For years we’ve looked forward to watching the Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts. Well, I have to say the selection this year was quite unexpected. That isn’t a good thing either. The real show was watching the stunned movie goers stagger out of the theater shell shocked and depressed.
One had a slightly bitter sweet message, but the rest were just depressing and somewhat disjointed.
Skin (United States)
The was the only American film in the group. It was sort of a skin-head white-trash revenge film. It was squirmy and uncomfortable with a totally unrealistic ending that sort of wasted the message of the movie. We came up with a lot of much better endings and resolutions.
This was a bitter sweet story of an elderly woman and her caretaker. The message was about missed love and understanding. It had a bitter sweet ending. This was the only one that didn’t make me want to cry, scream, or throw something.
Madre / Mother (Spain)
A woman gets a call from her small child. He is alone on a beach. He can’t find his father. Twenty minutes later they are still on the phone and the tension is high. PANIC time. No ending. Seriously, there is no ending. It was like the start of a movie but nobody was allowed to see the rest of it.
Two typical funny kids (think of the boys in Stand By Me) go exploring what looks like some sort of mining operation. Bad things happen. I had tears in my eyes at the end of this one. It was well done but odd and disturbing.
If you want to have your heart and gut torn out watch this half-hour film based on transcripts of police interviews with Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the English boys who were convicted of torturing and murdering two-year-old James Bulger in 1993. I was in tears after this one too. Yes, it was done well. Yes, it might just win. No I wouldn’t see it again.
I would not show kids any of these films. I wouldn’t recommend this group to any of my friends.
On the way out my husband, daughter, her boyfriend, and I discussed all of the live action shorts we’ve seen in the past. Never have we seen such a depressing selection. And most live action horror shorts I’ve seen are 200% better than any of these. And I don’t like most full length horror films so I’m not playing favorites on the genre. I’m just saying these films kind of left me feeling dead, and that’s coming from me.
We watched the movies at the wonderful Crest Theater in Sacramento, California, a restored movie palace of a bygone era. That made it worth while.
The Crest Theater was also the inspiration for my story “A Night at the Crest.” Maybe one day I’ll make it into a short film, or maybe a full length movie, or into a full length book (my original plan.)
A Night at the Crest
A Story from Marla Todd (Juliette Kings)
Dallas Andrews was performing at the old Crest Theater in Sacramento. Jonathan Ward’s soon to be ex-girlfriend Beth told him that this guy was hot. Andrews could actually communicate with the dead. Dallas Andrews said angels walked among them. He claimed to see angels all around him 24/7.
Andrews was the darling of the clairvoyant, medium, mysticism, aura generating followers of spiritual awakening. He had been featured on most major network and cable television stations. He did radio shows, graced the covers of magazines and now was packing in full houses on a nation wide tour. He followed in the footsteps of Casey and Nostradamus. His book was on the best selling nonfiction lists.
Jonathan had tried to talk Beth out of it. He told her the guy was a fake. He told her that all of these guys were fakes, but she insisted. She told him it would be fun and enlightening.
“It would be fun and enlightening to stay home and watch The Wizard of OZ.” he replied, but she wasn’t going to budge.
Jonathan Ward, founder and editor of the West Coast Review, was 5’10 with broad shoulders on his medium build. He was in good shape for someone his age, which appeared to be somewhere in his mid 40’s. According to his drivers license he was 46. His sandy brown hair had soft grey streaks at the temples. His eyes were framed with long thick lashes. His prominent nose was straight and narrow, but it fit with his oval face. He was good looking enough to get noticed by women but not enough to stand out in a crowd, unless one noticed his almost unnerving pale ice blue eyes. He had almost a perpetual and too quick of a smile. “Always amused” is how he was often described.
His companion Beth McAllister was knock down drop dead gorgeous and she knew it. Aside from her occasional bizarre and childish fascinations with freaks like Dallas Andrews, she was also brilliant. Well, most of the time.
Beth chattered away as they entered the lobby of the Crest Theater. Her stiletto heels clicked on the floor. Jonathan always thought of it as her mating call. He slid his hand down over her perfect behind. She promptly slapped it away. “Who do you want to contact?” she asked.
“Judy Garland and Billie Burke.”
“No, it has to be somebody you knew.”
“There are no dead people I want to talk to.”
“Maybe Dallas can contact your parents or your brother.” She said gently.
“They have unlisted numbers”
“You aren’t funny.”
“Bitch.” he whispered then kissed her on the mouth and led her to their seats.
As they made their way through the crowd his eyes met a well-dressed, slightly handsome, thirtyish man in the lobby. Jonathan was sure it was a plant; someone sent by Andrews to listen in to the conversations in the lobby. “My brother was blown to bits in Afghanistan. Pass that one on to your boss.” The man looked calm but Jonathan knew he’d unnerved him.
The restored art deco movie palace was the perfect place for the grand show of bullshit he would witness tonight. The lights dimmed. A woman in a long green dress played a traditional Irish harp on the corner of the stage. At the other corner was a plainly dressed woman signing for the deaf.
“I bet there isn’t one deaf person in this theater.” He said to Beth. She rolled her eyes at him and squeezed his hand. The lights came up on the stage. The crowd cheered. Jonathan sat back with his arms crossed, glaring at the stage.
Dallas Andrews walked causally onto the stage dressed in a white silk shirt, cream colored tie and matching cream colored dress slacks finished off with tan Italian loafers with tassels. He was in his mid-to-late thirties with wavy dark hair and boyish good looks. He smiled sweetly at the audience showing off perfect dimples, practically glowing with goodness and concern.
“How innocent, how angelic, how phony” thought Jonathan.
The audience clapped until Andrews blushed on command and told them to stop. Jonathan glanced at Beth. She was transfixed. He had lost her, to Dallas Andrews, at least for the next hour.
The man in white told his story with all the passion of the finest bard or worst televangelist, depending on one’s point of view. It was all bullshit about dead friends and relatives who’d ended up with tragically only to “speak” to Dallas through his new found gift.
Dallas ended his touching life story with “We can all be at peace with those we love who have passed over. I knew at that time I had to help others to find that peace and end the pain and worry.
It is a selfish thing that we expect the dead to contact us. It isn’t easy for them. But I’m trying to make it easier, as their go between. I channel. I am the messenger. I am merely a vessel to bring the message of love from the other side.”
Jonathan said nothing as the audience sat transfixed. He jotted a few notes then put his pen away. The night might not be a complete waste of time if the timing was right.
Andrews proceeded to ask questions of tearful audience members who wished to hear from departed loved ones.
“I’m hearing from Mary, Martha? I also see black and white. A nun. A policeman.” Andrews said in the most gentle and concerned voice.
“I can’t fucking believe this.” Jonathan swore under his breath. The people around him glared. He ignored them.
They heard from a dead son killed in a car accident, a recently departed grandmother, a young wife who died from cancer, a career Army officer killed in Iraq. Jonathan’s heart broke for those who came looking for answers and the hope of any small comfort. He took notes while Beth wiped tears from her face.
After about 90 minutes Andrews opened up for questions and answers. When called on, Jonathan stood up with his usual amused smile. “Be nice” Beth whispered.
Dallas Andrews saw a familiar face. He knew who the middle-aged man in the expensive black suit and distracting ice blue eyes was. Then he noticed the incredibly beautiful brunette sitting next to him. Dallas smiled sweetly at Beth, catching her off guard. She smiled back then blushed. With any luck he’d she’d be at the reception afterwards and after that in his suite at the Hyatt Regency across the street.
“Yes, you had a question.”
Jonathan addressed the clairvoyant. “You actually see angels? Show me who the angels in this room are?”
Dallas smiled and nodded “You won’t be able to see them. They are spirits who reveal themselves to me, but they are here, all around us. Open your heart and you’ll feel their presence.”
Jonathan didn’t like the answer “Tell me Mr. Andrews, are your angels from heaven or are they from someplace else? It’s often hard to tell the difference.”
The room hushed. Dallas Andrews was obviously annoyed by this man. “I sense you have a troubled soul.”
“You don’t know the half of it.” Jonathan replied in disgust.
Andrews gave a sympathetic smile and help out his hands, palms up. “Let me try to help you find out where your demons come from.” His voice was soothing as if talking to a troubled teen.
Jonathan almost laughed. “Oh you’re good. You’re very good. Mr. Andrews, where I come from we have words for people like you. A few that come to mind are liar, con man, cheat, and oh yes, more importantly sinner.”
“What is your name?” asked Andrews trying to keep his composure.
“You know perfectly well who I am.” thought Jonathan. He smiled at the man on stage. “Jonathan Ward, West Coast Review.”
Dallas Andrews pointed at Jonathan then put his finger to his chin. He smiled again. “I thought I recognized you. You’ve seen with your own eyes, heard with your own ears the news I’ve brought to these people tonight. Mr. Ward, humor me for a moment. Think of someone you’ve lost. Your parents were from Alaska. They died in a plane crash, you and your siblings survived. Would you like a message from your parents?” he asked raising an eyebrow at Jonathan.
Beth took Jonathan’s hand. He gave it a quick squeeze and let go. Parents my ass. “Why should my dead mother contact you, a stranger, when she could contact me directly?” he asked.
Dallas toned down his voice. He turned up the gentleness and compassion. “You block out the passage for her to travel with your negativity.”
Jonathan only glared. “You found the information about my mom from the bio on my web site. You’ve been following my stories for the past year.”
“You must have great pain in your heart” replied Dallas in a comforting voice, as he put his own hand over his heart.
“How do you know my mother is really dead or even has a soul?” Jonathan shot back sarcastically.
“I speak with the angels.”
“Really? You not only see, but you also speak with angels? That is truly amazing.”
“It is a gift, a blessing.”
“It’s a lie.” said Jonathan calmly as Beth sunk lower in her seat.
Dallas Andrews smiled sadly “Ladies and Gentlemen, this reaction is common from skeptics. There are angels all around us.”
“There’s one right next to you.”
Jonathan ignored the comment. “Dallas, do you believe in God?”
“Do you believe in hell?”
“I believe in the intrinsic goodness of all mankind. So, no, Mr. Ward, I don’t believe in hell.”
“You will Dallas, believe me you will.”
Dallas lifted his chin in defiance. “Is that a threat?”
“No Dallas, it isn’t a threat. It’s a statement of fact.” Jonathan said cooly.
“What in your opinion is hell, Jonathan?” asked Dallas slowly and deliberately as if he was ready to pull out the big guns.
“I’ll give you a tour,” Jonathan thought to himself. He wasn’t going to take the bait. “I’ve seen enough. Good night Dallas. Don’t forget to check out next week’s issue of the West Cost Review for the end of this riveting story.” Grabbing Beth’s hand, he started to make his way to the back of the theater. Beth stopped and turned back.
“Just like Lot’s wife.” He whispered in her ear.
She pulled her hand away and hissed “Asshole.” He stopped by the exit door and faced the stage.
Dallas Andrews had already started to have a violent seizure. Then he started to scream and fell to his knees holding his head in his hands. Soon he’d feel pain like he’d never felt before. It was an ugly way to end the evening, but the man had to be stopped. Jonathan couldn’t kill, but he could do an amazing amount of damage to the living. Maybe, with any luck, Dallas Andrews would get the message and change his ways.
Jonathan smiled slightly and narrowed his eyes “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Amen.” He said quietly to nobody in particular.
Beth looked at him with wide eyes.
He scowled at her “What? Don’t look at me like a frightened cat. I told you he was a fake.”
“Jon, we can’t just leave.”
“Sure we can. There isn’t anything we can do here except be in the way.” He took out his phone and dialed 911. “My name is Jonathan Ward. I’m at the Crest Theater on K Street. Sacramento. Dallas Andrews is having some sort of attack. Horrible convulsions. Oh my gosh, I think he passed out. Please, he needs help. I’m not sure…there’s a doctor or someone up on stage with him now.” He paused “Yes…you’ve had other calls…help is on the way. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Beth stood in shock. “Oh no, oh no.” she whispered, her eyes still on the stage.
“Let’s go darling.” Jonathan told her grabbing her arm like a vice and practically dragging her out of the theater. She passed a few of her wide-eyed friends, but he didn’t let her stop. She’d be blabbering all night to them about poor Andrews. He wondered how someone as smart as Beth could be so gullible and stupid when it came to crap like this.
They walked across the Capitol Park to his car. Beth was livid.
“We should have stayed. I bet you made him have an aneurism with your stupid questions. I can’t believe how rude and mean spirited you were to him. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.” She tried to stop him but he kept walking.
He gave her a disgusted look. “I was rude and mean spirited? At least I was telling the truth.”
“No, if he dies it will be your fault.”
“How will it be my fault? Should I have asked for his medical history before I asked him any questions?”
She grabbed his arm. “Aren’t you concerned at all?”
He stopped and pushed her hand away. “Tell me why I should be concerned with a fraud like Andrews? Enlighten me?”
Beth was livid. “Dallas isn’t a fraud. What I saw tonight was real.”
This was going nowhere. Jonathan changed his tone. He ran his hands down her arms and gently took her hands. “Dear sweet Bethany. It wasn’t real.”
“You never respect anything I say or feel.” She cried trying to pull her hands away. “What about his visions from his cousin and dead girlfriend? He couldn’t have been making that up.”
Jonathan held on tight. “His cousin Joyce died when he was two years old. Andrews had seen her once. And there was no girlfriend Patty. She was a girl in his dorm who died of leukemia. They knew each other but they never went out.”
“He might have loved her. He might have cared for her.”
“No Beth, the guy is a liar and a fraud.”
“You don’t know that.”
““Listen to me. Remember the first time you saw the trunk that belonged to May Woosley, in the Sacramento History Museum? You were on a field trip with your nephew’s 4th grade class.”
Beth blinked, her voice turned shrill. “What are you talking about?”
“Let me jog your memory. May died in 1879. She was just a little girl. On the advice of a clairvoyant, like Andrews, her mother sealed a trunk full of May’s belongings in the wall of their home. Mrs. Woosley spent the rest of her life searching for a message from her daughter because she’d listened to the words of a con-artist rather than listening to her own heart for healing. The trunk wasn’t found again until 1979. When you saw it in the museum you cried. You went home and cried all night for the little girl and her family.”
“How did you…that was 5 years ago, before I even met you. I never told you about that.”
“You didn’t have to. Beth, don’t you see. You knew Mrs. Woosley was lied to. Dallas Andrews lies to people too.”
A tear rolled down her cheek. She backed away. “How do you know these things? You always know things.”
“I observe and I guess a lot.” He wiped the tear away and kissed her. “See, you aren’t as tough and shallow as you pretend to be.”
The fog had rolled leaving the night air with zero visibility. He took her hands and wrapped the car keys around them. “You’re driving.”
She took the keys knowing full well that he was practically blind on clear night and completely blind in the night fog.
“Could you even see Dallas Andrews on the stage.”
“I could see enough. Let’s go.”
“If you could have seen his face.”
“I saw his face clear enough to know every single thing he said was a lie.”
She adjusted the seat and glanced over at him. “You’re such an asshole.”
“Where are we going?”
“Your house.” Her house was closer and he wouldn’t have to drive her home in the morning.
“You expect me to let you…”
“I love you Beth. Nothing, including your faith in a charlatan like Dallas Andrews, is going to change that. Not now, not ever.” He took her hand and whispered, “You are my soul. And despite the fact that you drive me absolutely crazy, I need you.”
Another tear rolled down her cheek as she drove in silence.
When they got back to her house and made love to her like she was the last woman on earth. She asked him again about the long thin scars on his back. He told her for the 100th time that he didn’t remember how it happened. It was during the plane crash when his parents died way up in the Alaskan wilderness, hundreds of miles from anyone. So final. So tragic. It made for a good story, even thought it wasn’t true.
Beth’s amazing body was as fake as the con man he’d just put down. Beautiful store bought breasts, a dazzling smile of the best veneers money could buy, cheek implants and a slightly smaller and straighter nose than nature had given her, violet colored contacts covering her hazel eyes, the trendiest hair colorist in town, a sprayed on tan, artificial nails and a toned body thanks to grueling sessions with a sadistic personal trainer named Bruce. Jonathan thought wistfully that there was an entire generation of American men who had never felt a real female breast.
The sad thing was that at 38 Beth would have been lovely without most of the work. At least her heart was real, despite her tendency to be shallow and superficial.
He knew he scared her. The only reason she kept him around was for the great sex and his political connections. What a joke – there were no real “best” connections in Sacramento or anywhere else for that matter.
Jonathan knew the best people to know where those brilliant folks who stayed away from the media limelight, away from the cultural and political wanna-bees. He often thought, “Give me the rocket scientist next door over those who claimed they partied with Arnold and Jerry, or knew the more influential elected officials and developers at the state capitol. Give me my own friends; the mom who writes historic romance novels, the high school science teacher, the master gardener and the emergency room doctor. These were the people who really know what it is like to be alive and human.”
The next morning the fog had been replaced by a grey drizzle of rain. He left Beth’s in his silver Jaguar XJR, heading off to the airport to pick up Lorna. A few years his senior, she was a golden haired, blue eyed living Barbie doll. She lived in Malibu with a view of the ocean. Tapped into the spiritual rhythm of the ocean, she fit right into the affluent new age lifestyles of her neighbors. They had to be some of the most entertaining and shallow people he’d ever met.
“Where’s the hybrid?” asked Lorna
“Dropped it off for new tires.” He thought of Lorna and her unrelenting social conscience – knew he should have driven the hybrid, then shrugged it off. This weekend he wanted style not substance. In a few hours all the substance he could ever want was going to be shoved down his throat.
“What are you listening to?” she asked in disgust when he started up the car.
She turned it off. “Have you heard today’s news yet?”
“No. I’m clearing my mind today. No radio. No TV. No newspapers. No Internet. No phone.”
“Tell me what happened last night?”
“Beth broke up with me. She said I was too intense. I recall she used also used the words weird, asshole and insensitive. Lots of tears so I think there’s a good chance she’ll take me back.”
Lorna grabbed his wrist like a vice. “What happened with Dallas Andrews?”
“Let go, do you want me to wreck the car? Where did you hear about Andrews?”
“NPR, Morning Edition. CNN. Fox. LA Times.”
“Was my name mentioned?”
“They said that in the process of being interrogated by you, Andrews had a violent seizure. He is now is now seeing visions of hell and keeps mentioning your name.”
He changed the music to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons “Funny guy that Andrews. I heard the story on the way to the airport. Didn’t realize Dallas Andrews was so popular.” He said giving Lorna a wink. “Grab my phone, it’s in the glove box. Check my messages.”
Lorna’s beautiful mouth turned into a slight smile as she listened to the messages. Jonathan thought it was almost a snarl. “You have 22 messages. The first three are from your office, CNN and Beth. She’s hysterical. The rest seem to be people wanting to talk to you about Andrews.” They headed down Hwy 50 towards the hills. “What are we going to do with you Jonathan?” she asked rubbing his neck with her left hand.
“Don’t do anything with me” he answered quietly. “Just let me do my job.”
They went up the hill towards Sutter Creek, to Ruth’s Ranch as he always called it, for the annual, get our heads screwed back on, clear our brains, find peace, drink a lot of great wine and solve all our problems retreat. He was looking forward to it. The past few months had been a major drain on his mental and emotional resources.
He loved the drive through the rolling oak forested hills. He spent every weekend he could with his cousin Ruth. But this weekend might be rough. He was going to ask his family about his latest job offer. This was his dream job. He’d all but signed the contract. Everyone would be there to give him their own jaded opinions. Most wouldn’t be too thrilled.
He looked over at beautiful golden Lorna dozing in the seat next to him. She was his older sister, his mentor, the one who kept him grounded. He imagined her with a halo and beautiful wings spread out in shining glory. Then he wondered if she was sleeping with her new best friend, a plastic surgeon named, Dennis O’Brian. Denny, as she called the man was nice enough, but suddenly Jonathan felt like he wanted to beat the crap out of the guy if he ever touched Lorna. Then he’d torture him and flay off his skin leaving him a quivering mass of, well, whatever. He had to stop being so protective of his sisters.
Jonathan’s mind skipped back Dallas Andrews. He felt sick to his stomach. It had been unpleasant business, but somebody had to do it. After all it wasn’t easy being angel.
Copyright Ó 2013 Marla Todd
~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman