Thursday, June 1, 2017

Electric Boogaloo entertainingly looks back at Cannon Films, the Fyre Festival of indie movie studios

Mathilda May does her impression of me halfway through a Blu-ray of an '80s Cannon Films action movie in a scene from the big-budget 1985 Cannon flick Lifeforce.

This is the sixth of 12 or 13 all-new blog posts that are being posted on a monthly basis until this blog's final post in December 2017. It has taken me since January 2016 to finish writing this post about Cannon Films. I don't know why. Writer's block can really fuck you up sometimes. This is why I can't wait to leave this blog behind so that Accidental Star Trek Cosplay will become my only ongoing blog. After December, the only writer's block I'll have to worry about will be the block that keeps trying to prevent me from finishing my novel manuscript.

You've seen MacGruber, right? Now imagine if MacGruber wasn't a comedy. That's basically what an '80s Cannon Films action movie is like.

MacGruber is a Cannon movie played completely straight, except for a couple of big things: the profane update of MacGruber's old theme song (a tune from his days as an SNL character) and the intentionally offbeat dialogue that comes out of the mouths of Val Kilmer, Kristen Wiig and Will Forte, who weepingly delivers the least dignified and most sob-filled monologue in action movie history ("Just join my team. I'll suck your dick!"). Everyone else in MacGruber, whether the actor is Ryan Phillippe or the late Powers Boothe, is interestingly directed by Lonely Island troupe member Jorma Taccone to take the proceedings completely seriously, including even Maya Rudolph, aside from her silly sex noises while her dead character's ghost bangs MacGruber in a cemetary.



Phillippe and Boothe react to MacGruber's pantsless moment of desperation in the military office as if this were Michael Clayton or Spotlight instead of an Inspector Clouseau flick (or any other farce where everyone, including the straight man, gives a big and broad performance). Their underplayed seriousness actually increases the hilarity quotient of MacGruber's abnormal behavior.

Taccone's movie is a terrific parody of the schlocky Cannon house style, from the strange one-liners that sound like they were written by a 57-year-old Israeli movie producer ("Shut your butt!") to the ultraviolent heroes who, in real life, would be locked up in an insane asylum for their psychotic behavior (see MacGruber's "KFBR392" scene). If you took the dour and unintentionally funny 1986 Cannon movie Cobra, which I never watched until I rented it on YouTube a week ago, and you turned it into a comedy about how the behavior of matchstick-chewing supercop Marion Cobretti, the only person in the world who cuts pieces off his slices of pizza with a pair of scissors, actually looks to the world outside the narcissistic-at-the-time brain of Cobra star/screenwriter Sylvester Stallone, it would probably resemble MacGruber.

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The first Deadpool flick makes a Cobra reference I wasn't aware of until Outlaw Vern pointed it out (it's the scene when Ryan Reynolds quips about the matchstick between Gina Carano's lips and wonders aloud if she's a Stallone fan). Taccone and Deadpool screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick all clearly watched Cannon movies like Cobra when they were kids, just like how I was subjected to a few Cannon cheapies as an '80s kid.

One of those movies was 1987's Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, which was one of Cannon's two attempts to update the then-100-year-old Quatermain novels in the wake of Indiana Jones, and I still remember how dreadful the production values in Lost City of Gold were (it should have been called Lost City of Plastic). Currently streamable on Netflix, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, an Australian-made 2014 documentary directed by Aussie filmmaker Mark Hartley, is the highly entertaining story of why during the '80s and early '90s, a name like Cannon meant it had to be not-so-good. It's hard to dislike any documentary that devotes five minutes to the lambada movie war of 1990.

Cannon was, of course, embroiled in that vicious war over who could first rush into release a movie about a dirty dancing craze from Brazil that was barely sweeping the nation. Nobody won the war between Warner Bros./Cannon's Lambada and Columbia Pictures/21st Century Film Corporation's The Forbidden Dance. The only winners were quippy film critics who got a kick out of tearing apart terrible movies. For five silly minutes, Electric Boogaloo recounts how obsessed Menahem Golan (pronounced "muh-nawk-um go-lawn"), the aforementioned 50-something Israeli movie producer, was with trying to get The Forbidden Dance completed in time for its spring 1990 release date, while Yoram Globus, one of the producers of Lambada, and his collaborators toiled over their rival project. Golan and Globus were not just former business partners who ran Cannon (into the ground). They also happened to be cousins.

Friday, May 19, 2017

That time when Angry Asian Man made enough noise to keep the live-action Mulan producers from ruining Mulan's reflection

Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man

This is the fifth of 12 or 13 all-new blog posts that are being posted on a monthly basis until this blog's final post in December 2017 (the Ghost Protocol repost does not count as all-new).

This will be the final time I acknowledge Asian Pacific American Heritage Month on this blog, a few months before I will stop writing posts over here at the end of this year. So this final APA Heritage Month-related post is about a pioneering blog in the Asian American blogosphere and what has to be one of the blog's most impressive pieces of writing ever. It was impressive because of the minor but still-significant impact the blog post had during the ongoing struggle, especially from the Asian American side of things, to fight for more representation, diversity and inclusiveness in Hollywood and to get Tinseltown to be less ignorant and racist.

I don't visit Angry Asian Man as frequently as I used to (my favorite thing about Angry Asian Man has always been that its posts have introduced me to a lot of good novels by Asian American authors, and they've included Leonard Chang's Allen Choice crime trilogy and Sarah Kuhn's Heroine Complex, a novel I'm currently trying to finish reading while working on my own novel), but once in a while, Phil Yu, Angry Asian Man's founder, posts something enlightening and non-click-baity (and by non-click-baity, I mean a post that's not some viral video of an Asian American kid doing something adorable). By the way, Angry Asian Man has changed a lot since its start in the early 2000s. It began as a blog where Phil, whom I've talked to over e-mail a couple of times and have hung out with once, eloquently criticized the media and celebrities of all races for their racist attitudes towards Asians or their clueless usages of Asian stereotypes. That means Angry Asian Man can also be a depressing and stress-inducing read, especially whenever Phil posts excerpts of news items about hate crimes where the victims are Asian, which is mainly why I don't read it regularly anymore.

My visits to Angry Asian Man are not as frequent as they were in the early-to-mid-2000s also because, even though Phil still finds time to run the site in between speaking engagements and host or guest stints on online talk shows, his personal voice has been less present on the site (it's more present on Twitter and during Sound and Fury, the Angry Asian Man tie-in podcast where he interviews famous Asian Americans). He's been relying on guest writers for tons of content, and he found a clever way to do that on a weekly basis by coming up with a feature called "Angry Readers of the Week," where he lets an Asian American reader, whether that reader is non-famous or famous, give his or her life story via a Proust-type questionnaire.


Guest writers have also grabbed Phil's mic outside of the site's "Angry Readers" feature. One such guest writer wrote quite a corker for Angry Asian Man in October 2016, and that's the "something enlightening and non-click-baity" I'm referring to.

Acclaimed Whale Rider director Niki Caro is currently directing Disney's live-action remake of its own animated 1998 hit, the lighthearted, David Lean-style battle epic Mulan (she promises that her take on Mulan will be "a big, girly martial arts epic. It will be extremely muscular and thrilling and entertaining and moving"). But back when Caro wasn't attached to the remake yet, a spec script Disney bought for the remake (this early draft was credited to Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin) had awkwardly inserted a white savior character/love interest into a Chinese story that never contained any white savior characters.


The leaked spec script angered the 1998 film's fans, especially Asian American fans who, in 1998, felt empowered by both Ming-Na Wen's vocal star turn and the film's story of a female warrior who saves China and defies patriarchy (Mulan is also one of the few animated Disney films to not have its heroine pursuing a romance with the male lead, who, in this case, was a young Chinese army captain voiced by B.D. Wong). Phil gave the floor to one such Asian American Mulan fan, an Angry Asian Man reader who identified herself (or himself?) only as "an Asian American person in the industry," and the anonymous writer, who posted under the nom de plume "ConcernedForMulan," nicely read the live-action project's producers the riot act.

Monday, April 17, 2017

In Ghost Protocol, the gadgets turn into the Mission: Impossible team's worst enemy


I have a theory that the Mission: Impossible movies got better once Tom Cruise stopped being touchy about his short stature and allowed his character to be put in situations that emphasized how short he actually is. (It took this long for Cruise to become slightly less vain, which is so unlike Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Clark Gregg, who has awesomely never given a shit about sharing the screen with Marvel Cinematic Universe actresses who tower over him, whether that actress is Gwyneth Paltrow or Mallory Jansen. On the first day on the S.H.I.E.L.D. set, Gregg, a veteran of so many David Mamet projects, must have said something Mametian like "Fuck these fucking apple boxes you want me to stand on.")

That creative resurgence for the Impossible movie franchise (Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation turned out to be the best Impossible movies since the first one) began right at the start of Ghost Protocol, when Cruise was surrounded by prison thugs who were a foot taller than him, and the creative resurgence continued when Cruise, for the first time ever in the series, sighed and rolled his eyes like a too-old-for-this-shit, Rockford Files-era James Garner while getting knocked on his ass by an even taller enemy agent in Rogue Nation's terrific opera house assassination attempt sequence. That's another thing about the weird late-period resurgence of the Impossible movie franchise (which will come out with a sixth installment next year): the addition of more humor to these movies has resulted in Ethan Hunt becoming a slightly more likable and relatable protagonist, except the humor never feels forced or overly campy.

"Light the Fuse," the opening title theme Michael Giacchino, Ghost Protocol's composer, arranged for the fourth Impossible movie, is a stunning symphonic reinterpretation of Lalo Schifrin's main title theme from the '60s Impossible. The extra spit and polish Giacchino brought to an old (and kind of overplayed) Schifrin tune are why I chose "Light the Fuse" as the very first track for "Incognito I," the first of three mixes of spy movie/TV show score cues I assembled for the AFOS Mixcloud page. The oldest score cue during the three mixes is John Barry's Ipcress File main title theme from 1965, while the newest score cues during the mixes are from the Epix espionage drama Berlin Station and xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Below these three mixes is a repost of my July 30, 2015 discussion of both Giacchino's score from Ghost Protocol and the Ghost Protocol movie itself, a series-revitalizing installment that's on a par with what Fast Five did really late in the game as a creative boost to the Fast and the Furious franchise.







I wasn't alive when the original Mission: Impossible first aired on CBS, and I didn't watch any of the Mission: Impossible reruns until I saw FX's badly butchered versions of them back when the future home of Vic Mackey and SAMCRO started out as a low-rent Nick at Nite, so I don't have an attachment to Jim Phelps like I do to other characters from shows I'm much more fond of, like, say, Yemana from Barney Miller or anybody from the Greendale gang who's not Pierce. When Brian De Palma's 1996 Mission: Impossible reboot picked Jon Voight to take over the Peter Graves role of Phelps, the cool-headed (and rather bland) leader of the Impossible Missions Force and the hero of both the '60s and '80s versions of the show, and the movie reimagined Phelps as a traitor who had his fellow IMF agents killed, I didn't hiss "Blasphemy!" at the screen or angrily storm out of the theater in the middle of the feature presentation like Graves' old Mission: Impossible co-star Greg Morris did when he watched De Palma's movie. I actually dug the shocking plot twist.

Action film reviewer Outlaw Vern perfectly described why the twist remains an intriguing one in his recent reassessment of De Palma's Mission: Impossible. A master of paranoid thrillers who proved to be the perfect filmmaker to revive and re-energize Mission: Impossible for these post-Cold War times, De Palma "doesn't look fawningly at the cloak and dagger Cold War fun of the ['60s] series... Using the original show's hero as the villain is not only a surprising plot twist, it's a statement." Vern added, "Back then spy shit was fun and glamorous, now we're more aware of the messes it causes, and the consequences of training people with deadly skills and then running out of things for them to do. The guy that was the hero back then is now willing to betray everyone because he's not getting paid enough. Times are tough."

While I found the first Mission: Impossible movie that Tom Cruise both starred in and co-produced to be genuinely thrilling and clever--the beauty of that classic Langley break-in sequence is mostly due to its use of silence, which was De Palma's way of critiquing the noisy storytelling of most summer blockbusters--the villainization of Phelps, which actually made Phelps slightly more interesting as a character, wasn't what bugged me about the movie. What bugged me was Cruise's de-emphasis on teamwork in the movie's third act so that his Ethan Hunt character saved the day on his own and everyone else on Hunt's makeshift team was ancillary. The emphasis on a team of specialists from different fields was what made both the '60s and '80s incarnations of Mission: Impossible stand out from other spy shows, besides the enticing concept of what was essentially a one-hour heist movie every week. If you're going to revive Mission: Impossible on the big screen, it ought to be the espionage equivalent of Seven Samurai or Ocean's Eleven like the old show was, or else why call it Mission: Impossible? Without an ensemble, it's nothing more than 007 as a two-hour shampoo commercial--which was basically what John Woo's abysmal Mission: Impossible II was.

Friday, April 7, 2017

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Rick and Morty, "The Rickshank Rickdemption"


This is the fourth of 12 or 13 all-new blog posts that are being posted on a monthly basis until this blog's final post in December 2017. Occasionally on Friday, I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. It's the "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week. Stream "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," my one-hour mix of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, right now.



If the last few years saw the rise of the surprise album release--the likes of Beyoncé and Drake have rewritten the rules of the music industry by dropping albums right and left without any warning--then Adult Swim is apparently taking a cue from Queen Bey and Drizzy by trying to bring about the rise of the surprise TV show episode premiere. They did it before when, without much fanfare, they debuted on Instagram the complete "Rixty Minutes" episode of Rick and Morty a few days before its broadcast premiere.

This April Fools Day, Adult Swim did it again. Without posting some sort of press release or promotional tweet in advance, Adult Swim's staff pretended to do their annual April Fools prank (three of those past pranks were simply broadcasts of The Room), but they used the appearance of a prank as a Trojan horse to show all of "The Rickshank Rickdemption"--the Rick and Morty third-season premiere in which an incarcerated Rick comes up with a very sci-fi way to both outsmart an alien interrogator (special guest star Nathan Fillion) and escape from intergalactic prison--in a loop for only a few hours on both the network and its site. Well-played, Adult Swim, well-played.

Adult Swim hasn't even set a date yet for the unveiling of the rest of Rick and Morty's new season. So far, they've said the season will resume some time in the summer, so the most impatient of Rick and Morty fans, who have been waiting since October 2015 for new episodes from Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, will just have to shut the fuck up like Jemaine Clement whenever he sings about moonmen and wait a little longer.

The April Fools loop was a nice little surprise stunt, but how does the episode--which I was lucky to stream in its entirety after returning home late from a party, right before Adult Swim deleted it from their site--fare as the return of an eagerly awaited animated show that hasn't been first-run in almost two years? "The Rickshank Rickdemption," which is credited to Rick and Morty staff writer Mike McMahan, is a much more focused and tautly written (as well as much more action-heavy) season premiere than last season's "A Rickle in Time," a season opener that Roiland and Harmon were reportedly unhappy with because, according to the duo in Rolling Stone, "We were so close to something amazing and we never really got there from a structural standpoint," and "It went off the deep end conceptually and got really over-complicated." The third-season premiere is satisfying and funny enough to get me to bring back this blog's "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week" feature after a long hiatus.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

No Soup for us: The disappointment over E! never archiving The Soup for the show's fans


This is the third of 12 or 13 blog posts that are being posted on a monthly basis until this blog's final post in December 2017.

The longest I laughed over one of Joel McHale's quips on E!'s now-defunct pop culture clip show The Soup ("a sort of national archives of idiocy" was how TV Insider astutely described the show, a few months before its cancellation in 2015) was the moment when The Soup played a Today Show clip of Richard Simmons--this was way before he went "missing"--being Richard Simmons while sitting on a couch with a miniskirted Lisa Rinna. The former Days of Our Lives star, who looks a lot different from her pre-Botox days in Salem, covered her crotch when Simmons lifted up her legs because she thought the viewers at home were getting a glimpse of her Salem's Lot (actually, the viewers at home couldn't see shit).



Neither the accidental quasi-upskirt clip nor McHale's scripted response to the clip were what made me laugh for two or three minutes. The muttered aside that the Soup host clearly ad-libbed right after his scripted response was what caused my sides to hurt from laughing for two minutes: "Her lips are full of collagen."

The Soup studio audience laughed over the ad-lib for longer than half a minute as well. On a broadcast network, Standards and Practices would lamely bleep out "lips" and ruin McHale's joke, but because this was basic cable, E! let the randy ad-lib go. It was a rare wise decision by a cable channel known for a million dumb programming decisions that were made fun of by McHale and his fellow joke writers on the regular during The Soup's 11-year run.

I wish I could revisit that improvised Soup moment and a bunch of other lines that were ad-libbed by McHale (in addition to wishing I could revisit the memes that originated from The Soup, like Spaghetti Cat and "Stay out of it, Nick Lachey!"), just like how I can easily stream an entire episode of The Daily Show from any point of history during the Dubya Administration or how I can easily stream the classic 2007 Colbert Report interview segment where Jane Fonda took Stephen Colbert by surprise (by sitting on his lap and kissing him to persuade his fake Republican alter ego, also named Stephen Colbert, to remove her name from his "On Notice" board). (Also, a search for almost every discriminatory thing that has come out of Steve King's mouth isn't so difficult, thanks to the Colbert archive.)

Unfortunately, I can't revisit as much Soup content as I'd like to because E!'s online staff never bothered to put up an archive of full Soup episodes like how Comedy Central built exhaustive online archives of full Daily Show episodes and lengthy Colbert Report clips. And that lack of a Soup archive--meanwhile, all 12 interminable seasons of Keeping Up with the Kardashians are up on Hulu--is an even dumber move on E!'s part than building an unwatchable reality show around a tanning salon.