If you ever want to see a scene that perfectly captures a heady air of decadence and mania without going all over the top and Caligula on you, look no further than the scene in Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture that introduces us to the opulent gambling parlor operated by the enigmatic Mother Gin Sling (Ona Munson). Centered above the main gambling floor, the shot assumes a bird’s eye view of the hall and its inhabitants as it spiral downward into the fray, where people drink, gamble, and flirt with an orgiastic glee as the delirious music swells. It’s an incredibly effective and a perfect way to sum up this oddball noir drama set in the indulgent underbelly of Shanghai just prior to World War II.
“This was no disciplined march; it was a stampede–a stampede gigantic and terrible–without order and without a goal, six million people unarmed and unprovisioned, driving headlong. It was the beginning of the rout of civilisation, of the massacre of mankind.” — HG Wells, The War of the Worlds
My parents were always willing to indulge my state as kind of a weird kid. One year for Christmas, they got me an LP with which I would become obsessed as a kid, and one that continues to find it’s way into my playlist. It was a bizarre amalgamation of rock opera and old time radio play, featuring the voice talent of none less than Richard Burton: Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. It was an impressive package for a young lad to receive, with artwork that spanned the entirety of the gatefold cover and a full-color booklet of more artwork and the story of how the record came to be. The War of the Worlds was, at the time, one of my all-time favorite books, or as all-time as you can have at the age of eight or nine. It was one of the first novels I read, along with Dracula and Frankenstein and probably something involving Encyclopedia Brown or someone. While those around me devoured the sorts of books one expects elementary school children to read, I reveled in the utter decimation of my planet, the desperation of mankind on the brink of extinction. I watched producer George Pal’s War of the Worlds film adaptation, and while I loved the movie, I was disappointed that it wasn’t the same as the book I’d grown to so adore. Similarly, I used my grass cutting money to buy a copy of the infamous Orson Welles radio broadcast of the story on cassette. Again, though, while it was great, it wasn’t my War of the Worlds — in that it wasn’t really HG Wells’ War of the Worlds.
Of all the castles we visited in Scotland, this one’s probably had the most words written about it, thanks to its being situated on the bonny banks of Loch Ness. Let me just get this out of the way right now: yes, we did commune with Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, but once the venerable beast tried to get us to give it $2000 so that it could in turn get $15 million out of the bank, half of which would be ours, we just tuned out.
2013 marks the centennial anniversary of New York’s Grand Central Terminal. We’ll be writing plenty about the storied train station in the coming weeks and months, but I thought we’d kick off the celebration with one of our favorite weird facts about the place. Behind a nondescript, locked and ignored brass door set into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on 49th Street is an elevator to a secret Grand Central train platform that was used by President Franklin Roosevelt when he visited the city and did not want to deal with reporters and photographers. That door is about as close as you or me or most of the rest of the public is ever going to get to the secret station, dubbed simply Track 61 by Grand Central authorities, but behind that door and below the street is a wealth of fascinating history that includes not just Roosevelt’s secret train, but also a lavish underground party thrown by Andy Warhol.
Sompote Sands is one of those figures in cult cinema who casts a long shadow. Granted it’s a shadow that twists around and warps into a demon like Calibos’ shadow in Clash of the Titans, but it’s a shadow never the less. Regarding the origin story of this supremely interesting and bizarre film maker, that was spoken to when we reviewed his Ultraman-meets-Hanuman epic Hanuman and the 7 Ultramen, so rather than paraphrase here, I encourage you to mosey on over and check that one out. The twisted saga of Sands’ relationship with and claim of stewardship over the work of Japanese effects pioneer Eiji Tsuburaya is one of my favorite film stories. For our purposes here, let us fast forward a decade or so, into the 1980s and a point where Sands had moved on from remaking Japanese superhero properties for the Thai market and had decided to indulge more substantially in his fondness for Thai mythology.
“Mr. Moto is a very difficult fellow to kill.” — Mr. Moto
1937’s Think Fast, Mr. Moto, starring Hungarian actor Peter Lorre as a witty, karate-chopping Japanese man of mystery, introduces us to the budget films version of Charlie Chan. It seems that the specific nature of Mr. Moto changes as the series progresses, and while he is an adventuring spymaster later in the series, at least for this first film he is identified as an import-export businessman who, like Bulldog Drummond and Nick and Nora Charles, dabbles in detective work and sleuthing as a hobby. But while it’s fair to compare Chan and Moto, other than the detective work and the fact that a white actor is playing an Asian, Moto and Chan are pretty different, both in terms of character and the movies they inhabit.
Dev was secured to the rotating chair and flanked on either side by bald goons wearing a tight t-shirt and flamboyantly colored scarf. The man standing behind the vast desk was wearing a silver Nehru jacket accented with ribbons and golden cords of a vaguely military style. Behind the desk was a Plexiglass window looking out into the deep blue of an aquarium filled with sharks, and on the desk was the oval shaped viewscreen the fiend sometimes used to randomly call up and taunt officials in Mumbai. Dev’s own lime green shirt with a playfully clashing tie that seemed to contain more colors than exist in the known universe was a splash of sharp contrast amid the austere modern decor of the room. The man behind the desk smiled at his captive.
After more hours than I want to count neatly folded into the capsules that comprise coach service on most major American air carriers; after finishing two Jim Butcher “Dresden Files” novels; after Justice League: Doom and Nameless Gangster; after all that, I stepped into Sydney, Australia with only a single thought in my mind: I needed a drink. Or two. Luckily, Sydney is a drinker’s paradise, overflowing with dens of indulgence that run the gamut from historic pubs to modern cocktail bars with an eye focused on the American speakeasy. With an absurdly mild definition of winter greeting me, I knew I was in for a proper drinking adventure. While almost everything in Australia costs twice as much as it does in New York, the odd exception is the alcohol (purchased in bars that is). Australia’s best drams of whiskey are poured for you at more or less the same price you would pay in a whiskey bar in the United States. Cocktails are comparable in price (but not always quality) to what you’d pay at any one of the many speakeasy-revival style bars in the States. And beer prices hover at about the same level as you’d pay for a pint of quality American micro-brew. So with those amazingly indestructible and colorful Australian dollars in hand, and after a brief stop at the hotel to freshen myself a bit, I was off.
Some time ago, I jetted off to London to spend a few days with a companion exploring the rich history and richer beer of that fine English town. Normally, when I travel I leave it up to myself to plot an itinerary and seek out the spots I want to visit. But in London, we had naught but a couple days and plenty of history to cover, so we signed up for one of those guided theme tours that sounded like it would appeal to me: Sinister London.
I don’t usually go to celebrity restaurants. Unfair though it may be, I associate them with average food, higher prices, and a willingness to coast on the name of a disinterested star who was willing to slap their name onto the outside of the establishment. I’m in New York after all, and why would I sit with the tourists at Mickey Mantle’s or Don Schula’s or Michael Jordan’s when I just go to Keens and get an infinitely better meal for around the same price — and sit next to Teddy Roosevelt’s pipe to boot? However, I’m nothing if not a sucker for something marketed seemingly directly at me, so when legendary Knicks court general Walt “Clyde” Frazier appended his name to a Hell’s Kitchen eatery, my interest was piqued — first because I love Clyde, and second because it wasn’t a steakhouse.