Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Classics: A Review of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe By Lauren Ennis

Lesson 1 Never wear fur when you're messiah is a giant cat
When it comes to love for either a person, place, or work of art there is truly no accounting for taste. As a result, for many viewers, films that were once viewed as ‘classics’ during childhood often lose their luster when viewed years later. This week I’ll be reviewing a childhood film that was beloved throughout my childhood although it hardly qualifies as a classic; the 1979 animated adaptation of C. S. Lewis’ classic fantasy The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe.

The film follows the story of Lewis’ novel and chronicles the adventures of the four Pevensie siblings; Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. The film begins with the children staying at the country home of Professor Kirke, but fails to explain why the children are staying there (the novel stated that the children are staying at the home after being evacuated during the London Blitz), which leaves the events of the story without the historical backdrop that provided the novel with added emotional weight. During their stay, youngest sibling Lucy discovers a portal to a magical world through an old wardrobe, marking the beginning of the children’s adventures. It is during this first visit to Narnia, a land populated with mythical creatures and talking animals, that Lucy befriends faun Mr. Tumnus, who unbeknownst to her initially plans to turn her over to the wolves who make up Narnia’s Gestapo-esque secret police. After having a conversation with the curious and amiable Lucy, however, Tumnus finds himself unable to betray the little girl’s trust and safely guides her home only to later be arrested for his efforts. Eventually, Lucy’s other siblings join her in Narnia and all four children find themselves embroiled in a resistance effort to overthrow the White Witch who has oppressed the land and restore its rightful ruler, talking lion Aslan, to his throne.

While the film may have been dazzling upon initial viewing for many children, the quality of its animation is laughable when compared to either the likes of today’s computer animation or skillful traditional animation from major motion picture companies like Disney. Throughout the film, characters move about in a stilted way, make unnatural facial expressions, and often fail to open their mouths when they speak, creating the unusual illusion that they are actually talking through their teeth. Also, while the human characters are more realistically drawn, the talking animals that populate Narnia are often drawn in such a ‘cartoonish’ way that the two sets of characters seem as though they belong in separate films. Perhaps the most noticeable laziness on the animators’ part is the recurring use of a handful of images that are recycled throughout the film for its chase scenes that are so limited as to make the stock backgrounds of such television shows as The Flinstones and The Jetsons appear expansive. 

Did Red Riding Hood teach you nothing about talking to strangers?!
While the film’s animation is certainly lacking, the film’s creators did do justice to the original source by closely following the original novel. The film refuses to shy away from the obvious religious subtext of the story and instead remains true to Lewis’ original intention by portraying Aslan’s persecution and subsequent resurrection as a child-friendly metaphor for the tale of Christ. By following the story’s original allegory, the film provides the story with the gravitas and depth that made the original a bestselling classic. The film also maintains many of the secondary characters from the novel, which in turn allows for Narnia to truly feel like a world unto itself full of its own mixture of social classes, species, and political allegiances. Fortunately, the voice-over performances also capture the personalities of the characters in such a way that brings them to life and propels audiences’ investment in their struggles. Unfortunately, however, the lack of any mention of World War II and the animators’ use of 1970’s fashions places the story out of its original historical context and therefore removes the parallels between the Allied struggle against Axis forces and the similar struggle between Aslan’s supporters and the forces of the White Witch.

While it is certainly no Oscar contender, this adaptation will always remain my favorite version of the C. S. Lewis classic. The film successfully manages to relate the original novel’s expansive drama into a manageable ninety-five minutes without sacrificing any substance or depth. While its rudimentary animation would spur more laughs than wonder today, there is no denying the film’s ability to transport young viewers to the magic and amazing world that is Narnia. While I’ll be first to point out the film’s many technical flaws, I can’t deny the memories of wonder and possibility that come flooding back to me each time I put on my scratchy old VHS copy. In the end, isn’t it that sense wonder and possibility that movies are all about?

Turkish Delight: Making chocolate uncomfortably sexual since 1979

A review of "Carnival of Souls"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Carnival of Souls”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     I don’t say this often on this blog.  Usually, I’m very opinionated on a film, but for probably only the second or third time since I started this blog I am absolutely flabbergasted over how I feel about this film?  It’s not bad, but I didn’t find that all that good, it had some interesting twists to the plot, but I had a few questions, and...I’m not 100% sure about what is going on.  So please, bear with me as I try to give this film a just review.  So let’s dive into “Carnival of Souls”             
This 1962 Independent Horror Film “Carnival of Souls” is beloved by many, and I recently had the opportunity to watch it for the first time.  So the film starts off with three young women being challenged to a drag race, by two other men.  The race takes a deadly turn as the two cars race off a rickety old bridge and the car with the girls in it drives off the bridge and into the river.  All looks hopeless except for one girl, name Mary who managed to be the sole survivor of the accident.  Some time passes by after the accident and Mary decides to leave her hometown and start a new life and career as a Church Organist in Utah.  While in Utah, she comes across a mysterious abandoned building that she was told was a bath house, than a dance hall before finally ending as a carnival.  Shortly after visiting the old building she begins to see a mysterious and ghastly old man wherever she goes.  Not only that, but she has moments where no one can apparently see or hear her, which confuses her.  Is Mary starting to lose her sanity or is there something more malevolent and sinister after her?                   
Screw this!  Next year I'm going to the circus intstead
    So, I can understand why people like this film.  It has memorable visuals, and a great plot, but is it really as good as a lot of people say?  Let me talk about some of the things I didn’t like about the film?  The main character, Mary, can be an interesting character at points, but she can also be a very weak character at points.  One thing that you get from her performance is that she is very anti-social, you very rarely see her interacting with other people on her own free will, and she prefers mostly to keep to herself.  The mystery around Mary is great, but there is no pay off, which I guess means it makes her character more interesting, but I still don’t feel like her character was developed enough.          
Oh Your God is he a TOOL!
Then there is Mr. Lyndon (the only other major character in the plot with a big speaking role).  He is such a tool.  He’s uneducated, he’s a drinker, and he is just full of himself.  From the first time we meet him on screen it’s very clear that all he cares about is getting into Mary’s pants.  He tries way too hard to get her to like him, and he fails miserably each time.  Not to mention the way he talks throughout the film comes off as “I like you, so that means you should f*ck me”.  This is the type of man mothers are always warning their daughters to avoid.  He is a detestable character, and I wish that his character would have been killed off in the film at some point.     
FUN FACT: The guy in the chair is
the director of the film
    I know this was a low-budget film for it’s time ($33,000), but at times it is INCREDIBLY dull. Not to mention, the setting just seems kind of off.  The film is called “Carnival of Souls”, but yet the Pavilion doesn’t really come off as a rundown carnival.  The spirit’s at the carnival all where formal evening wear, which make sense, since the pavilion at one point was a dance hall, but not for a carnival.  Granted they still do look pretty gnarly. The ending is pretty interesting as well. It answers many of the questions that you will probably ask yourself while watching the film. So is this a good or a bad film?  I honestly think it’s for you to decide.  Whether you like this film or not, I agree with you 100%.  I honestly don’t have an opinion on it at this time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Screen Siren Smackdown: Queen Christina Vs. The Scarlet Empress

Hollywood has a storied history of larger than life feuds amongst its stars, ranging from Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff, to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, to Olivia de Havilland and her sister Joan Fontaine. One of the movie industry’s most legendary and mysterious rivalries is that of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. The facts behind the cause of the feud remain murky, with some claiming that the two were at odds over the affections of writer Mercedes de Acosta, while others insist that it was the result of bitterness on Garbo’s part after Dietrich began a very public affair with Garbo’s former fiancé, John Gilbert, and still others maintain that it was simply a matter of professional competition. In any case, the rivalry remains a fascinating anecdote in film history with fans still speculating about the how’s and why’s of it. This week I’ll be pitting the two queens of the silver screen against each other yet again by comparing the pair’s strikingly similar historical dramas The Scarlet Empress and Queen Christina.

She just want's to be alone, is that so much to ask?!
1.      PLOT: Both films chronicle the rise of female monarchs who were centuries ahead of the times in which they ruled, but take very different approaches to their subject matters. In The Scarlet Empress audiences are provided with an account of the early life and budding political career of Russian Empress Catherine the Great (Marlene Dietrich). The film begins with Russian envoy, Alexei (John Lodge), arriving at the Prussian court on behalf of Grand Duke Peter (Same Jaffe), who proposes a politically fueled marriage to the much younger and painfully naïve Catherine. The story then follows Catherine as she struggles to adjust to life in a strange role in a strange land filled with people who are more than a little strange. The main story arch is Catherine’s evolution from an innocent spectator to ruthless political force. While this premise sounds like it would be promising, the script consistently digresses into histrionics with characters expressing themselves with only the broadest and most overacted emotions. The lack of an emotional core in the story is exacerbated by the way in which the story focuses upon Catherine’s sexual development while largely ignoring her intellectual and political development. While Catherine the Great’s sex life is certainly an intriguing aspect of her character, the film limits its historical scope and emotional impact by turning its leading lady into a strictly sexual being whose actions are completely dominated by lust for her many lovers and spite at Alexei’s refusal of her advances.

In Queen Christina, Greta Garbo plays the less well known, but equally fascinating, Queen Christina of Sweden. The story begins with Christina assuming leadership when she is still just a child after her father is killed in battle, and then flashes ahead to the now grown Christina’s successful reign. While the film touches upon Christina’s rumored promiscuity and her past relationship with her foreign minister, Count Magnus (Ian Keith), the film focuses the majority of its time upon Christina’s struggle to balance her professional and personal lives. Throughout the film, Christina unsuccessfully tries to find time alone to maintain her individuality and sanity but is constantly interrupted by the demands of her position. Making matters even more difficult, her people demand that she marry and produce an heir as soon as possible to ensure the continuation of the royal bloodline. This is a double blow to the queen as it not only undermines her achievements (establishing peace, improving living conditions), but also forces her to choose between the independence that she so values and the will of the public she has devoted her life to serving. Rather than make the lose-lose choice between her dimwitted war-hero cousin (Reginald Owen) and the scheming Magnus, Christina instead takes a brief holiday, disguising herself as a young man to ensure her anonymity. During her trip, she meets the intelligent and charming Spanish ambassador, Don Antonio (John Gilbert), and is dismayed to find that she might have at last met her match with a man whom her people would never accept. This conflict creates a truly engaging plot arch as Christina is ultimately forced to choose between her personal passions and her civic duty. The complexity of its heroine and the nuance with of her struggle to find balance in her life makes Queen Christina a film that remains startlingly relevant and relatable to the countless women who find themselves facing a similar struggle today. For its realistic character development and the engaging journey which its heroine undergoes, Queen Christina takes the prize for better plot.

Before Equus, there was Catherine
2.      LOVE INTERESTS: In both films, the leading men are catalysts to the development of both the film’s plot and the leading lady’s character. In The Scarlett Empress, Alexei sends Catherine a slew of mixed signals as he alternates between arranging the security of her marriage and pursuing his own attraction for her. When Catherine learns that her husband is having an affair with his mistress of several years, she turns to Alexei for comfort, only to be faced with the fact that there is another woman in Alexei’s life as well; her mother in law, Empress Elizabeth (Louise Dresser). This painful realization leads Catherine to engage in a one night stand with one of the palace guards as a feeble act of retaliation and ultimately sets her on the path to becoming the cunning seductress that history has come to remember her as. While Alexei’s is portrayed as crucial in the overall story of Catherine’s development, the relationship between the two is never clearly defined. As a result, while Catherine’s schoolgirlish crush is evident, the viewer never learns if the object of her affection actually returns her feelings or merely sees her as a challenging conquest. This ambiguity is exacerbated by the interactions between the two which remain strictly superficial. As a result, it is difficult to believe that Catherine would really base the course of her future upon the rejection of a man whom she barely knew just because of an adolescent infatuation, which in turn damages the credibility of the larger story.

In Queen Christina, Antonio first meets Christina while she is disguised as a man and finds himself drawn to her quick wit and well-rounded personality. During their initial friendship, Christina is thrilled to finally spend time with someone who enjoys her company because of her personal qualities rather than her prominent position. When he finally learns of her true identity, Antonio remains unwavering and proves his love for her by pursuing their relationship despite the fact that it will likely cost him his political position. While the initial romance between the two is a whirlwind that takes place over the course of mere days, the varied, but always deep, conversations between them ensure that their connection is believable. Similarly, the film’s straightforward depiction of its love story informs audiences of the thoughts and feelings that drive the central relationship and gives viewers a reason to care about its outcome. As a result, it is easy for audiences to appreciate the full weight of Christina’s decision and empathize with her struggle to choose between her professional success and the man who could ensure her personal happiness. Through its intelligent approach to adult relationships and its use of a hero who is truly its heroine’s match, Queen Christina takes the title for most satisfying love story.

The couple who drinks together stays together
3.      LEADING LADIES: The quality of the leading ladies’ performances are both excellent within the context of their films. Dietrich somehow manages to bring a level of subtlety to her portrayal of Catherine, despite the way in which the script constantly reduces her character to cartoonish extremes. She plays both the innocent teenager that Catherine begins the film as and the hardened woman that she becomes with equal skill and credibility. Garbo also turns in a memorable performance as her conflicted queen. Unlike Dietrich, Garbo is given more to work with as Queen Christina’s script allows her character to develop naturally as the plot progresses. Garbo is also spared the task of following her character through drastic changes as Christina remains true to herself and her values throughout the story’s ups and downs. While this would seem to suggest that Garbo has the easier part to play, the complexity of Christina’s character makes her a difficult role to undertake. The script demands that Garbo demonstrate political charisma, personal frustration, and an intriguing combination of tomboy ruggedness and feminine charm, all of which she portrays with equal aplomb. As a result, it is difficult to choose between the two performances without judging them based upon your overall opinion of the films in which they are featured. Although they play two very different characters, both Garbo and Dietrich turn in excellent performances that lend complexity and genuine emotion to their characters, making this one a draw and leaving Queen Christina as the overall winner. Post your choice in the comments!

Would you like to go for a roll in the hay?

A joint review of "Contracted"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A joint review of “Contracted”
By: Brian Cotnoir & Mina Rosario

     So I heard about this the 2013 Horror/Thriller “Contracted” from Dark Discussions Podcast, and I knew I wanted to see it.  I watched it, and I wanted so badly to review it, but just like my review of “The Moth Diaries” I felt like I was not the “most qualified person” to review this film, because it dealt with a lot of stuff specifically from a female perspective, and so to avoid being accused of being a sexist bigot I have decided to recruit an actual female to write her own perspective on the film.  So this review is being broken off into two parts; one from a male perspective and one from a female perspective so please enjoy and let us know whose opinion you think is more valid.

From a Male Perspective (By: Brian Cotnoir)

So our film opens up like many great films with the sight and sounds of necrophilia.  Our story then jumps ahead to our main character, a girl named Samantha.  Samantha, a recent out-of-the-closet lesbian, goes to a party one night with her best friend Alice.  She spends most of the party being hit on by unattractive men, and being that boring lonely sad girl that spends the whole party moping about how the person they’re in a relationship with isn’t at the party (I’m sure you’ve all seen a person like this at a party before).  So anyways, Samantha begins to drink excessively after being enabled by Alice to have a good time.  It is shortly thereafter that Samantha is approached by a mysterious gentlemen who gives her a drink and claims it’s one she had dropped earlier.  Being too inebriated to use better judgment, Samantha chugs the drink from the mysterious stranger and begins to feel sick.  The stranger had drugged the drink and takes Samantha back to his car where he rapes her.            
Yeah...that shouldn't be happening
   Samantha has almost no recollection of the evening before.  She initially thinks that she’s suffering from a severe hangover, but as the days’ progress her symptoms become a lot worst.  She begins to suffer from excessive vaginal bleeding, her hair and finger nails begin to fall off, her skin becomes rough and cracked, and her eyes start turning red.  She goes to see a doctor at a Free Clinic who informs her that he believes Samantha has contracted a sexually transmitted disease.  After 3-days things only go from bad to worse for Samantha.  Her girlfriend Nikki breaks up with her after finding out she slept with a man.  Samantha doesn’t take this news so well and she chokes Nikki to death.  Samantha then goes and kills her best friend Alice, for telling Nikki that she had sex with a man.  Samantha’s rampage eventually comes to an end with her being transformed into a zombie-like creature as she has a violent confrontation with her mother and the police.                 
    So this film is very good; it had a story that kept me guessing and interested.  It has a dark story.  I kind of felt like Samantha’s condition could possibly be a metaphor for drug addiction.  The way she hides her disease from her friends, family, and co-workers is somewhat similar to when a person who has a drug addiction tries to cover up their problems.  Everyone is begging Samantha to let them help her and she just runs away and ignores her problems and pretends that they don’t even exist.  The special-effects and makeup are great as well, I was just shocked at how gross this film got at some points it was really realistic and great. However, I cannot say the same about the characters or the acting.           
You are a weak character, Samantha
Samantha is a very weak character.  She has contracted an awful disease that is doing untold horrors to her body and other than a visit to the free clinic she does not seek any professional help.  She finds out that the man who gave her disease was wanted by the police and she does not come forward or want to know what the hell she has contracted.  I can’t feel that sorry for her, for intentionally ignoring her problems.  She is definitely not a well written character either, which I don’t think it has anything to do with actress Najarra Townsend’s performance. For example, Townsend’s character being a lesbian had no effect on the plot whatsoever, so why was her character written that way.  I’m not saying that lesbian character needs to be written a specific way, I’m just saying that I feel like the writers decisions to make her a lesbian felt more forced than anything.  The same can be said about the actress playing Nikki; I just never believed that her character was a lesbian.          
    The other loser character in this film is Riley.  Riley is this guy who’s had a crush on Samantha for quite some time.  Despite the fact that she is an open lesbian, he persistently attempts to pursue her romantically.  Towards the end of the film where Samantha is clearly beyond messed up, he still is stupid enough to want to have sex with her.  And he doesn’t stop until the maggots start crawling out her cooch.  So I did not feel bad for Riley at all when he got what he deserved.         
    Caroline Williams who plays Samantha’s mother was actually quite a likeable character.  One thing that sucks is how her character is written.  There is a point in the film where they establish that Samantha’s mother was embarrassed when she came out, but we never see her act that way in the film.  Every time we see her mother in the film she acts like a normal mom she worries about her daughter, she wants to do everything she can to make sure her daughter is happy.  Never once did we here her belittle Samantha for being a lesbian or say that she was ashamed of her.  There is one point where Samantha lashes out at her mother and reminds her how she called her a “dyke” once, but we never hear the mom actually say it.  Again, not a bad acting performance, but her character is poorly written.                
    So should you see this film? I say yes (if your stomach can handle it).  It is an interesting take on the zombie-patient zero genre, that at times felt like “Cabin Fever” only w/ STD’s instead of flesh-eating bacteria.  I give it 3-out-5 stars.


The movie “Contracted,” as described by Netflix, is: “After a one-night-stand, a young woman becomes alarmingly ill -- but what she thinks is a sexually transmitted disease turns out to be far worse.” This may not sound like the most interesting movie, but let it be known, this isn’t a romantic tale of woe, nor any sort of unrequited love story. It is a story about a girl who is raped and her decay into becoming a zombie. That’s right, it’s a zombie/patient zero sort of tale.

Our main lady, Samantha, has a terrible influence of a friend, named Alice, and unresponsive and terrible girlfriend, named Nikki, and surrounding relations that make a goldfish’s memory look stellar. The movie effectively opens with Samantha at Alice’s house for some party and being coerced into taking four ill-advised shots of vodka from Alice, who makes a joke of her having to drink enough to be straight so stalker boy Riley can sleep with her. (Ok, actually there’s one scene before this, but I’ll get to that in a bit.) Our heroine, after dropping her original glass, is then given another drink by Sketchy Mc Sketcherson, known as BJ . I know it says it once in the movie when Alice first calls Sam to tell her about the Police :/]], who then somehow gets her to his car and takes advantage of her. The next shot is how a black screen with white lettering “DAY 1” and our dear Sam waking in her blood, thinking it nothing more than menstruation morning. The movie then follows her for three days as we see her bleeding and effectively dying. There’s discoloration of the skin, statements of characters and love ones saying “you look like s#!t” upon seeing her, her eyes becoming bloodshot, a bit of rot around her mouth, and maggots falling out of her lady bits during a not so attractive sex scene. Throughout this the audience learns that Mr. BJ is wanted and searched for by the police and no one has any information except for the encounter Samantha had, who is, of course, refusing to go to the police; and Samantha ends up killing Nikki and Alice [[I honestly can’t remember if she kills Riley]] for breaking her heart. And of course, what zombie movie would be complete without a zombie? The last forty-five seconds (alright it’s an estimate) is of Samantha coming out of her crashed car and doing the whole zombie grunting bit before lunging for her mother.

I give credit to the creators of this movie for creativity. Never had I thought of the zombie virus to begin by a sexually transmitted disease. This relates to the scene I said I’d get back to, the actual opener of the movie. The movie opened with a mysterious character, who is later presumed to be BJ, performing necrophilia in a morgue (classy!). It’s almost like the creators said ‘you know that theory of how AIDS began? What if we did that with zombies? What if instead of getting AIDS they all turned into zombies?’ It’s definitely unique. I wouldn’t mind if the movie clarified why BJ was doing this because Samantha definitely isn’t an isolated incident.  We see, who is assumed to be him, leaving with another intoxicated lady when Samantha is tripped out, drinking, and altogether unable to stop him about two-thirds into the movie. And it is known that the police are after him. Maybe if there were reporting s on the TVs in the background or radio castings in the background that could have hinted to why someone would do this. Unless they really were going for the AIDS theory idea and it is really just an unfortunate accident.
But I wouldn’t say the movie was bad. It certainly wasn’t great, but I held no regrets for watching it. The acting was decent even though the characters seemed a bit bland and too close to stereotypes for me, and at times a bit forced. (See the scene where Samantha tells her boss she has pink eye and just about all scenes with Alice or Nikki.) The atmosphere of the movie fit nicely, as did the costumes and setting.
He's a terrible doctor
I do believe this movie has two underlying themes. The first underlying theme is ‘always practice safe sex’. This theme is low-lying and is mainly played on during the scenes in the doctor’s office. There are several posters on the wall that indicate this, which is fine. What bothered me however, was once the doctor heard she had unprotected sex he seemed to have ‘given up’ on his inspection of her and just labeled her with a general STD. Yes, he mentions having done blood work, but there are other doctor things that could and should have be done when someone is bleeding excessively from their nether-regions and has what was being referred to as a rash. It all came off very “if you have unsafe sex you are doomed, there is no hope for you.” Granted, that does seem to be how this version of the zombie virus is spread.
The second underlying theme is ‘homosexuality is wrong’. Now, this may seem a little far fetched because sure, why wouldn’t our main character’s downward spiral be complete without a mother who disapproved of her sexuality after having a cross and holy picture on the wall. But it isn’t just the mother. In the beginning of the film, Alice yells to Riley, as Samantha is knocking back shots, that Samantha will sleep with him if he can perform cunnilingus like a lesbian. Now, some of my college friends may have said some pretty outlandish things in the past as a joke, but this is straight up rude and offensive regardless of how close people are, in my own opinion. And Nikki is straight up rude to all male characters which is a terrible stereotype of lesbians. What really takes the cake, however, is when Samantha goes to kiss Alice between the two girls’ deaths, and vomits blood into her mouth. If that isn’t a hit against homosexuality then I don’t know what is. Throughout the film I was thinking to myself “it’s a tad bit homophobic’ but when that happened, it cemented the opinion to fact.
Overall, were I to give the movie a final rating, I’d give it 2.5 out of 5 stars. Not terrible, but I probably won’t watch it again.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Classics: Five Things To Love About The Ten Commandments By: Lauren Ennis

Holidays are often a time in which we turn to religious and family tradition, and spring holidays are no exception. One of the most popular Easter and Passover traditions in the United States is the annual broadcast of the 1956 epic The Ten Commandments. After nearly sixty years, the film remains an example of groundbreaking cinema that is beloved by families across the nation and world. In keeping with tradition, this week I’ll be discussing five reasons that The Ten Commandments is a film which truly defines the meaning of the term ‘classic’.

Behold, the power of the makeup department

1.      SPECTACULAR EFFECTS: While CGI has become practically a requirement of modern films, during the 1950’s film-makers were forced to rely upon a combination of early technology and personal ingenuity in order to create on-screen illusions. At the time of its production, The Ten Commandments was charged with the daunting task of bringing the supernatural events and miracles of the scriptures to life. One way that film-makers achieved this feat was by using the established camera trick of showing film sequences in reverse. In order to create the illusion of the infamous parting of the Red Sea, footage of the crew flooding a large dump tank was shown in reverse, which made it appear as though the water was pulling apart rather than flowing together. Similarly, when Moses transforms a stick into a snake, footage was spliced and sped up in order to make it appear as though the stick was actually coming to life. During the burning bush and hail storm sequences, film-makers made a bold choice in using animation to create the desired effects and blending it against the live-action background. Through the use of established props and camera manipulations, the film-makers were able to create a groundbreaking piece of cinema that was truly worthy of its epic subject.


2.      A COMPLICATED HERO: Given the fact that its protagonist is a biblical hero, one would expect that the film would portray Moses (Charlton Heston) as larger than life in both his presence and actions. Instead of a flawless hero, however, the film portrays the prince turned slave turned prophet as an average man trying to cope with a life that is full of unusual circumstances. For instance, during his reign as prince of Egypt, Moses is sympathetic to the Hebrew slaves he rules, but never questions the ethics of slave owning. During this time Moses remains loyal to his adoptive father, Sethi (Cedric Hardwicke), even though he is all too aware of Sethi’s ruthlessness to his slaves and subjects. He also makes a questionable choice in his romance with the vain and selfish princess, Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), who proves herself to be even more calculating than any of Egypt’s male rulers. Later, when he learns of his Hebrew heritage, he also behaves in an all too-human manner by refusing to take action against Sethi and maintaining the title of prince while secretly living amongst his countrymen, thus allowing himself the opportunity to return to the privileges of his former life if he chooses. It is not until Moses receives his first vision from God that he becomes the deliverer that his fellow Hebrews so desperately need and his adoptive family so greatly fears. Through the initial portrayal of Moses as an average man, the script allows him to grow as a character as he evolves into the hero of the Bible. This approach in turn makes his character more relatable, believable, and engaging for audiences.


Today a shrink's field day. Then, an average family
3.      AN EQUALLY COMPLEX VILLAIN: In most religious epics, the lines between good and evil are far more broad and clear than they ever are in real life. As a result, it is surprising that The Ten Commandments chose to color its villain, Rameses (Yul Brynner), with such grey areas. At the film’s start, Rameses is shown to be participating in the same life of luxury as his adoptive brother, Moses, but with far fewer privileges. While Rameses is Sethi’s biological son, he is consistently subjected to slights and rejection as Sethi continually shows his favor for Moses. As a result, Rameses is forced to compete with Moses for all of the things that would otherwise have been given to him as his birthright; favor in the family, marriage to Nefretiri, and his position as the next ruler of Egypt. The massive stakes at play turn what would otherwise have been a tense sibling rivalry into a full on battle for Rameses as he struggles to make his own life and establish his own identity independent of his much preferred sibling. By showing the family dynamic that Moses and Ramses were raised in, the film allows viewers to understand the feelings of rejection and inadequacy that drive Ramsees to succeed against his brother at all costs. As a result, the film provides Rameses with genuine motivation behind his actions rather than reducing him to a cardboard villain who commits heinous acts simply because the plot requires him to.

4.      TOUGH BROADS: Although the 1950’s are today known as a time in which women were relegated to secondary roles and expected to be demure, The Ten Commandments  defies stereotypical expectations of its time and instead displays an array of strong, self-sufficient, female characters. At the film’s start, Sethi orders all male Hebrew infants be turned over to his police and executed in order to prevent the fulfillment of a prophecy of a deliverer growing up to free the Hebrew people from slavery. Even though they know that they are risking their lives by doing so, Moses’ biological mother, Yochabel (Martha Scott), and sister, Miriam (Babette Bain), hide him and transport him down the Nile river to safety. Although she is risking far less, Moses’ adoptive mother, Bithiah (Nina Foch), also defies social norms when she chooses to raise him as her own son despite the fact that she is aware of his Hebrew heritage. When he grows up, Moses is forced to choose between two equally independent women; Egyptian princess Nefretiri and Bedouin shepherdess Sephora (Yvonne DeCarlo). Although she has been promised as the bride of the next pharaoh since birth, Nefretiri remains determined to marry the husband of her own choosing and uses her position to manipulate the Egyptian royal court into bestowing the crown upon Moses instead of Rameses. When Nefretiri’s servant, Memnet, confronts her with Moses’ heritage, she even goes so far as to commit murder in order to protect the man she loves. Later, when Moses has returned as a prophet, Nefretiri spitefully uses her wiles against him and manipulates Rameses’ to eliminate both Moses and the cause that he has abandoned her for. While she does not possess Nefretiri’s cunning, Sephora is equally strong willed. For instance, while her sisters frivolously concern themselves with their looks and ability to attract men, Sephora acts as their father’s right-hand woman by protecting the family’s flocks and managing their care. When her sisters put themselves on display by dancing before the local sheikhs in hopes of attracting Moses’ affections, Sephora scorns their degrading behavior and spends her night watching the flocks. It is this self-respect and independent thinking that, combined with her honesty and warmth, eventually leads Moses to choose Sephora over both her many sisters and Nefretiri.

5.      A STRONG SUPPORTING CAST: At the time of its release, The Ten Commandments was advertised as having a “cast of thousands”. While that moniker might be an exaggeration, the film does possess a talented cast made up of many excellent supporting players. In their respective roles as ambitious informant Dathan and merciless overseer Baka, Edward G. Robinson and Vincent Price provide the film with a pair of wonderfully detestable villains, who nearly steal the film from the leads each time that they appear on screen. Similarly, Judith Anderson’s Memnet is nearly as chilling as her infamous Mrs. Danvers, as she uses her influence to cleverly maneuver through court in order to prevent Moses’ rise to power. John Derek and Debra Paget are truly tragic in their roles as doomed lovers Joshua and Lilia, adding poignancy to the plight of the oppressed Hebrews. Through the combined skill of its supporting and leading cast, the film overcomes a sometimes clunky script to create a series of performances that are nothing short of epic.

Where's your messiah now?!

5 Reasons why you must see "Dont Look in the Cellar"

5 Reasons why you must see “Don’t Look in the Cellar”

By: Brian Cotnoir

The expression “A movie that’s so bad is good” is usually used to describe a film that’s so poorly made/acted/written etc., that it’s very funny.  This expression applies most accurately to some types of Horror Films.  Horror films like “Troll 2”, “Re-Animator”, “Feast”, “Bride of Chucky” are all films that film critics have ripped to death for being poorly made, but yet these films are absolutely beloved by so many people because they’re so bad.  The film I’m reviewing today isn’t just so bad it’s good; it’s so bad that it is AMAZING.  It has so many flaws, so many plot holes, and so many bad things that should’ve sent me into a blinding rage, that I found it impossible to not laugh hysterically the whole time I was watching it.  People, after you read this review you have to go and watch Dennis Devine’s 2008 cine-massacre “Don’t Look in the Cellar”.

1.) The Mental Asylum is clearly somebody’s house

oh Wendel
So the story opens up on Halloween night, and two college girls are dared to go into a Mental Asylum as part of a sorority initiation, and instructed to bring back the lock of a hair from a patient named Lendel. Only it’s not an actual Mental Asylum it is clearly somebody’s house.  There’s still furniture in all the rooms, there’s a hardwood floor, and pictures hanging on the walls!  How lazy can you be?  If you can’t remove all the furniture and other fixtures from the shot for a day or two then how can you convince that audience that your place has been “abandoned” for over 10 years?  Oh, and the “padded room” is just one room with a white tarp covering the walls.  What’s even funnier is that the cast claim to be checking “different rooms”, but they are clearly just re-entering the exact same room!  Dear God that is lazy!  Also, I love how the cast tries pulling the push doors open, in order to pretend that they’re locked in the building.  It just makes them seem more moronic than helpless.

2.) Plot Holes galore!

     I have a theory about this film.  I think the two people who wrote this screenplay just wrote a rough draft and submitted it because that’s the only way I can understand why this film has so many plot holes.  Like these plot holes are even worse than the ones Ed Wood had in “Plan 9 from Outerspace”.  So much of this story doesn’t make sense.  Why would Professor Davis who already knows the hidden dangers of the Mental Asylum let her own students venture off there to face similar dangers?  Why does the random Australian guy think that the abandoned mental asylum is the best place to look for his friend who wandered off?  How come when we see Matt get stabbed in the stomach with a machete we see blood splattered on his face, but no blood coming through his stomach or even a puncture wound?  How come the stories Wendel tells people don’t add up?  There is just no continuity or actual effort being put into this film.  Though I don’t think I should have expected any actual effort from the same director who gave us “Alice in Murderland”

3.) They actually try to include a PSA in the film

So there’s this one scene where all the classmates are at a pool party, and one of the b!tchy snobby girls refers to the main girl, Melissa, by the “r-word”, and then what follows is a 2-3 minute discussion on why you “shouldn’t use the r-word” when talking about people, and ultimately nothing get’s resolved because that girl is a stupid stuck up b!tch.  Okay, I’m all for enlightening people on why they shouldn’t say the r-word, but this film is not the ideal place to have that discussion.  I don’t think anyone watching this film has really taken a moment to reflect on that scene and say to themselves “you know what, they’re right. The R-word isn’t cool, and people should really never say it”.  Call it a hunch.  If you’re going to include a PSA in your film, make sure you’re film is actually worthy of including a PSA, otherwise you end up with a fail that’s almost as bad as when “Birdemic: Shock and Terror” tried to include a going green message.

4.) Hot Girls in Bikini’s who can’t act worth a d@mn

Score!!! :)
Yeah, you can’t argue with this incentive.  It’s pretty awesome when most of your casts costuming consists of skimpy bikinis.  Oh, and I promise you not one of them can act competently.  There characters are all written to be perfectly generic. There’s the two b!tchy spoiled girls, the incredibly hot girl who everyone calls a “nerd” because she wears glasses and for no other reason, the douche bag who turns every comment from a girl into a sexual pun, the 4 generic filler friends, and the emotionally unstable basket case.  Whoever was in charge of casting for this film, probably just went up to the hottest girls he could find and asked them if they wanted to be in a movie. One thing you’ll notice in this film is that whenever a character is talking on camera they are standing perfectly still and will rarely move.  Especially, the actor who plays the mental patient, Wendel; every time he’s on camera he is just standing perfectly still with his shoulders tucked up to his neck and his eyes bulging out of his skull.  I have a hard time believing he’s mentally ill, when doesn’t do anything neurotic and just sort of stands there with a catatonic stare on his face.           

5.) This film (somehow) had a 1.2 Million Dollar Budget!

     When I was watching this film and I saw how cheap and awful everything was, I was assuming that it must be because this film probably had a lousy budget.  According to IMDB, “Don’t Look in the Cellar” was made for an estimated 1.2 million dollars.  How the hell did this thing wind up costing over a million dollars?  What did they buy the actual house that the film took place in and spent a small fortune to have it entirely furnished?  Because that’s the only logical reason I can come up with for how this film could possibly cost that much to make.  I mean the money sure as hell didn’t go towards decent cameras or special effects, big name (or competent) actors, or a realistic filming location.  I’ve seen films made for 1/100 the budget of “Don’t Look in the Cellar” that were a thousand times better.  I’m absolutely blown away that it cost that much money it cost to make this film.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Classics: A Review of Saving Mr. Banks By Lauren Ennis

I'm guessing she wasn't planning on going to Disneyland after that Superbowl
Stories are one of the world’s few truly universal concepts. It is through the sharing of stories that we learn lessons, entertain, frighten, and challenge one another and ourselves to see beyond our everyday lives. Sometimes, however, the telling of stories can perform the even more difficult task of helping us maneuver through the trials and tribulations of our own pasts. For author P. L. Travers, the tale of a magical nanny and the family whom she rescues from themselves was the ideal outlet with which to cope with her troubled childhood. In the film Saving Mr. Banks, Travers is forced to finally come to terms with her past in a battle of the wills over the rights of her beloved heroine, Mary Poppins, and learns to see the world beyond her own pain in the process.

The story begins in 1962 as Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) continues his twenty year struggle to obtain the film rights to the Mary Poppins’ series from curmudgeonly author Travers (Emma Thompson). Although she loathes the prospect of giving up her most famous creation, Travers’ dwindling finances force her to reconsider her position and travel to Los Angeles to consider Disney’s proposition. As Disney is well aware and his staff soon learns, Travers is a far cry from the magical nanny she wrote about and is actually a woman whom harsh life experiences have left hardened and bitter. Travers proves just how much her franchise means to her throughout the film-making process as she argues with the crew over every minute aspect of the film from its song lyrics, to its set, to even the fact that Mr. Banks has been given a mustache. Flashbacks throughout the film provide insight into Travers stubborn rejections by revealing the childhood that inspired her to write Mary Poppins in the first place. Through the juxtaposition of the past and present, it soon becomes evident why Mary Poppins is so critical to Travers and just whom the nanny is really supposed to be saving.

One of the most effective aspects of the film is the way in which it uses Travers’ past to inform her present with Disney. When the film first flashes back to Travers playing with her father (Colin Farrell) as a child, he seems to bear more similarity to Bert, the lighthearted chimney sweep played by Dick Van Dyke in the film version of Mary Poppins. As the story progresses, however, Travers Goff is revealed to be a complicated figure with demons of his own, chief among them his addiction to alcohol. While watching her idol unravel as her father descends further into addiction, the young Helen Goff (Travers real name) finds her view of the world and her place in it shattered. While Travers story could have easily lent itself to sentimentality and become yet another tale of a ‘curmudgeon with a heart of gold’ Banks resists this obvious track and instead remains loyal to the facts of its story by showing that even her eventual change of heart could not completely undo the damage of her early losses. Through these intertwining segments of her past the film not only explains Travers’ harsh outlook on life, but also the subtext behind Mary Poppins and the reason that the story remains so dear to its author.

The moments that daddy issues are made of
The film also excellently captures the creativity and difficulty of film-making. Throughout the film, Disney’s crew is shown tirelessly working on the script and working together to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of its completion. While many films show the creative process as being filled with instant inspiration and constant camaraderie, Saving Mr. Banks instead wisely shows the entire creative process, warts and all. For example, the songwriters are consistently shown stuck on various lyrics or notes that hold them back from completing a song and the screenwriters are revealed to be dumfounded by numerous oddities and plot holes in the original source material. By far the greatest difficulty that they face, however, is Travers' insistence upon interfering with even the most mundane details that the crew had considered long since settled. Through their drive for a common ambition, however, Disney’s staff manages to not only make a cohesive script that respects many of Travers' excessive wishes, but also create a cinematic icon in the process. As a result, the emotional resonance is much greater when Disney finally obtains the film rights and the picture is completed because the audience has watched the crew work and empathized with their struggled for the preceding hour and a half.
Through their truly mesmerizing performances, the cast brings the  story behind Mary Poppins to vibrant life. Tom Hanks provides an excellent turn as Walt Disney as he conveys both the charming movie mogul and hard-nosed businessman that comprise his character. Emma Thompson provides a truly complex portrayal as Travers, and strikes the perfect balance between Travers' caustic personality and the traumas that ultimately led to it. Together, the pair have a chemistry that is truly magical as they engage in a fierce battle of wills only to discover that they possess a common goal and motive after all. Colin Farrell also turns in a layered performance as Travers’ father, masking his interior torments behind an idealistic exterior. The supporting cast ensures that the film remains truly three dimensional as they make fully fleshed characters out of roles that could have easily been relegated to plot devices and types.
Much like Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks is a film for both the young and young at heart. It is a story about the pain that life all too often inflicts and the power of imagination that enables us to cope with and rise above that pain. Through its combination of superior script, realistic performances, and historical insight the story behind the familiar tale of Mary Poppins comes to vibrant life. Come see Saving Mr. Banks and you’ll learn how Mary Poppins saved not only Mr. Banks, but also Walt Disney and P. L. Travers with a spoonful of sugar (and a few other tricks) and remember the power that imagination has to save us all.
You mean my horse can't magically win races?! Supercalifragulisticexpealidotious!!

A review of "A Lonely Place to Die"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “A Lonely Place to Die”

By: Brian Cotnoir

“A Lonely Place to Die” is a Scottish Thriller that was released in 2011 that follows a group of mountain climbing/ hiking enthusiasts who are planning a big expedition through the Scottish Highlands. While exploring they come across something mysterious and unexpected.  They find a young Serbian girl who has been buried an underground bunker.  The mountain climbers frantically dig out the girl and pull her to safety.  They learn that the girls name is Anna and that she has been kidnapped.  Two of mountain climbers go in search of help, but unfortunately they are killed.  So the others decide to go off on their own and bring Anna to safety.  Shortly after their trek begins, the remaining mountain climbers realize that they are being followed, and what’s worst the people following them are Anna’s kidnappers and they want to kill the climbers and take Anna back so they can get their ransom; now what started out as a day of hiking and mountain climbing has turned into a day of survival.      
    “A Lonely Place to Die” is a very dull film.  This film starts out so slowly, and it does being to pick up around the 23 minute mark.  However, I found that every time some excitement began to build the pay-off always came up flat.  I mean, there’s very little interest or action that happens.  The characters all give a bland performance, the motive behind the kidnappers isn’t all that good either, and it’s just not entertaining.            
Oh God, it's so dull!
The only good thing that “A Lonely Place to Die” offers is some excellent cinematography of the Scottish countryside.  At times the shots of the Scottish Countryside are so nice, it’s almost like you’re watching a “Tour Scotland” commercial rather than a film.  I can’t say that I hate this film because I actually don’t, if anything I was more disappointed in it.  With a title like “A Lonely Place to Die”, there are endless possibilities you can have for a plot, this film just isn’t a cool sounding as its title might lead you to believe.  The plot feels like it was hastily put together, and the end result was an incredibly dull film. I don’t think I can recommend this film to anyone.  It’s too dull, and for all the good build up it has throughout the film, the payoff is not worth it.