Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Year-End List of Lists

It's been a while since I've done a "list of random favorite things" post, and since this is the time of year when everyone seems to be publishing their "best of" lists, I thought it'd be a good excuse as any to talk about my favorite things from the past year.

Favorite TV Shows:  When I started writing this post, I realized I probably watch way too much TV.  However, in my defense, I think it's because what TV has to offer right now is so much better than any feature film.  The writing, the characters and the production quality on television shows for 2008 (and for the last couple years) has been, for the most part, superior to anything released in the theaters.  This year I enjoyed new seasons of Eli Stone (lawyer gets visions from God), Burn Notice (I still think Michael Weston could kick Jack Bauer's butt), Monk (the obsessive compulsive detective), and Psych (fake psychic solves crimes).  Scrubs and The Office continued to provide laughs.  Initially, I thought this season of Dexter might have jumped the shark, but I was wrong.  It slowly ratcheted up the tension until I could hardly stand it... love that show!  I also discovered two new shows. The Cleaner is based on a true-life story of a man who literally rescues people from their drug addictions.  It's gritty, touching and also includes a realistic portrayal of a loving couple, trying to make their marriage work, instead of resorting to divorce.  Writer/Director J.J. Abrams is single-handedly consuming all my free-time.  First it was LOST, and now it's my newest addiction, Fringe.  It's like a newer version of X-Files, only much much better (and I liked X-Files).  But still, my favorite show, hands-down, continues to be LOST, with "The Constant" being my favorite episode. Words cannot describe the moment when Penny picked up the phone on Christmas Eve and Desmond declares, "Penny answered!" I'm getting all teary-eyed right now, just thinking about it...  Click on the "television" label at the end of this post, to read my other, more detailed discussions about these shows.

Favorite Movies:  As I stated previously, I think cinema is currently in a sad state of affairs.  The offerings are lacking in intelligent plot, and provide nothing but loads of base humor, and/or seem to cater to the lowest IQ in the room.  Combine that, with my rant about the de-evolution of the movie going experience, with the advances in home theater systems, and I honestly don't know if I'll be going to the movies at all next year.  I don't mean to be a curmudgeon.  I love movies, and there were a few diamonds in the rough.  I enjoyed Cloverfield (J.J. Abrams  again - providing all my entertainment), In Bruges (the morality and consequences of being a British gangster), I Am Legend (the novella was better), Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (not what I expected it to be, but rather much more), Ghost Town (Ricky Gervais doing a humorous version of The Sixth Sense) and Wall-E (gotta love Pixar).  Of course, I loved the two blockbusters of the year - the Dark Knight and Iron Man.  I'm a sucker for superhero/comic book movies and I love Robert Downey Jr.  Speaking of comic book based movies, I really enjoyed Hell Boy II: The Golden Army, but I'm partial to anything Guillermo Del Toro does.  However, my favorite film 0f 2009, without question, was an independent film called The Fall.  It is a beautiful, surreal fairy tale starring a captivating young girl and a great lead actor (Lee Pace, star of the TV show Pushing Daisies).  Click on the "movies" label at the bottom of this post to go to my specific blog article on the movie.

Favorite Books: As a reader and lover of books, I had a good year.  I had made a goal to read more books in 2008 and I think I accomplished it.  I read about a book a month, sometimes more.  All of them were enjoyable to some extent, but the one that still makes me smile whenever I think about it is Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.  The collection of short stories called 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill was so enjoyable, I'm contemplating re-reading it.  I also enjoyed Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman and fell in love with the world Clive Barker created in Abarat.  I signed up for my first comic book subscription and was highly entertained by The Umbrella Academy written by Gerard Way and drawn by Gabriel Ba.  My favorite book of the year was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  I don't know what was more fun: reading it myself or listening/watching to Gaiman read it in video podcasts online.  I'll be writing a full article on this book soon.  Again, feel free to click on the "literature" label at the bottom of this post to get my detailed discussions and reviews about these works.

Favorite Music: I actually didn't buy that much new music this year. The musical genres that I tend to gravitate towards didn't really have any good releases.  I enjoyed The Raconteurs second album "Consolers of the Lonely" and was impressed with David Cook's post-American Idol release.  I received the All-American Rejects new CD, "When the World Comes Down" for Christmas, and it didn't disappoint.  They are one solid rock band and can always be counted on for some good straight-up power-pop-rock.  I will admit though, in 2008, I spend the majority of my time obsessively listening to one CD in particular, to the point where I thought I was going to wear it out - "You're Awful, I Love You" by Ludo.  They are, without a doubt, my new favorite band.

Favorite Moments:  I hope you enjoyed my quick stroll through the artistic media that I encountered in 2008.  I feel passionately about the arts (thus my discussion of them on this blog).  However, they are not the most important elements from my year, but rather time spent with friends, time spent worshiping God and studying his word, time with my husband - these are the things that matter.  This past year, I saw several friends move away (that definitely wasn't a favorite moment), but I got to visit with a couple of sets of friends when they came in town for a visit, which was a real treat.  I saw prayers answered and a baby healed.  One of my favorite moments was laughing on a road trip with my mom and brother.  I went to a writer's seminar, helped edit a book for a friend, made some new friends, joined a book club, helped put on a ladies Bible retreat, assisted with our church's Sunday morning Bible class for pre-K kids, assisted with the Christmas drama program, started a Care Ministry and - oh yeah - went to work every day.  Whew!  No wonder I feel so tired!   I think I'm going to start out 2009 with a nap!

Many thanks to you, my Loyal Readers, for following my blog and leaving comments.  My goals for 2009 are the same - read, write and draw more.  I think I was better about posting regularly on the blog, and hope to be even more consistent in 2009.  For now though, I leave you with this New Year's wish - a quote from one of my favorite authors...

"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art - write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself." -- Neil Gaiman

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Let's get LOST! (Season 5 Cast Photo)

Just a quick post to share the LOST Season 5 cast photo with everyone. Season 4 of LOST was released on DVD yesterday, and I was very excited when I got home, to see that Amazon had delivered our copy on our doorstep. The husband and I re-watched the first episode of Season 4 in glorious blu-ray, and couldn't believe how crazy the first show was! It started out with a bang and kept it up through the whole season. But let's speculate about Season 5 and this photo (if you click on the photo, it will show you a larger version). I like how they combined the jungle/island theme with the city/civilization theme for the photo shoot, since we will probably be spending equal time in both areas, now that our cast is separated. Shall we start obsessing now about who is or isn't in the photo? Jin isn't there and neither is Aaron or Claire. Is there a reason Sun is in the middle of the shot? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think. I can't wait for January 21st!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Let's get LOST! (Season 5 Poster)

Such a simple poster, yet so profound.

Hello, my fellow fanatic Losites! Time to over-analyze, pick-apart and speculate about this new piece of information from our favorite show! It's just a little tidbit... but let's devour it nonetheless...

I like how the poster is split, to show the two camps of people, and I can't tell you how happy I am to see Faraday on the island side of the poster. I'm looking forward to seeing more of his character. I had been concerned about him, because when the island went "blooop" and disappeared, Faraday was still in the dingy out in the water somewhere. I was hoping he was within the circumference of the island's power and was transported with it. Or maybe he had his own way of getting back on the island...?

Should I be paranoid that one of my favorite characters, our "brotha" Desmond is so tiny and relegated to the background of the shot? Does that mean he's taking a lesser role? Or is it simply a marketing/artistic problem of fitting all of the Oceanic 6 and him on one side of the poster? Either way... he looks kinda goofy with short hair...

"Destiny Calls" - what does that imply? It brings up that classic LOST discussion between faith and fate. Do the survivors have any control over their lives or are they "destined" to do what the island (or Jacob) demands of them? I wonder if we're going to see more of Jacob this season? How are the Oceanic 6 going to get back to the island? Are Penny and Desmond going to help them locate it, now that Penny knows how to find it?

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think. :) I can't hardly wait until January 21st!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Girls Who Can Rock

So, a while back I wrote a blog post about "Dudes Who Can Rock" and I'd been meaning to do a follow-up post for a while now, on chicks who can rock. Since there was some confusion and criticism last time about my definition of "rock", let me just clarify again.

The following is a list of my top 10 favorite female lead singers. I think they represent a wide range of rock and roll styles and subgenres and are also very representative of my music collection. "Rock" has become a very subjective term, with a zillion subgenres such as power-pop, progressive rock, alternative, you name it. I'll ask you now to ease up on whether or not these ladies "rock" - all I know is they can belt out the notes and they've got rock and roll stage presence by the bucket-loads.

1. Shirley Manson from Garbage
She's a fierce Scott who sings from the very tips of her flame-red hair to the very bottom of her Doc Martens, whether she's belting out an alternative power-pop tune or singing a breathy sultry ballad. After seeing the band live, I don't think their recorded music does her voice or her energy/stage presence justice. Her voice takes no prisoners. One of these days, I will tell you, Loyal Readers, of the Smashing Pumpkins concert we went to, where Garbage was the opening act. All I can say is, it's really sad when the opening act totally out-performs the main act...
Listen to Vow, the single that started it all, or check out I Think I'm Paranoid, just because it's fun.

2. Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde
Concrete Blonde was, to most, an obscure alternative band that only had a couple of charted minor hits... but Johnette's voice is legendary in my books. My favorite songs are when her voice starts out so soft and low and haunting and as the song gains momentum, her voice escalates into that rock roar. She has an amazing range and control...and plays the bass - how cool is that? Too bad the band is long gone... And like Shirley Manson, the recorded music just doesn't do Johnette's voicejustice. Hearing her voice live in concert made me cry... it was that amazing.
It's hard to pick a song from You Tube for you to listen to. Caroline and Joey were their two successful singles, but God is a Bullet is my husband's favorite, while Walking in London is my favorite.

3. Tori Amos
What kind of music does Tori sing? Hmm. Hard to explain. She's just a girl and her piano, but her voice is definitely unique and captivating. I read a music review once, where the collumnist said he wouldn't want to meet Tori's voice in a dark alley. I think it's beautiful and strange and original. Although I do know of one friend of mine, who cannot stand her voice. Perhaps it is an acquired taste?
Ugh... I'm having such a hard time picking songs for you to listen to. How do you pick just one Tori song when they are all so different? Try Winter, Spark or Precious Things.

4. Janis Joplin
Do I even have to explain this choice? She is the original woman of rock! All other female rock leads have to follow in her shoes. If you don't know who she is, then you need to go back to rock and roll school and take some notes.
Listen to Piece of My Heart and bask in the awesome bluesy-ness of her voice.

5. Anne and Nancy Wilson from Heart
Heart songs sound fairly simple... until you see someone try to sing one on American Idol. They have amazing range and know how to rock.
Listen to Alone, but try not to laugh at all the 80's rock hair going on in this video.

6. Annie Lenox
Annie is the third redhead on this list (after Shirley and Tori). I wonder if there's something to that? She's Scottish like Shirley too... I guess they grow good female rock stars in Scottland. Annie started out as lead singer for the Eurythmics, but went on to have a successful solo career. Her voice is unmistakeable.
Listen to Walking on Broken Glass or No More I Love Yous.

7. Lacey Mosley from Flyleaf
Proof that big things come in little packages... this girl can rock it out! Her voice is so heavy, I was surprised when I finally saw her in person... she's so little! I never get tired of listening to this band and her voice.
Listen to I Am So Sick or All Around Me.

Selections 8 through 10, you might as well all group together as my progressive rock ladies. They all come from bands with similar sounds, where operatic signing is combined with heavy progressive rock. I love this type of music. It makes my goth little heart happy. At first listen, they may all sound the same, but I think they all have distinct voices and styles. Check it out...

8. Cristina Scabbia from Lacuna Coil
Something else I forgot to mention is that most of these bands are from overseas. I guess there's more of a market for this type of music over there than in the States. Lacuna Coil is an Italian goth metal band. I think out of these three picks, I like her voice the best.
Listen to Heaven's A Lie... you'll probably remember hearing it on the radio...

9. Whoever is the lead singer of Nightwish
Nightwish hails from Finland and seems to have a problem keeping lead singers. First it was soprano Tarja Turunen and now it's Anette Olzon. Either way, I love their stuff. Tarja looks a little bit like Morticia Addams to me... what do you think?
Listen to I Wish I Had An Angel or Nemo (and no, it is not about the Disney fish...)

10. Amy Lee from Evanescence
I actually think Amy Lee's voice is a little on the thin side... the times I've heard her sing live, it didn't seem like she had any power behind it. I guess what I'm saying is I wonder how much of her voice is "studio magic" and how much is talent. I don't want to knock the girl though; she's on a short list of girls who rock. They are few in number. I will also admit, I wore out Evanescence's first album... I didn't know you could wear out a CD... did you?
Listen to Going Under or My Immortal.

Honorable Mention: Drain STH
Drain STH was a short-lived all-female heavy metal band from Sweden. (Again with the overseas thing...) I love their album "Freaks of Nature". Every song rocks. I listed them as an Honorable Mention because, frankly, you can't really tell the lead singer is a girl. I suspect it's because they are running her voice through some distortion filters. She sounds like Axl Rose's cousin or something.
Listen to Enter My Mind.

Unfortunately, there are not that many female lead singers in rock bands. Not sure why that is. Mind you, I did not intend for this to be the list to end all lists. These are just the singers that I never get tired of listening to. Leave me a comment and let me know who I missed.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Humbled and Privileged

So... it's election day, and everyone in the blogosphere is putting up last minute rants or one last final argument for their candidate. In regards to the purpose of my blog, it is not concerned with politics, which is why I have avoided it for the last several months, and left those posts to more capable hands. However, I now feel compelled to make at least one political post.

I will admit upfront that discussing politics makes me sick to my stomach. Not because I dislike politics, but rather because I care so much for this country, it makes me so nervous to think about what hangs in the balance. I would like to hope that justice prevails and that for the most part people are decent and good, yet I can't help but worry that for various reasons (a broken political process, misinformation and flawed media, corruption, greed, selfish motivations, etc.) we could potentially miss the mark on making sound, right decisions to protect this country's citizens and uphold the life that our forefathers fought so hard to create for us.

I've tried to keep my blog to be solely about the arts and culture, as it interests me. Yet, I cannot pretend that I'm unaffected by the goings-on of the political process. In fact, the very luxury I have in enjoying the arts such as music, literature, art, film, I have because of the safe, civilized and free country I live in. As our second President of the United States so eloquently explained...

"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain." - John Adams (1735-1826)

I am thankful that I live in a country where I have the leisure to enjoy the arts and the leisure and position to write about them on this inconsequential blog. There are some countries who are still "studying politics and war", where people don't have the right to vote, and are lucky to have fresh drinking water for the day, let alone a computer to blog about it. I feel humble and privileged.

Which leads me to my final point. In the early hours this morning, as I stood in line waiting to vote, I was complaining to myself about how cold it was (yes, it was a chilly 64 degrees here in AZ). I caught myself having whiny thoughts about the cold, about how long the line was, about how slowly we were moving, about being late to work, etc. Then I immediately recognized that I was being tremendously ungrateful and admonished myself for such thoughts. How could I complain about such an opportunity, to live in a country where every voice matters?

Voting is a privilege; one that our forefathers fought for during the Revolutionary War. Future generations fought to uphold it in the World Wars, and even now our soldiers are fighting not only to protect these rights, but are also trying to bring democracy, freedom and the right to vote to a land not even our own. As a woman, I have an even greater debt to pay, to the suffragettes who came before me, who fought for my right to vote. I conclude this post with a picture of a few of those ladies who paved the way...

And even though politics make me a little nauseous, I am thankful for the process, thankful for the opportunity and thankful that, regardless of the outcome, my Lord still sits on the throne. He sees all, knows all, and is in control of all things. I will find peace in that tonight.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Masquerade Memories

This is my last post for the 13 Days of Halloween, and I'm in a bittersweet mood. I love this holiday but I am always sad when it is over. I had originally wanted to take the opportunity in this last post to share some memories I have about Halloween, but I feel like it's going to turn into a rant about "the good old days" and thus make me feel like an old fuddy duddy. To keep myself from writing a dissertation on how Halloween has changed, I'm going to limit myself to a list...

Favorite Halloween Costume - I've had several favorite costumes, but one that I remember being the most excited about was Princess Leia from Star Wars. Although, words cannot describe my disappointment when I put on the costume and looked in the mirror and did not see myself magically transformed into Princess Leia (as I had imagined) but saw myself in a plastic mask and a plastic rectangle-shaped smock with two holes cut out the sides for my arms. Ah, how costumes for kids have improved dramatically since then (there I go already... feeling old...). Then, to make matters worse, my mother made me wear a sweater over the costume because, believe it or not, it was actually cold that night in Arizona. I was disillusioned, to say the least. If you remember those plastic costumes, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Favorite Trick-or-Treating Memory - When I was young, the housing community I grew up in was on the outskirts of Phoenix in the desert. There were several ranches in the area, so it wasn't uncommon to see people riding horses down the sidewalk on a regular basis. But on Halloween, one of the horse owners really got into the spirit and transformed into... the Headless Horseman! He had an all black horse and a very elaborate black velvet costume with cape, old fashioned riding boots, gloves, etc. The costume was the type where the torso and shoulders were extended up so that it looked headless. He carried his jack-o-lantern head underneath his arm, which was actually one of those plastic pumpkin buckets we all used to trick-or-treat with, and it was filled with candy. He rode his horse slowly up and down the streets in the neighborhood and, if you were brave enough to go up to him and say "trick or treat" he would lower the pumpkin so you could take some candy. He stayed in character though, and never spoke a word. Totally creepy, but totally cool.

Favorite Halloween Candy - How can you pick just one? Is it the tootsie pops, jolly ranchers, smarties or the bazooka bubble gum? The word got around fast amongst trick or treaters on the street when a house was passing out the "good" candy (i.e. Hershey's chocolate miniature candy bars). And don't get me wrong, I love me some chocolate (reese's peanut butter cups, kit kats, three musketeers, snickers), but there is no second-guessing what my favorite Halloween candy is... I love candy corn! This is a very divisive candy - people either love it or hate it. I'm in the love it category. It just wasn't Halloween until my mom poured a big bag of candy corn into the glass pumpkin candy jar.

So what about you? Leave me a comment and let me know what is your favorite costume, favorite memory or favorite candy. And thanks to you, all of my Loyal Readers, for following along with me on this fun Halloween series of posts. I hope you enjoyed them...

By the way, I may or may not be posting in November. It all depends on if I decide to participate in NaNoWriMo...

Friday, October 31, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Happy Halloween!

Since I had to celebrate Halloween in a corporate office today, I thought I would share this clip with all of you.

May you all have a safe, happy and festive night of trick or treating and Halloween fun!

P.S. Check back tomorrow for one more post-Halloween article. ;)

P.P.S. Leave me a comment and let me know how many Joker or Sarah Palin costumes you saw tonight. At my office we had two people dressed up as the Falling Stock Market. Funny...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Ghoulish Games

I love to play board games, but especially love the spooky board games. What better time to play them than on Halloween and/or at a Halloween party? Here are just a few of my favorites.

This is a storytelling card game. Sure, the objective is to win, but more importantly, it is to tell a good, entertaining story to go along with the cards you play. Here's a great description I found online - better than I could write - First, you assume control of the fate of an eccentric family of misfits and misanthropes. The goal of the game is sad, but simple: you want your characters to suffer the greatest tragedies possible before passing on to the well-deserved respite of death. You'll play horrible mishaps like "Pursued by Poodles" or "Mocked by Midgets" on your own characters to lower their Self-Worth scores, while trying to cheer your opponents' characters with marriages and other happy occasions that pile on positive points. The player with the lowest total Family Value (i.e. kills off all your family members) wins. It's tragic and hilarious all at the same time. Not for those who don't appreciate dark humor.

This is a straightforward and easy board game. You're trapped in a town full of zombies and need to make it to the helicopter pad on the other side of town to escape. Cards that map out the town are laid down as you go along and you can pick up weapons and such along the way. The best part is the game comes with 100 miniature zombie figurines. There's nothing like a board game where you can chant "brrraaaiiins" and no one thinks you're weird. Not to be played with people who have never seen Night of the Living Dead (or any zombie movie for that matter). They just won't get the humor in it.

Speaking of brains, here's another card game that we love to play. You and your zombie co-workers work at Friedey's Fast Food Restaurant of the Damned. You have a lot of work to do, but only one brain to share amongst you. Play cards to try and get people to drop the brain, and use it to get all your work done and be the first one to finish your shift for the night. Almost every time we've played this game, we laugh all the way through at the funny cards.

WOLVES AT THE TABLE (Lupus in Tabula)
This card game is actually based on a very old German party game, which utilizes the art of bluffing and deduction (think "Clue"). The rules are so simple, it can be played without cards, although the card game adds more layers to the game. Players sit around a table and are secretly assigned a role (i.e. villager or werewolf). Every night villagers are killed by werewolves. It is your job to figure out which villagers become werewolves at night, and lynch them. Then you wait for the next full moon to see if you were right. Can you identify the werewolves before they murder everyone?

I don't know if they still sell this game or not. It is a board game controlled by a video tape (that tells you how old it is - pre-DVDs). It is a race against time and the game's host, The Gatekeeper. The aim of the game is to collect 6 of your character's keys and then race to the center of the board; The Nightmare Square. If the tape reaches 60 minutes The Gatekeeper Wins! The way the Gatekeeper's script is written, it's as if he's interacting with your guests. He overacts, and his dialog is groan-inducing cheesy, but for some reason, whenever I play this with my friends, we laugh our heads off.Please support your local board game shop. I think board games and card games are a fun entertainment media and I would hate to see it die out to electronic video games (which are, in some ways, impersonal and not nearly as social). Do you have a fun Halloween party game you'd like to share? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Terrifying Television

Oh well. So much for my plan to do a post-a-day, counting down to Halloween... I had no idea how over-committed I was to activities related to this holiday. I guess when it comes to Halloween, I have a problem with saying "no." So forgive me my lapses... I hope to make it up to you by posting several articles today, that I had originally planned to post over the last few days.

This post might actually be a little too late, but in case you're looking for something to watch on TV this Halloween, several cable channels will be running scary movie marathons.

The Chiller channel (DirecTv) is always running scary movies, so I'm sure they will have a good lineup. This past weekend I caught a documentary on the Chiller channel called Universal's Monsters which was really good. They interviewed people who were involved with the first Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy movies, and talked about why the cultural climate at the time helped make those films such a success, what went into the process of creating the films and the special effects, and more behind the scenes type tidbits. If you can catch it, I recommend it.

The AMC channel is airing a "Fear Fest X" which started on October 22nd and runs through until Halloween night. It is "the most comprehensive collection of Halloween horror ever aired on TV, showcasing more than 230 hours of non-stop movies for 10 days and 10 nights." For a schedule listing, you can go here.

The Food Network was running a special theme of "Sweets and Treats", airing shows that deal with candy making, along with other Halloween type recipes. I've gotten a few good ideas from these shows.

Of course, you can always watch re-runs of the Addams Family on Hulu or catch The Twilight Zone or Ghost Hunters on the SciFi channel. The SciFi channel will also be running scary movies on Halloween night. You can watch Most Haunted - Live! on the Travel channel or watch one of my all-time favorite movies, Shaun of the Dead on Comedy Central.

What makes me really sad though, is that it appears no one is airing It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, a Halloween classic! I guess I will have to watch it on DVD.

Friday, October 24, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Welcome, Foolish Mortals...

"When hinges creek in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls... whenever candlelights flicker, though the air is deathly still; that is the time when ghosts are present - practicing their terror with ghoulish delight... Welcome, foolish mortals... to the Haunted Mansion!"

With that introduction by your ghost host, you are invited into my all time favorite place at Disneyland, the home of 999 happy haunts - The Haunted Mansion!

First, a little history. Walt Disney first wanted the "walk-through ghost house" to be on main street, reminiscent of the old dilapidated house every small town seems to have, of which kids are inspired to make up stories that it is haunted. When it was decided that a better location for the house would be in New Orleans square, the theme of the ride took on a different bent and the house became a haunted antebellum mansion. Disney Imagineers struggled to find a balance between scary vs. silly with the ride. They wanted it to be spooky, and have a few things in it to make you jump, but at the same time they wanted to appeal to their wide audience, and ensure that everyone have a good time. I think they accomplished it!

Now for some trivia. There are 131 Doom Buggies (that's what they call the carts you ride in) and it takes 10 minutes to go through the whole ride (not including standing in the queue in the picture gallery hallway). There is an animatronic raven located in every room. Originally, the Disney Imagineers were going to have the raven narrate the ride. Now, the disembodied voice of the Ghost Host is the narrator. Typical of Disney and the Imagineers' attention to detail, every inch of the house is covered in special details and touches, such as carved gargoyles on door frames, spooky faces drawn into the pattern of the wallpaper, etc. It all adds to the ambiance of the ride. One example of this, that makes me smile is in a little nook, at the landing where you board the doom buggies. There is a decrepit desk with a candle and cobwebs. A book is open on the desk...and if you had the time to look, you would notice it was a dictionary, opened, of course, to the definition of the word "ghost".

Did you know that there is an actual ghost story that goes along with the house? Some of it was made up by the Imagineers, while the rest of the story has been elaborated on by the cast members who have worked the ride over the years. It all centers around the home's owner, Master Gracey, who is named after one of the lead Imagineers for the ride, Yale Gracey. I wish I could tell it all to you, but in telling it, I would give away parts of the ride. And in case you haven't ridden it yet... I definitely don't want to ruin it for you.

During the holidays (Halloween through Christmas, I believe) the house gets a make-over. Several of the animatronic figures get replaced with characters from the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. The music is also changed, and decorations are put up outside. I'm a Disney fan, AND a Halloween fan (obviously) AND a Tim Burton fan, AND the Haunted Mansion is my favorite ride, yet I must confess that I have not been to Disneyland for this version of the attraction. So tragic... but true. Doesn't anyone out there have a free ticket for me? Please?

I'm sure you're wondering where I got all this information from. Well, I am not psychic like Madame Leota. I obtained these tidbits from a website called Doombuggies. I love, love, love this website and could spend hours there (and have). It is an online documentary on the creation of the attraction and includes sound clips, interviews, memorabilia, initial design sketches and more. Everything you ever wanted to know about the creation of the ride and then some. All I can say is, the Disney Imagineers are a bunch of extremely creative, extremely talented people, with a fun sense of humor.

As an aside, there is another website run by the same individual, chronicling the development of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, called dead men Tell No Tales.

Thanks for letting me indulge my odd love for this attraction, and write about it in my 13 days of Halloween. Are you a Disneyland fan? Leave me a comment and let me know what your favorite ride is. Or let me know of a different haunted house type attraction you've been through, where it is purported to be haunted. For example, have you visited Winchester Mansion, or the Birdcage Saloon in Tombstone? And for those of you who have a trip planned to Disneyland soon (you know who you are) try not to rub it in too much... I'm already jealous! And be sure to say hello to the hitchhiking ghosts for me while you're there... :)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

I bet most of you can look at the picture above and know exactly what part of the story they have come to: "...and hanging from the car's door handle was a...BLOODY HOOK!"

What is it about campfires and late night slumber parties that naturally provokes people to start telling ghost stories? Why do we enjoy scaring each other? This is something I wonder about, and ponder often, since "scary stories" is my favorite genre when it comes to books and movies. I also love to study about the art of storytelling through the ages; how it reflects and shapes a culture, how it communicates and binds people together. These are ideas that really intrigue me, and I have many more blog posts planned for the future, discussing some of the answers to these very questions.

For now, let's talk about ghost stories. We've all done it: sat around in a circle, either around a crackling campfire or huddled in sleeping bags in the middle of the living room floor with our friends, and passed a flashlight around, held it up to our chin menacingly as we told a grim, bone-chilling tale, each person trying to outdo the last person's story. A good storyteller would know how to build the story with spooky voices and sound effects, and would know just when to whisper... then pause... then yell out, causing everyone in the room to jump and shriek. Then we would all fall into giggles over how we'd just been had. I suppose we tell ghost stories for the same reason we ride roller coasters - for the thrill of it, to feel alive.

There was a series of books I discovered in elementary school, that have been a favorite ever since. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell and the two that followed, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones are a collection of folk tales, ghost stories, and folk songs that chronicle the storytelling traditions of ghost stories and folklore.

If you are looking for some good tales to tell on your next camping trip, or a way to freak o
ut your friends at the next slumber party, then I highly recommend these books. Also, if you are looking for a game or activity to play on Halloween, this book contains one of my favorite games, called "The Dead Man's Brains." Everyone sits in a circle in the dark and the host recites a poem describing "dearly departed John" and some of his decrepit body parts. For example, you describe his intestines, then pass around a bowl of cold spaghetti and dare everyone to touch it, or describe his ear and send around a dried apricot, or describe his eyes and pass around two peeled grapes. It is amazing how your imagination kicks into overdrive, with these sensory items being passed in the dark, and with the spooky poem to set your mind in motion. Good clean spooky fun! I just searched Amazon and it looks like you can buy all three books in a box set for a steal at $15.

Which campfire tale still sticks in your mind, or still gives you goosebumps when you think about it... was it "The Hook", or "Lover's Lane" or the "Ghost Girl on the Bridge"? I invite you to leave me a comment and let me know.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Tomes of Terror

Here are 13 or so book recommendations for the Halloween season. Guaranteed you'll want to sleep with the lights on after reading these "tomes of terror". Some of them are well-known while others may not be. I just tried to think of books that really stuck with me, long after I'd read them. I know I'm forgetting some... so leave me a comment and let me know what I missed.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
The original horror story, this play has witches, ghosts, murders - everything a good scary story needs. It even has a phantom spot of blood, that only one person can see... And it's set in the fog-covered moors and shadowy castles of Scottland.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Is the governess seeing ghosts or is she just crazy? This was one of the first pieces of literature to break away from the stereotypical ghosts that howl in the graveyard and make them all the more present and menacing.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
We have Stoker to thank for the huge vampire sub-genre in literature and films. This is the one that started it all (well... The Vampyre started it all, but Stoker is the one that made Dracula a household name). It's still creepy and intense, even after all these years.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
It was a given that I needed to include this one on the list. This book alternates between a philosophical discussion about the creator of life, and a gothic horror story about a monster that has been sewn together from mix-and-match corpse pieces. Yet Shelley makes it all work beautifully.

Anything by Edgar Allen Poe
How do you pick just one short story of Poe's to read for Halloween? There's The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat, two stories about a murderer who is haunted by his crime. Or, an appropriate Halloween story may be The Masque of the Red Death where people celebrate and have a masquerade party while outside people are dying from the plague. One story that still chills me is The Cask of Amontillado, where two friends go down into a wine cellar, under the pretense of sipping some excellent wine. If nothing else, read The Raven, which is spooky and sorrowful and beautiful in its own way. No one has ever written like Poe... or ever will.

Anything by H.P. Lovecraft
Like Poe, Lovecraft is one of the granddaddies of the horror genre. Lovecraft introduced the idea of a horror so terrifying, that experiencing it would drive people to insanity or turn their hair white, because they couldn't comprehend the reality of it. His work has spawned another sub-genre of horror, set in a surreal multi-dimensional Lovecraftian world. It has also inspired movies, TV shows, card games, RPGs and stuffed animals. Two of his most famous stories are The Dunwich Horror and The Call of Cthulhu.

Salem's Lot by Stephen King
I was hard to pick only one Stephen King book to put on this list. I know a lot of people like to pish-posh him as a hack and writing junk for the masses, but I suspect those people either 1.) don't like horror or 2.) have never actually read one of his books. Just because he's prolific and successful doesn't mean he's a hack. He deserves the title of the Modern Master of Horror. (I'll step down off my soap box now... sorry about that.) This book about vampires terrifying a small town, still scares me just to think about it. Two others worth mentioning, are The Shinning and Pet Semetary, which also kept me up at night.

The Wolf's Hour by Robert R. McCammon
It's so hard to recommend this book to people, because once I describe the plot synopsis for them, it sounds like a ridiculous B-movie plot and they are immediately turned off. A werewolf spy fights the Nazis during WWII. See, I told you it sounded ridiculous. Even the description on the back cover of the book makes me giggle - "He is Michael Gallatin: master spy, lover and...werewolf!" However, this book is an amazing breakthrough for the werewolf genre. I love his description of how they shapeshift, their packs, and I love the main character who is willing to use his powers for good. This isn't a horror/scary novel, per se, but an amazing adventure. I've yet to read another werewolf book like it.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Stephen King credits reading this novella as the inspiration for him to start writing horror. It takes the vampire genre and turns it on its head. It inspired three films: The Last Man on Earth, Omega Man, and I Am Legend (released recently with Will Smith). None of the films even come close to doing the story justice. To this day, you could walk up to me and say, "Neeeeviiiile" and I will get goosebumps. Also, check out Hell House by Matheson - the ultimate haunted house story.

Twilight Eyes by Dean Koontz
Koontz is another prolific modern day horror writer, whose work has been made into films and TV movies. I find his work to be hit and miss for me though. I recommend his earlier novels. My favorite one is Twilight Eyes, about a man who has a unique gift of being able to see through the disgusies of the evil undead who are feeding on human suffering.

Books of Blood by Clive Barker
This collection is a nice representation of the disturbing horror of Clive Barker. The modern classic horror film Hellraiser (with the evil Pinhead) was based on his novella The Hellbound Heart. His other books, such as The Damnation Game and Weaveworld are good as well. However, I find that his books make me feel unsettled and generally icky all over (although I suppose that is the point). I much rather prefer his Y.A. fiction such as Abarat and The Thief of Always.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
You will never look at buttons the same way ever again, after reading this book. Who knew buttons could be so... disturbing. This story is currently being made into a stop animation film, that I'm really anxious to see. A combination of Alice in Wonderland and a dark fairy tale, complete with ghosts of abducted children, and an alternate world, this book is chilly and scary. The good news is, it is Y.A. fiction, so it's low on the gore factor.

Again, I invite you to leave me a comment and let me know what your favorite scary book is!

Let's get LOST! (Season 5 Trailer/Preview)

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Halloween post to bring you this trailer/preview for Season 5 of LOST! How exciting to get a new piece of LOST to devour!!!

We now return you to your 13 Days of Halloween... another post to arrive shortly.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Music to Die For

Each year around Halloween, you can find Halloween-themed CDs on every check-out aisle, and, in my humble opinion, everyone should have at least one spooky sound effects CD and one Halloween Party CD (complete with the requisite theme songs from Psycho, Halloween, and Ghostbusters and the classic Monster Mash). However, if you're looking for something a little more... shall we say... listenable... then I highly recommend anything by the Midnight Syndicate.

Midnight Syndicate is actually two composers, Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka (pictured above), who have been producing classic gothic nightmare soundtracks for eleven years. Their music is ambient, spooky and beautiful all at the same time. Any sound effects they may use, such as whistling wind or sighing ghosts are used tastefully and minimally, without distracting from the music but almost adding to it. Their soundtracks are symphonic and always tell a hauntingly beautiful story. I like to listen to them even when it's not Halloween (yeah... you don't have to leave me a comment... I already know I'm weird.)

If Midnight Syndicate isn't your thing, then maybe you'd like to make your own mix CD... If so, may I offer up some suggestions... per a Halloween mix CD I made a few years back for Raven (which was organized into monster categories)... I invite you to leave me a comment and let me know what songs I missed, or what Halloween CD you really enjoy.

#1 Crush by Garbage
Gonna Get Close to You by Queensryche
Maxwell's Silver Hammer by the Beatles
Jenny Was a Friend of Mine by the Killers
Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) by Nancy Sinatra
Sing for Absolution by Muse

Little Ghost by the White Stripes
Ghost of You by My Chemical Romance
Long Black Veil by The Kingston Trio
Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man by Concrete Blonde
With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm by The Kingston Trio
Happy Phantom by Tori Amos

Bloodletting (The Vampire Song) by Concrete Blonde
London by Queensryche
Vampires Will Never Hurt You by My Chemical Romance
Cry Little Sister (Lost Boys Theme) by Gerald McMann
Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All) by Type O Negative

Monster Mash by Bobby "Boris" Pickett
Zombie Jamboree by The Kingston Trio
Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley
Devil Inside by INXS
Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Weber

And last but not least, my newly discovered and current favorite Halloween song is "The Horror of Our Love" by Ludo.

Monday, October 20, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Sketching the Macabre

Since we're in the spooky frame of mind, I thought I'd take this opportunity to introduce you to a few of my favorite illustrators, whose artwork is appropriate for the Halloween season.
I love Edward Gorey! He wrote and illustrated several books, in a crosshatched pen and ink style. Most of them were set in an ominous Victorian or Edwardian gothic setting or sparse landscapes on lonely marshes. My favorite book is "The Gashlycrumb Tinies", a demented alphabet book (see picture above). If his artwork looks familiar to you, it's probably because you've seen the animated opening of PBS's "Mystery!" series. Gorey also won a Tony award for costume design for the ballet "Dracula" and was nominated for set design.

Charles Addams was an American cartoonist known for his dark humor and his macabre characters. He was Gary Larson before Gary Larson even picked up a pen! The cartoon collections I have are some of my most prized, and always make me laugh. (Inspect that illustration above. Notice anything unusual?) He worked in pen and ink as well as watercolors and was published regularly in "The New Yorker" magazine. Addams created a set of demented characters that later were brought to life in a little televsion program called... "The Addams Family".
While both Gorey and Addams were most prolific in the 1960s, Gris Grimley is carrying on their gloomy tradition for the new generation. He is a modern illustrator who writes and illustrates demented fairy tales, but also does dark illustrations like the one above.
I suppose Mark Ryden is more of a "fine artist" than an illustrator, but his subject matter is still dark and mysterious (and dare I say, disturbing?). I think there's much much more to his work than just little kids with big sorrowful eyes... What do you think?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Things I've learned...

Hello, Faithful Readers! If you don't already know, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays! To celebrate, I thought I would count down the 13 days of Halloween, and share my favorite Halloween memories, favorite scary movies and more. To kick off day one, I thought I'd share a helpful list of things I've learned from Halloweens past...


1. Temporary hair color isn't necessarily temporary.
I went as a banshee one year, and bought the colored hairspray to make my hair look like fire (red, orange, yellow). The bottle said it was temporary, and I figured hairspray washes out, right? Uh...yeah... I had weird patches of orange hair for the next two weeks. At least it blended with the fall colors, right?

2. If your costume comes with an explanation, you'll be better off finding another costume.
There is nothing more annoying than spending all Halloween night trying to explain "who you are supposed to be", and then, once you've given your dissertation, they still don't get it. I'm a geek; I'll admit it, and I like to take my costume ideas from the books and movies I like. However, unless you are going to a party filled with like-minded individuals, it's best to just stick with a basic witch costume, than deal with the frustration of no one knowing how cool your costume is. Case in point, I dressed up as Ophelia from"Hamlet" one year. Big flowing dress, flowers strewn in my hair and all over my dress, makeup to make me look palid and drowned. No one got it. (I know, I'm an English major geek. What was I thinking?)

3. Never ever go first into the haunted house.
Some friends and I went into one of those large haunted houses that go up every year in parking lots and old store fronts. In case you don't know, they send you through in groups, so that they can coordinate the triggers and live actors. In one particular haunted house, we had to go single-file and I was shoved to the front. Everyone else was screaming just as loud as me, but I got made fun of because I was the first to yell. Plus, I was the first one to be seen running screaming out the exit doors...

4. Wigs are itchy.
There's no getting around it. If you're going to wear a wig, be prepared to scratch your head all night.

5. If the candy looks like it was made in the 70s, it probably was.
I suspect there are some people who buy candy on the cheap the day after Halloween, store it for a year, then bust it out the next Halloween. Perhaps the stores also hold onto it. Either way, if it looks nasty or old, don't eat it.

6. No one has the patience (or appreciation) for black and white horror movies.
For one Halloween party I had when I was a teenager, I screened the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" for my guests. Classic horror film. I was enthralled with watching it again, excited to be sharing the experience with my friends, when I suddenly realized how quiet the darkened room had gotten, and turned around to see all my friends asleep or dying from boredom. Bottom line - don't screen these types of movies unless you're in a room full of other officianados. (See tip 2. Apparently I have weird tastes.)

7. Carving pumpkins isn't nearly as fun as it looks.
It's a messy and time-consuming project, for something that is only going to last one night. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy doing it, this is just a word of warning: allow yourself a couple of hours or more (especially if you've decided to follow one of those complicated templates that are so popular nowdays), have the right tools, and plenty of patience.

8. This tip is for all the kids... HIDE YOUR CANDY BAG!
Your parents will sneak into it once you've gone to bed and eat all the good candy! Horde it under your bed! Either that or barter them for 15 more minutes on the Wii for every piece they take! ;)

What are some of the lessons you've learned from Halloweens past? Leave me a comment and let me know! :)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Are You On The Fringe?

Well, I'm still dealing with LOST withdrawals, but thankfully JJ Abrams has provided a temporary fix in his new show FRINGE. It's not as addictive as LOST, but I've been hooked since the first episode. (By the way, does JJ Abrams ever sleep? I swear the man is constantly developing either a movie or TV show. But I'm not complaining. I love his stuff.)

The FRINGE story centers around FBI Liaison Olivia Dunham who investigates strange cases for Homeland Security Special Agent Phillip Broyles. Dunham was brought onto Broyles elite special team when she discovered her former agent was a traitor. Also on the team is Dr. Walter Bishop, formerly sprung from the psych ward. Dr. Bishop worked extensively in "fringe science" in the 70's and his expertise comes in handy with the strange cases they investigate. The good doctor couldn't be released unless he was under the care of a family member, which leads us to Peter Bishop, habitual gambler, high-IQ, and witty. Each week, the threesome solves a strange case, usually caused by some type of fringe science (telekenesis, re-animation, mental transference, etc.)

Each episode stands on it's own, yet there is an overarching plotline, that deals with "the pattern". Broyles tells Olivia that these strange experiments or incidents are part of a much bigger "pattern" that they have been following and documenting for years. He says it's as if someone is using the whole world as one giant experiment. This is the bigger goal of the show - to uncover what is behind the pattern.

In short, it's like the X-Files meets LOST. Sounds fun, huh?

So, I haven't really done individual posts to discuss each show, and I'm not sure if I'll start doing that. I might just leave those types of posts for LOST. But I thought it might be fun to check in with everyone who is watching it, and have a little discussion. If you haven't watched the show, and plan to get caught up on it or watch it at some point, then you'd better stop reading here... just a little spoiler warning.

So, let's discuss. What do you think of the show? I don't mind the formula they are using, of solving one new case per each episode (instead of it being more of a continuing storyline) all the while alluding to the bigger mystery of the pattern and it all being connected. I do wish they'd let us in on more of that over-arching plot line, but I suspect they are laying a lot of groundwork first. If I know JJ Abrams, nothing is trivial, and some of this stuff that may seem inconsequential may all be pulled in later and reveal the massive spiderweb of his intricate plot development. So I'm willing to be patient. I have a feeling this show may kick us in the teeth when we aren't looking. That doesn't mean that I still don't wish he'd throw us a little tidbit more often than they have. Are they revealing enough to keep you interested?

What do you think of the whole idea of fringe science? Is the idea too hokey for you? Or maybe it's too gory for you? So far we've had a plane full of melted people, a transclucent body, the dead talking, a bus full of embalmed people, grotesque pregnancies, aliens (?), reanimated hearts, ghost networks and a dude who reminded me of Stephen King's Carrie, who couldn't control his own electric personality. (ha!) I dig this type of dark supernatural stuff, so it hasn't turned me off at all.

Bottom line, I'm really enjoying it, and I'm willing to stick around, to see what kind of ride JJ Abrams has in store for us. He hasn't let me down so far...

Here are some questions that are gnawing away at me about the show. What is your theory on them? Leave me a comment and let me know.

1. Who is The Observer? My vote is for alien. Whatever he is, I think he's a cool character and will look forward to him popping up from time to time.

2. What's up with Massive Dynamics and the Secret Board Meeting? I want to know more about this sinister corporation and why Nina Sharpe is so interested in hiring Olivia. Especially when it seems like Massive Dynamics is already controlling Olivia and her team through Broyles, when they revealed that brief scene of the secret board meeting. Who is on that board and what are they up to? Does the Hanso Foundation own Dharma AND Massive Dynamics? ha ha I find it interesting that back in the day, the villians used to be Nazis or Commies, and now our modern day villains are corporations... an interesting commentary on the world we live in. But I digress...

3. Can Broyles be trusted? I want to know more about Broyles. I liked the tension between him and Olivia in the pilot episode. It made their relationship interesting. I think they've lost some of that. And maybe LOST is just making me paranoid, but I don't think Broyles can be trusted. He's an Other! I hope they develop his character more, and let us know more about his past and what makes him tick, and what his relationship is to that secret board meeting.

4. What is up with Agent Scott? Is he dead or re-animated or psychicly linked to Olivia or what? His appearances are sufficiently freaky, and I can't really decide if it's in Olivia's head or if he's a ghost or what.

5. What is the Pattern? And what is up with all the fringe scientists they keep arresting? I have a feeling we won't know the answer to this until the final episode. Hopefully, FRINGE will have a nice multi-season run like LOST and we can take our time finding out.

For more information, check out Fringe-pedia.

Here's an interesting article from someone who isn't liking FRINGE as much as me, and has a few interesting suggestions.

And lastly, for episode re-caps of the first three shows, check out my dear husband's fun posts on Pop Critics. He did a great job with them.

Episode 1 - Pilot
Episode 2 - The Same Old Story
Episode 3 - Ghost Network

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dreaming in the Dark - The End of an Era?

I used to love going to the movies. It was an event. There was that excited anticipation of what was to come as you purchased your ticket; the smell of freshly popped popcorn loaded down with butter (or butter-like topping - ha!); picking out your favorite strategic seat location in the theater. Then the lights would go down and the theater would go silent, all attention focused on the screen before us, and the magic would begin. Then we would dream in the dark together. We would laugh together, cry together, cheer together - carried along on the shared experience of this art form. Then the lights would go up and the dream would be over. Sometimes we would clap. For my friends and I, we would always stay and read the credits, appreciative of all the little people who helped make the magic happen.

Oh... those were the days...

Has technology ruined this experience? Is that what is to blame? The screen and picture in some theaters can be sub-par, especially if the theater is operating with dimmed or bad projection bulbs. The picture is even worse compared to our flat-screen digital TV at home. Are filmmakers producing films that look good on home viewing equipment, or is it that the equipment in the theater hasn't caught up with the technology everywhere else? I have watched several movies at home (that I had first seen in the theater) and had no idea they looked that amazing. Combine the better picture with home surround sound systems, and your favorite recliner chair, and I wonder why anyone goes to the theater anymore, when you can have a better theater experience at home? (The popcorn costs less too!)

Regardless of the quality of the picture, there is something more upsetting, frustrating and depressing that is keeping me away from the theaters... the lack of common courtesy and decorum, simply being polite and respectful... it's the audiences.

I have seen people practically get into fist fights in theaters over "saved" seats. One time there was an older couple that came in right before a show was to start and the theater was mostly full. They were looking for two seats together and asked someone, with empty seats on either side of them, if they could move down, thus making two seats together. The guy replied, "Should have gotten here earlier if you wanted seats together." Nice. My husband and I scooted down and made room for them in our row, and you would have thought we had done some incredible thing. It's just common courtesy people.

I've been in a theater where a group of people were obviously there with the specific intent to ruin the movie for everyone else by heckling the movie and talking loudly, etc. When asked to stop or leave, they just got worse, started taunting other audience members, laughing louder at the accomplished goal of making everyone in the theater miserable. When the management was called, instead of kicking them out of the theater (i.e. holding them accountable for their actions) they were allowed to stay and the annoyed patrons were given vouchers to come back at another time. What kind of topsy-turvy world do we live in? I thought they would stop the film, kick them out, then offer to re-start the show for anyone who wanted to continue to watch and/or give them a voucher for next time. Silly me. I'm sure the punks relished in their victory of clearing a theater...

I've sat next to people who took business calls on their cell phone all throughout the movie. Dude, if you are that important, or if the business is having a crisis or whatever, then maybe you shouldn't be taking time for a movie. I've been constantly distracted by flashing blue lights out of the corner of my eye - people texting their friends during the movie. Seriously, you can't go for two hours without having a meaningless chat with your friends?

But above all this, there are two things that bother me the most. The first, is the unthinking parents that bring their very small child into the R-rated adult subject matter movie. I end up worrying about the poor kid's psyche through the whole movie, as I listen to the parent behind me constantly whispering "Just cover your eyes it will be over in a minute." as the kid wails in terror. No wonder our next generation of kids are so de-sensitized to violence and sex, etc. and have lost their innocence at such an early age. Is it really worth it, for two hours of entertainment? I sympathize with the parents; I really do. Babysitters are expensive (especially when you add on what you will already be spending at the theater). And it's hard to even find a babysitter you can trust anymore. However, the solution is not to take your kid to the theater, the solution is to sacrifice your theater-going. It's part of what you give up to be a parent.

But finally, the thing that bothers me the most, is the audiences' inappropriate reactions to what is going on in the movie, that depresses me and chill me to the bone. I have sat in a theater, where there was an obviously touching moment on screen, and my eyes were filling up with tears, and the audience would be laughing or mocking the event. I've seen films where there was a horrific murder, done to illustrate the absolute evil of the main villain, and heard theater goers laugh and say "cool!" Is it because they cannot handle the strong reactions this art form is creating in them, so the laugh to break the tension? (Like nervous laughter when you're in an intense situation.) Or is it something more sinister, in that people have forgotten how to connect, how to feel, how to generate empathy for the characters on the screen and the story being told? Or does it go back to the whole de-sensitized thing?

All I know is... it makes me sad. And it makes me wonder if we're watching the end of an era. There have been numerous articles online, talking about these very things, and how more people are staying home and watching movies at home because of them. Again... it just makes me sad.

I apologize for ranting. I try to stay away from posting personal rants on this blog, since that's not what I want it to be about, but since this is about one of my favorite art forms, I felt like it was applicable. So what about you? Have you experienced any of the things I mentioned? Want to share your theater-experience horror story? Have an idea for a solution to these problems? Drop me a comment and let me know.