Sunday, January 22, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 454: Election Night

Well -- we're into it now...

And in the very near future, we'll all know whether our fears, hopes and expectations will be what we feared, hoped or expected.

The Chinese have a curse, "May you live in interesting times" and given what America's new president has said, particularly about them, you have to wonder if the times to come will be more interesting to the Chinese, or us, or both.

I lived in LA when Ronald Reagan was elected President and most of the showbiz community I interacted with were as concerned about his elevation to the Oval Office as today's stars and celebrities. But Reagan had been governor of California, as well as a one time movie star, so a chunk of the industry also liked him.

One day, a composer I was working with shrugged off the "sky is falling" predictions of some of the more progressive musicians we were working with, suggesting that in his experience Conservative governments are better for artists. And in the decade that followed, a lot of us worked a lot more than we had.

Will that happen again? Who knows. 

The only thing that's become crystal clear is just how quickly the world can turn on a dime.

I was in New York shortly after the 9/11 attacks and overheard two high school kids discussing what they had planned for the weekend. One of them, finding his buddy's plans fairly lame, responded with "Dude, that's so September 10th". 

Times change. We all have to adjust. Or dig in our heels and refuse to change our compass heading. Something that doesn't usually work out well.

It might be worth looking back at who we were on November 8th and decide how that person survives and prospers over the next four -- or maybe even eight -- years.

So here's filmmaker Ryan Scafuro's both objective and unflinching take on the night.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 453: The Blacklist

I've long believed that nobody calling themselves an artist has any right to tell another artist what they can or cannot do with their talents let alone where or for whom they can perform.

Recently, there's been a building brouhaha designed to convince entertainers of all stripes to either refuse the booking or withdraw from performing at this week's Presidential inauguration in Washington, DC.

Across the media, both traditional and social, pretty much anybody with a recognizable name in film, television or music has urged their peers to teach President-Elect Trump some kind of lesson by not showing up for the gig.

Now, I'm not a Trump fan -- and isn't it interesting that I have to issue that kind of disclaimer -- because otherwise a whole bunch of people would either just stop reading this or get busy calling me a racist, a misogynist and all sorts of other insults of the day. But where do any of you get off dictating the terms of somebody else's employment?

None of those people or what they have to say bothers me much, since most have a tighter grasp on ideology than actual talent. And few if any would ever get an invitation to perform at a Presidential Inauguration, no matter who was taking the oath of office.

Still, they go after everybody from the Radio City Rockettes to marching bands from Alabama, artists they'd probably never personally pay to see -- shaming, promising career disaster and uttering death threats.

Seriously. Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli withdrew this week because he'd been getting death threats. What kind of person sends death threats to a blind man?

Just how deep this hatred goes was illustrated this weekend when Nicole Kidman merely refused to take a shot at Trump and said she was adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Director Josh Whedon immediately issued the following tweet...

Good thing Mr. Whedon has gone out of his way to declare himself an avowed feminist. Otherwise, God knows what kind of venom he might've spewed.

All of this has reminded me of a rainy night in the mid-1990's, when I ducked into a Santa Monica bookstore and stumbled into a reading by one time movie director and the only Canadian member of the Hollywood Ten -- Edward Dmytryk.

At some point in Edward's youth, his family had moved from BC to Los Angeles and he landed a job as a messenger at Paramount Studios. From there he moved to film editing and then directing. Among his first features were the Film Noir classics "Murder, My Sweet" and "Crossfire" for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

He would go on to direct dozens of notable films including, "Back to Bataan", "The Caine Mutiny", "Raintree County", "The Young Lions", "Walk on the Wild Side", "The Carpetbaggers" and "Mirage".

But all that talent and the millions he'd earned for the studios didn't mean much when the House Un-American Activities Committee arrived to uproot Communists in Hollywood and discovered Edward had been a party member for a brief time in 1945. 

Like others of "The Hollywood Ten", Edward refused to testify before the committee and went to jail, his career destroyed. 

Later, HUAAC gave him a chance to redeem himself, so Edward named the guys he was already in the slammer with and they let him go.

While lining up to get my copy of his book autographed, I thumbed the pages, finding a photograph of Edward in Convict Blues leaning against a gas pump where he worked gassing up the the prison vehicles. During his reading, he'd referred to it as "The best job I ever had". 

I asked him to sign that photo instead of the title page. He laughed and we started a conversation that would go on for several weeks. Mostly about screenwriting, editing and directing. But also -- what happens when artists are turned against one another merely to suit someone's political agenda.

You can find Edward Dmytryk's exceptional work almost anywhere. But here's a taste of what Andrea Bocelli won't be doing on Inauguration Day but Country Star Toby Keith will. Part of me hopes Toby sings one of my personal faves. It might be quite fitting.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Lazy Sunday #452: Bill


Most of you know Bill Marshall, who passed away last week in Toronto, as the founder of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the largest public film festival in the world and the most influential festival in getting movies into theatres and in front of audiences around the world. But he was so much more than that.

Bill was one of those people who just made things happen. He got politicians elected, produced films and partied long and hard. The kind of outgoing, tenacious guy who never took "No" or "That's not possible" for an answer. To parrot one of his phrases, he was a guy who just went out  and "got shit done".

I was fortunate enough to have a film in the first festival in 1976, when the event went by its original name, "The Festival of Festivals". 

The film was "The Supreme Kid" by Vancouver filmmaker Peter Bryant and its presentation at the now long gone Toronto Dominion Theatre on a Friday morning might've been the only legitimate screening it got in the country in which it was made.

The Festival then was only a week long affair with nowhere near the publicity it now gets and featuring titles most people had never heard of, so I didn't expect much of a turnout. But the place was full and Bill and his festival founding partner Dusty Cohl were there with the express purpose of showing me off.

They'd promised a star studded week of movies but no big names actually came, so I guess being able to introduce somebody who was a star of a movie at least helped them prove they hadn't been snowing everybody.

And they were gracious hosts, later dragging my wife and I to party with Wilt Chamberlain, the only real celebrity who'd come to town.

At that time, Bill had only produced a low budget movie called "Flick" or "Frankenstein on Campus" depending on what poster or print was handy when somebody wanted to show it.

But a few months later he launched Dick Benner's "Outrageous" which became a huge success and set him on the path to producing another 18 features.

Either because I had attended that first festival or because I was among a handful of screenwriters in Toronto, I always ended up getting dragged into bars and bistros with Bill and a couple of years later was hired with three other scribes for a mini-series he'd sold to CBC.

For reasons too complicated to explain (and you'd only be getting my side of it anyway) the project eventually collapsed due to a combination of broadcaster, studio and guild acrimony and I headed off to Hollywood to seek my fortune there.

Barely a week later, at my first ever glittering party in the Hollywood hills, I flopped down on a couch with a glass of wine and found myself almost in the lap of Bill Marshall, who said…

“Geez, Henshaw! We can’t be seen together. We’re suing each other.” At which point we both cracked up.

The great thing about Bill in those days was he was exactly the sort of character the Canadian film industry desperately needed. A guy who understood how things must be seen to be done in an overly cautious and closely regulated nation –- and yet knew how the real world worked so they could actually get done.

He was one of my producer mentors long before I’d ever contemplated producing anything and he not only taught me a ton, but contributed to some of the defining moments of my life.

Much has been written, for example, about the earth-shaking argument he got into with Mordecai Richler on a TIFF panel about Canadian culture. The press, as usual, mostly took Richler’s side in reporting it. But everybody who was in that room, including me, knew that Bill had won the day and a lot of ugly truths about how culture is made and supported in this country were laid bare.

There are two things I feel deepest about the loss of Bill Marshall. One is the memory of nights of frivolity and story telling or intense discussions about craft and production and building an industry of which I'm now one of the sole survivors.

But more important is the realization of how badly we need someone like Bill Marshall today. A guy who could convince or cajole the driest bureaucrats and most tight-fisted of investors to take a chance at trying something different -- of just ignoring what everybody accepts as an unchangeable  reality and going out and getting shit done.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 451: Looking Back to Look Ahead

An interview with Martin Scorsese is making the rounds in advance of the release of "Silence", a passion project he's been trying to get made for decades. In it, perhaps our greatest living film director bemoans the loss of cinema as we've known it, declaring the art form is dead.

It's not hard to understand where Scorsese is coming from. Anybody trying to sell a script or project they love has shared the defeat and disappointment when other people just don't get it -- year after year after year. 

Recall the number of times in the past months when you wanted to go out and see a movie but the multiplex was showing nothing but cartoon superheroes and frat boy comedies. Or ask how often the films you did see rewarded you with an experience that affected you deeply.

If you're like me, those latter moments were few and far between. Or you got them from something you found on Netflix, which gave you the movie, but not the communal reward of sharing it with others. 

Quentin Tarantino once defined a great film as one where you had to go out and have pie afterward. And we all remember those late night cafe conversations with friends or film nerds as we relived the movie we'd just seen, unwilling to let go of either its content or the bond it had created among those with whom we'd seen it.

A friend reminded me this week of Nicholas Cage's performance in "Leaving Las Vegas" a movie so raw and harrowing in its examination of alcoholism that I literally NEEDED a drink when it was over. 

I'm sure that like Scorsese, few of us can remember the last time something like that happened.

But while there's a lot I can agree with in the great master's assessment -- the proliferation of images, our awareness that much of the spectacle is computer generated and not "real" or the ways we consume the art form on smaller and more private screens -- for me, Cinema is not dead.

While I probably attended hundreds of movies in movie in theatres when I was a kid, I was probably in my late teens before I truly experienced one. 

It was early one morning in university, a mostly empty theatre and a film appreciation class I'd booked for an easy credit. From the first frames of "Citizen Kane" I knew something out of the ordinary was happening.

Over the next weeks I saw "The Grapes of Wrath", "Seven Samurai", "Onibaba" and "Casablanca" without commercials. And I became aware that movies weren't just somewhere to go to eat popcorn or make out in the back row.

And unlike Scorsese, the young filmmakers I meet these days give me great hope for the future.  
Like him, they've seen it all. But unlike most people in Hollywood (or working in the bureaucratic maze of Canadian cinema), they're not beholden to a system that determines and ultimately controls their output.

What keeps cinema alive as 2017 dawns are the myriad ways a filmmaker can get around or simply ignore the barriers that have been placed in their way to protect those who currently control the marketplace.

Last week one of those new ways of reaching an audience, Vimeo, published their list of the best short films of 2016. Among them you'll find the Scorseses of the future, the Haskell Wexlers and enough talented writers and actors to replace those we lost in the celebrity massacre of 2016.

One of my current favorites on Vimeo is below, giving me faith in the fact that movies aren't even close to dead, they're evolving. Something you'd think a guy who once took a few friends and a camera onto the "Mean Streets" of New York to make a film would recognize and understand.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Strange Men from andrew fitzgerald on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 450: Merry Christmas

Christmas seems to have two speeds, incredibly fast or wonderfully slow. 

Some of us have a million things to do. Up at dawn to get the turkey stuffed and into the oven. Opening gifts then a quick shower before church or the trip to Grandma's house. Shuttling relatives. Making time for some quick wine and cheese with the neighbors. Never a quiet moment. By nightfall it isn't just the tryptophane from that second helping making you dozey.

For others, Christmas is just one delight served after another. You just stand back and let the waves of generosity and joy wash over you.

That top speed seems to be how my Christmases happen these days. But when I was a kid it was the other way around. Tripping down stairs in your PJs to see a tree sparkling brighter than you remember from the days before. An empty milk glass and crumb of cookie to prove that Santa had not only been but appreciated the snack you left.

Then opening presents and savoring homemade egg nog, sausage rolls and shortbread.

And then your parents disappeared for an hour to prepare for their high speed version of the day while you played with your new stuff and watched cartoons.

Back in my day, those Christmas cartoons were usually from Walt Disney and if you were lucky included one with a special Christmas message.

Whichever Christmas speed you're travelling at today, take a moment for this one.

Merry Christmas and...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 449: The Spirit of Giving Back

This time of year, corporations big and small populate our TV screens and online streams with commercials eschewing the spirit of the season. 

They make us laugh, feel nostalgic or otherwise kindle the spirit of the season -- that Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All thing. 

But at their base, the silent message of most is -- "Now that you feel all warm and fuzzy, come buy something from us".

But there's one that seems to take the sentiments of its Christmas commercials to heart.

I've been posting the annual Christmas commercials from Canadian airline Westjet for several years now as they've taken the spirit of giving back to ever greater heights. Granting Christmas wishes to passengers in flight. Bringing gifts to tropical destinations that have never seen snow. And last year providing a Christmas miracle on behalf of each one of their 12,000 employees.

This year was a tough one for the residents of Westjet's home province of Alberta, ravaged by unemployment and devastating forest fires. So they went to the heart of that devastation to bring a little bit of light and hope.

What follows is a reminder that giving back to those most in need is at the heart of Christmas. What follows is the Westjet Christmas ad and the background of two of the families they helped.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 448: Augie Wren's Christmas Story

At the core of the sentiments of the Christmas Season are stories. The original account of the babe in the manger may have started that because it contained all the elements that run through every Christmas story that has followed it.

The compassion of an innkeeper with no rooms for tired travelers and only a humble stable to offer. A child imbued with all our hopes of the future. Magical occurrences. Ordinary people touched by something special. The spirit of giving, of sharing, of kindness.

Every Christian culture has a special story only told at Christmas. A good king helping a poor man in the snow. A wealthy miser reminded of the redemption in caring for others. A kid who only wants a BB gun.

And then there's Rudolph and Frosty and Honky the Christmas Goose...

The magic that is Christmas almost always comes from characters you'd last expect to embody it, and yet, in doing so, remind each of us that we can be part of the magic too.

One of the oddest Christmas tales can be found in Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's 1995 Independent film "Smoke", which follows the interwoven lives of the customers and staff of a small New York tobacco store. 

It's a charming little film about the smallest things and how they can alter our lives or the way we see the world forever.

Connected to all of these stories in one way or another is the smoke shop's owner, Augie Wren, played by Harvey Keitel.

As Christmas approaches, one of his customers, a writer, is in desperate need of a Christmas story and Augie commiserates and ultimately shares his own.

It's unexpected -- and special. May it's message touch you this season.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 447: A Christmas Story's Story

It's that time of year again. Lights sparkle from rooftops. Carols are the soundtrack at the mall. And television begins unspooling the films of the season.

This month's issue of "Vanity Fair" features an article on the making of one of those Christmas films -- my personal favorite -- "A Christmas Story".

But while the VF story about "Story" is filled with wonderful anecdotes from the production and initial release of the movie in 1983, there's nothing quite like hearing the broadcast that inspired it from the screenwriter and narrator of "A Christmas Story" -- Jean Shepherd.

During the 1950's, 60's and 70's, Shepherd hosted a nightly show on WOR radio in New York, where he spun semi-autobiographical tales that spawned a rabid fan base who made bootleg reel to reel tapes of them to share with friends around the country.

Originally a chapter of Shepherd's 1966 book, "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash".  its first title was, "Duel in the Snow, Or, Red Ryder Nails The Cleveland Street Kid". It was immediately excerpted in "Playboy", winning Shepherd a National Magazine Award for humor. 

After that, every year at Christmas, Shepherd would tell the story on his radio show. And on one of those nights, director Bob Clark heard it while driving to a dinner date. Clark reached his destination and then circled the block repeatedly, unable to stop until he'd heard how it ended. He decided then and there it had to be a movie.

And thanks to one of those original bootlegs, now you too can hear the broadcast that inspired one of the most beloved movies of the season...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 446: Johanna Under The Ice

It's cold here today. That kind of damp cold that just pierces you to the core. 

So I decide to stay inside and surf the net, finding a spectacular book of photographs entitled "The Last Days of the Arctic" by photographer Ragnar Axelsson. Sampled above and available from Amazon here which chills me even further.

I hate cold weather. 

I grew up in one of the coldest inhabited places on the planet (Saskatchewan) where you can go 40 or 50 days in Winter where the temperature doesn't get above minus 40 or 50. 

And it's supposed to make you hardy and resourceful and resilient and all those other positive character traits, which I'm sure it does. But it also left me feeling like, "Okay, I've done that. Can we move on? Maybe to somewhere warmer?".

So now I live where it doesn't snow, you only scrape the car windows a couple of times during the dark months and wait for Global warming to finally live up to David Suzuki's dire predictions.

But then guys such as Axelsson come along to remind you of just how freaking pretty frigid can be. 

So, like one of those guys who's afraid of heights but still has to lean over the roof railing of a tall building and look down, I went in search of a cold related video and found what follows...

Not long ago, Finish bicycle racer Johanna Nordblad crashed, badly breaking her leg. Her recovery regimen included cold water therapy which led her to a new sport, cold water free-diving, for which she holds the world record. And that led her to British Filmmaker Ian Derry and a truly remarkable film.

It's cold. And not a dry cold. But it's worth it.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Johanna Under The Ice - NOWNESS from NOWNESS on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 445: The First Men

Last night somebody on my block turned on their Christmas lights for the first time. Despite the fact that Costco has been selling Christmas stuff for more than a month and all week the nice man from Canada Post has been dropping off Christmas catalogs and flyers, it still seemed too soon.

But it's not. So once again I have to suck it up and do one of the things I most don't enjoy doing -- shopping.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not opposed to commerce, spending money or even having to cope with crowds. I just don't enjoy malls that much.

Something about them just -- unsettles -- me. I'm not exactly sure why.

Maybe it's that the bookstores are getting fewer and smaller and with way more books about Cats.

Maybe it's that the record store doesn't have listening stations anymore but they have lots of movie loot like "Superman" Cookie Jars and "Star Wars" Alarm Clocks. How did the people who used to sell music decide that the same people looking for tunes by "Aerosmith" or "21 Pilots" would be suckers for "Ghostbusters" T-shirts?

Come to think of it -- maybe that's what unsettles me. That you're no longer a customer with needs and desires, you're just somebody who buys stuff. Any stuff. Even stuff at places like "Lids". Somebody who'll buy whatever they put on the shelf because -- well, because what else are you going to do with your time and money...?

Food courts particularly unsettle me. Food courts are where you always meet people you know. You'll engage in 2 minutes of small talk and then they'll invariably say, "So, you're at the mall" -- pointedly observing that you clearly don't have anything better to do with your time and money -- or perhaps your life.

Filmmaker Ben Keegan perfectly captures my dread of malls in a terrific short film, "The First Men", based on an even darker short story by Stacey Richter which you can read here.

It might even convince you to avoid the mall.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

The First Men from Benjamin Kegan on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 444: Leon Russell

I first became aware of Leon Russell sometime in 1970 or 71 by way of one of the best Rock documentaries ever made, "Mad Dogs & Englishmen". Only later did I learn I'd been listening to him for more than a decade.

The story behind the film is that Cocker, fresh off the success of "Woodstock" and his first two Platinum albums, had just completed a gruelling months long tour of the United States. Arriving in LA, thoroughly burned out and intending to rest through the Summer and maybe recruit a new band for his next LP, Cocker dropped by his agent's office.

There he learned that said agent had booked him on a 52 city tour slated to depart the next week. When Cocker balked, he was told the Musician's Union, Immigration Officers and Concert Promoters would not reacte kindly to his desire to get some rest and he might not be allowed back into the country.

Luckily his friend, well-known session musician Leon Russell, came to his aid; quickly rounding up an assemblage of talent that could not only make Cocker sound better than he ever had before, but offer enough of their own material so the worn out bill topper wouldn't have to carry the load alone.

The result made Rock 'n Roll history and brought Russell to the forefront of American music.

A laid back, easy going and soft-spoken Oklahoman, Leon Russell had begun his career playing nightclubs at age 14 and had played on virtually every Top 40 single recorded in LA through the 50's and 60's, 

Over the years, even repeated bouts of Pneumonia, Brain surgery and a heart attack could not slow his astonishing musical output.

Leon Russell died this morning at the age of 74 leaving an award winning legacy of music across the genres of Rock, Country, Jazz, Bluegrass, Gospel and Blues not to mention a more important one of kindness and concern for his friends.

Here's a taste of "Mad Dogs", Russell's induction into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame and his biggest hit single.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 443: Loose Ends

There's nothing that gives screenwriters nightmares more than the idea that they've left something unresolved.

The process of writing, no matter how organized, plot-mapped, index carded, character studied you are, is always chaotic. Ways to enhance or improve the twists and turns of plot and character you intended constantly spring to mind. 

As the tale unfolds, you inevitably find better ways to tell it. And then when you're done, you go back over the pages time after time, making sure everything tracks, it all makes sense and no one will ever question the logic of the fiction.

And you inevitably miss something.

As a junior member of the writing team on my first TV series, I remember waking up in a cold sweat one morning, realizing that the scene we were shooting that day left something important hanging. Something that needed to be fixed or the entire story would collapse like the house of cards it probably was.

It wasn't a script I'd written. But it was one I'd read a dozen times and a plot hole so big you could drive a truck through it. I raced to work, finding the senior story editor, an experienced Hollywood icon with credits on almost every show I'd ever heard of, calmly perusing the call sheet as he lit a smoke and reeled off the ponies he was picking to his bookie over the phone.

When he finally hung up, I spilled out the problem, my concern increasing because I still didn't have a clue how to fix the problem.

He squinted at me through the cigarette smoke and smiled, "No big deal, kid. Refrigerator moment."

That day I learned that if audiences are caught up in a story, they more often than not don't see the errors and omissions that drive we so-called professionals crazy.

A refrigerator moment is one where a guy watches the show, goes to get a beer while the credits roll, senses something was left out -- and then just drinks his beer and finds something else to watch and/or worry about.

A more nuances version of this is the "hot tub moment", where the guy gets his beer, settles in the hot tub and while recalling the leading lady's cleavage suddenly blurts out "Hey, wait a minute...".

For most people, watching movies and TV shows is just Chinatown -- "Forget it, Jake. It's only a movie." The experience is over. They got their money's worth. Time to move on.

But for us, the nightmare remains. Someday, some Comic Con asshole is going to raise his hand, ask about an episode of some TV series you don't even recall working on and reveal a plot hole so massive it'll be trending on Google and Twitter for weeks designating you as the irresponsible idiot who let it happen.

We've all got 'em. How long did Indiana Jones have to hold his breath to get where that submarine was going? Will Toto still have to be put down now that Dorothy is back in Kansas? Can you really escape the Nazis in Casablanca just by having a piece of paper?

I'm reminded of the refrigerator moment that annoys me the most every time I watch my favorite James Bond film "Skyfall". The entire film is set in motion by the search for a missing file that could reveal the names of every MI5 and NATO agent. But halfway through the film, nobody cares about that anymore because they've got a psycho-killer to worry about.

And maybe that old Hollywood hack whose pony picks I interrupted had the right idea. Maybe showing the audience a good time and giving them their money's worth is a laudable feat in itself. If they want accuracy, they can watch the Weather Channel.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 442: The Bump In The Night

Horror movies just get no respect. From the early days of film they've been outliers, considered at worst pandering to the lowest common denominator and at best a grubby way to make a lot of money.

Like all kids, I was fascinated by monsters and sitting in theatres watching Dracula and Frankenstein gave me a chance to prove I was all grown up and wasn't no fraidy cat. 

And then one afternoon, as a fully formed adult I bought a ticket to see "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" on the strength of the audacity of its title alone and realized that Horror in the hands of a master filmmaker has the power to both shatter the psyche and renew it.

What makes so many Horror fans so rabid? They've faced a fear and walk out of the theatre empowered and emboldened by that. All of us remember what it was like to leap off the high diving board for the first time, take on the looping roller-coaster, or finally get up the nerve to talk to that hot girl or guy we're smitten with. The high of those accomplishments is exciting and ultimately life affirming.

But in polite society. Horror still sits on the lowest rung of the film ladder. When I took on the job of writing the "Friday the 13th" series, a lot of my friends thought I must've been desperate for work. And virtually all of the established writers, directors and actors I tried to convince to come aboard refused to sully their careers by having that title on their resumes.

But, as Alyse Wax's recent book about the series "Curious Goods" reveals, the brave band of brothers and sisters who did also felt Horror helped them find their artistic voice.

And yet, the show business desire to be accepted in polite society continues with endless essays on films like "The Witch" demanding that audiences embrace "respectable" Horror films like it or "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" instead of whatever Eli Roth or the folks on "The Walking Dead" are rolling out this week.

After all, wasn't last Sunday's premiere of Season 7 of TV's Zombie drama just the ickiest ever? And look at all those Youtube selfies of audiences being traumatized! How awful to treat people that way!


That's the point.

That's why they come in droves.

To paraphrase a well-known politician. "When Horror goes low Audiences go High".

I saw "The Witch" and yeah, the kids and the goat are great. Except those scenes don't build to anything truly frightening and ultimately you're watching Masterpiece Theatre with more suspense and less brocade. 

And while the brocade's better in "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", once the literary irony wears off there's not much worth watching.

Horror is not about suspense. And it's not about torture porn or gratuitous gore either.

It's about that bump in the night. The moment when something so out of the ordinary happens that logic evaporates, you're in Tiger Country and the rules you've always lived by no longer apply.

It's about being scared.

And one of the best places to see examples of this are the multitude of Youtube horror short channels like "2SentenceHorror" or "Fuck You Zombie".

You will be frightened.

And it's Halloween weekend, so...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 441: Movies You Can't Make Anymore

"Your head's so filled with thought you can't use your imagination
Like a sky so filled with stars, you can't find a constellation.
And everyone's so sensitive to any bad vibration
You're so impressing, while we're regressing..."

The first time I visited Hollywood, I felt like I'd gone back to high school. The cliques of super cool kids, jocks and brainers determined not to intermingle less cooties might be spread. The desperation to fit in, to be immediately identifiable, to catch the latest trend and flaunt your wealth or status.

And as much as Hollywood films have changed, those traits of the community making them have not.

To be a Hollywood player you always need to keep your thumb on the pulse of the nation and maintain the appearance of one who espouses the right causes, knows what "the other kids" are thinking and champions the next big thing.

Corporations don't give out those six-figure gift bags at the Oscars because they like the kids from Hollywood High. They need their access to the market that will either buy their products or aspire to buy them.

And at their best, movies do change hearts and minds. "To Kill a Mockingbird", "In the Heat of the Night", "Mississippi Burning" and "Selma" revealed garden variety racism as the illogical evil that it is.

Films like "Philadelphia", "Paths of Glory", "The Big Short" and "Spotlight" were all rightfully honored for opening our eyes to the way the world really works.

Game-changing films such as those are rare, however, since most of us buy a ticket at the box office to get away from the real world for a couple of hours and just enjoy some action, adventure, romance or comedy.

And that's where the progressive impulse of the film community sometimes trips over itself and in its eagerness to show how forward thinking it is, forgets what it was really trying to accomplish in the first place while corrupting film memes that audiences have come to love.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we shouldn't have gotten rid of Stepin Fetchit, white guys playing Charlie Chan or hordes of blood-thirsty savages (of any ethnicity) charging in to massacre our hero and heroine for no other reason than "that's just what they do" and "how else can the cavalry come to the rescue".

But I'm feeling a little like the appearance of championing diversity, gender equality and acceptance of sexual preferences has become more important than actually helping things change.

"Well, I don't mean to piss you off with things that I might say
So when I try to shut my mouth they come out anyway.
Cause when I speak my mind, that's when we connect
Yeah, but that's not politically correct..."

A while ago, some Hollywood bright light had the idea of rebooting "Ghostbusters" with an all-female cast. Maybe not such a dumb idea at the concept level. But then nobody seemed to think it through much further than "let's put some actresses into those grey coveralls" and certainly not as far as "and put in some good jokes". 

The film flopped. Simply because it just wasn't very good. A reality the studio tried to blame on a negative wave of misogyny that was eventually revealed as a pretty much a PR ruse.

Not to be deterred, another studio has embarked on a female version of "Ocean's 11" to be re-titled "Ocean's 8". Again, not a bad idea -- and from my point of view terrific if they keep Matt Damon in the same role.

Somewhere I joked that if this was the latest high-concept formula, I was looking forward to the all-male version of "Thelma & Louise" -- which is probably under consideration somewhere but using Gay or Asian guys instead.

It just seems to me that if we are serious about increasing the work opportunities for artists no matter their gender, race or sexual preference, then we need to play to the strengths of those artists and not just park them in some lame cinematic attempt to appear inclusive.

What's more, we may need to a get a handle on confronting what's a real issue and what's just fashionable in the moment. 

With the passing of Gene Wilder, for example, there was an out-pouring of affection for "Blazing Saddles" a movie most of those praising it would have turned down flatly for its political incorrectness alone and most certainly wouldn't be caught buying a ticket to see it.

That film is just one example of the kind of work you just can't do anymore. Simply because the appearance of doing it is something the cool kids in Hollywood cannot abide.

And the number of those films increases daily. Five examples follow, along with SR-71's performance of the song lyrics included in this post.

Enjoy Your Sunday...