Monday, February 29, 2016

A Retrospect on "Salo, 120 Days of Sodom"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Retrospect on “Salo, 120 Days of Sodom”

By: Brian Cotnoir

I’ve been dreading this Retrospective review for some time.  It’s been nearly two years since I’ve seen “Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom”, and just the mere thought of it makes me cringe and cower in fear.  “Salo” is an Italian film from 1975 that is set in Fascist Italy during World War II and tells the story of a group of Italian Fascist leaders that organize the kidnapping of 9 virgin girls and 9 virgin boys, and bring them to a compound where they all subjugated and forced to fulfil the sexual fantasies of the men, all while being brutally tortured as well.  It is—in a sense—the most literal definition of the term “Torture Porn” (because most of the plot revolves around the films antagonist brutally torturing and sexually abusing the rest of the cast).

My 1st Impression of the Film:

I first heard of “Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom” from an article I saw on Buzzfeed. It was ranked #1 on the List entitled 25 Movies that will Destroy your Faith in Humanity; seeing as I had already 16 of the films on the list I decided that it would be a great idea to try and complete this list, so I found a copy of “Salo” on-line and preceded to watch it in its entirety.  What I saw was vile, disgusting, horrifying, and totally unnatural.  I threw up in my mouth three times while watching this film.  When I was over I felt very sad and very empty; any childlike innocence or sense of wonder that I still had was now gone.  I stopped believing in God for four and a half months—because if there was actually a God then he would have never let anything that HORRIBLE ever be made—and I went through my daily life in a fog-induced stupor.  I saw no beauty in the world only nasty, disgusting, unnatural acts, and to think about the film made me want to cry.  I eventually recovered from this trauma of “Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom”, and my life—for the most part—returned to normal.

My Impression of the film after seeing it a second time:

...I’m not sitting through this film a second time.  I’m not.  No.  Not only no, but Heeeeeelllllllllllll No! In fact here’s a list of awful things I would rather do then sit through this film again:
  1.            Walk on Broken Glass
  2. ·         Have my Wisdom teeth removed
  3. ·         Burn off one of my nipples with a belt sander
  4. ·         Watch a baby seal pup get clubbed to death
  5. ·         Get punched in by a UFC Fighter
  6. ·         Watch every Uwe Bolle film in a single day

Nothing, and I MEAN NOTHING will ever convince me or make me want to sit through “Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom” again.  Now, I’m sure some of you reading this are thinking to yourselves: “don’t-you-think-you’re-being-a-bit-over-dramatic,-guy?”.  No, I don’t think I’m being over dramatic.  I think my biggest qualm with this film is that...I’m not entirely sure that it’s not a Snuff Film.  Over the course of this film you see a lot of shocking and unbelievable things happen to people, and I can’t see any actor or actress who would be willing to let someone do that to them, let alone any actor that would be willing to do that to another person (even if it is just “pretend”).  Also when you consider the fact that the Director of “Salo”, Pier Paolo Pasolini, was murdered by being run over with his own car several times shortly after the completion of “Salo”... seriously, how much do you have to piss off a person for them to run repeatedly run over you with a car?

What I’d do to make the film better:

Round up all copies of this film and then toss them in a volcano

My Final Impression of the Film:

It. Is. Awful.  It’s an awful film made by an awful man, about awful people doing awful things to other people.  Under no circumstances should you ever attempt to watch or even locate a copy of “Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom”.  It destroyed me, mentally, and it will do the same to you as well!  Consider yourself warned!

Classics: A Review of Frida By Lauren Ennis

Biographies have become one of the most popular and time-honored genres in film through their ability to both inform and inspire audiences in their accounts of the lives extraordinary individuals. Over time, however, the genre has become saturated with formulaic films that echo one another in tales of rags to riches and triumph over adversity that, while inspired by true events, border on cliché. Fortunately, this week’s review avoids the familiar trappings of the modern biography by chronicling the controversial art, political activism, and many loves of one art’s most pioneering women; Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo. The 2002 film Frida effectively chronicles Kahlo’s fascinating life, while also successfully capturing the innovative and radical spirit of her work in a biography that is anything but conventional.
Art imitating life or life imitating art?

The story begins in 1925 as a young Kahlo (Salma Hayek) attends college while pursuing her budding craft as a painter. Her life soon takes a difficult turn, however, when she is critically injured in a trolley accident in which she suffers a broken spinal column, broken pelvis, broken collarbone, and punctured uterus. She defies her doctors’ expectations however, when she not only survives the accident, but through months of painstaking work, is able to walk again. During her recovery, she throws herself into her art, producing a series of complex and unique paintings in which she finds her voice as an emerging artist. It is these paintings that eventually draw the attention of famed muralist and notorious libertine Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), who helps to promote her work and launch her career as a successful artist. Despite her wariness at his reputation as a womanizer, the two become fast friends as they bond over their shared passions for art and politics, which eventually develops into a tumultuous and fiery romance. The film then chronicles the couple’s controversial work in both art and political activism as they continually break-up and make-up, all the while supporting each other as artists and comrades. Through its insight into both her personal and professional lives the film captures the innovation and rebelliousness that made Kahlo an icon of modern art.

While the film does recount the most significant events in Kahlo’s life, its unique approach allows viewers additional insight into the experiences and unique perspective that fueled her pioneering art. For example, throughout the film, scenes are cut-away to show Kahlo’s impression of an event or character, which then segue into many of her most famous paintings. In this way, the film shows how the world around her influenced her perspective and led to her original approach to painting. The film also provides an unflinching look at her unconventional marriage and the ways in which her often fraught relationship with Rivera impacted her work. While many biographies tend to whitewash the historical figures that they focus upon, Frida presents a three dimensional portrait of Kahlo which includes her flaws and mistakes as well as her triumphs. For instance, rather than portray her as a victim of Rivera’s many infidelities the film makes a point to include the fact that she was aware of his philandering before their marriage and even reveals her own extra-marital indiscretions with both men and women. The film also features insight into the couple’s radical politics through its depiction of Rivera’s controversial Rockefeller Center mural and their mutual efforts to aid fugitive Soviet leader Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) as he fled Stalin’s assassins. Through this multifaceted depiction of its heroine, the film provides a truly informative and compelling portrait of an artist, as a family member, political activist, wife, and woman.
An icon at work

The uniformly superb cast successfully brings each of their diverse characters to life in such a way as to remind audiences of their significance beyond their impact upon Kahlo’s life and career. Cameo appearances by Antonio Banderas, Edward Norton, and Ashley Judd help place Kahlo’s life within the context of the historical events of her day, while still lending depth to their roles as David Alfaro Siqueiros, Nelson Rockefeller, and Tina Modotti. Patricia Reyes Spindola and Roger Rees bring the complexity of the Kahlo home to life in nuanced performances as Kahlo’s stern mother and supportive father, revealing the ways in which her family encouraged her unconventional path in an era in which women were often relegated to secondary roles. Geoffrey Rush brings wry humor and pathos to his role as the tormented Trotsky, as he portrays the political figure less as a revolutionary icon and more as a man trying to make a difference in the world, leaving viewers with little wonder as to how Kahlo is tempted into embarking upon an affair with him. Mia Maestro and Valeria Golino make excellent foils in their performances as Kahlo’s sweet, but meek, sister, Cristina, and fiery romantic rival turned friend, Lupe. Alfred Molina is a burst of charisma and energy in his portrayal of Rivera, in which he provides viewers with insight into the couple’s unusual relationship and reveals why neither was able to give up on their troubled relationship. Despite the excellent performances surrounding her, the film belongs to Salma Hayek, whose turn as Kahlo highlights her humor, tenderness, determination, insecurities, and loss all with a ferocity worthy of the real Kahlo.

More than just a biography, Frida is a romance, inspirational drama, political exploration, and artistic journey all in one. Through a combination of thorough research and nuanced writing, the script provides a compelling account of an iconic artist and the world that she inhabited. Each of the performances bring an additional level of depth and emotion to the film, making each event in Kahlo’s life resonate, even for viewers already familiar with her story. At her Mexican exhibition in 1954 Rivera described Kahlo’s work as “acid and tender, hard as steel and fine as a butterfly’s wing…loveable as a smile and cruel as the bitterness of life” all these phrases and more could aptly describe Frida.
Life is grand with tequila in hand

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Screening of "Deadpool"

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

A Video Review by Brian Cotnoir

This week I take a look at the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the titular and explicit, "Deadpool".  Don't worry folks this video review is SPOILER FREE

My Review of "Deadpool"

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Joint Review of "Contracted Phase II"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Joint review of “Contracted Part II”

By: Brian Cotnoir & Mina Rosario

     Hello friends, this week I have been very sick with a chest cold and trying to deal with it the best I can, and while I was dealing with my illness it got me thinking about a film a me and a friend of mine reviewed a while back.  The film was “Contracted” and we both presented our arguments strictly from a Male and Female Perspective, and since the sequel to “Contracted” is available on Netflix, now seemed like the perfect time to review it.  So just kick back as the two of us dive into “Contracted Phase II”.

From the Male Perspective (By Brian Cotnoir)

So “Contracted Phase II” leaves off right where we left our story.  Samantha has been transformed into a zombie and is gunned down by police and Riley—you all remember Riley, right?  You know that dumb guy that was infatuated with Sam in the first film despite not realize that she was CLEARLY a lesbian! And as if that shouldn’t have been a big enough put off to Riley, when he finally does get to have sex with her (despite the fact that she’s falling apart faster than a leper in a blender) contracts the same disease she has, and now we’re pretty much going through the exact same story we saw as the first film, only without the suspense and surprises. Yeah, I found it very difficult to get into the story this time around.  I mean we know everything that’s going to happen already, so what’s the point of continuing to watch.  To me “Contracted Phase II” falls under the category of a “Sequel Remake”; it’s pretty much the same story as the first one, only with a few different twists, and maybe a gender swap in the main characters.  Plus, I made it very clear back when we reviewed the first film that I hated the character Riley, so what makes you think making him the focus of the film is going to hold my attention anymore? And trust me the other supporting characters in the film don’t get any more interesting or likeable than Riley (and that’s REALLY saying something).        
     We also get to see more of BJ in this film; you know, the guys who’s responsible for sexually transmitted disease that infects turns these people into zombies.  Hi Question: If BJ gave Samantha the disease by drugging and raping her in the first film then how come he hasn’t transformed into a zombie either?  How come BJ doesn’t seem effected at all by this disease and yet he’s the one spreading it?  What is BJ’s motivation for doing this?  He briefly mentions he’s doing this to get back at society, but never really goes into detail why!         
    This film is a boring as hell!  It’s the same thing as the first one, only I’m not seeing anything new.  The characters are unlikable, the acting is mundane at best, and the film clearly steals elements from much better films like “Cabin Fever” and “Rosemary’s Baby”.  The only thing they really did to the film was up the blood and gore, that’s really the only thing they did.  Do I think you should see “Contracted Phase II”; I say only if you haven’t seen the first one, other than that you can skip it altogether.  I did not like this film, I will give at a very low 1-out-of-5 stars.

From a Female Perspective: (By Mina Rosario)

Hey readers, remember that really weird Zombie STD movie we reviewed last year? Did you know it has a sequel? “There’s only one way to stop this sexually transmitted zombie disease: Find the source of the outbreak,” is how Netflix chooses to describe “Contracted: Phase II”, and they aren’t wrong. The movie pickups where the first one ended and follows a surviving character in his attempts to thwart the person who started the whole virus from spreading.
Following another three days, the story shadows Riley, the bloke who had the most unfortunate sex scene in the last movie, as he slowly decays while trying to catch the ever dodgy BJ, full name now known as Brent Jaffe. He manages to infect his not-love-interest Harper, Grandmother Margie, and several others before meeting the same Zombie ending as Sam and going for a final blow in a sort of fight scene with Brent Jaffe at the end of the movie.
Now, don’t think this movie is just a dry cut and paste of the last movie. This movie has something the other one didn’t. Zombies. All of the infected who die actually reanimate and do the whole zombie thing. Aside from a couple of particularly gross scenes, the zombie parts keep the audience on their toes, as they start off unexpectedly. This movie also seems to try and add in the occult to it’s roster of going-ons. There’s a particular scene with BJ in the basement of his house where he records himself monologuing about the end is coming, and how plague shall be brought down upon the masses while he has a zombie girl hanging from meat hooks behind him. The whole scene is really the most occult thing aside from him and, possibly some other guy, having “Abaddon” tattooed on the inside of the their middle finger on their right hand. But more on that later.
Overall, this movie was great. I’d even say it was better than the first, at least in terms of plot and acting. The first movie, you may remember from my review, had underlying themes of homophobia, biphobia, and a super strong message of “safe sex or you’re doomed”. While the first two themes may not exist because their are no LGBTAQP+ characters, the safe sex message was significantly weaker this time around. And while all throughout the first movie no character admitted that Sam was raped, Riley flat out says it and it’s such an acknowledgement.
In regards to acting, the zombies were definitely zombies, although a particular lunge by one of the zombies was a tad unbelievable. And the living characters actually felt real. They had a presence and emotion to them, and none of the interactions felt fake or forced, like they did in the first movie. Even the screams of terror and pain were believable and appropriate sounding for the relevant scene. Matt Mercer (Riley) and Anna Lore (Harper) did a fantastic job in the respective roles and I do hope this allows them for future endeavors in their career.
The movie also did well to keep me on my toes for a good portion, however as it neared it’s end it became a little predictable. Once Riley and Harper were taken in for medical treatment from urgent care, you kinda knew how it was gonna go. Harper is going to die, and BJ is going to find Riley. BJ’s had a small twist and reveal, but once he was in the hall and doing his thing, it was pretty clear that Riley would have to get out of his hospital bed to finish BJ as a zombie.

Now, what this movie did, that the first did not, was leave an opening, and desire for, another movie. Now, unless you’re Marvel, most movies that do this do it in such a tacky way that most people groan “but this movie ended so well, why are you dragging it on!” Lemme tell you what this movie did. We see an autopsy in the beginning of the movie and the coroner has a tattoo of the word “ABADDON” on the inside of his middle finger. That’s all we see of him, but with the intimate hand gestures on the corpse, the audience can tell he’s not the kind of guy we’d bring home to Ma and Pa. There’s a second scene where Riley gets drugged and kidnapped. We see a hand with the tattoo hand some random dude money as an apology, and then BJ grabs Riley and dips. When BJ finishes his monologue on Day 5 he says “Abaddon is coming.” Quite the build up, right? Well, it seems this was hidden in the first movie as well. After the necrophilia scene in the morgue we see someone cleaning something out and that tattoo on the same hand and finger. Now listen, I had to look up what Abaddon was and it seems it’s the name of a God of Death, particularly with plagues and locusts, and all the stuff BJ says in his monologue. But how does this lead to another movie and not just a plot hole? Well, if you watch after the first credits scene, and this is gonna be a hell of a spoiler so just skip to the next paragraph if you want, you see someone come down the stairs and BJ in a bed with an oxygen mask thing on his face. The unknown man puts his hand on BJ’s forehead, showing the tattoo, and tells him “Soon my friend, very soon.” I’m sorry, are you in shock? Cause I was in shock, and demand answers.
All-in-all, this was a great movie. There was one inconsistency, but honestly I can write a whole new essay on it. In short, the amount of time between infection, death, and reanimation seems inconsistent, and while I can make excuses for some characters due to age and health, I can’t figure it out for all. But like I said, that’s a whole other essay or better suited for a forum thread discussion. If you’re not looking too hard at the movie, it really isn’t a problem in the slightest, and is hardly noticeable. The acting and development of the story is so engrossing you don’t need to pay attention to the zombie turnout rate. I know I lowballed the last movie with a 2.5/5 stars, but it was really the underlying themes in that last one that killed it for me. I want to give this one a 4.5/5. It’s almost perfect. While I won’t be rewatching the first one, I will rewatch this one. And this one did such a great job I would happily watch a third installment, should it happen.

Theodore Theater's Oscar Pick's!

It has arrived! It’s the time of year when we award the year’s best works in film. The 88th Academy Awards will be held on the 28th of February, at the Dolby Theater, in Hollywood, California with Chris Rock hosting this year’s award show. Before we have the pleasure to watch Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars be recognized for their work, let us pick which stars we believe will be taking home the coveted gold statue.

Side Note: With the recent news of an Oscars’ boycott due to lack of diversity for this year’s nominations I feel an impulse to voice my opinion on the matter. There surely is a problem with diversity in Hollywood. There is not a problem with diversity at the Academy Awards. I do believe that this year’s nominations are not only valid, but also justified as the year’s best performances. The problem is not with a lack of diversity at this year’s awards, but a lack of diversity in Hollywood films in general. The Academy can only chose from the films put in front of them; it is up to Hollywood to diversify casting and give roles to the best actors available, regardless of race or color.

Best Picture:

1.     The Big Short
2.     Spotlight
3.     The Revenant
4.     Mad Max: Fury Road
5.     Room
6.     The Martian
7.     Bridge Of Spies
8.     Brooklyn

Winner: Spotlight.

            Spotlight is the story of the Boston Globe journalists who researched, wrote, and reported the news of child abuse by Catholic priests in the city of Boston. The film will leave you with a story you are not soon to forget. It is a film that will tug at your emotions and test your opinions. If you haven’t already, go watch this film!

Best Director:


1.     Alejandro G. Inarritu
2.     Adam Mckay
3.     Tom McCarthy
4.     George Miller
5.     Lenny Abrahamson

Winner: Alejandro G. Inarritu

            Yes, I believe it will happen. Alejandro G. Inarritu will look to become only the third director to ever win back-to-back Academy Awards for best director (Tom Ford & Joseph L. Mankiewicz). Inarritu’s The Revenant is visually stunning. Its depictions of the natural world are truly something special. The acting turned in by DiCaprio and Hardy is worthy of a mention. With many scenes throughout the film featuring close ups of the characters, Inarritu brings home a genuine view into a period of time in America that has long been forgotten.

Actor In A Leading Role:


1.     Leonardo DiCaprio
2.     Matt Damon
3.     Bryan Cranston
4.     Michael Fassbender
5.     Eddie Rydmayne

Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio

            Is it the year? Will it finally happen for him? We think so. Leonardo DiCaprio will win his first Academy Award. Though he doesn’t actually have many lines in his role as an outdoorsman in The Revenant. DiCaprio’s facial expressions and body language are enough to hold the audience through the film.

Actress In A Leading Role:


1.     Cate Blanchett
2.     Brie Larson
3.     Jennifer Lawrence
4.     Charlotte Rampling
5.     Saoirse Ronan

Winner: Brie Larson

If you haven’t seen Room, staring Brie Larson please do so immediately. I believe Larson to be the runaway favorite. The haunting story of a young girl who is kidnapped and held against her will as she tries to raise her capture;s son. Larson’s co-star Jacob Trembley was outstanding as well.

Actor In A Supporting Role:


1.     Christian Bale
2.     Tom Hardy
3.     Mark Ruffalo
4.     Mark Rylance
5.     Sylvester Stallone

Winner: Christian Bale

            This will be one of the toughest decisions to be made on award night. Stallone recaptured what made the original Rocky films great in his performance, while Bale and Hardy excelled along side great counter-parts. Ruffalo puts forth his best performance yet in one of the year’s best films. Rylance is also very deserving of a nomination, teaming with Tom Hanks in, Bridge Of Spies.

Actress In A Supporting Role:


1.     Jennifer Jason Leigh
2.     Rooney Mara
3.     Rachel McAdams
4.     Alice Vikander
5.     Kate Winslet

I believe this to be another clear cut winner in Kate Winslet. She plays assistant to the great Steve Jobs, which stars Michael Fassbender. The film revolves around three different periods of time, each on the day of a new Steve Jobs product release. Her character is not one that is seen often throughout the film, but her appearances and interactions with Fassbender are sterling.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Classics: A Review of War and Peace By Lauren Ennis

Since the advent of film the silver screen has been considered the gold standard for bringing stories both new and old to life. Some stories, however, are too rich in detail and epic in scope to be told in one viewing. For such stories there is a unique medium that combines the production values of film and the flexible scheduling of television; the miniseries. This year, the BBC reclaimed its title as master of the modern mini-series with its production of the Tolstoy classic War and Peace. In the hands of the talented cast and crew War and Peace is a strikingly modern tale of average people caught up in the upheaval of extraordinary times, which still holds power and resonance for viewers in today’s conflicted world.
So many suitors and so little time...

The story follows the familiar tale of the beloved novel as five aristocratic families cope with the vast changes that sweep across Russia during the Napoleonic wars. At the tale’s start, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky (James Norton) gladly enlists as a way to escape a stifling life of superficiality and aimlessness with a wife he doesn’t love. Similarly, Count Nikolai Rostov (Jack Lowden) enlists in pursuit of heroics on the battlefield, leaving his family to cope with their financial struggles. Meanwhile the newly wealthy Count Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano) adjusts to a life of privilege and faces a very different battle on the home-front as he strives to find his place in the manipulative world of high society. As war fades into peace only for battle to break out once again, these very different men find their lives and those of their families intersecting in by turns tragic and heartfelt ways as a new era dawns across Europe.

When news of this latest BBC production was released, critics and audiences alike were uneasy, as War and Peace has been adapted into numerous films, plays, musicals, and miniseries in the past with mixed results. While the story contains all of the passion and drama necessary to make it first rate entertainment, the massive scope, historical setting, and spiritual overtones have proved difficult to transfer across various mediums. As a result, some variations managed to capture the epic backdrop only to lose the story’s human element, while others focused upon the romance and personal struggles of the characters, but sacrificed the crucial historical context. Fortunately, this latest take on the tale manages to strike an ideal balance between the personal and political, as it successfully relays the tragedies and triumphs of an immense cast of characters in a rapidly changing world.

While the task of telling Tolstoy’s over 1100 page tome in just six hours of screen time may seem virtually impossible, the miniseries not only does just that, but does so in such a way as maintain the novel’s numerous key points and still keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Over the course of the series, the characters evolve in dramatic and surprising ways, but each character’s individual trajectory is handled with a subtlety and nuance that makes their development feel natural. For example, Andrei’s gradual progression from haughty aristocrat to battle-scarred soldier to loving friend, brother, and father is a fascinating character arc that is still in line with the basic traits and values that he displays at the beginning of the series. Similarly audiences are treated to witnessing Natasha Rostova (Lily James) grow up before their eyes as she matures from a naïve and vivacious pre-teen to a wiser, but still optimistic, woman in the wake of harsh lessons in life and love and personal tragedy. Perhaps the most drastic and poignant character arc is that of well-meaning, but bumbling, Pierre as he is at first dazzled and then disillusioned by high society and finally embarks upon a spiritual quest to find the meaning of life in a changing world. The journeys of each of these characters and more are relayed with an emotional depth and sensitivity that allows viewers to not only enter the distant world of czarist Russia, but also leaves audiences reluctant to exit that world.
Let the villainy ensue!

While providing a fresh take on such well known characters is no easy task, each member of the massive cast successfully enlivens the series with performances that are at once original and true to the original source material. Stand-out performances abound from the central players to the supporting cast, and even brief roles that leave a lasting impression. Tuppence Middleton is deliciously wicked as femme fatale Helene, and Callum Turner provides her with an apt partner in crime as her debauched brother, Anatole. Aisling Loftus and Jessie Buckley both add nuance and dimension to their roles as the self-sacrificing Sonia and her equally virtuous counterpart and romantic rival Marya. Aneurin Barnard is equal parts charming and calculating as the scheming social climber Boris, leaving little wonder as to how he manipulates the ladies of Russia’s upper crust. Tom Burke brings an engrossing charisma to his role as the ruthless Dolokhov, providing viewers with insight into his ability to secure friends in high places despite his often despicable behavior. Jack Lowden brings an endearing boyishness and sincerity to his role as the Rostov's wayward prodigal son, ensuring that audiences continue to root for Nikolai even at his most roguish. James Norton successfully brings the complicated and tormented Andrei to life in a way that makes him both sympathetic and relateable despite his initial aloofness. Lily James is a revelation as she portrays Natasha’s kindness and innocence while still imbuing her with the impulsiveness, stubbornness, and ferocity that have made Natasha one of literature’s most iconic heroines. Paul Dano provides the series with its heart as the insecure and idealistic Pierre, winning viewers over through his sensitive portrayal of Pierre’s journey to find himself even as he is caught in the midst of events he is in no way prepared for.

Family saga, coming of age tale, war story, romance, and historical epic; all of these things and more are contained in the words War and Peace. While the lengthy piece may seem an intimidating tale to take on, this year’s BBC version reminds us of the vitality, youthfulness, and passion that have made this complex tale an enduring classic. Through uniformly excellent writing, acting, and design, this latest variation on the familiar tale is a classic adaptation with a modern edge. In the novel, Tolstoy describes Natasha as "not pretty, but full of life" and much like its heroine, War and Peace is a tale that even through its unflinching look at war is sure to embody the beauty and wonder of life for today's viewers as much as it did for yesterday's readers.
Never bring a sword to a cannon-ball fight

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Retrospective on "Fifty Shades of Grey"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Retrospective on "Fifty Shades of Grey"

A Video Review by Brian Cotnoir

It's been almost a year since I've reviewed the Erotic/Drama "Fifty Shades of Grey".  Have my opinions on the film changed? Do I have any new perspectives and thoughts to offer?  Be sure to check out my latest Retrospective Review and find out

My Retrospective Review on Fifty Shades of Grey

My Original Review of "Fifty Shades of Grey" from 2015

Monday, February 1, 2016

Classics: Four Notorious Oscar Snubs: By Lauren Ennis

The buzz about nominations, designer gowns, and red carpets can mean only one thing; Oscar season is upon us once again. Yet again the gold statuette is the subject of controversy as an ‘Oscar’s boycott’ has been formed in protest of the lack of nominations for actors of color. Regardless of where you stand on the 2016 Academy Awards divide, controversy is almost as much a tradition of the awards ceremony as over-long speeches with scandalous after-parties, politically charged acceptance speeches, and feuds between stars becoming ceremony staples. One of the most frustrating and controversial aspects of the competition is the prevalence of exemplary work passed over in favor of popular but lackluster efforts in blatant ‘Oscar snubs’. Here are four notorious snubs from the Academy’s history.
Zero wins...Oh Hell No!

1.      The Color Purple comes in with eleven nominations and leaves with zero wins: Viewers tuned in to the 1986 Academy awards with two productions racing to the finish line with eleven nominations each; The Color Purple and Out of Africa. Both films contain themes of female empowerment and the interaction between European and African cultures, albeit from very different perspectives. Meryl Streep’s Karen and Whoopie Goldberg’s Celie both face oppression from the men in their lives, eventually finding salvation in living independently. Despite its promising premise, however, Out of Africa is largely predictable, with Karen’s journey following a traditional trajectory of spurning a toxic relationship with one man only to find herself through her relationship with another man. In The Color Purple, Celie faces a plethora of obstacles including sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather, physical abuse from her controlling husband, poverty, sexism, and prejudice, which she escapes from not through a romantic relationship but instead through developing a healthy relationship with herself. The film’s gritty portrayal of violence against women is powerfully shown but the film is saved from becoming bleak through its ultimately hopeful message of resilience and self-acceptance. Despite the film’s compelling story and superb performances by Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and Margaret Avery, however, the Academy Awards ended with the film empty-handed and tying with 1977’s The Turning Point for ‘biggest Oscar loser’. Viewer theories explaining the baffling snub range from the Academy’s dislike of Steven Speilberg, then largely known for directing action films and thrillers, to voter preference for screen veterans Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, to racism. Ironically, The Color Purple remains a fan favorite and has since been adapted into a Broadway musical with Out of Africa becoming synonymous with pretension and Oscar hype.
Who could say no to that voice?!
2.      Grace Kelly beats Judy Garland in “the worst robbery since Brinks”: Judy Garland’s performance as small-time singer turned Hollywood sensation Esther Blodgett in A Star is Born is nothing short of dynamite, even by Garland’s exemplary standards. The film chronicles Garland’s character’s meteoric rise and the devastating effect of her success upon her alcoholic matinee idol husband (James Mason). That same year, Grace Kelly played another woman struggling with an alcoholic husband unable to cope with his fading show-business career in The Country Girl. When the envelope was opened, viewers across the nation were convinced that they already knew what the announcement would be until the Oscar went to…Grace Kelly. Still a relative newcomer to the industry, viewers were shocked that Kelly was given precedence over the veteran talent of Garland, and after viewing A Star is Born most viewers today are still stunned by Kelly’s win. While the high price of fame is a common theme in cinema which both films share, few films capture the full complexity and scope of life in the limelight in the way that A Star is Born does. The story holds particular poignancy when viewed within the greater context of Garland’s own struggle with substance abuse, which began during her years as a child-star at MGM. Prior to the film’s release, Garland had endured one of her darkest periods both professionally and personally, leaving audiences skeptical that she could carry off a role as demanding as Esther. Upon the film’s release however, they were treated to a performance that was the definition of a comeback as Garland owned each second of screen time through her combined musical talent and raw emotion as she painfully displayed the ways in which a career in the spotlight and all its temptations can destroy even the most talented of artists. A Garland win was so certain in fact that NBC even sent film crews to interview the actress in her hospital room where she was recovering from childbirth the night of the ceremony, only to be caught even more by surprise than the actress herself. Groucho Marx famously remarked that Kelly’s win was, “the worst robbery since Brinks”, just a few notes of Garland’s signature performance and you too might be crying ‘highway robbery’.

A black-hearted varmit who deserved that gold statue

3.      The Academy doesn’t give a damn about Rhett Butler: 1939 is often cited as “the greatest year in cinema’, and one reason is the groundbreaking release of the classic Gone With the Wind. The film has since become a cinematic standard with Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara remaining one of, if not the most, beloved pair in modern film and literature. Rhett in particular has won over audiences with his roguish charm and cynical outlook, as well as his ability to ground Scarlett’s selfishness and vanity. Without Rhett, Gone With the Wind would still be a fascinating tale of resilience in the face of adversity, but would be sorely lacking without the sly wit, passion, and tenderness that make up the heart of Rhett and Scarlett’s relationship. The role became the most famous of Gable’s lengthy career and is nothing short of iconic today with the line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” remaining one of the most instantly recognizable lines in cinema history. While Rhett was already a well-written character in Margaret Mitchell’s novel, the complexity of the rebel with a heart of gold could have easily been lost in translation had the role not gone to an actor who lacked the nuance and charisma of Gable. Despite Gable’s swoon-worthy performance, however, the Academy shocked viewers by choosing Robert Donat for his role as the stiff but lovable school teacher in Goodbye Mr. Chips for Best Actor. Adding insult to injury, Gable’s strong performance was treated as the weak link in the cast, with the film earning Best Picture and co-stars Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel earning awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Even more shocking, Donat did not even attend the event, and when the votes were tallied Gable actually came in third place with James Stewart earning runner-up for his portrayal of a disillusioned senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Such a blatant oversight is enough to make viewers question whether the Oscar’s are worth giving a damn about.
A loss more shocking than the meaning behind 'Rosebud'

4.      Citizen Kane; best movie in history, but not Best Picture of 1941: Today, Citizen Kane is synonymous with excellence in film-making. The influence of the film’s innovative story and camera techniques is daunting enough, but the fact that the film was co-written by, directed by, and starred a then twenty-six year old first-time film-maker is an accomplishment so astounding that it remains the gold standard of cinematic innovation. The story is a deceivingly simple tale of a man who possesses all of the ability and resources to succeed, but is ultimately corrupted and destroyed by his own power. The film was written as a thinly veiled portrayal of the life and career of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who established his career through sensationalized yellow journalism and was renowned for his ruthlessness as much as for his political and media influence. Although Hearst was furious at the film’s unflattering portrayal of him, he became determined to destroy the film when he learned of the vulgar way that his mistress, famed silent film star Marion Davies, was portrayed. He quickly set about a campaign to bury the film, libeling Orson Welles in his publications, banning showings of the film, and banning even mention of the film in his many publications. Given Hearst’s pull in the entertainment industry, the film’s loss at the Oscar’s is not so shocking, but the loss to the now largely forgotten family drama  How Green Was My Valley remains a timeless example of the ways in which the Academy all too often is a symbol of temporary popularity, but not necessarily lasting impact.