Friday, May 28, 2010

On the road with John Williams

The Sugarland Express in pan-and-scan should just be renamed The Shittyland Express. I can picture Vilmos Zsigmond screaming about the butchering of his cinematography, Tony Shalhoub in Big Night-style: 'Raaaaape! Of the cinema!'

For the John Williams blog-a-thon, I wish I did an entire post about my favorite out-of-print Williams work, the amusing Long Goodbye score, which I've briefly mentioned on my blog before. But someone beat me to it. I don't want to write another post about Williams' pivotal role in the Star Wars or Indy franchises, so I'll bring some attention to a great unreleased score that hasn't been covered in the blog-a-thon yet.

Williams isn't my favorite film and TV composer--that would be Ennio Morricone--but from the mid-'70s to the early '80s, the American maestro was on fire and wrote terrific score after terrific score. His first score for Steven Spielberg, the 1974 tragicomedy The Sugarland Express, one of my favorite Spielberg flicks, has very little of the grandeur or bombast Williams later became known for in his collaborations with the filmmaker. The last time I saw the Spielberg road movie was also the first or second time I saw it--letterboxed on AMC in 1992, and that's the only way the film should be watched outside the theater--but after all these years, I've never forgotten Williams' understated music.

The score's primary theme is a simple harmonica melody performed by Toots Thielemans. The piece effectively captures the longing of the Poplins (the not-so-bright but sympathetic Texan fugitive couple played by Goldie Hawn and William Atherton) for their baby without being syrupy. It's especially haunting during ace cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's glistening end credits images of Michael Sacks' young state trooper standing over the Rio Grande, saddened by the outcome of his experience with the Poplins.

The main theme has been re-recorded a few times, most notably by Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra for Sony Classical's 1991 Spielberg/Williams Collaboration album, but the full Sugarland score has never been officially released (it's been bootlegged though, with album graphic designs that look like the Poplins just discovered Photoshop). I actually don't mind its unreleased status because outside the context of the film, the minimalist and downbeat score isn't the kind of score I'd listen to a few times on disc, like Williams' scores from Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Long Goodbye and Catch Me If You Can. But within the body of the film (and accompanied by Zsigmond's stunning cinematography), it's powerful stuff.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

AFOS: "The Android's Dungeon" playlist

'If you like authentic blues, you really gotta check out Blueshammer. They're so great!'
Airing next Wednesday at 10am and 3pm on A Fistful of Soundtracks is the Fistful of Soundtracks: The Series episode "The Android's Dungeon" (WEB80) from July 17-23, 2006.

The WEB80 playlist consists of selections from scores to film adaptations of comic books or graphic novels. Several of these films actually aren't from the superhero genre, particularly Ghost World and American Splendor. Even though my print comics writing debut was in a superhero graphic novel, and I was entertained by Iron Man and its sequel (which I've jokingly referred to on Twitter as Iron 2 Man because of its weirdly arranged logo in the TV spots), I'm not really much of a fan of the superhero genre. As Matt Zoller Seitz recently noted in a Salon piece that's a great read despite Seitz's tendency to refer to superhero flicks as "comic book films" (last time I checked, comics aren't just about superheroes anymore), the superhero genre has gotten too clichéd. It's also too white right now. A few days after I posted that fans of DC's short-lived All-New Atom are worried that the company will kill off the series' surprisingly non-stereotypical Asian hero Ryan Choi, what does DC do? They bump him off, of course. Screw DC (the non-Vertigo-and-WildStorm part of the company, that is, because Vertigo and WildStorm are the only DC publishing divisions I give a shit about these days).

Glad this dope opening sequence of the Gotham cityscape wasn't accompanied by the sappy 'Gotham City' by R. Kelly.
1. Danny Elfman, "The Batman Theme," Batman: Original Motion Picture Score, Warner Bros.
2. Shirley Walker, "Main Title," Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Reprise
3. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, "Molossus," Batman Begins, Warner Sunset/Warner Home Video
4. Eytan Mirsky, "American Splendor," Everyone's Having Fun Tonight!, M-Squared
5. David Kitay, "Theme from Ghost World," Ghost World, Shanachie
6. Danny Elfman, "Spider-Man 2 Main Title," Spider-Man 2: Original Motion Picture Score, Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax
7. John Ottman, "Main Titles," Superman Returns, Warner Sunset/Rhino
8. Thomas Newman, "Rock Island, 1931," Road to Perdition, Decca/UMG Soundtracks
9. Marco Beltrami, "Main Title," Hellboy, Varèse Sarabande
10. Robert Rodriguez, "Sin City End Titles," Sin City, Varèse Sarabande
11. Ennio Morricone featuring Christy, "Deep Down" (from Danger: Diabolik), Canto Morricone: The Ennio Morricone Songbook, Vol. 1, Bear Family
12. Dario Marianelli, "The Dominoes Fall," V for Vendetta, Astralwerks/EMI
13. John Ottman, "Suite from X2," X2, Superb/Trauma
14. James Horner, "Rocketeer to the Rescue/End Titles," The Rocketeer, Hollywood

Reruns of AFOS: The Series air Wednesdays at 10am and 3pm. To listen to the station during either of those time slots or right now, press the play icon on the blue widget below the "About me" mini-bio on this blog. I wish I included Oldboy or Akira in that 2006 playlist. Oh well.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lost, "The End": "I don't believe in a lot of things, but I do believe in duct tape"

Lost: The Animated Series by Michael Blaine Myers
As someone who's watched every single episode of Lost since the still-amazing pilot and recapped the series' entire fourth season for another blog (and never got paid for writing those recaps--as Chris Rock would say, what kind of gangster shit is that?), I'm still processing the events of Lost's lukewarmly received and sometimes frustrating series finale. I wasn't expecting the finale to answer every remaining question about the series' mysterious goings-on. How could it do so in one episode, even with an extra half-hour? I just wanted a finale that gave proper farewells to the characters and brought the goods action-wise like those eps when Sayid busted out his badass breakdance fighting moves, and "The End" delivered in the character and action sequence departments. But was all that time spent in the sideways universe during the final season worth it? I don't think I'm completely satisfied with the reasoning for the sidewaysverse. That whole business with the giant cork didn't make much sense either. Bullet time:

-My favorite recurring Lost theme was the conflict between a man of science (Jack) and a man of faith (Locke). The final season resolved that conflict beautifully, with Jack finally accepting Locke's beliefs in the specialness of the island and dying the way he wanted to (which was seeing his remaining friends leave the island safely) in a pitch-perfect final image that referenced the pilot's first moment and showed how much of an influence the Watchmen comic had on Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof.

-I'm glad Ken Leung's Miles, the character who provided the above one-liner about duct tape, lived to see another day. Bloggers like angry asian man and DISGRASIAN were disappointed that their favorite pair of Lost characters, the supercouple of Jin and Sun, was offed in "The Candidate" (some have even cried racism over the demises of the Kwons and Sayid), but I think the death of Miles, the show's sole Asian American regular and one of the few APA guys in prime-time who's neither a martial arts expert nor a coonin' buffoon, would have been a bigger letdown. (Speaking of Asian stuff, spoken-word artist Bao Phi wrote a nice post earlier this season about Lost's huge Asian American following.)

-I was also jazzed to see Miles' fellow freightie Lapidus alive after the submarine debacle in "The Candidate" because Jeff Fahey, who was underused on Lost but served as great comic relief whenever he did get screen time, is a master at making something out of nothing, ever since his laconic turn as the eccentric title hero of ABC's short-lived '90s procedural The Marshal. One of the reasons why the Star Wars prequel trilogy was an epic fail was because it lacked a Han Solo-esque figure who would wittily comment on the mystical goings-on and serve as a relatable audience surrogate. I like to think the Lost creators took notice of that flaw in the prequels, so they gave us not just one Han Solo-esque foil, but four: Sawyer, Miles, Lapidus and the not-as-cynical-or-snarky Hurley.

-The sci-fi geek in me who enjoyed all the time-travel material during my favorite Lost seasons, four and five, was disappointed that neither the nuke in "The Incident" nor the island's funky science was the reason for the sidewaysverse. The afterlife angle pretty much shot down my theory that Desmond or some other character with extraordinary powers created the sidewaysverse to hide his friends in there from the homicidal Smokey. On a superficial note, Sidewaysverse Kate looked slammin' in that black miniskirt.

-So Hurley and Ben are basically Mr. Rourke and Tattoo now? I bet the new island protector begins each morning by greeting everyone else with "Smiles, everydude, smiles!"

-Since when is Shannon the love of Sayid's life? I thought he was into Nadia. Whatever, man. I'm sure the Sayid and Shannon shippers got their panties wet that night. God, I hate that term "shippers." Other terms I hate are "squee" and "bromance." All those terms should be taken out back and shot and given a burial like the one Rick Rubin gave to the word "def" when he removed "Def" from the name of his label American Records.

-Yes! Lt. Van Buren is cancer-free! Woops, wrong series finale.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost (2004-2010)

Ben Linus is the new Number Two. So that means when I'm taking a shit, I can say I'm taking a Ben Linus.
After watching the Lost series finale, I thought to myself, "Ooh, I bet Roman from Party Down is not a happy man right now."

I'm sure the finale pissed off viewers who are into "hard sci-fi" like Martin Starr's Roman character. As for myself, I'm still not sure what to make of the finale--so the sideways universe was essentially the Nexus from that lame seventh Star Trek movie?--but one thing's for sure: the post-finale wrap-up show hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and scored by special guest bandleader Michael Giacchino was hilarious.

AFOS: "Kiss Kiss Ban Ban" playlist

And now, here's the lamest pun I could come up with for this scene between Bond and Domino: 'Oh James, you truly are the king of spears.'

Airing this Wednesday at 10am and 3pm on A Fistful of Soundtracks is the Fistful of Soundtracks: The Series episode "Kiss Kiss Ban Ban" (WEB73) from February 27-March 5, 2006.

This ep, which focuses on rejected or unused original music from soundtracks to movies like Thunderball, Ocean's Twelve and Hell Up in Harlem, got a nice mention in the RiffTrax forums in 2008. The "Kiss Kiss Ban Ban" title has double meaning. It refers to both Shirley Bassey's bizarre pronunciation of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" in the rejected Thunderball theme "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and the banishment of these tunes from the final cut.

The second half of Thunderball is as exciting as watching a British government employee do paperwork, but goddamn, that flick's still got the hottest-looking assortment of Bond women in the history of the franchise.

1. Bernard Herrmann, "Prelude (from Torn Curtain)," Alfred Hitchcock Presents...Signatures in Suspense, Hip-O
2. Los Angeles Philharmonic, "The Killing," Bernard Herrmann: The Film Scores, Sony Classical
3. The National Philharmonic Orchestra, "Main Title," Alex North's 2001, Varèse Sarabande
4. The National Philharmonic Orchestra, "Space Station Docking," Alex North's 2001, Varèse Sarabande
5. James Brown, "The Payback," Dead Presidents, Capitol
6. Shirley Bassey, "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," The Best of James Bond: 30th Anniversary Limited Edition, EMI
7. Dionne Warwick, "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," The Best of James Bond: 30th Anniversary Limited Edition, EMI
8. Johnny Cash, "Thunderball," The Man in Black: 1963-1969, Bear Family
9. Blondie, "For Your Eyes Only," The Hunter, Chrysalis
10. Jerry Goldsmith, "The Dig," Timeline: Music Inspired by the Film, Varèse Sarabande
11. Lalo Schifrin, "Music from the Unused Trailer," The Exorcist, Warner Home Video
12. John Barry, "Moviola," John Barry: Moviola, Epic Soundtrax
13. Jerry Fielding, "The Water Hole," Music for The Getaway: Jerry Fielding's Original Score, Film Score Monthly
14. Jerry Fielding, "Casing the Joint," Music for The Getaway: Jerry Fielding's Original Score, Film Score Monthly
15. David Holmes, "$165 Million + Interest (into) The Round Up," Ocean's Twelve, Warner Sunset/Warner Bros.
16. The Smithereens, "A Girl Like You," 11, Capitol

Here for no particular reason is a picture of the hot redhead from Thunderball in a bathtub. I think her name is Tunsa Redbush.
Other than "The Payback," my favorite part of WEB73 is hearing Shirley Bassey's "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" back-to-back with Dionne Warwick's version, as if the double shot is a battle between Bassey and Warwick like that awesome moment in Dave Chappelle's Block Party when the Roots brought Jill Scott and Erykah Badu together onstage for a "Duel of the Divas Who Sang 'You Got Me.'" (Scott wrote the chorus of the 1999 Roots track and was featured on the original recording, but MCA, the Roots' label at the time, wanted a more famous artist to be part of the Things Fall Apart album's first single, so the band replaced Scott with Badu on the released version.) The duel in Block Party ends in a draw--Scott and Badu are both terrific onstage--although I prefer Scott's original "You Got Me" because in 1999, I couldn't understand some of what Badu was singing during the chorus of the Things Fall Apart version. As for which of the two versions of "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is better, it's Bassey FTW, even though like with Badu's "You Got Me," I have no idea what Bassey's singing during the chorus ("Mr. Kiss Kiss Ban Ban's not a foal"?).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Inception trailer music is as awesome as that shot of the city street folding like a slice of New York pizza

'Shit, that cake I had to get for my co-worker's lunchroom birthday party's gonna get smooshed in my car!'
Though I'm still not sure what exactly Christopher Nolan's Inception is about (it looks like The Lathe of Heaven meets Being John Malkovich), I'm dying to see it because of the trailers' trippy visuals of floating gunmen and folding cityscapes (which look stunning in IMAX) and Nolan's solid track record with psychological thriller material ever since Memento. That Dark Knight-esque piece of music during the new Inception trailer and TV spot sounds amazing. At first, I thought it was a cue from Hans Zimmer's Inception score, but it was actually composed by Zack Hemsey, who says he plans to make his Inception trailer piece (entitled "Mind Heist") available for sale on his site.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Danny Trejo's so tough Freddy has nightmares about him

Chuck Norris dresses up like Danny Trejo on Halloween.
The talk of the Internets is AICN's Cinco de Mayo posting of the trailer for Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse spinoff Machete--a movie that originated as a fake trailer, much like Black Dynamite and Spaceballs, which swam out of the spaceballsack that was "Jews in Space" from History of the World: Part I.

I loved the original fake trailer, and so did the audience during one of the cleverest DVD audio tracks I've heard, the Planet Terror DVD's "Audience Reaction Track." With a cast that includes three Losties, Machete looks like a Lost flash-sideways on acid. The all-star 20th Century Fox revenge flick drops on Labor Day Weekend. Let the "Danny Trejo's so tough..." meme begin.

The new Machete trailer opens with "This is Machete with a special Cinco de Mayo message... to Arizona!" I wish Machete added, "And to the putos at my distributor's 'news' channel!"

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Aw hell, Chewbacca": 10 genuinely funny stand-up routines about movies

Patton Oswalt at his second home, the comic shop
Patton Oswalt, one of the few stand-ups who have publicly sworn off Twitter ("I like having radio silence. I think radio silence is an important part of any public figure's day."), did the unthinkable this past weekend when he succumbed to the Twittersphere and started an account. As one can see from his act and his stint as a guest programmer at L.A.'s New Bev Cinema, movies are a topic the Big Fan star and Hollywood script doctor is passionate about, and they've led to some of my favorite Oswalt routines. Maybe we'll get a taste of some more Oswalt material about movies on his new Twitter page. To mark Oswalt's arrival on Twitter, where he's already on a roll and is demonstrating why stand-ups and comedy writers are the best kind of celebrity to follow on Twitter (unlike most other celebs, their tweets are rarely boring or shallow), here are 10 standout routines from the stand-up world about cinema. Four of these routines are Oswalt's.

10. Richard Pryor rewrites The Exorcist
The horror genre has always fascinated the late Pryor's former writing partner Paul Mooney, who's done brilliant jokes about the Frankenstein monster, white filmgoers' fears of the shark from Jaws and movies that skeevily put women in romantic situations with sci-fi monsters. He must have had a hand in writing Pryor's material about The Exorcist, which he and Pryor actually saw together at its Hollywood premiere. When Pryor guest-hosted SNL and brought along Mooney as a sketch writer, they did an amusing Exorcist sketch in which a pair of black priests (Pryor and Thalmus Rasulala) lose their patience with the possessed kid (Laraine Newman), who taunts Rasulala's priest with the cleaned-up-for-TV "Your mama sews socks that smell."

9. Scott Thompson sinks Titanic during an interview on Late Night with Conan O'Brien
"I don't think that to be a leading man, you have to be Harrison Ford, but I do think that you should be able to do at least one push-up. When little Leo finally kisses big Kate, I thought it was a lesbian scene."

8. Robert Klein reenacts every single Our Gang short you've seen
I actually like this routine from the 1973 album Child of the 50's more than "I Can't Stop My Leg." Klein's recreation of the Our Gang score music ("Hal Roach had four tunes that he played over and over again") is priceless.

7. Oswalt wonders what Star Wars would have been like if Nick Nolte won the role he actually auditioned for: Han Solo
"Fuckin' droids, beep, beep..."

6. Oswalt recalls one of the reasons why he left his hometown of Sterling, Virginia
The Blast of Silence-loving film geek gets worked up over the aggravating opinions of an NBC affiliate's out-of-touch film critic ("Yeah, so there's this new movie from Australia... called The Road Warrior. Now let me get this straight. It's the future, there's no gasoline, but everyone's driving around in cars. I don't get it. No stars!"). It's an oddly affecting routine that anyone who's aching to leave the hometown they despise--including right now, yours truly--can identify with.

5. Steve Byrne imagines how Bruce Lee had sex
This is a hilarious little routine that must be watched, not listened to. Why Byrne included it as a track on his 2005 CD Little by Little boggles the mind because 90 percent of it relies on visual gags. Without the visuals, it's like listening to a Marcel Marceau record album.

4. Mario Cantone does an impression of that annoying classroom song from The Birds
I'm disappointed that no one has posted Cantone's Birds routine on YouTube. If you watched a lot of Comedy Central during the late '90s like I did, you might have fond memories of the routine. The channel frequently reran it, yet it never got old. I always dug how instead of the Psycho shower scene or the North by Northwest crop-duster attack, Cantone chose a lesser-known Hitchcock movie moment to mock (and add some profane new lyrics to). And yes, when you watch The Birds, that song really does work your last nerve and make you want to go peck a defenseless hobo's eyes out like he's Suzanne Pleshette.

3. Oswalt wishes he could go back in time and kill George Lucas with a shovel
A lapsed Star Wars fan, Oswalt delivers a terrific argument against prequels. Yet that didn't stop Oswalt from joining the cast of one of them--Caprica.

2. Paul Mooney rips apart white Hollywood
During the long-out-of-print 1993 album Race, Mooney makes you never look at Disney's Beauty and the Beast the same way again ("Don't take your kids to see that shit. Four or five years from now, your kid'll be in the kitchen fucking the dog, singing 'Beauty and the Beast!'") and disses sci-fi and horror filmmakers for both their misogyny and weird fetishes for "exotic" interspecies romances (I wonder what Mooney has to say about Twilight and True Blood). But the best part of Mooney's amazing rant is when he explains why he detests Driving Miss Daisy ("I don't like that coonin' happy slave bullshit"). The movies that Mooney jokes about on the 1993 CD may be old now, but unfortunately, the stereotypes they reinforced still remain. Now if only there were an Asian American stand-up who isn't so subservient to the Man and will go onstage and rant about the Asian American version of all this.

1. Oswalt channels movie producer Robert Evans
I love how Oswalt often picks the most obscure pop culture-related topics for his act (Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is a recent example). An audience favorite at past Oswalt performances was his parody of the little-remembered ESPN radio ads that the Godfather and Rosemary's Baby producer recorded to promote the channel's programming. We see why Oswalt is frequently employed as a punch-up scriptwriter when he lets his imagination run wild with colorful, almost poetic-sounding descriptions of wild escapades with '70s celebrities ("Tom Wopat loved the three F's: food, fun and fisting. We took Gil Gerard out on my cigarette boat Memorial Day Weekend 1978, and I swear to you, over those sweet, savage 72 hours, he turned that poor man into his personal finger puppet.").

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Fistful of Soundtracks: The Series rerun schedule for the next five months

Django, where you going with that gun in your hand?May 5: "Superhero Worship" (WEB54) Featured are themes from superhero flicks like Superman: The Movie, Spider-Man 2 and The Incredibles. From the week of November 22-28, 2004.

May 12: "Collabs" (WEB43) This episode of AFOS: The Series centers on classic composer/director partnerships (Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock, Nino Rota/Federico Fellini, Danny Elfman/Tim Burton). From the week of June 28-July 4, 2004.

May 19: "Zero Churn" (WEB69) Selections from scores to movies that aired on L.A.'s legendary Z Channel, the subject of the 2004 documentary Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession. From the week of November 28-December 4, 2005.

May 26: "Kiss Kiss Ban Ban" (WEB73) Rejected or unused music from scores to movies like Thunderball, The Getaway, Timeline and 2001. From the week of February 27-March 5, 2006.

June 2: "The Android's Dungeon" (WEB80) Selections from scores to movies based on comic books and graphic novels (The Rocketeer, Ghost World). From the week of July 17-23, 2006.

June 9: "Sleazy Listening Revisited" (WEB84) This ep rehashes all the tracks from the 2003 AFOS: The Series ep "Sleazy Listening" (WEB27), which focused on groovetastic scores composed for B-movies and sex comedies during the '60s and '70s. From the week of February 12-18, 2007.

June 16: "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangster" (WEB85) Original themes from films and shows about gangsters (The Departed, Deadwood). From the week of February 19-25, 2007.

June 23: "We Want Sleazy" (WEB86) This sequel to the 2003 "Sleazy Listening" ep features selections from the scores to The Liquidator, The Hanged Man, Ocean's Twelve and "poliziotteschi" movies (High Crime, Violent Naples). From the week of February 19-25, 2007.

June 30: "Kids Come Running for the Rich Taste of Samples" (WEB87) Blaxploitation-era theme tunes that have been sampled by hip-hop artists (Shaft in Africa, Black Belt Jones). From the week of February 26-March 4, 2007.

July 7: "Bad Things Come in Threes (Alright, Maybe Not Always)" (WEB88) Selections from scores to movies that are threequels (Ocean's Thirteen, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). From the week of June 18-24, 2007.

July 14: "I'll Kill You and Recommend to God That He Put His Foot in Your Ass" (WEB89) A batch of score cues from obscure spaghetti westerns like Viva Django and Life Is Tough, Eh Providence? (The ep's title is a play on the title of the 1968 spaghetti western I'll Kill You and Recommend You to God, a.k.a. Dead for a Dollar). From the week of June 18-24, 2007.

July 21: "A Better Class of Criminal" (WEB97) Villain themes from the Batman feature films (all the animated Batman features except for Mask of the Phantasm are excluded because they weren't theatrical releases and the Joel Schumacher movies are excluded because they suck). From the week of October 6-12, 2008.

July 28: "Around the World in 60 Minutes" (WEB90) Selections from scores to movies that were shot all over the globe (The Bourne Ultimatum, Dhoom 2). From the week of July 30-August 5, 2007.

August 4: "The Wonderful World of Covers" (WEB91) Film and TV theme covers from around the world, including a '60s instrumental rock-style take on the Get Carter theme from Finland and a funkdafied cover of Beyoncé's Austin Powers tune "Work It Out" from the U.K. From the week of July 30-August 5, 2007.

August 11: "Funk in the Trunk" (WEB92) Selections from funkdafied scores to movies like Superbad, Superfly and The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion. From the week of April 7-13, 2008.

August 18: "All This Has Happened Before" (WEB93) The most memorable season finale cues from Battlestar Galactica, as well as selections from scores to other remakes that outstripped their predecessors like Galactica did (Casino Royale, Buffy). From the week of April 14-20, 2008.

August 25: "Bottomless Party" (WEB95) Selections from scores that were written for comedies (Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, The Simpsons Movie, Stripes). From the week of April 21-27, 2008.

September 1: "Galloping Around the Cosmos" (WEB94) Music from the original series era of the '80s and '90s Star Trek feature films. From the week of April 21-27, 2008.

September 8: "The Inmates Are Taking Over the Asylum" (WEB96) Selections from scores to films that were distributed by United Artists (which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2009). From the week of April 28-May 4, 2008.

September 15: "Spirit of '99" (WEB99) The penultimate ep of AFOS: The Series consists of selections from scores to the most noteworthy and inventive films of the year 1999 (Election, Fight Club). From the week of December 15-21, 2008.

September 22: "Dance Into the Fire" (WEB100) The final ep of AFOS: The Series contains all 22 official 007 opening title themes in chronological order, from the Dr. No instrumental theme to Quantum of Solace's "Another Way to Die." From the week of December 29, 2008-January 4, 2009.

September 29: "Super Groover Mama Dalai Lama" (WEB09) This installment features 10 original opening theme songs that are either quirky, out-of-place or incomprehensible. From the week of April 21-27, 2003.

My starting six for Asian Pacific American comic books

Chew #9 cover by Rob Guillory
Last year, music critic/blogger Oliver Wang invited his readers to post lists of six films that they think would best serve as an intro to Asian American cinema if someone asked, "What the hell is Asian American cinema? School me." Chan Is Missing, a Wayne Wang indie comedy that broke new ground in 1982 for its multilayered portrayal of the frequently stereotyped Chinese American community, showed up on several readers' lists.

It took a long time for the APA-dominated comics industry to catch up to Chan Is Missing and other equally groundbreaking '80s and early '90s indie films by APA directors. When I was a teen, I frequently thought, "Why aren't all these Asian creators doing comics about themselves or rather, about us? Okay, there's Xombi by a pair of non-Asians over at Milestone Media. But that's it? (NOTE: I didn't know Lynda Barry was one-quarter Filipina at the time.) Are these Asian guys whitewashed or something?"

The lack of APA protagonists was one of many reasons why I lost interest in comics and didn't become a regular reader again until the mid-2000s (mainly because of the strong writing in titles like Y: The Last Man and Gotham Central). It was a great time to come back to comics because that part of the decade saw several APA creators unleashing graphic novels with richly crafted APA characters that were on a par with Chan Is Missing.

I'm looking forward to seeing more APA comics or graphic novels. I was even involved in one of them (Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology). Whether they're semi-autobiographical works that examine APA identity issues or post-racial escapist fare that doesn't address any of those issues at all (but it doesn't matter because look, yo, it's an APA brother as the hero!), here, in alphabetical order, are six essential APA comics or graphic novels, just in time for APA Heritage Month.

The All-New Atom #5 by Gail Simone and Eddy Barrows
1. The All-New Atom (writer: Gail Simone/illustrators: various, 2006-08)
DC's most recent revival of their microscopic superhero only lasted 25 issues, but its wisecracking lead, Ray Palmer's Hong Kong-born protege and successor Ryan Choi, still suits up as the Atom in other DC titles and even the Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series (some fans of the Choi incarnation fear that after these post-cancellation appearances, the character, whose series tanked sales-wise, might get killed off someday). For this offbeat series, which was partially created by Grant Morrison and collected in four trade paperback volumes, Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman writer Simone set up a nifty and inventive premise that raises the question "Do superheroes ever think about the destruction they leave in their wake?" The shrinking technology that Professor Palmer made use of as the Atom has left some nasty side effects on the physics of his hometown Ivy Town and turned it into a Sunnydale-like hotbed of paranormal activity. After his professor mentor mysteriously goes AWOL, Choi defies the wishes of his Hardass Asian Father and assumes the Atom mantle to protect Ivy Town from monsters, size-changing serial killers and a microscopic extraterrestrial warrior race that lives inside Choi's dog Copernicus. Oh yeah, and there's a 30-foot-tall naked red-haired chick (if the My Life in Miniature arc ever becomes a movie, naked Giganta ought to be played by Christina Hendricks--and somewhere, a nerd's pants explode).

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
2. American Born Chinese (writer/illustrator: Gene Luen Yang, 2006)
Colored superbly by artist Lark Pien, Yang's absorbing third novel centers on a whitewashed Chinese junior high-schooler who's filled with enough self-hatred to fuel an Esther Ku routine, and it ties the kid's struggles beautifully to the Chinese legend of the impish and heroic Monkey King. As a kid who drew his own comics, Yang was prone to some of the same kinds of whitewashed behavior that his novel depicts. He would doodle bucktoothed caricatures of his own people, without realizing they're as offensive as the Asian-bashing cartoons he would later find objectionable as a grown-up (he named the school that's a source of torment for the title character after one of these racist cartoonists, Pat Oliphant). American Born Chinese's bucktoothed Cousin Chin-Kee character was a way for the Bay Area native to exorcise that personal demon (much like Lynda Barry, whom I'll get to later). The confessional feel of American Born Chinese is quite Catholic--Yang himself is a devout Catholic--and the candor with which he tackles self-hatred and identity recalls the earlier and more personal works of another guilt-ridden Catholic, Martin Scorsese.

Chew #5 by John Layman and Rob Guillory
3. Chew (writer: John Layman/illustrator: Rob Guillory, 2009-present)
Layman and Guillory's clever, funny and sometimes gross Image series imagines a world rocked by a Y: The Last Man-like bird flu catastrophe (was Layman inspired by the footage of struggling Vietnamese chicken farmers in Laura Ling's 2006 bird flu piece for Current TV?). In the Chew-niverse, Poultry Prohibition is in effect, the poultry black market is as dangerous and murderous as the drug trade, and the FDA, suddenly the most powerful government agency in America, starts a Special Crimes division and turns to "cibopath" Tony Chu to bust all the crazies who have emerged since the bird flu. Chu's cibopathy allows him to see the history of any item he eats, from where it originated to who prepared it. So if Chu were the primary on the case of the Barbara Bel Geddes Alfred Hitchcock Presents character who killed her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and got rid of her weapon by serving it to the cops for dinner, Miss Ellie wouldn't have stood a chance. Guillory modeled Chew's often repulsed but brave detective hero after Lost cast member Ken Leung, whose ease with shifting back and forth between humor and seriousness would make him an ideal screen portrayer of Chu (although I have a feeling Leung, who had a bit part in X-Men: The Last Stand as a porcupine man who must be a nightmare in the sack for the ladies, might want a break from playing guys with weird powers). Here's a reason to admire Chew's white scriptwriter: he reportedly refuses to sign off on a screen adaptation if an APA actor isn't cast as his creation. In whitewash-crazy Hollywood (The Last Airbender, Mickey Rourke's possible Genghis Khan biopic), I wouldn't be surprised if Layman ends up in one hell of a fight. Heads up, Hollywood: Chu-style biting might be involved.

Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President by Kaiji Kawaguchi
4. Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President (writer/illustrator: Kaiji Kawaguchi, 1997-2001)
24 foretold a black president. The West Wing's final season envisioned a Latino one. Kawaguchi's soapy but riveting political manga imagined a Japanese American prez--several years before either of those shows introduced their fictional chief executives of color. Kenneth Yamaoka, the New York senator whose campaign to become the Democratic presidential candidate is the focus of Eagle, bears a few similarities to President Obama. Both are charismatic, self-deprecating former lawyers of biracial heritage who hail from Hawaii and have to put up with racist outrage over their ascension in the political arena. The major difference between Yamaoka and our current president is that Obama doesn't have an adopted daughter and an illegitimate son who fall in love with each other. The somewhat disgusting incest subplot is the weak link in an otherwise thoughtful and intriguing exploration of political strategizing and racism on the campaign trail. (The five-volume Eagle is currently out-of-print, but I unearthed the first two volumes at a local library and absorbed both chunky books in one sitting. Yamaoka's campaign manager Arthur McCoy resembles Human Target star Chi McBride so much that I couldn't help reading aloud some of McCoy's dialogue to myself in a McBride-style rasp.)

One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry
5. One Hundred Demons (writer/illustrator: Lynda Barry, 2002)
For her first autobiographical work, which she called an "autobifictionalography," the creator of the alt-weekly fixture Ernie Pook's Comeek took a cue from a Zen monk who would exorcise his personal demons by painting them, and she revisited her own demons from her past. They range from frustration over the travesty that was the 2000 Florida presidential vote recount to regret over choosing lousy boyfriends (the nameless pony-tailed boyfriend in the "Head Lice and My Worst Boyfriend" chapter is based on her ex Ira Glass). Many of the novel's most enjoyable or poignant sections involve Barry's days as a gawky, fatherless misfit who bonded with her fun-loving Filipino grandma and was subjected to nonstop verbal abuse from her far less compassionate half-Filipino mother. One Hundred Demons is an interesting precursor to American Born Chinese, and like Yang's novel, it's upfront about the painful side of growing up Asian in America and nostalgic for the delightful aspects of it, such as Barry's Pinoy relatives' impromptu dance parties (the American Born Chinese equivalent is Transformers toy battles with other Asian kids). Barry's rubber-limbed drawing style is especially charming during the chapter about dancing, which finds Barry paying tribute to the "keepers of the groove" and "the babies and the grandmas who hang on to it and help us remember when we forget that any kind of dancing is better than no dancing at all."

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine
6. Shortcomings (writer/illustrator: Adrian Tomine, 2007)
I knew Shortcomings was terrific right when it began with a swipe at overly earnest APA indie films ("Why does everything have to be some big 'statement' about race? Don't any of these people just want to make a movie that's good?"). On the subject of Shortcomings, which collects a three-issue arc from his series Optic Nerve, Tomine told The Economist's Intelligent Life, "It became a challenge to create something honest. I didn't want to make a book that said 'it's cool to be Asian,' or 'racism is bad.'" That honesty--best exemplified by Tomine's refusal to make his New York-hating theater manager protagonist Ben Tanaka a completely likable romantic hero who's always in the right and who triumphs in the end--is why Shortcomings isn't just one of the best APA-made graphic novels but also one of the aughts decade's best novels, period. Tomine's downbeat (but not overly dour) and elegantly illustrated novel has often been compared to Annie Hall (which is also about a heartbroken misanthrope who has to brave a city he can't stand in order to attempt to patch things up with the one that got away), but the way Ben sabotages his relationship with his activist girlfriend Miko to indulge a fetish for white chicks and then amusingly suffers the consequences is more Larry David than Woody Allen. While many readers might detest Ben, it'd be hard to find anything to dislike about his mischievous and much less sullen Korean lesbian best friend Alice, whose acerbic exchanges with Ben are among the novel's highlights ("All Asians might look the same to you, but my family would spot your Japanese ass a mile away").