Monday, July 29, 2013

Haunting Melissa: Ghost-Story-in-an-App

I’m not generally a horror movie fan, since I spook so easily. The Wicked Witch scared me so much as a kid that I never watched The Wizard of Oz again. After seeing The Exorcist as a teenager, I checked under my bed every night to make sure a possessed Linda Blair wasn’t hiding there. So it was with great trepidation that I pursued my morbid curiosity about a unique new horror flick making its premiere not in a theater or online, but on your iPad: Haunting Melissa.

“I wanted to tell a ghost story in a different way because of the way technology was moving,” said movie producer Neal Edelstein, whose past work includes The Ring and Mulholland Drive. “I come from making movies, I love movies, I love the cinema and storytelling in general,” he told Fox 411. “But I wanted to reinvent the way stories are told and consumed.” He wanted to bring a ghost story to tablets and mobile devices, but “it wasn't really until I saw [the iPad] that I went, ‘OK this is it ... now I can do it.’”

Toward that end, Edelstein created Hooked Digital Media and invited his writer friend Andrew Klavan to collaborate on Haunting Melissa, a movie for an Apple-only app – the first of its kind – that delivers the story to your device in fragments at unpredictable times. Edelstein added another twist as well: “I invented this thing called ‘dynamic story elements’ which means if you go back and watch something it may change. I wanted to have this story evolve and change, almost as if your device is haunted.”

Klavan’s screenplay for Haunting Melissa is about a young woman alone in an isolated farmhouse after her mother has died, and her salesman father is away traveling. Melissa begins to hear voices and see visions that she believes are messages from her dead mother. She soon begins to wonder whether she is going insane – as her mother did before her.

Stephen King, who knows a thing or two about scary books, has called Andrew Klaven “the most original American novelist of crime and suspense since Cornell Woolrich” (a crime writer who has been ranked behind only Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler).

Hollywood Shills for Obamacare

There was once a time when the counterculture realm of musicians, actors, writers, and other artists defiantly stood up to The Man. Today they eagerly line up to serve as emissaries of a Big Government agenda.

According to The Hollywood Reporter and The Washington Post, President Obama’s Rasputin – that is, senior advisor Valerie Jarrett – hosted a meeting Monday with a gaggle of actors, musicians, writers and producers who a White House official says have “expressed a personal interest in educating young people about” the laughably mistitled Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. You can bet these sycophants also have a “personal interest” in ingratiating themselves with White House power and basking in the glow of their Sun King, Obama.

Obama knows that young people are a demographic crucial to his program’s success; the White House estimates that of the approximately 7 million expected new enrollees in 2014, 2.7 million — or nearly 40 percent — of them will be young people. He also knows how to reach those people effectively, as he has always done – through pop culture.

Oscar winner and Weight Watchers icon Jennifer Hudson, Kal Penn (who alternates between TV doctor and Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement), comic actors Amy Poehler and Michael Cera, Mike Farah of the incredibly popular comedy website Funny or Die, The Talk co-host Aisha Tyler, comedy network JASH and YouTube Comedy producer Daniel Kellison, Royal Pains TV show creator Andrew Lenchewski, and singer Jason Derulo attended the meeting.

Representatives from singer Alicia Keys, rocker Bon Jovi, and waning-but-still-influential media giant Oprah Winfrey didn’t personally attend, but sent representativesAlso present were reps from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Latin Recording Academy, the Grammys, and the Latin Grammys as well – naturally, since the White House wants to reach 10 million Latino voters who will qualify for Obamacare benefits.

“We're thrilled to work with the president and his staff to build a new marketing effort using the tools that Hollywood knows how to use best — reaching young people through social media, interesting content and authentic personal stories,” said Entertainment Advisory Council co-chair Eric Ortner, who helped organize the gathering along with Kal Penn and others. One of those “authentic stories” belongs to singer Derulo, who fractured a vertebra in his neck in 2011 while rehearsing for a tour. He told the group that his life was saved thanks to his health coverage. Right, because otherwise doctors would surely have just let him die.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Brazilian School Kids Give Celebs English Lessons

In a text-and-tweet-saturated world, where spelling and grammar are sacrificed for speed and spontaneity, young English-language students in Brazil are aiming to elevate our discourse by politely schooling American celebrities in the rules of writing on Twitter.

Red Balloon, Brazil’s leading English school for children, recently assigned students between the ages of eight and thirteen a fun task: scanning the Twitter feeds of their favorite celebrities for writing infractions, then gently correcting them via a school-owned Twitter account. The students first discuss the tweets with their classmates before offering their advice to the stars.

For example, when uber-celeb Kim Kardashian tweeted, “Up early getting ready to film Chelsea Lately today with the whole fam! Were taking over tonight!!!,” a Red Balloon fan responded, “You’re beautiful. I’m Ana Beatriz from Brazil, I’m 8. Look, you wrote Were, but it’s ‘we’re’. Kisses.”

When Justin Beiber tweeted, “That was a long bus ride. But we here,” another student replied, “My name is Maria, I’m 9 and I’m a fan from Brazil. Watch out: it’s ‘we’re here’ not ‘we here’. : )” Then she added an adorable picture of herself, as many of the other kids do in their responses.

When the athletically-gifted-but-intellectually-challenged Ryan Lochte sent out “Just herd NYC power went out?!?! Is that true,” one girl tweeted back, “Hi, I’m Louise from Brazil. I’m 9 and I love sports too! Look, you missed an A in ‘heard’. Best!”

What does this experiment accomplish, besides irking celebrities who prefer uncritical adoration to spelling instruction from foreign pre-teens? After all, these corrections aren’t likely to earn them a retweet or a “follow back” from the celebs, and Grammar Nazis don’t exactly command social media respect.

The 4 Most Unhinged Responses to the Zimmerman Verdict

The recent George Zimmerman acquittal drew predictable responses from the race-obsessed left: death threats directed at Zimmerman, his family and the jurors; protests with signs provided by and promoting Communist organizations; violence and vandalism; and of course community organizing by race hustlers Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson. But it also brought forth a few particularly irrational reactions. In no particular order of degree of insanity, here are four notably unhinged responses to the verdict, no doubt with more to come:

#1: “God is a white racist.” An online editorial declared that the Zimmerman verdict confirms that the Christian god not only hates blacks, but is actively walking around looking to shoot them:

As a black woman in a nation that has taken too many pains to remind me that I am not a white man, and am not capable of taking care of my reproductive rights, or my voting rights, I know that this American god ain’t my god. As a matter of fact, I think he’s a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men.

Anthea Butler, who – and this will shock no FrontPage reader – is a professor of religion and Africana at the University of Pennsylvania, continued in that vein: “Their god is the god that wants to erase race, make everyone act ‘properly’ and respect, as the president said, ‘a nation of laws’; laws that they made to crush those they consider inferior.”

She’s partially right – the Christian god does want believers to treat people of all races equally and does want them to act properly and respect the law – but inexplicably, Butler considers that a bad thing. Apparently she would prefer a god that shares the left’s obsession with racial division and with mob lawlessness. She also seems confused about the fact that our laws were made not to “crush” the “inferior,” but to protect them.

Butler objects to “this pseudo-god of capitalisms [sic] and incarceration that threaten [sic] to take over our nation.” She goes on to claim that racism in America “has its underpinnings in Christianity and its history,” conveniently forgetting that the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement have their underpinnings in Christianity and in American history. But of course, a balanced historical perspective is an undesirable quality in today’s academics, whose foremost specialty is always social justice.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Black Teen America Should Focus On Now

Everyone in America knows Trayvon Martin’s name. Now that the divisive trial is over and justice has been served, perhaps the healing can begin, as they say, if Americans of all colors get to know another black teen, Temar Boggs.

Boggs is a 15-year-old in Lancaster, Pennsylvania who was helping move a couch with a friend at Lancaster Arms apartments when they learned that five-year-old Jocelyn Rojas had gone missing from the neighborhood that afternoon. Boggs didn’t know the girl or her family, but a large search party was being coordinated, and he and his friend Chris Garcia participated. “We got all of our friends to go look for her,” he said later. “I had the gut feeling that I was going to find the little girl.” Happily, his instinct was correct.

Boggs and Garcia rode their bikes around the neighborhood looking for Jocelyn. A car, suspiciously turning in and out of side streets – perhaps looking for a route to avoid police in the area – caught his eye. Boggs got close enough to it to see a little girl inside, and he and Garcia pursued it on their bikes. “If he wasn’t going to stop, I was probably going to like, jump on the car or something,” Boggs said.

The driver saw the teens following him and appeared to get nervous. “As soon as the guy started noticing that we were chasing him,” he said, “he stopped at the end of the hill and let her out, and she ran to me and said that she needed her mom.” The predator drove off, and Boggs carried Jocelyn home on foot while Garcia accompanied him with both bikes.

When they connected with the police, Jocelyn was reluctant to leave Boggs and go with them – an indication of just how safe he had made this little girl feel – but he assured her it was okay. Jocelyn’s grandmother Tracey Clay hugged and kissed Boggs in her relief and gratitude. “Thank you. You’re our hero.”

How Melanie Phillips Became a Culture Warrior

FrontPage Mag readers almost certainly are familiar with British journalist Melanie Phillips from her book Londonistan, which chronicled England’s multicultural slide into submission to Islam, or from her more recent book The World Turned Upside Down, about the West’s slide into a secular mass derangement. But few readers may know about Phillips’ own journey from the political left to social conservatism. She takes us on that journey in the short autobiography she just released on her own publishing imprint, EMBooks, an ebook called Guardian Angel: My Story, My Britain.

This quick and compelling memoir of her personal and professional life “is the story of my culture war: the account of my battles with the hate-mongering left.” It spans her youth and her decades as a journalist, editor, prominent columnist, and author, reflecting the disturbing changes in British culture and society that she witnessed along the way. Those changes left two Britains in their wake: one “adhering to decency, rationality, and duty to others,” and the left, “characterized by hatred, rampant selfishness, and a terrifying repudiation of reason.”

In 1977 she joined the staff of the progressive Guardian, one of Britain’s most influential newspapers. The attitude there, as among progressives in general, Phillips acknowledges, was that “we were the embodiment of virtue itself… We were the left; therefore everyone who was not the left was the right. The right was evil; everyone not on the left was therefore evil… and everything not on the left was politically extreme.” The significance of this was that the left had hijacked the middle ground and substituted its own extreme values as the center of political and moral gravity.

Phillips herself was not driven by ideology, which meant that she found herself increasingly in confrontations with the Guardian’s left, “who had replaced truth with ideology, and whose weapon of choice against all dissent was vilification and demonization.”

James O’Keefe’s Breakthrough

Ever since the late great Andrew Breitbart spearheaded a revolt against the monolithic, leftist mainstream media, the “citizen journalist” outside the mainstream has become a serious threat to the activist media’s complicity in political fraud and coverups. No one better exemplifies the spirit of citizen journalism than Breitbart’s young protégé James O’Keefe, who tells his story in the new book Breakthrough: Our Guerilla War to Expose Fraud and Save Democracy.

O’Keefe was only 25 when he shot to national prominence in 2009 as one-half (with Hannah Giles) of the undercover team that presented themselves as a pimp and his prostitute seeking advice from the helpful employees at ACORN on how to safely run a house full of underage El Salvadoran sex slaves. The undercover videos he shot at various ACORN offices exposed those employees encouraging the illicit business and offering tips on defrauding the government. The subsequent controversy marked the beginning of the end for ACORN, and the beginning of a new era in journalistic integrity.

O’Keefe, like his progressive opponents, recognized early on that law school is not the way to change the world – journalism is. And journalism in the Obama era has been all about protecting the progressive Messiah and furthering his agenda. “The nation’s progressives have been controlling the media narrative for a century,” he says, and “[m]any of these journalists [see] everything through a lens of ‘racial justice.” The way to break their stranglehold on that narrative, O’Keefe realized, is with the powerful evidence of hard-hitting, strategic video – like that taken in the ACORN sting by guerrillas outside the mainstream news media.

Friday, July 12, 2013

From Nirvana to Soundgarden to the Special Forces

Last week the New York Times profiled a man who might otherwise be remembered – if he were remembered at all – as the Pete Best of punk rock, having twice lost his shot at being a rock idol. But Jason Everman went on to give more meaning to his life than fame and fortune ever could.

The troubled Everman first discovered music as a boy when playing around with his therapist’s guitar. That, and his subsequent discovery of punk rock, “was the first defining event in my life.” He went on to play in various bands during high school, ending up in Kurt Cobain’s pre-fame Nirvana. Who knows what a future that could have launched for him (Dave Grohl, anyone?)?

But Everman sank into a sullen cocoon, and Cobain fired the “moody metalhead.” By another stroke of fate, Everman ended up playing bass for Soundgarden, the most-idolized band on the Seattle scene. They were this close to the big time.

Something still wasn’t right. The road manager said, “He was funny and witty, and then a cloud would come over him. He would sit in the bus and be really mad with his headphones on all the time. I felt bad for the guy, and I feel even worse now, thinking about somehow he was suffering and nobody really knew how to address that.”

Everman’s attitude got him canned again. Then Soundgarden’s next album went double platinum, and Nirvana became the biggest band in the world. “It was a huge blow,” he admitted. “The only good thing about it was it made me leave the Pacific Northwest. I would never have done that otherwise.” That plot twist perfectly demonstrates how apparent failure can be a blessing that puts us on the right path.

Rocking Out at Auschwitz – Yes, Auschwitz

On June 29, singer/songwriter Sting, former co-founder and front man of the massively successful rock band The Police, and now one of the biggest solo artists in the world, headlined the Life Festival Oświęcim 2013 at Poland’s MOSiR Stadium in Oświęcim, which also just happens to be the location of Auschwitz. That’s right – there is now an annual rock festival literally within earshot of the most infamous testament to genocidal evil in human history.

Life Festival Oswiecim (LFO) was the brainchild of Darek Maciborek, a journalist who has lived his whole life in the little Polish town (pop. 41,000 as of 2006). Maciborek hoped to “break the spell” of his hometown’s morbid association with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. Or as a Polish cultural guide explains, “The music festival was created to demonstrate that there is more to the small city of Oświęcim than just the Auschwitz concentration camp, and to create more positive connections in the minds of visiting tourists.”

While I think Maciborek’s heart is in the right place, I can’t help feeling that making those connections will end up reducing Auschwitz itself to simply another stop on tourists’ checklists:

Morning: Arrive in Oświęcim, get settled in hotel. Have lunch at the Polish equivalent of Denny’s.

Afternoon: Visit the site of the mass extermination of Jews and other Nazi undesirables.

Evening: “Roxanne” sing-along with Sting!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Observing 'The Lives of Others'

In the wake of recent revelations in the news about National Security Agency surveillance and government monitoring of phone records, the ominous terms “Orwellian” and “Big Brother” have been thrown about so often that sales of 1984, George Orwell’s classic tale of a totalitarian dystopia, jumped nearly 10,000%. Personally, the scandal doesn’t remind me so much of 1984 as it did of a gripping and affecting 2006 movie called The Lives of Others.

[Mild spoilers ahead]

The debut directorial effort by a young German with the rather Monty Python-esque name of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, The Lives of Others is a Cold War drama set in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the years prior to the earth-shattering fall of the Berlin Wall. The story centers on Capt. Wiesler, an agent of the Stasi, the ruthless secret police, who is conducting surveillance on state-approved playwright Georg Dreyman and his actress lover. Wiesler has been assigned to dig up subversive dirt on them and their circle of artist friends; instead, the Stasi agent gradually finds himself becoming sympathetic to their passionate appreciation of art and beauty, their yearning for self-expression, even their resistance to the all-controlling, all-knowing state. He ultimately puts his own life on the line to protect them.

For Americans who enjoy a degree of freedom unprecedented in history, and who take full advantage of our First Amendment right to openly heap criticism upon our leaders, it is thankfully impossible to grasp what daily life is like under the terrible oppression of a totalitarian state. Neighbors, friends, and even lovers on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain were encouraged – or threatened – to spy on each other, meaning absolutely no one could be trusted. A casual joke made at the expense of the state, overheard by the Stasi, meant the end of your career or worse. The slightest indication that you were less than totally committed to the socialist state meant brutal interrogation, imprisonment, possibly death.

Hollywood’s Islam-Free Terrorism

The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that terrorism is making a comeback in Hollywood films after a dozen post-9/11 years in which they shied away from dealing with a topic that studios deemed too sensitive. The report credits this new trend to filmmakers attempting to bring to their fictional films some “real-world relevance.” There’s just one problem: Hollywood’s terrorism is still devoid of real-world terrorists.

The Times article points out that the filmmakers of several of the summer’s blockbusters feel safe again to depict acts of terrorism: “collapsing skyscrapers, spaceships flying into densely populated cities and bombers run amok… With the terror attacks more than a decade in the past, they say they no longer have to worry about alienating audiences.”

First of all, terror attacks are not “more than a decade in the past.” Sure, they aren’t on the scale of 9/11, but America has continued to endure attempted and successful terror attacks since then, all the way up to the recent Boston bombing. As for alienating audiences, did it ever occur to those filmmakers that movies in which America proudly and unapologetically kicked Islamic terrorist butt might provide audiences with that tremendous collective catharsis that Aristotle noted was the aim of good drama? That movies which affirmed our freedoms and our superior cultural values – that’s right, I said superior –might have united, inspired and empowered those audiences? That such movies might have sent a message to the world that we are unbowed by barbarism?

Instead, when Hollywood did address the clash of civilizations in those post-9/11 years, it pumped out movies disapproving of the CIA and/or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every one of them reeked with the message of moral equivalence that we’re no better than the terrorists. Every one depicted our soldiers as PTSD-ravaged. Every one condemned our presence in Iraq as a Bush lie. And every one of those films about our clash of civilizations bombed, if you’ll pardon the pun, including Syriana, The Green Zone, Stop-Loss, In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, Brothers, Lions for Lambs, Rendition, The Kingdom, Body of Lies, and more. Why did they bomb? Because Americans don’t want to see movies loaded with those defeatist, self-flagellating messages. So Hollywood ended up alienating those audiences anyway.