Friday, July 31, 2009

Angry Reader--that's my name, uh, uh, uh

I wouldn't make a great Quick Kick because I don't do the barefoot thing even though I'm Asian. I prefer to wear Lugzs all the time, even to the shower.
"Quick Kick is angry, too. Why does he have to be bare-chested all the time? Even on an episode of G.I. Joe when he's fighting the enemy outside and it's snowing?"

--one of my favorite quotes from angry asian man


I'm honored to be angry asian man's Angry Reader of the Week.

Here's a sneak peek of the Q&A:
I'm Filipino.
And this concludes the sneak peek. Juicy, huh?

Peep the Q&A now. Thanks, Phil.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jam masters, sketch faster: Secret Identities' San Diego Comic-Con '09 jam piece

At Comic-Con, Secret Identities fans were asked to go on a con floor scavenger hunt to collect 10 signatures of contributors from the book and then enter their names into a drawing. The winner of the drawing would receive a jam piece of Asian American superheroes drawn by artists who participated in the book, or in the case of Larry Hama, almost participated (but has given the book his blessing and even lent his mug to a cartoonized version of himself).

Jimmy J. Aquino prepares to sketch June Park for a jam piece. Photo courtesy of JJA.
Either Parry Shen or Keith Chow invited me to jam. I practiced my jam piece contribution on a separate piece of paper before getting to work on the actual jam piece. Keith was kind enough to help shoot footage of me with my tiny Aiptek HD camcorder while I sketched (this pic is actually a capture from the footage). The camcorder, which doubles as a still camera, particularly fascinated Ming Doyle and Keiko Agena's husband, who told me he'd now like to have a similar camera.

'Sampler' heroine June Park by Jimmy J. Aquino.
At first, I tried to sketch out an Asian American version of Batman, but it looked terrible (I stuck a yin-yang symbol on his cowl), so I opted to draw "Sampler" character June Park instead.

Drawing June is something I rarely do--I prefer to leave that task to the professionals--so I had to pause for a few minutes and brainstorm how June would look on the jam piece. While I'm brainstorming during the camcorder footage, Keith can be heard joking, "This is riveting television."

The final result, a collage of drawings by Hama, Ming, Bernard Chang, Benton Jew, Tiffanie Hwang, Jerry Ma, Gene Yang, Sonny Liew and myself, looks dope and was inked by Walden Wong.

The Secret Identities San Diego Comic-Con 2009 jam piece, illustrated by Bernard Chang, Jimmy J. Aquino, Benton Jew, Tiffanie Hwang, Jerry Ma, Ming Doyle, Larry Hama, Gene Yang and Sonny Liew and inked by Walden Wong.
Top row: Asian (and most likely lactose-intolerant) Hulk by Bernard and June Park of "Sampler" by yours truly.

Center row: Jimson Po from Jeff Yang's "Driving Steel" by Benton, a Ninja Turtle by Tiffanie, a character whose name escapes me by Jerry and X-Men member Jubilee by Ming.

Bottom row: Snake Eyes by Hama, the Monkey King by Gene and a trademark Sonny Liew pairing of a kid and a robot.

Congrats, Orange, California resident Cecil DeClaro, the proud owner of our jam piece, which is already a collector's item because of the debut of Asian Hulk ("Mr. McGee, don't make me hungry. You wouldn't like me when I'm hungry.").

[Via Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Blog]

Sunday, July 26, 2009

One day of San Diego Comic-Con '09 is all I can take

'Exterminate!' is what I wish I could say and do to haters of the Asian American ComiCon who are these 'I don't see race' types like Stephen Colbert's onscreen alter ego and who post on message boards that there shouldn't be an AACC. Photo by Jimmy J. Aquino.
Like angry asian man blogger and Secret Identities booster Phil Yu (more on him later), I picked only one day to attend San Diego Comic-Con '09, and one day is really all I can tolerate of the overwhelming, overcrowded and smelly Nerd Prom.

My favorite aspect of Comic-Con is not the panels--I wasn't able to go inside any of the ones I wanted to see--but unexpectedly meeting writers and bloggers whose work I've enjoyed for several years, such as Phil. Here's my recap of Comic-Con Friday in pictures.

Pinoy Optimus Prime. Photo by Jimmy J. Aquino.
Hey Optimus, why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?

Jimmy J. Aquino and Debbie Huey. Photo courtesy of JJA.
I didn't know Bumperboy creator Debbie Huey and I worked for the same university newspaper 12 years ago until my older brother pointed it out to me recently. We never met each other because her department of City on a Hill Press never really interacted with my department. I also didn't know Secret Identities approached Debbie to contribute a story, but she had to decline. I'm glad to see another alum from the paper doing well as an author (Azadeh Moaveni is another alum from my period at the paper who's had quite a career as an author).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hello San Francisco: Snapshots of Secret Identities at Giant Robot SF

A masked admirer and Jimmy J. Aquino. Photo courtesy of JJA.
Giant Robot SF and Secret Identities editor-in-chief Jeff Yang assembled some of the novel's Bay Area-based contributors--"Just Ordinary" artist Alexander Shen, "Justified" artist Tiffanie Hwang, "Gaze" inker Walden Wong and I--for a spirited two-hour July 16 signing session at the Shrader Street store that flew by faster than a morning jog with the Flash.

"S.O.S." writer Tanuj Chopra and "The Blue Scorpion & Chung" writer Gene Yang didn't make it to the signing. Gene, whose collabo with Derek Kirk Kim, The Eternal Smile, recently hit stores, couldn't be with us because he was busy with his day job (teaching computer science at a Catholic school).

Jimmy J. Aquino, Walden Wong, Tiffanie Hwang, Jeff Yang and Luke Martinez at Giant Robot SF's Secret Identities signing session. Photo courtesy of JJA.
From left to right: myself, Walden (who has his own recap of the signing here), Tiffanie, Jeff and Giant Robot SF manager Luke Martinez stand in front of Jeff's Secret Identities slide presentation. (Not in the picture: Alexander.)

Jimmy J. Aquino signs a book. Photo courtesy of JJA.
Instead of signing each copy of Secret Identities with the same message, I wanted to challenge myself by writing a different message in each copy ("Thanks for supporting Asian American/Pacific Islander superhero comics," "I don't know you, but I love you for being a Secret Identities fan," "Stay cool. It's so damn hot out there," "Everybody in the store gettin' tipsy").

Jimmy J. Aquino, Martin Genova and Dan Genova. Photo courtesy of JJA.
Here I am with one of my older brother's former roommates, Dan Genova, and his son Martin. Dan's known me since the days when I visited my brother at his university and I tried to write the Great Asian American Novel, which I never completed (elements of this unfinished story live on in my webcomic The Palace). The Genovas' visit was a wonderful surprise.

Added on July 23, 2009: The next several photos were taken by Giant Robot. The magazine/boutique store franchise posted their complete gallery of the event here.

Jimmy J. Aquino, Martin Genova and Dan Genova. Photo by Giant Robot.
Jimmy J. Aquino takes a digital video of Jeff Yang giving a Secret Identities slide presentation. Photo by Giant Robot.
Jeff Yang gives a Secret Identities slide presentation. Photo by Giant Robot.
Jeff Yang plugs the Secret Identities booth at San Diego Comic-Con. Photo by Giant Robot.
Jeff Yang, Jimmy J. Aquino and the masked Secret Identities fan from the photo at the top of the post. Photo by Giant Robot.
Jimmy J. Aquino with the Secret Identities fan from the photo at the top of the post. Photo by Giant Robot.
Walden Wong, Alexander Shen, Tiffanie Hwang, Jeff Yang and Jimmy J. Aquino at the signing table. Photo by Giant Robot.
Many of the readers at this signing--my second signing--hadn't read Secret Identities yet but were genuinely interested in our novel. While they left Giant Robot with signed copies of our book, I left the store with a copy of Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings, which has nothing to do with superheroics. If I knew how to draw better, I'd sketch a Batman/Shortcomings mash-up in which I'd turn Ben Tanaka and Alice Kim into the Frank Quitely version of Batman and Robin. Benman would come to the rescue of a white chick, of course, while Miko Hayashi would look on disapprovingly, and Robin would be busy spitting game at another lesbian.

Thanks, Giant Robot and the Bay Area fans who came to our signing!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The First Annual Asian American ComiCon (AACC), Part 2

Previously on A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Blog: Part 1 of my two-part recap of the AACC.

All the pics in this second AACC photo gallery were snapped on July 11, 2009 at the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan's Chinatown with my disposable Kodak, except where noted.

Jimmy J. Aquino and Tak Toyoshima. Photo courtesy of JJA.
Secret Asian Man creator Tak Toyoshima tries to finish a commissioned strip about the AACC. The look on my face says, "You're gonna finish that today? It takes me a week to finish writing a 20-minute script for the Fistful of Soundtracks channel."

Jimmy J. Aquino and Tak Toyoshima are greeted by Kate Agathon and Lisa Hanasono of Purdue University. Photo courtesy of JJA.
Here I am signing copies of Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology for my first two fans at the con, Purdue University graduate students/lecturers Kate Agathon and Lisa Hanasono.

Jimmy J. Aquino, Tak Toyoshima and Lisa Hanasono. Photo courtesy of JJA.
At one point, I accidentally mixed up the names of Kate and Lisa (far right) while talking to them from my table. I joked, "I have no Malaydar. I have trouble telling us Asians apart."

Kate Agathon, Jimmy J. Aquino and Lisa Hanasono. Photo courtesy of JJA.
From left to right: Kate, some new guy at the Secret Identities Tour and Lisa.

WHAT IF... Dick Tracy co-starred Bernadette Peters instead of Madonna?

In a far more interesting universe, Bernadette Peters killed as Breathless Mahoney in the big-budget movie version of Dick Tracy.
Steve Palopoli once said Return of the Jedi directed by David Lynch--who rejected George Lucas' offer to direct the threequel--was one of his picks for Best Cult Movies That Don't Exist. I told Steve I would have loved to have seen Ragtime directed by the filmmaker who almost directed it, Robert Altman, Sergio Leone's Leningrad, Resident Evil directed by George Romero, The Phantom directed by Joe Dante and Blazing Saddles starring Richard Pryor instead of his replacement Cleavon Little (although Little was great as Black Bart).

Other movies from alternate universes I would have dug are Out of Sight co-starring Carla Gugino (the small-screen Karen Sisco) instead of Jennifer Lopez and Dick Tracy co-starring Bernadette Peters instead of Madonna.

Bernadette Peters' voice as the Blank would have been amusing. Notice how the Blank sounds like Christian Bale as Batman.
After rewatching Warren Beatty's suddenly ubiquitous Dick Tracy (it aired during TCM's Dick Tracy movie marathon yesterday afternoon and again on Syfy this morning because when I think sci-fi, I think Dick Tracy), I checked out film historian Glenn Erickson's DVD Savant review of the 1990 adaptation of Chester Gould's comic strip. I agreed with Erickson's comment on Madonna's performance as femme fatale Breathless Mahoney: "you can't help but picture Bernadette Peters in the role, singing better and being sexier too."

Peters, a frequent Stephen Sondheim interpreter, would have been perfect as Breathless, who sings several original Sondheim-penned tunes during Dick Tracy. But Peters wasn't banging Beatty at the time, so we were stuck with Madonna.

Bernadette Peters in Silent Movie
A better actress than Madonna (whose best performance was in her big-studio follow-up to Dick Tracy, A League of Their Own), Peters would have been more at ease than Madonna with the humorous side of the mostly humorless Breathless role. Plus, even though Peters is older, she's far more attractive (she's so hot in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie). I'm entertained by Peters' vocal skills--and how her dress barely stays on--during this taste of what Dick Tracy would have been like with Peters as Breathless. It's her performance of Dick Tracy's "Sooner or Later" from a concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

"In this movie, this song was sung by a blond bombshell... not me," Peters says in my favorite part of her intro to "Sooner or Later." "Although we both have religious names."

Dick Tracy: Big City Blues by John Moore and Kyle Baker
If you can find Disney Comics' Star Trek: Countdown-style two-part prequel to Beatty's Dick Tracy, it's worth checking out. I remember buying as a kid the Dick Tracy: Big City Blues and Dick Tracy vs. the Underworld graphic novels, which were my first exposure to the art of then-rising star Kyle Baker. What I would give to see Baker's original cut of the prequel, before the famously narcissistic Beatty insisted on forcing Baker to redo the comics so that Dick's likeness would look more like Beatty than the Chester Gould version.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Michael Aushenker interviewed me for his Cartoon Flophouse blog

A lot of guys say Betty Rubble is hot, but I think Ann-Margrock would be a bobcat in the sack.
Cartoonist/Palisadian-Post staff writer/Cartoon Flophouse blogger Michael Aushenker has chosen me to be the focus of this week's edition of his "4 Questions" feature on his blog.

Here's a sneak peek of the interview:
But the love for film and TV themes didn't really begin until fourth grade, when I started placing a mono tape recorder next to the TV set speakers to record TV themes.
And this concludes the sneak peek. Juicy, huh?

Besides my favorite film and TV themes, I also talked about comics I dug as a kid and a moment at the Asian American ComiCon when a Secret Identities fan told me about being yet another victim of Mistaken for Another Asian syndrome. I might have taken two different fans I met that day and accidentally merged them together, which means I myself might be a perpetrator of Mistaken for Another Asian syndrome. The victim becomes the perpetrator. Oh no, I'm a traitor!

Get thee to the interview now. Thanks, Michael.

Michael's most noteworthy upcoming project is Wildcard Ink's delayed Gumby's Gang Starring Pokey comic, which he scripted and worked on with artist Rafael Navarro.

The highlights of Michael's blog include an interesting review of a rejected early version of the Clash's Combat Rock I never knew about ("As much as I trust the instincts of the band members, it was a great move to take COMBAT ROCK away from Jones and let Johns refine what was all there in RAT PATROL...") and a reposting of a terrific 2007 article he wrote for an Australian zine about one of Sam Peckinpah's best films, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The First Annual Asian American ComiCon (AACC) was also my first book signing

Yep, I got my book signing cherry popped at the AACC.

Cliff Chiang, Keith Chow, Parry Shen and Jimmy J. Aquino by Rahadyan Sastrowardoyo
From left to right: Cliff Chiang (with Keith Chow kneeling down at Cliff's left side), Parry Shen and I sign copies of Secret Identities at the AACC at the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan's Chinatown on Saturday, July 11 (photo by Rahadyan Sastrowardoyo). At the center of the table, you can see a bottle of hand sanitizer, which an unknown person left for us. I guess he or she was inspired by the following photo, which is from the "I Touched You with My Nerd Cooties, Beth Cooper" collection...

Stain the cheerleader, stain the world.
... and wanted to make sure we got as much protection from the unwashed masses as possible.

At the next ComiCon, the congoers will have to step through a decontamination shower before they enter, although I think the contestants of Rock of Love: Criminal Intent would need it more.

Cliff Chiang, Ken Wong, Jimmy J. Aquino, Jef Castro and Jeremy Arambulo by Kate Agathon
From left to right: Cliff, Ken Wong, me, Jef Castro and Jeremy Arambulo entertain--or are entertained by--the witty and surprisingly decent-smelling fans at our signing session (photo by Kate Agathon).

AFOS: "I'll Kill You and Recommend to God That He Put His Foot in Your Ass" playlist

Airing tomorrow at 10am and 3pm on the Fistful of Soundtracks channel is the Fistful of Soundtracks: The Series episode "I'll Kill You and Recommend to God That He Put His Foot in Your Ass" (WEB89) from June 18-24, 2007. In WEB89, I picked out my favorite score cues from obscure spaghetti westerns I've never watched like Keoma and Life Is Tough, Eh Providence? One of those tunes is the Viva Django cue "Nel Cimitero Di Tucson," which Gnarls Barkley sampled for their 2006 hit "Crazy."

The ep's title is a play on the title of the 1968 spaghetti western I'll Kill You and Recommend You to God, a.k.a. Dead for a Dollar.

Django main titles
1. Ennio Morricone, "Main Titles" (from Face to Face), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume Three, DRG
2. Roberto Fia, "Django" (from Django), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume Two, DRG
3. Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, "Keoma (instrumental)," Keoma, Cinedelic
4. Dandylion, "Wolf," Mannaja, Cometa
5. Stelvio Cipriani, "Un Uomo, Un Cavallo, Una Pistola," The Bounty Killer/Un Uomo, Un Cavallo, Una Pistola/Nevada, CAM
6. Stelvio Cipriani, "Faccia a Terra" (from Un Uomo, Un Cavallo, Una Pistola), The Bounty Killer/Un Uomo, Un Cavallo, Una Pistola/Nevada, CAM
7. Franco Bixio, "Just a Coward (instrumental)" (from And Now Recommend Your Soul to God), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume One, DRG
8. Gianfranco and Gian Piero Reverberi, "Nel Cimitero Di Tucson," Preparati La Bara!, RCA
9. Ennio Morricone, "The Hellbenders" (from The Hellbenders), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume Two, DRG
10. Ennio Morricone, "Main Titles" (from Life Is Tough, Eh Providence?), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume Three, DRG
11. Bruno Nicolai, "The Man Called Apocalypse Joe--Sequence 1" (from The Man Called Apocalypse Joe), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume Four, DRG
12. Augusto Martelli, "M 9 and M 15 V" (from La Collera Del Vento), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume One, DRG
13. Angelo Francisco Lavagnino, "A Gambling Man (Versione Strumentale)," 5000 Dollari sull'Asso, CAM
14. Piero Umiliani, "Suite" (from Roy Colt & Winchester Jack), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume One, DRG
15. Gianni Ferrio, "Controluce" (from Ben and Charlie), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume One, DRG

Repeats of A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Series air Wednesdays at 10am and 3pm.

Monday, July 13, 2009

AFOS: "Super Groover Mama Dalai Lama" playlist

Starting tomorrow, the 2003 Fistful of Soundtracks: The Series episode "Super Groover Mama Dalai Lama" (WEB09) airs Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4am, 10am, 3pm, 7pm and 11pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 7am, 9am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm for the rest of July on the Fistful of Soundtracks channel. WEB09 first aired during the week of April 21-27, 2003. I haven't aired "Super Groover Mama" on the channel since '03 and was recently surprised to find it's a pretty good early episode from my archives.

I took the ep's title from a lyric in the album version of "Ask DNA," which Yoko Kanno and lyricist Tim Jensen wrote for the opening titles of Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (an animated feature that had a better title in Japan, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door, which resumed the Bebop TV series' tradition of naming eps after classic rock tunes). "Ask DNA" is one of 10 original opening theme songs on the WEB09 playlist that are either quirky, out-of-place or incomprehensible (during the "Thunderball" recording session, Tom Jones asked John Barry "What's a thunderball?"--something I wondered too when I first heard the song but hadn't seen the movie yet--and Barry responded to Jones with "Just sing it, Tom").

There's a mistake during this ep. I said Jon Brion's terrific "Here We Go" is from the Punch-Drunk Love score. Actually, "Here We Go," the vocal version of Brion's main Punch-Drunk Love theme, isn't used at all during the movie (however, Columbia Pictures used "Here We Go" during its Punch-Drunk Love TV spots). I didn't know "Here We Go" wasn't in the movie because I hadn't watched it yet when I recorded WEB09.

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie opening titles
1. Seatbelts featuring Raju Ramayya, "Ask DNA" (from Cowboy Bebop: The Movie), Ask DNA, Victor
2. Jon Brion, "Here We Go," Punch-Drunk Love, Nonesuch
3. Isaac Hayes, "Buns O'Plenty" (from Three Tough Guys), Double Feature: Music from the Soundtracks of Three Tough Guys & Truck Turner, Stax
4. Tom Jones, "Thunderball--Main Title," Thunderball, EMI/Capitol
5. Elmer Bernstein, "Frankie Machine" (from The Man with the Golden Arm), Crime Jazz: Music in the First Degree, Rhino
6. Elmer Bernstein, "Autumn in Connecticut," Far from Heaven, Varèse Sarabande
7. Randy Newman, "A Fool in Love," Meet the Parents, DreamWorks
8. Yoko Kanno, "N.Y. Rush," Cowboy Bebop: Blue, Victor
9. The Dust Brothers, "Hessel, Raymond K.," Fight Club, Restless
10. Badly Drawn Boy, "Something to Talk About," About a Boy, ARTISTdirect/Twisted Nerve/XL/BMG
11. Willie Hutch, "I Choose You" (from The Mack), Pimps, Players & Private Eyes, Rhyme Syndicate/Sire/Warner Bros.
12. Queen, "Flash's Theme," Flash Gordon, Hollywood
13. Craig Safan, "Confrontation," Thief, Elektra
14. The MASH, "Suicide Is Painless" (from M*A*S*H), Movie Music: The Definitive Performances, Columbia/Epic/Legacy
15. The Five Blobs, "The Blob" (from The Blob), Sci-Fi's Greatest Hits Vol. 3: The Uninvited, TVT
16. The Hollies and Peter Sellers, "After the Fox," After the Fox, Rykodisc
17. Mark Mothersbaugh, "Kite Flying Society," Rushmore, London
18. Simon Brint, "Julverset," Monarch of the Glen, BBC Music
19. Howard Shore, "The Riders of Rohan," The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Reprise/WMG Soundtracks
20. Curtis Mayfield, "Freddie's Dead (instrumental version)," Superfly: Deluxe 25th Anniversary Edition, Curtom/Rhino
21. Michael Brook, "Bar-B-Que," Charlotte Sometimes, Visionbox Pictures
22. Semiautomatic, "Can't Spell," Better Luck Tomorrow, MTV Films
23. Duran Duran, "A View to a Kill" (from A View to a Kill), The Best of James Bond: 30th Anniversary Limited Edition, EMI
24. The Dickies, "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" (from Killer Klowns from Outer Space), Sci-Fi's Greatest Hits Vol. 3: The Uninvited, TVT
25. Bernard Herrmann, "Prelude/Outer Space/Radar" (from The Day the Earth Stood Still), Sci-Fi's Greatest Hits Vol. 3: The Uninvited, TVT
26. John Williams, "Finale and End Title March," Superman: The Movie, Warner Archives/Rhino
27. John Williams, "Love Theme from Superman," Superman: The Movie, Warner Archives/Rhino
28. Jerry Goldsmith, "End Titles (Your Zowie Face)" (from In Like Flint), In Like Flint/Our Man Flint, Varèse Sarabande

I'll be at another Secret Identities book signing: Giant Robot Sucka Free on July 16

Secret Identities' July 16, 2009 Giant Robot SF event postcard

Coming soon to this blog is a recap of my first book signing at last Saturday's Asian American ComiCon. (Secret Identities artists Jerry Ma and Jeremy Arambulo have recapped the event in photos on their respective blogs.) The AACC will be immediately followed by my second book signing.

Secret Identities editor-in-chief Jeff Yang and Bay Area-based Secret Identities contributors such as myself, Alexander Shen, Tanuj Chopra, Tiffanie Hwang and Walden Wong will sign copies of the novel at a special book-release party at Giant Robot SF, 618 Shrader St., San Francisco, this Thursday, July 16 at 6pm.

'Now There's Something: Greg LaRocque' by Keith Chow and Alexander Shen

Alexander drew "Just Ordinary" and an interview with "Trinity" writer/illustrator and Flash artist Greg LaRocque.

'S.O.S.' by Tanuj Chopra and Alex Joon Kim

Tanuj wrote the SNL commercial parody-style "S.O.S."

'Justified' by Ken Wong and Tiffanie Hwang

Tiffanie drew "Justified."

'Gaze' by Sung Kang of 'The Motel,' Billy Tan, Walden Wong and Sean Ellery
Walden inked the one-page pinup "Gaze," which features a character created by Sung Kang (who's best known as Han the badass mentor in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift but whose real career highlight is his performance as a not-so-slick mentor in the terrific coming-of-age indie flick The Motel).

Secret Identities Bay Area chapter, represent!

[Via Alexander]

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Chocolate city

Shoo, flies, don't bother me.
I wasn't aware of the existence of Thai director Prachya Pinkaew's 2008 martial arts flick Chocolate until a few weeks ago, when Netflix placed the movie on a list of rentals I might enjoy.

After I read Netflix's synopsis of their recommendation--"a young autistic woman who discovers that she has the uncanny ability to absorb precision fighting skills just by watching martial arts movies"--I immediately added it to my queue and placed it at the #1 spot because "Sampler," the Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology short story I created, has a similar premise. In my story (the very reason why this weekend, I'll be making my first appearance at a comic book convention as a guest talent, even though it's at one of the smaller conventions, the new Asian American ComiCon), a dry cleaning store worker named June temporarily acquires the powers of her superhero customers by touching their costumes.

Monica (Dana Davis), Heroes' quickly-forgotten-because-the-showrunners-have-ADD supporting character, and another 'photographic reflexes' character, the Marvel Comics villain Taskmaster.
On the other hand, what Taskmaster can't do is find a costume that doesn't make bystanders laugh.
The autistic, candy-craving Chocolate heroine's superpower is actually more about "photographic reflexes"--like forgotten Heroes supermimic Monica Dawson and the Marvel Comics supervillain Taskmaster, whom Alan Sepinwall said must have been the inspiration for Monica--than power-absorption-by-touch. (In one of millions of lines that were deleted from "Sampler" by Secret Identities editor-in-chief Jeff Yang, June explains that she's able to sample superpowers because she's a mutant, or a "superior," a term I created for mutants in earlier drafts. In order to sample a mutant's power, June has to touch that mutant's fingerprint residue or any other traces of DNA left behind anywhere, whether it's on an item they touched or a garment they wore. I know--you're probably thinking, "Ewwww, so does that mean she would have to come into contact with the love stains inside Cyclops' unitard in order to shoot lasers from her eyes?" In the R-rated or TV-MA-rated version of "Sampler," unfortunately, yes.)

Below Sepinwall's recap of Heroes' introduction of Monica, a commenter joked, "Jeez, a hero whose superpower is that she's really, really good at watching TV?" In Chocolate, Zen (Jija Yanin) acquires her fighting moves in a similar fashion by viewing TV broadcasts of Muay Thai flicks like Pinkaew's own previous work, the Tony Jaa vehicle Ong-Bak, or in my favorite sequence, observing the movements of a henchman who has Tourette's. Yep, it's a South Park "Cripple Fight"-esque duel that pits mentally challenged fighter against physically challenged fighter (and though it's my favorite showdown in Chocolate, it's too quickly resolved).

No gang would accept physically challenged thugs--or transvestites--into its fold like the evil Thai crime family in Chocolate does. Gangsters aren't exactly known for being open-minded and tolerant. That's how much of a martial arts fantasy Chocolate is. It's like the multiracial Street Thunder gang in the original Assault on Precinct 13. You immediately knew John Carpenter's film was more of a hyperrealistic crime flick than a realistic one because in real life, no gang would be that racially mixed.

This move was copped from Tony Jaa...
... while this move was copped from Jean-Claude Van Damme in Gymkata 2: You Can Take the Kata Out of the Gym, But You Can't Take the Gym Out of the Kata.
I've previously said I'm not much of a fan of the martial arts genre. Even the fight sequences in some of the martial arts actioners I've enjoyed, like the first two Once Upon a Time in China installments, can get boring after a while. Chocolate's otherwise decent climax gets tedious at one point--I kept thinking, "C'mon, when's the main villain gonna finally lose consciousness? What is he? The Thai Energizer Bunny?"

Despite the tedious climax, a cancer-patient-mother subplot that's a bit too melodramatic for my tastes, and a crew of transvestite assassins who would fit right in with The Celluloid Closet's montage of evil gays from Freebie and the Bean and The Silence of the Lambs(*), the otherwise inventive Chocolate won me over, which is something of a miracle because I'm one of the few guys in America who actually didn't cry during Rudy. The premise of an undersized underdog overcoming adversity or physical limitations through combat is always appealing, whether it's in Rudy, Chocolate or even "Sampler."

(*) If I ever have to defend Chocolate to gay critics, I'd probably say, "Well, I agree, but in fairness, at least Chocolate doesn't ignore the tranny population in Thailand." I'd also say, "And the big bad's tranny second-in-command wasn't a weakling like in Freebie and the Bean. He was a badass with a gun."

Zen could use some Neosporin on her knee like soon-to-be-ex-Governor Sarah Palin could use a thick piece of electrical tape over her mouth.

A recent TCM Movie Morlocks blog post praises the coherently shot, Fred Astaire-style ass-whupping Donnie Yen gives to Sammo Hung in Hong Kong action maestro Wilson Yip's Kill Zone and explains why American action films pale in comparison to Asian actioners:
One excuse given as to why films like Taken or the Bourne series don't have this same kind of coherence is that the actors aren't as physically trained as martial arts pros like Hung and Yen, and necessarily need stunt doubles, necessitating even faster cuts and less spatial coherence. However, American action films don't necessarily have to have nuanced fighting styles – just watch the series of haymakers Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston unload on each other in The Big Country (which can be seen in the video slideshow of Dennis Lim's excellent history of fight choreography at Slate). It's a stylistic choice, and right now Hollywood filmmakers are making the wrong one. I was initially thrilled by the Bourne series' propulsive energy, but the more time that passes, the more its fractured editing seems like a dodge.
Fortunately, the fight sequences in Chocolate are as coherently shot as the Kill Zone sequence. That means each of Yanin's graceful moves aren't disrupted by a choppy edit. The sequences look like they must have been genuinely grueling to perform, and Chocolate's closing credits outtakes of Yanin and the stuntmen badly injuring themselves prove it. Adding to the coherence and credibility of Chocolate's sequences is the fact that like Hung and Yen, the charismatic, twentysomething Yanin is a pro, although she wasn't at first. She received two years' worth of intensive martial arts training after Pinkaew cast her as Zen, which means Chocolate took four years to make.

The comic book version of Chocolate

Jija Yanin's Raging Phoenix teaser poster

Yanin is a martial arts star to watch. A box-office hit in Thailand, Chocolate was popular enough to spawn a comic book and another high-concept martial arts flick for Yanin. Her next vehicle, Raging Phoenix, will involve another new-to-the-genre gimmick like Chocolate's introduction of an autistic heroine: hip-hop dancing. I take it Raging Phoenix will be like Ong-Bak meets You Got Served.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Anderson Tapes: "America, man! You know, it's so beautiful I wanna eat it!"

'America, man! You know, it's so beautiful I wanna eat it!'
I can't think of a more fitting quote to put at the top of this Fourth of July Weekend blog post. It's a standout line uttered early on by Christopher Walken in his big-studio debut, the 1971 Columbia Pictures heist flick The Anderson Tapes.

I finally got around to watching The Anderson Tapes the other day. Before Sidney Lumet's nifty little caper made its debut on DVD in September as part of Sony's "Martini Movies" imprint (uh, Sony, I think you missed the lounge movement by about 10 years), it was on my list of films I--a fan of '70s heist flicks like the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three and The Hot Rock--wanted to watch but wasn't able to because they weren't available on disc.

I always dug the Smackwater Jack version of Quincy Jones' Anderson Tapes theme, which features the late Freddie Hubbard on flugelhorn and a nice harmonica solo by Toots Thielemans. That version of the theme actually never turns up during Jones' unreleased, love-it-or-hate-it score, which is filled with early synthesizer bloops and squeals due to the paranoid film's subject of pre-Watergate (and pre-Conversation) surveillance.

The Randomatic sits in storage somewhere with other hilariously now-outdated '70s and '80s gadgets like that Etch-a-Sketch-ish police sketch machine from For Your Eyes Only and the Daggit from the old Battlestar Galactica.
Some viewers find the bloops and squeals to be grating and distracting, while I don't mind them at all. Jones' bloops and squeals--along with the now-goofy-looking Randomatic computer that's used by the film's NYPD officer characters to pull up criminal records--lend The Anderson Tapes a certain analog charm. The groovetastic sound effects remind me of the electronic noises during Roman Coppola's amusing 2001 film about the making of a low-budget French sci-fi flick, CQ, which takes place in the same era.

'Isch that a Lakers jersey under your skirt? Take the bloody thing off! You know I'm all aboat the Knicks.'
Sean Connery ditched the 007 hairpiece--or rather, chose a more revealing hairpiece--to star as Duke Anderson, a newly freed, unrepentant ex-con who plots an elaborate Labor Day heist at the ritzy Fifth Avenue apartment building of his high-priced hooker girlfriend Ingrid (Dyan Cannon). In other Connery/Lumet collabos, particularly The Hill and The Offence (when's that film going to hit DVD?), Lumet clearly loved giving Connery speeches that were long and fiery (yet not overwrought). Eager to move past his rather limited 007 persona, Connery excelled at those speeches, and he pulled off another juicy one here, an anti-authority screed that's more Cool Hand Luke than 007, courtesy of Cool Hand Luke screenwriter Frank Pierson ("What's advertising but a legalized con game? And what the hell's marriage? Extortion, prostitution, soliciting with a government stamp on it.").

Duke Anderson failed to deprive people of their money on Labor Day Weekend without getting caught. He should have just started his own Labor Day telethon for broke ex-cons who can't hack it outside prison.
Anderson's crew includes a younger safecracker known simply as "the Kid" (Walken, whose eccentric line delivery is made even weirder by the fact that he really does look like a kid here), unflappable getaway driver Spencer (Dick Anthony Williams) and gay antiques dealer Tommy (if acting styles were KFC recipes, Martin Balsam's would be Extra Swishy). They'd be the tightest crew in the history of caper movies, if they weren't so oblivious to then-recent advances in surveillance technology, which have allowed government agents or cops to illegally monitor the activities of everyone Anderson comes into contact with, from his associates to his girlfriend. Those lawmen aren't even interested in Anderson's next score. They've been spying on everyone in Anderson's circle because of unrelated improprieties, whether past or alleged. Black Panther-hating Feds are profiling Spencer, who lives near a Panther Party chapter, the IRS is keeping tabs on Anderson's Mafioso benefactor (Alan King), and Ingrid's jealous sugar daddy (Richard B. Schull) has hired a private detective to listen in on her trysts with her clients.

'We're gonna rob every single copy of 'Zardoz,' 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,' 'The Country Bears' and 'Gigli' we can find and then lock them away in a vault, never to be found again. Are you in, kid?'In The Anderson Tapes (which the creatively bankrupt Sony has been attempting to remake, and I hope the box-office failure of their Pelham remake discourages them), it's interesting to see narrative devices and character types Lumet would revisit in later, better-known works. Lumet jumbled the Labor Day heist's time frame--a gimmick the director would re-use in The Offence and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. The flashbacks to the heist are less distracting here than in Before the Devil. The crooked cops of Serpico, Prince of the City and Night Falls on Manhattan are cut from the same cloth as the lawmen who illegally bug or wiretap Anderson's cohorts (the only likable cop in The Anderson Tapes is a resourceful SWAT team leader played by a pre-SNL Garrett Morris). The victims of Anderson's heist get some standout lines and are as fleshed out as Al Pacino's hostages from my favorite Lumet film, 1975's Dog Day Afternoon. The heist sequence's tension is offset by some welcome comic relief from Judith Lowry as an elderly resident who doesn't seem to mind being robbed (Lowry was the same ornery old lady who stole scenes in Norman Lear's not-yet-on-DVD satire Cold Turkey, also released in 1971).

If you can find Walken's obscure 2000 indie movie The Opportunists, in which he plays a world-weary safecracker whose mentorship of a younger crook carries echoes of the Connery character's mentorship of Walken's upstart safecracker, it would make for an intriguing double feature with The Anderson Tapes. Walken's performance in The Opportunists--it's Walken in not-so-weird Catch Me If You Can mode--is one of his most underrated. Too bad The Opportunists is rather listless for a caper flick. Compared to the fun and nail-biting Anderson Tapes, The Opportunists is--to borrow a line from one of Walken's many quotable SNL sketches--a Stiffly Stifferson.