Thursday, January 22, 2015

A journey toward better health...

I started writing this for myself, but I was inspired to share my story by my friend Michelle Tomlinson after her ordeal with thyroid cancer. What I’m going through is no where near as harrowing as Michelle’s journey, or yours perhaps, but maybe it’ll convince someone with similar issues to mine, or to hers, or health issues in general to go to the doctor and get it sorted in order to feel better. At least, that’s my hope.

For a number of recent years, I’ve been going through different health issues. My voice has changed, gotten a bit weaker or more hoarse intermittently regardless of how much water I’ve had, and I discounted it as the fact that I’m getting older and I scream my head off at Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks concerts (judge away, I love them like you can’t even imagine.) And it could be.

My neck is often sore or stiff and I discount it as a bad angle while sleeping or an accumulation of stress. Or both. And it could be.

I’m unable to lose weight consistently and I discount it as me not being active enough even though I was exercising consistently (which is certainly possible and also affected by an upcoming symptom), even though I don’t eat that much and it’s all healthy (I’m a partial raw foodist, mostly vegetarian (eggs, cheese, and butter are yum), and very rarely indulge in sweets - if I do, I’ve made them myself or make sure to read the ingredients and steer clear of corn syrup and artificial stuff as much as possible.) And it could be.

I’m not as focused as I used to be. Easily distracted in some cases. My brain is always firing, goinggoinggoing, but sometimes it’s just…not there. I have so many stories in my flesh dying to get out that there are days where I feel like my skin is going to split open, but as any writer knows that there are days or times where articulating those stories is tough. It's felt even more difficult lately.

The hardest one of all is feeling exhausted all the time. I would tell myself constantly that I’m just being whiny or lazy and to get over it. That’s how I’ve powered through everything that’s been affecting me physically, or even mentally: stop being a whiner and work through it. I’m very hard on myself. 

Over the past three years alone, I’ve moved myself and my disabled mother from Florida to Oregon while also helping to organize and run a non-profit organization and film festival in Los Angeles, made an amazing short film with Shannon Lark, the most amazing partner and one of the best friends I could have ever hoped for, written a novella, a wonderful treatment, and three feature length screenplays (two of which were written with that same amazing partner as well as the treatment), written a few short stories, travelled and networked to advance my career as well as support the short film and get some traction on the feature version of that short film, worked like hell on a feature in Houston, busted ass on dreary and soul-draining freelance copywriting jobs, and a million other things I can’t even remember right now and yet I still feel like I’m lazy because of how my exhaustion has affected me, and how I’ve allowed it to affect me, mentally and emotionally.

All of these things are very plausible in their individual possible causes. Absolutely. I don’t discount that. I don’t want to give excuses, I want to feel better. It takes a lot for me to openly admit when I’m not feeling well, but then something happened that brought everything to a head.

Below is the start of a journey that starts with a lump in my throat…

~~~~~

January 3, 2015

The day I went to the doctor about the lump in my throat (that turned into lumps under their probing, discovering touch), I swear that I could smell the lotion my grandmother used to use. The rational, logical part of me recognizes that it probably came from the black man who descended the stairs to the train in front of me. I only point out his race because even in my worry, I find it humourous that his lotion reminds me of an older white woman.


This is my neck. There are many like it, but this one is mine. The Mickey Mouse shape in the middle of my neck is my enflamed thyroid with two tumours, one on each "lobe".

My grandmother’s been dead since the early eighties and I have very few memories of her, but sense memories are the most powerful of all. I swear that I smelled her lotion, never mind the source. It was happenstance that I was behind him, that we were both headed to the same train stop, but perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps I needed to smell the lotion of my grandmother, who died of pancreatic cancer, the day I started this journey to find out about the lumps in my thyroid.

At this point, January 3, there are no answers yet. I have a biopsy scheduled for this coming Thursday (January 8 for future reference) and my very sweet and bubbly substitute doctor, who I’ll refer to as Dr. Smith, called to deliver that news yesterday. It so happens that she’s a student and perhaps more prepared for people who flip out at the mention of the word “biopsy” or “lump”. She’ll have plenty of those, I’m sure. I’m slightly more stoic about it. A biopsy doesn’t mean cancer, it means that I have lumps, in both hemispheres of my thyroid, that are abnormal. Could be cysts, could be benign tumours, could be cancer. We’ll find out at some point after the 8th.

The day I went to the doctor, they scheduled me for an ultrasound to be conducted several hours later. The waiting room in the ultrasound office was deserted, tastefully decorated, and quiet. 



I’d set up my desktop computer so I could watch movies I have stored on it from anywhere (so long as my computer’s on) via my phone so I watched the 1910 silent version of Frankenstein. Moments after it ended, I was called in for my appointment and taken down several twisting hallways to the ultrasound room. It was small, dominated by the gurney that was in the middle of the room, and lit like an eye doctor’s exam room.

The technologist had me lay down on the remarkably comfortable gurney and positioned me so that my head was tilted back enough to get a good picture of my throat. I wanted so badly to take a picture of what was a strangely absurd situation, this tiny woman bent over my body pressing a wand covered in what’s more or less KY jelly into my throat, but I didn’t.

She prepped the work station as I lay there. No small talk, which was a relief for me. I just stared at the ceiling, the tiles were the dotted kind that only schools and hospitals would ever use. The technologist pumped the foot pedal to raise the bed while I was staring at the ceiling, an eerie sensation, watching the ceiling get ever closer.

She wrapped a towel around the neck of my shirt and slathered the wand with the ultrasound gel, then proceeded to maneuver the thing around, taking pictures of whatever growths there might be, marking them on the stills she took. I wanted to look, but didn’t want to screw up the test and the plastic frames on my glasses severely limit my peripheral vision. I should’ve asked her to see what I was made of, but alas, I didn’t.

The test itself was physically okay. There were a few times that she pressed a bit hard on my trachea to get an image, but I’d rather have that moment of discomfort and get a good image than not have it. Then, it was done. I wiped the KY off my neck as best as I could and got my jacket and everything on in the waiting room before leaving. I’m very lucky that the hospital is in my favourite part of town and was within easy walking distance of Trader Joe’s where I promptly went and picked up some snacks before heading home.

Since that was December 30, I ended up having to wait several days longer than I would have normally because of New Years. I got the call yesterday, January 2, that they needed more tests, which brings us, more or less, to now.

Very few people know what’s going on. I’ve told close family and friends who are so close they’re practically family. Now, it’s a matter of waiting. Hurry up and wait. Wait and hurry up. The soonest they could get me in for the biopsy is five days from today. In eleven days from today, I head to L.A. for a week. I should get the results of the biopsy before I go. Whatever comes next, aside from pills (if it’s hypothyroidism) or more tests, will have to wait until after I get back.

Am I scared? To be perfectly honest, yes though I’m mostly nervous. Today was a hard day as my period just started and I was eating peanut butter on flax seed crackers and I started asking myself if it was okay that a part of me is scared and I started to tear up - I do cry easily, I can’t help it - but my overall attitude is still that whatever happens will be handled. Worrying about it, being scared, doesn’t help anyone and doesn’t do anything positive. I suppose I’ll worry once the biopsy’s done. I’ll worry when I wait for the results. I’ll worry about how to fix whatever’s wrong. But right now, I’m going to try to not worry.

~~~~~

January 7, 2015

So, I had a bit of a meltdown last night (Tuesday, January 6.) I let it happen simply because I figured that it’s better to have come out last night than while I’m on the bed getting stuck with needles. And, I need to feel what I’m feeling when I feel it, as Robert Downey Jr. said in Home for the Holidays. All the things are going through my mind. All of them.

They sent me the text-based ultrasound results yesterday so I lay down and picked it apart. A lot of the numbers don’t really mean much to me, they’re measurements of the nodules in the lobes as well as a measurement of the “isthmus” of the thyroid, which is at 6mm thickness, which is what I’m feeling. The words I focused on were, of course, the ones I didn’t know…“heterogeneous”…”(mixed) echogenicity”…”isoechoic”.

Heterogeneous in terms of a thyroid means that I have an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. Mixed echogenicity means that it’s made of all kinds of different things that bounce the sound waves differently. Isoechoic means that the mass is easily found in the body as it bounces the sound back almost exactly as it was sent into the flesh, but from what I read it’s most often cited with the word “cancer”. 

Cancer is a scary word. It’s also the birthsign of some of my favourite people. As unlikely as it is that I have cancer, it’s a possibility I have to consider. Can one have thyroiditis AND cancer at the same time? Who knows. We start on the path of discovery tomorrow.

My mantra is “Whatever it is, it will be dealt with and it will be okay.” Sometimes, it’s hard to hold on to that mantra, but it becomes the overarcing feeling. It will be okay. No matter what it is.

So, I go in tomorrow and according to my research, it’ll take two to four business days to get the results back. Since the procedure will be done on a Thursday, that puts the results to come in on the 12, 13, or 14. I leave for L.A. on the 14 so it’s entirely possible that I’ll get the results while in L.A. Either way and whatever the news, I’ll be surrounded by love.


~~~~~

January 8, 2015

The video below is a fairly graphic informational clip about the procedure I had done, a fine needle biopsy (link goes to the Wikipedia entry about it in case you'd rather read about it than see it.) There are needles in the video...you've been warned.

So the biopsy happened a few hours ago. The doctor was late getting to the exam room so I was there with the radiology tech and a doctor who would be checking to make sure they’d collected enough viable cells to perform the test. I tried my best to make small talk and ask questions because they seemed more uncomfortable than I was and I was the one in the blue and white gown about to get poked and prodded. I made a joke about feeling like Regan McNeil in The Exorcist except they wouldn’t be inserting a wire into my carotid for images of my brain. They giggled, not knowing what to make of my sense of humour. I get that a lot.



Eventually, Dr. White (another pseudonym) came in and we got down to brass tacks. I laid down on the bed and the doctor used the foot pedal to raise it up, so I had that same surreal feeling as when I went in for the original ultrasound as I watched the ceiling inch closer to my prone body. They covered me with towels and incontinence pads and the doctor used the ultrasound to confirm the sites they’d be investigating, marking them with a sharpie. The first site was over the isthmus of the thyroid and the second was over the right lobe. Reading the ultrasound results, I thought they’d be testing three different areas, but apparently the left lobe with its isoechoic, solid mass wasn’t a concern that required testing. I did ask afterwards if that was really all and she said, “Absolutely.”

The doctor injected my neck with a local anesthetic to numb it and it took effect almost immediately. Then, she grabbed the first of six needles, three per site, and proceeded to insert it into my skin and then jab it around to get the cells needed for testing. Do a google search for what a liposuction procedure looks like and you’ll get an idea of what the fine needle aspiration was like. Less violent, but still painful. And the ultrasound was pressed against the other side of the site so they could be sure to collect from the right area so it was like having my trachea squeezed over and over and over.

The first site was painful at first, but then the lidocaine took effect and it was just really uncomfortable. Then she injected lidocaine into the second site and started collecting there and it was very, very painful. She was almost done so rather than have her stop and jab me with an additional needle, I just beared it, but I started crying. Man, it hurt. It still hurts, but the Tylenol just kicked in. It hurts to swallow, it hurts to talk, my neck is swollen, and I’m sure I’ll be bruised. (Addendum: I wasn't!! Yay!)

Anyway, the second doctor said that we got enough viable cells for the tests and the doctor concluded the procedure complete, after trying to calm me down. She said my face turned red, which I explained happens normally, and she said that my forehead turned red, too, so she wanted me to lie there a little longer, to make sure I was okay. The tech cleaned me up (they used iodine on my skin…made me feel like Regan! As did the crying!) and put a bandaid on me, gave me an ice pack, and sent me on my way.

My mom was in the waiting room and she could tell instantly that I was in a lot of pain. I told her that it hurt so much that I started crying and she told me that she started crying as soon as I left her sight to get the procedure done.

It wasn’t until I got home and looked in the mirror that a suspicion was confirmed. The tech only put one bandaid on, which is fine. I thought it was some weird hospital bandaid because the wounds are close together, but not close enough for one bandaid. No, it was one standard bandaid. And the tech put the sticky parts over the injection sites. I joke that maybe the hospital is trying to save money, too (or maybe my insurance doesn’t cover two bandaids), but I have to admit that I’m afraid of how much THAT’s gonna hurt when the time comes to remove it. I’ll probably just let the bandaid stay on until my showers melt it off. It’s cold here and I have this neat scarf thing that a friend gave me so I can hide it.

 

Surprisingly enough, I was not very bruised!

Now it’s the hard part…waiting. They said the results should come early next week. I’m thinking it’ll be the 14, the day I leave for L.A. They said I could still leave and I fully intend to. I need to step away for a bit, work on other things, have a bit of fun. If I have something that will be time intensive, I want to have fun now. If I don’t, then it’ll be a celebration.

~~~~~

January 9, 2015

Sleeping last night was fun. I’m a toss-and-turner so I woke up quite often as the pain spiked through my neck. Around five or six in the morning, I thought I was going to be fully awake, but thankfully I was able to get back to sleep for another couple of hours. I went to bed at around 11:30 last night and pretty much passed out within minutes.

It’ll be such a relief to have this figured out, to not be exhausted all the time, to have my voice back, to feel good. I don’t know if I can remember a time when I felt really good, except for when I do something creative. What does it mean to feel good? To relax? I have fun, that’s not something I don’t know how to do.

Ironically, or perhaps not, I have the show House on in the background while I write this. There’s a mini-marathon on the Universal HD channel. I own all of the seasons, of course, but it’s nice to not have to worry about changing the disc if I’m in the middle of a writing jag.

~~~~~

This section was written in reference to January 13, 2015, but I wrote it a few days later, while I was in L.A.

Five o’clock rolled around  on Tuesday and I didn’t think I was going to hear from the doctors. I figured my initial feeling was right, that I’d get a call in the middle of traveling to L.A. and it wouldn’t be good.

5:45 rolls around and my phone went off. It was the doctor’s office, Dr. Smith specifically. It’s not cancer!

WOOHOO!!

There was MUCH rejoicing.

The doctor said that the tumours are benign and affirmed that I should go to the ENT to find out my next step. She said that I shouldn’t need to take the thyroid out, but that was a conversation for my ENT and I to have. I have to admit that I thought it was a huge leap to go right to talking about how surgery might not be necessary, but now I can see where she’s coming from.

It was too late at that point for me to call the office to which I was referred and I was busy over the ensuing few days in L.A. The Oregon Clinic’s ENT office called me themselves and we set up the appointment for a week after I get back, January 26.

The next step is to see what flavour hypothyroidism I have and to start to figure out how to fix it. I could lay out my predictions for what will follow, but I think it’s just safer to wait and see what happens next, what they’ll have me do, and what tests they’ll want to run. The best part is, however, that I will hopefully start feeling better very soon!

The bill: the biopsy cost a little over $2,600. With insurance, I only had to pay $86. This obviously doesn’t count the next step in the process yet, the testing, the new medications, etc., but that’s all in the future and unquantifiable for me. But think about that… How many people do you know who have had cancer and it was like the cancer metastasized out of their bodies and ate up their bank accounts? That’s a rant for a whole ‘nother time, however.

For me, the important thing to focus on is that I’m okay. I’m still tired as hell, I’m still “sick” in the indefinable way because I don’t look sick, but overall I’m okay. Now that I know I’m not just lazy or whatever, maybe I’ll be more kind to myself and actually take a day when I get back home and rest.

~~~~~

January 22, 2015

I returned from L.A. last night. The first day or two, my neck was still sore from the biopsy in addition to it’s “regular” soreness, but then that cleared up and I only had to fight my exhaustion and general soreness. I had a fairly big headache when my amazing partner-in-crime and I went to Disneyland and we left fairly early, but at least we got to ride the Alice in Wonderland ride (not the tea cups, but the storybook ride, which I LOVE, even if they did “update” it a bit.) 

I got home around 9 and passed out while watching Mythbusters around 10. I hauled myself to my room and slept until around 7. Had my mind not decided that it was time for the wondertwins to activate, I could’ve slept longer. I had to take my laptop in to the Apple store and run a few errands so I went ahead and got my day started.

Monday is my appointment and I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to feeling better, to not being so tired as I feel right now, which is still fairly early in the evening. I’m looking forward to not nodding off while watching a movie or reading a book or working on something on my computers. If I was able to do everything I’ve done over the past few years alone while feeling like this, though I think this has been going on for much longer, can you (or can I for that matter) imagine what I’m going to be like when I actually feel well? 


More to come later as the next phase of my journey happens.

Monday, April 22, 2013

movie review: Lords of Salem (2013)

The Lords of Salem (2013) directed by Rob Zombie.

I'm hesitant to write a review for the film, not for any other reason than I'm not too familiar with the witch subgenre of horror, particularly from the 60s and 70s, and I like to be relatively knowledgable about the history of a subgenre a film I've just seen fits into to give a more well-rounded review. To be honest, I've found most of the witch films I tried to watch laughable. In the 60s and 70s, they were examinations (or exploitations) of the hippie movement and we've since realized that those good old days weren't really all that good. In these increasingly dark times, it seems quaint that Rob Zombie chose to make a 70s style witch film.

If I'm not too big on this particular subgenre, why on earth did I want to watch this?

Five words: Rob Zombie Lady Patricia Quinn

I like Rob Zombie's work...for the most part. I didn't like House of a 1000 Corpses, but I'm thankful for that film because without it, we wouldn't have The Devil's Rejects, a film that cleverly manages to subvert its predecessor and make you care about a family of homicidal sociopaths. I liked about half of his Halloween remake (all of the prequel stuff was great, though cliche. Once he got the film into Haddonfield, I was bored.) I didn't bother with the sequel. And when I saw the trailer for Lords of Salem, I saw instantly that he was trying to do something completely different from his usual fare, something that pushed him artistically and story-wise.

As for the other three words, Lady Patricia Quinn (she married into the title and the Lord has since passed on, may he Rest in Peace, but I think her name flows better with it...Lady Patricia Quinn), you should know that I love her because of Rocky Horror and especially Shock Treatment (I'm one of those freaks who loves Shocky almost as much as she loves Rocky.) When I heard the announcement that she was going to be in this, I already knew my butt was going to be in the seat opening day (we tried, but couldn't do it so opening weekend will have to do.) I was not disappointed.

Before I get to the meat and potatoes of my review, a synopsis: Heidi (Sherri Moon-Zombie) is a rock D.J. in Salem, Massachusetts, who receives a mysterious package from a band called The Lords with a record inside that plays a disturbing (really, more like annoying as hell) series of notes that effects her in both a physical and mental way, and resurrects the town's morbid past.

I'll start off by saying that I really liked the film, but I can't for the life of me figure out exactly why and this review is going to be very contrary and may meander a bit because of it. The film is deeply flawed and unnecessarily slow at times, but there's no denying that Zombie has affection for his material. A lot of the imagery, though beautiful, doesn't feel fully thought through in terms of what it means to the internal logic of the film...if they were meant to mean anything at all, a point to which I concede readily. And there are times where his imagery gets hamfisted and, now that I think about it, kind of felt like images that would be best inside CD liner notes. I would not be surprised to find them in the liner notes for the Lords of Salem soundtrack.

All of that said, the cinematography was gorgeous (even when it got repetitive) and the acting, for the most part, was spectacular. It's the older women in this film who really make it work...Meg Foster was fearless and brilliant as the main witch, Margaret Morgan, and Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace, and Lady Patricia Quinn were phenomenal as sisters Lacy, Sonny, and Megan. These four roles were great, fun parts for older women and these ladies were damn good in them. I dare say that without them, the film would have fallen completely flat.

Sherri Moon-Zombie was...Sherri Moon-Zombie. At times, her readings were believable and at other times, they were laboured and false. Personally, I don't really care if Rob Zombie wants to keep casting her in his stuff. She's not horrible, and she was damn good as Michael Myers' mother in Zombie's Halloween, but this did kind of feel like a step back for her in terms of her talent. I say keep at it, Mrs. Zombie. You'll get there.

As far as the witches are concerned, Zombie didn't go the usual route and have them all be nubile young models. All of the witches are women of varying ages and body types and for a film concerning the birth of Satan into the physical world, the nudity wasn't gratuitous or sexualized. Actually, the only nudity I thought was gratuitous was that of his wife.

While Lords of Salem doesn't really do anything new for the witch movie, this is entirely new territory for Rob Zombie as a director. Yes, the film is highly derivative - if you're going to knock him for that, you must not have seen House of 1000 Corpses or Halloween - but it shows a growth that's leaps and bounds beyond what he's done in the past; however, I think he might have leapt over himself just a bit. He didn't make his lead character likable, which is necessary for the audience to connect to this story. We don't care that she's going through all of this strange stuff. There's a subplot that, if he'd brought it up earlier in the film may have helped to make Heidi a more sympathetic character and added more mystery to the proceedings. Alas, putting it later in the film made the subplot feel contrived.

So...with so many negatives, why do I want to see it again, like, right now? And why will I be buying it when it comes out? Because the positives I listed are, for me, exactly that strong, and I feel like I can learn something from what I consider to be missteps.

I look forward to the next one, Mr. Zombie.

Friday, April 5, 2013

movie review: Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013) directed by Fede Alvarez

Let me get this out of the way right away: generally speaking, I don’t like remakes. My problem with them stems from the fact that the people making the remake are not the people who made the film and the film is no longer a product of its time, it’s just a product. The people remaking the film often don’t have any concept of why the film was made in the first place, they only know that it was and react to it as a fan does, with a fan’s selective memory.

There are a few remakes that have managed to transcend this very basic problem. I happen to like the American version of Ringu and I like Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, not to mention the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1982 (which was remade {and very, very badly} in 2012) and Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead from 1990. Night of the Living Dead is an interesting film and quite relevant to my review of Evil Dead because of a key ingredient: just as George A. Romero was heavily involved in the making of NotLD’90, the “Michigan Mafia” - director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert, and actor Bruce Campbell - were heavily involved with this remake.

To recap for the uninitiated: five kids go to a cabin in the woods and stir up trouble in the form of Candarian demons which feed on their souls.

This summation applies to the original and the remake equally. In the remake, however, the five kids are there to help one of their number get through her cold turkey recovery from some unnamed narcotic which is a heavy handed way of metaphorizing the Evil Dead (Girl vs. Her Demons) and was really only used enough so that her friends would think that anything she said she saw or said happened to her was the result of hallucinations from her withdrawal.

If you’re looking for characterization - you know, people to care about and a story and crazy stuff like that - this isn’t the movie for you. In fact, neither is the original, really. That brings me back to the fan’s selective memory. Let’s ignore the sequels and just think about The Evil Dead for a moment. Those characters are all really annoying and underdeveloped, too, but Raimi moves the film along at such a pace and pounds you over the head with intense imagery and gore that you don’t necessarily care that the story is wafer-thin and is the kind of funny that arises out of outrageous gore effects and stupid people doing stupid things. By the time many of us saw The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 was on video next to it so we had that relatively instant injection of more Bruce Campbell and a more fully developed storyline (Evil Dead 2 is widely considered to be a comedic remake of The Evil Dead.)

Fede Alvarez’ Evil Dead is the same way. It has largely unlikeable characters who do stupid things and get covered in obscene amounts of gore. The fans have had decades to love Raimi’s film and gloss over the negatives in favour of Bruce Campbell’s insanely wonderful performance. The remake's filmmakers tried to add some interesting details that I think help the story even if some of those details don’t make any sense to the plotline.

The following is kind of a spoiler...if you don’t want to know, scroll down.

***SPOILER BEGINS***
If you’ve read any reviews or any articles about the film, you might already know that The Olds is in the film. Not the actual car as the one in the film needed to be trashed, but a stand-in. So, what does that mean, particularly when combined with the opening hook of a young possessed woman being purified by her father and a mysterious Spanish witch? It means that stupid people raising the Candarian demons happens over and over again...and the owners of that car are long gone. In terms of timeline, I think that it places Evil Dead in the Now of The Evil Dead universe except for two small details:

1.) The car was sucked into the vortex at the end of the Evil Dead 2.
2.) So was the Book.

The fans are going to have a field day with this one...particularly when they see what’s in store for them at the end of the film and if they’ve been paying attention to anything Alvarez, et al, said at WonderCon. I couldn’t HEAR what was said in the end tag because the fans in the theatre were cheering too loudly, but I’m sure it was good.
***SPOILER OVER***

For those who didn’t read the above, a non-spoilery bit is that you should stay through the end credits.

Technically speaking, the film is well made. It’s not 100% practical effects like director Fede Alvarez claims, but it’s close enough that the important gags are real. The film is built on the effects. Since you’re not going to care about the characters, they’re going to make you feel something by jacking up the gore (gore is the usual crutch of a film without solid characters or plot, the other crutch would be nudity for the sake of nudity. Horror fans might revile me for saying it out loud, but we know in our hearts that it’s true.)

Director Alvarez takes his time with the film, which brings out more of the story’s flaws (it’s 91 minutes long as opposed to Raimi’s original clocking in at a breezy 85 minutes). There are visual references to Raimi’s original (I didn’t like how they accomplished the shaky-cam effect in this one, though), but Alvarez injects enough of himself in the picture to keep it visually fresh and not call attention to himself (a problem of Raimi’s throughout his career.)

The actors are competent given the fact that they’re really just there to be fodder for the Demons, and that’s where they shine. I imagine that it’s a lot of fun to play possessed and the actors did well, not cheesing it up too much more than necessary and not channeling the performances of those who came before them.

While the Michigan Mafia were involved in the production, they weren’t involved in the writing of the remake’s script. Diablo Cody famously took a turn at the script, but the people who got the onscreen writing credit are Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, who co-wrote the short that got Alvarez the job, Panic Attack. In this instance, I don’t think that having Sam Raimi involved in the script would have done anything for the film, unlike Romero writing the script for Night of the Living Dead in which he took the original already layered script and film and elevated it, changing it just enough to make it better in many ways and also more sad in others. Why wouldn’t Raimi’s presence have helped? Because The Evil Dead is just as skeletal as the remake. Alvarez and Sayagues added some details, but I think they might have been too afraid of pissing off the fans to add more meat to the bones.

OVERALL VERDICT: I think your personal enjoyment of Evil Dead depends on your personal level of nostalgia, your memories of the original, and your expectations. If you’re expecting a new Ash or a story you can sink your teeth into, this isn’t it. The Evil Dead and Evil Dead are so much the same film that it won’t matter which you see first if you haven’t seen the original (but go rent the original first...for reals.) I say go and don’t expect to leave with your mind blown or anything like that. It’s not as fun as the original, but it was a solid remake that won’t leave as much of a mark on cinema history as the original did.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Movie review: Excision (2012)

When the credits rolled on this feature, the first from director Richard Bates, Jr., I had - as the kids today say - conflicted feels. There was so much that was great about it and so much that was lousy. And this film illustrates exactly why I don’t want my first feature to be from one of my short films.

EXCISION is the twisted tale of a teenaged aspiring surgeon’s coming-of-age in an uptight household whose whole attention is devoted to their chronically ill younger daughter. It’s based on the short film of the same name, which I’d gotten to see at ShockerFest in 2008 (funny side note: the “women’s horror film festival” I mention near the end of the post was Viscera...funny how things work out!)

I loved the original short film. Unfortunately, the feature length version suffers greatly from a lack of focus that was evident, but controlled, in the short.

According to the IMDb, the director has only made Excision and its feature length sister. Excision was released in 2008, after God knows how long in development and production, and then he made the feature in 2011/2012. The feature has a complete lack of proper development for Pauline and her family. If he’d focused less on the pseudo-psychosexual fantasies, or had worked them into the story better, and instead focused on the psychotic devolution of this troubled young girl, the feature would’ve been better.

To expand more on the above: the “psychosexual” fantasies felt like the director was imitating other filmmakers (Lynch and Kubrick in particular) and their definitions of psychosexual, but because they weren’t weaved into the story well, they felt completely hollow. As it stands, if they’d been taken out, it wouldn’t have affected the story at all.

This is not to say that Excision is a complete loss. The minimalist score from Steve Damstra II and Mads Heldtberg was pretty perfect and Itay Gross’ cinematography was mostly gorgeous. The real stand out here, as in the original short, were the performances. I’m going to say this right now: AnnaLynne McCord was fabulous as Pauline, but Traci Lords stole the show as her mother, Phyllis. It would’ve been amazing to see a more developed interaction between the two of them.

The film is frustrating because there’s so much that’s good about it, but it needed at least one more pass while still a script.



Sunday, October 21, 2012

A promotion and a note about rude people...

Viscera Organization 2012 trailer. from Viscera Organization on Vimeo.


As some of you may know, I'm involved with the Viscera Organization, a 501(c)3 non-profit out of L.A. that works to support, promote, and encourage women working in genre media by offering a variety of services.

My film aftershock is a part of their library and played the L.A. kick-off event in 2011. This year, I started working for them as a tour coordinator with James Morgart, the Director of Media and Distribution for the Organization. In August, I was given a different role: I was asked to run the yearly L.A. carpet ceremony which basically means that I'm in charge of everything for the Viscera Film Festival EXCEPT the actual film program (that's all up to the rockin' Heidi Honeycutt and the amazing Kayley Viteo) and which includes the other activities for the weekend such as the Mistresses of Horror Alliance dinner on Friday and the Post Apocalyptic Brunch on Sunday.

My role has expanded again as I've been voted onto the executive board of the Viscera Organization as the Director of Operations!

This won't be affecting my filmmaking, though it's more important than ever that I move out to the Left Coast. Not to L.A., though. I LOVE my L.A. friends, but I really don't want to live there.

On the filmmaking side, however, I have some great news! Tonight, Stella Buio is up for Best Horror Short and our leading lady, Linnea Quigley, is up for Best Actress in a Short at the Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival! Good luck to all of the nominees, but fingers crossed for Linnea! :D

And, speaking of screenings, the film also screened last weekend in the October FilmSlam at the Enzian! It's a great venue and the crowd was wonderful, surprising to me since we were the only horror film in the 'Slam. It was a great time and I have to thank Tim Anderson for screening the film and just being a really awesome guy! He loves indie film and it shows in the twinkle in his eyes.

And, finally, for this post anyway...Stella Buio screened at Creative Loafing's Reel Terror Film Festival in Tampa last night and we won an award for Best "Jaw Dropping" F/X!!

This was my second year taking part in Reel Terror and I like what Creative Loafing Tampa is trying to do. So far, it doesn't seem to be about fostering relationships with "celebrities," but about fostering a community. I did have one problem with the event this year, however, and it's not Creative Loafing's fault. My problem was this: if you want to have a conversation with someone and there's a panel or screening going on at the same time, either whisper or take it the fuck outside.

It's fine if you're not interested in whatever's going on because it's not about you, but you don't have to be rude to whoever is on stage, the filmmakers whose film is on screen, or the people who are trying to watch what's playing.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Music review: Just Tell Me That You Want Me

I’m going to step out of my comfort zone a little bit and review an album I bought off of the other day. I don’t normally review music because that’s not where my “expertise” lies. I make horror films. But, in this case I’m going to make an exception because the album in question is Just Tell Me That You Want Me, a collection of Fleetwood Mac cover tunes by some of Today’s Biggest New Stars! and a couple of Yesterday’s Biggest Shining Beacons!

I’m a HUGE fan of Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac because I’m a HUGE fan of Stevie Nicks and I have been since I was eight years old. Now, I normally HATE covers, really of any group, but especially of Fleetwood Mac. It’s the same problem I have with most film remakes: it’s very rare that a band doing a cover can capture the emotion of the original song and what comes out is usually a trite, paint-by-numbers affair offering up so little innovation as to be a carbon copy of what came before or so much innovation that the song is completely lost.

Overall, the album is meh, but the handful of songs that I feel got it right are nearly worth the price of the entire album.

WARNING: foul language ahead.

“Albatross” covered by the Lee Ranaldo Band (featuring J Mascis). It’s not too far removed from the original instrumental piece from the Peter Green era. They’ve added a few filters to make it sound more indie, I guess. Passible.

“Landslide” covered by Anthony. I know people have this same problem with Stevie Nicks, but I find this guy’s vibrato to be very distracting. It’s like he doesn’t have control over his voice. Stevie has tight control over her voice and has maintained that control through the drugs, drinking, and smoking (I said I was a fan, that doesn’t mean I’m not realistic.) There’s no power behind this guy’s voice in this song so it comes off whiny.

“Before the Beginning” covered by Trixie Whitley. I’m familiar with quite a few of the pre-Nicks era songs, but not enough to be considered a fan. I sought out the original version of this song after hearing the cover, but I have to say that this version is AMAZING. I love love love this song.

“Oh Well” covered by Billy Gibbons and Company. “Oh Well” is one of my favourite songs. I usually prefer the faster, more intense Lindsay Buckingham version, but this version, by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, has taken Buckingham’s version and shown it how its done. This song is so damn good...it’s gritty and sexy and surprisingly controlled in its chaos. Love it!!

“Rhiannon” covered by Best Coast. What the fuck? Who the fuck thought this was a good fucking idea? GAH!! FUCK THESE PEOPLE IN THEIR EARS! This version makes me want to smash things. It’s like the Chopsticks rendition of Rhiannon. I probably can’t hate a cover song more than I hate this one. I can’t even listen to the whole thing. HATE HATE HATE.

“Think About Me” covered by The New Pornographers. Passible. I don’t think I’d search it out, but it’s got a fairly groovy surf vibe to it.

“Angel” covered by Marianne Faithfull. This is easily the most disappointing track in the collection. I expected far better from Marianne Faithfull. Angel is one of my top favourite Stevie Nicks songs, but this arrangement strips all of the dynamism and power out of it. Marianne Faithfull’s voice is just not up to this song. To be fair, Stevie Nicks’ voice may not be up to this song now, either, but it deserves better treatment. (1:55 and from around 7:03 to the end in this video (Click "this video" to be taken to the YouTube. :D)

“Silver Springs” covered by Lykke Li. More filters. What are these indie bands hiding behind all that crap? Oh, right. That they’re really not that good.

“Dreams” covered by The Kills. The garage-as-recording-studio sound does nothing to enhance the lack of enthusiasm shown in this song. It gets...okay...at the chorus, but it’s not impressive in the least.

“Gold Dust Woman” covered by Karen Elson. More thick reverb filters on another passible cover, but, it’s yet another paint-by-numbers piece.

“Storms” covered by Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Another favourite Stevie Nicks song turned into a pretty good cover. Not outstanding, not horrifying (I’m looking at you, Rhiannon.)

“Straight Back” covered by Washed Out. It’s got a slight Spanish feel to it and a lot of layers, but there so many filters on the “singers” that you can’t really understand the lyrics unless you already know them. Overall, however, I really like this cover. The original is very intense and the intensity here is approached from a different angle and with a lot of respect.

“That’s All for Everyone” covered by Tame Impala. 70s sci-fi version of one of Lindsay Buckingham’s better songs. Meh.

“Sisters of the Moon” covered by Craig Wedren and St. Vincent. This is another deep cut of Stevie Nicks’ that I adore and this cover came thisclose to blowing my mind. There are only three missteps in this song: the singer is singing through his nose for the majority of the first verse and chorus wherein he also sounds like he doesn't know the lyrics ("the black widow spider makes more sound than she // and the black pools in those eyes of hers make more sense to me.") And, finally, when the chick singer comes in, she really should've belted out “Does anyone know her name?” That’s the thrust of the song. Stevie’s asking if anyone knows her name, her real name...it should be heartrending. Instead, the chick who sings it in this cover is just like “Whatever...” and can’t even be arsed to sing over the drums (the drums should not be lowered in this song...) Even Lindsay belted it out in this amazing live version from the Mirage tour.
(edited to add: Turns out my talent for mishearing lyrics has struck again. I've always thought Stevie was singing "black pools", but it IS "black moons". Geez...lol)

“Dreams” covered by The Kills. Not a cover I would seek out in the future. Forced power, but true earnestness.

“Gypsy” covered by Gardens and Villa. Boring and trite cover of an incredible song.

“Tusk” covered by The Crystal Ark. This cover doesn’t make me as angry as Rhiannon, but come on...how can you take such a dynamic song and make it so incredibly boring? Where’s the power? Where’s the emotion? Instead it’s all electronic beeps and boops and some drummers who are bored even before their section starts.

“Hold Me” covered by Haïm. An okay cover, more paint-by-numbers, but there’s a section I really like, I think it’s the rhythm guitar that’s playing under the solo and then the picking part that comes before the series of choruses that finish out the song (for those who have this album and are keeping score, anyway.)

“Green Manalishi” covered by The Entrance Band. An original Mac song that I’m kind of familiar with and a remake that’s just sort of meh.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A passel of great news!!

It's been a while, but I've got quite a bit of good news to share! First, the biggest news... When I feel that something is worth my time, I become dedicated to that thing. It doesn't replace any current passions, it tends to add to them. In this case, that thing would be the Viscera Organization, a non-profit based out of L.A. that works to support and encourage female genre filmmakers. Among their services is the Viscera Film Festival which has a carpet ceremony every July and then the current's year's selections go out on tour around the world. My film aftershock is one of the films in the library, as an official selection of the 2011 Carpet Ceremony and Tour.

I started working for them in April as the assistant to James Morgart, the guy who's in charge of the tour (his official title is now Director of Media and Distribution.) In July, after an offhand, but sincere, series of remarks, a lot of contemplation, and quite a bit of discussion, it was proposed that I take on a different task...that of the Director of Operations for the L.A. Carpet Ceremony. According to the list of duties, I'm essentially in charge of the weekend festivities for the Viscera Film Festival. It's a bit daunting, but I'm up for it!

Viscera is very important to me. For years, I've felt alone as a woman who directs horror films. On the rare occasion that I met other female filmmakers (before Viscera, that is) they tended to be snobbish and catty. I don't see the point in that kind of attitude. It's boring. And I expected the same treatment when I got to the carpet ceremony last year. While there are certainly those who think they're better than the rest of us (there always are), the majority of women I've met thanks to Viscera have been people I'm so happy to have met, some of whom I now call friends. I'm so happy and so honoured to be a part of something as meaningful as Viscera!

By the way, we're looking for volunteer staff members! If you want to help out an amazing film-oriented non-profit, head over to the contact page, look at the staff PDF and send us an email!



On the film side, Stella Buio has gotten its first two festival acceptances!! The lovely Miguel Rodriguez of the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival, who played my film JustUs last year, has accepted Stella Buio into their line-up and I've since learned that fellow Viscera staff member Maude Michaud's film Red and my soul-sister-in-horror Karen Lam's film The Stolen will also be playing there this year! This festival takes place November 10 and 11.

Stella Buio has also been accepted to the Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival in Buffalo, New York! This festival takes place October 17-21.

But JustUs isn't dead...it was just accepted to the ShockerFest Horror Film Festival in Modesto, California! ShockerFest has morphed into a local access television film festival and JustUs will be screened on October 14 on KAZV-TV, channel 195 / broadcast channel 14.

And, finally...I GET TO SEE STEVIE NICKS IN CONCERT IN A FEW DAYS! That's not really career related, but whatever...