Monday, June 30, 2014

"Bobby, you would be unbelievable if you would read more": Excerpts from the five best recent articles involving film and TV score music

The 2009 film Fish Tank is essentially Andrea Arnold's love letter to Bobby Womack's rendition of 'California Dreamin'.'
The following recent articles related to film and TV music are must-reads.

"Bobby Womack is a thread that runs through soul music" by Travis Atria (first published in 2011; reposted on June 27, 2014 due to Womack's death)

Wax Poetics has posted from its print edition (in what I assume is its first appearance online) a lengthy 2011 Q&A with the late R&B legend, who sang, in my opinion, both the best version of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" ever and the best version of "California Dreamin'" ever. A protégé of Sam Cooke, Womack made an artistic comeback in 2012 with what ended up being his final album, the Damon Albarn-produced Bravest Man in the Universe. One of Womack's signature tunes was his theme from 1972's Across 110th Street. Quentin Tarantino made the single version of "Across 110th Street" (which sounds significantly different from the version that's featured in the 1972 film) popular again in 1998 when he opened and closed his 1997 Elmore Leonard adaptation Jackie Brown with the single version of Womack's theme tune.

"So when I wrote, 'I was the third brother of five, doin' what I had to do to survive,' that was true. 'Across 110th Street'—I had been there. I said, 'Even small cities got a ghetto. That's where the Black people live.' That song came out like that, so easy. I never really thought about if it was going to be a hit. I learned from that—again, you can't never underestimate the audience. Sam used to always tell me that. He would tell me, 'Bobby, you would be unbelievable if you would read more.' My feeling was, 'Ain't nobody going to ask me who invented the cotton gin. Them people don't want to hear that shit. They want to hear what's happening right today.' He said, 'Yeah, but Bobby, the only way you come up with the standards is to read.' Always, as soon as he'd get into town, he'd send his brother to the library and get him all these books. I would say, 'How you gon' read all them books that quick?' We'd be going to the next gig, but he'd still have the books with him."


Coming soon: Star Trek Ice Capades, with Commander Riker executing triple Axels
"Why movie scores sound better live" by Ivan Radford (June 27, 2014)

Den of Geek examines the growing popularity of live orchestral performances of score music at film screenings, from Mica Levi's live performance of her Under the Skin score at a London concert hall screening of the Scarlett Johansson sci-fier a few weeks ago to Michael Giacchino's Star Trek: Live in Concert tour. I hope the Den of Geek writers are pronouncing Giacchino's last name as "juh-kee-no" in conversation, and not as the erroneous and eye-rollingly incorrect "gee-uh-chee-no," which makes him sound like a new flavor at Starbucks.

"Star Trek sent chills through the Royal Albert Hall audience when Giacchino's French Horn melody took flight, but the live orchestra revealed Giacchino's striking knack for instrumentation. Ever wondered what the hell an Erhu, used on Spock's theme, is? There was the answer, along with how to play it. Tried to pin down why Michael's rendition of Alexander Courage's classic theme sounded so faithful to the original? It partly stems from the bongos, which reprised their offbeat role over the end credits - a touch easily noticed on stage that could easily get lost in a cinema's speakers. (After that and Mission Impossible's In Russia, Phone Dials You, Giacchino is officially King of the Bongo.)"


Louis C.K.'s SweetPosse
SweetPro
"Capturing the Essence of Louie--and New York--in Music" by Aaron Frank (June 13, 2014)

In my post about Louie's original score music (which Louie music coordinator Matt Kilmer and his collective SweetPro gladly linked to on Facebook and retweeted; thanks, SweetPro!), I said "SweetPro layers over many of its Louie score cues some sort of audio filter"--without knowing exactly how SweetPro does it. After four seasons of Louie fans like myself wondering (and not really being told) how the score cues are made to sound like archival recordings unearthed from a Library of Congress vault, a Co.Create profile of Kilmer finally uncovers the mystery of how Kilmer and SweetPro get their cues to sound as old as... [insert any one of Jillian Bell's gazillion 22 Jump Street one-liners about Jonah Hill looking too old to be in college here].

"At C.K.'s request, a large portion of the music on Louie is muffled and distorted to sound like an old mono recording. Kilmer's engineer Adam Tilzer uses a Neve mixing console, but the audio goes straight to ProTools, and several filters are applied to rinse the recording of any modern digital quality... 'We put it through a SansAmp, which is basically a distortion pedal. Then we put it through an EQ and make it mono.'"

Vicki Vale never appeared on Batman: The Animated Series because her ear-piercing screaming would have been too loud for Fox viewers to be subjected to on Saturday mornings.
(Photo source: DVD Beaver)
"25 Years Ago: Batman Saves Prince's Career" by Matthew Wilkening (June 20, 2014)

A gazillion articles about the 25th anniversary of the release of Tim Burton's Batman littered the Internet last week. The Boombox's Matthew Wilkening chose to focus on Prince's much-maligned tie-in album, a so-so but still-intriguing part of his musicography. Prince submitted 11 original songs to Burton. Only three of them were prominently featured in the film: "Partyman," "Trust" and "Scandalous," a slow jam that composer Danny Elfman dug so much that he incorporated it into his Batman score. Wilkening's favorite Batman song album tracks are "The Future" and "Vicki Waiting," while my favorite has to be the blistering "Electric Chair," which can be heard briefly during the film's Wayne Manor charity gala sequence. That track is filthy, which is why it's in rotation on AFOS, during "AFOS Prime," "Beat Box" and "Hall H."

"A fan of the Caped Crusader since his childhood — legend has it the original 'Batman Theme' is the first song he learned to play — Prince got deep into the comic book's psychology for the lyrics of his album, casting various songs from the point of view of Batman, his alter-ego Bruce Wayne, the Joker and the disputed object of their mutual affections, Vicki Vale. Although creative, this move automatically dated the album, as did the various dialogue samples scattered throughout its songs. Basically, it's very hard to listen to this record today and not hear it as the companion piece to a movie that itself has been rendered quaint and out of fashion by the more recent, grittier Dark Knight trilogy that began with 2005's Batman Begins."


Purple Rain spawned a lot of merch in 1984, which is why it's bizarre that nobody ever thought to mass-produce that awesome electric guitar that ejaculates water.
"Purple Rain still reigns at 30" by Odie Henderson (June 19, 2014)

Prince's 1984 hit film Purple Rain is a work that both stands the test of time (the music, the steez of it all...) and doesn't (the misogyny, the screenplay...), according to RogerEbert.com's Odie Henderson in a humorous and well-written piece where he revisits the 1985 Oscar winner for Best Original Song Score (a song score that can be heard during "AFOS Prime").

"The pieces don't fit, but Prince attempts to sell each and every one of them. His intentions are noble, to the point where one must give him an A for effort. He may not actually be able to kick Linc from The Mod Squad's ass, but damn if he doesn't step (and spin) into the room as if he could. Even the Razzie Awards left Prince's acting alone, opting instead to attack a wonderfully trashy yet dreadful song he wrote called 'Sex Shooter.' (Methinks the Academy left that song off the Oscar.)"


Apollonia, in front of not-Lake Minnetonka.

BONUS TRACK: "Chilling in Fargo" excerpt by Kristen Romanelli (June 17, 2014)

I don't binge-watch TV shows. I marathon them. Like I've said before, I prefer to say "marathoning." It sounds more proactive. "Binge-watching" makes watching TV sound like an eating disorder. Sony Classical recently sent radio station managers like myself the FX Fargo score album to listen to and consider for airplay, so the album got me to finally sit down and watch all of the recently concluded first season of Fargo, which I bing... marathoned all last week and enjoyed. (FX hasn't renewed Fargo yet, but after all the accolades and press the first season has received, they'd be crazy not to.)

The show's score music was composed by Jeff Russo, who, before he started scoring TV projects, was part of the alt-rock band Tonic, whose biggest radio hit was 1997's "If You Could Only See." Russo has channeled the spirit of Carter Burwell's atmospheric score music from the original 1996 Fargo without being overly derivative.

I currently don't subscribe to Film Score Monthly Online, so I'm unable to see FSM managing editor Kristen Romanelli's full, subscribers-only version of her Q&A with Russo, but the substantial excerpt of the Q&A that she posted on her Tumblr gives a good picture of what it was like for Russo to work on this Coen Brothers-approved spinoff of their beloved 1996 movie. The 2014 Fargo was a show I initially had misgivings about (when I first heard it wouldn't involve the Marge Gunderson character, I joked, "So why is it still called Fargo? Just call it Marvel's Agents of F.A.R.G.O."). But then when I learned it would be an anthology show along the lines of Ed Brubaker's terrific Criminal comics--as in self-contained, season-long storylines about crooks and lowlifes that take place in the same universe as the first story and have all the cast members replaced with new ones at the start of each season--I changed my tune and became much more interested in what showrunner Noah Hawley planned to do with the material.

And the anthology format has worked out beautifully for Fargo--the first (and hopefully not the only) season was so surprisingly good that by the end of it, I felt like "Marge who?"--although if the show is renewed, the format will also cost us the ability to see more of Allison Tolman as Deputy Molly Solverson (notice how her last name contains "Solver;" if this were CSI, she'd beat out Captain Brass for the prize of "Character with the Cheesiest On-the-Nose Name"). The previously unknown Tolman is so remarkable and commanding in what has become a breakout role for her that part of me wishes Hawley would break his rule of high character turnover--"It would feel false to me if it was the continuing adventures of Molly and Gus," said Hawley to The Hollywood Reporter--and make Molly, who, fortunately, isn't merely a rehash of Marge, the central figure of Fargo for another season (the third one, perhaps?).

The Emmys have been dead to me for a long time. If neither Fargo star Allison Tolman nor Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany receive some sort of Emmy recognition for their excellent acting on their respective shows, the Emmys will be even deader to me then.
Plus Molly's scenes with her diner owner dad Lou (Keith Carradine) have presented the most intriguing on-screen relationship between a detective and her dad since Kristen Bell's Veronica Mars and Enrico Colantoni's Keith Mars. Lou is a compelling portrait of an ex-cop who's glad to be rid of a job that left him badly injured and constantly subjected him to the worst of what humanity has to offer but whose instincts as a detective and observer of unusual human behavior--traits Molly inherited from her dad--never left him. Those instincts of Lou's are on display in the most nerve-wracking scene in the entire series and perhaps Russo's greatest moment as a TV composer and creator of on-screen suspense: Lou's encounter with psychopathic Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton).

Each main character, including Malvo and Molly, has his or her own instrumental theme on Fargo, as do Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers, the assassin duo played by, respectively, deaf actor Russell Harvard and Adam Goldberg, who, like Russo, worked on Hawley's previous crime show The Unusuals. My favorite character theme during the season is the theme Russo came up with for Wrench and his translator, and it's one of several Fargo score cues I've added to rotation for "AFOS Prime." The Wrench and Numbers theme consists only of percussion--which is a clever way to represent both Wrench's inability to hear and speak aloud and Numbers' anti-social, single-minded nature--and Russo discusses the creation of that primal-sounding drum beat motif in the FSM Q&A.

"When you're in a new series, a lot of times, what they want is to introduce everybody in the first episode. But for us, we waited until episode two to introduce two very important characters to the show. Noah was listening to some music and he was like, 'You know, what if we just did, like, percussion at the beginning.' And I said, 'Okay, let's try it. Let's do that.' And we listened to some different music. He gets his inspiration from I don't know where—it just comes. He listens to music, he watches movies and he has these really great ideas. I was like, 'You know what? What if we do drum kit. Just a rock drum kit but with a swagger.' And that's what I came up with."

Bebop and Rocksteady prepare to go after Lester Nygaard.

"Motherfuck him and John Wayne!": Do the Right Thing turns 25

Goddammit, Blogger/Blogspot. Why you gotta do me like this and totally downgrade the image quality to GeoCities quality on this motherfucker? All the work Xavier Payne did on this illustration has been ruined by your image quality-downgrading shit.
Illustration by Xavier Payne
"We as filmgoers are so accustomed to movies where there's a definitive beginning, definitive middle and decisive end. I think that Do the Right Thing threw a lot of people off and was perhaps part of what made it a sensational movie in 1989--sensational in the sense that perhaps more so than any other movie during that year, it attracted considerable media attention. It attracted considerable attention within the academic community. There was a very interesting and profound buzz about the movie, and I think part of that was because the movie ended on a series of question marks as opposed to definitive conclusions and definitive statements. It left people wondering, 'What was the right thing?' Was Mookie right or justified when he threw the trash can through Sal's pizzeria window and then started the incident that ensued from that point on? What are the right racial politics and black political ideology? Is it Malcolm's version or is it Martin Luther King Jr.'s version? What are the best and most effective ways for blacks to deal with perceived racial injustices and real racial injustices?"--S. Craig Watkins, author of Representing: Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema, discussing Do the Right Thing during an early incarnation of AFOS on KZSC-FM back in 1999

When I first saw as a teen Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, which turns 25 years old today, it was in the form of a heavily censored but still-provocative-for-network-TV version on CBS. Lee, who approved the CBS cut, had all the "motherfuckers" replaced with "mickey-fickey," a euphemism that never really caught on like, say for example, "shut the front door" has. Do the Right Thing's still-amazing (and still-misunderstood) "Fight the Power" theme, which was performed by the groundbreaking mickey-fickeys who make up Public Enemy, along with P.E.'s earlier track, the Yo! MTV Raps staple "Night of the Living Baseheads," helped get me hooked on hip-hop and made me interested in seeing the much-hyped movie that introduced "Fight the Power," even if it was in butchered form on CBS. ("Fight the Power," by the way, can be heard on AFOS, along with several of composer Bill Lee's score cues from the 1989 film.)

I didn't actually become a fan of Do the Right Thing until the second time I saw it, and this time, it was in its entirety and in the form of a copy one of my older brother's university housemates had of MCA/Universal Home Video's VHS release, which wasn't full of all those dubbed-in and distracting "mickey-fickeys" that meshed poorly with the frankness and rhythm of Lee's original dialogue. The then-controversial 1989 film floored me. I had never seen anything like it before.













Lee's open-ended and complex screenplay about both Bed-Stuy racial tensions, which mirrored real-life racially motivated violence in Bensonhurst and Howard Beach, and the moral dilemma over how to handle that kind of animosity, introduced me to a more cerebral and mature kind of cinema, where there are no clear-cut heroes and villains, and like life, not everything has a tidy ending. It's the same kind of cinema that, unfortunately, has become less common on the big screen--thanks to the post-1989 Batman flurry of tentpole franchises and superhero movies marketed to teens and adults who still act like teens--and more common on cable TV these days, whether it's in the form of original movies or original series.

Do the Right Thing helped improve my tastes in film, which tended to lean towards blockbusters like Tim Burton's Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade before I got into Lee's work. The 1989 Lee Joint was my gateway to Lee's other joints, then to GoodFellas and other Martin Scorsese Pictures, and then to Chan Is Missing, Dog Day Afternoon and so on. Movies didn't have to dazzle me with just explosions and tits anymore. I learned to become dazzled by adult ideas and themes and--in the cases of Do the Right Thing and GoodFellas, another superb late '80s/early '90s New York movie that was robbed at the Oscars--brilliant dialogue and clever editing.

Ruby Dee (1922-2014)
Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee in Do the Right Thing
I was introduced to Do the Right Thing at a time when I became aware of the racism around me and started getting into hip-hop because in their verses, rappers were anti-establishment, and they spoke to me about topics I was dealing with at the time--and in some ways, still do. As a teen of color, I identified with the anger and frustrations expressed in Do the Right Thing by both Lee's younger black characters (yep, that's a young Martin Lawrence speaking in a Daffy Duck lisp in the John Savage/gentrification scene) and the members of P.E., who showed how much they adore an old icon of white America like Elvis Presley by snarling, "Motherfuck him and John Wayne!" I dug how Lee helped change African American cinema (as well as indie cinema) and empowered non-white viewers--and would-be filmmakers of any color--with his bold, angry, funny and complex cinematic statement, and it made me want to someday create something for my community, the Filipino American community, that would be equally bold, angry, funny and complex.

Bed-Stuy has named a street after Do the Right Thing to celebrate the film's 25th anniversary. Glad it was that and not 'Soul Plane Ave.'
(Photo source: Miss Info)
A snapshot of this new Bed-Stuy street sign will go great with all the other snapshots of New York I took but were ruined by turbulence from riding over potholes.
(Photo source: Miss Info)
Twenty-five years after its release, Do the Right Thing remains a vital and relevant work (much more so than Batman, summer 1989's most popular film, as well as the film that was my favorite for three years, until I came across a far better TV version of the Bill Finger creation that outshined Burton's version). That vitality is mostly due to Lee's skills with the material. But it's also because prejudice, gentrification, police brutality and racially motivated violence--all issues that Lee covered in Do the Right Thing, but not in an inane, Paul Haggis' Crash kind of way--continue to affect people of color. Yesterday's Bensonhurst and Howard Beach are today's George Zimmerman and Elliot Rodger.



Radio Raheem by Xavier Payne
Illustration by Xavier Payne

Friday, June 27, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Rick and Morty, "Ricksy Business" (from April 18, 2014)

I like Spike Jonze's movie Her, but if there's one thing I hate about the movie, it's Jonze's attempt to get guys to rock Urkel pants on fashion runways and in the streets. Not gonna fucking happen, Spike. Urkel pants are things Republicans would be into wearing.
(Photo source: Collectors Quest)
"'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week" is in reruns all this June. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS. "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week" will return in July with all-new reviews of animated series episodes. From April 18, here's a discussion of Rick and Morty's first-season finale.

After the interdimensional mayhem of "Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind," Rick and Morty chooses to go smaller-scale for its first-season finale, "Ricksy Business," by tackling that old sitcom staple of the kids in the house--in this case, Summer and the overgrown kid that is Grandpa Rick--throwing a wild house party while the parents are gone. But because this is Rick and Morty we're talking about here, both the Smiths' house and everyone inside it wind up in another dimension during the party, after Morty accidentally activates one of Rick's experimental portal devices, and Rick sends Morty out on a dangerous mission on the alien planet to find Kalaxian crystals--not because, as Morty assumes, those crystals could act as fuel to transport everyone back to Earth, but because Rick wants to snort the crystals at the party. Spike the punch bowl with some uproarious dialogue about anti-alien slurs and bukkake--plus a bunch of horny and sometimes cannibalistic alien partiers whom Rick's befriended from his travels, including an alien feline named Squanchy (Tom Kenny), who's got fetishes for both using the word "squanch" as a verb and auto-erotic asphyxiation--and you have a house party episode that blows almost all other house party episodes of past sitcoms out of the water.

Although "Ricksy Business" is marred by the B-story about Jerry and Beth's disastrous romantic getaway at a reenactment of James Cameron's Titanic, which is Rick and Morty's weakest B-story since the Pluto B-story in "Something Ricked This Way Comes," the episode earns points for building a gag out of that '80s and '90s TV cliché of a character who's neither a musician nor an actor somehow finding the time and money off-screen to record with professional studio musicians a novelty single about a dance he's named after himself. Examples include "The Urkel Dance" on Family Matters and small-town lawyer Douglas Wambaugh in a Dracula costume singing on Picket Fences a cover of Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash" called "The Wambaugh Mash." That kind of scene used to annoy the fuck out of me.



Rick and Morty is the first show I've seen that makes fun of that absurd cliché, during Rick's brief--and very "Urkel Dance"-esque--musical number, "The Rick Dance," in "Ricksy Business." Jaleel White was undeniably a great slapstick actor on Family Matters, but I was never a fan of that show, because I preferred The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, plus I've always been allergic to the sappiness and catchphrase-heavy writing of Miller-Boyett sitcoms (even Bronson Pinchot knew that the writing on Perfect Strangers was weak, so, as he said in his A.V. Club "Random Roles" interview, he poured all his energy into Balki's slapstick to make the show more bearable for himself). As Family Matters became more popular, it got weirder (but the joke writing never got any funnier). What was originally a bland Perfect Strangers spinoff about the elevator operator at Balki and Larry's newspaper and her working-class family was gradually re-conceived by Miller-Boyett as a sci-fi sitcom about the family's wacky scientific genius neighbor: Family Matters basically morphed into a proto-Rick and Morty. So Family Matters wound up with storylines where Urkel built sentient robots and time machines and became capable of recording pop-rap joints that would somehow spawn huge dance crazes in Chicago. I love Rick and Morty's twisted take on "The Urkel Dance" and similar scenes from other shows: here, Rick bursts into an elaborate dance number because he's methed-up, and the explanation for the source music during his number is because it's created by an alien friend who's a boombox robot.



"Ricksy Business" marks the first time that a character sees Rick's functional alcoholism--and now, occasional enjoyment of hard drugs--for what they are: attempts to dull the pain of some sort of past trauma from either his interdimensional adventures, his split from Beth's unseen mom or both. The character who addresses this is, oddly, neither of the Smiths. Instead, it's Rick's friend Birdperson (Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon, in another one of his vocal cameos on the show), an alien stud at the party and a Hawk (from the '80s Buck Rogers) lookalike, who points out to Morty that in his people's native tongue, Rick's favorite catchphrase, "Wubba lubba dub dub"--which Rick's been trying to turn into another "Did I do thaaaat?"--actually means "I am in great pain. Please help me."

This is where Rick, Morty and Summer's house party storyline gets really interesting, and it's what keeps "Ricksy Business" from being a disposable and kind of empty way to close out season 1. The season has been building towards Morty's dissatisfaction with both his grandpa's behavior and his treatment of him as a human shield, ever since that final scene in "Rick Potion #9," where Morty's shock and remorse over burying his own body was juxtaposed with Rick's boozy jadedness and affectless demeanor. Birdperson takes notice of Morty's growing discontent, especially after Rick's antics at the party, and basically tells Morty, "Maybe you should quit having adventures with Rick. The decision's all up to you."

I'm predicting this shit now: Birdperson spinoff to debut on Adult Swim in 2016. Pass it on.
(Photo source: Brent Noll)
But Morty changes his mind about further distancing himself from his grandpa when he's reminded why he used to like Rick in the first place. Rick activates another one of his ingenious inventions, a device that can stop time, so that he and his grandkids can have more time to clean up and repair the house before a returning Jerry and Beth step inside, and the previously contentious trio ends up bonding over paint fights, covering Jerry and Beth's heads in pumpkins, pantsing the frozen townspeople, stealing a flatscreen from an electronics store and bashing Titanic while watching it on the stolen flatscreen. Morty notices that Rick isn't saying "Wubba lubba dub dub" anymore, and he explains that it's because he has a new catchphrase--"I love my grandkids"--but before things can get further sappy, Rick reverts to his usual jerky self, shrugs off "I love my grandkids" as bullshit and kills the huggy mood by bumping one of the tunes from the party playlist, Splack Pack's 1993 Miami bass hit "Shake That Ass Bitch." This is the happiest we've ever seen Rick, Morty and Summer together, and I like how their "shit yeah, Joffrey is dead!"-level happiness arises from Bart-and-Milhouse-style pranks on the town, criminal acts and Miami bass.


It's too bad the B-story isn't as solid, funny or even deep as Rick, Morty and Summer's A-story because I prefer my Rick and Morty subplots to not remind me of Too Close for Comfort's infamous "hey, Monroe got raped, ah-hyuck!" episode. We learn that one of pathetic Jerry's favorite movies is Titanic--no surprise there--so he totally fangirls over the reenactment of scenes from the movie (unlikely male fandom surrounding a franchise that's marketed to females was better handled this week in the Bob's Burgers episode about bronies). Beth thinks the whole vacation is stupid and prefers to spend all her weekend time reading in their room, so she gets a dowdy Mexican maid, who's far more enthusiastic about reenacting Titanic, to be Jerry's companion while she avoids the weekend's activities. But the maid turns out to be crazy and rapey when she forces Jerry at gunpoint to paint her nude and reenact the film's backseat sex scene, and Beth rescues him in the nick of time, right when the naked maid forces him to drop his pants.

When Morty was nearly raped in "Meeseeks and Destroy," there was some weight to the ordeal, and it advanced both Morty and Rick's characters and planted the seed for Morty's discontent. But when Jerry's nearly raped in "Ricksy Business," the situation doesn't add anything substantial to Jerry and Beth's characters (other than containing the season's second moment with Jerry where he implies that he was molested as a kid). It's as empty and pointless as, well, the Monroe rape episode. However, the B-story isn't completely devoid of funny moments. Actual guided tours of the locations from chick flicks like Somewhere in Time and Twilight are worthy of a sendup, and exaggerating those vacations to the point where even a blockbuster like Titanic receives the couples' getaway treatment is a great way to poke fun at those vacations. The best part of the B-story is when the iceberg collision is beset by technical difficulties and interrupted by dining schedule PA announcements ("Iceberg, right ahead! The buffet is now closed. Iceberg, right ahead! The buffet is now closed.").

Even when a Rick and Morty subplot doesn't quite fire on all cylinders, the show somehow remains stronger than most other sitcoms, animated or live-action. This was a superb first season for Rick and Morty, a Doctor Who parody in Back to the Future clothing that, thanks to Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon and their crew, evolved into something greater, a richly written and darkly funny show about sociopathic behavior, in whatever dimension Morty finds himself.

The Traflorkians look like those body condoms from The Naked Gun.
Other memorable quotes:
* Summer: "What do you mean you're having a party? Are some Glip Glops from the Third Dimension going to come over and play cards or something?" Rick: "'Glip Glop'? You're lucky a Traflorkian doesn't hear you say that." Summer: "Is that like their N-word?" Rick: "It's like the N-word and the C-word had a baby and it was raised by all the bad words for Jews."

* "I love watching bukkake. I mean, like, I don't know if I personally would ever do it..." Former Degrassi star Cassie Steele was listed in the episode's guest voice cast. That's definitely her as Tammy, further tarnishing her Degrassi persona with her Rick and Morty character's enjoyment of bukkake.

* "Brad is here! Quick, make my hair look drunk."

* "Yo! Whattup, my Glip Glops?!"

* "Tammy, I should let you know I just got out of a highly intense soul bond with my previous spirit mate."

* "Prepare to be emancipated from your own inferior genes!" The familiar pipes of former Futurama voice actor Maurice LaMarche turned Abradolph Lincoler, a failed creation of Rick's who has the DNA of both Lincoln and Hitler, into a character I'd like to see reappear, though I doubt he'll ever find a way to escape from the giant testicle monsters while they circle-jerk each other with the live human flesh of Lincoler and a few other unlucky partiers.

* "That's the end of season 1! That's the end, motherfucker! 'I don't give a fuck' is my new catchphrase! Fuck you! That's season 1! Boom! Season 1 up in your face, motherfucker!"

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tip-Top Quotables: Special World Cup 2014 Edition

Aryan Mr. T

My favorite monthly section in old Source magazine issues was "Hip-Hop Quotables," in which the Source editors printed out their favorite new rap verse of the month, from the first bar to the last. "Tip-Top Quotables," which I've named after that Source section, is a collection of my favorite quotes of the week from anywhere, whether it's a recent TV show or a new rap verse. "TTQ" won't appear on this blog every week. It'll appear whenever the fuck I feel like it.

* "Now I pity the fool who is going to tackle with Aryan Mr. T. Now what's happening here? Now they're trying to give him some milk, and I don't think that's going to work because he knows it's going to be laced with something."--soccer-culturally illiterate Peter Serafinowicz on mohawked Portuguese player Raul Meireles, during his hilarious and awesomely deadpan live commentary with Reggie Watts on the June 22 U.S. vs. Portugal match

* "Still not sure which one's Portugal and which one's U.S.A."--Serafinowicz

'Well, FIFA says they have to be maimed in some way, and that could mean a hand chopped off, a foot chopped off, which, of course, for a football player, is disastrous.'

* "If you're thinking the audience look a little strange, it's because they're all CG. It's a computer-generated audience today because of a mix-up with the tickets. Nobody was invited."--Serafinowicz

* "And if you're just joining us, the score is Oosa zero minus one Por. 32:10. 32:16. Goodness me! Oh no, wait, that's, that's the clock. That's how much time we have left."--Serafinowicz

* "Now this game's sponsored by Boodveiser, and that's possibly the reason for a lot of this sluggish play because they've all had about four or five pints before the match started."--Serafinowicz

In between recording singles with No I.D. and filming seasons of Hell on Wheels, Common has found time to goalkeep.

* "And it's very strange for a rapper such as Common to be doing so much goalie work, but, um, you know, he's just a rapper, so let's give him a little bit of a break."--Watts on U.S. goalie Tim Howard

* "Now if this result holds, the U.S.A. stay in the game, and Portugal will all be executed, according to the rules of the Brazilian government."--Serafinowicz

Here we see Reggie Watts beatboxing the entire commentary for the World Cup.

* "We also want to remind you to pick up the new copy of Common's new album. It should be out in stores next week."--Watts signing off

* "Everyone is cheering their countries in their favorite sport. The rest of the world calls it football. In America, we call it... a fucking waste of time."--Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (Robert Smigel), Conan

* "If you like watching porn in reverse, this sport is for you."--Triumph



Gavin O'Connor
(Photo source: Gavin O'Connor the actor, not the filmmaker of the same name who directed Miracle, Warrior and the Americans pilot)





Desus
(Photo source: Desus)
Stephen Colbert
(Photo source: Stephen Colbert)
XGroverX
(Photo source: XGroverX)

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Rick and Morty, "Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind" (from April 11, 2014)

This episode featuring various Ricks and Mortys makes that '90s Nike ad with the dozens of Bo Jacksons look like the flying pie pans in Plan 9 from Outer Space.

"'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week" is in reruns all this June. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS. "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week" will return later this summer with all-new reviews of animated series episodes. From April 11, here's a discussion of one of my favorite Rick and Morty episodes, which introduced both the Council of Ricks and a mostly unseen future nemesis.

The only hackneyed thing about "Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind," Rick and Morty's latest brilliantly plotted round of interdimensional mayhem, has to be that episode title. The episode titling system over on Community, Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon's other current show, is far more clever than Rick and Morty's titling system of late, with titles in the style of esoteric-sounding community college course names ("Cooperative Calligraphy," "Geothermal Escapism"). (Perhaps the Rick puns in each episode title--which have varied from corny to decent, like "Something Ricked This Way Comes," my favorite of the punny titles--are intentionally awful. If it's true that these titles are Harmon and Justin Roiland's joke on the lameness of most of the puns in animated show episode titles, then "Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind" tops them all in terms of intentional awfulness.)

Everything else about "Close Rick-Counters," a whodunit story in which Rick is framed by an unknown foe for murdering Ricks in other dimensions, is far from hackneyed, as well as an example of how much Rick and Morty has grown over the course of its first season from a fun Doctor Who parody to something richer and darker. If you take away the sci-fi trappings, the parallel universes gimmick and the gags about greasy grandma worlds or planets inhabited by chairs, Rick and Morty is fundamentally an often downbeat family comedy about the difficulties of living with a genius who does many amazing things (and has been responsible for showing his family the wonders they've seen, to borrow the opening narration of Farscape, a favorite show of Roiland's that must have influenced the dysfunctional relationships within the Smith household) but is also such a cold and unfeeling asshole. In "Close Rick-Counters," which was penned by Ryan Ridley (who also wrote the series turning point "Meeseeks and Destroy"), we see how the lack of compassion of the Ricks of the universe--or rather, various universes--pushes both Morty and Jerry close to the breaking point and has sent one of Morty's parallel counterparts way past that point. Enter the eyepatch-clad Evil Morty, the show's first formidable villain.

What exactly did the Rick in Evil Morty's universe do that caused Evil Morty, who had grown tired of being unappreciated, to go insane, murder him, take control of his brain (resulting in the minion/red herring that is Evil Rick) and then murder 26 other Ricks? What were the jerky things that Rick said to Evil Morty that made him believe that the Ricks in all the universes don't care about the Mortys? Other than the cold open, Evil Morty gets only two scenes in "Close Rick-Counters." One scene is mostly wordless, way before we know who Evil Morty really is, while the other is the final wordless scene before the end credits, and it's such an awesome reveal of both his treachery and his knack for keeping that treachery well-hidden, nicely soundtracked by Blonde Redhead's 2000 tune "For the Damaged Coda." I'm dying to see what else Evil Morty has up his sleeve, and I can't wait to see how our learning disability-afflicted Morty--or rather, Earth Morty C-137--will react when he finds out that there's a Morty who broke the mold and is as much of a genius as the Ricks.


We, of course, know that Evil Morty, for all his genius, is wrong about Rick not caring about Morty, as we see in the great little moment where C-137 Rick tears up while watching his memories of himself with Morty being projected by Evil Rick before the minion attempts to murder him. Why does Rick hide his compassion for his grandson from him?

"Maybe he wants to keep people at arms [sic] length, because it IS so normal for people to die around him," theorizes the Rick and Morty fan who runs a Tumblr called Morty and Rick. "It makes it easier, and easier to deal with the dizzying concept of there being yous in other dimensions that may be better than you, happier than you, etc."

Hey, broh, check out on the wall that sexy Maxim pin-up of a portal gun.
(Photo source: Morty and Rick)

There's one more episode left in Rick and Morty's first season. I hope the question of why Rick prefers to make himself look tough in front of Morty isn't answered for a while. Also, as Harmon said about that kind of question when he was interviewed by Alan Sepinwall about Rick and Morty, "if Rick does or says something that indicates that he doesn't care about you as a human being, is he expressing a flaw in his brain or is he more evolved than us? Or is it both?" Having Rick immediately confide to Morty about how he truly feels would go against how the show has painted Rick as a complicated human being rather than a typical '70s and '80s sitcom character who nobly speechifies about feelings and social issues and makes my eyes roll. At the same time though, I don't want to see Rick, seven or eight years from now, becoming as repetitive and tiresome an asshole genius as Gregory House became about seven seasons into House. I want to see him change a little, just like how the similarly abrasive Jeff Winger did over the course of Community's run.

On the other side of the compassion spectrum stands Earth Rick J19-Zeta-7, a.k.a. "Doofus Rick." He pales in comparison to the other Ricks who comprise the Council of Ricks, the transdimensional government that presides over all matters pertaining to the Ricks (it's also a club the bureaucracy-hating C-137 Rick refuses to join), and he's continually teased by them for hailing from the universe where people eat their own shit. But like Evil Morty, Doofus Rick is an outlier. Unlike the other Ricks, Doofus Rick's unafraid to show compassion. When he tags along with the various Ricks, who stop by the Smiths' house to investigate C-137 Rick's whereabouts, his kindness to Jerry wins over the friendless and currently unemployed advertising man, who's constantly insecure about being surrounded by a heart surgeon wife and scientist father-in-law who are smarter than him and keep giving him a hard time about his ordinariness.

Eating shit and dying laughing

Doofus Rick doesn't ridicule Jerry for his love of collecting Star Wars coins like Beth and presumably C-137 Rick do. He says to Jerry, "You bought them because you like them. They have value to you. That's what matters," although I like how a little bit of the other Ricks' bluntness remains when he precedes that sentence with "You know, Jerry, I'm not gonna tell you that these will increase in value or even hold their current value." This B-story in which Jerry gets the nice father-in-law he always wanted--but in the form of a Rick from another dimension that has customs I kind of don't want to know more about, because of the whole shit-eating thing, which sounds like something Shailene Woodley would be into--is both poignant and amusing. The funniest part of the B-story is a gag that can easily be overlooked during first viewing: Doofus Rick's little lesson to Jerry on how to make ovenless brownies out of titanium nitrate and chlorified tartrate. Compared to regular people, Doofus Rick isn't really much of a doofus because of his scientific know-how. So because scientific things that, on paper, look simple to a Rick, whether he's C-137 Rick or Doofus Rick, are gibberish to a regular person like Jerry, he's unable to notice that Doofus Rick's tasty brownies are actually feces.

Now that we've gotten a tiny glimpse of Evil Morty, I wonder if Evil Jerry will be as pathetic as the other Jerrys we've seen so far or if he'll be as much of an evil mastermind as Evil Morty. Or is it both?

Memorable quotes:
* "Will you at least unfreeze my daughter's idiot?"

* "W-w-wherever you find people with heads up their asses, someone wants a piece of your grandpa, and a lot of versions of me on different timelines had the same problem, so a few thousand versions of me had the INGENIOUS IDEA OF BANDING TOGETHER! Like a herd of cattle or a school of fish or those people who answer questions on Yahoo! Answers."

* "Now if you'll excuse me, I've got pancakes back home with syrup on top of them. They're about to hit that critical point of syrup absorption that turns the cakes into a gross paste, and I hate to get all Andy Rooney about it, but I think we all like fluffy discs of cake with syrup on top, and I think we also like to be accused of crimes when there's evidence! So as they say in Canada, peace oot!"

* "Earth Rick C-137, the Council of Ricks sentences you to the Machine of Unspeakable Doom, which swaps your conscious and unconscious minds, rendering your fantasies pointless while everything you've known becomes impossible to grasp. Also, every 10 seconds, it stabs your balls."

* C-137 Rick: "The slow clap? Really? Kind of played out, dude." Evil Rick: "Not in this dimension, it isn't. In fact, I invented it. Nobody else has ever even done it here before." C-137 Rick: "Well, la-di-da." Evil Rick: "Hey, that's mine!"

* Evil Rick, gesturing at the array of monitors showing disturbing images of naked Mortys being tortured: "Ah, isn't it beautiful?" C-137 Rick: "Yeah, yeah. Looks like payday at Neverland Ranch in here. Zing!"

* Evil Rick: "Unh-unh-unh, Rick, quiet. You're missing my symphony." C-137 Rick: "Hey, I'll take it over Mumford & Sons. Zip!"

* C-137 Rick, referring to a minion of Evil Rick's who comes from a planet of crab creatures and appears to be the only one chuckling from his quips: "This guy is on it!" Evil Rick: "He's not laughing at your dumb jokes, Rick. That's just a random noise it makes every 10 seconds."

* One of the imprisoned Mortys: "I'm sick of being a human shield. I-I-I w... I want to be a gardener!" Another Morty, who comes from a dimension where Rick and Morty have antennae on their heads: "I want to write really crazy intense action novels!"

* Evil Rick: "You're crying? Over a Morty?" C-137 Rick: "No, I'm just allergic to dipshits."

A fan-made Star Trek: The Motion Picture trailer from 2013 does a better job of selling Robert Wise's mixed bag of a film than the original 1979 trailers did

Yo Spock, you ought to be aiming your phaser at that Killer Klown from Outer Space.
(Photo source: My Star Trek Scrapbook)
Mission Log is an excellent Star Trek podcast I've previously written about here and more recently here. Hosts Ken Ray and John Champion have undertaken an ambitious mission: to analyze every single episode of Star Trek and its TV and movie spinoffs, from 1965 to 2005 (I'm not sure if they'll reach 2009 and 2013, but I already know bits and pieces of what Ray thinks of 2013, and I assume a lot of it is going to be him saying, "Orciiiiiiii!").

The two Star Trek fans want to find out which older Trek episodes stand the test of time, especially in the age of both the antihero on cable and more sophisticated sci-fi shows like former Deep Space Nine writer Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica, former DS9 writer Ira Steven Behr's much-missed creation Alphas and the current BBC America hit Orphan Black. Anyone who either currently writes for TV or is, like me, considering transitioning to that kind of career ought to listen to Mission Log. The audience gets to learn a lot from Ray and Champion about the things episodic TV from any era does effectively and the things episodic TV--especially TV in the '60s, long before the game-changing, novelistic Hill Street Blues or Game of Thrones--didn't do so effectively. For instance, if the '60s Trek were made for TV today, Edith Keeler's death at the end of "The City on the Edge of Forever" would have deeply affected Kirk's character for the rest of the series, and exploring his grief and guilt over Edith's death would have been a much better move than how the '60s Trek handled her death afterward, and that was to oddly brush Edith aside and completely forget about her as if she were yet another dead Cartwright bride.

Ray and Champion have reached the '80s Trek feature films by this point, and after they did their analysis of Robert Wise's Star Trek: The Motion Picture last week (Ray doesn't think the 1979 film stands the test of time, while Champion thinks it still does), a Mission Log listener from Norcross, Georgia named Alex Bales posted on the podcast's Facebook wall a fan-made TMP trailer he produced. Unless it's made by the people behind the Screen Junkies channel's Honest Trailers series or Ivan Guerrero, I don't care for fan-made movie trailers, but Bales' trailer is a rare fan-made trailer I actually like--and even more so than the 1979 film itself.



TMP is a mixed bag of a film. It's a rehash of concepts from both the 1967 Trek episode "The Changeling" and 2001: A Space Odyssey that were better executed in those '60s productions. TMP ripped off 2001's "evolution into a superior life form" finale (the film even recruited 2001 visual FX genius Douglas Trumbull, who was also involved with Close Encounters, a smash hit that, along with the success of Star Wars, spurred Paramount to rush a Trek feature film into production). I get that Wise and Gene Roddenberry wanted to make the last great old-fashioned space epic (TMP was one of the last Hollywood epics that opened with an overture before flashing the studio logo), and while I kind of appreciate how TMP chose to emulate the contemplative and moody 2001 instead of the then-frequently duplicated Star Wars, plopping crowd-pleasing heroes like Kirk and Spock and quippy secondary characters like McCoy and Scotty into the clinical tone of 2001 is like asking Kendrick Lamar to rhyme over polka music. It's not going to work.

We want to see Kirk, Spock and McCoy wittily sniping at each other and debating over serious ethical dilemmas or fighting their way out of trouble like they frequently did on the '60s show (and would later frequently do in Nicholas Meyer's superior Trek films). We don't want to see them gawking silently for 15 minutes at pothead-friendly laser light show FX. Even Wise's previous '70s sci-fi procedural, the equally clinically toned but much superior Andromeda Strain, had more humor and personality than this film, McCoy snarking about Spock being "warm and sociable as ever" aside.

Enterprise engineer Ron Burgundy clearly isn't enjoying the shit out of this meeting. Scottish Daily Dot writer Gavia Baker-Whitelaw runs Hello, Tailor!, a blog that analyzes costume design in geek-friendly movies ranging from TMP to the Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbusters, and in a biting Hello, Tailor! critique of TMP costume designer Robert Fletcher's ugly Starfleet uniform redesigns that's a must-read, she summed up TMP best. She called it "a three-hour screensaver interspersed with shots of William Shatner emoting into the middle distance."

Watching Bales' well-edited fan-made trailer made me notice that Paramount and whatever trailer house it hired in 1979 had no idea how to work around the weak material of this three-hour screensaver and market the film effectively, as evidenced in its Orson Welles-narrated teaser trailer and final trailer. Sure, the film wasn't finished and Jerry Goldsmith's incredible score--the strongest element of TMP--hadn't been recorded yet when the trailer house worked on the teaser, so they didn't have much footage to choose from. But aside from that still-amazing-looking model of the refitted Enterprise in drydock, they chose the least interesting footage--and the least enticing score music, some atonal, THX Deep Note-style synth piece.



Good God, Lemon, the Irwin Allen disaster flick music and the synth church organ cue in the final trailer are even worse than the THX Flat Note. And the announcer who's not Charles Foster Kane is the worst announcer in an illustrious history of Trek trailer and promo announcers that's included Welles, Hal Douglas, Christopher Plummer, Ernie "The Loooove Boat" Anderson, Don LaFontaine and Phil Terrence. The announcer in the final trailer has all the gravitas of Derek from Teenagers from Outer Space. I think maybe it is actually Derek from Teenagers from Outer Space.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Costume drama comes to "The Whitest Block Ever" and "AFOS Prime" in the corseted form of selections from Rachel Portman's Belle score

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sarah Gadon sit patiently between takes at the shoot of Falco's 'Rock Me Amadeus' video.
I haven't seen Belle yet, but I intend to do so either soon or via Netflix when it hits Blu-ray because it received mostly positive reviews. Jane Austen-type material usually makes my eyes glaze over. But my lack of interest in Austen-type costume dramas suddenly disappears when the star of the film is beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw (her first name is, by the way, short for "Gugulethu," which means "our pride" in Zulu), who was the main reason why the failed spy show Undercovers was briefly worth watching, and when the subject matter--the abolitionist movement--is told from a black woman's perspective for a change and is written and directed by black filmmakers.

Belle also happens to be the type of film I like to spotlight during "The Whitest Block Ever" on AFOS: a quality work (or in the cases of Justin Lin's Fast and the Furious sequels or Rusty Cundieff's Tales from the Hood, an enjoyable B-movie) made by a director of color. In Belle's case, the director of color is female: Amma Asante, a former child actor from British TV who made the transition to filmmaking. Belle is Asante's second feature film, and it's the story of a real-life figure, 18th-century British aristocrat Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a British admiral and an African slave.

Amma Asante was a child actor who appeared on the British kids' show Grange Hill. I have no idea what Grange Hill is outside of a couple of references to it during Spaced. I bet Grange Hill is like their Ghost Writer, but set at a fish and chip shop.
Amma Asante
"Last year saw a flurry of high-profile films with (male) black protagonists (12 Years a Slave, Mandela, Fruitvale Station, The Butler and 42), and the wonderful thing about Asante's carefully constructed film is that it's not a story grounded in black suffering," wrote film critic Inkoo Kang.

When Super Fuzz saw this red piano, he lost his super powers.
Rachel Portman
I've listened to Rachel Portman's Belle score before seeing the film. It's Portman at her Sirens/Cider House Rules-ish best, so I'm adding selections from her Belle score to rotation for "The Whitest Block Ever," "AFOS Prime" and "New Cue Revue." I occasionally like to check in on "The Whitest Block Ever" or "AFOS Prime" and hear what the Live365 server is shuffling during those blocks. It'll be a trip to suddenly hear what's basically PBS Masterpiece in the middle of all those block-rocking action flick cues and swaggering, contemporary theme tunes during "The Whitest Block Ever."


Belle is Asante's attempt to prove that filmmakers of color can pull off the corset dramas too. As the BAFTA Award-winning Austen fan told Kang, "The idea of restricting us--'OK, you guys are great at urban movies. You guys are great at comedies'--I wanted to show how shallow that view is."





Friday, June 13, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Dragons: Riders of Berk, "How to Pick Your Dragon" (from October 10, 2012)

'Sit, Ubu, sit. Good dog.'
(Photo source: Berk's Grapevine)
"'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week" is in reruns all this June. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS. "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week" will return later this summer with all-new reviews of animated series episodes.

I'm a fan of animated comedy shows made for adults like Rick and Morty, The Venture Bros. and most of the first three seasons of The Boondocks. They're examples of shows that are taking animation back for us adults (American animation started out as being originally for grown-ups; an example of its adult-oriented roots was the Fleischer Brothers' Betty Boop franchise, which began as a risqué series of shorts and then thanks to the Hays Code, turned into a family-friendly and bland-as-shit one). I hate using the word "cartoon" to describe Rick and Morty and The Venture Bros., so I don't do so anymore. "Cartoon" connotes childishness, and the writing on Rick and Morty and The Venture Bros. is far from childish. I'm not so much a fan of animated shows for kids, so I spent about a year of writing reviews of kids' animation as a writing exercise to see if my patience would wear thin. It eventually did wear thin, but I did discover a few decent kids' shows along the way, like Dragons, the TV version of DreamWorks Animation's best feature film to date, the original How to Train Your Dragon.

Because How to Train Your Dragon 2 opens this week, the "Show of the Week" is the most celebrated episode of Dragons, which will move from Cartoon Network to Netflix for its third season in 2015. The episode, which I wrote about in 2012, went on to win two Annie Awards, one of which was for score music composed by John Paesano, who took over for How to Train Your Dragon composer John Powell.

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?).

"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."

Tip-Top Quotables: "It's like she's walking on a carpet of mice," plus a few other great lines this week

With that new haircut, she looks like a stunt double for Justin Bieber in 2009.
My favorite monthly section in old Source magazine issues was "Hip-Hop Quotables," in which the Source editors printed out their favorite new rap verse of the month, from the first bar to the last. "Tip-Top Quotables," which I've named after that Source section, is a collection of my favorite quotes of the week from anywhere, whether it's a recent TV show or a new rap verse. "TTQ" won't appear on this blog every week. It'll appear whenever the fuck I feel like it.

So this week, I wrote my first piece for Splitsider, "The 'Gas Leak Year' of The Boondocks," about why I, a Boondocks fan, have been disappointed with most of the show's new episodes. Complex podcaster Desus, who's big on Black Twitter and writes frequently hilarious tweets, retweeted the link to my Splitsider article, so thanks to Black Twitter, my piece received more RTs and faves than I expected. If there's any half of Twitter you'd be glad to have on your side, it would definitely be Black Twitter, and not having Black Twitter on your side is something Stacey Dash would know all too well.

If I didn't write the Boondocks critique and someone else wrote it instead, I would have included an excerpt from it below. But because I wrote it, I won't quote from it in "TTQ" because doing so would be masturbatory and self-congratulatory, like favoriting your own tweet. Sorry, Harry Allen, you'll always be a hip-hop journalism hero of mine, but favoriting your own tweet is the epitome of being way too up your own ass. I hope the favoriting of his own tweet was an accident (maybe he was trying to favorite the retweeting DJ QBert did of his tweet, and instead, it ended up looking like he was favoriting himself). He's middle-aged. Folks on Twitter who are middle-aged always make a bunch of blunders over there, like hyphenating a hashtag or doing the social media equivalent of wearing squeaky Selina Mayer shoes. Speaking of which, those very shoes are the subject of a couple of this week's best quotes.

* "It just destroyed me. I mean, I was bulimic the whole first year, and I didn't even lose any weight from it."--Chief of Staff Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) on his first year as the last president's Chief of Staff, Veep, "New Hampshire"

* "It's like she's walking on a carpet of mice."--Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh) reacting to the squeaky high heels Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) gave to President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) as a gift, Veep, "New Hampshire"

* "Sounds like the theme from Psycho."--Ben on Selina's squeaky shoes, Veep, "New Hampshire"


(Photo source: Mara Wilson)
(Photo source: Frank Conniff)

* "It's like getting divorced in the '50s. People didn't go to divorce court. They just looked at their wife like, 'Baby, I'm gonna go get a pack of cigarettes. I'll be right back.'"--Dave Chappelle on the controversial way he bounced from Chappelle's Show and became "seven years late for work," during his first Letterman interview in 10 years

* "It's not a criticism to say that Jon Brion absolutely bullies his score onto the screen in Paul Thomas Anderson's 2002 romantic drama Punch Drunk Love--in fact, the director rather preferred it that way. Distracting, percussive, and chaotic, there's a parallel storyline happening with Brion's work in the film next to Adam Sandler's rage-ridden character Barry, and viewing the film is a fantastically exhausting attempt to figure each thread out. Together, Anderson and Brion achieved a new expressionistic form with a film score, down to the instruments used on-screen and behind the scenes. The broken harmonium that Barry decides to fix was planted in Anderson's mind before the script was even finished, and as it turned out, Brion recalled a harmonium that he fixed with duct tape before going on tour with Aimee Mann--a situation which ended up in the final film."--Charlie Schmidlin, The Playlist, "16 Musicians-Turned-Film Composers and Their Breakout Scores"


Ruby Dee (1922-2014)
* "Depending on how much time you have, explaining Ruby's impact on African-American women in Hollywood could take hours."--The Smoking Section's J. Tinsley on the late Ruby Dee

* "I anticipate that I'll always write about race and racism in some professional capacity. Still, wouldn't it be wonderful if writers and creatives on the periphery were welcomed in from anonymity, not thanks to their accounts of woe, but simply because they have things to share--tales of love, joy, happiness, and basic humanity--that have nothing to do with their race and also everything to do with their race. I'm ready for people in positions of power at magazines and newspapers and movie studios to recalibrate their understanding of what it means to talk about race in the first place. If America would like to express that it truly values and appreciates the voices of its minorities, it will listen to all their stories, not just the ones reacting to its shortcomings and brutality."--Cord Jefferson, Medium, "The Racism Beat: What it's like to write about hate over and over and over"

* "Just before they got rid of Owen Gleiberman, EW trumpeted the launch of 'The Community,' a blog 'featuring superfans with passion and unique voices' recruited from the blog's readership. In other words: a way for EW to exploit the labor of fans, students, and other aspiring bloggers who'll write for free, a model made notorious by The Bleacher Report... The idea of working for free for Time Inc., which had $3.35 billion in gross revenue, and $337 million in pre-tax operating income, in 2013, seems beyond absurd."--Anne Helen Petersen, The Awl, "The Trials of Entertainment Weekly: One Magazine's 24 Years of Corporate Torture"