Each year at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, the packed house is reminded of the scientific and intellectual contributions Israel has made to the world. I’d suggest adding Oren Peli to the list for creating a horror franchise that has actually remained satisfying and reasonably fresh (and oh-so-profitable) through three sequels.
The Paranomal Activity series has remained a guaranteed box-office success without recessing into the torture-porn subgenre — exactly where the Saw franchise went after the first film had a suspenseful twisting storyline. Nor does the PA family rely on pricey special effects to deliver the spooks: The first film — directed, written, and edited by Peli — cost a whopping $15,000 to make and raked in nearly $200 million worldwide. Peli returned to produce the next three while handing the directing reins to others.
Many have tried the found-footage genre with widely varying degrees of success. The original Paranormal Activity was released a decade after the wildly successful Blair Witch Project, which made nearly $250 million worldwide as one of the most successful independent films ever. Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 didn’t fare so well, and plans for another sequel fizzled. Cloverfield used the found-footage framework for a monster attack; Quarantine for a runaway apocalyptic virus. Most attempts at the style have found cult followings at best, like the gem Grave Encounters that riffs on the explosion of ghost-hunting shows on TV today, most notably Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel.
In the PA series, the ghosts have often been effects that you could pull off with fishing line, and they’re still scary. They don’t exactly reach the dramatic sweep of The Shining, or the apocalyptic terror of 28 Days Later, but they do the job for which they were created — being a creepy popcorn movie sans a comical Jason or Freddie running around.
In Paranormal Activity 4, which opened at late screenings last night to the tune of $4.5 million (and it cost $5 million to make), a new subgenre is introduced to put a twist on the classic PA formula: the creepy child.
The creepy kid has a hallowed tradition in horror films, from Damien in The Omen to Toshio in The Grudge and the Children of the Corn. Paranormal Activity 4 serves up another creepy little devil in the form of Robbie, the kid from across the street who wanders into the neighbors’ treehouse, and meanders robotically with a blank face.
There’s little mystery as to who Robbie’s “mom” is, as we’re reminded at the beginning of the film that Katie split with her nephew Hunter at the end of Paranoramal Activity 2. But there are even twists from this assumption.
‘If Everyone Could Spend Even Six Months as a Crematory Operator, the World Would Be a Far Better Place.’
Caitlin Doughty, 28, has found success working in the death business.A Los Angeles-based mortician, Doughty grew up in Hawaii and, she says, had “a proclivity towards the macabre.” She got her start as a crematory operator. Currently, she is working on a memoir about her years handling the dead and runs the Order of the Good Death, a group that seeks to inspire others to find the beauty in death.
What’s the difference between being a mortician and being a funeral director?
Mortician, funeral director, and undertaker are basically the same thing. Funeral director is the more fancy, sanitized, modern title. I like mortician best because I’d like to think I’m a practitioner of death, not just a director of funerals.
I get the heebie-jeebies when I think about handling a dead body.
That’s a normal reaction, because we never see them anymore. Like being a crematory operator, handling a corpse is something everyone should do. They remind us that we, too, will die, which is a thought process we’re missing.
Related at PJ Lifestyle on death:
If not now, when? Ayn Rand is being hailed for her uncanny ability to project societal trends, as our limping economy and mushrooming government begin to look more and more like the decaying America her novel depicted more than a half-century ago. Her influence on today’s political debates is indisputable — even though Paul Ryan, who gave her books to his staff and says she inspired his political career, now actively distances himself from her philosophy. And the second installment of the Atlas Shrugged movie opens October 12, promising to draw even more attention to Rand and her ideas.
Not surprisingly, with all the attention, the culture is suddenly full of pundits and instant Rand experts eager to describe her ideas in a nutshell. And it’s natural to consider all this commentary in deciding whether Rand’s novels and essays are worth reading for yourself.
But be careful; unfortunately, much of the commentary on Rand gets her badly wrong.
It’s common, for instance, to hear that Rand’s is a plutocratic philosophy — “of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy,” says Paul Krugman — one that favors “the rich” against “the poor.” Yet she rejects such categorization. The real distinction she draws in Atlas Shrugged is between thinking, productive individuals at all income levels versus the irrational and unproductive, among whom she includes worthless, political-pull-peddling CEOs.
Others claim that Rand’s open advocacy of egoism — she even wrote a book called “The Virtue of Selfishness” — is proof that she blithely endorsed cruel predation against poor and weak people. Except that Rand explicitly rejected this account of selfishness, offering in its place a revolutionary morality that rejects sacrifice of any kind — sacrifice of self to others, but also of others to self. Rand’s new concept of “selfishness” — in which “every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others” — holds that one cannot achieve personal happiness by treating others as masters to be served or as victims to be exploited. The irony is that she is accused, by commentators who miss her central point, of endorsing precisely the form of vicious “selfishness” she so meticulously exposed and rejected.
Almost 20 years have passed since the publication of Jeffersonian Legacies, a collection of essays published on the occasion of the Founding Father’s 250th birthday that ushered in a new era of Jefferson scholarship. What were modern Americans to make, the book asked, of the 18th-century slaveholding patriarch who could not envision a multiracial America but who nonetheless authored America’s creed—a vision that has inspired people the world over? At the very least, one had to be, the book suggested, conflicted about the man.
Henry Wiencek is not at all conflicted. He loathes Thomas Jefferson. In Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves, his attempted takedown of the man, the third president appears as a demonic figure warped one summer day by a sudden discovery that being a slaveholder could pay. I’ll detail how Wiencek arrives at his bizarre proof of a Jefferson who suddenly becomes Simon Legree, but I should say up front that this book fails as a work of scholarship. This is surprising. I favorably reviewed Wiencek’s book about George Washington, Imperfect God, and I admire The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White. What happened with Master of the Mountain?
The book’s tone and presentation betray a journalistic obsession with “the scoop.” Getting the scoop can be the life’s blood of journalism. It does not work so well for writing history, which is not always (or almost ever, really) about discovering things previously unknown. This sensibility leads Weincek astray in a number of ways. To begin with, it compels him to write as if he had discovered, and was writing about, things that had not been discovered and written about before. In truth, all of the important stories in this book have been told by others.
More history at PJ Lifestyle:
A thousand apologies, my friend! Congratulations and many many more! Go wish him Encore!
And See posts from The Manolo here at PJ Lifestyle:
Generation X has taken over the movies. Just this fall, new films from David O. Russell, Ben Affleck, and Quentin Tarantino promise to be major players come awards time. So who are the five best American filmmakers under 50?
5. Darren Aronofsky
Arrogant enough to turn down the opportunity to direct Batman Begins, the Brooklyn-born filmmaker has made some surprising choices. After starting out in David Lynch territory with Pi, he threatened to disappear in a fog of epic sci-fi weirdness with The Fountain but returned to Earth in triumph with the agreeably gritty and surprisingly straight-on The Wrestler, which relaunched Mickey Rourke and showed an unexpected depth of feeling and humanity. Then came Black Swan, a worldwide sensation that deservedly won Natalie Portman an Oscar and managed to be cerebral, trashy, arty, and sexy all at the same time. Now Aronofsky is going off in yet another direction, steering the mega-budget Bible epic Noah with Russell Crowe, which sounds like either a disaster or a sensation but seems guaranteed to make an impression.