Saturday, May 28, 2016

Classics: A Memorial Day Salute By Lauren Ennis

Originally a Southern event designated to honor Confederate veterans of the Civil War, Memorial Day went on to become a nationally recognized holiday in the United States, which now honors all American veterans. While today the true meaning of the holiday is too often lost amidst the barbeques, beach days, and block parties that it has since become associated with, it remains at its heart a commemoration of the bravery and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. Below are three films that celebrate and honor America’s men and women in arms and all that they stand for.
Kiss this man's feet!

PATTON: Part biography and part war epic, 1970’s Patton remains an invigorating mix of the best of both genres. The film covers the years that General George S. Patton (George C Scott) spent as one of the nation’s most skilled and controversial military leaders in WWII. Throughout the film, Scott captures Patton’s brilliance and insatiable drive with equal skill, and brings the colorful and complex general to life. While lauded as one of the nation’s most successful military leaders, Patton’s career was fraught with controversy as he alienated allied leaders whom he regarded as professional rivals, and continually disobeyed Washington’s orders. The film successfully makes him a by turns frustrating and inspiring, but always fascinating character and does full justice to his complicated life and career. The film portrays the war with the same nuance that it affords its protagonist by highlighting both the animosity that existed between the allies and the political machinations that divided the war effort. The supporting cast turns in uniformly excellent performances with particularly notable turns from Karl Malden as Patton’s beleaguered right-hand man, Major General Omar Bradley, and Michael Bates as his greatest rival, smug British general Bernard Montgomery. The film’s opening sequence featuring Patton delivering a passionate speech to his troops in front of a massive American flag remains nothing short of iconic, even today, and its message of resilience continues to resonate. While the film closes with the observation that ‘all glory is fleeting’ Patton remains an example of cinema at its most glorious.
Houdini's got nothing on these guys

THE GREAT ESCAPE: Based upon another true story from WWII, 1963’s The Great Escape chronicles the mass escape from German prison camp Stalag Luft III in 1943. The film begins with the SS moving its most skilled and determined prisoners of war to a high security prison in hopes of preventing their escape. What the SS fails to account for is the fact that by placing so many ‘escape artists’ in one facility they have in fact made continued, and even more sophisticated, escape plans inevitable. The film then follows the diverse group of allied prisoners as they overcome their many differences and forge a plan for the ultimate escape. While the plot of the film follows a familiar pattern, the fact-based fate of the famed fifty escapees remains tragically poignant. Similarly the prisoners’ efforts to obtain freedom not only for themselves, but also for each of their comrades, remain an inspiring testament to the power of teamwork and camaraderie in the face even the greatest of adversity. The film’s ensemble cast brilliantly brings the story of the fifty to life with standout performances from Steve McQueen as American loner Capt. Virgil Hilts, whose repeated stays in solitary confinement earn him the nickname ‘cooler king’ and Richard Attenborough as RAF squadron leader Roger Bartlett, whose leadership earns him the codename ‘big x’. The film’s chase scene featuring McQueen attempting to elude the SS on a motorcycle and its signature tune continue to be imitated and parodied, but have yet to be equaled. For a truly great war film, look no further than The Great Escape.
And you thought he was strictly a comic actor

BEHIND ENEMY LINES: This action-packed true-story explores the United States’ involvement in the Bosnian War of the 1990’s, a conflict that is largely ignored by Hollywood. The film begins with US naval Lieutenant Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) contemplating returning to civilian life after becoming disillusioned with the military and the political bureaucracy that has ordered the military to remain largely neutral in Bosnia. Later, however, Burnett is given the chance to take matters into his own hands when he captures evidence of the atrocities that are being committed by the Bosnian-Serb army. Before he can turn the crucial evidence over to his superiors, however, his plane is shot down and crash lands in Bosnia. He then witnesses the execution of his co-pilot at the hands of the Bosnian-Serb army and is forced on the run after narrowly escaping with his life. The film then chronicles his journey of survival through enemy territory as he struggles to return home and expose the genocide that he has discovered. While the film takes liberties with the facts of the Mkronjic Grad Incident, which its plot is based upon, it does succeed in bringing attention to a conflict that is often misunderstood. The film also succeeds in providing insight into the ways that political and military agendas can contradict and come into conflict with one another even as both struggle to reach a solution that is best for the country. For an action-packed look at modern warfare, take a journey Behind Enemy Lines.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Screening of "Captain America: Civil War"

Confessions of a Film Junkie Screening: A Review of "Captain America: Civil War"

A Video Review by Brian Cotnoir & Lindsay Holcomb

This week on Confessions of a Film Junkie we take a look at the latest film from Marvel Studios: "Captain America: Civil War".  I am also pleased to be joined this week by my great friend and occasional film reviewer, The Corseted Critic.  Be sure to check out our opinions and let us know who you think is better.  *WARNING* This Video Review Contains Spoilers!

Our Joint Review

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Classics: An Ode to Imitation of Life By Lauren Ennis

This week we celebrated one of the most fundamental and complex relationships; that which exists between mothers and their children. Often idealized as a combination of love, duty, and sacrifice, even the healthiest of mother-child relationships are subject to misunderstandings, unreasonable expectations, and disappointments. The contradictory nature of motherhood was so expertly captured in the Fannie Hurst novel Imitation of Life that the story was adapted into, not one, but two classic films. Although released in two very different eras, both films challenge social, gender, and race relations, but the crux of both stories remains the enduring friendship between two women and their complex relationships with their daughters. This week’s review will focus upon the ways that these films reflect their respective eras, and the ways in which their shared message of understanding, tolerance, and acceptance continues to resonate today.
Break out a double dose of the hankies
The Mothers: Although promoted as a mother-daughter story, one of the greatest strengths of both films is the friendship and working relationships between its mothers. In the 1934 version, Bea (Claudette Colbert) is a recent widow struggling to raise her young daughter amidst the upheaval of the Great Depression. Delilah (Louise Beavers) is a fellow single mother trying to raise a daughter alone after her husband walks out on their family. Together, the pair make a mutually beneficial deal; Delilah will work maintaining the house and babysitting Bea’s daughter during the hours Bea is out seeking employment in exchange for room and board. Similarly, in the 1959 version Lora (Lana Turner) is a struggling widow and aspiring actress who hires recent divorcee, Annie (Juanita Moore) to manage her house and babysit her daughter, Susie, while she seeks acting work. In both films the women become fast friends and rely upon one another’s help as they endure the ups and downs of life as working mothers.

While both films showcase strong relationships between their heroines, they also highlight the racial divisions that continue to exist between the characters in spite of their friendship. In the 1934 film, Bea and Delilah work together to form a pancake mix business using Delilah’s recipe and Bea’s business acumen. Despite their mutual efforts, however, Bea only offers Delilah twenty percent of the profits. The situation then becomes even more unequal when Delilah flatly refuses her share in a scene that today plays awkwardly at best, and Bea still goes on to use Delilah’s image as an Aunt Jemima-esque mascot for the brand. The continued inequality between the two in spite of their mutual venture and friendship is superbly captured in a shot in which the two share a heartfelt moment, only to part with Bea going upstairs to her room and Delilah exiting downstairs to hers.  While the relationship between Lora and Annie is equally poignant, the racial tensions between them are more subtly incorporated, with Annie continuing her role as devoted housekeeper as Lora embarks upon a glamorous career as a Broadway star. While the opulence of the 1959 version is pleasing to the eyes, Lora’s stage success is far less relateable than Bea’s struggle to start her own business, and the stakes of Lora chasing her dream pale in comparison to Bea’s need to support herself and her daughter during the Depression. As a result, while the 1934 version is a grittier and more realistic tale of working class America as opposed to 1959’s glamorous tale set in the post-war boom, the 1959 version reflects the advances of the civil rights movement that were beginning to take root by the late 1950’s.
What a little elbow grease can do
The Daughters: One of the most crucial strengths of the original story and both adaptations is the depth with which the two very different daughters are portrayed. In both films the African American mother Delilah/Annie becomes estranged from her daughter Peola/Sarah Jane (Fredi Washington and Susan Kohner) after the daughter attempts to ‘pass’ in white society. In the 1934 version, Peola’s rejection of her race is portrayed as a rejection not of her mother or heritage, but as a rejection of the limitations society places upon her because of her family and heritage. Rather than using the temporary freedom afforded her by her lie to pursue any lofty dreams, Peola settles for an entry level job in a small town with the hope of working her way up to a moderate success. The fact that Peola sacrifices her family for such a modest path serves to remind viewers of just how limited her options for finding a better life as an African American would have been during that time. In the 1959 version, Sarah Jane also attempts to ‘pass’, but over the course of the film her motives become murky as she strives for a show-business career reminiscent of Lora’s success, and is portrayed as hungry for fame rather than merely desperate for a better life. The 1934 film also conveys a greater sense of authenticity through its casting choice of a black woman in the role of Peola, while the 1959 version fails to suspend audience disbelief through its casting of a hispanic actress in the part. In both films, however, Peola and Sarah Jane defy stereotypes through their portrayal as complex women who want to live life on their own terms, rather than those set down for them by society.

Similarly, both films feature a common dilemma for Susie and Jessie (Sandra Dee and Rochelle Hudson), who are both alienated by their mothers’ dedication to their respective careers. As a result of their isolation, both girls seek affection in surrogate father figures in the form of their mothers’ boyfriends. In the 1934 version, Bea begins a romance while Jessie is away at college, only for Jessie to return and develop an immediate infatuation with her mother’s beau (Warren William). In this film, Jessie’s insistence upon maintaining her fantasy is portrayed as a means of lashing out against her mother rather than a genuine attraction, and parallels Peola’s rejection of Delilah. In the 1959 film, however, Susie nurses a crush on her mother’s long-time on and off boyfriend, Steve (John Gavin), in large part because he has been there for her more often than the jet-setting Laura. As a result, Susie’s misplaced affection is an attempt to cry out for her mother’s love and attention, and stands in stark contrast to Sarah Jane’s blatant rejection of Annie. One of the most emotional moments in the 1959 film explores this contrast by showing the way that Susie and Annie turn to each other for comfort as they face estrangement from their own families. This scene also reminds audiences of the ways in which racism can be overcome, as both women find the solace that they need in their surrogate families outside of their own race. Despite their different approaches, both films reveal the ways that a lack of love and guidance, even if unintentional, can impact and skew a person’s understanding of the world around them, and highlights the fundamental need of all children for their mother’s love. Indictment of injustice, family drama, and tale of friendship, are all phrases that aptly describe the tribute to the very real triumphs and struggles of motherhood that is Imitation of Life
Now in glorious technicolor!