Film Review “20 Years of Madness”

Starring: Jerry White, Jr and John Ryan
Directed by: Jeremy Royce
Not Rated
Running time: 1 hour 30 mins

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

“20 Years of Madness” is a look back at a local cable access show that aired in the early 1990’s in Michigan called ’30 Minutes of Madness’. It was “Jackass” meets “Tom Green” before either of those shows existed. “30 Minutes of Madness” was written, produced, directed, and starred a group of teen-age friends whom all came together to create madness and insanity, and recorded it on VHS, then put it out for public consumption.

The show was created and overseen by Jerry White Jr., a talented writer/director with a few anger issues. Very controlling and not open to other people’s input, the show hit well with a local audience, but fell apart when tempers would rise as each show was made, and slowly the friendships of those involved broke apart.

Twenty years later Jerry White Jr attends his twentieth high school reunion and uses the opportunity to reach out to those friends, to come back and make one more episode of “30 Minutes of Madness.” Having crowd-sourced funding to make the episode, Jerry returns to Michigan, rents a house, and collects all the previous cast members that he can. From here we see just how much twenty years can change people, and how grudges can remain.

What I really liked about this documentary was that it is extremely honest. You are able to openly like and dislike everyone involved. It doesn’t arbitrarily paint anyone in an unfavorable light, although quite a few of them are behaving in ways that make them hard to care about. But in the end: you do.

“20 Years of Madness” is about that teen-age sense of invincibility. Feeling that you have the entire world within your grasp, and that you can do anything. It’s about doing whatever you want whenever you want as a teen-ager because you can’t see the future repercussions. It’s about ego driving out rational thought, and tempers flaring over art that ruins friendship. It’s also definitely about dreaming larger than what you have the ability to create on your own. Then realizing you have to looked past yourself and ask for forgiveness and for the help of others.

“20 Years of Madness” isn’t about two decades of insanity captured on video; it’s about anger between people whom were once friends trying to come back together and reclaim that sense of innocence and fun that they lost. Director Jeremy Royce has crafted a great story out of the very interesting person that is Jerry White Jr. The film is very well-balanced, and is worth seeing in the theatre.

Film Review “It Follows”

Starring: Maika Monroe and Ker Gilchrist
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 40 mins
Northern Lights Films

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

It delivers. From the opening sequence, to the final scene, this movie is a great watch. With a simplistic story, great score, believable performances and unobtrusive direction, It Follows absolutely shows the audience that tone and characters are what make a horror film. Not gore, flashy camera movies, and quick-cut editing.

Maika Monroe (The Guest) plays Jay Height, whom after a date with a new guy, is made aware that through their coital act he has passed on… something. And whatever it is will come for her until it kills her, or she passes it on to someone else. Think of it has a sexual chain-letter. It’s as simple as that. There is really no story beyond that premise. And nothing more is needed.

Utilizing the anamorphic widescreen frame, this film takes its time. Its set-ups are simple, its composition is nothing extraordinary; but it’s perfect. Each scene gives the actors time to perform, and nothing seems too forced. We aren’t subjected to meaningless subplots, or random scenes to show more gore or killings. Everything that happens is for a reason.

It Follows takes place in an unknown time period. With hints of present-day technology mixed in with console TVs with antennas, home phones with cords, and stacks of VHS cassettes; as well as old-school monster movies on the TV; it seems as if the director wants to keep you unaware as to when this story occurs. For this could happen anytime and anyplace. Brilliant may be a bit much, but I love that there are no cellular phones, text messages, computers, or references to on-line social networking sites. Leaving out those elements will help to ensure that this movie has a long life and won’t be dated.

While watching this film I kept thinking that It Follows could easily be viewed as this generation’s Halloween. It Follows is actually this generation’s It Follows. This movie stands on its own and feels completely original. Even with the horror film tropes – conversations about sex, absentee parents – It Follows takes you to fresh ground.

It’s creepy, it’s funny, and it’ll make you talk. Part of what I liked about this film is all that they left out. They pose questions that you can tell they never intended to answer; because leaving things unknown is very unsettling. One could easily get lost in trying to find a rational reason as to why it all happened; and even make you question some events that occur, but it doesn’t matter. It’s just a great movie.

The only negative I have about this film is the quality of the special effects. It’s a low-budget indie film, and I fully understand their restrictions. I will grant that they did well with what they had available; but they do stick out.

It Follows is absolutely worth seeing in theatre. Seeing it on a big screen with a full audience will only add to the experience.

VITAL Emcee discusses his newest mixtape ‘F.A.G.’ (Free of All Guilt)

From California to China to Australia, VITAL Emcee has been crossing oceans to bring literacy and integrity to the hip hop community. Having been putting out albums since the early 2000’s with various projects: Seekret Socyetee’s ‘The Il2 Word’ (2002), 2 Drunk’n Poets ‘Blurry Wisdom’ (2003), he dropped his first solo record in 2006 with ‘The Secrets of the Invisible Man’; followed by ‘Versus-Verses’ in 2010.

The Spring of 2015 has seen the release of his newest mixtape ‘F.A.G.’ (Free of All Guilt). VITAL recently spoke with me about the impetus of this album, and how he finds ways to mix samples of Elton John, Adele, and Pink Floyd with his unrelenting and raw lyrics about sex, strength, bigotry, and the boogeyman.

BCA: How long ago did you first conceive this project? And what was the one major element that was preventing you from starting it?
VE: ‘Free of All Guilt’ was a concept initially envisioned by the Optimist (my producer at the time) back in early 2010. He had said that if anyone can do it and make waves it would be me. He had offered me his full attention within writing and recording in order to put the project out. I jumped on it as I agreed with him, but therein started my own personal internal struggle. I was already out of the closet to my friends and family, but it started to worry me regarding how it would affect my professional life, i.e. VITAL Emcee. I neither wanted to alienate myself or my fan-base so it brought me to a creative stifle. I recorded a few songs for the project but they didn’t seem as genuine as they could be. Looking back on that time, the songs were genuine, I was just still unsure of myself in the position of “gay rapper.” It took blankets of time and experience to finally reconcile my own personal issues to get me back to my “I-don’t-give-a-fuck-punk-rock” mind-state. Everything in due time I guess.

BCA: When compared to your previous two releases, ‘The Secrets of the Invisible Man’, and ‘Versus-Verses’; ‘Free of All Guilt’ undoubtedly has the most pop appeal, and has the ability to reach a wider audience. Yet, the overall theme of ‘F.A.G.’ could be very shocking. Was this intentional? Or was it just a natural progression of your music?
VE: It definitely is an intentional thing. Given the subject matter, I wanted to make it more palatable by mainstream standards, while bridging it with my underground hip hop/punk rock type of mentality. I knew it would kick up a stink and I had to figure how best to present it as a professional artist. I do care about the listener at the end of the day, but I had to do for me. My tastes and convictions have grown since ‘Invisible Man’ and I think there is an adequate reflection of that inherent in this project. In the future, I’ll revisit some of my old themes that I still would like to reinvestigate, but the point being is I was angry during ‘Invisible Man’, searching in ‘VERSUS’ and now here I am full circle with a more solidified renewal of self. Plus, the part of myself that wants to be a star was satiated on this mix-tape. And it will be as the future becomes more tangible.

BCA: Religion, and especially religious imagery, has always been a constant reference in your writings. Is it just you being poetic, or has religion and faith been a big influence in your life?
VE: Religion is a big part of who I am. It’s not something I preach or even genuinely back, but it is a huge part of my foundation as a person. For the record, I despise religion or anything that would make certain “biases” law. Any side of religion has never done any good for anyone. I don’t judge those who find solace in it, I just ask them not to judge me either. We all have our own paths and are entitled to our own opinions. Matter of fact, I really don’t fault the deities in any given religion, it’s the zealots who refuse to study history and act on things with blind faith that I have issues with. There’s no such thing as a greater good, as labels like this strip humanity from the human race and place destiny in the clay palms of a myth. The imagery however has always piqued my interests, just in the way that horror films and certain other elements of pop culture does. I’ve always been intrigued with the dark side of human nature, and being raised as a devout Christian, it permeates my writing. These days, however, I am more into shining a light on those things which make me happy. Those things that make me feel human and make me fight for a lifetime worth living.

BCA: Have you found there to be a regular pattern as to how a track emerges? A lyric first, or a beat, a sample you want to use? Or does it change with each song?
VE: Each track is its own entity and so can come about in its own way. During the embryonic state, I could have an idea I want to explore, or I could just have a line I want to elaborate on and it evolves into a verse and an entire song thereafter. There can be a beat that I’m feeling and I write to that when the mood strikes. I know every artist has their own way about how they do things, but for my workflow, it’s just what approach is deemed best for each particular situation. Obviously with ‘F.A.G.’ the whole concept was decided on before the writing process began, but each song still remained important as a standalone while the skeletal structure for the mix-tape was being put together.

BCA: On ‘F.A.G.’ you use bits of Elton John, Adele, and Pink Floyd; and in previous albums you have made a reference to Iron Maiden. Your taste in music seems to be rather eclectic. Whom in your life do you credit for getting you first interested in music?
VE: Michael Jackson: plain and simple. I don’t think anyone in my generation would answer differently.

BCA: I understand the acknowledgement to Michael Jackson; but is there anyone in your family, or a childhood friend, that inspired you to follow your dreams of writing and making music, or perhaps turned you on to a certain genre of music?
VE: As far as my childhood goes, I was always naturally gravitated toward music. Instead of toys, I would ask my mom for records and tapes. This could have been anything from Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” to Wham! to the LA Dream Team. My older cousin Gary always turned me on to good stuff when I was 6-7 too. He put me onto things like Prince, Morris Day and the Time, Midnight Star and that funky shit that which I still love to this day. Hip-Hop came to me in the form of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. When I first heard “Parents Just Don’t Understand” it changed my life… ‘cuz at 7 years old, those were the truest words I had ever heard. I started paying more attention to Hip Hop music from then on getting into N.W.A. and 2 Live Crew and those things I wasn’t supposed to listen to. Digital Underground comes to mind. That being said though, I also loved the metal music that was introduced to me through my stepfather. That’s why I’m still a fan of guys like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. All of these different ingredients kept brewing into one whole recipe in my later years. As a teenager it was Pac, Quik, OutKast, and Bone Thugs along with countless Bay Area cats. It was Sublime, Pink Floyd and Wu-Tang with the more than occasional catchy pop tune thrown into the mix. Pantera and the Misfits entered the playlist as did bands like AFI and Soilwork. When I met Matt Embree (RX Bandits) and we did the Seekret Socyetee record back in 2002 that was the dude who made me see music as tangible and pursuable. Consequently, he is also the first person I ever came out to, aside from my mother.

BCA: Touching back, you said you were angry during ‘Invisible Man’, and searching during ‘VERSUS’? Where did your anger come from? Who were you angry at? Your own self? And what do you think you were searching for?
VE: Honestly my anger came from insecurity. I was gay and I felt out of place in Hip Hop because of it. No one ever put me on blast or anything like that as it became more and more known within the local scene, but just within my own shoes, I felt different. I had friends and family, but the part of me that had issues as a fledgeling gay man (even though I was out) felt isolated. I had no gay friends and thought I’d be seen as too effeminate in Hip Hop as well as too “straight” for a gay audience. That sounds funny in hindsight, but at the time it was my whole world. That’s why ‘Invisible Man’ was so dark in its exploration of the existence I lived. On top of it all, there was a situation of unrequited love (if you could call it that), and my drug use at the time had gotten out of hand. This all combined into a perfect storm of angst that went into making that record… and I still love that those moments were captured because it was one of the realest and most vivid moments to put that album together. I fancied myself as a modern day Arthur Rimbaud looking for his Verlaine. I wish someone would have told me then to be careful for that wish. When it came time to record ‘VERSUS’, I had found my counterpart and counterpoint and went through all the ups and downs of an unhealthy relationship, eventually ending up in jail for domestic abuse (which was bullshit to no end, but remember this is two men–not a man battering a woman) and ultimately ending the relationship. It tore me apart but I honestly was more complete in my self so I wasn’t as angry as I was with ‘Invisible Man.’ I was emancipated if you will and it made me free to approach ‘VERSUS’ from any angle. It was a renewal, hence the resurrection in the first track. I think I may have been a little too scattered with that record, even though I still think it is well made and well put together. The only direction I had was to assert myself even further as a Hip Hop heavyweight and lyrical legend… two concepts I could give a shit about now, as I’m just me and that’s all I’m able to give. The search brought me to this place inside…and now I’m stronger than ever.

BCA: Final question. Are the gloves off?
VE: The gloves are off and the knuckles are bleeding.

‘F.A.G.’ is available for free at:


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Film Review “Spring”

Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker
Directed by: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 50 mins
XYZ Films

Our rating: 2 out of 5 stars

“Spring” is a movie that is barely – just barely – saved by its beautiful scenery. In fact, if it weren’t for the film’s location, there wouldn’t be much here to watch.

After the death of his mother, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) finds himself lost, and needing more from life. A drunken altercation in a bar leads him to be wanted by the local police, so he flees to Italy. He finds a job as a farm-hand, and meets a mysterious young woman, Louise (Nadia Hilker). With a complete lack of chemistry between the two main characters, and a unappealing performance by Pucci – which leaves Evan unlikeable, or just mediocre – this story falls into a series of humdrum scenes with nothing but conversations full of platitudes.

Slowly the “horror” elements begin to build, but even here too much is shown far too soon. There is almost no anticipation, and no mystery at all. There are questions, but no suspense. Too much is given away too early, and the film is never able to fully explain or payoff what it tried to set up. It’s not scary, and it’s not enigmatic. It’s just dull.

The film is part horror, part comedy, and part love story. But none of those elements are built upon enough to really call this film any of those. It’s not a horror movie; it’s not a comedy; and it’s not a romance. It falls flat from beginning to end. The cinematography helps the film a great deal; but even most of that work was done by having a great setting. No matter where they put the camera the location was beautiful.

It’s easy to see what the filmmakers were intending to do, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. The performance by Hilker was the best of anyone in the film; it seemed that she could have gone much further with her character, if she had a stronger male lead to act opposite of.

At times the scenes intended to be suspenseful or eerie, were funny. And the attempts at humor didn’t land as well as they should. And again, the romance was lacking due to poor chemistry.
A fresh attempt at an horror cliche here just leaves the audience confused as to how they are supposed to feel.

Overall, this film just felt uneven. Within the same scene the characters’ emotions change wildly, with out any real motivation as to why. I can’t suggest seeing this film in theatre, but wouldn’t be a waste of time if caught on VOD.


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Film Review “Still Alice”

Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin
Directed by: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hour 41 mins
Sony Pictures Classic

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

“Still Alice” – based on the novel of the same name by Lisa Genova – is a finely performed, well-paced film, and while it may strike some emotional chords with a female demographic, I found it to be extremely hard to relate to. However, that’s primarily the only flaw I had with this film.

Alice Howland (Moore) is a renowned linguist whom after a few strange episodes of forgetting words, and not remembering where she is, discovers that she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The film rests solely on Moore’s performance, which works well. She is in every single scene of the film, and all the other actors seem to be there just to back her up. Alec Baldwin gives a fine performance as Alice’s husband. And although she was only in a few scenes, Kate Bosworth was able to bring some emotion to this story. On the other hand, Kristen Stewart blinks and stammers her way through scenes as she is accustomed to doing. I don’t dislike Kristen Stewart, but in my opinion it’s unwise to have her acting opposite Julianne Moore in a scene. Most of the emotional scenes take place between Moore and Stewart, and Stewart does not deliver at all.

Moore’s performance is so subtle, while also being erratic at times, that you can’t fully see the change she makes with her character, until toward the end of the film. Alice Howland, after discovering her disease, leaves a video message for herself on her computer; and when she watches it months and months later, you’d believe it was two different women. That moment alone is deserving of Moore’s recent Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

As stated before, I found this film hard to relate to, and that stems from the writing. The story falls into too many of the generic character ruts that we’ve seen all too often. The talented, independent woman, with the brainy, and handsome husband. Three adult kids: a son who is a doctor like his father, a daughter that is married and perfect, yet struggling to have children; and the youngest daughter with her dreams of acting while not contemplating college. As this disease sets in, Alice is able to quit her job and move out to their family’s house on an island as her husband contemplates taking a year off from his job in academia and being with her. I’m sure people like this exist, but to a Midwestern man, I can not relate to it. Although I can quite easily relate to the heartbreaking reality of family members living with Alzheimer’s.

As a whole I liked the film, and it did get to me on an emotional level once or twice. Julianne Moore once again reminds us of the talent she has, and the story itself points the finger at a disease that not enough people are talking about.


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Film Review “Inherent Vice”

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and Katherine Waterston
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hours 28 mins
Warner Brothers

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Paul Thomas Anderson’s seventh feature film is the perfect culmination of a visual and storytelling style that he has been honing to a fine point since his first film, “Hard Eight,” in 1996. “Inherent Vice,” based on the 2009 novel from reclusive author Thomas Pynchon, hits perfectly. With outstanding performances, great music, and stunning – yet unobtrusive – production design.

The only thing I can think of that can be thought of as negative, is that this movie MUST be viewed multiple times. There are layers upon layers, and so many things that are easily missed with a single viewing. This film is definitely not for a passive viewer. I have seen this film several times now and I can’t even say that I completely follow the story. But I trust that all the information is there.

Watching Paul Thomas Anderson make the switch from the 2.35:1 aspect ratio down to the 1.85:1 ratio has been strange; as I have always loved anamorphic widescreen. But Anderson has complete control of his film frame, and no longer has that angsty drive to move the camera constantly. He puts the camera exactly where it needs to be and just lets the actors perform. And perform they do.

Joaquin Phoenix gives another spectacular performance; as does his co-star, Katherine Waterston, who matches him perfectly. Waterston was unknown to me up to this point – even though she is the daughter of Sam Waterston – but she holds her own within this ensemble cast. Her character of Shasta Fay Hepworth is probably the least quirky of all the characters within this story, but she delivers a much-needed vulnerability.

While the story is set in 1970, it doesn’t feel like a period piece. It LOOKS like one, but doesn’t feel like one. The costumes, set decoration, hair styles, and all around general look of this film say 1970 but it doesn’t do it in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. You are never distracted by the cars they drive, or the fact they use telephones with cords on them. “Inherent Vice” is a period piece with a contemporary feel. Which is a hard thing to pull off. It’s easy to lose a younger audience by showing them a time and technology they never knew.

With a running time of 148 minutes it would be easy to get scared off by the length, but this film is never slow. It runs the perfect line of fast-paced performances offset by long, continuous takes. There are at least two shots within this film that are over five minutes long. And they work!

“Inherent Vice” is an off-beat masterpiece. Its story is as real as the actor’s portraying the characters believe; and they make the audience believe. It is one of the only films I have seen this year that I feel has the potential to have multiple awards consideration. Lead actors, ensemble, score, adapted screenplay and directing. It is a solid film from every angle, and definitely, DEFINITELY worth seeing.

Film Review “Ouija”

Starring: Olivia Cooke and Ana Coto
Directed by: Stiles White
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hour 29 mins

Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars

“Ouija” should really be pronounced “gee-why?” For a movie based on a board game you can’t expect too much. However, I did expect a little more than what I received.

A very simple story. Teen-age kids play with a spirit board and awaken the spirits of beings trapped within a house. Not much else to know. From the start this film suffers from the constraints of dealing with characters sitting around a table playing a board game. That in itself does not make for thrilling cinema. And being that this is in the age of cell-phones and cameras on computers, the audience must also suffer the overused contrivance of having to watch video footage from those devices in order to uncover clues as to how the spirits were summoned as well as how to defeat them.

The film’s weight is solely carried by the main character of Laine Morris, played by Olivia Cooke. Her performance is the most believable in the entire film. She seemed to be the only person, as far as the younger cast is concerned, to put their all into the story. I’ve not seen her in anything else, and while she was portraying a teen-ager she seemed to be wise beyond her years. I thought she was much better than the material she was given to work with. There was nothing in this film that I hadn’t seen before. The older-style Victorian home with a dark past, the evil spirits appearing in reflections, and even the appearance of the spirits themselves. It’s as if all movies of this sort have the same character design; the pale face with dark eyes and a mouth that opens far too wide when they release a ghastly scream.

It also takes way too long for anything to happen. And the piecing together of the Ouija board being the source of the disturbance was keyed in upon much too easily. It felt unnecessary that when one of the characters is killed, the kill is always done in a way that it could be viewed as a suicide. For anyone who knows story structure, you can see the scares and deaths coming long before they happen. The set-up is too obvious, so the pay-off is easy to predict.

Following the normal genre trope of writing out the parents in the story, I was truly disappointed in this gimmick. Laine’s father, listed on IMDB simply as Mr. Morris, was played by Matthew Settle, an actor I’ve always liked since his work in “Band of Brothers.” The film also features a small cameo by Robyn Lively from “Teen Witch.” I would have liked to see these two utilized a lot more.

Moving into the third act we are introduced to a previous inhabitant of the house in which the spirit board was found, wonderfully portrayed by Lin Shaye. While she is always great, at this point it’s too little too late. I do think the filmmakers did a passable job at coming up with a story to base around a board game. That being said, it’s definitely not worth seeing in theatres and will not be a horror film that will stand the test of time. It could have been much better. But, then again, it could have been much worse.

Film Review “Land Ho!”

Starring: Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn
Directed by: Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 35 mins
Sony Pictures Classics

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Even with Iceland as the setting for this story, the new film “Land Ho!” is full of warmth. I really, really liked this movie. It harbors the true spirit of independent filmmaking, looking as if the directors just grabbed a camera, a sound person, flew to Iceland and had two extremely sweet and personable guys interact with each other. The actors and the landscape do all the work here, because when you examine the film you’ll find that there is almost no story whatsoever. And I was okay with that.

Colin (Eenhoorn) and Mitch (Nelson) are two former brothers-in-law, having once been married to a couple of sisters. Colin is an Australian while Mitch is an American hailing from Louisiana. Both are recently retired, and Colin is again recently divorced. On a whim, and as an escape for Colin, Mitch books them tickets to go to Iceland and travel around. And that’s all there is to it.

Mitch, a garrulous and big bear-of-a-man, was once a physician. The more reserved and shy Colin had, in another life, been a talented French horn player turned bank branch manager. Although their backstories have definitely molded them into the men they are today, their history doesn’t play too much into their present. The film is really a road movie at heart. We watch as Mitch and Colin travel to various tourist spots in Iceland and interact with other travelers, natives and, most importantly, each other. The two men seem to enjoy one another’s company, yet come across as complete opposites. It’s almost an Icelandic version of Neil Simon’s “Odd Couple,” though here both men are well-dressed and clean. It’s just Mitch’s vernacular that tends to be a bit dirty.

There are hints of the old versus the new in this story; but that theme doesn’t seem to be of too much importance. Mitch and Colin are of a different generation, but they discuss Facebook and aren’t neophytes when it comes to technology and change. “Land Ho!” is nothing more than a series of scenes or vignettes. There is no overall story. It’s just two men sharing an adventure together, letting loose and feeling free for what could possibly be the first time in a while.

Having never seen either of the two main actors in anything before I can’t tell you how their performances were in comparison to anything else. But I can tell you that they are very naturalistic. Very rarely did anything either one of them say come off as scripted or pre-planned. It all seemed spontaneous and real. Earl Lynn Nelson is likeable from the start. He knows who he is, and he owns any room he walks into; but not in a self-important way. Eenhoorn is a bit more relaxed and laidback, but still a tad shy. You don’t warm to him as fast as you do to Mitch, but within fifteen minutes you love both of these men and enjoy watching them wander around.

The Icelandic scenery is splendid to watch. If you filmed this movie in any other place, I honestly feel it would have lost its appeal. If this story was about two men driving around America and stopping off at the Grand Canyon, I don’t think I’d write such a glowing review. I just love the look of Iceland. The directing is minimal, and I mean that in a good way. The directors new that the landscapes of Iceland and the warmth of the characters would carry the story to where it needed to go. For what I presume was a relatively low-budget production I think it was beautifully shot; although there are a few shots that were straight out of film school and they come across as almost too artsy for this film.

Film Review “Calvary”

Starring: Brendan Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd
Directed by: John Michael McDonagh
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 40 mins
Fox Searchlight

Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars

On a Sunday morning, while hearing confession, Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is told by the confessor that he plans to kill him in exactly one week. This is how our story begins. And it is all downhill from there.

If it were not for the support of Gleeson this film would collapse on itself from the weight of its pretension and cheesy performances. Gleeson carries this film entirely, but even his likability (as a person and as the character) is not enough to save this film from falling flat. Being that it was financed by the Irish Film Board is surprising considering the film paints all of the inhabitants that we meet in this small Irish town as disgusting, depraved, and horrible human beings. Save, of course, for Father James.

The biggest hindrance here, in my opinion, is the writing. It seems too self-aware and tries to be clever while, at the same time, calling attention to its supposed wit. Each character speaks too well to be believable. There are a myriad of literary references thrown about and each one is picked up almost immediately by another character without hesitation. I am all for being literate and learned, but this was too scripted.

Gleeson’s performance is the only believable one, and even he didn’t seem to be bringing his A-game. That being said, what he is putting out is far beyond that of the rest of the cast. Gleeson’s performance, and the amazing scenery of the coastal Irish town in which the film takes place, are what kept me watching the film, though I also must admit to watching the clock on my cellphone to see how much I had left to sit through. This film is full of quirky, dark characters, but none of them are funny or amusing enough for it to be comical. While at the same time I didn’t care enough about the characters to view this film as the drama it is intended to be. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted the film to be a Best Picture contender, but one with the low-brow humor of an Apatow comedy. Unfortunately it is far from either.

If the audience pays attention to voices, it is easy to know to whom the threatening voice belongs. And it’s no surprise when we reach the climactic final scene and that person is revealed. Of course, I don’t think it was intended to be much of a mystery. I knew nothing about this film when walking into it, but felt positive based on Brendan Gleeson’s track record. Sadly, while HE doesn’t disappoint just about every other facet of this film does.

Book Review “Yours for Eternity: A Love Story on Death Row”

“Yours for Eternity: A Love Story on Death Row”
Authors: Damien Echols and Lorri Davis
Hardback/ 448 pages
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Release Date: June 17, 2014

Our score: 3 out of 5 stars

Lorri Davis was a single woman, living in New York City, when she was invited by a friend to go to an early screening of a new documentary. What she saw changed her life. Lorri saw alienation, and she saw herself being represented onscreen. Coming from the South she had always felt like she didn’t belong there, and that she did not fit in with those around her. This documentary showed her a teen-age boy who had gone through the same situation: only a hundred times worse. The documentary was “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” and the teen-age boy she identified with was Damien Echols; one of the West Memphis Three.

The story of the West Memphis Three, as told through “Paradise Lost” stuck with Lorri, and haunted her. She became relatively obsessed with Damien, and could not get him out of her head. So, like dozens of others whom viewed the same film, Lorri decided to write to Damien. And so began a love story like no other.

Damien and Lorri started to write each other letters, reaching a point to where they both would write several letters a day. They felt a real connection with each other, and within less than four years they were married. The ceremony being unique in and of itself: a Buddhist ceremony held on Death Row. Lorri Davis would soon quit her job, move to Arkansas, and lead a team of investigators and lawyers to one day bring release and exoneration to her husband. While the release has occurred, the exoneration still has not.

In “West of Memphis”, one of the four documentaries that cover the West Memphis Three case, Lorri mentions her and Damien having written somewhere around 5,000 letters to each other; all between 1996 and 2011 (the latter being the year Damien was released from prison). Lorri also states in the film that she had contemplated burning all of the letters; presumably as a way to start anew and move on. However, she and Damien did no such thing.

“Yours For Eternity: A Love Story on Death Row” is a collection of a very small portion of those letters; as well as present day notes to fill the reader in on the authors’ mindsets. Giving bits of notations to things referenced or alluded to. It truly is a wonderful journey into the minds of two people; two people slowly falling in love, no less. Damien has always been a writer and a poet. Having self-published a memoir in 2005 called “Almost Home”, and an updated version of the same book, with more content, in 2012 entitled “Life After Death”.

“Yours For Eternity” offers a unique perspective on the West Memphis Three case, in as much as it almost has nothing to do with the case itself; but offers a look at the circumstances Damien and Lorri were put in because of the case. Together they don’t spend their time delving into clues and information about who may or may not have committed the crimes; they leave that to the outside world. Within the letters they spend their energy trying to decipher and decode each other. They create a world and a life together using only their words. Damien and Lorri built a friendship, relationship, and a marriage, using the only thing Damien was allowed to have on Death Row: anything made of paper.

This book is a fast and easy read, and it’s rather beautiful. The reader is allowed access to the most intimate of thoughts and feelings and will allow you to view the people involved in this case in a whole new light. Damien Echols and Lorri Davis are currently traveling the United States in support of this book. Go see them if they come to your city.

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Film Review “Obvious Child”

Starring: Jenny Slate and Gaby Hoffman
Directed by: Gillian Robespiere
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 24 mins

Our Score: 1 out of 5 stars

Even though this film only runs 90 minutes, it made me want three hours of my life back. I really wanted to like this movie; sadly I did not.

The film has somehow earned the label “an Abortion Comedy,” something I find offensive as the film is not funny at all. My not finding humor in the film has nothing to do with the subject matter. I just felt the jokes were lame and that there was no originality to the story. It followed all of the same tropes we see in generic New York-based romantic attempt-at-comedies. There is the quirky but lovable comedienne, her gay buddy, and her more world-wise best-friend. Nothing unique about this story at all; except for the subject of abortion. The film’s stance is that abortion is okay and that there should be no stigmas attached to the subject. Which, in my only comment on the subject, I agree with.

Lead actress Jenny Slate hasn’t been around for too long. In fact, I only know her from “Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” and don’t know of much else she has been in. While she was fine and amusing in the Chipmunks flick, I found her completely unappealing and unattractive in this role I’m commenting here on just her personality only; my comments have nothing to do with her physical attributes. I just didn’t like Donna Stern, the character she plays. She isn’t as clever or witty as she thinks she is, and I felt no sympathy for her character. She has recently broken up with her boyfriend and begins to react like so many other woman in the same situation do in movies like this: she gets drunk, leaves rude voice-mails (always followed by apologetic voice-mails), drinks some more and then hooks up with a stranger. The result of which is pregnancy.

Donna is losing her job, has no health insurance, no income, no savings, and now is pregnant. And, apparently in movie-land, pregnancy equals the end of the world. Donna spends the middle part of the movie moping around feeling sorry for herself, and sipping on wine with her friends. Instead of looking for a new job and trying to get her life back on track (pregnancy or not) she just complains, and uses her life for comedic material, which again is sad as none of it made me laugh. I will admit many people in the audience around me found it extremely funny, but all I wanted to do was see the credits roll so I could leave. About thirty minutes into the movie I was already checked out and knew I was in for another excruciating hour when David Cross’ character showed up. I was rejuvenated. I love David Cross. I’ve never not liked him in anything. Sadly, the film did the impossible: it became successful in making David Cross unfunny. His character was a sleaze-ball, which normally David Cross could play with his eyes closed. However, the character was unnecessary, and offered nothing but a minor plot twist, that only deviated the story for two scenes.

Altogether, I think the idea of what “Obvious Child” was wanting to bring to the screen was a good one; it just failed in its execution. Taking a serious subject and throwing a little humor at it is always a gamble but it is the lack of being funny that hurt this film. Instead of being a story that should have put a humanistic-yet-humorous spin on abortion as well as a statement for present-day women, this film did nothing but subject its audience to low-brow jokes about farting and peeing in public. I think instead of taking a step forward, this film takes a step back, and retreads ground we’ve seen too many times before. If it weren’t for the taboo subject of abortion this film would fall through the cracks and just be one of a hundred films of the same sort.

Film Review “The Rover”

Starring: Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson
Directed by: David Michod
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 42 mins

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

The Rover is best described by these words: bleak, gritty, dirty, sweaty, fly-covered, raw and terrific. Imagine if David Lynch re-wrote Dude, Where’s My Car?, and then teamed up with Darren Aronofsky to shoot it, choosing the Australian outback as their setting. That is what The Rover felt like to me.

I’ve always enjoyed the work of Guy Pearce, and I’ve never not liked Robert Pattinson; even with those sparkly-vampire flicks he was in. Pearce and Pattinson both turn in muted but daring performances. The story begins ten years after what is referred to as “the collapse”. The main character Eric (Pearce) stops off in a small, dilapidated town to get a drink; leaving his car parked outside. Speeding by in the opposite direction three men crash in their SUV and proceed to steals Eric’s car and continue on. Eric begins his pursuit to retrieve his car. And that is the entire premise for the movie. It is compelling and quite amazing.

Pattinson’s character, Rey, was originally part of the crew that stole Eric’s car, but was left for dead a few towns over. Rey eventually regains consciousness and travels to reunite with his counterparts. What follows is a series of bizarre encounters and starkly-beautiful scenery and locales. The pacing and structure of this movie is unlike anything an American filmmaker would do. A large majority of the action scenes were achieved in a very subdued and non-cinematic way. Shoot-outs are not done with several quick cuts, but in long takes with most of the action happening off-screen. Very daring, but also very effective.

This story isn’t told by elaborate camera-work or heavy exposition; it all lies within the performances of the characters. Each character, both Rey and Eric, have a motivation, and a dedication; even though we don’t discover what they are until the end — if at all. Pearce’s performance is superb. He is able to make the audience like him, and root for him, even though he is absolutely cold-blooded. At the same time, Pattinson creates a character unlike any that I have seen him do before. Rey, is a bit dim, or a “half-wit” as he is called. And while also being ruthless and cold, there is a strange warmth to him, that makes you want to see him succeed as well.

This film never gives any hints as to what is coming next in the story. It is nothing more than a series of unfortunate and bloody events. The Rover does not condescend to its audience and explain everything to you; while concurrently it is not trying to be clever and keep things a ambiguous. It asks you to tag along on a journey and promises to show you something you haven’t seen; while also giving you a clear feeling that if you don’t enjoy the adventure, the film could care less. The Rover is a great example of filmmaking that says you can be deep without having to be elaborate. I would be extremely surprised if this film receives a major release and does great business, since it’s too raw for most audiences; but it is fantastic. It is worth watching just for the performances. A pure example of great acting.

Jason Baldwin talks about being one of the The West Memphis Three and film “The Devil’s Knot”

At the age of sixteen Charles Jason Baldwin was arrested, put on trial, and convicted for the killing of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The killings were viewed as ritualistic and Satanic. The only evidence against Jason Baldwin was his long hair, black heavy-metal t-shirts, and his friendship with Damien Echols. In 1994, he pled innocent, yet was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In August of 2011, after eighteen years and seventy-eight days of incarceration, in what is known as the Alford Plea, Jason pled guilty to the crime: and was released from prison. Jason Baldwin is one of The West Memphis Three.

B.C. Allen: It’s been two-and-a-half years since you were released from prison; do you feel fully acclimated to current-day society at this point?
Jason Baldwin: I don’t know if anyone ever gets fully acclimated to current-day society or not. With that being said, I am putting my life together, with a wonderful woman of my dreams. I recently married the love of my life, Holly. We’re building a life together. We have two kittens and a bunny, who act as our babies. I mean, life… life is wonderful. Everywhere we go people are just so gracious and caring, and warm and helpful. It’s been a wonderful experience.

BCA: When were you two married?
JB: We were married in December. I proposed to her in Toronto at AIDWYC, which is the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. AIDWYC is an organization Rubin “Hurricane” Carter – who just passed – started twenty years ago. Anyway, I had been carrying this ring in my backpack for maybe eight or nine months… like I’m carrying a baby. [laughs] I wanted to get her dad’s permission before I asked her. Long story short, she said “Yes”, and we are having an amazing life now.

BCA: In an alternate world, had you not entered the Alford Plea, where do you think you’d be with the case at this point?
JB: Well, you hope the courts would do what they are supposed to do… and follow the evidence and follow the procedures as they’re set down. The procedures are in place to free innocent people. The evidence was there to free us, but… since I’ve been free I’ve had some college and I had a logic professor who’s also a computer programmer, and he told me “Law is like computer programming. Law is for people and society like computer programming is for computers. But where the difference is, is that the computer has to follow that programming, and it’s going to do whatever the programming says. Whereas people are different; they don’t always do as the law has prescribed. Even though I had every hope and the law was supposed to be on my side to help me be free… I don’t know if they’d have succeeded in murdering Damien or not. And even then, the State didn’t give us the opportunity to save our names, like they should have, and thrown the case out, and opened it up. No matter how long it takes to find whoever really committed the crime. It was a hard position… a horrible position… to be put in, but ultimately, I couldn’t make the decision for Damien. He’s facing death for something he didn’t do. I couldn’t make the decision to stay for him. No one knows what it would be. But the good thing is now there’s still hope, because they didn’t execute Damien. He’s free now, Jessie’s free, I’m free. Even though we still have this Alford Plea hanging over us, there’s still hope. Even though the State officially says the case isn’t open, there’s no statute of limitations on murder. So when we do find who committed this crime – and we will – it’s a matter of time, because we’re not giving up. I believe, I hope, they’ll overturn everything now. I believe they will. And in the meantime I’ll just live my life like I have always lived it. Just do the best I can, and enjoy it. And try and carry myself with a little bit of grace and dignity, and treat everybody the same, and just love this short, precious time we all have here.

BCA: Obviously, to Arkansas the case is closed, officially. But I presume there is still an investigation going on?
JB: My attorney is still working diligently. Doing everything he can as an attorney with private investigators and stuff like that. But he’s not a State’s attorney, he doesn’t have subpoena power and things like that; so there are things he can’t do. We’re doing what we can. The State can do more and they should do more. I like to think that everybody would respect people, or a position, who would admit a mistake and try to correct that mistake and move forward, rather than just to say that there has been no mistake, and just try and hide. The big thing to do is admit that a mistake was made in convicting Damien, Jessie, and myself; and go ahead and move forward and try to find who really did this. That’s the only way that society or any of us are going to be able to heal completely.

BCA: There is almost a weird irony to me, that during your 1994 trial you only spoke three words, you said, “Because I’m innocent.” And now twenty years later you seem to be one of the most vocal of the three of you. Can you say anything about that?
JB: I could have been vocal then too, but everyone, you know… you’re in court and the Judge tells you that you can’t say anything, you can’t have an emotional outburst. No matter what you hear. No matter what type of lies are being said, or you won’t even be able to be permitted to be there at your own trial. So you sit there and you hear all these things, and you try to put the bravest face on that you can, and you hear all of these horrible things. Then you tell your attorneys and everyone who would listen where you were, the people you came into contact with, in full faith. In full faith, that your mom, my uncle, my brothers, my next door neighbor Ms. Littleton, my high school art teacher, the lady who ran the county jail; all these people who could testify for me are going to be given that opportunity, as well as myself. And then, to do everything I am told to do, and come to the trial’s conclusion and never be given those opportunities and to only be able to say, “Because I’m innocent,” it was hard. Never had a chance. Never had a chance. But no one was able to see that aspect.

BCA: I went back and read “Devil’s Knot” again recently – after having viewed the film – and I always catch something new when I read it. I noticed this time through that Dan Stidham, Jessie Misskelley Jr.’s lawyer, was only twenty seven when he took on this case. I mean, that’s what, ten years younger than you are now. Could you imagine taking that on at such a young age; or even now, knowing what you know about the law?
JB: I couldn’t.
BCA: Do you feel that your defense attorney Paul Ford did a decent job, when looking back on it all these years later?
JB: There are so many factors that played against him. I wish he would have let me testify; I wish he would have let all of my alibi witnesses testify, but even if I would have, or everybody would have, we wouldn’t have been able to combat the jury foreman who was convinced he was going to convince the rest of the jurors that we were guilty no matter what was offered, or not offered, in court. So we were up against things like that. Literally, we never had a chance. Never had a chance. From the minute the fingers were pointed at us, we never stood a chance. And that’s the saddest part of it. And that’s because, I think, it was an honest mistake that they lost the evidence from Bojangles, that was collected that night. From that point on we lost evidence… I don’t know that it would have led anywhere, but to me, a guy coming out of the very bayou that the boys would be found in the next day… Come out of there during the time that they are missing… that’s very suspicious. If that person didn’t have anything to do with it, they possibly were a witness. That evidence was very crucial and important, and it’s lost.

BCA: You believe that it was an honest mistake? That wasn’t something deceptive on Bryn Ridge’s or someone else’s part?
JB: Yea.
BCA: That’s your personal belief?
JB: Yea. I always try and give people what was supposed to have been given to me at my trial, and that’s the benefit of a doubt. I just think it was an honest mistake.

BCA: From your interviews, and the hours of footage in the documentaries, you get the gist that you are a relatively positive person – which I have always admired about you – and you’ve always had a positive outlook on everything. That’s interesting to know that you think it was a legitimate mistake.
JB: Thank you.
BCA: With this narrative version of “Devil’s Knot”, this dramatized version of the story, what do you think it will bring to light that Berlinger & Sinofsky “Paradise Lost” Trilogy of films, or Amy Berg’s “West of Memphis” didn’t show? What do you think the appeal is going to be?
JB: I think we’re making a mistake if we try to pit them against each other, or compare them, in that sense. What we should do is look at it like this; there are a lot more people out there who watch movies and don’t view documentaries or read true-crime novels. So this is going to reach a broad base, and hopefully the people who hear of the case for the first time through the film will go back and watch the documentaries, as well, “Paradise Lost” one through three, and “West of Memphis”; read Mara’s book, “Devil’s Knot”, and Damien’s memoirs, do everything. Ultimately, it’s saying this, it’s saying, to whoever did this, if they’re still alive out there – wherever they are hiding – if they’re out there, they’re paying attention. It’s saying to them that even though the State of Arkansas says the case is closed, it says to them, we are not giving up. There is no statute of limitation on murder: the people are not giving up. We all know that Damien, Jessie and I are innocent, we all know someone did this, and we are all looking. No matter how long it’s going to take. And ultimately, the best part… for Pam Hicks, it shows her that no one is giving up; her son is not going to be forgotten. I know the hardest part for her was that Alford Plea, because the State was kind of saying to her, $60 million for wrongful imprisonment money is more important than your son; more important than knowing what happened to your son. And that’s wrong. For us, making this film was sort of a way to give that hope back to her. I witnessed that on set. Meeting all the actors and everybody that worked on set. Everyone I came across there would say that when you get a script and you get a job, you do your best at it, because that’s just what you do. But they said there was something different about this script and this story, because everybody just cared about it; and cared about the people they were representing and the people touched by the case. And to see Reese Witherspoon, who everybody loves, aside from the serious nature of this case; but to see her take Pam in her arms, and hug her and tell her everything is going to be all right. To see that love, all that healing love, that right there made the film being made worth it, just that alone.

BCA: After your release it seemed like you moved immediately to the Pacific Northwest, what is it about that area that attracted you?
JB: I had no idea where I was going when I first got out. When you grow up listening to rock n’ roll, and one of the last cassette tapes you had – before you got locked up – was Pearl Jam’s Ten… He (Eddie Vedder) looks a lot different than he did as a sixteen year old, I mean as you know, we’re both the same age. But when you’re looking at this rock star – who’s not only a rock star, but has given so much of himself when he didn’t have to, and cared about you enough to put his name out there to get you some justice and get you free, and he’s like “Hey, we’re hopping on a plane and going to my house”, you don’t say, “Oh, well I have other plans.” You get on the plane and go to Washington and try to figure things out. I didn’t know where I was going to go, or what I was going to do; because I wasn’t expecting the Alford Plea, I wasn’t expecting to get out right then. I’m looking forward to the December hearing and how long the trial is going to take; I’m just trying to face that, and then I can figure out what I am going to do when I get out. Then all of a sudden I’m out, and at a rock star’s house. In hindsight, Holly and I talked about this a lot… right then I probably could have been flown to the Sahara desert, and after what I had experienced I would have been jumping up and down “Oh, sand! Let’s stay here, I love it!” But it was very fortuitous that we landed in Seattle, because now two-and-a-half, almost going on three years now, after freedom, I’ve had a chance to travel the country, and see a couple of places in the world. And I’ve been amazed, I love every place. But honestly now, after experiencing many places, Holly and I agree, we both choose Seattle. So it’s really awesome that Seattle was the first place we went.

BCA: Do you still have family in Arkansas? Have you traveled back there since your release?
JB: Yea. Holly and I have been back several times. Her dad lives in Arkansas, and my dad lives in Arkansas; we see both of them. My mom goes back and forth between Missouri and Mississippi, and her family lives in Mississippi; so we’ve been to see them as well. She (Holly) grew up in Little Rock, went to high school there, and college; so she’s got a million-and-one friends, so every time we go back it’s always amazing. I meet people who have supported the cause… it’s just always good.

BCA: This past fall you did a Kickstarter campaign – which I gladly pledged to – how is the book coming?
JB: Thank you.
BCA: Is there a release date for that?
JB: I am hoping to have it wrapped up by the end of the year. I’ve got quite a bit written and got a lot more to write. I’m working on a chapter right now, I’m calling it “Jessie’s Girl”.
BCA: Nice.
JB: You know, like the song… [sings] “Jesse’s Girl.” Anyway, working on that chapter right now. I don’t have any chapters finished, because I’m kind of writing them all simultaneously, and just going back and forth. I’m really in the writing phase, just getting it out of me.

BCA: Just getting out the main gist?
JB: Yea, yea. Just putting it all down; then I’ll go back and get an editor and put it together in a book format, ya know, so we can get it to you, since you funded the Kickstarter. Thank you so much for the Kickstarter, because that’s what is paying the bills right now, so I can write it. I’ve never written a book before, it’s hard work. I usually get up around four in the morning, after I feed the cats and everything, then I usually get started on it around six, and work on it throughout the day.

BCA: Is the founding of Proclaim Justice going to be a part of the book?
JB: Definitely yea. I haven’t written any of that yet, I’m still experiencing it, and I’m not limiting it.

BCA: What can you tell me about Proclaim Justice?
JB: My friend John Hardin out of Texas, and I, we started this foundation called Proclaim Justice, and we’re trying to get it off the ground to help innocent people who fall through the cracks for institutions like The Innocence Project, who don’t take their case because they specialize in DNA cases. It’s for innocent people who don’t have DNA in their case; we’re trying to bring those people hope.

The author of “Devil’s Knot”, Mara Leveritt, and Jason Baldwin, worked together on a book entitled “Dark Spell: Surviving the Sentence”, which is set to be released in June. “Dark Spell” is the second part in Leveritt’s “Justice Knot” Trilogy; with a third book, “Justice Knot”, currently in the works.

“DEVIL’S KNOT” will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on June 10, 2014.

Danielle Harris talks about her new film “Camp Dread”

She was little Jamie Lloyd in “Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers”; the angst-ridden Annie Bracket in Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”; and the blood-covered, butt-kicking Marybeth Dunston in “Hatchet II”. For over twenty-five years Danielle Harris has been a key figure – and fan favorite – of the horror genre. I recently talked with her about the newly released “Camp Dread” and the future of horror films.

B.C. Allen: How did you become a part of “Camp Dread”?
Danielle Harris: I’m very close friends with Felissa (Rose). Felissa called and said she is doing this movie and Eric Roberts was attached, and that my scenes would be with him, and then I was like “Oh my, god! Okay, great.”

BCA: So you and Felissa knew each other already, presumably from horror conventions?
DH: Yeah, there’s not a lot of like, you know, chicks, I would say – believe it or not – at these conventions that I would go to the bar and hang out and have a glass of wine with. We both have younger husbands in common, so we’ve definitely chatted about that. She’s a bit of a cougar like myself. She was all encouraging when I met my husband; so yeah, we’ve become good friends over the years. The industry, the genre, the community itself is so small that there’s a lot of B.S. that goes around about people pretending to make movies or wanting to make movies, and you don’t really know what’s real and what’s not real. And because of the tight-knit community, when your friend calls you and says “We’re doing this movie”, then you know that it’s the real deal. It’s always good to get one of those calls.

BCA: How was it working with Eric Roberts?
DH: You know, I didn’t get to work with him too much. As you saw, I only had a couple of scenes in the movie. But I have been a fan of his work for a long time. It was awesome.

BCA: In 2012 you directed your first feature-length film, “Among Friends.” Is directing and producing something you would prefer to do instead of acting? Or would you want to do all three at the same time?
DH: I don’t love producing – I just like having control over the final cut of the movie, essentially. You lose a little bit of power when you’re not a producer. But I would not put myself in a lead role in a movie that I directed; maybe a supporting role. That seems like a lot of hats, when you’re already wearing like fifty hats as a director. I do really enjoy directing. It’s nice to be able to hold onto a project for more than a couple of weeks.

BCA: You’re sort of a key figure in three film franchises: the original “Halloween” series, the Rob Zombie versions of “Halloween”, and the “Hatchet” series. Do you feel a sense of brand loyalty? For instance, if you were offered a role in a “Friday the 13th” reboot, or another “Nightmare on Elm Street” film would you do it? Or would you turn it down so you don’t upset your fans?
DH: It’s difficult, because it always depends on the director. If Joe Dante was doing “Gremlins” again and suddenly they wanted me to play the lead, I would do it in a heartbeat. It just depends on what it is. It gets tricky, you know, to do a reboot of “Nightmare”; I think people would get tired of seeing me in that stuff. It’s kind of good to come in on the second one like I did with “Hatchet” and like I did with “See No Evil 2”.

BCA: Has “See No Evil 2” finished production?
DH: Yea, we’re done. And we’re looking at an October release.

BCA: The majority of your fans were born in the eighties. Many more were born in the nineties. And most of them view you as the one-and-only “Scream Queen.” Would you agree with that perception?
DH: I think it’s actually the older fans that think of me like that, because you guys kind of grew up with me. There are so many actresses that are doing these movies, so I think that I may be their scream queen. They like to watch me kick ass; which is great. It works for me. I think I’ve been accessible and I think that’s been a really big part of it. I’ve been really active in the community, been really personable with the fans, and done a lot of conventions, and gotten to know people on different levels. I think that’s what made them like me more. Not to say that what I do on film is better than anybody else. I just maybe connected with them on a different level.

BCA: Can you think of any actress coming up now, who may be the next “Scream Queen”?
DH: There are very few actresses who do a lot of movies in the genre. Very few, like me, who do a lot of the same kinds of movies. With “See No Evil 2”, Katie Isabelle, I think is wonderful. She was amazing in “American Mary”. She is someone that I enjoyed getting a chance to work with. Because it was cool to watch her do her thing. Usually in these movies I am the only girl most of the time. When I am going through all the stuff I am going through, there are not a lot of girls around. It’s just usually me and some big monster. It was cool to watch her prepare for shooting in the same way that I do; making yourself hyperventilate, and running around in circles, forcing yourself to gag and be hysteric and screaming in the corner. All those things that I know I do, that I’ve never seen anyone else do before. And I got the chance to see her do it, which is kind of cool.

BCA: We see a lot of young actress do a film in this genre, early on, just to get work, but as you said very few stay within it? Why do you think that is?
DH: If you find your niche you want to stay with it. But I think a lot of representation wants to get you out of it. Once you are in it, you have to like it. If fans like you, you aren’t going anywhere.

BCA: Speaking of fans, there are several different social network accounts that are Danielle Harris related. For example there’s an Instagram account called @DanielleHarris_ScreamQueen, which is always posting pictures of you and promoting your films. What do you think of their efforts?
DH: I am amazed. The stuff that they put together is fantastic. I had to turn the alerts off on my phone because I was getting annoyed with seeing myself so much. It was all day long. Even I don’t love myself this much! It’s unbelievable that people take the time to do this stuff. I am flattered and I am fascinated by it at the same time. Logan, who works for me now, I met Logan because he started, and he came to me at a convention a couple of years ago and said “My name is Logan, I put together this fan site for you.” I told him that I loved it… I had actually been on there a couple of times and told him he did a really good job. He asked if he could come out to L.A. to interview me and I said sure. He came to L.A. and he kept helping me do things when I did “Among Friends” and I would go to him and say “Hey, promote this.” or “Hey, I’ll give you first dibs on these pictures that nobody else has.” We sort of developed a relationship because of the effort I saw he put into caring about me and my career. I loved that. And now he is literally in my house every single day at nine o’clock in the morning. He works with my husband every day. I even asked him “Did you ever imagine after meeting me at wherever we met, Monstermania or – I don’t even know where the heck we were – that five years later you would literally be seeing me come upstairs in my pajamas and having coffee with me while I’m complaining about something?” And he said, “No, I didn’t.”

BCA: What is coming up for you in the future?
DH: I just optioned a script recently and I brought in a producing partner, and I’ve been producing this next one I’m doing, and assembling the team myself, which is a benefit of being the producer. And directing it as well.

BCA: Have you ever thought about writing or creating your own horror franchise?
DH: Not really franchise stuff, but I definitely have a bunch of ideas. I’m not looking to create the next killer. I think every new filmmaker wants to have the next Freddy, or the next Michael, or the next Jason and I think that that can get a bit old. I think it’s about trying to find ways to keep hip within the genre, because we don’t want to see the same stuff. I think I found that with the movie that I optioned, I didn’t write it, I just optioned it from a writer. We’re just in the middle of going through a little bit of changes and hopefully I’ll be up and running by fall.

“Camp Dread” is available on DVD now.


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Film Review “Devil’s Knot”

Starring: Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth
Directed by: Atom Egoyan
Not Rated
Running time: 1 hour 54 mins
RLJ/Image Entertainment

Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars

The easiest way to describe my view of “Devil’s Knot” is that it’s like going to see a cover band of The Cure play for two hours, instead of going to see The Cure play for nine hours; even though they are across the street from each other and are the same ticket price.

“Devil’s Knot” is based on the triple murder of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, on May 5th, 1993; and the subsequent arrests, trials, and convictions of three teen-age boys.

The film focuses primarily on two people: Pam Hobbs (Witherspoon), the mother of one of the murdered boys; and Ron Lax (Firth), a private detective who has offered his time and resources to the defense team. What ensues is a hodge-podge of images, characters, lines from court-room transcripts and footage from previous documentaries about the same case. If this film could be rated based just on its ability to approximate the time period or on the actors offering extremely convincing impersonations of their real-life counterparts, then this film would be given an “A” for effort. However, none of the performances were strong enough to merit mentioning. Which is disappointing considering the film does boast two Academy Award winning actors. In fact, throughout most of the film, I felt as if I were watching a dress rehearsal. If anything, the performances are hindered due to the wealth of footage that has been seen in no less than four documentaries featuring the real people. The same can be said for the writing. When I heard dialogue taken from the transcripts – or previous documentaries – most often the lines were not entirely correct – but perhaps slightly paraphrased.

As excited as I was for this movie, I still wondered what the purpose of it could be. Based on Mara Leveritt’s book of the same name from 2002, I didn’t find this to be that accurate of an adaptation. Granted, it’s a non-fiction work and not a novel; but the book only covers 1993 to 2001. The time period of the film spans from the time of the murders in May of 1993 to the sentencing of the accused men during the Summer of 1994; yet it references evidence and accusations that came to light in 2007 and later. I would have rather seen a film called “The West Memphis Three” than “Devil’s Knot”; that way it would allow for information that spans the twenty-year history of this case. That being said, I will concede that “Devil’s Knot” is a much more enticing title.

When one reads the book of “Devil’s Knot” you walk away almost convinced that a particular person is guilty of the murders; since that was the main focus of the defense and the followers of the case at the time of its writing. However, in this dramatized film that person is given little screen time, and barely factors into the story at all. Which would be fine if the film were a general look at the case and not based on this specific source material.

I don’t see how anyone not familiar with this case would be interested in this movie. Even with its ensemble cast of notable actors, it’s not a strong vehicle for any of them. It is an interesting watch for followers of the West Memphis Three case, but I highly doubt even I will watch it as often as I do Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofky’s Paradise Lost Trilogy, or Amy Berg’s West of Memphis.

If this movie accomplishes anything, in my opinion, it will be that it keeps the conversation going about this case. As the film points out, before fading to black, there are too many unanswered questions. “Devil’s Knot” will also serve as a way to honor the memory of Ron Lax, whom sadly passed away in October of 2013. He was a firm believer in the innocence of the three accused men from day one, and worked extremely hard to get them out of jail and exonerated. The latter of which has yet to happen.