Monday, April 30, 2012

And now, something interesting someone else wrote about a work that's represented in my "Ask for Babs" mix: Fast Five (gear two)

Where's Luda in this pic? Someone must have told Luda, 'Move, bitch. Get out the way...'
Because Universal was founded 100 years ago today by nickelodeon owner Carl Laemmle, I've chosen to focus today's "Ask for Babs" mix-related blog post (which is the last of these posts) not on an article about a blockbuster from Universal's past like Jaws or Back to the Future but on a piece about a Universal film franchise that hints at the studio's future, as well as the future of American cinema in general.

Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris' 2011 essay "Fast forward" insightfully discusses why Universal's Fast and the Furious movies, including the Justin Lin-directed series highlight Fast Five, are so special, particularly to moviegoers of color like myself and Morris who have always wanted to see someone make some good action films that reflect the multiracial world we live in and opt to treat "race as a fact of life as opposed to a social problem or an occasion for self-congratulation":
Go on and laugh your Benetton, Kumbaya, Kashi, quinoa laugh, but it’s true: The most progressive force in Hollywood today is the “Fast and Furious” movies. They’re loud, ludicrous, and visually incoherent. They’re also the last bunch of movies you’d expect to see in the same sentence as “incredibly important.” But they are—if only because they feature race as a fact of life as opposed to a social problem or an occasion for self-congratulation. (And this doesn’t even account for the gay tension between the male leads, and the occasional crypto-lesbian make-out.) 
The fifth installment, “Fast Five,” comes out Friday, and unlike most movies that feature actors of different races, the mixing is neither superficial nor topical. It has been increasingly thorough as the series goes on—and mostly unacknowledged. That this should seem so strange, so rare, merely underscores how far Hollywood has drifted from the rest of culture. 
The movies have often dealt with race, of course, and when they do they tend to treat it as a serious and unwieldy problem... 
That is the loose history of race as a subject in Hollywood: the province of a liberal white industry that wanted to promote fairness and equality, often at the expense of realism and sometimes at the cost of the black characters’ humanness. Movies about race still tend to be self-congratulatory (“Crash”) or mine tension for comedy, the way “48 Hours” and its offspring have... 
The “Fast and Furious” movies, by contrast, are free of this angst. They’re basically a prolonged party for a ring of street-racing urban car thieves... 
It was a place the movies had never precisely seen before: gangs of young people of different races unified by automotive exhilaration. There were blacks, Asians of all kinds, Mexicans, Michelle Rodriguez, and whatever Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster are... 
Since then, the series has spiraled even further into a world that’s post-racial, post-American, post-almost every category you can think of, including coherent... “Fast Five” sends the gang to Brazil, brings back Tyrese, and invites the half-black, half-Samoan Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to chase Brian and Dom around Rio... 
It’s a strange thing to see these movies as a novelty in 2011, and not because Barack Obama is president. The series has grossed just under $1 billion, and for the young and youngish people who’ve bought tickets (and rented and downloaded it), this is just how the world looks. And it’s how a lot of pop culture looks, too. Last February’s Grammys telecast was a cross-racial bonanza, whose highlight was the team-up of Janelle Monáe, B.o.B, and Bruno Mars, two black artists and one half-Hispanic, half-Filipino, all popular, who, for one evening, tinkered with pop, hip-hop, and rock so that the music they made no longer had a genre. 
The movies, meanwhile, have become lucrative in their segregation. While most major-studio productions feature white casts, Tyler Perry has capitalized on the void... From this, the major studios have taken perhaps the wrong lesson: more all-black movies. It’s a development that appears to obviate a need for more integrated ones... 
You wouldn’t draw much of a popular audience, mixed or otherwise, to a movie about race, of course. And that is the accidental genius of the “Fast and Furious” movies. They’re not about race. Race—and casualness about race—is just their hallmark. They’re about something else, a great American unifying principle: sexy cars that everybody wants to drive. 
Even (or maybe especially) when they’re demolishing the Dominican Republic or tearing up Brazil, these films couldn’t be more American. If we don’t know where race is headed in this country, or where in the movies it ought to be, perhaps we should climb aboard. In the end, it might not be Barack Obama who drives us into the future. It may just be Vin Diesel and The Rock.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

And now, something interesting someone else wrote about a work that's represented in my "Ask for Babs" mix: Fast Five

'Over here, Vin. That's the dude from lighting. He's the one who keeps mistaking me for the Chinese delivery guy. Go pop a cap in his ass.'
Director Justin Lin and Vin Diesel on the set of Fast Five.

Last May, playwright Philip W. Chung of the You Offend Me You Offend My Family blog (and upcoming YouTube channel) reflected on the box-office success of director (and You Offend Me founder) Justin Lin's Fast Five and what it could mean for future films directed by Asian Americans. Since Fast Five's release, another Asian American director, Step Up 2 the Streets helmer Jon M. Chu, was also handed the reins of an action movie franchise, Paramount's G.I. Joe, which had a mediocre first installment (The Rise of Cobra from Mummy director Stephen Sommers). Now we'll just wait and see if G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which is directed by someone who grew up with G.I. Joe and wanted to make the second installment more closely resemble the beloved '80s G.I. Joe comics and cartoon, will live up to its exciting trailers and outstrip its predecessor in the same way that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan compensated big-time for the mistakes of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Most sequels that are the fifth installment of a film franchise show signs of creative fatigue. But thanks to a bigger emphasis on the heist flick elements of the original Fast and the Furious and perhaps additional star power (Dwayne Johnson, who, between Fast Five and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, has turned into Hollywood's go-to guy for rescuing critically drubbed action franchises), the fourth Fast and the Furious sequel became one of the few fifth installments to receive better reviews than the first film and perform so well at the box office:
Hollywood has always been behind the rest of the arts when it comes to reflecting the world in which we live. You look at other fields like music where out and proud Asian Americans like our friends Far East Movement and Bruno Mars are at the top of their game and it’s clear it’s only a matter of time before the movies have to start reflecting that reality too or it’ll go the way of fax machines, VHS and CDs. Hopefully, the success of something like Fast Five will give Hollywood a big push in the right direction. 
But where this reality is truly reflected is online where the young and Asian American generation of YouTube stars like Wong Fu, KevJumba and Ryan Higa are already the rock stars and pioneers… 
It reminds me of the early days of Hollywood when most people dismissed the new medium of motion pictures as a fad and something that was beneath them (sound familiar?). It was Jewish immigrants (or children of Jewish immigrants) who became the pioneers and leaders in what would become one of the largest industries in the world because they got involved from the beginning when no one else would and saw the potential that others didn’t. 
Well, we’re in the same place today with YouTube and new media and Asian Americans are the new Jews—we were able to see and utilize the potential in this new form before others did and now we have the power to really create a new model that can potentially transform the business. The only difference is that back then, the Jews who ran the studios had to “hide” their cultural identity and make films that did the same because they didn’t think the mass audience would be supportive (and they were most likely correct). But this new generation of Asian Americans are proud of their identity and they know their multicultural audience is ready and willing to embrace that too. And that’s a very good thing. 
So let me proclaim right here that it might just be the most exciting time to be an Asian American in this crazy business. To see the success of a film like Fast Five, to see the FM boys move up the charts with each new song, to see these young YouTube guys being greeted with Beatles-like fandom wherever they go, to see so many TV pilots this season featuring Asian characters—it does feel like a perfect storm is brewing and it’s fucking exciting! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 
Am I saying everything is perfect and we’ve made it? Of course not. No one knows more than those of us in the trenches the real obstacles we face everyday (Yes, Justin still gets mistaken for the Chinese delivery guy on the sets of his own movies), but I think no one else also knows better that the world is such that we now have the power to affect real change. We have to get out of this 20th Century mentality of victimhood—boo hoo, Hollywood doesn’t care about us. So fucking what? It’s the 21st Century now. It’s time to move beyond that. We’ve been on the defensive for too long. It’s time to play some kick ass offense and we now have the players to do that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Chew #2 by John Layman and Rob Guillory
Random Chew page of the week (from Chew #2)
This is the 30th and final "Chewsday" post on Blogger. From now on, the "Chewsday" series will be posted over on Tumblr, a more suitable platform than Blogger for short-form posts like the "Chewsday" posts.

Monday, April 23, 2012

And now, something interesting someone else wrote about a work that's represented in my "Ask for Babs" mix: Out of Sight

Here we see Randy Jackson stumbling into J.Lo using the American Idol interns as target practice.
In 2007, film blogger Jeremy Richey, who did several posts for his blog Moon in the Gutter on one of his favorite films, Steven Soderbergh's terrific adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Out of Sight(*), dusted off the grooves of the Out of Sight soundtrack album and did a good track-by-track analysis.

I didn't know Rhys Ifans also composed film scores.
David Holmes

Richey also happens to be a fan of the music of Irish electronica artist/DJ/film composer David Holmes, whose themes from his funky and much-imitated Out of Sight score are featured on the album (Holmes continues to write music for Soderbergh; his most recent Soderbergh film score was for Haywire). When I was picking out tracks for the "Ask for Babs" mix, Holmes' ballerific theme for Don Cheadle's psychotic Out of Sight character Maurice "Snoopy" Miller (on the album, the theme is represented by the track "Rip Rip") was like the first track I had in mind for the mix:
Early promotional material for OUT OF SIGHT had the music of Cliff Martinez listed as the score. Martinez is certainly no slouch as his music for films such as THE LIMEY and especially SOLARIS are among the finest in modern film, but no one else could have scored OUT OF SIGHT like Irish D.J. and musician David Holmes... 
The OUT OF SIGHT album is simultaneously among the great soundtrack albums and the most frustrating. Great, as each Holmes track is astonsihingly inventive and remarkably fresh, but frustrating in that many ques from the film aren't here. Hopefully one day the missing bits will appear, in the meantime let us celebrate the soundtrack we do ingenious mixture of old and new...a cool get together where The Isely Brothers, Walter Wanderly and Dean Martin can hang out partying to the unforgettable grooves of one very 'possessed by genius' Irish DJ... 
RIP, RIP... is another one of the great tracks in Holmes canon. It's a low down keyboard driven bit of hard funk that wouldn't have sounded out of place on any number of Parliament albums from the seventies. The dialogue snatches, featuring Don Cheadle's menacing Snoopy Miller, is used perfectly well here as well... 
The OUT OF SIGHT album would receive rave reviews upon its release, especially in Britain. It would begin one of the most important partnerships between a composer and director in modern cinema, and it deserves to be remembered as one of the best soundtracks of the nineties. The work is currently out of print, although prices for used copies haven't sky rocketed yet. I can't recommend a collection more, NO MORE TIME OUTS alone is worth any price you might pay for it...

(*) Viewers who relish the dark humor and crackerjack dialogue of Justified, the hit TV series based on characters from Elmore Leonard's short story "Fire in the Hole," but have never watched Out of Sight must Netflix(**) the film right away. I wouldn't be surprised if Justified showrunner Graham Yost turned to his crew when they first crafted the pilot and said, "You know Out of Sight? That's how you bring Leonard's writing to the screen."

(**) Karen Sisco, the TV series that starred a perfectly cast Carla Gugino and Robert Forster in the daughter-and-father roles played by Jennifer Lopez and Dennis Farina in Out of Sight, is long overdue for a DVD release. I wish Shout! Factory rescued Karen Sisco from DVD limbo.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Fistful of Soundtracks is now on Tumblr

'Dear Mama, please state the nature of your medical emergency.'
All blog posts that are longer than a paragraph will be posted here on Blogger because it's a better platform for long-form posts than Tumblr. Any blog post that's just audio, a photo or a video will go on A Fistful of Soundtracks' new Tumblr.

Within only a couple of minutes of posting my first couple of pics on Tumblr, I got reblogged by a couple of folks. That's crazy. Or maybe people just can't get enough of the Hologram Tupac meme being grafted onto Star Wars.

'Artoo, you are aware the Underground just don't stop for hoes, right?'
I'm surprised no one's Photoshopped Lando (with a bottle of Colt 45 in his hand, of course) together with Hologram Tupac and a couple of shawties yet.

And now, something interesting someone else wrote about a work that's represented in my "Ask for Babs" mix: The Rockford Files

Rockford's Firebird is an awesome car in an ugly color that makes the ride look like it's that car that's made out of clay from that SNL commercial parody.
This is an illustration of The Rockford Files that I did for a compilation of my blog posts that I was planning on self-publishing last year, but I decided to pull the plug on the book. I didn't realize until after completing all the artwork for the book that you can't put out a book if there isn't anybody out there who's going to buy it. Well, nobody out there is going to buy it, so for now, the book is dead (like that version of Rockford with Dermot Mulroney as Jim and Beau Bridges as Rocky, perhaps the only role in that unseen pilot that was perfectly re-cast).

When she guest-edited an issue of Magnet, Juliana Hatfield had a few things to say about a certain '70s show that she rediscovered on cable, much like how I rediscovered it on DVD after watching it only once or twice on A&E as a kid.

I think Rockford Files is cool for many of the same reasons Hatfield does, and I assume Universal does too. That's why, despite getting sued by understandably disgruntled Rockford Files star James Garner and feuding with him in court for more than a century, the studio brought the show back in the '90s as a series of TV-movies with Garner and the surviving cast and then tried to remake the show on TV with different stars twice (and ended up failing both times--the second attempt couldn't even find anyone to play Rockford). And now, Universal, perhaps spurred by the comedic film version of deceased Rockford Files creator Stephen J. Cannell's 21 Jump Street, announced the other day that it plans to attempt to reopen The Rockford Files again, but this time as a feature film with Vince Vaughn as star and producer.

Vince Vaughn? Yeah, I can see him as Rockford. Fast-talking con men are Vaughn's forte, and the taco breakfast-craving P.I. could be a fast-talking con man when he needed to be, like in the "Jimmy Joe Meeker" episodes.

But Rockfish got his ass whupped a lot, and he had knuckles made out of Kleenex. If the screenplay retains Rockfish's discomfort with fighting, I'm going to have a helluva hard time buying that Vaughn--who's taller than Garner and whose signature characters are in-your-face and physically intimidating grifter types (the kiss he plants on the shocked priest played by Henry Gibson in Wedding Crashers always comes to mind)--can be overpowered in a fight.

I have no idea who JT Leroy is, but 'I'm Fucking JT Leroy' would make for a fun musical number on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Still, at least it's not Dermot Mulroney.

And now, Hatfield nails exactly why everyone from Mulroney to Vaughn wants to be Rockford:
When I hooked up my analog-to-digital TV converter box a few months ago, I found that I was able to receive a few channels that my rabbit ears had not ever accessed. One of these channels is RTV (the Retro Television Network), which airs The Rockford Files every weeknight at 10. I remember watching it some as a child in the 1970s, but I am enjoying it much more as an adult. (It's not really a show for kids; it moves kind of slowly, and the main characters are not very flashy.) My newfound love for The Rockford Files (and for RTV in general) is partly nostalgia (for my childhood, for the '70s), but part of it is the fact that Jim Rockford, the self-employed private detective ("$200 a day, plus expenses"), is such a great creation. I love that he lives in a run-down trailer in the parking lot of a restaurant by the ocean in Malibu. (How is it even possible that a person can live in a trailer in a parking lot in Malibu? Today, with real estate the way it is, that would not be believable. Today, the likes of Jim Rockford--anyone who is anything other than super-rich--would not be able to afford to live anywhere near Malibu, dilapidated trailer or not.) I love the chummy, sweet relationship Rockford has with his dad, whom he calls "Rocky," as everyone else does. I love that he keeps his gun in the cookie jar and wears polyester wash-and-wear slacks that do not flatter his chubby bum. (This was before people worked out, before TV stars had to be all fit and muscly and healthy and botoxed and facelifted and perfect and inaccessible and unrealistic and cookie-cutter boring.) Rockford smokes and eats dollar tacos and drives without a seatbelt. He's a straight shooter, taking everything as it comes. He's always getting jumped by bad guys, but he never really gets angry; mostly he sighs a lot, grumbles a bit and gets on with it. I like him.

Jim doesn't look too thrilled about some TV show from the future that his 1976 TV set is somehow able to broadcast. The show is called Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Monday, April 16, 2012

And now, something interesting someone else wrote about a work that's represented in my "Ask for Babs" mix: Midnight Run (this time, it's a comedy writing genius who wrote about it)

As bullets fly around him, all Charles Grodin can think about is his beloved Miss Piggy.
Community is one of my current favorite shows for many reasons that will forever elude Nielsen families, older viewers who haven't yet figured out the concept (and brilliance) of time-shifted viewing, which has been both a blessing (it's how most of Community's largely young audience catches the episodes) and a curse for the show, and thirdly, morons.

Actually, Alison Brie is doing her impression of Ken Jeong's French-kissing technique. Was that how Jeong greeted his patients back when he was an actual practicing doctor? Because... ew.
Community showrunner Dan Harmon watches Alison Brie make out with a ghost at a 2012 PaleyFest panel for the show.

The man who's mostly responsible for the richly realized world that's given us the enjoyable likes of Troy and Abed ("In the morning..."), Britta, Annie, Annie's Boobs, Leonard, Magnitude, Star-Burns and a dead-on Doctor Who analog known as Inspector Spacetime is Community creator and current enemy-to-Chevy Chase Dan Harmon, who's cited Midnight Run as a film that taught him comedic timing.

g: In the community college system, the people are represented by two separate but equally important groups: the faculty who teach and the students who'd rather smoke a bowl in the car. These are their stories.
Like Community, Midnight Run has been dismissed by some as being a hackneyed and shallow example of its genre, even though it's smarter and deeper than its detractors make it out to be. Harmon would disagree with the opinion that the 1988 Robert De Niro/Charles Grodin movie is a hackneyed buddy flick, and in 2011, the Midnight Run fan recounted how thrilled he was to encounter Midnight Run writer George Gallo, who previously worked with one of Harmon's co-executive producers, on the Paramount lot where Community is filmed:
He’s flattered by praise of this movie in a way that is neither falsely modest nor presumptuous.  I sense that he loves it sincerely and selflessly, like the father of a son that became a fireman.  I’m not going to say “all writers should have this attitude toward their stuff,” because, well, have the personality you want, but thank God, for my sake, that George Gallo doesn’t respond to “Midnight Run is great” with “so what, I’ve written other stuff.”

Or the classic Harmon response of “yeah, but it could have been so much better.”…

Best for last: the scene on the bus, in which Grodin pesters DeNiro about smoking, and keeps asking him “why aren’t you popular with the Chicago police department,” ends with “why aren’t you popular with the Chicago police department” NOT because that’s how it’s written.  What we’re seeing is a “warm up take” in which DeNiro and Grodin are basically running their lines - and THAT’s why Grodin mistakenly thinks DeNiro is putting his cigarette out.  Then the pause, then Grodin repeating the classic line…because the actor is actually starting again, from the top of the scene.  That blew my mind.  My favorite line from my favorite scene in my favorite movie, one that formed my sense of comedic timing…it was an outtake, a blooper, a director and/or editor’s decision.  Not a writer’s.

I now have a signed copy of Gallo’s draft of Midnight Run.  The movie that, from hearing his stories, so few people believed in, that I feel like I could write for another twenty years, because, the scariest thing about creative work is also its greatest strength: nobody ever really knows what the fuck they’re doing.  We are puppets, all of us, waiting for invisible hands to violate and pleasure us.

Gallo signed it, “why are you not popular with the Chicago police department?”

I choose to interpret it in many ways, but the most important interpretation, this morning, is WHO CARES ABOUT A FUCKING NOMINATION, right?!

Time to get a new watch.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

And now, something interesting someone else wrote about a work that's represented in my "Ask for Babs" mix: Midnight Run

There was this weirdo Southern-accented Internet film critic in San Jose named Steve Rhodes who always wore brown Cosby sweaters and looked like the guy whose head blew up at the beginning of Scanners. He was always seen at press screenings talking into pay phones. So whenever I see an old-timey pay phone, I'm reminded of Steve Rhodes, who would make for a great Halloween costume someday.
Why did I put together a 67-minute DJ mix about Universal, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary (the official anniversary date is April 30)? Because Universal was the studio that Spike Lee turned to when Paramount wanted him to change the ending of Do the Right Thing, and Universal simply said, "Don't change it." And when Martin Brest wanted to make Midnight Run with difficult-to-work-with, not-exactly-a-box-office-draw-anymore Charles Grodin as The Duke because he saw in Grodin a certain something he couldn't see in other stars if they played The Duke, Paramount kept insisting to Brest that he hire Cher (WTF?) or Robin Williams instead. But not Universal. They said yes to the casting of Grodin.

Do the Right Thing and Midnight Run are two of my favorite movies, and I know my "Ask for Babs" mix makes it look like I'm fawning over a corporation, but Universal is a major reason why those movies are two of my favorites. They didn't interfere with what Lee and Brest wanted to accomplish with their respective works.

And why am I doing so many posts about the Universal movies that are referenced in my "Ask for Babs" mix? I want some more people to listen to the mix. It's not attracting as many people as say, HitFix TV critic Alan Sepinwall's blog posts do.

Sepinwall, whom I once had the honor of running into at a very small line at Comic-Con while waiting to get a graphic novel purchase signed (I had forgotten what Sepinwall looked like, so I didn't realize it was him until he introduced himself to the novel's author), does many of the best recaps of Mad Men and Community, and long before Mad Men, his weekly analysis of The Wire was the best. There's a Sepinwallism I've picked up from reading so many of his recaps. It's this.(*) It sometimes irritates me if he does it more than once in a recap, and I hate that I picked it up from him for a while. It's a habit I recently got rid of.

(*) Putting asterisked footnotes between paragraphs instead of placing them where they belong: at the very bottom of the article. I've started putting all footnotes at the bottom again.

This Sepinwallism can make his posts have a bizarre and choppy flow(**) to them. The placement of footnotes between grafs makes it feel like Pop-Up Video, the show that turned viewers into experts on important sociopolitical concerns like the making of Lionel Richie's 1983 "Hello" video, is invading my reading.

(**) Like Das EFX's "diggity-diggity" flow, which every other rapper started biting in 1992 before finding it to be passé in 1993.

Sepinwall is an excellent writer, but if a post of his is interrupted by five of these asides--hello!(***)--instead of just one or two, it can be a little frustrating. However, I've learned to live with it. To borrow a memorable line from a drama Sepinwall used to cover, I've learned to let Sepinwall be Sepinwall.

(***) The not-so-blind actress who played Laura, Lionel Richie's blind object of desire, was always mistaken for being blind by people on the street.

I especially like how Sepinwall is a Midnight Run fan. He's blogged at length about the 1988 movie twice.

An AFOS listener once whined on my Facebook wall about having to hear so many selections from Danny Elfman's Midnight Run score get shuffled by AFOS in one day. The reason why there are so many selections from Midnight Run in rotation is because I adore Midnight Run and its score, moron #1. The dismissal by some people of Midnight Run as just another lousy buddy movie (it isn't, moron #2, moron #3 and moron #4), as well as the fact that film and TV score album labels like La-La Land or Intrada haven't reissued the film's out-of-print score, which, for a couple of years, was ubiquitous in movie trailers, are examples of how underappreciated the film has been since its release (even though home video made it popular enough to spawn a series of '90s TV-movies starring Christopher McDonald as Jack Walsh).

When I discovered this delightfully foul-mouthed, mostly improvised road movie and its score in 1989, a few months after the movie had to compete with the likes of Die Hard and Who Framed Roger Rabbit in theaters and ended up getting lost in the summer shuffle, I felt like the only kid in the world who loved Midnight Run (I even read the novelization, which must have been adapted from a really early version of George Gallo's script because the book depicted Jack as a total racist, a trait that was eliminated from the movie). It's fantastic to see I wasn't alone in 1989:
Here's the thing: if "Midnight Run" was just an action comedy about an odd couple joined at the wrist while dodging bullets across the country, it would still be a fun, memorable movie. But what's always elevated it above that, to me, are a pair of scenes, with the first and most important being Jack's visit to his ex-wife Gail's house in Chicago. It starts out funny, with The Duke telling Gail's young son that he's a white collar criminal, then turns ugly as Jack and Gail relive the same old arguments for the 5000th time, then goes heartbreaking when the daughter Jack hasn't seen in nine years appears in the door and, like flipping a switch, stops the argument in an instant…

In that moment, you feel the weight of every single thing Jack has lost and how far he's fallen, and then once you connect Serrano to Jack, it becomes a redemption story. You don't want Jack to bring The Duke to jail and set him up to be killed, but you do want Jack to get a win, badly.

And not only does that scene give much greater heft to Jack's character, but to the relationship between the two men. From that moment on, while they still fight and curse and claw and argue, it's different. The Duke saw a part of Jack Walsh that very few people have ever seen, and he was quiet and respectful in that moment (and never once brings her up again, even though it would be so easy to push Jack's buttons that way), and Jack respects and appreciates him in turn for that…

And here's the other big dramatic moment, as Serrano finally comes face to face with the man who embezzled millions from him and gave it to charity. To this point, it's not like the stakes of the movie have been low - Jack and The Duke have been shot at and beaten up many, many times over - but the violence was all on some level cartoonish (again, see Jack and the helicopter) and Serrano was mostly used as comic relief, showing up for 30 seconds at a time to threaten to hurt someone in an amusing way. But when he gets into the back of that car with The Duke, there's nothing funny happening. This is stone-cold, sincere menace (the added promise to kill The Duke's wife is a nice touch), it is a man who will do anything to hurt the characters we've grown to like, and it makes the tension of the airport scene that follows so much more palpable than if Serrano was always played for comedy…

And this post is now at least one week later and a thousand words longer than I had planned. (And that's without even going into other parts of the movie, like Danny Elfman's marvelous blues-y score, which I will listen to if the writer's block is really hitting me hard.) There's really no point to writing 3000+ words about a two-week-old screening of a 23-year-old movie. But it's the movie I love watching most in all the world. And every now and then it's nice to be able to articulate the many reasons why.

Monday, April 9, 2012

And now, something interesting someone else wrote about a work that's represented in my "Ask for Babs" mix: Scarface

'Whose world is this?...'
Why am I not surprised that the centerpiece of Tony Montana's mansion looks so much like the Universal logo?

I always wondered how Cuban American moviegoers feel about both Scarface, in which not-so-Cuban Al Pacino starred as a Cuban gangster for director Brian De Palma, and Carlito's Way, Pacino and De Palma's other Cuban gangster film for Universal (in my opinion, the latter film has aged better than Scarface, but none of the music from Patrick Doyle's Carlito's Way score is part of my "Ask for Babs" mix). My search for that kind of article ended when I stumbled into an interesting post by Tony Dayoub of Cinema Viewfinder:
I find it difficult to address two of Brian De Palma's most atypical movies, Scarface and Carlito's Way, because of how closely I, a Cuban American, identify with them...

A lot changed in 1980, with the arrival of those we called the Marielitos. My elementary school's student demographic changed overnight. The once diverse cross-section of students I was familiar with gave way to a huge new subculture of immigrant Cubans, many of them poor, and feeling dislocated. I, who grew up watching The Six Million Dollar Man and Starsky and Hutch, found it difficult to understand why some had never even owned a TV. And though I was fluent in Spanish (indeed, it was my first language), I could never hold, much less keep up a conversation with those that came in the Mariel boatlift. They simply spoke too fast, threw too many puzzling expressions out for me to ever get on the same wavelength. It was all a bit alienating.

Crime went up. Race riots became frequent in some of the poorer neighborhoods (not strictly Cuban ones, I should point out). Drugs became a vehicle for quick and easy monetary success in a society for proud immigrants that wanted to work, yet faced many obstacles in assimilating quickly into society. In retrospect, my school was one of the safer ones facing these problems because of its relative distance from these neighborhoods. But you still saw some of it. My seventh-grade friend Neal, was five years older than all his other peers, because he had been let out of juvie (where he was incarcerated for car theft) on the condition he attend school again. His legs were covered with scars, from dog bites and barbed wire from his attempts to escape detention... or so he told me. Who knew? I was a kid, fascinated by dangerous looking big talkers because of my own deficiencies when it came to defending myself. Neal knew I could help him get in good graces with this pretty young friend of mine, Judy, who everybody had a crush on. And even though I was unsuccessful in my attempts to get them together, he never forgot that I tried. His loyalty, his reputation, and his friendship, were like an invisible shield that helped protect me from getting bullied, and in fact, helped me get along with some of his friends in the Kings. So I've always had sympathy for people like Tony Montana (also Al Pacino) and Carlito Brigante...

Curiously, Pacino chews the scenery as Montana at a point in time when he hadn't yet become the butt of jokes for his over-the-top histrionics. As Montana, Pacino was not only paying tribute to the operatic interpretation of his predecessor, Paul Muni, in the original Scarface (1932), he was also capturing the flashy, loudmouthed characteristics of the stereotypical Miami Cuban: proud, independent to a fault, and full of braggadocio. Montana tries to create what he deems to be the perfect life, but his overblown sense of self causes him to impose his will and his mark on everything in it, as seen in his monogrammed mansion with the oversized painting of him overlooking a fountain that has a towering globe with the words "The World is Yours" surrounding it in neon.

The Arrested Development model home gets immortalized in Lego form (while somewhere, some other Lego maniac must be working on his recreation of the house from Spaced or the mansion from Fresh Prince)

Jeffrey Tambor looks especially strange without a nose and with a yellow jug for a head.
(Photo source: Matt De Lanoy)
"As someone who just finished spending the majority of his life in prison, what happened with Legos? They used to be simple... Something happened out here while I was inside. Harry Potter Legos, Star Wars Legos, complicated kits, tiny little blocks. I mean, I'm not saying it's bad. I just wanna know what happened."

--Professor Marshall Kane (Michael Kenneth Williams), Community

When I was either seven or eight years old--back in a simpler time before the days when Lego started selling those licensed Potter or Star Wars playsets that currently baffle Greendale's biology teacher--I got bored with constructing vehicles or buildings with whatever remaining Lego bricks were lying around the house (God, those pieces are so easy to lose). So I tried recreating with those same Legos the set of The $25,000 Pyramid, right down to Dick Clark's podium. When I couldn't get it to look enough like Pyramid, I shuffled several bricks around and tried to convert it into the set of Jeopardy!

"Ooh, I know this one," says you the reader. "'What are things that look like shit?'"

Correct. Ding-ding.

My attempts to make Lego replicas of the Pyramid and Jeopardy! sets never looked as good as the work of Matt De Lanoy, a Lego master and Arrested Development fan whose remarkable Lego diorama of the Mitch Hurwitz creation's central setting, the Bluth family's model home, was the subject of an A.V. Club Chicago post that I recently stumbled into. De Lanoy's replica of the Bluths' crib is on display at a Lego Store in Schaumburg, Illinois all through April. It comes complete with the Bluths' stair car, the frozen banana stand (is there any money in this banana stand?) and even a tiny Gob figure with both his Segway and wooden black BFF Franklin.

From really faraway, this crib looks like the desert home where Luke Skywalker used to live on Tatooine. I can easily picture Luke's whiny voice hollering, 'Aunt Beru!'

Please build a Lego replica of the mansion from Silver Spoons next, unemployed somebody with shitloads of both Lego bricks and time on his hands!

The Bluth stair car is especially handy if your date is stuck in a tree.
De Lanoy's diorama has slightly raised my interest in Netflix's in-the-works revival of the hilarious Arrested Development, even though I'm kind of skeptical about how it'll turn out because so many reunion projects for TV have been such duds. However, I'm relieved that Arrested Development will return as a 10-to-13-episode series instead of as a two-hour feature film where it would have been impossible for every Bluth to receive substantial screen time.

While I have the patience to watch 10-to-13 nonstop episodes that I assume Netflix Instant will unveil all at once (that was how Netflix posted its eight-episode original series Lilyhammer) instead of week-by-week, I don't have the patience to play architect like De Lanoy does. But if I were more patient with Legos, I'd recreate the Chevy that a drunk McNulty crashed into an overpass column (and then crashed into the same column again to figure out why it happened--McNulty's always a detective, even when plastered) right before he banged that waitress at the beginning of the "Duck and Cover" episode from season 2 of The Wire. That smashed-up Chevy is overdue for a Lego replica.

Here are some other impressive Lego dioramas of shows and films that, like The Wire or Arrested Development, aren't as popular with Lego's juice box-sipping consumers as say, Potter or Star Wars:

I could totally picture this Lego version of Pete Campbell also saying, 'I sure as hell wouldn't want a kid here watching this donnybrook!'
Mad Men's "Nixon vs. Kennedy" episode by Devon Wilkop (Photo source: MOCpages)

That's a fine meth you've gotten yourself into, Walt.
(Photo source: Orion Pax)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

And now, something interesting someone else wrote about a work that's represented in my "Ask for Babs" mix: Do the Right Thing

Billy, don't forget to bring her a glass of water after the opening credits are over. No, wait, forget that. She doesn't want you to bring her water. Just sympathize with her thirstiness. She's tired of men always wanting to feel aw-nipotent.
(Photo source: The Criterion Contraption)

Laura K. Warrell's 2002 Salon article about Public Enemy's "Fight the Power"--which the group wrote for Do the Right Thing after Spike Lee abandoned his early idea of having Rosie Perez dance to The Capitols' "Cool Jerk" in the opening titles--excellently elucidates the P.E. track's impact on hip-hop, as well as pop music that means something more than the first four things in Elvis Costello's line about how songs are about five subjects ("I'm leaving you. You're leaving me. I want you. You don't want me. I believe in something.").

But Warrell's proclamation that conscious hip-hop is dead was premature. It's still out there. You just have to know where to look:
Like “Do the Right Thing,” the Spike Lee film to which it was tied, the song broke at a crucial period in America’s struggle with race, capturing both the psychological and social conflicts of the time. Unabashedly political, “Fight the Power” was confrontational in the way great rock has always been. It had the kind of irreverence that puts bands on FBI lists. “Fight” demanded action and, as the band’s most accessible hit, acted as the perfect summation of its ideology and sound. Every kid in America, white, black or brown, could connect to the song’s uncompromising cultural critique, its invigoratingly danceable sound and its rallying call.

This is the photo that Smiley the handicapped guy ('M-M-Mookie!') carries around with him in Do the Right Thing. It's to Smiley what the boombox is to Radio Raheem.
And who could blame them? Ultimately, parachute pants and Flock of Seagulls haircuts couldn’t quell the frustrations of the Me Decade. The presidential tag team of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. had dismantled a battery of social programs, squashing urban communities already struggling with poverty, guns and violence. Crack ravaged the inner city. AIDS rocked the nation. Black leaders, including Jesse Jackson, tried to bathe America’s race problem in as bright a spotlight as possible. The artistic community, already defiant in the face of Reagan-era conservatism, became even more provocative. The ’80s gave us Robert Mapplethorpe, the U2 of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” Darling Nikki…

From inside the storm, Chuck D comes out swinging, verbally hacking into scraps a roster of American icons: “Elvis was a hero to most/ But he never meant shit to me, you see/ Straight up racist that sucker was simple and plain/ Motherfuck him and John Wayne.” Arguably the most fearless lyric in all of popular music, this anti-ode to Elvis and John Wayne is a virtual flag-burning. Who better embodies the American ideal than Duke and the King, bumbling patriots who personified the nation’s illiberal character and defended its order, an order from which blacks had been routinely barred? Chuck D cutting them up so brazenly was like a spiritual emancipation for anyone who felt excluded from American culture. In making a mockery of two of the country’s greatest heroes, P.E. assailed white America’s fairy-tale world and boldly accepted their place at its margins.

Monday, April 2, 2012

And now, something interesting someone else wrote about a work that's represented in my "Ask for Babs" mix: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

'What the shit? This 8-bit likeness doesn't capture me well at all. My eyes aren't as big as Zooey Deschanel's.'
Every Monday and Wednesday this month, I'll be spotlighting a really good article about a Universal film or TV series that has original music featured in the "Ask for Babs" mix, my first DJ mix. I put together the "Ask for Babs" mix after finding out that Universal is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

From 2010, Spinoff Online's Graeme McMillan gives his reasons "Why Scott Pilgrim Is the Movie Comic Book Movies Should Model Themselves After":
There’s something that feels so fresh about the way that the movie uses every trick up its sleeve in service of the entire experience, in a way that other comic book movies tend to shy away from; when was the last comic book movie that was as enjoyable from an audible perspective as it was visual, you know? I don’t just mean sound effects or soundtrack – although, come on: Tim Burton’s Batman soundtrack aside, comic book movie soundtracks are almost all embarrassingly bad, especially in comparison to how strong Scott Pilgrim‘s is, and how important it is to the movie – but dialogue and performances, as well...

Comic book movies – and by that, I mostly mean superhero movies, because that’s the majority of the genre – end up leaning towards the stereotype of comic book writing, with epic themes expressed in fights and stilted dialogue. Maybe one of the reasons I liked Scott Pilgrim so much was that it had the fights – and what amazing, visually impressive fights they are – but they’re not so overpowering that everything else becomes filler, a generic “what happens in between”...

I mean, if I were being entirely honest, I’d love for it to make filmmakers think, “How can I make a movie that’s as exciting and funny and in love with movies and comics and wants to remind the audience to love them as well,” but I’m trying to rein in my hyperbole slightly here. But. But one of the reasons that I love Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World so much is that it transcends the notion of a comic book movie, and becomes a movie that just so happened to be a comic book first. If there’s anything that Marvel Studios, DC Entertainment and everyone else making comic book adaptations should be aiming for, it’s that.

I mean, I can dream, can’t I?