Thursday, December 27, 2012

What is the Best Roaring Twenties Gangster Film?

Confessions of a Film Junkie: Best Roaring Twenties Gangster Film
By: Brian Cotnoir & Lauren Ennis

     Once again we have decided to do another debate on “Confessions of a Film Junkie”; this week’s topic is what is the “Best Roaring Twenties Gangster Film”?  Me and another critic will face off and present our sides of what we feel is the Best Gangster film to be set in “The Roaring Twenties”—the birth of the American Gangster Genre.  The other writer is a good friend and a writing mentor of mine, Lauren Ennis.  So Enjoy and as always don’t forget to lets us know who you felt was more right.
Once Upon a Time in America: By Brian Cotnoir

 Italian Director Sergio Leone’s 1984 film “Once Upon a Time in America” may not be as popular and successful as other Gangster films such as “The Godfather” or “Scarface”, but it is not only Leone’s finest work, but quite possibly the Best Gangster film ever.  Now before I continue I want to give you a little background.  The film is based off a novel called “The Hoods” by Harry Grey, and the original Screenplay written for this film was 317 pages long (which translate out to over 4 1/2 hours of film material).  Leone was forced to make a lot of cut to the film and the film was eventually settled at a running time of roughly 3 hours and 45 minutes.  There were even more cuts made for the U.S. release and the films average running time in America was 2 hours and 19 minutes.  Because of all these cuts to the film many critics hated the film when it was released in the U.S.  Some critics even called it the Worst film of 1984, and years later when they saw the “uncut” version their opinions changed and some called it the Best Film of the Decade.  So for argument purposes, in this debate, the version of the film I am talking about is the one that is 3 hours 45 minutes long, which I believe is the best cut of the film abridgments.      

Robert De Niro & James Woods play
 the adult versions of Noodles & Max
    So as I said “Once Upon a Time in America” is based off of a novel called “The Hoods” and it details the lives of 5 boys growing up in the Jewish Ghetto New York City, and eventually how they became involved in Organized Crime, and their rise up success.  The story to the film is told in flashback form and stretches all over from 1920-1968.  I know that this is supposed to be a best “Roaring Twenties Gangster” film and the 1960’s don’t really count, but most of the film is set in the Prohibition Era and the scenes set in 1968 are there to help set up the flashbacks.  The two main characters in the film are two friends David “Noodles” Aaronson (played by Scott Tiler as an adolescent and Robert DeNiro as an Adult) and Max Bercovicz (played by Rusty Jacobs as an adolescent and James Woods as an adult).  I really like how it shows how the friendships of the Noodles & Max started back when they were young teenagers and show they got involved in organized crime and became notorious gangsters.  This film takes its sweet time introducing its characters and letting them develop and it definitely shows that Sergio Leone put a lot of thought into how each scene was going to play out and how the adult actors would have to reflect the version of their younger selves portrayed by the child actors and visa versa.                                       

12-year-old Jennifer Connelly makes her big screen debut
in "Once Upon a Time in America" as Young Deborah.
Robert DeNiro & James Woods this film also features a plethora of other famous actors and actresses such as Elizabeth McGovern, Tuesday Weld, Joe Pesci, James Russo, Danny Aiello, and this film was also the big screen debut for a young actress by the name of Jennifer Connelly.  All the characters in the film have unique and interesting stories and it’s great that we get to see them as both adolescents and as full grown adults.       Besides the acting and the cast, I have to say my favorite thing about the film is the sets.  I swear the sets and the scenery in this film are phenomenal, it’s like director Sergio Leone took the cast & crew back in time and actually shot the whole film in the real “Roaring Twenties”.                            

Director Sergio Leone, working out the details of the
scene with the cast of "Once Upon a Time in America"
    “Once Upon a Time in America” truly is a great film and does not get a lot of the credit and recognition that it deserves.  This was the last film that Sergio Leone ever directed and it is also the film that he put the most work into and all his hard work, dedication, and persistence shows in this film.  To this date this is the only film over three hours long that I can sit through and watch and be constantly entertained, but remember only see the version of the film that says “Color/229 Minutes” on the back because if you watch any of the other abridged versions of this film you will probably be disappointed. 

The Roaring Twenties: By Lauren Ennis

The Gangster film is a genre which is uniquely American in its ability to utilize the ethnic identities, family loyalties, and financial ambition that came to define American life in the transformative years following the First World War. The modern gangster film is often characterized by a reverence for its criminal protagonists and disdain for the ‘sucker’s’ that they are able to dominate. Compared to modern, now formulaic, depictions of the mob subculture as one of grit and glamour,  it is ironically one of Hollywood’s earlier efforts that remains unique. The 1939 film The Roaring Twenties portrays Prohibition era gangsters and the world that they inhabit with a complexity and honesty that sets it apart from other gangster films in both the modern and studio eras.                                   

The film opens not in a back-alley joint or criminal hideout, but instead in a fox-hole in France during World War I. The opening scenes introduce a trio of friends who will later find their paths crossed with tragic consequences when they return to the States.  James Cagney’s performance as the protagonist, Eddie Bartlett, is a perfect example of his naturalistic acting style. In Cagney’s hands Bartlett is both passionate and practical; an average American whose life is turned upside down by the extraordinary times in which he is struggling to survive. After celebrating the Armistice with friends George (Humphrey Bogart) and Lloyd (Jeffrey Lynn), Eddie returns home to a country that has moved on without him. In America, Eddie makes ends meet driving a cab and comes into contact with brash bootlegger Panama Smith, (Gladys George in a portrayal based off of notorious nightclub hostess Texas Guinan) who offers him entrance into an alternative world of easy money and fast living. With her help, Eddie eventually builds himself a successful business, which he later enlists his old war buddies into joining. Complications follow when ruthless George tires of playing second fiddle to Eddie and Lloyd strikes up a romance with chorus girl Jean (Priscilla Lane), the object of Eddie’s unrequited affection.                                

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this film is the fact that it was inspired by the real events and people that screenwriter Mark Hellinger encountered during his time as a reporter. Because the film is inspired by reality, it follows a realistic plot line which ultimately results in the demise of the gangsters and their way of life after the fall of Prohibition. Prior Warner Brothers’ films generally portrayed gangster’s as one of two things, either a ruthless psychotic or, more often, a tough kid hardened into a criminal by society. The Roaring Twenties does its characters justice be refusing to pigeonhole them into either category, and instead allows each character to act based upon his personal motives and moral code. For instance, while Eddie is forced into crime by economic circumstance, he and privileged lawyer Lloyd are hardly social victims. Similarly, Bogart’s villain, although ruthless, acts according to logic and reason.                                

Actors James Cagney (L) & Humphrey Bogart (R)
The film also does excellent work in its depiction of female characters. On the surface, Panama and Jean represent opposite sides of the traditional Hollywood spectrum; the brassy bad-girl and the pure heroine. As the film progresses, however, both women are proven to be more complicated than audiences may initially suspect. Although Panama puts up a tough front while acting as ‘one of the boys’ in Eddie’s operation, she is one of the only characters to display true tenderness when she stands by Eddie after his business collapses in 1929. She also demonstrates a sense of self-sacrifice when she steps aside and asks him to help former flame Jean at the end of the film despite her own feelings for him. Similarly, Jean proves herself to be a dynamic character as she grows from Eddie’s wide-eyed admirer to a shrewd woman. Priscilla Lane portrays Jean’s moral conflict between condemning Eddie’s criminal lifestyle while simultaneously enjoying its benefits in such a way that audiences are more inclined to identify with than criticize her.        

Thus, while it may not possess the flashy ‘shoot ‘em up’ style of its later counterparts, I whole-heartedly recommend The Roaring Twenties as one of the most realistic and honest gangster films. The film’s combination of realism, excellent performances, and snappy dialog will keep viewers engaged despite its more restrained style and black and white cinematography. The film also provides movie buffs with a snapshot of James Cagney at the prime of his career as the king of Warner Brothers’ ‘Murderer’s Row’, and Humphrey Bogart on the verge of making his mark as the poster-boy for film noir. Just try and watch that final scene without getting a tear in your eye, ‘big shot’.               


Thursday, December 20, 2012

A review of "Girls Gone Dead"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Girls Gone Dead”
By: Brian Cotnoir

     Holy Shnikes!  The film I’ve decided to review this week is so bad that it makes “ThanksKILLING” look like “The Artist”.  You see there’s a fine line between stretching the truths of reality and full on jumping the shark.  Though, I should have realized that this film was going to be a huge heaping pile of pig excrement when I saw that the two biggest and most notable stars in your film are BeetleJuice and Porn Legend Ron Jeremy.  Brace yourselves, the film I’ve chosen to review for this week is “Girls Gone Dead”.                                            

This Film is 31 Flavors of Fail (and they're all terrible)
     So the plot of “Girls Gone Dead” goes like this: A group of 6 cheerleaders, decide to go Florida for Spring Break.  One of the girls, Rebecca, lives at home with her unreasonably devout Christian mother, who is like the mom from the movie “Carrie” except 100 times more crazy.  Rebecca’s mother begs her to not go away on Spring Break, but Rebecca decides that she wants to go out with her friends and have a good time.  The six friends reunite in Manatee Creek, Florida, but as it just so happens, the week they decided to go on vacation there is a serial killer, dressed as a Medieval Monk, on the loose who goes around murdering young, pretty, hard-partying girls.  Will all the girls make it back to their homes alive or will the “Purification Monk” send them to an early grave?                        

     This Film is pretty much a spoof of the movie “Piranha” (with a subtle twist of “Carrie” and “Halloween” added to the mix).  Only problem with this is that “Piranha” was already a spoof of another movie, and making a film a spoof of a film that was already a spoof is just stupid!  Not to mention really lazy.  All of the jokes and pop-culture references aren’t funny and they don’t make any sense.                                    

I’ll break it down to you like this: This summer I watched a movie on SyFy channel called “Jersey Shore Shark Attack”.  All it was, was the movie “Jaws” set in New Jersey with a bunch of actors who were pretending to be the cast of the MTV show “Jersey Shore”.  “Jersey Shore Shark Attack” was funny because it was making fun of “Jaws” and “Jersey Shore”.  Compare that to “Girls Gone Dead” where they were making fun of “Girls Gone Wild”. The big problem with that is nobody outside of College Frat Boys likes, or even watches, Girls Gone Wild.  At least with the “Jersey Shore” there are people who like the show and will defend it against people who say it’s a “stupid” or “bad” show, but not “Girls Gone Wild”.  You will never hear anyone refer to “Girls Gone Wild” as quality entertainment.                    

This Girl is a Horrible Actress (emphasis on the 1st syllable)
I swear the way this film probably came to be was that the films two directors, Michael Hoffman Jr. and Aaron T. Wells, wanted to get some College Girls to take their clothes off so they promised them they could be a Horror Movie, and they actually made this film to have fun at a bunch of wannabe actor’s expense.  That’s just the vibe I got from watching the movie, and you know what I bet I’m not too far off on what was the film’s original intention.  This Film is probably set in the alternate universe where nobody’s I.Q. exceeds 75, and every couple of sentences has to include the term “F*ck Yeah, B!tches! I think the films directors, actors, and crew should all just go back to doing what their good at—making low-budget porno’s, and leave the filmmaking and acting to the professionals.               

Oh Yeah, Professional
Wrestler Jerry "The
King" Lawler is in it to
    “Girls Gone Dead” has cheesy special effects, horrible dialogue, and even worst acting, and should not be viewed by anyone under any circumstance whatsoever.  If you’ve learned anything from this review it should be to skip “Girls Gone Dead” and go check out “Jersey Shore Shark Attack”.  Seriously people what more could you ask for?  I stopped you from wasting two-hours of your life on this horrible movie, and I recommended and even better and more enjoyable film for you to watch instead.  So go do it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A review of "The Woman"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “The Woman”
By: Brian Cotnoir

Author of "The Woman"
Jack Ketchum
 In October I attended the horror movie convention “Rock N Shock” in Worcester, MA.  Rock N Shock is your typical fan-based convention that has merchandise stands, a film festival, and Meet N Greet sessions with celebrities.  This year’s convention had a slew of great celebrities such as Anthony Michael Hall, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Danny Trejo, Peter Criss (drummer of Kiss), and a whole bunch of other notable celebrities from horror films.  One of the celebrity guests I met at Rock N Shock was an author named Jack Ketchum.  Now, before this convention I had never heard of Jack Ketchum and I have never read any of his books, but after getting the chance to hear him speak at the Fangoria Panel and getting to meet him, I decided to check out some of his work.  I’ve found out that some of his novels have gotten adapted into film , so I decided to to review a film based off one of his novels; “The Woman”.    
"The Woman"
    “The Woman” was realeased in 2011, and it is about a lawyer named Chris Cleek who lives out in the woods with his family, and one day while on a hunting trip one day he comes across a mysterious feral woman living in the woods.  Mr. Cleek decides to trap the woman and hold her captive on her property and even recruits his family to help domesticate and civilize the feral woman.  But are the Cleek’s really the decent and honest humanitarians they appear to be or do they have some ulterior motives for why they want to keep this mysterious feral 

This is a great horror/thriller film with a great story, graphic visuals, and plenty of thrilling twists.  I think one of the reasons why I enjoyed this film so much is that it was co-written by the book’s author, Jack Ketchum.  I think films that are adapted from books are always better when the screenplay is written (or co-written) by the book’s author, because many of the author’s ideas and opinions from the book make its way on to the screen.  I would say this film (and the novel to) should proudly boast that it features the Most Dysfunctional Family you will ever see in a film. I really like how the father in the film, who is this total sadist, expects complete obedience from his family and will settle for nothing less than total perfection. In some ways I saw this character as complex and interesting and I would actually say that his character is similar to that of Alex DeLarge from “A Clockwork Orange”.  I also like how we are introduced to the rest of the Cleek family.  There is little dialogue spoken by the family early on in the film, and instead the film just uses the atmosphere to let you get a full understanding of the character, which in my opinion is a lot better than having all the characters be introduced through an exposition.                                                  
The Most Dysfunctional Family that I've ever seen in a film, The Cleeks.
      I also really enjoyed the soundtrack to the film which features Original Music written by Sean Spillane.  The songs of Spillane really take “The Woman” from already great film and propel it to Freaking Fantastic film. If you’ve never heard of Sean Spillane, then you should definitely check out his music; especially his songs “Distracted” and “Patient Satellite”, which both appear in the film.       
                                                       "Patient Satellite" by Sean Spillane

"Not Quite John C.  Reilly"
Chris Cleek
However, there are some minor faults with the film.  Even though I liked the character Mr. Cleek, I did not really like the actor who played him.  I don’t even remember the name of the actor who played him in the film because for most of the film I was just referring to him as “Not Quite John C. Reilly” because that’s who is acting reminded me of.  He was not scary, he was not terrifying, he was just quirky, neurotic, and massively anal retentive, and I just feel he didn’t do his character any justice with his portrayal.  He starts out as this nice calm Mr. Cleaver from “Leave it to Beaver”, and he just sort of stays at that same tone throughout most of the film.  Even most of the parts when his character acts violent he just has that same calm cheerful demeanor on his face, and I just did not think that he was a great acting choice.  I also did not like the way the oldest daughter, Peggy, was written in the film.  In the film she just comes off as the emotional basket case, and really not a ton of signs as to why she acts the way she does, which is pretty mysterious, but the reveal at the end just sort of came out of nowhere, and it was not like I said “Oh, wow what a shocking twist”, my actual reaction was “Are you serious? That’s all.” 
Oooh, now that sure does look unpleasant
   This film has twists, it has blood, it has gore, it has rampage, and ending that will just leave you with a ear-to-ear smile. I am regretting not buying a signed movie poster of “The Woman” at Rock N Shock, and if Jack Ketchum comes back again next year, I will make it my mission to get one from him. 
So do yourself a favor and see this film.  Horror movie fans I guarantee you that you are just going to really like “The Woman”.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A review of "Troll 3" (?)

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Troll 3”
By: Brian Cotnoir

     The name of the film I’m reviewing this week is “Troll 3”...Sorry, I meant “The Crawlers”...or is it “The Creepers”?  “Contamination .7”???  No, I meant “Troll 3”!  Holy crap!  This film has so many damn different titles that it’s really making it difficult for me to explain why the movie I’m reviewing this week was so awful!  I mean...okay let me explain why this is so awful.                                                
The "Italian Ed Wood" himself
Joe D'Amato
 A long, long time ago (twenty years to be precise) there was an Italian Filmmaker/ producer named Joe D’Amato.  D’Amato produced a number of Italian exploitation films in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but besides that he is known for taking other filmmakers ideas and completely ripping them off in the worst way possible.  Unfortunately, for Mr. D’Amato he didn’t choose to rip off Good films, like “The Godfather” or “Star Wars”.  Instead he decided to rip off films that most people would consider box office failures such as “Cannibal Holocaust”, “Caligula”, and “Troll”.  He even wrote the “Unofficial Sequels” to many of these films, such as “La Casa 3” which D’Amato claims is supposed to be the 3rd Sequel to Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” films and “Caligula 2”, which is supposed to be the sequel to “Caligula”. I have no idea how the hell he can make a sequel to “Caligula”, considering they murdered Caligula at the end of the film!  *I felt no need to put in a “Spoilers!” warning for that because unless you are a Cine-Masochist like myself, then you’ll probably never actually see the film*  But the most notorious film linked to Joe D’Amato has got to be “Troll 2”; a film that has absolutely nothing to do with the 1986 American film “Troll”.  “Troll 2” is what many people today (myself included) consider to be the Best Worst Movie ever made.  “Troll 2” actually has developed a cult following over the years that consists of people who appreciate the corniness and shear awfulness of the film, and find it to be hilariously enjoyable.  “Troll 2” is probably the Ultimate Guilty Pleasure for most people today.  The reason why, I think it personally did so well is because Joe D’Amato had very little to do with this film.  He didn’t direct it, he didn’t write it, and his only credit to the film was as a producer.  Three years later D’Amato released, what many cult movie fans have called “Troll 3”, even though many of the film posters have it titled as either “The Crawlers” or “Contamination .7”.  Just like in “Troll 2”, “Troll 3” has nothing to do with the 1986 “Troll” film.  Hell, “Troll 3” doesn’t have much of anything to do with “Troll 2”, but I digress.   
    So the plot to “Troll 3” is that somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, a Nuclear Power plant has been dumping its toxic waste into the forest.  The nuclear waste begins to effect the trees and they come to life and begin to murder everyone who comes near them...Holy Crap...did M. Night Shamylan actually rip off this film?  I think he did!  That’s probably why “The Happening” sucked so much; it wasn’t just him casting Mark Wahlberg!  M.  Night Shamylan ripped off “Troll 3”!  But wait a minute.  “Troll 3” was already a rip off of “Troll 2”, and “Troll 2” was a rip off of “Troll”?  Dear Odin in Asgard, when will the seamlessly never ending cinema rip offs end?!  AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!   
    All right, so now I bet you’re all wondering now after that giant-ass rant/meltdown how bad is it?  You know what; I think it’s only a little bit worst than “Troll 2” and the two of them share a lot of similarities.

Both Films:    
1.)    Were filmed in Porterville, Utah
2.)    Had an all Italian film crew, and cast the town’s residents in the film
3.)    Acting from the film ranged from really underplayed to Really over played
4.)    Had NO Trolls in the film
a. Troll 2 had “Goblins”
b. Troll 3 had killer trees.
5.)    Horrible special effects
6.)    “Americanized” Dialogue (I.E. they were made to say everything written down on script word-for-word, because that’s how the Italian film crew believed that American’s actually talked)
a. Troll 3: Leaving in Day Time and arriving at Night time.
b. A boy (Matt) jumped into the river with all of his clothes on only to be shown completely dry as he walked out.

    However, unlike “Troll 2”, which has a cult-following and is actually a lot of fun to watch, “Troll 3” is really bad.  For one thing, in “Troll 2” there were goblins in the film (because the original title of the film was “Goblins”, not “Troll 2”) and that’s fine because a troll and a goblin are like Monkey & Ape.  In “Troll 3”, there are no trolls, there are no goblins there are just killer trees!  For crying out loud if you’re going to call a film “Troll 3” at least humor the audience and give us something like a radioactive Dwarf-Leprechaun hybrid.                   
Paula (Left) The Town Slut To the Rescue!
Matt The Hero Pictured Center and
looks just as bored as ever.
    The cast in this film is just awful.  Jason Saucier who plays, the hero of the film’s other acting credits include a lot of exploitation films such as “Top Model”, “Whore”, and “Three for One” and he has worked with notorious Hollywood directors Bruno Mattei (as well as being featured in other films directed by Joe D’Amato).  Jaymzlinn Saxton (I sh!t you not that’s how her name is actually spelled) plays the role of Paula, the town whore, whose occupation seems to consist of sitting in a bar all day long and offering sex to every man that walks in and sits within three feet of her.  Paula is looked down by the other residents of town, but manages to redeem herself as she is strangled/raped to death by one of the killer trees while rescuing a little boy from a similar fate.  Finally, the worst actor in this film has to be Vince O’Neil who plays the towns corrupt Sheriff.  How should I put this: O’Neil’s is so incompetent and unfunny that he makes Chief Wiggum from “The Simpsons” look like Sherlock Holmes!  His acting is so bad that he makes Tommy Wiseau look like a Shakespearean actor!                  
This guys acting makes Tommy Wiseau look like a real actor
       I think it goes without saying that nobody in their right mind would actually like or want to see this film.  The only people who I can think of off the top of my head that could actually sit and watch this whole film are people who are fans of “Troll 2” or people who are looking for a selection for “Bad Move Night”.  I could just go on-and-on about everything wrong with this movie, but I don’t want to waste any more of yours (or my) time.

*Some Photos courtsey of*