Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Amazing Mr. X

(1948) **1/2

“Even a free spirit eventually has to come inside, put on her shoes, and start going to dinner parties.”

First things first, The Amazing Mr. X bears no relationship to Doctor X (1932), The Return of Doctor X (1938), X-Men (2000), or JPX. What is it with the letter “X” anyway? Did someone just declare the letter “X” to be used when something needs to be designated as cool?

See what I did there?

Two years after the death of her late husband, Paul, from a fire-engulfed car crash, Christine Faber is still grieving. As the film opens she is standing on a balcony looking forlornly out at the sea. While listening to the gentle lapping sounds of the nighttime surf, she begins to hear her name whispered. This bizarre occurrence is quickly interrupted by Christine’s dizzy younger sister, Janet, who reminds Christine that she needs to get ready for her date with Martin, her steady, lawyer, gentleman caller who might just be gearing up to propose. As she prepares for her (most likely chaste - stupid 1930s morality) night with Martin, he calls and informs her that he’s running late due to a last minute, unexpected client crisis (for those who care that’s my every day. you don’t care, do you?. hello? sigh.).

Christine and Martin chillin’

Taking this delay like a man, Christine decides to walk to Martin’s house via the sweet beach they live on. While trekking through the surf, Christine’s serenity is disrupted by Alexis (The Amazing Mr. X), a “spiritualist” who quickly alarms Christine with detailed knowledge about her life. Despite a strong urge to get away from this unctuous man, she is intrigued to learn more, after all her dead husband might be haunting her and who better to play Ghostbusters with? She reluctantly takes his business card and continues her journey to Martin, where they have (probably a really lame) date. Later that night Christine is awakened by strange sounds and events. The French doors leading to her balcony blow open, the wind knocks all of her Martin-related mementos from their places on the end table, and once again she hears Paul’s voice calling her. Appropriately bothered by this, she makes an appointment with Alexis. Over time her appointments with Alexis increase in frequency much to the dismay of Martin and Janet, who believe Alexis is a flimflam man. Janet decides to take matters into her own hands, but of course,

Yep, she falls in love with him. As the film unfolds we learn that Alexis is not just any ordinary con artist and that Christine’s dead husband might not be that dead after all. Just who is conning whom here?

The Amazing Mr. X is not very amazing but it’s a semi-entertaining caper with a pretty good twist or two. On a personal note, I always get annoyed at psychics, believing them all to be antisocial assholes taking advantage of people’s emotions. This film does a pretty good job at showing us just how they do it (e.g., cold readings and other chicanery). Not recommended, but good for upping one’s Horrorthon numbers.

Watch the film for free right here,


Summerisle said...

"I seeeeeee... a bicycle!"


"It's ok, it's ok."

The question is: who is worse, the psychic for taking advantage or the person who's willing to believe something they know deep down is a steamy load?

JPX said...

That's precisely the problem; there are many people that, for whatever reason (e.g., grief, hope, desire), buy into the psychic nonsense.

"It's at the Alamo"


"In the basement"

Jordan said...

The psychic's worse. Are you kidding? Anyone preying on weakness for their own gain is worse. See: Televangelism, Scientology, etc.

Interesting point, though, because horror movies tend to moralize about people who want some kind of free lunch so badly that they fall into the monsters' traps. This has been pointed out before: there's a tremendous amount of "serves them right" ("Heh heh heh!") in horror.

I actually watched most of Dawn of the Dead again last night while taking a laptop apart. My God, that's a fine film. This time I was concentrating on the pacing, the characterization, and the specific geography of the mall. When a writer/director has a strong sense of spatial orientation and can genuinely think three-dimensionally (as well as pictorially) it can improve the stuff immesurably. Strongest 3-D sense out there has got to be Kubrick, with Hitchcock and Spielberg right behind, although Hitchock routinely sacrifices 3-D reality for better pictorial compositions.

Octopunk said...

My friend Janny said that in Korea the fortune tellers feel no obligation to deliver good news and that her mom had friends who emerged from the place crying because they were going to die soon or some such. That's the kind of psychic I'd want to be.

"Yes ma'am, I can hear your husband but mostly he's just screaming because a devil is twisting a barbed spear in his gut right now. He says it's because of all the prostitutes he killed and that no, he won't tell you where he hid the silver ingots because you're a skanky whore yourself and he regrets not snapping your neck. That'll be fifty bucks. Next!"

JPX said...

Psychics are just sanctioned con artists. They get away with it because they market it as "entertainment" even though they know darn well that they're taking advantage of desperate individuals. I was outraged by this show when it was on:

Jordan said...

Word JPX. It makes me sick, actually. Just like scientology and televangelism (sure they're easy targets; so what). Every time I picture some senior citizen carefully mailing a check to a tax-exempt entity whose leaders drive bulletproof SUVs to the golf course I get angry.

Octo, you could be like the Harry Shearer voice of the house in that early "Treehouse of Terror": "...and some horrible stuff....probably your brains...will leak out..."

Summerisle said...

I've gotta disagree Jordan. I firmly believe that the source of all the evil in the world is humanity's ability and willingness to unfocus their minds and choose not to think. Do you blame the Bush administration for capitalizing on post 911 fear and paranoia to get reelected or shuold the blame fall on those who allowed themselves to take his words at face value without thinking it through?

Organized religion is the most wicked thing of all because it gives people a reason not to think and not to have to face the unknown.

JPX said...

Perhaps, Summerisle, but you're forgetting that the majority of people don't have your analytical capacity. The old expression "The masses are asses" tends to be true.

At the same time people who suffer from grief or lack of meaning in their lives desperately seek out anything they can to mollify their heartache or to fill the void. That's why psychics are so evil; they take people who are suffering and offer them faux-meaning for a price. Basically they take advantage of people who are at their lowest point emotionally and not capable of rational cognition. This isn't the "Hey, let's get our palms read at the carnival" variety psychic I'm referring to, this is the "My 7-year old was killed in a car accident, is he happy now?" type of psychic.

Summerisle said...

I know you are but what am I?

I'm certainly not arguing that psychics are anything but dispicable but I refuse to let people get away with stupidity by dismissing them as stupid. Let's take my mother-in-law for example. She frequents psychics on a regular basis and when Lauren and I give her flack about it she just shrugs it off, dismissing us as having no feelings. It's as though she would rather believe than think and that's the kind of thing that makes me want to scream!

JPX said...

"It's as though she would rather believe than think"

You just summarized all religion.

Jordan said...

Of course I blame the Bush Administration. Are you kidding?

I strongly dislike "blame the victim" arguments like the one you're putting forward here. Blame the Hollywood, blame the audience ("We have to make Jackass, because the 'sheep' won't go to see the good stuff we 'actually' want to make") etc.

I'll argue this point all day and all night, if necessary. People in power love to insist that they're "just responding" to what people want. "Who, me? I'm just leading this parade; it's their fault for falling in line behind me." There are about six different strands to this argument and I believe I can win every one of them, starting with the fallacy that the underprivileged or ill-informed are somehow "stupid" (they're not) and ending with the abstractions of blame-shifting, strategically-inculcated authoritarianism and the terribly dangerous power of the manipulation of imagery and propaganda to make people follow their basest instincts.

Jordan said...

The Bush argument in particular is one you lose big. I can bring out the big artillary on that one; there have been statistical studies and psychological analyses of propaganda and how it works.

Jordan said...

"the majority of people don't have your analytical capacity. The old expression "The masses are asses" tends to be true."

As I've made clear above, I think this is a convenient crutch. Intelligence is as broadly distributed, genetically, as beauty or talent. Never underestimate the tremendous power of privilege and its inherent biases to skew the discussion.

People are misled and ill-informed, strategically, repeatedly; by those in power who have amassed the tools to do just that.

Jordan said...

I'm being the world's biggest buzzkill, aren't I? Sorry.

Octo will tell you; politics is my other bag. I certainly didn't mean to get to vitriolic and spoil the wonderful horrorthon vibe. You know I love you guys, right?

Summerisle said...

Well it looks like it's gonna be a long night...

Firstly, I'm not excusing the Bushies, psychics or televangelists and I want to make it absolutely clear that I loathe them, their methods and everything they stand for.

However, by that logic, you're saying that the voters who fell for his bullshit should be excused simply because they didn't know any better. Whether or not you refer to them as underpriveleged, ill informed or stupid is a moot point. How do you determine who should know better and who shouldn't? IQ tests? Income? Many people are ill informed because they don't want to be informed. It bores them and they would just prefer to go with their gut. And you seem to be rationalizing this.

Summerisle said...

I'm actually really stimulated by this and would like to continue but perhaps this isn't the proper venue...

Jordan said...

No, I haven't made it clear.

The difference is privilege and power. The people in power control the means of communication, so they have an unfair advantage in manipulating what people think. "Rupert Murdoch has a free press," as Pacino said in The Insider. It's not about smart and dumb (although privileged people tend to have the advantage of being better-informed, because they have better educations and better access to more means of communication, discourse, and information).

Control the airwaves, control the advertising, control what people see and you influence mass public opinion. Between the average American's imagination and intelligence and the television, the television wins hands down. It influences the brain directly in a way that involves the most sophisticated persuasive techniques known to humanity. The only antidote is the kind of rationality available to you and me (as jpx points out) not because we're so smart, but because (for whatever reasons) we live and think in more sophisticated, cosmopolitan environments which inculcate a more reasoned and rational approach to understanding things.

I got the part where you also loathe the televangelists etc; sorry if I didn't make that clear.

Jordan said...

My main point here is the blame shifting. "Don't blame me for leading them off a cliff with my lies; they followed me after all." That's the line I fight against, whether it comes from Bush defenders or Hollywood types.

Treat the audience with respect and you get real magic. You get The Simpsons, Lost, etc.

Summerisle said...

I wonder what the Amazing Mr. X would think about all of this...

Jordan, you've made some real thought-provoking points here and I love these kinds of discussions but rarely engage in them.

But damn, I need to get back to work...

Jordan said...

Wow! Okay, I'm back, many hours later, having (amongst other activities) watched Saw. It was pretty good! I admit I was especially thrown by the presence of one of my favorite LOST actors, whom I just assumed was the villian because the moment he shows up I think, "He's the villian" because of LOST. (JPX, you know who I'm talking about.)

Summerisle, I agree that this is interesting and I also agree that we should take it somewhere else. Shoot me your email address. Mine's on my website (click my name link).

I wonder what that deleted comment was? :)

JPX said...

Jordan, I'm so glad you enjoyed SAW! I hope you give the sequels a chance, they're even more fun. I watched SAW before I ever watched LOST so I didn't recognize Henry Gale/Ben Linus at the time. He's one of my favorites as well =)

Octopunk said...

Hey, I wanna play, too.

The answer to the original question is definitely to blame the predator and not the prey, and I agree with Jordan on the mechanisms at work in both the USA and Hollywood arenas. In both cases you have the decision makers either claiming they're just reactive or settling for being reactive, when instead they could take a tiny risk and opt for change (this is, of course, a reductionist way of stating it; Bush and Co. have made many, many proactive moves to the detriment of us all).

Nevertheless, I find it very frustrating to observe the masses behaving the way they do. It's difficult to keep observing so many people operating from their baser instincts, manipulated or not, and still avoid an emotional reaction. Especially since, in theory, a massive wave of empathy or critical thinking could enable the population to enact huge, rapid change. Unfortunately we as a species don't behave that way; I believe there are plenty of critical thinkers out there in the Blue/Bible Belt, but they're individuals who split off to join "us" while the bulk of public opinion follows its considerable inertia.

I also think it gets easier to blame the victim once your focus is off the marks as a group and you're looking at one person letting themselves be duped. I was watching a Discovery Channel show called A Haunting the other day (I have no excuse), which featured a reinactment of a family's plight when their young son made friends with the ghost of a murdered child. The story was peppered with comments from the real parents, their faces obscured in shadow. As the kid starts behaving erratically and the Mom starts consulting a Native American shaman that she knows, the husband's reminiscences get more and more skeptical and then stop altogether. What started as a diverting, Horrorthon-worthy story turned into this woman sounding nuts while her son was clearly going through some serious problems. I wanted to yell at her to snap out of it.

That's also a good example of media manipulation, since the show was about ghosts and such they weren't going to entertain notions of taking the kid to a shrink. And since the dad's comments taper off and we never hear from the kid, I wondered if that's what happened.

There's a great South Park about that John Edwards guy. Kyle tries to prove that anyone can perform JE's psychic feats by using the same tricks himself, but he only manages to convince bystanders that he's got psychic powers, even as he explains the fakery at work. He winds up on TV with JE and calls him a douche, and right as JE is angrily saying "I am not a douche!" some aliens show up and declare JE as extremely important.

Because of his powers? No, because the aliens are in charge of the Biggest Douche in the Universe contest and John Edward wins it, even though another of the contestants is from a planet of six-foot-tall douches. Very satisfying.

JPX said...

Maaaaaaaaan, someone's playing hooky today!

Jordan said...

"a massive wave of empathy or critical thinking could enable the population to enact huge, rapid change"

That's exactly what happened last Tuesday!

Jordan said...

I'm not kidding, either. That's exactly what happened. The press is going bananas trying to keep us from noticing the biggest fucking seismic landslide in the history of mid-term elections.

When summerisle sends me his email address, I'm going to direct him to one of my favorite websites, Media Matters, which keeps very careful and accurate tabs on exactly how the "news" is being skewed before our very eyes. Just looking at the homepage once is an incredible eye-opener.

Jordan said...

Some spoiler-filled Saw remarks I just emailed to octopunk:


1) It was...pretty good. Without Fincher, it would never have occurred to anyone to make this, but we all knew that. More suspenseful, less gory than I was expecting.

2) I'm getting a little tired of the schtick where somebody gets shot at point-blank range with a large-caliber handgun, staggers and drops to the floor to lie utterly motionless...and then gets back up a minute later.

3) I was thrown by the presence of a particular actor from LOST (who plays the nebbish-orderly you think is the villain throughout) because the minute he showed up in the hospital I was like, "he did it" because he brings his LOST vibe with him. (I understand that you're supposed to think he did it).

4) So when is it Jigsaw and when is it nebbish-orderly? It's jigsaw at the hideout, with the family at least one of those times, and with the girl in her "reverse-bear-trap," right?

5) The ending is a nice twist. I don't get why the guy who still has both feet is so anguished as Jigsaw closes the door. What's the big deal? He made it, didn't he? And how was he supposed to "win" anyway? Cut off his own foot and dodge the bullet somehow?

6) The "finding the hideout" sequence in particular was right out of Se7en.

Jordan said...

Also, it would have been fine with me if Cary Elwes had actually screwed his secret girlfriend. I mean, I would have held it against him, but it wouldn't have made the movie any worse or his plight any less sympathetic.

In the novel Jaws, the shark expert has a secret one-night-stand with Chief Brody's wife. (And, perhaps not coincidentally, the shark gets him.) Spielberg's version took that all that out.

It's the old "sex and death" morality equasion that permeates all horror, isn't it?