Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"The Donger and Me" by Adrian Tomine

Stuff Asian People Hate #16: Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles.

Adrian Tomine's sweet little comic about his rage over Long Duk Dong
resurfaces as a tie-in to an All Things Considered "In Character" segment about LDD.

John Hughes' contempt for people of color in Sixteen Candles, National Lampoon's Vacation and Weird Science is the reason why I can't join in the love for Hughes movies, although I have a soft spot for Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Ally Sheedy's Breakfast Club klepto chick (pre-makeover, of course) and the dialogue in Christmas Vacation ("Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?").

UPDATE: I just found a 2004 New York Times article about Sixteen Candles in which even Molly Ringwald herself is bothered by the way Hughes portrayed anyone who wasn't white:
Ms. Ringwald finds a few things about these films regrettable. One thing she found ''significantly disturbing,'' she wrote, ''was how white the films are.'' ''Considering the fact that in the 80's everyone was writing anti-apartheid songs,'' she said, ''I find it a little embarrassing that there isn't one African-American or Hispanic person in any of the films. The one Asian person is a stereotype.''
The saddest thing about this? Ringwald is able to come out and say LDD is a stereotype, while Gedde Watanabe--LDD himself--has never done so. To quote one of the Fighting 44s, "You would think that he'd be apologizing for that terrible role and the racism his role enabled... It's almost as if he's laughing at us."

The Boondocks: "The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show"

The second of two Boondocks episodes that were banned from American TV (rumored to be due to threatened litigation from BET), "Ruckus Reality Show" is another funny BET-bashing episode from writers Aaron McGruder and Rodney Barnes. The song that plays during Uncle Ruckus' montage (I like the brief jab at Tyler Perry movies) is Syl Johnson's "Is It Because I'm Black?" The 1969 track has been sampled by Cypress Hill ("Interlude") and the Wu-Tang Clan ("Hollow Bones").

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Later... with Jools Holland

I recently discovered this awesome BBC Two live music show on Fuse, where it airs weeknights at midnight weekdays at 8am and suffers from really horrendous trims to make room for more of our wonderful American commercials. (It celebrated its 200th episode in February.) I didn't know a British music show could be this cool. I thought all their music shows were like the terrible Top of the Pops. I stand corrected, after catching Later... and VH1 Classic's reruns of The Old Grey Whistle Test.

I love the circular set-up of the studio--each episode opens with the camera circling the studio to introduce the guest acts as they all participate in a jam session--as well as the cutaways to a guest performer dancing to another guest's number. Where else can you see Cee-Lo from Gnarls Barkley grooving to Franz Ferdinand or Thom Yorke rockin' out to the Red Hot Chili Peppers?

Certain songs sound better live. I thought the Chili Peppers' 2006 hit "Dani California" was an alright tune, even though it was overplayed that year, but now I like it even more after watching the Chili Peppers perform it live on Jools Holland:

I didn't know Franz Ferdinand could be this good live:

Now Later... is how you do a music show, whereas Top of the Pops--a show that was made for Ashlee Simpson--was the opposite. The Top of the Pops producers forced their acts to lip-synch or sing live against pre-recorded backing, so the producers frequently wound up with disgruntled bands that plotted to make their show look stupider than it already looked, like when Morrissey lip-synched into his gladiolas during the Smiths' "This Charming Man," or when Nirvana basically told the producers to go fuck themselves by giving a hilarious "performance" of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," one of my all-time favorite TV moments. The best part is Dave Grohl's fake drumming.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Around the Internets: 03/20/08

- A prequel to the original Trainspotting novel is in the works, while the long-planned prequel to Battlestar Galactica has finally been greenlit. Haven't Irvine Welsh and Ronald D. Moore heard Patton Oswalt's brilliant bit in which the comedian/script doctor breaks down what's wrong with prequels like the last three Star Wars movies and imagines an encounter with George Lucas during the time he wrote them ("Well hey, you say you're a Star Wars fan. Do you like Darth Vader? In the first movie, you get to see him as a little kid... and then he gets taken away from his mom and he's very sad...")?

- Composers like Hans Zimmer, Anne Dudley and La Vie en Rose's Christopher Gunning complain that present-day film scores are too bland-sounding in an article for London's The Times. Zimmer asks, "Where is the next Jerry Goldsmith?" Uh, Hans, his name is Michael Giacchino. Zimmer adds, "So many scores sound like nobody really thought about them." Yeah, the likes of Jon Brion, Howard Shore, Alexandre Desplat and Terence Blanchard put very little thought into what they write.

- Awesome! Someone's finally posted "The Huey Freeman Hunger Strike," one of two recently banned episodes of The Boondocks. "Hunger Strike" resurrects one of the old strip's most memorable threads, Huey's gripes with BET's offensive programming.

Word on the street is BET threatened legal action against The Boondocks' distributor, Sony Pictures Television, and Adult Swim if the latter aired the two BET-bashing eps. I guess BET's henchmen didn't act fast enough to stop Canada's Teletoon channel and its Adult Swim-like Detour block from premiering "Hunger Strike" last Sunday (the other BET-bashing ep, "The Ruckus Reality Show," is set to air on Detour this Sunday).

"Hunger Strike" is one of the funniest eps of The Boondocks' second season, despite the series' continuing uncertainty over how to make Huey as dynamic a character as he was in the strip (Huey's intellectual nature played better in the strip than on the animated series, whereas the not-as-cerebral Riley thrives in the animated format--his eps are more fun to watch than the Huey-centric ones).

Huey's stand against BET is overshadowed by the hijinks of Rev. Rollo Goodlove. Cee-Lo does his second Boondocks guest shot as the self-serving Goodlove, and he gets to sing "Go-Go Gadget Gospel" from his first Gnarls Barkley album, during a musical sequence that goes on a bit longer than it should. Scrubs' Donald Faison, who voiced another character in an earlier Boondocks ep, provides the sped-up voice of "Weggie Rudlin," who proposes a BET "ho-ward show" to honor the best video hos. Weggie is the series' jab at its former executive producer, current BET president Reginald Hudlin, whose name still shows up in the Boondocks credits due to contractual obligations. The Boondocks writers also throw in some amusing in-jokes about past BET personalities like Sherry Carter and Tavis Smiley (who voices himself) that will probably sail over white viewers' heads.

The ep's best lines come from the Dr. Evil-like CEO of BET ("You've fired everyone that could read? I love it!") and Uncle Ruckus ("BET forever!! BET boombaya!!") I love how Star Wars fan Aaron McGruder asked 9th Wonder, the series composer, to model Ruckus' theme music after John Williams' tuba theme for Jabba the Hutt from Return of the Jedi.

- I would cringe while listening to many of the train wreck questions fanboys and fangirls would toss at the celebrity speakers during panel discussions at the 2007 WonderCon and the '07 San Diego Comic-Con, so I love this Mark Evanier complaint about the attention whores who abuse the open mic at panels:
One time, I was interviewing Ray Bradbury. The first guy at the mike — who'd been poised there since before Ray and I arrived on stage — just wanted to say how much Ray's work had inspired his own, beginning efforts and he wanted to read aloud a passage from one of those stories to demonstrate this. If I hadn't stopped him, he'd have turned the rest of the hour into a books-on-tape recital.
- says Obama's stunning speech about race was effective, but they wish he could have done more with it.

- Comics 101 remembers Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens, who passed away March 10. The secret of how the Rocketeer managed to fly around without burning his ass off dies with Stevens.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The five worst things in recent annoying commercials that don't involve Carlos Mencia or Salesgenie pandas

5. The fugly '70s swinger couple in the jacuzzi during Jack in the Box's "Jack Sandwich" ad

I love hamburgers. So why the hell do Carl's Jr. and Jack in the Box always come up with ads that make me lose my appetite? Besides E. coli, the last thing I want to think about when I'm biting into a Jack Sandwich is chest hair.

4. acoustic guitarist guy

One of the reasons why I worked hard to graduate from UC Santa Cruz was so that I don't have to hear downtown Santa Cruz street musicians sing anymore. Thanks, poor man's Andy Samberg, for reminding me of one of the many things I had to put up with during my university days.

3. The Collins College guys who yammer about game designing as if they're about to pants their cream

G4 is still running this dumb ad, even after X-Play ridiculed it? Mannered actor D-bag on our left looks like a really, really poor man's Pat Riley.

2. That horrible-sounding score cue during the Lean Pockets little-girl-atop-Dad's-shoulders ad that sounds like a Knight Rider version of Roger and the Gypsies' "Pass the Hatchet"

The cheesiest part of Knight Rider wasn't David Hasselhoff's overly leathery wardrobe. It was those godawful covers of '80s pop songs on the soundtrack (the Knight Rider producers couldn't afford to use the original versions, so they hired session musicians to re-record the tunes). That's what the music in that Lean Pockets ad sounds like--a Knight Rider-ified mangling of "Pass the Hatchet." I have to mute my TV every time that damn ad airs. Jim Gaffigan can't seem to decide what bugs him the most about Pockets: the taste, the concept of filling a Pop Tart with rancid meat or the ad music. For me, it's the crappy music.

1. Manorexic poor man's Jim Caviezel, who steps out of the shower and douchily nods his head to a Rhapsody playlist of Sara Bareilles songs. You want to yank his towel and rat-tail that smug look off his face.

I'll let some of the more coherent YouTube commenters have the floor:

"guy on commercial: big head, tiny arms, not sexy"

"i hate that guy so much and i dont really no why"

"its cuz he's ugly :] u dont have to thank me for clearing that up for you"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Now who wants to boogie with Baby '37?"

This weekend, I was surprised to find an eight-hour ReelzChannel marathon of the short-lived animated series The Critic, James L. Brooks' second foray into animation after the success of The Simpsons. Created by Simpsons writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss, The Critic aired on ABC during its first season (1993-94) and then for its second and final season (1994-95), it went to die on Fox (where the show's "Hey! We're on Fox" gags were amusing, while on a non-Fox channel in reruns years later, uh... not so much). The show, which comes complete with Simpsonian catchphrases that never took off ("It stinks!," "Hotchie motchie!," the Chuck McCann-referencing "Hi guy!"), later enjoyed a cultish afterlife in webisode form and on both DVD and Comedy Central's animation lineup.

The ReelzChannel marathon reminded me how funny The Critic could be, though the rest of America didn't agree, including TV critics who found it difficult to warm up to the show like they had with The Simpsons. Even Matt Groening, Jean and Reiss' on-and-off-and-on-again boss, had gripes about The Critic. (The Simpsons creator opposed Brooks' idea of a Simpsons/Critic crossover show and took his name off the credits of that episode. Some of Groening's gripes are understandable. The crossover added more continuity errors to a series that was already drowning in them--in the Critic universe, the Simpsons characters were established as fictional.)

The titular loser is Jay Sherman (Jon Lovitz), the miserable host of a Manhattan-based movie review show that's constantly being tinkered with by cable network CEO Duke Phillips (Charles Napier), a Ted Turner-like chicken and waffle house magnate. While getting reacquainted with The Critic, I was struck by how the love/hate relationship between Jay and his intrusive boss seems to have been carried over in the dynamic between Liz the principled comedy writer and Jack the well-meaning but meddlesome network exec on 30 Rock (and like Duke, Jack thinks his favorite employee is gay). The big difference between Jay/Duke and Liz/Jack is that most of Jack's ideas have actually helped Liz's program The Girlie Show (Jack's hiring of movie star Tracy Jordan boosts the ratings of the rebranded TGS), while none of Duke's ideas have ever worked (one of my favorite Critic episodes--also the source of the classic Franklin Sherman line that I referenced in this post's title--involves Duke's insistence on pairing Jay with sidekicks, which range from a grizzly bear to a sassy black kid named "Lil' Shabazz").

Though it was given great time slots by both networks (ABC paired it with Home Improvement, while on Fox, it followed The Simpsons), why wasn't The Critic able to attract viewers like The Simpsons and King of the Hill did? There's a theory in a post by Jaime J. Weinman that could explain The Critic's inability to find an audience. He thinks 30 Rock is a ratings underperformer because it suffers from the same flaw that he says is also plaguing How I Met Your Mother: the central character, the one figure that the audience is supposed to identify with, is the show's weak link. (Weinman feels Liz and Ted, the "I" in How I Met Your Mother, lack presence as central characters--they're constantly overshadowed by the other characters on their respective shows--and the less patient viewers have abandoned these shows because they can't find any characteristics in the leads that they could relate to.) While I don't consider the characters of Liz or Ted to be the weak links (for me, the weak link on these ratings-addled cult shows has often been the stunt casting), I could see why Jay's irritable film critic persona could be off-putting to viewers because you know how much America loves film critics.

I also think The Critic failed to connect with viewers because of its offbeat cosmopolitan setting, which, for me, was one of the show's charms. The setting was reflected in everything from Hans Zimmer's sprightly, "Rhapsody in Blue"-inspired main title theme (an early taste of what was to come in his surprisingly enjoyable Simpsons Movie score) to the character design, a shout-out to the drawing styles of New York cartoonists like Al Hirschfeld and the New Yorker illustrators. Viewers tend to embrace animated sitcoms set in suburban neighborhoods (The Simpsons, King of the Hill, South Park, Family Guy) and avoid cartoons set in the city (The Critic, Futurama, The PJs), perhaps because the characters on these city shows have been too abrasive for their tastes, and Jay was no exception.

Here's another Weinman theory: viewers avoid darker-toned sitcoms (The Honeymooners and Brooks' own Taxi were ratings flops during their initial runs). The Critic was far from dark, but my God, Jay the adopted, divorced and luckless schlub suffered through life more often than Charlie Brown--even though he seemed to get as much tail as George Costanza.

Too bad viewers bolted because they couldn't stomach seeing those brash qualities in a prime-time cartoon. They missed out on other great elements of The Critic, like any gag involving the show's funniest character, Jay's WASPy adoptive father Franklin (Gerrit Graham), a former New York governor whose main vice while in office seemed to be cocktails rather than whores. Had The Critic continued for more than 23 episodes, I would have loved to have seen what else the writers had in store for the insane and eternally tipsy Franklin, who, like Ralph Wiggum on The Simpsons and Tracy on 30 Rock, lives in "a different and more wonderful universe than everyone around him," as the A.V. Club's Nathan Rabin once wrote about Ralph and Franklin. A couple of the secondary settings in Jay's fully realized universe could have functioned well as separate shows of their own, like the mansion where Jay's adoptive family lives or his son Marty's U.N. private school, where the kid from Easter Island can't catch a break and the African headmaster creepily laughs at his own jokes.

There was clearly more to the show than just the movie/TV/pop culture parody gags, some of which haven't aged well, while others are amazingly dead-on, like a sequence involving a musical version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame--this was two years before Disney released its animated song-and-dance version of Hunchback. (Speaking of which, the random movie/TV spoofs make more sense in the showbiz setting of The Critic than they do in the non-showbiz setting of Family Guy. My favorite Critic parody is a 007-style depiction of Fifth President James Monroe, who spits game at a damsel in distress with a Connery-esque "Welcome to the Era of Good Feelingsch.")

Critics who couldn't warm up to The Critic because they felt it lacked the heart of the earlier seasons of The Simpsons must have missed the poignant "Every Doris Has Her Day," the most Brooksian of all the Critic episodes (Brooks is credited with providing many of The Simpsons' more emotional moments). In that episode, Jay discovers a kindred spirit in his previously unfriendly, chain-smoking makeup artist Doris (the late Doris Grau, who also voiced Lunch Lady Doris on The Simpsons) and begins to think she's his birth mother. But to Jay's disappointment, DNA results prove otherwise. Now that's one juicy thread the Critic writers could have pursued if Fox hadn't killed the series: would Jay ever find his birth parents?

The series could have lasted longer had it been produced for a cable channel like IFC, which would have understood The Critic because IFC's specialty is original programming that satirizes showbiz (Greg the Bunny, The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman), and its audience consists primarily of Jay Sherman types. The Critic just had the misfortune of airing on a network that found it too crass and a network that found it too tame.

And that stinks.

Boogie with Baby '37 when The Critic airs Mondays at 6:30pm ET/3:30pm PT, 8:30pm ET/5:30pm PT and 11:30pm ET/8:30pm PT on ReelzChannel. Most DVR-worthy Critic episode: the break-up of Siskel and Ebert (who voiced themselves).

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Leonard Rosenman (1924-2008)

Some sad news from Jeffrey Wells' Hollywood Elsewhere blog: film composer Leonard Rosenman has died. He was 83.

According to a 2004 Film Music Society article, Rosenman suffered from frontotemporal dementia (FTD) for several years, but despite the FTD, he continued to write music.

Rosenman was best known for being unafraid to go atonal on Fantastic Voyage and Beneath the Planet of the Apes. I know the outspoken Rosenman was not well-liked in some circles. Film music fans hated the choral chants of "RoboCop! RoboCop!" during Rosenman's RoboCop 2 score ("No matter what audio format you hear it in... Rosenman's score from RoboCop 2 is still an abomination!" complained Film Score Monthly and The Aisle Seat reviewer Andy Dursin) and Star Trek fans are split on his Oscar-nominated Star Trek IV score (some enjoy the lightweight, change-of-pace Trek IV score, while others think it sounds too much like his 1978 Lord of the Rings score).

I always liked Rosenman's contribution to the Trek film series--the Trek IV score LP was given to me as a Christmas present from a family member when I was a kid and it was one of the first soundtrack albums I ever owned.

I prefer Rosenman's score over Dennis McCarthy's banal work for Star Trek: Generations, which is the weakest score in the Trek film series (blame it on Rick Berman and his hatred of leitmotif and anything that sounds energetic), despite a spectacular rendition of the Trek fanfare at the end of the Generations opening titles.

I'm also fond of Rosenman's East of Eden overture and main title theme.