Monthly Archives: November 2016

What Makes Horror Movies Silly?

What Makes Horror Movies Silly?

Having always been a great fan of horror movies, I have to say that along with all the many thousands that I have enjoyed immensely, there have unfortunately been the occasional bad ones. You know the kind I am talking about: the ones where you think, how on earth did THIS ever get made?

Let me expand on this. Some horror movies are just plain silly. People do the most ridiculous things in them. Their actions are so unrealistic, so stupid – and so downright annoying – that you just feel like reaching for the OFF switch on your TV, or, worse, picking something up and hurling it at the screen in utter anger, as you feel cheated rather than entertained. Oh you stupid clot, you think, as you watch yet another far-fetched scene where a character – usually a teen – behaves in a fashion in which they just wouldn’t in real life.

Let me give you a few examples of such silly horror tropes. Picture the scene: a screaming teenage girl is fleeing from a house in which she has just witnessed the bloody slaughter of her boyfriend. As she stumbles outside the path, she spots a car parked nearby. So what does she do? Yes, you’ve guessed it: she dashes to the car, yanks open the door and slips in to proceed to fumble with the ignition, in a desperate attempt to start up the engine before the murderous maniac can catch up with her. Amazing, isn’t it, how you can suddenly regain some calmness of nerve, despite the fact that you have a crazed killer breathing down your neck. Oh Lord, give me strength! In real life, you would be in such a hysterical state, and you’d be shaking so uncontrollably, that you would just run and run and run, as if the very Devil himself were after you. Fact. It wouldn’t matter one iota whether a car was conveniently parked there or not; your main concern would be, rather than waste time fiddling around with a car that just won’t start, to put as much distance as possible between yourself and your pursuer.

Another most annoying horror trope is when somebody – be it a well-meaning villager or an expert in the supernatural (e.g. Van Helsing in Dracula) – warns you not to go anywhere near the old house in the woods or the creepy castle on the hill. Yet despite all these warnings, what do you do? Well, you only say up yours to the warner and venture up to this apparently shunned place, as casually as if you were taking in a harmless tourist attraction. Fool! You ask for everything you get. Really, I have lost count of all the times I have cringed in disbelief as I’ve watched yet another group of travellers enter the dysfunctional family’s shack or the vampire’s lair.

Then there is the trope of the reckless person who steps near the fallen body of the apparently killed maniac, just to retrieve something from his pocket, be it a key or a gun. You know that the slumped form is going to suddenly awake and shoot out a hand to grab the ankle of the protagonist before they have even stooped down to the body. Why on earth do they have to linger, especially in such close proximity to the body? Why don’t they just make their escape while they’ve got the chance? You know, I have to laugh to myself sometimes at how utterly ridiculous some of these horror movie scenarios are, and this is certainly one of them.

Finally, I must end by citing an example involving Dracula. Now don’t get me wrong. I love Dracula like anything, and regard him as one of my all time favourite movie monsters. But I have to say that even Bram Stoker’s immortal creation hasn’t always escaped being ridiculed by the curse of the silly horror trope. For example, when Dracula’s prisoner – usually Jonathan Harker – enters the vampire lord’s crypt and sees a couple of stone coffins, one of which contains Dracula and the others his brides, why doesn’t he use his common sense and stake Dracula first? After all, he, Dracula, is the one responsible for all the horror, so you would naturally expect our hero to get the main villain out of the way first. But no, he does not; instead, he calmly bypasses Dracula’s sarcophagus and chooses to stake the lesser vampires first. Big mistake. Because while he’s wasting precious time dispatching the other sleeping vampires, the sun is going down, Dracula’s eyes snap open, and… well, you know the rest. And have you noticed that it’s always near sundown – the time when you’re rendering yourself most vulnerable to a bloodsucker’s imminent rise from the grave – when hunters decide to track down vampires, when they’ve got all damn day to do it. Honestly!

Silly horror tropes can really irritate you. On the other hand, my word, don’t we have such fun pointing them out!

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Making a Murderer, Anonymous and Trial by Social Media

Making a Murderer, Anonymous and Trial by Social Media

The online audience is a powerful entity. We are now fairly accustomed to getting what we want. Companies ask for our input in creating the products we would like to see. We can customise our own t-shirts and mugs. We made a Veronica Mars movie happen, we revived Arrested Development, we bought a chunk of the Abel Tasman. Activism is literally at our fingertips. When we hashtag, it trends. When we speak, the decision-makers listen.

Now we would like to determine guilt and innocence.

A well informed public is not a bad thing. A politically active, vocal population is not a bad thing. Mob justice is a bad thing.

Netflix hit docu-soap Making a Murderer aims to point up corruption in the judicial system. It exposes systemic failures caused by human error and prejudice. It reminds us that the law is fallible when corruption is allowed to flourish. The problem here is that the public reaction was a desire to circumvent ‘the process’ altogether, exoneration by petition. We can’t determine guilt or innocence via public opinion, especially when we’re getting our information through a skewed source.

And in the age of and KONY2012, we’re not content to simply discuss the case as entertainment. This is happening right now, and we’re accustomed to being able to exert some authority over our on-screen narratives. We want our new favourite show to end in a way we’ll enjoy. And so we unite for action, bring power to the people.

In January 2016, a petition calling for a presidential pardon for Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, reached the required 100,000 signatures. Although it seems the pardon isn’t applicable in this case, it demonstrates the strength of our collective conviction that it’s our role to circumvent the legal process.

Carried away on a wave of righteous indignation, we use our keyboards to seek a raw form of justice. We don’t want the slow gears of appeals and motions, we want to cut through the red tape and bring down the guilty.

The problem is, no person, or unregulated group of people, gets to be judge, jury and executioner. We have these complex institutions for a reason; accountability. Within each branch of our legal systems, there are safeguards, scrutiny, paperwork, reviews. There are processes in place to prevent abuses like those that have occurred in the Avery/Dassey case, so that these things are aberrant and only happen when there is a large-scale collusion. There are also processes to correct and punish when miscarriages do occur.

But all that moves too slowly to soothe our moral outrage. This is the same corner-cutting mentality makes online crusades like Anonymous problematic. In collective structures like Anonymous, there is no editor, no fact checker, no safeguards. It’s a beautiful idea; true transparency, freedom of information, abolishing bureaucracy. Except that people are emotional and trigger-happy, and when we start seeing ourselves as Batman, problems arise. Here’s some examples:

Steubenville, January, 2013. After the rape of a high school girl, an Anonymous subsidiary, LocalLeaks, releases damning footage of a former Steubenville High student joking about the rape. However, they also release false information about the case and the rape victim’s name. The anon at the head of the operation shrugs it off as full disclosure.

The treatment of Jon Belmar, Chief of the St. Louis Police Department, in the wake of the Ferguson shooting. Twitter account TheAnonMessage ‘doxxes’ Belmar, tweeting contact details and photographs of his family to an enraged public when he declines to name the shooter.

Shortly afterwards, self-appointed social media investigators release their conclusions that Michael Brown’s shooter was a man named Bryan Willman. Willman is in fact a dispatcher from another state. His photo and personal details (some inaccurate) are circulated online by Anonymous. Willman’s social media accounts are flooded with so many threats that he shuts them down. He stays in his house for six days, on ‘lockdown’.

There’s also the infamous overzealous misidentification of Boston bombing suspects, and the young Australian man who was falsely identified online as a bomber in an attack in Bangkok last year. These are some of the largest scale instances of false information and irresponsible vigilantism, but there are plenty more.

And these were attempts at justice, however misguided. Similarly passionate demands for justice have been provoked by Making a Murderer. The Yelp page of Ken Kratz’s law firm has been effectively wiped clean after a torrent of abuse from disgusted viewers. Massive online communities like Reddit have fostered rumours and speculation about the identity of Teresa Halbach’s killer, rumours which will likely dog Bobby Dassey, Scott Tadych, Ryan Hillegas and Mike Halbach indefinitely. In a more extreme reaction, a bomb threat was called in at the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department on February 3rd in the name of “getting justice” for Steven Avery (1). And there were even rumours that Anonymous themselves were taking up Avery’s cause.

It can be easy to forget that in documentary film-making, our perceptions are always being manipulated. Documentary can even be more dangerous than other media, because it presents itself as impartial fact, when in fact it is filmed, edited, scored and structured to make us see and feel a certain way. Making a Murderer has an agenda, however well-intentioned, and tells a distinctly one-sided story. It certainly exposes questionable police conduct and is often shocking and frustrating, but there is plenty that the series omits. Avery’s new lawyer Kathleen Zellner has clearly recognised the power of the masses, and has been extremely active with publishing new information about the case via Twitter with the hashtag ‘#makingamurderer’. But is Twitter really the place to look for justice? Haven’t we seen enough damage done by these online witchhunts? Calls for greater scrutiny and fairness in government are always valid, but we are spectators and it isn’t our job to interpret evidence or to allocate blame.

According to James Surowiecki, the very nature of the ‘network’ (ie online communities and social media) creates a risk of groupthink. “Collective intelligence… requires a form of independent thinking. And networks make it harder for people to do that, because they drive attention to the things that the network values… once an idea gets going, it is very easy for people to just sort of pile on, because other people have, say, a link. People have linked to it, and so other people in turn link to it, etc., etc. And that phenomenon of piling on the existing links is one that is characteristic of the blogosphere, particularly of the political blogosphere” (2).

While freedom of speech is essential to democracy, the problem with the internet is that anybody can use a highly visible platform to say whatever they want, enjoying ease and anonymity, not being filtered or fact-checked before they are published, and with no guarantee of being held accountable for their words. Like most other things, the criminal justice system doesn’t work when it is abused. And, like Avery says, poor people lose all the time. But that is the result of a larger, societal issue, not restricted to this branch of government. And it doesn’t mean that trial by social media is a preferable alternative. The internet is an environment that proves the power and danger of ideas, of names. And an accusation as weighty as murder, or shooting an unarmed man, or planting a bomb in public space, demands methodical examination, compelling evidence and liability.

A passion for justice is admirable, but justice by nature needs to be dispassionate and impartial. There must be an objective, complex system in place. Or else, amidst all the shouting, finger-pointing and righteous indignation, we will commit the very injustices we want to prevent.

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Family Movies

Family Movies

Who doesn’t love sitting down on the weekend, gathering the family together and watching a nice fun family movie – all for free online. It is possible to watch free movies and TV shows online for free, thanks to free movie streaming websites.

There are some very nice family movies available to watch online for free including

Lucky Dog – This movie was made in 2014 and runs for 1 hour and 28 minutes. Lucky Dog is just a wonderful movie that is suitable for your whole family. Lucky is owned by Travis (who is played by Bryce Johnson – from *Pretty Little Liars*) – he is a divorced father of two who is completely dedicated to his children, his job as an architect and to most of all his dog and best friend Lucky (who is voiced by actor David Deluise).

Everything is running smoothly until Travis starts dating Amber – a fellow architect (played by Boti Bliss from *CSI: Miami*). Lucky usually chases away all the women Travis dates but this time Lucky is in love too – with Amber’s dog – Amy (who is voiced by Cat Deely). Lucky decides he likes how things are but trouble brews when Travis and Amber compete against each other in a design contest and Amber starts falling for a wealthy client. Can Lucky save the day and get everyone under the one roof?

Angel Dog – This movie was made in 2011 and runs for one hour 30 minutes, starring John Michael Davis, Farah White and Richard Dillard. Angel Dog is a heartwarming story about a dog named Cooper who is the sole survivor of a terrible accident, Jake who lost his wife and children in the accident is NOT a dog person and he resents Cooper for surviving an accident that took his family. Eventually Jake bonds with Cooper and it’s through this bond he finds the willpower to get up of a morning and to move forwards from his tragic loss.

Abner – The Invisible Dog – This movie was released in 2013 runs for 1 hour 30 minutes and stars David DeLuise, David Chokachi and Daniel Zykov. In this fun family movie we find it’s Chad Sheppard’s birthday and is he in for a big surprise – not something he was expecting at all… his big furry sheepdog Abner can not only talk – he can vanish into thin air as well. Unfortunately Chad has enough problems to deal with including fighting off two bullies who want to ruin his chances with the girl next door. Home alone Chad and Abner have to fight off the bad guys, get the girl AND save the day.

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