Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Classics: A Review of Muppets Most Wanted By Lauren Ennis

Since they first appeared on the silver screen in their 1979 debut in The Muppet Movie, Jim Henson's lovable puppets have gone on to become a film institution. Since that first film, each subsequent decade and several generations of moviegoers have been given their own Muppet film that speaks to the trends and issues of changing times. While every fan has certain gags, songs, and lines from the franchise that they treasure, this week I'll be focusing upon the latest entry in the franchise; 2014's Muppets Most Wanted.
A striking resemblance!

The film begins moments after its predecessor The Muppets, left off as the gang try to determine what to do now that they've made a successful comeback. After a snappy start with the first of the film's numerous musical numbers the plot thickens with the entrance of smarmy theater agent Dominic Badguy (pronounced bad-gee and played by Ricky Gervais) who convinces the Muppets to take their act on a tour of Europe. Despite his initial misgivings, the gang is eventually able to convince Kermit to sign them up for the tour and almost immediately begin in-fighting over changes in the act. Kermit tries to mediate between the group but his efforts to placate his cast mates results in a disastrous opening in Germany that still strangely receives rave reviews from local critics. Despondent over his inability to manage the cast, Kermit goes for a walk to take in the local sights and clear his mind only to find himself jumped by a lookalike frog and arrested by local authorities who believe that Kermit is the other frog, a notorious criminal mastermind known as Constantine. Following the arrest, Kermit is sent to a Russian gulag in Constantine's place while the real Constantine goes on to assume Kermit's identity. It is soon revealed that Dominic is actually an underling to Constantine and that the European tour was merely a set-up for Kermit to take the fall for the pair's crimes and ensure that Constantine regained his freedom. Meanwhile, Kermit struggles to adjust to prison life as Constantine ingratiates himself within the lives of the other Muppets and enjoys his new celebrity status. Eventually the two frogs' paths cross again when Kermit stages an escape worthy of cinema's classic capers and the Muppets begin to suspect something is amiss with 'Kermit'.
The unlikeliest partnership since Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger

While there have been numerous entries in the Muppets franchise over the last three decades, Muppets Most Wanted is perhaps the film that is the most true to the winning combination of offbeat humor and clever commentary that made up the spirit of the original films. Throughout the film, the setting and plot sends up classic caper and crime films of the Cold War era without ever dismissing the merits of those earlier films. The references to East and West Berlin, Russian gulags, and Eastern European masterminds puts the film perfectly in line with the likes of such genre classics as the James Bond franchise and The Manchurian Candidate. Similarly, the case of mistaken identity and use of prison escapes and plans for world domination make the plot a kid-friendly companion to classic suspense films, particularly the works of Alfred Hitchcock and heist films such as The Thomas Crown Affair. The film even goes so far as to mimic the fashions and political tensions of the era with Eastern Europe shown in muted colors and poverty reminiscent of the Soviet years, and plays up the comedic effect of a heated rivalry between the representatives sent by Interpol (Ty Burrell) and the FBI (Sam the Eagle).

Although the film's makers may have simply chosen this retro effect in order to highlight the vintage feel of its caper plot, I believe that they did so in an effort to make the film a throwback to both the original Muppet films and the era in which they were made. The first three films in the franchise, The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan were all shot and released during the 1970's and 1980's; an era in which the headlines were dominated by the threat of a conflict between the Soviet Union and the western world. These films also in many ways echoed the films of Hollywood's Golden Era through the use of vintage plot devices, 30's and 40's slang, and costumes befitting those eras. By producing this most recent film as a throwback to a more recent but still bygone era, the Muppet franchise has truly returned to form by carrying on its tradition of classic comedy for fans of all decades.

Muppets Most Wanted is an excellent film for fans of the franchise looking for a bit of nostalgia and those who have yet to be introduced to Jim Henson's troupe of puppets. The equal parts witty and thrilling script ensures that the film will entertain kids looking for a fun adventure and adults looking for classic comedy, making this a film that truly is for the whole family. The film also possesses an added bonus for adults and classic film fans through its function as a loving send-up of both Cold War era cinema and the original Muppet films. Muppets Most Wanted is a return to form for the precocious puppets that will be sure to please lovers, dreamers, and maybe even you.
The Muppets spreading their natural star quality

Monday, December 29, 2014

The 2014 SPLATTER! Awards

Confessions of a Film Junkie: The 2014 SPLATTER! Awards

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Welcome one and all to the 3rd Annual SPLATTER! Awards, where we honor the Best and Worst Films of the Year.  I just wanted to remind you all that the films on this list were all films that I PERSONALLY WATCHED this year, so many of you are likely to disagree with me over my choices.  It’s not that I think that all of these are the Best or Worst films from this year; I just think that they are the Best films that I personally saw this year.  I also wanted to say thank you all so much to everyone who follows, reads, and supports this blog.  All your comments and film suggestions are greatly appreciated, and here’s hoping for me good things to come in 2015.  All right, I’m not going to waste any more of your time, here the Winners of the 2014 SPLATTER! Awards

BEST FILM OF THE YEAR: (Award Given To what I consider to be the Best Film of 2014)

For the second time in 3 years, the Award for Best Film of the Year goes to a film from Marvel Studios and that film is “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”.  I’m sure a lot of you are already saying to yourselves “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a way better movie put out by Marvel Studios this year”; I wish I could agree with you, but I have still yet to see that one.  I was very impressed with this sequel film after being utterly and totally disappointed with both Marvel Sequel films—“Iron Man 3” and “Thor: The Dark World"—last year.  Now true, a lot of us saw the big twists coming ahead of time (I mean the previous 3 Marvel Superhero movies tried pulling a fake death of a major character, how stupid do they think we are by now?), but I still felt the “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” still had a lot of great suspense, action, and added new characters perfectly to an already phenomenal cast.  I can honestly say, that I think that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the Best Superhero film put out by Marvel Studios since “The Avengers” (which coincidentally won the 1st SPLATTER! Award for Best FOTY back in 2012).

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR: (Award Given To what I consider to be the WORST Film of 2014)

All three nominees for this year’s Worst Film of the Year came from the same film studio, so no matter what it’s not good news for The Asylum.  After much careful thought and deliberation, I decided to give the award to “Sleeping Beauty” (2014) or, “Casper Van Dien’s Family Reunion” as I prefer to call it.  Now, why did I pick this as my Worst Film of the Year?  The film is a piss-poor rip off of “Maleficent” and Van Dien’s decision to cast his daughters in the film in some of the main roles did him no favors.  At least in “Blood Lake” I could turn pass some of the crappiness of the film because it had 2 credible actors, which is more than this film had. That’s this films ultimate flaw, it has nothing credibility or competency to show, the whole thing is one long and boring mess!  I’ve seen three films with the title “Sleeping Beauty” now and they’ve all been terrible!  Maybe now, I’ll finally learn my lesson to avoid any & all films having to do with “Sleeping Beauty”.

BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE YEAR: (Award Given to a film Released in 2014 that I thought was going to be bad, but I actually ended up liking)

I remember the day Robin Williams died for two specific reasons:  1.) the tragedy of losing one of the World’s Greatest Comedians too soon and 2.)  It was also the night I saw this film for the first time, and it made me laugh so much.  The Winner for Biggest Surprise of the Year has to go to Magnolia films “Stage Fright”.  At first glance, I thought this was just going to by a crappy straight to DVD remake of the 1987 version, but on the contrary it was an original work with original songs.  The films setting at a Summer Theatre Camp run by a former Broadway Director (play by the awesomeness Meatloaf).  I enjoyed everything about this film; the acting, the songs, the excessive bloodshed, absolutely everything.  Do yourself a favor: if you haven’t seen “Stage Fright” yet, give it a watch.  It is an ideal film for anyone who may be a fan of “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, “Repo! The Genetic Opera”, and “The Devils Carnival”.

What the F*ck?! Film of the Year: (Award Given to the film that made me throw up my hands in the air and shout “What the F*ck?!” the most)

This years What the F*ck Film of the Year Award goes to the Found Footage Horror film, “As Above, So Below”.  Now, I saw and reviewed this film this summer with my 15-year-old cousin, and we had very different opinions on the film.  Now that I’ve had some time to reflect and contemplate on the film, I’ve reached the conclusion that “As Above, So Below” isn’t really a bad movie, but it is really, really confusing.  First of all, it’s supposed to be a “Found Footage” Horror film, and none of the dialogue feels natural.  I think if they would’ve just made this as a regular Horror feature then I would’ve like it more.  Secondly, this film references a lot of old texts and medieval history, which probably makes sense if you’re a History PhD, but to the Average Joe watching in the theatre—like myself—it’s very easy to get confused by the plot.  I have a feeling that this film is too smart for the average American audience, and that it will probably take you multiple viewings to understand what the hell is going on.

BIGGEST DISSAPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR: (Award Given to a film that I had high expectations for that did not meet my expectations)

I’ll be honest with you I was not impressed with a lot of the films released this year.  I mean some of the films I saw this year were such big letdowns that I can’t believe I wasted my time and money seeing them in theatres.  Well, the award for Biggest Disappointment of the Year has to go to the 2014 Historical-Action-Drama “Pompeii”.  You would think a film about a volcanic eruption that wipes out a whole city the focus on the film would be on the volcano and the impending eruption, right?  Well not in this film, instead the plot of the film chooses to focus more on Kiefer Sutherland’s over-acting and Kit Harrington’s background story and muscular body than it does on Vesuvius.  In fact, Vesuvius is barely mentioned until like the last 15-20 minutes of the film.  “Pompeii” feels like “Gladiator” if it was made by SyFy Channel.  Though, I really shouldn’t have expected much from the same guy who wrote and directed the “Resident Evil” film.

BEST FILM THAT I SAW FOR THE 1st TIME THIS YEAR: (Award Given to the Best Film that I Saw this year, regardless of Year it was released)

This one was probably my toughest decision to make.  For the longest time it was a toss-up between the 2013 French Indie Drama “Blue is the Warmest Colour” and the 1994 Sci-Fi-Action “Death Machine”.  For a while I was leaning towards “Blue is the Warmest Colour”, which was beautifully shot and actually helped restore my belief in God (after “Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom” destroyed it).  No doubt in my mind that if I had seen this film the year before it would’ve won Best Film of the Year.  However, the film is really long—an almost 3 hour long—run time.  That’s quite a stretch for most people, and at times in the film.  But just when I was ready to give the award to “Death Machine”, which was shorter and more action packed, I saw another film with an almost 3-hour run time which was filled with action, drama, and even some comedy and I knew I had found the true winner for the Best Film that I saw for the 1st Time this Year: “Django Unchained”.  What was it about this film that made me think it was better than “Blue is the Warmest Colour”?  Two Words: Christoph Waltz! Ever since I saw him “Inglorious Bastards”, I’ve thought to myself that there isn’t any person on this earth who is as interesting as actor Christoph Waltz.  He alone is what makes this film worth checking out, and a more than worthy recipient of this year’s Best Film that I saw for the 1st Time Award.

WORST FILM THAT I SAW FOR THE 1st TIME THIS YEAR: (Award Given to the Worst Film that I Saw this year, regardless of Year it was released)

You’re all expecting me to name “Salo” for this one aren’t you?  That would be a good guess, but this Award is for the Worst Film that I saw for the 1st time this year, not the Award for “Film that Made Me Stop Believing in God”...Note to self, see if we can make that into a new SPLATTER! Award.  No, the real winner of this year’s Worst Film I saw for the 1st Time This Year has to go to “H.P. Lovecraft’s the Tomb”.  Not only, does this film have nothing to do with the original short story by Lovecraft, but it also tries to rip-off the movie “Saw”.  This movie is awful on so many different levels, and I think the state of California should pass a law making it illegal for the film’s director Ulli Lommel to make any more films.

Thank you all so much for reading this years posts, and here’s hoping for Great New Year here on Confessions of a Film Junkie.

The 2013 SPLATTER! Awards

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Retrospect on "Lo"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Retrospect on “Lo”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Wow, can you believe that I’ve been at this blog for 4 years now!  To celebrate this impressive accomplishment, I have decided to do a Retrospect on the first film I ever reviewed for Confessions of a Film Junkie: the 2009 Horror-Comedy, “Lo”.

My First Impression of the Film

I was very critical of “Lo” the first time I saw it. I thought it was going to be a Horror film, but it ended up playing out more like a stage play that got poorly adapted to the screen. I claimed it was random and confusing and I had no idea what was going on.  The only character I only liked in the film was the demon Geez. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea why I was harsh with this film.  I think maybe, I was so hard on it because I was trying to play myself off as a cool hates everything film critic.  That’s the only logical reason I could come up with. 

My Second Impression of the Film

     Holy shnikes; this movie is awesome!  I mean it has a little bit of everything.  It has laughs, scares, romance; it has a little bit of everything.  I found every character to be smart, interesting, and very comical.  The acting is all wonderful, and you can tell each actor had a fun time while on screen. The story made more sense the second time around and it was even funnier then I remember.

You're So Much Fun, Lo!

What I’d do to Make the Film Better

The only thing I can think of that needed improvements were cutaway scenes were Lo shows Justin his past where it looks like a stage play.  I think those scenes could’ve been done a little better, and that’s really my only complaint.

My Final Opinion on the Film

Lo” is a Fantastic film.  Not only that, but it is a strange and unique film that I think everyone can’t help, but enjoy.  I think “Lo” is one of those films that you just have to say to people, “Go see this film, you’re just not going to believe how weird and different it is”.  If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and go find a copy on-line to watch somewhere, because you can’t go any further in your life without seeing the film “Lo”.

Classics: A Review of Holiday Affair By Lauren Ennis

The holidays are a time in which we gather with loved ones to celebrate and give thanks for the blessings in our lives. For many, however, the holidays can serve as a painful reminder of those who can no longer be with us and the moments that can no longer be shared with them. This is also an excellent time of year, however, to make new memories with those who are still part of our lives and those who have only just become part of our world. One film demonstrates the simultaneous sense of nostalgia and hope for a fresh start that the holidays can inspire; the 1949 romantic comedy Holiday Affair.
Nothing says I love you like costing someone their job

The story begins with war widow Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) working as a department store comparison shopper to support her young son, Timmy (Gordon Gebert). As she nears the end of her daily rounds through rival stores, Connie hurriedly purchases an electric train set without asking a single question about the expensive item, prompting clerk Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) to suspect an ulterior motive for her purchase. When Connie returns the following day to return the train and makes a similarly suspect purchase, Steve approaches her and threatens to expose her as a comparison shopper, which would ultimately result in her being fired. Desperate, she explains her financial situation, and when Steve learns of her efforts to raise Timmy alone after her husband’s death he finds that he doesn’t have the heart to report her after all. While it saves Connie’s job, Steve’s deed unfortunately also results in the loss of his own job. When she learns of his predicament she offers to take him out for lunch as an apology, but the two are separated by the shopping crowd as they leave the store. Determined to continue their acquaintance, he tracks her down to her home only to find that she’s entertaining her boyfriend, staid lawyer Carl (Wendell Corey). After his first visit Steve learns that Connie has been seeing Carl for a while (despite Timmy’s disapproval) but sees him more as a friend and confidante than a boyfriend as she continues to pine for her dead husband. As her acquaintance with Steve develops into a friendship, Connie finds herself in a love quadrangle as she attempts to fend off Carl’s demands for a serious relationship, struggles to make sense of her growing feelings for Steve, and begins to come to terms with the loss of her husband. Romantic and comic dilemmas ensue as a bit of holiday magic descends upon the Ennis household just in time for Connie to realize what’s been missing from both her life and Timmy’s.
The lady and the many men in her life

While the plot is typical romantic comedy fare, the writers approach the subject matter with a simplicity and subtlety that gives the story emotional weight and poignancy.  Rather than limit its character to types as many rom-coms and holiday films are apt to do, Holiday Affair instead delves into the real emotions both hopeful and regretful that motivate its characters. Although it would have been easier for the writers to reduce Connie to a cynical stereotype, the film reveals her to be a complex woman who still harbors longings and hopes but is careful to keep those feelings strongly guarded. Similarly, Steve is revealed to have his own demons to wrestle with after serving in World War II and drifting from job to job after giving up his dream of designing boats. Timmy also proves to be a surprisingly well written character who infuses the story with innocence without reducing the script to mere sentimentality. Even Carl, who at first appears to be a portrait of an overcompensating suitor demonstrates complexity in his simultaneous patience with Connie’s reluctance and irritation with Timmy’s rejection as he continues to hold out hope for a relationship that was over before it began. All of the film’s players turn in excellent performances and bring their characters to three-dimensional life with an emotional depth that makes the otherwise predictable plot worth watching. While it could have easily limited the scope of its tale to romantic hijinks and seasonal sentiment, Holiday Affair avoids the trappings typical to its genres and instead tells a multifaceted tale of average people struggling to come to terms with life’s difficulties and finding solace in their connections with those around them.

Holiday Affair is a holiday tale that is equal parts reflective and whimsical. The film’s simple message of hope is one that remains relevant over sixty years later and continues to resonate throughout the year. Through its emphasis upon genuine emotion and relatable situations, the film is able to serve as entertainment for children and adults alike and reminds us all of the promise of the season. For a holiday film that will truly please the whole family, look no further than Holiday Affair. Tell me some of your favorite holiday films in the comments!
Who needs  step ladder when you've got  Robert Mitchum?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A review of "Haunt"

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

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Wow, do I have a great film to talk about today.  It’s amazing how some films that don’t get a theatrical release can gain a huge following after it is released on DVD.  Well I’m here to tell you why I think that “Haunt” is going to be one of those surprise sleeper films that is I think is sure to gain notoriety and popularity on the straight-to-video/DVD circuit.      
Now from the outside “Haunt” looks like a basic Haunted House Horror movie.  Early on in the film you can tell that they drew inspirations from other more successful films like “Insidious”, “The Others”, “Oculus”, “Psycho”, “The Conjuring”, and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. It’s the story about a family named the Asher’s who move into the old Morello House, where it is rumored that some sinister spirits took the lives of the previous owners three children.  The Asher’s eldest son, Evan, ends up befriending the girl-next-door, Sam, and the two of them really hit it off.  I’m not kidding, he just finds her crying in the woods one night, he says some comforting words to her, and then the next thing he knows she’s broken into the house and has decided to spend the night in his bed...Is this how the films screenwriter thinks teen romance happens? Because it’s more creepy than it is cute.  And the only thing creepier than that is how cool his parents are that there teenage son just had some strange mysterious girl spend the night with him in his bed!  I know, I were ever caught in that situation my parents would’ve chewed me out and grounded me forever, but they’re like “Meh, whatever, it’s coolWelcome to our family”. One night Sam and Evan find an old mysterious box that she claimed Mr. Morello once used to try to communicate with his dead children.  To them it seemed like a fun little idea, but will them using the box/machine upset or awaken angry spirits.                     
I can't tell if we're supposed to think this is
charming or very unsettling.
    So yeah, it’s a pretty unoriginal Haunted House story idea that has been done time and time again, but yet there were still a couple of things I really enjoyed about it.  I really enjoyed the two main characters Evan and Sam.  Even though their characters are written as stereotypical teenagers the still had some personality brought to them by the wonderful acting of Harrison Gilbertson and Liana Liberato.  Gilbertson somehow brings a little bit of personality to the stereotypical “Good looking nice guy, who just wants to be loved by the emotionally damaged girl”.  Again, not an originally written character, but Gilbertson still gave a decent performance.  Liana Liberato, in the role of Sam, was great in this film.  I’ve seen her in a few small television and in the film “Trust”, and let me just say I think she is a great actress: though I must say, I find it a little strange that she plays a rape/abuse victim in a lot of her works (I had no idea you could get type-casted into that kind of role).  I really hope to see Liana Liberato in more mainstream film roles in the future, because she really is a talented actress.  
Something, sinister comes this way!
Now the other part I liked in this film was the CGI effects.  This film once it reaches its climax is filled with creepy and frightening images.  For a film that has an unoriginal story the images in “Haunt” made me jump time after time again.  I know there was at least one time while I was watching this on my laptop—in the dark—that I exclaimed in terror “What the hell is that?!”.  It’s not an easy thing to do, I think I can count the number of times I’ve been actually truly frightened by a Horror film on one-hand, that’s how rare of an occurrence it is.  If you see “Haunt” for just one reason and one reason alone, I would say you should check it out just to see the freaky and terrifying CG creations.  I may be a little bit bias towards this film, because it took a lot of elements from some of my favorite Horror Films, but that is my opinion and I am standing by it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Classics: Three Sequels That Arguably Outdo the Original By Lauren Ennis

Sequels are often maligned for their inability to live up to the promise of their predecessors. Cinema buffs have spent decades bemoaning the lack of originality and cheapening of original films that sequels are notorious for. While many sequels fit the stereotype of the ‘sloppy sequel’, this week’s review will instead focus upon the films that have managed to overcome the sequel stigma and become classics in their own right. Please fill us in on your own favorite sequels in the comments section!
And you thought your family had issues

1.      THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: While the first entry in the Star Wars saga, A New Hope, certainly earned its classic status, its innovation and drama was still outdone by that of its sequel The Empire Strikes Back. Although Empire is best known for a certain revelation about the franchise’s villain, the film has much more to recommend a viewing. First, Empire delves into the backstories and personalities of its characters in far more depth than A New Hope could. As a result, Empire’s central revelation and bittersweet finale have far more resonance for audiences because they have become more connected to invested in the fates of the central characters. Empire also successfully juggles several different narratives by separating Luke, Han and Leia, and Darth Vader from each other in order to place each of these characters into their own individual quests. While this separation had the potential to backfire as confusing and jumbled, it instead forces each character to grow and develop as they each face their own forms of adversity to be overcome. Similarly, while A New Hope focused upon Luke’s heroic journey, Empire encompasses multiple genres in its exploration of Luke’s coming of age in jedi training and Han and Leia’s tempestuous romance against the backdrop of the overarching tale of the Rebel’s efforts to overthrow the Galactic Empire. The film also successfully balances its efforts to transport viewers to another universe without resorting to the camp of Return of the Jedi or the franchise’s much maligned prequels. For its adult take on science fiction, The Empire Strikes Back stands out as a stellar sequel.
Is it me or is that kid so familiar?
2.      HOME ALONE II: Today, Home Alone has become an alternative go-to film during the holiday season. While the original film’s seasonal shenanigans remain quality entertainment, the sequel creates an emotionally deeper tale that adds poignancy without sacrificing the fun of the original. The sequel picks up one year after the events of the original with Kevin lamenting his family’s teasing and nagging as Christmas draws near once again. In a bit of cinematic déjà vu, Kevin is left behind on family vacation again after an airport mishap. When he initially arrives in New York and realizes that his family has arrived at their scheduled Florida destination, Kevin resumes his comical attempts at playing at adulthood that proliferated the first film. Midway through the film, however, Kevin is reunited with his former foes, thieves Harry and Marv. This tie in to the original easily could have become tiresome, but the film’s writers instead use this familiar territory to reveal the ways in which Kevin has grown since the first film. In the original, Kevin learns to appreciate his family after spending the holidays without them. While the first film’s lesson is indeed valid, it only comes about after Kevin realizes how the absence of his family directly impacts him. In the sequel, Kevin is forced to look beyond himself through his interactions with a kind, but lonely, homeless woman and a charitable toy-store owner. In the sequel, he not only remembers the importance of his family, but also learns the importance of self-sacrifice and compassion and does the original one better by actually putting his lessons into action. Through its more active use of Kevin’s lessons the film serves as a morality tale at its heart despite its promotion as light children’s fare. For character growth befitting maturing audiences, Home Alone II is a holiday film that truly is for the whole family.
A sequel you cannot refuse

3.      THE GODFATHER PART II: The Godfather Part II is unique in its ability to be viewed as a stand-alone film despite its status as a sequel. The film begins not where its predecessor left off, but instead several decades earlier in a flashback to the events that led a young Vito Corleone to arrive in the United States. The film continues to flash-back to Vito’s rise to power between scenes chronicling his son, Michael’s impending fall from grace. Through its juxtaposition of its two storylines the film provides insight into the backstories of its central characters while simultaneously telling the story of what became of the Corleone empire following the events of The Godfather. The film’s unconventional structure lends it an epic scope and offers commentary on the state of traditions, values, and the American Dream in an ever changing society. The dual stories also lends a sense of tragedy to the film’s proceedings as the audience bears witness to Don Corleone’s efforts to build a better life for both his family and neighborhood only to see that better life destroyed under Michael’s reign. Beyond its innovative structure, the film also manages to tell two very different stories that each serve to inform and entertain audiences without overshadowing each other. The film also succeeds in its inclusion of memorable lines and scenes that rival those of its predecessor.  Through its ability to relate a cohesive epic through two distinct stories, The Godfather Part II possesses the originality and gravity to make it more than just another mob film and elevate it to a level of classic that makes it synonymous with excellent film making.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Classics: A Review of From Here To Eternity By Lauren Ennis

On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941 Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack resulted in the deaths of 2,403 Americans, left another 1,178 Americans wounded, and launched the United States' involvement in World War II. The attack proved to be a truly sobering moment for the largely isolationist US, and forced the nation to take a stand against the fascist powers whose influence had already been spreading across the globe for several years. While numerous films have chronicled the harrowing events and heroic actions of that fateful day, few have done so with the depth and humanity of the 1953 Oscar winning hit From Here to Eternity.
The Oscar winning role that got Sinatra a nod in The Godfather

The story begins with the arrival of rebellious private Robert 'Prew' Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) at a rifle company at Schoefield Barracks on the island of Oahu. Almost as soon as he unpacks, Prewitt is approached by Captain Holmes (Phillip Ober) to join the company's boxing team. Despite his talent and reputation as a successful middleweight boxer, Prew adamantly refuses to box after previously blinding a friend while sparring. Infuriated at being refused his own way, Holmes begins a campaign against Prew, and with the help of several officers harasses Prew to the verge of a mental and physical breakdown in hopes of torturing him into agreeing to box. Fortunately, Prew is aided by his brash but loyal friend, Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra), and the hidden efforts of First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster), who is glad at any chance to foil Holmes' plans. Meanwhile, Prew begins a romance with social-climbing call-girl 'Lorene' Alma Burke (Donna Reed) as Warden begins an affair with Holmes' promiscuous wife, Karen (Deborah Kerr). Eventually the clashes between Prew and Maggio and military command reach a heated climax just as war comes to Hawaii.

While numerous films have featured World War II (and specifically the attack on Pearl Harbor) in their plots, few films were able to do so on such a poignant level. The characters in From Here To Eternity, while engaging and mostly likable, are far from ideal. Between Warden and Karen's adulterous affair, Alma's dubious profession, Angelo's alcoholism, and Prew's troubled past, the film is populated with people who hardly fit the standard view of heroism, but still manage to act with courage and dignity when faced with national tragedy. Throughout its running time, the film displays its characters in an honest light that allows them to be true to life while remaining in context of the greater history surrounding them. It is this sober look at the lives of those affected by the attack on Pearl Harbor that provides the story with its true resonance through its portrayal of the attack's devastating affects on people whom viewers will inevitably see themselves in. As a result, the film allows viewers a glimpse into the daily lives of the ordinary Americans who lived, loved, and lost in the days leading up to that fateful morning in December, 1941.
What happens in Hawaii stays in Hawaii

The film's sharply written script is brought to life by a truly stellar cast. Montgomery Clift's understated performance as Prew reveals his character's basic decency while still hinting at the painful past behind his quiet demeanor, and makes the humble soldier an everyman viewers will be glad to root for. Burt Lancaster nearly steals the film from Clift in his portrayal of the morally ambiguous Warden, which ensures that the sergeant is fascinating and believable even as his motives remain murky. The otherwise understated proceedings are enlivened by Frank Sinatra's explosive performance as the equal parts comic and tragic Maggio. Rounding out the cast are Donna Reed and Deborah Kerr as two women who have turned their backs on conventional mores after learning the hard way that good girls don't always finish first. The performances of its two leading ladies provides an honest observation of the ways in which the social and economic double standards of the era forced some women to the margins of the very society that they had struggled to fit into.

President Roosevelt was right when he said that December 7, 1941 was a day that would live in infamy. As the decades continue to pass the memories of that tragic date will continue to live on in our nation's consciousness. Through works such as this film, the tragedy and heroism at Pearl Harbor will continue to be understood and appreciated by future generations as more than just historical dates and facts. Through its expert writing, acting, and emotional impact, From Here To Eternity is a true cinema classic and will remain such from now until eternity.
The kiss that heated up screens around the world

2014 SPLATTER! Award Nominees

Confessions of a Film Junkie: 2014 SPLATTER! Awards Nominees

By: Brian Cotnoir
   It’s that time of Year Again! J It’s time for me to talk about the 3rd Annual SPLATTER! Awards on Confessions of a Film Junkie!  This Year, I wanted to do something different: Instead of just handing out my awards at the end of the year like I normally do, I decided to announce my official nominees ahead of time.  Now, just to avoid controversy I must give the “disclaimer” that my nominees and selections are based on films that I personally saw this year.  I will not be surprised if you disagree with some of my choices, but unfortunately I don’t have the time (or money) to see all the Best films of the Year.  If there was a film that you think you think I should have nominated for one of my SPLATTER! Awards then the reason is 99% Most Likely because I didn’t see that particular film this year, but fear not because the Award for Best & Worst Film I saw for the First Time this Year is there mostly to pay homage to some of the Best & Worst Films from the Previous Year that I may not have had the opportunity to have seen.  So without further ado here are my nominees for the 2014 SPLATTER! Awards.

2014 SPLATTER! Award Nominees by Category

BEST FILM OF THE YEAR: (Award Given To what I consider to be the Best Film of 2014)

The Lego Movie (Warner Bros. Pictures/Roadshow Entertainment)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Stage Fright (Magnolia Pictures)

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR:(Award Given To what I consider to be the Worst Film of 2014)

Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lamprey’s (The Asylum)

Mega Shark vs. Mecha-Shark (The Asylum)

Sleeping Beauty (The Asylum)

BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE YEAR: (Award Given to a film Released in 2014 that I thought was going to be bad, but I actually ended up liking)

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (Image Entertainment)

Stage Fright (Magnolia Pictures)

Mercy (Universal Studios)

What the F*ck?! Film of the Year: (Award Given to the film that made me throw up my hands in the air and shout “What the F*ck?!” the most)

As Above, So Below (Universal Pictures/Legendary Pictures)

Beneath (Revolver Picture Co.)

The Coed and the Zombie Stoner (The Asylum)

Mega Shark vs. Mecha-Shark (The Asylum)

BIGGEST DISSAPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR: (Award Given to a film that I had high expectations for that did not meet my expectations)

As Above, So Below (Universal Pictures/Legendary Pictures)

Pompeii (Constantin Films/TriStar Pictures)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (20th Century Fox)

BEST FILM THAT I SAW FOR THE 1st TIME THIS YEAR: (Award Given to the Best Film that I Saw this year, regardless of Year it was released)

Blue is the Warmest Colour (Wild Bunch, 2013)

The Battery (O. Hannah films, 2012)

Death Machine (Fugitive Features, 1994)

Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures, 2012)

Jug Face (Moderncine, 2013)

WORST FILM THAT I SAW FOR THE 1st TIME THIS YEAR: (Award Given to the WORST Film that I Saw this year, regardless of Year it was released)

  Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lamprey’s (The Asylum, 2014)

H.P. Lovecraft’s The Tomb (The Shadow Factory/Lions Gate Entertainment, 2006)

Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom (Les Productions Artistes Associes/United Artists, 1975)

Sleeping Beauty (The Asylum, 2014)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Classics: Stockings Full of Coal: Three Holiday Films With Disturbing Connotations By Lauren Ennis

1.   HOME ALONE: Just the premise of Home Alone is enough to warrant a DCF investigation of the McAllister home. The film begins with bullied youngest child Kevin lamenting the lack of attention he receives from his family during the holiday rush as his household is bombarded with a virtual Noah’s Ark of aunts, uncles, and cousins. When the whole McAllister clan leaves to spend Christmas in France they pack all of their necessities, with one exception; Kevin. The film then chronicles the precocious eight-year-old’s efforts to fend for himself while outsmarting a pair of bumbling burglars who see his empty house as a perfect opportunity to swipe some stocking stuffers for themselves. While the film maintains a light atmosphere throughout, the fact remains that the springboard from which Kevin’s adventures are launched is his family’s neglect. The film attempts to explain the McAllister’s actions through stress induced forgetfulness, but their lack of action or concern once they realize that Kevin is missing indicates otherwise. When explaining their situation to police and airport security, Kevin’s parents repeatedly try to laugh off the very real danger that their son is in. This lack of an emotional response suggests that the McAllister’s are not the lovably daffy family that the film otherwise presents them as and that their wacky memory lapse is instead one piece of a larger pattern of child neglect. If such bizarre reactions are not jarring enough, the bored responses that their explanations receive from authorities are nothing short of shocking. The film does present Mrs. McAllister as more sympathetic after she embarks on a cross country journey to return home on the tour bus of a quirky polka band, but the obvious question remains; where do the McAllister’s priorities lie? Instead of returning home to reunite as a family, Mr. McAllister and the rest of Kevin’s relatives remain in France and continue to enjoy their vacation regardless of Kevin or Mrs. McAllister’s whereabouts. Even though the film cites holiday airport traffic as the reason that the family can’t return home together, what reasonable family would give up that easily when one of their own, especially a young child, has been left behind? All of this could be dismissed as a disconcerting one time fluke except for the fact that the film’s sequel features Kevin being left behind on family vacation again, just one year later.
If only all home invaders were this delightfully zany
2.     IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: While this film was featured as part of last year’s joint holiday review, I thought there was still enough of a dark side in this holiday staple to warrant a second mention. The film begins with self-sacrificing George Bailey contemplating suicide after his uncle’s incompetence threatens to have him imprisoned for embezzling from the bank that he has strove his entire life to salvage. The film then launches into a flashback as George’s guardian angel, Clarence, tries to understand what happened to lead George to his depressive state. As the flashback unfolds, Clarence (and the audience) learns of the struggles that George has faced throughout his life and the ways in which he continually sacrificed his own happiness for the sake of others. Although George’s actions are admirable, the film reveals how his good intentions forced him to put his own plans on hold until he was finally trapped into the mundane sort of life that he had swore he would never live. Fortunately, George is able to gain perspective upon the good things in his life by the film’s finish, but that perspective still can’t bring back the years that he sacrificed in service to the Bailey Building and Loan in place of pursuing his own dreams. While George’s struggles are true to the gritty reality of life during the Great Depression, the film’s final act leaves a key issue unaddressed; the fate of Mr. Potter.  At the film’s conclusion, George runs by the wicked magnate’s office shouting “Merry Christmas” only to be met with a sneer and snide remark, and that is the last the audience sees of Mr. Potter. Throughout the entirety of the film’s lengthy running time Mr. Potter is portrayed as the most hated and feared man in Bedford Falls and the single greatest obstacle standing in the way of George’s success. Despite his role as the central villain in the film, however, Mr. Potter suffers no consequences for his behavior and none of the other characters ever learns of the way that Mr. Potter used George’s misfortune to frame him. As a result, Mr. Potter maintains his position and is free to torment the residents of Bedford Falls once again. Wonderful as it may be, It’s a Wonderful Life is a strikingly sober look at the reality of life during difficult times and the eternal struggle between the haves and have nots.
Give him a break, who hasn't had a little too much egg nog some time?

3.     MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET: On its surface, Miracle on 34th Street is a heartwarming tale of the power of believing, but beneath its sentimental surface lies a surprisingly sinister plot. The film begins with jaded divorcee Doris Walker firing the Macy’s Day Parade Santa for coming to work drunk. The intoxicated employee is conveniently replaced with the far more convincing Kris Kringle, who is then promoted as Macy’s Department Store’s Santa for the remainder of the season. Throughout his employment, Kringle is nothing less than delightful as he entertains the store’s customers and teaches Doris’ mature daughter the joy of being a kid. Cynical Doris, however, decides that the old man is taking the Santa act too far and tries to fire him for being ‘delusional’, for fear that he is unstable and a company liability. After a misunderstanding during his appointment with the store’s on-staff psychiatrist (didn’t all 40’s businesses have those?), Kris is committed to Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric ward. Doris’ neighbor, lawyer Fred Gaily, then takes it upon himself to defend Kris at a sanity hearing by proving that Kris is not delusional, but is in fact the real Santa Claus. Like Home Alone, the entirety of the film’s action hinges upon the main character suffering abuse by those around them as Kris is maligned for trying to make the world a better place. Like Wonderful Life, the film’s villain also faces only minimal consequences as Macy’s psychiatrist, Doctor Sawyer, is fired for bringing the store negative publicity, but continues to retain his psychiatric license despite misdiagnosing Kris and another employee. Although Kris does finally win his freedom, the court’s decision is revealed to be motivated by politics rather than justice, which unfortunately is how many cases are decided in real life. Between its depiction of broken homes and a strait-jacketed Santa Claus, Miracle on 34th Street contains a gripping look at the ways that good intentions and kind actions can haunt us later on.
So he's not stable enough for your store but he's stable enough to babysit your daughter?!