Monthly Archives: October 2012

Cloud Atlas Review

Four AM on a Friday morning. Review time.

Preface to say I was excited about this film. Hearing Lana and Andy Wachowski do media for this film was fantastic. This was their baby. And they came out of anonymity in order to inspire the public to go check it out. And go check it out you should.

TLDR: Complex, thought-provoking, operating on many, many different levels, thematically rich, well acted. But also not for everyone, and weak in places.

Cloud Atlas is a movie about souls traveling through time. Each actor illustrates a different soul, each soul embodies itself in a different character in some six or so different stories that interweave throughout the movie as a whole.

The film is about redemption. Primarily embodied in the main soul (character), acted by Tom Hanks, it’s about one man’s journey from greedy killer, to awakened hero.

It’s about hope. But whereas we’re used to a study of hope in an individual sense, the scope of this story is cosmic. Dealing with over three or four hundred years of the human race, this becomes a story that doesn’t simply study one person’s life, but many people’s lives, afterlives, and the human race in general.

It would be wrong to say that this film is about karma or reincarnation. Those are labels, attached by cultures and adopted by societies, and so carry with them connotations and likely inaccuracies. Cloud Atlas seeks to transcend these instances, these windows of the world that we’re used to looking through in our daily lives (indeed, it’s our only view), and study something broader, if not greater.

“It’s through the eyes of the other that we most truly see ourselves,” (my rough paraphrasing) was one of my favorite quotes of the movie (and hopefully the book, when I get to that shortly). I mean, get-this-tattooed-favorite quotes. Applying individually to the characters, to the more grandiose souls, and to the way that we treat human beings in different cultures and races in general, this movie comments on layer after layer after layer.

Though at times some of the voice overs and thematic lines feel forced and even obviously trite, I think that’s the risk of a movie trying to do such grand thematic play. And it’s forgivable so long as the depth backs it up. The audience after all are all watching at different levels. And sometimes just pointing out that these character’s souls stretch through the movie, while overt to some, might bring the pieces together for others.

The visual components were fantastic. The acting was fantastic. The desire by Lana, Andy, and Tom Tykwer to make this book into a movie permeated the film, and to know that they did it independently, is even more of an accomplishment. Movies that take this kind of risk need to be supported. Hollywood needs to take these kinds of epic risks more often. Because we absolutely need brilliance of this measure on our screens.

For the first two thirds of the movie, I wasn’t very impressed. It felt very simple. But as the threads come together in the final third, the ethical and human and thematic and personal and redemptive issues start to come together, where loss and love are realized, where even the foundations of religion and hope itself are pulled apart and studied over time, the movie begins to do its truest work.

If entropy is about falling apart over time, this film is about how things are realized, and how they come together.

Now there are a few instances where the movie goes wrong, or where you feel it might go wrong. There’s been criticism cropping in the last few days about white actors playing asian characters. Anyone with this criticism hasn’t watched the movie. The actors have the challenge of playing characters of all races and genders. Asians play white characters, male plays female, white as Asian and all back again. This is the necessity demanded of this script. If you want to call it yellowface, you’ve utterly missed the point. That said, it’s not always elegant. Some actors just don’t quite fit the roles, and the effects can be distracting. Well done distractions, and to an important point. But not always elegant.

At times this, combined with the lofty ideas dealt with can very easily feel like the movie was trying to hard. And it’s easy to leave it at that.

The movie is long, and the pacing is a bit awkward at times, ringing in too many climaxes and sometimes jarring switches in the story and action. Scenes could have been cut. I was never bored. I was awake and engaged the entire movie. But I know some weren’t. Though the visuals are pretty and the action is well done, it can drag while keeping up with each storyline.

This is a movie you must engage with. To take it on its surface is to watch six compelling movies that awkwardly intertwine to no real rhyme or reason. But it’s that rhyme and reason that intertwines between them that absolutely is the point. As I said before, it’s about big issues. It breaks the conventions of every movie that’s come before it. You must go prepared to think.

If the thematic and intellectual achievement here was not enough, it was in these three directors capturing what has been said to have been unfilmable. Cloud Atlas is a massive scope of a story, and for these three to fit it in one three-hour movie experience, and as elegantly as they did, a true masterwork was accomplished here. And if you’re not left moved by the end of the movie, I hope you’re moved to think about the other impossibilities that this film has now made realistic.


Karl Pfeiffer is the author of the psychological thriller HALLOWTIDE. He also won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in creative writing, has lectured across the nation, and works at the Stanley Hotel, leading the public ghost hunts on the weekends. More can be found at

Quick Thoughts on AHS S2 Premiere

(For a review of the full season, see my most recent blog entry here.)

So in the last couple days I’ve had some folks asking what I thought about the American Horror Story Season 2 Premiere, now that I’ve actually watched it.

My early forecast was off in some ways, on in others. There seems to be less about handling of actual possession than I might’ve expected, and it turns out the rumors of aliens in this season may in fact prove true. Well–they need to.

The one thing that has stayed in my brain since watching is that I don’t want to feel cheated with this season. The writers have given themselves a test this year. They’re tackling, in some form or another, the idea of alien abduction. This is a challenge because aliens aren’t vogue right now. People take ghosts and zombies seriously, but making vampires and aliens frightening right now is hard. We’re not trained to take them seriously. That said, the Fourth Kind from a couple years ago did a fantastic job on their abduction-possession scenes. Those things had me so excited. It’s only too bad the rest of the movie was utter trash.

I’m seeing the same direction with this show. I’m hoping (as I’m hearing that the next episode will further this idea of possession and exorcism) that the dialogue continues between crossing those boundaries and blurring the lines between aliens and demons. This is a fascinating discussion within the paranormal community (read some John Keel).

But there’s a rule of stage-writing to avoid deus ex machina, that if there’s a gun introduced in the first act, it must be used by the third, and if a gun is used in the third, it must be introduced in the first. This way the writers don’t get to pull strings to just make things happen, and to avoid flippancy with story threads. So within the benefit of the doubt, I’d be a bit pissed if they don’t follow through on this alien thing. And if they do, they’ve got a task in front of them to make it frightening and engaging (but I think they’ve done a good job so far).

Which transitions me to the scares. Which they’ve NAILED this season. Taking their cues from much of the criticism of the first season (that it wasn’t particularly frightening, leaning on the rubber man and the thing in the basement and the unsettling situation more than the actual scares), the second season has dived DEEP within fright-territory. Creepy mental institution, spindly alien fingers, screaming, the criminally insane, things hiding in the dark, bloody face, gore, viscera, creepy doctors, that thing in the forest, religious fanaticism, racism, there are scares at every turn this season. And due to the unsettling editing style, there are turns every few seconds.

For some, there might be a bit too much thrown out at once. Too many horror elements in one. But 1st season juggled similar complexities (using the timeline of the house to differentiate), I trust the writers again here to keep the elements straight, and that when they do come together, they’ll do so elegantly. First season was planned from the start. I expect no less from the second.

I love the themes put forward. I love the breakneck pace into the heart of the scares. I love the style and the acting and the setup. I’m just praying that the writers again slow down and take the time to dissect some of the more twisted socio-cultural elements, of which I have complete confidence.

American Horror Story is brilliant so far.

AHS airs Wednesday nights at 10 on FX.

Karl Pfeiffer appeared on Ghost Hunters Academy and Ghost Hunters International. He works presently for the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, where he leads the public weekend ghost hunts. He’s also the author of the novel Hallowtide, and he’d love you forever if you wandered over to the website to have a look.

Is that the devil?

Three weeks ago, my white-haired, quiet, Catholic grandmother studied my final cover photo on the book before leaning in close and whispering in a voice so laden with concern that it bordered on afraid, “Karl, is that the Devil?”

“No,” I said, turning my mouth down and shaking my head. “No, no, no.” Because it’s not. The literal version of the cover is that it’s the main character burning in hellfire. But the devil is in the novel–if you so choose to read it in that light. And the opening quote is from Carl Jung, pointing out that “Man is not fundamentally good. Almost half of him is a devil.” Indeed, the story takes an eastern light on our western culture and blends the black with the white and tries to find a balance between the two. It’s about self-reconciliation and learning about the devil inside yourself and coming to terms with him. But I didn’t want to explain this to my grandma, so I said, “No.” I said, “No, no, no.”

But if I had answered, I would have said, “What makes you think it’s the devil?”

And the voice inside my head, playing my grandmother would say, “Well he’s on fire. And the flames look like horns. And he looks so angry.”

“Is angry all he looks?”

“He looks tortured. And in pain.”

“So is that what makes a devil? Being tortured, in pain, angry, aflame, and with imagery that suggests of horns?”

“And he looks evil.”

“Is that what evil is then? Being tortured? being in pain and angry and aflame?”

“Of course it’s more than that.”

“And he has that?”

Perhaps no, perhaps yes. If my grandmother does see evil in the image, if she says, “That’s essentially what Satan undergoes,”

I’d say, “then that’s exactly what my book is about. My book is about the Devil.”


You can buy Hallowtide through its website at

Paranormal Activity 4 Review

So thank god. The drunks were quiet tonight. Except my filmmaker buddy AJ had hiccups the whole time. The girls next to us thought it was funny though. So you know. Crisis averted.

Bullet points seemed to work well for last week’s Sinister Review (the review wasn’t sinister, that was the name of the movie) so I’ll be doing that again.

So Paranormal Activity 4. Continuing the saga of the now-actually-much-hotter-Katie (seriously I’m waiting for the books. Weight Watchers. South Beach. Atkins…. Demonic possession) and her nephew.

To think I almost gave you backstory. It’s the story of another family in another house with more video camera footage of their house being haunted ending with death and possession for all.

Point 1) The one thing I always like about these PA movies is that they keep coming up with clever and original ways to tell their stories through found footage. (As I discussed with AJ on the way home, the found footage genre wasn’t a gimmick in the first movie, but the only way that they could have made that movie compelling and frightening… all the rest are gimmicks now). Where in the second movie, it was a home DVR system, the third movie introduced the oscillating fan, and this movie introduced webcams and a laser-grid system from an Xbox Kinnect in night vision (If I still had a Kinnect I’d be trying the hell out of testing that).

The writers have gotten good at what they do, blending jump scares of the natural variety, the subtle jump scares of the supernatural variety, and comic witticisms from actually likable characters (burn in Hell Micah).

But point B) in this movie they stopped there. Apparently too bored with their own gimmicky scares and clever character, the normal progression of scares in this movie just failed. They jump right from the subtle scares to throwing people around the room before going right to the big climactic finish, running about scared in another person’s house (like they got bored and passed the script off from the 3rd movie to see if we were paying attention).

In fact, Point B1/2) it was as if the writers weren’t even trying. The one moment of actual tension in the movie (a bit of supernatural knife play) was underwhelming and brushed off in a way that seemed as if they didn’t even recognize the possibilities of such tension.

So, Point D) I was most disappointed by the lack of EPIC SCARE that had me fist-pumping like a champ in movies 2 and 3 (see: kitchen cabinets and kitchen, well, everything). But was at least rewarded with some epic creepy faces (which I’m a sucker for).

Overall, I mean, Point 6) it’s all been done before. Creativity to sustain gimmicks just isn’t enough. Especially when the scares disappoint.

Points 7,8, and E) No depth, no discussion, no originality in subject matter (the way that the first so wonderfully executed).

And yet, Point 2) I still enjoyed myself. Despite my laundry list of annoyances. And despite never actually jumping at any of their jump scares or ever actually feeling scared (which I’m not ashamed to admit the first movie or two did real work with), I still had fun. The audience still screamed and laughed. The jokes were still well played. And the plot was still entertaining. So I can’t say it’s a bad movie, even if, you know, it was.

And, Point 2.5) AJ’s hiccups were cured by the end of the climax. So there’s that.

Alright, so Point 2.8) The end WAS goddamn epic.


Post Script:

The trailer. If I recall correctly, there was a lot of upheaval about the last two movie trailers being made up mostly of scenes that weren’t in the movie, leading audiences to wrong expectations and confusion over the “reality” of the movie. The same goes for this one.

I for one, LOVE this. I fucking love it. And I hope anyone who watched the trailer for Sinister before seeing that movie in the theater LOVES this now too. To present the general idea of the movie, and the idea of how the events will go down, without actually spoiling any of the jump scares or action is FANTASTIC, and is something that many more movies need to consider. Whether that’s teaser trailers that act more as deleted scenes, or illustrating alternate versions of events, SPOILING MOVIES IN TRAILERS IS BECOMING A NATIONAL PANDEMIC, of which we’re rejecting cures. So please, call your senators or statesmen today. And think of the children.

Karl Pfeiffer appeared on the first season of the reality spinoff series, Ghost Hunters Academy, which he won, and later went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. He now works at the Stanley Hotel leading the public ghost hunts and writes for the TAPS Paramagazine. His debut novel Hallowtide dropped on the first of October, and contains far less snark than this here review. It’s about true love and a journey to Hell. And he’d love you forever if you click on over to take a look at it.

You can follow Karl on twitter @KarlPfeiffer

American Horror Story Season 2

(For a full review of American Horror Story season 2, see my most recent blog entry HERE)

Quick aside here. I spend a lot of time on this blog railing against cinematic horror for underachieving when the potential for really brilliant horror movies to share a dialogue seems so rare.

But tonight, the second season of American Horror Story premieres, and if I spend too much time talking about the failings of the horror genre, I have to talk about the successes.

And American Horror Story is absolutely one of those successes.

The divisive element of horror films these days is that most people go to horror to be scared. And different things scare different people. The inherent problem here is that some people will leave happy, other people will leave unhappy, and reviews will be divided.

I go to to horror films to think, to have my views of the world challenged and played with and questioned. Ethics. Norms. Cultures. Emotions.

And American Horror Story in its first season absolutely challenged every one of these. The word American in the title does an incredible amount of work. Not so much a proclamation of an “American” style, the show is instead a dissection of America, and those things very scary within our society. Dealing with such issues as infidelity, parenthood, school shootings, murder, abortions, and gay rights, it’s not the ghosts that are supposed to jump out and scare you (or the at-times over-the-top, strobing, Sam Raimi style scares), but these issues within our culture. The “American Horrors” are these decisions that the characters make, embodied in the spiritual. Echoes of the past compile in a narrative of changing belief-systems, opening minds. The show studies what is timeless beneath all of that, and the power of forgiveness in the face of atrocity.

That’s only the foundation. The discussion of these themes throughout makes for the real brilliance of the work. The choppy style of editing and storytelling advance many themes at once, cover much more ground, with the unsettling feeling of a house that’s made up not of just walls and plaster, but memory and experience. The house itself in the first season of American Horror Story is not a house, it’s a photo album, a series of snapshots of the darkest, twisted side of America itself.

And now we enter season two, where the camera has backed up and swiveled about to take on a new perspective of Americana and the foundation of our great state.

After a month of brilliant, subtle, flickery advertisements, we got a glimpse of the actual roots of the show. Check out the trailer below and consider the themes.

I’m absolutely excited. Dissecting religion and religious extremism in a scientific setting instantly pits the ideas of science versus god, and atheism versus theism against themselves. The nature of evil, the nature of evil in the insane, within religions themselves. Whether evil can stomp out evil. Whether evil recognizes itself. And, if we’re lucky–and god I hope we’re lucky–I’m crossing my fingers for a possession storyline running through this one, playing those religious themes I love so much even deeper against the nature of pure evil and how that manifests amongst mental disorder and religious (dis)orders.

And of course, what is it lurking outside in the woods?

American Horror Story Season 2 premieres tonight at 10 on FX.

Philanthropy Continued

I was going to leave this as a comment response, but I liked the bend in the conversation and I liked challenging notions of entertainment. So I want to keep the conversation going and see what you guys think.

Robynn left this comment the other day:

I’d suggest that reading purely as escapism is a form of entertainment separate from art. Absolutely this can be one of the goals of writing, and is the approach for many, (for most who want successful and wide-spread consumption of their art, I think in many cases the art needs to be in some way entertaining and escape-worthy). But I wonder about the philanthropy of that artistic side: the one that changes people, changes the world, and challenges the norms, which is a process that isn’t necessarily enjoyable, or one people want to escape into. 

This can be political or dramatic or religious. In whatever it is that’s so sufferable about this world that we want to escape from, good art, I think, should address those exact same things.

Perhaps it’s just the desire to change the world, even if that change is violent, that makes something philanthropic.

But it’s interesting that you bring your metaphor to drugs, and I want to address that too. If my writing is essentially crack, and I’m also a philanthropist by supplying your escape, could not the same be said of drug dealers? Pornographers? Exotic dancers? Action movie directors? Athletes?

Perhaps there is no easy answer, but I like to challenge everything, and this was the direction my thoughts went. Thanks for the comment Robynn, and thanks for letting me use you as a part of the conversation. Floor is yours now, guys. Discuss?

Sinister Movie Review

Another midnight showing. Another midnight showing audience who makes me hate midnight showings. (The talkative ones always chatter right behind me. I’m convinced it’s a conspiracy)

It’s almost three and I’m tired so I’m bullet pointing this one.

Sinister was… not so sinister. As you can see from the wonderfully creepy drippy poster art, the movie was marketed as like totally wicked. And like totally wasn’t.

Which isn’t to say it was a terrible movie. If you want to see a terrible movie go see the Apparition. But Sinister failed to impress.

If you happen to show up late to the movie but managed to watch the trailer beforehand, you’ll be good to waltz in whenever you like so long as you see the last ten minutes.

They must have filmed the final scene after putting together the trailer, in order to have the director of Insidious step in as guest director.

The creeps do get under your skin. I was watching for Mr. Boogie in the bushes my whole way home.

Two jump scares were awesome, a few more were so-so, and the other ten were given away in that goddamn trailer. As if comedy movies weren’t enough.

Also, putting a man in a mask and hiding him in a bush CAN’T be any harder than doing a terrible photoshop job to put him in the video still.

I’m a sucker for deeply thematic horror stories, and like any horror film these days, there was so much lost potential here. (See; combining and playing with the idea of writing as leaving a legacy, the idea of children leaving a legacy, the idea of the missing children leaving a legacy, the idea of people trying to forget a legacy, the idea of Buguul living within images, the idea of images having a life of their own, how the author can truly be immortalized, how his family can as well, but at what price, how this would apply to the audience watching these images too). Without any extra exploration, all that stuff feels a bit gimmicky to me. But that’s not a requirement for a good flick, so…

Though the premise held promise, the writing was weak and rushed. For a movie that leaned heavily on atmosphere (and did so well, much of the time), the urgency of the characters and the spirits is never really addressed, and just feels like storytelling without patience.

The drama of the writer-who-wants-to-leave-a-legacy-and-is-oh-so-married-to-his-love-of-writing-gory-true-crime-at-the-expense-of-his-family (BUT IT’S ALL FOR THEM, DRAMATIC IRONY, SEE?) is relatively well conceived and shouted (sorry, acted) out, even if overall it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

(The stereotypes went a long way too. I’m writing a book. BRING OUT THE WHISKERS.)

The movie was choppy and never settled on a style, and the film’s strange dream-sequence children scene seemed oddly out of place and decidedly un-scary.

The strength of the movie was indeed in the moments when we were left with Hawke and the 8mm projector, where the whirring and the tinkle of the ice in his glass and the sound of him swallowing were as jarring as the really wonderfully creepy style of the found footage. Between this (the heart of the movie) and the abundance of good jump scares and echoes of atmosphere, it’s a fun flick and doesn’t fail. But when the projector was off, the rest of the movie just couldn’t hold together for me. And I was left only feeling the void of its potential.

That said, go check it out if you want a good seasonal fright.


Disagree? Agree? Sound of in the comments below.

Hallowtide Facebook Banners

It’s a Wednesday and it’s October so what do you say to snagging some Hallowtide Facebook banners to promote the book and freak out your friends?

Philanthropic Art

So in California two (three?) weeks ago, I was having a discussion with a wonderful gentleman about philanthropy and art. Chris McCune walks into the room and points out something about what a philanthropist I am. My knee jerk reaction is that I’m not. I think a lot of people in the world today are idiots and I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that charity work doesn’t make me feel wholesome. Chris shook his head and said, “naw man, you’re a writer–you’re a philanthropist.”

And I had to chew on this for a while. Because I’m not sure he’s wrong. But I’m not sure he’s right either.

I write because I’m thinking, and I have stories that come together, and I’d like to put them down permanently and exercise those stories.

The next level is SHARING what I’m writing, and that is distinct from the writing itself. Why do I share what I write? I share what I write because I want to produce ART.

What then is ART? There’s a quote that I’ve been trying to find, but for the life of me cannot (if anyone can help, that’d be wonderful). But the quote goes something along the lines of the purpose of art being to “settle those unsettled and unsettle those settled.” And I quite take to this. There’s another quote by Georges Braque, “Art disturbs, science reassures.” I like this idea of art being challenging, moving, disturbing, unsettling. It’s part of the reason I’m so taken with the horror genre. There is real art that can be done within.

Now the question then is whether or not THAT is something that helps people: whether or not the purpose of ART, if that’s one way to define it, as disturbing, is helpful? Because that can have very negative results. You unsettle someone and they might jump off a bridge.

So the question remains whether or not the act of SHARING a piece of ART is inherently philanthropic.

What do you think?


Edit to add: