Friday, September 26, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: South Park, "Go Fund Yourself," and Space Dandy, "Dandy's Day in Court, Baby" (tie)

Welcome to Silicone Valley.
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 last time South Park was on the air, Trey Parker and Matt Stone put together perhaps my favorite South Park episode in years, "The Hobbit." Like many latter-day South Park storylines, "The Hobbit" lampooned a reality TV star whose show will no longer be relevant a year after you first watch South Park mock it--in this case, Kim Kardashian--but then the episode concluded on an unusually devastating note and critiqued the pressures placed on girls to fit certain beauty standards, without turning all Diff'rent Strokes preachy on us during its critique. For its 18th-season premiere, "Go Fund Yourself," South Park critiques another issue, and it's been a huge one in the Native American community for over a year now: Dan Snyder's stubborn refusal to change the racist and outdated name of the NFL team he owns, the Washington Redskins, which resulted in Native American groups starting a "Change the Name" movement.

Throw in a bunch of hilarious gags about the evilness of Snyder's fellow NFL team owners and the recent ineptitude of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in how he's handled Ray Rice's domestic violence incident--we have South Park's amazingly fast turnaround to thank for those gags about Goodell--and you've got a solid season premiere that's the cathartic laugh we needed after months of constantly being subjected to appalling examples of how much of an evil organization the NFL is, from the head injury scandals to its hypocrisy regarding women's issues. "Go Fund Yourself," which has Cartman, Stan, Kyle and Kenny launching a startup where they make money doing absolutely nothing, also contains some jabs at the dumbest aspects of Silicon Valley culture. Those aspects are always worthy of a skewering because I'm currently stuck living in Silicon Valley, and I despise all things having to do with Silicon Valley culture. It's nice when latter-day South Park goes after subjects that aren't reality TV for a change.

But what really bolsters "Go Fund Yourself" is all the satirical material about the NFL (Snyder enters the picture when he demands that Cartman and his friends stop calling their startup the Washington Redskins). The episode's portrayal of Goodell as a malfunctioning robot is laugh-out-loud funny and perfect, especially in a week when ESPN punishes Bill Simmons for speaking his mind about Goodell's ineptitude and bizarrely gives the Grantland editor-in-chief a suspension that's longer than the one the annoying Stephen A. Smith received for blaming domestic violence victims for provoking their attackers. ESPN's tongue is so far up the NFL's ass it can report to you on SportsCenter what the NFL had for lunch.


Suddenly she's talking like a duchess but she's still a waitress.
There's only one episode of Space Dandy left, and at this late point in the game, all we know about the past of Dandy--this doltish hunter of aliens who knows as much as we do about his origins--is that his body was infused with an enormous amount of a highly coveted element called pyonium (also known as "the God particle," it's the same element that once caused QT to increase in size when Dr. Gel's ship accidentally blasted him with it); he's a middle school dropout; he used to date a female heart-in-a-transparent-box who hails from the fourth dimension; and the pyonium enables him to cross dimensions and remember every single one of them, including dimensions where he died. In "Dandy's Day in Court, Baby," we now find out he has no DNA, which confirms a theory I've had since "A World with No Sadness, Baby": Dandy isn't human, baby.

I think Dandy's either the escaped result of an experiment to construct a person out of pyonium or a god who developed amnesia, much like Will Smith in Hancock. Since then, he's been wandering space without any cash in a clunker of a ship for a long-ass time, barely aware of his special pyonium-related power, which the Gogol Empire wants for its own nefarious purposes. Like I've said before about any theory I've had regarding any mystery on Space Dandy, I could be wrong either way, and we'll see how wrong I'll probably be in the final episode of Space Dandy's way-too-brief run.

In the meantime, "Dandy's Day in Court, Baby" is an interesting case of a bottle episode of an animated show that's clearly a bottle episode--BONES Inc. reportedly went all out with the animation for the finale and needed to rush out an episode that's not as expensive--but instead of putting together a clip show like Space Dandy general director Shinichiro Watanabe and Manglobe once did for Samurai Champloo, BONES chose to set most of the episode inside a courtroom to cut costs. The episode actually works despite its downsized scope. For one thing, "Dandy's Day in Court, Baby" isn't recycling old material like those superfluous clip shows do. It's 100 percent new material, including the flashbacks to the crime scene where Dandy inadvertently became a murder suspect, and I'll take a courtroom trial with completely original content over a clip show any day. Plus the whodunit that "Dandy's Day in Court, Baby" writer Dai Sato came up with is simply diverting and full of what the NBC announcer who used to record all its promos (before Dorian Harewood's current stint as the voice of the network) would intone were "those Law & Order twists."

This all-canine remake of Matlock doesn't have enough scenes of Andy Griffith licking himself.
"Dandy's Day in Court, Baby" is more of an homage to the courtroom drama genre than a parody. For the first half, it's played completely straight to trick us into thinking a sad, remorseful-looking and mute Dandy really did kill an alien named Guy Reginald, a rare Lumetian (his race is named after the late director of 12 Angry Men and The Verdict), right in front of Reginald's hot wife Rose, a waitress at Dandy's favorite hangout Boobies (both Reginald and Rose are named after the writer behind 12 Angry Men, Reginald Rose). Instead of aping the original Law & Order, which I don't think is even popular in Japan (and if it were popular over there, Sato would have been aware that Law & Order never spent as much time in the jury room as "Dandy's Day in Court, Baby" does), the episode has more of an Ace Attorney vibe. Ace Attorney is a popular Japanese series of video games where the player gets to be heroic lawyer Phoenix Wright and make legal decisions instead of shooting at zombies or enemy soldiers. I knew all those hours of watching X-Play on G4 despite not being a gamer at all wouldn't go to waste someday.

In the second half of "Dandy's Day in Court, Baby," things get nutty, and the case goes from appearing to be a noirish crime of passion to turning out to be an absurd foofaraw involving a kid who was angry at his best friend for blocking him on Chwitter, Space Dandy's Twitter knockoff; a runaway baseball that contains a massive amount of pyonium like Dandy's body does; Lumetian pro wrestlers' secret identities; and Reginald's sleep apnea, which fooled his wife and the coroners--the dumbest coroners in the galaxy--into thinking Reginald was dead. Dandy is exonerated, and in the episode's best gag, the judges learn why he was being tight-lipped and reserved all through the trial. For a while, I thought the reason why Dandy was immobile was because he skipped the trial to hide from the court and replaced himself with a realistic-looking rubber decoy, but it turns out that he was actually asleep in the courtroom the whole time.

Meow doesn't care for Chwitter's attempts to look visually more like Phasebook.
Then things turn serious again in the episode's great cliffhanger ending. Before "Dandy's Day in Court, Baby," Dandy never once got face-to-face with the Gogol Empire--every time Dr. Gel would come close to capturing Dandy, the alien hunter would be unaware of the presence of Dr. Gel's ship and then Gel's ship would immediately get blown up before Gel could get his mitts on Dandy--but now Dandy and the empire finally get to see each other when the empire's troops surround Dandy outside the courthouse. The conclusion of "Dandy's Day in Court, Baby" also marks the first time that the "To be continued" graphic at the end of many Space Dandy episodes isn't a joke.

Whether Dandy turns out to be a god or the God (or neither), I don't want Space Dandy to end because it's shown so much creativity in its brief run. An extra season of a few more special guest animators bringing their idiosyncratic flair to Dandy's universe(s) would have been nice. It's funny how I initially thought Space Dandy was going to be Shinichiro Watanabe's first artistic failure and just another lewd sci-fi comedy. Instead, it's turned into something better and unexpected: an anthology-like show that captures the adventurous and exploratory spirit of both the original Star Trek and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--and more effectively than the last time Star Trek hit the screen. Now that's a feat as impressive as anything pyonium can do.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Before Gotham, there was Gotham Central

On Gotham, Donal Logue stars as that douche in high school who thought he looked cool in fedoras but fucking didn't at all.

One of the most anticipated hour-long dramas of 2014 is Gotham, which premieres tonight on Fox and takes place in a Gotham City where Bruce Wayne, the millionaire who fights crime as Batman, is only a boy whose parents have just been murdered, and the supervillains he'll later face aren't quite supervillains yet. Yep, it's another prequel, and any time there's a prequel on the big screen or the small one, Patton Oswalt's old bit about the pointlessness of prequels comes to mind ("I don't give a shit where the stuff I love comes from! I just love the stuff I love! Hey, do you like Angelina Jolie? Does she give you a big boner? Well, here's Jon Voight's ballsack! That's right! The pink, glistening ballsack she swam out of!").

But Gotham appears to be far from pointless, inconsequential and Jon Voight ballsack-y because it's neither about Batman nor yet another origin story about his early days as a crimefighter, for now, that is--why beat that dead horse again after Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman Begins?--plus lil' Wayne is only a minor character (David Mazouz plays Bruce). One promising sign about the new show--developed by Rome and Mentalist creator Bruno Heller and visualized by Danny Cannon, who directed the Gotham pilot and is best known for shaping the distinctive look of the original CSI--is that it's taking narrative and stylistic cues (as well as a few characters) from the now-defunct DC Comics procedural Gotham Central. That crime comic proved that a risky concept like a series that takes place in the Batman universe but doesn't center on Batman or another costumed hero--which sounds an awful lot like what Heller wants to accomplish with Gotham--can work.

In Gotham Central, the protagonists were detectives from the Gotham City Police Department's Major Crimes Unit, while Batman was a peripheral character, and Batman's cop ally Jim Gordon, who, at the time of Gotham Central's run, had retired from his job as police commissioner, made very few appearances. But on Gotham, the cast of cop characters is a lot smaller, and Gordon is the central character. Instead of the more familiar-looking authority figure in the pornstache, the Gordon we see on Gotham is a pornstache-less and much younger detective who hasn't risen in the GCPD ranks yet and is played by Ben McKenzie from both Southland and--before the cop show phase--The O.C., bitch. (McKenzie also previously voiced Batman in Batman: Year One, an animated 2011 adaptation of DC's 1987 "Batman: Year One" storyline.)

Like in Gotham Central, the entry points into the twisted, grandiose and operatic world of Gotham are detectives: in this case, Gordon and his older partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue from the much-missed Terriers). While watching Gotham (which, by the way, is scored by Graeme Revell, whose previous comic book adaptation scoring credits include The Crow and Sin City) doesn't require reading any issues of Gotham Central to understand what's going on, it's always a good time to discover Gotham Central in digital form or trade paperback (TPB) form.

The GCPD switches on the Bat-Signal to ask Batman his opinion on whether or not that bitch from the New York Times was racist about Shonda Rhimes.

Gotham Central was one of DC's most underrated titles of the '00s, despite winning an Eisner Award and a Harvey Award, the two most coveted awards in the comics industry. It's also a great standalone crime comic that's perfect for either crime genre fans who have never gotten into comics; readers who grew frustrated with superhero comics because of their overly convoluted mythologies (or the lousy quality of much of the writing, especially material written for characters of color) and quit reading comics for a while; or readers who simply don't care for either superhero comics or the character of Batman himself.

"Yo, what could possibly be racist about a white billionaire running around at night exacting vigilante violence?," said Yo, Is This Racist? wisecracker Andrew Ti, when he responded on Tumblr to a reader's question about whether Batman is a racist franchise or not (Ti thinks it is and doesn't care if he pisses off Batman nerds, whom he finds to be racist too). Whether their dislike for Batman is because racist fanboys worship him or because he's an overexposed character, readers who don't care for him will likely find Gotham Central to be up their alley because Batman isn't the hero of the series--the detectives are--and Gotham Central's view of the Dark Knight is interesting and complicated (and even more so than the Rashomon-inspired 1992 Batman: The Animated Series episode "P.O.V.," which looks like a rough draft for Gotham Central).

Just like the detectives who have to compete with Batman's presence on the streets or tolerate it, Gotham Central is split between siding with him and finding his brand of justice to be either flawed or an interference in the MCU's work, like when a criminal winds up not getting convicted because Batman arrested him (Batman is basically Captain Freedom from Hill Street Blues, except he's not a joke, he barely speaks and he's as much of an imposing force on the streets as the Latino and Irish gangs Captain Furillo frequently had to make deals with). Drama-wise, alternating between both sides is a more compelling position to take than simply viewing Batman as a dark knight in shining armor.

Gotham Central is one of the few comics I have every single issue of because of the consistent quality of the writing (aside from a couple of annoying tie-ins to DC crossover events) and illustrator Michael Lark's suitably noirish and--to borrow a word from Gotham Central co-writer Greg Rucka regarding Lark's steez, "photojournalistic"--artwork. All 40 Gotham Central issues are available digitally from DC or as TPB collections. The following five Gotham Central arcs are must-reads, because of either the writing or substantial appearances by characters who are featured on Gotham.

As for the Joel Schumacher version of Freeze, he likes people to suffer by subjecting them to his shitty puns.

"In the Line of Duty" (issues 1 to 2)

"We take it all from the regular person's POV, much like Marvels did," said Gotham Central co-writer Ed Brubaker about how his series' approach mirrored the acclaimed 1994 Kurt Busiek/Alex Ross miniseries' approach in a 2003 Comic Book Resources interview. Brubaker, who transformed the Captain America superhero comic into an espionage series and writes terrific crime comics like Criminal, and Rucka, who created the espionage comic Queen & Country and the P.I. comic Stumptown, kicked off Gotham Central's run with a relentlessly paced two-issue storyline in which the MCU must figure out how to take down a cop-killing Mr. Freeze. In keeping with the regular person's POV, Freeze is only shown when he comes into contact with any cops (as is Batman). Brubaker and Rucka's version of Freeze is more sadistic and vicious than the acclaimed reimagining of Freeze as a vengeful victim of corporate cruelty on Batman: The Animated Series, the show that remains the best screen version of the Batverse (sorry, Christopher Nolan trilogy), unless Gotham exceeds expectations.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: The Awesomes, "Euro-Awesomes"

I feel fucking awful for the next person who has to touch that fourth phone.
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.

If The Tick was the Seinfeld of the superhero comedy genre (as was the hangout sitcom No Heroics during its brief run in the U.K.), then The Awesomes is the Get Smart of the genre: each week, the bumbling lead character manages to save the day despite his ineptitude, and often due to the help of his work family. But while Maxwell Smart's bumbling ways stemmed from his arrogance and ego, the physically frail Professor Dr. Jeremy Awesome's bumbling ways (as a combatant and an actual superhero, that is, not as a leader/strategist, which he's far better at doing) are due to a low self-esteem instilled by an unsupportive and distant father. If Prock had taught himself to be more assertive towards the currently absent-from-Earth and retired Mr. Awesome (Steve Higgins), who spent much of his time as a dad supporting his protégé Perfect Man (Josh Meyers) and belittling Prock (either due to Prock not being as perfect as Perfect Man or Prock not listening to his doctors' warnings to not use his secret time-freezing superpower because it gives him nosebleeds within seconds), you can damn well bet that Prock would be frequently Zack Morrising the world to move frozen people and objects around (like he did on Earth 4 during "It's a Mad Mad Mad Parallel World") instead of using that power only to talk to himself.

Manipulating time is a power anyone, including myself, would want to have, which is why Prock's inability to appreciate his ability and figure out how to make proper use of it (or how to work around the pain chronokinesis gives him) is both amusing and infuriating. So when Prock's mentor-turned-nemesis Dr. Terfenpeltz (Bobby Moynihan) points out to Prock that he's not using his time-freezing power to its fullest potential in "Euro-Awesomes," I thought to myself, "Word." The evil scientist is basically voicing the frustrations of Awesomes viewers like myself who can think of a million things to do with time-freezing if it were possible and also wish that Prock would be a little less intimidated by his own chronokinetic power, even though it does turn his nose into a Ragú ad.

I bet the Euro-Awesomemobile drives on the wrong side of the road.

Prock finally figures out how to use that power to defeat somebody: in this case, Dr. Terfenpeltz, who wants to collect superheroes' powers to conquer the world (Prock tricks Dr. Terfenpeltz by allowing him to absorb his chronokinetic power and then withholding from him the caveat that chronokinesis is painful). While it's nice to see some progress in Prock's struggles with time-freezing, it'd be wise for The Awesomes to continue having Prock learn something new about his powers every once in a while (his other power is the ability to block Dr. Malocchio's mind control) because Prock wouldn't be as interesting anymore if he became more like Perfect Man, who, by the way, has been far from perfect lately (both having to hide at Awesome Mountain from the law and being unable to do superhero things out in the streets like he used to do are driving Perfect Man crazy and causing him to talk to basketballs as if they were Wilson the volleyball from Cast Away). Much of what made The Greatest American Hero unique--as well as, frankly, more enjoyable than the character of Superman, whom a rather deluded-at-the-time DC Comics thought The Greatest American Hero was ripping off--was Ralph Hinkley's often klutzy attempts to be a hero without the supersuit instruction manual he kept losing. As we see during DVD or Hulu rewatches of that old Stephen J. Cannell show and now the storylines for both Prock and the disheveled Perfect Man in "Euro-Awesomes," a hero who's imperfect or always learning makes for better storytelling than a super-perfect man who's always got it together.

There's also some progress in Prock's love life during "Euro-Awesomes," as he realizes his current girlfriend Jaclyn Stone (Amy Poehler) is no Hotwire (Rashida Jones), and both he and Hotwire, who developed feelings for Prock during her time as a mole working for her evil dad Malocchio, finally get the guts to kiss each other. While it's good that The Awesomes doesn't have to prolong Hotwire's Metal Fella arc anymore now that everyone on the team finally knows she's alive and has been pretending to be Metal Fella because of her guilt over betraying them, I'll miss her terrible impression of a male superhero because it gave Jones more to play than just the sexy mole/love interest.

Metal Fella takes fashion advice from an '80s robot because an outdated Speak n' Spell always knows what's cool.

Even though The Awesomes is a comedy, it takes its action scenes seriously, just like the original Get Smart did (despite Max's klutziness and what has to be the whitest white-guy walk in TV history, Don Adams--or his occasional stunt double--did an awful lot of hitting and running and jumping and clinging to the tops of cars). The climactic battle where Dr. Terfenpeltz's giant mecha absorbs the powers of both the Awesomes and their European counterparts is nicely visualized and reminiscent of the Super-Skrulls from various Marvel titles and The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

This is also how the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame originally ended.

And it would be an awkward phone call where Impresario turns into Sheep-Man. Shout-out to the late Judy Toll, the stand-up who came up with that great Sheep-Woman awkward post-break-up phone call joke.

Another treat in "Euro-Awesomes," which was written by DC Comics veteran and Awesomes staff writer Judd Winick, is its gags about Euro superteams like Justice League Europe and Excalibur (a British offshoot of the X-Men), which are the most Judd Winick-y part of the episode. The cleverest creation out of all the Euro counterparts Winick and the other writers came up with has to be Mademoiselle Hunchback, an icy French beauty who transforms into Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame when she Hulks out and plays hard to get in front of a smitten Impresario when she's in her more conventionally feminine form. You got to love how of all the superhuman forms she could have taken, like maybe a She-Hulk physique, a crystalline-armored body or a wolf, she prefers to change into Charles Laughton.

Her favorite stripper wouldn't be Esmeralda. It would be Danny at the end of the season 3 premiere of The Mindy Project.

Mr. Awesome let Prock down as a parent, and now Dr. Terfenpeltz, the father figure who, unlike Mr. Awesome, could have helped Prock to become the genuine superhero he'd prefer to be instead of a mere lawyer/doctor/thinker/delegator, has let him down too. "Euro-Awesomes" doesn't brood over these father figures who keep disappointing Prock, but this history of underwhelming father figures is kind of depressing when you think about it, and it's where The Awesomes gets unexpectedly sad (and maybe even tragic) in a way that Get Smart couldn't because '60s sitcoms were incapable of depth and dark humor (aside from that one time when KAOS murdered a secretary by drowning her in a phone booth, which struck me as really dark back when I was a kid discovering Get Smart reruns in the '80s). My advice to Prock?: Stop looking for a father figure. That "Ask Dad, He Knows" cigarette ad sign young George Bailey saw in It's a Wonderful Life got it half-wrong. Dad doesn't always fucking know. Maybe the newly reformed Hotwire will be that long-sought-after figure who boosts Prock's self-esteem about his abilities and won't let him down like Mr. Awesome and Dr. Terfenpeltz did. A smart guy is nothing without a 99 by his side.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

iApplaud the iPod's demise

He's clearly listening to Adam WarRock's 'Waka Flocka Swanson.'

Apple is quietly retiring the original iPod line after 13 years. Boo-fucking-hoo. I bought two iPods--I had my first one, a third-generation iPod Classic, engraved with a line from De La Soul Is Dead, "I got the bidox, let's do this like Brutus!," back when Apple allowed customers to have any kind of message engraved on the back of their iPods for a few extra bucks--and both those excellent rectangles died on me after only two or three years of use.

It's an excellent rectangle for those two or three years, and then afterwards, you're just bitter over how it's no longer excellent. I haven't bought another iPod since my second one, a black iPod Nano that replaced my dead third-generation iPod Classic, stopped working smoothly a few years ago. Even though I recharged its battery repeatedly, the Nano was starting to turn itself off in the middle of songs, just like how I chloroform myself whenever I hear an Iggy Azalea track coming on.

I spent so many hours filling each of those iPod hard drives with music and organizing the playlists that when those devices finally broke down, I felt like all those hours of curating were wasted. It made me wish walkmans didn't become obsolete because unlike iPods, an entire library of music wouldn't get wiped out along with the tape player when it would break down.

These days, I rely on just my MacBook to bump music. Apple needs to build portable music players that last longer than two or three years. The day when it does that is the day I cop another portable music player.

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Space Dandy, "Lovers Are Trendy, Baby"

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is hardly as spacious as Star Trek IV and Space Dandy always make it out to be.
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.

Kimiko Ueno is a writer to watch. She's responsible for two of Space Dandy's funniest episodes, "I Can't Be the Only One, Baby," a frenetic half-hour that's grown on me since its airing in July, and last season's "Sometimes You Can't Live with Dying, Baby," a riff on the zombie genre that features the show's most sublime use of its Douglas Adams-style narrator (his matter-of-fact narration is an element of Space Dandy that plays better in subtitled Japanese than in English because matter-of-fact foreign narration, whether it's delivered by a Japanese announcer or a British documentarian, is just funnier, and not for xenophobic reasons).

In "I Can't Be the Only One, Baby," the pulling of "cosmic pubes" caused Dandy, Meow and QT to ping-pong back and forth between other dimensions. In those other realities, they had awkward and often argumentative encounters with their parallel counterparts, who were completely different from all the other much more identical parallel counterparts we saw in previous and subsequent episodes, that is if Space Dandy viewers' theory that each episode takes place in a different reality is a correct one (the counterparts Dandy, Meow and QT met in "I Can't Be the Only One, Baby" more closely resembled the stars of animated shows that are way more popular in Japan than Space Dandy, which has failed to catch on with the Japanese public and is a more popular show over here in America). For instance, in one reality, Meow was a sexy woman in a dance leotard instead of a male cat, while in a much more emo reality, he was a terrifying-looking cyborg with a frozen smile who spoke only in creepy-sounding electronic meows that would constantly drive his morose shipmate Emo Dandy to want to kill himself. And like "Sometimes You Can't Live with Dying, Baby," "I Can't Be the Only One, Baby" made sublime use of the narrator at one point and had him bickering with his parallel counterparts as well.

If you're attempting to get rid of a stalker who's been making you feel miserable, walk around in a bikini. That always makes a stalker think sensibly.

Good thing we were spared the corny-ass gag of Dandy's weird pompadour mullet thing getting erect.

Ueno also wrote "Rock 'n' Roll Dandy, Baby," a Behind the Music-like rockumentary parody where would-be rocker Dandy spent more time bickering with his bandmate over what to name their band and how their merch should look than actually creating music. "Lovers Are Trendy, Baby"--in which Scarlet (Houko Kuwashima), the prim Alien Registration Center clerk who always rejects the unregisterable creatures that Dandy brings to her, pays the pompadoured alien hunter to pose as her boyfriend in order to ward off her stalker ex-boyfriend Dolph (Kazuya Nakai)--isn't quite as funny as those three previous Ueno episodes, but it reteams Ueno with director Masahiro Mukai, who helmed the chaos of "I Can't Be the Only One, Baby."

Mukai brings much of his visual panache from the cosmic pubes episode to this one as well, especially in any scene involving the machine gun-wielding silver and red mecha from the show's opening titles, which finally makes an appearance here and turns out to be piloted by Dolph. Because this is a sci-fi comedy show full of spaceships and giant mechs, instead of stalking Scarlet in a tourist disguise or in a Spider-Man costume, Dolph spies on her from the cockpit of his floating mecha, the winner of the least conspicuous stalker vehicle of the year.

'I. Must. Break. Dandy.'

You keep expecting Mukai to stage a battle between Dolph's mecha and Dandy's Hawaii Yankee, a Hawaiian shirt-wearing mecha that's been absent this season, but they never get to the fireworks factory, and "Lovers Are Trendy, Baby" is the lesser for it. However, "Lovers Are Trendy, Baby" scores points for getting a man and a woman who's constantly repulsed by him to bond over the film and TV work of Chuck Norris, action genre veteran, famously wooden actor, ubiquitous Internet meme and right-wing nutjob.

For most of the episode, Dandy and Scarlet have nothing in common, and Dandy is constantly at his worst behavior during their pretend dates on the romantic getaway planet known as Trendy. He spits game at some other hottie in the middle of his beach date with Scarlet, which sends her unleashing her fury at him, while my favorite running gag has Scarlet frequently apologizing to little kids for Dandy snatching their belongings from them and making them cry.

You'd be frightened too if the disembodied head of Hunter and McCall's ugly police captain started crawling around the room.

But then Dandy unearths Scarlet's DVD copy of Missing in Action from the mess he's made of her house after he tries to protect her from a man-faced spider straight out of John Carpenter's The Thing (if that house is a vacation rental, I can't wait to see the discussion she'll have with the constantly broke Dandy over how to cover the damages), and their adoration of the Missing in Action star begins to bring them closer together and raises the possibility that this fake couple could turn into a real one. Dandy and Scarlet also out themselves as fans of the short-lived Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos, an actual kids' cartoon and one of many inspirations for Adult Swim's upcoming '80s cartoon spoof Mike Tyson Mysteries, which will star the voices of Mike Tyson and Norm Macdonald.

For some reason, I'm having flashbacks to Chris Rock's old "Terry Armstrong" bit about athletes who always refer to themselves in the third person. Chuck Norris' intro for Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos makes Chuck Norris' show look like a fake Chuck Norris cartoon from Robert Smigel, but it's not a Smigel TV Funhouse segment about the Chuck Norris-ness of Chuck Norris. Karate Kommandos was an actual half-hour piece of shit from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! creators Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, whose Ruby-Spears studio also produced the inexplicable Rambo cartoon, which was a 30-minute commercial for a Rambo action figure line, and the occasional TV Funhouse target Mister T, which starred the A-Team scene-stealer as the coach of a multiracial team of mystery-solving gymnast kids (Mister T makes the Brady Kids Saturday morning cartoon look like Shakespeare).

He ties a sweater around his neck, a fashion tip he picked up from Kirk's son in the Star Trek movies and all the asshole villains in '80s teen movies.

If Dandy and Scarlet bonded over the much more revered Bruce Lee, whom Spike Spiegel idolized and emulated during Space Dandy general director Shinichiro Watanabe's more serious Cowboy Bebop (and is far less problematic to Asian Americans as a martial arts hero than his white Way of the Dragon nemesis), it wouldn't be as amusing. Because Dandy the bumbling lout and Scarlet the lonely office drone are kitschy Watanabe characters, as opposed to badass Watanabe characters like Spike and his femme fatale love interest Julia (although Scarlet has a badass side that she expresses in her Jeet Kune Do skills), it makes more comedic sense for Scarlet and Dandy, who's delusional about his prowess with the ladies, to idolize the similarly delusional Norris than to idolize Bruce. The star of both Karate Kommandos and the frequently ridiculed Walker, Texas Ranger was under the delusion that America would take seriously his warning that re-electing President Obama would bring about "1,000 years of darkness." (Dandy's also delusional about being an intergalactic celebrity, just like how Peter Quill thinks "Star-Lord" is a name everyone in space is familiar with during Guardians of the Galaxy. Junichi Suwabe, the Chris Parnell-esque voice of Dandy in Japan, is great at portraying this delusional and self-absorbed side of Dandy, so it's fitting that Suwabe was chosen to dub for Chris Pratt in the Japanese release of Guardians that's opening over there tomorrow.)

The references to a real-life obscure cartoon instead of a made-up one with a dumb-sounding and unconvincing fake title are a nice touch in Ueno's script, as are Scarlet's evident fetish for '80s action stars (it's not surprising that one of her exes is a blond jerk named after Dolph Lundgren) and the episode's open ending, which was clearly influenced by Watanabe's love of ambiguity. For anybody in the audience who might be a shipper of Dandy and Scarlet (and I keep coming back to this, but God, the word--and very concept of--"shippers" make me wish they never existed), the ending is pure torture, but for the rest of us, it's one of many reasons why Watanabe, whose work has proven that he's as far from the dark ages of Ruby-Spears as one can get, makes several of the best animated shows to come out of Japan.

Aw fuck: according to the alien writing, it's in Region 2 only.

Alien alphabet soup, of course, has lots of disembodied eyeballs in it.
According to Space Dandy's alien alphabet, the logo on Scarlet's bikini says "Elle."

Tip-Top Quotables: "Late-night talk is a Johnny Bravo suit if there ever was one," plus a few other great lines this week

All that's missing is a Zoltar machine to lure away some weird kid who wishes to transform into a pre-Turner and Hooch Tom Hanks.
(Photo source:
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.

* "If you're ever in a 90's thriller DO NOT GO TO THE FAIR"--comedian Karen Kilgariff, live-tweeting Sleeping with the Enemy

* "Julia's 90's eyebrows make me feel abusive"--Kilgariff

* "Trauma from years of abuse melted away when he brought her to his job and forced her into a Van Morrison montage so beautiful"--Kilgariff

All my blank cassette tapes from the '80s and early '90s came in this exact same fucking transparent shell with that green Stealth Bomber thing on the side.
(Photo source: Redefinition Records)
* "The horns on 'Moving With The Gang' for instance just about stretch through the mesh of distortion and crackling fuzz, but it provides a natural lo-fi authenticity that many try to emulate today. It sounds like an aged cassette you picked straight outta' the shoebox and click-clacked into the player."--my Word Is Bond homie Hardeep, describing one of the early '90s demo beats hip-hop producer K-Def recently unearthed from crates of his own beats

* "Oh, it's terrible. It's unbelievable. And the commercials are so loud. And the thing about the music in Hannibal, it is very trance-y, in a way. When it's working, you're in that reality, you're not even in your living room anymore. And then when the commercial comes on, it just jars you right back. It's a bummer, I hate it."--Hannibal composer Brian Reitzell, on his dislike of NBC's commercial breaks during Hannibal

* "Student debt has tripled in the past decade. It has surpassed Bob Marley's greatest hits album as the thing seemingly every college student has."--Last Week Tonight's John Oliver

* "In recent years, states have slashed funding for higher education by 23 percent. Public institutions have responded by raising tuition rates, forcing students to take out ever larger loans. Why else do you think that colleges have so many fucking a cappella groups? They know they sound stupid. They just can't afford instruments anymore."--Oliver

* "Let me speak right now to all current freshmen in college who have student loans: okay, you need to stop watching this show right now. You don't have time for this. Get out there and enjoy the fuck out of your college experience because you may be paying for it for the rest of your life. I'm serious. Drink beer from a funnel. Kidnap a mascot. Find out if you're gay or not, and even if you are not, have some gay experiences. Do it now. It doesn't count. Become that weird guy on campus who rides a unicycle from class to class. Find out whoever the Winklevoss twins of your school are and steal their idea for a website and shoot fireworks out of every bodily orifice you can fucking find."--Oliver

* "And us non-white-dudeish artists have to stop longing to be put in the box of mainstream late-night talk show hosts. Late-night talk is a Johnny Bravo suit if there ever was one. We diverse voices, as usual, have to create our own boxes and continue innovating America's pop culture... like always. And then we have to try to act not surprised when 'mainstream' (read: white and male) steal it... like always."--comedian and one-time late-night talk show host W. Kamau Bell, on late-night TV's frustrating lack of diversity (and here's another reason why I like Bell: he's the only comedian of color who would use the Johnny Bravo episode of The Brady Bunch as an analogy to describe the increasing irrelevance of late-night talk shows)

* "Most people don't realize this, but you can quietly remember September 11, 2001."--Jenny Johnson, rehashing a tweet from last year, but it's a terrific one

* "MEDIA: Stop calling Ray Rice beating Janay Rice 'a domestic dispute.' It was DOMESTIC VIOLENCE! They weren't just arguing about the dishes!"--Hari Kondabolu

* "But wouldn't it be productive if this collective outrage, as my colleagues have said, could be channeled to truly hear and address the long-suffering cries for help by so many women and, as they said, do something about it? Like an ongoing, comprehensive education of men about what healthy, respectful manhood is all about. And it starts with how we view women. Our language is important. For instance, when a guy says 'You throw the ball like a girl' or 'You're a little sissy,' it reflects an attitude that devalues women, and attitudes will eventually manifest in some fashion. Women have been at the forefront in the domestic violence awareness and prevention arena, and whether Janay Rice considers herself a victim or not, millions of women in this country are. Consider this: according to domestic violence experts, more than three women per day lose their lives at the hands of their partners. That means that since the night of February 15 in Atlantic City, more than 600 women have died. So this is yet another call to men to stand up and take responsibility for their thoughts, their words, their deeds and, as Deion says, to give help or to get help, because our silence is deafening and deadly."--CBS sportscaster James Brown

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hickory dickory Dock, peep the new score by Ad-Rock

Dock Ellis: The Pre-Curler Years
The late Dock Ellis' primacy as a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates was way before my time, so director Jeffrey Radice's No No: A Dockumentary does a solid job chronicling a transitional period in baseball I was never really aware of, since I'm someone who doesn't pay much attention to baseball outside of whatever gets covered in the news. Now in theaters and on VOD after well-received screenings earlier this year at Sundance and SXSW, No No interviews Ellis' surviving teammates and uses footage of both Ellis in his heyday and an interview with Ellis from towards the end of his life to recall the period when black baseball players like Ellis became the first of their profession to criticize the baseball establishment for its racial slights at the time. The outspoken Ellis' iconoclasm--he got in trouble with the MLB for wearing hair curlers on the field--coincided with the rise of the Black Panthers and the emergence of Soul Train and Shaft in pop culture.

But, of course, the part of Ellis' life in No No that's the most fascinating--even more so than Ellis' activism--to audiences at Sundance or SXSW and anyone who's renting No No on iTunes is the no-hitter Ellis threw while on acid at a 1970 Pirates vs. Padres game. Ellis was the ultimate high-functioning addict, pitching terrifically while whacked out on something, whether it was LSD or Dexamyl, a.k.a. greenies, the stimulant that's still popular among baseball players as a form of medication to get through the most physically demanding aspects of the game.

Pitching on acid for nine straight innings isn't exactly a simple thing to do, as the late Robin Williams detailed during his final HBO stand-up special Weapons of Self Destruction. A clip of Williams' Weapons of Self Destruction bit about Ellis' infamous no-no (that's baseball slang for a no-hitter, by the way) is very briefly featured at the start of No No.

But Ellis' heavy drug use eventually spiraled out of control--due to grief over the 1972 death of his friend and Pirates teammate Roberto Clemente--and it ruined his career and marriages, so after his retirement, he got sober and became a drug counselor. While No No isn't exactly an anti-drug piece--the Radice doc mocks the clumsiest tactics of the anti-drug contingent by frequently cutting away to unintentionally silly footage from Dugout, a poorly acted 1981 educational filmstrip produced by the Kroc Foundation (the charitable group founded by Joan Kroc, wife of '70s and '80s Padres owner Ray Kroc, the McDonald's tycoon) to warn kid athletes against drug use--the doc's tough-minded exploration of the consequences of addiction would have pleased Ellis, who came to view the addicts he helped get clean as an achievement that was more important to him than any of his past feats on the pitcher's mound.

Adam Horovitz is a far better Jewish rapper than 2 Live Jews.
The other part of No No I looked forward to the most before its debut on VOD last week--besides the discussion of the LSD no-hitter--was its original score by Beastie Boys member Adam Horovitz, who made his debut as a film composer when he scored The Truth About Lies, an as-of-yet unreleased Odette Annable indie comedy that was first shot in 2012. Ad-Rock's funky No No score is reminiscent of the Beasties' instrumental interludes during Check Your Head and Ill Communication (which were compiled in the first Beasties album I bought, as well as one of the earliest CDs I bought, 1996's The In Sound from Way Out). It perfectly suits the doc's segments about the brashly attired, politically conscious pitcher's '70s heyday.

The No No score is also the closest we'll ever get to a second Beasties all-instrumental album, because I doubt Ad-Rock and Mike D will continue recording as the Beasties without the late MCA (and I wouldn't blame them). Horovitz's score is used judiciously too: thankfully, there's no score cue during the doc's most emotional moment, when Radice plays archival audio of Ellis tearing up and sobbing while re-reading aloud a letter of support he received from Jackie Robinson, the legend who paved the way for Ellis' accomplishments as both a pitcher and an athlete fighting discrimination.

Outside of the doc, the Horovitz score isn't available anywhere. The closest thing to the score's wordless soulfulness is, of course, the Beasties' first and last album of original instrumentals, 2007's The Mix-Up, particularly the lava lamp swagger of "Off the Grid." To borrow the words of an old Impressions tune featured prominently during No No's appreciation of the 1971 Pirates' predominantly black roster, The Mix-Up is a winner--just like Horovitz's new score and No No: A Dockumentary itself.

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: The Awesomes, "MadeMan"

It looks like she's talking to somebody's ass.
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 Sopranos is back in the limelight again, not because another one of its stars died, but because of a Vox writer's misguided attempt to create click-bait for the crazy "Tony got whacked in that diner, and we've got proof!" conspiracy theorists. So "MadeMan," a mob genre-influenced Awesomes episode where The Sopranos happens to get mocked, has wound up becoming kind of timely, and what I like about "MadeMan," which was written by Ben Warheit, is that it parodies the elements of The Sopranos and The Godfather that other animated comedies usually don't pay attention to whenever they riff on either of them.

Instead of spoofing Tony, Big Pussy or the HBO show's frequently parodied final scene, "MadeMan" spoofs Dr. Melfi. (Is that Kate McKinnon or Cecily Strong voicing Dr. Romano, Impresario's therapist? Whoever she is, she's come up with the best impression of Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Melfi since Debra Wilson's uncanny impression of her during MADtv's classic "The Sopranos on PAX TV" sketch.) And instead of doing tired gags about Don Vito Corleone's wheezy voice (although "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" and "No Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter's wedding day" get referenced), the horse's head scene or any other violent moment from the two Godfather movies (The Godfather Part III never happened), the episode focuses its attention on a minor section of the first Godfather, Michael's romance with Apollonia while hiding out in Sicily.

Another thing that's enjoyable about "MadeMan" is its visual sense. The episode displays a confidence in both its visuals and storytelling that The Awesomes didn't quite have when it started out ("MadeMan" juggles three different plots--Impresario's mama issues, the love life of Josh Meyers' Perfect Man character and Gadget Gal's mentorship of Tim into a skilled gambler--and intertwines them more smoothly than most animated comedies that attempt to juggle the same amount of plots). The show has come a long way since its cheap-looking, straight-out-of-a-2002-webtoon sewage monster in the first episode. Bento Box shows like The Awesomes and Bob's Burgers have a tendency to start out looking unremarkable, but then as their seasons unfold, their animation quality and visual sense both improve (to the point where the rough animation quality of an early Bob's Burgers episode like "Art Crawl" becomes really jarring upon rewatch, much like the animation quality on many first-season Simpsons reruns).

We only wanna see her blasting at the purple reign.
The whole section of Perfect Man the fugitive laying low in Sicily and falling for a local businessman's daughter who's not unlike Apollonia is done mostly without dialogue and was handsomely realized by the Bento Box animators (it's letterboxed too, which enhances the Sicily section's '90s Miramax chick flick vibe as the section becomes more than just a Godfather riff). The images of the city being flooded with Impresario's infinite clones of himself are also quite impressive for an animated show produced exclusively for a streaming service (although the lack of bystanders while the Awesomes attempt to clear the streets of Impresario clones is kind of distracting).

The flood of Impresarios is a result of a fed-up Impresario finally getting rid of his smothering mama Annabelle's presence from the magic jewel she gave him, which supplies him with his Green Lantern-style power of conjuring up purple energy constructs that all previously carried the visage and voice of Annabelle. Now that Annabelle is dating one of Gadget Gal's poker buddies and old Awesomes teammates, the gangland-themed retired superhero MadeMan (Bobby Moynihan), and focusing all her attentions on this other man in her life, her new relationship gives Austin an excuse to free himself of his ubiquitous mama and turn into the kind of independent grown man he's always wanted to be. An especially observant and amusing touch in Warheit's script is that Austin is so stunted as a mama's boy that one of his first acts of freedom is to fill his home at Awesome Mountain with arcade games, pinball machines and oversized toys, much like what 12-year-old Tom Hanks did when he got his first apartment in Big (the scenes of Impresario being ecstatic over all the new belongings he's conjured up, including the "Walking Piano" from Big, are particularly amusing for me because I happened to catch for the first time the expanded cut of Big on DVD right before I watched "MadeMan"). It's such a mama's boy's idea of parentless freedom.

This shit ain't the same without Robert Loggia as a duet partner.
Without the jewel version of his mama, Impresario becomes irresponsible and reckless and creates countless clones of himself to pamper both himself and his teammates. But he loses control of his duplicates and isn't able to make them disappear, so he turns to Prock for help, and Jeremy reveals to his teammates that, much like Batman does with his Justice League teammates, he keeps secret files on them that list how to defeat them if any of them ever becomes dangerous and needs to be stopped (example: trick Frantic into running into flypaper and then light his dick on fire). Prock may be far better as a leader and strategist than as an actual superhero, but apparently he dozed off on the day the lecturer at Sky High (or wherever superheroes in the Awesomes universe go for superhero school) told aspiring leaders to never divulge to their teammates that they keep secret instructions on how to take them down because revealing to them that they keep such secrets about them would just creep them the hell out.

Impresario's A-story in "MadeMan" is a good example of how, on screen, the superhero genre is really at its best when it's handled as a satire or comedy that embraces the inherent absurdity of the genre and makes the characters' battles with their own neuroses more engrossing than any of their battles against crime, like The Incredibles, The Venture Bros. or The Tick (which, by the way, made news last week when Amazon expressed interest in reuniting the live-action Tick's cast). When the genre becomes a completely humorless glorification of superheroes--like any Zack Snyder-directed comic book movie where, as Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu once put it while elaborating on his hatred of superhero movies, "the human quality" becomes so de-emphasized that the heroes wind up being unrelatable as characters--the genre's interminable as hell (as we saw in his lead-footed take on Watchmen, Snyder's one of those neo-con directors who's too dumb to handle satire; I'm now convinced that all the witty moments in Snyder's first and best movie, the Dawn of the Dead remake, were James Gunn's doing, not Snyder's). This all reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Playlist film critic Gabe Toro: "Why do they always have to 'fight crime'? I want to see a superhero movie where they join the circus."

Jezebel says summer 2014 was too depressing to deserve a song of the summer, but it's definitely earned a movie of the summer

Ah-sung Ko and Chris Evans attempt to avoid slipping on fish.

Every time the summer wraps up, music or entertainment news orgs come out with their annual think pieces or listicles about the song of the summer, and the end of the summer last week was no exception. But Jezebel makes the bold argument that we shouldn't be talking about a song of the summer, especially after a summer of Ferguson, various other kinds of civil rights abuses, Elliot Rodger, the missile attack on the Malaysian Airlines jet, the Israel-Gaza conflict, ebola and Robin Williams' suicide. "There wasn't a 'song of summer' that defined these months, like 'Call Me Maybe' did in 2012 and 'Hot In Herre' does every summer. But this summer doesn't fucking deserve its own song. It hasn't earned it," wrote Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel.

In addition to a dismal three months of world news, the candidates that showbiz reporters have brought up as the possible song of summer 2014 are pretty dire. "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea, cultural appropriation's newest star? Fuck that song. (I don't like picking songs of the summer, and I agree that summer 2014 doesn't deserve one, but "Bom Bom Fiya" by Slimkid3 & DJ Nu-Mark, "Always Winnin" by Shad, "Remedy" by All About She, "Klapp Klapp" by Little Dragon and "Sup Bruce," a tribute to Bruce Lee by The Bar, were all pretty damn good, especially "Bom Bom Fiya.")

However, summer 2014 has definitely earned a movie of the summer. I can't think of any other recent movie right now that speaks to summer 2014's feelings of unrest quite like director Bong Joon-ho's dystopian sci-fi blockbuster Snowpiercer does. That and many other reasons are why Snowpiercer is my favorite movie of summer 2014, as well as why selections from Marco Beltrami's score to the movie, in which Beltrami used instruments like the cimbalom to establish "a sound of antiquity" during Bong's futuristic tale of class conflict, are now playing on "AFOS Prime" and "New Cue Revue" on AFOS.

The Wilford song that this classroom of kids is about to sing would make for a great ringtone that, like all other ringtones, costs way more than it's actually worth.

As much as I like Guardians of the Galaxy, the year's highest-grossing movie so far and one of the summer's most favorably received blockbusters in critics' circles (as well as a movie with a score that's also now being streamed on AFOS), Guardians suffers from a dull lead villain (what was his name again?). Snowpiercer doesn't have that problem. It features one of the year's most entertaining and well-drawn antagonists, in the snaggle-toothed form of Minister Mason, Tilda Swinton's Thatcher-ish politician/spokesperson character ("I am a hat. You are a shoe. I belong on the head. You belong on the foot... Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe."). Like Guardians, Snowpiercer is based on an obscure comic--the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette--but unlike Guardians, it's set in a rather depressing milieu. The Bong movie, which actually came out last year in Korea, Japan and Europe before hitting American theaters in June, centers on a violent revolt aboard the Snowpiercer, a state-of-the-art train that's circling the world and carrying the last remaining survivors of a failed and disastrous attempt to prevent global warming. The cramped train is, of course, a metaphor for our current world, and as Bong said when he told The Mary Sue about why Le Transperceneige intrigued him, the train exemplifies his observation that "No matter what situation we find ourselves in, there's no peace."

Do the Right Thing, Attack the Block and now Snowpiercer are the best kind of summer movie: darkly funny, bleak (even though Moses defeats the aliens at the end of Attack the Block, he still winds up as another black man in prison), sequel-proof, racially diverse and a Fox News viewer's nightmare, due to both their political views and their diverse casts (sorry, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but you're lacking in the well-drawn female character department, and your version of San Francisco is implausibly devoid of Asians for some weird goddamn reason). I like escapist popcorn fare during the summer months like everybody else, but I prefer much of that kind of fare to carry some sort of weight or meaning and be reflective of some of the real-world madness outside the theater. Many tentpole blockbusters that use tiresome 9/11 imagery to attempt to raise the dramatic stakes are especially terrible at this, whereas the smaller-scale action movies Attack the Block and Snowpiercer don't play the 9/11 card and find other ways to make their material relevant and pungent. For Bong, one of those ways is the economic inequality in Korea, which appears to form much of the basis for Snowpiercer's class conflict.

Wow, Octavia Spencer's new Halfway Home cast reunion movie looks depressing as fuck.

Snowpiercer and The Lego Movie, which enraged Fox News' comrade in right-wing bullshit, Fox Business, would make for a terrific double bill of humorous films about the evils of big business. At the same time though, Snowpiercer, despite its disdain for big business in the form of the Wilford Corporation, doesn't opt for a simplistic "the left will ultimately prevail" narrative. It doesn't provide easy and comforting answers for the left, much like how Do the Right Thing doesn't provide answers on how to effectively deal with racism. Snowpiercer's (spoiler!) late twist that Chris Evans' lead revolutionary character Curtis was, without him realizing it, being groomed to inherit the corporation he was fighting against conveys Bong's bleak point that even when revolutionaries try their hardest, the corrupt system they're fighting will never be broken. That point is also conveyed by the harrowing confession Curtis makes to Namgoong Minsu, frequent Bong film star Song Kang-ho's perpetually stoned security expert character, about--without giving too much away--how even a revolutionary like himself, when he was younger, wasn't immune to the worst kind of behavior encouraged by the system.

If you're enraged by the police lately because of the situation in Ferguson, check out Snowpiercer, as well as Bong's other movies from South Korea, if you haven't done so; Bong feels your disdain for the police. The fact-based 2003 procedural Memories of Murder and the great 2006 monster movie The Host--where, just like in Snowpiercer, Song and Ah-sung Ko star as a father-and-daughter duo--also carry a huge disdain for authority and institutions at their most incompetent (in "Reverse Trip: Charting the History of Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer,"'s Scout Tafoya writes that Korean New Wave films like Snowpiercer reflect their directors' frustrations with corruption and bureaucratic incompetence in their own homeland). Even the 2009 thriller Mother, the Bong feature film with the least amount of social commentary, is tinged with that same distrust of authority.

From Memories of Murder to Snowpiercer, Bong has emerged as one of the sharpest satirical minds working in film today. I can't think of another current director who juggles various tones as unusually and effectively as Bong does. Like the grieving scene in the gym during The Host, Mason's speech to the lower-class Snowpiercer passengers early on in the movie is classic Bong: satire, slapstick and drama are going on all at once. The minister hilariously bumbles through her "Be a shoe" speech (she gets disrupted by clumsy translators and a tray that falls loudly on the ground, which wasn't in the script and was a blooper that Bong liked so much that he kept it in the film) while a torture scene ensues behind her, and we don't know whether to laugh or be disturbed over the bizarre punishment the goofy-looking Ewen Bremner character receives on his arm (it gets frozen and then amputated).

The "Be a shoe" speech/torture scene is one of many Bong moments where you, the viewer, are experiencing several things at once: anger over the cruelty of authority figures, laughter over their incompetence and silly behavior, sympathy for the mistreated protagonists and disappointment with those same protagonists because of mistakes they could have easily avoided (Bong's protags are never perfect and flawless saints). Bong explained his approach to these moments to The Mary Sue by saying, "These types of moments are generally kind of awkward for the audience, and I like that, because I think life is like that. It's not like something happens and everyone knows 'Oh, this is a funny moment,' or 'Oh, this is a sad moment.' It's not really divided like that."

Alison Pill's only scene in Snowpiercer greatly makes up for all the horseshit she had to act out in that one season of The Newsroom I sat through.

That sort of tonal weirdness--other examples include Curtis slipping on a fish on the floor in the middle of a serious fight scene and Alison Pill's one great scene as a cheery and psychotic schoolteacher--is an endearing part of Snowpiercer and Bong's other films, but I see why it can be challenging and off-putting for some moviegoers ("People didn't know if [The Host] was supposed to be funny--if they were supposed to laugh--or if they were supposed to be sad," said Bong about the confused reactions many Japanese moviegoers had to The Host). However, tinkering with Bong's idiosyncratic brand of filmmaking--which is exactly what Harvey Weinstein, the bullying studio chief with a history of getting his sausage-fingered hands on perfectly fine Asian movies and then butchering them, attempted to do when he wanted to shorten the running time of the American release of Snowpiercer--is just the worst way to make Bong's work attract moviegoers who aren't fans of his filmmaking. Bong opposed Weinstein's attempt to trim Snowpiercer and got into a war of words with The Weinstein Company that mirrored Curtis and the lower-class passengers' attempt to overthrow the upper class.

Fortunately, Bong won the battle, and although Weinstein cut down the amount of theaters he originally planned for Snowpiercer's American release in what comes across to me as a petty form of payback for Bong getting his way, Snowpiercer ultimately found its audience, not in theaters as a midnight-movie sensation but on VOD. We have Radius-TWC, The Weinstein Company's own boutique division, to thank for rescuing Snowpiercer in America and helping to turn it into a hit on iTunes two weeks after debuting in theaters.

"A lot of people come back to this movie a second, third, fourth, fifth time [on VOD]. I think the immediacy of that and how it shows up in social media speak directly to what the themes of this movie are," said Radius-TWC co-president Tom Quinn when he discussed the experimental distribution strategy that led to Snowpiercer's VOD success on KCRW's The Business.

That VOD success is also why Snowpiercer is the movie of the summer: it represents an interesting future for a certain kind of blockbuster that's neither a superhero movie nor a movie for kids, where an above-average action movie that, for some reason, would have had a difficult time finding an audience in theaters can succeed via this new platform--or where a movie that's receiving good word-of-mouth but isn't being released in smaller markets is now easily accessible to moviegoers from those markets who want to see it. Thanks to VOD, they can watch it now with just one click. As Josh Levin said in his Slate post about his enthusiasm over being able to catch Snowpiercer on demand, "We should embrace and celebrate the fact that we can now watch great movies on TV the same day they're in theaters."

As someone who's becoming increasingly less enamored with going to the theater to watch movies--I keep wanting to punch the lights out of younger moviegoers whenever they get unruly or start playing with their smartphones (this is why theaters need to start hiring bouncers)--I've been all for the rise of VOD ever since Radius-TWC made its first splash with the multi-platform release of the indie comedy Bachelorette in 2012. Though I saw Snowpiercer in the theater instead of on demand, that old saying of "Support this little film by buying a ticket to see it"--a line I frequently heard when Asian American college students and supporters of Asian American indie movies tried to get members of various Asian American subcommunities to see Better Luck Tomorrow in theaters in 2003--is just going to sound silly and outdated when three or four more Snowpiercers or They Came Togethers take off on VOD or when that inevitable day comes when Asian American content creators who have been successful on YouTube start releasing feature films on iTunes.

I shudder to think about what would have happened if Bong lost the power of final cut to Weinstein and a truncated version of Snowpiercer wound up on VOD instead. Snowpiercer already has several bleak endings. Why does it need another? Plus the sight of Bong's vision being compromised would have added to making the past three months--which, headline-wise, were as dismal as the living conditions and black protein block food the lower-class Snowpiercer passengers are forced to put up with--a tad more dismal. The fact that Snowpiercer was able to arrive in America with all of its scenes intact--plus the fact that the film turned out to be so damn good and is yet another work in Bong's filmography that's both enjoyable and so dead-on about the fucked-up real world outside the theater--are, to borrow the words of Raymond Carver, a small, good thing in a time like this.