Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Done with writing...

...for the moment, on account of getting married in two weeks. I've been doing odd bits here and there but otherwise I've been gradually wrapping things up and am looking forward to taking a break.

I'd kind of forgotten what it was like to have a clean slate. For the last eight years I've always had a writing 'to do' list about a page long. It used to be mostly made up of personal projects and then the odd one or two projects I'd got involved with through Shooting People or via friends. For the last few years it's been the other way around.

The plan was, and had been since January but it never really worked out until now, not to go anywhere near a script until after the wedding. I finally got to the point where that seemed like it might actually be possible last week. So I started writing a short film. It was a short film script I'd been meaning to get around to for ages but never had the time. It may not amount to anything, but I enjoyed it, probably more than I've enjoyed anything else I've written recently.

I'm sensing a pattern. I've written a post like this a few times before.

Anyway, the lack of writing is why my recent posts have mostly been about films and music - I've been catching up. But I'll most likely be taking a break from blogging as well as writing so here are some things to check out in my absence. Call it a homework assignment. There will be a test when I get back*.

Whilst looking for new podcasts (I unsubscribed from most of the film-related ones I listen too - I'm taking a break from them too) I stumbled across Electricity by Myke Bartlett. It's an audiobook self-recorded and read by the author and I've been surprised by how good it is. On the one hand it's a story about an Australian adjusting to a life lived perpetually drunk in London, but there are ghosts in there too and the odd moment of genius. But maybe it's just that the main character's obsession with counting pennies in terms of beer and cigarettes reminds me of my university days.

I finally finished the Elm Street series and have concluded that my previous every-other-film summary is correct. But the final film, New Nightmare, is so much better than the other sequels I'd actually be happy having only seen that and the first film, the irony being that New Nightmare couldn't really exist as it is without the diminishing returns of the previous entries. I think Wes Craven's speech about horror stories is a perfect argument for the importance of horror films in our culture.

I also recommend Mario Bava's Kill, Baby...Kill! which is a very strange film in which not much really happens, but it creates a spooky enough atmosphere to keep you suitably creeped out until the end. And there's an awesome sequence where a man keeps running through identical rooms until he catches up with himself - it's worth watching for that alone.

Speaking of horror films, my friend Dan recently wrote and produced a horror feature in 28 days. Here's the trailer:

Part of the reason I find it hard to stop writing is because I enjoy listening to music too much, and music gives me ideas. Here's a Spotify playlist of the tracks that have been giving me ideas recently...

For anyone not on Spotify, here's Black Tape for a Blue Girl to play me out. See you in a month.

*That's a lie. There won't be a test, but all this stuff is awesome so should definitely be checked out.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Freddy's rap...

The Nightmare on Elm Street music videos are quickly becoming my favourite thing about the whole series. This one is on the DVD for the The Dream Child and may be the most awesome horror-related music video ever. My favourite part is where they go into great detail to describe the plot of Dream Warriors:

I actually really enjoyed the fifth film, although mostly because of the effects which are awesome throughout. But there are some extended dream sequences that if taken out of context are some of the best moments of cinematic surrealism I've ever seen, especially the part that goes from Alice following the skipping girls to Freddy's resurrection. It's a bit daft overall, and the series reached the point where you really wouldn't be surprised if Freddy burst into song halfway through killing someone, but there are some really great moments in there. Better than the fourth film anyway. Maybe there's an 'every other film' rule, like with Star Trek films or Korn albums. From what I remember about 6 & 7 that might be pretty accurate.

Also, if you want to find out what Shakma did next you need to read this.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

If you like films...

....you should go see Shutter Island. I mean if you properly like films, as in you appreciate strong performances, well written dialogue, and perfectly constructed scenes, because if you do you will probably enjoy it as much as I did. If you don't then you'll more than likely have the reaction a lot of critics have had and that a lot of the people sitting around us in the cinema seemed to have - 'well I saw that coming'.

The ending is obvious, and I'm speaking as someone who very rarely guesses the endings of films. I won't go into it here, but it is signposted very early on, and there's a line from Ben Kingsley in his first scene that essentially tells you what's happening. But to be honest it's signposted in the trailer too and really anyone who has any knowledge of the genre knows what happens to people who investigate spooky insane asylums. The point is it doesn't matter.

Essentially the film plays out as a series of lengthy dialogue scenes between DiCaprio and one or two other actors, interspersed with expertly crafted dream sequences and hallucinations. You could take any of these scenes on their own as masterclasses in writing, performance, direction, and cinematography - in fact all aspects of the film are individually spot on. Together they form a coherent and interesting character study with a B-movie plot as it's spine. There is so much good stuff in these scenes that I found it a joy to watch throughout, and found myself not really caring what happened next in terms of the story, just that I wanted to see how it was done. Maybe that's a bad thing, maybe that's a case of style over plotting, but I did really enjoy it and found that the real surprises weren't in the plot but instead were in how each scene would be handled and which awesome actor would turn up this time.

It's good to see a genre film that has been produced to such a high standard and a high artistic standard at that. And it's good to see a director who after such a long career is still willing to experiment and take risks. So I would suggest ignoring the people who denounce it as derivative or obvious - there's a lot of great stuff here and I loved it.

Although while I'm on the subject it's worth mentioning a similar film, Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor, which is probably the best asylum-based film in my opinion and has some equally brilliant artistic touches as well as being pretty scary. I recommend checking that one out too if you haven't seen it.

Monday, 15 March 2010

What's so special about Cold Prey...

...is a question a lot of people are asking on the imdb boards for that film and its sequel. Having watched them both over the weekend I can tell you what's so special about them.

So just to explain, Cold Prey is Norwegian slasher franchise with a reputation for being better than your average masked killer film. Occasionally I get accused of liking foreign language horror films because they are in a foreign language and therefore a bit different. The question is posed, if these films had been made exactly as they are now but in Hollywood would I not be denouncing them as derivative?

Not in this case. Here's why.

Good characters. That's it. That's what makes them better than other slasher films. Not that they're unique or original exactly, but they are strong, well developed characters with realistic interactions. And they come from a good script, written in both cases by Thomas Moldestad.

Other than that the films are fairly generic and do stick with the required conventions, but there's never been anything wrong with that as long as it's done well. Yes, these are films about a man with a pick-axe picking people off one by one and yes, the second film bears a striking resemblence to Halloween 2. It doesn't matter that we've seen it all before because ultimately we've seen most stories before in one way or another, what matters is that it's told well and these films tell the story really well. Particularly when it comes to the characters.

What's interesting is that with both films there is a clear decision to spend more time on developing the characters than one normally would in this genre. In both films it's at least 30 minutes before anyone dies (a point that I'm wrangling over with a project I'm working on at the moment). What Moldestad does with that time is make sure that we have an interest in the people involved so when they do eventually die it resonates on a more personal level.

There's also an interesting distinction between plot backstory and character backstory. We never find out what any of these characters do for a living, even when it would seem necessary to the plot. For example, at the point where one of them displays advanced medical knowledge we don't get a line like 'I learnt this in medical school' - these things are left for us to fill in the blanks. The backstory we are given is to do with the relationships between the characters and that makes them so much more interesting than your basic chattering bodies that exist purely so that the killer has something to hack chunks out of. It's not necessarily about liking the characters, but it is about making them feel more like real people and that's what makes the films work.

So that's what makes the Cold Prey films so special. Well, that and Ingrid Bolsø Berdal who is awesome.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

What I did on my stag weekend...

...is best summarised by one of the survivors here.

Death Machines was my favourite, perhaps the most bizarre cinematic experience I've ever had. If you ever want to know how not to write a script, watch Death Machines. Do the opposite of everything they do in that film you'll probably write a half decent script. The standout scene was the one in which the bad guy goes to the office of brand new character #357 (there's at least one new character introduced in every scene) to blackmail him, then pulls a gun on him, then handcuffs him to a cabinet and leaves a bomb attached to a Buddha statue just out of reach in the most drawn out and confusing murder scene ever filmed. Pure awesomeness. Not to mention the scene in which one of the Death Machines befriends an old man in a diner, eats a burger very slowly, looks like he might be finding some redemption meaning the film gets close to some kind of character development, then goes back to being a plain old Death Machine again. And the shootout in the police station is ace - lots of jumping around for no reason. The police station gets trashed, half the police are killed but a couple of scenes later it appears as though no one touched the place. This is film-making at it's most awesome.

The trailer says it all.

And here is a photo of me vs. a giant stag beetle:

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Abney Park...

These days I don't listen to anywhere near as much new music as I'd like to so it's really rare that I find an album that I end up listening to over and over again. But every now and again I come across an album like Aether Shanties by Abney Park.

Abney Park are a concept band with a bizarrely specific concept. Firstly they are a steampunk band which is an odd concept itself (warning - I have not really researched this and the following summary is me making it up as I go along). Like it's cyber cousin, steampunk seems to have origins in literature (the William Gibson/Bruce Sterling novel The Difference Engine), games (Space 1889 and The Chaos Engine) and film (Steamboy) but not music - the music part seems to have come afterwards, inspired by the source material rather than the other way around. Abney Park's music certainly fits in with the steampunk aesthetic, a mix of traditional and contemporary styles and sounds.

But within that general concept there is a more specific story, that of a band of pirates roaming the skies in a steam-powered airship. After five albums this concept is carried off with a confidence and strength of imagination that makes their world seem believable enough for the songs to work in context and for it to seem less like a gimmick and more like a lifestyle. It's the kind of image and aesthetic that a more established concept artist, Alice Cooper for example, might use for one album to tell one story.
Abney Park's story is ongoing, and that's what makes it work.

Whether you buy into the backstory or not, the songs are mostly awesome. As the title suggests, the album mainly consists of sea shanties modified to fit their 'steampowered airship pirate' theme. There's a consistency of style throughout the album, but at the same time a real mix of styles that makes every track sound different. I won't go on about it too much - I'm not very good at talking about music, which is why I stick to films. But it is a very good album and I recommend checking it out. You can find out more about Abney Park on their website here.