Friday, December 23, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Doctor Who celebrated its 50th anniversary by upholding the humanism that makes it the most humanistic sci-fi franchise outside of Star Trek

Peter Capaldi, the current star of Doctor Who, returns as the Doctor this holiday season in "The Return of Doctor Mysterio."

The following is a repost of my November 26, 2013 discussion of "The Day of the Doctor." The latest of the BBC's annual Doctor Who Christmas specials premieres this Christmas Day.

So some British show celebrated the 50th anniversary of its premiere over the weekend. Inspector Spacetime didn't just prove that it hasn't shown any signs of aging even though it's a show that's so old Larry King discovered his first liver spot on the day it premiered. It also proved that even when the budget is at its lowest, the zippers on the Ocean Demon monster suits are at their most visible and the corridors that the Inspector and Constable Reggie are often seen running through are at their creakiest, it can still entertain, as long as there's plenty of charisma from whoever's portraying the Inspector and his associate and the storytelling is as impeccable as the Inspector's taste in bowler hats.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

They're coming to rescore you, Barbra

Morricone Youth, clad in Michael Myers masks while covering the Halloween theme

In 2015, the Jersey Journal interviewed guitarist Devon E. Levins, the founder of the New York band Morricone Youth, about Morricone Youth's live rescore of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Since 1999, the band has specialized in rock-style covers of '60s and '70s film and TV score compositions by the likes of Ennio Morricone (whom the band was named after), Lalo Schifrin and Henry Mancini. In recent years, they've also been performing live rescores of silent movies and the occasional post-silent-era work that opted for pre-existing library music cues instead of spending extra cash on recruiting a composer to write and record an original score. One such post-silent-era work was the famously ultra-low-budget Night of the Living Dead.

Yeah, that's not the kind of goblin Levins was referring to, Jersey Journal.

Devon E. Levins (far right), performing with one of his other bands, Creedle
Levins meant Goblin, the Italian rock band that's best known for its largely synthy yet somehow timeless-sounding original scores for Dario Argento thrillers and Zombi, the European recut of Dawn of the Dead, Romero's 1978 sequel to Night of the Living Dead (some of Goblin's Zombi cues popped up in the original version of Dawn as well). One of the merits of Morricone Youth's rescore of Night--which Morricone Youth released as an EP in September after a year of performing it live, in addition to releasing an EP of their rescore of the technically impressive (but also massively racist) 1926 German animated movie The Adventures of Prince Achmed--is the way that the band's Goblin-style rescore strengthens the connective tissue between the first two Dead installments and makes the first Dead flick feel closer to the partially Goblin-scored 1978 sequel, sonically speaking.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Selma

After directing Selma, the 2014 movie that won a Best Original Song Oscar for the Common/John Legend track "Glory," Ava DuVernay has, in addition to being the first filmmaker to ever inspire a Barbie doll based on her likeness, racked up an intriguing bunch of directorial credits. She directed the 2016 Netflix documentary film The 13th and the first two episodes of the OWN drama Queen Sugar (a show she also wrote for during its first season), and she signed up to direct the forthcoming Disney adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, a classic sci-fi novel I remember reading as homework in grade school (here's how long ago it was when I read Wrinkle: the cover artwork on my copy was the version that had the disembodied head of a Darkseid lookalike encased in a crystal ball). The following is a repost of a February 5, 2015 discussion of DuVernay's breakout film in the mainstream. Selma, a historical film about civil rights activism, will continue being timely, especially in a year that will inevitably see an increase in activism against both America's next president (God, those last three words sound like the title of the world's shittiest reality show, which is fitting because reality TV-loving idiots are among the ones who put him and the likes of Omarosa in office) and his inflammatory rhetoric.

The Selma Oscar snubs have disappointed all of us moviegoers who were mesmerized by director Ava DuVernay's third feature film, a historical drama about the civil rights movement's push to get the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, via civil disobedience and legal strategizing. But Larry Wilmore, currently the only African American host on late-night TV and hardly a stranger to the struggles of bringing more diversity to Hollywood (he was the creator and original showrunner of The Bernie Mac Show and he helped showrun the first few episodes of Black-ish this season), said something enlightening about the Selma snubs, and it's helped me feel a little less disappointed about those oversights. The host of Comedy Central's solidly funny Nightly Show said to the Hollywood Reporter that awards at the end of the day don't really mean as much as making sure a black female director like DuVernay gets a shot at making a movie ("That, to me, is more important; the other stuff is gravy," said Wilmore).

Friday, December 16, 2016

The AFOS blog is switching from weekly to monthly in 2017 and will come to an end in December 2017

Ken Levine, the former Cheers and Frasier writer who was also an announcer for the Mariners and the Padres, once wrote that he does a blog about comedy writing, showbiz, the radio industry and baseball because he thinks of his blog as the writing equivalent of a stretching exercise. He added, "I don't want to write all day and you sure don't want to read all day. But it keeps my mind active... Still, it is time consuming, and I'll be honest, there are times it's a burden. Coming up with interesting enough topics is sometimes very difficult. I can''t [sic] tee off on 2 BROKE GIRLS every day."

Levine wrote those sentences in 2014, when his still-active blog reached the nine-year mark. I've been doing this blog for nine years now (mainly as a way to tell the world, "I'm unemployed and I may not be active on social media because it has all the pleasantness of a Springfield tire yard, but I still fucking exist, dammit"), and I, like Levine, used to view the blog as the writing equivalent of a stretching exercise, but, well, now it has become a burden. It's not as enjoyable as it used to be. The stretching is starting to make me sore. The blog is taking too much time away from a book I'm trying to write (while constantly suffering from writer's block). There have been a lot of "AFOS Blog Rewind" reposts this year because I wanted to adhere to a weekly posting schedule during 2016, but there are weeks where I simply don't have jack shit to say.

Sure, I could easily rattle off in one day a bunch of posts that simply say "Look at this funny video!" or "Peep this link," but I'm not going to do that shit. This blog stopped doing click-bait ages ago. So I've decided that in 2017, the blog will switch to a monthly schedule and then come to a close at the end of the year.

Monday, December 5, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Not everyone's a critic, which was why Fox's enormously funny The Critic didn't last

Last week, Uproxx posted a lengthy and enjoyable interview with longtime writing partners Al Jean and Mike Reiss about their short-lived but well-remembered creation, the '90s animated show The Critic. The show centered around Jay Sherman, a persnickety film critic nobody likes, except for Marty, Jay's 13-year-old son, and Margo, Jay's teenage foster sister, who both look up to Jay, and Jeremy Hawke, an easygoing Aussie B-movie star who considers Jay his best friend ever since he was the only critic who didn't trash his first movie. In the Uproxx article, Jean and Reiss recalled the main reason why The Critic lasted from only 1993 to 1995 (the new Fox network president at the time hated it) and the challenges of attempting to give Jay and the other Critic characters the same kind of revival Family Guy and Futurama experienced after they were cancelled by Fox too (three of The Critic's regular voice actors are no longer alive, and Reiss also points out that "Siskel and Ebert are dead and those kinds of shows don't exist anymore. Movie critics used to be all over TV and they used to wield great influence and they just don't"). So from March 18, 2008, here's a post about The Critic, originally posted under the title "'Now who wants to boogie with Baby '37?'"

This weekend, I was surprised to find an eight-hour ReelzChannel marathon of the short-lived animated series The Critic, James L. Brooks' second foray into animation after the success of The Simpsons. Created by Simpsons writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss, The Critic aired on ABC during its first season (1993-94) and then for its second and final season (1994-95), it went to die on Fox (where the show's "Hey! We're on Fox" gags were amusing, while on a non-Fox channel in reruns years later, uh... not so much). The show, which comes complete with Simpsonian catchphrases that never took off ("It stinks!," "Hotchie motchie!," the Chuck McCann-referencing "Hi guy!"), later enjoyed a cultish afterlife in webisode form and on both DVD and Comedy Central's animation lineup.

Monday, November 28, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: The Cabin in the Woods (with guest blogger Hardeep Aujla)

It feels like the end times right now. Yay!

So here's a repost of an August 20, 2015 discussion of a cleverly scripted 2012 cult favorite about the end times, which was contributed by guest blogger Hardeep Aujla of Word Is Bond. Spoilers ahead.

The Cabin in the Woods
By Hardeep Aujla

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents..."
H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

Monday, November 21, 2016

Star Trek 101 and beyond

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

I have a couple of confessions to make. I run a Tumblr about accidental Star Trek cosplay, but as an adult, I've never cosplayed as anybody, and I don't plan to ever do so. It's just not for me, even though I admire the artistry that goes into a lot of professional cosplayers' recreations of their favorite fictional characters. Also, I do love Star Trek for its progressiveness and the banter between the actors, particularly the original cast members, and I'm enough of a fan that I could rattle off some of the names of authors who received credit for writing the '60s episodes, even though Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry heavily rewrote their shit ("The Enemy Within"?: I Am Legend author Richard Matheson; the episode with Andrea the sexy android?: that was a Robert Bloch joint), but I haven't watched every single thing with Star Trek's name on it.

As a kid, I knew that the third season of the original Star Trek was mostly trash (the budget was clearly slashed, and the actors were told to compensate for the budget cuts by constantly acting as if they were starring in what we now call a telenovela), so I've avoided watching most of that final season. I skipped most of the sixth and seventh seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation when they first aired on syndicated TV, and I did the same with most of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's first season, so there's a whole bunch of Next Generation and DS9 episodes I have yet to catch for the first time. I got bored with Star Trek: Voyager and quit after the first season, although I would occasionally check out a later Voyager episode like "Memorial."

The sci-fi franchise, which celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year, has produced so many hours of episodic TV and spawned so many feature films that I now see how it would be intimidating, especially for anybody whose familiarity with Star Trek is limited to the 2009 J.J. Abrams movie, to decide which episodes of the '60s version (or any of its spinoffs) to stream if you want to further understand what all the fuss over Star Trek is about. I just realized how daunting it would be for a newbie to step into that shared universe when I recently told a Harry Potter fan who happens to be the wife of a friend at my apartment building that I found Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to be a tedious movie when I watched it on DVD in 2002, and it put me off Harry Potter for good.

The friend's wife said she felt the same way about the subject of my Tumblr, Star Trek. So she proposed a deal: she would finally watch a Star Trek episode or movie if I put aside my disdain for the first Potter movie and agreed to watch the rest of the Potter movie franchise. I said, "It's a deal!" The only problem is that I have a novel manuscript that's kind of in the way, so how the fuck can I find the time to watch all eight hours and 17 minutes of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets?

Friday, November 18, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Source Code (with guest blogger Hardeep Aujla)

The following is a repost of a November 19, 2015 discussion of Source Code written by guest blogger Hardeep Aujla of Word Is Bond. Duncan Jones, the director of Source Code, most recently brought us the much-maligned movie version of Warcraft. Source Code spoilers ahead.

Source Code
By Hardeep Aujla

Despite its inevitability and necessity, humans are pretty good at moving the goal posts on death. We used to say someone was dead when the heart stopped beating, then we figured out how to restart it. Some said death occurred when we stopped breathing, and then the ventilator was invented. For Beleaguered Castle, the military science unit in Duncan Jones and Ben Ripley's Source Code, technology has allowed them to go one step further.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The novel I've been writing is set in a Drumpfian world of science under attack, which will be closer to reality now that Clinton conceded to the orange Babadook

Protesters in Seattle on the day after Election Day (Photo source: The Atlantic)

Protesters in San Francisco on the night after Election Day

Since August, I've been working on a manuscript for a sci-fi comedy novel that I first outlined in 2012. I've described it elsewhere as a cross between The Big O and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, without giving too much of it away because it's a work-in-progress, and this work-in-progress has taken up so much of my time that it's been difficult to write new posts for this Blogspot blog. It's all I can talk about to anybody. My brief mentions of the manuscript always seem to put people on Facebook to sleep (except one person who has similar interests in comedic sci-fi), and their lack of interest has become one of 4,080 reasons why I hate Facebook.

The manuscript is why this blog has consisted of nothing but reposts of previously published shit in the last few months. I've got nothing. I'm all out of new content for this blog. Meanwhile, I'm having a ball running Accidental Star Trek Cosplay over on Tumblr, because 1) ASTC isn't as time-consuming as a.k.a. DJ AFOS has always been and 2) ASTC gets more responses from readers. Both the new Tumblr and the manuscript are why I've been considering putting an end to this blog in the future and writing a farewell-to-Blogspot post.

Friday, November 4, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Mad Max: Fury Road

Last year, George Miller announced his plans to release on Blu-ray a black-and-white cut of Mad Max: Fury Road, but that black-and-white cut never did surface on Blu-ray. Its absence from the bare-bones Fury Road Blu-ray was precisely why I avoided buying that Blu-ray. For once in my life, I made a wise decision, because on December 6, the black-and-white cut will finally arrive on Blu-ray. Marketed by Warner Home Video as the "Black & Chrome Edition," the black-and-white cut is considered by Miller to be the definitive version of Fury Road. The following is a repost of my June 4, 2015 discussion of Fury Road.

The boldest thing about director Destin Cretton's 2013 indie drama Short Term 12 is its lack of on-the-nose exposition and speechifying, which makes it stand apart in a genre where dramas about counselors or social workers who want to protect child abuse victims are frequently on-the-nose about their storytelling and over-explanatory or preachy. "None of the backstories of the film's four main characters... are unveiled in clumsily written infodumps or pointless flashbacks," I said a couple of months ago. "They're unveiled gradually, piece by piece, and at believable moments."

The same goes for Mad Max: Fury Road, Australian director George Miller's incredible and much-talked-about return to the post-apocalyptic action franchise that made his career 36 years ago. Aside from an introductory voiceover that's reminiscent of the recap about the fall of civilization at the start of Miller's earlier action masterpiece The Road Warrior, Aussie ex-cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, ably taking over Mel Gibson's titular role) has even less dialogue in Fury Road than he did in The Road Warrior. He makes Detective Frank Bullitt look like a flibbertigibbet doing an Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk.

Friday, October 28, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: The Guest

The following is a repost of my October 29, 2015 discussion of The Guest. After I published this post, Dan Stevens, the film's star, was cast as the title character on Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley's much-hyped Legion, an X-Men spinoff that will premiere next year on FX, while Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the duo behind The Guest, made a much-maligned Blair Witch Project sequel that was simply titled Blair Witch. The Guest is now streamable on Netflix.

"Mumblegore" filmmaker Adam Wingard has said the concept for his offbeat 2014 action thriller The Guest arose from watching a double feature of The Terminator and John Carpenter's original Halloween. So what would happen if you got your Terminator in my Halloween and you got your Halloween on my Terminator?

Marrying those two classic thrillers (and borrowing Carpenter's favorite typeface for the opening and closing titles, although Wingard would later regret choosing Albertus due to its sudden ubiquity) then led to the You're Next director and his regular collaborator, screenwriter Simon Barrett, taking additional inspiration from the 1987 cult classic The Stepfather for their story of a small-town waitress (Maika Monroe) who notices something's not quite right about her parents' houseguest, a well-mannered stranger (Dan Stevens) claiming to have served in Afghanistan with her dead soldier brother Caleb. Wingard and Barrett also took some inspiration from the various "seemingly nice stranger insinuates himself or herself into a benign household and gradually turns out to be a psycho" thrillers that followed in The Stepfather's wake, like 1992's The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, which turned into the box-office behemoth some Stepfather fans wish the 1987 film had gotten to be.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: The Simpsons, "Halloween of Horror"

(Photo source: FY Springfield)

This week, The Simpsons aired its 600th episode, "Treehouse of Horror XXVII." The following is a repost of my October 30, 2015 discussion of the first Simpsons Halloween episode that wasn't a "Treehouse of Horror" anthology. This 2015 episode is streamable on FXX's Simpsons World app.

The 27th season of The Simpsons marks the first time the show has produced two Halloween episodes in the same season. In addition to the annual "Treehouse of Horror" anthology--where every short story takes place outside the show's continuity, so a character like Bart or Groundskeeper Willy can be killed off in horrible fashion and then be brought back in the next story or later on in the same half-hour--the show has treated us to its first canonical Halloween episode ever, "Halloween of Horror."

Late-period Simpsons can often be so tiresome and stale or so desperate to be trending again (Homer separates from Marge and goes out with guest star Lena Dunham?: I think I'll pass) that I've sometimes gone for months without watching it, so I wasn't prepared for "Halloween of Horror," which is credited solely to staff writer Carolyn Omine, to fire on so many cylinders. It's a better Halloween episode than this week's "Treehouse of Horror XXVI," which isn't an atrocious edition of "Treehouse," but when its most enjoyable segment is the bizarre and grisly couch gag guest-directed by John Kricfalusi (my favorite detail in Kricfalusi's couch gag is Bart's Huckleberry Hound mask appearing in red instead of blue, because the licensed Huckleberry Hound costume Kricfalusi owned as a kid came in an incorrect red instead of blue), that's how disposable a "Treehouse" episode it is. I would have swapped the "Homerzilla" spoof of both the 1954 Godzilla and the 2014 Godzilla (it's kind of weird how the writers didn't have Harry Shearer deliver any jokes about his involvement in the 1998 Godzilla, a movie Shearer probably Lacuna'd from his memories) for the Psycho parody that the "Halloween of Horror" gag writers joke about being featured "next week."

When even the writing staff is starting to express on the show some boredom with the "Treehouse of Horror" format and showrunner Al Jean is admitting that "we've used up 78 horror stories and you can't do them anymore," maybe The Simpsons should just retire "Treehouse of Horror" and do canonical Halloween episodes like "Halloween of Horror" from now on. The "Treehouse" segments haven't been consistently funny in eons. Or maybe the show should start getting guest couch gag directors like Kricfalusi and Bill Plympton to do more than just guest-direct couch gags by having them guest-direct entire episodes as well (or guest-write them like Judd Apatow once did last season). That could provide late-period Simpsons with the creative shot in the arm it often badly needs.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Archer's season 8 plans could be the greatest fuck-you to continuity since Sledge Hammer!'s nutty resolution to its nuclear-blast cliffhanger

When we last saw Sterling Archer, he was, like William Holden in Sunset Boulevard, face down in a pool and dead from multiple gunshot wounds. But that shocker of a season finale twist ending back in June was made less shocking by both FX's renewal of Archer for three more seasons and Archer creator Adam Reed's confirmation that the 10th season will be the final one for the longest-lasting of all his animated shows. So we're not through yet with the adventures of the world's most immature spy/P.I., and Reed has now come up with a crazy way (but it's typical for this show, which once had a poisoned Archer hallucinating that he was Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait) to continue on with those adventures despite killing off the title character.

At a New York Comic Con panel last week, Reed announced that when Archer resumes on FX in 2017, it will reboot itself again like it did in both 2014--when the main characters switched from espionage work to drug dealing (while Cheryl/Carol became a country singer) during the season-long arc known as "Archer Vice"--and March of this year. The seventh and most recent season took place in Hollywood and had Archer, Lana and Ray working as private eyes for Cyril, their now-defunct intelligence agency's former accountant. The eighth season will take place in an alternate timeline in 1947.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Young Justice, "Bloodlines"

The third season of the CW's The Flash begins tonight, so the following is a repost of my June 5, 2012 discussion of the Young Justice episode "Bloodlines," a story that united four generations of DC Comics speedsters, including Barry Allen and Wally West, two characters who are central to the CW show. "Bloodlines" can be streamed on Netflix.

I remember writer Peter David best for his work on DC's Star Trek comics (a Len Wein-scripted 1987 issue that reunited the Enterprise-A crew with con man Harry Mudd from the '60s show was the first comic I ever bought at an actual comic shop). But superhero comics readers admire David most for his writing on The Incredible Hulk, X-Factor (the X-Men spinoff, not the wack singing contest show), Supergirl and the original Young Justice comic. David gets to revisit the Young Justice characters in "Bloodlines," the third episode he's written for the animated version. The best part of David's run on DC's Star Trek was the humor, and David's sense of humor is a highlight of "Bloodlines," an entertaining fish-out-of-water story about the unexpected arrival of Impulse (Jason Marsden), a speedster from the future who talks as if he has ADHD and who also happens to be Bart Allen, the grandson of Barry Allen (George Eads), the current incarnation of The Flash.

"Tell us something we don't know yet. When do I become leader of the team? When do I join the Justice League? When do I get my own reality series?," inquires Beast Boy (Logan Grove) when he wants proof from Impulse that he's from the future. And I always get a kick out of how this TV-PG-rated cartoon sometimes toys with Cartoon Network's Standards & Practices department, like it does here when Impulse responds to Nightwing's old cop-show trick of getting his interviewee to verify his identity via a glass of water. "Oh, ah, you're trying to get a DNA sample. You need my spit," says Impulse. "Ha! That's such a Dick Grayson thing to do." The way Impulse puts emphasis on the name "Dick" makes his sentence sound as if it's going to be "That's such a dick move."

In "Bloodlines" (which also finds time to resolve the Roy Harper clone's search for the original Roy during its B-story), an adversary wreaks so much havoc on The Flash's home turf of Central City that it requires the attention of four generations of speedsters. Retired-from-superheroing Stanford student Wally West interrupts his regularly scheduled Asian fetish to suit up again as Kid Flash and keep an eye on Impulse as a favor to Nightwing. Another retired speedster, former Flash Jay Garrick (Geoff Pierson), runs the risk of his wife Joan's wrath because he snuck out of the quiet 70th wedding anniversary celebration Barry and his wife Iris (Young Justice writer Nicole Dubuc) threw for them and dusted off his old Mercury-style tin hat to assist the three younger Flashes on the decimated and scorched streets of Central City.

The destruction-causing stranger in a containment suit known as Neutron (James Arnold Taylor) turns out not to be a new supervillain but a brainwashed human pawn in an alien conspiracy who's having trouble controlling his powers. The aliens who unleashed Neutron on Central City are the same aliens who have been experimenting on teen runaways to access their metagenes, the genes that determine which humans are metahumans (the DC universe's equivalent of Marvel's mutants). Neutron's hidden overseers, who abandon their failed experiment with Neutron and flee their hideout before the team of speedsters can find them, speak in Krolotean but are taller than the Krolotean invaders who previously appeared on Young Justice this season and were blown up by The Light in "Alienated." Is this a superior breed of Kroloteans that's in league with both The Light and this season's shadowy new nemesis The Partner?

Impulse knows more than he's been letting on. His time machine's arrival at Mount Justice at about the same time as Neutron's energy-wave attack on Central City is hardly coincidental. In the grim post-apocalyptic scenes that open and close "Bloodlines," an older, prison-garbed Neutron sees Bart off as he readies his time machine for its destination: 40 years before Mount Justice--and the world--were reduced to rubble. Bart's mission is/was to save Neutron's younger self from prison and prevent the world's destruction. We see that Bart's "hyperactive tourist from the future" persona is just an act--a costume like the ones donned by "half the meat at Comic-Con" (they're so quirky because they're actually from the future too, according to one of the funniest lines David gives to Impulse). We also see that Impulse's accomplishments in the past aren't enough to fix the timestream because aside from older Neutron's slight change in appearance, the post-apocalyptic world remains unchanged.

I don't like that Young Justice is adding time travel as another spinning plate to the Ed Sullivan Show spinning plates act that this season has been basically shaping up to be because I'm so jaded from the aimless time-travel storytelling messes I was subjected to during Heroes. That live-action show soured the enjoyment I used to have for time-travel stories. But when time travel is placed into the hands of more capable writers like David and the Young Justice staffers, I doubt I'll find my not-so-TV-PG-rated self to be saying about the writing, "That's such a dick move."

Monday, September 26, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

(Photo source: 20th Century Fox)

The following is a repost of my September 3, 2015 discussion of Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

The most astounding thing about director Rupert Wyatt's 2011 surprise hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the second and better-received of two different attempts by 20th Century Fox to relaunch its Planet of the Apes franchise from the '60s and '70s, isn't the motion-capture technology the film deployed to bring to life superintelligent simians. It's the film's ability to somehow take otherwise charismatic actors like Brian Cox, Deadbeat star Tyler Labine and David Oyelowo and make them the most boring fucks on Earth.

For instance, the future Martin Luther King plays a villainous businessman here--before seeing Selma, I almost forgot Oyelowo previously appeared in this loose remake of 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes--but he makes way more of an impression as a villain on the animated Star Wars Rebels, even without ever showing his actual face. As the superintelligent chimpanzee Caesar, Andy Serkis, with the help of Weta Digital's motion-capture tech, is the real star of these modern-day Apes movies. After the remarkable and expressive mo-cap acting of Serkis, Karin Konoval, a.k.a. Mrs. Peacock from the ultra-disturbing X-Files episode "Home," and, in 2014's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Toby Kebbell, there's no way in that place Charlton Heston damned them all to that these Apes movies are going back to burying the actors under rubber John Chambers ape masks.

I appreciate how both Rise and Dawn are Caesar's story rather than the story of either his human father, Bay Area pharmaceutical scientist Will Rodman (James Franco)--whose search for a cure for Alzheimer's inadvertently triggers the events that will lead to the dominance of apes over humans--or one of Will's relatives. It's preferable over the way the Autobots are relegated to guest stars in their own live-action Transformers movies. But these modern-day Apes prequels, especially Rise, could really use a human ally character with the personality of either Heston's cantankerous Colonel Taylor from the first two Apes installments or Ricardo Montalban's Armando, Caesar's foster dad from the third and fourth Apes installments (as Will's dad, who's suffering from Alzheimer's, John Lithgow gives the best non-simian performance in Rise).

Franco is in visibly bored, "grrrr, where's my paycheck so that I can get some new leather paddles for my next art installation?" mode here. I wish Caesar's favorite parent were played by either Jeff Goldblum, who would have imbued some personality into Will and would have been able to bring a bit more life to Will's compassion for Caesar (but Will's dad would have had to have been played by someone older than Lithgow), or better yet, an actress like Jessica Chastain, because these modern-day Apes movies are too much of a sausage fest (Freida Pinto and, in Dawn, Keri Russell are little more than background extras).

That's one other thing that's missing from Rise and Dawn: a charismatic female presence like Kim Hunter's when she played Dr. Zira, the banana-hating chimp who becomes an ally of Taylor's, in the first three Apes movies. It's too bad Konoval's kindly circus orangutan Maurice, a simian character I like even more than Caesar, isn't female.

Maurice, who was named after 1968 Apes star Maurice Evans, is a huge part of why Rise is at its best when it moves away from Will and concentrates on the beginnings of Caesar's ape revolt. The dialogue for the scenes between Caesar and his simian followers is delivered in subtitled sign language, and the large amount of subtitled ASL in Rise is something you'd never expect to see in a summer blockbuster. Rise's comfort with silence and minimized dialogue during the ape sanctuary scenes and its confidence in maintaining that silence both make the digitized little girl's voice that translates Amy the gorilla's ASL in 1995's Congo sound all the more stupid.

All the spoken dialogue in the ape sanctuary scenes comes from the apes' mostly sadistic jailers, with the cruelest of them being Dodge Landon, played by Harry Potter villain Tom Felton in a not-very-convincing American accent. I really wish it were William Zabka from the original Karate Kid playing Dodge instead of Felton. It's such a Zabka part. Who wouldn't want to see a 20-something Zabka get smacked around by an angry gorilla?

Felton has to deliver the cheesiest line in Rise and the prequel's most blatant callback to the first and best Apes movie: Heston's classic "Take your stinkin' paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" line. It's interesting how the worst line in the movie--a line we really didn't need to hear again because it's all too reminiscent of Tim Burton's misguided 2001 Apes remake--is followed by the movie's most powerful line, a moment that was foreshadowed by Roddy McDowall's Cornelius in the first Apes prequel, 1971's Escape from the Planet of the Apes: Caesar saying his first word, "No!"

Caesar's first word is the moment when Rise changes from a sci-fi prequel that's initially as pointless as The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones to the kind of riveting and worthwhile Apes movie we've always wanted to see but couldn't because of early-'70s 20th Century Fox's shoestring budgets and because of how limited creature FX technology was before the geniuses at Weta Digital got their stinkin' paws on it. I dig the city of San Francisco, but Serkis, Konoval and the other mo-cap performers are so skilled at turning Caesar and his lieutenants into sympathetic figures that I ended up rooting for their characters to wreak havoc on San Francisco. Now if only the movie would show Caesar and his army kicking each and every neighborhood gentrifier out of town.

(Photo source: 20th Century Fox)

Monday, September 19, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Rick and Morty, "The Ricks Must Be Crazy"

The following is a repost of my September 4, 2015 discussion of "The Ricks Must Be Crazy," an episode of Rick and Morty. "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" can be streamed in its entirety on Hulu.

"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...

Monday, September 12, 2016

I'm trying to put an end to my history of writing a piece of fiction and never finishing it

I'm too busy working on a manuscript for a prose novel right now to post any new material for the AFOS blog. I've discovered that it takes me an entire week to finish writing each chapter in this manuscript. The novel is currently intended to consist of 31 chapters, so if I continue at this one-chapter-a-week pace without ever stopping, I'll be done with the manuscript by the end of February 2017.

That means I have no time to write any new blog posts for the AFOS blog for the rest of the year. I'm so committed to finishing this thing (and then shopping it around) that I don't allow myself to watch a new episode of Mr. Robot until I'm done writing an entire chapter.

"The Pet" was an unfinished Filipino monster story I've mentioned in great detail on this blog. Filipino monster folklore definitely needs more shine, and I was hoping "The Pet" would help out in bringing some more exposure to Filipino monster stories. It's not the first story I've tried to write and ended up failing to finish due to writer's block.

In high school, I wrote an unfinished novel called Jasper, about a Filipino teen who kills a racist bully and runs away. I never was able to reach the killing-the-bully-and-running-away part of the story, which was disappointing because the greatest thing about fiction writing is that you can murder people who are assholes without getting thrown in jail. Despite the novel being unfinished (and also being rather aimless and not very good by my standards today), I allowed its completed chapters to be used as part of the syllabus in a Filipino American lit course one of my older brother's friends presided over at UC Santa Cruz in 1993. It was interesting to later see the Robert Duvall movie The Apostle echo the plot of Jasper with its story of a preacher who kills his wife's lover and escapes to another town to start over and continue with his preaching.

Then I tried to write a screenplay for a time-travel comedy called Timegroove back when I reluctantly worked in the tech industry, but I was never satisfied with the dialogue. Also, the original Life on Mars was doing wonderful things with the "modern-day cop trapped in the '70s" premise, so why fucking bother? Life on Mars was immensely better than much of what I had in mind for Timegroove.

The Timegroove plot had an Asian American cop chasing an escaped criminal who hijacked an Indian inventor's record player-inspired time machine and hid out in the '70s, and the protagonist had to put up with worse forms of racism than the forms of racism he encountered in the present day. His '70s female love interest was an Asian American undercover cop named Lotus Blossom, whose name was a reference to a really cheesy slow jam of the same name by the band War, and his '70s partner was a black cop named Stroke Johnson.

In the '70s, the protagonist also encountered a younger version of the time machine's inventor and turned to him for help to get back to the present, and the inventor dressed exactly the same as his older self. The Timegroove script never went past the first couple of scenes.

Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong crime flick that was remade as The Departed, or rather, The De-pah-ted (Photo source: DVD Beaver)

Finally, there was a 2010 webcomic script called The Palace: Continuous Hell. It was about a movie theater worker who, after work, is forced to wait in a never-ending line outside a nightclub, while her theater co-workers go insane as they sit through a staff-only advance screening of a new and totally unnecessary Infernal Affairs sequel from Hong Kong because the movie never actually begins. A lot of modern-day Hong Kong movies kick off with 800 different movie studio logos, but this fictional Infernal Affairs sequel opens with 800,000 of them.

I wrote Continuous Hell before Family Guy, a show I greatly dislike, riffed in 2011 on movies that open with too many production company logos. Continuous Hell had a great webcomic title too: it referenced a line from the original Infernal Affairs ("The worst of the eight hells is called Continuous Hell. It has the meaning of Continuous Suffering"), and I especially like how the words "Continuous Hell" can easily be sung to the tune of "Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado and Timbaland ("Continuous Hell, whatever you are...").

Unlike the other unfinished stories, I actually completed writing the Continuous Hell script, but I never took the script to the drawing stage because I retired from trying to draw webcomics by then. They're fucking hard to draw.

The likelihood of me finishing my current manuscript is higher than the likelihood of me ever drawing a webcomic again. It's time to finally break the cycle.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Bass! How low can they go?

So which one's Ecks and which one's Sever?

Oscar-winning Room star Brie Larson has had a killer year as a dramatic performer, so it's time to revisit my March 5, 2015 discussion of an offbeat cult movie in which Larson got to revisit her little-known past as a teenage pop singer, as well as experience a taste of her future. In this 2010 movie, Larson briefly dabbled in the same kind of pulpy material she'll be tackling soon as the star of the forthcoming tentpole blockbusters Kong: Skull Island and Captain Marvel. This 2010 movie has also been on its director's mind lately. When it aired on Channel 4 in the U.K. last month, the director live-tweeted a bunch of crazy behind-the-scenes details about the movie.

The 2010 coming-of-age flick Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an interesting anomaly in the work of Edgar Wright, the great British director behind the innovative sitcom Spaced and the irreverent Cornetto trilogy with Spaced stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End). It's his only adaptation of someone else's creation so far, it doesn't take place in England, neither Pegg nor Frost are in the cast and it was his first studio movie, so that meant he had to deal with the often absurd American test screening process.

I recently listened to Wright discuss gauging audience reactions in his Blu-ray audio commentary for Scott Pilgrim's deleted scenes, which include the film's original ending before it was reshot (should Scott have ended up with Knives Chau or Ramona Flowers?: I think the film should have ended either with Scott being single or Scott, Knives and Ramona becoming a threesome because a fight like the ones they had versus Gideon Graves is bound to make everyone horny). Something during that commentary didn't sit right with me. A brilliant and unique comedic filmmaker like Wright should not have to make decisions based on test screenings, even though he has said he considers it "a good thing to do because you see where the laughs are and where you can change things by half a second to get a bigger laugh."

Aside from comments from test screening audience members to DreamWorks Animation that Hiccup should be left disabled at the end of the first How to Train Your Dragon movie, have those test screenings ever been really useful? If Martin Scorsese tried to win back the 40 GoodFellas test screening audience members who walked out after the movie's first 10 minutes, GoodFellas wouldn't have been the GoodFellas we know and love. Unless I'm mistaken, neither of Wright's Cornetto flicks were tweaked due to test screening reactions (in fact, when Hot Fuzz did go through the test screening process in America, Wright defied a suggestion to change Hot Fuzz's title). I hear those movies turned out okay.

While Wright has said he's proud of Scott Pilgrim's final cut, that first experience of trying to please studio execs during the making of that movie had to have colored his heartbreaking decision to quit directing his longtime pet project, this summer's adaptation of Marvel's Ant-Man, where Wright was replaced by Bring It On director Peyton Reed. While squabbling with Marvel Studios execs over the direction of Ant-Man, I'm sure Wright was thinking, "How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?"

Monday, August 29, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Wolfpop has a pair of movie talk shows that are worth your time

The following is a repost of my November 20, 2014 discussion of Maltin on Movies and Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period.

Midroll Media's Wolfpop is a new sister network to the Earwolf podcast network, and its aim is to bring both plenty of production polish and big names (from the worlds of comedy, publishing and entertainment reporting) to a type of podcast format that's been around since podcasting's not-so-polished-sounding beginnings: pop culture talk. On November 4, Wolfpop--which is being curated by Paul Scheer, star of The League and co-host of his own movie talk podcast, Earwolf's How Did This Get Made?--launched 563,000 different pop culture podcasts. Even though I'm unemployed, I don't have time to listen to all 563,000 of them, but there are two Wolfpop shows that immediately caught my attention because of both the talent involved and the intriguing film-related subjects of their shows.

Maltin on Movies pairs up Leonard Maltin with comedian Baron Vaughn and gives the duo a different film-related topic to discuss each week (for example, episode 2 was about the unexpected rise of the McConaissance). Meanwhile, former Totally Biased host W. Kamau Bell and his fellow Totally Biased staff writer (and old Bay Area roommate) Kevin Avery make a case for why Denzel Washington is the illest on the succinctly titled Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period.

Vaughn, Bell and Avery are terrific choices for Wolfpop show hosts. Besides the conversational skills they've honed as hosts of previous podcasts (Vaughn hosted the All Things Comedy network's Deep Shit, while Bell did a podcast with Living Colour's Vernon Reid and had another movie talk podcast with Avery, Siskel & Negro, before they reteamed for the new Wolfpop show), it's also always wonderful to hear comedians of color hosting weekly podcasts. Sure, there's also Aisha Tyler (Girl on Guy), Margaret Cho (Monsters of Talk) and Kumail Nanjiani (The Indoor Kids, The X-Files Files), but, um, that's about it. The L.A. comedy podcast community is so lily-white it pours mayo into its tacos. It's so white it thinks Dilla was that lady who used to always tell jokes about her husband Fang on Carson. It's so white it has sex to Mumford & Sons. It's so white...

As an animation historian and an expert on older periods of film, Maltin is phenomenal. When I was a kid, I loved leafing through Of Mice and Magic, Maltin's thick tome about the history of American animation, so much that I would repeatedly renew it at the public library. But as a reviewer of live-action American films, the former Entertainment Tonight film critic isn't exactly one of my favorites. He gave only two (or two and a half) stars to Taxi Driver, The Long Goodbye, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and Miller's Crossing, all movies I love. As long as Maltin doesn't talk about either Taxi Driver, The Long Goodbye, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid or Miller's Crossing on this new podcast, Maltin on Movies is worth a listen each week.

Monday, August 22, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Tron: Uprising, "Isolated" (from July 10, 2012)

The following is a repost of my July 10, 2012 discussion of "Isolated," an episode of Disney XD's short-lived Tron: Uprising. I hate the listicle structure, and his piece could have easily gone without that structure, but over at Blastr, Ernie Estrella nicely discussed why the animated Uprising did a much better job at world-building than the live-action Tron movies did.

Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Transformers Prime have been more satisfying than their much-maligned live-action counterparts, and Tron: Uprising has joined them as another example of an animated show that's superior to its live-action counterpart, thanks to its best episode yet, "Isolated." The story puts the spotlight on the animated Tron: Legacy prequel's most compelling creation so far: Paige, a lieutenant in evil General Tesler's army whom Tesler has assigned the task of hunting down Beck, a.k.a. the masked Renegade.

The straight-arrow Beck's evolution from mechanic to hero has been a less interesting arc than Paige's desperate bid for her ruthless general's respect, which has put her in competition with Tesler's supercilious right-hand man Pavel (Paul Reubens) ("Isolated"'s "previously on" segment amusingly counterpoints narrator Tricia Helfer's recap--"Tesler rewards Paige's hard work with praise"--with a montage of clips of Tesler and Pavel both belittling Paige). "Isolated" reveals why Paige chose to work for Tesler and ties her backstory to Quorra (Olivia Wilde, reprising the most interesting character from Tron: Legacy).

Emmanuelle Chriqui voiced Paige during Tron: Uprising's one-season run.

Trapped on a slowly disintegrating island with Beck and forced to work with her enemy (and if Tron: Uprising lasts past a season, inevitable love interest) to find a way out before the rock sinks into the sea, Paige flashes back to her time as a hospital medic. Back then, Paige dabbled in composing instrumental music, even though as another character told her, she's not "programmed" to be a musician.

Her instrument reminds me of the Tenori-on used by electro artist Little Boots in the viral video for her track "Stuck on Repeat":

(Someone on the Tron-Sector fansite forums noted that Paige's instrument is a variation on the Tonematrix, a sweet music-making tool that will prevent you from getting anything else done for a couple of hours.)

Monday, August 15, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Margaret is a very mid-'00s movie about post-9/11 irrationality, but it remains relevant, thanks to the irrationality of both #CancelColbert and angry people on Twitter

This famously angry person on Twitter should never be allowed near either Twitter or the nuclear codes.

The following is a repost of my May 30, 2014 discussion of the director's cut of Margaret.

Because so many film critics have been in awe of it as if it's that secret Wu-Tang album with the guest feature by Cher, I recently borrowed from a library in San Francisco the three-hour extended cut of playwright/filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret. It was filmed back in 2005--which is so long ago that John Gallagher Jr. (from Short Term 12 and HBO's The Newsroom) looks like an eight-year-old boy in the film--but it wasn't released until 2011 in a slightly shorter cut due to legal squabbling.

As former editor Jim Emerson astutely noted in 2012, "Sure, [Margaret's] focus is entirely on a certain demographic slice of human beings--mostly middle- to upper-class, educated, New York-dwelling, Judeo-Christian-atheist white people--but these people are alive and ragged and messy in ways few movie characters are allowed to be."

The best performance in Margaret comes from neither the frequently shouty Anna Paquin nor her co-star J. Smith-Cameron, Lonergan's wife. It comes from Jeannie Berlin, who nicely underplays her role as the brash best friend of a pedestrian (Allison Janney) who was killed in a tragic Manhattan bus accident caused by the bus driver (Mark Ruffalo), because he was distracted by a high-schooler (Paquin) who was trying to ask him for directions while he was driving.