Friday, February 28, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Archer, "Southbound and Down"

Captain Chaos sure ain't coming to their rescue.
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

"Southbound and Down," Archer's tribute to Burt Reynolds' Smokey and the Bandit movies, a franchise that both Archer creator Adam Reed and Archer himself are fans of, is an enjoyable episode largely because you don't have to have seen any of those movies to be entertained by the episode. I've never seen any of the Bandit movies (there's only one movie from Reynolds' box-office glory days that I really dig, and that's The Longest Yard). All I know about the Bandit flicks are that Sally Field is, like Pam riding shotgun in Archer's Bandit-style Trans Am, the one who does with Reynolds "snappy dialogue underscored by sexual attraction" in the first two Bandits; the theme song "East Bound and Down" was sung by co-star Jerry Reed; legendary stuntman Hal Needham directed the first two; and The Cannonball Run, which I did see as a kid thanks to early '80s HBO running it five times a day, was basically Bandit meets The Gumball Rally. Yet I still laughed throughout "Southbound and Down."

That's mainly because the Bandit references are kept to a minimum--kind of an odd move for a show where much of its humor thrives on how arcane its references are--and the dialogue is up to Archer's usual high standards, from a crazy Malory rant about PBS that sounds like every teabagger's rant about PBS to a nice bit of character depth where Archer honestly points out to Pam that she wasn't a ginormous asshole before she got hooked on coke and lost a shit-ton of weight. As Pam, Amber Nash owns this episode, whether it's displaying a rarely seen insecure side of Pam in that scene where Archer admits everyone liked her better before the coke--I don't think I've ever seen Pam be concerned about what others think of her, so this is an interesting turn in her character--or being a thorn in the side to Archer, especially after her inability to keep her mouth shut about their coke stash sends a biker gang chasing after them to take their stash.

This is like that Archer-Sons of Anarchy crossover FX viewers are dying to see.
The purpose of the Archer crew's cross-country trip in "Southbound and Down" is not to transport beer or an elephant but to drive Cherlene to a musical guest appearance on some Austin City Limits knockoff. I don't care for country music--by the way, Cherlene's cover of "East Bound and Down," performed by Judy Greer's musical stand-in Jessy Lynn Martens, is part of an actual Cherlene album that the show is releasing next week--but I'm eager to see how Malory, Archer, Lana and Cyril will handle both maneuvering their way into the country music industry and doing what I assume will be laundering their drug money into Cherlene's burgeoning country music career. And Kenny Loggins, the singer of Archer's favorite song from Top Gun and a guest artist on Cherlene's album, will somehow be involved in all this next week? I'm down for this, as long as his voice acting is better than Anthony Bourdain's.

Memorable quotes:
* "It's public television. They don't pay anything. All they do is suck money in. They take our taxes..." "Or donations, whatever." "Of pre-tax dollars from pot-taking Bolshevik lesbian couples! Then PBS mixes it all in with their huge NEA grants, launders it in inner-city methadone clinics and pumps it right back out to pro-abortion super PACs!"

* Malory: "Because if we miss that taping, I won't be responsible for my actions." Lana: "Are you ever?" Malory: "She said, single and pregnant. Oh, wait."

* Ray, whose newly repaired cybernetic implants are being forced by Krieger to make him goosestep: "This quit being funny two hours ago!" Krieger: "It's not supposed to be funny."

* "Ow! Whose ring is that, the Pope's?!"

* "We're talking about Texas. Somebody somewhere wants enough cocaine to forget they live there." "Yeah, but not a hundred pounds!" "Maybe we'll get lucky, find an entire town that wants to commit suicide."

* "Look, how hot am I now? Let me answer that for you. As balls."

Monday, February 24, 2014

13 black artists' covers of white artists' music that surpass the originals (to close out Black History Month)

Quincy Jones and Sarah Vaughan vibe out in front of Peter Graves' tape machine from Mission: Impossible.
Quincy Jones and Sarah Vaughan (Photo source: Jazzinphoto)

The following list was inspired by both Harry Allen the Media Assassin's irritated response to the latest of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake's "History of Rap" medleys during the first week of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon...

True that. Thanks to an awesome editor who must be fucking insane to pour into hours of NBC News clips just to find the right soundbites, both Brian Williams and Lester Holt spitting 'Rapper's Delight' easily trounces those Fallon and Timberlake medleys.

... and Andrew Ti's similar response to the "History of Rap" medleys.

Shelly Lynn, the blond country singer who did 'Your Lies,' likes this? Cool. Wait, her name's Shelby Lynne? Woops. Tells you how much I fucking know about country music.

1. Sarah Vaughan, "Peter Gunn" (both Vaughan's 1965 version and the dope Max Sedgley remix)
"According to the liner notes, we can thank Quincy Jones for the recording. Hank Mancini says he never thought the song would work with lyrics, but Jones kept pestering him to try it. So, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans wrote some lyrics and Bill Holman arranged the song. Vaughan provided the fireworks. Vaughan infuses the song with the same kind of slinkiness found on Peggy Lee's 'Fever,' but Vaughan manages to sound sultry at a much faster tempo."--Cahl's Juke Joint, 2008

2. The Skatalites, "Guns of Navarone"
"The song itself is an adaptation of the theme song to the 1961 film of the same name, and there are in fact two different versions of The Skatalites interpretation. With one clocking in at more than six minutes, it is the shorter, two and a half minute version that exemplifies everything that makes ska so fantastic."--The Daily Guru, 2010

3. Earth, Wind & Fire, "Got to Get You Into My Life"
"In 1978, Earth Wind & Fire appeared in another motion picture, the Beatles movie tribute Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the film, the band played themselves, performing 'Got To Get You Into My Life' at a concert hall. The film itself was a commercial bomb... Yet despite musical performances on the soundtrack from Aerosmith, Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees and Alice Cooper, Earth Wind & Fire's remake of the Beatles classic was the highest charting pop single from the soundtrack. 'Once more, we had a movie that flopped on us,' said Maurice White, 'but we had a #1 hit out of it... We actually recorded our parts on the set.'"--Goldmine magazine's profile of Earth, Wind & Fire, 1997

"Robert Stigwood called us and asked if we wanted to be in a movie... We said okay, it could be interesting. At that particular time, you didn't see a lot of musical blacks in movies--there was The Wiz, but that was a horrible movie. We had three songs to choose from--'Got To Get You Into My Life' and two ballads. We just did the song Chicago-style. Some people thought George Martin produced the song, but Maurice produced it."--Verdine White, Goldmine, 1997

4. Stevie Wonder, "We Can Work It Out"
"... it's worth mentioning that Stevie's soulful reworking of the original--no doubt powerful in its own glory--makes it sound more searing; indeed, converting it into a freedom song/black power amalgamation. In short, Stevie Wonder's version of 'We Can Work It Out' is nothing short of a magnificent transformation. And to a certain degree, you could say that Stevie Wonder 'flipped' the Beatles original. Does that mean that Stevie Wonder's version of 'We Can Work It' is better than the original? I'm not sure if that's a question worth entertaining."--Amir Said, 2010

Uh, it's a question I'm willing to tackle: hell yes, Wonder's version trounces the original.

Friday, February 21, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Space Dandy, "A Race in Space Is Dangerous, Baby"

Fan service for the segment of the audience that's into pancake asses
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

There's an interesting theory I saw on a Space Dandy subreddit regarding the various deaths the three Aloha Oe crew members have experienced on the show. It's that we're actually not watching one reality where Dandy, QT and Meow die repeatedly like the Super Mario Bros. or if you never were a gamer, Lola in Run Lola Run.

We're actually watching many different parallel realities, so one week, we're visiting the reality where Meow got eaten by a giant tittie monster and a forgetful Dandy never went back to save him, and then next week, we're visiting the reality where the crew--and the show's narrator--turned into zombies. (The Japanese lyrics in the show's end title theme, "Welcome to the X Dimension," which are about physicist Hugh Everett's theory of parallel universes, could be a hint that this will be a plot point in future episodes. Perhaps the series finale will be about Dandy finally confronting Dr. Gel, the gorilla scientist who tries and fails to capture Dandy each week and whose existence the clueless Dandy is never aware of, and maybe like the Fringe series finale or the 13 Doctors banding together to protect Gallifrey from the Daleks in "The Day of the Doctor," Dandy somehow gets backup from his parallel counterparts--who were whisked away by some benevolent entity to join Dandy Prime before they die in their own universes--when the time comes to fight Dr. Gel.) This slapstick show doesn't really need an explanation for why the crew always resurfaces after dying the previous week, just like how it's never explained why MacGruber reappears 15 minutes later on SNL after dying in an explosion, but if you want to treat Space Dandy like it's serious sci-fi, it would be a terrific explanation.

Ben and Kate fans would refer to this as a 'guitar face.'
Why would you want to take Space Dandy so seriously anyway, especially when it concludes a story about an interplanetary Grand Prix with accidental anal sex between two cruiser ships, and the sex is apparently so good that the male racer at the receiving end has some sort of sparkly mental orgasm? That's exactly what happens at the end of "A Race in Space Is Dangerous, Baby," the latest round of Space Dandy weirdness. "A Race in Space," which was penned by Kimiko Ueno, the writer behind both the tittie monster episode and the zombie episode (still the show's funniest and best half-hour so far), takes a break from Dandy's usual schemes involving unregistered aliens and centers on the 82,342nd Magellanic Nebulae Grand Prix. Dandy enters the Grand Prix to beat a famous racing champion named Prince (Yuuki Kaji) because he's jealous of the attention Prince receives from Honey (Yurin), Dandy's favorite Boobies waitress, and the other Boobies employees.

Basically, "A Race in Space" is Redline on a TV budget. Though the visuals aren't as mind-blowing as Redline's, they're still remarkable and well-done for an animated TV show, especially when you compare them to something like the battles on Kill la Kill, which attempts to stage action on a similar scale each week, but with animation that's often as choppy as the animation on that wack early '90s MC Hammer cartoon that makes Clutch Cargo look like, well, Redline.

This spaceship was designed by Carrie from Sex and the City.
Every Space Dandy episode has been a triumph in character and ship design, and the standout design elements in "A Race in Space" are the cruiser that's shaped like a high heel and is piloted by the "comet-sent child" Crusher Girl (Akeno Watanabe) and the mechas piloted by Dandy and a pair of twin brother aliens with brains for heads. The Hawaii Yankee, Dandy's little cruiser that can transform into a Hawaiian shirt-wearing mecha, makes a return appearance in "A Race in Space" after serving as the action highlight of the tittie monster episode. The brief confrontation between the Hawaii Yankee and the twin racers' vintage-looking mechas proves once again that no one stages robot battles better than anime directors like So Toyama, the director of "A Race in Space," and Shinichiro Watanabe, the show's general director, do. Sit down, Michael Bay.

It's a very busy episode, with Dandy fighting off racers (and obstacles like gunfire from hostile alien bystanders) to reach the finish line and ignoring the nervous and skeptical QT's shotgun-seat advice by attempting all sorts of dangerous piloting tricks ("This is another secret attack, 'Moonsault Scrambled Life Intersection!'"), while Dr. Gel (Unshou Ishizuka) illegally enters the race and tries once again to capture Dandy, who, of course, pays no attention to the gorilla in the powdered wig and royal cape who's obsessed with capturing him. Dandy's attention is completely focused on besting Prince, who's the antithesis of Dandy: he's exceedingly polite while Dandy's rude (even to his own robot pal, whom he ejects from the Hawaii Yankee without his permission to lighten the cruiser's load towards the end of the race), and like another celebrity named Prince, he's effeminate while Dandy's aggressively macho.

The Shakespeare ruffle collar signifies that Squeak is a rat who prefers the finer things in life, like wine, the theater and murdering your boss' rival.
Dandy's rival even comes complete with his own robot pal and sneaky animal sidekick: the floating robot Z (Mamiko Noto), who snarks about QT's outdatedness and unlike the boyish-sounding QT, speaks in a grown woman's voice, and a rat named Squeak (Naoki Tatsuta). I wish "A Race in Space" gave QT and Meow more scenes with Z and Squeak because I like the one scene where they do interact, and of course, it's not a friendly exchange (Meow refers to rats as lame, and Squeak's response is "It's alien discrimination! Why don't you go and shove your face in some canned food, you retarded cat bastard?"). Squeak is also Prince's underhanded attorney, and as far as underhanded attorneys go, this surly-looking take on Mickey Mouse outdoes even Saul Goodman during his minimal amount of screen time in "A Race in Space." Saul would never get his hands dirty and crawl under an enemy's car to plant a bomb, which Squeak does to stop Dandy from winning the race.

Piloting ships may be the one thing Dandy's genuinely good at (outside of surfing or getting killed), but the animal sidekicks fuck up Dandy's chance to win the race. Dandy breaks cosmic velocity records to surge past Prince, but thanks to a combination of Squeak's bomb detonating, the unstable forms of fuel that a confused Meow crammed into Dandy's fuel tank (they include Japanese beer, a bento box and steamed dumplings) and a third factor, increased magnetic flux density, Dandy winds up going so fast that he collides into Prince's cruiser--sending Prince, who's suddenly developed romantic feelings for Dandy, into that aforementioned orgasm--and then disappears and misses the finish line. The hyperspeed propels Dandy and his cruiser 5.67 billion years into the future, where, in the show's most random and weird final scene so far, Dandy encounters a Buddha-like giant statue of himself. His accidental achievements in hyperspeed apparently made him a god.

Is that Jeffrey Wells? Your town sucks donkey balls if it worships the writing of Jeffrey Wells.
While I find "A Race in Space" to be more satisfying visually than comedically, what other animated show has ended a racing competition with gay sex between spaceships and 2001-style psychedelic surrealism? I can't name one. And if Reddit is right, and this universe where hyperspeed can be achieved with the help of fuel made from booze and dumplings is one of many parallel universes that Space Dandy is visiting, then we're in for a treat: the world's first alternate-universe-of-the-week show since Sliders. Mmm... sliders.

Stray observations/other memorable quotes:
* This is the first Space Dandy episode since the premiere to not conclude with the meaningless "To be continued" title card. This time, the title card actually says "The End."

* Crusher Girl's alien gibberish in the subtitles is actually English phrases spelled backwards, so "Trevrep gib uoy! Kcid nettor!" is "You big pervert! Rotten dick!"

* The racing scenes are loaded with references, but I was only able to spot three: the 2001 stargate sequence shout-out, a Death Race 2000 reference when the flower alien announcer describes the Grand Prix as a death race and one possible reference that involves Prince being surrounded by sparkles wherever he goes. I've never seen any of Robert Pattinson's movies, but I'm familiar with jokes about Pattinson being covered in sparkles, so I assume Prince's sparkles are a riff on Edward from Twilight. My knowledge of anime doesn't extend beyond Watanabe shows, Lupin the Third and a few feature films, so anime nerds who are way more knowledgeable than me spotted a few other references in the racing scenes.

It's also a reference to your bowels at a Guy Fieri restaurant.

Outlaw Star? Wasn't Outlaw Star that country singer competition show USA Network used to air?

They're making a Wacky Races movie? Fucking why?

I wouldn't be surprised if Uwe Boll, the Akira Kurosawa of our generation, tries to make a movie out of this game.

Really? I thought they were channeling David Carradine's Kung Fu opening credits.

* "Master Prince, I haven't seen a robot this old in a while."

* "Anigav obob gnihton s'ti." = "It's nothing bobo vagina." Bobo Vagina? Oh yeah, I remember them. I liked a couple of B-sides they did back in the riot grrrl era.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What ever happened to Babyface?: These are among the tracks I've added to AFOS rotation this month

I'll never forget the time my white English teacher awkwardly referenced Toni Braxton's 'Breathe Again,' which dominated radio at the time, while he explained the romantic relationship in the novel we were assigned to read. Well, good thing it was that and not LL's 'Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag.'
Babyface featuring Toni Braxton, "Give U My Heart (Upscale R&B Remix)," and Toni Braxton, "Love Shoulda Brought You Home" (both from Boomerang; now playing during "The Whitest Block Ever")

Love, Marriage & Divorce, the new album "starring" Toni Braxton and Babyface, is the first time I've paid attention to new music by either one of them in like 13 years (when Babyface tried to update his sound and recruited the Neptunes to produce "There She Goes," to be exact). The project--a collection of tunes about rocky relationships (where the fighting often leads to sex), infidelity, divorce and post-divorce reconciliation that stem from Braxton and Babyface's experiences with divorce--plays to each of their strengths as artists: Braxton's terrific contralto, especially when she sings a blistering kiss-off to an ex like Love, Marriage & Divorce's "I Wish," and Babyface's skills as a craftsman of New Jack-era, pre-Jodeci/R. Kelly R&B of the baby-making kind.

There's a scene early in Boomerang where a heavy-handed--and enthusiastic, of course, because he's played by Geoffrey "No Caffeine: Never Had It, Never Will" Holder--TV ad director presents Eddie Murphy's skirt-chasing ad exec Marcus Graham with a rough cut of a hilariously unsubtle lipstick ad, which is full of shots of supermodels wagging their tongues between pairs of cherries and sucking on bananas. Marcus' response to the footage is "I like the orange, and I like the ice cream. You gotta get rid of the cherries and lose the banana... That's a little too overt, you know? We should go a little more subtle... At least there wasn't no sausages in this one." His preference for classing things up also best sums up why most of Babyface's hits still hold up today and you can sing along to them without snickering, while the much lewder slow jams that followed Babyface's string of hits--like, for example, Silk's "Freak Me"--come off as unintentionally funny when you re-encounter them these days, mostly because their lyrics have been parodied so often by the likes of Murphy's Boomerang co-star Chris Rock ("Suck Your Big Toe"), Dave Chappelle ("Piss on You") and The Lonely Island ("Dick in a Box").

It's nice to hear Braxton and Babyface singing together again because I remember very well when I first heard them together: the duet "Give U My Heart," which Babyface produced for the Boomerang soundtrack. That album, which represented the best in mainstream R&B at the time, dominated the R&B airwaves in 1992 (you couldn't hide from the mammoth radio hit that was Boyz II Men's "End of the Road," which is the very last song featured in the film's end credits). "Give U My Heart," a New Jack tune that still holds up today, made me think, "Who's this chick with the smoky voice? She's like a younger Anita Baker. I'd like to hear more from her." And five months later, we did get to hear more from her when the Boomerang soundtrack hit us with the single "Love Shoulda Brought You Home," which, in fact, was written for Baker, but she declined to record it because she was pregnant at the time, so she suggested to Babyface and L.A. Reid that they give the song to the girl who sang its demo version: Braxton.

The release of Love, Marriage & Divorce isn't just why "Love Shoulda Brought You Home," which Angela (Halle Berry) quotes from when she breaks up with Marcus in Boomerang, and the film version of "Give U My Heart," known as the "Upscale R&B Remix," have been added to "Whitest Block Ever" rotation. It's Black History Month, and I think Boomerang is just as important and vital a film for directors and moviegoers of color as, say, the box office hit Lee Daniels' The Butler and 12 Years a Slave. In 1992, there wasn't a film like director Reginald Hudlin's Boomerang. "Part of the appeal of Boomerang for the Hudlins was that the film's subject matter--a brazen look at the battle of the sexes--had never been explored in a black film with multimillion-dollar production values," said the Philadelphia Inquirer in its 1992 profile of Hudlin and his producer brother Warrington Hudlin, who were fresh off the success of House Party.

The Hudlins' 1992 hit paved the way for the current hot streak of black, or as USA Today likes to say, "race-themed," rom-coms: Think Like a Man (soon to be followed this summer by Think Like a Man Too), The Best Man Holiday and Kevin Hart's About Last Night. That's why Boomerang, which I just saw for the very first time, is worth another look. It's also a damn good comedy (peep its ensemble cast--there are so many funny performances throughout Boomerang) and one of Murphy's best, even though, like Odie Henderson says in his post about the film, it sort of falls apart at the end. (That's due to the Hudlins rewriting the film at the last minute so that Marcus wins back Angela instead of winding up without either Angela or Jacqueline, the marketing department boss--and freak in the bed--played by Robin Givens. It was supposed to originally end with that shot of the Empire State Building lighting up behind Murphy, his future Life co-star Martin Lawrence and David Alan Grier hugging each other--again, that cast!--on the rooftop.)

Eddie Murphy's love of Star Trek is one of several reasons why we still dig Murphy despite stupid shit like his non-comedic soul albums and Pluto Nash.
(Photo source: Brian Orndorf)
Comedy movies like Boomerang get slept on simply because they're comedies, and we know how well the Oscar crowd treats comedy movies. The Butler and 12 Years a Slave garner lots of accolades (particularly for dramatizing tumultuous moments of African American history not from a white audience surrogate's point of view or the oppressor's point of view but from a black point of view) but are dismissed by some black moviegoers for being "misery porn." Armond White is a crazy old troll who hasn't written anything coherent or worth taking seriously in 13 years (the last White article I remember enjoying reading was his angry takedown of SNL's first post-9/11 episode because all the cops, firefighters and city workers Lorne Michaels brought out on-stage for Paul Simon's opening musical number were middle-aged white men), and White's heckling of 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen at the New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner was just plain rude and stupid, but I understand where he's coming from when he disses 12 Years a Slave for being "torture porn."

There's an interesting Tumblr exchange about this very subject between David Brothers from Image Comics, who's similarly said that he's had it up to here with misery porn, and another African American comics blogger, cartoonist Darryl Ayo. "I do feel like the [black-driven movies] that come across my desk tend to be what you describe--something about how much it sucks or sucked to be black, instead of just movies about people," wrote Brothers to Ayo. "The Butler, the Help, 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained, Precious, The Blind Side, all these movies traffick [sic] in black misery. I feel like Hollywood's black people, outside of what feels like exceptions, have just a couple ideas as to what black folks are all about, and keep going to the misery well because it has a built-in triumphant narrative if you look at it right... I'm over feeling sad about being black."

On the next Head of the Class, Darlene goes out with Eddie Murphy and gets her finger stuck in the zipper of his leather jumpsuit!
Boomerang--which I watched on Netflix Instant because I was in the mood for a film with black stars that was neither somber Oscar bait nor a corny Tyler Perry film--may be a throwback to His Girl Friday, one of Hudlin's favorite movies and an influence on the Murphy film, or any one of those '50s and '60s ad exec rom-coms with Rock Hudson or Tony Randall, but one thing that keeps Boomerang remaining vital all these years is the humor based in political consciousness that Hudlin said he and his brother wanted to inject into House Party and Boomerang in that Philly Inquirer piece. Several of my favorite scenes in House Party involve awkward interactions between black folks and white authority figures, from the school principal who thinks the head bully called Kid's dead mom a garden tool to the inept cops who toss the not-exactly-thuggish Kid in jail and get their comeuppance at the end.

The Hudlins did the same thing in Boomerang, throwing in a little scene where Marcus and his friends, despite their Manhattan ad agency cachet, are racially profiled while browsing around a menswear store (Marcus' comedic handling of the racist clerk brings back a little bit of the fire Murphy brought to the scene that Roger Ebert memorably said was the moment that made Murphy a movie star, the 48 Hrs. redneck bar scene), as well as another bit where Berry says good night to Grier in fake Korean and jokes that it means "I'm sorry I shot you, but I thought you were robbing my store." It's the Hudlins' way of saying, "Sure, this is the same opulent and insular ad agency world from those Rock Hudson and Tony Randall rom-coms, but because our characters are black, these things that are unfortunately everyday to us--like racial profiling--are as much a part of this world as the tuxes, gowns and lavish product premiere parties." And in House Party and Boomerang, the Hudlins preferred to ridicule the racist assholes who keep these problems alive instead of building Oscar-bait dramas around these problems or speechifying about them, an approach I'd like to see more often from filmmakers of color. It's laughing to keep from crying (hey, that's the title of a Tyler Perry play).

Another thing that's made Boomerang age well is the ensemble, and unlike some other Murphy films in that pre-family-movie period of his career (particularly 1994's Beverly Hills Cop III, where, according to Bronson Pinchot, Murphy was so disengaged with the lame material that John Landis told him, "Just rest, Eddie, and I'll do the scene with Bronson," and he shot Pinchot's scenes with Murphy without Murphy), you can tell Murphy enjoyed being there because of the cast he was surrounded with. During one of the business meeting scenes, he looks like he's about to break character and corpse when the ponytail on Grace Jones' hat hits him in the face, and he looks like he's about to do the same thing too when John Witherspoon explains why "you got to coordinate" in a quotable scene Ludacris once referenced. In a later scene where Angela tries to cheer up a depressed Marcus by bringing him along to a kids' art class she teaches, the interplay between Murphy and the kids appears to be ad-libbed, and his amusement over interacting with those child actors brings to mind how much fun he clearly had watching Pinchot hilariously ad-lib in the first Beverly Hills Cop.

Everyone in that Boomerang cast gets a chance to shine, even bit players like the actor who plays the butler for Eartha Kitt's Lady Eloise character, plus there are three cast members who appeared in Bond movies (Holder was in Live and Let Die, Jones showed up in A View to a Kill and Berry later starred in Die Another Day) and the two black Catwomen (Kitt and Berry). Berry would have been an okay Catwoman had the idiots behind Berry's Catwoman fiasco adapted Ed Brubaker's Catwoman comics instead of inserting all that Patience Phillips/Egyptian superpowers shit. On the other hand, her romantic rival Givens would have been a great Catwoman. Peep how Givens dominates her sex scenes with Murphy. It's very Selina Kyle.

That willingness to take a brief break from the heroism of Reggie Hammond and Axel Foley to play such an emasculated character (who, at one point in one of his sex scenes with Givens, starts sucking his thumb) and win back women who hated the misogyny of Raw and wanted more of Murphy's Coming to America rom-com side--plus hitching his wagons to Black New Wave filmmakers--were good career moves for Murphy. Early '90s "Hammer Time in her shoe" line aside, Boomerang stands the test of time, thanks to the Hudlins, the cast they assembled ("I remember talking to one of the producers at the time and saying, 'Ten years from now, people won't believe we had all these people in the same cast,'" recalled Hudlin to Blackfilm) and a soundtrack that still slaps.

Marcus turns into putty and then turns into the kid from the 2005 movie Thumbsucker.
(Photo source: Big Media Vandalism)

Friday, February 14, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Space Dandy, "The War of the Undies and Vests, Baby"

This scene is actually from Point Break: The Special Edition, which features new closing footage of Bodhi inside the mothership that picked him up right after he disappeared into the big wave.

Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

The premiere of the slapstick anime show Space Dandy generated a considerable amount of buzz at the start of the new year. Space Dandy follows the interstellar adventures of Dandy (Junichi Suwabe), a pompadoured free spirit and captain of the spaceship Aloha Oe who makes a living out of tracking down new alien species and registering them at the Alien Registration Center--which, on the spectrum of outer-space heroics, is equivalent to stripping copper wire and selling it. It's animation director Shinichiro Watanabe's first sci-fi show since Cowboy Bebop, a beloved classic both in and outside Japan, and the new show involves creative talent from both that landmark 1998 work and the beautifully animated Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. Adding to Space Dandy's buzz is the fact that it's actually airing first on Adult Swim in America, as part of Adult Swim's Toonami block, before it airs the following day in Japan. Even the New York Times, which rarely does pieces on anime, devoted a few paragraphs to the Space Dandy premiere, "Live with the Flow, Baby" (the Gray Lady reviewer gave the episode, the only one scripted by Watanabe so far, a mixed review and disliked the amount of lady flesh on display at the Hooters-inspired Boobies, Dandy's favorite "breastaurant").

Now that the hype has died down a bit, how does Space Dandy hold up so far as a Watanabe show? Unsurprisingly, Space Dandy is another visual knockout like Bebop, Watanabe's Bebop follow-up Samurai Champloo and Watanabe's last show, the coming-of-age '60s period piece Kids on the Slope. While Spike Spiegel, Jet Black and Faye Valentine never encountered alien life during their travels on the Bebop (other than one notable exception in the Alien parody "Toys in the Attic"), aliens are everywhere in Space Dandy's much less grounded and much more fanciful sci-fi universe. Perhaps to avoid the sameness in alien character design that made viewers of the '90s Star Trek spinoffs think, "Wow, is everyone who's neither human nor Vulcan born with an Ore-Ida Golden Crinkle fry on their face?," Watanabe has assigned a different creature designer to work on each new alien world that's depicted on the show. You want to hang around forever in this inventively realized and sumptuous-looking universe that's been crafted by the animators at BONES Inc. (the same studio that collaborated with Bebop's Sunrise studio on the Bebop feature film), even though that means putting up with Space Dandy's pompadoured anti-hero, who looks a little too much like Jeffrey Wells, so he has a face that's as punchable as that of either Shia LaBeouf, Ted Cruz or the How I Met Your Mother head writers.

Dandy uses the same douchey barber that the Real Ghostbusters go to.

Writing-wise, Space Dandy, which is Watanabe's first largely comedic show, has had a rough start. For a couple of episodes, it looked like Watanabe and his crew were being afflicted with the same ailment that hobbled Steven Spielberg when he made 1941: they're better at creating action or drama with comedic elements than creating an out-and-out comedy. It wasn't until Space Dandy's fourth episode, "Sometimes You Can't Live with Dying, Baby" (which was scripted by Kimiko Ueno), when the humor started to really click and Space Dandy proved it's got more to offer comedically than just Benny Hill-style horny slapstick. It also made better use of the rather forgettable and nondescript villains from the Gogol Empire, represented by the powdered-wig-wearing Dr. Gel (Unsho Ishizuka) and his skull-faced superior Admiral Perry (a reference to Commodore Perry?), whom the continually oblivious Dandy doesn't know are targeting him and his ship for reasons that have yet to be explained.

Zombie genre parodies may be as tired as Her parody videos, but "Sometimes You Can't Live with Dying, Baby" brought a clever spin to zombie comedy, first by killing off Dandy, his robot pal QT (Uki Satake) and their catlike Betelgeusian sidekick Meow (Hiroyuki Yoshino) in the first act--as part of Space Dandy's disregard for continuity, it's the third episode that's ended with either one or all of the three principal characters dead--and then by transforming in the brilliant second act into a bizarre mockumentary about the newly undead Aloha Oe crew's adjustment to zombie life while the zombie epidemic Dandy and QT failed to stop spreads to the rest of the universe. Zombie life turns out to be not all that different from the mundane lives Dandy, QT and Meow led before they were turned. My favorite gag in "SYCLWDB" is the revelation that zombie groans and expressions aren't meaningless. "At first glance, it may seem like zombies just groan, but it has been discovered that zombies actually communicate with their own language," says the show's regular narrator. "Their senior zombie said, 'It's not that bad being a zombie. First of all, you don't have to spend much on food... While it may not be true for all zombies, I eat yogurt every day, and it makes me feel healthier.'"

The equally good episode that followed the zombie story, "A Merry Companion Is a Wagon in Space, Baby," was a complete departure from the Dawn of the Dead-inspired black comedy of "SYCLWDB." It centered on Dandy's reluctant friendship with Adelie, a lonely orphan girl who hates adults like Dandy and possesses unusual mind-swapping powers, and it brought some heart to Space Dandy without unconvincingly changing Dandy's jerky, self-centered and misogynist self (the show has started mocking his misogyny like what Johnny Bravo used to do with its title character, instead of further glorifying Dandy's frequent objectification of women, which was the Gray Lady's biggest beef with "Live with the Flow, Baby"). This week's Space Dandy episode, "The War of the Undies and Vests, Baby," in which Dandy gets teased by his friends for being a poser--he's brought along surfboards with him but has never used them because he's waiting to trot them out for some "out-of-this-world big wave"--while they stumble into a senseless, 10,000-year-old space war, lacks the cleverness of the zombie episode and the energy of the road-movie-ish orphan episode. But in a week when almost all the animated shows are in reruns due to the Winter Olympics, "The War of the Undies and Vests, Baby" is the only entertaining game in town, baby.

With its genre shifts from creature feature to road movie and now to anti-war satire in "The War of the Undies and Vests, Baby" (story by Michio Mihara; teleplay by Dai Sato), Space Dandy is essentially an anthology show, with Dandy, QT, Meow and the Aloha Oe as the only constant. Like last week, the trio's search for unregistered aliens to make some quick cash is disrupted by having to be separated from their ship, which, this time, has been damaged by warfare raging above the last remaining moon of Eden, a desolate planet torn apart by the 10,000-year conflict. Only two survivors of the war remain: an old alien soldier who favors undies over vests and his enemy from the side that prefers vests, who have both been fighting since birth over which garment is better. Dandy, QT and Meow attempt to broker a peace treaty between the Undie and the Vestian partly because it's a stupid conflict that needs to end ("If the war were over, you could do all sorts of fun things... You can go to the restaurant Boobies," says Meow to the Vestian), but in keeping with their previous jerky behavior and their desperation for cash, they're brokering the treaty mainly because uniting these aliens would be their ticket to getting them registered.

Stones is the way of the walk

Star Trek has done this kind of war allegory dozens of times before, with results that have varied from gripping ("Balance of Terror," DS9's "Duet") to unintentionally silly ("Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"). Fortunately, "The War of the Undies and Vests, Baby" opts to be intentionally silly. I just wish it were as genuinely funny as "SYCLWDB" or as interesting as "A Merry Companion." While I like how the soldiers' simple-mindedness is conveyed by having their dialogue written in broken English for the subtitled version of the show, I find it difficult to be as invested in this one-note pair of warriors as I was in the character of Adelie during "A Merry Companion."

What actually makes "The War of the Undies and Vests, Baby" worthwhile are, once again, the epic visuals, particularly during the episode's last two minutes, my favorite bit of animation on the show so far. The Undie and the Vestian, two old dogs who are unwilling to learn new tricks like compromise and peace, wind up accidentally killing themselves at their badly botched peace conference and have rigged the moon to explode. Dandy and Meow's only way of escaping the destruction is one of the surfboards that Dandy was being needled about earlier, which QT jettisons from the Aloha Oe to help them return to the ship. The force of the moon explosion results in the out-of-this-world big wave Dandy's been waiting for, and the ensuing space debris-surfing sequence is spectacularly animated by BONES and accompanied by a Japanese disco ballad about "walking towards the future in search of the selves we'll become." In those two dazzling and dialogue-less minutes, the conclusion does a better job of conveying the episode's message of "Don't waste your life" than any of the prior scenes with the Undie and the Vestian.

They're dancing on a tightrope, which sounds like the title of a Huey Lewis and the News song. Or is it Lionel Richie?

The disco music on the show, which defines Space Dandy like how jazz defined both Bebop and Kids on the Slope and instrumental hip-hop defined Samurai Champloo, is why I prefer watching the subtitled version of Space Dandy that's on FUNimation and Hulu instead of Toonami's dubbed version. The FUNimation-produced dub omits both Yasuyuki Okamura's Gloria Gaynor-inspired opening title theme, "Viva Namida" ("Viva Teardrops"), and Etsuko Yakushimaru's even more charming end title theme, "Welcome to the X Dimension." The theme tunes are replaced by forgettable lite-funk instrumentals (Toonami viewers are also deprived of the awesome visuals that the animators created to accompany "Viva Namida" and "Welcome to the X Dimension"). But don't count out the Space Dandy dub. It's better-voiced than most dubs, and my favorite touch in the English version is the Auto-Tuning of cast member Alison Viktorin's voice as the bumbling, technologically outdated QT. Like Hov said about the scourge of Auto-Tune four years ago, good riddance to Auto-Tune, but it works wonderfully here for such a technologically outdated robot character.

Whether subbed or dubbed, Space Dandy has started to live up to its hype in the last three weeks. Space Dandy began as a bit of a disappointment because its first few episodes were more juvenile than Watanabe's previous works, but ever since the zombie episode and the orphan episode, the material has started exhibiting the same kind of range that distinguished Bebop but without becoming a retread of Bebop. What remains to be seen is whether the rest of the series can--to borrow Dandy's own words--go with the flow of those two standout episodes and lead to Space Dandy emerging as another Watanabe classic.

Friday, February 7, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Archer, "House Call"

Archer's wondering how to get Christina Hendricks to co-star with Pam in this tit bondage porno.
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

When FX's Archer was a spy comedy, it got lots of comedic mileage out of placing its immature and dickish characters in foreign locations--globetrotting is a requirement for a spy show, even ones like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Alias that didn't have the budget or the balls to leave Hollywood and stuck to faking foreign locations on a backlot--but sometimes, an Archer episode would confine itself to just one location, and the results were even more hysterical. I'm thinking the dinner party in "Lo Scandalo" or ISIS headquarters in last season's "Legs."

This week's "House Call"--which sees Archer and his cohorts attempting to handle an unexpected visit from the show's new recurring antagonist, Agent Holly (Gary Cole), while dealing with the hot mess that is Pam--confines itself to one location as well: Cheryl/Carol/Cherlene's family's estate. When Archer's in swinging-door farce mode, the dialogue becomes even more rapid-fire than it already is, and "House Call" is full of many quotable bits during its rapid-fire exchanges. The episode also proves how much of a great creative decision Archer's recent transformation into "Archer Vice" has been. In "House Call," we see how Archer and Lana's career change from spies to drug dealers adds both comedic and dramatic tension to the kind of storyline a lot of sitcoms tend to whiff at when it's thrown at them and that Archer hopefully won't whiff at--the pregnancy storyline--and we also see how the presence of cocaine has given a new sense of purpose to several of the other characters, particularly Pam and Cyril.

Pam's gotten addicted to munching on cocaine cakes she's been making out of the new cartel's stash, and while she's lost some weight from the coke, it intensifies her She-Hulkish side and turns her into, as an impressed and mildly aroused Cheryl puts it, "Queen Kong." I liked Pam's brief phase as an ISIS agent in the field, but I think I like her "Queen Kong" phase even more, as long as it results in sight gags like my favorite one in "House Call," in which a tranq dart meant for the rampaging Pam lands in Malory's neck and an apparently immune Malory continues drinking her cocktail. Cyril, who finds his high not in eating blow or snorting it but in trotting out legalese, morphs from dorky accountant to dorky yet somehow badass attorney. Hearing Chris Parnell go toe-to-toe over legal procedure with the guy who used to voice Harvey Birdman made this former Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law viewer's day.

An episode of the old FX show Nip/Tuck introduced viewers to men who have a fetish for pregnant ladies, and Archer gets a similar introduction here to "preggo porn" in "House Call." Archer's reaction to preggo porn is the same one I had when I first caught that Nip/Tuck preggo fetish episode: "Oh, goddammit! That can't be a thing!" Hopefully, the sight of Archer faltering over its transformation into "Archer Vice" like Weeds did when it escaped from Agrestic won't become a thing either, as long as we wind up with solidly funny episodes like "House Call."

Memorable quotes:
* "I just don't want her to escape. You know how strong she is. Might as well be green and half-deaf."

Egg facial porn
* Cyril: "He can't come inside without a warrant... Well, unless you invite him in." Archer: "He's not a vampire, idiot. Plus it's daytime."

* Woodhouse: "I invited him in." Malory: "Woodhouse!" Holly: "And once you do that, you know, we are in. Not unlike vampires." Archer to Cyril: "See?"

* "How do you not know the different kinds of porn?" "Because I have sex with actual women, Cyril! My girlfriend's not equal parts the Internet, a tube of Kentucky jelly, self-loathing and a sock!"

* Archer to Lana, right after overhearing Holly shouting, "I'm a federal agent, and I'm coming! By God, I am coming!": "Are we not saying 'phrasing' anymore?"

* "What's this door made out of, mithril?"