Sunday, August 30, 2015

Is "Jumanji" a Horror film for kids?

Confessions of a Film Junkie: Is “Jumanji" a Horror film for kids?

By: Brian Cotnoir

I am continuing my generation’s tradition of pointing out how freaky/scary some of the movies and TV shows we had as kids were over the internet.  Yes, for whatever reason we all like to point out the same stuff on the internet: “Freaky Fred on “Courage the Cowardly Dog” was creepy as hell!”, “How awesome and scary was “Are you Afraid of the Dark?”, “What was with that creepy a$$ clown in “The Brave Little Toaster”, and the list goes on.  In fact some of my Most Popular Articles are my “5 Films that you probably didn’t realize were too scary for kids”.  In one of those editions I briefly talked about the 1995 Family Classic “Jumanji”.  I remember my mom and grandmother taking me and my sister to see this in theatres.  Ever since the tragic passing of actor Robin Williams I’ve seen this film shown more and more on TV.  Now the more times I see it the more and more I start to realize, “Wow this is film is creepy as hell! This isn’t a kids movie, it’s more like a Horror film for kids!”    
    I mean just look at the opening title credits and scene: a spooky green mist comes out of nowhere and forms the title “Jumanji” before quickly fading out then we get a scene in 1869 where we see two brothers named Caleb and Benjamin out in the middle of the woods at night.  The two brothers grab a wooden chest and off of a cart and throw it into a whole, and begin to bury it.  While they’re burying the box the younger brother Benjamin falls into the whole and then this creepy tribal drum starts to play, Benjamin shouts to his brother “Caleb, help it’s after me!” and then wants to run away after being pulled out of the hole.  Caleb insists that they finish what they started and when his brother asks what will happen if somebody else finds it, to which Caleb replies “May God have mercy on his soul” as lighting flashes behind him.  Yeah just in the first two minutes of this film alone this film definitely gives off a horror movie vibe.  We know that the two boys must have played the game, but we never get to see what sort of things they endured.  I can only assume—based on what we see later in the film—the sort of horrendous things they must’ve encountered.  I actually wish there was a prequel film to “Jumanji” so we can see how the brothers came across this game (maybe the origins of the game too) and what sorts of things happened to them while they played it.          
I think it's Swahili for "You Gonna Die"
     In the next scene the film flashes 100 years later and we see young Alan Parrish riding his bike through the small fictional town of Brantford, New Hampshire.  The town is very reminiscent of the quaint New England towns in a Stephen King novel, and like in a Stephen King novel, our main character seems to be the target of bullying from every kid in town.  After being beaten up and having his bike stolen by a group of Bullies we see Alan walking home, and as he approaches a construction site he all of a sudden begins to hear the tribal drums.  As he explores the construction site and follows the sound of the drums he finds the edge of the chest that the two brothers buried one-hundred years earlier and pulls it out of the dirt.  He opens it up to find a game called Jumanji.  One thing I’ve always wondered about the game Jumanji is can only kids hear the drum noise or can adults hear it to?  When Alan finds the game at the construction site he appears to be the only one who hears the drums playing.  I know a construction zone is typically a noisy place, but even when they weren’t working how could none of them hear the sounds of tribal drums beating?  Or is the drum completely imaginary and it only exists in the minds of the people who get close to it?  Or is it possible the drum beats could be brought on by some kind of mental delirium?                      
Can't we just play Monopoly instead?
So Alan takes the game out and shows it to his friend Sarah and the two begin to play.  After Alan’s first roll he gets sucked into the board game as his friend Sarah looks on in horror.  Alan will eventually be trapped inside the game for the next 26 years.  Not only can Jumanji suck you into the game and keep you as its prisoner, but everything else that comes out of the game want’s to kill you! Oh yeah, amongst the many deadly things that come out of Jumanji at the roll of the dice include giant mosquitoes, man eating lions, killer plants, stampedes of wild beasts, and a English hunter who likes to hunt humans for sport!  Oh yeah, Jumanji is an absolutely terrifying game.  And God forbid you try to cheat in order to win the game because then you get punished for that too.  Peter tries to cheat and he gets turned into a monkey man with giant hairy hands, and a tail and everything.  It’s like a toned down version of Lampwick’s jackass transformation from “Pinocchio” or David Kessler’s werewolf transformation in “An American Werewolf in London”. Let’s also look at the Parish’s home.  After Alan’s disappearance, it is long speculated by most people in town that Alan’s father, Sam, killed his son and hid his body in the walls of the home.  After Sam and his wife pass away, the home goes unoccupied for years, because people believe the stories of Alan’s murder.  So when Peter and Judy move into the house with their Aunt, and they hear the tale of the disappearance of young Alan Parrish, it definitely gives the film the Haunted House vibe.     

Run!  It's a Stampede!

     Not only does the game mess with the people playing the game, but it also affects the people of Brantford too.  Carl Bentley (played by actor David Alan Grier) is constantly tormented by a group of monkeys that was released by Jumanji, and the stampede runs right through the heart of the town of Brantford creating mass chaos and destruction.                       
Please don't let me get cast in the "Planet of the Apes" remake
     Lastly when the game is over and all the deadly creations get sucked back into the game, life resumes off before they started playing the game in Alan’s living room 1969, and only Alan and Sarah have any recollection of what just happened.  What’s craziest is that Sarah had to live through 26 years of life already, and really you think of all the tragedies that have happened between 1969-1995 that she’s going to have to relive (the assassination of John Lennon, The Challenger Explosion, The Gulf War, etc.)  If Sarah and Alan have all the memories they have from the game, then can Sarah do anything to help prevent these tragedies? Not to mention the almost 3 decades of psychological damage she had to endure while she saw her best friend sucked into a board game and believed him to be long dead, how do you come to grips with that?    
     It’s amazing to think that this beloved children’s film might have been made more to scare them rather than entertain them.  Even today it’s probably one of the Best Children’s movies ever made, but is also one of the scariest one’s ever made, and I think there is more than enough evidence to suggest that this may be a Horror film for kids.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Classics: A Review of A Little Princess By Lauren Ennis

If you ask a little girl what she would like to be when she grows up, don’t be surprised if she replies with the lofty choice of ‘princess’. From fairy tales that date back hundreds of years to modern animated fare, princesses are one of the most instantly recognizable and enduring symbols of girlhood. In recent years, however, the princess tradition has been called into question by feminists and modern critics who claim that it promotes traditional values that are of little use in the modern world. One fairly recent film, however, challenges this criticism through its assertion that the term ‘princess’ can hold a meaning far deeper and more relevant than wearing a tiara and being rescued; the 1995 adaptation of the 1905 Frances Hodgson Burnett novel A Little Princess.
If only more kids' movies were so heartfelt. *I'm not gonna cry...*

The story begins with 10 year-old Sara Crewe living a carefree life in British occupied India with her widowed father. Conflict enters the pair’s idyllic existence when World War I breaks out and Captain Crewe is called to service (an update from the novel’s 1890’s setting during the Boer War), leading him to entrust Sara’s care to a New York boarding school that her late mother had attended. Upon arriving in New York, Sara is faced with the harsh reality of life within the restrictions of conventional society, as she is met with resistance from the faculty and students alike. With patience and diligence, however, she adapts to the rigorous rules and monotonous lessons of the school, and quickly becomes one of the most popular students through her imagination and charm. These same qualities that set her apart as a student -body favorite also make her stand out as a threat to the faculty, who view her advanced educational background and creativity as a threat to the status quo. When Sara’s father is reported killed and his assets are seized by the British government, the school's cruel headmistress, Miss Minchin, reveals her true colors and forces Sara to live in the school’s attic and work alongside African-American servant girl Becky until she can repay her debt to the school. Orphaned and outcast from her peers, Sara finds herself alone in a harsh world with only her imagination and her firm belief that “every girl is a princess” to cling to as she struggles to make her way in a world that seems to be coming apart all around her.

While children’s films too often resort to potty-humor and trite sentiment to entertain their young audiences, A Little Princess instead tells a story about children that is equally directed towards adult audiences. Rather than the fanciful tale of royalty in a far-away land that its title suggests, the film is instead an exploration of resilience in the face of hardship. While many children’s films feature larger than life villains and outrageous obstacles, Sara faces all too real adversity in the forms of poverty, grief, and societal indifference. As a result, her story is one which resonates with audiences of all ages and walks of life, and whose lessons will remain with children as they grow old enough to understand their full significance. Through its weaving of history and magical realism into what would otherwise be a simple tale of riches to rags and back again, the film transforms Sara’s journey into both an ode to individuality and a tale of the redemptive power of creativity. The film’s inclusion of scenes from the stories that Sara regales her classmates with allows viewers added insight into her mind and reveals the ways in which she uses fiction to cope with the contradictions and losses of her reality. In this way the film also encourages its young viewers to look to its own fictional heroine for inspiration.
Good friends and good stories; all any party needs

The recurring mantra of the film is that “all girls are princesses”; an axiom that Sara’s nanny in India first teaches her and Captain Crewe later reinforces before leaving for the trenches. At first glance, this notion could be viewed as a contrived theme that is too flimsy to sustain an entire film. As the film progresses, however, the idea of ‘a princess’ is redefined so that it bears little resemblance to the stereotypical image of a Barbie-esque beauty in a crown and ball gown. Within the context of the film, ‘princess’ is simply a fantasy term that Sara uses to express her belief that she and her classmates are people of value and worth despite what the world at large would have them believe. The wider range of the term in the film is evidenced when Sara responds to the teasing of snarky Lavinia that “all girls are princesses; even snotty, two-faced bullies like you”, as Sara’s definition extends beyond herself and her friends to all women, including her enemies. The emphasis upon princess as a non-discriminating term makes the word become a symbol of equality and unity in contrast to the divisions of class and race that permeate the time period in which the film is set. By the time that Sara reiterates her beloved mantra to Miss Minchin in the film’s climax, it has become a rallying cry for truth, equality, and dignity rather than the sugary catchphrase that it begins as in the film’s start. As a result, in Sara Crewe’s hands, princess is a term of female empowerment that holds resonance for women of all ages rather than the fanciful dream that critics have come to dismiss it as.

The film’s cast aptly brings its unique version of 1914 India and New York to life through a series of intelligent and heartfelt performances. The child actresses portraying Sara’s schoolmates approach their roles with an intelligence and variety that makes viewers feel as though they are actually witnessing the daily interactions of a group of real children, each with their own desires, interests, and distinct personalities. Heather DeLoach (of Blind Melon music video, ‘No Rain’, fame), and Kelsey Mulrooney particularly stand-out in their portrayals of the initially timid but eventually empowered Ermengarde and lovable but wayward Lottie. Vanessa Lee-Chester and Taylor Fry are excellent in their opposing roles as Sara’s loyal best friend and manipulative arch-enemy, each employing depth and individuality to ensure that their roles are characters rather than caricatures. Eleanor Bron and Rusty Schwimmer shine in their roles as the Minchen sisters, with Schwimmer’s well-meaning but utterly incompetent Amelia and Bron’s manipulative and cruel Headmistress Minchin personifying the ineptitude, hypocrisy, and brutality of the both the adult world and society at large. Liam Cunningham perfectly balances his role as Captain Crewe between the loving father that Sara knows and the dignified officer who is called to lead his men into battle. Liesel Matthews gives a truly commanding performance in her role as Sara, combining by turns wide-eyed innocence, self-assuredness, and steely resilience to portray the difficult role of a natural leader. In each of their varied roles, the cast evade the typical pit-falls of children’s films by avoiding the all too common hysteria, syrupy sweetness, and stereotypes usually dispensed to young audiences, and instead keep the sometimes fantastic plot grounded through a series of emotionally honest and complex performances.

At once a story of one girl’s experience in a distant time and place and a universal tale of love, loss, survival, and redemption; A Little Princess is far from your average family film. Through its enchantingly fantastic view of the world in all its beauty and severity, the film echoes the wonders, innocence, and fears of childhood. Even though I am now an adult and decades have passed since I first saw this film, I continue to find its central message of the importance of self-worth and maintaining one’s individuality both empowering and essential. This film is a must see for any adult who still believes in the magic of creativity and love and any little girl who has ever doubted that she not only could, but in fact should, be considered a princess.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Screening of "Almost Mercy"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Screening of "Almost Mercy"

A Video Review by Brian Cotnoir

This week I take a look at Woodhaven Productions latest Horror film "Almost Mercy", which you can view for yourself today on Netflix Instant.

My Review of "Almost Mercy:

My other reviews of Woodhaven Productions Films

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Classics: A Review of Out of the Past By Lauren Ennis

Thomas Wolfe wrote that “you can’t go home again”, a quote that has proven ever more resonant with each passing year for each passing generation. For private investigator turned gas station owner Jeff Markham, however, the opposite proves to be true in the 1947 noir classic Out of the Past. Directed by horror master Jacques Torneur, Out of the Past is a twisting tale of the lengths to which we go to escape the past and the ways in which it continues to impact our present, regardless of how far we may run. From its ominous opening reel to its somber final frame, this film personifies the very best of film noir and continues to serve as a reminder of what it is that keeps viewers coming back for more of the genre’s signature darkness.
"Build my gallows high, baby"

The story begins with the arrival of sleazy mob underling Joe Stephanos (Paul Valentine) disturbing the peace of a small California town. It is soon revealed that Joe has come to town in search of mysterious newcomer Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) at the behest of his boss, ruthless mobster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas). After Joe tracks him down to the gas station he now runs, Jeff realizes that he has only stalled the hidden past that he believed he had finally escaped from and reluctantly agrees to meet Whit at the mobster’s Lake Tahoe mansion. Fearing the outcome of his meeting, Jeff stops to visit with his wholesome girlfriend, Ann (Virginia Huston), and in an extensive flashback relates the story of his former life as private investigator Jeff Markham and the events that have brought him into Whit’s clutches for the second time. Over the course of the flashback, Jeff relates how he was hired by Whit to track down the mobster’s sultry girlfriend, Kathie Moffet (Jane Greer), after she disappeared following a domestic dispute that ended with Whit shot and Kathie on the run with forty-thousand dollars of his money. After Jeff located her in Acapulco, the two embarked upon a whirlwind affair before escaping to San Francisco with the forty-thousand dollars, only to be discovered by Jeff’s partner, Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie). Determined to hold onto her new life, Kathie murdered Fisher and fled, leaving Jeff to elude both the police and Whit. Back in the present, Jeff meets with Whit and is forced to take one last job that reunites him with Kathie and forces both of them to face the ghosts of the past that continue to haunt them.
So much for honor amongst thieves

Released just two years after the end of World War II, Out of the Past perfectly captures the jaded attitudes and bleak atmosphere that permeated the early-post war years. Unlike than the ‘awe-shucks’ down-home everyman popularized by such actors as James Stewart and Gary Cooper during the 1930’s, Mitchum’s Jeff is world weary, cynical, and willing to bend as many laws as it takes to survive; in short, he’s truly a man of his time. While he continues to maintain a desire to do the right thing he’s seen far too much of life in an increasingly ruthless world to hold onto any illusions, and his first priority remains self-preservation. In many ways, Jeff could be viewed as a stand-in for the generation of soldiers who had only recently returned home at the time of the film’s release. Throughout the film he remains isolated as he cannot relate to the na├»ve locals he struggles to blend in amongst and strives to block out any remnants of the violence and pain of his former life. In this way, Jeff’s struggle to build a new life directly mirrors the same struggle that World War II GI’s faced transitioning to civilian life after experiencing the horrors of war. Beyond its central protagonist, the film is populated with characters of murky morals and conflicted motives. While plenty of noirs contain similar characters, Out of the Past succeeds in making each of its central characters unique and intriguing. Kirk Douglas’ mobster, for instance, retains a surprising humanity through his devotion to Kathie. Jane Greer’s Kathy maintains a fascination that few women in the genre can claim as she not only holds her own against, but actually bests the men in her life at their own ruthless games and serves as an excellent foil to the one dimensional temptress, Meta Carson, and the too good to be real Ann. The film tops off its cocktail of mystique and grit with cinematography that is among the best in the genre as it showcases the menace lurking within the bright skies of a small town and the dark alleys of the city streets alike.

The film’s cast superbly bring the film’s complex plot and equally complex characters to life. Kirk Douglas transforms what easily could have been a stereotypical role into an endlessly entertaining performance by imbuing Whit with equal parts charm and malice. Jane Greer is nothing short of electrifying in her performance as Kathie; a combination of razor-sharp wit, sizzling sex-appeal, and steely resilience. Dickie Moore shines in his necessarily understated role as Jeff’s mute assistant, bringing a level of pathos to the crosses and double-crosses that he witnesses without relying upon a single line of dialogue. The supporting cast lends apt support with Rhonda Fleming and Paul Valentine particularly standing out for their gleefully wicked portrayals of manipulative secretary Meta and vicious hired gunman Stephanos. Despite all of the excellent performances surrounding him, however, the film belongs to Mitchum, who in in his portrayal of the ultimate noir hero epitomizes cool. In Mitchum’s hands Jeff is a character whom viewers can’t help rooting for and identifying with despite his many transgressions and ambiguities.

With the array of private investigators, femme fatales, and complex criminals inhabiting its shadowy world, Out of the Past could be considered Film Noir 101. While the film certainly contains all of those typical genre elements, such a label would be a misrepresentation of the truly unique viewing experience that the film is. Rather than a mere exercise in style, the film is actually an in depth look at a society in transition and a generation coming to grips with a past they cannot escape from. Nearly seventy years later, Out of the Past remains a film that speaks to the present and will remain a fan favorite far into the future.
"A dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle"

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Review of "The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of "The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears"

A Video Review by Brian Cotnoir

This week I take a look at the 2014 French/Belgian Film: "The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears".  Not going to lie, this film broke me (mentally), and well you're probably going to have to watch it yourself to understand what I mean.

My Review

The Trailer for the Film