Friday, June 12, 2009

This Week In Review....

It blew.

Started off okay - I finished a script! Wrote fade out on COWBOY NIGHTS, the country western bar thriller on Monday. Was supposed tp have it finished on Thursday, then Friday, then... well, it was great to finally finish it. The plan for this week was to outline and plan two scripts, and write up treatments for each. The NEAR HIT script I had planned on filming in a couple of months, and an action-thriller thing called CONTAINED. That would set both of those up to be written over the next few months. Then, I was going to spend the rest of this month finishing SECOND SON, which was set aside to work on the studio remake project...

But everything went off the rails on Tuesday.

I have always had problems sleeping. Well, for some reason (maybe excited because I finished the script) I could not sleep Monday... and this created a strange ping-pong effect where one night I slept too little and the next I overslept - and then couldn’t sleep the following night. Anyway, the result is - no outlines, no treatments... and no Hitchcock today. Just a complete bust of a week.

And, I have this list of “brain dead” tasks that I can do, but for some reason when I am brain dead I never remember to do any of them.

I also have a huge stack of DVDs to watch, but I don’t stick ‘em in the machine because I’m too tired to really watch them, and what if one is really good? I’d want to be fully awake while I watch it, right? So - I haven’t watched any of tem (and I’ll bet most of them are okay at best). I think watching a movie (with an end) would help me fall asleep more than watching ABC World News Now... which goes on forever, and kind of loops, so you end up watching the exact same story again two hours later.

Probably adding to my inability to sleep is my lack of bike riding over the past week. The weather in Los Angeles has been weird - it’s overcast and threatening to rain every day. The weather people all call it “June Gloom” - but this is the worst it has ever been. I know that raindrops are not going to kill me, but it often looks really nasty out there and I don’t want to get caught far away from home in a major downpour. I have rode a block or two to the corner Starbucks a couple of times, but that’s not a bike ride. I think the lack of exercise isn’t helping at all.

I hope to finish up the I CONFESS Hitchcock entry tomorrow and put it up... but I still haven’t decided if I should do the outlines and treatments next week, or jump into finishing up SECOND SON so that I’ll have it finished more or less by the end of the month. I have to get this sleep thing under control. Yes, I’m taking some over the counter stuff, but it’s not working well - last night I got a little sleepy, went to bed... and after laying there for over an hour without falling asleep, I felt like I was wasting time... and tried to get some work done until I was really sleepy. That was around 4am... and I slept for 4 hours and woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep for a couple of hours. I went without any coffee or caffeine for a couple of days during the week - and that made me even more brain dead, but didn’t seem to help me get my sleep pattern back under control.

I’m going to try to get to sleep early tonight - and try to keep from giving up after a couple of hours of just laying there... I think that’s the real problem - if I don’t fall asleep after a while, I get impatient and sit at the computer. So tonight: I’m going to watch a DVD, then keep trying to fall asleep until I succeed. If you read some quip by me on Facebook or some screenwriting message board at 5am, you will know that I have failed....

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Voice Over Narration and your typical monkey funeral.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Fish & Chips at home.
Pages: Was going to write new tips, treatments, and a blog entry every day... completely failed at that.

MOVIES: DRAG ME TO HELL - One of the best reviewed films of the year is a horror flick from Sam Raimi (no kidding, check out Rotten Tomatoes) and it’s one of the best times I’ve had sitting in a cinema all year - a crazy funhouse ride at a disreputable carnival that has you laughing as much as screaming. Though I always stress the importance of having a unique idea, this film gives us horror plot #17 (the gypsy curse one, see THINNER and a few dozen other films) but shows us the importance of *execution*. A good script needs a great idea, well written. Here we just get some great writing and directing and it overcomes the tired concept. Oh, if you are wondering why SPIDER-MAN’s Sam Raimi is directing this film, the guy has a whole bunch of horror skeletons in his closet, including the EVIL DEAD movies. For more on the EVIL DEAD flicks, check out But The Third One Was Great blog, which features those films this week!

In DRAG ME TO HELL, Alison Lohman plays a nice girl destined to always finish last. She used to be fat, has a white-trash Southern accent she’s desperately trying to lose, and is doing her damndest to move up a couple of rungs on the social ladder. She works as a loan officer at a bank, and covets the empty Vice President desk across from her - the name plate is empty as if to visually announce Your Name Here. Her boss is played by David Paymer, kind of the older male version of her... and to keep his job, the person he needs to promote to VP has to be someone strong and aggressive. That’s not Alison, but it is the new guy Reggie Lee who seems to have seen WALL STREET a few too many times and actually believes that Greed Is Good. Alison and Reggie quietly battle it out at the bank every day, each hoping to slide their name into that empty VP name plate.

When a really gross phlegm spewing one eyed old gypsy woman comes in, home in foreclosure, and begs for Alison to give her a third extension; she puts the promotion over compassion. The old woman begs... and Alison calls security on her and has her removed from the bank. This puts her at the top of the promotion list, and the top of the gypsy woman’s shit list.

On her lunch hour, Alison visits her boyfriend Justin Long at the University where he’s a first year professor, and I kept waiting for the “I’m A PC” guy to pop up behind him. Justin is arranging a meet-the-tight-assed-upper-class parents dinner, and Alison is afraid to go - she’s fat white trash. As she leaves his office, she overhears his half of a phone conversation with his mother... and knows his parents will hate her and maybe worries that Justin might be charity-dating her. One of the great things about this film is that it’s all about the characters... and still a horror film. There are so many little background thing on Alison’s character peppered through the film that we really get to know and care about her. Hey, she was in the 4H (or, that reasonable facsimile of the 4H the lawyers and E&O insurance folks signed off on). And the film is really about her character arc, from meek bank employee to bad ass demon fighter who will do things you and I wouldn’t dream of doing.

At the end of the work day she goes to the empty underground garage to grab her subcompact crapo car... and notices the old gypsie woman’s ancient rusted out 70s lemon in the garage. Now, you may not know this, but that car has probably been in more movies that David Paymer. It was Uncle Ben’s car in SPIDER-MAN... and has been featured in every film Sam Raimi has directed. It falls from the sky in ARMY OF DARKNESS... It was Raimi’s personal car for years, and when he could afford better, he kept it and uses it in every film. Here it works wonderfully as the barely running gypsy’s car.

One of the great things about this funhouse ride of a film is that there are no shortage of jump moments. And great jump moments - not some silly cat (though, there are a couple of those) but real scares from unexpected sources. Be prepared to spend half of the movie about a foot above your seat. One great series of jump moments is in the spooky garage, when the gypsie shows up and puts her curse on Alison. This film manages to get us to jump over a handkerchief... and it’s the skill of Raimi that the handkerchief also manages to be creeps and suspenseful and build dread in other scenes. You are scared of a piece of cloth!

Once the curse is on Alison she will die within 3 days and be dragged to hell. But those three days will be hell on earth. And all kinds of sick fun.

One of my favorite scenes has Alison go to the gypsy’s daughter’s house to beg that the curse be removed. The daughter doesn’t live in some magical castle with dark windows - this is Los Angeles, she lives in a typical house in the city with no yard and an ally running down the back where the garbage dumpsters are. It’s plain. She goes there, wants to see the gypsy woman, the daughter says she has caused enough trouble - getting the woman kicked out of her house... but Alison barges in... and she’s in some stranger’s house. And this is uncomfortable. And Raimi finds ways to ramp up the feelings of discomfort, including having the entire gypsy family there for dinner. She’s completely out numbered, and all of these people hate her. This could be a scene from a drama... and it *is* a big dramatic scene... but this is also a horror film. Drama *and* horror. And after the drama scene, we get some horror. Sick, disgusting, and funny horror.

Raimi does a great job of building dread with some very simple things. When Alison comes home one night, she is alone in a dark, spooky... but completely normal house. There is these terrible noise - link fingers on a chalk board - that ends up being the wind blowing open a rusted metal gate. So many everyday things are turned into terror by Raimi that you worry about going home after the film. By creating terror and building dread with normal things you’d find in almost every house, he gets us where we live. This isn’t some alien world - this is a house just like the one you live in. Raimi did this in the EVIL DEAD movies with tree branches in the wind... which become something else entirely. He can make the raisins in a cake creepy and threatening.

By the way - one of the cool things about the film is how ex-fatty Alison seems to constantly be attacked by *food*. It’s like the curse knows her weakness, knows what scares her on a more emotional level (that she’s going to gain the weight back, or maybe people still think of her as the fat girl) and finds ways to attack her using the things she *emotionally* fears most. Food becomes scary in this film... in that wacky funhouse way.

Oh, and there’s some between the lines social message in this film. Alison is white trash who is social climbing and hopes to marry wealthy Justin. To do that, she must foreclose on the home of someone one rung beneath her in society... turn against someone similar to her, the same way she is turning against her accent and her 4H past and everything that made her who she used to be. Trash the poor so that she can become rich. Again - this is a horror movie, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be more going on in it... in fact, there should always be more than just the surface story.

DRAG ME TO HELL Is rated PG-13, and many horror fans have discounted it before even seeing it. How can you make a good horror movie that isn’t R rated? Well, Raimi knows how to do that. He substitutes gross for gore - and keeps the gross coming! If you’ve seen the trailer, you know there’s a scene where the gypsy woman vomits all kinds of bugs and worms and icky stuff on Alison Lohman’s face. In her eyes, in her mouth, up her nose, in her ears. This is worse that seeing a half gallon of blood spraying from someone’s neck. Your brain knows the blood geyser is fake, but these insects and worms in her mouth and nose? Um, they probably really did that. Yech! You won’t see severed limbs in this film, but you will see things that are worse. This film doesn’t wimp out at all - it just has a different kind of horror. It’s gross (in a fun way).

Which I think brings us to another thing those pimple faced horror fans have complained about on several of the message boards I frequent - that somehow this subgenre of horror is less valid than SAW and FRIDAY THE 13th. That funhouse horror movies are lesser films because they make you laugh. Hey! BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN! Plus a million other flicks, some starring Vincent Price, some starring the late great Bob Quarry (in one of my films, lived in my neighborhood, just passed away, miss that guy!), and of course the Raimi EVIL DEAD movies. If anything, the funhouse style horror films are *more* legit than torture porn and slasher films - they’ve been around longer. These films are crazy scary rides with all kinds of sick laughs.

And DRAG ME TO HELL is full of sick humor. “Here, kitty kitty...”

One of the cool things about this film is the Multicultural Curse. The film opens in the 1940s when a child has been cursed by a gypsy and the immigrant parents take him to a female Hispanic medium who tries to lift the curse... and fails. The boy is dragged to hell by all kinds of demons. That’s what Alison is in for. After she is cursed, she goes to an Indian store front psychic played by Dileep Rao. Dileep plays the role as if he always has one eyebrow raised quizzically. As if *he* doesn’t believe what is happening. He manages to be both the psychic *and* the skeptic at the same time. He also manages to be funny with the non-funny straight man lines. And he manages to play his store front psychic in such a way that we do not know if he’s for real or just a scam artist. This is like the Whoopi Goldberg role in GHOST - does this mean Dileep will be nominated for an Oscar? Oh, wait, this is both a horror film *and* a comedy. When Dileep is overwhelmed by the curse, he knows right where to take Alison - to the female Hispanic woman from the opening scene, who is now an old woman.

And this is where we get the real star of the movie... a goat. It’s always funny when there is an animal in a long scene filled with special effects and crazy horror stuff, because the animal has no idea what is going on. There is a long seance scene with the goat tethered to the table, and it was funny to watch the goat’s reactions (when I was supposed to be watching Alison or Dileep). The goat was completely confused at all times.

Okay, now I don’t want to spoil the film, but I want to talk about one of the great things in this film - the Twist On A Twist. This is one of those great techniques that Raimi uses which elevates this film from your standard horror film to one hell of a great ride that you probably want to take again. There is a twist in the film that you see coming from a mile away. It is set up, it is confirmed, and you suddenly know exactly what is gong to happen. You figure out the twist... and want to yell at Alison that she is making a big mistake, because there’s this twist thing she hasn’t figured out but you have. Here’s the thing - Raimi *wants* you to figure out the twist. That creates audience superiority and creates suspense. You know what’s going to happen! You know the very very bad thing that Alison hasn’t figured out yet! But what you haven’t figured out is the twist on the twist - because what you think is going to happen is *half* right. But if you were really paying close attention, you would realize that the twist you think is going to happen isn’t going to happen... something even stranger is. And that’s the part you don’t see coming at all. The twist on the twist. So, Raimi sets it up so that you know *part* of what will happen, but still be shocked and surprised by the other part. Great technique!

One of the strange things about DRAG ME TO HELL is that it’s one of the best reviewed films so far this year... but no one is going to see it! You would think a fun film with great reviews would have opened at #1 and done great business. So why isn’t it tearing up the box office? My guess is that the sophisticated audience member who would see any other film with this many great reviews is staying away because it’s a horror movie... they are like Justin’s parents. The average audience member is also staying away because it’s a horror movie - those films are crap made for hard core horror fans. And the hard core horror fans are staying away... because it’s one of the best reviewed films of the year! Hey, that stamp of society’s approval means this can’t be a dark, edgy, nasty horror film... it’s probably some watered down safe movie! The critics *great* reviews may have doomed this film! If you look at horror films the critics have loved in the past - SLITHER, BLACK SHEEP, etc - all of those films died at the box office. Good reviews scare away the horror audience. Yet films with *awful* reviews like FRIDAY THE 13th and BLOODY VALENTINE did great business... maybe even because of the bad reviews. If the critics hate this film, it’s gotta be good!

DRAG ME TO HELL is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time. Too bad the film seems to be cursed.

- Bill

15 comments:

The Moviequill said...

I usually don't let reviews and criticism weigh my movie choices, but I have to admit, you made me sling this one to the top of the heap my good man

Jim Endecott said...

DMtH was the first time in a long time that I a) watched a horror film in the theatres and b) had a ton of fun doing so.

The audience was in to it. Laughing, jumping, screaming. A hearty applause at the credits.

My buddy and I laughed at the goat for quite awhile afterwards. That was classic.

Good stuff.

-Jim

LindaM said...

Sorry to hear you had a bad week - but enjoyed the fact that you and others can have the same miserable "everything goes to sh*t" experiences I do. Misery loves company!

I almost never watch horror films, but I went to a theatre and saw DMtH. Enjoyed it very much. This is going to become a classic on DVD, no doubt. Watching a master do his thing is fantastic. And the score. OMG! I've already ordered the CD. They're playing it on Sirius FM Radio, along with an interview with Raimi. It makes me want to write a gypsy movie.

Steve the Creep said...

I totally agree with you on the June Gloom here in LA. I walk to the subway every morning and this past week, it has just put me in a depressed mood. I doubt I'd fair well in Seattle, though I do prefer rain to this.

Dave Shepherd said...

You Californian's really are sissies about the weather, eh?

Drag Me to Hell was fantastiic... and I am a pretty big horror fan. I wasn't originally going to see it in theatre because the trailers I saw looked pretty bad... but then the great reviews started pouring in so I decided to check it out. So glad I did. I saw Up later the same day, and I honestly couldn't tell you which one I had more fun watching.

*SPOILERS*

I'm curious about the twist on a twist. I assume you're referring to the end when Alison finds out she put a coin where the button was supposed to go... that twist I figured out. Was the twist on it that Alison paid for it instead of the Mac guy (because I did think the Mac guy was going to)

*END SPOILERS*

And yes, the goat scene was HILARIOUS. I especially liked the dance.

Racicot said...

Pssst. I have a Sam Raimi signed Drag Me To Hell poster.

Just sayin'.

wcmartell said...

DAVE: (SPOILERS) Yes. I was sure that it was going the other way, so I was a little surprised. Not some big SIXTH SENSE surprise, more of a "Hey, I expected the other thing". Which made the predictable into the unpredictable. Not a big thing, but maybe something we can use in our scripts.

LINDA: Writing is always hard work (well, not like ditch digging) and as writers, we are our main tool (which doesn't sound right). When things go wrong in real life, the tool is broken... or something.

Have a great weekend everybody!

- Bill

Emily Blake said...

There are a few things you may be able to do to help the sleep issue. No alcohol a couple of hours before bed time because it causes restless sleep and will most likely wake you up in the middle of the night. Try drinking caffeine-free green tea before bed. And the smell of lavender helps you feel sleepy. Bath and body sells bottles of stuff you can spray on your pillow. It's only a little gay looking.

wcmartell said...

I've already done all of those things except the lavender. Maybe that's the solution...

- Bill

Sam T. said...

>>>The NEAR HIT script I had planned on filming in a couple of months...

Good to know that you still plan to go ahead with that project. In one of your previous posts you mentioned that you would like to write articles or a book about your experience in low budget film making. I think that is an excellent idea. There are not too many books out there about this subject. One of the books that I read is mostly "inspirational" in content. The other book that I read is "inspirational" but the depth of some of the technical material in camera work and after effects can easily confuse a beginning filmmaker. Anyhow, best of luck with that project.

wcmartell said...

I will be making NEAR HIT, just sometime early next year instead of in a couple of months. Some things came up that postponed it.

Eleanor said...

Horror fans are staying away from a Sam Raimi horror film?

Guess they never saw the Evil Dead films.

That's like refusing to watch a horror film by Peter Jackson...

*rolls eyes*

wcmartell said...

It's strange - DRAG ME isn't even doing the same kind of business as BLOODY VALENTINE!

On one of the horror boards I frequent someone posted a rant/article about how Hollywood just doesn't understand horror... and the weird thing about the article was that it kept contradicting itself. I came away from the article not knowing what this guy's point was, and what *he* liked in horror movies.

I'm wondering if this is a reaction to the "horror glut" - now that Hollywood is making films for this niche, the niche needs to reject the films so they'll continue to be a niche. Kind of like Shrek making sure he stays alone and unloved by rejecting people before they have a chance to reject him.

Kinda weird.

- Bill

Emily Blake said...

Okay here's a few other things to try:

Oatmeal in the evening
Eat anything rich in tryptophan - chicken, turkey, brown rice, peas, fish, pumpkin seeds, oats, tuna, figs, bananas
Get more magnesium in your diet. Broccoli, buts, seed, whole grains.
Avoid high-fat, heavy foods. They can increase body temp which makes sleeping difficult.

If none of that works, try a magnesium supplement or valarian root or jujube seeds.

Eleanor said...

Bill,

I just went and saw DMTH last night based on your post - I was planning to anyway but hadn't realised it was out yet in the UK. It is, hooray!

Best horror I've seen in a very long time.

If I saw that handerchief lying innocuously on a table, I'd have to run away.

Great film!

And yeah, the cinema was less than half full on a Saturday night for the 7pm showing. Weird.

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