Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Das Film Junkie's 5 Favorite Films: Guilty Pleasures


Das Film Junkie’s 5 Favorite Films: Guilty Pleasures

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Hello Friends, Das Film Junkie here with another edition of
Das Films Junkie’s 5 Favorite Films.  This week I’ll be counting down my Top 5 Guilty Pleasures, the films that practically everyone despises, but a few people actually enjoy and appreciate for their campiness, unintentional comedic moments, and just for all around being bad.  Well, here are my 5 Guilty Pleasures

5.) Don’t Look in the Cellar

Some of you may remember I did a review a while back called “5 Reasons why you must see Don’t Look in the Cellar”, in it I proceed to bash the film for being poorly written, having hammy acting, plot holes, galore, and a ton of other flaws, but instead of bashing the film for having all of these things, I praised it for being so enjoyably bad!  If you haven’t read my review of it already, definitely check it out, and after that you should also check out “Don’t Look in the Cellar”, it’s up there in the Best-Worst Movies ever, I’d rank it up there with films like “Troll 2” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space”.
5 Reasons Why You Must see "Dont Look in the Cellar"

4.)  Night of the Living Dorks

Night of the Living Dorks” is a hilarious German Dark-Comedy that came out in 2004.  It’s the story of 3 loser friends in high school who are transformed into zombies after a voodoo hex is accidentally placed on them.  The boys newfound zombie-ism is hard to adjust to and accept at first, but after a while they boys discover that being zombies have some major advantages.   Night of the Living Dorks” is kind of like a “American Pie” with zombies.  At times it feels like the films A German film studio wanted to make an American Teen Sex-Comedy; this film has every cliché character, the nerd, the socially-awkward protagonist, the sex obsessed pretty-boy, the popular jerk, the sadistic gym teacher, the hot and popular blonde, everyone is there!  It’s part spoof, part comedy, part horror, and is just so cheesy that I can’t help but enjoy it.

3.)  Alien Resurrection

Everyone says that this is the worst movie in the “Alien” franchise, but I strongly disagree.  Everyone complained when “Alien3” came out and said they wanted a better ending to the “Alien” franchise, well you got one.  Yes, it’s hammy and has more comedic scenes then it does action and thrills, but I still enjoyed this ending a whole lot better than it’s predecessor.  Not only that but the screenplay was written by Joss “The Sci-Fi Boss” Whedon and it was directed by one of my favorite All-Time Directors Jean-Pierre Jenuet.  So yeah, “Alien Resurrection” is pretty darn enjoyable and I’m glad it was made, and I’m glad it exists.
 

2.)  Suckerpunch

The first time I saw “Suckerpunch” in theatres, I was beyond confused, and after it came out on DVD and I watched it, I had a better understanding, but I was still pretty darn confused.  Every time I watch “Suckerpunch” I seem to notice 2-3 things I didn’t notice the first few times I watched it.  I like that about the film.  Not to mention I get to see my porcelain skinned goddess, Emily Browning, kick butt and take names throughout the entire film.  I was conflicted on whether or not I could count this film as a guilty pleasure because I know a lot of people who like this film, but I also know a lot of people who don’t like this film, but I decided to include it anyways because I think I know more people who hate it, then enjoy it.
 

1.)  Great Balls of Fire!

Great Balls of Fire!” is a loose interpretation of the 1950’s Rock N Roll Icon Jerry Lee Lewis.  The film follows his rise to Rock N Roll stardom, to his fall from grace after it was revealed that he had married his 13-year-old second cousin.  This film is bad.  Like really bad.  And yet I’ve seen it three dozen times.  No one in this film gives a competent performance.  Winona Ryder sounds like a pre-pubescent Scarlett O’Hara as Myra Brown.  Alec Baldwin is over-the-top hilarious as the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart, and even more over-the-top hilarious is Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis.  What’s most hilarious about Quaid’s performance is that I don’t think he ever spoke to Jerry Lee Lewis before the role, I think he just listened to the song “Great Balls of Fire” once and then decided that he was just going to talk the way he sang the whole film.  This is hands down my ultimate guilty pleasure.  I enjoy this film so much that last year IFC movie channel showed this film 5 times in one day, and I watched it all 5-Times! If you haven’t seen “Great Balls of Fire!” at least once in your life time just to see how bad it is, and then hopefully you’ll appreciate it as much as I do.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When is it appropriate to remake a film?


Confessions of a Junkie: When is it appropriate to remake a film?

By: Brian Cotnoir
     Film remakes are a very touchy subject.  Some people think they are good for the film industry because they can improve upon classic films and help them reach a new generation of film watchers, while others claim that they are unnecessary and taint the legacy of great films.  Whether you like or despise them film remakes seem to be here to stay, but when is it appropriate (or even necessary) to remake a film?  I’ve done taken some time to look at various films and there re-makes, and I think I’ve reached a sensible enough conclusion as to when it is and is not appropriate to remake a film.  Keep in mind this is all strictly my opinion, so if my ideas of whether or not a film should be made is different your ideas of whether or not certain films should be remade, just keep that in mind that this is all strictly opinion.                 
One of these things is not like the other...
You know it’s interesting how I find some film remakes to be very good, while others make me absolutely furious.  I review mostly Horror films, so let me talk about two of my favorite Horror films that have been remade.  Pyscho” (1960) and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920) are two of my All-Time Favorite Horror Films, and both have been remade in the past twenty years, and both are virtual shot-for-shot identical remakes of their original films, and yet I have very different opinions on their remakes.  I can’t even make it through the whole remake of “Psycho” with Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates, because it launches me in to a furious blinding fan-boy rage, but yet, I have no problem at all with the remake of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (2005).  Why would I feel differently about both films instead of hating or liking them both equally?  Well, the thing is I already viewed Alfred Hitchcock’s original version to be perfect, while Gus Van Zant’s remake I view as being totally unnecessary, because it the film didn’t need to be told in color, and Vince Vaughn is nowhere near as talented an actor as Anthony Perkins.  As opposed to the remake of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” which has the added benefit of sound (the original is a silent film) and HD picture.  It doesn’t really make that much sense now does it?  If I hate one film for doing it one way, shouldn’t I hate the other in turn for doing the same?            
Were subtitles really that bad of a thing?

     What about remakes of Foreign Films?  A while back I reviewed the vampire film “Let Me In”, and Americanized remake/reboot of the popular 2008 Swedish film “Let the Right One In”.  Let the Right One In” is another one of my favorite Horror films, and I was outraged the first time I watched “Let Me In”.  They took all the dialogue from the 1st film and just translated from Swedish to English, and I counted a total of 42 shot-for-shot scene recreations. Again, why does this bother me if it’s a virtual shot-for-shot remake?  If they two films are so similar shouldn’t I like them both equally?  Well, I have a problem with “Let Me In” being released only 2-years after the original.  Two years, is too short of a span to remake a film for American audiences.  This isn’t the only foreign film to be remade within a couple years of it’s released; there’s also “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Old Boy”, and “The Grudge”.  I can understand subtitles can be a b!tch to read while watching a foreign film, but come on people don’t be so lazy!  Most DVD’s of foreign films feature English voice over dubs.  Don’t wait a couple years for them to remake a foreign film entirely in English see the original and enjoy it for what it is.    
A remake that's as good (if not better) than the original :)
Remaking a film too soon can have negative consequences, but waiting the right amount of time can be very beneficial to a film remake.  A film like “Dracula” has been remade and retold since its original adaptation in 1931.  The films studios back then obviously didn’t have the big budgets and special-effects that today’s have, so they were forced to work with what they had.  Flash forward 60 years and the story of Dracula is retold again by Academy Award Winning Director Francis Ford Coppola with “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” a film with larger budget, an A-List cast, superior special effects, and grand settings throughout the entire film. It is just a remarkable how far the story of “Dracula” has come since Director Tod Browning’s first film version in 1931.  However, not all films remakes are better after time.  For example, the 1999 remake of “The Mummy”—another remake of a classic Universal Monster Movie—relies overly on Computer Generated Special Effects in their version.  Just because you have better special effects in your film does not mean your film remake is of a better quality than the original.  In fact, I would say that I prefer the original 1932 version with Boris Karloff to the 1999 remake.                              
     However, a film remake should also make sense at attempts.  Last House on the Left” was a wonderful horror film for the time it was made in 1972, however the remake felt very out of place and unrealistic.  In the original the idea of a family being so secluded that no one can call for help is very believable for its time, but the 2009 remake doesn’t seem very plausible at all. It’s hard to believe that in a time where cell phones and internet access are available practically everywhere that this girl and her family were so secluded that they could not find or reach help.       
Yes, you were awesome and worth it
Now, when is it okay to remake a film?  Well a certain amount of time is needed before a film is remade, in most cases, at least 15-20 years should have passed before a film is remade.  Secondly, if you’re going to remake a film, you should not pick a film that was already successful, if you’re going to remake a film then please pick a less successful film to make a better version of.  For example, “Judge Dredd” and “RoboCop” were ripped by critics upon their release, but their remakes faired very well with critics and audiences alike.  It only makes sense to remake a film that was a commercial failure because then  you can improve upon what you did wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised if someday there was were remakes of films like “Waterworld”, “Catwoman” or “Battlefield Earth”.     
      Now there are other times its acceptable to remake a film.  Sometimes when a director is making a film they have to compromise parts of the films plot or have to make unwanted changes to it (usually due to things like budget, timing, or pressure from the studio).  So the director’s final vision for the film is never fully realized.  If the film is successful (even with the unwanted changes) the director will sometimes make a “Sequel” to the film, but it’s not a traditional sequel that’s a continuation of the plot from the first film.  Take for example, films like “Hostel II” and “Evil Dead II” are almost identical to their first films; plot wise.  There are only a few subtle differences to between the first film and the second film.  Sequel remakes, typically are bigger successes with directors and producers, then with fans, but they do hold some merit and validity in the film community.         
     Whether you like film remakes or hate them is up to you. Film studios are going to keep producing them as long as they’re out of original ideas or want to make a quick buck.  As long as they leave the classics alone and improve upon films that didn’t live up to their full potential, I don’t think they can do any major harm.

Classics: A Review of A Patch of Blue By Lauren Ennis


Friendship truly is colorblind
The 1960’s was a time of upheaval and extreme division in America, as long held traditions of the staus quo were challenged by the innovations of a new generation. One of the greatest struggles of this decade was the struggle of African Americans to attain the same basic rights as their white counterparts; the Civil Rights Movement. One film explores the Civil Rights Movement from behind the headlines and offers insight into the simple lives of people determined to live with dignity despite the disadvantages life has put in their way; A Patch of Blue. Through the simplicity of its story and the nuance of its characterizations, this film became a truly groundbreaking work that showed the absurdity of racism and the importance of friendship in a way that audiences on both sides of the divide could relate to.

The story begins with blind teen Selina D’Arcy living in a tenement in a New York slum with her prostitute mother, Roseanne (Shelley Winters), and her alcoholic grandfather, Ole Pa (Wallace Ford). Although she is nearly eighteen years old, Selina’s life is completely confined to the family’s cramped apartment, which she has rarely left since she went blind at age five. Selina’s activities are restricted to stringing beads, which Roseanne sells to supplement the household’s meager income, doing chores throughout the apartment, and staying out of the volatile Roseanne’s way.  One day, Selina convinces Ole Pa to take her to the park on his way to work, promising that she will still complete her daily bead work. The outing proves to be life altering for her, as she is exposed to the simple pleasures of life in the outside world and meets Gordon Ralfe (Sidney Poitier), a young black man who becomes the first friend she has made since childhood. While Gordon’s brief conversation with Selina at first seems to be an isolated incident, he quickly takes an interest in her plight when he realizes the severity of the neglect and abuse she suffers at home. The two become fast friends, meeting for several hours at the park every day until he must leave to work at his night shift job and she must reluctantly return home. Selina begins to rely upon her friendship with Gordon, and after he learns of how she lost her sight when she was hit with a beer bottle during a domestic dispute and was later raped by one of her mother’s clients, Gordon becomes determined to help her find a better life. He begins by trying to help her move beyond her circumstances through teaching her to function outside of the confines of her apartment with such simple actions as taking her to the grocery store, teaching her how to cook at his apartment, and taking her on long walks around the park. Through Gordon’s help, Selina begins to achieve independence, but finds her newfound freedom threatened by the resistance she finds at home from Roseanne. The situation finally reaches its breaking point when Roseanne decides to move the family out of the apartment in order to open her own brothel, and end Selina’s friendship with Gordon in the process. Ultimately, Selina is forced to choose between the uncertainty of an independent life without her family and returning to the abuse and dependency that she has grown accustomed to.

Shelley Winters even puts Joan Crawford to shame
While numerous films have tackled racism before and since the release of A Patch of Blue, few have been able to do so in such a sensitive and relevant way. While the film could have easily resorted to the tried route of reiterating the obvious contrasts between the ignorance of racism and humanity of tolerance, it instead lets the characters tell their story and allows the audience to make their own conclusions. For instance, while Roseanne is a detestable character, she is contrasted by Ole Pa, who tries to alleviate Selina’s misery but is too consumed by his own addiction to make any significant difference in her life. Similarly, while Gordon is a model of decency, his brother, Mark (Ivan Dixon), proves to be just as racist as Roseanne and is unable to understand how Gordon could be compelled to help a white girl, regardless of how disadvantaged she is. The contrast between the characters shows a full spectrum of attitudes that is as complex as those that are present in the real world, making the story truly realistic. This refreshing realism in turn allows the story to unfold with a nuance and subtlety that is far more engaging than the heavy handed speeches or obvious plot points that films about race and tolerance often rely upon.

The film’s cast turns in uniformly excellent performances that show each character as more than a mere type and draw audiences in to the complicated world of poverty, abuse, and racism that the characters inhabit. Elizabeth Hartman’s debut is a truly outstanding performance as she alternates between Selina’s adult experiences and child-like naiveté, and effectively portrays Selina’s blindness without letting her character’s disability define her performance. Sidney Poitier‘s Gordon is an excellent contrast to the harsh world of the D’Arcy’s apartment, with his usual mix of stoicism and charm making Gordon a symbol of the decency, intelligence, and compassion that are so lacking in Selina’s life. Shelley Winters’ is nothing short of dynamite as the short tempered tart, Roseanne, and truly deserved the Best Supporting Actress Oscar that she won for capturing the hopelessness and ignorance of Roseanne’s wasted life. Wallace Ford aptly portrays the weakness and helplessness that addiction reduces even the most well-meaning of people to in his role as Ole Pa, and Ivan Dixon excellently shows the bitterness that can consume people after years of adversity in his performance as Mark.

While its story may be simple, A Patch of Blue remains one of the most effective and compelling films to explore the issue of race in America. The story’s straight forward approach allows the narrative to stand on its own and makes its point without forcing views or ideas onto its audience. The exemplary performances of the cast bring the story to life in a way that is truly relatable and remains relevant over forty years after its initial release. For an intelligent film that shows the power of decency and friendship in the face of adversity, look no further than A Patch of Blue.

Who knew that the supermarket could be such fun?!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A review of "Sick Girl"


Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Sick Girl”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Have you ever seen a film that you enjoyed and that was good, but at the same time broke your heart because it could’ve been so much better?  Well that’s how I feel about the 2007 American Horror/Splatter film “Sick Girl”.  It was a truly enjoyable film, and I do mean that, but for some mundane reasons (9/10 it’s related to the budget) it kept a good film from being a great film.   
Sick Girl” is the story of a young woman named Izzy, who lives in a small rural town in California with her younger brother Kevin.  Izzy’s parents are both deceased, and her older brother Rusty is fighting overseas in Iraq.  Izzy struggles to play the role of older sister, older brother, mother, and father to her brother Kevin, the only help she receives is from Barney, an old friend of her deceased father.  On the outside, Izzy appears to be a very loving and supportive guardian, but Izzy also has a dark side. She secretly harbors incestuous feelings for her older brother Rusty, attacks her younger brothers bullies, and she carjacks drifters and makes them her own personal prisoners to torture.  Is Izzy just a sociopath, or does she act violently as a creative outlet to the stress of being a sole family provider?                   
Sick Girl” has a lot of good qualities.  It’s strongest point is having a character like Izzy as the films protagonist (or anti-hero I should say).  The complexity of her character only adds to her coolness in the film.  In one scene she comes off as very sweet and nurturing, and in the next scene she’s screaming and acting psychotic..  Izzy is played by actress Leslie Andrews, she kind of looks like a butch version of Ellen Page in “Sick Girl”, but still gives a great performance.  She was quite good in this film.   
Izzy, you're complex, but that's what makes you so awesome!

Classics: A Review of Stand By Me By Lauren Ennis

I don't shut up, I grow up, and when I look at you I throw up!

Childhood is often considered a time of ultimate innocence and wonder. It is during this crucial period in which we step beyond the boundaries of family relationships and explore the trust, understanding, and heartache that make up friendships. Over time however, the lessons that we learn and the friendships that we are certain will last a lifetime are tested and questioned as we embark upon the process of coming of age. One film perfectly captures the exhilaration, confusion, confidence, and anxiety that make up the turning point between childhood and all that lies beyond; the 1986 coming of age classic Stand By Me.

The story is a deceptively simple one; a slice of 1950’s Americana on the surface that slowly reveals itself to be a poignant tale of the wisdom that is gained when innocence is lost. The film begins with best friends Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman), and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) enjoying their last summer before entering junior high school. The summer is a difficult one for Gordie, who is still reeling from the recent death of his older brother, Denny (John Cusack), who was killed in a car accident. The boys’ aimless summer takes on a new sense of adventure, however, when Vern overhears his brother talking to a friend about discovering the body of a missing boy after disposing of a stolen car in the local woods. When Vern relates the tale to his friends, the boys immediately decide to take a trip into the woods to find the body and alert the police, thereby becoming local celebrities and heroes. Over the course of the two days that make up their trip, the boys are confronted with demons from their respective pasts, the threat of a rival gang also searching for the body in the present, and the uncertainty of what awaits them in September. While they embark upon the trip to find a dead body, the boys ultimately find their first glimpse of life beyond the confines of their own back yards.

While the story is at heart another in a long line of coming of age tales, the expert writing elevates the film to classic territory. The mixture of casual camaraderie, good natured ribbing, and heartfelt confidences that make up the boys’ dialogue makes their friendship both engaging and believable. Although there are moments of memorable comedy and action, the film truly shines as a character study, with each boy facing his own fears and triumphs to grow one step closer to manhood. As a result, the audience gets to know each of the boys as people rather than as types and understands the shared interests and experiences that have bonded them together. The film also succeeds in providing the boys with enough differences and disputes to ensure that their bond is a realistically complex one, rather than falling into the trap of complacently having all of the characters agree and get along through the entire plot. Through this focus upon character development, each of the boys’ interactions, ranging from discussions about tv shows to confessions of difficulties at home ,carries weight as it sheds light upon who each of the characters is and foreshadows the men they will one day become. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the film is the ending, which reveals the fates of each character in a way that aligns with the events that occurred in the film and grounds the plot in a firm sense of reality, while still paying homage to the nostalgia of days gone by.

Those cheap dime-store hoods
Despite the film’s exemplary script, Stand By Me would not be the classic that it has become without the talents of its cast. Wil Wheaton makes for an ideal everyman in his performance as central character Gordy, aptly portraying Gordy’s ‘good kid’ persona while still hinting at the inner demons he is facing in his isolated home life. Similarly, River Phoenix’s winning combination of tough guy charm and vulnerability makes Chris a fully fleshed character, leaving little wonder as to why Gordy relies upon and looks up to him. Corey Feldman provides an engaging turn as the mentally unstable Teddy, and manages to convey Teddy’s instability without resorting to theatrics or histrionics. Jerry O’Connell’s performance as Vern is a refreshingly human take on the typical ‘funny chubby kid’ role that is so prevalent in adolescent films, and adds a layer of depth to what could have easily been a one note role. The supporting cast adds the darkness and complexity necessary to connect the boys’ exploits in the woods to the greater scheme of life in 1950’s America. John Cusak’s likable portrayal of Gordy’s nurturing older brother, Denny, is an excellent contrast to the disdain of Gordy’s grieving father (Marshall Bell) and the menace of local hood Ace (Keifer Sutherland), who stand in for the disappointments and dangers of the adult world. Finally, Richard Dreyfuss holds the film’s narrative together with a combination of hard earned wisdom, nostalgia, and intelligence as the adult Gordy, who also serves as the film’s narrator.

Through its comedic charm, heartfelt poignancy, and mature outlook, Stand By Me is a perfect example of what a coming of age film should be. Although the film relates a simple, small town tale, it manages to do so in such a way that the adolescent adventures of its heroes become nothing short of epic. The superb writing and exemplary performances provide the simple premise with depth and complexity to make the film truly a universal and resonating story that anyone who can remember their own childhood can relate to. At the film’s finish, the now-grown Gordy writes that he “never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve”; regardless of how true that sentiment might be, during the film’s running time we can all relive the simple joys of those carefree days in which we knew exactly who we were, where we were going, and what it meant to be a friend.

Who wouldn't cherish these moments?!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A review of "Dark Touch"


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

By: Brian Cotnoir

     I don’t think I’ve bashed any countries Horror films as much I have the Irish.  The biggest problem I have with Irish Horror films is that they are typically long, drawn out, and uneventful.  However, this year, I saw and reviewed the Irish Horror-Comedy “Stitches”, and much to my surprise I enjoyed it.  So I decided to see if Ireland had any other decent Horror films, out there.  After a search of Netflix, I found the film I’m reviewing today “Dark Touch”.                                 
Dark Touch” tells the story of a young girl named Neve.  Neve is young girl around 11-years-old who has been known to run away from her home at night and is typically found by her neighbors screaming in fear.  Her parents claim that she’s suffering from sleepwalking and try their best to cope with such a difficult child.  A few nights later, a fire breaks out Neve’s house and her parents are found dead.  Neve is found hiding in a crawl space clutching her infant brother, but unfortunately for Neve she accidentally smothered her brother to death trying to protect him from the smoke and flames.  After this tragedy Neve’s neighbors are appointed her legal guardian.  Her neighbors do her best to help her through this difficult time, but as time goes on my bizarre and supernatural things begin to happen around Neve.  Some people claim that the girl is suffering mental breakdown, while others suspect there might be something more sinister and paranormal going on.     
I have some mixed feelings about “Dark Touch”.  It was a very slow paced film, and I became impatient at times waiting for something to happen or be explained in the plot.  That’s another problem I had with “Dark Touch”: I felt like it overly relied on atmosphere to explain the plot.  Now, I’ll credit the filmmakers for not spoon-feeding us exposition and leaving certain elements of the film up to audience interpretation, but for the love of your God, there were just something’s I wish they would’ve done a better job explaining.  Maybe it was a problem with the directing or how the story was written, but it seemed like for every question I had about the plot that got answered in the film, there were 10 more questions that went unanswered.                                            
Go on B!tch Cry!  I dare you!  I Double Dare You!
As many of you already know, I don’t like to nitpick child actor’s performances, and I’m not going to do that.  However, I will say that I think Neve’s character was not given any good lines or dialogue to work with it.  Throughout the film it seemed like every other thing coming out of her mouth was a high pitched scream of terror.  This little character quirk got annoying incredibly fast, and at times I found myself shouting “Somebody slap that girl across that face and shut her, the hell up!” (and that request was granted a few times throughout the film).  Again, I don’t think it has anything to do with a poor performance from actress Missy Keating, I just feel she was not given any good dialogue to work with.                             
Now as for the good things about “Dark Touch”, I liked how they showed Neve’s relationship with two of her classmates, who were being violently abused by their mothers.  There isn’t much dialogue spoken in those scenes, but you can just tell from those brief encounters in the film that Neve and the two siblings have established a connection to one another.  I also quite enjoyed the ending to “Dark Touch”: it was dark, it was macabre, it was creepy, and the ending alone made this film worth watching.              
I personally thought “Dark Touch” was an all right film. It certainly wasn’t terrible, but at the same time I can’t think of any demographic of Horror fans that I think would be interested in this film. My advice to you is this: If you ever find that you have an hour and half to kill: then check out “Dark Touch”, and if you’re a person who’s usually too busy or if you’re one of those people who get frustrated trying to figure out a films plot, then you should definitely avoid this one.

Classics: A Review of The Last Tycoon By Lauren Ennis


Wonder how many of those it took to get through production
In the decades since his death, F. Scott Fitzgerald has become one of America’s most famous and beloved novelists. Following meager sales and negative critical feedback of his now classic novels The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night combined with a tumultuous personal life, Fitzgerald like many struggling artists, came to view himself as a failure. At the end of his life, he began work on a comeback novel that he was determined to use to make his way back to the top of the literary world; The Love of the Last Tycoon. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at age 44 before the novel could be completed. The unfinished novel was edited and published one year later in 1941, and was released as a major motion picture in 1976. Ultimately, despite its promising premise, the film fails to live up the potential of either its literary pedigree, or star studded cast and remains little more than a curious insight into a story that might have been.

The film tells the story of rising film executive Monroe Stahr (Robert De Niro); a fictional composite of both MGM producer Irving Thalberg and Fitzgerald himself. The plot of the film is loose at best, with numerous scenes that show Monroe’s daily grind as a top movie mogul without providing any real insight into the characters or driving the plot forward. During these scattered interactions audiences are introduced to the temperamental stars that he must spend his days appeasing, and the directors and writers who are unable to meet his artistic expectations, as well as his charismatic mentor and boss Pat Brady (Robert Mitchum). Meanwhile, as he attempts to juggle his hectic work life, Monroe must also contend with thwarting the constant advances of Pat’s fiery college student daughter, Cecelia (Theresa Russell), as he pursues an unrequited love affair with would-be starlet Kathleen Moore (Ingrid Boulting). Ultimately, Monroe’s pursuit of his romantic and professional goals ends in defeat as, in an echo of Fitzgerald’s own fall from grace, he is jilted by the fickle Kathleen and bought out by his fellow studio executives.

Despite changes to the story’s narrative structure, the script remains largely faithful to Fitzgerald’s novel. In fact, it is the faithfulness of the adaptation that hinders its success as a film most. While Fitzgerald is known for his lyrical prose, his dialogue is often difficult to translate to the screen, as was evidenced by his inability to make a successful career as a screenwriter. The artificiality of the dialogue is most evident during the scenes chronicling Monroe’s whirlwind romance with Kathleen, as the pair speak to one another in a meandering stream of metaphors and reflections that are far too formal and contrived to resemble the conversations of an actual couple. Similarly, the gentle pacing and philosophic reflections that make Fitzgerald’s work so poetic on the page only lead to awkward pauses and a lack of central focus on the screen. As a result, the film plays as a series of alternatingly interesting vignettes rather than a cohesive whole. The lack of focus is made particularly jarring by the constant flow of characters in and out of the film who leave the plot just as audiences become invested in their roles. This inconsistency leads to frustration for audiences, as they are prevented from viewing a full story by the constant bombardment of secondary characters who have little to no impact upon the film’s plot and unresolved sub plots. These flaws within the film are the same flaws that remained in the novel upon its publication, which leads this reviewer to suspect that had the film’s makers taken license with the source material, they may have been able to present a more polished and complete story that was closer to the vision that Fitzgerald intended for his unfinished work.

An excellent summary of our leading lady's performance
While the film does contain a talented cast, the inconsistent screenplay and unnatural dialogue made it difficult for the majority of its stars to turn in truly dynamic performances. Robert De Niro turns in an understated but passionate portrayal of Monroe, which captures the relentless drive that propelled the young executive from his humble origins to Hollywood success while still showing his inner vulnerability. Similarly, Robert Mitchum provides a an entertaining turn as the charming, womanizing, mogul who acts as Monroe’s mentor before later becoming his chief rival. Theresa Russell’s performance is truly intriguing as she captures the struggle between Cecelia’s ambition and the social restrictions of the time she is living in that prevent her from realizing that ambition. The scenes between these three actors prove to be some of the film’s most entertaining as they involve Monroe’s only interaction with genuinely multi-faceted characters who are neither controlled nor impressed by his studio influence. Jack Nicholson also provides a charismatic performance in his brief role as a left-leaning writer who challenges Monroe’s authority. Unfortunately, the rest of the film’s players seem to be at a loss as to the motives of their characters and the meaning behind their often clunky dialogue. The weakest link of all is Ingrid Boulting, whose performance as Monroe’s elusive love interest is largely limited to reading rather than saying her lines while looking bored.

Overall, while not the failure that it is reputed to be, The Last Tycoon is an unfulfilled film that seems just as far from completion as the unfinished novel upon which it is based. The film contains an intriguing premise, and a variety of talented stars, but unfortunately never manages to utilize either to their full potential. The film’s inability to move beyond the restrictions of its source material leads to a meandering story with a sluggish pace, uneven plotting, and an abrupt ending. I recommend this film only to the most devoted of Fitzgerald’s readers, as the film holds little interest beyond its connection to the author’s final work.

If only you two had more scenes!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

3 Reasons that Norma Desmond is Big (even if the pictures are small) By Lauren Ennis


As readers, television viewers, and film goers, we are exposed to hundreds or even thousands of characters, each living in their own unique world. While most of these characters fade from our memories, some are so richly layered, well written, and expertly portrayed that they live on in our minds for years, decades, and in truly iconic instances generations. One such character is the tragic heroine of the 1950 noir masterpiece Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond. As portrayed by actress Gloria Swanson, Norma is a talented, unique, woman who is so consumed by her past successes that she is letting her present pass her by. While Norma’s acting career ended years before the events of Sunset Boulevard take place, she remains a truly unforgettable character who is, and always will be big.

There's no adoration like self adoration
1.      SHE IS RELATABLE: Despite the many very ugly actions that she commits, there is still something strangely endearing about Norma Desmond; her resonance within real life. Our society values youth, fame, and desirability above all else, all qualities that can only last for a limited time. As a result, many people find themselves faced with a crossroads when they reach a stage in their lives in which they have lost those attributes. This crossroads can become a full-on crises of identity for those who are unable to see beyond the shallowness of these social values, and no group is more susceptible to the pressures of these values than those whose very livelihood depend upon these superficial standards; entertainers. Even today, stars are often considered to be in their prime before they have reached their mid-twenties, and this standard is especially damning for women in the entertainment industry. While male actors such as Cary Grant and George Clooney have gone on to continue playing romantic leads well into their middle age, actresses are often reduced to cameo roles as wives and mothers who serve little function in a film’s plot. This double standard was as much in place in Norma Desmond’s heyday as it is now, making her struggle to accept the end of her all too brief career a chillingly relatable example for today’s entertainers. In an age of botox parties, TMZ, and Youtube celebrities, the desperate need for, and seemingly endless addiction to attention, youth, and temporary pleasures that fuels Norma Desmond’s descent into deluded madness remains as startlingly relevant and ominous now as it was over sixty years ago.

 

2.      SHE IS A TRENDSETTER:  While she is portrayed in the film as a living relic of the past, Norma has proven herself to be a groundbreaking trendsetter in the decades since the film’s original release. In the years immediately following Sunset Boulevard’s debut, a plethora of films detailing the decaying influence of Hollywood were released in an effort to capitalize upon the film’s success. While these films contained differing plots and actors they all had one thing in common; leading roles that were thinly veiled recreations of Norma Desmond. Even today, Sunset Boulevard remains consistent fuel for imitation and parody with television episodes, plays, and novels continuing to exploit the notion of a past legend trapped in their own past even today.

You can't blame Joe Gillis for not wanting to wake up next to those crazy eyes
 

3.      SHE IS SOMEONE WE COULD ALL LEARN FROM: Regardless of how mesmerizing her story is, Norma Desmond is a person that most of us shudder at the thought of imitating. Her warped tale of delusion and decadence can all be summarized by her tragic weakness; her inability to live in the present. Like Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, Norma convinces herself that she can repeat the successes of her past and spends her days locked away from the world in a stubborn effort to maintain this fallacy. While her efforts are exaggerated, her motives are all too familiar, as all of us are faced with moments in which we long to escape to happier moments in our pasts. When overcome, this longing fades into mere nostalgia, but when left unchecked this same yearning can color our presents as pale imitations of an exaggerated past. While Norma’s dilemma highlights the fixation upon past successes in the entertainment industry, the tendency to measure the present unfavorably against the past is a flaw that people of all ages, occupations, and lifestyles can identify with. As a result, Norma’s tragic end remains an example of what can happen when nostalgia is followed through to an illogical extent and serves as a warning that all of us could learn from against the dangers of living in the past.

Cinema's most infamous close-up

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

5 Films that will make you exclaim "What the Hell?!"


Confessions of a Film Junkie: 5 Films that will make you exclaim “What the Hell?!”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     I am a film blogger.  I review all sorts of films.  Most of them I consider to be quite bad, but every now and then I do see a good film and even more surprising is when I see a film that makes me throw my hands up in the air and exclaim “What the Hell?!”.  Some of these films are bad, some of them are so good they’re bad, and then there are some that just plain don’t make any d@mn sense.

5.) Antichrist

I’ve talked about this film and it’s director to know end. Lars Von Trier’s 2009 film “Antichrist” is a mind-f*ck from beginning to end.  I used to despise this film because I couldn’t understand it, and after watching it multiple times, I have finally accepted the fact that Lars Von Trier is a great director who loves to troll his audiences. I’ve heard him give 5 different explanations to the plot of “Antichrist”.  That’s awesome! I mean I could’ve put more than one of Von Trier’s films on this list, but I decided that wouldn’t be fair, so I picked “Antichrist” because it’s the most well-known of Von Trier’s films and it’s probably the most enjoyable. It’s got mysterious characters, weird imagery, graphic imagery, and a plot that quite frankly doesn’t seem to have a point, and a hundred other things that will confuse you.

4.) A Scanner Darkly

Wow, you hear people say something like “That film was so weird; it was like an acid trip”, but “A Scanner Darkly” might be a film inspired by an actual acid trip.  The film is based on by a novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick, and is about an undercover police officer trying to stop a drug addiction epidemic.  What makes the film so trippy is that the whole film was digitally shot and then the film was rotoscope animated over.  I will be perfectly honest I had no idea what was going on for 90% of the film, but it features the acting talents of Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr., and Woody Harrelson.  It’s worth a shot, if you have a chance to see it.  You may not know what the hell is going on, but it is still a visually appeasing film.

3.) Shock Treatment

Shock Treatment” is the 1981 sequel to the cult-classic film “Rocky Horror Picture Show”.  However, where “Rocky Horror Picture Show” is very well known and beloved by all who have seen it, most fans of the original tend to despise “Shock Treatment”.  Well, I agree that it’s not as good as “Rocky Horror” I still didn’t think it was the worst thing ever.  One cool thing about “Shock Treatment” is that it features almost the entire original cast from the “Rocky Horror”, with the exceptions of Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon (who did not reprise their roles of Brad Majors and Janet Weiss).  I honestly don’t think I could explain the plot to “Shock Treatment”, it is that outrageous and bizarre...then again so was the plot to “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, but that was more entertaining outrageous and “Shock Treatment” is more confusing outrageous.  However, I did find most of the songs in “Shock Treatment” to be fun and enjoyable. If you like “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, you owe it to yourself to see “Shock Treatment” at least once.

2.) The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

I’ve only recently seen this film for the first time, and...wow.  It’s the story of a half-American half-Japanese man named Buckaroo Banzai, who is a Surgeon, a Rocket Scientist, a rock star, and a detective, who hunts aliens.  There is just too damn much going on in this film.  You’ve got a protagonist whose just perfect at everything he does, Christopher Lloyd as an alien from the 8th dimension, John Lithgow as the most stereotypical Italian villain you’ve ever seen in film...oh and Jeff Goldblum wearing a cowboy costume that makes him look like he’s auditioning for a Village People Cover-Band.  This isn’t just a “what the hell” film this is a “What in the flying f*ck” film.

1.) Highlander II
Why?  Why was this film made?  Who wanted a “Highlander II”?  Who in Hollywood insisted that this film be made?  What the hell does it have to do with the original “Highlander”?  I don’t know!  This film is awful, it serves no purpose other than to confuse you, frustrate you mentally, and make you exclaim “What the Hell is going on?!”  Trust me: you could probably make a drinking game out of all the times you will ask yourself “What the hell is going on?”, but then again you’d probably succumb to alcohol poisoning before you finish the film.  Just do yourself, and skip “Highlander II”, you can watch the original, but do not see this ungodly and unnecessary sequel!