Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is "A Serbian Film" actually a Horror version of "Alice in Wonderland"?

Confessions of a Film Junkie: Is “A Serbian Film” actually a Horror version of “Alice in Wonderland”?

By: Brian Cotnoir

It seems like at least once or twice a year on this blog I have to talk about “A Serbian Film”.  To this date, it is still the film I’ve received the most requests for to review.  I reviewed it back in 2012, I even wrote a retrospect on it last year (before blogger took it down for being “too pornographic”).  However, the other day I was watching “A Serbian Film” (again) and I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed in the other times I had watched it:  there are a lot of striking similarities between “A Serbian Film” and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  After making this realization, I began to question why no one had ever noticed this before; then I realized that I must be the only person in North America to have seen this film enough times to notice those similarities.       
     Now I’ve heard that the story that the whole film is actually supposed to symbolize how the Serbian Government treats its people, but since I am not of Serbian descent, nor have I ever travelled to the country, I could not attest to that claim.  However, I did find a quote from the director on-line that proves that this statement is entirely true.  Director and co-screenwriter Srdjan Spasojevic said of the controversial violence in the film that “This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian Government...It’s about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotize you to do things you don’t want to do”--‘A Serbian Film’ Shocks Midnight Audiences at SXSW, Eric Kohn, 2010.                                       
Let's see where he's going with this point
     Getting back to my original point; I think that the film not only draws heavy influence from the Serbian Government, but from “Alice in Wonderland” as well.   Most of the similarities I’ve noticed between “A Serbian Film” and “Alice in Wonderland” are between plot and Characters in the both films.  In my opinion Milos is Alice.  In the film he is a retired Porn Star who is led back to the world of Adult filmmaking by his friend and former co-star Lelja (who I think symbolizes the white rabbit leading Milos/Alice down the rabbit hole).  Lelja introduces Milos to Vukmir who is trying to start and “Artistic Pornography Movement” in Serbia.  He convinces Milos to take part in this film after promising Milos that he and his family will never have to worry about money again.  Milos agrees and the next day is brought to the studio by a bald man wearing sunglasses that we never hear speak in the film.        

This is from "A Serbian Film" Not "Alice in Wonderland"
Representing the Tweedles (L & R) and Cheshire Cat (M)
     I believe this bald man with sunglasses represents the Cheshire cat: he randomly appears throughout the film to assist Milos/Alice on their journey; his actions have horrifying consequences that pose a serious threat to the lives of the main characters, He leads Milos to the two cameramen who work for Vukmir, who I believe represent the characters of Tweedledee and Tweedledum.  Like Tweedledee and Tweedledum the two cameramen in “A Serbian Film”, are almost identical in appearance and they dress the same.  However, unlike the Tweedles, the two cameramen never speak in the film.  Also, the Tweedles only playfully tease and annoy Alice, as opposed to the two cameramen who take their torment of the films protagonist to the extreme by doing awful things to Milos like drug & sedate him and then videotape themselves sexually assaulting him...Again, I just wanted to remind those of you who are still reading this that I am trying to convince you that “A Serbian Film” is a Horror version of “Alice in Wonderland”.                                     

This room in a Serbian Film looks similar to...
Tim Burton's 2010 Adaptation of Alice in Wonderland
     Getting back on track, I feel like Milos brother Marko is the Mad Hatter. Marko does a number of crazy and neurotic things in the film, like watch adult films that star his own brother while having sex with another woman, he tortures Lelja in the film (which I believe represents the scene in the film the Mad Hatter torments the White Rabbit by destroying his watch) he lusts after his sister-in-law, he is a corrupt cop and very paranoid.  There is a sexy female doctor who works for Vukmir who drugs Milos with what Vukmir describes as “Viagra for Bulls”.  I believe she is the March Hare, by giving Milos these drugs it increases his sex drive and fertility, and what animal is associate with fertility the most?  Why rabbits of course, and a hare is a type of rabbit.  What I think makes Marko and the Sexy Female Doctor the most similar to the Mad Hatter  March Hare with the fact that the two of them are both bat sh!t insane.  Both Characters do a lot of strange and frightening things to Milos/Alice without any real rhyme or reason, they do it for the sake of pure torment.                                    
     And let’s not ignore the fact that Vukmir—the films Antagonist—is clearly the Red Queen/Queen of Hearts.  Vukmir, a former child psychologist for the Serbian Government, has to act as the God and Ruler of this film.  He instructs all of his cast and crew in the film to wear an ear piece so he can give them instructions on everything he wants them to do.  His word is law, and anyone who disregards is severely punished.  Case in point, the scene where Vukmir hands a drugged up Milos a machete and instructs him to decapitate a woman he’s having sex with...say what was that famous line that the Queen of Hearts had in the film version of “Alice in Wonderland”??? Oh yeah: “Off with her head!”  Coincidence; I think NOT! Not to mention that Vukmir’s desire for blood in his film is similar to the Queen of Hearts desire to have only red roses her garden.            


  Also, there’s a random room that appears throughout the film that looks very similar to one of the rooms from Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”—which came out the same year as “A Serbian Film”—and a young girl named Jeca that appears throughout the film dressed as Alice from Alice in Wonderland!  If that isn’t enough to convince you that “A Serbian Film” is just a Horror version of “Alice in Wonderland” then I don’t know what else I can tell you to convince you!  I wish there was someone else who was as brave and psychotic as myself who could watch this film multiple times and notice their similarities.


Monday, November 24, 2014

A review of "Beneath"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Beneath”

By: Brian Cotnoir

If you asked any person to list what they think is the most terrifying way to die, I think pretty much everyone would list “being buried alive” somewhere in the Top 5.  It is a fear that has plagued humanity since they first started burying bodies.  This fear was so real to some people that many years ago they used to bury people with an air hole vent that led from the casket in the ground to the surface so they could call for help if they had accidentally been buried alive.  Now can you imagine working a job, where you run the risk of being buried alive, every day???  Well, that is a reality that all people who work in the field of coal mining face every day.  In that is the setting for the film I’m reviewing this week, “Beneath”.            
“Beneath” is the story of a young Environmental Lawyer returning to the coal mining where she grew up to talk her father into retiring from the mines.  Her father is reluctant to give up his livelihood and invites his daughter down into the mines to show her that it is safe and that there’s nothing wrong with what he does for a living.  Shortly after they arrive 600 feet underground there is a collapse in the mine.  The miners that survive reach the Rescue chamber and that it will take 72 hours before a rescue squad can reach them.  All seems to be going fine at first, but then some strange things begin to happen.  The Rescue Chambers oxygen tanks are broken off and two of the trapped miners go missing.  The group tries to find the missing miners and uncovers an old mine shaft from the 1920’s.  Legend has it that a group of miners were trapped down there years ago, and they were never rescued.  Some begin to speculate that it may be the angry spirits of the trapped miners, while others believe that the two missing miners have gone crazy from their near death experience, and our protagonists life & death situation has just become a lot grimmer.         
    So yeah, this films pretty similar to “As Above, So Below”: it takes almost entirely underground, and we’re just as confused as to what is going on as the characters in the film.  All of the fun in the film is trying to figure out what’s going on, but other than that this film has very little to offer.  There aren’t any real scares or thrills, the acting is definitely over the top and hammy.  Other than a few good scenes of suspense, I can’t really think of anything else positive to say about this one.  I will recommend that you check out “Beneath” if you enjoyed “As Above, So Below”, but if you didn’t then I think you’ll be okay if you skip this one.

Classics: A Review of The Prestige By Lauren Ennis

The greatest stories are those that enlighten readers and viewers as to some truth of the human condition. Some of these compelling stories relate the positive side of humanity through tales of love, sacrifice, resilience, and redemption while others relate the darker aspects of the human psyche. One of those darker takes on human nature is a tale of vengeance, ambition, and obsession; the 2006 suspense thriller The Prestige. Through it use of twists and illusions, The Prestige reveals the dark truth about the consuming effect that ambition can have on all of us if taken to an obsessive end.

Proving that men can be frenemies too
The film begins as stage hands and amateur magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) work for Milton the Magician alongside their mentor, John Cutter (Michael Caine) and Robert’s wife, Julia (Piper Perabo). The foursome work well together until tragedy strikes and Julia drowns onstage during a water tank trick. Grief stricken, Robert blames Alfred for tying the knots on Julia’s wrists too tight, even though Julia had specifically asked Alfred to tighten them in order to make the trick more challenging. Robert and Alfred then go their separate ways and each pursues a career headlining their own magic act, with Robert becoming a master showman and Alfred remaining in obscurity despite his superior tricks. Despite his greater success, however, Robert remains bent on destroying what little remains of Alfred’s career, as a supposed show of loyalty to his deceased wife. When Alfred debuts a new trick that even the knowledgeable Cutter can’t explain, Robert becomes obsessed with finding the secret of how the trick is performed. Possessed by his fixation, Robert embarks upon a journey across continents and risks his new found fortune, fame, budding relationship with his assistant (Scarlett Johansson), and his very life to discover the secret of Alfred’s ‘Transported Man’.

In the film’s opening scene, Cutter explains that a trick is divided into three steps; the pledge, in which an ordinary object is presented; the turn, in which that object is turned into something extraordinary; and finally the prestige in which the object is returned to its natural state. In its structure, The Prestige functions in the same manner as the magic tricks that it details. It first begins with a cinematic version of ‘the pledge’ with a seemingly mundane scenario involving the working lives of Victorian era magicians. As the plot thickens, however, the film moves into its second stage in its variation of ‘the turn’, in which Robert and Alfred play an increasingly dangerous game of professional one-upmanship that culminates in the question of the Transported Man. The film concludes with an Agatha Christie style reveal that viewers will be hard pressed to guess at in a dramatic ‘prestige'.

Watch closely as I sell my lovely assistant to the highest bidder
While The Prestige, like many films of its genre, is best remembered for the shock of its final act, it is its rising action, or ‘turn’ that truly sets it apart. In this section, the audience witnesses the ways in which the two rivals allow themselves to become consumed by their shared craft. Rather than enjoy his success, Robert continues to torment himself and those around him by remaining fixated on Alfred’s trick. Similarly, Alfred is unable to devote himself to his family because his work remains his first and foremost priority. Over the course of the film, both men sacrifice the women that they love as Robert instructs his love interest and assistant, Olivia, to seduce Alfred in hopes of gaining access to his secrets and Alfred remains emotionally detached from both Olivia and his dedicated wife, Sarah (Rebecca Hall). Both men also lose their relationships with their closest friends as Robert’s actions eventually alienate him from Cutter and Alfred’s isolate him from his stage engineer, the mysterious Bernard Fallon. The truly disturbing aspect of this section of the film is the way that the characters are just as aware of the downward spiral that they are engaged in as the audience, and yet remain powerless to stop their insatiable ambitions. While it could be argued that the extent of the leads obsessions are exaggerated for thematic purposes, there are numerous examples throughout history and in the present day that indicate otherwise. Passion can be a beautiful thing that drives us to go beyond our limits to pursue the things we want most, but as The Prestige aptly illustrates, the divider between passion and obsession is often a fine and blurry line.

The film is also notable for its blending of history and fiction to tell a story that is both believable and original. In reality, magicians in the Victorian era utilized tricks that were similar to those seen in the film and were known to maintain absolute discipline in order to retain the illusion of those tricks. The sabotaging of rival acts was also a common occurrence, with magicians regularly revealing each other’s secrets and disrupting rival performances. Perhaps the most striking historical tie in is the film’s use of real-life inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) as a character who plays a crucial role in Robert’s finally out-smarting Alfred. While Tesla did not create the device shown in the film, he did discover alternating current and his designs fueled the invention of the radio and modern wireless technology. He was also an enigmatic figure equally renowned for his eccentricities and scientific innovations. By using the realities of the dawn of modern entertainment and technology in the Victorian era as a springboard for it fantastic plot, the film successfully keeps the story grounded and ensures that viewers never see through its many illusions.

Through its combination of superb performances from its star-studded cast, innovate script, and dazzling effects, The Prestige is nothing short of spellbinding. While on one level a tale of incredible feats, the film at its heart remains a truly human tale of the consuming power of ambition. As a result, despite the historical setting and use of speculative science fiction, the characters and motives remain truly timeless. Regardless of its many twists and turns there is one aspect of The Prestige that is definitely not an illusion; its well earned status as a modern classic.

No one knows showmanship like Tesla...except maybe David Bowie

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Film Junkies 5 Favorite Films: Zombies

Confessions of a Film Junkie: Das Film Junkie’s 5 Favorite Films: Zombies

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Zombies are one of my top 3 favorite things in the world today.  I became obsessed with zombies after the young adult novel series Twilight ruined my previous favorite thing: vampires.  So my desire for another form of undead creature led me to zombies, and I’m just thankful that I haven’t seen one (successful) attempt to make zombies sexy and desirable.  So today I am counting down my Top 5 Favorite Zombie Films.  If you haven’t seen any of these zombie based films then I highly recommend all of them.

5.) Otto, or Up with Dead People

There aren’t many films out there like 2008 German Horror film “Otto, or Up with Dead People”.  Directed by Canadian director Bruce LaBruce—a director whose films frequently feature Gay characters and issues.  It is the story of a young gay zombie named Otto (played by Jey Crisfar) as he struggles to find out how he fits in, in a world full of humans.  Along his journey Otto get’s recruited by an independent film director named Madea for her mock-umentary “Up with Dead People”, which is a story about the Gay Zombie Revolution.  Madea think’s Otto is just a dedicated method actor; Otto claims he is actually a zombie.  Half the fun of this film is trying to figure out whether Otto really is a zombie, or if he’s just some weird loner.  It is a story that is part Indie film, part Horror film, Part LGBT Mock-umentary, and it’s totally awesome!

4.) Shaun of the Dead

     This film is more sentimental to me than anything.  I am a big fawn of anything pertaining to Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and director Edgar Wright.  I mean my Best Friend Zee and I are just like Simon Pegg & Nick Frost characters in real life (she’s Simon and I’m Nick), but the fact that there is a movie about these two taking zombies fills my heart with joy and jubilation.  This movie has action, laughs, and so many great and memorable lines.

3.) Dead Snow

Hell Yeah!  What’s better than seeing heroes battle Zombies?  Heroes battling Nazi Zombies!  This Norwegian Horror film has everything gore, chills, awesome make-up & effects, and even a few laughs while combining elements similar to The Evil Dead franchise and Captain America.  It’s the story of a group of college students who are on vacation in a cabin up in the mountains of the remote Norwegian Wilderness.  Unbeknownst to the group of friends, the mountain side is also the final resting place for a group of Nazi soldiers who died during World War II after they were driven out by a village of angry residents.  This film has a lot of fun and creative subplots.  Including, how the films protagonists manage to survive the Nazi zombie attacks, and the motivation of the Nazi zombies make this one a must see for any Zombie movie fan.

2.) Zombieland

This was one of the most surprisingly epic films I’ve ever seen.  Judging from the first time I saw the trailer, I thought this film would be OK at best.  Much to my surprise this was not only one of the most hilarious films I’ve ever seen, but it is easily one of the best films I’ve ever seen.  It has the charm and quirkiness of an Indie film with the violence and gore of a Top-Notch Horror film.  This film a number of great and hilarious scenes performed by a phenomenal cast consisting of Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abagail Breslin, and even a brief cameo by the great Bill Murray.  All I know is that when/if the Zombie Apocalypse happens, this is the group I’d like to team up with.

1.) Dead Alive/Brain Dead

Before he gained fame and notoriety for “The Lord of the Ring’s” Trilogy and “The Hobbit” films, director Peter Jackson made one of the Best Horror films ever.  This is one of those films that I was told for years that I needed to see, and I put off for the longest time.  Well I finally saw it for the first time last winter, and I was blown away at how phenomenal this film was.  “Dead Alive” (or “Brain Dead” depending on what part of the World you live in) is the story of a young man from New Zealand named Lionel, who lives with his condescending and over bearing mother Vera.  Lionel has a crush on a young immigrant merchant girl named Paquita, who he wants to date, but Lionel’s mother disapproves.  Then one day after following the two of them to the zoo she is bit by a rare “Sumatran Rat Monkey” and begins to develop zombie like symptoms.  Her Zombie-ism quicky begins to spread across the town, and Lionel does his best to quell this zombie uprising before it takes over the entire nation of New Zealand and possibly the World.  “Dead Alive” is one of the Best, Bloodiest, and Funniest Horror films I’ve ever seen.  It has an out of this world story, a likeable and memorable cast, and so much blood and death that at times it is overwhelming!  I’m dead serious, I HEART this film, and I think that when Peter Jackson finishes with “The Hobbit” films, I would love for nothing more than for him to make a sequel for this “Dead Alive”, with today’s big budgets and special effects; I can only imagine the magic and awe that Mr. Jackson would be able to create.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Classics: A Review of Double Indemnity By Lauren Ennis

Film noir is a genre that is characterized by cynicism, duplicity, and above all moral ambiguity. The genre began as an American post World War II variation on early European expressionist films, which in turn came about as a response to the horrors of World War I. Since its hey-day in the 1940’s and 1950’s film noir has continued to remain a cultural presence, providing influence for modern films, novels, and stage plays. While there are numerous films in the genre worthy of the title ‘classic’, few possess the style, sex appeal, and anarchic spirit of this week’s review, Double Indemnity.
Never trust a dame with an anklet no matter what's inscribed on it

The story begins with insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) staggering into his office just after dawn. As Walter takes his place at his desk it becomes evident that he has sustained a serious injury from a gun-shot wound. Rather than call for the police or an ambulance, however, he instead proceeds to calmly begin speaking into his office Dictaphone and confesses to murdering one of his company’s clients. He reports that he killed “for money, and for a woman” and further explains that “I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman”. The film then launches into a flashback that relates the events leading up the murder Walter confessed to and the fallout that has brought Walter himself to death’s doorstep. Through the flashback, it is revealed that several months earlier he became acquainted with sultry housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). While Phyllis has little interest in insurance, she displays an immediate interest in the fast-talking insurance salesman, and insists that he return for a second visit when her husband will be home. When Walter returns to the residence Mr. Dietrichson is still at work, and Phyllis proceeds to grill him with a slew of questions concerning accident insurance. Walter quickly put Phyllis’ questions and seductive charm together and realizes that she intends to kill her husband in an effort to collect on his insurance policy. Disturbed by the incident, Walter storms out of the house with the intention of avoiding Phyllis, only to have her arrive at his apartment late that night. Despite his best intentions, he is unable to resist her and finds himself not only aiding, but planning a plot to murder Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers) and run away with Phyllis and the insurance money. All seems to go according to plan until Walter’s firm investigates Dietrichson’s death as a possible suicide and Walter’s boss, Barton Keys (Edward G. Robinson), starts to suspect foul play. The pressure from Keys adds to the distrust that has seeped into Walter and Phyllis’ relationship as the two begin a downward spiral of self-destruction that, as Keys points out, can only end one place; the cemetery.

Although Double Indemnity contains the standard elements of film noir, what sets the film apart is the way that it brings those elements together to tell a story that set the tone for those that followed it. One of those elements is the film’s brazen portrayal of  a story that is sordid at worst and subversive at its height. Hollywood had produced numerous films with dark themes and moral ambiguities in the pre-code thirties, but even those early efforts lacked the single-minded ruthlessness that makes Double Indemnity unforgettable. While most movies strive to make their heroes relateable and redeemable, this film stands apart in the way that it not only chronicles, but basks in the nihilism and sleaze that compose Walter and Phyllis. Although both leads are engaging and complex, the script makes no effort to rationalize or gloss over their actions, instead treating their amorality as just one more drop of water in the polluted bucket that is depression-era Los Angeles. Nonchalant treatment of homicidal protagonists would be unsettling enough, but with each scintillating interaction between its leads the film continues to take its approach one disturbing step further until it, and the audience, are left rooting for Phyllis and Walter’s plan to succeed.
How many times do I have to tell you; plan murder on your own time!

In addition to the film’s expertly conveyed cynicism and innovative approach to its characters, Double Indemnity contains some of the best dialogue, not just in noir, but in the history of American cinema. With Walter’s first mention of killing “for money and for a woman” the audience is immediately drawn into the film’s world of sex, murder, and intrigue. Each interaction between Phyllis and Walter contains wit so sharp it could cut through the screen and smolders with steamy innuendo. All a viewer needs to do is watch one scene between MacMurray and Stanwyck to understand just how much the tumultuous working relationship between screenwriters Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler truly paid off. The equal parts cleverness and grittiness of these scenes serve to develop character, propel the plot, and create a truly memorable atmosphere all with just a few lines of crackling dialogue. The scenes between Walter and Keys are equally fascinating in the way that the fatherly affection Keys holds for his protégée conveys a sense of decency that so starkly constrasts Walter and Phyllis’ warped point of view. Similarly, Walter’s friendship with his victim’s sheltered daughter, Lola, adds an excellent juxtaposition to the world weariness exhibited by the other characters. The film’s plot is written with the same finesse as its dialogue, and keeps audiences engaged in and guessing at its tawdry twists, even though its opening frame has already clued viewers in to how it will all end.

The film’s actors turn in uniformly excellent performances that bring the story’s twisted characters to life. As the calculating Phyllis, Barbara Stanwyck is truly the quintessential femme fatale. With just one look or line of rapid fire dialogue Stanwyck conveys a tantalizing combination of sensuality, intelligence, and hardness that sets her homicidal heroine apart from the oversexed, and underwritten femme fatales that populate noir. Fred MacMurray creates a perfect balance between Walter’s genial salesman exterior and darker motives in such a way that ensures that audiences continue to root for him despite his despicable actions. Edward G. Robinson provides excellent support as the no-nonsense Keys and acts as an ideal foil to MacMurray’s everyman gone astray. The combined talents of its stars makes this film an essential view for fans not just of noir, but also of excellent film acting.

World-weary, bleak, and gritty are all words that could aptly describe Double Indemnity. To limit this film to a such a check list of standard noir fare, however, would fail to do justice to this truly innovative piece of Hollywood history. The film’s daring approach to a taboo plot remains shocking even by modern standards and was nothing short of explosive at the time of its debut. Its hard-boiled dialogue and layered performances make the film more than a series of thrills, and instead an unforgettable journey into the darkness lurking within us all. If you’re in search of classic noir, look no further than straight down the line to Double Indemnity.
One of the few people who can pull of sunglasses indoors

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A review of "Mercy"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Mercy”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Well this is a surprising first here on Confessions of a Film Junkie (for me at least).  This is the first time I’ve ever reviewed anything based on the works of author Stephen King.  That’s surprising considering how much he is associated with the Horror Genre.  Hell, my mentor and co-blogger Miss-E has reviewed more Stephen King works then I have!  So I am changing that today, by reviewing a film based off of a Stephen King short story. So here is my review of the 2014 Suspense Horror “Mercy”.              
What will Stephen King come up with next???
     “Mercy” is the story told from the perspective of a young boy named George who is very close to his grandmother, Mercy, who lives by herself in West Virginia.  After his grandmother is kicked out her elderly living facility for her violent and uncontrollable behavior, George, his mother, his older brother, and his Uncle Lan to take care of her.  Most of their duties consist of making sure grandma gets a strong dose of medication every couple of hours, and doesn’t try to stab any of them with a pair of scissors.  George, pursues a local priest to see if he can help his Grandmother out.  The priest tells George, that he was once very close to his grandparents, and that his grandmother used to be one of the most devout members at his church.  George learns that his grandmother had a great difficulty trying to conceive a child with George’s Grandfather, and suffered a number of miscarriages.  Desperate, to become a mother George’s grandmother turned her back on God and went deep into the hills of West Virginia where she found a mysterious book with 3 tear drops on it.  The Priest believes that George’s grandmother used the book to conjure a deal with the devil to help her conceive a child, and she gave birth to triplets 9 months later.  However, shortly after she gave birth her husband committed suicide by striking himself in the head with an axe in front of his wife and newborn children.  The priest believes that George can find and destroy that book then he might be able to save his grandmother. 
Are you sure the guy same guy who wrote "Maximum Overdrive"
Also came up with the story this film is based off of?
How to describe this film?  It definitely relies on a lot of atmosphere. I mean the film feels like a Stephen King novel and the plot plays out like a Stephen King novel, but at the same time I wouldn’t say it’s the Best film based off of one of his works.  At points in the film it feels like its moving very slow and confusing, but yet I don’t remember feeling bored while watching this film.                                                
    The characters in this film are okay.  George is an interesting protagonist considering he is a teenage character.  He is definitely stronger and more mature for a person his age.  It would’ve been so easy to make him the cliché younger male character who comes off as weak and helpless, and is picked on by everyone, but ultimately saves everyone in in the end, but thankfully he isn’t like that.  George is a character who is strong, intelligent, and compassionate.  Instead of being picked on by his older brother, he picks on his older brother.  He stands up to (and defeats) his own bullies and whenever everyone just tells him to ignore a serious problem because he’s young and wouldn’t understand, he speaks up and takes action.  I actually really liked George.  The rest of the characters are really hit or miss.  George’s grandmother Mercy and his older brother Buddy are memorable, as is the character Pastor Gregory.  Everyone else is kind of bland or useless in the film.            
     I think if you’re a fan of Stephen King then you will probably like “Mercy”, it’s not quite as memorable as “It” or better than “Carrie”, but it’s sure as hell better than “The Langoliers”.  If you are not a fan of Stephen King then you’ll probably find this film to be confusing and slow paced.  Nonetheless, I found “Mercy” to be a good film.  It’s not something I would rush back to see again right away, but I would have no objections to seeing his with someone who has not seen it. 

Classics: A Review of Some Like It Hot By: Lauren Ennis

One of the oldest adages in show business is ‘you’ve got to get a gimmick’. As cliché as it has become, this adage has held true throughout the advent of modern theater, film, and television as programs and stories of all kinds are routinely judged by their ability to capture passing trends, hot buzzwords, and find a place at the ‘cutting edge’. What the makers beyond many works seem to have forgotten, however, is the fact that while the presence of such a gimmick may help to draw viewers in, a work must possess something more than temporary appeal to become a true classic. This week’s review will feature a film that takes a common gimmick and turns what easily could have been a one note joke into a fully developed satire of modern romance and gender norms; the 1959 comedy classic Some Like It Hot.
One of these things is not like the other...

The story begins in the heart of the roaring Prohibition era as jazz musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) attempt to find a new gig in the competitive Chicago jazz scene. After a relentless search, the only gig that the duo can find is to fill two empty spots in an all-girl band heading to Miami. Before they can find more suitable positions, the pair find themselves caught up in the crossfire of a local mafia war as they witness a mass shooting reminiscent of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Fearing for their lives and too broke to pay their own way out of Chicago, Joe and Jerry concoct a scheme that’s just wacky enough to work when they hit the road to Florida with the girl band under the aliases ‘Josephine’ and ‘Daphne’. The hijinks are only beginning as the truly dynamic duo hilariously try to maneuver through romantic entanglements with a lovably ditsy band-mate (Marilyn Monroe) and a pushy millionaire (Joe. E. Brown). Just when their lives can’t seem to get any more complicated, Joe and Jerry realize that their hotel is hosting a ‘Friends of the Italian Opera’ conference that is actually a cover for a mafia conference, which the very criminals that they’re running from are scheduled to attend.  The pair’s double lives come crashing into conflict in a chase sequence that culminates into what is widely considered one of the most perfect endings in cinematic history.

While many films have utilized the worn cliché of cross-dressing comedy, Some Like It Hot remains innovative in its ability to take what was essentially a burlesque skit and transform it into a multifaceted, razor-sharp, comedy. The film could have easily relied upon the easy laughs that come of watching the two male leads don female disguises, but writers Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond rightly chose to approach their screenplay with an eye for social commentary. Loosely written as a remake of the 1951 German comedy Fanfaren der Liebe, Some Like It Hot uses its heroes’ fish out of water dilemma to examine the absurdities of contemporary gender and relationship norms. For instance, Joe begins the film priding himself on his ability to attract and promptly leave women without the complication of becoming deeply involved. By the end of the film, however, Joe has seen how the other half has lived through his friendship with quirky band-mate, Sugar, and when he tricks Sugar into seducing him as an act of mercy, he is dismayed to find that he finally feels remorse. Similarly, Jerry is mortified when he learns of the harassment that women are often subjected through in his efforts to dodge the affections of hands-on millionaire Osgood Fielding. Beyond the simple juxtaposition of opposites, the film takes its examination of gender roles a step further as Jerry gradually enjoys his female persona and and begins to consider following Sugar’s plan of becoming a (unusual) gold-digger. Through its witty play on stereotypes and social standards, the film reminds us that men and women are driven by the same hopes, desires, and dreams, and it is those common bonds that make us truly human.
You can always spot a millionaire by his ridiculous accent

While the film does possess an excellent script, Some Like It Hot would not have attained its classic status without the help of its stellar cast. The supporting cast all lend excellent support with particular nods due to George Raft as an aging gangster who adds just the right level of menace to the film’s otherwise light atmosphere and Brown’s hilarious take on the lascivious Osgood. In another in her long line of blonde bombshell roles Marilyn Monroe truly shines as the delightfully daffy Sugar. While the part could have been just another display of her sex symbol status, Monroe transforms Sugar from a two dimensional role into a full fleshed woman who embarks upon a journey of self discovery as she finds the confidence to be her own woman and follow her desires, even if they do lead to another dreaded saxophone player. Despite the talent surrounding them, there is no doubt that the film truly belongs to Curtis and Lemmon as they bicker, cross-dress, and chase their way into audience’s hearts. The pair inspires laughs from the first to final frames as they play off of one another in such a way that they simultaneously propel the plot’s hijinks and develop their characters. Whether it’s scraping by for a job, enjoying a contraband slumber party, or running from the mob in a pair of high heels, Curtis and Lemmon’s interactions are never less than the stuff of comedy gold.

Romantic comedy, social satire, and buddy flick; Some Like It Hot is a comedy that truly has something for everyone. The film’s script contains a superb balance of broad humor and sophisticated wit that ensures that the laughs will keep coming viewing after viewing. The film’s all-star cast is at its peak with the unique talents of each star given room to fully shine through. Regardless whether you like classical, jazz, or anything in between one thing is for sure, few comedies are able to sizzle quite like Some Like It Hot.
Nobody's perfect...but this movie comes awful close

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Classics: Three Troubling Trends in Hitchcock Films By: Lauren Ennis

Director Alfred Hitchcock is both renowned and revered in cinematic circles for his daring work in the suspense genre. Despite the longevity of his career and the many accolades that he achieved, he is almost as famous for his bizarre personal habits as for the cinematic trademarks that they inspired. While it is common for artists to incorporate their personal views and perspectives into their work, recurring motifs and themes in Hitchcock’s work provide viewers with insight into some of the darker reaches of the director’s psyche. While I have yet to view all of the films in the director’s cannon, here are three truly troubling trends I have noticed in the Hitchcock films that I have viewed.
I'll love you forever Mr...what was your name again?

1.      IRRATIONAL ROMANCE: Many a Hitchcock thriller begins with a romance that lasts through thrills, chills, and unbelievable twists. Unlike many film love stories, however, Hitchcock’s romances are almost exclusively whirlwind courtships. These romances begin not with mutual respect or a level of common understanding, but with shared attraction and insatiable longing that begins and is cemented with a single exchange of glances. As a result, these romances lack a logical basis that would sustain a relationship through the shocking ups and downs that feature in the director’s plots. Because these relationships begin instantaneously, the audience is left wondering what it is that binds the leads together throughout a given film’s plot and why we should invest ourselves in a relationship that the key players don’t seem terribly invested in. While the inclusion of love stories can serve as an emotional center of a film, in Hitchcock’s films they all too often serve as mere plot devices and half-hearted motivation for illogical character decisions. This use of relationships as a convenient edition to the plot in turn makes the characters and their motivations seem unbelievable and makes it difficult for viewers to suspend their disbelief in regards the rest of the story. Thus, Hitchcock's use of the well-worn cliché of a whirlwind romance reduces his otherwise complex tales of intrigue to simple thrills that amount to little more than parlor tricks once the lights go up and the credits fade. As seen in: Spellbound, North By Northwest, Suspicion, Rebecca, Vertigo, The Birds, Marnie, Foreign Correspondent, Easy Virtue, and Young and Innocent,
Joan Fontaine will take Mrs. Danvers over this old biddy any day

2.      OLD PEOPLE ARE JUST THE WORST: All people have biases, and directors are no different from the rest of us in this respect. What does set Alfred Hitchcock apart, however, is the unusual subject of one of his biases; the elderly. Throughout his film cannon elderly characters (usually women) appear in roles of varying degrees of importance but share one commonality; they are all insufferable people. In his portrayals, he alternates between showing elderly characters who are rigidly cynical or blissfully ignorant of the world around them. The characterizations range between the almost childlike naivety of Bruno's mother in Strangers on a Train and Charlie's mother in Shadow of a Doubt to such moralistic battle axes as Mrs. DeWinter's employer in Rebecca and Mrs. Bates in Psycho. In both instances, the elderly characters' qualities prevent them from functioning in the greater world in a meaningful way, leaving them shrouded within their own delusions. This inability to relate to the world around them makes these characters nuisances to the central players in Hitchcock's films as they blunder the leads into awkward and dangerous situations that they are always unable to comprehend the significance of. Through these portrayals, it becomes evident that the director viewed the elderly as outdated in both moral and social attitudes and obsolete in life's greater plots; a bias that one suspects hit him especially hard when his own career began to wane with age. As seen in: Rebecca, Strangers on a Train, Psycho, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Marnie, The Birds, Notorious, Saboteur, and Rope
Nothing says wanton woman like a pair of glass frames

3. HITCH DON’T MAKE PASSES AT GIRLS WHO WEAR GLASSES: Numerous writers have already chronicled the disturbing trends of Hitchcock's heroines and his alleged misogyny, but few writers have detailed his particular disdain for women in glasses. Although the director's heroines are usually too glamorous and mysterious to don such stereotypically unsexy accessories, many of his supporting actresses were required to wear glasses. While these vision impaired ladies do possess variety, they still maintain the common threads of their unconventional behavior. In each portrayal of a woman with glasses, from Strangers on a Train's manipulative nymphomaniac, Miriam, to Vertigo's faithful best friend, Midge, Hitch's bespectacled ladies are all unusually blunt to the point of being tactless, and are unable navigate the niceties of polite society. While this behavior is not always malicious, it is always perceived as being common, condescending, and above all unfeminine. In the few instances in which his leading ladies do wear glasses, such as Suspicion's spinterish Lina and Spellbound's lonely, workaholic, Dr.Petersen, they do so as a symbol of their character's status as outsiders. These women are depicted not as being predictably intellectual or career driven (Lina remains unemployed and acts illogically throughout Suspicion) so much as misguided in their refusal to meet contemporary standards of dress, interests, and social interaction. It is only when these ladies shed their dreaded glasses that they are able to embark upon the film's main adventure and attract the attention of the hero. While the image of the bespectacled spinster who allows life to pass her by is a tired one, it is actually not their passivity that holds Hitchcock's vision impaired ladies back but their assertiveness, as the heroines only step into lead status upon taking a secondary place next to the hero and the confident supporting females remain at their story's margins. Misogynist or not, one thing's for certain, Alfred Hitchcock was not a man to make passes at girls who wear glasses...except for his independent screenwriter/director wife Alma there's a thought for another blog entry. As seen in: Strangers On a Train, Vertigo, Stage Fright, Shadow of a Doubt, Spellbound, and Suspicion.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Retrospect on "Carnival of Souls"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Retrospect on “Carnival Souls”
By: Brian Cotnoir

    Very rarely on this blog do I find it difficult to voice my opinion.  I’m very good at telling people what movies I think suck, and occasionally I find it in me to tell people what movies I think are actually good, but then there are a few films that I’m not sure how I feel about them.  Films like the one I’m re-reviewing today.  Even though it had very little success or popularity upon its original release, the 1962 film “Carnival of Souls” has gone on to have a popular following among lovers of Classic Horror and B-Horror fans.  So let’s take one more look at “Carnival of Souls

My First Impression of the Film

The first time I saw “Carnival of Souls”, I remember thinking the film was very underwhelming.  I knew nothing about the film, but had a lot of people tell me that it was really great, so I was expecting it to be one of those “Best Horror Films You’ll Ever See” kind of deals. I did not care for any of the characters in the film; I found them to be very one-dimensional and unimpressive.  I thought the story was interesting at points, but really boring at other points, and I also found it to be quite confusing at points; this film just did not really win me over.  And while I didn’t enjoy it after the first time I saw it, I couldn’t bring myself to say I didn’t like it as well.

My Second Impression of the Film

She just found out her agent is dropping her as a client!
(No joke, that actually happened to her in real life)
I think the reason why I was so critical on a lot of things the first time I saw “Carnival of Souls” is because I didn’t have the right mindset when I watched it.  I wasn’t looking at it like it was a Classic B-Horror Movie: I was looking at it like it was a Modern Day Horror film.  So I was critiquing it on problems that weren’t actually there.  The characters weren’t as one-dimensional as I previously thought there were.  I found Mary to be a very complex and fascinating character instead of a stuck-up and antisocial.  She’s also more of a strong character then I gave her credit for.  Even the character Mr. Linden, who I cursed out as being “such a tool”, had more to him then I had previously realized.  Again, when I first saw this film I saw this film I viewed it like I would a Modern Horror film, so I viewed his character as old and outdated when in actuality he was written as a very accurate and appropriate character for the time the film was made and released. Yeah, a lot of the special effects in the film are cheesy, but none of them are terrible.  I can’t even bring myself to complain about the parts of the plot that make little to no sense because this was a low-budget film for the time it was made.  “Carnival of Souls” was made on an estimated budget of $30,000 in 1962.  In fact, the budget for the film was much smaller initially, but the film’s director Herk Harvey and the films screenwriter John Clifford waived their earnings in order to get more funding for the film.  Plus, the film crew only consisted of  people besides Harvey.  So anyone who was willing to work on this film for free in order to get it made is a great guy in my book.

What I would do to make the film better

Keep the Black & White, it looks gnarly!
I know “Carnival of Souls” was remade in 1998, but I unfortunately have not seen it yet.  So without the knowledge of how the remake was, I can tell you what I’d do anyways.  Basically, I would just throw in some more money into the budget so they can develop more on the plot of the film and have some better special effects.  I’d also update the dialogue so it doesn’t sound as pretentious and outdated.  However, I wouldn’t have them film it in color; I would keep it in black & white.  I feel like the black & white film adds to the creepiness and helps make the setting feel more eerie and nightmare like; sort of like “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”.

My Final Opinion on the Film

     My final opinion on “Carnival of Souls” is I really dig it.  I think if you are a fan of Classic Horror you should definitely check it out.  I also think if you’re a fan of more modern forms of visual media like “The Devils Carnival” and “American Horror Story”, then you should also give this film a looksee.  It’s okay, if you don’t like it at first, like I did, this film is definitely an acquired tasted and requires at least 3-4 viewings before you can truly appreciate its beauty an mystique.

My Original Review of "Carnival of Souls"