Scary Movie Review: A Ghost Story (2017)


Title: A Ghost Story
Release Date: July 7, 2017
Director: David Lowery
Production Company: Sailor Bear | Zero Trans Fat Productions | Ideaman Studios | Scared Sheetless
Summary/Review:

I’ll say it up front that this movie is not at all scary as it is basically Casey Affleck wearing a sheet with eye holes and standing still for most of its 90-minute run time. But it is a movie that cinematically deals with the ideas of grief, mortality, and what last legacy we leave during our short time on earth. So that’s a little bit scary, or at least unnerving, right?

Affleck plays a man killed in a car crash who haunts his house, observing his wife (played by Rooney Mara), and then future occupants of the house, and time travels to a future when the house is replaced by a skyscraper and a past when the land is staked out by a pioneer family. The movie is very slow-moving with minimal dialogue so it really makes you ponder the passage of time. On the other hand, if you have a fetish for Rooney Mara eating pie, well this is definitely a movie for you.

This movie is an interesting experiment, and worth watching once, but I don’t think I need to ever revisit it.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: The Sixth Sense (1999)


Title: The Sixth Sense
Release Date: August 6, 1999
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Production Company: Hollywood Pictures | Spyglass Entertainment | The Kennedy/Marshall Company | Barry Mendel Productions
Summary/Review:

In the summer of 1999, The Sixth Sense seemingly came out of nowhere to be a BIG! HUGE! DEAL! that everyone was talking about.  The biggest thing that people talked about was the movie’s SHOCKING TWIST! Getting the gist of what the film was about – a child who saw the ghosts of dead people – it was pretty easy to put 2 and 2 together and figure out the SHOCKING TWIST on my own.  So, I had no interest in ever seeing the movie.

It turns out, The Sixth Sense is actually a pretty good movie and like The Crying Game before it, overemphasizing the SHOCKING TWIST does a disservice to the movie. Knowing the SHOCKING TWIST, I was impressed that the movie is told from the point of view of Bruce Willis’ character, a child psychologist named Malcolm Crowe.  Crowe takes an interest in a troubled child, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who reminds him of another patient he feels he failed to help.  If you know the SHOCKING TWIST is coming, the clues are all there and director M. Night Shyamalan even includes a gag with Crowe performing a terrible magic trick which lampshades the idea of misdirection.

What I like about this movie is that it is a story of empathy.  What Crowe helps Cole to realize with his ability to see the ghosts of the troubled dead that he can help them instead of fearing them.  And, along the way, Cole helps Crowe as well, in ways that aren’t readily apparent until the close of the film.  There’s a lot of talking in this film and it works because Haley Joel Osment is up to portraying a child believably participating in those conversations (poor Jake Lloyd must’ve looked like an even worse child actor having The Sixth Sense released in the same year as The Phantom Menace). Shyamalan also does a great job of incorporating Philadelphia as a character in the movie, especially as a historic city with lots and lots of troubled dead people.

The Sixth Sense is thoughtful, full of heart, and overall is well done.  It’s definitely worth seeing at least once, but I wouldn’t put it on my Top 100 of all time list.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (1984)


Title: Ghostbusters
Release Date: June 8, 1984
Director: Ivan Reitman
Production Company: Columbia-Delphi Productions | Black Rhino
Summary/Review:

I saw Ghostbusters in the movie theaters three times in 1984, and countless times on tv and video over the years since then (often at the prompting of my sister who perhaps loved the movie more than me).  My most recent viewing on the Fourth of July coincided with my first ever visit to a drive-in movie and the first time my children watched Ghostbusters (they loved it too!).

I can’t review this movie objectively.  Despite it’s weird premise, the movie was and remains one of the funniest movies ever made. I’ve always appreciated the little details they built into the movie such as all the visual references to Stay Puft Marshmallows that appear well before we ever see the Marshmallow Man.  On this viewing, I noticed that the music works so well in the film too, both the original score and various pop songs worked into the soundtrack (and yes, I had the soundtrack as a kid).

One thing I don’t like about Ghostbusters is the underlying Libertarian message that comes out in things like the villain being a government agent played by William Atherton who arbitrarily uses his power to bring down hard-working entrepreneurs.  I’ve always liked Bill Murray, but on this viewing I also noticed that Peter Venkman is very creepy.  On the upside I better appreciated the work of Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis as Egon Spengler and Louis Tully. Despite any quibbles I may have, Ghostbusters stands the test of time.

Oh, and despite what you might have heard elsewhere, the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot is really good too.

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickeyi


Author: Colin Dickey
TitleGhostland: An American History in Haunted Places
Narrator: Jon Lindstrom
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2016)
Summary/Review:

This book is a travelogue of haunted places in the United States, but it’s not the anthology of creepy stories you may expect.  While the author is skeptical of ghosts and hauntings, this is also not a work of debunking.  Instead it’s a deeper analysis of the stories as folklore that explain the hidden parts of the human psyche as well as how Americans deal with the past (or more commonly, how we hide from it).

Stops on his tour include places known for traumatic events and exploitation, such as brothels, prisons, asylums, ghost towns, sites connected with slavery, and even hotels.  Dickey visits several cities that have made an industry of monetizing their traumatic history as ghost stories for tourists, including Salem, Savannah, and New Orleans.  These stories can sanitize past tragedies while clearing us of wrongdoing. Then there’s the message of the ruin porn of Detroit where the message is that someone’s hubris is definitely to blame, although that may also be a deferral.

In short, one may open a book of ghost stories and find oneself reading a social justice critique of the United States instead.  And a good one at that.

Favorite Passages:

“… all of these stories, in one way or another, respond to history.  Ghost stories like this are a way for us to revel in the open wounds of the past while any question of responsibility for that past blurs, then fades away.” – p. 48

“If the Kirkbride asylums are haunted, they are haunted by the difference between how history is conceived and how it plays out.” – p. 185

“Surely ghosts will follow wherever there is bad record keeping.” – p. 200

“Ghosts stories, for good or ill, are how cities make sense of themselves: how they narrate the tragedies of their past, weave cautionary tales for the future. ” – p. 248

Recommended booksBeloved by Toni Morrison, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings by Jan Harold Brunvand, and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong by James W. Loewen
Rating: ****