Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A review of "Darkroom"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Dark Room”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Is it just me or are low-budget Horror films getting lazier and lazier? Are film studios even trying anymore?  I mean, what is the point of going through all the work of setting a shooting schedule, hiring actors, not to mention all the work that goes into designing the DVD cover and marketing the film on Netflix, if you’re not even going to put in any effort?  Let’s use the film I’m reviewing today, “Darkroom” as the case-in-point.          
“Darkroom” was released in 2013 and is the story of a young girl named Michelle (played by actress Kaylee DeFer) as she works towards her ultimate goal of leaving the rehab facility where she was sent to after she was involved in a drunk driving accident that killed her boyfriend and her two friends.  Upon being released from the facility Michelle get’s a small modeling gig in town (yeah, apparently she was a model before she went to rehab, but I digress).  So Michelle goes to the modeling job at his huge mansion that turns out to be an elaborate cover for a trio of siblings (led by the director the rehab center where Michelle was staying) to re-enact scenes from the film “Hostel” in order to “purge” the bad sinners of the world.                      
She doesnt look very invested in this role
   The first problem, I have with the film is this:  The plot is so freaking inconsistent!  I swear the person editing this film must have been a 7-year-old boy with severe ADHD and the attention span the size of a gnat because the plot is all over the place.  When every other scene is a flashback, you are not telling a good story, you are a just confusing your audience!  One flash back in your film is fine, two is okay, three is pushing it.  Don’t do it every other scene!  It really makes it difficult to establish things like plot in character when you have no idea what the hell is going on in the film.  I’m really not a fan of telling a story in a film like this, because it is so easy for the audience to get confused.           
   Let’s look at the motivation of our films villains.  They were horrifically abused by their psychotic mother...that’s it.  At some point while trying to escape through the mansion Michelle comes across a video tape of her three captors as young children being beaten, burned, maimed, and abused by their mother.  In the video the mother claims she is doing this because her children are “sinners”, but she is over-the-top with her abuse that it’s just not believable.  This lady makes the mom from “Carrie” look June Cleaver, she is that cruel.  Besides that, who the hell keeps a videotape of them self abusing their children?  What if the police got a hold of that tape, huh?  That’s evidence you dumb b!tch!.  I would have much preferred one of her captors telling the story of the abuse rather then something stupid like Michelle stumbling across a videotape.          

Actress Kaylee DeFer isn’t terrible in this film, but the character she’s playing is.  There is nothing likeable about Michelle.  She’s not a strong character; she’s not a likeable character.  In fact, the only character in this film who is more detestable then her is the youngest of the three villains, Daniel.  Daniel is loud, he’s whiny, he’s pathetic, and I can’t tell if actor Tobias Segal was trying to portray him as being—shall we say—a little slow, or if he’s really just that bad of an actor.                                                   
    If I were to classify “Darkroom” in a genre of films, I would put it under the “Skip Entirely” section.  It’s a garbage film, and is simply too bad a film to be watched by human eyes.  Don’t even bother wasting your time with it folks.  You have much better things you can do with your life then watch “Darkroom”.  

Classics: A Retrospective of Jean Harlow By Lauren Ennis

In The Public Enemy with James Cagney
Long before Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson and Scarlett Johannsen, there was a wisecracking dame who brought the words ‘blonde bombshell’ into the American vocabulary. From 1931 to 1937, Jean Harlow ruled the silver screen, combining seductive looks with comedic talent to become one of cinema’s funniest sex symbols. With her signature wit, Harlow broke the Hollywood mold by becoming the ultimate screen siren without sacrificing any substance. Behind Harlow’s sassy smile, however, lay a complicated life filled with trials, tribulations, and tragedy.

Jean Harlow was born Harlean (an anagram of her mother’s maiden name) Carpenter in Kansas City Missouri on March 3, 1911. Contrary to the rough and tough image that she often portrayed on screen, Harlow was actually born to a well-off family; her father, Mont Clair Carpenter, ran a successful dental practice and her mother, Jean, was the daughter of wealthy real estate broker Skip Harlow. Skip had reportedly arranged the marriage against Jean’s will, leading her to resent her husband and rely upon her daughter for comfort in her empty marriage. As a result, young Harlean grew up with an extremely close relationship with her mother that bordered on codependency. When Harlean was eleven years old her parents finally divorced, which resulted in Jean winning full custody and Mont Clair disappearing from their lives.

Mother and daughter moved to Los Angeles in an attempt to begin the acting career that Jean had always dreamed of, but had been forced to put aside when she married. Unfortunately, Jean’s age (she was thirty-four upon her arrival) proved to be too much of a career handicap, and the pair was forced to return to Kansas City the following year. While Harlean did attend the Hollywood School For Girls where she met Hollywood royalty and future stars such as Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joel McCrea, and Irene Mayer Selznick, she did not share her mother’s interest in show-business, and considered her acting career over before it began. By 1926, Jean began seeing Chicago native Marino Bello and enrolled Harlean in the Ferry Hall School near Chicago. It was at Ferry Hall that Harlean met and began a relationship with her first husband, Charles McGrew. In 1927, at age sixteen, she married the wealthy McGrew and the two moved to Beverly Hills where they lived a life of leisure in high society. It was during her time as a Beverly Hills socialite that Harlean was given the opportunity to become the actress that her mother, Jean, had always wanted to be. While waiting for an actress friend she was picking up at the studio, she was approached by a Central Casting agent at Fox Studios and asked to audition. Although she had never given acting serious consideration, she agreed to attend the audition after being pressured by both her friend and her mother. The audition was a success and she began working as an extra at Fox Studios and Hal Roach Studios under the name Jean Harlow, despite the strain that her career put on her marriage. McGrew was already a heavy drinker when Harlow auditioned, and the tension caused by her mild success led him to rely even more upon drinking. The marriage finally reached its breaking point in 1929 when the couple divorced and Harlow moved in with her mother and stepfather, (Jean and Bello had married in 1927) who had recently moved to Los Angeles.

Harlow received her first major role in 1930 in Howard Hughes’ World War I aviation epic, Hell’s Angels. In the notoriously risqué film, Harlow debuted her newly dyed platinum blonde hair and the infamous line “Would it shock you if I were to put on something more comfortable”. Although critics panned her performance, audiences couldn’t get enough of the snappy blonde and she quickly developed a devoted following. Her famous hair color proved to be just as popular as her acting, prompting fans across the country to dye their locks despite the damage that early hair bleaches often inflicted. She followed-up the next year with the gangster classic The Public Enemy, bringing a touch of class to the role of James Cagney’s moll that had been previously turned down by silent star Louise Brooks. She went on to appear in a series of films that capitalized on her newfound fame as a screen vamp, but quickly grew tired of the brash persona that the studio had labeled her with, saying “must I always wear a low-cut dress to be important?”. She also seemed to find success in her personal life by marrying MGM executive Paul Bern in 1932, and attaining a contract at MGM with his help. This early success was quickly shaken, however, when Bern was found dead of a gunshot wound in the couple’s home during the shooting of Red Dust . Although Bern’s death was officially ruled a suicide, speculation abounded that Harlow may have been involved. MGM had already been attempting to alter her sexy persona to conform to the studio’s glossy but wholesome image, and doubled its efforts after the scandal surrounding Bern’s death. Harlow shocked the studio when she maintained her production schedule and not only survived the scandal, but thrived as one of America’s favorite screen comediennes.

 Despite her screen success, Harlow found herself in professional hot water again after she was involved in yet another personal scandal. Following Bern’s death, Harlow had begun an affair with married boxer Max Baer and was cited in Baer’s divorce proceedings, despite the fact that he had been legally separated from his wife when they began their relationship. In order to prevent a possible backlash, MGM arranged for Harlow to marry her friend, cinematographer Harold Rosson in 1933; the two amicably divorced once the story had ceased to be of public interest one year later. Over the course of the next three years, Harlow went on to star in a series of diverse films ranging from melodramas to slapstick comedies and became the fourth highest grossing actress at the box office. In an interesting twist of fate, one of her most notable roles, actress Lola Burns in Bombshell, was actually based in part off of her personal experiences supporting her mother and stepfather as a cinema sex symbol (combined with facts from the life of 20’s star Clara Bow). She was finally able to rise above typecasting when the advent of the Hay's Code in 1934 prevented studios from writing the racy parts that she had previously been relegated to. While the restrictions of the code hampered the careers of many 30’s stars, those same restrictions actually provided Harlow with the artistic freedom that she had been craving, and enabled her to improve upon and test her range as an actress. The films she made during these years prove that she was far more than a mere pretty face with a striking hairstyle and was actually a gifted comedic actress.

Throughout her career, Harlow was known for being pleasant to work with and well-liked by her costars. She became close friends with frequent co-star Clark Gable, who was known to look out for her much in the same way he would a younger sister and even nicknamed her ‘Sis’.  She also formed lasting friendships with actresses Myrna Loy, Rosalind Russell, and Carole Lombard. In 1934, she began a relationship with fellow MGM star William Powell and the couple reportedly became engaged. Despite their seemingly happy romance, the two were prevented from marrying by pressure from studio head Louis B. Meyer and their inability to agree on whether or not to have children (she wanted children but Powell didn’t). By 1936, Harlow began complaining about health concerns such  as weight gain, sunburns, fatigue, nausea, and abdominal pain, but her doctors concluded that she was simply feeling the after effects of a particularly serious bout of influenza. By 1937, her health began to seriously decline, as her body swelled to twice its normal size and she became so fatigued that she was barely able to maintain her work schedule. After being in and out of hospital care for several months, Harlow entered a coma while shooting her final film, Saratoga, and was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital where she was diagnosed with kidney failure. It is now believed that the dye she used to obtain her infamous hair color may have contributed to her illness, as its mixture of bleach and ammonia combined to create hydrochloric acid, a chemical that is poisonous after chronic exposure. Harlow was pronounced dead on June 7, 1937 at age twenty-six.; even if she had been diagnosed earlier, the limited medical treatments of the 1930’s would not have been able to treat her condition.

In her twenty-six years, Jean Harlow lived through more triumphs and tragedies than many people do in a century. She was a woman who lived life according to her own rules and to the fullest of her ability. She was also a multifaceted artist who left behind twenty one starring films ranging from drama to slapstick, as well as a posthumously published novel. Her image went on to inspire generations of fans including a young Marilyn Monroe, who reportedly referred to Harlow as her “idol” and comic artist Bob Kane who cited her (along with actress Hedy Lamarr) as the inspiration behind his iconic anti-heroine Catwoman. Harlow once said, “I’m not a born actress. No one knows that better than I”, whether she was born with her talent or cultivated it, there is no denying that she was an endlessly fascinating actress without whom cinema would be much less entertaining.

In Red Dust with Clark Gable

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Classics: A Review of Throw Momma From The Train By Lauren Ennis

Every great romance, mystery, and murder includes a train
The expression goes that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. While imitation in the arts can range from lazy clichés to outright plagiarism, one form of imitation is truly flattering and innovative when executed properly; the spoof. In spoofs, a popular creative work that audiences are familiar with is parodied and altered to comic effect. The most deft spoofs manage to balance between poking fun at and paying tribute to their original sources. Many spoofs take the more assured route and utilize classic genres and sources that have since become overused or outdated and will easily lend themselves to a comic reworking. When a spoof opts for the more difficult approach by referencing well respected and/or dark source material, however, the risks can prove hilariously rewarding. One such spoof, Throw Momma From the Train, succeeds in the unlikely task of making a classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller into a slapstick comedy while offering commentary on the absurdities of writers and the creative process.

The story begins as struggling writer, Larry Donner (Billy Crystal), makes ends meet by teaching creative writing at a local community college. It is quickly revealed that despite his talent as a writer, Larry is forced to maintain his day job teaching a class of assorted misfits after a messy divorce that resulted in his ex-wife, Margaret (Kate Mulgrew), gaining possession of most of his assets. To make matters worse, Margaret plagiarized his latest novel and used it to become an exceedingly wealthy best-selling author. The combined loss of his marriage, financial assets, and creative work has led Larry to become obsessed with Margaret and the life of critical and commercial success that she stole from him. This obsession eventually becomes so consuming that he is unable to focus on any other aspect of his life including his neglected love interest, Beth (Kim Greist), and his failing writing career.

Meanwhile, one of Larry’s students, Owen Lift (Danny Devito), faces a similar problem in that he is also unable to lead a full life because of his obsession with wanting to kill his cantankerous mother (Anne Ramsey). Unlike Larry, who is dwelling upon events from his past, Owen is forced to endure his mother’s abuse on a daily basis. Mrs. Lift’s constant barrage of insults, demeaning requests, and physical assaults takes such a toll on Owen that he is unable to separate himself from his stressful situation in order to see how irrational his obsession is.  In an attempt to combat his matricidal tendencies, Owen begins writing gruesome murder mysteries in Larry’s class, hoping that vicariously killing in fiction will alleviate his fixation. Unfortunately, Owen’s stories lack believability and complex plots. Desperate to find some success in his life, Owen becomes fixated on becoming a competent writer and harasses Larry into teaching him how to improve his mysteries. At one point, Larry tries to use a hypothetical premise of killing Margaret to explain the intricacies of planning  a murder in fiction and in the process bonds with Owen, who reveals his similar desire to kill his mother. Exhausted by Owen’s relentless questions, Larry finally gives up and tells Owen to watch Alfred Hitchcock movies to understand the structure of a mystery. Owen eagerly follows Larry’s advice and views the Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train. The film takes a hilariously zany turn when Owen takes his notes on Hitchcock a bit too literally and proceeds to follow the example of Strangers on a Train by pushing Margaret overboard on a cruise ship and using the murder to blackmail Larry into trying to kill Mrs. Lift.

Like mother, like homicidal son
One of the most entertaining aspects of the film is the way in which it balances parody and tribute. While the outrageousness of Hitchcock’s initial premise would seem to lend itself to a comic send-up, the reality of turning the director’s signature thrills into slapstick laughs could not have been an easy task. The character of Owen, for example, had to be likable enough to make audiences look past the fact that he is bent on committing matricide. In Strangers on a Train, Robert Walker’s expert combination of cunning and charisma made psychotic Bruno an intriguing and unsettling, but far from relatable character. In order to ensure that Owen would be sympathetic, the film’s makers used the originally deviant image of a grown man living like an adolescent and turned it on its head to make Owen the likable loser that he is on screen. Similarly, while Throw Momma closely followed the original film's sub plot of protagonist Guy Haines in Larry’s struggle with Margaret, the crucial change of Bruno’s stern father to Owen’s abrasive mother opened the story up to an array of comic possibilities. The film also highlights the complexity of the plot in the original film by showing how easily that same plot would be muddled when in the hands of modern characters. The juxtaposition of retro plot and contemporary setting enables the film to poke fun at the way in which Hitchcock’s film tended to take themselves too seriously, while bringing one his most beloved classics to a new generation. Thus, its innovative approach to Strangers’ original premise allows Throw Momma to be a success in its own right while paying homage to its source.

Although the screenplay is filled with hilarious action and clever dialogue, the film would not have been the unique success that it is without its cast.  Billy Crystal’s deadpan delivery adds a biting element to Larry’s everyman persona, making him an excellent stand-in for the audience point of view. Similarly, Danny Devito’s unassuming portrayal makes Owen a paradoxical character in that he’s a killer that audiences can’t help but root for. Anne Ramsey’s uproarious performance as the caustic Mrs. Lift keeps the laughs coming while adding believability to Owen’s obsession with killing her. During shooting, Ramsey was undergoing treatment for throat cancer, but reportedly refused to miss a day of shooting as she didn’t want to hold up production for the cast and crew. Her dedication paid off in a performance that was so memorable that she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress; a rare feat for a performance in a comedy. The supporting players all lend apt support, particularly Branford Marsalis who makes a lasting impression in his brief part as Larry’s wisecracking friend, Lester.

Through its combination of black comedy, slapstick, and parody Throw Momma From the Train is a truly innovative film experience. The expert casting and writing enable the film to balance dark themes with light comedy in a way that keeps audiences entertained and on their toes. The film’s simultaneous sending up of and respect for Strangers on a Train demonstrates the very best in comedy spoofs. In this instance, imitation just might be the sincerest form of flattery; even if you won’t look at Hitchcock the same way again.

Let me tell you 'bout my best friend...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The 5 Most Unpleasant films I've sat through (so far)

Confessions of a Film Junkie: The 5 Most Unpleasant Films I’ve sat through (so far)

By: Brian Cotnoir

     I’ve been at this blog for over two years now, and in that time I’ve watched a lot of crappy movies.  Even though, most of the films I watch and review for this blog aren’t the least bit scary, I have been fortunate enough to review a few films on this blog that made me feel very frightened and uncomfortable, and this list that I am presenting to you today is paying homage to the 5 Most Unpleasant Films I have sat through (so far).  These are the films that have burned their horrid images into my memory, and have destroyed my innocence and sense of awe and wonder.  If you can make it through these 5 films, then congratulations; you are a Cine-Masochist like myself!

5.) Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door

I know I shouldn’t be surprised that a film adapted form the literary works of author Jack Ketchum is disturbing, but I honestly found this film to be very unpleasant.  Now I saw the film “The Woman” (which was adapted by another one of Ketchum’s books) and I really enjoyed the ending, which was both happy and violent.  The same cannot be said about “The Girl Next Door”. Both films are about women who are held prisoner against their will and tortured by a psychopath who hides their true identities behind the mask of sanity in public.  Ruth Chandler is the Most Despicable and Evil Character that I have ever seen in a film and the only thing that is more unbelievable is that her character and crimes were inspired by a real life person!  Ruth Chandler is based off of a woman named Gertrude Baniszewski who committed many awful crimes against a 16-year-old girl she had taken in.  You just don’t want to believe that someone can be this abusive and their horrible towards a person (let alone a child).  It’s a great film, based on a great novel, and I would actually recommend this film.

4.) Deadgirl

What makes “Deadgirl” such an unpleasant film is that the great moral dilemma is that two high school students find a naked woman chained to a bed in an abandoned hospital and have to decide whether they go and tell the police, or keep the girl a secret and use her as a sex slave.  You’d really hope that these two young men would be smart and compassionate enough to tell the authorities, but no, they ultimately decide to keep her as a sex slave.  That’s really what makes this film so unpleasant; the ultimate theme of the story is rape.  Rape is scary.  Rape is always scary.  Not only that, but after a while one of the boys discovers that the girl cannot die, and he begins to torture her as he rapes her.  Nobody in their right mind would want to watch a film where the main characters torture and rape a woman for a majority of the film.  One of the boys is played by actor Noah Segan, and the other is played by actor Shiloh Fernandez (that guy you all hated from the 2013 “Evil Dead” remake).  Even though Segan’s character is the one who is raping the “Deadgirl”, I still found Shiloh Fernandez character to be more deplorable, because he just stands by idly while one of his best friends commits an unspeakable act of horror.  He’s just a weak an unlikeable character.  

3.) A Serbian Film

I’ve seen this film twice now. I reviewed it and one-year later, wrote a “Retrospect” after watching it for a second time.  Unfortunately, blogger took down that review because it was “too pornographic”.  This film is violent, but you have to wait almost an hour before anything interesting happens.  Then after that it’s pure violence.  Many violent things that occur in the film include: murder, rape, torture, necrophilia, incest, mutilation, and a whole bunch of other awful things.  This film is supposedly a metaphor for how the Serbian Government treats it citizens.  If that is true, then that has got to be the most violent God Awful Metaphor ever!

2.) Someone’s Knocking at the Door

This film boasts that it is “The Most Depraved Film of the 21st Century”...that’s a fairly accurate description.  Like “A Serbian Film” a major theme shown throughout the film is rape and murder.  The reason why I found this film to be more unpleasant that “A Serbian Film” is because in “A Serbian Film” nothing happens until the climax of the film, however in “Someone’s Knocking at the Door” it starts out with violence and only get’s more violent throughout the film.  The opening scene to the film shows a man getting raped to death by a drugged up mental patient.  That’s just one of the many unpleasant things you are treated to throughout the film.  The main character in this film is a boy named Justin (who is played by Actor Noah Segan—the same guy from “Deadgirl”).  The police suspect he is responsible for the crimes, but he denies it, and tries to convince the police he’s innocent.  Personally, I liked the ending to this film, but I’ve heard also heard others gripe and moan about it, and say that it’s stupid.  As shocking as this may sound, I would actually recommend this film (That is if you think you can handle it, of course).

1.) Cannibal Holocaust took my innocence!!!
Looking back at my life before seeing this film, my life seemed so much more innocent and better.  Back then, I thought I was so tough, and thought I could take on the world.  What a naïve fool I was.  It all started back when I was a sophomore in college, and I had just successfully completed watching “A Clockwork Orange”.  I couldn’t believe so many people told me they were afraid of that film, and that it was so controversial.  I was totally un-phased while watching the film, and decided to look for a challenge.  I searched the internet for films that were both controversial and disturbing, and the one film that appeared on many of those lists was “Cannibal Holocaust”.  Much to my delight—at the time—I came across a copy of the film for sale at a local comic book shop.  I went home and put the DVD in my laptop, and slowly watched my innocence and sanity get destroyed.  I saw scenes of torture and murder.  I saw scenes where the director instructed his cast to murder live animals.  Those scenes were so horrendous that I actually fell to my hands and knees and started to dry-heave.  The Special Effects in this film were so well done, that that when the film was initially released the director, Rugerro Deodato, was put on trial for murder in Italy, because many Italian courts believed that his Horror film was actually a “Snuff Film”.  Deodato had to have the cast parade around the court room to prove that they were still alive, not only that but he had to demonstrate how his special effects worked.  This film was banned in a record 53 countries, including the United States (the ban was lifted in 1985).  This is the Most Unpleasant film that I’ve have sat through so far, and I don’t think there’s any film out there (yet) that can ever take this films place.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Classics: Battle of the Babysitters; Mary Poppins Vs. Maria von Trapp

Not one of the film's most environmentally responsible moments

For many, childhood is a time of wonder, learning, and exploration as we discover something new about ourselves and the world around us each day. Since the advent of film, movies have been a way for children to explore their imaginations and learn about the greater world outside of their own lives.  Two essential childhood films, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, were instant successes upon their release in the 1960’s and are today considered film classics. Both films are musicals which feature infectious songs, historical locations, curmudgeonly fathers, and most importantly, enchanting nannies played by the legendary Julie Andrews. Both films have stood the time, leaving only one question to remain; which of these nannies was the closest to being “practically perfect in every way”?

1.     IT’S A HARD KNOCK LIFE: Child care is a crucial profession that is unfortunately underrated by today’s society. Both Mary Poppins and Fraulein Maria have their hands full with their difficult charges and stubborn employers. While in both films the heroines take on children notorious for terrorizing past nannies until they quit, experienced Mary Poppins has the significantly easier task of watching only two children at the Banks home. Fresh from the abbey Maria is assigned to care for seven children ranging from ages five to sixteen without any assistance as, unlike the Banks family, the von Trapp children are largely raising themselves following their mother’s death and their father’s subsequent depression. Maria’s job is also exacerbated by the fact that Captain von Trapp is harsh and patronizing upon her arrival, and insists upon treating her in the same condescending fashion that he treats his children. When she finally does adjust to her new position and begins to have a positive influence on the household, Maria’s job is again complicated by the conflict between her commitment to the cloth and her emerging feelings for the newly softened captain. After achieving happiness and fulfillment upon marrying the captain, Maria is faced with the greatest crisis of her life when Austria is annexed into Nazi Germany following the Anschluss. The couple is ultimately faced with the decision of serving the Third Reich or risking their lives in an escape from their beloved homeland.

Although Jane, Michael, and Mr. Banks are unruly individuals, Mary Poppins never appears stressed or intimidated while working for them. She is also permitted days off in which the children are watched by their parents (the bank trip) and remains in contact with her friends and associates outside of the household (Bert, Uncle Albert etc.), both of which provide her with the outside support and rest needed to maintain her own well being. Mary’s position also remains ‘just a job’ for her as she avoids the complications of becoming emotionally attached to the family and promptly moves on to another family in need ‘as soon as the wind changes’. Finally, Mary’s whimsical adventures never present her with any real danger and cannot compare with the life or death choices that Maria is forced to make following Austria’s annexation. For her personal and political crises Maria is the clear winner for the title of Most Arduous Assignment.

The benefits of treating the help like people
2.     DANGEROUS MINDS: One of the most challenging and vital aspects of a nanny’s job is teaching their young charges life lessons. Mary Poppins teaches Jane and Michael a seeming myriad of things during their various adventures across London. She immediately begins her work as the children’s teacher by instructing them to clean up their cluttered nursery. While the children initially complain, she turns the job into a game and shows them the satisfaction of a job well done as well as the fulfillment of being independent. She later shows them the importance of maintaining one’s health by convincing them to take their medicine and using a bit of reverse psychology to teach them the value of a good night’s sleep. She also teaches the children far more significant lessons as the film progresses, including the freedom that comes from using one’s imagination and the benefits of giving to charity. One of the most striking things that Mary teaches Jane and Michael is respect for others. Although she does not explicitly explain this to the children, she shows them the value of equality through her example by maintaining her friendship with ne’er do well Bert, even though their friendship blatantly defies the rigid British class system. By interacting with Bert and Mary’s other colorful associates, the children realize that there is more to life than the limited upper class world that they have been exposed to, and that there is a great deal that they could learn from the outside world. Mary Poppins extends her wisdom to her employers as well by reminding Mr. and Mrs. Banks that they need to enjoy their lives and their children while they still have the chance to do so.

Maria also teaches the von Trapp family through her regular lessons and personal example. Like Mary, Maria teaches the children the importance of discovering life outside of the rules and restrictions that have been forced upon them as well as how to enjoy their childhoods. Unlike Mary, however, Maria passes on practical as well as moral lessons to the family by teaching them how to sing and play musical instruments. These lessons provide the children with a creative outlet in which to channel their energy and frustrations as well as a means of expressing their individual voices. She even extends her musical influence to the captain by reminding him of his former love of music, which leads to him slowly overcoming his personal demons. She also provides oldest daughter, Liesl, with some much needed advice when Liesl is confused by the changes in her boyfriend, Rolfe, after he joins the Hitler Youth. The most difficult lesson that Maria teaches is the need to maintain strength and calm in the face of adversity. When the family is forced to flee Austria, she remains calm throughout their ordeal, refusing to give in to her own fears and panic. Despite the gravity of some of Maria’s lessons, Mary teaches a greater variety of things to Jane and Michael and does so under the guise of friendly games and memorable adventures. Mary Poppins takes the title for Most Likable Lessons.

A simply supercalifragilisticexpialidocious view

3.     LONGEVITY: Both women clearly have a significant impact upon the families that they work for. At the film’s finish, Mary has taught the entire Banks family the importance of spending time together and appreciating the simpler things in life. Following her success, however, she realizes that she is no longer needed and leaves to seek out another family that could use her help. Although she will be ending her direct influence upon the Banks’ by moving on, Mary is also ensuring that she will not outstay her welcome. As a result, the Banks’ will remember her in an idealized and nostalgic manner that will continue to provide them with an example to aspire to. By stepping aside to allow Mr. and Mrs. Banks to reclaim their roles in their children’s lives, she also enables herself to help and spread her influence to countless other families.

      While Mary’s position changes with the wind, Maria is with the von Trapps to stay. Her new role as the captain’s wife and the children’s step-mother ensures that she will continue to influence the family throughout their lives. Her love of music also provides her with an activity through which she can maintain and strengthen the family’s bond as the years go on. Her ability to win over both the children and captain as well as outsmart his cunning fiancée demonstrates that she will have a lasting impact on the household and all of its inhabitants. Through their wit, warmth, and whimsy, both nannies endeared themselves to employers and audiences alike, making Julie Andrews a silver screen icon in the process. This one is a draw. Please feel free to share your favorite in the comments!

Flash mobs before they were cool

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A review of "House of Bodies"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “House of Bodies”

By: Brian Cotnoir

When an actor stars in a film that they also produced you have to assume that they really believe in the project.  It’s not like the film is just another paycheck to them, so they don’t care how the film turns out; they’re putting their own money on the line, and they’re hoping to get a good return on their investment.  Besides a reasonable budget and a good script, you don’t need much, but if you manage to land a couple of Oscar® Nominated Actors for your film it couldn’t hurt your film right?  You take all of the elements and you’ll come out with a top notch low-budget Horror film, right?  Wrong!  No matter how many good actors and how much money you invest in a film, if it’s anything remotely like “House of Bodies” it is going to be a piece of sh!t movie.  So let’s take a look at this week’s film “House of Bodies”.                                   
What is wrong with some people?
    “House of Bodies” was released in 2013, and features the acting talents of Terrance Howard, Peter Fonda, and Queen Latifah (who was also one of the films financiers).  The plot to the film is actually kind of unique:  The house where a notorious fictional Serial Killer committed his crimes, was purchased by some weird Goth chick and she put cameras in every room, and started a live voyeur website, where men can pay to have beautiful women strip live on camera and re-enact the horrendous murders and any other sick twisted fantasy’s they may have.  However, the new girl Kelli, and her top client, a Deaf Teenage boy named Kyle, suspect that the violence on the website may not be fake, and they may actually be in actual danger.             
    I haven’t done any research on Google or anything like that, but I would not be surprised if there was a Porn-site like this on the internet.  The idea to the film sounds like a Sigmund Freud Wet-Dream.  However, it is very weak in its execution.  Part of the film deals with the actual murders while another part deals with a Detective asking a notorious Serial Killer, Henry Lee Bishop (a reference to real life American Serial Killer Henry Lee Lucas) for help because he thinks the killer he is looking for is copying Bishop’s crimes.  It jump’s back in forth from the two main stories and it all seems too clustered and confusing.  The story just doesn’t flow very well because it’s almost like two completely different films playing at the same time.                                              
    Now it’s time for my favorite part of the film reviews:  Attacking the actors performances:  The two main characters, Kelli & Kyle (played by Alexz Johnson and Harry Zittel) spend the majority of their time on camera acting cute together and bonding over a webcam.  They are both really boring.  Like so boring, that I honestly believe that they forgot they were the protagonists of this film and just stopped caring altogether about giving a competent performance.  But they’re both nobody actors, I suppose, and the real attention in this film belongs to its stars, like Terrance Howard.                          
Still glad you left the "Iron Man" Franchise?
Terrance Howard plays Detective Starks in the film.  He spends a good deal of his screen time questioning the killer Henry Lee Bishop, but in all actuality he’s not in the film that much.  Hey Terrance Howard, this is what you gave up the “Iron Man” Franchise for?  You just weren’t going to take a pay cut, so you let Don Cheadle walk in and steal all the fame, popularity, and glory, huh?  How’s that working out for you now?  This film is sh!t and you know it.  Next time, don’t let your ego get in the way of your work selection.  In 5 years you’re films managed go from A-List to the very bottom of the D-List.       
Why Peter Fonda?  Why?

    Then there’s Peter Fonda.  He plays the incarcerated Serial Killer Henry Lee Bishop.  His character gives off the Hannibal Lecter vibe but believe me he comes from giving an equal performance to Anthony Hopkins, but you can just tell from watching him that he is trying so hard to be like Anthony Hopkins in “Silence of the Lambs”.  His main purpose in the film is to talk to Detective Starks and hopefully give him clues to how he can catch the copy-cat killer.   Seriously Peter Fonda, what happened to you?  You’re a Hollywood Legend. Why did you take a role in this awful film?  It’s almost as bad as when you took that part in “Thomas & the Magic Railroad”.  What were you thinking?  Did you honestly believe in this film or were you just desperate for a paycheck.  You deserve better, Mr. Fonda.  Not only that but we all know that you are capable of doing better than some crappy straight to DVD Horror film.              
Fail to the Queen!
Now let’s talk about Queen Latifah.  Not only did she produce this piece of garbage film, but she also has a part in the film as well.  A part that takes up a whopping 3 minutes of screen time.  I can’t even bash her acting because she’s in this film so little, so I’ll make fun of her decision to co-finance this cine-massacre.  So Queen Latifah, what’d you use to finance this film: The DVD Sales from “Barbershop 2” (OOOOOOOHHHH!!!! I just went there, Burn!).  No, but in all seriousness, Queen Latifah you wasted your money financing this crappy film.              
    “House of Bodies” is easily one of the crappiest films I have watched this year, and I think will be a top contender for my Year End Award for “Worst Film of the Year”.  I’m just thankful that this film’s run time is only 78 minutes, because if I had to sit through a full 90+ minutes like most other films I review for this blog, I might have started bashing my head against the wall, so I wouldn’t have to finish it.  Don’t waste your time on this film, people, IT. SUCKS!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Classics: 1982; Hollywood's Year of the Drag By Lauren Ennis

What would Mrs. Robinson say to this?!
The 1970’s and 1980’s saw a resurgence in the popular Depression era genre, the screwball comedy . During this time, Hollywood began releasing films that featured lovably eccentric characters in unusual (and often unrealistic) situations reminiscent of the wild antics so often employed in 1930’s comedies. Like their predecessors, these films often used the fun of their characters’ shenanigans to highlight important lessons about life, love, and the importance of remaining true to one’s self. Two of the most successful of these neo-screwball comedies, Tootsie and Victor/Victoria used a well worn plot device to make new insights into modern life. In many ways the films complement each other  as opposite sides of the same gender-bending coin, that provide commentary on the absurdities of society. Here are four ways in which these classic comedies reflect one another while utilizing their own unique and hilarious twists.

1.     LIFE’S A DRAG: In both films the protagonist is forced to think of a creative way to earn a living after being rejected for work despite their obvious talent. In Tootsie, actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) must overcome his reputation for being difficult to work with and in Victor Victoria, soprano Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) must cope with the harsh reality of unemployment during the Great Depression. Both characters find the solution to their dilemmas by assuming a new persona and switching genders. Michael quickly finds success as a soap opera star under the persona of dowdy character actress Dorothy Michaels, and Victoria becomes a nightclub sensation as the impossibly androgynous drag queen Count Victor Grazinski. With the help of their best friends and agents, both performers are able to maintain dual lifestyles while keeping their true identities hidden from the public.

2.     PERSONAL VS PROFESSIONAL: Despite their success, both Michael and Victoria later come to regret their decisions when their professional deceptions complicate their personal lives. For Michael, revealing his true self would destroy his source of income and prevent him from helping his struggling friends put on their play. While keeping up the ruse for the good of the play, he also finds himself in a web of complex romantic entanglements as he starts to fall for his co-star, Julie (Jessica Lange), while simultaneously being romanced by her widowed father (Charles Durning). Similarly, Victoria’s success is essential not just for her own financial standing but also that of her best friend and manager, former nightclub performer Carole “Toddy” Todd (Robert Preston). Victoria also unwittingly finds herself in the midst of a love triangle as she catches the eye of ultra macho gangster, King Marchand (James Garner), leading him to question both his relationship with his moll, Norma (Lesley Ann Warren), and his sexuality. Both Michael and Victoria are unable to reveal their true feelings for their new love interests without blowing their cover and risking their professional success. As a result, they are ultimately forced to reevaluate their priorities and the cost of their newfound fame.
How do you solve a problem like Victoria...or Victor...

3.     ROMANTIC RIVALS: Both films also utilize their protagonists’ romantic rivals to their optimum comedy and plot effect. In Tootsie, Michael nearly loses the chance to audition as Dorothy because the soap opera’s chauvinistic director, Ron (Dabney Coleman), refuses to take the mild mannered ‘actress’ seriously. This incident provides Michael with insight into the discrimination that women regularly face in the acting profession. Throughout his time as Dorothy, Michael is consistently treated in a derogatory manner by Ron, causing them to clash on the set in a way that nearly costs Michael his contract. The situation only becomes more tense when Michael realizes that he has feelings for Julie, who is already dating Ron. Through his friendship with Julie, Michael begins to see how Ron’s mistreatment of her mirrors his own mistreatment of the women who have been in his life, leading him to reflect upon his behavior. Similarly, Victoria’s rival, Norma, proves to be both an obstacle in her career path and a catalyst to her personal growth. When Norma notices how intently King is watching ‘Victor’ perform, she becomes jealous until she realizes that Victor’s number is part of a drag act and assumes that ‘he’ really is a man. She then goes on to tease King for being foolish enough to mistake Victor for a woman, leading King to feel insecure and begin questioning his sexuality. This only alienates him from Norma, and in a direct threat to Victoria's career, leads him to become determined to discover the truth about Victor. Later, after King and Victoria have begun a relationship, Norma does all that is in her power to ruin her ex’s chance at happiness by 'outing' him to his mob cohorts. As a result of Norma’s vindictiveness, Victoria is ultimately forced to reconsider her goals by choosing between her relationship and her career.

4.     LESSONS TO LEARN: Living as the opposite sex provides Michael with insights into how the other half lives. Michael’s friendship with Julie and conflicts with Ron teach him about sexual politics and the importance of treating people with respect. Early in the film, Michael pretends to be sexually interested in his friend, Sandy (Terri Garr), in order to hide his double life. After their one night stand, Michael begins avoiding Sandy and argues that he doesn’t “owe her anything” as he never promised to be committed or faithful. When Michael (as Dorothy) confronts Ron about his mistreatment of Julie, Ron’s attempt to defend himself is almost identical to the argument that Michael used to defend his treatment of Sandy. Similarly, when he attempts to use a conversation between Dorothy and Julie to his advantage in pursuing her, she adamantly rejects him and he learns that there is a difference between being honest with a woman, and being invasive. Through his experiences living as Dorothy, Michael finally realizes that his regard for women is sorely lacking. He begins to remedy his old habits when he approaches Julie as a friend rather than as a suitor after his secret is revealed and tells her “I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man”. In Victor/Victoria, it is not Victoria who has a lesson to learn, but her boyfriend, King. At the start of the film, King sees life in clearly defined black and white terms. When he becomes infatuated with ‘Victor’ however, he begins to understand that life is far more muddled than he ever imagined. Later in the film, he is shocked upon learning that his “rough, tough, mean son of a bitch” bodyguard, Squash (Alex Karras), is gay. After spending more time with Squash and the gay men in Victoria’s social circle, however, he learns that he was relying upon stereotypes in his views of homosexuality and sees how ridiculous stereotypes are. By the film’s finish, King has learned that people are not defined by their sexual orientation and are far too complicated to be categorized and explained away by stereotypes.  Thus, with the release of both Tootsie and Victor/Victoria, 1982 truly was the year of the drag in Hollywood. Both films live up to their 1930’s screwball counterparts by pairing light-hearted hijinks with serious lessons about respect, tolerance, and equality. These films are a reminder of the high quality, intelligent, entertainment that comedy can be when in the right hands.
Our hero's in their natural habitats


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A review of "Blood Runs Cold"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Blood Runs Cold”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     This film is a sloppy, confusing mess.  That’s the best way I can think to describe it.  It’s not even a bad movie to be honest with you, but it definitely holds itself back from being a much better movie than it deserves, and what the audience deserves.                                                 
“Blood Runs Cold” was a Swedish film released in 2011 by Stockholm Syndrome Film Company.  It was made on a budget of just $5,000 dollars, and tells the story of a girl named Winona who decides she needs a get away from her life.  Her manager books her a quaint house in the woods near her old hometown.  Upon her arrival, she decides to take a break and heads to the World’s Worst Dive Bar in town, where she runs into her ex-boyfriend, Richard.  Over the course of a few hours (and drinks) Winona and Richard rekindle their romance, and Winona invites Richard—along with his friend Carl and Carl’s girlfriend Liz—to stay the night at her house and party.  Unfortunately, for the four friends, the house isn’t as empty as they thought and they are now at the mercy of an axe-wielding cannibal murderer.          
Who are you and why should I care???
    Where this film really fails is its inability to establish things like characters, and plot, and motives.  Winona is our films protagonist.  She’s in the majority of the film, and yet we know very little about her.  We know that she was in a relationship with Richard, and that she returned to her hometown to “clear her mind”...and that’s about it.  It is mentioned by Winona that her “manager” was the one who rented her the house, but they never establish what he’s a manager for.  Is she a model?  Is she an actress?  A musician?  An author?  What does she do that’s so important that she requires a manger?  There’s a guitar in the house that we see her pick up once, but she never plays I’m assuming that she’s a musician of some kind?  They also never actually establish what she left her hometown either.                                    
Hello, totally bad-a$$ killer
Then there’s the killer.  He’s this cool looking axe-wielding maniac, who eats his victims after he butchers them.  Unlike, killers in other Horror films, that lurk in the shadows and who try to stay out of the sight of their victims, this killer is loud and out-in-the-open.  He doesn’t try to hide from or surprise his victims, he comes right out there and let’s them know he’s there, and that he doesn’t care, and that he’s coming after them.  That’s a pretty creative twist to a character.  However, like our protagonist, we don’t know anything about him.  We never see his face, we never get his background story, we never get an explanation for anything.  Is a little character exposition too much to ask for?  Not only that, but nothing can freaking stop this guy!  He gets hit in the back with his own axe and he doesn’t even grunt in pain.  He gets shot in the head five times and he just keeps on going.  The only thing that stops him is when Winona drops a large rock on his head and crushes his skull!  I’m willing stretch my belief’s pretty far in most films, but seriously that is far too of an exaggeration for any character.  I’m calling some serious bull sh!t on that decision.                                          
Bloody Hell (Literally!)
Now I can understand that when you make a film on a very small budget, you’re not going to have the best special effects or the best actors, but I have to nitpick this next part.  This film was made in Sweden, with Swedish actors, but they are speaking English in the film.  It’s not even very good English, I had to watch the film with subtitles on, because at some points in the film, I couldn’t understand much through their Swedish accents, but again that’s just a part of the film, that I had a grievance with.  The dialogue (or lack thereof) isn’t that great either.  Most of the film relies on scenes depicting one character—usually Winona—just going about their daily business, without speaking.  When character do speak on camera it’s a very Europeanized version of English.  The way the cast talks sounds more like, how European’s think American’s talk. Almost every fourth or fifth word out of the character Carl’s mouth is “f*ck”, he sounds like he’s trying to talk like a teens in American Horror films.  The dialogue just isn’t that great.  I would have much preferred if all the actors spoke Swedish, and I had to watch this film with subtitles on.                        
I think due to its small budget, the film suffered a bit as piece.  It is not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, there are dozens of horror film that have been released in the past 5 years that are much worse than “Blood Runs Cold”, but this film just feels like its lacking.  It has potential, and I think if they would have spent more time establishing its characters than this could have been a more enjoyable film.  Should you check this film out?  I’d say go for it.  It’s only about 80 minutes long, and like I said, it’s not the Worst Film that I’ve seen.  It has it’s faults, but I still found it to be a decent film. 

As long as you keep your expectations low, I say Give it a shot