Thursday, December 26, 2013

Classics: Three Reasons Why Nick and Nora Charles Are the Best Couple to Party With

No party is complete without a saucy terrier
New Years is a time in which we reflect upon the previous year and look forward to the new one ahead. In modern times, the day has become a worldwide celebration in which people dance, talk, and drink away the cares of the previous year and welcome the arriving year with a resounding bang. As is the case with many holidays, however, the complications of making plans, inviting friends, and finding an outfit to wear can seem to be more trouble than the party is worth. Fortunately, there is one cinematic couple who are always up for a rousing good time; The Thin Man’s Nick and Nora Charles. Since their film debut in 1934, the pair has stood for the fun, excitement, and revelry that the best holiday seasons are made of. Here are three reasons why the sleuthing sweethearts are the best movie couple to kick off your New Year with.

1.      THEIR WIT: Author Dashiell Hammet reportedly based the Charles’ off of a real life couple who were both near and dear to his heart; himself and his longtime on again off again girlfriend Lillian Hellman. The layabout former detective and his party girl heiress wife at first seem to be an odd choice of counterparts for the former detective turned hard boiled novelist and his award winning playwright and activist lady love. Upon hearing the couple’s constant quips, however, the Charles’ literary origins become obvious. Regardless of whatever dangerous or outlandish situations they find themselves in, neither husband nor wife ever fails to see the humor in the absurdities of modern life. The spouse’s sense of humor perfectly suit each other as Nora’s restlessness and society charm counteracts Nick’s world weariness and blue collar sensibility. Their ability to laugh both with and at each other reveals that marriage has not stamped out the spark of their relationship as they continue to maintain a loving, intellectually stimulating, and above all fun partnership both on and off the mystery trail. Through their wit, charm, and ability to laugh at the madness that is life Nick and Nora remind audiences that monogamy doesn’t necessarily entail monotony and tying the knot doesn’t always mean being tied down.

2.      THE DRINKS: The only thing that sparkles more than the Charles’ wit is their seemingly endless supply of champagne. Throughout the holiday season in which The Thin Man takes place, the couple keeps the harsh realities of Depression-era life at bay with the help of a Prohibition-era invention; the cocktail. There is scarcely a moment, let alone a scene, in which either Nick or Nora are without a drink in their hands or a slight slur in their speech. While today such revelry would be viewed as an obvious indication of trouble ahead, the film instead indulges the pair and portrays them as the light hearted, sharp witted, inebriates that we all wish cocktails could transform us into. As a result, the film feels more like one long eccentric party than a mystery with a missed beat of repartee or a spilled drink carrying higher stakes than any murder that may occur in the couple’s midst.
Our heroes in their natural state; severely hung over

3.      THE SUSPENSE: As with all great mysteries, The Thin Man contains enough twists and turns to make even the most qualified detective’s head spin. The plot begins with the disappearance of wealthy inventor Clyde Wynant following the murder of his secretary turned mistress, Julia Wolfe. What initially seems to be a straightforward case of murder and fleeing the scene soon becomes muddled, however, when Wynant’s daughter, Dorothy, begs Nick to find her missing father. Nick reluctantly takes the case at Nora’s urging and soon finds himself caught in a web of deception lined with scorned wives, sinister heirs, treacherous employees, and ruthless gangsters. As the case goes on, each of the suspects reveals themselves to be far more complex and colorful than either Nick or Nora could have expected. With each new revelation into the characters of the suspects comes a new motive for the murder and a new set of dangers for the Charles’ to sleuth their way out of. As a result, there is virtually no way to guess who the murderer is, much less to be sure why they committed the crime. Through the constant changing of alibis, motives, and associations the cast keeps the audience on the edge of their seats and scratching their heads until the last reel.

Through their combination of laughs, thrills, and tipsy spills Nick and Nora Charles know how to throw a first rate New Year’s Eve. The couple’s approach to life, love, and detective work is just the breath of fresh air needed to welcome all that is new. While their sophistication and suspense may be difficult to replicate, their spirit of celebration is always present where there are good friends, good conversations, and good liquor. Join Nick and Nora; you just might solve the mystery of how to make your New Year’s Eve a truly sophisticated soiree.

Bringing sexy back to married life since 1934

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The 2013 SPLATTER! Awards

Confessions of a Film Junkie: The 2013 SPLATTER! Awards

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Well another year has come and gone.  I’d like to start off by thanking you, our loyal readers for checking us out each week and letting us know that a good number of you are interested in the films we review.  So as I reflect on all the crap that I’ve watched this year it’s time for me to hand out my “SPLATTER! Awards”.  Now last year, I just posted my 2012 Awards on Facebook (I did not do an official post on blogger), because I only had 4 awards/categories.  This year I’ve expanded my SPLATTER! Awards to seven, and I personally feel that is enough categories to release an official post.

     The Awards I am giving out are strictly my own opinion and will only be given out to films that I saw in 2013.  There’s a very good chance that I did not see some films in 2013 that may be considered the Best/Worst.  So please do not comment saying “oh, what are you talking about, this film was way worst than that” etc.  My official cutoff date for films was Thanksgiving, so if I didn’t include it on my list it is most likely because I didn’t see it.  All Films marked with an asterisk (*) are brand new categories, hence the films I give them to will be the first recipients of the award.

BEST FILM OF THE YEAR (The Best Film I watched released in 2013)
Last year was a fantastic year for new films, but 2013 was—in my opinion—a “meh” year for film.  I just don’t think there was as many good films released this year as there were in 2012 or 2011.  Then again, I didn’t see many films that people said were great like “The Worlds End”, “The Butler”, “12 Years A Slave”, “Oz The Great and Powerful”, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and others.  So my choice for the Best Film of 2013 goes to “Insidious: Chapter 2”.  I’m sure many of you right now are telling me that I am wrong.  I’m sure some of you would say that “The Conjuring” was better than “Insidious: Chapter 2”.  I respectfully disagree.  The reason why I’m giving “Insidious: Chapter 2” the SPLATTER! Award for Best film of 2013 is because it had some interesting twists to the original story.  We’ve seen the story to “The Conjuring” done so many times before, but “Insidious: Chapter 2” was different.  It had twists, it had thrills, and it didn’t have a single plot hole.  Any questions you may have had for the first film are answered in the second film.  I will say, that I didn’t think the second film wasn’t as good as the original, but I still found it to be a rather enjoyable film to watch, and was glad to see so many of the characters we enjoyed in the original appear in this sequel.  This is why I have selected “Insidious: Chapter 2” as my recipient of the 2013 SPLATTER! Award for Best Film of the Year.  Here’s hoping for much better films in 2014.

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR (The Worst Film I watched released in 2013)

Wow.  Looking back at this year I watched so much crap!  I thought I saw some crap in 2012, well this year I saw so much crap I didn’t even have time to write reviews for some of the films I watched this year.  Last Year, I gave this award to “Girls Gone Dead” (which also won my “Worst Film that I saw for the first time this year” award), and I thought to myself that no film made or released in 2013 could come close to be that bad.  Well, I was wrong.  The SPLATTER! Award for Worst Film of the Year goes to “House of Bodies”, and just to help put in perspective how bad of a film it is:  this means that I thought films like “Paranormal Asylum”, “Hansel and Gretel” (w/ Dee Wallace)**, “A Haunting in Silver Falls”, “Darkroom”, “Sharknado”**, “The Purge”, “Movie 43”**, and “Evil Dead” (w/Shiloh Fernandez)** were all better than “House of Bodies”.  Why do I consider this film so much worst then the others is because this film had not one, but two Oscar nominated actors in the film, and they were terrible.  I can excuse “Paranormal Asylum” for being bad because it’s just trying to rip off “Paranormal Activity”.  I can excuse “Evil Dead” for being bad, because it was a crappy remake of a much beloved Horror film.  And I can even excuse “Sharknado” for being bad, because it was produced by SyFy and we all knew we were getting a pile of crap before we even watched it, but “House of Bodies” has no excuse.  It had terrible a story, no shock or entertainment, and did not let its actors live up to their full potential.  Hell, even “Movie 43”, another film that Terrance Howard appeared in, was more enjoyable then “House of Bodies”.  All of the reasons are more than enough to justify why I am naming “House of Bodies”, the Worst Film of the Year.

**=I saw the film in 2013, but did not write or post a review on it.

BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE YEAR* (Released in year 2013)

This year’s SPLATTER! Award for Biggest Surprise of the Year goes to “Self Storage”, a film made and produced in Rhode Island by the Woodhaven Production Company.  This is the fourth film that the Woodhaven Production Company has released since 2010.  Although they are still a small company the Woodhaven Production Company has managed to show that they have potential, and “Self Storage” is their best example.  The film was written, directed, and stars Tom DeNucci.  He is joined in this film by the acting talents of Eric Roberts and Horror Movie Acting legend Michael Berryman.  If you have not seen “Self Storage” yet, you simply must.  It is a low-budget film, but it’s better than a lot of films I’ve seen this year that were made with much larger budgets.  

BIGGEST DISSAPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR* (A film I had high expectations for, but was completely disappointed by released in 2013)

"The Most Terrifying Film" my a$$!
I’ll be honest with all of you; this was probably my toughest decision I had to make this year.  I was disappointed with both Marvel Superhero sequels—“Iron Man 3” and “Thor: The Darkworld”—but I know a lot of people liked them, they did well at the box office, and they were sequels, so I felt it would be unfair of me to judge them as sequel films, but want to know even worse than most movie sequels?; movie remakes!  So yeah, I hate remakes of films so when I heard that they were making a remake of “The Evil Dead” I said that I was not going to go and see it.  Well the marketing for this film and the trailers made it look totally awesome, and they got me.  So I spent my $10.50 on the movie ticket and was excited, and after watching it I thought to myself that I should have stuck to my gut instincts.   Man, did this film piss me off.  They absolutely butchered this film.  The new plot was awful, and I hated all the characters.  Especially, actor Shiloh Fernandez.  Why does he have to be in so many awful films?  What “Deadgirl” wasn’t bad enough, he had to go and tarnish the legacy of one of the most beloved horror films of a generation.  What makes it even worse is that this film actually had the blessing of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell (the director and star of the original “Evil Dead”).  Besides desecrating their own works, actress Jane Levy, who played Mia in the film, said the film was a miserable experience and that she would never want to appear in another horror film.  So, yeah when your own cast doesn’t like the film it might be a sign that your film is a pile of crap.

THE WHAT THE F*CK FILM OF THE YEAR* (The film released in 2013 that made me proclaim to myself “What the F*ck?”)

How did you make so much money???
So the recipient of the first ever “SPLATTER! Award” for the “What the F*ck Film of the Year” has to go to “The Purge”.  This film had one interesting plot piece and it was what would happen if crime was made temporarily legal once a year; more specifically what if murder was legal.  I mean, why do they just focus on murder?  Are you trying to tell me that if the government allowed its people to commit whatever crimes they wanted, they’d all choose murder.  I find that hard to believe that all everyone would want to do is murder.  Seriously, no arson, no sex crimes, no vandalism, or looting?  If that wasn’t weak enough, the film also had a ton of plot holes.  Why are the bad guys so bent on getting one homeless person?  Why does the family decide to hide him?  How does their home security system fail so easily?  Not to mention everything in this film was the sons fault!   The reason why it is the recipient of this award is because despite all of its flaws it actually made money!  Not only that, but it made enough money to garner a sequel...What the F*ck?!  How did this film manage to pull that off???  Well it goes without saying “The Purge” is more than deserving of this award.

BEST FILM THAT I SAW FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS YEAR (This Award Goes to any film that I saw for the first time this year no matter what year it was released)

This year’s SPLATTER! Award for “Best Film that I saw for the First Time This Year” is a tie.  Both films are a part of the same franchise.  The winners are “Grave Encounters” and “Grave Encounters 2”.  What enticed me to check out these two films was the cover to the second film.  It looked very interesting and since I wanted to see the second one, I knew I had to see the first one.  “Grave Encounters” is following the recent trend of Paranormal Investigative Mock-umentary style horror films (similar to “Paranormal Activity”).  I actually think “Grave Encounters” is the best one I’ve seen so far.  The way I’d describe both films is like this.  What the first one lacks in scares, it makes up in story, and what the second one lacks in story, it makes up in scares.                        
The second film actually has a distinguished honor of being one of the few horror films I’ve watched where I screamed out in terror.  So like I said, the DVD cover to the second one made me want to see it.  That weird looking creature peaked my interest, and when it broke through the window in the film, I remember jumping up in my bed and shouting “Ahh!  Ahh!  What the hell is that?!  What the HELL is that?!”...I think it’s kind of pathetic, that I saw the monster before the film and it still managed to scare the crap out of me as I watched it.  Both of these films are fantastic, and if you have not seen either “Grave Encounters” or its sequel, I highly recommend that you go and do that now.

WORST FILM THAT I SAW FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS YEAR (This Award Goes to any film that I saw for the first time this year no matter what year it was released)

     “Birdemic: Shock and Terror” I even need to explain why this film is so awful?  It was my most popular audience request this year, it was the first time I had ever seen the film (though I had heard many negative things about it before I saw it), and yeah it’s awful...Don’t see it.

So Awful

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of "Birdemic: Shock and Terror"

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Classics: A Review of Rebecca By Lauren Ennis

Marriage: the 1940's cure for no self-worth

On Sunday, December 15, 2013 Academy Award winning actress Joan Fontaine was pronounced dead at age 96 at her Carmel, California home. Fontaine had a successful career that spanned from the 1930’s to her final role in a made for tv movie in 1994. While a versatile actress, she is best remembered for playing a pair of wives driven to the brink of insanity by the secrets surrounding their marriages in the Hitchcock films Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941). Though the two roles were strikingly similar, it is still debated as to in which film she truly produced an Oscar worthy performance, as many contend that her win for Suspicion was given in compensation for her failing to win for Rebecca the previous year. While the question regarding the Oscar remains a matter of opinion, there is no doubt that the film featured in this review, Rebecca, features Fontaine at the height of her star power and acting range. Under Hitchcock’s direction, Fontaine evolves from insecure waif to strong woman amidst the twists and turns of her life as the second Mrs. De Winter.

The film begins as Fontaine’s character, known only as “the second Mrs. De Winter”, is working as a secretary and companion to an elderly English woman (Florence Bates) traveling in Monte Carlo. Although her employer is obviously difficult and condescending, Fontaine mousily follows the woman about without resistance, hanging on her every request. During the course of the trip, she meets and begins a whirlwind romance with brooding widower Maxim De Winter (Laurence Olivier). Although it is obvious to viewers early on that Maxim sees her as his salvation after the loss of his wife, Fontaine remains too in awe of the wealthy sophisticate to believe that he might share her feelings. Just before she is scheduled to leave with her employer, however, Maxim confesses his love and proposes to her. The happy couple relocates to his mansion in the English countryside, Manderlay, bringing the carefree days of their courtship and honeymoon to an abrupt end. Upon her arrival, Fontaine realizes just how deeply both Maxim and the staff remain influenced by memories of the first Mrs. De Winter, the deceased Rebecca. The manor’s imposing housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), possesses a particularly unsettling devotion to Rebecca that quickly reveals itself to be far more sinister than a mere maternal fondness. As the film goes on, Fontaine’s character is faced with a series of disturbing revelations that force her to reexamine her positions as both mistress of Manderlay and as Maxim’s wife.

Playing an ‘everyman’ character is never an easy task for any actor. These parts often force actors to remain likable and unexceptional in contrast to the challenging and colorful characters that put the story’s plot into motion. As a result, while audiences are meant to relate to and root for ‘everyman’ heroes, it is often difficult for such characters to be truly memorable or original. This dilemma was made even more difficult for Fontaine as her character was not only relegated to a ‘type’ but was also denied a back story, or even a name, with which to enrich the role. The fact that the story was told from the unnamed heroine’s point of view ensured that, for better or worse, the film would hinge upon Fontaine’s performance. Fortunately for the cast and crew, Fontaine was more than up to the task and portrayed the mysterious heroine with a nuance and depth that proved crucial to the film’s success. Although already twenty three at the time of filming, Fontaine imbued her heroine with a childlike naivete and innocence that add a level of wonder and awe to her romance with Maxim and change of fortune early in the film. As the manipulations of Mrs. Danvers and stifling atmosphere at Manderly begin to take their toll, however, she acquires a weariness and skepticism that prove she is far from the “funny, young, lost” girl that Maxim once described her as. Later, when she is faced with the possibility of losing Maxim after the truth of Rebecca’s death is revealed, she is shown to be a capable and intelligent woman as she quickly adapts to the situation and immediately plans a course of action. In each of the film’s three acts, the heroine is at very different stages of her emotional development, which Fontaine not only portrays, but does so in a way that demonstrates the haunting effects of her life at Manderlay. Thus, Fontaine’s understated performance not only brings the heroine to life, but also elevates her beyond the ‘blank slate’ status that the script nearly restricted her to.

Stop upstaging me!!
Like all Alfred Hitchcock films, one of the chief assets of Rebecca is its atmosphere. Although the film’s beginning in a glamorous resort initially seems to be a break from the director’s trademark  chills, the setting is expertly used to cue viewers in to the characters’ idyllic emotional state. Upon reaching Manderlay, however, the film takes a turn for the ominous as the viewer is introduced to the suffocating world of Rebecca. Like the novel upon which it is based, the film relies upon the implication and possibility of danger, rather than shocking images, to create suspense. This technique allows viewers to step into the heroine’s place as we try to navigate between real threats and paranoid fears while the plot unfolds. This distinctly threatening atmosphere also raises the stakes of a largely action free plot, keeping viewers engaged in the characters’ struggles until the shocking twists set in. Unfortunately, the film’s third act reverts to a courtroom drama, eliminating all of the suspense and menace that was so effective at Manderlay. As a result, the film’s pace begins to drag at the point in which it should be at its most riveting.

While the film rests primarily upon Fontaine’s Mrs. De Winter, the supporting cast is equally excellent. Laurence Olivier portrays Maxim with the ideal mix of brooding, tenderness, and internal torment that brings credibility to each facet of his mysterious character. Similarly, George Sanders is perfectly cast as Rebecca’s smarmy cousin/lover Jack Favell and plays the scoundrel with equal parts sleaze, sophistication, and humor. By far the most memorable character in the film is the wicked Mrs. Danvers, who is able to manipulate those around her with calculated efficiency. In Judith Anderson’s hands, the character develops beyond stock villain into an omniscient, malignant, presence that stands in for the decaying influence of Rebecca upon the De Winters’ lives.

Rebecca is a genuine classic that is often considered the “first true Hitchcock film”, and the unforgettable villain and atmosphere leave little reason to wonder why. The film marked a major turning point in the careers of both director Hitchcock and leading lady Fontaine, which provided both with an essential stepping stone to future successes. The film excellently mixes genres in its unique take on the modern ghost story and offers a warning against the dangers of failing to assert oneself and pleasing others at one's own expense. I highly recommend this film for those interested in the careers of Hitchcock and Fontaine, and those who appreciate a bit of psychological suspense; but be warned, the memories of Rebecca have been known to remain long after the ashes of Manderlay fade to black.

Even the furniture is loyal to her

A Retrospect on "Caligula"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Retrospect on “Caligula”

By: Brian Cotnoir

I am a cine-masochist.  I actually get off a little (psychologically) every time I force myself to watch a film that I know is going to be a terrible.  I proudly boast that I have sat through “A Serbian Film” in its entirety on multiple occasions. I’ve seen “A Clockwork Orange” dozens of times and regard it as one of my All-Time Favorite films.  I even reviewed a film for another blog that’s plot revolved around the idea of a “Gay Zombie Revolution”.  I review trash, I review sleaze, I review blood soaked pornography, and yet I am not ashamed of the types of films that I have forced myself to watch.  To this day, there are only a handful of films I ever felt ashamed or embarrassed for seeing; films like the one I am doing a Retrospect on today.  Today, I take a look back at one of the most infamous films ever made, the 1979 Erotic-Drama “Caligula”.

My First Impression of the Film

How did you get involved with this mess???
    I was ashamed of myself for making through the entire film in just one sitting.  This film is an atrocious mess.  It’s disorganized, it’s nonsensical, it unintelligent, it is bad!  I hated this film, it is easily one of the worst films I have ever forced myself to sit through.  I had one reason to want to see this film, and that was that its title role was played by Malcolm McDowell, one of my favorite actors.  “Caligula” also features the acting talents of 8-time Oscar Nominee, the late Peter O’Toole, and also featured future Academy Award Winner Helen Mirren. I’m surprised that anyone had a career after this film.  I honestly do believe that this film is the reason why Peter O’Toole has never won an Oscar.  Plus, I like to think/ hope he was drunk when they filmed his parts. 

My Impression of the Film after watching it a second time

You make me sad Malcolm.  So very, very sad.
I fully expected that this film would cause my blood to boil over like the first time I watched it, but much to my surprise, it didn’t make me angry, but rather it bored me.  I could not get over how dull this film actually was.  There was no action, no intelligent or memorable dialogue, and nothing of interest happening.  I began to critique things like the costumes, their hair styles, and the sets.  To be perfectly honest with you, that’s the only thing I thought about the film that was good.  It had these monumental sets that just looked fantastic.  I think this is another one of those instances when you could watch the film with the sound off and just admire the sets and what is going on in the background.

What I’d do to make the film better

It's such an awful mess!
It’s mind boggling to find out how this film came to be. For one thing, the film was financed by Bob Guccione “the founder of Penthouse Magazine”.  So it’s understandable why there’s so much pornography in this film.  I don’t think toning down or removing the sex scenes from this film would make it better, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus of the film.  I honestly don’t know if this film could be improved or made better, it’s so bad that I honestly believe that it’s beyond saving.  The screenplay for “Caligula” was written by acclaimed author Gore Vidal, and I was surprised at how bad it was.  Upon, further research, I discovered that Vidal did not want credit for writing this screenplay and disowned the film mostly because director Tinto Brass and lead actor Malcolm McDowell changed the point-of-view of his original screenplay.  This film is a poorly adapted bio-pic of one of the most notorious leaders in History.  Caligula reign as filled with sex, violence, and other untold horrors, so it’s quite a shame that the film’s crew chose only to focus on the sexual aspects of his life. 

My Final Opinion on this film

     It’s trash, of course.  And it’s not even the good type; it’s just an atrocious film, with little to nothing to offer its audience.  I don’t even think this is one of those “so-bad-that-it’s-good” films, I just think it’s bad.  The late Roger Ebert called this film “sickening, utterly worthless trash” and is one of only three films he ever walked out on!  That is saying something considering how many bad films Roger Ebert was forced to sit through.  Do I think people should see “Caligula”?  No, I do not.  I think that “Caligula” is one of those films that should be ignored until it slowly fades away from people’s memories.  I know, I will never make an attempt to sit through this film ever again, and that is a promise.

Why do you have to be so weird movie?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cinema Debates: What is the Best Christmas Movie?

Confessions of a Film Junkie: Cinema Debates “What is the Best Christmas Movie?”

A Joint Review By: Lauren Ennis & Brian Cotnoir

     Oh it’s that wonderful time of year again.  The trees are covered in tinsel, the halls are festively decked, the eggnog is roughly 80% Kentucky Bourbon, and of course all those timeless Christmas Classics are running on TV.  But what is the Best Christmas Movie?  Miss-E and I have decided to present our arguments and let you our audience decide who is right this week as we debate what we believe is Best Christmas Movie.

It’s a Wonderful Life (By Lauren Ennis)

The holidays are a time in which people come together with their friends and families and celebrate traditions both established and emerging. One tradition that many seasonal celebrations share is the viewing of holiday movies that convey the meaning of the season in original and timeless ways. Personally, I enjoy a variety of Christmas themed films every year ranging from children’s cartoons to the more risqué humor of A Christmas Story. Amongst the numerous picks that I refuse to miss each year, one film stands out for its ability to tell a truly unique story that has continued to resonate for generations; It’s a Wonderful Life.
Someone's lost their Christmas Spirit :(
    The film begins in an unusual manner with two angels watching from heaven as small town banker, George Bailey, contemplates suicide. The story then flashes back as novice angel, Clarence, reviews George’s entire life story in hopes of finding inspiration as to how to reach George before it is too late. The flashbacks show how George began his life as a hardworking, enthusiastic, boy, and grew up to become an ambitious and restless young man. As the flashbacks continue, however, it is revealed that George spent most of his life sacrificing his own desires and ambitions in order to help others and maintain his personal integrity. Clarence soon learns that it is this life-long accumulation of chances missed and dreams sacrificed that has ultimately led George to his hopeless state. Clarence then comes down to earth and uses his new insight into George’s character to show George that there is always hope, and despite his regrets, he really does have a wonderful life after all.
It just gives you a case of the "warm fuzzy's"
My favorite aspect of this film is the way in which it places the importance of its story first and holiday sentiment second. While the film begins and ends on Christmas Eve, the majority of the film takes place across various seasons, which allows the film’s primary focus to remain on George and his predicament. Unlike many holiday films that feature stereotypical heroes and villains, Wonderful Life is consistently honest and three dimensional in its portrayal of small town America and the people who inhabit it. It is this approach that ultimately wins viewers over and makes them care about the utterly unremarkable George, while reminding them to see the hope and promise in their own lives. Similarly, the film’s refusal to soften its dark themes adds poignancy and urgency to the plot’s proceedings. The film also avoids the common holiday film trope of either evading controversial topics or overemphasizing them to boost an otherwise mediocre plot. Instead, the film utilizes George’s contemplation of suicide to examine the often discouraging trials and tribulations of everyday life and the fulfillment that makes them all worthwhile. This film is excellent family fare that challenges its viewers to look at the regrets in their own lives and while reminding them of the simple wonder in each and every life.
Merry Christmas too all :)
    Although the film was written with the struggles of Depression and World War II era America in mind, It’s a Wonderful Life is a true holiday classic for all nations and generations. It is a modern fable of small town life that highlights the importance of each person to the lives of those around them in such a way that audiences can reconsider the often underestimated value of their own lives. The film also provides lessons in the importance of maintaining one’s values despite the short term benefits of doing otherwise; lessons that remain essential from childhood to old age. Above all, It’s a Wonderful Life is a film that reminds both the young and old that “no one is a failure who has friends” and each life, no matter how seemingly ordinary, is truly important.

Hobo With a Shotgun (By Brian Cotnoir)

     Now I know so many of are probably saying that “Hobo with a Shotgun” isn’t really a Christmas Movie, but I ask you to look at this film more closely you will notice this film is just a Metaphor of the Bible.                                           
Let’s look at the Hobo (played by Rutger Hauer).  He clearly represents Jesus Christ.  He is a man who enters a world of sin and looks to rid the world of that sin.  However, instead of educating the world through proverbs and other important messages he uses a shotgun.  During one scene in the film when he is an innocent bystander to a violent armed robbery at a Pawn Shop, he grabs a shotgun off the shelf and opens fire on the robbers.  During this massacre we see the Hobo make the sign of the cross and says “hallelujah”.  The Hobo is aided in his quest to rid the world of sin by a prostitute named Abby, who represents Jesus’ close ally and friend Mary Magdalene—who was also a prostitute.  In one scene, we see the Hobo approaching a man in a car dressed as Santa Claus where he shouts “Jerk on this you child molesting shit-licker!” before blowing his head off with the shotgun.  To me that line represents the idea of Corporate America using Santa Claus to “molest” children’s minds with the idea that Christmas is more about toys and other material goods rather than the ideas and teachings of Jesus. At the end of the film the Hobo dies in a bloody execution (much like Christ), and I think it represents the Hobo is dying for the sins of the people of Hope Town in order to make it a better place.                         

Ridding the world of Sin ( shotgun shell at a time!)

That’s not the only similarity between the films plot and what occurs in the bible. Let’s look at the character “The Drake” who I believe is a representations of the Roman Emperor Pontius Pilot.  The Drake is a crime boss, and he is the person in control of the fictional town of Hope Town (or “F*ck Town” as so many of its residents crudely call it).  Whatever he says, is law, he is the towns Judge, Jury, and Executioner and he even has his own preferred method execution: “The Glory Hole”.  The Glory Hole, in some ways, is like crucifixion, but a lot messier.  Those unfortunate enough to be sentenced to the Glory Hole have a barbed wire noose placed around their neck (very similar to the crown of thorns that was placed upon Jesus’ head during his crucifixion). The Drake is aided in his quests for mayhem and destruction by this two sons Slick and Ivan, who are every bit just like their father. 
The Glory Hole
    During our first introduction to Ivan in Slick as they aid their father in the public execution of their Uncle Logan, Slick and Ivan reminisce about their dislike for their uncle.  Ivan says to slick “You know, I remember that this f*cker used to give me the sh!ttiest Christmas presents”, at that moment Slick brandishes a switchblade and irks this phrase: “I hate Christmas”.  Slick openly admits to hating Christmas, and by that admission admits to hate Christians as well.  Later when the Hobo and Slick have their first one-on-one encounter Slick brandishes a large knife and tells the hobo “Well you better cut [a welfare check] to Mother Theresa, so you can give it to her while she’s finger-banging you in Hell!”.  This sends the Hobo into a blinding rage as he attacks Slick while exclaiming that Mother Theresa “is a God Damn saint!”; further supporting my earlier argument that the Hobo is actually Christ and knows Mother Theresa personally.  Slick despises the Hobo so much that there is a scene where he’s sitting a table with his brother Ivan and their father, with a bunch of dummies re-enacting the scene from “The Last Supper”, and Slick expresses his desire to “crucify [the Hobo] to a homeless shelter”. Upon hearing this notion, the Drake suggests him to not search for revenge and instead attempt a more terrifying method of terrorism.             
    If these reasons aren’t enough to convince you that “Hobo with a Shotgun” is the Best Christmas Movie Ever, then I seriously suggest that you re-watch this film and count how many references to the Bible and Jesus that there actually are in this film.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Classics: A Retrospective of Hedy Lamarr By Lauren Ennis

Now we know why she always looked so bored

“Glamour girl by day, revolutionary scientist by night” sounds like the sort of description reserved for a Bond-girl or a character in a particularly ridiculous romantic comedy. In actuality, the description would make an excellent and entirely accurate tagline for the story of 30’s and 40’s cinema icon Hedy Lamarr. Stifled by the gender restrictions of her day, Lamarr used the profits from her ditzy screen persona to pursue personal fulfillment in the form of scientific research and technological inventions. While she is best remembered for her truly exquisite appearance and several light-weight performances, it is the efforts of her beautiful mind that have left the deepest impact upon modern society.

Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Keisler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna Austria, to banker Emil Keisler and pianist Gertrud Keisler. She grew up with a largely uneventful and comfortable childhood, and went on to study acting under renowned director Max Reinhardt in her teens. In 1933, she attained her breakout screen role as a neglected young wife who finds fulfillment in a heated affair in the controversial art house film Extase. Although the plot was slight, the film went on to become a notorious hit, largely due to Lamarr’s nudity during a skinny dipping scene and close-ups of her face in what would today be considered a tame sex scene. Following the film’s release, she embarked upon what would later prove to be a disastrous marriage to her first husband, munitions dealer Fritz Mandl. In her biography, Lamarr describes Mandl as controlling and recounts how he attempted to seize all existing copies of Extase in order to prevent any viewers from seeing her risqué performance. According to her account, Mandl was more than a mere arms manufacturer and actually possessed close financial ties with dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, who had attended several parties at the couple’s castle home. During the couple’s regular social gatherings, Mandl would often discuss business with his fascist associates who were very much interested in ways to improve upon and implement military technology. Unbeknownst to Mandl, Lamarr paid great attention to these discussions and used them as the basis for her knowledge of applied science. Eventually, Mandl’s fascist support became too much for the Jewish Lamarr to bear and she escaped to France. Her method of escape remains up for debate to this day, with one version stating that she drugged her maid and stole the girl’s uniform to disguise herself, and another saying that she hid in a brothel where she worked as an escort until she had saved up enough money to secure passage out of Austria. In either case, the trip proved to be a fateful one, as she began an acquaintance with studio mogul Louis B. Meyer in Paris, marking the start of her second life as a Hollywood screen siren.

Upon arriving in the United States, Meyer rechristened her with the stage name ‘Hedy Lamarr’ (a combination of her nickname and the last name of silent star Barbara La Marr) and ordered that she undergo the required studio makeover, which primarily consisted of a regimented diet. She later met and made a strong impression on leading man Charles Boyer while at a Hollywood party. Boyer reportedly took one look at Lamarr from behind and determined that she “must be a beautiful woman” even though he had yet to see her face. He quickly began a conversation with the still unknown starlet and demanded that she be cast in his new film, Algiers. The film was released as Lamarr’s first American feature in 1938 and received rave reviews from both critics and audiences. Although she had minimal screen time in the film, her role as a jewel thief’s kept-woman love interest nearly won her the strikingly similar role of Ilsa Lund in Casablanca four years later before a scheduling conflict led to the casting of Ingrid Bergman. She went on to star in a series of successful films for the remainder of the 1930’s into the 1940’s in which she acted alongside such legendary stars as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, John Garfield, Lana Turner, and Judy Garland. Despite her success, she was unfortunately often relegated to parts that emphasized glamour over substance and failed to utilize her acting talent. As a result, she often found herself bored while working long hours on films that required little artistic effort and returned to her other creative outlet; applied science. During the lengthy breaks between scenes, she would lock herself in her trailer and create blueprints and outlines for various inventions. While other stars occupied themselves by chatting with their costars or other, trivial, pursuits, Lamarr used the free time to create, amongst other inventions, improved traffic signals, a fluorescent dog collar, a redesigned Kleenex box, and modifications to the Concorde jet.

The days when it was still shocking to strip on camera
By far the most substantial of her inventions was the Frequency Hopping spectrum. Lamarr’s Austrian-Jewish heritage made the World War II Allied cause particularly close to her heart, and led her to dedicate herself to finding a way to aid the war effort. During and prior to World War II, torpedoes were controlled by radio signals that were prone to being jammed by broadcasting inteference. The widespread use of radios in the 1940’s caused consistent signal interference that limited the accuracy and efficiency of torpedoes.  In the early 1940’s, Lamarr began a friendship with her neighbor, avant-garde artist George Antheil, who was working with a series of experimental instruments, including a set of synchronized player pianos. While observing Antheil’s pianos, she noted how their programming caused each piano to ‘hop’ from one note to another in unison and began to wonder why radio signals couldn’t do the same. She theorized that synchronizing radio signals to jump from one frequency to another would make it much more difficult for the Axis to pinpoint the signal’s location and jam it with broadcast interference. After countless hours of work, Lamarr and Anthiel completed their invention and brought it before US naval intelligence. Despite the fact that the invention would have served its purpose and prevented the enemy from detecting torpedo signals, military experts rejected it. Adding insult to injury, the navy told Lamarr that the best way for her to serve the cause was by using her looks and celebrity status to sell war bonds. The device was not implemented until the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and by that time Lamarr and Anthiel had unfortunately let their patent expire. Frequency Hopping went on to become the basis for Spread-Spectrum Communication technology, which is utilized today in Blue Tooths, GPS systems, internet WiFi, and the majority of modern military technology. Lamarr finally received recognition for her work when she received the 1997 Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneers Award, but Anthiel had unfortunately died nearly forty years earlier in 1959.

Despite Lamarr’s scientific and cinematic success, her personal life was rife with complications. Following her marriage to Mandl, she was married five more times, with each marriage ending in divorce. She adopted son James Markey with her second husband, Gene Markey, and gave birth to another son, Anthony Loder, and a daughter, Denise Loder during her marriage to her third husband, John Loder. By the 1950’s, her career began to decline as younger stars were cast in the ingénue roles that she had been restricted to for so many years. Over time, she spent her considerable fortune and was arrested on charges of shoplifting in 1966 and 1991. She also sued director Mel Brooks in 1974 for invasion of privacy (for unauthorized use of her name) after he named the male villain in Blazing Saddles ‘Hedley Lamarr’. The case was eventually settled out of court and the character’s name remained intact. She filed a similar lawsuit against CorelDRAW Software after they used a Corel-drawn image of her as a cover design without her permission in 1996. Corel argued that Lamarr did not own the image, and that case was also settled out of court in 1998. As her star began to fade, she regarded her career bitterly saying, “The ladder of success in Hollywood is usually agent, actor, director, producer, leading man. And you are a star if you sleep with them in that order. Crude but true”. She also dismissed her glamorous persona and resented the fact that it was her looks rather than her intelligence that she was best remembered for, saying, “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid”. After becoming increasingly reclusive starting in the 1960’s, she died of heart failure at age 85 on January 19, 2000 at her home in Cassleberry, Florida.

It is often said that one cannot judge a book by its cover; a statement that Hedy Lamarr’s story undoubtedly personifies. While dismissed even at the height of her popularity as a ‘dime a dozen’ starlet, she was far more interesting and complicated than the pretty faces that she was surrounded by in Hollywood. By using her intellectual gifts, she was able to defy the constraints of her era and create a truly innovative invention that has shaped modern technology as we know it.  Next time you use your Bluetooth, GPS, or cellphone, I hope you take a second to think of Hedy Lamarr, a woman who was truly ahead of her time.

An inventor in her unnatural habitat; a film studio

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A 2-4-1 Special of "Jaws" rip-offs

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A 2-4-1 Special of “Jaws” rip-offs

By: Brian Cotnoir

"Jaws”; not only is it one of my Favorite Films of All-Time, but it is one of the Greatest Films Ever Made.  Seriously, how many times have I made references to “Jaws” on this blog?  I can’t even count.  “Jaws” is one of the three most common references/influences that I’ve seen in Horror films (the others being Serial Killers and Movie monsters).  If you go to Netflix right now there are over 10 Films about Shark attacks.  However, for every good Shark Attack film you get like a “Jaws” or a “Deep Blue Sea”, you get a dozen films like “Sharknado”.  And then every now and then you get a good “Jaws” spoof like “Sand Sharks” or “Jersey Shore: Shark Attack”.         But if Hollywood has taught us anything about films it’s this: when any idea in film is overly successful, just try to copy exactly what they did.  So just three years later, in 1978, after “Jaws” left an entire generation “too terrified to go back into the water” audiences were treated to not one, but two films that were blatant rip-off’s of “Jaws”, both film opting to use another creature from the deep, in lieu of a shark.  These are the two films that I am reviewing today, “Piranha” and “Barracuda”.  So how badly did these two films taint the legacy of “Jaws”?


“Piranha” is the story of an insurance investigator named Maggie McKeown who is sent to the Lost River Lake to investigate the disappearance of two missing teenagers.  While searching through the mountains she comes across a mountain man named Paul Grogan, who Maggie recruits into helping her try to locate the missing teens.  Maggie and Paul come across and abandoned Army testing site and suspect that the teens may have drowned in a giant water tank on the property so they decide to drain it, in hopes of finding the teens remains.  Unfortunately, for Maggie & Paul they have just released a super-breed of killer piranha that can survive in cold waters, into the local rivers that serve as tributaries to a new beach resort and a children’s summer camp.  Now Maggie, Paul, and the United States Army are in a race to stop the killer piranha from spreading out and saving as many lives as possible. 
Our Heroes(?) ladies & gentlemen
    So I wouldn’t necessarily call this film a complete “rip-off” of “Jaws”, because it does do something’s that I actually enjoyed.  “Jaws” gave people the idea in your mind that the ocean is not safe; “Piranha” gave people the idea that the lakes and rivers are not safe, so they managed to tackle a new demographic.  Although, there are no (confirmed) reports of a human being eaten/killed by a school of piranha the films story actually does a very good job explaining why the  piranha are more aggressive.  According to the films plot, the Army was performing an experiment on piranha’s called “Operation: Razorteeth” in which the piranhas were being bred to survive in cold water and eat everything in sight.  The Army had hoped to release the piranha in the rivers of North Vietnam to combat the Vietcong, but when the war ended so did Operation: Razorteeth.  The Army tried poisoning the piranha, but a small group managed to survive their strongest poisons and began rapidly breeding.   
So Much Blood :)
The one thing that “Piranha” has on “Jaws” is that it’s more violent.  There’s more blood, more guts, more stuff shown as opposed to “Jaws” where some of the scariest parts were the things you didn’t see.  I did see the 2010 re-make as well, and although I didn’t find it to be all that good, I didn’t totally despise it.  The one thing that the original “Piranha” has on the re-make is it was scary.  Look at who a majority of the victims in “Piranha” (1978); they were children at a Summer Camp and families who were on vacation.  Who were the victims in “Piranha” (2010); A bunch of drunk, moronic, and naked college students.  Who are you going to feel more sympathetic towards?  The children and families, I’d hope.  So right away the re-make is less scary and more exploitative than graphic.  “Piranha” (1978) did contain some nudity, but compared to the amount shown in the re-make it’s like a freaking Disney flick.                    
    “Piranha” does have its faults though.  Most of the time you only see the silhouettes of the piranha traveling through the water, it’s a pretty cheap effect.  At least “Jaws” had the benefit of a mechanical shark in their film.  The film also does make a few references to “Jaws” in the film, but it’s more like they’re paying tribute, rather than ripping off or making fun of the film.  So is this a good film?  Yes, it is.  I think if you’re a fan of a “Jaws” than you most certainly will be a fan of “Piranha”.


     Now you want to talk about a bad film that is a rip-off of “Jaws”; then let’s talk about “Barracuda”.  Released the same year as “Piranha”, “Barracuda” is the story of a young marine biologist named Mike Canfield who believes that a chemical company in Palm Coves is polluting the oceans and contaminating the water.  He’s trying to get the Chemical plant shut down for pollution, but he accidentally ends up uncovering a massive government cover-up that could mean even worst news for him and the residents of Palm Cove.      
Should have been called "Garbage"
The major problem with this film is that it tries to have an “Environmental Message”.  The chemical dumping in the ocean is what causes the barracuda to attack humans, and yeah that’s their motivation, I guess.  See, want to know what’s great about “Jaws”, it’s just a hungry-freaking-shark! It’s not a genetically mutated or new super breed of shark.  It’s just a big great white shark that eats people.  Even in “Piranha” the reason why they were aggressive was because they were bred that way as part of an experiment.  The barracudas in “Barracuda” are attacking because the chemical company is dumping waste from a new medicine developed by the town’s physician and mass produced by the chemical plant.  This causes the barracuda (and most of the town’s residents) to suffer from “Hypoglycemia” (?) and it causes people and the barracuda to act very hostile.  The only reason why the barracuda are attacking people is because they’re a little angry.  That’s not scary.   
     Not only that, but I’m just not going to be that scared of a barracuda.  Yes, I’ve read that some barracuda can grow to over 7 feet in length and have been known to attack human beings from time to time, but like the piranha’s I have found no reports of a human being ever being killed by a barracuda.  I think I’d be more scared of a swarm of piranha because they are smaller and there are many of them.  If I had a choice between rather taking on a swarm of piranha or a barracuda, I’ll take my chances with the barracuda.                                           
Not only that, but the effects in “Barracuda” are incredibly cheap and lousy.  “Jaws” had Bruce, a bada$$ mechanical shark, “Piranha” managed to scare people without having to show actual piranha’s (they just showed gratuitous amounts of blood instead).  But the effects in “Barracuda” are really bad.  The barracuda looks like a rubber puppet.  The best way I can think to describe “Barracuda” is it’s like if Ed Wood tried creating his own version of “Jaws”.  It’s just really boring, really cheap, and not even worth wasting your time on.  Just do yourself the favor and see “Jaws” and if you liked that then maybe check out “Piranha” when you’re done.