Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, NY
About Ryan:

I'm a teacher and writer living in Warren, PA. I love obsessing over books, movies, music, and television, and occasionally writing about it. My first short story "Writer's Block" was published in The Big Book of Bizarro from Burning Bulb Publishing.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Playlist 2014 - Last Year's Music

Five Iron Frenzy - Engine of a Million Plots
Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Bastille - Bad Blood
The Lawrence Arms - Metropole
Old Crow Medicine Show - O.C.M.S.; Remedy
Tom Waits - Orphans
Childish Gambino - Because The Internet
Mogwai - Les Revenants
Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
Alexandre Desplat - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory; Here and Nowhere Else
Paul McCartney - New
Tegan and Sara - Get Along
The Muppet Show: Music, Mayhem, and More!
The Black Keys - Turn Blue
Jack White - Lazaretto
Joe Cocker - The Millennium Collection
Mastodon - Once More 'round the Sun
Trampled By Turtles - Wild Animals
Gerard Way - Hesitant Alien
Band of Skulls - Baby Darling Doll Face Honey
Shovels & Rope - O' Be Joyful; Swimmin' Time

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Best Movies of 2013 (And Honorable Mentions)

I love movies.  I love writing and talking about movies.  This post is an attempt to expand on my annual list of favorite movies I compile at the end of every year.  Usually I simply post my top ten on Facebook with no context.  This time, I wanted to try and say a little something about why a particular movie made my list and also drop a few honorable mentions that didn't quite make the cut but came awfully close.  I have neither the time nor the means to see every movie that opens in a given year, so the criteria for my list is merely that they were released in 2013 and I saw them in 2013.  Here goes!

The Best

The World's End - Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's capper for their "Cornetto Trilogy" is every bit as funny, exciting, and touching as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.  Seeing Pegg and Nick Frost flip-flop their traditional roles is particularly fun.

Inside Llewyn Davis - Of all the "Oscar buzz" movies I saw toward the end of 2013, this is the one that stayed with me long after I left the theater.  The Coen Brothers craft a character study full of great music and compelling metaphor.  I'm still thinking about the cat.

The Wolf of Wall Street - DiCaprio and Hill are riveting.  It might be overly long, but this one is so entertaining it's not a problem.  It's hilarious and infuriating at exactly the same time, showcasing Scorsese at the top of his game.

American Hustle - There are so many good performances in American Hustle I started to lose count: Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, Bradley Cooper.

Blue Jasmine - Admittedly, I've only recently become a fan of Woody Allen, so there's a lot of catching up to do.  This film has one of the best performances I saw in 2013: the stunning Cate Blanchett for the win.  Plus, it features a surprisingly dramatic turn for Andrew Dice Clay.

Frances Ha -  Greta Gerwig, as Frances, delivers a monologue about what it's like to truly be in love toward the middle of this film that floored me, so much so that I had to rewind and watch it multiple times.  Simply a beautiful screenplay from Noah Baumbach and an excellent performance from Gerwig.

Gravity - The single most visually stunning movie of the year, Gravity deserved to be seen in the biggest theater possible, while also being the rare film that demanded to be seen in 3-D.  From the extended opening shot through Sandra Bullock's harrowing, claustrophobic fight for survival, I wasn't impressed by a film in 2013 more than I was by Cuaron's latest masterpiece.

Upstream Color - Shane Carruth's follow-up to his challenging indie sci-fi cult classic Primer is every bit as challenging, while being a little less low-budget.  Gorgeous, mesmerizing, and puzzling (in a good way), Upstream Color is the most singular movie I saw in 2013.

This Is The End - For sheer volume of laughs per minute, This Is The End wins hands down against any other 2013 comedy.

Evil Dead - Being a movie fan as long as I have, I've made peace with the fact that remakes will happen and most likely they'll be of genre movies I love.  I try and measure each one on its own merits.  That being said, Evil Dead is one of the best examples of a horror remake I've seen.  Outlandish, practical effects gore? Check.  Appropriate homages to the original?  Check.  Killer, fist-pump ending?  Check.  Too much fun for horror hounds.

Honorable Mentions

The Way Way Back
Pacific Rim
Iron Man 3
Side Effects
Europa Report
You're Next
A Place Beyond the Pines

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Music of 2013

Playlist: 2013

Dropkick Murphys - Signed and Sealed in Blood
Chuck Ragan - Covering Ground; Gold Country
Brandi Carlyle - Bear Creak
Hot Water Music - Exister
The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
Murder By Death - Kickstarter Covers
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away; Murder Ballads; No More Shall We Part
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
Tegan & Sara - Heartthrob
Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
The Lonely Island - The Wack Album
Gogol Bordello - Pure Vida Conspiracy
Arctic Monkeys - AM
The Avett Brothers - Magpie and The Dandelion
AFI - Burials
Haim - Days Are Gone
Inside Llewyn Davis - Soundtrack (Various Artists)
David Bowie - The Next Day
Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Yeah Baby! - Revisiting the Evil Dead Trilogy (Part 3)

Night #3: Army of Darkness (1992)

I won't spend too much time on this one.  It's a classic, perhaps even more so than the original in the series, with more quotable lines than you can throw a boomstick at.  

I remember seeing this in the Harmarville Cinema when I was twelve with my father and best friend, not sure what to make of it.  I was a budding horror fan at the time and had yet to develop an appreciation for horror elements mixed with comedy.  I didn't get the Harryhausen tribute or the genius of the humor until much later.

In retrospect, what Raimi and Co. deliver with Army of Darkness makes perfect sense given the progression of the series.    We get our most assured, quippy Ash.  (Seriously, there are so many famous lines most fans have the whole film memorized).  Ash, along with his wit and some upgraded weaponry, also gets a host of new Deadite adversaries.

There are even two endings that both hint at a continuation of the series we would never see and still provide a sense of closure for our beleaguered hero, thus paving the way for a reinvention of the series more than twenty years later.    And that will be the subject of the fourth and final installment of this celebration, because let's face it: there will always be a Cabin, a Cellar, and a Book with some schmuck to read from it.

Next up: Evil Dead (2013)!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

How To Watch (And Appreciate) Horror Movies: An Opinion and Practice from a Lifelong Fan

As counter-intuitive as this might sound, I don't watch horror
movies with the goal of "being scared" by them.  Let me explain.

I think this statement is the feeling of most avid horror fans.  We know an appreciation of a good fright film is about more than simply feeling afraid (because let's face it, as adults we know a movie is a movie and there's nothing to really be scared of anyway).  No, the true horror aficionado is looking for much, much more.

Call it an atmosphere  

Movie lovers contend with predictability and cliches from all genres, especially when Hollywood is involved.  Hardcore horror fans deal with this more than most; we've been there and done that with every slasher, ghost-chaser, and demon-spawn imaginable.  Truly enjoying horror (and I'm using this as a blanket term with the assumed sub-genres of mystery & suspense, thrillers, etc. included) is about embracing what the film makers do right even if the material they're working with is not extremely original.  The question to consider is this: do the director/cinematographer/sound designer create an atmosphere of unease by marrying an archetypal plot and cast of characters to a unique creative vision?

Every fan is different.  For some it's about the gross-out of a nicely achieved practical special effect.  For others it's more about what's not seen, the terror of the unknown just outside of the camera's frame.  Sometimes the melding of these two approaches can be the most effective.

The visual language of a good piece of horror cinema is about striking images: a fog-drenched cemetery on a moonlit night; a shadowy corridor with the hint of a human figure lurking in a doorway; an isolated house on the moors.  Obviously it's not easy to put into words because it's a feeling, a palpable dread that the best directors know how to evoke and make it seem effortless.

Focus and set-up

Look, I realize it's not realistic for everyone to have a home theater system to match that of a movie theater.  That being said, it's important to remember that a good deal of a film's sound is designed for 5.1 surround-sound (especially horror flicks, which sometimes have scares that depend on it).  Even without a complete set-up, a few things to keep in mind:

  • Stay focused.  Turn off or at least put away your cell phone.  I know you're in your own house, but if you're watching a movie, watch the movie.  Oftentimes the scenes leading up to a scare are more important than the scare itself, and this build up is lost if you're checking Facebook or sending a text.
  • Turn out the lights and crank the volume.  Surround-sound or not, movies are meant to be loud, and the music and sound effects in a good horror film are integral to creating the right mood.
  • Allow yourself to fall under the creepy spell of a master.  Enjoying a scary movie is sometimes as much about your attitude and willingness to buy into an occasionally silly concept as it is about the mood created by said movie.

Know your sub-genre and directors

Lastly, know what you're getting into when you pop in a blu-ray or start streaming a movie on Netflix.  Be aware of what you're after, or at the very least do your homework about the movie selected: are you going to get blood and guts;  a subtle, dramatic ghost story;  a suspenseful nail-biter; a squirm-inducing torture porn?  Has the director made something else you've enjoyed?  

Horror fans are (and should be) obsessive about these things.  They have mental lists of legendary horror film makers and modern masters to keep an eye on.  

Past, present, or future, we never stop chasing the atmosphere.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Groovy: Revisiting the Evil Dead Trilogy (Part 2)

The Evil Dead holds a special place in the hearts (and nightmares) of most hardcore horror fans.  Perhaps the original "creepy cabin in the woods" template film, Sam Raimi's first low-budget gore-fest is so visceral and inventive (and also so indie) that it's hard to nail down exactly why people love it, and its subsequent continuations, with such rabid fervor. 

With the remake of the classic arriving in theaters this April, I thought it a good time to journey back to the Woods, enter the Cabin, trek down into that dank Cellar, and unleash some Hell, in an attempt to nail down why this franchise is so beloved (to me, at least).

Night #2: Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)

In Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, Sam Raimi and Co. set about doing two very important things:  

1. Shifting the tone of the original film to one that more equally balances horror and humor.

2. Morphing Bruce Campbell's Ashley "Ash" J. Williams from naive, innocent victim into a chainsaw-and-shotgun wielding, action-figure-worthy superhero.  

Six minutes.  Six short minutes.  Six minutes in and Ash has already been attacked by (and beheaded with a shovel) his love interest, the perennially doomed Linda.  It's clear immediately that Evil Dead 2 is both a remake of and a sequel to the original, although Raimi isn't so much concerned with continuity as he is with using his bigger budget to up the ante in terms of gore and guts, letting his imagination run even wilder and more quickly into insane territory.

It never lets up, and it is glorious.  Just as Ash and another handful of would-be cabin-visitors eager to exploit the power of the Necronomicon Ex Mortis aren't given time to catch a breath from the madness of reanimated corpses and haunted fruit cellars, neither is the audience.   

Bruce Campbell's physicality and commitment make the hilarious slapstick work so well in conjunction with genuine scare-your-pants-off moments that the eighty-four minutes fly by as we're whisked from ghoul to ghoul, to severed limbs, to malicious living trees (a nod to The Wizard of Oz that perhaps hinted at Sam Raimi's directing future), and to so much more.

The effects that don't quite hold up twenty-six years later come across less hokey and more purposefully sentimental, homages to the great stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen.  Of course, Harryhausen will get even more love in extensive sequences in the third and final entry in the series. 

Evil Ash.  Shotgun holster.  "We'll swallow your soul!"  Chainsaw appendage.  There's just so much that's classic here it's hard not to gush.

What struck me most on this viewing (mainly because I didn't quite remember it) was how well Raimi sets up the medieval setting and action of the legendary follow-up, Army of Darkness.  I giddily exclaimed my excitement vocally when Ash and Annie find the illustration from the 13th Century in the Necronomicon of "a man from the sky" who clearly has a blue shirt, and a chainsaw for a hand, ready to defeat the Deadite horde.  

"He didn't do a very good job," Ash quips.  

Up next: Army of Darkness (!!!)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Don't Go In the Cellar: Revisiting The Evil Dead Trilogy (Part 1)

The Evil Dead holds a special place in the hearts (and nightmares) of most hardcore horror fans.  Perhaps the original "creepy cabin in the woods" template film, Sam Raimi's first low-budget gore-fest is so visceral and inventive (and also so indie) that it's hard to nail down exactly why people love it, and its subsequent continuations, with such rabid fervor. 

With the remake of the classic arriving in theaters this April, I thought it a good time to journey back to the Woods, enter the Cabin, trek down into that dank Cellar, and unleash some Hell, in an attempt to nail down why this franchise is so beloved (to me, at least).

Night #1: The Evil Dead (1981)

I found myself slightly giddy as I pulled my limited Book of the Dead edition of The Evil Dead off the shelf.  It had been so long since I'd seen Ash in action, especially in this original offering.  Would it still be magical?  Would I still jump and laugh in equal measure?

Hot damn, yes.

There's no need to discuss particulars.  If you're a devoted horror fan, you've seen this movie countless times.  What I will comment on is my sudden realization, about an hour into the movie (long after limbs have been chopped, chainsaws have been revved, and premature graves have been dug), of why this film endures and succeeds in spite of its shoe-string-budget detriments, and why I love it.

The reason is simple: there are no rules.  Oh, sure, there's more to it than that.  Raimi, even in this early flick, is an incredibly dynamic and talented director who has an unmistakable visual style.  The movie's also pretty damn creepy, despite its camp-factor, and the gore is gloriously over-the-top.  What makes the movie so much fun, once the tape is played and the Evil is awakened, is the fact that the monsters don't seem bound by any conventional horror movie rules.  

The Dead are determined to mess with our hero, Ash, in consistently new and inventive ways that are unpredictable and still fresh and surprising to this day.  In other words, things get batsh*t crazy for Ash, and by proxy, for the viewer.  

Sure there's the iconic imagery seared into horror aficionados'  brains: the aforementioned chainsaw; the levitating, off-kilter gesticulations of the early Deadites; and, most famously, the cellar dweller.  Still, at it's core, watching The Evil Dead is like having all the things we love about horror movies thrown into a blender, pulsed on high, and slopped out (usually all over Bruce Campbell's face) in an intoxicating concoction of cadaverous craziness. 

Up Next: Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn