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).

Monday, July 3, 2017

Okja is two hours of Bong Joon-ho's usual boldness, plus Jake Gyllenhaal doing an odd Marvin Tikvah impression

This is the seventh 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.

I love the work of Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho. Based on a real-life serial-killer case that remains unsolved, 2003's Memories of Murder, the second feature film from "Director Bong," intriguingly takes the standard "grisly serial-killer case psychologically damages the detectives on the case" thriller and expands its scope so that it morphs into a dark comedy about the ineptitude of institutions like the police, and it's so critical of institutions you'd expect David Simon to have had a hand in writing it. The Host, Bong's 2006 follow-up to Memories of Murder, became South Korea's biggest box-office hit ever by effectively mashing up the monster movie genre with dysfunctional family comedy and trenchant satire about both Korean and American institutions. Mother, Bong's 2009 whodunit about a mentally challenged prime suspect in a small-town murder case, is a worthy addition to the pantheon of twisted movies to watch on Mother's Day like Psycho and Serial Mom. Snowpiercer, a rare dystopian sci-fi flick that takes place in perpetual snowfall rather than being drenched in acid rain or set against orange desert landscapes, is both an inventive take on class warfare and 2014's most mesmerizing blockbuster starring a white guy named Chris.

These are all darkly comic films with a recurring disdain for either broken institutions or corporate malfeasance. So I was prepared to dislike the made-for-Netflix Okja, a globetrotting fantasy film that finds Bong venturing into Free Willy territory for a story about a Korean farm kid's bond with a genetically modified female "superpig"--an empathetic creature that behaves less like a pig and more like a dog/hippo hybrid--she wants to save from the slaughterhouse. Has Bong the sharp satirist gone all soft and cuddly on us?

Nah, not really. For his first family-friendly film since The Host (its R rating in America is, by the way, overblown--the original Gremlins is grislier than The Host--and I think its bittersweet ending had a lot to do with it being slapped with an R), Bong takes on the GMO industry and two-faced corporate culture, and his satirical vision of a feud between animal rights activists and Mirando, a Monsanto-style corporation with a deceptively sunny disposition, is slightly darker than I expected from a film that spends much of the first half-hour in idyllic, nearly dialogue-less rural splendor that's visually inspired by My Neighbor Totoro.

My Neighbor Totoro

Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the amount of F-bombs freely tossed around by Steven Yeun and Daniel Henshall--who play members of a Paul Dano-led "Animal Liberation Front"--as well as by Jake Gyllenhaal and Snowpiercer star (and Okja co-producer) Tilda Swinton, who's given this time by Bong a dual role as a pair of twin sisters who run Mirando (and have differing approaches to handling the corporation's crusade against world hunger). Bong has an awesome interpretation of "family-friendly."

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.

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.