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:
Twitter: @barbiewilde