Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Why I left BuzzFe... er, I mean, why I got the fuck away from terrestrial radio

Baby Driver

This is the eighth of 12 or 13 all-new blog posts that are being posted on a monthly basis until this blog's final post in December 2017.

Named after a Simon & Garfunkel tune that's like a turtlenecked-and-khaki-pantsed precursor to Prince's "Little Red Corvette" ("I hit the road and I'm gone"), Baby Driver is Edgar Wright's wonderful antidote to superhero movie fatigue (the recent thrills of Wonder Woman aside), as well as a subtle rebuke to the often-afraid-of-idiosyncrasy superhero movie studio system that chewed the idiosyncratic Wright up and spat him out (back in 2014). Wright's caper flick is the inventively told, occasionally Kid Koala-scored story of a 20-something getaway driver known simply as Baby, whose method of drowning out the tinnitus he's suffered from since childhood is to continually play the likes of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Bob & Earl in his omnipresent iPod earbuds, even during high-speed car chases. While mowing through truffle parmesan butter popcorn at a Baby Driver screening at the Alamo Drafthouse, I realized Wright basically made a movie about me.

Sure, I'm not a getaway driver and I can't parkour my way out of a tight spot like Baby astoundingly can at one point during Baby Driver, but at all hours in my apartment building, I always wear headphones full of music from my phone or my Mac, not to drown out tinnitus, but to drown out annoying footstep noises from my apartment's paper-thin ceiling. Atop the ceiling, it always sounds like two elephants fucking.

Baby Driver

Part of the challenge of writing these blog posts in the past nine years--and now, in addition to the posts, a prose novel manuscript--has been trying to concentrate while all these infuriating noises from my ceiling ensue. If it weren't for my headphones drowning those noises out, I don't think I could ever get any shit done in my apartment, and I don't think I could ever sleep at night either (for that, I switch off the music and put on in my headphones a copy of one of those eight-hour YouTube audio clips of starship white noise from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and then I'm out cold like Riker after having to listen to Data's poetry slam).

Monday, July 3, 2017

Okja is two hours of Bong Joon-ho's usual boldness, plus Jake Gyllenhaal doing an odd Marvin Tikvah impression

This is the seventh of 12 or 13 all-new blog posts that are being posted on a monthly basis until this blog's final post in December 2017.

I love the work of Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho. Based on a real-life serial-killer case that remains unsolved, 2003's Memories of Murder, the second feature film from "Director Bong," intriguingly takes the standard "grisly serial-killer case psychologically damages the detectives on the case" thriller and expands its scope so that it morphs into a dark comedy about the ineptitude of institutions like the police, and it's so critical of institutions you'd expect David Simon to have had a hand in writing it. The Host, Bong's 2006 follow-up to Memories of Murder, became South Korea's biggest box-office hit ever by effectively mashing up the monster movie genre with dysfunctional family comedy and trenchant satire about both Korean and American institutions. Mother, Bong's 2009 whodunit about a mentally challenged prime suspect in a small-town murder case, is a worthy addition to the pantheon of twisted movies to watch on Mother's Day like Psycho and Serial Mom. Snowpiercer, a rare dystopian sci-fi flick that takes place in perpetual snowfall rather than being drenched in acid rain or set against orange desert landscapes, is both an inventive take on class warfare and 2014's most mesmerizing blockbuster starring a white guy named Chris.

These are all darkly comic films with a recurring disdain for either broken institutions or corporate malfeasance. So I was prepared to dislike the made-for-Netflix Okja, a globetrotting fantasy film that finds Bong venturing into Free Willy territory for a story about a Korean farm kid's bond with a genetically modified female "superpig"--an empathetic creature that behaves less like a pig and more like a dog/hippo hybrid--she wants to save from the slaughterhouse. Has Bong the sharp satirist gone all soft and cuddly on us?

Nah, not really. For his first family-friendly film since The Host (its R rating in America is, by the way, overblown--the original Gremlins is grislier than The Host--and I think its bittersweet ending had a lot to do with it being slapped with an R), Bong takes on the GMO industry and two-faced corporate culture, and his satirical vision of a feud between animal rights activists and Mirando, a Monsanto-style corporation with a deceptively sunny disposition, is slightly darker than I expected from a film that spends much of the first half-hour in idyllic, nearly dialogue-less rural splendor that's visually inspired by My Neighbor Totoro.

My Neighbor Totoro

Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the amount of F-bombs freely tossed around by Steven Yeun and Daniel Henshall--who play members of a Paul Dano-led "Animal Liberation Front"--as well as by Jake Gyllenhaal and Snowpiercer star (and Okja co-producer) Tilda Swinton, who's given this time by Bong a dual role as a pair of twin sisters who run Mirando (and have differing approaches to handling the corporation's crusade against world hunger). Bong has an awesome interpretation of "family-friendly."

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Electric Boogaloo entertainingly looks back at Cannon Films, the Fyre Festival of indie movie studios

Mathilda May does her impression of me halfway through a Blu-ray of an '80s Cannon Films action movie in a scene from the big-budget 1985 Cannon flick Lifeforce.

This is the sixth of 12 or 13 all-new blog posts that are being posted on a monthly basis until this blog's final post in December 2017. It has taken me since January 2016 to finish writing this post about Cannon Films. I don't know why. Writer's block can really fuck you up sometimes. This is why I can't wait to leave this blog behind so that Accidental Star Trek Cosplay will become my only ongoing blog. After December, the only writer's block I'll have to worry about will be the block that keeps trying to prevent me from finishing my novel manuscript.

You've seen MacGruber, right? Now imagine if MacGruber wasn't a comedy. That's basically what an '80s Cannon Films action movie is like.

MacGruber is a Cannon movie played completely straight, except for a couple of big things: the profane update of MacGruber's old theme song (a tune from his days as an SNL character) and the intentionally offbeat dialogue that comes out of the mouths of Val Kilmer, Kristen Wiig and Will Forte, who weepingly delivers the least dignified and most sob-filled monologue in action movie history ("Just join my team. I'll suck your dick!"). Everyone else in MacGruber, whether the actor is Ryan Phillippe or the late Powers Boothe, is interestingly directed by Lonely Island troupe member Jorma Taccone to take the proceedings completely seriously, including even Maya Rudolph, aside from her silly sex noises while her dead character's ghost bangs MacGruber in a cemetary.

Phillippe and Boothe react to MacGruber's pantsless moment of desperation in the military office as if this were Michael Clayton or Spotlight instead of an Inspector Clouseau flick (or any other farce where everyone, including the straight man, gives a big and broad performance). Their underplayed seriousness actually increases the hilarity quotient of MacGruber's abnormal behavior.

Taccone's movie is a terrific parody of the schlocky Cannon house style, from the strange one-liners that sound like they were written by a 57-year-old Israeli movie producer ("Shut your butt!") to the ultraviolent heroes who, in real life, would be locked up in an insane asylum for their psychotic behavior (see MacGruber's "KFBR392" scene). If you took the dour and unintentionally funny 1986 Cannon movie Cobra, which I never watched until I rented it on YouTube a week ago, and you turned it into a comedy about how the behavior of matchstick-chewing supercop Marion Cobretti, the only person in the world who cuts pieces off his slices of pizza with a pair of scissors, actually looks to the world outside the narcissistic-at-the-time brain of Cobra star/screenwriter Sylvester Stallone, it would probably resemble MacGruber.


The first Deadpool flick makes a Cobra reference I wasn't aware of until Outlaw Vern pointed it out (it's the scene when Ryan Reynolds quips about the matchstick between Gina Carano's lips and wonders aloud if she's a Stallone fan). Taccone and Deadpool screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick all clearly watched Cannon movies like Cobra when they were kids, just like how I was subjected to a few Cannon cheapies as an '80s kid.

One of those movies was 1987's Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, which was one of Cannon's two attempts to update the then-100-year-old Quatermain novels in the wake of Indiana Jones, and I still remember how dreadful the production values in Lost City of Gold were (it should have been called Lost City of Plastic). Currently streamable on Netflix, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, an Australian-made 2014 documentary directed by Aussie filmmaker Mark Hartley, is the highly entertaining story of why during the '80s and early '90s, a name like Cannon meant it had to be not-so-good. It's hard to dislike any documentary that devotes five minutes to the lambada movie war of 1990.

Cannon was, of course, embroiled in that vicious war over who could first rush into release a movie about a dirty dancing craze from Brazil that was barely sweeping the nation. Nobody won the war between Warner Bros./Cannon's Lambada and Columbia Pictures/21st Century Film Corporation's The Forbidden Dance. The only winners were quippy film critics who got a kick out of tearing apart terrible movies. For five silly minutes, Electric Boogaloo recounts how obsessed Menahem Golan (pronounced "muh-nawk-um go-lawn"), the aforementioned 50-something Israeli movie producer, was with trying to get The Forbidden Dance completed in time for its spring 1990 release date, while Yoram Globus, one of the producers of Lambada, and his collaborators toiled over their rival project. Golan and Globus were not just former business partners who ran Cannon (into the ground). They also happened to be cousins.

Friday, May 19, 2017

That time when Angry Asian Man made enough noise to keep the live-action Mulan producers from ruining Mulan's reflection

Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man

This is the fifth of 12 or 13 all-new blog posts that are being posted on a monthly basis until this blog's final post in December 2017 (the Ghost Protocol repost does not count as all-new).

This will be the final time I acknowledge Asian Pacific American Heritage Month on this blog, a few months before I will stop writing posts over here at the end of this year. So this final APA Heritage Month-related post is about a pioneering blog in the Asian American blogosphere and what has to be one of the blog's most impressive pieces of writing ever. It was impressive because of the minor but still-significant impact the blog post had during the ongoing struggle, especially from the Asian American side of things, to fight for more representation, diversity and inclusiveness in Hollywood and to get Tinseltown to be less ignorant and racist.

I don't visit Angry Asian Man as frequently as I used to (my favorite thing about Angry Asian Man has always been that its posts have introduced me to a lot of good novels by Asian American authors, and they've included Leonard Chang's Allen Choice crime trilogy and Sarah Kuhn's Heroine Complex, a novel I'm currently trying to finish reading while working on my own novel), but once in a while, Phil Yu, Angry Asian Man's founder, posts something enlightening and non-click-baity (and by non-click-baity, I mean a post that's not some viral video of an Asian American kid doing something adorable). By the way, Angry Asian Man has changed a lot since its start in the early 2000s. It began as a blog where Phil, whom I've talked to over e-mail a couple of times and have hung out with once, eloquently criticized the media and celebrities of all races for their racist attitudes towards Asians or their clueless usages of Asian stereotypes. That means Angry Asian Man can also be a depressing and stress-inducing read, especially whenever Phil posts excerpts of news items about hate crimes where the victims are Asian, which is mainly why I don't read it regularly anymore.

My visits to Angry Asian Man are not as frequent as they were in the early-to-mid-2000s also because, even though Phil still finds time to run the site in between speaking engagements and host or guest stints on online talk shows, his personal voice has been less present on the site (it's more present on Twitter and during Sound and Fury, the Angry Asian Man tie-in podcast where he interviews famous Asian Americans). He's been relying on guest writers for tons of content, and he found a clever way to do that on a weekly basis by coming up with a feature called "Angry Readers of the Week," where he lets an Asian American reader, whether that reader is non-famous or famous, give his or her life story via a Proust-type questionnaire.

Guest writers have also grabbed Phil's mic outside of the site's "Angry Readers" feature. One such guest writer wrote quite a corker for Angry Asian Man in October 2016, and that's the "something enlightening and non-click-baity" I'm referring to.

Acclaimed Whale Rider director Niki Caro is currently directing Disney's live-action remake of its own animated 1998 hit, the lighthearted, David Lean-style battle epic Mulan (she promises that her take on Mulan will be "a big, girly martial arts epic. It will be extremely muscular and thrilling and entertaining and moving"). But back when Caro wasn't attached to the remake yet, a spec script Disney bought for the remake (this early draft was credited to Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin) had awkwardly inserted a white savior character/love interest into a Chinese story that never contained any white savior characters.

The leaked spec script angered the 1998 film's fans, especially Asian American fans who, in 1998, felt empowered by both Ming-Na Wen's vocal star turn and the film's story of a female warrior who saves China and defies patriarchy (Mulan is also one of the few animated Disney films to not have its heroine pursuing a romance with the male lead, who, in this case, was a young Chinese army captain voiced by B.D. Wong). Phil gave the floor to one such Asian American Mulan fan, an Angry Asian Man reader who identified herself (or himself?) only as "an Asian American person in the industry," and the anonymous writer, who posted under the nom de plume "ConcernedForMulan," nicely read the live-action project's producers the riot act.

Monday, April 17, 2017

In Ghost Protocol, the gadgets turn into the Mission: Impossible team's worst enemy

I have a theory that the Mission: Impossible movies got better once Tom Cruise stopped being touchy about his short stature and allowed his character to be put in situations that emphasized how short he actually is. (It took this long for Cruise to become slightly less vain, which is so unlike Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Clark Gregg, who has awesomely never given a shit about sharing the screen with Marvel Cinematic Universe actresses who tower over him, whether that actress is Gwyneth Paltrow or Mallory Jansen. On the first day on the S.H.I.E.L.D. set, Gregg, a veteran of so many David Mamet projects, must have said something Mametian like "Fuck these fucking apple boxes you want me to stand on.")

That creative resurgence for the Impossible movie franchise (Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation turned out to be the best Impossible movies since the first one) began right at the start of Ghost Protocol, when Cruise was surrounded by prison thugs who were a foot taller than him, and the creative resurgence continued when Cruise, for the first time ever in the series, sighed and rolled his eyes like a too-old-for-this-shit, Rockford Files-era James Garner while getting knocked on his ass by an even taller enemy agent in Rogue Nation's terrific opera house assassination attempt sequence. That's another thing about the weird late-period resurgence of the Impossible movie franchise (which will come out with a sixth installment next year): the addition of more humor to these movies has resulted in Ethan Hunt becoming a slightly more likable and relatable protagonist, except the humor never feels forced or overly campy.

"Light the Fuse," the opening title theme Michael Giacchino, Ghost Protocol's composer, arranged for the fourth Impossible movie, is a stunning symphonic reinterpretation of Lalo Schifrin's main title theme from the '60s Impossible. The extra spit and polish Giacchino brought to an old (and kind of overplayed) Schifrin tune are why I chose "Light the Fuse" as the very first track for "Incognito I," the first of three mixes of spy movie/TV show score cues I assembled for the AFOS Mixcloud page. The oldest score cue during the three mixes is John Barry's Ipcress File main title theme from 1965, while the newest score cues during the mixes are from the Epix espionage drama Berlin Station and xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Below these three mixes is a repost of my July 30, 2015 discussion of both Giacchino's score from Ghost Protocol and the Ghost Protocol movie itself, a series-revitalizing installment that's on a par with what Fast Five did really late in the game as a creative boost to the Fast and the Furious franchise.

I wasn't alive when the original Mission: Impossible first aired on CBS, and I didn't watch any of the Mission: Impossible reruns until I saw FX's badly butchered versions of them back when the future home of Vic Mackey and SAMCRO started out as a low-rent Nick at Nite, so I don't have an attachment to Jim Phelps like I do to other characters from shows I'm much more fond of, like, say, Yemana from Barney Miller or anybody from the Greendale gang who's not Pierce. When Brian De Palma's 1996 Mission: Impossible reboot picked Jon Voight to take over the Peter Graves role of Phelps, the cool-headed (and rather bland) leader of the Impossible Missions Force and the hero of both the '60s and '80s versions of the show, and the movie reimagined Phelps as a traitor who had his fellow IMF agents killed, I didn't hiss "Blasphemy!" at the screen or angrily storm out of the theater in the middle of the feature presentation like Graves' old Mission: Impossible co-star Greg Morris did when he watched De Palma's movie. I actually dug the shocking plot twist.

Action film reviewer Outlaw Vern perfectly described why the twist remains an intriguing one in his recent reassessment of De Palma's Mission: Impossible. A master of paranoid thrillers who proved to be the perfect filmmaker to revive and re-energize Mission: Impossible for these post-Cold War times, De Palma "doesn't look fawningly at the cloak and dagger Cold War fun of the ['60s] series... Using the original show's hero as the villain is not only a surprising plot twist, it's a statement." Vern added, "Back then spy shit was fun and glamorous, now we're more aware of the messes it causes, and the consequences of training people with deadly skills and then running out of things for them to do. The guy that was the hero back then is now willing to betray everyone because he's not getting paid enough. Times are tough."

While I found the first Mission: Impossible movie that Tom Cruise both starred in and co-produced to be genuinely thrilling and clever--the beauty of that classic Langley break-in sequence is mostly due to its use of silence, which was De Palma's way of critiquing the noisy storytelling of most summer blockbusters--the villainization of Phelps, which actually made Phelps slightly more interesting as a character, wasn't what bugged me about the movie. What bugged me was Cruise's de-emphasis on teamwork in the movie's third act so that his Ethan Hunt character saved the day on his own and everyone else on Hunt's makeshift team was ancillary. The emphasis on a team of specialists from different fields was what made both the '60s and '80s incarnations of Mission: Impossible stand out from other spy shows, besides the enticing concept of what was essentially a one-hour heist movie every week. If you're going to revive Mission: Impossible on the big screen, it ought to be the espionage equivalent of Seven Samurai or Ocean's Eleven like the old show was, or else why call it Mission: Impossible? Without an ensemble, it's nothing more than 007 as a two-hour shampoo commercial--which was basically what John Woo's abysmal Mission: Impossible II was.