Friday, February 24, 2017

Nobody says "Huh?" like Denzel


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

Once upon a time, I ran an Internet radio station that streamed film and TV score music. I don't really miss running it. The audience for it dwindled over the years, and even though Live365, the Bay Area company that powered the station before the end of the Webcaster Settlement Act led to Live365's demise early last year, is being resuscitated, I don't have any plans to bring back the station.

But I've kept the station alive on Mixcloud, where I've archived a few hours of old station content and posted lots of new one-to-two-hour mixes of music from original scores. The most popular of those mixes has been a mix of Kyle Dixon/Michael Stein score cues from the first season of Netflix's unexpectedly popular Stranger Things. It's called "Where's Barb?"

Late last year, the score albums for the Magnificent Seven remake and the film version of Fences, which both star Denzel Washington, were sent to my inbox, and that made me want to edit together an entire mix of score cues from Denzel movies. Denzel has been one of my favorite actors, ever since he stole the 1989 white savior movie Glory (and won an Oscar for stealing it) in the same way Don Cheadle would later steal Devil in a Blue Dress from Denzel. In Glory, he was basically the Toshiro Mifune character from Seven Samurai: the shit-talking troublemaker and outsider who learns to channel his anger and penchant for self-destruction into a worthy cause and then (SPOILER!) dies a hero.

The late James Horner's score from that 1989 Civil War movie, Terence Blanchard's 1992 Malcolm X score and Hans Zimmer's 1995 Crimson Tide score are a trifecta of Denzel-related instrumental badassery. Put those three scores together in either a mix or an hour of radio programming, and that hour of music is automatically going to sound as rousing and badass as a Denzel speech. Procrastinating on a writing project or that load of laundry? Put on the badass "Fruit of Islam" from Malcolm X's classic hospital march sequence. Immediately after hearing "Fruit of Islam," shit is going to be done. Laundry is going to be washed.

This month is the perfect time to post a mix of score cues from Denzel flicks. Several of Denzel's most highly regarded movies are frequently recommended during Black History Month by the likes of film critics and librarians, and Fences, Denzel's third big-screen directorial effort, is up for a few Oscars this weekend. Viola Davis, who reprised a role she had alongside Denzel in one of the various stage versions of Fences, is the frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actress trophy.



Throughout the Mixcloud mixes, I like to drop audio clips from the movies or TV shows that I've selected for score cue airplay. For this Denzel mix, I could have gone with audio from Denzel speeches as the connective tissue between each Denzel movie score cue, but I decided to go with something even more brash as connective tissue: clips from the very funny Earwolf podcast Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period, hosted by stand-ups W. Kamau Bell, the host of the CNN documentary series United Shades of America, and Kevin Avery, a writer for Last Week Tonight.

Bell, Avery and a special guest Denzealot, whether it's another comedian, a black filmmaker or one of Denzel's previous co-stars, dissect the work of their favorite charismatic actor, with lots of humor and occasional jabs at things like Virtuosity (the poorly received 1995 Denzel cyber-thriller that pitted 'Zel against a murderous A.I. played by a pre-L.A. Confidential Russell Crowe) and Denzel's visible discomfort during Much Ado About Nothing's frolicking scenes. Denzel himself is aware of the podcast's existence. But I highly doubt he's ever going to be a guest on this podcast that both celebrates his many triumphs as an actor (as well as a director of both episodic TV and small-scale feature films) and dredges up Virtuosity-esque career missteps, and Denzel's recent Fences press junket comment about not wanting to live in the past confirmed it. The podcast doesn't just live in Denzel's big-screen (and small-screen) past. It raises kids and builds a whole garden of gladioli in his past.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Atlanta season 1's sweetest move was an old 30 Rock move: it never tried to sell Paper Boi as God's gift to the trap scene


This is the first of 12 or 13 blog posts that will be posted on a monthly basis from now until this blog's final post in December 2017.

I was skeptical about Donald Glover's Atlanta when FX first announced in 2014 that it picked up Glover's creation, his first TV series since his departure from Community, the offbeat cult favorite where he continually killed it each week as Troy Barnes, a high-school football star trying (and failing) to suppress his nerdy side (like that time when Troy, in what has to be my favorite acting moment from Glover on Community, was so excited to be in the presence of his childhood hero LeVar Burton that he turned catatonic). A half-hour comedy about a trap rapper and his manager cousin trying to get by in the rap game? Disquieting visions of "Entourage for the Atlanta trap scene" danced in my head when FX first hyped Atlanta. The world doesn't need another half-hour piece of boring lifestyle porn where the lead characters constantly bang anything that breathes in the most opulent of settings and the storyline with the biggest stakes would be "Is Vince Paper Boi doing or not doing the movie A3C?"

Another disquieting vision I had was that Atlanta was going to be a weekly half-hour ad for Glover's musical career as Childish Gambino. Glover is a good example of an actor/rapper whose beats, frequently provided by Community and Creed score composer Ludwig Göransson, are solid, but his bars leave a lot to be desired. I was never a fan of Gambino's corny verses about his Asian fetish.


I caught up on Atlanta season 1 on FX on demand, about a few weeks after the season concluded, during a couple of breaks between chapters for a manuscript I've been working on since August (chapters that I, by the way, ended up having to delete from the manuscript because I found myself thinking, "This material isn't gonna work as a YA novel anymore. A Jim Rockford-type Pinoy should be the audience surrogate, not a precocious Richie Brockelman-type Pinoy," so I got rid of all the teenage characters). Atlanta, which took home the Best Comedy Series and Best Actor in a Comedy trophies at the Golden Globes earlier this month, exceeded my expectations. As a half-hour single-camera comedy about the rap game, thankfully, it's more Taxi than Entourage.

Sure, Atlanta is frequently funny (three words: secret revolving wall), but Glover and his writing staff's brand of humor is tinged with Taxi-style melancholy, particularly about how working-class adult life often feels like you're running in circles. That melancholy reflects Glover's belief, as he once said during a 2016 Television Critics Association press tour panel, that "you watch Master of None and it's a very optimistic look at millennialism, [but] I'm pessimistic about it. I feel like we kind of fucked up."


There's nothing lifestyle-porny about Atlanta. Neither are there any moments of blatant product placement for Awaken, My Love!, the surprise Gambino album Glover dropped one month after the Atlanta season finale, save for a cameo by the Awaken, My Love! cover artwork on a bookshelf in the "Juneteenth" episode. The non-rap Awaken, My Love! is also the first-ever Gambino release I've genuinely liked from start to finish, aside from whatever the fuck Bino was doing with his voice during "California."

The show is an exploration of, as Joshua Rivera put it in GQ, "the stress and pain of being broke," particularly when that broke-ass person is both a creative and a POC, like Earn Marks, Glover's Ivy League dropout character, and, to a lesser extent, his cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), a.k.a. the trap rapper known as Paper Boi (not to be confused with Paperboy, who recorded the 1992 one-hit wonder "Ditty"), who's more economically stable than Earn, thanks to income from drug dealing, but he's not exactly on the level of Future/Gucci Mane-type wealth yet. "Ballin," singer/songwriter Bibi Bourelly's current ode to finding ways to "treat yo'self" when your savings account is empty, could be an unofficial theme song for the daily hustle of either Earn, who becomes Alfred's manager, or teaching assistant Van (Zazie Beetz), Earn's ex and the mother of his baby daughter (I wouldn't be surprised if Bourelly's extremely relatable song surfaces on Atlanta during its second season, which is currently scheduled to air in 2018, partly due to Glover's upcoming gig as young Lando Calrissian).



Friday, December 23, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Doctor Who celebrated its 50th anniversary by upholding the humanism that makes it the most humanistic sci-fi franchise outside of Star Trek

Peter Capaldi, the current star of Doctor Who, returns as the Doctor this holiday season in "The Return of Doctor Mysterio."

The following is a repost of my November 26, 2013 discussion of "The Day of the Doctor." The latest of the BBC's annual Doctor Who Christmas specials premieres this Christmas Day.

So some British show celebrated the 50th anniversary of its premiere over the weekend. Inspector Spacetime didn't just prove that it hasn't shown any signs of aging even though it's a show that's so old Larry King discovered his first liver spot on the day it premiered. It also proved that even when the budget is at its lowest, the zippers on the Ocean Demon monster suits are at their most visible and the corridors that the Inspector and Constable Reggie are often seen running through are at their creakiest, it can still entertain, as long as there's plenty of charisma from whoever's portraying the Inspector and his associate and the storytelling is as impeccable as the Inspector's taste in bowler hats.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

They're coming to rescore you, Barbra

Morricone Youth, clad in Michael Myers masks while covering the Halloween theme

In 2015, the Jersey Journal interviewed guitarist Devon E. Levins, the founder of the New York band Morricone Youth, about Morricone Youth's live rescore of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Since 1999, the band has specialized in rock-style covers of '60s and '70s film and TV score compositions by the likes of Ennio Morricone (whom the band was named after), Lalo Schifrin and Henry Mancini. In recent years, they've also been performing live rescores of silent movies and the occasional post-silent-era work that opted for pre-existing library music cues instead of spending extra cash on recruiting a composer to write and record an original score. One such post-silent-era work was the famously ultra-low-budget Night of the Living Dead.


Yeah, that's not the kind of goblin Levins was referring to, Jersey Journal.

Devon E. Levins (far right), performing with one of his other bands, Creedle
Levins meant Goblin, the Italian rock band that's best known for its largely synthy yet somehow timeless-sounding original scores for Dario Argento thrillers and Zombi, the European recut of Dawn of the Dead, Romero's 1978 sequel to Night of the Living Dead (some of Goblin's Zombi cues popped up in the original version of Dawn as well). One of the merits of Morricone Youth's rescore of Night--which Morricone Youth released as an EP in September after a year of performing it live, in addition to releasing an EP of their rescore of the technically impressive (but also massively racist) 1926 German animated movie The Adventures of Prince Achmed--is the way that the band's Goblin-style rescore strengthens the connective tissue between the first two Dead installments and makes the first Dead flick feel closer to the partially Goblin-scored 1978 sequel, sonically speaking.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Selma


After directing Selma, the 2014 movie that won a Best Original Song Oscar for the Common/John Legend track "Glory," Ava DuVernay has, in addition to being the first filmmaker to ever inspire a Barbie doll based on her likeness, racked up an intriguing bunch of directorial credits. She directed the 2016 Netflix documentary film The 13th and the first two episodes of the OWN drama Queen Sugar (a show she also wrote for during its first season), and she signed up to direct the forthcoming Disney adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, a classic sci-fi novel I remember reading as homework in grade school (here's how long ago it was when I read Wrinkle: the cover artwork on my copy was the version that had the disembodied head of a Darkseid lookalike encased in a crystal ball). The following is a repost of a February 5, 2015 discussion of DuVernay's breakout film in the mainstream. Selma, a historical film about civil rights activism, will continue being timely, especially in a year that will inevitably see an increase in activism against both America's next president (God, those last three words sound like the title of the world's shittiest reality show, which is fitting because reality TV-loving idiots are among the ones who put him and the likes of Omarosa in office) and his inflammatory rhetoric.

The Selma Oscar snubs have disappointed all of us moviegoers who were mesmerized by director Ava DuVernay's third feature film, a historical drama about the civil rights movement's push to get the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, via civil disobedience and legal strategizing. But Larry Wilmore, currently the only African American host on late-night TV and hardly a stranger to the struggles of bringing more diversity to Hollywood (he was the creator and original showrunner of The Bernie Mac Show and he helped showrun the first few episodes of Black-ish this season), said something enlightening about the Selma snubs, and it's helped me feel a little less disappointed about those oversights. The host of Comedy Central's solidly funny Nightly Show said to the Hollywood Reporter that awards at the end of the day don't really mean as much as making sure a black female director like DuVernay gets a shot at making a movie ("That, to me, is more important; the other stuff is gravy," said Wilmore).