Friday, December 22, 2017

Classics: A Review of Elf By Lauren Ennis

The holidays are often referred to as the ‘season of believing’. As we grow older, however, the pressures of daily life and stresses of the holidays can make us forget the magic that once made the season so bright. In the 2003 holiday hit Elf, one jaded family rediscovers the Christmas spirit with the help of a new addition from the North Pole. Through the misadventures of ever optimistic elf Buddy, the film reminds us all that you’re never too old for Christmas cheer and that the greatest magic lies not at the North Pole but in the depths of the human heart.

The story begins with Santa visiting an orphanage during his annual around the world deliveries. When he returns to the North Pole, he is stunned to learn that one of the infants from the orphanage stowed away in his sack of toys. The child, dubbed Buddy, is then adopted and raised by a family of elves. Although he enthusiastically devotes himself to life as an elf, he never quite fits in with his adopted family. When he reaches adulthood he is shocked to learn of his true origins, and mortified when Santa informs him that his biological father is a cynical publisher who has earned a spot on the Naughty List. Determined to find his place in the human world, Buddy sets off for New York City to find his long-lost father and finds himself in plenty of hijinks along the way. Although his arrival in the Big Apple is a matter of culture shock for the cheery elf and those around him, Buddy’s goofy charm and child-like wonder eventually win over even his most cynical critics as he brings a touch of the North Pole to New York.

Through its wonderfully whimsical fish-out-of-water story, the film reminds us all of the magic of Christmas, while imparting lessons in tolerance and acceptance that will resonate throughout the year. Caught between his biological heritage and the culture he was raised in, Buddy finds himself unable to fit into either human or elf society. While both Santa’s elves and Buddy’s family in New York see his uniqueness as a burden, it is ultimately his ability to bridge New York and the North Pole that enables him to save Christmas. Much like his similarly misunderstood predecessor, Rudolph, Buddy serves as a positive role model by inspiring viewers to embrace who they are and highlighting the value of standing out, even as society demands that you fit in. Throughout his struggles to find his way in New York Buddy is aided by the kindness of his new family and co-workers, who in turn find themselves learning to see the world for the magical place that it could be. Through its emphasis upon everyday acts of kindness the film highlights the true meaning of Christmas and reminds us all that is the people around the tree rather than the presents under it that matter most.

The film casts a spell of holiday magic through the charm of tis cast. Bob Newhart infuses his role as Papa Elf with his signature dry wit, and serves as an ideal guide through the story’s zany adventures. Ed Asner captures all the jolliness and warmth of St. Nick in his role as Santa. Daniel Tay is believable and engaging as Buddy’s step brother, Michael. Mary Steenburgen conveys an essential sensitivity in her portrayal of the struggles of Buddy’s put-upon stepmother, Emily. Zooey Deschanel is a dead-pan delight in her role as Buddy’s co-worker turned love interest, Jovie. James Caan hits all the right notes in his turn as Buddy’s workaholic father, Walter, as he evolves from cold businessman to loving family man. In spite of its excellent cast, the film belongs to Will Ferrell, who inhabits the childlike Buddy with an enthusiasm that is nothing short of infectious.

As a heartwarming adventure that the whole family can enjoy, Elf has earned its status as a modern Christmas classic. The film’s by turns slapstick and sentimental script combined with the charms of its all-star cast make Elf a holiday film that will keep viewers coming back year after year. For a guaranteed holly jolly time join Buddy for a journey through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops and through the Lincoln Tunnel for an adventure that you won’t soon forget.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Classics: A Review of Finding Neverland By Lauren Ennis

Inspiration is something that many of us seek, but that is often difficult to recognize. For playwright J M Barry, however, inspiration was something that was found in the most surprising of places; within his own everyday life. Through its portrayal of the creative process that led to the creation of Barry’s Peter Pan, the 2004 drama Finding Neverland pays apt tribute to the creative spirit and reminds us all that inspiration lies around every corner if we only allow ourselves to see it. At once a biography, a behind the scenes peek at the making of a classic, and a heartfelt drama the film illustrates all the ways in which life fuels art while art in turn elevates life.

Amazing what a little pixie dust can do
The story begins in turn of the century London as struggling playwright Barry copes with the critical and commercial failure of his latest production. Dogged by pressure from skeptical producers and his wife’s nagging demands, Barry finds release in his budding friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family after making their acquaintance in a local park. When they first meet Barry the family, made up of widowed mother, Sylvia, and her three sons George, Peter, and Michael are still reeling from the recent loss of Sylvia’s husband and the boys’ father to cancer. Over time, however, they eventually welcome ‘Uncle Jim’ as a surrogate member of the family, much to the chagrin of Sylvia’s controlling mother and Barry’s neglected wife, Mary. The unusual relationship soon sparks controversy as the playwright’s motives along with his and Sylvia’s behavior are called into question. In spite of the rumors, however, the friendship continues to blossom as Barry reminds the grieving family of the joys of living while they in turn inspire his greatest work.

The film truly soars thanks to the exemplary performances of its talented cast. Rahda Mitchell captures the frustrations of Mary Barry in a way that ensures audiences will sympathize with her. Julie Christie is a force to be reckoned but infuses her role with underlying vulnerability as Sylvia’s domineering mother, Emma. Dustin Hoffman is engaging in his portrayal of cynical producer Charles Frohman. Nick Roud aptly captures George’s struggle to hold onto his childhood even as he takes on the role of ‘man of the house’. Luke Spill is charming in his sweet but never cloying performance as Michael. Freddie Highmore is brilliant in his portrait of grief as he conveys the inner torment of middle sibling Peter. Kate Winslet imbues her Sylvia with a warmth and quiet strength that leaves little wonder as to why Barry finds solace and inspiration in her company. Even while surrounded by an outstanding cast the film belongs to Depp who portrays the enigmatic Barry as a contagiously charming child at heart.

The moments that dreams are made of
The film’s portrait of the man behind the boy who never grew up serves as both a fascinating biography and an homage to the masterpiece that has captivated generations. The film deftly tells its story on two levels by showing how events unfolded in the real world while simultaneously providing insight into how these events found their way into Barry’s work. The film wisely maintains a firm focus upon the events leading up to the creation and successful production of Peter Pan which adds an immediacy and urgency to the script that many traditional biographical films lack. In this way, the story becomes an exploration of Barry’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family rather than a mere account of his life. This structure in turn allows the relationships between the characters time to develop in a way that most biographies, which chronicle a series of events over the course of several years cannot. As a result, the film is equally engaging as both a journey into the creation of a masterpiece and a tribute to the magic that still has us searching for Neverland.

Through its portrayal of the tragedy and triumph that lead to the creation of Peter Pan, Finding Neverland is an apt tribute to the creative spirit. With its superb script and excellent performances the firm brings the story behind the story of Peter Pan to vibrant life. One viewing of this film will leave viewers wanting to visit Neverland again and again.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Classics: A Review of The Glass Castle By Lauren Ennis

The holidays are a time in which we gather those near and dear to us to share reminisces and make memories. For all too many, however, the holidays mean the resurfacing of memories that we'd rather forget and the threat of continued conflict. While dysfunctional families are often played for quirks and laughs in cinema, the reality of true family dysfunction is far more complex than Hollywood would have us believe. 2017's The Glass Castle, however, depicts the bitter conflicts and struggles of the dysfunctional Walls family with an honesty and nuance that sets it apart from its glamorized counterparts.
A far cry from The Brady Bunch

Based upon journalist Jeannette Walls' memoir of the same name, the film depicts the by turns heartwarming and devastating experiences of Walls and her siblings as they come of age. The film closely follows its source material in its focus upon Walls' unconventional parents, Rex(Woody Harrelson) and Rosemary (Naomi Watts), and the couple's complicated relationship with their children. Although the children grow up worshipping and wishing to emulate their free spirited parents, it is obvious that the children suffer abuse and neglect in Rex and Rosemary's care. While both Rex and Rosemary are portrayed as capable and intelligent people, the couple's toxic relationship, which is built upon abuse, co-dependence, and shared delusions, makes them ill-suited to parenthood. The family is almost constantly on the move as Rex and Rosemary attempt to out run creditors and child protective services with their children in tow. This constant upheaval makes it impossible for the children to achieve any sense of stability as they are repeatedly forced to move just as they begin to adjust to each new town. The couple's unusual lifestyle and live and let live philosophy carries over into their haphazard parenting  as they consistently neglect their children, who are tasked with raising themselves. Beyond the blatant neglect that they are subjected to, the children also suffer abuse at the hands of alcoholic Rex and their sexual predator grandmother. In the midst of all of this trauma, however, Rex and Rosemary encourage their children's talents and teach them to see the world for what it could be rather than for what it is. As a result, when a grown and successful Jeannette reflects upon her tumultuous childhood she continues to be torn between understandable bitterness towards her parents and the unconditional love that she continues to feel for them.
Kodak moments with a twist

Through its nuanced portrayal of the Walls family The Glass Castle captures the instability and emotional conflict of life within a dysfunctional family. Through its faithfulness to Walls' memoir the film highlights the positive and negative aspects of her childhood in equal measure. This objective perspective creates a nuanced portrait of the family that shows the many shades of gray in what easily could have been a black and white tale of a broken home. As a result, viewers share in Jeannette's conflicted emotions as she watches her parents veer from their best to their worst without warning. This sense of conflict provides viewers with insight into Jeanette's evolving mindset, which in turn lends the entire viewing experience greater resonance. While the Walls' story is a unique one, its portrayal of family at its most complicated will speak to anyone who has ever wanted to outrun their past and perhaps even more so to those who have come to terms with it.

The film's cast aptly presents a portrait of the Walls family in all their outlandish complexity without ever drifting into stereotypes or caricature. Ella Anderson captures young Jeannette's youthful innocence and the maturity that she is forced to develop at an early age with equal skill. Brie Larson embodies grown Jeannette's practically perfect persona, while still conveying her hidden torment. Naomi Watts is all charisma as the enigmatic Rosemary. Woody Harrelson virtually steals the film in his heartbreaking portrayal of Rex. Sadie Sink, Charlie Stowell, and Shree Crooks turn in engaging performance as the Walls siblings and Sarah Snook, Josh Caras, and Brigette Lundy-Paine convincingly portray the adults that the children become.

At once a deeply personal true account and a universal tale of the trials and triumphs of family, The Glass Castle is a film that will continue to resonate long after its final credits fade. Through its unflinching script and superb performances the film brings Walls' memoir to vibrant life. This is a film for anyone who has ever wanted to avoid spending the holidays with their family, and for those who still long to.
Family, one thing that doesn't improve with age

Thursday, November 16, 2017

4 Films that have Surprisingly Emotional Scenes

4 Films that Have a Surprisingly Emotional Scenes

By Brian Cotnoir

     Movies can bring out a variety of emotions.  They can make you smile, laugh, and sing, fill with you fear and fright, and other times than can pull at your heart strings and deep the deepest depths of your soul and cause an explosion of emotions.  Can anyone honestly say they don’t break down crying when they watch films like “Brian’s Song” and “Marley & Me”.  Well, it could be argued that some of those films are meant to be emotional, but what about the films that have a sad film that seems to come out of nowhere?  Have you ever watched a Comedy, or a romance, or an action flick, or even a Horror film that just seems to have one deeply emotional and sad scene in it?  Well we’re going to talk about five of those scenes today, some of these emotional moments are brought on by stuff that should be emotional, like the death of main character, but still feel out of place when compared to the rest of the film.

1.) The death of Spock from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but I honestly do believe that this is probably the saddest scene in all of cinema.  I’m not even a fan of Star Trek, but I cry whenever I see Spock sacrifice his life and speak his final dying words.  I remember hearing critic Doug Walker talk about this moment in his top 11 “Saddest Nostalgic Moments”.  It was pretty shocking to kill off one of the best and well known characters in a series, and nobody knew that Spock was going to return in Star Trek III.  This came at a time long before we knew to expect a fake-out deaths of main characters *cough cough MARVEL*.                                        What I, personally, think makes this scene most sad, is that you have a character, Mr. Spock, whose is known to think of everything form a logical stand point, and then does something completely illogical; sacrifice his own life so that the lives of everyone else on the space ship can be saved.  He went in knowing that he would most certainly die, but knew; “the means of many, outweigh the means of the few”.

2.)  The Death of Bela Lugosi from Ed Wood

We now will go from the death of a beloved fictional character to the death of a real life Hollywood Legend...portrayed by an actor.  Ed Wood is probably Tim Burton’s least known film.  It’s the (mostly) true story of Writer/Actor/Director Edward D. Wood Jr., a man regarded by some of the top film critics in the world as the “Worst Director of All-Time”.  The film takes a look at many aspects of Wood’s attempts to make it as a Hollywood film director.  One of the more interesting parts in Wood’s life was the friendship he formed with Hollywood legend, Bela Lugosi.  You see when Wood (played by actor Johnny Depp) met Lugosi (played by actor Martin Landau), they both only saw each other as means to an end.  Wood, an aspiring film director wanted to capitalize and Lugosi name and fame, and Lugosi who had all, but disappeared form the movie spot light was just looking for a paycheck to help support his drug addiction.          
    Over time the two actually form a friendship and actually think the world of each other, in no scene is this more prevalent than one Wood gets the new of Lugosi’s passing away, which is followed by a scene of Wood watching the last clip he ever shot of Lugosi on a loop again and again, by himself.  He knows he lost more than his best actor; he’s lost a dear friend.       
     Now, I’ve read in articles about Wood & Lugosi’s friendship, where Lugosi’s family accuses Wood of taking advantage of the aging, drug dependent Lugosi, and tarnishing this acting career and legacy, but I’ve also heard that Lugosi really did think of the world of Ed Wood (or “Ed-die” as he was known to call him) and was glad that he gave him one more chance in the spotlight.  Actor Martin Landau actually won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Lugosi.  If you haven’t seen Ed Wood, yet, I highly recommend you check it out.

*Unfortunatley I could not find a clip on YouTube for this scene*

3.)  Ralphie fights Scut Farkus in A Christmas Story

This holiday cult classic is filled with laughs and brings so many people joy, but there’s one scene in the film that gets me, personally, a little misty eyed.  It’s the scene where Ralphie fights his schoolyard bully.  After receiving a C on his essay about what he wants the most for Christmas, Ralphie is feeling pretty down, and then he is pelted in the head with an ice ball by his schoolyard bully, Scut Farkus.  After Farkus taunts him, Ralphie snaps and attacks his bully, beating him senseless while shouting every curse word that he can think of.  Ralphie is eventually caught red-handed by his mother, and then proceeds to breakdown and start crying himself.                       
      I think this moment is so relatable to the child in all of us.  As kids, our behavior came and went with our moods, but we all made sure to be on our best behavior right before Christmas, and you can just feel how upset and defeated Ralphie feels as he breaks down in front of his, Mom.  He didn’t mean to lose his temper and lash out in a fit of rage, but his emotions just got the best of him.  He believes at this point that he is going to face a severe punishment from his parents, and probably also believes that he blew his chance of getting a Red Rider BB Gun from Santa for Christmas.               Fortunately for Ralphie, though, things work out for him in the end, but yeah this scene sure does tug at my Heart Strings.

4.) “Noodles, I slipped” from Once Upon a Time in America

I’m finding that more and more people are slowly starting to discover this film.  Here’s the best way I can describe Sergio Leone’s masterpiece of Cinema, “Once Upon a Time in America”: Imagine if “The Godfather: Part I & II” were one film, but focused on Jewish-American gangsters instead of Italian-American gangsters.  The film follows the lives of two friends in Brooklyn who start off as punk kids running cheap little scams and follows them to Adulthood where they become rich and powerful gangsters, bootlegging during the Great Depression.  At a run time of almost 4 hours, this film has so much to show and offer, including a surprisingly emotional scene.                      
     There’s a scene that depicts the two main gangsters as teens being pursued by a rival teen gangster, named Bugsy, in their attempts to flee Bugsy, he opens fire on them striking and killing the youngest member of their group, Little Dominic.  As Little Dominic lies in the street dying, he is comforted by his friend David “Noodles” Aaronson.  With his dying breath he softly utters the phrase to his friend “Noodles, I slipped” before passing in a way in Noodles arms.                             
      In a blind rage, Noodles attacks, Bugsy with knife stabbing him to death, and when a New York City Police officer tries to intervene, Noodles unintentionally stabs him too.  For his crime Noodles, is sentenced to 12 years in Prison.  Just seeing the raw emotion on Noodles face as he goes from great sadness to rage and anger is enough to make you feel something, and is definitely the saddest death in this epic Gangster flick.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Classics: A Review of Heathers By Lauren Ennis

Adolescence is easily one of the most confusing and frustrating periods in many of our lives. It is a time when we begin to question the world around us, even as we continue to question ourselves. It is little wonder that this confounding period full of drama, heartache, and conflict has earned its own genre in cinema; the teen flick. This week’s review turns the spotlight onto a film that takes the familiar teen drama beyond its genre trappings into darker territory; the 1989 satire Heathers. With a plot that explores murder, suicide, and school bomb plots with a wicked wit, Heathers is easily one of the most twisted and relevant teen films in cinema history.

Sociopathy never looked so sexy

The story begins with geek gone popular Veronica (Winona Ryder) playing dumb to maintain her wavering place in her school’s in-crowd. Veronica owes her status to her association with, and willingness to perform the dirty work of the school’s most notorious mean girls, Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk), Heather Duke (Shannon Doherty), and Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), collectively known as ‘the Heathers’. While Veronica enjoys the privileges of being an honorary Heather, she also continues to question the value of the school hierarchy and begins to resent her supposed friends. Just as Veronica reaches her breaking point, she meets and is instantly attracted rebellious transfer student J.D (Christian Slater). The two outsiders band together and concoct a plan to teach the Heathers and their cohorts a lesson that quickly spirals out of control, setting the stage for one of the darkest tales in teen cinema.

While Heathers explores such familiar topics as bullying, cliques, and the high price of social acceptance, it stands out from the plethora of teen films released during the 1980’s and 1990's through its darkly satiric approach. Rather than merely portraying the archetypal tale of a teen losing their sense of self in pursuit of popularity, Heathers takes a cliché of teen disillusionment and portrays it to its logical, if absurd, end. Instead of struggling to belong, as most protagonists in teen films do, Veronica and J.D. not only reject, but attempt to literally annihilate the school hierarchy, beginning with its top members. The film extends its social critique to modern media and pop culture as the ‘suicidal’ Heathers are portrayed by the local media as martyrs and their vindictive behavior is excused as part of a greater ‘societal problem’. In a twist that plays off of the both teen fads and media frenzies, as the school’s most popular students continue to perish their classmates begin following suit with genuine suicides. Even parents and administrators aren’t immune to the script’s scathing wit as the adults in the film cling to the mass media hype and fail to recognize the ‘suicide’ epidemic for the killing spree that it is. While the plot packs a powerful punch decades later, the script deftly manages to walk the line between biting satire and tasteless humor through its sympathetic portrayals of supporting characters such as bookish Becky and outcast Martha. The script also succeeds in its complex portrayal of conflicted Veronica as she battles her own weaknesses and insecurities to finally stand up to both J.D. and the Heathers. The script also commendably makes an effort to portray J.D. as a villain rather than glamorizing his violent behavior. Through its razor sharp wit Heathers ushered in a new era of the teen film, paving the way for such later films as Jaw Breakers and Mean Girls.

What's your damage?!

Heathers’ cutting comedy soars through the work of its stellar cast. Kim Walker is the meanest mean girl this side of Regina George as queen bee Heather Chandler. Lisanne Falk captures a vulnerable charm as the delightfully ditzy Heather McNamara. Shannon Doherty aptly portrays the insecurities that drive social climbing Heather Duke. In spite of an excellent supporting cast, the film belongs to Christian Slater and Winona Ryder as lovers gone loco J.D. and Veronica. Ryder imbues Veronica with a vulnerability beneath the sardonic sass that makes Veronica an everywoman with an edge. As J.D. Slater exudes an effortless cool that makes him an endlessly watchable foil to the uncertain Veronica.

After decades of tired teen clichés, Heathers marked the start of a new era in teen films. Part social satire and part thriller, Heathers is a film that continues to defy genre classification. With its razor sharp writing and engaging performances the film remains a gruesome good time for both teens and adults. For a killer comedy, take a seat at the lunch table with the Heathers.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Classics: Halloween on the Small Screen By Lauren Ennis

The moon is bright and we’re all looking for a fright; Halloween is upon us once again. Halloween night marks the official peak for all things horror as thirty-one days of thrills and chills reaches its close. Before you start missing the season too much, however, here are three television series that will help you keep the spirit of Halloween all year long.

Mother knows best
Bates Motel: After a series of lackluster sequels and an unsuccessful remake, common sense would suggest that Psycho is a franchise best left undisturbed. In a surprising twist, however, the success of the television series Bates Motel proves that common sense doesn’t apply in the warped world of Norman Bates. The series pays apt homage to the 1960 film while telling its own unique tale of the origins of cinema’s original slasher, Norman Bates. The series owes its success largely to its complex approach to its two leads, Norman and his mother, Norma, and their codependent relationship. Rather than the nagging harpy portrayed  in Psycho, Norma is a strong-willed woman who will do whatever is necessary to provide a better life for herself and her son. Similarly, Norman wins audiences’ hearts as he struggles with typical teenage growing pains, even as he continues to battle mental illness. In the series’ earliest seasons, the pair seem relatively normal when compared to the drug dealers, sex traffickers, child abusers, and crime lords that they are constantly pitted against in the Twin Peaks-esque town of White Pine Bay. As a result, audiences can’t help rooting for the series’ off kilter leads even as they begin their descent into inevitable tragedy. While the series’ earliest seasons did suffer whenever the focus shifted from the powerhouse performances of Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga, the series hit its full stride midway as the story became more centralized, allowing viewers a front-row seat to the fall of Norman and the rise of his infamous ‘Mother’. Even in the midst of its bloody mayhem, the series challenges viewers with questions concerning the state of such institutions as public education, mental healthcare, and the criminal justice system in modern America. Despite its cutting edge story, the series holds the greatest resonance through its exploration of such timeless themes as family and identity. Equal parts character study and psychological drama Bates Motel is never less than a horror show in the truest sense of the word.

The Dead Poets' Society for goths
Are you Afraid of the Dark?: Running from 1990 to 1996 and later revived for one season from 1999 to 2000, Are You Afraid of the Dark was something entirely unique to 1990s viewers; a horror series designed specifically for children. While the age of its target audience kept the gore to a minimum, the series ruined many a night’s sleep through its unsettling atmosphere and implied dangers. Much like early horror films, which were limited by a lack of special effects and censors, the series managed to create scares through psychological thrills that would haunt its young viewers long after more graphic images faded. Along with introducing young viewers to the horror genre, the series also utilized its terrifying tales to instill moral lessons as bullies and misbehaving children and teens were often punished by supernatural forces and shown the error of their ways. For a fright fest that will have the whole family keeping the lights on, look no further than Are You Afraid of the Dark?.

A bonafide classic
The Twilight Zone: The Twilight Zone’s debut in 1959 launched American viewers into a dimension “between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge”. Running from 1959 to 1964, the series captured the imagination of a generation with its twisting narratives that explored Cold War America’s deepest fears. Although the series utilized many classic suspense elements, it marked a new chapter in the thriller genre through its ability to find horror in the most seemingly mundane places. Despite the fact that the series was written with 1960’s audiences in mind, the issues that it highlighted ranging from overreliance upon technology, to beauty standards, to the threat of nuclear conflict remain startlingly relevant. While the series remains an iconic example of the thriller at its finest, it owes its enduring popularity to its use of horror elements to warn and inform rather than merely scare viewers. In its thirty to sixty minute episodes the series consistently provided audiences with intelligent entertainment that kept viewers guessing until the final credits rolled. With its thought-provoking thrills it is little wonder that the series on to inspire not one but two revival series as well as a feature film. Take a journey that you won’t forget into “a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity”….take a trip to The Twilight Zone.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Classics: A Review of And Then There Were None By Lauren Ennis

We are often assured that justice is blind and that bad karma will eventually come around to punish all wrongs. Justice and karma have rarely stalked the guilty with the brutality that awaits a group of unsuspecting sinners in Agatha Christie’s classic thriller And Then There Were None. First published as a novel in 1939 And Then There Were None remains the world’s bestselling play, which has been adapted several times for both the stage and screen. This week’s review will feature the latest version of the classic thriller released by the BBC in 2015. Just one viewing of this three episode series will be sure to do for seaside vacations what Psycho did for showers and Jaws did for the beach.

There was blood and a single gunshot, but just who shot who?
The story begins in 1938 with a group of strangers arriving at the ominously remote Soldier Island off the Cornish coast at the behest of Ulrich and Nancy Owen. The guests are surprised to learn that their hosts have yet to arrive, and unnerved when it becomes apparent that none of them have actually met the mysterious Mr. and Mrs. Owens. Matters quickly take a turn for the sinister when a record plays accusing each guest of a different murder. When the guests begin dying in increasingly violent ways it becomes undeniable that there is at least one killer on the island who may be hiding in the guests’ very midst.

While numerous adaptations have preceded it, the BBC miniseries is particularly notable for its successful merging of period detail and modern grit. The costumes, makeup, and sets immediately draw viewers into an era gone by as viewers settle into lush period detail. Similarly, the expert writing and acting bring viewers into the tormented psyches of both the ill-fated guests and Britain on the verge of the Second World War in a way that makes a stay at Soldier Island equally terrifying for both characters and viewers. Within the series’ first frames the atmosphere evolves from ominous to suspenseful as the guests realize that there is something sinister behind their supposed holiday, and viewers are lured into Christie’s web of murder and intrigue. The script, which refuses to shy away from the violence and vice that permeates the drama, provides the story with a modern edge that keeps viewers engaged in the action and ensures that the classic tale remains both frighteningly fresh and largely faithful to its source material. For a who-done-it that will keep you guessing until its final reveal, there’s none quite like And Then There Were None.

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale of a fateful trip
Agatha Christie’s shadowy world comes to vibrant life thanks to the uniformly excellent work of the cast who aptly portray the dual nature of characters who are not all that they seem. Douglas Booth personifies boyish charm in his role as reckless playboy Anthony Marsden. Miranda Richardson perfectly captures the haughty hypocrisy of morality crusader Emily Brent. Sam Neil aptly portrays both the outward bravado and inner torment of General MacArthur. Toby Stephens captures the toll that fear and guilt have taken upon Doctor Armstrong. Anna Maxwell Martin earns viewers’ sympathy in her role as conflicted maid Mrs. Rogers. Noah Taylor aptly portrays both butler Mr. Rogers’ professional servility and domestic tyranny. Burn Gorman is endlessly engaging as undercover investigator Detective Blore. Charles Dance conveys the world-weariness of Judge Wargrave, who has seen humanity at its worst after decades on the bench. Aiden Turner captures mercenary Philip Lombard’s roguish charm and unrepentant callousness with equal skill. Maeve Dermody portrays secretary Vera Claythorne with an intelligence and depth that leaves viewers unable to look away from her performance.

Part murder mystery and part exploration of human nature at its darkest, And Then There Were None remains one of the greatest thrillers of the stage and screen. Through it’s by turns lavish and ominous visuals the BBC series brings viewers into a society staring into the abyss. The superb writing and acting bring depth to what easily could have been a by-the-numbers mystery, and ensure that even the most modern of viewers will find plenty of thrills. For a mystery that you’ll be dying to unravel look no further than And Then There Were None.

Ten little soldier boys went out to dine...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

5 of the Most Underappreciated Horror Icons

5 Of the Most Underappreciated Horror Icons
By: Brian Cotnoir

     It’s October, that magical time of year.  The leaves are changing colors, the air is ripe with the smell of pumpkin spice and apple cider donuts, and everyone is so excited to start binge watching their favorite horror film and dress up as their favorite horror movie icons for Halloween.  Yes, pretty soon the streets will be crawling with people dressed as everyone from cult icons Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers to the more modern day Mr. Babadook and Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and it got me thinking: why are these characters considered so iconic, but others are relegated to obscurity and cult underground status?  What makes a Horror character so Iconic?  Is it the number of films they appear in?  Is it the number of people the kill?  Is it how they kill?  Or is it just a pure nostalgia factor?  Well for whatever reasons they may be, every year it seems we give credit to the same Horror Icons, and leave others hung out to dry, so today, I’m here to tell you who I think are 5 of the Most Underappreciated Horror Icons, and why I think you should watch their movies this Halloween instead of the clichéd classics.

1.) Daniel Robitaille a.k.a. Candyman from Candyman

This film that is very loosely based off the short story “The Forbidden” by another Horror legend, Clive Barker.  The story follows a Grad Student named Helen who is doing a thesis on Urban Legends and one of those legends in particular—the legend of the Candyman—has her very interested.  According to the legend, the Candyman was a slave named Daniel Robitaille who fell in love with a white woman and once their love was discovered he was chased out of town, had one of his hands cut off and replaced with a rusty hook, and then was covered in honey and stung by like a thousand bees, and then to top off this worst day ever they lynched him too.  So apparently, if you look in a mirror and say Candyman 5 times and then shut off the lights and turn them on again real quick (I may be messing up that whole origin story), Candyman will appear and gut you from groin to gullet.           Candyman is definitely a villain who has a lot going on: part scary man with the hook for a hand, part Bloody Mary, and part made of bees!...I don’t know if the rest of you are afraid of bees, but I am so that makes him way scarier.  I will say that the films sequel “Candyman 2: A Farewell to Flesh” gave him a more stable background story than the original film, but nonetheless he still intimidating.  Played by Actor Tony Todd with his deep voice and swarm of lethal bees, definitely gives off an ominous presence.  The first time we actually see the Candyman is in a parking garage in the middle of the day.  This is one of the few times I can recall a Horror movie character being revealed in the daytime rather than at night.

2.) Pumpkinhead from the Pumpkinhead films

Yeah, I know so many people just think he’s a knock-off of H.R. Geiger’s Xenomorph creation from Ridley Scott’s “Alien”.  Who cares?  It’s awesome!  Not only was the creature created by Special Effects Genius Stan Winston, but Winston also directed the film as well! Pumpkinhead is great movie monster.  He’s a creature who gets resurrected by a witch for people who want vengeance against people who have wronged them.  Another thing that I think is cool about Pumpkinhead is he doesn’t just get resurrected and then goes on the killing spree and then returns to his slumber once it’s all done.  If you call for Pumpkinheads help he’s going to make sure you experience and witness the killings (telepathically at least).  That way you know the deed has been done almost like a Hellaraiser and E.T. hybrid.

3.) The Entity’s from It Follows

So this film has only been out for around 2 years so it would make sense why not many people would consider them, but there’s also another valid can’t actually see them, so yeah, it’s kind of hard to be afraid of something you can’t see. These creatures don’t even have an official name, so I’m just referring to them as The Entities.  So the entities are like the world’s scariest S.T.D.  They follow a person, appearing taking many different forms and they only appear to the person they are trying to kill, and the only apparent way to make them leave you alone (temporarily) is to have sex with another person, and then they will be in pursuit of that person until they are killed and then it gets passed on back to the person who gave it to them.  I may have done a terrible job trying to explain them, but yeah, it’s still pretty scary.  How do you fight against something that only you can see and can take the form of anything around you?  It could be your best friend, a random stranger, an animal, or some other bizarre creature.  How do you know what’s real and what isn’t.  The constant fear and paranoia is enough to want to drive a person to contemplate suicide.

4.) S. Quentin Quale a.k.a. Dr. Satan from The House of 1000 Corpses

So the plot of Rob Zombie’s cinematic debut starts off with group of young friends trying to find the spot where a group of locals in the town of Ruggsville, Texas hung Mr. S. Quentin Quale, or as he’s known in those parts Dr. Satan.  Quale was trying to create a Super-Race of Humans out of mentally ill patients at the Willows County Mental Hospital, and well we don’t actually get to see Dr. Satan till almost the very end of the film.  When we do see him, he’s even more terrifying than we ever could’ve imagined.  The reason I think people forget about Dr. Satan is because of his lack of screen time, and the horrible things he does are pretty mundane compared to the acts of violence enacted by the Firefly family, who own the land where Dr. Satan enacts his experiments in an underground catacomb.

5.) Jame Gumb a.k.a. Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs

Did you know that Hannibal Lecter isn’t the main villain in the 1991 Award Winning Horror classic “Silence of the Lambs”?  Because a lot of people seemed to be confused about that.  Hannibal isn’t the one Agent Starling is pursuing; he’s already incarcerated when she first meets him, she actually goes to see him to get advice on how to catch the films real villain, Buffalo Bill. Lecter is in the film for less than 20 minutes, yet he is the one most remembered from this film, and not the psychotic transgender serial killer who likes to wear suits made out of women’s skins and pretend he’s a lady.  To me Buffalo Bill is way more terrifying than Hannibal.  Think about it, to be eaten by a cannibal, you have to already be dead.  You’d put up one hell of a fight if someone was trying to eat you, so your death would be quick and (probably) painless so the cannibal can get their munch on.  However, Buffalo Bill needs to keep his victims alive for weeks, tormenting them and torturing them psychologically and emotionally, and in the end he’s going to take their skin.  Yeah, I would say that Buffalo Bill is way scarier.  Plus I feel bad for the actor who played him, Ted Levine.  It seems like everyone in this film got an Academy Award, but him.  He wasn’t even nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  I think Mr. Levine got cheated. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Classics: A Celebration of Cinderella By Lauren Ennis

Fairy tales have delighted audiences for hundreds of years. Perhaps no fairy tale maintains the enduring popularity of the original rags to riches tale Cinderella. Despite, or perhaps because, of its simplicity, each generation has not one, but several, variations of the tale to choose from. While each of these adaptations holds its own charms, all of them share the same enduring message that regardless of how dark today might be, with kindness and hard work there is always hope for a brighter tomorrow. In honor of this classic tale this week’s spotlight will be turned on not one but three of my favorite adaptations of Cinderella at its most charming, romantic, and ultimately inspiring.
If the shoe fits, wear it!

Cinderella 1950: For a traditional take on the fairy tale there is no beating Disney’s 1950 animated adaptation. The film was Walt Disney’s personal favorite in the studio’s canon, and for good reason. With dazzling visuals, endearing characters, and an iconic score, the film epitomizes all that audiences continue to adore about Disney films. The film is largely faithful to the original tale and includes such staples as the wicked stepmother, the charming prince, and the magical fairy godmother. While this version may not break new ground in the retelling of Cinderella, it does bring the story to life in a way that reinforces its hopeful central message. The film’s only real drawback is its gross lack of focus upon the prince, who is relegated to a plot device rather than developed as a three dimensional character. Fortunately, the film’s supporting characters and leading lady more than make up for what its hero lacks. Disney’s Cinderella remains an ideal role model through her kindness, patience, strong work ethic, and refusal to either give in to self-pity or give up hope. While she make lack the girl-power of the studio’s later heroines, her optimism in the face of constant adversity provides an inspiring example of resilience. Over half a century after its debut, and Disney’s Cinderella continues to remind us all to get better, not bitter, and that with hard work and patience the dreams that we wish can come true.
Move over, Disney

Ever After: 1998’s Ever After provides Cinderella with a feminist flare by transforming the fairy tale into a historical drama. In this film, Cinderella is a 16th century orphan named Danielle De Barbarac who is forced by her stepmother to live as a servant in her own home before she eventually wins the heart of the prince of France. That premise is where any resemblance to past adaptations of Cinderella end. In this retelling, which the prologue presents as the ‘real’ story before embellishment gave way to legend, the only magic is that which is found in the human heart. The film keeps the story firmly within its historical setting and highlights the daunting social and gender barriers that Danielle must overcome before reaching her happy ending. The greatest pleasure in viewing this film is watching its spirited heroine maneuver around the restrictions of her era by using the very qualities that Cinderella is commonly criticized for lacking; independence, gumption, and grit. Despite the script’s emphasis upon her more modern traits, the script wisely puts equal emphasis upon Danielle’s traditional Cinderella qualities including her generosity, kindness, and patience. This multi-faceted portrayal makes her a heroine that audiences, much like the prince cannot resist. One of Ever After’s most unique features is the depth with which Prince Henry and his relationship with Danielle are portrayed. While he is charming, he is also very much a man of his time and social class. As a result, when he meets the very ahead of her time Danielle debates and arguments ensue that ultimately lead him to question the norms that he’s always taken for granted. It is through this intellectual and emotional journey that he becomes just as complex and compelling a character as his leading lady. The many interactions between the pair lend both credibility and chemistry to their romance that the majority of Cinderella stories sorely lack. The film also imbues its supporting characters with such depth and nuance that the entire cast of characters possess their own motivations and flaws that make them believable, if not always likable. While it may lack such fanciful elements as fairy godmothers and coaches made of pumpkins, Ever After weaves a Cinderella story that is cinematic magic.
Always arrive in style

Cinderella 2015: The greatest rival to Disney’s animated adaptation is its live action remake from 2015. Like its predecessor, the film is largely faithful to the source material and revels in the original tale’s more whimsical elements. The remake does improve upon the 1950 film, however, through the additional focus it places upon both Ella’s life with her parents and the prince. While these additions do not impact the events of the plot they do provide vital insight into both Ella and her prince that adds depth and nuance to their budding relationship. The film also wisely relegates less screen time to the supporting characters, allowing the central characters time to grow and develop. The film’s visuals verge on eclipsing those of the animated film through well-executed CGI effects as well as costumes and sets that are truly a feast for the eyes. This film also diverges from its predecessor in that it abandons the studio’s signature songs in favor of traditional storytelling. Despite their differences, the heroine of the 2015 film follows in the footsteps of her predecessor and inspires today’s audiences through her own resilience and her steadfast belief that a brighter tomorrow will arrive if only we have courage and be kind.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Classics: A Review of Gigi By Lauren Ennis

Musicals of the 1950’s were one of the major studios greatest weapons in their war against television. While these films contained stunning visuals and iconic musical numbers, they were all too often all spectacle and no story. One 1950’s musical stands out not only for its emphasis upon its story, but also for its controversial subject matter; 1958’s Gigi. Marketed as a family-friendly romantic comedy, the film chronicles a young girl's coming of age in turn of the century Paris as she prepares to enter…the corrupt life of a courtesan. Easily one of the most inappropriate and outlandish films that I’ve reviewed, Gigi is a film that will live on in viewers’ memories, for better or worse.

You want me to what?! With who?!
The story begins in 1890’s Paris as fifteen year-old Gigi (Leslie Caron) is groomed by her aunt and grandmother (Hermione Gingold and Isabel Jeans), both retired courtesans, to enter the family business. Although Gigi has been prepared for this role her entire life, she continuously rebels against her family’s expectations by maintaining her tomboyish habits and refusing to pay attention to her lessons. Meanwhile, her best friend, playboy Gaston (Louis Jordan) is leading the high life of parties, champagne, and affairs with the city’s most sought after courtesans. When he learns that his latest mistress, Liane (Eva Gabor), has begun an affair with her skating instructor he throws himself into the city’s most debauched pleasures in an effort to soothe his wounded pride. Despite his best efforts, however, his meaningless pursuits do nothing to fill his empty life, and he finds no joy except in his visits to Gigi and her grandmother. Just as he realizes that he possesses feelings for Gigi, however, she prepares to make her debut as a courtesan, leading to a conflict between lust and love.

Although it is refreshing to see a classic musical that lends proper weight to its plot, this focus only makes the story’s disturbing content all the more obvious. Even as the characters rely upon innuendo and insinuation there is no question that the film is attempting to relate a tale of underage prostitution in an entirely inappropriate manner. While many films have focused upon prostitution and too many have glamorized the sex trade, few films endorse prostitution with the brazenness of Gigi. The film’s opening scene features Gaston’s womanizing uncle Honore (Maurice Chavalier) joking about his hobby of “collecting pretty young things” before launching into the truly cringe-worthy ‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls’. Although the song’s lyrics about little girls growing up to become enticing young women would be enough to draw ire, the fact that it is sung by an aging lothario as he watches children play in the park sets a base tone for the rest of the film. Similarly while the films states that Gigi is fifteen years old, the already youthful appearing Caron is consistently shown in costumes that make her appear as young as twelve (the character’s age in the original novel). Although the young age of many women in the sex trade remains a tragic fact, the film never even implies that there is anything amiss about its underage heroine being groomed to be sold to the highest bidder. While the film could have used Gigi’s child-like innocence to highlight her heartbreaking plight, her naiveté is instead played for laughs as she struggles to make sense of the sordid world around her.

What's a little distribution to minors gonna' hurt?
The film portrays its supporting characters in an equally baffling fashion as Gigi’s grandmother and aunt are presented as merely misguided, rather than exploitive, guardians and Honore is regarded as lovably zany instead of predatory. Gaston fares little better as even Louis Jordan’s charm fails to disguise the character’s basic callousness. As if his interest in the significantly younger Gigi is not squirm-inducing enough, his treatment of Liane makes him a better candidate to be the film’s villain rather than its romantic hero. Instead of merely ending his relationship with Liane, he schemes to ensure that her lover abandons her and plots her public disgrace, effectively ending her career as a courtesan. In an effort to escape her bleak future as a ruined courtesan, Liane attempts suicide, prompting Gaston and Honore to laugh and toast to Gaston’s, ‘first suicide…and many more to come’, as if driving women to suicide is some sort of masculine milestone. Rather than help Gigi to escape a fate similar to Liane’s, Gaston sees her debut as an opportunity to be capitalized upon and proceeds to make an offer to become her first patron. Even after she tearfully rejects his offer and reminds him of what a future as a courtesan would mean, he sees nothing objectionable about his proposition. It is only after her family forces her to reconsider and she adopts the same vapid manner as his former mistresses that Gaston realizes his error, but even then he is more repelled by the prospect of another bland mistress than by the implications of what his offer means to Gigi. Perhaps the most damning aspect of the film is the light tone with which the film dismisses its characters' behaviors, making what could have been an indictment of the social structures and attitudes that fuel the sex trade a tasteless attempt at romantic comedy.

It is difficult to judge the performances, as all of the central players, with the exception of Caron, are playing not just unlikeable, but illogical, characters. Caron shines in her role as hardened innocent Gigi, and creates a far more engaging performance than in her previous, more famous, film An American in Paris. Eva Gabor earns sympathy in her brief role as Liane, and imbues her jilted courtesan with heartfelt vulnerability. The rest of the cast manage as well as they can with the script’s jarring material.

Perhaps the least family-friendly film in the family section, Gigi is one of the most bizarre films to come out of classic Hollywood. A dizzying display of musicals at their most decadent, the film’s light tone glosses over its dark core. More curiosity than compelling the film provides modern viewers with an unsettling look into the views and norms of the past. While Gigi may not understand the Parisians, modern viewers will have equal difficulty understanding Gigi.

Better put a ring on it

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A review of "IT: Chapter 1" (2017)

Confessions of a Film Junkie A review of IT: Chapter 1 (2017)

A Video Review by Brian Cotnoir

This is my opinion on the 2017 reboot of the film "IT"  WARNING  This video review CONTAINS SPOILERS.  So do not watch if you don't want spoilers.  Enjoy

My Review of IT (2017)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Classics: Cinema's Most Terrible Teachers By Lauren Ennis

After a season of fun in the sun it’s once again time to sharpen pencils and break out the backpacks. As students and teachers prepare to resume classes we can’t help but remember our own teachers who, for better or worse, influenced the people we have become. While many teachers serve as sources of inspiration long after we leave the classroom, others remain lurking in our memories despite our best efforts to forget them. This week I’ll be turning the spotlight on the very worst in cinematic education by profiling three film teachers that give teaching a bad name.
Don't even think of raising your had

Elizabeth Halsey: No bad teacher list would be complete without Cameron Diaz’s blackboard bad girl herself, Bad Teacher’s Elizabeth Halsey. At the start of the film, Elizabeth quits her job in anticipation of leading a life of leisure after becoming engaged to her wealthy boyfriend. Her plans are put on hold, however, when he breaks off the engagement and she is forced to earn her own income. She reluctantly returns to teaching, and makes it clear to everyone in her orbit that her only career aspiration is to earn her weekly paycheck until she is able to secure another sugar-daddy. As the year progresses she flagrantly disregards her responsibilities by playing an endless stream of inspirational teacher films in class instead of actually teaching and refusing to even learn her students’ names. All seems to be going smoothly enough as she charms the administration into allowing her shenanigans until she learns of a bonus that is awarded to teachers whose classes earn the highest standardized test scores. She then springs into action by lying, cheating, seducing, and even teaching her way to ensuring that her class has the district’s highest test scores, even as a suspicious colleague closes in on her schemes. By the school year’s end she has engaged in more bad behavior and adolescent hijinks than all of her students combined, all while learning about life, love, and the pursuit of a state pension.
On today's agenda; manipulation and mayhem

Miss Jean Brodie: The most deceiving entry on this list, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie begins as an homage to inspirational teachers. At the film’s start Maggie Smith’s titular educator is presented as an eccentric, but dedicated teacher in the mode of Dead Poet’s Society’s John Keating. Like Keating Miss Brodie encourages her students to defy convention and pursue larger than life aspirations. The inspirational tale quickly gives way to a cautionary warning, however, as it becomes apparent that Miss Brodie only encourages her students to defy the same conventions that she does, in the same way that she does. As the school year goes on, any guise of encouraging individuality dissipates as each of the girls in Miss Brodie’s class gradually transform themselves into younger versions of her. Her cult of personality takes a toxic turn when the girls begin putting her questionable lessons into practice. In keeping with Brodie’s staunch fascist politics naïve Mary (Jane Carr) travels to Spain to fight for the Nationalists where she is killed almost immediately after her arrival. Similarly, bookish Sandy (Pamela Franklin) embarks upon an affair with the school’s married art teacher, and Miss Brodie’s former lover Mr. Lloyd (Robert Stephens) in an effort to emulate Miss Brodie’s promiscuity. Even popular Jenny (Diane Grayson) nearly gives in to Miss Brodie’s manipulations after Miss Brodie attempts to groom Jenny into replacing her as Mr. Lloyd’s mistress. By the film’s conclusion Miss Brodie is finally dismissed and her students have all learned a shattering lesson in the dangers of following a group mentality. Based upon actual events at a girls’ school in Scotland, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a chilling example of how easily a teacher’s influence can be abused.
The price of chewing gum in class

The Trunchbull: Roald Dahl is a writer best known for his ability to capture a child’s view of the adult world, and his portrait of public education in his classic novel Matilda proves no exception. In the 1995 film adaptation of the novel Matilda (Mara Wilson) is a child genius raised by a family of ignorant louts who neither recognize nor appreciate her value. While eager to attend school to escape her negligent family, she is stunned find that her intelligence is just as much a detriment to her at school as at home. Although her kind teacher, Miss Honey (Embeth Davidz), encourages Matilda’s abilities, the school administration, led by vicious headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris) see Matilda’s talents as a direct threat to the status quo. When she isn’t making it her personal mission to suppress Matilda’s brilliance, Miss Trunchbull spends her days tossing students out windows, throwing them over fences, and forcing them to eat potentially deadly cafeteria food. Worse yet, Miss Trunchbull maintains a modified version of an iron maiden known as ‘the chokey’ that she uses to torture ‘misbehaving’ students. Her cruelty is not restricted to students, however, as she psychologically torments her staff, particularly her own niece, Miss Honey, whom she has victimized since childhood. Her repeated phrase of, “I’m big, you’re small. I’m right you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it” serves as her motto in life as she transforms what should be a haven of learning into a children’s prison. Although portrayed to an absurd extremity, Miss Trunchbull personifies education at its most tyrannical.