Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A review of "The Dinosaur Project"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “The Dinosaur Project”

By: Brian Cotnoir

Okay, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am pretty much fed up with the “Found Footage” films.  I will admit that there have been some great Found Footage films like Ruggero Deodato’s “Cannibal Holocaust”, Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity”, and the Vicious Brothers “Grave Encounters” (one of my All-Time Favorite Horror films).  At one point this was an awesome (and cheap) way to make a film, but like all good films whenever one film is excessively successful, you will have dozens of others who try to rip off the same idea; and it seems like we’re at the point that for every good Found Footage film that gets released, we also get a dozen or so that are trash.  Films like the one I’m reviewing today, “The Dinosaur Project”. 
    “The Dinosaur Project” is a British film released in 2012, that documents a fictional story from the perspective of a missing crypto-zoology group that goes into the heart of the Congo to look for a mysterious river monster known as “Mokele Mmbembe”, which the group believes to be a previously thought to be extinct plesiosaur. The expedition is led by famous explorer Jonathan Marchant.  Unbeknownst to Jonathan his teenage son Luke, snuck on board his plane because he wanted to go on the adventure with his dad.  While flying over the jungle the group’s helicopter collides with a mysterious bird like creature and crashes into the jungle.  It is later discovered that the helicopter was attacked by a group of Pterodactyls, and that there are even more dinosaurs living in a secret forest in the Congo.  The group believes that they have made the discovery of a lifetime, but the happiness of their discovery is short lived as they realize that dinosaurs are just the tip of their hidden danger.              
It's soooo realistic...NOT!
This isn’t a terrible film, but they did so much stuff in this film that annoyed me.  For one thing, it’s supposed to be a “Found Footage” film, and yet they break that rule by having camera shots known shown form a P.O.V. perspective.  So that really shatters the “found footage allusion”.  Also, I hate when fictional film claims “All Events are Real.  None of the images have been altered”; You know why?  Because I think the Computer Generated Dinosaur Images are going to be a dead give away to the audience that your full of sh!t.  In many ways this film feels like it’s trying to be like a Found Footage version of “Jurassic Park III”, which wouldn’t be all that bad if the dialogue didn’t feel like it belonged in regular sci-fi adventure film, but the dialogue in “The Dinosaur Project” feels too forced.  Nothing said in this film sounds or feels like an actual conversation, it all feels like it’s just terribly written dialogue.  Also, the tour guide reveals to the explorers that the government of Congo has known about the secret dinosaur forest for years, and that they have been protecting it from the outside world...why?!  Why would you keep a dinosaur forest secret?  Why would you let people go to a secret dinosaur forest if you know it was dangerous?  Why didn’t the government just say no to the explorers?  None of this makes sense!               
What was the point of all this???
    Now as much as I am bashing this film they did a few cool things.  Luke befriends a baby diloposaurus and manages to attach a tracker cam around its neck to track it.  The shots from the dino-cam are really cool, and interesting.  Even some of the dinosaur action is very cool.  However, a few cool camera angles can’t make up for uninteresting character, a hammy villain, a ridiculous plot, and film motif that has overstayed it’s welcome, really hold this back from being a good film.  I feel this film could’ve been so much better than what we got.  If you want to check it out, I won’t stop you, just be aware that you’re pretty much getting a live action of version of “Jurassic Park III” if you decide to watch it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Classics: A Review of The Hunchback of Notre Dame By Lauren Ennis

More than a pretty face
During the 1990’s Walt Disney Studios experienced a revitalization of its animation department known as the ‘Disney Renaissance’. During this time, the studio overcame near bankruptcy following a series of mediocre efforts and outright flops (most notably the high costing Black Cauldron) to create a series of exquisitely animated and thematically complicated films that have since gone on to become classics of children’s cinema. One of the most unique achievements of this era in the studio’s history stands out for its innovative style and mature themes, even amongst its acclaimed predecessors; 1996’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Based upon the 1831 Victor Hugo novel of the same name, this musical adaptation follows the basic story of the literary classic while adapting its content to suit juvenile audiences. The film begins with Gypsy entertainer Clopin (Paul Kandel ) relating the tale of the mysterious bell-ringer of Notre Dame cathedral to a group of children. The film then launches into a flashback that takes up the majority of its running time, which begins with the disfigured Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) being adopted by corrupt city official Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) after Frollo accidentally killed the child’s mother during an overzealous arrest. Quasimodo then grows up hidden away from society in the church bell-tower with Frollo acting as his teacher, adoptive father, and only link to the outside world. As a result, Quasimodo sees himself as the unworthy monstrosity that Frollo consistently refers to him as, rather than the sensitive, talented, and valuable person that he actually is. After years of isolation, Quasimodo finally disobeys Frollo and ventures into Paris’ annual Festival of Fools, only to find that the locals are just as cruel and narrow minded as Frollo. After being harassed by the festival crowd, he regains his hope in humanity when he is defended by the courageous Gypsy dancer, Esmeralda (Demi Moore). Unfortunately, her act of kindness draws the attention of Frollo, putting her into direct and mortal danger. It is then up to Quasimodo and his unlikely ally, soldier Phoebus, to rescue Esmeralda and stop Frollo before he is able to fulfill his goal of annihilating Paris' entire Gypsy population.
While Disney films often utilize well known stories and tales as source material, Hugo’s classic was a truly unusual choice for the studio to adapt. The original novel explores such adult themes as religion, hypocrisy, prejudice, and sexual repression; far cries from typical children’s fare. Although the film does soften many of the source material’s sharpest edges (in the novel Frollo is a corrupt priest, Quasimodo is abandoned because of his disfigurement, Phoebus’ interest in Esmeralda was strictly sexual and neither Quasimodo nor Esmeralda was afforded a happy ending), it maintains the tale’s central ideas and refuses to talk down to its audience. For instance, Frollo’s prejudice against the Gypsies echoes the atrocities of the genocides that have occurred throughout history, and his fixation upon capturing Esmeralda is an obvious result of his repressed lust for her. As a result, Frollo is truly one of the darkest and most realistic villains of the history of Disney, whose actions are made all the more chilling  by the fact that he commits them with the firm belief of acting on the side of the greater good. While the film does digress into instances of typical comic relief via Quasimodo’s interactions with a trio of talking gargoyles (Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, and Mary Wickes), even this aspect of the film hints at darker possibilities as the film’s directors have stated that the gargoyles are actually figments of Quasimodo’s imagination and manifestations of his loneliness. The film further maintains the story's complexity by refusing to rely upon easy answers and black and white characterizations as Esmeralda’s fellow Gypsies are shown to be a diverse group of individuals who are neither all good nor completely bad rather than merely innocent victims, and the city mob is revealed to be fueled by ignorance rather than malice. Through its textured characterizations and gritty content the film is a truly intelligent work that teaches valuable lessons without lecturing to its audience, and as a result is truly enjoyable for the ‘whole family’.
All for one and one for all!

The film’s intelligent script is only rivaled by its equally complex animation. While Disney had previously utilized a combination of traditional and computer generated animation in the past, the full possibilities of this technique come to vibrant life in Hunchback. The cathedral bears a remarkable resemblance to the actual Cathedral of Notre Dame complete with spire towers, dazzling stained glass windows, and an array of statues. Similarly, the Parisian backdrops draw viewers into the world of the characters while remaining true to history. The characters are also excellently animated with varied and natural facial expressions and physical movements. The animators were especially successful in balancing the daunting extent of Quasimodo’s disfigurement, which is essential to the plot, and the need to make him approachable to the film’s young viewers.

Through its unique approach to children's entertainment, The Hunchback of Notre Dame became a true landmark for Walt Disney Studios and American animation. The film not only completes the difficult task of telling a mature story in a child-friendly manner, but also does so in a truly memorable way. Its combination of witty lyrics, catchy tunes, dazzling animation, and layered characterizations allows the film to work as both entertainment and education as it relays important messages about tolerance, morality, and friendship in a manner that is accessible and acceptable to all ages. Join Quasimodo and Esmeralda for a revitalizing tale that will show you why the 90’s were truly animation’s renaissance.

Since when is pole-dancing G rated material?!

ANOTHER 5 Scariest Moments in Children's Films that you probably never realized were too scary for kids

ANOTHER 5 Scary Moments in Children’s films that you probably never realized were too scary for kids

By: Brian Cotnoir

     I can’t believe I’m back doing another one of these lists, but I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. After all it’s because of you—my loyal readers—that my “Scariest Moment’s in Children’s films...” posts are among my most popular and most viewed.  So here I am once again to warn you all of scary moments in children’s films that should probably avoid letting your kids watch, until they reach a certain age.  Also be sure to click on the links at the bottom of the list to see the previous scary moments from children’s films that have made the lists.  Without further adieu here is the third installation of the “5 Scariest Moments in children’s films that you probably never realized were too scary for kids”.

#5.) Angry Aggie from “ParaNorman”

Angry Aggie from "ParaNorman"
SPOILERS!:  Agatha “Aggie” Penderghast was accused of being a witch in the town of Blythe Hollow back in the colonial days and was sentenced to death for her crimes.  However, she was not an old, evil looking woman, but rather a scared little girl who was caught up in the paranoid fear of religious zealots.  Years later Aggie’s vengeful spirit is awoken.  Aggie is angry and is now bent on destroying the town of Blythe Hollow on Halloween night.  Not to mention, that her angry spirit causes her to turn into pure lightning!  That’s pretty scary, to think that the ghost of a little girl could hold so much hate an animosity towards a town to the point where all she wants to do is destroy it. However, Angry Aggie is stopped after a chance encounter with the films hero Norman, and Aggie even gets a much over do apology from the Puritan Zombies who sentenced her to death centuries ago, so at least there’s a happy ending.

#4.) Psycho Sid from “Toy Story”

Sid Learns to "Play Nice"
If torturing small animals is the sign of a sociopath, then blowing up toys must be the sign of a...future garbage man (?).  Disney & Pixar Studios ushered in a new era of film animation with their 1995 creation of “Toy Story”.  One of those memorable characters from this film is Sid, a psychotic pre-teen boy whose favorite hobby is blowing up and torturing toys.  Sid also performs surgery on some toys creating an army of unholy toy creations.  I know a lot of people found Sid’s toy creations to be very terrifying as a child, but I honestly believe the scene where Woody and the other toys reveal they’re alive to Sid and scare him straight is even more scary.  Oh well, it was nice to see that by the third film, Sid had finally learned how to “play nice”...even though he is just a garbage man, but hey it’s a small victory at least...right?

#3.) Dead kids from “Coraline”

You know...for kids!
From the same director who brought us stop-motion master pieces such as “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and the cinematic adaptation of “James and the Giant Peach”, comes “Coraline”.  Adapted from the story by Neil Gaman, “Coraline” is explores a dark and macabre world of enchantment and wonder.  However, this isn’t very kid friendly or enchanting as the “Nightmare Before Christmas”, when you have to consider that there are references to eye gouging, murdering children, and not to mention that scary spider looking creature that the “other Mother” turns into.  “Coraline” is wonderfully entertaining film, but unless your kid is creepy like me when I was that age, I think it’s best if you don’t let them see this until they are a teenager.

#2.) Judge Doom from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

     I’m not even going to say why this is too scary for kids, instead I’m just going to leave you with these video clips below and you will see what I mean.

For Kids?????

#1.) The Witches from “The Witches”

WTF IS THAT??!?!?!?! @_@
Oh Jim Henson.  You keep finding your way on these lists whenever I do a Top 5 of Scariest Moments in Kids Films...Well “The Witches” is based off of a Roald Dahl story (and he writes lots of creepy stories for kids), about a boy who accidentally discovers a convention of witches and he has to stop them after being turned into a mouse.  It’s only fitting that the Jim Henson workshop would create the scariest sh!t your pants mask for the Grand High Witch (played by Anjelica Houston).  She doesn’t look like an actual witch; she looks more like the cross between Zombie Vera from “Dead Alive” and a mutated Skesis from “Dark Crystal”.  I feel like I should be suing the Jim Henson Company for creating so many costumes, puppets, and images that he caused me severe trauma and childhood, and yet I have admire the craftsmanship of their work.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Classics: A Review of White Heat By Lauren Ennis

Our families are the people with whom we form our first social bonds and through whom we assemble our first perceptions of the outside world. As a result, our childhood experiences mold the way in which we see and react to the world around us ,for better or worse. The 1949 gangster classic White Heat, demonstrates just how influential family relationships can be as it examines mother-son crime duo Ma and Cody Jarrett. This review is a tribute to all the dedicated mothers out there who have taught us how to make it to the top of the world, and more importantly, how to avoid getting caught while we’re at it.

The story begins with the Jarrett gang, led by psychotic gangster Cody Jarrett (James Cagney), holding up a train and killing the train’s conductor in the process. The gang then flees the scene with one of their members badly burned from the steam of the train’s engine. Rather than risk being implicated in the robbery by taking him to the hospital, Cody orders one of his men to kill the injured man. When the henchman is unable to kill his friend, the injured man is able to leave just enough clues for the police to link Cody to the robbery before ultimately freezing to death after the gang leaves him alone in an isolated cabin. Determined to end Cody’s reign of terror, Detective Evans (John Archer) launches an investigation into the Jarrett gang’s activities and nearly arrests Cody, but is thwarted in his efforts when Cody takes credit for a lesser crime that occurred at the same time in order to receive a lighter prison sentence. While in prison, Cody leaves his criminal organization under the control of his equally ruthless and determined mother, Ma Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly), who regularly updates Cody about the gang’s activities and warns him against trusting any of his fellow inmates. Meanwhile, Cody’s vindictive wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo), begins an affair with his right hand man, “Big” Ed Somers (Steve Cochran). Seeing opportunity presenting itself in Cody’s absence, Ed and Verna scheme to have Ma and Cody murdered in an effort to gain control of the gang themselves. When he learns of his mother’s death, Cody is unable to restrain himself any longer and concocts an elaborate scheme to escape from prison and obtain his revenge all the while unaware that his partner in the scheme, likable inmate Vic Pardo (Edmun O’Brien), is actually an undercover cop working for Evans’ investigation. The film’s series of plots, crosses, and double-crosses ultimately finishes in a climax that is nothing short of explosive.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the film, and certainly the element that separates the film from other entries in the gangster genre, is the unique focus upon Cody’s relationship with Ma. While preparing his investigation into Cody’s crimes, Evans learns that Cody’s one confidante and only true ally is his mother. He also learns that Cody has been fiercely attached to his mother since childhood, and that as a boy Cody even went so far as to feign migraines in order to gain her attention, until the headaches eventually became painfully real.  While Cody’s relationships with his wife and criminal associates are based upon personal gain, his relationship with Ma is surprisingly tender, and in a different context, could be viewed as heartwarming. Ma is a truly self-sacrificing mother, living life on the run from the police and under the constant threat of her son’s dangerous cohorts all in an effort to ensure that her son makes it to the “top of the world”. Although he is a grown man, Ma continues to nurture Cody through his migraines and mood swings, while also keeping watch on his business and providing sound advice regarding how to manage it. Despite her devotion to her son, however, Ma is just as dangerous and cunning as Cody and in many ways acts as the ‘power behind the power’ in the Jarrett gang. As a result, Ma’s death is the ultimate loss for Cody as he loses his confidante, mentor, best friend, partner in crime, and mother all in one fell blow. The severity of this loss is what finally pushes Cody to pursue his reckless quest for revenge even though he is aware of how greatly the odds for success are stacked against him.

A true Kodak moment
The film’s performances are uniformly superb and lend an element of gritty realism to an already intelligent script. Virginia Mayo adds a touch of desperate frustration to her portrayal of Cody’s greedy wife that makes Verna a truly complex character, who stands out in a genre littered with stock love interests and flashy femme fatales. Similarly, Steve Cochran and John Archer lend believable turns as Cody’s two greatest enemies, Big Ed and Detective Evans, and provide the film with capable adversaries for Cody to go up against. Edmund O’Brien’s is equally realistic as both undercover cop Hank Fallon and Vic Pardo, the crook whose identity he assumes, which lends credibility to his character’s ability to manipulate Cody into trusting him. Even amongst all of the film’s excellent players, there is no doubt that the film belongs to James Cagney and Margaret Wycherly as Cody and Ma. The two are equal parts streetwise grit and familial tenderness ,and every one of their scenes contains an eerie chemistry that lights up the screen. In Wycherly’s hands Ma is a fascinating contradiction as she alternates between her maternal love for Cody and her hard-as-nails approach to business. Cagney brings Cody to vibrant life making Cody both one of the most entertaining gangsters in cinema and also one of film’s most intriguing villains. From agony during a crippling migraine, to brash arrogance around his wife and cohorts, to childish dependence upon Ma’s guidance, and finally animalistic rage upon learning of Ma’s death, Cagney plays a full gamut of emotions in his portrayal of Cody and does so with skill and intensity. Although Cagney built his acting career upon the success of his many gangster roles, it was with the force of nature that is Cody Jarrett in White Heat that Cagney reached the top of his career and created his most unforgettable portrayal.

Cagney and company truly hit the mother-load of the gangster genre in the incendiary White Heat. The film combines underworld thrills, gritty dialogue, and a sly take on psychoanalysis to create a unique vision of post-war America and modern crime. The cast’s electric performances bring each of the film's characters to vital and often violent life, creating a drama that viewers can’t help but be drawn into. If you’re looking for the top of cinema, look no further than White Heat.

Don't look now, but someone's become a third wheel...

A review of "Mega Shark vs. Mecha-Shark

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Mega Shark vs. Meca-Shark

By: Brian Cotnoir

     You know this blog wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t review at least one film that’s trying to rip off “Jaws”.  It’s sort of becoming like a little tradition.  Every year I have to review (or at least watch) one awful movie about a Shark and the ridiculous hi-jinks that ensue.  In 2012, I reviewed “Sand Sharks”, in 2013 I reviewed “Piranha” (1978) and “Barracuda” (I saw “Sharknado”, but didn’t write a review because I felt like too many people had already reviewed it and I felt like had nothing new or original to say about it that hadn’t already been said).                                           
The film I’m reviewing today is called “Mega Shark vs. Mecha-shark”.  “Mega Shark vs. Mecha-Shark” is the 3rd film in the “Mega Shark” trilogy.  I must admit I have not seen “Mega Shark vs. Octopus” yet, and I’ve only seen bits and pieces of “Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus”. The Mega Shark films were created and distributed by “The Asylum” film studios; the same film studio that gave us films like “Sharknado”, “Titanic II”, “Paranormal Entity”, and a bunch of knock-offs of well known big budget Hollywood Studio films.  I would describe The Asylum film studios straight video works as this generation’s equivalent of Joe D’Amato Productions.  In a way there films almost feel like poorly acted bootlegs of other more successful films.  I’m not going to waste anymore of your time, let’s get check out “Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark”.                                              
It's soooooo realistic
    So the film opens up in the Port of Alexandria in Egypt.  A Ship is hauling in a giant iceberg to help treat a drought in the area.  As the ship spends more time in the warm desert waters, the iceberg begins to crack, and out from it emerges the giant megalodon.  The once again freed megalodon proceeds to swat a tug boat out of the water and decapitates the sphinx.  The megalodon goes on to wreak havoc in the world’s oceans, shutting down the sea trade and putting the entire world’s economy in jeopardy.  The United States Navy is fed up with the massive and destructive megalodon and has created a equally as big mecha-shark to combat it.  The mecha-shark can be piloted manually but also can be controlled by a computerized auto pilot named NERO.  The mecha-shark tries to stop the megalodon, but it only ends up creating destruction.  Torpedoes bounce of the megalodon’s skin and he swats them with his tail to sink submarines and battle ships. It isn’t until Professor MacNeill (played by Debbie Gibson) notices that the megalodon is on its way to Australia to look for a breeding partner do they have a way to track and corner the mega shark.  Unfortunately for the U.S. Navy the mega-shark knocks the Mecha-shark into the Sydney Opera House, where it enters amphibious mode and goes on a citywide rampage.  Now they have two big problems: the megalodon destroying everything it comes across in the ocean and the mech-shark running amuck in downtown Sydney.  Now it’s up to our heroes to come up with a way to stop both destructive creatures.       
Oh....Debbbie Gibson
All right, I know I shouldn’t nitpick ANYTHING released by “The Asylum” because most of their films would be categorized as “Mock-Busters”, but I honestly don’t feel like they tried very hard with this one.  What I mean by that is almost everything they produce and release has a ridiculous premise (ex. A Tornado made up of sharks, a 500 MPH wind storm, a giant mechanical shark battling a massive prehistoric shark).  It’s all done with terrible CGI that makes SYFY look like Pixar and always contains some D-List Celebrity.  They have their filmmaking formula down to science, but yeah this one left me feeling pretty empty.  At least with “Sharknado”—as bad as it was—it still had a ridiculous enough premise that kept me watching, and you can tell they were having a lot of fun making this film, but with “Mega Shark vs. Mecha-Shark” it just kind of feels like they gave up half-way through; like they felt it would be a good enough with what they had.  Maybe it’s because it was a sequel or maybe because the mega shark engine finally ran out of steam, it just felt very bland.                                              
    I don’t want to waste too much time nitpicking the other flaws of the film, so I’ll just itemize a list here to save you some time.

1.)     The Mecha-Shark seems like a much more complicated (and expensive solution to your problem).  Why didn’t you just bait and nuke the megalodon, because I think the Mecha-Shark did 1000 times more damage than a nuke every could have done
2.)    It’s so obvious that you were trying to make the voice of NERO sound like the voice of KIT from “Knight Rider”, so why didn’t you just hire William Daniels to do the voice?  I mean seriously; you’ll shovel out money to have Debbie Gibson reprise a role, but you won’t pay William Daniels to read off of a script?  What’s wrong with you?
3.)    The Megalodon’s accuracy is too accurate.  How the hell can it swat a tugboat in Alexandria that travels 134 miles to decapitate the Sphinx in Giza? 
4.)    When the film setting goes to Australia how come the U.S. Military outranks the Australian Military?  Seriously, all Jack does is tell a soldier, “I’m with the United States Navy” and the soldier doesn’t even put up a fight, he just lays down and quits like a cowardly Frenchman.  If I was an Australian soldier, I would be offended by the weak and cowardice portrayal from this film.

Keep trying not quite Tony Todd
The acting in the film I felt was decent, the only real critique I had was that I felt the actor playing Jack was trying too hard to sound like Clancy Brown meets Tony Todd, other than that, I can’t really think of anyone whose performance in the film was just meh.  So what about this film?  If I had to rank it, I’d say I liked it more than “Sharknado”, but I liked it less than “Sand Sharks”, and if I had seen both of its predecessor films, I think I would’ve enjoyed it more.  As a film it’s okay, it’s nothing I would rush back to watch.  The CGI is terrible, but that’s to be expected and I’ve seen worst.  I think my best recommendation for you would be to binge watch all three films in a marathon (preferably with friends) and then never watch them again.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Classics: A Retrospective of Rudolph Valentino By Lauren Ennis

You have to give it to a man who's prettier than his dance partner
With the advent of cinema in the late 1910’s, America obtained its first taste of modern mass culture as people from all social classes and regions suddenly had access to a mutual art form. As a result, fashions, slang, and standards of beauty became the fabrics that were now able to tie together the diverse threads of American culture. One of the most scintillating of these cultural changes was the arrival of the concept of national sex symbols. While today celebrities are expected to possess a standard form of sex appeal, during the 1920’s filmgoers were enthralled by the arrival of one actor who possessed a combination of matinee idol good looks and star-powered charisma; Rudolph Valentino. In his brief life and career, Valentino went from an unknown taxi dancer to a major Hollywood player and international icon.

Valentino was born Rudolfo Alonso Rafaello Pierre Filibert Gugliemi di Valentina D’Antonguolla in Castellanata Italy on May 6, 1895 as the second child of Italian veterinarian Giovanni D’Antonguolla and his French-born wife Marie. A poor student, Valentino earned a degree in agricultural studies rather than pursue an academic degree before traveling to Paris, only to find himself unable to obtain work. After a year of working various odd jobs, he departed Paris for New York and emigrated to the United States. He found similar difficulty finding work in the U. S. and  ultimately turned to a job working as a taxi dancer in a New York nightclub which specialized in providing their wealthy clientele with dance partners who were ‘exotic’ as well as talented.

During this time, he befriended Chilean heiress Blanca de Saulles and provided her with moral support when she discovered that her husband, prominent businessman John de Saulles was engaged in several affairs throughout their marriage. This friendship led many to speculate that Blanca was engaged in an affair of her own with Valentino, a suspicion that quickly gained popularity when Valentino testified against John de Saulles during the couple’s divorce. During the trial, Valentino revealed that not only was de Saulles pursuing affairs with several women, but that one of those women was actually Valentino’s dance partner. In an effort to reestablish his own credibility, de Saulles arranged for Valentino to be arrested on a false vice charge, alleging that the dancer was working as an escort for known madam “Mrs. Thyme”. Shortly after the very public trial, Valentino once again found himself unemployed, a circumstance that was made even more hopeless when Blanca fatally shot de Saulles and brought the events of the trial back into the public eye. In order to distance himself from the scandal, he took a job in a national dance tour, which later disbanded in Utah. Determined to give himself a fresh start, he continued traveling west in hopes of pursuing his dancing career in San Francisco.

In San Francisco, Valentino finally gained the following that he had been seeking and soon set his sights on moving up the show-business ladder in Hollywood. With the help his roommate, actor Norman Kerry, Valentino began auditioning for various bit parts while continuing to perform and teach dance lessons. Initially he was typecast as gangsters and other villains, largely due to Hollywood’s taboo against casting immigrant and minority actors as leads. By 1917, he finally became so discouraged that he returned to New York, where he met and befriended cinematographer Paul Ivano who would later become his mentor. Following Ivano’s advice, Valentino returned to Hollywood, where he began a relationship with actress Jean Acker, a closeted lesbian. Acker reportedly became involved with the actor in order to distance herself from a love triangle with actresses Alla Nazimova and Grace Darmond and to avoid the possibility of her sexuality becoming public. Acker quickly regretted her decision and locked Valentino out of their suite on their wedding night, ensuring that the marriage would remain unconsummated. Despite Acker’s homosexuality, the couple remained married until 1921 when Acker sued for divorce and claimed desertion.

 While his marriage continued to spiral downward, Valentino suddenly found his career rapidly rising when he pursued a part in the film adaptation of the popular World War I novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He began lobbying for an audition, only to learn that the film’s screenwriter, June Mathis, was impressed with his work and had been attempting to contact him about auditioning while he was in New York. Following the audition, he landed his breakout role as the film’s lead, playboy turned war-hero Julio. Through Valentino’s thrilling combination of acting skill and dance technique the film became an instant success and brought the once unknown actor to national attention. Following his meteoric rise to stardom, he soon learned the difficulties of working under the studio system when he was forced to star in the B-picture Unchartered Seas. While the film was unremarkable, it did prove to have a lasting impact upon the star, as it was on the set of the film that he met his second wife, actress, dancer, and costume designer Natacha Rambova. The pair married in 1922, which led to Valentino being charged with bigamy because he had not been legally divorced from Acker for a full year yet, as was required by California law. In an effort to avoid further scandal, the couple obtained an annulment and lived in separate apartments for a year before remarrying in 1923. Unfortunately, his second marriage proved little more successful than his first as Rambova became controlling and alienated him from both his friends and business associates to such an extent that MGM banned her from his film sets. The couple eventually divorced, with Valentino so bitter towards Rambova that he reportedly only left her one dollar in his will.

After moderate successes with Camille and The Conquering Power, Valentino was cast in his most famous part; Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan in the 1921 romance, The Sheik. In the film, he plays a modern take on Beauty and the Beast as an Arab sheikh who kidnaps a European tourist in hopes of making her one of his wives, only to later find himself softened by the woman’s plight. The film ends with Valentino earning the heroine’s affections after revealing that he is not really an Arab after all but actually a half-British, half-Spanish orphan who was raised by the local sheikh following his parents’ deaths. Although the film contains many racist elements (including the final reveal), Valentino actually tried to inflect as much complexity and humanity into his character as possible. He also defied Hollywood norms when he refuted a reporter during an interview promoting the film saying, “people aren’t savages because they have dark skin; the Arab civilization is one of the oldest in the world. The Arabs are dignified and keen brained”. While some consider the film’s Beauty and the Beast style romance sexist, the film became nothing short of a cultural phenomenon, which led to popularization of the slang terms “sheikh” and “sheba” to describe men and women with sex appeal, and cemented Valentino’s status as a silver screen sex symbol.

Beating Fabio to the punch by seventy years
Despite the film’s success, Valentino was displeased with the way in which it limited his career. Following The Sheikh, he was cast in a series of similar films, all of which featured him in the role of the ‘exotic lover’. While the typecasting ensure that he would continue to receive steady work, it also left the actor frustrated with the lack of challenges it posed. Compounding this issue, he was still making significantly less money than his fellow stars ,which led him to go on a ‘one man strike’ against his studio, Famous Players. The studio retaliated by suing, but quickly withdrew the suit after their other leading actor, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle became embroiled in a career ending scandal. After the end of his strike, he continued to feel limited in his career and took a brief hiatus from acting during which he returned to dancing in a national tour alongside his wife, Rambova. In 1923, he returned to acting and starred in a series of successful films at Famous Players, but left the studio in 1924 when Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks approached him about joining their new studio venture, United Artists.

Although he achieved success at United Artists, Valentino’s career suffered as a result of Rambova’s insistence upon managing his career. In an effort to help him move beyond the roles he was typecast in, she picked a series of films that required him to play more subdued, even effeminate parts. The drastic change in roles caused a shift in his public perception, particularly amongst male moviegoers who viewed the star as a ‘sissy’. Following his divorce from Rambova, speculation arose that the star was actually a closeted homosexual and that both of his marriages were attempts to hide his sexual orientation. These accusations infuriated Valentino, who viewed the rumors as both an affront to his masculinity and a slight against his personal character. When an editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune that accused him of contributing to the rise in homosexuality in America, he arranged for the writer to face him in a boxing match. While the stunt did provide publicity for Valentino’s latest film, the writer failed to attend the match and rumors continued to abound regarding Valentino’s sexuality.

Towards the end of his career, he continued to challenge himself with a variety of new ventures. In 1923 he attempted to launch a writing career by publishing a book of poetry entitled Day Dreams, and several articles for Life and Photoplay magazines. He also produced two song recordings, “Kashmiri Song” and "El Relicario", which were not released until after his death. He eventually achieved his goal of gaining more input in his films and continued to challenge himself by venturing into the business world with the creation of Rudolp,h Valentino Pictures in 1924. He also started the tradition of awarding honors for the cast and crew of exceptional pictures before the Academy Awards was even formed when he awarded the first (and only) Rudolph Valentino medal to John Barrymore for his role in Beau Brummel in 1925.

While on tour promoting the sequel Son of The Sheikh, Valentino collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with gastric ulcers and appendicitis. Following surgery to remove his appendices, he suffered a pleuritis relapse in his left lung and entered a coma. After briefly regaining consciousness, he slipped back into the coma and died on August 23, 1926 at age 31. An estimated 100,000 people attended his funeral, including numerous distraught fans who made dramatic scenes and threatened to commit suicide in hopes of gaining media attention through association with the deceased star. Four actors were also hired by the funeral home to impersonate Benito Mussolini’s Blackshirts and pretend to guard the funeral in hopes of stirring up more publicity. Valentino’s then-girlfriend, actress Pola Negri, also participated in the pandemonium by throwing herself onto his coffin and announcing that they had been engaged, despite the fact that none of his friends had been told of any such engagement. Even after the funeral, the stunts persisted with a woman being hired by a local newspaper to visit the star’s grave and place flowers upon it while wearing a black veil that concealed her face. The ‘woman in black’ tradition continued for decades as dozens of copycats imitated the original stunt.

Today, the name Valentino remains as synonymous with seduction as the fictional Don Juan. In his brief career, Rudolph Valentino proved himself to be far more than a mere pretty face, however, as he continued to challenge himself as a dancer, actor, writer, and entrepreneur. His films remain a reminder of the timelessness of talent and magnetism, as his performances continue to cast their spell nearly a century later. Take a tango on the sultry side and see how much there is to love about cinema's most famous of Latin lovers.

Rudolph Valentino: Making the ladies say ole since 1921

A review of "The Seasoning House"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “The Seasoning House”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Why does every film set in the Balkans have to be so d@mn depressing?  According to every film set there, everyone’s either a war criminal or a sex slave.  Granted, the Balkans is an area known to be a place of great conflict and political unrest, but come on can we cut that region a break?  There’s got to be more to the Balkans than just war, genocide, and human trafficking.  I truthfully want to believe that it can’t be like that there all the time, so to the filmmakers of the world, could someone please try to make a film about the Balkans that isn’t depressing as all hell? I’m sure they’d really appreciate that, thanks.      
So the film I’m reviewing today is called “The Seasoning House”. It is set in the Balkans in the year 1996, and it follows a young girl called “Angel”.  Angel is a deaf-mute and was kidnapped by a group of soldiers during the Balkan Conflict; her mother was murdered right in front of her.  She is taken to a man named Viktor to be used as a prostitute.  Viktor decides not to force her to work as a prostitute, and instead makes Angel his caretaker.  Her jobs consist of keeping the—rundown and dilapidated—house clean, and injecting the other girls with heroin to numb them out while various men pay to have sex with them.  When Angel is not taking care of the house or the girls, she is usually wandering through the wall and the air ducts of the home, for no particular reason.  At one point, Angel befriends one of the new girls at the house named Vanya.  Vanya is able to communicate with Angel because she knows sign language.  Vanya and Angel become very close, but one day Vanya is beaten and raped to death by a brutish soldier, and that’s when Angel decides to take her revenge.    She escapes from the house and pretty soon she has a small group of soldiers pursuing her, and wanting to kill her.               
It's a hard knock life for...everyone in this region
    The plot of this film is depressing, but it’s been done to death before.  It’s the story of a girl kidnapped from her family and forced into a life of hard labor and other demeaning acts, that eventually leads up to the girls planned revenge and escape.  It’s all too predictable and cliché.  Once Angel escapes from the house that’s when the film goes from okay to boring. I found the cast of “The Seasoning House” performed their roles very well.  For one thing, every character spoke with the correct accent in this film, and I liked that because nothing annoys me more than watching a film set in 18th Century France and only one person speaks with a French Accent while everyone else in the film is talking with a British or American accent.        
An unlikely friendship in a difficult situation
The role of Angel is played by actress Rosie Day, and you would think playing the role of a character who cannot speak would be easy, but it’s actually not. She has to convey everything about her and her emotions into facial expression and body movements.  We learn most of her background in the film from seeing it through the perspective of flashbacks.  One thing they did in the film that I really liked and thought was a good idea is that whenever they were showing something from Angel’s Point of View there was no sound, so it almost made you feel like you were seeing things happening from her perspective.  I have to give credit to Rosie Day for doing a great job with this role.     
You're a complex character, Viktor
                 The other major character in this film is Viktor, who is played by actor Kevin Howarth.  What they did with Viktor’s character that I liked is they made him very complex.  Most of the film I couldn’t tell if he was supposed to be a villain or an anti-hero.  When we first see him in the film, it is right after a new batch of girl’s are brought to his place.  He looks at them and tells them that they can forget about their old lives and just give up hope, because no one is coming to rescue them.  To assert his point even further, he takes one of the girls and slits her throat right in front of the others.  Then you see him in other scenes with Angel, and he appears to be very protective of her.  He tells all the men who come to the house to leave her alone and not bother her.  He confesses to Angel that he loves her and wants to run away with her someday, but then he does something awful like rape her (which is not shown in the film, but is implied) and then he hunts her after she escapes.  I’m glad the films screenwriters decided to make him more complex of character rather than just straight out villain because it kept things interesting for a while.  As for the rest of the cast they’re all pretty forgetful.               
     If you want to check out this film, I won’t dissuade you.  It’s not a bad film, but it’s not that original of a story.  I guess that’s a problem when you have 4 different screenwriters working on a screen play.  I think if you like stories that are very character driven you will like “The Seasoning House”, but other than that I don’t see this film appealing to a wider audience.