My Life as a Plot Device

As many of you who follow this blog know, I generally write about horror movies or the Catholic Church. Often at the same time because I also do use this blog for shameless self-promotion. Just look at all of the posts about Ave Maria. (cheap plug)

But whenever I see a film that uses the sexual abuse of a kid as a plot device, I usually groan or eventually shut it off. Not that it’s too painful but because they rarely get it right. Take Jon Avnet’s Righteous Kill. What a cast! Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino! What can go wrong? Nothing until the big reveal (spoiler) that Pacino’s character has become an amoral killer/rapist because he was sexually abused by a priest as a kid. Yeah, that’s what happens to us. The only people who may find me amoral live beyond the Vatican walls. I mean do you think I’ll get an invitation from Pope Francis when he visits Boston this September?Trinity

Hence my first feature Trinity which is well into post-production. Let’s kind of get that story right. Ahem, but enough self-promotion.

As many of you may also know from this blog every year I host the Shawna Shea Film Festival, which is a fundraiser that supports the Shawna Shea Memorial Foundation. Of which submissions will be open very, very soon.

The unfortunate (euphemism) part about this is that I do this because I lost my daughter Shawna in a car accident in 1999. She was only sixteen. Devastating everyone, but especially her identical twin sister Erin. Which is why I would hate a movie like Single White Female. Talk about plot device gone wrong. Ugh. Even the title is about the almost fully entitled. But not quite, right single white guys?

Which is why, when I see grieving parents as a plot device I tend to get a little nervous. Where will they screw it up here? Being genre specific, it makes sense. There isn’t anything more horrific than losing a child. And some of them have done an okay job, even if it is only a plot device to move the story forward. And it is the type of story that can hit a general audience if done right. Regardless of the accuracy to folks like me,

Some of the best are Peter Medak’s 1980’s The Changeling with a stellar and accurate portrayal of a grieving dad by George C. Scott. A true rarity. And one hell of a scary movie.

TheChangeling3Other’s include the must see Nicolas Roeg’s brilliant 1973 film Don’t Look Now,  Lars von Trier’s 2009 film Antichrist with a must see performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg and the hidden gem David Keating’s 2011 film Wake Wood, an amazing folk horror film starring  Eva Birthistle and Aidan Gillen as the grieving parents. And the rarity where both get it right.

The list of good films begins and ends there. Any others that used this as a plot device simply don’t hit the mark. Not from my vantage point. Until now.

Two films played at the Stanley Horror Film Festival in Estes Park this past May that use this same plot device. Needless to say, I was already dreading it. I saw it as another chance to get it wrong. But both succeeded.

Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation and Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here are both worth the look.

the-invitation-2015-horror-movie-news-5The Invitation doesn’t only use grieving parents as a plot device to forward the story. it is actually about grieving parents. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Eden (Tammy Blanchard) were once part of a happy loving family until the death of their son rips the family apart. Eden has been gone for two years and returns inviting close friends to her house with her new partner David (Michiel Huisman) who have been in Mexico learning a New Age way to deal with life’s pain and tragedies. They want to share their knowledge. As it is a genre film their solution may be a bit radical but I don’t want to ruin this with spoilers. Worth noting are the direction and performances by both Marshall-Green and Blanchard. Will’s hyper vigilance that borders insanity is a huge part of grieving. The world is no longer safe and danger is seen everywhere. Even where it may not exist. And Eden’s detached acceptance is that strange contrary place that is always a facade to hide the pain. Which is torn away near the end when in the midst of insane chaos and pain, she finally admits how much she misses her son. Which is worse than any of the madness around them. Both give tremendous performances.

We Are Still Here uses grieving as a plot device, much like The Changeling to tell a separate ghost story. Including a nod to the latter with a ball bouncing down the stairs. A couple, Anne and Paul Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) move to a new house in the dead of winter to start a new life after the loss of their son. Many people who experience sever shock and trauma often feel like the veil between the worlds is very thin. If not ripped apart. Anne feels the spirit of her son around. She finds messages everywhere.  Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who defined the stages of grief, wrote about after death communication. Including her own experiences.  So are they getting communication with their son or is it something a little more sinister? Anne needed to find a way to communicate, including bringing in her psychic friends played wonderfully by Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden who quickly realize it is the latter. A sinister secret that seems to be kept by the entire town lead by the creepy Dave McCabe played by one of my favorite character actors Monte Markham to perfection. And as it is with genre films, all hell breaks loose at the end. Like Sam Peckilnpah’s Straw Dogs meet Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetery. Can’t get much better than that. Credit director Ted Geoghegan and producer Travis Stevens for knowing how to set the proper tone and pace of the film for the ending to have the hardest hitting impact.

Barbara Crampton WASHBarbara Crampton’s  performance is the standout of the film. With a similar character as Julie Christie’s in Don’t Look Now, Crampton’s Anne needs to make sense of the senseless. In Don’t Look Now Julie Christie always looked like, well, Julie Christie. But Crampton takes on the physical form of a grieving parent, looking drawn, exhausted and always on the verge of tears. She doesn’t look like Barbara Crampton you expect. She nails it.

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Holy See this Tribunal!

Today the Vatican announced that they would  create a tribunal “for judging bishops accused of covering up or failing to act in cases of child sexual abuse by priests.” writes Elisabetta Povoledo and Laurie Goodstein for the New York Times.  Not so buried in the story are two examples of criminal charges against Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of Minneapolis and St. Paul, whose archdiocese was indicted last week on charges related to the cover-up of sexual abuse of children. Then we have “Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, who was convicted on a misdemeanor charge for negligently handling a case involving a pedophile priest.” Plus Pell in Australia, the gay marriage vote in Ireland, which was seen as an “an unmitigated disaster” for the Catholic Church and well, that whole UN investigation and committee hearings into crimes against humanity and torture of children. Not the best PR for the PR Pope.

So what will this tribunal do? Who tells them that someone needs to be investigated?
For instance this past March the vatican appointed Bishop Juan Barros as the new Bishop of the southern Chilean diocese of Osorno. Barros has been not only accused of covering up for the notorious pedophile Reverend Fernando Karadima, in some cases Barros is accused of observing the abuse. Just to make sure he was actually covering up for a pedophile and not some poser. Still the Holy See found “no objective reason” not to make the appointment. Even as the Vatican found Karadima guilty of sexually abusing kids. Obviously Barros would never make it in front of this tribunal. He gets a new appointment.

Then there is the case of Jozef Wesolowski, defrocked archbishop of the Dominican who was called back to Rome avoiding criminal charges in the Dominican and who has been under house arrest within the walls of the Vatican. In an apartment. Because of his health. An awful lot of people pay 15 euros to get inside the walls of the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel. His apartment is somewhere around there. For free.

The tribunal is good PR, especially with the charges filed in Minnesota. They want to look like they are in the prosecution game too. But if their very recent past actions are any indication, it’s just another PR stunt.

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The Problem with The Secret


Shallow men believe in luck, strong men believe in cause and effect.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

If there were a day that began with “R” I would make that my rant day. Since there isn’t I guess Thursday is as good as any other.

I had conversation the other day with a young woman. I told her about my new blog and some of the ideas and methods I had come across to get to where I want to go. I told her about the learning curve and the things I am doing to get to where I want to be and working on my writing, etc… then I asked her what her dream was, she told me she wants to raise horses. She loved horses and saw herself with a stable of them breeding, raising and training them for others.

I asked her what steps she was taking to achieve…

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Freedom of Speech

Solid examination of artistic freedom of speech


2945445895_d30f74220c_zWith all the buzz lately about freedom of speech I inspired me to tackle this complicated subject. It’s very dear to me, mostly because I am not just a writer, I am an artist. I am also an art historian.

Artists and their cousins, writers, create from within their cultures, their backgrounds and circumstances. Their expression comes, necessarily, from what they live, what they think and what they feel. They are the barometer of a society’s health. Artists are frequently free thinkers, rebels even. It takes a lot of courage to take what you feel and put it in the public eye. It takes a lot of self-honesty to get those feelings out on canvas, paper, sculpture in a way that works… an artist must always be aware of self-censorship, because that stifles creativity. Being self-aware also makes one more sensitive to the environment one lives in… is it any mystery that…

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Pope’s 15 Ailments or My Sixth Grade Assembly

Recently the news has been going crazy with glee over the Pope dressing down the Vatican Curia. At least that’s what the headlines called it. It is actually the Roman Curia which is the governing body of the Holy See, which is the sovereign state in which the Vatican resides. But why let facts get in the way.

So this dressing down has more to do with the business end of the Vatican and not all of that other stuff they do. Which is why Francis was elected in the first place. The Vatican Bank was in scandal and crisis, laundering money for pre-repentant sinners and stuff like that. Monsignor Nunzio Scarano was arrested and Peter Sutherland from Goldman Sachs flew to the Vatican with words of wisdom.

As an aside, no one flew to the Holy See with any kind of warning while they were called in front of two UN Committees to investigate global crimes against humanity or the clergy sexual abuse screwing around with kids scandal. But screw around with the money of the one percent and, Holy See look out!

And man did Pope Francis listen. Not to the UN but to the bankers. After all the bank manages between 7 and 8 billion dollars in assets and investments and that needs protecting. So he took the job seriously.

Pope Francis appointed Jean-Baptiste de Franssu of Invesco Ltd. as bank president. And Cardinal Pell as Secretariat of the Economy. They did such a good job that Pell announced that they found millions tucked away. I can’t even tuck away 20 bucks, how they heck do you tuck away millions?

As an aside on Pell, when he was a Cardinal in Australia he lived with one of the worst pedophiles Gerald Ridsdale for a year and accompanied him to court. He later admitted he was unaware this would be insulting to victims. Let alone discourage more from coming forward because they would see the powerful institution they would be up against. Okay, I made up the last sentence.

Clearly he knows how to relate to criminals so the Holy See was the next obvious stop.

But this blog was about the dressing down of the Roman Curia. Not only a message to them but also to the bankers Pope Francis was elected to appease. They need to see he is in control. So how harsh was he with the 15 ailments? Let’s look.

1) “The sickness of considering oneself ‘immortal’, ‘immune’ or ‘indispensable” or don’t feel superior to others.

Oh, well okay.  I suppose people need to be reminded of that.

2) “‘Martha-ism’, or excessive industriousness” Or don’t immerse yourself in work. When it is done spend some time with family is important. …I’m not kidding. Here is the quote, “Rest, once one who has brought his or her mission to a close, is a necessary duty and must be taken seriously: in spending a little time with relatives and respecting the holidays as a time for spiritual and physical replenishment…” Okay, okay I suppose we all need to find balance.

3) “The sickness of mental and spiritual hardening“: that of those who, along the way, lose their inner serenity, vivacity and boldness and conceal themselves behind paper, becoming working machines rather than men of God. …

Wait a minute isn’t that sort of the same as 2?

Am I supposed to believe this is harsh? Because this reminds me more of a sixth grade assembly about working together or something like that.

4) “The ailment of excessive planning and functionalism” this is when the apostle plans everything in detail and believes that, by perfect planning things effectively progress, thus becoming a sort of accountant. …

I’m thinking if you had a good accountant you would have known where those millions were tucked away.

5) “Sickness of poor coordination” or work well together.


6) “Spiritual Alzheimer’s disease” or rather forgetfulness of the history of Salvation, of the personal history with the Lord.

Okay, this one totally makes sense. At least it has something to do with their relationship with God. This is expected. Although I’m not sure why it comes in at 6.

7) “The ailment of rivalry and vainglory

Don’t be jealous or vain. Okay now he’s just tweaking the seven deadly sins. Maybe this is closer to a 4th grade assembly.

It goes on, no cliques, don’t gossip, don’t be greedy. This is a dressing down to adults who run an 8 billion dollar country, institution?

Here is a link to the actual list.

But if this was a signal to the financial world then if I were on Wall Street I’d be concerned. Until I read number 15.

15) The “disease of worldly profit and exhibitionism: when the apostle transforms his service into power, and his power into goods to obtain worldly profits or more power. This is the disease of those who seek insatiably to multiply their power and are therefore capable of slandering, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally in order to brag and to show they are more capable than others.”

Ah, yes. No more leaks to the press about our wealth and our methods or else there will be further consequences. Like the three men Vatican just announced that will be brought to trial in the Vatican courts for embezzlement.

With everyone in line, it will soon be back to business as usual.

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Best Horror Movies of 2014

10.) Joe Begos “Almost Human”

Reminds me of the drive-in horror movie of the 70’s and 80’s. For that alone it deserves the spot.

9.) Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler”

In these days of instant news competing for ad revenue, the truth hardly matters anymore.

8.) E.L. Katz’s “Cheap Thrills”

This is why I don’t bet. But I bet you’ll love it.

7.) Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive”

Reminds me a lot of Xan Cassavette’s “Kiss of the Damned” which made last years list. Only cooler. Gorgeous movie. Brilliant performances. Existential dialogue. And blood popsicles.

6.) Adam Wingard’s “The Guest”

What if Jason Bourne was more like Frankenstein’s monster? Very intense and funny with an amazing performance by Dan Stevens.

5.) Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer’s “Starry Eyes”

A Faustian tale except Faust wanted everything, Sarah only wants to star in a B horror film. Amazing performance by Alex Essoe. Her audition alone scene is brilliant. And brave.

4.) Jeremy Saulnier’s “Blue Ruin”

An odd thriller/revenge film with heart and humor. could have just as easily been my number one pick. Plus it has Jan Brady!

3.) Mike Flanagan’s “Oculus”

The man behind one of my favorite movies, “Absentia” brings forth a story told in flashbacks, brilliantly edited about the dangers of the mirror, mirror on the wall…

2.) Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin”

It’s amazing how the Puritanical/Catholic beliefs that sex is a sin and can kill your souls still can work so powerfully as a metaphor for an alien killing men. A lot of non-actors hold their own in a film with Scarlett Johansson who always bring her A game.

1.) Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook”

Best descent into madness film since “The Shining” caused by the grieving process. I don’t think Elisabeth Kübler-Ross had this in mind when she defined the five stages of grief. Because it can be ugly. Very painful and ugly.

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Shawna Shea Film Festival to Benefit the Shawna Shea Memorial Scholarship This Weekend!


Shawna Shea Film Festival Year 3: Bigger, Better
With Two Full Days of Indie Cinema

The 3rd annual Shawna Shea Film Festival (SSFF)  has grown this year with two full days of indie cinema at the Somerville Theatre on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 21 and 22, 2014 in Somerville. SSFF honors the independent spirit of the late Shawna Shea, the daughter of local filmmaker Skip Shea, and brings together independent filmmakers and while supporting young women graduating from high school and starting off on their path in the world.

“Our family is very excited to see such a tremendous interest in our mission and what has
become a fantastic annual gathering of independent filmmakers from the U.S and around the world,” said Shea. “Shawna loved theater, performing and acting and she would really appreciate this kind of film festival, one that brings together the best and brightest of indie film and showcases innovative creativity in this corner of the film world. It’s the best way we can honor Shawna as an independent spirit.”

Tickets are available here. If you can’t make it to the festival, you can donate here as well. 14100455843

The festival lineup is:

Friday Nov. 21
Local Block, 2 to 4 p.m.
“Monae’s Room” by Raeshelle Cooke (Short)
“Always a Reason” by Chris Esper (Short)
“Raising Matty Christian” by Christian De Rezendes

Horror Shorts Block, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
“The Demon Deep In Oklahoma” by Lance R. Marshall
“Silk” by Rob Himebaugh
“Slow Burn” by Stephen Martin
“Deception” by Josh Zini
“‘M is for Mundane” by Andrea Wolan
“Picket” by Izzy Lee
“Gloom” by Randy Memoli

Horror Feature Block, 7 to 9 p.m.
“Cyclic” by Sean Carmichael (Short)
“Alice D” by Jessica Sonneborn

Saturday November 22
Foreign Block, 2 to 4 p.m.
“Butterfly Fluttering” by Roman Kayumov
“Silence” by Pegah Arzi
“Luminaris” by Juan Pablo Zaramella
“Mi Ojo Derecho” by Josecho de Linares
“Porque Hay Cosas Que Nunca Se Olvidan (Because There Are Things We Never Forget)” by Lucas M. Figueroa

Feature Block 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Opens with trailer for “The Loudest Sound” by Jason Miller
“Out of the Night” by Skip Shea (Short)
“Complicity” by CB Harding

Feature Block 7 to 9 p.m.
Opens with trailer for “The Loudest Sound” by Jason Miller
“The Actor” by Mike Messier and Skip Shea (Short)
“Alight” by Sean Carmichael (Short)
“Lies I Told My Little Sister” by William J. Stribling

The film awards ceremony follows immediately after in the theatre at 9:30 p.m.

SSFF benefits the Shawna Shea Memorial Scholarship which was established in 1999 after Shawna at 16 tragically lost her life in an automobile accident. Her twin sister Erin and her classmates memorialized Shawna by raising $10,000 and establishing this unique scholarship, which is awarded annually to a female Uxbridge High School graduate who exhibits Shawna’s special individualism that imprinted a lasting impression on everyone she touched in her short life. Since then, dozens of young women graduates from Uxbridge High School have received this award to continue their education. “We are truly blessed to provide this support in Shawna’s name since we know she would always want to help her friends and anyone who lives on the margins and deserves everything beautiful that life can give,” said Shea.

The Shawna Shea Memorial Scholarship Fund also includes a memorial award in the name of Michael Liberty, Shawna’s cousin. This award is presented to a male Uxbridge High School graduate who exhibits the qualities of inclusion and respect for all abilities and interests. Each year, Shawna’s family members and friends create fun and meaningful events to sustain The Shawna Shea Memorial Scholarship Fund to continue this legacy that honors Shawna, her character and her values.


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