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Movie Review—”The Nightmare”

I’ve never suffered from sleep paralysis before, but I find the subject fascinating. When I question friends who’ve suffered from it, they’re quick to change the subject, as the memories of the experiences still affect them. Of course, this just raises my curiosity about the subject. What I find truly interesting is how many people experience the same thing when they go through sleep paralysis: pressure on their chest, inability to move or make any vocal sound (like scream), and the shadow people–dark human-like figures that enter the person’s room.

The premise of Rodney Ascher’s “The Nightmare” is a series of interviews with people who suffer from sleep paralysis. He gets them to describe their experiences and then does reenactments with actors on a set. This put me off initially, because this basically sounds like any cheesy paranormal-themed show where they have interviews with “victims” of haunting and such and then have actors do their best horror impression on a fake-looking set. But the thing about “The Nightmare” is that these reenactments, for the most part, work. Ascher shoots them effectively, like a real horror movie–he builds atmosphere and doesn’t rely too much on jump scares.

The interviews themselves focus solely on the interviewees’ experiences; there’s no delving into the scientific or medical reasons as to why sleep paralysis occurs, nor is there a look into the cultural impact (people accused of being possessed or some other supernatural reason). This is strictly from the point of view of these people who must endure countless sleepless nights lying in terror because they’re simply too afraid to sleep.

Image from geeksofdoom.com

The reenactments rely on the interviewees’ description–a narration, essentially–of what happens when they sleep. Asher uses traditional TV-style sets in place of real bedrooms, but the dim lighting masks much of the “fakeness” of the environments. He plays with shadows well, hiding the dark figures lurking in the shadows. Often Ascher uses doorways or windows to frame the shadow people, highlighting them against the darkness, before letting them slip into the room with the victims.

It’s very effective, in small doses.

The illusion begins to fall apart when the camera lingers too long on the shadow people, which allows the audience to see that they really are just people in a black full-bodied leotard. There are a few moments when one of these dark figures creep uncomfortably close to one of the victims, and the camera pushes just too close to their faces. It’s at this moment when you can easily see the stitching and texture of the fabric covering the shadow person’s face. Then is just looks silly–an actor hovering too close to to someone’s face, and the other actor putting on her best “I’m-too-scared-too-look” face.

Then there are instances when the “fakeness” is intentional. There’s one scene that shows one shadow person–actually I should specify that it’s the actor playing the shadow person–move from set to set, changing his costume before entering another room with another one of the victims. There are even shots where the studio lights above the sets are clearly visible. I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of this was, but I have to admit I found them visually interesting, though I’m glad Ascher kept these to a minimum.

“The Nightmare” is interesting in that it straddles that line between genres. It’s most definitely a documentary, but the reenactments are, at times, so effective that any one of those segments could be its own movie. It’s worth a look for horror fans tired of found-footage copycats and C-grade torture porn. Rodney Ascher and cinematographer Bridger Nielson find ways to keep the tension up even during typical floating head interviews, and I’d be interested in seeing them tackle the subject in a more conventionally-structured horror film.

October 5, 2015 at 12:47 pm Leave a comment

Annoying Things About Podcasts

I’ve been an avid listener to podcasts for several years now, ever since buying my first iPod in 2005 (it was a 4th generation 20gb iPod Photo, which had provided me with many hours of audio entertainment, until it began to die this past December; it has since been replaced by a comparatively newer model 30gb 5th gen iPod video).  Every day, I update my list of podcasts in my iTunes, hoping that something new will be available for download so it can accompany me on my excursions to San Francisco.  What attracted me to podcast was the magic word: FREE.  They’re free to download, free to listen to, free to share, and if deleted, free to re-download (as long as the file is still on a server).

Then something wonderful happened: some of the audio podcasts I listened to actually hooked me.  They were quite good, with hosts that were fun to listen to and information that was, well, informative and entertaining.  As anyone who’s ever searched for a podcast to subscribe to will know, there’s a podcast for quite possibly any subject out there.  From video games, to movies, to creative writing, to cooking, to sex, to politics, to religion, to history, to stamp collecting . . . and the list goes on and on.  If you’ve got a hobby, it’s almost a sure bet there’s a podcast on it.

After a while, I began to whittle down the number I listen to, and for various reasons.  The primary reason being time; I only have a limited amount of time per week I can spend listening to shows.  The second reason is content.  If I listen to five different podcasts about movies and the latest reviews, chances are some information and content is going to start repeating itself.  I began to realize that the podcasts I’ve stuck with generally follow a criteria of what I would think any good podcaster would stick with.

1.  If you’re going to start your own podcast, you have to be able to speak comfortably to an audience.  Essentially, you have to be a good public speaker. The rules about public speaking generally apply here: no “ums” or “uhs” when you talk, plan out what you’re going to say or talk about, and if you’re going to improvise, don’t ramble too much or you’ll lose your audience.

2.  Consider why you want to do a podcast.  For example, if you want to talk about video games, good for you.  Go on iTunes and look up how many shows there are about that same subject (both audio podcasts and video podcasts) and think very hard about how you would plan to steal some of their audience.  Remember, downloading shows are free, making them is not.  You’ll most likely have to pay server fees to upload your files, equipment to actually record on, and probably have to do some post-production editing once you’ve recorded.  If you do a show, and you’re some nobody with a Geocities fansite that just regurgitates industry news, chances are you’ll get zero subscribers.

3.  Use some decent equipment, for cryin’ out loud. Most ‘professional’ podcasters generally have a room reserved for, or converted to a recording studio.  They use really nice microphones and have some kind of mixing board.  When listening, they sound like a professional radio show.  I’m not saying that everyone needs to spend hundreds of $$$, but if your show sounds like scrambled AM radio with a  really weak signal, then don’t even try.  At the very least, invest in a decent PC mic, which should cost around $20-$30.

4.  Consider the length of the show and how many times you want to do it. Most shows I listen to are weekly, updated once giving me a reasonable amount of time to listen to the show in its entirety.  However, I rarely get through all the shows I subscribe to within a week, usually because there are so many shows I listen to that are too damn long, I can’t get through all of them.  However, there is one show that I am a loyal listener of, and it’s actually updated almost every weekday.  But, that show’s length is generally around 30 minutes, whereas the weekly shows can go from 40 minutes to 3 hours.

Your train of thought might be as follows: “Hmm… I want my show to be weekly, and if my show is 2 1/2 hours long, that should be plenty of time for a listener to get through it all before the next show.” Don’t think like that.  Consider this: if a listener is subscribing to your show, chances are they’ve got a couple more they’re listening to.  They may not have time to listen to all 150 minutes of your show.  So, if they’re not going to listen, why make it that long?

What I suggest is this:  If you have an audio podcast that’s daily, keep it to 30 minutes or less.  If it’s weekly, no longer than 2 hours (preferably 90 minutes or less).  There is one show that I listen to that’s updated once a month (at best; sometimes once every two months), so in some cases you can have ridiculously long, epic shows because you’re probably not going to be doing one for a while.

I know there are dozens upon dozens of ‘Things To Keep In Mind’ when doing a show, but these are just a few things that I think are very important to anyone thinking of starting an audio podcast (a video podcast is a whole other matter).

If you want an example of how to do a podcast, listen to an episode of The Daily Breakfast, created and hosted by a priest (yes, a priest) from the Netherlands.  This is the daily show I mentioned earlier.  It seems to do everything right: it’s not too long, not too short, entertaining, and very well-produced.  Yes, he does talk about religion at times, but he does talk about movies, TV shows, video games, and he’s also not some uptight holier-than-thou kind of person (he plays Halo, loves sci-fi movies and shows, and appreciates all sorts of secular music).  What really impresses me is that production value: he has the best produced podcast I’ve ever heard.

On the flipside, there’s a Nintendo-themed podcast by some guy named Daniel Friedlaender.  Holy crap this podcast is boring.  Way too many ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’, pauses, and moments where he just rambles on.  He runs some pretty popular fansites (a Zelda site and a general Nintendo site), but his podcast is just not a great, or eve good, or even ‘decent’ example of how to do a show.  If you want a good Nintendo-themed fan-run show, check out Gonintendo.  That one works primarily because it’s a bunch of people doing the show, and so they can play off each other instead of just one dude sitting in front of a mic.  For a great general videogame podcast, there are plenty to choose from: Giant Bomb, ListenUP, VGO, RebelFM, etc.  Granted, most of those are run by industry insiders (except VGO), they’re still pretty good shows.

June 29, 2009 at 11:12 am Leave a comment

$20,000 for a cup of coffee?! I’m in

Saw this on the local news the other night. There’s a cafe in San Francisco (Blue Bottle Cafe) that purchased a $20,000 brewing machine. Each cup of coffee (no espressos, no cappuccinos, just coffee) runs about $9-$11. I know I’m a poor college student, but I have to try it at least once.

the $20,000 coffee machine

(image from sfist.com)

January 27, 2008 at 5:02 pm Leave a comment

Figuring this thing out.

Just opened this account, now I’m just messing with it.

January 11, 2008 at 12:08 am Leave a comment

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

January 10, 2008 at 2:26 pm 1 comment


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