Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Classics: In Tribute to Robin Williams A Review of Good Will Hunting By Lauren Ennis

Robin Williams casually stealing the whole movie

On Monday, August 11, 2014 iconic actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead at his Tiburon California home as a result of suicide. While the star’s death came as a shock to family, friends, and fans alike, it would be a far greater tribute to Williams’ life to celebrate the positive impact that his work had, rather than focus upon the emerging details of his death. Throughout his career, Robin Williams endeared himself to fans of both comedy and drama through his by turns hilarious, wise, and always likable on-screen persona. In one of his greatest hits, Williams combined his range of acting skills to create a performance that struck the ideal balance between entertainment and emotion to create a truly enlightening and engaging character; the 1997 coming of age drama Good Will Hunting.

The story begins with long time delinquent and unrecognized math genius Will Hunting (Matt Damon) working as a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After self-assured math professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) poses a difficult problem for his class at MIT to solve, he is stunned when the problem is mysteriously solved on the board the next day and none of his students claim credit. In order to challenge the unknown math scholar, Lambeau follows up the original problem with an even more complex and difficult problem that he is sure will go unanswered. To his astonishment ,however, Lambeau discovers Will solving the problem during his janitorial shift that night. Rather than take credit for his accomplishment, Will flees when spotted for fear that Lambeau will report him for taking time out of his shift to solve the problem. That night, Will meets medical student Skylar (Minnie Driver), and gets her phone number only to later be arrested for participating in a bar fight. Rather than serve time, however, Will is given the opportunity of a lifetime when Lambeau makes a deal with the police to exchange Will’s jail sentence for time spent studying mathematics under his supervision and receiving psychiatric treatment.  Unfortunately for Lambeau, Will is no simple case and the host of therapists he hires to treat the young genius quit one by one until Lambeau is finally forced to consult his former roommate and  estranged friend, Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). Through Sean’s guidance, and his budding relationship with Skylar, Will ultimately realizes that there’s no accomplishment without adversity, as he finally gains the courage to face his demons and chase the dreams he finally has the courage to dare to dream.

A genius in his natural habitat; a dive-bar
One of the most interesting aspects of this film is the collaborative process that brought about its creation. Originally started as part of a college assignment, the script was the brainchild of friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who later co-starred in the final film. After receiving critiques from directors Rob Reiner and William Goldman, the pair obtained a contract with Miramax through the influence of their friend, director/writer Kevin Smith. Even after completion of the film’s script, the cast continued to improvise, and alter the script's content. Many of the film’s most memorable moments including Sean’s tale of his wife passing gas in her sleep and his closing reaction to Will’s goodbye note, as well as the majority of Casey Affleck’s lines were improvised during shooting. While improvisation can be a risky tactic, it clearly paid off in this instance, as the lines bring a sense of spontaneity and authenticity to the otherwise carefully measured story. Similarly, the personal nature of the project raised the stakes for both Damon and Affleck in a way that released a passion and skill from both actors that made the film the crowning achievement of both their careers.

While the film features an excellent script and cast, its greatest asset is Williams’ mesmerizing performance. Although he had previously played the familiar archetype of inspirational teacher in Dead Poets Society, Williams takes the mentor motif into refreshingly unfamiliar territory in his portrayal of Sean. Rather than analyzing Will with endless questions like the other psychiatrists who attempt to treat him, Sean instead stands up to Will’s defiance and tells his own story. While unconventional, this method allows Sean to earn Will's trust and learn about Will through an interactive experience rather than through the predictable answers of a controlled interview. Perhaps even more notably, this structure enables Williams to use his full range of acting skills as Sean reveals the heartfelt tale of how he met his wife, the pain of losing her to cancer, his childhood abuse, and the reasons that he wants to teach at a community college even though he certainly doesn’t have to. These revelations also reveal Sean to be a multi-faceted man who has strengths and faults that make him entirely human and more relatable than the almost saintly Mr. Keating of Dead Poets Society. This complexity in turn makes Sean a more difficult character to play as Williams is called upon to alternate between the wounded widower, wise teacher, and challenging psychiatrist that make up Sean’s three dimensional character. In each of his scenes, Williams is dynamic, engaging, and entirely believable whether discussing his character’s past or offering powerful insight into Will’s present and future. Through the subtlety and energy that he brings to the role, Williams steals the film from star and co-writer Matt Damon, and brings an added layer of depth to already intelligent script, making Good Will Hunting a true coming of age classic.

Just one day after the news of Robin Williams’ death was released to the public, an impromptu memorial was created for him at the bench on Boston Common where Sean experiences his first breakthrough in his relationship with Will. This memorial features memorable lines from the actor’s films handwritten by fans, as well as memorabilia and flowers. The outpouring from fans speaks volumes about the influence of both Good Will Hunting and Robin Williams upon the lives of countless fans, and illustrates the enduring power of the actor’s work far better than any article or review ever could. Now, we can only hope that Robin Williams has attained the peace he was unable to find in life and appreciate the body of work he left behind in which he inspired us to reach beyond our limits, seize the day, and make our lives extraordinary.

RIP Robin Williams

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

5 Underrated Actors & Actresses to be on the look for.

Confessions of a Film Junkie: 5 Underrated Actors & Actresses to be on the look for.

By: Brian Cotnoir

     We as humans have fascinations and obsessions with celebrities.  Deep down everyone hopes someday that they will have the chance to meet one of their favorite celebrities; whether it’s to get an autograph, a picture, share drink, or to be intimate with.  Names like Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kate Winslett, Jennifer Lawrence, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Aniston, and Halle Berry are actors and actresses, where if you just mention their name everyone knows who they are, and can name at least one film that they’ve appeared in.  However, those stars typically in big budget A-List films.  Not every person who appears in a film goes on to have a long and illustrious career, however, there are some that have leave quite an impact and could very well go on to be the next biggest star in Hollywood.  So today I am listing 5 Underrated Actors & Actresses to be on the look for, so be sure to keep an eye out in film and television for these guys and gals.  I will be listing them in no particular order.

1.) Joseph Gilgun

Joseph Gilgun is a young British actor who is probably known most famously as playing the caring sympathetic skinhead Woody in the 2006 Independent Drama “This is England”.  He also played a psychotic drug dealer in the 2009 film “Harry Brown” alongside acting legend Michael Caine. Gilgun is also known for his television work in his native Great Britain, where he played the character Rudy Wade in the British version of “Misfits”.  As for American works, he is probably best recognized from his role in Luc Besson’s Sci-Fi/Action/Thriller “Lockout” where he played the neurotic and psychotic antagonist Hydell.   Giglun has a wide range as an actor and can play anything from funny and caring to scary and dangerous.  He also has perhaps the coolest accent ever; he sounds like a Scotsman trying to do a Cockney accent.
Joseph Gilgun in "Lockout"
Joseph Gilgun in "This is England"

2.) Melaine Leishman

Melanie Leishman is a Canadian Actress who is sure to be one of the most underrated young actresses in film and television today.  Leishman, is known for playing the nerdy and titular character Hannah on the Canadian cult favorite television show “Todd & the Book of Pure Evil” where she acted alongside beloved stoner comedian Jay Mewes.  More recently, Leishman appeared in the 2014 Slasher-Musical, “Stage Fright” acting alongside actress Allie MacDonald and rock superstar Meatloaf.  In addition to acting, Melanie Leishman also has a wonderful singing voice.  She is definitely a young up and coming actress to keep an eye out for.

3.) Noah Segan

I’ve bashed Noah Segan on this blog before.  However, I’ve grown to enjoy and even like him as an actor.  I first started enjoying Segan as an actor after seeing him portray drummer Don Bolles in the film “What we Do is Secret”, a biopic on Punk Rock pioneers The Germs.  Where he really won me over was his role in the film “Someone’s Knocking at the Door” (which he also was a co-producer on).  Looking back, he wasn’t as bad as I remembered in “Deadgirl”, though his character is still pretty deplorable.  He tends to specialize in Horror/Thriller roles; I wouldn’t be surprised to see Segan play a role in a Horror film that gets a nationwide release.  Oh, and a Fun Fact: when Segan was a kid he was the voice of the cartoon character Henry on the Nickelodeon show “KaBlam!”.

4.) Danille De Luca

I’ve reviewed two films that actress Danielle De Luca has appeared in: “Naked Fear” and “Necrosis: Blood Snow”.  I bashed both films for being unoriginal and unprofessional.  However, I made it valid that I don’t think Danielle De Luca is bad actress, but the films she appears in typically are—which is a shame—because she is a good actress, but she unfortunately appears mostly in terrible low-budget Horror films.  I wish there were some film studio out there that would give her a chance to show off her acting talent.
5.) Patrick Fugit

He made is big debut alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Almost Famous”.  Actor Patrick Fugit is definitely another Underrated actor in films.  Fugit is probably known best for playing the role of Zia in the 2008 Independent favorite “Wristcutters: A Love Story”, and also played the Lizard boy in the “Cirque du Freak: The Vampires Assistant”. Fugit may not be as well-known as other stars, but his work in Independent films, like “Wristcutters” truly showcase his talents as an actor.

Classics: In Tribute to Lauren Bacall A Review of The Big Sleep By Lauren Ennis

Lauren Bacall 1924-2014
On Tuesday, August 12, 2014 1940’s actress and icon Lauren Bacall died at age eighty-nine. Over the course of her versatile career Bacall acted in over seventy movies, starred in four Broadway plays, modeled in numerous fashion magazines, and was awarded both two Tony Awards and an honorary Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Today, she is best remembered for the smoky voice and no nonsense attitude that made her a symbol of the resilient American woman of the World War II era. Bacall first burst onto the scene in her star-making role as an equal parts seductive and savvy con artist in the 1944 drama To Have and Have Not opposite her soon to be husband Humphrey Bogart. Following both the success of that film and the co-stars burgeoning romance, Warner Brothers decided to capitalize upon the pair’s chemistry and cast them in three more films. One of the most notable of Bacall and Bogart’s films was the 1946 crime classic The Big Sleep; in honor of Bacall’s life and career, I’ll be reviewing this film which features herat her most sharp, slick, and of course sultry.

The story begins with private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) taking a job for the once formidable, but now retired and sickly General Sternwood (Charles Waldron). Sternwood asks Marlowe to track down a blackmailer who has been harassing his youngest daughter, Carmen (Martha Vickers), for gambling debts that he claims she owes. While the general is aware of his daughter’s fondness for playing high stakes, he also suspects that there is something far more substantial and sinister behind the extortion, and hopes that Marlowe can get to the bottom of it. What neither the general nor Marlowe count on, however, is the turn that the case takes when the general’s older daughter, smart-talking divorcee Vivian (Lauren Bacall), takes an interest in both the case and the detective working it. As he follows the blackmailer’s trail, Marlowe finds himself in the midst of a larger conspiracy that involves four murders, a local pornography ring, a casino managing gangster, and the disappearance of the general’s former gun runner protégée. Even in the middle of all the crosses, double-crosses, and revelations that make up the story’s notoriously complex plot, the real action lies in the sizzling scenes featuring Bogart and Bacall as their characters match wits and cigarettes in the true noir fashion.

The Big Sleep contains one of the most fascinating and ultimately dumbfounding plots in the famously confounding genre of film noir. While the story begins with Marlowe tracking pornographer and blackmailer Arthur Geiger, it soon spirals into a series of murders, betrayals, and secrets that reportedly left screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthmann so dismayed that they had to contact the original novel's author, Raymond Chandler ,to determine who killed the Sternwood’s chauffer. The punch-line of the story is that when Chandler tried to answer the screenwriters’ question, even he was unable to solve the mystery. Despite its muddled plot, however, the film engages audiences through its combination of sinister atmosphere, razor-sharp dialogue, and hard-boiled action. Over the course of the film’s running time, viewers can’t help but be caught up in the danger, despair, and excitement that make up Marlowe’s Los Angeles. One of the greatest assets of the film is its writing, which brought Chandler’s complex tale of lust and greed to life in a way that adhered to its risqué source material but still satisfied the Hay’s Code censors. Despite the notorious difficulties that the censors created for filmmakers at this time, the film is in many ways the better for the censors' restrictions, as the main players’ many vices remain fittingly shrouded in mystery and any depravity that the characters participate in is left up to the vividness of viewers’ imaginations, creating an atmosphere ripe with possibilities. The film also showcases some of the most clever and sexy dialogue in all of cinema, with Bogart and Bacall exchanging some of the spiciest double-entendres since Mae West. With a script that is by turns menacing, sensual, enigmatic, clever, and always morally ambiguous, The Big Sleep is a must see for fans of film noir.
Who would have thought 1946 was so kinky?!

Fortunately for the film’s makers, the talented cast creates such engaging performances that the details of the intricate plot quickly become a secondary concern. Humphrey Bogart creates a truly dynamic character in Philip Marlowe by merging his beloved romantic loner persona of such films as Casablanca and To Have and Have Not with the street-wise and hard hitting hoods he began his career playing. Similarly, Lauren Bacall follows-up her star making turn in To Have and Have Not with a similarly witty and tough, but far more dangerous and cunning heroine as Vivian. Martha Vickers provides a stand-out performance in her role as the drug and sex addicted Carmen, capturing both Carmen’s adult wantonness and childlike immaturity with equal skill. The film’s supporting cast all keep the action moving with a series of striking performances in diverse parts that successfully transport viewers to the seamy underworld of post-war Los Angeles.

The Big Sleep is just one of the many films in which Lauren Bacall brought a winning combination of  intelligence, depth, and sex appeal to a role that, if portrayed by another actress, could have been just one more in a long line of one dimensional parts. In Bacall’s capable hands, however, Vivian is a strong, savvy, and independent woman who proves to be just as, if not more, complex than the conspiracy surrounding her family. As movie fans mourn Lauren Bacall’s passing, we can take comfort in viewing her films, which remain just as startlingly fresh and modern today as they appeared to audiences upon their original release. If there is a heaven, I imagine that Bacall is there reunited with Bogart, and that together they are setting the heavens aglow with the same sparks that first endeared them to audiences seventy years ago.
Still the sexiest couple on screen, and they got to keep their clothes on!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Classics: A Comparison of the 1931 and 1940 Versions of Waterloo Bridge By Lauren Ennis

Remakes are one of the most controversial topics in film, and are often credited with causing the current decline in Hollywood’s sales and output. Despite what public outcry would suggest, however, remakes are far from a new invention, and have in fact been a popular trend since films transitioned to sound. This week I’ll be reviewing two versions of the same story that were released relatively close together; the 1931 and 1940 versions of the classic tearjerker Waterloo Bridge. While both films follow the same general plot of the Broadway show that they were based upon, each tells the tragic tale of love found and lost with its own unique twist. Both films were considered commercial and critical successes upon their release, but the question remains, did the remake outdo the original, or should Hollywood have left this story alone?

A right sassy couple
1.      FAITHFULNESS: Although both films follow the general plot of Robert E. Sherwood’s original stage play, the 1940 version does include some significant deviations from the original story. The basic plot in both films begins with Roy serving as a soldier in England during World War I where he meets the love of his life, Myra, during an air raid. The story then follows the couple as they embark upon a whirlwind romance, only to have fate tragically separate them once again. The greatest changes between the two are due to the time in which the remake was made. Because the remake was released at the start of World War II, this version was able to include a framing flashback set during World War II in which Roy  looks back upon his experiences as a young soldier in World War I. While this framing device takes up little of the film’s running time and has no bearing upon the story’s central events, it provides an added connection between the fictional story and the very real horrors of the early twentieth century that inspired it. Through this simple addition, the 1940 release is told within the context of the greater history in which it was produced and poignantly highlights the way in which history can sweep into and irreparably alter people’s lives. The 1940 release of the remake also subjected the script to the restrictions of the Hay’s Code censors, which forced the film’s makers to soften the script’s original gritty content. In the 1931 version, Myra is a poverty stricken chorus girl turned prostitute who meets Roy with the intention of picking him up at Waterloo Bridge as a customer, while in the 1940 version she is changed to a ballet dancer who only resorts to prostitution after a series of hardships that bring her to the brink of starvation. This effort to sanitize its leading lady forced the film’s writers to alter the rest of the 1940 film’s plot accordingly, leading to changes in Roy and Myra’s initial meeting and romance, and her tragic end. Because it would be another three years before the Hay’s Code would be put into effect, the 1931 film was free to retain the original realism of the play and dared to treat its leading lady as a character worthy of dignity and love despite her dubious profession. Through its faithful adaptation of a risqué story, the 1931 film wins points for telling Sherwood’s story in a way that conveyed the harsh reality of the war-time experiences that first inspired him to write it.

As God is my witness I'll never turn tricks again

2.      TRAGIC IMPACT: While the drastic changes to Myra’s back story arguably soften the film’s realism, these changes also provide the tragic events of its plot with a greater emotional impact. The 1931 film approaches Myra’s descent into prostitution in a matter of fact manner that highlights her economic motivations, which in turn reflects the predicament of countless women in her situation throughout the ages. In the 1940 film, however, Myra begins the film as a bright, if naïve, girl with an even brighter future ahead of her in the London ballet. While Myra is still driven by financial need in the remake, it is only after she loses both her career and any hope of seeing Roy again that she begins the downward spiral that ultimately leaves her with no other choice but to starve or make ends meet on London’s streets. This added insight into who Myra is before she meets Roy endears her to audiences early in the film and raises the stakes of her struggle in a way that makes her fall from grace all the more devastating. By showing Myra’s promising start, the writers also provided a greater internal conflict for her to face when she first enters prostitution and adds a greater context to the self-loathing that she feels when she reunites with Roy and finally gives him up. Similarly, the decision to change Myra’s death from her being killed in a bombing to committing suicide makes her death even more tragic, as it removes any possibility that her death was a mere accident of fate.  This in turn makes her death the logical end to the chain of tragic events that mark Myra and Roy’s war-time love story. The added depth that the 1940 remake imbues Myra’s story with makes her a truly complex leading lady and ensures that her story is worth every tear it brings to the eyes of its viewers.

Young love in the days before PETA
3.      STAR QUALITY: Although both films contain fine acting, the acting styles of the early sound era and Hollywood’s Golden Age were drastically different, creating a distinct variation between the two films. Mae Clark is completely believable as the hard as nails Myra, but still imbues her performance with just the right level of charm and vulnerability for audiences to understand what draws naïve Roy towards her. Douglass Montgomery’s lack of acting experience allows him to portray Roy’s lack of life experience in a way that is convincing, but borders on being over the top. The film’s weak writing combined with Montgomery’s unsure performance makes Roy seem so innocent that he makes for an unlikely leading man and an odd match for the street-smart Myra. By contrast, Robert Taylor portrays Roy as an aware but entirely decent man, which lends credibility to both his character’s experiences on the battlefield and unwillingness to see through the change in Myra upon his return. Vivien Leigh brings her usual nuance and charm to her role as Myra and plays both Myra’s initial innocence and later disillusionment with equal skill, making Myra’s descent an involving and tragic journey for audiences. Regardless of Clark and Montgomery’s skills as actors, the stagy acting style and wordy script of the 1931 version makes the film come across more as a filmed play than an actual film, which in turn makes it difficult for audiences to become fully invested in the story. Through its polished performances and modern acting style the 1940 version bests its predecessor in the acting department, bringing the remake the title of top tearjerker. Please provide your vote in the comments!

And The Notebook thought it knew how to do a rainy love scene...ha!

A review of "Sleeping Beauty" (2014)

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Sleeping Beauty” (2014)

By: Brian Cotnoir

Oh No, I’m going to talk about “Sleeping Beauty” again, aaahhhhhhh!!!!!!!!  Well actually, this time I’m not talking about the 2011 Australian version of “Sleeping Beauty” that stars my porcelain skinned goddess, Emily Browning.  No, I’m talking about the 2014 version released by Mock-Buster Kings “The Asylum”, the same studio responsible for classics like “Sharknado” and “Titanic II”.  So in an attempt to capitalize on Disney’s “Maleficent” they produced  Now just to clarify this: there have been two films this year released under the title “Sleeping Beauty” and the one I am reviewing is the version made by “The Asylum”.                                  

    So the plot starts out following the original Grimm fairytale: a king and queen celebrating the first birthday of their daughter, an evil witch (in this version she’s named Tambria) shows up and is furious that she wasn’t invited so she casts a spell on the child and her family proclaiming that on her 16th birthday she shall prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a forever sleep when the Princess (named Dawn in this version) pricks her finger on the spinning wheel.  So the prophecy comes true and the whole kingdom falls asleep and Tambria takes over.
     One-hundred years later we go to the Kingdom of Lipscomb, and see Prince Jayson and his whipping boy Barrow.  Jayson wants so desperately to become King, but can’t until he settles marry’s a princess and has a child.  Barrow discovers a map telling of a sleeping Princess trapped in a faraway kingdom that can’t be awoken until she receives a kiss from her one true love.  So Prince Jayson forces Barrow and a group of other men to go and get the princess so Jayson can become a king.  However, the task isn’t as easy as it seems as the land and waters are crawling with monstrous beasts, undead soldiers, and other traps.  Now it’s up to our group of heroes to not only rescue the princess, but get out alive as well.                   
Our something resembling heroes, Ladies & Gents?
     This film is a mess.  As if changing the character’s names around wasn’t confusing enough to follow, they also had to go ahead and change the plot around as well.  The idea of zombies in the story of “Sleeping Beauty” sounds like it’d be a good idea, but in all actuality it’s not.  And let me just say, I thought the “Sleeping Beauty” (2011) was a dull film, but this one was so dull that I thought I was going to fall into a forever sleep.  It’s so boring!  And don’t even get me started on the CGI.  The CGI is crude and tacky even for The Asylum’s standards.  The CGI is so bad, I would say it’s on the same level as the CGI in a Uwe Boll film, and that’s freaking bad!      
Looks like Uwe Boll's table scraps!

Now the characters in this film are just as dull and generic as the plot.  The film was directed by Casper Van Dien (you know, the guy who played Brahm Bones in Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow”?)  Well he took it upon himself to cast himself as King David in the film.  Not only did he cast himself in the film, but he cast his daughter Grace in the title role, and his other daughters Maya and Celeste in small supporting roles.  This film feels less like “Sleeping Beauty” and more like it probably should’ve been called “Casper Van Dien’s Family Reunion”!  I understand that directors sometimes want to cast their own kids in their films and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it felt so forced in this one.  I mean the character his daughter Maya played, Newt, was completely useless to the plot.  I just think her father put her in the film so she wouldn’t feel left out, but the addition of the character Newt, throws off the plot so much.  How is it that these grown men, with formal combat training are constantly being vanquished by Tambria and her supernatural creations and powers, and yet an 11-year-old peasant girl managed to not only make it onto the castle property without being attacked, but has been living there for weeks without even being noticed!  I’m calling bullsh!t on that one movie.  None of the Van Dien children give a standout performance in “Sleeping Beauty”, so don’t expect to see them in any other films soon unless daddy is directing or producing it.                            
    The only character I actually kind of liked in this film was Prince Jayson, who is played by actor Edward Lewis French.  Even though he is not the protagonist of the film (if anything he’s an anti-hero) I still found his performance to be good and enjoyable.  He’s rude, he’s obnoxious, he’s cocky, and yet I found myself enjoying his character so much, and normally I despise characters with those traits.  So yeah, props go to Edward Lewis French for making me like an unlikable character.        
     Well this is the 3rd film I’ve seen with the title “Sleeping Beauty” and I have to say it’s the most boring one yet, but really would I expect anything less from “The Asylum” film studios?  The Asylum is known for putting around unoriginal low-budget crap, but I still feel like this is pretty bad even for their standards.  That’s right, I feel like the studio that made a film about a tornado made of sharks, held this film to a lower standard then their other works.  There isn’t any group or demographic of people, I could or would recommend this film too.  The only way I could see anyone watching this film is if they mistake this one for the other “Sleeping Beauty” film released this year.  Trust me, you read this blog to know what films to avoid, if I’m saying don’t see it then don’t see it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A review of "Jug Face"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Review of “Jug Face”

By: Brian Cotnoir

It’s funny, how the most minuet things can make you want to watch a film.  Now, I’m the type of person who will watch a film solely because it features one of my favorite actors or was made by one of my favorite directors, even if I think the movie is going to be terrible.  However, what made me want to check out the film I’m watching today isn’t one of my favorite actors or directors, but rather a very obscure musician who did the soundtrack for the film.  In my review of “The Woman” I praised the soundtrack for the film, claiming that it was one of my favorite parts of the film.  The soundtrack was done by an obscure musician by the name of Sean Spillane, when I was doing a search of the internet and saw that he also did the music for another Horror film called “Jug Face” I decided that I wanted to check it out as well.   
    Jug Face” was a film released in 2013 and tells the story of a backwoods community where the people pray to a mysterious pit in the woods that apparently has mysterious healing powers and protects all those who pray to it. However, the protection and healings come with a grave price.   A member of the community named Dawai makes jugs for the other members of the community to store and sell their moonshine in.  He is said to see visions and creates jugs with the images of one of the communities residents on it.  If a person becomes a “jug face” then they have to be sacrificed to the pit.  If the person on the jug face is not sacrificed to the pit, then the pit will send out in unknown creature to slaughter another one of the town’s residents.                                  
Ada sucks as a protagonist
    This is where we meet our main character, Ada; a young girl who is in a sexually relationship with her brother Jessaby.  Ada has a lot of things going against her early on in the film.  She is arranged to be married to another one of the community’s residents—a portly country boy named Body—she is pregnant with her brothers baby, and struggles to keep her pregnancy a secret, and she just learns that she is to be the next sacrifice to the pit.  Ada hides her jug face in the woods, in hopes that it will go away, but people in the community begin to turn up dead, including Ada’s best friend, her brother, her fiancée, and her father.  Ada is faced with a huge moral dilemma, does she tell people that she was supposed to be the next jug face and face her fate, or does she keep lying, hiding, and attempt to escape the community to save herself and her unborn child?               
Dawai & Ada chained to tree, about to be K-I-L-L-E-D
I found some of the aspects of “Jug Face” to be quite enjoyable.  The opening credits sequence consists of these wonderful hand drawn illustrations that are supposed to give you the gist of how “the pit” works and its origins, it doesn’t explain everything with total clarity, but it was visually appeasing.  Now, normally I’m against the “Evil Redneck or Hillbilly cliché” in a Horror film, but I think think the actors in the film did a great job, not overdoing their characters.  Now that I think of it, I wouldn’t consider any character in this film to fall into that category.  They are backwoods people, but they’re not evil rednecks, they’re more like eccentric religious zealots, like the cult in “Silent Hill”.  Now as for the music, I will be honest with you; I felt it was very underwhelming.  Sean Spillane’s music and scores from “The Woman” were great, they were catchy, they were memorable, and I honestly didn’t find any of the songs or scores form “Jug Face” to be on that same level.  The songs aren’t terrible, they just weren’t very memorable.                                             
    Now let’s look at the characters.  I feel like Ada is a very week and unlikable character.  Everything bad that happens in this community is her fault, and she doesn’t want to own up to any of it.  She’s made some mistakes and let things get way too far out of hand, and almost never takes responsibility for it.  So much death and destruction happens because of her selfishness and, I just found her to be a weak and unlikable character.                         
Now the character Dawai I found to very likable.  He’s sort of the “town prophet”.  He’s a slow man, who is said to have visions caused by the Pit and he makes jugs with the faces of the next sacrifice the pit wants.  What was most amazing about Dawai is that I did not even recognize the actor who was playing him.  Dawai is played by actor Sean Bridgers, who also played Chris Cleek in “The Woman”.  I bashed Bridgers acting in that film and constantly referred to him as “Not Quite John C. Reilly”, but I didn’t even recognize him in “Jug Face” and found his role of Dawai to not only be good, but enjoyable too.             
   I found “Jug Face” to be a rather good film.  Fun Fact about it: it was produced by Lucky McKee (Director of “May” and “The Woman”) which I think explains how people like Sean Spillane and Sean Bridgers became a part of the film.  I would describe this film as a low-budget version of “Minority Report” meets “Pumpkinhead”.  I would recommend this film to people who are fans of Lucky McKee’s works, you should definitely check out “Jug Face”, it’s a decent and enjoyable low-budget horror film, if you ask me.

Classics: A Review of Funny Girl By Lauren Ennis

More than just a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls
Biographies are one of the most simple and celebrated genres in film. In a biography, viewers can see an example of a person finding success, often against the odds, with the comforting knowledge that the example is one founded in fact. Because these films are based in reality, the emotions that they convey often affect audiences in a way that is more profound than a fictionalized scenario could accomplish. This accentuated emotion is only increased when such a film also utilizes the power of song to tell its story. One such film is the 1968 musical biography Funny Girl, which tells the rags to riches story of vaudeville and radio star Fanny Brice, a woman whose comedic talent, gumption, and perseverance made her an artist who was truly ahead of her time.

The story begins with comedic star Fanny Brice awaiting her husband’s return from a two year prison sentence and depicts her reflecting upon the many ups and downs that have brought her to this point in her life as she prepares for an upcoming performance. Within minutes, the film launches into a flashback of a teenaged Fanny setting out to audition at a local vaudeville show as a chorus girl against the advice of her mother and friends. While her unconventional looks and lack of dance experience hinder her success at the audition, her stubborn persistence eventually wins her a spot in the line, and an improvised performance cements her start as a stage success. While working as a chorus girl, she makes a brief acquaintance with sophisticated gambler Nick Arnstein, who provides her with both moral support and her first glimpse of life beyond the confines of her vaudeville job and upbringing in the slums of the lower east side. Fanny later reunites with Nick several years later after her successful debut in the Ziegfeld Follies, and the two are on the verge of beginning a romance when Nick leaves to participate in a high stakes poker game on a ship bound for Europe. Heartbroken, Fanny throws herself into her career only to meet Nick again one year later during one of her one night engagements. Despite her best efforts to remain guarded, she and Nick finally embark upon a romantic relationship and eventually marry. As time goes on, however, Fanny’s career continues to flourish while Nick’s luck finally runs out, forcing him into a secondary role in their relationship. Fanny’s efforts to alleviate Nick’s despondence only cause the couple further trouble and reiterate his dependence upon her, leading him to become involved in a bonds scam that ultimately results in his imprisonment at the start of the film.

One of the most effective aspects of Funny Girl is its sense of realism. While many aspects of Fanny Brice’s life are condensed or excluded in order to meet the film’s already lengthy running time, the film excellently captures the struggles that she faced in her attempt to balance her dual roles of wife and artist. Rather than limit the story’s focus to Fanny’s rise, the film creates a truly three dimensional portrait of her through its continuation into her later difficulties and persevering struggle to pick up her life and begin again. Like many films, the script in Funny Girl, does deviate from the facts of its protagonist’s story, including ignoring Fanny’s first marriage and limiting Nick’s criminal activities to one moment of desperation when in reality he had already served a prior sentence before their marriage. Despite its inaccuracies, however, the film wisely focuses upon the later struggles in Fanny’s career without trying to add more color to her early life, even going so far as to include a scene in which teenage Fanny jokingly says that she still hasn’t suffered enough to be a great artist. This lack of sensationalism in the film’s first act allows the story to build until the crisis in Fanny’s marriage that opens and closes the film, and makes the ensuing drama more effective. Through its realistic, if not entirely accurate account of Fanny Brice’s life and career, Funny Girl  tells a story that is both a sobering account of marital strife and an inspiring tale of artistic and personal triumph.

Hello gorgeous!
While the script's songs and inspiring story are compelling, neither would have made a successful transition to screen without an equally compelling cast. In her debut role, Barbra Streisand captures the quirkiness, determination, and inner strength that marked Fanny Brice’s life and career in a way that brings the 1920’s stage star to the modern screen. After viewing just one reel of Streisand’s performance, it is little wonder that the film’s producer, Brice’s real life son in law Ray Stark, refused to make the film unless Streisand reprised her Broadway role. Omar Sharif also provides an exemplary performance as Brice’s sophisticated love interest turned tormented husband, and perfectly portrays the toll that life as “Mr. Fanny Brice” takes upon Nick’s self esteem. The supporting cast round out the film with multi-faceted and scene stealing turns from Walter Pidgeon as the outwardly stern but inwardly sentimental Florenz Ziegfeld, and Kay Medford as Fanny’s equal parts good hearted and street smart mother. Through the combined talents of its cast, the film continues to transport viewers to the distant glories of New York’s theater scene at the turn of the century and the all too near difficulties of family and romantic relationships that remain as complex today as when Fanny and Nick lived through them.

Despite its title, Funny Girl is worth watching for more than just a laugh. Through its winning combination of song and subject matter, the film successfully makes the individual story of a turn of the century entertainer into a universal tale of an artist's struggle for personal and professional success. The film’s excellent cast carries the story and makes its historical content both accessible and relevant to modern audiences.  For a parade that cannot be rained on, look no further than Barbra Streisand's Oscar winning film debut in Funny Girl.

Taking the Follies where no Zeigfeld girl has gone before