Friday, April 29, 2011

The conspiracists

Barack Obama had to choose between two bad ideas: respond to critics who said he wasn't born in the U.S., therefore ineligible to be president, or ignore them and have the story grow and grow by conspiracists until it infected everything else he did in his presidency. So he chose to respond and sure enough, releasing his 1961 Hawaiian birth certificate didn't deter the pinheads who insisted he wasn't born in the U.S. It just added to their conspiracy theory, that now the circle of conspirators, in on the plot to make Barack Obama look like a citizen, has expanded.

Had Obama called me up and asked my opinion I would have said he would lose either way. I had experience with this when my mother went through her own conspiracy phase. Mom lived in a duplex from 1986 until 2004. At one point she was convinced her next door neighbor was doing evil to her. Every time Mom left her apartment she was sure the neighbor--or the neighbor's son--was getting into her apartment, rearranging things in her bathroom, or just generally causing mischief. They were even driving her car at night when Mom slept. My brother and I attempted to talk her out of these notions. After a time, as neighbors moved in and out, her conspiracy theory got bigger: all of these neighbors were part of the same family. This family, according to Mom, was out to make her life miserable. It didn't help that my brother had the locks changed on her doors; the neighbors were still getting in her house when she was gone. One time--horrors!--they moved her bottle of hair dye.

When I talked to a psychologist about Mom he told me that by trying to reason with her I became part of the conspiracy against her. In her mind she had it all worked out. Conspiracism is pathological thinking. To most of us, if someone presents an argument against something we believe, we may listen and then say, "that's another point of view," perhaps even accept it as superior to our own belief. But to a conspiracist the person arguing with us is part of the conspiracy. It's all worked out in their heads, and sounds like the old bumper sticker joke, "Don't bother me with the facts, my mind is made up."

When Mom went into the care center in 2004 she was given anti-psychotic medications to control her combativeness, and it also ended her conspiracy talk.

The most bellicose of the loudmouths spouting the Obama birther nonsense is arrogant billionaire Donald Trump, who has an out of control ego and bullies his way into the news with loud, obnoxious pronouncements, that he's "smarter" than anyone else because he's "made billions of dollars." Unlike Obama's genteel but firm admonition not to let "silliness" and "carnival barkers" disrupt the important work of government, Trump lambastes his critics with invective. When TV host Rosie O'Donnell asked what made Donald Trump a moral compass for anyone else, he responded to her by calling her a "fat pig." Trump may be years removed from the school playground, but once a bully, always a bully.

I've written before in this blog about various conspiracies, and have gotten a lot of hits on those blogs. I've also gotten some readers who thought I was supporting their conspiracy theories, and were shocked to find out I'm not. I'll say it again: conspiracies don't work. They sound great in fiction, but in real life if you have people involved in conspiracies then someone, sooner or later, tells the truth about the conspiracy. Prisons are full of criminals ratted out by fellow conspirators. So the bigger the conspiracy, whether by government or criminals (or government criminals), conspiracies that most true believers support just aren't possible to indefinitely maintain.

But I'm preaching to the choir about that, aren't I? You don't buy into conspiracy theories, and you're nodding your head in agreement. To people who believe in conspiracies like 9/11 a plot by the U.S. government, the birther stories, alien structures on the moon and Mars, I'm just part of the total conspiracy to suppress truth.

No matter how wild, no matter how unlikely, a good conspiracy story is hard to spike. Obama had to make a decision as to what to do, but he didn't convince his critics, and it just added to the conspiracy circus.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

1964 from a window...

I've been awash in nostalgia since Easter Sunday, when my brother gave me a two-CD compilation of top pop hits of 1964. It's his own MP3 compilation, not available in stores or on Sorry, folks...

That year, 1964, was a great year for my brother, Rob, and me. Both of us were fans of the Beatles and any group that came across the Atlantic in their wake we welcomed. Some of the songs Rob compiled just aren't played anymore, even on the golden oldies stations, and that's too bad. In 1964 most of the tunes were very pop. They were short, a couple of minutes at most, had good tunes, sometimes silly lyrics, but all of them were catchy.

The Beatles had songs they fobbed off onto other artists, and never recorded--at least in any official version on the albums released while the band existed--and some of these are terrific; early work, but already showing much songwriting sophistication. I've included three songs by the group, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, and a demo by John Lennon of "Bad To Me." Lennon and McCartney are credited with all the songs, although "Bad To Me" and "I Call Your Name" were written solo by Lennon.

"From A Window" is from the 1964 T.A.M.I. Show:

A guy has uploaded the single by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, "Bad To Me" b/w "I Call Your Name" from the 45 rpm single:

"I Call Your Name," as you may recall, did make it to The Beatles Second Album in the U.S., and the EP, Long Tall Sally, in the UK.

Finally, here's the 1963 demo by John Lennon of his song, "Bad To Me." I think Billy J. Kramer did a good job, but what would it have been like to have fully produced recordings of the Beatles doing all of the songs that other artists got hits by doing?

Cold Souls

I give credit to my wife, Sally, who finds unusual films on Netflix. Cold Souls, released in 2009, is a movie that totally slipped by us on its initial release. We watched it a few days ago.

What's your soul worth? Is it bogging you down, causing you anxiety? Put it in storage with a company specializing in such an enterprise, and see what good it will do. That's what Paul Giamatti, playing himself, having angst during rehearsals for the Chekhov play, Uncle Vanya, does after seeing an article in The New Yorker. He finds himself relieved when his soul is extracted, but soon finds the need of a soul, and rents the soul of a Russian poet.

This gets into the other side of the plot, which has to do with Russians trafficking in the illicit soul trade. A Russian woman transports the souls between Russia and the U.S., and steals Giamatti's soul to put into the body of a rich Russian's wife, who wants to be an actress. She's looking for an A-list American actor: Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, or Robert DeNiro. The trophy wife gets Giamatti's soul, but thinks it's Pacino's. The expressions on Giamatti's face when he hears the list of actors she really wanted says a lot about the pecking order of Hollywood's heavyweight movie stars.

So Giamatti and the Russian go to Russia to steal back Giamatti's soul. Those wintery scenes, filmed on location in Russia, show that country not all that far removed from its Soviet dreariness.

The movie is advertised as a comedy, which it really isn't. Writer-Director Sophie Barthes said she got the idea for the story from a dream she had about Woody Allen's soul looking like a chickpea, which is what Giamatti sees when he sees his soul. The whole movie has the feeling of a dream. The dream vibe comes from the acceptance that yes, souls can be physically extracted and stored. Is that funny? The humor grows from the oddness of the situations, and from Giamatti, who is actually funnier when he's being more serious.

David Straithairn, as Dr. Flintstein, the director of the soul extraction company, should be familiar to most viewers as a fine character actor. But he also plays lead roles. His most famous was Edward R. Murrow in 2005's Good Night and Good Luck. Emily Watson, as Giamatti's wife, is also instantly recognizable. Michael Tucker, the Uncle Vanya director, was a regular on L.A. Law for years. Lauren Ambrose, who played Claire Fisher, a major role in HBO's Six Feet Under, is barely seen in Cold Souls as a nurse-receptionist. It seems a waste of talent, but actors do pop up in cameos in independent films for various reasons.

I recommend Cold Souls with reservations, that the viewer not look at it as being the "real" Paul Giamatti, but Paul Giamatti playing a character with his name and job (much like the movie Being John Malkovich).

Cold Souls gets a 6.5/10 on the Internet Movie Database. Some folks may find it puzzling. I rated it higher, an 8.5, because I found it a fascinating story told well, with a good cast. The poster, making it seem like a comedy, is misleading. The movie may have also put off viewers who find the Russian part of the story takes a while to unfold, and is complicated by characters speaking Russian without subtitles. Plotwise, all is revealed in time. I recommend Cold Souls to my friends who like something offbeat.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Blueprint for murder

Since I write sometimes about fiction I read or movies I watch, you may think my days are filled with reading and movie watching. And you'd be right. Some of them, anyway. Not having to go to a regular day job helps a lot, because I can make my own schedule.

For the past few days I've been reading my old Alfred Hitchcock anthology paperbacks. The anthologies are mostly compilations of the best from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Richard Deming (1915-1983) is a writer I admire, and whose contribution to Alfred Hitchcock's A Hangman's Dozen is a 1956 short story, "Blackout."

A man has a slutty wife who spends his money, and drinks too much. They live close to the man's boss, who comes over to the house and drinks with the man and his wife. He suspects the boss and his wife of having an affair. The man, who goes to work at midnight, leaves his boss and his wife, drunk, at the house and goes to work. He has concocted a plot to return to the house when the adulterous couple has passed out from the liquor he has provided to them. By turning off the pilot light to a portable gas heater, he is able to kill the couple with gas, and has cleverly arranged it so a coworker will find the dead couple in the morning.

Since this is a story from an Alfred Hitchcock book, the story ends with the man apparently getting away with murder. Two things struck me as I read the story: everything went exactly as the murderer had planned, and his plan had to go off like clockwork for the plot to succeed. In real life most things don't go as well as fiction. But for the sake of the story, all of the actions he had planned to bring about a perfect murder worked down to the smallest detail. We are left at the end with the notion that police would never suspect him of killing his wife and her lover.

The second thing that struck me was that the plot seemed like if applied to real life it just might work. Nowadays with forensic science it might be harder to get away with murder, but in the case of this story, if the police didn't suspect foul play, they would accept the deaths as an accident caused by a faulty gas heater. I wondered if someone could take this story and commit a murder by going through the steps the murderer in Deming's story went through. Hmmm. In what sense, then, would this be just a harmless work of fiction, or a blueprint for murder?

I'm aware of at least one story that was the blueprint for a crime. "The Day The Children Vanished," a 1958 suspense story by Hugh Pentecost (pseudonym of author Judson Phillips) was the springboard for a crime that involved the 1976 kidnapping of 26 children from a school bus in Chowchilla, California, in a plot to hold them for ransom. The children and bus driver escaped from their underground prison and the plot was foiled. The difference with the fiction and reality is that in fiction a character can be made to do anything by the writer in service of the story, and in real life there are too many variables.

No one blamed Pentecost for causing the crime, but it gave his original story notoriety he hadn't planned.

I thought about that when I considered if someone could use "Blackout" by Richard Deming as a blueprint for murder. If you ever run across a story like that in your local newspaper, someone found dead because a pilot light went out on a heater, well, look a little closer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Donald Westlake is near the top of my list of favorite authors. This prolific writer wrote a few dozen mystery-crime novels, many of them comic, some of them so deadly serious the only smile you may crack is for the sheer joy of reading his prose. But then, prose is how he made his living. He interrupted his novel writing for the occasional screenplay, like the adaptation of the Jim Thompson novel, The Grifters, or the original story, The Stepfather. You wonder why he didn't just camp out in Hollywood and earn the big bucks whoring to movie studios. That just wasn't Westlake, who spent his time writing successful novels on his portable manual typewriter. No fan of electric typewriters, word processors or the computer, he banged his stories out the old fashioned way.

In the 1993 novel, Smoke, the characters are funny and so is the plot. Freddie Noon, burglar, breaks into a research laboratory to steal what he can. The lab is funded by a tobacco group. The doctors who own it are working on a vaccine, a cure for melanoma, which so far has only been tested on cats. It makes them translucent. The doctors catch Freddie burgling them, then use him as an unwilling guinea pig. They inject him with the vaccine. Freddie escapes, but wakes up the next morning invisible.

In a memorable scene early on, we're introduced to a tobacco company lawyer with the Dickens-like name of Mordon Leethe. In Westlake fashion he is described vividly in only a few paragraphs:
To be a tobacco company lawyer is to know something of the darkness of the human heart. Little surprised Mordon Leethe, nothing shocked him, not much intrestested him, and there was nothing in life he loved, including himself.

A stocky heavy-shouldered man of fifty-six, Mordon Leethe had been a skinny six foot two when he'd played basketball all those years ago at Uxtover Prep, but caution and skepticism had worked on him like a heavy planet's gravity, compressing him to his current five foot ten, none of it muscle but all of it hard anyway, with tension and rage and disdain.

Mordon was going over the PAC regularions regarding corporate donations to political campaigns--he loved Congress; hookers defining how they'll agree to be fucked--when the phone rang. He picked it up, made a low sound like a warthog, and the voice of his secretary, Helen, a nice maternal woman lost in these offices, said in his ear, "Dr. Amory on two. R&D."

Helen was a good secretary. She knew her boss could not possibly keep in his mind the name and title of every person listed in his Rolodex, so whenever someone he wasn't used to was on the line, Helen would identify the caller when announcing the call. By just now saying, "R&D," she'd jogged Mordon Leethe's memory, reminding him that Dr. Archer Amory was head of NAABOR's research and development program, a three-pronged project that attempted to (1) prove that all proof concerning the health dangers of cigarette consumption is unproved; (2) find some other use for tobacco--insulation? optical fibers?--should worse come to worst; and (3) prepare for a potential retooling to marijuana, should that market ever open up.

Which of the R&D lines had led Dr. Archer to call an attorney? All Mordon Leethe knew was the equation: Doctor = bad news. Shrinking, condensing yet another tiny millimeter, he punched "2" without acknowledging Helen's words, and said,
"'Morning, Doctor. How are things in the lab?"

"Well, the mice are still dying," said a hearty brandy-and-golf voice.

"I know that joke," Mordon said sourly. "The elephants are still alive, but they're coughing like hell."

"Really? That's a new one.Very funny."

It was really a very old one. Mordon said, "What is it today, Doctor?"

"You're going to be getting a visit from two of our independent-contractor researchers."

"Am I."

"Their names are --""Wait."Mordon drew toward himself today's yellow pad, flipped to a new page, picked up his Mont Blanc Agatha Christie pen with the ruby-eyed snake on its clip, and said, "Now."

"Their names are Dr. David Loomis and Dr. Peter Heimhocker, and they--""Spell."

Amory spelled, then said, "I want to emphasize, these two are not employees of my division, nor in fact employees of NAABOR at all. They're independent contractors."

This is something very bad, Mordon, thought. He said, "And what's their problem?"

"I'd rather they told you that themselves. When today would be a good time to see them?"

Very, very bad. Mordon looked at his calendar. "Three o'clock," he said."Do keep me informed," Archer Amory said.

Fat chance. "Of course," Mordon said, and dropped the phone like a dead rat into its cradle.

The book is full of moments like that. Smoke is a very entertaining story of an invisible burglar and those chasing him.

Westlake died in late 2008 at age 75, succumbing to a sudden heart attack while on vacation in Mexico with his wife. I imagine him writing a scene featuring such a death, and in his inimitable way making it funny. That was the kind of writer he was.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jesus pix

Recent news that Muslims are killing and rioting in Afghanistan because some dipstick preacher in Florida burned the Koran shows Christianity is a lot less sensitive than Islam about their holy book and diety.

It would upset some people if a Muslim cleric burned a bible, but I can't see anybody rioting and killing over it. It's all part of freedom of speech. In Islam depictions of the prophet and Allah are forbidden; in Christianity Jesus and God are often pictured.

I'm an outsider looking in on Christianity rather than a believer looking out. Pictures of Jesus show he's just about anyone the faithful want him to be. Who exactly is Jesus, and to those of you who believe he's coming again, would you recognize him if he looks different than how you picture him?

The other day I came home to find a little flier from the Jehovah's Witnesses on my door. In this depiction Jesus has gotten a haircut and a style. He looks more like a 21st Century American than a Middle Eastern man from 2000 years ago.

Going to the Internet many images pop up when I google Jesus. Among them:

A laughing Jesus.

A ponytail Jesus in a coat and tie.

A Jesus mocking gun-toting Republicans (and that coat and tie again).

A more traditional Catholic portrait of the Sacred Heart of Jesus...

...and the image of Jesus made into clip art.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Cube is not for squares

Cube is a skillfully written, edited, and except for the occasional histrionics from its cast of unknowns, decently acted movie which reminds me of the quote by Winston Churchill, "A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." A synopsis from the Internet Movie Database gives us an overall picture:

Six total strangers awaken one day to find themselves alone in a cubical maze. Once they meet, they work together using their given skills and talents to survive the deadly traps which guard many of the colored cubic rooms. Using Leaven's mathematical skills, they press forward, upward, and downward through the hatches to try and find the outer shell. [Written by Ryan.]

Cube is a horror movie for the danger inherent in each room the band has to cross to get out of the Cube. For a wrong choice there are devious traps which produce horrible, gruesome results.

There are group members who, despite having given leadership to another, have problems with decisions and make their displeasure known. It leads to conflict, and in some cases, death. Cube is science fiction because the unusual structure they are in, with its moving rooms, has an unknown purpose. Maybe it's a test, like rats in a maze. Only in this case, instead of a reward for choosing correctly, for a bad decision there is the ultimate punishment. It's a mystery because the purpose of the cube is never revealed, and despite speculation by some group members of aliens or government conspiracy, as the audience we're just as much in the dark as the characters in the movie.

I like that it sets my imagination free to come up with something that satisfies me. If you're someone who has to have everything tied up neatly at the end you will not like Cube.

For some reason, and this could be part of the overall mystery, the characters are named after prisons: Quentin, Leaven and Worth, Rennes (French women's prison), Holloway (London), Kazan (Russian).

"Five Characters In Search Of An Exit," a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone, is claimed to be a partial inspiration for Cube.

Cube was made in 1997, and spawned a couple of sequels, which don't match the original. It's a Canadian movie, and for some reason some really interesting low budget movies come out of Canada.

A feature on the DVD shows pre-production sketches, something I always find interesting.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

On The Town

Doug MacRay is a good bad guy. Even though he's the leader of a violent takeover robbery gang, he's got sensitivity because he's got issues. His mom left when he was six, and he looked for her. His father, a criminal, is spending his life in prison. To say Doug is conflicted is not exaggerating. You get the feeling that Doug was born to be a criminal, and by god, he's good at it, but that he has the intelligence and nature about him to go straight. He just doesn't choose to because he's so good at being a crook.

Ben Affleck as Doug: good bad, or bad good?

We meet Doug in the opening scene of The Town, while he and his gang are robbing a bank. They wear Skeletor masks, and terrorize the bank patrons. They get bank manager Claire Keesey to open the vault, but Claire trips a silent alarm. Doug's second in command, "Jem" Coughlin, believing the assistant manager set off the alarm, buttstrokes him with his assault rifle. We see then that Jem is a dangerous psycho.

Hey, folks! In the '80s I watched He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, but Skeletor was my hero!

Despite being a gang leader of machine gun-toting villains, Doug is portrayed as having a noble side. He later meets up with Claire and they begin a relationship. He becomes protective, beating up some toughs who harassed her. Jem goes along with him and reinforces our view of him as psychotic.

Jeremy Renner plays Jem, the adrenaline-fueled sociopathic buddy. He played an adrenaline-fueled sergeant in The Hurt Locker. He's good at that type of character. There's no noble side to Jem, not after nine years in prison.

Jeremy Renner as Jem: not good bad, just bad bad.

Rebecca Hall is Claire, and Jon Hamm is the FBI man who knows Doug is the leader of the robbers, but just can't pin it on him until he finally gets proof.

Jon Hamm's square jaw would have made J. Edgar Hoover proud. He'd have to shave first, though. Rebecca Hall is a fine actress, a vulnerable character in her part.

Another character in the movie is the town of Charlestown, Massachusetts, which is given a written apology at the end of the film by the filmmakers. Although it's well authenticated to be the home of such criminals, the movie ignores the good folks of the town. Well, apology accepted, I guess, unless you're the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce.

I like crime stories, but I try not to identify with the criminal; not always easy. I watch Investigation Discovery Channel, programs like "I (Almost) Got Away With It," and "Cuff Me If You Can," both of which show criminals getting away with their crimes for 60 minutes, and then getting caught just before the credits roll. We all have something of a Robin Hood view of crooks, especially in movies, where they can be shown as sympathetic. In real life the crooks profiled by the ID channel may be crafty and savvy at evading the law, but they are anti-social people who don't care the same about us as we may care about them. So in the end when they're caught that's good, even if during the program we were pulling for them to get away. They really deserve to be in prison, away from society in general.

So it is with Doug, who is shown at the end of the movie as being a free man, having evaded death and/or capture by the feds who are chasing him. In real life the FBI would be mounting a huge manhunt, Doug would be featured on America's Most Wanted, and he might get away for a time, even years, but eventually he'd be reeled in and sent to prison. And good riddance.

The Town makes reference to our fascination with forensic television programs. The criminals use various techniques to avoid leaving that sort of evidence behind. In the bank they "bleach it," pouring bleach all over the bank to eliminate any stray DNA evidence they may have left. I admit, I'd never thought of that before seeing The Town. Another lesson learned in how not to get caught. Doug admits to Claire he watches all the CSI shows: "Miami CSI and New York CSI [sic]," and like millions of other viewers of these programs, he is getting a lesson in how to avoid leaving evidence. While promoting forensic science to television viewers, they are also providing valuable training films for criminals.

There's a small, juicy part for British character actor, Pete Postlethwaite, as the fence/money launderer. Postlethwaite's face is his fortune. It's homely in a really exquisite way.

The Town is a well made, action-packed film. It's star Ben Affleck's directorial debut, and I predict a career for him like Clint Eastwood's: directing movies, and starring in some of them. I'll be interested in whatever projects he picks. But besides the action and the love story, at the heart of The Town is yet another glorification of criminals, violence and criminal acts. In real life there are real victims of dangerous morons who come into banks shooting and terrorizing the innocent. I'm sure I'd lose all sympathy for Doug or his gang if I were on the floor of the bank being threatened with death from machine gun bullets.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The faux ghost documentary

How can you people sleep when there’s a goddamn demon right outside your bedroom door?

My ghost movie watching continues.

In 2009 I saw the ads and heard the hype about Paranormal Activity, a cinema-verité-styled movie. I'd heard, for instance, that it was made for $15,000 in one week of filming. The TV commercials were compelling: night vision views of people in theaters, shrieking in terror. The scariest movie ever made! Wow. That's a lot of hype to live up to.

I dared them to scare me. Paranormal Activity (hereinafter known as PA) is told through a video camera, set up to record whatever happens in the house inhabited by Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston).

The camera is everywhere, even in the bathroom with Katie. You can tell Micah has other plans for his videotaping…

As Katie explains it, weird things have been happening to her since she was eight years old, and now that's she's living with Micah, they have started happening again.

That's because, as a psychic explains to her, she doesn't live in a haunted house. The entity, which he detects is not human, is after her. He can't help them, because his job is connecting live people with their deceased loved ones, and this is a demon, not the ghost of a person. Micah tells the psychic he'll get a Ouija board and ask the demon what it wants. The psychic says don't do'll only invite it in. As if it isn't in the house already.

”Ah, c’mon, honey…what does a psychic know? What harm can it do?”

Being a man, Micah goes against the psychic’s advice and gets a Ouija board. Luckily, he had set up the video camera (which is usually in their bedroom, filming them as they sleep while all the screwy, scary things go on), and when Micah and Katie leave for the evening it records the Ouija board spontaneously bursting into flame.

Whoops! Flame on!

”I dunno…is the inverted star burned into the Ouija board, is that a bad sign?”

It was clever of the filmmakers to tell us the demon was after Katie, and that it's not a typical haunted house. She might as well stay where she is, because the demon will follow her. Like everyone else who watches a haunted house movie I wonder why the hell the people stay in the house. Leave the house, leave the haunting. But, no one would have a story if they did that, so despite all logic in haunted house movies the characters stay in the haunted house to be terrorized by whatever is haunting it.

PA spends a lot of time with the video recorder showing the couple sleeping, a clock in the lower corner telling us what time the invisible demon enters. (That's another bit of genius, never show the demon, but make his presence known by sound. The invisible is much scarier than the visible, which is where many horror movies fail.) The thought struck me: how do these people sleep knowing the demon may come in the door at any second? Why doesn't Micah, who works at home, stay awake at night, and sleep during the day? Although he is a day trader, he could catch a view winks. Personally, knowing that some horrible, invisible thing who wants to do me harm can just come in anytime it wants to would keep me from going to sleep.

The other thing that struck me is that there is a noise when the demon comes in. Closed captioning describes it as a "low hum," but it sounds more like a train going through the house. I have theater sound and the noise rattled the glassware in my living room, so I don't know how anyone could sleep through that. There are other noises too: crashing glassware, doors slamming, wake the couple. Thank god, because I thought they must be hearing impaired if they can't hear that hum.

Despite being somewhat skeptical while watching the movie, later on that evening as I prepared for bed it was on my mind. Ulp. I thought, what if I turn out the light to go to bed and hear a crash, a slamming door somewhere in the house? I'm someone who's used to my wife being gone--she was in Portland, visiting friends--and horror movies don't scare me. But there was something about Micah and Katie's otherwise normal lives, she a student, he a day trader, living in an unostentatious house, that struck me as being similar to my own. I read a book to get my mind off it and went to sleep about 11:30. At 5:00 in the morning I was jolted out of bed by a loud crash.

I didn't come up screaming about demons, but looked out my living room window to see that several inches of snow had fallen during the night. It was that heavy, wet stuff that comes off the lake west of us, and it had broken off a large branch. A couple of hours later when I got up I went out and dragged the branch to the middle of my lawn, and today if the snow melts I'll cut it up and leave it out for the city to pick up.

Paranormal Activity stayed on my mind. It is not the scariest movie ever made, but it is scary, if you look past some of the logical lapses displayed by the characters. I appreciated that there were no long-winded, boring explanations for the demon invading their space. The characters don't know--until they make an educated guess based on information from a similar case on the Internet--why the demon has picked Katie. That's good. Make us in the audience work at why it is happening, and come to our own conclusions. The DVD includes an alternate ending. I was disappointed in both endings, although the one that played in theaters is the better of the two. I admire the filmmaking skills, and even though the movie-on-tape concept is getting a bit old (and some people hate it because the moving camera gives them motion sickness), the video camera recording what was going on seemed like something in character. It seemed much more logical than the awkward use of the video camera in Cloverfield, for instance. PA is a movie I'd recommend, with qualifications. If you believe in demons and malevolent spirits I'd say don't watch it. It'll only upset you. If you don't believe in demons and evil spirits, or are a film student and like to see a really well made independent, low, low budget film, make sure you see this movie.

Part of the attempt to make this fictional account appear real. Are those really the actors’ names? It says they are in the Internet Movie Database. Are the actors playing other people under their own names? It might be embarrassing to be recognized in a grocery store: “Say, aren’t you that gal who got possessed by that demon? It said at the end you were never seen again, and yet here you are!”

Friday, April 01, 2011

The faux ghosts

I went through a period recently where I watched some spooky Asian ghost movies. I get a chill up my spine when I see a ghost silently watching the living, or being seen only in a photograph, as in the movie, Shutter.

The ghost photos in Shutter reminded me of a picture with my mom that looks like a spirit photo. It was taken in Hong Kong in 1969. Mom is the lady in the white skirt and striped top, and the "ghost" is the ancient Chinese woman to her right. Notice the way she kind of blends into the background? Boo!

Then there's this full page picture from the February 19, 1940 issue of Life, with sexy Mae West. In the mirror to her right is a spectral figure. It's probably a maid watching the photo session, but if you let your imagination go, as I sometimes do, it's kind of spooky, too.