Monday, August 29, 2011

"If I wanted Chekhov, I'd have worn my polo neck": The best existing songs that are theme music for shows you've probably never heard of

For a creepy time, call Andy Dick.

1. "Somebody Start a Fight or Something" by TISM (The Green Room with Paul Provenza)
This rousing 2004 track by the Aussie alt-rock band TISM delivers a message of "Drop your pretentious airs and start keeping it real" ("Listen, motherfucker, let me make this clear/I've had your fucking poetry up to here... If I wanted Chekhov, I'd have worn my polo neck"), so it's the perfect theme music for a frank and uncensored Showtime stand-up comic panel show that's the anti-Comics Unleashed with Byron Allen.

In other words, the stand-ups are required to have an actual conversation with each other, instead of pretending they're having a conversation when what they're really doing is just reciting their routines. Moderator Paul Provenza's anti-Comics Unleashed format has resulted in lively and thought-provoking discussions like the one Provenza, Bill Burr, Lizz Winstead, Russell Peters, Colin Quinn, Caroline Rhea and Tony Clifton (!) had about Tracy Morgan's apologies for his homophobic jokes during a recent episode that took place at Montreal's Just for Laughs festival. (Also in that same episode, Peters, an Indian Canadian comic, gives the funniest description of what porn flicks are like in a country where its movie stars can't even kiss onscreen. I can't do Peters' Indian porn joke any justice if I attempt to repeat it, so I won't attempt to.)

During an interview to promote The Green Room, Provenza said one of the purposes of his show is to get stand-ups who are always "on" to leave behind their one-liner comfort zones or stage personas and just be themselves. The frequent archness of the present-day stand-up world is a trend he dislikes:

Many comedians these days "take on characters. It's a lot of winking and nodding. Some comedians almost even apologize for the fact that they're working in the form of comedy, and they make fun of the form as they're doing it. That's the overriding trend. So what you get is people who are not actually talking from the heart. They're always putting some layer of detachment from their real, you know, emotional and intellectual passions."

In other words, he wants them to pull no punches, whether it's onstage or on The Green Room. Somebody start a fight or something.

2. "Yalili Ya Aini" by Jah Wobble's Invaders of the Heart (The Smartest Man in the World)
I first heard this hypnotic 1994 track by former Public Image Ltd bassist Jah Wobble, his band Invaders of the Heart and singer Natacha Atlas (Allmusic calls it "one of the best bits of sexy, North African lurch that Wobble and [guitarist Justin] Adams have ever set to tape") while tuning in to SomaFM's Secret Agent, which has it on constant rotation. So when it wound up as the theme music for comedian Greg Proops' stream-of-consciousness podcast The Smartest Man in the World, I thought, "Sweet! It's that Arabian-sounding chillout joint from Secret Agent with the title that always escapes me."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

That's the Attack the Block score that you're hearing on A Fistful of Soundtracks, bruv, believe it

Brother's gonna give this gorilla wolf motherfucker the teeth brushing to end all teeth brushings.
(Photo source: Alex Pardee)
Back in March, I said, "Add The Chemical Brothers' richly written and often dance floor-friendly original score from the teenage assassin thriller Hanna to the list of awesome scores by electronica or rock musicians who never scored for film before." It's time to add another one.

Set in a rough South London neighborhood attacked by "gorilla wolf muthafuckas" from outer space, the British cult favorite Attack the Block is the best popcorn movie this summer. Beleedat. (Most American moviegoers still haven't heard of Attack the Block, but Screen Gems has been hoping to change that by expanding Attack the Block's release to six more cities last week.) One of the movie's most enjoyable elements is the original score, the first ever written by the British dance act Basement Jaxx, whose tunes have often popped up in advertising (my first exposure to Basement Jaxx was an early '00s Coke ad that featured a group of svelte campfire partiers and an isolated and not-as-svelte nerd dancing in the woods to the catchy "Red Alert," while "Do Your Thing" was all over Disney's ads for Ratatouille).

Basement Jaxx (a.k.a. Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe) co-composed the score with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World music editor Steven Price, and their score accomplishes well what it set out to do, which, according to Attack the Block writer/director Joe Cornish in the score album's liner notes, was "to do the things that film scores used to do. To be as exciting and escapist as a John Williams adventure, and as gritty and percussive as the great John Carpenter's electronic scores."

Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 theme is so beloved by beatmakers that its influence can be felt in many of their instrumentals, including Buxton, Ratcliffe and Price's cues in Attack the Block. Starting this week, my favorite Attack the Block cues attack three blocks on A Fistful of Soundtracks: "Assorted Fistful," "New Cue Revue" and "The Street." One of these selections that I've added to rotation is the bagpipes-filled, dubstep-style cue "The Ends."

Attack the Block is inventive sci-fi with a youth of color as the lead for a change, as well as an inspired critique of the demonization of the working class in the U.K. A one-time mugging victim who wanted to better understand his muggers and their lives instead of being resentful and fearful of them, Cornish takes working-class kids like Moses (John Boyega) and the bespectacled and brainy Jerome (Leeon Jones) (their mugging of Jodie Whittaker's nurse/neighbor character Sam at the start of the film was based on the incident Cornish experienced) and fleshes out those characters to prove the irrationality of demonizing the underclass.

"At the beginning of the film these kids are masked, they're hooded, you don't know how old they are, you have no sense of their humanity or identity and indeed, with their language, you're confused, you're alienated from them," said Cornish to RopeofSilicon. "Then the purpose of the story is to strip away all those barriers and to make you understand they're human beings. Not perfectly good, squeaky clean human beings, flawed human beings like all of us."

On Twitter, I've seen people say they refuse to give Attack the Block the time of day because its ads' imagery of South London "hoodies" violently defending their council estate from alien invaders either reminds them too much of the U.K. riots (which erupted a few weeks after the movie hit American theaters) or appears to condone those riots. They're inanely passing judgment on a movie they haven't seen. Attack the Block is hardly as one-dimensional as they think. It's a story about the consequences of thuggish behavior, whether it's the hoodies' mugging of Sam and Moses' killing of the alien at the start of the film or the looting that went down in the U.K. riots.

"People really suggested the riots in my home town were linked to the movie? Unbelievable," tweeted BBC journalist Ben Fell to an Attack the Block fan after he saw Twitterers denounce the movie before watching it.

To borrow the title and chorus of one of Basement Jaxx's biggest hits, I'd like to say to the haters, "Where's your head at?!"

Related links:
"Too Much Madness to Explain in One Text: On the U.K. Riots and Attack the Block" [The Playlist]
"'We're Not All Vile Thugs'" (an Attack the Block cast member blasts both the looters and the London police) [Daily Star]
"Rap responds to the riots: 'They have to take us seriously'" [Guardian]

In Attack the Block, the white preteen hoodie named Pest tells Sam, the film's nurse heroine, that she's 'fit.' That's U.K. slang for 'Take my virginity now.'
(Photo source: RopeofSilicon)

Monday, August 22, 2011

The style guide for A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Blog

Chester Cheetah finds the kids' horror franchise Goosebumps to be frightening? Chester Cheetah is such a pussy.
(Photo source: BACKYard Woods Explorer)
• Titles of songs, album tracks, short stories, TV series episodes, DVD or Blu-ray featurettes and cable channel or radio station programming blocks are always contained within quotation marks. Example from July 29, 2011: The "Rome, Italian Style" block on A Fistful of Soundtracks airs Mondays through Thursdays from 11am to noon. (However, even though Adult Swim is still technically a Cartoon Network programming block, the name isn't contained within quotes because Adult Swim evolved from a single-night block to a larger entity that Nielsen officially recognized as distinct from Cartoon Network in 2005, much like what happened to Nickelodeon's Nick at Nite.)

• Occupations or descriptive adjectives and nouns that appear before people's names are never capitalized. Example: constant self-recycler James Horner.

• Terms like "Filipino American," "Asian American" or "African American," which some writers prefer to hyphenate, are not hyphenated.

• The interpunct that used to be part of the Frito-Lay product name "Chee·tos" is absent whenever Cheetos is mentioned because of Frito-Lay's current official spelling, which removed the interpunct. Example: Why the hell does John Malkovich look like a human Cheeto during Transformers: Dark of the Moon?

• Numbers from one to nine are spelled out. Numbers above nine are written as figures (10, 11, 12, etc.) but are spelled out whenever they're the first words in sentences.

• The movie title Se7en and the procedural title Numb3rs maintain their unique spelling even though it looks stup1d.

• If a person is a Jr. or Sr., there is no comma between the name and Jr. or Sr. Example from January 13, 2009: Downey Jr. never drops character until the commentary is over.

• An ellipsis indicates a hammy pause. Example: "Dammit, Bones... this girdle you gave me for... my birthday... is too... constricting."

• Titles of movies, TV series, radio programs, podcasts, books, comic book series, magazines and newspapers are always italicized.

• Cardassians are whores for fascism. Kardashians are whores for attention.

Cardassians love to inflict many different forms of torture, like forcing their prisoners to watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
(Photo source: Overthinking It)

• Names of online magazines like Salon and Slate are italicized. Names of blogs like DISGRASIAN, Burnt Lumpia and MovieMorlocks are not italicized.

• A Corolla is a car I damaged while driving it when I was a teen. A Carolla is a racist douchebag whose ass will get damaged by a gang of Pinoy teens if he ever sets foot in Daly City.

• Names of races and nationalities like African, Latino and Filipino are capitalized, but racial adjectives like "black," "white" and "brown" are not.

• "Sit for Baines" is a Back to the Future prequel fanfic about teenage George McFly's bumbling attempts to get to better know his crush Lorraine Baines by babysitting her younger brothers. "Shit for brains" is Fox News whenever it refers to Common as a gangsta rapper.

• Though this is an American blog and the word "license" is always spelled with just one "c," the British spelling of the 007 movie title Licence to Kill is left unchanged.

• "Michele Bachmann" is spelled with just one glassy "i."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Yo, Gab a-gabbin': Rodrigo y Gabriela gab with DirecTV's Guitar Center Sessions about their busking days and Pirates of the Caribbean

This warehouse must be the same one Shia LaBeouf keeps running through in every single Transformers movie, no matter what city he's supposed to be in. I can almost hear 'No! No! No! No! No! No!' or 'OPTIMUS! BUMBLEBEE! Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!'
DirecTV subscribers who are fans of either the Mexican instrumental rock duo Rodrigo y Gabriela or their music in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides will get a kick out of the Rod y Gab episode of DirecTV's Audience Network music talk show Guitar Center Sessions. I wasn't aware until I first watched the episode last week on the Audience Network (DirecTV channels 101, 239, 334 or 500) that it's been airing since July 9.

On this edition of Guitar Center Sessions, which is being re-aired constantly throughout the summer, Rod y Gab tell host Nic Harcourt what it was like to work with Hans Zimmer on their first film music project Pirates (they enjoyed the film scoring process even though it was really challenging), as well as how they shaped their instrumental rock sound while busking on the streets of Dublin (the one in Ireland, that is, not the Dublin I'm more familiar with).

The Guitar Center Sessions ep is helping promote the Mexican metalheads' live album Live in France, which dropped July 19 and is excellent. So is their Pirates music, which is my favorite element of the On Stranger Tides movie. The On Stranger Tides album track "The Pirate That Should Not Be," which features the acoustic metal duo's cover of the Captain Jack Sparrow theme, doesn't appear in the movie, but like the Guitar Center Sessions ep, the "Pirate That Should Not Be" video gives a good idea of what Rod y Gab are like on stage for those who aren't familiar with this amazing duo.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Attack the Block is the best summer movie you've never heard of

Moses is chuffed that he can see his flat from here.

Edgar Wright is a filmmaker whose film and TV work I've enjoyed so much that if the Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director tells me to jump off a bridge, I'll happily do it, but with a bungee cord tied around me. Or if Wright tells me during Doug Loves Movies or on Twitter to see a movie he co-executive-produced like Attack the Block, I'll go see it, even if it's only playing in eight theaters across the country, and I have to hop on a couple of planes, a train and an automobile to get to one of those theaters (luckily, that theater is the Metreon in San Francisco, so I didn't have to go very far).

I first heard about Attack the Block during a Doug Loves Movies episode recorded at SXSW with last-minute guest Simon Pegg (who showed up without his frequent collaborator Wright by his side but busted out a dead-on impression of his absent friend). At SXSW, Attack the Block was so well-received that Sony Pictures' Screen Gems division acquired it for distribution in America, and since its release last week, everyone from Wright himself to author Nelson George has taken to Twitter to urge everyone to see this little film that Screen Gems has barely advertised on TV. Attack the Block contains a wonderful premise that's never been done before (in a South London ghetto, both a predominantly black teenage gang and the white female nurse they mugged are pitted against extraterrestrial monsters) in a genre that's been done to death (the alien invasion genre--between the Steven Spielberg-produced TNT drama Falling Skies and three other Spielberg productions, Super 8, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Cowboys & Aliens, aliens have had a busy summer). The directorial debut of British comedian Joe Cornish (who also wrote the screenplay), the low-budget actioner has no familiar faces in the cast, aside from Venus star Jodie Whittaker and Wright regular Nick Frost in a comedic bit part as a weed dealer, and most of the stars speak in lower-class British accents as thick as Dizzee Rascal's (for folks like me who are familiar with artists like Dizzee or The Streets, that kind of accent isn't too difficult to decipher, but for the rest of the moviegoing audience in America, it's like Klingon). So no wonder Screen Gems is giving Attack the Block a limited release and cautiously unveiling it to an audience that prefers their alien-invasion flicks to be bigger-budgeted, smoother-accented and well, let's face it, dumber.

Okay, Attack the Block isn't quite Shakespeare, but it has a certain inventiveness and vitality that's missing from all those aforementioned Spielberg-produced 2011 alien-invasion projects that aren't Super 8, although the treacly Falling Skies is redeemed by the presence of Colin Cunningham's not-so-treacly biker character Pope. Cornish's film takes its cues less from Spielberg and more from both Frost's previous film Shaun of the Dead and early John Carpenter, particularly one of my favorite Carpenter movies, the original Assault on Precinct 13, from its ghetto backdrop to its unconventional choice of a hero, a black wannabe thug who's like a mash-up of Precinct 13's two leads, Austin Stoker's untested black cop and Darwin Joston's antiheroic white convict. (Voice actor Yuri Lowenthal of Ben 10 fame calls Attack the Block "the best John Carpenter movie that John Carpenter never made.") Unknown John Boyega is a star in the making in his charismatic debut as Moses (when a mugging victim escapes from him and his gang, dig the way Boyega's laconic character simply commands his gang in his thick accent to "allow it," which must be his favorite phrase). Attack the Block is also like what would have happened if the showrunners of Falling Skies realized it was a mistake to make Noah Wyle's rather blandly written history professor character Mason the lead of the show and decided to shift the focus to Pope. At the start of Attack the Block, Moses is first seen doing something very Pope-like and not-so-heroic--he and his gang are mugging Whittaker's nurse character Sam--when he spots a meteorite crash-landing in his hood, and Moses, distracted by the meteorite and the dog-like creature it carried, runs off to kill the monster, not realizing that his killing of the beastie will ignite an alien invasion.

The nebbishy Ben Stiller and the even more nebbishy Matthew Broderick in the Tower Heist trailer are much more intimidating robbers than these kids.

Moses' trajectory from irresponsible thug to adult who decides to own up to his mistakes and clean up the mess he started when he killed the monster is believable and compelling, thanks to Boyega. He has a couple of intriguing little moments where the badass and authoritative gang leader façade disappears, and with some great acting by Boyega with just his eyes, we see a scared kid who's in over his head and whom the film later reveals--in one of its best scenes--to be much younger than he appears to be.

Another Carpenter-esque element is newcomer Steven Price's effective score, which evokes both instrumental hip-hop and Carpenter's synthesizer scores from his Precinct 13/Halloween heyday. The electronica duo Basement Jaxx brings some star power to the score, which Jaxx co-wrote with Price. (Selections from the Attack the Block score will be added to the Fistful of Soundtracks blocks "Assorted Fistful," "New Cue Revue" and "The Street" in the near future.)

Tia (Danielle Vitalis, second from left) is in love with Moses and is a fan of jeggings. Somewhere, a hipster douche is looking at this photo and wondering where he can find these awesome jeans these girls are wearing.

Attack the Block has four (or five or six or seven or eight) less screenwriters than Cowboys & Aliens and was made at a budget that's 10 times less than C&A's, and yet it has a smarter and better-constructed story. One of the cleverest touches in Cornish's script is the symmetry of Moses gaining a better understanding of the grizzly bear-like aliens (and why they're attacking him and everyone around him)(*) with Sam gaining a better understanding of her mugger Moses, who's basically an alien to her. Attack the Block is also about the "aliens" in our own neighborhoods due to racial and class divisions. Forced to turn to Sam for help when one of his cohorts gets injured during an alien attack, Moses realizes the stupidity of picking on good citizens like Sam, while Sam, along with the audience, discovers Moses' kind and vulnerable side, which Tia (Danielle Vitalis), a female friend of the gang's, already sees in Moses, whom Tia has an unspoken crush on. (Here's another reason to dig Attack the Block: it would probably cause that racist dickcheese Lou Dobbs to get his panties in a bunch over the kinds of characters it chooses to sympathize with.) Of course, by the film's climax, Sam and Moses no longer hate each other (enemies who are forced to put aside their differences to fight alien invaders is a thread that also appears in C&A), but Attack the Block wisely avoids the "Mookie and Sal hug and become friends and sing 'We Are the World'" ending that Paramount forced on Spike Lee when he pitched Do the Right Thing to them. Attack the Block is smarter and more ambiguous than that.

(*) I like Attack the Block's version of those pipe-smoking scientist characters in sci-fi B-movies who spout nothing but exposition and were memorably parodied by Pierce Brosnan in Mars Attacks! Instead of regular tobacco, Luke Treadaway's dorky white trust-fund kid Brewis prefers weed--and the sounds of KRS-One on his iPod--and is a zoology student who's watched enough National Geographic specials while baked to figure out why the aliens are invading the block and how to defeat them.

Moses prepares to go all Ghost Dog on an alien dog.

What also makes Attack the Block stand out from this year's batch of alien-invasion flicks is the absence of CGI (I'm not vehemently against CGI--I'm just against it when it's done poorly, which is way too often). All the creature effects in Cornish's film are practical. The alien attacks are fast and brutal, and this is a case where the fast-cutting that so many critics complain about when they see present-day action movies is absolutely necessary because here, it prevents us from noticing how cheap-looking the monsters are--they're essentially just guys running around in eyeless and coal-black bear suits outfitted with ginormous blue neon teeth. But because the Attack the Block aliens aren't CG, there's a realness and formidability to them that's missing from the CG creatures in films like Ang Lee's Hulk and Louis Leterrier's Incredible Hulk reboot, which both contain monster battles I've failed to get invested in and have found to be a chore to watch because the CGI in those sequences is as fake-looking as the cel-animated flying sequences in the '40s live-action Superman serials.

I'm not so worried about the fate of Attack the Block during its theatrical release here in America (though it played to a largely empty theater when I saw it, Screen Gems will expand its release to six more cities on August 19) because like other recent cult films that didn't attract huge crowds during their initial release, it'll eventually find a much bigger audience on Blu-ray and DVD. For now, it's a best-kept secret among us fans of little films that outshine most of the better-known and somewhat similar blockbusters they're competing against at the box office.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day archive

When in Rome, play some When in Rome.
July 1, 2011: Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi featuring Edda Dell'Orso, "Theme of Rome"
July 4, 2011: Babe Ruth, "The Mexican"
July 5, 2011: Goldfrapp, "Utopia (New Ears Mix)"
July 6, 2011: Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, "More [Theme from Mondo Cane]"
July 7, 2011: Count Basie and His Orchestra, "007"
July 8, 2011: Adrian Younge, "1969 Organ"
July 11, 2011: John Zorn, "Erotico (The Burglars)"
July 12, 2011: Barry Adamson, "The Big Bamboozle"
July 13, 2011: Mike Patton, "Deep Down"
July 14, 2011: Goldfrapp, "Pilots"
July 15, 2011: Jimmy Smith, "Walk on the Wild Side"
July 18, 2011: Elvis Costello and Sy Richardson, "A Town Called Big Nothing (Really Big Nothing)"
July 19, 2011: Count Basie and His Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald & The Tommy Flanagan Trio, "Sanford & Son Theme (The Streetbeater)"
July 20, 2011: Daniele Luppi, "An Italian Story"
July 21, 2011: The John Gregory Orchestra, "It Takes a Thief"
July 22, 2011: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, "Spy School Graduation Theme"
July 25, 2011: The John Gregory Orchestra, "The Avengers"
July 26, 2011: Goldfrapp, "Lovely Head"
July 27, 2011: Parodi/Fair, "James Bond Theme (GoldenEye Trailer Version)"
July 28, 2011: Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi, "Her Hollow Ways"
July 29, 2011: The Wondermints, "The Party"

The "Rome, Italian Style" block on A Fistful of Soundtracks airs Mondays through Thursdays from 11am to noon.