Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Alicia Keys and Jack White record Quantum of Solace theme

What a waste of a good piano. Some people just want to watch a piano burn.
And we have a winner--or rather two. After months of rumors about the search for an artist to perform Quantum of Solace's opening theme tune (Beyonce, Leona Lewis and Duffy are some of the names that have been most recently bandied about), Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli announced today that Alicia Keys and Jack White have recorded the tune.

The Keys/White collabo is called "Another Way to Die," which spared the White Stripes frontman from having to visit RhymeZone.com to find words that rhyme with "quantum" or "solace."

Jack White in 'Walk Hard'
It's funny that White (who was last seen on the big screen in a cameo as Elvis Presley during Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, one of my favorite movies of the year so far) thought he'd never be able to pen music for the Bond flicks. The main guitar riff that he came up with for "Seven Nation Army" was something he planned to use for a 007 theme if he ever got the opportunity to write such a theme.

"Another Way to Die" will be the first duet in Bond theme history. It will also be the first Bond song that was performed by somebody who once was a Cosby Show kid.

Alicia Keys, as a little girl/boyThe other day, I happened to catch a YouTube clip of Alicia's appearance in one of The Cosby Show's most famous episodes, "Slumber Party" (the clip was removed right after I watched it). During the "bucking horse" game sequence in which the kids took turns riding Cosby's leg like a horse (whoever stayed on the saddle the longest was the winner), Alicia was the little girl with the boyish-looking haircut--the one whom Cosby jokingly called "my wife," in what I assume was an in-joke about her Camille-like hairdo. It's no surprise that Alicia the skilled pianist was the most coordinated one out of all those kids--she didn't fall off Cosby's leg and kicked those other kids' asses at "bucking horse."

Crap, it looks like David Arnold--the composer of the Quantum of Solace score, as well as every single 007 score since Tomorrow Never Dies--isn't involved at all with "Another Way to Die." Whenever the producers allowed Arnold to participate in writing the opening theme, one thing I would always look forward to was Arnold's awesome John Barry-style instrumental version of the opening jawn during his score ("Blunt Instrument," track 4 on Arnold's Casino Royale CD, contains a sweet version of "You Know My Name," which Arnold co-wrote with Chris Cornell). Color me disappointed.

But in the race for the Bond house, a Keys/White ticket is more promising than a Racist Crack Whore Winehouse/Ronson one.

Alicia Keys, looking not at all like Camille Cosby

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dark Knight: Never mind the bollocks, here's the Joker

I am an anar-kaist!
I waited until after the opening weekend lines died down and finally saw The Dark Knight. Maybe Christopher Nolan--who hasn't yet decided if he's going to make a third Batman film--should just quit while he's ahead. I don't know how he can surpass what he's achieved with the morally ambiguous and politically charged yet electrifying Dark Knight.

Third installments often mark the nadir of a film series (Return of the Jedi, The Godfather Part III, X-Men: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3, which transformed Tobey Maguire into an emo lesbian Dancing with the Stars contestant, and fifthly, the little-known Debbie Does Benji). Perhaps Nolan's uncertainty about agreeing to write and direct a third movie stems from being burned as a moviegoer by so many franchises that have succumbed to the Law of Diminishing Returns--including once upon a time, Batman itself, before Nolan revitalized the series.

Of all the summer 2008 blockbusters, I looked forward to The Dark Knight the most because I'm a longtime Batman fan. The character always appealed to me more than Superman because he's a hero who looks like a villain, and sometimes he finds himself becoming the villain, like in The Dark Knight. I've read the Batman comics on and off, I liked the Tim Burton films when I was a kid (these days, I don't think parts of Burton's Batman films have aged very well, particularly elements of the 1989 Batman) and I'm a huge fan of both Batman: The Animated Series and the Nolan version of the franchise. I found Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever to be so juvenile--especially in its portrayal of Two-Face, who's an even more complicated enemy than the Joker because he teeters back and forth between good and evil, something that Batman Forever got wrong--that I refused to see Batman & Robin, and I still refuse to watch a single minute of that 1997 piece of Batguano.

Nolan's refusal to approach the likes of Two-Face and the Joker as cartoonish a la Schumacher--he restored the menacing qualities that these villains had in the post-'60s comics and the '90s animated series--may be one of the reasons why The Dark Knight had a record-shattering opening weekend. The film is quite lengthy for a summer blockbuster, but nobody in the afternoon audience I saw it with ever got restless or bored. I don't go to movie theaters as often as I used to anymore because I'm frustrated with other moviegoers' exceedingly stupid behavior--talking on cell phones, running up and down the aisles like a chimp on speed, bringing their babies with them--but except for one occasionally testy infant, everyone in this more polite-than-usual afternoon audience kept their mouths shut during the entire film. They were completely captivated by this differently toned Batman and the remarkable performances of the ensemble (particularly by Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, an uncredited Nicky Katt in a great small part, the late Heath Ledger in his penultimate performance and Christian Bale, whose often derided Batrasp sounds more like Richard Moll's B:TAS voice for Two-Face than the less gravelly voice that we're accustomed to hearing come out of Batman's mouth). It's the same kind of captivation I feel when I watch a really good Michael Mann flick.

Speaking of Mann, his work influenced Nolan during this Batman installment. (I wonder if Nolan also took some cues from Gotham Central. The Joker's killing spree and the interrogation room scenes are reminiscent of Gotham Central's "Soft Targets" arc, which had the Joker terrorizing Gotham City with sniper attacks.) Before he made Batman Begins, Nolan reportedly screened Blade Runner for his crew and told them, "This is how we're going to make Batman." In The Dark Knight, Nolan turned to Heat as his cinematic model, and it's evident in the forensics sequences (it's awesome to see Batman act more like a detective again) and the major set pieces, particularly the opening bank heist, which even includes a cameo by Heat supporting player William Fichtner, and the thrilling truck/SWAT van/Tumbler-turned-Batpod chase. The elegantly staged action sequences are an improvement over the ones in Batman Begins, which were criticized for being poorly shot and choppily edited, although I think Nolan was trying to capture the disorientation a criminal must feel when his ass is being handed to him by a swiftly moving figure he can barely see in the dark--just not quite as well as Nolan intended. Even though I didn't see The Dark Knight in IMAX, I was awed by cinematographer Wally Pfister's opening aerial footage of the Joker's accomplices proceeding with their heist. It looks spectacular even in standard 35mm.

The bank heist marks one of the few times we see sunlight in a Batman film, one of several touches that place Gotham in a more grounded reality and distinguish Nolan's Batman incarnation from previous screen incarnations. (Burton refused to have the sun appear during his rather backlotty and stagebound version of Batman. When he did shoot a scene in daylight, Burton chose to do it during a cloudy day.)

Another intriguing Nolan touch is the jettisoning of the more fantastical elements of Batman's adversaries, Scarecrow fear gas aside. I doubt the very sci-fi Poison Ivy would exist in Nolan's universe. (I'm not sure which villains should appear in the threequel, but I'd like to see Bale face off against Peter Sarsgaard--who happens to be married to Bale's Dark Knight co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal--or Parker Posey, not because of her performance in Superman Returns but her performances in Dazed and Confused, Henry Fool and Fay Grim.) A chick who can control plants with her mind just isn't as disturbing or formidable as Nolan and Ledger's interpretation of the Joker, who's portrayed here as less of a clown and fame whore a la Jack Nicholson and more of a terrorist who's attracted to anarchy like a dog is attracted to car windows it can stick its head through--to reference a key Dark Knight image of this creepy criminal without a code.

It's been reported that Ledger wasn't familiar with the Batman comics and graphic novels before he signed on to The Dark Knight. He based his Joker on the Droogs and Sid Vicious and downplayed the character's clownish persona. Those were interesting choices for his standout performance, which is heightened by some of the most intense and atonal music Hans Zimmer has ever written (as soon as I receive the Dark Knight score CD by Zimmer and James Newton Howard, I'll add some of its tracks to "Assorted Fistful" rotation on the Fistful of Soundtracks channel). It's the cleverest combo of star performance and original film score that I've seen on the big screen in a while: Ledger went punk for the Joker, as did Zimmer, whose punk-influenced Joker themes have been described by the L.A. Times as "an orchestral interpretation of a something created by Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails."

The Dark Knight is the first great summer movie since Do the Right Thing that's made me angry. How often can you say that about a piece of summertime entertainment? Nolan's film left me feeling pissed off about two things: the fact that there are no easy answers in this post-9/11 world--not since Justice League Unlimited's great Justice Lords and Cadmus storylines has a post-9/11 superhero show or film dared to bring its protagonists' tactics into question--and the fact that we won't be able to see any more mesmerizing performances from Ledger.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Nerd Prom Humor Week on Morning Becomes Dyspeptic

One of the stars of last year's Comic-Con: 'Smallville' bag dress chick.Damn, it's a helluva week to be a nerd. The Dark Knight finally arrives in theaters (and opens to acclaim and packed houses), Joss Whedon's clever and surprisingly bittersweet Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog premieres on the Web (and gets flooded with so many visitors that it crashes), and nerds who were lucky to get themselves a membership and a San Diego hotel room are trekking to the wretched hive of scum and questionable hygiene known as the Comic-Con.

I'm skipping this year's Nerd Prom (for reasons that are partly monetary and don't have anything to do with that dumb term "staycation"), but I'm marking the occasion by streaming five somewhat Comic-Con-related episodes of Morning Becomes Dyspeptic this week. Each MBD episode during Nerd Prom Week features at least one clip of nerd-friendly comedy, from either a comic who's an unapologetic nerd (Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn) or a comic who wouldn't be caught dead at Comic-Con (Norm MacDonald, Bobcat Goldthwait).

Here's the schedule for MBD this week:

Mon., Jul. 21: Episode MBDA13 (Dana Gould, "In Praise of Vincent Price")
Tue., Jul. 22: Episode MBDA08 (Norm MacDonald, "The Fantastic Four")
Wed., Jul. 23: Episode MBDA01 (Brian Posehn, "The Unholy Trilogy")
Thu., Jul. 24: Episode MBDA49 (Bobcat Goldthwait, "Star Wars Fans Are Uber Nerds")
Fri., Jul. 25: Episode MBDA50 (Patton Oswalt, "At Midnight I Will Kill George Lucas with a Shovel")

MBD airs every weekday at 1am and 8am on the Fistful of Soundtracks channel.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I just want to hear Girl Talk

The moment in which Girl Talk mashes up Ahmad's "Back in the Day" with Rod Stewart's "Young Turks" during "Shut the Club Down"? Too damn genius.

Likewise with Thom Yorke being edited to look like he's singing Blackstreet's "No Diggity" (during the second video, which is based on "Still Here," track 3 from Girl Talk's Feed the Animals album). I don't know who edited these music video clips together to GT's Feed the Animals tracks, but somebody get this guy an editing award.

Music: "Still Here" by Girl Talk:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Aziz Ansari: Better Know a Blogroll Link, Part 4

Aziz is bored.Aziz Ansari, the co-star, co-creator and co-writer of MTV's hilarious sketchcom Human Giant (the source of this year's NSFW viral favorite, the "Will Arnett sex tape"), is my current favorite Asian American stand-up, primarily because he doesn't opt for material about his Indian heritage or why his immigrant parents talk so funny. Some Asian American comics excel at ethnic humor even though it's their only shtick (Rex Navarrete), while others that I'd rather not name really suck at it.

Ansari once told Gelf magazine why he avoids ethnic humor in his act: "I have some jokes like that, but I hate them. I'm tired of 'em. I just feel like it's too easy, you know what I mean? Some of that stuff is way to [sic] easy to talk about--it's not challenging."

Next season, Ansari will reach an audience outside of the alt-comedy crowd and the blogosphere when he appears in a recurring role during the upcoming final (?) year of Scrubs and as a regular on The Office's yet-to-be-titled spinoff sister show. I guess he listened to his agent's advice about laying off the sex tapes with Will Arnett.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sunset Gun: Better Know a Blogroll Link, Part 3

Kim Morgan and her Torino

In addition to running the Sunset Gun film and music blog, Kim Morgan frequently contributes posts about film to The Huffington Post and MSN Movies. She was the "DVDuesday" reviewer on The Screen Savers before the program morphed into Attack of the Show (Film Threat's Chris Gore assumed the "DVDuesday" duties after her departure).

Hey Robert Osborne, hire Kim to be your next co-host on TCM's The Essentials. Unlike current Essentials co-host Rose McGowan, she won't annoy me with post-movie commentary about why Seven Samurai, a film recently featured on The Essentials, is inferior to the remake, The Magnificent Seven. McGowan's biggest gripe with Seven Samurai--one of my favorite films--is that it's overlong. WTF? For a film that's "too long," Seven Samurai is one of the least tedious ever made.

So McGowan prefers the good but not great Magnificent's sometimes stilted dialogue and direction (the filmmakers enlisted Elmer Bernstein to spruce up the film's rather lethargic pace, hence Bernstein's fantastic score) and its flat depictions of the peasant characters (they talk like the villager mice in Speedy Gonzales cartoons) over Samurai's more complex characterizations and more intense and mesmerizing action sequences? It's like if someone had to choose between The Wire and CSI: Miami to take along with them as a desert island disc box set and that person went with CSI: Miami. You lost me there, Cherry Darling.

Anyway, here are some of my favorite posts by Kim.

"Sexy Sleaze with Cheese--'70s Cop Shows on DVD":
The show's range in quality but they all reveal a mutual commonality--though a brilliant era for film and probably the last real sleazy FUN anyone had, the '70s were hard. Hard on people's faces. I don't know if it was the drugs, the clothes, the film stock, the lighting, the jaded post '60s malaise or the surge of swingin' Auto-Focus-esque divorced men, but everyone looks tough and sun-damaged. If you assume someone is 30, they're probably in real life, 20. And 40? Who the hell knows? In their polyester double knits, bad toupees, sweaty urine tinted undershirts, crinkled brows and hairy chests, everyone looks about 50. The '70s was a great time to be an unattractive character actor. You're fat, old and like to wear tight red pants? You've got the part!
'I'll be like the Iron Chef of pounding vag.'

"Sunset Gun's Ten Best Movies Of 2007":
This is the movie that the obnoxious, overrated, trying-way-too-hard Juno should have been. Smart teenagers not straining to be quirky and clever -- Jonah Hill and the great Michael Cera simply are clever. And smart. And not pulling quips out of some screen-written arsenal -- they're natural ("honest to blog" they are!). And the soul and funk soundtrack is an absolutely perfect celebration of teenage energy, sexuality and hope. I want to tongue kiss whoever decided to keep the movie devoid of any twee music. Seriously, I do. Preferably with a Curtis Mayfield song blasting.
'Deadly Kiss Me'? Who came up with that title? Yoda?

"Kiss With a Bang--'Kiss Me Deadly'":
There are so many masterful opening shots, some I find works of genius or some I simply love. But the more I thought about it, the more I drifted back to where my mind always manages to drift back to — stark, hard-boiled cruelty, paranoia, insanity and psycho sexual angst — so there it was again, Kiss Me Deadly.
'Hey, you missed the exit to Safeway! I need milk! Turn this car around!'

"Car Power":
Bullitt actually makes me think Mustangs are not the most obvious "muscle" car you can own. Still, the villain's car, the 1968 Dodge Charger was much, much cooler.
'They say all native Californians come from Iowa.'

"One Brilliant Ball Of Fire":
All dolled up in pom-pom heels, creamy sweaters and dramatically lined lips, Stanwyck's Phyllis, who's not as young as she used to be and not quite as lush, can't hide the poison within her. And her chemistry with MacMurray sizzles as they swap barbs and coos (co-written by Raymond Chandler from a James M. Cain crime novella) with sleazy ease. They yearn for more, but Stanwyck, the prototypical noir siren, seems perfectly aware of how fatalistic this kind of dream really is. Sometimes murder really does smell like honeysuckle.
The best film writers do the following: they get you interested in films you're unfamiliar with, they make you see things that you never noticed before in past films you've watched, they leave their egos at the door and they manage to do it all with a sense of humor. The unpretentious and not-so-annoyingly-tweedy Kim Morgan is one such writer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Greg Rucka: Better Know a Blogroll Link, Part 2

Unlike Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka didn't kill off a 67-year-old superhero, but he had Renee Montoya switch teams.

One of my current favorite comic book scriptwriters, novelist-turned-comics author Greg Rucka penned "Crossfire," one of the strongest segments from the new direct-to-DVD animated feature Batman: Gotham Knight. (This anthology film, like many other anthologies, is uneven, but it's an intriguing anime take on Batman. It stars the voice of Batman: The Animated Series' Kevin Conroy--my favorite of the screen Batmans--and it's set in the continuity of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.) "Crossfire" marks the first screen appearance of a Rucka creation, Detective Crispus Allen (voiced by ex-CSI cast member Gary Dourdan), and it centers on Allen's ambivalence about Batman and his vigilante tactics.

Allen's the character on the left who's talking to Lieutenant Gordon in this stylish shot from "Crossfire":

'Shit.' 'What is it, Lieu?' 'Shit. All over my windows! Guano! I just had these windows cleaned last week, Detective!'

The stalwart Gotham City cop, a family man who transferred from the less scummy streets of Metropolis, was one of several characters who functioned as the audience surrogate in Rucka's brilliant but cancelled discontinued-by-the-creators DC Comics title Gotham Central, a Batman spinoff that was told from the point of view of Gotham police detectives. "I like writing stories about how Batman looks to the guy who is working 9 to 5," said Rucka while he promoted Gotham Knight, which devotes two segments to Batman's effect on ordinary citizens like Allen. I was such a Gotham Central fan that I cheered when Allen first appeared on-screen during "Crossfire." (Here's something else that has made me cheer: Rucka has reunited with his former Gotham Central collaborators Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark for the current "Other People's Problems" arc of Daredevil.)

What's Christopher Darden from the O.J. trial doing standing in front of the Batsignal?Allen's Gotham Central partner was Detective Renee Montoya (the female cop on the far right of Lark's cover from Gotham Central #1), who was created by Paul Dini and Mitch Brian for Batman: The Animated Series. Rucka gave the previously one-dimensional Montoya an interesting backstory: she's a lesbian who was disowned by her conservative family, and in later issues of Gotham Central, corruption within the GCPD and difficulties in her private life caused her to hit the bottle. Rucka has an affinity for introverted, world-weary female protagonists who smoke and drink a lot, as evidenced by his Montoya revamp and a couple of his creator-owned projects, the espionage series Queen & Country (another favorite comic of mine) and the Whiteout graphic novels. The latter creator-owned project has spawned an upcoming Kate Beckinsale movie version of the same name (the same movie in which Beckinsale demanded a nude body double because she doesn't like the way her arse looks--WTF?).

In a Las Vegas City Life interview, Rucka explained his attachment to these everyman and everywoman protagonists: "I like writing strong women characters, sure. But it's because I prefer heroes who don't have it easy. With every protagonist, there's always an internal battle going on in addition to the external battle. Sometimes I think the internal battle is more interesting than the outer one."

Kate Beckinsale tries her damnedest to hide her elephant-sized ass.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Secret Agent on SomaFM: Better Know a Blogroll Link, Part 1

There haven't been any new entries in this neck of the Interwoods for a while because I've been busy with comics scriptwriting, and last week, I was going to post an update about a new episode of A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Series that I was this close to writing and recording (it'll involve the "Roar" theme from Cloverfield, monster movie scores and the work of the late monster movie effects whiz Stan Winston), but my new preamp seems to be broken, so I'm saving up to get another preamp, which means I have to delay the episode.

Also, there are weeks when I run out of topics to blog about, like last week and this week, when the only topic I can think of discussing is the links on my blogroll. So to keep this blog staying fresh, here's the first installment of "Better Know a Blogroll Link."

This SomaFM station has given you a number and taken away your name.My favorite Internet radio station, the SomaFM channel Secret Agent, bills itself as "the soundtrack for your stylish, mysterious, dangerous life. For spies and PIs too!" Like A Fistful of Soundtracks, Secret Agent streams selections from film and TV scores, but its focus is on cues from '60s spy flicks and shows from both America and Britain, giallos, poliziottos and '70s Eurotrash softcore porn.

The station's playlist also includes out-of-print tracks ("I've Got My Spies on You" by the Pills), instrumental hip-hop ("Stem/Long Stem" by DJ Shadow), vintage library music cues (Neil Richardson's "The Riviera Affair," the theme from WOR-TV's "4 O'Clock Movie," as well as Ocean's Thirteen's opening studio logo music) and more recent Burn Notice-esque tunes with a stylish or dangerous vibe (the kickass Skeewiff remix of Bitter:Sweet's "Dirty Laundry," which I want to pony up some cheese for if I ever make an action show or flick and I need some great lesser-known tunes on the soundtrack).

To make this groovetastic playlist even more enjoyable, Secret Agent intersperses with its tunes soundbites from all the pre-Daniel Craig 007 movies ("That gun. Looks more fitting for a woman." "Do you know much about guns, Mr. Bond?" "No. I know a little about women.").

'Oh Max, I love you no matter how often your height fluctuates throughout the show!'My favorite Secret Agent track of the moment is "99," a 1966 novelty song performed slightly off-key but endearingly by the original 99 herself, Barbara Feldon. I never get tired of hearing "99," even though Secret Agent has put the track into heavy rotation lately because of the Steve Carell/Anne Hathaway movie version of Get Smart (the original series was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid back in the '80s).

I log on to Secret Agent whenever I want to block from my ears any outside noise, particularly a loud summertime cricket, which I recently had the pleasure of killing with a barbell, and nearby car stereo bass. My condo is a cool place to live, but it's located right beside a busy overpass, which isn't exactly as helpful as the music from Secret Agent whenever I have to concentrate on writing.

Several AFOS listeners who are illustrators, graphic artists or cartoonists have told me they listen to my station for inspiration, whereas my station of choice whenever I need inspiration is Secret Agent. I write dialogue to the sounds of Secret Agent in my thick Sennheiser headphones. I go to bed to the sounds of Secret Agent. I murder noisy crickets to the sounds of Secret Agent.