Monday, January 26, 2015

Classics: A Review of Sleeping Beauty By Lauren Ennis

In keeping with my promise to accept any requests that come my way, this week I’ll be honoring a request from our own Film Junkie, who asked that I review a Disney princess movie. At first this seemed like an easy enough request, until I realized how difficult it would be to pick which princess film to review. Growing up, my favorite Disney princess was always Belle, and I loved Beauty and the Beast so much that I managed to drag my family to see it a  total of eight times when it was in theaters (now that’s true love!). Because Beauty and the Beast, and many of the more recent princess films were debuted during the 1980’s and 1990’s, however, my generation grew up with the characters in those films, which has led to a firestorm of analysis written by critics and bloggers on those films. As a result of their iconic status, it was difficult to find something to say about a princess film that hasn’t already been said in countless ways already. In order to add a personal touch to my review, I started focusing on Disney’s earlier films, which are often lost amongst the long list of Disney’s more recent efforts. I finally settled on a film that always fascinated me as a child, but also left me with a sense that I was missing the greater meaning behind the story; Sleeping Beauty.
I'd like to see Angelina do that!
The familiar plot follows the fairy tale that it is based upon with King Stefan (Taylor Holmes) and his queen celebrating the birth of their daughter, Aurora (Mary Costa), after years of struggling to have a child. The entire kingdom is invited to the princess’ christening, which is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of the wicked fairy, Maleficent (Eleanor Audley). Furious that she was not invited to the event, Maleficent curses the child, casting a spell which states says that if Aurora pricks her finger on a spinning wheel by sunset on her sixteenth birthday she will die instantly. Fortunately, three good fairies who were chosen to be the princess’ fairy godmothers (Verna Felton and Barbara Jo Allen) are also present and plucky fairy Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) bestows an invaluable gift by altering the spell. After Merryweather’s intervention, the spell instead says that a spindle’s prick will make Aurora fall into a deep sleep rather than die, but that she can only be awoken from that sleep by true love’s kiss. Terrified for their daughter’s safety, the king and queen order every spinning wheel in the kingdom burned and ban the manufacturing of new ones. Even after their decree, however, the king and queen still fear Maleficent’s curse and send Aurora away to be raised by the good fairies. Sixteen years pass and Aurora, now living under the alias of peasant girl Briar Rose, has grown into a beautiful young woman. As ‘Rose’s’ birthday approaches the fairies celebrate their impending victory over Maleficent’s curse, only to find that their adopted daughter has no interest in returning to her former life. After years of being raised to live a simple life with her godmothers, Aurora is in no way prepared for the shock of learning that she is a princess and bound to the duties of her position. Making matters even more difficult, she has begun a romance with a ‘peasant boy’, unaware that he is actually Prince Phillip (Bill Shirley), to whom she has been betrothed since birth. Disillusioned by her godmothers’ lies and the belief that she can never see her sweetheart again, Aurora lashes out, leaving herself perfect prey for the temptation of Maleficent’s cunning deceit.

This is truly one of Disney’s most unique films in that the company adhered to the traditions of the origin and time period in which the story is set. While Disney’s other princesses are designed to fit the fashion, musical, and social trends of the eras in which their films are released, Aurora and the rest of the cast were instead based upon the trends of the medieval era in which their story takes place. As a result, the film’s animation gorgeously recreates the effect of a medieval tapestry, which further reinforces the idea that the tale is a storybook brought to life. The singing in this film is also uncharacteristically limited as Disney’s staff relied upon the iconic score of Tchaikovsky’s 1890 ballet of the same name. Through the use of the ballet score, the story retains a sense of timelessness without overwhelming the story and dialogue. There are only three songs that are actually song by characters (with several instances of an off-screen chorus) throughout the film, which is a distinct departure from the Broadway standard that is applied to most other Disney films. Two of those songs are beautifully sung by Aurora and serve to provide insight into her character that the audience missed during those years in her life that the script skipped over. While the lyrics are not terribly complex, they do reveal that she is a dreamy girl who is lonely for the company of people her own age and that she has begun to experience her first yearnings for romance. This limited insight proves surprisingly crucial to the audience when she rebels against the fairies after they forbid her to see the ‘peasant boy’ later in the film. The third song is the oddly placed requisite Disney drinking song (remember ‘Pink Elephants’ and ‘Gaston’?), ‘Skumps’, which fails to propel the plot forward, but does provide memorable comic relief. The film also contains some of the most unique action scenes in the Disney canon courtesy of Philip’s battle against the shape-shifting Maleficent.

While there are many things to admire in Sleeping Beauty, there is also a very distinct flaw; the film’s lack of emphasis upon its central couple. The three good fairies are each given distinct personalities complete with strengths and weaknesses, despite their common magical powers and shared goal. Similarly, Philip and Aurora’s fathers, King Stefan and King Hubert (Bill Thompson), are both lovable and have a believable friendship, with King Stefan playing the level-headed straight man to King Hubert’s short-fused and bombastic comedy. Maleficent is also one of the few Disney villains to be portrayed as truly evil and without any redeeming qualities. Despite her lack of likability, however, Maleficent is immensely watchable through her equally expressive animation and voice acting and consistently witty dialogue.
All the family a girl could need

In the midst of such well-developed characters, Aurora and Philip come across as underwritten and generic. While Philip’s changing facial expression was a first for a Disney prince, he lacks the dimension of later princes and his ‘knight in shining armor’ characterization leaves him devoid of any quirks or flaws that would make him stand out. Similarly, there is no denying that Aurora is grossly underwritten, with the only title character of a film with less lines being the mute Dumbo. The only explanation for such negligent characterization would be if the film is not meant to focus on Aurora despite her role as the title heroine. Upon closer observation, it becomes obvious that all of the central action is between the four fairies, with the kings reduced to mere comic relief and Aurora and Philip standing in as plot devices.

This begs the question of why the story’s focus remains upon Aurora’s godmothers and the looming presence of their enemy, Maleficent. My theory is that the central struggle of the story is not Aurora and Philip’s journey to love, but instead the classical battle between good and evil. In many ways, the story could be viewed as a fairy tale take on Faust and its modern interpretations (The Devil and Daniel Webster, Cabin in the Cotton, Bedazzled, Don’t Tempt Me), in which the devil battles with the agents of heaven for ownership of the soul of a mortal. While such morality tales may seem to have little to do with Sleeping Beauty, closer observation reveals the many clues that Disney scattered throughout the film. The first is the fact that Maleficent’s role as a ‘wicked’ or rogue fairy mirrors the backstory that the Bible provides for Lucifer as a renegade angel who was damned to Hell for trying to replace God. Maleficent’s design reinforces this notion with her Satanic horns, flowing black robes, deathly pallor, and vampire-esque ability to disappear and reappear at will. Her minions also appear to be based upon illustrations of the demons of hell, which is further emphasized by her line that by opposing her Philip will face “me and all the powers of Hell”.  Beyond her appearance, Maleficent consistently refers to herself as the “mistress of all evil” and takes an obvious delight in causing pain and misery in those around her. Although Maleficent states that she curses Aurora as an act of vengeance for some slight on King Stefan’s part, a revenge arc doesn’t align with the rest of the story as she would have attained her revenge just as adequately if she allowed Aurora to return to her parents a grown woman who is a complete stranger to them. Therefore, her malicious activities hold no real motive unless Aurora's death were to provide a direct benefit to Maleficent. Despite her despicable behavior, however, Maleficent also possesses a devilish charisma which has made her a fan favorite for generations. She uses this charm to tempt Aurora when she is at her most vulnerable and hypnotize her into pricking her hand on the spinning wheel. This scene plays out much in the same way as Eve’s fall in Genesis with Maleficent fulfilling the role of the serpent by tempting a heroine who has lost her trust in the loving guidance of those around her with a seemingly ordinary object. When the princess pricks her finger she does so by her own action in a pseudo-suicide, which directly results in her falling victim to the sleeping spell. Under the influence of the spell, she is forced to languish in eternal sleep that performs the same function as purgatory, which suicide victims were traditionally said to be banished to, as she helplessly waits in limbo until her soul gains redemption. The final clue arrives at the film’s conclusion when Philip finally releases Aurora from her sleep and the couple celebrate their impending marriage by dancing as the ballroom slowly fades away and is replaced by clouds as both prince and princess have earned their place in heaven. Beyond the plot, Disney also strategically places other biblical references throughout the script including Philip’s horse, Samson, sharing the name of a biblical hero, and Philip arming himself against Maleficent’s dark powers with a ‘sword of truth’ and a ‘shield of virtue’, two traits consistently referred to as weapons against the vice represented by the devil. Another key detail is that of all the days that Maleficent could curse Aurora she chooses to do so on the day of the child's christening; a religious ceremony in which a child is cleansed of original sin,  If you follow this theory, the lack of emphasis upon Aurora and Philip makes perfect sense as they are not the central players that the title leads us to believe, but actually pawns in a battle between celestial forces that they hold no control over.
The most chemistry these two when she's unconscious
While it may not be one of the most progressive or popular Disney princess films, Sleeping Beauty is certainly one of the studio’s most unique. Through its timeless music and animation the film manages to transport viewers to another time and place where we are able to believe in magic and the power of true love. It’s excellent supporting characters provide enough entertainment to almost make up for the lack of development of the two leads and the subtext of the story adds a darkness that rivals its recent live-action spin-off, Maleficent. For childhood nostalgia with a dark streak, or a chance to revisit the fantasies we all had once upon a dream, I highly recommend Sleeping Beauty.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A review of "Candyman 2: Farewell to Flesh"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Candyman 2: A Farewell to Flesh”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Am I really reviewing a sequel film for the second consecutive week?  Oh well, this what I decided to watch this week, so here I am to talk about it.  How awesome is the movie “Candyman”?  I wouldn’t say that I’m a fan of the film, but I am definitely a fan of the character.  Daniel Robataille aka the Candyman has to be one of my Favorite Movie Villains and one of the Most Underappreciated Horror movie icons of All-Time.  A lot of that has to do with actor Tony Todd’s terrifying and sinister performance.  He just makes the character so interesting that I want to know everything about him...yet, Candyman’s ultimate flaw is that his background story is not established concretely, and there are dozens of questions that fan and other movie viewers have about his origins.  Well fortunately for us, some of those questions were answered in it’s 1995 sequel “Candyman 2: Farewell to Flesh”.       
The film opens up in New Orleans with a recap of the Candyman legend being told by Professor Philip Purcell (the only recurring character besides Candyman from the first film).  After the book signing, Purcell runs into a man named Ethan Tarrant, who claims that he betrayed his father years ago, and it resulted in his father’s death.  After Purcell is physically attacked by Ethan inside of a bar, he rushes into the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face and make sure that he didn’t suffer any personal injuries.  Purcell turns up dead, and Ethan is accused of committing the murder.  Ethan claims that he did, it but his sister Annie—a school teacher—doesn’t believe him.  After pressuring her brother, Ethan confesses that he believes it was the mythical and mysterious Candyman who murdered Purcell.  Annie can’t understand why her brother would take the fall for some mythical creature, and decides to do some investigating.  She learns more about Candyman’s legend from her students, and again writes his legend off as nothing more than a silly little ghost story, but once one of her students goes missing she begins to wonder if Candyman is more than just a legend.                               
Oh so he's not going to sing a song about Willy Wonka?
    So what I like about “Candyman 2: Farewell to Flesh” is we did get more of the Candyman’s background, at times this film felt more like a prequel than a sequel.  Tony Todd is still terrifying and still phenomenal in his role as the Candyman, and the story is better than in the first “Candyman” film; at least in my opinion. However, the film does have its flaws.  Part of the allure of Todd’s Candyman in the first film was we didn’t really see him on screen a lot, and he didn’t have a lot of lines, so that made me more interested in finding out about him.  Now, while I was happy to get more of the Candyman’s background story, I just feel like Tony Todd was shown too much in this film, and was given way too much dialogue.  Every time Todd spoke in “Candyman” it was intense and spine-tingling.  Now the more he speaks in “Candyman 2: Farewell to Flesh” the less intense his words become, and he’s just not as scary.  There was also this random Canjun DJ whose voice could be heard throughout the film, but he wasn’t really narrating, and I can’t figure out why they chose to use him so much in the film, because his presence does not affect the plot in anyway.  Like at least the DJ character in the movie “The Warriors” served a purpose as to why she was in the film, but the DJ character in “Candyman 2” serves no purpose.  He doesn’t help Annie in anyway, he’s not revealed to be the one character who knows how to stop the Candyman, hell they don’t even make him like a lackey character whose being controlled by the Candyman to mislead and taunt the main characters...he’s just there prattling on with his fake-a$$ Canjun accent.  I honestly wish they would’ve done away with this character all together.            
And again, this film felt like it was trying to cram too much story into just a 95 minute film.  At times, it felt like I was watching a Prequel/Origins story, and other times it felt like it was a Sequel to the first film, and still left me with a lot of question (that I hope will all be answered in the third “Candyman” film).  Not to mention a lot of the Digital and Computer Generated effects for this film were VERY primitive by today’s standards, and looked very sloppy and unprofessional. I’d say on it’s own, “Candyman 2: Farewell to Flesh” is a solid 3-out-of-5 stars.  It had a good story premise, and Tony Todd is still great as the Candyman, and if any film studio ever planned to do a reboot of the “Candyman” franchise, I would recommend that they use this films story to base the new films story off of; I think it has a lot of great ideas, and could make for a great Horror film reboot.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Classics: A Review of The Phantom of the Opera By Lauren Ennis

Music is one of the few art forms that is able to cross social, economic, and historical barriers to be embraced by people of all kinds in all eras. Although nearly every emotion, passion, and desire can be found within the notes of music, the most common musical theme is love. This week’s film explores the obsessive love between a composer and his music that is carried over to a dangerous extent to his muse. Through a combination of lavish atmosphere, genuine emotion, and unforgettable songs 2004’s The Phantom of the Opera is a fitting ode to the power, enchantment, and seduction of music.
If nothing else, the man does have lakefront property

The story begins during an auction at the fictional Opera Populaire in 1919 Paris. During the auction, Viscount Raul de Chagny (Patrick Wilson) purchases a mysterious music box and hints at the box’s relation to some unspecified tragedy. The auctioneer then moves on to the sale of the opera house’s chandelier that caused an infamous fire in 1870. With that sale, Raul reflects upon his experiences at the opera house in the distant days of its glory, launching a flashback that lasts for the majority of the film. The flashback brings the story back to 1870 as Raul, then a new patron of the opera house, sits in on rehearsal for an upcoming production. The rehearsal ushers in several drastic changes as the owner (James Fleet) announces his stress-induced retirement, the theater’s new owners arrive (Ciaran Hinds and Simon Callow), and the reigning primadonna (Minnie Driver) walks out after a nearly fatal accident, only to be replaced by an unexpectedly talented chorus girl. The chorus girl, Christine (Emmy Rossum), is revealed to be a musical prodigy from a family of prominent musicians and Raul’s former childhood sweetheart. Christine’s debut in the lead role makes her an overnight success and prompts Raul to rekindle their acquaintance. He soon learns, however, that she is still haunted by the death of her father years earlier and is fixated upon her visits from the supposed ‘angel of music’. While Raul brushes off her visitor as childish make-believe, Christine’s angel makes an appearance that night and is revealed to be a less than heavenly presence. The ‘angel’ is actually the mysterious figure known as the ‘phantom of the opera’ (Gerard Butler), a masked man whose facial deformities have forced him to find refuge in the catacombs beneath the opera house. The phantom then confesses his love for her and reveals that it was his sabotage of the previous primadonna that led to Christine being cast in the production.  Although flattered by his attentions, the phantom’s violent temper and escalating obsession with her leads her to question where her loyalties lie. Torn between the tormented genius of the phantom and the stable comfort of Raul, she is ultimately forced to find her own voice at the risk of her career, freedom, and even her life.

Although stage productions are often difficult to translate to the screen, The Phantom of the Opera makes an almost seamless transition.  The film utilizes a set that is largely faithful to the original designs for the stage production and underscores the story’s themes by juxtaposing the isolated refinement of the phantom and the garish luxury of the world of the opera house. The set and costumes also succeed at placing the story within a specific time and place, which allows the almost otherworldly events of the plot to remain grounded within the limits of its historical setting. The film also succeeds at conveying its story through equal parts acting and song; a feat which too many musicals have failed to accomplish. The cast is derived primarily from film, and as a result all of the actors are able to portray their characters with a complexity and subtlety that ensures the story remains engaging and believable. Perhaps even more crucially, each of the central players possess the musical ability to sing their roles in such a way that does complete justice to composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic score, and could win over even the most devoted fans of the original stage show. Through the skill of the cast and crew, the film remains remarkably balanced and conveys its tortured romance without either the acting, visuals, or music ever upstaging the plot.  
Decisions, decisions...

Despite the inherent risks in bringing a much loved stage production to the screen, The Phantom of the Opera actually succeeds in areas that the original show fell flat. In the stage show, the phantom is an enigmatic character whose motivations remain murky throughout the plot. While this ambiguity provides excellent tension early on, it becomes frustrating as the story progresses and leaves the phantom’s internal struggles lacking and emotional core. Similarly, Christine’s fixation upon the phantom is initially explained by her grief over her father’s death, but there is little explanation for her continued interest in the phantom after his identity is revealed. Because film is a more intimate medium that lends itself to internal conflict within its characters, the film is able to develop the motivations of both of its leads in a way that lends credibility to their gothic romance. Rather than merely disfigured, the phantom is revealed to have suffered abuse and neglect when he was forced to perform in a freak show as a child. The humiliation and degradation that he endured in his childhood has clearly left his psyche just as scarred as his face, and led him to harbor a bitter antagonism against society and its hypocrisy. Similarly, Christine’s attraction to the phantom is found to be rooted in their shared status as social outsiders. As a result, she is able to let her guard down and reveal the aspects of herself to the phantom that she would never dare show to anyone else. Through his mentoring and efforts to promote her career, phantom also represents the unknown and her future as an artist whereas her relationship with Raul is still relegated to nostalgia for her past. Thus, Christine’s central struggle is not just between the two men in her life but also between her past and present just as the phantom’s quest to win Christine is one part of his greater quest to win acceptance as an artist and member of society. Through these script additions, the film adds more depth and detail to the beloved story in a way that makes the film both an excellent companion piece to the stage production and exhilarating stand-alone experience.

Through its combination of fascinating script, eye-catching costumes, dazzling effects, and soaring songs, The Phantom of the Opera is a piece that holds appeal for filmgoers and theatergoers alike. In its exploration of romance and social ostracism the film relates the power of music to redeem and transport us even within our darkest moments. The superb performances, and intimate direction brings the story to life in a way that makes the film equally as spectacular as its stage predecessor. This film is a must see for fans of excellent story-telling, romance, theater, and of course, the music of the night.
Nothing a little plastic surgery and psychiatric therapy couldn't cure

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A review of "Sharknado 2: The Second One"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Sharknado 2: The Second One”

By: Brian Cotnoir

Can you believe we live in a world where we have not one, but two films about a tornado made of sharks???  Well, we do.  I’ll be honest with you; I was very unimpressed with the first “Sharknado” film.  I know, right, how could I think that this is a bad film, but I did.  Actually, I didn’t think it was a “bad” film, I just found it to be very underwhelming.  All the hype being built up around “Shaknado” got me excited that this was going to be a “so-bad-that-it’s-good” film like “Troll 2”, but much to my disappointment it was really boring.  So when I heard there was a sequel being made my thought on it was, “Meh...why not? They can only go up from here, since the first one was so boring”.  So is “Sharknado 2” better than its predecessor or did it somehow manage to be a lot worst?      
SyFy's Favorite Dysfunctional TV Movie couple
    So “Sharknado 2” opens on a plane flying from California to New York, where we join our two main characters from the first film Fin Shepherd and April Wexler (played by Ian Zierling and Tara Reid).  All seems to be going well on the flight when the movie decides that it wants to pay homage to the classic Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”.  However, instead of a giant hairy gremlin on hiding on the wing of the plane we have a school of sharks being swept out of the ocean on to the plane.  The sharks tear a hole in the side of the plane and sucks out some of the other passengers while the others seem be planted firmly in their seats.  Some of the sharks even go on to eat Will Wheaton (who has a cameo as a passenger on the plane) and Kelly Osbourne (who is playing a stewardess on the plane).  April ends up hanging on for dear life and tries to fire a hand gun (that she stole off the U.S. Marshall), but ends up getting her hand bit off by one of the sharks.  Fin manages to land the plane as safely as possible, and he warns everyone who will listen of another impending sharknado that is about to strike which most people blow off his warning as nonsense. To which I ask, why?  Everyone knows of and remembers the sharknado that hit California a few years earlier, and then Fin survives another one heading towards New York City—not to mention the countless other people on the plane who miraculously survived—so why the hell do people not believe him or head his warning?                                   
I can't believe I quit Sugar Ray to do this!
Any who...with April in the hospital, Fin goes to meet up with his sister Ellen, and her husband Martin Brody, who has left the shark infested resort town of Amity Island to move to New York City and be played by Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray instead of Roy Schieder. So Martin is on his way to see a New York Mets game, with his son, Fin, and Fin’s ex-girlfriend Skye???  Okay, I just want to clear something up:  Movie you know you already did the subplot about the films protagonist getting back together with his estranged lover, right?  You did that in first film with Fin & April, so why did you feel the need to throw another woman in there, with no intentions of a 3-way scene?  I mean, yes technically he and April are still divorced, but everyone wanted to see him get back together with Tara Reid’s character instead of Vivica A. Fox’s character.  So Fin arrives at the Mets Game just in time to warn his brother-in-law, and nephew that the impending sharknado, and calls his sister and niece who are visiting the Statue of Liberty to warn them.  Now it’s a quest for survival as a sharknado hits the most populated city in the United States.        
AND the film features Dr. Billy Ray Cyrus 
        Let me just start by saying that I actually enjoyed “Sharknado 2: The Second One”.  To me, this is everything that the first one should have been.  It has over-the-top action, it has laughs, it has plot holes out the whazoo, and so many quirky celebrity cameos that you could make a drinking game out of.  Sharknado 2: the Second One” is one of the Most Ridiculous films I have ever seen and I highly recommend it.  Especially if you’re like me and thought that the first “Sharknado” film was stupid and overrated...I mean you’re still going to think this is a stupid film, but it’ll be a good kind of stupid, like so bad its good-stupid like in “Troll 2”.  I can’t wait to see what the “Sharknado” Franchise and The Asylum Film Studios have in store for us next!  

Classics: A Review of Random Harvest By Lauren Ennis

The old saying goes that ‘all is fair in love and war’, but that saying can take on a note of irony when one reflects upon the unfairness that permeates both love and war. One film expertly captures the ways in which both institutions can have permanent and devastating effects upon the individuals whose lives they come into contact with; the 1942 romantic drama Random Harvest. Through its depiction of the ways that love and war can bring people together only to later tear them apart, the film shows the tragedy and triumph of the human experience.
Free theater and Greer Garson; the benefits of life on the outside

The story begins with an amnesia patient known only as ‘John Smith’ (Ronald Coleman) residing in an English asylum after losing his memory and much of his speech following trauma he sustained in World War I. After being introduced to one in a long succession of couple’s reclaiming their lost relatives only to be informed that he is not the man that they are searching for, Smith wanders away from the asylum in despair. Just as he reaches the edge of the asylum’s grounds, however, news arrives of the armistice, prompting the guards to celebrate rather than watch their posts. Seizing his opportunity, Smith runs away to town where he blends in amongst the local revelers. While in town he makes the acquaintance of kindly showgirl Paula (Greer Garson), who helps him to escape the local authorities and offers him a job in her traveling company. After a series of mishaps, the pair finally arrive in a secluded country village where they settle down. Several months later, Smith has transformed from the shy traumatized patient that he was into ‘Smithy’ an articulate budding writer and has fallen in love with Paula. The couple is soon married and live in harmony until he obtains a job opportunity in Liverpool shortly after the birth of their son. Unfamiliar with the city, he loses his way before he can find the job and is struck by an oncoming vehicle only to wake up with his memories of his past life restored. This restoration of his past unfortunately comes at the cost of his present as the trauma erases all memories of Smith’s new life with Paula. Smith, now resuming his old life as the wealthy Charles Rainier, tries his best to move on with his new life and even finds a new love interest (Susan Peters), but is unable to lead a full existence so long as he is plagued by the doubts and questions of his lost years. He nearly gives up hope until fate intervenes in the form of his uncannily familiar secretary, who is revealed to be none other than Paula.

While amnesia is usually reserved as a convenient plot device in soap operas and melodramas, Random Harvest is far from sensationalized. Instead of contrived drama, the film uses the disorder to highlight the all too real crisis of identity that trauma can cause.  As a result, the disorder serves as the story’s central metaphor for the sense of loss that soldiers often home to. During his stay at the asylum, Smith is fearful, awkward, and unable to interact with a world that he seems to have no place in. Although the doctors credit Smith’s amnesia as the reason for his timidity and lost speech, this simplified diagnosis is called into question when he displays assertiveness and reveals himself to be capable of articulation with Paula. His interactions with Paula shed light on how his anxiety following his war-time experiences contributes just as much to his reservation as his memory loss. When finally away from the hospital, he is able to focus upon his present and open up to Paula in ways that he would have been unable to open up to anyone while still surrounded by reminders of his forgotten past at the asylum. His progress also directly correlates to the level of normality that he achieves once he has escaped from the asylum. When he first meets Paula, his is lost mentally as well as physically in a world that seems to have moved on without him. As the two settle down and build a life together, however, he regains his sense of purpose and steadily improves until he is finally a confident and self-reliant man capable of starting a career and supporting a family.  His loss of any recollection of Paula upon regaining memories of his service similarly illustrates the way in which his progress is derailed once he is forced to confront his past trauma. Although as Charles Rainier he is more socially prominent and conventionally successful than John Smith was, he is also emotionally detached from the world around him and unable to fully appreciate anything in his life. It is only when he is able to come to terms with his experiences that he is able to reconcile his two halves and become a whole person at long last. The film’s happy ending, while very Hollywood, serves as a hopeful reminder that with patience and understanding happiness and fulfillment can be found even after the most devastating of events.
Is it really bigamy if you can't remember?

Beyond its intelligent and poignant script, Random Harvest also boasts performances that are nothing short of classic. Ronald Coleman expertly portrays both John Smith and Charles Rainier and is able to lend credibility to both characterizations. His Smith is an endearing blend of honesty and gentleness that leaves little doubt as to how he was able to attract the worldly Paula. His portrayal of the established Rainier, by contrast, is all propriety and no passion as Charles devotes himself so much to his career that he loses sight of the love that is right before him all along. Greer Garson is stunning in her portrayal as Paula, portraying her as an impulsive actress and self-sacrificing wife with equal skill and maintains an air of intelligence and wit regardless of her character’s changing circumstances. The supporting players all provide apt performances with Susan Peters and Philip Dorn particularly standing out in their multifaceted turns as Charles’ high society love interest and asylum physician.

Although critics initially dismissed it as mere sentiment, Random Harvest is a testament to hope and survival even in the most dire of circumstances. Through its dignified portrayal of its hero’s journey to recovery the film sheds light on the effects of war on soldiers and those that they leave behind, which linger long after the battles have ceased. Through its heartfelt script and superb performances the film brings the popular novel it is based upon to vibrant life and stands equally well when viewed independently as its own story. During their first meeting John Smith tries to convince Paula he is safe despite his stay in the asylum and says, “I’m not like the others” in many ways that sums up this film’s appeal as well, it is not like any other romance in cinema, in all the best ways.
A well-earned homecoming

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Das Film Junkies Top 25 Favorite Horror Films

Confessions of a Film Junkie: Das Film Junkies Top 25 Favorite Horror Films.

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Hello Friends and Loyal Readers, this week I am bringing you perhaps my biggest—solo—project to date.  It takes a Special kind of person to review straight-to-video/DVD Horror from 2000 to today, and in that time I’ve reviewed so much crap, a few mediocre and I’ve even to find a few films I like along the way.  So today am here to share with you my top 25 Favorite Horror Films, now to save time and space, I will only give a few brief sentences on what I thought of each film.  If you haven’t seen any of these films and you’re a Horror fan then I highly recommend you check them out.

25.) The Black Cat (1934)

I’ve always been a fan of the Universal Horror Films of the 1930’s and 1940’s; my favorite film from the Universal Horror Franchise has got to be the 1934 version of “The Black Cat”.  The film stars Horror movie icons Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff—it’s actually the first collaboration the two of them ever did together—and they both play off of each other so well.  Also the content of this film is so dark; it’s one of those films that makes me say; “I can’t believe they got away with this in the 1930’s”.

24.) The House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

This was actually my favorite horror film when I was a teenager.  When my parents found out I saw this film and how violent and vulgar it was, I was actually forbidden from watching Horror movies until I was 18, but fortunately for me I found ways to watch them without them knowing.  Rob Zombie really captures the magic and grittiness of what Horror films used to be like in the 1970’s, and also introduced us to a slew of interesting and memorable characters.  The Firefly family is probably my favorite Horror movie family. I was a fan of Rob Zombie as a musician, and I think I like him even more as a director. I like his sequel film “The Devils Rejects” as well, but “House of 1000 Corpses” will probably always be my favorite Robe Zombie film.

23.) Ginger Snaps (2000)

I have never really been all that interested in werewolf films, but that all changed after I saw the 2000 Canadian Independent Horror “Ginger Snaps”.  I’ve always thought that the Fitzgerald Sisters were really cute; they actually remind me of a lot of the girls I hung out with in High School.  Not only is this my favorite Werewolf Horror film and film that I don’t think that gets nearly enough attention.

22.) Someone’s Knocking at the Door (2009)

One of the Top 5 Most Disturbing Films I’ve seen to date.  This film is a mindf*ck from beginning to end. I would describe this as the “Refer Madness” for the Pill-Popping Generation.  This film contains a number of grotesque and horrifying images, so it is not for everyone.  In fact the DVD cover boasts that “Someone’s Knocking at the Door” is “The Most Depraved Film of the 21st Century”...I think that’s a pretty accurate description. If you’ve got a strong stomach, and you think you can handle it, then you should definitely go and check it out.

21.) A Serbian Film (2010)

I swear I am the only person in North America who would list this as one of his favorite films.  I’ve already talked about this film to death, so I’ll just say that I think it’s a good film and that the violence—while excessive at points—still held relevance and was not just mindless violence for the sake of mindless violence.  If you’re a true fan of Horror, then you owe it to yourself to check this film out at least once.

20.) Dear Mr. Gacy (2010)

This is probably the Best Serial Killer Biopic film out there.  It is based on the true life story of a college student named Jason Moss who wrote letters to American Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy while he was on death row, in an attempt to get information for his criminology thesis paper. Actor William Forsythe is absolutely terrifying in his portrayal Gacy.  I got to talk to him at Rock N Shock in 2014, and I asked him how he prepared for the role and he told me (please, keep in mind that I’m paraphrasing) that “[I| met with and talked to anyone who knew him...I learned things about him that nobody else knows; things that they don’t talk about in the books about him...and that made it very difficult to portray him because he really was a despicable man”.  The fact that this is film is all based off a real life story makes “Dear Mr. Gacy” one of the most chilling Horror films of this decade. 

19.) The Woman (2011)

Based off of a novel by Horror writer Jack Ketchum, “The Woman” is the story of a man named Chris Cleek who captures a mysterious feral woman living out in the woods.  Cleek chains the woman in an old cellar and tells his family that they are going to clean up and domesticate the woman, but Cleek’s actual intentions involve torturing and raping the woman.  The combination of Jack Ketchum’s screenwriting, Lucky McKee’s directing, Sean Spillane’s music direction, and the intense and graphic violence make this film an absolute guilty pleasure for most Horror fans.

18.) Dead Silence (2007)

This is a film that you’re all probably surprised to see my put on this list, but I actually did find it to be scary.  I am a huge fan of the Australian screenwriting and directing combo James Wan and Leigh Whannell; if they are both linked to a film I will see it.  Now from a performance standpoint, “Dead Silence” is what many people consider to be their weakest or worst film.  I’ve even read interviews with Wan & Whannell where they say that the studios rushed them to get the film written and made, and they feel like they did a poor job making this film, and I’ve read articles from other critics who had very little positive things to say about “Dead Silence”.  However, anytime I’ve ever asked a person “What did you think of ‘Dead Silence’?”  It’s usually followed by a shudder and a person telling me that they thought it was creepy or scary.  Even if this is their Worst film, it’s still a lot scarier than some other Horror films I’ve seen.

17.) Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Sam Raimi still has a few tricks up his sleeves, and that is very apparent with his 2009 film “Drag Me to Hell”.  Some of you may recall that I listed being dragged to hell as my #4 Favorite Movie Kill, and I still stand by that.  This is a great movie.

16.) Let the Right One In (2008)

This is one of my favorite vampire Horror films.  I am a fan of the novel that this this film is based off of, but I am not a fan of the 2010 Americanized remake. This is actually a film I break out and watch every Valentine’s Day, and has become a tradition for me to watch every February.

15.) Dead Snow (2009)

From one Scandinavian country to another: What’s cooler than seeing people fight zombies?  Seeing people fight Nazi Zombies!  I’ve already talked to death about “Dead Snow” in my Top 5 Favorite Zombie films, so I won’t waste too much more of your time, and if you’d like more details then just click the link below to find out.

14.) Stake Land (2010)

This film is the story of Martin, who is travelling with his adult mentor (a man simply known as “Mister”, as they are faced with legions of hungry vampires and Violent Religious Zealots as they try to work their way north to a town known as New Eden where it is rumored to have a temperature so cold that no vampire could survive in it’s frigid climate. If the Vampire Apocalypse happens tomorrow and I could have anyone around to protect me, it would be Mister from the Horror Movie “Stake Land”. 

13.) Hostel 1 & 2 (2005 & 2007)
No Secret here that I kind of idolize writer, director, and occasional actor Eli Roth.  My favorite films that he has made (to date) have to be “Hostel I & II”.  The Godfather of Torture Porn captures the fears of many American’s (from the perspective of both genders) who travel abroad in this Post 9/11 World.  I had to include both of them on this list because they are so identical in plots; it’s just the main characters swap genders in between films.

12.) Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

I really enjoyed the first three “Paranormal Activity” films, but the 2nd one—in particular—holds a very special place in my heart.  When this film came out in theatres, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to see it with me, so ended up going into the theatres to see it by myself.  Not only did it have a bunch of great scares, but it was also filled with a lot of suspense. Towards the end of the film, when everyone in the theatre was already on edge, and then all of a sudden this one girl in the theatre starts sobbing her eyes out and begged her friends to leave the theatre.  It was at that moment when, I saw this one girl who was so absolutely terrified that it brought her to tears that I said to myself “How shnikes, this movie kicks a$$!”

11.) The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920/2005)

Not only is the oldest film on my list, but it is also one of the most influential Horror films ever written.  What “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” is known most famously for is creating the “Twist Ending”.  I’ve talked a great extent in the past about how I absolutely adore the sets, but it also has my favorite inspiration behind the story.  Screenwriter Hans Janowitz was rumored to have met a young girl at a carnival, only to learn the next day that she was found brutally murdered in the woods.  At the funeral for the young girl, Janowitz remarked that he had an unsettling feeling that the young girls killer was also there.  Take that story and add it to the life in Post-World War I Germany and you have the makings for an excellent German Expressionist film.  Also, the film was remade in 2005, still filmed in black and white, and with completely reconstructed sets and scenery, but it has the added benefit of sound and an English dub.  Either way you should check out at least one of these versions of “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari”.

10.) White: The Melody of the Curse (2011)

This is my favorite Foreign Language Horror film.  The premise of South Korean Horror film revolves around the ghost of a mysterious pop song that allegedly haunts anyone who sings the song.  It is a film that has mystery, thrills, chills, and a pretty damn catchy K-Pop song if I do say so myself.  This definitely one of those Horror films that you’ll have to watch a few times to fully understand what’s going on, but fortunately it does get better with each time I watch it.

9.)  Dead Alive/Braindead (1992)

Long before Director Peter Jackson made Cinematic History with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy he made what is perhaps the bloodiest and most violent zombie film of All-Time; “Dead Alive” or sometimes “Braindead” depending on what part of the world you live in.  This is without a doubt one of the goriest and violent movies I’ve ever seen, and I enjoyed every second of this splatter-fest.  I like the characters, I like plot, and I especially like the excessive amounts of blood and gore.     

8.)  Silent Hill (2006)

Most people I know who played the game hate this film.  Even people who haven’t played the game hate this film, but “Silent Hill” will always hold a special place in my heart.  This was the first Horror film I saw where I kept remarking “I can’t believe they just showed that”.  What really makes this a standout film is the acting of Jodelle Ferland who was only 12-years-old at the time when she took on the dual role of Sharon—a kind sweet-natured orphan girl—and Alessa Gillespie—a dark and tormented girl with a desire to get vengeance against the residents of the town who killed her.  Also, “Silent Hill” has one of my favorite endings in all of film, but you’re just going to have to see the film in order to find out what happens.

7.)  American Psycho (2000)

If I had to pick one character I could relate to the most, I’d have to say—probably—Patrick Bateman from “American Psycho”.  This is one of those Horror films that is so wrong that it’s irresistible.  The story told from a perspective of a young man named Patrick Bateman, an investment banker from New York City by day and serial killer by night.  The combination of the 1980’s setting and the fantastic performance given by actor Christian Bale make this one of the Best and Most Memorable Horror films you will ever see.

6.)  Hard Candy (2005)

This film is a violent and doesn’t show very much, but what it does to you psychologically will screw with your mind forever.  It’s the story of a young girl named Hailey who seduces a photographer and pedophile named Jeff on-line.  Jeff thinks Hailey is an easy target, but Hailey has a big surprise in store for Jeff.  I mean this film is just fantastic, because it relies totally on atmosphere rather than effects and blood & Gore.  Not only that but it is a film that has only 2 main characters—played by Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson—and one supporting character played by Sandra Oh. I mean this film is just phenomenal.  One thing I like to do, is if I find out one of my friends hasn’t seen “Hard Candy” yet, I make them watch it, and then I make them watch “Juno” (another Ellen Page film) right after.  Then after that I say to my friends, “if she did that to Jeff, just imagine what she did to Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera’s character in “Juno”) for getting her pregnant”.

5.)  Grave Encounters 1 & 2 (2011-12)

This was the last “Found Footage” Horror film I actually liked.  I mean both of these films have so much to offer, and the 2nd film in this series has the very distinctive honor of being one of the few Horror films that has made me scream out in fear.  I would describe both films like this:  What the first film lacks in scares it makes up in story, and what the second film lacks in plot, it makes up in scares. I love both “Grave Encounters” films so much to me they took all the ideas and best elements of films like “Cannibal Holocaust”, “The Blair Witch Project”, and “Paranormal Activity” and they made the perfect Found Footage Horror Film.

4.)  Jaws (1975)

This should come as a surprise to no one that one of the All-Time Greatest Horror films is ranked this high on my list.  What I like the Best about “Jaws” is that it is set mostly during the day time as opposed to most horror films that are set during the night time.  Second of all, I like how it was filmed on Cape Cod: My Grandparents live on Cape Cod, and I’ve always enjoyed when the locals told me stories about when they saw them filming “Jaws” back in the 1970’s.  The only “Making Of” Film Documentary I own is the making of “Jaws”, and I have to say after learning of all the hell that Stephen Spielberg, Roy Schieder, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss went through to make this film, I love and appreciate it so much more. Another thing I like about “Jaws” is how influential it is:  Seriously, how many films have I reviewed on this blog that are about sharks (or other aquatic creatures attacking humans?!  I’d say “Jaws” is the Most Influential (and Parodied) Horror Film of All-Time.  Even people who have never even seen “Jaws” no the plot to the film, that’ show popular and influential it is.  Lastly, the Best thing about Jaws is that even 40 years after it was released in theatres it still manages to terrify in strike fear into the hearts of every audience member.

3.)  Insidious (2011)

In my opinion “Insidious” is the Best Horror Film of the Decade, and I think another 85 years from now, it will be ranked as one of the Best Horror Films of this Century.  And I’ll be honest with you; I did not want to see this film when it came out because I thought it was going to be terrible, and I only went to see it when it was out in theatres because my best friend Zee wanted to see it and offered to pay for my ticket if I went to see it with her.  When I saw the trailer advertising that it was the “From the Producers of ‘Saw’ and ‘Paranormal Activity’”, I thought it was going to turn out something like “The Blair Witch 2: The Book of Shadows”: I.E. they were taking a found-footage horror film with a miniscule budget and giving it a big budget and credible Hollywood Actors.  I’m so happy today, to say, that I was 100% wrong.  Not only did I find it scary, but I think this is one film that has made me jump and shout in terror the most. The writing and directing duo of James Wan and Leigh Whannell scored cinematic gold with “Insidious”. I’ve seen “Insidious” on the big screen, I’ve seen it on the television screen, and I’ve watched it on my laptop multiple times, and every time I always jump at some point during the film.

2.)  Psycho (1960)

Yeah, yeah...I’m going to talk about Norman Bates and “Psycho” again.  So yeah, Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is still the Best Acting Performance I’ve ever seen to date, and it’s not hard to understand why.  Until Perkins took on this role there where never any “Average Joes” who turned out to be sociopaths, so not only does this make it a groundbreaking performance, but it’s also makes it a groundbreaking film.  Director Alfred Hitchcock took all sorts of risks when he made “Psycho” and everyone one of them paid off.  Yes, by todays standards, the twist ending isn’t all that surprising or shocking, but come on it set a trend like

1.)  Freaks (1932)

Yes for those of you still wondering: Tod Browning’s “Freaks” is still my Favorite Horror Film.  And just like “Psycho” it is a film that I’ve talked about and praised on this blog.  So what do I like so much about it that I proclaim it to be my Favorite Horror Film?  A few things actually:  One it was an a shocking and controversial film for the time it was released.  Director Tod Browning’s decision to cast actual circus freaks in the film instead of actors wearing make-up and masks upset everyone from the film’s producers to movie patrons. This film pretty much destroyed Browning’s career, and the film went on to be banned in multiple theaters.