Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Classics: A Review of To Be Or Not To Be By Lauren Ennis

The couple that spies together stays together
It has often been said that the pen is more powerful than the sword. In a similar twist, a laugh is often far more effective than a tear. For hundreds of years, satirists have known the power of laughter and used it to their advantage in their efforts to expose corruption, hypocrisy, and truth. One particularly bold satire is the 1942 comedy classic To Be Or Not To Be which dared to not only explore the horrors of Nazi Germany, but do so in a comical way that also exposed the ignorance, arrogance, and hypocrisy that fueled it.

The story begins as a theater troupe in Warsaw, Poland prepares to put on a play satirizing Hitler. The play is cancelled after the theater’s owner decides that Poland’s political status is too fragile to chance offending Germany. The actors begrudgingly replace the play with a production of Hamlet starring husband and wife Joseph (Jack Benny) and Maria Tura (Carole Lombard). Maria’s performance catches the eye of young pilot Stanislav Sobinski (Robert Stack), who sneaks backstage to meet with her. Flattered by the younger man’s attentions and irritated with her husband’s insistence upon constantly upstaging her, Maria entertains a flirtation with the pilot only to learn that he has every intention of making an honest and simple woman out of her. Before Maria can explain to Stanislav that she has no intentions of leaving her husband and career for him, she is interrupted by the news that Poland has gone to war with Germany. To Maria’s relief, she is separated from Stanislav when he goes to England to fight alongside the Allies while she attempts to live some semblance of a normal life with Joseph amidst the Nazi occupation of Poland. Stanislav eventually returns home after discovering a traitor in the Allied ranks and persuades Maria to enlist the help of her fellow actors in a scheme to expose the spy and outwit the Gestapo. As the plan gets underway, the entire troupe finds their acting skills put to the test as they infiltrate the highest ranks of the Gestapo’s headquarters and race against time to outwit their oppressors.

While audiences were dumbfounded by the film’s seemingly flippant attitude towards the Nazi threat, it is this same dismissive tone that makes the film a truly brilliant piece of satire. Even today, a comedy set against the backdrop of Nazi occupation is a shocking premise for a film. In 1942, however, this idea was not only shocking but outright dangerous as there was no way that the filmmakers could be sure that they would be on the winning side once the war was over. Because the war was ongoing upon the film’s release, many found it to be not only in bad taste but also an unnecessary provocation of the enemy. Director Ernst Lubitsch knew more about the effects of satire than his critics, however, as he used his film to expose not only the evils of Nazi Germany, but also the flawed people behind it. Throughout the film the Nazis are clearly portrayed as the villains of the story but are consistently shown to be all too human as they reveal themselves to be incompetent, self-absorbed, and boorish. By following the same formula of politics combined with madcap antics that he used in his earlier hit, Ninotchka, Lubitsch successfully walks the fine line between exposing the horrors of Nazi Germany and ridiculing the ideology responsible for them in To Be Or Not To Be.   

Heil myself!
The film is now considered the crowning achievements in the careers of Lubitsch, Benny, and Lombard, but was not regarded as such until several decades after its release. While the film achieved a moderate success at the box office, it was considered a critical flop due to its daring subject matter. Critics were particularly harsh in their treatment of Benny and Lubitsch as they accused Benny of playing himself and Lubitsch of producing a script that jumped from genre to genre while trivializing the brutality of Nazi tyranny. Lubitsch defended the film, saying “what I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology. I have also satirized the attitude of actors who always remain actors regardless of how dangerous their situation might be”, while his intentions are all too clear today, 1940’s audiences were simply not prepared to see biting humor used within the same context as a fascist dictatorship. Two months prior to the film’s release, Lombard was killed in a plane crash while traveling home from a war bond rally in Indiana. Her mother and press agent were reportedly both afraid of flying and only agreed to take a plane home after losing a coin toss to the insistent Lombard. All twenty-two of the plane’s passengers, including fifteen servicemen and Lombard’s entire party were killed. Lombard was thirty three at the time of her death and at the peak of what audiences assumed would be a long career. The film was edited to remove Lombard’s  line “What could happen in a plane?” as it appeared both crass and eerie following the news of her death. Critics were gentler in their reviews of Lombard’s performance, likely in an effort to be respectful and tactful following her tragic death.  

The cast provides the scathing script with apt support in a series of hilarious performances. Benny portrays his vain actor with the ideal combination of hammy shenanigans and heartfelt humanity. Similarly, Lombard imbues her stage diva with the perfect mix of glamour and wittiness. Together, the pair form a formidable team as they bicker, break up, and make up much in the way that real couples do all while doing their best to stay one step ahead of the Gestapo. The supporting cast turns in uniformly excellent performances with particularly memorable turns from Felix Bressart and Sig Rumann in their respective roles as a Jewish actor and a buffoonish Nazi colonel.

To Be Or Not To Be is a film that epitomizes the phrase “ahead of its time”. The film’s innovative approach successfully calls attention to the evils of tyranny while simultaneously lambasting the ideologies and ignorance that fuel tyrants and their followers. While it may have been too daring for 1940’s audiences to fully appreciate, the film has since gained the fan following and elevated status that such a comic masterpiece deserves. With its combination of black humor, expert comedic performances, and that indescribable quality known simply as “the Lubitsch touch”, To Be Or Not To Be is a classic in every sense of the term.

All's well that ends offensively

A Retrospect on "Silent Hill"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Retrospect of “Silent Hill”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Hello friends and loyal readers it is Das Film Junkie here with another Retrospect, where I take a second look at a film I’ve already reviewed to see if my tastes for it have changed at all.  So rather than re-review a film I’ve hated, I’m going to re-review a film I actually like, in fact, this week I’m reviewing one of my favorite Horror films of All-time; “Silent Hill”.

My First Impression of the film

It's so awesome!!!! :)
I was 14 or 15-year-old the first time I saw “Silent Hill” for the first time (I lied about my age to see it in theatres).  I knew it was based off a game that was on the Original Playstation, but I had not played it before seeing the film.  This was the 1st film I can ever remember seeing that made me feel “disturbed” and “uncomfortable”.  Before I saw “Silent Hill”, I thought Horror films were always declining in quality and had no “shock value” and “entertainment”.  The whole time, as I was watching the film, I kept saying to myself “they’re not going to show any good stuff”. Then five seconds later I’d be saying; “holy crap, I can’t believe they just showed that”.  I enjoyed everything about this film; the story, the characters, the music, the costumes, the excessive violence this film was great.  I especially enjoyed the acting of Jodelle Ferland, who played two characters in the film that were total opposites: the sweet and innocent Sharon, and the sinister and demonic Alessa. It is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen out of a child actress. 

My Impression after seeing this film a Second time

Hello, Mother Dearest
    Okay, since this is one of my favorite films, I’ve actually seen it more than once.  However, now I’ve seen the film AND I have played the first 4 video games in the series and I’ve seen the films sequel “Silent Hill: Revelations”. Hell, I’ve even been to West Virginia three times, and I’ve driven through an old town that reminded me of Silent Hill. I still feel that this film holds up quite well, but I also believe that one reason why I favor this film more than most is because I didn’t play the video games until after I’ve seen it.  I know a lot of people who like the games, hate this movie, but I still like it.  It’s true, that it does not follow the plot of the game that well, but it still managed to entertain me.  And even though, the sequel film followed the plot to the video game better than the original, I still found the original to be more enjoyable.

What I would do to make the film better

Do Not Judge this film too harshly
     So I’m not really surprised that the film’s director Christophe Gans took some creative liberties with the plot of the game and changed a bunch of stuff for the film.  Personally, I liked some of the changes (for example how the changed Jodelle Ferland’s character name to Sharon (instead of Cheryl like in the game), but some of the changes I could’ve gone without.  I think the plot would have worked better if it was Sharon’s father who had to find her instead of her mother, like in the game..  That way they could have included a subtle romance story between Chris Da Silva and Officer Cybil.  Also, as much I like Pyramid Head, he was not in the first game (he doesn’t actually appear until the second game in the franchise) so I think if they would have left him out of the film, it wouldn’t have left that much of an effect on the film, but I understand why they used him as Pyramid Head is the most recognizable character from the Game Franchise.

My Final Opinion on the Film

Everyone's Favorite Dead Nurses
“Silent Hill” is and always will be one of my favorite Horror films.  My biggest reason why is because this is the first Horror film I saw as a teenager that made me say, “Wow, Horror films can still be awesome and entertaining”.  I know, many of you are probably thinking “that’s a stupid choice for the film that got you into Horror”, but it’s true, and I have Director Christophe Gans to thank for re-instilling in me the belief that Horror films can be scary and entertaining.  I can understand why most people who are fans of the Game Franchise hate this film, but I think if you haven’t played the games and   that you will really like this film.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Classics: A Review of Doctor Zhivago By Lauren Ennis

You're the only girl for me...besides my wife

History is filled with tales of ordinary people coping with extraordinary circumstances. Some of cinema’s most memorable stories are about those same ordinary people and the way in which they overcome hardships beyond their control to achieve some measure of success and happiness. Despite their seemingly average subjects, many of these films are truly epic in scale as they chronicle the effects of social and political changes upon the lives and loves of the individuals they touch. Amongst the most memorable of these epics is the 1965 classic Doctor Zhivago, which follows the changing fortunes of a Moscow physician as he struggles to survive the trials and turbulence of life in early twentieth century Russia.

The story begins as eight year old Yuri Zhivago attends his mother’s funeral. Following the funeral, Yuri meets his mother’s friends, the Gromekos, who agree to raise him as their own son. The film then flashes ahead as Yuri (Omar Sharif) has grown into a successful young man who is about to receive his medical degree and is happily involved in a relationship with the Gromekos’ daughter, Tonia (Geraldine Chaplin). Despite the idyllic lifestyle that Yuri and his adoptive family lead, however, the film also reveals that unrest and poverty are running rampant in Russia as the story focuses in on Lara (Julie Christie), the daughter of a working class seamstress, and her Bolshevik boyfriend, Pasha (Tom Courtenay). Unlike Yuri and Tonia, who enjoy lives of luxury amongst Moscow’s aristocracy, Lara and Pasha find themselves engaged in a daily struggle to survive. In order to escape from her poverty stricken existence, Lara embarks upon an affair with her mother’s wealthy lover, Komarovsky (Rod Steiger), in hopes of exchanging sexual favors for financial security. Lara’s affair eventually puts her in contact with Yuri and sets events in motion that affect both of their lives throughout the ensuing decades. The film then chronicles the lives of Lara and Yuri as their fates become intertwined amidst the upheavals of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the ensuing civil war.

Just lie back and think of rubles
Based upon the Boris Pasternak novel of the same name, Doctor Zhivago is truly an epic tale as it chronicles nearly thirty years in Russian history on both a national and personal scale. Pasternak was inspired to write the novel as a reaction to the way in which individuality was regularly subjugated and oppressed in the Soviet Union. As a result, the novel examines the effects of the Russian Revolution and rise of the USSR with special attention to the devastating effects that they had upon ordinary citizens. His character based approach to his story was in direct contrast to the society over individual line of thinking that the Communist Party indoctrinated its citizens with, and forced Pasternak to publish his book in secret through an Italian publisher. The book’s humanistic approach proved to be a success, as the novel went on to become both a bestseller and the recipient of a Nobel Prize. Despite his international success, Pasternak continued to regard Russia as his one true home, and like his fictional counterpart, could not bear the thought of leaving it. As a result, the author chose to decline his Nobel Prize in order to remain in his homeland when the Soviet government threatened to exile him. Despite the Soviet government’s best efforts to denounce Pasternak and his novel, Doctor Zhivago continued to be a literary success and is now considered one of Russia’s greatest novels and the definitive epic of the Russian Revolution.

While the film remains closely aligned with Pasternak’s complex tale, it is best known for its exquisite sets, cinematography, and musical score. In order to portray Yuri’s poetic sensibility and artistic view of the world, director David Lean used a “show” rather than “tell” approach to portray life through Yuri’s eyes. In order to achieve this goal, Lean focused his camera on the intimate details of Yuri’s world and the natural beauty that inspire him, providing the film with a unique perspective. The film’s use of locations in Spain and Finland make excellent substitutes for the harsh landscapes of Russia (which would not allow the crew to film within its borders) and provide an atmosphere that is both engaging and exotic. Perhaps the most enduring aspect of the film is its musical score, particularly the recurring tune ‘Lara’s theme’. Maurice Jarre’s lilting tune perfectly encompasses the romance, sacrifice, and loss that make up the protagonist’s journey. Nearly fifty years later, the tune remains a cinema classic and a stirring example of the power of music in film.

Through its combination of history, romance, and action, Doctor Zhivago is an example of the epic at its finest. The film expertly captures the effects of the sweeping changes of life in twentieth century Russia on both a grand and intimate scale. Through its memorable characters and lush visuals the film brings historical events to vivid and heartbreaking life, providing generations of viewers with a glimpse into the past. This film is a testament to the importance of the individual as well as an appeal to the romantic within all of us.

In Soviet Russia...insert Yakov quote of choice...there


A review of "Black Forest"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Black Forrest”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Oh SyFy, you have the best of intentions what it comes to releasing TV movies; you really do.  Some of your films even show signs of great potential, but somehow or another they always end up falling flat—usually due to television censorship and/or budget restraints—and what once stood to be a good Horror film, ended up a disappointing film.  Let’s look at one of your more recent TV movies, 2012’s “Black Forest”.                    
So our story opens at a bar in Germany, not too far from where the Grimm Brother’s wrote their famous fairytales.  An Irish tour guide is telling an old fairytale to an Oncologist named Saxon—who coincidentally is also from Ireland—and then tells him that if he is interested he include him in tour group he is taking tomorrow to visit some of the sites that inspired the Grimm Fairytales.  Saxon accepts the Tour Guides offer and goes off on the tour along with a banker, his wife, their newborn daughter, their babysitter, and two college students studying Astronomy.  Their tour guide takes them to a hill where the “Fairy folk” are said to gather.  A beautiful fairy seems to appear out of nowhere and snatches the baby right out of its mother’s arms. The people try to chase after the fairy, but cannot catch her.  The two college students later deduce that they are no longer in Germany, but rather another world.  A world where everything is modeled after a fairytale and they must use their knowledge of fairytale’s in order to survive and hopefully escape.              
I dont like the look of it!
I have to say that this film has some pretty awesome visuals.  Throughout the film there are these really cool looking animation stills, and the CGI is actually decent as well.  It’s no secret to anyone that SyFy doesn’t usually have the best special effects, but I must say I was quite impressed with the CGI fairies and even some of the wolves as well.  I also like how each character is tied together to a specific fairytale. Saxon is the Huntsman, the bankers wife is Sleeping Beauty, the babysitter is Snow White (who get’s eaten by the Seven Dwarves and, no not eaten in the perverted gang-bang way, the dwarves actually cannibalize her).                          
So if it’s not the visuals or the story that keeps this film from being good it must be the acting.  Yeah, the acting in this film ranges meek and uninteresting to comedic and over the top.  I cannot think of one memorable or good performance from “Black Forest”.  As I said before, SyFy has a huge disadvantage of being a television network and not an actually film studio, so since their films are shown on cable TV they have to adhere to the guidelines and regulations of the FCC, so their films cant include things like swearing, excessive violence, and nudity.  It really was these restrictions that kept this film back.  Plus, I’m just going to come out and say that I thought the ending was really weak.                      

     As far as TV movies go, “Black Forest” is okay.  It’s not fantastic, but it’s certainly not bad.  If you’re a fan of the recent fairytale modernizations, then I think you will like “Black Forest” other than that, I wouldn’t hold to high of an expectation for it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Classics: A Review of Mildred Pierce by Lauren Ennis

Don't make me go all 'Joan Crawford' on your ass

Family relationships are some of the most fulfilling, frustrating, and ultimately complicated relationships in our lives. Today, television and film focus upon dysfunctional families so often that the concept has become a cliché. In the 1940’s, however, the family was the most crucial and sacred institution in American life and remained beyond the reach of Hollywood critiques. One film of the post-war era, however, managed to not only explore the complications of a dysfunctional family but also reveal the good intentions and loving impulses that fuel its dysfunction; Mildred Pierce. Adapted from the James M. Cain novel of the same name, Mildred Pierce is an excellent female take on the noir genre as well as an exploration of the dangers of love in all its forms.

The story begins as an expensively dressed Mildred (Joan Crawford) wanders along the seedier part of town before contemplating suicide at the boardwalk pier. She is startled by a patrolling policeman and renounces her thoughts on suicide, instead choosing to turn to her friend and former business partner, Wally Fay (Jack Carson), regarding her mysterious troubles. She lures the eager Wally to her husband’s beach house only to sneak out the window, leaving Wally to be discovered by the police inside the house along with the body of Mildred’s murdered husband, Monty Beragon (Zachary Scott). Despite her clever ruse, the police still track Mildred to her home and bring her in for questioning. She seems unnaturally collected during the proceedings until police reveal that they are planning on charging her ex-husband, Burt Pierce (Bruce Bennett), with Beragon’s murder. The thought of sending an innocent man to prison proves too much for Mildred and she explains the events in her tumultuous life leading up to Beragon’s murder, launching a flashback that takes up the majority of the film’s running time. The flashback reveals how Mildred went from betrayed housewife, to struggling divorcee, to finally successful businesswoman over the course of the Great Depression. All through her various ups and downs, Mildred finds herself motivated by a consuming, almost pathological, love for and need to impress her eldest daughter, Veda (Anne Blyth). As Mildred’s financial woes subside, she finds herself faced with what prove to be just the beginning of her domestic troubles as Veda grows up into a spoiled, calculating, woman as well as her mother’s greatest rival.

The most notable aspect of the film is the way in which is seamlessly blends domestic melodrama with film noir. The film begins with a fatalistic start typical of noir as Mildred first considers ending her life and is later apprehended by police despite her best efforts. This bleak atmosphere continues as she is forced to choose between letting her ex-husband be penalized for a crime he did not commit or revealing a secret so painful that it could destroy the life she has struggled to build for herself. Once the story shifts to Mildred’s flashback, however, the film takes on an entirely different tone as its focus moves to her family life. As it follows her divorce and the eventual rise of her business empire, the film remains sharply focused upon Mildred’s family life, particularly her codependent relationship with her older daughter, Veda. As the plot unfolds, it becomes obvious that Mildred has based her entire existence around Veda’s happiness at the expense of her marriage and her relationship with her younger daughter, Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe). The toxicity of the pair’s relationship increases as Mildred’s career takes off, setting the stage for a climax in the true noir tradition. While the blending of these two vastly different genres could have easily been jarring and disjointed, the combination of the two instead forms a coherent whole that reveals the desperate measures that average people will go to in times of personal crisis. The blending of genres serves as excellent social commentary upon the struggle to survive during the Great Depression and the devastating effects of class warfare.
Veda Pierce; a one woman arguement for birth control

The cast provides the already fascinating script with ample support in a series of engaging performances. Eve Arden and Jack Carson nearly steal the film in their comic relief roles as Mildred’s snarky best friend and smarmy business partner. Zachary Scott has all the smoothness required of his playboy but also adds an unsettling ruthlessness to his portrayal of Monty. Unfortunately, Jo Ann Marlowe’s performance as Kay is of the sugary quality typical of child actors of the era, and Bruce Bennett’s Burt remains distant and unreadable throughout the film. Ann Blyth is stellar as the conniving Veda, producing a performance that is by turns insufferably haughty and chillingly cruel, but always believable. Her chemistry with Crawford lends credit to the central mother-daughter relationship, which in turn supports Crawford’s portrayal of the pathetically devoted heroine. Despite the quality of the supporting cast’s performances, however, the film belongs entirely to Crawford. Prior to Mildred Pierce’s release, Joan Crawford was considered a fading star. While she had enjoyed success throughout the twenties and overcame the transition to sound in a series of successful films in the thirties, her career experienced a sharp decline by the early forties. In 1943, MGM, the studio over which she had reigned as the undisputed queen for nearly two decades, declined to renew Crawford’s contract. Two years later, the once in demand star found herself out of work as she approached her fortieth birthday. Despite her previous success as a ‘glamour girl’ and the taboo against playing mother parts in Hollywood, she fiercely campaigned for the role of working-class mother Mildred. Crawford went on to not only win the part but also turn in an Oscar winning performance, proving that she had lost none of her talent or shrewdness. Throughout the film, she manages the difficult task of keeping audiences both engaged with and rooting for Mildred despite the fact that she is a character who is consistently self-destructive. Without Crawford’s dynamic performance, the script would lose its emotional impact and credibility and Mildred Pierce would likely not be the timeless classic that it is.

Mildred Pierce is an example of film noir and domestic melodrama at its finest. Through its combination of social commentary and dramatic tension the film tells a fascinating story about the pitfalls of success and the hidden dangers of motherly love. The film marked a meteoric comeback for leading lady Joan Crawford and went on to set the stage for the female centered noirs that came after it. The film’s tagline pleaded with viewers “don’t tell what Mildred Pierce did”; while spoilers are never fun, I highly recommend that you give this film a try and tell other viewers just what you think of Mildred Pierce.

Can't you just feel the family love?


A review of "I Bury the Living"

Confessions of a Junkie: A review of “I Bury The Living”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     “I Bury the Living” is a wonderful B-Horror movie made and released in 1958.  I recently watched this film for the first time and I was absolutely blown away by it.  I’m actually surprised that you never hear people mention this film, when they talk about Great Classic Horror films.  Let me explain my reasons why, I think “I Bury the Living” deserves a special place of recognition in the “Classic Horror Genre”.     
A mind-bending Thriller!
“I Bury the Living” is the story of a small town business owner, named Robert Kraft (played by Richard Boone), who has recently been appointed the new committee chairman of a group that oversees a large local cemetery.  Kraft does not want the position, but takes it at the aid of his Uncle George because it’s “good for business”.  Kraft, isn’t alone at this new volunteer job, he is also helped out by the Cemetery’s caretaker Andy McKee (played by Theodore Bikel).  Andy explains to Robert how the map works: all the plots in the cemetery that have been reserved are marked with a white pins, all the graves that have been filled are marked with black pins.  His first day on the job, Kraft accidentally places two black pins on the map of the cemetery on two plots that a newlywed couple just purchased.  That night the couple died in a horrific automobile accident.  Although everyone tells him, that it was a tragic accident, Bob can’t help but feel party responsible.  The next night he replaces another white pin on the map with a black pin—to test fate—and it happens again.   Everyone tries to tell him that he’s overacting and that the deaths are all merely a coincidence, but every time he changes a person’s pin from white to black they mysteriously die.  Are these all mere coincidences or has Bob Kraft developed a Grim Reaper like power that lets him decide who lives and who dies?                                  
Uh-oh, looks like someone gave into the madness
    This is a fantastic film!  It has great suspense, interesting characters, and a fantastic story.  “I Bury The Living” is almost like if they took a “Twilight Zone” episode and made into a full-length movie.  Richard Boone is wonderful as the films protagonist, Robert Kraft.  You really can’t tell whether his character is sincere in his actions or whether he is teetering on the brink of madness.  It’s a nail-biting suspense ride.  I will confess to you all that I did find the ending to the film to be incredibly weak, and was the only bad thing I found about the film, but I don’t think it was the writers fault.  Like many Horror films “I Bury The Living” had to adhere to “Motion Pictures Production” Code, which was a list of rules all films that were released in theatres had to follow.  One of the rules was that the bad guy could never win, and always had to end with a heroes triumph.  I feel like the MPP Code is what really held this film back from being one of the All-Time Greats.  If this film had been made a few years later, after the Motion Picture Production Code was done away with, then “I Bury the Living” would be on the same level as films like “Psycho” and “Night of the Living Dead”.                                   
    You know, I’m actually quite surprised that no film studio has tried to re-make or reboot this film, yet.  I think with a few revisions to the story and the write actors that this could be a very successful Horror re-make.
Don't let him screw with your fate!
One last interesting thing I thought of the film is that the town, it takes place in is called “Milford”.  I was born in the city of Milford, Massachusetts, and was wondering if it was the same town or if it was a coincidence.  I looked it up on IMDB and there was no named location for filming and it only said that it was made and released in the summer of 1958 and was released by United Artists film studio.  However, there was one line that suggests it may have been set in Milford, Massachusetts when Robert Kraft’s, Uncle George says that if he told people that he could control peoples destiny’s by changing a pin on the map to a different color that they’d “send him up to Providence Hospital”.  Providence, Rhode Island is not all that far from Milford, Massachusetts.  However, they could have been talking about Milford, Connecticut as well as they are both relatively close to Providence, Rhode Island.  Just an interesting thought I had.                                         
    So make sure you check out “I Bury the Living”, it has a running time of 76 minutes, so it’s not too long and is an ideal film to watch if you are a fan of Horror films or are just looking for a short film to watch in your spare time.  

A Special Treat for you, the loyal readers ;)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Classics: A Review of Evita By Lauren Ennis

The cold, dead, stare of a true politician
Biographies are unique films in that while they often attain critical success, they just as often fail to gain public favor. Due to their nature as historical works based in reality, there are few twists and turns that screenwriters can utilize to satisfy viewers when writing a biographical film. As a result, viewers often find biographies predictable and dry. In a few rare instances, however, filmmakers have managed to find unique ways to tell biographical tales which not only highlight the facts of the protagonists’ life, but also entertain viewers. One such film is the 1996 musical biography Evita which combines Broadway tunes with historical fact to tell the Cinderella-esque story of pampas peasant turned Argentine first lady, Eva Peron.

The story starts in an unusual way by beginning not with Eva’s (Madonna) birth, but instead with her funeral following her death of cervical cancer in 1952. The film’s everyman narrator, known only as Che (Antonio Banderas), watches the circus that Buenos Aires has become as its citizens react to the death of the equally loved and maligned first lady. The scene then flashes back to Eva’s poverty stricken childhood in the 1920’s as she is barred from attending her father’s funeral because of her illegitimacy. By juxtaposing her father’s funeral with her own, the filmmakers provide the audience with crucial insight into Eva’s character and the obsession with reaching the top of society that would define her life. The film then flashes ahead as Che reflects upon the events that led the peasant girl to become the infamous woman being mourned. Eager to leave behind the poverty of life in the slums, fifteen year old Eva seduces a touring tango singer (Jimmy Nail) in hopes of him bringing her to Buenos Aires with him. The singer reluctantly agrees to take her with him only to later reveal that he is married with children and abandon her when they reach the city. Alone and destitute, Eva embarks upon a series of affairs with increasingly wealthy men in order to survive. Through connections of one of her lovers she becomes a radio and B-film actress, which eventually brings her into contact with rising military officer, Juan Peron (Jonathan Pryce). Knowing an opportunity when she sees one, Eva immediately attaches herself to Peron and uses her minor celebrity status to promote his political ambitions. With Eva’s help, Peron rises above imprisonment by the ruling regime and goes on to become Argentina’s president. Through the various highs and lows of Peron’s presidency, Eva remains a driving force in his administration, simultaneously becoming the most adored and despised woman in Argentine history in the process.

Based upon the musical of the same name, Evita takes an original approach to telling Eva’s story by relating the facts of her life through song. Following several successes with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyricist Tim Rice was searching for a subject for his next project when he heard a radio broadcast about the tumultuous life of Eva Peron. Fascinated, Rice became determined to write his next musical about her. Unfortunately for Rice, however, Webber and the production’s director, Hal Prince, were not as enamored with the Argentine first lady as he was (particularly considering England’s difficult relationship with Argentina), and proceeded to alter his original lyrics without his consent. The resulting production cast both Eva and Juan Peron in a darker light than Rice had intended and lent the show a critical tone. Although the Broadway show was a Tony Award winning hit, director Alan Parker decided to reinstate the original lyrics and take a more even-handed approach to his portrayal.

The perks of being a narrator
Despite its Broadway roots, Evita is anything but stage bound. The film relates over fifteen years in the life of one of history’s most controversial women without sacrificing any of the emotion and momentum that made the original stage production a success. The freedom of the screen enabled filmmakers to bring the story to vivid life by utilizing location sets and previously deleted scenes that had been deemed too difficult to stage. As a result, the film seamlessly places the story into the greater context of both Argentine and world history without requiring viewers to possess any prior historical knowledge to fully enjoy it. Unfortunately, while the film attempts to tell a more accurate account of Eva’s life, there are still various inaccuracies that were carried over from the original stage show, making the film more speculative entertainment than historical document.

One of the most common shortcomings of musicals is their tendency to decrease the emphasis upon acting and character development. In Evita, however, the cast manages to rise above this common pitfall and turns in uniformly excellent performances. Despite her previously panned roles, Madonna’s portrayal is both realistic and compelling as she perfectly captures the duality of the wounded childhood and hard as nails struggle that propel Eva’s story. Similarly, Antonio Banderas hits all the right notes as the by turns amused and outraged, but always cynical, Che. Jonathan Pryce’s understated performance strikes a perfect balance between relating the complicated political life of Juan Peron and allowing the story to remain focused upon Eva. Through their superb performances, the cast provides the film with the crucial foundation that it needs to suspend the audience’s disbelief long enough for the impressive songs and powerful story to take hold.

Through its combination of music and history, Evita provides viewers with insight into the life of one of the most polarizing political figures of the 20th century. While the film leaves the question of whether Eva the sinner or Evita the saint is the ‘real Eva Peron’, open to viewers, it nonetheless presents an emotionally engaging and musically mesmerizing modern Cinderella story. The film had this reviewer eager to learn more about its heroine and the myths surrounding her, and I hope that it will inspire some of its casual viewers to become aspiring history buffs. Join Eva to see what’s new in Buenos Aires and what it is that Argentina’s been crying about; this is one musical journey you won’t want to return home from.

That's right you bad girl, you vote for the Peronist Party

A review of "Red Riding Hood"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Red Riding Hood”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     I typically find that when I look at an Italian produced film it’s falls into one of categories:  There’s the phenomenal works like a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western’s and then there are films like a Joe D’Amato Exploitation piece of crap.  I very rarely find a middle ground when it comes to films that come out of Italy, but the film I’m reviewing today has my feeling pulled in so many different directions.  On one hand, it’s low-budget work with second-rate actors, but it has a great story and dialogue.  This is the type of film that breaks my heart.  It is a film where I see so much potential, but do to things like budget, timing, and other things it comes up way short of its potential.     
This is not the one with Christina Ricci
“Red Riding Hood” is 2003 Horror/thriller that filmed entirely on location in Rome.  It is told from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl named Jennifer.  Jennifer’s father was a politician in America who was assassinated, and shortly after his death her mother moved the two of them to Rome.  Jennifer’s mother eventually runs off with her new lover leaving Jennifer alone to raise herself.  Jennifer is homeschooled by day, and by night she is a vigilante who stalks the streets with her mysterious helper, George, to right the wrongs that they see going on.  Then one day Jennifer’s grandmother—Rose—comes to town and tells Jennifer that she plans on taking her back to New York City to raise her on her own, but Jennifer doesn’t plan on going down without a fight.  Now, it’s up for you the audience to decide: is this girl a young hero or is she actually sociopath?                                 
     Okay, I’ll admit that from that paragraph describing the plot the film doesn’t sound like anything spectacular, but believe me this film had a lot of potential.  For one thing, it made good use of is filming location.  The film was shot entirely in Rome so you get to see all the famous landmarks of Rome.  The characters all pretty unique and memorable too, but some are more memorable than others.                                
Actress Susanna Satta plays Jennifer
     Let’s look at our main character Jennifer.  At times she can be a fun character, but mostly I found her to be lacking at times throughout the film.  For one thing, she always looks like she’s squinting throughout the film.  I typically don’t like to bash child actors in films because of their lack of experience, and considering this the only film that Susanna Satta has appeared in, I think it speaks great lengths that she probably wasn’t ready to take on a role like this.  That’s the only real criticism I have about her acting, the rest of the problems with her performance was how her character was written.  The idea, of a well-spoken, well educated American teenage vigilante sounds like the grounds for a great protagonist, and then you see the people she goes after aren’t murderers, drug dealers, or child traffickers, but petty crooks.  She brutally murders one woman for stealing a bottle of wine from a marketplace, and then she murders her dentist for having an affair with his assistant.  Do those types of crimes really call for a brutal execution?  I don’t think so.  They sound more like personal beefs then a vendetta.  It does help spark the debate of whether or not Jennifer is a really a teen crime-fighter or if she is just a sociopath, which is a fun debate throughout the story.              
Hi George!
The dialogue in this film is very well written.  It’s so good at times, that I actually can’t believe that it was written for such a low-budget foreign Horror film.  The dialogue follows a great story; however it does feel very rushed.  With all this great dialogue and plot, it was ashamed that the film’s director and cast didn’t let any tension or build up settle in.  At times “Red Riding Hood” feels very rushed; so rushed that you almost get this sense that they rushed all the action and dialogue to get the film to a shorter run time, which is a shame because I think if they would have slowed down some of that stuff then this film would have been much better.                             
     I would absolutely recommend “Red Riding Hood” to fans of Straight-to-DVD Horror.  Despite its minor flaws and setbacks I still found it to be an enjoyable film, and as long as you don’t overanalyze and nitpick it (like I typically do) I think you will enjoy “Red Riding Hood” as well.

Quite the likable little psycho

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Classics: A Review of The Age of Innocence By Lauren Ennis

Did I hear wrong or did she just have an original thought

In today’s world ruled by virtual interaction and instant gratification it is difficult not to feel nostalgic for simpler, more innocent, days gone by. By viewing the past through idealized perceptions, however, we often fail to acknowledge the hardships, restrictions, and expectations that people were forced to endure in past eras. One film reveals the hidden struggles of the past in a way that will give even the most nostalgic of viewers a greater appreciation for the present. In his adaptation of Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Age of Innocence, director Martin Scorcese presents a tale of love, loss, and regret that exposes the hypocrisy and oppression that tarnished what is too often remembered as a pure era.

The story begins as Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) returns to New York after requesting a divorce form he European husband. The countess’ scandalous return occurs just as her cousin, May Welland (Winona Ryder), is preparing to announce her engagement to lawyer and fellow aristocrat Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis). While May and her family patiently tolerate Ellen’s presence, Newland is outraged that his chaste fiancée is being associated with her much gossiped about cousin. When Ellen announces her intention to make her divorce final, however, the Wellands reach their breaking point and plead with Newland to take Ellen’s case. For the sake of May’s reputation, Newland reluctantly takes the case and sets to work persuading Ellen to remain separated from her husband without taking the disreputable step of obtaining a divorce. When Ellen finally agrees to stop pursuing a divorce, Newland is elated and immediately begins pressuring May to consent to a shorter engagement. By the time that May’s family agrees to a sooner wedding, however, Newland has begun spending more time with Ellen and has come to regret his decision. As the wedding approaches, Newland realizes that all the qualities that he once cherished in May are the very qualities which he admires Ellen for not possessing. Although Newland knows that he cannot be truly happy in a life without Ellen, the conventions of New York society prove to be a far greater barrier than either he or Ellen had ever imagined.

Like Wharton’s novel, the film’s greatest strength is the way in which it explores the onerous demands and vicious retaliations of its supposedly innocent society. The film accurately portrays the traditions and mores of Old New York while remaining true to Wharton’s biting social commentary. Throughout the film, Newland is conflicted between the life that he desires and the life that he has been conditioned to live. This conflict mirrors the greater division between individualism and conformity that New York society imposed upon its citizens.  For instance, while it is widely known that Ellen’s husband had been both abusive towards and unfaithful to her, her friends and family ostracize her for going against convention and asking for a divorce. Similarly, Ellen’s family prefers May, who possesses none of Ellen’s generosity or intelligence, because despite any shortcomings that she might possess, May both knows and adheres to the standards of her society. Newland is faced with the hypocrisies that he had been previously blind to when he finds himself being persecuted for loving Ellen even though the couple never acts upon their love. Although both Ellen and Newland want to be honest about their feelings, they know all too well that such an infraction would not be permitted to go unpunished by society. As a result, the pair is forced to hide and repress their love for one another while those around them carry on affairs and other social indiscretions just out of public view. By making her protagonists honorable outcasts, Wharton adeptly denounces the double standards of society while highlighting the dangers of conformity.

The days when it was acceptable to treat your fiance like a puppy
The cast superbly brings the deceptively simple tale to vibrant life through the nuance and depth of their performances. The central cast manages the difficult tasks of conveying their characters’ inner torment while still maintaining their outward propriety. Daniel Day-Lewis’ understated performance remains true to the story’s repressive milieu while still maintaining enough intensity to make viewers empathize with Newland’s loss. Similarly, Winona Ryder excellently plays both the outwardly innocent child that May pretends to be and the inwardly manipulative woman that she is. The film’s standout performance fittingly belongs to the actress playing a heroine who cannot help but stand out; Michelle Pfeiffer. Her combination of world weariness and idealism makes Ellen a complicated heroine whom viewers can’t help but root for. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent and helps draw viewers into a time that is entirely foreign to modern audiences. Through their performances, the cast provides audiences with a glimpse into the lives, loves, and conflicts of gilded age society that reveals the guilt, hypocrisy, and cruelty lying just beneath its glittering surface.

Through its combination of love, loss, and social commentary, The Age of Innocence is a film that remains relevant to any age. With its condemnation of social hypocrisy and blind conventionalism, the film’s historical tale echoes a warning that is as pertinent today as it was in the gilded age in which it was set. The excellent cast and crew capture the story’s subtleties and complexities in a way that ensures that the film is able to remain both enjoyable to modern audiences and historically accurate. Though far from innocent, this film is as poignant, profound, and ultimately heartbreaking as any love story past or present.

Just imagine the thought bubbles for these three

The 5 Most Annoying Cliche's in Horror Films

Confessions of a Film Junkie: The Most Annoying Cliché’s in Horror Films

By: Brian Cotnoir

     As awesome as Horror films are as a Genre, we have to face the facts that there are far too many clichés that a lot of Horror films follow.  These are the things that once you see in a horror film you immediately throw up your arms and complain.  In a poll I did a few months ago on-line, I asked people to list what they considered to be the most annoying clichés in Horror films.  So this isn’t my personal Top 5 List, this is a list voted on by people and were ranked in order of the most popular.

#5.) Jump scares!

     Not only is this one of the most annoying clichés in Horror films, but it is probably the cheapest and simplest way to get a frightened reaction from the audience.  One of the worst parts about this cliché is that you can usually see it coming: The main character is walking slowly down the hall, it’s pretty quiet, and then once they turn the corner!  ROAR!!!!! *Scary Image* and loud music.  We must admit that there are some people who are easily frightened by jump scares in films, but personally I find them more annoying than anything.  When I’m watching a Horror film at the movie theatre, if the film has too many jump scares, I’ll become easily frustrated and start angrily proclaiming “stop doing that!”.  Seriously, there aren’t any better or other techniques Horror film Directors can use to frighten their audience?  They all have to rely solely on loud music and a character appearing quickly on screen?  Get it together people!

Not Gonna Lie, this one still makes me jump
#4.) Blood & Tit’s do Not Mix.

There’s nothing wrong with nudity films, but please just make it relevant to the plot.  Just because you can show a hot actress naked on camera, doesn’t mean that you have to.  For one thing, you’re always going to get some Conservative Watchdog Group claiming that movies that combine sex & violence will create a generation of Ed Gein’s or some other B.S. like that.  I’ve always felt that filmmakers who overly rely on sex and nudity in their films were always sending mixed messages to their audience:  Are we supposed to feel terrified or aroused?  I understand why the killer wants to kill this girl, but why does he have to wait till while she’s skinny dipping to kill her?  I suppose the argument could be made that more people are vulnerable when they’re not wearing clothes and that’s what the director wanted that particular character to portray (?).  However, a large number of people brought up an interesting point to this cliché:  Why is it okay to show a hot, naked woman getting murdered, but it’s not okay to show a naked man getting murdered.  This is a valid point.  Why is there no male nudity in most Horror films?  Why is there not a balance?  Is there a valid reason or are the directors who are making these films just trying to exploit their actresses?  What is the reason why?!

#3.)  There’s a psychotic murderer around here...we’d all better split up

     If I was in a house with a psychotic murderer, one thing is for certain:  I am leaving the damn house! I am not going to stay and wait to see what happens—no sir—I am leaving the house and hoping for the best.  What’s even more annoying is when the idiots in the film decide that the best course of action is to split up.  Why?  By splitting up you’re only making it easier for the killer to get you.  Heck one of the people in your group may be the killer, so by splitting up, you are jeopardizing the lives of other people in your party.  The smartest thing you can do in this situation is stick together and run (or speed walk) like hell!
Yeah, what is that???
#2.) Thank god the killer is finally dead...oh wait never mind

Seriously, how are you all still alive???
So after 90+ minutes of watching the films protagonist run, dodge, and hide from the killer.  It all leads up to this moment between the hero and the villain.  When all is said and done, and the hero walks off into the sunset with his girlfriend, and we get one last glimpse of the killers lifeless body, when all-of-a-sudden their hand raises up towards the sky before falling back to the ground.  This cliché has been used in countless Horror films and is quite popular in helping lead in to sequel films, but after seeing the killer get shot, stabbed, burnt, launched into outer space, trapped in an alternate dimension, you’re really asking the audience to throw away all their common sense and suspension of disbelief.  We’re only willing to let go of certain things, but if you ask me—in regards to Horror films—give it a rest after Roman Numeral III.

#1.) Let’s take a nice quiet drive the country were everyone is a psychotic homicidal inbred hillbilly.

Since the release of films like “Deliverance”, “I Spit On Your Grave”, and others people tend to be terrified of traveling out into rural locations.  But why do so many people (or should I say Americans?) assume that all people who live in rural parts of a country are a bunch of psychotic inbred maniacs?  I’ve lived in the city and I’ve lived in rural towns, and I have always felt more safe living in a rural town then I did in a city.  I don’t understand why more people are afraid of being in the woods at night then they are at the city at night.  Granted, each area is scary in its own right.  The argument could be made that the woods are a more terrifying place, because when there’s less people around and you run into trouble, it’s less likely that someone will be able to come to your aid.  Also, it’s not what’s there in the woods that are scary, but all the things that could be there, that are the most terrifying.  However, I look at it like this:  If I was lost at night, I think I would run into more danger in a city then I would in a rural area. Why don’t they ever make a film about people from the country who travel into the city and have to fight off people in the city who are trying to kill them?                                   
Dale & Tucker are so misunderstood
    There was a film released in 2010 called “Tucker & Dale vs. the Evil”, which took the premise of a group of college age kids getting stranded in the country with a couple of Redneck/Hillbilly characters.  However, instead of the story being told from the perspective of the college kids, it’s told from the perspective of our redneck characters, Tucker & Dale. It’s more comedic then scary, but it is nonetheless a truly enjoyable film, and I highly recommend it.  I don’t know why, this has become such a popular cliché, because it’s just seems so realistic in this day in age.  The country is such a lovely place to visit and enjoy...unless you hear banjos playing, in that case, run like hell in the other direction.