Monday, September 28, 2015

The original songs from Spy and the Hannibal finale are better Bond themes than Sam Smith's actual Bond theme for Spectre

How Lea Seydoux can walk like that inside a wobbly train car without tripping in her heels is a bigger fucking mystery than who Franz Oberhauser really is.
Léa Seydoux in Spectre

I'm more of a fan of the music of 007 than the actual 007 movies themselves (although I'm fond of From Russia with Love, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Living Daylights and the 2006 Casino Royale, and I like a lot of what Sam Mendes and Penny Dreadful showrunner John Logan--as well as regular Coen Brothers cinematographer Roger Deakins--brought to the table in Skyfall). It's a franchise that's committed more misses than hits in its 53-year history, artistically speaking, and I understand why Andrew Ti from Yo, Is This Racist? despises the 007 movies a lot more than I do. "He's like the literal personification of imperialism," grumbles Ti about a franchise that's either ridiculed and emasculated Asian men (Licence to Kill) or killed off the ones who, for a change, aren't villains like half-Pinoy ex-wrestler Dave Bautista's Spectre henchman character Mr. Hinx (A View to a Kill). I'm sure Ti would also be thrilled about the time Bond told a black sidekick to fetch him his shoes.

That's why--despite how well Daniel Craig plays Bond as a broken man and how interestingly the underrated Timothy Dalton similarly portrayed the Ian Fleming character as a damaged soul (particularly when he's seen still mourning his murdered wife Tracy in Licence to Kill)--I've never viewed this personification of imperialism as a hero I'd root for and completely identify with. I may ogle the Bond women and admire the artistry of some of the Bond action sequences, but I've never felt like these action movies were being made for me--in the same way that Justin Lin was making Fast Five and Furious 6 specifically for me and creating the first non-stereotypical, post-Sulu Asian American cinematic action hero in the form of Sung Kang's Han, a character Lin so regretted killing off in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift that he ballsily rewound the Fast and the Furious series timeline just so he could include Han in the action again.

I've seen all the 007 movies except Moonraker (Buffy once warned me against renting it), and the best and most fascinating thing about these movies that are still being run with a tight fist by the same family that started them (the story of the Broccoli family business, by the way, is another fascinating tale in itself) is often the score music. "It's mean stuff. It's not pretty or sanitised. It sounds tough. That's why [John Barry's] work has been sampled so much by hip-hop artists - those sinister horn stabs, especially," wrote superproducer Mark Ronson about the aural template that was established in the '60s by the late Barry and later recreated by Barry fan David Arnold in five consecutive 007 movies and regular Mendes composer Thomas Newman in Skyfall and now Spectre. Even when the movie's terrible, either Barry or Arnold would bring an unmistakable pulse to the original music. Unfortunately, that pulse is missing from "Writing's on the Wall," the newly released Spectre theme performed by British singer/songwriter Sam Smith and written by the blue-eyed soul artist (in what he claims to be only 20 minutes of songwriting) and Jimmy Napes, who both penned "Stay with Me," the 2014 Smith pop hit that bizarrely sounds like the love child of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" and the theme from I'll Fly Away.

I'm not going to be like a lot of haters of the Spectre theme on social media and dismiss the theme with an extremist, Blaine and Antoine-style "Hated it!" (although some of those anti-"Writing's on the Wall" tweets are amusing, particularly one woman's description of the tune as "a drunk elephant tried to do karaoke to an Adele song whilst singing like James Blunt"), because the theme is actually an okay 007 ballad in the mold of Louis Armstrong's "We Have All the Time in the World" from On Her Majesty's Secret Service's dating montage and the Pretenders' "If There Was a Man" at the end of The Living Daylights, which were both produced by Barry. In fact, the best aspect of "Writing's on the Wall" is its Barry-style dramatic orchestrations, particularly before Smith's trademark falsetto comes in and warbles typical 007 song lyrics like "I'm prepared for this/I never shoot to miss." The first 15 seconds are classic 007 travelogue music.

But as an opening title theme for a 007 movie, "Writing's on the Wall" leans a little too adult contemporary for my tastes. "I wanted a touch of vulnerability from Bond, where you see into his heart a little bit," said Smith to NPR about lyrics like the rather adult contemporary-ish "How do I live, how do I breathe?/When you're not here I'm suffocating." writer Odie "Odienator" Henderson would complain on his blog about Adele's beloved and pitch-perfect "Skyfall" being too slow and putting him to sleep. Henderson doesn't understand that "Skyfall" is supposed to have a funereal tone because the song is actually about the death of M and is written from her point of view. That's why it would have been stupid to open Skyfall with a "View to a Kill"-style dance floor banger, whereas "Writing's on the Wall" is the kind of somnambulant tune Henderson misguidedly thought "Skyfall" was.

Wow, that Guillermo is one hell of a stage designer in addition to being a security guard and talk show sidekick.

"Where's the intrigue? Where's the danger?," wonders Idolator in its pan of "Writing's on the Wall." After those terrific first 15 seconds, the song never really builds towards anything memorable or punchy. What particularly makes "Writing's on the Wall" disappointing is that it reteamed Smith and Napes with the U.K. garage act Disclosure, a.k.a. brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, but it has little of the spark of earlier Smith/Napes/Disclosure tracks. I had no idea Disclosure had a hand in producing the Spectre theme until I saw several pop music blogs take note of Disclosure's involvement, right after I downloaded the "Writing's on the Wall" single from Amazon and then listened to it and thought I had teleported into the "Brian McKnight helps Martin propose to Gina in the park" episode of Martin instead of an action thriller.

"The reason we got involved afterwards was to try and add a bit of post production and they just wanted it to sound a little more spacey and add something behind it that wasn't just a straight-up orchestra," said the duo to the U.K.'s Capital FM radio network. While trying to lend a hand to something that they've said is "a lot more along the 'Goldfinger' lines," Disclosure, an act I enjoy for never being too saccharine in their music, sacrificed too much of what makes them great and took a turn towards the saccharine. k.d. lang and Garbage previously proved in Tomorrow Never Dies' Arnold-produced "Surrender" and the Arnold-produced opening title theme for The World Is Not Enough, respectively, that you can bring your own stamp to a traditional-sounding 007 tune and honor the 007 sound without sacrificing too much of your musical identity. I know I keep using the word "pulse" to refer to what "Writing's on the Wall" lacks, but that's the best word I can come up with to describe the thing that's absent from the Spectre theme and had permeated the previous Smith/Napes/Disclosure collabos "Latch" and "Together," which features some unknown nobody named Nile Rodgers.

Where's some of the sinewy garage sound that also distinguishes Disclosure's work with other acts like AlunaGeorge, as well as their work on their own (my personal favorite Disclosure banger, by the way, is "When a Fire Starts to Burn")?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Advantageous

Netflix is debuting new episodes of Mr. Peabody and Sherman next month. That show better fucking explain why a superintelligent dog who built a time machine has never bothered to use the machine to alter the physiology of dogs so that he doesn't need to walk on four legs anymore.

A longer and heavily-updated-in-2020 version of the following blog post can be found in If You Haven't Seen It, It's New to You: The Movies and TV Shows Some of Us Regretted Not Catching Until Later. The 2020 book was written and self-published by yours truly. Get the paperback edition of If You Haven't Seen It, It's New to You now!


Usually on Throwback Thursday, I pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket stub I didn't throw away, and then I discuss the movie on the stub and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS. This week, instead of drawing some random stub, I'm going to completely break protocol and focus on a first-run movie I didn't see in the theater. I caught this movie instead on Netflix, and it's a good one. This week marked the season premiere of Fresh Off the Boat, the single-camera sitcom that made waves last season as the first genuine hit show on network TV to center on an Asian American family--and also has been consistently funny to boot--so I'm discussing an equally intriguing sci-fi film from earlier this year that's also told from an Asian American point of view.

On the surface, America in the year 2041 looks enticing early on during Advantageous, indie director Jennifer Phang's second feature-length film. Nobody in the future seems to complain anymore that "We were promised spacecars" because the unnamed city Advantageous takes place in appears to be surrounded by such spacecars. The city's sleek architecture gleams prettily in this low-budget film's surprisingly convincing matte paintings. It's like a city where all the skyscrapers were aesthetically inspired by the gleaming, bean-shaped Cloud Gate, that giant Chicago sculpture I remember so well from Source Code and one of the musical numbers during Dhoom: 3. Best of all, small mom-and-pop restaurants that tout their hormone-free fried chicken have managed to survive gentrification.

Caprica before the Cylons occupied it

But as the film digs deeper into 2041 America, it becomes clear how really fucked-up the future is underneath all that surface prettiness. The spacecars aren't actually spacecars: they're surveillance drones deployed by both the police and tech firms like the Center for Advanced Health and Living, whose name sounds like a shady Scientology subsidiary. Domestic terrorism has become so commonplace that barely anybody bats an eye at a terrorist attack or objects to the loss of their personal freedoms due to the increase in drone tech. "The 2033 bubble" has apparently led to an end to the middle class. The unemployment rate for women has skyrocketed, resulting in an increase in homeless women on the streets. A radio news report that could easily be missed underneath the dialogue during first viewing depressingly rattles off stats about "the recent rise in child prostitution in our country." Education has become unaffordable.

When single mother Gwen Koh (Jacqueline Kim), the Center for Advanced Health and Living's spokeswoman, becomes one of the unemployed after losing her job due to the corporation's plans to replace her with a younger spokeswoman, she chooses an unusual last resort for ensuring that her 13-year-old daughter Jules (Samantha Kim, no relation) stays in the country's super-expensive private school system, a broken system that ends up being the only way to protect Jules from a bleak future of hooking on the streets. Gwen agrees to earn a living as a guinea pig for the Center's newest product: a risky alternative to cosmetic surgery that allows people to transfer their minds into younger bodies.

Advantageous, which is like the best Black Mirror story Charlie Brooker hasn't written, originated as a 2011 short film Phang and Jacqueline Kim co-wrote as part of the FutureStates series of shorts for PBS. The scenes from that 2011 version resurface in the feature-length version and are surrounded by newly shot material featuring Jennifer Ehle as a sinister Center executive and, in an atypically non-comedic and surprisingly effective role, Ken Jeong, who co-produced the 2015 version (James Urbaniak, who's so sublime at playing manipulative and evil assholes on comedy shows like The Venture Bros. and Review, gets to demonstrate some non-comedic chops in Advantageous as well). The biggest and most satisfying difference between the 2011 short and the 2015 film is the film's lack of an opening crawl establishing all of the above details about the dystopian future.

'This Gillette razor is making you verrry sleepy.'

Omitting the crawl that opened the short causes the feature-length Advantageous to be ballsier storytelling-wise than even the director's cut of Blade Runner, which was never shorn of its explanatory crawl about replicants in the future despite completely removing Harrison Ford's clunkily delivered, "Grrr, can't wait to be done with recording this shit in the booth 'cuz I gotta go meet my weed connect"-ish voiceover narration. Phang wisely trusts the viewers to figure out piece by piece--and on their own, without much expository dialogue to hold their hands (other than the aforementioned fake news soundbites)--the future's worst aspects and its gender or racial inequities, as well as its strange customs. There's a great little scene where Gwen wants some time to herself to consider the "consciousness transplant," so she checks into a hotel that specializes in letting its guests go off the grid and be rid of all of their devices, as well as be rid of drone surveillance. In 2015, we have the freedom to go off the grid and take as long a break from social media or technological distractions as we want to, while in the fucked-up future Advantageous depicts, people have to pay to do that. But the most beautiful thing about that hotel scene is the lack of awkward exposition from the concierge like "Welcome to the Bedford, the hotel that grants you privacy from surveillance." It's world-building at its finest.

Another thing that makes the feature-length Advantageous superior to the 22-minute version is how the added material with Jeong (and an unseen Jeanne Sakata as Gwen's deeply religious mom) causes Gwen's desperation to make more sense and be more believable, even while Phang does subtle things with the dialogue and the editing to make the future slightly difficult to understand and more like a puzzle, narratively speaking. Phang's puzzle-like storytelling approach is reminiscent of one of my favorite Steven Soderbergh movies, The Limey, and it made me wonder at times if the entire movie was actually a flashback inside Gwen's head, just like how The Limey interestingly implies that Terence Stamp is playing back the entire movie in his head on his flight home to England. Even composer Timo Chen's Advantageous score is as similarly ethereal as Cliff Martinez's score to The Limey, and on his YouTube account, Chen details the unconventional ways he performed his effective score, like the sliding of a toothbrush across piano strings or the use of a sex toy as a plectrum.

As Chen says, Phang's puzzle-like approach inspired him "to develop new tools to play [instruments] in different ways." That phrase could also describe how a new and much-needed voice in sci-fi like Phang's takes a familiar, Children of Men-style dystopia and plays that dystopia in a different way by filtering it through her rarely acknowledged--and rarely visible on the screen--perspective: the perspective of women of color who are clearly fed up with classism, ageism, sexism and racism. Advantageous is an angry political work, but it's also hopeful about social change and fortunately, not completely humorless. Instead of Jeong supplying the film's humor, its humor emerges in the way Gwen and her co-workers sound exactly like Hollywood types when they discuss their work, like when Urbaniak's character says to Gwen, "We're obligated to go a different direction for the face of the Center."

Kim--whom Star Trek heads will remember as Sulu's grown-up daughter in Star Trek: Generations and who gets to show far more range in Asian American indie projects like Advantageous rather than in something like Generations--clearly took her experiences of hearing the drivel of Hollywood casting directors who babble in coded language about race and worked those experiences into the film's script. So Advantageous also becomes a satirical comment on Hollywood's treatment of Asian women and its tendency to either whitewash characters who were Asian females in the source material (like when Arrow changed the DC Comics character Sin from an Asian girl to a white one) or cast in leading roles Asian performers who look "less Asian" and are closer to Hollywood's beauty standards.

If Gwen 2.0 found a job at Dunder Mifflin, Michael Scott would probably greet her with 'Was your dad a G.I.?'

Gwen is so brainwashed from her days of working at the Center that when she chooses her new body, it turns out to be, of course, a racially ambiguous one. Gwen 2.0 (Freya Adams) may look as outwardly pretty as the city she's been raising Jules in, but just like the city, the new Gwen's concealing an enormous amount of pain and unease. In a manner that brings to mind how the late Roddy Piper so gruffly and amusingly tried to get anyone in L.A. who hadn't joined the alien invaders--as well as the Reagan-era theater audience--to listen to him about the world around them during John Carpenter's classic dystopian satire They Live, Advantageous dares us to stop taking a blind eye to that same kind of pain and unease that exists outside the screen (and on the streets of present-day cities or in the power structures within our own Center-like workplaces) and take a closer look.

Advantageous is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.

Monday, September 21, 2015

That viral pic from Tumblr of Christina Ricci as Morticia Addams isn't real, but it proves why Morticia is the part she was born to play, baby

Elizabeth Montgomery once starred as Lizzie Borden in a TV-movie that was made for people who wish Bewitched could have used a little more scenes of ax murders.
Christina Ricci in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax

I've stayed away from Asian Twitter ever since two different camps within Asian Twitter came to blows over #CancelColbert--the dumbest-looking campaign against a fictional TV character since Dan Quayle's outrage over Murphy Brown's choice to become a single mom--and all that arguing between Asian Americans over #CancelColbert made me want to stick my head in the oven, so I've spent most of my lurking time on Twitter over on Black Twitter. Does the fourth half of that last sentence make any sense? Shit, it probably doesn't.

Black Twitter is sometimes a more enjoyable place to be than any other part of Twitter, mainly because of Desus Nice's consistently funny tweets about either hip-hop, sports, white people's bullshit or an America where "President Trump starts WW3 with Mexico and China." Desus has parlayed his 140-characters-and-less wit into both a career of writing for comedy shows on MTV2 and a popular, now-defunct comedic webseries with "all-caps rap reviewer" The Kid Mero that returned to the Internet earlier this month in the form of the newly launched podcast Bodega Boys. Emmy night and the following day are interesting examples of the differences in trending topics between Black Twitter and White Twitter, or as I like to call it, Facebook.

So Black Twitter has been all about the new Drake/Future mixtape, the enthusiasm over Uzo Aduba, Regina King and Viola Davis all winning Emmys for acting and black viewers' frustrations over a Twitter rant about Davis' candid and rousing Emmy acceptance speech that was posted and quickly deleted by a drunken white actress from General Hospital. Black Twitter shouldn't be surprised that the lady from General Hospital would post racist opinions about Davis' Emmy win for her role on How to Get Away with Murder: she's a Cassadine. Of course she would say such things.

How do I know all this shit about the Cassadines? I used to watch General Hospital in between UC Santa Cruz classes. I lived in a nice off-campus apartment building where none of the neighbors on my floor were weed dealers or were into sharing their weed, so I never really was heavily into weed like most other UCSC students. That also meant that when I wanted a good laugh at about 2pm before I'd slink back to class or the campus paper, I was too lazy to go score some weed downtown. Instead I would get a couple of good laughs at 2pm by just switching on General Hospital to chuckle over either three things: the show's G-rated and overly romanticized portrayal of the Mafia, two or three years before The Sopranos premiered and its popularity caused General Hospital to be completely changed into Sopranos lite; the fact that every outdoor conversation at night would take place on the same exact foggy Port Charles dock set; or one of Anthony Geary's genuinely funny and often unscripted one-liners during the feud between the evil Cassadines and the slightly less evil Spencers. That's how I know who the Cassadines are.

Anyway, while those are the trending topics on Black Twitter, White Twitter is preoccupied with much weirder things: viral footage of a subway rat carrying a slice of pizza (apparently he's got a few ninja turtles he needs to feed), gossip over David Cameron once inserting his dick into a dead pig as if he were in an episode of Black Mirror and a photo of Christina Ricci dressed up as Morticia Addams, the mother of Wednesday, the character Ricci charmingly brought to life in the two Addams Family movies. Yeah, that's white people in a nutshell.

Wait a minute. [KRS-One voice.] Rewind. Someone posted a pic of Ricci as Morticia? Has that person been reading my mind lately and glimpsing a hot fantasy I once had about present-day Ricci in a Morticia outfit? I'm no Goth, but I would love to see Ricci play Morticia in an Addams Family reboot. Also, why is the Photoshopping job on that Tumblr pic kind of shitty, and why does it remind me of Lena Headey's face getting poorly grafted onto her body double during Cersei's walk of shame? How's it possible that there are people who were actually convinced the photo is real?

Thanks, Tumblr, for making Christina Ricci look like a long-necked ambassador from the Jedi Council.
(Photo source: Mystical Enchantment)

She's thinking about tying up and torturing the writers behind the first season of Smash.

Shame! Ding! Shame! Ding! Shame! Ding! Shame! On whoever did the shitty CGI for this! Ding!
(Photo source: Uproxx)

Ricci most recently starred as Lizzie Borden in both a Lifetime movie and a short-lived Lifetime show. An ideal future role for her would have to be Morticia or a grown-up Wednesday. The Addams Family, the show that was based on the only New Yorker cartoons that are worth a damn, has already been rebooted three different times in live action and once in animation (as well as turned into a Broadway musical starring Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia and Nathan Lane as Gomez). I hate most reboots, and the unwatchability and suckitude of the last two live-action Addams projects are a good reason why I dislike most of them (the Addamses are too big to be in something as small as a chintzy direct-to-video movie). But it's not surprising why a certain segment of Hollywood keeps wanting to resuscitate the Addams fam.

The Charles Addams characters' brand of dark humor--they're misfits mocking the lily-white and squeaky-clean suburbia of '50s and '60s sitcoms like The Donna Reed Show and then later on during the era of the Barry Sonnenfeld movies, America as envisioned by those who worshiped the Bush Sr. Administration--is timeless and always appealing, especially to misfits and outcasts who don't care for how dull, unpleasant and, well, hateful that kind of suburbia or America can be. At a time when a hatemonger like Donald Trump is trying to stoke the racist anger of that kind of America, maybe we need the Addamses on the screen again to take that America down and shoot arrows at it a la Wednesday and Pugsley during that Thanksgiving play they rewrote in Addams Family Values.

All an Addams reboot needs besides Ricci are a director who's incredibly focused--and doesn't let the art direction become the only good thing about the movie but still manages to infuse a strong visual sense--and a writer who's as sharp as Paul Rudnick, a script doctor on the first Addams Family flick and the sole credited writer of Addams Family Values, the sequel that was a perfect marriage of quip writer and teen performer delivering those quips (Rudnick/Ricci). Shit, on second thought, they should just bring Rudnick back, unless he'd rather stick to ghostwriting the film reviews of Libby Gelman-Waxner.

Somewhere, Azrael Abyss is creaming his pants right now.
(Photo source: Go Fug Yourself)

Azrael Abyss is also now working at a Home Depot in Peoria.
(Photo source: Go Fug Yourself)

I want more than just Ricci channeling Morticia on the red carpet, man. I'd like another Rudnick-penned Addams movie, and I'd like her to be an Addams again. Ricci may have scared away Lifetime viewers while wielding Lizzie Borden's ax, but as an Addams wielding an ax, she'd definitely get our attention again.

Marc Shaiman's "The Tango," the instrumental highlight of Addams Family Values, isn't currently in rotation on AFOS (it was removed from rotation in 2012 due to limited station hard drive space), but it ought to be.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Muppets (2011)

The pilot episode of The Muppets hints that the chicken-loving Gonzo still has a crush on Miss Piggy. What is it with Gonzo and farm animals, man? He makes Gene Wilder look like a Mormon.

Usually on Throwback Thursday, I pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket stub I didn't throw away, and then I discuss the movie on the ticket and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS. Today, instead of drawing some random ticket, I'm going to focus today's TBT piece on the Muppets' return to the big screen after a 12-year absence, due to next Tuesday's premiere of The Muppets on ABC.

Network TV appears to be in such a sorry state this fall--original content on either streaming services or cable is where it's at these days--that the only new network comedy I'm looking forward to is ABC's The Muppets, which is being billed as "a more adult Muppet Show" (wait a minute, we've already had a more adult Muppet Show: it was called The Larry Sanders Show). As much as I love the film that was both the first Muppet feature film I ever saw and my unlikely gateway into the caper genre, the Jim Henson-directed, partially Jay Tarses-scripted Great Muppet Caper--it's my favorite of the Muppet feature films and a film subsequent Muppet films haven't surpassed, not even 2011's well-received The Muppets--TV, the medium the Muppets were created for, is where they work best and are at their funniest. I'm talking episodic TV, not movie-of-the-week TV, which was where Kermit the Frog and company spent most of the 2000s (and disappointed the franchise's most die-hard fans by starring in TV-movies like the poorly received Muppets' Wizard of Oz). Like the A.V. Club's resident Muppets fan, Erik Adams, said last year, a new take on The Muppet Show would give the Muppets' writers and puppeteers the proper space to stretch their ambitions and allow the franchise's gargantuan cast of characters to shine again in a format that's not as cramped as a two-hour movie.

But I have one huge reservation about this new weekly Muppet comedy from showrunners Bill Prady, the Big Bang Theory co-creator who got his start working for the late Henson, and Bob Kushell, and that would be the show's rehash of the confessional/mockumentary format that was popularized by The Office, Parks and Recreation and Modern Family. It's such a tired format these days that even Modern Family is starting to find ways to break away from the format, like when it told an entire story using nothing but Skype chats last season. No matter how many times Gonzo points out the tiredness of the confessional gimmick, I really wish the Prady/Kushell show would phase out the confessionals because much of the Muppet characters' appeal is due to their timelessness, and the confessionals scream out 2005.

Timelessness is also integral to why Flight of the Conchords episode director James Bobin's 2011 big-screen reboot works so well, despite occasional missteps like the film's ill-advised needle drop of Starship's 1985 radio hit "We Built This City," an anthem about maintaining the "purity" of rock n' roll that neither rocks nor rolls. Although I'm not a fan of musicals, I would rather hear another musical number written by Flight of the Conchords star Bret McKenzie--who won a Best Original Song Oscar for penning the film's clever and very Conchords-ish number "Man or Muppet"--than have to endure "We Built This City" again.

References to anger management classes and the crassness of reality TV (and terrible Starship songs) aside, Bobin's The Muppets could have come out of 1981 or 1991. There was a lot of grumbling to the press from Muppet project veterans like the retired Frank Oz about Bobin's movie before its release. They felt (no pun intended) the screenplay by lead actor Jason Segel and his writing partner Nicholas Stoller disrespected the Muppet characters by having them tell fart jokes or experience Martin-and-Lewis-ish bitter feuds. The film's story has Segel's character and his Muppet Show-loving little brother Walter, a new Muppet character voiced and performed by Peter Linz, helping Kermit (Steve Whitmire, whose most sublime bit of Muppet acting in the film has to be the distraught expression his hand gives to Kermit's face when he finds out Miss Piggy kidnapped Jack Black) to get the other stars of The Muppet Show back together after years of estrangement and unfulfilling jobs away from the limelight.

A bit of the old guard's skepticism about Segel and Stoller's screenplay is understandable because, conceptually, their screenplay is on the creaky side. Much of it is a rehash of the "Muppets put on a show to stop a greedy developer from tearing down their theater" story from 2002's made-for-TV It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, which starred Joan Cusack as the greedy developer instead of Chris Cooper, who--despite being trained to rap by McKenzie, a skilled Beastie Boys parodist who once proved he could flow on Conchords, for a brief number where his villain character raps about himself--should never ever rap on screen again.

But otherwise, Segel, Stoller and Bobin take that "Muppets reunite to put on a show" premise and make it a timeless and effective way to reintroduce the Muppets and get a new generation of viewers to understand why the Muppets' irreverence and warmth were a big deal to those of us who grew up watching The Great Muppet Caper repeatedly or enjoying The Muppet Show and either its shtick involving Animal (the description of Animal's untold backstory in ego trip's Big Book of Racism! is hilarious: "Drunk, inarticulate and wilder than Tijuana on a Jerry Springer celebrity spring break--naturally, he's Mexican") or its various musical numbers. One of those numbers was the show's cover of Piero Umiliani's "Mah Na Mah Na," a nonsense song that resurfaces in the Segel/Stoller/Bobin movie's end credits and is notorious for originating not as a Muppet Show number but as an original song during the 1968 Italian softcore porno Svezia, inferno e paradiso (Swedish: Heaven and Hell).

How else should the Segel/Stoller/Bobin movie have reintroduced the Muppets? Put them through another half-baked parody like a Wizard of Oz remake? The "Muppets never grow apart or do fart jokes" complaints strike me as very "Gene Roddenberry won't allow the Enterprise-D officers to get into conflicts with each other"-ish. The skeptical Muppet veterans were wrong about Segel, Stoller and Bobin being too crass and cynical in their approach to bringing back the Muppets. In fact, I think Segel, Stoller and Bobin were so reverent at times about honoring the most beloved of Muppet movies, 1979's sweet-natured Muppet Movie, and pleasing the old guard (plus the Disney execs) that their movie doesn't have enough terrific little "whoa, how did that get snuck into a family film?" gags like Janice's random aside in The Great Muppet Caper about her past ("And I said, 'Look, Mother, it's my life, okeeey? So if I want to live on a beach and walk around naked...' Oh").

Fortunately, Segel, Stoller and Bobin didn't do away with the self-aware dialogue that's classic Muppets ("Didn't you see our first movie? We drive") or the occasional jokes only a few adults in the audience will understand, like the Muppets showing up on the cover of Ebony on a wall in Kermit's mansion or Rashida Jones threatening Kermit with "I will rerun Benson if I have to." I'm sure that line led to a lot of kids in the audience saying, "Mommy, who's Benson?" Segel, Stoller and Bobin also came up with the first moment in a Muppet movie that genuinely moved me and nearly made me tear up:

Whoops, not that scene. This scene:

The Muppets is noteworthy for being the first Muppet movie to take The Muppet Show and all its episodes and make them a pivotal part of the storyline. While Kermit's discovery of the crowds of fans waiting outside the Muppet Theater nearly made me tear up, some Muppet Show fans have said the film's archival audio clip of Kermit introducing guest star Bob Hope was the part of the film that first made them emotional.

That's how beloved The Muppet Show is as a variety show (variety is, by the way, a long-dead-in-America genre Neil Patrick Harris is attempting to bring back to American network TV this fall with NBC's Best Time Ever, which is loosely based on Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway from the U.K.), and the show receives a satisfying tribute in the form of The Muppets, the most enjoyable comedy movie about a variety show since 1982's My Favorite Year, director Richard Benjamin's thinly veiled movie about the making of Your Show of Shows. The Muppet Show was such a huge part of my childhood that words like "Time once again for Veterinarian's Hospital, the continuing story of a quack who has gone to the dogs" are easier for me to remember than any of the lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Monday, September 14, 2015

If you want to try coding a blog post on Tumblr, you'd have a much easier time opening an umbrella up your own ass

AFOS has a Tumblr--an infrequently updated one, to be more accurate. I joined Tumblr in 2012 mostly to see if I could attract Tumblr users to either AFOS or the AFOS blog.

Since 2012, I've discovered that I don't care much for Tumblr as a platform or a place to compose original content (also after 2012, it was bought by Yahoo). If you want to write a long-form post on Tumblr or get that post to look exactly like how you want it to look, you can't rely on Tumblr for any of that. Any attempt to code on Tumblr a piece of writing of any size ought to be accompanied by nothing but Price Is Right failure horns.

How the fuck did Dan Harmon manage to accomplish paragraph breaks in the long-form posts he used to write on Tumblr? Over on that platform, a simple, normal-looking paragraph break is damn near impossible to code into existence. Tumblr makes it so impossible for you to create paragraph breaks because they want to make your writing look like that of a rambling and mentally unstable 14-year-old who doesn't know what a paragraph break is.

I like my paragraph breaks, Tumblr. Fuck you. I like being able to pause between ideas while reading through something and mentally catch a breath. If you can't give me that, Tumblr, catch a fade.

I looked around the Internet to see if I was alone in finding Tumblr to be the shittiest platform for composing long-form writing, and I stumbled into a 2014 listicle by a blogger named Liz Galvao. Yes, I know I've said I despise the listicle format so much that if I ever run into any hed that begins with a numeral, I refuse to read anything below that hed. But it was a critique of Tumblr's many fails as a platform, which became so frustrating for Galvao that she switched from Tumblr to WordPress for composing posts ("Most of the templates don't even let you pick your own font! This is supposed to be MY space on the Internet as a writer, and I can't even pick the font? That's fucked"), and I couldn't resist reading through her rant.

"In-post editing is SUPER limited on Tumblr. I can't italicize a word in the title of a post, for example, which drove me crazy every time I wrote about a TV show. I can't change the size or color of a word in the body of a text post, something that should be incredibly easy to do with basic HTML," wrote Galvao.

Meanwhile, all those things can be achieved on either WordPress, the service Word Is Bond contributors like myself and Hardeep Aujla use for composing Word Is Bond posts, or Blogger, which is why I've stuck to Blogger for composing long-form writing. All Tumblr is good for is reblogging .GIFs. Tumblr, you're as reliable as a Yahoo content editor who can't tell Damon Wayans Sr. and Damon Wayans Jr. apart. Tumblr and Yahoo, you deserve each other.

Yahoo clearly flunked Wayans Family Tree 101.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Attack the Block

Invasion of the Gorilla Wolf Motherfuckers is how I would have titled this movie, just so I could hear Leonard Maltin say the word 'motherfuckers' on some uncensored movie talk podcast.

Every Throwback Thursday, I randomly pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket I saved. Then I discuss the movie on the ticket and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS.

"Folks who exasperatedly dismiss discussion of color with 'Not everything is about race,' are usually people who (unknowingly) have the privilege of being viewed as race-less (white). The race-less of course have the freedom to decide what is and isn't about race. Those that are not seen as race-less (people of color) don't. [Joe] Cornish seems to understand what many people don't want to admit, that a person's race shapes their experience in the world. Whether it should or shouldn't, it very much does. Ignoring this fact, even if well intentioned, perpetuates inequality. The boys in Block, as young men of color, are always aware of racial dynamics. So constant is this awareness, neither positive nor negative, that it becomes unconscious, like breathing. It's always there. The film takes place completely within this understanding."--Kartina Richardson (2011)

If it weren't for its teen characters' awareness of the elephant in the room called race, as well as the equally intriguing way Joe Cornish avoids being heavy-handed about it, Attack the Block--the British comedian's 2011 feature-length directorial debut--would just be an ordinary low-budget monster movie with a diverse cast instead of the above-average low-budget monster movie with a diverse cast it wound up becoming. Sure, it's always nice to see a black teen or an Asian American as the main protagonist in a sci-fi story, but what really matters in the end is how that story makes that protagonist of color come alive as a credible human being, and Attack the Block succeeds in that department.

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

Cornish is white, but one thing that makes him bolder than other white creators who have placed characters of color at the center of the sci-fi action is his decision to make Moses (John Boyega) a regular street kid instead of the saintly (and more palatable to older and more affluent white folks) cop or soldier of color who's usually pitted against unfriendly creatures in sci-fi. At one point, Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a 20-something white nurse who's mugged by Moses and his mostly black friends at the start of the film and evolves from despising them to relying on them for her survival, is seen suggesting to them that they turn to the police for help in protecting their South London neighborhood from bloodthirsty alien beasts that have suddenly landed in South London for mysterious reasons.

Moses and his male and female friends want nothing to do with the Five-0--"You think the police is gonna help them? They might not arrest you, but they'll arrest them," says Tia (Danielle Vitalis), a neighborhood girl with a crush on Moses, to Sam--and Moses believes the aliens were sent to South London by the same government that sics the police on black kids and is responsible for various other things in what the British call the block and what we Americans call the projects. "Government probably bred those creatures to kill black boys. First they sent drugs to the ends. Then they sent guns. Now they sent monsters to get us. They don't care, man. We ain't killing each other fast enough, so they decided to speed up the process," says Moses. Right when Tia points out to Sam the privilege she has as a white person and Moses spouts his theory about the aliens being government-made, an acknowledgement of the racism that permeates the world outside the theater or TV screen finally emerges in the dialogue of this escapist movie--rather than the movie acknowledging it through coded dialogue from white characters like one lady's earlier view of Moses and the hoodies as "fucking monsters"--and Attack the Block, which was co-executive-produced by Edgar Wright, becomes something truly special and alive as escapist entertainment.

At that moment, this sci-fi story that takes place in the projects declares that, for once, it's not going to shy away from race and hide behind silly sci-fi metaphors to address race or naively attempt to put a Band-Aid on racism (the teens' frankness about the ignorant attitudes of the police in blocks like Moses and Sam's makes this film continue to resonate, especially during the rise of #BlackLivesMatter and the stupidity of #AllLivesMatter, a hashtag that could only come from the minds of privileged dolts). Also at around that point in the story, Attack the Block makes it clear that a cop won't be the hero of the narrative like he or she often is. Instead, the misunderstood kid who frequently gets harassed or cuffed (or killed) by such cops becomes the hero here, and though he's tougher than the other hoodies and will outlive some of them, he's extremely human, thanks to Cornish's writing for Moses and Boyega's ability to balance toughness with vulnerability. It's no wonder Boyega was cast in the J.J. Abrams-directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens: he's great at reacting to the mayhem surrounding him, just like how his Force Awakens co-star Harrison Ford was terrific at reacting to mayhem in action classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Fugitive.

While being interviewed by Esquire about the upcoming 007 movie Spectre, Daniel Craig said he admires Ford's performance in Raiders because "he's so fallible, to the point of comedy. You know at any time he might fuck up, and that adds to the danger and the excitement and the joy of it." That's also the key to why Boyega's performance in Attack the Block is equally enjoyable. There's a scene where you expect Moses to have a grand action hero moment and save Tia and her best friends from aliens who have invaded Tia's flat, but his katana gets stuck in a wall behind him, and Sam ends up having to save him. Meanwhile, Tia and Dimples (Paige Meade) don't really need Moses' help and are doing quite okay on their own, thanks to their fighting skills with whatever item they can get their hands on. Fuck Matt Damon. These ice skate-wielding South London girls should be the stars of Damon's next Bourne movie. Later on, when Moses gets his opportunity to finally blow each and every alien to smithereens with his lighter, his hands start to shake out of nervousness.

A lesser filmmaker would write Moses as being badass and flawless all the time, but Cornish prefers to make his protagonist a bit more complicated. He's as flawed as the Park siblings from the Bong Joon-ho masterpiece The Host (a double feature of Attack the Block and The Host, by the way, would be like the illest double feature ever) and is perhaps even more thoughtless than either of the Parks because in addition to mugging Sam, he's made the mistake of getting into business with an impulsive, murks-anybody-who-looks-at-him-wrong neighborhood drug lord named Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) and has made the additional mistake of murking the female alien whose pheromone summons all the male "gorilla wolf motherfuckers" to South London. In Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn't responsible for bringing to the jungle the titular hunter from outer space, whereas in Attack the Block, our hero is the cause of all the bloodshed and the losses of some of his friends. So when it's up to Moses to fix what he started and decide what kind of adult he wants the block to remember him as, the climax of Attack the Block takes on an unexpected power, aided by both slow motion that doesn't look clichéd and silly for once and "Moses vs. the Monsters," a pulsating score cue by composer Steven Price and Basement Jaxx partners Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe ("Moses vs. the Monsters" is in rotation during the AFOS blocks "Beat Box," "Hall H" and "AFOS Prime").

Ultra Brite gets them noticed!

One other thing makes Cornish bolder than other white writers who are outsiders looking in on ethnic settings they've chosen to write about: the wide range of black teen characters Sam encounters as the alien invasion forces her out of her comfort zone. (Had Attack the Block been a mainstream hit in America, it would have caused that racist old moron Lou Dobbs to get his panties in a bunch over the kinds of characters it chooses to sympathize with.) A lesser white writer would probably make every black teen character interchangeable and as sullen and parentless as Moses or as hotheaded as Dennis (Franz Drameh), whereas each of Moses' friends is distinctive in background (Moses is the only one who comes from a broken home, and the closest thing he has to a parent is an uncle who's never there) and temperament. For instance, Biggz (Simon Howard) has a white mom and is less willing than the others to get himself into dangerous situations; Tia and Dimples are similarly disdainful about Moses' flirtation with a criminal lifestyle. This also ties into how Attack the Block doubles as a thankfully non-preachy critique of the demonization of the working class in England.

Cornish was a one-time mugging victim who wanted to better understand his muggers and their everyday lives instead of being resentful of them (the mugging of Sam, who's clearly a stand-in for Cornish, was based on the incident Cornish experienced), so he takes working-class kids like the kindly and dorky Jerome (Leeon Jones) and the dorkier Biggz, who spends most of the film hiding in a trash bin, and he fleshes out those characters to prove the irrationality of demonizing and simplifying the underclass. One minute, they're mugging somebody and not enjoying it at all (they later admit to being scared while doing the mugging), and the next, they're chatting with Mum or Grandmum on their phones like typical 13-to-15-year-olds trying to make it home in time for dinner.

What also makes Attack the Block stand out is the much-welcome absence of CGI ("We used CGI a little to enhance, but mainly to remove details," said Cornish to GQ in 2011). The creature FX work in Cornish's film is largely practical. The alien attacks are fast and brutal, and this is a rare case where the fast-cutting that so many film critics complain about when they critique contemporary action movies is absolutely necessary. The fast-cutting prevents us from noticing how low-budget the monsters are: they're essentially just stuntmen--led by the great Terry Notary, one of the motion-capture performers who starred as the apes in the last two Planet of the Apes movies and a movement coach for those movies, by the way--inside eyeless gorilla suits outfitted with neon green teeth. But because the Attack the Block aliens aren't CG, there's a formidability and weighty presence to them that's missing from most CG creatures.

On one of Attack the Block's Blu-ray audio commentaries, Cornish says the inability to afford extensive CG FX allowed him to get authentic reactions from his child actors since the monsters were physically there on the set. The performances of the kids--who hadn't been in the acting game long enough to receive training on how to look like you're not pretending during a job that requires you to pretend things that aren't there are actually there--wouldn't have been the same if they had to react to a tennis ball on a stick. Attack the Block is more of a sci-fi actioner than a genuinely scary horror flick--The Walking Dead contains 10 times more gore each week--but the film contains one horrific moment: the child actors may have been way more terrified of the aliens than us adult viewers are, but the split-second shot of a mutilated Hi-Hatz looking like a black Voldemort makes you finally understand the kids' genuine fear.

Just let your Skull Glo!

The year 2011 saw four different Steven Spielberg-produced projects about alien invasions emerge in the same summer: the Abrams-directed Super 8, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Cowboys & Aliens and the TNT original drama Falling Skies, which just recently ended its run. I barely remember any of them, aside from Elle Fanning's amusing transformation into a zombie for Super 8's movie-within-a-movie and the troublemaking antics of Colin Cunningham's biker character Pope during Falling Skies' first season, whereas Attack the Block, which was made for much less and details an invasion that's on a much smaller scale, is a film that's still on my mind. Its potent mix of monster movie thrills and nuanced, non-preachy social commentary about both racial inequality and white privilege makes it a film I keep revisiting. Attack the Block murks them all.

Steven Price and Basement Jaxx's outstanding score cues from Attack the Block can currently be heard during the AFOS blocks "Beat Box," "Hall H" and "AFOS Prime." The 1993 KRS-One classic "Sound of da Police" and Richie Spice's "Youth Dem Cold," the two most memorable existing songs during Attack the Block, cannot be heard on AFOS, but they would have been part of the now-defunct AFOS block "Rock Box," which was discontinued in 2012 due to limited station hard drive space and the elimination from rotation of anything that wasn't original score material.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The forbidden dance is Intrada: The Bay Area film score album label turns 30

'Good morning, sunshine! Hope you're not seasick. How do you like my badly redubbed voice?'
Jason and the Argonauts (Photo source: DVD Beaver)

I had no idea the Oakland film score album label Intrada is actually 30 years old until reading about the label's 30th anniversary reception, which took place at L.A.'s Walt Disney Concert Hall over Labor Day Weekend. Besides being one of my favorite score album labels--selections from four of Intrada's expanded score album reissues are currently in rotation on AFOS--Intrada is one of the most professional score album labels/businesses when it comes to either handling production mistakes (when the label realized an expanded reissue of Alan Silvestri's Judge Dredd score contained a previously released re-recording of Jerry Goldsmith's beloved Dredd trailer music rather than the original recording as listed, it immediately stopped shipping copies and went back to correct the error) or simply being a music retail store.

Intrada is also a store that specializes in soundtrack albums. In fact, before Intrada started venturing into producing and releasing score albums in 1985 (its first release was the Basil Poledouris score from the original Red Dawn), it originated as a brick-and-mortar soundtrack store on Vallejo Street in San Francisco. When Amazon ran out of physical copies of Daniel Pemberton's excellent score to the new Man from U.N.C.L.E. two weeks ago, and I needed a physical copy of the U.N.C.L.E. score album for AFOS airplay (my laptop hard drive never has enough space to carry full albums in digital form), the first store I clicked to was Intrada. That's simply because of the Intrada online store's reliability in the past (whereas I had a lousy experience with some other soundtrack label/store, and unless I've thrown shade at it before, that store shall remain nameless). In just a few days rather than one week or more recently, three weeks, there it was in my mailbox, ready to be U.N.C.O.R.K.E.D.

What do you say, me, you and your Varese box packs go somewhere private where we can discuss soundtracks? Like, Intrada discs, Beck, Christophe. 'Legend replacement score'? Take that off.
Intrada's beginnings as a brick-and-mortar record shop in San Francisco (Photo source: Max Bellochio)
Timothy Dalton has got his sights on you, even though he's just a CD cover.
(Photo source: Bellochio)

Earlier this year, I vowed to never write a listicle again because 1) listicles at their worst are such lazy and vacuous writing; 2) the only list I want to read from anybody these days is the list of groceries I just scrawled down and stuffed into my shirt pocket a few minutes ago; 3) every time I see an article hed that consists of a numeral followed by a plural noun followed by "That You Didn't Know Were This," I feel like elbowing a millennial hed writer in the face; and 4) if your film music blog or pop culture site has posted tons of listicles where the hed begins with a numeral, and it continues to subject people to such lists, your blog or site sucks. So without ever succumbing to the listicle format, I will cite my favorite Intrada releases, just in time for the label's 30th anniversary. It's an intrada to Intrada, if you will. The first of these favorite Intrada releases of mine is the first Intrada release I ever snapped up for AFOS airplay, and this was back when AFOS was a college radio show and it wasn't an Internet radio station yet. Tombstone composer Bruce Broughton's 1998 re-recording of Bernard Herrmann's grand-sounding score from 1963's Jason and the Argonauts is no longer part of AFOS rotation due to station hard drive space, but if I did restore it to rotation, it would be the only film score re-recording that's part of any of the AFOS playlists.

I usually don't care for film score re-recordings because a lot of them don't sound like the film scores as I remember them--they sometimes don't even bother to replicate the same tempo--but Broughton's 1999 Jason and the Argonauts album is one of the better ones. Broughton and the Sinfonia of London's faithful and sonically pleasing reconstruction of Herrmann's score gives his Argonauts score the proper album release it never had. For many score album collectors, the 1999 Argonauts album is one of the first things that come to mind in regards to how Intrada label head Douglass Fake "pioneered re-recordings of scores unavailable on CD," as Film Score Monthly soundtrack CD artwork designer Joe Sikoryak once wrote on FSM's message boards.

Tombstone is the epic story of the brutal war between frozen pizza brands.

Jerry Fielding's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia score album and the expanded score reissues for The Wind and the Lion (a rare collaboration between Goldsmith and director John Milius) and Kurt Russell's 1993 Wyatt Earp western Tombstone are three other Intrada releases that used to be part of AFOS rotation but currently aren't, and those three scores are indispensable parts of the action flicks they were written for. But of those three albums, the expanded Tombstone album is the most special for containing unused versions of Broughton's score cues and even Goldsmith's studio logo music for Cinergi (the '90s production company behind Tombstone), a logo jingle that could take on "Looking at Heaven," Broughton's imposing and swaggering Tombstone end title theme, in a duel of "¿Cuyos cuernos son más machos? ¿Bruno Broughton o Geraldo Goldsmith?"

The Intrada releases that do currently have selections that are part of AFOS rotation are, like the expanded Tombstone album, good examples of the high quality Intrada demonstrates in both extra content and packaging. The label's expanded reissues of the late James Horner's score from Clear and Present Danger--the score where a shakuhachi, a Japanese flute, became an effective way to make a suddenly empty printer paper tray sound like the end of the world--and Craig Safan's spirited Last Starfighter score are huge improvements over previous editions, as are the label's expanded reissues of the late Leonard Rosenman's score from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Cliff Eidelman's score from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It's fitting that Intrada wound up reissuing these Trek movie scores because of the label office's Bay Area location and Trek's use of San Francisco as a central Earthbound setting. Intrada's series of Trek score reissues from IV to VI continues the series of Trek score reissues that FSM began with Horner's scores to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and uses the same artwork and remastering crew members from the FSM editions (Sikoryak, reissue producer Lukas Kendall and digital mastering engineer Mike Matessino). The reissues carry comprehensive track-by-track liner notes and give Trek heads the option of enjoying both the albums as they first heard them on vinyl (or cassette) when they were younger and the score cues in their original and complete form.

The bonus tracks on the expanded Trek IV and Trek VI albums are as golden as the fleece from Jason and the Argonauts. Though Wrath of Khan is the perfect Trek film (sorry, Star Trek: The Motion Picture defenders, but a three-way between a robot lady, a NASA satellite and a child-molesting star of 7th Heaven isn't as affecting an ending as you think it is), it contains some last-minute reshoots, particularly a final shot of Spock's casket on the Genesis planet that Wrath of Khan producer Harve Bennett added to soften the blow of Spock's death after some negative test screening reactions, and Horner had to insert some new music in order to accommodate the reshot footage. FSM's Wrath of Khan score reissue includes as a bonus track the version of the end title cue before Bennett asked Horner to squeeze in additional music, and the original version gives us a glimpse into an intriguing alternate reality where Spock never came back and nobody kept trying to remake Wrath of Khan by half-assedly killing off major characters during starship battle scenes. Intrada's Trek score reissues are filled with equally fascinating extras. Rosenman's mostly light-hearted Trek IV score is the most divisive of the scores from the first six Trek movies, and one of my favorite parts of Rosenman's score is a cue that didn't make the final cut. It's Rosenman's update of the late Alexander Courage's opening title theme from the '60s Trek, a cue that was intended to accompany the film's opening titles and was meant to, as described by the Trek IV screenplay, announce that "We're in for a classic, good old Star Trek time."

But when the late Leonard Nimoy, who directed Trek IV, heard the new arrangement of Courage's full theme, he thought the cue failed to properly introduce Trek IV as a jubilant and tonally lighter change of pace in the big-screen adventures of Kirk and his crew, so he asked Rosenman to take the cue he already completed for Trek IV's end titles, which was full of the sense of fun and adventure Nimoy wanted for the opening titles, and reshape that for the opening. Intrada's expanded Trek IV album saves Rosenman's unused arrangement like it's an endangered whale, and that's the version of the Trek IV main title theme that's currently in rotation on the AFOS blocks "Hall H" and "AFOS Prime."

One other bonus track that makes Intrada's Trek IV score reissue worthwhile is the complete version of the previously unreleased "I Hate You," the source cue during Kirk and Spock's encounter on a San Francisco bus with an '80s punk played by Kirk Thatcher, Nimoy's assistant and an associate producer on the sequel (his name is a familiar one if you read the puppeteer credits at the end of Muppet projects). The source cue Thatcher wrote and recorded for his scene is basically a typical '80s sitcom version of punk rock, even after Thatcher objected to all the songs MCA Records, the label that first released the Trek IV score album, recommended for the boombox in his scene because he didn't think they were punk enough--which makes me wonder if MCA absent-mindedly forgot to suggest to the Trek IV filmmakers a bunch of cuts off its terrific Repo Man soundtrack (a classic punk album that also contains selections that are in rotation on "AFOS Prime"). Although that punk rock scene is the most sitcommy and Republican-dolt-reacting-to-10-year-old-changes-in-music-ish moment in Trek IV, the presence of "I Hate You" on the expanded album reminds you how funny Thatcher actually is in his mute bit part.

As interesting as those two Trek IV bonus tracks are, even they're outgunned and outwarped in terms of specialness by the two most noteworthy bonus tracks on Intrada's Trek VI score reissue: two versions of the exhilarating Trek VI trailer music, which marked the first time a Trek movie had original music written for its advertising campaign by the movie's composer, who was Cliff Eidelman in this case. Back in fall 1991, Eidelman's trailer music tantalizingly hinted at the more serious and dramatic direction Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer wanted for both the 1991 sequel and Eidelman's score (Meyer envisioned quoting Holst's The Planets throughout the sequel, but The Planets was too expensive for his blood, so he settled for a Planets-style score), and it did so in only less than two and a half minutes.

Fully loaded score album reissues and lavishly produced re-recordings are among Intrada's finest moments as a label (the same goes for Varèse Sarabande). But when Intrada presents a previously unreleased film or TV score in its entirety for the first time, more than 25 years after the film or show debuted, that's special too, especially when that world premiere release allows listeners to pay closer attention to subtleties in the music that could easily be overlooked due to action sequence sound FX or other circumstances.

Intrada recently reissued the Secret of NIMH score. The Sonic Images label once sent me a soundtrack for The Secret of NIMH 2, which is Exhibit A in 'Why the fuck did they make a sequel? I'd rather chew glass than watch the sequel.' Exhibit B is The Sting II.
(Photo source: designWELL)
Director Peter Hyams' 1977 NASA conspiracy thriller Capricorn One is one of the weirdest conspiracy thrillers from the '70s: O.J. Simpson plays one of the good guys; Telly Savalas shows up for a comedic cameo where he's basically playing Ernest Borgnine; Sam Waterston tells a lengthy joke to himself that turns into a monologue that's as crazy as the one his actress daughter Katherine delivers completely nude 37 years later during Inherent Vice; the reporter characters, who are often either expendable or simply evil in other films, actually get to live through the whole film and triumph; and the film is more concerned with pleasing the audience than with becoming as bleak as The Parallax View or Chinatown. It's a crowd-pleasing and enthralling conspiracy thriller in a lot of the same weird ways that the late Tony Scott's Enemy of the State is a crowd-pleasing and enthralling conspiracy thriller (speaking of Enemy of the State, what's with all the shots of people's pets, and why is the scene where Frasier regular Dan Butler barely says a word to Jon Voight and looks like he's about to jump out of his seat and fuck Voight up in front of the NSA my favorite scene in that flick?). Capricorn One wouldn't have held up as a thriller without either Hyams' action filmmaking skills, particularly during a still-remarkable-looking helicopter chase Hyams wisely left unscored, or Jerry Goldsmith's thunderous and menacing score, which was only available in the form of a less avant-garde-sounding Warner Bros. Records re-recording before Intrada got its hands on the score recording sessions and released in 2005 the score cues as they were featured in the film.

"The actual soundtrack has more to say [than the re-recording]. It still leaps out of the starting gate but then heads off to explore. It's more complex," wrote Douglass Fake in the liner notes of the Capricorn One score album, which went out of print and was recently reissued by Intrada with remastered sound. The album allows Capricorn One fans to discern those aural complexities, particularly in the film version of the end title theme, which is currently in rotation on "AFOS Prime."

Instead of the triumphant composition Goldsmith chose as the final track in his Capricorn One re-recording, Fake restores to the conclusion the end titles' restatement of the menacing motif Goldsmith created for the helicopters that chase the terrified astronauts who refuse to play ball and pretend their faked mission to Mars was real, a cue that's "neither triumphant nor in major" and is, as Fake adds, "powerful and thought provoking." My first encounter with that helicopter theme wasn't in Capricorn One itself. The helicopter theme was a fixture of '90s KMEL afternoon drive-time host Rick Chase's show, and whenever I'd hear that instrumental bed during Chase's show, I'd be like, "I wanna see the movie that instrumental's from because the movie's probably bonkers." When I did finally watch Capricorn One, I was right about its bonkersness.

We have Intrada to thank for allowing the audience to enjoy all these exemplary scores in their purest form and in the best possible audio quality. Listening to these scores in that caliber of audio quality and in their entirety really makes you feel like you're either an Argonaut, an Earp, a heroic Starfleet officer or a crusading reporter. Here's to 30 more years of bonus surprises and passionate reassessments of old but outstanding scores from Intrada.

Selections from Intrada's releases of the scores from Clear and Present Danger, The Last Starfighter, Star Trek IV, Star Trek VI, Capricorn One and Marvel's The Avengers can currently be heard on AFOS.

Friday, September 4, 2015

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Rick and Morty, "The Ricks Must Be Crazy"

Rick is about to get a few Colbert Bumps on his head.
Occasionally on Friday, I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. It's the "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week. "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 Ricks Must Be Crazy" feels like somebody on the Rick and Morty writing staff had a chip on his shoulder about Tron: Legacy, especially the ways it handled its premise of Jeff Bridges creating an entire universe full of sentient life inside a computer, and he didn't care for what he felt was a simplistic screenplay. Tron: Legacy is a good example of both the story serving the visuals rather than vice versa--however, director Joseph Kosinski's style-over-substance approach still couldn't stop me from watching Tron: Legacy in IMAX 3D twice because, holy fuck, that movie looks mesmerizing in IMAX 3D--and those visuals being made to look so sumptuous that they're able to distract the audience from thinking too long about the story's plot holes or unexplained details. Some of the questions that arose from those unexplained details included "How's it possible for Jeff Bridges and his family to enjoy a meal of lechon if fresh meat is impossible to bring into the Grid?" and "Was there a Filipino chef in Jeff Bridges' family whom we never knew about?"

A lot of why "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" is a highlight of Rick and Morty's second season is due to how much fun Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon and credited episode writer Dan Guterman are clearly having over imagining if Jeff Bridges could leave and re-enter the Grid freely instead of being imprisoned there by his evil doppleganger/digital avatar Clu and what would happen if Jeff Bridges craved power as much as Clu does and he turned out to be an even bigger dick than the marginally flawed, almost Fred MacMurray-like Zen inventor dad we saw in Tron: Legacy. "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" reveals that Rick has created an entire infinite universe inside the battery in his space car, and its inhabitants' only purpose in life is to power Rick's car battery. "That's slavery!," counters an appalled Morty when Rick introduces him to what he calls the microverse.

Instead of the more simplistic scenario of a completely evil duplicate of the universe's creator betraying that creator by enacting ethnic cleansing and plotting to rule the world outside the universe's barriers, one of the microverse's inhabitants, a Frank Grimes-ish scientist named Zeep Xanflorp (special guest star Stephen Colbert, whose Colbert Report writing staff happened to include Guterman), refuses to fall for Rick's white savior act like everyone outside the scientific community in the microverse. Zeep is on to some of Rick's deceptions. Those deceptions range from Rick disguising himself as an antennaed alien savior whenever he visits the microverse to Rick telling the microverse's inhabitants that the middle finger is a peaceful greeting.

Zeep plans to oust Rick from the microverse and free the microverse from servitude, but Zeep's no saint either: he has secretly created his own infinite miniverse in a box to provide the energy for his microverse and make obsolete the technology Rick brought to Zeep's microverse, and he's exploiting the people in that miniverse just like Rick is doing to the people in the microverse. In fact, one of the leading scientists in the miniverse, Kyle (special guest star Nathan Fielder from Comedy Central's Nathan for You), has also secretly built his own teenyverse in a box and...

Whether it's Zeep--or the space car security system Rick programmed to keep Summer safe within the space car when she's not allowed to accompany her grandpa and her brother at a certain point during the trio's night out for ice cream and a PG-13 movie on an alternate Earth--Rick's creations all inherited their creator's dickish and easily bored personality. When Summer expresses her objections to the talking space car (Kari Wahlgren) about the bloodshed and cruelty the space car is willing to resort to in order to protect Summer, the space car responds to her with "My function is to keep Summer safe, not keep Summer being, like, totally stoked about, like, the general vibe and stuff. That's you. That's how you talk." They really are their creator's children.

Tron: Legacy and a much more detestable animal than Tron--all those self-aggrandizing movie star vanity projects in which white stars imagine themselves as saviors of less civilized classrooms or neighborhoods or nations or microverses--aren't the only things that appear to be mocked by "The Ricks Must Be Crazy." The episode also appears to be making fun of the benevolent façade the Silicon Valley tech world likes to put on to distract people from how it reinforces the same old evils and inequities of other industries or business communities like Wall Street (like Tajai from Souls of Mischief once said, "Eventually #Hipsters bathe, shave and become the 'out' republicans [sic] they are"). Doesn't that kind of "we're here to help make your world a better place" façade just remind you a bit of those aliens from the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man"? "Gooble boxes," the term the microverse inhabitants adopt for the technology they are unknowingly using to keep themselves subjugated, is clearly the writers' reference to a certain much-criticized corporation with benevolent-looking branding that happens to own the platform that makes this blog post possible. Whattup, Google/NSA.

A certain segment of the TV critic community is understandably tired of narratives about middle-aged or old white anti-heroes. But when a Rick and Morty episode like "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" mines so much darkly comedic gold out of the behavior of Rick and his creations (behavior that Morty and Summer find to be appalling and sociopathic, but Rick's pragmatic way of handling things ends up being the most sane way to respond to a much more insane multiverse) and is visually and narratively inventive (and also perfectly casts a former Comedy Central prankster and a current Comedy Central prankster as pranksters on an epic scale), I say, "Bring on the anti-hero narrative again." Shit, Rick may not even be totally white--his last name is Sanchez and he's probably a white-looking half-Latino like Louis C.K.

It's a relief to see Rick and Morty reverting back to exploring moral quandaries like it has done in such episodes as "Mortynight Run," especially after the previous week's slight misfire, "Get Schwifty," which felt more like a South Park episode than a Rick and Morty episode. It was as if Trey Parker and Matt Stone guest-wrote Rick and Morty and were in the mood to insert another round of their usual barbs about either non-Lorde pop music (although the "Get Schwifty" original songs performed by Roiland and series composer Ryan Elder are amusing, "Love Power" from The Producers-ish spoofs of lyrics from either twerking anthems or EDM) or reality TV. Humor about reality TV stars like Ice-T--a favorite celebrity impression of Harmon's during Harmontown--isn't really Rick and Morty's strong suit. Also, Rick is a less interesting character when he has to play the Doctor and save Earth from disaster (in this case, the trigger-happy judges of an intergalactic reality TV pop music songwriting contest) instead of being the cause of mayhem.

It's hard not to dislike a piece of TV that takes a bit of that mayhem and uses it to briefly riff on Turbo Teen, a short-lived '80s Saturday morning cartoon about a teen who transforms into a Pontiac Trans Am whenever he perspires or eats a spicy burrito. "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" also reveals that Rick implanted Morty with a subdermal chip that can trigger dormant nanobots in Morty's bloodstream to restructure his anatomy and turn him into a getaway car during emergency situations. The nanobots fail to get going--until the show's funniest post-credits tag ever, nicely presented without any dialogue. I wish I could say Turbo Teen was really a joke Robert Smigel and J.J. Sedelmaier came up with, but nope, it's what passed for Saturday car chase action fare when I was a kid. You take one look at Brett Matthews' knuckles morphing into tires, and you're like, "Wow, the things Ruby-Spears employees used to come up with after doing trail-of-tears-length lines of coke."

Other memorable quotes:
* Rick: "I guided your entire civilization! Your people have a holiday named Ricksgiving! They teach kids about me in school!"
Zeep: "I dropped out of school. It's not a place for smart people."
Morty: "Ohhhhhhh snap!"

* Rick: "Would it be possible for us to get some kind of tour of your miniverse from the inside?"
Zeep: "This isn't a fucking chocolate factory. I don't have time!"

* Zeep: "That's what you used my universe for?! To run your car?!"
Rick: "Yeah, but don't flatter yourself! There's always AAA, you fucking cocksucker!"

* Zeep: "I crafted the guy that created the planet you're standing on!"
Rick: "Yeah, and I made the stars that became the carbon in your mother's ovaries!"

* Morty: "This is Ku'ala, the spirit tree! For generations, it has guided the... [Takes Rick aside.] You have to get us the fuck outta here! These people are backward savages! They eat every third baby because they think it makes fruit grow bigger! Everyone's gross and they all smell like piss all the time! I-I-I miss my family! I miss my laptop! I masturbate [sic] into an extra curvy piece of driftwood the other day!"

* Rick: "Don't blame my ship!"
Summer: "It melted a child! It killed itself!"
Rick: "My ship doesn't do anything unless it's told to do something! I don't even wanna hear it, Summer... Your boobs are all hanging about, and you ruined ice cream with your boobs out!"