Prosser recently suggested a list of celebrity creators who have managed their public images to an extent that they often transcend the actual work being created, and while I certainly agree with his naming Stan Lee at the top of the list, and including such folks as Andy Warhol and David Bowie, any such list will also need to include Madonna. There’s no question that pop music (like most forms) can use all of the forthright feminism, and honest presentation of matters sexual, that it can get, so there’s no questioning the importance of the Material Girl as phenomenon. But save its best dancefloor moments, Madonna’s music has seemed to hit a point of diminishing returns, and with MDNA she’s reminding me less of Warhol or Bowie than, say, Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods: you don’t even have to watch sports to smell like Mike or invest like Tiger, and by now, Madonna’s celebrity seems equally detached from the question of whether her nominal area of expertise needs your attention.

And, of course, celebrity gets you big time collaborators like William Orbit, Martin Solveig, and Benny Benassi, who ensure that the beats get the job done, anyway, on tracks like ”Give Me All Your Luvin’,”  ”Girl Gone Wild,” and ”Turn Up the Radio.” But generic party anthems seem a fairly low bar at this point for Madge. Still, it beats the busy celebrity lifestyle rundown of ‘I Don’t Give A,” which doesn’t exactly position her as one of the 99%. I’m also certainly not the first person to point out the amount of recycling going on here;  Madonna seems to be raiding her back catalog like Noel Gallagher rummaging his Beatles albums: “I’m A Sinner” revisits the title prayer of “Act of Contrition,” “Give Me All Your Luvin'” reminds us that she’s once again a “Lucky Star,” and “Some Girls” borrows its title from Jagger while shouting back to “Like A Virgin” and “Express Yourself.”

In the end, what’s most important, I guess, is that MDNA is the latest word from an icon of free thinking, feminism, and frank sexuality. I’m glad she’s around, even if her music continues to drop on my list of priorities.

THE MARS VOLTA – NOCTOURNIQUET

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I hadn’t noticed until recently that At the Drive-In have scheduled a bit of a reunion tour, and I wonder if having that in their back pockets to sate the hardcore allowed Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala to operate a bit freer from expectations in their followup to 2009’s Octahedron. Noctourniquet shows the band (well, augmented duo-with drummer Deantoni Parks, Omar’s brother Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez on keyboards, and bassist Juan Alderete de la Peña.) just as instrumentally accomplished as ever, but here and there bending a knee to the muse of melody before smacking her in the face with a few knotty time changes and strangled guitar breaks.

I have no problem with the idea that there are serious Mars Volta fans whose reaction to “mellow” (one uses the term very loosely) stuff like “Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound” (“I am a mountain / Of cavernous people / Searching for a lighthouse in the fog“), “Vedamalady,” or “Aegis” will range from disappointed to appalled, but it’s always seemed to me that there’s plenty of musical muscle required to craft a memorable hook, or to make a lyric stick in a listener’s mind. And the care given to the resonant, ambient production drives them home pretty effectively.

Still, there’s plenty of action, too, like the frenetic opener of “The Whip Hand,” the eerie “The Malkin Jewel” (“Rats in the cellar / Forming a vermin of steps), the thickly-layered “In Absentia,” and some of Rodriguez-Lopez ‘ best guitar work on “Molochwalker.” Throughout, it seems to me (and maybe the production has something to do with it) that this might be Bixler-Zavala’s strongest vocal outing in some time, maybe ever. Serious MV fans who weren’t thrilled by Octahedron (and I’ve met a few) might take more kindly to Noctourniquet, since it sometimes feels like an attempt to bridge the old with the new. For new or casual listeners, it’s a great place to start… as long as you don’t expect their earlier material to sound much like it.

THEESATISFACTION – AWE NATURALE

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I’ve always been more attracted to synthesis than genre purism, so this self-produced offering from Seattle’s Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White hits a sweet spot for me, with its heady mixture of funk, jazz, psychedelia, dance, and soul, with hints of sci-fi. It’s highly recommended to those waiting impatiently for the next from Janelle Monae: not that they sound like her, but there’s the same breathtaking willingness to skip over musical boundaries like they weren’t there.

These “QueenS” instruct us “”Whatever you do / Don’t funk with my groove,” and while that would once have sounded like a generic invitation to dance, there’s a feminist undertone to the followup: “Leave your face at the door / Turn off your swag / Check your bag.” It’s one thing to for writers and politicians to challenge the misogynist underpinnings of the male hip-hop world, but it rings truer from a pair of women who don’t need pained editorials to scold their peers, or to be upfront about their “Needs” (“Respect the talent that you do have /  Or go out and learn skills“).

Awe Naturale is also a great piece of album construction: check out the glide from the soaring opener of “awE” to the stark, nearly robotic “Bitch,” or the jump-cut from the sweet harmonies of “Existinct” to the dark drone of “Deeper.” Credit is also given to Shabazz Palaces ‘s Ishmael Butler, who returns the favor of Irons and Harris-White’s contribution to his Black Up album, co-writing the plainspoken “God” and the wonderfully skewed “Enchantruss.” Recommended supplementary listening for fans of the similarly border-ignoring jazz-hop of Robert Glasper’s Black Radio.

OTHER NOTABLE 3/27 RELEASES:

Damon Albarn - Rocket Juice & Moon
Billy Bragg and Wilco – Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions
Jay Brannan – Rob Me Blind
Meshuggah – Koloss
Joan Osborne – Bring It On Home
Katy Perry – Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection
Shinedown – Amaryllis
Sidewalk Prophets – Live Like That
The Used – Vulnerable

RIDGE RACER UNBOUNDED (PS3, 360)

Ridge Racer? Wait – is there some sort of console launch I wasn’t aware of?

TIGER WOODS PGA TOUR 2013 (PS3, 360)

Golf games are fun. But you really only need one. And that should always be Hot Shots. If that isn’t an option get Tiger Woods for the Wii. Which they apparently aren’t releasing this year. So fuck this one. No one wants to play Kinect Golf. Spend six bucks and get it used on the proper system. You can’t go wrong, all that’s changed is the cover shot. The Wii versions are fantastic. It’s one of the few games that use Motion Plus to it’s full potential and is the very definition of party game. But, make sure you are using the Wii condom, because drunk people will chuck Wiimotes and the condom will keep your television from getting pregnant.

OTHER STUFF:

Warriors Orochi 3 is Dynasty Warriors meets Samurai Warriors in a fight to the KO. Only this time the Warriors of Troy dudes join the fight. Jesus Cthulhu Christ, Tecmo – at least try to hide the fact that all those games are exactly the same thing. Rayman Origins is hitting the PC. So now you can play Rayman Origins on everything. And you should. Gettysburg: Armored Warfare is also coming out on PC. It better include Mecha-Lincoln. He is so much cooler than Vampire-murdering Lincoln. Finally, MMA Supremacy is coming out on Vita. So you still have no reason to buy a Vita.

And that ain’t ego – that’s how we go.

FIN.