Thursday, July 31, 2014

Not a Burger Stand becomes a viral sensation and makes me ask, "Why doesn't this kind of joint exist up in Northern Cali?"

'Are you kidding? I know I'm ugly. I stuck my head out the window, got arrested for mooning.'--Rodney Dangerfield
As someone who used to listen to No Respect repeatedly, I will probably nail this. (Photo source: Not a Burger Stand)
Down in Burbank, a city that, thanks to late '80s-era Nick at Nite's Laugh-In reruns, I can't refer to without channeling Gary Owens and calling it "Beautiful Downtown Burbank," the chalkboard specials at a burger joint called Not a Burger Stand have gone viral. Not a Burger Stand's specials, which the Burbank restaurant posts on its Tumblr and Facebook pages, are accompanied by terrific re-creations of TV and movie characters by illustrators Lila Gonzalez and Kyle Carrozza. These specials also offer the kind of wacky discounts that are atypical for a burger stand but aren't surprising to see coming from a restaurant that's right next to Hollywood and the voiceover industry: customers get discounts if they order in the voices of--or dress up as--the characters that Gonzalez or Carrozza drew on the chalkboard. It's a really clever way to both run a business and see how terrible everyone's Matthew McConaughey impressions are.

I wish one of Not a Burger Stand's specials was "Order the Cap'n Crunch Fried Chicken and Funnel Cake in Cap'n Crunch's voice and get 10% off," but nobody who was born after 1988 knows what Cap'n Crunch sounds like. However, these other specials would be fun to order, especially for someone like me who's a fan of many voiceover artists and actually practices doing a few impressions of celebrity voices. These discounts make me think, "Damn, we need a burger joint like this up in here in the Bay Area so that I can trot out my '60s-era Sean Connery or my Tracy Morgan and get 10% off a burger."

(Photo source: Kyle Carrozza)

If you're just like me and you've never seen The Lego Movie, and then you stumble into some business where you get 10% off if you sing "Everything Is Awesome," but you have no idea how the Lego Movie theme goes, it goes a little something like this:

I didn't weep for Oberyn, but I felt bad for all the Latino viewers out there who hate it whenever a likable Latino character gets killed off on white television. "Ritchiiiieeee!," screamed Esai Morales, right after he saw the end of "The Mountain and the Viper" that night, even though the Viper isn't named Ritchie.

(Photo source: Lila Gonzalez)

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Space Dandy, "Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Baby"

People who hate subtitles for some reason, this would be a good time to put a bullet in your head.
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.

Ever since the start of its second cour two weeks ago, Shinichiro Watanabe's anthology-like Space Dandy has been edging into more surreal and cartoony territory. The show often contains old Hanna-Barbera sound FX--they're the biggest example of how much '60s Hanna-Barbera slapstick shows like Wacky Races appear to be an influence on Watanabe and the other animators during Space Dandy. The vintage Hanna-Barbera noises are at their most abundant during special guest director Masaaki Yuasa's "Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Baby," the most stoner-friendly Space Dandy episode since "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby," which was guest-directed by Yuasa protégé Eunyoung Choi.

The Korean animator's trippy plant world episode was so clever and imaginatively visualized that I wrote, "I'm now interested in whatever her next project will be." That project turned out to be Ping Pong: The Animation, Yuasa's 11-episode, one-cour adaptation of Tekkonkinkreet creator Taiyo Matsumoto's 1996-97 manga about high-schoolers whose lives revolve solely around ping pong (the manga was previously made into a 2002 live-action film I actually rented and watched right before the Yuasa version began airing, as an appetizer to the show).

Ping Pong, which is worth checking out on FUNimation or Hulu, overcame limited animation (done under a really tight, two-to-three-weeks-per-episode schedule) and some patchy earlier episodes to become an enjoyable and occasionally moving sports anime that drew much of its drama from quieter material (the loneliness of the Christmas season; athletes who are so obsessed with winning that they've forgotten about the joy they used to get out of the game) rather than from whether the ultimate victor would be the cocky and outgoing prodigy in a dorky bowl cut or his stoic and introverted best friend/ping pong protégé. Like the first and sixth Rocky movies, the original Bad News Bears, the original Bring It On and the TV version of Friday Night Lights, Ping Pong is the kind of sports story where the outcome of the final match ends up mattering the least. To borrow that old saying derived from sportswriter/poet Grantland Rice's 1908 poem "Alumnus Football," Ping Pong is not about whether its characters win or lose but about how they play the game.

Choi directed an episode of Ping Pong, as well as the show's rotoscoped end credits sequence of a walk and drive through Ping Pong's seaside town setting. Her closing sequence is a good example of Ping Pong's knack for dazzling visuals despite its limited animation and low budget (another good example is the show's opening title sequence, which features perhaps the best opening theme tune on an anime so far this year, Bakudan Johnny's "Tada Hitori (Only One)," a rugged-sounding anthem that suits Ping Pong's equally rugged visuals and perfectly encapsulates the show's emphasis on fighting for self-respect instead of fighting to be at the top). Just as "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby" was, for me, a terrific introduction to Choi's work, the LeRoy Neiman-like Ping Pong was a terrific introduction to the work of Choi's mentor, who, towards the end of Ping Pong's run, received even greater exposure in America than the kind Ping Pong was getting on FUNimation when Adventure Time aired "Food Chain," a standout "Finn and Jake learning about science" episode guest-directed by Yuasa ("Food Chain" was also one of the first projects from Science Saru, a new animation studio founded by Yuasa and Choi).

Between Ping Pong, the Adventure Time episode and now this Hanna-Barbera sound library-reliant episode that's even more offbeat than most of the already offbeat previous episodes of the same show, Yuasa is experiencing quite a year as an animator. I have no idea how Yuasa can function from only a half-hour of sleep per night, which he did while juggling Ping Pong, Adventure Time and Space Dandy. While I don't think the story in "Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Baby" is anything special (if Ping Pong's a gritty but ultimately life-affirming show about plucking the day and not letting the need to win consume you, "Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Baby" is Space Dandy at its most cynical and Emo Dandy-ish), the crazy, stoner-friendly visuals Yuasa directed while operating on an amount of sleep that's too insane to even attempt are imbued with the same panache Yuasa brought to Ping Pong and "Food Chain." There's an early sequence at a crowded space food court that just looks sensational, and the endless amount of culinary delights amusingly amplifies the torment Meow experiences while suffering from an empty stomach.

Terio's favorite place to be

Somewhere, Takeru Kobayashi's calculating how much of this he can wolf down in two minutes.
The story behind the making of "Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Baby" is perhaps more interesting than the episode's story itself. Last year, Yuasa used his Facebook account to conduct a search for international animators to help him out on the Space Dandy episode. Two of the animators who submitted reels of their work to Yuasa and were chosen to take part in the episode were Ben Li and Jeremy Polgar, both staffers from Titmouse Inc., the American studio behind Superjail, Metalocalypse, the most recent season of The Venture Bros., the animated version of Black Dynamite and Motorcity, a short-lived Disney show I didn't expect to enjoy but wound up being amazed by its visuals and subversive undertones. So this episode doesn't just boast Yuasa as a guest talent. It also has veterans from Motorcity and a bunch of other enjoyable Titmouse shows.

"Yuasa-san was very open to us using Flash to animate our shots," wrote Polgar on Tumblr, referring to the same software that he and his co-workers deployed to bring Motorcity to life and turn it into one of the best-looking shows ever made with that software. The shots that Polgar referred to take place during a dazzling sequence where Dandy, Meow and the latest alien they've befriended attempt to sail by boat to the alien's homeworld using the strange physics of a planet called Pushy Boyfriend, which they've all been marooned on. The bizarre point-of-view shots in the sailing sequence are reminiscent of Yuasa's remarkable-looking ping pong match sequences on Ping Pong. Complain all you want about the limited animation on Ping Pong, but table tennis rarely looks as striking or as fun as it did on Yuasa's show.

Somewhere, an AMV producer is eyeballing Styx's 'Sail Away' for an AMV of this.

Nah, that AMV producer's better off using Cartman's version of 'Sail Away.'
I wish the episode's story was as remarkable as Yuasa's visuals and that it ended on a better comedic payoff for the two characters who suffer the most during the story, Meow and Carpaccio (Daisuke Namikawa), the aforementioned alien from a planet of talking fish called Girlfriend. The episode opens with Dandy, being his usual self-absorbed self, using whatever remaining cash he has in his not-so-fat pockets to buy himself a portable teleportation device called Mr. Teleporter instead of getting the starving Meow a meal, and during an argument with Meow, the Betelgeusian accidentally teleports Dandy's head--and only his head--to Planet Pushy Boyfriend.

On the planet, Dandy's disembodied head encounters Carpaccio, an astronaut who's been marooned on Pushy Boyfriend for 10 years. The little fish is trying to find a way to return to Planet Girlfriend, which has been stuck orbiting Pushy Boyfriend for nearly 100 years due to Pushy Boyfriend's clinginess gravity, so that he can warn his people about the sun inching closer to Girlfriend. After some fiddling around with the Mr. Teleporter gun, Meow winds up on Pushy Boyfriend as well, Dandy gets the rest of his body back and the duo helps Carpaccio return to Girlfriend, on the condition that he agrees to be taken to the Alien Registration Center afterward and registered.

Carpaccio arrives on Girlfriend to find that his 10-year absence actually lasted 100 years and that Yoko (Fuyumi Shiraishi), the lost love he's been aching to return to, is still alive, but she's now a Botoxed grandmother who doesn't welcome him back with open arms and is happily married to a dickweed of a fish. He returns to also find out that everyone on the planet is a climate change denier who won't listen to his warnings about the planet being burnt to a crisp. As the sun fries up Girlfriend, the depressed Carpaccio leaps right into the sun to kill himself (there goes another opportunity for Dandy to register another alien) and is greeted in Fish Heaven by a much more friendly Yoko. Back on the Aloha Oe, Meow, who gets offended whenever Dandy refers to him as a cat and insinuates that he eats fish, gives in to his feline side and wolfs down the meal he's been dying for: it's in the form of Carpaccio's broiled corpse.

On the right, you have what Terio looks like when he attacks a box of donuts.
The ultimate fate of the Frank Grimes-ish Carpaccio is supposed to be darkly funny, but instead, I felt awful for Carpaccio. Rejected by his climate change-denying planet and left without a purpose or reason to live, Carpaccio ultimately finds his purpose: as dinner on someone's table. Some viewers might view Carpaccio's unintentional transformation into a remedy for Meow's hunger as a meaningful act that Carpaccio will never realize is meaningful to Meow, but to me, it's just a bummer. The ending falls flat and could use a little more bite, no pun intended. I would have gone in an even darker direction and written it so that Meow gets what he wants, but then he chokes on a piece of Carpaccio and dies too. Like inept Dr. Gel and his assistant Bea, who, along with Planet Girlfriend, receive a fiery demise this week, Meow's no stranger to dying, so why not kill him here as well? But the flat ending doesn't detract from how much of a visual--and aural--treat "Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Baby" is and how, like when "Plants Are Living Things Too, Baby" made me want to see more of Eunyoung Choi's projects, this week's Space Dandy episode is another reason to delve further into the work of one of Japan's cleverest current animators.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tip-Top Quotables: "Some couples have a song. Ours is the theme from Jaws," plus a few other great lines this week

Kumail Nanjiani gives better advice than Dr. Phil does.
My favorite monthly section in old Source magazine issues was "Hip-Hop Quotables," in which the Source editors printed out their favorite new rap verse of the month, from the first bar to the last. "Tip-Top Quotables," which I've named after that Source section, is a collection of my favorite quotes of the week from anywhere, whether it's a recent TV show or a new rap verse. "TTQ" won't appear on this blog every week. It'll appear whenever the fuck I feel like it.

* "Tell him that snoring is usually a sign of a condition called sleep apnea, which causes a lot of people to die in their sleep. Be like, 'Here, Google it.' And then he'll be so scared he'll never be able to sleep again."--Kumail Nanjiani, giving advice to an Esquire reader about how to deal with a roommate's boyfriend who snores too loud

* "We've got some very attractive rewards at every level. For instance, $10,000 lands you in a signature CNN mass-shooting coverage six-box. For $25,000, you get to take molly with Fareed Zakaria. What what! For $5 million, CNN will air a 24-hour, two-week hunt for your lost car keys."--Jon Stewart, announcing his Kickstarter to buy CNN

(Photo source: Wendy Liebman)

* "Tony played it like a failed Scientologist."--Sam Rockwell, recalling to MTV News his Galaxy Quest co-star Tony Shalhoub's hilarious performance as a constantly stoned, non-Asian TV actor playing an Asian character, which Shalhoub based on constantly stoned Kung Fu star David Carradine, '70s TV's most infamous example of a non-Asian playing an Asian

(Photo source: Pia Glenn, the writer behind the #TimeTitles hashtag, which is a mockery of this)

(Photo source: Hari Kondabolu)

* "That is not good. The only time when you are happy to hear the words 'Maggots were found' is when you are a maggot whose family was lost at sea."--Last Week Tonight's John Oliver, joking about a news report of maggots being found in prison food supplied by a shady subcontractor

* "Garner was an expert at pulling the viewer into the action and acknowledging the ridiculousness of most television storytelling without quite breaking the fourth wall. He was the guy who crawled out of the screen and sat beside you munching popcorn on the couch."--Todd VanDerWerff, Vox, "James Garner has died; these five roles will remind you of his greatness"

* "If Netanyahu is so bothered by how dead Palestinians look on television then he should stop killing so many of them."--Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York, "'Telegenically Dead Palestinians': Why Israel Is Losing the American Media War"

Monday, July 21, 2014

So about that night when Sony Korea accidentally posted all of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on YouTube…

This picture would be even more awesome if sad Spidey were doing this in the shower, with his suit and mask still both on, and 'Everybody Hurts' was playing.
(Photo source: Gamma Squad; photo by Russell McGovern)

Someone at Sony Korea is definitely getting both a J. Jonah Jameson-style tongue-lashing and their walking papers for this.

On Saturday night, podcaster and Portland Mercury blogger Bobby Roberts and a bunch of others pointed out on their Twitter feeds that Sony Korea's YouTube account accidentally posted The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in its entirety for free. Well, not all of the movie. The full upload, which Sony Korea immediately removed from YouTube once they realized the screw-up, was missing the mid-credits ad for X-Men: Days of Future Past. Amazing Spider-Man 2 director Marc Webb had to slip the Days of Future Past ad into his film's end credits in order to fulfill an obligation to his contract with Sony rival and Days of Future Past distributor 20th Century Fox.

Here we see Spidey doing his best impression of Superman creepily stalking Lois during Superman Returns.
(Photo source: OneHallyu)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was an overstuffed and disjointed mess that was difficult to sit through for much of its bloated running time of two hours and 22 minutes, so I was in no mood to rewatch the entire movie right below Roberts' tweet, which he deleted when Sony Korea removed their accidental upload. And nope, not even skimming through the upload of Amazing 2 to revisit only my favorite scenes (and a few of my least favorite) improved the movie, which has become Sony's lowest-grossing Spider-Man movie in America (Sony studio execs' dissatisfaction with the sequel's U.S. box-office performance has caused them to put the kibosh on the studio's plans to do both a threequel and supervillain spinoff movies centering on the Sinister Six and Venom). This second (and this time, only partial) viewing of this extremely corporate product (as ScreenCrush's Britt Hayes tweeted, the movie "looks like it was made to sell pinball machines") failed to erase its flaws (SPOILERS), including...

The two Webb movies' misguided decision to make Peter Parker the Chosen One

Much of the original appeal of the character stemmed from Peter becoming a superhero by accident. When you make Peter a predestined hero like Harry Potter or Superman, you make him less of a relatable everyman. And who cares about all the boring new material about Peter's attempt to uncover the truth about both his dead but could-be-alive scientist/secret agent dad (Campbell Scott), who experimented on Peter and planted the seed for Peter receiving his powers, and his extremely dead secret agent mom (Embeth Davidtz)? (Why do I feel like Amazing 2 co-screenwriter Roberto Orci's bizarre adoration of Dubya the pampered Bush son was responsible for this shit, even though it was carried over from The Amazing Spider-Man, which Orci didn't co-write?)

Sony's inane attempts to build its own Marvel Cinematic Universe out of Webb's movies

Amazing Spider-Man movie universe, you may think you're the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Amazing Spider-Man movie universe, you're no Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sony's postponement of the threequel and those baffling Sinister Six and Venom projects makes me hope that the postponement takes so long it causes Sony to lose the movie rights to Spidey and hand them over to Marvel Studios. For starters, Amazing Spider-Man movie universe, you have to have interesting villains on a par with Tom Hiddleston's charismatic Loki, which you don't. Speaking of which...

The overabundance of supervillains

Amazing 2 actually isn't a bad movie--that is if some nerd with a lot of time on his hands assembles a "Phantom Edit" of the movie and digitally replaces Jamie Foxx's obsessed Spidey fan character with Foxx's equally beaten-down but much less cartoonish character from Collateral. An even better "Phantom Edit" would be the removal of all material about Electro, Oscorp, the Green Goblin, that Michael Massee character who dresses like all those douches who always wore fedoras in high school and that Marton Csokas mad scientist character who's like a reject from Joel Schumacher's terrible Batman movies. Superhero movie writers and directors still haven't learned anything from the mistakes of those Schumacher Batman movies and other equally overcrowded and excessive superhero movies like Iron Man 2, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and of course, Spider-Man 3.

Part of why Sam Raimi's first two Spidey movies are superior to Webb's is because of their tautness: they pitted Spidey against only one villain in each movie. Like I've said before, Spidey's rogues gallery really pales in comparison to Batman's. I'll take psychotic comedians/showmen (Joker and Harley) and psychologically complex criminals (the Batman: The Animated Series version of Two-Face) over boring, one-dimensional monsters like the Lizard and Electro any day. So why did Sony have to subject us to five of those boring antagonists like they did when they awkwardly shoehorned an equal amount of antagonists into Spider-Man 3? Again, they learned nothing.

The inability to be moved by Gwen Stacy's death

Webb, the director of (500) Days of Summer and countless music videos (who has been, as Devin Faraci wrote, "toiling behind the scenes trying to make these movies good, and he's getting blocked at every turn by Avi Arad and Sony suits"), excels at two things in these Amazing Spider-Man movies. One of them is any moment where Spidey, whom I'm glad to see has regained his sense of humor after Tobey Maguire's less quippy portrayal, interacts with other New Yorkers, particularly the bullied little kid whose science fair project Spidey takes a shine to. (Spidey's scenes with kids he rescues are where Andrew Garfield--who's oddly derided for not being dorky enough by Spidey comics readers who have somehow developed amnesia about Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley's depiction of a modernized, '60s sweater vest-less Peter in their acclaimed Ultimate Spider-Man comics--is at his best as Spidey. The fact that Garfield would like to see Miles Morales--who famously caused the repugnant Lou Dobbs to soil his Depends because of his biracial heritage and is the second Spidey of color in the comics--suiting up as Spidey in live-action form makes me like Garfield even more.)

Gwen Stacy gets a makeover from Prince like the one he gave to Zooey Deschanel in New Girl's Super Bowl episode.

The other thing Webb excels at is the romance between Peter and Gwen, a more entertaining on-screen relationship than the one between Peter and Mary Jane in the Raimi movies. Amazing 2's unsatisfying story isn't the only reason why its B.O. grosses are lower than those of other Spidey movies. Killing off Emma Stone, the most likable and interesting cast member in Webb's reboot, has a lot to do with its underwhelming B.O. as well. The moment when Gwen's back and head hit the floor made me wince, mostly due to its brutal sound FX, yet this classic angsty moment from the comics that was supposed to raise the reboot franchise's dramatic stakes and shock the audience ended up hampering post-opening weekend word-of-mouth and was oddly unmoving. As Kyle Buchanan noted in Vulture, the film's decision to rush through Peter's depression after failing to save Gwen robs her death of its dramatic impact, whereas Stoick's death and the impact it has on everyone else--not just his son Hiccup and his wife Valka--are better handled in How to Train Your Dragon 2 and therefore, far more moving.

I'm a cold fish. I don't cry during sad movies. But How to Train Your Dragon 2 got me emotional. Dammit, How to Train Your Dragon 2! Instead of weeping and tearing up, my bottom lip tends to tremble like Clint Eastwood's in his "I could have taken that shot" crying scene during In the Line of Fire. When How to Train Your Dragon 2 cut to Hiccup and Astrid's friends mourning Stoick at his Viking funeral and being genuinely serious instead of being their usual comic relief selves, my bottom lip went crazy. The lip didn't quiver once during the cemetary sequence in Amazing 2.

The cheesy "Itsy Bitsy Spider" scene

The most Spider-Man 3-ish--and Schumacher-ish--part of Amazing 2 has to be the source cue by Hans Zimmer and "the Magnificent Six" (a collective that included Pharrell Williams and Johnny Marr) for when Electro plays "Itsy Bitsy Spider" on giant Tesla coils while battling Spidey. It results in the Garfield one-liner that's most reminiscent of the terribly written comedic bits from Disney XD's Ultimate Spider-Man animated series ("I hate this song!"). The other cheesy element of the Zimmer/Magnificent Six score is...

Electro's equally cheesy theme

The nu metal chanting that's supposed to represent Electro's inner dialogue ("He lied to me/He shot at me/He hates on me/He's using me/Fragility/Electricity/He's dead to me") brings back memories of Zimmer's horribly dated, Limp Bizkit-inspired nu metal score to 2000's Mission: Impossible II. (And then that M:I-2 score brings back memories of Will Sasso's brutal impression of Fred Durst on MADtv.)

The Zimmer/Magnificent Six score is a mixed bag, but it also contains the best thing to come out of Amazing 2: "It's On Again," the surprisingly good original theme by Zimmer, the Magnificent Six, Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick goes hard in his verse. It's one of many tremendous guest verses from Kendrick.

"It's On Again" marks the first time that an end credits tune in a Spidey movie doesn't suck (and man, has this franchise suffered from such atrocious-sounding pieces of music). The Zimmer/Pharrell/Alicia/Kendrick tune deserves to conclude a better movie, like the one with Miles--and not Peter--in the Spidey suit that's currently playing in my head or the one with an Asian hero in the suit that's also currently playing in my head.

Any character that disgusts and repulses Lou Dobbs is the fucking illest in my book.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why I, a latecomer to The Rockford Files, became a fan of the classic P.I. show and the late James Garner

James Garner and James Garner

The legendary James Garner died yesterday at the age of 86. The following is a repost of "Watch The Rockford Files and call to see if Paul can score some weed," from January 16, 2009. In the '09 piece, I mentioned my goal to watch every episode of Garner's classic show, which I became a fan of several decades after it was cancelled.

I still haven't completed that goal, and I should really get my ass to Netflix Instant and marathon the hell out of Rockford again because Netflix has every single episode of Rockford (including the ones where Garner's knees were clearly wrecked, yet he didn't lose a beat and remained a trooper through it all). And also because Garner was truly one of the greatest.

Lost in the supermarket
(Photo source: Soref.TV)

Your friends do it and you've probably done it too: catch up on a show your lazy ass has put off watching by setting aside an entire weekend to view the DVD box set in one marathon sitting. Back when 24 first hit the DVD market, various writers who missed the first season chose to catch up with the show on DVD and recapped in real time what it was like to watch the first-season discs in one sitting, while a writer I used to work with picked the '80s version of The Twilight Zone for his weekend DVD marathon. A couple of years ago, those writers inspired me to do a similar marathon thing with the box sets of another cult show: The Rockford Files, Stephen J. Cannell's clever reinvention of the private eye genre, which starred James Garner in his signature role as rugged everyman gumshoe Jim Rockford.

Alright, so it's not quite a marathon. I haven't even viewed all 123 episodes yet, but my goal is to eventually see them all on DVD or via Netflix's media player for PC users. As of this writing, I haven't reached season five yet.

I picked Rockford because I was a fan of Veronica Mars (which starred Forgetting Sarah Marshall's Kristen Bell, a Star Wars geek who should have Jedi mind-tricked the CW assclowns into bringing back her show). Before I started renting the Rockford DVDs from Netflix, I had only caught Veronica's spiritual granddaddy once or twice on cable, so I wanted to better acquaint myself with Rockford on DVD, where it's uncut and commercial-free (on Hulu, it's not commercial-free). The older the series, the more it gets chopped up by syndicators to accommodate commercial breaks, which grow annoyingly longer with each passing year. So that must mean Adventures of Superman reruns will eventually be edited down to 10 minutes, and George Reeves' flying sequences will be sped up so badly it'll look like the Metropolis underworld slipped some crank into the Daily Planet watercooler.

Rockford still draws a cult that's pretty rabid, though not quite as huge as Veronica's online fanbase. Slackers like the main character's pal in Ben Folds Five's "Battle of Who Could Care Less" dig Rockford reruns because Jim is one of them. They identify with a hero who'd rather go fishing with his father Rocky (Noah Beery) than do his job. The fans who still visit the newsgroup continue to exchange favorite Garner wisecracks, and a couple of fan sites list every wacky message Jim received on his answering machine during the opening credits.

On disc, Rockford has aged better than most '70s shows, thanks to quirky, sharp and timeless scripts penned by staff writers like Cannell, future Sopranos creator David Chase and Juanita Bartlett. Seventies TV comes in three modes: schlocky (the Krofft variety shows, anything with Glen A. Larson's name on it), sanctimonious (M*A*S*H, Norman Lear's shrill shoutcoms) or a hideous mash-up of both (Hawaii Five-0, the "Fonzie gets a library card" era of Happy Days). Rockford is one of the few '70s shows I've seen that's neither of the above, and whenever the series did address a serious issue--like the flaws of the grand jury system in its most celebrated ep, the Bartlett-scripted "So Help Me God"--it did it with class and zero preachiness.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: How It Should Have Ended, "How Godzilla Should Have Ended"

Godzilla's hankering for some fish tacos, but he'll fucking pulverize you if you put salmon in them.
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. By "the week," I mean from late Thursday at midnight to the following late Thursday at 11:59pm. Today's Show of the Week has a bizarre and difficult-to-pin-down posting schedule, but its latest episode debuted online last Friday morning. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, doesn't have a schedule that's as difficult to pin down. It airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

Starz Digital Media's How It Should Have Ended series/channel is always reliable for a few grins or light chuckles over its short parodies of laughable plot holes and denouements from recent Hollywood blockbusters. In its latest installment, HISHE tackles Gareth Edwards' Godzilla reboot, and HISHE writers/voice actors Tina Alexander and Daniel Baxter get in a few good digs about the collateral damage caused in the Edwards film by Godzilla's battles against the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms).

"Oh, sure, when Godzilla destroys half the city and kills the unstoppable threat to save the world, everyone cheers. But when I do it, everyone gets all grouchy and judgmental," whines the Henry Cavill version of Superman during "How Godzilla Should Have Ended." He shows up in MUTO battle-ravaged San Francisco to shame both Godzilla and the unusually cheery survivors and is still butt-hurt over Superman comics readers' negative responses to the violence in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel. (I'm starting to realize that the reason why the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake remains Snyder's most satisfying movie is mainly because of the screenplay by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, and not so much because of the contributions of the simple-minded neo-con that is Snyder. Have you ever listened to Snyder speak? All he says during interviews or commentraks is "Awesome" or "Blablabla's such a rock star.")

The animus towards Man of Steel is mostly because your latest film was such a goddamn slog, Supes, whereas Godzilla's isn't, although it's marred by Aaron Gray-Stanford-Brown-Whatever-the-Fuck's two-hour-long impression of a block of wood. As The Daily Dot astutely noted, Godzilla suffers from a boring white guy problem and is part of a long line of Hollywood tentpole blockbusters that opt for the least interesting characters as their leads. Out of a cast that includes Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn, Sally Hawkins and Godzilla, Edwards chose to center the film around the individual with the least charisma or personality? This is the same problem I had with Edwards' previous sci-fi film, his 2010 indie breakthrough Monsters. It's a film about Mexico experiencing first contact with giant alien creatures, and it's told not through the eyes of any of its citizens but through the eyes of the most annoying white hipsters since those douches who gentrified the barrio side of Arlen and slipped salmon into Enrique's fish tacos?

I wish "How Godzilla Should Have Ended" (which, like all other HISHE installments, boasts some impressive background art by Otis Frampton) focused on the Edwards reboot's boring white guy problem. But any HISHE short that has some fun at the expense of the tiresome 9/11 imagery in tentpole blockbusters like Man of Steel and Godzilla--and pits Gipsy Danger from Pacific Rim against Zilla in an amusing one-sided battle--is fine by me.

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Knights of Sidonia, season 1

J.J. Abrams is splooging all over the screen while looking at this photo.
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. This week, there were a dozen of them instead of just one. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

Knights of Sidonia, a CG-animated adaptation of Tsutomu Nihei's space manga that first aired on Japanese TV in April and was brought to America exclusively by Netflix Instant in both dubbed and subtitled versions on July 4, has been described more than once as "Attack on Titan in space." That's kind of true, but a more accurate shorthand description would be "Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica for Japanese viewers who thought Galactica didn't include enough harem storylines."

For those who aren't up on their anime subgenres, the harem subgenre is any show where three or more girls fall for the male lead at the same time. It's like the Bogart/Bacall version of The Big Sleep, where every lady throws herself at Bogie, from leggy Martha Vickers as Carmen Sternwood ("She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up") to Dorothy Malone as a bookstore owner who's the world's first sexy librarian. On Knights of Sidonia, female mecha pilots are constantly spitting game to (or inviting to dinner) inexperienced but diligent teen pilot Nagate Tanikaze (Ryōta Ōsaka; former Power Rangers star Johnny Yong Bosch in the American dub), a new recruit in the military who's like a lost puppy dog they all want to take care of.

The corny harem material is the least effective part of Knights of Sidonia--it's the most evident sign that the show is based on a manga for teens--but fortunately, it's only a tiny piece of the show's first cour (a.k.a. season), which can be streamed from start to finish on Netflix. Because when Knights of Sidonia is focused on either space battles or the politics aboard the Sidonia, a giant spaceship where survivors from a destroyed future Earth have rebuilt their old homeworld within the hull and are debating the military's insistence on pouring all the ship's fragile resources into continuing to battle an unstoppable alien menace, the show is on a par with Galactica in terms of gritty and genuinely nail-biting military sci-fi. The world-building on Knights of Sidonia is impressively handled (as are the show's visuals of a lived-in future world), and as long as it doesn't turn one of its pilot heroines into a guardian angel, Knights of Sidonia, which has been renewed for a second cour, is in tip-top shape.

The orphaned and socially awkward Nagate--who spent all his life being raised and taught to pilot mechs by his recently deceased grandfather below the surface of the city in the ship, so at the start of the show, he has no knowledge of the world above ground--works nicely as an audience surrogate into this bizarre and intriguing future world where humans have genetically engineered themselves in order to survive the rigors of space. People can now clone themselves and photosynthesize just like plants, so they don't need to eat as much (it results in my favorite background sight gag that has gone unnoticed by critics and Knights of Sidonia viewers: the dining hall where Nagate, who was born without the ability to photosynthesize, eats his meals is always empty).

In her off-hours, the bear likes to chase around Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in the woods and fuck with their heads.
But wait, there's more: Nagate's androgynous new best friend Izana Shinatose (Aya Suzaki; Stephanie Sheh in the American dub) is a member of the third gender, which means that when Izana chooses a lover, Izana's genderless body adapts to whatever kind of lovemaking is required. Female Sidonia captain Kobayashi (Sayaka Ohara; Cowboy Bebop's Wendee Lee in the dub), who rescues Nagate from the gutter and upon first meeting him, bizarrely embraces him as if he were her son (for mysterious reasons that are gradually unveiled throughout the season), is one of several veterans on the Sidonia who are hundreds of years old, thanks to scientific advances that somehow don't involve drinking the blood of young virgins. To assert her authority as the highest-ranked officer on the ship, Captain Kobayashi wears a porcelain mask both on duty and in public, rendering her face immobile. Joan Rivers would call Knights of Sidonia the feel-good animated show of the year.

"Feel-good" would be odd to apply to Knights of Sidonia, because a lot of the show is more on the side of feel-bad. I like how a small bit of humor like Nagate's awkward adjustment to his gravity belt early on in the season later takes a turn for the dramatic in the fourth episode, where the ship's death toll becomes shockingly enormous due to inhabitants who were careless about their gravity belts during one of many wartime emergencies. Death affects the ship's inhabitants as early as the first episode, but it isn't until that fourth episode, "Sacrifices"--the best of the 12 episodes--when the show really raises the stakes. The intense "Sacrifices" proves that Knights of Sidonia isn't a kids' show take on war that cowers from depicting the brutality and unpleasantness of war, and fortunately, it doesn't do so in a really forced, "look at me, I'm edgy and all up in your face" kind of way that brings to mind either the worst and most puerile of DC's New 52 relaunch or Torchwood's mostly dreadful first season (although fan service occasionally turns up on Knights of Sidonia in the form of nude female photosynthesizing scenes).

The Gauna, the Lovecraftian alien race that destroyed Earth and resurfaces after a 100-year absence to attack Earth's survivors again, are distinctive for not having any dialogue and remaining non-communicative through the entire season (they don't have a mouthpiece character who speaks for them). All these shape-shifters do during the first season is mimic their human opponents and their Garde mechs to outthink and outgun them, without any mundane explanation or exposition. The lack of dialogue and discernible motive makes the Gauna especially menacing (if you prefer your villains to be a lot talkier, Knights of Sidonia frequently pits Nagate against a jealous rich-kid pilot named Kunato, but he's boring and one-note as an antagonist in comparison to Benisuzume, a Gauna that assumes the form of a dead female pilot's Garde and communicates only in creepy anime giggles). The Gauna bring to mind the Mimics from Edge of Tomorrow, with a little bit of the body horror of the titular menace in John Carpenter's The Thing. Their force-of-nature intensity as an adversary results in Nagate and the military's attempts to defeat them being especially impactful and meaningful in the last couple of episodes (when the show isn't concentrated on its thrilling space battles, the jerky, TV-budget frame rate by the animators at Polygon Pictures, the Japanese studio behind Transformers Prime and Tron: Uprising, is more noticeable).

I'm making Knights of Sidonia sound like it's misery porn a la another Netflix exclusive, the as-unkillable-as-the-Gauna cop show The Killing. But unlike The Killing, humor is occasionally deployed to keep Knights of Sidonia from turning into a complete slog. The aforementioned harem hijinks, which feel out of place on Knights of Sidonia, aren't so effective in injecting levity (by the way, not all the female officers want to bang Nagate; Sasaki, the Gardes' female lead mechanic, is seen giving Nagate a hard time for being allowed to fly the most sophisticated Garde despite his inexperience). Instead, the character I expected to be the most rote form of comic relief fares a little better at comic relief than the harem material, and it's the most Japanese part of the show: Nagate's dorm mother Lala Hiyama (Satomi Arai; Jane Carroll in the dub), an ex-Garde pilot who, without any explanation so far, chose to live forever in the body of a bear.

I never expected this cross between Guinan and Hagrid who's in the form of a talking bear to work at all both comedically and dramatically, but Knights of Sidonia somehow pulls it off. In fact, almost everything else about Knights of Sidonia itself is a risky move too, from the choice of 3D animation, which some Knights of Sidonia viewers have found to be wonky-looking, to writing its alien antagonists as speechless. But like Nagate, the show fights to assert itself and eventually wins you over, but not to the point where you want to make out with it like all the girls who are smitten with Nagate.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a lot to live up to, like a grand tradition of the most depressing endings in movie franchise history

'Apes, hand me some poop to throw at the humans.'

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which opens tomorrow night, currently has a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (over on Metacritic, it's received a 90% approval rating). The new prequel's Tomatoes rating is even higher than the 89% Tomatoes rating that currently belongs to the original Planet of the Apes, a classic, Rod Serling-penned film that comedian and Planet of the Apes stan Dana Gould once amusingly summarized as "Moses dressed like Tarzan being chased by King Kong dressed like Fonzie."

Director Rupert Wyatt's 2011 slice of San Francisco disaster porn, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was--James Franco sleepwalking through the whole film aside--a surprisingly enjoyable reboot of the most unlikely post-apocalyptic, racism allegory-filled sci-fi franchise to become popular with kids. Dawn, which has Andy Serkis reprising his motion-capture role as ape revolutionary Caesar with Cloverfield director Matt Reeves at the helm, is bound to conclude with a heartwarming feel-good ending, just like Rise and the seven films that preceded Rise did. Let's look back at these eight previous feel-good endings (including the restored conclusion in the director's cut of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the best of the '70s Apes sequels), shall we?

(Spoiler warning for anyone who's seen neither of the Apes films.)

Friday, July 4, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Space Dandy, "Even Vacuum Cleaners Fall in Love, Baby" (from April 4, 2014)

And now it's time for her to burst into a shitty Alan Menken show tune about wanting to see the world.
"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS. "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week" will return next week with all-new reviews of animated series episodes. From April 4, here's a discussion of Space Dandy's first-season finale. The show's second season debuts tomorrow on Adult Swim.

QT the outdated robot is my favorite character on Space Dandy, mostly because of actress Uki Satake's terrific voice work as this unusually sensitive vacuum cleaner who speaks in a little boy's voice and loves to clean (likewise with Alison Viktorin's voice work as QT in the American dub). There are five ways Space Dandy could have written QT as a comedic robot sidekick: as either a coward (a la C3P0), a machine who takes humans' idioms literally (a la Data or Get Smart's Hymie), a depressed droid (a la Marvin from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), a snob (a la KITT) or a party animal (a la the alcoholic Bender or the much more family-friendly BMO over on Adventure Time). I like the primary comedic characteristic Space Dandy has chosen for QT instead of either of the above: his habit of forgetting to provide Dandy with the most valuable info, particularly when Dandy heads off to an unknown and dangerous planet, is a surprisingly good running gag that never gets old on this show.

Screw the material about parallel universes and incompetent Dr. Gel's mysterious obsession with capturing Dandy. The Space Dandy episode I've been looking forward to the most during the show's first season has been QT's solo adventure (after Dandy was the focus of "A Merry Companion Is a Wagon in Space, Baby," and then Meow got a slightly similar showcase in "There's Always Tomorrow, Baby"), and "Even Vacuum Cleaners Fall in Love, Baby," the QT-centric season finale, doesn't disappoint.

Dandy and Meow barely appear in "Vacuum Cleaners," and when they do, it's either to browse through dating sites or complain about QT's absence from the Aloha Oe, which becomes a pig sty because QT isn't around to clean the ship. The Aloha Oe is stuck without fuel on a planet where dreadlocked humanoids co-exist with intelligent appliances, who make up much of the planet's workforce. QT has wandered off to a coffeehouse in a metropolis called Deathroid City, where he's fallen in love with a friendly coffee-brewing machine named Maker (Aya Hirano) and has gladly volunteered to clean up after her whenever she accidentally spills coffee.

We get an early hint that Maker is actually in love with the coffeehouse's cash register robot (Hiroki Gotou), whose name is, of course, Register, but QT, who's never been in love with someone else before, is too awestruck by Maker's beauty and kindness as a machine to notice her feelings for Register. And who could blame QT? She refers to QT as a high-end robot instead of a vacuum cleaner, compliments him on his cleaning and treats him better than the dickish Dandy does. She also challenges QT to be less buttoned-up, especially when she attempts to get QT to try out her coffee. But despite Maker's best efforts, QT's not interested in drinking coffee because he doesn't drink liquids of any kind. Bender would hate to be around QT.

Maker, who doesn't have wheels like QT does, has never left the coffeehouse and has become curious about the world outside its door, so one night, QT awakes her from her robotic sleep and offers to show her around Deathroid City. The ensuing romantic date features my favorite original Space Dandy song (outside of the opening and closing title themes) so far, a vocoderized ballad sung in both Japanese and English. The smooth tune has been frequently compared by viewers in comments sections to Daft Punk's "Something About Us," but it's actually more along the lines of Zapp & Roger, in keeping with general director Shinichiro Watanabe's mandate that the show's musicians aren't allowed to use any instruments that were invented after 1984. The Zapp & Roger-esque score cues during "Vacuum Cleaners" are making me long for a Space Dandy score album (the only piece of music from Space Dandy that's been released so far is a single of Yasuyuki Okamura's "Viva Namida," the opening title theme for the Japanese version of the show, and by the way, that single can now be heard during "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" and "AFOS Prime" on AFOS).

In Deathroid City, appliances are forbidden from becoming overemotional because it interferes with their effectiveness as appliances, and when their emotions get the best of them, they're taken away by the city's authorities to a landfill called Dream Island. Maker starts to express love for another machine, and to QT's dismay, she gets sent away to Dream Island, along with Register, who's removed from the coffeehouse for "ringing up bills as free." QT follows his crush to this island of misfit robots, where he learns how to dance with Maker at a rave that's being DJ'd by Register ("Is this what's called dancing?") and then discovers that Register and the rest of the ousted appliances are plotting to overthrow the planet, under the leadership of the elderly Toaster (Akio Ohtsuka).

A tearful Maker refuses to join Register in the robot revolution because she doesn't want him to die and she'd hate to see death and destruction ravage the planet, and this is where QT finally realizes that Maker's in love with Register. Instead of resenting Maker for sending him mixed signals and preferring Register over him, QT accepts her choice. QT's dignified reaction to being friend-zoned would definitely please the "Boyle doesn't deserve to hook up with Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine because he's been too creepy and stalker-ish around her" crowd. But QT can't stand to see Maker being so upset about this "age of appliances" that Toaster wants to forcibly bring to the planet, so in the most heroic thing he's ever done on the show so far, he attempts to stop Toaster and his followers from unleashing on Deathroid City their doomsday weapon, a giant robot assembled from junkyard parts.

Episodes in which characters with an inactive love life wind up getting kicked in the butt by love aren't usually my cup of tea. But "Vacuum Cleaners" distinguishes itself, first by giving ample screen time and character growth--both figuratively and literally--to a sidekick character I like way more than the other characters, and then by concluding not with a whimper, but with a bang, and it's something you'd be a fool not to love: a giant robot fight. Right when Toaster's robot starts to attack Deathroid City, Dr. Gel, who's too busy with scientific experiments to be concerned with chasing Dandy in this episode, conducts an experiment with pyonium rays right above the planet and fires a ray from his ship that happens to hit QT. The pyonium energy causes QT to grow in size, which allows him to become powerful enough to take on Toaster's robot by himself.

Episode director Shingo Natsume and the other animators came up with remarkable visuals for the nighttime robot fight sequence, both before and after QT's size change, although the way giant-sized QT defeats Toaster's robot looks confusing. So all QT has to do to cause Toaster's robot to collapse into different pieces is to simply give it a hug? It doesn't make sense, but then again, neither do quite a few other things on this show, which will resume its brand of sci-fi weirdness in July for the beginning of its second--and hopefully equally solid--season.

Stray observations:
* Dandy hits on a waitress who turns out to be a Kuato and immediately loses interest. I'm sure the Penthouse Forum letters in the Penthouse mags lying around the Aloha Oe are full of stories about bedding Kuatos.

Kuato prostitutes are the least popular prostitutes on Mars.

* My favorite discarded appliance on Dream Island has to be the rice cooker robot. Astig.

'NotYourOutdatedVideotapeFormat!,' shouted the Betamax machine.