M. Night is trying it again with “The Visit”

Apparently, M. Night Shaymalan wants to fuck up your memories of Nana and Pop-Pop’s house now too.  I just don’t know if I trust him to do it.  “Signs” (2002) was fantastic and “The Sixth Sense” (1999) emotionally destroyed me in a way that only a truly good film can.  However,subsequent post-Sixth-Sense releases (with the exception of Unbreakable which I still haven’t seen for some reason) have left me wanting for good reason but part of that could be my fault.

Suspense is where Shyamalan excels and thus, what I expect to see from him.  Even releases like “The Happening” (2008) and “The Village” (2004) started off strong and really lost steam in the second halves.  “The Village” in particular didn’t really lose me until the last 15 minutes or so.  However, no one can excuse his endeavors into full fledged action like “After Earth” (2013) and “The Last Airbender”.  For the record, I’ve tried to watch both and turned them off.  Some movies are so bad they’re enjoyable, but these couldn’t even be that.

But after “The Sixth Sense” delivered in every aspect, perhaps it’s unfair to hold him to that level of expectation for the rest of his career which is precisely what I’m doing.  “The Sixth Sense” is considered a horror film classic despite only being 16 years old now.  For Shayamalan’s third time directing, the film still appears ageless and takes you from frightening to heartfelt and back again.  It’s mythology akin to Australia’s “The Babadook” (2014) in although we know where we are, the story itself could be transplanted to virtually any time and place with limited changes and still be relevant. Three years later, “Signs” attempted to replicate that mythological formula and succeeded in universal acclaim, despite being not nearly as pristine as its successor.  Twice, he brought suspense and horror back to the masses, but perhaps it’s time to take it to a smaller, niche market instead of aiming for global box-office draws.

There’s a chance that smaller budgets and straightforward suspense/horror setups could bring regular, renewed success.  This film could be fun and well directed, but the words “found footage” and IMDb’s currently listing it as a “horror/comedy” worry me.  There are legitimately funny moments in his films, but it could skew too much comedy and not enough horror. The thing is I feel like he could do it. With the focus on story and pacing, if anybody could make it effective, I feel he could.  M. Night Shyamalan succeeds in producing stories with enough bite to get me to watch them, so I’ll commit.  But he’s already going in with the specter of “The Happening” hanging over him and the ghosts of “The Sixth Sense” behind him. Nah, it’s cool.  I’ll see it in theaters. I’ll go if someone else buys my ticket. I will watch it…when it’s released on Netflix.

featured image courtesy of IMBb & Wikipedia

Black Lives Matter

Rekia Boyd. Freddie Gray. Eric Garner. Walter Scott. The list is a mile long.

These people and the incidents surrounding them matter.

Horror films. New albums. Streaming services. Gifs.

These things, not so much.

It’s a conscious decision not to write about real issues. There’s a sense of respect and dignity that those topics deserve that I struggle with. But it’s more than simply that. If i wrote about the things that truly matter in this world, it would by turns, terrify and sadden me to the point of immobility. Just a quick scroll through my Twitter timeline or my Tumblr feed confirms dignity and respect for your humanity are not acknowledged by our fellow man as they should be. Uniforms are not necessarily an indication of help.  Even the innocent should regard them with extreme caution.

The one saving grace about these senseless tragedies is that people are still angry. People are still standing. People are still screaming at the top of their lungs and those screams will be heard. The people are screaming and now, but it is not just conjecture, hearsay and anger that we the people have. It is video. There are images. We can show that Black people and minorities have been and are deliberately targeted. Even in the age of photoshop, it’s hard to argue with video.

Yet even now, the powers-that-be like to feign ignorance. It’s as though, they’d like us not to believe our own us and simply trust that their way is necessary for “peace” to continue in our land. It’s as though they forget that the land we walk on was not forged from peace. It was taken. It was bled for. And it was kept by blood, sweat and bullets.

Ours is a young republic. It is merely a teenager. It’s bloody history colors it’s every move and violent upheaval is only natural. But, those mistakes and poor handling of situations must be acknowledged and dealt with, not ignored and allowed to fester and continue to breed more ills.

The people scream because it is not acknowledged. They scream because even if it is, justice is not served. They scream because children belong playing in the sun and not in coffins. They scream because those same children should be playing with their parents, not attending their funerals. They scream because they are shown the courts do not seek to punish the crimes. They scream because that is enough.

But now the screams come with video proof and the screamers have social media platforms. We see you and now so does everyone else. This is not my wheelhouse, but this “incidents” keep happening. I’d rather be watching a film about a fictional monster, not reading about the ones in uniform tasked with “keeping us safe.” It’s safer inside a celluloid terror because, eventually it will end.  Someone always pays and the monster usually dies.  The violent deaths above weren’t perpetrated by the boogie man, they were by real humans able to hide behind the law.  I’ll go back to “Ringu” now but before I do, please know that although I willingly exist in a cloud of sometimes morbid yet often trivial distractions, I too have seen the video and I do hear the real screams.

Tidal for 30 days

Testing out my trial for Tidal was pretty straightforward.  The layout of the web version looks just like Spotify, but I suppose that was bound to happen.  It’s a nice service with exclusive content, but strictly pay for play platform with no free option like what Spotify and Pandora offer.  Honestly, it yielded the expected results.  But, why are they trying to make me care about Beyonce making more money?

The Twitter marketing seemed off from the jump, but it’s this constant touting of Tidal as a revolution that screams particularly foul.  The truth is, it’s another streaming service with it’s own unique assets, but another service nonetheless.  What’s more off-putting is when the artists you place on the stage to present this are established and already very well off pillars of the music community.  Beyonce, Kanye West, Madonna and Nicki Minaj need more of my money?  Whereas I understand putting your big names behind the business to reach a wider audience, if you’re approach is your streaming service puts more money in the hands of the “starving artists,” shouldn’t you put the starving ones out in front or nah?

At the end of the day, it’s still a trick pivot to somehow bypass the larger problem: labels.   Spotify claims that they’ve “paid more than two billion dollars to labels, publishers and collecting societies for distribution to songwriters and recording artists.”  Okay, so how is Tidal going to make it rain on artists like they say they will?

“How Sway???”

More money to the label is meant to equal more money to the artist.  It seems this fight for monetary compensation for the artists, while is admirable in theory, seems to be directed at the wrong people.  It’s not the streaming services that are the problem, but the labels.  It’s one of those universally understood truths that the labels will inherently take as much as humanly possible.  I admit, I forgot about the label’s roll in music streaming services.  After all, who owns the rights to these catalogs and who’s permission is ultimately required to license this music? Oh, that’s right.

If only this had been marketed better.  Put the little unknown artists that you should know out first, and made the known millionaires who are selling out world tours silent or quieter supporters.  This service should have been about music snobbery and exclusive content.  Turn the public into discerning snobs by touting Tidal as providing a better quality of sound.  Educate listeners on “quality” sound so that Bob Johnson from apartment 2B who hasn’t bought a CD since 2001 can feel like he’s a sonic connoisseur because he listens to Tidal with its CD quality lossless files and you pedestrians are missing out.  Tidal should have been about creating fake music snobs, not trying to get consumers to spend more on a streaming service they already don’t pay for just because artists deserve their money too.

The service is fine enough, but nobody is really going to leave free services just because it puts more money into funding Madonna’s personal trainer.  By all means, put more money into the hands of these struggling Indie artists.  God knows they could use it.  But, don’t use Alicia Keys and Daft Punk to sell the idea that a revolution is necessary and on the horizon via Tidal.   Besides, it seems more and more that if there is a “revolution,” it should be aimed at the labels, not the streaming services.

*one day, I’ll post things on time instead of letting them fester in my drafts. One day…

The Babadook (Caution. Spoilers.)

The Babadook isn’t as much a horror film as it is a myth. In a quiet bedroom on a neighborhood block similar to yours, in the dark where the only light is from the street and telling the difference between a coat and a monster’s arm is almost impossible are where nightmares begin. If it weren’t for the Australian accents, this little family in their nondescript house and hooptie could be anywhere. But by the end of the film, the question is not whether or not the boogie man is real, but who exactly created him. Was it mom’s grief or a child’s coping mechanism? What came first: the chicken or the egg?

The film unfolds as a drama for the first twenty minutes or so and really forces you to live the real nightmare of loss within the dynamic of a mother and the son she doesn’t like. We’ve all seen this woman on the train or in the grocery store. She looks as though she hasn’t slept in a year and dutifully drifts through aisles with a shrieking child at her heels. The Babadook brings you into the nightmare of her real life before introducing the “monster”. Although Sam (Noah Wiseman) is a little hellion and Amelia (Essie Davis) visibly resents him, they’re less hateful than they are painfully vulnerable.  Amelia may be at the end of her tether but she is trying her hardest to cope, even if she is failing. Although Sam screams at the frequency children master at birth that rattles adults’ skulls in that specific maddening place, the arsenal he has built in preparation for the as yet unseen monster that would make Dutch from Predator proud. Neither protagonist is without their assets.

Then via an unassuming red children’s book, we meet Mister Babadook. This is by no means a “creature feature” film, but director Jennifer Kent firmly commits to practical effects and instead of CGI which makes the monster feel tangible. Shadows are constant players in genre films such as this, but here they serve to create that specific view seen from bed at 3 am with only street light to illuminate the room. Is that the arm of your coat in that corner, or Mister Babadook preparing to deliver a Mortal Kombat style fatality?

That you Mr. Babadook or just a poorly placed coat rack?

The real and the surreal bleed into one another despite how relatable and straight-forward the setting and characters are. As the scenes alternate between dreams and reality, the characters themselves are not trustworthy narrators and what they saw or experienced may not always be real. Coupled with the odd visuals is a specific and unobtrusive sound design. There is little in overbearing audio clues to herald a moment of madness or the arrival of Mister Babadook. Instead, even when there are swells, they’re cut off suddenly leaving you thrown off as though you’ve just awoken from a daydream with the ambient scene sounds to bring you back to reality. In fact, it’s only after the moment has passed that you truly realize your hands were clenched and your shoulders had hunched.

Of course motherhood is no picnic. It’s common knowledge that children are as terrible, selfish little creatures as they are vulnerable. As awful as they are,  even the most terrifying horror flick cannot compare to the nightmares of the kid next door. After seeing firsthand their trials and practically living with these two vulnerable characters, the arrival of that red storybook strikes real fear into the heart of the viewer. We feel for these characters and yet, all we can do is watch and hope for the best. The Babadook is not merely a psychological thriller, but a nuanced narrative of the horror show of parenthood and the destructive nature of grief. Kent reminds us that like Mister Babadook in the basement, the grief monster can be tamed and adjusted to, this does not mean it is forgotten. Every now and again, it must be acknowledged and its appetite sated before you can lock it back up and live one day at a time even if that does mean being brave enough to face it.

photo: Wikipedia

Tidal and Premium Losslessness

Everyone knows music streaming sites like Spotify simply do not create revenue for artists when the music is offered for free. It’s the nature of streaming. A flat monthly fee to stream as much as you want doesn’t exactly scream “cash-cow” for anyone. Jay- Z’s “Tidal” is a music streaming platform owned by artists and another option for pedestrians. Cool. I’m all for it especially after hearing about how negligible the returns are from Spotify for a musician friend.  Between the premium offer of access to lossless files (with a $19.99 per month subscription) and rumored potential for previously unseen content from artists, clips from live shows, interviews and an artist run blog, it’s a pretty interesting offer.  It just rings a bit hollow when the artists post tweets that sound similar to non-profit foundation support instead of a paid service.

Is the $19.99 really worth it? Depends on who you are, I suppose. Source: Warner Bros

The biggest question is, “Is this all worth $19.99 a month?” Short answer: depends on who you are.  If you’re an audiophile who prefers access to lossless files and has decent enough headphones, sure.  Now, I’m still a novice in the world of music technology but from what I understand, MP3s and other lossy formats have bytes of audio information missing from the file, making it sound not as multi-dimensional as a lossless file such as the quality found on CDs. The process of compression usually involves the removal of “unimportant” sounds and overtones seem to go first. (Somebody correct me if that’s not quite right!)

Now, that sounds all well and dandy but hearing the difference sometimes requires a little more than the file. First, you’d need some boss-ass headphones. Some tend to say even the jack will effect the quality of the sound.  Second thing is, the size of these puppies. MP3s are compressed so you can fit a bunch on a phone, iPod, computer or other device. Lossless files are fucking big. Streaming a big file on your wifi just sounds like you’d annoy your household for monopolizing so much bandwidth when your roommate is trying to watch The X-Files before Netflix removes it. The struggle is real. Streaming from your phone using a data plan just sounds fucking expensive. I mean maybe after I pay off my student loans. Sure.

It looks like this $19.99 a month subscription is primarily intended for audiophiles with pretty decent equipment to begin with. Joe who is used to hearing Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj on YouTube at work with $3.00 Walmart headphones might not give 1/10 of a fuck but a music nerd probably will.  It just doesn’t seem to be the angle they’re taking with the relaunch marketing.  It’s still relatively early but I will say how it will do compared to its competitors Spotify, GooglePlay and and Apple’s Beats Music. I’m going to enjoy this 30 day free trial for the short time I have it.

Pedestrian Swag*

All of us experience humbling moments in life when quickly and suddenly, life shows you who is fucking whom from the back with little to no lube.  The day after I got my life together and made those adult plans called doctor’s appointments, my brakes went out.  They went out while I was driving. They went out while I was driving down a hill in morning rush hour traffic. No brake pressure and having to ride up a long winding hill without knowing how you’re getting back down again just sucks.

Life and gravity in my mentions like Herman Cain.

By all accounts, I handled the incident far too calmly as the story is inevitably met with shock that it didn’t end in an accident or my death.  This problem also means two things:

  1. A tow truck and a couple hundred dollars in repairs or a new car.
  2. Since I didn’t exactly have the money or the time to have it fixed in time, SEPTA would be my means of transportation for the time being.

I’ve been driving since high school so this feeling of being carless is foreign and uncomfortable. At least there is a decent transit system where I live even if it is SEPTA who still thinks tokens and extra money to cross zones are necessary.  An extra $10.00 a week plus the $25.00 for a weekly pass for a two hour commute in the morning via public though? And the evening commute is even longer!  At least it’s a viable option.

A funny thing happened though. Despite being physically tired and emotionally weary with such a commute, I’m calmer? People still give me anxiety, but it’s not nearly as pronounced as it used to be. Plus, I’m a bit more comfortable with public transit. I should consider myself lucky that I don’t have to do this every day and remember my car privilege. Sure my anxiety has lessened, but for a non-morning person who is freshly carless, 5 AM is nothing less than barbaric. Goddammit, I miss my car.

*Pedestrian Swag is not mine and refers to a tumblr account managed by this human I know.