Shade City

What happens when the dead refuse to leave behind the world they know?

Shade City: The Dead Side Blues views ghosts through an old-fashioned lens. Spirits aren’t formless apparitions that go bump in the night. Rather, they are souls of past lives that force themselves into human hosts.

Dante Butcher is our unlikely protagonist. A partier who goes to clubs in Los Angeles, he has a strange gift. He can feel the second shadows within possessed people when he touches them. He hunts them, tracking them down and singling them out for exorcism back to the Dead Side.

Shade City is hip and edgy. It offers an outsider’s inside-perspective of Los Angeles. And best of all, for a limited time the full novel is only 99 cents.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play | GoodReads

The Purge

Imagine if, in the very near future, it becomes legal to commit any crime you want for a 12-hour-period every year. By allowing society to get its murderous rage out of its system, crime drops dramatically the rest of the year to the point that it is nearly nonexistent. Yes, the concept is ludicrous, as allowing people to riot does much more than a single day’s damage. But at least, for a movie premise, it is a compelling enough basis to build on.

The Purge, however, fails miserably. The film never manages to become less ridiculous than its hook, and despite the sci-fi dystopic concept, it plays out much more like a B horror movie with cheap scares.

Believability

First off, The Purge tries to make a statement about what society has become by presenting this preposterous concept as old hat to the family of main characters. They talk about watching the Purge coverage on the news later. They have a little family spat about nothing. Then they get so distracted with dinner that they forget to lock down their house until 5 minutes before the massacre begins. I understand they want to display a casual acceptance of something we find morbid, but it doesn’t work at all.

"Oh my God, guys! I almost forgot it was time for the annual 12-hour massacre! Silly me. You see, everybody’s, like, totally casual about it. It’s not really a big deal. Except the entire neighborhood including us has installed state-of-the-art security systems just for this one period every year, but of course, we almost forgot to USE IT. But whatevs, I was cooking pasta."

Cheap Horror

Picture a night without police where thousands of people roam the street with guns to satisfy their base desires. Our main characters have their house surrounded as a pack of hoodlums intends to break in. While half of them have guns, the other half look like ghost movie rejects. They have spooky dresses with monster masks and walk around like zombies, dragging machetes or baseball bats on the floor. Now, I don’t know about you, but this is the worst planning ever. I’d imagine someone dressed as a crazy person wielding an ax would only manage twenty paces outside their house before they got shot on a night like this. But it doesn’t matter. The movie doesn’t care to make the mindless enemies believable, as long as they can jump in front of the camera and make the audience scream, they’ve served their purpose.

A Noble Lesson

The ridiculousness continues when it comes time for our family to learn from their trials. During the course of the entire viewing, it is shoved down the audience’s throats how normal this event is. In fact, we are told the Purge is good for society. It is a release valve that prevents the country from imploding. Anyway, despite the film’s attempts to convince us that killing is okay, at the end of it all, the good guys decide to stop the violence.

Get it? Killing is wrong! You see?

The entire premise of the film is ridiculous, which is why they tried to hard to convince us otherwise. As a moral lesson, it’s an obtuse one, since it’s likely the whole audience already agrees that murdering people is a bad thing to begin with.

Admittedly, a lot of sci-fi movies do this. Think about Logan’s Run, Minority Report, etc., where dystopic ideals are supposed to be scary. The main character always comes to realize that the opinions of the audience are the ‘right’ way. But at least those movies do a lot more world-building to convince us that what we’re seeing is plausible.

Not so much with The Purge. Between Judge Dredd and this, Cersei hasn’t had a whole lot of luck with movies. But at least Ethan Hawke dies, so there’s that.

Ghost Stories – Coldplay

This is it: the Coldplay album that I’m embarrassed to have bought.

Musically, perhaps their last effort was worse. Viva La Vida was a disaster of an album, an overreaction to success, I think. But Ghost Stories is such a cliché, the classic soft-rock tripe that Coldplay gets a bad name for. Finally, their detractors are on the money. This sounds like a solo project after the band breaks up, and maybe that’s what should have happened.

The album is cheesy. One song proclaims over and over, "I love you so much it hurts." By the fifth time, it hurt all right. Then the very next song warbles poetic about true love for 5 minutes. I guess it should be a relief that the album is short. Only 9 songs. (Yes, this is the album that gives you 3 extra songs if you buy the Target version. Imagine how much worse those "bonus" tracks must be.)

Bottom line: Ghost Stories is soft, unimaginative, overdone, and eye-rolling. Nothing worth saving here.

Settling the Toilet Seat Debate

Should the toilet seat be left up or down? Men want it up to act as a urinal. Women use it down and would prefer to leave it that way. Who’s right?

The old adage is that the woman wants the seat down so she doesn’t accidentally ‘fall in,’ whatever that means. First of all, if anybody, ever, ‘falls in’ the toilet bowl, they are an idiot. I would like to hear a well articulated argument where this isn’t true. There is simply no defense for a grown-ass-human to accidentally sit in a dirty bowl of crap-water.

Secondly, some women and men have looked to statistics. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve seen about the toilet seat that were based on optimizing time. But let’s stop analyzing the percentages that men and women need to sit versus stand. Sure, statistical analysis is interesting, but keep in mind that all of this work is to decide who should save half a second. (That’s another way of saying that this isn’t the kind of problem that needs statistical analysis.) All of these studies are failing to grasp the big picture. The only factor they are considering is the time is takes to do the deed. Now, laziness might be a good enough reason to do something if it were the only reason, but it’s not.

There are, it turns out, several good reasons why the common wisdom of both men and women is wrong. Not only should the seat be down, but so should the cover. Always. Here are 4 reasons why:

1) The Toilet Bowl is Unsightly

U.S. law dictates that everyone have a low flush toilet. Scientifically, this means it "uses less water to force crap down the drain." This set-up often causes all types of unsightly skid-marks to line the porcelain path on the way down. Why expose guests and others to that view, especially if they’re not even using the toilet?

2) The Toilet Bowl is Dirty

This goes hand in hand with #1, but I’m listing it separately because it’s a health concern. Thousands of microscopic feces organisms fly into the air and all around the bathroom when you flush with the cover open. Scientists regularly find objects like toothbrushes coated with this. Now, as disgusting as this is to think about, the fact of the matter is that these germs aren’t so bad. We can handle a bit of it. But see if you’d rather flush with the cover open after pondering this.

3) The Cover Protects Those that Don’t Know Better

Hey, I know what a toilet is. I don’t stick my hand in the water under any circumstances, even if it’s on fire. But I had a dog growing up that would regularly drink out of the bowl. This is horrible. Pets are one thing, little kids are another. Why not prevent access to something that we think is disgusting when it’s not in use?

4) The Cover Protects Us from Ourselves

You might thank me the next time you put your cell phone down and it bounces off the counter and off the toilet cover instead of into the bowl. A $400 phone will always be a toilet phone once that happens, even if it’s waterproof.

ADHD Does Not Exist

Is it a surprise to me that a new TIME magazine article features a doctor who doesn’t believe that ADHD exists?

http://time.com/25370/doctor-adhd-does-not-exist/

Hell no. Call me careful. Call me paranoid. Whatever you say, I don’t think people should be popping pills regularly. This is, of course, acceptable for treatments of serious conditions and mental disorders, but even popping a tylenol for every little headache gets a bit excessive for me.

As a nation, do we really want to raise an entire generation of people who are hooked on stimulants? Who need them to function normally? The real answers- exercise, diet, sleep- are never the sexy answers. Why bother trying to live healthier when you can swallow a pill? Unfortunately, one of the most important lessons people can learn in life is that that quick solutions are usually just stopgaps.

Today, we may think it’s crazy that Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine, or that opium was given to children, or even that alcohol was commonly used in medicine. 50 years from now, people will look back today and marvel at a generation who believed they could only concentrate properly if they took drugs. It’s a lie that Big Pharma propagates. It’s a fad that people buy into. But it’s not the truth.

Twitter Followers

So I’ve been paying more attention to Twitter lately. I know, I know. I’m on the cutting edge of the times. Still, I admit that it has its uses, but spam never fails to amaze me.

Here is a perfectly legit gentleman, who happens to be more dope than all others, who is offering a service to get more followers. Now, we can debate the usefulness of having a bunch of spam bots following you- they certainly aren’t reading your clever jokes- but we can at least admit that in an image-conscious world, the appearance of followers leads to the appearance of influence.

But, and this might just be me, if you’re going to advertise a service whereas you are able to get "Thousands Twitter Followers with Cheap Price," then… I don’t know… you might want to actually have thousands of Twitter followers.

Really, if this guy is as dope as he says he is and he only has 135 followers then I can only presume that he knows absolutely nothing about how to get a respectable amount. Unfortunately, @Larkinlkj isn’t alone in his delusions.

No, Judith. You need keep secret to yourself.

Coin, The Digital Credit Card No One Needs

Coin is a new kind of credit card. Instead of carrying around all of your other cards individually, you only need to carry around a digital Coin. The computer chip stores all of your credit card info securely and then you can cycle through them and use whichever you want. Magic!

Let’s look at the many problems of this idea:

1) It doesn’t solve anything important

Instead of holding four cards you can hold a slightly thicker one? Is that selling point really worth $100? Ironically, having to fuss with my smartphone before swiping a credit card is actually making things a lot less convenient.

2) Losing your credit card just got a whole lot worse

Not only did you just lose all of them (which may have happened anyway if you dropped your wallet), but it costs some money to buy another one. Again, people will pay for something if it adds value, not otherwise.

3) Security

Good job, asshole. Now that you have successfully combined your credit card with your ATM card, you have just handed your waiter access to your bank account! I’ve talked about the security differences between ATM and credit cards before. Handing anybody your card carries risks- why hand somebody all of them?

4) Now you only have one

Speaking of giving out your credit card, there is a benefit to having others handy. Drank too much at the bar and left without paying your bill? It’s okay, use the MasterCard instead of the Visa the next day. Is the bar holding your credit card but you need to swipe another in the jukebox or in the parking meter? No problem. Hey, that’s why you have two, right? This is a case of technology giving you LESS options.

5) Low tech is more reliable than high tech

Neat, your credit card has an LCD display! One can only ask, what happens when it runs out of batteries? Or gets wet? Because one of the main benefits of a credit card is being able to handle emergencies. ‘Always available’ is an important feature. Even worse, the first rev of Coin relies on a working smartphone, which limits options even more (and depends on TWO batteries).

6) It only works in the United States.

Most of the world uses a chip and pin system for security and the first rev of Coin will not support this, so good luck on vacations.

 

After Coin was first announced, there was a fair amount of criticism. Speaking of these concerns, the company’s CEO stated, "I was surprised that people really broke it down, really got into the nitty gritty about these specific use cases." Really? He was surprised that consumers were worried about their financial security? Is this the kind of obliviousness you want from a credit card merchant?

I get it. Tech is cool. We all want to live in a future that our parents didn’t have. But sometimes, you need to think about the practicality of the situation.

But hey, it’s shiny.

Prisoners

The story of Prisoners is fairly standard thriller fare- not the most original plotting as far as the twists and certainly not a unique conflict (kidnapped children). I did guess very key elements of the story fairly early. While this can usually ruin a movie, Prisoners has enough other questions running through your head to keep you guessing and entertained. While there are some unlikely coincidences to lend to more dramatic surprises, the situations don’t stress believability too much. There are some moments that you can’t think about too closely, perhaps, but I would say that the plot works for this movie overall. The big picture is that Prisoners is well paced.

The main story hook, that which the Prisoners title comes from, is compelling enough to make the audience squirm. But really, the film shines in execution. The pacing keeps your attention throughout the entire two and a half hours. The acting is mostly good but I would say that the ambiance and mood are even better. The cinematography and emotion in some of the scenes, like the police car speeding in the rain, are expertly handled.

Speaking of craft: everything, from the setting to the music to the characters, is handled with enough attention to merit praise. I usually don’t get too specific as far as mentioning actors but I did think Jake Gyllenhall played his detective role superbly. We saw everything from his professional callousness to his emotional fatigue all play out in his character arc. The acting and the atmosphere work together to create artistic depth lacking from a lot of films today.

Prisoners looks like a normal thriller but, somehow, the sum of its parts are greater than the whole. It’s easy not to notice it but a shame if you don’t. I came out of it feeling like it was one of the best viewing experiences I’ve had all year. Granted, the film isn’t groundbreaking or historically notable but it definitely sits atop its genre. If you like a good kidnapping nail-biter then this one’s for you.

Kill List

This British film is one of those fabled ‘love or hate’ affairs that often provoke outbursts of analysis and speculation. For my part, I thought the whole thing was poorly done and overblown, and what could have been an interesting movie ultimately trips over its own balls. Many spoilers ahead.

Kill List is 3 movies– 3 distinct parts that feel very different from each other– and this is the core of its dissonance.

The movie begins with a quaint domestic dinner scene. The editing is semi-amateur in quality, looking very much like an indie film and perhaps waiting a bit too long before getting to the point, which is that these two couples look like normal people with normal problems but there is a secret lying underneath. Maybe I got used to the style or it changed when action started occurring but the initial shock of the camera work wore off and I was drawn into it.

The second act takes over most of the film and feels like a black comedy assassin movie. We know Jay and Gal are contract killers and are in over their head. It’s fairly standard stuff for the genre but the plotting is setting up a deeper mystery that really brings Kill List into true thriller territory.

The ending of the movie suddenly delves into secret societies and feels rushed. Events take a sinister turn but make less sense. All plausibility is pushed aside as the characters serve the plot more than make believable decisions. And the climax, one hundred seconds of ridiculousness that lacks motivational depth, really kills any sympathy that remained for the film.

Analysis of the movie is abuzz with strange comments. The truth is, Kill List is not very confusing in retrospect, it just leaves questions unexplained. This type of forced mysteriousness is grating and it is simply a lazy method for the writers to make events seem more interesting and deep. In my opinion, it is an attempt that fails to hide the cheesiness and plot holes.

Everything rests so heavily on chance in this movie. What if Jay never revealed himself to the pagans? What if they just killed their target and moved on? What if Gal shot that last guy before getting stabbed? This is the type of ‘everything was planned in advance’ movie that asks you not to think it through too much.

I mean, this whole premise of a cult worshipping death to the point where they are happy to die needs some background. The whole idea of why Jay is so important to them is unexplained, the reason that the cult gladly gets twenty members shot up to acquire him isn’t mentioned, and really, the portrayal of the secret society is laughable.

I wouldn’t doubt that a less edited version of the movie, or at least the original script, had answers to these questions. I would bet that the explanations just weren’t satisfying or were cheesy and the creators feigned artsiness to disguise the lack of proper plotting.

Kill List is probably not worth such a long post but its reception has an air of being a masterpiece. The vast majority of movie reviewers work very hard to come up with explanations that don’t exist and, to me, display a lack of understanding of the realities of the professional creative process. A quick example is the fact that most people refer to this as a horror film, which it is not.

I have heard theories about the movie representing the ills of the remnants of the British Empire, the falseness of the Iraq War and the current establishment and all that. Sure, if there’s some parallelism involved, that’s great, but the plot should still make sense.

I also dislike the entire line of ‘what if it was all a dream’ speculation. This has become the go-to conjecture when a movie presents its facts in any dissociative manner. Fine, in Inception, even though I disagree with it, I understand why the theory could be offered. In Kill List, however, nothing suggests that dreaming is even a factor. Jay is told to ‘wake up’ a few times but this is more about his reconstruction, his becoming.

Kill List is a film that is supposed to provoke inquisition. Whenever movies like this come out, I always find people zeroing in on the wrong questions. Was Shel in the cult? (No). Was Gal in on it too? (No). Was it all a dream? (Sigh). The reality is that Kill List is unsatisfactory not because it is cleverly going above all of our heads but because it doesn’t attempt to answer its most interesting questions.

In the end, I’m afraid, just because something provokes thought does not make it clever or well structured. It’s easy to tell a joke and leave out the punch line, especially if one doesn’t even bother to come up with one. What’s much more difficult is delivering on an interesting premise.

American Horror Story Coven

Here we go again. I’ve discussed American Horror Story on these pages before. While the debut season amazed audiences with sensory overload and strong acting, the sophomore season was a discordant mismatch of genres, ideas, and convoluted and incomplete plot threads. Season 3 is the one that will determine if the overall series has legs and I’m please that it corrects all of the problems with the previous one.

Coven is a much tighter experience in comparison. While the original focused on ghosts and a haunted house, this one prefers witches and black magic. Something new is crammed into every episode, no doubt- American Horror Story is nothing if not a mishmash of horror tropes- but everything carries the same themes within.

Improvements abound. The characters in this season are stronger. There are many but they are individually more interesting than before. The music is exceptional, opting this go around for a poppy industrial blend. Even showing events in other eras, a familiar mechanic in the series, is used much more intelligently and doesn’t distract from the story. And by far, perhaps the shining architectural trait of Coven, is the pacing. Each episode pulls the audience along in a new twist, standing yet another hair on the back of our collective necks.

I don’t know how the season will end but if it finishes as strong as it started, it may just be the best American Horror Story yet.