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 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.