This Saturday we'll be presenting the final episode of Speed Demons as part of Vampire Cowboys' Saturday Night Saloon. Next week, I'll be unveiling my "Top Ten" list for 2008 and, I have to say, this year there were some tougher choices than previous years. I ended up seeing quite a number of very, very good shows, and believe it or not, I need a few days to ponder what makes the Number One spot (it's between two shows). This has never happened before: the #1 spot is usually a lock pretty early on and blatantly obvious to me. This time, not so much. The two in question (which I won't reveal now) are damn near neck-and-neck. So whichever one I choose, you can pretty much assume it beat the play on the #2 spot by a nose.
Well, folks, I'm back from New Hampshire. And I even got myself a brand-spankin' new MacBook for Christmas. Yes, I know, it was time (for a guy who calls himself a writer, it may be a good idea to oh, I don't know, have a freakin' home computer).
Posting will still be sporadic this week, as I'm still technically on vacation (hey, if my day job doesn't roll over vacation days, I'm a-gonna take them in one lump sum before year's end).
Anyway, I hope everyone had nice holidays, and here's to 2009!
Eye in the Sky is a specially commissioned experimental epistolary radio drama. Audacity Theatre Lab's Brad McEntire and Ruth Engel hand-selected writers from around the counrty. Each writer was to use the blurb below as a springboard for a 1-3 page contribution:
"For one week in the middle of the summer a giant eye appears in the sky over the city. At the end of seven days it disappears as suddenly as it had originally materialized..."
This contribution could take the form of...well...anything. Nearly anything. We are doing the project as a radio drama, so spoken or sound related texts were encouraged. We were open to scenes, monologues, letters, news broadcasts, newpaper clippings, diary entries, e-mail correspondence, lecture notes, etc.
These pieces will be put together to form a series of impressions and reactions to The Eye In The Sky.
A public reading by professional actors, supported by several rehearsals with an ATL director, will probably be held in early Spring 2009 here in Dallas. The pieces will also be recorded and the resulting recording will be placed as a podcast on the ATL website.
Some of the contributors include:
Chris Alonzo - Vicki Cheatwood - James Comtois - Erin Courtney - Andy Eninger - John Flores - Jeff Hernandez - Chris Humphrey - Mark Rigney - Greg Romero - Ben Walker Sampson - Crystal Skillman - Jeff Swearingen - Daniel Talbott - Jason Tremblay - Ken Urban - Gary Winter
I'm just at my day job this week before I take the rest of the year off. If my job plans to lay me off, its only got five days left to do it.
Perhaps I should call in sick the rest of this week. I do have the days.
No, no. I’ll stick it out and brave whatever fate is in store for me.
I plan to spend Christmas week in New Hampshire, where I'll obviously not be posting but rather mapping out the remaining projects on my Writing To-Do list and thinking about Nosedive’s 2009 projects (specifically, a burlesque fundraiser sometime in March and Infectious Opportunity in the spring).
I'll also be mulling the idea of whether or not to submit something for this. A lot of it, of course, depends on when we stage Infectious Opportunity.
Saw The Granduncle Quadrilogy this weekend, by the way. Had a lot of fun. It closes this weekend, so if you’re still in town, check it out.
Still have a number of things to see this week. Don’t think I can make it to all of them, but I’ll sure try to see as many as I can.
This event is precisely the kind of unique and unexpected production Stone Soup Theatre Arts has been known for in its seven years as a producing Off-Off Broadway company. All proceeds will benefit Stone Soup's April repertory production with two full-length productions, invited guest directors, and our renowned Salon series. Get your stars read in our foyer, foxtrot to live music in the main studio and grab a raffle for high end items from our Cigarette Girls, all for a brand new season of high quality, high-minded theatre.
With Party Like it's 1929, Stone Soup gives the high-hat to a money meltdown with its trademark originality, riskiness and humor. Just because we're hitting on all sixes in a crisis doesn't mean we shouldn't go out and jolly up.
I finally saw Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York last night, and I have a feeling it will be rattling around in my brain even more so than Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE did for me last year. In Roger Ebert's very spot-on review of the film, he points out, rather astutely: "Think about it a little and, my god, it's about you. Whoever you are." (Emphasis his.)
The "story," if you can call it that, concerns a hypochondriac theatre director (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) who suffers from several ailments (real or imagined, the film doesn't let you know) and whose marriage is deteriorating at a rapid rate. When his wife and daughter decide to move to Germany without him, he receives a MacArthur Genius Grant, with which he plans to make a play about Life. Not just aspects of life, but about Life. And, of course, it takes him his whole life to create.
That description I just gave doesn't even remotely do the film justice. I've ruined and explained nothing. Like with many of Kaufman's films, it's about a person who retreats further and further into his own mind.
Critics seem to be split on this film, which isn't surprising. It's not a fun film (although there are aspects to it that are fun and funny). And it's not an easy film (I'd be lying if I told you I was confident in telling you what it's about). It's also a film that deals with mortality in a very frank and stark way, a not very popular film subject (even films that do deal with growing old are done with a sentimentality that is not present here). But I do think it's a fascinating and important film, and Ebert's absolutely right: it's about you, whoever you are.
I went to see Synecdoche, New York with Matt Johnston and both of us were split on how we took it: I found the movie ultimately very bleak, suggesting that we never really live our lives or live in the moment until it's time to die (i.e., until it's too late). Matt found it very optimistic, as he thought it was telling the audience that it's just not until we die that we realize we've been living our lives the way we should (i.e., you can't not live in the moment). I could be horrifically misconstruing what you said, Matt, so if you want to clarify, by all means, do so in the comments section.
I really don't know how Kaufman can top himself after this. It feels as though Kaufman has taken the subjects and themes he's been circling around and hinting at with his previous works (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, among others) and has cranked them up in full force. I definitely need to see it again.
Because it's about me.
Living in a house on fire,
James "Smoke Inhalation" Comtois
Ps. Apparently the idea for Synecdoche, New York came about from Sony asking Kaufman and Spike Jones (who was originally slated to direct the picture) to do a horror film. Although this isn't a horror film in any conventional sense, it certainly taps into several innate, primal fears.
This weekend's Saturday Night Saloon was a great deal of fun. Patrick brought some nice creepiness to this episode of Speed Demons, and we’re hoping to get the video posted online as soon as possible (I believe I ended up careening into Marc, who taped the performance, so I’m really looking forward to seeing that segment). It was also nice having Nick Micozzi, Christian Toth and Scott Williams on board for Episode 4. And hot car for Mephisto, Steph!
It's really looking as though my social calendar is filling way the hell up for the remainder of my time in the city before returning to New Hampshire for the holidays. I recently RSVP’ed in the affirmative for a show (Penny Dreadful, for those that are interested) and instantly got two panicked emails from people who saw my reply making sure I hadn't forgotten about their events (I hadn't).
Though tonight looks to be an evening of watching trashy television at my sister’s apartment (no doubt some VH1 reality television...that's right; I'll admit it), the next two weeks involve me attending birthday parties, burlesque shows, fundraising events, band performances and plays (though not too many holiday parties, oddly enough).
I'm hoping to give updates and shout-outs on the aforementioned events as they approach.
For its seventh season, Vampire Cowboys brings back its extremely popular series, THE SATURDAY NIGHT SALOON, a monthly party at THE BATTLE RANCH featuring brand new genre-bending serialized plays by NYC's hottest indie theatre artists. The shows hit every first Saturday night of the month from September to January. It's always free, the all-you-can-drink beer (or until we run out) is always only a mere five dollars, and the shows are always inventive. So why go drink at a bar when you can party at The Saloon?
NEXT SALOON: SATURDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2008 at 8pm
At THE BATTLE RANCH 405 Johnson Avenue (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) (2.5 blocks from Morgon stop off L train) For a map, CLICK HERE!
THEATRE WITHOUT RERUNS!
Featuring six all-new exciting serialized plays including:
SPEED DEMONS by James Comtois Co-Artistic Director of Nosedive Productions Author of Pinkie; Colorful World; The Adventures of Nervous Boy Directed by Patrick Shearer
KILL YOUR MESS by Megan Mostyn-Brown Member of LAByrinth Theater Company Author of The Secret Lives of Losers; Girl; Going After Alice Directed by Josh Hecht
RED ROVER by A Rey Pamatmat Member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab Author of Deviant; Beautiful Day; Thunder Above, Deeps Below Directed by Dominic D'Andrea
VCS RADIO MONSTER THEATRE PRESENTS... by Robert Ross Parker Co-Artistic Director of Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company Author of Jimmy Starshooter Must Get Laid & Confessions of an Undead Actor
ASSYMETRIC by Mac Rogers Member of Gideon Productions Author of Universal Robots; Hail Satan; Fleet Week Directed by Jordana Williams
CYNTHIA AND THE DREADFUL KITE by Webb Wilcoxen Member of LAByrinth Theater Company & Developing Artists Theatre Company Author of Patsy Stufflebean meets The Kentucky Demon; The Fairy Tale Project; Billy Sleepyhead Directed by Jill DeArmon
The Granduncle Quadrilogy Tales from the Land of Ice
Written by Jeff Lewonczyk, Directed by Hope Cartelli
Featuring Fred Backus, Ivanna Cullinan,* Jessi Gotta, Richard Harrington, Gavin Starr Kendall, Melissa Roth
*Courtesy Actor's Equity Association
A frozen northern country. Mammoths and walruses. The legendary death of a saintly child. A twisted winter celebration.
The Granduncle Quadrilogy is a holiday special for a made-up holiday.
Listen to Granduncle, ancient storyteller and veteran of an endless war, as he and his fellow citizens mix folktales, fictional ethnology, and war stories to conjure a mordant yet moving portrait of an imaginary icebound world that curiously mirrors our own.
The Preview and all Friday and Saturday performances will feature Granduncle-specific treats and drinks for sale from the "renegade bake sale."
PREVIEW: Thu 12/4, 8 p.m. - $10
PERFORMANCES: Fri 12/5 through Sat 12/20 Thu-Sat, 8 p.m. - $18
NEW: Matinee Sat 12/13, 2 p.m. - $18
At the Brick Theatre on 575 Metropolitan Avenue at Lorimer St. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
We're almost done rehearsing the fourth episode of Speed Demons, which goes up this Saturday at the Vampire Cowboys' Saturday Night Saloon, a consistently fun time for all. I've fortunately only given myself seven lines this time 'round (eight if you count an indignant grunt), most of them being, "What?" Yeah, no more multiple-page monologues for me: I learned my lesson after Pinkie.
This time around, Patrick Shearer has taken the reigns as director, and doing a very fine job. For me, it's been very fun having a different director on board for each episode, seeing how they deal with the material, and making it both their own thing and consistent with the overall tone and style of the serial. And I also enjoy seeing which music the directors pick for each episode.
Since the final episode goes up almost immediately after most folks recover from their New Year's Eve hangovers, I need to write the damn thing by the end of this week. And fortunately, that looks as though that’ll be it for my on-stage writing assignments for the year (even though I have about a half dozen other items on my "Writing To-Do" list, I just don’t need to finish them until January or February).
Is it really December already? Hot damn. Really feels like only a couple weeks ago the folks in Nosedive Central were burying me up to my neck in sand at the beach on the 4th of July. Ah, how time freakin' flies, people.
Anyway, I hope to see you fuckers at this Saturday’s Saloon, or join me in seeing this the following weekend.
Double-Feature: Them (Ils) (David Moreau & Xavier Palud, 2006) and The Strangers (Bryan Bertino, 2008)
As with all of these horror film entries, this contains spoilers.
I've been in a bit of a jam when it comes to picking the latest horror film to blather on about. I've been trying to find a balance between "Top Shelf" horror films and "Personal Faves," often seeking that middle ground where they both meet. However, I'm also trying to deal with movies that aren't talked about too much. There's a reason why I've avoided writing about such fare as Alien, The Shining, Carrie and The Exorcist, since they've really been talked about to death; do you really need me to explain to you how Alien is a "haunted house in space," as if you've never heard that phrase before?
Also, movies that are "so bad they're good" have to go. Granted, I love Plan 9 From Outer Space, Manos: The Hands of Fate and Count Yorga, Vampire, but I'm not going to try to convince any of you that they're scary. Or, well, good. Which isn't to say that cult movies are out of the running; just ones that have been (or would have been) mocked by the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 may not be eligible.
And with The Onion Av Club's "New Cult Canon" column, God bless/damn/bless them, they've made some of my choices obsolete. Yes, I was planning on doing entries for both The Blair Witch Project and Near Dark, but those brilliant and lovable fuckers beat me to the punch (they even got to praising that awesome synth score by Tangerine Dream!). Fortunately, it appears as though I beat them to the punch with Audition (take that, you lovable bastards!).
Yes, these are the thoughts that plague me when I'm trying to pick my next film to talk about. I never said I didn't need psychiatric help.
So, it was with all of these neurotically self-imposed criteria to keep in mind that made me decide to just quit my bitching and offer you a double-feature to make up for my irrational foot-dragging: David Moreau's and Xavier Palud's 2006 film, Them and Bryan Bertino's 2008 film, The Strangers.
Although Bertino's film has received some flack for being an unacknowledged remake of Moreau's and Palud's (and it very well could be; both movies have the same plot and use the same methods to scare its audiences), The Strangers is effective enough to be given its due, though perhaps doesn't quite stand alone for me to just write about it alone, hence this double-bill offering. Also, both are equally effective, although I'll admit that Them has a much more satisfying and coherent ending than The Strangers. (it feels as though Bertino didn't really know how to end his film once it was time to wrap things up).
Both Them and The Strangers deal with the horrors of home invasion and being watched and tormented in the supposed comfort of one's own house, and (for the most part) use tension and suspense rather than gore for effect. Both also claim to have been inspired by true events, though considering this is an age-old trope in the horror genre (and considering would-be witnesses of such events are killed in both films), this should be taken with more than a grain of salt.
Them sets the mood perfectly with its tangential (but straight-to-the-point) opening: a mother and daughter driving along a deserted country road in Romania at night. As they bicker, a figure appears in the road. The mother swerves to avoid him/her/it and crashes into a wooden post. She gets out to check the engine while her daughter waits in the car. The daughter eventually gets out of the car and sees that her mother is gone. She calls for her mother and her call is repeated from the surrounding woods by a whispery voice. Scared, she gets back into the car. Suddenly, noises come from the woods around her and mud is thrown against the windows. The young girl tries desperately to contact the police using a cell phone but she is strangled to death from behind. In a way, it's opening serves as the argument for the film: a condensed version of what we're about to experience.
Later in the movie, Clementine (Olivia Bonamy), a schoolteacher, drives home from work (passing the mother and daughter's crashed car) to her boyfriend, Lucas (Michaël Cohen), a writer. After the two settle in for the night and go to bed, Clementine is awakened by music and loud crashing noises inside and outside the house. From this moment, the filmmakers give the audience a sickening feeling of dread and discomfort that never lets up until the poor couple's demise. I can never shake that idea that there's someone or something malevolent just beyond the camera's frame. Before long, they realize that there are people in - and immediately around - the house. And they don't intend to play nice.
The scene that causes the most tension is the one where Clementine climbs into the attic to find an escape route. As Clementine searches the attic one of the hooded intruders grabs her from behind, she fights him off and pushes him off the balcony. Several other hooded people then surround the intruder's body.
Clementine and Lucas escape the house and hide in the woods as the invaders run past. They're forced to split up (due to Lucas's injury), so Clementine heads for help and spots an isolated car and runs to it. She tries and fails to start the car as the attackers close in.
Lucas limps toward the direction of Clementine's screams and finds the car, but no Clementine. He kills one of the attackers and discovers it's a young boy. He follows Clementine's screams and finds an open manhole. In the sewers, he finds Clementine being tortured by a teenage boy while another sits nearby telling the torturer to stop as he's hurting her. Sneaking up behind him, Lucas kills him. With the help of the younger boy, the two escape through the sewer system. However as the attackers catch up on them, the boy turns on them, causing Lucas to fall as they try to escape up a ladder. Clementine watches in horror as Lucas is dragged away. As Clementine is about to kill the boy with a large rock, he turns to Clementine and asks, "Why won't you play with us?" Clementine throws the rock at the young boy and begins her escape through the remaining tunnels to the surface. Clementine eventually finds a sewer entrance leading out onto a highway, but a locked gate blocks the tunnel, and she is dragged away and killed.
The film ends with a group of hooded kids hopping on a school bus. Just before the credits roll, title cards reveal that the bodies of Clementine and Lucas were found five days later, that the intruders were children between the ages of 10 and 15, and that upon interrogation, the youngest of the group explains, "they wouldn't play with us!"
With The Strangers, well, we're given the same story, with only some cosmetic differences: there's a subplot involving the man (James, played by Scott Speedman) planning on proposing to Kristen (Liv Tyler) and instead of psychopathic children, the invaders are a novice Manson family-style trio of murderers. But essentially, it's about a couple in a house isolated from other neighbors that get stalked and terrorized by unknown intruders. They hear loud knocks on the door, rustling within the house, and are eventually attacked by masked assailants.
Watching The Strangers (which I saw a few months before Them), I realized that this is a film that would have probably traumatized me had I seen it when I was 10 or 11, as it taps into a very acute and personal fear I had around that age. Living in a big colonial house and spending much time alone in a house that constantly creaked (there was a three-hour gap between the time I would get home from school and my parents would get home from work), the feeling that I wasn't really alone was something I couldn't quite shake during adolescence (I also wasn't - and am still not - quite convinced that my parent's colonial home in New Hampshire isn't haunted).
The terror of The Strangers is exemplified in this scene where Kristen is in her kitchen, a bit on edge, but nonetheless unaware that she's being watched (which regrettably doesn't look nearly as impressive on a computer monitor as it does on the big screen):
Again: considering this was a fear I had when I was a preteen hanging out alone in my house, had I seen this movie at that age, I'm pretty sure I would be traumatized.
Scott Tobias put it perfectly in his review for The Strangers in The Onion AV Club:
"The Strangers could be labeled 'torture porn,' because there's really nothing to it beyond watching ants squirm under the magnifying glass. The difference is that it's mostly psychological torture porn, and the biggest dive-under-your-chair moments come from how skillfully Bertino handles his sadistic cat-and-mouse game. Bertino makes particularly brilliant use of the widescreen frame, slipping the tormenters in and out of view, preying mercilessly on his heroes' vulnerability-and ours. It isn't particularly original-for one, it owes an unacknowledged debt to the French film Them-but as an exercise in controlled mayhem, horror movies don't get much scarier."
Both films do make the audience take huge leaps of faith in the intruders' abilities: the intruders seem to be able to appear and disappear at will, perfectly able to predict their victims' every moves. (How did those kids know about the attic?) At first, this adds to the horror and tension: are these people, or supernatural beings? Which is not to say it's a letdown when you realize in both films they're ordinary mortals (though the intruders being children in Them is more chilling than the budding serial killers in The Strangers)
So which one do I recommend more? It's hard to say. Personally, I think Them has a tighter and stronger ending, but I found The Strangers, mainly do to its effective use of sound, to be a more intense experience until its conclusion (if only by a hair). Maybe it all amounts to a coin toss or reference of English language films versus subtitles (if you don't speak French). Them and The Strangers are prime examples of effectively using minimalism to frighten their audiences. And both are pretty gosh darn effective at scaring Yours Truly. I'm just glad these films didn't come out when I was an adolescent, since I wouldn't be able to resist seeing them and would end up being a mass of nerves and tics.
Well, folks. I have returned. I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving holiday, as I did. Now I'm back to the Rotten Apple and working on mortgage stories and revisions for Infectious Opportunity. I'll be writing some more substantial posts later this week.