Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Extra mozzarella: Do the Right Thing concept art and behind-the-scenes photos from Spike Lee's companion book

Fireside Books' Do the Right Thing cover
After posting a bunch of interesting Batman concept drawings and set photos from the 20-year-old blockbuster's official movie souvenir magazine, I'm doing the same thing with a similar tie-in for summer 1989's other landmark film, Do the Right Thing. But instead of an official movie mag, the Spike Lee Joint spawned a now-out-of-print Fireside/Simon & Schuster companion book that Lee wrote with the assistance of ex-girlfriend Lisa Jones. The director has done several companion books for his films. Each of these books contain behind-the-scenes photos, the film's script and Lee's own production journal (some of the Do the Right Thing journal passages are like tweets with better spelling: "Haven't written in a couple of days. I've been busy trying to save School Daze from being dogged.").

(WARNING: Spoilers ahead. Yes, there are people out there who still haven't watched Do the Right Thing yet. They're like people who never saw Ghostbusters. They're weirdos.)

Wynn Thomas' sketch of Do the Right Thing's two most pivotal sets, We Love Radio and Sal's Famous Pizzeria
I've discussed before why Do the Right Thing is one of my favorite films and why writers of color like myself cite it as an influence. One aspect of the film that I don't think gets enough props is the terrific production design by Wynn Thomas, who drew this sketch of the We Love Radio and Sal's Famous Pizzeria set exteriors. Using an old Coney Island pizzeria as the basis for Sal's, the film's crew built it from scratch on an empty Bed-Stuy lot. "The ultimate compliment was when real people would walk off the street and try and buy a slice," said Thomas in an L.A. Times oral history about the movie. Thomas later created nifty-looking sets for Mars Attacks! and brought CONTROL Headquarters into the 21st century for Steve Carell's Get Smart.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Production design porn from the Topps Batman Official Movie Souvenir Magazine

In some alternate universe that's lamer than our reality, one-time Batman movie frontrunner Bill Murray is on this cover instead of Michael Keaton.
Long before movie studios promoted their tentpole releases through elaborate sites or postings of HD trailers on Apple's trailer site ("Watch the Avatar trailer a day before its premiere in theaters or James Cameron will shoot a puppy!"), there were these things called official movie souvenir magazines that were exactly like the studio sites promotional material-hungry film geeks can click to nowadays. When I was a kid, either Starlog Press or Topps would devote an entire one-shot mag to an upcoming blockbuster and fill the mag with a spoilerrific photo summary of the movie, fluffy cast interviews, slightly less fluffy crew interviews and the only part of the mag I liked, behind-the-scenes pictures and concept art. Starlog Press did tie-in mags for the Star Trek, Rocky and James Bond franchises, while Topps focused on blockbusters that it produced trading cards for, like Tim Burton's Batman and Touchstone Pictures' wannabe Batman, the Warren Beatty Dick Tracy reboot.

Do mag publishers still put out official movie souvenir mags? I wouldn't be surprised if High School Musical: The Musical or whatever it's called recently had one.

In 1989, Batman was my favorite movie. Twenty summers later, uh... not so much. But both score music-wise and production design-wise, the film remains one of the most impressive from that decade. Production designer Anton Furst's bleak vision of Gotham City won him an Oscar and was so pitch-perfect for this incarnation of Batman that DC incorporated the late Furst's architectural designs into the early '90s comics.

Here are several interesting photos and drawings from my well-preserved copy of the 1989 Batman Official Movie Souvenir Magazine, which I still like to occasionally leaf through even though the Pop Art-colored backgrounds and frothy late '80s fonts are a poor match with the photos from this darker-toned Batman movie--the mag looks like it was designed by the Saved by the Bell opening titles designer.

A still from the upcoming monster movie The Amazing Colossal Effects Technician
A visual effects crew member inspects the miniature Gotham set that was built for the Batwing attack sequence.

Gotham City concept art for Tim Burton's Batman
Was this where the Gotham Central police headquarters name and comic book series title came from?

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Hunter gets captured by the geeks: The books I picked up at Comic-Con, part 2

Previously: The Middleman: The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse, Adrenaline and Bumperboy and the Loud, Loud Mountain.

Classic G.I. Joe Volume 1 cover by J. Scott Campbell

My rundown of the graphic novels and TPBs I bought at Comic-Con concludes with two recent projects from IDW, which quickly became the comics publisher whose releases I've been looking forward to the most because of its ambitious reprints and high-quality revivals of properties like Star Trek and Doctor Who.

I picked up Classic G.I. Joe Volume 1 at the IDW booth because I was looking for a comic that veteran Marvel and DC letterer (and friend and mentor to several of us Secret Identities creators) Janice Chiang worked on and could sign for me at Comic-Con, and the TPB happened to contain an issue lettered by Janice. She then brought me over to another former Marvel letterer, Rick Parker, to have him sign the TPB because his work appeared in the collection too.

I never was an avid reader of Marvel's G.I. Joe comics, although I bought some issues of the mothership and a couple of its spinoffs when I was a kid. I was more familiar with the Sunbow animated series, which hasn't exactly aged well. Even when I watched G.I. Joe and Transformers back-to-back after school, I thought the animation on both those Sunbow shows sucked. The constantly choppy character movements made the crappy made-for-TV Popeye shorts from the '60s look like Richard Williams cartoons. Because the Sunbow series was essentially a 29-minute toy commercial (subtract one minute for the "Knowing is half the battle" PSA, which was devoted to giving safety tips or warnings about creepy guys in white vans instead of selling toys), most of G.I. Joe's episodes were forgettable and silly, except for one: the Steve Gerber-penned "There's No Place Like Springfield," an eerie two-part ep about Jack Nicholson's Shipwreck's awakening from a seven-year coma that was inspired by The Prisoner (Shipwreck's home address at "Number Six Village Drive" was a shout-out to that famously surreal show). The downbeat tone of the ep and the images of Shipwreck's wife, daughter and friends melting into grey goo blew my mind when I was a kid and scarred other kid viewers for life.

G.I. Joe #5 is essentially a 21-page ad for the toy line's MOBAT vehicle.

The Marvel comics were intended to sell toys too, but the writing in those comics tended to be much better than the writing on the cartoon, thanks to regular scripter and G.I. Joe action figure dossier writer Larry Hama, a real American hero, especially to Secret Identities contributors who dug that an Asian American was at the helm of Marvel's finest-written toy-based title (also the first comic ever advertised on TV). The Vietnam vet-turned-comics scripter's military expertise added authenticity and grit to the comics and kept them more grounded than the cartoon, where nobody died, Star Wars-style lasers replaced bullets and Cobra was about as dangerous and menacing as Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz. That's why the late Gerber's despair-filled "Springfield" was such a stunner back in 1985--the cartoon ditched its usually campy tone for once, added some much-needed menace to Cobra and incorporated a storyline from the comics, the Joes' discovery of a Cobra base disguised as an idyllic, all-American suburb called Springfield.

Larry Hama's deceptively nice suburb of Springfield beats David Lynch's equally deceptive Blue Velvet town of Lumberton to the punch by three years in G.I. Joe #10 by Hama, Mike Vosburg and Chic Stone.

The standout 1983 G.I. Joe issue that introduced Hama's Springfield--a town that's as rotten-at-the-core as Matt Groening's Springfield--is included in Classic G.I. Joe Volume 1, which collects the first 10 issues of the original 1982-1994 Marvel comic, most of them drawn by '70s Incredible Hulk artist Herb Trimpe in the classic '60s/'70s Marvel style. My tastes in espionage comics lean towards the more adult Queen & Country and Sleeper, so I found the dialogue in these early '80s G.I. Joe issues to be on the hokey side. Despite the hokey one-liners, as the Topless Robot blog noted last year, the original comic still kicks its cartoon counterpart's ass. Scarlett--the lone female Joe in these earlier issues, before Hasbro added Cover Girl and Lady Jaye to the cast--gets a bunch of thrilling take-charge moments in the 1983 issue that Janice lettered, a Mike Vosburg-drawn story in which Scarlett is assigned to protect a diplomat who's being targeted by Cobra (another highlight of the TPB, as well as one of the few issues in the collection that didn't involve either Hama or Trimpe).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A shot of Adrenaline: The books I picked up at Comic-Con, part 1

Adrenaline by Tyler Chin-Tanner, James Boyle and Fabio Redivo

I finally finished reading all the books I bought during my one-day trip to Comic-Con. In an August 6 post, I discussed the first book I grabbed there that day, The Middleman: The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse, Javier Grillo-Marxuach's adaptation of the unproduced final episode of his prematurely cancelled TV series version of The Middleman.

I also picked up a TPB of Tyler Chin-Tanner's self-published miniseries Adrenaline, Debbie Huey's Bumperboy and the Loud, Loud Mountain, IDW's Classic G.I. Joe Volume 1 and an exclusive Comic-Con edition of Darwyn Cooke's eagerly anticipated IDW adaptation of The Hunter, the first Parker novel by Richard Stark, a.k.a. the late Donald E. Westlake. My tastes in comics aren't usually this wide-ranging--I stick to a steady diet of mature crime or espionage titles--but this list of books I grabbed in San Diego was an exception.

I first met Tyler at the Asian American ComiCon, where we had Artists Alley tables, and I ran into him again at the SDCC, where the AACC was still on our minds (the much smaller AACC was a far more enjoyable experience than SDCC, despite the occasional moments of insensitive Artists Alley behavior). Tyler is currently at work on American Terrorist, a comic about ordinary citizens who go on the lam after they're branded as terrorists for criticizing the government (the first issue is available to iPhone and Google Android users).

Like American Terrorist, Adrenaline is ripped from the headlines, and it centers on Dr. Saida Nri, a young Nigerian physician who gets roped into competing for a $4 million grand prize on a sensationalistic, globetrotting reality show of the same title--think a sleazier version of The Amazing Race. This enjoyable actioner, which Tyler wrote and drew layouts for (with epic-looking artwork provided by penciller/colorist James Boyle and inker/letterer Fabio Redivo), is a gentle sendup of reality TV and its frequent co-opting of the extreme sports craze. Alex Lowder, the Adrenaline show's wealthy host/creator (and he's not only the host, but he's also a contestant), is a mash-up of the douchey, culturally clueless Jeff Probst and an extreme sports nut.

Tyler Chin-Tanner's Adrenaline pokes fun at the rigged nature of reality shows.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Judge Dredd trailer music is like Jerry Goldsmith's two-minute Ramones song

In this 1999 photo, Jerry Goldsmith tells a UCLA film music class that if you ever run into one of those record company execs who are responsible for those 'Music from and Inspired by...' collections of songs that aren't even in the movie, feel free to kick the shit out of him.
I included the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's out-of-print performance of the late film music legend's kickass theme for the much-maligned 1995 Judge Dredd feature film's trailer in one of this month's A Fistful of Soundtracks mini-playlists. I've also cobbled together the trailer theme and some photos of Goldsmith at work as a conductor for my not-so-active YouTube channel--it's the first video I ever made on Adobe Premiere, which I've used since 1999 to edit together anything I record for AFOS. At under a minute, the hard-hitting, energetic theme is way too short. A film composer who's got the brass ones to tackle Goldsmith ought to take this too-brief Goldsmith masterpiece and write an expanded concert version.

Most listeners' first exposure to the Judge Dredd trailer theme was the trailer itself, but I first noticed the theme when it was used in the 1997 Lost in Space teaser trailer, where it wasn't drowned out so much by gunfire noise and a shouty Sylvester Stallone that you could barely hear Goldsmith's music.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Middleman: The series finale manifestation

One of the books I picked up at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con was an early copy of Viper Comics' The Middleman: The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse, which, according to Middleman creator and Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse co-writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach on his Twitter page earlier this week, "has shipped to the distributor and should hit comic book stores this or next weds."

After JGM wasn't able to film the 13th and final episode of his rejected TV series pitch-turned-Viper comic-turned actual TV series due to budgetary issues, he did what Buffy creator Joss Whedon and Farscape creator Rockne O'Bannon have done with their respective shows after the end of their runs. Like those two cult TV masterminds, JGM decided to pick up where his show left off--in comic form instead of onscreen.

Without giving too much away, The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse is an entertaining and bittersweet farewell to the TV incarnations of the Middleman and his trainee sidekick Wendy Watson (wonderfully brought to life on the show by Matt Keeslar, the most prim and proper action hero on TV since the days when Paul Gross' polite Canadian Mountie neatnik literally cleaned up the streets of Chicago on Due South, and newcomer Natalie Morales, who once called herself "the child that Amanda Peet and Rosario Dawson would have if they could procreate"). But the graphic novel, which JGM co-scripted with his fellow Middleman co-executive producer Hans Beimler, also opens the door for more adventures with the Middleman characters, although if JGM decides to resume the comic, I doubt we'll see them drawn again as Keeslar, Morales and the other actors (in the comic, Wendy is a redhead and is white instead of Latina).

Natalie Morales and Matt Keeslar in The MiddlemanI wasn't familiar with the comic before the TV version premiered on ABC Family last summer, but I instantly became a fan of the show because of its perfectly cast actors and amusing dialogue, which was loaded with pop culture references that were never forced and bizarre-sounding exclamations like "Story of O!" and "Eyes without a face!" For those who have never watched The Middleman--and really ought to now that Shout! Factory has released all 12 wordily titled episodes on DVD--the show is about Wendy, an unemployed art student who becomes the apprentice to a mysterious, Eisenhower jacket-wearing secret agent known as the Middleman, the latest in a long line of agents who take on adversaries other agencies are too chicken to fight, from evil extraterrestrials disguised as boy bands to corporate tycoons with hidden agendas like Manservant Neville (serial guest star Mark Sheppard), a Steve Jobs-esque mastermind with nefarious plans for his iPod-like uMaster product (rhymes with "View-Master").

Superbly illustrated by Armando M. Zanker, The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse pits the Middleman and Dub-Dub against a more-insane-than-usual Manservant Neville and further explores the Middleman's conflicted feelings for Dub-Dub's hot and leggy performance artist best friend Lacey, who was continually referred to by the show's chyrons as "the young, equally photogenic artist whom Wendy shares an illegal sublet with." On the show, the Middleman's love interest started out as yet another annoying Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but both actress Brit Morgan--an interesting cross between a young Frances McDormand and Zooey Deschanel who could have been perfect as a relative of McDormand's mother character and Deschanel's daughter character in Almost Famous--and the show's writers developed the Middleman's biggest admirer into something more nuanced than an MPDG. I usually don't care for the romantic subplots on my favorite shows--I'm not one of those viewers who "squee" over the "shipping" of two characters, and I wish those two slang terms would go away and take the equally grating "bromance" with them. But Lacey's crush on the Middleman--who's attracted to her and shares her love for Randolph Scott westerns, but doesn't want another relationship because of both his loyalty to his job and a rarely discussed previous romance that ended in tragedy--brings some welcome depth to an otherwise lightweight, '60s Avengers-style series.

Speaking of The Avengers--my second favorite spy show, right below Burn Notice--Jeremiah Chechik, who co-produced The Middleman and directed several of its eps, previously made the ill-advised Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman feature film version of The Avengers. Chechik was able to do something with The Middleman that he failed to accomplish with his bloated reimagining of Steed and Mrs. Peel: he captured the spirit of the original, lower-budgeted Avengers. There's no sexual heat between the Middleman and Wendy like there was between Steed and Peel (the Middleman views Wendy as the little sister he never had), but the enthusiasm the Middleman and Wendy have for their work is as infectious as it was when that other pairing of "top professional and talented amateur" did their duty for queen and country.

I recommend watching Shout! Factory's Middleman: The Complete Series box set before reading the series finale, which contains tons of callbacks to the show's running gags and makes little sense if you've never seen the show. At Comic-Con, the cast and crew performed the entire novel as a table read (which I wasn't able to catch, but meeting JGM and having him and previous Middleman GN artist Les McClaine sign my copy of The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse compensated for missing the table read). On Facebook, readers won't be able to see this, but here on Blogspot, I'm juxtaposing a Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse moment between the Middleman, Wendy and Ida the android secretary with the table read version of the scene (it takes place between 7:06 and 8:12 on the embed), performed by Keeslar, Morales and Ida's portrayer, Comic-Con audience favorite Mary Pat Gleason. Ida is what you get if you mash up Ray Bradbury's Electric Grandmother with Roz from Monsters, Inc., Blanche Devereaux from The Golden Girls and Joe Flaherty's pothead-hating Harold Weir from Freaks and Geeks ("Go back to Jamaica, greenie!").

Page 11 of The Middleman: The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Hans Beimler and Armando M. Zanker

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Laura Ling and Euna Lee freed: A day I didn't expect to happen so soon

Hardline Negotiator!
Bill Clinton, who successfully negotiated for the release of Current TV staffers-turned-prisoners of North Korea Laura Ling and Euna Lee, greets Lee on their plane back to L.A. in this unusually uplifting AP photo.

How did Clinton get it done? How did he persuade the famously implacable, Star Trek starbase jumpsuit-loving Kim Jong Il? Did he threaten Kimbo with pictures of the dictator with a goat?

Whatever Clinton did, I'm jazzed to see that Ling and Lee's ordeal is over and they can finally be reunited with their respective families.

Today's that rare day when Craig Ferguson's monologue catchphrase, "It's a great day for America," is something I can concur with.

Let's have some asses wigglin': AFOS August 2009 segment playlists

Purple Rain by Mike Reddy
Starting today at 3pm, these August '09 playlists (intro'd by yours truly, of course) will air Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4am, 10am, 3pm, 7pm and 11pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 7am, 9am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm all through August on the Fistful of Soundtracks channel.

This summer marks several anniversaries related to some of my favorite movies or soundtracks: the 25th anniversary of both Ghostbusters and Purple Rain (an example of a movie being outshined by its soundtrack, although I always find myself keeping the channel on Purple Rain whenever it airs on TV) and the 20th anniversary of both Batman (a movie I liked more as a kid than I do now) and Do the Right Thing. So four of this month's segment playlists contain music from those four movies.

"Purify Yourself in the Waters of Lake Minnetonka":
1. Prince and the Revolution, "Computer Blue," Purple Rain, Warner Bros.
2. Prince and the Revolution, "Take Me with U," Purple Rain, Warner Bros.
3. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, "Take Me with U," Purplish Rain, SPIN Media LLC

"Imitation Spaghetti":
4. Lalo Schifrin, "Quick Draw Kelly," Kelly's Heroes, Film Score Monthly
5. Seatbelts, "Go Go Cactus Man," Cowboy Bebop: Blue, Victor
6. Alan Silvestri, "The Mexican--End Credits Medley," The Mexican, Decca/UMG Soundtracks
7. J.G. Thirlwell, "Spag," The Venture Bros.: The Music of JG Thirlwell, Williams Street

The heat from those soundstage lights must be killing Kirk.
"Five Definitive Star Trek Cues":
8. Gerald Fried, "The Ritual/Ancient Battle/2nd Kroykah" (from the episode "Amok Time"), Star Trek Volume Two, GNP/Crescendo
9. Sol Kaplan, "Kirk Does It Again" (from the episode "The Doomsday Machine"), Star Trek Volume Two, GNP/Crescendo
10. Jerry Goldsmith, "Spock Walk," Star Trek: The Motion Picture: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition, Columbia/Legacy
11. James Horner, "Battle in the Mutara Nebula," Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, GNP/Crescendo
12. Michael Giacchino, "Enterprising Young Men," Star Trek, Varèse Sarabande

13. Elmer Bernstein, "Library & Title," Ghostbusters: Original Motion Picture Score, Varèse Sarabande
14. Patrick Doyle, "Overture" (from Much Ado About Nothing), Varèse Sarabande: A 25th Anniversary Celebration Volume Two, Varèse Sarabande
15. Royal Scottish National Orchestra, "Trailer" (from Judge Dredd), Hollywood '95, Varèse Sarabande
16. Jerry Goldsmith, "End Titles" (from The 'Burbs), Varèse Sarabande: A 25th Anniversary Celebration Volume Two, Varèse Sarabande
17. Shawn Davey, "Harry Pendel: The Tailor of Panama" (from The Tailor of Panama), Varèse Sarabande: A 25th Anniversary Celebration Volume Two, Varèse Sarabande

"Unstreamed Ghostbusters":
18. Elmer Bernstein, "We Got One!," Ghostbusters: Original Motion Picture Score, Varèse Sarabande
19. Elmer Bernstein, "We Got One! (Alternate)," Ghostbusters: Original Motion Picture Score, Varèse Sarabande

"Always Bet on Brown":
20. Billy Preston, "Slaughter" (from Slaughter), Ultimate Collection: Billy Preston, Hip-O
21. Danny Elfman, "Art's Demise/Chase/Punch Out/Viva Las Vegas," Mars Attacks!, La-La Land
22. Danny Elfman, "Final Address," Mars Attacks!, La-La Land

"Omnia Illa Et Ante Fiebant":
23. Bear McCreary, "Grand Old Lady" (from the episode "Islanded in a Stream of Stars"), Battlestar Galactica: Season 4, La-La Land
24. Bear McCreary featuring Raya Yarbrough, "Assault on the Colony" (from the episode "Daybreak"), Battlestar Galactica: Season 4, La-La Land

"1989, a Number, Another Summer":
25. Danny Elfman, "Batman to the Rescue," Batman: Original Motion Picture Score, Warner Bros.
26. Bill Lee, "Wake Up Suite," Do the Right Thing: Original Score, Columbia

Bonus track:
27. Bear McCreary, "Kara's Coordinates," Battlestar Galactica: Season 4, La-La Land