Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Map It! Haunted Places and Lay Lines

Ever wonder what the relationship is between lay lines and hauntings? Of course you have. Everyone has. Well, I've taken it upon myself to map that relationship to prove that it doesn't exist.


Now, I'm not saying ghosts don't exist, nor am I claiming that lay lines are bs, but there are more sites on this map that don't really coincide with lay lines than those that do.

Where did I get my data? From the Internet of course! The thirty sites listed above are the "most haunted" or appear the most often on haunted house websites. The lay line data is, admittedly slightly less authoritative. The above map was redrawn from this one, chosen because it appears on more than one site, was at the right scale, and because it was the "cleanest."

Saturday, 16 April 2016

4got10


4got10 is a curiously terrible movie. There is no good reason why it's as bad as it is. That having been said, there are a number of bad ones.

Bad Reason #1: The Script

To say the script for 4got10 is underdeveloped assumes a complete story to begin with. And assuming so makes an ass out of you. Not me, though. Because I know this story didn't get much past the idea stage before it was committed to videotape.

Brian wakes up shot and surrounded by bodies, with no clear idea of what's happened. The cops roll up and he pretends to be dead, eavesdropping on the Sheriff's plan to steal all the cash and blow on hand. Shortly after this scene plays out, Brian himself takes off in the van and drives...somewhere. He's following a route dictated to him by the van's satnav. When he get gets to his destination--which is some guy's house--he takes the guy and his wife hostage then sits down for a good think.

Meanwhile, the Sheriff is packing to leave town. He's in the shit after his foiled attempt to steal the van and is planning to get the hell out of Dodge. This plan is also foiled when Danny Trejo shows up at his house demanding to know who shot his son. Danny strikes a deal with the Sheriff: if the Sheriff deliver's his son's murderer and the stolen van with money and drugs intact, Danny will let him have some of the cash.

Meanwhile, Dolf Lundgren is a DEA agent investigating the shoot-out.

Meanwhile Brian has sex with the woman he's take hostage. Tuns out she knows him. Brian, of course, has no idea who she is.

It all comes to a head when the Sheriff arrives at the house where Brian's holed up. Shortly after he gets there, Trejo and his boys show up. A gun battle ensues. Brian survives, as does the broad. She takes off with a set of keys, keys that will open a locker at the bus station. It's where Brian hid the money before driving to the house.

Brian's too late to the bus station--the money's gone. But Dolf Lundgren isn't. He's in a parking garage, waiting for Brian. And now, finally, all the pieces fall into place. Or they would were this a better movie. Brian shoots Lundgren in the head and we're let in on the backstory.

Brian's an undercover DEA agent who brokered a deal with Trejo's lawyer's wife, aka the broad, to have her husband sent away. When Brian's in the middle of the big drug sale, Lundgren manipulates him into sparking the shoot-out. Lundgren shoots Brian with an aim to steal the money himself once everybody's dead.

If you're wondering what the lawyer has to do with any of this, you're not the only one. How and/or why the Sheriff and Danny Trejo show up at the lawyer's house is equally confusing. And at no point does Brian tell the broad where he stashed the cash--she just knows to go to the bus station. As does Dolf Lundgren.

4got10 wants to be this great twisted caper, with all these different characters and threads weaving an intricate web of deceit. But writing something like that requires time and patience, if not talent. 4got10's writer came up with the basic idea but stopped short of planning it out. So what should have been something along the lines of Lock Stock meets Get Shorty meets Once Upon a Time in Mexico, feels more like bad True Romance fan fic.

Bad Reason #2: The Cameos

Normally a cameo is a good thing. Or at least a surprising thing. 4got10 has three "big" "cameo" performances. In addition to Dolf Lundgren and Danny Trejo, Vivica Fox is in this movie, and only one of them has anything to contribute to the plot, such as it is. While Danny Trejo's drug lord character has a reason to be in the movie, Vivica Fox's DEA chief doesn't. Excise her from the script and you've freed up ten minutes that could be put to better use. That's not to suggest that Vivica Fox isn't good at her job, she just has nothing to do.

Most troubling of all is Dolf Lundgren. Clearly, he was only available for a couple of days but his character is more important to the plot and he should have more of a presence in the movie. If the script were better, it's likely Lundgren's DEA agent would do more, make more of an impact, but then he might not have been able to accept the role because he'd have to have been on set longer than a couple of days.

Bad Reason #3: The Spelling


Bad Reason #4: The Continuity

See that white van?


Here. I've pointed it out.


Now, take a look at this next photo and see if you can see it.


You can't because it's not there. Instead of a white panel van, there's a dark minivan parked in its place.


Note here the "braud"'s tattoo changes from one moment to the next.



And see how Danny Trejo is right-handed while his stand-in is a leftie.



Reason #5: The Budget

Normally I wouldn't hold a movie's budget against it. Unless we're talking about a billion dollar movie that looks like crap. Then yeah, it's a problem. But with low budget films, looking cheap isn't necessarily a strike against.

4got10 is low budget, and it looks pretty good, so that's a real accomplishment. But all that goodwill is undone by this one embarrassing prop:


How can a movie that can afford custom search engines and email graphics produce something so cheap as the evidence board seen here? There is no acceptable reason, no good excuse as to why this thing exists.

Like all the other terrible mistakes that found their way into this film, this awful bit of set dressing sums up all that's wrong with 4got10. It showcases a certain laziness on the part of the filmmakers, a lack of attention to detail and an inability to prioritize that completely undermines their efforts. 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Map It! Unsolved Murders in the US

More murder data means more maps!


This map shows unsolved serial and mass murders in the US. Users and scroll, zoom, and click on the red circles for details. By no means an exhaustive study of unsolved crime, this map is more a sample, showing twenty-four murder mysteries. Each location has a link to click for more information, if you're into that kind of thing.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Map It! Murder by State

I like data and I like maps, so I thought it might be fun to map some data I've collected.


Note: The data have not been normalized. This map shows raw count data reported to the FBI, and represents a portion of all murders in each state for the years 2014 and 2015.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Horror Movies as Academic Papers


For fun I like to read academic articles about horror movies. But what if the movies themselves were papers published in peer-reviewed periodicals?

Studying the Effects of Media Literacy and Self-Awareness on Quality of Life Among American Teenagers

Identifying and Coping with Cyclical Bodily Mutation and its Consequences

The Effects of Extreme Isolation on the Family Unit: A Case Study

Prioritizing Subaltern Narratives as a Method of Overcoming Prejudice Against the Poor in Rural Areas

Using Stress as a Motivator for Personal Growth: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

Re-Examining Biblical Hermeneutics in Light of Post-Positivism*

Problematizing the Babysitter 

Negating Mind/Brain Identity Theory: How Inter-Dimensional Space Travel Relates to Brain Function and Consciousness

"If it Bleeds": Assumption and Fact in Combat Situations Against an Unknown Opponent

Environmental Manipulation and its Effects on Group Dynamics: A Failure Analysis

Cooperative Disharmony in a Hostile Environment as an Indicator of Depersonalization and the Ultimate Loss of Self

Power Tools: Innovations in the Use of Forestry Technologies and Sustained Patriarchal Hierarchies in the American Southwest* 

Friday, 4 March 2016

Mr Jones

or, Everything That's Wrong With Your Movie Summed Up In One Image


That's Scott. He moved to the country to film a nature documentary. Periodically, he sets up his camera at this location to film himself indulging in self-pity. That lump in the middleground? The black thing on the rock behind him? That's his backpack.

This is the only time Scott dumps his bag in frame. Which means on this day, Scott set up his camera, walked into the middle distance with his bag, put it down, then hit his mark. Or maybe he dumped the bag first, then set up his equipment. Whatever the order of events, the point is Scott knows his bag is in the shot because he's set up this exact same shot a number of times.

And why is his bag in the shot? So it can get stolen.


By that guy, Mr Jones.

The theft of Scott's backpack kicks off the narrative--it's the inciting incident. His car keys are in there, and he needs to get them back. Why did Scott bring his car keys on a walk to his favourite shooting location? So he would have a reason to chase after Mr Jones. It's the same reason why he put the backpack on that rock, i.e.: to move the story forward.

Further to my point, this isn't the first time Mr Jones has shown up in this spot. He makes the briefest of appearances earlier in the movie, when Scott and his partner, Penny, are lounging on the rock. They don't notice him at the time, nor is it ever suggested they noticed him upon reviewing their footage--because they don't ever review the footage. Had Scott witnessed Mr Jones when watching the tape, he could have set up a sting in which he plants his backpack in the hopes it'll get stolen. That would have been acceptable, maybe even clever. But neither Scott nor his creator are clever, and nothing they do over the course of the movie is acceptable.

Nobody, no filmmaker, no matter how amateur would do what Scott does, and certainly not on the nth visit to this location. This is the worst kind of writing--a clunky, awkward kind of filmmaking. If your characters have to behave in counter-productive or counter-intuitive ways to get things rolling (or keep them rolling), then you're not writing hard enough. And Karl Mueller, the film's writer/director clearly didn't think this one through.

So there you have it. Everything wrong with Mr Jones (and a host of other films that follow a similar plot) summed up in one shot two shots.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Creep


Why is everyone over the moon about this movie?

Here's what the New York Times has to say:
The tricks...are in the unnerving visuals of hand-held hardware, and in the editing. [T]he film is remarkable, considering its minimal means and surprising lack of bloodshed, given the genre.

Not a fan of the Times? Check out what The Village Voice thinks:
It will be a great year for horror movies if another found-footage movie accomplishes as much in once scene as Duplass and Brice do with Josef's disturbing monologue.
In truth, Simon Abrams, the reviewer for Village Voice didn't love Creep, but he makes a big deal about Mark Duplass' performance and did enjoy the movie overall, finding it both upsetting and exciting.

And here's Film School Rejects with their perplexingly positive review:
[I]t's a smart and charismatic film that walks a fine line between thriller and comedy by constantly shifting and subverting expectations. Our experience with the genre tells us the film is about to zig but Duplass and Brice zag instead. [...] There's...an incredibly fun touch involving the pause button. Seriously, it's an ingenious moment. [...] [T]hese two filmmakers have succeeded so brilliantly on their first stab at a genre film.
I don't get it. Is it because everyone loves Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice so much they're given a pass? Have these reviewers never seen a no/low indie FF film before? Seriously, someone please explain to me why Creep got such good reviews because the the film I watched was derivative, predictable, and full of holes.

I mean, I get that I'm coming at it from a different angle. I have a wealth of experience with horror (some might say an embarrassment of experience), never mind my own personal tastes and biases. But still, a plot hole's a plot hole.

Creep (not to be confused with Creep) is about the one-sided relationship that "forms" between Aaron and Joseph. Joseph has hired Aaron to spend about eight hours filming his day. He has his reasons--they're not important. Of course, precisely because this is a horror movie, things take a weird turn when Joseph's behaviour grows increasingly odd. And because this is a horror movie, we, the audience, are waiting for that crucial moment of vindication, when all our doubts are proven true.

Which, of course, they are.

The problem is that Aaron never seems to have any doubts. Or if he does he neither voices nor acts on them. Instead he just goes along with things, subordinating his personality (of which he seems to have very little to begin with) to Joseph's--a man he's only just met.

Sure, you can argue Aaron has an ethical obligation to see the day through since he was paid by Joseph. But Aaron was paid up-front so there's nothing preventing him from leaving, except for when there is--a turn of events which is as predictable as it is awkward.

Worse still, Aaron misses multiple opportunities to save himself. From taking a phone call to not making any subsequent phone calls, Aaron repeatedly puts himself at risk. I can't for one minute write off this lazy writing as "budgetary constraints" because there are so many ways the film could have closed these gaps without incurring additional costs. Moreover, the movie stopped being a just-the-two-of-them-cat-and-mouse photoplay when Aaron regained "control" of the narrative. Aaron makes one attempt--just one--to help himself and it doesn't pan out, but that's no reason to give up and let come what may.

Were Creep a dominance play or character study (which I think it wants to be, given the filmmakers' backgrounds) then Joseph's total domination of Aaron would be an interesting way to drive the story forward. But Creep is not a character study. It's just about a weirdo being weird. Also, he's a big fat liar with an obviously evil agenda so we can't invest in his character to begin with.

Getting back to those glowing reviews. The New York Times praised Creep's minimalist found footage aesthetic. The review would be patronizing were it not clear the reviewer is largely unfamiliar with no/low indie FF horror. Minimalism is the watchword with with this particular subgenre of genre film, and FF is by its very nature tense and creepy.

The Village Voice held over much of its praise for Duplass' performance, calling out one scene in particular. In it, Joseph tells an outrageous story about how he raped his own wife and she LOVED it. Maybe the reviewer was more taken by the fact the whole scene is audio-only and wasn't actually listening to the monologue. Also, if you take the time to parse that quote, the reviewer seems to think one "good" scene can carry a movie. In truth, I've seen lots of good movies ruined by a single bad scene (usually the ending), but few bad movies have been saved by a single outstanding moment.

And finally, Film School Rejects, whose respect for the filmmakers overshadow any objective viewing of their movie. Moreover, their reviewer writes as if he is an authority on genre film but showcases a naivete that undermines his expertise. Indeed, the bit with the pause button is clever, but it's not quite the masterstroke the reviewer suggests; that particular brand of meta commentary has been around for a while, see New Nightmare, Funny Games, and to a somewhat lesser extent Space Balls for examples.

Have I seen worse movies than Creep? Certainly. But I've also seen better. I don't really care that the film was more workshopped than written, that the dialogue is original, spontaneous, and ad-libbed. What I do care is that the hand of the director is still all over this movie. However artful the pause button moment is, the jump scares are wholly unnatural. I care that the story should be self-terminating but for one overlooked plot point. And I care that I can't invest, neither emotionally nor intellectually, in the characters or their plight because the film just isn't that compelling.