Monday, June 27, 2016
I don't care for variety shows, except for Muppet Show clips (or the occasional Carol Burnett Show sketch clip) and sometimes SNL, which, if you think about it, is really just a '70s-style variety show, but without a scantily clad resident dance troupe, and that makes you wonder about an SNL in a parallel universe where, since 1975, a goateed Lorne Michaels implemented a group of Fly Girls on his show, and all those Fly Girls are white. Variety shows are such an outdated and creaky form of TV. I always feel like I need to be 78 years old and fond of prune juice in order to enjoy a variety show from start to finish.
When the Miami-based Sábado Gigante said "¡Adiós!" after 53 years of old-fashioned TV, it was a sign that even non-English-speaking variety shows are doomed. Yet that hasn't stopped NBC from pushing for the variety show to come back to American TV, first with the now-defunct Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris and now with the summertime replacement show Maya & Marty. The Tuesday night show pairs up two great comedians from completely different eras of SNL: Martin Short--whose best shtick, prior to his one season on Dick Ebersol-era SNL, took place on SCTV, the classic sketch show that constantly ripped apart the cheesiness of variety shows, whether it was through Short's Jackie Rogers Jr. character or Eugene Levy as Gene Shalit incongruously doing musical numbers with Catherine O'Hara as Rona Barrett and Joe Flaherty as Gene Siskel--and '00s SNL regular Maya Rudolph, a Prince song-covering, TCM-watching pre-'90s-showbiz nerd type who genuinely enjoys the cheesiness of variety shows (Maya & Marty is her second attempt at a variety show, after the one-off Maya Rudolph Show special). Despite that pairing, which sounds nice on paper, Maya & Marty does not look enticing to me, except for one element, and it's the only part of Maya & Marty I've been watching online: the return of celebrity interviewer Jiminy Glick.
Way before Ali G trolled politicians, Zach Galifianakis embodied fake awkwardness between two ferns, Eric Andre caused a genuinely uncomfortable Lauren Conrad to walk out on him and Stephen Colbert pretended to know nothing about hip-hop while interviewing an in-on-the-joke Eminem, there was Glick, Short's funniest character and an interestingly late addition to Short's repertoire. Glick and his weird, Merv Griffin-ish voice didn't appear first on either SCTV or mid-'80s SNL and instead emerged from a much later and completely forgotten venue: Short's 1999 daytime talk show. I tuned in to The Martin Short Show for only one reason: to see Short badly interview the likes of Ted Danson and a Dharma & Greg-era Jenna Elfman as Glick. It was far more entertaining than Short doing polite interviews for real as his normal self.
Friday, June 24, 2016
AFOS Blog Rewind: Yes, Virginia, there is a better version of Supercop, superior to the one where Tom Jones got flung onto the soundtrack like a pair of panties at his face
The following is a repost of my June 8, 2015 discussion of one of my favorite threequels of all time, Police Story 3, a.k.a. Supercop.
Disney's recent decision to scrap its Tron threequel may be due to the studio becoming cautious about its spending after yet another one of its big-budget films, Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, tanked at the box office, but I think that cancellation is also due to the fact that threequels tend to suck. However, the hugely entertaining 1992 Jackie Chan/Michelle Yeoh action classic Police Story 3: Supercop--a recent subject in Stereogum editor Tom Breihan's "Netflix Action Movie Canon" column for Deadspin, as well as a movie recently brought up in this blog's comments section by both Bay Area film critic Richard von Busack and I--is a rare case where a threequel doesn't suck.
In its overviews of the films of Chan the modern-day Buster Keaton, Subway Cinema noted that Police Story 3 "was a movie that feels like a breath of fresh air for Chan... The foreign locations give things an expensive sheen, and [director Stanley] Tong's eschewing of complex choreography in favor of wide, clearly presented stunt sequences brings a crisp, new feel to Chan's movie repertory." It was also, according to Subway Cinema, a movie Tong (who took over as director after Chan directed the first two Police Story flicks) offered to Yeoh as a way to keep her spirits up after her divorce. The addition of Yeoh's mainland cop character to the mayhem ended up being the high point of Chan's Police Story franchise.
The franchise made its return in 2013 with the non-comedic Police Story 2013, which has nothing to do continuity-wise with the previous adventures of Hong Kong police inspector Chan Ka-kui (Chan's playing a completely different character, just like in 2004's New Police Story). A massive hit in mainland China, the mainland-made Police Story 2013 debuted in American theaters and on digital platforms just last week--to mostly negative reviews--under the title Police Story: Lockdown.
Present-day American viewers are lucky to be able to see Police Story: Lockdown in English subtitles and in its original Mandarin (whereas the previous Police Story movies, all Hong Kong-made, were originally in Cantonese, the most common dialect in Hong Kong), just like how I was lucky to see the original version of Police Story 3 back in 1993, at a Bay Area AMC multiplex that was experimenting at the time with showing badly subtitled--instead of badly dubbed--but thankfully uncut action flicks from Hong Kong. This was three years before Chan had his first box-office hit in America with a redubbed version of Rumble in the Bronx, the filmed-in-Vancouver action comedy that gave us a Bronx surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The surprise hit led to several older Chan flicks hitting American theaters and getting redubbed and butchered as well, as part of a misguided attempt--there's always a tinge of imperialism to this shit--to make them more palatable to American moviegoers. One of those flicks was Police Story 3.
I refuse to ever watch the version of Police Story 3 everyone in America has seen, even though Yeoh's crazy and legendary motorcycle-to-train jump stunt and all the other jaw-dropping stunts remain intact. It's the version that concludes with a very '90s Tom Jones cover of Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting," the same version that Dragon Dynasty--an Asian action film imprint of The Weinstein Company that's otherwise respectful of the Asian action classics it introduces to non-Asian audiences and gives them the option of watching those films uncut and subtitled--stupidly chose as the only version of Police Story 3 for the film's special edition DVD release.
Why do I refuse to watch that Miramax/Dimension version? I don't want my memories of Police Story 3 to be soiled. Police Story 3 in its original form was perfect, man--even with "I Have My Way," the slightly cheesy Cantopop tune Chan sang during the outtakes that concluded the film. Don't get me wrong: Tom Jones is the illest. His Burt Bacharach/Hal David-produced theme from Promise Her Anything is an underrated tune, graced with a guitar riff that's like "Jimmy Page fronting the Byrds," as Allmusic once put it, as well as a tune that's so evocative of Carnaby Street in the '60s. But "Kung Fu Fighting" and its asinine and stereotypical "Oriental riff"? What the hell's it doing in Police Story 3? Miss me with that shit.
I want to always tell anyone whose only taste of Police Story 3 was the Miramax/Dimension version that these Hong Kong films are always better in their original form and that something vital is lost when a terrific sequel like Police Story 3 is deprived of its connections to previous installments. Inspector Ka-kui may not have much of an arc in the four classic-era Police Story movies--in each movie, no matter what rank he's at, he's the same fallible but stalwart character, a "frustrated conformist," to borrow the words of Film Comment's Dave Kehr, rather than a rebel--but in this age of Netflix streaming and Amazon Prime, I wish I could be able to marathon on a lazy afternoon the inspector's fall to demoted cop, followed by his rise to respected lawman (and finally, globe-trotting defender of the security of the world), without any of the changes Miramax/Dimension and New Line Cinema made to the last two classic-era movies (Police Story 4 remains the only classic-era installment I've seen in just its butchered form).
Let's take another enjoyable threequel from a long-running action franchise just like Police Story. Now imagine if Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade got imported to another country, and an editor in that country replaced the first few minutes of Last Crusade's elegant opening sequence in the Utah countryside (actually a seamlessly edited amalgam of Utah and Colorado locations and movie sets in England and Hollywood) with a montage of Tiger Beat snapshots of Harrison Ford, and then the editor changed Indy's name to Adventure Jones. So that when Brody barks on horseback at the end, "Indy, Henry, follow me! I know the way! Ha!," he's been redubbed to say, "Adventure, Henry, follow me!" Then that's followed by John Williams' end credits score music getting replaced by Engelbert Humperdinck doing a cover of the Dazz Band's "Let It Whip" that horribly updates the tune for the '90s. That's exactly what happened to Police Story 3, and that's how inane Miramax/Dimension's butchering of it was.
Friday, June 17, 2016
Samantha Bee and Larry Wilmore delivered the most satisfying late-night responses to the Orlando massacre, and, whoa, you can say "fuck" unbleeped on TBS after 9pm now?
Last Saturday's terrible massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub, the worst mass shooting on American soil, led to a range of mournful responses from late-night TV hosts the following Sunday and Monday nights. But two of those segments stood out because of one host's genuine anger over lax gun laws and the other host's emphasis on the troubling fact that this massacre was a hate crime targeted at the LGBT community in the middle of Pride month (and at a time when the community has won several legal battles against anti-gay conservatives over civil rights), a fact that homophobic conservatives try to ignore in various ways, like the way one of those right-wing morons said to the press that the massacre isn't a hate crime. Wait, what? It isn't a hate crime? Of course it's a hate crime, fucknuts. Saying it's not would be like saying, "You know that Texas chainsaw massacre? Pfft. I saw the aftermath. It was nothing. It was just a Texas paper cut."
Samantha Bee was often a terrific Daily Show correspondent (like in the remote where she mischievously tricked pro-lifers at the Republican National Convention into saying the word "choice"), but it wasn't until she performed a hilarious one-woman version of the Fox News bloviation fest The Five that I realized she could carry an entire show on her own. And that show has turned out to be a doozy: the weekly Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS. Right now, Bee is, out of all the ex-Daily Show correspondents who are anchoring either their own half-hour current-events shows or the actual Daily Show itself, the one who's most deftly enacting her former Daily Show boss' memorable final-show message to everyone who's wary of bullshit, whether that steaming pile comes from the news media or from either the right or even (on occasion) the left: "The best defense against bullshit is vigilance, so if you smell something, say something." She doesn't care how angry she gets in her scathing takedowns of either misogynists, the anti-feminism crowd or the right, and it's a beautiful thing ("I don't fucking care if you like it," Amy Poehler's famous reply to Jimmy Fallon's mock-squeamish objection over some abrasive thing she ad-libbed in the SNL writer's room, comes to mind).
Thursday, June 9, 2016
The late Muhammad Ali lives on in compelling docs ranging from the crowd-pleasing When We Were Kings to the heartbreaking Muhammad and Larry
|(Photo source: RogerEbert.com)|
I was too young to catch the late Muhammad Ali in his prime as a boxer and civil rights activist. So it wasn't until the 1996 release of When We Were Kings, Leon Gast and Taylor Hackford's Oscar-winning documentary about the lead-up to Ali's 1974 victory over George Foreman at the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire, when I started to understand why from the '60s to the early '80s, the world was captivated by this former athlete whom teenage In Living Color viewers like myself knew only as a lethargic roach spray pitchman.
The nicely edited doc caused me to be won over by both Ali's sense of humor--which remained a part of his personality even during his weakened state due to Parkinson's disease, like when he pretended to doze off in the middle of David Frost's 2002 interview with him--and his activism, particularly the brave stand he took against the Vietnam War, which cost him his heavyweight title and his boxing license. He once amazingly said, "Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over."
Also noteworthy for featuring "Rumble in the Jungle," a catchy original theme song that united the Fugees, Busta Rhymes and A Tribe Called Quest, one of whose members was another beloved African American figure who died this year, Phife Dawg (2016 can go fuck itself), the stirring When We Were Kings remains one of my favorite movies from the '90s. But When We Were Kings suffers from something San Francisco Bay Guardian columnist Johnny Ray Huston criticized Gast and Hackford for at the time of the doc's release--Huston was the only writer I saw point this out back then--and that flaw is devoting too much of its running time to George Plimpton and Norman Mailer doing what's known today as whitesplaining both Ali and a moment of worldwide black pride like the Rumble in the Jungle. Huston's attitude was like "Who gives a fuck what these old white men think, especially when a black perspective would be the perfect one to recall these moments?" He had a point there.
Gast's fascinating archival footage of the G.O.A.T. in his prime more beautifully conveys the speed, grace and brash personality of Ali than any of the talking-head segments Hackford shot in the '90s with Mailer, whose cringeworthy black guy voice while impersonating the boxing legend keeps reminding me of Wyatt Cenac's anecdote about how an improv session between him, another black comic and the late Robin Williams went from awesome to mildly uncomfortable when Williams started trotting out his clichéd black guy voice in front of them. Moments of interminable whitesplaining aside, When We Were Kings is a rare doc that deserves to be seen at least once in a theater with an audience, just to hear how other viewers react to Ali's one-liners, the trash-talking mind games he subjected his rivals to outside the ring and his rapport with his youngest fans.
While other heavyweight boxers at the time tended to be either glum or inarticulate, Ali knew how to charm a crowd. He was the ultimate boxer-as-rock-star. The 1997 theater audience I saw When We Were Kings with wound up cheering for Ali or enjoying his spontaneous antics as if it were 1974 again. That's how charismatic he was. The crowd gets turnt up even when it's just archival footage of him interacting with the press.
"I couldn't stand the Michael Mann film Ali starring Will Smith... The film's great flaw is the fact that no one can really play Muhammad Ali except for Muhammad Ali," wrote Nation sports columnist Dave Zirin in 2013. "That is why Muhammad Ali has always been served better by documentaries than dramatic films."
|(.GIF source: Muhammad Ali - The Greatest)|
My marathoning of all these Ali docs I highly recommend has made me realize there will probably never be another sports figure as simultaneously entertaining and humane as the Greatest was (although he wasn't so humane towards the late Joe Frazier, calling him an Uncle Tom despite the fact that Frazier actually vouched for the reinstatement of Ali's boxing license, but we'll just consider that a rare slip-up by Ali). In the world of hoops, current Oakland hero Steph Curry could be another Ali, but it's too early to tell. And for a while, to us Filipino Americans, it looked like Manny Pacquiao was going to be our humble Pinoy superhero who would make us even more proud to be Filipino because of his heroism in the ring, but then Pacquiao had to open his mouth about same-sex marriage, and he went from being a kindly Ali type to the embarrassing drunk uncle at the merienda table who should really shut the fuck up about politics.
The boxing world, which is currently being eclipsed in popularity by MMA fighting (another sport that, like boxing, has just lost one of its black fighters: Kimbo Slice, the guy whom Tracy Morgan memorably said should be President Obama's Secretary of Defense on Late Night with Conan O'Brien), needs more humane Ali types and less ignorant types like Pacquiao. That's why Ali's passing is a huge loss for boxing. It's also a huge loss for Islam. It loses one of its most eloquent voices in terms of speaking out against the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists, which has intensified again ever since Donald Drumpf started persecuting them as part of his Penguin-running-for-mayor-ish presidential campaign.
Ali's earlier allegiance to the Nation of Islam (an offshoot of traditional Islam) and the way that Ali's anti-war activism stemmed from his faith are deftly explored in director Bill Siegel's 2013 doc The Trials of Muhammad Ali, which is now streaming on Hulu. Zirin is right about the Siegel doc's ability to communicate with nuance Ali's journey of rebellion against racism and war. This is the film to see if you've always been curious about Ali's activist side, the allure Ali saw in the Nation of Islam (it provided the former Cassius Clay with a way to become empowered as a black man, right when he was starting to question both Eurocentricism and mainstream America's bizarre preferences for white over black in everything from Christianity to nursery rhymes) and the career sacrifices Ali made due to opting to be a conscientious objector.
Friday, June 3, 2016
Occasionally on Friday, I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. It's the "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week. Stream "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," my one-hour mix of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, right now.
So when Archer's seventh season opened with a dead Archer lying in the pool a la Sunset Boulevard, I was expecting the spy-turned-P.I.'s demise to turn out to be a fakeout. Then when Archer's deranged co-worker Krieger was later seen putting the finishing touches on his robot doubles of all the Figgis Agency employees, I suspected the Archerbot would be the corpse in that pool. "Deadly Velvet: Part II"--the conclusion of an ambitious season that took a few more chances storytelling-wise than even the similarly ambitious "Archer Vice" arc did and was largely successful--totally proved me wrong. I didn't expect Archer creator Adam Reed to go through with it and actually kill off the title character instead of placing the Archerbot in the pool and letting the real Archer go scot-free.
Reed's commitment to not scamming the audience (I'm relieved that he didn't go for the sucker's move of saying the body belonged to a clone or an imposter wearing Archer's face) is admirable. But we all know that in a spy-fi universe where mortally wounded men live on as cyborgs and Nazi scientists get married to sentient holograms, Archer's death won't hold, unless FX cancels the show. Right now, the low-rated Archer's future on FX looks kind of iffy because the network hasn't renewed it yet. But if FX does renew the show, our favorite immature P.I. with a weird love for Shazam! (the '70s TV show, not the app) will be back to pulling voicemail pranks and pestering Cyril in no time.
So killing off Archer like that is kind of pointless, especially in an increasingly repetitive year of TV that's been overloaded with character deaths and death fakeouts to keep shows from losing their buzz on social media, and if an eighth season does take place, his murder at the hands of femme fatale Veronica Deane would lose much of its impact because there's no way the show would go on without H. Jon Benjamin and with Malory and A.J. being the only Archers around. But Archer's death gives Jessica Walter's character more to do than just deliver her usual pithy insults--so she does care about her son, even though it never appears to be that way--and it results in Walter becoming the MVP of the finale. Walter also gets the finale's biggest laugh when her pop-culturally illiterate character--whose cluelessness about the obscure pop culture (or literary) references her son, Pam, Cheryl and Krieger are so fond of dropping on the regular appears to have been lifted from Walter's real-life cluelessness about such references--hears the term "Turing test" for the first time and wonders if the term comes from "Star War." And I especially like how Archer's sexual attraction to the 50-year-old movie star, which contains disgusting Freudian overtones, literally became the death of him. His infatuation with Veronica didn't just destroy his relationship with Lana. It also ended his life. The show's character designers (including Chi Duong, whose Archer character designs can be glimpsed on her Tumblr, which she named Mochi Baby) further added to the grossness of Archer's Freudian infatuation by interestingly making Veronica closely resemble Walter when she starred in Grand Prix.
The villains on Archer have ranged from forgettable to perfectly cast (like when Timothy Olyphant was the highlight of an Archer episode that some have viewed as homophobic or when Jon Hamm guest-starred in the role of Captain Murphy, an old character from Reed and Matt Thompson's Sealab 2021). Those characters have never really been the highlights of Archer, but thanks to both the season-long insurance scam that she orchestrated behind the scenes and the consequences of that scam, Veronica marks the first time that an Archer villain has been truly formidable and intriguing. Plus Reed and Thompson recruited a superb performer to voice Veronica and bring her to noirish life this season: Mary McDonald-Lewis. Her name won't mean much to viewers who pay very little attention to cartoon voice actors, but to us '80s kids who grew up watching G.I. Joe, she's like an old friend. McDonald-Lewis was the voice of G.I. Joe heroine Lady Jaye. So Archer was killed by Lady Jaye.
And maybe FX as well--if it goes all Red Wedding on us like ABC and Fox did this spring.