Thursday, October 5, 2017

Bad Rap is a timely and often funny look at Asian American rappers who want to have a radio hit like P-Lo or Far East Movement do

Dumbfoundead in Bad Rap

This is the 12th of 14 or 15 all-new blog posts that are being posted on a monthly basis until this blog's final post in December 2017.

Back in 2011, I typed out an outline for a graphic novel or screenplay I wanted to someday write about the Minneapolis rock music scene in 1985, and the story was to be told from the point of view of a female Filipino American Prince fan who leads a band of otherwise all-male musicians called the Beautifully Complex Women. In the outline, I explained that a rumor spreads around Minneapolis that Prince, the city's favorite son, is looking for a new act to sign to his Paisley Park label, and the Beautifully Complex Women and a whole bunch of other local bands vie, often over-aggressively, for the attention of the unseen Purple One.

I called the script idea The Beautifully Complex Women. It was going to be my way of exploring why it's so difficult for Asian American artists--whether they're the power pop band Moonpools & Caterpillars in the '90s or the Philly rap group Mountain Brothers in the early 2000s--to find mainstream success in the recording industry:


Bad Rap, African American filmmaker Salima Koroma's 2016 documentary about the various hardships Asian American rappers have to deal with in the industry, covers all those above questions and more in a lean, efficient and enjoyably provocative manner that makes me say, "Wow, I think I'll let this 1985 Minneapolis battle-of-the-bands script idea remain a script idea." Her film turned out to be better than my script idea.

Koroma's documentary was the 2016 film I most eagerly wanted to watch last year, even more so than a tentpole blockbuster like Captain America: Civil War or a critics' darling like Moonlight. (Sorry, Barry Jenkins.) Now Bad Rap is streamable on Netflix after a run on the festival circuit, and, man, the doc was worth the wait.

Bad Rap producer Jaeki Cho and director Salima Koroma

Bad Rap, which was crowdfunded on Indiegogo, took Koroma and Korean American producer Jaeki Cho--the (now-former) manager of one of the film's four main subjects--three and a half years to make. The doc follows four Asian American spitters who either have often toured together or have done guest features on each other's tracks.

The amiable and quick-witted Jonathan Park, who's now in his thirties, was an L.A. skater kid who, as a teen, stumbled into the battle rap scene--the Detroit version of the battle rap scene was famously depicted in 8 Mile--and fell in love with the art form, or as I like to call battle rap, "Don Rickles insult humor by people who, unlike Rickles, have rhythm." Park, a.k.a. Dumbfoundead, is a hero in L.A.'s Koreatown (judging from his music videos and YouTube shorts, he is to K-town what De Niro is to New York: the unofficial mayor) and in battle rap circles, but he's unknown elsewhere. Bad Rap reveals--and I wasn't previously aware of this--that Drake is a fan of Dumbfoundead's battle raps, which makes me like Drake even more than I already do.

Friday, August 25, 2017

What Game of Thrones needs more than dragonglass is Henry Louis Gates Jr., so that he could stop Jon from banging his Auntie Dany


This is the 10th of 13 or 14 all-new blog posts that are being posted until this blog's final post in December 2017.

Game of Thrones, the most popular TV show in the world right now, is a show I've been ride-or-die for since the eerie White Walker attack that opened its 2011 pilot episode. It's a rare small-screen soap opera in which the action filmmaking on display during certain set pieces--marshaled by directors like Miguel Sapochnik and Breaking Bad veteran Michelle MacLaren, a.k.a. the original director of Wonder Woman before she quit over creative differences with Warner Bros.--is intriguingly on a par with the work of master craftsmen in the action genre like the "Johns": the late John Frankenheimer, John Woo and Johnnie To, Woo's much more grounded (as in there are no fucking doves in his movies) but similarly skilled Hong Kong compatriot.

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of Last Week: Rick and Morty, "Pickle Rick"


This is the ninth of 13 all-new blog posts that are being posted 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. The "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week hasn't been a weekly feature for a long time, but sometimes, I'll catch a really good piece of animated TV shortly after its original airdate, and I'll feel like devoting some paragraphs to it despite my lateness to the party. Hence the rare "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of Last Week. This is the 134th edition of "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.



The Monday after it premiered, I streamed on the Adult Swim site "Pickle Rick"--Rick and Morty's most violent episode so far, as well as the show's most damning indictment of Rick and his treatment of his family, as he mutates himself into a pickle/human hybrid as an excuse to avoid going along with Beth, Summer and Morty to see a family therapist (special guest voice Susan Sarandon)--but I wasn't able to write about "Pickle Rick" until now. I was busy resuming work on my prose novel manuscript and trying to finish marathoning Fargo's third season on FXNow right before FX deleted the entire season from FXNow.

Movie Pilot did such an astute review of "Pickle Rick" (it's entitled "'Pickle Rick' Proved Beyond a Squanch of a Doubt That Rick Is the Real Villain of Rick and Morty") that I'm not going to discuss and briefly summarize (instead of pointlessly recap scene-for-scene) "Pickle Rick" in a fashion similar to the Movie Pilot piece, which is the same kind of non-recappy approach I've done with previous Rick and Morty episodes. I'm just going to raise a couple of points I haven't seen in other reviews of "Pickle Rick."

Danny Trejo is an underrated voice actor. I had no idea Trejo voiced Jaguar, the racially ambiguous assassin Pickle Rick battles and then conspires with to get himself back home, until the end credits. I thought it was Clancy Brown the whole time. That's how effective Trejo is as a voice actor. Trejo really whitened up his voice in "Pickle Rick." He did an even better job as Enrique, Hank's not-too-bright co-worker, in my favorite later-season King of the Hill episode, "Lady and Gentrification," because he convincingly voiced a meek and non-confrontational character who's the complete opposite of all the ass-kickers he played in movies like Desperado, the Machete flicks and even A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, an atypical Trejo movie where Elias Koteas, not Trejo, is the one who's doing all the on-screen carnage. Speaking of King of the Hill, I'm not so excited over the rumors about Mike Judge reuniting with the King of the Hill crew to make new episodes. It's just wrong for King of the Hill to resume without the late Brittany Murphy. If King of the Hill is going to come back to TV now, it ought to kill off Luanne, Murphy's character, off-screen. And no, not even a terrific and versatile voice actor like Pamela Adlon, who juggled several roles on King of the Hill, including Bobby, would be a satisfactory enough replacement for Murphy as Luanne.


Trejo is always weirdly guest-starring in TV show episodes that make me emotional for some reason. "Lady and Gentrification" is a rare King of the Hill episode that angers me because of the things Enrique, his daughter Inez and their family are forced to experience due to the gentrification of Arlen (caused by Peggy, of course), even though a certain quotable grievance of Enrique's is played for laughs ("They put salmon in the fish tacos, Hank!"). The unexpected friendship between Hank and Inez, whom Hank has been asked by Enrique to give a speech for at her quinceañera even though Hank barely knows her, causes "Lady and Gentrification" to also be oddly affecting. Hank is understandably uncomfortable about being around Inez at first because the thought of a middle-aged man spending extra time talking to a teenage girl is never not creepy, but the friendship becomes kind of affecting when you realize Hank, after years of struggling to understand Bobby ("That boy ain't right") and not exactly getting along with the niece-in-law whom he and Peggy have to look after, has finally met a kid whom he could actually get along with. Trejo's guest shot on Monk had the same effect on me as Hank's quasi-parental bond with a surprisingly non-sullen Inez did in "Lady and Gentrification": his hardened lifer character's gradual sympathy for both his cellmate Monk, whom he doesn't get along with at first, and Monk's search for the murderer of his wife Trudy in "Mr. Monk Goes to Jail" is oddly affecting too, and I wished Monk brought back Trejo's character for another episode. In the Monk series finale about the revelation of Trudy's killer, Monk should have sent Trejo to kill Craig T. Nelson.

In the case of "Pickle Rick," the episode's final scene before the end credits was what made me emotional, but not emotional as in somewhat moved, like when I saw "Lady and Gentrification" or "Mr. Monk Goes to Jail." The final scene in Beth's car made me frustrated, as in "Goddammit, Morty, be more aggressive about this shit that's been eating you up inside."

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Why I left BuzzFe... er, I mean, why I got the fuck away from terrestrial radio

Baby Driver

This is the eighth 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.

Named after a Simon & Garfunkel tune that's like a turtlenecked-and-khaki-pantsed precursor to Prince's "Little Red Corvette" ("I hit the road and I'm gone"), Baby Driver is Edgar Wright's wonderful antidote to superhero movie fatigue (the recent thrills of Wonder Woman aside), as well as a subtle rebuke to the often-afraid-of-idiosyncrasy superhero movie studio system that chewed the idiosyncratic Wright up and spat him out (back in 2014). Wright's caper flick is the inventively told, occasionally Kid Koala-scored story of a 20-something getaway driver known simply as Baby, whose method of drowning out the tinnitus he's suffered from since childhood is to continually play the likes of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Bob & Earl in his omnipresent iPod earbuds, even during high-speed car chases. While mowing through truffle parmesan butter popcorn at a Baby Driver screening at the Alamo Drafthouse, I realized Wright basically made a movie about me.

Sure, I'm not a getaway driver and I can't parkour my way out of a tight spot like Baby astoundingly can at one point during Baby Driver, but at all hours in my apartment building, I always wear headphones full of music from my phone or my Mac, not to drown out tinnitus, but to drown out annoying footstep noises from my apartment's paper-thin ceiling. Atop the ceiling, it always sounds like two elephants fucking.

Baby Driver

Part of the challenge of writing these blog posts in the past nine years--and now, in addition to the posts, a prose novel manuscript--has been trying to concentrate while all these infuriating noises from my ceiling ensue. If it weren't for my headphones drowning those noises out, I don't think I could ever get any shit done in my apartment, and I don't think I could ever sleep at night either (for that, I switch off the music and put on in my headphones a copy of one of those eight-hour YouTube audio clips of starship white noise from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and then I'm out cold like Riker after having to listen to Data's poetry slam).