Sunday, January 29, 2017

Classics: Three More Surprisingly Dark Children's Films By Lauren Ennis

Last year, I reviewed three films that I loved as a child only to find riddled with dark content and disturbing subtexts as an adult. After reflecting upon my childhood viewing experiences, I have come to realize that children’s movies, much like fairy-tales, often use exaggerated and graphic imagery to instill important lessons in children. Even with this common literary device in mind, however, I still cannot help but marvel at how truly twisted even some of the most beloved children’s films are. This week I will be putting the spotlight on three more films from my childhood that in their own way were every bit as gritty, morally ambiguous, and cynical as films marketed to adult audiences.

Damn it feels good to be a gangster...even with fur
ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN: Despite its title, the gritty adventures of this film’s canine protagonist are anything but heavenly. The story begins with loveable con-man (or in this case dog) Charlie (Burt Reynolds) escaping from death-row at the pound with the help of his loyal but hapless best friend, Itchy (Dom Deluise). Upon tunneling their way to freedom the pair celebrate with their friends by drinking and carousing at the local rat-track, where Charlie is reunited with his former business partner, Carface. It seems like old times until Carface calls out a mob hit on Charlie in order to avoid having to share their joint profits. In a scheme straight out of The Godfather, Carface holds a party in Charlie’s honor, where he makes sure that Charlie becomes thoroughly inebriated, and lures Charlie out onto a fishing pier where two of his henchmen are waiting. In a shockingly graphic scene the film then unflinchingly shows how Carface’s thugs push a car over the pier and run a completely unsuspecting Charlie down. When Charlie awakens, he is mortified to find that he has literally died and gone to Heaven. Rather than appreciate his good fortune at avoiding Hell after a life of crime, he immediately hatches a plot to escape Heaven and return to Earth, even though the angels warn him that once he leaves Heaven he can never return. As soon as he rejoins the living, he sets about exacting his revenge on Carface by exploiting Anne Marie, a lonely orphan who possesses the ability to talk to animals, to fix horse and rat races in an effort to ruin Carface’s gambling enterprise. Eventually, Charlie does see the error of his ways, but only after such less than kid-friendly adventures as pick-pocketing, opening a casino (complete with what is implied to be a topless dog review), dodging Carface’s raygun, and escaping cannibalistic sewer rats, all while consistently manipulating Little Orphan Annie-esque Anne Marie (Judith Barsi). And then there’s always Charlie’s doggy-Hell nightmare sequence which still haunts this reviewer twenty years on. While the film can be viewed as an apt tribute to classic gangster films of the 1930’s with charmingly scrappy crook, Charlie (Burt Reynolds) standing in for James Cagney (whom Charlie even quotes at one point) and his ruthless bulldog partner acting as an animated equivalent of Edward G Robinson (cigar chomping and all), the question remains; what is the purpose of making a gangster film for children? It could be argued that, much like its classic counterparts, the film attempts to teach viewers that crime does not pay through Charlie’s punishment and eventual redemption. This lesson is undermined, however, by the film’s noirish sensibility which portrays Charlie’s criminal lifestyle as a misguided attempt to find the American Dream amidst the desperation of the Great Depression. Regardless of how and why this film made it past the storyboard phase, one thing remains certain; director Don Bluth took the children’s entertainment to a dark and complex place that it has rarely gone before or since. For a journey into the back alleys of family filmmaking look no further than All Dogs Go To Heaven.

Clearly the work of a troubled mind
RETURN TO OZ: Easily the most disturbing entry on this list, 1985’s Return to Oz takes everything that we loved and thought we knew about the land of Oz and twists it into a Tim Burton worthy nightmare. The film picks up where the 1939 classic left off with Dorothy recovering from tornado induced head trauma as her aunt and uncle struggle to rebuild their devastated farm. When Dorothy continues to talk to her family about her adventuress in Oz the Gayle’s start to suspect that their niece isn’t just a lonely child with an active imagination. Aunt Em decides that Dorothy’s imaginings are the result of a mental disturbance brought on by her recent head trauma and packs the unsuspecting girl up for a trip to the local insane asylum. In keeping with the film’s 1800’s setting the local psychiatrist determines that ‘new electric healing’ a/k/a electroshock treatment is the best medicine. The film then descends into a phantasm of Kubrick-esque horror with a nurse reminiscent of Nurse Ratched, deranged patients, terrifying orderlies and some of the most barbaric medical equipment this side of the Middle Ages. Her only hope seems to be another young girl who is also being held as a patient against her will. Before young viewers can breathe a sigh of relief, however, the film shatters this one glimmer of hope by implying that the girl is a manifestation of Dorothy’s disassociated personality. Fortunately, with the mysterious girl’s help Dorothy does escape to the supposed safety of Oz only to find that it has become a deserted wasteland. Making matters worse, the film employs the same literary device as the 1939 film by having the characters in Oz mirrors those that she encounters in her waking life…which in this instance leaves Oz populated with a mind stealing headless witch (the nurse), gangs of her wheeled henchmen (the orderlies), and a rock giant known as the Nome King (the psychiatrist). After such terrifying adventures as exploring the witch’s head gallery and a deadly guessing game with the Nome King, Dorothy finally restores freedom to Oz and returns to Kansas. Upon returning home, she learns that the asylum caught fire after being struck by lightning in a rain storm and that the psychiatrist was killed in the fire while the nurse has since been arrested. At the film’s close she resumes her former life with one exception; she has now learned to keep Oz and all of her imaginings safely to herself. Part horror tale, and part examination of the disturbing early days of psychiatric treatment Return to Oz is a far cry from either Kansas or that land over the rainbow that we thought we knew.

Don't be fooled by the sunshine and flowers...
THE LAST UNICORN: Adapted from a fantasy novel written for adults, The Last Unicorn was never meant for young audiences, a fact that becomes painfully obvious as the 1982 animated film progresses. The film begins with a nameless unicorn setting out on a quest to discover others of her kind after she overhears a group of hunters discussing how unicorns have disappeared from the world. Shortly after leaving the safety of her forest, she is captured by a traveling carnival run by a witch called Mommy Fortuna, her hunchback assistant, Ruhk, and incompetent aspiring magician Schmendrick. The carnival is populated by animals that Fortuna disguises to look like magical creatures which she presents in a sideshow to unsuspecting villagers as the real thing. The two exceptions in the carnival are the unicorn and the harpy Celaeno; a half woman half bird creature with three ample breasts which the film makes a point to consistently expose. With the help of Schmendrick, the unicorn escapes the carnival, but in doing so accidentally frees the harpy, leading to a particularly brutal scene in which the harpy devours a resigned Fortuna. The duo then continue on their quest and encounter Molly Grue, the common-law wife of a local outlaw who is seriously regretting her life choices. After Molly rants at the unicorn, who she for some reason seems to blame for her lackluster existence, she insists upon joining the unicorn and Schmendrick on their journey. Before their travels can continue, however, Schmendrick’s magic goes awry and accidentally brings a tree to life….prompting the tree for no explained reason to grow human breasts and set about attempting to seduce Schmendrick. Fortunately, he is able to resist the tree’s bizarre charms and the quest resumes with the trio arriving at the castle of King Haggard, who is using the mysterious monster known as the Red Bull to imprison the world’s unicorns who he claims provide him with his only joy. Before they can enter the castle, however, they are ambushed by the Red Bull, an utterly terrifying creature who with hits white hot eyes, flamed hooves, and sharp fangs is a creature straight out of Hell itself. In order to rescue the unicorn from the Red Bull’s detection, Schmendrick is forced to transform her into a sultry…and completely naked, young woman, and pretend that she is his orphan niece. Eventually, the do reach the castle and Schmendrick is offered the position of court magician for the morbidly depressed Haggard while Molly assumes work as castle cook. Meanwhile, the king’s adopted son, Lir, sets about pursuing the unicorn, now called Lady Amalthea, through such romantic gestures as slaying a dragon and presenting her with its severed head. Over time the pair kindle a romance as the unicorn begins to lose memory of her former life and her mission. The film finally reaches a climax that is equal parts nonsensical and traumatizing. This final act includes such less than child friendly episodes as tempting an alcoholic skeleton with wine and  Lir’s brutal death after being stampeded by the Red Bull before the reappearance of the unicorns (who apparently could have fought off the Red Bull themselves all along by…just angrily pointing their horns at it?). Lir is fortunately revived by the unicorn in the final scene and reluctantly lets the unicorn go to resume her former life, though both are plagued by regret at what might have been. Sexually charged, brutally violent, and morally ambiguous, The Last Unicorn makes for an excellent entry into cinema’s fantasy cannon, so long as it is aimed at the adult audience it was originally written for.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Classics: A Review of Nine To Five By Lauren Ennis

From the time that we enter school we are encouraged to pursue our dreams and instilled with the belief that if we with hard work we will grow up to do what we love. Unfortunately, for all too many of us, life in the working world is not the vision of opportunity that we imagined and is instead a matter of putting in our time and taking home a paycheck. While it is disheartening to work in a job that we find mundane or lacking in opportunity these very real drawbacks can be countered by a healthy working environment. In too many workplaces, however, the working environment is one plagued by office politics that can make an eight hour day feel like eighteen hours or more. For readers who know all too well just how toxic a work environment can become, however, there is a film that can provide just the escapism, empowerment, and inspiration that you need; the 1980 black comedy Nine To Five.
These secretaries are total bosses

The story begins with timid secretary Judy (Jane Fonda) beginning a new job at Consolidated Companies. Almost as soon as she begins training Judy is exposed to the corruption and incompetence that dominate the office as she witnesses the ways in which her co-workers’are gossiped about and harassed on a regular basis. Eventually, she finds allies in no-nonsense office manager Violet (Lily Tomlin) and misunderstood secretary Doralee (Dolly Parton), who have both reached their breaking points. After their boss, Frank Hart (Dabney Coleman) discriminates against Violet, sexually harrasses Doralee, and fires one of Judy’s friends all in the same day, the trio meet at the local watering hole to vent their frustrations. While they form a true friendship over drinks and mutual grievances, the next morning the women return to work as miserable as ever...until they realize that Violet has accidentally flavored Mr. Hart's coffee with rat poisoning.  After a series of misunderstandings, mishaps, and madcaps hijinks they manage to take Mr. Hart captive and institute a series of progressive reforms that increase both productivity and office morale. Just as the office begins to become a truly healthy working environment however, the trio finds their plan in danger of becoming exposed.

Despite the film’s constant laughs, its subject matter was and remains a serious indictment of the modern working world. Throughout the film talent, ambition, and dedication are liabilities at the fictional Consolidated Companies while incompetence, underhandedness, and sycophancy are rewarded as company assets. Similarly, employees of real companies in every industry continue to face adversity despite their best efforts, while colleagues who may not work as hard or possess as much ingenuity are able to advance due to their ability to maneuver office politics. Although sexual harassment and office bullying are areas in which ample progress has been made, they continue to remain issues that arise all too often in the workplace, even thirty-six years after the film’s release. Similarly, while offices have begun to institute the reforms championed in the film, all too many workers are routinely forced to endure demoralizing conditions and toxic work environments. Despite the film’s comedic tone it remains a rallying cry for a workplace that is worth more than a paycheck.
Now about that promotion...

The film’s talented cast ensures that the story strikes just the right balance between zany laughs and scathing social commentary. Jane Fonda is nearly unrecognizable as the na├»ve and meek Judy, and expertly portrays her character’s evolution to empowered employee. Lily Tomlin is a force of nature in her role as blunt and world weary Violet and captures the toll that years of pent-up frustration have taken upon her character. Dolly Parton is an endearing combination of effervescent charm and streetwise grit in her role as unfairly maligned office bombshell Doralee, and lends her talent to the film’s hit title song. Dabney Coleman is a villain viewers will love to hate as “sexist, lying, hypocritical, bigot” Frank Hart in a turn that is equal parts dark and comic.

While numerous changes have been made to the modern workplace since its 1980 release, Nine to Five remains an apt examination of working life at its worst. Through its biting script and expert comedic performances, the film reminds us of the advances that have been made in the workforce and sheds much needed light on the many ways in which the modern workplace continues to remain sorely lacking. With a combination of brilliant comedic performances, biting barbs, and scathing social commentary Nine to Five has earned its place in film history as well as within the hearts of many a working man and woman.
Who's harrassing who?!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Is it right for Hollywood to make films about Public Tragedy's?

Confessions of a Film Junkie: Is it right for Hollywood to make films about Public Tragedy's?

A Video Editorial by Brian Cotnoir & Elly Azevedo

Wow!, What a mouthful of a Title, but yeah.  With Films like Patriots Day being released in theaters, only a few years after the actual Patriots Day Attacks, this leads us to a Big Question.  Is it right for Hollywood to make films about Tragedy's that effected the Public as a large.  We dive into areas like the Marathon Bombings, the 9/11 Attacks, the sinking of the Titanic, and other major issues.  Do you agree with us?? Let us know in the comments below :)

Our Editorial

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Classics: A Review of Julie and Julia By Lauren Ennis

The start of a new year is a time for reflection and reinvention as we examine the events of the past 365 days and look forward to all that is to come in the year ahead. It is at this time that many of us pursue new goals and resolutions in hopes of fulfilling the potential of a fresh new year. The 2009 film Julie and Julia explores the ways in which two very different women use resolutions great and small of their own to ring in a year of reinvention.
Nothing short of scrumptious

The story begins in 2002 Queens with Julie Powell reevaluating her life after reading about the recent literary success of her former classmate. Determined to reignite the passion that is lacking in her life, she starts a blog inspired by Julia Child’s classic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. With the encouragement of her husband she embarks upon the daunting task of completing all 524 recipes in just 365 days, marking the beginning of a truly delicious journey of self-discovery. Meanwhile, in 1950’s Paris Julia Child searches for something to occupy her after the end of World War II effectively ended her career in the CIA’s predecessor OSS. After trying various hobbies without success she finally settles upon learning how to cook the French cuisine she possesses a passion for. After learning to master the art of French cooking herself, she is inspired to spread her knowledge and passion to other Americans and begins the project that will become her classic bestselling cookbook.
An example we could all aspire to

Through its infectious optimism and pioneering spirit Julie and Julia is an ideal film to begin a new year or any new pursuit with. Throughout the film both women meet success and failure with equal aplomb, lending viewers apt lessons in how to face our own triumphs and travails with grace. That is not to say, however, that the film portrays either Julie or Julia as unobtainable or perfect, as both women face their fair share of setbacks and make plenty of mistakes along the way, reminding us that failure is a crucial stop on the road to success as long as we are able to learn from it. As a result, the film remains both inspiring and relevant to audiences as it reminds us of the importance of maintaining passion and purpose in our lives despite whatever risks or difficulties that may entail.

The deceptively simple tale of two women finding success while trying to find themselves would not have lit up the screen as it does without its talented and charming cast. Stanley Tucci brings an amiable mix of understated strength, nurturing, and humor to his role as Julia’s devoted husband, Paul, providing viewers with apt insight into the couple’s marriage. Similarly Chris Messina imbues his role as Julie’s supportive husband, Eric, with wry humor, and charm while still maintaining a modern grit which reveals the ways in which the dynamics of modern marriage have changed. Amy Adams is nothing short of loveable in her role as Julie, whom she portrays with such spunk and enthusiasm that viewers can’t help rooting for her through every one of her mishaps both of the culinary and domestic varieties. Meryl Streep is overflowing with effervescent charm in her by turns comic and dramatic performance as cooking pioneer Julia Child, leaving viewers with little wonder as to how the larger than life chef won over the American public.

Biography, journey of self-discovery, and inspirational tale all these things and more can be found in Julie and Julia. Through its truly uplifting true-life stories the film offers an optimistic tale of what can be accomplished with hard work, passion, and loving support. With a winning cast, witty script, and delightful premise the film will, like the best dishes, leave you hungry for more. For inspiration and reinvention at any time of the year Julie and Julia is the perfect ingredient.
Nothing as sweet as a girl and her idol