Sunday, October 28, 2007

For those who are curious...

In case you were wondering, now that I've stopped with the "Month o' Horror" updates, who far along I am, as of last night's screening (I love that term) of "Saw IV" I am at 24 films. While it seems a touch unlikely that I'll manage seven more films before November first, it's not impossible. And even if I don't quite make it, I'll have gotten close enough for me.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saw: A dissection

First off, I might as well confess right now that I'm giving up on this whole "blogging the month o' horror" thing. While I did entertain the idea of removing my previous "Month o' Horror" posts, I've decided to leave them as is, as a testament to my failure, and, perhaps, a reminder that I need to be more on the ball if I'm going to try doing this same sort of thing again.

Having abandond the strict "let's review each of the movies I've watched this month" structure of the "Month o' Horror" however has given me the freedom to do something a bit more vague, like write about a film franchise in general. Which is what I'm going to do right now.

The "Saw" franchise, specifically.

I think it's fair to say that there has not been a more successful horror film franchise to emerge in the 21st century. Sure, the "Hostel" films have their fans (and I'm among them). Rob Zombie built a mostly-successful mini-franchise with "House of 1,000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects" before switching focus and helming the "Halloween" remake. And, sure, some of the old classics are still breathing (barely) thanks to films like "Freddy vs. Jason."

But if there is one horror franchise that has grabbed the attention of audiences, and won their hearts, it's "Saw."

But the question is, why?

I'll admit it, I'm not a huge fan of the first film. For the most part it works as an interesting and engaging mystery and thriller. Why are these two people chained up in a grungy bathroom? Who put them there? For what purpose? The film captures your attention right out of the gate, and manages to find the right balance between handing out information and keeping shit secret to make you happily go along for the ride, waiting to find out what's around the next sudden curve.

Unfortunately, the twist ending comes across as a twist for the sake of a twist, and that's something I just can't support. The sudden, shocker, twist ending is the lazy device of a bad a writer. Just ask M. Night.

If all we had to judge "Saw" on was it's original incarnation, it wouldn't have likely made a significant dent in the history or horror. It would be looked back on as a mildly interesting thriller that happened to exist smack in the middle of what some call the "torture porn" phase of horror. And that would be that.

Of course the money-men at Lion's Gate Films weren't content to leave it at that after the original film's opening weekend drew in significantly more money than was spent in its creation. And thus, horror history was made.

What's interesting about the "Saw" franchise is that, unlike traditional horror franchises like "Friday the 13th" or "Nightmare on Elm Street" or even more current examples like "Hostel," the "Saw" movies have actually tried to make their sequels feel like extensions of the original story, instead of just a bunch of new people being killed in a bunch of new ways (although, admittedly, the "Saw" films are also guilty of this one).

Maybe I'm in the minority, but to me, it's the growth of the "Jigsaw" character in "Saw 2" that makes that an interesting film for me. And it's the continued story of that character in "Saw 3" that makes it a compelling film (because, judged just on the film alone, it's not quite as strong as the second, though still above the first -- in my own humble opinion, of course).

Of course there's still more the "Saw" franchise than just that. As much as I hate to admit it, there's an almost existential heart pulsing at its center.

Okay, so it's unlikely that the "Saw" franchise will ever face serious critical study as part of a university film program, but you have to admit that a serial killer who tracks down people who have squandered the gift of life and forces them to re-evaluate their own desire for life (or death) has a little bit more going on under the surface than your average slasher flick (not counting attempts to find threads of Freudian subtext in the Friday the 13th series).

I'm not sure it's possible to watch one of the "Saw" movies without thinking to yourself, What would I do in that situation?

And any film that makes you ask questions about your own life and your existence has to be doing something right. Even if it's doing it with some of the most brutal and disgusting images to have yet been capture on film.

Unfortunately, what was a near-perfect existential horror trilogy has been marred by studio greed. While "Saw IV" isn't a terrible film, it doesn't quite reach the heights of its predecessors, and was clearly a film made for money's sake, and not because the filmmakers felt the genuine desire to follow the lives of the characters they had created in the previous films. As much as "Saw IV" tries to be a part of the franchise, tries to continue to job of fleshing out the character of Jigsaw, it ultimately comes across as a pale imitator of the previous films, and not quite worthy of their praise.

Hope for the franchise isn't completely dead, of course. Horror films like this never really die, and Saws V and VI are already planned. As a horror fan in general, and as a fan of the first three "Saw" outtings, a part of me hoping that two more films will once again elevate the genre to something at least slightly above the norm, but if "Saw IV" is any indicator, we're in for more of the same thing we've already seen enough of.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Awards and more

So "Dinner & Drinks" snagged the "Tenneessee Williams Award for Creativity" at ACToberfest last weekend. What that means, of course, is that no only did this show make a decent profit here in WL, it also grabbed some critical attention too, which is sort of the best of both worlds, and sort of make me happy. Really frigging happy, actually.

Ideas are already starting to rattle around in my skull for a one-act to write and direct for next year's event (whichi will be held in Prince George) and even though I'm feeling the burning excitement to get started on it, I need to remind myself that it's still and entire year away, and I really can sit back and take my time. No need to rush anything. Especially the ideas. Rushing those can sometimes be a serious mistake.

The trip to Kelowna, and the attempt afterwards to get back into the swing of things here in town again, have put a bit of a damper on the Month o' Horror thing. I'm doing an okay job of catching up on the films (sitting, I think, at about 16 right now), but I haven't done a very good job updating with my reviews of those films. And I'm beginning to wonder if I'll get around them all at this point, or if I'll just let them slide. I'd hate to let another project like this sort of go by the wayside, but time wise, it might be inevitable.

It was a busy weekend for horror movies, with two devoured on Friday night (From Hell, which isn't any better than the last time I saw it, and Freddy vs. Jason, a better film than it had any right to be) and three Cronenberg flicks on Saturday (Rabid, The Fly, and Dead Ringers). I followed up the Cronenberg fest by taking in his new film, Eastern Promises, at the theatre, but it left a mostly meh reaction, unfortunately.

That'll do for now. I think I'll try to toss out a Scream 3 review just to pretend like I might actually get caught up on this "Month o' Horror thing."

Monday, October 08, 2007

I wish I could plan things better...

So this month o' horror thing was sort of a late idea, and I missed the first few days of October. However, I do still intend to watch one horror movie for each day in October, even if maybe I'm not watching one PER day. If you catch what I mean.

For example, I watched "Scream" on Oct 6, with "Scream 2" and "Scream 3" on the agenda for tonight. So, due to the magic of fucking around with time, I will label "Scream" my Oct. 1 film, "Scream 2" my Oct. 2 film, and "Scream 3" my Oct. 3 film. Even though I watched them on the 5th and the 7th.

I know it sounds unnecessarily complicated, but trust me, it works.

I might even futz around a little bit with the posting dates (if that's possible) to make it all *look* better. Because it's all about the looking good.

Speaking of "Scream" I think a review will be appearing within the next few hours (probably before I fire up "Scream 2")

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Making habits

Apparently making a habit of writing regularly is going to require more than just buying a laptop. This isn't entirely surprising to me -- I didn't think the acquisition of a portable writing device would suddenly, magically create the habit where, at least recently, the habit had started to stagnate. I did hope that having access to portable writing might make it easier to get back in the habit, when I could just start typing away in the living room, instead of having to get off my ass, go into the office, etc.

So far, though, that hasn't been the case.

I need to do, just for the sake of doing, and for the sake of breathing new life into this currently stagnant habit. Even if I haven't got anything of any particular value to say, just log in and say *something*.

Which is why I'm here.

The ACToberfest one-act festival we're taking "Dinner & Drinks" to is less than a week away. Only one or two more rehearsals to get the last few polishes in place, and to be honest, there's very little to polish anyway. Some of the actors on Thursday were a little rough on their lines, but there's not much I can say about that except, "Please, review their lines," and then hope that, you know, they actually do.

While in Kelowna for the festival, we'll be chatting with a videography team that's filming the event for 2010 Legacies Now, because our show was chosen to be the focus of the videography. Apparently our show "exemplifies" what Theatre BC was attempting to do with the fest, which was to give a venue to up and coming artists in British Columbia. So, you know, that's pretty cool.

Also trying to watch a horror movie every night this month, in honour of Halloween. Missed the first few days, but started on Friday with "The Ring," then followed up last night with Wes Craven's post-modern slasher flick, "Scream." I had gone out in search of the Friday The 13th box set, but after months of thinking about it, but passing it by, it was finally gone, so I grabbed the Scream package instead.

I've got about another 16 horror movies in my collection, so that'll get me through the majority of the month, but I have to rent a few, or add a few to my collection.

I may try to either write up some reviews or live-blog the movies as well, just, you know, as an exercise in getting back into the habit of doing some writing. And because this here interweb isn't already filled with a buncha wanna-be movie reviewers.

EDIT: Just found this interesting look at some of the stats from the Friday the 13th films (how many deaths total, per movie, blah blah blah) that's actually a pretty spiffy read for any fan of the slasher genre. Sadly, it just makes me wish I'd found the box set yesterday. Sigh.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Month o' Horror: The Ring

The Ring was viewed on Friday, October 5

In way similar to how "Scream" dissects the very conventions of the sort of slasher film that it aims to be, "The Ring" attacks the very thing that we commonly use to bring those sorts of films into our lives -- the television and, more specifically, video tape.

Of course we don't *all* watch movies on video. Many of us have upgraded to DVD, and there are still the few, the proud, the hardcore, that actually like to experience a movie in the theatre. But videotape is still a cultural phonemenon. It's the technology that brought film into the home, and it's something we can all recognize and relate to. It's that connection that "The Ring" relies on. Its our familiarity with the concept of videotape, and the idea that death could strike at anyone -- ourselves included -- that help to make the film work.

"The Ring" was the first of what became a long line of horror films that had originated in Japan before being remade for American audiences. And for my money, "The Ring" is still the best.

It's not a horror film in the way that most of us are familiar with horror films. It doesn't use a lot of blood or cheap make-you-jump tactics. It's got more of a creepy-vibe going on. A slow simmer of unsettling imagery and and the unrelenting passage of time. In fact, if I had to compare it to an American horror film, it would probably be with Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" which, much like the ring, relies on a tense atmosphere instead of kinetics or blood-buckets.

Watching "The Ring" on Friday night marked, I believe, the third time I had seen the film, and while I can't say it necessarily gets better with each viewing, it certainly doesn't get any worse. The cinematography maintains a sense of dread and death, while the dreaded videotape of death is still just as unsettling as the first time I saw it.

What might be my favourite part of the film (and there's sort of spoiler here, so consider yourself warned if you're against that sort of thing) is the ending. No, not the ENDING ending, which is fine in and of itself, promising a happy ending for the mother and son at the centre of the story, even while it suggests a far less optimistic ending for, uh, well, the human race, on some level. No, I mean the tease-ending. The one that makes you think it's going to have the cliched, "release the dead girl and she will be at peace and everyone lives happily ever after" sort of ending that, seriously, we're all pretty fucking tired of. But that ending is just a tease, and there's something for nastier waiting for us after the dust has apparently settled.

And that's the sort of thing that a horror movie supposed to do. It's supposed to unsettle us. It's supposed to make us nervous. Good horror movies aren't predictable. Good horror movies work because they give us the feeling that anything can happen, and that no one is safe.

Something "The Ring" accomplishes in spades.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Month o' Horror: Se7en

Eventually, every film genre -- or film sub-genre -- births a film that is forever linked to that particular genre. Maybe it redefines it, maybe it brings a new legitimacy to it, maybe it's the perfect marriage of writer, director, and performers that bring a level of quality never seen in that genre before.

Whatever the case, "Se7en" is a film that will be forever linked to the serial-killer movie. And with good reason.

"Se7en" has a phenominal cast in front of the camera. Maybe Morgan Freeman has gotten a bit cliched in recent years as the wise, older man, but in "Se7en" it was still fairly fresh; Brad Pitt, as much as he could have taken the pretty-boy film career of someone like Tom Cruise, chose instead to challenge himself on a fairly consistent basis, and while "Se7en" maybe isn't his finest work, it's far from his least; and, of course, there's Kevin Spacey as John Doe, one of the most perfectly calm and perfectly chilling psychopaths ever caught on film.

And then behind the camera is David Fincher, whose previous film -- Alien 3 -- was a visual masterpiece even if the film was ultimately a failure. Fincher is one of the most interesting director working in Hollywood, and while his films vary from interesting if a little too pocorny (Panic Room) to jaw-droppingly brilliant (Fight Club), you'll never see a boring film from the man.

But it isn't just the cast and crew that elevates "Se7en" above most of the films in its genre. The script also works brilliantly, with a killer whose motivations are grotesquely easy to understand. As he slaughters those he views as sinners, and as the film flashes their sins in front of our faces, we can understand the twisted logic of his actions. Maybe we'd never commit those crimes ourselves, but when Doe talks about how sick our world has become, it's difficult to disagree.

Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks that comes from crafting a genre-defining is film is the inevitible copy-cats. And while "Se7en" certainly has its fair share of them, none of them can live up to it, and they don't come anywhere near surpassing it. The film remains one of the finest examples of the genre, and one of the finest examples of powerful genre filmmaking of any kind.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Month o' Horror: Scream 3

Well, it couldn't last forever, I suppose.

As inventive and subversive of the genre that they were intended to be a part of as the first two Scream films were, the third film simply couldn't live up to the bar set by its predecessors (and that's even conceding that the bar was lowered following the second film). While the marketing materials in the box set give the impression that Scream "Trilogy" was intended as a trilogy from the get go, it seems pretty obvious upon viewing the third that this is a flat out lie intended only to make it look like the third film wasn't a disgusting grab at fans' wallets.

Screenwriter Kevin Williams didn't return to pen the script for the third outting, and director Wes Craven only signed on after being promised a greenlight on his own non-horror project, ensuring that he was likely not putting his heart and soul into the film. Which, for the record, shows.

Even Neve Campbell seemed reluctant to return, as her character appears in no more than half the film, and it might even be subustantially less. Instead, we're left with Courtney Cox and David Arquette carrying the film, making Scream 3 the "Gale and Dewey" show. And while these character, and their on-again-off-again romance might have been moderately entertaining in the background of the previous two films, it's nowhere near interesting enough to be thrust into the spotlight, as is done in Scream 3.

Also lost in the third outting is any attempt to poke at the conventions of the horror genre. Instead what gets poked at is the Hollywood system in general. If I didn't know better, I'd assume after watching this that both the screenwriter and the director had a overwhelming hate-on for the film industry while they were putting this film together. Hollywood actors, actresses, directors, and businessmen are portrayed in a stunningly negative light. I can only assume that the producers behind the film though that these scathing attacks were funny, because otherwise I can't imagine how something this critical could have gotten the green light from within the hollywood system.

And without spoilling the specifics of the end, I can tell you this: The inevitable reveal of the third murderous mastermind is likely to leave you with a reaction along the lines of, "Oh, it's him. Uh, who the fuck cares about him?" instead of the sort of, "Oh, of COURSE it was him!" sort of moment that we'd been expecting after two films with a far more logical explanation at their respective climaxes.

While there has been recent speculation that a Scream 4 may be in the works, I can only hope that for fans of the horror genre, and fans of at least the first two scream films, that this speculation remains nothing more than speculation. The end of this serious is awkward and embarassing enough as it is. Let's not actively work to make it any worse.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Month o' Horror: Scream 2

Scream 2 was viewed on Saturday, October 6.

The one problem with sequals is that, inevitably, even when they're good, they're usually not quite as good as the first. And while "Scream 2" certainly makes the effort, it just doesn't quite reach the heights of its predecessor.

In fact, there's a scene early on set in a film studies class, where the discussion turns to sequels, and the fact that they're never quite as good. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if the scene was included as a small, knowing, wink of acceptance to the fact that, okay, yeah, "Scream 2" isn't really as great as the first one.

Part of the problem is the first half hour and inevitable re-introduction of every character. It drags the film down a little bit as the movie is forced to play "Where are they now?" just to get us caught up on everyone's life.

Part of the problem is that the movie-references that made the first film such an interesting take on the horror genre are mostly gone, except for a few references to sequels.

On the bright side, they approached the idea of a "real-life" sequel in the most obvious and least contrived way -- a copycat killer. It fits the theme, and it makes sense. They may not be the most common thing in the world of serial killing, but it does happen from time to time.

Also on the bright side, there's enough of a carry-over of the previous film's characters, and the details of their storylines, that this does feel like a legitimate sequal. Meaning that it feels like we're seeing a continuation of the lives of the people featured in the first "Scream" film, and not just another bunch of random kids being slaughtered in similar ways, as is the case with most horror sequels.

"Scream 2" is a decent enough ride, and while the eventual revelation of the masked psychopath doesn't work quite as well as it did in the previous film, it works well enough for a sequel. Which are often, as in this case, sadly inferior to the original.

Random Spam Moment of the Day

From my inbox today:
Make a wild beast out of your penis - big and fleshy.
Don’t make women freak out when they take your pants off.
I can't say for certain, but I think if a woman took off my pants and found a big and fleshy wild beast, they'd be pretty damn freaked out. I know I would be.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Time flies when you're...wait, what have I been doing?

So it's been a bit more than a week since I lost posted. Since then, Dinner and Drinks hit the stage and was a phenomenal, near-sellout hit, closing to standing ovations on three of the four nights, and exceeding my wildest expectations. I am ridiculously happy.

Also, I finally got my laptop which was ordered from Dell about four months ago. This also makes me happy, and it is with this laptop that I am currently blogging. Hopefully the laptop -- which was purchased for the express purpose of being able to write just about anywhere -- will actually help me to, you know, write a bit more often. On plays and novels and short stories and things like that. But, you know, on a blog too, from time to time.

Back to the play.

I have to admit that the somewhat surprising success of the show has left me feeling like...well, like there actually might be some avenue to success through this writing thing. It made me feel like all these years spent tapping words on out word processors were maybe not wasted, that maybe I *have* been working towards something all this time, even if maybe I wasn't always quite sure what it was, and even if at this moment I'm maybe not entirely sure what it is.

I have, of course, been considering the inevitable "follow-up." You don't have a success like this without thinking, "What next?"

And I really don't even know where to begin. As goofy as it sounds, a "Dinner and Drinks 2" has actually been rattling around in my head, just because the concept -- two people have an inappropriate conversation in a public place -- lends itself nicely to so many different scenarios. I was also reminded today of an old writing project I started but never really followed through on, which involved crafting fictional backstories to some of the classified advertisements that I would stumble across in a given week while working the classified department at the newspaper. This, I realized today, was another idea that would work well on the stage.

And then there's my multimedia theatre project, involving an onstage narrator, offstage voice actors, and a slide show of bad drawings, called "Spiffy The Chicken" which is about a chicken named spiffy and his adventures in the city, where he meets drug dealers and prostitutes and the like. And which would probably a disasterous choice for a followup.

But the biggest issue isn't so much finding the idea. There's ideas everywhere, they bounce around in my head constantly. The problem is writing them.

I look at parts of the script for "Dinner & Drinks" -- especially the particularly funny bits -- and I find myself thinking, "Where did that come from?" I know I can be a funny person, but it's mostly reactionary humour, someone says something, and I'll say something funny in response to it. Having to just be funny all by myself...well, I didn't think I was very good at it, but the crowd at the show certainly seemed to think otherwise.

But that's what makes the prospect of a follow-up even freakier. Now I've done something that was successful, that people enjoyed, that people laughed and applaued. What if the next one isn't as good? What if I get a metric buttload of people out to another show, based on the strength of this one, and they all hate it. What then?

This is, of course, the inevitable fear of any creative type, particularly a creative type on the edge of even a small degree of success. And I'm sure in time I'll fight past this particular fear and start working on *something* for the stage again, regardless of whether it's good or bad. Eventually, the desire to create is a desire that demands to be dealt with.

And when that time arrives...that's what this spiffy new laptop is for.

Month o' Horror: Scream

Scream was viewed on Saturday, October 6.

When the "slasher" sub-genre of horror first appeared in the 70s, with films like "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" there was something fresh and exciting and, yes, scary about them. Here were faceless maniacs, wielding all manner of sharp object, ready to gut you for no particularly good reason (except the fact that you had sex or drank beer or did drugs).

Unfortunately, what started out as fresh and exciting quickly got dull and stagnant. And the worst part of it was the feeling that these people you were watching in slasher films had never actually SEEN a slasher film. Because everyone always ran around doing the same dumb, cliched things that get them killed, even if they should know better.

It was this notion -- that, hey, maybe the people in a slasher film had actually seen a slasher film -- that made "Scream" such a breath of fresh air when it appeared in the 90s.

Wes Craven's film isn't just a deconstruction of slasher film cliches, it's a film about a generation of people who grew up watching movies. The relationship between our virginal heroine and her boyfriend is described with movie ratings -- a PG13 when she flashes her breasts following her boyfriend's attempt at getting his hand under her panties for a hard R rating.

The funny thing about "Scream" is that, after you watch it, the premise seems ridiculously obvious, but it took Wes Craven (the man responsible for the "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise) 20 years to actually put the pieces together.

And on top of it all, it even works as a slasher film, even if it is a slasher film where most of the characters eventually figure out they're in a slasher film. Or at least in a situation that bears eerie similarities to most slasher films.

Craven's had an up and down career, to be sure, but between "Scream" and his final chapter of the Freddy Kruger saga "New Nightmare," Craven did something that not a lot of other horror directors have done. He stepped outside of the box. He looked at a bigger picture. He actually dabbled in something you might call "Meta-Fiction" a term that's almost highbrown enough to convince folks that horror films can actually be about more than gore and cheap jumps.

Admitted, "Scream" isn't a perfect film. There's a few points where it seems almost too hung up on its own cleverness, a few lines that are awkwardly bad, but for the most part, the premise holds up, as does the film, ten years later. There's rumours circulating of a "Scream 4" on its way at some point in the future, but while my memory of the second and third chapters of the franchise are hazy, I don't recall them having quite the same power as the first entry. So for the sake of respecting a trilogy that maybe didn't hit every note it intended too, but still managed to be a bit more than your average slash-a-thon, let's hope the rumours stay exactly that.