Saturday, August 5, 2017

Classics: A Review of Moulin Rouge By Lauren Ennis


An art form that predates even the earliest cinema, the musical has grown into one of the most beloved genres of the stage and screen. Evolving from turn of the century vaudeville to today’s elaborate productions the musical has adapted to the trends of film and theater, with each generation creating its own unique variation. After the genre’s cinematic heyday in the 1950’s and 1960’s, however, the musical fell out of fashion with movie goers and the few musical films that were released received mixed reviews at best. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s the genre experienced a renaissance as studios began releasing musicals with a modern flair. One of the most successful and still one of the most unique examples of this trend is the 2001 hit movie musical Moulin Rouge. Part music video and part Bollywood extravaganza, Moulin Rouge is more than just a movie musical; it is a fusion of song, dance, and emotion the likes of which moviegoers have not seen before or since.
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?

The story begins in 1890’s Paris, as impoverished writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) reflects upon his tragic affair with his muse, Satine (Nicole Kidman). The film then flashes back to his youth when he joined the city’s bohemian community and pitched his first play to the producers of the famed Moulin Rouge cabaret and club. While at the Moulin Rouge he meets and is instantly entranced by sultry singer and courtesan Satine, who mistakes him for one of the club’s wealthy patrons. In spite of his poverty and her profession, the two are immediately drawn to one another and embark upon a passionate romance. Their happiness is soon threatened, however, when her latest patron (Richard Roxburgh) becomes dangerously possessive.

While many more musical films have been released since Moulin Rouge’s debut, the film continues to stand out for its unique fusion of the modern and classic. The historical setting and plot, which borrows heavily from such stage staples as La Boheme and Camille, allows the film to pay tribute to past productions even in the midst of its extravaganza of modern music samples and cutting edge cinematography. These elements allow viewers to ease into the film’s surreal world and provides much needed grounding for the otherwise fantastic proceedings. The film uses the familiar technique of telling its story through song, with characters singing in both the central plot and the show-within-a-show that the characters perform. The film puts its own twist on this genre trope, however, by utilizing an eclectic collection of tunes that range from such artists as Nat King Cole, to the Beatles, to Nirvana and everything in between. The inclusion of beloved hits allows viewers to further invest in the story though songs that they already know and love, and lends a new twist on many of these classic songs by placing them within a new context. The visuals are also nothing short of stunning, with costumes and sets that virtually leap off of the screen. The film’s approach, while innovative, does have its drawbacks, however, as the constant shift from one musical genre to another can prove a jarring experience for viewers. Similarly, while the familiar plot does soften viewers’ journey through the changing songs and constant film cuts, it leaves little room for surprises. While Moulin Rouge may not be a film for every viewer, it is a cinematic experience that will linger long after the cast has sung their final note.
So exciting it will run for 50 years!

This unique vision would not have become the groundbreaking hit that it is without its stellar cast. Jim Broadbent is a comic delight as the club’s blustery manager, Harold. John Lequizamo lends plenty of impish fun to his portrayal of real-life painter Toulouse Lautrec. Richard Roxburgh captures the perfect balance between malicious and pathetic in his role as the villainous Duke. Ewan McGregor is swoon-worthy in his role as the idealistic Christian and brings a romantic innocence to his role that makes him an ideal foil to Kidman’s worldly courtesan. Nicole Kidman infuses Satine with a world-weariness and vulnerability that provides vital insight into the real woman behind her vampish persona. Together Kidman and McGregor share a chemistry that makes this tale of star-crossed love soar.

At once a millennial musical and an homage to the classics, Moulin Rouge is a thrill ride for the eyes and ears and a celebration of the heart. While its unusual approach remains polarizing, the film reinvigorated the musical with an energy and originality that other movie musicals have imitated but have never replicated. Few films can paint the town red quite like Moulin Rouge.

And we thought the past was buttoned up

Friday, July 21, 2017

Classics: A Salute to Summer By Lauren Ennis


The days are longer, the sun is hotter, and the vacations have started; summer has arrived at long last. The favored season amongst students and teachers alike, summer is for many synonymous with freedom, adventure, and fond memories of childhood fun. To celebrate summer I’ll be turning the spotlight on three films that personify summer at its finest.

School's out for summer
Stand By Me: One of the best coming of age dramas in modern cinema, Stand By Me is a nostalgic journey into the summers of the past. The film follows four middle school friends in 1950’s Oregon as they embark upon a quest to find the body of a missing local boy. During their two day trek the boys partake in such classic summer pass-times as campfire stories, hiking, and swimming as they enjoy the freedom of the great outdoors in a way that today’s children too rarely do. Even in the midst of all the fun, however, the boys are confronted with disappointments and traumas as they struggle to come to terms with the adult world and find their place within in. When they return home, each of the boys is profoundly changed as they begin to question who they are and who they want to become. At once a coming of age story and an homage to a simpler age, Stand By Me remains a classic for all seasons.

Fun in the sun
Now and Then: This 1995 film proves that summer’s not just for the boys as its heroines experience their own summer of love, loss, and growing up. The film follows four drastically different women as they reunite in keeping with a promise made during their momentous summer in 1970. The film then flashes back and follows the women as they reflect upon the events that propelled them from childhood to adolescence and all that lay beyond. Like Stand By Me, the film chronicles its characters’ growing pains as they cope with loss, broken homes, and find the bonds of their friendship tested. Despite these similarities, however, the film contains many of its own twists and turns as it follows its heroines though personal changes within the greater context of the drastic social change that had begun to sweep across America. Even in the midst of their many conflicts, the girls still enjoy summer to the fullest as they play red rover and softball, engage in water balloon fights, build their own treehouse and even hold the occasional graveyard séance. A tribute to the friendships that shape us and the memories that sustain us, Now and Then is a must-see for every girl struggling to become a woman and every woman who remembers all too well the journey that made her who she is.

Summertime and the livin's easy
The Sandlot: Few films celebrate summer with the abandon and fervor of The Sandlot. The film follows new kid in town Scotty Smalls as he struggles to adjust to a new town in 1962 California. In an effort to make new friends, Scotty does his best to earn a place on the town’s local baseball team. Unfortunately for Scotty, his enthusiasm fails to compensate for his complete lack of athletic skill and he is initially rejected. Eventually, with the help of the team’s charismatic and talented captain, Benny, Scotty joins the team and begins what will prove to be a series of summer adventures to remember. As the summer goes on the boys tangle with a sultry lifeguard, rival teams, and a menacing neighborhood dog known as ‘the beast’. Through it all the boys learn about the importance of friendship and the redemptive and unifying power of sports. For a summer favorite that remains a home-run with audiences look no further than The Sandlot.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Classics: A Review of The Mask of Zorro By Lauren Ennis


Long before Batman patrolled the streets of Gotham City another masked vigilante was fighting for justice in the California desert; Zorro. Inspired by real life outlaw Joaquin Murietta, who was popularly known as ‘Mexico’s Robin Hood’, Zorro has become one of popular culture’s most enduring heroes. First debuted in a 1919 novela, the character has been featured in numerous films, television series, and novels. Despite his popularity, however, Zorro lay dormant for years after his classic adventures fell out of favor with the rise of gritty reboots laden with special effects. In 1998, however, the franchise was revitalized as The Mask of Zorro introduced the adventures of the masked avenger to a new generation.

Who needs superpowers with these skills?
The story begins in 1821 California in an homage to the original films and series with aristocrat Diego de la Veg donning his famous mask just in time to rescue a group of wrongly accused peasants from execution. The story takes a dark turn, however, when Diego returns home only to be arrested by his sworn enemy, corrupt governor Don Rafael Montero. During the ensuing struggle, Diego’s wife, Esperanza, is killed and his infant daughter, Elena, is kidnapped to be raised as Don Rafael’s child. Twenty years later, an imprisoned Diego learns that Don Rafael has returned to California with Elena after exile in Spain and accordingly plots his escape. Upon escaping prison he meets hapless thief Alejandro who is seeking his own vengeance. Together, the unlikely pair resurrect the legend of Zorro and embark upon a journey that will decide the future of California.

Through its nuanced characterizations and believable script, The Mask of Zorro presents a hero for the real world. While the majority of adventure and action films today utilize the excitement and visual flair of supernatural forces and super-powers, The Mask of Zorro relates an equally entertaining tale that remains firmly grounded in the parameters of its historical setting. For example, Don Rafael’s scheme for he and the other dons to regain their former power highlights the all too real evils of greed and political corruption and carries far more weight than a standard ‘take over the world’ super villain plot. Similarly, Diego and Alejandro’s exploits are more satisfying than those shown in many modern action and adventure films, as the duo earn their success by relying upon their wits and skills rather than triumphing through some elaborate gadget or otherworldly ability. The film particularly stands out for the complexity of its two leads. While Diego begins the film as a larger than life hero, the loss of both his family and freedom leave him humbled and jaded. Similarly, although Alejandro becomes a dashing Zorro, he begins the film as a crude thief who bears a closer resemblance to a masked bandit than the legendary hero. Despite their flaws, both men remain likeable characters, even as viewers watch them morally struggle with the difficult choice between justice and vengeance. What the films lacks in CGI effects it more than makes up for in its vibrant historical setting and daring stunts as its two protagonists ride, fence, and dance their way through the treacherous world of California’s elites. For an adventure that will satisfy the mind and heart as well as dazzle the eyes look no further than the infamous ‘Z’ for Zorro.

A very spirited dancer
The film’s uniformly excellent cast brings the adventures of Zorro to rousing life in a way that will appeal to devoted fans and newcomers alike. Anthony Hopkins infuses Diego with a world weariness and guarded compassion that highlight both the idealist he once was and the cynic he has become. Antonio Banderas is an ideal foil to Hopkins’ wounded hero in his role as the impulsive Alejandro. In Banderas’ hands Alejandro’s journey from outlaw to hero is a natural evolution rather than a jarring character shift as Alejandro continues to maintain his roguishness even as he answers the call of justice. The chemistry between the two leads provides the film with its emotional core and many of its most memorable moments, as Hopkins aptly plays straight-man and mentor to Banderas’ rebellious student. Through her sharp wit and even sharper swordplay, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ Elena is more than a standard love interest. Zeta-Jones infuses her role with an intelligence and nuance that ensure she holds her own in the male-dominated cast, particularly in her scenes with Banderas which spark with sensual chemistry. Stuart Wilson lends complexity and sinister charm to his role as the ruthless Don Rafael, who is motivated as much by personal loss and obsession as by greed. Matt Letscher aptly portrays the sociopathic Texas Ranger Captain Harrison Love and captures both Love’s genteel exterior and internal brutality with equal skill.

Through its combination of rousing action, engaging performances and classic storytelling, The Mask of Zorro is a worthy entry in the Zorro franchise. At once an homage to the franchise’s original tales and a fresh twist on the adventure genre, the film has something for all generations and serves as an apt reminder of what is sorely lacking in today’s youth and technology-centric cinema. Nearly one hundred years after his debut Zorro remains one of popular culture’s most thrilling and fascinating heroes; with just one viewing of The Mask of Zorro will unmask all the reasons why.

There are many who will proudly wear the mask of Zorro

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Screening of "The Mummy" (2017), "Wonder Woman", and "47 Meters Down"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Screening of "The Mummy" (2017), "Wonder Woman", and "47 Meters Down"

A Video Review by Brian Cotnoir

Hello All this week, I'm reviewing not one, not two, but three new movies!  Be sure to watch all three to let me know what you think.  *SPOILER WARNING* for "The Mummy" (2017) and "47 Meters Down".  The "Wonder Woman" review DOES NOT contain any Spoilers at all.



My Review of "The Mummy"


My Review of "Wonder Woman"


My Review of "47 Meters Down"

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Classics: A Review of An American Tail By Lauren Ennis


July 4th commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the American thirteen colonies uniting to form a new country. While the holiday honors our nation’s historical triumphs, it has since become a celebration of America’s present as much as it’s past. Although the America of today may be drastically different from the land that our founders fought for, it remains a land of freedom and opportunity that continues to draw immigrants from across the globe. The film I’ll be reviewing this week, An American Tail, chronicles the struggles and triumphs of the immigrant experience while highlighting the ways in which immigrants from around the world have shaped the United States’ into the nation that we know today. While the film may have been written for children, this tale of immigrant mice arriving in a new country in search of a better life will resonate with audiences of all ages.

Everywhere around the world they're coming to America
The film begins in 1880’s czarist Russia as the Mousekewitz family celebrate Hanukkah. The celebration is cut short, however, when Cossacks arrive and attack the family’s village in one of the czar’s anti-Semitic pogroms.  While the Cossacks terrorize the villagers, the film parallels the violence with a virtually identical attack against the village’s mice by the Cossack’s cats. While the Mousekewitzes escape unharmed, their home is destroyed and they continue to face oppression under the cats. To avoid further violence and persecution, the family set out for the United States where they are told there are no cats and the streets are paved with cheese. Their arrival in America proves bittersweet, however, after middle child Fievel falls overboard during their journey. Miraculously, Fievel survives by taking shelter in an empty bottle and manages to wash ashore in New York City just as his family enters Ellis Island. The film then chronicles his efforts to make sense of his new home as he struggles to reunite with his family, even as they cope with life in a new country and continue to mourn him.

The film expertly captures the experiences of 19th century immigrants in a way that both informs and entertains young audiences. For example, the film maintains its historical context by relating some of the varied reasons that people left Europe for America through catchy songs and the child-friendly metaphor of mice as immigrants and cats as forces of oppression. The film similarly explores such historical issues as Tammany Hall corruption and child labor, but maintains viewer interest by remaining firmly focused upon how these issues directly impact Fieval and his family. The film’s portrayal of a diverse cast of characters working towards common goals captures the spirit of America’s melting-pot while teaching lessons in tolerance and the importance of teamwork. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is the way in which it refuses to talk down to its audience and presents the struggles and triumphs of immigrants in America in equal measure, which makes the character’s ultimate successes more satisfying. Thus, An American Tail uses familiar elements of children’s films to relate a historical story that will both entertain and enlighten young audiences.

The mice ain't gonna take it, no they ain't gonna take it

The film brings together breathtaking animation, enjoyable songs, and engaging voice acting to bring its unique version of 1880’s Europe and America to life. The animation is lovely without ever overwhelming the story and creates a striking balance between realism and cartoonishness. One of the visual highlights is the way in which the mouse world is shown as part of the world at large, and the greater world is shown from a mouse’s perspective. The film also utilizes several memorable songs including the tear-inducing Oscar nominated ballad, “Somewhere Out There” and the rousing “There are No Cats in America”. The voice acting is uniformly excellent with actors portraying a wide variety of characters of varying nationalities with nuance, enthusiasm, and charm.

Part historical drama and part musical adventure An American Tail is a film that truly has something to offer the entire family. Through its tapestry of song, action, and animation the film brings the bustling streets of a changing America to life. It’s portrayal of immigration in all its grittiness and glory lends an all too human heart to this tale of mice on the move. For the young and young at heart alike An American Tail is an apt reminder of what it means to be an American.

Happy Independence Day!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Classics: A Very Disney Father's Day By Lauren Ennis


Last month I put the spotlight on some of the best mothers and mother-figures in Disney’s animated canon. While slightly less joked about than Disney moms, Disney dads are just as subject to mishaps and untimely demises as their female counterparts. From Bambi’s absent father to Jasmine’s well-meaning but utterly unfit to rule father, to countless deceased fathers, the land of Disney can certainly be a dicey place for dad. Just like Disney moms, however, Disney fathers and father-figures are some of the best in cinema. Here’s to three jolly-good fellows who could teach us all a thing about parenting and appreciating our parents.


Mighty big paws to fill
MUFASA: Disney’s answer to Atticus Finch, Mufasa might well be the king of Disney dads as well as king of the Pridelands. Throughout The Lion King, Mufasa leads by example and uses seemingly mundane moments as opportunities to instill his son, Simba, with respect for the world around him. For instance, in one of the film’s most quotable moments, he teaches Simba that every living thing down to the very grass that we walk upon plays its own crucial role in the circle of life. He then goes on to remind his son that their roles as rulers of the Pridelands come with responsibilities as well as privileges. Mufasa also makes a careful effort to curb Simba’s budding sense of entitlement and holds him accountable for his mistakes. He then goes a step further by showing his son that there is a lesson to be learned from every mistake and openly acknowledges his own mistakes. Despite his numerous responsibilities, he also makes time for his family and treats his role as father with equal importance as his role as leader. Mufasa puts his own safety at risk on multiple occasions in order to protect Simba and eventually makes the ultimate sacrifice in an effort to save Simba’s life. Even after his death, it is the memory of Mufasa and all that he instilled in Simba that inspires Simba to stop running away from his problems and claim his proper place both in his family and on the throne. Twenty three years after The Lion King’s release, Mufasa still reigns as one of the best fathers in cinema.

Why fit in when you can stand out?
MAURICE: Beauty and the Beast’s Belle is often remembered as one of Disney’s first truly modern princesses due to her intelligence, independence, and nonconformity. One viewing of this classic and you’ll see that viewers can thank Belle’s inventor father, Maurice, for instilling those qualities in her. While the rest of the village dismisses her as ‘a beauty but a funny girl’, Maurice sees the true value in his daughter’s mind and willful personality and encourages her to develop them. He consistently shows an interest in her life and passions, but also allows her privacy and personal space; a tricky line for any parent to walk, let alone a single dad in the 18th century. When she confronts him with her inability to fit in, rather than blame her for defying local norms he instead insists that she’s perfectly fine just as she is. While he does suggest that she befriend villain Gaston, he quickly dismisses the thought when she explains her dislike for him, whereas most parents of that era would have insisted that a match with Gaston was her best option. It’s obvious watching the two interact that they enjoy a supportive and trusting relationship that many real-life families would envy, quirks and all. Later, after Belle bravely takes Maurice’s place as the Beast’s prisoner, Maurice springs into action and courageously sets out to rescue her alone when the town ignores his pleas. Even in the film’s final act he trust’s Belle’s judgment in spite his own terrifying experience with the Beast, and helps her reach the Beast in time to warn him when Gaston and the local villagers invade the castle. While the locals may dismiss him ‘crazy old Maurice’, it would be crazy not to include Maurice on any list of great Disney dads.

The things that happen when you wish upon a star
GEPPETTO: No list of Disney dads would be complete without the studio’s first animated father, Geppetto. After years of devoting himself to his work, carpenter Geppetto realizes that he has left no time to start a family of his own. After wishing upon a star, however, his patience is rewarded when the benevolent Blue Fairy appears and brings one of his hand-made marionettes to life. One obstacle still remains in the way of the unusual family’s happiness; the puppet, Pinocchio can only become a real boy if he proves himself worthy by leading a good and virtuous life. Over the course of the film Pinocchio gives in to one temptation after another until little hope remains that he’ll ever become real. Through all of his mistakes, however, Pinocchio can always rely upon Geppetto for consistent guidance and unconditional love. Geppetto even puts his own life at risk when he faces the monstrous whale Monstro in order to bring runaway Pinocchio safely home. Geppetto also does his best to instill the willful Pinocchio with a strong moral base by teaching him right from wrong and the value of hard work. While Pinocchio might initially reject his father’s advice, it is the values and lessons that Geppetto teach him that ultimately allow him to become real. While Pinocchio might not have always been a real boy, the love between him and Geppetto is never less than utterly real.

 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Classics: A Review of Grand Hotel By Lauren Ennis


“Grand Hotel…always the same…people come and go but nothing ever happens” bemoans a regular guest at Berlin’s famed Grand Hotel. The guest’s observation is quickly proved to be misguided, however, as a whirlwind of activity sweeps through the hotel’s doors and guests not only come and go, but come together only to be torn apart before departing through the hotel’s revolving doors. A tapestry of tales woven together with performances from some of the 1930’s most memorable stars, Grand Hotel is a must watch for both fans of vintage drama, and newcomers looking for an introduction to the classics alike.


Whatever happened to wanting to be alone?
The story begins with a brief introduction to the diverse guests populating Berlin’s Grand Hotel. Terminally ill bookkeeper Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) retreats to the hotel for a few final days of extravagance after a lifetime of caution and frugality. Soon after, Kringelein’s boss, ruthless industrialist Mr. Preysing (Wallace Beery) arrives with his seductive new stenographer, Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) in tow. Meanwhile penniless aristocrat turned thief Baron von Gaigern (John Barrymore) patrols the hotel halls looking for a score. Finally tormented ballerina Grusniskaya arrives with her entourage in preparation for an upcoming performance. This diverse cast of characters’ lives cross and intertwine in by turns tragic and comic ways that ultimately leave each of them profoundly changed when they finally exit through the hotel’s lobby.

That Joan, always getting a leg up on the competition


Adapted from Vickie Baum’s novel and stage-play, Grand Hotel captures the dizzying atmosphere of a generation dancing on the edge of darkness. Through its portrait of Europe between the world wars the film aptly portrays the ways in which political and economic turmoil can upend even the most seemingly stable lives. Set in impoverished 1930’s Germany, the film largely focuses upon the ways in which its characters compromise their ideals and morals in an effort to survive.  For instance, Flaemmchen seriously considers becoming Mr. Preysing’s mistress despite her obvious disdain for him and her growing affection towards the Baron. Similarly, the decline of the aristocracy in the wake of World War I has left the Baron stranded in a world that has moved on without him, leading him to drift into a life of gambling and theft. In a more subtle scenario, Kringelein realizes that he has wasted his life working at a job he despises, all in pursuit of a material success that he never will achieve. Even the wealthy Mr. Preysing proves vulnerable to the upheaval of the Great Depression as he faces financial ruin in the film’s final act. While ballet star Grusniskaya is at the height of her wealth and prestige, she is all too aware that her fortune and fame are slipping away from her as her career approaches its inevitable decline. It is this realization, along with the prospect of returning to the poverty and political oppression of life in the Soviet Union that leads her to attempt suicide. While modern critics have dismissed the film’s plot as soap-opera material, it is this soapish atmosphere that actually lends the film its most biting social critique, as its characters become so consumed with their personal crises that they fail to see the political and social forces threatening to engulf them. Although glittering with talented stars, dazzling costumes, and elegant sets, Grand Hotel is far more than mere artifice as it invites viewers to look beyond the glamour to the sinister forces lurking beneath the glossy surface of 1930’s Europe.

The film’s all-star cast ensure that each of the film’s intertwining plots is never less than stellar viewing. Wallace Beery brings much needed nuance and humanity to what easily could have been a caricature role as brutal businessman Mr. Preysing. Lionel Barrymore is an everyman audiences young and old will be rooting for as his Kringelein finds the confidence and courage to finally live life to the fullest while he still can. Joan Crawford infuses her performance as the sultry Flaemmchen with a crucial vulnerability that ensures audiences with empathize with her character, even as she is tempted by the moral pitfalls of life in the fast-lane. While Greta Garbo is surprisingly under-utilized, she aptly captures both the confident persona and inner torment of her wounded ballerina as she struggles with personal demons in the public eye. John Barrymore’s Baron is equal parts charming and conflicted as he struggles to go straight in a crooked world. Each of these distinct performances adds their own unique touch to the film’s proceedings, while still combining to form a deeper, more satisfying, whole.

As the film that launched the trend of intersecting plotlines, Grand Hotel remains perhaps one of the greatest films of its kind. Through its intelligent script, excellent performances, and innovative premise the film personifies the best in classic cinema. Book a visit to Grand Hotel; you won’t want to check out any time soon.

So many stars, so little screen-time