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