Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Classics: A Review of The Grand Budapest Hotel By Lauren Ennis

Wilkommen, bienvenue, and welcome!
In response to the innumerable hardships of the Great Depression, Hollywood released a series of irreverent comedies throughout the 1930’s that gave viewers a chance to escape from their problems and kept them coming back for their next comedic fix. These comedies, known as screwball comedies, featured whimsical and often bizarre plots in which characters attempt to hilariously maneuver through outrageous obstacles. As political and financial tensions continue to mount, our own generation could use a healthy dose of screwball escapism. Fortunately, there is a new release which not only provides the zany fun of the 1930’s tradition, but also adds a sharp modern edge; The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The story begins in 1968 as an unnamed British writer (Jude Law) visits the long since dilapidated Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional country of Zubrowka in hopes of finding some inspiration. Over the course of his stay, the writer befriends the hotel’s mysterious proprietor, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who tells the writer the tale of how he rose from a life of poverty to become the business tycoon that he is today. The film then flashes back to the 1930’s as young Zero (Tony Revolori) begins on the job training in his new position as the hotel’s lobby boy under the tutelage of the hotel’s legendary concierge, Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Zero soon learns that the debonair Gustave goes above and beyond his duties as concierge, and provides additional services as a ‘companion’ (or as I prefer, gigolo) to many of the wealthy matrons who frequent the hotel. All is well for the unlikely duo until one of Gustave’s lady-friends (Tilda Swinton) is found poisoned and her scheming relatives (headed by Adrien Brody) conveniently place the blame on Gustave, who has inherited a priceless work of art beseeched to him in her will. A madcap caper ensues as Zero attempts to break Gustave out of prison and catch the killer, all while attempting to keep hold of both the priceless painting and his relationship with local baker’s assistant, Agatha (Saoirse Ronan).

Through its combination of a fictionalized 1930’s setting and screwball antics, the film harkens back to the comedies of Hollywood’s Golden Age from start to finish. Fiennes’ Gustave fills a role that in an earlier era would have been reserved for plucky actresses such as Carole Lombard or Katherine Hepburn. As the film progresses, Gustave is revealed to be a modernist take on Don Quixote who sees nothing but beauty and pleasure in an increasingly difficult and ugly world. Much like Hollywood’s former leading men and ladies before him, Fiennes imbues his hapless hero with an endearing if delusional idealism that both lends credibility to the plot’s often outrageous proceedings and makes it impossible for viewers not to root for him. Tony Revolori’s Zero provides an excellent straight man, grounding a story that otherwise revolves around Fiennes’ chaotic center. Revolori’s deadpan delivery and apt comedic timing, played against Fiennes’ zany enthusiasm makes the pair a formidable comedy team.

Our charming hosts
The film’s whimsy is heightened by its equally dizzying plot and set design. After the initial straightforward opening, the story begins spiraling into a complex web of intrigue and thrills. Each step that Gustave and Zero take towards finding the truth serves to put them into another, even more odd, conundrum than the one that preceded it. This approach allows the film to make the most of its standard mystery premise and utilize it to the highest comedic potential. Similarly, the film’s set, ranging from the pastel rococo design of the hotel to the quaint storybook-esque city surrounding it, gives the film an unreal quality befitting a fantasy or fairytale. Each surface of the hotel is shown in bright colors more befitting a dessert than a luxury hotel, and the landscapes outside hold a cut and paste quality that makes the entire film resemble a cinema sized pop-up book.  As a result, the implausible antics of the plot seem perfectly believable in this world of make believe.

Through its winning combination of nostalgic humor and modern sensibility, The Grand Budapest Hotel provides modern audiences with the sort of beguiling comedy that has been sorely lacking in cinema for several decades. With excellent performances, a razor sharp script, and an enchanting set, the film transports audiences into another time and place where unknown dangers and unexpected punch lines wait around every corner. The film manages to walk the fine line between genre homage and original venture and is guaranteed to earn appreciation from both classic film fans and modern cinema buffs alike. So join Zero and Gustave and check into the Grand Budapest; chances are you’ll want to extend your stay.

The lord of the grannies

A review of "The Mummy" (1932)

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A ‘Classics’ review of “The Mummy” (1932)

By: Brian Cotnoir

I can’t tell you all how much I enjoy the “Universal Horror Monsters”.  They are one of the essential pillars of great Horror films.  Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, the list just goes on and on.  I got into the Universal Horror Monsters after watching Bela Lugosi in the original “Dracula” film (and I strangely enough got interested in Bela Lugosi after watching Edward D. Wood Jr.’s “Glen or Glenda”).  So I’ve always had a soft spot for Bela Lugosi, but to be honest I never was that into Boris Karloff.  Then I saw “The Black Cat” and I became more interested in checking out his works.  For those of you who live under a rock, Boris Karloff is known most famously for being the actor who played the monster in the original “Frankenstein” film.  I was going to review that, but one can be said about “Frankenstein” that hasn’t already been said, so I decided to review one of his less-popular (shall we say) monster movie roles and I decided to review “The Mummy”.                    

    So “The Mummy” Starts off Egypt in 1921 in Egypt.  Sir Joseph Whemple and one of his colleagues uncover the mummy of Imhotep.  What Sir Joseph and his colleagues find most unsettling is that Imhotep does not have any surgeon scars on his corpse, leaving them to suspect that he may have been embalmed and entombed alive as a sort of punishment.  After Sir Joseph’s assistant reads from the forbidden “Scroll of Thoth” Imhotep comes back from the dead and takes the Scroll of Thoth before disappearing.  Ten Years pass and Sir Joseph’s son, Frank, has followed in his father’s footsteps and is on an archeological dig of his own in Egypt.  A mysterious stranger by the name of Ardath Bey tells Frank and his colleagues of a supposed un-opened tomb of the Egyptian Princess Ankh-es-en-amon.  Frank and his colleagues discover the princesses’ tomb and have her body and other treasures brought to the Museum in Cairo.  Ardath Bey (SPOILERS!)is actually the resurrected mummy of Imhoteph and Ankh-es-amon was his lover over 3,700 years ago who he tried to bring back from the dead, but is unable too.  Imhotep comes across a woman, named Helen Grosvenor, who is half-British and half-Egyptian, and bears a striking resemblance to Ankh-es-en-amon.  Imhotep will stop at nothing to make Helen his bride, but Frank Whemple is willing to fight him to the death to win the heart of the woman he (claims to) love.           
Just look how bored they look
So how would I describe this film?  Oh, I know.  It’s duuuuuull.  When you compare this film to other Universal Horror greats like “Dracula”, “Frankenstein”, “The Wolf man”, and “Phantom of the Opera”; yes, “The Mummy” is quite dull.  Most of the film was kind of mimicked after the same plot to “Dracula”:  There’s a pretty girl, the monster attempts to seduce her, the hero comes in destroys the monster and saves the girl.  The End.  The only real differences in “The Mummy” are character names, and they replace the crucifix in “The Mummy” with an ankh to ward of bad guy.  I was actually falling asleep in my seat trying to make it through this film, and it’s not even that long; it’s only 73 minutes!  That’s how bored I got. 

No really, he's the villain?  I would've never guessed!
    Not to mention there’s no suspense.  We already know that Karloff is playing the mummy in the film, so when he appears as Ardath Bey, it’s not like it’s revealed to be a huge twist-to-the-plot, because you from the second that Ardath Bey introduces himself in the film that it’s clearly Boris Karloff, and he’s clearly the bad guy.                                   
He's such a tool!
Also, can I please talk about how much I hate the character Frank Whemple.  Okay, so he’s supposedly an archeologist, and yet we never see him do any digging (he hires the Egyptian locals to do that for him), and yet he get’s almost all the credit for discovering Ahnk-es-en-amon’s tomb?  Then he finds Miss Grovesnor trying to get into the museum after closing (because she was under Imhotep’s spell) and he decides that he is “in love” with her and wants to marry her.  Oh My Osiris, he is a boring and awful character.  I don’t think it would be fair to call him a “hero” because he doesn’t do anything.  He doesn’t even save the girl!  She has to save both of them from Imhotep’s evil deeds.  And I’m just going to come out and say it:  the ending is really weak.  Probably, one of the worst ending’s I’ve ever seen to a film                           
Im just gonna take this...okay?
Now as much as I am bashing this film there are something’s I found cool about this film is that even though it’s pretty much the same plot as “Dracula” it also got some of its influence from the real life Discovery of “King Tut’s Tomb” in 1922.  The Discover of the Tomb of Tutankhamen was one of the Biggest and Most Popular Discoveries of the early 20th Century.  So it was smart on Universal Studio’s part to try and capitalize on the popularity of the tombs discovery.  Also Karloff’s mummy make-up looks really good.  I did some research on it and found out that his make-up for the opening scene where he is dressed up as a mummy took 7-hours to do!  That is some serious dedication to your work.  The only thing that makes these “effects” more impressive is that I think they’re still better than the CGI effects in the 1999 remake as well (granted, I haven’t seen all of “The Mummy” remake)                             
     My advice to you is that if you are fan of Classic Horror Films and you want to see something good with Karloff in it go see “The Black Cat” (1934) or “Frankenstein”, and whatever you do just skip “The Mummy”.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The 10 WORST Films I've reviewed (so far)

Confessions of a Film Junkie: The 5 Worst Films I’ve Reviewed (So far)

By: Brian Cotnoir

     For those of you who follow my posts on a week-to-week basis, you already know how critical I am when it comes to reviewing films, and also how negative I can be.  I’ve made lists of my favorite films, my least favorite films, the films that have influenced me, the films that I think are the Best, and even the films that managed to disturb me.  Probably the question I get asked the most on this blog—especially after I post a negative review of a film—is “so is this [like] the worst film you’ve ever seen?”.                                    
     I have to say, I really do put a lot of thought into what I’m writing when I post a film review, and when I say I didn’t like a film, I am going to let you know everything I thought was wrong with it.  I want to help prevent people from being unfortunate to watch some of these garbage films.  In the past I have been openly vocal about how much I despise films like “Sleeping Beauty” (2011), “Caligula”, “Everyone Says I Love You”, and pretty much everything made by Uwe Boll or Tyler Perry.  But believe it or not, there are actually other films that I’ve watched and reviewed that I consider worst then these.  So here is a list of the “10 Worst Films I’ve reviewed (so far).  I can guarantee you 100% that I will do another one of these somewhere down the road, either a “10 More of the Worst films I’ve reviewed so far” or maybe, I’ll write a Retrospect on this list a year later and see if my opinions have changed at all on it.

#10.) Necrosis: Blood Snow

     So I originally reviewed “Necrosis: Blood Snow” as part of my “2-4-1 Special of Danielle De Luca”.  What makes “Necrosis” Blood Snow” so bad is that the story has no lack of focus or central story.   This film has four different subplots and they have almost nothing to do with one another.  You think, you know what’s going to happen and then they throw in a plot twist that does not pay off.  Not to mention this film tries to rip off films like “The Shining and “Dead Snow”.  You could make a drinking game out of how many half-a$$ed references are made to other much better Horror films in “Nercrosis: Blood Snow”.

#9.)  Open Graves

I can’t believe I wasted time watching and reviewing this film.  “Open Graves” is like a D-Movie version of “Final Destination”.  The script is terrible, the special effects are inferior, and the acting is just bad.  The person I feel most bad for in this film is Eliza Dushku, because to her credit she is actually a talented and likeable actress, so it confuses me as to why she is appearing in a film as bad and as moronic as “Open Graves”.  I really hope that she knew this film was going to be bad and took the role not because she wanted to be in it, but because she thought that since the film is set in Spain, she’d at least get a paid vacation to Spain for appearing in this awful film.  At least that’s what I hope.

#8.) Glen or Glenda

Yeah, I know shouldn’t be surprised that something directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.—who many people consider to be the Worst film Director of All-Time—is bad, but I feel this film gets overlooked for how bad it is.  I’ve heard so many people say that “Plan 9 From Outer Space” (another one of Wood’s films) is even Worst Film of All-Time, but I respectfully disagree.  Roughly, one-fourth of “Glen or Glenda” is the same stock footage being shown again and again throughout the film, and it looks very bad and unprofessional.  “Glen or Glenda” was also the first collaboration between Wood and Hollywood Legend Bela Lugosi.  Lugosi’s role has no effect on the plot whatsoever.  He appears at the beginning of the film, and then briefly in the middle, and he just doesn’t look like he belongs in the film; he looks like he belongs in another, much better film.  This film is semi-autobiographical and reflects Wood’s real life secret of being a transvestite.  It’s bad, and I think it’s safe to say that Ed Wood’s debut film is also his worst.

#7.)  Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet

I stand by my original review of this film: Director Frank Sabatella has the worst case of adult ADHD ever. Because that is the only logical explanation I could reach for a film that has a story that is this jumbled.  It’s not scary, it’s not an original story, and there’s more nudity than kills in this film.  Not to mention this film helped me set a personal best for accurately predicting the ending to a film I’ve only seen for the first time.  After only 8 minutes I predicted with 100% accuracy how this film was going to end.  If a guy like me—some hack Film Critic who runs his own blog—can predict an ending to a film that fast, just imagine how quickly a person as intelligent as you can guess the ending.  This film has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and it saddens me that the cast to this film includes horror movie greats like Bill Moseley and Danielle Harris.  Oh, and this film also features a Dushku (Nathaniel Dushku, older brother to Eliza Dushku who we’ve already talked about on this list).

#6.)  Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck

Okay, this is without a doubt the worst Serial Killer bio-pic ever made.  I reviewed this film as part of my “2-4-1 Special of Corin Nemic in Horror Part I” and it was painful to sit through.  This was one of three films based on a famous serial killer that Corin Nemec has appeared in, and it is without a doubt the worst of them.  This film was written and directed by Michael Fiefer who wrote and directed six straight to DVD films about the lives of famous American serial killers in a two year span.  Corin Nemec, as much as I enjoy him as an actor is terrible in this film.  He is so over-the-top and annoying in this film that it makes me want to go out and commit my own horrific crimes.  Fortunately for Mr. Nemec his acting had greatly improved by the time he played Ted Bundy in “Bundy: An American Icon” and he managed to tone down some of that over the top rage from “Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck”.

#5.) The Mooring

So.  Much. Awful!
This 2012 film is bad, and it is that it is probably the Most Boring (classified as a) “Horror/Thriller” I have ever seen.  What makes it so boring is that all the main characters are comprised of the least interesting demographic in the world: Teenage girls.  Listen to a group of 13-15 year old girls talk for about 10-15 minutes and tell me how many “interesting” things they talk about in their conversation.  Now imagine that conversation stretched out into a 90 minute film and you have an incredibly dull film.  Most of the dialogue in this film comprises of high-pitched screaming and crying.  And of course we get that great Horror cliché: villain is an evil murderous redneck for the sake of being an evil murderous redneck.  Nothing of interest happens in this film. It is a weak story, with weak dialogue, and weak characters.  Just don’t even bother with it, it’s that bad.     

#4.)  Teen Witch
Shes worst than Bella from "Twilight"

Easily, one of the Worst Films of the 1980’s, “Teen Witch” is a God awful mess of a film.  Though, I suppose it’s not entirely the film’s fault.  During the 1980’s and 1990’s a lot of successful films and television series tried capitalizing on their popularity by making and releasing shows that were made to be more girlie so it can be marketed towards a female audience.  “Teen Witch” was made and marketed towards girls in the 1980’s following the success of the Michael J. Fox film, “Teen Wolf”.  However, “Teen Witch” is nowhere near as successful as “Teen Wolf”, and it’s very apparent why.  The dialogue is moronic, the acting is second rate, and the story has a ton of plot holes.  It is boring, it is uninteresting, and I still honestly believe that this is the Worst film you could ever let your children watch.

#3.) Cool World

At least you still have a career, Brad
Oh my...this film.  This film is absolute trash!  I can’t even begin to tell you how much I despise it.  This film is half animation, half live-action and it’s like the bastard off spring of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”.  Just to give you all an idea of how much I hate this film: when I was in college, my friends and I used to go to this local comic book shop up the street and they had a Cardboard cutout display from when “Cool World” was being shown in theatres for sale, and I can’t tell you how many times I contemplated buying it just so I could burn it.  I never did, because I had better things to spend $90 on.  When watching “Cool World” so many questions will come up, like; what the hell is wrong with Ralph Bakshi?  Why does everything he make, in regards to animation, have to be so freaking weird and unpleasant? I mean my God this film is wrong on so many different levels.  How the hell did it only garner a PG-13 rating?   It’s a good thing Brad Pitt is so damn good looking or else he would not have had a career after appearing in this film. I ranked this film #1 on my list of “Top 10 Films that make me want to punch somebody in the face” and I think the only appropriate thing to do with this film is to gather all copies of this film put it in a vault encase that vault in concrete and then dump down the deepest trench of the ocean so no one will ever be forced to sit through it or see it again.  

2.) H.P. Lovecraft’s The Tomb

Oh my...this one is a doozy.  I only reviewed this film a few weeks ago, and I felt it was more than deserving of the number two spot on this list. This film is a failure on so many different levels.  For one thing it has nothing to do with the source material that it takes its title from, in fact author H.P. Lovecraft is barely even mentioned in this film.  Another part where “The Tomb” fails miserably is that it is trying so hard to rip off the film “Saw”.  I think a group of High School Seniors could make a better adaptation than the films writer/director Ulli Lommel.  Everything about this film is cheap: the sets, the cast, the costuming, the story, the film equipment.  I think anyone who had anything to do with this film should be black listed and never allowed to work in Hollywood ever again.  I don’t think the cast and crew of this film are even qualified enough to do porn or public access that’s show bad of a film this is.  I said it before, that this is probably the Worst Straight to Video Film ever made, and it’s also one of the Worst Horror films ever made as well.  No one should ever have to be subjugated to see “H.P. Lovecraft’s The Tomb” ever, for any reason. 

#1.) Birdemic: Shock & Terror

Even Helen Keller thinks it sucks!
Wow...this film is bad!  The film’s director spent 4 years working on this film and it’s still worst then “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, worst then “Troll 2”, worst than “ThanksKILLING”, it’s worst then anything that I have reviewed so far.  This film is not a poorly done adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.   “Birdemic: Shock & Terror” is like if Uwe Boll videotaped Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” being gang raped by “The Room” and “Highlander II”.  And the scariest part of this is that I know somewhere down the road I will find something worst then “Birdemic: Shock & Terror”.  I say that because I have this theory that films can and do get progressively worst over time due to technological advances. I can forgive a film like “Plan 9...” for being bad because even with all its many MANY faults, you know that Ed Wood was trying his damndest to make a good film.  Even a film like “ThanksKILLING” I can forgive because it was made bad on purpose, but this sh!t is inexcusable.  If you cannot afford decent enough CGI effects to make your film, then don’t make it.  Put it on hold or wait till better more cost effective effects come out, but do not give me this piece of sh!t film with “actors” I’m sure you probably picked up at Starbucks and use effects that make Ed Wood’s “Hub Cap Spaceships” look like The Enterprise and market it as a modernization of a beloved classic Horror film.   The State of California should pass a law making it illegal to make or release a film as bad  or worst then “Birdemic: Shock & Terror”.  I shudder to think of the possible cine-massacre that could replace this film as the Worst Film I’ve Reviewed So far.

Classics: A Review of The Public Enemy By Lauren Ennis

Such nice boys

Before Henry Hill and his associates taught audiences the meaning of the term ‘goodfella’, before Tony Montana introduced us all to his ‘little friend, and before Don Corleone made offers no viewer could refuse there was a scrappy bootlegger called Tom Powers trying to make his mark in Chicago’s underworld. Through his multifaceted characterization, James Cagney made Tom Powers one of Hollywood’s most dynamic villains and its first gangster whom audiences couldn’t help but root for. With this film, Cagney introduced his unique persona to filmgoers and the gangster genre has never been the same since. In belated honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this week’s review will pay a much deserved tribute to this groundbreaking tale of the Irish mob that set the stage for decades of gangster films to come.

The story follows the traditional gangster tale formula of detailing the rise and fall of its protagonist, the tough talking and fast shooting gangster, Tom Powers. The film begins not with Tom’s introduction to his life of crime, however, but instead with his childhood in 1915. The opening scenes reveal that while Tom’s family was far from perfect, they were essentially an average family attempting to make a decent living. The story continues as Tom and his friend, Matt Doyle (Ed Woods), begin committing petty crimes for the Fagin-like con artist, Putty Nose (Murray Kinnell). As time goes on, the boys work their way up to committing more serious and sophisticated crimes until Putty Nose assigns them to rob a fur warehouse. After the robbery goes awry, the boys learn that Putty Nose has already left town, leaving them to face all repercussions alone. The robbery forces the boys to lay low and temporarily forgo their burgeoning criminal careers until they are approached by local bootlegger, Paddy Ryan, (Robert Emmett O’Connor) to join his mob as enforcers. The two eagerly accept the offer and begin living the high life of wealth and women of the Prohibition-era underworld. Just as it seems that they are about to reach the top of their game, however, Tom and Matt find themselves in the midst of a city-wide gang war and learn that they might not be ‘so tough’ after all.

One of the most notable aspects of The Public Enemy is the gritty and brutal realism with which it portrays Prohibition-era mob life. Throughout the film, the victims of Tom and his associates are continually referenced as reminders of the all too real price that society pays when it glamorizes its criminals. Similarly, all of the gangsters, while initially likable, are quickly revealed to be duplicitous and ruthless in their interactions with both their enemies and their supposed friends. The extent of gangland brutality is expertly captured in the infamous scene in which Tom smashes half a grapefruit in his girlfriend’s face for talking back, and another scene in which Tom guns down a former associate as the man pleads for his life. As a result, while Tom is the film’s protagonist, he is never presented as anything remotely resembling a hero. This approach, while typical of the film’s era is refreshing in a time in which criminals are routinely presented as loveable rebels. Through this gritty approach to its subject, the film is able to present an accurate account of both mob life and the people who inhabit it.

Good mornin', good mornin'...
While most of the elements that make up the film’s plot have since become standard fare, several members of the cast more than make up for the story’s more dated elements. Murray Kinnell’s performance as the charmingly shameless Putty Nose brings comic relief to the film’s early scenes and pathos to its later scenes when a hardened Tom seeks him out for revenge. Similarly, Robert Emmett O’Connor’s Paddy Ryan is such a genuinely likable character that O’Connor almost makes audiences forget about the bloodshed that his character is responsible for. One of the film’s most interesting turns is from Beryl Mercer as Tom’s childishly naïve mother. In her portrayal, Mercer presents a portrait of a woman so desperate for a happy home that she deludes herself about her son and completely blind herself to the reality of his criminal lifestyle. Mae Clarke adds spunk to her role as Tom’s neglected girlfriend, making her performance far more enjoyable than Jean Harlowe’s bland portrayal of Tom’s new girlfriend, which unfortunately comes across as more of a script reading than a full-fledged performance. The supporting cast members lend apt support, particularly Ed Woods and Leslie Fenton as Matt and fellow gangster Nails Nathan.

Despite the many enjoyable performances in the film, The Public Enemy undoubtedly belongs to its star, James Cagney. At the time of the film’s production, Hollywood was still adjusting to the advent of ‘talking’ pictures and many writers, directors, and actors were still relying upon obsolete techniques left over from the silent era. As a result, many of the films released at the start of the 1930’s possess an awkward, stilted, quality due to a combination of minimalist plots, stagey dialogue, and most noticeably, overacted performances. The Public Enemy, however, contains a charge that is nothing short of electric as audiences witness Cagney’s neighborhood tough evolve into a truly ruthless criminal. This is due in large part to Cagney’s previous experience working on the New York stage before beginning his film career, which provided him with a foundation in improvising and realistic acting. Cagney also brought his real life experiences into play as he utilized his knowledge of city life and the colorful characters who inhabit it to imbue his performance with a strangely endearing combination of street smarts, personal insecurity, ambition, and gritty charm. The depth and energy of his performance makes Tom stand out as far more than just another tough guy and instead makes him an accurate portrait of the dark side of the American Dream during the Great Depression. His performance is truly multidimensional as he effortlessly shifts between Tom’s hardened persona in front of his friends, to his insecurity at home, to his relentless need to prove his worth on the streets. Cagney’s turn in The Public Enemy remains one of the most fascinating and entertaining portrayals of a criminal in cinema, and an example of the modern acting that would soon overtake Hollywood as it entered its Golden Age.

Through its striking realism, The Public Enemy was one of the first films to show 1930’s audiences the true potential of sound film. The film provides an excellent portrayal of the temptation and inevitable failings of criminal life that remain as alluring and chilling today as they were upon the film’s original release. The film brought James Cagney to viewers’ attention, launching what would become a legendary career that spanned over five decades. Join Cagney and the rest of the cast for a truly explosive good time that you won't soon forget.

You still look pretty tough to me, Tommy

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Classics: A Review of The Quiet American By Lauren Ennis

Hi didelly dee an expat's life for me!
One of cinema’s most powerful genres is the war film. Through their depiction of the physical destruction and mental devastation that war inflicts upon soldiers and civilians alike, the best war films tell universal tales that are relatable to people of all eras, cultures, and lifestyles. One of the shortcomings of watching period war films, however, is that they are unable to provide the full story of any given conflict within the confines of the screen. As a result, it is difficult for viewers to see the big picture of the numerous events leading up to or gain insight into the reasons behind any given conflict. One unique war film, however, chronicles not only the turmoil of war but also the various political intrigues that spark and fuel it; The Quiet American. Through its portrayal of civil unrest and domestic distress in 1950’s Vietnam, The Quiet American provides an unusual and unusually informative take on the Vietnam War, which its story foreshadows.

The story begins in 1952 Saigon as British reporter Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) introduces viewers to the seeming paradise of his expatriate life. Fowler spends his days writing bland articles chronicling the most obvious events of the civil war unfolding between colonialists and communists in the northern part of Vietnam, and his nights doting upon his Vietnamese mistress, Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). The simple comforts of Fowler’s life are soon called into question, however, with the arrival of American aid worker Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), whose friendship challenges Fowler’s stance upon the political events surrounding him. According to Pyle, neither colonialism nor communism is the solution to Vietnam’s troubles and a third, moderate, force must therefore be utilized to neutralize both sides. Fowler initially brushes off Pyle’s political theories as the vague, idealistic, dreams that are so common amongst the young and inexperienced. Despite their different political views, the two form a strong friendship that is later tested when Pyle falls in love with Phuong and offers her the two things that Fowler never can; marriage and passage out of Vietnam. When his newspaper requests that he return to London after determining that there is not enough of a story to cover, Fowler sets out to find the inside story behind the accepted Vietnam narrative. During his investigation, Fowler unexpectedly meets up with Pyle again and learns that there is far more to his American friend than naive ideals after all.

While numerous films have related varying accounts of the Vietnam War, The Quiet American stands out for its willingness to examine the reasons and events that led to it. Rather than taking a definitive stance, the film instead chooses an approach similar to that of its protagonist and observes as the intrigues between the conflicting factions unfold. The film relates both the financial motives and paternalistic approach that fueled the colonial rule of the French controlled government of Indochina (the colonial name for Vietnam), as well the oppression that led to the nation’s eventual communist uprising. The film delves even deeper into the politics of the time by including the covert tactics utilized by the United States in Vietnam and other nations throughout the Cold War. The most effective aspect of the film’s political portrayal is the way in which all sides are shown to be equally and ruthlessly devoted to their own goals, regardless of the damage that will be inflicted upon the civilian population in order for those goals to be achieved.

The film was originally due to be released in September, 2001, but was held back after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, as its politically charged story was deemed to be ‘anti-American’, rather than simply anti-war. It was this same view of the story that led MGM to alter Pyle’s character and soften the film’s ending in their 1958 adaptation, which both nullified the message of Graham Green’s original novel and limited the story’s emotional impact. In order to avoid a possible backlash, Miramax planned to release the film straight to dvd, but fortunately reconsidered after being persuaded to test the film at the Toronto International Film Festival by star Michael Caine. The film went on to become a critical success at the festival and an even greater success later at the Academy Awards in which Caine was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The story remains as effective an anti-war tale today as it was upon the novel’s publication in 1955 and has as much, if not more, poignancy and relevance in today’s world of complicated and conflicted international relations.

A greencard is always a solid basis for a marriage
While the central love triangle serves as an excellent metaphor for the rival forces competing for control of Vietnam (Fowler represents complacent Europe while Pyle represents idealistic America) the domestic struggle that it creates is just as complicated and compelling as the political struggle that provides its backdrop. Instead of one man being the clear choice for Phuong, both men are shown to be equally in love with her and both are later revealed to be guarding secrets from her. Initially, Fowler’s relationship with her seems to be a superficial one based upon his physical attraction and her need for financial stability. This first impression is further reinforced when Fowler confides in Pyle that the reason that he and Phuong are living together rather than married is because he already has a wife whom he left behind in London. Similarly, Pyle’s relationship with her is based upon his need to protect and take care of someone, and she in turn is all too happy to be taken care of. As the film continues, however, Pyle’s desire to take care of both Phuong and her country is shown to be far more complicated and dangerous than a simple need to help others. The love triangle turns even more convoluted when Pyle is eventually revealed to be working in Vietnam as a CIA agent rather than an aid worker, and the true depth of Fowler’s feelings for Phuong finally becomes all too clear to both her and viewers. As a result, audiences are able to empathize with all three parties, which in turn enables them to become more engaged with both the characters and the overall story.

Although the film’s script is excellent, the final product would not have been nearly as effective or intriguing without its talented cast. As the world weary Fowler, Michael Caine demonstrates equal parts cynicism and vulnerability, making him equally convincing as both a detached playboy expatriate and a crusading reporter. The subtlety of his performance allows him to display a full range of contradicting emotions while remaining believable and relatable. Similarly, Brendan Fraser perfectly captures Pyle’s outward naivety and hidden ruthlessness with equal skill. His portrayal of Pyle is particularly worth noting for the fact that even after Pyle’s double life is revealed he is still able to maintain his character’s initial idealism, providing credibility to Pyle’s devotion to what he tells himself is a just cause. Finally, Do Hai Yen provides a fascinating performance as the enigmatic Phuong, elevating her heroine beyond a mere symbol into a flesh and blood woman.

For its mature approach to a complex topic, The Quiet American is a film that will continue to inform and entertain for years to come. Through its exploration of the early causes and intrigues that preceded the Vietnam War, the film provides excellent insight into how and why the war occurred. Through its intelligent script, superb performances, and gorgeous cinematography, the film provides viewers with a combination of romance, mystery, intrigue, and atmosphere that is both entertaining and informative. While the story of The Quiet American is specific to Vietnam, its message is one that remains relevant in any age or nation.

Oh what a tangled web we weave...


A review of "Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Salo, or the 120 of Sodom”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Why?...Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Furthermore, Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?                  
I'm guessing that's Italian for "Descent into Hell"???
...Why Do I continue to do this to myself?  This can’t be healthy for me.  As I’m typing this, I’m still clinging to the last few strands of my sanity.  I knew this day would come.  I knew someday I would take it upon myself to watch a film that’s more unpleasant than “Cannibal Holocaust”.  I have no one to blame, but myself for this disaster.  I did it to myself.  The fact that I chose to watch this film alone and in just one sitting speaks volumes of how strong of a will I have.  I threw up my mouth 3-times while watching this film; I shuddered countless times, and yet I did not look away from the screen.  I’m not going to talk about some of the more graphic details of the film, because I want to spare you the loss of your innocence, and I want to persuade you to AVOID THIS FILM BY ALL COSTS NECESARRY!  It’s just not worth it people.                 
It get's weirder...and a lot more awful throughout!
So the film is set in Italy during World War II.  A group led by four Fascist men sends out an order to have 9 young men and 9 young women forcefully taken from their families to be brought to compound where they are to be used as sex slaves for the men.  They are forced to sit on the floors and listen to a woman (who’s been a professional whore since she was about 7) recount all of her most bizarre and disgusting sexual experiences, all of which the young people are forced to re-create against their will by the four Fascist men and their armed guards.  What happens throughout the rest of the film can only be described as a descent into Hell.  I’ll spare you the details because I don’t want to destroy your sense of innocence and wonder like mine was destroyed.                             
    What can I say about the characters in this film?  They’re just downright evil and malevolent.  The whole time I was watching this film I just felt so bad for the actors who had to play the victims; the villains are that evil.  What’s even scarier is that almost the whole time I was watching “Salo” I completely forgot I was watching a film.  It’s not like I was watching a “Last House on the Left” or “Deadgirl” and I could just tell myself over and over again, “it’s just a movie”, I honestly started to believe that the characters in this film were being tortured.                                
You're a sick man, Fat Russell Crowe!!!
   You know the term “Torture Porn” is typically used to describe a film that’s excessively violent for the sake of being excessively violent (like “Hostel” or “Human Centipede”) and is usually widely enjoyed by people who see it because it’s excessively violent.  However, “Salo” is actual torture porn.  All the teenagers in this film are being humiliated, demeaned, and violated sexually and it’s all for the sake of helping these four men “get off”.  It’s not entertaining, it’s not enjoyable, it’s just sick and disgusting!  Who the hell wants to see a 20 minutes worth of scenes where the characters are forced to eat their own fecal matter?  It’s a 2-hour film with an hour-and-a-half of young people being raped and tortured; who the hell in their right mind would want to see that?  You’re always going to upset some people when you combine sex and violence, but if you do it as much as “Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom”, you’re not going to upset people, you’re going to offend them in ways unimaginable.    
    This film is too much, it just crosses way too many boundaries, and this is a statement coming from a guy who has sat through multiple viewings of “A Serbian Film”.  I’m not suggesting that you avoid this film I am BEGGING you to avoid it.  I didn’t listen to the other internet reviewers who told me to skip this one, and now I am paying the ultimate price.  If I can convince you to not see this film, then my suffering won’t have been in vain.  Please, if you are thinking of sitting through this film, don’t do it because you will end up regretting it for the rest of your life.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Classics: Five Cinema Icons Who Never Won an Oscar By Lauren Ennis

1.      GRETA GARBO: Known as “the Swedish Sphinx”, this star is today best remembered for 'wanting to be alone’. Throughout the 1920’s and into the early 1930’s, however, Greta Garbo was the undisputed queen of the silver screen. Despite her typecast start as a silent film vamp, Garbo was actually a versatile actress whose subtle approach to her craft broke the melodramatic standards set by her peers. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress on four occasions, including once for her comeback role in her first comedy, the 1939 political satire Ninotchka. Despite all the work that she put into her performances, Garbo never seemed to regret her Academy losses and instead came to dismiss her star status and resent the toll that it took upon her private life. She unofficially retired (she continued to review scripts and made a final screentest in 1949) from film in 1941 following the critical and commercial failure of her attempt at a follow-up comedic role in Two Faced Woman. She was awarded an Academy Honorary Award in 1955, which was accepted on her behalf by fellow actress Nancy Kelly as Garbo declined to attend the ceremony. Today, Greta Garbo remains an enigmatic cinema icon amongst classic film fans and was recently ranked fifth on the American Film Institute’s list of Greatest Female Stars of All Time.

2.      BARBARA STANWYCK: Domestic melodrama, screwball comedy, film noir, western; Brooklyn gal  Barbara Stanwyck proved her mettle in all these genres and more in a career that spanned nearly six decades. After making a modest beginning as a Broadway chorus girl, Stanwyck made her film debut in a silent bit part before quickly working her way up to becoming one of the most versatile actresses of all time. Never one to turn down a challenge, she used her chameleon-like skill to move with the changing trends of several eras, playing women of diverse ages and social classes with her trademark combination of street smarts and honest emotion. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress on four occasions, including her memorable turn as femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson in the 1945 noir classic Double Indemnity. True to her working class roots, Stanwyck was far more interested in continuing to work than in receiving awards, saying “I’m a tough old broad from Brooklyn. I intend to go on acting until I’m ninety”.  She finally won an Academy Honorary Award in 1982. Barbara Stanwyck remains a true cinema classic and a shining example of what an actress can achieve if she possesses talent, a good work ethic, and the willingness to try something new.

3.  CARY GRANT: Suave, sophisticated, and endlessly entertaining are just a few ways that fans would describe Cary Grant. After holding his own while starring opposite saucy sexpot Mae West in a pair of films in the early 1930’s ,Grant went on to become the most in demand leading man of the following three decades. Over the course of his career, he played a wide array of parts ranging from conflicted dramatic heroes to hapless comedic foils with equal skill. Unfortunately, Grant was and continues to be better known for his leading man good looks than his dramatic depth, and was unfairly overlooked as a mere ‘pretty face’ throughout his career. Beneath his debonair persona, however, lay a deep internal torment as he spent his life battling a severe case of depression, which led him to experiment with various forms of therapy and mood altering drugs, including prescribed LSD. He was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Actor for his roles in the dramas Penny Serenade and Suspicion, and was reportedly elated when he finally received an Academy Honorary Award in 1970. Today, Cary Grant is one of the most easily recognizable actors of Hollywood’s Golden Era and was recently ranked as the second greatest star on the American Film Institute’s list of Greatest Male Stars of All Time. Oh, and for the record, he never did say, “Judy, Judy, Judy”, although he did utter a slew of unforgettable lines throughout his expansive career.

4. ALFRED HITCHCOCK: The ‘master of suspense’ is so famous that even his silhouette is  instantly recognizable. Between 1922 and 1976, Hitchcock directed over fifty full length films as well as the pioneering suspense series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which lasted ten seasons. Over the course of his career, he debuted several stylistic techniques including voyeuristic camera movements, false flashbacks, and decoy plot devices known as ‘MacGuffins’. Through his innovative style he brought a more complicated form of suspense to cinema, which forced audiences to empathize with unsavory protagonists and acknowledge their own hidden dark sides. His most recognizable hits include Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds. Despite the success of his films today, many of his films were denounced by critics upon their release for breaking the established rules of film. He was nominated for five Academy Awards for Best Director, and although he did not win any of them, his 1941 film Rebecca won the Academy Award for Best Picture and several actors won Oscars for their roles in his films. Over time, Alfred Hitchcock has become synonymous with expert directing and the art of suspense for his ability to demonstrate a skill and innovation that many have imitated but none have equaled.

5. PETER O’TOOLE: From period pieces, to capers, to comedies, to biographies, to

musicals Peter O’Toole has proven himself to be an adept actor in nearly every film genre. O’Toole began his acting career not on the screen, but on the British stage as a Shakespearean actor with the English Stage Company. His breakout film was the epic Lawrence of Arabia in which he played the complicated and elusive WWI British army officer T. E. Lawrence. Following his successful introduction to American audiences in Lawrence, he starred in a series of successful films throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, including the historical dramas Becket and Lion in Winter. In the late 1970’s O’Toole underwent surgery for a misdiagnosed case of pancreatic cancer, which included removing a large portion of his pancreas and stomach. The surgery led to insulin-dependent diabetes and ultimately forced him to give up his addiction to alcohol. He later survived a near fatal blood disorder in 1978, but continued working steadily throughout the next three decades. At eight Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, he currently holds the record for the largest number of Academy Award nominations without winning, but did receive an Academy Honorary Award in 2003.

A review of "H.P. Lovecraft's The Tomb"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Review of “HP Lovecraft’s The Tomb”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Ho. Ly. Crap.  I...I’m almost a loss for words on this one folks.  I the hell did this...this film is just so...awful!  And what’s worse is that it claims to be an adaptation of one of the great works of H.P. Lovecraft, but in all actuality it has nothing to do with Lovecraft, it has nothing to do with anything, it’s just so awful, and I hate it! I Hate It! I HATE IT! All right, let’s not waste anymore time, let’s take a look at “H.P. Lovecraft’s The Tomb”.              
So the film opens with some guy in a cloak, wearing one of those cheap white face masks that you buy at a Halloween supply store, riding a horse, as he drops a girl, Tara, in an abandoned warehouse...this is the point where you should give up all hope on this film, the picture quality is so crappy, and the opening credits look like something you’d see in a High School News production, but I digress.  Let’s get back to this blasphemous atrocity of a film.  So Tara comes across a man named Billy and the two of them soon discover that they are pawns under a mysterious puppet master killer who we later find out is named Richard Leland Morris (but sometimes goes by the alias “Charles Dexter get it?!?!) and he is keeping the people there because they had all wronged him at some point in his life.  So the Puppet Master, instructs the people that they are “playing a game”, where there will only be one winner who gets to go free...and you know what I can’t continue on any more from here, because from this point on the film is just trying to rip-off “Saw”, and I don’t want to waste anymore time describing this plot to this abomination.                                     
Who did the Costumes for your film, IParty???
     So if sh!tting all over Lovecraft’s name isn’t bad enough this film also has to drag the “Saw” series into it as well.  Why?  “Saw” is already made and released by a better studio that makes more money than you will ever see, so why do you think that you can make your own much better version of the film?  It’s so very clear that they’re trying to rip “Saw” that you could probably make a drinking game out of all the “Saw” references in this film.  The film does mention Lovecraft, and by that I mean they say his name a few times, but it has absolutely zero connection to his original short story, which is really dumb.  That’s like making a Harry Potter film and changing the plot to make it more like “Citizen Kane”!  Some of you may remember from my “Re-Animator” review how I talk about how, so many films adapted from the works of Lovecraft stray away from his original stories and are typically poorly adapted, and this is probably the worst offender I’ve seen yet.  There is literally nothing that this film shares or copies from H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Tomb”,  The only thing this film does to H.P. Lovecraft is desecrate his name and work, and I’m sure somewhere in the 9th Dimension he is cursing this film.  Oh not to mention it has such a dumbest ending I’ve ever seen in a film.  Who the hell just gives person they just spent hours torturing a Porsche convertible and a suitcase full of cash?!  Oh and that “surprise twist ending” was even dumber than the original ending.                                              
His vengeance will be agonizing!
I’m shocked, at how bad this film is.  It is easily one of the Worst Films I have had the displeasure of watching on Netflix.  I’ll be honest the whole time I was watching this film, I convinced that this film had to be made by a group of High School students or entry level Film School students as part of a class project, but I was absolutely appalled to find out that this film was made by an actual studio because of how poorly it was done.  The acting is deplorable, the picture quality is sh!t, the audio is even worst—I had to watch the whole film with subtitles on because of how badly the sound was—and the “tomb” is clearly an abandoned warehouse with Halloween decorations hanging off of storage shelves.  Everything about this film looks so fake.                      
      I honestly cannot find one kind thing to say about this film.  It is an embarrassment, I don’t even think it deserves to be called a “film” or a “movie”, I think it should be called what it really is a God Awful Mess that should not be viewed by anyone.  Even a person who is clinically brain dead can realize that this film is total rubbish and offer absolutely zero entertainment.  “H.P. Lovecraft’s The Tomb” is easily one of the Worst Films ever made, and I think the films writer/director Ulli Lommel should be ashamed of releasing such a terrible film to the general public and the Netflix audience.