Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"'Kid' spelled backwards describes you best": A look at each track in the newest "Whitest Block Ever" playlist on AFOS

Yo, it's a Robert Rodriguez sandwich.
"The Whitest Block Ever," a new AFOS block that I added to the station schedule as a way to mark Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (the block will remain on the schedule after May), is actually made up of five different one-hour playlists (and hopefully six, if Live365 hard drive space will allow it, and perhaps with an original track from Furious 6). All five playlists contain original themes and score cues from films done by Asian American directors and other filmmakers of color who have worked on films or TV series episodes I've dug or admired. "The Whitest Block Ever" airs every weekday at 10am-noon on AFOS.

Last week, I finished assembling the fifth playlist, a.k.a. "TheWhitestBlockEver05" (all the tracks in "TheWhitestBlockEver05" are streamed only during the "Whitest Block Ever" block and nowhere else on the station schedule, in order to reduce repetition). I enjoyed reading the replies Edgar Wright and "Whitest Block Ever" playlist fixture Robert Rodriguez gave to Empire magazine about their favorite score cues or soundtrack albums in the magazine's soundtrack tribute issue, so in a fashion similar to what Wright and Rodriguez did for Empire, here are descriptions of each of the 13 tracks in "TheWhitestBlockEver05."

1. Elmer Bernstein, "Prologue" (from Hoodlum)
Man, Bernstein could do it all: from slapstick vehicles for SNL alums like Trading Places and Ghostbusters to Harlem period pieces like the Bill Duke films A Rage in Harlem and Hoodlum. The ondes Martenot, an electronic instrument that Bernstein utilized most memorably in his Ghostbusters score and can easily be mistaken for a theremin, pops up in "Prologue" too and was used to great effect to represent an era of Harlem gone by.

2. Keisa Brown, "Five on the Black Hand Side" (from Five on the Black Hand Side)
I've seen only bits and pieces of this 1973 film, which has an enjoyable opening theme penned by legendary Capitol Records soul arranger H.B. Barnum and an equally enjoyable shot-on-a-shoestring trailer. The marketing for Five on the Black Hand Side brashly asserted that the film, an adaptation of a comedic stage play about the clash between Afrocentricism and black conservatives, was an alternative to the violent blaxploitation fare that was popular at the time of the film's release. "You've been Coffy-tized, Blacula-rized and Superfly-ed. You've been Mack-ed, Hammer-ed, Slaughter-ed and Shaft-ed. Now we wanna turn you on to some brand new jive," proclaims Fun Loving (Tchaka Almoravids) in the trailer. "You're gonna be glorified, unified and filled with pride when you see Five on the Black Hand Side."



3. Kid 'N Play, "Kid vs. Play (The Battle)" (from House Party)
I wish the Obama/Romney and Biden/Ryan debates were more like the freestyle battle scenes in 8 Mile and House Party.



It's Simon to the rescue when he attempts to cover up the sordid fact that his secret Asian boyfriend is a sloppy eater.
4. Mader, "Rhumba (End Credits)" (from The Wedding Banquet)
Gentle-humored comedies about generational discord within families (or survival dramas about orphans who find unlikely surrogate families in the form of tigers) are where Taiwanese-born Ang Lee, this year's Best Director Oscar winner for Life of Pi, works best, not action material that calls for a nimbler touch from someone like Tsui Hark or Joss Whedon, like Lee's 2003 misfire Hulk. (As Stop Smiling said in its amusing evisceration of the two pre-Mark Ruffalo Hulk movies, "Lee shouldn’t do pop; his attempts to 'enliven' the material and make it more like a comic book with screen panels and visible page breaks was the cinematic equivalent of Karl Rove dancing.") Over a decade before he won his first Oscar for directing Brokeback Mountain, Lee tackled LGBT characters in The Wedding Banquet, a standout piece of Asian American indie cinema about Wai-Tung (Winston Chao), a Taiwanese American landlord who, with the prodding of his boyfriend Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein), marries Wei-Wei (May Chin), a struggling Chinese artist, to enable her to get a green card and to satisfy his traditionalist parents from Taiwan. I feel like The Wedding Banquet has kind of been overlooked during this Brokeback/Life of Pi period of Lee's career, despite having been the most profitable film of 1993, even more so than Jurassic Park (it also went on to spawn a stage musical version in 2003). On paper, The Wedding Banquet reads like a shitty sitcom. But the film is far from being such a thing, thanks to Lee's thoughtful and low-key direction, which is aided by French-born composer Mader's equally low-key score, a mishmash of Chinese and Latin sounds that (spoilers!) mirrors how the future child of Wai-Tung, Simon and Wei-Wei will grow up to be a mishmash of various cultural influences.


5. Melba Moore, "Black Enough" (from Cotton Comes to Harlem)
I had no idea Galt MacDermot, one of the most frequently sampled composers in hip-hop, scored Cotton Comes to Harlem until recently. I've seen the Ossie Davis-directed adaptation of the Chester Himes novel of the same name two or three times, but that was before I became interested in finding out where beatmakers copped so many of their illest samples from (it's also kind of hard to notice MacDermot's musical trademarks during Cotton Comes to Harlem when all your 19-year-old self can think about is the film's T&A, like Judy Pace's T&A when she ducks out of being kept under watch by a dumb white cop by craftily tricking him into bed without sleeping with him). One of my favorite MacDermot samples takes place during 9th Wonder & Buckshot's "Shinin' Y'all," which loops "Sunlight Shining," a tune that happens to come from Cotton Comes to Harlem. I'd like to see some beathead make use of another Cotton Comes to Harlem joint, "Black Enough," the film's opening theme, which, like "Sunlight Shining," is filled with soothing strings and classic MacDermot beats.






6. Michael Jackson, "On the Line" (from Get on the Bus)
It's been a few years since I watched Spike Lee's Million Man March-themed Get on the Bus, so I forgot that Michael Jackson sung the film's opening title theme, which contains lyrics about overcoming self-hatred that bring to mind the Five on the Black Hand Side theme (and the Jackson theme was produced by Babyface too!). "On the Line" is, along with "Butterflies" and maybe the Teddy Riley-produced "Remember the Time," one of the few tunes from Jackson's post-Bad, extremely treacly "won't someone think of the children?" era that I actually like. The fact that "On the Line" is--like Everybody Loves Raymond used to say at the start of each episode--not really about the kids also helps.

Friday, May 24, 2013

From 2010: My homemade recipe for Bluth's Original Frozen Banana from Arrested Development

Cold Bananas in Delicious Brown Taste
(Photo source: JJA)
This Sunday, Netflix will finally unveil--all at once--15 new episodes of Arrested Development, the hilarious cult favorite that aired from 2003 to 2006 on Fox. These new episodes will be available exclusively at the streaming video service. Ever since I posted in 2010 my attempt to make Arrested Development-style frozen bananas, I've seen some Arrested Development fans on Pinterest and Twitter link to my post. If you're having an Arrested Development season four viewing party, try the following frozen banana recipe I'm reposting, and if the results are as disastrous as Gob's racist ventriloquist act, then try again just like I did (it took me a couple of tries to get the frozen bananas right).

Birth of a dynasty
(Photo source: Balboa Observer-Picayune)
I learned a lot from watching Arrested Development, like the importance of always leaving a note, the existence of a dessert known as a frozen banana (which, in the show's universe, was created by a Korean banana stand owner and known as "Cold Banana in Delicious Brown Taste" before the Bluths stole the idea from him) and George Bluth Sr.'s adage that "there's always money in the banana stand." I had never heard of a frozen banana before Bluth's Original Frozen Banana Stand (a.k.a. "the Big Yellow Joint," the subject of Arrested Development composer David Schwartz's amusing fake '70s stoner anthem "Big Yellow Joint"). I thought a frozen banana was Asian American slang for a McCain-supporting Asian guy who lives under the Uncle Ruckus-style delusion that he's as white as Edward from Twilight while suffering from hypothermia.

I didn't realize a frozen banana is a banana covered in chocolate until when I became curious about fictional foods that were integral to episodes of sitcoms like 30 Rock, The Boondocks and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which gave us "milksteak" and "the grilled Charlie"), and I stumbled upon online recipes for the not-so-fictional dessert.

Yeah, it kind of looks like a chocolate-covered dick, and when peanuts are added to the coating, it starts to resemble poop on a stick, but it's also a delicious snack that's alright for any season. It's essentially a banana Popsicle in a chocolate coating.

'Alright, we have time for only a couple more snapshots. These bananas have to be at a condom fastening demonstration at a high-school sex ed class across town in 15 minutes.'
Bananarchy (Photo source: A.V. Club)
In 2009, a couple of Arrested Development fans in Austin opened their own Bluth-style banana stand called Bananarchy and offered toppings like cinnamon and coconut. They even named an item after Will Arnett's breakout character. "The Gob" is two bananas double-dipped in chocolate and covered in peanuts.

'Frozen banana POWER!!!,' exclaims Terry Crews.
Arrested Development narrator/co-executive producer Ron Howard and Terry Crews, a guest star during AD's new season, both help Netflix promote the show's return at an actual Bluth's banana stand opened by Netflix in Manhattan.
Meanwhile, I attempted a few times to make for myself a frozen banana because I always wanted to re-create a snack that came from a show I admire (and occasionally revisit on DVD). I failed the first time with the chocolate coating, which is the trickiest component to master while making this otherwise simple snack. The coating shouldn't be Oreo cookie-esque, which was how my coating turned out the first time I made the dessert. It should be as smooth as Tobias Fünke's shiny blue pate:

Ingredients
1 ripe and peeled banana
1 cup (6 oz.) of Nestle Toll House Milk Chocolate Morsels
1 tbsp. vegetable shortening
1 Popsicle stick

Rolling a big yellow joint
(Photo source: JJA)
1. Unpeel a banana. Cut an inch off one end of the banana. Push a Popsicle stick into that end of the banana.

2. Put the banana in a Ziploc bag and freeze it overnight.

3. The next day, place the chocolate morsels and the vegetable shortening together in an uncovered microwave-safe bowl. The shortening will thin out the chocolate and make it easier to work with. Heat the bowl on medium-high (70%) power for one minute. If there are still some morsel shapes in the melted chocolate, heat it again for a few more seconds. Stir.

4. Unroll a sheet of wax paper and pour the melted chocolate onto the sheet. Take the banana out of the freezer. If there are ice crystals on the banana, scrape them off. Roll the banana around in the chocolate until it's completely coated in it.

If the Schwarzenegger version of Mr. Freeze wrote the alt attribute for this image, it would go something like 'Buh-na-nuhs, I'm sending yoo to da land of da freeze.'
(Photo source: JJA)

Poop on a stick never tasted so delicious.
(Photo source: JJA)
5. Seal the chocolate-covered banana in an airtight container and place it in the freezer. Keep the banana inside the freezer overnight or longer or until you're secure enough in your sexuality to stick a chocolate penis in your mouth.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (05/15/2013): Apollo Gauntlet, Bob's Burgers, American Dad, Adventure Time and Executioner

Tina's new fanfic combines her love for butt-touching with her newfound love for espresso. It's called Star-Butts.
Pow! She just shit her pants!
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated shows. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired. "5-Piece" has been posted for 54 consecutive weeks--a.k.a. one year and two weeks--since May 11, 2012. I need a goddamn break. "5-Piece" returns on June 5 with a discussion of the first new episode of The Venture Bros. in 47 years.

Goofy-looking rotoscoping of Michael Jackson footage and a polite, purple-skinned baby who speaks in full sentences with a Julia Child-like falsetto are the highlights of "Just Me and You Now, Bud," another enjoyably surreal installment of Apollo Gauntlet. When animator Myles Langlois first streamed Apollo Gauntlet on his own, a few years before the Rug Burn Channel picked up the show to stream it exclusively, someone wrote, "If they were ever to make this into a live-action film, I'm going to suggest Will Forte take the lead." Apollo has the bullheadedness--and pornstache--of a typical Forte character, combined with a "What Up with That?"-style habit of interrupting people, especially his enemies, with rapping and dancing.

For Apollo's big "If I put my golden boot in your ass" dance number, "Just Me and You Now, Bud" recycles Apollo's dance moves from "Belenus Blade"--just as how Filmation used to always recycle footage to cut costs--but this time, the episode cops a few classic Michael Jackson moves, including the late Jackson's still-dope-ass anti-gravity lean from the "Smooth Criminal" segment of Moonwalker. That's not all that "Just Me and You Now, Bud" cops. The character design for the purple baby who agrees to help the Princess free herself from her cell appears to be lifted from the Dancing Baby. The voice Langlois chose for what's clearly a man in a baby's body is unsurprisingly strange--and amusing. The man-baby sounds more like the French Chef than Baby Herman. I keep expecting him to start giving the Princess tips about how to prepare a soufflé.

***

"The Unnatural," the Bob's Burgers third-season finale, caps off one of the most consistently funny seasons of any show--animated or live-action--in typically strong and endlessly quotable fashion. Gene dabbles in a sport he has no understanding of, while Tina gets addicted to espresso and can't bear to give it up. These two storylines are kind of standard-issue for a sitcom, but when Bob's Burgers gets its inventive, "Electric Boogie"-covering hands on them, these storylines soar.

Tina's storyline hits the same comedic beats as other "kid gets hooked on a drink she's too young for" storylines (I'm having flashbacks to Maggie Simpson going buckwild after tasting coffee ice cream). But then Bob's Burgers diverges from the other shows by intertwining her storyline quite smoothly with Gene's A-story (Tina has to go through caffeine withdrawal after Linda pawns the restaurant's new espresso machine to pay for Gene's overpriced baseball camp) and then tossing in a funny Trainspotting shout-out when Tina copes with withdrawal. (According to the comments section below the Movieclips excerpt of Renton's withdrawal hallucinations from Trainspotting, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic referenced the same Trainspotting nightmare scene as well. Sure, that's cool, and yeah, that Trainspotting gag is proof that Friendship Is Magic ain't your mommy's My Little Pony, but that's still not going to make me want to watch more of that cartoon. Sorry, Bronies, I'm still not feeling it.)

I'm glad to hear Rob Huebel return as a guest voice actor, even though it's as the "Dr. Yap" scam artist formerly known as "the Prince of Persuasia," the seduction guru Yap sought advice from, instead of his other Bob's Burgers role, as the Family Fracas producer who kept trying to make out with his show's male host a few weeks ago. Now known as the "Deuce of Diamonds," Huebel's con man character has been scamming wanna-be Little Leaguers and their parents out of their cash by running a half-assed baseball camp full of no actual baseballs and lots of amusingly ill-informed advice about the game ("A famous baseball player whose name I can't remember right now had Lou Gehrig's Disease and he didn't let it slow him down"). When Mr. Manoogian (Jason Mantzoukas, reprising his thick foreign accent from his role on Enlightened), the manager of the motel where the Deuce currently lives, threatens to throw him out on the street for not paying him back $1100, the Deuce tricks the kids into thinking he's taking them on a road trip and makes them act as his hired muscle at the motel ("We're just gonna take some swings... at your soda machine").

'And trim those nose hairs, Bobby! It looks like a '70s porno in there!'
I enjoy seeing Bob's pragmatic approach to parenting (he doesn't think Gene is cut out for baseball and would rather have him quit, and he can see through the Deuce's scam) bump up against Linda's optimism (she believes Gene has lots of potential in the sport, and she keeps thinking the Deuce is a legit coach), especially when it leads to a hilarious scene where Bob and Linda argue like an umpire and a manager over Gene's hit in the climactic game, a great example of the overlapping dialogue that distinguishes Bob's Burgers from the rest of the Fox "Animation Domination" lineup. "Ah, you're such a dick, Bob," grumbles Linda to her husband, whose unwillingness to root for Gene and the fact that the kid's baseball skills don't really improve overnight both make "The Unnatural" a cut above the overdone "bumbling kid athlete succeeds at the right moment in the game" story.

Other memorable quotes:
* "I love baseball: the pizza parties, the spiky shoes, the parade at the end of the season where we ride on a float." And later: "I'm gonna have a killer fastball and a magnificent perm!" Yup, Gene bats for the other team. He just doesn't know it yet.

* Teddy, refusing Bob's offer of a cup of espresso: "I don't like those tiny cups! They make it look like I have giant hands!"

* Louise, overhearing Bob's opinion that Gene's thought-to-be-permanent abandonment of baseball has a quiet dignity: "Quiet dignity? Have you met us?!"

* An overcaffeinated Tina rattles off Burger of the Day ideas: "Woulda Coulda Gouda. You Gouda Be Kidding Me. As Gouda as It Gets. Gouda Gouda Gumdrops. A Few Gouda Men. Gouda Gouda Two Shoes, comes with shoes. Gouda Day, Sir..."

Two Marlo Thomas references side-by-side: the Free to Brie You and Me Burger and Linda's That Girl hair.
(Photo source: Bob's Burger of the Day)
* The Deuce to the kids: "Okay, any questions so far? About anything at all? Girls, boys, life, money, inkjet printer repair?"

* Andy, recognizing the Deuce's motel: "Hey, this is where our dad goes for his naps."

* The Deuce, encouraging the kids to damage Mr. Manoogian's soda machine: "Babe Ruth used to beat the crap out of a root beer machine. Now look at him."

* "Soda, you made me fat, but you also made me strong!"

* Ollie, defending the Deuce: "He's gifted; he said so." Andy: "He's gonna do a TED Talk."

* Gene, regarding the Deuce: "He gave us his magic and then he disappeared. Just like Toad the Wet Sprocket."

Friday, May 10, 2013

"AFOS Daytime in the Nighttime" begins Monday, May 13 and "AFOS Vault" begins Thursday, May 16

'Aw, fuck, I don't know why Lucy and Mr. Mooney keep locking themselves in this goddamn vault.'
(Photo source: Corbis)
Starting next week, AFOS brings the daytime to the nighttime. "AFOS Daytime in the Nighttime" will stream a different weekday AFOS block ("Beat Box," "The Whitest Block Ever" and "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round") at 9pm from Monday to Wednesday.

"Beat Box" consists of selections from old scores with funk, synth or jazz sounds that have been sampled by beatmakers, plus cuts from more recent scores with funk, synth or hip-hop sounds. Beatmakers, get ideas for future samples during "Beat Box."

"The Whitest Block Ever" is a block of original themes or score cues from films made by filmmakers of color who have directed projects I like (and the occasional dog or two), including Justin Lin, Jessica Yu, Spike Lee and Robert Rodriguez.

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" consists of original score cues from animated shows and movies, whether cel-animated or in CG. I'm not really into metal, but I like what Vernon Reid and Rodrigo y Gabriela have done with the genre, and I'm also cool with the metal score music Stephen Barton wrote for Titmouse's short-lived, too-badass-for-Disney Motorcity. I wish Barton released his cues from that show. They'd be perfect for "Brokedown."

Then on Thursday in the same slot at 9 (as well as earlier that day at noon), "AFOS Vault" will stream old one-hour shows from the AFOS vault that were never streamed before in stereo.

'I will not have this in my studio! That's just a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible 'That's Amore.' And there is nothing that you can do here in this room that can turn that around. Nothing you can do that can make up for what you just did to 'That's Amore.'--John Michael Higgins, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Studio Paradiso in San Francisco
The only episodes of AFOS: The Series I actually like and can bear listening to snippets of are the ones I recorded in a professional studio. I'm not so big on the rest of them. But back when I had a steady income, which was three centuries ago, I was able to afford to record a few of those shows in an actual studio, and I'm honored to have done so in the same San Francisco studio where Kid Koala and the band Dengue Fever cut some records. Those three episodes that don't make me cringe--along with the 007-centric "Dance Into the Fire," the final episode, which I occasionally get asked by listeners to stream again--will be streamed in the "AFOS Vault" slot.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (05/08/2013): Apollo Gauntlet, Bob's Burgers, American Dad, Animation Domination High-Def and Dogsnack

The Ewok wants to watch. Don't forget to bring the Vaseline, Wicket.
"Maganda!," thought the Ewok. (Photo source: American Dad Wikia)
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated shows. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

YouTube comments sections are often moronic forums where almost everyone either simply repeats dialogue from the video above without much regard for correct spelling or hurls racial slurs at each other or at some black or Asian person in the video. Only occasionally will some of these sections take a pause from the trolling or Chappelle's Show frat-boy-viewer-style parroting of catchphrases to raise a good point, like when several posters in the section below "Hey Guys, It's Me," the latest Apollo Gauntlet installment, noted that it feels like the show skipped an episode that would have explained how Apollo tracked down the fortress of Corporal Vile, the villain who most likely sent a robot to capture the Princess.

Despite the disjointed feel of "Hey Guys, It's Me," series creator/voice actor Myles Langlois gets in a couple of amusing moments here, like Apollo's comparison of the henchmen's movements to "tai chi for dummies" and Dr. Benign's awkward retraction of his understandable perception that Prince Belenus, who sees Apollo as his competition for the Princess' hand in marriage, and the Princess are brother and sister. If the Prince is indeed related to her and is totally Jaime Lannistering for her affections, then ewwww.

***

Bob's Burgers is usually the highlight of the Fox "Animation Domination" lineup, but this week, it's been bested by American Dad's special 150th episode. I initially found "Carpe Museum," which centers on Bob's first time to chaperone the kids' museum field trip, to be underwhelming (especially in comparison to "Boyz 4 Now"), despite the way that Linda's protest chants sound exactly like the Tom Tom Club's "Wordy Rappinghood" ("Boys are from Mars, girls are from Venus!/I've got a yum-yum, you've got a penis!") or the enjoyable interaction between Bob, Louise (who accidentally slips out that she wants to inherit the restaurant from Bob) and asthmatic Rudolph Steiblitz (Brian Huskey), a.k.a. Regular-Sized Rudy. On second viewing, I like "Carpe Museum" a little more and better appreciated how the episode, during its subplot of Tina's attempts to get everyone else to notice that her field trip partner Henry (Jim Gaffigan) is dorkier than her, nails the arrogance of nerdy school kids who think the graphic novel or fanfic they're going to write will change the world ("Maybe you just don't understand it?... There's 17 installments, and you really need to read them in order, which you haven't, so I doubt it.").

I also better appreciated how well "Carpe Museum" uses most of the secondary characters, from Teddy, whose clinginess to the restaurant never gets old, to inseparable twin brothers Andy (Laura Silverman) and Ollie (Sarah Silverman), who, at one point, both turn to a weirded-out Bob for help when they need to blow their noses (on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, H. Jon Benjamin was continually pining for an uninterested Laura Silverman, while on Bob's Burgers, he'd rather not be near her and reluctantly has to help her blow her nose). Ollie blows his nose on Bob's vest, which is a moment I'm all too familiar with because I've seen little kids blow their noses on other people's clothes, and when I was a kid, I was frequently attacked by a much younger kid who liked to leave his snot on other people's shirts. That kid grew up to become Owen Kline in the school locker scene in The Squid and the Whale.

Other memorable quotes:
* Bob: "So how did you survive eight years of being stuck with Mr. Frond?" Linda, TV's most entertaining functioning alcoholic who's not an Archer: "Wine Thermos."

* Louise to Pocket-Sized Rudy: "Jeez, Rudy, quit sneaking up on people. Wear a bell."

* Louise: "Hey, Mr. Frond! Why did the chicken cross the road?... So he would be in a different school district where there's a different guidance counselor!" Bob: "Louise... don't say that... here."

* The flirtatious, Margaret Dumont-voiced museum director (Brooke Dillman): "Your skin should be its own exhibit." The equally captivated Mr. Frond (David Herman): "Well, your hair should be sent to an Asian wig factory."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Salamat, Chan Is Missing

Marc Hayashi, left, and Wood Moy, right, in a San Francisco movie that cost 10,000 times less than David Caruso's Jade and is 10,000 times more fucking entertaining.
The following piece was written three years ago as an exclusive article for an aborted print compilation of both a webcomic I drew and several of the posts I've written for this blog, and all the posts that were going to be collected in the book were about lesser-known films I dig. I was going to put the book together by myself and self-publish it, but I ultimately decided not to publish it because I'm not exactly well-known, so no one would want to buy it. I even drew an illustration that would have accompanied the piece, which is a lengthy discussion of a favorite movie of mine, a pivotal work in the history of Asian American cinema that dropped in April 1982 in New York and then three months later in San Francisco.

I was too young to be interested in movies when Chan Is Missing hit the art-house circuit. The only movie I gave a shit about in 1982 was The Great Muppet Caper on HBO. Ten or 11 years later, my tastes in film had matured to the point where I was ready to tackle a black-and-white art-house oddity like Chan Is Missing. I first caught it on KQED, the perfect San Francisco station to watch--with no interruptions, although with lots of audio dropouts that removed the F-bombs--what I consider one of the best San Francisco films, much like how two of my other favorite films, Do the Right Thing and the recently Proopified 1974 Taking of Pelham One Two Three, are great New York films, and how another favorite film of mine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, is a great L.A. film.

I've updated the piece about this 1982 classic a bit, and I'm unveiling it for the first time now because it's Asian Heritage Islander American Pacific Month or whatever it's being called this year.

'This mystery is appropriately Chinese. What's not there seemed to have just as much meaning as what is there... I guess I'm not Chinese enough. I can't accept a mystery without a solution.'
Thank you, Chan Is Missing, for recognizing that there are actually Filipinos in San Francisco and for depicting Filipino characters who aren't maids, houseboys or sex slaves. Even though those characters--a philosophical Manilatown senior center manager named Presco (Presco Tabios) and the title figure's elderly friend Frankie (Frankie Alarcon)--don't get a lot of screen time in Chan Is Missing, the sequence they appear in is one of the film's most enjoyable sequences, and it's not just because I'm Filipino, and hey, it's an American film representing us flatteringly!

In director Wayne Wang's 1982 breakthrough film, which he shot in black and white on a $22,000 budget, Chinatown cabbie Jo (Wood Moy) and his nephew Steve (Marc Hayashi) are scouring the streets of San Francisco to track down their business partner Chan Hung, who mysteriously disappeared and took with him $4,000 that Jo and Steve need in order to start their own cab company. At one point, Chan's trail leads the amateur sleuths to a Manilatown senior center where Chan is a frequent visitor because he's a fan of the mariachi musicians who entertain the center's manong (elderly Filipino) regulars.

Wang takes a minute to drink in the laid-back atmosphere of the senior center where Chan, a recent immigrant who hasn't had the easiest time assimilating into American culture, felt accepted despite his different nationality. During the interlude, elderly couples are seen dancing to a recording of "Sabor a Mi" by Los Lobos (back when they were known as Los Lobos del Este de L.A.), and we see why Chan felt so at ease at the senior center.



The manongs' enthusiasm for dance and Latin music is infectious, and it's not an unnatural-looking enthusiasm like in that insipid early '90s Pepsi ad where elderly actors pretended to get their dance on to Young MC's "Bust a Move" while awkwardly using phrases they just learned on the set after the director played them a tape of a first-season episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air between takes. The fact that the Manilatown old-timers weren't actors--they were regulars at the actual Manilatown Senior Center, captured by Wang's camera--might have something to do with their natural-looking enthusiasm.

That documentary realism--Wang did location shooting in areas of San Francisco like Manilatown that Hollywood rarely ventures into--is a reason why I'm more taken with Wang's indie snapshot of Chinatown and Manilatown than with a product of the studio era with a similarly all-Asian American cast like the quaint, mostly confined-to-the-studio-backlot 1961 screen version of Flower Drum Song, which Chan Is Missing references in a charming closing montage that's accompanied by the original 1958 recording of "Grant Avenue."


While promoting his 2008 indie films A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and The Princess of Nebraska (Wang still makes indies when he's not directing Lifetime channel-friendly studio fare I'm not exactly dying to see), Wang told an interviewer from AsianWeek that he made Chan Is Missing as a response to previous examples of Asian American cinema. "Documentaries and fictional Asian American films were very seriously sort of talking about how we were discriminated against, and how difficult our history was, blah blah blah blah blah, in a way [that] was almost too serious. And almost like perhaps complaining about our experiences. Or trying to be too rah-rah about how positive we have to be," Wang said. "So Chan Is Missing was kinda looking at the complexity of Chinatown in a different way."

Chan Is Missing's impact on Asian American filmmakers or writers, whether they're Chinese or Filipino, is so immense that Wang's film is still being discussed and prodded and poked, primarily in Asian American film classes at universities, while those '70s films Wang was referring to are largely forgotten. It's also a film that--except for a couple of dated-sounding Chinese pop songs on the soundtrack, the occasional sight of poofy hair and the pronunciation of "FOB" (short for "Fresh Off the Boat") as "ef-oh-bee" instead of the presently more common "fob"--looks timeless. (Charles Burnett's similarly shot 1977 indie Killer of Sheep has that timeless quality too.) Sure, the Flower Drum Song movie has its charms (among them are Nancy Kwan's legs), but if I check out a clip from that movie, I know right away I'm watching something from 1961. Chan Is Missing is the Homicide: Life on the Street to Flower Drum Song's NYPD Blue: the scruffier and more improvisational and down-to-earth work that feels more alive and relevant than the better-known, mostly backlot-based and sometimes forced and self-conscious latter work.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A track-by-track rundown of the current "New Cue Revue" playlist on AFOS

Here's a scene from Kirk Cameron's latest movie.
(Photo source: Darkmatters)
Every Wednesday and Friday at noon (with a bonus Wednesday airing at 4pm), AFOS streams the most recent additions to the station's playlists--"AFOS Prime," "Beat Box," "The Whitest Block Ever," "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" and "Hall H"--for an hour-long block entitled "New Cue Revue." Here's the current "New Cue Revue" playlist.

Here's a scene from Henry Jaglom's latest movie.
(Photo source: The Geek Twins)
1. Brian Tyler, "Can You Dig It (Iron Man 3 Main Titles)"
"Can you count, suckas?"


2. Mychael Danna, "Set Your House in Order" (from Life of Pi)
"Tiger style."


3. Howard Shore, "Roast Mutton (Extended Version)" (from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)
"I wish I was a little bit taller."


Disney cancels this and Motorcity, while Dog with a Blog stays on the air? Fuck Disney XD.
(Photo source: TRON LIVES: Uprising Art)
4. Joseph Trapanese, "Compressed Space" (from Tron: Uprising, "The Stranger")
"Yeah, bitch! Magnets!"


5. Asha Bhosle, "Dum Maro Dum" (from Hare Rama Hare Krishna)
"Won't you pack the pipe and keep it moving down the line?"


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (05/01/2013): Apollo Gauntlet, The Cleveland Show, Bob's Burgers, American Dad and 5 Second Day

Louise and Tina do their best impression of Jesse from Breaking Bad enjoying meth.
"Doo-hude... Tina... I can totally hear my heart beating. It's like a Pharrell beat with guest verses being dropped by T.I."
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated shows. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

In "Rodent," the latest Apollo Gauntlet installment, Prince Belenus and Dr. Benign (both voiced by series creator Myles Langlois) blame an evil robot's abduction of the Princess (Hollie Dzama) on Apollo (also Langlois) and his pummeling of her royal guards, who would have protected her from the robot had Apollo not knocked them all out. Apollo replies that leaving the guards alone wouldn't have mattered anyway because "that robot would have come in here like Terminator in the police station."

That's not the only Terminator reference in "Rodent." Unless Langlois created a blooper without realizing it, the barefoot Benign is seen at the start of the episode running through a corridor making the kind of footstep noises that would emanate from someone wearing hard-soled shoes, not someone who's barefoot--an exact re-creation of the off-putting footstep sound FX the Terminator 2 foley artists created for a barefoot Sarah Connor after she broke out of her cell. I don't know if Langlois intended it to be a reference to one of the silliest foley artist bloopers ever seen in an expensive and beloved summer blockbuster, but I'd like to think he did.

I want to start a movie database that's full of nothing but erroneous movie trivia, just so that other websites will take a look at some of the fake trivia I made up, they'll think they're real and include them in their news articles about movies and I'll be my laughing my ass off when I read their articles.
Earlier in Apollo Gauntlet's second season on the Rug Burn Channel, I said, "I might go from mildly liking this weird cartoon to straight-up admiring it if its new season never bothers to leave that throne room." Since then, the characters have stepped outside the throne room, but we've reached the season's seventh episode by now, and the show is still confined to the Dundrum castle (Apollo, Benign and Belenus will have to eventually leave the castle to rescue the Princess). The fact that the show has remained this long in one single setting proves how low its budget is, but budget limitations don't matter much when Apollo's dialogue, the awkward pauses and the intentionally wretched rotoscoping are so frequently funny.

Stray observations:
* "'Apollo Gauntlet'? Uh, yeah, sure, let's call him that," says a continually puzzled Benign to the Princess. In "The Interrogation of Dr. Benign by the Hero Apollo Gauntlet," Benign addressed Apollo as Paul. Apollo's full actual name is Paul Cassidy, according to YouTube's series synopsis.

* Where did Paul and Benign teleport from? I'm putting my money on an insane asylum where Paul was an inmate--which explains the conversations with his right gauntlet and all the slightly creepy hallucinations he's been experiencing--and Benign was either a scientist who was fiddling around with some sort of teleportation gizmo that happened to be lying around a lab in the mental facility or a therapist who was accidentally zapped along with Paul into the distant planet by the device while in the middle of a therapy session with him. (There's also the possibility that these adventures on this other planet are one whole illusion in Paul's mind.) The show also has yet to explain where Paul's magic gauntlets come from.

* "Oh no, Billy, Witchiepoo captured Pufnstuf!" H.R. Pufnstuf was way before my time, so I never watched it, but my comedy nerd-dom has exposed me to lots of jokes or sketches about the cheesiness of Pufnstuf that were written by comedians who grew up watching it. Weed references during late '60s/early '70s Krofft shows were really subtle back then. I bet H.R.'s next-door neighbor was named Phil E. Blunt.

***

Bryan Cranston, who plays Dr. Fist, doesn't voice the bear on this show, but he should. He can play fucking anybody, except black or Asian guys because that Cloud Atlas horseshit's just wrong.
On The Cleveland Show, Cleveland and his drinking buddies find a living out of being seat fillers at strangers' funerals. Donna objects to Cleveland's new side job because of how creepy it is for him to pretend to have known these strangers who died, so Cleveland wises up and quits. But his temporary stint as a funeral seat filler in "Grave Danger" has resulted in some gorgeous-looking vistas of Cleveland and his friends chillaxing at the cemetary, and the craft and care that's been put into the shots of the cemetary remind me that while this recently cancelled cartoon may not be the funniest on Fox's "Animation Domination" lineup, it can really look like a million bucks from time to time. I'm not so fond of the use of Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" during the funeral montage though. Like all those covers of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," the depressed white person's "Macarena," that shit was charming the first 998 times I heard it on series TV.

Meanwhile, Rallo spends a weekend at his biological dad Robert's apartment in East Stoolbend, and he encounters a pack of street kids who are tougher than even Rallo himself. He's so intimidated by them that he agrees to "jack show-and-tell" at his kindergarten class for them, especially after they blackmail him with photos of him appearing to bully a fat kid at the basketball court (of course, Rallo was actually telling the kid to fall on his ass so that he'd appear to be tougher in front of the street kids). Rallo's story is nothing special, aside from a funny running joke involving eBay (see below). But the denouement--in which Rallo scolds the other kindergarteners for their cruel and classist words towards the East Stoolbend kids who tried to steal their show-and-tell items, and then after the East Stoolbenders leave the classroom, he calls the police on their asses--is a terrific subversion of the badly aging "More You Know" endings that were a fixture of so many of the black sitcoms that influenced The Cleveland Show.

Stray observations:
* There's a good score music gag when Rallo cowers from hearing helicopter blades whirring, gunshots, a violin playing slashing chords, wolf howls, spooky moans and the cackling of a witch. To keep from getting scared, he switches on the TV and hears an anchorman (Kevin Michael Richardson) report that "according to police, the crazy wolf-ghost-witch violinist is believed to be armed and flying a helicopter, hunting for little boys who look like you."

* "Thanks again, Padre, for forgiving me for pushing the fat kid and for keeping your hands to yourself."

* "That's a nice suit, Rallo." "Thanks. I got it on eBay. Peter Dinklage wore it to the Golden Globes."

* Donna to Cleveland: "Is that a new suit?" "Mm-hmm. Got it on eBay. Tilda Swinton wore it to the Golden Globes."

* T-Pain voices one of the kindergarteners on the show? That's bananas. Then again, I shouldn't be surprised because of this cartoon's history of strange and random casting choices--like enlisting David Lynch to voice a bartender.