Monday, December 29, 2014

Big Eyes – review

When Tim Burton has the right project he can accomplish great things. This film takes a look at a repressed artist and displays it with elaborate colors and big performances. Amy Adams is in top form for her performance as Margaret Keene. 

Margaret Keene, played by Amy Adams, is a ‘50s suburban housewife who leaves her husband in an attempt to gain some freedom in her life. She meets and falls in love with Walter, played by Christoph Waltz. Margaret’s paintings become successful but Walter takes credit for them. This causes much turmoil and eventually ruins their marriage.

Amy Adams is great at portraying the stereotypical ‘50s housewife. She looks repressed and the pain on her face is evident in nearly every shot. The lies she tells to keep up this ruse are truly tearing her up inside. Christoph Waltz plays a great sneaky con man. His snake-oil salesman grin is perfect for the role and at no time did I think he didn’t believe his own hype. The only thing I would have toned down was the courtroom scene. In that scene Walter’s character goes from sophisticated con man to clownish fool.

The movie itself is beautiful. There are so many colors on screen it was sometimes hard to believe it was a Tim Burton film.  Another cool effect were people cast in small roles with larger eyes. For example, Krysten Ritter. I am not sure if that was by design or if the make-up department made it obvious that eyes were important in the movie. It was hard not to notice them.

I would recommend this movie to anyone who likes an underdog story. It is a good movie despite some hi-jinx by Waltz. The story of an artist wanting to be recognized for her work in a world that basically kept her silent is worth telling. It has some great performances and stunning visuals. It is certainly worth a matinee viewing at the very least.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies – review

The third chapter of The Hobbit trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies, continues the adventure after the events of The Desolation of Smaug.  If you are a fan of epic battles scenes then this movie will be great for you; if you are expecting a Hobbit movie, it falls short. This chapter is nothing that hasn’t been done better in films like Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

The dragon, Smaug, has gone to Laketown to speak in volumes of napalm to the villagers.  The dwarves have taken refuge in the city of Erebor in the Lonely Mountain. They find that they are now sitting on a wealth of gold and treasures. Armies of Orcs and Goblins are on their way and groups of elves, men, and dwarves all want a piece of the dragon hoard.

The movie has a few good things working to its advantage. The acting is decent and the monster designs are pretty nightmarish. Guillermo del Toro’s influence is felt in this chapter as the Orcs have terrifying glowing eyes and there are trolls with limbs removed and replaced with weapons as if they were pulled out of a Hellraiser film.

The biggest problem with this film is that it is called The Hobbit and Bilbo Baggins plays a minor character in his own story. About 90% of this film is about the Humans, Dwarves, Elves, and long battle scenes among them. There are so many padded scenes that this movie could be used as shipping material.  Some of the battle scenes are fun to watch but, more often that not, it comes off like a video game cut scene.

This trilogy is the biggest insult to fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It takes a story that could have easily made a single great film and bloats it into three mediocre movies. The characters that are interesting, like Bilbo and Smaug, barely get as much screen time as Thorin or the more annoying Wormtongue stand-in, Alfrid. The attention to detail is not even present in these films. Legolas’s eye color changes between scenes in the films. Director Peter Jackson even admitted they forgot to put in his colored contacts several times.

This movie is worth seeing if you are a big fan of the series. If you are not than you will find other versions of this story that won’t take 9 hours to tell. The effects are fairly laughable and the fan-service by adding in characters like Legolas and the new character of Tauriel are just too obviously filler material.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

My Top 10 Movies This Year

10. Under the Skin

9. Godzilla

8. St. Vincent

7. Guardians of the Galaxy

6. The Lego Movie

5. Snowpiercer

4. Captain America Winter Soldier

3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

2. This is Where I Leave You

1. Oculus

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Wild Mind of Barbie Wilde

Barbie Wilde is probably best known for her role as the female Cenobite in Hellbound: Hellraiser II. With a number of film roles under her belt, she is now tackling the literary world with her first book The Venus Complex. The story centers on serial killer, Michael Friday, and his erotically charged crimes.

The story is a taught thriller that was surprisingly steamy considering the content being so brutal. The characters are complex and dark.  The erotic nature of the crimes are very steamy and worth reading. I had the opportunity to correspond with Barbie and talk to her about her book and career.

You were the female Cenobite in Hellbound: Hellraiser II. How did you come to get cast in that part?
           
I think that the producers were looking for people who had some kind of dance or mime training, as the received wisdom at the time was that mime artists were more capable with handling the prosthetic makeup process. I was a classically trained mime, as well as an actress, which is why I think that I was asked to audition.

I met with Tony Randel and we had a chat. I actually knew what the word “Cenobite” meant, which was a plus. (It means a member of an order, normally a religious order.) And so I got the part. Pretty simple, as auditions go!

How long did it take in makeup for that role?

The prosthetic makeup process took four hours to apply and we needed half an hour to lace me into the Female Cenobite costume. Of course, this doesn’t take into account the hours of preparation: the casting of my head so the makeup crew could design and make the prosthetic pieces specifically for my face, makeup tests, costume fittings, etc.

What goes through your mind as a performer bringing a role as a scary as a cenobite to life?

So many things... Spencer Tracy once advised actors to just learn their lines and don’t bump into the furniture. (But of course, he was a superb actor who did a hell of a lot more than that on screen.)

The thing about playing the Female Cenobite for me was that the extraordinary makeup really informed my performance. Looking into the mirror for the first time and seeing that blue-skinned, ravaged face, bald head, a pin through my nose, and metal jewelry holding open the bloody wound in my throat really made a strong impression on me. It was an extreme image and it made me feel powerful. Also the way the makeup was glued to my skin made me feel quite claustrophobic, which again, added to the performance in some way. As research, I read Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart, the novella that was the basis for the Hellraiser films. The Lead Cenobite in the book was a female, which I found very interesting.
 
You have interviewed a number of famous musicians during your television hosting days. Who were some of the most memorable to speak with?
John Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols). He was adorable, totally professional and very funny. He was also game for anything. (I interviewed him in a giant net for the TV show Hold Tight.) Totally at odds with his bad boy image.

Iggy Pop and the B52s were great fun as well. There was also the “Elvis” of British pop, Cliff Richard. We’re both big Star Trek fans, so we were able to geek out about our favorite TV show.

The film Grizzly II was never completed but has garnered a cult following. Have you ever been recognized for your performance in that film despite it not being completed?

Well, I’m recognizable in a few scenes, but the big scenes were when I was on stage as the drummer of an electronica band were all long shots, so you don’t see much of me. (Meanwhile, the grizzly bear was feasting on various audience members on the edges of the crowd.)
           
I think that the Grizzly II’s cult status is more to do with the fact that very early on in their careers, George Clooney, Laura Dern, and Charlie Sheen played “Red Shirts” who got munched by the bear in the beginning of the film.
 
What was it like to meet Morcambe and Wise?

They were fabulous. Considering they were icons of British comedy, both Eric and Ernie were very down-to-earth and adorable. I had a lot of fun playing a store mannequin that comes to life and dances with them in their show.

What are some of your favorite films?
Almost too many to mention! Well, recent films that I’ve liked tremendously and would love to view again are Interstellar and Maps to the Stars. (I was lucky enough to see Maps to the Stars in Toronto and David Cronenberg did a Q&A afterwards.) If I had to list a few more, then: Sin City, The Talented Mr Ripley, Casablanca, The Big Sleep, some films by Hitchcock (Psycho, Rear Window, North By Northwest, Dial M For Murder) and any film by Quentin Tarantino.

Favorite horror films would be: Hellraiser (of course), The Haunting (1963), The Innocents (1961), Audition, The Ring, Sinister, American Mary, The Ninth Gate and From Dusk til Dawn. I also like Sci-fi horror like Alien, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and The Thing (1951 & Carpenter’s 1982 version).

You were in Death Wish 3. Did you have a chance to meet Charles Bronson?
           
We met on set and we did some scenes together, but we really didn’t have time to chat. His wife, Jill Ireland, was quite ill at the time and every moment that he didn’t have to be on set, he was with her.

What got you started studying mime and working with the SHOCK Troupe?
           
I was in London, England, studying acting, and a friend recommended some mime classes taught by Desmond Jones at the Dance Centre in Covent Garden. I went to some of his classes and eventually was invited to join Desmond’s mime troupe, SILENTS. We worked around London in Fringe Theatre venues and our performances culminated in a week long residency at the Arts Theatre Club in Leicester Square. The maestro of mime himself, Marcel Marceau, came to see us, which was pretty cool.
           
My partner at the time, Tim Dry (Star Wars, Xtro), and I branched out with a double act and then we were asked to join SHOCK, a mime/dance/music group that also featured Robert Pereno, LA Richards and Carole Caplin. We ended up signing a record deal with RCA and released a couple of singles in the 1980s. We also toured a lot, supporting such artists as Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, Ultravox, and Adam and the Ants.

If you could work on any film throughout history, which would you choose?
           
I would have loved to have been Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep.

What led to the writing of your crime novel The Venus Complex?
           
I’ve always been fascinated by the psychopathic mind and serial killers. I consider myself quite an empathic individual, so knowing that there are humans out there who seem to be incapable of making emotional connections, who regard the rest of us as sheep, really intrigued me.

What I wanted to do with The Venus Complex was to show the serial killer’s mindscape, his motivations, his inner turmoil and his twisted sexual fantasies, which I felt hadn’t been addressed in most of the serial killer novels that I’d read. That’s why I chose to write the book in the first person, which was a bit of a challenge!

Has the reception of your book been positive?
           
I’ve been very pleased that The Venus Complex has received such fabulous reviews from Rue Morgue, Fangoria, etc. Although my lead character, Art History Professor Michael Friday, starts out as a regular guy, he really spirals down into some seriously murderous behavior and politically incorrect rants at the world. Yet people do seem to relate to him in positive ways. And Fangoria has called me “one of the finest purveyors of erotically charged horror around,” which is an amazing accolade.

Michael Friday is a largely unpleasant person with massive anger issues. What drove you to write about a character that seems to have so many problems?
           
As mentioned before, I find criminal motivations very compelling. Ever since I first found out about serial killers decades ago, I wanted to know what made them tick. There is no one answer to that question, so I felt that I had to explore this kind of character in fiction.
 
Did you study criminal psychology prior to writing The Venus Complex?
           
I read 67 books about criminal psychology, forensic techniques, homicide detection manuals, etc. I interviewed a detective from the Manhattan North Police Precinct in NYC, as well as a few forensic psychologists. Also, a friend of mine, who was a professional dominatrix, was very helpful in my research. In fact, her statement to me that her greatest sexual fantasy was to sleep with a serial killer was the inciting incident that kick-started the idea for The Venus Complex.

In your novel, you compare modern civilization to ancient Rome, where people only care for food and entertainment. Is this something you feel as well, or simply the character?

I think that when writing fiction, it’s almost as if you’re doing an acting job. You have to put yourself in the shoes of your character. You have to think as they would, otherwise you wouldn’t be able fool people into believing that the character is real. (Catherine Trammell called this “suspension of disbelief” in another one of my favorite films, Basic Instinct.)

I think that Michael got to the point in his life when he was extremely cynical about humans and their motivations. I am a bit cynical, but not as much as he is.

If your novel were turned into a film, whom would you want to play Michael Friday?

I think that Michael Fassbinder would be a fabulous Michael.

Michael blames violence in schools on movies and TV. What are your opinions about violence in the media?

I am totally against censorship, but I do think that parents should take some responsibility for what their children are watching and the effects that really violent shows might have on young minds. However, saying that, I was really disturbed by some sci-fi movies that I watched as a kid and I didn’t turn out to be an ax murderer! However, I am not a man. Violence seems to be an easy option for men, young men in particular. You only have to observe what is happening all over the world to wonder whether TV, or movies, or video games don’t feed into this adoration of violence.
           
Of course, there are also the viruses of tribalism, “culture” and tradition that feed violence, especially against women.   

Michael goes on long rants at times regarding his distaste for religion, pop culture, and greed in politics. Is the character based on anyone in particular?
           
No, I just made up the character and then let him run with his rants. Although I have to confess, occasionally seeing certain items on the news would spark the inspiration for a “Michael Rant”.

Michael is complex - he hates people one minute then is indifferent to them the next until, finally, he wants to be a “somebody.” Why prompted you to make him care about fame and infamy if he is indifferent or hates the people around him?

I just wanted to make Michael as realistic as possible. He is a pain in the ass, funny, contradictory, murderous, stupid, smart, obsessive, infantile, very clever, sometimes yearning for fame and sometimes desiring anonymity. In other words, a fairly typical example of the human race!

The Venus Complex has a strong main character comparable to Catcher in the Rye and the Dexter novels. Both stories contain a smart character that is disgusted by the mendacity and stupidity of those around him. Was that intentional? Did either story influence you in any way?

I read The Catcher in the Rye years ago and it’s a wonderful book, but I can’t say that it had any direct influence on me. And to be honest, The Venus Complex in first draft form was finished a long time before Dexter hit the TV screens. (It was a bit of a challenge to find a publisher that understood me.) I’ve never read the Dexter novels, so there wasn’t any influence there.

The non-fiction books that made the biggest impression on me were The Order of the Assassins and The Criminal History of Mankind – both by Colin Wilson. As far as fiction is concerned, I loved The Red Dragon by Thomas Harris because he really delved into the character of the serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, in that book. I’ve always been more interested in the whydunnit, than the whodunit.

Fiction authors that I admire are: Shirley Jackson (The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House), Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr Ripley, Strangers on a Train), Dashiell Hammett (The Thin Man), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) and Clive Barker (The Hellbound Heart, Cabal, Weaveworld) and finally Ernest Hemingway for his economical, muscular writing style.

Is this the last we’ll hear of this particular killer, or will his tales continue in further stories?

People keep asking me about a sequel. I’m giving it some thought…

What projects are you currently working on?
           
I’m writing a screenplay based on one of my short horror stories, “Zulu Zombies”. “Zulu Zombies” was published late last year in the Bestiarum Vocabulum anthology by Western Legends Press and then reprinted in Fangoria’s Gorezone #29.

I’m also putting together an illustrated collection of my short horror stories, as well as co-writing a musical drama for stage and screen.

Barbie Wilde can be found on the following:
Website: www.barbiewilde.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/BarbieWildeAuthorActress
Twitter: @barbiewilde

Youtube: www.youtube.com/barbiewilde

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – review

The third installment of The Hunger Games films is the weakest of the movies. This movie really did not need to be split into two films. The characters that were interesting in past films are almost non-existent in this chapter. Despite that, the actors do bring in good performances, there just isn’t enough to make this a good movie.

After surviving the Quarter Quell, Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, finds herself in District 13. She allies herself with the rebels there and she becomes the face of the resistance. Once she figures out the depth of war atrocities by the current President, she begins convincing the other Districts to rise up and fight against the Capitol.

The acting is very good. They touch on many themes of the horrors of war. Jennifer Lawrence does a fine job portraying Katniss. The characters of Haymitch, Effie, and even Johanna are barely in this movie.  We see some new talent from people like Natalie Dormer as Cressida, but again, she is underused despite how interesting her character seems.

The movie is long and fairly dull. Where the other films had lots of action, this movie has small moments of action surrounded by loads of filler.  The character of Peeta, played by Josh Hutcherson, is painfully annoying because, once again, he must be rescued. He feels like the most useless character in the entire Hunger Games series. The entire government of Panem seems to be incredibly stupid. For example, the President wants to quell a rebellion so he kills nearly everyone in a District. This is the same District that is in charge of mining coal for the whole of Panem. That seems like really poor planning unless they have an alternative energy source immediately lined up.

I cannot recommend this movie. If you are a fan of the rest of the series this would be worth seeing as a rental. It is really weak and they should have just kept the book as one entire film. I am curious as to how this will wrap up, especially with the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

New Book Available.

My book "Celluloid Dreams & HD Nightmares: Experiences of a Modern Movie Goer" is now available in paperback on Amazon and on Kindle. Get it in time for the holidays.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fury – review

Fury takes a look at World War II from the battle lines of one of the tanks. It is not swimming in original or even likable characters, but the action is solid, dirty, bloody, and gritty. The actors also give the material their best, which makes it entertaining.

Taking place in Germany in 1945, four men man the tank called Fury. They are lead by Sargent Collier, played by Brad Pitt. A new private is added to their team, played by Logan Lerman. Together, they work to kill Nazis and ideally get through the war alive.

The acting is fine. Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman play characters desperately trying to hold onto their humanity. The rest of the characters are sociopathic. They are stone cold killers and take what they want, when they want it. They even lie to others and themselves in order to cope with the suffering of the war. For example: they tell themselves they have the best jobs they’ve ever had, even though it is a job that causes the death of many other people and can at any time lead to their own demise.

The characters for this story fall into stereotypical war movie characters that have been used so many times; the religious nut, the foreign guy, the psycho jerk, the new kid, and the hard-as-nails Sargent with a heart-of-gold are tropes we’ve seen too many times. It would have been nice if they took more risks.  Fury takes the easy route most of the movie. The exception is the action scenes, which are griping to watch.

The film is certainly worth a watch. I’d recommend a matinee or a rental though. While not the best of the World War II films out there, at the very least it is an entertaining movie.

Interstellar – review

If you ever wondered what 2001: A Space Odyssey might have been like if someone else directed it, this would be the result of that labor. Interstellar has amazing visuals, its soundtrack is nothing short of epic, and the acting is incredible with a cast of really amazing actors. The main problems are: the story is way too long; the dialogue is often maudlin; the dry, constant chatter about relativity makes this movie feel like a science lesson.

In the near future, Earth’s crops are dying from dust storms. Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, is an ex-NASA pilot and engineer turned farmer who is living with his family. His daughter Murphy discovers that her room seems to have a ghost trying to communicate with her. When he looks into it, he discovers that one of the messages is a coordinate for a NASA base. When he visits the base, they recruit him for a mission to go through a wormhole discovered around Saturn. Their goal is to either find a new home for humanity, or to create a new colony using fertilized embryos.

The visuals for this film are often breath taking. Between the colossal dust storms in the farmlands that are like those of the Dust Bowl in the Great Depression, and the massive space landscapes, it is a wonderful vision. The future is portrayed as bleak and agrarian. The musical score matches the epic nature of all that you see. It comes off very grandiose.

The acting is fantastic. Jessica Chastain playing the adult Murphy might be Oscar worthy. Matthew McConaughey also does an admiral job as a pilot risking all for his family. Unfortunately, the relationship between McConaughey’s character and his son was cut too short.  It was as if the writer wanted the Cooper character to only have a real bond with only one of his children.

The movie is a very long sit, clocking in at close to three hours.  In that time you will hear a lot about relativity, the science of love, and the occasional bad joke from a robot that looks like a it’s made from Tetris pieces. When it begins to drift into the realm of time travel, it sends the viewer into an entirely different mind drain because there are paradoxes not addressed.

Is this a terrible movie? No. It isn’t a good movie though. A good movie is entertaining throughout and this was a slog at times. Normally, I would recommend it as a rental.  I do think it will lose a lot of the epic scale in a home viewing, much like the movie Gravity. That being said, if you are a fan of science fiction, or just curious about this movie- see it as a matinee. You’re less likely to be disappointed that way.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

St. Vincent – review

The balance of humor and drama of St. Vincent is much like the two faces of a coin. On one face, the movie is a dry comedy about an old bastard; on the other face, it’s a drama about a boy learning about his neighbor and why he is an imperfect old bastard.  The coin flips faces exceptionally well to keep this movie balanced and wildly entertaining.

Vincent, played by Bill Murray, is an old, drunk jerk. He is desperate for money in order to keep is wife in hospice care as well as pay off a loan shark. He meets his new neighbor, played by Melissa McCarthy, and begins babysitting her son for extra cash. Through experiences like taking the 12 year old to the racetrack and bars, they both learn form one another.

St. Vincent features a lot of great talent. The cast is very believable and performs exceptionally in their roles. It is great to see Melissa McCarthy as the “straight man” in a movie. Naomi Watts plays Vincent’s pregnant, Russian, stripper girlfriend and she is a delight. Bill Murray is at his most impressive as well. He runs the gamut of emotions and is able to play the victim of a stroke incredibly well.

St. Vincent has a few moments that are sentimental, but these moments are not distracting nor do they come off as manipulative. The film was made very well and is incredibly entertaining. It is some of Bill Murray’s best work and is really worth checking out. Give St. Vincent a try. It is a great movie that is certainly worth your time.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Heather Donahue: From Blair Witch to Writing Niche.

In 1999 Heather Donahue played the lead character of the hit film The Blair Witch Project. After appearing in various independent films and television shows, she put her Hollywood career aside and turned her focus onto growing medical marijuana. This lead to her writing a book about her exploits, Growgirl: The Blossoming of an Unlikely Outlaw. I had the opportunity to correspond with Heather and talk to her about her life and career.

What was growing up in Philadelphia like for you?
It made me very grounded. I especially appreciate that now that I live in NorCal. You can take the girl out of Philly, but you can't take the Philly out of the girl. 

You got your first start in a movie called Raw: Stripped to the Bone. What path led you to your first film?
I've been acting, writing, dancing, since I was a kid. I did that NYU student film just after I graduated with my BFA in theater.

Had you had much experience with improv prior to The Blair Witch Project?
I was a founding member of the NYC improv troupe Red Shag. That was what drew me to Blair Witch, that it was going to be improvised.

About how much of The Blair Witch Project was improvised?
All of it. 

What does it feel like to see that even today people are still referencing scenes from Blair Witch?
I did Blair when I was 23, so I don't know anything else. It just feels like this thing that I know is sort of weird, but has always been a part of my life. 

Are you recognized often for your work?
Weirdly, yes. A blow out and little mascara prevents that when needed.

What was it like to work with the folks from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?
Those guys are great and I love that show. I remember being at the first table read in Philly and saying that the show would go ten years. Looks like I was spot on! 

Did you hold onto any thing from Blair Witch after your purge?
I still have the hat.

What inspired you to write a book?
I'm a life long writer and reader. It's been a dream since I was a kid to write a book.

What did you think about the Blair Witch Project 2: Book of Shadows?
I've never seen it. 

What made you decide to grow medical marijuana?
I wanted a change. My life in LA wasn't what I wanted anymore. 

What authors do you find the most inspirational?
The Howe sisters, Jeanette Winterson, Elaine Dundy, Iris Owens

In an interview you once said, “Romance is a castle of lies.” Can you explain that?
I don't remember that, but I'm guessing it was said around the dissolution of my 10-year relationship.

You showed me a wrist tattoo via twitter. What does that symbol mean?
Annica. Impermanence. Impermanence is just another word for freedom. 

Has the reception for Growgirl been positive?
Among everyone in the world? No. Among most readers? Yes. I have been really touched by the emails I've received from readers for whom the book nailed something about their own searches. Their desire for freedom and a life they can live with. 

What types of movies scare you?
Tense, psychological ones like the Shining

Do you miss anything about the world of acting?
I like performing, but I don't miss anything about being an LA actress.

What is the best part about giving up your acting career?
The time to write and being able to change my hair whenever I want. 

Do you ever see yourself behind a camera or perhaps in front of one again?
For sure. I'm producing an independent pilot called Grass Valley right now. We're shooting in January. We're putting together a cast of the most incredibly funny people. People who I have massive respect for. Bold, brave, hilarious comedians. 

What project are you currently working on?
It's a sitcom. The working title is Grass Valley. It has many familiar characters from my book, Growgirl. It's an ensemble comedy about family, friends, and freedom, set in the marijuana growing world of rural NorCal. Follow me @aheatherdonahue for updates on that and all the things. 

Heather Donahue can be found on Twitter at @aheatherdonahue as well as her website http://heatherdonahue.com. Her book, Growgirl: The Blossoming of an Unlikely Outlaw, is available wherever books are sold.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Alien: Isolation – review

Alien: Isolation is a first person shooter that takes place in the Alien universe and set 15 years after the first Alien film.  The look of the game is fantastic. The game play is brutally hard at times. Still, it is a great game with a few flaws.

You play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley from the first film. She is attempting to find out what became of her mother and the crew of the Nostromo. After a space station finds the recording logs of Ellen, Amanda heads to the space station for closure. Once at the station she is greeted by chaos and finds that robots have gone rogue and there is a deadly xenomorph alien onboard.

The attention to detail is superb. The game keeps the same retro-futuristic look of the Ridley Scott film.  For all the great look of the game, there are a few things they could have improved. For example, the people look like dummies. There are also small glitches where you sometimes fall through the floors and into space, or times when the walls won’t show completely upon loading. Those rare moments aside, it is nothing short of a fan boy’s dream.

Alien: Isolation is not like most first person shooters. In this game you cannot go into situations guns blazing. Instead, you must rely on wits and stealth to get through the game and avoid the alien.  This aspect makes it particularly nerve-wracking as you creep and crawl through tunnels in an attempt to escape. The humans will shoot you without warning, robots are incredibly difficult to defeat in combat, and the xenomorph can kill you in one hit.

If you are a fan of the films, this game is a must play. It is really impressive and feels immersive in the entire world that has been created.  Alien: Isolation is very challenging and you will almost certainly die many times before completing the story. If you can slow down and be patient, it is a great game. If you get frustrated easily, it will be a nightmare. Either way, it is one of the best movie tie-in games I’ve played since Ghostbusters.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Horns – review

Horns is the dark comedy based off the book of the same name. The movie is a mixed bag. On one hand, the acting is good and the humor is solid; on the other hand, the story is meandering and predictable until the climax.

Horns tells the story of Ig, played by Daniel Radcliffe, whose girlfriend Marrin, played by Juno Temple, was killed. Wracked with grief, he goes on a bender and wakes up with horns growing on his head.  The horns cause people to be brutally honest with Ig. He then goes to search for the killer using his bizarre new power.

Daniel Radcliffe seems to be enjoying himself outside of the Harry Potter role. He plays a man who is tortured and full of pain.  He interacts well with the rest of the cast and creates some really unforgettable scenes. The story itself meanders from plot point to plot point and there are several sections that could have easily been cut from the film. Even the CGI seems very poorly done.

Anyone familiar with current movies will immediately recognize the villain. It is as transparent as Saran Wrap and the ending is nothing short of insane. The story takes a left turn at goofy town and will leave you searching for any clue as to why the filmmakers went that route.

The movie is okay at best, though there are certainly aspects that are very enjoyable. It is worth a rental at least. I would have liked to see more care put into the story and the effects.  Horns has several good moments that make the movie tolerable.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

10 Free Movies Worth Watching

Sometimes a movie has become public domain or open source. For whatever reason, they’re free to watch and you can find the films almost anywhere on the web. There are hundreds of these free movies to pick from, but I have compiled a list of ten that are really worth checking out.

10. The Last Man on Earth (1964)- This movie is the story of I Am Legend starring Vincent Price. He is the survivor of a plague that has turned the rest of humanity into vampires. It is a pretty fun adaptation and Vincent Price is a charming guy that plays the protagonist well. There were many adaptations of this story, but in my opinion, this was the closest Hollywood ever got to a decent interpretation of the original story.

9. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)- A silent film starring Lon Chaney, the man of a thousand faces.  It’s worth watching just to see how amazing he was on screen. Not only did he do his own ghoulish mask up, every one of his body movements tell a story of its own. Lon Chaney had deaf parents so he really learned the art of communicating with his body. The Phantom of the Opera is a great display of that talent in action.

8. Metropolis (1927)- Fritz Lang directs this German expressionist sci-fi silent film about a dystopian society. The movie itself is beautiful and dream-like as most expressionist films were at the time. It was also incredibly expensive with lavish special effects (for the time period) and would go on to influence many futuristic movies for years to come.  It was considered a lost film for a long time until 2010 when the nearly completed footage was found and restored.

7. Faust (1926)- Directed by F.W. Murnau, who is famous for Nosferatu. Faust is the tale of the devil Mephisto making a bet with an angel for the dominion over the earth.  He gives the alchemist, Faust, various powers in an attempt to corrupt a righteous man. For a silent movie, the effects are great; the costumes are wonderful and the acting is impressive. It is certainly worth seeing as it is Murnau’s final German film before coming to the United States. It is purely a lovely movie.

6. The House on Haunted Hill (1959)- William Castle directs Vincent Price in the story of a man inviting people to a party where they stay in a haunted house for one night. If they do manage to last the whole night, they will receive $10,000.  The movie is very campy and fun. This was a time when William Castle would turn theaters into fun houses and outfit theaters with glowing skeletons on wires that would fly around at specific times. They would also plant actors in the audience dressed as the stars of the movie to interact with the audience and even offered scare insurance to people before entering the theater. It is fun to watch and to think of a time when you could watch movies that made the show a real event.

5. M (1931)- M is a film directed by Fritz Lang where town’s people seek a child murderer, played by Peter Lorre. This was the first major starring role for Lorre.  The movie is very dark and deals with complex issues of justice and the safety children. It even seems to dig into the subject of the nature of the serial killer. Is he born that way? What makes him do what he does? It’s a smart and clever movie for its time and certainly worth checking out.

4. White Zombie (1932)- This movie is considered the first feature film about zombies. In this case it takes place in Haiti where a man named Murder Legendre, played by Bela Lugosi, has developed a way of enslaving men as mindless zombies to do his bidding using chemicals and voodoo magic. The film is unique as it was an independent horror film that used many of the props and locations that Universal Studios had to offer. It is an eerie movie that is truly a milestone in horror history.

3. Carnival of Souls (1962)- If you are a Twilight Zone fan you will enjoy Carnival of Souls. The movie feels like you are watching someone’s nightmare unfurl before you.  It is the story of a car crash victim attempting to get on with her life in a new town. She cannot find peace as ghoulish apparitions haunt her.  It is a movie that will linger with you long after seeing it and you will never look at an abandoned theme park the same.

2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)- The recently deceased are coming back to life and eating the living. George Romero took the basic concept of I Am Legend and made it something that society has embraced. Some people think it is about racial tensions, others think it is a B-movie that was made to earn a return on the investment. There are good arguments on both sides and you can decide for yourself. Either way it is a creepy film that has withstood the test of time and has gained several sequels.

1. Sita Sings the Blues (2009)- The most recent movie on this list, Sita Sings the Blues, is an animated feature that tells the story of a woman’s divorce compared to the story of the Ramayana, all with musical interludes by Annette Hanshaw. It is animated beautifully. The story is great and the music is well placed throughout the film. It is one that every animation fan should see. Having known very little of the Hindu religion, it was very interesting to learn the story of the Ramayana. It’s both enchanting and enlightening.

Many movies have become free to view. These are just a few of the great things you can find in your search for great movies.  Give them a try and see what you like. At the very least, you will discover that there are more options out there.  Happy watching.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Annabelle – review

Annabelle is the spin-off and quasi-prequel of The Conjuring. Unless you happen to be terrified of dolls and predictable plots, this movie will not scare you much. There are moments that are shot well but they don’t make this movie anything beyond rent worthy. It is pretty puzzling how a movie like this even gets made. Was anyone asking for a story about the demonic doll from The Conjuring?

Annabelle takes place in the 1970s with Mia and Ward Gordon, a young couple who are expecting their first baby.  They are attacked one night by a pair of insane satanic cultist for no reason other than that they happen to be home. The cultists are killed, but not before one of them draws a symbol in blood and bleeds all over the creepy Annabelle doll. This makes the doll an anchor for the devil and causes all sorts of problems for the young couple.

The acting is pretty good. Annabelle Wallis plays Mia Gordon, the young mother who is tormented by the demon. She seems to at least be trying her best to make this silly material seem realistic.  The best thing the film has going for it are the small scares that sometimes work. For example, there are clever cutaways and quick jumps in editing that really work to this movie’s advantage. What this movie lacks in originality, it makes up for in creating a creepy atmosphere.

Annabelle is not a very scary movie. At its worst it feels lazy and clich├ęd. There are so many movies that have done the “haunted family” better.  It might have been interesting if it took risks, but it played it safe. The whole film was a set up of the story, so that you pretty much know the family will be safe and all will be well. The demon doesn’t even kill anyone- he just scares folks like a jerk. 

The film is worth a rental if you are fan of The Conjuring. If you are looking for a scary movie then try something else. At its core, Annabelle is just another disappointing horror cash-in. Perhaps the writers should have put more care into the script. If only more horror movies rolled the dice and took chances with scripts that were bold and new.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Oculus – A Fan Theory

On the surface Oculus seems like a good creepy movie about a haunted mirror. The mirror possesses people and corrupts them, making them do horrible things as if it was the One Ring. I recently had the chance to re-watch this movie and I picked up on some nuances that I missed before. This led me to a theory, which is really up to the audience to conclude.

Is the mirror haunted or is the Russell family mentally insane?
The movie jumps around a lot between the present and 11 years ago. In the beginning of the film we discover that Tim is being released from a mental institution for killing his father and blaming the mirror.  His sister, Kaylie, has been plotting to reveal the supernatural nature of the mirror, which led to their father killing their mother and inevitably forcing Tim to kill their Father. She has researched the past of the mirror as well as set up a way to test the overall ability of the mirror’s influence.

At this point, Tim has received psychological help. He no longer believes that the mirror is haunted or possesses a power over anyone. In fact, he is able to rationalize every statement Kaylie says with the facts that the parents were having marital troubles and that the deaths of many of the previous owners of the mirror were merely coincidence. On the other hand, Kaylie has not received any psychological help and her delusions have been allowed to grow over many years.

The parents could have easily been mentally unstable before they encountered the mirror. The mother was clearly very depressed, thinking that her husband was unfaithful. Meanwhile, her husband had become obsessed with the mirror. He even began hallucinating. The stress caused her to snap and to hallucinate as well. Her hallucinations ended in an attempt to kill the children. The father, who was already losing his grip on reality, killed his wife. Kaylie and Tim were already paranoid- a result of experiencing their parents’ spiral into madness. Their stress pushed them well over the edge.

Finally, presently Kaylie has her chance to prove the mirror is really supernatural. It doesn’t take a lot to push Tim back into his old psychosis. Soon they are both seeing and hearing things that aren’t really there. These illusions continue until Tim accidentally kills Kaylie when they are both experiencing separate hallucinations. As Tim is taken away by the police he “sees” the ghosts of the victims from the mirror. He then yells that the mirror is responsible for everything. 

Is the mirror supernatural in this movie? It might be. Could the entire family simply be deluded because of mental illness, to think the object is the cause of all their suffering? It’s possible. Either way, Oculus is a damn good movie that is worth seeing and worth making that decision on your own.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Top Ten Ways I Would "Fix" the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy.

Here is how I would have fixed the Star Wars prequels if I was a producer working with Lucasfilm.

10. Have the central story be about Obi Wan.

9. Introduce Anakin as a teenager.

8. Remove all mention of midi-chlorians.

7. Remove the character of Jar Jar Binks.

6. Change Naboo to Alderaan.

5. Don't have C3P0 being built by Anakin.

4. End with the Death Star actually blowing up a planet.

3. Add young Grand Moff Tarkin as a character.

2. Keep Darth Maul alive to fight throughout the prequels.

1. Get rid of the Sith's "rule of two."

Friday, September 19, 2014

New Top 30 Movies.

It has been several years since I posted my top 30 favorite movies. Looking back, I've seen a lot more and things have changed a bit. Here is the amended list:
30. Battle Royale
29. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
28. Dawn of the Dead
27. Paranormal Activity
26. Highlander
25. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
24. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
23. Ed Wood
22. Psycho
21. The Seven Samurai
20. Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
19. A Clockwork Orange
18. Raising Arizona
17. The Passion of Joan of Arc
16. Harold and Maude
15. The Dark Knight
14. Return of the Jedi
13. Return of the King
12. Wall-E
11. Disney's Alice in Wonderland (animated)
10. Let the Right One In
9. Brazil
8. Ghostbusters
7. Rocky
6. King Kong (original)
5. The Thing (1982)
4. Pan's Labyrinth
3. Fight Club
2. Inglorious Basterds
1. Back to the Future

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Giver – review

The Giver, an adaptation of a young-adult book of the same name, gives a glimpse into a dystopian science-fiction world of 2048. After a large war a “community” has eliminated human emotions, colors, and anything else deemed different that would cause strife or conflict.  All memories of the past have also been blocked.  There are changes in the translation from book to film, but the film works on it’s own.

Jonas has recently reached the age of graduation and is preparing to receive his occupation, an annual right of passage in his community. He was chosen to be the receiver of memories. He begins to meet regularly with an elderly man he affectionately calls “the Giver.” The Giver is able to give him the memories and emotions of the past through physical contact. As Jonas learns more about the past, he comes to discover more about human cruelty and suffering as well.

The actors of the movie give great performances. The Giver, played by Jeff Bridges, and Jonas, played by Brenton Thwaites, have great chemistry and work really well together. Jonas’s parents, played by Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes, seem like they are characters taken directly from the novel. The choice to make Meryl Streep the Chief Elder was an interesting one since the character was inflated in the film to be a villain.

The overall look of the film is really impressive. Much like the movie Pleasantville, the movie begins as black and white.  As Jonas begins to gain emotions and memories, he begins to see muted colors that become incredibly vibrant. The story is entertaining and the changes between the novel and the movie are at least well meaning. The addition of a love subplot and the changing of Asher’s occupation just to make him an adversary, are odd choices. The changes don’t interrupt the flow of the story so it’s difficult to be overly upset by them.

The Giver is a good adaptation. If you were a fan of the book or wanting to see a new sci-fi movie, I’d recommend catching it as a matinee or as a rental. The movie feels shallow compared to the book but it is more exciting to watch. While not a perfect movie, it is at least entertaining. You will likely have an enjoyable time.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – Review

The 2005 film Sin City was an impressive display of comics to film. Nine years later, the stylized sequel is here with four new tales of Sin City. The writing sets a gritty and noir scene where the booze is cheap and so are the broads. The cast delivers   fun performances for the most part. The element of the film that continues to shine is that of the style; visually, it looks like the movie was story boarded directly from the art style of the comics.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has four separate stories that take place in various areas of the Sin City time line.  In the first, Marv tries to figure out why someone called him “Bernie.” In the second, a cocky young gambler joins a poker game and it becomes more than he bargained for. The third tale is about Dwight, played by Josh Brolin, and a femme fatale, played by Eva Green, that he used to be married to, crossing his path.  The forth story is about Nancy, played by Jessica Alba, getting revenge for the death of Hartigan.

The cinematography in this film is great. For the most part, it is black and white with the occasional splash of color. While pretty, it still carries the same noir mood of the last film but does not bring anything original to the table. The action is standard but not at all unique. The acting is also pretty standard, with the exception of Eva Green who is dynamite as always.  As for the writing, the script was written in the misogynistic way you would expect from Frank Miller.

The stories have a Deus ex Marv element to them. Without Marv, the characters wouldn’t be able to solve anything. The stories are entertaining with the exception of the last, due the fact that Jessica Alba is not believable as a physical badass.  When she fired a gun I honestly thought the recoil was going to break her wrist. The movie also ends so abruptly it will give you whiplash.

If you were a fan of the last Sin City then you will probably enjoy this movie, especially if you save some cash and see the matinee or wait for the rental.  If you get the opportunity, I recommend seeing the 3-D version- it’s worth it. I’m still confused as to why it took nine years to make this follow up. It would have been more effective if the creators struck while the iron was hot and made this when it was more relevant.