“Happy Death Day”

A macabre title for a blog post, I’ll admit – but, don’t worry, it’s a happy story.

It also kind of reinforces the point I’ll make here – you may have had a lot of preconceptions of this from the title, but it’s different from what you think…

In my last post I spoke about how disappointment can strike at any time. Such as walking through London only to find a massive statue of Jeff Goldblum isn’t there…

… but here I’m talking about the other kind of surprise. The good one.

So let me set the scene. It’s a Tuesday night. It’s too hot to sleep. I’m alone in my room with the sounds of London drifting through the cracked window. A candle flickers atop of a cabinet in the corner and I’m scrolling through Now TV to find something to watch.

Does anyone else find that, while these streaming services give us a plethora of choices, they also make us incredibly indecisive?

At least back in the day when TV schedules reigned supreme it took away hours of fruitless flicking and soulless scrolling.

I narrowed my choices down to some of the shorter films and found one that ran for an hour and a half. The title was ‘Happy Death Day’ – which, in my humble opinion, is a terrible title.

I was about to flick past it when something about the synopsis caught my eye. Apparently it was like Groundhog Dog meets Friday the 13th.

Now, Groundhog Day is a great movie… but I’m no slasher film fan. Yet still, against my better judgement I gave it a go.

The opening titles rolled and… within seconds I was hooked!

Against all the odds it was good. and deserves its 7/10 rating on IMDB.

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(Look out for a great lead performance by Jessica Rothe, who you may recognise from La La Land)

Who knew, though?

Everything about it made me want to skip it, but curiosity got the better of me and I’m glad it did. That age old saying ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ held true.

Although, I do think they need to reconsider that title – I recommended it to a friend and when I mentioned the title his first comment was; ‘sounds grim’.

How would I market it?

Maybe Groundhog Dog meets Alfred Hitchcock.

It takes away the stigma we have around slasher films, yet also hints that viewers will be in for some killer scenes.

Check it out!

by Ashley Brown

featured photo: looper.com

other image: Business Insider

Does your writing crackle?

I’ve been trying to do some screenwriting recently.

It was actually the first kind of creative writing I ever really did.

Because, as a kid (and as an adult), I’m the kind of person who couldn’t just watch a movie and enjoy it, I’d want to do my own version.

Anyway, I re-watched the movie ‘When Harry Met Sally’ the other day.

Why?

A) Because it’s a successful film that I really like

and

B) because it’s a very dialogue heavy film, and the dialogue is great.

After watching it I found a copy of the script online and, man, even when written down that dialogue is still incredible.

It crackles and sparkles. The screenwriter, Nora Ephron does an amazing job.

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You can see why Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan agreed to star in it.

As someone with more than a passing interest in acting I’d bite my agent’s hand off to be in it if I was sent the script.

(Although, I’d probably be kind of shocked as I don’t have an agent…)

Is your writing alive? Does it jump off the page and grab hold of the reader? Is it compelling?

If you answered no to any of those questions maybe you should try and turn that no into a yes.

Here’s the screenplay if you’re interested…

(image credit: Columbia Pictures)

High Noon

Last night I watched the film High Noon. I really enjoyed it.

It was released in 1952 and is considered to be one of the best films ever made.

As a film buff I was kind of embarrassed not to have seen it.

Feel free to judge me…but, one of the reasons why I hadn’t is because it’s over 60 years old now and filmed in black and white.

I know. I know. I shouldn’t be so judgemental – but, how could something made in another era still appeal to me – a contemporary 21st century viewer?

I was wrong!

And do you know why?

Because the basic things that entertain and intrigue human beings haven’t changed.

Not in 60 years, not in 200 years and not in 500 years.

Sure we advance as a society and the technology with which we communicate and tell our stories changes – but the basic content doesn’t.

High Noon is about a man who stands up for what he believes in, even when all those around him abandon him.

At the end of the film there’s a classic good versus evil showdown. I can almost guarantee that not one viewer has ever been on the side of the bad guys in the film – humans just love an underdog!

Because, even though we’re not all good, we like to think we are.

Reviewing bad horror films…

I recently took a spontaneous leap and signed up for Shudder – if you’re into horror or thriller films, it may well be worth checking out. It’s basically a genre-tailored version of Netflix.

Horror films are notorious when it comes to fiction – be it on film or in the pages of a book. I guess it’s because some of them are so bad – low budget filmmakers just can’t seem to keep themselves away from trying to tell scary stories.

As excruciatingly cringe-worthy as some might be, sometimes it’s a bit of fun to switch off and watch them. So, today that’s what I’ve done and I’ve taken it upon myself to review a few of them as I went.

Ritual (2013)

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(Take That – 2060 reunion gig)

Plot in a nutshell: A man takes a late night call from his estranged wife, and soon wishes he hadn’t.

This film could be a poster child for the term ‘low-budget’ – 90% of it takes place in one location and many of the scenes look as if they’ve been shot on a handheld camcorder, giving it that ‘straight outta film school’ vibe.

At the start there’s a really cool, old school ‘warning’ screen that comes on and says that anyone with a faint heart shouldn’t stay at watch the film. I liked that, and I also liked the use of sound and voiceovers. They’re great at building tension, and the one easy tool that a low budget filmmaker usually has in their arsenal in sound.

I don’t mind a slowburner, but this was exceptionally slow at times. In fact, for long periods of time, this almost seemed more like a relationship drama than a horror film.

The ending will no doubt shock a lot of viewers – it was quite bold! There were a few jump scenes, and there was a creepy overall feeling but I didn’t find myself walking away from it and thinking…’that was some tense shit’ so from me this gets a 2/5.

The Burning (1981)

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(Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue, circa 1980s)

Plot in a nutshell: A pissed-off caretaker unleashes his anger on the residents of a summer camp.

Where would any post on horror movies be complete without a slasher reference? Although I have to say, for long periods of time (particularly at the end) this one plays out more like a thriller – something which works in its favour.

I fully expected to not enjoy ‘The Burning’ at all. I thought I’d sit here in my Ivory Tower, laughing at how cheesy and poorly made it was….but I was wrong. Sure, it is cheesy and, in some points, highly predictable – but there are some good ‘jump’ scenes and the final twenty minutes of the film really got me going.

Having said that, some of the dialogue was terrible. Here are a few highlights:

“Burned so bad he’s cooked. fuckin’ big mac. overdone” (this line is spoken by a Doctor)

‘Alfred’s been prowling around the girl’s shower’
‘What do you have to say about that, Alfred?’
‘I only meant to scare her!’ (said as if it’s the most normal thing in the world)

‘Michelle! the canoes have gone”
‘What do you mean they’re gone?’
‘They’re not here!’

‘Where did you learn to build a raft?’
‘Raft building! in the boy scouts!
‘Thank God for the boy scouts!’

I believe this film was actually banned for a while in the UK due to a scene on a raft…but, compared to what we see nowadays, it’s relatively tame.

Special shoutout to Jason Alexander who is great in this – he’d eventually go on to star in Seinfeld. 

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The attitudes of some of the camp seniors to their girlfriends are really terrible here, they come across as absolute animals and you’re left with very little sympathy for them when they run into the killer.

These sorts of films are predictable, though and until the last portion of the film none of the characters have any fight in them, so they’re really just fodder for the killer (Cropsey is his nickname!) – they all make such stupid decisions too, it’s easy to be frustrated by it.

I did like the ending though – it was the usual kind of ‘shock’ ending that these films usually have – something that’s meant to be surprising but now does the opposite.

For me it’s a 4/5 – it’s laughable in places, but also keeps the pulse-racing and it really does hold your attention. Something which so many films miss nowadays.

Tenebrae (1982)

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(I already said, I don’t have any treats!)

Plot in a nutshell: An author goes to promote his book in Rome, and a murderer suddenly strikes.

Like a good wine selection, I don’t think any horror film list is complete without something Italian. Apparently, this was inspired by some experiences that the director (Dario Argento) actually had with a crazed fan.

While the story is mostly linear and easy to follow, it does occasionally burst into strange and fleeting dream-like sequences. Fragmented and disjointed images, accompanied by creepy music. It reminded me of the way nightmares played out.

Some of the themes are good and, again, there’s a nice use of music to elevate tension. But, as with so many horror films, the filmmaker is so hellbent on upping his bodycount that the characters continually put themselves in danger, and make silly decisions.

Some of the drama involved is very convoluted,  and the acting isn’t going to be any awards any time soon – but it is entertaining, and it didn’t find my attention wavering.

The ending was silly though and, again, characters do stupid things just to put themselves in the way of danger so the body count can go up.

3/5 for me, I’d say.

 

 

Good Advice Hunting with Matt Damon…

Today we draw some inspiration from Matt Damon.

Perhaps you might think that he’s an unusual choice – I get that.

I mean the impression of him in ‘Team America’ doesn’t exactly paint him in the best light.

But, regardless, Matt Damon’s a bright guy and he pulled one real slick move that we could all learn something from.

As you’ll likely know, the film that launched Matt Damon’s (and Ben Affleck’s) career was ‘Good Will Hunting’. They started writing it when Damon was 22 and Affleck was 20 – by the time they sold it they were 27 and 25 respectively.

If you haven’t seen it, you really should. “Good Will Hunting” made $200 million worldwide. Affleck and Damon picked up the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and Robin Williams got the Best Supporting Actor gong. All in all, a rip-roaring success.

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Miramax Films produced the film. It’s one of the best movies they’ve ever made.

But, they weren’t always Affleck and Damon’s first choice producers. In fact, there were loads of film companies who were courting the script.

Why did Miramax close the deal?

Because they took the time to actually read the whole script.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But the initial company they were working with, Castle Rock, didn’t quite play to that rule book. They were asking for re-write after re-write, and while Damon & Affleck were happy to oblige…it got a bit tiresome after a while.

And they started to wonder whether anyone was actually reading it.

So, Damon decides to spice things up. He includes a random, gratuitous sex scene right in the middle of the film. It comes quite at random, and includes two characters who aren’t into each other in that way. Williams & Damon. It completely didn’t fit with the story at all.

They submitted this new draft and…

…heard nothing.

No a peep from Castle Rock.

So they decide to circulate their script around a few other companies. And eventually, Harvey Weinstein – one of the guys from Miramax – calls them.

He loves the film. Wants to make it. But, his only question is – what’s with that sudden sex scene, it doesn’t fit in with the film at all…?

What was the reply from the Damon/Affleck camp?

‘That’s the scene that we wrote to find out whether people in your job actually read the script, because every studio executive we went to … no one brought that scene up, or maybe people thought it was a mistake or maybe nobody read it themselves.’ They said, ‘You’re the only guy that brought it up. You get the movie.’

Who knew that actually paying attention and fully reading the things that creatives drop at your door could lead to a $200 million success?

Lost in Manhattan

I didn’t write today because I went to the cinema. One of the things I like about independent picture houses is that they don’t just show the newest films – they often give an audience to some of the classics too.

This early evening showing was the old Woody Allen flick ‘Manhattan’. It’s nice to see that a film made as far back as 1979 can still hold a crowd (a near sellout) in its grip.

While I’m not sure if it’s quite as good as Allen’s most popular film ‘Annie Hall’ – it’s well worth a watch. As seems usual, Woody Allen plays a neurotic writer. In this one he’s dating a 17 year old (he’s 42!), but ends up leaving her for his best friend’s mistress.

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(Yep, that’s a young Meryl Streep)

Shot in black and white – this film is, dialogue aside, a beautiful slideshow of artistic frames and sprawling shots of the city of New York.

I’ve been involved in film-making over the years, and have even been in feature length films – I can tell you that finding shots as good as the ones in ‘Manhattan’ is a pain-staking process.

Entertainment aside, I was pleased to see that a good chunk of the audience was made up of under-30s. People who wouldn’t even have been alive when the film came out. Not only that, but from what I could sense and hear, they’d all enjoyed it too.

It shows us that good style and good storytelling is timeless.

Fashion – whether it be in films or threads – tends to move in cycles, because the fundamentals of success don’t really change.

So, it’s important to soak these classics up and find inspiration along the way.