Wednesday, October 31, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (10/31/2012): Tron: Uprising, Motorcity, Kaijudo, Ultimate Spider-Man and Regular Show

Mayhem Night: That's that Emilio Estevez movie where the soundtrack was full of collabos between rappers and '90s indie rock bands and was way more popular than the movie itself, right?
Motorcity, Michigan's hottest Halloween costume of 2162 is the Slutty Eco-Terrorist.
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

One of Batman: The Animated Series' best episodes was the emotional "Robin's Reckoning" two-parter. It used Robin's origin story to delve into why Batman adheres to a code of never killing criminals (unless he's directed and partially written by Tim Burton) and to present a great dramatic dilemma: should such a code be broken when the man who ruined your life resurfaces to ruin more lives?

The two-part "Scars" episode is the Tron: Uprising equivalent of "Robin's Reckoning," except instead of Batman attempting to stop Robin from killing the gangster who murdered his family, it's Beck who's trying to keep his mentor Tron from going too far in his pursuit of Dyson (John Glover), the turncoat soldier who Tron vaguely referred to in "Identity" as the reason for his trust issues (I originally thought the former ally Tron was referring to in that episode was Clu, who makes his first series appearance here since the premiere episode and is voiced by Fred Tatasciore instead of Jeff Bridges). And instead of a compelling protagonist like the B:TAS reimagining of Batman, "Scars" is stuck with the less compelling Beck, whose dullness as a hero sheds light on the fundamental problem with the Tron franchise: so many of its characters, who are nothing more than pixels in a hard drive, are about as deep as, well, pixels in a hard drive.

'I don't get this Real Housewives of Argon City crap.'
(Photo source: What.Jane.Says)
However, Tron: Uprising has been making an effort to bring depth to the character who was previously the dullest element of the franchise: Tron himself. Most of the fun of part 1 of "Scars" comes from watching this previously noble hero lose his cool and badly hide how mentally and physically damaged he has been from both Dyson's betrayal and Clu's maiming of him. At the end of part 1, the mentor, who assaults his own protégé to keep him from getting in the way of his plan to derezz Dyson, has become the loose cannon, and the protégé is now the level-headed one. Will this character switch help to make Beck more interesting or will he continue to be such a colorless bore?

***

This has been an insane week of news: Hurricane Sandy, the election, the San Francisco Giants' World Series win and now another Bay Area-based shocker, the Disney/Lucasfilm merger, a surprise wedding in the entertainment industry that came out of nowhere, like the surprise nuptials of Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel. We all knew JT and JB were going to get hitched someday, but not this quickly. The same goes for Disney and Lucasfilm. For a long time, George Lucas has positioned himself as a Walt Disney for the 21st century, so his ties with Disney ever since the Star Tours rides aren't surprising. But his decision to suddenly cede control to Disney is unexpected. Or was it hinted at as early as last January?

"I'm retiring," said Lucas to the New York Times in a profile that the paper published shortly before the Black History Month release of what the profile described as Lucas' final film project, Red Tails, which he produced but didn't direct. "I'm moving away from the business, from the company, from all this kind of stuff."

In another surprise move, Lucas is also ceding control of the Star Wars film franchise to "a new generation of filmmakers" and Disney, which will release the next three Star Wars films. Whether it's the current Clone Wars animated series (which I don't watch, even though it's well-animated and it has been better received than the much-maligned live-action prequels, because--except for that Chewbacca guest shot that I really enjoyed last year--it focuses on the prequel characters, who are hardly as interesting to me as Han, Leia, Lando and Luke) or 1988's Willow, Lucasfilm will not rest until it recaptures the magic of the first three Star Wars films.

'You call this shit a haunted house? I've seen Botox injection instructional videos that were scarier!'
(Photo source: MotorCity Disney XD Wiki)
To me, the next Star Wars--or rather, the closest someone has gotten to channeling the spirit of the Han/Leia/Lando/Luke era of that franchise--is actually a little-known animated series that Lucasfilm's future new owner introduced on iTunes and cable a few months ago. Like the original Star Wars trilogy, Disney XD's dazzling Motorcity is about a plucky band of freedom fighters who battle an evil empire, and it stars Mark Hamill, who plays the Darth Vader figure here--a corporate bully who dresses like a douchey gym manager--instead of one of the heroes. (In another link between Motorcity and Star Wars, one of Motorcity's most frequent writers is Clone Wars scribe George Krstic.)

The show has always felt more like a Lucasfilm joint than a Disney production, from the dizzying action sequences, which are like a post-apocalyptic, instrumental metal-scored and earthbound variation on Star Wars' dogfights in space, to the fetish for fast rides that's reminiscent of Lucas' fetish for hot rods and muscle cars in American Graffiti and both Star Wars trilogies. Even both the hot dog stand run by Jacob (Brian Doyle-Murray), the show's resident health food nut, and Antonio's, the pizzeria where the Burners frequently hang out, bring back memories of Mel's Drive-In from American Graffiti. But there's none of the ponderousness (or woodenly delivered dialogue) that marred the live-action Star Wars prequels.

Antonio's: The one place in Motorcity where the Burners are safe from Jacob's health food dishes.
Motorcity takes its action seriously, but it bears the irreverent touches of series creator Chris Prynoski's Titmouse studio. So while the show channels the original Star Wars, RoboCop, The Warriors, Escape from New York and the Macross arc of Robotech (the subterranean Motorcity setting owes so much visually to Macross City, the one that was erected inside the hull of the SDF-1, not the original city), it also has bits and pieces of past Titmouse cult favorites like Downtown and Megas XLR in its DNA. Motorcity's teen freedom fighters are as brash, fun-loving and sometimes self-centered as the 20-something New Yorkers on Downtown and the gamers and gearheads on Megas. The threats the Burners face on Motorcity are sometimes as comical as the Captain Harlock and Battle of the Planets analogs that Coop encountered on Megas, like the unwanted reality show the Burners are forced to participate in during "The Duke of Detroit Presents..." or the Halloween candy that emits fear gas in "Mayhem Night," the latest Motorcity episode.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot about "Mayhem Night." This is the show's Halloween episode, and while we aren't treated to seeing any of the Burners getting their cosplay on--you'll have to click through tons of Motorcity fan art on Tumblr and Deviantart for that--we get to see what sorts of phobias paralyze Julie, Texas, Claire (Dana Davis) and Mike, who hinted at such phobias last week in "Fearless" when he admitted to the constantly fear-stricken Chuck that a brave leader like him isn't immune to fear, just like everybody else. The Terra Dwellers, the eco-terrorist tribesmen from "Texas-ify It!," want to topple KaneCo by collapsing Motorcity's ceiling--an insane plan that would destroy both Detroit Deluxe and Motorcity in the process--so they've tainted Halloween candy with fear gas to distract the Burners and prevent them from getting in their way.

Exposure to the gas causes Julie to relive the terror she felt when her father Abraham Kane (Hamill) nearly discovered her allegiance to the Burners in "Off the Rack." Mike has nightmares of being attacked by himself, or rather, his past self as a cadet in Kane's army, which means he continues to be racked with guilt over not being able to save a tenement building full of Motorcity residents from being demolished by KaneCo, a moment that was glimpsed in flashbacks in "Vendetta." Claire and Texas' nightmares are far more comical. Julie's class-conscious friend, who finds both Motorcity and Chuck to be repulsive, thinks she's trapped in Motorcity and married to Chuck (their baby girl looks more like Chuck than Claire), while Texas, who has a habit of binging on candy every Halloween, hallucinates that his candy is attacking him and trying to eat him. Chuck and Dutch--who has just started dating Tennie (Aimee Garcia), a resourceful mechanic from the Cabler settlement in Motorcity--are the only Burners who aren't poisoned, but we know that Dutch fears the wrath of Tennie's tough mechanic dad Bracket (Carlos Alazraqui).

Bracket and his daughter are Cablers, which must mean they're experts at hooking up Motorcity residents with pirated porn channels.
So while "Mayhem Night" isn't really disturbing, it might be difficult to watch for hypochondriacs who have issues with Halloween candy. The most unsettling image in "Mayhem Night" isn't the demonic vision Julie has of her evil father's face while he taunts her on the road. It's the sight of an unconscious Texas from a previous Halloween, sprawled on the ground in his red-and-black boxers with his chocolate-smeared mouth open and the word "candy" scrawled in some sort of melted red candy on a belly that's distended from too many treats. Distended bellies aren't disturbing, but when they're seen on someone who's shirtless? Yikes.

Many lapsed Star Wars fans have said Star Wars is dead, and it'll continue to be a shell of itself when Lucasfilm drops Episodes VII, VIII and IX. I don't believe it's dead because I think the spirit of the original trilogy lives on. Well, sometimes it does on The Clone Wars--especially when Chewie resurfaced--but it's much more present on Motorcity. Now if only more people out there--not just kids--would just watch this damn show.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (10/25/2012): Tron: Uprising, Motorcity, The Avengers, Adventure Time and Regular Show

This week on Motorcity, Chuck gets hooked on PCP and for some reason, starts repeatedly smashing his head through plate glass windows.
Chuck finally finds his niche in life as a competitive eater, especially in cherry pie-eating contests.
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner"--or in this case, late late Wednesday--I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

In "The Reward," the first new Tron: Uprising episode in decades, General Tesler (Lance Henriksen) intensifies his hunt for the wanted Renegade (Elijah Wood), a.k.a. Beck, after experiencing a nightmare in which the Renegade derezzes him. Tesler decides to involve the Argon City citizens in hunting down the Renegade and even throws in a prized VL-1 roadster as a reward to the citizen who turns him in. Tesler's supercilious right-hand man Pavel (Paul Reubens), who usually kisses up to Tesler, gets pissed off by the general's recruitment of regular folks to do the task that was given to him by Tesler because it undermines his power, so Pavel comes up with a scheme to humiliate his own boss, with the hopes that Grid dictator Clu will oust Tesler and give Pavel the general's job.

I don't think these neon glowstick steering wheels were such a good idea to help make NASCAR look less boring to neophytes.
Tesler, Pavel and his rival Paige (Emmanuelle Chriqui)--a woman of integrity who's working for the wrong side--are a more interesting pack of characters than Beck and his mechanic friends Mara (Mandy Moore) and Zed (Nate Corddry), simply because of the ongoing discord between the irritable general and his aides, one of whom will backstab anybody at the drop of a hat, even his own boss. Meanwhile, what are Beck, Mara and Zed stuck with in the A-story of "The Reward"? "You never hang out with us anymore, Beck!" That's not as entertaining. Zed's constant whining about Beck (who can never win with Zed, whether he's himself or in hero mode as the masked Renegade) has started to grate since "Identity," a.k.a. the Lake Bell episode. It's nice to see the weekly visual spectacle that is Tron: Uprising back on the air after months of no first-run episodes, but I'm also starting to realize why I didn't completely miss the show, and one of those reasons is Zed.

***

Chuck experiences a personality change and Dutch finds love in Motorcity's long-delayed "Fearless" episode, which finally aired in America last Friday when the show resumed airing first-run episodes after a way-too-long hiatus. There were rumors that Disney XD shelved "Fearless" for so long because its drug addiction plot was too dark for the channel (cowardly Chuck gets hooked on a KaneCo "booster" that purges him of his fear but turns him into a rage-filled asshole), which, if true, is strange because "Fearless" is the kind of story the channel's younger viewers need to see these days instead of being shielded from it, at a time when so many of their peers or maybe even their parents are heavily medicated like Chuck in this episode.

It's also the kind of ripped-from-the-headlines sci-fi story Star Trek used to frequently tackle, often successfully and sometimes not-so-successfully (see the original Trek's third season for the cheesiest and most heavy-handed examples). The scene where Mike has to snap Chuck out of his asshole state and ends up getting into a scuffle with him is even reminiscent of the scene in Star Trek's "This Side of Paradise" episode where Kirk frees Spock from his alien spores-induced blissful state. "Fearless" is, fortunately, a non-preachy, "Just say no" bullshit-free story about the negative side of relying on medication to try to improve your life. Instead of lecturing Chuck with an unnatural-sounding "Boosters are bad, mmm-kay?" speech or going all A&E on his ass and staging an intervention with the help of the other Burners, Mike gets through to Chuck by admitting that he experiences fear too in a rare serious moment that this lighthearted action cartoon executes quite well when it needs to.

Chuck could have had a V-8.
Meanwhile, Texas competes with Dutch for the attention of Tennie (Aimee Garcia, the leggy and hot nanny on Dexter), a teen mechanic in the "Cabler" village who's a whiz with machines like Dutch, and of course, an Asian guy once again gets the shaft. Somebody at the Burners' garage should point Texas in the direction of the more athletic Julie, whom several Motorcity fans have been "shipping"--God, I hate that word--Texas with ever since he lifted her up during a celebratory moment at the end of "Off the Rack." But if you do that stupid merging-the-names-of-a-guy-and-his-boo thing with Texas and Julie, you end up with "Tulie," which sounds exactly like the name of one of the show's villains, Kane's idiot assistant Tooley, so that's a bad sign, just like how it would be wrong for Liz and Jack to hook up on 30 Rock because the result of the merging of their names is "Jizz."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hold your breath and count to 10 as Skyfall covers "AFOS Prime"

Again with the Javier Bardem hair issues. Why's it so fucking hard for this dude to find a decent barber?
Beginning today, A Fistful of Soundtracks is streaming selections from Thomas Newman's score to the new Bond movie Skyfall--as well as the Skyfall theme song performed by Adele and produced by her "Rolling in the Deep" collaborator Paul Epworth--during the "AFOS Prime" and "New Cue Revue" blocks. The score album doesn't drop until November 6. The film doesn't come out until November 9 here in America (England, of course, gets dibs on the film this Friday before we do--those limey bastards).

I'm more of a fan of the 007 music than the movies themselves, although I love the more grounded and gritty direction the series has taken ever since Daniel Craig's Bond had that messy, nearly Dan-vs.-the-Captain-like fight with his first kill in the men's room. As someone who digs that John Barry/David Arnold Bond sound, I knew Adele's "Skyfall" would be a good Bond song right when I started hearing a guitarist strum the first four notes of the Monty Norman-penned (and Barry-arranged) "James Bond Theme" at exactly one minute into Adele's single. That's something that's hugely lacking from Madonna's "Die Another Day" (or a much worse track, Rita Coolidge's yacht-rock-y "All Time High" from Octopussy, not exactly one of Barry's finest musical moments) but is present in Adele's tune: an appreciation for the Bond series' storied musical past.

As for the score by Newman, who has regularly worked with Skyfall director Sam Mendes since American Beauty (except for Away We Go) and isn't the first person who comes to mind when I think "action movie composer," it's exactly how I imagined a 007 score by Newman to be: not as flashy-sounding as Arnold's 007 scores and more heavy on percussion than brass, which Arnold's scores were awash in. Newman came up with clever ways to work in bits and pieces of Norman's "James Bond Theme" throughout his score. "She's Mine," one of the Skyfall tracks I've added to rotation, expands upon the old Norman melody with stunning results.

Meanwhile, I'm hard at work on upgrading AFOS from mono to stereo after 10 years of the station being in mono, a format I chose over stereo in order to be able to carry more than 50 hours of music. Since October 1, I've been going through the AFOS music library and re-converting five station playlist tracks per day, this time into stereo mp3s instead of into mono mp3s. The slightly bigger file sizes will mean less music in the library, but far better sound quality. It's time for an upgrade. I've penciled in January 1 as the date of the station's conversion from mono to stereo because by then, I'll have enough tracks to fill several hours, but I wish the upgrade would begin tomorrow, so that tunes like "Skyfall" don't have to sound kind of tinny anymore.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (10/17/2012): Dragons: Riders of Berk, The Avengers, Randy Cunningham, Adventure Time and Regular Show

The hypochondriac version of this would be called Dawn of the Dristan.
Nice to see Macaulay Culkin getting some acting work again.
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

Wow, those were really short seasons of Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Young Justice: Invasion. They must be going for a Sherlock "leave the viewers wanting more" thing.

Without warning last Saturday, Cartoon Network pulled both first-run episodes of GL:TAS and Young Justice off its schedule after only two weeks of new episodes. Viewers like me who DVR both cartoons were surprised to find back-to-back repeats of Dragons: Riders of Berk in their place while playing back the recordings of both later that morning. Adults and kids who are fans of the "DC Nation" block angrily took to Twitter and Facebook (Cartoon Network's "DC Nation" Facebook page asked viewers who their favorite supervillains were, and many of them snarked, "Cartoon Network execs"). In response, the channel hastily posted a two-sentence statement on Facebook that explained so much ("Fear not, DC NATION fans! Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Young Justice will return in January with new episodes, only on Cartoon Network!").

"Did anyone remind Cartoon Network that the end of the world is this December?," joked dissatisfied GL:TAS co-executive producer Giancarlo Volpe on Twitter.

I wouldn't be surprised if Green Lantern ends up being Giancarlo Volpe's last project with Cartoon Network.
This is stupid, NBC-removes-Community-days-before-its-fourth-season-premiere-level shit. It's also not surprising to see shady behavior like that from Cartoon Network, which moves first-run programs around the schedule--like it did with the short-lived Sym-Bionic Titan last year--without telling the programs' viewers where to find them and without explanation. I'm going to go with "contract dispute" as the reason why "DC Nation" kid viewers like this one are in a sour mood in their parents' Twitpics:

This is exactly how I looked when I found out FX cancelled Terriers.

***

Well, good thing Dragons: Riders of Berk is occupying the "DC Nation" block's slot, not Annoying Orange. If it were the latter, I would have put my fist through the wall.

While the How to Train Your Dragon sequel series isn't always the most original of cartoons, it's definitely a quality kids' show, and a solid episode like "Portrait of Hiccup as a Buff Man" is why I'm glad Dragons is in the "DC Nation" block's slot for the next three months. Like the best episodes of Young Justice, "Portrait of Hiccup" combines well-staged action with rich characterizations as it channels both the integrity and zest of How to Train Your Dragon.

Hiccup looks like the
(Photo source: How to Train Your Dragon Wiki)
Feeling inadequate after Bucket (Thomas F. Wilson) paints an official portrait of him with his father Stoick that inaccurately depicts him as a buffed-up teen, Hiccup embarks on a treasure hunt that Stoick and Gobber failed at to prove his mettle. How to Train Your Dragon stood out from other DreamWorks Animation feature films because it wasn't so reliant on pop-culture reference humor that has sometimes aged really badly in those other films. The treasure hunt in the caves leads to Dragons making what has to be its first-ever pop-culture reference gag when Hiccup does the exact same movements Indiana Jones did with his hands before grabbing the idol at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The gag should have fallen flat, but "Portrait of Hiccup" somehow makes it work and not seem so out-of-place on a show that usually doesn't go for that kind of gag.

Overweight teen Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is the resident coward in the group of dragon trainers and a frequent source of "what a wimp" humor on the show, but there's an intriguing moment in "Portrait of Hiccup" where Fishlegs rises to the occasion when Hiccup and Toothless' lives are in danger. He persuades a more-panicky-than-usual Astrid that leaving Hiccup and Toothless behind in the caves so that they can send for help is better for the team than being trapped along with Hiccup and Toothless. The usually hypersensitive kid puts aside his cowardice to make the kind of hard decisions the absent Hiccup--and no one else in the group--would have made.

It's as if Fishlegs and Astrid have briefly swapped personalities, but like with the Raiders shout-out, "Portrait of Hiccup" somehow makes the moment work and not feel like it's so out-of-character for Fishlegs to toughen up and Astrid to panic like Fishlegs would usually do. In fact, what that scene actually does is show that there are many sides to these characters, and that kind of rich character writing is an example of why Dragons is more enjoyable than the lame and corny Annoying Oranges of the world.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The spy who spoofed me

'Enjoy your boner, dah-link. It vill be your last.'
Deadlier Than the Male
Early on in November, I'll be doing a series of posts about some of the music in the official Bond movies to lead up to the release of Skyfall, Daniel Craig's third Bond installment, which coincides with the film franchise's 50th anniversary. In the meantime, I've compiled a bunch of standout spy movie theme songs, but none of these original tunes are from the official or unofficial Bond movies. They're all from spy spoofs that either attempted to cash in on the success of the Bond movies (1967's enjoyable Deadlier Than the Male, a Bond-style reboot of British private eye Bulldog Drummond) or referenced at least one facet of that series (Robert Rodriguez's family-friendly Spy Kids flicks are loaded with gadgets like all of the Bond installments from 1963 to 2002).

It's Bikini Day here at A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Blog.
I've been looking for an excuse to post Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' theme from the obscure 1967 spy comedy Come Spy with Me, and I've finally found one. I've loved that Miracles track ever since I first heard it on YouTube while I was searching for Sammy Davis Jr.'s catchy theme from The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World because the Circus employees sang along to the Davis record in last year's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There's one other spy movie theme that was recorded by a Motown act. It's The Supremes' theme from Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, but it's not as good as the Miracles tune.

Spotify has the Supremes track, but unfortunately, it doesn't have the Davis track (Spotify is also devoid of any themes from Get Smart or the Derek Flint and Austin Powers franchises that are to my liking). Despite the Davis tune's absence, the playlist's title is copped from one of Davis' lyrics: "He's every bit as good as what's-his-name/With a dame, any dame." "What's-his-name" refers to, of course, that baller named Bond.

Some relief now for people who hate looking at bikinis.
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
Lalo Schifrin composed Shirley Bassey's Bond-style Liquidator theme, while Hans Zimmer composed Robbie Williams' twangy "Man for All Seasons" for Johnny English, a movie I've never seen. I wouldn't be surprised if "A Man for All Seasons" is the only good thing about Johnny English. In fact, except for The Liquidator, bits and pieces of What's Up, Tiger Lily?, Deadlier Than the Male, Fathom, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and the hilarious Black Dynamite, I've never seen any of the spy spoofs or 007 knockoffs that have themes I featured on the playlist. I'm sure they're all Oscar-caliber works.


Fathom
"Every Bit as Good as What's-His-Name" tracklist
1. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, "Come Spy with Me"
2. Vikki Carr, "The Silencers"
3. Nancy Sinatra, "The Last of the Secret Agents"
4. John Dankworth, "Modesty Blaise - Main Theme"
5. Shirley Bassey, "The Liquidator"
6. The Lovin' Spoonful, "Pow" (from What's Up, Tiger Lily?)
7. The Walker Brothers, "Deadlier Than the Male"
8. John Dankworth, "Fathom's Theme" (from Fathom)
9. Steve Allen, "The Swingin' Dagger Theme" (from A Man Called Dagger)
10. Joe Simon, "Theme from Cleopatra Jones"
11. Robbie Williams, "A Man for All Seasons" (from Johnny English)
12. Alexa Vega, "Game Over" (from Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over)
13. Ludovic Bource, "Le Caire, nid d'espions" (from OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies)
14. Adrian Younge featuring LaVan Davis, "Black Dynamite Theme"

Young, gifted and brown: A Filipino American Heritage Month playlist

Yep, they're definitely in Seattle.
Bambu (left) and Prometheus Brown (right) are The Bar. (Photo source: Prometheus Brown)
As the National Film Society reminds us below this graf, October is Filipino American Heritage Month, so I've compiled my favorite tracks on Spotify by great Filipino American artists like DJ QBert, Prometheus Brown, a.k.a. Geo, and half-Pinoy soulman Joe Bataan. Also included are some new cuts by L.A. rapper/activist Bambu, whose latest album .​.​.​ one rifle per family. dropped earlier this month.



Bambu's best track, the Jackson 5-sampling "Misused" from 2008's … exact change…, is addressed to his son (who was two years old at the time Bambu was interviewed here), and it boldly decries the Catholic Church--the church of choice for most Filipinos who weren't born here in America--for its Eurocentricism. He teamed up with the Seattle-based Geo to form The Bar in last year's outstanding Prometheus Brown & Bambu Walk Into a Bar. So many conscious rappers tend to be humorless, which can be a chore to listen to, but the pairing of Bambu and Geo proves not all of them are humorless, especially during "Rashida Jones," The Bar's ode to the lovely Parks and Rec star and now Celeste and Jesse Forever screenwriter.

The Pixies' "Vamos" is full of delightfully batshit crazy guitar work by Joey Santiago. On the instrumental side, I wish Spotify contained "The Role Traversal" by the now-defunct post-rock band From Monument to Masses. I'd love to use "The Role Traversal" at the end of a film if I ever direct one someday. In that track's place is From Monument to Masses' Noam Chomsky-sampling "Sharpshooter."

I'm not a fan of Bruno Mars or the power ballad sound that he and other Pinoy performers like current Journey lead singer Arnel Pineda and several female American Idol contestants are known for, but Mars' new single "Locked Out of Heaven" doesn't sound too bad and appears to be a slight shift from the power ballad sound. Also, I'm glad that this week, the half-Pinoy writer of Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You" will be the first Pinoy guest host in SNL history (interestingly, this will take place a week after SNL performed yet another cringeworthy sketch that brings to light a problem that's plagued this show long before I started watching it in the late '80s: the lack of diversity in the cast, even though this iPhone 5 sketch, in which mistreated and snarky Chinese Foxconn laborers were played by non-Chinese actors, sided with the Chinese characters instead of making them the butt of the joke). Mars' SNL milestone happens to occur during Filipino American Heritage Month, which is funny because we Filipinos aren't usually known for our impeccable timing.


Complete tracklist after the jump...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (10/10/2012): Dragons: Riders of Berk, Gravity Falls, Young Justice, Adventure Time and Regular Show

Soos looks like he's cosplaying as Batman when he had that bare-chested swordfight with Ra's Al Ghul in the middle of the desert back in the '70s.
The Summerween came blowing een, from across the sea... (Photo source: Gravity Falls Wiki)
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

Most family films put me to sleep, but How to Train Your Dragon didn't because it was so imaginatively directed and well-written, even during the "inflexible father learns to better understand his progressively minded son or daughter" trope that's present in so many family films. I'm a cold fish, so I don't get emotional during movies, but there's a quietly powerful moment involving that trope in How to Train Your Dragon that comes close to making me verklempt whenever I think back to it.

It takes place after Stoick the island chief lashes out at Hiccup because of his alliance with dragons and tells him he no longer considers him his son. Stoick walks away from Hiccup and has a moment to himself where, with just a pained and remorseful sigh from Gerard Butler and expressive facial animation by directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, we see how much it hurts Stoick to have said such dismissive words to his son. We've all experienced that shameful moment where we regretted saying or doing something so vicious and awful to a family member in the heat of an argument, and How to Train Your Dragon captured that pain so well without dialogue.

Except for a majestic flight sequence where Stoick is moved by his first aerial view of Berk, Dragons: Riders of Berk's lighthearted "How to Pick Your Dragon" episode doesn't contain a moment that's as dramatic as that non-verbal scene in the film where Stoick's hard-ass and macho authority figure demeanor briefly disappears, but it revisits in an equally effective manner Hiccup's difficulties in getting Stoick, who's so attached to "the Viking way," to better understand both him and "the dragon way." Hiccup is finally able to persuade Stoick that the dragon way simplifies and quickens arduous tasks and is relieved that his dad is now eager to take up dragon riding. However, he's not so pleased with Stoick using his dragon Toothless to practice his dragon riding, partly because carrying such a Chris Christie-sized Viking on his back for so long exhausts the undersized Night Fury (at one point, Toothless is so tired of dealing with Stoick that he hides away from him).

There's some great subdued character animation by "How to Pick Your Dragon" director Louie del Carmen during Toothless' scenes. Because Toothless' character design was based largely on cats, he's as emotionless as a feline, so del Carmen's ability to convey exasperated body language on a non-verbal and not-so-facially-expressive dragon is remarkable. He accomplishes it mostly through the animation of Toothless' eyes, which is fitting because as Hiccup attempts to point out to Stoick in this episode, eyes are one of the few tools in which humans and dragons can communicate with each other (is it me or does Hiccup sound like the world's first dating coach?).

'Sit, Ubu, sit. Good dog.'
(Photo source: Berk's Grapevine)
"It's a father's job to listen to his son without ever letting on that he's heard a word," explains Gobber to Hiccup, who's frustrated by his dad's stubbornness, especially after Stoick prefers to train his new dragon Thornado through Viking-style physical intimidation instead of the eye contact, patience and gentleness that Hiccup's trying to teach him. At the end of the episode, Stoick defies what Gobber says about fatherly communication when he does let on that he's absorbed his son's lessons. But in keeping with the refreshing economy of words and emotion in How to Train Your Dragon and now on Dragons, which are both basically about the challenges of limited communication, whether it's between human and animal or human and macho Viking dad, Stoick simply admits to Hiccup, "I listen."

***

Halloween episodes are obligatory for both sitcoms and paranormal shows, so how would Gravity Falls, a cartoon that's both a comedy and a paranormal show, be able to do a Halloween story when the timeframe the show takes place in is limited to the summertime? Gravity Falls cleverly works around that obstacle by establishing that the town celebrates Halloween twice a year, first on "Summerween" and again on October 31.

The best part of this closing-credits gag: that fucking Instagram tint that the animators added to Mabel's meme-style pics of Waddles.
(Photo source: Gravity Falls Wiki)
The last first-run episode of the series until November 2 December (booooo!), "Summerween" is Gravity Falls firing on all cylinders. Episode writers Zach Paez, Alex Hirsch and Michael Rianda come up with funny gags involving the rapping '90s teens from "The Inconveniencing," costumes for pets (dig the costume worn by Mabel's pig Waddles) and low-rent Halloween merchandise (speaking of which, the decoded result of this week's cryptogram--"yilftsg gl blf yb slnvdlip: gsv xzmwb"--is "Brought to you by Homework: The Candy").

Complementing those gags is a surprisingly affecting story about how Dipper's wish to grow up quickly and leave behind childhood activities like trick-or-treating (mainly due to his crush on the older Wendy) clashes with Mabel's preference to embrace her childhood before it ends someday. "We're getting older. There's not that many Halloweens left," says Mabel to her twin brother in an honest moment where Kristen Schaal gets to express a quietly dramatic side we've seen once before in the former Flight of the Conchords star's voiceover work (in the "Spaghetti Western and Meatballs" episode of Bob's Burgers, when a sad Louise feels like her dad's ignoring her) but never in live-action, whether it's The Daily Show or 30 Rock.

For their next Summerween episode, Gravity Falls ought to trap the townspeople in a Summerween time loop, just so that the episode can be titled '(500) Days of Summerween.'
(Photo source: Gravity Falls Wiki)
The giant spidery creature that menaces the twins during their first Summerween is a villain that's never been done before in a Halloween special: what if the least appealing pieces of candy that we threw out of our trick-or-treat bags--from black licorice to the show's fictional discount brand "Mr. Adequate-Bar"--came to life because of resentment at that rejection? And then what if those pieces of unwanted candy merged to form a monster that seeks his revenge by threatening to eat trick-or-treaters if they don't supply him with 500 pieces of candy by the end of the evening? I initially expected the Summerween Trickster (Jeff Bennett) to be the spirit of a teen who died on Summerween or some other vengeful madman. The reveal of the Trickster as candy that sucks is inspired, and clever moments like that are why Summerween episodes ought to be an annual tradition for Gravity Falls if Disney Channel renews it (a renewal is inevitable because of the show's popularity, but c'mon, Disney Channel, just renew the damn thing already!).

Monday, October 8, 2012

Wow, Ben Wyatt's taste in music on Parks and Rec is... so Ben Wyatt

April hasn't held a CD in her hand in three years.
In last week's Parks and Rec, April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) was trapped in a car in sweltering D.C. weather with her boss, congressional campaign manager and Star Trek: TNG fanfic author Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), and she glumly glared at the camera as she regretted putting on one of Ben's mix CDs, which he called "Benji's Cool Times Summer Jamz Mix." The audience heard only one of Ben's jams, Salt-N-Pepa's "Shoop"--as did April, whose consciousness must have left her body by the time that Salt thanks her boo's mother for a butt like that--and now the show's official Facebook page has gone the extra mile and posted the rest of Ben's "Summer Jamz Mix" on Spotify.


These are songs you play at a wedding, where overplayed pop songs go to die and where "Call Me Maybe" and "Gangnam Style" will go to die soon. The uptight Ben is like a Top 40 station stuck in 1996.

I love the attention to detail regarding the characters' musical tastes on Parks and Rec. Ben's CD collection in his car consists mostly of '90s mixtape-style soundtrack albums like the Pulp Fiction CD because Ben loves how those albums are like mixtapes from his favorite directors, a detail that seems to be lifted from Scott's past as a teenage film geek. The actor has admitted in interviews that he admired filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee so much as a teen that instead of bedroom posters of athletes or half-naked starlets, which is what most teenage guys prefer, Scott would put pictures and clippings of his favorite directors up on his bedroom wall.

The apathetic and snooty April is a Neutral Milk Hotel fan, just like Parks showrunner Michael Schur. Her not-too-bright husband Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) leads the unsigned Pawnee rock band Mouse Rat, which, according to its fake site, "takes inspiration from the greats--Dave Matthews Band, Counting Crows, and recent (but solid) discovery Train--and then spins it out of control" (I once had a job where I had to rummage through small-town rock band sites and post links to them on my company's sites, and all those bands' bios of themselves sounded exactly like Mouse Rat's, especially during the description of acts like Train as "great"). Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), who's unabashed about his libertarian politics, isn't as unabashed about his secret off-hours life as saxman and Eagleton smooth jazz sensation Duke Silver, a hit with the (older) ladies of Eagleton. Former Entertainment 720 CEO Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), an Indian American who thinks he's the Diddy of Pawnee and lists Flo Rida as one of his heroes, has, of course, a weakness for the Dirty South sound and '90s R&B.







Like April, Tom finds Ben to be terminally uncool. I wonder what Tom's reaction to Ben's "Summer Jamz" CD would be (Tom would probably say, "You still listen to CDs? Ha!"). I also wonder what a Tom Haverford Spotify playlist would look like. It would likely include Soulja Boy's "Turn My Swag On," which Tom rapped along to at the Snakehole Lounge while kickin' it with former Indiana Pacer Detlef Schrempf, and T-Pain's "I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)," which Tom briefly sang while in costume as T-Pain.

The day when Entertainment 720 was shut down, Tom's glass of Henny was repossessed and replaced with a Hi-C juice box.
(Photo source: Uproxx)
But what would the rest of that playlist look like? It's time to step into Tom's mind and think like a man who thinks he's so baller.


"Joints That Tom Haverford Probably Bumps on His iPhone" tracklist
1. Soulja Boy Tell'em, "Turn My Swag On"
2. T-Pain featuring Mike Jones, "I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)"
3. Montell Jordan, "This Is How We Do It"
4. Fat Joe featuring Lil Wayne, "Make It Rain"
5. Ginuwine, "Pony"
6. Ginuwine, "Differences"
7. R. Kelly, "You Remind Me of Something"
8. R. Kelly featuring Ronald and Ernie Isley, "Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)"
9. The Isley Brothers featuring R. Kelly and Chanté Moore, "Contagious"
10. R. Kelly, "Summer Bunnies"
11. R. Kelly, "Ignition Remix"
12. Jodeci, "Get on Up"
13. Johnny Gill, "Rub You the Right Way"
14. H-Town, "Part Time Lover"
15. The-Dream featuring T.I., "Make Up Bag"
16. Jay-Z, "Change Clothes"
17. Mystikal featuring Nivea, "Danger (Been So Long)"
18. Ludacris, "Southern Hospitality"
19. Rick Ross featuring Styles P, "B.M.F. (Blowin' Money Fast)"
20. Flo Rida featuring T-Pain, "Low"
21. Jamie Foxx featuring T-Pain, "Blame It"
22. Waka Flocka Flame, "Hard in Da Paint"
23. Jay-Z and Kanye West, "Otis" (the video even features a cameo by Ansari as Tom)
24. Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz, "Mercy"
25. Kanye West, Jay-Z and Big Sean, "Clique"

(Photo source: Flavorwire)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (10/03/2012): Gravity Falls, Green Lantern, Young Justice, Adventure Time and Regular Show

Her arm also slices, dices and makes Julienne fries.
The Kanye West/Big Sean/Pusha T/2 Chainz track "Mercy" isn't about Mercy Graves, but it ought to be. (Photo source: Young Justice Wiki)
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

Lil' Gideon Gleeful (Thurop Van Orman), the psychic entertainer kid who didn't take rejection from his temporary girlfriend Mabel too well in Gravity Falls' "Hand That Rocks the Mabel" episode, returns to menace the Pines family in "Little Dipper." This time, the creepy, porcine-nosed Gideon gets his grubby hands on a magical height-altering crystal that Dipper's attached to a flashlight and shone at himself to make himself a millimeter taller than his twin sister Mabel (Dipper's been bummed out lately by Mabel's delight over the fact that she's the taller twin--by a millimeter).

Aw fuck, is this another Honey, I Shrunk the Kids sequel? How many more times is Rick Moranis gonna fuck up his kids' heights again before he ends up saying, 'Honey, I'm being visited by Child Protective Services.'
This week's Gravity Falls cryptogram is "gsv rmerhryov draziw rh dzgxsrmt." The decoded result is "The invisible wizard is watching." (Photo source: Gravity Falls Wiki)
Gideon uses the crystal to shrink Dipper and Mabel and hold them hostage as part of his plan to take over the Mystery Shack, the tourist trap run by his business rival Stan, the twins' great-uncle (I like how Grunkle Stan is such a dick to Gideon throughout this episode). The pompadoured little jerk, who comes complete with a fawning stage dad (Stephen Root) who runs a shady car dealership to support Gideon's popular act, is shaping up to be a great--and original--Disney villain and is an especially relevant meanie in this age of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and similar reality shows where talentless and annoying fame-whore kids are let loose by scummy stage parents who live vicariously through them. I don't think I've ever seen a Disney villain before who scares his or her mother in the same way that Gideon petrifies Mrs. Gleeful (Grey DeLisle), who's always seen cleaning the house and avoiding making eye contact with her domineering and hot-tempered son. "Just keep vacuuming," mutters Mrs. Gleeful to herself repeatedly at one point.

'It's all for you, Damien!'
(Photo source: Gravity Falls Wiki)
In addition to being a fun villainy-heavy episode of Gravity Falls (I hate the term "shipping," so I'm not going to use it, but I think Gideon and another villain on the show, mean girl Pacifica Northwest, are made for each other), "Little Dipper" is also a good Dipper/Mabel story. Dipper's climactic realization that he's been a jerk to his sister (she's been hurt by his tendency to gloat over how he's better than her at everything, and height is the one thing where she's discovered she has an advantage over him) exemplifies why his dialogue with Mabel has resonated so much with Gravity Falls' biggest fans. Gravity Falls creator/showrunner Alex Hirsch took the traits of his own twin sister Ariel and used them to form Mabel's sunny personality, her love of both quirky sweaters and pea-brained animals (speaking of which, I enjoy how this show animates the dumbness of Gideon's inattentive hamster Cheekums and Mabel's pig Waddles, who's absent in this episode) and her interaction with Dipper.

"I've read countless comments on Tumblr, on Twitter, on message boards where people are saying, 'Thank you, thank you for showing a sibling relationship where they're not just sniping and hating on each other all the time,'" said Hirsch in a recent A.V. Club interview where he discussed viewers' enthusiastic responses to Dipper's scenes with Mabel. "When I started the show, I didn't originally begin with a conscious effort to do that. My conscious effort was, 'Oh, I want to make it like me and my sister, and I'll make it funny.'"

And "Little Dipper" demonstrates once again why Gravity Falls never falls short at delivering the funny.

***

Diedrich Bader's most memorable--as well as his most personal favorite--voiceover stint was the three seasons he spent as Batman on the lighthearted and surprisingly good Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011). He played the title superhero not as a source of deadpan humor like Adam West's take on Batman, but as a straight man to the campiness surrounding him. Now Bader gets to take on a more comedic superhero role that's closer to his sillier work on The Drew Carey Show and Napoleon Dynamite: egotistical ex-jock Guy Gardner, Hal Jordan's replacement as the Green Lantern Corps member assigned to patrol Earth, in "The New Guy," Green Lantern: The Animated Series' amusing season premiere.

Bader excels at this kind of role, a 180-degree turn from his subdued and benevolent version of Batman. It echoes the over-the-top machismo of the first role I knew Bader from, his title role in "The Searcher," a spoof of the Lorenzo Lamas action show Renegade that was a segment on the short-lived '90s Fox comedy anthology Danger Theatre. The new Green Lantern, who, in one of my favorite moments of Guy Gardner dickishness, autographs a photo of himself for a hot female cable news reporter while she's interviewing him live on TV, could easily be a main character in any one of Will Ferrell's movies where Ferrell deconstructs--via characters like Ron Burgundy in Anchorman and its upcoming sequel--what he referred to in a New York magazine interview as "the macho American male or the overly confident person."

'Listen, buster, I say the hackneyed one-liners around here, not you, alright?'
After fighting the Red Lanterns and preventing them from killing the Guardians on Oa, Hal returns to Earth to find his girlfriend and Ferris Air boss Carol has fired him from his job as a test pilot because, well, an employee who's been gone from the planet for several months is sort of a liability for a military aircraft company (this show's look at how intergalactic heroism can wreck someone's day job reminds me of Doctor Who a couple of weeks ago, when Rory got questioned by a hospital co-worker about why he's so often away from his job as a nurse). Hal also discovers that the Guardians replaced him with the publicity-craving Guy as the Corps patrolman on Earth and did so without informing him. Annoyed by Guy's cockiness and dismissal of Hal as a "helpless civilian" and "temp" who's butting in on his turf, Hal must put aside his differences with his oblivious rival when a group of Manhunters--the same Guardian-created robots that turned against the Guardians and slaughtered millions in the Forgotten Zone--arrives on Earth to purge the planet of its human population because of their human imperfections.

Speaking of purging things, I'm glad to see that "The New Guy" got rid of Guy's bowl cut from the '80s and '90s Green Lantern and Justice League comics. Guy's ability to charm the opportunistic cable news reporter wouldn't have been so believable with that ugly-ass bowl cut on his head.