Lifetime Theater: Blue-Eyed Butcher

Mention a Lifetime movie to someone. Anyone. You’re going to get the same reaction. A frown followed by a brief complaint that every Lifetime movie is the same: noble, put upon woman deals with abusive man. What I’ve been learning in my Very Special Journey is that this is not accurate at all. Though the entertainment is still geared primarily toward women, the brand has been subtly shifting toward procedural and true crime drama. This week’s entry, Blue-Eyed Butcher, is part of that shift, but it’s also completely off the rails. It seems to exist solely to undermine every Lifetime movie stereotype there is.

The film is intercut between the courtship, wedding, and rocky married life of Jeff and Susan Wright, and Susan’s eventual murder trial for stabbing Jeff literally all the times. What is unclear is how much the flashbacks are influenced by the testimony given. At times, it seems like a Rashomon kind of situation — and yes, I just compared a Lifetime movie to a masterpiece by one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived — where the flashbacks dutifully play out what we’re seeing in the past. Yet, and this is important, Jeff is dead. He doesn’t get to tell his story. So this might be Rashomon with only one person, or as it’s also known, a terrible idea. The testimony doesn’t always mesh perfectly with the flashbacks either, so I don’t know what they’re going for.

On the surface, Blue-Eyed Butcher feels very much like the stereotypical Lifetime film. Susan is a pretty blonde (played by Sara Paxton of The Innkeepers) who marries the handsome man of her dreams. Her dreams soon become a nightmare (TM, the Lifetime Network) as Jeff turns first irresponsible and then abusive. Finally, Susan can take no more and kills her husband in self defense. She’s put on trial, and while the sleazy DA makes leering comments to the jury, her heroic single-mom defense attorney wins the case. Well, that’s how this thing is supposed to play out, anyway. Blue-Eyed Butcher seems to delight in presenting what’s “supposed” to happen, then defiantly going in the opposite direction.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have decided to eat him.”

Jeff and Susan meet in a ‘90s teen movie, as a title sweeps in to tell us we’re “5 YEARS EARLIER.” Susan and all her friends are on the beach in bikinis, which is a weird choice for the network. They’re all pretty young, and have those kinds of merciless Hollywood bodies that would, at best, be of no interest to your stereotypical Lifetime viewer. Anyway, she meets Jeff, they have an instant connection, and start courting. And though Jeff goes to a TV strip club (a place where men can watch women dance in a variety of concealing lingerie), he’s totally cool with taking things slow with Susan.

A red flag goes up when Susan reveals she worked at a strip club for a couple months. In the “present,” the DA grills her over her past, and Susan claims to have enforced a two foot rule. That’s a good way to get fired from a strip club, I’d think. Anyway, Susan and Jeff have sex eventually (in one of those rooms that’s 90% candle), and right afterwards, Jeff busts out a whole Ziploc bag filled with jazz cigarettes. As the movie progresses, Jeff’s drug use increases to downright cartoonish levels. Soon he’s smoking weed in the office and snorting coke in his driveway.

At this point in the story, the DA starts hinting that Susan got pregnant on purpose to trick Jeff into marriage. Which is… what? Did a MRA hijack this part of the script or something? They get married and soon have another kid as the marriage quickly turns into what I’d been expecting all along. Jeff is pretty obviously abusive, and it comes up in the trial that he had previous assault and possession convictions. Jeff’s abuse leans toward the surreal. Sure, he kept a weapon under the bed to threaten Susan with, but it wasn’t a gun or a knife. Oh no, Jeff kept fucking nunchucks under there, like he’s a Ninja Turtle or something. Maybe he’s abusive because he thinks Susan is in the Foot Clan?

#NotAllNinjas

The DA points out that in Susan’s history of abuse, she never went to the hospital or suffered a broken bone. This is a bullshit argument, but one that might work on a jury, since Jeff looked like he freebased shark testosterone, and Susan looked like she should be living under a tree and teaching Bran Stark about warging. Susan’s friend Allie supports the abuse narrative at least circumstantially, but she brings up an even odder part of the movie. Allie is played by Annie Wersching, known to 24 fans as Renee Walker or by her nickname “Jill Bauer.” She just barges into the movie, and we’re expected to just kind of know who she is and be okay with her. I was convinced she was Renee Walker, undercover and rooting out terrorists in the suburbs, and based on her interest in Susan, our Blue-Eyed Butcher is the number one suspect.

Eventually, Jeff hits a kid (one of his own — I didn’t mean to imply he might be hiring children for that purpose), and that’s the final straw. Susan ties him up and stabs him 193 times, which seems a little excessive to me. She then buries him in the backyard and goes on about her life. This is when the movie starts shifting again. In the beginning it was kind of against Susan, hinting she used her pregnancy to force the marriage, then it’s on her side with the abuse, and now it paints her as a soulless killer. Its ambivalence shares some DNA with Lizzie Borden. Susan’s defense hinges on some kind of fugue state in the week that prevented her from even knowing what she did, yet there are hints that it’s all calculated: timing her crying for the presence of a jury, an ill-advised yard sale of Jeff’s things, and of course the final scene that all but tells us what to think. The amazing part is all the crime covering up is scored with sort of wacky prank music, as though Susan isn’t hiding a body, she’s hiding clowns! No wait, that’s like a thousand times worse.

Never forget.

The crowning moment of insanity in the movie is not the murder scene itself, but the re-enactment of it. I talked a bit about what a standard Lifetime movie “should” have, and it specified the genders of the lawyers involved. Blue-Eyed Butcher, true to form, reverses that with W. Earl Brown (Deadwood’s Dan Dority) and Lisa Edelstein as the harridan of a DA. Edelstein mounts her assistant in the courtroom on the actual bloody mattress, and shows the jury how the killing went down. It’s utter madness. This works, and Susan gets sent away for 25 years. Good news though, she’s up for parole in 2014!

What did we learn? If you’re going to kill your husband, maybe you don’t stab him 193 times. Try 150 and see how that goes.

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New Satellite Show Episode 15: DC Does Good

After months of harping on DC Comic’s latest PR blunders, the Panel is happy to see the company do good in the arrival of a new look for Batgirl. They also hope the company doesn’t screw it up. Friend of the Show Bryn makes his first on-air appearance to discuss Thor: The Dark World. Erik praises a recent release after declaring film dead, but still predicts film’s eventual demise. This month’s Yakmala film is Ninja Thunderbolt, one of the finest entertaining films of questionable quality ever made. Host: Erik. Panel of Experts: Dante, Bryn, Clint, Louis, Justin, Queta.

Click here or subscribe on iTunes.

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Yakmala: Alex Cross

This is Perry’s serious face.

Imagine being an actor. You struggle for years, waiting tables, doing shitty theater, grubbing for commercial roles, then one day, out of the blue, you get your big shot. It’s a real movie, backed by a real studio, that will be in real theaters. You tear into that part, you give it everything you have, and after that, you’re indelibly associated with Bobo the Squirrel Fucker. And for the rest of your career, you only get roles for mentally challenged zoophiles. Typecasting is a bitch, and when too many people try to break out of it at the same time, you get Alex Cross.

Tagline: Don’t Ever Cross Alex Cross

More Accurate Tagline: Alex Cross is here to promote family values and kick ass. And he’s all out of family.

Guilty Party: While every fiber of my being is crying out to blame Tyler Perry for this hot mess, it’s not his fault. He might have helped it get made, as there’s a certain fascination with seeing him play something other than Madea (especially a role originated by God Himself, Morgan Freeman), but he was merely a bland leading man. The fault lies with previous Yakmala entrant Rob Cohen, who took Alex Cross, a character who already felt like a knockoff of Freeman’s William Somerset (despite debuting in book form two years before Se7en), and somehow making him feel even more generic than ever before.

Synopsis: Tyler Perry’s Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) is the head of an elite team of Detroit police that includes his childhood best friend Tommy Kane (Edward Burns), The Chick (Rachel Nichols), and somehow not Robocop (Robocop). Alex Cross has superhuman detective skills, which is what everyone talks about when Alex Cross isn’t around. (The movie, sadly, does not feature a coda in which Alex Cross is returned to his home planet with Poochie.) Cross is more concerned with his family: two kids, a pregnant wife, and a grandma so sassy it’s a wonder Perry didn’t insist on playing her himself.

Meanwhile, a skeletal assassin played by Matthew Fox goes after members of a corporation in the most inefficient, bizarre way possible. To get the attention of Fan Yau Lee, the first of them, he fights in an unsanctioned MMA fight (under the name “The Butcher of Sligo” because at this point why not), takes his target home, ties her up for some kinky sex, injects her with a super-roofie, then tortures her to death and kills her bodyguards. It makes even less sense when we learn that her safe was operated by thumbprint, and yet still contains a spare hard drive for the police to find that Matthew Fox somehow missed. Oh yeah, and then he does a charcoal drawing which Cross figures out is a Mad magazine fold-in and has the clues to the next victim.

“Says here the next victim will be in a toilet.” “But Alex–” “YOU HEARD ME!”

This turns out to be asshole German Erich Nunemacher. Fox targets him in the man’s own office, sneaking in through some rather large water pipes. Cross and the team is there to stop him, and this earns Fox’s ire, despite, you know, leaving a fucking clue for them to find. I don’t know what this asshole wants. He’s all over the place.

Cross and company meet with the head of the company, Giles Mercier (Jean Reno), and there’s a throwaway moment when Cross deduces the assistant is on a lot of cocaine, and not, you know, a giggly idiot. They also establish that Mercier always wears this hideous pinkie ring that was a gift from the King of Cambodia. Seriously, Paulie Walnuts would call this thing gauche. If Paulie had word-of-the-day toiler paper and knew what that word meant.

An enraged Fox straight up murders the Chick. He does it offscreen, so I wasn’t even sure if she was dead or just messed up for a good fifteen minutes. Then he calls Cross (who’s out on a date with his wife, trying to convince her to let him take a job at the FBI), and they have a Hannibal/Clarice conversation. Finally, Fox gets fed up and blows Cross’s pregnant wife away. For those keeping track at home, of four female speaking roles we’ve seen, two exist as love interests to be brutally murdered (oh yeah, the Chick was banging Ed Burns in a subplot no one cares about), one sets the plot in motion by being tortured and killed (but only after she takes a man to bed for a one-night stand, so it’s cool), and one is a cokehead who is her boss’s Achilles heel. There’s also Cross’s sassy grandma, his daughter, and a cop who’s in like two scenes. Cohen really loves women is what I’m trying to say here.

Cross vows revenge on Fox, despite sassy grandma warning him not to. There’s some investigation that doesn’t really go anywhere, until Cross figures out that Mercier is going to be in public. Fox, done with fucking around, RPGs the site. Cross and Kane pursue, and after a short car chase, Cross pursues Fox through an abandoned theater because Detroit (Kane was wounded when they plowed into Fox’s car, and stays behind so he can show up for a convenient rescue). Cross kills Fox, and Kane rescues Cross.

Cross, having put together that Mercier was behind everything (the man was not wearing his ugly-ass pinkie ring when the RPG hit), frames the Frenchman for drug smuggling in Cambodia. Yep, the assistant was just there to be the weakness in a man. His revenge complete, Cross leaves Detroit for the FBI.

Life-Changing Subtext: Girls and old ladies are good to have around, but sexually mature women only exist to bring men down.

Defining Quote: Kane: “You aren’t in the game. The game is in you.” Apparently Kane was being played by Kirk Lazarus.

Standout Performance: Matthew Fox as the killer (nicknamed Picasso) really taps into that wifebeating dark side of his to play a truly unhinged villain. I mean, the character makes zero sense, as though the writers couldn’t decide if they wanted a cold professional hitman or a raving serial killer, but the commitment Fox had to the part, down to his terrifying physical transformation, is impressive.

And Bai Ling gave him that tattoo.

What’s Wrong: Alex Cross feels like someone saw Se7en, Silence of the Lambs, Kiss the Girls, Dirty Harry and all its clones, and made a movie Mad-Lib out of it. It’s so generic that if the poster was just a white page with MOVIE in blue letters, it would be entirely accurate.

Flash of Competence: The performances are largely good. Even Tyler Perry.

Best Scenes: The strangest part of Matthew Fox’s approach on party girl Fan Yau Lee is that he insists on fighting in the cage. It has nothing to do with anything, only showing the movie’s stunning lack of awareness about what the hell MMA is. There are several points where it appears the referee stops the fight, but nope, it goes right on afterwards. And after the tapout, Fox kneels down, and very deliberately breaks the other fighter’s arm. Where the hell was the ref? That’s generally why the accepted method of stopping a cage fight is the flying tackle.

There’s a subplot that plays out over two scenes that makes no sense. The first scene is in the very beginning when he talks to a girl who is taking a murder rap for her career criminal of an uncle. Late in the movie, Cross goes to the uncle (played by Giancarlo Esposito, who, as always, is wonderful) and offers to trade the murder weapon for a link to the chemist who makes Fox’s date rape drugs. This scene, which brings the movie to a halt as I’m desperately trying to figure out what the fuck Gus Fring is doing in this piece of shit, only links them to the chemist, who gives them a partial plate, which somehow gives them Fox’s car. But then Cross figures out Fox is using the RPG, and it doesn’t matter.

Transcendent Moment: After Fox has murdered both Mrs. Cross and the Chick, Cross and he have an angry phone call. It’s supposed to play out like the verbal sparring of two equally matched enemies, but it’s just Cross hissing threats at Fox the whole time. And Fox seems confused by the whole situation. Like, “Dude, I thought you were gonna thank me! You’re free now, you can party!”

We’ll do the gun dance together.

No one would ever call Kiss the Girls or Along Came a Spider great or even particularly good movies. They were serviceable thrillers coasting on Freeman’s gravitas and memories of Se7en. Alex Cross has none of that, and has to fail on its own lack of merits.

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Yay for Comics! July 2014 Edition

yaySo, a million years ago, Paul Pope drew an illustration of his THB protagonist, HR Watson, jumping for joy and exclaiming “Yay for Comics!” It is a reminder that the medium is filled with excitement. Yet, it can be difficult to enjoy comics with the sexist and violent tirades of certain fans, the thin margins under which the industry operates and the continuing racial and gender inequality in the creative sector of the business, but there are still things to love about it. Things that make me jump for joy, just like HR Watson.

This month, Brian K. Vaughn finally wins me over. I enjoy a horror comic! Superior Spider-Man continues to win my love and more mad scientists join the celebration of comics.

Saga Vol. 1: So I’ve teased this a couple of times, but I’m not a huge fan of Brian K. Vaughn. Going all the way back to his run on Swamp Thing, his books always amounted to the same things: great premises with uninteresting characters. This is the key: I don’t think he’s necessarily a bad writer. It’s just that he’s failed to create a character I want to travel with for hundreds of pages. With Saga, this changes as Marko, Alana, their daughter Hazel (who serves as the narrator), the Will and Prince Robot IV comes to staggering life. This group of characters speak with authentic voices. Despite being very much in love, Marko and Alana squabble and it reads real. The Will, despite being a bounty hunter, is not presented as a total badass, instead coming off tremendously human. And Prince Robot IV appears to unraveling at the seams as no one wants to deal with his obvious PTSD. Did I forget to mention this takes place in a universe with interstellar travel and curious looking aliens? Oh, it’s definitely in that world and artist Fiona Staples creates some utterly breathtaking alien creatures and environments that can be beautiful and grotesque all at once. The premise sees Marko and Alana, soldiers on opposite sides of a prolonged war, fighting to save their child from a universe that wants her dead. Though lots of people call attention to the Star Wars influence on the title, I think it’s picked up the best thing one can take from that behemoth of a series: the energy. It has a special speed and vitality to it that lots of fantasy comics fail to deliver. I have to call this the best comic book Vaughn has been a part of because it’s generated in me one important reaction: I want to read more of it. Strong recommend.

Art from Saga

Art from Saga

The Superior Spider-Man Vol.2: Every time Superior Spider-Man gets close to becoming a conventional superhero title (hero and villain fighting for pages and pages), writer Dan Slott will twist the dynamic and remind you that Otto Octavius is driving the bus. In this hardcover collection, issues #6-16 of the series, see the good Doctor slipping closer to his old habits as he continues to pursue his quest to protect New York in his own “superior” way. I don’t want to spoil too much as the shocks are what make it great, but I’ll mention some of Ock’s adversaries in this book include the Avengers, Mayor Jameson and the mental ghost of Peter Parker. It has a lot more fighting compared to the first five issues, but those fights make sense in the larger picture of what Ock is trying to accomplish as Spider-Man.

The Manhattan Projects Vols. 1-4: So let’s take noted scientists like Enrico Fermi, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, and Albert Einstein and reveal them to be psychotic lunatics with aspirations far beyond atomic devastation and you get the fractured tale of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra’s The Manhattan Projects. I mean, it’s like Hickman knew he had to make a comic book just for me. It’s filled with megalomaniacal asshats who give science a bad name … but it’s positively thrilling! You want them to succeed against small minded jackasses like Harry S. Truman — portrayed in the book as a babbling free mason — and aliens from a far off star system. Hickman’s perverse use of these historical characters is a treat. Instead of a pacifist Einstein, we get a quiet serial killer. When Werner Von Braun is introduced, we find a corpulent cyborg only interested in getting offworld as fast as a possible. Fermi turns out to be an alien programmed to assassinate anyone capable of giving the plant star travel and the only apparent idealist involved is Yuri Gagarin … but he just wants space dog Laika to come home. Pitarra’s art is generally grotesque, but fits so well with the material. Special mention goes to colorist Jordie Bellaire, whose use of color lends itself remarkably well to the occasional chapters devoted to the war raging in Oppenheimer’s head. Yeah, he might be the actual villain of the story, but The Manhattan Projects is built on the fact that there are no real heroes. Yeah, definitely a book for me.

Art from The Manhattan Projects

Art from The Manhattan Projects

Nailbiter #1-3: Maybe I’m wrong, but Nailbiter feels like a horror comic, which would make it the first horror comic I actually like. Then again, The Sandman and Hellblazer were meant to be horror comics when they started. So did Swamp Thing, come to think of it. There’s definitely a class of modern horror comics I’m just not into. They tend toward looser art and well defined word bubbles. More gore and shock than a prolonged sense of dread. Nailbiter is not one of those books. Instead, it builds tension as its main characters, a former NSA agent and a small town sheriff, try to unravel the disappearance of a FBI profiler obsessed with the town’s local acquitted serial killer. It also happens the town is known from growing serial killers: a group known collectively as the Buckaroo Butchers. Writer Joshua Williamson gives us a colorful band of characters and a compelling world he reveals just a little bit at a time. The Nailbiter himself is quite charismatic, as a fitting a serial killer. Artist Mike Henderson offers a stylized view of the proceedings, but does so in a very clean manner. Three issues in, I’m hooked into the mystery of Buckaroo, Oregon. Even if Nailbiter isn’t a horror book, it’s one I’ll continue to read.

Silver Surfer #1-3: I wasn’t sure about this one after the first two issues. It comes from Superior Spider-Man writer Dan Slott with art from Mike and Laura Allred. With that art team, the book has a fun and poppy feel to it. It also has plenty of bizarre aliens because Mike Allred. But with the third issue, magic happened when the Silver Surfer final met “the most important person in his life,” a Earthwoman named Dawn Greenwood who doesn’t really need a Silver Surfer — in fact, she offers to rescue him during that first meeting!  Together, they’re magic:

Power Cosmic

At the same time, the book has an irreverent tone to the rules of the Marvel Universe and its cosmic component. While I like serious books, the wacky nature of this Silver Surfer appeals to me. Now that Dawn and the Surfer have met, I can’t wait to see what further wackiness awaits them.

Velvet Vol. 1: Here’s the loose premise: Ms. Moneypenny turns about to be the agency’s best asset and, having been set up for a fall, goes rogue. It may do the book, from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, a bit of a disservice as the actual story is much, much better, but it got you interested, no? Velvet Templeton is a rare action hero. And though the book is set in the spy milieu of the Cold War, Velvet kicks ass. She’s also allowed to have emotions, regrets and anger. This first volume sees the main character escape England to other exotic locals, only to end with her returning to the home counties to visit some payback on whoever set her up. It’s rad. Epting’s art, with assistance from colorist Elizabeth Breitwieser, looks like classic spy novel illustration in every panel and is equal parts moody and glamorous. I know I gave Brubaker some ink last month, but he’s just that good and just that worthwhile to read.

Okay, that’ll wrap it up for this month. Next month, we’ll take another look at All-New Ghost Rider and I’ll talk about a kid’s comic that’s just as great for grown-ups. Also, as I’ll be back from Comic-Con, I’m hoping to discover something new and exciting that gives me more reason to shout “Yay for Comics!”

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Now Fear This: The Innkeepers

Say what you will, at least it’s not a clown motel.

Ti West movies are, by their natures, tough to critique. He makes the kinds of films that, if you like them, they’re the cinematic equivalent of Heisenberg blue meth. If you don’t, it’s a hundred minutes of the camera slowly plodding through a fairly normal building while sweet fuck all happens to a skinny, attractive young woman. I was a huge fan of The House of the Devil, owing at least partly to its faithful re-creation of early ‘80s Satan-horror. Netflix kept advertising a horror movie called The Innkeepers at me, featuring a poster that bears a not-insignificant resemblance to Rosemary’s Baby, I finally checked it out. When I learned it was a Ti West joint, I cued it the fuck up.

The historic Yankee Pedlar Inn in Torrington, Connecticut is closing at the end of the weekend (not really — it’s still open, but you know, in the movie). Only the second floor remains in service; the third has been stripped entirely, save for the beds. While the owner is fishing in Barbados, the two remaining employees keep an eye on things. There’s Claire (Sara Paxton, who looks like Alexis Bledel crossed with a tiny bit of Reese Witherspoon), a directionless young woman with bad asthma, and Luke (Pat Healy, who looks like hipster Tintin) a college dropout who just might have a drinking problem. In addition to their official responsibilities, they have a hobby: they’re amateur ghost hunters, using the wee hours to wander around the hotel with recording devices in hopes of catching sight of the supernatural. They’re not completely pulling this from their butts, either. The Yankee Pedlar is supposedly haunted by Madeline O’Malley, an unfortunate woman who died on the premises and whose body was briefly stored in the basement.

The last few guests are a strange bunch as well. A mother stays there with her son after having a fight with her husband. She’s all suspicious glares, mostly directed in Claire’s direction, and serves to create a sense of alienation for our young protagonist. There’s retired actress Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis, and since this is her second movie co-produced by Larry Fessenden, I’m thinking there’s a connection), former star of fictional Like Mother Like Son and current New Age psychic healer. She is a mother figure, at first rejecting Claire’s overtures (she’s a big fan), then as things grow darker, finally agreeing to help. Lastly, there’s an old man who insists on staying on the third floor, despite the absence of things like furniture, television, and bedclothes. He is an eerie presence that assists in undermining Claire’s sense of safe reality.

Much like The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers is perversely slow. Very, very little happens in the hundred minute running time that could be considered scary or supernatural. What West does is creates a very realistic working environment with two well-drawn slackers, complete with nonsensical workplace games. By taking the time to make Claire as real as possible, by the time the danger becomes real, we are much more invested in her fate. She’s not just a movie character, she’s the pretty co-worker who suffered under our long-held crush. And, much like The House of the Devil, the glacial pacing only persists to a certain point. After that, it’s a rocket-powered hellride into the pit.

The early manifestations of the horror focus around EVP, which is shorthand for either “Electronic Voice Phenomenon” or “Total Fucking Bullshit,” depending on your point of view. Normally, the ghost hunter asks questions to an empty room and records the following silence. Later, they will play the recording at high volume and tease out voices in the static. It’s basically an auditory version of pareidolia. Here, it’s much more dramatic, as Claire picks up the ghostly strains of a piano through her headphones, but when she takes them off, the hotel is silent.

“Luke, I’m getting tired of holding this dildo.”

The most interesting part of the film is the question of what’s really going on here. In the early going, we’re treated to two Youtube ghost videos in the two genres that exist of Youtube ghost videos. The first is a jump scare with an obviously fake spirit, and the second is a door shutting on by itself (or, as it’s known colloquially, a “breeze”). This tells us the two kinds of phenomena will be perceiving — the fake and the real. In addition, Claire says that because most experiences happen when you’re alone, they have a better chance of seeing something with so few people around. The fact that Luke’s visitation turns out to have been a lie places the situation in more doubt. In fact, the only time Claire experiences the ghost in Luke’s presence, the camera lingers on her face, never showing the spirit, and only conveying its presence with the addition of some queasy bluish light.

This raises the central question of the film: does the supernatural exist solely in Claire’s mind? It’s certainly possible, as the movie goes out of its way to show her traumatized, drunk, injured, or otherwise distressed before and during each obviously occult encounter. Even a healthy mind has a way of playing tricks — if you’re all alone in an old hotel, looking for ghosts, chances are the brain is going to give you what you’re after. Yet the conclusion isn’t entirely apparent. It’s possible Leanne is psychic as she claims, and her initial strange behavior toward Claire was the product of a distinct premonition. The final shot of the movie, echoing the “real” Youtube video, favors the second interpretation.

I personally ascribe to a hybrid opinion. I do not believe the Yankee Pedlar was haunted (in the reality of the movie — much like jackalopes and Uyghurs, ghosts don’t exist in real life) in the beginning. I think it’s haunted in the end. As for who it is, and there are a couple options, that’s up for debate, but the title refers to the ghosts themselves.

The pacing is bound to turn some people off, and that’s a good thing. I’m not arguing that “real cinema fans can appreciate a slow burn,” because that’s rank snobbery. This movie does use its pace well, to allow the audience to settle in for the real scares. Though if you can’t take slow, try something else.

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Why Even Americans Who Like Soccer Still Won’t Watch Much Soccer On TV

I, like nearly everyone in California who grew up in the 80s and 90s, played soccer. I played youth soccer for 5 years at the very basic level, and I played sporadic pickup games throughout college and beyond. I’ve been to a couple MLS games and I’ve been a casual-to-serious World Cup watcher since 1998. But am I going to pay much attention after this wraps up? Probably not.

Soccer is undoubtedly becoming more popular amongst Americans, but it is still a long way from being loved here in the way that it is loved in much of the rest of the world. Despite what most think, it’s not because of the low scoring or the frequency of tied games. Or, rather, those are reasons but they’re definitely not the top 3. What are the Top 3, as far as I’m concerned? I’m glad you asked.

  1. Dives. The fact that a major strategic aspect of the game is the deliberate feigning or exaggerating of injury is the biggest barrier to enjoyment. There is just something profoundly un-American about it. When our most popular sport involves 350 pound linemen taking cortisone shots at halftime so they can play the second half with cracked ribs, seeing a bunch of pretty boys rolling around on the ground grabbing their shins and looking like they’re about to cry, really takes soccer down a bunch of points. This is not meant to minimize the very intense and very real injuries that can and do occur on the field.
  2. Penalty kicks. This would not be such a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that they happen so often. To have the outcome of a soccer playoff game, played spectacularly well, to be determined by what is essentially a guessing game by the goalie takes the wind out of the drama. I’m not sure what the answer is, as playing unlimited overtime would no doubt involve the routine player deaths by exhaustion.
  3. Pretty boys. Look, soccer players are in great shape. In many ways they might be the most fit, well-rounded athletes in professional sports. But they also all look like that guy your college girlfriend hooked up with on her semester abroad and then dumped you over Facebook message. Which is probably because that’s exactly what they are. Good-looking soccer players exude an effete handsomeness that is decidedly counter to the broken-jawed, crooked-nosed masculinity that Americans associate with proper professional athletes. Tom Brady is bad enough.

And after that, maybe the ties. But I don’t mind ties and, with more exposure to the sport, I think that Americans will come to appreciate the experiential beauty of soccer, seeing the plays develop and coming together and more often than not fail to result in a score. But there’s something amazing about how the sport is played that makes a 1-1 tie not the worst way to end a hard-fought match.

It’s just the penalty kicks that suck.

What about you? Why don’t you like to watch soccer? Or why do you watch it?

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Film is Dead

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: a space odyssey

2001: a space odyssey d. Stanley Kubrick

Sometimes you have to make a bold, declarative statement to get some attention, so here it is: Film is dead. The narrative form, a story told in a 90-120 minute filmed drama, utilizing photography, acting, pace, editing, production design, score and audio design, is finished.

Now, keep in mind, I love movies. My family, going back to my maternal grandmother, followed the business with rapt attention and curiosity. We know the stars going back 100 years and I know entirely too much about the people who built the American industry. This is a form I love so much, I had to eventually walk away from any aspiration to be directly involved in it to preserve that love. The business would have choked my passion away, just as it is now placing a pillow above the withered centenarian body of its own possible longevity.

Now, my opponent in this debate is not any one person or any one studio. It’s not favorite targets like Michael Bay or a random executive at 20th Century Fox. It’s a river of time, opinion and money as unchallengeable by a single person as the Colorado River. No one is to blame, but at the same time, we are all guilty of killing film. The chief executive at any production company will tell you we vote with dollars, but that voting is based on the market research that tells them where on the craps table to place their production budgets, but that research is in turn based on the faulty perception that the audience is dumb, sniveling and only interested in the robots that blowed up shit darn good.

The Godfather Part II d. Francis Ford Coppola

The Godfather Part II d. Francis Ford Coppola

No, sorry, I’m not blaming Michael Bay for this. He’s just a symptom of the rot moviegoers and movie makers let sit and fester.

So what did we let happen? We let the blockbuster become the only viable mode of production and distribution. A film must cost $100 million dollars or more to be taken seriously. It must be distributed to thousands of theaters and it must make a splashy opening weekend gross, otherwise the marketing budget dries up. Lost is the mid-budget, mid-level picture that could be marketed effectively and tell a more modest tale.

Tron d. Steven Lisberger

Tron d. Steven Lisberger

In the quest to expand the reach and profits for these mega-productions, the studios had to tailor the films to reach international markets like China and Russia to find real financial success. Consider the example of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a film still trying to eke out a $200 million gross in the U.S., but easily cleared the $500 million mark worldwide in the same amount of time. That is key. It means the Hollywood studios just aren’t making movies for us anymore. They need to make these gigantic cartoons with little dialogue or identifiable characters. And this is despite the product’s intent as an export of American values to foreign lands.

And that’s probably the most identifiable problem: there are no more American movies. Between the major product made for overseas markets and the lack of independent channels not owned by the same corporations making the blockbusters, the voice of American cinema is stifled. If someone was making interesting movies, how would we ever see them? Asking around, many of my friends already feel they’re not seeing anything vital or interesting coming from film and I agree.

Die Hard d. John McTiernan

Die Hard d. John McTiernan

But there is hope. If one thing is abundantly clear in the harsh reality of the gravitational universe, death gives way to something else. The conversation never ends.

Television and the Internet offer openings for a broader range of stories, from a family man who becomes a drug dealer to a group of damaged people becoming a family via a parks and recreation department. But consider that those shows are long form. They are revealed over the course of many, many hours. Can these outlets offer a truly satisfying cinema experience? I suppose the good news is that we’ll always have quality drama at our fingertips, but it seems to have cost us the 90-minute-to-two-hour filmed story.

I suppose we’ll find out when those foreign markets begin making their own blockbusters and side-step American product entirely. At that point, the Hollywood studios will have to rediscover us or be buried entirely as their corporate owners find money is easier to make elsewhere.

That will be a sad day indeed.

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