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.

Monday, August 8, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: The Simpsons, "Simpsorama"

(Photo source: FY Springfield)

The following is a repost of my November 14, 2014 discussion of the Simpsons/Futurama crossover. Futurama is back in the limelight again, after Dan Lanigan, a reality TV producer, posted on July 18 a trailer for Fan-O-Rama, an ambitious live-action Futurama fan film he co-wrote and directed. The Simpsons/Futurama crossover is streamable on FXX's Simpsons World app.

"Meanwhile," Futurama's this-time-for-real-it's-the-end series finale, was one of the classiest exits a long-running show has made. "Simpsorama," the Simpsons/Futurama crossover that brings back the Planet Express crew for one more on-screen adventure (while they've experienced an afterlife in print as stars of their own Bongo Comics titles), feels kind of unnecessary as an extra farewell to the Matt Groening/David X. Cohen creation on-screen. (This crossover might not even be the last farewell, if the rumors that Fox is now considering reviving Futurama for a fourth incarnation are true.) Let's put it this way: "Meanwhile" was Star Trek VI. "Simpsorama" is all the scenes with either Kirk, Scotty or Chekov during Star Trek: Generations.

But the scenes with Kirk, Scotty or Chekov were good, even though the material for Scotty and Chekov was a slightly clunky rewrite of material originally written for Spock and McCoy (the rest of Star Trek: Generations--except for the opening titles with the floating Dom Pérignon bottle and the surprisingly effective dramatic scene between Picard and Data on the Stellar Cartography deck--was atrocious). Though "Simpsorama," which was penned by J. Stewart Burns (the writer of my favorite 2010s Simpsons episode so far, "Holidays of Future Passed"), pales in comparison to "Meanwhile" or Futurama at its peak, I actually enjoyed it.

It's a far more satisfying crossover than the terrible Family Guy/Simpsons crossover (and it's non-canonical too, Simpsons fans who despise Futurama and Futurama fans who despise "Simpsorama," in case both of you camps forgot that the appearance of Kang and Kodos, the human-devouring aliens from the non-canonical "Treehouse of Horror" episodes, automatically makes "Simpsorama" a non-canonical Simpsons story). Homer (Dan Castellaneta) and Bender (John DiMaggio)--who's been sent by Professor Farnsworth (Billy West) to 21st-century Springfield to kill Homer but gets distracted from his mission because he and Homer have a lot in common--are a funnier pair than Homer and Peter Griffin, mainly because the two kindred spirits don't get into a tedious chicken fight. An even better comedic combo is Lisa (Yeardley Smith), Professor Frink (Hank Azaria) and Professor Farnsworth in the same room. The sight of an old genius like Farnsworth reverting to a jealous child over "the annoying girl" and her precociousness is a highlight of the crossover. His disdain for Lisa is so thick you could build a Parthenon with it.

Only one joke in the crossover made my eyes roll, and its wretchedness is typical of so many similar bits of fan service in post-season 8 Simpsons episodes. That would be the umpteenth reappearance of Seymour, the dead dog Fry (also West) was briefly reunited with in one of Futurama's most popular episodes, the heart-wrenching "Jurassic Bark" (and again in 2013's "Game of Tones," in which a dream-state version of Seymour, who was voiced by Seth MacFarlane, got to say one line to Fry: "Philip, have you lost weight?"). Seymour's first reappearance in the 2007 made-for-video feature film Bender's Big Score bugged me--as does his cameo in "Simpsorama"--because the film's retconning of "Jurassic Bark" felt like the Futurama writers were saying that they were ashamed of the episode's sad ending. They received hate mail from some viewers at the time of the airing of "Jurassic Bark" for ending that episode on a downbeat note, and I wish I could tell the writers, "Who gives a fuck what those viewers think? That ending was perfect." To borrow a catchphrase from a certain cantankerous Simpsons character, worst concession to irate viewers ever.

(.GIF source: FY Springfield)

Memorable quotes:
* Mayor Quimby (Castellaneta), referring to Lisa's jazz concert in the park getting disrupted by stormy weather: "Even God hates jazz."

* Homer: "Oh... my... God... He's telling the truth. I have to take you to our civic leaders." Cut to Homer and Bender at Moe's.

* Homer: "Hey, uh, what's the robot version of bromance?"
Bender: "Ro-mance."
Homer: "You future guys have a word for everything... pal."

* Marge (Julie Kavner), thinking to herself: "Oh, don't mention her eye. Don't mention her eye."
Leela (Katey Sagal), thinking to herself: "Don't mention her hair. Don't mention her hair."

* Marge: "Can you please just get us out of this lousy future?"
Farnsworth: "Actually, of all probable futures, this is the worst."
Marge: "It is, 'cause my baby's not in it."
Farnsworth: "Motherly love--why did we outlaw that?"

* Farnsworth: "The only way to handle the creatures is to do what we do to each year's Super Bowl losers: shoot them into space."

* Omicronian emperor Lrrr (Maurice LaMarche) to Kang (Harry Shearer) and Kodos (Castellaneta), regarding his upset wife Ndnd (Tress MacNeille): "Uh, perhaps the one of you that is female should go console her." Both Kang and Kodos go console Ndnd, which has to be the funniest button on a concluding Simpsons scene in years.

Monday, August 1, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Currently a tough assassin in Suicide Squad, Will Smith started out aiming for girls' hearts by impressing them with his rhymes on Fresh Prince

The following is a repost of my October 1, 2014 discussion of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, particularly "Def Poet's Society."

I've been sent music journalist Brian Coleman's second Check the Technique book to review for Word Is Bond, and the new volume, part of Coleman's series of books of exhaustive interviews with rappers and beatmakers about classic albums they recorded, contains behind-the-scenes stories I've always wanted to read about Black Sheep's A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing and Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... One chapter I didn't expect to enjoy was the chapter about DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's rise from a sensation in Philly to national chart-toppers, thanks to 1988's He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper, the first double album in hip-hop history.

The chapter notes that He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper's double-LP format stemmed from the duo's original conception of the project as a scratch album to showcase Jazzy Jeff's turntablist skills. In the late '80s, a scratch album was unheard of, but today, they're a commonplace thing in hip-hop. For example, DJ Qbert recently dropped simultaneously on iTunes a scratch album and a more accessible-sounding album loaded with guest features by rappers, and those two recent Qbert releases were sort of like if He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper got split into two separate albums instead of being the mammoth two-headed beast we know of today.

That story of He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper's evolution from a DJ-only album to a showcase for both the skills of Jazzy Jeff the beatmaker and Will Smith the storyteller is an interesting read. So are the recollections of the trouble the duo got into with New Line Cinema over "A Nightmare on My Street," their proto-horrorcore track about the '80s and '90s New Line cash cow Freddy Krueger, and Jazzy Jeff's tidbit about him and Smith turning down the script for House Party (Coleman was unable to interview Smith, presumably because Smith's too busy being one of the biggest movie stars in the world).

He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper is best known for introducing the massive 1988 hit "Parents Just Don't Understand" (which isn't my favorite track on the album; that would be the Bob James-sampling "Here We Go Again"). The album doesn't contain the duo's much more frequently quoted theme from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air because, of course, the hit sitcom--which based its "inner-city kid in a mansion" premise on pop music industry bigwig Benny Medina's life as an extra member of the household of his mentor Berry Gordy--didn't exist yet, and its premiere on NBC was only two years away.

It's great that He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper has gotten the oral history treatment. But I wish The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air received the oral history treatment somewhere else as well, even though the famously bitter and still-disgruntled Janet Hubert, who wrote a tell-all book about how much she hated working with Smith on The Fresh Prince, would probably refuse to participate and then write another tell-all book about how much she hated seeing an oral history about The Fresh Prince.

The show never got much shine from TV critics when it first aired, and it still doesn't--today's critics remain more taken with Seinfeld, Friends and Roseanne as '90s live-action sitcoms. Sure, The Fresh Prince's storylines weren't exactly groundbreaking and formula-defying like Seinfeld's, and Roseanne did a better job at seriousness--when The Fresh Prince tried to get serious with an occasional Very Special Episode, the results would often be preachy and only occasionally effective and genuinely wrenching--but I find myself rewatching The Fresh Prince more often than Seinfeld. Okay, it kind of went off the rails after Hubert was fired and the producers pulled a Darrin on us with a new Aunt Viv, but otherwise, The Fresh Prince is a funnier show than Seinfeld. There, somebody had to say it.