Friday, October 30, 2015

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of Last Week: The Simpsons, "Halloween of Horror"

Thanks a fucking bunch, The Simpsons, for the horrifying visual of what the Van Houtens do in these skimpy costumes behind closed doors.

Occasionally on Friday, I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. The "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week is no longer a weekly feature, but sometimes, I'll catch a really good piece of animated TV one week or a few weeks after its original airdate--that's partly due to being unable to keep up with so much TV being produced, a.k.a. "peak TV," FX CEO John Landgraf's term for the problem of too much content for viewers to make time for and watch--and I'll feel like devoting some paragraphs to that piece of animated TV despite my lateness to the party. Hence the "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of Last 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 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.

Meanwhile, "Halloween of Horror" is an interesting case where a Lisa episode doesn't suck. I haven't liked a Lisa episode in years. Often on late-period Simpsons, Lisa shows up in one of two modes--either idealized supergenius or self-righteous wet blanket--so it's a relief whenever the show remembers once in a while that Lisa is just a little kid, like in "Lisa on Ice," my favorite classic-era Simpsons story centered on Lisa, and reverts to that mode of Lisa in an episode like "Halloween of Horror." The A-story of this canonical Halloween episode deals with Lisa becoming traumatized by the fake monsters at Krustyland's Halloween Horror Night after Homer takes her and Bart to Halloween Horror Night for the first time. The sight of Lisa being carried around and comforted by Homer and Marge like a baby is such an atypical one. I don't remember ever seeing a Simpsons episode where Lisa looked this small and completely broken.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Throwback Thursdeath: The Guest

That recent Netflix outage was actually caused by Native American hacktivists. They were doing a trial run for the day when they hack Netflix to totally fuck up the service's premiere of that Adam Sandler Native American movie, which would be an awesome protest in the alternate universe I want to live in.

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 movie I didn't see in the theater. I caught this movie instead on Netflix, and it's an especially timely one because it takes place during Halloween.

"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.

'Whattup, snitches?'
The duo ended up making a film that's more satisfying and engrossing than any of the gazillion Stepfather clones and Hand That Rocks the Cradle ripoffs that dominated movie houses--and the Lifetime schedule--in the '90s. Even though The Guest is a highly stylized action thriller (dig that pulsating synth score by musician Steve Moore and the well-chosen and hypnotic existing songs by Love and Rockets and Norwegian electro-pop singer Annie) and Stevens does that hyperrealistic action movie thing of nonchalantly unpinning a grenade in each hand at the same time as if he's in a John Woo joint, there's a nice tinge of believability to The Guest that's not found in those '90s killers-living-in-the-house thrillers.

The believability emerges in the form of Anna Peterson, Monroe's character, figuring out way earlier than you'd expect--especially from a thriller like The Guest--that the stranger who identifies himself as David Collins is an imposter. Wingard said, "One of the things that we liked about being able to work in a movie that has some '80s and '90s genre nostalgia to it was, you're able to do the kind of thing where the kids get what's going on but the parents are totally clueless. That was a key factor to those films. That's just a fun dynamic to play with." The intelligence of Anna and her younger brother Luke (Brendan Meyer)--who's somewhat aware that there's something off about David, but he doesn't really care as much as Anna does because he's enjoying how David has taken to helping him fight off bullies at school--sheds light on how distracting it was that the family in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was badly dumbed down in order for Rebecca De Mornay to get away with her reign of terror.

If you ever rewatch The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, the movie turns into 100 minutes of you muttering, "No family in real life is that dumb!" The family in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was so clueless and so trusting of the evil nanny that the mentally challenged handyman played by Ernie Hudson ended up looking like a Mensa member compared to everyone in the family.

Here we see Sarah Connor trying to protect her teenage son John from the virus of overused action movie catchphrases.

The tension of "When is someone in this family going to get the hint that this new guy fell out of crazytown?" is nicely done away with in The Guest so that greater--and more interesting--tension can be built from "Will Anna or David gain the upper hand?" and "Where did this psycho come from?" The Guest is at its most effective as a thriller when it conceals the mysterious David's backstory. In fact, Wingard's original cut of The Guest ran much longer because it delved so much into his backstory. Getting rid of all that backstory was a wise decision. The first and second acts of The Guest keep you guessing David's actual identity and why he has infiltrated on Halloween this family that's still grieving over Caleb. Is David a criminal trying to get his hands on a stash of money stored in the Petersons' house? Could he be a cyborg who escaped from the military to hide out among civilians? Or is he an alien who slaughtered all of Caleb's unit in Afghanistan and then took the form of one of Caleb's comrades as part of a plot to lull Earth into an invasion?

Stevens, who's playing against his Downton Abbey romantic lead persona, is great at embodying two sides of David and doing subtle things with his performance-within-a-performance to make the audience say, "What is the story with this guy?" There's the well-mannered and chivalrous side that wins over Anna and Luke's parents, Spencer (Leland Orser) and Laura (Sheila Kelley), and attracts women like Kristen (Tabatha Shaun), Anna's co-worker at the local diner. And then there's David's abnormal side, like when he stares too long and hard at Luke at the dinner table when he first meets Luke, as if he's an alien trying to figure out how to consume ice cream in a cone for the first time, or the way David unsettlingly stares into space when he's by himself. Stevens is reminiscent of a younger Jeff Fahey, and in an alternate-universe version of this story if it were made in 1989 or 1990 by Hemdale, the indie studio that produced the original Terminator, or Cannon Films, whose logo is amusingly channeled by the Snoot Films logo that kicks off The Guest, you could easily picture Fahey starring as David.

For some reason, this logo makes me think Shabba Doo and Boogaloo Shrimp are about to go save a rec center with their popping and locking.
(Image source: Keith Calder)

But the real find during The Guest is Monroe, the lead from last week's Throwback Thursday entry, director David Robert Mitchell's similarly striking horror flick It Follows. She looks like Gwen Stefani without all the weird and off-putting racial baggage. The Guest and It Follows are a fascinating pair of thrillers where Monroe stars as the kind of horror movie character author Carol J. Clover dubbed as "the Final Girl"--the last female standing in a horror flick with a massive body count--and is now the basis for director Todd Strauss-Schulson's meta slasher flick The Final Girls.

In It Follows, Mitchell subverts the Final Girl formula by making the girl who has the most sex in the movie the one who faces off against the killer at the end--instead of pitting a virginal heroine against the killer--and as that atypical Final Girl, Monroe makes for a solid lead who's more frazzled and vulnerable than action-thriller tough because of the incomprehensible nightmare her character is unable to overcome or make sense of for most of the movie. Meanwhile, in this thriller that preceded It Follows, Monroe plays a more traditional--and more strong-willed--Final Girl. But I actually prefer her performance in The Guest because she gets to show a little more range and cut loose for a couple of moments and be genuinely funny, like when Anna, before she takes David along with her to a Halloween party where she temporarily lets go of her suspicions about him, accidentally stumbles into a towel-clad David and becomes flustered by his chiseled bod, but in a believable way rather than an inane and cheesy rom-com kind of way.

Dan Stevens Presents: A Demonstration of Carving Pumpkins, the Hit-Girl Way.
(Image source: Calder)

There's humor in The Guest, but Wingard and Barrett handle it with subtlety (rather than playing it broadly) and a couple of odd references nobody in Stevens' native country of England or outside America will understand. I'm amused by the weird way the film emphasizes how much of an ordinary American family the Petersons are by naming Caleb's siblings and parents after characters from General Hospital. Anna's name is clearly a nod to heroic secret agent Anna Devane, while Luke gets his name from Luke Spencer and the names of the Peterson parents come from Luke's longtime love Laura. Either Wingard or Barrett is a secret fan of all the drama over in Port Charles.

It's great that the suitably named Anna gets to be smarter than everyone else in the film, but I wish she were smarter in one particular area: being able to notice that Stevens' otherwise perfect Southern accent, like almost all other American accents attempted by British actors who portray Americans, gets all weird when he says the word "anything" and pronounces it as "ennathin." I've always wanted to write that one thriller where someone realizes he or she is being held captive in a fake, the Village from The Prisoner-esque version of America by a British person who's pretending to be American and is actually working for the enemy (or maybe evil aliens) because the way the captor pronounces "anything" gives away that something isn't right about their surroundings.

Then our protagonist shoots his or her captor in the head and says, "That's not how to pronounce 'anything,' bitch."

None of Steve Moore's original score cues from The Guest are currently in rotation on AFOS, but they ought to be.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Wow, the already-dead Vertigo comic iZombie is hardly like the hit CW show it unleashed

One of Gwen's best friends in iZombie is a were-terrier, which means that whenever it's a full moon, he transforms into a broke-ass Ocean Beach private eye.

iZombie--the first CBS procedural outside of Elementary that fortunately doesn't feel too much like "a Dad show" (it airs on the CW, a joint venture between CBS and Warner Bros., so that qualifies it as a CBS show)--was one of network TV's most pleasant surprises last season. I don't care for the "Dad show" writing of most procedurals, and the case-of-the-week structure that's such a fixture of those procedurals initially made me doubtful about latching onto iZombie when it debuted. But the farcical and mildly supernatural elements iZombie added to that structure--like how whenever assistant medical examiner Liv Moore (Rose McIver), a zombie who must snack on brain matter to keep herself from going full zombie, wolfs down a murder victim's brains to grab clues from the victim's memories, she also absorbs the victim's personality traits--immediately won me over as they freshened up a walking corpse like the tired case-of-the-week format.

What's a Dad show, by the way? It's any procedural with an alphabet-soup title. The forensic heroes in these interchangeable procedurals quip a lot but aren't all that compelling when Daddy takes their one-liners away. It's "keep it on in the background while folding laundry" TV that doesn't require so much attention from exhausted, pooped-out and drowsy dads who find Mr. Robot or Rick and Morty to be too taxing for the brain or too morally ambiguous as light entertainment. It's fast food TV.

Criminal Minds is particularly shitty and unwatchable: it plays into every 92-year-old Fox News viewer's fears about how the world outside his door is going to hell in a handbasket. It fetishizes serial killers and is full of everything I despise about both the serial killer genre and torture porn, so it bugs me that smart comedic performers like Paget Brewster and Aisha Tyler have attached themselves to a dour, pretentious and repugnant show that's so beneath them. And I know the Asian American blogosphere worships the modern-day Hawaii Five-0 because the show gives juicy roles to Asian American actors--sure, as an Asian American, that's a nice thing to see--but I otherwise don't understand the worship: Five-0 is essentially another right-leaning Dad show from CBS.

CSI: Santa Cruz clearly doesn't have the budget for lens flares or sunglasses.

It's the iZombie cast outside of either their typical wardrobes on the show or their character makeup. Robert Buckley looks strange without Major's usual cuts and bruises and Utopium-caused haggardness.

Loosely based on a comic DC's Vertigo imprint published from 2010 to 2012, iZombie is, like any other CBS procedural, full of forensic experts who quip and often drop geeky pop-culture references, but it's far from a Dad show. The sharp writing and not-so-dour-and-pretentious sensibility of Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas and frequent Veronica Mars writer Diane Ruggiero-Wright, iZombie's showrunners, are among the reasons why iZombie never feels like I'm spending a week inside the mind of a 92-year-old Fox News viewer. The elderly murder victim whose racist personality traits Liv acquired in "Grumpy Old Liv," the second-season premiere, is clearly Thomas and Ruggiero-Wright's way of mocking the 92-year-olds who eat up Criminal Minds or CSI: Cyber.

iZombie may be imbued with the DNA of Veronica Mars--Liv is the same kind of plucky detective heroine who, during Veronica's run, captivated fans of neo-noir, feminists, feminist fans of neo-noir and neo-fans of noir feminists--as well as the DNA of what Ruggiero-Wright has cited as the part of The Matrix where kung fu skills are uploaded into Neo's mind, but a bit of Orphan Black seems to have also been slipped into the show like the chunks of brain matter Liv slips into her lunch. The show is a weekly acting exercise for the New Zealand-born McIver--and she's been killing it, whether as an immature frat boy, an extremely sensual artist, a stoner who talks to imaginary friends or, this week, a melodramatic, stiletto-obsessed "Real Housewife of Seattle"--like how the scenes where Tatiana Maslany has to play either a clone impersonating another clone or a clone impersonating another clone impersonating another clone are a crazy exercise each week for Maslany.

It also features the best ensemble on a Thomas show since Party Down. There isn't a weak link in the iZombie cast. Sure, Detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), the Seattle cop who turns to Liv for help on his cases, is a tad underwritten as an audience surrogate, but he's an effective foil to both the personality changes Liv experiences (Clive has, like the Santa Barbara Police Department on Psych, been led to believe her visions stem from psychic abilities rather than zombie ones) and the morgue humor of Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), the supervising M.E. who keeps Liv's zombie side a secret from the rest of the police.

Blaine is perhaps the best hapless gangster since Christopher from The Sopranos.
But lately, Blaine's been getting some competition from the equally hapless Dodd Gerhardt from Fargo.

As drug dealer Blaine DeBeers, the now-former zombie who got high on his own (tainted) supply of a drug called Utopium--the cause of the underreported emergence of zombies in Seattle--and was responsible for Liv's transformation into an Undead American, and Vaughn Du Clark, a narcissistic energy drink magnate who's perhaps even more ruthless than Blaine, David Anders and Steven Weber, respectively, are the best kind of villain for a show based on a comic: they're blessed with comedic timing, but their performances are also carefully modulated and they're never prone to treating the material like camp or pantomime. Anders' turn as Blaine, the machinations of Blaine and the downward spiral of Major Lillywhite (Robert Buckley)--Liv's amusingly long-suffering ex-fiancé--from idealistic social worker to completely broken, Utopium-addicted killer of zombies are key to why the non-procedural half of iZombie is rarely "keep it on in the background while folding laundry" TV.

Before penning YA novels and creating shows with both passionate cult followings and unfortunately short life spans, Thomas was a member of several Texas rock bands--which is funny because people who aren't familiar with his TV work frequently confuse him with Matchbox 20 singer Rob Thomas, so his past as a musician in Texas hasn't exactly helped to distinguish him from the Matchbox 20 guy--and his not-so-hackneyed tastes in music led to a lot of well-chosen existing songs on Veronica Mars. Those same tastes have also been integral to the existing song choices on iZombie. The show opens each week with a great forgotten tune, "Stop, I'm Already Dead" by the now-defunct Deadboy & the Elephantmen. The scoring work of regular Thomas show composer Josh Kramon is equally solid, like whenever it emphasizes the primal nature of Liv's zombie side with just the use of percussion.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Throwback Thursdeath: It Follows

There's probably some other dimension where Netflix hasn't made the leap to streaming yet and is shipping only VHS rentals to customers' mailboxes. I bet it's that dimension where Doofus Rick and everyone else like to eat their own shit.

Usually on Throwback Thursday, I randomly pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket stub I saved. Then I discuss the movie on the stub and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS. Eh, I don't have much to say about the movie on the stub I drew this week. So in its place is a different movie I have more to say about, although I actually didn't see it in the theater.

As a teen horror flick, It Follows, director David Robert Mitchell's second feature film, is more creepy than scary. Mitchell has said in interviews that while making It Follows, he wanted to evoke the dread he experienced during a recurring nightmare he had as a kid: a shape-shifting monster kept stalking him, much like the shape-shifting, non-verbal entity that, without any logical explanation, stalks a Detroit college student named Jay (Maika Monroe) and proceeds to make Jay's life miserable, after she swings an episode in the backseat with Jeff (Jake Weary), another college student. If you're expecting frequent jump scares from It Follows, it's not that kind of teen horror flick.

Here we see what has to be foot fetishist Quentin Tarantino's favorite scene during It Follows.

And if you're also expecting the murky and confusing mythology of the titular creature (is it an STD or is it an invisible alien that feeds on post-coital energy?) to make a lick of sense and to be wrapped in a tidy bow by a pipe-smoking and extremely expositiony scientist character who knows how to stop the creature, say goodbye to those things too. Much like David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, It Follows is open to interpretation and operates on dream logic, and in case you've forgotten what dream logic is all about, nothing makes sense in a dream.

Quentin Tarantino seemed to not be aware of that, which explains that odd Vulture interview where Tarantino nitpicked Mitchell's movie ("It's one of those movies that's so good that you start getting mad at it for not being great") and complained that Mitchell violated his own mythology "left, right and center." Much of the allure of It Follows is due to its decision to not over-explain the creature with a backstory or a set of rules about its behavior (when Jeff tells Jay that he infected her with the creature when they had sex and that the best way to get rid of it is to bang someone else, the movie indicates that his solution is a bunch of hogwash and not even he knows exactly how to defeat it, which ties into an aspect of the climax I particularly like: none of the characters are scientific geniuses, so they're never certain if their tactics for fighting off the creature will work). Would those rules about the creature's behavior and the rules of how to stop such a creature make any sense in a dream (the rules of how to kill it would also probably contradict each other in that dream)? If Mulholland Drive came with a set of rules for how its strange universe operates, it would be a much less interesting movie. Like someone once wrote about that Lynch movie, you don't need to understand It Follows to enjoy it.

Cleanup on Aisle 666.
There's a lot to enjoy about It Follows, whether it's the performances of its largely unknown teen actors (the most familiar face is Keir Gilchrist, who played Toni Collette's gay son on United States of Tara), the striking cinematography by Mike Gioulakis--it's nice to encounter a horror flick where the visuals are driven not by found-footage shakiness but by stillness, a la one of my favorite Johnnie To action flicks, The Mission, which is full of moments of stillness that are somehow as energetic as the moments of gunplay--or the unsettling synth score by Disasterpeace, a.k.a. video game composer Rich Vreeland. I'm no musician, so I have no idea how to explain whatever Vreeland did to achieve the dissonant sounds that accompany Jay's post-coital despair, but those sounds are so mesmerizing--did he sample the noises of a deep fryer?--that I'll be adding them to rotation during AFOS blocks like "AFOS Prime" and the annual Halloween evening block "Buckets of Score." Vreeland's It Follows score has been compared to the instrumentals of John Carpenter and Goblin, but in It Follows, Vreeland carves his own musical identity without being too derivative of either. In fact, Vreeland isn't even familiar with Carpenter's work as a composer.

Friday, October 16, 2015

John Carpenter's Lost Themes makes anything sound exciting, whether it's paint drying or a plot summary of an unfinished horror short story of mine

She has no idea that she's flashing Michael Myers, the serial killer in that Captain Kirk Halloween costume mask that's still the second most immovable face in Hollywood, after Cher's.
P.J. Soles from John Carpenter's Halloween (Photo source: Popcorn Cinema)

The following is a repost of one of my most well-received pieces from earlier this year, originally posted on March 20, 2015. In between the time I wrote the piece and now, John Carpenter composed the main title theme for the CBS summer show Zoo.

The most significant and impressive piece of work John Carpenter has made in the last 15 years is neither a feature film nor a TV-movie. It's John Carpenter's Lost Themes, a new collection of original Carpenter instrumentals that, in the Albertus font-loving filmmaker/composer's own words, are "meant to score the movies in your head." The Sacred Bones Records album is Carpenter's entry into the imaginary soundtracks genre, where the likes of Black Dynamite composer Adrian Younge (2000's Venice Dawn) and the duo of Danger Mouse and Magic City composer Daniele Luppi (2011's Rome) have created score cues or theme tunes for movies that don't exist.

Lost Themes tracks like "Vortex" and "Abyss" resemble outtakes from Carpenter's scores to the 1988 cult favorite They Live and the mad-underrated In the Mouth of Madness, and except for the really cheesy Big Trouble in Little China end title theme sung by Carpenter himself, that Carpenter synth sound Lost Themes reacquaints us with has aged remarkably well. It's aged so well that Carpenter's pulsating and frequently sampled 1976 Assault on Precinct 13 main title theme--which Carpenter has said was influenced by Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" and is in rotation during both the AFOS morning block "Beat Box" and "AFOS Prime"--sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday, while the likes of Steven Price, frequent Steven Soderbergh collaborator David Holmes and It Follows composer Rich Vreeland, a.k.a. Disasterpeace, dig the Carpenter sound so much that they borrow from Carpenter in their respective film scores.

I'd add some of the Lost Themes instrumentals to AFOS rotation, but the station format focuses only on score music written for movies and TV shows that aren't imaginary, and I don't have enough station hard drive space to launch a new imaginary soundtrack music block just to stream Lost Themes selections. For about a year, the station schedule included "Rome, Italian Style," an imaginary soundtrack music block I named after one of my favorite SCTV sketches (and a rare SCTV sketch that's not marred by an annoying laugh track). Younge's Venice Dawn tracks and Luppi's Rome tracks were part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist, and if the block still existed, those tracks would have shared space with the Lost Themes pieces. The Carpenter sound, which is basically '70s and '80s Italian film music, would have been a nice fit with the '60s Italian film vibe of the Venice Dawn and Rome tracks.

Junta Juleil's Culture Shock and Consequence of Sound both have gotten creative and used the Lost Themes instrumentals to fancast fictional Carpenter movies featuring those tracks. For example, in their movie idea built out of the Lost Themes track "Purgatory," Consequence of Sound imagined a 1988 murder mystery starring Kevin Dillon, Ernie Hudson and Daryl Hannah in her At Play in the Fields of the Lord skinny-dipping scene heyday, while "Purgatory" got Junta Juleil author Sean Gill to envision a completely implausible but much more enticing movie: a Big Trouble in Little China mini-reunion between Dennis Dun and Kurt Russell, who reprises his non-Carpenter role as Captain Ron.

I still haven't seen John Carpenter's made-for-TV Elvis biopic. The best way to make an Elvis biopic would be to totally go batshit crazy and allow that director who cast several different actors and actresses as Bob Dylan to run things and do whatever the fuck he wants with Elvis. Or just get Chuck D to direct it.
John Carpenter directs Victor Wong and Donald Pleasence on the set of Prince of Darkness, one of seven big-screen Carpenter movies I haven't seen yet. All those remaining seven movies do not star Kurt Russell, Carpenter's muse.

I'd indulge in some Lost Themes-inspired fancasting too, but I don't want to bite Junta Juleil and Consequence of Sound's style, so I'm going to do a completely different approach to playing around with Lost Themes and demonstrating how Carpenter's new instrumentals can make anything sound exciting and atmospheric. I'm going to unearth a plot synopsis I wrote three years ago for a never-finished horror short story and spice it up--or rather, Carpenter it up--with Lost Themes selections.

"The Pet" was my attempt to create a new Filipino monster that would have joined the creepy likes of the aswang and the manananggal. The story would have mixed Filipino monster folklore with one of the most unsettling horror tropes, eye trauma. Here's a good example of how unsettling that trope can be: I was so bothered by a Lasik operation-gone-wrong episode of the short-lived early '00s supernatural show The Others (no relation to the Nicole Kidman haunted house flick of the same name) that I've refused to undergo Lasik surgery to improve my eyesight. At the time I was trying to write "The Pet" as a submission to a Filipino YA horror anthology (it was called HORROR, with the title in all caps, as if it were a book by Meek Mill), I thought, "Eye trauma is terrifying, so how do I work that into the creation of a new monster?"

The result was a story where I only got as far as completing four pages. I ended up missing the anthology submission deadline because I was never satisfied with both the dialogue I wrote and the legal hurdles the story's characters would have overcome in order to acquire the titular creature. Also, I think "The Pet" would be better off as either an episode of a horror comedy anthology show or a short film rather than as a short story in print. I always imagined it as a Joe Dante suburban comedy/thriller with a John Carpenter score--and a Filipino American backdrop.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Throwback Thursdeath: Kung Fu Killer (2014)

The problem with the title Kung Fu Killer is that you don't know if it means he's a killer who uses kung fu or if he's trying to put an end to kung fu as if it's a grizzly bear that killed his dad.
Today's edition of Throwback Thursday is a repost of a TBT piece from May 7, 2015.

As a streaming service, Netflix has both merits and drawbacks. Let's get the drawbacks out of the way first: some of the widescreen movies the studios hand over to Netflix's streaming library aren't in their original aspect ratios, so customers are subjected to poorly cropped and confusing-looking versions of those movies (the version of Step Brothers I watched on Netflix Instant in 2009 was one such poorly cropped version). And whenever Netflix loses the streaming rights to a title it's licensed to carry for a limited time, procrastinators like me often find ourselves scrambling to watch that title a couple of hours before it vanishes from the site.

They're annoying drawbacks. But they're outnumbered by merits like Netflix's terrific HD quality; no ad breaks; content that never freezes like it often does on a DVD or Blu-ray rental that's not in the best shape; and easy access to so many foreign films, which wouldn't have been possible in the VHS days when barely any home video companies cared about fully satisfying or catering to niche markets and the only way to experience a classic Jackie Chan actioner from Hong Kong was to grudgingly accept whatever Miramax or New Line Cinema gave you, and that would always be a butchered and badly dubbed version.

Donnie Yen channels Harrison Ford in Air Force One and tells Wang Baoqiang to get off his boat.

Those foreign films that are easy to access through Netflix's streaming library include the oeuvre of Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen. With the exception of the Miramax-butchered version of Iron Monkey that currently exists on Netflix, many of Yen's films are on Netflix in their original and untouched form, thanks to niche companies like Well Go USA, the way-more-hands-off-than-the-Weinsteins distributor of Yen's Ip Man films and the most recent Yen actioner to hit American theaters, the 2014 serial killer procedural Kung Fu Jungle, which reteamed Yen with his Bodyguards and Assassins director Teddy Chen. On Netflix, it's easy to get to know the charismatic (and unlike Chuck "1,000 Years of Darkness" Norris and Steven Seagal, able-to-act-during-non-fight-scenes) performer whom Deadspin "Netflix Action Movie Canon" columnist Tom Breihan calls "Hong Kong's greatest action star right now."

Breihan also refers to Yen as "one of the great movie-fight visionaries working today" due to his preference for making fight scenes look more visceral and tough, not to mention coherent--unlike the incomprehensible work of too many non-Asian directors who attempt to tackle elaborate action sequences--and never bringing in stunt doubles to replace the stars (who have done so much fight training that they don't need to be replaced), which lends authenticity to even the most improbable-looking moment of wirework. As Breihan says, Yen's preference for visceral fight scenes has elevated the movie-fight game (Tony Jaa's Thai actioners and director Gareth Evans' Raid movies are other similar examples where that game has been raised), and it "elevates something like 2007's Flash Point past standard Hong Kong cops-and-mobsters fare, turning it into something truly special."

The fight scenes in the Chen-directed Kung Fu Jungle don't break new ground like the climactic Flash Point brawl between Yen and Collin Chou did when it incorporated MMA fighting moves that were new to Hong Kong action cinema at the time, but they're still thrilling to watch, thanks to Yen, who directed the fight scenes in Kung Fu Jungle, and his fellow fight choreographers, who all won Best Action Choreography at the Hong Kong Film Awards a few weeks ago for their work in Kung Fu Jungle. The film pits both Yen, who stars as Hahou Mo, a former martial arts instructor for the police who's doing time for manslaughter, and Charlie Yeung, who plays a female Hong Kong police inspector, against a serial killer who could only exist in movies: a martial arts expert who learns to master other martial arts experts' skills and then uses their skills against them so that taking their lives will result in him being the greatest fighter in Hong Kong.

Yen may be playing the hero in Kung Fu Jungle, but the performer who gets to really shine in Kung Fu Jungle--even more so than Yen--is Wang Baoqiang, whose serial killer character Fung Yu-Sau is able to vanquish his targets despite being born with a club foot. He's the club-footed ass-kicker Damon Wayans--who was born with a club foot and turned his tough, orthopedic shoe-wearing past into both material for his stand-up act and a Kids' WB animated show about his childhood--must have always dreamed of becoming.

Wang Baoqiang channels Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and gets himself involved in a clumsily tacked-on motorboat chase.

I don't know if a club-footed serial killer antagonist with kung fu skills would have saved Dexter as it degenerated after its first two seasons into an often poorly written slog and a right-wing vigilante fantasy that became far too worshipful of Dexter, but such an antagonist would have definitely made post-season 2 Dexter less of a slog to sit through. The most preposterous aspects of the titular killer and the stupidity of the cops pursuing the killer are also a lot less grating and noticeable as convenient plot holes in a fast-moving two-hour action flick than as plot holes on an eight-season, 96-episode drama where said plot holes are recycled so often that the show turns into a wheel-spinning mess (I blame network interference and showrunner musical chairs for that show's decline, or rather, treadmill fall into lumberjack-y absurdity).

As Fung Yu-Sau, Wang actually does more fighting in Kung Fu Jungle than Yen does. Yen's in his 50s now, and while he's still in prime physical shape, like during a prison brawl where Hahou takes down 17 other inmates all by himself or Hahou's climactic fight with Fung Yu-Sau in the middle of a busy highway, Kung Fu Jungle is basically Yen's acknowledgement that this will be the last time he'll make as intense and brutal an action flick as this one or Flash Point.

Actually, Yen's not completely saying farewell to action: his next few films will include Ip Man 3 with Mike Tyson (I take it this one's a remake of Rocky III, and Tyson's supposed to be playing Clubber Lang, like how Ip Man 2 was a remake of Rocky IV featuring Sammo Hung as Apollo and the late Darren Shahlavi as Drago) and Netflix's upcoming Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel. But for this quasi-swan song, Yen passes the hyperkinetic-martial-arts-cinema torch to Wang, and--slight spoiler--in another act of stepping aside, Yen generously gives the film's final heroic action-movie moment to Yeung's cop character.

Charlie Yeung's frequently incompetent police department in Kung Fu Killer makes Miami Metro from Dexter look like a tight ship.

As part of its victory-lap feel, Kung Fu Jungle is populated with cameos from legendary Hong Kong figures like Golden Harvest studio founder Raymond Chow and so many of Yen's martial arts cinema colleagues. For instance, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky star and Ip Man series regular Fan Siu-Wong appears as one of Fung Yu-Sau's targets, a Hong Kong stuntman Fung Yu-Sau challenges on an empty movie set to a weapons duel that's nearly as entertaining as similar fight scenes on fictional movie sets in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

The only major change Well Go USA made to Kung Fu Jungle was retitling it Kung Fu Killer, which makes little sense because the title change causes Yen's movie to get easily confused with another movie of the same name, a poorly received 2008 American TV-movie that reunited David Carradine with his Kill Bill henchwoman Daryl Hannah. However, Well Go USA forgot to scrub away the movie's original title from the on-screen text during the lengthy dedication to martial arts cinema colleagues at the end. Whichever way you prefer to call the Yen actioner, the film is worth a look when it inevitably hits Netflix's streaming library--and hits Netflix hard like Fung Yu-Sau's orthopedic shoe to the face.

Kung Fu Killer is--surprise!--now streaming on Netflix. In between the time I wrote the above piece and now, Yen was interestingly cast in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or whatever Lucasfilm is calling the Gareth Edwards blockbuster this week.

Friday, October 9, 2015

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week and Last Week: Rick and Morty, "The Wedding Squanchers" and "Look Who's Purging Now"

Look, it's that baby sun from Teletubbies, 40 years and six kids later.
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. Jemaine Clement and Rick and Morty series composer Ryan Elder's "Goodbye Moonmen," the original song from Rick and Morty's "Mortynight Run" earlier this season, is now in rotation during "Brokedown."

Last week's "Look Who's Purging Now," the penultimate episode of Rick and Morty's second season, and this week's "The Wedding Squanchers," the Red Wedding-inspired second-season finale, aren't intended to be viewed as a two-part story. But they have a lot in common, so they could have been packaged together as one big finale, which would have been nice to experience because I can never get enough of this often brilliant show. The purging episode is a final statement on Morty before the long break between seasons, just as "The Wedding Squanchers," which doesn't pay as much attention to Morty, is a final statement on Rick, and a couple of threads tie both episodes together.

One of those threads is the way the smartest man in the multiverse continually puts on a tough and macho exterior to never let anybody--whether it's Evil Rick last season or, in these last two episodes, any of the Smiths or even his friend and occasional criminal accomplice Birdperson (Dan Harmon)--see him at his most vulnerable, afraid or emotionally open, like when he pretends that he doesn't get sickened by the violence he witnesses in "Look Who's Purging Now," even as he's puking over how gory the carnage gets. The other thread is Rick's unspoken love for the family that, because of that tough exterior of his, will never be able to know of the grand gestures he makes to protect them.

The funniest moment in "Look Who's Purging Now," the first Rick and Morty episode where Harmon, his showrunning partner Justin Roiland and frequent Rick and Morty writer Ryan Ridley ("Meeseeks and Destroy") all share writing credit, has little to do with the episode's comedic and ultra-gory take on the "ordinary law-abiding citizens are given an hour or 12 hours to wile out and unleash their repressed rage on people" trope from Star Trek's "The Return of the Archons" and more recently, The Purge. Instead, the funniest moment is a scene that takes a pause from the bloodshed to revisit Harmon's frustrations about one of the most overused storytelling devices in screenwriting in recent years.

The tired device known as in medias res, a staple of Alias and Arrow or any network TV pilot of the last 10 years, gets another tongue-lashing from Harmon, this time in the form of Morty. Rick and Morty are trapped on an Amish-like cat people planet where the laws appear to have been modeled after the totalitarian society in The Purge ("That movie sucked," says Summer in a line that was perhaps contributed by Ridley, who reportedly found the concept of a Purge-inspired story to be hacky). Carjacked by a teen named Arthrisha (Baby Daddy star Chelsea Kane, an old castmate of Roiland's from his Disney/Fish Hooks days who clearly relishes being allowed to curse on this show), Rick and Morty are forced to seek refuge from the temporarily trigger-happy participants of the nighttime "Festival" by hiding out in the home of an old lighthouse keeper who refuses to participate in any of the purging. The kindly lighthouse keeper tells Rick and Morty, "I will let you use my lighthouse for shelter and beacon-sending on the condition that you listen to my tale." But instead of regaling Morty with a captivating story about an adventure on the sea, his tale turns out to be a clichéd rom-com screenplay he's been writing. The moment he read aloud to Morty the words "TITLE: THREE WEEKS EARLIER," I knew where the scene was headed and laughed my head off.

"I'm not a huge fan, personally, of the whole 'three weeks earlier' teaser thing," says Morty as he gives a critique to the lighthouse keeper about his screenplay. "I feel like, you know, we should start our stories where they begin, not start them where they get interesting."

I'm with you on that, Harmon, er, I mean, Morty.

Jesus, Dutch Wagenbach, take it fucking easy. It's just a cat.

Morty's argument with the old man over screenwriting and bad manners triggers a rage that Morty, who's initially appalled by the ways of the purge planet, is in denial about. Once that murderous rage is unleashed, Morty, like any other hormonal teenager, is unable to shut it off, and that leads to the show's most enjoyable use of an existing song this season, Tony! Toni! Toné!'s 1990 new jack hit "Feels Good."

I'm not so fond of the clunky way "Feels Good" has been looped and re-edited by the show's music editor (it's been shorn of the classic sample of a girl's orgasmic moans from "When Boys Talk" by Indeep of "Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life!" fame). But I love how the episode first uses "Feels Good" non-diegetically and then changes it to diegetic after Rick--who sedates the mech-suited Morty with electric shocks because even he's had enough of Morty's killing spree--hands over Morty's mech suit to Arthrisha to allow her to go after the rich assholes who have created the Festival just to get the planet's lower-class citizens to kill each other off.

In "Look Who's Purging Now," Morty becomes even more of a monster than Rick at his most cold-blooded. It's a really dark way to close out this season's arc of Morty becoming desensitized to the madness around him--is this also how Evil Morty originated in that other dimension we haven't heard from since "Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind"?--but when you look back at the many different kinds of mayhem Morty has encountered since the very first episode, his repressed rage makes a lot of sense.

But as IGN points out in its review of "Look Who's Purging Now," a tiny light emerges at the end of this darkness, and it comes from a surprising source: Rick. "Several times in the past we've seen Rick show a genuine affection for Morty and even go out of his way to spare his grandson from emotional suffering. That trend repeated here as Rick led Morty to believe that the boy's murderous behavior was the result of a drugged candy bar rather than latent emotional trauma and teenage hormones," said IGN. Rick's act of deception to make Morty feel better is an interesting way to foreshadow the sacrifice Rick makes at the end of "The Wedding Squanchers."

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Throwback Thursdead: Better Off Dead 30th Anniversary Live Read

This beats that time I went to see Eek! the Cat on Ice.

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 Sunday will be the 30th anniversary of the wide release of Better Off Dead, which began on October 11, 1985, so today, instead of drawing some random stub, I'm intentionally pulling out the stub that says "Better Off Dead 30th Anniversary Live Read."

David Wain's They Came Together is a hilarious rom-com spoof I recommend to anyone who longs for a spoof movie that actually doesn't suck. The most worthwhile of its Blu-ray extras is the complete footage of the 2012 live read of the They Came Together screenplay at SF Sketchfest in San Francisco, back when the film was just a project Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter had trouble getting off the ground at Universal, and their silly screenplay, a vicious skewering of--as well as an affectionate homage to--rom-coms, sat quietly in a cabinet until the day Wain, Showalter and their friends from the alt-comedy world unleashed it on stage.

A lot of the gags from the 2012 draft of the screenplay actually made it into the final cut, so the only major differences between the live read and the movie are the absence of a framing device, a few different bits of casting (for instance, Wet Hot American Summer star Marguerite Moreau doesn't appear in They Came Together, but she had a role in the live read) and the sight of actors like Paul Rudd constantly laughing while playing their roles. They were cracking up because they were encountering Wain and Showalter's odd lines--particularly "Oh God, Bubby, I wanna fuck you so bad"--for the very first time, as they were reading them on stage (this was also why They Came Together cast member Bill Hader kept cracking up as Stefon on Weekend Update: then-SNL writer John Mulaney always replaced portions of Hader's cue cards with newly written lines Hader had never seen before).

Despite the shitty video quality of the Sketchfest live read footage, I was so entertained by that They Came Together live read that it caused my largely agoraphobic ass to travel up to Sketchfest for the very first time in its 14-year history and watch a similar live read at the Marines Memorial Theatre. This time it wasn't an unproduced screenplay that was being read by actors on stage--it was the screenplay for Better Off Dead, my favorite '80s teen flick.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of his film, writer/director Savage Steve Holland got a few original cast members--Curtis Armstrong, Diane Franklin, Amanda Wyss and Kim Darby--to reprise their roles during the live read at the Marines. Napoleon Dynamite star Jon Heder and Kevin Pollak took over the roles that previously belonged to John Cusack and David Ogden Stiers, respectively, and a bunch of Sketchfest regulars like Paul F. Tompkins, Steve Agee and festival co-founder Janet "Korra" Varney filled in for other roles from the film as well.

Why is Better Off Dead--Holland's semi-autobiographical story of a teenage cartoonist with an overactive imagination who attempts to kill himself after he's dumped by his girlfriend Beth (Wyss), but he keeps failing at every suicide attempt--both my favorite '80s teen flick and the one I've watched more times than any other? It's due to the surrealism of it all.

During a classroom scene, the hair on the heads of all the students is seen standing up when their ears are subjected to the sound of chalk screeching down a blackboard. Mute supergenius Badger (Scooter Stevens), the little brother of Cusack's Lane Myer, orders a book about how to attract trashy women and then is later seen arm-in-arm with a bunch of them. Ultra-dorky Ricky Smith (Dan Schneider, who later made a fortune as a producer of Nickelodeon sitcoms, which are also where Holland has spent most of his directorial career after co-creating the '90s Saturday morning cartoon Eek! the Cat) makes a grand entrance to the sound of lightning at a school dance. Lane becomes the Bugs Bunny-ish target of a psychotic paperboy (Demian Slade) who won't leave without the two dollars Lane owes him for his delivery. Those are just some of the many examples of how Better Off Dead is a live-action cartoon, in the same way that Raising Arizona is basically the Coen Brothers bringing to life a Road Runner short--or the same way that many Joe Dante movies are influenced by the Warner Bros. animated shorts Dante adores.

But the uniqueness of Better Off Dead as a live-action cartoon is due to Holland working with traditional '80s teen flick tropes--whether it's a scene at a typically boring and unfulfilling after-school job or a romance with the girl next door (who, in this case, is French)--and taking them in as surreal a direction as he can go. The movie even contains animated interludes that bring to mind Woody Allen's brief transformation of Annie Hall into Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (in fact, Wyss once described Holland's work as "like a punk Woody Allen"). It would be inane to react to Better Off Dead with "Badger can't pick up women like that in real life! That's impossible!" Either you sit back and roll with the cartoonishness--and let it reduce you to laughter--or just watch something else. You prefer your movies to be completely laughless and devoid of either larger-than-life storytelling or inventiveness, right? I have the item just for you. It's called the entire filmography of Kirk Cameron.

Holland's film also chooses to take the pain of teenage heartbreak and emphasize the absurdity of that pain rather than go all emo on us and wallow in the pain. Whenever your love life doesn't go the way you want it to, doesn't it feel like the whole world's having a laugh at your expense? No other movie has captured that strange feeling quite like Better Off Dead has. Even something as innocuous as a Flintstones rerun becomes threatening and somehow annoying when you're deep in misery after getting rejected, and in Better Off Dead, that's exactly what happens when Barney Rubble suddenly addresses Lane from the TV screen and asks Lane if he can date Beth too.

Sketchfest's Better Off Dead live read didn't quite nail the surrealism that makes Holland's film unique--it's impossible to do so in a live read--but seeing Armstrong, Franklin, Wyss and Darby reprise their roles and hearing Franklin speak in her French exchange student character's accent again on stage both made the live read the type of enjoyable extra Better Off Dead has always deserved on disc and has never gotten since both its DVD and Blu-ray editions have been disappointingly light on extras. You know how Anton Ego immediately flashes back to being a boy comforted by his mom's home cooking after he takes his first bite of ratatouille? When Franklin finally spoke up at the live read for the first time as Monique in that accent (if you forgot, Monique doesn't speak during the movie's first half), I similarly flashed back to being a little kid watching Better Off Dead for the first of many times on cable in the '80s and thinking, "Who's this French actress? She's funny."

Monday, October 5, 2015

What makes a shitty trailer? (Horrible music and comatose-sounding announcer copy)

The trailer for the Facebook movie should have just been footage of some right-wing lunatic reading his rambling and racist status update about Obamacare because that's how I would have known the movie's about Facebook.
Examples of the not-so-shitty work of Mark Woollen's trailer house (Photo source: New York magazine)

Movie trailers are a form of advertising I first became fascinated with in 2005, when I started experimenting with using '70s movie radio spots as interstitials to introduce the next piece of music on AFOS. For example, if the next tune on AFOS was the Love Unlimited Orchestra's "Theme from Together Brothers," it was going to be preceded by an actual Together Brothers radio spot from 1974.

A few months later, playing around with those old radio spots made me realize the audio from the spooky Batman Begins bat noises TV spot worked fantastically as a similar intro for any Batman Begins score track on the stream. This saved me the trouble of opening GoldWave and recording an intro to ID the composer and score album for every single track on the four different playlists AFOS consisted of at the time (today, AFOS consists of 56 different playlists).

From then on, I scoured the Interweb tubes for every single trailer or TV spot for a movie or TV show I could get my hands on and then re-edit into interstitials (and I continue to scour for trailer audio, as well as shorten them for radio because a lot of trailers contain huge chunks of wordless visual action or vague-sounding dialogue that would make no sense on radio). I wound up getting a few thumbs up in listener e-mails and on Twitter for this trailer-audio-as-interstitials approach. Someone tweeted that AFOS has a DJ Food vibe because of it. It was better than the occasional harsh criticisms I used to receive about the sound of my voice on AFOS.

By 2006, I had listened to so much trailer audio that I stopped dismissing trailers as annoying commercials that would always get in the way of my enjoyment of the feature presentation, whether I'm watching that feature in the theater or on disc, and I started to respect the art of producing and editing these trailers. I've become a fan of the Buddha Jones trailer house's laugh-out-loud funny trailer campaigns for 2011's The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted, and I've grown to admire Hollywood trailer producer Mark Woollen and his eponymous trailer house's inventive work on the campaigns for films like Little Children, In the Loop and Gone Girl.

"Mark has the difficult task and very rare talent of finding a film's DNA in 120 seconds. Once he finds it, he translates it not by revealing its story but by expressing, in a clear but mysterious way, the film's emotional essence," said Alejandro González Iñárritu to New York magazine about Woollen, who crafted the trailers and TV spots for Iñárritu's Best Picture Oscar winner Birdman. Woollen has been pushing for stylish trailers that move away from extremely on-the-nose and frequently parodied trailer styles like the tired comedy trailer template The Simpsons once made fun of in its fake trailers for an Ed O'Neill sports comedy called Soccer Mummy and a Going Ape/Dunston Checks In-ish piece of shit called Editor-in-Chimp.

This is Ed O'Neill's worst screen credit, until that whole season of the new Dragnet he barely fucking appeared in.
The New York Post is, in fact, run by a chimp, which explains a lot of its content.

Some of my all-time favorite trailers, like the ones for Albert Brooks' Real Life and the 2002 documentary Comedian, don't even include any footage from the film and are amusing short films by themselves. I also started to respect the art of narrating trailers. I had listened to so much trailer audio by 2006 that I started to be able to identify the names of the voices behind the voiceovers. Before 2006, I used to often get Hal Douglas, the announcer who appeared as himself in the Comedian trailer, mixed up with Don LaFontaine, because their authoritative voices sometimes sounded the same. After 2006, I was able to tell them apart, and I can now do the same with any announcer who's become more prominent in the trailer voiceover biz since the deaths of LaFontaine and later, Douglas ("Yo, that's Ashton Smith in that TV spot. And that's definitely Keith David. Or is that Dorian Harewood, the voice of NBC? Nah, that's definitely David").

So when Childrens Hospital regular Lake Bell starred in and directed In a World..., an indie comedy about a post-LaFontaine trailer voiceover industry (as well as the Bell character's frustrations over that industry being such a sausage fest), I felt like she made that movie just for me. The movie's opening montage of archival footage of LaFontaine at work was excellent as an opening title sequence, and I especially enjoyed how a lot of In a World... took place in recording studios, a world I'm familiar with from my days of either being involved with college radio or recording content for AFOS inside a cozy and loungey studio.

It's also great whenever any publication takes an In a World...-like look at the trailer biz and discusses at length the unknown history of cutting together trailers or, in the case of the A.V. Club, the stylistic choices that go into making a standout trailer (one "AVQ&A" panelist says, "While I appreciate the art of a tasteful teaser, sometimes I just want to be told exactly what the hell is going on," while another panelist says, "My answer happens to be the opposite... I like a trailer that doesn't tell me anything about what's going on"). The A.V. Club's September 25 Q&A with its own staff writers about "What makes a great trailer?" inspired the bloggers over at The Solute--a film discussion blog founded by film lovers who became online friends in the surprisingly calm and civil comments section of Pitchfork Media's much-missed The Dissolve--to discuss examples of terrible trailers for good movies.

The Solute post scores points for not overlooking the most notorious recent example of coming attractions that are so atrociously made that they're incongruous with the word "attraction" and they wind up diminishing the attractiveness of whatever film they're hyping. That example would have to be the shitty trailers that caused the surprisingly enjoyable Edge of Tomorrow to get squished at the box office as if it were Tom Cruise's body getting run over by an Army truck.

But the king of terrible trailers for good or great movies has to be the American trailer for the Samuel Goldwyn Company release of Henry V, Kenneth Branagh's 1989 big-screen directorial debut. In 1989, the most talked-about trailer campaign belonged to Batman, not just because the footage presented a dark Batman who had never been depicted on screen before, but also because of the extremely minimalist approach of the Tim Burton film's 1988 teaser trailer: no voiceover narration, no music (Woollen's Little Children trailer became notable for also containing no music) and not even an appearance by either the title of the film or its about-to-be-ubiquitous, Anton Furst-designed logo at the end of the trailer. The minimalist approach was due to Warner Bros.' eagerness to rush a teaser trailer into theaters to intensify the buzz for Batman. It's funny how the Batman teaser's lack of narration ended up influencing a lot of trailers today when it was really a result of the trailer house not having enough time to record narration for the teaser. A similar minimalist approach also distinguished another trailer from 1989: the original U.K. trailer for Henry V, which opted for no narration and simply relied on Shakespeare's dialogue and Patrick Doyle's epic score from the film to sell the drama and gritty war-movie feel of Branagh's first Shakespeare adaptation for the screen.

Doyle's very first film score kicked off a long-lasting cinematic partnership with Branagh (before Henry V, Doyle had scored Branagh's 1987 stage production of Twelfth Night) that continued recently with Doyle's score for Branagh's version of Cinderella earlier this year. The Henry V score remains my favorite work of Doyle's. That's why selections from the Henry V score are in rotation on AFOS. "One of Pat's great gifts is for melody, and I wanted every tune to make an impact. The great set pieces needed underscoring as powerful and immediate as the words themselves," wrote Branagh in the Henry V score album liner notes.

Henry V's 14-minute St. Crispin's Day speech score cue, which Doyle has covered on piano in his recent Varèse Sarabande release The Music of Patrick Doyle: Solo Piano, is the Branagh film's most memorable example of underscoring that's as powerful and immediate as the words themselves. The Crispin's Day cue also became a staple of trailers or TV broadcast promos for feel-good movies in the '90s. But the Henry V cues that actually better sum up for me the drive and pulse of Branagh's film (recently reissued on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory) are "Opening title--'O! for a Muse of fire,'" which was used in most of the British trailer, and "'Once more unto the breach,'" which is in rotation on AFOS. So how did the trailer house that produced the American trailer for Henry V manage to fuck it all up? It stupidly didn't use "'O!' for a Muse of fire,'" "'Once more unto the breach'" or any other cue from Doyle's exceptional score. The chintzy synth music in Henry V's American trailer is, to borrow a line from Henry V, like a foul and ugly witch limping so tediously away. Cue Jean-Ralphio.

Why the fuck does the American trailer music sound like walk-in music at a 1988 Christian leadership retreat? The music that was chosen by the American trailer house is so atrocious and shoddy-sounding I actually removed as much as I could of it from the intro that transitions into either "'Once more unto the breach'" or "'Non nobis, Domine'" whenever they get streamed by AFOS. Also, the music, which doesn't sound like anything Doyle would ever compose, fails to convey that this is the kind of non-stodgy and visually interesting Shakespeare movie that's capable of a remarkable shot like the epic tracking shot Branagh came up with to powerfully illustrate the costs of war. To its credit, the American trailer doesn't omit Shakespeare's dialogue to make Henry V more palatable to American moviegoers who either are unfamiliar with the play or doze off whenever they hear Shakespeare. But unfortunately, it tacks on an announcer who delivers some of the most drab-sounding late '80s/early '90s trailer copy this side of the 1993 Batman: Mask of the Phantasm trailer ("It was one of history's greatest adventures, led by a soldier who wouldn't retreat").

Combined with that feel-good music that creates the notion that this movie is boring homework, the addition of a cheesy announcer totally kills the mood and the aura of political intrigue that were more effectively indicated by the film's British trailer, a trailer that, stylistically, is much closer to the largely voiceover-less, Woollen-style trailers that are being made today. Henry V's American trailer is exhibit A in how not to shape a trailer out of historical material that can be difficult to market to a non-art-house American crowd, as well as how not to make a trailer, period. "The Samuel Goldwyn Company presents a bold new film by Kenneth Branagh"? Nah, B, it should be "The Samuel Goldwyn Company misrepresents a bold new film by Kenneth Branagh."

Selections from the 1989 Henry V score are in rotation during "AFOS Prime."