Writing to Movie Scores.

This is one of those posts that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. This is about my lifelong connection to music, and how it personally relates to my writing. 

I love music. Holy lord I love music. I love ALLLL kinds of music. From the mildest New Age Zen to the hardest Norweigian Black Metal. There really isn’t a style of music in which I can’t find something to love. I liken it to my high school days when I was friends with all the cliques. I had drama friends, jock friends, stoner friends, and everyone in between. It’s my personality to find a little something in anything or anyone. Movies are the same way; my love of film crosses all genres. Now, of course we all have favorites. Horror movies and Metal will always top the list. We could talk all day about how I grew up a horrorhound metalhead because I was raised in a very conservative religious town, and horror and metal were my outlets to rebel against that oppressive society, but this isn’t that post…


You see what’s happening here? I have so many different thoughts, stories, and connections to music that my brain is being scattered a thousand ways. Why am I talking about my love of metal now? Focus, Jeff. FOCUS. Okay, maybe in the future I’ll post about some of my other relationships to music, but today, my plan was to focus on one thing.

This is about my close link to screenwriting and movie scores.

Every writer has a cornerstone that helps them get into the headspace of writing. It’s impossible to just sit down and “turn it on.” The dirty secret (that’s not so secret) is how so much time writing is actually spent staring at the computer screen doing absolutely nothing, almost like you’ve been lulled in by Videodrome. But it’s understandable. A sprinter can’t just walk down and break a record. He has to prep. He has to stretch. He has to focus. Our brains work the same way. To me, this is what movie scores help me do. They are my “brain stretching.”

I’m what you’d call a Scorewhore. I love movie scores so damn much. Ever since I was a small kid, before I knew a thing about filmmaking, I’d watch a film and point out the score. I’d recognize how a specific scene that I loved was helped by the fact that a composer lifted it up far beyond what was originally there. Movie composers are geniuses and are so rarely regarded the way they should. Most people know the names of John Williams, Hans Zimmer and James Horner, but I wish more knew about the Clint Mansell’s, Alexandre Desplat’s, and James Newton Howard’s as well. Granted most Scorewhores know these names as much as they know that water is wet, but sadly we’re the exceptions.

One of my favorite albums growing up was Danny Elfman’s Music for a Darkened Theater, which was a collection of many of his compositions. Hidden amongst his larger more well known themes for Batman, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and The Simpsons was a track for a horror movie I love, Nightbreed. Reading through the liner notes (as you used to do), he talked about how he didn’t have too much of a budget for it like he was used to, but still felt he nailed a good theme. Well, he was right. It’s one of my favorites, and probably the single track that made me realize I could write to this kind of music. Yet another example of the fact that higher budget doesn’t always mean better. Anyway, thank you for the that, Danny Elfman. You have always been a hero of mine.

Continuing my movie score journey, I first started actually writing to them in college. Sure, when I put on my headphones it blocked out my loud roommates screaming about the Utah Jazz in the other room, but I quickly realized how much it put me in a different place and a different mindset almost immediately. It transported me just like films do. It helped with my schoolwork. It was here that I also noticed how different styles of scores could help me do different types of school projects. Darker scores for more dramatic English projects. Peppy action scores for more quick busy work like math. Interesting…

But it wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles and became an actual screenwriter that I discovered the single best thing writing to a film score can do for you. Movie scores can be Pavlovian.

Let me explain exactly about this process. It’s one that works so well for me. When people ask me how I’m able to work on numerous projects at once, this is my trick. Every time I start a project, even at the treatment stage, I scour for a score that matches the tone of what I’m writing. It’s like courting. Once I find that perfect match, I put on the headphones and start writing with that score on eternal loop. Bear in mind there has to be ZERO words. Musical only. Occasionally I find a score that is amazing, like Trevor Jones’ score for Dark City (which I wrote my project FRAGILE to), and there are a few tracks with singing on them. Well, then I create a playlist and edit those out. “Music only” is important. This isn’t about distraction. This is about immersion. Anyway, what happens as I hear this on constant loop while I write is that it gets ingrained in my head and is now connected to the project entirely. It goes hand in hand with the project in my brain. The music and the project you’re writing are now one.

As any writer knows, you’re constantly bouncing between projects. This is one of the harder things. Sometimes I’m working on one project in the first half of the day and another in the second half. Plus as we all know, writing is rewriting, so sometimes you’re brought back to old projects that have found new life with a new producer. How do you keep this all straight in your head? That’s where the Pavlovian qualities of movie scores come in to play. Put on those headphones and play the score you initially wrote the project to. The SECOND you play the score that was associated with that script, everything flows back in to your head like a river. You remember the characters, their instincts, the setting, your theme. It’s immediately there like you were working on it all along. This is a trick that I’ve used for a very long time, and one that I’m passing on to any new writers out there that are having a hard time focusing on any one project.

Hopefully this little trick helps.

Dammit, once again I went on too long. This is a recurring problem. Sorry readers… I even had a whole plan to write an additional section about my projects and which scores I used for them, but naw, that’s a personal thing and I’m out of space. I’ll let you discover that world for yourself. Spotify is a great resource by the way. Use it. So I’ll leave you here.

Although one last thing, since I know someone will ask. If you’re curious, currently I’m using Joseph Bishara’s incredible Conjuring 2 score for my most recent project, and it’s perfect. And if you’re wondering what my favorite score of all time is, well I have about ten. But I will say everyone should listen to Clint Mansell’s score for Requiem for a Dream. It is absolute perfection.

Hopefully you enjoyed my disjointed trip down musical memory lane with my connection to movie scores, and maybe just maybe my little Pavlovian movie score trick will help some writer out there. Hey, if one person finds this helpful, I’ve done my job.

Until next time, put on those headphones and melt away into a new world.

Farewell, horror friends.


My Daughter’s Ultimate Hamilton Birthday Surprise

This post is dedicated to my sweet Bella.

I rarely, if ever, post about my family on this blog. On here I’m the “Scary Horror Writer.” This is a much different persona than at home where I’m simply known as “Dad.” Those two don’t normally mix in my world, unless we’re talking about 1987’s The Stepfather where Terry O’Quinn is freakin’ awesome! But I digress…

I do this because it’s easier and healthier to keep the two worlds separate, but also because if people found out I’m actually a super-softy-pants dad I’d lose some of my street cred as the aforementioned “Scary Horror Writer.” You’ll start asking me which Air Bud movie is my favorite instead of which I find more disturbing, Martyrs or A Serbian Film (answer: Martyrs.) But this is one time that I have to break that rule and share something publically because it’s just too amazing not to spread this joy.

I’m warning you right now.

I don’t care how hardened you are.

What you’re about to witness is super duper sweet. Like ridiculously sweet.

Yes, this Scary Horror Writer is going to share something super-softy-pants with you. I’ll tryyyyy to be succinct, but those of you who know me know full well this can be a challenge.

First, a little backstory…

To put it plainly, my daughter Isabella is obsessed with musical theater. She has been for years. She stars in them, watches them, reads them, you name it. She only listens to musical soundtracks, and is usually found singing these songs on the top of her lungs in the shower. In fact, even as I type this, she’s auditioning at a local theater for their upcoming Beauty and the Beast musical (not kidding.) But there is one musical that she has been more obsessed with than anything else in her entire life.


I know what you’re thinking, yeah, yeah, everyone is obsessed with that show. That’s why it’s easier to take a selfie with a Minotaur than it is to get tickets. That’s why they basically had to invent new Tony Award because it won every other Tony that exists. This is not unique. Well, in the case of Bella, it is unique. For the past few years, she and her awesome theater friends have worshipped this show. For years, Bella has lived and breathed everything Hamilton. She has read every book ever put out about the show (including Ron Chernow’s massive Hamilton biography). She’s watched the PBS documentary 50 times. Most impressively she can sing/rap EVERY. SINGLE. SONG. I’m not kidding. If you ask her to do it, she will on cue. And it will blow your mind. It sounds like Eminem on speed. Only it was coming out of the mouth of a cute 12/13 year old girl. Well, this year for her 14th birthday we were able to take this obsession and do something special with it.

Our family lives in Los Angeles, but we found out that my wife had to go to New York for work and was going to miss both our girls’ birthdays (the’yre only 4 days apart.) This is when our old school, Utah, family-first type of mentality kicked in and we decided instead of us being separated, we had an opportunity here. We already had the hotel room paid for; we could cash in our frequent flyer points to get three more plane tickets; and we could all four be together in New York for the girls’ birthdays. We were going to give them a New York birthday experience. Hell, I didn’t make it to New York until I was 30 years old, so these lucky two were definitely going to have me beat.

Once Bella heard this, being the little sweetheart that she is, she simply asked for one thing. She wanted to take her photo in front of the Richard Rodgers Theater – the home of Hamilton.

She never once asked if we could go see the show. I think it’s because she knew it would be an impossiblity. It’s impossible to get tickets, and even if we could, we probably couldn’t afford them. The prices are akin to a buying a damn Fiat. Nope, she would be the happiest person in the world if she could just have her photo taken in front of the place that has given her so much joy the last few years. This warmed my heart so much because it’s such a simple ask. Little did she know what was in store for her.

Fast forward, we’re in New York. It’s Saturday, her 14th birthday. All she wants for her “present” is to take her photo in front of the theater, so we go straight there to snap the perfect shot.

Although, while she thought I was simply taking a photo… I had it on video instead.

What you’re about to watch is that raw video. It is, quite honestly, one of the single, most purest outpourings of joy I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve watched it ten times and I cry each time (shut up!) I know it’s my kid, but if this doesn’t bring a smile to your face, you’ve got a problem.

That is joy.

Pure joy.

Hopefully you watched it all the way to the end because her, “Thank you. Thank you so much.” is what kills me every time.

Long story short, my wife was able to work some of her New York work connections, and someone who knew someone, who knew someone, was able to track down some tickets to the show. She deserves all the credit here. 100%. Something that I thought was impossible, she was able to do.

Bella’s such a good kid. She works so hard at everything she does. Most importantly she has such a pure heart. It was a true treat to do this for her. I’ve never felt so much pride in all my life. Initially I wasn’t going to share this video at all. It was special. It was for our family. It was personal. But after showing it to a few close friends, watching them tear up, every one of them told me that I needed to post it. People need to see this kind of happiness right now.

And yes, I know this may seem extravagant, and I fully acknowledge that it is. Trust me. But ask yourself, is there anything you wouldn’t do for your kids if you had the chance? Well, mine was able to have a memory that will stick with her forever. And I’m glad I could share it.

And don’t worry, my other daughter had a hell of a birthday as well. It’s not a one-over-the-other scenario. It may not have been a birthday present, but when I worked for the WWE, I was able to do this for her:

Her favorites wrestler was Kevin Owens and she got to meet him backstage. So she’s okay. Don’t worry about her being left out one bit. And if you notice in the video, she’s almost more happy than Bella is.

But this experience was about Bella. And Hamiton. And being able to realize your kid’s dream.

Sorry for being Mr. Softy Pants. But I felt I needed to share this joy with you as the proud papa. I’ll return to being the Scary Horror Writer tomorrow. And we can talk about Martyrs.

Sundance Film Festival 2017 Recap – PART TWO


Okie dokie, that was a nice break for some other writing work. Finger cramps anyone? Let’s get to it for the last eight films I saw at Sundance. My favorite of the fest is in the mix, along with a few that left me pretty meh, and one that was sadly a big letdown.

If you missed Part One, here’s the link:

Sundance Film Festival 2017 Recap – PART ONE

Now on to PART TWO.




Thoroughbred was such a nice surprise for me. It feels different than most films out there, which is exactly why Sundance was a perfect home for it. The story revolves around an odd friendship between two young girls who begin to toy around with the idea of killing one of the girl’s stepfather. The scenes consist mainly of long conversations of dialogue with little action. At the Q&A the director said he initially wrote it as a play, and that’s exactly how it feels. But the acting is the centerpiece here. Its two main stars are two of the best young actresses working right now. I’ve been completely transfixed by Anya Taylor-Joy since I saw her stunning role in The Witch, and Olivia Cooke was phenomenal in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Both were incredible past Sundance films. Together they make one of the most bizarre yet fascinating relationships I’ve seen in a while. On a sadder side note, this was Anton Yelchin’s final role, and a further reminder of what a great loss that was.


Walking Out


Walking Out is definitely an exercise in minimalist cinema. The basic premise follows a teenage son that flies into the remote mountains of Montana to visit his father, who has isolated himself in the country after the divorce. The father wants to teach his “city” son how to be a man so he takes him into the mountains to kill his first moose. While deep in the snow, they run into some issues with a bear and a weapon mishap. As the title suggests, the rest of the film is spent with them trying to walk out in the freezing snow after both of them are injured. This film takes its sweet time, which I know was the director’s plan, but I kinda wished it would have sped up a bit more. Sometimes the viewer feels as bogged down as the characters. But it had some good qualities. First of all, it’s gorgeous. It takes place almost entirely in the snowy mountains. It makes you feel freezing cold, uncomfortable, and never really at ease. While the majority of the film consists of only two actors, in flashback scenes we also get a little taste of Bill Pullman as the grandfather. In my opinion this sidestory worked well, and kind of saved the film for me. Overall it wasn’t the most exciting experience, but still interesting enough. And cold. Damn cold.


Ingrid Goes West


Let me say this right up front… Ingrid Goes West might be one of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences I’ve seen in long time. You know this from the very opening scene. But considering our obsession with social media, it’s also one of the most timely and intriguing. Ingrid is a total cipher who is obsessed with Instagram. These images are her only “friends.” After being released from an institution after a nervous breakdown following the death of her mother, she discovers an Instagram “celebrity” and decides she wants to be her friend. Ingrid takes all her money and travels west in order to find this girl and enter her life. This is basically a movie about a stalker and how social media is used for stalking. It’s kinda terrifying as you know situations like this are all too true. Aubrey Plaza is fantastic as Ingrid. She is completely unhinged, yet puts on such a disguise whenever she’s with her fake Instragram bestie (played by Elizabeth Olsen.) This is a complete send up of not only the social media culture and its version of “celebrity”, but also a send up of the entire Los Angeles lifestyle (Venice mainly). It’s hard to watch, but ultimately fascinating. Note* It won the screenwriting award for the fest.




Sigh. Okay, here goes… XX was the film I was the MOST excited for at the Festival. It’s a horror anthology (my favorite) with every story written and directed by only female directors (hell yes!) I’m so in on this idea it hurts. It consists of four unrelated stories that are connected loosely by some phenomenal stop-motion animation that reminded me of past Tool videos. Well, I’m sad to say this was my biggest disappointment of the fest. I wanted to like this so bad, but it just fell short. I know a lot of people really liked it, so this is only my opinion, but to me it just felt passionless. I thought these directors would shoot for the fences and deliver something truly special. Instead it almost felt like they phoned it in. Only one of the stories seemed like it actually even had an ending. There’s a difference between leaving something vague and just leaving something unfinished. These felt like the latter. The direction and visuals were great; that wasn’t the problem. For me the stories themselves simply felt ho-hum. And while all the stories had female actors usually playing mothers, surprisingly only the last story felt like it really delved into a female-focused/motherhood storyline. And while I’m completely used to clunky acting in horror films, a few of the stories were truly hurt by it. Dammit, maybe I was just expecting something different because a lot of people seemed to like it. Crap, I hate saying something bad about someone’s creation, especially because I have some friends of friends that were involved with the production (the horror world is small). But for me, I feel like they missed the mark with this one. Dammit. That sucked to write. I’m sorry. Okay moving on…




And now I give you my absolute favorite film of the entire festival. Mudbound is absolutely mesmerizing. Of all the films I saw at the fest, this one has the biggest opportunity to make a big splash, both with audiences and come next awards season. Mudbound is set in the Deep South, Mississippi to be exact, during WWII and post-WWII. It shows the trials and tribulations between two families, one white and one black, trying to make their lives work the best they can. This is pre Civil Rights era where the Clan still holds power. There are many different storylines and many different narrations. In fact, the film itself is unique in that it follows six different voices, both visually via their characters, and listening to their actual narration of their inner thoughts. At first it’s a bit disconcerting, but once everything starts to line up, it’s utterly intoxicating. It’s too much to describe all the various storylines within the two families, but just know it worked. The acting is spot on. Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige and Jonathan Banks all deserve kudos for their performances. I loved this movie. I can’t say enough about it. It was so powerful and so well done on every level. Netflix must agree because they bought it for 12.5 million. So worry not, you will be seeing it soon.


Killing Ground


And now for the movie that caused the most drama at the festival amongst friends, haha. Killing Ground is a dismal little Australian film. It really is. It’s a type of horrific film that is simply not for everyone. If you’ve seen films like Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave, you know exactly what you’re in for – a tough viewing experience. Killing Ground has the very basic premise of a couple that travels into the wilderness to camp and notices the campsite next to them is completely set up but with no inhabitants. Dual storylines, one in the present and one in the past, parallel each other until they meet. Eventually we discover what happened to the family at the other campsite, and what is about to happen to the current couple. Let’s just say it’s not good. I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy the dark and dismal places this film went. The villains were just almost too abhorrent. It felt completely devoid of any hope at all. But still, within all the darkness, I could step back and acknowledge that it was really well done and had some real craft to it. Well, my buddy did not see it this way and kinda lost his shit, vocally scolding the filmmakers who “even chose to made this shit.” I obviously took offense because, as a horror writer, I sometime “choose to make this shit” too! Haha, anyway, all is well, nothing a little differing opinions amongst friends can’t hurt.




Lemon is the type of movie that Sundance loves to wallow in – a bizarre, quirky comedy about a psychologically troubled and depressive wannabe actor. That’s all on full display here, and well, while there were some really funny moments within, and a mind-numbingly incredible cast for this kind of film, Lemon felt utterly pointless. It’s basically about a man who “used to be on broadway” and now is teaching acting classes in Hollywood and posing for Hep C advertisements. We watch his downward spiral for almost 90 minutes, and about 15 of it is fun. Every scene that Michael Cera is in is comedy gold (although truth be told I’m a huge Michael Cera fan), and all the family sequences are entertaining as hell. But that’s not the film. The film follows a horribly unlikeable person doing horribly unlikeable things. I know there’s an audience for this type of film, but once the credits rolled I couldn’t help but feel like I kind of wasted my time. Anyway, there you go.


Fun Mom Dinner


My last film of the entire festival was also the one that felt the least Sundance-y in any way. Truth be told, that was kind of a nice feeling. Sometimes you can only take so much darkness and dismay and need a simple comedy with some heart. Fun Mom Dinner is exactly that. It’s about four moms that decide to break away from their kids and go out on the town. Hijinks ensue. If you’ve seen the Hangover or Bridemaids, you kinda get the gist, only this film takes place over the course of one night and is on a MUCH smaller scale. The moms are key and they are the meat of the film. Toni Collette, Katie Aselton, Molly Shannon are all fantastic, but the real scene stealer here is Bridget Everett. She is a comedy powerhouse and so much fun to watch on screen. There are some fun smaller roles by Adam Scott, Rob Huebel (one of my favorites), Paul Rudd (his wife wrote the film), and even Adam Levine. It’s goofy fun with a lot of pot and a lot of female bonding. I know moms like this. I know MANY moms like this. It’s just an enjoyable fun time that has some mass market potential.


And… that’s a wrap. Those are the 16 films I saw during the 2017 Sundance film festival. It’s been a few days since I’ve been back and I’m still thawing out, but overall it was yet another damn fine time. Sundance is always an incredibly inspiring time. Can’t wait to go back.

See you all in 2018.


Sundance Film Festival 2017 Recap – PART ONE


Hey gang. I’ve been asked to do a recap of my experience this year at the Sundance Film Festival. As many of you know I spend a week at Sundance every year. I’m a homegrown Utah boy and grew up not far from Park City, so I’ve been one lucky bastard that I’ve been able to attend every single fest since I was in high school. The one exception to that was a few years ago when I had to cancel the day before my flight in order to save my TV series (only to have it disappear later that year.) But I digress…

Even though I mainly go to the fest to check out all the horror titles that I can, I’ve had a connection to Sundance in some way, shape, or form for about 20 years now. My university (go Utes!) dealt closely with it. Many of us volunteered for it back in the day. I’ve had many friends with flicks there. Every year is filled with once-in-a-lifetime experiences and insane stories. This includes everything from sharing a condo for the week with the delightful Martin Starr, to hanging at a cast party with Kurt Russell (one of my all-time idols), only to have one of my dear friends imbibe a bit too much and rush to the bathroom where the sweet Goldie Hawn followed and held her hair as she threw up. Ahh, good times. I swear I could write a book about all the bonkers Sundance experiences over the years.

Regardless, this year felt different. Much different. Mainly because the entire world feels different. Even though I work in the film industry, it all feels kind of trivial right now because of what’s going on in the country. Regardless, I tried my best to focus on the films and the experiences, and dammit if I don’t have some of the best friends a guy could ask for to help with this. So yeah, we made the absolute best of it.

Saying all of this, instead of a full recap of the fest and all the experiences, I’m just going to give a quick recap of the 16 films I saw while I was there. My average is 18 films so I slipped a little this year, but I still saw some dandies. I’m going to break it up into two parts recapping eight films each.

Here’s PART ONE. I was pretty lucky because all eight of these movies I enjoyed in various degrees. No stinkers in this bunch (can’t necessarily say that about some of the movies in PART TWO, but you’ll have to wait and see.) Anyway, here goes…


Wind River

The first film I saw at the festival was Wind River, and for the majority of the week it was my absolute favorite film I saw there. Only one film beat it out for being my favorite, but more on that one in Part Two. Wind River was written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, the fantastic screenwriter of Sicario and Hell or High Water. It’s a dramatic mystery about a Fish & Game Employee who must team up with an FBI agent to solve a murder on an Indian reservation. It’s insanely well done with a surprisingly complex performance by Jeremy Renner. The entire film takes place on the Wind River Indian Reservation, and in nearby Lander, Wyoming. This hit close to home for me because my sister both lived in Lander and worked as a doctor on the rez to help pay off her med school loans. The relationships between those on the rez and who they see as the outsiders is as accurate as it gets. It’s an amazing film all around. And on a side note, it was a nice surprise to see a friend of mine, Matt Del Negro, in a supporting role. Matt, I had no idea you could play such an asshole. You’re way too nice in real life. Well done, man.



Next on the docket was Raw. This wasn’t a premiere in that it’s played some fests before, but that only made me more excited because of what I’d already heard. Raw is a nasty (in a good way) little French film about a girl that gets accepted into a notorious vet school and must go through insane hazing along the way. The girl, who is a devout vegetarian, undergoes a hazing ritual where she has to not only eat a rabbit kidney, but also has blood thrown on her (and in her mouth.) Well, let’s just say that this taste of meat starts to change her. Her body starts getting horrific rashes and she feels like she’s going insane. But that’s nothing since now she’s starting to desire human flesh. Yep, it’s a movie about that blossoming of a cannibal. It’s messed up and fun as hell. Although personally, what’s insane to me is how much more horrific the hazing rituals are compared to the flesh eating. I guess that says something about me, huh?


Dave Made a Maze

Dave Made a Maze was the only Slamdance film I saw this year. I try to catch as many of the genre films as I can at the festivals so this one caught my eye. It’s about a guy who makes a cardboard fort in his apartment only to go inside and get lost. When his friends go in after him they discover that it’s now somehow an insanely huge and intricate cardboard labyrinth filled with booby traps, monsters, and even a cardboard Minotaur chasing them. As you can guess from the premise, it’s complete madness, but damn if it isn’t also one of the most inventive little flicks I’ve seen in a while. Almost everything in the film was created completely out of cardboard so the practical effects junky in me was in heaven. Even when someone is killed violently, the “blood” is nothing but red confetti. Insane, but trust me, it works. It’s just a bizarre and outrageously fun movie with a lot of heart.


The Polka King

Polka King is another showcase for Jack Black to show his chops. He really is such an amazing actor to watch and one of my favorites. He’s got more energy than 10 men. If anyone saw Bernie from a few years ago, you know exactly what to expect with Polka King. It’s a quirky character study based on a true story, where Jack Black fully inhabits a crazy persona and harsh accent. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Jan Lewan, the polka showman/Ponzi-scheme mastermind, you’re in for a treat. It’s one of those stories that you can NOT believe is true, and yet is. All the actors here give it their all and I fully enjoyed this film. It does falter from the Sundance curse of being a bit too long, but overall it’s an insanely enjoyable experience. If you’re a Jack Black fan, see this one immediately. I think Netflix bought it.


Bad Day For The Cut

This little Irish revenge thriller is exactly what I’ve come to love about Sundance. Small movie. Simple premise. Down and dirty. I probably would have never sought this movie out if it weren’t for the festival, but I’m glad I did. This revenge thriller travels on some tried and true territory – man goes on violent streak for revenge after someone he loves is killed. But what I enjoyed about this movie was the brutal Irish spin on the material. Some of the characters are unique as are some of the reveals. Overall it’s nothing new, but a damn good yarn of violent Irish revenge.


Surprise Midnight (Get Out)

This was one of the more entertaining nights of the entire festival. This year in the catalog they simply had a spot for a “Surprise Midnight” movie. Since I usually see every single movie in the “Midnight” section of the catalog, AND I love surprises, this was basically tailor made for me. I was not disappointed to find out that the surprise was Jordan Peele’s directorial debut horror film, Get Out. Get Out is a racially charged little ditty that could not be more aptly timed because of the state of things right now. It’s about a white girl who takes her black boyfriend home to meet her extremely white family and all their friends. But slowly the boyfriend starts noticing some strange things about all the “help” at the estate (that all happen to be black.) I don’t want to ruin anything more than that because figuring it all out is part of the fun (although truth be told I did figure things out pretty early because it treads on the territory of another film I love.) Yet, even if you figure it all out it really doesn’t matter because Get Out is just a damn fun ride. The acting is spot on all around. How much do I love Bradley Whitford? All in all Jordan Peele did a fantastic job. You can tell he truly is a horror junky. God bless him for that. Oh, and this screening did end on a fun note where at the Q&A a man sitting directly behind us stood up to ask a question and it was none other than Patton Oswald. You just never know who you’re sitting near at a Sundance screening.


Band Aid

Band Aid was a cute little relationship movie that many people I know personally can connect to strongly. At first I thought, uh oh, it’s going to be another pretentious and boring millennial-minded movie about “artists” who just smoke pot and talk about how life isn’t fair to them. But guess what? It was actually a quite delightful millennial-minded movie about artists who just smoke pot and talk about how life isn’t fair to them. It’s about a couple that’s been together for a long time. Both are artists that haven’t achieved their dreams, and they bicker and fight constantly. Anyone who’s been in any relationship ever can relate here. But they discover that it works for them to write and sings song about their issues with each other instead of fighting, and it becomes a wonderfully cathartic and creative invention. The characters are likable, the songs are wonderful, and the story is full of heart and insight. I liked this film much more than I thought I would. And trust me, the entire movie is worth Fred Armisen’s performance alone. He truly is one of the funniest people working today. He could stare at the screen and do nothing for 5 minutes and I laugh. God bless that man.



Lately it seems every year at the festival there is a documentary that is a movie nerd’s wet dream. This year it was 78/52, a talking head documentary entirely about the shower sequence in the original Psycho. Now at first you’re thinking, “How do they make an entire movie about one sequence in one film?” Well, the answer is, they don’t. While yes, most of the film is filled with an INSANE amount of details and interesting tidbits about the sequence itself, the movie also fills the gaps with various Alfred Hitchcock anecdotes as well. Let’s be honest, this movie is for the movie nerds only. I myself enjoyed the hell out of it. Even the moments that were a little info-heavy and dry, the film junky part of me was fascinated. I’m guessing normal viewers could easily be bored by the in depth study of this sequence, but if you’re a Hitchcock fan, it’s definitely worth a view. As a bonus, Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh’s body double for the shooting of the shower scene (it was mostly her you saw), attended our screening and took part in the fascinating Q&A along with the director.


Okay, that’s it for now. I’m going to take a break from writing for a minute. Part Two should be up later tonight!

UPDATE: Here’s the link to PART TWO:

Sundance Film Festival 2017 Recap – PART TWO


10/31/16 – OCTOBER HORROR MOVIE PICK #31 – Tourist Trap.


Every Halloween Day I choose to write up a movie that I deem special. One that has ideal Halloween merit (at least in my eyes.) This year I decided on something slightly different than what I’ve done in the past. Every year up until now I’ve chosen a pretty well known film, either a staple of the genre, or a perennial Halloween classic. This year I decided to choose one of my all time personal pleasures, and what I think could quite possibly be one of the most under-appreciated horror films of the 70’s (or any time period actually). This year I give you the gem that is Tourist Trap. I LOVE this movie. It is so bizarre and so fantastic, that I’ve made it my goal here to spread the good word to as many folks as I can outside of the horror realm who may not even know of this film’s existence. The premise is a solid horror staple. A group of teens on a road trip has their vehicle break down in the middle of nowhere Americana. They come across a nice old man who offers to help them and takes them back to his place. Oh, but his place just happens to be a homemade museum full of creepy mannequins. Yep. Mannequins. Plus, the man has a crazy brother that has a pension for murdering people. And to make things even worse, the damn mannequins seem to come to life. What the hell is going on here? Well, there’s someone with telekinetic powers. Creepy mannequins. A masked sociopath named Davey. Creepy mannequins. Amazing acting by classic western actor Chuck Connors. Creepy mannequins. A dark and eerie atmosphere that engulfs you from the very beginning. Oh, and did I mention the creepy ass mannequins??? Yep, that’s what this film is about – the mannequins. These babies are absolutely haunting. Their off-kilter appearance makes you wonder, “is there actually a dead body under there?” Every time one turns his head, opens its eyes, or even worse… speaks or laughs, it shivers your spine. I’ll make you this deal. Watch the opening sequence of this movie. If you aren’t completely unnerved and intrigued by the first 5 minutes or so, then feel free to move on. But I guarantee that as soon as those mannequins start to cackle their horrific high-pitch cackles, you’re sold on this film. This movie is unnerving, bonkers, and amazing. It’s a perfect film of the time period, even including a pre-Charlie’s Angels Tanya Roberts. The score nails it, adding an entire extra layer of awesome. And just wait until the final frame of the film. It’ll haunt you, I guarantee. I’m telling you, Tourist Trap really needs more attention. It deserves a place in the upper echelon of horror flicks, which is why I decided to make it my extra special Halloween choice for 2016. Enjoy. Enjoy. Enjoy.

Well freaks, that does it for 2016’s October Horror Picks. I hope you had as much fun as I did. So many movies. So many scares. Many of you agreed with my choices. And just as many disagreed. That’s what art is all about. I love it. Thanks everyone. Have a great November and beyond. See you in 2017!

10/30/16 – OCTOBER HORROR MOVIE PICK #30 – The Conjuring 2.


Damn you, James Wan. How do you keep this up? Every single horror film you work on is directed better than your previous effort. It almost hurts me how good you are at your craft. The Conjuring 2 is your latest example. Oh man, I loved the first Conjuring. LOVED. It was so classic, so amazing, and so downright scary, that I didn’t think a sequel stood a chance at holding any weight against it. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Conjuring 2 is practically a perfect sequel to the Conjuring. I go back and forth on whether I like this one or the original better, and I swear I can’t decide. It takes everything that worked in the first one and ups the ante to an insane and intelligent degree. It’s still got the classic feel. It’s still got great characters that you actually care about. And it still has countless scares that jolt the living shit out of you. The story here continues the exploits of the Lorraine and Ed Warren, the paranormal investigators. This time it takes them overseas to England to help out a single mother and her family from another horrific spirit. Most movies would be perfectly fine focusing on this storyline, but not The Conjuring 2. It adds more spirits into the mix, as well as a parallel storyline for the Warrens themselves. I swear this film has a little bit of everything. And can we talk about the terrifying nun? Dear God some of the scenes with the nun are stone-cold haunting. In fact, this entire movie brings the dread to such an insane level that I found myself gripping the armrests in the theater the entire time. My fingers were numb afterward. Wan builds so much suspense, mixed with sections of pure unnerving horror, that even when nothing is happening you’re freaked out that something is any second. Basically you’re never at ease. That, my friend, is the epitome of well-made horror. We’re so lucky as horror fans, and fans of movies period, to have these Conjuring films. I know there are more spinoffs coming, which is fine I guess, but let’s maybe hope that James Wan has ooooone more adventure with the Warrens left in him. I can’t wait to see how he decides to one up himself yet again.