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.