Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The 2015 SPLATTER! Awards

Confessions of a Film Junkie: The 2015 SPLATTER! Awards

A Year End Video By Brian Cotnoir

This week, I take a look at the Best & Worst Films of the Year

The 2015 SPLATTER! Awards

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Review of The Hunger Games Mocking Jay Part Two By Miguel Taveras

As we finally arrive to the conclusion of the Hunger Games (should have been a trilogy) four-part series we appreciate it’s first two segments. “The Hunger Games,” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” both gave us a very real glimpse into the world that author Suzanne Collins created. Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen captured the attention of America’s youth in quick succession. Though these first two films did not have the vision or strong acting to receive such notoriety, they did give us something more. Though it takes place in fictional “Panem,” these films gave us something real. Then, in the way that most endings are ending these days, they spilt the finale, “The Mocking Jay,” into two parts. Part 1 was very much a lifeless film that could have been completely avoided, for the exception of the final scene.
Every teen queen requires a throne

Mocking Jay: Part 2 begins right where Part 1 left off. Kantiss is recovering from her reunion with the now brain washed, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutchinson). The film progresses with Everdeen’s realization that filming propaganda isn’t enough to help to the cause that wishes to free itself from the clutches of its evil ruler, President Snow (Sutherland). There are scenes throughout, involving mostly the more reputable actors, which give the film depth and presence. Although not seen often, the late, Phillip Seymour Hoffman captivates audiences as turn cloak game maker, Plutarch Heavensbee. Woody Harleson  and Elizabeth Banks enhance the film, giving it more renown and perhaps nearly taking it above the expectations of your typical teenage angst film.

The film picks up as it moves forward, don’t await a repeat of Part 1. Teamed up with a group of loyal rebel leaders, complete camera crew, and her two lovers, Katniss enters the capital on a mission to end the war, to see president Snow dead, to finally end the suffering of her people. You’ll find no arena in this film, but do suspect more ploys from Snow and his elitist.

If you’ve seen the first three films of this series please see it through completely. I do not believe anyone who has watched the first three films could be disappointed with this final chapter. I will note that the ending is not one of too much popularity. Besides having split the final adaptation into two parts this series has taken a step in elevating what we expect from our films that aim towards “tweens.”

Monday, December 21, 2015

Das Film Junkie reads your Hate Mail :)

Confessions of a Film Junkie: Das Film Junkie reads your Hate Mail

A Video By Brian Cotnoir

This week I pay homage to the negative and hateful comments that people have said about my film reviews over the years

Classics: A Review of The Holiday By Lauren Ennis

The holidays are a time in which people come together with family and friends to celebrate as a new year approaches and reflect upon all that has come and gone in the year passed. Sometimes, seasonal nostalgia can call attention to the people and things we have lost and things we would have liked to have changed in the last year, lending us just the gumption we need to alter our lives for the better. In the 2006 romantic comedy The Holiday, the holiday spirit proves to be just the inspiration that two women need to learn to live life to the fullest all year long.
Laughter truly is the best medicine

The film starts with British newspaper reporter Iris (Kate Winslet) ending her year on a decidedly low note when the ex-boyfriend (Rufus Sewell) she is still struggle to get over announces his engagement to Iris’ co-worker. Half-way across the world in Los Angeles, movie trailer producer Amanda proves similarly unlucky in love when she learns that her live-in boyfriend (Edward Burns) has been having an affair with his much younger secretary. While each woman pursues her own course of grieving, with Iris despondently blaming herself and Amanda fuming at her boyfriend’s betrayal, both find themselves searching for a way to get away from their fraught love lives and both find their answer in the same place; the internet. Amanda spots Iris’ online ad for a home-exchange vacation and the pair agree to swap lives for two weeks over the holidays, marking the start of a whimsical journey in which each will find new friendships, a renewed sense of self, and of course, a little romance.

While romantic comedies have long been a holiday staple, The Holiday succeeds as a year-round crowd pleaser by transcending both the holiday and romantic comedy genres. Although on its surface the film appears to be a typical tale of love lost and found just in time for the holidays, the script is actually an empowering tale of two people searching for things that they ultimately find within themselves. Iris is so lacking in confidence that she continues to pursue a man who had previously been unfaithful to her and clearly only maintains contact with her in order to utilize the free editing she does on his novel. In an opposite characterization, Amanda has become so accustomed to being the strong one in her relationships that she has lost touch with her own vulnerability and her ability to cry. Despite their vast differences, both women engage in behavior patterns that prevent them from growing while either single or in a relationship. As a result, it is their common struggle to accept themselves and live life on their own terms, rather than their search for love, that is the film’s central conflict. Although both do eventually find romance, they do so only incidentally, as the film remains firmly focused upon its heroines’ personal development. The film also avoids the rom-com cliché of love interests solving all of the story’s problems. While both Amanda’s charming beaux, Graham (Jude Law), and Iris’ endearing flame, Miles (Jack Black) are enjoyable characters, the script makes them three dimensional men rather than stereotypical ‘knights in shining armor’ by revealing their shortcomings and insecurities as well as their strengths. This in turn makes the relationships between both couples more interesting and realistic than the paint by numbers plotting of many romantic comedies. While the holiday ambiance adds to the film’s whimsy and romantic atmosphere, its central messages of ‘believe in yourself’ and ‘be open to life’ are ones that resonate throughout the year, making The Holiday a cinematic vacation that viewers can enjoy any time.
Who says complicated has to be a bad thing?

One of the more unique aspects of the film is the way in which the script pays homage to the romantic comedies of the 1930’s and 1940’s. While the life-swap premise already lends itself to screwball antics, the film takes its nod to the classics a step further by making numerous references to classic films and the men and women who brought them to life. The most obvious of these cinematic connections comes in the form of Amanda’s elderly screenwriter neighbor, Arthur, whom Iris quickly befriends. Played by classic screen veteran Eli Wallach, Arthur offers nostalgic insight into Hollywood’s Golden Age and serves as a mentor to Iris by encouraging her to follow the example of the no-nonsense female protagonists of his favorite films. The film’s music also adds a classic touch through the focus upon Miles’ job as a film composer and the old-fashioned sensibility of the film’s soundtrack. As a result, the film serves as a valentine to not only the holiday season, and love, but also to film itself.

The cast keeps the laughs and sparks flying throughout the film’s running time. Cameron Diaz makes Amanda an endearing combination of comic cuteness and inner strength, making her a protagonist that audiences would want to take a holiday with. Similarly, Kate Winslet imbues Iris, who could have been a one-note role, with an intelligence, wit, and kindness that make her a heroine that cannot help rooting for. Jude Law adds a level of vulnerability to his usual charm that makes Graham a truly irresistible love interest and Jack Black brings an unassuming quality to his role which, combined with his expected hilarity, makes Miles the boy we all wish lived next door to us. Finally, Eli Wallach adds just the right touch of wisdom, whimsy, and gentle humor to his role as Arthur.

Feel-good, breezy, and charming The Holiday is the rare modern romantic comedy that succeeds as both a romance and a comedy. Through its combination of slapstick set-ups and dry wit the script brings a freshness to the genre while successfully paying homage to the genre’s past greats. The members of the cast each utilize their unique strengths to bring their roles to surprisingly realistic life, while still maintaining the film’s romantic idealism. You don’t need to travel to get away from it all with The Holiday in your film lineup. 
The beginning of a beautiful friendship

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The 5 Strangest Films I've reviewed (so far)

Confessions of a Film Junkie: The 5 Strangest Films I’ve reviewed (so far)

By: Brian Cotnoir

*Gasp* have I actually prepared a written review for you all?!  Indeed I have!  I will admit that this year I have been selfishly lazy in my weekly reviews.  I think I have more fingers than written reviews this year, but I’m hoping to have a nice balance of written and video reviews for next year so here’s hoping I can keep that promise.  So without further delay, let me get into this week’s review:  I’ve reviewed good films, I’ve reviewed bad films, I’ve reviewed “meh” films, and I’ve reviewed films that make me go “What the f*ck did I just watch?!”.  It is the latter of these films that I have chosen to discuss today, I mean I have seen some strange and peculiar movies and today I’m going to countdown the Top 5 Strangest Films I’ve reviewed (so far).

5.) Cool World

Just be glad you had a career after this one, Brad
One of the first films I ever reviewed.  This half-animation, half-live action cinne-massacre from animation legend, Ralph Bakshi was so frustratingly bizarre that it caused me to go an angry three page rant as into why I hated it so much.  This film is a sloppy mess, with cheesy characters, weird animation, and honestly doesn’t know whether or not it wants to be a film for adults or a film for kids.  I think the strangest thing about this film is that it stars Brad Pitt (before he was ever famous).  The film does have a simple plot, but it’s hard to focus on the plot when there is so much nonsensical anarchy occurring on screen.  Practically, ever second on screen there is something shouting, or making noise, or blowing up, and it can become very frustrating at points.

4.) The Coed and the Zombie Stoner

From the same studio that brought us the “Sharknado” films, The Asylums “The Coed and the Zombie Stoner” is an absolutely ridiculous film!  It’s a film about a college student who tries to pass a zombie off as her boyfriend to avoid being kicked out of her sorority (...I honestly, don’t know why she’d be kicked out of a sorority for being single, it makes no sense to me whatsoever).   This film contains so much full-frontal nudity that it makes softcore porn look tame.  As awkward, poorly written, and terribly produced as this film is, I must admit that “The Coed and the Zombie Stoner” is probably the one film from The Asylum that I actually (kind of) enjoy.  Perhaps, you may see me talk about it in another article (Maybe I’ll do a Top 5 Best/Worst films from The Asylum list).

3.) If...

Even the movie poster doest know
what the film is actually about!!!!
I only saw this 1968 Counterculture Cult Classic because it starred Malcolm McDowell, and I still stand by my sentiments: What the f*ck did I just watch? I mean, I can understand why lots of people enjoy it, but to me this film is so...weird.  The films primary plot focuses on life at a British Boarding School in the late 1960’s and are hero Mick Travis (McDowell) and his friends Wallace and Johnny, who are always in trouble because they refuse to conform to the schools strict and outdated policies, but their a ton of random and bizarre scenes, and for some reason or another the film is partly done in black and white and part done in color, and I couldn’t figure out why.  I’ve read some articles where it says that films director Lindsay Anderson shot the film this way for artistic reasons, but yet I still stick with my original theory that they ran out of money for color film, and had to resort to using black and white film to finish the film.  As I look back on it today, I don’t think “If...” is as bad as I once previously stated; it definitely has its own merits, and it’s also the film that launched the career of one of my Favorite Actors.

2.) The Black Klansman

Yep, you read that title correctly.  There is actually a film from 1966 about a black man who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan by posing as a white man.  As bizarre as this film sounds, it’s actually well-made and I think it should be appreciated for the time it was made and the cultural significance of the times. 

Told You It's Real!

1.) The Strange Color of Your Bodies Tears

Since reviewing this Belgian Thriller this summer, I have watched it two more times...and I still have no clue what it is about?  That is the truth:  I have no clue what this movie is about, I don’t know the plot, I only remember the names of one of the characters, and...yeah, that’s about it.  This is one of those films that will destroy you mentally, but the cinematography in “The Strange Color of Your Bodies Tears” is enough to make you endure this film, it is absolutely stunning! 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

If you enjoy Miss E's posts...

Hello Readers!

Thank you so much for your continued support! In keeping with Confessions of a Film Junkie's mission of spreading the love of film and storytelling, I've included links to some of my recently published plays and screenplays. All of the scripts are historical fiction written in the tradition of the classic films I review on the blog.

Enjoy and happy holidays!!

Miss E.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

An Important Message From Miss E: Please Welcome Our New Blogger!

Hello readers!

Thank you so much for your continued support for our blog. We've come a long way over four years three-hundred posts, and we couldn't have done it without all of you! In keeping with our mission of spreading and sharing the love of cinema we've added a new blogger. Without further adieu, I'd like you to join me in welcoming writer, film buff, and fellow Lasell College alumni, Miguel Taveras a/k/a Theodore Theater.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Everybody Comes Together at Rick's: Lessons From Casablanca In Our War on Terror By Lauren Ennis

In my previous review, I discussed French films in tribute to the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Unfortunately, recent events have brought terrorism to the forefront of our lives once again. In this past week alone, fifty-seven people have been killed and one-hundred fourteen have been injured in terror attacks in Chad, England, Yemen, and the United States as well as an ISIS execution of a Russian citizen. In recent years, radical Islamist terrorist groups have caused death and devastation in cities across the globe. These attacks have been carried out against civilians of numerous races, ethnicities, religions, and political affiliations for one reason; the victims did not adhere to the oppressive beliefs of radical Islam. In light of recent events, it is undeniable that we as citizens of the free world are at war. It is a war that we have faced and overcome in the past, and will continue to face as long as there are people in the world who seek to threaten the freedom that defines our way of life. From 1932 to 1945 we faced a similarly dangerous threat from another group determined to invoke their beliefs and rule over others at any cost; the Nazis. Terrorist groups of today resemble the Nazis in their brutality, oppressiveness, and determination to eliminate any viewpoint that conflicts with their own warped ideology. After the Paris attacks, social media users around the world shared a clip from the 1942 classic Casablanca in order to show support for and solidarity with the victims of those attacks. The film, which chronicles a “fight for love and glory” and “case of do or die” that remains strikingly relevant today, contains far more inspiration than that one scene and conveys truths that hold as much meaning now as they did at the time of its debut in the midst of World War II. This week I will be discussing lessons from the film that our divided world once again desperately needs at this crucial moment in our history.
The usual suspects

Isolationism is no longer a practical policy: Adapted from a 1940 stage play written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, which was in turn inspired by the playwrights’ experiences in occupied Europe, Casablanca was written as both a critique of American isolationism and rallying cry for the Allied cause. The film focuses upon a world-weary saloon owner whose philosophy has been reduced to his repeated mantra of “I stick my neck out for no one”.  Convinced that defeat is inevitable, Rick (Humphrey Bogart) shuts himself away from the conflicts of the greater world, only to have world events enter his cafe and re-enter his life with the return of former flame, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). Just before Ilsa’s arrival in the café, Rick reaffirms his isolationist stance when he stands by as black market racketeer Ugarte (Peter Lorre) is arrested by the Nazis, despite Ugarte’s pleas for his help. While Ugarte was presented as a mercenary character, he was also revealed to be playing an active role in fighting the Nazis by selling illegal visas to refugees seeking to escape from occupied Europe and assassinating two Nazi officers. Even after Ugarte’s arrest and eventual execution, Rick remains reluctant to take part in the Allied cause when he refuses to assist Ilsa and her husband, fugitive resistance leader Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid), escape Casablanca. Rick’s refusal to help Ugarte and Victor sets off a chain of events that effects the lives of people on both sides of the war, much in the same way that the complacency of the global community has proven to be a catalyst in the rise of terrorist groups, as jihadism has been permitted to wreak havoc and gain power across the Middle East and Africa with precious little international action taken.

Today, we face a crossroads which is eerily similar to Rick’s in wake of the latest attacks, as we are presented with the choice of either taking necessary further action against terror organizations or continuing to push the issue of terrorism aside as ‘someone else’s problem’. Throughout the film, Rick dismisses the threat of fascism as a problem for Europeans like Victor and Ilsa, which holds no real meaning in his simple life. As the plot twists and turns, however, he is faced with the reality that for any man who hopes to maintain his integrity and humanity fascism is indeed a dire problem. It is all too easy and human to be too consumed by our personal concerns to pay mind to the troubles of people we have never met, but by continuing to do so we fail to realize that global issues like terrorism are in fact our problem. Today, people continue to advocate for causes such as racial, gender, religious, and sexual orientation equality. While each of these causes is indeed a worthy one, many fail to see that all of these individual causes fall under the same category of the fight against terrorism, as terror groups continue their mission of religious intolerance, gender oppression, racism, and homophobia. As a result, just as fascism was not just Europe’s problem, radical Islam is not a problem restricted to the Middle Eastern and African nations where its influence has taken the strongest hold, or of individual cities that have faced attacks, but is in fact a threat to every nation and city in which equality, dignity, and freedom hold any value.

Friendship is a beautiful thing: Set against the backdrop of a city populated by occupying forces and refugees from across Europe as well as local Moroccans, Casablanca contains an international cast of characters from various walks of life. One of the most poignant aspects of the film is the way in which its diverse cast of characters put aside their differences and unite to work together for a cause greater than themselves. It is unsurprising that several of the expatriates in the café continue to fight against the oppression that they previously escaped from, but the film also includes mercenary characters such as Ugarte who commit small acts of resistance, even as they continue to profit from the call for black market items that the Nazis have created. Even the cynical Ferrari reveals where his true sympathies lie when he tells Victor that Rick has the letters of transit, even though his decision to do so actually harms his own profits. One of the film’s most heartfelt moments occurs not between star-crossed lovers Rick and Ilsa, but instead between Rick and his friend, corrupt Vichy official Louis Renault (Claude Rains). Throughout the film, Louis insists that his sympathies ‘blow with the wind’ as he consistently acts in his own self-interest by aiding the presiding Nazi government and extorting sexual favors from desperate refugees in exchange for visas. After witnessing Rick’s courage in risking his own life in order to help Victor and Ilsa escape, however, he finally realizes that it might be a good time to become a patriot after all and follows his friend’s example by covering up Rick’s murder of Gestapo officer Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) at the risk of his own career and freedom.

Just as the diverse cast of characters at Rick’s Café overcome their differences to support and work with one another for the greater good, many people today have shown their own support in the fight against terrorism. Following the Paris attacks people voiced their support for France and the victims by sharing videos, words of encouragement, prayers, and images on the news and through social media. In the midst of this support, however, I was shocked and disgusted to see that many others offered only apathy, cynicism, and snide remarks. The majority of those who shared such negative reactions defended their views by saying that other terror attacks did not receive the same amount of public attention and raising questions concerning race. While all crimes of this nature deserve to be denounced, to make such distinctions in the midst of a tragedy is splitting hairs at best and causing further division in an already divided world at its worst. These reactions reminded me of a scene in Casablanca in which  Strasser smugly asks Rick “are you one of those people who can’t imagine us in your beloved Paris?” to which Rick, who bitterly associates Paris with his painful break-up with Ilsa, replies “It’s not particularly my beloved Paris”. In this scene, Rick is focusing upon his personal biases rather than the reality in front of him, much in the same way that people dismissing the Paris attacks placed their own agendas before the gravity of those tragic events. Like the Nazis, terrorists today are utilizing a ‘divide and conquer’ tactic by causing chaos and unrest in our society which pits us against one another when we should be uniting in a common cause. By continuing to focus upon our differences and attacking each other’s views we are taking the same resources that we should be using to stand up to this enemy and instead utilizing them to alienate one another. In this way, we are allowing terrorists to claim further territory, not on our lands but within our minds and hearts. Our battle against terrorism, while indeed a violent one, is at its heart a battle of ideas, and by failing to stand together in words and ideas we are in fact giving in to the ideology of fear and distrust that terrorists are hoping to instill within us. Rather than allowing ourselves to fall into the ideological trap that has been set for us, we should instead take a lesson from the clientele at Rick’s and come together, not in a café, but in a movement to face and overcome the fear and division that our foes are working to inspire within us.
Taking the sting out of occupation

If we stop breathing we die; if we stop fighting our enemies the world dies: When Rick first learns of Victor’s arrival in Casablanca, he is instantly impressed and there is little reason to wonder why. While Rick’s hardships have left him embittered, Victor’s hellish ordeal in a concentration camp has left him more determined than ever to fight for his beliefs. Prior to the events of the film, Victor is described as using his job as a reporter to print stories exposing and denouncing the atrocities committed by the Nazis. After narrowly escaping the Gestapo in Prague he went on to Paris and, rather than safely living in anonymity, continued his work where he had left off. Upon arriving in Casablanca, he is closely monitored by the corrupt Vichy government and under constant threat of arrest. Even under these dire circumstances, however, he continues to carry on with his work by attending resistance meetings and heroically leading a public demonstration in front of Strasser and other Gestapo officials. Victor's actions, while seemingly small, prove so inspiring that Rick eventually follows his example first through subtle acts of resistance such as helping a newlywed refugee purchase a visa so she will not be forced to sell herself to Louis and eventually through his decision to give up his relationship with Ilsa and aid Victor's escape. 

In our own lives it seems impossible to take action against such a massive threat, and Victor Lazlo is a character who seems more myth than man. There are, however, always ways both great and small to contribute to the causes that we believe in. Since the Paris attacks of January 2015, the hacker/activist group Anonymous has launched a cyber assault against ISIS and other terrorist organizations by reporting organization members’ identities and funding sources to police, shutting down supporters’ social media accounts, hacking into websites that express views which are sympathetic to the groups, and on December 12 will be launching its own propaganda campaign. Although the group utilizes sophisticated tech skills and methods in its efforts, it has opened its doors to any citizens interested in doing their part to fight terrorism by releasing a ‘how to’ guide with instructions on how to cyberattack ISIS regardless of would-be hackers’ computer skills. The group has also requested that the public take part in its“Trolling Day” propaganda campaign this Friday by posting jokes, cartoons, and memes exposing ISIS for the barbarians, hypocrites, and cowards that they are. This campaign is strikingly similar to the much shared scene in Casablanca in which Victor inspires the café’s patrons by leading them in an impromptu rendition of French national anthem “La Marseillaise” which drowns out a group of Gestapo officers’ rendition of the German patriotic tune “Die Wacht Am Rhein”. While it may not be saving lives or attacking these groups at their source, Trolling Day is a similarly admirable effort, which I hope will serve to boost morale as well as destroy the carefully constructed image that ISIS has created online. For those who prefer not to utilize social media there are other ways to contribute, such as reporting suspicious activity you see to the authorities, voting on issues related to foreign policy, writing letters to your local representative or news outlet, showing support for our troops as they participate in military action against terrorism, offering support to victims of terrorist attacks, boycotting social media sites that refuse to censor terrorist propaganda, discussing events related to terrorism, and even the simple act of remaining informed of current events. As is shown by the enduring power of Victor Lazlo’s demonstration, any effort regardless of how small it may seem can and does matter. Despite what Rick might say, the problems, and more importantly the actions of little people do matter, even in this crazy mixed up world. While the threat of the Nazis may be long since passed, radical Islamic terrorists have taken up the torch of hate and oppression set down by their predecessors, thereby becoming the threat of our time. The fight against terrorism is our burden and struggle, and if we fail to come together in this cause we will regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and possibly for the rest of our lives.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Screening of "Krampus"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Screening of "Krampus"

A Video Review by Brian Cotnoir

This week, I take at the new Holiday Horror(/Comedy) "Krampus"  warning this video contains some SPOILERS.

My Review of "Krampus"

"Krampus" Trailer

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Classics: A Tribute to Paris By Lauren Ennis

In the film Midnight in Paris, aspiring novelist Gil Pender asks, “How is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city?” as in his words, “every street, every boulevard is its own special art form”. Throughout history there have been countless cities that have become famous for the blend of unique qualities that make up their culture. Even amongst the world’s cosmopolitan havens, however, one city has always stood out as a center of art, romance, and culture; Paris. Throughout its vast history, Paris has produced countless artists, entrepreneurs, and scientists, and inspired many more who have had the opportunity to visit the City of Light. The city has withstood revolution, war, and enemy occupation with its spirit of innovation and resilience intact. On Friday, November 13, 2015 Paris was attacked in a series of terrorist assaults at locations throughout the city. The attacks ultimately resulted in the deaths of one-hundred thirty people and injury to over three-hundred others. The recent attacks come in the wake of attacks across the globe executed by the terrorist group ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups, including the infamous attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hedbo in January, 2015. Once again Parisians have faced the tragedy in true Paris fashion by taking action against terror threats abroad, while refusing to be ruled by fear and carrying on with their daily activities at home. In honor of this truly great city and its citizens, this week will feature three films that each capture some small piece of the magic of Paris.
Taking 'picturesque' to a whole new level

Midnight in Paris: This 2011 Hollywood crowd-pleaser portrays Paris from a tourist’s perspective, capturing each of its many landmarks with the idyllic freshness that a traveler experiences upon their maiden voyage to the city. The film follows idealistic American screenwriter, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) as he falls in love with all things Parisian. While a trip into the sights of the city would have been enjoyable enough, the film takes viewers on a true adventure when Gil is magically transported back in time to his idea of the ‘golden age’; Paris during the 1920’s. Over the course of the film, he meets and mingles with the great artists of the decade and soon finds the inspiration of the era rubbing off on him. Complications ensue, however, as he finds himself infatuated with fashion designer and artist’s model Adrianna (Marion Cotillard) while he is already struggling to salvage his relationship with his materialistic fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), in his own era. This frothy romantic comedy possesses the wit, charm, and romantic spark that ensure it is equally successful as both a comedy and love story. What stands out about the film, however, is the fact that it contains two love stories; the love triangle between Gil, Adrianna, and Inez and the love affair between Gil and Paris. At the film’s start, Gil is infatuated with the city in the way that so many newcomers are, and sees it through an idealized perspective. As the film progresses, however, that infatuation grows into a full passion as he experiences Paris through three different eras and makes a true connection with the city and its diverse citizenry. When the breezy journey reaches its finale, Gil comes to realize that not only can the past not be repeated, but that it inevitably contained just as many complications and frustrations as the present. While Gil’s infatuation with the 1920’s may cool to fond nostalgia, it’s no wonder why his love affair with Paris remains sizzling hot.

Silly balloon, tricks are for kids

The Red Balloon: Released in 1956, The Red Balloon remains one of cinema’s most innovative films and one of, if not the most, acclaimed film short. The nearly dialogue-free story follows a young boy, Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse), and his magical friendship with his new toy, a red balloon that seems to possess a consciousness and will of its own. The film chronicles the pair’s enduring friendship as stuffy adults and neighborhood bullies threaten to tear them apart. Throughout the film’s thirty-five minute running time, the balloon takes on a series of roles in Pascal’s life ranging from dog-like companion, to partner in mischief, to devoted protector. In this way, the balloon serves the dual purpose of acting as a crucial character in the story and portraying the film’s overarching symbol of the power of imagination. Throughout the film, adults misunderstand Pascal’s relationship with the balloon and try to separate them, while other children are jealous and try to take the balloon for themselves, much in the same way that people who don’t understand imagination suppress or dismiss it and those who lack it often try to take credit for other’s creative pursuits. This recurring pattern establishes the film’s theme of imagination versus conformity, which comes full circle in the breathtaking finale as Pascal’s imagination allows him to literally rise above the confines of the world around him. Set against the backdrop of post-war Paris, the story also serves as a metaphor for France's creative spirit, which not only survived but continued to thrive even after the devastation of occupation during WWII. Beyond its sweetly inspiring story, The Red Balloon also perfectly portrays Paris through the innocence and curiosity of a child, with each street becoming its own adventure and each sunrise carrying the hope of a new day full of endless possibilities. For a journey back into the wonder of childhood, follow the trail of The Red Balloon.
Just two notes and I'm seeing things rosie

La Vie En Rose:  During the 1940’s and 1950’s, the songs of Parisian torch singer Edith Piaf were an instantly recognizable and poignant addition to the soundtrack of a generation. The film La Vie En Rose explores Piaf’s (Marion Cotillard) tumultuous life from her poverty-stricken childhood to her eventual international stardom. Passed from her neglectful street performer mother, to her irresponsible circus performer father, to her no-nonsense brothel madam grandmother, Piaf’s childhood was anything but conventional. Forced by her parents to earn her own living when she was still just a child, she quickly found her calling and escape from the slums in music. As she rose in the industry, however, life continued to be a struggle as she faced the deaths of both her only child and the love of her life (Jean Pierre Martins), as well as a debilitating car accident and subsequent morphine addiction. Rather than following the traditional trajectory of a birth to death biography format, the film is instead comprised of a series of flashbacks that appear through association to Piaf's present as she attempts to launch a comeback shortly before her death at age forty-seven. In this way, the film is more personal than most biopics as it is told entirely from the perspective of its protagonist, which provides additional insight into who she was and what it was about her that made her stand out among so many other talented artists. Marion Cotillard’s performance is nothing short of mesmerizing as she goes beyond mere mimicry and completely inhabits her role as the complicated singer, as she captures Piaf’s fascinating combination of backstreet toughness, girlish vulnerability, world-weariness, and carpe diem sensibility. From street waif, to Montmartre bohemian, to international celebrity Edith Piaf was a woman whose resilience and originality reflected the same inspiring qualities of the city in which she spent the majority of her days. Even today, over fifty years after her death, Piaf's music continues to enchant and inspire as a symbol of Paris in its all of its artistry. Below, I have included a link to a clip of Celine Dion's performance at the American Music Awards of Piaf's Hymne a'lAmour in an emotional and fitting tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks. 

Vive la France et vive liberte. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dance Off: The Red Shoes vs. Black Swan By Lauren Ennis

It is often said that the best way for an artist to create meaningful work is for them to portray that which they know best. As a result, it is little wonder why one of the most enduring portrayals in art is the struggle and sacrifice of the artistic lifestyle. From consumptive bohemians, to mad painters, to reclusive writers, many of the most raw characterizations in modern storytelling are those of artists striving to achieve success and fulfillment regardless of the cost it may require. While each art form entails its own set of challenges, one of the most demanding of art forms is dance, particularly ballet. Unlike ancient eastern dance traditions designed to work with and accentuate the body’s natural movements, ballet captures audience’s attention by revealing the beauty of the human form beyond the limits of everyday movement. Similarly, while modern dances thrive upon spontaneity and improvisation, ballet is a rigorous art form, which requires the utmost precision in each of its choreographed movements. By its very nature ballet is an art form which is consuming, elite, and inaccessible; in short it is the ideal vehicle through which to explore the passion, doubts, obstacles, and triumphs of life as an artist. As a result, there have been numerous books and films which have used ballet to portray diverse characters facing obstacles ranging from aging (The Turning Point), to unemployment (Waterloo Bridge), to political oppression (White Nights), to personal loss (Save the Last Dance). Despite the many critically and commercially successful ballet films, the film that many critics and viewers continue to immediately think of when they heard the word ‘ballet’ is the 1948 British drama The Red Shoes.
Ballet; the stuff nervous breakdowns are made of

The story of The Red Shoes is a deceptively simple one; inexperienced but passionate dancer, Vickie (professional ballerina Moira Shearer), joins an elite ballet company where she achieves the success she’s always dreamed of, only to become conflicted between her professional goals and personal needs. While the conflict between love and art was already a well-worn theme even in 1948, what the film lacked in original storytelling it made up for in accuracy, visual innovation, and emotional honesty. Few dance films can compare to The Red Shoes in terms of attention to detail and realism. Rather than focusing upon the glamour of the performances, the film spends most of its time backstage, as it shows the painstaking work that goes into a ballet from its first draft to its final rehearsal. In this way the film provides an insider’s perspective to viewers who are unfamiliar with the world of professional dance and pays apt tribute to the men and women who tirelessly work to bring that magical world to life. The film even goes so far as to populate its cast with professional dancers rather than utilizing established actors and body doubles. The film also accurately portrays its heroine’s struggle for success rather than relying upon the cliché of a meteoric rise to stardom, as Vickie frustratedly works her way through the ranks of the ballet company over time.
The film approaches its characters with similar realism in its exploration of daily life in a ballet company populated with a diverse array of three dimensional characters. Despite the film’s age, The Red Shoes is remarkably refreshing  in the way that it treats its story as one of a particular dancer working in a specific company rather than as a commentary upon ballet, dance, or art at large by avoiding typical clichés such as abusive directors, ego-maniacal stars, and petty rivalries. In this way the film ensures that the audience is able to invest in the characters as though they were real people, which in turn lends the relationships and conflicts between the characters emotional weight.
A girl and her best frenemy; toe shoes

Today, another ballet film has taken center stage using a very different approach. In the 2010 psychological thriller Black Swan, Natalie Portman plays similarly impressionable and eager dancer, Nina, whose quest for stardom takes a disturbing turn. In order to provide viewers with insight into Nina’s fractured mind the characters, plot, and visuals take on a sinister quality befitting a horror movie’s haunted house rather than a typical theater. Because the story is told from an unstable character’s perspective, the world of ballet quickly escalates from a competitive, but fulfilling, working environment to an elaborate prison in which dancers torture their minds and bodies in order impress fickle audiences and lecherous directors. Although the fantastic elements heighten the surreal atmosphere and suspense, they also bring the film dangerously close to caricature as Nina is constantly surrounded by the very stock characters that The Red Shoes widely avoided as she is alternately sexually harassed by her volatile director, threatened by a bitter ballerina forced into early retirement, and tormented by the impossible expectations of her ex-dancer stage mother. This tendency toward camp is most obvious in Nina’s one-note abusive relationship with exploitive director Thomas LeRoy (Vincent Cassel), which sorely lacks the subtlety and complexity that made Vickie’s relationship with impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) both fraught and fascinating. Through its unabashed sense of melodrama, Black Swan creates its own surreal world of light and shadow in which everyone and everything poses a potential threat, which works wonderfully for a psychological thriller, but fails to shed any light or add any dimension to the public’s understanding of ballet.
When did things get all Lewis Carroll around here?!

Nina’s struggle with her unraveling psyche, for all of its flash and theatrics similarly fails to resonate when compared with the much more relatable and timeless conflict that proves to be Vickie’s undoing. On the dvd box and in critics’ summaries, Vickie is described as being torn between ‘love and dance’. Although this statement is accurate given the fact that she is forced to choose between her position in the company and her marriage to its temperamental composer, Julian (Marius Goring), there is also another more resonant struggle that she faces; the conflict between career and family. Today we often hear about the conflict between career and family and the difficulty of balancing the two is hotly discussed and debated. At the time of this film’s release, this debate was more than a mere talking point; it was the frontier faced by an entire generation of women who had held down the home-front by managing homes and taking jobs as the men in their lives fought overseas in WWII, only to be forced back into their former roles when peace returned. In her attempt to balance her marriage and her career, Vickie simultaneously faces another, even greater, challenge to find her place in a changing society. It is through this battle within its heroine that The Red Shoes rises above its ‘dance movie’ premise and becomes a true tragedy when Vickie finally makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to escape a world in which she cannot be her true and complete self.

Despite their drastically different approaches to their stories, the films share a number of striking similarities beyond their focus upon ballet. Both films tackle the emotional toll of dedication to art, with Black Swan taking this idea to a chilling end. The Red Shoes and Black Swan also share breathtaking visuals that border on the surreal as the fairy tale landscapes of the performances not only come to life, but expand to permeate the characters’ entire worlds. It is these visuals that not only transport viewers into the world of both heroines, but also provides audiences with crucial insight into how each woman perceives that world. The most notable similarity, however, by far is the ambiguous endings to both films that leave viewers spellbound as they continue to ponder if it the fates of Vicky and Nina were accidents, deliberate or just two more casualties of the dark side of dance. Both films succeed at telling very different tales set within the ballet world, but once the initial lights came on following Black Swan the shock of the film's darkness faded while I was still haunted by Vickie Page and the tragic end she was driven to by The Red Shoes.
What a little hard work and psychosis can accomplish...

Friday, November 20, 2015

2015 SPLATTER! Award Nominees

2015 SPLATTER! Award Nominees

By: Brian Cotnoir

Hello Friends.  It’s almost that time of year again; the Annual SPLATTER! Awards on Confessions of a Film Junkie.  This year was one of the Best Years in Film in probably 3-4 years, so I had a lot more films to choose from.  In fact, I’ve even came up with 2 New Categories for this year’s SPLATTER! Awards:  Seeing as Sequels, spin-offs, reboots, and rip offs have become the norms in Hollywood, I’ve decided to include categories for Best and Worst Sequel/Spin-off/Reboot/Rip off of the Year.   Now just a friendly reminder: the films I’ve included in my nominations this year are films that I PERSONALLY saw this year.  So there will be some films not included on this list that you may feel should have been included.  If they do not appear in my nominations it’s most likely because I did not see the film and not because I didn’t think it deserved to be nominated.  So without further ado here are you nominees for the 2015 SPLATTER Awards.

·         Avengers: Age of Ultron
·         Black Mass
·         It Follows
·         Mad Max: Fury Road
·         Jurassic World

Crimson Peak
·         Fifty Shades of Grey
·         Hansel vs. Gretel
·         The Last House on Cemetery Lane

The Gift
·         Poltergeist
·         Mad Max: Fury Road

Insidious Chapter 3
·         It Follows
·         The Walking Deceased

Almost Mercy
·         Crimson Peak
·         Insidious Chapter 3
·         It Follows

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
·         The Babadook (2014)
·         Black Mass (2015)
·         A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
·         Stonehearst Asylum (2014)
·         The Strange Color of Your Bodies Tears (2014)

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
·         Last House on Cemetery Lane (2015)
·         ZomBeavers (2014)

Avengers: Age of Ultron
·         Jurassic World
·         Mad Max: Fury Road
·         Poltergeist

·         Hansel vs. Gretel
·         Insidious Chapter 3
·         The Walking Deceased

·         Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Retrospective on "A Clockwork Orange"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Retrospective on "A Clockwork Orange"

A Video Review by Brian Cotnoir

This week I pay homage to one of my favorite films "A Clockwork Orange".  I reviewed the film a few years back and this is a Retrospective review to talk further about it.

My Video Review of A Clockwork Orange

My Original Review of "A Clockwork Orange" from 2011

An analysis I did on the character P.R. Deltoid from "A Clockwork Orange" for my other blog